23 Years

My classroom is ready for summer now.  All the student desks are pushed together, the computer is unplugged, the bulletin boards blank, the cabinets filled with miscellaneous office supplies, and the door is locked.  As of 6:40 pm yesterday, I’m officially done with my 23rd year of teaching.

Each year brings its own successes and challenges, with one of the biggest challenges being the last week of school with a group of eighth graders excited, but still nervous, to become high schoolers. Every year I try to embrace the last few days, and this year I truly did.  

I don’t know what was different, but this past week didn’t seem as trying to me.  Sure there were times when I was forced to take a deep breath before reacting, but even those moments only needed me to pause for one breath, not 10 or 20.  Part of me thinks it’s because I have a graduate in the house and can compare senioritis with eighth-grade-itis, but then again, there’s lots of events this past year that helped me to react differently to each moment (Growing Down, Barometer Check).  This past week I relished each positive more, especially yesterday. Who can’t help but laugh and smile when four of her students dress up as Greasers Dally, Sodapop, Ponyboy and Johnny on the last day of school just because? Or when the students put her desk chair on the standing desk because, “You said to get as much as possible off the floor.” Or a few minutes later when there’s a student sitting in the same chair even though the chair is still on the standing desk? “Look we gave her a heart attack!”  Or when that one kid sees her in the parking lot and says, “Thank you,” twice because she didn’t think she heard it correctly the first time? Yes, these were the moments that made me feel a little more sentimental this year, yet I still know it’s time to let go. As I tell my colleagues and students’ parents, “They’re ready. They need to move on.  If they didn’t act this way or I didn’t feel ready for them to leave, I wouldn’t feel as though I’ve done my job.”

PS:  As I prepared to post this, I happened to read Bud the Teacher’s post.  He summed up what I’ve been doing, “take the time to notice and appreciate when things go right, too.”  What difference it makes.

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Celebrating Our One Year Anniversary.

It’s been one year ago today when Todd reached over and squeezed my knee in the middle of the night to wake me up. We can joke now about my first thoughts, Really?! Now? I need to work in the morning,  but that night, it took me only a few more moments to realize he was squeezing my knee and he was squeezing it hard.  When I rolled over to look at him, he told me he was having chest pains. My cynicism turned into the realization that one of my worst fears was probably coming true–Todd was suffering a heart attack.  

I knew by the time I drove the few blocks to the hospital, the ambulance would only just be arriving at our home.  I also knew an ambulance at 1:15 am would cause too much excitement for Amy. I decided to take a chance.

“Can you make it to the garage?”

“I think so.”

I quietly woke up Ali and told her I needed to bring Dad to the hospital. Within seconds Amy called out from her room. I don’t remember what I told Amy, but it was something quick with the hope she would go back to sleep.

I found Todd struggling to walk the stairs to the garage. Don’t make me regret not calling the ambulance. 

With him finally slouched in the passenger seat, I pulled out of the driveway and then sped up Seventh Street. It’s only a few blocks to the hospital.  What if he passes out? Do I keep driving or stop and call the ambulance?

This wasn’t our first middle of the night drive to the ER, but I knew this one was different.

 

“Wheelchair.” The only word he said as I parked by the ER doors.

My fear increased.  Todd asking for a wheelchair? I remembered a friend saying, “If you say ‘chest pains’ in the ER, you’ll get moved to the top of the list.”

The moment I pushed Todd through the entrance doors, I said, “Chest pains!”

In the ER the doctor confirmed my fear; Todd was having a STEMI. The cardiologist was on his way. Todd would be headed to the Cath Lab very soon.  A hospital employee offered to move my car. I called my dad and Cheryl to have them come down to be with the girls. Todd joked about the shaving job the nurses were performing. I watched the clock, the monitors, and the nurses charting his medications. The ER doctor gently rubbed my back as I turned away for just a few moments to wipe the tears which had formed in my eyes.  

I refocused on my left hand which was engulfed by Todd’s. I tried wiggling my fingers. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him he might cause me to end up in the bed next to his with a broken hand. “Sorry,” he said as he loosened his grip and smiled. I returned the smile and somehow knew hewas going to be alright.  

