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.

Finish Line

student teacher sfu pdp

My last official day on campus as a student teacher

Almost three years ago now, in October 2013, I sat in a classroom in the Education Building at Simon Fraser University. I was there because I was starting to seriously think about going back to school to become a teacher and they were having an info session. I sat in a room with a bunch of people, most (but not all) of them much younger than me. As I listened I sketched out a plan of what would be required and how long it would take and I realized it would be almost three years. Three! Years! That felt like a really, really long time. That alone almost put me off the idea.

But it didn’t.

It didn’t put me off because of that little voice in my brain that has been there for as long as I can remember. The voice I have been ignoring since I was 15 years old. The voice I suppressed through the end of high school and engineering school and years of work and family. The voice I ignored because I wanted a solid, well-paying, prestigious career. The voice that said I was meant to be a teacher.

Oh, sure, there were moments along the way. Moments when I was discouraged and disaffected and starting surfing the Internet reading about prerequisites for my teaching degree. But always those moments passed and I sucked it up and moved on. Until one day, when my son was in kindergarten and I knew I needed more. As I spent more and more time thinking about it, I got more and more serious. I attended the info session. I talked to my husband. I ran the budget numbers. And then, finally, I made the leap and applied to go back to school.

Along the way I committed to taking things slowly. Embarking on a new career as a mom with two kids and a mortgage and all that stuff is a much different proposition than embarking on a new career as a twentysomething with no responsibilities. I had to be sure. I had to really know.

And so I took classes to get all the prerequisites I needed to apply. I volunteered in a local middle school. I spent time in the Faculty of Education. And then, once I applied and actually started I considered and re-considered at every step along the way. After all, spending a semester in school and then dropping out might feel like a waste oftime and energy and money, but it’s much less of a waste of time and energy and money than spending a year and finishing and maybe even working for a bit and discovering that you really hate teaching.

Fortunately throughout the journey one thing has rung true: I love teaching. School was stressful and difficult and time-consuming. I was occasionally extremely discouraged. I wasn’t sure I would make it through. But even on my worst day that faded when I was actually in the classroom with my students. When I was teaching I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. I finally really fit.

I didn’t get here alone. My professors, my sponsor teachers, my fellow student teachers, my friends, my husband and my children all supported me. I am immensely grateful. I am especially grateful to my kids who had to put up with the fact I had very little time and energy for them, and that I was often not at my best. My hope is that by watching me go through this they have learned something themselves, about setting goals and following through and not being afraid to try new things.

All of my classes are finished now, and all of my marks are in. I’m officially done. Pending approval from the University Senate and the Teacher Regulation Branch, I am a teacher. I have been hired as a substitute teacher in two school districts, and I am looking forward to being in the classroom this fall. It feels great to be here.

Three years ago this moment felt impossibly far away. But now that I’m here, I can’t believe it’s already over. I guess time flies when you’re doing what you were always meant to do.

The Official Summer Slurpee

Traditions start in a lot of different ways. Some of them are passed down to us – like Christmas trees and birthday cakes and making jack o’lanterns on Halloween. Others are started on purpose, like a picture you take of your child every year on their birthday or an annual visit to a special place. And others start sort of by accident. In my family, the official summer Slurpee is sort of like that.

I was a raging hippie when my children were small. For two years we had no TV. My daughter’s first birthday cake was sweetened with apple sauce. I joined a CSA that supplied locally-grown flour and used it to bake my own bread. Which I kneaded by hand. I canned and I sewed and I knitted and all of that good stuff. My friends and I visited farmers’ markets and attended La Leche League meetings and bought wooden toys.

It should not surprise you, then, that my daughter managed to reach kindergarten without having tasted a slushie of any kind.

During the last week of school that year she came home with a coupon for a free Slurpee. Her class had received them from a visiting police officer. She didn’t really know what a Slurpee was, but she knew it was a treat and she wanted one. I told her we would go on the last day of school. And we did.

Flash forward a year to my daughter’s last day of grade one. “Mama! Remember, today I get a Slurpee!”

I hadn’t been bargaining on that but I thought, why not? One Slurpee a year is hardly going to hurt anyone.

That summer my daughter and I had a funny conversation about what grade she was in. Do you know that conversation? Someone asks about your grade over summer vacation and you don’t really know how to answer because you’re not really in grade one anymore, but you’re also not in grade two yet. You’re in this sort of educational limbo. On a whim I stated that the moment you finish that end-of-school Slurpee, you are officially in the next grade.

