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!

Light and Hope

This is a dark time of year … the darkest, in fact. And so, since time immemorial, long before stories were written down or babies were laid to sleep in mangers humans have craved light. The promise that the darkness will not last. That the sun will return, and bring with it spring and a new season of plenty. Our ancient ancestors tracked the movement of celestial bodies and the rhythm of the seasons and in the midst of it all, they found hope.

Today, in the here and now, when I write down everything and carry around a little computer in my pocket that beeps at me constantly, I need hope. Some things never change. The cold and the dark still feel like too much. The world around us still affects us. We are not immune to feeling hopeless or sad or scared.

I seek out the light, because in the light there is hope. I bring a tree into my house and string it with lights. There are lights on my house. Lights in my rooms. Candles on bookshelves. A (gas) fire in my fireplace. Stories of a baby who was the light of the world and brought hope to nations. Stories of the rebirth of the light, the return of the sun. Stories of oil that lasted longer that it should have, its sacred flame illuminating the darkness.

candle light christmas

My children are naturally hopeful and optimistic, as most children are. They seem to carry light within and that brings me hope. But never does it shine more brightly than today. The presents, the food, the time with family, the decorations, the twinkling bulbs that festoon almost every house, these things all speak to children with a special voice.

Now that they are 10 and 7 my children don’t just enjoy these things, they drink them up like they are dying of thirst and they have found water. They look forward to this all year, and when it is here they are so fully immersed in it that it lights me up, too. It brings me hope. It reminds me of what it is like to be wholly in the moment, filled with joy, surrounded by love.

As they say on Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. And I would add, the winter is cold and merciless, and of course winter is (always) coming. But here, as I celebrate Christmas surrounded by my family, there is hope. There is peace. There is an ancient story, as timeless as the world itself, reminding us that there is something to look forward to. The cold and dark are not all there is.

Let there be light. Let there be hope. Let there be Christmas.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Sometimes it feels as if Christmas is all about lists.

  • Gift buying lists.
  • Grocery shopping lists.
  • Baking lists.
  • Decorating lists.
  • Gift wrapping lists.
  • Lists of errands to run.
  • Lists of tasks to perform.
  • Lists of parties to attend.
  • Lists of Christmas light displays to see.
  • Christmas card lists.

And, even:

  • Holiday playlists to compile so you have the perfect soundtrack.

Santa Claus is not the only one who’s making a list and checking it twice. We’re all doing it – especially those of us who have children. The feeling is not exactly festive.

Sometimes, though, you have that moment. That bright spot that makes all the running around, spending money, coordinating schedules and so on worthwhile. It’s the moment that reminds you that traditions matter. That you’re making memories. That you’re doing it all in service of something much bigger, older and wiser than you. Ritual is powerful and it calls to us all. And few rituals are as deeply ingrained in my psyche and identity than the rituals of Christmas.

This afternoon I was decorating the tree with my children. There it is … I am a Christmas slacker. My Instagram feed has been filled with photos of other people’s fully-decorated trees since late November and I am just doing it now. And to make matters worse we still aren’t finished with the tree. I find that it’s easier and more fun to do it in fits and spurts, rather than pushing myself to get it done in one go. Those lists? I am better at making them than completing them, and sometimes it just doesn’t all get done.

christmas joyAnyways, I bought new Christmas lights for our tree this year. They are small multi-coloured LED globes that flicker and blink and change colour. My children were delighted. And then I turned on the Christmas music, and we strung the garlands and got out the boxes of ornaments. My daughter sniffled because she has a cold, and clung to me like a kid who is much younger than almost 11 years old. Then my son, who is seven, placed his third ornament on the same branch of the tree and stopped to admire his handiwork before saying, “Mom, when you play Christmas music and we decorate the tree I feel the joy.”

And then Christmas happened for me.

Because this is what Christmas is. It is a tree that is haphazardly decorated with mismatched ornaments acquired over a lifetime. It is children who are excited and embrace the moment and don’t agonize over perfection. It is letting yourself step away when it’s all a bit much. And it is being present with your family in the mess. Those amazing holiday moments don’t come when you look at a list completed list. They come in spite of the lists.

I am trying to cut myself some slack and reducing what’s on my lists. Because someone will get sick. Some beautiful ornament or dish or brand new gift will break. Some family member will disagree with some other family member. And at some point the weather will get in the way of carefully laid plans. Accepting it is better than feeling bad that things didn’t go to plan. I don’t believe Christmas is meant to be an exercise in making yourself feel guilty for not being Martha Stewart.

In fact, I bet even Martha Stewart finds the pressure overwhelming sometimes.

So here’s to the holiday season. May it be joyous, and loving, and festive in spite of the lists.

The Bedtime Blues

This is one of those posts that I start with a disclaimer. This means that I was offered something cool and I took it, because life is short and cool things are not as plentiful as I would like. This time the cool thing I was offered was membership in the Netflix Stream Team. In exchange for writing about Netflix I received a free subscription for a year and an iPad Mini. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the free gift part of it as you will.

My children’s bedtime is both the best and worst part of my day. I think many parents can probably relate.

