Goals In Progress: Camping Gear and Graphic Design

Goals In Progress: Camping Gear and Graphic Design

So, it’s official.  I’ve become a tiny entrepreneur in a very large pond of them.  I opened a Teachers Pay Teachers store.

And I have to admit, when I saw my Walden worksheet pinned on Pinterest, I felt a happy little twinge. You read that right.  My worksheet on Walden has been pinned. By a stranger. On Pinterest.

I feel a little famous.

igotpinned2
So many cool photo quips could go here.  Choose your favorite. 
It’s not a huge thing, but I made it, someone pinned it, AND someone paid $1.50 for it. Hooray for a new pack of gum!

It’s a close reading practice worksheet that I made for use in my classroom–nothing too snazzy, and believe me, some of the teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers have serious addictions to snazzy.

I made a series of these close reading practice worksheets because even in honors classes, my kids are struggling with Walden.  Thoreau loved long, complex sentences, and for kids who are used to Textspeak, it’s a whole new level of comprehension, analysis, and interpretation.

You can see all seven of my items for sale here.  Go on. You know you need some Walden close reading worksheets in your life.  There will be more posted as I sift through my older stuff and refresh it for my marketing staff.

AND!  I’ve sold a couple of printables to some bloggers in the past few weeks, money that is going to be used to finish collecting camping gear this week for vacation next week.  Two camp chairs and two hammocks later, I’m feeling pretty good about my new hobby.

I’ll post links when those items go live, because if people like the work I did and download it from the blogger who bought it, then maybe that blogger will buy more, which will allow me to eventually save enough money to maybe someday afford a trip to Disney.

Seriously.  Have you seen their prices?  Hopefully the kids will be able to come home from college so we can go.

 

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Seven Ways I’m Recharging Over Spring Break

Seven Ways I’m Recharging Over Spring Break

Five school days left until my favorite week of the year: Spring Break.  Great weather, great friends, great family plans–It’s all mapped out in my head and I can’t wait! Like usual, I have probably over scheduled it, but there’s so much refreshing that needs to be done. I need to sleep in a bit, recharge, and re-energize for the last nine weeks of school.

Part of the week involves a much-needed family getaway, but the rest of the week?  All mine!

Easier said than done, right?  Here are my plans to make the most of this precious week.

  1. Get a babysitter.  If you have small children, treat yourself to a day off from everything.  I am planning to hire a sitter for one whole day, in which I will attempt to do as many of the other things on this list as I can.
  2. Spend time with some water. The beach, the lake, the river, a creek, a pool–any
    IM000673.JPG
    Lake Michigan.  Yes, it’s really that blue.

    largish or moving body of water will do.  There is something magically meditative about water, whether it has your feet wrapped in a cool hug or is holding you up on a float, it is hands down the best way to spend a few hours and unwind.

