Arm in Arm

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They walked past me with quiet smiles, arm in arm with coffee cups in their free hands. All on a chilly winter’s morning like any other school day.

One of my duties at school is to man a post outside for intake duty, every other day.  My presence is supposed to deter students coming from the bus drop-off point from taking a short cut to one of the buildings that, if they did take it, would bring them in the path of the numerous cars of parents who drive their little scholars to school.  I see a significant number of my own students at this time, most still with sleep in their eyes and bulging backpacks.  One of the last buses to come brings the arrival of two of my 10th graders, quiet but sweet girls who are very clearly close friends.  They always share sincere smiles as they walk by, sometimes asking questions that pertain to class, but mostly just exchanging an early morning greeting.

Something struck me about them the other day though.  They’re different, somehow a bit more removed from the foolishness that I often observe as a middle/high school teacher and that yet, I can relate to. There’s an element of sincerity between them.  With arms interlocked, it dawned on me how they were just being present with each other. At 7:45 on a Friday morning. Enjoying a moment with a friend.

Seeing them the other day made me think of all the friends with whom I have had moments like that. Late night chats in a residence hall lounge. Night time conversations with a roommate while the lights are off and we’re both in our beds. Walks through Boston with a childhood best friend back from the bar, spilling our hearts out over concerns for the future.  Tear-filled sessions in the Chapel. Impromptu dance parties. There are some whom have fallen out of my life and others of whom I have stayed strongly connected with, but who are now “scattered to the four winds” across the country.  Even though life has changed beyond anyone’s imagination in a matter of years, the friends remain.  How simple yet complicated life was just a few years ago. How much was to be learned and experienced.  How much we would be there for each other and how much remains for us to be at each others’ sides for.  The same kind of scene I observed between these two girls could have been said of me at a similar time:  “They walked  arm-in-arm through the halls of the sprawling high school. Giggling over inside jokes and stressing over what was to come.”  Years later, one could observe, “They walked arm-in-arm across campus, planning coffee dates and shopping trips.” And the words will continue to apply in the future, at weddings and baby showers, graduations and housewarmings, and just ordinary visits with those dearest to us whom life transports to new places near and far.

cait

Childhood best friends

…they walk arm-in-arm, sharing a moment with a friend.

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Memory Box

memorybox

I bought a box.

And in it I placed letters-to-self, name-tags from various functions, cards from home, and pamphlets from everything from the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit to programs from my friends’ presentations at their English major colloquium.  I believe that this relatively small collection will sum up four years of my life when I go through it with my future children, or maybe in a few years with a glass of wine in my hand.  I’m ashamed to admit that for months, three shopping bags have sat in the corner of my bedroom, mostly untouched since May 12th, waiting for me to comb through them and decide what is vital to my memories of the best period of my life thus far.  Sure, I shifted these from place to place on my bedroom floor, and one used to hide in the back of my closet as it contained items from the beginning of college, but more or less I have ignored them because I feared the wave of emotions that would accompany the process of going through each little piece of my life.

But in the past few days, the mess finally got to me. I opened the bags and sorted it all.

And amazingly, I survived.

I got a little choked up while sorting through the bags, like when I read a Candlelight prayer reflection I wrote at the end of my sophomore year about saying goodbye to two dear friends who would be graduating that spring.  But mostly I laughed and marveled at the growth and major accomplishments that each item represented.   Some brought images of people that hadn’t entered my mind in a long time, memories of a time when the real world seemed like a generation away.  And others brought up moments that feel like they just happened yesterday – has it really been nearly 8 months since I shared an apartment with five of the most hilarious, fun-loving, and supportive people I have ever met??  But naturally, a few items came to represent bigger moments or especially fun memories, and those are the ones I’d like to share:

1. Glowstick

Contrary to first impressions in listing this as one of my favorite items, I am by no means, and never have been, in the habit of going to raves.  No, this little formerly glowing green glowstick came from my first college party down in “the Valley” – the center of all the action at AC (especially to underclassmen) – that I went to with a friend during freshman year.  We felt SO cool, chatting with the older senior boys that we knew and sipping minimal amounts of jungle juice (“Isn’t that the stuff everyone always warns you about??” we said to each other), and when we told our other friends about our adventure the next day, I think we definitely had way too much pride in our newly discovered rule-breaking ways.

