Just Look...

Just Look...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

These Things I've Learned...

These Things I’ve Learned...

One month ago yesterday, I unknowingly buckled up on a roller coaster the likes of which I had never imagined. As a teacher/learner, I can’t help but reflect on the many things I learned throughout the process. 

1.  Always take your school picture (or really any picture, I suppose) seriously. You absolutely never know when it will be plastered across every form of social media and national television. A sidenote to this is that it IS actually possible to grow tired of the sight of your own face. :) And if I grew weary of it, I can only imagine everyone else, haha!

2.  Roots. Just keep them colored at all times. Related to #1, you simply never know when you will be catapulted into the limelight and YOUR hairdresser may not be nearly as willing or generous as mine was to miraculously squeeze you into a 30 min slot the day before a film crew comes to your school.

3.  Be happy for people. I’ll never forget the day of the first announcement, a good friend of mine said to me, “I honestly think I am as excited as I would be if it were me! I am absolutely GIDDY!” It’s just so much more fun to be happy with people, to take the ride alongside them, to share in the joy. Without going into detail, I did have a major counter-example of this and I think that relationship has probably taught me more than anything else could have. When you’re petty and bitter and just plain MEAN, it only makes you look horrible to everyone else. One day things on the one front with that person were really horrible and we had church that night. Emma and Kelsey were with me when people just swarmed me, so excited and hugging and wanting details and expressing such joy. It provided such an incredible teaching opportunity for the girls because, as we left, I pointed out the difference in the two moments of that day. I asked them who they thought felt better right then, the people who were rejoicing WITH me or the one who was resentful OF me. Bitterness will tear you apart inside. It eats you up, it’s your constant companion, it’s that itchy feeling in your chest and the weight in your heart. Get swept up in the good things that happen to others. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where you end and they start!

4.  Just lose the weight now. Don’t put it off until it’s more convenient or life slows down or you feel like it. Those things actually never happen. But do you know what CAN happen in two weeks? You can go from the front of a classroom to the studio of the top morning show, viewed by millions on national television. Do you know what CAN’T happen in two weeks? Weight loss. Just do it now.


5.  Your weight? It totally doesn’t matter at all. I have never been one to put much stock into physical appearance. (My mom can tell you how many times she cringes at the wrinkles in my clothes and offers gently to, “iron your stuff if you want to bring it to me”.) That being said, the weight gain that has come with age (and the gray hair) is a constant irritation to me, something I probably struggle more with in my heart than I ever let on or ever would show. I do feel insecure about it and I do look at myself and wish things were different. But when I look at pictures and videos from the show, I don’t see my size at all. I see pure, unadulterated EXCITEMENT AND JOY. I see a person who is experiencing things that she never imagined or deserved. I see someone who is being blessed in ways she never thought possible. I see someone whose most unattainable dream, a trip to Israel, is being granted not once but TWICE in the upcoming year. I see a person so incredibly fulfilled by her lifework, her calling, and the people in her life. I see the girl who never planned to be a teacher but would never want to do another job. I see someone who has read more notes and cards and facebook posts and messages and texts and tweets and articles of support in two weeks than in her entire life and guess what none of them referenced? Dress size. It simply does not matter one WHIT. You are the love you show to others, the energy you put into living, the effort you give your job, the call you answer daily... you are NOT your weight. 

6.  Express yourself. I try really hard to always tell people how I feel, that I am proud of them, that I love them, etc. However, I know there are many times I fail and the people in my life don’t know that just having them in my life makes my heart do backflips. I never thought I was a person whose love language was words of affirmation. In fact, I have often said that I don’t need compliments or praise at all. The ways in which my very soul lapped up the words given to me by the people in my life, sucked them down as if it was dying in a desert, showed me that apparently everyone enjoys words of affirmation. The human spirit needs to hear that sometimes. I need to be more conscientious of being the one to offer that to others.

