How to Survive Pregnant Teaching

Snacks.  Everywhere.  All the time.

My favorite line of all time: “You’re tired?  I’m growing a human inside of me.  Wake up.”

Tell students you’re pregnant.  I’m an advocate of telling students sooner rather than later.  I remember as freshmen in high school, we constantly wondered if our English teacher was pregnant.  For the whole year.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense in retrospect but teenagers are idiots.  I told students that story as a lead in to “By the way, I am pregnant.  Yes, this belly has a baby in it.”

Make best friends with the teacher nearest you.  You will need to pee ALL THE TIME.  So find that teacher nearest you, suck up like your life depends on it (because your pants definitely do depend on it,) and work out a system.  I would knock on the neighbor teacher’s door with a thumb’s up.  That was my signal: “I am peeing, make sure no one dies.”

Don’t pretend like it’s not there.  It is there.

Milk that shit.  I worked with middle school kids; this tactic may not work as well for my current high school kids, but I would connect rules to the pregnancy.  It’s human nature to feel for the pregnant lady.  “Class, please put your backpacks under your chairs.  I currently cannot see my feet.  Do you really want to be the one whose backpack tripped the pregnant lady?” All those backpacks went right away.  “Class, can you move this stack of books?  I can’t lift it.”  Books moved so fast it was unbelievable.

Make sure that you can teach the occasional lesson from your desk.  Some days, you are not going to want to walk.  Prior to pregnancy, I often wouldn’t sit at my desk until the day was over. During the pregnancy, I had trouble walking just to the blackboard.  “Elaina, could you write today’s date on the board?”  Boom.

Don’t answer any questions you don’t want to.  No joke, a student asked me, “Are you going to breastfeed?”  To be fair, I know this student had an infant sister, so I do not think there was anything inherently creepy about this question. I was still not going to answer it, however.  Instead, I gave him (yes, it was a boy) a death glare.  He didn’t understand why he shouldn’t ask, but he walked away.

Loose clothes are your best friend.  There comes a point during late pregnancy when your little kicks become BIG kicks and they are visible.  There is no quicker way to derail a lesson than a student shouting, “Woah, your belly is moving!”

Make it funny.  I got a sudden charlie horse mid-lesson and bent over very quickly.  I also probably yelped.  Dead silence.  When I looked up, my little middle school kids were watching me in terror.  “Are you in labor?” One of them finally asked.  I burst into laughter, explained, then we all laughed.  I also had to reassure them that if I went into labor, it wouldn’t look like that and I was DEFINITELY not having the baby inside the school.  Apparently some students feared that.

DON’T TELL THEM THE BABY’S NAME.  Kids are cruel.  It’s already hard enough to find the right name, since that AH-MAZING name “Wyatt” was that pain in the ass kid that one time.  Kids will always tell you exactly what they think or who they know with that name.  They will also ask you if you will name the baby after them; some ask jokingly, and some do not.

Remember: you’ll get through this.  And for realz, it’s worse to be a teacher and a parent of a newborn anyway.  You’ll survive though.  We all did.

 

 

Motherhood Destroyed Me

Like many women, I have wanted to be a Mommy since I was a tiny little child.  I had a baby doll, Baby Lisa, that I would coddle and hold and pretend feed and clothe and soothe.  I played house constantly.  To a certain extent, I played Mommy to my little sister from the time she was born (much to my sister’s dismay).  I felt that “Mommy” was born into me.

Mormonism reinforced my conviction, because in Mormonland, there is no greater calling than to being a mother.  Well, for women anyway.  I babysat constantly, I took all the Red Cross courses, I listened attentively every Sunday and Tuesday as we young women were carefully taught how to care for our husbands and children (and never ourselves, obviously).  The few times women are mentioned in the LDS’ scriptures canon, it is often as mothers.  I took motherhood very seriously.  I looked forward to having my own little tow-headed children, just like me, and I often thought of them.

I was married at nineteen, but unlike many Mormon couples, we resisted the urge to have a child immediately.  I have great respect for the young families that choose this, I can’t imagine how hard it would have been.  We simply decided it wasn’t for us – yet.  We knew we wanted to have kids.

At the tail end of my University studies, I stopped taking daily birth control for medical reasons.  And we just never really replaced it.  We “sort of” attempted other methods, but we weren’t consistent.

