How To Be Yourself

I feel like now, at the age of 30, I’m starting to really know who I am. I’ve understood pieces, but I think that I’m finally figuring out how the many parts fit together. I’m learning what’s truly important to me, what really matters, the things I want to stand for.

Sometimes I make things so complicated. I turn little molehills into mountains – changing simple everyday choices into monumental decisions that will, in my mind, affect my entire future and determine who I really am.

But in reality, being me should be so simple. I got a lesson on being myself from a sweet little 6 year old last week. It brought me to tears and it hit home in a big way. Here’s his 11 step plan on how to be yourself.

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How To Be Yourself

  1. Do not copy somebody.
  2. Act like you.
  3. Be nice.
  4. Do what you usually do.
  5. Play what you usually play.
  6. Be who you are.
  7. Do what you like to do.
  8. Do your thing.
  9. Help people.
  10. Do what you’re supposed to.
  11. Have grace.

So simple.

So profound.

No catchy phrases.

No quiz determining what your personality type is or what the color of your aura is.

No instructions on figuring out if your true style is hipster or bohemian.

No analysis of whether you are a hands-on parent or a free-spirit parent.

No thoughts on the car you drive, the neighborhood you live in, or the dietary plan you’ve selected for your family.

Simple.

Once again in my classroom, I was the student and my student was the teacher. And I remembered Jesus’ words…
Matthew 18:2-4
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

My hope is that I can learn to be myself in a simple, beautiful way like this little child.  That I can take away the complications and the silly details that don’t matter one little bit.

My hope is that I can remember to just do my thing, be nice, and have grace.  Because that sounds like a Shannon I can be proud of.

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Being a Teacher

I’ve been seeing lots of blog posts and articles written by frustrated teachers in my news feed.  These teachers are writing about frustrations with administrators and the decisions they’re making.  They are frustrated with lawmakers and the constantly changing and growing legislation trickling down to those of us actually inhabiting these classrooms.  They are frustrated with THE TEST and how much it’s changing our profession and our students’ lives.

And I get it.  I understand where they are coming from.  In my nine years as a teacher I’ve seen some decisions made that I didn’t think were best for kids and they made me angry.  I’ve heard stories of educational leaders that sound like tyrants.  I’ve seen THE TEST grow and grow and grow.  I can only imagine how veteran teachers must feel seeing things change so much since they began 20, 30, 40 years ago.  It’s definitely a flawed system.

But as I’ve read these articles I keep coming back to this:  We’re in it for the kids.  We’re not in it for success or fame and we’re definitely not in it for the money.  And while we may not like what’s put upon us from above, the kids coming into our classrooms each day still need the same things.  They need love.  They need acceptance.  They need someone who will put in the time with them.  Someone who will help them learn to think and love to learn.  Isn’t that what being a teacher is all about?

Being a teacher is about teaching, but it’s about so much more than that.

It’s about pushing them to do more than they ever believed they could.

It’s about being that one constant thing when Grandma gets cancer or Mom and Dad split up or big sister dies.  Being constant when their world is crumbling.

Being a teacher may mean being the only smile and hug they get that day.

It’s being the one to introduce them to Jan Brett and Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss and teaching them to love books and reading.

It means being the one to say, “I’m proud of you” and seeing their face light up in a smile.

Being a teacher means watching them perform the dance they “choreographed” last night without laughing and clapping when they finish.

It’s being the one to give them a breakfast bar when they come to school crying because their tummy is rumbling so loudly.

Being a teacher is being the person who notices their fancy haircut or new tennis shoes or missing tooth.

It’s being the one to pull them aside when they just don’t seem okay and letting them talk.

It’s being the one who introduces them to The Golden Rule and using eye contact and respectful body language.

Sometimes being a teacher means being mom and dad, counselor, and motivational speaker.

It’s being the one who wipes their tears when they skin their knee or their dog dies or their cousins move away.

It means being the one who tells them they’re strong and tough and brave when they doubt themselves.

Being a teacher means being the one who watches their amazement when they look back at their writing from nine months ago and can finally see that all their hard work paid off.

It’s being the adult who teaches them to say, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”.

It’s being the one to proudly wear their Rainbow Loom bracelet and tape their painting up on the wall.

It’s being the person who will not accept less than their best and will hold them accountable to be who you know they can be.

Being a teacher is all about teaching.  It’s about teaching them how to add and subtract.  It’s about teaching them how to read and write.  It’s about teaching them how to think.  But it’s also about teaching them what love looks like, every single day.

And no matter what laws are passed and how big and scary THE TEST gets, love will always be the same.

New

There is something beautiful about a fresh start.

A newborn baby with a clean slate.
The first gleam of the sun on a new morning.
An empty page waiting to be written on.