  3. Take a nap. During the school year, I don’t get to do this much, but I am convinced that an entire continent and part of Europe cannot be wrong about the restorative importance of an afternoon siesta.  So one afternoon, there will be a large fajita-filled lunch to get me in the mood, followed by a faceplant into my pillow.  It already feels amazing.
  4. Go junkin’. I love thrift stores. I do not, however, love thrift stores if I have to take my children with me.  They are 4, 6, and 7. I love them, and they can suck the joy out of a 50 cent Goodwill sale like no little people I’ve ever met. It’s hard to dig through a pile of wallets or a rack of clothes when you are fussing at your son to stop wearing the pink heels, catching your 6 year-old before she manages to hang upside down off the clothing rack, and before your 7 year old launches into a “Why Smoking is Nasty” lecture at the lady she saw stubbing out her cigarette outside.   There will be either a flea market, auction, or thrift store afternoon–without the kiddos– so I can relax and enjoy the hunt.
  5. holyhellcoverRead something for fun. Because I teach English, the only reading I get to do during the school year are student papers and the literature I’m teaching. And there’s only so
    many times you can read about Scout and Jem before even they lose their appeal.  (This year was an exception though–I got to read my husband’s first novel.  Check it out here!)  This spring break, I have a few brain candy murder mysteries lined up, and I’m planning to take them to the beach with me.  Two birds and all that.  Plus I just bought folding rocking chair, so I am all set!
  6. Have a big afternoon out!  I am going to kidnap several of my friends and we’re going to sit at an outdoor table and tell stories and save the world over drinks and appetizers.  You’re all invited!!
  7. Explore your artistic talents.  As far as DIY addictions go, mine is small but mighty. I have the materials to make a dozen (really cute) birdfeeders, a set of letter canvases to paint for the entrance, an area taped off to sand and paint into a hallway chalk board, the fabric for the Christmas pajamas I was too tired to make in December, and the fabric to redo my dining room chairs waiting in my cart at fabric.com.  My goal is to finish at least one of these projects over spring break, so I can say I accomplished something on my to-do list. And because I promised my husband I wouldn’t buy any more project stuff until I actually finished a project.
    coloring books - Copy
    The top ones are all Thaneeya McArdle’s work.  I *LOVE* her designs. I even bought her color a picture a day calendar.  So awesome.

    I also have a significant collection of adult coloring books and a small set of colored pencils and Sharpies that I plan to spend some quality time with.  I was super excited to find that my co-op order will be here in time for Spring Break.  Check this out and be jealous!   If you haven’t checked out Thaneeya McArdle’s coloring books, you are seriously missing out. They are the perfect combination of large and small designs and I am addicted.  (Remind me later to write about using adult coloring pages in class!)

  8. And just so you can say you accomplished something really important, purge your junk drawer.  This is actually at the top of my to-do list, if only so I can say, without lying, “I did some clutter purging over break, and you’re right! It felt great.”

As a teacher, fighting burnout is one of the most important things you can do.  This year I have a plan, and I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready to go!  Who’s with me?  What are your plans?  Do you have any great ideas that I’ve missed?  Share them in the comments!

Too Much Water in the Kool-Aid

Too Much Water in the Kool-Aid

Clear-Out-the-Dead-Wood-Thats-Holding-You-BackToday’s lesson on writing in 10th grade ELA was on eliminating unnecessary words and phrases.  My favorite high school teacher called it “eliminating the deadwood,” and in today’s class, my standard, “Don’t waste your reader’s attention span on words they don’t need to read” was not explanation enough for one of my students.

At issue was my admonition: Don’t say “I think.”  Don’t say “I believe.”  Say what you want to say like it is fact, and people will take your argument more seriously.  Z. kept insisting that there had to be more to it, a better reason.  And I couldn’t think of another reason or another way to explain it.  Then M. piped up.

“Do you ever make Kool-Aid?”kool aid.1

That got my attention.  “Yes ma’am. What does this have to do with writing  a paragraph?”

“Well, it’s like when you’re making Kool-Aid, if you put too much water in it, it loses its flavor.  You don’t want your paragraph to lose its flavor by cramming it with too many extra words.”

Best metaphor on revising ever. Good thinking, M.

Extra credit for you!

 

Testimony to the State Senate Education Committee

Testimony to the State Senate Education Committee

Tomorrow, the GA Senate Education and Youth Committee is meeting to discuss the Student Protection Act, the 355 Substitute Bill, which addresses the following:

  • tests will not assess personal attitudes or beliefs
  • test reports will identify specific skills not just general domains.
  • school readiness assessments can be ITBS
  • paper and pencil tests upon parent request
  • school system must have policies for student learning activities during testing if the child is not to take the exam
  •  no child is to be punished for non-participation
  •  2% cap on testing time as part of total instructional time
  • parent refusal for any child who is disabled or seriously ill
  • physician refusal including therapist
  • a student who fails the first time may take a different retest (ITBS) and/ or may be retested at functional level.
  • if a schools rating is affected by refusals that fact will be indicated in final report by DOE as well as the score the school would have received if not for the federal 95% mandate
  • no teacher or administrator will be penalized by any refusals
  • promotion may be determined by ITBS scores.
  • DFCS attendance policies will not include days during testing where a parent keeps their child home.  (copied and reformatted from FB post in a closed group)

Here is my testimony, which will be read by a stand in for me, tomorrow at the hearing.

