Monday, October 14, 2013

Welcome Back

Surprise!  I'm back!  In this ridiculously too long 3 months since I've blogged (...that's a quarter of a year), life has been pretty exciting.  All sorts of fun things have happened, but my favorite is last weekend, when I got engaged to the love of my life!  We are planning an October 2014 wedding, and I cannot wait to be Mrs. Cook!  A wedding blog will be coming soon :)

In the midst of all the excitement in my personal life, school is back in full swing, with my class of 22 first graders and no assistant.  My class this year is a handful, but they're mine, and I love them to pieces.  Love them as I may, with 22 six-year-olds who have varying ability and need levels, no assistant, minimal planning time, and more demands than ever before, it is so easy to get overwhelmed. More often than not, at some point during the week, I see one (or more) of my co-workers pushed to the point of tears, a migraine, or both.

As a teacher, it's not about me- it's about my kids.  Everything I do all day is for my kids- and so much of what I do before and after hours is for them, too.  (For the record, I get paid 7:45-3:15...someone, please, show me a good- no, decent- teacher who works those hours.)  Most of the time, I really don't mind.  But sometimes...

There is something to be said for putting the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others.  If you've ever flown, you know what I mean.  If you haven't, on a plane, in the event of an emergency, oxygen masks come down from the ceiling.  You are instructed to put your own mask on before helping other people put on theirs.  On one particular flight I was on, I remember looking across the aisle and seeing a mom with two young children, and thinking to myself that, although I'm not a parent, I cannot imagine taking care of myself before children.

But there truly is something to be said for putting the mask on yourself before assisting others.  It's not an "every man for himself" thing.  It's recognizing that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.  What good am I doing my students if I am completely exhausted and on the brink of burn out, lacking the patience they deserve?  What good am I to my kids if I'm sick because I refused to stay home when my body was telling me it needed more rest?  Who does that really benefit?  Not me, and not my kids.

Something I've done better so far this year than last is setting boundaries.  I set a time to leave school and (generally) stick to it.  I decide on a limit of work to be done at home, and when the time's up, it's up.  I'm making uninterrupted time with my fiance, our families, and our friends more of a priority.  I'm making my health more of a priority.  By doing these things, I'm indirectly making my kids more of a priority in a way that I can't always see as clearly as I'd like.  I have to take care of me so I can take care of them.  I have to be my best so I can help them be their best.  I still give my kids 110%; I'm learning to give myself the same.

Sometimes you have to put the life jacket on yourself so you can help hold others up.
...which is why I'm writing this in my bed, apple candle burning, modern family in the background :)

Happy Monday,


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dear North Carolina

Dear North Carolina,

I began writing this on the shores of your beaches.  I write this as an alumna of a university in your mountains.  I write this as a native who has traveled the country, and yet I've never wanted to call anywhere else home.  I write this as a state employee; I write this as a public school teacher.

North Carolina, you're breaking my heart.

I wish you could see the faces of my children, but they're just numbers to you.  No, I'm not a mother; I'm a teacher.  It's interesting to me how, when you start teaching, children go from being "those kids" to "these kids" to "my kids".  Those kids, these kids, are your kids, North Carolina.

There's a saying at my workplace:  once yours, always yours- meaning that, once a child has been in your class, they're your student forever.  After my first year of teaching, I have 26 children- 22 six year olds at a time, about a third of which who have varying degrees of special needs, and usually by myself, thanks to your cutting Teacher Assistant positions.

As a teacher, I'm not in it for the income- I'm in it for the outcome.  I know that.  I get it.  I live it daily.  At the same time, a girl's got to pay her bills and buy groceries.

Hear me clearly:  I was perfectly aware that I was not signing up to get rich, and I'm fine with that.  I'm great with that, actually- material things have never been the way to my heart.  However, a living wage in a career that has a minimum requirement of a four year degree is not too much to ask.  I've been researching- my search isn't complete yet, but I've found enough to know I'm dangerously close to qualifying for public assistance.  I may actually qualify and just haven't found where to look yet.  Hear me clearly on this, too:  I do not have a problem with public assistance.  At all.  I've seen the ways it helps people and makes their lives better.  I believe public assistance is for those who need it.  An able-bodied 23 year old with a college degree who is employed full-time by the state should not need it, should not even be close.

Oh, North Carolina.  I wish I could tell you the number of times well-intentioned people who love me have encouraged me to take my college degree into the private sector, to go somewhere where I am appreciated, both in financial compensation and in regards to respect.  I wish I could tell you how many scoff at the Master's degree I'm pursuing- in Special Education, no less- and ask, "for what?"  

