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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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The Painful Privilege of Teaching your Husband’s Football Players

Teaching is a tough calling. And so is football. Both are hard and agonizing and leave you feeling bruised and battered. There are many days — sometimes almost all the days — that you’re left wondering why you willingly press your heart and soul onto such a grindstone, only to be continuously worn down.

Hit after hit. Tackle after tackle. Fumble after fumble. Punt after punt. The lecture goes wrong. The lesson plan fizzles. The handoff is bobbled. The class gets defensive. The kid you thought you’d finally wrangled into catching the ball, drops it at the last second. Some never make it into the end zone.

So many hard drives seem to end without points scored. Is all the work really worth the reward? Is there a reward?

I say yes. Even beneath the gritty pressure, I can spot the moments of brilliance, the shimmer amidst the dust. The glimmer of hope, the sparkle of fire waiting somewhere at the buzzer. For me. For them. For all of us. The grindstone polishes us all. But the going is always rough.

I am a teacher, and I am a football coach’s wife. And I am lucky enough to see my two worlds collide every year when I teach some of the players my husband coaches (and I cheer for) on Friday nights.

It is a privilege, but a painful one. The hardness and heartache of teaching players can be amplified beyond belief. But thankfully, so can the blessings.

Because of the duality of my relationship with these guys, I know so much more about them than what I usually know about my students’ lives.

I know who their parents are, where they come from, and where they hope to go. I know their strengths, and their weaknesses too. I know who struggles with neglect, who is spoiled rotten, who wants a D-1 scholarship, who just wants a family and fishing pond. I know who lost their mother to drugs, who reads on a 4th grade level, who travels from apartment to apartment to outrun bill collectors. I know who loves Hot Cheetos, or Hair Bands, or X-Box Live.

Over the years, I’ve had players with every privilege in the world and players with nearly every misfortune imaginable.

I’ve taught players whose moms were booster club presidents and players whose moms were boozing it up behind the press box. Players whose dads worked the sideline chain gang on Friday nights, and players whose dads worked the prison chain gang on the roadside on Wednesday mornings.

I know these things because these kids become my kids — the way all my students become my kids. But then, they’re also my football family — and football families have incredibly strong bonds. So they tell me things they wouldn’t necessarily tell somebody else.

Sometimes I learn their deepest truths in class discussions, sometimes in private ones, sometimes in journals and essays and notes. Sometimes by the way they dress, or interact, or suddenly withdraw.

I challenge these boys, I hold them to high standards, and demand they meet them. And sometimes they don’t. More times than I can count, they stumble and fall from the burdens they carry.

And when push comes to shove — and it always does (football is a contact sport after all) — I am here for them to vent, to fail, to get back up, to keep pushing forward. Because I know their lives. I know their stories. I know their pain and/or their privilege. And I know their potential.

And heaven help me, when they refuse to meet that potential, to seize the bar and raise it — to bench press it farther than they ever thought possible — it hurts me.

But I have to remind myself that if their fighting spirit — so evident out on the football field — doesn’t manifest itself in my classroom, I shouldn’t take it personally. Some of them are fighting demons far darker than the one found inside the book I’m asking them to read or the essay I’m demanding they write.

It frustrates me when I know they’re just being lazy… but it wrecks me when I know it’s because of their demons.

I know so much more about these players than simply their stats and their numbers listed in the program. And I wouldn’t trade my job or them as students for anything.

They inspire me and bless me and teach me more than they will ever know — more than I can ever teach them — about perseverance through pain, and about finding and keeping humanity inside so much hardship.

They teach me that, though struggles might run deep in your life, courage can too. Football has helped them see that. And teaching football players has helped me see that too.

Yes, the grind of teaching — and particularly teaching students with lives that shatter innocence (theirs and yours) — wears your heart and soul down. You give more (and sometimes lose more), than you ever thought possible.

But the wearing down also polishes your heart and soul. You often gain more than you ever thought possible too. So yes, the rewards are always worth the work. Are always worth the grind.

