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Mommy Mania Teacher Tales

Am I Successful?

January 24, 2020

Not to toot my own horn, but I was a darn good teacher. I got a thrill when my students got a new concept or went up a reading level. I stayed awake at night going over lessons in my head and loved when they turned out like I’d planned. I thoroughly enjoyed creating behavior plans for difficult students and seeing them turn around. It came naturally to me and it was easy to tell if I was succeeding or not, the students either grew or they didn’t. The lesson either landed or it didn’t. Their behavior either improved or it didn’t. Clear. Their success was my success.  And I WAS a successful teacher. I thrived, and I loved my job.

I have a new job now, Stay at Home Mom.  I love this job more than anything I’ve ever done, but I struggle sometimes with the question, “Am I being successful?”. That answer is never as clear cut as it was when I was teaching. At first, it was hard for me to view myself as “successful” in my new position in life. Maybe you feel it too? or have felt it? You were successful at a sales job if you made sales. Clear. You were successful at your job as a lawyer if you won cases. Clear. However, as a parent….the definition of success changes, or maybe it loses all meaning completely. Right?

Being a stay at home mom changed my mindset on how I view success. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the “value” that comes with success when you’re home alone with the tiny humans. It doesn’t come in the form of a raise or promotion. It comes in moments. You have these moments where you feel like supermom; both kids napping at the same time, everyone eats their meals without complaining, prepared an activity the kid LOVED, kids hit their milestones. These moments make your heart explode with pride; in your kids and yourself. You feel like you can take on the world and you’re unstoppable. You feel successful. Selfishly, we want our kids to look at us and say “Wow, mom! You’re killin it today!”. (Lets laugh at that idea together for a moment) You wish a reality show would burst through the door and say “We put a hidden camera in your living room and we’ve seen the incredible job you’ve done. Here’s a million dollars and a hot beverage!” (Lets laugh HARDER).

In the beginning, I just kept wondering if I was doing enough. Was I reading enough to Winifred, was I feeding her the right things, was I keeping the house clean enough, was I showing her enough of the world, was she going to hit all of her milestones? Was Daphne going to need physical therapy because of what my body did to her, was my breastmilk ok for her, was I going to be able to sleep train her? I was making myself sick trying to do everything right, and driving myself insane because there was no way to know if I was doing it right until it’s “too late” and she’s grown. It’s dumb, I know, but in the dark and sleepless newborn nights your brain can borrow a lot of tomorrow’s stress.

Then, one day, as I’m crying over spilled breast milk (liquid gold, am I right?) I got a bit of clarity. Winifred was watching me as I sat on the floor and tears streamed down my face. She came over and sat on my lap. I smiled at her, and she laughed. That was it, that was all she needed from me in that moment to be happy. A. SMILE. I was humbled and honored to be her mama in that moment. I was overcome with gratitude that I get to be home with her and teach her how to handle her own emotions one day.

Kids don’t need perfect parents. They don’t need all this fluffy stuff that mom blogs these days are convincing us we have to do or our kids will be the scum of the earth. They thrive off our imperfections. Shoot, my kid regularly has dog hair as a condiment (at least its organic right?). They need US. They need moms who are going to love them unconditionally and take care of their basic needs. Period. They need someone to pray over them at night and teach them what it means to love the Lord. Thats it.

Some days are actual poop storms, but the kids go to bed with full bellies and they’re alive. Some days, my kid eats 3 cups of cheerios, but she shared her toys so joyously at library. Some days, my sink is full of dishes and laundry is up to my ears, but I end the day with both girls in my lap reading stories about a God who adores them more than I do.

Success? YES.

You are the GREATEST possible mother for your kids. Nobody else can do what you do for your babies. WE GOT THIS PARENTS!

Mommy Mania Pregnancy Teacher Tales

So, I’m not going back to work.

May 28, 2019

My whole life, I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher. Except for a brief delusional period in the 10th grade where I thought I wanted to be on SWAT, there was no other option for me. It was in my blood. It was something I knew my soul was called to do. It was my vocation. I was BORN to mold the minds of America’s future.

