Why I Cried in my Classroom Today

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

I was talking to another teacher yesterday and he was telling me he’s ready to come back to school. “I hate the end of things – whether it’s the school year or the summer – I get impatient to start what’s next .”

I hate the end of things too, but for an entirely different reason. I hate endings.

  • I always hesitate before turning the last page of a truly great book – because I’m reluctant to say good-bye to the characters.
  • I’ve never seen the final episode for Full House, Wonder Years, Dawson’s Creek, or Gilmore Girls because if the screenwriters choose to NOT give the characters a happily ever after, I didn’t want to see it. I’d prefer the unknown to a resolution that would haunt me.
  • The end of the school year makes me cry – those kiddos will go on to great adventures, but I won’t be in their day-to-day lives to see their triumphs.
But there’s something particularly awful about the end of summer, because not only does it mark a new beginning, but it requires classroom set-up as well. I am not a visual-spatial person. The idea of setting up a single room so that it’s functional for 28 people is beyond my scope. So each year I stand in the chaos of desks and boxes, folders and textbooks and I cry. Every year.

But why? I’m not a crier and even though I never believe it in-that-moment, I know it will all get finished and organized – or at least shoved away somewhere.

So why tears?

It’s because of the NEW. I’m not crying for loose-leaf paper or post-it notes. Not even for that last desk that won’t fit anywhere or the spelling book that’s gone missing over the summer.

I’m crying because I’m worried about the NEW. My tears say: Hey New Kiddos I Don’t Know Yet, I want this classroom to be perfect for YOU and I hope you like it and I hope you like me.

I know by late September I’ll be able to tell any of these kiddos to find a spot for the index cards or a better way to store the extra copies of Time For Kids. They’ll be telling me where they want to sit and how to rearrange the desks.

… but that first day, when we don’t know each other yet, I want to offer them perfection.

I feel the same way about writing. I’ve been dreading and procrastinating about my next writing project. LUCKY MIA’S still on the walls of the NTB – even though I haven’t needed those notes in months. I just can’t bring myself to erase them yet.

What if I don’t love my next project as much as I love this book? What if the characters don’t resonate as loudly or keep me up at night with fierce wonderings? My outdated MIA-notes are a literary security blanket, they’re a reflection of my endings issues. I don’t want to let go.

But it’s FEARLESS Summer, so I will. I spent yesterday afternoon making notes on potential next projects. I’ve got five vying for my attention, clamoring to be noticed. I used my big teacher paper and markers – I’m not ready to commit one to the whiteboard walls yet – and gave each story the chance to say “Pick me!” And they ALL did.

So, baby steps. I’ve got them on paper… I’ve hung the paper on the wall in the NTB.

Someday soon I’ll be reaching for erasers – both in the classroom and the NTB – and in both instances I’ll learn, as I always do, that while new may be scary… it’s also so exhilarating too.

Restless-Fearless Summer

Fearless Summer has also apparently become Restless Summer because I can’t seem to stop traveling.

Not that I’m complaining. Travel provides many opportunities to be Fearless.
Last week I drove to Newport, RI – BY MYSELF. I was meeting high school friends, but they were coming down from Boston while I was coming up from PA. Up through unfamiliar roads, blinding downpours and hours of stop and go traffic.

It was supposed to take 5 hours. It really took 7.5 and I fought with my GPS (Wendy) the whole way because she really wanted me to take the George Washington Bridge and I knew I needed to take the Tappen Zee. Every once in a while she’d say in this digitally huffy voice: “Recalculating.” A voice that suggests what she wanted to say was: “Moron, why do you keep messing up my perfectly clear directions?”

But it was my trip, not Wendy’s and I was Fearless. So I ignored her insults* pressed onward and arrived a little restless, but with courage intact.

I may have stopped along the way for a quick stress-reducing shopping trip…
But, I also accomplished two of Victoria’s DARES!

1) I have cartwheeled!
2) I have let a waitress order my meal: red-pepper fettuccini with warm tomatoes and cool cheese. It had a fancy name but I didn’t write it down. It was delicious. I WILL do this again.

I’m working on Courtney’s shirt and the rest of the dares… I believe that the shirt will be necessary for the *gulp* fearless adventure I will be having soon…

Any one else have a DARE? Bring it! I can handle anything this Fearless Summer.

*Wendy totally got me back on the way home by activating some crazy Avoid-Interstates option. I didn’t figure this out right away so the first hour of my trip was rather circuitous – but scenic.


