More About Me…

View More: http://amalieorrangephotography.pass.us/monicaalbertsweddingThis week is a big week for me! Following Talking Class Radio’s promotion of my blog, “Thank You, How I Met Your Mother, for Getting It So Right,”  I’ll also have a bio featured on their website. Since TCR’s podcast listeners shouldn’t know more about me than my own followers, I decided to share some of the details on my blog.

To begin, Emma Grace is a pseudonym that I donned when I began blogging. Being a teacher during this modern explosion of social media has been much like wading through murky waters. Precedents have not been set and explicit rules have not be made for just how much teachers can say or in what forums they can participate. Thus, I acquired the pen name as a way of preserving the honesty of my words and keeping my blog off my students’ radar.

I have always been an avid reader and writer. I love the beauty and power of the written word, so an English degree seemed to make the most sense. I knew I wanted to be a writer; what surprised me was that I had to become a teacher in order to find my voice.

Yeah…a teacher…the one thing I had zero interest in while I was in school. I’m not even sure where the idea came from or why I entertained it. Now, I’ve been teaching for five years, and I have more heartwarming, shocking, and absurd stories than I ever could have acquired working in a cubicle. Needless to say, it was one of my best ideas, and I couldn’t be happier that I entertained it.

As a result, a great deal of my blog content comes from my experiences as a teacher working with a generation who only communicates in fewer than 140 characters and idolizes Miley Cyrus. Yes, many days I’m scared for our future.

I spend my days dishing out sarcastic responses and dubious looks while attempting to teach textual analysis and essay writing. In the evenings, I look for the silver lining and incorporate my reflections into this very blog.

It’s incredibly rewarding to share my stories, and I cannot thank my readers enough for their continued interest and support.

Sincerely,

Emma Grace

 

“Love is the Best Thing We Do”

Last night, I realized something rather shocking about myself.

I decided to give it some time, mull it over before I admitted it to the world.

But time only made me more convinced of my situation.

You see…I consider myself above the influence of most corny sitcoms. I’m not a television junkie. I don’t even have cable.

And yet…I am completely addicted to How I Met Your Mother.

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Yes, it’s true! Even after all of Ted’s atrocious whining last season, I still anticipate every new episode and talk about Robin, Barney, Marshall, Lilly, and Ted as though they are long-time friends.

Oh, please don’t misunderstand, I know it’s fiction. I realize that the lives portrayed are figments of many imaginations. But what I can’t seem to shake is the fact that these writers, especially in this season, seem to have a better grasp on what matters than many self-help gurus.

With only two episodes left until Ted meets “the mother” and lives happily ever after, the writers have completely redeemed themselves from last season by providing healthy doses of hope and closure throughout this season. They’ve made a point to reward their long-time viewers with endings to plot lines that are not perfect but satisfying. Marshall may not be taking his long-awaited job as a judge, but he will be celebrating the birth of his second child in Italy with his adoring wife. Robin and Barney will surely have bouts over one another’s idiosyncrasies, and yet, they have happily committed to a lifetime together to do so.

Furthermore, through an epic use of flash-forward scenes, we have fallen in love with Ted’s future wife, which was a feat I did not think possible after all the time we’ve spent getting to know and love the main characters. Yet, this newcomer to the cast is lovable and perfect for Ted, thereby making us comfortable with leaving him in her hands and making it possible for us to finally let go of the idea that he and Robin are destined for one another.

Kudos to a show that is ending it right.

Yet, as much as I adore the plot, Ted’s philosophical realizations are what have me most choked up this season. For although I am not in the habit of adopting philosophy from television shows, I can’t ignore when they so clearly get it right.

So, even though I found myself hugging my husband tighter at certain points and even wiping away the occasional tear during last night’s episode, what continues to reverberate throughout my head is Ted’s simple yet completely accurate statement:

“Love is the best thing we do.”

So simple. So elementary. So obvious.