7.  If I ever need to reinvent myself or impress people-- MAKEUP. I promise, I think I heard more commentary on the makeup they put on my face for that show than I have about legitimate social issues plaguing our world. I have decided there is nothing we Americans like more than a good made up face. Even Hamlet knew the score--“God gives you one face and you make yourselves another”.

 8.  KNOW yourself. I have been asked two questions over and over and over in the past month. 1. Why did I become a teacher? 2. Why do I teach the Holocaust? Thankfully, I had a ready answer for both. I do spend a lot of time self-reflecting and I guess it pays off. I also have been able to gain something of a platform and an audience through all of this that I hope will also lead to awareness and interest in the two organizations dearest to my heart, Royal Family Kids (ministry through summer camp and fall retreat that my church does for kids and middle schoolers in foster care) and People for Care and Learning (specifically their orphanages and Build a City projects in Cambodia). 

9.  That God of mine-- He ROCKS. I can’t even start to detail all of the ways He has orchestrated the tiny pieces of this story. Let me just say that His Hand was present in this event long before it became an actual event, before Kelly put hand to paper, before Kelly and Michael became co-hosts. 

10.   Social media is POWERFUL. And the people in my circle are utterly amazing. I have seen twice this school year the way that social media provides the vehicle and people provide the support network. I was overwhelmed in August when Grandmother had her stroke at the people who reached out to our family, many of them from far away and whom I had not talked to in years, often via social media. I was overwhelmed again this month at the people who shared the link, posted about it, had family members voting and posting, etc. For someone in a town the size of Cleveland to make it to the Top 5 in an ONLINE VOTING CONTEST is absolutely miraculous. But Cleveland, while it may be a small town, has a giant heart and arms that reach an awfully long way. They don’t call us the “City with Spirit” for nothing! :)

***This is not exactly something I learned, but it is worth noting. This 2013-2014 school year? It was HARD. It was probably the most difficult I have experienced in a very long time. I think part of the difficulty stemmed from the fact that Grandmother had the stroke in August, right at the beginning of school, and so we were dealing with the aftermath of that event for the rest of the year. I know that I was personally distracted and anxious, which I am certain affected my school being. But it just makes me smile to think back on this year because it started out so high, with the induction into the CHS Alumni Hall of Fame, plummeted rather quickly with some unexpected scheduling situations and a difficult semester, then basically settled into a roller coaster pattern for the remainder of the school year. There were some incredible days when I hated the thought of only doing this for 17 more years. There were some really challenging days when I wasn’t certain I had it in me to return the following day. And then there was the end, complete with its crazy highs and blurs of surrealism and joie de vivre. I am so grateful that God allowed me to end on this note. I wouldn’t trade one second of the process, including the very end. I am just so incredibly blessed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

My "Night Before the Big Announcement" Post

So I have composed this in my head for days.... :)
This past (almost) month has been a month that I would never have imagined experiencing in my entire life. It has completely blown my mind and I have told so many people this, but I want to say it publicly--
Car or not tomorrow, I have already won.
I won the day I got the job at Cleveland High School, the school I have loved for so long. In fact, my interview was almost exactly 13 years ago to the day.
I have won for 13 years with the intelligent, articulate, loving, and wonderful students in my classroom, students who come by and send messages and keep in touch YEARS after they leave.
I have won by getting to work with colleagues and for administrators who are complete professionals, loving people, and forever friends.
I have won by being part of a school system that values "every child, every day", that puts educational standards above politics, and that is led by an administration that cares about people.
I won on November 23, 1977, by being born into a town like Cleveland, TN. Y'all, we are so blessed in this town. What a bunch of people who love each other and know what community means.
I won the JACKPOT with my family, immediate and extended. These people love me in all circumstances and cheer me on and support me in everything. They have shown me what true love means.
I won in the friend realm-- oh, I won more than any person deserves to win. Some people make fun of me for saying I have so many "best friends" but it's so true.
I won in 2007 when I became part of a group of teachers who have become like family, who hold Holocaust education to the level that I do, as part of the TN Holocaust Commission Teacher Fellows.
I won when I fell madly in love with Jesus and committed to let Him lead my steps. He has directed my paths and blessed me with callings and a love for life and people that could only come from Him. I know some people question the fact that my students said that I make them all feel like I love them, that it's not possible to love them all. My response to that is that it isn't me. I pray every single semester that God will love them all THROUGH me. It's Him in me.

