I was so fortunate to be able to take four full months of maternity leave after my daughter, Malia Jo was born– but let’s be clear– over the past 4 months I was paid $0.00. In other words, I receive zero days of paid maternity* leave from my school district.
You heard me, zero days of paid maternity leave.
My district leaders will tell you otherwise. They will tell you that they “redistributed my paycheck so I never went into an unpaid status,” which is great and all, but ultimately I’m losing 4 months of my salary, so really, what’s the difference? Redistributing a paycheck is not paid leave.
They will tell you that they “allow” me to take as many sick days as I have saved up, when in fact I am actually required to take all of my sick days until my balance reaches zero. This means that when I return to work and my infant daughter who is starting day care inevitably gets sick that I will have no paid time off because I had to take all of my sick days when she was born. So now if (when) I have to stay home, I will be required to take more unpaid days off. On top of that, I spent the two years that I have worked in my district saving every hour of sick leave that I could, working through illnesses, rescheduling appointments, and not taking my personal days so that I would have those paid days when I did give birth.
But just to clarify-- being "allowed" to take sick days does not equate to paid family leave.
They will tell you that certain employees qualify for short-term disability through the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). What they won’t tell you is that VRS only compensates you for 6 weeks following a birth event, and for the days when you are not being paid (i.e. using your sick leave or holidays) That means if a person has 6 weeks of sick leave they will not receive any short-term disability compensation. I qualify for this benefit and received a grand total of 3 days of short-term disability, paying me $593.80. Of course I am thankful for this compensation, but it seems like a meager amount for six weeks, especially when my district touts it as a “benefit.”
They will tell you that no leave is used on non-contract days, (i.e. winter break or scheduled holidays) which seems obvious to me. Of course I am not going to be charged a sick day when that wasn’t even a contracted work day to begin with. But they list this as a “benefit” that they offer to employees to justify the fact that they do not offer paid family leave. Curious.
They will tell you that they offer 12 weeks Family Medical Leave of Absence (FMLA) which gurantees my job for 12 weeks. However, this is a legal requirement mandated by the State of Virginia– not a benefit exclusive to my district. And it's unpaid.
They will tell you that none of the other districts in the area offer paid family leave and that they are the only one that allows employees to take leave beyond the 12 weeks of FMLA. While this is a benefit that I took advantage of, I still was not paid during my leave extension. On top of that, all of my district benefits expired after my 12 weeks of FMLA.
The reality is that none of these supposed “benefits” (though I would hardly call them that) make up for the fact that we do not receive a single day of paid family/maternity leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
Let me interject and say that this isn’t a monologue that is meant to speak negatively of my district. I love my workplace. I love my students, colleagues, district leaders, general working conditions– you name it, I am sure that I love it. Barring my family has to move, I plan to retire here. The problem is that the excuses my district makes for not offering paid family leave are the excuses that just about every school district around the country makes.
The cycle goes like this: school employees say they want paid family leave, district leaders make excuses, school employees lose steam in their battle, and it’s forgotten about. Wash, rinse, repeat, not only here, in my district, but all around the country. (Minus the very few states that have stepped into the 21st century and offer paid time off for teachers.)
None of this is new though. The system we have in place in the United States for birth events is archaic and unhealthy both mentally and physically. My liberal, affluent, progressive school district is no different. In fact, when presented with the option to introduce the idea of paid family leave, my district leaders said they didn’t think it was “the right time” and there were more “pressing issues.” School Board members even inquired about the district’s policy to which they received the responses that I wrote about above.
Now, onto my experience:
The entire month of December is a blur. If I wasn’t waking in the middle of the night to feed her, I was waking up from a night sweat that spiraled me into an uncontrollable shiver. I inadvertently had an unmedicated delivery and pushed so hard that blood literally came out of my ear. We had breastfeeding struggles early on that led to severe pain on my end. I cried a lot– sometimes for a good reason, and sometimes for no reason at all. My milk was coming in, which was extremely uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Meanwhile, my husband and I were navigating our “new normal” (which is anything but normal) with our lives, routines, and schedules, forever changed, and it wasn’t particularly easy for anyone.
I wish I could say things improved in January, but they really didn’t. Malia spent most of her nights either grunting, eating, or crying. All of which, kept us awake. Sleep deprivation continues. We later figured out that the grunting was a result of gas, but as first time parents we had no clue that was even a thing. Then came Malia’s evening meltdowns. When I say meltdown I mean hours of screaming endlessly while we tried everything in our power to calm her down. Eventually (after many disastrous evenings) we figured out that one thing did seem to calm her– bottle feeding.
Enter: The Pump.
I wasn’t against using it, per say. I would have to pump when I went back to work anyways, but Malia was only 7 weeks old– why wouldn’t she just breastfeed like we planned? I wanted to be able to nurse her and have her take a bottle. So for four weeks I attempted to continue breastfeeding her. And every time she screamed and screamed and screamed as if it were pure torture. I would break down in tears, pull out my pump with her still screaming, pump some milk and then feed her via a bottle. My husband encouraged me to be an exclusive pumper, but I was unwilling to accept that.
More tears. More breakdowns.
By week 12 of my leave, I was just two weeks away from going back to work. In the previous weeks we had finally decided that I would, in fact, be an exclusive pumper after a doctor ruled out any sort of oral tie that would cause Malia’s breastfeeding difficulty. I was navigating an entirely new world filled with pumping schedules, washing parts and bottles, wondering how many ounces to put in each bottle, and figuring out how to manage that with an infant. All this, while planning a return to work in two weeks. Sounds crazy.
