Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So, As I Was Starting To Say...Here's Some Wishes!

My original intention was to get specific, wax poetic, become eloquent, if I could, about some specific wishes, and I was carried away with a song in my heart.  Here are some wishes for you that I wanted to pass along that are more straightforward.. As I move into my 6th year of counseling and 23rd year of education, I have learned some hard lessons and had some epiphanies that have helped me survive and some days even thrive.
May you have more joy than pain.
Every year, without exception, there have been wonderful moments of students making it to graduation, getting into the college of their dreams, scholarships being awarded, test scores through the roof after much hard work, smiles of satisfaction on once hesitant or unsure faces, and the awesome march forward from freshman to senior, with so many changes taking place. I have gotten to be around lots of butterflies coming out of the cocoon. The vast majority of my students go onto good things, grand times, and their high school experience is one of achievement and safety. Some days, however, all seems bleak, as a student is found to have cancer, is struggling with divorce, tragic, shattering loss of a loved one, has had to move again to a new place, one step ahead of collection agencies. That they can sit upright, much less get through a day of high expectations is daunting to them, and it is our job to bolster, to strengthen, to intervene. I hope the balance of your day is much more on the positive side. The negative takes so much more juice. Of course, it is so much more important, ultimately, to help students face.
May you find diversion during the course of your day that lifts you.
One of the great fascinations of this job for me has been that no matter how brief, to "consult", kibbitz, gossip, mull over student affairs, the weekend, the kid's game the night before, gives me a boost of confidence and energy. There is laughter loud enough to be heard 100 feet away in our lounge during lunch. Netflix has been turned on during lunch, I will admit, and 5 minutes of Words with Friends can get me invigorated.  Wandering down the hall can be constructive with conversations with teachers and students, and I can breathe better outside the cave, some days. Sometimes, I just go to the door near the back of our offices and stare at the sky for a moment. There has been construction on a seniors' village across the way for the last six months that I have stared at until I have to pull away.
May you find reserves of strength you need to stay true to your calling.
There were approximately 40 days of testing last year at MHS, and there were weeks and weeks of scheduling, then fixing scheduling, then guidance to talk about scheduling, with paperwork about scheduling. It is very easy to start to get a mentality of just grinding out your day, but the problem with that is that your job, what you were trained for, is to talk to students, to offer counseling, to be able to stand in the gap. I wish for you the ability to face with full energy the needs of your students, when they are hurting and lost, even if there is another test to give, another box to pack. To be in the moment with every single student is a very tough thing to do, and then do again and then again.
May you feel satisfied at the end of a long day.
My mom taught 2nd grade for over 20 plus years, starting in education, when I had begun school, as the last of her three boys, and there were two things that struck me every year about tangible things that she gathered from her job, besides sheer accomplishment: presents from her students at Christmas and the end of the year, with "love you" notes along the way and class photos taken at the end, that she has to this day, on the walls of her garage, that she sees going to and from her car. My mom has always been an education hero, along with being a regular hero, and I know that she has memories of every student that she taught. One of the adjustments for me has been that I may have 480 plus students in a year, with an ebb and flow, an in and out, and I can't possibly know that I have made a difference in all their lives on a daily basis. In fact, we have actually commiserated that at least we didn't "screw that one up" as a measure. This can leave me lost feeling, and it can be very frustrating to just not know what happens to all my students. I hope that you can find victories, gain toeholds. see some real results, know that you have fought your hardest, done your best, gone the distance.
May all your dreams come true.
Whatever your highest goals, your most heartfelt desires for this year might be, I hope that they all come true for you. That you feel a peace, a fulfillment, a strengthened resolve to move forward to do this very important, very misunderstood job year after year with grace and fortitude. And, that you have a great time doing it, with laughter at lunch and a cold beverage now and again. I'll buy!

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Wish For You, Counselors.

