Saturday, August 30, 2008

Some conclusions

So it has taken me two weeks to put some pieces together about why I've been feeling disappointed by the workshops/orientation set up for teachers before the regular school year begins for students ( TUESDAY!)

As you know, I am teaching 2 6th grade math classes and 1 every-other-day 7th grade study hall (whoohoo) this Fall with Rochester Public Schools. I did a lot of HEAVY discerning when I was offered the job as to whether this opportunity would fit into my life and my "identity" this coming year. AND, whether the benefits of meeting new people, getting out of the house, and having "adult" conversations would outweigh the potential negatives of additional change and stress while Scott was still navigating his own newness at work. Since I made the decision to GO FOR IT, I have not regretted the choice for one moment. The thing is, my husband is THRIVING at work. He is supported, likes his coworkers professionally AND personally, feels challenged yet not overwhelmed, and sees major potential for upward growth in the future. He's good to go.

So, the newness of this adventure for me a) won't be stressful (The program I've been hired to teach is designed for students needing remedial math help and is VERY laid out, structured, paced, and sequential. PLUS, no grading - all assessments are done on the computer. AND, it's a pass/fail course so my documentation won't be AS detailed. Basically, ALL the icky components of teaching that zap teachers' energy to the point that they don't have enough to give when they're PRESENT with the kids - poof! gone! It's gonna be what I love - developing strong relationships with kids so that we can work on their confidence and growth both academically AND personally... geez, kinda makes me tear up, that's how much i love THAT part of teaching) AND b) won't be hedging in on being present for Scott with his newness - the man's got it down (that is to say, there's still lots to learn, but he's not overwhelmed).

PS... the past two paragraphs were background.

Back to the theme of this entry: I've drawn some conclusions about why I had been disappointed. I had built up some big expectations about the two weeks which just ended (week 1 : new teacher orientation only for those new to the district, week 2: all teachers come back for meetings, room prep, etc). I thought, "YEAH. Watch out Rochester Public Schools, here comes TRICIA ARTHUR!" I mean, I was thinking that in the most humblest of senses. And it wasn't so much I was excited about what I could offer them. More about what re-entering a social network such as "TEACHERS" could offer me. Or maybe, to be fair, what we could offer each other. Needless to say, I was excited.

So week 1, day 1 (mind you, these are the NEW teachers only) I enter these meetings with such enthusiasm, participating and eager to be involved. And I'm greeted with kind of grumpy people. Or maybe they were quiet. Or maybe they were just nervous and a little anxious/insecure about all this newness that they weren't sure whether they wanted to "extend" themselves all that much. Or maybe they were just introverts, and took a little while to come out of their shells. But none of those rational and quite probable thoughts entered my mind at the time. Those first couple days when I kept attempting to engage and getting NOwhere, all my consciousness was able to do was revert to the 7th grade mentality: THEY MUST NOT LIKE ME! Did I come on too strong? Do I have something in my teeth? Did I say something inappropriate? Is my underwear showing?

It's so stupid. And ridiculous to be 29 and still enter into that mode of thinking. All I knew was that I was not getting good vibes. And after anticipating so long this neat-o teacher-powwow, it was not fun to not get good vibes. My conclusion was that something was wrong with ME!!!

So then I sort of shut down. I figured I'd just stop trying to befriend and stop being chatty. And maybe then folks would engage with ME. by this time I had exhausted my effort in week 1 and moved into week 2, which was primarily with my building of teachers (EVERYone comes back at this point). So I played the keep-quiet-and-hold-back card.

Plan foiled. Nobody. And I mean NOBODY (besides the woman responsible for me as my "mentor" and the few math teachers I had already met) introduced themselves or even seemed to recognize that I was there that first day of week 2. I'll give you a little tip: If you're a stranger in a foreign land (aka, Buckeye in Minnesota), there's nothing more likely to remind you of your foreign-ness than when you are made to not feel "apart" of whatever is going on. Ugh. I was so frustrated. At lunch that day, which was provided by the PTSA, I stood quietly in line waiting for a "What was your name? I don't recognize you?" or a "Dr. Jennings mentioned in that meeting you were our new math teacher. Are you new to the area?" Nope. So, given what I had deemed as negative reactions to my bubbly approach week 1, I just stood in the line - with people I didn't know on either side of me - silently (you all know what self-control that took). Through the lunch line I went and when I turned to face the tables where half the crowd had already seated themselves, my armpits started sweating. LIKE A 13 YEAR OLD! My heart rate went up. Where to sit? I knew like 4 total people in the room and I felt like a pathetic little pimple-faced teenager standing there scanning the room to find them. I eventually found a good spot, but I must tell you at this point in the 2 week experience, I WAS BROKEN DOWN. The "normal" Tricia woulda just bopped right down next to someone and begun conversation. I WAS BROKEN.

