we had a great run

I had one thing on my list for my tenth birthday: an overhead projector.

I know many little girls play school, but I'm just going to say it - my school setup was legit. 

When both of your parents are teachers, they score all sorts of goods like unused lesson plan and grade books, real math textbooks, spelling workbooks, and those cool chalk holders that held five pieces and made straight lines across the board. (Yes? Anyone remember?) In addition, my weekly allowance was usually spent on shopping sprees to the teachers' store, and nothing thrilled me like new school supplies. I had dry erase boards (I was so ahead of my time), a calendar complete with decals for all the holidays, a weather chart, desk name tags, rubber stamps, pointers, and those EZ Grader cards teachers used to calculate a students' percentage score. 

I would fill the grade book with the names of my friends, and you could always tell when I was mad at one of my girlfriends by the string of Fs next to her name. I lectured students dolls when they were off task, and I handed out stickers for good behavior. There were many July days when school started in my basement at 8 am and continued on a regular school schedule all throughout the day, complete with bathroom breaks, lunch, and recess. I had this teaching thing down.

In what goes down in history as my greatest childhood present ever, my dad was able to snag an old overhead projector from his school. I was the envy of the neighborhood girls, and when I wasn't in the middle of a riveting long division lesson, the transparencies were used by all my friends to doodle the names of all the boys we loved. Hmmm. I wonder if those transparencies are still in my parents' basement.

It was clear pretty early on in my life I was destined for the classroom. As discussed in my first blog post, the writer in me dabbled with a career a journalism, and I actually entered college as a journalism major. When it came time to sign up for journalism-related classes, I wasn't feeling it. Days later I sobbed my way through an episode of Oprah honoring teachers who had changed the lives of their students.  I called my mom to tell her I was changing majors. 

"Yeah," she said.  "I knew this was coming.  You're meant to be a teacher."


Surely you've seen those Facebook posts that break down a teacher's salary into an hourly wage only to find that a fifteen-year-old babysitter could make double my salary. No one teaches because of the money.  

We teach because of the kids.

The kids give this job value, and they ensure one day never looks like the next. They make us laugh, they make us think, and they stretch our minds to keep learning. They freak out with excitement when we make applesauce and gingerbread houses, and they scream in disgust when we dissect owl pellets and carve pumpkins. They ask questions I don't have answers to, they clap at the end of really good books, and they love me even when I'm crabby. They have millions of stories to tell (but never have anything to write about during writers' workshop...???) and usually just have to tell their stories right in the middle of a mini lesson. They're honest and funny and curious, but they are also exhausting and frustrating and kinda annoying every once in awhile. 

They ask so many questions and always need to go to the bathroom right after we finished a bathroom break. They forget simple routines like how to sign up for lunch, how to roll dice so they don't fly across the room, or how to put books back in the CORRECTLY LABELED TUBS!!! They get loud and silly and squirrely, and by golly, there are so many of them all in one room! And then, just when teachers thinks we might lose our minds, we remember we have a staff meeting after school, a parent conference during prep, and data charts that need updating by Friday. We have report cards going home next week, a newsletter that should have gone home today, and Halloween decorations hung up in the hallway even though it's December.


On those days, we survive until 2:30, get those darlings out the door, and stumble into a coworker's room, but she’s not really coworker; she’s a friend.  We plop down into chairs that are too small for us and hope someone has a good story to tell. We count on each other to remind us why we do this job. 

Yesterday I said good-bye to the kids. That was hard.

Today I said good-bye to my friends. That was worse.

These are my girls - the ones who have made the rough days tolerable and the good days even better. 

When you work alongside people for eight years, the line between personal life and professional life is quickly blurred, and pretty soon you're just family.We laugh, cry, tease, celebrate, annoy, apologize, advise, and endure. Then we come back tomorrow to do it all over again.

There have been babies, parent illnesses, and deaths.

There have been new homes, engagements, ex boyfriends, first dates, second dates, and weddings.

There have been an insane amount of group texts (most of which I never join).

