:: on hope and inner work ::

sun peeking through clouds

After my post yesterday on how my teaching job has changed over the years and how I changed and seemed to have lost my passion, I have been thinking a lot. I felt exhausted and did not know exactly why. Then it dawned on me: what I wrote yesterday was honest. For the first time I have been absolutely honest with myself, and searched for the reasons, the real reasons that made me a less motivated teacher.

The thing is: once you stop looking at the factors ‘outside’ of your own head and behavior (even though there are quite some), it becomes possible to change. When I believe people can change their behavior, and sometimes by that, change their inner convictions, my attitude towards school work can change too. When I believe, and I do, that teaching goes two ways and I can learn a lot from my students, it’s time to work on that. To recreate that openness and find ways to involve them the way they deserve, I need to be prepared. Better than ever. Only when I have my canvas laid out and sturdy, they can play and build on it, and, with their help, I can change patterns or even deconstruct some pieces as we all see fit, without losing myself somewhere in the process.

So it’s back to the drawing board for me. I have 2,5 months left in which I have more alone time than usual. I’m going to read until my eyes fall out. I’ve already asked my school for a digital newspaper subscription in the target language, so I can make decent course material. I’ll refresh what I have learned about language acquisition and I’ll try to read on immersion (because that is what I am going to do – immersion teaching. With one big challenge for me: the language in which I’ll teach is one I know thoroughly, I have the needed certificates too, but it’s not my mother tongue. I feel like that makes a lot of difference. An awful lot, especially since I’ll have some native speakers in my group).

The whole soulsearching thing also made another question pop: I need my home to be a safe haven. What does it take to make my home a safe haven, not only for me but also for my loved ones? If I am going to properly invest in teaching again soon, I’ll have to maintain that family time at home is sacred. Not only sacred though, but peaceful too. I have been quarreling with the kids a lot lately and it doesn’t do us justice. They are tired from school and I am tired of things not going like I had in mind (see a theme here? Things in my mind always are better than in reality. I need to see the beauty in the real again). We all lose temper. We all feel like home is not what it could be.

So I’ll work on that too. 10 weeks and a lifetime to go!

:: Grey day and reflections on work ::

rain drops and grey clouds

You know that feeling? On the verge of a great carrot peeling session, but wanting to write, telling your days, documenting and trying to grasp time before it inevitably flees. And after you finally made the decision: this morning I am going to write, you feel like you have nothing to say. Heck, you can’t even go outside to take some nice picture of what’s in my garden. Everything is grey. The flat kind of grey: no rays of light that illuminate the passing clouds. There is daylight but barely depth. A bit like how I feel right at the moment.

I am home. I have been looking forward to this, a repeat of the four months I took for my boy, but now with two kids in school. I can’t seem to find peace of mind though. Last June I was so glad it would be over for 6 months. I thoroughly enjoyed the supper holidays with my family. I decided to take September completely off and do nothing in preparation for school. And now… I feel like my job is whispering in my ears and I don’t want to hear it. I used to like taking my time to write course material and look for good articles and interesting topics. Now I’m tired just thinking about it.

My sister-in-law even suggested: maybe it’s time to find another school. Of something completely different altogether? The idea scares me. Being a teacher was the only future I really saw myself in. Right now, I just want to be home. I fill my days with reading and doing little things in the house. Trying to clear out the attic. Doing laundry. Cooking. Ironing when I feel like it, listening to an audiobook in French, to keep in touch with the language.

If I’m really honest, that’s what I want, what I’ve always wanted: books being the center of my life (along with my family of couse). They were my first true love. Building my days around reading and reflecting on what I’ve read. I used to find ways to combine that with being a teacher and it was the best. Lately I have the feeling I can not anymore: I don’t have the energy to read, let alone to implement what I’ve read in what I teach. Maybe that’s precisely where the passion was lost.

The last few years of teaching were heavy. Combining a family with small children with a fulltime teaching job was a lot harder than anticipated. I decided to declare my time at home sacred and try to avoid any school work there, or limit it to the absolute minimum. I managed, but I was a lesser teacher for it. Add my tendancy to procrastination: not the best combo. I always ended up overwhelmed with all the correction and prep work. I recycled (good) old parts of course materials without really updating. It worked, because it was good stuff to start with, but I never felt actually on top of things. I used the time at school and in between lessons not efficiently enough so I would get behind. A lot.

