Pen pal party

My fifth hour got to meet their pen pals today for a breakfast party before school! It was the best. Truly.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a high schooler sit on the ground and listen to a kid chat about his hobbies, or watch a teen play Uno with a group of children, or witness a high schooler gift personalized shirts to her pen pals, but I promise you—it will completely restore your faith in humanity.

This is what our culture is lacking: intentional connection, particularly between generations. Studies show mentorship is crucial to success, but I can’t say we’re particularity great at fostering those partnerships.

We have to do better. We have to connect these students.

Not just for them…but for us, too.

Hope rises when you see these kids together. It makes you realize there’s so much potential in the room.

Full circle

We went through Monday’s FRQs today, and I invited my former student, current colleague and dear friend, and the one taking over my calc classes to come listen.

She took her seat in that back corner…the same place she sat when she took calc in my room seven years ago. I had to catch my breath.

And there she sat, taking serious notes, exactly the same way she did her senior year, eager to learn everything Calculus had to offer.

I texted her later to ask how it went and if it was helpful, and her answer couldn’t have made me any happier.

She, too, said the memories came flooding back, both of the class and the content. She outlined her plan to prep this summer and, while I was never worried about her, this just increased my confidence even more.

Then this: “This is my dream. This is what I pictured when I decided to become a math teacher—I get to teach calculus.”

While I’m sad to take a break from the math for a bit, I could not be anymore excited for Morgan and for her future students. And, I’m beyond excited to work as her mentor in this new role.

If you know me, you know it’s a joy for me to teach calc. I mean…I just love it.

But seeing a student teach it too…that’s next level. That’s pride that’s indescribable.

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday was the last day for one of my third graders. I teach on a military base so kids come and go pretty frequently. It’s hard for lots of kids (I’ll admit that some seem super psyched to move on to whatever is next) and it’s definitely hard for me.

After our morning meeting we had a shell ceremony for him. He picked one shell from our collection that he wanted to keep. Then we passed that shell around and shared one special thing or memory about this student. We poured all our ice for him into that shell and he took it with him to keep.

I love seeing kids hear how awesome they are from their classmates. Some years, when I’m really with it, I do shell (or rock) ceremonies for every kid in the last couple of weeks of school.

Anti-Chain v U-Sub

I taught u-substitution the good ol’ fashioned way today. I told the kids: “Listen, when you take Calc 2 in college next year, please don’t mention the ‘Anti-Chain Rule’ to your professors. They’re not going to know what that is because it’s something I made up. So let me show you the way they’ll teach it, just so you know what they’re referencing.”

I made a worksheet with nine integrals, each appearing twice—once to recall Anti-Chain, once to practice U-Sub, so they could check their own answers.

Each hour said my way was way better than the way we’ve been teaching it for centuries, so that was enough to boost my ego for the month.

“So…what’s the point of this? Why are we doing this in five steps instead of two?”

Great question.

And I rest my case (again): goodbye to u-sub forever.

Held

As we were finishing Hidden Figures this morning in first hour, I don’t know what came over me exactly but all of a sudden I felt extreme loss and intense emotion. I think the push for the AP Exam kept me distracted, but now that it’s over, reality is staring me in the face: I am not going to teach next year.

The emotional and practical implications (packing up a decade’s worth of classroom decor and memories)—not to mention the guilt of leaving in the middle of a severe teacher shortage—weighed so heavy on me, and the feelings rushed in like a tsunami.

Make no mistake: I wanted this. I do want this. I want this sabbatical. I want to travel the state and listen to teachers. I want a year to reflect.

But, one of the things that makes me me is that I feel everything—everything—very deeply. You’ll either find me lovable or a basket case, and you’ll be right either way. But I can’t change it. Nor would I want to.

I’m so excited for next year.

I’m also mourning the loss of something I adore.

And I can do both. That’s what joy is: it can hold the happy and the sad; it recognizes that the two almost always coexist.

Today, my sadness stemmed largely from the thought of trying to pack up my classroom. I’ve poured my heart and soul into that room, and packing it up is a daunting thought on both a practical and emotional level. In the moment, it felt like just one more (very large) thing to add to my to-do list that never seems to wane.

In that moment, my dear friend and coworker Alyssa texted and said, “Don’t worry. I love organizing. We’ll pack up your room together!”

Then at lunch, another coworker offered her cabinets as extra storage.

A few hours later, a secretary asked if I want some packing boxes.

I started this day dreading this task.

Ok I’m still kind of dreading it.

But now I’m feeling…held. Like I’m not alone. Not even close.

I started this day truly overwhelmed by one very specific thing.

By the end, multiple people—without my asking—reached out with practical, helpful hands, holding me with their kindness and their words.

This is what it means to belong to each other.

This is what it means to hold one another.

This is what it means to carry each other’s stories.

My Favorite Sub

My oldest just finished her first year of college. She is (currently) a sociology and theater education double major. So while she’s home now, she’s working as a substitute for the last six weeks of our school year. For the first three days, she’s subbed at my school, on my team. It’s been such a treat to commute together and debrief our days together. And my colleagues are so grateful to have a sub and not have to split classes!

