breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Leading for a Legacy

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Today was the first official day back for teachers in my school district even though most of us have been back for some time.

My campus is still under fairly heavy construction. Some of the hallways and classroom are off limits. Thankfully, our students don’t start the 2017-2018 school year for another week and a half. By then, the construction in the classroom wings should be completed. *crosses fingers, throws salt over shoulder* The hallway my classroom is in is mostly finished, so I spent several hours yesterday and today arranging and rearranging.

We had a long, but really good, morning meeting with our new head principal. The principal who hired me took an offer to open a new campus within our district, and truthfully, I worried about who would replace her because my campus has a wonderful your family first, your health first “rule,” and the campus has a (mostly) positive culture. We really do care for everyone on our campus. I shouldn’t have worried, though. Our new principal is exactly what we need. He killed in our opening faculty meeting. I’m so excited about this school year and the goals he set for us and the campus.

Something he talked about in our opening meeting was the idea of legacy. What legacy do we leave at our campus? With our students? Their families? The community? What do we want our legacy to be as teachers?

I met with our new principal a couple of weeks ago just to introduce myself and to talk about the vision for our AP program since we are an AP Capstone campus, and as soon as I introduced myself and sat down, he leaned forward towards me and said, “I hear from everyone you are the real deal when it comes to teaching, like the real deal.” I laughed and thanked him, but when I left, I wondered, what does that mean?

Today, I got an idea of what he meant as he described what his idea of legacy is as educators, and I thought about the seventeen years I’ve spent in education and my legacy.

I’m proud to be a public school teacher. I’m a proud public school graduate. I’m a proud public state university graduate -I received my Bachelor of Arts in English and my Master of Educational Leadership from the same public state university. I received an excellent education through the public school system, and I believe I’ve provided thousands of students with an excellent year (or two) of reading and writing instruction through my English classes.

After the meeting, I went back to my classroom to finish going through a filing cabinet. In the first drawer were all the notes I’ve saved from students and their parents and my administrators. I stopped and read each of them. Some are fifteen and sixteen years old. Some are two months old.

As a teacher, the legacy I hope to leave behind is that of a teacher who challenged her students to do what they thought they couldn’t, a teacher who cared deeply about the students she encountered, a teacher who demanded her students respect themselves so they understood why it’s important to respect others, even when the last thing you want to do is be respectful, and of a teacher who helped her students realize they are writers, content creators, who write and create constantly living, little vignettes, of their lives with every sentence, paragraph, paper, text message, blog post, Tweet, Snap, photograph, and video.

But most importantly, I hope my legacy is of a teacher who tried every day to be the kind of teacher to my students that I want for my own children.

The teenagers who sit in my room are someone’s baby, someone’s whole world, just like my S and my AJ. Ultimately, S and AJ are my legacy to this world, but so are the students I teach. I want my legacy for my students to be that of “the real deal,” whatever that means to them.

I don’t know how long I have left on this Earth. I understand the limits of a human life. I’ve stared Death in the face. It came with the words, “You have breast cancer. Find an oncologist immediately.” Death stared back at me with the words, “It’s aggressive, but we can treat it.” I stared Death in the face with every drip of chemo, of Herceptin, of Perjeta into my veins, with every single hellish session of radiation, and in the recovery room after my bilateral mastectomy and after my oophorectomy.

Our nature is to fight death, to fear it, for death is the end if our physical existence on this mortal coil -but it is not our complete end. Our true end is dying without a legacy, whatever that legacy may be -memories, achievements, children, families, journals, pictures, stories.

My new head principal challenged all of us to lead our classrooms with legacy in mind.

Lead looking forward to a legacy. Live knowing you create a legacy.

That’s what lives forever, long after we return to dust.

That’s our forever existence.

 

 

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breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Living life

Last night I graduated with my master’s degree. I posted on Facebook that last night was a night that cancer didn’t get to win. And, it didn’t.

Yesterday, I felt normal. No side effects. No nothing. I went to work, taught my classes, laughed with my students, bowed to their applause when they remembered I was graduating later that night, and reminded them to be at the study session bright and early the next morning (today). When the moans and groans started, I reminded them that if I could get up and be at school by 7:00 am on a Saturday after being out at graduation late Friday night, so could they. And, to my surprise, all but about 10 of my students showed up this morning, bright and early, ready for six hours of intensive study sessions.

I know I’m not always going to feel as good as I did yesterday, or even as good as I feel today despite not sleeping much Friday night. But, it’s nice to have a few days where I feel normal and can be normal. It’s nice to have days where cancer doesn’t win. And, last night, cancer did not win. This morning, cancer did not win.

I worked my tail off for my master’s degree. The university I attended for my master’s has an intense program where students can complete the master’s program in as little as a year or the normal time frame of two years. I chose the one-year route, which meant I took two classes every eight weeks. The classes are the equivalent of the semester long course crammed into eight weeks. The professors do not lower expectations, decrease writing assignments and projects, or reduce reading assignments. It is a difficult program. I watched several classmates drop classes, and in some cases, drop the program. I began my last class the week I was diagnosed, and I called my adviser, panicked, because I didn’t think I could keep up with the last class while undergoing treatment. She talked me off the ledge and encouraged me to talk with my professor before dropping the class. If I dropped, I would not be able to take the class again until the summer session. As it was my last class, my adviser wanted me to try and finish. I wanted to try and finish. I’d worked too hard, but at that moment, having just been diagnosed and having no idea of what I faced, I doubted my ability to finish the program. My adviser suggested I take a few days, talk to my professor, and then call her with my decision. I took her advice, and I’m so glad I did. After emailing my professor and talking with her, I decided to try and finish the class. And, I did. I wrote my last paper while receiving my second chemo treatment, much to the amusement of my chemo nurse. I didn’t want to write the paper and complained the entire five and a half hours I wrote the paper and received chemo. It was worth it, though because it was the only obstacle standing between my degree and me. Now, I have my degree. Who knows if I’ll do more with it because right now, I love teaching, but at least now I have one life goal scratched off my list.

I walked across the stage last night and proudly accepted my master’s degree (well, the degree cover with the letter that states if I’ve met the qualifications for my degree, I’ll receive it in the mail within the next 8 weeks). I know I’ve met the qualifications, so now I wait for the mail. And, I know, no matter what happens in the future, last night, cancer did not win. Cancer did not stop me from achieving my master’s degree. And, cancer definitely did not stop me from participating in the commencement ceremony and celebrating with my family.

For one night, since this roller coaster began, I got to be normal