I was very fortunate that a few things happened that worked in our favor financially, allowing me to extend my leave an extra three weeks. There is no way I could have managed a return to work on my original date, 14 weeks post partum. It was also at this point that things finally started to improve with Malia. It turns out she was simply not good at breastfeeding, and it became a battle that wasn’t worth fighting. Everyone’s spirits improved drastically when we made the switch to exclusive pumping. Baby girl was finally getting enough to eat and wasn’t hangry all of the time!
We finally settled into a routine during my last month of leave. I was pumping six times a day (7 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM, 4 PM, 7 PM, 10 PM) and finally able to enter the world with my daughter who wasn't screaming all of the time. We went hiking and out for coffee. We read books and listened to music. We took a road trip to Connecticut and to Pennsylvania. We also washed our pump parts six times a day. Not to mention the countless bottles that came with it. We moved past the idea of nursing on the breast, and forged ahead with exclusively pumped breastmilk.
My four months of leave not only allowed me to figure out life as a first time mom and exclusive pumper, but it afforded me the opportunity to take care of myself both physically and mentally. I was able to go to physical therapy which helped me recover after Malia’s delivery. In the early days of breastfeeding I saw a lactation consultant who helped get us started. As a person who has a history of depression, I was also able to spend some time with a therapist. I returned to the gym. I spent time with my family. I pumped and built up our freezer stash so we can have more freedom and flexibility. And most importantly, I was able to actually bond with daughter and establish our life together, rather than dropping her off at daycare and going back to work immediately. All of these things would have been difficult, if not impossible, had I been required to return back to work at 6, 8, or 12 weeks post partum for financial reasons.
All in all, I loved my maternity leave, but let’s be clear– it was not, by any means, a vacation.
As I return back to work, I am down to five pumps a day. I also have a pretty hefty freezer stash that we can use if necessary. Meanwhile, Malia is knee-deep in her four month sleep regression and whatever semblance of a good night’s sleep we had is out the window. I will just have to suck it up (as most moms do) and deal with the general exhaustion that comes from having an infant along with the added exhaustion of spending my days teaching young children.
Now, I never thought I would be one of those women who has a baby and doesn’t go back to work. (Respect if that is you.) And I still don’t want that for myself. But now I am able to see first-hand how amazingly critical our child’s first year of life is and how important that time together truly is. My daughter is discovering the world around her, and yet, I am forced to go back to work entirely too soon. I am so lucky that my family could afford for me to not receive a paycheck for four whole months, but the reality is that many families cannot afford that. I can’t even fathom going back to work at 6, 8, 10, or 12 weeks post partum for so many reasons, and yet that is what is expected of me from the world in which I live. On top of all of this, I was actively engaged in my teaching duties until I was 39 weeks pregnant, because, again, I needed to save my days off for after Malia’s birth.
As I reflect on my four months of unpaid leave, I have so many emotions. I am thankful for the time that I had, but I wish I had more. I am also thankful for the many benefits my district offers, but shake my head at the fact that they don’t think paid family leave is a pressing issue. I am excited to return to work but also sad to be leaving my daughter at such an amazing stage in her life. I am thankful that my body is able to produce enough milk for Malia, but nervous about having enough time to pump at work and keeping my supply regulated. I have so many conflicting emotions that I, along with so many women, have to go through prematurely.
And I haven’t even mentioned the childcare debacle that we face. Since my husband is in the military, we are fortunate to be able to apply for childcare on base. However, because of Covid, the wait list for this care was and still is absurdly long. We weren’t offered a spot for care until March 21st, when Malia was 16 weeks old at a facility that is 30 minutes from where we live. Had I gone back to work earlier, we literally would not have had a place to take her. We are also lucky that the military offers affordable childcare, the cost of which is determined by your family income. However, because we did not know if Malia would be offered a spot on base, we also enrolled her in a civilian center that would have cost us $1,850 per month. With my adjusted salary, that would be my entire monthly paycheck. Fortunately, for us, we did not have to bring her there, but other families may not be as fortunate.
So for now I will re-enter the workforce at four months post-partum with my adjusted salary and zero sick days as I listen to old white men in government talk about how they don’t think paid family leave is important or necessary as I pay to send my daughter to daycare that requires one hour of driving round trip. I can only hope that one day our country will join the ranks of countries like Bulgaria, Greece, and Chile, among others, and offer any sort of paid family leave. Honestly, at this point, I would even settle for one week. Really, anything would be better than what it is now.
*I will speak of women and maternity leave following the birth of my biological daughter, but I am fully aware that this leave should apply to fathers and for adoption/non-biological child bearing as well.
Virtual Performances-- they have become commonplace in the age of online music teaching and the coronavirus. Our students put on their headphones, play or sing along with a recording, and then through the magic of editing, they are all able to perform together. While it’s not, in any way, the same as a live concert, it makes for a meaningful project, rewarding in its own way. And while I look forward to the day that we can return back to normal and resume the classic band concert or school musical, I assert that we shouldn’t turn our backs on the virtual performance and should continue including it in our teaching practice.
A little about me-- I teach kindergarten through second-grade general music at a public school in Virginia. I took on a project in the fall to create a music video of my 2nd-graders performing a choreographed dance to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” Despite being a Final Cut Pro newbie, I was able to finagle the footage into something really special for our students. It was just a dance performance though-- Rachel Platten accompanied us as we performed.
