One year ago I found myself in the hospital battling a serious illness. I was perfectly healthy and suddenly I found myself in the hospital fighting fever, dehydration, lack of oxygen, and a dangerously low blood pressure. To begin with, I thought I was experiencing a little springtime fatigue; or at worst, the flu. However, what was brewing was more than I bargained for.
I had contracted a bacterium that appeared to be a viral infection. I was told to push fluids, rest, and it will run its course. Unfortunately, it ran its course straight into my kidneys. Within 2 days of seeing a doctor, I was in the hospital with a diagnosis of sepsis. The bacteria had entered my bloodstream and began to play games on my organs and mind. I’ll never forget hearing the diagnosis. My father-in-law had died of septic shock just 2 years before, so pictures of my funeral began to swim in my head. My husband and I locked eyes knowing the worst possible outcome of this illness, and prayed for the best.
This illness began a season in my life that has led me to reflect and transform my thinking. I remember lying in that lumpy hospital bed worrying about my students and their test scores. Our state testing was just 2 weeks away, and I was in the hospital!!!! I worried about who would be patient with Alonzo, my little ADHD comedian, to ensure he would focus during the test. I worried about my 2 resource students that needed just a little more remediation before the big days. I worried about all of my class in general. How will they do without me?? Will they get the test prep they need? It then dawned on me that I was sick- really sick, and I was worried about a test!!! Years of teaching for high stakes testing had me more concerned about test performance than my own health. All of a sudden, test scores, pacing guides, common assessments, and evaluations began to pale in comparison to this new challenge I was facing.
After several days in the hospital, I was determined to get back in the classroom with my third grade peanut gallery- fondly known for their antics, jokes, and silliness. Normally, I would have probably had “come on summer” attitude; but, I guess I craved what continues to drive me each day- TEACHING and LEARNING. I needed to center myself in my life’s purpose and calling.
Unfortunately, my body had fought too hard. It took the last 6 weeks of school plus the summer to recuperate. It was difficult to admit that I needed rest, but I would need every bit of my strength and energy for a special assignment that my administration wanted me to navigate. This assignment has been the most challenging of my career as it has involved many specialists, long hours of meetings, and emotional draining.
When the new school year began in August, I quickly realized that I needed to find ways to channel some frustrations and anxiety that were out of my control. Coming from a religious family, I was taught to “feed my faith” when struggles come in life through devotionals, prayer, and connecting to encouraging people. On a professional level, I decided to do the same thing- I was inspired by professional books, listened to educational podcasts, and made new Twitter friends by building my Professional Learning Network. As I did this, my passion for teaching began to swell while dealing with a case that reeked of exhaustion and burnout. I chose to focus on teaching and learning; not on circumstances. In the face of the most difficult situation I've encountered professionally, I became centered and focused on why I became a teacher. During this past year, my colleagues commented, “I don’t know how you manage day after day with the challenges you face.”
My answer is that I stayed connected to my passion of teaching, and did not let circumstances influence what brings me joy on a daily basis. I’m not saying it was easy- it has been far from a Pollyanna picture. I’ve had my meltdowns, venting sessions, and fought disillusionment with the system. However, I chose to stay focused on the big picture and remain positive which has launched me in a fresh pursuit of career goals and aspirations.
In spite of the last 12 months, I have recommitted to my passion in the face of sickness and controversy. I feel embolden to return to the reason I became an educator- to teach children the joy of discovery, a passion for learning, and a desire to create. I recognized that I had fallen prey to the big bad wolf called “Standardized Testing.” If we as educators fall into this cycle of following a test to teach; we forfeit the joy and passion that educating our youth truly is. I had become bored as an educator conforming to something I was not by teaching uniformity to my students, all in the name of test scores. While data is important and has its place for an educational practitioner; it should only guide our instruction, not drive our instruction. I am now determined to find a way to connect students to the standards every day in a way that ignites enthusiasm and promotes creativity. I want to find my way back into a student-centered classroom. My heart says it can be done. What does yours say???
Here’s Hoping for an Incredible Journey!