Actions Speak Louder than Words-Appreciating our Teachers

Alright, I admit it, I am burnt out.    Burnt out on spending at least nine hours every day with toddlers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but have you met a toddler? They have runny noses and they will actually run over to wipe on your pants (or shirt, hair, back…whatever is available) They need lots of physical affection and often go about accessing it in the most interesting ways (today for example a little girl put her finger in my ear!? Yep).  Also, they cry….a lot.  I’m comfortable with crying, showing emotion and even encourage it but…it is LOUD sometimes.

I’m burnt out on teaching.  Burnt out on working in a less than supportive environment.  All of the above wouldn’t matter if I was working in a situation where  I had proper support.  Staff development, meetings where we were able to discuss questions and concerns we have about particular children.  Paid time off and the ability to call in sick all would be helpful.  I wish I could say that my current center is out of the norm but unfortunately it is not.  There are far more centers like mine, with exhausted teachers out of time and money to continue professional development.  Frustrated with their lack of professional or personal fulfillment they take things out on the children.  Teachers who aren’t well supported don’t make good teachers.  They either leave the profession or they start to care less.

Luckily I am on the path to personal and professional renewal as I leave my time at this center.  What about everybody else? During this teacher appreciation week I couldn’t help but think about all of the other teachers out there.  Working moms, working students, caring people who probably should have had the pleasure of retiring years ago.   What do we really need to do to show our teachers we appreciate them? Do Starbucks cards and flowers really get the point across?  I admit this is better than nothing at least for a second we feel as if we are appreciated.  Day after day, year after year it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

In their book Professional Capital Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue that what we need is a fundamental change that allows for a community of educators to emerge.  This is as true in early childhood education as anywhere.  In some cases I would argue even more so.  Early childhood educators are in the unique position of laying the foundation of our children’s emotional and educational future.  Teachers don’t have the luxury of being able to just ‘phone it in’ ever.  Even if we don’t feel like it how we act and speak is constantly being absorbed by our littlest friends.

I know this question is bigger than this post.  I also know I am not alone in feeling overworked, underpaid and just plain exhausted.  As more and more children start ‘school’ before the age of one and private care/preschool programs move ahead in a largely privatized and practically unregulated manner what can we as teachers do to change the tide? What role, if any, should our society play?   What type of movement will it take to really place educators at the forefront of our country (as they do in Finland)? What are the consequences if we continue the way we are?

Thanks for reading as I vent! 🙂

Melissa

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Fearful Fantasy Land (a toddler’s dream)

The stove was covered in hot pots and pans, bubbling and boiling away with the contents of what would soon turn into two meals for my sister-in-law (now a mother of two! Yay!) Glass of wine in hand I had just settled into the grove of a cooking marathon.

Then the peace was broken.  Through the monitor came the heart-broken cry of my boy.  This happens pretty rarely now (and as I type this I worry I am disturbing the gods of baby sleep by admitting how often I get to sleep right through the night).  When it does it is usually a sign that illness is creeping in, if we are lucky its just the call of a sweaty baby who needs the gentle breeze of his ceiling fan.  This cry most certainly didn’t sound like a sweaty baby cry.

On this night he was crying and screaming as if in pain.  He seemed to be grasping at straws hoping to find a way to get out of his room.

Our dialogue went a little something like this (my internal dialogue is in green):

“Iiiicieeee, ICY!” he cried.  Daddy, upon hearing this runs one up the stairs. Maybe he is hurting? Does he have a fever? An ear infection..oh great..could he have just scratched himself or something?

“Nooooo, MY get it!!” thwack the icy hits Daddy in the foot. “Sorry Bubs” I reply “We can’t go to the kitchen right now, it’s sleepy time.” He obviously doesn’t really hurt or he’d take the darn icy…or does he? Maybe it hurts so much he can’t think? Or he needs something else….what does he really need?

“Medicine!!” “Is something hurting Bubba?” I ask gently.  “Med. uh. sin. Mammaaaa!” Daddy brings in some meds.  Well if his ear is hurting maybe this will help? He’s never been like this befo-“No MY get it!” He screams at Daddy. He wants to get is own medicine? and go downstairs and..“Water, my fill it up!” and get his own water from the bathroom.  It seems like he just want to get out of his room.  

“Maybe he had a bad dream?” My husband proposes.  A bad dream? How could I know if he had? And how could I make it better…oh great, is this a new thing? My pasta is probably boiling over.  I have no idea how to fix this, much less quickly.  WAIT…its not my job to fix it.  I need to get back to what he needs.  Maybe he needs to just cry.  I’ll just listen.  

I held him for a few minutes as he sobbed, gurgled and occasionally struggled to get down and run for the door. I can’t change his feelings, I need to just be with him now, in this moment.  I can be his calm.  

