backstory

Understanding Our Backstory – A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Understanding Our Backstory – A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

“It is quite true what philosophy says; that life must be understood backwards. But one forgets the other principle: that is must be lived forwards.”

– Soren Kierkegaard

I was the second person to board the very early morning flight from Chicago to Raleigh – and the flight attendant took one look at me and reacted with what I believe to be genuine kindness. “I need you to answer one question for me,” he said. His eyes scanned over my shoulder, searching behind me on the gangway for the rest of the passengers. I really wasn’t in the mood for games. Travel isn’t easy, and I was tired. Teacher tired. End of the school year teacher tired.The kind of tired that only teachers – or new moms – know. The kind of tired where you’ve been caring for someone else at the expense of yourself.

I must have looked as dumbstruck as I felt because he continued. “The question is, what can I do to help you?” Wait – what? YOU want to help ME?

Honestly, I could only focus on the origin of his accent. Russian? Australian? I seriously questioned who he was talking to, stunned as I was. “Why don’t you just take a seat and let me take your bags?” he questioned, patiently waiting for me to step into the empty plane. At this point, I’m still having trouble processing and it’s getting embarrassing. This is Southwest Airlines, after all. Coach. Flight attendants are usually friendly, but NO ONE ever treats me like this. Gently he eased my carry on from my tightly gripped fingers and instructed me to sit anywhere.

Finally settled into my seat, he came up behind me and whispered “Remember – just leave all your stress back at the gate,” and kindly helped my husband and hundreds of other tired travelers prepare for their flight.

backstory

Choosing Kindness

How many times have people in my life chosen kindness at just the right moment- and I don’t remember them. Playing this all back in my mind, I hope he knows what a difference he made to me that day. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering or tragic that was going on, but I was spent. He had no idea, I’m sure, about anything having to do with me or my story. But taking those few moments to check in with me, to pay attention, made all the difference.

I’d just finished reading a fabulous novel, All The Missing Girls, before boarding and couldn’t get it out of my mind (be sure to check out my upcoming review and ‘Best of 2018′ book list to be posted soon). I struggled a bit with the narrative as it started with the ending and worked backward. In had to think, to get used to the reverse cadence of the plot and really pay attention to the details.

It really made me think about the backstory of my life – of my children’s, my students’ lives. How elusive it can be, even when we try to not hold onto it. How it can squeeze up at the most profound, unexpected times, only to whiplash our thinking.

Our backstory can frame the plot of our lives, even when we don’t pay attention to it; it can chart our course.

What is the backstory of your life?

It’s probably not a question we can ask directly, but one we should directly pay attention to. Just imagine what life could be like if we knew more about each other. Would we be more empathetic? Compassionate? Or less tolerant, figuring we should know better?

What’s the backstory of my life?

Thirty-six years after my parent’s divorce and I still feel that chasm they created. There’s no blame. No right or wrong. It just is. How many of my students are dealing with their own divorce backstory that I don’t have a whisper of information about? Have my own children learned about life and love from watching me and their dad? How has my divorce backstory influenced me from living my parenting life forward?

Twenty-eight years after my first day of teaching I’m once again changing course with my career. I started before NCLB – and still, I shudder at the idea of teaching like it’s 1991. It’s only by looking at my teaching backstory that it comes into focus. I know I haven’t been a perfect teacher; I know I’ve made mistakes. But I can’t stay there – that would be too easy. I can’t keep one foot in the past and expect to make it into the present…I’m just not that flexible. I have to live my teaching life forward.

backstory
Early parenthood, 1996.

Twenty-two years after my first child, I’m definitely understanding life in reverse. She finshed college, launching now into her adult life. My baby is leaving soon, moving across the country. I’ve almost got an empty nest…isn’t that a perfect excuse for understanding life backwards? Second guessing everything I didn’t do? Seeing where a + b didn’t exactly = C, but realizing that it’s ok? I understand fully Catlin Tucker’s comparison of teaching and parenting as a ‘delicate dance’. Suddenly, I’m realizing that the 22 years of parenting have really become the backstory of my teaching life.

Life must be understood backwards.