2. Notes

Personal favorite from one of my dearest friends and senior year roommate, written during sophomore year on a sticky note I found on my door after I woke up: “Briotch! I was here and you were sleeping. ❤ A”.  I’m fairly certain that it’s notes like these that will continue to make me laugh no matter how old I am when I crack this box open.

3. Official Letters

Acceptances to the Campus Ministry Core Team.  Notification of my roommate group’s approval to live in the LLC. Official notice of being a recipient of the Crown and Shield Award.  These letters marked very significant parts of my undergraduate experience.  But I also kept the rejection letters, too.  Because who doesn’t need to be humbled every now and then and reminded that you can’t get it all, but that in no way makes you a failure.  Everything happens for a reason, so those rejection letters provide memories of the opportunities that came about even though I didn’t get what I at one point wanted so terribly.

4. 22nd Birthday Cards

In a word, hilarious. My 22nd was probably my favorite birthday EVER.  Even better than my 21st. My roommates and I had a huge party, for which they decorated the apartment like crazy, my best friend from home came for the festivities, and it just so happened to be Alumni Weekend, so some of my favorite ex-seniors were in Worcester to join in on the celebration.  These cards reminded me of so much laughter and friendship from people who I sadly don’t get to see all that often any more.  I had a BLAST – I wore a new sparkly dress and danced my little heart out while running all over and trying to see all my favorites.  And those cards reminded me of all the friends that had surrounded me on that day, which was the exact opposite of the kind of birthday I had this year, on which I worked and went to class and felt like I had hurriedly answered birthday texts all day on my sparse downtime.  And since this year’s birthday felt so lonely, it warmed my heart to be reminded of all those who had surrounded me with love and fun just a year before, and just because they weren’t there this year doesn’t mean their love still isn’t present in my life.

5. Senior Week Bracelet

Neon yellow-green. Black font. The ticket to all fun and games of the week right before graduation.  Cutting off that bracelet just prior to Baccalaureate Mass that Friday was definitely the end of an era, however short that era actually was.  And that’s all I think I’m going to say about that….

6. Retreat materials

Without a doubt, these will always bring tears and the realization of how far I have actually come in faith and in being myself.  Everything from homemade place-mats to talks I gave to journals responding to the experiences I had while on retreat help to paint a picture of who I was and who I became in four short years, and how my faith brought me along that journey.  And no matter what life brings me, I know these items will always fill me with START LOVE.

***

I suspect the box will stay shut for a time; however, I know full well that I’ll dig it out and review so many happy times and periods of growth.  But I also know that I will very likely have to buy more boxes in the future to fit all the other memories that are sure to be made in the years ahead.

Friends, Faith, and Fortune

I survived Term 1 of my first year of teaching. 1 down, 3 to go – it’s the little things, you know?

And it’s been a tough one.  Overall, it is fabulous, but everything they say about the first year being super difficult and filled with self-doubt and feeling like you’re barely keeping your head above water is 100 percent true.   At one meeting for the first-year teachers at my school, we got a handout entitled “Phases of First-Year Teaching” and it basically went through the roller-coaster of emotion first year teachers tend to experience.  Well let me tell you, I skipped pretty quickly to “disillusionment” – a few weeks ahead of the curve (but maybe that’s typical of my overachiever style…).