I grew up on the Eagles, the Beatles, lots of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I even went through a time of some Sheena Easton and Def Leppard in the college years, but I always avoided country music like it was a bill collector, until the last 10 years or so, as marriage and kids and then my leaving the coaching ranks for the counselor chair took hold of my fiber, pulling me back to my smalltown, work--a-day roots. I started liking a little twang, but I refused to buy a pair of boots.
One windy night toward  the end of May, as I stood on the football field after an emotional graduation ceremony, my first as a counselor, as the lights went out, and fireworks started to go off, I heard the beginnings of a song called My Wish, which I recognized as being by Rascal Flatts. I was finally, unequivocally captured, as I watched seniors in the darkened stadium dance, heard them laugh, run like kindergartners, their robes flapping behind them, as the music played over the loudspeakers with a backdrop of flares and explosions.
A natural evolution was to develop some Dierks Bentley fondness, some Brad Paisley affinity, go back and grab some George, some Clint Black, throw in some Martina McBride, and I had something going on during the long drive from Mesquite to Grandview, while I was finishing my Master's. And, of course, I deepened by knowledge and appreciation of Rascal Flatts, with Amy even buying me a CD that I played to death, with "Why Wait" and "I Will Stand By You" blaring on the way to work many mornings, when I was a little tired and needed some energy and some deep crooning to make sure my voice worked well enough to talk to kids during presentations. I didn't care if anyone saw me emote, either, as I crossed the bridge to make the final run to school.
So, this March, when I saw the Flatts advertised for a trip to Dallas, I snatched up the idea of two tickets for our anniversary celebration in July. A bonus would be special guests Little Big Town, as most of my kids know Boondocks, front and back, and some other guests, which turned out to be Eden's Edge and Thompson Square, and we laid a blanket out on a not-too-hot night and settled in for a great night, although I did find out sadly that Shiner was considered an "export" beer. We made it through the first three groups, with Amy claiming I had developed a little crush on the poufy haired blonde from LBT, but I was really focused on getting to Joe Don and the boys. Things started promisingly, with some Banjo, and then there wa a turn of events that made me go meh. A part of their concert was to have audience members shout out songs, and they did a minute and a half rendition of them. I was a bit off when they zoomed through Mayberry, as Andy Griffin had just died, but then when they made short work of My Wish, I felt myself have some mild but real disappointment.We enjoyed every bit of the remainder of the show, including the encore of Boston's Foreplay/Long Time, which I want to be played at my funeral. Still, I felt the pull of listening to the full song, and I did that on Spotify the next week, along with full versions of about 40 other songs until I was full.
With, that said, it brings me to where I wanted to go, as I believe country music has become fully part of my texture as a counselor and speaks to all of us, with its makeup of great laughter, heartfelt sadness, appreciation for little things on a grand scale, and occasionally a good drinking moment reflected in me from the inside out. I mean, the Beastie Boys still do it for me, and I know the words to some Gotye, but country speaks to me on our level.  And, so, as we get started, I wanted to extend best regard, wishes, to all of you who labor as counselors, in the elementaries with their hugs and pictures that proclaim their love for you, in the intermediates and middle schools where they start to feel great love for their BFFs and their first real crushes, to the high school level, where hormones and testosterone can turn on a dime, and there is such great capacity for joy and pain. I don't want you to feel the slightest bit cheated, so here is the full song, and I hope it speaks to you. I am available for vocalizing this, given time, but you will have to ride wiht me early in the morning on say, a Tuesday, to get the full effect. Here's to you!
I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow And each road leads you where you want to go And if you're faced with the choice and you have to choose I hope you choose the one that means the most to you
And if one door opens to another door closed I hope you keep on walkin' ‘til you find the window If it's cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile But more than anything, more than anything
My wish for you Is that this life becomes all that you want it to Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to I hope you know somebody loves you And wants the same things too Yeah, this is my wish
I hope you never look back but you never forget All the ones who love you and the place you left I hope you always forgive and you never regret And you help somebody every chance you get
Oh, you'd find God's grace in every mistake And always give more than you take But more than anything, yeah more than anything
My wish for you Is that this life becomes all that you want it to Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to I hope you know somebody loves you And wants the same things too Yeah, this is my wish, yeah yeah
My wish for you Is that this life becomes all that you want it to Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you're out there gettin' where you're gettin' to I hope you know somebody loves you And wants the same things too Yeah, this is my wish (My wish for you)
This is my wish (My wish for you) I hope you know somebody loves you (My wish for you) May all your dreams stay big (My wish for you)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tomorrow's Another Day, So Bring On The Rain?

