Monday, December 8, 2014

Guess What Week it is?

IF ONLY  I could get the folks who make the lovably annoying camel commercial to come over the loudspeaker at my school tomorrow and announce, "Guess WHAT DAY IT IIIIS? Hey, Mikemikemikemike. Guess what day it is? It's Your Birthdayyyyy yeah!"

Okay maybe I'm too old for that.

But I think the older we get, the longer we are allowed to stretch our celebrations (sans the stretch marks) from a 24-hour period to a 7-day series of cheers and hugs and e-mails and lunches and extended naps away from the children. Yes, we women love our birthday weeks.

I was merely in the consideration stage of all the things I wanted to do for my week. Hadn't even planned anything other than taking off a half-day (sorry little darlings, but putting students' names on the board and sending them to the principal because "Johnny" said he was going to beat "Suzie's" ass if she talked about his mama one more time is not my idea of a happy birthday. )

But the plans started rollin' in and let me tell you, I started celebrating on Friday with ...
wait for it ... an invitation to see JEN HATMAKER SPEAK IN REAL LIVE PERSON! One of my dearest friends ever knew how much I loved this amazing Christian author/blogger/woman/speaker and invited me to a dinner at her church where JH was the keynote. Unlike last time I "thought" I met JH in the women's locker room at a spa -- nope, wasn't her -- I was really only about 50 feet away from her. We even had a question/answer session and I was the double dipper. I couldn't help it! I asked two questions and then was able to worship with some amazing women before hearing JH speak wisdom about the Christmas story. Wise men have nothin' on this woman. I'm just sayin.'

Then Saturday the Horned Frogs made an extra special effort to win their final game of the year in my honor of turning forty-something. Thanks guys! See you in Atlanta for New Year's. Roses are overrated.

Sunday I received Gift No. 3 and I was still two days away. Our church offers an amazing Christmas Cantata every year and it's all I can do not to don my tacky Christmas sweater for the event. Picture a full choir and orchestra wearing red and black, children's choir, bell choir, packed house, all singing Christmas carols in unison. Hallelujiah! They don't even print words in the program because HELLO! Who doesn't know the words to Silent Night and O Little Town? Okay, they do have the words up on the big screen for those who need to peek. But I am a sucker for Christmas music. My heart absolutely explodes with the Holy Spirit and the awesomeness of our glorious King of Kings. My toes are tapping just thinking of it!

Today, birthday eve: My sweet, sweet, prayer warrior friend at school comes into my classroom this morning with a cake and a gift. And the cake has my name on it! This woman can make anyone smile and feel loved, and she certainly did that for me today.
Bonus gift:After she left, my students inquired about my birthday. One young man asked, "How old will you be Ms. Speer, 28?"

Bless you my child. You will receive an honorary A. All year long. In every subject.

Then I had another friend actually wish me a "Happy Birthday Eve." How great is that?

I'm making record of these birthday week events only to reflect that I have received more than I ever could put on a list, and it's not even my birthday yet. There's so much to be thankful for. The only things I could on paper (aside from a really great bottle of wine, if you're asking specifics) are:

  •  hugs from my children
  •  kisses from my husband 
  • the love of my parents
  • the grace and mercy of my Savior
  • my students -- smiles on their faces and hope in their hearts
  •  the constant smiles, laughter and support with which my friends surround me like a fleece Snuggie. 

Love y'all.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Timely Blessing

The  blessing is coming just in time.

For the last month, our church small group members have been working to provide Blessing Bags for the students at my school. First we were challenged by our pastor to volunteer as a group somewhere in the community. Next, we determined the students in my school were certainly deserving of our time, money and anything we could provide for them. Finally, we came up with a list of foods and toiletries to purchase at a local superstore.

Other groups helped us to stuff 80 bags with boxes of macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, spaghetti sauce, cleaning supplies and other basics that are staples in my own kitchen. Items always on my pantry shelves. They're not fancy delicacies, but things that are easy and inexpensive enough to replenish on a weekly basis, or whenever we're running low.

