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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rules, Teacher Emily

I have rules, Teacher Emily.

That's what Randall told me the other day.

Would you like to hear them?

Sure, Randall, sock it to me.

1) Always listen to Randall.
2) Students do their work.
3) I will sleep at my house.

Those are nice rules, Randall.

You can call me FBI.

Ok, FBI, go find your friends and play for a while.

I went back to my grading before I realized that Randall was onto something with these rules of his. We all have rules - unspoken or written - that shape how we live our lives. They're the mottos we live by, the things that ground us, the proverbs we play on repeat like a broken record.

I've added a new rule to my life maxims: acknowledge the end.

How to do this well and what it actually means - acknowledging the end - are still a work in progress. Acknowledging the end means saying out loud, "I won't do these things anymore, but it mattered that I did them, and it mattered that I did them with you." It means this job or person or place or season of life shaped me in significant ways and it's now coming to an end. It means I'm not the same person that I was before this (job/relationship/place/season) and I'm grateful for that. Acknowledging the end is recognizing the moments that changed me.

These moments, they deserve a hundred rounds of applause and a cash prize and a deep announcer's voice proclaiming them the winner. I've let myself be changed by the world, be changed by Pohnpei, be changed by my students and friends and host family. Each person and day and event changed me - made me more loving, more open, more patient, more empathetic, more aware of the experiences of others, of how very big the world is and how very small I am. There were moments that broke my heart and took my breathe away like a hard punch to the gut. Sometimes I became more frustrated, more short tempered, more of all those characteristics I don't want to be. Other moments left me helpless and confused and angry. These too, the hard moments, deserve their space on the podium, because we are not only changed by joy and goodness but by hard fought lessons when you walk through fire and aren't always at your best before you earn your reward.


Last week I gathered some Girl Scout Cookies, chocolate, and my pull-out students for something that I like to call a 'Teacher Emily Acknowledges the End Ceremony.' Besides teaching 1st grade this year, I've been working with small groups of students (1st-4th graders) on reading and language skills in the afternoons. I have truly thrived in this job. The chance to work with small groups and encourage these students utilized my gifts to the T.

The students and I gathered together on our last day to celebrate and to stop. We stopped for a moment over Thin Mints and Toblerone to recognize what mattered. It mattered that we met everyday to learn and share and grow this year. The moments we spent together mattered. Those moments have come to an end and this unique group of people won't ever be together again in this exact way. But we were together this year, and we learned from each other and brought our best to the table. That matters, and that's worth recognizing.

I wanted to show my students the power of acknowledging the end. There is power in naming the end, putting words to it, saying and feeling something. With each group there was a holy moment, a moment when time stopped and they all looked at me as I said, "Thank you for letting me be your teacher this year. Thank you for being my students. I care about all of you and I will miss you so much. You have changed me and I am so grateful."

Each student talked about their favorite activities and lessons from the past year. Our emotional, holy moment exchanged itself for laughter and hunger when I dug out the Thin Mints and Toblerone, but I know they got it. I saw it in their eyes.

2nd Grade

4th Grade

3rd Grade
I'm embarking on a season of goodbyes, changes, transitions, and new these next few weeks. I know I'm not the only one. If you're going through this season, too, I hope you can find healing and beauty by acknowledging the end and recognizing those moments that mattered.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Monday Blues

Monday was a blue day - blue muumuu, blue headband, blue comb. A group of 4th graders even provided commentary on my outfit while standing in the doorway of the teachers' room; I was making copies when I heard, "Wow Teacher Emily, even your eyes match today!"

But the 'Monday Blues' were only present in physical attire. The day started off with a quick Skype call to my parents and grandparents, who were celebrating Mother's Day together. I can't put into words how excited I am to see my family next month. At school we celebrated my student Aja's birthday with donuts and juice. Aja, myself, and her pals went around the school passing out extra donuts to the other teachers after every 1st grader was happily munching and slurping. I love surprising people with food - particularly baked goods - because a surprise treat never fails to put a smile on any face.

My students danced to Justin Timberlake's new song, Can't Stop the Feeling, while cleaning the classroom after school.

I picked a plumeria flower for my hair as I walked home at 5. Plumeria trees are in full bloom and without thinking I scan the ground to see which fallen flowers I can use. I pray for 5 people - one for each petal - before placing it behind my ear or tucking it into my bun.

This evening after Nicole and I ran errands we stopped by Principal Bernie's house to see if we could pick some calamansi lemons. Before I knew it I had hauled out the school's old ladder and was climbing up its silver rungs. I grabbed two before some men passing by on the road stopped to help. A foreigner in a muumuu climbing a ladder near a busy road to pick calamansi practically guaranteed that help would be offered immediately. A young man happily took my place, climbed up the ladder and into the tree, and picked our calamansi. He was much more skilled for the job than I and I'm grateful to live in a place where not only do you greet everyone you see on the road, but strangers help you without a second thought.

After dropping the priests' car at their house I grabbed a sliver of fresh Kosraen pie brought back from Kosrae by one of the Sisters. I ate and walked back to the apartment feeling very content - happy to be back in a normal rhythm after a few weeks of unique scheduling yet all the while knowing that this is my last 'normal' week before finals and the whirlwind of graduations and endings coming far too quickly.

While messaging a friend today I told her, "transitions that involve moving away from a life you've built and people you love is hard." That pretty much sums it up - I have built a life here. I haven't been on a mission trip or just been a volunteer - I've lived my life, I've made friends, I've found a church home. I have favorite restaurants and favorite places and favorite people. Life isn't perfect, but life never will be and I've found contentment in a lifestyle I truly love here. It is precisely because I have been living my life in a wild, glorious, simple way that makes leaving so bittersweet.

I'm soaking in the joys of Pohnpei for 20-something more days before I touch down in good old Sacramento, CA on June 8th!

My goal for today is to live simply and love deeply. I hope you will join me.