I had a moment of sheer, relaxed happiness on Friday, our day off, and for many Good Friday.  Amy and I were driving down the road on our way to see The Hunger Games, and it just hit me that life was pretty good. This was a too rare moment, so I decided to trace it back, so that I could know its roots and hope for a continuous replication of it.
I factored in the sunlight and the nap I had, and that Amy and I had unwinded with some reality TV and some Draw Something, and that the kids weren't fighting too much. This certainly played a part in how I felt, and it was something I cherished, but I decided it was something more, upon analysis. It began and ended with school and a test called the STAAR.
At one point, we received an e-mail that our insurance rates were going up again next year, and I believe that we will more than likely have a pay freeze again, and this was disconcerting and discouraging. Then, on Wednesday, my turn came to go to one of our middle schools to talk to our 8th graders, our future Panthers, about next year's schedule. My presentation was preceded by a quick reminder by the wonderful English teacher about the Hunger Games' day that they were having the next day, where they could commemorate the book with costumes and hair. Their excitement was great to see and refreshing, and it peeled some of the cynicism away. Their questions as the presentation went on about credits and classes were on-point and funny and probing. I left feeling refreshed and good about the day.
Thursday brought a combination of ups and downs, with a sad meeting with a parent and a senior who wasn't going to make it this time around, but then, as she was leaving, cursing life and probably me, in strolled a senior, on her second senior year with one evasive credit to complete, and she announced that she had finished. This, after a myriad of personal issues, academic struggles, and more than one court appearance that she had faced, with nudging, teacher support, parent contacts, she made it. (I went to pat her on the back, but she winced, as she had just had her "6th tattoo" and it was still tender.) Euphoria for her and relief and happiness for me. It felt like the end of an uphill climb, with a great view at the top, but with tired legs and a crick in the back. Still, I smiled and did the finish line hands when noone was looking.
And, then on Friday afternoon, with the first STAAR tests under our belt at the HS, I qualified through Pearson's to grade the 4th graders, and we have some needed money coming in this month. A quiet, good, solid moment.
My youngest daughter wanted to know what the literal meaning of Easter was today. I looked it up for her, while relaying the Christian meaning of resurrection of Jesus, but I also found this meaning, and I found it appropriate to describe my feeling, as it originated from easterly, to describe when the sun comes up.
This was the song that Amy played for me, as we drove.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

EOC Thrilling? SOL, So Far.

It's been two months since my last post, and events of historic and magnificent consequence have taken place during that time in the state of Texas and our forward thinking education system, as we have introduced a new test. (This is the part where I hope the sarcasm shines subtly through.)
The EOC, also know as the End of Course exam, also know as the STAAR, State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, has formally arrived this week at my high school, and in my children's elementary , and it has been less than earth-shaking so far. Wait for it...until results come back some time in May. Then, as they say, the fit may hit the shan. I hope not to get any on me.
Now, as I think that there is an outside perception of the different tests and what is done to prepare for them, the proverbial "teaching to the test", I can speak to that and many other components of this experience so far.
With 500 MILLION dollars in mind, school districts have been compelled by the state to go to their service centers, trek to Austin, to gain insight, figure out specifics and generalities for many months. Conflicting info has been a constant, differing opinions have flown around about the impact of the tests on  Texas school children, with a final delay of the inevitable, for at least a year, by the TEA Commissioner, once the howling finally got loud enough that there were too many questions left unanswered. In the meantime, teachers and administrators have been sharing the mantra this test would be "much, much harder" than the TAKS, thus raising the anxiety level to new notches. There have been prep sessions and daily reminders for weeks and weeks in my district.
