I love my job

I teach special education at the only high school in our county.  The children I teach have intellectual disabilities in the moderate range some with secondary disabilities like autism or visual impairment.  I starting teaching this class in the fall of 1997.  I had graduated with a teaching certificate in 9-12 English six years earlier, but had my second child one year to the day of graduating and wanted to be a stay at home mom to the greatest extent possible.  I taught some contract classes at a local community college, but for the most part, I was a stay at home mom to both of my boys until they started school.

So, in the fall of 1997, my youngest was starting school and so was his Mommy.  I was just as frightened as he was.  You see, they did not have any openings in the English Department, so they offered me a self-contained EC classroom for which I had absolutely no experience and no formal training.  To say I was out of my element would be a ridiculous understatement.  I had no clue what I was doing.  One of my favorite mottos was born out of this time:  “fake it ’til you make it.”  I have practiced this sentiment many times in my life to surprisingly great success.

My very first class had, I think, eight children.  I had an assistant who was paid much less than me and who knew lots more than I did about this job, these children, and how I should approach this position.  I befriended her immediately, and although, she left the classroom about four years ago, we are still friends.  If nothing else, I am a survivor and I know how to survive in all sorts of situations.  Things were quite different in our school 13 years ago.  The EC department was small and as teachers we were isolated.  We did not command a great deal of respect about the school and I felt that other high school teachers often looked at us like we were doing some sort of Romper Room babysitting service.  Things are so much different today, much in part to the work of Cathy Richmond, who came in and overhauled the Occupational Course of Study Program and spearheaded school-based enterprises which gave our students credibility and visibility and a presence at our school.  Today we are a large and cohesive department proud of who we serve and what we do and highly visible and dynamic participants in the larger professional learning community. I had to get the PLC reference in, because since 2008, we are required to say or use the words or acronym PLC at least one time per week as professional educators ;).

My class today is right now at 14 students.  I am officially over capacity for one assistant, but so far no one has thrown us any life jackets or sent out any search parties for additional help.  We are okay, though, and though we face challenges each year due to changing paperwork and legislation, classroom mix, behaviors, and snowballing bureaucracy, we evolve gracefully and learn to adapt.  The title of this entry is ‘I love my job’ because, quite simply, I do.  I will tell  you why.

First of all, I was born to teach.  I am an oldest child who is bossy by nature and birth order.  I have been teaching since I was a very small child.  My earliest memory of teaching was in the basement of our Dowlais Drive house in Rockville, Maryland.  I had a small chalkboard and a couple of desks.  Robin, of course, was a pupil.  Shana was only a baby in that house, so the remainder of the class consisted of stuffed animals or neighborhood children– Kim and Stephanie White, Jody Riley, Margaret Rigopolis [?]….  I was relentless and Robin would beg to stop playing school.  I loved school, and while I looked forward to and enjoyed my summers, I always was excited for fall to come.  Autumn meant shopping and new school clothes, fall leaves crunching under feet as we walked to school, and school supplies.  I could write an entire essay on my love of school supplies.  I was in love with my supply box full of treasures-  pencils sharpened to lethal points, the aroma of crayons and erasers, the ever changing colors and names of colors in the Crayola box, tiny sharpeners, clear colored rulers, and don’t even get me started about my lunch box and thermos.  My mother packed the most fabulous lunches where the piece de resistance was always a Hostess treat.  My personal favorite was the Ho Ho, followed by a close second and third chocolate cupcake with white curly piped icing, and the Twinkie.  None of these treats taste today anything like they used to.  I am not sure what they have done to them, but I cannot come close to recapturing the joy they induced.

So, I was destined to stay in school for my entire life.  I liked college.  I did get very weary during grad school, but six years out, I could go back and do it all again.  I long for summer, but each August, when it is time to go and shop for classroom supplies, I am hit with the same giddy excitement.  I look forward to meeting my new students and I can’t wait to see my old ones [well, most of them].

The children that I teach are truly the centerpiece of what I love about teaching.  Each morning, I arrive to smiling faces and greetings and stories and news.  I must laugh dozens of times a day at the things that they say and their antics.  One child I teach now, we’ll call him Carl, entertains me so greatly, I am not going to allow him to graduate.  He coins words and flings them about liberally during the day as he tells everyone else what to do inside and outside of our classroom.  Today he told our resident redhead that she was deceasing us.  I think he meant ‘disgusting’ us as she was chewing with her mouth open and food was all over her lips.  The other morning he was suffering from a malady he called ‘naturtism.’  He never properly defined this for me, so I cannot share the meaning with you.  Visitors to my classroom do not want to leave.  They fall in love with these vibrant young people just as quickly as I did.