I believe in our hearts that we already know this, but it’s so easily hidden by the layers of expectations thrust upon us by society. In today’s consumer culture, we can never be content because advertising has trained us that we can never have enough or be enough. We’re forced to keep climbing, to be more, and to have more. In the process, we make sacrifices that often hurt the people closest to us—the very ones for whom we are trying to improve ourselves.medium_3891372852

We get caught up in this twisted cycle and lose sight of what matters most.

But there it is, straight from a corny television sitcom:

“Love is the best thing we do.”

I can’t think of a truer statement. I can’t imagine a better philosophy. Because love should be at the heart of everything we do. Our relationships and memories are what we’ll cherish long after that corner office holds any importance or relevance.

Essentially, this is the message that I found in my student’s essay, the one that changed my way of thinking completely. (See my earlier blog, So Many Are Broken) For after hearing her story and realizing that she needed someone to convince her that she mattered, I was finally able to let go of the politics of education, of the unfair Value-Added Model, of the subjectivity of the evaluations, of the overwhelming hypocrisy. It made my job more than a job. It made me happy to go to work and try to make a real difference despite the overwhelming odds.

Of course that doesn’t mean every day at work will be perfect. I will still lose focus. I’ll still argue with my husband over unimportant things. I’ll still be frustrated that I can’t do more or be more. But if HIMYM, has taught us anything this season, it’s that redemption is always possible with the right focus.

So, even though the “legendary” nature of How I Met Your Mother will most likely fade over time, I’d like to think that Ted’s transcending words will not:

“Love is the best thing we do.”

Thanks HIMYM, for getting it so right.

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Thanks, Mom

Another Monday morning. The rain patters on the windows of the teacher workroom. E-mails awaiting my response stare back at me from my inbox. A wrinkled, ungraded stack of papers towers next to my laptop.

My co-worker taps away on her keyboard. She pauses to look out the window and then shakes her head to help her refocus on her work.

“We need music,” she says, as she does on so many days.

Today is not like the other days, though. For today, she chooses Enya, and before I know it, “Caribbean Blue” fills the workspace.

Suddenly, I’m twenty-one again…

“Caribbean Blue” lilts throughout the house. A soft breeze follows suit through the open dining room windows. The air is warm and carries promises of summer. My mother sips her chardonnay in the kitchen and arranges plates on the tile counter. She’s nearly done cooking, just waiting for the bread to warm. The house smells of garlic and rosemary.

I sit in the kitchen with my own glass of wine, watching her work and talking about class that day.

Evenings spent like this are some of my fondest memories of my mother.

I was still in college, but I had moved home. Dinner every night was an event, and we started with wine or a martini as she began organizing ingredients.

She made cooking look like a dance. She floated from place to place, stirring and sautéing. Although she kept a trained eye on the pots and pans, she would look in my direction periodically, actively listening to my tales and sharing her own events from the day.

The kitchen was a safe haven. It’s as though the aroma of dinner, chilled wine, soft breeze, soothing music, and candlelight worked together to create a space in the day when everything else ceased to matter. It was in this space that she prepared dinner and mothered me. She shouldered my burdens and counseled my decisions. She built my confidence and braced me if I stumbled. She was my best friend and confidant. She made me feel complete, capable, loved, and safe. 

It’s been some time since my mother felt well enough to cook a full meal, and she stopped drinking long ago, when she began the chemo. Her life has changed drastically since her diagnosis and subsequent operations. Most days she says she’s lost herself completely. This breaks my heart every time.

But my healthy, vibrant mother still exists in these memories, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. They remind me of who I am and from where I have come. I would be a very different person without all of those pre-dinner conversations.

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Today, I asked my students to write a journal entry explaining whether they’d rather have loved and lost or never have loved at all.

Surprisingly, many of them chose never having loved at all in order to avoid heartache and pain.

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. They’re young, and they haven’t had a chance to experience the kind of love that transcends heartache, thereby making every resulting tear worth the memory.

You know…I can’t listen to Enya without tearing up. She takes me back to those evening reprieves every time.