Doesn’t the beginning of school feel like that?  Everything’s new.  It’s a fresh start for all of us.  As I look around my classroom, the “sharp” cup for pencils is full – all of them anticipating making their first marks.  Crayons still have their points and their full wrappers.  Bulletin boards are empty, ready to exhibit our learning.  Each desk has a nametag, but no substance yet.  Journals are blank, scissors are in packages, and our charts are bare.  The floors are still shiny from their summer waxing, unsullied from the muddy feet that are to come.

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And I am new too.  Each August I get a chance to begin my school year as the teacher I want to be.  The lethargy I felt in April is gone.  The mistakes I made last year are wiped away and I get a fresh slate — sparkly and brand new.  I get the opportunity to introduce myself to 21 little people who I will spend the next 9 months with.

One looks me square in the eye and shakes my hand.

Another hides behind his mom, peeking out from between her legs, trying to size me up.

A little girl shyly whispers, “Do you still have your turtle?”.

A boy marches in like he owns the place, and gives his dad the grand tour.

Each child comes in with a story.  Their story.  It’s theirs to tell and theirs to share.  I am so blessed to get to help them tell it.  And just as importantly, I get to be a character in it.  I get a role in this chapter of their story — a chance to impact the way the rest of their novel will play out.  I can play the nemesis, throwing obstacles and discouragement in their way.  I can choose to tear them down and spend my days just getting by.

Or I can choose to be the one to make the difference.  The one who stands beside them against all odds — encouraging them, believing in them, pushing them to do things they never imagined they could.  I can be the one who gives them the only hug they’ll get that day.  I can be the one who tells them I’m proud of them when they feel like they don’t deserve it.  I can be the one who helps light the flame of a passion for learning.  I can be the one to say, “You’re a reader!” when they didn’t think they could be.  I can be the one who shows them a little piece of Jesus’ love for them.  Lord, in this new year, help me be the one.

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Mother’s Day

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not an artistic or craftsy person.  Most of the time when I try a new project with Claire that I’ve seen someone else do or seen on Pinterest (evil, evil Pinterest), they turn out with me swiftly exiting the kitchen into the laundry room to do some deep breathing and get myself under control.  (I try to ensure that Claire’s proximity to my wall punching and yelling is at least one room away.)  I tend to plan crafts that look very simple but are not.   Plus, Claire is 3 and I’m pretty sure that most of the pinned projects that claim they’re done by children are actually performed by said children’s mothers.  Just my opinion, of course.

I am happy to say that for Mother’s Day this year I successfully completed a pinterest project with 20 first graders AND completed 2 projects with Claire.  All of this, and only one trip to the laundry room!  I am growing.  Please, be impressed.

For my mom and my MIL, Claire painted canvases.  This was actually not inspired by Pinterest, but inspired by my recent trip to Pinot’s Palette.  Imagine that – real life inspiring a craft!  How strange.  Anyway, we bought a two-pack of canvases at Wal-Mart for $5 and let Claire do her thing.  We used Tempera paint, little paint brushes, and a paper plate – easy peasy!  She decided to paint a rainbow for Mamaw (my mom), and 3 sunshines for Gammy (my MIL).  As we began, Claire scribbled with a pencil on one canvas and I simultaneously dropped a huge glob of green paint onto it.  (Cue trip to laundry room while Chris tries to clean up the mess.)  The canvas cleaned up very nicely, and after the painting was finished, I can barely make out one of the pencil marks.  I loved just watching Claire go to town on her paintings.  She did such a good job, and  her grandmothers love them!

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The best part is that Chris saw how excited I got over these and secretly bought more supplies so that Claire could paint one for me.  They also sent me for a pedicure.  So sweet, those two.

My first graders made their moms the sweetest cards.  They each wrote a letter to glue inside, and then we painted the front of the card.  We tried the ‘painting flowers with the bottoms of soda bottles’ idea, and it was simple and successful.  (We also did this at home for Claire’s teacher appreciation cards, and they looked pretty cute too.)  I cannot tell you how triumphant I felt on the day we worked on these.  Really, when you’re a non-crafter like me, you have to celebrate these small victories!

Here’s how the front of my kids’ cards turned out.

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And here’s one of the letters that I thought was so sweet.  The translation is below if needed.

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Dear Mom,
Happy Mother’s Day!  Thank you for everything I have.  You’re the best. You’re so sweet.  You are so helpful.  You are the most kind person I know.  You are so awesome!  There’s no way I can make it without you.
From,
<Student>

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Dear Mommy,
Happy Mother’s day.  You are a blessing to me.  Have a good Mother’s day!  You are the best Mommy in the world!  I love your smoothies.  You are loving.  You are caring!  I love you with all my heart and bones.
Love,
<Student>

I love you with all my heart and bones???  Can you get more precious?

Then there’s this letter.

