• Inspirational Thoughts

    Self-Perception: Your grass becomes greener when you water it!

    By Rio Clemente and Kelly Reid


    I have spent a large portion of my adult life hearing the following two questions: “Are you related to Rio Clemente the piano player?” usually followed up by “Do you play?”. These are questions that I have heard so many times in my life that a colleague actually had a shirt made for me that says, “My name is Rio Clemente…Yes, I am…No, I don’t.” It wouldn’t matter where I was. I could be at school, at the doctors office, literally anywhere and it would happen. It is very hard to form your own identity when you feel that you are living in someone else’s shadow.

    The infamous

    I decided that I needed to get out of my father’s shadow and be my own person. It was through my job that I would attempt to validate my existence. I began working long hours making lessons, doing extra things at school, and going above and beyond whenever possible. Over time, I felt like I was beginning to be my own person. However, it would only take one person to say “are you…” and I would feel defeated again. It is not to say that I am not proud of my father’s accomplishments. I am. He has played at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and even the White House. I still needed to find my own identity.

    My dad playing at the White House
    My dad and I after a performance at the Birdland in NYC

    It didn’t matter that we did not have the same profession, it mattered that I was only known as his son and not my own person. I decided more had to be done. I was not working hard enough, I was not trying hard enough, I was not going above and beyond enough. It was getting to the point where It was affecting my health and the relations with my family. I was always saying things like “I have to work”, “You can go without me”, or “I’ll be up in a minute.” The minute would usually translate into hours.

    My amazing mother

    During the 2008-2009 school year, I was fortunate enough to be named my school’s teacher of the year. I felt that maybe then I would be happy. I mean who wouldn’t be? It was a very happy moment in my life, however, it was connected to a very sad moment in my life. In May of that same school year, my mother passed away at the age of 67. My mother was someone who always made the point to tell not only me, but my sisters how proud she was of us. She was one of the people I could always count on to make me feel better. She was someone who I believe was always trying to do things to prove her own self-worth. It is not a surprise why I am the way that I am. When she passed, my daughter was only one year’s old. My hope was to tell her how proud I am of her so she would not have to feel how I felt most of my life. Even with all of my attempts, even my own kids at times struggle with self-perception. Then again, how do I help my own kids with their self-perceptions when I struggle with my own.

    A couple of years ago it finally hit me. I should not care if people compare me to my father. I should not feel the need to prove to people that I have value. I should be able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person that I have become. I should be proud of my efforts and everything that I have achieved in my professional and personal life. I had to stop trying to constantly prove to people that I was a good teacher, I was a good person, I was someone who had value. I was someone who wanted to help others not because I needed to prove something, but because I loved it.

    OBX: 2008 (Last Vacation Together)

    Wanting to help others is something that I have always loved doing. That was instilled in me by mother. She always wanted to help others. Making others feel better is something that I have always tried to do. The one person I still wanted to be proud of me was my mother. Of course, that was not a possibility. The last time I spoke to her, she was in the hospital with pneumonia. I told her I had some graduate work to do but I would be back in two days. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. Her death hit me very hard. It just made me want to work even harder, however, I knew I had to take time for myself and my family. I knew I had to be able to look into the mirror and tell myself that I was doing enough and that I should be proud of what I have done. I had to stop perceiving myself in such a negative way. Luckily I have the support of so many amazing colleagues and friends to pick up my spirits. Life would not be the same without them. They have no idea what they do. Some live close and some live far. Some see you in the hall and give you a word of encouragement and some send you a funny picture about the weather. That is why it is so important to be kind because you never know whose life you can change for the better.

    Pictures of my amazing colleagues from school and Responsive Classroom

    Now that I was beginning to understand how to manage my own self-perception, I wanted to focus my efforts on my students. What if I have students who are battling with getting out of someone else’s shadow? What if I have students who look in the mirror and they do not like what they see? What if my students looked in the mirror and feel that everyone around them doesn’t like how they are? I wanted to make a difference in their lives and I knew this was my chance.

