Teaching – A Journey of Sorts

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Teaching – A Journey of Sorts

Teaching, a family of sorts, has ranks in my top 5 favorite things.  The connection to our youth, educating, nurturing of young minds, and the development of learners has been a daily part of my last 17 years in education.  I love the journey that students and I travel in our four years together.

In recent years, my room has transitioned into a haven of sorts.  Besides learning and teaching each other, we laugh, cry, support, and uplift.  Students see this space and our department, Special Education, as a family.  Sure every family has ups and downs, problems and causes for celebrations.  What family also has, is a bond.  Our department has created this safe space through a bond of trust.  Not a day passes without a student sharing fears, tears, or laughs.  Not an hour slips by without a face just popping up or a quick email to say hi.  Not a week trickles past without one of us having a conversation about life, the future, and “the plan”.  Students are on this education journey and in most ways, we are tour guides.

We lead them around the curriculum, hoping they soak in the knowledge.  We show them the better paths for exploration, but allow self-direction and exploration.  Like the old saying goes, “we can lead them to the water, but cannot force them to drink”.  I have witnessed incredible personal growth, determination, and learning come from our shared students.  Our department is a home for many souls looking for a caring face, some tough love, a welcomed ear, or just a place away from the high school daily storm.  This haven, it’s what keeps me excited about education, searching for new techniques, and ready for each day.

I am not just a classroom teacher for these students.  I am mom.  An advisor.  A counselor.  A cheerleader.  And much more.  Special education has my heart. I love the smaller class sizes, the journey from rambunctious freshmen to independent seniors, working weaknesses into strengths, and together, this small core group, seeing each other through great growth.

Education for me is creating a safe haven for failure and growth.  One cannot have the growth and success without stumbles, failure, along the way.  After four years, together my students and I go through a lot of wonderful learning.  About life, education, family, friends, and everything in between.

Now that may change.  My educational vision is being challenged, perhaps changed.  I am a classroom teacher, that’s where my heart lies.  Never have I visioned my role in education as a layover, a place for students to pop in and out for minutes of support.  A room for students to drop in and gain academic support and head off.  I love to teach, plain and simple.  I love having a classroom full of learners and together seeing each other through pathways of understanding, acceptance, and life.  Education, special education specifically, has always been about that journey.

What do I do if my idea of education, my career, my heart is being called to change?  Forced to reexamine why I am in special education, I sit and think.  Think and ponder.  Ponder and be still.   And still, that’s where I find myself remembering the why, the why I went into special education.

The why?  That’s simple, it’s the journey.  Excuse me while I go back to researching ways to reach and teach this wonderful population.  They are why I love teaching.

Better Than a Blue Ribbon

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Each morning a small group gathers outside my classroom door waiting for the key to unlock their home away from home. While I stow away my winter gear, a few wander about, turning on lights and checking the temp. We chat about last night’s events, the latest flick (even though I’m clueless unless it’s a Dreamworks or Disney production), newest drama run down, mostly about life. This group keeps me centered in a lot of areas. Usually I’m reminded that my hair is disheveled…perhaps oohs about my jewelry…a mention that my mascara is smeared…an occasional compliment on the outfit, or random remark about my overall “look”. They check in before lunch incase I’m needing a tea or a little lunch pick me up. For most, we will grow together as an educational family over the 4-5 years of high school.

Amongst this group is a bubbly, sweet lady. My colleague and I are her pushing her to meet and surpass many family obstacles. The first to go to college, not get pregnant at 18, and to get a career beyond minimum wage; she can do it, we have faith in her. Today it was my day to learn from her. Outside her friends and secure special education class, she’s quiet, shy, and watcher instead of her usual leader role. This day, she set her nerves aside and read aloud to her general education class a poem written about me. Better than a blue ribbon, national award, or administrative thumbs up is the honest words of a teenager. Here are Miss A’s wonderful words. This deserves a frame.

Sometimes Mrs. Ziemelis
can be overzealous.
She is very short, in height,
and still very delight.
From her glasses to her dark brown hair,
from the beautiful jewelry that she bares.
She is like no other,
but a wonderful mother.
The fun of her personality,
and she has mentality.
The smile on that face,
can never be replaced.
From what she teaches,
is what she preaches.
From the helping hand,
to the smiles that stands.
Mrs. Ziemelis’s beauty
can be fruity.

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Here is Miss A hanging out with my youngest at a Christmas gathering. She’s a sweetie!

I’m Okay with Average

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Recently I had someone tell me that my child was not the “best” _________.  This was not a news flash as I don’t expect my children to be the best.  No feelings were hurt.  Best is a word that I try to tip toe around.

What I expect is that our children never give up, that they follow through on whatever task, sport, or group that they commit to.  He or she should be the best him or her; an individual best, not an overall best.  If our children excel at striving for personal perfection while rarely seeing #1 ranking, I’m okay with that.  If he goes through life pushing his skills beyond individualized best, but falls in the middle of the pack, I’m okay with that.  If our middle E, wins some games and loses some opportunities, yet gains insight on learning life lessons on loss, I’m okay with that.

Yes, I am okay with average.  No I am not accepting mediocrity, instead I  am challenging our children to continue to strive.  Being the best at a task means he or she has solidly beat out all others in that select task.  Is that possible?  Yes.  Will it happen for our children? Perhaps.  Most likely and existing in reality is the fact that our children may spend their lifetime striving for that elite status.  Falling flat may and will happen.  They could be destined for middle of the pack and again, that’s okay.