As we drew closer, there were required trainings given by our testing coordinator, with the help of her loyal counselors, as the fine details of the "new" answer documents were pored over, with my belief that they looked very similar. One big difference was noted in that the new tests would have 4 hour time limits, as the TAKS has been a school-day long window of opportunity for students to sleep, look out the window, reflect, scratch their watch and wind their butt, take a break and eat, and delay going onto class. This has taken on heroic proportions in my years of observation. GONE is the chance to make it more of an operatic ordeal, and this is relieving, somewhat.
When the tests arrived, they were unloaded into a secure room, before being taken and placed into testing boxes by Harriette and LaDon and other counselors, (but not me, as I hate that stuff) which I would equate to paper crates with handles, along with pencils, required signs and paperwork, extra clocks, bathroom passes. This is done in conjunction with room assignments and teacher assignments, which in some districts can be nightmarish, as space is an issue, with appropriate desks and failure of educators to be available and reliable. Ours is a smooth and non-problematic assigning, as I honestly believe we have 99% of our teachers in a "seasoned" status, when it comes to testing. You always have the crank who doesn't like the makeup of their class roster, and there has been the odd ball who doesn't like a student using their faculty restroom, as the hallways we test in requires a cloistering, but people show up and they know how to conduct themselves.
Rosters are placed where students can see them a few days ahead of time, and those students who must be moved are given notice, but both groups seem to have memory losses on a regular basis, so we are around to send them the right direction, which may require a hike for some to the other side of the campus, so there is grumbling. This year we used our math and science wings to give the test to this first group of guinea pigs, uh, freshmen, and there was AC issues and some noise from surrounding classrooms, but no real problems with meltdowns or misbehavior, with the exception of a group of students taking an alternate test, which they weren't happy about, as is the norm for that grouping.
Then, onto the test! There is a lot of hurrying and waiting, and this year felt very similar to me, in that the pacing felt like TAKS, the bathroom breaks seemed like TAKS, and students finished at a normal pace. We all started from the loudspeaker, took at break at the same time for pizza and Subway, and we finished on the dot, with a 4 hour test window.  Students mentioned to me that it was easy and breezy, but we will see. Teachers took their tests to turn in one day, picked them up the next day, then we were done with the regular tests, with "field tests" given to a group, ESL tests to others, and one lucky young man got to take his English II test, as he was a year ahead of his class. (Only 9 students out of approximately 600 missed taking test, which will be made up this summer.)
Tests are gone over and bubbled appropriately, packaged in groups of 25, then placed in boxes for send off, with a hauling over to the admin to come. Sighs of relief will commence.
So, ultimately, has the world changed with this new test? Sadly, no, as there was a flow in the same river toward "accountability" with the advent of the STAAR. Other factors regarding true learning will remain secondary, regardless of NCLB being weakened.  Districts will be labeled starting year after next, students will graduate or not, as it is with the TAKS, and the waiting can begin...for the next acronym.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Incorrigible, Frustrating and Draining. To Know Them Is To Love Them.

You first get to know many "problem" students through a random moment of glancing at a progress report. You might meet them in a PowerSchool check. There is a discipline referral that is about dress code or cursing or a walk off the campus. They end up owing credit recovery for absences or they are on the list for truancy. Sometimes, they spring up immediately in a folder that is thick. You can tell by the heft, quite often, that their road has been a troubled one. A foster care designation is often a tragic surety of a dead-end future. Word gets to you about a divorce, a job loss.
You make lists, you send out passes, you go into classrooms, and you look for them in the cafeteria or hallway. Quite often they don't come to your office, because they are absent or they just won't come. They will take the pass and head out of their room, wander around, and then never come to the office, betting on not getting caught.
There is a disassociative quality to the whole thing that can set in, and then...you meet them.