The students at my school get free breakfast and lunch. Here's how the early morning meal works: Students come into class at 7:40 and get their breakfast and milk out of insulated, red pouches. Sometimes it's waffles in a bag, cereal in a box, ham and egg sandwiches or muffins. After the 8:00 morning announcements, breakfast is over. The pouches are put outside in the hallway for cafeteria staff to remove and teaching begins.

On Friday, one of my students -- we'll call him Tyrone -- asks if he can have a few extra pancakes on a stick -- the menu item of the morning. School rules say that after breakfast is over, all the remaining food has to be disposed and students are not allowed extras. I reminded my little friend of these rules and he was none too happy. The principal happened to walk by as he and I were having this discussion, so I wrote a note to her and gave it to Tyrone. "If she says yes, then I'll let you keep one to eat for lunch," I said.

I took this route simply because I knew he wouldn't stop with me until he got what he wanted. This little guy is street smart and only listens to the highest authority possible. With me, he has extremely selective listening. I was almost sure the principal would say no, he would have to abide, and I could go on with my lesson.

I was surprised when he came back into the classroom with the little note and the word "yes" circled in black pen. So I gave him the plastic-wrapped pancake on a stick and told him where to keep it until lunch time.

A few minutes later, my principal walked by to check on my classroom and I questioned the note. She pulled me aside to tell me that there was no food in the boy's home, and he was stockpiling food in anticipation of a long night of hunger pains. All this from a small 8-year-old boy who was seasoned in evenings without dinner. Needless to say, I felt awful, not only for doubting him, but also for knowing that my pantry is overflowing with cans and boxes and bags of food ... so much that often I don't even use it until the expiration date comes and goes.

So when the members of my small group come to my school this week and deliver Blessing Bags for each student in our grade level, I will praise God that "enough" is being provided for these small survivors. He always provides just in time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Back to School Jitters

School starts back in one week and I am jittery. Nervous. Twitchy and antsy.

But it's not because of the students who will walk in the classroom already taller than me. Nor is it because of the inevitable fights I'll have to break up (again, with students towering a head over mine).

I'm not even worried about the moms who will come up to the school and tell me it's my job to handle the discipline of their child, and "I don't care if she flipped somebody off. They probably deserved it." (Yeah, that really happened, but I'll elaborate in another post.)

No, I'm worried to death about my bladder. After a school year of holding it all day or calling for assistance in room 302 so I can run down to the teacher's lounge at breakneck speed and then wait for the one women's restroom to be unoccupied, my bladder was more excited about the summer than I was. It's motto was "free to be me and pee." Our relationship blossomed over the break, because anytime said bladder sent the signal that it needed a little attention, I always responded within 30 seconds.
This summer I was free at all times to drop what I was doing, announce "Excuse me, I'm going to the restroom" like I was Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island, and take care of business. It was thrilling at first, but then I think my bladder became a little too demanding in the relationship.

For the past month here's what's been happening. I'm sitting at the computer, or having a cocktail with friends and like hummingbird to nectar WHAM! I have to go RIGHT THEN. Sometimes I wait until an appropriate lull in the conversation or a commercial break, but as soon as I stand up I am walking like my knees are connected, pigeon-toed and holding my breath to the ladies room. I'm sorry bladder, I'm not trying to make you wait but give a girl a little time!

Like right now, I am writing this and my leg is bouncing up as if I'm playing horsey with an imaginary toddler. No matter that this may be an award-winning post, or I might give other teachers some common ground on which to stand so they don't feel alone. No, Mr. B has no mercy. As soon as I stand from this chair, my family best clear a path because I will  knock down any obstacles between here and the restroom.

But I'm writing this for you, fellow teachers; what are we to do? Come a week from now, I may amidst a riveting lesson about prefixes and suffixes. I am really concerned that just as I get to the meaning of  "dis-", my bladder signals "ALERT ALERT!" and all the assistants are in the other hallway (probably relieving all the other teachers with this back-to-school condition).

I am apologizing now to my school and other students, who I constantly remind ALL DAY LONG not to run in the hallway. If Mr. B calls, I will be running in the hallway.

I will most likely leave my students in the classroom to avoid embarrassment.