What I love about school in general centers around learning.  I have a natural curiosity about the world and people in particular, and teaching requires that I keep learning.  In fact, my students teach me life lessons every single day.  Some of the things I have learned from my children include:

  • Rainy, cold days are just as much fun as sunny and warm days.
  • Take each day as it arrives and devour it like a juicy tangerine.
  • Being kind and helpful to others makes you happy.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes and we learn things from each mistake.
  • People, with or without disabilities, want about the same things:  to be acknowledged and appreciated.

I go to a square classroom of about 900 square feet each morning.  I spend at least 7.5 hours there each day– the majority of the time in that very room.  You would think this would be tiresome and get boring.  It is not.  Every day is an adventure filled with colorful people doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

National Pancake Day

Apparently today is National Pancake Day, and IHOP is offering all its customers a free short stack for the asking in celebration of this auspicious “holiday” [that might have just been made up by marketers at IHOP].  In fact, if I had signed up for it in time, I might have had Marie Osmond, Miss America, or some celebrity I have never heard of call and wake me up to remind me!   I was intrigued to read this information online this morning, even though it did not make me want to go and get some free pancakes.  I usually would be all about eating some pancakes and especially at IHOP with their parade of multi-flavored syrups, but I had my fill of those last week on Fat Tuesday [or Shrove Tuesday] in the church parish hall at St. Mark’s.  The men of the church cook up large trays of bacon and sausage and serve up all the warm, delicious pancakes you care to eat the night before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.  So, I was confused to find that today was designated National Pancake Day because I would have thought that Fat Tuesday would have this honor.  In fact, in England, Shrove Tuesday is known as ‘pancake day.’  So, I did a little Internet search, and, yes, IHOP does sponsor this “holiday.”

In case you just moved to the US, IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes.  It seems that IHOP is only a few years older than me, originating in 1958 in Toluca Lake, California.  They spread like wildfire, though, because now there are now over 1400 of them all serving exactly the same menu.. which has, in fact, changed very little since I was a small child and frequented the International House of Pancakes somewhere in Maryland– probably Rockville or Gaithersburg.

I remember sitting in a large round booth with red vinyl seats and loving the seemingly giant, map-sized, colorful, laminated menus filled with pictures of perfect pancakes topped with apples, strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate chips, or bananas.  My favorite as a small child were none of these.  I usually settled on silver dollar pancakes–about the size of silver dollars, which we still used back then as currency.  With all these little pancakes I could taste each and every syrup like an official taster and judge which was the best.  The syrups came in pitchers that were like tiny coffee pots with latches you used your thumb to pull back.  They reminded me of the toy coffee pitcher I had in my play kitchen that was made with a coffee looking liquid trapped in an outer layer that bubbled and looked like it was being poured when you tipped it.  The syrups were usually choices like southern pecan, traditional maple, blueberry, and my personal favorite, deep purple in the pitcher and bright magenta on my pancakes– boysenberry.  I am still not exactly sure what a boysenberry is and I don’t think I have ever seen one, but when I step into IHOP and pour some on a pancake, I am eight years old again.

The tradition carried on with my children who, of course, loved going out for pancakes any time of day.  They too loved IHOP for many of the same reasons I did thirty-some years ago.  We even have a family story that gets told every time we mention or visit IHOP.  We were vacationing in Williamsburg one year when the boys were about 4 and 10 years old.  The restaurant was very crowded and we had to wait a long time for our order to be taken.  While we were waiting a man at a neighboring table cried out in pain and spit blood into his plate.  He then uttered a few choice words and was quickly surrounded by staff trying to assist him and calm him down.  You see, somehow shards of glass had ended up in his scrambled eggs.  We were quick enough to avoid the eggs when ordering, and afterward made sure to check our food carefully for glass before eating it.

It’s after 8 o’clock, and so there less than two more hours to go by IHOP and get your free short stack.  They ask only that you make a donation if you choose to do so the Children’s Miracle Network.  I am still wondering why they don’t merge their National Pancake Day with the day only one week prior when everyone wants to gorge on pancakes anyhow, but then the men of our church might lose their claim to fame;)

Silver Dollar Pancakes

A beginning.