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Dear Mom
I miss you a lot infinity and beyond and you live in <City> and it is a long time to get there.  I miss you infinity and beyond.  Mom you are nice a lot cuz I never see you in a long time ago.
Love,
<Student>

My heart breaks for sweet babies like this.  I just want to take this child home with me and make the world right for him.  I want to love him so much that all the pain in his life turns to joy.  Kids shouldn’t have to miss their moms to infinity and beyond.  They shouldn’t have to say they’ve never seen them since a long time ago.  These precious children are carrying burdens that would break an adult’s heart.  Lord, help us.

I am so very blessed.  I have an incredible mom.  Throughout my life she has been a constant source of love, support, and encouragement.  She loves her family fiercely and always pushed us to be the best we could be.  Everything I learned about being a mom I learned from her example, and I am thankful beyond words that God made me her daughter.

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I’m also blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law who has welcomed me into her family and made me feel so loved.  She is such a godly woman – always lifting us up in prayer.  She is full of joy and shares it with everyone around her.  I am so grateful for her!

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Of course you know how I feel about Claire.  I don’t even know how to express how deep my love is for this sweet girl.  Every single day she makes me laugh, makes me proud, makes my heart feel like it’s just too full of love.  I never knew how strongly, fiercely, passionately I would love as a mother, but now I do, and I love how much I love her.

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This Mother’s Day there was another special woman on my heart.  I’ve never met her and I don’t know what she looks like.  I don’t even know her name, but soon she will change our family more than anyone else ever has.  She is our birthmom.  When I think of her, I pray for courage and wisdom for her, and strength as she makes the decision she will.  Most of all, I pray a prayer of thanks for the love that she has for the child that will someday be mine.

Pecker Peck Peckerman

Voting is almost a daily occurrence in first grade.  We vote about what to do for inside recess; we vote about which new book is our class favorite; we vote about what prize to choose when we fill up our gumball jar.  We’ve had lots of great voting moments, but hands down, my favorite vote occurred just a couple weeks ago.

Let’s back up just a bit…

For the first time, our elementary school was given the opportunity to hatch baby chicks.  I was so excited and I signed up right away.  I e-mailed the company, my principal paid $20, and 2 weeks later our eggs and incubator arrived.

The kids were ecstatic…and so was I!  The eggs somehow seemed so different from the eggs we all had at home in our refrigerators.  We saw their promise – the hope that lay in each one.  Just as all good parents do, we held their futures in our hearts.

Each morning as the kids came into the classroom, they rushed straight to the incubator.  There were lots of false labor alerts – the kids were ready for hatch day about 3 days after the eggs were laid. It was a long journey, but finally, on Valentine’s Day, our lone little chick made his debut in our world.

He worked so hard to make his way out of the shell.  It took him all morning and after he was done, he just lay in the incubator, exhausted.  I don’t think I have ever FELT so much excitement in my classroom.  It was palpable.  The kids were thrilled beyond belief – so in love, so proud, so full of joy and life and wonder.  It was such a beautiful day.

Our little chick spent the afternoon in the incubator drying off, and after school Claire and I came up to take him out.  She was the first one to hold the little guy.  It was a magical moment that I will never forget.

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The next day my kids had a big decision on their hands.  They had to come up with a name to suit our favorite little bird.  Here’s where the voting came in.  There were lots of great name options put on the list – Lou, Chick-fil-A, and Pete were a few of my favorites.  But there was one name that stood out above all the others.  Really, it blew them all away.

Pecker Peck Peckerman.

Yes, Pecker.  And that is the name that won the vote, hands-down.  Democracy ruled in my classroom, and we named our chick Pecker.  The night before when Claire and I went up to hold him the first time, she named him Glory Glory Hallelujah – I feel that this slightly redeems him from his less holy name bestowed upon him by my students.

My little scientists kept personal logs to record his growth and development.  They did such a good job and we all learned so much.

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Every single day after school Claire made sure to come up and check on little Pecker (sadly, she quickly conformed to calling him by his class-given name).  Even on the day she stayed home sick with a high fever, she insisted on coming up to my classroom to visit the little guy.  Here she is trying to give him a hug.  He didn’t love these displays of affection.

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The sad thing about chicks is that they grow up so fast.  Even faster than children.  Within 2 weeks, Pecker was not a cute little chick anymore.  He had grown-up feathers, tried to peck at me on a regular basis, and pooped on the carpet EVERY SINGLE TIME we got him out of his cage.  I was definitely ready to say goodbye, and happily, a sweet little boy from my class got to take him home.  Claire, on the other hand, was not ready for her little friend to grow up and leave her.  Here she is saying goodbye to him.  It really was terribly sad – she was heartbroken.

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My students handled it a little better, and were glad Pecker was going to such a good home.  Hatching our tiny chick was an amazing experience and I am grateful for the learning, wonder, and delight that I got to share with my precious kids.