No. 47 – Work of Heart

No. 47 – Work of Heart

Working as a teacher is tough stuff. No year has been easy, and I don’t expect it will ever be so. However, with the finish line in sight of my 5th year, I feel as if it has been my first all over again.

The classroom I’m in this year has shaken up my entire world. Teaching students with low incidence disabilities has challenged me beyond measure. The absolute sweetest humans in the world living in untraditional packaging. These students deserve nothing but the best and it often feels like my best isn’t enough. There are many limitations both between my students and myself: cognitively, physically, mentally and emotionally. And it is frequently discouraging. 

I’m constantly self-assessing, working on improving myself and my teaching styles so that I can meet these students in their needs. Consistent positive progress is few and far between as fluctuations are expected, but often blur the progression. It’s been a lot of trial and error; a constant journey. Wondering the whole way through if I’ve gotten a single thing right. 

Today, during my conference, one of my students walked in with several flowers in his hands and a grin on his face. “Mrs. Carter!” he exclaimed, “I got these for you!” 

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My heart melted and all that worrying about my teaching performance melted with it. Oftentimes as a teacher we get so wrapped up in performance, data and if we’re checking all the boxes our campus and district requires that we satisfy. That it becomes easy to lose sight of why true teachers began in the first place: an innate calling to serve. To serve students through building relationships, providing a safe haven and acting as a catalyst that ignites the passion for lifelong learning. 

A precious student of mine reminded me of my reason behind teaching, students with special needs especially. I’m reminded that what I teach them couldn’t possibly compare to what they teach me. And keeping that at the forefront of my planning and instruction will guide everything else. 

I can’t fully control everything my students retain, but I can be sure of this: they’re hearing me. Hearing my call to serve them. Hearing my love for them and their quality of life. My dedication to give them my best, even if it will never feel enough. 

So if you’re a struggling educator counting down the days until summer while simultaneously not wanting to let this precious group of students go at the end of the year, be uplifted. They’re hearing you. Maybe not in a way that will necessarily show up on test scores or report cards. But your students are hearing you where it most counts- they’re hearing you from the heart. 

That’s all the feedback I need. 

xxx

No. 35 – Self Worth

No. 35 – Self Worth

Half a year had come and gone and it hadn’t felt as if I had time to blink. My days were filled with scrambling, and I wasn’t getting much rest. When I wasn’t teaching, I was working in the mall at a little clothing boutique called Francesca’s. Kendrae and I felt like ships passing by but never meeting. My work schedule was a muddled mess, and his hours consisted of early mornings and late nights. We would squeeze in time together as much as possible, but it didn’t feel like much. A robot on auto-pilot, I was set on survival mode. 

I was constantly on edge. Fearful of what might be lurking just around the corner. Always glancing behind me, slowly turning corners, eerie of any sound I heard while in my apartment. I had been there nearly six months and the place still didn’t feel like home. Perhaps because I had no means to make it feel that way. It felt like a echoic warehouse building. I had finally managed to scrape up enough money to buy a thrice hand-me-down couch, but it was so lived in before I got it, that the springs were out of place, and inflicted actual physical pain to any who dared to sit on it. I never got a table, or any chairs for that matter. The only place I could really sit down was the floor or the bed, Jessica had so graciously loaned me. 

Truth be told, I was so busy, I didn’t have much time to want for anything. Besides more time with Kendrae. If I would’ve invested in a couch, I wouldn’t have any free time to sit on it. Better to just keep the apartment empty so that it was easier to come and go so often. 

Over time the place felt familiar, but not like home. Maybe it wasn’t even the lack of furniture that had any influence over my current nomadic feeling; it was deeper than that. I never felt safe. My irrational fear that my parents would come banging on the door, demanding to take me back home was a reoccurring nightmare, waking and sleeping. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I expected to see one of their ten cars waiting on me. No matter how many times I tried to rationally talk my fear down, it was no good. In fact, the longer it had been, the surer I was that they were going to pop up. Kendrae shared my fear and didn’t feel comfortable visiting my apartment. Another reason it was hard to see each other.

The only time I had felt safe in the last six months was when he was around. And when he wasn’t, which was most of the time, I battled a constant state of unease. Looking over my shoulder. Inspecting every shadow. Sitting in silence so I could hear even the slightest breeze. Never truly resting. Mind constantly reeling. 

But when Kendrae was around, the fears dissipated. My two extremities wreaked havoc with my emotions. I found myself clinging to him more tightly, and coming to tears when we would part. A complete and total wreck, sobbing uncontrollably without constraint or insight as to why. Even when Kendrae was near, he couldn’t be more than six inches away from me or I felt susceptible to danger. I knew my behavior and emotions were erratic, but it was as if I had no physical or emotional filter. 

And one January night, it all came crashing down on me. I had the night off from the boutique, and Kendrae was getting off of work around 6. Naturally I was excited, because this meant we could spend some actual time together. I would make us both dinner, and we could watch something on Netflix and just relax. Until I got a text message that knocked the wind straight out of me.

“Just getting off work. I’m tired, so I’m just going to go home.” It was a basic message, but sent me into a frenzied panic. A dozen questions flew through my head so intensely that I felt dizzy. And before I could even think of a response, I found myself calling him. 

“Hello.” 

“Hey, I just got your text. You’re not going to come over?” I said as my voice cracked. 

“Yeah, I’m tired and need some time to myself.”

“…Um…okay…” I said choking back tears. He’s tired of you. He doesn’t want to spend what little free time he has with you. You’re losing him, Sarah.

Trying not to sound as panicked as I felt, “I was going to cook something for us and then I thought we could watch a movie or something.” 

“Maybe another time. I just need some time. That’s all.” 

“Oh…okay,” was all I could muster. 

