Saturday, October 15, 2016

pieces are clicking into place

Monday we saw both caseworkers and the kids' CASA. Plus their therapist. It was a super busy day, but also a really positive day since we got some great news.

Our finalization has been moved up!

Instead of waiting until after Christmas like we initially thought, it looks like e will get to finalize shortly after Thanksgiving! No specific dates have been decided upon yet, but November 8th is when we petition and we have been told that there has been approximately a two week turn around lately.

The tentative date range is the week after Thanksgiving.

I am overjoyed and suddenly very aware of how little time that truly is. I have so much to do to get everyone (and our house) ready for such an awesome event! We need nice, cool weather appropriate, clothes for court. I need to figure out what decorations we will have in our home for the finalization party we will host. Not to mention begin creating a guest list and alert family members to the change so they can plan accordingly.

My principal has been amazing and has already promised to help me work out time off issues if the dates fall during school time (since I was planning on the event happening during a school break). The woman is so incredibly supportive. I love her for it.

Some may think it silly, but I booked a photographer for the actual finalization in court. I want pictures from that day. Good quality pictures with all of us in them. Some candid moments we didn't realize were happening. Moments you can't catch on an iPhone during court proceedings.

Through all of the excitement and rush to plan, I find myself reflecting on the timing of this incredible event. It will be during Advent. A time of the year when even the most cynical people take a step back and let the world believe in magic. A time when people believe in miracles. How fitting that the greatest miracle of my life would occur during a time like that.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Virecit vulnere virtus



My family heritage can be traced back to Clan Stewart, a group which originated in the Scottish Highlands and has an absolutely beautiful tartan.

The picture above is the clan crest. It depicts a pelican piercing her own breast to feed her young... an image from an old Scottish folktale... and the inspiration for the clan motto seen in Latin around the image. It translates to "Courage grows strong at a wound".

I have never identified with that mama pelican more than I have in the last few months.

I have never fully understood this motto more until we met our children a few months ago.

September 2016 has been a month of enormous personal growth for me. At the beginning of the month it felt like the hits would never stop coming. In the middle of the month I thought the confusion and pain would beat me and I would lose everything.  Now, at the end of the month, I am grateful for the fight because it strengthened me.

It showed me how tough I am. And it showed me that my strength comes from a deep reservoir of love and courage I never knew ran that deep. It comes from seeing myself in a dark place and recognizing how I have conquered that particular demon before.

It comes from trusting in the gifts God has given me.

This week in kindergarten was different. I stopped doing it the way my team recommended and started doing it the way that felt right to me. Far less paper and much more movement. More spontaneous songs. More teamwork. And you know what? The kids were different.

Nobody had to go see the principal. Nobody threw fits. Nobody went home crying... not even me.

I'm still figuring out the mom thing, but I know how to be a teacher. I know how to be a good one. And I suspect that the two are more closely related than I realize.

I have to follow my instincts. I have to trust myself.

And I have to have courage.

The pain I've been though has gifted me that and I refuse to squander it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Living on a prayer



The big move happened. I was told I would be displaced 10 days before the county actually gave me my official assignment. Last Monday I actually worked as a substitute teacher because my room was packed up and they needed an extra sub.

After all was said and done, I was sent to a much smaller school than the one I was at previously (1300 students to just barely 700) and I went from 1st grade to kindergarten. I also went from a 10-15 minute commute to a 40-45 minute commute.

The school I ended up at is a lovely school in and of itself. The principal has been amazing thus far and my grade level team (all 3 of them) have been as welcoming and helpful as possible. They began the year with 30 kids each, so they are thrilled to have some relief. The school has a lot of community involvement and does so many of those nostalgic, quintessentially elementary school things so many of us miss like dressing up for Halloween, pajama day, assemblys for special days, and school spirit events involving water/slime/etc. Both of my kids have great teachers who also have kids attending the school. They seem to be adjusting well and both have already made several friends.

I was given a full 4 days in my room to prepare for the kids and the bookkeeper for the school gave me free reign on ordering supplies for my classroom, so that was awesome. I got data folders on my kids my very first day as well, which was helpful.

It's not a bad place to be.

That said, I feel like I'm drowning and I feel insanely guilty for having such a difficult time adjusting.

Kindergarten is NOTHING like first grade. It's nothing like I have ever seen or experienced before. I did my practicum in kindergarten for my degree during the end of the school year when they were practically 1st graders. These kids are sweet as can be, but they have no idea how to be in school. They are not independent in any capacity other than using the bathroom on their own. That's a huge difference from 1st graders who can at least focus on a task for a few minutes without direct teacher direction. I've drafted a letter to my Alma mater letting them know of this gap in teacher preparation. It's that much of a big deal.