 

To the Education Committee of the State Legislature of GA:

As both a high school ELA teacher and a parent in the state of Georgia, I have seen both sides of testing:  I’ve seen what it does in my classroom, to my students, and I’ve seen what it’s done to my children.

As a teacher, I am ever so tired of saying, “You might see this on the test like this…,” “On a test your options might be phrased like this…,” and “When you do this on the test you’ll only have this many minutes.”  I used to be able to connect the content to future careers and real life scenarios, or to art and music and college.

Now, it’s all about the Test.  This is capitalized on purpose, because it doesn’t matter what manner of alphabet soup they’re called, they all do the same thing. They mostly check to see how a student does on a small range of skills in a stressful set of timed circumstances. Then the scores are stacked up against all the other kids in the state unfortunate enough to have to endure up to a month’s worth of testing at the end of the school year.

This doesn’t take into consideration the practice tests or the benchmarks given based on the district’s need for data, or the school’s determination to produce the best results possible. I don’t fault the teachers in my school or my administration, because we all have to earn our paychecks.  But the policy makers? The ones who have never taught a day in their lives?

Here, have some blame.

Many of my students are brilliant writers, but can’t do math very well.  Some have math smarts, and do ok in ELA. Others can take apart, repair, and reassemble a robot with their eyes closed, but don’t handle test pressure very well.  Some are fairly balanced in their academic skills. Some have serious deficits. Some can sing, draw, paint, connect with little kids (or the elderly, mentally ill, homeless, etc) and work wonders.  They are all expected to pass the same tests in the same amount of time, despite their differences.  Teachers have been told to differentiate, but the tests don’t.

Most of the things we want kids to be able to do to be successful adults aren’t things that can be measured on tests, but they are the things that have been removed from our classrooms to make room for testing and test prep.  I wouldn’t complain so much about it if the things measured and reported actually meant something. But they don’t.

By the time we get to the GMAS, my kids have pretty much decided the following:

  1. They hate writing because the only kind of writing we focus on is constructed response (paragraph long answers structured by a formula that must be followed to earn the points on the test) short narratives, and argumentative essays. The three types of writing on the GMAS test.
  1. They hate reading because it’s always followed by multiple choice questions that are stacked so if you miss the first one in a set, you’re likely to miss the follow-ups.
  1. They don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, but they know they don’t want to teach.

None of this is good for students, teachers, or the future of public education.  It’s not good for parents who want their kids to be successful, but realize that the current environment created in our schools by corporate testing and data crunching is creating physically damaging stress for everyone.

I’m extremely lucky, blessed, and happy to be at a specialty school, where our students have to apply to get in, and keep their grades up to stay.  Testing at our school starts in mid-April, and ends about two days before school lets out.  Between end of pathways testing, GMAS, AP, etc, our school is in test mode for about a month.

This means that we can’t teach new content because on any given day, we’ll be missing half our students for a test, and the ones missing on Monday may or may not be the same ones missing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  And if they haven’t tested for another class yet, most of us are willing to share our students for last minute cram sessions because we know what’s at stake. 20% of their grade in up to five classes at a time at my school.

What if 20% of your paycheck for a year was determined by one day’s worth of your work?

For my own kindergarten-aged daughter, N., I have seen the push to learn to read in kindergarten destroy my daughter’s love of school.  She used to get excited and yell, “Yay!” at bedtime when we said, “Yes, school tomorrow!”

Her big grin has been replaced with a deep sigh.  She spends a lot of her time at school drilling sight words in preparation for her next DIBELS test. She has a speech impediment, and that stopwatch is a mortal enemy.

