The Greatest Inconspicuous Souls.

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Once a day, I find myself browsing the Cosmopolitan section on SnapChat. I am not looking for advice on how to lose a guy in ten days, or even how to snag a guy for that matter. I look because sometimes they have interesting articles. One of the articles recently was about a college professor and fourteen things she learned about teaching at the college level. At first I didn’t think I would take anything from it considering I’m a high school teacher, but I read it anyways because as a teacher I look for advice or “wisdom” from my colleagues no matter what grade they teach.

As I suspected, I scrolled down each number on the list nodding here and there–stopping to roll my eyes and revel at the fact that even at the college level it’s a mission to get students to be as passionate as you are about the subject you’re teaching. When I thought I had reached the end with no “a-hah!” moment where the clouds part and God’s light shines through to pour all his glorious wisdom on me, I was ready to call it cosmo-quits for the day. And then POOF! There it was, #14. I read it slowly, and then again, and then again, and then one more time. I have read it five times since reading this blog because I could have not said it better myself. #14 is the reason I am a teacher. Students are f**king awesome and I wish they would realize it as much as I do. I wish I knew how awesome I really was in high school. I wish I had a magical magnifying glass that allowed me to focus in and magnify all the super bad-ass traits my students display on a daily basis.

My students restore my belief in humanity when all else seems lost at times. It’s not because they bought tickets to Lenny’s upcoming theatrical performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Exam” to show him support. It’s not because despite their physical and personality differences they still interact, laugh, and tolerate one another. It’s not because on Vicente’s own birthday he brought cookies for his classmates. It’s not because Anas, who is a former student from Afghanistan, was applauded for his brilliant and hilarious speech about fast food “death meals” instead of being berated for the fact his nationality happens to belong to a country we are not in good relations with currently. No, it’s none of those things. It’s because in the best and the most difficult students I have, I see through them and I see into their beautifully engulfed and radiated souls that are so full of life.

Now that I look back, I can’t believe I was so engrossed with people that never meant that much to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I will never deny the love I had for my ex-boyfriend of four years. The love I had for him (and the tiny bit I will always hold for him) does not compare–or even come close–to the love and compassion I feel for my students. Nothing would make me happier than seeing all my students become successful by living the life they’ve always wanted. I had another brief romantic fling and we never saw eye to eye when it came to the world. Where I practiced empathy, he practiced detachment. I’m not at all accusing him of being heartless, but his career revolved around sins, evils, and criminals. I have to believe this undoubtedly affected his outlook on people and humanity. When I said that I would have no problem giving up my life for my students in the face of danger, he adamantly argued with me that in a “fight or flight situation” I would act differently… that my life might be more important than my students so I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice myself to spare them. In the bottomless pit of love that is my heart, he is wrong. I know without a doubt that I would sacrifice myself for my students on any given day. First off, I have lived much longer than them. Secondly, who is to say my life at any point is worth more than theirs? Thirdly, I got into this profession because I genuinely care about kids. My only request would be that they live one hell of a life if I die for them and that they do good every day.

I would hope that I would never have to be put in that type of situation and if I could somehow protect my students from all the dangers of the world I would, but I can’t. Just like ducklings that follow along until they are ready to go on their own, I can only guide my students until their ready to move on to something greater. I hope my students will find some comfort that in the times where they feel lost, hopeless, worthless, or unloved, that there is at least one person who loves, cares, and supports them at any time, on any day, and with no judgement.

The last sentence in #14 is that my students give my life meaning and they most certainly do. Now all I can ask is that they find a passion that will give their life meaning too, whatever that might be.

Can’t Make Practice, I Gotta Take My Giraffe to Outer Space to Get His Rabies Shot.

If there is one thing I learned from coaching, it’s that I will hear every excuse under the sun for why one of my athletes cannot make practice. Sorry Coach, I have guitar lessons. Sorry Coach, I don’t feel well. Sorry Coach, I have too much homework. Sorry Coach, I have a birthday dinner to attend. Sorry Coach, I adopted a magical donkey from Africa that I need to go pick up (the last one might be a little fibbed but seriously, I hear A LOT). Sometimes I have to stop and think to myself, wait a minute…was I this way in high school? Did I come up with all these excuses to miss practice? No. The truth is, I didn’t. I didn’t because my sport was my passion. It was everything I looked forward to every day. It was the reason I bonded with the amazing friends I still have today whose weddings I have recently attended. And you better believe when I had a dentist appointment I was missing one of my least favorite classes, not my favorite class. Since when has it been okay for kids to make excuses to justify going back on a commitment they have not only made to me, but to the twenty-something other kids on the team whose goal is to win and not be last place again? My dad was huge on being a winner, but he was even bigger on being committed and not giving 99% but giving 110% all the time. I was never allowed to miss practice.