That’s when singer and vocal coach, Laura Kaye (VP of the Electrify Your Symphony music education program), contacted me. Laura Kaye is also one of the contributing choreographers, along with EYS movement coach, Nathan Blake. She has become a great friend over the years, and I was very fortunate to work with her in person right before the world shut down. She said, “Your kids are amazing. Let’s do another video!”
While my teaching philosophy has always been to say “yes” to opportunities for my students and figure out the logistics later, I must admit, I was unsure that my 7 and 8-year-old students were up to the task of recording a professional-level video. She said, “Let’s use the song, ‘The Champion!’ And we will include your kids’ voices in the final project!”
What was I thinking?
So we spent a lot of time learning the words of The Champion. We listened to them. We read them. We spoke them. We sang them. We danced to them. And eventually, my students learned them.
Step one-- complete. But now I have to get two recordings from them, following very specific guidelines. I typed the instructions step-by-step. I shared them with their grown-ups. I recorded “How-To” videos sharing the precise method they should use. I talked them through it in class. They asked questions. I answered.
Now, the moment of truth.
I panicked a bit when the first of many submissions I received had to be “sent back.” They weren’t following the instructions-- they forgot the synchronizing claps at the beginning, didn’t record with headphones on, stood too close to the camera so we couldn’t see their head in the video-- the list went on and on.
But then, something amazing happened. The first student I clicked “send back” to, re-did his recording. Then the second, and the third. I reminded them to think of this as a rough draft. When we write, we revise our work multiple times before submitting the final copy. The only difference here is that we are recording, rather than writing. Some students had to make two, three, four, even FIVE recordings to get it right. That didn’t stop them. Every time they reflected, made a change, and resubmitted until I told them it was right on. It has become an unexpected lesson in perseverance.
Some of my students were worried about learning the words-- and they admittedly approximated many of the phrases in the verses-- but you better believe they belted out the chorus like it was nobody’s business. Some of them were shy about being on video but decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway. Some of them got dressed up, built a stage, added their own flair. I even got this heartwarming email from a parent about her son, “He was practicing and trying to teach the song to his “CareBear” stuffed animal last night in bed.” What more could I ask for?
Not all of their videos are of the greatest quality, and I am ok with that. So much so, that I even told the editor, “I am less concerned with the look of the video and more concerned that every student is shown throughout. They all worked so hard and took the time to record, so I want them to be seen, even if their video quality isn't great.” While this project was about getting a really great final product, the process was so much more important.
What about the other half of my students, though? Was my lesson ineffective since half didn’t even take the time to record? To that, I say “Absolutely not.” While the goal of this project was to create a grade-level music video, that is just a small part of the process. I received a handful of emails, similar to this, from my 2nd-grade parents.
“I tried to encourage her to make a video and audio recording for The Champion over the past couple of weeks, but it seems that she's feeling a bit self-conscious so we decided not to force it. I'm so sorry we weren't able to contribute to the final video. She has been practicing the song and singing it around the house, so I know that she learned a lot and enjoyed the lesson.”
This email sums it up perfectly. This student learned the ins and outs of the song. She learned the dance moves. She practiced with us. She supported her classmates who did record. While she didn’t end up submitting a recording, she learned about the process. She is one of many students who fall into this category.
And what about the others?
Well, my kiddos have been doing virtual school for nearly a year. They have been on video every single day. They have to record themselves for assignments and constantly look at how they look on screen. Perhaps they chose not to record a video because they simply didn’t want to be on camera again. I can hardly blame them.
So now, back to my original thought. This project is specific to our times. The only reason I took it on is that it’s realistically the only way my students are going to “perform” this year. However, it’s a project I plan to continue post-COVID. Let’s look at the benefits:
Now, I am in no way advocating that our music videos and recordings replace live performance. However, I don’t think we should forget the value that our virtual performances have. Maybe a virtual recording takes the place of a piece during a choir concert. Students can talk about and share the process. Older, high school students, can even edit the video.
I know that many of us probably want to forget about most things related to these challenging times-- but let’s not cast everything aside for good. After all, there have been some really incredible moments.
As I scroll through 80 files of my 7 and 8-year-old students with their headphones on, performing in their home studios, I am reminded of just how meaningful this project turned out to be.
There is no doubt that our 2nd-grade music video project is here to stay.
If you are anything like me, you entered this winter break with a mile long “to-do” list of personal and professional tasks you planned to accomplish. My list ranged from writing a project proposal to filming video lessons to lesson planning with a number of other tasks sprinkled in-between.
The grand total of these professional tasks I completed: ZERO. Yes, you heard me ZERO. (Though I did write this post, so I suppose once could argue that my total is ONE....)
Instead of writing my presentation proposal, I decided to watch reruns of Friends. Instead of filming a new video, I decided to take my dog on a long walk to a part of the neighborhood I had yet to explore. Instead of forcing myself to write lesson plans for January (since we sadly, will not be playing ukulele any time soon) I finished my book. I mindlessly scrolled through social media. I took my time chopping vegetables. I slept in late and enjoyed my cup of coffee. I stared out the window. I watched movies I had been wanting to see. I played fetch with my dog. I sat around and did nothing. Literally. AKA-- I took a break.
I loved every minute of it, and for once in my life I don’t feel guilty about not doing the things I intended. Because I know myself well enough to know that I will write my lesson plans. I will finish the project proposal, and I will make the video lessons. When I go back to work. When my break is over.