How would that make you feel? The thing you have struggled the most with in your six years of life and someone is clicking a stop watch off and on in front of you as you try desperately to sound out an answer?  I work with my child daily, as does her awesome teacher (whose hands are tied by this craziness), and we can both tell you where N’s progress is in reaching the kindergarten goals.  DIBELS is unnecessary to our knowledge of her progress.  If you’ve never seen a DIBELS test, please consider looking up the test on YouTube.

I’m writing this tonight and emailing you because I couldn’t take the time off work to come see you in person; I have students and children who need me here, four hours away.  I seriously considered taking a personal day, and driving a total of eight hours in one day to come, testify for three minutes, and return home because I know you need to hear from real people, who are experiencing the real consequences of the direction our state’s education system is heading.  But I can’t.

So I’m pleading with you, asking you —one professional, one parent to another— pass the Student Protection Act.  It’s not the cure, but it’s a start; the children, parents and teachers in this state need it.

And, as much as I’d like to believe that you, as my representatives have our best interests at heart, I’m not sure I believe that.  You scheduled a hearing on an education bill at 1:30 on a Wednesday.  That speaks volumes.

 

 

GMAS Scores Returned: Teacher is Angry.

GMAS Scores Returned: Teacher is Angry.

If you pay any attention to education news and politics, you know that the newest version of high stakes testing has been a big deal.  As teachers, they told us that we should expect our test scores to plummet because the tests were much harder, especially because they included four writing assignments.  My students’ pass rates have consistently been between 85-95%, depending on the grade level, the make-up of the class, family and health situations the night before and the morning of, the status of the moon, and the weather.  I am not making that up.

We have been waiting anxiously on our scores since December 2014.  I got my individual student scores back today, nearly 11 months to the day since my students took the test. 

About two weeks ago, I had been warned that I only had a pass rate of about 40%.  I kept thinking in the back of my mind that my scores couldn’t have been that bad; our school only offers honors classes, and most of the kids take their grades very seriously.

What I found out today is this: Each student’s score was mathed into three different  “scores:”

  1. A scale score. I’m an English teacher and have no clue what that means, and since it is not part of my evaluation or what the public sees of my success/failure as a teacher: Don’t care.
  2. A rubric-like scale of four parts: beginning learner, developing learner, proficient learner, and distinguished learner.  This is called the “Achievement Level.”  Very, very frustrated by this.
  3. A Grade Conversion Score:  All their data was magically morphed into a number between 0 and 100 that could be used on a report card.  To quote one of my new favorite TV characters, this is the part where I am “extremely very not happy.”

Students who earned a grade scale conversion 70 to a 79 are listed as Developing Learners.  Under a 70, they’re listed as a Beginning Learner. And, according to the infinite idiocy of the bureaucrats in charge, if the grade scale conversion score is under an 80, it’s considered failing for the teachers and is reported as such. 

But.

In the classroom, grades from 70-100 are considered passing.  So riddle me this:  If a kid earns a 78 in my class and passes it, and a 79 on the GMAS and fails it, how the heck does that make any sense?

Lemme tell you: It doesn’t.

If and when this stupidity actually counts against the kids, their grade scale conversion will be 20% of their classroom grade.  I’m not totally fine with that, but I’m also not opposed to end of course testing, but that’s another post altogether.

What I am opposed to is a double standard.  If a 70 is passing for a student, and enough to earn that student course credit, why is the same score not considered passing for me?

Let’s look at the math (the ELA teacher said, ironically.)

In December 2014, I had 33 ninth grade lit students sit for the GMAS.  Here is my grade conversion breakdown, by students in that range:

90-100:   1

80-89:    12

70-79:    16

Below 69: 4

According to the state, because they say anything under an 80 is failing, 24 of my 33 kids fail.  According to common grading practice, I only had 4 kids fail.  

That is the difference between, “Teacher X had a 59% failure rate.”  And “Teacher X had a 12% failure rate.”

