School is cool

Wow, that seems like kind of a cheesy title, but at this moment, it’s the one I am working with.  I’m going to take the “round-about” way of getting to the point.  

For me, discovering cancer has been such a long, strange trip.  First, the shock was truly mind-numbing.   That phase lasted, about a week maybe?  Life seemed “monochromatic”, with a dull vibration in my brain, no real thoughts of consequences, I just got up each day and put one foot in front of the other.  Then, I merely followed the directions of the Cancer Surgeon….biopsy, blood tests, MRI test, Bone scans, CT scans, met Plastic Surgeons, plan reconstruction, etc.  All the while, I was in a bit of denial, just going through the motions……wondering, is this really me?  I really have cancer?  How can that be?  I am too healthy to have cancer.   I’m too busy to deal with this.  Could this be serious, (Could I die from this? This year or next?)  I have a really great job, and I am very busy with my work, and I have two children as well as a husband who needs me.  How can I possibly juggle cancer on top of all the other balls I have in the air?  I think I did not allow myself to truly feel anything, for fear of “losing it”.

For all of March and 29 days of April I went to work everyday and tried really hard to “turn off cancer” and think instead of just what I was doing with my beautiful Junior High classes.  Of course, in reality, I was trying to plan for my impending departure, not even knowing when that would be. My brain was working in “split screen”.  

When I had students in the room, I was completely “with the kids”, and thank goodness for that.  While teaching, cancer was pretty far from my mind.  When I wasn’t teaching, I really had to make use of every single available second of non-student time to be sure I had enough detail in my lesson plans for my substitute to seamlessly come in and take over my classes for a month or more. In addition, my rooms needed to be organized, buttoned-up and put away for the end of the school year.  This required an inordinate amount of work, coming to school as early as the custodian did, and staying long after most teachers had vanished to enjoy their afternoons or coach spring sports.  Man, that was a lot of work!

Through this experience, I have discovered I am an “intuitive” kind of teacher. My lesson plan “book” probably looks pathetically anemic to an outsider.  Instead of specific details for each class, weeks into the future, I have big picture objectives written out, without too much worry as to how I am going to teach those lessons. Oh, I have files with previous plans available if nothing fabulous comes to me.  But I always hope that at least once or twice each week, I will have some kind of “light bulb moment” and some great idea will present itself to me in time to teach the lesson.  Sometimes that happens as soon as I wake up, during “church” on Sunday, or on the drive to work while listening to NPR. I love to teach a class in an unexpected manner, and I think kids like it too.  

I can remember the favorite teachers I had as a student….because there were so few of them.  But the teachers I loved seemed to be passionate about their topics, and were not afraid to show it.  They used humor and crazy analogies and popular music to emphasize a point.  Most of all, they seemed “genuine”.  They didn’t act too much like “teachers”.  I think in my early years of teaching, I really tried to act like a teacher, hoping I would convince the kids that I was one!  Eventually, I kind of settled in with my topics and realized that I could really be me, and be a teacher, too.  I could evolve, and take the best parts of the best teachers I have ever had as a student or had the opportunity to work with. Sometimes, they were even teachers just across the hall, but their passion and enthusiasm just kind of diffused into the air and you could feel it as you walked by their rooms.   I am so lucky to have lived and worked in a variety of places at so many different jobs, the mentors I’ve had have been in many different disciplines and in unusual places.  As I think about this….I realize this is a book all of it’s own.  But the teaching “gig” has just been a “dream”.  Especially where I’m now, back at my original “traditional school”.

 

JBN

A few years ago I saw a “just be nice” bumper sticker in Lakeside, OH and tracked it down to a website and small enterprise of a man in Florida who embodied the “Just Be Nice” philosophy.  It seemed to make so much sense, and I jumped on the opportunity to reduce a whole page of “rules” in my syllabus to three little words.  I placed the JBN logo around the room, and always made a big deal about it.  Kids knew if they would JBN to me, I’d JBN to them, and they absolutely had to JBN to each other in my room.  If we all lived and embodied the “JBN” philosophy in room 102 and 104, we would all have a pretty good time.  

In addition, I let kids know that I was their advocate.  I always told my classes that I am always there if they ever need help, with anything, even if they knew they had made a mistake, I’d help them get through it.  That was a philosophy  I adopted from “The Open School” outside of Denver, CO, where I did my student teaching.  Not many kids literally took me up on this, but I think it just made them feel a bit more secure, especially the youngest 7th graders in the group.  When I realized sometime in March that this cancer business was serious, and was going to take me out of school, that was the first time I think I actually cried.  I know it sounds silly now, but I was upset, and concerned that I might be letting some of the more vunerable kids down.  I had no idea how much they would inspire me in the coming weeks.