 

Now, I can smile again as I think back to that night one year ago. It’s been a trying year for all of us, but I know his grip is just as strong and his heart just as soft.

Barometer Check

Today as I compare the past year to Ali’s 18 years of childhood, I realize time warps depending upon the circumstances.  It’s a cliche to say, “It only seems like yesterday when Ali…” but it’s true for the most part. It doesn’t seem as though 10 years have past since sticker-pox covered her body or she answered “Cirque” when asked about her favorite part of our Disney trip.  It doesn’t seem as though it’s been almost five years since I told myself that I was in a holding pattern. I wasn’t going to look for anything new in my own life. I knew I only had the next few years to help Ali become the strongest, most independent young lady I could. During the first four of those years, time felt as though it was moving in warp-speed. Ali spent a good portion of her summers living away from home. She flew alone twice to spend Christmas with my sister’s family instead of here at home.  She also decided on a college we visited exactly one year ago.

Circumstances resulted in time warping from light speed into slow-mo during that drive and college visit. It doesn’t “seem as though it was only yesterday” that Todd’s health issues began or that Ali picked a college to attend. This past year proved difficult, but yet when I think back, I realize it might be because I’ve slowed down.  I’m sure many of my friends (and family members) would say I haven’t slowed down, but I know I have. I leave a much longer to-do list at school and at home. I’ve always known a teacher’s to-do list never ends, but enjoying a breakfast date or spending time with Todd and girls almost always comes before school work. Even though I still plan for the future, the have-tos on my calendar are different. Church on the weekend, walking the dog and generally finding more time for myself is a priority. I’ve learned to be more patient, to be a little more spontaneous, and to be even more grateful.  Part of me thinks the change is due to turning the big 5-0, but I think it’s more than that.

By the time Amy was about 8 years old, I learned to use her most challenging times to stop and refocus myself. She’s my barometer, but as she’s matured, my personal barometer didn’t check me as often in the past few years. I suppose Todd’s heart attack and leg issues acted as a check for me.  Challenging times ground us by slowing down time and forcing us to find moments to breathe. I want to say I’ve learned some good lessons in the past year so maybe when time tries to move into warp speed again, I’ll remember to still take it slow.  If not, I’m quite certain there will be another barometer checking my pressure again.

50-4-50 update:

Celebrated my 50th on Friday the 13th with some friends and family.

Travelled 250+ miles to spend time with Lisa, then we visited Vegas together

Received 50 gladiola bulbs for my birthday from my sister.  Now to remember to plant them.

50 push-ups, but only 40 before I need a short break to get in the other 10.

 

Unstuck Thanks to a New Decade

April is Poetry Month so what better way to reflect upon my birthday than to read some poems. When I turned 39 I read Billy Collin’s poem “On Turning Ten” and reflected on how 40 was basically the halfway point of my life.  Our children were old enough for me not to want to revisit the joys of pregnancy again, a career change wasn’t in the near future, and our mortgage needed at least 10 more years of payments. I felt stuck.  

Now that 50 is here, the feeling is different.  No, I’m not expecting a baby again, but grandchildren could be in my future. (After you finish college Ali.) Our mortgage is paid, and I’m looking at downsizing.  I don’t expect to make a career change, but I certainly don’t feel stuck in my job.  Most days I love my job, and even when mandates dictate my class time, I can find joy by focusing on what I truly believe is important for my students. I feel freedom.

I plan to start Growing Down thanks to Shel Silverstein and the freedom 50 provides. Without realizing it, I started by spending a few days in Vegas with my buddy Lisa relaxing.  Yes, I felt older each morning as I rolled out of bed and tried to reach my toes. No, I didn’t eat 47 ice cream cones or spend twenty dollars on chewing gum. But we rode the NYNY roller coaster. I screamed, laughed and smiled just like a kid again.  I smiled more, worried less, and started growing down.

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18 Candles Take Two

“You won’t cry.”

“Hmmm. I probably will.”

“Really?!”

“Really.”