There have been overnight conferences, dinner celebrations, and life-changing desserts.

We've sent kids to college and to kindergarten and to sitters for the very first time.

We've raced down the hallway in trash cans and built human pyramids.

We've endured the wrath of angry students' parents and a hand slapping from the boss.

We've pulled off some good pranks. (Do stolen cars, flipped desks, tuna cans, and dirty diapers ring a bell, BECKY?!?)

We've lost kids on fields trips (What?!!? NO! That never happens....), and danced our hearts out for some of the greatest Talent Show teacher acts in the history of Connersville.

We've sent text messages to our boss that were intended for our husbands - oh wait, that was just me! (Ugh.)

And for nearly eight years, we've sat around a lunch a table - in a room the size of a closet - and lived life together. 

We had a great run, and I couldn't have done it without them.


my last sunday night

Every teacher dreads Sunday nights.

We love our jobs, we love our students, but we hate Sunday nights.

The weekend always goes by too fast, and we never get through all the work we bring home in our giant, teacher bags that will most certainly lead to massive chiropractic bills in the near future.  We pack up lesson plans, papers (both graded and ungraded - oops), quarterly awards, Cheerios for math lessons, juice and cookies for writers' celebrations, newsletters, data spreadsheets, teacher manuals, curriculum maps, books and more books and probably a few more books, and get to bed before any of the good shows come on because 7:45 AM is so sticking early to be standing at a door, happily greeting small children.  We usually feel better by 8 AM Monday morning and are back in the groove by 8:15, but oh, Sunday nights are the worst.

Tonight I have a different kind of dread; the kind of dread that comes with change and good-byes, the kind of dread that comes when you're terrified but confident all at once, the kind of dread that comes when facing a week filled with last times.

Tonight is the last time I'll sit up on a Sunday night thinking about my school week ahead.

After 12 years in education -- about 480 Sunday nights -- I have resigned from my job.

I hope that one day I will be back in the classroom, but for now, I am going to be staying home full time with my darlings, and I am thrilled. 

But, oh the feelings.

All. The. Feelings.


In early August of 2008, my mom drove with me from Chicago to Connersville, Indiana, a small rural town in what I would describe as the middle of nowhere. I've heard people call it a "city," but they are really playing fast and loose with the word "city."

Stephen and I were weeks away from moving from Chicago to Ohio for Stephen to begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology, and I still had no teaching job. As the sole bread winner for the family and with elementary schools starting in ten days, I had past desperate and was pleading with the Lord for any job, any grade, anywhere.

A few days earlier, I had received a call from Fayette County Schools in Connersville inviting me to an interview.  They were unable to tell me what school or what grade they would have openings.  (What? Didn't school start in two weeks?!?!) I was told I would have to wait until after registration day. (Registration day?  In August?!?!) After teaching in a school district where we had class lists given to us in May, I was confused by terms like "anticipated enrollment," and "possible teaching opening."

But as I said, it was the ninth hour.

As my mom and I drove into Connersville, I fought back tears. The town was so different than anything I'd known, and let's face it - different is scary. There were couches on front lawns, abandoned buildings, more pick-up trucks than I'd ever seen (some adorned with Confederate flag bumper stickers), and a lot of country roads - like the kind with no lines down the middle. I knew there wouldn't be a Trader Joe's for miles.

Three days before school started I was offered a job as a first grade teacher at Eastview Elementary.  Whew. Stephen and I would get to buy food and have heat that year.

The night before school started I was (frantically) working in my classroom when a shirtless, shoeless, and nearly toothless man knocked on my window, inquiring about who his son's teacher would be this year. I proceeded to dialog with him as I crouched down to a small opening in my window, and if I can be vulnerable here, I'll admit that every part of me hoped I wasn't his child's teacher. Fear and pride can bring out the worst, and I was consumed with both.

About ten minutes later I saw this same man and his son in the building (need I again emphasize the shirtless, shoeless part?) and was relieved to know he'd found his teacher (and it wasn't me). I remember thinking in that moment, "Surely, this is not the place for me.  But just one year.  One year, Joy. You can do this for one year."