    I began planning an advisory lesson focused around self perception. An advisory lesson is one that either supports academic readiness or social emotional learning. The goal of of this lesson was for kids to talk about the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side.” I wanted to find out if they think everyone else’s life is better than theirs. I also wanted to know what they see when they look in the mirror.

    The first year I did this activity, I had the kids fill out a piece of paper that said I perceive myself as…Others perceive me as…I want to be perceived as. It was a work in progress as far as the lesson went, but their responses shocked me. In the words of my amazing colleague Noelle, I was “SHOOK!” Kids were writing statements like I perceive myself as fat, stupid, ugly, useless, friendless, unathletic, someone with no friends, awkward, stressed, etc. How could these kids who were in a classroom where they were cared for and respected feel so negatively about themselves? Then again, when I looked in the mirror for many years, I felt a lot of negative thoughts about myself. Not only was my glass not 1/2 full, it was empty and broken.

    My and my buddy J.Swaim

    Getting back to their comments; I began to think…maybe it was a bad year? Maybe this is not the norm. Maybe this group was writing what they thought I wanted to hear. I did the same lesson for the next two years, except this time I taught it with a colleague. One year J. Swaim and I taught it and one year K. Reid and I taught it. The results for the most part were similar. Some kids have a very low image of themselves. One class was one of my all time happiest classes and those kids broke my heart when they were talking about how negatively they look at themselves. If these kids were feeling this way, I could only imagine how some of my other students felt.

    I do not have the answers to why kids feel this way. I do not know if it is because they see kids posting pictures on Instagram and Snapchat and they look like their lives are so perfect. I know adults to do this. How many times have you seen a picture on Facebook and think how wonderful everyone else’s life is and you might feel like your own life is falling apart.

    One strategy that I have tried to instill into my students is to be openly communicative with someone. Tell someone how you are feeling. Find that one person who might be wiling to pick up your spirits. I am very grateful for the people I have had in my life who when I was feeling down, they were there to pick me up. Sometimes it was my parents, sometimes it was sisters, sometimes my friends, and sometimes my colleagues. It has even been my students. Everyday has its challenges. There are days when you do not want to get out of bed. You might think what is the point? The point is that you matter and the people around you need you. You have no idea the impact you might have on another person. You might be the one that fills another person’s cup and you do not even realize you are doing it. Two people who are always filling other people’s cups are S. Suydam and A. Hodgson. Both are constantly checking in and seeing how I am doing, how their colleagues are doing, and how the kids are doing.

    S. Suydam and A. Hodgson supporting past and present students at a football game.

    Someone who has always filled my cup is K. Reid. I asked her to co-write this blog entry with me and she is going to share some strategies that she uses to help with self-perception.


    How people perceive themselves is usually different than how others perceive them. We know how we want to be perceived and work toward that but it isn’t always easy. To me, being an identical twin, self-perception has always been challenging. I love my sister and she truly is my best friend but always being compared to someone else has been hard.  Who was the prettier twin? Who was the smarter twin? Who was more athletic? Funny? Caring? I could go on and on. My parents never tried to compare us but how could they not? Everything was a competition.  When it came to sports, who was the better pitcher in softball or who could do a better toe touch for cheerleading. When it came to school, a big one was who got the higher score on their SAT’s, which we got the same score in the end ironically.  When we graduated from high school; our GPA was a tenth away from each other.  When it came to college, we didn’t want to go to school without each other but that brought more challenges. We both had the same major, same classes, same job on campus, and same sorority. Ok you get the idea. It was hard because we had the same interests and similar goals so often that put us into situations where we were together. Even though we work really well together, everything was a competition. I have worked my entire life to feel like I am good enough in comparison to someone else. We both are teachers and not surprisingly teach the same subject, science.  Although I feel like I was competitive with my sister, I do feel that it made me question what I was doing, work hard, and become a better person.