The Absence of Smiles

Do you ever feel like the celery in a hot wings basket? Or an ad on YouTube? Or the tootsie roll in the bottom of the Halloween pumpkin? Judged and found lacking? Or ignored altogether? Unable to connect?

I’ve been feeling that a lot lately. And I think it’s the isolation behind the mask. I find myself trying to connect by overcompensating — chattering aimlessly, using lots of hand gestures, smiling till my eyeballs vanish — trying to appear welcoming, to sound happy, to be happy. But I probably just seem crazy.

Teaching through a mask to 190-plus students also wearing masks is lonely business. And no matter how hard I try, they mostly stare silently back at me. Judging me. Or worse — not caring. Or even worse still — feeling as isolated as me.

Because I definitely feel lonely. And dejected. And detached. (And I fear that they do too.)

There’s a human connection we miss when we can’t see whole faces. Two-thirds of our features are currently hidden. And what’s hurting me most is the lack of smiles. I’m missing them something fierce.

And it’s breaking me.

Smiling’s my favorite. They’re so contagious — way more than COVID-19. And while the virus droplets aren’t getting shared and spread, neither are the smiles.

And I’m not just missing the smiles. I’m missing myself. It’s like my personality has been purloined by my PPE.

I never thought not seeing smiles could impact me so much.

But even without the masks, smiles are so few and far between right now. Everything and everyone is so angry and divided. Between the plague and the politics, I feel a social distance not solely attributable to the pandemic.

We’ve been losing our humanity for a long time now. And it’s what I need more of. More connections and grace. Not more exclusion and judgement.

Not more I’m better than you because I think like this. Or I’m better than you because I have accomplished this. Or I’ve been rewarded with this. Or I wear this. Or drive this. Or live here. Or work there. Or have this skin color. Or vote this color.

I want to belong, not to exclude. I want to be a part of something. Not to feel like the last one picked. But also not to be part of a click. And I definitely don’t want to be a dick. I just want to be included and to include others. To be a part of, not apart from.

Can’t we do better? Can’t we love better? and live better? and be better? Even behind masks? Because I am a believer in the safety and science of masks. But I’m also a big believer in smiles.

I miss sharing and spreading and basking in smiles.

The Most Critical of Workers are Reporting for Duty: Students in the Pandemic

As school starts back, we have a whole new essential workforce hitting the frontline in the pandemic. Teachers were labeled critical workers by the POTUS. And that is as it should be. We are willing and able to meet the challenges ahead — especially with a dedicated and conscientious school system supporting us. 

But I’m here to call attention to another group of critical workers out there — a group vital to the core function of society and the entire future of our great nation. A group of young, unsung heroes willing to do whatever it takes to succeed under strange and difficult demands. 

I’m talking about our students.

The changes these kids are facing — and embracing — are enough to rattle the steadiest of veterans. Our school has opened on a hybrid schedule, leaving us at half capacity inside our walls, with kids reporting both in person and virtually at different times throughout the week. The hallways and stairwells have one-way signs, there are hand sanitizer stations every fifty feet, lunches are eaten inside classrooms, masks are worn when social distancing isn’t possible, and desks face one direction and sit six feet apart.

But these kids of ours — these superhero Gen-Z go-getters — they are taking all these hurdles in stride just to be here and be educated in far-from-ideal and so-far-from- normal conditions.

And they’re doing it with smiles on their faces. Not that I can see their mouths, thanks to the masks they wear so willingly — but I can see those smiles in their eyes. And they can see mine. Or I truly hope so. Because I love being with them again, interacting, forging relationships, watching light bulbs click on, discussions unfold, learning ignite. 

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s far from easy peasy Lysol squeezy. Despite our school system creating one of the best re-opening plans I’ve seen out there, I’m not gonna lie, things feel weird. Because being socially distanced to keep us all together is messing with the normally exaggerated and wide-open personalities of my teen students.