So thank you. Thank you for voting and sharing and sending me messages of support and being my people. My life IS the people in it. I have SO loved every moment of this entire experience. I would LOVE to be driving a new car tomorrow, but I am feeling so very blessed. I am so thankful to Kelly for her sweet letter and all of you who have done so much in this process!!! I will say, gut feeling for the past three days... I don't think it's me. Not just saying that for people to say they disagree, but in all honesty-- gut says no. (And my gut is almost ALWAYS right, ESPECIALLY in regard to snow days!!!) ;) Haha! We shall see tomorrow!!! Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

LIVE from NEW YORK.......

To continue where I left off on my previous post...

The next half day of filming went just as beautifully as the first. I remain so impressed by Joni and Ben, producer and cameraman, and our students and my colleagues. The remainder of that week and the first three days of the next were a whirlwind of senior goodbyes, card writing, grading, exams, treats, final grades, classroom straightening, AP testing, etc. I floated around on a little tiny cloud that felt very paradoxical because I was so happy, yet also so sad at the same time (end of the year goodbyes). The local news came and interviewed, I had interviews with newspaper reporters, it was just a blur of activity.

Then came graduation... that yearly event that breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces. This year was quadruply hard because of the goodbye to my Connections group. The thought of those kids who walked into my classroom as scared, anxious, excited, bold, cocky, sweet kids on the first day of their freshman year then spent every Tuesday and Thursday with me for the next four years .... the thought of them leaving, the sight of them in caps and gowns, the last hugs and nods for me as they crossed the stage... somehow it made me burst with pride while also want to weep.

But we did it. We sent the class of 2014, that enigmatic class that blazed its own trail from the moment they arrived (sometimes to the detriment of those around them and sometimes with us cheering them on), hurtling headlong into the future. I thought I was coming out ok. Then after saying goodbye to Emma and Kelsey for our trip, staying up late to pack, and finally getting in bed sometime around midnight, the emotion hit and I sobbed for the next hour. Kraig asked me this AM, "What were you crying about last night?" I said, "GRADUATION!" :) My pillow was a sopping mess when I finally dozed off around 1... only to be awaked by my alarm at 2.

We needed to leave for the Knoxville airport by 3 in order to make our 6 AM flight. We were very tired but also very excited. Two (prop) plane rides later, we arrived in the Big Apple (technically in Neward, but really who's being specific?)! Feel free to skim over the touristy details of our next few days. In Kraig's words, "Athena, you are the only person who can fit a two week trip into two days." Well I try to get my money's worth. Or, in this case, ABC's money's worth! :)

I'm kind of going to do this in list-form.

This was my first time to ever see someone holding a sign with my name on it, then ride in a car that had been sent just for me. Our driver was so kind, had a daughter in journalism at Columbia, a son in law school, and a wife who is a reading teacher. His regular job is that he drives Robin Roberts on weekdays.
Left our bag at the hotel, changed clothes, headed to the Discounted Tickets booth in Times Square
Line moved super fast, within minutes had 5 tickets to Newsies at 2 PM!
Checked in with Mom, Dad, and Natalie (almost to their hotel), made a plan to meet up with them
Very easily found John's Pizza (highly recommended), had a table in minutes, ordered food for all of us
Mom, Dad, and Natalie arrived with about 45 min of time in which to eat
That pizza, by the way, was delicious!!!
Made it to the Nederlander Theater at just the right time to see "Newsies"
It was raining when we left, so we headed for the Subway to spend a little time shopping in Chinatown.
I would prefer not to speak of our time on the Subway. Either we are dumb or New York enjoys the confusion of its guests.
Various family members bought various fake things, then we had another frustrating Subway journey back to the Times Square area. I BOUGHT RAIDER BLUE SHOES FOR THE SHOW!!!
We spent lots of time walking, went in St. Patrick's Cathedral, saw Radio City and Rockefeller Center, then grabbed a burger and parted ways.
Kraig and I bummed around Times Square and the Hershey store for a bit before heading back to our room around 11:30.

