Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Over.

Last Wednesday, June 19, was the last day of my first year of teaching. The first year is done. It's over. My first year with Teach For America. My first year in this crazy city. It was a big deal to me. I'm going to be thinking about that last day and what it means to me for a long time after this. I don't know how many installments I'll write about the end of my school year, but I know that I'll be processing it for awhile. For right now, I'm going to be thankful for some things. It's always good to start with that. Who needs the turkey? Today can be Thanksgiving too.

The future third-graders, looking so grown up.

At the end of my first year of teaching, I am thankful for...

1. Survival. If I'm going to be real, I was often uncertain that I would make it to this day. Physically making it to summer break is something for which I am endlessly grateful.

2. Humility. If you want a knock to your ego, go sign up for Teach For America. I guess I'm sentimental for things like sad movies and sappy commercials, but I never thought of myself as a weak person who breaks down and cries over things. Then life said to me: "Welcome to this year, Anna," and the waterworks began. On lunch breaks. On the drive home. Random other times. It's ridiculous to admit, but it's also an overwhelming feeling to be a teacher at my school and for my kids. To modify a Seinfeld-ism: "First, you cry, and then your data comes in after the standardized tests are scored and... you cry again." It was a good thing for me to realize that I am not good at everything right away, even when I put in an enormous amount of effort (it knocked this grade-chasing-overachiever down a few pegs). This has been such an important lesson.

3. Hilarity. I have so, so, so many funny memories with my kids. So many quotes. So many weird interactions. So many moments of chaos. I'm giggling to myself right now even thinking of them all.

4. Revelation. This year has also been one of some tough realizations about the harsh reality of this world. My eyes have definitely been opened. I will never be the same.

5. People. I have met so many new people in this first year in Chicago through this experience with Teach For America. I am so thankful for them all. I am amazed at the variety of humanity that God has made and put into my life. They are the real live people, with skin and hair and personalities. They are so much more real than statistics, numbers, or data points. They are teachers, students, coworkers, friends, and other acquaintances and they are all amazing.

6. Discontentment. Yes, I am even thankful for the uneasiness I still feel about this whole thing, right now as I type. I feel dissatisfied about my abilities as a teacher, I feel worried about the safety and progress of my kids over the summer, and I feel anxious about the system as a whole and the injustices that happen here on a daily basis. I'm thankful that I don't feel at peace with all of those things because I know it will just be motivation to become better, to try harder, to accomplish more. I don't want to feel complacent and I don't ever want to be desensitized to the realities that we all so desperately need to change.

7. Faithfulness. I've seen it out of my friends and family, so much. But most of all, I've seen it from God. I have never been so blown away as I have this year at the unbelievable ways that God takes care of me. He always does. Even when I'm crying in the bathroom, schools around the city are closing down, and there's a shooting a block from where we go outside for recess, God is faithful to us. That's the thing I'm most thankful for.

Now if you'll excuse me, good night to you all. I'll be over here in Pilsen. Going to sleep. Without setting an alarm. (!!!!!!!)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Growing Up Strong

I spent an amazing Saturday morning on June 1st doing an amazing thing. It wasn't anything special that I did, but it was the event that was truly remarkable. I was a running buddy for a third grade girl from my school at the Girls on the Run 5k event in Toyota Park (where the Chicago Fire play!) as the finale to the program she completed this spring which focused on fitness, healthy lifestyles, and building self-esteem.


Girls on the Run is a really cool organization created to support girls as they grow up in becoming confident, passionate, and healthy as they pursue their dreams. It sounds lofty and even a little silly, but after experiencing the 5k, I've really been thinking about how necessary organizations like this are. They want girls to grow up strong and to go conquer the world. My running buddy did an amazing job (she is NINE years old and only asked me to walk three times during the whole race!) and we had a blast. The event's atmosphere was fun, encouraging, and completely supportive. People were yelling "You can do it!" "You're so great!" "You're beautiful!" "Keep going!" the whole way. At times it dawned on me that my nine-year-old running buddy may have only been hearing those words for the first time in her life right there at that race. It's not often that my kids have people cheering them on, believing in them, staking bets on their side. In the midst of all the triumph, it set a bittersweet note in my heart, as I know this one optimistic Saturday morning is very different from the world where that same nine-year-old girl actually lives.


