Being Thankful

Despite some extremely depressing experiences in the last few months, I am feeling better. I discovered several years ago that consciously thinking of something for which I am thankful significantly improves my outlook on life. Now that school is finished for the school year, I no longer have the constant reminder that I won’t be going back in the fall. To further counteract the loss of one job, there are several teaching positions now advertised in the area, one of which would be an exceptionally good placement.

Here’s an odd circumstance for which I am thankful… I have my first ever root canal tomorrow. I am not thankful for the procedure, of course, but this particular tooth has been sensitive for years. The benefit of a root canal is that the nerve is physically removed from the tooth. I suspect that the sensitivity has frequently been the source of headaches: it would be fantastic if even a few headaches a month could be eliminated!

Today I purchased plane tickets to Maine for myself and the boys. I am so glad and excited to finally be going home for a visit! I haven’t been to Maine for two years, which also means I haven’t seen any of my grandparents for two years. I miss them, as well as my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I can’t wait to see and smell the ocean again, to wander the fields at the farm and lie in the buttercups. I’m excited to look for shorebirds, and hopefully get some good nature shots.

Most of all, I am thankful for my family and friends, both near and far. A couple of them live in the house with me, and one is just over 5000 miles away. I love them all, whether I talk to them every day or only a couple of times a year. Being single and sometimes lonely, I occasionally forget what an incredible support network I have. For those of you who read my blog, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Recently I have been thankful for discovering the poetry of Mary Oliver and how deeply it resonates with me. Many times I read one of her poems and wonder, “Who is this woman, and how did she get inside my head?!” She puts into words the wonder I feel and the beauty I appreciate in nature: I wish that I could write so eloquently. To that end, I will share another of her poems:

POEM OF THE ONE WORLD

This morning

the beautiful white heron

was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this

the one world

we all belong to

where everything

sooner or later

is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel

for a little while

quite beautiful myself.

                                   ~ Mary Oliver, from A Thousand Mornings

Peace ~

Heidi

Unrequited love

To further complicate my life, I managed to fall head over heels for a great guy. But, as has happened repeatedly in the last few years, my love is unrequited. So I give up on loving and being loved. I don’t want the heartache anymore. I don’t want to fall in love and have it hurt so much that it takes my breath away. There are times when it absolutely flattens me, drives me to my knees, causes me to wake sobbing in the middle of the night.

I suppose that feeling pain is better than feeling nothing, but there is so much pain in my life right now that it feels overwhelming. It feels like one huge lament after another – and I just want one happy day, when the world feels good and right. My blog is pretty damn depressing lately, but it’s a form of journal that hopefully will help someone else who is down realize he/she is not alone. Currently the sadness is not from depression, but from scars and loss and hurt. My heart is heavy, my mind swirls with endless questions and doubts, and it has become my enemy. I wake in the night thinking of him and try to convince myself that friendship is enough.

In the haze of pain, I started reading poetry again, and discovered that the poetry of Mary Oliver speaks to me in a way that none has before. Here is one that couldn’t be more right:

A Pretty Song

From the complications of loving you

I think there is no end or return

No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?

This isn’t a playground, this is

earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence

to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods

that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.

And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.

And I say to my heart: rave on.

- Mary Oliver, Thirst

Peace-

Heidi

Days of Sadness

I officially said goodbye to most of my sophomores on Tuesday, but we have had finals since then. Many students have stopped in to say hi, and I know a couple are coming to school early to hang out with me before school. It is turning out to be even harder to say goodbye than I had thought it would be.

Since my divorce, I hadn’t cried more than a few times – until my life started to fall apart again this spring. I have cried every day for the last couple of days. In fact, I have lost a couple of contacts because of it…fortunately they’re daily wear. This afternoon, a couple of my girls brought me flowers and some framed photos of them with me. Saying goodbye has given me a new perspective on the reasons that a teacher may stay in the same district for many years. Once you start watching your kids mature, you don’t want to miss a class. I got attached to most of the kids, whether they are good students or not.

Tomorrow is the last day of finals, which means the last day with students. I have a teacher work day on Monday, but will use that time to pack up my classroom and move out. I sincerely hope that I will find another place that I love; if not right away, then within a few years. I’m afraid I’m going to burn out if I have to do this again. There’s been enough heartbreak in my life already. Something good has to happen sooner or later, right?