So although those dinners are no more… I wouldn’t say they are lost. But they do keep me from losing myself.

Thanks, Mom.

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So Many are Broken

The words repeat over and over in my head:

They’re broken. So many are broken.

Tonight was the first time in my five years of teaching that I nearly cried while reading an essay. No, the tears were not the result of happiness over a student’s verbal precision. This was the deep heartache from a story that broke my shy, sensitive student into pieces and changed her life forever.

I have read essays reflecting on the loss of loved ones, on frustrations, on disappointments, on abandoned dreams, and lost goals. But this one was like no other, for this student’s innocence and appreciation for life were smashed by the hateful words of her peers.

runningMiddle school. A time when children are still so fragile, still trying to find themselves. And yet, in their own insecurity, kids lash out at one another in ways I cannot fathom.

They say unthinkable things about others’ appearances, clothing, and intelligence. But there is nothing that surpasses these particular words: “You should kill yourself; no one would miss you if you were gone.”

These soul-shattering words have actually been spoken to students I teach, beautiful, brilliant girls who make my classroom brighter every day just by their presence.

My heart hurts just thinking that such atrocities could be occurring in our society via social networking sites.

How can kids be so cruel?

The answer:

They’re broken. So many are broken.

This generation of youths has faced more adversity and despair than they can handle. So many have had their childhoods stolen from them because of cruelty, loss, or responsibility.

How could we let this happen?

It is our job to protect these innocents, to give them a chance to grow up in a world where they can believe in something other than heartache.

I have to force myself to breathe because I don’t know how to accept that so many of my students have faced this kind of destruction by the people closest to them.

I want to hug them and tell them it’s going to be okay. I want to protect them from ever having to feel such pain again.

They’re broken. So many are broken.

Alas, I cannot fix them. I cannot mend them and restore them to what they were before the world called them ugly and told them they were unworthy of living.

I can only love them as they are, convince them that they matter, and promise them that I believe in them.

But they need more than my love.

They need their peers to accept them.

They need their families to value them.

And they need society to embrace their individuality.

They’re broken, but they don’t have to be.

girl grasping sunBut I can’t do it alone. Please, please help me. It only takes a smile, a kind word, an open ear. It’s so little effort from us, but it changes everything for these kids.

And after reading that essay, I desperately want to change everything. We need to change everything.

They’re broken, but they don’t have to be.

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You Are Not Alone

No one’s life is perfect.

It’s a fairly obvious statement, and yet I seem to forget it often.

Just this weekend, I found myself in despair.

I guess it’s true what they say about the rosy façade put on by Facebook: it’s misleading. Everyone wants to share his/her positive life events, so inevitably, the occasional scroll might make it appear that everyone is blissfully happy and successful. Even though I post infrequently, I’m equally guilty for contributing to the endless stream of cheerful updates. It only seems appropriate to post when I have something positive to share, so by-and-large, my Facebook wall is filled with these misleading “date night” pictures.

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Oh, I’m not saying that my life isn’t happy; I mean to say that Facebook is a poor representation of one’s full life. For it rarely reveals the darker, anxiety-ridden moments experienced by everyone.

We all know deep down that everyone’s life is just as messy as ours. Sure, we might not see it, but there is always drama of one sort or another. For some it is financial; for others it is illness. Many struggle with conflicts ranging from family to occupation. Very few of us feel content with our accomplishments, and fewer of us are content with our physical appearance.

I know better, but it was just the right number of frustrations and anxieties that successfully caused me to spiral into that place of self-pity.

Crying. Despair. More crying. It wasn’t pretty.

But then my husband intervened. He commiserated with my woes, but then wisely proceeded to remind me that we were not alone in our struggles. We all have burdens to bear. We all struggle with insecurities and self-doubt. Illness and finances plague more people than we realize.

Our friends, our families…their lives are not only the sum of their Facebook walls. To think so would be short-sighted. For they hide their struggles from the world, just as we do, thereby making it easier to think that we alone have been dealt an unfair hand.