So of course, I got pregnant.

I was nervous as hell and thrilled and excited and worried.  Most of my worries were financial in nature.  I found out I was pregnant during student teaching, which meant that I would have the baby halfway through my first year as a teacher.  I worried about the finances, I worried about my doctor, I worried about baby supplies and labor and daycare.

In short, I worried about trivialities.  I know that now.

What I didn’t know was how much motherhood would thoroughly and completely change me.

And not in the way I anticipated.

And not always in a good way.

Yeah, my body is different.  My hips are wider, there’s a paunch in my midsection that doesn’t seem to go away, my old jeans don’t fit right.  And my boobs sag.  I hate that.  But that’s the kind of stuff I had anticipated.

Society tells mothers that their lives totally change.  And mothers-to-be anticipate that, we really do.  But there’s no way to describe it, no way to fully expect the life-altering and permanent shift in all aspects of your life.

How do I put it… My identity has forever been adjusted.

Forever.

When I made “big” choices before, I could undo the choice.  My major in college, where I lived, even my marriage.  I could back out of those things (not that I wanted to) but I could.

There’s no backing out of being a mom.  There’s no “control-alt-delete.”  He’s here.  My baby boy is here.  He is mine, but more importantly I am his.

He doesn’t have another Mommy.  Yes, he has plenty of people who love him and take care of him.  But I am his Mommy.  I cannot be replaced.  I can barely be substituted for the brief periods of time.

Do you know how much pressure that is?  If you have kids, nod your head.  If you don’t, you have no clue.  I say that with love and a tad of jealousy.  I thought I knew what it would be like.  I am “on call” always.  There is no clocking out.  There is no unplugging.  He is always, always, always in the back of my mind, even if I am not with him.  This tiny human, who I desperately love, is almost entirely dependent on me to provide the right experiences and nutrition and safety and education and… everything.

Let me say that again.

Everything.

I can’t escape it.  I can’t undo it.  And it will never end.

Yes, one day he will grow up enough to leave me.  And that day will break my heart, but it will not be the end.  Because I will always worry about him and fret over him.  Even if he is not in my house, he is still my son and I still will feel (reasonably) responsible for him.

Everything.  Forever.

And sometimes, I hate that.

I am forever destroyed.  I am not the person I was before I had him.  I never will be.  And you know what?  I sometimes miss that person, the pre-baby Molly.  Setting aside my post-partum depression, and the hell my marriage went through, I cannot go back to carefree living.  My hobbies are not the same.  I struggle to find time for me.  The things I love, yoga and reading and writing and lately slack-lining, have to take a backseat to motherhood.  Even when I do have time for those things, or for a night out, the mom guilt is real and palpable.

It’s a new and daily struggle and one I do not often appreciate.

When I was a little girl, I could put Baby Lisa down and go do something else.  Not something to better my fake parenting skills, just something else.  When I was babysitting, I went home to my own bed with little more responsibility than tomorrow’s math homework.  Motherhood destroyed the person that I knew.  Sometimes I like this new person.  If I am being honest though, I am just getting to know her, and like most early relationships, it’s still a little touch-and-go.

Why I have Mad Respect for Elementary teachers

What high school teachers do:

Try to encourage some critical thought, grit their teeth for an hour if the students are being twerps, and send them out of the room at the end of the period.

What elementary teachers do:

Teach literally every subject to the same exact group of young-uns for the entire day MEANWHILE taking care of their physical needs like wiping noses and tying shoes.

Like, at least if my kids suck, I only have to endure them every other day for about a semester.

Elementary school teachers have to deal with them ALL DAY for a YEAR.

Damn.

Mothering is by far my least favorite part about teaching.  I love my students, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely worry about them.  But I don’t pick up after them, I can be very harsh with them, and I generally do not feel responsible for their overall emotional well-being although I do try to be sensitive to it.  El Ed teachers mother the shit out of their kids.  Well, from my perspective they do,  and I admire the hell out of them for that.

Also, they teach THE ENTIRE DAY.  Right now I am teaching summer school and it is literally seven straight hours of material. It is THE WORST.  During a regular school year, I teach six different classes the exact same lesson in a row.  El Ed teachers have to plan materials for an entire fucking day, AND it has to be interesting; attention spans of eight year olds are about the same as goldfish.

