Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

School Smiles

It's time for the traditional back-to-school pics, and I'm jumping on the hold-your-grade bandwagon.  (It's genius!)  While there are times I really love a posed piece of art, there are other times that the forced front-of-house pictures capture the real emotions of the day.

For D, the awaited day meant his very own backpack, a few pair of jeans with no holes in the knees, and a walk around the corner to Mrs. Shayla's Preschool.  His picture capture his general attitude toward the whole idea of school - confusion mixed with general apathy.  He dutifully does what is asked, but without the prior experience of days with friends and tootsie rolls, he has no idea of the fun ahead.

For Al, it meant getting up far earlier than he is accustomed.  For a kid who carries out leisurely morning stretches (yeah, he does that) and suffers from bouts of insomnia (found him on the couch this morning), 8:00 a.m. school is a big deal.  I got him up at 6:30 today, but unfortunately for this kid who can lose focus between syllables, getting ready for the day in a linear fashion is out of the question.  Tomorrow, we'll try 6:20 and see if that allows plenty of time for the occasional foray into Alexland.  Thankfully, by 7:15, he proclaimed himself "not tired anymore," and I caught him mid "I-know-I'm-cute" before rushing off to school.

For Adam, it meant just another day.  He's done it before, he knows the ropes, and he knew the faster I got the picture I wanted, the faster he could resume with life.  He was happy to explain all the full-day-of-school procedures to Alex, and one of my best moments of the day was hearing about his recess time while I was in the teacher lunch room.  Apparently, he spent all of morning recess playing with Alex and proudly telling his friends that his brother is in first grade now.

For me, it meant uncertainty.  My anxiety forced its way into my dreams last night as I dreamed three different scenarios which resulted in us being late on the first day (we were not), one in which my co-teacher erased the initial assignment I'd written on the board last night replacing it with her own (she did not), and one in which my mother told me I might as well withdraw Adam and Alex from NPA right now if I wasn't willing to focus more on their penmanship (um... ??).  But what started as uncertainty faded quickly away as my students filed into the classroom, placing in me the same exact trust as they'd place in any other teacher, replaced with a quiet assuredness.  I've got this!

Even Kirk is in on the back to school theme, since he kept busy today teaching a training class for new hires in his office.  I should have taken a picture of him on his first day of "class" (even though it wasn't today).  It's been fun to hear his stories of successes in his own classroom, especially since he used to dream of being a math teacher.

Day one has come and gone (day 3 for D), and although I haven't gotten to check in with the kids yet, I'm betting everyone is all smiles.  Don't let D fool you... this is his smile.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Something Missing

I don't know how many times I mentioned to Kirk that something was missing from EYT this year.  Costumes were being sewn, dances rehearsed, set painted, but still - something was almost tangibly missing.

Well, certainly sleep was missing.  But that is my EYT usual.  8 hour rehearsals and a family of 5 leaves very little daylight to prepare for the next day.  Thankfully, the standard day comes with a full 24 hours, and when necessary I have the stamina to draw from the extra eight hours inconveniently placed between 10 pm and 6 am.  

So the lack of sleep certainly wasn't the difference.  Something else was missing.

It turns out that something was STRESS!  While I felt a whole range of emotions during the three rehearsal weeks (frustration, exhilaration, exhaustion, excitement, motivation, disappointment, pride, humor, contentment, worry, preoccupation, distraction, gratitude, annoyance, accomplishment), there was a big, expected chunk missing: STRESS.

I attribute that to being surrounded by incredible people.  You know that Utah pioneer story about the individuals who just know their handcart was too heavy to push alone?  In that time of need, it was clear that angels had picked up where sheer willpower had failed.  In my case, with a handcart full of 72 kids and the unlikely destination of a completed show in only three weeks, my angels came in the form of real people.

Photo credit: Deanne Jones
Some I could see.  These angels surrounded me on a daily basis, toiling away in the EYT trenches.  Not only did Michelle spend her days banished to the lobby to work vocals with whomever I could spare, but she spent hours at home working on projects that needed her careful eye.  Logan split his time between running scene rehearsals and fixing/making/inventing anything I decreed necessary.  Kaylin never once complained about my crazy costume ideas, revisions to work she'd already done, or late nights spent at her sewing machine.  Chris motivated his half day boys, took on the boring job of supervising odd areas of the Empress, and agreed to stick with the show long term behind the light board.  And Perry did as Perry has always done: whatever I asked without complaint.

Photo credit: Deanne Jones
Other angels popped in to lighten the load when it was clear we needed more hands.  Jeff came back several times to make sure we had everything we needed for our set.  Julie adopted the stumps, knowing without her attention they'd never amount to anything.  Kirk lent his height to securing the leaves of the tree.  Amy was there to orchestrate a survival bag full of M&M's, to listen to me whine, or to work alongside me depending on what the day required.  Cindy spent seven last-minute hours creating a beautiful butterfly in a way no one else could.  Jamie donated her time and talents to create beautiful makeup sketches for the full day cast, then donated more time to teach the techniques.

And then there are the countless others who labored in the shadows: running errands, vacuuming the Empress, sewing alone in the toy shop, and picking up whatever slack needed picking up.  Countless costumers who helped Kaylin survive.  Dedicated families of EYT kids filling in wherever possible.  And my mother, whose huge contribution was to watch three crazy grandsons and one beautiful granddaughter so Michelle and I could live at the theater.