So, sure one could say I accomplished "nothing," but I will count doing laundry, cleaning my house, listening to an audiobook, playing ukulele, going on a walk, writing thank-you cards, touring the White House, playing with my dog, and the like a whole lot of "something."
It is no secret that teachers are constantly working overtime. We work when we get home from work. We get to work early to prepare for work. We work on weekends. We think about work when we are going to bed. And when we wake up. So why should we feel guilty for taking the 2 week break we so deeply deserve? And I’m not just talking about this “unprecedented,” “dark,” “challenging” year of 2020. I mean all the time. Take your break in 2021, when things are (hopefully) back to normal. Take your break in 2022 when COVID is a thing of the past. Take your break in 2023 and 2024 and beyond. To quote Eliza Hamilton, “Take a break.” You deserve it.
People often give me a hard time for how much time I get ‘off’. “Must be nice!” They say. “TWO WEEKS!? I’m jealous.” I mean, it is nice, but so is coming home from work and not having to do more work. Don’t get me wrong-- I love my job. I love my career. I love that it requires me to work evenings and weekends and mornings and every hour in-between. But I also love that it allows me time to reset and recharge, and I will certainly take full advantage of that. Wouldn’t anyone?
So for now, I will enjoy the last few days of my break, watching Home Alone 2, starting a new book, and enjoying time with my family. Because after all, isn’t that what a break is supposed to be? And what does it mean to do "nothing" anyways?
Happy New Year, my friends! Cheers to vaccines, hugs, and breaks that are actually breaks.
Do you remember two months ago when we hailed teachers as “heroes?” When there were nonstop memes floating around about how teachers deserve raises? When we gave our educators the benefit of the doubt because they had to transform a quarter of the year’s information into digital learning?
Yeah, I remember too.
Yesterday I read a facebook post that a “friend” shared, written by someone who claims to have, “teacher friends.” In it, she writes how horrible digital learning was. How the teachers did a terrible job meeting her student’s needs. How teachers are out getting their nails done, at parties, and the only reason they don’t want to go back is because they want to continue doing 50% of their job but getting paid fully. It ends with this wonderful, inspiring quote, “So in a nut shell. Report to your job when school opens or get a new job.”
Really? Really. That’s the thanks we get.
Let me share the full story of what happened in Gwinnett County, GA (GCPS). And then you can go on and tell me how awful online learning was.
On March 12th, 2020 we were told we would be off for one week. Several districts in the area cancelled for two weeks, while some even went ahead and cancelled for a month. Gwinnett cancelled for one. That is ONE week (or one LESSON, in my instance) of digital learning that I needed to prepare. I, like every other teacher in my school, had questions: Do the kids have to do their lesson on the day they were supposed to have music? What if they have two music classes that week? What about the classes that are split up and go to different specials on different days? Try planning a lesson that creates a valuable learning experience with all of these questions swirling around in your brain. Emergency distance learning.
On top of that, there is the whole “accessing the online learning platform” debacle. I have shown my kids how to access my music class page from time to time, but I didn’t have any opportunity to remind them.They didn’t have a chance to ask questions. Nothing. They’re just expected to know how to access my lessons. Coordinate with the other specials teachers or the homeroom teachers?! No way! We didn’t have time for that! Emergency distance learning.
On THURSDAY, March 19th, 2020, GCPS announced they would do digital learning for one more week and the “reassess” when we return from spring break. I think to myself, “Great, one more week and then we’ll be back to normal after spring break!” I do ONE more lesson for my kids, thinking we will come back to school in a few weeks and finish out the year strong. Why would I plan an ENTIRE UNIT online when we will be back? Emergency distance learning.
Then, Governor Kemp announces that schools will remain closed through April 24th. Looks like I am not teaching my 4th and 5th graders how to play guitar. It also looks like I need to convert MORE lessons online at the last minute. This statement was made on March 26th, 2020. GCPS didn’t put out an official statement until April. Even my principal was “unsure” if GCPS would abide by the Governor’s orders because they refused to make any sort of statement. Emergency distance learning.
Finally, on April 18th, 2020 Governor Kemp announced schools would stay closed through the end of the year. Of course, GCPS didn’t acknowledge that announcement until several days later. So now it looks like the rest of my lessons will be online. Emergency distance learning.
Now I consider myself to be relatively tech-savvy. My husband has some really good equipment, and I am comfortable editing videos and uploading them, etc. Despite all of these factors working WITH me, I still struggled. Now, imagine being a 24th year teaching and having no idea how to do this. Oh, and you have to do it on the spot. For a class of 25+ kids. With parents upset with you for not meeting their child’s needs. Unsure of how to grade. During a global pandemic. With zero preparation. Emergency distance learning.
So now the time has come to decide whether or not we will reopen schools in the “fall” (which, for many southern states is really early August and late July for teachers)-- which is hardly the fall, and suddenly we are hearing about how TERRIBLE digital learning was and how the teachers were AWFUL at it and how their kids JUST want to learn. Yeah, ok.
Do you know why some teachers may have been “awful” at distance learning? Because IT WASN’T REGULAR DISTANCE LEARNING. It was EMERGENCY distance learning. They had ZERO NOTICE. They had to figure out at a moment’s notice how to transform their curriculum into an entirely online platform.
