Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day One

It's finally here! After all of the anticipation, training, and unpaid hours, I finally began work at my new school officially today.

I had not been in to the building in almost two weeks because of my trip and the floors on our hall being waxed. That second part should have prepared me for the state of my room when I entered this morning, but it did not. All of the hard work I had done arranging things, putting my classroom library together, etc. had been undone, and everything was strewn about on top of every available surface. Joy. So, most of the morning was spent redoing what I'd already done and rethinking the arrangement of things due to new additions to the room's fixins.

Around mid-day one of my teammates brought me my crack. AKA, my roll for my new class. I officially have 19 brand-new bundles of third grade joy. I have 8 boys and 11 girls. Two members of the class have first names I cannot begin to pronounce, and I'm on the fence about the pronunciation of about 4 more. (What happened to naming your kid something straightforward?)

Anyway, I am so excited to begin the process of putting students' names on everything, as well as finalizing the arrangement of the room and making everything just so. Then there's the whole planning aspect because, let's face it, I am going to have to teach them something - just making cute sh*t for the walls doesn't really cut it. My plan is to get my room in pristine shape ASAP and then spend the rest of the week I have before they get here (and, let's be honest, probably most of the weekend) focusing on the planning portion.

I am really happy that we will have an open house before school starts, so I get a chance to meet the students and parents before the chaos of the first day. With this being a new school, I feel like the chaos factor is going to be exponentially greater than the normal hair-tearing, teeth-gnashing, headache-inducing level of mayhem that marks the beginning of an elementary school year.

Anyway, I left right at 3:45 today (for the last time in nine months, in all likelihood) because my old friend Bryan the Orkin man was due at my house for our routine maintenance. Good news, folks! Bryan said we should not expect anymore rodent visitors, as all of the ginormous amount of poison he put downstairs in the basement had been eaten. Hooray for small victories and happy Wednesday.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Buildings vs. Students

It is the first day of school for my former colleagues and students at my school in New Orleans, and I can't help but feel restless and anxious that I'm not there. People keep saying, "We miss you!" and "We wish you were here!" and "It's not the same without you!" which is all very flattering and - come on - obviously true, but it's been making me wistful, nostalgic, and sad too.

I've also been emailing furiously with several friends who teach 4th grade, writing them notes and insights about my kids from last year. Since I'm not there, I feel a heightened sense of urgency to let them know who needs a little extra attention, who needs to be challenged, and (for their own good) which parents are nightmares.

But it's also got me thinking about the outcomes and legacies that we leave behind through our work.

While I was in New York last week, I spent a lot of time with my brother 23. If you remember, 23 is in his first year of architecture school, but he's spent a good portion of his time since high school taking architecture enrichment classes, interning for my uncle and another architecture firm, and even drafting the plans for the expansion of my parents' house in Sapphire, NC. Though I have no interest in architecture, I am slightly jealous of the nature of his work. There is something so satisfying about the idea of creating something. With architects, you can see and touch the results of their work. There used to be an empty lot, and now there's a building. There was no deck and hey look! a deck. They get to see a project through from a nascent idea to a realized, physical end. I have literally walked around, slept, and cooked inside my brother's work.

Let's contrast that with my job. Though I think it's the best and most rewarding career you could have (side note: talk to me in two weeks when the kids have been there a few days and I'm stressed out of my mind... I may recant), I don't actually make something tangible. Yes, my students produce grades on math tests and stories about aliens and endearingly scribbled artwork - but that satisfying start-to-finish aspect of my brother's chosen career will never be there, because inevitably, after nine months of teaching my ass off, they move on past me.

I don't think I will ever get past the mourning I do each May for the loss of my kids. I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears (ok maybe not blood. It's a phrase.) into them, and then they're on to their next favorite teacher.

