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.

When White People Comment on My Transracial Family

When White People Comment on My Transracial Family

I bet that title got your attention a little.  Good. I’m glad you’re here.

Toward the end of a twenty-three hour road trip this summer, I attempted to explain to my daughters M and N that because there are very few people of any color where we were going, we were likely to have more than our usual number of stares and comments.  Because we are a white parent/black children family, we get a lot of both.

N didn’t say anything; she usually doesn’t.

M said, in her typical blunt way, “If there isn’t anyone who looks like us, why would you take us there?”  Her depth often shocks me, and that it is my job to help her use her powers for good and not evil (yeah, we’re nerds like that), is a scary venture.


Good question, kiddo.

This is what I told her:

  1. Because you go where your family is.
  2. The color of our skin does not dictate where we go or what we do.

I want my girls to be as intentionally culturally courageous as adults as they are unintentionally as children.  They mix and mingle with everyone, talk with ease amongst kids of all backgrounds, and I don’t want them to lose that.  So as they grow, we have conversations about race, race perceptions, culture, community, and how our family and their birth families all fit into the conversation. But that’s at home.

When we’re in public, we are very conspicuously on display.  And people who see us, and are intrigued by us, often feel compelled to communicate their feelings about us to us.  What follows is almost always an awkward “I-don’t-spend-much-time-with-minorities-but-I-feel-like-I-have-to-say-something” conversation that happens mostly with white people.

Most comments come down to three things: where we “got” them, their above-average adorableness, and the way their hair is styled.

Asking me in front of my kids, where I got my kids is like walking up to someone and asking where they bought their car.  Or asking someone with an eggplant in their grocery buggy where the vegetable section is because they’ve always wanted to try eggplant. My children are not cars we have purchased, nor are they eggplants we obtained because we were curious.  They are children with ears that work. What they can’t do is process all the nuances, assumptions, and social issues loaded into that question.

Physically, my kids are just flat adorable; two of them have never taken a bad picture, and one of them has a smile and laugh that lights up the world around them.  They all have lashes to die for, beautiful smiles, and gorgeous glowing Hershey and mahogany skin.  They are four, five, and six, so they’re even in a cute age group.

And without fail, every time we’re in public, people comment on their cuteness.  This consistency leaves me suspicious.  Are the comments truly about the epic levels of cute, or are they something else?

When a white family is out in public with their children, how often does another white person comment to them about how cute their kids are? I believe that if my kids where white, or at least looked more like my husband and me, we would get almost no comments about their physical attractiveness.  And I don’t think there’s anything malicious about this.  Hang with me, we’re almost to the theory.

Then people ask about their hair. They want to know who does it and how does it stay that way.  A side note on basic etiquette:  Please don’t touch my kids when you ask that about their hair; they are not puppies.  They have personal space and full control over who does and doesn’t get to touch them.  It’s very awkward to have a stranger walk up, touch a poof or braid, and ask who does them.

To answer that, for the most part, I do, unless it’s a style I can’t do, or am feeling lazy enough to pay someone else to do it.

But what’s behind the question?  Are you trying to make conversation to recommend a stylist, or are you just being nosy?  I’ve never seen a white person ask another white person who does their child’s hair.

It doesn’t matter how they have it styled, when we are in public, anywhere with people milling about, we get comments from random strangers about the beads, the braids, the poofs, or the ‘fro.

Here’s my theory:

This brief public interaction is not about my children or my family at all.  It is a way for the the other person to offer their recognition of our uniqueness, and to somehow validate it and offer us a sense of acceptance.

I think the comments and questions are, in part, to prove to themselves and our family that the speaker is not racist, and that they are happy to see families like ours. I see it as them wanting to offer support and acceptance, and not knowing what else to say except that our kids are cute.  I truly do appreciate the warm fuzzies.  I do.


While I’m grateful that lots of people want to offer us that validation, I wish they’d just smile at us and leave it at that.

I love that people want to reach out, but the hyper-inflation of my kids’ ego is getting difficult to manage. Trust me, they know they’re cute.  And when they get tired of hearing it, sometimes it’s difficult to keep their manners in check.

During that long road trip, we went to a famous national retailer that rhymes with CallTart, and my kids quadrupled the people of color count in the store that day.

I kept count because I knew it would be a doozy.  We got:

  • eight “your girls are so pretty”
  • four “I love the bling/beads/braids/braids” in their hair
  • two randomly shared hair stories that involved mixed-race nieces and nephews
  • four hostile glances
  • four knowing smiles

By the fifth compliment, M. had had enough and pretending no one was there and that she hadn’t heard anything. N has her own set of drummers in her head, and never seems bothered about people, unless those people are her siblings, and then it’s radar-lock battle time. So she just did her own thing, sometimes smiling, sometimes doing her odd little dance.