"For what?"
...for those 26 little faces.  For teaching a student who has autism to read, to hear him say "I can read! I am so happy I have tears!" For the notes with 1st grade spelling, "I love Ms. Moran becos she is nise and good to me and becos she loves me too.  She mex me happy."  For the student who told me I'm the only person who has ever been proud of him.  For the "Hey, Ms. Moran!" and a hug in the hallway from kids I've never taught.  For the progress I've seen with the student who knew about half of the alphabet at the beginning of the school year to be reading on grade level by the end of a school year- more than two years worth of growth.  For students who couldn't count this time last year to be doing addition and subtraction, and they can explain why it works.  For the opportunity to give kids a chance to be better.  For kids to give me a chance to be better.

Those children, these childen, your children are your future, North Carolina.  They are your most valuable resource- more than any energy source.  They are your greatest investment- more than any federal bail out.  Please, be careful.  Putting as many as you can into a classroom is not okay.  Cutting the number of school employees- people who teach them, love them, and keep them safe- is not okay.  Wake up and look around and see their value.  See their potential.  Give them the resources they need to reach that potential.  You owe it to them.  They are so, so worth it.  And I promise, they'll pay it forward. 


Thursday, June 6, 2013

What I've Learned

The last day of school is tomorrow, and it's honestly the most bittersweet feeling I think I've ever felt.  I am so sincerely ready for a break, to just answer to "Kayla" for a while, to recharge and revive.  At the same time, I will miss my kids.  And I will always think of them as my kids.

I wish I could put into words all that I've learned this year.  I'll try.

I've learned to never underestimate the power of a hug.  I've learned the importance of free and reduced meal programs in our schools.  I've learned what it means to love a child as if he or she were your own.  I've learned what it means to give of yourself freely, no strings attached, until you can give no more...then dig a little deeper and give that, too.  I've learned how to look neglect and abuse in the eye, fight back the tears, put on a smile, and let those babies know they are so, so loved.  I've learned how to get out of my comfort zone (or be thrown out) and do the best I can with what I have where I am.  I've learned the meaning of grace.  I've learned what it means to be love in action, to be the hands and feet of Christ.

It's no secret in the community that I live in that I work in a difficult place.  When people ask me about school and get an off-the-wall story in return, they (generally well-intentioned) either: 1- apologize, 2- ask if I'm looking for something else, 3- assure me that I'll find something else soon, 4- all of the above.
Then they ask if I plan to stay where I am, and I say yes, and I see one of the following looks in their eyes:  1- pity, 2- concern, 3- confusion, 4- writing me off as an idiot.

Keep in mind, these are people who love me dearly and whom I love; these are people who truly have my best interests at heart.  Most days, I don't scare them with my stories (which are 100% factual- you can't make this stuff up, people)...I humor them (and myself) with a conversation that looks like this:
Person:  "So, Kayla, how's school going?"
Me:  "Oh, it's going!  It's crazy and different every day, but I love it.  Never a dull moment!"
Person:  "Well, that is great!"

I love where I work and have no intentions of leaving.  These kids are mine now, and I can't imagine leaving them.  I do these things not because I want a trophy for it, and certainly not because there is a large paycheck involved, but because I love my children and it's the right thing to do.  I do these things because I know what it's like to have a 1st grade teacher who changes your life- I had one.  I do these things because I've learned what it is to believe and live the phrase, "to whom much is given, much is required."  I do these things because I've been called, and now that I've answered, hanging up doesn't seem like the appropriate response ;)

What have you learned this school year?


Friday, May 31, 2013

four and a half days

In the insanity that has been my life over the past (ridiculously too long) month and a half since I've blogged, so much has happened.  So.  Much.  A brief recap:
-I turned 23- woot!
-I've gone to bridal showers for three amazing women.
-I scratched my cornea and had to wear the most ridiculous looking eye patch and go without contacts (I hate my glasses and am nearly legally blind without was a fun few days.  Especially considering my sister's bridesmaids' luncheon was happening the same weekend.)
-I made the decision to start grad school in the fall.
-My baby sister got MARRIED!  Congrats, Sissy and Chase!
-I went on an incredible trip to the Dominican Republic...what a beautiful place!
-One of my college roomies got MARRIED!  Congrats, Sam and Grant!
-I survived my first year of teaching during EOGs (have you ever tried to keep 30 six and seven year olds quiet for an undetermined amount of time?  ...yeah, good times.)

And here we are.  The very end of May.  It is officially June in about 45 minutes (EST), which means school gets out this month (Teachers everywhere:  PRAISE!).  I have 4 1/2 days left with my kids.