And this doesn't even scratch the surface of all the people who just continued to make the same sacrifices for the theater they make during every show.  Jake.  Marie.  Michele.  Amy.  Curtis.  Devin.  Front of house.  The board.  

If I made a comprehensive list of adults whose volunteer hours contributed to the success of this year's EYT, it would easily hold 150 names.  And so, something was missing this year as I hoisted the responsibility of this huge program onto my shoulders.  

If I missed the opportunity to recognize and thank you in person...

If your name doesn't appear on this blog individually...

If you were one of the real-world angels lessening my stress...

Thank you.

Because I didn't really miss that thing that was missing!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5th Grade

If I was going to teach 5th grade:

I would spend much of the previous June considering the next year's motto/theme, choosing something that hit that perfect combination of wit, motivation, and connection to my personal interests.  If possible, it would also tie into my core curriculum, and in the best of all worlds would be a quote from an author whose work my students would be studying.

I'd put my marketing degree to work, using the time spent in the dentist's chair, at the organ bench, and in the bathtub to mentally lay out coordinated bulletin boards, newsletters, and recognition notes that corresponded with my carefully selected theme.

I'd jot down notes about policies and procedures in my phone.  I'd mentally pen my introductory letter at stoplights.  I'd consider visual and verbal signals, memorizing the decisions I made as I slowly eliminated viable possibilities.

I would plan my classroom.  Where to put the red pencils.  How to organize my desk.  Which side of the bulletin board would house the daily schedule.

I'd buy a physical grade and planning book.  I'd check out as many materials as the school would allow and start mapping curriculum, first by month and then by week.

I would remain indecisive, despite hours of consideration, on the best way to pass back papers, keep up with missing and late work, and encourage my students to take responsibility for themselves.

I would finally arrive at the teacher inservice dates, pen in hand with a list of questions and to-do's ready to cross off.  I'd be equal parts excitement and determination to conquer the world.

I would defeat my insecurities with preparation.

Well -

I would do ALL of those things if I found out in June.

If, instead, I showed up late to the first day of inservice and found out on the lunch break that I would be assigned to a 5th grade classroom (team-teaching with a new teacher who will take over in the afternoons when I leave to teach music), I would approach it a bit differently.

I would panic.

I would have a migraine by 2 pm.

I would regroup and start making lists.

I would get to know my new team-teacher.

I would make more lists.

And then I would go home to consider a motto/theme, throwing all previous requirements out the window and hoping to come up with something unifying for a class who gets to split their instructional time between two teachers.

I would re-evaluate what are the most important elements of a successful classroom and start there.

I would ask my husband for a blessing so I could have some divine guidance in making decisions far faster than accustomed.

I would count my lucky stars that I get to teach three of my favorite subjects: grammar, writing, and math.

I would feel incredibly blessed to get to continue to teach some of the wonderful students that I student taught at the end of last year.

I would take the huge compliment of being entrusted with 26-ish students only a week before school starts.

I would take meds for the migraine and try to get some sleep.

And I would go at it tomorrow with equal parts excitement and determination to conquer the world.

Perhaps there's still time to mask my insecurities with preparation?

Because guess what...

I'm now a 5th grade teacher.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


From the Alice in Wonderland, Jr. playbill:

One of the few things that rivals my passion for the performing arts is my lifelong love of literature.  Although I will read just about anything, I have always been particularly drawn to books in the fantasy genre, losing myself for hours or days in the worlds created in an author's imagination.  As the conflicts reach their carefully designed resolutions, I can't help but feel a sense of loss.  Not one to reread books, I may  never meet those particular characters again.

Photo credit: Deanne Jones
That sense of loss becomes more acute when I consider the fantasylands created in the imagination of children.  One of my favorites is the fantasyland created by my middle child.  We lovingly call it "Alexland," an amazing place where leftover crumbs are brown sugar bugs.  "Alexland," we recently learned, is reached through a portal conveniently located in the sun.  Unlike the fantasy novels I love, "Alexland" and its innumerable counterparts have not been immortalized on paper, and each day that passes increases the likelihood that they will disappear forever.

Photo credit: Deanne Jones
With this innate passion for imagination, I approached Alice in Wonderland, Jr. as a chance to explore Lewis Carroll's original playground, looking for creative new ways to immortalize his already iconic characters.  In the original book, Carroll writes, "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  It is my desire that as you watch the scenes unfold before you that you'll be able to mentally return to that imagination of youth, the free spirit and whimsy that make the unbelievable become the reality and make Wonderland such an exciting place to discover.

Poet Oscar Wilde wrote, "I can believe anything provided it's incredible."  Well, I think incredible is 72 kids learning an entire show in three weeks.  Incredible is costuming each of those kids in 14 days.  Incredible is family members who are willing to come vacuum the rehearsal space at the end of a long day, just to help make the EYT program a success. So if it has been awhile since you exercised your imagination, get ready to believe in Wonderland, because EYT is nothing short of incredible! 

Andrea K. Fife

And in case you don't get out to see the show, at least take the quiz: (it turns out it's a lot harder to write a vocabulary quiz than I would have expected).

Oh, and I have a spare comp ticket that I'd like to share with somebody dedicated enough to still be reading this post.  If you're interested in coming to see Alice in Wonderland, Jr. at the Empress and would benefit from a free ticket, comment with either:

  • A description of your own childhood Wonderland  -- or --
  • A vocab word that you missed
I will do a random drawing from the comments for the comp ticket (sorry EYT kids and families, I want to give this to an outsider).  Thanks for the support!!