Monday, June 5, 2017

Post Dismissal Brain Malfunction

A blog about school days may seem anti-climactic now that the doors are closed for the
summer. But it is only today I can reflect on what actually happens to my brain during the
academic year on a daily basis.

When the dismissal bell rings and the last student leaves at 3 p.m. so does my ability to
formulate complex sentences. I can't remember words like "pencil," "website," "classroom,"
or even my name. In an effort to recapture the lost vocabulary, I stare into space, as if the word
is going to come soaring at me from above and pop into my head. Instead, my head
resembles the brown rim at the bottom of a coffee cup at day's end. Nothing there, empty, sad,

It's really bad when a parent stops me in the hallway to ask a question after a day of instruction.
Here's what it sounds like:
Parent: "Hi, Do you know what happened to Susie's benchmark test results from the fall
and if her grade has improved for this 6 weeks' progress report?" It's February.
Me. "Ummm ...yes. She. Did. Good. Ummm."

So then I start snapping my fingers as if high level vocabulary words will magically appear in my head, like Cinderella's fairy godmother with her dress. Alas, I appear as if I'm
musically challenged and looking for a lost rhythm with my snapping.

Parent: "Do you know what skills she's struggling with in reading?"
At this point, academically challenging words like "author's purpose" or
"fluency level" have left me like a plane bound for Cancun.
Me: Hold up the imaginary phone in my hand, nod and mumble, "Conference tomorrow?"

This is largely because for a full seven hours... and I'm talking FULL, a teacher says things like
"Stop. Pick that up. Please. Get out your journal. Yes. Bubble in your mouth. Raise your hand.
Fabulous answer. Not exactly, but good try. Put away the fidget spinner. This is your warning.
Where is your permission slip? Get your finger out of your nose, please. Put some hand
sanitizer on it, you'll be fine. Stop drumming on the desk. Please. THE FIDGET SPINNER IS MINE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR AND ALL ETERNITY!"

I feel especially sorry for my own children when I come home and they ask what we're having
for dinner. "Ummm," I answer, snapping for the magic to happen. "The yellow stuff, box,
cheese. Meat. "
My daughters look at me with that special teenage gaze. So loving and helpful.
"You mean mac and cheese with meatballs?" they answer.
"YES!" I jump and point emphatically, like a winner on Family Feud.

When will the words return? I wonder. I try to revive my brain cells with an adult beverage
or two, which only results in more staring, snapping and silence. Not effective.
Maybe this summer I'll develop a series of post-dismissal communication queue cards.
When I have after-school meetings or parent conferences, I can just point to cards that read,
"Your student is struggling with long-division skills but excels in spelling words with
-ing endings." Or "I agree; small group instruction allows for differentiation among all students."
Genius, right? Just as long as I make those cards before 3 in the afternoon.
Otherwise, they'll read much like talk show queue cards. APPLAUSE. LAUGH. NOD.

Unexpected Joy

I wrote this last October and just found it under my drafts, waiting anxiously to be published. So 8 months later, summer's here and so is this blog.

Little brown faces with candy corns painted on cheeks. Sticky hands carrying monster-sized, sugar topped cupcakes with Boo! scribed in loopy chocolate writing. Sneakers thrown askance next to a line leading up the bouncy house slide. Hip hop music pumping in the background. Such was the setting for the annual Fall Festival held at Cavile Community Center, smack in the heart of Stop Six.

Tonight, there was no place I would have rather been. Since last week, I'd been looking forward tthis day, for no other particular reason than I hoped to see a few familiar faces since I taught in the neighborhood just two years ago and had volunteered at the festival with my church small group last year.

Well, I take that back. It had been a really crappy day. I was late to school, my amazing lesson plans were thrown out the window with the uncooperative technology, and one of my students had a meltdown because I wouldn't let him watch YouTube  (as if that were ever an option in my classroom), all before noon. I usually regroup during my teeny-tiny lunch break, but due to new district initiatives, I spent my quiet time revamping our weekly newsletter and recreating data spreadsheets for data I am behind on collecting. My poor little lunch sat in my mini-fridge all alone, waiting for me to retrieve it. And sat. And sat.

So when time came and the bell rang, I was eager to get out the door, scoop up my family and head to the center of the Fort Worth East Side projects. Sounds crazy, I know. But I was so ready to love on these kiddos and watch them laugh, run, play in a land where their little lives are nothing but full-on war, day in and day out. I know, because I lived it with them as their teacher for two years.

We arrived at our station, the bouncy slide, and little shoeless bodies were lined up, ready to climb up and slide down. I surveyed the small concrete area that had become a sugary wonderland for these kiddos, all thanks to the people at my church who organize the fall festival every year. You'd have thought I was pulling up to grandma's house when I nearly jumped out of the car, dragging my twin girls behind, looking for familiar faces. There my husband, here a couple from our small group, there another friend from church. And then my heart party started.

Eye contact with a wide-eyed little girl eating an apple. She looked at me and then toward the ground, still walking my way. "Hey Adrianna! Remember me?" I put my arm around her and asked her how she was doing in school. Another familiar face arrived. "You Mrs. Speer? You look different?" More inquiries as to grades and living situation. My conversations dominoed, one former student after another, hugs and shared cupcakes and "what have you been reading lately?" I have to admit, my volunteering wasn't as much working a booth as it was working the crowd, and my loving all over those kiddos was filling my heart so abundantly that it began to overflow.

Then one little girl, Janascia, told me another former student, Mikayla, was also at the festival. She grabbed my arm and walked me toward her. "Mikayla!" She yelled. As the girl's puppy dog-painted face turned to meet mine, we both squealed and hugged each other. "What are you doing here?" She said. Another few girls encircled us and we started talking about other teachers, easy classes and students who had moved.

I asked Mikayla what kind of grades she was making.
"I'm makin' A's, B's and F's," she stated.
"F's!" I said. "When you were in my class you were a straight A student.What's up with that?"
"That's 'cause you was my teacher. You were my best teacher ever!"

I'll tell you what. I may not ever make Teacher of the Year. I'm doing good to stay afloat, and most days I feel like I'm drowning in paperwork, progress reports, plans and people-pleasing. Many days I look at the piles of papers I haven't graded, the boards I haven't cutesified (I made up that word), and the students I failed to love on during the day and wonder why I do this to myself. Lord knows it ain't the money. My husband knows its not all the free time I'll have on the weekends. But the kids-- this kid -- are the solitary reason I spend 50 hours a week trying to reach just one of them. Because every once in a while, I'll reach out into a sea of hands, and one of them, like Mikayla, will reach her tiny brown hand out and grasp onto mine for dear life. I went there tonight to love on warstruck kids, but I left in tears of undeserved joy. Thank you, Mikayla.