Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Year in Review

Yesterday I finished my first year of teaching middle school.  I should say I SURVIVED my first year of teaching that age group...

Middle schoolers are interesting because they have a lot going on in their lives, and they really want to involve you in it.  Really, whether you want to be involved or not, they kind of suck you in.  I guess I was a terribly boring teenager.  I don't remember dealing with a lot of this drama.  Then again, I also know that I had awesome parents and an incredibly supportive environment.  I was a confident young person, and didn't really get caught up in the antics that happen today.

I did want to give a review, and talk about my last day of school.  Something happened on the final day that really brought together all of my thoughts on change in the school environment.  I had waited for this event to occur for a few weeks, but I guess things happen exactly when they need to (and I need to chill).

On the final day of school, students come to pick up their report cards.  They are only in the building for two hours at the most, and many come around to say goodbye to teachers.  I told many kids goodbye, and to have an incredibly eventful summer. Some of them believed me, and some worried that I had lost it.  I told them I wanted them to have adventures, and come back to tell me all of these great stories in August.  My name was called over the intercom while I was in the middle of a conversation, and I was summoned to the main office.

There was a phone call on hold, and the secretary gave me a stare as I entered the office.  She told me it was a parent, and this parent claimed the secretary was incredibly rude.  Great... I am already in for a delightful conversation when the sweet woman that answers the phones was accused of being rude...

I answered the phone, and was met with a hefty dose of hostility.  The mother on the other end had been MIA for the past ten months, but decided to contact me about her son's educational plan on the last day.  I guess there might have been some confusion about paperwork and not answering messages.  I know there are only so many times I can contact a parent without bordering on harassment.  Eh, it really doesn't matter now how it happened...

I told the mother I would get my notes together, and call her back from my classroom.  I did not have time to meet with her in person, because school would be ending in one hour and I had to fly off the premises to start work at my summer job.  Still, I wanted to touch base with this parent since I finally had her on the line.

I called her back, and was once again met with a few tense words.  I am a parent, and I understand how people can get defensive when their children don't succeed.  I can understand how parents have to deal with work, taking care of homes and family, and sometimes have to take on the extra responsibility of caring for a child with learning problems.  It's a tough job to care for a child with any special needs, and apathy can be one of the worst ailments a teenager can have.

I told her that I understood that her child was a capable being, but that he seemed to be apathetic.  I told her that I talked with him often, and didn't see that he had any goals.  He had moved here from another area, and clearly didn't fit into the rural life of hunting, fishing and farming.  He liked farming, computers, and was incredibly introverted.  A kid like that faces a hard time when plopped into Green Acres living.

As I talked, I could hear her soften over the phone.  I won't regurgitate the whole conversation, but in the end we were both laughing and chatting.  The phone call lasted over 30 minutes, and that was probably the best way I could have spent 30 minutes on my last day of school.  I was talking with a parent about incredibly big changes that could be made with her child, was making plans to help him set goals, and was getting incredibly constructive feedback.  I couldn't have been more thrilled!

I told her about the idea to create a mentoring program, as well as an after-school program to work on social ties and leadership among the students.  She told me she wished there was a community center that would provide programs for the kids.  She, like any parent, worries about drugs, trouble, teen pregnancy, etc.  This is probably the tenth parent I have talked to that mentioned the idea of a place for all of this to happen.  Kind of makes the wheels turn in my head...

I have quite a task for the summer.  Yes, I will be making plans for curriculum and testing and such.  I will have even bigger plans in developing a plan to motivate and empower these students.  These young voices are crying out for power, responsibility, and a future.  I am more than excited to help them along the way. :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's Been a While...

I never thought I would get so out of the habit of writing...

The end of the school year is always busy, with paperwork and cleaning the classroom, exams and last-minute meetings.  I try to plan ahead every year, but I am always rushing around in the end.

Tomorrow is the last day of classes for the kids, and I am ready for a break!  I have been pushing hard this year, with a lot of new changes.  The divorce was final, I had a major move, a new job, and shuffling kids to school and activities.  I will consider this year to be incredibly successful- more than anything because I survived!  My activity level stayed high, and aside from the two surgeries I had a pretty healthy year (all things considered).

I am excited to have the summer to work on a lot of projects I let fall behind.  I also have a lot of work to do for my major project.  I will be reading my 10 books, I will catch my first fish, I will work on training for the race, and I will take my road trip.

