A Letter to Myself

How are you? I am poking my head up from watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix.

The first episode of Gilmore Girls aired in October, 2000. At the time I had just graduated from university with my engineering degree. I was engaged and living by myself in a one bedroom apartment in a much cooler neighbourhood than I lived in now. I had just bought my first car and I was volunteering as a Brownie leader and planning a wedding. Things were very different for me then than they are now. For one thing, binge-watching TV is much harder for me now these days, which is why I haven’t already finished Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

I also have my eye on another Netflix series, which I will get to…eventually. You get it, right? Anyways, I’m looking forward to checking out The Crown, which depicts a young Queen Elizabeth II. Inspired by that series, a few of Netflix’s leading women drafted notes to their younger selves. Here are my two favourites (you can click on them for a larger view):

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Looking back on my own life, and how much it has changed in the past 16 years, I also wrote a letter to myself. I chose to write to myself back in 2000, when the original Gilmore Girls first premiered.

Dear Amber,

You worry too much. You already know that, but it bears repeating.

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but you have a lot of freedom right now. More than you will appreciate until you find yourself with two kids, a mortgage, a cat and a tank full of fish.

So that voice that is telling you that you want to do something different? Listen to it. This is your time to take risks and make mistakes. Big ones and little ones. Every mis-step will teach you way more than you will ever learn by following the rules.

That boy you’re engaged to? He’s a keeper. You already know this, but it will take years for you to learn what a strong force for good he will be in your life.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and make other friends, though. You need people more than you know. Cultivate relationships. Put yourself out there. And don’t be afraid to show people your imperfections. That’s where the magic is.

And also: you are way hotter than you give yourself credit for.

Love,
Ms. Strocel

2000

2000

2016

2016

What would you say to your younger self if you could?

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

My Happiness List: November 2016 Edition

I am a Canadian, and a relatively liberal Canadian, at that. Because of that it probably won’t surprise you to learn I was rooting for Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential election. My children were, too. Last night, as the results became increasingly obvious, my son Jacob became angry and my daughter Hannah became sad. At first I just sat with them and validated their feelings, sharing my own discouragement. And then I moved on to reassure them, as best I could, that as their mother I will take care of them and keep them safe and they don’t really need to worry about this stuff.

I tried to put on a brave face, but I was very unhappy. Today, I am determined not to wallow. I need some positivity. I think a lot of us need some positivity – even if you’re pleased about the outcome of the election, campaigns have a way of breeding divisiveness and bad feelings. So I’ve decided to count my blessings and look on the bright side. I blogged my last personal happiness list over a year ago, so it’s clearly high time for some happiness up in here.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness

My Happy List

  1. My daughter Hannah, who baked cookies yesterday, completely of her own accord.
  2. Singing along to a great song.
  3. Kindergarten. I spent today as a substitute teacher in one, and while those kids are super energetic, they are also hope in human form.
  4. Speaking of substitute teaching, I am so, so, so happy to have a job that I love and that energizes me every single day when I show up to work.
  5. Great boots, that make me feel super cute when I wear them.
  6. My son Jacob, who recently started piano lessons and loves them, and who shares my love of doing math calculations in the car.
  7. Chocolate, which never disappoints.
  8. Justin Trudeau. Is he perfect? No, but he’s a leader that many of us, as Canadians, are justly proud of.
  9. Speaking of being Canadian, I’m especially happy about that right now. Eh.
  10. New skis for my husband, and ski passes for my family, which means a really fun winter (provided the weather cooperates).
  11. The camera on my phone, which allows me to capture so much of life – and especially so much of my children’s lives – that I never would have been able to in the past.
  12. Colourful fall leaves, which brighten up an otherwise gloomy month like November.
  13. My husband, who supports me in so many ways, in particular as I went back to school and earned my teaching degree.
  14. Guitar Hero, which saw me through the couple of weeks when I was sitting around waiting for my teaching certificate to be finalized so that I could work.
  15. The peaceful transition of power, which is such an amazing thing, whether I disagree with the final decision or not.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Graduation

