Friday, August 28th

Today is tricky. 

I am torn between an absolute high and a magnificent low. 

This morning, the Spirit Club arranged our first ever flash mob in the commons. Our school spirit is shameful, and a group of fantastic teachers and I have decided that has to change. Our JV cheerleaders dispersed themselves among the mingling students this morning and busted out the loudest, turnt-est cheer that led into a huge huddle and lots of dancing and just good vibes. 

It felt like such a success. One small step to something much bigger that can be accomplished if a group of people only tries. 

Third period came and my co-worker informed me one of my students was in the hospital. Of course, any teacher’s instant reaction would (or should) be concern, worry, and asking lots of questions. But B didn’t have to tell me why this student was there, because I already knew. 

I knew because Tuesday he pulled me out of class and told me he was tired. That he was done and didn’t know what purpose he served any longer. “No one needs me anymore,” was what he told me. “Sometimes I feel like if I didn’t come back, no one would miss me.” The sad thing is, though, that I know it’s more than just a ridiculous hard time with the select group of assholes at our school that’s causing him this momentous grief. Rumors of his home life have been circling for ages and they have solidified like lead in my heart. 

Tears rolled down my face, hot and unwanted, as I stared into the face of one of the kindest souls you could ever hope to encounter in your lifetime. “I would miss you.” I was at a loss and in total shock. “I need you,” I continued fraily. 

“You don’t need me, Ms. Mockett.”

I’m not sure how many teachers have had that moment where they know it would destroy them if they lost a student… If they have felt, for an eighth of a second, that mounting and ravenous fear curling warm and unkind in their bellies, but this was that moment for me. If he didn’t come back tomorrow, I knew it would destroy me. I sobbed and grabbed him by the shoulders. “I do need you. Don’t you know that? You are the reason I wake up in the morning. The reason I did all the things I have done to be able to teach you. The reason I smile and the reason I got through the worst break up of my life. I love you, you idiot. Don’t you know that? How can you not know that? High school sucks and people are cruel and unjust, but your life hasn’t even begun. You don’t even know how many people are going to need your love, your kindness, your selflessness, your sweet spirit. How much I need it…” 

It wasn’t enough. To know I have a student that feels so small, so insignificant, so unloved, makes me furious. How can you not love them? How can you be so selfish? 

I wish he could see how many students shed tears over him today. How many teachers talked with me about what we can do to help. I wish he knew that I love the way he laughs, the he wears all black nearly every day and that I have been dying to sew that hole up in his hoodie for ages. I wish he knew that his comics are hilarious, I love his raps and that he has such sweet eyes. I wish he knew that if I had a son just like him, I would be the proudest mother in the world. I would feel like I had done something so damn right. I would feel unworthy. 

The world is in fucked up flux of hatred and kindness, and I feel all the time that hatred is starting to win. 

I’m over it. I am so over it. Get with the program. Is it always easy to love someone? No. Is it easy to put others before yourself? Not always. Is it easy to pay close attention and look for more than what lies on the surface of the hundreds of students you teach a day? Bless those that try. 

Is it easy to be kind? 

Mull that over the next time something sour, hard, and unjust hits the back of your teeth and wants to spill from your mouth. You have the power to save a life by being a decent human being. And if that is asking too much, well. We’re a hell of a lot worse off than I thought. 

I wish I could transform my attic space into a room like they have in the Madeline books, where all the girls have their beds in a row. I wish I could take in every child that responds to my love because they have no other source of it coming in. I wish I could make them smoothies in the morning and wash their clothes and hold them when they cry and take their phones and lecture them when they act out. Sometimes I think I could foster my kids and never marry and it would still be more than enough love. My cup would still overflow. I wish people who can’t love would just stay the hell out of life and pass the ones they don’t want to me. Because I will love them all. I will give all my love away because I know I will always be able to make more. I would Miss Honey the hell out of them. 

Miss Mockett’s Wonderful Home of Misfits. 

My heart hurts. I’m angry and I’m confused. I have never felt this way about anything in my life. And I’m not entirely sure I’ve even wrapped my head around it to its full extent. Not yet, anyway. 

Know that my love is endless. That anyone reading this can find it from me. That I will give you whatever I can make your life better. Don’t take yourself from those who have yet to meet you. You would be doing the world a huge and terrible disservice. 