There are some other factors that make me doubt: the atmosphere at school was changing. We had over all more challenging groups of students. We had some good colleagues falling out and deciding to stop altogether. We had a few changes in the head master department. (The biggest one is one I have not actually ‘lived’ as it started in September). Things didn’t always change for the best. I felt pressured, along with many colleagues. My way of dealing with pressure? Stop trying to keep up at all. Not feeling good about it though. With three months of ‘no pressure’ paternal leave to go, I’m dead scared for that moment in January whan I return. That’s not a good place to be in.

I have still a few months left. I might find back some of my passion. At least enough to start with a smile and keen on making something out of it. If it gets worse, then there will have to be some heavy thinking and some tough decisions to be made. Getting this down on this little piece of the interwebs that I call mine helps in some way. The word is out, the challenge on.

And now I’m going to mindfully peel some carrots.

:: true colors ::

Today it was one of those days I was super stressed about. And in the end? Not needed. Not needed at all.

This morning, a glorious, sunshed morning, I was to take my students on a two-hour bike trip around town to show them how many different religions have their community center just around the corner. They were stunned. I was too (as it isn’t my town, and I did not have the chance to practice the trip before). It struck me: how far this city had come, once a rather smudgy reputation, now brilliant and very much happily alive in the morning sun. I saw on their faces what I was feeling inside: how we actually already manage quite well to live and be together without making much fuss about it.

Around noon I installed myself with a few boxes of sidewalk chalk on the playground, hoping I would not end up sitting there alone, with my colorful messages of peace and love. That does sound a bit sixties-like, I know, but it is part of a bigger regional campaign against hatred and polarization. I did not end up sitting alone. Only three minutes after I had started writing, a few students asked to join me. We enjoyed the warm sun, the bright colors, the feeling of being part of something. We might not have made a difference on world level (the big boys are still showing off), but right there, right then, it did make a difference.

Oh how I love joy and happiness and excitement. The big feelings of love and passion. But that simple experience of being just there, just then and that’s perfectly fine because well… just because. Contentment.

Gosh, I love my job.

Because the night

I have memories of my mother working in her home office at the strangest times when I was little. Sometimes I wondered if she maybe just slept at under her desk table. But now, I mostly wonder how she managed to get school work done with four children. And I know the answer: she survived on way too less sleep.

night owl early bird
When I went to bed at 21.30, she was there. When, an hour later, I just had to use the bathroom one last time (don’t get me started on trying to fall asleep with even the slightest possible hint of an idea that you have to pee), she still was there. If, for the same reasons, I got up really early – like 5 am: yes, lights in her office were on. And when I had to get up at 7am to get ready for school: oh yes – my mother was typing and grading and all that stuff.

My father is a teacher also, and he is a real night owl, but I don’t recall him doing that. He did a lot in our household (cooking, washing, cleaning, repairing, caring for the little ones,…), but probably my mother would have done still just that tad more. And, I think my mother is more of a perfectionist than my father is.

So here I am – teaching myself. I was prepared to do the same, but apparently I need my sleep more than she did (no that’s a lie: I make it more of a priority than she did). After a horrible year, working at 3 schools at the same time, having recurrent migraines and feeling as if every piece of me was failing me, it was my boss who told me to stop wanting to do it all. He’d encourage me to trust in the lessons I had on hand and sometimes come a bit less prepared.

I took his advice to heart. And since my son was born, I try to do as much as possible in the hours I am at school. Because I don’t want to give up my nights. I don’t care to get up at 5am each morning, to do some grading, to prepare all the stuff for everyone that day, then go to school at an early hour to drink my coffee with colleagues and start my day chatting and doing some prep work. But I try not to grade myself asleep. Even with my procrastination issues, it works fairly well.

That makes me an early bird then. My poor night-owl of a husband.



This post was written in response to the wordpress daily prompt Because the Night

Confessions of a teacher

I did not plan to not have a post ready for today. But my preparation work for school yesterday night took, of course, way more time than I had anticipated, even if most of the material was already written and it only needed a few tweaks.

teacher confession thrive


And while I was looking for the right image, playing around with the layout of my course materials, examining ways to share content with my students, I felt wat I have always felt doing all of this: I am born for this job.

As long as I can start with a relatively clean slate, and not have to work through mountains of procrastinated tasks like grading of giving extensive feedback… there is nothing in this world I’d rather do for a living than this. I like the preparation work, that’s my need for creativity and in-depth study of a subject that comes along. The challenge of coming up with new ways or just shaving the rough edges to create a tried-and-true lesson plan – it works for me.

