Friday, August 22, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me - Getting Older and Wiser Makes Me Young and Grateful

Today I turn 31 years old. In many ways I am the same as I was when I was 12. I am a deep thinker, love to laugh, a bit dramatic, love movies, love hanging out with friends, love to eat, hate the words "squat" "beef" and "moist", love my family, love school, love to coordinate colors, love going to church, and could eat pasta, French fries, and ice cream at every meal without tiring of it!

But I am thankful several things have changed since even just turning 25.

When I turned 25, I had a nervous breakdown. I was 1/4 dead ,on the upside, and I hadn't achieved anything I really wanted to. I thought I was old and had nothing to show for it!

At 31, I realize I am still quite young, and that the things I wanted to achieve are unachievable... Because they are things that can only be given by God! And I am thankful He has blessed me in spite of how little I deserve any of it!

Today I am a wife to a good man - my best friend, a mother of 2 adorable kids, and a person accepting of myself enough to post a selfie without any makeup on! Not long ago I would have died if someone had even just owned a picture of me without my "face" on, let alone show the world!

And I get another day to celebrate in traditional family style - breakfast chocolate cake, warm out of the oven with butter :) We have now added tea to our tradition now, and yes even the traditional "clink".

Here's to hopefully many more years of caring more about what God has given me than what I can earn or buy, and caring more about who I am inside and how that affects the world around me more than what I look like on the outside! Here's to years full of days, good and bad, that add up to making a full life!

My cup runneth over!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"It was the best of times..." - A Decade of Teaching: Part 3

I'll be honest and say that as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed yesterday morning and saw all of the "1st Day of School" photos, I cried.  I laughed at myself too, but I had actual tears coming down my cheeks looking at pictures of other people's kids headed off to school...

What?!  Why?!

I guess because my day had absolutely nothing to do with school.  I am not teaching, and my kids are too young to attend school.  It was also a day when I watch a friend's little girl, and since we do not have a vehicle that will haul 3 kids around... I couldn't even drive by a school.

Now, I know that sounds like a silly thing to be sad about, but I feel this way because school is a great place!  As I have mentioned in the first 2 parts of this blog series, I have spent most of my life at school.

I didn't cry because I am miserable staying home, because I'm not at all!  We are having a blast, and the days do not fly by as quickly as they did when I worked.  Hours actually feel like hours, instead of minutes!  I love that!

But this was the first time I did not have a "1st day of school" since I was 4-years-old (well, I turned 5 a week after my first day of school).
My first day of school. Kindergarten 1988

Part 1 focused on an overall feeling of what teaching means to me, and how my first year went.  Part 2 focused on some of the worst difficulties I faced in teaching.  Now, I would like to think back on some of the best memories I have teaching.

Granted, some of these best moments could only happen because some hardships happened first, and I would say that is true of life in all aspects.  Some of the greatest years in teaching, for me, were because my students were well-behaved, or because they liked to ask questions and explore for answers.  Sometimes it was because they had great senses of humor and got along well.  Sometimes it was because we had recess at the end of the day, and so there was always something for the kids and I to look forward to every afternoon (and an extra incentive to behave).  And along the way, there were individual students, coworkers, and families that stole a special place in my heart!  Here are just a few:

My first students were actually someone else's who had to have emergency spinal surgery in the middle of the year.  So I got thrown into a teaching position with 3 different classes of 5th graders teaching 2 subjects.  These kids were awesome!  We had mock trials and debates, which are difficult concepts for kids that age.  We had a mock government with Checks and Balances.  We wrote journals and funny stories.  I set up a reward system, and almost every kid would earn recess and treats on Friday because they were so great!

The next year was my first real class where they started with me from day 1.  That was the first time I had ever met 10-year-old girls who owned pink rifles and shot deer.  We made collages of our own silhouettes, and they were to fill their shape with things that let others know about who they are.  There were just as many pictures of dead deer and smiling faces on the girls' projects as the boys'.  We would do "Quick-writes" every day where I or one of the students would present a quote or song or poem, and then we would all write about it and talk about it.  If we had had coffee, we would have been the coolest place and people to hang out with!