And here’s my big one: they literally teach children to read and count.  El Ed teachers are the basis upon which all society is built.  How the hell does someone teach a person to read?  I have a degree in English and I basically have no idea how to do this.  Like, I have been able to read for so long that I don’t remember what it was like to not read.  At least I can remember a time when I didn’t know the meaning of the word “metaphor.”  I can relate to that.  I can find a way to teach that lesson.  Teach a kid to read?  Nope.  Blows my damn mind.

Sure, you say.  But what if a kid cusses you out? Little kids don’t do that.

1: They totally do that.  Have you ever met an inner city teacher?

2: Want to know what I do when a kid cusses me out?  (Yes, it’s happened.)  I do this: “Go to student services.”  That’s it.  I tell them to leave my room and later I write a referral and I let someone else deal with it.  If they refuse to leave (also happened,) then I call the student resource officer.  It is literally not my problem.

Okay fine, you say.  But you’re teaching complicated topics that require more learning.

No, no I’m really not.  I like to think I am, I do.  I like to think that I am teaching this beautiful word of Shakespeare to the bright and receiving minds that will take it far and away and do glorious things with it, but here’s the thing: if you put in an effort and turn everything in, you will pass my class.  That’s that.  It’s not complicated. Like most things in life, it’s mostly about showing up, putting in a half-assed effort and getting your paycheck, I mean… grade.

But highschoolers deal with bigger problems.

Yes they do.  Sex and drugs and drama, oh my! But, are those problems MY problems?  Definitely not.  See above: literally all I have to do is put up with them for a couple hours at most.  Otherwise, not my problem.  El Ed teachers have to put up with minuscule details alllllllll day and actually act like that splinter is really tragic.

Elementary Ed teachers, you are the salt of the earth.  I cannot sing your praises enough.

Strange Tics of an Ex-Mormon

One of the reasons that I think Mormonism resembles a cult is because it 100% envelops your life.  Your weekly plans, your friends, your free time, it all links back to the Church.  In many ways, this can be positive (no ways come to mind immediately, but I’m sure they exist).  It also means that when you leave the Church, whole aspects of your life disappear.  And some little habits… they linger.  Here are a few.

 

Church services.  I’ve gone to a couple Christian services with family.  It always astounds me.  What do you mean it’s only an hour?  Why are these women wearing pants?  You can do that? And what the hell is this music?  This doesn’t sound like a hymn.  It sounds like a garage band rendition of a Dave Matthews song with dramatic lyrics.  And where are the screaming children?  In Nursery? What is that?  Like, I could fill a book with all the nuanced differences between a Mormon service and a non-denominational service: it still confuses me.

Early modern English (AKA “thee” and “thou”): I might be reading Beowulf or teaching Shakespeare.  One of those early modern words pops up and I expect to see bowed heads and crossed arms or Books of Mormon.

A group of young men in white collared shirts.  I always expect them to start singing or bring me torn bread on a tray.  Or wearing those black badges.  Usually, it turns out that it’s a group of students doing a band concert.  But that initial glance, it brings on a flashback.

That first tank top of summer.  This happens every damn year.  The thermostat hits 80, I put on a tank top and go to the store.  And the whooooooooole way, I feel like I am wearing lingerie at an Amish gathering.  My damn shoulders are showing!  Cover those babies, quick, before someone knows your shame!  Lucky for me, this passes after a few days of anxiety.  It re-surfaces every time I am trying to impress someone.  I am still nervous to wear something without sleeves to work.

That first bikini.  Oh man.  I borrowed it from my sister.  I wore it on the beach in Florida.  I felt like everyone was looking at me.  No one was looking at me.

Short-shorts.  I still don’t wear these.  Not only because I can’t pull them off, but what if someone knows I’m not wearing my garments!

Going into the liquor store.  I am twenty-five and going into a liquor store still feels like something naughty and forbidden.  I literally shake.  Try to act cool, Molly.  Act cool! You can imagine what I looked like visiting a pot store in Colorado.