Fast forward seven months to spring break -  a week I had set aside for job applications.

I sat in our little apartment with my resume opened on my laptop. I began searching for job openings in local school districts, but after about ten minutes, I wasn't feeling it.

Close laptop. Try again tomorrow.

The next day I again started browsing through local school listings. I still wasn't feeling it.

Close laptop. Try again tomorrow.

By the end of spring break, I'd applied for zero jobs and hadn't so much as updated the address on my resume.

It wouldn't be so bad to stay in Connersville one more year. The forty minute commute was tolerable, I liked my partner teacher, and the idea of being the "new teacher" again was exhausting. Surely, I could manage another year.

Eight years later

I guess it would be fair to say I fell in love with this little town of Connersville. (I still can't call it a city.) I never ended up applying for any other jobs, and even once Stephen finished school and the opportunity to stay home full time was available, I didn't jump at it.

I love my job. God made me to be a teacher, and there is great pleasure in doing what you're made to do. Personally and professionally I have been stretched, changed, and knocked upside the head as I've become part of a community so different than any I'd known before.   

How foolish and arrogant I was to think Connersville wasn't the place for me? 

And now I am sitting here, on my last Sunday night, dreading tomorrow. I just want the week to start so it can hurry up and be over - so all the lasts, all the good-byes, all the blubbering as I throw out old committee binders and science units can just be over.

But then it's over, like really over.

You can only imagine the tears I am unashamedly weeping right now. But these tears should not be mistaken for doubt. I am confident about this decision, and the Lord has affirmed it over and over in so many ways.

I'm just also really sad because I love my job, I love my people, and I'll miss it so much.

And now I have to eat lunch with toddlers. God help me.

P.S. Prepare yourself because in about four days, an incredible sappy (but very true) post about how teachers change lives will be coming your way.


fight for fun

There are three books that have shaped my teaching more than any other: Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller, and Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen.

In Patrick's book (I'm pretending we're on a first name basis), he recounts a conversation from years ago that he had with a friend and colleague.  They were out for coffee, chatting about former students and retired teaching friends when rather out of the blue, Patrick's friend asked him: "What are your guiding principals?  What are you willing to fight for?"


I can only imagine these questions begin thrown out by a wide-eyed, inspirational administrator to kick off the first staff meeting of the year.  There's a brand new group of kiddos ready to trample the doors in less than 24 hours.  Welcome letters need copying, desks need name tags, and hallway displays already need more tape. Teachers' minds are swirling with to-dos, and we are being asked to consider our guiding principles.

Double ugh.

These really are the kind of questions that make the teacher in me cringe. Not because they aren't important questions, but because I should have a really good answer, and up until a few years ago, I didn't.

My guiding principals were whatever my mentor teacher told me to do, and I was fighting for survival, fighting to get out of my school by 5:00 at night, and fighting to stay one day ahead on lesson planning.  And let's be honest, I was totally losing those fights.

I was comforted my Patrick's response. 

"I don't know."

He, too, was taken off guard, claiming the casual conversation between colleagues was feeling more like a job interview.  He ended up rattling off some answer about every child being a learner, thinking strategy instruction, building community, blah, blah, blah.  His colleague called him out on such a ridiculous, fluffy answer and told him to really think about these questions. 

It was to my great advantage that I was reading this book during the summer.  And not just any summer - a summer before I had children.  Can you say "time on my hands?" To my credit, I used this time wisely and really thought about how I'd answer these questions.

By the end of that summer, I'd typed out my answers, and they've been in the front of my lesson planning book for the past six years. 

What are my guiding principles?  

There are a million ways to run a classroom, many of which are effective, but what beliefs would determine each decision I make? I wrote out eight beliefs, but number three seems most applicable to my current musing.

Children learn best when I am engaged and genuinely enthusiastic.

What am I willing to fight for?  

What do I believe to be so important to the education of my students that if someone told me "Uh uh, Mrs. Becker, no more of that," I would be passionate enough and knowledgeable enough to fight for?

