Stefani's most-fantastical-reads book montage

Crooked Kingdom
Six of Crows
Yellow Brick War
The Wicked Will Rise
Charm & Strange
Their Fractured Light
These Broken Stars
Big Little Lies
I'll Be There
Red Queen

Stefani's favorite books »

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Maybe this is my midlife crisis...

Maybe this is my midlife crisis.

If you had asked me two months ago what my plan for the future was, I wouldn't have even had to think about it. My future was working in Zillah, doing what I love, watching my kids grow up here, and being a part of the community that I love. This was my home. It was where I intended to put down my roots. I have spent 12 years working in the Zillah School District. I started as a para-pro at the elementary and worked while I put myself through night classes to earn my BA in Education. My dream from the start was to teach English or reading at the middle school in Zillah and that was the first position I was offered when I applied. It was perfect. As I grew to love the quirky middle school age group. I started coaching and eventually took on ASB which led to teaching a leadership class and running a mentoring program. I adored my job. 

Then this year happened. It was by far the most challenging year of my career - by miles. I started the year with a new principal and in the beginning, we got along great. We had similar ideas about student leadership and I thought that it was the beginning of a beautiful thing. It wasn't. In November I left for an NCTE conference in Atlanta. When my plane touched down and my notifications started coming in, I discovered that the guest speaker that I had booked and had approved a year in advance had been canceled without my knowledge or consent. To say that I was furious was an understatement. I had booked someone who would have had an amazing impact on our students. I could have dealt with being told that we had to cut the speaker but I believe strongly that I should have at least been consulted. If I hadn't heard from the company themselves, I wouldn't have even known that anything had happened. When I came home, I had to tell my ASB students that the speaker had been canceled and that instead, a friend of our principal would be speaking. I was angry and so were they. I know that I didn't keep some of my thoughts to myself and I should have but because of the way it was done, I had a lot of trouble with that.

A few weeks later we did our online StuCo survey. It is a routine that we do at the end of each semester to get a feel for what the student body is interested in for upcoming events and what suggestions they have for improving our school and activities. When the results came in and my students brought them to me, I was shocked. A significant number of the responses were related to our principal and they were incredibly negative and cruel. After sharing the results with her, she became convinced that somehow I was turning the students against her. Ironically, I was spending a lot of time trying to stop the negative comments about her - both in my content classes and in leadership. If you've ever worked with middle schoolers, you know how difficult that is. Needless to say, by Christmas break the tension was high. Things didn't get any better after we came back from break. In March I left for my ASB conference in Vancouver. The first day that I was gone was an in-service day for staff. First thing in the morning I started getting texts from coworkers that the topic of the morning was moving leadership to a before school class or an after school club - neither of which would work in our community. Again, I felt like as soon as I was out of the building, my program was on the table without me there to discuss or defend it. When I got back, I was reassured that the leadership program would stay and that things would go on pretty much as before.

Fast forward to May. Things were winding down for the year and I had started working on a presentation for some leadership kids to present at the board meeting at the end of May. We wanted to acknowledge the support that we had to put on new activities throughout the year and show them what we had planned for the coming year. I talked to the kids about presenting at the meeting and told them if they wanted to sign up to do it, we would put it on the agenda. Then we watched our TED talk for the day (if you haven't watched it, you should) about the use of language and the mindset that we have about gender roles. The speaker drops the f-bomb when quoting a player that she interviewed. A parent called the school the next day concerned about the content of the video. In hindsight, I should have sent home a note to parents about it and if it had been one of my ELA or history classes, I absolutely would have. However, in leadership, most of our conversations are about hard topics and I made the mistake of assuming that it was something they all could handle. My principal asked for the link so she could watch the video and then, throughout the rest of the day, students were pulled out of my classes and were interviewed. At the end of the day, some students came to me and confided in me the interviews made them really uncomfortable and that the questions were related to my character and the quality of teacher that they believed I am. I went into the weekend in tears, trying to understand what on earth I had done to make her question my character.