That one, short moment of kindness by a flight attendant – a moment like so many others that we don’t even realize can define our future selves and inform how we see ourselves. And as parents how many of those moments define our children; how does our back story cause our children’s reflection to shimmer or shatter?

backstory

Life must be understood backwards, yet lived forwards. I don’t think we can avoid it – or embrace it. It just is. It’s the gift of aging. Maybe all we can do is just choose kindness – simply asking someone what you can do for THEM. You never know whose story you might be changing.

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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purge party

It’s A Purge Party – And You’re Invited!

Back in May, a few weeks before school let out for the summer, I decided I needed to have a purge party. In the last 27 years, you see, I’ve taught a huge variety of curriculum and grades, I’ve gone from overhead projectors to DLP to Chromebooks and devices, and yet my paper files were still there, haunting me from five huge, overstuffed beige metal filing cabinets.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed support…and fortunately, as every teacher knows, there are ALWAYS kids who love to help.

Grateful, tired teacher with purge party helpers.

Here’s how the purge party began:

I thought it would be simplest to start with my bookshelves. This year I returned to dedicated time for READING in my classes, and boy, did we all love it. Every day starting off with 10 minutes of relax and read helped us all to calm down, focus, and get lost in stories. And as a result, I bought new books…which meant purging titles I have had for decades. I didn’t think it would be too big of a deal – books are books, and surely I could make some space without too much heartache.

Letting go of books, to me, is like leaving old friends – and I realized just wasn’t up to that part of the purge party, so I asked some of my most voracious readers if they’d like to help…and boy, did they help!

We purged out an entire bookcase, and then she ORGANIZED what was left! Best of all, as I tried to sneak back some beloved titles, she reminded me that, “OMG, Mrs. Wolfe, you have TOO many books about baseball…and no one is going to want to read that one -just get rid of it!”

This is one huge reason my purge party was a success – I was reminded that while I might feel huge attachment to the books in my room, kids in 2018 have different tastes and I needed to make room for more current titles.

A few other students caught on to the idea of my ‘purge party’ – and to my huge surprise, volunteered to come back the day after school was out to help.

I honestly couldn’t believe they showed up. I HAD promised them a treat from Dutch Bros….but to show up eager to help at 8:30 a.m. the first day of summer? I’m the luckiest teacher…

Another sweet purge party helper!

Here’s how the purge party went:

The purge party went something like this: I open a file cabinet drawer, said just recycle everything, they look at me like I’m crazy, and then proceed to fill my green bins over and over and over with 27 years worth of PAPER.

I tried not to hyperventilate. I tried not to dig through the file folders and workbooks and transparencies, and just let them PURGE.

purge party

It was hard clearing out all those memories; I’m transitioning back to 7th grade ELA next year and this felt like the perfect time for purging. I’m grateful to be surrounded by loving students willing to not let me look back, and instead keep supporting me, pushing me forward and reminding me of the fun year they had. And not one part of that ‘fun’ came from those metal drawers.

In truth, I haven’t even touched those five filing cabinets for years. I was trying the ‘if you don’t see it/touch it/use it’ theory to make purging easier for me. I was never again going to teach French, or Yearbook, or 7th grade History…and if by some chance the Universe sent that curriculum my way again, I was now opening up the possibility for something new to enter.

It was a long, emotional day for me. The kids ate pizza, got caffeinated and silly and somehow, by 2:30, the purge party was done. Most of the kids stayed the entire time, supporting me and each other as we cleared out the old and made way for the new possibilities. I’m not sure any of us were really ready to leave, actually. 

The purge party continues:

The success of my purge party inspired me to continue at home. This summer, I’m starting to clear. I’ve done some drawers and closets, and already made two deliveries to the donation center. I’ve brought bags of books to the Little Free Library around the corner. I’m scratched by rosebushes by clearing dead debris in my garden. I’m spreading new mulch and propping up lilies that bloomed so big they fell over.  And I’ll be honest – I’m feeling a bit anxious about it all…just like watching my classroom memories disappear into the recycle bin, my home holds 24 years of memories. I have to learn that right now, clearing out doesn’t mean the feelings are going; instead I’m allowing space for possibilities as we enter this new phase at home and embrace the empty nest.

So this week, on my solo staycation, I’m taking the quiet time to pay attention to the places at home and life that are out of balance and making a daily practice to purge, to put away, and to allow the light to shine in and on and through, one minute at a time. 