Next week I am supposed to head to the mountains for a much-needed break.  I am more than excited at the prospect of reading, watching movies, and relaxing on the porch when I am not in the city meeting people.  I have been waiting for a break from this chaos, and the time will soon be mine. :-)

While thinking about planning this getaway, I thought about my patterns of photography.  I have gone through major changes in the frequency of pictures I have taken.  It seems I take more when I am having trouble with pain or with my memory.  It's almost like I feel like I have to capture memories so I don't forget later.

After my injury, I took a lot of photos.  I looked at them later, and couldn't really remember that I even took them.  It was helpful that I captured the memories, and I wondered if I had an urgency to capture the memories to look back on later.  I know I have had days like that over the past year.

I thought of taking my camera with me on this trip, and I know I ultimately will.  My immediate reaction was that I didn't need it, because I would remember this trip.  It's funny how I always capture very sensory memories of trips like these.  Any time I can find refuge somewhere, I always absorb the experience.  I will remember the scent of the cabin, the shine of the track lighting on me when I read a book late into the night, the sound of the birds in the woods in the early evening.  I am wishing, hoping, even praying that there will be rain so I can hear the rain on the tin roof.  And the feel of a warm bath in the old-fashioned clawfoot bathtub will be the perfect way to end an evening.

I may not remember little bits of memories throughout the past, but experiences like these will be ingrained in my memory forever.  I guess that is where my "focus" comes in- I am able to see, hear, and feel the world around me like many people miss.  I have to wonder if that's a better memory, or a more open lens when it comes to evaluating the experience.  I don't create the feelings later; I just realize what is happening around me more clearly.

I promise the next post will not take 11 days...

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's Time for Some Change...

I have always been wanting to cause a movement.  I like to watch people and observe how the interact with each other.  I guess that's why I enjoyed my undergrad education in Sociology.  I saw that there were clear problems in the world, and I wanted to study them and try to find a solution.

Really, there is a long list of things to change.  One would become exhausted quite easily if she sat down and listed everything that could be changed in the world.  I know that change needs to first happen on a small scale. And if I want something done, I need to start it myself.

Today was a most fantastic day in my career of teaching, but it really started a few days ago.  Every school has a couple of students that are seen as "trouble."  They clearly stand out for their repeat performances of mayhem and time spent in the office.  These kids are ostracized by others and loathed by authority.  It's not because they are bad kids--it because they create a hiccup in the norm.  They are a nuisance, and they keep others from learning.

This isn't always the kids that clearly seek out trouble.  Sometimes it is the ones with intense apathy.  They are only in school to breathe the free oxygen, and it seems that they move through the halls in a zombie-like trance.  There is not really a direction to their actions, and this causes the entire group to slow.  Again, an annoyance for teachers and other authority figures.

I went home and thought about this, wondering why these kids were causing so many problems.  I wondered what was causing the apathy.  I am a goal-oriented person by nature, so the idea of meandering through life is foreign to me.  I look around the town that I teach, and I see that it is an absolutely charming environment.  It is also quiet and calm, and not really conducive to motivation.  There aren't a lot of people hanging around, ready to give these kids the kick they need.  Teachers are exhausted after teaching, planning and bowing to procedures.  Dealing with discipline and apathy is just another headache.

I thought about leadership and group dynamics.  I thought about each of the students, and decided to watch them for a few days.  I noticed very clear personality traits that would be very beneficial to a group, and would even help a group thrive.  I knew I would eventually tell these students about my observations, but not yet.

This whole project came to a head a few days ago, when one of my morning students pointed out something interesting.  She said, "I noticed there are a lot of problems going on with __________."  I asked her what she meant, and what she thought about the whole ordeal.  This student looked at me and said, "she lacks purpose. She doesn't have clear goals. She's bored to death, and that's why she doesn't care. And THAT'S why she gets in trouble."

Perhaps she was paying attention to me more than I thought...

So, I decided this morning that it was time for my plan to unfold.  I singled out each student on my list and met with them.  I told them about my plan to create an after-school program to motivate kids, to set goals, and  to teach them skills that they will be able to carry back into school, and into their interactions with the community.

I will never forget talking to the first student.  I walked through the cafeteria during breakfast, and saw him sitting alone, eating his breakfast.  I came over and sat beside him.  He looked startled, which may have been because I was not his teacher.  It also may have been because he had noticed me watching him for the past few weeks, and now I was right beside him.

"Uh... do you need something?"

Me: "Yes. I need help on a project."

"Uh... why are you talking to me? You are not my teacher."

Me: "I know that. May I speak with you later today?"