My mind has been full of this kind of stuff ever since that race. (Here's one blogger who's really insightful on this particular issue who I have been reading lately.) We need more events like this and messages like these sent out to little girls. Now I'm no tiara type, and I'm hardly one to claim Girl Power as reason to celebrate anything. I was perfectly happy to be the only girl on my soccer team in fourth grade; after all, the boys were more aggressive and I liked that better anyway. But I do see the crazy junk that goes into the minds of girls in America every day. I see my second grade girls hike up their shirts so they're showing some skin and have seen notes passed with hyper-sexualized language that no seven or eight-year-old should even know. I, just like any girl, sometimes have a hard time remembering that it's who I am and not how I look that is the truly important thing. The messages out there for us are messed up. And being a girl is an awesome yet confusing life. Thanks to my parents, friends, and God, I don't have to struggle with the confusion quite as intensely as lot of other girls I know. And girls don't have the monopoly on this kind of confusion. The false messages are everywhere for everyone. Money, power, appearance, sexuality, materialism, and popularity are brainwashed into the mind of every kid with a pair of eyes to see a billboard, TV screen, video game, iPhone, or window display in the mall. Someone has got to start setting the record straight. 

We need more people telling all kids that they are created for a purpose, not for a picture frame. We need more people helping kids work on their brains to work for their dreams. We need more people who help kids develop confidence, not in some skewed sense of popularity, but in their values, beliefs, and sense of self. 

We need more people who help kids to grow up strong. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Both Sides

Both Sides Gallery: reason #4692 why you should come to Pilsen. My wonderful friend and outing-coordinator-extraordinaire Sam got two other friends and I a Groupon to this awesome place for a beautiful Sunday.


A “retired” (I put quotations around that because this chick is really young and cool) CPS teacher had enough of that high-stress life (word up) and decided to change careers by following her dreams in the non-profit industry. She opened Both Sides Gallery, which is half art studio, half tutoring center for kids in Math and Science. The name is obviously derived from her passions of cultivating both sides of the brain intelligently. They host parties for people who want to get together and paint all afternoon and that is precisely what we did.

Sam, Chase, Laura, and I sat down in front of empty canvases and looked through albums of pictures for plagiarism (cough)...I mean...inspiration and got started on our way. It was a fabulous three hours of painting, chatting, wine-drinking, and pretzel-eating. I call that therapy. Check out the pictures for our finished results! (Laura and I both liked the same picture. Come see mine hanging on the wall in all of its glory in my bathroom). 


Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon before a hectic week of teaching? I submit that you cannot. 

Please check this place out! Do it. Now. It's cool. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Good ol' Lew.

In my opinion, one of the most quotable people on this planet was C.S. Lewis. He finds the right nuance to say things in a simple and profound way such that it tells the truth. I hope that I can be a truth-teller like him as I grow up. I suppose I'm thinking a lot about being real and being fake these days (here are my thoughts on how to fake it 'til you make it, and here are my two cents on being real when you're struggling) and so this particular quote caught my eye.

It's resonated with me because lately I've had some issues genuinely feeling like I love some people. It's usually very, very easy for me to gush happiness towards my friends, family, students, coworkers, and even strangers. I love people in general and interacting with them is usually fun for me. But for some reason, with the end-of-the-year-I'm-going-to-lose-my-mind pressure going on, it's not a natural feeling for me to be kind, patient, and sweet to everyone. I hate it. But it's just not there sometimes. And here, of course, is where good ol' Lew chimes in. He says:

On the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where pretense is there instead of the real thing: as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing. When you're not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendlier manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. 



This so strikes me because last week, during my (too short) of a prep period that was occupied by a million things, I got a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. Since a lot of kids' parents call me with a lot of changing phone numbers, I picked up. It turned out to just be a simple mistake of a wrong number. My impulse was to talk over the lady and blurt out SORRYWRONGNUMBER and immediately hang up. But I felt like, in front of all the other 2nd grade teachers in the teachers lounge who were also prepping, I should try to pretend to be a kind and helpful adult. I followed C.S.'s advice and just chose the kindness route in spite of my instinct otherwise. And, of course, it paid off as always. I had a nice little two minute conversation with the lady on the other end, actually smiled afterward, and had one of the other teachers say, "Woah, that was really nice of you." I felt good. The prep period wasn't so negative and busy and annoying and hurried anymore.

Now this is a dumb example. And I'm not writing it down because I'm trying to brag about the fact that I wasn't completely rude to a stranger for two minutes. That's no accomplishment at all. It was, however, a lesson in obedience.

If my heart doesn't feel like being a loving, kind person, that's no excuse. My job (if you're someone with beliefs and convictions in this department you can relate) is to obey with my actions, and my heart will follow. People are entitled to my kindness whether I feel like it or not; I'm not allowed to just follow my own changing, human moods as I leave a trail of negativity in my wake. It's not faking kindness, it's being kind in spite of yourself. I think that's almost more genuine and real anyway. When you're not really feeling like it, you follow through anyway. I think a lot of being good to people has to do with that kind of love. That's when you really know. Because there are people who do this. There was one person in particular who laid everything down for me when he didn't really feel like doing it either. But he did it anyway. Because he loved me.

These are wonderful things to think about on a Monday after school. As I think about my kids. As I think about my family. As I think about my friends. Keep it up, C.S., because I'll keep reading.