As a child I was ~fearless~! Fearless and lacking self-preservation to a degree that terrified my mother and landed me in the ER many, many times.

I had no qualms about introducing myself to strangers, singing and dancing in grocery stores, putting bras on my head and popping out from the middle of clothing racks in the mall. I’d scramble up a climbing wall like a monkey and fling myself from the top. If this wasn’t the time I learned to fly, I was always confident it would happen as soon as the cast came off or the stitches came out.

Getting bit by two dogs didn’t stop me from patting the next one. People who didn’t appreciate my less-than-coordinated dancing or enthusiastic-but-off-key singing were dismissed with a shrug. And if you hurt my feelings or displeased me – you heard about it, along with the whole neighborhood.

Somewhere along the way I lost this. I grew a skin of fear, which all too quickly coated and subdued my impulsive courage. Risk factors begin to weigh more than potential benefits. Potential consequences dominated potential gain, and soon all I could see were the consequences. A big change since I’d always been an act-first, time-out-later type of kid.

By high school I was too scared to learn to drive and didn’t get my permit until after my 17th birthday. I missed countless opportunities because I was too terrified to return a phone call, attend a party, take a chance outside my safe group of friends.

I’m an adult now – but I still have phobias that trap me:

*I won’t sleep with the closet door open for fear of being sucked into the Poltergeist-dimension.

*I stopped swimming laps at nighttime after reading a Mary Higgins Clark book where the heroine was drown by a murderer wearing SCUBA gear and waiting at the bottom of her pool.

*Order pizza? No way. Not after that time when I was 14 and babysitting and the man at Sal’s screamed and accused me of being a pranker because I didn’t know the address and had to check a piece of mail.

*I wussed out of Jet-skiing because of what happened when I tried moped’ing in Italy.

*Zoomba? I’ve been invited by four different friends, but it sounds too much like dance class and we all know how that turned out…

*I’m terrified of offending people, so when my feelings are hurt, I swallow it with a smile.

But NOT anymore. I’m declaring this my Summer of Fearless and I’m reclaiming some of the bravery I’ve been hemorrhaging for far too long.

So DARE me. CHALLENGE me. Ask me a WHAT-IF that requires me to do, not just think.

And when I go to wimp out, freeze me with a look and threaten to take away my night light and security blanket if I don’t comply.

I may not be that fearless little imp anymore, but maybe if I do a good enough impression of her for long enough, maybe it won’t feel so much like pretending.

St. Matt’s School Visit

St. Matt came to school with me on Friday. It was the kiddos’ last day and emotions were running high as limits were being tested.

St. Matt’s come to school with me once before; he chaperoned a field trip to the Franklin Institute with last year’s Angel Class. I assigned him the most cooperative girls of the Angel Class and he spent the day supervising conversations like this:

Kiddo 1: “Mr. Schmidt, can we please go to the human body exhibit?”
St. Matt: “Is that what everyone wants to do?”
Kiddo 2: “I wanted to see sports exhibit – let’s see yours first and then mine if there’s time.”
Kiddo 3: “Sounds like a great plan!”

At the end of the day he gave me a smug, skeptical look. “This is supposed to be hard? They compromised, group hugged and smiled the whole day. I didn’t have to do anything but hold a sweatshirt while they went in the bathroom.”

I rolled my eyes and bided my time. A year later he was back at school – and this year’s class is Team Tiara, just as wonderful but not a smidgen angelic. The kiddos quickly obtained St. Matt’s permission to call him by his first name and took full advantage of smirking and asking things like: “Mrs. Schmidt or Maa-att, would it be okay if I ran this card down to the art teacher?” Matt, I still have a clipboard in my cubby, where should I put it?”

Each “Matt” was accompanied by a giggle or mischievous grin – infectious and irresistible.

The kiddos had a half-day – mostly consumed by their farewell breakfast and yearbook signing – during which St. Matt was a hot commodity. The whole sixth grade packed the cafeteria with their yearbooks and Sharpies and swapped signatures. Few outside of my homeroom knew who St. Matt was, but that didn’t stop the students from demanding his autograph – some bypassed me to get to him. One kiddo went up to her teacher and reported, “Mrs. Schmidt’s husband looks really young…. He’s cute.That explains the number of giggling girls and glitter pens waiting for him – can’t say I blame them!