Sometimes the teaching itself is disappointing, but then again: it answers to other parts of my personality. The classroom is my natural habitat. I can be nervous in front of new groups, or groups that I have a difficult relationship with, but once I have the opportunity to pass on what I absolutely want to pass on – nothing can stop me. I love how good questions challenge me. I love how funny situations create an atmosphere of trust and cosiness. I love how sometimes I can convince one of them to just sit it out and discover ancient texts for what they really are. I love the discussions about subjects I don’t know nearly enough about and how they encourage me to keep my eyes and hearts open.

I can honestly say: most of the times, I thrive as a teacher because of my students. And while I’m a bit sad that my parental leave is over, I know for sure that I will love going back to that other place where I belong: in front of a class.

Thou shalt not judge

There was a knock on the door of the Teachers’ room. I sighed. I had just started grading and I was hoping to finish a certain amount of work before heading home. But hey, I was there, so I opened the door. One of my students, that actually missed my exam that morning, was in tears, asking for a colleague that had already gone home. When I told her that, she broke down completely and as I was the only one available, she shared her story with me. I was lost for words after that.

Last year she finally freed herself of an abusive relationship. Supported by her parents, intensely followed by a psychologist and with a few months of mental recovery at a specialized centre for young people in her case, she managed to get herself back together, trying to claim back her life and self-esteem. She came a long way. All was well and she was in a new relationship for quite some time now, with a boy that was in my class last year. A caring, gentle young man.

Her ex had managed to contact him though and now she was receiving horrifying messages from that sweet boy. She didn’t recognize him at all, was so disappointed that her ex once again had managed to slip into her life, trying to ruin everything she fought for.

The mascara was making her look like a panda at that moment and my heart was aching and I felt naive and completely unable to say anything useful. This girl, whom I didn’t think much of first, was hiding a battle that no woman should ever have to fight. She opened up to me, because she knew she had to tell and I was the only one there. I am one of her actual teachers, didn’t know a thing about her life, and still she found the courage to tell her story, knowing that she could not take back her words and I would keep knowing it until the moment she leaves school (and ever after).

I admired her while my heart broke for her. I encouraged her to call her parents and psychologist, to surround herself with people that actually loved her, as in a warm bath. She left, smiling, and thanking me for my time. I returned to my desk, feeling like I didn’t have a clue and being very very upset about the fact that people actually have to deal with this kind of situation, at such a young age even.

And it learned me, once again, I shouldn’t judge. Ever.


Linking up with Titus2Tuesday

Three attitudes that will make you the best teacher ever.

Standing in front of a new group is always in some ways nerve-wracking. But as a teacher you have no choice but finding a way to cope with that. Here are some tricks that have helped me a lot.



  • Decide to like your students. To love them even. Sometimes it’s as simple as that decision you make in those very first minutes you meet them. They’re your pupils now. You’ll be with them for the year to come. There will be struggles and maybe in some groups things won’t turn out as expected, but that simple decision, that conscious act, may just make your year.


  • Learn to laugh. You don’t have to accept everything but sometimes you simply have to admit their less polite remarks are funny. Why wouldn’t you laugh if you think it’s funny? Often a drop of humor can alleviate a tense or awkward situation. Besides, laughing makes you human. From time to time it’s good to remind your students that you’re human too. They’re inclined to think that your bed is somewhere beneath the desk and cannot even imagine you might have a life outside of school (hence the complete surprise when they discover you go to the same supermarket as they do).


  • Be yourself. It may sound incredibly cliché, but it’s the best advice you’ll ever be given as a teacher. It can be daunting to compare yourself with colleagues. Don’t. There are as many teachings styles as there are teachers. Know that it’s a good thing for students to have different teachers, your unique way of handling course material might be exactly the way that’s perfect for them.


Behind the scenes: first teacher meeting of the year

  • There’s a ridiculous amount of kisses, most of which I manage to escape.


  • Coffee! I never drink coffee at home, but entering the school building calls for coffee. Endless liters of the brown stuff are consumed here on a daily basis. If you’re not a huge coffee fan, you’ll become it once you’re a teacher. Many of my colleagues learned to drink coffee in the teachers’ room and I joined their ranks.


  • The meeting starts at 9am. Five minutes before everybody starts to climb the stairs and the chairs are filled with teachers, starting with the last row. We’re not that different from our students for that matter.


  • The first ten minutes, everybody listens carefully. More or less. The next three hours, not really. There’s a lot of whispering, texting, writing grocery lists. I confess guilty for that last one.


  • When the end is near (finally), there’s a lot of moving, peeking at each other. Now will finally come what we are waiting for. The meeting is over and with danger to our lives, we try to suffocate the guy that holds the schedules to get hold on ours.


  • Once we managed to grab it, we run downstairs. And I mean run. Apparently the birthday people of August brought cakes. Like a hoard of hyenas we devour them, almost no chewing involved. We make a big mess of the recently cleaned teachers’ room.


