Back to Basics: Rewinding and Relearning

Since I’m home with my daughter this summer, I’ve decided to make it my mission to teach her how to read. We’ve always kept a text-rich environment in our home, and recently, she has been showing me signs that she’s ready. So for the past two days, we’ve been doing “school”–setting aside about 20 minutes to work on the basics.

Primary education is not my forte. I do NOT do well with other people’s small children, and I thrive more in an environment where I am just as intellectually challenged as my students. But lately, I’ve been considering the possibility of homeschooling my daughter, and I thought teaching her to read would be a nice little indicator if this is something she and I can do successfully together.

It’s funny. Working with a three year old, I realize in some ways, I do not have strength in some of the skills needed to be that rockstar teacher for her. On the other hand, I feel like teaching secondary last year is helping me in ways I wouldn’t have realized.

Teaching her to read is kind of like coming full circle–going back to the beginning, where my love of literature started, and hoping that passion transfers to her. And this whole process has made me look at teaching in a new light. It’s refreshing, and it reminds me of some of the things I think it’s easy to forget.

Individualizing Instruction Makes All the Difference

J. is three. This means she has a short attention span, boundless energy, and endless curiosity. I have to switch gears pretty quickly to keep her engaged, involve technology, and practice patience as she wriggles and moves during one of our lessons.

We all know that every kid doesn’t learn the same. And with a system created during the industrial revolution, we know that many of our students are not in an environment that is conducive to optimal learning. As class sizes grow and teachers fall under more strain, it’s difficult to keep up with everything we have to do. But there are few things that can compete with individualizing instruction for our students. Obviously, we cannot create a custom learning plan for every student that comes through our classroom. It’s just not possible. But we can incorporate strategies that focus on choice and self-directed learning, through which we can help guide our students so that they receive the best education we have to offer.

Adaptability is Key

I can try to plan a lesson. I can script what I’ll say, do hours of research, and create amazing activities. But all of that means squat if I can’t be adaptable. We all know that with toddlers, you must be able to shift gears quickly, but the same goes for the seniors I taught last year.

Yes, do the research, write your script, go crazy with adorable supplies you found at your local craft store, and create those truly incredible activities. All of these things are important, and I’m a firm believer in approaching teaching in a way that makes you feel energized and excited. BUT none of those things take into account the fact that our students are human. That they wriggle, fall asleep, have angry outbursts, will not (for the love of all that is holy) quit trying to sneak in time on their phones, and ask questions we could never in a million years anticipate.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in. At the end of it all, if you can’t roll with the punches and adapt to the needs of your students, you are not going to be able to reach them.

Students Know When You Care

Are you excited about your subject? Do you radiate enthusiasm in your classroom? Or have you lost sight of why you began teaching in the first place and dread going to work?

Students can tell. No matter what society may tell us, students are intuitive. They know when you’re there for them versus when you don’t even know why you’re there anymore. They know if you care about them and their learning. They know if you love (or hate) what you teach.

If they don’t like you, kids aren’t going to work for you. That’s the truth. And if they know you don’t care, then they’re definitely not going to. Your energy in the classroom is infectious, and students are going to give back what you put in.

Sometimes, we have to forget the standards, forget the obligations, forget the mountains of stress and just show up for our kids. At the end of the day, if my students have learned something from me, even if it doesn’t fall under a state mandated standard, I feel I have accomplished something. We spend more time with our students than anyone else. We have more influence than we realize. So when we show that we care about what they’re learning and if they’re learning it, we can make a difference.

The tips listed above may seem obvious to you. At first, I wondered if they were even worth writing down for you all. But I think in the midst of everything educators have to worry about, we sometimes forget even the most basic things. We fall down that dark hole of obligation, crushed by the expectations heaped on us by the state, by our communities, by our colleagues.

I’m hear to tell you that when you feel lost or overwhelmed, take it back to the basics. Remember why you stepped into the classroom. Remember your mission. Because in the end, we are there for our kids, and they are what’s important.


I See You, Mama.

I see you, Mama.

I see the way your arms tremble with fear and pride as your baby is placed into your arms for the very first time, the weight of joy and responsibility heavy in your new mommy heart. Yearning for the moments before birth when he was just yours. How will you keep him safe always? How can you love something so much? I see you, Mama.

I see the tears gather in your eyes as exhaustion overwhelms you. When you think you can’t possibly go on this way, rising every hour through the night, cleaning the neverending stretch of baby supplies and clothes and blowouts and vomit and slobber, but not yourself. I see you, Mama.

I see you peeking at your baby’s fluttering breath throughout the night. “Sleep when he sleeps,” they say. Instead, you spend your night praying that the next breath comes just as strong as the last one, trying to close your eyes for just one minute, but unable to breathe until you know he has. I see you, Mama.

I see you as you try to remember who you were before you became a mom. As you make room for yourself amidst the demands of motherhood so that you can better meet your family’s needs, so you can recognize your face in the mirror. As you find something that’s only for you. I see you, Mama.

I see you collapse into bed at night, praying he falls asleep easily so you can too. Grazing your fingers through his baby-soft hair, you are struck with wanting to squeeze him awake again, so you don’t miss one more minute with him. I see you, Mama.

I see you desperately clutching his tiny hand as you walk him into school for the first time, choking back the tears of uncertainty and sadness. Remembering how his tiny baby fists and his tiny baby face tucked under your neck at naptime. Knowing you’d endure a few more sleepless nights if he were that small once again. I see you, Mama.