So, ready for the happier ending? The latter part of the 2nd week improved. I learned a lot about the climate of the school (aka some major teacher cinicism and bitterness as a result of poorly applied pressure from admninistration about failed state test scores - in fact, the whole district of teachers is fit to be tied over the way the who's who in the district is handling things). Little did I know that folks were processing all THAT after the "downer" staff meeting instead of wondering if they could sit at lunch with the new girl to get to know her better!!! Ha. All a matter of perspective and understanding where people are coming from. As for the FIRST week, I can only chalk that bad vibe up to brand new teachers having the jitters and not sure how to take me. But the point is, by the end of the 2nd week, I had come full circle... Tricia-like to completely-not-Tricia-like to putting some pieces together and getting some insights from people and their behaviors (and growing up) and returning to Tricia-like again. Ah, it was exhausting, let me tell you!

Here are the conclusions, if you'll humor me in reading further:
* Seeds of self doubt are dangerous little demons. And as soon as self talk starts agreeing with those demons, one begins to think thoughts and behave on those thoughts in ways that are not true to the person. (the kind of confidence it takes to ward that doubt off is EXACTLY the kind of thing I work diligently to teach about to young people - and there i was relearning the lesson myself!)
* I promise myself to have a greater awareness of what state of mind my 6th graders, new to the school building, will be in when they enter my classroom that first week (aka SCARED)
* I do not want to relive my early teenage years. It was fun for many reasons, but whew am I glad it's over for many others.
* For whatever reason, most likely a learned trait from my parents, I naturally place a major emphasis on hospitality. Without ever recognizing it before, I am one who (despite my general absent-mindedness and clueslessness about my surroundings) recognizes when someone enters the room and wants to greet that person and, likewise, offers a hand shake or hug or at least a wave and "goodbye" when someone leaves the room. To me, it's just common sense. A greeting and a farewell are outward signs that it MATTERED that person was there. That they were RECOGNIZED. I didn't even realize until I felt so incomplete leaving all those meetings and workshops and seminars without anyone feeling the need to say goodbye to each other that I felt so passionate about this. Just another lesson I learned about me. Everybody: TEACH your kids to be hospitable. It's a BIG deal.
* Another self-reflection: that, daggone it, I like to get real and deep with people. And fast. I know I've probably got an even more urgent desire to move in that direction here in a new place, but even in Columbus - I just want to engage and share and find out WHO people REALLY are. I learn every day that that is not how all people operate. And it can be a bit frustrating to wait for people to be ready to take their "masks" off too. And that although I refuse to ignore my natural "energy," I also need to honor those who may not want to "go there" quite yet.
* Specific to my profession (warning, if you're not a teacher, this may not interest you): Since I have operated under a lot of different leadership (South Euclid Lyndhurst district in Cleveland, Shaker Heights City Schools, Olentangy Local Schools, and now Rochester Public Schools), I now understand the power GOOD and POSITIVE leadership can have over workers. And, you guessed it, what power the opposite kind of leadership can have. Olentangy had the first and I believe that Rochester has the latter. The climate and culture of the teachers at Olentangy Liberty High School (i admit, may partly be due to the youth of the teachers they hire and the vast number of new "fresh" folks entering every year) was such that folks felt respected, supported, and eager to do their jobs (making it VERY easy to enter in). Here, I am feeling teachers feeling unsupported, blamed, and bitter about doing their jobs. Almost like the kind of students we are trying to reach: "well, I've tried to work with the system and worked hard to get along and have dialogue with the leaders, but after so many attempts and failures, I give up. (do our students not do that?). so i'll just do my job in my room and teach the best I can, but not pay a bit of attention to anything bigger than that." (making it very difficult to "navigate" as a new person - who's on who's side? etc, etc)

The reason I mention all of that under this bullet is that a community of teachers charged with frustration and bitterness, confused and better yet disapproving of the political ways that govern them (all, from what I can tell, VALIDATED feelings and reactions)... are NOT thinking about hospitality. Now that I get it, I am no longer disappointed in them. All is now well with the world. :)

Lastly, I add the following comment after having re-read the above NOVEL (sorry)... this whole discussion sounds very self-absorbed. Like the "Tricia, who likes herself too much, thinks that the world should stop and everyone should show HER how much they like her TOO" show, or something. I think the reason this all made such an impact one me, reasonably, is because of how much I was counting on those two weeks kicking off my connectedness (MY connectedness, not Scott's or not because of Scott's) to Rochester. And I want to also say that, now that I am better understanding the REAL reasons for the vibes I was analyzing so innacurately, I realize I am not at all disappointed in OTHER people, I am more disappointed in myself for having my head twisted on so wrong. But I forgave me. We're friends again.