As he continued I replayed what happened.  He really wants out of here.  He seems mad or frightened.  Maybe he did have a bad dream? 

Just say it out loud, it couldn’t make it worse.  Come on…You had a bad dream, you feel upset.  What if he never wants to sleep in his bed again…what if he just won’t sleep there tonight?!? What if speaking the truth allows him to recognize how scary dreams are and he never sleeps alone again!? (oh, inner dialouge…)

It usually helps him.  You know him.  He wants to connect, he needs your support, your calmness, your clarity.  He already KNOWS he’s scared and upset silly!! 

“Bubba? I whisper.  “Bubs did you see something scary in your dreams? While you were sleeping?” His crying instantly lessens and he snuggles a little deeper into me.  “Mamma and Dada are right here, we are always here to keep you safe.” I hold him tight.  “Dreams are pretend even though they make you feel lots of feelings. Mamma and Dada will always be here to help you.” By this point he had stopped crying completley .  He softly murrmured “yeah, yeah” as he fell back to sleep.  He barely opened his eyes, pointed to his bed and asked to be put back in his crib.  It was amazing.

What is amazing isn’t that my husband (though I’ll take the credit) figured out he was having a bad dream. It was that what he needed was to feel, to be with me and have me be calm for him while he was not.  Essentially what he was asking for was for us not to fix it.  Holding him, feeling him and listening to him I didn’t take on any of his emotion.  I was his rock in that moment.  I let him feel what he needed even though I didn’t understand it.  I was able to manage my own confusion and emotion calmly.  Then finally I was able to put words to what he was going through.  Finally he was able to offload it all and fall peacefully back to sleep.

Three cheers for recognizing your child’s truth, staying calm and speaking it out loud (even if your inner voice is unsure).

Thanks for reading!

Melissa

Simple Sunday- The Rhythm of Family

Some weeks we’ve got it, and some weeks we don’t.  By “it” I mean a rhythm to our family life.  I don’t just mean our routine because by necessity we follow a similar routine every weekday.  Get up, make lunches, get dressed, get out the door to school (me and Collin) or work (Dadda).  Then get home, cook, eat, bath and bed.

Our rhythm is that intangible synchronicity where we are all moving together comfortably.  We are working together to keep the house clean, food on the table and laundry folded.  It is when we all feel like we are able to get what we need and give what others are asking for.

Not that we expect perfection (okay, maybe I do sometimes but I am WORKING ON IT!) It doesn’t mean we don’t have goals or issues to work through.  It means that at the end of the day we are okay with what was left undone and happy with what was accomplished. It’s the steady drum beat of family life, calm and welcoming.  When the rhythm is missing its more like an alternative band at practice, you never know if you’re about to hear a lilting ballad or an all-out screaming anthem.  In short, without our rhythm life seems more stressful and less fulfilling.

As mothers we come to learn early on that “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Whether we like it or not how we feel, act and participate in our family has a large effect on the family ‘vibe’.  Through my beginning study on Nonviolent Communication I have come to realize that when I am disconnected from the rhythm of my family it is because I am not getting my needs met.  In truth this is often because I have no clue what my *real* needs are.  If I am overcome by disorder in the house I don’t always recognize that, instead it may come out as frustration with my husband for not picking up enough.  If I need a break for some me time, I may instead lose my patience with Collin.

I can’t force my husband to do anything he doesn’t want to do (and really he does so, so much already) and I can’t control the fact that my two-year-old is, in fact, acting like a two-year-old.  What I do have control over is how I speak to them and if I take enough time to center myself and feel what my true needs really are.  As mammas we all will have moments when we let things go for too long without checking in with ourselves.  We need to take inventory of where our emotions are coming from in order to give ourselves back the power to control how we react to our feelings.

I know I can help our family’s rhythm to keep humming along by recognizing what is bothering me and doing something about it.  I have found it freeing to say to my self, “Self, you feel like you want more order in the house right now, how can we accomplish this? By organizing that pile of papers?” Then I can choose if I really want to organize those papers right now, put it on a list or let it go.  I can let go of trying to control others as I may have done in the past (“Babe will you puh-leeze organize those papers? and um..do it now?”)

Having space to make our own choices and recognize what we all need  helps us all work better as a team.  In the hopes of helping us all (even the littlest among us) to recognize, verbalize and learn about our feelings and needs I have posted the following two lists on our refrigerator.

 Thanks to the Center for Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication Needs List 

NVC Feelings list

I know we’ll continue to come in and out of rhythm, have good weeks and bad weeks.  Part of getting back into the rhythm is just allowing yourself to be a little off sometimes and then jumping back in.