I am not celebrating the ordinary or the unexceptional.  Rather I am teaching and embracing the road to extraordinary if that’s where life heads.

I’m average; build, hearing loss, mother, teacher, friend. It’s okay, really it is. This garden variety, mainstream life is what drives me to try new things, push personal limits, and aim high. My best has not been achieved, I’ll keep striving for the allusive best. It’s there somewhere.

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Me – a quick write

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Me – a quick write

Recently my seniors were tasked with writing about who and what influenced them to be who they are today. To model this 10 minute quick write, I also wrote and then shared out my draft. It is not perfect and is still a work in progress, but that’s me and why I’m sharing my draft. My hope is that I can show students that the writing process is as much about the words as it is about the interactions and conversations that come from opening our words to others.

I’m from blue collar parents who worked for every dime and saved each nickle.
I’m from a large family of older brothers who were my protectors and not much of friends,
until now.
I’m from a small town, my roots go deep and my branches wide.
I’m from an illness that nearly took me, but instead gave me a gift.
I’m from a life lived in a hearing world where I was often left behind.
I’m from experiences; of hope, love, and learning.
I’m from a place where I get to share and develop young minds, molding the next generation.

I’m from a loving relationship that inspired me to find one of my own.
I’m in a caring marriage of laughter and support.
I’m from years of infertility that grew the desire for parenthood and a family of my own.
I’m from a home of pitter pattering feet, silly sons, and a caring daughter.
I’m from love.

Where I’ll go is unknown.  Where I’ve been is everything, it is me.

What is a friend?

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Do you know the value in a close friend? One there through life’s ups and downs, heart aches and triumphs, and sets a side ones life and time to care for another. That’s my definition, I watched it define itself.

Over the last few years it has been honor to watch such an amazing friendship, one that someday I hope to find. My mom and my “Aunt” June had this incredible, inspiring friendship. I cannot recall the history of their friendship or even when I started calling her Aunt, in the end it does not matter. She was always a part of my growing up years, the title fit.

Aunt June fought multiple cancers in her life time, a Muhammad Ali of sorts. The last few years as age and health compacted with the cancer, my mom’s friendship evolved. Caretaker, nightly “life alert” caller”, chauffeur…most importantly true friend. Countless trips to doctors, treatments, chemotherapy. In any weather, distress, or time. Her calendar reflected two lives, hers and Aunt June’s. During these times, almost nightly phone calls. It didn’t matter that just a few short hours ago they were sitting at radiation or chemo together, mom called to check in and they talked. And talked. If I called in the evening and the line rang endlessly, I knew the two were catching up. Mere hours since their last conversation and still they shared.

What my mom did the last few years is amazing. Her friend needed her beyond trips to the mall or the latest movie. She needed time; precious, endless time. Perhaps and ideally, my mom did too. Their friendship is an inspirational mix of gratitude and unselfishness. Laughter and tears. Heartache and joy. And deep love.

This time, their time together, has come to an end.

Their testament of devotion carries on in each who watched these two giggle through the good days and support through the tough days. Someday, should life grant me such an honorable friend, I’ll never let go, never give up. I know how to, because I watched the true definition of friendship grow and write itself.

That Scary Moment

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That Scary Moment

Parenting is an abundance of moments that take your breath away. Cry. Scream. Jump for joy. But some moments just slam your chest so hard, you gasp for a breath. Struggle and gasp again.

Monday was my moment to feel my heart sputter and ache that it still brings tears to my eyes.

Our 8 year old was at a program sponsored by a neighborhood school. When the program ended, he waited. And waited. Not knowing if I was coming, being the last one, and to see if someone was waiting outside, he left the safety of the school. Once outside, he was locked out. No one answered his knocks. His next decision, against his normal worry mindset, led him to walk home. With darkness settling in, 18 degree air, and without the experience of ever taking this 1 mile trek, he set off.

Driving to the school to pick him up and still 1/2 way to go, my headlights found a terrified, cold, familiar face walking in the road. With the sidewalks still not cleared, he ventured to road. What I cannot erase from my retinas, his frightened, tear stained face. He didn’t know what happened to us. Were we coming? Did we forget him? Once inside the warmth and safely in the van, he shut down and just wanted to go home to the security of his bed.

After many hugs, reassurance, and heart to hearts, his face and body relaxed, a bit. How did this happen?? It turns out we were given the incorrect end time, instead given the previous years time. With no one around, unable to return into the building, he searched deep and found his brave, big boy pants. And walked.

My anxiety is the what if…. He passed a poorly lit parking lot, across from a large equally dark cemetery, dressed in dark colored clothing, and in the road. This mommy mind filled with the unmentionables. The headlines. But none of them happened. I know someone was watching over him. Someone calmed his fears and led him towards home. I am thankful.

After a family meeting about safety, emergencies, and lots of cuddles, I swept him in my arms and said, “you are so brave”. Inside I said, thank you.

My M is stronger than I.

3 years and still so much to say

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Received a text that today is small town jules’ 3 year anniversary! (insert silly string and party streamers here)

Wow.  Three years, 168 posts, 18,122 views, views from over 20 different countries…and still so much to say.

Slacker is a good place to start.  Prior to this school year. Monday was blogging night.  Kids all snug as bugs, hubby away for guy time, a cup of tea and words would flow.  Mondays are now filled with trying to bolster up support for a local twitter chat I created.  The fast flying half hour often leaves cramped hands and a dull brain.

So with my educational PLN knocking at the 8:30 door, I’ll sign off with a thank you for the support and a plea to not give up on small town jules.

Words haven’t left me.  And I hope you won’t either.