I feel like a fraud!

The end of my first year teaching is wrapping up this week. With that comes extensive overview from faculty and peers on what the year looked like for me. I will admit it is funny the way I have handled that type of overview of myself since I have been teaching. I feel like a fraud and that they will figure out I am not worthy of my position and boot me out. I play these funny scenarios in my head of how it would play out if that actually happened and then I show up for class and I add another class under my belt and students say, “Hey are you teaching the next section?” And then I feel like maybe I do get it.

At the beginning of the semester the email comes that says, “Important: You Need an Observation”. I put it off. I know I need one but what if… Then I go through with said observation and the email comes that says, “Important: Need a Meeting to Discuss Observation” and I treat the email like the plague. I convince my brain I have student drafts to look at and then when the right mood strikes I read it and put my hand up defensively as if the smack down is coming. It never has but it feels like it will.

Being a the lowest on the totem pole at a university means one thing. Evaluation: You are evaluated as a student, you are evaluated as a instructor by students and faculty. The hard part about it all is it is more about maneuverability of the finest. You have to sit down, shut up and take it, but you also have to know when and how to defend it. The it I refer to is your pedagogical methods. That is the way graduate teaching is set up. If you pedagogically feel something is important you are expected to defend it. And not only defend it but defend it to people much more your senior (and often with a PhD. behind their names) with many publications on the very subjects you are teaching. It ain’t easy to say the least.

As each class of my own progresses I feel more and more confident in my teaching shoes and skirts I wear. I love teaching at the college level because despite the rigmarole stated above that is literally the only evaluation I feel or partake in and never ever is it approached from the standpoint I am more senior to you and you need to change this. This is such an about face from how the K-12 educational system is ran. It is most certainly a dictatorship with stringent guidelines and even more people that determine what is best above you when you have no pedagogical reason why. Instead most of the time the reasoning is mired in money and power. However, that is another topic for another day.

Anyway I am nearing the end of my evaluation period and I am gearing up for my evaluation meeting and I received the first report back and all seems fairly okay on the teaching front. I am mostly hitting a home run with a few areas in need of some more pedagogical philosophy thrown in. Even better my evaluator recommended my assignments to be passed on to a newly hired Dr. and used the word “innovative” to describe them. I will take that as a compliment and not complain.

My one area that needed some work was my one area that I am still trying to develop. I feel like students collaborating together on writing is so important to the world. More and more students are writing collaboratively together on the internet through social networking sites, blogs, newspapers and etc. Most students balk at group work. They believe it to be hard and one ends up doing all the work. To fulfill my own beliefs and philosophy in teaching I have my students write a research paper together. They initially hate it but then they love it. They love the grades and they learn how to depend on each other for work. I just need to figure out timing and more smoothly incorporating MLA into it.

Now that I have begun this talk of my methods as an instructor I suppose maybe that provides proof enough in this moment I may just not be a fraud yet, but a teacher.

Loving my unique little girl

This post has spent the last week rumbling around in my head.  Well I sat down to cause it to materialize and then the inspiration fled. I notice when my mind is on being a mom I struggle thinking or doing anything else that isn’t mom worthy. A flaw maybe, but certainly leaves me able to make my family first when it needs to be. My guy and I have had a nagging suspicion that #2 was having some anxiety issues. She came screaming into this world with complete dramatics and flare so we always believed it was just her style. The longer she is in school and around other children the more we see just how unique she is.

No one wants to admit their child is unique in this manner and it isn’t anything that is fixable. Though I suppose that could be arguable. Some might want us to throw a pill at it. Other might say send her to a shrink. We don’t know the exact answer all we know is that she is unique and we don’t want her to change herself to suit others (us included). In our minds we possess severe anguish because she doesn’t behave the way society says she should. Then we become angry because isn’t that what is wrong with society? This tremendous pressure to conform? Then we see how much it hurts her when she realizes things about her are different from the others and she wrestles with that pressure to conform so she will just fit in and the intense pressure her brain sends out that says, “Be yourself.”

If I could bottle up what she has going on and explain it to others it would look something like she reacts like you and me to situations but add about 100X’s the intensity. She over thinks, over analyzes and fears unrealistic things. At school her teacher has accommodated her classroom to counter act those anxieties. But sometimes a trigger might exist that she hasn’t named and the consequences are twofold. She becomes angry and anti-social which then turns to utter sadness and regret. This is at six. How will this go when she is 10? 15? I am tired of trying to convince myself she is just different. Or convince others she is just who she is. Aren’t we all?