I will do the unthinkable and use the student restroom if the single-stall teacher's lounge ladies room is occupied/occupado.

If an assistant does not come, I may yell "EMERGENCY IN ROOM 302!" on the walkie talkie.

I will enroll in bladder therapy to work out our most-certainly strained relationship.

I may have to meet with my teacher team to devise a tag-team-pee system. (Seriously not kidding about this one.)
I will not, however, purchase Depends. Sorry Mr. B, I am always in control of my students, and I will certainly be in control of you.
Remember friends, to achieve it you have to believe it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tidal Waves

Sometimes children can make you laugh or cry, depending on the day, moment, time of the month, etc. Yesterday, my tears were a-flowin'.

Last week, all five of my children attended  or served at our church's VBS. It was an amazing week, being able to love on and share the gospel with thousands (not exaggerating) of little people. One thing I learned through the entire week was the ability to move slowly. Those of you who know me are thinking this is not possible for my little legs. I walk down the hallway at school like I'm in a speed-walking competition (either that or I always have to go to the bathroom). But when I was working on braiding bracelets with these munchkins, God slowed me down and showed me patience. Even when we left camp each day, I didn't rush to the car. I didn't speed down the highway to get on to the next activity. I sauntered, perused, dragged and strolled as I asked my chickadees what they learned at camp -- to which they replied, "About Jesus, mom!" with the "duhhh!" tone of voice. Good enough for me.

When I take the focus off myself and put it on others, God starts rockin' in my life.

So get this.

On Monday, I picked up one of my former students and her sister from their apartment to come over and play with the kids. Amy and her sister Melody had been to our house before. These were probably the only two "playdates" they had in their little lives. They were amazed with everything; trampoline, computer, blender -- yes the blender. They made health shakes. Not sure what was in 'em, but I tasted a little chocolate, so I chugged mine down.

The first sign of God working in our lives that day was how generous my own daughters were, as they know how little Amy and Melody have. Caroline gave one of her favorite stuffed animals to Melody (so that's 250-1 = 249 left. Anyone need some stuffed animals?) Casey made a bracelet for Amy and gave her a bathing suit. That's not me, that's God, folks.

After dinner we took the girls home to their two-bedroom apartment on the far East side where three adults and six children live. Try to picture that one in your head and see if you don't get a little claustrophobic. My daughters and I walked the girls in and cooed over the new 3-month old baby, as Amy translated how much fun all the kids had at our house. Then mom asked Amy to translate something to me.

She asked what church we attended, and I told her, giving her information about the service times and children's programs. But I soon realized she was asking for another reason.
Another message in Spanish, and then Amy translated again. "Ms. Speer, I don't know how to say in Spanish, but when you have a baby, you go to the church and someone stands up for the baby to get baptized by the preacher."

"Like a godmother or godfather?" I clarified.

"Yes a godmother. My mom wants you to be the baby's godmother."

Much of the reason I am writing this blog is that I cannot tell this story without weeping. God led me to care for this sweet family in the small ways I could  ... Christmas presents, clothes and blankets when they needed it, some extra notebook paper or books to take home. This little girl will be something some day because she truly understood the value of education. She wrote songs and poems about it, and studied harder than any student I've ever taught. So when she confirmed the word "godmother," a wave of God's never-ending, abundant blessing washed over me like a tidal wave. I cried all the way home as I tried to explain to my daughters -- who were kinda freaked at the sight of their sobbing mother -- that I felt so undeserving of God's gift, and he was using us to reach out to this sweet family.

Yesterday's lesson from the Lord: When we give a little, we receive more from Him than we could ever imagine.

Thanks for reading. Now I'm going to walk slowly to the kitchen and casually make lunch.  Did I mention that I LOVE SUMMER?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Summer Checklist

IT'S HERE! Fellow teachers,  please join me in a loud "Hallelujiah" and can I get an "AMEN!" The first day of our ever-dwindling but nevertheless still existent summer break is officially here. My mom called yesterday to tell me she could hear my sigh of relief all the way across Tarrant County.
Now don't get me wrong readers. I love teaching. It makes my heart sing when a student finally spells a word correctly, or can recount the summary of a story, or writes a sentence without a single mistake.