    I feel like I was so used to comparing myself to my sister that I often compare myself to others. I try not to but it isn’t easy.  Even now, I feel like I compare myself to my peers, what could I do more of or am I doing enough? Am I a good teacher, a good mom, a good daughter, a good wife? I feel like once I start thinking about what else has to be done for school, around the house, or for my daughter, I’m exhausted from constantly going and stressing about what is next. At a time of high anxiety, I try to stop and take a deep breath.  

    I have always been an anxious person but right now there is a lot of negativity going on around us. It can be so easy to get sucked in it and go down that path of anger and frustration. Everyone is being stretched to the limits and it isn’t easy to stay positive. I have felt myself getting anxious to a point of chest pain.  I also realized that it has affected my life with my family. The stress makes me angry and have short temper with my family. I have realized that this has to stop. I have always tried very hard to be positive. On my phone’s home screen I posted the saying “Train your mind to see the good in everything. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”  I feel like I don’t focus on that as much as I should but it is my reminder to slow down.

    When I feel myself going down the negative, anxious path, as I said, I take a deep breath. I also recite affirmations that I have written. I created a list of positive words about myself. They are my reminders that I will get through that anxious moment. They are sayings like, I will get through this, I am happy and positive, I am healthy and relaxed, and everything is working out and many more. When repeating this, I am thinking or saying those positive messages and I feel my heart rate instantly slow down.  I am changing my mindset. Those small reminders help me to remember that I have been in difficult times before and I got through it then so I will get through it now. An amazing author who focuses on the positive mindset is Louise Hay. She passed away in 2017 but her books on how to think positive have helped me create my own list of positive affirmations. I have them listed on my phone and go through them to help me keep that positive mindset.

    Due to this idea of the power of words and its impact on your body and in your life, R. Clemente and I created an advisory on the power of words. Students looked at statements and had to think about how they would feel if someone said that statement to them. Statements ranged from “You are an idiot” to “Thanks for the advice. It was helpful!” Students discussed how they felt when those statements were said to them but also how it would feel if someone close to them said them. It was a good discussion on the power of words and their impacts on people. We also talked about the health impacts of a negative mindset and determined ways to be more positive in our lives. Students shared great ideas for how they can be more positive. I hope that I helped them to realize how important a positive mindset is. I know I struggle with being positive everyday but hope that the advisory helped our students to light a spark to be more positive their own lives.


    Mirror Mirror

    Looking in the mirror and having a negative self image is something that I have struggled with most of my life. My father recently told me that as his star fades, my star is shining brighter. I know my father is proud of me and I know my mom was proud of me. Even so, I cannot let that run my life. I know people deal with their own self perception issues. Some think everyone has it better than them. Some think that they are not as good as everyone else. Some might even think that they are not doing enough. The reality is the grass becomes greener when you water it. Sometimes you need to look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are doing a good job and that you have value. With the help of my family, friends, and colleagues, I am able to start seeing the good in the mirror. The question is, when you look in the mirror, what do you see?

    K. Reid & R. Clemente

  • Life Lessons

    Point me in the right direction!

    Welcome to the danger zone!

    Imagine that feeling of waking up in a very good mood. You go downstairs to take the dog out and the weather is just perfect. You take a deep breath of fresh air and you think life is pretty darn good. You then walk into the kitchen and you make an amazing cup of coffee. The day could not get any better. You walk upstairs to wake up your child and when you open the door, you get this feeling like you were just smacked in the face by a brick. Why is that? Your kid’s room is a total and complete disaster. I realize that that in itself my not be shocking. What’s shocking is only a day or two earlier, the room was perfectly clean.