I’ve written here about finishing school and starting my teaching career. It feels like I’ve mentioned that I’ve completed my education more than once, but here I am going to go and mention it again. It’s a little bit confusing so here’s a rundown of how it all works:

  • In April I finished my student teaching practicum
  • In May I was hired by two districts to be a substitute teacher – pending receipt of my teaching certificate
  • In early August I submitted my final assignment for my teaching degree
  • In late August I had received all my grades and fulfilled the requirements for my degree
  • On September 7 I worked one half-day as a substitute teacher before the district changed its requirements and said I needed to be officially certified to teach
  • On September 12 the university Senate formally approved grades and awarded degrees, including mine – this means the university acknowledged that I had completed the requirements to become a teacher
  • On September 19 my teaching certificate arrived in the mail – this means the government licensed me to teach
  • On September 20 I started working more or less full-time as a substitute teacher
  • On October 7 the university held its convocation ceremony and I received the actual paper copy of my degree

It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s formally over. As of October 7 I had all of the paperwork. I’m a teacher, and I have a B.Ed. in addition to the engineering degree I received 16 years ago.

The convocation ceremony, for me, was a real celebration of what I have achieved. The best part was having my kids there. When we processed in and I saw Hannah and Jacob waving at me the tears welled up in my eyes. I paused to give Jacob a high five and felt full of emotion. I didn’t do this by myself. My family was with me the whole way. My kids had to put up with a tired, stressed-out mother with not much time for them. They rarely complained. Instead they cheered me on. I hope that they learned something about setting goals and working hard. I think mostly, though, that I learned something about love from them.

It’s funny how it always happens that way, isn’t it?

But enough navel-gazing though – let’s look at pictures! Here’s what my graduation day looked like, at least in part.

Why I Love Being a Teacher

My student teaching journey has rounded a corner. It feels good.

student teacher whistleMy practicum is over (and I miss my students so much). My final reports have been signed off on. My portfolio is complete. My job applications are submitted to the school districts I most want to work in. I am registered for summer classes and excited about the opportunity to learn about environmental education in particular. And now? Now I wait. While I wait I’m playing with my kids, working in my garden, catching up on reading (both professional and personal), and looking forward to graduating this fall and being a bona fide teacher.

Over the past few months in my grade 6/7 classroom I learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher. The good news is that my experiences solidified my decision to pursue this new career. When I am in the classroom working with students I feel like I fit. Teaching is awesome and I feel so privileged to be starting out in this field. What makes it awesome? Type A personality that I am, I made a list.

Things I Love About Teaching

  • Hanging out with kids every day
  • Blowing my students’ minds (subtracting negative integers, anyone?)
  • Hearing insights from students that blow my mind
  • Making art – and seeing my students make much better art
  • Playing dodgeball and badminton and California kickball
  • Having a whistle and a desk bell
  • Introducing children to great books
  • Getting to know families and neighbourhoods and communities
  • Watching a student work and work and finally just get it
  • Creating hands-on science activities, or, to put it another way, letting my students mix colours together in test tubes in a way that they actually learn something
  • Throwing class parties
  • Honouring the uniqueness in everyone
  • Bonding with my students, and watching them bond with each other
  • Helping kids to talk through problems and find solutions
  • Field trips!
  • Working with other members of the educational community who constantly inspire me
  • Watching my students assume leadership roles and excel in the broader school community
  • The funny things kids sometimes write or say
  • Marking math tests (yes, I actually do love this)
  • Sharing the amazing work that my students are doing with their parents
  • Welcoming newcomers to Canada
  • Choosing cool assignments
  • Throwing away the lesson plan and getting together for a rich class discussion on the carpet

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There is so much more I can say. So much. But right now I have books to read and TV shows to watch and weeds to pull. Break time is sweet, indeed.

Keeping Confidence High

2016 netflix goalsEvery year I choose a word to represent something I want more of in the months ahead. As I shared at the beginning of the month my word for 2016 is confidence. I did this for a couple of reasons, but my big, overarching motivation was that I was about to start my student teaching practicum.