When I arrived home, there was already a different schedule in my mailbox.

Yes, we’re officially ready for September 1st.


Being a Teacher and the Tough Decisions that come with it

As these are the last days of the school year, teachers meet up for long hours to discuss the exam outcomes of their students. I am one of those and each year I am getting more and more aware of the fact that we sometimes make decisions that affect the whole life of a student.

It makes the decision making process hard. When someone gets  good results on his exams, it’s nice and lovely and everybody is happy and the discussion might go along the lines of “would a curriculum with extra math be a good option for this kid?”. But sometimes I feel like I have to choose between the cholera and the pest. Like for the boy who’s 21 years old and did not do well on his finals. People of his age are sometimes already halfway their university time. It’s a good guy, we all feel that way. But he was in a class with people way smarter than he, in a curriculum that was way too hard for him and where he shouldn’t have been in in the first place, and the atmosphere in his class was not really one of studying or learning, more of making fun and giving teachers (like me) a hard time. His friends did well enough to pass. He didn’t. In some way he has created an impossible situation for himself during the year. He didn’t make his assignments or handed them in way too late, he didn’t study enough for tests, he didn’t ask for help, or didn’t put any effort in it. And then there was the outcome of his final exams, that weren’t good enough to let him pass and giving him a diploma. Long and hard discussions followed. We all felt that on the one hand we couldn’t just let him have it. It might have been an option, considering his age, if he had shown at least some motivation during the year. But he didn’t. He did study well now, but the gaps were too huge. On my exam, he left with the feeling he had done sufficiently to turn the tide for my course. He didn’t. I feel for the guy, but what he was telling me as an answer to the questions I asked, was a bunch of complete nonsense. The more I asked, to try him get to the right point, the more he ran away from it, making it even worse. Many of my colleagues had the same experience.

In my opinion the decision we had to make was this: are we taking ourselves, as teachers, as educators seriously enough to not hand out a diploma out of pity, being very well aware of the fact that the boy didn’t meet the goals he should have met to make a discussion even possible? Or are we giving this guy the chance to start over, with the ‘right paper’ needed to start something he might be successful in? (And that would be after another wasted year as the kid made up his mind to go to university, to be a doctor or an engineer, as his father and grandfather before… while the thing that makes him the happiest is being outside, working in the garden, doing outside work with good tools…)

It came to a vote. It was ex aequo, which means the president of the meeting (aka the principle) got an extra vote, which he used to let the boy pass. In my opinion it was the only option that gave the boy a chance in life to create something that could be finally a success. So even if it was with a heavy professional heart, I had voted the same way. We work with people. Living beings, with hopes, dreams and a future. It might not be the best example for others who are in the same situation (as the guy hadn’t given it his best shot during the year). But in this particular case, I didn’t feel we could put him down even more just to set an example.

It was hard.

So when yesterday the principle of the younger students prayed before the meeting we had, I close my eyes and prayed along, and meant every word I said. Because the decisions we would make here could prevent a situation like the one of the guy mentioned above. It are decisions that have to be made with strength, wisdom and compassion.  Exactly how I imagine the God of whom I speak to my students to be. And exactly the way I hope to be as a teacher…





How to grade exams in 6 easy steps

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. But I have a plan of attack. Don’t I always.



  • Step one: empty your desk. You’ll need a place to put your pens and paper. Decide to clean it. Heck, you can as well clean the house while you’re at it. It’s hard not to deliver messy work in a messy house.


  • Step two: check your email. Somebody might have decided to cancel your subject. It would be a pity to put all that effort in grading exams if they’re not gonna count. Ignore the fact that there’s zero minus one chance that’s ever going to happen. You can’t be sure enough on that matter.


  • Step three: now you’re online, check Pinterest. Look for tidied desks and organized paperwork. Create a board with al the things you’re going to implement next year to be super efficient.


  • Step four: find an interesting quote about how hard it is to be a teacher. Post it on Facebook, wait for the sympathy and the likes of your colleagues and the cynical reactions of those who only see the summer holiday spreading out in front of you. Watch how the fight develops. Ponder how cliche this all is.


  • Step five: start your grading work. Notice you’re in desperate need for a snack. Run downstairs, discover you ate your last bag of crisps yesterday, open the fridge, find nothing. Settle for a handful of nuts you don’t like but be proud of yourself to have chosen a healthy snack. Make a grocery list. Put three bags of crisps on it.


  • Step six: repeat from step two.



Linking up with:

Natasha @ Say G’day Saturday