Hidden Figures

We are taking a couple days to catch our breath and just be after the AP Exam! I played Hidden Figures and the kids could watch or play games.

I got (way too much) popcorn for them to enjoy the next couple days…

To be honest, I worked during first through fourth hours, but fifth hour I decided I needed to kick up my feet too and I watched the movie with the kids.

Here’s Google’s synopsis of Hidden Figures, which is based on true events: “Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.”

One student made such a poignant comment: “This is painful to watch at times. If they’re not being discriminated against because they’re women, then they’re being discriminated against because of their race.”

They could barely watch parts of it…seeing people treat other people (brilliant mathematicians, no less) as less than simply because of their gender or the color of their skin.

I told them that when I grew up, the common narrative was very much that women were simply not as biologically apt at mathematics as their male counterparts.

(Thank God for my parents and teachers who told me that was dumb.)

But this led to a great conversation that, of course, we will always have more work to do, but look—look—how far we’ve come.

In the 1960s, African American women were told they had to use different restrooms, different libraries, different parts of the bus than their white counterparts.

In the 1990s, little girls were told that they needed to choose different careers than their male counterparts.

And now, in 2022, my students are appalled by these facts.

Instead of wishing for past history, let’s look ahead. Let’s look to our kids. They’re our future.

Celebrate & Rest

The AP Exam is OVER! And the kids came out with SMILES (which did not happen after those 2019 and 2021 FRQs, let’s be real).

I was clearly tense all day (ahem…all year?) as my body just ached all over from fatigue when I got home today. It’s truly incredible how hard our bodies will work for us and then when we finally stop to rest, they say, “Please. Rest for real. Here’s some pain to remind you’re human.”

I told my kids today that I hope they take time to reflect on all the work they’ve done this year (and really all their math classes leading up to this one) and that they celebrate what they just accomplished.

AP teachers, please celebrate and rest.

I have done my yoga and now I’m sitting with a purring cat in my lap and wine in hand.

Celebrate.

Rest.

We did it.

Tomorrow is movie and popcorn day!

(Now they can’t accuse me of never showing a movie!)

Grandma

It’s been a heavy week in the Peterson household. On Sunday, we lost Brett’s grandma, who I’ve also called Grandma for over a decade. She was the epitome of love, gentleness, and hard work. A one-room-schoolhouse teacher, she and I would often compare notes and laugh at how different school is now but how kids are still kids, no matter the generation. Grandma was so quick to welcome everyone in her home. She was even smaller than I am but had the biggest heart. While we miss her deeply, her generous spirit lives on in her husband, kids, grandkids, great grandkids, and I’d like to think this granddaughter-in-law, too.

Grandma’s passing means I’ll need to miss the last couple days before the AP Exam. But as I told the kids today, I’ve never been so confident about a group and I’m certain they don’t need me anymore. They’ve got this.

I was going to hold a study session after school today but unfortunately our sweet son has strep so I needed to cancel that, too.

This evening I received these beautiful words from a student:

Hey Mrs. Peterson! I just wanted to let you know how appreciated and loved you are! We totally will miss you these next couple days, but I really admire how you are putting your family first and showing that to your students. I am praying for peace and comfort for your family for these next couple days! (especially for sweet Jonas:))
Thinking of you!

I can’t read that and not tear up…

Since this was my last day with some of them before the test (I’m taking a half day tomorrow), I gave test day instructions today. I told them how proud I am of them, how I want them to finish strong, but at the end of the day this test is just a number. And numbers do not define us.

It’s a very tricky balance we attempt to hold as teachers: pushing our kids to do their best while also encouraging them not to garner their identify from their performance.

Push and let go.

Push and let go.

This idea that who we are is infinitely more important than how we perform is a difficult concept for kids and adults alike.

But it’s one I’ve tried to instill in them since the beginning. It’s one of the reasons we practice mindfulness in my class—because I think it’s crucial we take time to focus on just our breath, to remind ourselves that we are enough exactly as we are; no need to preform. No need to act. No need to fit in. We belong already. We belong to each other.

I tried my best to remind them of that today. But if I’m being honest, my brain is a little mushy this week and I wondered if I really got across what I wanted to get across.

Then another message from a student said, “I saw this earlier this week and saved it. It reminded me of what you were telling us today.”

I know I’m supposed to be the one holding them.

But today, like many days, they held me.

We love you and miss you, Grandma. But the example you built for us: of loving without condition or expectation is one that will carry on forever.

Done!

We took our second state test today (reading last week and math today) so that’s done! I hate the weight these tests place on me and my colleagues, much less how they make many of the kids feel.

But today was also Star Wars Day so that was a bonus. Out check in was Baby Yoda focused.

And I wore my shirt that can only be worn today!

In the afternoon we spent some time doing Star Wars mazes, codes, coloring pages, and other activities while listening to the original Star Wars soundtrack.