The following week, my union rep and I sat down with my principal and vice principal. She proceeded to tell me that she had interviewed students from my classes and that she believed that I was trying to pit students against her and that I was a poor role model for leadership. She had heard bits and pieces about students presenting to the board and somehow twisted it to believe that we were going to the board to try and get her fired. She could not have been further from the truth. She then told me that she was going to take my leadership program away from me and that I would no longer be the leadership teacher OR the ASB advisor at ZMS. My rep asked her if this was something that I could earn back if the following year went well and I was told, unequivocally, NO. Prior to the meeting, I had asked if I needed a rep, if there was some sort of discipline that I needed to be aware of, and I was told that there was no discipline to be assigned. After she told me that I would no longer be working with student leadership, I said I had been under the impression that no discipline was occurring. She smiled and said that it wasn't. She explained that she could assign or take away supplemental contracts as she saw fit. So I wasn't be disciplined but I was losing everything that I held dear. I lost it. I left school in hysterics. I went to my best friend's house and I bawled until I didn't have any tears left to cry. Then, I started updating my resume and applying for jobs. I knew that if I couldn't teach leadership or do ASB, the things that brought the deepest joy in my job, that I did not want to be a part of ZMS anymore. Leadership and ASB kept me grounded and made it so I could tolerate the bullshit that was thrown my way. I took two days off, updated my resume, and applied for several jobs around the valley.

The kicker came the day that I returned to work. A district administrator came to see me first thing in the morning and told me in no uncertain terms that the interviews and "investigation" did not yield ANY results that warranted discipline. Let me say that again - there wasn't anything in the investigation that HE conducted that warranted discipline. Then, a few days later I was visited by another administrator. He went on to tell me that the relationship between my principal and I was too toxic for us to continue in the same building. So, after 9 years at ZMS, I was told that I would be moved to a position at the elementary school. That sealed the deal for me. I was done with Zillah.

I have given 12 years to the Zillah School District and I intended to give my entire career to the students in Zillah. In nine short months, all of that was undone by one human. The saddest part is that I am not the only teacher at ZMS who has been put in this position, who has had to contact the union, who has considered leaving the district, who has felt isolated and unappreciated. I am one of several. In conversations with educators and administrators from other districts in the valley who have worked with this person, I am one of many. Prior to my resignation, I was told that I wasn't to share my story. Now that I am no longer a ZSD employee, I am exercising my right to free speech and I am sharing my story. I believe that I was treated unfairly and I believe that my reputation in Zillah speaks for itself. I know the truth about the situation and I know that truth about what went on in our building. I may not have been allowed to share it before, but I am choosing to share it now. I don't believe that silence solves anything.

It hasn't only been my career that has been impacted. This all came to a head as we were in the process of moving to Zillah. My commute has literally been flipped around. My kids will be in Zillah this year since we are living here but next year they will be moved to Selah. This has impacted every aspect of my life.

The saddest part of all of this and the actual point of this incredibly long post is that this entire year has made me question every part of myself. After I got the call from the principal in Selah, who expressed how excited he was to bring me on board, I realized how much my perception of myself had changed this year. I have always struggled with self-esteem but this year has been horrendous. I have questioned my ability as a teacher, as a wife, as a mom, and as a friend. I have doubted myself in every regard and I am so angry about it. I have lost an entire year of my life. I have lost a year of my kids' lives. I have been so depressed and full of self-loathing that I haven't been the wife or parent that I was designed to be. I will never get to go back and relive this time in my kids' lives, I can't go back and be more present in my marriage. I can't undo the poor decisions I made in regard to my health and wellness. I have lost an entire year to negativity, anger, doubt, fear, and hate. I am trying to find a healthy way to process that anger and harness it into being a better wife, a better mom, and a better human in general - but it is hard. I can choose to let it fester or I can write it out, share it, and move on with my life. I choose the latter.

I have a new chapter beginning - a new school, a new community, and new opportunities. I am excited and I am optimistic. I feel like in the weeks since I walked out of the middle school for the last time, I have started to see pieces of the real me again. I have started working out, playing with my kids, and being a human who participates in life again. This post is the endcap of a part of my life - it is the final lines in a dark chapter and I am so ready to turn the page. I am so grateful for the experiences and relationships that have been a result of my time in Zillah. The community has been awesome and supportive and I have taught some of the most amazing students and have watched them grow into kind, compassionate, successful adults. I value those memories and relationships more than I can express and they have shaped me into the teacher and human that I am today.