My first few years teaching, I poured everything I had into my kids and classroom. I came in early, stayed until dark, and spent my entire weekend in my classroom. I put every kid on an individualized plan, changed my door decorations every month, and created the cutest lessons you ever did see. My heart was so insanely full. My students were the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I thought about before I feel asleep. I was constantly thinking of ways to teach a lesson or break through to a tough student. School was my whole life and I loved every second of it. The exhaustion of a long day and the sheer joy of a student who finally got the lesson was everything I needed.

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Even when I got pregnant, my feelings toward school didn’t change. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into my maternity sub plans to make sure my kiddos didn’t miss a beat.  I made plans to come back and hit the ground running to get those kids where they needed to be. All I could think about was getting back to the world I’d given my whole heart to.

Then, my baby was born. I felt every inch of my heart shift when that little girl was placed on my chest. Being home on maternity leave gave me so much fulfillment. Although it was terrifying, I thrived learning about my baby, giving her everything she needed, and being her mom. It filled my world like I never thought anything could. All of a sudden, I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything but being her mom.

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Going back to school wrecked me. Leaving her everyday was unbearable. Even though we adore her daycare, I would cry on my way to school knowing someone else got to love on her that day.

School was no longer my entire life. I got to school with the kids, left with the kids, and never came on the weekends. While I still worked my keister off for each of my students, my daughter was my number one priority. The guilt began to set in when I felt like I wasn’t giving my all to school or motherhood. My heart was torn by the two things that gave me my purpose in life. On the weekends, I couldn’t imagine going back to work and leaving my baby. At work, I couldn’t imagine leaving the classroom to be a mom full time. I was getting the feeling that something was going to have to give. Was I really being called to leave the classroom and stay home?

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The clarity came when I learned Daphne Grace was coming into the world. I realized that the pull to be a mom was something I couldn’t ignore anymore. I will still be a teacher, just not in the way I’d always been. I will still mold minds, just the ones I created. My vocation has shifted and I am so at peace with what that means for my life. I  fall asleep thinking of all the activities I will do with my girls. I now dream of teaching my own kids to read, create, and explore the world around them. The thought of teaching my girls brings me a kind of joy I’d never experienced. I’ve begun to see all the possibilities the vocation of  “Stay at Home Mom” has to offer.  To be honest, I was afraid of that title and a loss of identity. Something I’d feared became something I couldn’t wait to dive in to.

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I’m learning to accept and love all the changes that motherhood brings. Life changes so quickly and sometimes, and often times something you thought you were supposed to do forever gets overshadowed by something bigger than yourself. Teaching had been everything I’d ever wanted. I know, one day, I’ll be going back to the classroom. I love it too much to say a forever goodbye, but my little ones need everything I can give them. Being a mom  means making sacrifices, I knew that. However, I wasn’t ready for how much beauty those sacrifices can cultivate. Will and I both had incredible stay at home moms, and I can’t wait to follow in their footsteps.

**Now accepting all prayers and stay at home mom advice.

 

Mommy Mania Teacher Tales

Learning Through Play

May 17, 2019

I was a teacher for 4 years. I went to Texas Tech University to specialize in elementary education. I’ve taken over 12 child development classes and spent countless hours observing and teaching school aged children learning so much about the way their brains work and what their basic needs are. If there is one thing that my classes, experience, and research have taught me, it’s that children need to PLAY.  More specifically, children need opportunities to engage rule based games as well as unstructured and free play.

The Research

Harvard study on abused or neglected children showed that the children’ negative experiences “hindered the development of executive development skills, which children need in order to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, and control impulses”. Harvard began a program that introduced rule-based games and mindfulness exercises to 4 and 5 year olds during their school day. In just 10 weeks of playing 15 minutes a day, the researchers saw “significant improvements in mental flexibility and a higher level of sustained attention”. By creating a low stress environment they allowed the students to play and develop their executive development skills. They even added an interesting “Home Visit” component to support parents, as well.