Welcome to my blog.  I have no idea what I intend to blog about or who my intended audience will be, but I have a theme and a title, so here goes.  I guess I could begin by explaining the title of my blog– Soft Pink Center.  The other morning while driving to school, I came upon a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that appeared to read “soft pink center.”  I say appeared to read because, if you spend any amount of time around me, you know I don’t see as well as I used to and I don’t wear glasses as often as I probably should if I wanted to see things as they actually are.  Upon closer scrutiny, I determined that this bumper sticker actually read something closer to ‘south pine center.’  Too late, though, the phrase soft pink center was already in my head.  I thought this would be an intriguing title for a novel, a story, or a collection of stories, so when I got to school, I jotted it down in the little journal I carry around in my purse.  I thought about multiple meanings of this phrase and how it could be descriptive.  What kinds of things have a soft pink center… women of course, steaks cooked medium, chocolate-dipped strawberry buttercreams… and quickly decided that a soft pink center implies something hidden and delicious, perhaps forbidden.  I knew I could do lots with that title, and it did have me thinking for days.  And so today, when I needed to give my blog a name, it came back to me and seemed perfect for this blog that might be shared only with a few and will hopefully be satisfying for some, or at least for me.

Under my wing

So, today I was having a bad day.  I was angry at my 17 year old son, which is a common state of being for me these days.  I was angry at his lack of motivation, his failure to help with anything around the house, the way he ignores his responsibility and lives completely from his id, and with the general disrespect he has shown me on occasions too numerous to number in the past few years.  I asked to speak to him in the living room.  I asked for the conversation in neutral territory because of some advice I had read in some parenting book that said I should not ‘attack’ him in his space… that requesting time in a neutral space is a better choice.  While I waited for him to decide to actually get up and comply with my request [which, trust me, he does in his own meandering time], I headed to [where else?] Facebook.  I was led straight to a status from a good friend I used to teach with where he offered a link to his wife’s blog and an interview she did with their preschool daughter.  I read this interview with such pleasure that I virtually forgot the onerous task I was waiting to confront.  I smiled at her answers and scrolled down the page to read another entry about a recent bout at the emergency room in a foreign country after this same preschool girl, called Ladybug in the blog, had swallowed a hair clip.  This narrative was so real and so funny, I got lost in it.  In closing, Sheila references a portion of a Psalm that offers a bird or angel metaphor and relates this to mothering [or parenting].  An excerpt from this blog follows:

After Ladybug was x-rayed and the doctors pronounced that she will be OK and the hair clip will pass on its own (and she threw up a few more times at the hospital), she came home to spend the night throwing up here.  My momma heart was so broken for her in her pitiful state and I was reminded of how our Heavenly Father is compared to a momma hen in Psalm 91:

He will cover you with his feathers.

He will shelter you with his wings.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

 
When I have done something stupid (like swallowing a hair clip), or am sick and pitiful, my Heavenly Father wants to tuck me under His wings, much like I tucked Ladybug under mine last night.  It was a long, rough night, but I’m her mom.
And as much as she has worn me out lately with bad decisions, bad behavior, and bad attitudes, I would never deny her the spot underneath my feathers.
When I got to this part of the blog, I dissolved into tears and the cold anger in my heart melted instantly away.  I literally sobbed, wanting then only to take my son into may arms and hold him.  You see he has reasons for his awful behavior, that I sometimes forget.  The main reason is that he is a teenager and he is wearing his insides on his outside.  But there are other reasons….  His dad and I separated when he was 12… in case you are wondering… a terrible age for this to occur.  When he was 13, his Dad moved away and headed into a disappointing mid-life crisis that he weathered by acting out in anger in every direction.  When he was 15, he was able to behave so badly that I sent him to live with his Dad.  This turned out to be a blessing, because they built a needed bridge and made some wonderful memories.  But then, when he was 16, his Dad was killed in a boating accident while on vacation, and my son’s life was turned over and shaken upside down again.  This all happened to his brother, who was 22 when his Dad died, too.  But for this child, who has always felt things deeper than most and who happened to be this very pivotal age, this tragedy upon tragedy almost did him in.  He has a bad attitude almost every day, he makes  bad decisions, and behaves badly, but I am his mother.  And no matter how old he is, I can tuck him under my wing.  Tonight, because of reading this blog, I did just that.  When he came into the room to talk, I received him differently than I would have before  my watershed moment.  Coincidence?  Well, I don’t think so.  In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that this was an answered prayer.  So tonight, after this ‘bad day,’ I am grateful for my children, even the one with the bad attitude, for friends, for words, for insight, for faith, and for a change in perception that came at exactly the right moment ✠