This brief exchange occurred a couple months ago between Ali and I. We were discussing her  upcoming high school graduation and college move-in day. Her shock at the fact I admitted I’ll cry isn’t surprising since I’m not usually a tearful mom.  Todd and I joke that his heart, especially when it comes to our girls, is much bigger than mine in many ways, yet I find myself with tear-filled eyes more often now.  

The tears I foreshadow will not be ones of sadness.  I’m not sad to see Ali grow up and move on in her life. The tears will be filled with a proudness of her accomplishments and hope for her future. How else do I know I’ll shed some tears? Because two years ago I shed tears after Amy’s birthday .  Those tears were also filled with pride, but there was sadness and anger too.

As Ali and I finalized her graduation open house invites this weekend, I kept thinking back to two years ago and the struggle to not only figure out Amy’s graduation celebrations, but also all the legalities of having an adult-child with special needs.  When Amy turned eighteen a fear overtook me.  The guardianship wasn’t close to being finished. What if something happened to her?  Who would speak for her? What if she was in an accident? Who would make her medical decisions?  

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As Ali approaches the age of legal adulthood next month, I have fears for her too, but they are much different.  What if we haven’t taught her enough life skills? What if she struggles with her college courses? What if she gets caught up with the wrong people?  I know she’ll be a legal adult and will be responsible for her decisions. Why doesn’t that scare me more? Is it because she’s ready for the next step or because it’s so different than two years ago? Whatever it is, I’m still certain there will be tears in my eyes as she blows out 18 candles, and those tears might even be a reflection of my hidden sentimental heart.

 

Minion Cake?

It’s happened to us all at some point. We try something new and aren’t as successful as we’d liked.  Personally, I have plenty of stories, especially baking stories, that serve as excellent examples. (I’m sure Todd would be happy to tell you about the first blueberry pie I made for him. Baking tip: cornstarch and corn syrup are not interchangeable ingredients.)  Luckily I grew up in a family that taught me how to laugh at myself and my mistakes then pick up and try again. Nowadays that’s called the Growth Mindset.

I recently read The Growth Mindset for a book study.  At the same time, I was guiding my students through a ten-week research unit culminating in an argument writing.  I begin this unit by showing them Nailed It! After some good laughs, I explain my end goal is not for them to have a perfect “minion cake” research paper, though some do nail it, but instead, for them to understand what it takes to nail it the next time.  Another example I sometimes use is the first time someone makes a holiday dinner that includes many different dishes. What happens? The kids love telling stories about burnt turkeys; cold, lumpy mashed potatoes; desserts left out on the front porch until the next day (we live in a cold climate where porches can serve as second refrigerators); and mystery foods no one really wants to try.  In other words, not all the pieces come together as they should, but each holiday dinner begins to smell, look, and taste better as the preparers learn from their mistakes. (My own experience taught me to never again confused corn syrup for cornstarch.)

How does this translate to my students’ final research papers? Indeed, some read better than others. Even though every single student didn’t nail it, they all told me they understood what they’d do differently next time to nail it.  They all showed evidence of learning the process. And, they all had a sense of accomplishment when they handed me their stapled stack of paper. When people ask me why I teach, I sometimes struggle to answer, but after reading all my students’ papers last weekend, I was reminded of my answer: to help students learn, grow, and learn how to grow. There’s no better reason.

50-4-50 quick update:

Filled a gratitude journal book and continue to write 10 things each day.

Up to 32 push-ups daily

Planned a 250+ mile trip to see Lisa…more on that and other updates soon.

Date Night Evolution

After our first-born, scheduling a date night never posed a problem for Todd and I. We had plenty of holiday parties, weddings, and other celebrations to attend, and we used those as our date nights.  Finding a babysitter didn’t prove too difficult either.  The neighbors’ teenage daughter started babysitting for us when Amy was only 6 months old.  We also recruited our daytime sitter’s two teenage daughters on a regular basis.  Then there were date weekends when our girls enjoyed overnights with my dad and Cheryl or my mom.  I still remember my dad once asking me if we wanted one or both of the girls to spend one or two nights with him and Cheryl. My instantaneous response was, “Two for two of course!”