Bittersweet Goodbyes

I would love to write an beautifully eloquent post like Alicia did here, but I honestly don’t have it in me right now. I said goodbye to most of my sophomores today. I managed to keep myself together until the last hour of the day: my favorite class. Before school, two of the girls from that class came by and gave me flowers and a present. They asked me to open the present in seventh hour…I didn’t cry until I opened it. Yesterday we went outside to enjoy the nice weather and the girls had a classmate take a photo of the three of us. The present was the photo, enlarged and in a frame they had decorated. The class was full of thoughtful, sweet kids like that. I’m heartbroken to think that I won’t be there to watch them continue to grow and graduate.

As teachers, we try very hard not to have “favorite” students, or at least not to show favoritism. I have a few students from this year that I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life. The sweet girls who told me that I was an inspiration. The ones who wrote me notes telling me that I’m their favorite teacher (these are high school sophomores…they don’t say that to adults very easily). Best of all, though, was the note from my favorite student. He told me that I am the first teacher to have a significant impact on his life. That’s why I teach. I want to make a difference, and teaching is my calling. Yeah, yeah, it sounds silly, but it truly is a calling. I can’t imagine loving another job as much. I should say I love the teaching part – I’m not so fond of the meetings, administrative garbage, or political b.s. that’s present in every school.

So much for an upbeat post. To counteract the depressing thoughts, here is a completely ridiculous song from Cheryl Wheeler, one of my favorite folk singers…

A Return, After Many Months

I realized a couple of weeks ago that it has been more than a year since I last posted. The three people (thank you :) who read my blog probably wonder if I fell off the earth. Not quite, but it felt close a few times! It has been another year of tremendous change, some for the better, some for the, uh… hmm. Anyway, it’s been quite a year.

I started dating again last spring. Well, I tried, anyway. After dating a few guys, I realized that I will know the right man when he comes along, and I was getting too frustrated to keep actively looking. I met one guy who got me back into serious birdwatching (then dumped me via text message…sheesh), but I will take the positive from that experience. Now my blog really should be biology, bicycles, and birding. Something I have done off and on over the years has become a true passion, and I have rediscovered a love of observing birds and their behavior.

As part of birding, I have made some wonderful new friends. Friends that I can rely on to support me when I’m feeling low, and who can and will make me laugh until I have tears streaming down my face. The best, most wonderful, terrifically authentic part about these friends is that they have had life struggles just like I have, and they love me unconditionally (and believe me, I am pretty damn unlovable sometimes). So this post is partly in honor of Becca and Hesther, who have helped me through a tough year…true kindred spirits.

Through Becca, I “met” a fellow biologist, birder, and nature lover in Las Vegas. We have not met in person, but we have so much in common that it’s almost like he’s known me for years. Dave is another kindred spirit, and one for whom I am particularly thankful: his life experiences give him a thorough understanding of my feelings, and I have found that to be extremely rare. He has been incredibly supportive during the last couple of months, when my world felt like it was falling apart again.

Now for the main reason I haven’t posted in so long. After school ended last summer, I worked at the quilt shop again to make ends meet. Despite applying for dozens of teaching positions – both in and out of state – I didn’t find a job. There are very few teaching positions in the state of Wisconsin right now, particularly for someone with a biology certification. Just a couple of weeks before school was going to start again, I saw a posting for a job teaching biology and integrated science (freshman physical science) in a town about half an hour away. I applied immediately, and was pleasantly surprised to get an interview, followed by a job offer. I accepted the offer on Monday and started school the next day…one week before classes were due to begin. It was a mad rush, but I was extremely excited to finally have my own classroom, and my colleagues were awesome!

The first semester was a challenge. I was working sixty or more hours a week, and frequently felt overwhelmed. As I became more comfortable in the classroom, this feeling eased, and I was thoroughly enjoying my work. I fell in love with the school, and absolutely adore my students. Of course there were frustrations, but I looked forward to going to work every day, and had a blast developing new labs for our biology curriculum. Just as the stress of getting used to the school and the kids passed, I had a new source on my radar. One of my colleagues recently completed certification for becoming an administrator, and has been interviewing for positions. The administration at school didn’t want to get caught in the same situation they were in last year with a last minute hire, so they advertised an opening at the school, ostensibly to replace him if necessary. I was technically a one-year hire, but it was understood from the beginning that if my performance was good, I would almost certainly be kept on. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Two months ago, the school interviewed candidates, and offered one with both biology and chemistry certification a position. My colleague did not get an administrative job, so the new hire is taking my position. The last two months have involved dragging myself to school and trying to put my heart into a position I have lost. The administrators tell me I need to get certified in chemistry, too, but there are a couple of problems with that. First of all, it won’t help me keep my job, and will put me even further in debt. Second, and more importantly, I don’t want to teach chemistry. What good is a position going to do me if I am miserable teaching a subject I don’t particularly like?