    Unfortunately, this scenario happens a little too often in our house. It was only after the last room disaster did I become inspired to write this piece. When I asked my daughter to clean her room, it was clear that it was causing her stress because she felt very overwhelmed. She did not know where to begin. You get the classic “I can’t do it!”, “It’s too hard!”, and “I don’t know where to start!” When these beauties get spilled from her mouth, I always wonder if it is because she really feels this way or she just wants help? Maybe it does not matter. As a teacher, I tell kids all of the time if they feel overwhelmed that they should ask for help. Yet, I find myself telling my kids just to get it done. It was time to reconsider my position.

    So I began thinking about how this must have played out. How did a room that was totally clean become like this? It did not happen immediately. I am sure a few things were left on the floor and she thought it was no big deal. It is only a couple of things, I can do it tomorrow. Then maybe she decided to do something with her sister and the mess got bigger. I am sure she thought it was no big deal because her sister would help her clean it up. Next thing you know she was probably asking herself if she knew where the floor was because she could not see it. At this point, it was serious. She knew this was something that could not be done quickly. So this is when she usually starts to panic and starts to stuff her stuff under her bed or in the closet or in a trunk. It is that out of sight…out of mind mentality. The problem with this is that it always gets found. I always look under the bed. I always look in the closet or the trunk. It comes back to the simple question; Why do we let things get like this? Why do we allow ourselves to get so overwhelmed without asking for help?

    Being overwhelmed looks different for kids/students then it does for adults. For a student, it might look like a kid not asking for help on their assignments because in and of itself, they are not that hard. However, when those assignments start to pile up, some kids might avoid the work because they do not know where to begin. They might lie to their parents and say that they did the work in the hopes that their parents will not find out. Just like my daughter would hide her stuff under the bed in the hopes that I would not find out.

    Kids and parents can both feel frustration

    Kids who become overwhelmed at school might start saying things at home like, “I’m stupid!”, “I can’t do it!”, “It’s too hard!”, and “I don’t know where to begin!” Sound familiar? Kids might also become avoiders. What do I mean by this? Kids may begin to spend more and more time in their rooms. Parents might think that they are up in their rooms working hard on their school work. However, there is a chance that they are up in their rooms either avoiding the work or they are stressing out over how much they have to do.

    As a parent, this can be either very frustrating or very upsetting. It can be frustrating because you know the work is not hard and yet our children at times will avoid it to the point that it is overwhelming. We just cannot understand why they do this. However, I think many of us do this but some of us are better at pulling it together at the last second.

    As a teacher, I have collected assignments and thought to myself that I have plenty of time to grade them. I have an entire week off from school. It is only Friday and I have nine more days. Next thing you know it is Monday because we had a fun weekend hanging out with friends. Not a big deal because I still have plenty of time left. Now it is Sunday morning and I have over 100 assignments to grade. It officially becomes, “This is not a drill…this is not a drill”. I usually get the grading done, but not until I have a few moments of panic, anger, and frustration. I find that I get snappy at the people around me because I am super stressed about the work. It clearly was not my family’s fault that I waited so long. Unfortunately for them, I would take my frustrations out on them even though I was the one who let things get this far. The point here is your kids might lash out at you, but it is not you that they are mad at. For many kids, it is just their way of dealing with a bad situation. As an adult, I know I have the ability to pull it together. As a kid, I know for a fact, I did not and many of our students or our children do not and that is where we come in.

    Before giving some tips to help them, think of this final scenario. If you have ever been on a plane, before takeoff, the flight attendants show you how to buckle your seatbelt, use your seat at a flotation device as well as how to use the oxygen masks. The latter is what is important in this scenario. If you are traveling with a young kid, they always tell you to be sure to put your mask on first and then help your child.

    The more I thought about this scenario, the more it hit home. Sometimes as a teacher and a parent and even a friend, I find that I try to put everyone’s mask on first and by the time I get to my mask, I either do not have the energy to put it on or it’s broken. Why do I say this? When we are dealing with kids who are stressed, overwhelmed, or on the verge of a code red meltdown, it is important that we get ourselves in the right frame of mind first.

