Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Past, Meet Present. Present, Meet Past.

For some time-- a couple months, perhaps-- I was thinking about how I would return to the "world" of blogging and social media. Exhaustion, lack of inspiration, and general apathy have kept me from returning in the "way" I have desired. I am an ambitious teacher who holds very high expectations for myself, and I tend to be highly critical because there seems to be 9,876 teachers online who seem to have "It"-- incredulous wisdom, innovative Pinterest-ready ideas, stunning classrooms, flawless classroom management. Over time, I have tended to view many of my peers in that light, and that has made me think, How can an article, reflection, or teaching idea from a 34-year old teacher in Florida truly reach others? Is what I write REALLY that important? 

And then I blink-- and think, Nope, not today. Your thoughts really aren't THAT inspiring or unique. The world of the Internet will live without your ideas for your website, or that Twitter post, or your new teaching resource. Maybe tomorrow. 

Next Saturday. 

Next month. Yeah, October sounds great. 

Well, I've outlived my tomorrows, I believe. In the world of my new domain, which is a fabulous work in progress that is due back out this fall, I've lived three years and three months worth of tomorrows. 

I should be more confident, more faithful in my writing abilities, more trusting in my audience because over the years, I have met so many people by putting myself "out there". 

I may meet a few new friends on this next leg of my journey. Friends who I will learn from and grow to admire very much for being phenomenal teachers in this vast world. 

So here I am, about to reflect on something that means quite a bit to me-- 

Past, Meet Present. Present, Meet Past. 

This has been on my mind a lot lately-- not forgetting who we were in the past and most certainly not being ashamed of that individual, either. 

I have been thinking about how this pertains to my classroom, my club, so many things lately.

I have been thinking about who I was in college, high school, and even middle and elementary school. I was extremely self-conscious, quiet, and admittedly awkward. Friendships did not come easily, although obviously, I had some friends. What bothers me now, sort of, is all the untapped potential I possessed. 

Writing very much intrigued me like it does now, and often, I worked on my book series, which I still work on from time to time. From the third grade, I had developed a series of characters who kept evolving as I matured. In high school, I got more serious about writing those characters' stories, and even in adulthood, I have worked on a young adult novel about the next generation who made their way through Northside High School. 

Art has a passion of mine since I was young, but I got immensely discouraged about it in seventh grade because I had a difficult time replicating a depiction of Garfield in art class. While I could have thrived farther and farther, I did not possess a growth mindset. I removed myself from the surroundings and from art class altogether. Furthermore, performing arts has always been something I have very much valued and admired, though it was apparent in high school that I was not the best actor, singer, or dancer. I felt like I embarrassed myself terribly in front of my peers when I tried out for Li'l Abner in my freshman year of high school, that my flat rendition of "You da-surrrvvvee a gal who's willlinnngggg..." made at least a few individuals' skin crawl. And of course my out-of-sync not-so-gallant "jerks" across the stage during the "Sadie Hawkins Day Ballet"... if at least one person did not cringe, then I was surrounded by immensely tolerant people because I well knew I was holding at least a few people back with my lack of coordination. 

I was the girl who was kind of awkward at the Homecoming Dance, the girl in the bleachers who was the onlooker. The girl who in seventh grade headed to the Halloween Dance wearing curlers and a robe to soon discover that it was immensely uncool to arrive in that manner in 1994. 

As the years passed, I became kind of ashamed of that girl who laughed at the wrong moments sometimes-- or not at the right moments. The girl who wasn't always masterful with the art of communication. The girl who was "different", I guess. The girl who was relentlessly bullied almost every day from the third until the eighth grade. 

The girl who learned to read two months after turning four, who well qualified IQ-wise for gifted classes but was never enrolled for a few reasons, the girl who read chapter books in kindergarten and was a pretty substantial behavior problem that year because of boredom. 

The girl who came up with inventions all the time, the girl who learned to code at age sixteen using a website called Lissa Explains It All, the girl who tried to hack a Commodore 64 computer in the sixth grade with a series of batch codes that went awry, the girl who wanted to perhaps become an architect because she sketched floor plans flawlessly from the age of seven. However, that dream dwindled as soon as I realized how much math it involved-- and math was my vice, so I pursued majoring in Education instead, hoping to become a high school Language Arts teacher. 

I also thought of being a fashion designer, as I sketched out numerous outfits from the time I was either four or five, in three-dimensional depictions, but I was turned off by the impossibility of succeeding in the fashion industry due to the competition and again, the math. 