I love seeing my students smile when they tell me about a book they really enjoyed reading.

I love the sound of the pencil sharpener  --- whoops. That's the sound I hate the most. Will someone PLEASE invent a silent electric pencil sharpener? If I get near an espresso machine (which sounds all too similar to a pencil sharpener) this summer, I might break out into hives or have a small seizure. So don't invite me out for espresso, please.

In case you were wondering what teachers do in the summer, here's a sampling of my agenda:

  • Sleep until 10 (I made it until 10:30 this morning! Kids were at their grandparents' house, so that always helps).
  • Watch  Ellen, Judge Judy, Flip This House, reruns of Modern Family, everything on Food Network, Yyanla Fix My Life and anything else the clicker lands upon ... DURING THE DAY.
  • Go to the pool and lay there. Just lay. Lay and read. Then lay. Then swim. Then more laying. Or is it lying? I think it's lying, but that would be telling a fib. So I am not lying that I will be laying. 
  • Swing on the front porch with my kids. If you see us, stop by and have a glass of wine. If it's before noon, I'll add a little orange juice and we'll call it a morning sunshine spritzer. 
  • Crafting and doing projects around the new house. My darling husband has no idea what he might see on a daily basis when he arrives home from work. Wall painting, distressed furniture, rearranged photographs ... just take a look at my Pinterest boards and you'll understand this girl means business. I'm also going to try all those different hair ideas like the boho braid or the messy updo with a headband. There's no need to comment if you see me with 20 braids twirled around my scalp. It will change tomorrow.
  • Reading books, starting with all the ones that are stacked up on my bedside table wondering when or if they'll ever be opened. Hang in there, paperbacks and Kindle "wish listers" --- I'm a comin'!
  • My favorite summer past-time: pretending to be a stay-at-home mom. I am soooo good at this! I take the kids on mini-field trips, get oil changes in the middle of the day, answer e-mails on a daily basis (rather than weekly), have lunch with friends, set up play dates; I'm just giddy thinking about it! 
No longer do I have to wait until 5:30 p.m. to rush through Kroger picking up more laundry detergent, Lunchables or last-minute supplies for a school project. Gone are the days of Sunday night grocery shopping; I can load the kids up and take a trip to Target at 1:30 on a Tuesday. I can now sit down on the couch before, during, or even after the 9 o'clock evening hour, nary a paper to grade on my lap. GREATNESS!

I am truly praising the Lord right now. Thank you Jesus! 
Here's a tip for those of you who see me shining in the summer sun during this glorious break: Mention summer staff development or  the word "August" and I will run you over with my car, push you in the pool or call you at 5 a.m. and hang up. 
Happy Summer everyone!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I've Got Something to Tell You

If all teachers had a dime for every time their name was announced, shouted or whined on any given day, we would never need to beg our government for more money because we would be filthy rich. Since my last name is one syllable, the call of my children sounds much like one of those jungle birds -- "CaCAW! CaCAW! CaCAW! CAA CAWWWWWWW!"
Of course I ignore them, because I am behavior-management savvy (in my own mind) and they know I will not answer them until they raise their hands.

Since I am not an octopus or three-headed snake, I cannot attend to all the darlings' needs at once. So I created a bucket in my classroom labeled "I've Got Something to Tell You!" It has slips of paper next to it, and any time a student just can't wait to tell me something or needs to disclose some news discreetly, he or she can write it on the paper and drop it in the bucket. I check it at the end of the day and usually write back.

Sometimes the notes say things like "You're the best teacher!" (Naturally). Other times the sentiments are more heartfelt, such as "I wish I could read."

Get your tissues out. This next story sounds like a Hallmark card but I swear it happened.

One of my female students, we'll name her Sarah, is of the larger size for her age. She wears the same faded, blue jacket on her body and the same grumpy, lackadaisical look on her face each day. I often get over-cheery when I greet her each morning, just to see if she'll actually smile or even laugh at my cheerleader-like efforts. Anything.

So about two months ago, I was going through the bucket and pulled out a paper, folded into fourths. I opened it in the solace of my post-schoolday classroom (ahhhhh, what a nice sound) and read these words. "I hate myself and I am ugly." 

