Purposeful procrastination

I could work all of my waking hours and still have more to do.  I really could.  In fact, I’ve tried that many times.  It’s not sustainable.  It’s horrible.  I’m sure all of you teachers out there can empathize.

But I don’t do that anymore.  Well, sometimes I do.  But this past week was my spring break, and throughout the week I chose to do quite the opposite.  I chose to purposely procrastinate.  There’s a big difference between purposeful procrastination and regular procrastination: purposeful procrastination doesn’t make me feel bad.  When I sit at my screen or in my classroom with the intent of getting things done but instead I dilly dally and suddenly a ridiculous amount of time has passed, I feel irritated with myself.  But that’s not the case when I tell myself, “Nope, I’m not doing any work today.  I’m going to put it off until tomorrow.”  Then, when nothing gets done I don’t feel bad at all.  I’ve lived up to the plan–the plan of not working.  The literal outcomes of purposeful procrastination and regular procrastination are exactly the same.  The emotional outcomes are so different.

So now here I am, with a day and a half left before going back to school for the end-of-the-year stretch, and I have a lot to do.  I’ll do what I can tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I’ll commit to being productive.  But until then, I’ll give myself permission to do whatever else I want with these few precious hours, and when I go to bed tonight, I will remind myself to feel just fine with being unaccomplished.

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Pneumonia and a Renewed Relationship

I start every morning with a community meeting, the bulk of which involves 5 or so students sharing news from their lives.  Certain kids always tell mostly made-up goofy stories to get a good laugh from the crowd.  Some kids go on and on and leave everyone wondering what they were talking about.  Other times, a kid shares something truly important for us to know.

A couple of weeks ago, a child said, “Well, my mom is really sick.  She has this sickness called pneumonia, and that’s what my great-grandmother died of, so I’m hoping my mom isn’t going to die too.  And I’ve been writing a lot of notes about that.”

Thankfully, his mom is doing just fine.  But what a weight for this child to be carrying on his shoulders!  He of course doesn’t understand that pneumonia doesn’t mean the same for a 35 year old as it does for someone who is 80.  The class made a card for his mom that afternoon, and we were all able to check in with him about his mom during the following days.  I was so glad that he had the chance to share.

Another category of morning news is that which would make parents embarrassed.  Children don’t hold back.  We’ve heard about parents pulled over for running red lights, parents saying bad words, parents refusing to eat their vegetables, and parents sleeping in their underwear.

A few weeks ago, a student announced, “Well, my daddy actually has his own house, and I was supposed to go to his house this weekend, but I didn’t because we all stayed at my mommy’s house because my daddy and my mommy slept in the same bed because they’re trying to get back together again.”  Her parents have been divorced for years.

It’s always funny to see parents at pick-up a few hours later and to feel like I’m in on one of their secrets.  Usually, I don’t spill the beans, and what’s said at morning meeting, stays at morning meeting.

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Thirty-six new stunts this week?

I went to a great early childhood literacy conference on Saturday.  As is typical of me, I got all fired up from hearing excited, passionate, and smart people speak their minds.  By the end of the day I had a lot of scattered notes and ideas.  I went home, paced the apartment in my post-conference high, and decided right then and there that I would implement thirty-six new things into my classroom this week.

Then I drifted back to the ground, and I remembered that I can’t do that.  Even superwoman doesn’t try thirty-six new stunts in one week.

But how do I prioritize?

It’s really hard.  It’s really hard to hear a lot of ideas that I know would make my classroom better, and then wait to implement them slowly.  It’s really hard because if I’m implementing the changes slowly, then things aren’t improving right away.  And of course, I want things to improve right away.  Tomorrow would be ideal.

With patience, I can implement a few new ideas one at a time throughout the rest of this year.  A few.  But for my own sanity and that of my kids, I need to respect the systems and routines that we have currently.  We all rely on them. If I want to return to the drawing board with a truly clean sheet of paper and a perfectly sharpened pencil, then I’ll have to wait until next August.  But right now, next August feels very far away.

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8 weeks

It has been 8 weeks since I last blogged.  That’s a long time.  I have plenty of excuses.  Want to hear them?

School was, and always is, a whirlwind leading up to winter break.
Staff morale was quite low in December, which made me too grumpy to blog.
I didn’t want to be a grumpy blogger.
That school-related grumpiness seeped into winter break, putting me in a mood that wasn’t particularly reflective.

I didn’t want to admit to myself or to the internet world that I wasn’t super reflective over winter break and that I didn’t feel perfectly refreshed and rejuvenated upon returning to school.
I didn’t want to announce that this blog is two years old, and  that I’m still not a magical queen teacher.
I wish I were a magical queen teacher.  Then I’d definitely have plenty to blog about.

But school is back, and so am I.  And actually, the real re-start of school is better than the imagined re-start.  Winter break gave me so much time to sit and stew, and in doing so I built up my own stress.  I went back on Monday and was quickly reminded that situations are complicated, that there’s plenty to be cheerful about, and that I do have some semblance of knowledge and skills that I can relatively successfully apply to my teaching.  I slept better this week than I have in quite a while.  Things are fine.