The last hour of the day was for the Schmidties. Our final class meeting. There were tears, laughs, and lots of “do you remember when….” There were reflections: “Can you believe we’re going to be the youngest in the school again?” And a smiling, “Matt, you’re much quieter than Mrs. Schmidt.”

“We balance each other out,” was St.Matt’s diplomatic reply.
Mine was more candid: “I bring the crazy; he brings the normal.”
The kiddos all nodded, sagely and immediately accepting this as true.

There was time for one last enthusiastic singing of “Don’t Stop Believing” and the dismissal announcements came on.

The kiddos’ faces vacillated between summer-excitement and farewell-panic. Hugs were given, received, given again and a few kiddos were gently pushed out of the classroom so they wouldn’t miss their busses.

The door shut behind the last kiddo and I turned to face St. Matt – sitting at my desk with his chin in his hand. “I’m exhausted.”

I nodded and looked around the classroom. It needed to be packed away and I’d barely started. I’d tried taking down posters earlier in a week but a kiddo had protested: “It’s so sad to see our classroom not look like our classroom anymore.” So I’d stopped.

Now I’d run out of excuses and there were only three hours until the faculty party. St. Matt’s engineering nature assessed the state of my cabinets and began to remove items and reorganize them in space-efficient manners.

My non-engineering nature sat down opened presents and re-read the cards my kiddos had given me. Then I responded to e-mails from parents –including a piece of fan mail about St. Matt: “My son so enjoyed meeting your husband. It just made his day.”

St. Matt called me over and asked me to look through a pile and identify what should be saved and what could be tossed. I told him the story of every item in the pile as he reorganized my supply cabinet and uh-huh’d.

The day proceeded in this manner:

Me: “Oh, look at this…” Flitting from project to project.
St. Matt: pragmatic, organized, efficient. “Tiffany, could you please…”

Finally, at five o’clock – now two hours late for the party, St. Matt decided, “You have 15 minutes. Anything that’s not in a cabinet in 15 minutes, we’re throwing away.”
“Okay, let me just pick a song.”
“15 minutes.”
“Well, we need the right song.”

I settled on Warren G’s “Regulators” and got to work. 13 minutes later I was shutting off the lights and shutting the door to room 202, precariously balancing bags of books, gifts from kiddos, the classroom plants and our one surviving fish, Yumberry.

We loaded the car, and St. Matt slumped behind the wheel with tired eyes. I reached over and poked him, “Hey! Guess what? It’s SUMMER! Ready for the party?”

“I’m ready for a nap.”

Lesson’s learned my last day of school:
St. Matt’s cute (well, duh!)
St. Matt’s quieter than me (I knew this already!)
St. Matt’s patient (knew this too)
He’s a better packer (so? I’m a better pack-rat)
And he’s a big WIMP if one 1/2 day with the kiddos tired him out!

Top 10 Teacherly things that make me melt:

1) Hearing my class groan in unison when I pick up the bookmark during read aloud and then beg: “One more page, please!”

2) The bucakaroo who stops by my desk at dismissal each day, waits until he has my attention, makes eye contact and says: “Thanks for today.” And sincerely means it.

3) During scary or intense parts of read aloud, the kiddos unconsciously snuggle closer to their turn & talk partner in a way that is all too innocent and adorable.

4) 26 sixth graders wearing tiaras to support a classmate who’s very ill

5) Returning to the classroom after walking the kiddos to gym and discovering that the straggler in line was leaving a surprise note on my desk telling me why I’m her “favorite teacher ever.”

6) E-mails & visits from the first class of Schmidties who are now in 10th grade. E-mails and visits from last year’s Schmidties every time they read a book they love. E-mail and visits from any former- Schmidty

7) Class meetings.

8) When they get so comfortable they sing – loudly – while working. Even if we don’t have music playing.

9) Monday mornings when they run down the hallway to share something from their Writer’s Notebooks (or holler from the stairwells: “Mrs. Schmidt, wait ‘til you see this…”)

10) When the clock hits 3:00 PM, I tell them it’s time to pack up & they startle and respond, “Already? Seriously?”

I’ll have to wait until September 1st to start drafting a new list – with a new crop of kiddos. I met them today; they seem sweet, small, and nervous – soon enough they’ll be singing.

Tonight I graduated the current crop – mostly dry-eyed and smile-faced. There may be a few tears between now and tomorrow night, but the pull of summer-excitement is fairly irresistible.