I’m sure some of it has to do with the trauma of the past four months — the PTSD of losing classrooms and classmates and social lives literally overnight. And I’m sure a large part also has to do with the smaller class sizes and the masks we wear.

But y’all… I’m used to kids who like to talk. Who, if anything, talk too much most of the time. They’re teenagers. On the cusp of adulthood. It’s a confusing stage under normal circumstances. So they talk through their confusion in class A LOT… way more than they do at home. They feel freer to vocalize thoughts, feelings, dreams, and fears. And through their persistent chatter, formal class discussions, and best-friend heart-to-hearts, they learn who they are, what they know, what they believe, and where they stand in life. And I love that about teenagers. 

Like, really. I’m not lying. Some teachers love it when their students are silent. But me, I love it when they’re not. When they feel comfortable and safe enough to give voice to their rapidly-evolving thoughts and feelings. 

But this year, they are quiet. Eerily so — as if the masks are acting as mufflers. 

And not just for them. Me too. 

I teach because I love to make connections, to share literature and love and learning with young people so they know and understand their worth and potential. My goal is always to make a positive impact. 

But this year, my impact feels muffled, like my best efforts are falling on… not quite deaf ears, but more like mute mouths. Our kids, I think, feel vulnerable and isolated and self-conscious. 

But then, these kids are also brave. Brave and here. At school. In a brick and mortar building. Present and determined. They make me prouder than they’ll ever know. 

I wish I could put into words how much I love them. How far I am willing to go to help them succeed. How much they inspire me to be the best possible teacher — because they deserve only the very best. 

As our superintendent says, this school year should be seen not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow and become better at our craft. I want to be a better communicator and a better teacher — to bridge the social distancing distance and reach my students. And teach my students. And see them grow. 

I will rise to that opportunity, and I will seize it with both hands (well-sanitized, of course).

Because my students are willing to do the same. 

The 2020 Class of Grit and Grace

Yesterday was my senior students’ last day of high school, and unfortunately it was virtual. It breaks both my heart and theirs. I came to know many from this 2020 class as juniors last year, my first year at Cartersville — and those of you who teach know how those kids you teach your first year (whatever “first” it may be) live in a special little place in your heart.

But this crew didn’t just carve out a niche, they climbed in and set up camp. And when we were all yanked apart eight weeks ago, my heart was left numb and aching.

I miss them like nobody’s business. They are a smart, fun-loving group, full of moxie and mirth, despite life being more than a little unfair to them.

Several of them I’ve had the honor of teaching two years in a row — last year in American Lit and this one in journalism. There’s one particular group of girls who’ve written about the impact coronavirus has had on their lives — everything from emotional turmoil to lost milestones and missing friends.

But while they do address the negatives, what I find profound and powerful is the grit and grace they’ve uncovered in themselves, despite the unforgiving situation. I find myself humbled and inspired by these young adults.

One bubbly eighteen year old with eyes blue as May skies and an outlook equally clear, explains how she finds comfort in the pandemic: “I completely lose myself in words. [I have a] need for music and reading. It’s a haven for me, a place for me to say and think what I want … It feels like a sense of worth to have what YOU need set down in writing.”

Ultimately, the one thing she hopes happens after this pandemic pause is that “the world can come together and act as a whole instead of being separated.” In the meantime, she wants the earth to “catch its breath and just be.”  

Another student who never fails to maneuver through darkness in search of light inspires me more than she’ll ever know. This year was rocky for her, even before the shutdown, but she handled that upheaval with strength and resolve.

And now her year has been upended once again, but through it all, she’s remained optimistic. Sure, she has felt “down in the dumps,” but she also sees this as an opportunity to “hike, travel to beautiful gardens, walk, run, [and] work out.” She notes “how structured and unappreciative life used to seem, [when] most everyone took …everyday activities for granted.” Now, she’s determined to soak up the memories and moments until life resumes its normal pace.