Or in the reverse, “Teacher X had a 39% pass rate” or “Teacher X had an 88% pass rate.”

My paycheck could/will soon be dependent on this distinction, and even a lowly ELA teacher like myself can recognize the huge difference in how those two statistics look on paper AND mathematically.

Ideally? Yes, I’d love to bring those kids in the 60s and 70s up.  Absolutely.  But for a group of lab rats freshmen who had to take a two-day, three-session test of more than four hours for ONE class, the Monday after Thanksgiving break, I’m pretty damned proud of them.

Also, given that we got the actual “this is what will be on the test” document a MONTH before testing, I’m pretty damned proud of myself.  And, there was a section on the GMAS that wasn’t even in the 9th grade curriculum at the time.

So yeah:  I am PROUD of my students.  They worked hard, and they put effort into a test that they knew going into it wouldn’t count for them.  I’m not sure if the roles were reversed that I’d’ve done the same.

Please consider contacting your state representatives, and complain about the way that testing is being used against students and teachers in the State of Georgia.  Consider calling the Governor’s office, as it is his education commission who is pushing for scores only-based paychecks and evaluations for teachers.  They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a testing system that’s a hot mess.

Consider contacting  your kids’ teachers and thanking them for the work they do against obstacles designed to paint them in the most negative light possible; nobody wins in that situation. And when your children’s teachers are tired, demoralized, and beaten down by state-level politics and stupidity, that bleeds into their work environment.  Your child’s learning environment is his teacher’s work environment.

Notice, I did not say call your local school board members or the superintendent’s office. They have no control over this, although if they could add their voices to the rising nationwide Opt Out movement, that’d be great.  I’d love to see our local officials on the news condemning how these scores are reported and used against teachers and students alike.   But this is me not holding my breath on that one.

In the end, it is the students that matter; and telling them that they failed something that they sort of actually really passed, is just flat wrong. And since character education is part and parcel of every teacher’s classroom, how can the state possibly justify this?

Colossus, Rusted?

Colossus, Rusted?

 

When opinionated teacher problems collide head-on with transracial family subject matter, cultural angst takes over part of my brain. As a trans-racial adoptive mom, social issues are always on my mind, even when I’m teaching.

This week in tenth grade literature, we reviewed sonnets, and I chose four of my favorites to read and potentially discuss, one of which was Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus.” You may remember it as the source of the famous “Give me your poor, your tired… your yearning to breathe free,” which is engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty.

Here is the full text, shared because it’s beautiful, and passionate, and brilliantly naive.

The New Colossus 
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I love those words. I love the hope and passion and courage they embody. I love that they represent the dreams and aspirations of many of my ancestors. I love that they’re in iambic pentameter in a Petrarchan sonnet on a giant statue that represents the all the good America can do. I’ve always been an idealist.

One of my students asked why the sonnet was on Lady Liberty, and without thinking, I said, “It used to be sort of a motto for our country, it kind of represented what we stood for.”LadyLib

I didn’t think about the emotional or political impact of this poem or my quick answer as it spilled out of my mouth, but I have been tossing them around in my head for a few days now.

As soon as they left my mouth, I knew those words were going to start a discussion, one I would have loved, but wasn’t prepared to have.

And it did; here’s how it played out in about 27 seconds:

Student A: “You don’t think that’s true anymore?”

Student B: “Trump sure doesn’t.”

Student C: “What do you think it changed to?”

Student D: “Now it’s ‘We’re all offended.'”

I stopped it there, saying, “Guys, I would love to have this conversation with you, but we can’t do it during class time– maybe over lunch or after school.”

General moans and groans and objections were mounted, but gradually we got back to the business of the sonnet, the grand dame of fixed form poetry.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to the political ramifications of that sonnet, and clearly, 36 hours ago
I hadn’t either.  Five years ago, I didn’t have black children, and the ones I had, while slightly tinted, didn’t inspire in me the angst and introspection my three youngest do. What’s my excuse for 36 hours ago? I don’t have one.