The Power of Play is an amazing resource that states “real learning happens better in person-to-person exchanges rather than machine-to-person exchanges.” It says play is an “activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery,”.  The article explains the different types of play and how they are crucial for children at every age to participate in. The article describes non-structured play, or free play, as “brain-building”.

Classroom Play 

In my classroom, I began noticing my students had very little time in class to explore and play freely. Our day was structured for “bell to bell instruction”, leaving no time for unstructured activities. I wanted to do an experiment, giving the kids 30-45 minutes of unstructured play to see if it helped behavior and focus.

I implemented “Morning Tubs” to give the students that opportunity. Morning Tubs was the first 30-45 minutes of our day. I chose the morning time because I found that my students were the most chatty during the first few hours of the day. I thought free play in the morning would give them a healthy outlet for the conversational energy. I wanted them to have a safe space to have that face-to-face interaction and build their social skills!

My Morning Tubs went like this: I filled 8 tubs with various games, blocks, toys, etc.  The only rule to morning tubs was 4 people per tub, but the students could switch tubs as long as there was a free spot. I gave no instruction on how to play with any of the materials because I wanted the students to get creative and explore different ways to play with the materials. I was shocked with what some of the students created!

After a few weeks of morning tubs, here’s what I noticed.

  1. My students were more focused throughout the day. Having a healthy outlet for morning energy allowed them to stay calm and focused for our morning lessons and centers.
  2. They were having better conversations. By giving the students an opportunity to speak freely with one another, they developed better conversation skills when speaking with their peers. They learned how to let others have a turn to talk, share ideas, ask and answer questions in complete sentences; all without me having to guide them.
  3. They acquired better problem solving skills. When students had conflict in morning tubs, they knew I wouldn’t help settle the dispute. Morning tubs was a time that THEY were in charge and they had to learn to compromise, ask for forgiveness, give forgiveness, take turns, and be a good partner. After all, no one wants to play with mean kids.
  4. It provided them with shared experiences to draw from. This was an unexpected outcome. I’d always wanted my students to write about their own life experiences during our writing block. Little did I know, most of them felt like they didn’t have any stories from their lives to tell. Morning Tubs turned out to be an amazing shared experience all my students could write about. They loved writing and telling me about what they did or built in Morning Tubs. It gave them a sense of confidence to be able to draw stories from playtime.
  5. Their creativity grew. It was a joy to see the creativity in my students grow. No longer was “I don’t know”, and option when it came to creating something. All of a sudden, each kid had new ideas or something to contribute.

Unstructured play was the greatest thing I could have ever done for my students, and I would encourage all teachers to give it a try in their classrooms. It may look totally different for you and your students and THAT’S OK! I know it’s hard for teachers to let go of the reins sometimes, but so much can come out of just 30 minutes a day. TRY IT!

My Home

I’ve got two babies at home; one is 15 months, the other is 2 months. While my 2 month old is “playing” with her hands, I’ve started to implement some structured and unstructured play for my 15 month old. She doesn’t understand that games come with rules, but she does understand how to play Peek-a-boo by observing the process and applying it to her own ability to play. She understands “chase” means that you run from mommy and when she “gets” you, it’s your turn to chase her! Those are great examples of “structured play” for little ones.

Luckily, little ones are WAY into unstructured play and it comes very easy to them. All you have to do is stick them in from of a pile of toys or in the middle of the living room and they can almost always find a way to entertain themselves without you having to create the fun for them! The DVD collection is very popular in our house.

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When she was about 12 months old, I began using “guided” play to work on Winnie J’s fine motor and problem solving skills.

Guided play is a mix between structured play and free play. Usually it means you give them the materials you want them to play with and then model a few ways to play with them. The kiddos can either roll with your example or come up with their own ways to use the materials. BOTH ARE OK!

Most of the activities I found on Pinterest! Here is my board for sensory and fine motor activities if you need some inspiration. These activities were super simple and we used things we already had laying around the house (aka FREE).  Here are a few of my favorites so far.

