Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 22 2011

The reality of it is–

Every Christmas candy within my reach is being devoured. It is making me ill, and yet I continue. Reeses! Peppermints! Kisses! Stomachache. Funny that self-control is one of the biggest character buzzwords in my classroom. Funny I don’t have it.

On the phone my aunt said my voice sounded a little small. That’s her euphemism for asking what’s wrong. I want to say, Auntie I had the best day ever! So I do, and I explain to her exactly how I distributed my kids’ Christmas presents. In the middle of my story I hear music, and when I ask her what’s up there’s a delay. My aunt loves me, undeniably and thoroughly, but any desire to explain anything (which was forced to begin with) dissipated.

I want to explain the joy my classes have been full of for the past three days, but my eyelids keep drooping and some gray cloud won’t get out of my line of vision. What the hell are you doing, cloud? Get outta here.

The thing is, really, that Christmas is in four days. I finish teaching on Friday, drive up to Marks, MS to pick up a fellow CM for the trip up, then drive to Kalamazoo. I’ll arrive in the wee hours of Christmas eve, just enough time to get gifts (whoops) and catch dinner with my aunt’s family. But I haven’t talked to anyone in my immediate family in over two weeks. After my year of hell (read: last academic year), I feel like I should be closer to them. That we should have a regular time or day to talk, that we should make an effort.

Don’t worry, I’m catching my own bitterness, and acknowledging that I don’t answer phone calls with any more urgency than they do– but something hit yesterday or today. I am jealous of the kids who have their moms bring in stuff for our parties. Jealous of my friends whose parents call them. Angry at myself for feeling like my own family feels more like a rock to burden than a rock to be stabilized by. Angry that no immediate relations have made it to Arkansas, nor do they have any concrete desire to. I’m self-sufficient, I always have been, but the older I get the more I want –

Last night I was deciding how to wrap my students’ presents. I decided not to. Instead, I stocked five of my personal journals into my school bag, and put stacks of their gifts in as well. In the morning, we had 20 full minutes of silent reading time and every single student was reading. I started on the first Harry Potter (late to the boat, sorry ELA teachers). As we finished reading, I handed each student the card I wrote to them. Last year when I did this, it my kids were interested, but I found many notes crushed and ripped on the ground at the end of the day. Today, though, my kids immediately asked, “Did you write something different for everyone?” and “Can I share this with my friends?” and “Is everyone’s card this long?” with wonder in their voices. I saw students re-reading their cards multiple times through the day. Kay declared she is going to tape hers to her door at home. After cards, I made them clear their desks.

In the next ten minutes, I asked them what journals are, who keeps them, and why. I then showed (skimmed! briefly!) my students a few of my different journals. This one I mostly wrote lists in, especially lists of what I was eating and how far I was running because I was training. This one I wrote the date a different way each day, to be more creative. This one is just straight writing throughout the whole thing, nothing fancy. This one I didn’t use any dates, I just titled each entry with one or two words. This one has a lot of pictures and doodles…

Only after showing them my own did I tell them their gift: their own journals. I gave each student a super tiny $0.50 notebook, a pen, some candies, and stickers. After 10 minutes of decorating and chatting, I had my students write, draw, scribble, or list in their own notebooks for 10 minutes. Watching them made my heart swell.

Because this happened in the morning, for each activity my students were asking, “Can we bring our journals?!” Today was Christmas parties, so I had my homeroom for the entire day. They brought their journals to the auction (where they spend their Bobcat Bucks on prizes), to recess, and to the choir concert. They asked if they were allowed to keep writing through the movie we watched. Yes, students, yes yes yes!

I challenged them to write as much as they could about anything they want over break. By lunch I had girls saying, “Look! I wrote 10 pages!” I felt excited but a tinge of nervous discomfort. I can’t explain why– something about not understanding the overall impact of journaling in general. I explained to them how keeping journals has been one of the most important things for my brain to stay healthy, but I also think journaling can do the opposite if you’re not careful. This could also just be some silly manifestation of overall anxiety.

Lastly, as a sort of disclaimer, I don’t enjoy using this blog as an outlet for personal issues (ie family), but for some reason it seems appropriate tonight.

Michigan in two days.


4 Responses

  1. Sam

    Just remember: there’s no right or wrong way to journal. Your kids might write 30 pages in a day or one page a month. Either way, you have given your students a gift that will keep on giving, and you should be proud of that.

  2. I love your journals and journal ing habits! I’m also infatuated with keeping track of personal bits of data. Something like the Felton annual reports (

    Enjoy Kalamazoo and your family!

  3. You and your journals. If I haven’t told you yet, you are INCREDIBLE.

    I think not understanding the impact of journaling is how you’re supposed to journal when you’re in the sixth grade. I’m with Sam–I think if they stick with it, they’ll realize the impact only when they have enough material to look back through.

    Your journaling habits are perfect. I’m very OCD with mine–I’ve dated and signed and titled every one of my entries the same way for years, just because it’s how I did it and I wanted everything to match and be neat and tidy like some kind of professional chronology of my life.

    … my blog may also have some personal issues (i.e. family) soon. You’re not alone.

  4. Shoshana

    this blog post makes me ache and smile all at the same time. In Taiwan I remember having similar feelings about my family.. we are self sufficient.. but then we have the ‘devouring sweets with all our might’ days and we have to wonder..

    regardless I love you endlessly, and as always wish to be by your side.

    Merry x-mas sis

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