College was an awkward time for me, too, though at least I knew what I wanted to pursue. Within a month of my freshman year in college, I decided I was going to be a fourth or a fifth grade teacher (which have been the only two grades I have "officially" taught outside of being a MS Technology Club advisor). However, there are still aspects of me I felt ashamed of-- the fact I wasn't as sophisticated as I could have been, the fact I had numerous self-conscious moments (one of the biggest of me covering my face when my friend Allyson filmed me with my video camera because of my acne), and not being a part of the Core Team of the group I belonged to for all four years of college. Although this is not personal, I felt like my story up until that point did not matter. 

The exact story I just told you, about being encouraged and discouraged, ambitious and talented, bullied and ashamed. 

Fast-forward 12 1/2 years later-- I am in my thirteenth year of teaching, and at times, I have been ashamed of who I was because I was most certainly not the portrait of "cool". There were times I avoided seeing friends as adults or even connecting with them because they didn't know me when I was an adult-- therefore, I'd always be that lofty, somewhat obscure middle or high school student in their eyes. Even on social media, I've blinked a few times and held back from posting photos of myself because many people looked put-together in their pictures. I know I have told myself: 

That picture doesn't make you look the thinnest. 
Your hair could have looked so much better. 
What in the WORLD was I wearing? 

On the contrary, people have celebrated my successes, and I have had far more than I ever could have imagined. I have traveled fairly extensively and have seen some pretty extraordinary individuals in my lifetime. I never thought I would have had the opportunity to go to Hollywood (I blinked and saw Jennifer Garner, Halle Berry, and Kristen Bell right before my eyes, although it was from a distance!) or meet someone as phenomenal as Ron Clark. I never thought I would create a website as successful as my last one that has taken three years and three months for me to "re-debut" with all kinds of incredible tweaks. I am amazed by the friends I have-- true, honest, genuine friends who believe in me and encourage me when I encounter challenging moments. 

I have just gone on this grand tangent because my story has lived on in our students-- manifested in so many different ways, but we have to encourage our students to face their past, present, AND future. 

My past self has taught me these lessons-- 
  • To enforce empathy in my classroom. 
  • To really be cognizant of signs of whether a student is being bullied. 
  • To encourage students to further their talents and not give up on them. 
  • To encourage students to be genuine individuals who are shaped by the stories of their past, but do not let any mistakes of their past define them. 
  • To let my students know that it is MORE THAN OKAY to be "nerdy"-- I do not mean that in an insulting manner, in the least, and they very well know that!
  • To let my students to be accepting of peoples' differences. 
My present self has let me know this about my past to bring into my present-- 
  • I should not have let myself get discouraged by art that easily. 
  • I also should have taken Graphic Arts because I am really good at it now. It's okay, though; I opened my heart to really loving it around 2001 or so. 
  • I am grateful I did not completely give up on developing my singing voice. Although I am not a grand soloist now, I can at least carry a tune. Also, I can learn to sing better at any time now. 
  • I didn't mention this earlier, but I didn't join the Cross Country team in high school because of my lack of success in Gym. However, I have participated in a few races as an adult and can keep going with practice. I know I am capable of being good. I now wish I had joined because the coach was an amazing (eleventh grade Language Arts) teacher of mine. 
  • I should not have let math intimidate me that much-- because in all honesty, math is not that bad. I learned that in my twenties, but at least... I didn't let it frighten me any longer. I think embracing math made me love science more, and that makes my heart soar. 
  • It's okay to put yourself out there as your present self to those who only recall your past self. 
  • DON'T EVER ABANDON YOUR PAST SELF... because I don't doubt... that person was really, really cool. Maybe "talk" to that "person" for a couple minutes. 
  • Don't ever let anyone silence your "voice" or dull your sparkle. Whomever in your past attempted to do so (envious classmates, teachers who didn't resonate with your passion, or even well-meaning family members) is not you, and you need to know the only person you really answer to in this world is yourself. 
  • So be unabashedly awesome, loving every chapter of your life story.
Well, I have been writing for quite a bit longer than I originally envisioned. I am also very grateful I wrote. This is bringing on a very special project I would like to start-- one that has stirred in my mind for months and will manifest in the near future because now it has a driving force behind it. 

Educators, I hope you find value and think of your own story that made you who you are today as well as your students' stories. Please let them know that every person they've ever been is a huge part of who they will be for life-- and every aspect of our lives can teach us incredulous lessons about who we are ultimately meant to be.