When I Consider Thy Heavens

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Reclaim Your Life: The Best Is Yet To Be!

Posted by ShipwreckWriter - Lynn Pettigrew Norris on April 26, 2014 at 10:25 AM

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Reclaim Your Life!
The Best Is Yet To Be.

By Lynn Pettigrew Norris

While I set out to live my dream – find myself – I was reminded to return to familiar ground and to reclaim my life. Life is too short to live out someone else’s dream. That job, thing, or situation you may long for – you know the one – the just so perfect job or situation, well don’t be too surprised or even disappointed when you learn that it did not make you happy. The saying “to thine own self be true” rings true in every person’s heart. Can you hear it?


I have spent the last year in my dream job. It was the career that I have worked so hard for the past decade to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I have learned so much and do appreciate the opportunity. I just adore the students whom I teach! I have worked as a public school classroom teacher – teaching high school English. I know that my not be the dream job for a lot of people. But it has been my dream. And I would not trade the experience for the world.


My students have taught me to belong to a group. They have taught me that it is the simple things in life that count the most (like Friday candy). They have taught me the meaning of trust. They have shown me that they are listening and they appreciate the times when you go the extra mile and wonder if anyone even noticed.


This week I received a beautiful photo of one of the senior girls who I teach. She was so enthused and proud to present it to me. After she left my classroom, I read the message that she had written on the back. I had no idea what a huge impact I had made on her life. There is no amount of money or no career ladder that can provide that type of job satisfaction that I felt while reading her message. She named me as the one teacher who taught her the most in her educational career. She said she had learned the most from me. This one message on a senior photo made my year worth the effort.


Yesterday I turned in my resignation – my intent not to return next year. Why would I do such a thing after working for years to accomplish this goal of teaching in a public school classroom. I may not even know the answer to that myself at this point.


What was my time like this past year? At first, I felt like an imposter. I wondered as I stood in front of my class if they could sense my perplexed finding. That voice ran through my head telling me that I was not a real teacher. I was an Education coordinator, someone who set up educational programs for students. I was someone who encouraged students to enroll in a program and finish high school and go on to college. Who did I think I was to try to teach them skills in a course such as Language Arts? I remembered how I had successfully taught computer skills in a college-level course – Basic Computers. Students had learned a lot under my direction. Why did this feel different? After all, I had my credentials, my license, and two Language Arts degrees. What was my problem – or did I even have one?


I needed some encouragement from the start. I needed a supervisor who would tell me that I would learn and soon enough would feel the part. But that never happened. Instead, I felt very alone in my classroom although surrounded by all the kids. They were great and I have no complaints there. They were eager to learn. They did their best work as I asked them to do. They grew to love me and appreciate the lesson plans which were much more complicated than they had experienced over the past few years. I did not know until into my second or third week of teaching that I was the fifth English teacher at their school over the past five years. One may have stayed two years, but the second year was rough. The students told me that they had no foundation in Language Arts and this became evident as I assessed their skills.


I was first overwhelmed at the monumental task of setting up an education program (something I was experienced in and good at) while teaching. Why hadn’t someone filled me in when I was hired? Why was this dirty little secret kept from me. I still feel sick when I think of the other position I was offered at the beginning of the year at another school district. Their opening was due to an English teacher who had retired after 25 years. Why didn’t I take that position instead? I might have – probably would have – if I had known the truth about the district where I took the offer.


This seems very wrong to me now. You know how we have the lemon laws? How we as the consumer has to be told about defects in a car when you purchase one? Why doesn’t the education field have this same protection law – that difficulties or special circumstances (in a position) have to be revealed to the potential teacher fair and square and up front?


Even so, I am not one to lament over the what if’s and what for’s.  No one benefits from such. Instead, I plan to see this time as a unique opportunity to take back my life! And I have already begun that process. I can’t say I felt extreme joy or excitement when I turned in my notice. Instead all I could think of was the kids. I knew that when they find out (which will no doubt be soon), they will feel so sad. They will feel that I was like all the rest (the other teachers) who have come and gone. Knowing that professionally speaking, I cannot share many of my thoughts with them. They may never know my reasons.