“Well I’m almost home now, so I’ll text you later okay?” 

“…alright. Bye.” 

Cue the waterworks. I crumbled onto my bed and felt my world collapsing. 

How could he not want to spend time together? 

We lived 20 minutes apart, and he didn’t want to see me? 

What was wrong with me? 

What did I do? 

What wasn’t I doing? 

My thoughts whizzed around me in a vicious circle and after completely eviscerating myself, I was left crushed and wounded. 

I attempted to type a message to Kendrae about 20 different times, but the words avoided me. Despair evolved into latent hostility. Fine. If he didn’t want to spend his precious spare time with me, then I didn’t need to spend my effort on him either. 

My faux feelings of anger quickly relented back to despair as my self-loathing ritual began again. After about two hours of wondering how I could possibly pick up the pieces of my shattered life, I received a text message from Kendrae. My heart jumped into the air and did a front flip. He loved me, he really loved me and was apologizing and was on his way over here. 

Quickly grabbing my phone, I typed in my password to view my digital love note. Or not…It was a picture of a yogurt parfait Kendrae had made with the caption: dinner. 

What? So he was just going to pretend that this massive wedge between us wasn’t there? That he hadn’t just dropped a massive bomb shell on my heart? My whole world hadn’t just been shattered? 

I played it cool. “Looks good.” I responded, trying to keep it brief as I tossed my phone across the bed. Letting out a mudled huff of frustration, I reclined back onto the mattress and rested my head on the edge, legs dangling off the opposite side. Gaze fixated on the static ceiling fan. Gravity tugged at my hair which slowly cascaded down the edge of the mattress towards the carpeted floor. I let out another deep breath as I felt my body sinking. And as my eyes focused, so intently on the fan blades, my mind explored. 

Where had I gone so wrong? What could I have done better, to make him want to stick around? Was I too vocal about my feelings for him? Too needy? Could I convince him to want to be with me? Or was his mind already made up? What would I do without him?

What would I do without him? 

The connotation of that question reverberated through my mind. What would I do without him? Really…Sarah? Had my life so completely revolved around one person that I was questioning how I could get by without him? Chills ran down my spine as realization set in. Somewhere between wondering if I would ever get out from underneath my parents and now, I had become co-dependent on Kendrae. So much so, that the thought of spending an evening apart sent me spiraling down the unworthiness worm hole. I felt sick to my stomach.

My eyes widened, so laser-like focused on the fan blades that they became blurry in comparison to my thoughts. And as I took a step back to see my own reflection, the picture became very clear. Losing my relationship with my family created a large void in my life. In my frenzy and vulnerability, I had cast Kendrae as the leading role of my life. Not only that, but signed him up for just about every supporting role too. He was now acting as my family, my closest companion, my security, confidant and sounding board. And that wasn’t fair. Nor right. How could one person live up to all those responsibilities and expectations? I know I wouldn’t want to occupy the end all, be all in his life. In fact, that was quite terrifying. 

And in the process of filling my life up with Kendrae, I was missing a part of Sarah. I had lost myself in our relationship because I so desperately wanted to be loved and accepted. Identifying myself as his partner, rather than a whole person. When was the last time I had just spent an evening with myself? Not because I had to, or because other plans fell through, but because I wanted to. My mind was blank. The last time I truly felt like Sarah had to be before everything blew up over the summer. But really before that I was so consumed with soaking in every minute with my friends, teammates, and new boyfriend before graduation that I wasn’t much of a factor then either. Actually, there had always been an excuse for why I was always my own last priority. I spent my entire life consumed with others, allowing everyone and everything to rank higher on my priority list. 

Serve others. Value others first. Think of yourself less. Put your wants and needs last. All notions that had been fed to me since I could remember. Notions, that in isolation serve a fine purpose, but together can also encourage and perpetuate the undervaluing of oneself. I had been trained that the only capacity in which I mattered was in my role to someone else. An ideology I had never given much thought, just robotically followed. 

Spending time solely exploring my thoughts, dreams and emotions seemed dirty and vainglorious. 

Was it possible to foster and value a relationship with yourself? If I gave myself the time, love and energy that I so desperately craved, would I lose Kendrae in the process? Or worse, had I lost him already? 

Author’s Note: We find ourselves at the start of a fresh, new year. A pausing point, inciting self-reflection. An act that I once undervalued and flat out misunderstood. What I once mistook for self-centeredness, I now recognize as a necessity. Constantly bombarded with blatant and subliminal messages, it is easy to lose yourself in the clutter. We intake so much, that if you don’t spend time sifting through it, you may not realize all the garbage that stacks up. Spending time alone was an occurrence I ardently avoided. Turning on music to drone out my thoughts, fearful of what I might hear. Watching mindless television to spare myself a rendezvous with my own mind. Believing that silence lead to self-absorption. A straight path leading only to loneliness and emptiness. 

And now, I crave the stillness. Yearning for even just a few brief moments of absolute tranquility. No distractions, no sound, just Sarah. A space where I’m encouraged to pray, dream, cry, think, explore and reflect. Where holistic clarity joins me. It is this steadfast priority to always believe in my value as an individual and to continuously explore and refine that propels me to be my best self. 

I want to be the best version of Sarah for me. Which also happens to spill out into my relationships. My work. My writing. My interactions with strangers. All of which were being stifled until I learned that I am important. My time is valuable. I can choose and not choose how I’d like to spend it. And if I’d like to spend quality time with myself, it is not vanity. It’s sanity. 

Often times, it is much easier to pour ourselves into others than it is to seek out what fills our own cups. But the danger in this lies with running on fumes. Starving ourselves and giving everyone less than our best. To paraphrase a fictional radio psychiatrist, “Like this camembert, I am at my most delicious when I’m not spread too thin.”