An Anniversary

Room 7, shortly before I turned in my keys. March 1, 2013

Yesterday, February 28th, was Rare Disease Day.

Today, March 1st, is the start of Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. It is also an anniversary for me. Ten years ago, March 1st, 2013, was my last day of teaching.

It’s a day with a lot of emotions for me, and the way I try to make sense of my emotions is by writing about them. 

Many of you, my dear readers, may not know that I am writing a memoir-in-essays about my experiences living with an invisible disability. One of my first essays is titled, “The Big Reveal,” and recounts the morning when my husband and I met with my rheumatologist. 

The appointment was set for early morning so I could make it to my fourth grade classroom before the school bell. I took this as a good sign. No doctor would deliver heartbreaking news and then expect me to go teach a roomful of nine and ten-year olds. Whatever he had to tell me couldn’t be that bad.
“That’s what I kept telling myself because that’s what I needed to believe.”

When my rheumatologist finally put a name to my symptoms — Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) — my husband and I felt it was the first time we could truly exhale. 

My rheumatologist said something else that morning, something that didn’t quite register at the time. 

It’s rare. No one will know what you’re talking about if you say you have UCTD. So, if you want to walk around and call it ‘The Kennar,’ you can.
“I chuckled. ‘I’ve always dared to be different, so I guess this fits.’
“But since then, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want a rare condition most people have never heard of. If I’m destined to live with a chronic medical condition, then I’d prefer it to be familiar; a disease doctors understand and know how to treat. Maybe even a disease with its own awareness month or magnetic ribbon I can attach to my car. I didn’t know it at the time, but different, at least when it comes to the world of medicine, isn’t always better.”

You might not see it on any calendar, but Strong Woman Day? 

That’s every day.

Still My Hands

(One of my most favorite bulletin boards. Just one student’s handprints wouldn’t have been nearly as spectacular. But working together, every student’s handprints creates a beautiful rainbow!)

I’m pleased to share that my essay “Still My Hands” has been published in Issue V of ang(st): the feminist body zine.

Here’s a snippet of my personal essay:

“My hands will never again staple and design a bulletin board display. My hands will never write-out desk name tags or “happy birthday” certificates. My hands will no longer grade weekly spelling tests. Those days are memories of another time of my life, another identity.”

You can click here to be re-directed to ang(st) and read the essay in its entirety.

Mister Rogers Taught Me

One of the first books my son and I read this year was Who Was Mister Rogers? We read it over the course of several nights at bedtime. Ryan didn’t know much about Mister Rogers. And, I think Mister Rogers only made his way onto Ryan’s radar because of the recent Tom Hanks movie. (We haven’t seen the movie, just the posters and billboards advertising it.)

Because Ryan is a big Tom Hanks fan, due to movies like Toy Story 1-4, Apollo 13, and the documentary film Magnificent Desolation, Ryan became curious to learn more about Mister Rogers.

I grew up watching Mister Rogers. But I didn’t realize what an impact Mister Rogers had on me until Ryan and I read this introductory biography. 

Now, I can acknowledge just how much of my teaching style was influenced by Mister Rogers. 

I always told my kids I loved them. (I referred to my students as “my kids”.)

I told my kids they were special. 

And each year, I acknowledged every student in my class with a customized achievement certificate. Because let’s be honest, not all kids are going to be strong mathematicians or excellent spellers. But every child has a special skill, quality, talent that deserves to be recognized. 

I recognized my kids for their neat penmanship, for reading aloud in a clear voice, for being a responsible line leader. 

As Ryan and I read, “Mister Rogers taught kids an important lesson, that everyone is special in their own way.” 


A Tribute to Teachers


Though I left my teaching career five years ago, there are still many aspects of teaching I really miss.  There’s a special sort of magic that happens when you connect with a child, and that’s why I still enjoy reading about teachers who love teaching.

Recently I read Phillip Done’s memoir Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind – Thoughts on Teacherhood, and I’d like to share with you some of the passages that stood out for me.

“What exactly is a teacher anyway?  A lot of different things.  Teachers are like puppeteers.  We keep the show in motion.  When we help children discover abilities that they don’t know they have, we are like talent scouts.  When we herd kids off the play structure at the end of recess, we are like shepherds.  Teachers are like farmers.  We sow the seeds – not too close together or they’ll talk too much.  We check on them every day and monitor their progress.  We think about our crop all the time.  When we see growth – we get excited.”

“Teachers are word warriors.  All day long we explain, correct, examine, define, recite, check, decipher, sound out, spell, clap, sing, clarify, write, and act out words.  We teach spelling words and history words and science words and geography words.  We teach describing words and compound words.  We teach synonyms and antonyms and homonyms, too.”

“Teachers try everything short of back handsprings to get their students to quiet down and pay attention.  We flick off the lights, clap patterns, hold up fingers and wait, change the level of our voices, count up to three, count down from five, set timers, brush wind chimes, shake shakers, bribe kids with free play, and seat the boys next to the girls.”

“I was in Teacher Mode.  It turns on automatically whenever children are near and goes into overdrive when it senses busy streets, mud, gum, or bloody noses.”

“Of course nothing has changed like technology.  A bug was something you brought in from recess to show the teacher.  A desktop was something you scraped dried Elmer’s glue off with your teacher scissors.  Hard drives were on Monday mornings.  Viruses kept you home from school.  And cursors were sent to the principal’s office.”

Now it’s your turn, dear readers.  Feel free to share any school memories or teacher anecdotes of your own in the comments section below.