Now, with about a month until school is starting I ask, What is different from mid-March to now? Not much. Cases are rising. Deaths are rising. The virus is still highly contagious. No vaccine. So why are we not taking this opportunity to let teachers know WAY AHEAD OF TIME that we will be starting the year online and give them this time to prepare!?!
The 2020-2021 version of distance learning will NOT BE THE SAME as the previous school year’s EMERGENCY distance learning, because guess what!?! It’s no longer UNPLANNED.
Maybe, if you give teachers more than a day’s notice they will do something amazing. But who am I to assume?
So yeah, let’s go on debating the start of the school year, while teachers, like me, who want to start planning their lessons are sitting here, unable to do anything because no one is willing to admit that the virus is here to stay and that there is absolutely no difference between this day, July 14th, and when this all started back in March. I'll just sit here and listen to people tell me how I did such a terrible job and how I just want to keep sitting at home and getting paid for it while your child suffers. (Did I mention how I get summers off too!?! I have the easiest job in the world!!!!!)
And, oh yeah, about that raise parents said we should get in April? Well, you’re actually getting a pay-cut this year.
*This article is meant to share the timeline of the pandemic and emergency online learning in conjunction with a teacher’s frustrations. While my experience was from GCPS, other teachers from around the country were in very similar situations in their specific school districts.
It has been almost 8 weeks since this journey began, and I must say that the “6-8 week recovery time” model is fairly accurate. I would say I was right there, feeling pretty much back to “normal” at 6 weeks. I’ve been stalling on writing this because I don’t actually feel that I have anything that exciting to say, but I suppose my lack of exciting updates IS an exciting update in itself. I’ve also had a few people ask me about my recovery, so here we are!
I hit a wall about 4 weeks into recovery, feeling like I needed to do SOMETHING different. The bodyweight exercises were working, and I continued to do them to some extent, but after spending the past 3 months working out at home, it began to get old, even though I am on the recovery train. So I started walking on the treadmill. This was inspired by my amazing husband who is preparing to go to US Navy Boot Camp in a month and has been putting in the WORK. Though this post is not about him, I must say, he certainly inspired me to put in the work myself.
The treadmill idea was also born out of the fact that I am vigorously rewatching old seasons of Survivor, and admittedly had a tiny bit of guilt about spending my time (and brain cells) in this way. I feel less guilty about watching it if I can at least be walking and exercising while doing so. (Maybe I’m not killing quite as many brain cells this way? Who knows?) The goal at first was to just move the entire 42 minute episode. I was walking around a 23 minute mile pace-- not too fast. Since then I have not only powered through all of Season 13: Cook Islands and Season 15: China, but I have also increased my speed to a sub-20 mile, which is no joke to maintain for 42 minutes! I’ve been super mindful about how it feels and being aware of not overdoing it. There have been a few walks that I’ve had to decrease my speed because it wasn’t feeling quite right. This also significantly increased my step count. Between walking Comet twice a day and walking on the treadmill, I was easily hovering around the 12,000 step per day mark.
Of course I don’t know this for sure, but I really believe that walking on the treadmill helped build the strength in my hip flexor back up very quickly. It’s gotten a lot better very fast, which is fantastic news.
On June 19th (7 weeks post-op) I decided to reactivate my gym membership. I had held off due to Covid concerns, but thankfully, the coach is allowing me to workout in-between classes so I pretty much have the space to myself or am sharing it with one other person. (thanks, Becca!) Anyways, this has been a really wonderful step for me. Not only is it allowing me to build my arm/back/core strength back up, but it is allowing me to gain confidence as I slowly increase my weight bearing capacity.
My first day back I did some deadlifts-- while there was once a time in my life when I knocked out a 300 lb PR and repped 225 lbs like it was nothing, I decided to start light-- at 55 lbs and only worked up to 75 lbs that day. Everything felt fine, but baby steps, you know?
Since going back to the gym, I’ve done power cleans at 65 lbs, gotten my deadlift up to 95 lbs, and done other exercises like med ball slams, kettlebell swings, and lots and lots of Assault Bike. I’ve been very mindful about easing my way into it and am not even thinking about what I used to be able to do. Honestly, I have somehow managed to have a really healthy attitude through all of this and am truly just happy to be lifting weights at 7 weeks post-op.
I had my virtual follow-up appointment with my doctor last week as well, and while they didn’t take x-rays (obviously, it was virtual), he did say everything seems fine from what I told him. I asked several questions about more things I can and cannot do and was again told his previous advice of “no restrictions” and a new one, that I really enjoyed, “Live your life.” This means a “yes” to chiropractic adjustments (if I choose), water skiing, deep squatting, running, and pretty much any other activity I can think of. His exact words were, “I don’t give my patients any restrictions post-op, and with the implant you have, you really don’t have to worry.”
So there you have it. I’m planning on taking on water skiing, skydiving, and marathon running this year. After all, no restrictions!
I did have to check myself today on two exercises and was reminded of my current limitations. In today’s workout there were “RDL” or “Romanian Deadlifts” programmed. An RDL is basically a deadlift performed with straighter legs, which isolates the hamstrings more than a regular deadlift. I thought I could do these at 65 lbs. I did one rep and it didn’t feel quite right. But I figured I would try a few more. About 4 reps in I decided to cut it and dropped down to 55 lbs. It was still a little shaky, but I focused on engaging my hamstrings and glutes and ended up staying there. While it wasn’t a huge deal to drop 10 lbs, it was certainly a reminder that there are still some discrepancies between what I think I can do and where my level actually is.