A third senior with her own set of childhood ghosts has used her past to help her forge the future with confidence. She battled feelings of “not being enough” for a very long time, but along the way she’s gathered the wisdom to know better– and the foresight to know this pandemic will not beat her or her classmates.

“Seniors are strong and we will get through this. We might not finish this school year traditionally, but we are going to finish. You will not defeat our 2020 class. And we will be ready for wherever life takes us next.”

I don’t know about y’all, but I believe her.

And finally, a fourth senior, one with flawless hazelnut skin and an outlook far beyond her years blew me away with her words this week. She’s had a lot to juggle, caring for two young brothers at home and managing her own course load while her physician mother treats COVID19 patients. And though she admits to feeling proud of her mother, she has equal feelings of being robbed of her senior milestones.

“It makes me feel selfish, but people always say that the first step to recovery is admittance. So that means I’m not just dealing with the pain, I’m healing.”

I feel like what she says is just what this tenacious senior class is doing — dealing with the pain and healing. By seeking beauty and finding grace inside the struggle.

I would say I can’t wait to see where this world takes them, but then, the world’s not taking them anywhere. It’s definitely the other way around.

I Miss My Students

I miss them all. I miss the quiet ones, the loud ones, the eager ones, the sluggish ones, the class standouts and the class clowns, and every one in between.

I miss my their smiles — the wide-open ones, the small, sheltered ones, the barely-there smiles, and the gummy, toothy grins,

I miss their drama — the boyfriend/girlfriend kind, the hair’s-a-mess kind, the math-is-hard kind, the parents-just-don’t-understand-me kind.

I miss their stories — the dog-ate-my-homework, the truck-wouldn’t-start, the baby-brother-cried-all-night, the forgot-it-on-top-of-my-best-friend’s-car stories.

I miss their creativity. The artwork that brings me to tears,the presentations that give me goosebumps, the insights that blow me away.

I miss them bargaining over who’s gonna make the Quizlet, arguing over who gets the comfy chair, debating over which is better: Sweet Chili Doritos or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

I miss the small groups of dancers, ball players, and poets who convene in my room fifteen minutes before school every morning.

I miss my first period’s scramble to fit Stalin into our daily discussions and their impromptu Phineas and Ferb theme song serenades.

I miss my eighth-period gaggle of multicultural girls, chairs mashed eight-strong at a six-person table.

I miss the quiet kid in fourth period who whispers when he says a single word, and the rowdy one in second who has an Irish blush to his cheeks and a soccer jersey on every day.

I miss the boys named after Texas cities who stroll into class with their lanky legs and sheepish grins, and I miss the girls named after the seasons, with their calm, soothing ways and hopeful promise.

I miss my daily bear hug from my husband’s D-lineman and the sweet side-squeezes from my beloved Chipper girls.

I miss the red head who proclaimed himself “Testiculous the Great” while studying the Roman poets, and the mop-head who loves Joe Mama jokes.

I miss 10th grade boy humor.

I miss the dark, quiet beauty with the light dusting of freckles and the penchant for writing stories. I pray she’s doing okay.

I miss the awkward goddess full of frizzy curls and goodness who’s got no idea she’s a goddess yet. I pray for her confidence to continue to bloom.

I miss my golden-haired seniors with laughter in their spirits and spitfire in their souls. I pray their sunshine and lightning always stays.

I miss my students and I pray for them all. All my precious, quirky, needy, independent, oh-so-capable students.

These kiddos are inheriting the earth very soon — an earth currently coping with and recovering from the likes we’ve never seen. But they have what it takes. They have sunshine and lightning. They have passion and gumption. They have humor and grace and whimsy and wit. They have everything it will take to get through this and to get this world to a better place.

I miss my students, and I pray for them every day. Every. Single. Day.

Giving Love and Giving Purpose: Teaching Humans, not Humanities

In the last two days, I’ve attended three staff trainings that have rattled my teacher’s heart. Human trafficking, suicide prevention, and educating students of childhood trauma. Next week, I’ll sit through some drug awareness training.