When you’re a student teacher – or, at least, when you’re a student teacher here in British Columbia – the practicum is sort of the centrepiece of the whole operation. You spend two months teaching alongside a practicing classroom teacher. You learn on the job, receiving regular feedback from your sponsor teacher and your university advisors. You plan and deliver lessons, construct units, create tests, mark student work and all that other stuff. You write about your experiences and provide evidence that you are learning and growing.

I’m not whining. I am so privileged to be able to share in the learning of my students. I am enjoying it more than I can say, and I am learning a lot. And I’m not just learning about what it means to be a teacher, I’m learning about myself, honing my interpersonal skills and having my worldview challenged on a daily basis. It’s an amazing experience, and the challenges are absolutely worth it.

It’s also testing my confidence in myself. It’s all so new. I frequently feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and that’s not exactly confidence-inspiring. Fortunately I am able to get a little perspective. I had an epiphany recently that I don’t have to be good at this yet because I’m just learning. Of course I don’t know what I’m doing after two weeks in a classroom. This should be obvious, but as a recovering perfectionist it’s something that I sometimes struggle to remember.

By the time April rolls around I’ll be wrapping up my practicum, finishing my final exam and looking forward to a lighter workload in the summer followed by graduation. And, hopefully, employment. Right now my goal is to take care of myself and keep my confidence high (enough) to get through in one piece.

The first thing I’m doing is taking a yoga class after school two days a week. One of the staff members at my school is an instructor and she’s teaching us in the library. I’m looking forward to this because I have worked out exactly 0 minutes since 2016 started. Stretching will help.

confidence netflixThe second thing I’m doing is returning to skiing. I recently hit the slopes for the first time in 25 years. And guess what? I can still do it! And what’s more, I’m actually a better skier than my husband. This may be the only athletic pursuit where I have him beat, especially if you don’t include things I’ve done that he hasn’t. For example, I’m a better tap dancer, but he’s never tried it so it’s not a fair comparison. Whizzing down the mountain is a definite confidence booster.

The final thing I’m doing is watching feel-good TV. Top of the list? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I watched the series myself over Christmas break, and then my husband recently started watching it so I’ve re-watched some episodes. Leaving aside the poor teaching example, the show is funny and leaves me feeling good. If Kimmy can pull off her transition, I can pull off mine. Even listening to the theme song puts me in a good mood.

Now that I’m finished with Kimmy, I could use some recommendations for other feel-good shows. Netflix recommends On the Way to School which looks great (particularly for a student teacher), but I would love other ideas. What do you watch on Netflix when you need a mood-lifter? Tell me!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

A Word for 2016: Confidence

For the past number of years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. For 2014 my word was forgiveness. And for 2015 I chose strength. For 2016, choosing was a struggle. In the end, though, I have settled on confidence.

confidence

Choosing a word is about setting an intention for the year. In 2015 my choice of strength was meant to help me acknowledge my own strength. Because when push comes to shove, I am a person who can weather adversity and get things done. Rather than bringing something new into my life, I wanted to focus on what I already have.

My choice of the word confidence, on the other hand, is entirely aspirational. I have long identified myself as grappling with impostor syndrome. That is, even when I am doing something, I feel like I’m pretending. Like I’m an impostor. And now that I’m back in school and about to start my long practicum as a student teacher, this is a huge thing. It’s hard not to feel like an impostor when you’re just learning, but those feelings aren’t helpful. Because you know what? We all have more to offer than we recognize. Any teacher will say this about students – about how we can be gobsmacked by insights from a seven-year-old. I want to give myself the same credit. So in 2016, as I complete my schooling and embark on a new career, I would like to find confidence.

The word confidence is also significant for another reason. Confidence can mean trusting yourself or someone else. However, it can also be about holding your tongue. Keeping your confidence means not sharing those things that should not be shared. It means using your discretion about when to speak, and when to keep silent.