I vividly remember being at a swim meet and I asked my coach if I could miss the swim meet because I wanted to take my driver’s license test and he responded firmly, “No.” I was so mad I swam slow on purpose that day (which I shouldn’t have but he put me in the longest event and I am a short distance sprinter–stick in the knife and turn it a little more). Looking back, I recall two things from that situation:

  1. My team needed me.
  2. I could have missed it at the end of the day but I respected my coach too much to go against his response (shout out to Coach Carcich).

I have followed some my father’s baseball rules (who by the way, is one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever known) in some aspects. Some of those rules are a player cannot miss more than four practices for personal reasons, missing the practice before a game results in getting benched, and I expect my players to earn a 3.0 or higher in school. Currently, the athletes at my school are required to maintain a 2.0 GPA to participate in sports. Once again, I don’t know that it was the same when I was in high school? My players are smart, I know they can excel if they push their minds to the limit.

I have requested the weight room for my players this year which means I have a wake-up call at 5:00am, two days a week, so that my players can better themselves not just physically, but mentally too. I have a strong belief that the better you feel about yourself physically, the better you will feel about yourself mentally– and in turn, the more confident you will become not just in sports but in life. Let me be clear when I say I am not a morning person and getting the weight room was not an easy task because Football takes it most hours of the day. Last year my players kept asking me to get them into the weight room so I went through the training and other necessary channels and made their requests become a reality. I wake up in the morning because as much as I want the W’s this year, coaching is about so much more than that. It’s been an incredible experience to watch my players who barely knew how to swim two laps turn into swimming machines and beat swimmers who have been in the sport almost their whole life. I get to watch these kids grow up and turn into adults in front of my eyes and to me, that is so magical. It is the kind of thing I will remember forever–even on my death bed. I won’t think about the guy I used to date or the time I pee’d my pants because I laughed so hard. I’ll think about the people who changed my life day in and day out and made me a better person.

I think that’s why it’s so important to me to try to get my players to understand excuses aren’t okay. At the end of the day, you need to figure it out. You need to be committed. In closing, I will leave my readers with the same advice I communicated to my player as I was writing this post:

“You can’t just be committed half the time, you have to be committed full time. In sports, in school, in work, in love, in life.”

Look at every aspect in life as a team. It’s easy to make an excuse and not “show up” but when you do, you have to ask yourself, “who am I letting down on my team today?” Your boss? Your kids? Your parents? Your friends? Your love? Or even worse–yourself?

Back to School to Prove to Daddy I’m not a Fool.

Well, I did it. I survived my first week back to school. I really wasn’t sure what to expect on the first day. I have to admit, after having some time off for summer (which was much needed), it was hard to mentally prepare myself to face the fact I was about to start work–wait, that’s not right–my passion in a few short hours. When school is fast approaching what most gets me enthused is the mystery of my new students. I ask myself: what do they look like, are they nice, do I have any trouble makers, will they like me, or will they make me cry (yes, that’s happened). I mentioned this to another teacher and her response was, “they’ll be the same as last year and the year before that.”

I don’t think that’s true. Some people might have similar traits or personalities but I firmly believe that no two people are exactly the same. And anyways, what student or parent for that matter wants me looking at my students as just another group of “9th graders.” Sure, Jordan walked into my class on the third day of school and my first thought was, “Oh my goodness, I have another George!” George–the quiet, sweet, well mannered, short and little boy I had to say good-bye to last year was standing in front of me again…but this time it was Jordan. And I know Jordan will never replace George, but perhaps I can find pieces of my old students in my new ones while still seeing them all as the unique individuals they are.

What if I looked at guys the same way? The whole purpose of dating is to realize what you want and don’t want in a life long partner. If I looked at the new guy I dated as “just another boyfriend” then I wouldn’t really be learning from the past ones. Every year my students help me learn what works and doesn’t work within my classroom. Whether it’s realizing that some kids don’t like Starbursts so it’s necessary to have options to understanding a certain lesson didn’t grasp their attention, I learn. These lessons help me to improve for the years to follow. Like ANY relationship, my class will never be perfect but as long as I keep aiming to improve then I’m on the right track.

The first week of school is always the most stressful. Even more so because I am also coaching water polo and I need to get equipment ordered ASAP. I had meeting after meeting and when I didn’t I was in my class late at night. Confession, I sometimes wish I could just put a couch in my room and stay overnight because I feel like I could get a lot more work done. If it weren’t for the school alarm that sets at 10pm, I would probably catch myself waking up in a pool of drool on my desk at seven in the morning.

