Longfellow

Longfellow
"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being a Katie

It is 4:37 on a Friday afternoon as I start this. I haven’t erased my whiteboard yet. I haven’t written Monday’s “learning target” on the board yet.  I did make sure that the trash is picked up and the desks are lined up properly. I have a lot of papers in the “pass back” bins that have been assigned grades and are entered into both gradebooks (paper and computer), but I also have a stack of essays in the “turn in” bins that are just calling my name. I’m probably going to “forget” about those this weekend…. My desk is a mess and I just spent almost an hour crafting an email to a parent.

As I sit here staring at my rainbow wall and the steps of the hero’s journey posted around my classroom, as I am sometimes wont to do after a long day, I start to wonder “Why?” The dreaded question of “Why?” Not only “Why?” but also a big “How?!”

When I think about the other teachers around the school—the other “young” teachers like me and the more “veteran” teachers alike—I just wonder “how?” How have they done this for so many years? Or how long are we young teachers going to make it? How long will it take before I don’t spend twelve hours in my classroom to still go home and work on stuff? How long will it take for me to get classroom management down? How do these other teachers seem to be accomplishing these great things in their classrooms while I’m pumped when all my students are on-time, ready to go, in their seats when the bell rings?! What is the deal?! (Name that movie!) I work with other teachers that are awesome.

Being a first-year teacher is an interesting experience in that way. Because I have had plenty of teachers, plenty of professors in my life. While doing my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to teach and work in a lot of different classrooms with a lot of different teachers. And even then, I didn’t really understand. I couldn’t see all the behind-the-scenes work these teachers were doing, and I didn’t even realize what skills it took to do some of the things they did so naturally and automatically. I didn’t really get it because I had never tried to do those same things on my own.  Sure I had done some things in their classrooms. But that is not the same thing. They had already paved the way for me and taken care of the hard parts. They had already trained their kids to do all these things so that when I came in, I just had to do the teaching part, not all the other parts. Who knew that teaching was actually wayyyy more than just teaching?!  I didn’t know. 

I don’t know if I just thought that kids automatically came in being super prepared to learn . I guess I just assumed that all kids were super worried about being on-time to class (just like I was as a student!). In my English teaching classes, they tried to warn me that some students wouldn’t care about their grades and stuff, but I don’t think I still really believed it until I saw it for myself. It was just a concept that was hard for me to comprehend because bad grades and not doing homework and stuff just was not an option in my family. That wasn’t a real thing. So no amount of preparation could actually prepare me to see that in action. That whole lack of caring thing wasn’t really something I had personal experience with, and it is still something I struggle seeing.

Anyway, now fast-forward a few hours. I’m sitting at home in my nightgown and it is 11:33. I just watched Robert Redford tie Barbara Streisand’s shoe and say “Go get ‘em, Katie” and my heart melted a little. And while I was doing that, I received an email from a fellow teacher asking me about a mutual student. Oh, you know, just Friday night and that teacher is worrying about such-and-such student.

Makes me feel really bad about my tennismatch-costavida-thewaywewere-evening. But not that bad because I get to hang out with Barbara. I like to think of her as my friend. I feel like she is a kindred spirit. As I for sure have mentioned before, my blog title is Barbara-inspired. Why is Barbara so great?

I also love when Robert is all, “Everything that happens in the world doesn’t happen to you personally,” and Barbara is basically like “For me it is” and then she follows up with “I don’t want to behave!” She wanted to stick up for her ideals and be her own person. Now, I’m not saying that I approve of the whole bashing people at the party thing she did. But just like Hubbell/Robert says to her, “No, don’t change. You’re your own girl, you have your own style.”

I love Barbara in this movie, because she was Katie. She had a cause and she was fighting for it. I have a Katie friend in real life (not my fantasy-life with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford) who is a Katie. And a Barbara. 

I was talking to somebody that I view as a mentor at the school and I had a little situation that I was discussing with him. I was feeling a little discouraged and I think he could tell that. As a new teacher, sometimes you just get a little overwhelmed. Actually, I bet that feeling probably never goes away. You have almost two hundred students that you are supposed to be teaching. But not just teaching—you are motivating and inspiring them. Being a good example for them. All of it. Anyway, he told me a story about one of his first years of teaching and this really… I don’t even know how to describe the student. But a student that kept you on your toes. And after this particular student had left the high school and had a lot of different trials and things, student came back to visit. And he said that the student started the conversation with, “I bet you don’t remember me, do you?” The words were pretty sad in the sense that the student was sure he was so forgettable, but he said that the way the words were said made it even worse. The kid came from a world where people were forgotten and discarded and that was what he expected from this teacher. He expected to be forgotten and discarded.  This other teacher reminded me that as teachers this is why we keep at it. We keep at it for those students who don’t have anybody in their corner.

And that is why I so admire the teachers that I work with. Because they just keep at it. They keep fighting for their kids.


Sometimes I wish that I could forget about my students and discard thoughts of them. When I am up late, unable to sleep because I don’t know how to get so-and-so to actually turn in their homework. Or when I can’t quite figure out how to involve reticent-student in the lesson, or help troublemaker not get into trouble… all of these thoughts just torment me sometimes. While at the same time, when normally-bored-out-of-his-mind-student is actually super excited about the lesson, it puts a big, ol’ smile on my face. Or when normal bad-attitude-girl says while walking out, “Today was actually fun” in a surprised tone, I feel a sense of accomplishment. This week one of my proudest moments was probably when one a kid who NEVER pays attention actually payed attention to a question that I asked AND answered it. I wanted to give him a standing ovation. Don’t worry, there were plenty of not-so-awesome moments that left me wanting to bang my head against a wall. Like when I had this really great heart-to-heart with one kid about his behavior and I thought we were making progress.. and then BOOM. Acted worse than ever before. Good times.