4 1/2 days left with my very first class of kids- the very first class I've been completely responsible for.  4 1/2 days with 21 kids who make me laugh, drive me nuts, give the best hugs, bring me to tears, and teach me daily.  4 1/2 days to make sure they know they'll always be my kids.  4 1/2 days to make memories as a class.  4 1/2 days to reiterate how important they are to me, to let them know how much they've taught me this year- about myself, about life, about grace, about God-, and to make sure they know they are so loved.

There were days when I didn't know if I would make it to the end of the school year.  I felt so completely called to my school, and I still do, but I had this pretty picture in my head of what being called means.  I always thought being obedient to God = blessings.  And I associated blessings with happiness, contentment, peace.

But I've learned this year that blessings can be found in the most unlikely of places.  That sometimes the blessing is learning to be content whatever the circumstances.  Sometimes the blessing is learning what it means to be truly broken and dependent on the Lord, and an even bigger blessing when you realize you are completely secure in Him.  Sometimes the blessing is trusting when obedience seems to not make sense.  Sometimes the blessing is the peace that comes when He calms His child instead of the storm.

I have to smile through the tears when I think about what all I would have missed had I given up the second week of school, when I cried in my principal's office and told her "I can't do this."  (Thank you, Rebecca Huffstetler, for believing when I couldn't see how I'd ever make it.)  I would have missed out on so many incredible friendships, the learning opportunity of a lifetime, 21 amazing kids, and so, so much more.

The words, "I will go, Lord, send me" have taken on new meaning and a new life this school year.
I have a new understanding of what it means to walk by faith, even when I cannot see.

4 1/2 days...and we're going to make every second count.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bring on the Rain

In the chaos that has been my life recently, I haven't found the time to blog as much as I'd like.

But today, it's time.

My day at school started with welcoming my cherubs into our room, and I was amazed at how perfectly and smoothly our morning was running...until a student from another first grade class came into my room and told me one of my kids was "hiding in the curtains".  This is physically impossible in my classroom, so I asked her to show me.  (One of the saints- if you've never worked in a school, you can't appreciate how saint-like our teacher assistants are, truly- was with my kids.)  She started leading me to the multipurpose room, which I entered from the back door onto the stage, where I found two of my children playing hide and seek and opened the curtains to find two more.  It was not a happy walk back to Room 109.

About 10 minutes later, two of my children started fighting.  Another was completely disrespectful and insisted on disrupting all things productive for the entire day.  Another pitched fits off and on all day.  Still two more were fighting on the playground.  That's not all of it, but that's all I care to remember at the moment.

Today was a wreck.

Today was the closest I've come to tears over work in I don't even know how long.  Frustrated, angry, tired tears.

And then...

As I'm lining my children up in their various bus lines to go home, a child from another first grade class grabbed my hand, smiled at me, and gave me one of the sweetest hugs I have ever gotten.

In that moment, at the end of the day and at the end of my rope, I firmly believe that God placed that child there to remind me that I have been called to teach, to remind me that every time a child is in front of me, it's a divine appointment, to remind me that I do make a difference, to remind me that I truly do love my (crazy, tiring, thankless, mostly fun) job.

This evening, I am thankful.  I am thankful for that sweet child.  I'm thankful for co-workers who honestly, completely, whole-heartedly get it, and for some that will even do "Insanity" work outs with me after school (as if we don't get enough during the day...).  I'm thankful for my job.  I'm thankful for dinner with my mom.  I'm thankful for my precious friends.  I'm thankful for the chaos, because, today, I asked Jesus to hold my hand more than I have on a regular day in a while.  I'm thankful that He did.  I'm thankful for the peace He has provided for me at home and in my heart.  I'm thankful that His mercies are new every morning, and tomorrow is another day.

Tomorrow's another day, and I'm thirsty anyway, so bring on the rain.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What It Means to be Amazed

Thursday was our last school day before (hallelujah!) Spring Break.  My teammates and I planned a field trip for our first graders to a bakery owned by a sweet friend of mine and a local park.  I should preface this story with the fact that the bakery and park are local to me, not my kids.  I live in a small town about 30 minutes from the small city where I work, both in the same county.

I had an IEP meeting (Individual Education Plan for any "non-education" folks who are reading this- it's for students to get the EC (Exceptional Children) Services that they need) Thursday morning, and pretty much as soon as it was over, we loaded up our 74 first graders onto two yellow school buses and started our mini-trek across the county.

We had to take the "back way" because of what roads we are allowed to take yellow school buses on, so we drove through several small towns that I grew up knowing.  My town shares a high school with a few of these towns we passed through, so I have friends from high school who grew up all along our route.  It's a drive I have taken so many times; it's a drive I have taken for granted.