On the upside, kids are at their cutest when they’re sleeping. This is indisputable. No matter what happened all day, no matter how annoyed you were with your child just 10 minutes ago, no matter how frazzled your nerves, it’s all forgotten when you see your sleeping baby. And it doesn’t even matter how old that baby is. My daughter is almost 11, and her sleeping face is still one of the sweetest sights in the world for me.

bedtime sleeping

Bedtime is also a time to slow down and re-connect with your children. There are stories and snuggles, footie pyjamas and clean, soft skin fresh out of the bath. (Maybe not so much with the footie PJs anymore in my world, but you get the drift, right?) I have some of my best conversations with my kids when I’m tucking them in, as we contemplate the meaning of life and compete over who loves the other one the most. My kids always one-up me. I may love them to the moon and back, but they love me to the moon and back times infinity. Eventually I let them win, but I know the truth: they can’t even begin to understand how I feel about them.

Of course, bedtime can also be incredibly aggravating. There are the kids who won’t put on pyjamas, who won’t brush their teeth, who won’t sit still for a story, who won’t get into bed, who won’t stay in bed, who just can’t fall asleep, who need another snack, another drink of water, another hug. Some of my hardest parenting moments have happened at bedtime, after spending 90 minutes with a two-year-old who still isn’t asleep while I think about the sink full of dirty dishes I still have to wash and the article I still have to write.

To top it all off, my kids have different sleeping styles. My daughter is a night owl and my son is an early bird. I am a math whiz, so trust me on this: 1 kid struggling to sleep at night + 1 kid who wakes up before the sun = 2 cranky parents.

bedtime

No one ever said parenting was easy, and that’s never more true than at 9:30pm when your child is still awake and everyone is beyond exhausted. Or at 6:00am when you’re just not ready to be awake yet and your toddler won’t sleep anymore. Luckily, my kids are old enough now that they can wake up and entertain themselves for the most part. I don’t like them to have too much screen time, but the day when they learned how to wake up and turn on their favourite TV show themselves was a pretty sweet one for me, I confess.

As a member of the Stream Team I get news updates from Netflix. They recently conducted a global survey around bedtime and found out how Canadian bedtime stacks up against bedtime around the world. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • 79% of parents worldwide are willing to make compromises with their kids at bedtime, spending an average of 20 minutes per night negotiating with them to go to bed.
  • 85% of Canadian parents agree that the last snuggle is the best (vs. 87% globally).
  • 40% of Canadian parents have faced the “just 5 more minutes” negotiator (thankfully I am in the 60% here!).
  • The stall tactics of Canadian kids results in 13.2 additional minutes added to their bedtime routine (vs. 15.7 minutes globally).

Apparently Canadians are also less likely to give in to stalling tactics. I can’t say I’m that good at resisting. One of the things that I run into with my own kids is the dreaded, “But my TV show is almost finished!” For me the extra 7 minutes spent watching a show is usually outweighed by the fact that my kid will be more cooperative. One option if you have a similar kid on your hands is Dinotrux 5 Minute ‘Favorites’ from Netflix and DreamWorks. Shorter shows = less stalling = happier parents. At least in theory. It’s worth a try, right?

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.

Okay is … Okay

Oh man, you guys, I have been busy. I knew I would be when I started school full-time in September. Of course I knew. But it’s really only in the past few weeks that things have gotten real.

I’m about three quarters of the way through a month long practicum at the moment. I’m teaching in a local grade 4/5 class and I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m also finding it challenging. This is no surprise. I am learning new things, trying new things, planning and delivering lessons, gaining new skills and sometimes falling flat on my face. And through it all I am being observed and receiving feedback.

Truly, my practicum is great. Being in a classroom, teaching students, watching teachers and hearing their comments, helps me get better. There is no other way I could learn this stuff as well. But it also means I am “on” a lot of the time, both for my students and my advisors. I am not the busiest I have ever been, or the most tired. I have kids. But it’s busy and tiring and I’m feeling it.

A few weeks ago, when my practicum had just started, I attended a workshop with my fellow student teachers and practicing teachers from my district. Or, in teacher language, preservice and inservice teachers. We were talking about how we show care in schools – for our colleagues, for our students, for our communities and so on. I got a little bit overly sentimental and talked about how much care I was feeling from my advisors and my fellow student teachers who were helping me get better. How feedback, including constructive criticism, is just a way of showing caring and isn’t this lovely and yada yada yada.

okayAfter I finished, one of the practicing teachers spoke up. I can’t quote him word-for-word, but he spoke directly to the student teachers and said that we really needed to think about self care. We would have a lot coming at us, he said, and we needed to make sure that we didn’t overdo it. That our needs were getting met. That sort of thing. And then he added, “Sometimes okay is okay.”

For whatever reason, that last phrase stuck in my head. In the past two weeks when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed I’ve repeated it to myself. Okay is okay. Okay is okay. Of course I knew that already. I knew that sometimes you have to let things go. Sometimes you need to say good enough. Sometimes you need to ignore the sink full of dirty dishes and go to bed at a reasonable hour. But you know what? I needed a reminder. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were among the most important words I’ve heard since I started back at school full-time in September.

We’re heading into the holiday season, now. Luckily, I will have a decent break over Christmas so I will be able to focus more on my family and the joy of the season and all of that good stuff. But you know what? I also know from hard-fought experience that Christmas can be one more time when you have too much on your plate, and you’re overwhelmed, and busy, and putting yourself on the back burner. So, as I finish the semester and prepare to celebrate, I will repeat my new mantra. As my kids fight on the way back from picking out a Christmas tree, I will repeat my new mantra. As we rush hither and yon, from one family dinner to another, I will repeat my mantra. Okay is okay.

Because you know what? It really is.

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