While I understand the impulse to offer something, anything, please consider what you say, what your motivation is, and what your goal is.  It is so important to offer people whose causes we support whatever help and encouragement they need, and telling me that my kids are cute doesn’t do much to forward that agenda.

If seeing my family provides a valuable opportunity to analyze your beliefs and behaviors, that is an awesome self-evaluation time for you, and I’m glad you’re embracing it.  But none of that is truly about my children, me, or my husband. That is all you, considering your place in the world, and sorting your way through racism and dealing different cultures.  I’m betting that saying that I have cute kids isn’t really what you want to say, but it is the easiest thing to say.

(And on another side note, please, for the love of all things everywhere, don’t use words like bling, bro and girlfriend just because my kids are black.  If you use, “Hey girlfriend!” with all little girls, fine, but to bust out the slang just because my girls look different than the ones you’re used to? Insulting.)

I love that there are so many people in the world who want to share with us that they are cool with our multi-cultural, multi-generational family, and I am thankful that only on a few occasions has anyone been completely rude or thoughtless.

But after so much of the same, it is very difficult to explain to them. They understand that we look different, and they sort of get why people stare at us and comment, but they aren’t capable of understanding all the racial subtext of those interactions yet.  I dread the day they do, because those will be new levels of long difficult conversations.

A smile, a nod of affirmation, or a note slipped into my hand requesting a phone call would be AWESOME.  I might even pass you a yet-to-be-created-but-in-the-works business card leading you to an already-created-but-still-pretty-dead-Facebook group for transracial families.

And I would call you, and we’d have a fantastic conversation, in which I would thank you for both recognizing our family and respecting the boundaries we’re trying to put in place for their safe passage into adulthood.

Since adopting our three, I have learned a lot about racism and racial issues, and experienced a tiny bit of it, but it is nowhere near what my kids will experience as they grow.

The biggest thing I have learned is that unless we talk about all of it, nothing will ever be better.

And that’s why I wrote this.

Let’s talk.

Just not in front of my kids.

Dear New Teacher,

Dear New Teacher,

Hi, I’m Tracy.

I was once where you are: happy to be in a job, but exhausted from the first week and already feeling behind.

And sadly, not much has changed in 18 years. My room wasn’t as ready as I wanted it.  I didn’t get to read or plan as much as I would have liked to. But there wasn’t enough time, there never is, and I have finally, after 18 years, realized you have to let that stress go.  If you don’t, it will eat at you.

There are some things that I have learned over the years that have made my professional life better.  And if it please my readers (all four of you), I’d like to share some tidbits.

First, find a good mentor. If you’re lucky your school system’s new teacher induction program will find you one.  If you aren’t, ask three people for recommendations:  the media specialist, your AP, and your department chair.  Best two out of three wins.  I was lucky in that my first few years were spent with the amazing Rachel; we were fast friends, and she had a few years classroom experience in her pocket.  If it weren’t for her, I’m not sure what I’d be doing right now, but it darn sure wouldn’t be teaching.

Then, get more sleep. It’s a cliche, but it’s a seriously accurate one.  You can only run on coffee and energy drinks for so long before the bags under your eyes start shopping for luggage, and you are getting snippy even with your best students.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people.

Order a yearbook.

Let your students take the lead on some things. Contrary to all the media gripes, students in general like to be trusted to do things, even if it is just dusting the bookshelves, and emptying the recycling. Assign volunteers to help in your classroom–passing out graded work or handouts, making flash card sets on Quizlet (one of my all-time favorite apps), or spot cleaning the area where the hole-puncher played snowstorm again.

If you read no other book about education, read “The First Days of School.”  It is the single best classroom management book ever. Period.  I’m serious.  Go get it.  It’s important enough that my district gives copies of it to new teachers.  And for a district to part with money for nearly 400 copies of anything, you know it’s got to be good.

Drink water.  Really, really ice cold water.  It’s refreshing, and it’s good for you.

Don’t be afraid to play music in the classroom.  Pandora has become one of my favorite websites.  The Piano Guys channel, with Lindsey Sterling added in, is great classroom background music.  Not quite classical, and just funky enough to keep the kids awake.

Keep it simple.  In decorating, projects, expectations, lesson plans, documentation…  It doesn’t have to be museum quality to keep your classroom going.  It does need to be thoughtful and age-appropriate, but if all you have time and money for is cleaning it, then go with clean.  You can’t go wrong with that.

Always keep a folder with a review packet or a set of articles on the same issue from different perspectives, copied and ready for the whole class.  Just in case you need a back up plan.

When all else fails, look to Pinterest for a journal prompt, or a grouping activity.  I’m convinced there has to be a way to get professional development for time spent on Pinterest, but no one I know has figured it out yet.

