To Hell and Back

I have been neglecting writing this post for a while now for many reasons. The main reason being that anytime I finally become motivated to blog, I am usually mid drive back to Houston and by the time I make it home, I’m over it. Secondly would be that I don’t know exactly how to put into words what this year has been like. Many of you have asked me how my year is going and I usually respond by telling you I don’t want to talk about it. It’s simply because putting this year into words is A. hard and B. typically puts me in a bad mood. So here goes my weak attempt. These are real, raw, and honest feelings so I’d appreciate minimal judgment.

My first year of teaching was amazing. I could not have asked for a better year. I had a great little class with 13 bubbly little 3rdgraders. They loved me and I loved them- although, I think they were way more important to me than I was to them! When I think about my first year, I smile with great pride (remember this word for later) and joy. I would give anything to be with those babes again.

I knew the group coming up was a challenge. To be honest, I was looking forward to the challenge. I love a good challenge. I couldn’t wait for my new class and I couldn’t wait to do amazing things with these kids and show others that I could handle it. Well…those kiddos came and boy did they bring a challenge. For the first 9-10 weeks of school I left every day in tears. I went to my team members yelling, screaming, cursing, and all sorts of crazy things. I’ve spent my fair share of time crying in the principals office. I was not a normal person. These kids were not only effecting my professional life- they were effecting my personal life. (Confession: I do teach young children and I should know the difference between affect and effect…but I really just can’t keep ‘em straight!) It seemed like everything I attempted in my classroom was ruined.

You see, God blessed me with not just 1 or 2 challenging friends, he gave me 4 of them! These friends did not get along with each other… or me for that matter. I spent most of my time putting out fights or dealing with disrespect in ways I can’t even describe. I’ve had kids scream in my face; yell at me, I’ve been threatened. They’ve said terrible and awful things to each other. The list goes on. I mean come on, this is 3rd grade were talking about…I had no idea these were things I’d actually encounter in a classroom. I have one distinct memory of my class sitting on the carpet- I think I was doing a read aloud or something… Two of my friends were being distracting on the carpet so I sent them back to their seats (which were on opposite sides of the rooms facing opposite directions- all things I thought would help prevent arguments). They were facing opposite ways yet still fighting with each other calling each other “butt faces” or something along those lines… I did what all good teachers do- I ignored it! I remember learning that sometimes ignoring misbehavior will cause kids to not get the attention they are seeking and therefore stop. So I continued ignoring. I kept reading. I looked out into the faces of those on the carpet. The sight was really quite comical. It was like watching a tennis match. All 15 of their heads were shifting from one side of the room to the other watching this argument unfold. “Abort the ignoring…I repeat, abort ignoring!” ran through my head. I tried to settle these two friends down to no avail. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I do know that I didn’t get to that lesson. That was one of many lessons I didn’t get to. I felt like a failure. All of my kids were suffering (academically and emotionally) because I wasn’t able to manage these kids and in turn, the rest of my class.

I know my one story doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, I can’t even find the words to describe how terrible things have been this year. I also want to respect the privacy of my kiddos and don’t want to give any detailed stories.

As a teacher it is so hard to not blame yourself for every failure in the classroom. In reality, these kids are my responsibility. It is my duty to teach them academic and social lessons. I wasn’t able to do any of that. I had no idea that teaching would be this challenging. No one ever prepares you for all the stuff teachers do and deal with on a daily basis. I knew it would be though, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t know how terrible it truly could be.

One morning I called my dad in tears. I was sobbing so hard he had to ask me to stop talking because he couldn’t understand a word I was saying. Once I finally composed myself, I told him I wanted to quit. I told him I didn’t ever want to come back and I didn’t care that it would forever ruin my teaching career. In all honesty, I was hoping he would say “It’s okay Kelly, quit; I will help you until you find a new job.” I wanted to sneak into school one weekend (although, it’s hard to sneak in when one must swipe their badge to unlock the door, but that’s neither here nor there) clear out my classroom, and never look back. Obviously that wasn’t what happened. Which I am thankful for (some days!)

You see, I was up for the challenge of this group of kiddos. I could handle it. I had my fair share of difficult students my first year and I thought I did pretty well managing them and helping them find success. I was convinced that if I did the things I did with them with these new kids, I would have similar, if not greater, successes. I had an amazing first year and thought “I can handle this, bring it on!”

