It's Who I Am

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like you are crawling out of your own skin? I don't know how to better describe it than that. But whatever it is, that was me today.

I knew today was going to be tough because we were out Friday and Monday for snow, and nothing says "Don't worry, today will be great!" like a school full of kids who really just want to be home eating cookies and watching Netflix for the fifth day in a row. (... or maybe that was me who wants cookies. :) ) I had a pep talk with myself last night when I found myself getting increasingly nervous about today. I told myself that it was going to be crazy for many reasons, including changing lesson plans around, rescheduling tests, working with bummed out kids who can't remember to bring a pencil to class, etc. I put on a fun outfit, and tried to arm myself with a good attitude on the way out the door.

And it wasn't like anything BAD happened today, it was just awkward all day long. It's so hard to find your groove when you've been out of routine, and I JUST had to go through this a couple weeks ago when we returned from Christmas break. I just felt bummed out and anxious all day long. I was happy to be at school because I love teaching, but I just felt like I was crawling out of my skin all day long and my anxiety was through the roof. It just felt so terrible all day long.

In times like these, it's easy (at least for me) to get caught up in my own head and live there. It's super easy for me to go from "man, today is rough" to "my life is ridiculous/what am I doing/I need to get my life together/I can't do anything right/I'm a huge failure/I'm the world's worst teacher" (really living in those latter two today). It's a really slippery slope for me.

As I was driving home, still crawling out of my skin, but unable to pinpoint exactly why, I kept playing those terrible thoughts over and over on a loop in my head. I was really spiraling downward when I happened to hear this song on the radio that I'd heard before and liked but never really contemplated.

And the chorus goes like this:

You're a good, good Father
It's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are
And I am loved by You
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

I am loved by You. It's who I am.

That's pretty simple. I can understand that. (And I can't understand a lot. Ask my sister Erin who has received about 84750982375930 texts in the past three days about this psychology class I have to take.)

Did it make everything better? No. Did it take my day from zero to hero (do people still say this?)? No. Did it change my life? No.

But it helped take a little of that mercurial anxiety away and it soothed me for a while. And I'll take it.

In the event you are crawling out of your skin today too, here you go:

For the First Time, One Time

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Spoiler alert: I give away the endings of some books. But seriously, you should have already read these books anyways. :) 

For a lot of people, students and teachers alike, heading back to school after Christmas break is a real challenge. I'll admit, having time to myself has been nice, but I was really looking forward to heading back to school.

I really missed my students, and I was also really excited for a big reason -- January brings novel studies to each of my Language Arts classes. In the fall I concentrate mostly on short stories, plays, and poems, but the second semester is devoted to novels.

As I've said a lot of times, even recently, reading is so my thing. It always has been. And I know it's not everyone's thing, but I really believe that ALL children -- all people -- love stories. They love hearing stories, and, what I've found my students also really like, is having stories read to them. The students in my classes are all at various levels of interest about the books we're reading, but I've promised if they'll just trust me and stay with me, they'll love it ... or at least like it or find some value in it. Also, I told them that I don't purposefully go out of my way to choose boring books. I mean, for real guys, I have to read these books, too, and why would I want to go through 45 minutes of torture three times a day? It makes no sense.

The truth is, there are just few things in this world that are better than cracking open that book cover for the first time, opening to the first page, and reading those well-loved words for the very first time. I get SO excited that it likely borders on weird. But my students already know I'm weird, so they don't really flinch. :) I told each class a few times today, "I am so excited! I am SO EXCITED!" I just LOVE LOVE LOVE Beginning-a-Novel Day. (And, truth be told, other than that, today was just terrible, so teaching those novels was much-needed magic.)

Right as we all are opening the covers, hearing that distinct crack, and turning those first few pages to get to where the story begins, I say, "Who wants to read?" But before I call on someone, I add, "... with the knowledge that you will be reading the first words of our new book. And that is sacred." (I know, I'm a weirdo. Again, they know it too.)

8:56, second period, seventh grade, brought me: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

10:40, fourth period, sixth grade, brought me: "The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning."

12:44, sixth period, eighth grade, brought me: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Guys. I get PAID at my JOB to read STORIES with KIDS. I mean, my job is really exhausting and frustrating and sob-inducing, but at the end of the day I read books with kids. Sometimes I seriously cannot even believe my luck. 

The thing is, I know how these stories end, they don't. And it both makes me smile and breaks my heart at the same time. I know that Winnie chooses not to drink the water and be with Jesse and he visits her grave later. I know that Johnny dies from his injuries after telling Ponyboy to "stay gold." And I know that Boo Radley saves Jem and Scout ... and after Scout takes him home she never sees him again. (Are you crying yet?) 