At the end of the year, have your students make scrap book pages. The years I haven’t squeezed this in, I have regretted.  Make them use their full name on it, so you can say you knew them when.

Ask for help when you need it.  It’s not embarrassing, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do.  I still need help, and I’ve gotten better at asking for it when I need to.

And that rule about not smiling?  Forget it.  Smile with, and at, your students.  It counts for something.

Here’s how I know.

Every night before bed, my five year-old, N. asks hopefully, “Do we get to go to school tomorrow, Mama?” And when the answer is affirmative, she does a fist pump with an excited, “Yesssss!”  I know it’s in part because every teacher I’ve met there smiles at their kids.  Even the ones they don’t teach. You have to work for N. to like you, and even more so to keep her attention.  Once she’s smiled at you, you’re in.  And for her to be so excited about school, it’s made a huge impression on her. So smile if your personality allows.

As long as you can stay one step ahead of the students, you’ll be ok.

And on the days you aren’t, you’ll improvise.

Finally, look back to your favorite teachers, and choose one.  Remember those “WWJD?” bracelets that used to be so popular?  Insert one of your favorite classroom teachers in there, and ask what that teacher would do.

Hang in there, Newbs.  It might not always be awesome, but you can almost always make it good.



PS: Breathe.

Finding Calm in Odd Places

Finding Calm in Odd Places

There are moments when Anxiety punches through my calm, and I have to find ways to put her back in her little box.

Three weeks ago, she executed a sneak attack worthy of a Green Beret unit, while I was at the water park: my husband, our three youngest children, and me. We were hanging out on the Lazy River, which used to be my favorite part of the water park, and suddenly my chest pounded and my heart danced like a just-lit pile of firecrackers. The shaking started.  Anxiety is a cruel head-mate.

The kids went on to play with my husband, and I sat in the chest deep water, and tried to calm my breathing.  There were people playing and splashing everywhere, and finding calm was almost impossible.

I scuttled over to the huge rock structure in the middle of the pool, and leaned up against it, letting the waterfall beat down on my head and shoulders.  At first it was so I could inconspicuously lean on something. As I felt the water splash off my shoulders I realized how wonderful the water felt falling on me.

I slowly scooted under a waterfall on the side, and there I knelt, head down, on my knees half floating and half sitting, knees bent in the starting yoga pose.

It took a few minutes of deep belly breathing, there under that waterfall, but I found the calm I needed. The shrieks and laughter and splashing gradually melded together into a restful white noise, and all I could hear and feel was the water’s rhythmic cadence on my upper body.  It was sensory deprivation and overload in a cool massage, and it was precisely what my heart and mind needed to lock Anxiety back into her dark little box.

My heart gradually quit racing, and I could breath freely again. I’m sure I got more than a few weird looks, but at that point, I didn’t care.  I felt better than I had all day.

And now I have a new favorite place at the water park.

School Start-Up Stress

School Start-Up Stress

Wednesday was my first day back in my classroom for the 2015-16 school year.  I’m not being paid to be here, but I’m here because I’m redoing a lot of my classroom, and want to put it back together before we are required to be here next week.  I like doing this for lots of reasons, but mostly because I can work at my own pace, turn up some music, and get to cleaning.

For those of you who aren’t teachers, lemme catch you up. At the end of each school year, most teachers get anywhere from two to five days, called “post-planning.” In that time, we have to pack up and put away everything.  And by everything I mean anything that was out of a cabinet, decorating a table or wall, storage tubs and bins, empty or cover all the book shelves, desks, computers, everything.  Then we move it out into the hallway so the floors can be cleaned.

Think about the packing you did the last time you moved. We pack like that at the end of the year, and unpack like that at the beginning of each new year, during pre-planning. This year we have three days of pre-planning.  Three days to deep clean a room, unpack, prep lessons and materials, and get ready for open house and the first day of school.

Good times.



Not at all. It is stressful for a lot of reasons.  The physical stress of the work is one thing, but then add the two months of dirt and dust on top of everything, the not knowing what your teaching assignment will be, the pressure to get it done before open house, and the normal startup jitters.

Yes, experienced teachers do get the start up jitters just like the newbies do.

Teaching is like starting a new job once a year, and job changes are listed as one of the top five most stressful life events. It IS that big of a deal.  And after fifteen years or so of this, I have some suggestions for new teachers, and veterans alike.

1. Purge, purge, purge,  then purge again.    Teachers as a species are pickers and borderline hoarders– we collect and hang onto things because we might be able to use it in our classrooms, and we are used to living and working on an ever-shrinking budget.  I am not exaggerating here.  I just threw away worksheets and lesson plans from my student teaching. From 1996.