Please. For all that is good and right in this world, be kind. And tell people you love them. Do it every day. Never let them doubt, never allow them to feel alone, never give them the opportunity to fear what life holds in store for them. 

You have that power. Use it. 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Caitlin and Savannah walk up to me during fifth period, Caitlin’s arm around Savannah’s shoulders. Sav has a look on her face that I recognize far too well. You know, that one where you smile so you don’t cry?

“That douchebag that was her boyfriend dumped her on her birthday! What the HECK is that?” Caitlin is Savannah’s best friend, and a damn good one. I adore these girls for a multitude of reasons, but particularly for their love of Christ and clean mouths. Those are two areas of weakness for me. It always makes me smile when Caitlin inserts school appropriate words the places I would choose a more enthusiastic alternative.

I look at Savannah, who isn’t wearing makeup today and is burying herself deep inside her hooded sweatshirt. I wrap my arms around her and pull her into me as her shoulders start to shake. Caitlin is going off on a tangent about this kid, but all I can think about is how heartbreaking it is to see Savannah heartbroken. I squeeze her tight and whisper things to make her relax and make her laugh, because sometimes laughter is the only cure for tears.

“He is an idiot, baby. Truly. As is probably every other teenage boy in this town. You are the biggest catch anyone could ever meet, and the next person should be running just trying to keep up with you.” She sobs again and whispers against my cream cardigan, “I thought he was different.”

I run my fingers through her hair and rock her as I think of the millions of times I’ve told myself the same thing. I thought he was different. “We always do,” is all I respond with. A minute passes and I give her a final squeeze and let her go, wiping the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of my sweater. “Hey,” I say, and she looks up at me with red eyes, “you’re here today, and we’re having a mellow one, so just relax and breathe. It’s going to be okay.” Sav nods and as Cat takes her back to her seat, Michael walks up to Savannah and gives her a hug. The words that come out of his mouth floor me. Something to the effect of, “you’re one of the most amazing girls I know.” I watch in amazement as Savannah laughs and returns the hug with a murmured “thank you.” He turns to me at the board and stares.

“What?!” he asks.

“I’m just… I’m so proud of you, Michael. You’ve come such a long way.” Michael, as much as I adore him, used to be a bit of a jerk. He gave no thought to how his comments might be interpreted by others and was constantly wreaking havoc on girls’ emotions and self-esteem. Over the course of a year, I have watched him work so hard at being a better, kinder, and more empathetic person. He succeeded.

I get everyone moving on their assignment and start to circle the room. Michael loves to sit up on the back counter while he works. He waves me over, and I peek at his AP T-shirt design, and then look up at his face. I can’t quite read his expression, but soon he answers my question by saying, “you almost made me cry up there. At the board. Telling me you were proud of me.”

I laugh and pat his knee. “Don’t cry! It’s true. You’ve come such a long way. Your heart has grown so much. I am proud of you.” Tears well in his eyes and I grin before walking away, knowing if I linger, I’ll cry, too.

Michael, the Boy Who Did

Michael, the Boy Who Did

Teaching isn’t just about the content. It’s about the context, being relevant and being true, being fair and just and always doing what is right for them and by them; it’s perfecting the practice of eliminating bias, prejudice, and stereotypes. It’s about being the mom and wiping away the tears and giving reassurance; it’s about being the boss and demanding more, pushing for more, because you know they are capable of doing more. It’s about real conversations: hard ones, easy ones, weird ones. It’s about being a good role model, a powerful and empowered teacher, a positive, influential force in every life you cross paths with. It’s being consistent, empathetic, and kind, even when you really, really don’t want to be.

About 100 cranes in and 900 to go... Maybe 340 in progress.

About 100 cranes in and 900 to go… Maybe 340 in progress.

There’s this funny image I found once on Pinterest of a Golden Retriever. Across the picture it says “be the person your dog thinks you are.” I believe my mantra has become “be the woman your kids think you are.” Of all the people they could idolize, what if they chose someone who was good and honest and stood up for what they believed in and those they loved?

'Naja and Ali; precious APeepers.

‘Naja and Ali; precious APeepers.