Sometimes, it’s so easy to get distracted by the hundreds of tasks going on and the added stress that I forget to look back and reflect on the great things about my first week of school. I had students who I taught last year who popped in to simply say, “Hello!” And then I had other students in the hall telling me they wish I could be their teacher again this year. Even more, one of my players offered to bring me a Starbucks coffee before school started. Some of my new students told me I am their favorite teacher/period and it’s only been week one! And to top it off, one of my recently graduated players texted me to tell me she received the scholarship for which she asked me to write a letter of recommendation for her. She totally deserved it!

The night before she texted me and told me the great news, I had been driving around at 9:00pm looking for a sun/straw hat because the sweltering 100 degree weather had been melting my face off on the pool deck since school started. I felt extremely overwhelmed and stressed and it was the kind of feeling you get when you want to cry but you just can’t. I left Tilly’s with empty hands and continued to Sports Authority on my quest for the shade master. Then I left Sports Authority empty handed. I sat in my car and the following thought that opened the floodgate of tears was “It’s already Thursday and I don’t even know all my students names yet by heart.” Literally, that’s what made me cry. I have 160+ students and the fact I didn’t know them all made me feel like a complete and utter asshole. Keep in mind that school started on a Tuesday. I know I should be impressed if I can remember ten kids names by the end of the first week but I want the kids to know they matter and I feel every time I have to ask them to tell me their name again it’s like I am saying, “I don’t really care about getting to know you” which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I know eventually it’ll come together–sooner hopefully than later. In the meantime, I need to take it a day at a time and learn to enjoy the ride. I also need to look at the glass as half full and see the good in each day. Maybe ordering suits can be taxing, but seeing the kids get excited to pick out the design and give me their opinion makes it worthwhile when they walk on another pool deck and feel confident about themselves and their team. Every day is a lesson for me, not just in teaching, but in life. I guess I better hit the sack, week two starts tomorrow!

Into the Teaching Abyss

It’s the middle of July in Southern California and one might find it odd that mother nature has given us a storm in the midst of a major drought. This wouldn’t seem unusual for winter time because us “Californians” are used to the pitter-patter of rain every now and then during the fall/winter season. However, a two day storm in the middle of summer is odd and strange and no doubt ruined a lot of beach goer’s plans over the weekend. I feel bad for the tourists who came for the weekend and didn’t get to enjoy the California sunshine. But while we cringe at the first drop of rain, we are also appreciative at the fact we are getting something we are truly in need of right now.

So as I sit in my bedroom listening to the rain outside my window I begin to reminisce on my first year of teaching. Teaching is a little bit like the weather–you think you know what to expect on each day but at any moment a storm will ensue or like you imagine, the sun is shining and it’s a beautifully glorious day. I think that is why I love my job so much…I truly never know what I am going to get. One day a student comes in to my classroom and surprises me with a little trinket to show his appreciation and then another day I have a student asking me if it’s possible to catch herpes or crabs from a piece of hair. I get to come to a classroom everyday with forty different personalities and let me tell you, no two students are the same. Each student is unique in their own beautiful way. There are some that are loud, some that are quiet, some that are bubbly, and some that are calm and collective…and well, they’re all a little emotional at times (they are going through puberty after all). My job consists of 160+ students sitting in front of me every day with the trust that I will teach them something worth learning. It is the most rewarding job I could have ever hoped for and while I do enjoy teaching them the correct usage of their/there/they’re, I also teach them life lessons. For example, I try to teach them to give every person they meet the benefit of the doubt. You never know what someone is going through. We go through life and we have encounters with a lot of “jerks” but you never know if that jerk just lost a parent, or their pet, or maybe they got dumped. And in truth, aren’t we all a jerk at one time or another in our lives?  We’re human after all. We aren’t meant to be perfect.

The best part about teaching these lessons is the light bulb that ignites in their head. They begin asking questions, and theorizing about life and it’s the most magnificent thing to be a part of on a daily basis. I see my kids more than their parents see them sometimes and it is so fun to watch them grow up in front of my eyes. The hardest part for me being a teacher is having to say good bye at the end of the year. It is so bitter sweet. On one hand, I know they are moving on to bigger and better things, but then on the other hand I feel like I finally am understanding who they are as young adults. I’m not a parent yet, but I imagine this is how parents must feel when their children leave for college. Actually, I take that back–I am not a parent to my own children yet, but somehow overnight I managed to adopt 160+ students and I will continue to adopt more each year. I care about my students more than they will ever know, and I accept them unconditionally on their best and worst days because they do the same for me.

With that being said, teaching is just like the weather. Some days were storms and as soon as first period ended I shed some tears of frustration. Other days were sunny and my students had me laughing over things they did or said. And then some days were so beautiful that no description would do them justice–those days are the sweet reminders why I chose this profession in the first place and why I know I am exactly where I belong. It’s true, if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life…and if you pick the right city, every day (well almost every day) will feel like paradise. This is my paradise.