Sometimes I wish that I could forget and discard… but, I don’t actually wish that. Because I want to be a Katie.

Right after Hubbell (Robert) tells Katie (Barbara) that she has her own style, she says, “But then I won’t have you. Why can’t I have you?” Hubbell answers that by saying, “Because you push too hard, every minute. There’s no time to ever relax and enjoy living. Every thing’s too serious to be so serious.” To which Katie responds with this beautiful speech, “If I push too hard it’s because I want things to be better, I want us to be better, I want you to be better. Sure I make waves, I mean, you have to. And I’ll keep making them till your everything you should be and will be. You’ll never find anyone as good for you as I am, to believe in you as much as I do or to love you as much!”

Wow. Just wow. Barbara does it again. I’m going to take that and change it a little bit and reduce it to, “You’ll never find anyone to believe in you as much as I do, or to love you as much.”

Isn’t that such a beautiful idea? Or, rather, a beautiful ideal? That is what teaching is to me and that is what I see in so many of the teachers around me. That is what I am working for as a teacher.

The fellow-teacher I was talking with today was talking about how teaching has this ability to change you and really sink into your soul and change the way you treat the people around you.  The ideal of teaching is never giving up on any students, but I want that ideal to be part of me not just as a teacher. I want to be a friend that always encourages people to succeed and achieve. I want to be a family member that always helps people see their potential. A wife, a mother, a grandmother, an aunt—every title you can think of!—I want to be a Katie in that role and be able to say, “You’ll never find anyone as good for you as I am, to believe in you as much as I do or to love you as much!”

Katie was the type of woman that made Hubbell reflect with: “You hold on and I don’t know how. And I wish I did. Maybe you were born committed… I can’t get negative enough. I can’t get angry enough. And I can’t get positive enough.”

I love that conflicting portrayal of characteristics—the idea that commitment can stem not just from one thing, but an inner “anger” or “positivity.”  I love that these same things are just another way of saying passion. I’ve always kind of thought that our greatest strengths and weaknesses are just two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we just beat ourselves up over those weaknesses, too, but one of my other great colleagues shared a really great insight with me about weaknesses. She talked about how often when we think about the story of Joseph in Egypt, we talk about how well he handled his situation and the faith that he showed with that.  We attribute all the “bad” things that happened to him as being the fault of other people. His brothers were jealous, Potiphar’s wife was scandalous etc etc. Joseph didn’t necessarily “sin” or do anything “bad,” per se, but he maybe didn’t show a ton of wisdom or smarts in how he spoke of his dreams and such. His youthfulness maybe led him to not quite understand that you don’t necessarily go parading around saying, “One day, I’m going to rule over all of you” to your older brothers. Now, again, I don’t think that Joseph intended it like that. But maybe he had a little weakness in how to deal with his relationships. Was that a bad thing? Not necessarily! Because it still helped him get where he needed to go. Had he not been so na├»ve/innocent and talked about such things, his brothers maybe never would have sold him.

I loved that insight. With good intentions, Heavenly Father can even use our strengths, but also our weaknesses to help us get where we need to go. As I reflected on that a little, I could see where certain weaknesses of mine led me to develop certain traits, or led me to certain decisions that have been exactly what I needed. Just like Joseph, we need to stick with it and stay positive. Even when things aren’t looking so great.

At the end of the movie, Hubbell says, “You never give up, do you?” and Katie says, “Only when I’m absolutely forced to. But I’m a very good loser... I’ve had.. more practice.”

I might not be a Katie in a lot of ways, but I feel like in this small way, I have had Katie moments. Where I have given up only “when absolutely forced.” Like this week one of my students came to me and gave me back his book club book because he is moving. He has been one of those students that has stretched me and pushed me. I have tried so hard to get him involved and engaged with class and this week he actually volunteered to read his writer’s notebook entry and I was so excited. I felt like we were finally making progress, but now he was moving away and I had lost my chance. It felt like I was giving up, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Part of me recognized that maybe I should just feel relief that I had one less difficult student to worry about. But that isn’t how I felt at all. I lost my chance to fight for that student. I was forced to give up.

But there are some things I just can’t give up. I think we all have those things. We all have our things that we just won’t compromise. Like when Hubbell says, “People are more important than their principles” and Katie gives the response, “People ARE their principles.” We all have our principles and guiding actions and sometimes we have to stick to our guns to be us.

I could give a laundry list of some of these “things” that I refuse to give up. They would range from trivial (like the fact that I refuse to give up looking at the night sky because it reminds me that even in our darkest moments, there is beauty to be found) to silly (like my commitment to getting overly excited about small moments just because it makes life more interesting sometimes) to irrational (like parking as far away from other cars as possible because old habits die hard) or maybe more sentimental (like never giving up the belief that literature can change lives and that people have such a great capacity to change).  Potentially, this list of “things I won’t give up” could get pretty long and I could elaborate greatly on the subject. But I shan’t.

Instead, I’ll just end by saying that sometimes I find myself questioning my principles and I feel a little bit like Hubbell asking “Are you really so sure of everything you’re so sure of?” And sometimes the answer I think is a “no.” No, I’m not so sure of everything I’m so sure of. But that is the adventure, no? That is when the Katie in us can rise to the occasion and declare, “No. I’m not sure… but…. You’ll never find anyone to believe in you as much as I do.” Because at the end of the day, believing in the changing human heart is one of the best causes we must never give up on.  I am really grateful for all of the Katie-type people in the world who have believed in me and who haven't given up on me. I'm grateful for the Katie-people that I work with. And I'm working on being a Katie.