Every day that passes is a quiet confirmation that I am in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Saturday, the JV Volleyball girls had a tournament. Three of my girls play on the JV team, but one of them in particular, Amber, is just this radiant gem of a human being. I mean, holy shit, that is a child who will cherish every interaction, every gift she is given, seize every opportunity that comes her way, will challenge herself and everyone around her while always moving onward and upward. She has one of the kindest spirits I have ever encountered. I have the insane gift of teaching her twice a day this year (swoon!) and told her I was going to come to her matches.

So Saturday I show up and sit in the stands with her momma. It’s easy to tell where Amber’s sweet spirit came from, because her entire family is a group of saints. We chat about how Amber is doing, if she’s enjoying her classes, the norm, when her mom looks to me and says, “Amber really loves you. She’s so excited about having art twice a day!” I laugh.

“I know! It’s so wonderful! I feel really spoiled!” In my head, I acknowledge that most anyone would love having art twice a day.

“What colleges have good art education programs? Amber has made up her mind that she wants to be an art teacher just like you.” My heart does a little dropkick against my sternum and tears find my eyes hard and fast, stinging like mad. Is this what it feels like? I never in my life thought I could love a job as much as I love mine. And now, to hear from a mother, than their daughter wants to take on that same path is the most exciting, flattering and moving thing I could ever imagine. This is exactly why I do it: to let my kids know they bring me joy, that they can make a difference, and that it is okay to love everything about your life and everything about your job. People think it’s about money and excessive comfort and having the things that you want. Bullshit. It’s being present where you are and loving everything you have and letting that be enough. They will always be more than enough for me.

Austin's amazing mixed media sample: two different media on two different grounds.

Austin’s amazing mixed media sample: two different media on two different grounds.

We will take on the world, one paintbrush, one canvas, one unit exam, and one bad break up at a time. Through it all, my kids know who has their back, and that I love them for exactly who they are right now and everything they might become in the future.

Stand your ground. It’s sacred.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lesson plans are done. For the most part. It’s Thursday, and tomorrow is Friday and I get to wear jeans and enjoy a quiet weekend of AP ARHI studying, lesson planning (always), volleyball tournaments (yay, JV! So many of my artists playing this year), a cold beer or three, laundry, cooking, Scandal and the Office. But mostly AP ARHI studying…

We decided in Sculpture this week that we're going to create a 1000 crane installation piece. Swoon. Every day, make.

We decided in Sculpture this week that we’re going to create a 1000 crane installation piece. Swoon. Every day, make.

It’s been a wild week, a little weird and discombobulating in some places. But as far as I can tell, my new kids on the block are going to be awesome, and absolutely fantastic comedic relief. They are hilarious, and our freshmen are so well-behaved! (Knock on wood!)

One of our main focuses this year has been honing in on the positive — something that can sometimes be difficult. Teaching is not an easy job, and it makes me a very cranky individual when someone assumes it is. While I am well aware that not every teacher should necessarily be a teacher, for those of us that actually give a shit about it (a very large one, in fact), it is an exhausting and involved job. Especially if you want to get better with each passing year (which, let’s be real, anyone willing to be stagnant in a career should gtfo anyway). It is far from a 7:40-3:30; I have homework, I work on the weekends, I work some nights until six thirty, with and without kids. There is the After School Program, sporting events to chaperone or take tickets at, dances to attend, clubs to sponsor, SAT and ACTs to study for, AP study groups and review days, professional learning to attend (and document), faculty meetings, RtI meetings, meetings about meetings, failure intervention plans to keep up with, parents to email, IEP meetings to attend… the list goes on and on. Sometimes, I feel like teachers forget why we do what we do. It’s easy to, in the whirlwind and chaos of the several responsibilities given to us. But forgetting the real reason we are there, what the absolute priority is, is not okay. If you aren’t there for the kids, you shouldn’t be there at all.

DeMarco's beautiful Picasso drawing.

DeMarco’s beautiful Picasso drawing.

This week I discovered two of my boys live in a group home, and have been living together in that group home for the last four years. One of them is very detached, careful to keep his distance and rarely engages in conversation with me. He’s a fantastic artist, a total perfectionist with an amazing eye for detail. The other is a sweetheart that loves to talk, loves Breaking Benjamin, and may get to rejoin his family in a few months time.