“It’s Sunday, so such-and-such is closed.”  This brings on Idaho-flashbacks, when the entire town shut down on Sunday.  Except for Wal-Mart.  But if you risked going to the Wal-Mart, the odds were high that you would run into someone else who “shouldn’t” be at Wal-Mart (AKA someone from your ward).  That was my weekly walk of shame.  Not to mention, we smuggled those Wal-Mart bags into our apartment building like they were drugs and all of our neighbors were DEA agents.

Ring-checking.  I still ring-check people.  I was in a singles ward for SIX MONTHS, I have been married for over six years, but the ring-check skills I learned at the YSA: it’s Jason Bourne-level.  I can’t help my training!

Coffee.  Waking up to that sweet, sweet sin in the morning.  It took me several months to learn to use a coffee pot.  And to resist the urge to hide it.

Guilt.  This one is common for us “ex-mo’s”.  We don’t feel guilt for leaving the Church necessarily, but we find other ways to be guilty.  Mormonism basically teaches that if you do something right, it’s secretly God working through you, and it you do something wrong then it’s you, you filthy heathen.  As a result, we find ourselves on the constant quest to second-guess ourselves and feel guilty over stupid shit. Seriously, ask an ex-mo.  This next one doesn’t help…

Feeling like everyone is talking about you.  Mormons are seriously the most gossipy/judgey people I’ve met.  They judge your family, your fashion choices, your extended family, your family-history, your praying, your public speaking, your testimony-bearing skills, your parenting choices, your scripture read-out-loud, your decorating style, craft skills, cooking abilities, gospel knowledge, calling, occupation, and whether your undergarments can be seen through your clothes.  It’s no wonder that I tend to think everyone is judging me.

Celebrating the little things.  I get to sleep in on Sunday.  I can wear appropriate clothes during the summer.  I don’t have to worry about my pronoun usage if I choose to communicate with a higher power.  Exmormonism is the best. *Fist pump*

 

Ode to My Son’s Left Thumb

It wasn’t that I didn’t notice you. When you arrived in my arms, I was thrilled to find you attached and healthy, one of ten perfect little appendages on chubby little hands, connected to the most perfect being I had ever seen.

I was so naive.

Because while I have never doubted the perfection of that tiny child, his screams certainly tested my dedication. This beautiful being cried and it broke my heart and then he cried some more and my head hurt.

I tried the pacifier, but my perfect little human responded with a kind of apathy I didn’t realize was possible of an infant. He didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t what he wanted.

I tried a blankie, soft and safe, but it held no appeal for his cries.

And then one night, one glorious night, he found you. I walked into the nursery, having noticed that our tiny human’s screams were somewhat lessened that night, and I found this beautiful sight:

Love at first suck

This was it.  This picture is the moment that the sparks flew: the stars aligned and you found each other.  And you have been inseparable ever since.

I don’t know why he choose you, leftie.  Perhaps you chose him.  Either way, this sweet child has never stuck his right thumb into his mouth.  It is only you, the left one, that he treasures so much.

At first, he found you only during sleep.

Sweet thumb, for you I have to thank many restful nights.

And lovely, cuddly, mid-day naps.

You helped on airplanes, on vacation, at home and in a carseat, assisting my little human into dreamland.

Soon though, the obsession and love between you grew, and he would find you during bathtime

And during playtime

Of course, like all good things, difficulties cluttered our path.

One time, in a classic rookie mom mistake, I cut the nail on you just a little too short.  There was blood.  I was horrified.  The child, of course, was more horrified, as he tried to soothe himself with his thumb, only to find it the source of his pain.

I was scared to trim his nails for weeks.

You have also interrupted plenty of photos to spend quality time in the germ-infested water of my sweet child’s mouth

 

One time, underestimating the loving bond between you and my son, I offered him the pacifier.  It was as if two great friends had been separated by a wall and tried desperately to return to each other.

This was that moment, see how the thumb searches for it’s connection.

I went home and threw the others away.

And you have been there since.  You and my son, best friends.

In sickness

In health

In exhaustion

Either way, I sing your praises.

Many parents stifle the finger-sucking tendencies of their littles.  I welcomed you.  Here you were, ready and willing to soothe his little self.  I couldn’t lose you.  He couldn’t throw you away.  You were always at hand (no pun intended), ready and willing.

So thank you, my son’s left thumb.