Days of hammocks, reading, writing, running, coffee-shopping & procrastinated-projects will keep me twirly.

And all too soon it will be Septemeber 1st – 5 AM wake ups, and a new group of kiddos to love.

But first: picnics, ‘ritas, tennis, fireflies, s’mores, vacations, drive-ins, ice cream & kayaking…

And one last hug from each kiddo at dismissal tomorrow.

But, but… I’m just not ready to say good-bye

Confession: I will meet next year’s crop of kiddos on Thursday morning. I will spend an hour with them and smile and prattle. And I will hate them.

Not for always, but for that morning I will. I won’t want them. I’ll be vehemently wishing they’d stayed in their fifth grade classrooms with the teachers who loved them so I didn’t have to fake a smile and waste an hour away from my own kiddos.

Because there are so few hours left. Thursday night my 08-09 Schmidties will graduate – I’ll dab at tears and read their names with a proud and wistful smile. Friday they have a graduation breakfast and at noon I give them one last hug and send them out to their busses as middle schoolers.

Then I shut my classroom door and bawl. And offer a prayer that middle school is careful with them – or if the other middle schoolers aren’t kind, that they remain kind and supportive to each other. And remember that they’re amazing – no matter who conspires to tell them otherwise or what doubts sprout with hormones in the back of their brains.

But Thursday morning I spend with next year’s class. I know I’ll love them. I know they’ll be phenomenal and amaze me in all sorts of creative and unpredictable ways, but right now they’re usurpers – trying to steal their ways into a heart that’s slightly broken with impending farewells.

I know I’ve done my job. I know that each Schmidty feels loved and valued. I know they’ve grown, matured, and changed since September. They are ready – each and every one of them – for the new challenges that middle school will bring them.

I’m just not ready to say good-bye…

Blithe thoughts… & Blythe names?

Sitting beside me right now is something spectacular; I can’t stop petting it. It’s the best Summer Present from the best husband ever: a Sony E-book Reader. But it needs a name. I need your help!

I’ve been wanting one of these for ages, but the moment it became essential was when my colleague, Mr. Techie, let me borrow his (link to zombie blog). As soon as I flicked the power switch, it was too late. I’d been infected with I-need-an-ebook-syndrome. INAEBS has many symptoms, they include envy, whining, and hours spent researching different brands.

The cure to INAEBS would also cure me of another dangerous ailment: I-need-a-certain-book-NOW virus . Where now is 2 AM and the bookstore doesn’t open until 9:30.

I pointed this out to St. Matt: “Think how much happier I’d be if as soon as I finished one book, I could download the next.”
To which he responded, “You’d never sleep again.”
“But, but…” I had no argument. He had a point.

This week he suddenly relented. I called during recess, sang him a silly made-up ebook reader song, and e-mailed him a coupon Mr. Techie had found me. St. Matt responded with: “It’ll be there when you get home tonight.”

Wait! What?

Only the store was sold out so I had to wait until today when we went and picked it up together. And now I’m happy and can’t stop patting it.

I think my song did him in. Or my winning argument was pointing out we have TWO vacations planned for this summer and reminding him that no matter how many books I pack, I always run out mid-trip. “Do you remember our honeymoon and how hard it was to hunt down an bookstore in Sicily that had books in English?”

(Not that I expect this to be a problem in New Mexico or Canada, but it made my point).

Now that it’s charging next to me, there are some vital things I need to do:

1) Pick out a case. I’m thinking something pink & green.
2) Download the software & read the manual
3) Pick out my first books

The Sony seems male to me, so I’ve been compiling boys’ names: Fergus, Gustav, Nemoy…

So far my favorite is Gilbert. As in Gilbert Blythe, because:

A) He’s awesome and put up with A LOT from Anne (he kinda reminds me of St. Matt).
B) I’m going back to P.E.I. in August. The drive to get there is so long
that half the car would need be packed with books to keep me occupied. It was either get me an ebook reader or leave St. Matt’s golf clubs behind.

Have fun on the links, Love. I’ll be curled up with [name of new ebook reader to be finalized] and I’ll see you when you get home.

So Gilbert’s the front runner. Do you approve? Any ideas on where to get #1 or what I should choose for #3?

*pets possibly-Gilbert lovingly*

I’m melting… melting…

The high temp for Doylestown today was 86°. The lowest temperature my classroom managed today was 86° – and that was at 7:30 in the morning before 26 preteens arrived to add their body heat to the mix.

