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First Year, Sixteenth Week: Teaching Edition

Tabitha Helms

I came out of my two week Christmas break with visions of less stress and more balance. I had changed my schedule so I wasn't staying at work until 5pm every day of the week. I took out a lot from my lesson plans so I could integrate more independent work the next few weeks to allow for more time to do one-on-one testing before the quarter ends. I went to bed at 9pm every night and woke up at 7am every morning. I chopped off another 15 minutes from my morning routine so I could sleep in a little longer. It worked great all week; I felt rested from the 10 hours and didn't wake up anxious a single day. I had a little tension a couple of mornings, but I was well prepared with all I've been learning about anxiety and was able to push through and make it okay.

I arrived to school the first day feeling pretty good. We were supposed to have an afternoon staff meeting, but my principal was unable to do that so she presented us with all we needed to know during our morning devotions. This is when the first unexpected and unpleasant surprise came. The fire marshall had visited our campus over the break to check fire safety and hazards that needed to be fixed. My principal said three things that applied to me: 1) You can't have more than 50% of the the room covered in flammable, paper material. 2) You can't hang anything from the ceiling. 3) You can't have any boards or posters lying across the top shelf of your closet that could block the sprinkler. Suddenly, my pleasant day turned into a flurry of stress. I was racing around my classroom, tearing down posters and leaving more space on my walls. The end of the day I managed to heave and ho my turkey board from the top shelf of my closet where it had been very difficult to put it in the first place. The snowflakes on the ceiling would have to wait for another day because I didn't have my stepladder, and I was trying to stick to my strict new schedule.

Another joy I received my first day back was a child raising his hand and shouting, "Miss Neal! I'm going to throw up!" I told him to go to the bathroom, but he didn't make it. He leaped out of his chair to the trash can. I plugged my ears and looked the other way as I pleaded, "Why God?! Why does this keep happening to me? You know how much I hate this! I'm trying to get rid of my anxiety, and I've been doing fine, but my first day back I get overloaded with stress and puke? Is this really necessary???? I thought about my anxiety book and how it talked about some therapists create scenarios that you get anxious about and place you in them so that you can practice the concepts they've been working on with you. I concluded that God was giving me the scenario to practice. I sent the boy to the office, sprayed disinfectant everywhere, and ignored all the children asking me if so and so just threw up and what was that I was spraying. You saw with your own eyes what happened, I'm not about to tell you about it again. Thankfully, this was the first child who actually puked in the trash can so I didn't have to look at it or cover it with powder. I stuck the trash can outside my door and ignored it the rest of the day. I don't know why I have the pukiest class in the world. Everyone I talk to is in disbelief when I tell them it has happened again. No one ever remembers it happening that often from their own school experiences. No other teacher has had so many in such a short period of time that I have talked to. I just have the pukiest children. A nice addition to my already stressful first year. (*Note the sarcasm.)

Due to this episode, I went home and had to really fight the tension I was feeling. I talked with my dad that night and cried to him about the tension I've been feeling the past week and had the comfort of him telling me he'd step in for some of it. I was able to handle my tension for the rest of my week pretty well on my own. There was a couple times I reached out to other friends for uplifting. This doesn't really have to do with teaching, but the realization that I've lost regular contact with some close friends and feeling alone has forced me to redevelop old friendships with people I've never been as close to as well as reach out and cultivate new friendships. It's been nice to get to know people better who have been in my life for a while. I'm really thankful for them. I had some nice email conversations and a good hangout with a friend that's been very encouraging to me the past week. It was nice to find someone in a similar place as me that can be understanding and supportive.

Some good things about this week include, having a lot of help from extended care and school staff to help me get all my testing done, being able to send things home with kids for their parents to prep for me, not having as much grading to do, going home earlier than usual, getting an eight-position headphone jack for my listening center, receiving field trip permission slips from almost everyone within three days, (much better return rate than the last field trip!) getting almost all of my word attack skills tests done, and listening to one of my students attempt to tell me the sound the letter "s" makes while missing two teeth. Haha. So cute. :)

Unfortunately, the puke and the fire safety stress were not the only unplanned frustrations.

Wednesday night, I was at worship practice. In one hour I felt fine; in the second hour, I suddenly felt a sore throat coming on. I must have caught it from my kids the first day back. How frustrating. I hate teaching with a sore throat. I can't talk over my kids when I have a sore throat. My voice is in so much pain at the end of the day, which is when they're the loudest and need the most reminders and prompting to do what they need to do and be where they need to be. I was okay Thursday--enough to get through the day, but by Friday, I was worn out. Thursday night, it was hurting pretty bad. I have a hard time sleeping when I have a sore throat. It makes me nauseous when I'm lying down. So I took some cold medicine, which has worked in the past. I took a half dose and slept through the night. When I woke up, I felt really nauseous. I realized that the cold medicine has acetaminophen in it, which I have recently become allergic to. I treated the morning as if I had an anxiety attack, and plugged through with my newfound tricks. I made it to school okay, and it wore off shortly.

Another unexpected thing that happened came via email. One email was from a parent who said she'd no longer be able to help in my class Tuesday afternoons. Great. That came on a Tuesday. Another email was from a parent who said her daughter would not be at school Thursday or Friday, and she would therefore not be able to come help in the class on Thursday. Double great. I had to put together a packet of schoolwork for the student who would be out, and I didn't even have all the papers I needed. (Another last minute unexpected occurrence--the other kindergarten teacher came in to tell me we weren't in the same place in math and I needed to slow down a couple days. So I had to find some addition practice worksheets to have my kids do. She also told me the curriculum goes quickly into subtraction, and we needed to spend a month on addition and review before moving to subtraction. Also, the Bible curriculum was a little fast in the New Testament, and we needed to slow it down so that we'd do the resurrection by Easter. Keep in mind, I had already done next week's lesson planning without this information, and now had to go back and change two out of three subject areas for the week.)