Naturally, through the craziness of it all, I’ve been forced to reflect on friendship.  After making the switch from living in the same building or apartment as many of my best friends to moving back home and spending lots of time on my own, it’s been a very, very lonely time, which seems like a ridiculous statement when you take into consideration that I am in the presence of a room full of people all day, every day.  But I miss being with those who really know me.  Know when I’m not really ok even when I say I am, and who can give me the best hug in the world when all I want to do is cry.  Know me enough to celebrate with me over each little success and improvement.  I feel like I’m wandering around and still trying to feel like I fit into this place just a bit more snugly.  Adjustment takes time, I know, but sometimes I just want to fast-forward through this year and just have more experience under my belt and stop feeling like the needy and unknowledgeable first-year teacher.  And so I long so much more for my friends.  Some of the people who had consistently been there for other times of struggle in my life were not – one seems to have chosen not to be there, and another had her own big burdens to carry.  Life gets in the way and makes regular check-ins sometimes close to impossible.  But others have been there and listened and reassured and guided and prayed.

Yes, faith, too, has been my friend during these times.  I pray for peace and reassurance.  I’m in the process of saying a 9-week novena for one friend, and I consistently pray for others.  I stop by one of the campus chapels after my grad class and sit and reflect in one of the rare instances of peace and quiet I can seem to find these days.  No matter how lonely it may feel, I have my faith to bring me light.

But when people ask how faith is possible even when there is suffering, I find it hard to give an articulate answer.  “Why do some people experience no pain, while others do?” and “How can you justify tragedy?” one asked.  Somehow, my mantra of “Everything Happens for a Reason” seems insensitive in cases like these.  But then I remember that everything does happen for a reason.  Pain makes you who you are, tragedy prepares you for the future, challenges make the next round easy.  Love and friendship and happy memories are the rewards.

This year is hard for a reason – to make the next one easier.  I miss my friends for a reason – to realize who is really there and who I may need to reevaluate.  I’m lonely for a reason – to enjoy and cherish the time I do spend with my loves so much more.  And it will get easier, but it will take time.  So I’ll just have to be patient.

Your Friends Make Your World

Join me for a frappucino at Starbucks sometime; you’ll notice I do something strange with my straw wrappers.  After unwrapping the straw, I tie the crinkly paper wrapper into a knot and pull it until it breaks. Two of my dear friends from home taught me years ago that if the paper breaks perfectly so that the knot comes undone, then someone is thinking about you. If there is a knot in either side, well, then you are out of luck.

One of our yearly summer adventures

Now, I am not a particularly superstitious person, but I always follow this one little gesture through, although its not about whether or not someone is thinking of me (however, I will confess that I sometimes giggle at the broken knot if I’ve been thinking of someone, hoping that they are thinking of me too).  Each time the paper breaks, I feel like I am back with the three friends who always follow this trick, no matter where we are at the present moment.  In pulling that straw wrapper tight, I am transported back to when we were 16 and 17, meeting at Friendly’s for ice cream dates to stress over finals and AP exams, prom dresses and college applications. I can picture Jen’s scrunched up face as she concentrates on thinking of one of us in order to make the knot break (with minimal effectiveness), or remember the random restaurants from our yearly beach trips where all four of us have tied our straw wrappers at the same time to see who the lucky lady would be.

As the years have passed and life has grown all the more complicated,  reunions with these girls become tougher and more difficult to plan, so this single, mechanical action is like a reunion in memory, lasting just a few seconds, but bringing a small smile nonetheless.  One is currently completing an internship hundreds of miles away in Washington DC, another is seriously contemplating a move to New York City to pursue her dream writing career, and the last returned from Alabama last month from Basic Training in the Air Force and will be leaving to begin her study at medical school in less than a week, a step she has been planning go take since the days of those Friendly’s ice cream dates.

At Maura’s graduation from BU this past May.

I miss them all terribly but no matter where life takes us, I know we will always be there for each other to share joy and sorrow. I recently got a job as a teacher, a dream I have consistently pursued since I was about 15 years old.  I wanted nothing more than to call a customary Panera date with these three to tell them all in person. These inspiring and talented young women have encouraged me every step of the way, and emit sincere “awwws” when I tell them a teaching story. I can always count on them to show true interest in my passions, just as I do for them. But we couldn’t all be together to share the big news, so I settled on a phone call ( as this was too big for a simple text!).  Tiff squealed with delight when I called her as she was making her way along the 9 hour trip back home from DC, while I received an ecstatic voicemail from Jen that night after a day of training in return for the one I left her about how I couldn’t wait to tell her the news until we were able to catch each other on the phone.  I’ve known all three of these women since we were in elementary school and after these years of our friendship, I recognized this moment as the step into adulthood.  We’re all college grads now, pursuing our dreams and passions, but I know that no matter where life takes us, we will always have each other.