Even bad things that usually happen to teachers went really well for me!  The first time one of my students ever had head lice, the girl came up to me as we were entering class first thing in the morning and said, "Miss Kruse, I think I have head lice, can I go see the nurse?"  My answer was an immediate, "Absolutely!"  No one else got it!  The only injury I ever had a student have was when a kid broke his arm on the playground.  He stood up in shock, holding his arm above the break... and the rest of his arm dangled in a scary and disgusting way.  He said, "Do I go to the nurse?"  And my mind had been blank until he said that because I was horrified by what I saw... So I grabbed his best friend and told him to walk the kid to the nurse... see, easy :)

The students wanted me to race them on the last day of school during the first year... (I will always remember this was early in my career, because I came in 2nd place)!  And it kind of became tradition until I got pregnant and slow!

One year there were 2 girls that took a hyperactive boy under their wing.  They helped him stay focused and calm.  He was a mess, but we all loved him!  Whenever he started to get out of hand, the kids would help him refocus and stay on task before I could even say anything!  Years later the hyperactive student wrote me a note that I had been his favorite teacher, but if he really thought about it, it was his fellow students who really made that year special!  He also thanked me for letting them chew gum during tests... I don't know, I guess that really meant a lot to him for him to remember such a thing!

And that was a common sight at school - kids looking out for other kids. I have had students who were in a wheelchair, autistic, hyperactive, or spoke no English... and the other students gladly helped them, many times without an adult asking them to.

The kids helped us the year we got our SmartBoards the most.  Sure, we had trainings and webinars... but we learned quickly that if you don't know how to work technology, let a kid figure it out!  We actually made a student task force who would go help teachers figure out their interactive board issues - the kids LOVED it!

The student who sang in class all the time without realizing he was doing it.  

The student who had a huge crush on me and "proposed" with a ring pop.  I said no, naturally, but he let me keep the ring pop.

Those students who were struggling in Math and Reading, and didn't mind that I kept them in during P.E. so they could reach their goals.  They LOVED seeing their scores go up each week, and they all met their goals.

The students who felt comfortable enough to ask me to pray for them.

The students who invited me to their baptisms.  Church choirs.  Basketball games.

The ones who wrote me thank you letters.  I have kept them all.  And until now they always hung on the wall by my computer so I could reread them on bad days. 

The ones who loved books we read in class, especially if they initially told me they hated reading.

The fun we had at class parties - photo booth fun, "Do You Love Your Neighbor?", the Newspaper game, and chalkprints!

Our Pioneer Day, Incredible Pizza, Skating, Bowling, and BizTown!

When students would say, "I get it!" and smile from ear to ear!

Some of the first teachers I worked with on the 5th grade team became like family to me!  Seriously, we talked about our families, brainstormed ideas for issues we were having in class, and cracked ourselves up.  We were loud when we got together, and it made coming to work so much fun!  Linda and Yvonne were like second mothers to me.  Penny became like my sister.  They made me laugh so much it hurt during lunch for those first couple of years.  The day after Kyle and I started dating, my fellow teachers took me out to lunch (it was an inservice day) so I could tell them The Story!  They threw me a shower when we got married and when I had Emersyn 2 years later.

I had a couple of administrators who helped me when I cried in their office.  They were kind and offered helpful suggestions.  They supported me when parents or kids made false claims or complained about trivial things.

They voted me as Teacher of the Year - for PreK-12th grade during my 4th year of teaching.  Since it is voted on by your peers, that is a pretty good pat on the back feeling right there!

There were so many parents who helped during trips and parties.  They wrote me thank you notes.  They kept me smelling good too with all those Bath & Body presents at Christmas and End of the Year activities.  They also helped me gain some weight... a lot of teachers have the chubbs because kids and coworkers are always bringing cookies, donuts, brownies, etc! 