I know it’s hard to stay optimistic, energetic, and upbeat when you’re tired, not sleeping well, constantly working through that to-do list in your head, interacting with 160-180 kids every single day, keeping your room organized, setting up your word wall, making sure you’ve documented every important date in every calendar, electronic device, and agenda you own (because we all know it’s more than one), to keep parents informed of what you’re doing in class and keeping up with grading work, when you have a hard time remembering to eat a proper lunch, and missing your family and your precious two year old at home. It’s hard to make work your number one priority when you have so many other things in your life that take precedence. We get that.

Those boys don’t get to go home to a family. They don’t have parents to argue with, siblings to lie to or piss off or sneak out of the house with, someone to call when they’ve had a terrible day or a wonderful day. They don’t have their own bed; they eat the food they are given, and the two meals provided at school a day are sometimes all they will get; they don’t have nice clothes; they don’t own or rent a home; they have a hard time finding a job because they have a hard time trusting others, getting transportation, relying on someone else to help them help themselves; they can’t keep friends because they’re moving back and forth from foster family to foster family because their own family doesn’t make the cut. They don’t know what it’s like to have anything steady, solid, reliable in their life. They are up in the air, always. Graduating high school will be an accomplishment to them of the biggest kind, and they don’t believe themselves worthy or capable of college, a career, a life outside this tiny ass town. They don’t know what it’s like to be admired, trusted, or adored. So listen to me right now, because this is the most important thing I’ll say: They have you. You chose this path. Of all the things you could have done with your life, you decided to teach. It shouldn’t be for the paycheck (and we all damn well know it isn’t), or the summer vacation, or the benefits. If you don’t love the kids, ALL the kids, then you need to get out. Go away. Because you are all some of these precious humans have. You are it: the end game, the make or break factor, the one person to push them just far enough to maybe crave more, or better, feel they deserve more. Don’t you understand how lucky you are? Don’t you want them to have a life as beautiful and wonderful as yours?

And it isn’t just my two boys. It is every single kid that steps foot in your door. Every punk out of dress code and every boy screaming at the top of his lungs down the hallway. Every girl in a crop top and purple hair, asking for attention, positive or negative, just to have someone look her way and acknowledge her existence; the kids soaked up in the video games, blaring Drake and Fetty Wap through their Beats, brawling in the driveways of the Ellingtons after school and posting it on YouTube; the studious boy planted in the front row of your AP Macro class and it’s the student that will never look you in the eye or speak a word. They are the siblings with nice cars on their sixteenth birthday and a daddy who did well in construction, and the frizzy haired girl who loves anime that has to live with her friend, because her house just isn’t safe; the ones hooked on meth and the ones pulling themselves out of it. It is every student who was told they could, and every one told they couldn’t. Don’t you get it? You are the constant, for all of them.

So do all of us a favor: Stop, for the eight hours you are with them, thinking about yourself. It isn’t about you. It was never about you. This career is meant to be selfless: you are paid to teach, instruct, mold, inspire, motivate, encourage, discipline, and love. Of course, all the expectations and burdens of a teacher are absurd, insane, ridiculous, unrealistic, and I’ll be damned if any of us can actually excel at all of it. But if you’re going to do a good job at your job, remember why you have your job: they need you. And someone else deemed you worthy of teaching them. Your students deserve a good education because that is what is going to keep them moving up and on and forward. Right now they are rude, and callus, and sometimes downright foul. But can you blame them when every adult who is meant to help, meant to love, meant to care turns their back, neglects them, or treats them like a burden? Like a waste of time or breath?

We all know you have a life (except the kids – they don’t think you do). But these students are part of it, because that is what you chose. So love them like they’re yours for the few hours you have them, and then go home to your family, your sweet baby, your cat or dog, your couch and Scandal. But on the clock, remember where your heart should be, and that a tiny flint of love can set someone’s entire world on fire in the most beautiful way.

Just a little. That's all it takes.

Just a little. That’s all it takes.

Invest in them, and nearly all of them will be good to you. Over and over and over. That is all they want. Give a shit. They shouldn’t ever have to ask that of you; it should already be a given.

You have the power. So be all in, or get all out. There is no in between.