The classroom worked its way above 90°, so we did most of our work outside, chasing shade around the school as it shifted with the hours. I mother-duckling’d the kiddos: “Bud, you need to get under that tree,” “Sweetpea, scoot back a few inches, your shoulders are in the sun.” They were sent home sweaty and flushed, but without sun damage.

Did I take similar care of my own precious skin? Not so much – although I didn’t realize this right away. I noticed my coworkers giving my sidelong glances after school. A couple made comments: “Spend some time outside today, Tiffany?” Being an idiot, I worried my class had been too loud and disturbed others – but no, they were unusually quiet, subdued by the child-melting heat of our classroom. It wasn’t until I arrived home and looked in the mirror that I figured out how my colleagues knew I’d had a courtyard-classroom today.

Do I match my powder pink polo shirt? No. I am burned darker, more like the color of a Macintosh apple. I’ve got reverse racoon eyes, white in the places my sunglasses covered. Guess I might have to add sunblock to my morning routine.

I’m too cranky and pink to do much more of a blog, so I’ll just leave you with this:

Ten Signs it’s too hot in your classroom

10) You can pick up a piece paper by pressing your warm palm to it. Sweat makes an excellent adhesive.

9) Each time you shift in your seat, it makes an embarrassing ~squeeelph~ noise. Each time it makes this noise, you feel the need to say: “It’s just the chair.” And everyone gives you a sure-sure look, even though they know it’s really just the seat.

8) The room starts to take on a funny odor that reminds you of childhood summers – you hunt for the source and realize that it’s the crayons melting in their bins.

7) The room starts to take on another odor – this one isn’t funny at all – the smell of 26 pre-teen bodies post recess-basketball.

6) Pens and pencils slip from sweaty hands while writing. This may occur spontaneously and accidentally once or twice. Then it becomes accidentally-on-purpose.

5) Snack time string cheese becomes snack time soup cheese.

4) Math class features problems like: If it’s 90° in Doylestown, snowing in Denver and 26° in Montana, where would we like to live right now?

3) Your projector overheats before morning announcements, rendering all of your PowerPoint, SmartNotebook files, and lessons unusable.

2) The kiddos ask you to play ♫Frosty the Snowman♫ and ♫The Nutcracker Suite♫so they can “visualize snow”

1) Despite being alarmingly under-caffeinated, you wait until your coffee is room temperature before drinking it.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be in the 50’s again – so we won’t have a repeat of today. What we may have, however, is students who come to school dressed for a repeat of today – and spend the hours between morning announcements and dismissal with chattering teeth and goosebumpy arms.

At least I won’t have to worry about sunburns.

What-will-I-do-this-summer? Suggestions welcome.

Whatever temperature today was, it’s my favorite. I needed to apply sunblock before post-school lounging in the backyard with a book. There was more than spring in the air, there was a touch of summer as well.

There’s only 37 days of school left as well – less than Lent.

Clearly it’s time to start making my summer list.

Last June-July I participated in the National Writing Project. Between that and four months of thrice-weekly 2-hour long physical therapy sessions, my summer wasn’t my own.

2009 hasn’t been gentle with me so far, but I’m claiming this summer as my own. No classes, no commitments. Time to read, write, recharge, relax, and re-learn how to sleep.

But apart from those lofty goals and the typical kayaking, tennis, ice-cream making, badminton playing, I need some other things to fill my day.

In no particular order, here’s my work-in-progress list:

 Watch Dr. Who (and figure out what all the fuss is about)
 Go to P.E.I. with the family (& re-read all of the Anne books before/during)
 Vacation with J-bean and Drew (Albuquerque? Vancouver? Denver? … tbd)
 Jack’s Mannequin & the Fray concert
 Read
 Write
 Throw the Austen party I’ve been promising for years
 Complete a 5-mile race (check out my self-restraint, it says 5-mile, not marathon)
 Catch up on the entire season of Gossip Girl
 Read
 Write
 Learn Italian
 Take a pottery class
 Re-read House of Leaves and book club it with Dad
 Host a Harry Potter movie-marathon before HP6 comes out
 Quality puggle-hammock snuggle time
 Read
 Write
 Go to the drive-in (oooo, possibly for Harry Potter 6!)

It’s not a very long list so far. Luckily we have 37 more school days to add to it. Suggestions?