I remain overwhelmed by the most positive response from the families this past year. Others told me (warned me) about Parents Night. How that will just be horrible and parents will get right in your face and yell at you and maybe even curse you out. That never happened. Instead, I received beautiful smiles, nice warm greetings, handshakes, and cards of thanks. At Christmas time, I received the same – cards, small gifts, and gratitude. My phone calls were positive too – words of thanks and support. Too bad there was not a trickle-up theory in place. If only (sorry – I do not mean to get into the if-only category) those over me knew how well things were going.


One lesson I learned that I will pass on that may benefit others who are about to interview for a teaching position is to ask what type of discipline plan they use. If those over you have an “Open Door” policy – run! Do not sign the contract. I did and have regretted it for most of the past year. The open door cannot be your classroom. When students are allowed to have free reign, this does not benefit anyone. It is wrong to place this burden on the students.


At first, I thought a few of my students had a medical issue which sent them out my classroom door. Then one pointed at me and told me they were going to the office to tell on me (upset over an assignment that was past-due). These poor students expected the proverbial “A” and you had better give it to them like the string of other teachers has done – or else! I did not hold this against the students. It was not their fault that this behavior had been tolerated for far too long. I waited for the principal to send them right back to class and stood in bewilderment when this did not happen – thus the open door policy.


I had never heard of such a thing. What teacher could teach without the backing of their principal concerning classroom management? The teacher’s authority is left lying on the floor, crushed under this open door policy. The things you learn on the way to your dream. If it weren’t so sad, this situation might be just down right funny!


This situation gave me the opportunity to reclaim my life. Once again, I was forced to look inward and to see just what truly made me happy. I was able to separate my feelings into categories. I remain in awe over the students’ hard work and their progress. I have enjoyed the fellowship and support of other teachers. Little did I know that the teaching profession is a very humbling one. Teachers receive little platitudes. They are asked to be super-heroes, always in control, able to make snap decisions that bind, and ever under the constant and sometimes squinted eye of their principal.


The first of several “walk-throughs” occurred in my classroom after my first evaluation. I just kept teaching. Perhaps that was my down-fall. After all, where are the rules written for how first-year teachers are supposed to act or react? Was I supposed to stop teaching, perhaps bow down? Was I to appear nervous (perhaps that might have helped)? I did not know these answers. The only thing I did know was to focus on the kids and keep teaching.


For those who know little about a teacher’s evaluation, it might surprise you to learn that little to none of it applies to the courses that you teach. It deals in part with politics. I have never been good in that area. I am a ‘facing-forward’ sort of worker, someone who doesn’t spend much time covering one’s backside. I give whatever work I have been given to do my all. I do my best. What else (after all) does a person have to offer besides their best? It is your own mug that you have to look at in the mirror each morning and each night. Again, I love the saying, “To thine own self be true.”


Reclaim your life by doing what brings you joy. Surround yourself with those who love you and who recognize and admire your strengths, talents, and skills. Do what makes you happy, even if others may view it as a step-down. Anything you do that springs from your heart will benefit others and will feel like a step upward. Who cares what label or title or what dollar figure sits on your paycheck or lack of one? Life does have a way of working out.


I feel totally free today (which happens to be a beautiful, sunny and windy Kansas Saturday)! I got to teach in a Kansas public school classroom and all of my students are still alive and we only have three weeks remaining. Hoorah for me and yippee for them. We are finishing out the year writing research papers and doing portfolios and projects. There is so much to accomplish before the year ends. It may seem ironic that I even still care and have such a full agenda this late in the year. This is just how I am – how I teach. To expect anything but the best for my students or to insult them by not having high expectations would be nothing short of an insult. I have seen such a turn-around in some of them and a constant trek for those who were already on the right path. I am so proud of them all. And I do end the year with a full heart – full of love and respect for my students who come to school to learn and for other teachers who walk into a public school classroom every day to teach.


This ending presents an exciting beginning that I will reveal soon enough. They say that reaching a destination or goal is only half the pleasure and that the journey is truly where the joy lies. I believe this is true. For after I reached my goal of teaching in a public school, it was then that I realized that my heart stretched further to identify where my greatest talents and strengths could and would be recognized, accepted, and needed. I look forward to the future. I look forward to my students and to the families whom I will serve in the days ahead. Stay tuned – the best is yet to be!


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