In just two short weeks, I will be packing up my classroom, saying goodbye to my students and colleagues, and moving on. To what, I don’t know. The job outlook for teachers in Wisconsin is even worse now than it was a year ago. I am actively looking for jobs outside of education, just so I can keep Aaron at his current school until he graduates.

You can imagine what all of this did to my psyche. I was already struggling with my usual winter blues, and this (along with other junk) plunged me back into depression. I didn’t want to do anything anymore, even go birding. I cried easily, and too often. But remember those amazing friends I mentioned? They helped me recognize that I was in bad shape and needed to do something about it before it got any worse. I began treatment for depression nearly fourteen years ago, when genetic predisposition reared its ugly head. Fortunately it has been well controlled, and few people even recognize that I have struggled with it. So back to the doctor I went. She listened sympathetically, made some suggestions, and increased a medication. It did what was needed, and I am now at least coping with the end of the year. Most people don’t realize that depression medications are not magic happy pills. I still feel the normal range of emotions, but the bad times no longer drag me down into the incredible darkness. Around the time I began to feel better, Allie at Hyperbole and a Half posted this, the most accurate portrayal of depression I think I have ever read. I love her for that. Well, that and the fact that her blog is often absolutely hilarious…

I am hopeful that the next few months will bring a great position. Or even a good position. Mediocre? Or maybe cromulent (thanks, Dave). Life goes on, one way or another. I have amazing people in my life, and so much for which I am thankful. Things will get better, right? RIGHT?

And now for something fun: some of the photos I have taken over the last year:Image

Barn swallow – common, but a favorite

Image

Black necked stilt (uncommon in Wisconsin)

Image

Great Horned Owl owlets

Image

Forster’s Tern

Image

Sunset at one of my favorite places: Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

More photos and hopefully upbeat posts to follow… :)

The day that changed everything

I know, I know, it’s been weeks since my last post. I just reread that post, and realized that things changed dramatically over the course of the remaining weeks of my long-term position. The position ended about a week ago, but I was kept on as a building sub, so I am at the school every day. It’s a great position, because I don’t have to wonder each day if I will be subbing, and if so, where I will be. The teacher I replaced will be gone again for about a month in February, and I am looking forward to being back in my classes.

You read that correctly. After my ranting post, and continual head bashing with the students, I finally came to the conclusion that I had better lighten up. One of the essentials of being an effective teacher is an ability to be flexible and to be open to change. Without a revamp of my attitude, I was going to end up either totally burned out, or locked away in a mental hospital.

The day after I came to this conclusion, I went into class with a different attitude. The student I had been in conflict with almost immediately commented, “You’re in a really good mood today!” to which I responded, “I decided I’d better not be grumpy, because when I’m grumpy it makes you guys grumpy, too.” I would love to say that it was all smooth sailing from there, but it never is compeletely smooth. That’s okay, because that’s part of teaching. Things were much more comfortable in the classroom, however. I lightened up, and so did the students.

We joked around more. I made sure I asked them nicely to do things, even though the instinct was to just tell them to do it. Please and thank-you will get you everywhere with teenagers. Unbelievable! They don’t often say it to me, but my courtesy to them significantly improved their attitudes.

The girl I spent a couple weeks fighting didn’t stop talking in class. She didn’t suddenly put in enough effort to pass. She did share with me, and the rest of the class, that she nearly died from doing tainted drugs.

Wow. That hit me. Hard. All I could think about for the rest of that day is how horrible it would be to come to school and discover that one of my students had died due to drug use. It sat very heavily on my heart, so I asked one of the experienced teachers in the department what he would do. He suggested giving her a card that let her know I was concerned. I did this, and gave it to her the next day after class. The day after I gave it to her, she came up to me before class and gave me a hug and told me how much it meant to her. She said, “You’re the only one. None of my other teachers did anything. I don’t think they really care.” I know they do, but there isn’t always time to reach every troubled student.

That was the real change. She didn’t stop talking in class, and she was still disruptive. But she treated me with respect. She started coming to my classroom during the last period of the day, because that was when I had a prep period. As a teacher, I am supposed to make her do work then. I didn’t. I just let her talk. I discovered over the course of our conversations that her Mom doesn’t get to spend time with her very often due to divorce agreements. I don’t know the circumstances behind it, but I do know that teenage girls desperately need a female adult in their lives. I became an adult that she can trust.