Why can’t I have a conversation about immigration politics as exemplified by the sonnet and current events with my 9th and 10th graders? Why must I worry so much about politically offending students by asking them to support their opinions with facts?

There are two schools of thought on this; the first, that teachers must be absolutely neutral about their political leanings and beliefs so as not to inappropriately influence the students.  Our jobs are to impart facts and let the kids figure out what they think.

The other, that teachers are not automatons and that what we think and believe comes out subtly any way, so why not discuss and hash through issues with logic and respect? Our opinions, with logical and respectful conversation are foils to our students’ developing ideas about how the world should work.

I am definitely in the latter camp; I’ve tried being a neutral presence in my classroom, but I would never want or expect my students to remain neutral.  To me, neutrality is a form of cowardice; when you fail to choose a side, you are giving tacit approval to whatever you’re refusing to deal with.  Think Switzerland circa 1943.

I tell my classes at least once a semester that they have to get the fence posts outta their backsides and take a stand. I don’t care which side of the fence they choose, but choose they must because life and democracy demand it.  Persuasive writing  requires that students take a stand and defend it, and address counterclaims to their ideas.  We require our students to take stands and defend them, so why was I so hesitant to do the very thing I expect my students to do?

When student B asked me why I thought we were no longer the country that embraced the poor, dejected, and needy from other countries, I realized there is no way to respond with the necessary detail in the ten minutes we had left in class.

The ideals embraced by “The New Colossus” only applied to those of Western European descent, and then only as long as you didn’t have dark hair and eyes or speak with an Irish accent. Only two students in this particular class fit this description; heck, half of my ancestry does not fit that demographic either; Italians were too dark, noses too big, and food too smelly. And the Native American part? Let’s not go down that rabbit hole tonight.

 

And why is it so hard for me to admit that as lovely as this sonnet is, our country has never really embraced the homeless of the world, let alone the homeless within our own borders?

In my class of 27, 25 of them would not have been welcomed no matter how much they huddled or yearned, because their complexions are too dark, their hair too coarse, or their accents too thick.  A painful moment of honesty, that; and I was unwilling to have the awesome conversation we could have had because of the political implications, and my own painful sadness about what all of that implies for me, my beautiful brown-skinned babies, and all of my students.

It’s easy for me as “an old white lady” (what I often call myself when we talk about issues of current politics and cultural differences)  to spout off about how great and welcoming Ellis Island’s Immigration might have been to some of my ancestors.

Except not really. Officials at Ellis Island dropped part of one of my ancestor’s names because of its complicated spelling and pronunciation–a historic microaggression that immigration officials were kind of infamous for.

I have always considered myself a patriot. But  patriotism is difficult when painful truths about the country you love,  and its history, are staring at you with dark brown eyes waiting for you to explain what they already know: that there are unspoken parenthetical limitations in the  promises our country has made.


In case you wondered, the other three sonnets were:

On the Anniversary of My Falling Apart

On the Anniversary of My Falling Apart

On the anniversary of my falling apart, I’m not going to preach. I’m not going to lecture. I’m not going to beg for sympathy or accolades or anything, other than your attention, and maybe, hopefully, your understanding.

This is about the anniversary of my falling apart.

Last year, tonight, I thought I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t, and even today, a year later, I’m almost convinced that it would have been easier had it been a heart attack. At least heart attacks are very physical things. They can be fixed with surgery, and actual tangible things can be done to repair a heart when it’s physically broken.

But when it’s not your body that’s broken, it’s a much more difficult thing.

In my case, the little man inside my head that managed all of my emotions walked off the job. I say that jokingly, but what I really need to say is that every ability I thought I’d ever had at managing everything in my brain was gone. Poof!

Suddenly, it was just me and everything I had bottled up since 1970-something.