The world of public education has changed dramatically in the last few years. Not because the world has changed that much, but because education has quit burying it’s head in the sand.

Used to be, we’d pretend problems like this didn’t exist. Or that they happened in other places. Not our town, not our school, not our student body.

Well, it’s high time we quit saving face and save some lives instead.

Yesterday, I learned from a social worker about girls from our school. Girls who sat in our seats, walked in our halls, and cried in our stalls. Girls who were sold by their mothers, raped by their fathers, enslaved by their friends. Girls who got in debt with their drug dealers and got in bed with strangers. Girls who went to school all day every day, then went home to be raped all night every night by multiple men.

The stories rattled me. My stomach hurt.

The second social worker of the day then told us about the suicide statistics in our community. Our school system is definitely no stranger to suicide. The last couple of years alone, we’ve lost students and former students. But the epidemic is far from over. We heard about high schoolers, middle schoolers, elementary and even primary-aged schoolers battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts.

The stories rattled me. My heart hurt.

And then today, I attended a conference led by Mississippi teacher Donna Porter and her former student (and gang leader), DJ Batiste. They spoke on creating a culture and climate in the classroom to best serve students who have survived childhood trauma. Trauma like gang violence, child abuse, rape, suicidal thoughts, parental addictions, extreme poverty… to name a few.

There’s a lot of heavy words surrounding these kids molded from trauma, but the word I need to focus on is SERVE.

As a teacher, I have been called to serve kids. I believe it with all my heart. All kids. Even the hard kids. Especially the hard kids. Because nobody else is.

We are their last resort.

But everything about these hard kids is… Hard. They push. They challenge. They try. They drain. They do all the things. All of them. To you.

Because they’re good at it and they know it. They don’t think they can do much of anything else in life, but they know they’re good at that.

So they push you, challenge you, try you, drain you.

But the message today was, never let ’em see you sweat. Instead let them see you care. Find a way to diffuse them and enthuse them. Give them purpose, give them power, give them love.

I have always tried to give my students love. Always. And when they are hard to love, I work even harder than they are to find a way.

But I never thought of giving them purpose and power. At least not beyond giving them an education. Education brings purpose and power, right? That’s what I always assumed. I assumed wrong.

I learned today, that for these kids Reputation is far more important than Education. They would rather buck up and be abrasive than be vulnerable and be saved — even though they want to be saved. They really, really do.

So I’ve got to make a paradigm shift. In them, yes. But also in me.

I’ve got to check my ego and remember it’s not all about me. In fact, with these kids of trauma, it’s got nothing to do with me at all… and everything to do with them. They are hurting. And they need someone to show them there’s hope out there. Hope beyond the hurt. Hope in spite of the hurt.

And I’m not going to get there by teaching them sonnets and syntax. I’m only going to get there by showing them they matter; they have purpose. By teaching the human. Not the subject.

And I need to shift another way, too. Inside our classroom. (Not my classroom, which is how, I have to confess, I’ve always thought of it, but OUR classroom.) And I can make it ours by something as simple as creating jobs. Creating roles for my students. Things like taking attendance, leading the warm up, closing the lesson. Jobs that will take some responsibility off me, and give my students some purpose. A way to take ownership.

Elementary teachers do it all the time. They have line leaders and door holders and electricity technicians. But high school teachers? I hadn’t seen it in action in all my years of teaching.

But it makes sense. Giving students like these — students with no control over their home-life, their pasts, or their present situation — giving them some power, no matter how small, can be incredibly meaningful and incredibly magical.

Honoring students with purpose. Giving students power. It can turn a life around. Truly. So their paradigm shifts. So Education becomes more important than Reputation.

I learned a lot today about guiding students with love and honoring students with purpose. Giving honor, not rewards, brings value and hope into these kids’ lives, DJ explained. “Don’t give students something they can touch. Give them something they can feel.’

My heart rattled one more time. This time, it was my paradigm shifting.

I’m ready.

Why Teachers Shouldn’t Wait Until Christmas to Smile

A lot of things have changed in my seventeen years of teaching.