I have loved those parents who asked to meet with me to seek resources on what they could be doing at home to help their child catch up in a weak area.  The parents who let me sit by them at ballgames and recitals.

One family came and visited me after I had Emersyn - I had had all 3 of their kids in class!

Other team members at Westville came and went who were dear as well.  The mother of 3 who was in her first year of teaching while her husband was in Iraq... and she was still enthusiastic and creative at work!  The teacher next door who loved music and reading, and her students caught her contagious love for learning.  The single mom who never stopped - she taught, ran her own side business (as many teachers have to do to make ends meet), barrel raced, and kept us rolling with laughter at lunch!

My favorite parents have been the ones who supported my classroom management!  I had one mom call me and ask if I threatened to put her son in the closet because he wouldn't stop talking in class.  I answered, "No, I told him I had tried everywhere but the closet and he still hadn't learned how to work first and visit with his neighbor second."  She told me that she wanted him to think that he was going to be sitting in the closet if he didn't focus!  That cracked me up!  It worked too!

At Tahlequah, there were also so many fellow teachers who shared ideas with me and helped me solve difficult cases.  They shared curriculum with me.  They would help me laugh during lunch after a rough morning.  At first I felt overwhelmed when I changed schools because I was the department head of a team of 4 teachers... at Tahlequah there were 12 5th grade teachers alone!  And I had to learn all new curriculum, schedules, campus, administrators, procedures, rules, gradebook and lesson plan formats, etc... but these ladies walked with me every step of the way.  They also welcomed my ideas too, which is hard to find at schools sometimes.  They weren't intimidated by new people and change - they embraced it all!  And they threw me a shower when I had Keegan!

There are so many stories and people that made those years a blessing; there is no way I could mention them all.  But I remember, and I am grateful!

Perhaps teachers get so vehement when people from the outside bring critical comments because school is more than just school... it is more than just a job (which is why teachers have a hard time treating it like it is just a job).  I'm not saying it is better or harder than other jobs, at least not all jobs, but perhaps I am saying that it is vitally important to the very fabric of our families and neighborhoods and towns and futures.

I will say there is a lot wrong with public school, but there are a lot of things right too - and I have met many of them - great kids and loving adults.

The school bus goes by my house twice a day, and my dear friends that are teaching can know that each time I see it I will pray for you!

May the Lord bless you in your efforts to inspire and educate and mold the young minds He had made you stewards of this school year!

Happy Back-to-School!!!

Monday, August 11, 2014

"...It was the worst of times"... A Decade of Teaching: Part 2.

IT IS AUGUST!!!  Kids everywhere are eager to see their friends again while dreading the soon-to-fill-their-backpack homework!  Some parents are sad, most are rejoicing!  Back to school!  Back to school!

August has probably been my favorite month of the year for most of my life, and NO, it isn't because my birthday is on the 22nd (although, it definitely helps this month sail past the month of December in the contest)!  I have always loved August, because I have always LOVED school!

No, seriously.  Always.  Notice I didn't say that I always loved doing school work... but I loved school!

I was raised by teachers.  My parents weren't just teachers, but they both coached as well.  They taught summer school and had practices after school.  They had after-school meetings.  My dad was a football coach for the longest time, and I think I went to my first game when I was a week old!  There were others in my family as well.  My grandfather was a custodian and school board member.  I have several aunts and cousins who are or have been teachers.  

I have always been at school.  Writing on a chalkboard.  Banging chalk out of erasers.  Cleaning out assignment trays.  Counting quoted words in Senior English research papers.  Eating a snack in the corner and coloring during summer school.  Sitting in the bleachers watching the football players run plays at practice.