He can suck on you until he’s twelve, for all I care.  Because you have provided the peace a new mother craved.

The Milestones that Aren’t in Baby Books

“When all three of them could buckle themselves in the car.”  She sighs wistfully.  “For so long, I had to wrestle them all into their seats, then go through and buckle each harness.  When you can just hop in the driver’s seat and go?! Those days come again.”

Before becoming a parent, I bought a baby book filled with all the little milestones.  The day he rolls over.  The day he sleeps through the night.  The first word, first steps, first baby food.

What I didn’t realize is how little I cared about those milestones.  Yeah, they were fun.  They still are fun.  But the day my son shoved his own arm through his long-sleeved onesie?  That was effing exciting.

My dear friend Carole one day told me about the seat-buckling thing.  She is raising three glorious and hilarious humans, and she knows what’s up and down on the mother train.  In my newbie mama brain, she’s the great sage of wisdom bestowing her nuggets of motherhood wisdom in my ear.  This post goes out to her (particularly since she wrote half of these herself).

Ladies and gentlemen: The Milestones That Aren’t in Baby Books (in semi-chronological order):

Their first public diaper blow-out. Where were you?

When he pushes his arms and legs through the sleeves of his clothes.  Yeah, shoving a limp newborn arm into a giant winter coat is a terrible game of hide and find.

The first day they don’t unload every bookshelf or dump out every sock drawer. (One day I will have neat, beautiful bookshelves again…)

The first time they put a puzzle together on their own after you’ve helped them 3 zillion times.

When you can safely leave the house without a Tupperware of Cheerios.  I turn into a woman on the edge when I find myself without Cheerios.  Don’t have a meltdown, Don’t have a meltdown…

When you don’t have to carry his banshee-screaming, wiggly butt to the car and he can walk by himself.

The first time you cuss and they understand its a bad word…

…The first time they cuss because they heard you use that word.

The first time they “read” a book they’ve memorized word for word because you’ve read it to them 6 bajillion times.

The first time they use a kleenex instead of handing you the booger.

And when they can make it to the toilet when they’re sick and you aren’t scrubbing puke out of the carpet at 3am.

When they start actually helping empty the dishwasher instead of making more work.  Finally!  Having children pays off!

When they develop a sense of humor and understand why the knock knock joke was funny. For a LONG time they will tell the joke, then laugh, but can’t tell you why it’s funny.

The first time they teach you something. Not in an existential way, but truly something you didn’t know before.

The first time you wake up and no little one is in bed with you. According to my mom sources, this one is happy at the time, but turns to heartbreaking.

When the older ones start driving and suddenly you can reassign all your dropping-off duty to your child.

When you realize your kids are “friends” without Mom and Dad forcing it.

The biggest milestones by far?

Every time they do something that makes them need you less. Like getting dressed alone, or potty trained, or learning how to use a spoon. It’s the little things that turn parenthood into a magic show.

The Charter School Glory Days and the Title I Trenches

My first teaching job was at an upscale charter school for college-bound middle schoolers.  I loved it.  I was passionate about it.  I was great at it.

My current teaching job is at a public high school using Title I funds on an intervention class for at-risk freshmen (in this case, they are “at-risk” for dropping out).  I love it.  I am passionate about it.  I am sometimes okay at it.

They are the two sides of the education scale.  Soooooooooooooooo different, I need that many O’s to even start to get across the point.

 

Working with College-bound middle schoolers:

I ran my class with military precision, high expectations, and a non-negotiable pace. No unit lasted longer than three weeks.  Students turned in assignments almost daily.  My class was a well-oiled machine.  Even when I wasn’t present, my students followed directions.

When I asked for bookshelves, they delivered immediately.  When I requested a class set of books, they were provided.

The parents were so involved it was suffocating.  A parent emailed me on the second week of school to request that I move on to my next unit because it was “too easy” for her special snowflake and the girl was bored.  THE SECOND WEEK.

I had another set of parents that would email me within minutes when I posted an assignment grade and it was below a C.  Convincing parents to step back was my biggest chore.

The most scandalous thing to happen was a sixth grader caught smoking in the bathroom.  Another kid brought a pocket knife.  Both were expelled.

My students always had their pencils, they never asked to go to the bathroom, and most were pretty healthy.