As the girls entered elementary school, Todd started working out of town and spending every third weekend at his parents’ home.  Family time pushed aside many of our date nights.  Additional factors for less date nights included Amy’s special needs and our regular teenage babysitters growing up.

At one point I re-enlisted one of those teenagers-turned-adults to come on Thursday nights after her college class and hang with the girls for an hour or two, but life continued on and date nights became sporadic again.  

For my 50-4-50 list, I committed to weekly dates with Todd. Tonight we enjoyed Comedy Night, but I’ve also learned to grab those sporadic moments when both the girls are busy or content to just be alone at home. We no longer need to dress up and head out the door at 6, 7 or 8 pm for dinner and drinks. So far our date “nights” included lunch, an afternoon craft brew, and a 9 am breakfast date.

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Afternoon Date

 

 I guess date night evolution is just a piece of our family’s dynamic path through life.

A few other 50-4-50 updates:

  • 50+ outdoor walking miles in January
  • Invited friends over for game night last weekend
  • Booked my birthday celebration venue
  • Blog post #3 of 50

Do-Over

It was only my second year teaching and the third time my principal formally observed me.  I was ready to show him my best.  In most cases, when the principal is in to observe the teacher, the students’ behavior is better than average, but not on this day.  The topic was the four states of matter, including the elusive plasma state, and how energy affects each.   Having taught the concept the previous year, I expected the students to struggle again with understanding plasma and planned to teach that state after solid, liquid, and gas.  As all experienced teachers know, what we have planned isn’t necessarily what the students follow. But I was only in my second year.

As with many traumatic events, I only remember pieces:

My students followed the plan during the first three states of matter.  

The mention of plasma started the downward spiral.

Martin could have cared less about the principal’s presence.

Plasma = a moving blob = the movie The Blob.  

“I’m failing. What am I going to say after school in my follow-up meeting with Dr. O?”

Come on bell…ring!

I fretted for the rest of the day knowing my 3:00 meeting would be a disaster. But I should’ve known better.

When 3:00 arrived, I begrudgingly entered Dr. O’s office, immediately sat down, and waited.  

“Want a do-over?”

I looked up to see his smile and the understanding twinkle in his eyes.

I smiled back and started to ramble…“I don’t know what happened. I tried and tried to get the kids back on track, but they kept going back to the movie.”

He chuckled, tore up his observation notes and said, “I know you did.”

And that was the thing about Bill; he understood teachers and students and the dynamics between the two, and he knew how to help his staff with those dynamics.

I am thankful for the twists and turns in life and wonder what would’ve happened if Bill hadn’t asked me to apply for an open position in his building the spring after my student teaching. I never expected an open position in the district, let alone at Bill’s middle school.  MAPS teaching positions are highly competitive, so I figured, “It’ll be a good practice interview for when I move out West”  Needless to say, I never moved out West and spent my first six years under Bill’s wings, not truly understanding the positive influence his guidance provided.

Dr. O.’s guiding principles still influence me today. He knew the power of positive first contacts and “highly suggested” his staff make those contacts for every student within the first marking period. I remember him saying, “A phone call works, but the physical postcard makes a difference. It’s hard for a child to complain, ‘Mrs. Diedrich doesn’t like me’ when there’s a positive note tape on the family’s refrigerator from that same teacher.”  Thanks to Bill, in my 23rd year of teaching, I continue writing postcards to each of my students and require all my student teachers to do the same, because it works.

What else did I learn from Bill?

  1. A well-timed article, with underlined sections, is a gentle way to nudge your staff into trying student-led conferences or reminding the staff of the parents’ perspective of parent-teacher conferences or the students’ situation if living in poverty.
  2. Picking up the trash in the hallway models what students should do too.
  3. Being firm but fair works.
  4. As holiday breaks and the end of the year approach, it’s not the time to loosen up but to tighten up.
  5. Students will excel, especially if they know there’s a chance for a do-over.

