Work Together and Take It One Day at a Time

October is commonly referred to as the most difficult month for teachers--the end-of-summer anticipation  of August has passed, the energy and enthusiasm of September has waned, and reality is setting in. Teaching is challenging. But there is a cure for the "October slump" that all teachers should know about...

At the third annual Expanded Learning Time Partnership Summit hosted by Citizen Schools, hundreds of school leaders, teachers, and innovative educators gathered to discuss how to make expanded learning time possible and successful in schools across the country. We heard incredible stories of perseverance, collaboration, and humility over the course of the two day event. Tamara Osivwemu, Director of Professional Development at Citizen Schools California, shared a story about how she learned to get through the most challenging moments, days, and even months as an educator. Her advice is simple-- work together and take it one day at a time.

Here is her story...

I’m entering my seventh year at Citizen Schools and I’m excited to still be here. I’ve held many roles; Teaching Fellow, Campus Director, and currently Director of Professional Development. I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve worked with, and of course from my students. But I can honestly say that the role I’ve learned the most from is that of a mother. I’ll try not to be too corny, but I have a four-year-old and a seven-month-old and every day they teach me so much about how to be resilient, about how to be patient, and how to care about and think about others, even when you don’t really feel like it or when you don’t think you can.

So, I hate cooking. I actually hate, hate, hate cooking. And sometimes when I do cook I feel accomplished. I say, “Yes! I cooked a meal. The chicken is not burned. It’s all good. The rice is still white. It’s yummy. Eat it!”

So, then my kids eat it and all I want to do is hold on to that meal and the next day say, “Great. Eat it again.” And then the next day say, “Okay, that was really good. Eat it again.” I just don’t want to cook again. And sometimes we feel like in our work as educators, right?

We can think about how we did such a great job last year or we did such a great job yesterday that we forget that we have to continue to do that great work day in and day out for our students. They can’t eat yesterday’s meal. They can’t live on yesterday’s results.

We have to make sure that we’re putting our best selves forward every single day so that our students are getting the best of us every day.

Another thing that I learned from being a mother is the importance of recognizing our mistakes and then fixing them. A few weeks ago my daughter, Kiah had a sing-a-thon at school. She was upset with me because I wasn’t able to go to the sing-a-thon because I had to attend an event for work. And so when I told her I couldn’t come, she started crying and then I was trying not to cry.

I said, “Okay, mommy loves you. I have to go to work.” But she was visibly upset and that was one of those moments where, as a mother, I felt like I wasn’t doing my job. And all of us as educators, I’m sure there are moments when we feel like we’re not doing our job.

If when we get our test results back at the end of the year and we’re not where we expected to be, or a student struggles, or a student gets in trouble, we feel like we failed as an educator. And I want to encourage you that we’re not failing; every day we make a mistake and every day we have the opportunity to fix that mistake.

So, when I came home and she was upset that I didn’t go to the sing-a-thon, we sat down on the couch. My husband had recorded it and we were able to watch the sing-a-thon together and I sung and danced with her. Then she said, “It’s okay, mommy. I still love you.”

That was a big deal -- and I cried. As educators we may not hear from our students, “It’s okay. I forgive you,” or “I understand that this is difficult,” but in our heart of hearts and as a team, we need to be able to forgive ourselves and encourage ourselves to take the challenge again. It’s okay. What we did yesterday may or may not have worked, but we’re going to take this step again.

The last thing that I’ve learned about being a mother is that it’s not possible to do it yourself. I have people around me to help support. We can accomplish a lot when we all work together and take it one day at a time.