Another exercise, “90-90 hip rotation” was also programmed. I didn’t think I would be able to do this one, but I wanted to give it a try before totally giving up on it. You start with both legs at 90 degrees and slowly open the back one and then the front one, in an effort to open up and stretch the hip flexors. I tried one, it didn’t feel good, so I substituted a different exercise instead.
The point is, that while this recovery has been relatively smooth, there have been plenty of times when I have had to check my ego. Lowering weights, changing exercises, slowing down my speed, cutting something short-- it’s all part of the healing process, and it does require the right mindset. I’m by no means comparing myself to what I was doing at any point before my surgery, and to be honest, I don’t think I ever will. In many ways, this surgery was a turning point in my health, fitness, and life and I am happy to use this as my new starting point moving forward.
As I wrap this up, I think this will be one of my last updates, short of any major milestones in fitness or over time. I’m thankful to have had this amazing procedure by a wonderful doctor. I’m thankful to finally be pain free. I’m thankful for the smooth recovery so far. I’m thankful to be back in the gym, and I’m thankful for my brand new hip. (Which still needs a name… any ideas??)
I remember teaching a particularly challenging group of kids. After a tough class, one of my students told me I was racist. I don’t remember the specific context of his remarks, but I do remember my response. “If I were racist, would I teach at this school?” Really. That’s what I said. That was really my response to this child. A response that invalidated his feelings. A response to a child who figured out that the school was built to teach him that his life isn’t as important as his White peers. “I can’t be racist. I teach at a mostly Black school.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that kids say things they don’t always understand. Maybe in that moment I wasn’t being racist, but just being his teacher. But maybe, just maybe, I was. Maybe he wasn’t only referring to me as racist, but was upset over his social studies lesson earlier in the day. Maybe he was upset that all of the images in his textbook were of White kids, except for the one, “token Black.” I don’t know. I’m not here to recall the specific events from a specific incident.
But then it got me thinking.
Have I used the “color-blind” approach when teaching my kids? Have I ignored their backgrounds, silenced their voices, or made judgements on them or their families based on the color of their skin? Maybe I have.
I remember my first year of teaching. I had a 3rd grade general music class that pushed me to my limits as a first year teacher. To be fair, I only saw them once a week, and sometimes even less than that. As a teacher, something I pride myself on is my ability to learn my students' names. In this class however, I didn’t know most of their names. Today, I couldn’t tell you a single child’s name from that room. They were names that weren’t common. Names that I had never seen before. And let me tell you, they knew I didn’t know their names. I didn’t take the time to learn the one thing that was most important to them because it was different from the names I was used to. Back then I would have told you I didn’t learn them because “I just couldn’t remember them for some reason.” Now I will tell you that it just wasn’t at the top of my priority list. It would have required too much effort. And they knew it.
I remember my second year of teaching at a new school. I had done a unit on film music that culminated in us watching a Charlie Chaplin silent film, “The Kid.” The only Black person in the entire film is a little Black boy who delivers flowers to the rich White people. During that short scene, one of my students looked at me and said, “Of course the Black person is the servant for the White people.” To which I replied, “Yeah, I know. Unfortunately that’s how it was back then.”
“Back then.” That’s how it was back then. What a terrible response. I am certain that she saw right through that white-washed answer. This was 2017. After Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Philando Castille. But this was music class-- we don’t TALK about race here! We don’t TALK about WHY the little boy in the movie was depicted that way. We don’t talk about WHY there aren’t ANY OTHER Black actors or actresses in that movie or ANY OTHER silent film I showed them. After all, if I were racist, would I teach in this school!? I still think back to that terrible response and what it taught that particular student in that moment.
I remember when a fellow teacher was called racist in an email from an unhappy parent. She was distraught. I came to her defense, “How does this student struggling in class make you a racist?” and “I can’t believe they would say that!” and "Why do parents always have to assume we are racist?" I didn’t think that maybe, just maybe, there was a deeper reason for that parent’s reaction. I didn’t challenge her on it. I didn’t encourage her to examine why that accusation was made. I just comforted her. Like a good White person should.
I remember teaching at my second school and struggling to connect with my middle school students for various reasons. The school was predominantly Black and Latinx. It was 2016. Donald Trump had just been elected President. It felt like the air had been sucked out of the school. I didn’t talk about it with them. I didn’t mention it. I felt their sadness, fear, and worry, but I didn’t take that moment to connect with them on how they were feeling.
I ended up switching schools that year for reasons that go beyond this blog post, but when I think back to my short six months there, the only kids I remember are the White kids. My fondest memories of teaching there are with the White kids. Why is that?
I remember my first year of teaching when a fellow teacher was having trouble with another student and asked me to sit in on their parent meeting. I hadn’t really had issues with this particular student, but still taught the class, so I joined her. I remember feeling intimidated by his Black parents. I was afraid of them, not because I was a first year teacher and still learning the ropes, but because their Blackness intimidated me. I remember sitting across the table from them and not being totally honest-- that I personally hadn’t experienced any issues with their son. I failed him that day.
I remember trying to find examples of Black and Brown actors, dancers, and singers to show my kids and struggling to do so. We watched short examples of opera and I could only find one Black opera singer. A tenor. When I asked my kids what their favorite voice part was, an overwhelming majority said, “The one with the Black singer.”
They notice. I noticed that they noticed. Now I notice too.