 

Outside Streaker

Most, if not all, parents have heard it, “I promise I’ll take care of it. I’ll walk it. I’ll feed it. I’ll clean up the poop.”  Yes, my children wanted a dog, but did we, the parents, the ones that would ultimately be the caretakers, want one?  The answer for me was, “Yes!” for one particular reason–I would be the dog walker, especially in the cold, winter months.  The dog became a motivator for me on most days, but I still used the, it’s-too-cold-out excuse a few too many times. 

When a friend asked me last year to join a team for Run 2017 in 2017, I did.  Along with the goal of running (or walking) a team total of 2017 miles, there were monthly challenges.  January’s challenge was to be a “streaker” and log miles every single day of the month.  I missed a few days due to sickness last year, so this year I decided to tweak my challenge.  Regardless of the weather or my schedule, I will be an Outside Streaker.  As of today, I’m 16 for 16.  The bonus of being an Outside Streaker is I’m reaching a few of my other 50-4-50 goals such as being outside 50 minutes a day and choosing walking over the car.  As the year progresses, I can accomplish a few other 50-4-50 as I continue my Outside Streaker streak. And on those not-so-nice days? I’m certain this face will motivate me to get outside. 

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Other 50-4-50 updates:

Violin bow holding is still a struggle.

Up to 30 push-ups with a quick break after 20.

Received offers from friends to help me explore the South Trails and learn to crochet

50-4-50

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about three types of people who help change happen: connectors, mavens, and salespeople. My friend Lisa is a little of all of these for me. Across distance and lulls in our communication, she inspires me, so it’s no surprise that in a quick moment, and without her knowing, she challenged me to push myself (again).  Both Lisa and I turn 50 this year.  When my dad turned 50 he ran 50 miles in one day.  My sister ran a half marathon.  I’m going to run a 5.0K (purposeful decimal), and thanks to Lisa who mentioned her idea of 50-4-50 a while back, I’m going to knock off 49 other to-dos.  

Here’s my 50-4-50

I will continue to:

  • write a daily list of 10 items in my gratitude journal
  • 50 Random Acts of Kindness
  • Volunteer 50+ hours
  • Vote in every election
  • Trying new recipes (50?)
  • Read books (50)

Be healthy:

  • eat 5 vegis a day (already eat plenty of fruit)
  • 650 intentional miles of walking/running for my Run 2018 Team
  • 5K race
  • 50 push-ups daily (need to work up to 50)
  • Kayak at least 10x this summer
  • Choose my bike or walking over the car
  • 50+ minutes outside at least 5x a week

Revisit:

  • Playing tennis on a regular basis
  • How to change oil on a car
  • Sewing (unpack the machine I bought over a year ago)
  • Planning the neighborhood block party
  • Posting to my blog (50x this year) which will also keep me accountable
  • Writing letters/notes to friends
  • Inviting friends over every 4-6 weeks for dinner/games

Learn:

  • to play the violin (with Ali’s help
  • to crochet
  • some foreign language
  • a dance (Salsa anyone?)

Explore:

  • the trails in South Marquette
  • Hogsback
  • The Iron Heritage Trail from Ish. to Mqt.
  • Brockway Mountain Drive
  • Triple A to see the fall colors

Travel:

  • 250+ miles to spend time with Lisa
  • Mackinac Island
  • Duluth
  • Niagara Falls and hopefully NYC
  • The backroads of my childhood/teen years

Firsts:

  • colonoscopy along with my usual annual check-up
  • Pedicure
  • Facial

With Todd:

  • Watch a horror moview
  • Jump off Blackrocks (1st time)
  • Schedule weekly date nights (again)
  • Drive the Razor instead of always being a passenger
  • Shoot Archery

Bucket list:

  • Skydive (with Ali to celebrate her birthday too)
  • Zipline

Because I can and just want to:

  • Plant 50 gladiola bulbs because they’re my favorite flower
  • Watch 50 sunsets/sunrises
  • Purge 50 items at once from my home
  • Smile more
  • Binge watch an entire series of a show, undecided on which one still

Celebrate my Lucky 50 with some family and friends on Friday the 13th in a few months.

PS: I’m giving myself until my 51st birthday to complete this list, and I already started.

1st violin lesson

1st Violin Lesson: Just learning how to hold it was a challenge.