Friday, August 21, 2015

What Wears Well

So here is something both new and not new at all. 

I am someone highly sensitive to this world, and sometimes (read: always) this affects the way that I write.  

Recently, this has made me avoid most writing at all, for fear of doing it terribly wrong.  I've been in writer's block mode for weeks now, and whatever I have written seems paltry and small.  

In person I bet you can tell that I can't hide that I am highly aware of other people, what they need or don't need, and how I feel about it.  Often, it feels like a fault.  I used to feel really dramatic and overdone about this.  Processing life intricately feels like something to hide, and feeling things so deeply for the world doesn't feel safe at all.  Awkwardest of all, most people didn't even ask you to feel that way for them.

Violent movies?  Out.  
Horror movies?  No way.  
Watching the news?  I want to be an informed citizen, but I still tread carefully there.  

Writing is once again therapy and this is like a confession. 



A year and a half ago (repeat story I know), I accidentally posted this big deep thoughtful kind of post about, of all things, birthdays ON MY BLOG INTENDED FOR STUDENT WORK.  I sat at my desk in May of that year, three days past its posting and 60 views deep into it, in the most fragile state of my whole career.  

"These people didn't want my heart thoughts, they just wanted me to teach their kids and get the lesson plans right.  This message is loud and clear.  How could I have been so careless?  Who did I think I was anyway?"  (The litany went on.)  Sometimes certain middle school students and just a few of those parents can be very unkind, and I had shown my cards completely.  I was mortified and ashamed.

And there sat my friend, for a few hours after school with me, trying to 'beat the internet' and make sure it was really gone, gone, gone.  But it wasn't and we both knew it.  She stopped me from deleting my entire blog in one fell swoop, adamantly reminding me of the power of emotion, and that sleep would do wonders, and that soon it would be summer. Teachers get so tired in May, you know.  

She is a really good friend, and we do laugh about this now....mainly about 'trying to beat the internet'.  You know what? She's going to be in my wedding, and it's for moments like that as much as it is for the moments when everything is hunky dory.  



I've forged on in the writing life in so many ways since that time, and gotten back into the swing of things each day.  Forging on helped ignore the shame.  I kept on with this blog and its Jessica thoughts because I really do like writing in all of its forms.  And I need it.  I've written poems and letters and lesson plans, e-mails and journal entries galore since that time.  But that sensitivity to that feeling of being found out in writing really has stopped me in my tracks more times than I'd like to admit. 

It's been shameful to be a reflective, sensitive person in this roundabout world.  I believe every type of person needs necessary limits and boundaries, but I went way too far into carefully omitting it, until it was just. shut. down.  I wondered if people would understand.
"Just be a teacher, and a robot one at that.  This is still bothering you?  I thought you were tougher than this.  It's a new year.  Move on."

That's the inner critic that you decide you'd never be friends with in real life, but still somehow listen to anyway.  And there I sat, a resilient, stoic person on the outside, vowing never to break or slip up so badly and be found out so incredibly again, when that's really not what I'm like at all. 


Lamer still is that it separated the real me from the teaching life I love.



I'm going to get really honest and tell you that I wasn't very happy with myself as a teacher last year.  At least not in a big picture way.  Sure, I did things the way I was supposed to, and I liked that I could maintain so much with clarity in my classroom even though I was struggling.  I liked that because I don't think I slacked off with the kids.  I really did give it my all up to the very end.   But I didn't feel very much like myself while I was doing it.  And secretly I know that my perceptive students could tell.

You know how I know?  The stories their older siblings told about me didn't match what I was like with them.  And sure, you change and grow and teachers should have the grace to do this too.  But it was deeper than that, and I knew it all year long.

The me as a teacher that I like and really am and need to regain is excited about each day in the classroom because "who knows what cool thing a kid will say?" or "the lives of people throughout time truly fascinate me'"or "I am praying for these people every day and it DOES matter, even if nothing changes in their lives for five years".

Last year I got a letter from a girl in my first 8th grade class, and she told me that when her life got rough, she remembered that I had shown her the love of Jesus first, before many other people she knew.  Her 8th grade year was difficult and tragic, and though I didn't talk about Jesus in the classroom, I prayed that I would be like him, and that people would notice.  I cried for her family a lot. And there you go....that letter is a good reminder that so much in life is not about me while I teach.  