And it has to be a Slurpee from 7-11. I don’t know why. It just does. I can’t even say that Slurpees are my favourite slushies but that’s not the point. Rules are rules.

On the last day of grade two of course we went for Slurpees, and my daughter coined the phrase “The Slurpee Test”. When she sees kids leaving the 7-11 with Slurpees in hand she declares that they are taking The Slurpee Test so that they can be in the next grade.

I have exactly one Slurpee a year with my children on the last day of school. I am happy to say that following this year’s Slurpee my kids are officially in grades six and three. They passed The Slurpee Test with flying colours.

Actually, that statement is both figuratively and literally true, as they both love to mix all the flavours together in this colourful monstrosity that looks cool but tastes terrible. Whatever. It’s not my end of year treat. I just smile and drink my pink cream soda Slurpee because I have taste buds.

Some traditions have been passed on for centuries. Some traditions are started on purpose. And some traditions evolve because your kid gets a coupon and you decide that even hippie children deserve a treat sometimes. I kind of think those are the best kind of traditions. They’re the little family jokes that remind everyone that you’re in this together, and you’re making memories that will last long after the annual Slurpee is finished.

To summer!

slurpee summer traditions

This post is not sponsored in any way, and I am not endorsing either 7-11 or Slurpees. It’s just one of those things that honestly happens in our family.

Precious Downtime

You guys, school. School! School.

school student teacher desk

My desk at school is not a tidy place

I have finished the first six weeks of my student teaching practicum, and I have four weeks left to go (plus two weeks of Spring Break when I will be back in class myself). And it’s awesome. Every day is different. My students are alternately inspiring and challenging, but always amazing. I am learning so much about myself, about what it means to be an educator, and about how to stand in front of a class of 29 twelve-year-olds without losing your cool. On the whole, it’s going well. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am doing it. I know I can pull this student teaching thing off.

All of the time and money and work has not been in vain. Phew.

All the same, working part-time and student teaching full-time and being the mom of two kids isn’t easy. I’m extremely busy. Which is okay, because this is what I signed up for. It’s a short period of time and if I don’t get as much downtime as I would like, well, it will be worth it in the long run. All those lesson plans I’m writing are giving me experience and helping my days to flow more smoothly.

Right now, though, my recreational time is pretty much limited to 20 minutes on the occasional evening when I can watch a little bit of TV. Or maybe, if I’m lucky, a couple of hours on a weekend when I can hang out with my kids.

When I do get some family time, right now we’re playing a lot of board games. My kids are huge fans of Apples to Apples Junior. My son Jacob is only seven and the recommended age is nine and up, but somehow he always wins. He’s an Apples to Apples Junior ringer.

downtime relaxing

Taking a moment to breathe

When the board games are done, sometimes my kids watch a movie together while my husband and I have an actual conversation. It’s extremely decadent. But first, we have to referee the movie choice. It’s always a bone of contention. They pull up Netflix and then each kid makes their case. At the moment my daughter favours Inside Out or live action fairy tales like Cinderella or Enchanted. My son is currently into Home and How to Train Your Dragon. Eventually, though, they settle on something and I make them snacks and they watch their movie and I breathe and relax for at least a little while.

And then, when the movie is over and the kids go to bed, my husband and I get our chance to enjoy some Netflix. We usually watch a comedy special. And I laugh, and remember that life is sort of ridiculous. And somehow things seem easier and less serious than they did a few hours earlier. Perspective is a good thing to have.

This will all be over before I know it. For now, I’m milking those little moments of downtime for all they’re worth.

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.

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.

Day Three

Back on Labour Day I shared some of my thoughts and concerns as I prepared to head back to school full-time. That was nine days ago. I am now mid-way through my first week as a student teacher, and I wanted to update you on how things are going so far.

The Kids

My kids had their first day of school on September 8, and I was fortunately able to be there for it. It was very short – less than 45 minutes – as they reported to their classes from last year and took attendance. That was all par for the course and went well.

The next day, one week ago, the kids had their first full day of school and their first day of daycare. My daughter Hannah was concerned. Would she know anyone? Would she have any friends? By day two of daycare she was good. My son Jacob was excited to go and settled in right off the bat. When I pick them up now they complain and ask to stay longer. I take that as a good sign, and I’m feeling really relieved. It’s so much better when you know your kids are having fun while you’re away from them.