As some one who also has an diagnosed anxiety disorder I see the importance of care and know that had I gotten treatment much sooner a lot of my strife could have been spared. I want to spare her as much heartache and sadness as I can. However, I also know what I see. We don’t really want to give her a magical pill that changes her from her unique self to a medicated 1st grader who just floats by. We aren’t really even sure if counseling is what we are wanting. What we really see the need for is protecting her from our educational system. She is extremely smart and skipped one grade and I honestly believe could academically probably skip another but her social maturity is at an all time low. She has been bullied so much this year for her uniqueness and skipping a grade. Her teacher, thankfully, understands her because she too has a child that is unique. The sad part is if we allowed # 2 to completely withdraw from any social situation I believe she would. As long as myself, her dad, her sisters or grandparents are around (and in some cases an adult she trusts) she functions fine. It is when she is forced to take on the responsibility herself she shuts down.

At this point her problem is effecting her schooling and we feel like we have to step in and be an advocate. I am not sure what that means but I do know I will go to the end of the earth to protect her education and her right to be who she is and be accepted by that. If that means getting Dr.’s notes on it then so be it. If it means pulling her out and putting her in a parochial school then we will. If it means pulling her out of school all together then we will explore that. I don’t have the answers I just know it is time to intervene.

UPDATE: Things went really well at the doctor’s office. No big huge glaring answers but some steps in the right direction. We are being scheduled to work with a pediatric neurologist. I am pleased with where we are headed.

Sometimes stuff is just stuff, right?

Materialism is the only form of distraction from true bliss. ~ Douglas Horton

I worry sometimes my writing is preachy or I come from a place of know it allness. I want to be real clear most of my mommy spouting just that. Spouting. Hence the name Mommy Rhetoric. Rhetoric defined as: the ability to use language effectively. I demonstrate in each entry that I can articulate some arguments to sound like I know what I am talking about and others maybe not so much.Take it for what is and consider yourself warned.

The last few days I have had a horribly naggy feeling and irritation at materialism. I remember in high school and junior high my mom saying, “Mommy Rhetoric, you can be so materialistic.” My teenage brain could barely process what it was she was condemning me of. Then I grew up. Then I had children of my own and I made it my life’s mission to hopefully teach my girls what materialism is and hopefully to find their own worth without having the greatest and nicest of things.

Having grown up in a poor family usually I felt like the things I got were appreciated and I didn’t assign much value to just stuff. Nor did I equate that value with myself. That is until the angst filled teen years of Guess jeans and Liz Claiborne purses. However, when I first asked my dad for a pair of Guess jeans he was all like, “okay.” Then he saw the price and he was all like, “no way.” The same could be said for the purse. So a girl learns to improvise. Thankfully, my friends parents were as smart as my own and didn’t cave either. Usually their no’s were followed by lectures of finding happiness in other things in the world besides stuff. So we concocted a plan. Let’s put our money together and buy a piece or two of these “things” and then we can all rotate and share. It worked. We suddenly had our own little sisterhood of the traveling pants and purse. Overtime, it accumulated and soon we all had what we needed.

I tell you this story to demonstrate my ability to be practical and argue that maybe we should be teaching our children practicality and resourcefulness rather than materialism. My daughters are still not to those years yet so there is work to be done. I see it all around me though and I can tell you nothing makes you more appreciative of the “real” things in life than threatened jobs and jobs that don’t pay worth a hoot. Suddenly that soy milk that is three more dollars than a regular gallon of milk makes the regular ol’ 2% generic brand not seem so bad. Or that new carpet that you need so badly suddenly takes a backseat because really, my kids are still young and still very much spillers. So practicality usually wins out. Isn’t that what happened above? I realized that I will never be that girl with the Guess jeans (as did my friends) so we became more practical about it and found a way to make it work while not taking our parents to the bank.