    If we get angry and start yelling at our kids for letting the work get so backed up, I can assure you that it will not help them get started. When we are calm, they are calm. We also want to be as empathetic as possible. I feel like we have all let things get to this point at one time in our lives. I am 100% positive that they do not want to feel this way. I can also say that they did not let their work back up because they wanted to upset us. We need to be patient. If our students or our own children become overwhelmed and we yell at them for not asking for help, why are they going to come to us if our first response is one of anger and not one of support. Even saying something as simple as I understand that you are upset and overwhelmed right now helps. We will work out a strategy to help you, however, in future, you need to come to me sooner so this will not happen again. It comes across a lot better than saying, “You know what your problem is?” Even though we may be supportive and positive towards our children/students, we all know that it will happen again, but we want our students and kids to know that we will still be supportive even if it happens again.

    So I talked to my sister who has six children. My feeling is anyone who can raise six kids must have some insights on how to help them when they are feeling overwhelmed. Her children range in ages from 15 to 26. They have all different interests as well. One is a trained chef, one wants to save the world, and one is on his way to have a PhD in physics. Her other children are future novelists and who knows what else. So when I need advice on how to respond to kids when they are overwhelmed, she is a good resource.

    Putting things in perspective

    Her advice is be quick to listen and slow to speak. If we are doing all of the talking then our kids are never going to feel heard. She also suggested that sometimes our kids just need a hug and to know that things will be okay. Sometimes the parent is the one who needs the hug. Maybe we need to take a moment and step away so we can calm ourselves before we deal with the situation. If your kids room is a mess or their workload from school is a mess, then she suggests maybe stepping away from the environment and having a nice calm conversation over a cup of hot chocolate. She is a believer in empathy. Children’s confidence in knowing they are well loved gives them the courage to face tough conversations in a constructive way. Of course, being empathetic does not mean to allow the behavior. It means that you understand the behavior, but our kids still need to be held accountable.

    If you are a teacher, you cannot just leave the room, have a hot chocolate, or hug your students. What you can do is take a moment and take a deep breath. Take a moment and listen to what your student has to say. Some kids never get a chance to talk or have someone listen to what they have to say. Think about how we like to vent sometimes to our colleagues and friends. We may not come up with the perfect solution at the moment, but it feels good to let it out.

    I watched this amazing YouTube video on understanding empathy by Simon Sinek. He said something that really stuck with me. He talks about how there are two things that great leaders have; empathy and perspective. He talks about what it means to be a good leader. He said, “Being a good leader is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in our charge” (Aug, 2017). As a teacher, think about how powerful the words “Are you okay?” are to a child? I have found that by showing compassion towards my students, they are more likely to try and do the right thing. The link to this video is below. It’s an interesting view about leadership and empathy.

    One other piece of advice that I will give is based on what my daughter said when I went into her disaster zone. She said, “Can you just give me direction on where to start?” That is all our kids need and want. They just need a little direction until the time comes when they can do it on their own.

    It might not be immediately, but sooner or later it will click. When they complete a task on their own, there is such a feeling of accomplishment.

    Having a feeling of being overwhelmed is not one that will necessarily go away. Having a feeling that things can be done with a little help and a little guidance is one that we hope will never go away. Being a teacher or being a parent is not an easy job. Just know that everything we do in both positions is being watched by the people in our care. Do we want to model a community of empathy and understanding or do we want to model a community of anger and frustration? The choice is ours.

    “Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to an undeniable breakthrough.” -Unknown

    Here is a link to that video by Simon Sinek: (Understanding Empathy) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi86Nr9Mdms

  • Inspirational Thoughts

    SEL to the Rescue

    My name is Rio Clemente and I work at a middle school in New Jersey.  September 2020 will be the start of my 20th year teaching social studies to sixth grade students.  I have been a consulting teacher for The Center for Responsive Schools for the last five years.  With a lot of teaching experience and professional development under my belt, September 2020 is going to a year where I am going to need every bit of it. 