They finally come in, maybe because they know that they can't get away with not doing so, or they want to get out of class, or possibly, quite often, they want some help, some affirmation, something. And, you work hard to give that to them, after there is some rapport established over minutes, then hours, then days, then weeks, months, years. A comfort zone can develop with them, a fondness for their idiosyncocrasies, sometimes their excuses, and you feel for their desperate moments, their hopelessness. You work with them to smooth their path, come up with a plan, pat them on the back after good moments. Sometimes, you kick their arse for rudeness to a teacher, for apathy, for crossing the line back to the bad place.
Progress is made, then setbacks come. A home situation deterioates, a project isn't turned in, and a test is failed. You call for them, then notice that they are absent for one, two, three days. A class is failed, a court apperance occurs, and they come in despondent. You notice that they are dressed too casually, with unshaved faces or their piercings in their face, more so than usual. (There is a forgiveness for such things in the Counseling Center, but a scolding does take place.). Then, they want to know about GEDs or homeschooling, and the last two years, as we have no alternative program at my school, information about the Wings Program at DeSoto. Carefully, we lay out options, encourage, to think hard, more often than not, about staying in our school, working out a solution. They nod, look gloomy or indifferent or hopeful, and they leave to go back to class, or quite often, back home again, as they know that the dress code enforcement is coming or the thought of staying in class is too much.
You think happy thoughts, and you might make a hopeful phone call, and you wait. There is a system we have in place, after withdrawals started not showing up where they claimed they were going a few years ago. We have a withdrawal form given through Cheryl Holt, counseling secretary, then onto our transition specialist Terrye Lybrand, who works closely with the students and their parents in figuring their next step, which can be a simple transfer to another school because of a move, but with these students it is a good bye to the regular route. If we have our head down or get busy, we don't notice that they have shuffled through.
First Class e-mail dings, and there is a missing subject line. This indicates that a student has transferred out.
The hours spent rush back, there is a gut punched feeling, cursing a bit mixed in that you don't have a magic wand or even a mundane solution in that true alternative school that has so much going for it but that.
Then, you say a little prayer, asking for the blessings denied for or by that student leaving, and you move on to the next one, hoping for some fresh air of success to inflate your will. The papers, the folders, the reports walked and breathed, laughed and cried in your office, and you feel better and worse for knowing them as the people they became to you. Sometimes, news comes back to you that they graduated and are happy. Sometimes, you hear about their police report or their new baby on the way.
You frown and smile, then you turn to the fresh progress report on your desk, dreading the ding that might come in a quiet moment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

David Moore, Texas Educator: A Week In The Life

David Moore, Texas Educator: A Week In The Life: I never knew what a counselor really did until I became one. I am still not sure if I am doing exactly what others do outside the realm of m...

A Week In The Life

I never knew what a counselor really did until I became one. I am still not sure if I am doing exactly what others do outside the realm of my world. In fact, I think that each and every place is probably unique to the locale, the makeup of the kids, the dynamic of the ratio of kid/counselor. Country, city, you get the drift. Elementary, middle school and high school are completely and utterly different, I have discovered, from conversations had and mutual blank stares while trading acronyms in district wide meetings.
Now, while I am detailing what I do, as I said once before, there is a rhythm to the year, with highlights and lowlights, and some weeks can be frantic while others are mundane and have a grinding quality. So, in order to fully edify and illuminate, I am going to do, by memory and creative license, a condensed version into a week. Everything is true, but the time frame and details are changed for dramatic purposes.
Over the weekend, there was a move by a family from a neighboring town. They want to enroll first thing, and they don't have all required paperwork. They must make phone calls, ask for faxes, meet with their assigned counselor, after Cheryl has greeted them and  explained what is required, by law, to be able to enroll. They don't like it, and they are not dressed to sit in a school setting. One "uncle" has their pajama bottoms on, with Homer Simpson prominently featured. The student is mad, sad, glad, sleepy, scared to be moving to what is their third school in the last two years. They will be reassured, assessed, checked over for discipline issues at their prior school, which WILL be transferred to us (something they don't want to happen.) Parents and their grandparents and a squirmy toddler finally leave them sitting alone, waiting on a schedule and a tour. We strike up a conversation with them, and we try to make a connection.