Back when I first began, I was told, “Don’t smile until Christmas,” by almost everybody around me: education professors, veteran teachers, administrators. Everybody.

Thankfully, that has changed. Now teachers are encouraged to build relationships of trust and respect with our students. And that is a very positive change.

Not all of the changes have been for the better, though.

Some things, once rare, have become commonplace: like social media bullying and the threat of school shootings. Some things are nearly brand new: like vape juuls and dab pens. And some things are the new normal: like lockdown drills and smart phone distractions.

School shootings are a profoundly American tragedy, and one I’ve addressed before. In my years of teaching, they’ve become so ubiquitous that society seems to be jaded about them. This breaks my heart.

Smart phones didn’t exist seventeen years ago, but they’re everywhere now — along with rapidly multiplying smart watches. And with them, social media is a near-constant source of distraction (and contention) in the classroom. This likewise makes me super sad.

Kids would much rather check the stories on Snapchat than read the stories in English class. Instagram features and filters are much more compelling to them than mathematical fractals and fractions. Even in athletics, they’d sometimes rather tweet than compete.

Teachers get paid to teach… but very often, we feel like we do anything and everything BUT teach. Our classrooms have become lessons in covert operations.

Juuls and dab pens are everywhere — but kids are experts at hiding them. Hoodies and rubber bands have become suspect. Kids wear rubber bands around their wrist sleeves so they can hide juuls and take hits. They wear hoodies tight round their faces so they can exhale into their shirts.

I’ve seen vapor clouds disappear above students’ heads, but been unable to locate the source. I’ve seen discarded cartridges magically appear in my corners.

We play detective every day, trying to figure out which kid was the source of the sickeningly sweet odor infiltrating our room; which kid has red eyes from allergies, which kid has red eyes from THC; which kid is staring at his crotch because he’s texting, and which kid is staring at his crotch because he’s bored. (We get it all, almost every day.)

And you might think juuls and dab pens are more dangerous than smart phones, but experts argue they are all equally hazardous. I would agree.

Adolescent drug use, depression, and suicide is on the rise — and a huge contributing factor is social media and the pressures that come with it. Kids buy what social media is selling, which is almost always half-truths and lies.

Teens see the highlight reels of celebrities and idols and believe the image portrayed is reality. And then there’s also the bullies and predators out there, pressuring kids into sexting and nude pics — and the ensuing threats and belittling if they don’t… and the degrading and shame if they do.

Almost every aspect of social media leaves our kids feeling like they are not rich enough or smart enough or pretty enough or blond enough or athletic enough or cool enough… that they quite simply are not, nor will ever be, ENOUGH.

There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve found suicidal thoughts embedded in student essays. Social media is feeding insecurity and depression and kids are seeking escape through drugs and suicide.

Yes, teaching has gotten noticeably harder in the last seventeen years.

Before, I was told not to smile until Christmas. Now I’m told to smile and greet my students outside the classroom every day. To give high fives and side hugs. To genuinely care about my students and make sure they know I do.

These days, our district (and district all over our nation) are encouraging teachers to build relationships with students.

Because in a world full of school shootings and school bullying, teen depression, smart phone distractions, vape pens, and drug abuse, kids are not getting a whole lot of positive messages or interactions with anyone anymore — peers or adults. 

Because for some of our students, the smiles and greetings and side hugs we give are the only real human connection they make on any given day.

Sometimes our classroom is the only place where kids’ voices are used and actually heard. The only place where kids are given attention and affirmation. The only place where kids feel safe and secure and at home.

Some kids get nurtured at home. Some don’t. Some kids have the tools they need to navigate this increasingly treacherous world. Some don’t. Our job is to make sure all kids do. Teachers don’t just teach the Three R’s anymore.

The most important job we have as teachers now is to demonstrate love, compassion, and positive interaction. To teach community. To model the best of what humanity can be.