I hope you’ll join me on this one. I could use some friendly energy to help me ride out the flood of memories I’m sure will come. I’d really rather not have a purge party for 1! Give me a shout out and let me know if you’d like to be here with me in spirit!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Holocaust

The Holocaust and Big Questions For Our Children

We’re studying the Holocaust in my classroom right now. I knew it was coming….middle school kids are in that developmental phase where they mimic what they see in the media. They parrot their parents or family members, not always realizing what is coming out of their mouth.

Very often, that can be problematic at best.

At worst, it can show the hate that is simmering in our country. It can spew the language of division, and mimic the actions of those adults who should know better, but don’t.

I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

In the last three weeks, it’s happened at my peaceful little school. Anti-LGBTQ language. Symbols of hate carved into bathroom stalls. Girls coming to me sharing stories of sexual harassment from male classmates…all this simmering beneath the surface of our children.

They look to us for guidance, but we don’t always know the right or appropriate thing to say. They look at the news, the media, and see people in their country showing hate, bringing guns to schools, using words to demean and disregard and dismiss behaviors. They want us to find the villain, to get back to ‘normal’. 

And so somehow, inside my tiny classroom, I need to shift course. I need to model more love and acceptance without showing my own anger or fear or disgust at the actions of people around me and in our government.

So I teach and weave in lessons of history, of courage, of love, and yes, of the power of hate. The power of hope, and helpers, and believing that deep down, people really are good at heart.

Holocaust

Teaching The Diary of Anne Frank at the end of the year always makes me a bit uneasy. It’s not a ‘light’ story by any means, and as we are heading towards celebrating a year of learning together, it often seems out of place in the May curriculum.

Until this year. I need my students to understand the power of hate.

I want them to know why the Nazi symbol holds such venom and what the Star of David, identifying Jews and ultimately bringing millions to a horrific death, teaches us about faith.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

I want them to know when they see these images that there is a backstory – and to understand why we must lock bathrooms and be vigilant and intolerant of hate and violence against each other.

Some of you might think that they’re just kids – they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just mimicking what they see on social media, or repeating what they hear without processing.

And I’d say you’re right – and that’s precisely the problem. Why are they seeing these images and hearing language of hate and intolerance in 2018, decades after we should have learned this lesson? Why are they watching leaders and decision makers act with disregard for those that aren’t in the 1%? Why are they seeing images of citizens of the world herded into temporary shelters, or no shelter at all, simply because they seek a life without persecution for living their authentic selves?

I want them to ponder the big questions the Holocaust brings to mind – questions like “What do you gain when you stand up under adversity?” and “Who is worse – the attacker or the bystander?”

I want them to learn about the unknown heroes of the Holocaust – those folks who aren’t famous for their actions, except to those they helped.

I want my students to talk about why we sometimes feel superior to others. I want them to think about their legacy – even though they’re only 13.

This is our time to rise up, teachers. Don’t dismiss the last few weeks of the school year – leverage them. You’ve spent months developing relationships with your students. Take advantage of that. Use these days, weeks, or hours with your young people to explore what’s happening in their world – our world. Talk to them about what they see and hear. Ask them to think critically about local, national, and global issues. Guide them to meaningful media to learn about the world and then communicate their beliefs to an audience. Do a podcast. Write a blog. Shoot a video clip. Give them a voice.

We already know we’re not solving the problems. We already know that the hatred and gun violence and #metoo movements were formed on the backs of our inability to make change happen.

And we already know that we still have a chance, still have an obligation to our children.

So parents, teachers….do something. Teach someone. Talk to the young people in your life. And most importantly, LISTEN.

If you’d like a copy of my Diary of Anne Frank hyperdoc, including text sets about the Holocaust and Judaism, click here. Share it. You don’t have to be a teacher (or a student) to learn from it. You just need to have a desire to make change happen.

We are really better together. We really should be better.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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peace quote gandhi

Peace Begins At Home

Peace

“Peace, like charity, begins at home.”

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

This quote just seemed right today, on many, many levels.

We know we are better together, stronger together, more peaceful together.

Lily pumpkin patch

Cherish what is really important to you.

Lift your face to the sky, feel the air around you.

Breathe deeply, and enjoy the moment.

Hug your children, inhale their scent.

Breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.

Show your gratitude, say thank you.

Exhale, inhale, exhale.

Let calm flow in and out.

