Oh my dear sweet friend, I am more joyful than ever to be here in front of this mic speaking to the most incredible teachers in the world. There has been so much devastation in my area here in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I will tell you all about that a little later in today’s episode, as well as share with you three gifts that you have in your life that maybe you’re taking for granted right now. I know this because I was taking those for granted too.
I’m going to share with you the story of the great flood of 2022. Because Teacher, I believe sharing my thoughts and the feelings I’ve experienced will help bring you motivation. I hope it will help you begin this new school year with a little more clarity, gratefulness, and of course, joy.
Listener Shout Out
Before we get there, though, I want to send a listener shout out to sweet, sweet Debbie. She unknowingly sent me the most wonderful email during all the turmoil we were facing here. This is what Debbie wrote:
“I am a busy teacher and love listening to your podcast when I can. I’m getting ready for the school year to start and I knew I had to get a dose of Teacher Toni, before things got rolling. I love your advice and words of encouragement. I want you to know that what you do matters to a teacher in a little town in Oregon, all the way across the country. I don’t see any new podcasts for the year. I know you are passionate about your work. I hope all is well for you and your family. Thank you for all you do, you are truly an inspiration and a resource that I use when I get stuck or need a pick me up. I feel so thankful for your influence in my teaching.”
Oh Debbie, what you didn’t know is that I read your email through the very little cell phone reception I was getting here at my house on a phone that was being charged by a generator. Not only were we without electricity, water or any way to even leave our home, I was also sick with COVID. So that moment was the most uplifting I had felt in quite some time. And it reminded me that what I do does help other teachers, which is exactly what I’m here for. It’s what I love. So, thank you so much, Debbie, from the bottom of my heart, that was a huge blessing.
I Love Hearing From You!
And for anyone else who may want to hear their shout out here on the podcast, you can always send those through email, I love hearing from you. It is also super helpful for me to receive those as a review on the podcast. That helps other teachers discover this channel as well. So it just means so much.
And I’m glad that Debbie asked about the podcast because it’s been on my heart. I’ve thought about it all this time, I’ve just been unable to focus on it or literally been unable to do it. So I’m glad to be back and I plan to be as consistent as possible. But here in our area, we’re looking at another unusual school year with lots of new challenges.
Let me give you the lowdown. I’ll tell you what’s going on but also share with you three gifts that I want you to recognize in your life and in your career. So let’s get to it.
A Flood Story
It was 1 AM on July 28. The very first extremely loud and rumbling roll of thunder woke me. We all went to bed and were resting peacefully despite some flood watches and warnings that we had heard of. You see, here in the mountains, there’s lots of water: creeks, rivers, lakes, and streams. It’s not uncommon for those to rise causing some version of a flood, but it goes away within an hour or so and no harm done.
But what we didn’t know that night is that this particular storm would be historic. Within a small window of time, over 14 inches of rain fell. All the water from all of the surrounding counties had nowhere to go.
I remember hearing those rains, but the most shocking part was the lightning. It lit the whole house over and over and over unlike I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t long after that, that the power went out, which was the scariest part of all because now there were no streetlights to see where the water was. Messages and texts started coming in through the little reception that we have here. A family member is trapped. Of people needing rescued.
That is the worst feeling of all, because we were trapped too. We couldn’t leave our house. We live right next to a creek. And so we did the only thing that we could do. We prayed. We prayed harder than ever. My heart has never been so full of need.
Lord, protect us. Please make the rain stop. Please protect family members and friends and see us through this horrible night.
And He did. We are safe, our home is safe.
But many, many others are not so fortunate. When daylight came, we could finally see just what had happened. And here in our own little holler where we live, it was awful. Cell phone service was gone. There was no way to call, no way to text, no way to see social media to check on anyone. And it stayed that way for 24 hours.
So there was 24 hours of uncertainty. And we could only imagine what happened beyond our little road. Roadways were completely missing here where we live. And at one point, a complete mountain had slipped, causing a mudslide blocking the road completely.
So me and my family were trapped here. The only way to get out was to walk through the mountains and to hitch a ride somewhere.
After 24 hours, the reception finally came back, very spotty and unreliable. But finally we were able to see beyond our own holler, and it was worse than we could have ever imagined. A whole community completely ravaged. There were 12 counties of Kentucky affected, all in the mountains of Appalachia.