Friday was the worst unexpected occurrence of all. Remember I already feel like crap because of my sore throat and the exhaustion of being back in school. On Fridays, my kids go to computer class at 1:30, almost at the end of the day. We haven't had computer class for a few weeks because of the holidays and parties and other things going on on Fridays. I was glad to be sending them out so I could have my 45 minutes of prep time so I wouldn't have to stay after school later than I had planned, and hopefully I'd have time to take down the snowflakes after school. Twenty minutes before computer class, my principal called to say she was sorry but I wasn't having computer class today. We've been trying to get StarBoards installed in the 2nd-5th grade classrooms all week, and the computer teacher messed up on his own schedule for when he was going to be installing software on the teachers' laptops for it. So, he had to use my classtime to do that. I was the only teacher that suffered because of this. I was so upset. I already felt terrible, and now I was going to lose my prep time and be forced entertain my kids for 45 minutes that I had not anticipated having. I sent the kids out to recess, telling them they weren't going to computer class after this and I'd let them know what they were doing when recess was over. The principal had suggested they have an extra long recess or something, but I had the sneaking suspicion that she hadn't asked the extended care supervisor about this and that if I was having a long recess, then I had to be the one outside watching them, which was NOT about to happen when I had no voice to shout at them when they weren't following the playground rules. I also wouldn't be able to get any prep done if I had to be outside watching them. I went to ask the extended care supervisor who confirmed my suspicions. She knew nothing about it and said she was pretty much the only one there at that time, so they couldn't be responsible for my class. I went to the bathroom and cried. Sobbed, rather. I felt awful, I lost my prep time. I was just going to sit them down for a movie so I could work on stuff, but if you've never been in a room with 19 five year olds them you probably wouldn't know that they don't know how to ignore a teacher when they're in the same room with her. This is my frustration with rainy day schedule. I have to get my room set up for the next lesson, and even though there's another adult in there to watch them, they come to me to ask me to tie their shoe, open their granola bar, find out what they can play with, ask if they can get out of their seat, and wonder what I'm doing. They even do this when I'm testing other students one-on-one. It drives me crazy because we always have the talk: "Miss Neal will be testing students in the back. Should you interrupt me while I'm working with a student? No. If you have a question, who should you ask? A friend. If you have a problem, what should you do? Solve it yourself." They always give me the right answer, and I still have yet to get through a single time slot of testing without someone coming to my desk for something.

When I brought my students in from recess, one of my aides passed by and asked how I was doing. I started crying all over again. She gracefully said she'd tell the other kinder teacher she would be in my class instead this afternoon, and kept an eye on my kids while they watched a movie. She was a miracle worker. I've never seen my kids so quiet while watching a movie before. It was incredible. She made them all promise to ask her for help and not me so that I could get my work done. It helped so much. I was able to leave the classroom and make copies when I needed it, pull papers for next week, and get my lesson plans in order. My principal met up with me while I was outside and said she could watch my class instead of my aide if I needed to get stuff done. I was a little confused how she knew and told her the aide was fine. I wonder if she had talked to the other kinder teacher who told her the aide was with me. I don't know why the aide would have been needed in her class. They were having a birthday party, and there were two parents helping in there already. The aide always helps in her class at the end of the day. She used to teach kindergarten at our school, and takes over the class and teaches them, sings with them, reads to them, counts their marbles, and helps them get treasure box. I have to confess, it frustrates me that I don't get that kind of help when I'm the first year teacher. My school year is a lot harder than anyone else's for that single reason, yet the teacher that's been doing kindergarten for 7 years has someone else to teach her class so she can do other stuff. I try very hard to hold back my resentment of it. They are good friends, and I know the other teacher doesn't like to stay very late because she has three kids. I respect that, since I can't imagine how to be a mother and a teacher at the same time.

On the home front, this week was sad because my pet fish died. I said I wasn't going to get another one because it was just one more thing to take care of. But, I couldn't bear to see an empty fish bowl in my room, so I got a new one. I was smart this time and wrote his name on the bowl in white board marker so I don't forget it and have to give him the same name as my last one, Nameless. As soon as his name appeared on the glass bowl, Grisham went to check it out.

I ended the week feeling very discouraged. I had tried so hard to be balanced and deal with my stress in a good way by making changes. And all week, I was reminded that teaching is not a regular job. It is a flexible job. There will always be last minute unexpected surprises like I had this week. I felt down knowing that I couldn't anticipate these things, yet knowing that I needed to make healthy changes. I have to deal with these things when they come. I have to make my sore throat better, I have to figure out what to do with my kids for 45 minutes, I have to clean up puke and put together absent work packets. There's no help for these things. In the very least, I'm thankful that my week was without anxiety. If I had to have these unexpected situations arise, at least I got through them without freaking out and going into relapse with the progress I've made on my own over Christmas break.

Thankfully, my trying week back was only 4 days long. I slept off the remainder of my sore throat and felt better on Saturday where I got to meet up with a friend at Leo Carrillo Ranch where we had an unexpected history lesson and a good time catching up on each others' lives. But now the weekend is over. My voice is tired from belting Revelation Song too many times at church this morning, but it couldn't be helped. I love how God uses the power in my voice to stir in peoples' hearts and make them rise to their feet to worship God. Every time I sang it today, I closed my eyes to concentrate on powering out those high notes and opened my eyes to see people on their feet, with arms raised, praising Jesus. It's a glorious feeling; I love moving people to worship. It's what love most about singing on worship team. But now my voice isn't happy with me and is feeling scratchy. Hopefully, next week won't be another sore throat week.