Thanks for letting me purge all these thoughts. I, in the process, sorted them out a little for myself too.

PS. I still do not regret my decision to teach. I really am excited about my students. And now that I have developed some great "allies" with whom I feel comfortable in the building, I know how to stay out of the "politics" so it doesn't bother me. I'm pumped. I'll tell you more Tues about how the first day went!

My husband is putting the patio furniture we just bought together SINGLE handedly outside. I need to help. Bad wife. Bad wife.

Big News

We're having a cook out Sunday night. And people are coming. Real LIVE people! Yey! This is huge for us, since we haven't hosted ANY Rochester guests in our home before.

Two couples are from Scott's work. We went out to dinner with that group last Saturday night and I give two thumbs up. REALLY great people. The other couple is from the women's/mom's group I recently joined. The gal, Shanti, is WAY cool and our whole family got to meet her whole family at a pool party a couple weekends back.

So, anyway, I'm busy getting the house and yard somewhat tidied. And preparing my grocery list for a Labor Day Wkd event we've been waiting for! Yippee!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Duncan's Heart Warriors at Work

For those readers who have followed along for some time in the journey of my pregnancy, birth, and experience with Duncan and Jackson - you understand the amazing group of women my sorority sisters are. Just to recap, these ladies have sent greeting cards, given restaurant gift cards, individually purchased baskets and goodies of encouragement, purchased and then MOVED (which involved a very large truck and taking the hinge off of our basement door!) a kick-butt freezer in our home for all the back-up meals I was receiving, attended Duncan's visitation, and then - the kicker - planned an amazing surprise service at the Park of Roses where a tree was planted in Duncan's memory.

Wait. There's another kicker. Becky and Emily Devaney are twin sisters born on the same day as Duncan and Jackson - June 2. They are part of this amazing Sigma Alpha Tau support network. They asked me way early on if it would be OK to create a walking team at the American Heart Walk inspired by Duncan. Honored is an understatement for how Scott, Jackson, and I felt. So they took the ball and ran with it! At the time, of course, we thought we'd be participating in this August event. But then moving to Minnesota put a damper in that plan. But they and the other ladies kept me informed about the progress of the planning by email.

The Heart Walk was this past Saturday. And look at what they did!!!!

Pay special attention to their Tshirts.

I cry as I finish this entry, because it's just so incredible to be in a place -without ever thinking you would - where people are honoring you and your family and your darling son so selflessly. It is so humbling. I can't explain it.

Girls, I spent all day Saturday thinking about you and wishing I were there to be apart of the celebration YOU designed and made special. Thanks for walking in the spirit of Duncan. He was alive and at work through you Saturday.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stacia and the Arthurs....

...Touring the Mall of America (to do it properly, it could take 3 days)
Dora was even there!

...Traveling back and forth to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul, corn field after corn field

... Watching our first Honker's (Rochester's local team) baseball game. For those of you wondering, a "Honker" mascot (with whom Jackson was obsessed) looks like this:

...Swimming at the local public pool (AWESOME kiddy pool area - very safe)

...teaching Jackson how to play cards (Stacia's determined to learn how to "count" cards)

...Feeding the elk and other animals at Oxblow Park (definitely one of our favorites!) In this one, Jackson got gutsy and fed the miniature horse his hand...I mean, some grass (it was close)

...And, sadly, saying goodbye to each other at the airport (the second cousins look pretty happy though, don't they?)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just sharing

My blogging well has been running dry recently, and it's because I am having so much fun with my visitors! KK was here for a week. Stacia followed that visit with a 9 day stay, leaving this afternoon. And tonight, as towels are a tumbling in the dryer, I am making my grocery list and doing a bit of relaxing before Ricci and Diane (Jackson's Grandma and Grandpa!) arrive.