I’ve never been a teacher who didn’t smile till Christmas. Never. It wasn’t in my nature.

And while I’m glad that particular rule is no longer the norm, it makes me sad that changing times are what finally made the institution that is education see that students really do need and deserve smiles… long before Christmas.

Yes, there have been many changes over my seventeen years of teaching, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love teaching students. I really do. I still find it the most rewarding thing I can do with my life, besides motherhood.

But for me, teaching and motherhood are the perfect pairing. They go together like tacos and Tuesdays, cookies and milk, bacon and anything.

… like smiles in the classroom.

Kids Hate Language Arts. Can Reading and Writing be Resuscitated?

I have a passion for teaching English to high schoolers. A passion for seeing kids learn, seeing kids’ faces light up with understanding and excitement. Sadly, I see that light diminishing more with each passing year.

This week begins my 18th year of teaching English to secondary students. And every year, fewer and fewer students love to read. Heck, let’s get rid of the phrase “love to” and state the facts: Every year, fewer and fewer students read. Anything.

Or I guess I should qualify that statement — kids do read a little. And by a little, I mean memes. They’ll read something if it’s shorter than a sentence. And is paired with an image.

And they write that way too. Sentences are overrated. They want fragments, abbreviations, and emojis. That’s how kids communicate these days.

Which means my subject matter — literature and composition — is rapidly dying. It’s very nearly dead — and almost universally despised by my students. So I have a hard task in front of me, trying to save something most kids would love to see buried and gone.

On the first day of school, they are always so happy to brag to me about how much they hate English class. How they don’t read and they don’t want to. They once read a book in 7th grade, they’ll tell me when pressed, about some boy and a plane that crashed. “Hatchet?” I ask. “Yeah, that’s it,” they say. It’s the only book they’ve ever read. “Nothing since?” I whimper. They laugh. “Nope.” And my heart sinks. Every time.

How can I resuscitate a skill that far gone? Something that breathed — once — three years back and then flatlined, never to even be mourned?

We are in the era of smart phones and laptops. Kids don’t even watch television anymore. They watch their portable screens. And mostly quick, entertaining segments on YouTube. If it’s not quick, they won’t usually give it their time. And if it doesn’t grab their attention in the first 30 seconds, they’re hitting the search bar looking for something else.

Kids’ attention spans are jaded and fading. They want new, new, new and fast, fast, fast. And reading meets none of those requirements; writing, even less.

How do I, as an educator, compete in this fast and furious climate and culture?

Sometimes I worry that it’s just too late. That I simply don’t have the ability to raise Literacy from the dead. Indeed, the prognosis is bleak.

Case in point: my students from last year. I love them dearly, and I really believed that together, we’d made all sorts of progress. Now, I knew they weren’t out randomly picking up books instead of their iPhones, but I still thought I’d made some sort of impact. I thought they’d at least enjoyed the literature we read together.

But then I had a group of kids tell me a couple weeks back how much they hated To Kill a Mockingbird. Hated it.

And I wanted to cry. I failed them miserably. And I deceived myself in the process.

How can I remedy my failure? How can I bring the joy of reading and the art of writing back from the brink of death? Or is it already too late?

I know for a fact I can’t do it on my own. It’s impossible. Trauma surgeons have whole teams working in conjunction to keep their patients alive. From paramedics to ER docs to nurses to lab techs to anesthetists to surgical residents and attendings, everybody does their part, separately and together, to keep the patient from multiple system failure. Resuscitating literacy can’t all ride on me.

And it can’t all wait till it gets to me either. Fifteen years without a heart for reading is probably too late. Sure, I might find a feeble pulse in a couple of kids and nurture it back into a steady beat, but saving 2 kids out of 185 is not enough.

Nope, it’s got to be more and it’s got to begin sooner. It needs to begin at home. With parents and their babies.

Parents, read to your children. Read to them early — as newborns, even. It’s never too soon, I promise. Read them Goodnight, Moon. Read them The Grouchy Ladybug. Read them Green Eggs and Ham. And sing to them, too. Sing nursery rhymes. Sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, sing The Wheels on the Bus. Heck, sing Baby Shark, if you dare.