Corks and Bowls- This came about when Winnie J would throw a fit while we were cooking dinner or doing dishes. Out of desperation, I pulled out some plastic bowls, wooden spoons, and some wine corks! I dumped them into the bowls and let her do what she wanted with them. I modeled stirring them and switching them into different containers. The first few times she did just that. As she continued to play, the bowls became drums, she threw them from one bowl to the other, she tried to stack them, she rolled them, and they were a great teething toy!

Whisk and PomPoms- This activity is super simple. I just got neon pom poms from Hobby Lobby and put them inside of a whisk. I then showed Winnie how you can put the pom poms in and out of the whisk! This was to work her fine motor skills. I also offered cups and bowls for her to put the pom poms in and out of.  She loved this activity.

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Cups and Straws- I came up with this one when I saw how much Winnie loved taking out and putting in the straw from my cup. I got an old drink tumbler I didn’t use anymore and cut up some colorful plastic straws at different lengths. I didn’t have to show Winnie how to put them in the opening because she already knew. You can reignite the fun by switching up cups or containers to put them in.

Does it Fit?- This one is probably the most unstructured activity I’ve tried with Winnie. Again, very simple. I gathered different items/toys from around the house and different sized cups/containers. I simply laid them on the floor in front of Winnie and tried to put the different items in the different containers. I would ask, “Does it fit?” and model “Yes” or “No”. I then let Winnie take over and see what she did with it. She now does this with any item or container she sees! This activity is really great for teaching exploring and yes/no!

To sum up, play is NECESSARY in childhood development (don’t forget that adults need play too). Play is crucial to all areas of early development and helps to cultivate a child’s future. Each type of play is important and encouraged everyday!

I also have a friend who has an INCREDIBLE blog with great resources for toddler play and meals! Check out the Madre Mia Blog, here!

 

 

 

 

Mommy Mania Teacher Tales

To All the Moms I’ve Judged Before

November 18, 2018

First, all moms are superheroes.  It doesn’t matter how you became a mom; adoption, fostering, natural birth, C-section, planned, or unplanned. You are a superhero. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay at home mom, working mom, homeschooling mom, or room mom. You are a superhero.

This is a letter to working moms, specifically, teacher moms.

For three years, I secretly assumed and judged things I didn’t understand. My heart was hardened toward coworkers I thought weren’t giving their all to their job. I didn’t understand their lives and where their hearts were. “I’ll never be like that,” I thought, “I’ll be able to do it all when it comes time”. WELP. Here I am y’all; I’m on my knees begging you to forgive the judgments I’d placed on you. I was fifty shades of WRONG.

I thought coming back to work would be easy.  I believed that I could compartmentalize my heart and mind to be the best teacher I could be, then pick up my baby and be “mommy does it all”. LOL. Like my life would be the exact same with a tiny human in it?

I didn’t understand how a heart can be torn so completely in two. I didn’t understand that as soon as a little life is in your world, everything else comes second without you even thinking about it.  Here is my “I’m sorry”.

I’m sorry I didn’t understand. Lots of moms are late to work. I used to think “Oh my goodness, just wake up 10 minutes earlier”. Now I know, it doesn’t matter how early you wake up. When your kid takes 30 minutes to finish her bottle or has a major blowout on your way out the door, your timeline is screwed.  You weren’t lazy, you were being a mom. So much of motherhood is out of our control, and I’m sorry I didn’t understand that.

I’m sorry I questioned your commitments. When the fall festival or Christmas carnival came around and you didn’t jump at the opportunity to volunteer your time or money, I would wonder why these events weren’t more important to you. I didn’t know that these events fell at bedtime and having a routine is super important for a family, especially when you have to be functional the next day. I didn’t realize how much diapers, clothes, and baby things cost. No wonder your forehead wrinkled every time it came time to donate money to another staff member’s birthday or event. The most important thing was providing for your family, not buying donuts or balloons for another event.

