Battling Butterflies

In just a few days I’ll be back to school.  Butterflies?  You betcha!
Usually this is a busy, fun and exciting time for me…usually.

As a classroom teacher, I had my process.  That process often began August 1st when the class lists became live in Powerschool and I could access my schedule.  I’d look hopefully for that Friday afternoon prep period (then console myself when I didn’t get it) as I copied my schedule in my new teacher planner.  I’d read up on my new students and make class lists knowing that they would likely change a bunch of times before opening. I’d start on my name tents, update my Figure Me Out Activity and edit my introduction letter to families.  I’d round up my post-it notes to prepare for my conversations to establish classroom norms, print my Dividing into Squares handouts, and hit every dollar store in the greater Halifax area looking for fun colorful erasers and super cool supplies. 

I’d reread my favorite articles and rewatch inspirational videos – the ones that help me focus, the ones that get me psyched, and those that remind me of the important best practices that I need to have at the forefront of my mind.  By now I would have been in my classroom several times setting up.  I’d likely be checking the forecast to try and find another rainy (or at least cloudy) day to head back in to continue the process.  I’d have my girls in tow, lugging in bags and boxes and “helping” by writing welcome notes and math words on my whiteboards.  My cart of math paper would be ready with stacks of lined, unlined, graph, square dot and isometric paper all good to go.  I’d try to reimagine how I might display my math tools and manipulatives for easy access so that students can see the possibilities but make their own choice about what tool fits the job.  I’d arrange and rearrange my furniture and scour kijiji and FB Marketplace for new stools, tables and benches. I’d be checking in and catching up with friends and colleagues while making lists with my new pens on my new stationary and checking things off my new things to do list one by one.  While completing my housekeeping duties like testing student locks for lockers and pre-writing receipts for student fees, I’d be thinking about and reflecting on the first few days from years gone by.  What ideas and activities worked to build our class community and set the tone?  What could I or should I do differently?  As a classroom teacher – I have my process:  a way to prepare that makes me feel ready, confident, and excited.  Butterflies?  Yes!  But the good kind.  

Times have changed. This September marks my third year as Junior High Mathematics Coach.  I don’t have a classroom.  I’m a guest in several classrooms for 5 weeks at a time.  My usual prep process does not apply.  (Here come the butterflies again!)  In a desperate attempt to feel ready, I find myself panic buying random things that I would love for my classroom.  New stackable containers for manipulatives, pencils with fun messages, magazine holders for student journals…until one of my girls reminds me I don’t have a classroom anymore.  My husband suggested I could get my need for organizing and preparedness satisfied by tackling the corner of our unfinished basement where I dumped my entire classroom packed into bins in June 2020.  Nope – not ready for that yet.  (Nice try Kyle!) What to do…what to do…

Thinking back I didn’t feel this antsy and unsettled starting off my last two years.  I wonder why that is?  I guess circumstances were a little different.  My first year as a coach I started at Sackville Heights – my professional home for over a decade.  I knew the place, the people, the content, the bell schedule.  The butterflies were good.  Year two I was starting at Cunard Junior High.  A lovely welcoming school I had the pleasure of spending time in the year before.  Scheduled to work with a few teachers I knew, in grades where I had a lot of experience and a ton of resources to share – good butterflies.  This year is very different.  New school.  New teachers.  New grade.  New course.  Butterflies.  Lots of butterflies.  Are they good butterflies?  

I fought the urge to reach out to a teacher I am working with (no one wants to receive emails about work before the summer is over) and instead tried to distract myself with just a peek inside one of those overflowing classroom bins in the basement.  I’m glad I did.  Right on top, the last thing that got packed away, was my folder of favorite notes and cards.  Proof that I did make a difference!

My folder of pick-me-ups

I have cards from students, letters from parents, and emails from colleagues that I printed before they got accidentally deleted.  While I don’t save every note I receive, the ones I do have really matter to me.  A mismatch of formal and fun, I have a few gems that are truly special.

The first thing I pick up is a paper copy of an email.  A teacher I don’t know took the time to write to me about my most challenging student from the year before.  This student moved to another area and mentioned to his new teacher how much he enjoyed my class.  This note mattered so much to me – I remember how emotional I got when I received it.  I poured my heart into connecting with this kid and wasn’t sure that I had succeeded until that email arrived.  Other treasures I saved included silly notes from students.  I laughed when I found one saying, “I am always nervous about a new year…especially a new math class.   But once I saw you with that dumb eraser ring I knew it would be ok”.  Side note:  This was about my eraser ring I wore on Day One a few years back.  When a student finally asked about it I said dramatically, “…I’m wearing this ring to celebrate my commitment to making mistakes”.  Groan.  I mean kids expect bad jokes from math teachers right?!?  I opened another enthusiastic note from a math coach that worked with me in my classroom, and a copy of a reference letter from one of my math idols that made me feel like a rockstar.  Reading through my folder was the best butterfly medicine ever.  I laughed…I teared up a little…then I put them away.  But not back in the bins.  I brought my folder to my desk so I can easily shuffle through it again when the butterflies strike.

I am committed to making mistakes!

I have a new realization too.  It took me a long time to get to a place where I was proud and satisfied with the work I was doing in my classroom.  It will likely take me a few more years to feel confident and impactful in my new role, and that’s ok.  Until then I need to revamp my get-ready process.  To that end I have joined a Math Coaches Professional Learning Network and started connecting with more professionals in similar roles on Twitter.  I have dug out some favorite professional readings for coaches and reread my highlighted portions.  I’ve shared some first week back ideas with teachers that have reached out and focused my love of buying fun supplies on purchasing what my two girls may need, want, and love. I am also actively avoiding Chapters since their back-to-school organizers, stickers, pens, post-its, and planners are definitely my favs.  I will let go (or continue to attempt to let go) of the need to have everything organized ahead of time and embrace the collaborative nature of the coaching process.  As for my folder of uplifting positive memories and messages – it may be time to pay it forward. This year I plan to make the time to write a few notes to educators that they might hang on to and reread when in need.  Teaching is a tough gig.  Maybe one of the benefits of my new role is that I have a little more time to remind teachers of their wins and support them when they need it.

Do I still have butterflies?  Yup.  No matter what my role is as an educator, I will likely battle butterflies at this time of year until I retire.  But maybe now there’s more good butterflies than bad.  And I’m pretty sure that a beverage on the beach might settle a few of those.  Cheers to the final days of summer! Happy New Year teacher friends!

Paying it forward with these fun post-its…

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