I know that, if these kids open up just a bit and let them, these characters will burrow into their hearts and stay there forever. My kids know that I've read these books over and over and have loved them forever. 

One of them said yesterday, "Miss Lafferre, I think you pick these books to relive your childhood." 

And it made me smile because, heck, maybe I do. I have nothing but the happiest, fondest memories of reading these books, but they are well-loved classics for a reason. 

As I told my eighth grade students last year, "You can only read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time one time." And I want these kids' first times getting to know the Tucks, the Greasers, and the Finches to be some of the best of their lives. 

Staying in the Game

Monday, January 4, 2016

I usually go to a yoga class on Monday nights at 5:15 that I really enjoy. Tonight, as class was starting, the teacher, Ashley, read a quote from a writer she likes that basically said we have lots and lots of chances to try again and get our lives right. It sounded a lot like something I told my fifth grade religion students today. They had made some Advent goals (mostly surrounding treating their siblings better) and I told them that even though it's no longer Advent they can still be working on their goals. And that they'll fail sometimes because we're people and we get things wrong, but that's not a reason to throw in the towel. We have to get up and just try to do a little bit better today than we did yesterday.

What I really liked, though, was at the end of the class when Ashley said that we need to show gratitude to ourselves for "staying in the game." I don't know why, but that really struck me. I've never really thought before about being grateful to myself for getting up every day, even though I've made a lot of mistakes, and keeping going and moving forward. Truly, thinking back on all my bad choices and mistakes, I probably should have benched myself long ago, but I haven't. I've stayed in the game. And that's worth being proud of myself for.

As my life coach Kid President says:

Crock Pot Potato Soup!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

I am hoping to be able to start putting more thought into what I'm making for dinner for myself, and, as it is winter and (finally) getting colder, I thought making a good soup might be nice. I asked my friend Melissa if she had any crock pot soup recipes that she liked, and she shared this potato soup recipe with me! She said that her family really likes it, so I decided to get the ingredients and try to make it myself today.

The good news is, a lot of times potato soup can be really unhealthy, but this particular version is really not! I added more pepper than it called for, and I also used a Greek cream cheese, and, although I have nothing to compare it to having never made this before, it was really good! And it's SO easy. Pretty much you just dump everything in the crock pot and turn it on. If I can do it, anyone can.

If you're looking for an easy and delicious soup recipe, I highly recommend this one. Let me know if you try it!

2016 Reading Challenge

Saturday, January 2, 2016

I have been an avid reader my entire life, mostly thanks to my mom who read to me from a verrrry early age and who used to take us to the library all the time, especially during the summer. Not only did I read all the time, but I saw my mom read all the time too, and I think it's so important that children see adults read. To me, book characters have always been like friends, and, as I said once, I know so many because they were my mom's friends first. And if they weren't, I only made them as my own friends because my mom taught me how to introduce myself to them.

Because of the many (many) years I've been in graduate school and working, it's been hard to find time to read just for fun. Luckily I was able to squeeze in a few good titles this past summer, and recently I finished reading Fahrenheit 451 (for the first time, I'm embarrassed to admit). As a Language Arts teacher, it's so important to me that I show students that I don't just make them read, I'm always reading myself too. To that end, I adapted something for my school that I saw at another school, so teachers and staff at my school have signs outside their classroom doors that say "NAME is reading BOOK by AUTHOR," so that our students see that their teachers are reading books too. That sign holds me accountable to read to be quite honest, and I'm glad that we're doing it.

While perusing Facebook the other day, I saw that one of the teaching pages I follow posted about the 2016 reading challenge. I was very intrigued, so I investigated further. I found out that it is a challenge created by a blogger whose work I've read before, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Basically, there are 12 themes for the year, one for each month of 2016. The point is to inspire people to read new and different kinds of books, outside of their comfort zones. I think this idea is so awesome, so I am going to participate!

Here is the link to the post where Modern Mrs. Darcy introduces the challenge. Here is the official challenge list:

On her site, you can also download a free reading journal she created, but this year I think I am going to write about what I read in my daily journal I'm already working hard to write just a little bit in every day. (Even if it's just a sentence or two.) If all goes well this year, perhaps I'll try her reading journal in 2017!

I have a great book called Listography (if you don't have one, you should!), which is where I am going to keep track of the list (duh) of what I read.

After perusing all the categories and looking at my own bookshelf, one category and one book stood out. So, for the month of January, I'll be reading in the category "A book you should have read in school." (Sigh.) And that book is ...

William Golding's Lord of the Flies!

Want to join me for the 2016 Reading Challenge? I hope so! Let me know! :)

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