But read to them, and sing to them, and foster in them the love of language.

Then, we teachers will keep it going — from preschool all the way through senior year and beyond. Together, we can foster lifelong readers and writers… and excellent communicators. This world needs these skills. Desperately.

It’s never too soon, but it can be too late.

A Tired Teacher-Mom’s 8 Little Luxuries Essential to Summer Survival

Summertime is hard on this Teacher-Mom. All those social media pics of exuberant educators wearing their “Tag, Parents! You’re It!” t-shirts… yeah, they can BITE ME.

Because I’m a teacher AND a mother of five-year-old twins. So I’m ALWAYS it. Always. I leave the frying pan in May and submerge myself in the fire during June and July.

And I’m more than a little burned out.

While other teachers rest, recover, and recharge, I referee. Those twins of mine, they fight. Like every second of every waking hour. (Ok, slight exaggeration. They fight like every alternating second of every waking hour. The remaining seconds, they carpet bomb our living space.)

So while other educators are out there sipping their umbrella drinks with their toes in the water, having assemblies in the sand, I have a list of my own little luxuries I can turn to at home. With kids. Angry, destructive, torrential tornado kids.

#1: wearing a soft, fuzzy robe and sipping coffee out of a hand-turned pottery mug. Sure, the robe’s coffee-stained and the coffee’s cold and the people at the Dollar General give me funny looks when I run in for Uncrustables and wine, but still… it’s the little things.

Or #2: watching hummingbirds at my back deck as they flit around their feeder — and then promptly buzz the “F” off because the nectar is moldy and neglected. Because I ain’t got time to take care of birds AND twin boys. Who (did I mention) fight all the everlovinglivelongmotherflusteredday?

Which means I don’t get to read those awesome British mysteries I ordered from Amazon — my #3 — because ain’t nobody got time for that shit. Even if it is some high-quality, imported, upper-crust, manor house, tea cozy shit. So scratch that.

But I do make time for #4: deadheading my marigolds. Because who can resist that satisfying little POP they make? Like snapping the Achilles’ tendon on that simpering, know-it-all parent who sent you email after condescending email all school year long. It’s that sort of satisfying. So I definitely make time for that. It’s therapy.

And I always make time for #5: Parker’s passionate kisses, complete with exaggerated MUAH! at the end. He loves to latch onto my neck and swing his 52-pound body like a 52-pound wrecking ball, shattering my lumbar region in the process, but never failing to restore my joy.

And you know what DOESN’T spark joy in me right now? Cleaning my house. My twin tornadoes completely upend it in seconds anyway — the seconds they aren’t fighting. So instead, I present #6: Nap Time.

That whole newborn baby advice to “nap when they nap,” I’ve done it religiously every weekend and summer since they were born. It’s a trend that never goes out of fashion. It gives me peace of mind, which is far better than the piece of my mind I would give everybody else if I didn’t. And let’s face it, there’s just not a lot of those endangered pieces left to go around.

Sleep always brings me joy. Particularly when the boys sleep — which they didn’t really do for the first sixteen months of their lives.

Which leads me to #7: Tate’s bedtime, when we dance as he sings along to the Jewel lullabies he’s heard since he was six days old and straight out of the NICU. Hearing him warble his bubbly, half-yodel Jewel-tones while gazing lovingly into my eyes … I can ALWAYS make time for that.

And then, finally #8: my own bedtime, complete with a glass of red wine (or two), a bucket of theatre popcorn purchased that afternoon by my ever-accommodating husband (Did you know you can buy popcorn without buying a ticket???), and Dateline. Because after the sun (and sons) go down, I embody my newest favorite meme:

“Lady in the street, netflix, snacks and murder documentaries in the sheets.”

It ain’t a lie. And it keeps me alive. And semi-sane.

All of these little luxuries keep me alive and semi-sane.

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