The Sounds of Silence

There has been a lot of snow recently in my neighbourhood. All of Metro Vancouver has been nestled under a blanket of white for a couple of weeks, but here in Coquitlam we got more than most communities. It’s pretty, for sure, and my kids love it. However, it does pile up and need to be removed from sidewalks and driveways and so on, which is how I found myself out shovelling this morning.

snow shovellingNormally while I do a task I don’t enjoy, like cleaning the kitchen or shovelling snow, I distract myself with some music or a podcast. It helps the time to pass more quickly, and makes menial work less mind-numbing. However, today I forgot my earbuds somewhere inside the house. By the time I decided I wanted them I didn’t feel like taking off my snow gear and searching, so I gave up and shovelled in silence.

All that nothing in my ears? It actually felt kind of uncomfortable. It made me think about how rarely I experience quiet in my life.

I always have music or a podcast going in the car.

I’m a substitute teacher so work is pretty much never quiet, and on the occasions when I’m alone in the classroom I often play music.

I have two children and a husband. Enough said.

I spent about an hour and a half shovelling today, and by the time that I was done I had moved through my discomfort to appreciation. I was outside, I was exercising, I had accomplished something and I had some quiet time to myself. In the lead-up to Christmas, when my to-do list feels long and my days feel hectic, it was actually a rare treat.

Maybe I distract myself too much. Maybe I should stop and just be where I am. Be mindful. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes. Or shovel the snow to shovel the snow.

I have the next two weeks off, so this is timely for me. How will I use this vacation? Will I distract myself, or will I be present? If my experience this morning is any indication, I should probably choose to be present.

Or, at least, that’s how I justified the yarn I bought online this afternoon. Because knitting can also be about mindfulness, right?

Here’s to personal growth, impulse purchases and finding some peace in the busy holiday season.

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):

netflix_letter_thecrown_english_v1

netflix_letter_chelsea_english_v1

 
 
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

student teacherstudent teacher
 
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!

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