The next day when Sarah's class lined up for the teacher handshake, I asked her to stand aside until everyone came in so I could speak to her. The other students quietly went to work on their morning problem of the day, working like busy bees ... oh wait, I'm dreaming. The other students were going nutso in the classroom, but I was determined to have a quiet moment with this wounded warrior.
I told her I read her note, and that I wanted her to know something.

"You are beautiful. You are smart. And you are loved." I said. "Now I don't know who told you that you are ugly, but they're wrong. I'm your teacher and you need to listen to me."

I told her to repeat those three statements, which she did. Then as each day went on, I continued to pull her aside every few days and ask her, "Sarah, what are you?"

She would repeat, "I am beautiful, I am smart and I am loved." Often she would say it just to appease me or just so I'd let her go sit at her desk. But she always knew the answer to my question.

Then today, which was just an ordinary Tuesday with 6 weeks of school to go (HALLELUJAH SING THE ANGELS OF THE LORD), I checked the bucket again.
Inside was a paper, folded into fourths.

I opened it, and read these words:
"I am beautiful. I am smart and I am loved. Love, Sarah."

And that's why I am a teacher.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

16 Stitches

Today was a testing day at our school, and it's a trying time for students who, when asked to sit quietly for 30 minutes while others complete their test, react as if you are asking them to swallow a live cockroach. So when we up the ante to a 4-hour stretch, you can imagine the resistance.

One of my struggling readers was … well, struggling. She was at question number 3. Fear not, I thought to myself, because I have a bag full of pep talks sure to make any sulker turn into a swagger, turn any Debbie Downer into a Polly Positive, any Doubting Thomas … okay you get the picture. I can  sell these kids on most anything.

First thing I do is kneel and get on her level. (Any good teacher knows this). Then I lower my voice and turn on my calm, sweet Kindergarten teacher voice, which sounds kind of like Yoga instructor voice without all the swirly breath lingo. Then I gently touch her back because I know this student enough to know that appropriate touch is "OK" with her.
"Olivia, (not her real name by any stretch of the imagination)," I say, "If you keep going and finish your test, I'll give you a prize ticket."
Her eyebrows raised just enough for me to know I was going to have to take a different direction.
"Olivia," I say, "I know you can do this. You have been working really hard this week. You've got this."
Again, a look that showed she wasn't about to believe this white blonde lady whispering to her. She might as well have just said, "Really?"
So I reached into my bag o' tricks and pulled out the gentle but tough speech, the one I often perform with a wide smile and clenched teeth. I took a deep breath, replaced the yoga music in my head to a rough rap beat, and leaned in closer to her face.
"Olivia," (again, so very far from her real name)," I sternly suggested, "You are smart and you need sit up and finish this test." Then I tapped her paper with my index finger for effect and added, "Right. Now."
I hit some kind of nerve, because she began telling me she should have stayed in second grade because she still didn't know how to read. Then her diatribe took a turn.
"I should have stayed in second grade but that girl kept messin' with me. I told her not to mess with me. I told her but she didn't listen. So I bit her in the head and she had to have 16 stitches. I told her not to …"
At this point I realized how close I was to her face and I slowly backed away. She was still reliving the biting and I was thinking "OMG if I push her too far with this test taking stuff, I'll be sent packing from the war with a bite wound on my head." I might liken it to when you reach out to pet a stray dog; all of a sudden it starts bearing its teeth and growling, so you slowly back away with "Nice doggie!"
I was fast-forwarding through the potential scenes that might ensue, when she said, "and I should have stayed in second but she messed with me so they just passed me on to 3rd grade."
Needless to say, I made some sort of deal with her that clicked. She was eyeing my cup of Starbucks coffee and said she wanted some. I told her if she finished the test and did her best I'd bring her a cup on Friday (genius, I know .. offering to bring a caffeine loaded drink to a third-grader who starts flipping over her seat like it's a pommel horse after 45 minutes in the classroom.) Nonetheless, she put her nose to the grindstone and finished.
Success? She finished the test and I walked out of the class injury-free. You be the judge.