Fun. I would fight for fun.

A few weeks ago, a teacher popped into my office after school.  State testing season is just around the corner, and the stress of it is bringing out the crazies in us all.  We got talking about numbers and percentages and who passed last year and who didn't pass and by how many points and bubble kids and rubrics and constructive responses and testing tips and tricks and pretty soon we just had to laugh at how ridiculous we sounded. 

"Are you having fun teaching?" I asked her.

"I always have fun teaching," she said.

"What about your kids?  Are they having fun at school?"

"Yes and no.  I've worked hard to create an environment that allows for fun, but they dread the repetition and the demand.  They know we are all pushing for a better score."

I hated that she was right. 

"We're really gonna have to fight for fun around here, ya know?  But I think it's possible."

Since that conversation, I keep thinking about that phrase - fight for fun.  The fun isn't going to just happen; we will have to battle through standards, assessments, teacher evaluations, assessments, data charts, and yes, another round of assessments to find it. But hidden at the bottom of that pile is the thrill of learning and the joy of teaching that drove every educator into their classroom.   

We've started to convince ourselves there isn't time for fun.  We aren't allowed to have fun because fun isn't rigorous enough. Good grief.

At the beginning of this month, I became a "traveling instructional coach," working now in three  elementary schools instead of just one which has given me a great opportunity to be in even more outstanding classrooms. Every moment in a classroom is a confirmation to me that teaching is hard.  Education is an exhausting place to be right now, and the government isn't doing anything to make it easier. But I still believe that fun is possible. I believe it because I see it. I see classrooms dancing, singing, and laughing.  I've seen art projects,  paint, and even glitter.  I have seen science be an icky, sticky, mess and social studies involve costumes.  I've listened to teachers read books in such a magical way that a carpet full of seven-year-olds break out into applause. And it is no surprise to me that in those classrooms, the ones where teachers are fighting for fun, all those assessment and testing scores just kinda fall into place. 

I will now dismount my soapbox.


the trenches of writing workshop

Earlier this year, I co-taught in Mrs. Ary’s room and gathered 28 sixth graders onto the carpet for a mini-lesson about how authors gather ideas in order to find a story that matters.

There is this terrifying moment as a teacher when you wrap up the mini-lesson and are about to send your students off to actually try what you’ve just taught. Oh, how I wish one of them would just shout out,

“We are ready, Mrs. Becker! You’ve presented this information so clearly, and I’ve been so engaged for the past fifteen minutes, not at all distracted by the smelly classmates I’m smooshed up against on this tiny carpet. I totally understand what I am to do independently, and I can’t wait to get started!”

Instead, I get 3 smiles, 1 head nod and a handful of kids who are already standing up.

I’ll take it.

Let’s go write.

The assignment was to brainstorm a list of seven story titles that tell your life. These could be life altering days or seemingly insignificant moments that have somehow been permanently planted in your memory. What seven stories best reflect who you are today?

I had never taught this lesson before, and although my heart knew it had potential to be awesome, I’ve been teaching long enough to know that sometimes the lesson you’re most excited about has to flop two or three times before you get it right.

Unfortunately, I had to skip out halfway through independent writing time to get to a meeting, so I wasn’t able to see the final lists or hear the sharing session. When I got back to my office that afternoon, my table was filled with post-it notes. Each student had written down his or her favorite or most significant story title and left it for me to see.

I wasn’t sure if sixth graders would be able to define who they were in story titles. I didn’t know if they’d be willing to get past their day at King’s Island or a play-by-play of their tenth birthday party. I really wondered if they’d be brave enough to tell the painful stories.

I sat at my table, reading though post it notes feeling so proud of these writers who took me up on this challenging assignment. It was a glorious moment that the teacher in me will hold onto for awhile. And right in the midst of my tender-teacher moment, Mrs. Ary popped her head in my office to jolt me back to reality.

“Ok, so now what? How do we get them to actually write those stories?” she asked.

I laughed. “We enter the trenches of writing workshop.”