Middle School & Being Present
And I designed you 5 new phone wallpapers for fall!
I often don’t write about moments of my life as a middle school teacher. But I have been one for 4 years now. Aside from the title of Connor’s wife, it’s probably been the most impactful and meaningful title I’ve ever held. Coincidentally — the titles go by the same name — Mrs. O’Brien.
When I share I teach middle school, people’s eyes sink as they mutter out some, “Oh you’re so brave” or “Oh I’m so sorry.” And when that’s their attitude, I want to laugh at them a bit. I don’t, and usually just shrug and say I like my job. I wonder what a 12-year-old must have done to hurt them or scare them. And then I wonder if they forgot that they were middle schoolers too.
My hours of the day as Mrs. O’Brien both feed and subtract my hours of design work. I am often tired and weary by the time of day I can sit to make my art. That’s been difficult. However, the inspiration from my day in a classroom has a significant impact on my work.
I never anticipated being a teacher, and I don’t know how long I will be. I learned (the really hard way) that life is better when I hold my hands open and do not tightly grip my own plans. I did that once, and then COVID, death, and loss all shattered my plans. Because I am attuned to the reality of giving this season my all while it lasts — the reward has been richness and depth and a new understanding of who I actually am. Probably more so than any adult, have middle schoolers taught me about me.
(I highly recommend spending time with adolescents before you forget what it was like to be one)
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I’ve always been nostalgic, I’ve always been a planner, and for most of my life, I have focused on everything except my present moment. Being a teacher thrusts me into the most present version of myself. It’s estimated teachers make 1,500 decisions a day. Sometimes after multiple classes in a row, I realize I haven’t had my own thoughts in hours. I like that kind of work. Most people I know do not (probably because it’s a little weird to like that), but immersing myself so deeply in the present has been a balm to the chronic anxiety I’ve had since I was 11.
The other day, a middle school boy ran into my room with panic in his voice and the look in his eyes that he was going to get in trouble. While working on a project, he accidentally splashed paint across the top of brand-new shoes his mom had gotten him.
I had an overwhelming pile of emails and a list of things to do - but that stuff just doesn’t really matter as much when kids are in front of you. And I just dropped it all and got a magic eraser. I stuck my hand in his Nike’s, still warm from his foot, and scrubbed. And he leaned over the table, silently with wide eyes, as we both watched the paint disappear. And then he lit up and thanked me profusely, shoving his shoe back on to make it to lunch.
For whatever reason, the painted sneaker brought to mind so much of what I’ve learned as a teacher.
What’s in front of me deserves more attention than whatever I’m anticipating next.
The more uncomfortable I feel (warm shoe, lol) when I’m loving someone, the better I am showing love.
People, especially children, have no idea what I have done for them or how I care about them — they just know how I make them feel when they are with me.
Sometimes scrubbing paint is better than giving a speech on how not to spill paint in the first place. Sometimes.
What an honor that the core of my adult self has been formed by the 12-year-olds who have known me in my early twenties.
Here are some fun fall phone wallpapers I designed for you:
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