August means so many things!  As a kid it meant I was another year older, taller, smarter.  Another year of beginnings, possibilities, challenges, and opportunities!  A new teacher, a new backpack, new clothes, folders, and notebooks (it is always so difficult to make that first mark in a new notebook)... It meant football was starting!  And art class.  Being with friends again for several hours of the day, at least 5 days a week! And hanging out with them at the small diner across the street from school.

So, I became a teacher, because I loved school so much as a student. I just knew I would love school as a teacher.  And for 10 years, I did.  Not every single moment, but most of the time, even the bad days were days I was still thankful to teach.  To be in a classroom.  And to see "August" when I flipped the calendar page.

But as a student, I hadn't realized what chaos can occur in your life when you deal with other people on a daily basis like this!  I quickly learned that schools could become extremely rich if privacy laws were revoked and schools became reality TV shows... the ratings would be through the roof!  It has everything - comedy, drama, horror!  Conflict runs rampant in schools for a bzillion different reasons and different times, and I'm telling you that the world would be glued to their TVs each night watching, listening!  And for every conflict there are 3 heartwarming stories that would make the toughest guy cry!

You can't make this stuff up!

Believe me, bad years are real!  They happen about every other year.  I am not sure why.  Most teachers I have ever talked to have experienced this phenomenon.  You'll have a really great year, and then a not so great year.  And the reasons they are great or bad actually are rarely the same.

Of course, we tell you that they are all wonderful years, classes, etc... we do that because we are hopeful creatures by nature.  We don't always tell the truth, we tell the truth that we hope for and are working for.  We keep our eyes on the goal, because so much is a stake!

Some of the worst of times were due to what I was having to teach - subject(s), number of students, or curriculum/assessment materials I couldn't stand.  Sometimes it was because I had a classroom full of kids that if they were alone were great, but they didn't know how to get along with other kids.  And sometimes there was that one kid who made everyone else's life miserable.

For two years all I taught was Writing - to 80 5th graders a day.  That was so much grading, I thought I was going to go blind!  It wasn't just the amount of essays and stories; it was their handwriting too!  Inventive spelling and self-created handwriting leads to long nights for the Writing teacher!

For two years, I was self-contained... one of those semesters, I had a full-intern, and to be honest, it took both of us working all schoolday and some after school to get everything I would like to be able to do in a classroom in an ideal world as one teacher.  I hated being self-contained!  I am in AWE of teachers who do that day in and day out, year after year!

And then sometimes it was the students... and really the kids weren't the problem.  There is always something deeper going on, something that takes more than me, textbooks, a list of rules in order to get to the deeper stuff and still teach by 3 in the afternoon!

The student who had stomach issues and could make himself vomit on purpose to get out of work...  I would keep a bucket under his desk at all times in case he "got sick", and often he would puke in the carpet while looking at me and smiling.  I actually wanted to adopt him and make sure he KNEW someone cared enough about him to give him boundaries and know where he was or what he was doing.

The student who tested positive for drugs (yes, in 5th grade)...  He told me, "I might not be able to focus today, because I have been smoking pot."  When I asked him which counselor told him that that is what pot would do to him, he responded, "How did you know the counselors said that?".  I replied that the counselors told him about the effects of pot so that he wouldn't do it anymore, not so that he would use it as an excuse to not pay attention in class.  See, that kid was actually quite smart; but sadly he had been taught how to use his energy and intelligence for working the system instead of achieving something great.

There are those students who would throw furniture and cuss at me when they got mad.  Or carve my name with obscenities into the classroom furniture.  I was shocked to learn that this was not only happening in my classroom.

Or the student who stole constantly... so much so that she had to finish the school year in In-School Suspension... of course this was during research time.  And how does a student do research when they aren't allowed to go to the library?!  The teachers bring the library to her - under supervision of course, because she might steal it!

I had students falsely accuse me of abuse (but I was glad to see that one actually apologized for it to my face years later, which I thought was very brave and noble of him).  They were the same kids that had failed my class that term for not turning in their research projects.  What they didn't know was that it killed me to put those Fs on their report cards.  It broke my heart.  And it broke even more when they came against me.  I wish they'd known how much I hated to give them the consequence their laziness deserved.

