Blessings in my life are abundant. I could spend all day listing them and not even come close to finding the end. One of those blessings is the group of women with whom I work at Newaygo High School.
For those of you who haven’t been in the school, it is separated into wings. I have taught in all but one of the four wings over the course of my 16 years teaching (wow...that happened fast). Currently I am situated in the EWing. Though my first 10 years did not find a high turnover rate of teachers at the high school, this past few years many teachers have reached their retirement age, including four of the seven teachers from rooms in the EWing!
Change is an inevitable part of life, and along with it comes uncertainty. What this massive amount of change has brought to my life, however, has been nothing short of amazing.
Before I start the explanation of this group of people with whom I so closely work, I have to say that I truly respect, admire, and enjoy all my colleagues at Newaygo High School. That statement is not just for show. My colleagues are genuinely kind, thoughtful, intelligent, unique and respectful individuals. Working for Newaygo, and all of my friends in the school over the years, has been a true honor. I have learned from them, loved with them, celebrated successes with them, and grieved with them. I wouldn’t trade a single person in the school for another (past teacher or present). I do not take for granted what a unique atmosphere I have been able to enjoy at NHS from the beginning of my career.
The women in the EWing and I, however, have a special connection. One that I find to be a fascinating metaphor for what I have come to think of as how groups of women can and should be in the greater world.
Women in this hallway include Bethanie duChemin, Cassie Westgate, Whitney Stratton, Jen Grugett and Gena Dietz. We come from different walks of life, span a large number of years in age (I will refrain from telling you who is oldest), vary greatly in our political beliefs, and all have different interests outside of school. And yet, we love working together, our friendships, and help each other on a daily basis be better teachers, mothers, wives, daughters, friends, and human beings.
Bethanie, Jen and Whitney all teach math. Cassie is our resident government and psychology expert. And Gena and I teach Spanish and English. We love that all of us come to the EWing with a wide perspective of book knowledge. Our students benefit from this. When I have a question about something political as it relates to Spanish, Cassie is my go-to. When my students are struggling with a math concept and I don’t know how to help, we walk together to whichever math teacher is available so we can learn together. We do not close our doors and teach to our own subject; instead we enrich each others’ classrooms with our perspectives.
Perhaps how the depth of our friendship started was during Homecoming Spirit Week, where students and staff are invited to dress up to earn points for their class. We are full of spirit in the EWing, so we started collaborating on our outfits. Each day we all participated and took a picture of our efforts. We had so much fun, and the collaboration hasn’t stopped since then. This week is Snowcoming spirit week and one of the days was ‘Celebrity Day’ where you had to choose a celebrity and dress like them. We all dressed as Ms. Rodriguez, our assistant principal who will be retiring at the end of the year. It was a riot.
When one of us has to be gone for an illness, conference or family issue, the others step up. Just last week Gena had to attend a funeral, but was also ill, so she wasn’t able to come in to make copies, get lesson plans on the desk and feel her students would be set for the day. She texted our EWing group, and as the day went on, each one of us covered something that needed to happen in order for her students to be best served despite her absence.
I believe our students benefit greatly from this group of women who are so supportive of each other in ways other than when one teacher is gone. I feel I am a better teacher because I know I can step out in the hallway between hours and have any number of my colleagues standing there waiting to pick me up, answer questions, help me in any way I need. Sometimes it’s as small a gesture as standing by my class while I run to the copy machine to pick up the copies I sent during my prep but never had time to go get. Other times it is bigger, offering a listening ear and suggestions for how to help a struggling student or sharing in the pain of another student’s situation that can’t be helped despite our desire to have all kids cared for and loved in every way possible.
Watching my colleagues interact with students has helped me grow in my own connections with students. I witness these teachers plopping down on the ground in the hallway to sit and cry with students, cheering in excitement and joy with those experiencing happiness, standing firm and setting boundaries for students who so desperately need them, and challenging students to become the best they can be academically and socially on a daily basis. I am a better teacher because of these amazing teachers around me.
Politically, we span the board from what I would consider ultra conservative to ultra liberal. This disparity does not cause us to hate, disrespect or pull away from each other. Instead, at least for me, it has caused us to understand how the world works in all its diverse glory. We are a melting pot of political ideas, both in the EWing and the United States. We, as women who respect others’ opinions, listen to each other with open hearts and minds. We don’t necessarily agree. But we are able to see how someone on the other side of the issue feels and can respect that not everyone is the same.
One of the greatest aspects of our friendship has been the support we receive from each other when it comes to bettering ourselves physically. I have written many pages about my running endeavors here for Near North Now. These women have been some of my biggest supporters in those miles. Encouraging me when I would feel exhausted, pushing me when I felt good. When one of us goes out to run, the others cheer that person on. When one of us doesn’t feel like running, receiving pictures of another person having completed her run gets us out the door.
Just as with our politics, we all have varying athletic interests. Gena loves to take classes at Bassai in Newaygo. Cassie is the obstacle course guru. Whitney teaches physical education and comes from a background playing softball. Jen enjoyed running for many years, but had struggled as of late with knees that weren’t cooperating (that happens when the cartilage is all gone). She is now running more days a week than I do, so she is back in the game. Bethanie is a volleyball player and former coach who now enjoys Jillian Michaels shred videos and shoveling snow...because we have plenty of that.
With all of these interests, we help each other to open our minds to trying new things. Jen and I enjoyed a day of snow shoeing together during the first of the many snow storms that hit Michigan this winter. We texted pictures to the group and immediately everyone said they would love to try it together. Now we have plans to enjoy a group snowshoe afternoon together.
Recently, we have been thinking about races we could run together. This communication and desire to better ourselves has led to three of us signing up for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in May. At the end of January, Cassie and Whitney ran together in the Fremont Frostbite 5k, crushing their goal times despite the frigid temperatures and gusting wind.
For all six of us, life is busy. Some work more than one job, all of us have children, families and friends outside of school. We walk out the door after a hard day of working with students to separate lives. The joy that we share inside the walls, and occasionally outside enjoying activities that enrich our lives, is immeasurable.
I hope that our students observe this friendship we six share and understand that this is exactly how life can, and should, be with women everywhere. Life is short. Full of ups and downs, twists and turns, unexpecteds. Each day is that much easier knowing I get to walk through the doors of NHS feeling supported, loved and not judged by those around me. There is no tearing down, putting up metaphorical walls, or anger. It is just the opposite.We are empathetic with each other and our circumstances. We enrich each others’ lives - and that is a blessing I can put at the top of my list each day.
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