Koyaanisqatsi purports to be a Hopi term meaning “Life out of Balance” and if so it accurately describes my life.  My days are fueled by a stomach churning inner core of anxiety that endlessly runs a subliminal script telling me that I’m late, inadequate and short changing someone. No matter what there is not enough. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough me.

At school on a Sunday, writing a test for the 7th graders and a lesson plan for the 8th grade I remind myself that I need to look up science fair projects that use pinewood derby cars for my son whose project description is due on the 23rd.  I glance at the time because I promised my daughter I’d run by Goodwill on the way home to look for items that fit into Homecoming Week’s spirit dress up days. And I try to mentally run through my recent bank debits to make sure I have enough money to stop at the store and buy toilet paper, top ramen, hot dogs and dog food.  Whatever I get needs to last until Friday, the long awaited payday.

Goodwill sports a “Now Hiring” sign outside the door and again I weigh the pros and cons of trying to find another job – not at Goodwill as they don’t have night shifts- but somewhere.  We need the money as there is never a month when we don’t run out before payday and it’s been impossible to save on my meager salary, most of which goes towards our inadequate health insurance before it ever hits the bank. We are always one emergency away from disaster. A second job could help repair the air conditioning that went out in the car (I had thought about just waiting it out as the weather is cooling but realized that the fan no longer works which will make heating and defrosting difficult this winter). It could help pay for gravel for the driveway and fill the propane tank before we need to turn on the heat. It could update the kids’ cold weather wardrobes as they’ve all out grown last years pants, sweaters and jackets.

But as it is I’m away from home from 5:45 AM to about 6 or 6:30 PM every weekday and I often spend about half of Sunday at school.  I never feel finished at school – there’s the science fair (which we are just starting this year) to plan, the STEM  initiative to work on, the intensive reading training to incorporate into science class to improve content literacy, the endless lesson plans, grading and documentation of how I differentiate for learners with different abilities.  I care deeply about making a difference in my students’ lives but often feel its an impossible goal.

And when I get home my kids await with their own unmet needs – they have homework they need help with, they want to talk about a difficult situation with a friend or teacher at school, they feel resentful that so much of the daily animal and house care is left to them (and I feel irritated and burdened when I come home and its undone).  They and the animals vie for attention and I again feel inadequate as I try to sort out the necessities from the wants.  Is it enough to feed and house and rush through homework help when their deeper emotional needs are only briefly touched upon? I doubt it.

I arrived home, picking up the laundry my daughter has done at our relatives on the way, we’ve put away the few bags of groceries I was able to purchase at the store, fed the animals and hauled water (we haven’t had significant rain for weeks so we don’t have running water) and I’ve ducked into my room to write this post that has been percolating in my mind amidst my fractured thoughts for the past few weeks.  I feel starved of solitude and ‘me’ time but I leave the door open, knowing that my son will be popping in to discuss his science fair project.  I try to remember what I want to say and start writing. My phone beeps. It’s a text message from my oldest daughter, away at college.  She asks, “Can you look over my resume and tell me if I need to change anything, please?”  I close my eyes briefly and text back, “Sure, send it on”  while channeling the conscious mantra I use to counteract the debilitating subliminal script, “It is what it is. It is what it is.” And I keep on keeping on.

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Just one

On Friday during my prep period I went down to the office to check my mail. On the bench outside the office sat one of my students.  The bench is where kids sit when they’ve created a disruption or have had some trouble in class. I gave her the oh-oh what’s up look as I swung through and she grinned sheepishly and looked away. This young lady is doing ok in my class – yes, she’s late sometimes and she’s occasionally behind on her work but she’s engaged (and engaging – she has the best smile and sparkle in her eyes).  But I see her standing out in the hall outside other classrooms from time to time and hear her name called in summons to the office.

When I came out of the office I was headed back to my classroom – I had things to grade, emails to return and positive phone calls to make to parents – but I paused and sat down next to my student.  “So, what’s up?” I asked.  She relayed the conflict that had sent her out of class and I listened and nodded.

“You’re doing well in my class,” I told her, “but I see you out in the hall a lot outside of Mr. So & So’s class.”

“I like science,” she replied. “Science and math are my favorite classes. But I have trouble with reading.  I can’t get through it. I don’t like to read.”

I told her about the training I’d gone to during the summer to help me assist students with reading; an approach that helps readers get more out of the text, and invited her to bring whatever she was struggling with to my room after school on tutoring days. I’d help her get through it, I said.

“Can I bring social studies and English work?” she asked.

“Bring it all,” I said. And she smiled.

Will she come to tutoring next week? Maybe, maybe not. If she doesn’t I’ll remind her.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with work – grading, lesson plans, assignments, classroom management issues, new initiatives the administration has decided we need to undertake, cleaning up after labs, keeping abreast of new scientific discoveries and differentiating everything for students of widely varying abilities.  My students are way too individual for me to ever think of them as numbers but sometimes there’s just so many of them that I do think of them as groups.

And some of those groups are challenging. There are many bright engaged students in our school, kids who are smart and active and caring. And there are students who are lost, belligerent, rude and destructive and who don’t seem to care about much of anything.  They have a chip on their shoulder and their defenses up. They disrupt class, destroy property and aggravate their classmates. They can be hard to reach and sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my time trying.

Then I take a minute to sit with one and learn something about them – that they are living in a shelter, or with grandparents. That they’ve moved frequently and this is the fourth junior high school they’ve attended.  That they haven’t seen one of their parents in months or years. That they love horses, or football or hunting and they are enthralled with the latest book in the series they’re reading. That they like to draw or sing or write poetry. That they need a little help and that maybe I’m the person they are reaching out to or maybe I’m the one to reach out to them.

My goal is to reach just one student. To make a difference in that person’s life. And I’m going to do it by reaching out to all of them, knowing that there will be students who turn away, walk past, or  ignore the gesture. That’s ok if I can encourage, welcome or help at least one.

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Extracurricular Activities

After school the students have their athletics, band and choir practices and rehearsals. Lately my extracurricular activities have been showing up at meetings – the local school board and the county redevelopment commission (you can see me at about 27.5 minutes in MCRC meeting) – speaking out in favor of funding for the development of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program that would encompass grades 2 through 12 in our school corporation.

It’s early days and we are just developing proposals (and I have to say it’s a bit odd to not be integrally involved in the development but to have it handed to the science and math teachers from the administration but I daresay that’s due to my having been in management for so long) but the hope is to eventually have  a program that would bring people into the school and graduate students with strong skills in STEM fields.  We have a lot of local employers in healthcare who cannot fill all their jobs without looking outside the area so this would benefit them as well as the students.

Personally I feel strongly that all citizens should be scientifically literate so that they can understand the problems and opportunities facing us and the policies that are put forth to address them.  And issues aside, science is just fascinating! I subscribe to various science and technology newsfeeds and everyday there’s something new – sometimes daunting, sometimes exciting, sometimes life-changing. I’m hoping I’m still teaching when the program gets off the ground and I get to see some of the lives changed by it!

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