I remember showing my middle school students the dance documentary, First Position, and how engaged they were anytime the Black dancer, Michaela DePrince, came on the screen. I remember seeing their eyes light up when they saw her overcome the odds and become a professional ballerina. But let’s be clear-- she overcame the odds because she is Black.
I remember moving to Georgia and my friends and family members asking me if I was going to look for a job at a “better school.” I didn’t explain that I was actually leaving a great school with great kids. I let them go on thinking that I was at a “bad school.” I let them continue to have a negative perception of my Black kids.
But at the same time, I remember instances where I stood up for my kids.
I remember standing up for our best 7th grade trumpet player when they tried to take him out of an after-school activity because he talked “too much.” (He was a 7th grade boy… they all talk too much.)
I remember standing up for our best 5th grade trumpet player who wasn’t going to be invited to a special program because she was a “behavior problem.”
I remember when I stopped yelling at kids for shouting, “OOOOH” after their friend did something they thought was awesome or for dancing to a song they like when I turned on the music.
I remember how engaged my kids were when we listened to the trap remix of The Nutcracker.
I remember how excited they were to write their own raps.
I remember when I let my middle school students use their cell phones for backing tracks and every single kid was using their phone in a productive way.
I remember when I told three of my girls that their rap won the Little Kids Rock Songwriting contest. (They cried, by the way.)
I remember when I learned just how much I still have to learn.
These are just the stories I remember. The moments in time when my Whiteness got in the way that have stuck in my brain. I have come so far, and yet I have so far to go. What if I had learned my student’s names in that general music class? What if I had discussed race in the silent film? What if I had talked to my student about why he thought I was racist? What if I had challenged my colleague on that email? What if I had talked to my students about how they were feeling after Trump won? These are just the moments I remember. How many moments have I let pass me by?
And I am supposed to be one of the “good” ones.
The point is, we can ALL do better. We MUST do better.
When I was in undergrad I had this vision of going to an “inner-city” school and “making a difference.” After all, these inner-city schools need good teachers and the kids need someone who will help them-- guide them-- save them. I was taught this “savior complex” throughout my education and throughout my life. I was fed stories of white teachers going into urban schools and rescuing their students from the streets. I watched movies like Dangerous Minds where I learned that black kids are their own worst enemies, and the only way to a happy life was out of the so-called “ghetto.” I watched shows like Boy Meets World in which Mr. Feeny makes comments about people escaping to the suburbs for better schools. I was going to fix this problem. I was going to save the Black kids from themselves! I was going to make a difference!
But now I see a larger picture. I see how my thinking was flawed, and I see how not a single one of my kids needs “saved.” My kids, at a school with a high percentage of Black students, at a school with a high free and reduced lunch rate, at a Title One school, need what any other kid on this earth needs: love, respect, and to be heard.
My kids are no different than your kids or any other kids in this country, or around the world.
I have had a unique experience as a teacher. I grew up in schools in western PA that had a population of white students that was over 90%. I did my student teaching in Ithaca, New York. I taught in Palm Beach County, FL, New Haven CT, and Snellville, GA and now am getting ready for my time as an educator in Northern Virginia. As I search for a new school I find myself using the terms “good school” and “bad school” quite often. The more I say it, the more I cringe. After all, what defines a “good” or “bad” school? Many would say that my previous schools could be considered “bad” schools based on demographics alone. After doing quite a bit of reflecting on this, I decided that it doesn’t come down to “good” or “bad,” rather “well-funded” and “under-funded.”
When I look back at what I consider to be the “good” schools I have taught at, versus the “bad” schools, I realize it comes down to one thing: funding. The “good” schools have money to purchase new instruments. The “bad” schools do not. The”good” schools have the means to provide every student with a device for online learning. The “bad” schools do not. Why is it that the “bad” schools are almost always the Black schools?
How many times were negative images of these “bad” Black schools planted in your brain? They are dangerous. The kids are rude. The parents don’t care. We are educated to both STAY AWAY and that we can FIX this mess by bringing our holy White selves into these buildings and rescue the kids who go there.
I challenge higher-ed institutions to change this. I challenge them to rewrite their narratives. How is it possible that in SIX YEARS of higher-ed, my ONLY experience with Black culture was my undergrad institution’s annual Gospel Fest? (and truthfully, Gospel Fest wasn’t even taken seriously, it was just an excuse for the entire music school to drink… but I digress…) The single Black-male professor who is on staff at my university’s music school was seen in a negative light. He was seen as a Black “victim.” I never got to know him. I only ever complained about him. I didn’t understand his attitude or the chip on his shoulder.
Now I do.
We use the terms “inner-city,” “urban,” and “rough” to mean BLACK. ‘I teach at an inner-city school’ really means ‘I teach at a Black school.’ ‘I teach at a rough school’ really means ‘I teach at a Black school.’
I am going to be changing my language to match the reality. “I teach at an under-funded school.” It is not a good school or bad school issue, nor has it ever been that way.
Ever wonder why the teacher turn-over rate in these so-called “urban” (aka Black) school districts is so high? Ever ask yourself why the average class size in NYC Public Schools is 26.4 students, while the average class size of the “best” school district in the country (Naperville CUSD 203, IL) is 22 students. (For all of my non-educator friends, that 4 student difference is like night and day.)
“But every American has an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY to succeed! After all, we all live in the same country!”
I call BS.