It was Mother's Day! Supercool way to spend that holiday.
We met Mom, Dad, and Natalie in the far corner of Central Park around 9:30.
We took lots of pictures and walked that end of the park until we emerged on the corner near Broadway.
Our sweet friend Brenda had gotten us a complimentary meal at Ellen's Starlite Diner-- what an experience! We loved the singing, the food, the atmosphere, all of it.
VERY COOL moment was when our Pastor skyped us into the Mother's Day service at church! The girls talked to us and he encouraged votes and support.
Stopped by our hotel to charge phones, bathroom, etc.
Walking Tour (Natalie's favorite part!) started at 2 at the New York Public Library. We saw the library, Grand Central, the Waldorf Astoria, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Radio City, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's, and lots of other things I am forgetting.
Most challenging Subway experience came next as we tried to get to the 9/11 Memorial on a weekend. Just whatever.
The 9/11 Memorial... WOW. I am so interested in memorials and monuments and museums. I love to consider the thought that goes into something that carries such a burden of responsibility to do it RIGHT. This one is just so incredibly moving and powerful. I love that they put roses on the names on that person's birthday. Unfortunately, the Museum opens in ELEVEN DAYS, so we barely missed it. That's a day none of us will ever forget (and a day that means my daughters only know a post-9/11 world) and I appreciated a chance to pay honor to those who lost their lives.
We then took the Staten Island Ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty and the famous skyline. It was a beautiful day and that was an incredible experience.
One (easier) Subway ride later, we were back in Times Square and ready for some supper. We picked Virgil's (also recommended) and really enjoyed it.
My people bought lots more fake stuff on the streets as we enjoyed a leisurely trek through Times Square. We even got to see the guys grab all of their wares and run for it when the "Madame" (as they called her) came near.
*My wonderful Director of Schools had arranged for us to enjoy complimentary Starbuck's on this day but we were unable to get to the one that his brother managed. We really appreciated the gesture, however.

*I'll come back to the show part later.
Got picked up for the studio at 7:45, did the show, back to the hotel by 10:30
Mom, Dad, and Natalie finally got back in their taxi so we went to the room for a minute to charge phones, for me to change, and for Kraig and I to check out.
Our friend Brenda had also arranged for complimentary Top of the Rock tickets for us, so the 5 of us headed to Rockefeller Center.
WHAT A VIEW! WOW. Really really cool experience.
From Top of the Rock, we had planned to go to the Shake Shack but it was so crowded, so instead we went to Juniors, which seemed to be at the top of most people's lists. It was sooooo good! Food, atmosphere, and especially THAT CHEESECAKE!!!
We sat in the stands in the middle of Times Square and people watched for a while, trying to soak up the last little bit of NYC before Mom, Dad, and Natalie headed to their hotel to catch a car to the airport.
Kraig and I just strolled around, shopping and being together. We saw a film being shot of the Fox show "Girls", which was cool. Bought some souvenirs, got rained on, ate some more pizza, then headed to the hotel for the car to pick us up.
From there it was an easy trip home (for us, not so much Mom, Dad, and Natalie!)!