Get Well Soon

Two days after I stopped teaching for the year, super-angel-nurse-Juli came to my house with a stack of handmade Get Well cards, a big pink “Get Well Soon” poster that hangs in my room, and what she called my “battle bucket”. The “bucket” is BIG and filled with all the things I would need for my “battle with cancer” like new pajamas that button up the front, water bottles with straw spouts, dark chocolates, meditation CD’s, new slippers, a velvet “sleep mask”, ribbons for my drain tubes, a big heating pad, etc. All items donated by the staff and administration at AWJH.  Wow…..I was so impressed! 

By the time I came home from the hospital, many cards and gifts continued to flow into our household from friends and both schools.  But my favorite by far, were the cards that students wrote, especially when they included the motivational quotes I had used in my classes.  My 7th and 8th grade students took the messages I taught them, I had hoped would inspire them, and sent them to me in their homemade cards to lift my spirits and inspire me!  As a teacher, it doesn’t get much better than that.     —Oh, but wait, it does!!!

JBN Day

A couple of weeks after my surgery, I received a “conference call” from a few incredible teachers at my school informing me of a special “holiday” coming up on May 29th, “Just Be Nice Day” in my honor.  Apparently, every teacher in my school participated, devoting time to the JBN concept, that, in and of itself, is amazing!    Bright colored JBN T-shirts were designed and sold to students and parents alike with $1.00 each donated to cancer research (over $400.00 raised!)  Guidance counselors took the time to make out a seating chart for three lunch periods (for over 700 kids!) to be sure they sat with a new group of students, a “mix-it-up-at lunch” concept.  I was feeling good enough to make a brief appearance after lunch in a couple of classes to say “Hi!”, and encourage the kids in their social experiment.  That was especially nice, and really great medicine for me, to see the smiling faces of those great kids.  At the end of the day, all students had the opportunity to write me a note on special JBN paper (I don’t think they were “forced to”!) about what JBN day meant to them.  I have a stack of letters over 4 inches high.  Some funny, some sad, some of the sentiments expressed by current and former students made me cry, and some made me laugh right out loud.  My gosh….what a great thing to do, “JBN Day”.  It doesn’t get much better than that.   —Oh, but wait, it does!

June 3rd, Last day of school, Awards Ceremony

Last year I had decided I would give an award for something, and as the school year proceeded this year, I had thought the JBN idea would be great for an award.  It seemed to be a democratic kind of “award”, as anyone could achieve this…..no need to be academically gifted, or athletically inclined, or a great writer, or singer or socially outgoing. After first semester ended, I made mental notes of the kids who had been especially nice to other students in class, as well as the kids who consistently cleaned up in the room or made an effort to be appreciative to me as well as others. Of course, once I got the Cancer diagnosis, the JBN Award was one more thing on my overflowing plate that I prayed I would be able to complete.  

Thankfully, as time progressed after my surgery, it appeared that I would be well enough, and be lucky enough to not have any critical appointments on the day of the awards ceremony.  I created a humble little certificate from the actual bumper stickers in my room, choose 32 students to honor and eagerly awaited the last day of school.  I had only seen a small group of the 700+ students before this day, so I was sure to write out a short motivational message about “attitude” and “JBN” before I gave the award, because I was afraid that I might get a little emotional and forget what I wanted to say.  Well, I really was surprised by the big reaction I received.  As the teacher who proceeded me announced my name and I walked down the aisle, kids actually applauded, and stood up!  And didn’t stop.  It was a most amazing moment…..maybe the best moment of my career to this point in time.  The following is an email I received from another teacher friend who was in the auditorium that morning:

Hi KayLynne!

I can’t even describe how wonderful it was to see you today.  I am so glad you got to spend some time with us!!

Although there were a lot of fun moments about today, the best part by far was when your name was announced to distribute awards.  Did you realize that you had almost 700 kids giving you a standing ovation?!?!  And several teachers with tears in their eyes…  And when you started to speak, you could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium.  It gives me chills and tears just thinking about it.  Everyone was hanging on to your every word.  I hope you know how much you are loved and appreciated, not just by the staff, but by the students, too.  Thank you for being such a positive teacher/friend in all of our lives.  If you have ever doubted what you do and really wondered if you are making a diference, today you got your answer.  YOU are amazing and we are all very lucky to be blessed with your optimism and spirit.

Love,

Wow.  I have read this letter over and over, and it still humbles me.  Hard for me to believe it is true. Lucky me to have colleagues that have been so incredibly thoughtful and kind to organize and donate to my “battle bucket”, to plan and implement JBN Day, and to write the most thoughtful letters I’ll keep forever. Lucky me to have students who are so incredibly smart and sensitive and caring.  My school is definitely “cool”.

 

The following is the mission statement from The Open School.  It sums up not only my teaching philosophy, but cancer has shown me that this is the spirit of my “learning from every life experience” philosophy, as well.

Discover the joy of learning

Seek meaning in your life

Adapt to what is

Prepare for what will be

Create the world that ought to be

 

Thanks for reading this incredibly long post, I love you all.

–Kay-Lynne


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