    The summer of 2020 was not your typical summer.  I spent most my summer stressing about whether I would be teaching virtually or in person.  Most nights I had trouble sleeping.  When the decision came that we would be teaching in person, my stress levels increased drastically. I also began to think about my future students.  How must they be feeling?  Are they nervous?  Are they scared?  Are they excited?

    When I was given my schedule, I was unsure how I was going to run my classes.  I would see kids in person based on what their last names are.  For example, A-L would be in person while M-Z would be virtual and then it would swap the next day.  Regardless of the day, the 100% virtual kids would be home.  I was tasked with teaching the in-person kids and the virtual kids at the same time.  This is no easy task.  Which led me back to my previous question.  How must the kids be feeling?  It was then that things finally came into focus.  I knew I was going to have to take time and focus on social emotional learning (SEL).    After speaking to my colleagues Kelly Pickul, Noelle Cocca, and Gary Brady, they were on board.  All of them are strong believers in teaching the whole child.  We make a great team.

    As a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher, not being able to do the type of things that I was trained to do was not easy to accept.  However, I knew that making connections with kids was still a possibility and it was something that I needed to make a priority in my teaching.  I knew that if given the time, I could still make a difference.  I began plans to run 50-minute Responsive Advisory Meetings (RAM) during my afternoon classes.  This was the time chosen because everyone would be virtual, and I could my student’s faces.

    For the past few weeks, I have run advisory lessons starting with teambuilding using the last person standing activity.  This is where kids tell me something that they think most kids in their class have in common, something maybe a few kids have in common, and one thing that is unique to them.  This activity gave me some great insight to my students.  Whether it was learning that one of my students is a nationally ranked wrester or that some can speak multiple languages, or some have lived in a variety of states and countries. After our first advisory, I could not wait for the next one.

    The next advisory lesson was on effort and its impact on success.  For this advisory, I used Padlet so kids could be honest with their answers and stay anonymous.  I then used Microsoft Forms to gather some closure data.  I gained some interesting feedback from the kids.  Some kids said they do not think their parents, teachers, and friends notice their effort.  One went on to say, “I put my effort into my phone because nobody notices my effort.”  I knew I had to try to use my reinforcing teacher language to let my students know I noticed their effort.  If kids feel that their effort is not noticed, many give up and in the current situation we are living in right now, giving up seems easier for kids if they feel they can hide by just muting their microphone and turning off their camera. After seeing such heartbreaking comments, I knew we had to keep going.

    My colleague Kelly Reid (Science Teacher) followed up our lesson with her own RAM on how create a success plan.  Mrs. Reid as a teacher has a tremendous amount of empathy for her students.  Just like me, Mrs. Reid is feeling the pressures of teaching in this environment.  However, this has not stopped her from meeting the needs of her students on an emotional and personal level.  Being able to work with someone who has the same belief system as you is a gift. 

    When we shifted our focus from effort to leadership, it was at this point that I noticed a change in my students.  I could see they were taking leadership roles in our discussions.  They were becoming more confident and were self-advocating more.  I felt like we were making progress, but there was still a way to go.  I felt like we had not had that one moment where I could be like “YES”!  Then it happened.

    Our next advisory was on resistance.  Kids were given scenarios and they were asked to respond how they might resist the norm in the scenario.  One of the scenarios dealt with gender equality.  The scenario went like this: You are a new student at an imaginary middle school. It turns out that they only have sports for the boys at the school.  When you ask the principal how come?  You are told that there is not enough money to pay for girl sports. You are then told there are some nice girl clubs that you can join after school.  How can you resist this policy?

    This scenario was the game changer.  Especially for the girls in class.  Not only did they participate more than ever, something incredible happened.  Girls in class began talking about personal experiences dealing with times that they were mistreated because they were a girl or for other reasons.  Basically, the lesson went off track, but it was worth it.  When comments came up about being treated badly by their friends or being a target in the past, the other girls in class comforted them and did what they could to make them feel better.  When the lesson was over, some of the kids from class stayed for almost an additional twenty minutes because they were not done talking and they needed to be heard.