The other teachers on my grade level are providing as much support as possible, and they truly have been a great resource, but they are also teaching and trying to rearrange their classrooms to accommodate the new status quo. Our paraprofessional is basically a saint, but she is also helping 4 different classrooms. It's like the first week of school again for all of kindergarten, but the school year itself is continuing to go on as planned.

I have parent teacher conferences this week. All of the data I am discussing for my 22 students is data collected by other people 8 weeks ago. I have been able to observe these kids in class for 1 week, so my ability to give feedback on their progress is limited at best. Yet I have to produce conference forms detailing their progress for each of the 5 subject areas. And I already have parents emailing me asking for pre-conference data. I didn't even know this was a thing. In my last school it was like pulling teeth to get parents to show up for conferences in the first place and all they wanted to know was if their kid was behaving.

On Wednesday I had a parent come in for a conference and request SST services. I've never done that process before without being the person who collected the RTI data as well. I don't even really know this child, but I need to give my professional opinion on her academic ability?

Because I am ESOL certified, I was given all of the ESOL served kids in kindergarten (all 6 of them) which is fine with me since I love ESOL instruction. However, I'm finding that ESOL instruction in an upper middle class suburban school is much different than in an urban, lower socioeconomic level school. Parents don't like walking into the room and seeing labels and pictures on everything. They don't want to see alternative work spaces and hands on, authentic experiences. They want "more rigor" than that. They want to see graded worksheets with 100 written at the top in red pen. *rolling my eyes* I thought kindergarten would appreciate that more....

Then, this week, I received a student new to the school. His family literally arrived in the US on Friday and he began school on Monday. He was put in my class because he speaks only Spanish and I speak enough to be able to communicate with him and understand most of his responses. However, this child is clearly very angry at the changes in his life and I am the one receiving the brunt of his anger. On Friday I actually broke down and sent him to the principal's office because I could.not.deal. with his behavior. He threw pencils at me, hit me, kicked my Promethean board, was running around the room. And when I told him to stop (in Spanish) he looked at me, rolled his eyes, and continued acting out saying he didn't have to listen to me.

I've never had to send a child to the principal before. Not when a third grader was throwing chairs, not when a fifth grader lost control and was sobbing hysterically on the floor yelling curse words, not even when one of my first graders tried to start a fight club on the playground. I was able to diffuse all of those situations and come out the other side with all parties feeling able to move forward.

Not this week. And I feel like I failed that student.

Combine all of those school issues with the fact that I am coming home loaded down with work just to keep up, the kids are grumpy from being cooped up in the car so long, and the fact that Steve just this Wednesday returned to his normal 8-5 hours and you have a giant mess.

The kids are mad at me because I'm not able to do as much with them after school. I simply don't have the energy. I can barely make it through helping with homework. The home cooked dinners everyone has counted on for the last 2 months have also given way to ordering out more. I fell asleep boiling water for spaghetti one night and it freaked me out. The kids aren't happy that our routine is disrupted (even if they can't verbalize that's what it is) and they are directing all of that frustration towards me.

I'm pretty sure I'm only surviving on the prayers of my family and friends (hence the theme music for this post) and the grace of God at this point. Please, pray for me and my family. Pray that we make it through this season of change and uncertainty. Pray that we can see the positives and hold onto hope through seemingly impossible levels of stress.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Plot Twist


In all seriousness, it's been nuts around here.

As you know, I started a new job in a new county and school district this year. Still first grade, but everything else changed. So I settled into my routine there and somehow also settled into being a working mom. 

Ok... as settled as possible in a month. 

Then, Y quit dance because she felt she had no time to do her homework or play. Which was basically true. 

Then we got new furniture for the downstairs of our house. It's like a completely new space. 

Yay change! Right?

Steve's schedule got changed to 11am-8pm for the month of September. He gets home after bedtime and doesn't wake up until we are out of the house in the mornings. So I'm doing this daily parenting thing almost completely solo.

Then, on friday my principal told me that, due to low enrollment, I'm being moved to a new school with the opposite problem. Not sure where yet, not sure what grade you'll be teaching either. We'll let you know before you report to your new location in a week.

I spent this week gathering my student's work and data to put it in some sort of organized fashion for my students' new teachers. I also started prepping my 16 little 6 year-olds for the huge change or getting a new teacher after a month of school. 

All while not knowing anything about my own situation except that I'm leaving. And I have one work day to pack up my room. 

Oh yeah... and not sure when I'll be able to register my kids at the new school since they WILL be coming with me. Not sure how I'll juggle things if registration doesn't mesh with my new schedule. 

And let's not forget that, to my kids, a new school was always code for "new home". So they have been experiencing one giant emotional trigger for a full week. Lots of defiance and acting out which is not normal for them. Tons of fun for me. Because again, I'm pretty much on my own.

It's been a stressful September to say the least.