As adults it is no different than it was when I was in high school. I want all the nice things, I want my house to look in tip top shape. I want my girls to have and dress in the finer things. I have to be practical though because that dollar has to pay for two mediocre things versus one really nice. Our family is not one of those tv versions of a stay at home mom family. You know the one: mom is home and dad rakes in the big bucks. Nothing about education is big buck as I highlighted here.  We made the sacrifice and always knew it would be hard and it meant we might not get that new carpet we wanted or to take that trip we wanted to take. There were times when we had zero dollars in our bank account but still somehow we managed to survive. The reason I can throw out there for surviving is my own practicality.

Earlier in this blog I addressed how I define my own value by my family, my students and so on here. The one thing I don’t define my value on is stuff. Sometimes stuff is just stuff. Does it matter my clothes are hand me downs? Nope. Does it matter my girls clothes go from one to the other with many stain resistant washings? Nope. Does it matter to my girls that sometimes they are surrounded by lifetime stains on my carpet? Nope. What does matter is we teach them to be practical. There isn’t much of “I want that” and going out and buying it around here. It is more of “I want that” and wait and see. Then we go to work figuring out can we afford it, should we spend our money on that and so on? That is the part I feel like gets preachy and it isn’t meant to be. That doesn’t mean I have spent the last 9 years at home with my girls withholding every material possession from them they could imagine. What it does mean is in place of a new toy every week they got a new toy every month. Or in lieu of a vacation or trip away once a year we took one really nice vacation in two years time and someone always made the sacrifice to stay home to save money.

I would be lying if I said I always love that feeling of not being able to spend recklessly thousands of dollars on our girls for Christmas. It sucks sometimes. You know what though? My girls appreciate stuff. I have never once heard them say, “I hate this..” or “I don’t want that” followed by a pout. Even # 1 said to me the other day, “Mom, I want a DS3D, but I know it costs a lot of money for our family. So I am gonna do odd jobs and extra work for you and grandma/grandpa to earn money.” I sat back in awe. What an awesome lesson we have armed her with. She was resourceful, she was taking the initiative to think beyond herself of her family and she didn’t even give us a chance to say no. Instead, she focused on achieving it herself. That is what I feel like my job is to do here.

Teaching them that sometimes stuff is just stuff, right?

But not my family?

What do you do when you are faced with hard roads ahead. Do you stay on the road even though it will be hard and you may not make it to the other side? Do you forge through and decide you can accomplish and will accomplish the end goal? What do you when you have lived the last five years of your life that way and you are just tired? Tired of fighting so hard and tired of always walking that blurry line that is hanging on by a life raft and drowning in what could be your demise?

Welcome to the world of education circa the unnamed recession. When my guy decided to do a complete 180 and become an educator I supported him. He wasn’t happy and I hated not seeing him happy. I sat by and allowed my own career aspirations sit on the side. I prayed and skimped and saved and even went over due on some bills. We sacrificed for his happiness. His first year teaching we said, “Shoooo, we just missed the recession.” He was in the residential/commercial building industry. Then the bottom dropped out and now we hold our breaths every March/April/May waiting for the lovely ol’ slip in the color of pink. It has been thrown out at a possibility and then shushed. Then we take a breath and vow to hang on tighter. Every year, year after year. We contact congressmen, senators, local political officials, our school board and school administrators. We try and remind them of the importance of education not just to our family but to the nation as a whole.

The reality is good teachers are being booted out of “office” in favor or what? Overfilled classrooms, over compensated salaries for those who “make” the tough decisions? The sad news is now my daughters are a part of that educational system. They are drowning in classrooms full of students of all shapes and sizes and socioeconomic levels. They see children who are either beaten or have not eaten on a regular basis. How do I explain that to them? This is all provided by the generous lawmakers, administrators and the powers that be that determine they know what is best for my husband, our livelihood and my children.

More frustrating is that I give back. I feel like I owe something to this entity that has been so kind as to employ my husband for the last five years and so kind as to educate my children. I have walked the halls of their schools and saw what little their teachers are working with. They make something out of nothing and still manage to inspire a learning environment that most can envy. But the thanks they are provided with daily is in the form of a this ever looming pink slip that follows around families just like mine every day. I can say not my family, but we have three children that count on that food and shelter that that money provides. But how is our woe any different than the fourth grade teacher who just had her first baby and husband is laid off from the local factory? It isn’t.