Thanks for reading! Heres to a great week 🙂

 Melissa

The fast pace of life

Since starting this blog I have been overwhelmed by ideas that I am so excited to write and share here.  New ideas come as fast as they go though as I am deep in the work of raising my child and supporting the development of others.  I need a journal, a photographic memory or a secretary to help me record all of the topics I’d love to delve deeper into.  Without this I am at a loss. The school day goes by, diapers get changed, we all get messy, giggle, cry, hug, eat dinner and snuggle up for bed.  Another day starts and another day ends.  I try my hardest to hold on to ideas that excite me.  I try harder still to hold on to each second that is slipping by.  Each second as my quickly growing boy becomes who he will.

That is, until something really hits me.  Sometimes some things in this world sit so deeply in our soul we hope to never forget.  They touch us in a way that shows us something new.  People, ideas, music or art all can move us.  This past week I read an article that gripped me this way.  Then an old friend, now far removed from our busy daily life in California, sent me this same article.

The article is an honest account of daily life with a son who at 18 months doesn’t have more than another 18 months of life left to live.  He is slowly losing a battle with Tay-Sachs disease.  Each day holds a different meaning than the average family’s day.  We spend our days, weeks and months planning for a future we mostly take for granted. High school sports, college tours, wedding days and grand-children.  What if each day was just that.  Just that day.  Just that hug. That warm sun on your back as you watch your baby examine blades of grass.

Of course this article is heart wrenching.  Sad isn’t even the word.  It is a new feeling.  It is so honestly written that it makes you wish you could have that kind of clarity forever.  When she wakes up in the morning there is no thought of making it to music class or helping him become ‘better’ at new skills.  Four hours of cuddling in pajamas would not bring on guilt for time lost, only thankfulness.  How much time do we spend planning, rushing, forging ahead at the cost of ‘NOW’.  It makes me want to be aware, every moment, every second.

My son is my greatest gift.  He was when he was born, and he always will be.  This article gave me an eye-opening reminder of how lucky I am to have him here, now, and tomorrow.  When he was only four weeks old he ended up very ill and there were moments I thought I would lose him.  I felt as if perhaps I wasn’t worthy of this amazing boy and that he would be gone before I could ever really know him.  To survive those weeks I pushed those thoughts away, this article brought them back with vengeance.

My son and all of the kids I share my days with do not think of the future.  They are not wrapped up in anything other than the NOW.  This is such a gift and I need to appreciate them more for it.  To learn from them instead of hurry them up.  The other night, after reading this article, I watched my son hug my husband.  He had asked for an “ugg” from his Dada, wrapped his arms around him and just held himself there.  My husband and I had stuff to do but dishes and litter boxes could wait.  While sitting on my lap Collin hugged his Dada for a good solid few minutes.  Far longer than any adult would deem appropriate to hug another adult.  Being present in the moment was natural for Collin, letting him have the moment was a gift for all of us.

Let this article serve as a reminder to myself to be with my son.  That is all he wants.  Truly that is all he really needs right now.  I hope I can meet the challenge.

On toddler time

Yesterday was a very different day than usually for my little man and me. We are used to routine. Every weekday we get up and get dressed with the help of Dada. We climb haphazardly into ‘mamma car’ and drive off to school. There we share the majority of the day with our little toddler buddies, from breakfast to diaper changes and every adventure in between.

Today however, he and I were alone at home while Mamma had to run loads of errands, some of which included *gasp* using the computer without the help of the bunz. We were on a strict time schedule as I had to be at school/work by the early afternoon. Collin was on toddler time.

I felt the pressure of accomplishing all of this with him before I got out of bed. He was a great help, and for the most part I kept a calm exterior, anxiety taking route in the pit of my stomach. However, as I watched the minutes tick by and felt less getting accomplished I started to feel the anxiety rise within me. I started to rush him slightly. Started to push him past what should be developmentally expected for a toddler. Maybe I even rolled my eyes at him once or twice.

“Come on, just come up the stairs…yes, yes, I see the wall, hold the wall if you want, just come up the stairs!”

Collin bunz looked quizzically into my eyes as if to say “Alright Mamma, I was just discussing it with you, geeze!”

Things got done, I continued to get more tense, and we made it to the door. I asked him to go get his shoes and turned to print something off the computer.

This is what I found

My baby’s big brown eyes staring up at me, in MY black flats, holding a water bottle bigger than his head. Water dribbling down his Elmo shirt. He said “come on Mamma!” As he walked to the door in MY shoes with his huge water bottle.

I felt the question rise in me. Do I wrestle with him to put on his shoes, socks, leave the water bottle behind etc? Lay down the law, show him who was in charge here? Or just LET. IT. GO.

And so I did.

It may not seem like much, moms everyday run around busy, busy, busy. Toddlers push buttons and are not the most cooperative sort.

But on that morning, as he toddled out the door in MY shoes. Climbing into his car seat, with shoes in had and a beaming smile. I knew I chose humor, joy, and maybe a time delay.

I chose gentle, compassionate parenting and I felt at peace for the first time that day.