In addition to finding confidence in my abilities, I would also like to find confidence in my words. I would like to choose them more thoughtfully. I would like to work on knowing when to share and when to keep my confidence. This actually cuts both ways, because while I am a talker who sometimes has no filter, I also have a hard time bringing other people into my confidence on a personal level. So I am both building closer relationships and choosing what I say more carefully.

Confidence is a tall order in so many ways, you guys. Sort of like going back to school full-time when you have kids.

2016 will be a big year for me. I am both excited and nervous, but I am choosing to embrace it no matter what it brings. With confidence.

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2016!

Having the Courage to Walk Away

The other day I was sitting in the staffroom at the school where I’m doing my practicum. It was lunchtime and as I ate I struck up a conversation with a substitute teacher who was working at the school for the day. During our conversation the fact that I have an engineering degree and I worked in the field for about a decade came up.

The substitute teacher was surprised that I had left my engineering career and was now a student teacher. I explained to him that engineering wasn’t a great fit for me. I don’t regret earning that degree or working in the field: I learned a lot and I worked with some truly phenomenal people. In fact, it was those phenomenal people that confirmed my decision to leave. They loved being computer programmers. They lived and breathed technology and problem-solving. I admired them, but it just wasn’t me.

The substitute teacher then asked me how it was that, if engineering wasn’t a good fit, I finished university and worked in the field so long. I replied, “I don’t quit.” And I didn’t mean it as a good thing.

walk awayOne thing that I’ve learned in the past decade of my life is that sometimes the most courageous choice is to walk away. Once you’ve started down a path it’s easy to be carried along by momentum or inertia. You start with Step 1 and move on to Step 2 and Step 3 and Step 4. And soon enough, without even noticing it, you’ve been doing something that you don’t love for six years. Or 16 years. Or even longer.

Of course, persistence is an important quality, and sometimes you have to work for what you want. Sometimes it’s only by pushing through the hard stuff that you get to the good stuff. I acknowledge all that. But other times you know, deep down in your gut, that something isn’t for you. And because you’ve spent a lot of time or money, or because you’re afraid of what people will think of you, or because you don’t know what else to do, you persist. You conform to expectations and ignore your dreams. Maybe you even forget to ask what you really want, because you stop believing you can have it.

I was very cautious about my journey towards becoming a student teacher because I know that I’m a persistent, appearance conscious, do what is expected of me sort of a person. I knew that I would worry about disappointing my family, or wasting time and money, if I didn’t end up becoming a teacher. I had to remind myself over and over again that the bigger waste would be to spend more of my life doing something I didn’t want to do. I paused a lot to ask myself if I was really where I wanted to be. And this semester at school I’ve done the same thing. I’ve paid for tuition for one semester, but if this isn’t the program for me it’s better to save myself two more semesters’ worth of tuition and a whole bunch more time.

Fortunately for me all of my experiences so far have confirmed what I already knew: I want to be a teacher. I really, really want to be a teacher. Right now I am where I want to be.

Unfortunately for one of my classmates that decision was different. Recently, one of the 32 student teachers I started with in September made the decision to leave the program. I don’t know everything that went into his decision. I don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling right now. My opinion wasn’t asked for. But all the same I can’t help but feel something, because I got to know him and like him and I will miss him. Mostly, though, I think he made the most courageous choice possible. Walking away can be very, very hard. I hope that he gives himself space to process and then finds something even better that really fits him.

Building a life is a complicated, challenging, funny sort of thing. In the end there’s only one thing that I know for sure, and it’s that the person you’re going to spend every waking moment with is yourself. So, within the limits of decency and compassion, you should live your life for yourself. Whether that means seeing something through or walking away, only you can say.

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. Being a Canadian, I celebrated six weeks ago. All the same, today I am thankful. I am thankful for the times when I walked away, or things ended, and I found something better. It wasn’t always easy – on the contrary it was frequently gut-wrenchingly hard. But in the process, I learned more about who I am, what works for me, and what to make space for in my life. Time is short, and energy is limited. I don’t want to waste any of it on things that take me further away from where I need to be.

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