I can honestly say that I taught my students important skills in the realm of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and behavior.

 

Working with at-risk freshmen in a Title I (AKA low-income) school:

My class is either a mad house of over-enthusiastic, off-task energy OR the students are literally asleep on the desk.  I aim for something in the middle and some days I hit it for a couple ten-minute bursts.  My units started out as academic powerhouses and have evolved into life-skills boot camp.  If I am not physically present in the classroom, nothing gets done.

The first time I walked into my room, I had to hold back tears.  It was a hot mess.  A window-less, eggshell white, cinder block mess.  Part of my ceiling is buckling and there is a crack running up the wall.   I immediately sent requests for furniture changes, permission to paint, necessary supplies.  Half of it was given to me no questions asked.  The other half, I was told by the district they wouldn’t provide, with no opportunity for negotiations.  How does one DENY bookshelves to an English class?

The parents are so distant, I have yet to hear from them.  I send emails and make calls every day.  Radio silence meets me.

The details I have gathered about students’ parents are dismal.  One student wrote on her Goals project that she wanted to be a “Dancer.”  And I’m not talking about ballet, I’m talking about stripping.  When I pressed for her reasoning, it became clear that “dancing” is her mother’s profession.

There are fifteen boys in my class.  Twelve of them come from fatherless homes.

I have a fifteen year-old girl who comes in every day smelling like cigarette smoke and I don’t say a damn thing.  Want to know why?  Because if she passes my class, she can go to an alternative graduation program and get her high school diploma.  If she doesn’t pass my class, she will drop out of high school.  I want to scream at her about the dangers of cigarette smoking, but instead I celebrate that she’s actually coming to class (because I know she ditches all her other classes) and hand her a breath mint.

A gun was brought on campus in January, so now the school holds random student-searches, where students are taken out of my class, their backpacks searched and their bodies wanded for weapons.  That’s the most scandalous thing to happen this calendar year.  It’s March.

My students are suspended so often that I had to make a deal with the disciplinary action team that allowed students in in-school suspension to still attend my class.  If I hadn’t made this deal, I would lose literally half of my class every day.  Daily, I have to have conversations about appropriate behavior.  I’ve derailed more than one fight in my room.

My students don’t bring anything to class.  One student doesn’t even come with his backpack, because it was literally stolen off his back two weeks ago.  I have a revolving supply of pencils and paper.  I don’t let them take supplies outside of the room.  Their journals, their worksheets, their pencils stay in my room because if they go beyond my door I know they will never come back.  I have to make double copies of everything I hand them because of this.

I have one student who has a skin disease so painful that he cannot sleep in his bed at night and struggles to stay awake in class.  How do you teach a kid about figurative language when their body is covered in scabs and he can’t keep his eyes open?

Some students are just apathetic.  They have been told their entire lives that they suck at academics, so getting them to even give half an effort is a giant win.

I can honestly say that every day is a different battle.  Sometimes I teach a student an important skill like using his words instead of smacking his neighbor.  Sometimes we have an amazing discussion about how our choices today are impacting our long-term goals.  Sometimes a kid voluntarily tells me that he’s sorry he messes around.  Sometimes a girl will hand me her cellphone so it’s not a distraction.

Sometimes, none of that happens and most times I don’t know why.

Most days, I try.  I can honestly say that I don’t know if they are getting anything out of my class.  I sure as hell am not teaching them Common Core skills, although I like to think a little academic skill trickles in.  I like to think that my frazzled determination sometimes pierces their thick apathy and a bit of wisdom gets in.  Perhaps, if nothing else, they have one adult who cares about them.

 

This is the battle that meets teachers on the daily grind.  Our jobs are demanding and fast-paced and tricky at best; they are heartbreaking at worst.  To my students, I have to be knowledgeable and available, loving and hard, silly and serious.  In the space of an hour, I can go from drill-sergeant to mother hen to nurse and back again to academics; while maintaining an awareness of my room so everyone can be safe both physically and emotionally.

I don’t know why I write all of this, other than to show the vast array of skill that is required of an average teacher.  This kind of nonsense is why teachers leave schools or the profession altogether.  And I’m not writing this for pity.  As I said above, I truly love my job, which is something I am proud to say.  I just want to offer a glimpse of my world.