"..... uh.... yeah..."

And that was the beginning of a memory that will be forever etched in my brain...

Later, I took him out of ISS to sit in the grass and talk to me.  Actually, I sat in the middle of the grass while he stood on the sidewalk and stared at me.  He looked around, and seemed pretty uncomfortable about the whole ordeal.  I asked him if he minded talking to me, and he said it wasn't a problem.  I understand it is scary for a feisty educator to pluck you from in-school suspension so you can go sit in the grass with her and talk about a "project."  I am grateful he even gave me the time of day.

I asked him what his goals were.  He looked at me strange, and told me he didn't really have any.  I asked him what he liked to do when he had time, and his face brightened.  He told me he liked cars and computers.  He went on to tell me that he has a number of computers at home that he works on, and would love to learn how to build computers and even program them.  He began to inch over to my patch of grass.

I told him that I had indeed been watching him.  I noticed that he is a dedicated follower, and is very loyal to his group.  I told him that I noticed he is enthusiastic, and is able to make other followers obey the leader.  I also pointed out that in most scenarios this ends up in trouble.

I asked him if he was bored.

He just nodded and stared at me.

I wondered aloud if he had activities that would interest him, if maybe that would make him less likely to follow a group that caused trouble.  I told him there were high school seniors that were trying to start a program.  I told him that he had skills I could see beneficial in the planning of such a program.  I asked him to think about joining me and helping the team.  I told him he could take the weekend to think it over.

He squatted down in front of me and looked up at me.

"I already know. I'm in."

I hopped up and yelled "FANTASTIC!"

This happened with four other students I pulled from classes or in the hallway.  I took each student out individually to tell them what I had noticed, what very specific traits they had to offer the program, and what I could see as a change for the school and community.  I told them that their behavior until now has clearly taken the wrong turn, but those same characteristics can be used to achieve great things.  I tried not to be preachy.  I tried to be realistic.  And I was honest--I really did see these kids as having the capability to make great change and provide leadership to their peers.

I remember reading the quote about the fact that there are people that build things, and people that tear things down; the task was deciding which side you are on.  These kids can either be the destroyers or the builders.  Anyone really has that capability.

So now, I am sitting here wondering how I am going to take this enthusiastic outburst and keep it moving.  I want momentum.  I want positive social change.  And I believe wholeheartedly that these kids have the power to achieve any goal they can dream.  I definitely believe they can change the learning and social climate of the school.

Until now, my task on this blog has been solely to report on my project of things to do before I turn 30.  I want to take this post to take a stand and make a change.

What can you do to help?  Read the post.  Send the post to other people to read. Comment, email, or mail words of encouragement.  This is an incredible group of students that are going to beat some amazing odds.  They need your support and thoughts.  I need your help as well.  I believe there are people all over the world that think a small town with only two schools in the county can make an incredible change.

Do me a favor: repost or retweet this post.  Get it into the hands of readers that wouldn't normally come across something like this.  I want schools and communities to hear about a group of middle school students that were brave enough to make a choice that they wanted a change. And I want them to hear about a soon-to-be high school senior that wants to make all of this change possible.  He didn't come from a perfect background, but he desperately wants to be a leader.  He's about to lead a major change.

This is our information.  If you feel like sending a note of encouragement, we would greatly appreciate it. :-)

Michelle Winn
1502 Lynchburg Hwy
Lynchburg, TN  37352

You can also email me and I will print messages to hand to the students. Comments on this blog will be shared as well.

Please consider following this project.  The students are meeting on Monday afternoon to decide what needs to be done.  They are looking at project ideas, fundraising, and learning important leadership and business skills in the process (negotiating, team-building, time management).

I was waiting for something major to change in my life.  I can honestly say that any amount of waiting did not prepare me for what is about to happen. And I am THRILLED. :-)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Breaking Point

I realized I hadn't written in a week or so, and I guess I need to back up and give the full story...

My life has been running smoothly- I have been enjoying my job, I love watching my children grow, and I have been motivated by working on all of these projects.  Life has been good!

There is something that is always lurking. It is my shadow, and I wish I could shake it. I have good days, and I think that maybe it was a dream- maybe I was exaggerating the pain.  Maybe I was just being a wimp.

Then it hits. And I feel like I have been run over by a Mack truck. Then the truck backed up and ran over me again, and again, and again. 