I’m sorry I didn’t think that you had room in your heart for students and your kids. Before I had Winifred, my students were my whole life. I thought they were “my kids” and I couldn’t imagine what would happen when I had a kid of my own. How could I love my students AND my baby as much as I wanted to? Teacher moms, you do it every day.  Your heart was twice as big as mine. You learned to love you students and give them what they needed, then go home and love your own children with a fierceness I never knew of. That takes the most gentle and brave of women, to show nothing but compassion and love all day long. To “deal” with children during the school day and go home to MORE children was something I didn’t think I could handle. You guys showed me how to do that with such grace. Thank you.

I’m sorry I didn’t know how valuable your weekends were!! When you didn’t want to take work home or didn’t answer our teacher texts on the weekends, I was confused. “Your baby naps right?”, “Don’t you want your lessons to be cute and engaging”. These are the thoughts that would go through my mind. I didn’t understand that every moment of the weekend is precious with your baby on the weekends. You want to soak in each second you can spend with your child while you aren’t at work. Bringing work home is something you just don’t want to do when you have a beautiful baby to stare at! Your lessons are just as engaging with or without the cutesy-ness. Also naps, what are those?? LOL.

I didn’t understand how incredibly hardworking and strong you are.  I didn’t understand that you were SO tired and overwhelmed, but you came to work anyway, ready to rock and roll. I didn’t understand how easy it was to put your baby first and to follow your mother’s intuition. I didn’t understand how huge your heart had to be and how stretched thin you must have been.

I have learned my lesson in the most humbling of ways. You have NO clue what another mother is going through or what she is doing to take care of her baby. We are all moms and we’re all just trying to do our best. I pinky promise, I will never again judge another mother in a situation I know nothing about.
So, to all the moms I’ve judged before: thank you for showing me what being a superhero looks like.

 

 

 

Mommy Mania Teacher Tales

So, I Went Back to Work.

October 14, 2018

My first official day back at school was supposed to be October 11th. However, the kids didn’t have school on Monday, so I went back on the 8th to get my classroom ready for my return. I felt like I was prepared for the mess I would encounter when I went back. The few times I visited school to show off Winnie, everyone would tell me to not even look in my room and to enjoy my time without stressing about it. Every time I talked to my coworkers they told me it was bad but to put it out of my mind until it was time for me to come back. I listened, they were absolutely right. No matter how bad it was, there was nothing I could do until I came back. I didn’t look in my room and tried to come to terms with the fact that it was going to be a disaster. I was grateful for coworkers who were supportive of me taking full advantage of my leave. Nothing could have prepared me for what I would walk in to.

When I went in on Monday, I was in shock. It looked like an actual tornado had gone through my room.  Pencils, paper, erasers, book pages, crayons, markers, scissors, and chairs were strewn about the room. Worksheets were spilling out of every mailbox and cubbie. Student’s pencil boxes (which I had purchased and filled with supplies) were broken and covered with glue and markers. My teacher materials had been stolen or broken. I couldn’t believe it. Then, I saw my library and Fun Friday activities. Books, games, toys, and activities that I had purchased with hard earned money, DESTROYED. Fun Friday items that had been provided by Donors Choose, DESTROYED. Books had pages torn out, glued together, and the covers were torn off. My blocks and Magnatiles covered in glue and thrown all around. Everything covered in marker and pencil. The students had shoved the books and materials under every shelf. I burst into tears. I was livid and hurt. My blood was actually boiling. Upon investigation, I found there were about 4 students responsible for all of this, the rest had done minimal damage.  “These kids have no idea what’s about to hit them on Thursday”. I thought. My mom and I threw most everything away and organized what we could. We covered all my shelves with butcher paper and turned them toward the walls. It was as “kid proof” as I could get it while still being functional. For the next few days I stewed. What in the actual heck was I going to do? Would I rip my kids a new one or clean it up and move on with my year? I had no idea. I was still so mad I couldn’t decide.