I finally threw out curriculum guides from the curriculum we used three new curricula ago.  I even tossed out its followers from the last few changes.  Now, I have empty binders, which I will not purge, because there is always that one kid who needs help getting supplies.  Or because I’m saving other stuff.

2. Pack up with the unpack in mind.  Thank you Pinterest for this one. At the end of last school year, I kept in one drawer the following things: Two board markers, a board eraser, a few pens and pencils, my Sharpie collection, stapler, highlighters, tape dispenser, hole punch, and the cords and accessories I’d need to reassemble my computer work station. I also kept a package of cleaning wipes in there.  This has made my return so much easier this summer;  I’m not digging through random boxes trying to find that one cord, or the pink jump drive, and I can get to work much quicker.

In addition, I made sure I packed all my materials for each subject together.  All my ninth grade materials were in two crates. American Lit stuff was in one crate.  The cool thing about milk crates (the ones I was able to get from our school’s cafeteria) is that they are much more durable than the ones you get at Wal-Mart or Target. They also may be heavy when full, but they aren’t so heavy that I can’t move them.

3.  Find a happy place.  Teaching often feels like you’re locked in a room with crazy people strangers, breathing the same air over and over, and you know that the air is probably what will finally actually set off the zombie apocalypse.  Sometimes you need to escape and breath somewhere else.  You MUST find that place.  My last two classrooms have been ideally placed by an exit door, which means I could get away from the locked-in feeling and go outside for some (sort of) fresh air.  You have to make time during the day to take a deep breath, hold it for seven seconds, and slowly let it out. My happy place is just outside that exit door.  I can’t close it, or I’d have to hike around the building to the front entrance, but I can stand there for a minute or so, breathe, pull myself back together, and get back to my job.

4. Let it go.  I have kids, so I can sing the entire Frozen soundtrack, but I’m telling you, if it’s eating at you, Let. It. Go. Try to let go of feeling responsible for things over which you have no control.  It’s above your paygrade, not on your evaluation, and NOT YOUR PROBLEM. You can only do so much, so do what you can, and come in with a positive attitude the next day. And even if it is your responsibility and on your evaluation, all you can do is the best you can do.  Period.  Sometimes we have moments of awesome, but most of the time, good is just that: good.

5. And on the flip side, get involved. If teachers don’t start speaking out about work conditions, incessant crazy levels of testing, and professional disrespect, we will continue to be scapegoated for societies problems and we will lose.  We will lose what little control we have left in our classrooms, and will continue to be held under the thumb of corporations who are getting big bucks on the backs of our children. (Can you tell I’m upset about this?  Good, because this is an issue I’m actually working on, instead of just complaining about it.)

6.  Redecorate.  Sometimes you need a fresh perspective.  I learned this at the end of last school year. I needed to get rid of some of the old posters and signs in my room, and make it less sterile and businesslike, and more comfortable and welcoming.  I did not get a grant, or an invisible donor of lots of money.  But for less than $100, I am now lighting my classroom solely with lamps, I have exercise balls for chairs at my computer stations, and some comfy pillows kids can use to relax on the floor to study or read.  I even got several really awesome old frames to put on my walls around memes and posters I want to post.  Once I’m done, I’ll post some pictures of what I’ve done, and the approximate costs of them.  Like Cheryl Crow said, “Some change’ll do you good.”

7. Get organized. I am the original absent-minded professor archetype: forgetful, scatterbrained, and often way over-committed.  This year, in addition to my class schedule, I am in charge of our school’s new teacher induction program, our Advanced Placement program, my student organization Nerd Corps, a Daisy Girl Scout troop, my family, church commitments, and my personal goals.  This year, rather than try to keep it all in my head (which I always tried to do, and always failed at), I am going back about fifty years, and I have a binder.  It is a happy light sky blue color, and it has everything in it.  I have monthly and weekly calendars, my lesson plans, and sections for every area in my life.  I have a zipper pocket up front that has post-it notes, and pens.  I have note paper for meetings and a master to-do list.  I’ve been using it for a month, and I LOVE IT. I purposely carry a purse large enough for it, and it fits in my backpack.  It goes everywhere with me.

No matter how you do it–digitally or old fashioned paper, find a way to manage your life, all in one place, so you can actually run your life, and not the other way around.

Here’s why.  Last year, due to circumstances mostly out of my control, I was forced to stop and take more time to take care of myself.  In that process, I have learned that I can do a lot more than I was to take care of myself, including how I manage both my personal and my professional lives.  My pretty blue binder is my big step in that direction.  There are several places on Pinterest with suggestions for organization and contents; that’s where I got my ideas from.

If you’re a teacher, what do you suggest for making the beginning of the year easier?

I look forward to hearing your ideas!