Thank you Zillah. I will love you always. <3 p="">
Selah... let's do this.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

The fringe...

My heart is broken.

Image result for broken heartI feel as though I'm grieving even though it's impossible to accurately articulate the range of emotions that I've felt in the past few days. I haven't cried this hard or this much since my dad passed away. I have resisted social media and texts because I don't know how to say what is in my heart without causing pain in my relationships but I also can't continue to feel all of this and not express it somehow.

I grew up as a kid on the fringes. I lived near the "cool kids" and when we were little we all played together. As we got older and started to break into different groups they still would play with me on the weekends and during the summer but when we stepped off the school bus each day I found myself alone. I was never pretty enough, athletic enough, or smart enough to fit in so I spent my adolescence on the fringes. I knew all of the "cool kids" and they knew me but that was the extent of it. I wasn't invited to their parties or included in their groups. Looking back at my high school years, I had exactly two real friends. I attended one of the largest high schools in the state but I had two friends... and one didn't even go to my school. It was painful and it took its toll - depression, rebellion, isolation...

Addison has grown up with a small group of friends - daughters of my friends and co-workers. She has gone through preschool, kindergarten, sports, birthdays with these girls and she adores them. Addison doesn't make friends easily - she's wild and unpredictable, passionate and emotional - and those things tend to frustrate kids her age.

This fall, I started to see things falling apart. She was placed in a different class than the other girls, which was what I thought I wanted. I thought she would make new friends so that she wouldn't be so reliant on the other girls to play with her.

Then she wasn't invited to the birthday of one of the girls. I tried to not let it bother me and I came up with all sorts of reasons in my head why it was okay that she didn't get to go. But it lingered.

Then she heard through the grapevine of 1st graders that one of the girls thought she was 'embarrassing' and 'cooky'. It broke her heart which in turn broke mine.

Then, this weekend, she was not invited to another birthday party. All the other little girls were there.

She doesn't know yet - I didn't have the heart to tell her - but she will find out.

We are 100 days into 1st grade.

     She hasn't been invited to a birthday party.

          She hasn't been invited to a sleepover.

               She hasn't been invited to a play date, a movie... anything.

                    When asked who she plays with the most at recess, she replies, "Myself."

I am a mother of a little girl on the fringe.

When that realization hit me yesterday, it broke me. I went to work in my classroom and I bawled like a baby for hours. Then I got home and tried to explain how I was feeling to Derek... which led to me bawling again.

I don't know how to parent her through this. Some of my dearest friends are the moms of these girls. I love these other girls and I love their moms. But I'm ashamed to admit that I'm resentful and hurt. I know that they aren't deliberately excluding her and that they aren't trying to be cruel but it doesn't change the fact that it hurts her and that it hurts me.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Digital Invasion Book Review

I've wanted for a long time to find a way to turn my book-obsession into something productive. I've never officially written a book review, so I have no idea how this is going to go... but here's my debut.

I recently read The Digital Invasion by Dr. Archibald D. Hart and Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd. I was driving home one night and listening to an interview on the radio where the author discussed the premise of his book. The authors, a father and daughter team, are a psychology professor and a Christian counselor, respectively. The book looks at the impact that technology is having on our relationships. I am a self-proclaimed social media addict and I felt like there was value in looking at how that is impacting my relationships.

One thing that the authors point out at the start of the book is that we are broken up into two different groups in regards to technology. There are Digital Natives - those born after the advent of digital technology and Digital Immigrants - those born before the advent of digital technology.  The first few chapters instruct readers to critically look at their personal technology habits - texting and driving, checking notifications while spending one-on-one time with a family member or friend, impulses to play online games, and the need to post about every minute of our lives (I am SO guilty on that last one). Next the authors explain the different brain systems (pleasure, tranquility, memory, learning, attachment, spiritual) and how the overuse of technology is impacting each of these areas.