Of course, I felt foolish. But that was not his intent. I truly believe my reaction was normal. I know the intricacies of my own life, but I cannot possibly know all of the struggles others face.

Now, I’m making an effort to remember that no one has it perfect. That when I am at my lowest, I am not alone, nor am I the first to experience such an emotion. While this fact won’t lessen my pain or frustration, I believe it will ease away the resentment, and that is essential to developing a mindset to get me through those times that threaten to knock me down.

Of course, not twenty-four hours after this realization, I attended a pre-arranged teacher conference that just happened to be all about the importance of mindset, not only in the classroom but in our personal lives.

I hear you universe, loud and clear!

I’ve tried to refocus my attitude this week. Sure, this may be a trying time, and very few things are rosy and ideal, but I am incredibly fortunate to be loved and supported by my husband, friends, and family. And while focusing on the positive will never cancel out the negative, it definitely helps me get through the day and keeps me cognizant of the fact that others might not have that support.

I know for a fact that many of my students do not. So, while I can’t fix their problems, I can provide an ear, a shoulder, or a hug, so that they know they are not alone.

After this weekend, I can speak confidently from personal experience…sometimes the best message you can share is a simple one:

You are not alone.

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Part III: From Contentment to Entitlement

Up until now, I’ve been pretty positive about the philosophical shift evident in the Millennial Generation. But what if this shift away from life-consuming work hours and a need for financial success didn’t end with our generation?

What if it continued and evolved in the next generation—what do they call them—Generation Z, I think? In any case, what would the shift look like?

Well, after years of teaching, I can tell you that it looks a lot like entitlement. Our idea of being content with enough has morphed into a less wholesome connotation of doing barely enough to get by. Somehow, our generation’s contentment combined with the previous generation’s embrace of material possessions, and the end result was a generation of now teenagers who are convinced that they don’t have to work for anything; instead, it should be given to them because they exist and want it.

:: Insert my teacherly-look of complete disdain.::

You see, the craziest thing is that I’ve had a chance to watch this progression over the years. Don’t get me wrong, kids have always been somewhat lazy, but what scares me now is their expectation that someone will take care of them.

I’m pretty sure part of this logic comes from the newly-adopted stance that if a child fails, it is the teacher and/or school’s fault. As a result, there has been a push to pass students who clearly should be retained, thereby sending the message that they can’t fail, even if they do nothing. In an attempt to remain politically correct on this issue, I’m going to leave it at that for the time being.

Moving from one uncomfortable topic to another…I’d like to preface the next section of my post by acknowledging that I am not a conservative Republican, and I do value social welfare programs.

IMG_0112[1]That being said, one of my scariest days in the classroom happened last year. I was doing one of those silly ice breaker activities in the beginning of the school year in which the students identify short and long term goals. Oh, I had many students who wanted to be doctors or veterinarians, but I also had several students who wanted to get their GED, have several children, and live on welfare. And no, they weren’t kidding or going for shock value.

Of course, my response was a mixture of shock and feigned composure. So I asked one student why she had chosen this goal. Her response was that her mother was a single parent on welfare and was a great mother, so she didn’t see anything wrong with wanting the same life. I wish I could tell you that part of that was exaggerated, but I can’t.

Now, let me remind you that I embrace social welfare, and I absolutely do not think less of anyone who needs assistance. Yet, I cannot help but be concerned that of all the possibilities, single parenthood on welfare was a student’s life goal.

Yet, what could I possibly have said in response? How could I suggest that her mother’s life was not something to revere? Who am I to make that call?

There is something amiss here. Maybe we’re even somewhat to blame. When did we stop valuing hard work over mere participation? When did we start worrying more about immediate happiness and less about preparing the next generation for the future?

Honestly, I’m worried. Ask most members of Generation Z, and they’ll tell you that there is cause for concern. They have recognized the breakdown in our system. They realize that they can get by with doing the bare minimum. They know this won’t bring them immense wealth or success, but somehow they’ll have food, iPhones, and video games. According to most of them, that’s enough.