My kids are amazing, beautiful, kind, talented humans. They love learning. They want to please me. They want to make their families proud. They want to succeed just like every other kid in every other school. And yet, I have taught at many schools that people consider, “bad.” One of my online assignments was to create a “bullseye rap.” We use a target and descriptive words to help guide them to create their own song. I didn’t assign them a topic-- they got to choose. One of my students, Jada, chose to write about herself. She is in kindergarten. She is Black. These are her, original, lyrics:
“J-A-D-A that’s how you spell my name. J-A-D-A that’s how you spell my name. J-A-D-A that’s how you spell my name. It’s Jada. It’s Jada.
I’m kind, sweet, and honest. I love my skin. I love my hair. I love my eyes. I’m strong, brave. It’s Jada. It’s Jada.
J-A-D-A that’s how you spell my name. J-A-D-A that’s how you spell my name. It’s Jada. It’s Jada.”
The moment I realized I didn’t need to “save” my kids was the moment we really began to connect. They are intuitive. They know what your intentions are.
At the end of the day, it is up to us, as educators, to decide what message we are going to send them.
The other day I was talking to a friend about some things that are going on in our lives and about 20 minutes into the conversation she said, “Oh, how is your hip?! I feel like that isn’t even a thing!” I laughed and replied, “Yeah, it’s not really a thing, to be honest.” Now don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go, but the progress has been both remarkable and pretty straightforward. Since I haven’t updated in just over two weeks, let me recap what has been going on in my hip world:
I totally eased my way off the cane at about the 2 ½ week mark. I started walking around the house without it, only taking it on walks with Comet or to go to the grocery store. Then I took a few short walks without it and journeyed into the public cane-free. It has been just fine, and I feel super secure in my strength and ability without it. I have also gradually been increasing my daily step count-- starting with around 4,000 steps and slowly working my way up to about 8,000. My goal starting tomorrow will be to get back to my 10,000 steps-- definitely feeling strong enough for that!
Besides that, I have been working to strengthen my glutes, quads, core, hip flexors, and all of the other muscles that were affected by the surgery. (You can see one of my workouts in fast time in one of my facebook posts.) Overall, I’ve really been feeling stronger and stronger every day.
While the specific workout varies, the movements have generally stayed the same and go something along the lines of:
I am also desperately working towards being able to do dead bugs! I can FINALLY hold my leg up in the air at a 90 degree angle, but I can’t extend it just yet.
In other news, I am able to lift my leg up normally when I go to bed, climb in the shower, and get in the car. I am still sleeping with a pillow between my legs, and I still can’t lay on my left side for a significant amount of time. My hip is definitely stiff in the morning, and I have also been massaging the scar because I feel quite a bit of scar tissue gathering there. I can also play a mean game of
tug-o-war with Comet!
I certainly understand how it is going to take 6-8 weeks to feel back to “normal.” While I am not walking with a limp, I definitely feel it, and regaining my strength is going to be critical. I am still trying to find a balance of not overdoing it, but still doing enough. I think I am. I also firmly believe that a large part of my recovery is going to be gaining trust in my prosthetic. What can it do? What works? What is uncomfortable? Where are my limits? It is going to be a process of learning how to trust and navigate my implant. With that being said, I was thinking about naming it, just to make it more a part of me, but I haven’t come up with any ideas just yet-- I am open for any and all suggestions!
My original surgery date was May 28th, but obviously I was able to move it up to May 7th. It’s strange to think that I could be 3 days into my recovery, rather than 3 weeks! I am so thankful to have gotten this over with when I did and hopeful for my future athletic endeavors. I already seem to be doing an amazing job, and I don’t plan for that to change!
One day very soon I will look back on this and say, “What hip replacement?!?”
This isn’t about my hip (More on that tomorrow), and this isn’t just my story. This is the story of every teacher across the United States dealing with 1,000 different emotions all at once.
I, along with the rest of the teachers of the world, said goodbye to about 25% of my students via Zoom. What happened to the other 75%? I have no idea.
This year wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was shaping up to be my best year of teaching so far. I had the BEST professional development of my LIFE over the summer. I was finally a RETURNING teacher, so I already had relationships built with my students. We got new guitars and started ROCK BAND. I got us buckets and drumsticks and had multiple Donors Choose projects funded. I did the Little Kids Rock 102 training and spent time with Dave Wish. I was part of the LEADERSHIP SYMPOSIUM at GMEA. I incorporated hip-hop and instruments into my lessons and was making SO MUCH PROGRESS with my kids. We even won the Georgia Music Foundation grant and hosted Laura Kaye and Nathan Blake-- one of the highlights of my entire teaching career.
And all of that momentum came to a screeching, grinding, HALT.
I left my classroom on Thursday, March 12th having no idea that I wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the year. To be perfectly honest, Thursday, March 12th was not a very good day of teaching. I was worn out from our chorus event the previous week, feeling unorganized with my lessons, and really looking forward to my planned 3-day weekend.
Little did I know, that 3-day weekend would turn into something much more than that.
My district was one of the last in the area to decide to cancel classes, and even then they cancelled for a week and said they would “reassess.” Well, they reassessed and decided to cancel for another week. It was fun at first-- for everyone. An extended break and some time away. We’ll come back after spring break and crush the remainder of the school year.
Then the governor cancelled classes for the remainder of the year.
Hi! I am Nicole Guimaraes. I'm a K-2 music teacher in Falls Church City, VA. I've got an amazing husband and a fabulous dog who keep me busy. If I'm not teaching or walking my dog, you can probably find me at the gym!