And I’m working on making them better than fine.  I signed up for a writing class on Tuesday evenings, which I’m excited about.  I asked my administration to register me for a day-long workshop on working with students for whom English is a Second Language, which I hope they’ll agree to.  I’m reading good books for a parent-teacher book club at school and for a book club with friends.  I know that a happy me makes me a happy teacher.  That’s what being willfully zen is all about.

So, happy new year!  Cheers to a 2014 full of more consistent and less excuse-filled blogging.

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Yesterday, I went out for brunch with two colleagues.  We ordered omelets, sat down, and began to vent.  It was inevitable.  Work has been intense lately, and all of the staff have been on edge.  Distanced from school and in the safety of a cozy cafe, we shared one story after another of frustration and irritation.

Yes, we were negative.  I know I’m supposed to avoid overly negative conversations.  I know negativity doesn’t make things better.  But it happened.

And we didn’t stay negative.  Not entirely at least.  As the afternoon passed, we refilled our coffee cups and began to laugh.  Grumbly stories mixed with hilarious ones.  Complicated situations became less sticky.  We talked about sweet moments.  We praised each other for the way each of us handles work and solves problems.  We made plans to have brunch again and to include more teachers next time.

Three hours later, I left in such a good mood.  I left feeling connected to the people with whom I work.  I left with a sense of camaraderie.  I practically skipped back home.

I needed the opportunity to moan and complain.  I really did.  All three of us did.  And we needed to moan and complain with each other so that each of us knew that it wasn’t just us.  And since we didn’t stay in that negative place, our time together was well spent.

So well spent.  I look forward to next time.

P.S. Thanksgiving is so close!  Hurrah for a couple of days off!

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What would you do if you were the Mayor?

Last Tuesday was Election Day, and Mayor was on the ticket here in Houston.  My students wrote about what they would do if they were Mayor.  Would our city be better off if they were in charge?

Photo on 2013-11-11 at 20.14
“I will paint the city rainbow.  I will make more school for kids.”

Photo on 2013-11-11 at 20.14 #2
[with a broom of course]

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“I would make the moon a disco ball!  I would make everyone crazy!  I would make the president crazy too!”
I wonder if the Mayor knows she has this kind of power.

Photo on 2013-11-11 at 20.15 #2
His next campaign will have to clarify how.

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“Make the streets smoother.  Make more lights on more baseball fields.”
I had no idea we had dark baseball fields.  What a travesty.

Photo on 2013-11-11 at 20.16 #2
She’s clearly a socialist.

Photo on 2013-11-11 at 20.16 #3
“If people get hurt or injured I will give them money so they can use it for the doctor.”
This student was paid by supporters of Obamacare.

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Squeezable chicken

Last year, one of my students brought a jar of baby food for lunch.  It was some sort of vegetable medley, and he claimed it tasted ok.  I found it very strange at first, but then remembered that he had a 1-year-old brother, so I figured maybe somehow daycare lunch and elementary school lunch got swapped.  It’s possible.

Much more concerning to me is the quantity of baby food being intentionally given to my students.  It’s not labeled as baby food, but that’s what I am going to call food that is pureed so as to require no chewing.  And no hands.  Babies have adults to scoop the food into their mouths.  And what do you do if your child will be at school without someone to scoop that food on in?  Buy it in a squeeze pouch of course!

The first I remember of the trend was Go-Gurt.  Yogurt without the horrible, terrible, hassle of needing spoons, hand-eye coordination, and motor skills has been around for a solid decade at least.  If that was the last of the squeezeable conveniences, I wouldn’t be so bothered.  After all, what could be better for an in-the-car-in-between-soccer-and-baseball-practice snack?  But the fad has gotten out of control.  My students bring lunches filled with squeezable apple sauce, squeezable mixed berries, squeezable peanut butter, and squeezable cheese.  I haven’t seen squeezable chicken yet, but it’s probably coming.  Everything comes in pouches and requires nothing more of its consumers than a decent grip.

The result: these kids don’t know how to use utensils.  They don’t have the motor control to scoop an appropriate amount of food out of a container and get it directly to their mouth.  They don’t have the patience to accurately dig the prongs of a fork into anything.  They swallow their entire lunch in 8 minutes and then have the rest of the lunch period to be antsy, bored, or raucous.  Everyday at lunch time I think about the scenes from WALL-E in which the future is filled with blob-like people who drink unidentifiable nutrients.  If food marketed for children’s lunches is reflective of the direction in which society is moving, then WALL-E may be impressively and unfortunately exact in their depictions of tomorrow.

Yes, a lot of the squeezable food is healthy.  I love yogurt and apple sauce and cheese and I have no problem with any of those foods being eaten for anyone’s lunch.  But, children need to learn to eat slowly, calmly, and with utensils.  They need to think of lunch as a peaceful time to socialize and enjoy nourishing your body.  They need to struggle a bit to open packages, scoop, fork, and cut so that they develop necessary muscles in their hands and important culinary skills that they’ll hopefully use for the rest of their lives.  Lunch and convenience are not synonyms; let’s keep it that way.

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