Lives Forever Changed
To see pictures just brought tears to your eyes. Homes completely gone. Nothing left. Images of children standing on their roofs waiting to be rescued by boat.
And the most horrible of all, dozens of posts about family members gone. We went to bed that night with normalcy. And we woke up with important people that we knew missing, gone forever, lost in the waters. It hurts me to talk about it.
But the worst of all was a family of four children that attended a school just about 15 miles from my school, within the same district. Four small children, aged eight and younger, were swept from their mother’s arms in the floodwaters. And they didn’t survive.
God bless their family and be with them. A friend of mine taught that first grader and I couldn’t imagine the pain of that family. There were many more, and things here are still hard to look at. They’re hard to accept, but our communities are building back, and we’ve seen so much charity and love and kindness from strangers.
Devastation to Our School
I’m hopeful that everything’s going to be okay. But as a teacher, I also want to share with you that on top of it all, many schools have been destroyed. There are eight that I know of right here within about an hour of my home.
And my school of course was one of them. So teacher, I have no classroom. My school was blessed in that all of the walls and structure are okay, but the floodwaters rose about four to five feet within every room. There’s been extensive cleaning, and now we have no tile, nothing on our walls, and everything needs painted. It is a mess.
But we are hopeful to get back in school on September the 19th. As you can imagine going into a school that has been stripped completely down in order to be cleaned from the nasty mold and mud from the flood, it’s going to be a strange year.
I thought this would be a great time to share with you three of the gifts that you hold within your care that I want you to be extra grateful for. Things that we automatically take for granted. Sometimes a good reminder, a good story, a good disaster can really bring to light how wonderful these things are. So hopefully they will bring you some joy and happiness and gratefulness in your heart. I want something good to come of this experience.
Gifts to Remember #1: Normalcy
So gift number one that you more than likely have within your care unless something like this has happened is normalcy. Normalcy is a huge gift. Oh boy, I of all people definitely take this one for granted. Don’t we undervalue just a regular routine day in our society? It’s like, oh, I need more, I need something more exciting. I need something more dramatic. I need something that’s going to rip right down to my heart and make me feel something.
Maybe it’s because we’re numb from all that we see. But right now what I know more than anything is that I would love to be in my normal school building on a normal school day, walking through my schedule and enjoying my students. Normalcy is precious, it means there’s nothing wrong. It means that we are only facing challenges that we can deal with, that we are skilled at overcoming.
It doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. But it just means things are going smoothly enough for us to mentally, emotionally, physically handle it. So if you’re going to work every day, and you’re following a schedule, and maybe your heart is yearning for more, remember that more is not always better. I’m definitely dealing with a lot more now than I would have been in a normal school year. And maybe I wished for more. But now I understand more than ever that normalcy is a gift. And I hope it is a gift that you have in your life right now.
Gifts to Remember #2: Your Classroom
Gift number two I want you to recognize and love and appreciate more than ever is your classroom.
It was about four days after the flood when I finally learned our school was ravaged. Information was traveling slowly, because as I said we couldn’t leave our holler, and the reception on phones was awful. No one had electricity. It was just horrid.
But finally, I heard from a friend who told me the news and also received pictures of my classroom. I had just spent four entire days, hired a babysitter and all, to go down to the school and redecorate, put out new things I just bought. My last day there was just two days before the flood.
Not only that, my school had purchased me my dream classroom carpet. It was perfect. And thankfully I’m getting another one. But it was just a joy to see. And I absolutely had no idea in those moments, what would happen. I didn’t even get to take my after pictures, because I had planned one more day to go in and finish everything up to make sure it was perfect for open house, which was just the week after the flood left me with nothing.
Literally all that can be salvaged from my classroom was the curtains which were up too high to be affected. Every poster, every shelf, every bin and chair was trashed by the company hired to clean because of the fear of mold. And the mold did come. I didn’t expect that. But it did.
Starting with a Blank Slate
So now we pray on September 19th, we’ll begin with a blank slate. And I’ve received so many items from donations, and I’m so excited to get in there and work in that blank slate. But it’s stressful, and it’s hard. And I just wanted my beautiful classroom that was already finished, that I had already put so much time and effort and love into. I’m not sure I’ll be able to recreate that this month, this season or even this year.
Also, there are challenges within our room. We have no flooring. We’re going to start the school year on an ugly concrete floor. And we’re not allowed to decorate, because there is construction everywhere. And our rooms will have to be repainted, everything replaced as the year progresses.