E-mail and phone messages are checked, triaged for urgency. A grandmother has died, and the parents are letting us know, and they have concerns about missing school. Someone needs a transcript or a VOE (driver's license attendace form) or a password for PowerSchool. There is a request for a conference to discuss the teacher who has failed their preciousness, and there is a call from a teacher who wants to know why another student has been put into their room that holds 30 with Susie being 31. We apologize and shrug, all at once, as there is no place to put that student and helpful suggestions about space aren't asked for or appreciated.
We call for students as the day starts, with our aides delivering passes. Many we call for are absent, but we block that time aside. There is a link to not being there and why we are needing to call for them. We make plans, hear rationalizations and justifications, and we give information regarding tutoring times. Some are receptive, and others give death stares and stumble out.
Classroom guidance day in English classrooms to our freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. We divvy up the assignments into mostly 5 classes out of the 7 periods, but sometimes we go to 6 classes, if a counselor is away. We talk about study skills and show a Cosby clip where Cliff gives Theo the business. We play a game related to GPA and how much more goes into preparation for college than just grades. We give information about the SAT or ACT or PLAN or PSAT. We do surveys, and we hand out transcripts, and we go over scheduling requirements. (The state of TEXAS makes changes daily, monthly, yearly, and we have to get ahead of the curve. Sometimes, we get twisted.) We end most sessions by imploring or inviting students to come see us with issues, get applications turned in for classes or college, and there is some begging involving tutoring.
Testing day with the PLAN, the PSAT, an EXIT level TAKS test in the library technology center or the administration building. Our jobs have been to conduct trainings, get materials into testing boxes, check those materials out, roam the halls maing sure rooms are unlocked, desks are arranged, clocks are on walls. During testing, we put out little fires, with a reluctant scholar slobber sleeping on their desk, a late genius strolling in late, and a dress code issue that is beyond reasonable. We check tests back in, sort them, count them, package them, check for mistakes, load them up and we take them on a huge cart across the campus. They can't be left alone, at any point, and every single one must be accounted for or there is high anxiety. We leave later that day than usual to make sure all is secure, but we do get to wear jeans.
Meetings are plentiful, as we meet in ARDs wtih our Special Ed kids and their parents, either in person or by phone. 504s convene in our offices or the conference rooms,. Some take a few minutes, and some take hours, with legal types in the room. (I have personally been in a meeting with 16 people discussing one child's modifications, and I have heard some obsene language. Police have been summoned to be there as a precaution. I got breathed on by a nice lady with some Bud Light on her breath. She called me Tiger once on the phone.)
We trudge over to the admininstration building to meet with all the other counselors of the district. Sometimes, there are cookies there, and we have an agenda. It is nice to see all the other counselors, but we often have very little in common.
A military rep asks to meet with us to check on the progress on their recruits. A college rep comes by to give breakfast and update us on all the exciting opportunities there. The local workforce contact comes by to tell us of specifics of their program. The mental health facility invites us to come tour their programs, and there is a future lunch invitation.
Traditionally, this has become on most Fridays "Lamp Day" as previously mentioned, and there is a sense of closure to the week.  This is a day for catchup on paperwork, schedule changes, recommendation letters, checking credits. Jeans are worn with a spirit shirt, and there is a pep rally.
Many teachers are gone to events or tournaments, and there is a free flow into the Counseling Center by students with wanderlust or real problems. We try to touch base with students with more dire circumstances before the weekend. More students are absent on this day than Monday, so that makes time even more precious when they are there, with reassurance for the weekend ahead.
Once a month is birthday cake day in the lounge. We make sure we grab our piece early before it all disappears. There is sighing, and then there is an empty building by 4.
Some of us give the SAT or ACT on 9 Saturdays a year. We get paid for it about a month or so later, and often it comes in handy. The duty is about 5 hours long or so, and we feel that it offers a reassuring testing experience that we are there on our campus. We get to see our students' pajamas and what their hair looks like in a backwards cap. They get to go the college of their choice or get that scholarship.