Without the struggle, the victory wouldn’t be as powerful.

Be proud of you and what you do. Embrace you.

Make your prayer for peace. Make it for you, your children, and your world.

The world is in need.

We are so very, very lucky to have each other.

Sharing is powerful.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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6 Tips For Reducing Your Child’s Stress and Anxiety

Is your child experiencing stress? Are they struggling to make it through to a successful end of the school year? Do you know a student who is going through a tough time preparing for their finals? Sadly, I see it every day in my classroom. This can leave parents feeling hopeless and helpless, as though there is absolutely nothing that you can do to make things easier and with the amount of pressure that students are under, it can be hard to give them the support that they need. With over 10% of school children experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it’s hard to know when to help and how. 

stress

Facing the Fears

When people are afraid of situations, there is a high chance that they will want to do everything they can to avoid it. Instead of encouraging your child to avoid stressful situations, you should encourage them to face them head-on. The anxiety will reduce naturally over time, not to mention that it will show them that it is possible for them to deal with the stress they are feeling. The body can’t be anxious for long, it’s just not possible. There is a biological system in place that helps to calm the body down, so you have to trust that this concept applies to your child as well. The stress that they are under may feel unbearable, but know that they can get through it and tell them that they can as well. Taking them out of school or letting them take days off will only make things worse, as it reinforces the thought of them not being able to get through the situation.

Nobody is Perfect

Children often think that they have to be perfect to succeed, whether it is in sports or even in their academic performance. Sometimes parents may forget that kids just need to be kids. School is often far too grade driven. If students don’t achieve A+ grades then they may feel like a complete failure, so it’s important for parents to encourage them during this time and to tell them that nobody is perfect. Some parents feel the need to put even more pressure on their children when finals come along because they want them to do well; the truth is that this can make things even worse and their performance may even suffer as a result. Sometimes it helps for parents to take a back seat and encourage them to relax from time to time. They won’t get a perfect grade every time, and you need to know this as well as them.

Be Positive

Children who experience stress will probably go through a lot of negative thoughts. They may also experience self-criticism. It’s a good idea for parents to try and reinforce the positive aspects of any situation as well. This will remind them to focus on the positives and it will also help to pull them through this difficult and stress-filled time. Try and be upbeat, encourage them and tell them that you believe in them. If they come back with a bad result, let them know that it is okay and work with them to try and move past it. I like to think of it as being a soft place for them to land.

stress

Find a Way To Relax

Kids need to relax and just be kids from time to time. Fun activities such as sports can quickly become about success instead of being about having fun. This is especially around finals, because your child may feel pressure in every aspect of their life. When your kids are out playing sports or when they are doing something that could be seen as being competitive, make sure that they are doing it to have fun and to just unwind. You could encourage them to take a walk with a friend, find a quiet place to relax and read, or even go on an adventure with the FFXV strategy game –  taking a pause by engaging in little things like this can really go a long way when it comes to their stress levels, and it gives them the time that they need to take a break from the challenge of always trying to be successful.

Sleep!

If your child is not getting enough sleep or if they are finding it hard to relax at the end of the night then try and work with them to make sure that they are not having too much caffeine before bed. A lot of kids consume energy drinks and coffee to try and stay awake. This could be so that they can study longer or it can also be because they just don’t want to sleep. After all, when we go to sleep, we wake up and it is the day of the exam they are worrying about. If your child is not sleeping properly, support them with a routine. Encourage them to read a book before bed, consider essential oils and even have a family movie night. When you’re running low on sleep, your emotions can quickly get out of control and they can also make things seem worse than they actually are, so it really is crucial. Many of my students sleep only 6-7 hours each night!

stress

Knowing When to Stop

We want to teach our children to soar – but your child may feel under constant pressure to succeed and study and at times, you may think that they are studying a bit too much. This is more than possible and it may even cause them to experience even more anxiety because of the pressure they are piling on themselves and the constant thought of having to learn. It’s important that parents recognize when your child is studying too much and stop them if they are focusing too much. Studying too much is as bad as not studying enough because the brain eventually gets to the point where it cannot absorb any more information and this will only lead to more frustration. Tell your child that they have done enough and no matter what happens, you will be there to support them in every possible situation. Teaching kids healthy boundaries is key to learning to be successful adults.

stress

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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