I had students who thought it would be funny to sneak into my phone so they could have my number, and they would prank call me constantly.

I had a student one year whose mother told him if he went to bed on time, he didn't have to go to school the next day.  He missed a lot of school, obviously.  When he was there, he was usually in trouble.  And it broke my heart when he asked me during his state writing test where "the dots go"... it took me a while to realize he meant periods.  He was 10 years old and didn't know how to use a period.  I tried constantly to contact the parent, and the only time I ever saw her was the day after I took his cell phone away.

I have had numerous students that caused such trouble in my classroom, but they are just kids!  Sometimes I would get so angry and want to hold a grudge against them, and then I would realize... they are just kids!  So many of them had missed too much school, too many skills were lacking, didn't know how to respect authority, couldn't read, couldn't write, or didn't have any friends.  I  wanted to fix all of that for them, and sometimes I could help.  I'm sad to say that more often than not, I didn't fix much for them.  I hope I'm wrong.  I hope that in some way they felt more cared for than they showed me.

And that is one of the toughest things about teaching - many times we have no clue if we made a difference or not.  It is a job that requires a lot of hope and faithfulness.

I have had several situations where it wasn't the kid that caused issues, it was the parents.  I had a mother once cry and tell me she was afraid of her 10-year-old son.  I found that interesting, because I had never been scared of him all school year, but I thought he cried too much for a child his age.  I saw why when I realized that all he had to do was kick, scream, and cry, and she would promise him the moon just to get him to stop.

It is amazing how often a parent/teacher conference turns into a counseling session... except I am no counselor!

I have had students who were perfectly normal mentally, physically, and emotionally, but parents were trying so hard to get them diagnosed with something - anything.  I had a parent once ask for meetings constantly because she thought her son had a disability that he had been tested for by 3 schools and several doctors... and she was still looking for another opinion.

Or the family that harrassed me about teaching students about the Holocaust, slavery, and Americans taking Native land... the family told me that their son wasn't getting to read anything about his own heritage or culture.  It was not received well when I pointed out that all the bad guys in the books we were reading were white, and so technically we were reading "white history" too (I'm white, and I wasn't offended).

The hardest times were when someone experienced death during the school year.  One of my students died in a house fire.  She had been in an abusive home, and had just been moved to foster care... and then she died in her sleep during a fire in the middle of the night.  I hope those last weeks of her life were peaceful.

I have had several students lose a parent during the school year.  Car wrecks.  Cancer.  Drugs.  And I wanted to help them so much, but wasn't sure if anything was ever enough.  I attended funerals.  Told them I was praying for them, and asked them how they were doing more often.

I have watched numerous students' grades drop drastically after their parents get divorced.  Or go to jail.  Or just leave without saying where they have gone or when they will be back.

I'm telling you, teaching is not for the weak... and that first year I was terrified, weak, and on the edge of losing it!  Hopefully they didn't notice, but I'm not naive.  It was probably written all over my face every day!

The crazy part is that the 3 schools I worked for were awesome places to work!  These were not rough neighborhoods or inner city places with gangs and the like.  They were just ordinary places that now each own a special place in my heart and always will!  Yes, even with all these incidents and more... school is like a home away from home.  The family I have had when I was away from family.  And don't we take the bad with the good?

Many of my first 5th grade students are turning 20 this year, or already have, and I will say it is comforting to know that so many of them can at least read, get into college, hold jobs, etc!

Believe me, it had nothing to do with me being a great teacher, I am saying that I am relieved that I didn't screw them up for life!!! I had no idea what I was doing, no one really does in the beginning.  And as each year comes and goes, with its twists, turns, and celebrations, you learn the art of teaching.

To all teachers, administrators, and staff going back to school, I salute you!  May this year be your finest masterpiece yet!