I would NEVER have known, but she wrote me a letter.  And now her faith was real, real, real, and she just had to make sure I knew.  I was reduced to tears and stunned for three days straight, because of course God works like that.  And last year, in the midst of robot season, I felt that tapping on myself - 'be like that again' - and I ignored it.  I talked about it all fascinated and surprised, but I was rigid down to my bones.

What I remember about that first year is that I prayed like the dickens for myself and those people.  I was stern and silly.  I studied history right along with them, sometimes only a few hours before I taught a lesson.  Once I stopped class when I was tired so we could have a snowball fight in the middle of winter.  We tried projects that didn't work and some that did. We laughed a lot and did creative things.  I cried for them when their families suffered, and I kept up with them when they went to high school.  

One day one of the kids shot an air soft pellet at me through a hollowed out pen, and the white hot rage of my little teacher's heart became very calculated and fierce in the follow through.  Everyone was scared of me, but in all the right ways because that was a reckoning time too.   And when he got to high school, he apologized to me better than he did in 8th grade.  And he understood why he was suspended.



Tonight I read an article about highly sensitive people, and actually not just that it's a thing, but that the myths can be believable too.  Like the myth that says sensitive equals weak.  I never felt weak before this, I just processed things more intricately.  

But suddenly I feared not looking resilient and dependable.  (My job ALONE requires that I last longer than the common adolescent.)  The article says it's not that you're weak, it's that you're emotionally intense.  

And that explains why I still care to teach middle school.  
Talk about fierce.  Talk about emotionally intense.  I think I match them, but I have learned some better coping skills.  

Sometimes I look around and think, "Good grief, we're all just a bunch of middle schoolers who have managed to find our own coping skills."  And that keeps me from being too self-righteous about anything I see in the students in my hallway.  Humbling, always.  And that is my theory about people at any age.

Here's one thing I am fierce about. 

I hate when kids get away with bullying.  And I've always hated it.  Once in 3rd grade, I watched a kid on the bus make another kid cry.  And before I even knew what I was doing, the words came out, derailing this bully's power.  He was shocked, and I was shocked too, but I was more angry about the kid who was made to cry.  



In life now, I will let kids be kids and let awkwardness run its course if need be, although I'm dying a little inside each time.  I've seen some DANG awkward interactions between my students in the hall.  (Oh, middle school.)  There are some things you just need to learn at 12 that no teacher should get into (hello, don't be a helicopter) but then there are other things. And in those moments I am a fierce defender.  

This became real because my teaching life came into view again.  And I remembered that September feeling where I have to set the tone and mean business and be ever so kind and gracious when a struggle in a student is quite real....

'Yes, I can help.  The first few days can be difficult, I know. Teachers understand that.  I undersand that.  You are trying, and this is going to work.  I won't count you tardy.  I see you.  You're ok.'

And that, my friends, is just getting the locker open.  

Miss Christians (soon-to-be Mrs. Bronston - what a weird, cool, and exciting thought) is back, and I remembered her again.  Teachers turn down the volume in the summer and wear yoga pants and read books that don't pertain to the development of a child.  And that's fun too.  But in the end, when you love it, it's always nice to come back.  



I'd like to be myself again, and remember that that sensitivity can be a very compelling part of being a very powerful woman.  That worked quite a lot before.  

The thing I had to remember about my very own self tonight is that sensitive doesn't always mean shy and it doesn't always mean introvert.   But when sounds are loud, they're LOUD to me.  And when things happen to my friends and family that are tragic and rough, I feel them for months on end.  I have crazy, vivid dreams, and an imagination that other adults say they outgrew.  On the plus side, my inner thought life is rich and full.  The world looks beautiful always because I catch so much.  I just need to chill the heck out better and more often in order to stay healthy.  That's a highly sensitive person.  

So it comes to this.  Sensitive people aren't always shy, don't have to be introverts, and don't show their cards.  And they're certainly not weak.  My best days in the classroom were when I was silly and welcoming and intentional and adamant. Last year I was that a little, but not a lot.  I'd like that a lot again.  Because when its synced up right, I can indeed again become, as one friend once said, 'a fearsome thing to behold'. 

Admittance is scary, but it wears well.  
Shame shouldn't sit by you, deeming your imperfect life only acceptable in certain spaces with certain people. 
And confession cleanses and rebuilds. 

I needed that reminder today.