Teaching is only about ten percent content area. I am a counselor, a confidante, and sometimes a mom to my kids. That’s the true measure of my success in the classroom. The students are my kids, young adults about whom I care greatly, and I miss them. Six weeks ago, I questioned whether I really should be teaching. Now I know that it is what I am supposed to be doing. There are days that are exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s never easy, but it is rewarding. I want to be one of those teachers that kids come back to see five years later, just so they can tell me what they are doing in life. Thanks to some truly awesome colleagues, I think I’ll get there.

Be careful what you wish for

Just a heads-up: this is a bit of a rant, prompted by frustration…

After spending months applying for teaching jobs and not getting hired for a full-time position, I was relieved to be offered a long-term subbing position in the district in which I student taught. I am teaching general and honors biology, and overall it’s a very good experience.

Some days, such as today, I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to go back into teaching. All of my classes have some challenging students, but second and fourth hours in particular. There is a student in my second hour who has told me several times how much she dislikes me. That doesn’t even bother me all that much: I am there to educate them, not be their best friend.

The attitude of some of the students is what floors me. They are disrespectful, both to me and to other students. There are a few that butt heads with me on a daily basis, and they refuse to accept that they are supposed to do what I tell them to do. It’s not like I’m telling them to translate their textbooks into Yiddish or something. Simple instructions, such as stop talking while I’m talking, don’t eat in class (which is a school rule, not just mine), and act like adults if you wish to be treated as such, are all scornfully dismissed with rolled eyes, sighs of contempt, and muttered comments.

I am thankful for the job, no doubt about it. At the same time, it is wearing me down. The students feel they don’t need to treat me with any respect, because I am just a sub. Just a sub who puts in 12-14 hour days planning, grading, and preparing. Just a sub for at least four weeks of their school year, who treats the class as her own, and takes the time to get to know the students, even though I am not there permanently. Just a teacher who wants to get it right, to reach the reluctant students, to make biology at least bearable, if not exactly enjoyable for most.

Can you hear the frustration in my words? I do my best to be a good teacher, but these students make me question myself on a daily basis. Tomorrow should be better. I hope.

Milestones

I started really cycling again last summer, after about twenty years. I rode a lot in high school: not great distances, but on a very regular basis. Last summer was mostly about building up my endurance, regaining fitness, and getting used to riding in general. Over the winter, I used the trainer at least a few times a week to keep somewhat in shape.

Using the trainer sucks, by the way. It is nearly as boring as watching paint dry. I learned that without any assistance, and I am dreading the months that I won’t be able to ride the roads this winter. I have decided to ride outside for as long as I can stand it this fall. I am a wimp when it comes to cold wind, so we’ll see how long I last. Anyway, I digress…

This summer has been about getting faster, improving fitness, and maintaining my sanity. I have gotten faster, I am in better shape, and my sanity is more or less intact. I didn’t set out with the last particularly in mind, but cycling became the perfect outlet for my frustration in the job search and life in general. As a bonus, I learned some new skills from my riding friends, and reached a couple of milestones. They may seem silly or insignificant, but they are milestones in my head.

The milestones:

  • I can ride down a hill and take my hands off the bars (insert, “Look, Ma, no hands!”) This might be foolish, but it’s all about feeling comfortable on the bike and having improved balance.
  • I can ride down a hill or on flats and corner easily just by moving one knee. I learned this one from watching Andy (and I later asked Suzanne, too)…outside foot down, inside knee just needs a slight outward movement, and you can take a pretty tight corner. While staying upright. Without falling, even.
  • I rode a Metric century. I originally wanted to complete a century this year, but didn’t do it. That’s ok, though, because my total riding for this summer was many more miles than last summer.
  • I can do a trackstand now. Whoohoo! I can’t maintain it for very long, but it’s pretty handy when I don’t want to clip out for what seems like the hundredth time on a ride with lots of stops. A trackstand was my fun goal for the summer: not an essential skill, but handy.

I have learned some things about myself, as well.

  • I don’t particularly like to suffer, but sometimes suffering through a ride feels good.
  • I am allowed to ride just for the fun of it! I have pushed myself during many of my rides this summer, and yesterday’s ride was specifically about enjoying the day and the chance to ride in beautiful weather. I rode faster and better during yesterday’s ride than I have on recent training rides.
  • I will always stop to save turtles in the road: I saved another baby snapping turtle yesterday. In fact, I didn’t just stop, but turned around and went back to save it. Softhearted, I guess.

As always, every ride is a good ride…