Transcripts books are worked on from home, often, and e-mail is checked late in the evening. Tragedy strikes, and we spend time back at school helping kids or getting ready to do so on Monday.
A new week looms ahead, and there is less sleep on Sundays than any other. Sunday is a day of reflection, of rest, of dread and anxiety.
Henry Kissinger once said it well, "There can not be a crisis next week. My schedule is full."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Light In the Darkness

I am no fan of bright lights. Whether it be in the big city or simply in my office or slumbering in my bedroom, the harsh glare of overhead lights shocks my brain and leaves me without rest. I used to blame it on an astigmatism that flares with weariness. As days marched on this semester, I slowly had the epiphany that I was experiencing doldrums of a new dimension.
We have in our offices quite often something we call "Lamp Fridays", which is, of course, a day of only lamps without the fluorescence burning into me, I first began to breath easier, but then I realized that I was slowing to a crawl as the weeks passed. There is a subdued, quieter feeling to our offices that I believe the kids sense. This started to become something more than subdued for me. Just before Christmas break, I began to have a strong desire to sit all alone in the dark, dimming even the mildest of lamps. 
This may have been to do with the fact that I have more than one child struggling with cancer on my caseload. Brave, big eyed young ladies. It may have been that we had more than one student lost to illness or accident. Again, smiling, dimply bundles of energy snuffed out. 
The sheer bulk of 477 students in my alpha, each with their own unique joys and miseries, started to become like running in mud, a steady, unrelenting slog. Finals are a "hurry up and wait" process, with anticipation and dread equally ladled. Counting credits, staring at exam grades, doing math, helping students who had to miss exams, due to commitments and an appendicitis, helped pass the time. Christmas music through Pandora or an early gift CD with some Bing Crosby gave some background rhythm to the day. Great food and company with a Secret Santa party and a fantastic present of a Twins banner lifted my spirits. 
But, again, I wanted to crawl into a dark place, stay quiet and still for a while and ponder things. This I did after wrapping up things with an unplugging of all lamps and the mini-fridge in my office. I had one last conversation with a student in a soundproof room over their rough home life. Then, while it took a long time to get out of the parking lot, it was a short trip home and a snoozling moment. 
Days of shopping, some Christmas family gatherings, then to Christmas Eve. In Grandview there is a traditional service, with songs, with communion, and then there is a lighting of candles. A night a year or so ago saw driving snow. 
I will admit, without rancor, that I was not in the happiest of places that evening, as I helped Amy gather the four together, packed them in the car, scrambled then to find a seat inside the crowded church. 
Music began to play, songs were sung, in a traditional style. I looked over and saw a man I worked with, who lost his wife to leukemia, sitting alone, singing with conviction. Down the way from him was a lady who had been dealing with serious medical issues with her son and his family, with a peaceful look. Behind me, I honed in on the sweet voice of my 7 year old Jamie, who is a GLEE fan and made us play their Christmas CD repeatedly. Robert sat next to her on a row behind us. Her voice was sure and without a hint of hesitation. Next to me was Annie, my 9 year old, who blazes with great intelligence and personality, intent on the words on the screen. Moving through the service, I reflected on my lost loved ones. My dad, my Aunt Linda, my grandmothers and grandfathers, who all had such faith and sheer strength in their daily duties.  I felt a low moment, a pang. 
Then, as I got to watch Annie take her first communion, a veil started to lift. I looked over and saw wild Stephen also take part in this for the first time, and how quiet and still he was. I looked at Amy, my mom, and I took a deeper breath. The lights went out completely. Some words were spoken, as first one candle, then another begin to flame. Soon, it was our turn, and I watched how carefully, reverentially, maturely, my children guarded their candles, holding them higher. 
I felt the light come back within me. I felt a restoration and a resilience start to build. As I blew out the candle in my hand, I felt it start to glimmer within me again. I gathered all, we went out into the night, and I noticed the stars for the first time in a long time.