So I don't really create anything. I contribute to the well-being and knowledge of children for nine months when they are eight and nine years old. That's my job in a nutshell. What tangible thing have I made - that I can pick up and hold in my hand and say, "I did that"? Standardized test scores? I don't think so. All I have to go on that I objectively produced something in them is their continued success and well-being beyond my classroom. That, my friends, is why I am such a crazy person about checking in on my people when they go to 4th grade - the need to reassure myself that I produced something.

Listen to the way I talk about them - my kids, my people. They are my product, our product - that is, the product of every teacher they have had. (For the sake of this post, I'm leaving out people like "parents" and "siblings" and "baseball coaches." Indulge me.) Each year we send them off to our colleagues and hope that what we created, stirred, and put into them sticks. What is the end result, the legacy shall we say, that we leave behind as teachers? I'll leave you with that to think about.

Happy school year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sincerely, kvh(d)

Hubs and I got married in June. This was followed in rapid succession by honeymoon, packing, and moving almost 1000 miles away. He began what is, frankly, a hellish work schedule, and I have been kept busy by house stuff, setting up my new classroom, and obviously DVRed episodes of Law and Order and The Nanny. Don't judge my terrible taste in reruns.

The point being, I have not had tons of time thus far to think about getting all of these thank you notes written for wedding presents. Technically, etiquette dictates that you have a year to finish them all. Thank God. However, I know that my schedule will get crazy, and I will forget about it, and I will offend people who have been generous and thoughtful enough to send me a present. I've been trying to get these done but truly it is a monstrous undertaking.

Here's the catch: we had the biggest wedding, like, ever. This would not have been my first choice, by any means. However, combine two families who both live in New Orleans, parents of the bride who have entirely too many friends (what can I say, they're fun people), a large family on the bride's side, and the bride being an only daughter... and you get a very large guest list.

I am not in any way complaining, let me be clear: it was an incredibly fun party, and the more the merrier as far as that goes. The only semi-downside is that many guests means many thank you notes, which will take me a long time to get through. I'm going to risk sounding ungrateful I'm sure, but my poor little hands can only hold a pen for so many hours before they risk being frozen in that position. I'm too young for arthritis.

So, for you upcoming brides, graduates, etc. who have lots of notes to write, here are some tips:
1. Your husband should write at least some of them. There is no reason other than old-fashioned convention than the husband can't write some. Especially to people on his side that I don't know. He is neither crippled nor illiterate. I think he can handle it. (Hubs has been great about agreeing to do it, provided I don't rush him or nag him about it.)
2. Address the envelope first. The most annoying part of the process is having to find the people's full name and address within the giant list. For a while, I had a huge stack of fully written notes that I was too lazy/annoyed to address. So, write the address first.

(Note for people sending presents: PLEASE put your full name on the card. "Love Smitty and Poopsie" is not very helpful to me when I need to address the envelope. Just write Mr. and Mrs. John T. Smith or whatever. I mean, your name is Poopsie... why are you advertising that anyway?)

3. Invest in a cute return address stamp. It saves time and looks awesome. It actually gets me excited to write some notes for the first 12 and a half seconds.
4. Forget convention and call people you're really close to. I've done the "verbal thank you note" for a good number of my friends, aunts, uncles, etc. It's good for the environment! Thank you notes get read once, thrown away, and are left to rot in a landfill! I'm shocked there isn't a group of protesters shedding light on this very issue as we speak.

Anyway, I'm slowly working my way through the long list of presents. Our entire dining room is chock full of boxes, and whenever I go in there, I am overwhelmed with the level of generosity we've been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of. I fully believe that each and every person who gave of their time, money, and effort to send us a gift deserves time and effort in return to thank them, and I will succeed in completing every last one!

It's just going to take me a while.

**NOTE: If you read this blog and gave me a wedding present but have not yet received a note, I'll get to you, I promise. If you're willing to forego the note after reading this post, that's like a second present. Email me. I'll email you back a lovely, thoughtful and personalized thank you note. It would help me out a lot. Kthanks.