I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Look for the Good

The following is a post I shared on a "Middle School ELA Teachers" Facebook group:

Hello, all. 
I don't regularly follow any group on FB, but many days a thread from this group pops up in my feed. It's usually a frustrated teacher. We all have frustrating drive-me-to-drink, can't-sleep-due-to-that-one-student days.
Here is [sic] my two cents on how I get through them. 1) Look for the good. Who IS doing what you asked and trying hard? They're there. 2) Acknowledge the good. Tell these students 1:1 how you appreciate them in the class. You might even want to send a good note home to their parents. That always helps me counteract noticing the bad habits of a student. 3) Notice exactly what the other students are doing that frustrates you. 4) Wait until you are calm (the next morning, perhaps), and in your free period, pull each child separately to tell them what, exactly, you are noticing. 5) Ask that particular child what he or she can do to improve. 6) Follow through.

That being said, we'll still have students who are frustrating. It's February. It's middle school. It will not be pleasant every day. These children's brains aren't fully developed, and won't be for another TEN years or so. We must still love them, because we never know if they're being loved at home. Be the rock they can all count on, even if you can't yet count on all of them just yet. Just my two cents.
Side note (one more cent): What you call/label them - even in your head - they'll become for you.
✌️ Peace out.

These frustrated teachers had been sharing that students were making them cry. One shared that her students were "monsters." I couldn't notice it and watch it continue. Imagine their mental health! Imagine the kids that needed them at their best! I wrote the book on shifting my own words; it was time to speak up.
After posting this, I left Facebook for a bit, thinking I wouldn't look at the comments. I was worried, because I'd stuck my head out once again, and these teachers did not seem like a happy group. I checked later this week and was very pleasantly surprised. I am looking through a new lens this week, as well. I've been listening to The Courage to Be Happy by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, and it's grounding me. It's showing me what I know in my heart to be true. This past week was one of my favorites so far this year.

I'd like to leave you with a funny story from Friday afternoon...

I love to look for (and save!) the good. 
The laughter my students provide (intentional or not) take me far...

Sunday, February 2, 2020

From "I'm done" to "I'm back."

This photo is from January 20th. Hubby and I went for a walk. I remember thinking that the photo represented where I was in school / lessons at that time - wandering, wondering which way to go and what to do next.

In the next ten days, I'd only gotten outside to walk TWICE. That week and last week is a blur now.

I was feeling lost, stressed, tired, hurt, flustered, incompetent, and even sad.

Many many tiny things were affecting me in ways they hadn't previously. There wasn't one thing I could pin it on. There wasn't one thing in my own life that was "off." There were only regular stressors that affected me way more than they had in the past. I was snippy, I was ready to cry at certain points, I was frustrated at tiny things, and I even let computer issues get to me. I overheard something about something a student said to a teacher, and I thought, "If students start talking like that to me, I'm out. I'll need to retire early. I just can't do this."

Each night at home I would sit and chat with Hubby, then have a drink and read. I read a ton. I need to stress that there were no big problems coming my way. Things were getting done. Other teachers at work have pretty large stressors right now in their lives. Me? Nope. By the end of the week however, the headache that started grew into a muscle strain in my shoulder, and I wasn't sleeping well. I was thinking of skipping the trip up to EdCamp Madison. I think I even stressed that couldn't pinpoint the real reason(s) WHY I was stressed.

I had a doctor's appointment Friday morning - a follow-up from a previous appointment earlier in the week. Sitting in the office waiting, I read an old National Geographic Travelers magazine from March of 2010. I read an article about biking in Holland, and really appreciated the author's humor and the pictures he drew for me in my mind. I was going to continue flipping through the magazine when I thought to just -- stop.

I put the magazine away.
I sat in the chair and breathed in, then out.
I decided to stretch.
Arms up, reach to the sky, feel the muscles pull and stretch...
Arms to the side, looking left and right, up and down...
(Five other women in chairs, reading or on their phones, sneaking glances at me...)
Arms behind me, reaching up slowly, holding the top of the chair...
Head up, down, left, right...

I was called in. When the appointment was over with news to just continue with my "regular plan," I felt relieved. I called Mom. I called Hubby. I drove to school.

I was early. I could catch up on school work, but I'd already told myself I could do that when the Superbowl was on.

So I decided to do something for myself. I
 chatted with a friend I hadn't talked to in awhile. In the hallway. Through a passing period.

Then I got on my coat and gloves and went outside. For a walk. By myself.
Breathing, looking this way and that, and thinking (aloud sometimes) about everything I'm grateful for in life. Every few steps, I'd name something else. I was full of gratitude. I was smiling.

For half an hour.

I swear, that walk was like my "RESET" button. I thought back. I hadn't been on a walk outside in days. I was reminded of my big take-away from The Zen Teacher book - I needed to get outside every day. Getting outside is what I need to do for myself. I need to breathe, walk, and simply notice.

I came back, said hello (and goodbye) to the guest teacher (substitute), and started teaching the next period.

I felt good. I felt right.

During lunch, I heard that the guest teacher had yelled at my class. It made me feel odd - sad she had to yell, and proud of being able to handle a tough class without yelling. Later in the day, I was more relaxed when I met a friend to plan for Monday. I was on the mend.

I went home, Hubby and I discussed not going to Madison, but he insisted I needed to go. I had been looking forward to seeing and learning with my edcamp buddies, no doubt.

And that's what I did. The drive up Saturday was fast, we shared ideas and stories, I had a nice-sized group for writing letters of gratitude, we were fed, we discussed books, my headache disappeared, I took some time to do school work, I picked up a book for professional development at the raffle, and four of us headed out afterwards for more chatting. More time for me to breathe and simply notice.

Today I woke up refreshed. I drove us home, we went grocery shopping, and life is resuming. We went for a walk in this spring-like sunshine. I feel recharged and ready to tackle school once again. I feel healthy, competent, rested, invigorated, and happy.

What do you need as your RESET button?
What are you missing right now in your life?
What is your next step so you can feel better than you feel right now?