But, before I forget, there are three things that Jackson did yesterday that made me laugh. I hope the world wide web will never crash and he can one day read these funnies when he's my age (i TRY to keep up with his personal journal, where i keep all these memories, but i fall short sometimes. i never claimed to be supermom. usually, i'm aiming for mediocre-mom)

#1) Jackson is still slow on the verbal communication. He uses only a couple words (HI, MAMA and DADA about wrap up his repitoire), but for some time we've been aware that he "gets" a lot of what we're saying. I know it's not much, but this morning while he and I were hanging out upstairs before coming down for breakfast, I was excited to learn just HOW much he understood. I was taking my morning shower while Jackson was dilly-dallying in his kid-safe boundaries upstairs. He habitually brings me things- usually plastic toys, etc - while I'm in the shower. Sometimes they're played with on the bathroom floor, sometimes he tosses them in the shower with me. Yesterday was the first time he wanted a book to "play with me" in the shower. So "Brown Bear Brown Bear" (and not the sturdy board book version, the delicate thin-pages kind) was making its depressing descent into the shallow puddle of water when I caught it just in the nick of time.

Why am I wasting all this time on THAT part of the story? The part about Jackson "getting" me was much later, after I - still in the shower - safely laid the book on the bathroom floor (Jackson had already resumed a new activity), finished showering, dressed, and decided to read Jackson a book. We were both in his room and I said (with no motioning or body language WHATSOEVER), "Jackson, will you go into the bathroom and go get "Brown Bear Brown Bear?" I didn't have to repeat myself. Off he went. I figured he'd decided to go to our master closet and play with Dada's shoes or go to the office and roll the golf balls there or something equally obscure like he would normally do. But no. The child walked directly into the bathroom and returned with that darn book! Little did I know that he was THAT familiar with title of the book. Or with the smallest room of the house. But he understood. And we read the darn thing. As I was reading - newly aware of his ability to understand - I wondered if now was the time to inform him there is no such thing as a "Blue horse" or a "Purple cat" (those of you familiar with that famous book know what i mean). Maybe not yet.

#2) Shortly after Jackson went down for his morning nap, I alarmingly realized that it was trash and recycling morning. The one architectual complaint I have against our house is that the sleeping rooms are directly about the garage. 9.5 times out of 10, Jackson sleeps RIGHT through the garage door opening, which is what I had to do to complete my garbage/recycling tasks. As I was walking back up the driveway, a shifting in the upper window caught my attention. There my son was, standing up in his crib (which is against a window wall) with the curtains haphazardly cast over his head, hands pressed against the window and a bottom lip sticking out a mile wide. Then, the tears began rolling, even when my face broke out in a huge smile. He didn't find the Mom's-outside-I'm-inside-in-my-"cage"-does-she-leave-the-house-a-LOT-when-I'm-all-alone-in-here?-discovery as funny as I did. All I could focus on was that sweet face, all big-boy like staring out the window. So cute. When I did make it up to his room to calm him, he was still wailing with his whole head hidden behind the curtain. It took him awhile to realize I had relocated myself to his very presence. I cleared up the confusion when I picked him up from behind the fabric and loved on him for the next few minutes!!! So darling.

#3) This scene quite possibly marks the funniest thing I've ever seen Jackson do, coupled with the cruelest thing his Mom had ever done. To set the stage: Stacia and I are in the living room, hanging out and watching Jackson play. He ends up with a pen in his hand (what's new? he LOVES holding on to pens). Somehow, he flips it so that it lands half-in and half-out of the back of his shirt. The half-out part is sticking out right above his right shoulder. He realizes that it is somewhere on his person and turns his head, at which point he catches a glimpse of that highly-sought-after pen (ps, there are about 16 other pens around). So then the halarity begins for Stacia and I. Have you seen a cat chase her tail? Need I say more? He went round and round. And then round and round some more. He'd pause to get his balance. Then, round and round again. Then he'd stumble, catch himself and more spinning. Finally, he gave up the merry-go-round efforts and teetered left several steps, then right several steps. Like a drunk sailor... finally ending in a harmless tumble. Stacia and I NOT ONCE considered interrupting this little comedy show. Nor did we consider that his lunch could have come up after all that spinning (which it didn't, thank goodness). We just laughed. We just sat there and laughed. And now, instead of savoring this little moment with only myself, I share it with all of you.

PS. I finally DID dig the pen out of the shirt and give it to him. He worked hard enough for it.

So that's it. Just wanted to share those three things. More photos to come of our visit with Stacia.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Naked Boy, CowBoy, and Cousin Boy

Hi. We've had such fun with our guests...

KK visited for about a week, during which time we visited the Olmstead County Fair here in Rochester (fun!) and now Stacia is visiting, my cousin (Jackson's second cousin) from Sarasota FL. We are exploring the city even further, and trying to work around Jackson's nap schedule (more complicated than you would think, given I have such a sleeper on my hands - not complaining!!!!)