The Interval

plate impulse purchase

Impulse purchase while waiting for my car to be serviced

Because my school didn’t start until this past Monday, September 14, I had a few days at home with not much to do while my kids were at school and settling into daycare. I vacillated between enjoying it immensely and feeling totally panicked. I didn’t know much about what would be happening when I started school myself. I had a time and place to be for orientation, but that was it. As a planner, this freaked me out. On top of that, I’m used to working from home so just sitting around twiddling my thumbs left me with an uneasy feeling that I was forgetting something.

I ended up making myself busy polishing off last-minute details. I got my car serviced. I got a haircut. I met with people. And I also enjoyed the free time a little by watching too much TV. In the end those three days of peace and quiet went by way too quickly.

Student Teacher

student teacher burnaby mountain park

View from where I was sitting yesterday

Finally, it was just before 9:00am on my first day of school. I joined the other new student teachers in the line-up outside the theatre where our orientation session was being held. A woman beside me struck up a conversation and we discovered that we were both in the same module (a module is like a class of 32 student teachers). It felt good to make a friend right away.

The orientation session lasted all morning, and it was great. I found it very helpful. Then we met the rest of our module briefly before lunch. After lunch we headed off with our modules and got to know each other a little. We’ll be meeting together throughout the semester, which lasts until December. Yesterday we went for a walk to a local park and did some reflecting and got to know each other a little more. Today we’re going to a film, culture and art festival that celebrates diversity – Project EveryBODY.

What I’ve discovered so far is that my fellow student teachers are amazing people. They are mostly (but not all) younger than me by at least a decade, but they’ve done some pretty cool things and we all share a love of working with children. Many of our hopes and fears are the same. We are going to be spending a lot of time together, and I feel privileged to be working with them. They knocked my socks off, quite honestly.

I’ve also discovered that this experience is going to be very hands-on and challenging in a totally different way than my other university experiences. It doesn’t appear that it will be very academically rigorous, in the sense that I won’t be spending a lot of time studying and writing research papers and sitting exams. Rather, it will be extremely challenging and stretching on a personal level, as I confront my biases, work hard, and transform myself into a teacher. And spend lots and lots of time with kids. I can’t wait.

For now, I know I’m right where I need to be. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

Back to School

It has been a long time since I went to work or school full-time.

In February of 2005 I was working full-time. Then, six weeks ahead of schedule, my daughter was born. Thanks to generous Canadian maternity leave, I didn’t return to work for a full year after her birth. When I did return, I was fortunate to be able to negotiate a part-time schedule, where I went into the office three days a week and did some work from home the other two weekdays.

When my son was born in 2008 I went on another year-long maternity leave. Nine months into that I received notice that my job was being eliminated. I decided to shift gears and started working from home. I landed one small freelance job and then another. Eventually I was working 20 hours a week from my family room.

I was lucky. I was able to spend time with my children while they were small. I spent time in their classrooms, volunteered on field trips, and explored what I really wanted to do with my life. I know that not everyone has this freedom.

back to schoolNow, things are changing. Tomorrow my kids start back at school. They are now in grade five and grade two. The day after tomorrow my kids start before and after school care. And five days after that, I have my first day of school as a student teacher. I will spend the next 12 months studying full-time, doing practicum work in classrooms, and earning my teaching license. It will be the first time in more than a decade that I have done anything full-time.

This is a good time for me to do this. My children are in school all day themselves. They are well settled in their routines. I am ready for the next thing. But still, I’m nervous. It feels like a big change.

There are seasons in every life. I am entering a new season in mine. I feel just as scared as I did more than 20 years ago when I graduated from high school and first started university. The stakes feel so much higher. The demands on my life are already much greater. And I have two little people watching me. I want to set a good example. I want to build a good life for them and for me. I want to show them that you’re never too old. That learning never stops. That you can set a goal and make it happen.

I also want to do well for myself. I have always been an overachiever.

I know things will work out. If I just take things one day at a time, one task at a time, I will get through this. My kids will get through this too. I will figure out my part, and they will figure out their parts, and when all is said and done I will be a teacher. Hopefully I will find a job, eventually, and we will go on vacation at Spring Break. And I will have the privilege of working with children every day. If I keep my eyes on the prize, it all sounds good.

But still, it’s a big change. I feel it. I can’t think about it too much, but I feel it.

So, deep breath. Here I go. Wish me luck.

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