The next few years are sure to be a bit tumultuous as all of my friends and I settle into careers and post-grad education, but I’ve accepted it. Distance doesn’t mean the friendships are any different, even if we are unable to be there in the way we previously have been for each other through literal physical presence.  But we’re still there.

In the days since graduation, I put a magnet on the large mirror in my bedroom that once found its place on the refrigerator of my senior year apartment.  It reads as follows: “Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world (William James).”  So whether they are interning in DC, teaching in Kansas City or Connecticut, still living life as an undergrad in Worcester, completing a year of service in New Orleans, starting grad school in Providence or Pittsburgh, laying the foundations of their careers in the Boston area, or following a dream in New York, my world will always consist of my beautiful, supportive, one-of a-kind, gift-from-God friends.

What My Students Taught Me

So when I started this blog back in January, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to share all the things I learn about myself during student teaching!” Well, big surprise, student teaching turned out to be so time-consuming, that I hardly had the time to talk

My amazing and inspiring supervising practitioner – I couldn’t have done this without her!

to friends about the day-to-day lessons, never mind write about them here.  But in order to wrap it all up, I’m going to compile the whole 12-weeks of planning, grading, laughter, tears, hours of driving, chipping ice off of my car, professional wardrobe issues, and self-discovery into a top 10 list.

1) You can never plan every little detail…

Throughout my education, I hated the idea of giving a presentation without having my material planned out word for word.  Whenever I tried to rely on simple bullet points, I inevitably left out key details and felt like I gave a confusing and jumbled presentation.  Boy, was I in for a shock! There is simply  no way a teacher can anticipate everything that he or she will say in the course of the day.  From discussions about my brother’s dating life during my first official observation by my education professor, to questions about whether or not grinding occurs at college dances, there were many moments where I had to give answers to tough questions.  As the semester progressed and I had my complete load of three classes, it became even more difficult to feel like I had thoroughly planned the day.  But I dealt with it, and came to realize that I really WAS capable of delivering content without a word-for-word presentation.

2) It’s ok to say “I don’t know”

Anyone who knows me well would definitely describe me as a history nerd.  I embrace the title – if there was a crown or a sash to go along with it, I would wear it (though I think I would prefer a sceptre…it’s very historically royal).  But as any historian would tell you, it is simply impossible to know everything about history.  High schoolers can be very curious, and sometimes they ask very tough and specific questions, like when a certain canon was invented or what the population of Alaska is. (I legitimately heard these questions asked, no lie).  But it’s ok to say I don’t know.  But with that, a teacher must encourage that curiosity – it’s healthy to the development of a student.

3) It can always get worse

Day 12. I have an awesome lesson planned about the Tiananmen Square Massacre for my honors-level juniors, complete with a stellar powerpoint that has maps, images, and thought-provoking quotes from my friend’s parents who are Chinese immigrants and left China just a few years before the Massacre.  I was stoked.  But when I put my flashdrive in that morning to open it, the powerpoint is not there.  The corresponding note sheet is not there.  “Maybe the drive just isn’t working” I think, blaming it on the used, school-loaned computer.  I hand it over to my cooperating teacher, panic setting in.  Nope, not there – the computer isn’t even registering that there is a flashdrive plugged into it.  Anyone can imagine the thoughts – and expletives – running through my head.  But I had to teach.  There was no time to cry, no time to freak out.  I had to pull something together within an hour and a half before 3rd period waltzed in.

And that’s when the tiny voice said, “It could be worse.”