I see the way you love both your job and motherhood, struggling to be good at both but often times failing to meet your own expectations. Forgetting to submit the proposal for the next day’s meeting or forgetting to make cupcakes for his Valentine’s Day party, you are ever-ready with criticism of yourself. Give yourself grace. I see you, Mama.

I see you struggle to understand how other kids and people wouldn’t be kind to your sweet baby. I see you aching at the ugliness of this world and wishing you could shield him from ever having to face any of it, fighting the mama-bear urge to make everyone who’s ever hurt him pay for his pain. I see you, Mama.

I see the way you cackle with uninhibited glee at his silliness. The way you can’t help but kiss his adorable face and hug his adorable neck. Surely, there’s never been a funnier kid in the history of kids. I see you, Mama.

I see you lace up his Nikes as he gears up for his big game, hoping he remembers to have fun while on the field–that win or lose, he is still amazing. I see you cheering in the stands, wearing your “Team Mom” regalia. Some ridiculous and obscene color picked from the color wheel covers you from head to toe, noisemakers at the ready. I see you, Mama.

I see you watch him struggle as he faces immense adversity, wishing you could steal his pain and frustration, even if only for a moment. If only he knew what you knew: he is tough, he is strong, he will get through this. He will survive and be better for his struggle. I see you, Mama.

I see you drop car keys into his outstretched palm. To him, you are “Mom” with an accompanying eye-roll, worrying again for no reason. To you, he is still the greatest love you’ve ever known, and the fear of this moment is almost crippling. You spend that night–and every night that follows–praying he comes back home. Maybe you should buy him a Hummer after all. I see you, Mama.

I see the way you cry into your pillow his first night away at college. And the second. And the third. And many nights after. You send desperate prayers up that he is making good decisions, that he’s safe. That everything you’ve taught him aids him in reaching his goals and living his dreams. You hope he’s unafraid. You hope he takes risks. You hope he makes mistakes. You hope he learns from those mistakes. I see you, Mama.

I see you squeezing his arm on his wedding day, willing yourself to share him with someone else. You pray for their happiness and kindness, that they remember life is about more than making money. It’s about dancing in the rain and doing movie nights and cooking terrible and yummy dinners and reading books and playing board games. You pray he will still come eat waffles and bacon at your house. I see you, Mama.


I see you.

An important aspect of teaching writing is to teach students how to imitate beautiful writing and make it their own. This art of play and practice with language is an important step in our students achieving effective writing independence. Like watching a favorite basketball player and emulating their “moves,” we want students to find the “moves” they like and play with them in their writing. Through observation and analysis of mentor texts, we teach our students to mimic elements of great writing and use it in their own writing to develop their identities.

In reading a viral post on Facebook about motherhood called “I Cry Because…” (post no longer available to share here), I became inspired to talk about the wonderful stress of being a mommy in a similar way. Each of the statements above was written through my own personal experience or through knowing incredibly strong moms that have inspired me in their own unique ways. 

I know we are all in different stages and moments of motherhood, but we must learn to see each other. And allow ourselves to be seen.

On Being a Working Mom…

One of the things I’ve struggled with most in regards to teaching is the time I’m giving up with my daughter… those moments spent at work, rather than with her, that I can never get back. It hits me especially hard on days like today, when I have to walk away with her crying and calling my name behind me. Of feeling her fingers clutching my sweater while I explain I have to go, working her tiny fist free of my clothes so that I can flee before she grasps me again.

I was a stay at home mom for two and a half years. I saw all of J’s firsts, and was able to build a bond with her that is truly incredible. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.

But, there’s something people don’t tell you about being a stay at home mom. Everyone always glorifies it, or blows it off, but no one really talks about the things I experienced. So I’m just going to say it… being a stay at home mom was hard.

My own mother raised me to be financially and emotionally independent. And perhaps because of that, perhaps because I’m not a naturally maternal person, I really struggled being home full time. My husband would comment that he missed the old me, that I wasn’t happy anymore. My mood was constantly up and down. I felt unfulfilled intellectually, and I hated not being able to contribute to our financial well-being. I tried applying for remote work, but didn’t have much work experience and so I received a record number of rejections. Outside of making sure my daughter was taken care of– intellectually, emotionally, physically– I was lost. But I didn’t want to put her in daycare. I didn’t trust anyone, often not even myself, so how could I trust strangers with her care and safety?

There are many things that contributed to my going back to work, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say that a lot of things in my life shifted, and it suddenly seemed like the right time.

Going back to work has had a lot of advantages. I feel like I’m in a better place, mentally. I’ve helped relieve some of the stress on my husband now that he isn’t the sole breadwinner in our family. And overall, I feel like my little family has settled into a nice stride.

But man, oh man, the guilt. I wonder every day if I’m doing the right thing by forfeiting this time with J. Especially on those days when she tells me she wants things to go back to how they were before. Those days when her cries follow me out the door as I leave for work. Those days when I’m out of school for whatever reason and I get a taste of how it used to be.

I say all of this, not to complain, but to be real. One of the things I’ve noticed in life is that people rarely give the good and the bad. It’s often one or the other. I know there are moms out there who live a similar struggle, and I write this so that you know you are not alone. There is a tribe of women working through the same difficulties. You’re not a bad mom for not staying home with your child, whether you left the home because you wanted to or because you had to. Searching for fulfillment outside of your child doesn’t make you a less-than mother. Admitting that it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine doesn’t mean you aren’t a rock star.

It all just means you’re human.