    To me, that is what is all about.  Kids just want to be heard.  They want someone to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings.  When I ended my virtual class period, it changed me.  Trying to teach in a hybrid model was taking its toll on me.  I was feeling defeated and distraught.  Starting my twentieth year in the classroom, I felt like I was not making a difference.  After this period, I finally felt like my old self.  The point I am making is it is not always the teacher who is changing the lives of the students.  Sometimes it is the students changing the lives of their teachers.

    I look forward to our upcoming advisory lessons.  We will focus on communication, empathy, and stress management.  These are three topics that I feel will really benefit the kids in this environment.  The beauty of any advisory is that you can connect it to your content.  My advice to anyone who is nervous about running an advisory, take the risk.  It is worth it.  It gives us a chance to be ourselves and help kids deal with the challenges of life.  You might not see the result immediately, but I promise that you are making a difference.  You just have to believe. 

    When you are done with your advisory lessons, a good idea would reach out to the parents what was done.  After each advisory, I send a summary to the parents.  Here are a couple sample responses that I received.  “This is all so wonderful to read. Great job teaching such a worthwhile lesson to our children.”  Another parent wrote “Wow. This IS wonderful! Some of these kids really did open up so much. Excellent assignment.  We truly appreciate how you and Ms. Cocca genuinely care about our children’s wellbeing. We are immensely grateful. Virtual schooling has been extremely challenging for our daughter.  We’re glad she’s in your class, though.  She really enjoys it. Thank you!”  Parents will appreciate your efforts.  Everyone has their own challenges and if we work together, we can help one another.  Never forget that you are making a difference in the life of a child. 

  • Life Lessons

    It was time to make choice

    September 2020 marked the start of my 20th year teaching. In that time, I have had the pleasure of using an overhead projector, having my TV also be my computer screen for my entire class, as well as having those moments thinking to myself that I have no idea what I am doing.

    During those year of teaching, I clearly had my ups and downs. I have had lessons that were off the hook amazing as well as lessons that were utter disasters. I still can remember my first year teaching and getting observed by my supervisor. A kid stood on his desk and yelled at the top of his lungs that he did not get what we were doing. Let’s just say that I was ready to grab my things and say to myself that I gave it my best shot.

    Thanks D. Baumwoll for visiting and making my day!

    During my early years of teaching, my mentor Dale Baumwoll would always tell me to not get so worked up about teaching. Not to let my stress levels get the best of me. She would always show concern for me. She was not a mentor as much as she was my therapist and later one of my absolute most favorite people in the world. She would try and teach me all of these calming activities. She would even mention books that I should read to deal with the stress that my job was causing me. Even to this day, when I see her I automatically feel calm and relaxed. She has a gift and I’m happy that i got to learn from her, even though at the time, I wasn’t ready to hear or learn from her wisdom. The torch was then passed to one of my best friends, Jessica Swaim.

    Halloween magic with J.Swaim

    Jessica was very similar. She was always trying to get me to not get so worked up about work and try and have more fun. She would try to convince me to do things outside of work, but I would resist. To cheer me up, she used to put a Boston cream donut on my desk. Let’s just say that it worked a little as they are my favorite. Even with her efforts, I still was getting so worked up and stressed about my job.

    Some people go their whole lives and feel like people never cared about them. I feel fortunate to know I have always had people there for me. I’m not talking about family as much as I’m talking about work friends. Some people are constant rays of sunshine like A. Hodgson and some you treat like a sibling like L. Fiore. Some are there when you are at your weakest like N. Cocca and some are there just to brighten up your day like S. Suydam. Some are there to model what it means to be an amazing human being like J. Wagener, and some are there to model 100% absolute compassion like S. Wess. Some are there to act like a brother like W. Zagoren and some are there to treat like you are their little brother like T. Silverschotz. Some are there to laugh at your jokes and give a listening ear like K. Mate and some are there to introduce you to some fine music like L. Mason. Even with these amazing people around me, I still needed to learn how to deal with stress and frustration better.