Our family could definitely use some prayers to get us through this crazy transition. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

God Heals

About a week ago I went to confession. As I waited in line for my turn, an older woman walked into the sanctuary and walked to stand behind me in line. Before she got to her place in line, she looked up at me and caught my eye for just a second, then immediately began rummaging in her bag.

Shortly thereafter, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

She offered me a prayer card featuring St. Raphael the Archangel and said "Take this. You need this prayer".

St. Raphael's Prayer

St. Raphael, Archangel, medicine of God, revered friend and intercessor of those in need, healer of the blind, terror of the demons, accompany us on our life's journey here, guard us to our salvation in the next.

Bring healing and freedom to us from God, to praise and glorify Him as our Father. Protect and deliver us as we humbly pray from all temptation and bondage of the devil. 

Oh St. Raphael, guardian and defender of families, obedient messenger of God, Most High, assist us that our fiat to God may be firm, to carry our crosses daily, and follow Jesus in perfect surrender to His Most Holy Will for the greater praise and glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Amen.

She was right. I did need that prayer. I need that prayer every day. 

Raphael means "God heals" and my family is in need of healing. The kids have their past traumas, Steve and I have our infertility, and each of us have our own insecurities and demons we battle daily. 

Call me crazy, but I needed this reminder that God has our back and that he has sent us the most amazing helpers to guide us on this journey. 

It is further proof to me that we are following God's will for us and listening to him. And that's all we ever wanted to do.

Look up the story of Raphael if you get the chance. It's truly incredible and encouraging. Especially to this mama of a family on the road to healing.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Like Billy Madison, I'm back to school

This past week was our first week of the school year and I am happy to report that we all survived!

The kids seem to be the ones adjusting to the new schedule the best. They have been awake and already preparing for the day by the time I make my way to their rooms to give them their scheduled wake up call. They have also handled all the time in my room before and after school well. M has been faithful in doing his homework each night (30 minutes of reading) despite being a self-proclaimed hater of all things book related. Y has not had homework yet, but I sense this is simply a small back to school gift from her teachers before the real hard work begins.

I, on the other hand, have been dragging. My body and brain are not used to this new schedule yet. My Spanish skills are a bit rusty from disuse over the summer which has made introductions interesting. I'm also trying to adjust to the fact that I have stuff to do with the kids in the afternoons now and can't rely on quiet evenings at home to handle school related stuff. Y has dance, both kids have various appointments, and errands to run.

It's a good change, but it's a big one.

Steve finished up his paternity leave and is back to enjoying the thrills of corporate American life. His group got a little behind on delivering trainings while he was gone, so he is busily playing catch up this week (and even on Saturday morning).

All things combined made this week a big challenge for us as a family. We made it through, but it was clear last night that we all needed some time to relax. The kids get really testy when they are tired and I have been pulling out all of my coping strategies to stay as calm and patient as I can.

It's one thing to read all the parenting strategies and books recommended by the agency, it's another to actually put them into practice when you have had no sleep and someone continues doing their "most annoying sound in the world" competition while I'm cooking dinner and attempting to create student login cards simultaneously.

One thing I'm trying not to stress about (but can't seem to help myself) is my class size and all the implications that come with it. I only have 16 kiddos. The entire grade level is hovering around 20 kids each, but I have the lowest by far. This wouldn't be a problem at all if it weren't for the fact that our 9 kindergarten classes are all hovering around 27 kids each.

Nobody has said anything official about moving teachers around yet, but as the newest hire of the grade level with the lowest official enrollment, AND having the smallest class in that grade level, there is a strong possibility that I could be moved to kindergarten. Obviously I'll make the best of the situation if it happens. I am just crossing my fingers that I get to stay put. I've got enough big transitions happening in my life right now. Adding the task of teaching a brand new grade level to the mix is not an appealing possibility at the moment.

Monday, August 1, 2016

More Beginnings

Today was my first official day back to work after the summer break.

As I mentioned previously, I'm in a new school this year but the same grade level. I am also in a regular classroom in the building now rather than a trailer. By some stroke of luck, I am by the teacher bathrooms, two sets of student bathrooms, the clinic, and the cafeteria.

Part of me feels like I have died and gone to teacher heaven.

My new grade level team is pretty awesome as well. I do miss my old teammates, but the new ones hold their own when it comes to being inclusive and communicating important information.

I won't even mention the ridiculous amount of resources (technology, manipulatives, books, etc.) at my disposal this year.

The kids will be attending school with me this year as well so they have stopped by a few times to help me set up my room and get a look at the teachers in their grades. Its so funny watching their faces get all shy when I introduce them to others in the building.

With last weekend full of back to school shopping during the tax free weekend, I think we are just about ready to get this year started!

To all my teacher friends, even those who will be starting closer to Labor Day, I wish you a fantastic school year!