Thursday, June 16, 2016

Soaring Eagles, I Will Miss You

Dear several hundred Sequoyah students I have had the pleasure to teach the past five years,
I will miss you.  Some of you have heard and others haven't. I will be teaching at a new school next year. When some of you heard this, you thought I was leaving because I don't like you guys.  You are right. I don't.  I LOVE YOU GUYS! And going to another school is not easy.

But I want you to learn some lessons from my experience at Sequoyah...
Sometimes God puts you in a place or a job or a situation that you never would have chosen for yourself. I never thought I would be teaching high school. I went to college to be an elementary school teacher. When I graduated from college, I needed a job. I was newly married.  I had bills and rent to pay. I was in the real world now.
Sometimes you don't get to choose.  When I graduated, I only had one choice. I graduated in December, middle of the school year. And the job I got was the ONLY job available in the area. I was blessed to get it. But I can't say I was excited. I wanted to teach little kids who still liked hugs, and still liked to color, and still liked school, and didn't have cell phones yet. But instead I got you.
Sometimes God surprises you. Even though you didn't all like hugs, and we never had time to color, and you didn't like school all the time, and you used your cell phones way too much...I learned to like you. I really liked you. You made me laugh. You made me cry. You challenged me. You ticked me off. You made me proud.
Sometimes you have to embrace where you are until you get to 
where you want to be. For the first semester I was at Sequoyah, I was so bummed that I wasn't where I wanted to be that I missed the moments in front of me. I didn't notice the little victories, or the students I helped, or the memories I was making. It was wasted time. When I realized my time at Sequoyah wasn't going to be a short term thing, I decided to make the most of it. I got happier. I saw I was making a difference. I was there for a reason. This wasn't just passing time on my way to somewhere else. It was a season, an important part of my life. I needed Sequoyah and I needed all of you.
Sometimes you have to say goodbye. The teaching position I always wanted opened up and I was blessed to be offered the job. It doesn't mean I love you any less. It doesn't mean I didn't love being your teacher. It just means it's time for me to teach new students at a different school. But I'm not moving.  Keep in touch. Message me every now and then. I will still see you at the grocery store, or restaurants, or the ball fields, or the lake. And if you don't see me there, I promise I will see you at graduation. And you better be in a cap and gown if you are a senior or we will have some fighting words. Go make me proud, friends!

I will leave you with this. I wrote a letter after the first week of school last year about what it was like to be your teacher.  Keep these things in mind next year and treat your teachers accordingly.

"...I'm a little jealous of the pictures of my friends' classrooms that are super cutesy and have their students' names beautifully written and taped lovingly to their wooden desks. But most of my friends are elementary school teachers. I am pretty sure my high school students would think I was crazier than they already do if I did that. They wouldn't see it as an expression of my love for them and the excitement I have for them being in class, some of them for the fourth year in a row. This is not because they failed my class, but because I teach reading and writing to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. I love having them again, even the ones that drive me absolutely insane. That is because I get to see them grow as people, and as readers, and as writers. When they graduate, I feel like I played a part in it. They aren't just students I taught for a semester. They are my babies. 

I hate the first day when they walk in my room and some of them say, "Ms. Strauss, why do I have to have your class AGAIN?" And it warms my heart to hear some of them say, "stop it guys. I love Ms. Strauss, and her class isn't that bad." I'll take "not that bad" from a teenager that has been forced to take my class again when they could be in Ms. Cooper's Zumba class :) any day...

I love being a teacher, even though I forget how much I love being a teacher about 90% of the time. 

I forget because I start to drown In pile of paperwork, or my kids are ignoring me AGAIN, or they won't put their cell phones away even though I have asked them 5 times, or a kid asks to be switched to a different lunch because they "don't have any friends in first lunch" even though I know they do and I spent hours working on their schedules so I wouldn't have to take them out of their favorite class, or my student refuses to do his work because he is too tired, or her boyfriend broke up with her, or his dog died, or their parents got a divorce, or they are hungry because they haven't had anything to eat since lunch YESTERDAY at school, or they were up late taking care of their baby, or their friend OD'd, or or they had to work late last night to help their family pay the bills. 