    When a colleague would get upset, I would get upset for them. I would get so worked up that my face would turn red and one would think I was the one who was wronged. I found that I was looking for things to get mad at. I would complain and complain and complain. In reality, I was becoming toxic.

    This is not to say that I would not try to make others feel better. In fact, it is one of my favorite things to do. I just realized that I had a problem. When I care for people, I care at an extreme level. I want to make those people feel like they are being heard and that they know they are not alone. On the flip side, when I would become angry or upset or stressed, it would be at the extreme. It is not a healthy way to live.

    The stress over the years came to a head when my chest hurt so much, I thought I was having a heart attack. Luckily it was not. My stress most likely contributed to my needing blood pressure medicine. It most likely led to having constant neck and back pain. Even with all of those things, I still was not ready to change.

    In this time period, I found myself spending so much time on school work that in hindsight I realized that I was neglecting the needs of my family at time. I was spending so much time on work that when kids would not complete assignments, I would take it personally. I realize that it is not personal, but it I would become quite frustrated.

    That brings me to October 2020. It appeared that the time came when a real change was about to happen. I was thinking about how much by back hurt. I thought maybe I pulled something. Maybe I cut myself. I had no idea. After going to the doctor, it turned out that I had a case of shingles. My dr. said it was most likely brought on due to stress. What a year 2020 has been. I had Flu A, Flu B, and now shingles. After taking some time off of work, I knew I had to make a change in my life to not let stress get to me. The moment came during a lesson about the causes of the Civil War.

    I was teaching my kids about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was explaining that after people in the North read the book, they had a choice to make. Were they going to get involved and try to end slavery or would they just be bystanders to what was going on? The South had a choice as well. They could have decided it was a northerner who wrote the book so who cares. They could have chosen get really angry and become more willing to fight to keep slavery. It hit me at that moment that I had a choice.

    I had a choice to let the current teaching environment get to me or I could do what I can to make the best of the situation. I decided to make a change. I decided I wanted to be happy. I wanted to love my job again as opposed to dreading it. I decided that I was not going to let stress run my life. I looked up meditation videos on YouTube, I checked out different types of relaxing music, and decided to decorate my classroom . I also decided I was going to make more time for my family, tell my kids more that I love them and that I am proud of them. I also wanted to make sure to tell my wife how much I love her as well.

    Hot chocolate for bus drivers with K. Reid

    I knew in order to begin my change, I needed a fellow teacher who would help me on my journey to be a better person and be someone who I could work with to help me deal with the stressful environment that we are living in. Thankfully, Mrs. Reid was there to be my support. We made a pact that we would eat lunch together occasionally and only talk about non-work items. We agreed to talk more positively. We agreed we would send each other positive messages to help each other get through the day. I then convinced one of our school counselors, Mrs. Wagener to join the group. I’m hoping to expand this group to a few other of my work buddies. Like they always say, there is strength in numbers.

    Halloween fun with J. Wagener

    In a short time, I had three of the best days of work. I laughed, I saw smiles on my student’s faces, and I left happy. I LEFT HAPPY! I can’t stress that enough. Why I am saying this? I have a lot of teacher friends and most of them are really struggling. We are teaching in an environment that is extremely stressful. I had a discussion with my students about why do we stress over things that we cannot control? I know we all do it. The problem is we are battling something that we cannot win. It is time we support one another and help each other deal with those situations out of our control. What we can control is how we respond to stressful environments.

    I’m not saying that I will be able to do this all of the time, but what I am saying is I don’t want stress to kill me or anyone I know. I don’t want stress to make the amazing educators that I know feel distraught or like they are drowning. I don’t want my friends to feel like they aren’t making a difference because I know that they are.

    I’m making the choice to better myself while helping the people around me see how amazing they are and how amazing they can be.