To say that that was difficult would be the worst sort of reverse hyperbole. I do exaggerate and embrace the hyperbole in life because it’s so much fun, but when I’m talking about the week that led to my anxiety diagnosis, I am not exaggerating or hyperbolizing or making things up.

Anxiety is a very real thing. It is such a very real thing that even a year later, I am still fighting for control.

When that little emotional manager left his post and walked away, I was left with nothing to control everything up there. That’s not to say that I didn’t try to cope or deal with everything as it was happening over the course of my life, because I really was trying.

But I wasn’t doing it in a any sort of healthy way. I canned things up and stored them in the little twists and turns of my gray matter.  Then, I’d have a meltdown, or I’d pick the callouses off my feet and cut my toenails too far down. TMI and gross, yes. But it’s true. I ate all the wrong things and binged at all the wrong times. I went through a well-hidden drinking phase. I hit abysmal depression amidst genuinely happy stretches.  And it all felt normal to me.

Looking back, the little guy in my head probably needed to walk off the job, because in retrospect, he pretty much sucked at it.  I just wish I’d had some notice;  you know, the standard two weeks.  I’d’ve really appreciated that.

So last year, thanks to the sudden absence of my Angst Manager, I was forced to face myself. And I was not prepared to do that.

Mental illness, like any other illness, manifests differently in all its targets.  (It helps me to personify Anxiety.  If it’s a person, I can stand up to it and strategize and eventually win.)

Anxiety takes away my ability to be me. It takes away your ability to walk into your job, and do your job, the same job that you have done thousands and thousands of times.  It takes away your joy in your job, and your confidence that you’re pretty good at what you do.

It takes away your ability to drive home, to walk into a store, to watch a TV show with your kids. Because you never know when it will strike.

When it strikes, I can’t breathe. My heart races, palpitates, and I feel like I’ve been running, which if you know me at all, you know is not something I do unless there are actual zombies after my brain.  That’s why the first time it hit me, I thought it was a heart attack.

My hands shake, and that feeling of not being able to hold something securely in them is body-wide—nothing is safe, nothing is secure, and everything is wrong. There is an almost uncontrollable need to release primal terror that’s building up, and curl up in a corner and hide.  It makes me want to escape whatever I am doing right that minute, and GO.  Doesn’t matter where, just go. All of this even though I’m doing something I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of times.

There is an absolute certainty that everything is going to fall apart. Right. This. Minute.  And at first, Anxiety shows up completely unannounced. No one likes unannounced guests.  Especially not like this.

When those moments hit, I have to physically stop everything I’m doing, and focus on breathing. It sounds like a horrible cliché, but it’s probably a cliché because it’s true.  If I don’t concentrate on breathing, my heart rate escalates into scary three digit numbers, and everything else kicks in.

Sometimes I have to take my shoes off and with my toes, massage the ground below me.

Sometimes I have to turn on music and ignore the world around me, sometimes I need absolute silence, the kind that allows you to hear that fly buzz.  Sometimes I have to color.  All while breathing in, holding it for a count of four, and blowing it out to a count of seven.

But in all of those times what I really want to do is disappear to a dark corner and sob hysterically for hours. That’s what anxiety feels like for me. It feels like there’s nothing in my life that I can control because I never know when I’m going to fall apart again.  To be clear: Normally, I don’t ever want to hide in a corner and sob for hours, but when Anxiety attacks, that’s what my brain feels like it’s screaming for.

Sometimes—even a year later—it feels like I’ve forgotten to breathe normally. It took some time to figure out that I’m not actually forgetting to breathe:  I’m holding my breath.  That held breath becomes the cliff the rest of me tumbles off of into anxiety’s chasm of racing heart palpitations, sweatiness, rapid breathing, loss of focus, and the urge to hide in a corner under a blanket.  There’s always something that triggered that held breath, and a year later, I’m working on identifying and controlling those things. Sometimes I can manage it. Sometimes it wins. But I’m starting to win more than I lose.

And on the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that I’m still breathing, still alive.