While the first three chapters were enlightening and set the stage for what was to come in the rest of the book. Once I hit chapter 4, the dog-earring began. Chapter 4 discusses the myth of multitasking. I have always prided myself on being able to multi-task. Being a mom and a teacher, it's probably one of the "skills" I utilize the most. It's awesome to be able to help with homework, answer emails, cook dinner, and listen to the TV at the same time. Sort of. The authors cite research done at Harvard and Stanford that show that when their brightest students were given either sequential task or multi-tasking projects, "they found that ALL the students' performance were reduced about one-third when multi-tasking. What is also notable about this study is that ALL students reported that they thought they were actually doing better when multi-tasking than when sequential tasking" (Hart, 81). Another interesting point in chapter 4 is the  mention of multi-tasking and the "attention deficit trait". Multi-tasking may actually be a factor in the rise in ADHD diagnoses in youth today. Since youth who have access to digital technology around the clock are constantly jumping back and forth between games, texting, videos, and social media. They are doing all of this while working on homework and listening to music. The problem is that when the brain is asked to jump back and forth between stimuli without ever deeply focusing on a task, we train our brain NOT to focus and think deeply about something. The idea is that by allowing kids the access we are currently giving them to digital media, we are allowing them to wire their brains to be incapable of deep though and analysis. As a teacher, this is terrifying. Students NEED to be critical thinkers who are able to reflect and form their own opinions and beliefs.

In chapter 5, the focus shifts to the impact that social media and technology has on personal relationships. As Hart states,

"Technology can help us connect with extended family but it also disconnects us from our most intimate relationships. We turn to technology to for connections we can control, like texting, tweeting, emailing, and posting. These allow us to edit, delete, and retouch what we say and how we look. Real conversations are hard work, messy, challenging, unpredictable, and time consuming, but they are worth it."

The authors go on to analyze the way the our technology use impedes our relationships and leads to
disconnected people living in their own isolated worlds. Digital tech is an incredibly important part of our lives but we need to be aware of how it impacts our relationships and our brains. I would whole-heatedly recommend this book to parents and teachers alike. We are just starting to scratch the surface of the impact of digital technology and it is important that we are educated consumers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

My (anti)Inauguration Speech

It's Inauguration Day. A few weeks back I made a self-promise not to post political ideas or beliefs, especially on Facebook and I have since broken that promise several times. I hadn't intended to blog about it at all until my husband made an innocent statement while getting ready this morning. I told him that I was wearing black today to protest Trump's inauguration and he said, "I think that we owe it to him to give him a chance - it's not like we can change anything."


I adore my husband and I know he had no deeper agenda than believing that this man that our government, not our people, elected deserves a fair shot. I think that's a bit idealistic since Trump had the past year to woo America and to win over the different groups who have opposed him. I haven't really seen him make that effort unless belligerent statements count and effort. I know I'm not alone. As of yesterday, somewhere around 60% of Americans are of the same mindset as I am. We're in big trouble and we just elected a bully with horrible manners and questionable morals to be our leader. I've been asked several times on Facebook to defend my beliefs but since I'm almost always on my phone when I check it and am HORRIBLE at typing on my phone, I thought I would respond here - with a full size keyboard.

Why do I refuse to embrace the idea of "giving Trump a chance"?

I am a mom.

I have been charged with raising two tiny humans who are acutely aware of what is going on around them. My job is to raise them to be kind, compassionate, forgiving, and tolerant. We now have a president that I would NEVER allow my children to watch speak (given their ages). I would not tolerate my children to use the kind of comments and behavior that he is admired for. If my children mocked someone with a disability the lesson would be learned and reparations made. If my son made sexist comments about a girl in the way Trump has mocked women, the punishment would be swift and an example would be made. Trump demonstrates the range of behavior that I will not tolerate in my children - and certainly on in my President.

I am a woman.

When the announcement of Trump's victory came in November I awoke for the first time with a snippet of the fear and uncertainty that is commonplace for minorities in our country. I was scared. We elected a man who has made his opinion on women clear many times. I was raped when I was a teenager. It was traumatic and shameful and it took me a long time to be able to look my family in the face and discuss it. Our society already shames women who are victims of sexual assault.
     "Are you sure you said no?"
             "Were you wearing something suggestive?"
                     "Were you drinking?"
Trump has be accused of sexual assault by more than 15 women. I know that allegations have not been proven by my point is this - we have elected a man who is coming into office with multiple women alleging abuse.