And some of it I understand, because I was in high school like them not too long ago. I remember having homework in all 5 of my classes on the same night. I stayed up way too late on the phone with my boyfriend, against my parents warnings, and fell asleep in class a time or two.  I ignored my teachers sometimes, too. Sometimes I hid my flip-phone under my desk where I thought they couldn't see it. I, too, tried to  get my schedule switched so I could be in the same lunch with my best friends, because there was a time when I didn't have a lot of friends either.  I've had my heart broken by a boy a few times in my life. Once, my dog died and I had to be in class the next day trying to hold back tears.  And my parents are divorced, too. They aren't alone.

The rest I feel for, but I can't even imagine. I never lived their life. I never walked in their shoes. I never went without a meal. There was always food on my table. I didn't have to raise a child until after I had a career and a husband. It's really hard to do and I don't have to do it alone. I was blessed to never have to see the effects of dangerous addictions on people I love. I didn't have to work to help pay my family's bills. They were busting their butts to make ends meet so I wouldn't have to while I was in school.  I can't relate. I don't know what it feels like. But I do hurt for them. My heart breaks for them. When they aren't around, I cry for them. Life shouldn't be that hard yet, because they are just kids. And most of the time I forget they aren't really my kids. Because I love them that much, even when they are hard to love.

I hope they know that I wake them up because I love them. I take away their phones because I know they need to become better readers. I make them write a whole page about their feelings because one day it is going to be important to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. There are times when I can't communicate my thoughts and feelings about them and for them. I can't tell their teacher not to give them less homework. I can't fix their high school relationships. I can't let them catch up on sleep in my classroom, and I can't take their cell phone and throw it down a flight of stairs. I can't be a best friend matchmaker or change their schedule so they can find one. I can't bring their dog back to life or put their broken families back together. I can't put food on their tables, or feed them more than some candy and some pretzels from my lunch.  I can't pay their bills. I can't help them raise their babies. I can't take their friends' addictions away. So when I am at a loss for words, and don't know how to fix their problems or stop their hurt, I hug them. 

And then we take out a book and read. For about 30 minutes we are in another place together, enjoying the triumphs the protagonist is having, hurting over someone else's fictional problems, laughing at an author's wit, perusing the pages for plot and climax and similes and metaphors and personification. We search the novels for events we have experienced, characters we can relate to, and settings that take us somewhere else. Sometimes those stories are the only escapes they have.

And sometimes, near the end of the semester, a student will walk up to me and say, "I actually loved that book. I have never liked a book before."

That, my friends, is worth the mounds of paperwork, and whitewashed walls, and makeshift posters, and grumpy kids, and attitudes, and drool-stained desks, and self-funded classroom libraries. That is what keeps me going back. That is why I hate that I love to be a teacher. That brings me joy that outweighs the chaos that is the life of a high-school teacher. And when that student walks out of my classroom, I smile and rub my hands together and sigh and say, "my job here is done." ...until the next class walks in."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

If Only HASHTAGS Could Heal

I wrote this angry prayer not so long ago after the terrorist attacks in Paris. But it seems the #hashtags# keep coming. The latest one I saw was #HealOurOrLANDo plastered across a billboard in Chattanooga.  A touching gesture and attempt at solidarity. One city struck by terrorism extending an embrace to another now facing the same hoping a billboard means something. What else is there to do? Yes, it happened here, too. We know the pain of having to say, "stuff like that just doesn't happen here." That statement is beginning to lose its shock value. Too many people have said the same thing. But what can we do? Now we both have a hashtag to go with our city. How tragic it is that cities are literally trending by terrorism? #Orlando is no longer just recordings of vacation memories. It's no longer just smiling faces by the beach. Now it is survivor photos, memorial photos, photos of people sobbing,  artistic expressions of grief. What can we do? I know. We will give it a clever hashtag. That will fix it.

#If Only Hastags Could Heal#

They were just out for a night on the town

They were just raising a toast at an office party

They just wanted to rock out to their favorite band
They were just enjoying a pleasant meal

They were just getting pumped for the big game
They were just cheering on the OSU Cowboys

They were just going to class
They were just perusing degrees for a shot at the American Dream

They were just reporting the news
They were just preparing for their big day

They were just doing their jobs
They were just enjoying time home between deployments

They were just going to church to learn how to be more like you
They were just black

They were just going to see a movie
They were just enjoying their popcorn and Coke

They were just going to school
They were just little kids


PS-I really pray from the bottom of my heart that this doesn't make anyone doubt the God that I pray to or his goodness or his faithfulness or his love. My prayer is that you know it's okay to ask why.  Jesus asked why that time, too. I figure if he can pray an angry prayer I can, too. But don't ask me why, God hasn't answered me yet.