By the end of my first week I had been slammed. Right on the ground. Face first. Not only was I naive, I was prideful. Remember that word I mentioned above- pride? I became too prideful. I thought I was an amazing teacher (and still do on some days!). I was convinced that I could “fix” these kids. It took a while for me to realize this. I don’t think I actually even realized it till I was talking to a colleague and it just kind of came out of my mouth. I thought “Did I really just say that? Is that true?” After much reflecting and pondering over this year, I realized that what I said was entirely true. I let my pride get the best of me. I let my successes become the center of it all. God needed to put me back in my place real quick. I needed a reminder that my successes in the classroom were not just mine, that more than anything, they were His. I think I needed to be brought down to my knees in anger, sadness, frustration, hatred, any negative emotion you can come up with, to realize that it isn’t just all about me. There is a God out there who is greater than me and who deserves the credit for the successes, and challenges, I face.

I am happy to report that in the last 7 to 8 weeks there has been much improvement in my classroom. I have realized that pride can be an evil problem and have worked on giving thanks to the One who helps me find successes through challenges. I have had team members come along side me when I am literally on the ground, hyperventilating from sobbing so hard, pick me up, love me, encourage me, support me, wipe my mascara off my face, and most importantly, graciously take my kids when I need a break I have also finally found management plans that work for the majority of my students. Good days come and go quite frequently, but now, more often than not, they are good days.

I had the privilege of taking two of my most difficult boys to a high school football game this year. It was a blast. They had so much fun…How often do you get to hang out with your teacher? I have a picture and wish I could post it, they were seriously so stinking adorable!!! Anyways, I took them on a Friday night and truly thought that Monday morning things would be better because they would be so thankful and never want to be mean to their teacher again!!! It didn’t really happen that quickly. However, both of these boys have shown so much growth in the past 2 months. Now, instead of lashing out in anger, one boy puts his head down and calms himself on his own, followed shortly by an apology for his actions. Now, instead of arguing with other students, the other boy builds them up and encourages them (and gives me the sweetest hugs every morning when he walks in!

I share these small successes because I know that both of their parents have seen the challenges and the growth their kids have made and are proud. I am too. Mainly because I have watched them do it on their own, with nothing more than guidance, support, and love (albeit tough love sometimes) from someone who loves them more than they will probably ever know. Thank you, Jesus!

Last week I was out for a training. I hate being out, because if you know anything about teaching; it’s more difficult to be out for a day than to just be there. Regardless, I hate being out, especially with this group because I always come back to notes of how terrible the class was and a list of the same 4 names, every stinking time, written up on the board. In case you didn’t know, calling attention to an already difficult student by publicly displaying their name doesn’t really do anything other than encourage them to be more difficult. So I always find it quite annoying. Anyways, I came back Friday morning with a positive note, not only about my class as a whole, but all 4 of my difficult students. “It’s working!!! Whatever I am doing is working!!!” Tears came to my eyes. Small successes. Thank you, Jesus!

I have seen so much growth in some of my kids. Not just my difficult ones, but all of my kids. At the beginning of the year they all fought, all of the time. They couldn’t even sit at tables together, we sat old school in rows. Now, I rarely hear a fight, and when I do, it’s almost always followed with an apology. Now, we sit in teams. Now, instead of hearing “boo’s” when other kids or classes win something, my kids cheer and clap. They build each other up. These are the things that bring tears to my eyes and make me thankful that I have this crazy, stressful, tiring job they call teaching. And the best part about it is that I don’t really know what I’ve done other than hold my head as high up as I can and try to love these kids in the best way I can and teach them right from wrong. Thank you, Jesus!

If I had to give this year a name, I originally thought I would call it “The Year from Hell”. While writing this and truly reflecting on these past 5 and a half months, I think a more fitting name would be “To Hell and Back.” We made it down there (or pretty close) and we are on our way back. We will be having our very own “Mustache Party” in the next week to celebrate all of our successes! 🙂 We will be donning some of the most fashionable mustaches around and posing in our photobooth. All to reward these kids of the growth they have made in the past few months. I will try to post pictures of whatever I can, without faces….We’ll see?!?

Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this post. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who has listened to me, encouraged me, and supported me throughout some of my most difficult times. Thank you for being by my side! 

Love, 

Kelly 

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