September 19 is very soon. We only have four days to work in our classroom. Because even now I have yet to step foot into our building because of all of the cleaning. So imagine preparing your classroom from a blank slate, literally blank walls, blank everything. We’re lucky to have a bulletin board left.
I tell you all of this not because I want you to feel sorry for me, because I’m excited about the adventure. I’ve been stuck in my house way too long. But I want you to appreciate your classroom. Don’t you just love it? Isn’t it wonderful to have a space that belongs to you that you can decorate to meet your heart’s desire? And to please the little ones that walk through that door every day, enjoy it, love it, treasure it.
And I did treasure mine, but never considered that I could lose it. Now I know more than ever, just how precious it was. And one day with lots of hard work, lots of waiting for construction, I’ll get it back to that point. And I’ll appreciate it more than ever.
Gifts to Remember #3: Your Career
And the last gift I want to remind you of is your career. Being able to work in this field is absolutely a gift. My heart is at a place that I know this every day, even though I still get stressed in the classroom, just like any other teacher. There is so much negativity and problems within our field, I guarantee if every teacher could lose their school and sit at home and just wish they could be back in that classroom as normal, maybe they would appreciate what they have. Maybe they would understand the importance that they play in the world.
I think the whole experience with COVID brought it out a lot in us that our children need us and they need normalcy, routine, and security that only our schools can bring. There is nothing like a natural disaster to show you that our kids need to be in school, and they need the love and care and attention of their teacher.
They may not be going through the aftermath of a natural disaster. But some of our students are feeling disasters in their lives. They need the stability of you, a professional, to guide them through these hard times. Maybe they’re facing major disasters, horrible things we can’t even imagine, or maybe a more normalized disaster, like their parents going through a divorce.
The smile, security, and love that can only be found at school, what if it wasn’t there for our students? Right now, it’s not there. We’re waiting. We’re praying, we’re hoping to get back to the career that we know more than ever, is irreplaceable.
Burnout Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Appreciate Your Career
I want you to know it’s okay to feel burnout. It’s okay to feel like maybe I need something more in my life. Maybe this isn’t it. We all, even as happy as I am to be a teacher, feel those emotions. But teacher, the most important thing that you can remember is your career is a gift. Your ability to do it can be taken from you in a moment. For us, it was taken away in only a few hours of rain, something that seemed so normal here, but stole away my ability to walk into my classroom to be there on the first day of school.
But my wish is that you can appreciate your career, that you can love the ability and the power you have to go to work every day and to make a difference that no one else in the world has the ability to make within the lives of the children that you serve. You are a big deal. You are important.
And I know with your heart that you can embrace these gifts. Remember that normalcy is a gift. Be thankful for it. Your classroom is a gift and a wonder. It is the safe haven of so many children. And it is your own little world. Be thankful for it. And sweet teacher, your career is a gift. It’s a gift to you because you’re able and passionate enough to do it. But it’s also a gift to every child that you serve, even on the hardest of days. Try to focus on being thankful for your wonderful, irreplaceable career.
You Are One of My Gifts
I hope I’ve managed to remind you today of some of the gifts that you have and motivate you to appreciate them and to go in your classroom with joy and happiness to share with children that need you.
I want to end by also tell telling you that you sweet teacher, are a gift to me. Debbie, and many others, were worried about me, a teacher they’ve never met, because they know I would have been here on this podcast showing up. So the purpose that you give me is such a gift. I could never thank you enough for it. The encouragement and kindhearted emails and reviews that you leave me here are a gift. And I know that more than ever now. I am so thankful for you.
Thank you for being here.
I want you to know that I will be documenting my journey to re-enter my classroom in vlog form. If you didn’t know it, I do have a YouTube channel that I’ve not been very active with. But I’ll be uploading more content there in the future. So head over there if you’d like to subscribe. And as soon as I’m able to get back in my room, which has to be soon because September the 19th is only two weeks away from the time of this recording, I’ll be vlogging that. For those of you who prefer video or just want some extra support and help that is my goal for this year. I’ll say that here just to hold myself accountable. You’ll be able to see what I’m talking about soon on YouTube. So subscribe if you’re interested.
I want to leave you with this reminder. Until we meet again, go make a difference, my joyful Teacher Friend.