It could have been.  I could have lost everything.  I could have forgotten all of the material, or deleted the email with those quotes that served as a great discussion starter. I luckily had an older version of the powerpoint saved on my personal laptop back at Assumption, and my life-saver of a roommate was able to send it to me.  The lesson I delivered that day wasn’t as good as it would  have been.  But it was good.  It had depth.  Sure, the images weren’t as great, but I did my job and kept it together for the sake of my students.

4)   Don’t forget someone else’s perspective

History teachers are always aware of perspective.  We must teach the victory in the Pacific theater of World War II very differently from the U.S. perspective in a U.S. history class from when we must show the horrors of the atomic bomb when we teach the Japanese perspective.  But students have perspective too.  Even though being a teenager feels like a lifetime ago sometimes, I realized that I can’t forget what it’s like and how complex life can be.  I had some students dealing with tough stuff – health problems, friend drama, family dynamics.  They are very multi-faceted individuals outside of my history classroom.  So sometimes you have to work with that.  And you must take the time to check in, to wish them well on that health test.  At weekend mass, I prayed for my students.  Sometimes life can really suck, and as a teacher who sees her students on a daily basis, I must act as a support and a comfort, not an antagonist who could care less about a student’s life like some teachers can be faulted for doing.

5)  Be silly

I definitely tend to be nervous when I want to do my best.  And I have always wanted to be a great teacher.  As tense as I were those first few weeks, I learned that I had to loosen up in order to create the kind of classroom I wanted to.  One moment that stands out to me is one of my first history jokes.  We were studying reform movements and key figures.  As students listed key figures from the reforms, they mentioned Horace Mann, whom many regard as the father of public education in America.  I love him.  He’s a Massachusetts guy and teachers today owe a lot to him.  As I wrote his name on the board, I giggled, “Horace Mann – he’s the MAN” and laughed at myself.  One girl, who was not the strongest in the class, laughed loudly and proclaimed, “Ms. Murphy, that was REALLY funny.”  It made my day.

In Central Park with a statue of Alexander Hamilton (I said I was a history nerd…)

6) SMILE

This should go without saying, but when you’re nervous, stressed, overtired, and trying to prepare yourself for the next class while you’re in the middle of teaching another one, it’s hard to remember that.  By the second week, I realized I had to take the advice of classroom management guru, Dr. Diane Myers, at Assumption and stand outside the class, every day, and welcome the students.  I noticed a difference immediately.  It was simple – smile, say hi, ask how each is doing, compliment a cute Vera bag or a team spirit outfit.  People will respect you all the more for it.

7) Be yourself

When you feel like your students are a little to close to your age for comfort, you want to be as professional as possible. But you have to be yourself too.  Some of my girls in one of my freshmen classes loved when I had different nail polish on (one of my favorite quotes: “OhMyGod, CRACKLE!!!).  Others asked about college.  You still have to be professional, but you have to show them that you’re a real person too.

8) It’s all about community
I had the awesome privilege of completing my student teaching at the same high school I graduated from 4 years ago.  I owe so much to the education I received there, and I still do a double take whenever I see a high school-age person wearing maroon and gold, thinking it could be someone from my high school.  Throughout college, I’ve really committed to giving back to the community, and going back to “the Reg” to teach was an extension of that.  Take the time to go back to those people and places that made you who you are and do something for them.

My education roommates with some of the wonderful faculty of Assumption’s Education Department who prepared us to do this!

9) Even though it’s the 21st Century, it can still be tough to be a woman

He never stopped challenging me, especially when the principal was observing me teach.  My supervising practitioner told me she thought it was a female teacher thing, since she had the same struggles with this student. But it still sucked.  It was hard to keep calm.  And it was frustrating knowing that somewhere along the line, this young male had had it ingrained in him that it was ok to be disrespectful to women.  But it could have been worse – he just challenged me about the content and sometimes my methods, nothing else.  I think you all know what I’m alluding to here.  And maybe I will deal with that in the classroom.  But I will do everything I can to create a culture of respect in my classroom, regardless of any personal qualifier.