The Show
It started with people behind a barricade taking photos of our car as we pulled in to the garage. (Kraig laughed and said, "Those guys have no clue who they are taking photos of!" HAHA!) Joni met us in the garage and took us straight to the Green Room where she was very impressed to hear how much ground Davis Touring can cover in 48 hours. ;) Everyone I met on the show was just so very nice! I was nervous but not painfully so until I heard that an ambulance was there for someone else who had passed out and something about my crazy brain and how susceptible it is to power of suggestion made me start feeling woozy (same exact feelings as the Hall of Fame induction in September!). I ate a crescent and drank some water and mind-over-mattered it out of me and I was fine from then on. Hair and makeup was a unique experience (and apparently went well, based on the input from others-- more on that in a later post called "These Things I Learned"). I didn't have any cavorting time with Michael and Kelly or any of the other guests for that day. Kimmel shook my hand, Ruffalo waved, and you saw me hug Michael and Kelly (in between the strange clasping of my hands to one another that I did the entire time I was onscreen). I apparently was less than two feet from Jennifer Lopez at one point and had no clue it was her. Typical. After Kimmel and Ruffalo's segs, they had me in a narrow hallway backstage where I was able to watch my filmed segment before I went out. Let's just say from the first student face that popped up, I was teary. It wasn't just the sweet things they were saying, it was that I knew I wouldn't be seeing them in my classroom again! They were GONE! Graduated! :( I didn't watch very closely because I couldn't handle too much at that moment. When it was time for me to go out, I was nervous and excited. It went so fast and was very hard to hear what was being said so I actually had to look at the teleprompter at one point. Kelly is as tiny as she seems (or smaller) and Michael is as huge as he seems (or bigger) and they are both just comfortable and sweet and genuine. I am so grateful for the tablet/computers for my school.
The trip to Israel??? I am still in shock. I never in a million years expected that. Some people who watched the show last year had mentioned some got trips and I wondered about the possibility of a trip to Poland or Germany. I never would have imagined a trip to Israel. NEVER. It's a dream I never even really voiced because it seemed so out of reach. For a teacher of the Holocaust to visit Yad Vashem, for a Christian to visit the Holy Land... JUST WOW. It took my brain a long time into the announcement to fully process what was happening. I feel like even now, almost a week later, my brain just has this little refrain in it going, "Israel, Israel, Israel!" We are thinking about going fall break week. And we are planning to pay extra and take our two girls.

I was back at school by Tuesday and this week has been another whirlwind of end of the year stuff and coming down off the high. I have loved all the students at school who have introduced themselves to me, told me they saw the show, promised to vote for me. It has made being alone once seniors leave a little less lonely... I can't even being to explain the massive amount of messages and kind words via all forms of social media, technology, the beautiful packet of cards my friends arranged for me to get from all sorts of people, in person, etc. As I said in the last posts, most people have to wait until they die to hear nice things and then they don't even get to hear them! ;) I am so so grateful.

I was finally able to watch the segment (the one that basically everyone has told me made them cry) this week. (I watched it from backstage but it was nice to watch when I could focus and not feel like I was about to throw up.) I am in complete awe that Joni, a woman who had never met me in her life, could show up at my school on a Tuesday morning, shoot me teaching, interview kids and administrators and me, talk to a few other people, and somehow put together a segment that presents EXACTLY the person I hope I present myself to be. She even used the exact quotes from our hour long interview that I would have wanted her to use! And MY STUDENTS!!! I wish I could round every one of you up, those whose interviews made the cut and those who didn't, and have a giant party with you and give you presents and thank you! Like a LIVE 2.0 or something! You all made me so proud, not only for the things you said about me, but for the intelligent, articulate ways you expressed yourselves. I am just beaming still today.

I'm so thankful for those who kept my kids while I was gone, for all of the love and supportive words the day I was on the show, for those who have laughed with me since about various things (like my hands and my nails), for the inspiring and moving newspaper articles that have been published and the television stories that have been done by local media, and just for this town and who you are.

I still can't believe it has happened and is still happening. What a beautiful gift straight from my Lord, and one of which I am undeserving.