 

When Thursday morning came, my only concern was dropping Winifred off at daycare. A former coworker of mine had started an at home daycare with her mother and was going to be taking care of her. When I got to the house, I actually felt good! The house was adorable, cozy, clean, and welcoming. Winnie had been in the house 10 seconds and was already being loved on. They took her out of the car seat and gave me a tour, it was perfect. It made my mommy heart so happy to know she was going to be safe and loved by wonderful people.  However, when it came time for me to leave her and go to school, I couldn’t hold back the tears. They started streaming down my face as I thought about being away from her all day. I couldn’t fathom how this day had already come. She was so little. She had just started smiling, and now I was going to miss days full of her smiles. I knew she was going to be ok. I just didn’t know if I would be. I had already cried off my mascara as I pulled into the school parking lot, but I had to get my ish together. It was going to be a long day.

I decided I wouldn’t go on a war path to make my students pay for what they’d done. Yes, they should have behaved much better, but they’re 6. So, I collected some of the destroyed items and placed them in the front of the room. After breakfast, I brought the kids to the carpet and explained that I was sad and my feelings were very hurt about how our classroom was treated. I held up each item and we talked about the way it should be used and not be used. Surprisingly, the students who were responsible fessed up and I had to celebrate their honesty. It’s not easy for a 6 year old to own up to something that might get them in a ton of trouble. We took a deep breath together and made a pinky promise to handle our classroom objects with great care and respect. I gently reminded them that if they had anything to confess to or return to me (a lot of stuff had been stolen), that no one would be in trouble. Some students confessed or pulled my materials out of their backpacks and we celebrated that our friends were brave enough to be honest! I wanted to set up my classroom as a place of trust and honesty. As hard as it was for me to let go of my destroyed materials, I knew that if I wanted to have a successful year with these babes, I had to move on. So, another deep breath and we all let it go. It’s all just material things and it won’t matter at the end of the year. We have learning to do!  #wewillrebuild

Now, if you know about my school year last year, it was rough. I had a student in my class who did some physical and psychological damage to the point of me having to be put on anti anxiety medication during my pregnancy. I was hoping for some reprieve this year and, for the most part, I got it. I have a class of the SWEETEST and brightest babes. I do, however, have one little trouble nugget. She is just as sweet and just as bright as the others but she has trouble with the word “No” or redirection of any kind. She had run my classroom for 9 weeks and was not a fan of me coming in to change her routine. By 9 am, I was in tears again. She was giving my behavior management skills a run for their money and I was already exhausted. Luckily, my administration was there for me and intervened when I needed help, but I started thinking about Winnie. I was questioning if this was going to be worth leaving my daughter.  I began to calculate all the things I was willing to give up to be a stay at home mom. I could live without Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Starbucks,  makeup, fast food, getting my nails done, etc. I would live minimally if need be. I love my job, and I’m really really good at it, but it didn’t want it to affect the kind of mother I would be. I didn’t want to go through the hell I’d gone through last year. The day was full of tears. I kept repeating “I can’t do this. I can’t do this”.  I went home that day and just collapsed into my mom. I looked at her and asked “How do moms do this?” Was there something I was missing?

I thought seriously about just walking away and never going back, but I’m glad I did. Friday was much better. Winnie’s daycare sent me out with a warm, homemade tortilla and two fresh tamales (they are the best family)! How could my day not already be better? My nugget had another rough day, but our first meltdown was at 10am this time instead of first thing in the morning, so I count that as a win!! She was getting better and responding to me, while my administrators continued to intervene and constantly support me.  I could see a light at the end of the tunnel; maybe this wouldn’t be a repeat of last year. The other 16 babes were wonderful. You could tell they were craving structure and rigor in the classroom! They were masters at our routines and procedures by the middle of the Friday. I got so many hugs and drawings that I thought my heart would explode. My friend at the daycare sent me a video of Winnie sleeping soundly and it gave me some peace. I felt myself getting back into the groove of this job that I love so much. It felt good!! I know this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.

I’m just gonna say it, working moms amaze me. All moms amaze me, but I was not prepared for how difficult this would be. I love my job and I love my baby. Will I be working forever? I don’t know, but I do know that this year will be a good one. Finding a balance will be a priority.  I’m learning how healthy it is for me to separate my work from my family life now that I’m a mom. I could go on about how I now understand things I used to judge moms for before I was one, but that’s for another blog post.

 

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