And to those who know a teacher... show them some love for no reason other than you appreciate what they do!  Encourage them!  Send them an email, a card... send them some chocolate and EXPO markers!!!

Because almost every one of them would still say on the roughest day that it is worth it.  They love it.  A bad day only gets them motivated to get out of bed the next day to fix it!

If you knew what it felt to have people support you as a teacher, you would voice your support more often!  There is no telling what a teacher can do who feels like they aren't fighting the world to get these kids to learn and feel loved.

These were the worst of times... but the best times far outweigh them!  Part 3 is definitely the best of times!

Loved these kids!  Yes, even the ornery ones!!! This was my first homeroom class! I'm on the far right if you can't find me, since some are my height or taller!  Aren't they so adorable?

I read them the lyrics from "Fingerprints of God" by Steven Curtis Chapman on the last day of school, and I meant EVERY WORD!

I can see the fingerprints of God
When I look at you
I can see the fingerprints of God
And I know it's true
You're a masterpiece
That all creation quietly applauds
And you're covered with the fingerprints of God

Never has there been and never again
Will there be another you
Fashioned by God's hand
And perfectly planned
To be just who you are
And what He's been creating
Since the first beat of your heart
Is a living breathing priceless work of art...

I can see the fingerprints of God
When I look at you
I can see the fingerprints of God
And I know it's true
You're a masterpiece
That all creation quietly applauds
And you're covered with the fingerprints of God

Just look at you
You're a wonder in the making
Oh, and God's not through, no
In fact, He's just getting started...

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Kyle and I discussed several dreams for our life together, when we decided to make a life together, and one of them is to someday adopt at least one child...

If I recall correctly, which I think I do, we said that we would have a total of 4 kids, including any children we adopt... Kyle says that we agreed on having 4 biologically AND adopting more! And he is even more convinced now that we are already halfway to the total, and we are loving every minute so much!

The funny thing is, having kids is such a delight! I don't think I want a dozen or anything like that, but raising children is such a joy! I think I am opening my mind to renegotiating what I KNOW were the original plans...

With our increasing heartbreak over abortion and our zealous hopes for babies being given life, I can't stop reading about anything to do with the topic and thinking about what we can do, even though we are only one couple with no earthly power or wealth of any significant consequence.

We can love, raise, and cherish children who will not be able to be raised by their birth parents.

So I have been doing a ton of research, and I recently read about an adoption agency that has hopeful adoptive parents make a Shutterfly book telling about who they are. Then birth mothers look through the books and choose a couple that way... And I think that is the most awesome idea! When the birth mom chooses a couple, she keeps the photo book... What a keepsake!

Of course, someone might need to be a little crazy to pick us, but that's beside the point!

Well, and the fact that we have a 3-month old son and just bought a house... Obviously we won't be adopting for a while, but a book like that will take a while to make, right? :)

Soooo... yeah, once I get an idea in my head, and I get any spare time... I can't let it go! I should have spent my time last night blogging about the ever-growing list of topics I have been collecting while our internet has been on the fritz, but while my husband was gone overnight for work and my babies asleep in their beds I spent 4 hours going through pictures and downloading them to start the process of making such a book...

Going through all these photos made me fall in love with my hubby and babies all over again!

Our first picture as a couple, I think 2 weeks into our courtship.  We were on our way to Kyle's sister's wedding.  The first time I met his family... that's a funny story!!! 

This picture cracks me up!  I put it on our wedding invitations :) 

Engagement Photos

For our first anniversary, we took a vacation to Memphis... I LOVE that place!  In fact, it is only a half-day drive... I sometimes ask Kyle if we can go have ribs on Beale Street.

He always says no :( 

We are major LOST fans!!!  Here we are representing our favorite LOST couple for Halloween!

We like to have fun, no matter the situation!  Here we are, expecting Emersyn!

Our daughter, Emersyn Elise

Expecting Keegan

Our son, Keegan Russell

And we are still in love and having a great time!