But my kids didn't.  They were completely blown away by "how much space" was between the houses, how "big" the houses were (for perspective's sake, they're the smaller end of average for our area), how "nice" the grass was, how much grass there was, and how many trees we have.  We drove past a farm, and they got SO excited over seeing "real life" cows and horses, many of them for the first time.  The railroad is still very active in my area, and the kids got so excited each time we saw or heard a train.  We drove into downtown to go to the bakery, and you would have thought we had taken the kids to Manhatten they were so excited.  One of mine commented that, "Ms. Moran, it looks like Atlanta!" and several others asked if we were in NYC.  (If you've been to my hometown, you will appreciate how hilarious that is.  If you haven't, imagine "Small Town USA").  We walked into the bakery and they were completely awestruck- most of our kids had never been to a bakery.  After the bakery, we walked downtown to my church, where we had parked the buses.  The kids marveled over the "rich" brick sidewalks, how "big" and "awesome" my hometown is.  We went to a local park to eat lunch.  The park is beside a river, and, upon seeing the river, no less than a dozen of our kids exclaimed, "Look, Ms. Moran!  It's the ocean!"

Their reactions both made me smile and cry.

It was a precious experience to get to see and hear my kids' reactions to things they were seeing and experiencing for the first time.  To be one of the people who was able to help give them those experiences is so humbling and such a blessing.

It also made me feel a little ashamed of myself.

How many times have I driven that very road without noticing the cows or horses, or, better yet, complaining about being behind a tractor?  How many times have I walked down the sidewalk downtown in the sunshine with an orangeade from Charlie's, completely neglecting to realize how lucky I am to live somewhere that I can walk down 1- a sidewalk and 2- do so feeling completely safe?  (Also, if you've never had an orangeade, it's liquid sunshine.)  How many times have I complained about there being "nothing to do"?

My kids reminded me what it means to be amazed on Thursday, what it is to be completely overcome with wonder.  They did so just in time for Easter.

This Easter Sunday, as you celebrate with your loved ones, I hope you are completely overcome with wonder at what Jesus has done for us.  I hope you look around and are amazed at His world.  I hope your plate at Easter dinner is as full of love and joy as it is delicious food.  I hope you never take for granted His promises.

The next time you drive through your hometown, look at it as if you're seeing it for the first time.  I promise, it will take you by surprise and leave you feeling grateful.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Marshmallows are Cylinders- Tales of a First Grade Something

Yesterday, I was teaching my kiddos about fractions.  Yes, fractions.  If you're like my sister, who thinks teaching first grade is all about coloring and snacks, you're welcome to visit my classroom anytime :)

Anyway, after the big part of our lesson, the kids were making connections about sharing their favorite treats with their friends.  One of my cherubs said he wanted to share a marshmallow..."but don't worry, Ms. Moran, it's one of the big ones that you roast."  So I draw the circle on the board and we discuss how the pieces have to be equal and all that jazz.  Meanwhile, one of my students who has autism is frantically waving his hand in the air.  I call on him, and he says, "Actually, a marshmallow is a cylinder, not a circle."

And my classroom erupts into applause.

I'm not kidding.

I've had more than one person comment on how my kids cheer for each other.  They clap and cheer and hug and high five and say "good job!"...and they mean it.

I got a new student in the past week or two, and when my principal brought the new student to my classroom door, no less than three of my little gentlemen greeted him by introducing themselves and offering their right hand for a handshake.
No, I did not tell them to do that...for the record, I was at a workshop that day in another town, and I had no idea a new student was coming, so I had no way of coaching them into doing that.

Did they come to me doing these things?  Absolutely not.   Are these things that I've taught them because they meet common core standards or because they are on the pacing guide? Not at all. But I hope they are things that stay with them forever.


Because acknowledging the accomplishments of others is a huge building block in terms of respect.  Because being happy for other people is a huge step in being happy with yourself.  Because the good we do in life comes back to us, and we would do well to teach our children that.  Because introducing yourself and offering your right hand for a handshake is the first step in getting a job; it's the first step in a college scholarship interview.  Because being friendly and honest will take you far in life.

Are my kids perfect?  No kids are.  No adults are, either.
Do my kids have a concept of what it means to be an encouragement to other people?
More than they realize.

And even on the days when they say the worst things imaginable (literally- things I wouldn't even think of) to one another and to me, at some point, they will congratulate the struggling student on sorting his words correctly in our phonics lesson, and I'm reminded of how far they've come, how far I've come.

As for a marshmallow being a cylinder, don't little guy was absolutely correct.
And I let him know.
*Secret*- it's okay to let kids know they're right when they are.
I explained that we could stand the marshmallow on the table to divide it, so we were looking at it from above, so we could see it as a circle.  "Oh, skyview...", he said.

Yes, dear.  Skyview.