I went on for years like this. It was the aching like the flu, but for every day of my life. If you can imagine the aching that makes it hurt to change the channel, hurt to blow your nose, and wonder if you can even make it to the bathroom and back--this is what I deal with every day.  You learn to live with it, but it's misery.  There's no way I can go without a job, so I carry on. I try to remain optimistic that there will be treatments that will work, but so far there has been nothing.

The pain is bad, but the worst part for me is that my brain gets slow. It almost feels like it comes to a grinding halt.  I know when there are too many messages traveling around my body, it is hard for one to concentrate.  I also know that I am particularly sensitive to my brain and it's ability to think.  So, while people may not notice that I am having trouble, it is killing me inside.

This morning was my breaking point.  I have had a week of pain that has been building, but I have really tried to shake it.  Looks like remission is over, and a flare is in the works. I was already going to be home today to care for a sick child, so I am now able to regroup and look at what I need to do to maintain some sanity.

In the past, I remember that eating certain diets has helped dramatically.  It looks like I will be taking another look at the gluten-free diet.  I have read a lot of conflicting research on the matter, but I know that for me personally, it seems to work.  I also know that there is a lot of food allergy in my family, particularly with wheat (on both sides).  I guess this was a long time coming...

I also need to exercise my boundaries, and say no to extra things.  There has been a lot of undue stress lately, and I am sure it has taken its toll.  I know that I am worth nothing when I am miserably sick, so I need to put myself first.  Since I am the sole provider for myself and my children, I need to be extra-vigilant to make sure I am well enough to work.  I am sure that situation in itself creates extra stress.

I have a few more weeks of work, then I work a very light schedule for a month (extended school year).  This should provide me an opportunity to keep my mind active and bring in some money, but also get the rest I need.  I also have a ton of projects I'd like to get involved in. I have books to read, places to go, and a massive scrapbooking project to undertake.  These are all things I will enjoy, and that will be low-stress, so I am sure they will be healing for my body and soul.

I always take it hard when a flare starts up.  It's like I let myself down.  For those of you that don't know much about fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome, I am going to take an opportunity to educate.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia (FMS) are regarded as two different disorders, but are often overlapping.  CFS focuses on immune dysregulation where you feel an incredible amount of disabling fatigue, often with a low-grade fever and achiness.  It's not fun. At. All.

Fibromyalgia is over-active nerves and tenderness throughout the body. It's a widespread body pain that will wipe you out.  It often feels like the pain you have from the flu, and it also causes hypersensitivity to the world around you. Touch, fabrics, temperatures, lights, smells- everything causes headaches, nausea, irritability.  It's like your body is on sensory overload, and is just SCREAMING!!!

For a long time, doctors thought people were just crazy. I really believe because there are more women diagnosed, it went along with the fact that some people believe women just have psychosomatic issues or are just faking for attention.  The reality is that there are men that live with these illnesses, but are under-diagnosed, or don't go to the doctor for care for fear of the label.  There is also a strong connection between people that have suffered abuse or some sort of trauma and fibromyalgia, so some people are quick to believe it is some sort of mental label.  The brain rewires pain signals after physical traumas (violent attacks, car accidents, abuse, rape), so it is no wonder that people would end up with chronic issues involving nerves, muscles, and the immune system after such events.  It should be mentioned that some people develop these problems with no such histories.

Sleep disorders- my last rant.  I think the body would be able to heal itself if decent sleep were to occur.  People with CFS and/or FMS desperately want and need sleep, but can't get restorative sleep to save their lives.  My body never goes into deep sleep.  Well, it can go into deep sleep from the hours of 1-4pm pretty reliably, but I can't seem to find a job or lifestyle that is conducive to that sleep pattern.  So, I live a life of sleep deprivation.  Sleep aids don't help, I monitor my exercise, and I still end up exhausted.  I fall asleep early, and "should" get plenty of sleep.  I wake up exhausted beyond belief. every. single. morning.

For those of you that already knew about CFS/FMS, I apologize for my PSA.  For those of you that didn't know, I hope that offered a brief summary.  I am not a pessimist by nature, and I guess that's why I have lasted so long.  I am quickly becoming a realist, and I am seeing what I am now capable of handling.  At this point, I am looking at the next few weeks and seeing I will need to follow a pretty tight schedule.

So the kids' birthday party is going to be relatively low-key, the work commitments will be met, and nothing more, and to those of you that send me messages and want an immediate response- I apologize in advance.  I am going to make an effort to see friends, to laugh every day, and to get hugs as often as possible.  I want to stay upbeat and positive in what I know is about to be a rough time.