I can tell you that I have learned who in my life I can trust with absolute certainty, and who I can’t.  I think a part of me always knew, but didn’t want to face the fact that a good many of the people I really wanted don’t feel the same way about me.

Modern pharmacology is a beautiful thing. But I can also tell you that all of those wonderful pills and drugs aren’t a permanent fix, and they aren’t enough to live on when anxiety attacks. Medication has its place in treatment, but education, therapy, and practice will always trump it; medication will numb the attack, but education can head it off and stop it in its tracks.

And prayer.  Faith.  Priceless parts of my fight, they have helped sustain me on the many sleepless nights.  Wait, I didn’t mention the loving gift of insomnia that anxiety often gives? (If you didn’t read that line with oozing sarcasm, you read it wrong.) God didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and I miss the joy I once had.

Therapy.  Oh, how I love my therapist.  I’ve told her a few times that I’d love to be friends with her, but have realized that the client/therapist relationship is better; she’s required by oath and professionalism to push me really hard to learn, to practice, and to embrace me. Friends will encourage you, love you, and stand by you, but often, they don’t push for fear of hurting your feelings.  I’ve had to hurt a lot of my own feelings to get this far.  And my success in this is largely thanks to the guidance I get from her.

On the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that a good savasana is one of the absolute best ways to end a Sunday night. Savasana is the last thing done in a restorative yoga class. You’re lying on your back, a small pillow on your eyes, arms outstretched, a blanket over your stomach, legs propped up as high as you want them.

And you’re breathing. Deeply in. Slowly out. Controlled.

There’s soft music, usually stuff you wouldn’t listen to under other circumstances, but it’s relaxing and soothing, and pretty much my new favorite thing ever. There are no distractions, and all you have to do is stretch and breathe.  If I could do this every time the big A shows up, it’d be a totally different fight.  But people frown on you lying down and getting comfy in public, so I relish those times when I can go to yoga.  Set all your blockades aside and go to a restorative class; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

On the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that anxiety requires its victims to stop everything and focus on it, and how I focus on it will determine my success or failure in that moment.  I’m a high school teacher, and sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of class, and I’ll have to do one or more of the things I mentioned earlier to hang on.  I have had to stop what I was doing, put my head down, and just count my breaths.   I’ve taught barefooted at my board, and from my desk while coloring, all the while desperate for them not to notice how on edge I am.

I’ve done yoga in my classroom during lunch so I could get through the hour and a half until my planning period when I could let myself fall apart a little, and not do it with a room full of teenagers.  I’ve even had students join me in my lunchtime practice.

Yeah, they think I’m a little weird, but that’s part of the fun of teaching. I can be a little odd and it’s charming or quirky. Were I in any other profession, I’m pretty sure it’d be different.

At home, my husband has been wonderful about tagging me out so I can get it together.  My kids have noticed me “breathing funny” but hopefully, they’ll grow to see that as a good thing: Mommy handling herself so everyone else can handle themselves too.

And as I type this, I noticed that I was holding my breath, and starting to shake a little.  I’m nervous about this piece, and being nervous about something is a trigger.  But I’m still typing.

Because on the one year anniversary of my falling apart, I am sharing.  I am letting the world in, and giving it a tour because so many people deal with anxiety silently, and I never thought that person would be me.  If you know me, you know I’d talk the ears off a donkey given half a chance, and maybe my sharing will help someone who isn’t so chatty.

Many other people don’t think anxiety is a real thing, and I can tell you unequivocally that they are wrong. It is real, and can be debilitating.  In my case it’s trying to be, but I am not letting it.  I am slowly winning this fight, because it’s a fight for my life, and I won’t live it on someone else’s terms.

So, on the anniversary of my falling apart, I hereby declare that I am now falling together, pulling the good pieces back in, and discarding the things that don’t fit, don’t feel good, and don’t encourage the positive.

I am looking for and embracing the lights in my life—those lights are who I am and why I’m here, and anxiety will not get to steal them away from me.