I was fortunate that I didn't have to deal with the added pain of a pregnancy as a result of rape. But if I had, I think that, given my age, I would have had an abortion. Becoming a mom has changed my views on abortion dramatically and now I know that I could never terminate a pregnancy. The point here is that is MY belief and MY choice. I would never want to impose that onto someone else. It is covered by the 14th amendment. Cutting funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood means that women who have limited access to health care will no longer have access to birth control or other women's health services.

I am a Christian.

I am a Christian. I believe in the teaching of Jesus and the Bible. Jesus' teaching promoted agape love, patience, and kindness. He taught that we are to love one another and care for 'least of these'. He was humble, forgiving, compassionate, loving, and patient. How can I support a man that is the literal opposite of all of these things? It's simple for me - I can't. I cannot reconcile the hate that spews from his mouth with the love that we know to be Jesus.

I am so thankful that I know who wins in the end.

I am a teacher.

I teach in rural Eastern Washington. We are an agricultural region that relies on migrant workers in the fields and I am fortunate to teach the children of some of these families. I know that some of the families in our community are here illegally. I also know that if Trump were to deport those living here illegally that families in our community would be ripped apart. I want my students to have every opportunity to better their lives and that means getting an education and having the opportunity to attend college. These families are here - help them acquire legal status. Treat them like humans.

I won't even go into Betsy DeVos in this post... but I have A LOT to say about her as well.

I am a human.

I believe that all people should be free from oppression, poverty, and violence. I watch Trump openly express an "Us versus Them" mentality that automatically pits religion against religion and nationality against nationality. I watch him describe his mighty wall and proclaim how he plans to shut down borders to keep "them" out. What happens after that, to the "them" that are left here? How will they be treated or mistreated?

Donald Trump stands for all the things I stand against.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

There will come a day...

I have spent the last year and a half nursing an injured hip. There have been MONTHS of physical therapy, surgery, crutches, more physical therapy, tears and frustration, and now... suddenly I'm cleared by my surgeon to be a normal, active human again.

It's the day I've been waiting for for almost two years... and yet now that it's here, I'm a little bit scared.

When I finally reached a point where running was challenging but fun and re-energizing, it became something that I built my day around. I got up at 4:50 IN THE MORNING so I could go running. There are so many things about that statement that don't describe me that it still feels funny to write it down. I loved running. I felt good, I felt strong, and for the first time in a really long time - I didn't hate what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I was proud of myself.

Now I'm horrendously out of shape, 15 pounds heavier, unmotivated (because let's be honest, exercise right now HURTS and it SUCKS and I don't like it. At all.), and so intensely scared. What if I can't get back in shape? What if I start running and the pain comes back and this whole mess was a waste of time and effort and insane amounts of money?

I hate how I look and I hate how much that matters to me. If one of my friends or students were to say that they based how they felt about themselves based on what they weighed I would threaten to smack them because I know it's not a fair unit of measure. But somehow that truth doesn't work in my head. I look in the mirror and the only truth I see is what I SEE - not the kind of wife or mother I am, the kind of friend or teacher. It is a fundamental error in reasoning.

So now what?

I start training. I can't call it working out because then I just won't do it - I have no motivation to work out. I HATE working out. But I want that feeling back - I want to go out before sunrise this summer and run the hop fields and watch the sun come up as I'm making my last turns toward home. I want to be able to participate in the See Spot Run 5k in May as my first race post-surgery. But more than anything, I want to look in the mirror and be proud of the person looking back at me. I want that moment where all the pain and the tears become worth it... and to do that, I have to train.

It is going to suck and I'm going to hate it. I'm going to whine and I'm going to want to quit. I'm going to feel like I will NEVER get to cross that finish line... and so I need my people to have my back. Please don't let me quit on myself. Life's too damn short to spend it on the couch.

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