I have heard teachers are the “privileged elite” by the very man I voted into office. The ironic thing is not much about my life has felt so privileged the last five years. My husband’s family is chalked full of retired teachers, nothing about their life appears privileged. Mitch Daniels says of teachers and other public officials jobs that they are used to; “feather-bedded payrolls, very expensive salaries and benefits” and I can attest that as a teaching family that nothing is feather bedded and our benefits are not “elite”. We have, as a family, racked up so much medical debt because of lack of decent benefits that by the time we are done paying it down we will certainly be deserving of a wing of the hospital. We have not had dental insurance since 2007. We have never had eye insurance. If that isn’t enough on what coverage we have had our cost has risen a ton since he began teaching. Some of that is the obvious growing family but most of it is just the supposed cost of insurance that the governing board of the schools decides.

So Mitch, today while you sat in your “unofficial” gubernatorial house that I am sure is much nicer than mine. I am sure your medical debt is paid off by my husbands working dollars. I am sure you are pretty secure in where you future lies. I am very certain you don’t have to worry about things like a new faucet, god forbid a life threatening illness or taking care of three young children on a meager, at best, income from a job that is in limbo almost every day. When I voted for you and met you I believed in what you had to say. I trusted that you cared about my future like you cared about your own. The last eight years I have seen anything but.

I plead with you (you=equal democrat, republican, governor, superintendent, principal and school board or any other fool who has his hand in the educational cookie jar) for all the families that are just like my own that are shouting from the rooftops, “But not my family?”

When will this madness stop? When will we declare a rainy day and stop paying those who don’t deserve it and pay those that do? The ones that stand in front of a classroom not because the salary is golden or the benefits are top of the line. They do it, and I do it, because we love what we do. The only privileged part of my life is that every MWF every spring and fall semester I get to stand in front of a group of students that trust me when I say, “If you do this your life will be better.” The thing is, I am not sure I believe it anymore. Prove me wrong.

In the midst…

The dark moments don’t happen as often. I never know when they are coming and I usually do okay without my meds. When one hits and it is bad I feel able to cope. Not today though. Today was bad. It was a perfect storm. The family was all gone on vacation a week ago, they came home and things never stopped. I remained going 160 mph between parenting, teaching and doing my own homework. I could feel it brewing. I was communicating my worries to my guy and talking it through as best I could with anyone who would listen. Then what was chaos on the outside turned into chaos on the inside. # 2 was bullied at school and the school’s response mediocre at best. # 2 ends up puking in the morning and I have plans that I need to accomplish for the day. I am cuddling # 3 during naptime and what do I see. LICE. My world begins to spin.

The chaos takes hold. The chaos that is my OCD brain. It starts off in a mania. I rush and rush and rush. I sanitize everything and I count. 106 that magical number. Wipe the counter down 106 times. Convincing myself that I didn’t just clean said counter and wipe it down 106 more times. Get the lice shampoo, and by four different bottles. Buy new blankets and pillows for everyone. My imagination goes with crazy thoughts of having to burn my house down. You laugh. This is my reality. Turns out…# 3 is the only one with the lice. However, the cleaning went bad I couldn’t stop and got over board. Hands are bleeding, the girls recognize this for what it is. An OCD induced panic attack. I text my guy, “Be home soon, please. I need a break.”

We are almost 6 years in from my official OCD diagnosis and he knows what this means. I am desperate and in a dark place. Suicide thoughts sometimes because of the way OCD tricks my brain when it comes to my kids. I was there today. It has been a long time, but I sat on the bathroom floor and cried myself to sleep. I imagined horrible thoughts. I went dark places and I let OCD win for just an hour.

I lay there covered in my own tears and my guy sneaks his head in asking me if he can help. We have been down this road and he knows I just gotta work through it. #3 becomes worried and starts crying, “Momma. Momma.” She gets a glimpse of my messed up face and my puffy eyes and I see it across her face. The same face I have seen from my other two. A scared face. A face that carries with it a realization that Momma has something wrong. I hate that they have to feel insecure about me ever. The older two know I suffer from OCD but they each had the same look I saw from her. A little bit of their innocent world chipped away.

But it is just what I needed to snap out of it. I cleaned up my tears, blew my nose and came out and gave # a huge hug. I am not better and I won’t be tomorrow but it will get easier. It always does I am just in the midst of it.