10) Mentors are THE BEST

The AP US history teacher who is the one most responsible for me becoming the kind of teacher I want to be.  The supervising practitioner whose love for history and dedication to teaching others how to teach made a lasting impact on me as I grew as a teacher.  The college supervisor whose constant advice and support and lessons in teaching history were invaluable to my success.  The content advisor who showed true pride when he observed me teach, sharing with me the life-long goal that he had helped me prepare for since he became my academic advisor freshman year. The thesis advisor who took the time to ask about teaching and offer wisdom applicable to educators at all levels.  The roommates who supported me through the challenges and laughed with me at the faux pas.  The girlfriends back home who’ve known me since elementary school, who shared my joy in doing what I’ve always wanted to. The friends who calmed me down the night before my first lesson, checked in regularly, and supported me and loved me even when the extreme stress made me not always act like myself.  No matter how old, how experienced, or how overwhelmed, mentors are the best resource anyone can ever have.

I have a job. I have a Massachusetts Educator License.  In August, I will begin my teaching career and finally living out my passion. Thank you to everyone who supported me, everyone who cared, and everyone who helped me to get here.  I will always try to make you proud!

I Am Who I Am Because I Was Here

In one week, I will be headed back to the happiest place on earth.  No, not Disney World.  No, this place is less magical, though the way the Chapel looks on a snowy night seems like it’s right out of a picture book.  The magic is instead in how this place has helped me to grow and helped me to become the person I am today.  In reality, this is one place that at times hasn’t really been all that happy for me, but at the end of the day, when its name crosses my lips, an instant smile spreads across my face, and if you don’t cut me off right away, I will begin rambling about this place before you know what hit you.

Assumption College.

Most people outside of Massachusetts have  not heard of this small, Catholic school, located in New England’s second largest city of Worcester, MA.  ImageNestled in a picturesque neighborhood that would never give you the impression that you were indeed in a city, Assumption is a hidden gem and often overlooked for just how strong the education one receives from this place can be, as long as one is willing to make it so.  Growing up just 20 minutes away from the campus in a small, suburban town, I never imagined that I would end up somewhere so close, yet so different from what I was used to for what many people describe as the best four years of their lives.  But as I embarked on my college search, I was surprised to find how perfect it seemed to be for me.  It had everything I was looking for.

Over the years, it has captured every part of my heart.  It has given me dreams and helped me to achieve.  It has granted me irreplaceable friends, bestowed unforgettable memories, and taught me so much more than what is contained in the overpriced textbooks I buy from its bookstore.  I am who I am because of each experience I have had within the bounds of its campus.  From the Duck Pond to the dangerous shortcut trails, my residence halls to the classrooms I’ve spent hours in, every single part of the campus has made me who I am today.

Next Tuesday will be different.  Next Tuesday I will be going back after break for the last time.

I will have student leader training for the last time.  I am heading back for second semester of my senior year, and that scares me.  What’s more, I will be student teaching, a.k.a. working full time for free and not taking classes.  I will be thrust into the real world, while still living with the best roommmates in the world in a gorgeous on-campus apartment that would cost

Image

a fortune if located anywhere else.

I always marvel at how much each semester at this place changes me.  The nervous but excited 18-year-old freshman who first set foot in a small, secluded freshman dorm would not recognize the well-rounded and empowered 22-year-old senior who is about to start her life’s goal of teaching.  Heck, nevermind the 18-year-old version of me, the 21-year-old junior from last spring would not recognize the 22-year-old senior I am now.  It is truly amazing. An old friend who graduated from this same wonderful place two years ago called me today and asked, “Can you believe you’re a second semester senior now?”  I laughed and told him that I can’t even handle it, half-joking but half-serious as well.  I can’t believe that this journey will soon be over and that I will be moving on to the next chapter.

But when I pack up my bags and empty my room at home for the last time next week, I will do so with so much hope and a determination to make this last one count.  Graduating will be scary, but I know that I will be ready for it, personally, professionally, and spiritually.  No matter where the next chapter takes me, I know I will always carry Assumption in my heart.