Back to basics in more ways than one

Back to basics in more ways than one

I am greatly challenged by the dichotomy of wanting to fit in and assimilate with this new culture, but also hold true and be proud of my identity as an American. Running has always helped me feel grounded, normal and strong, which is what I need while I continue to adjust to this new life. When a pulled hamstring makes running impossible, I'm forced to find other ways to manage this transition. 

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My Break-up Letter to Education

My Dearest Teaching Love,

It is with a heavy heart that I write these words; this reality that we both have been avoiding for longer than either of us will admit. Each day we start anew, attempting to get through the day with hope that this is just a phase and that we will get back to the place we once were: days filled with love and passion for being an educator. I can see now that no amount of time is going to fix the problems between us. I have to be brave enough to make the change that will set us both free because this relationship is no longer healthy for me.

Education, you are intricately woven into the very fiber of my being. I knew from an early age that I was simply created to be a teacher.  Playing “School” in my bedroom as a young girl, I enthusiastically taught all my stuffed animals how to read. Growing up the eldest of four, I learned lots of important management skills that would translate into how I run my classroom. The closer I got to being an adult, the more I knew I wanted to be around kids as much as possible. I loved sports, I loved learning, I loved kids. I loved you.

In the early years, I said yes to everything you asked of me.

Will you teach 3rd grade instead of 4th, even though it’s already 2 weeks into the school year? Sure, I would be happy to, because that’s what best for the kids.

Would you mind tutoring struggling students after school in your “free time”? Of course, because that means the kids are with me and not out on the streets, getting into trouble.

Will you coach the cross-country team? Absolutely, even though I had never even seen a cross-country race in my life.

“Teacher, teacher! Do you have a snack? We don’t have food at home.” Mental note: always add extra food to the grocery list each week to make sure I had something to offer to my students to eat.

I loved you with everything I had, but still felt I had more to give you and needed to be better because you were giving me so much in return. You gave me purpose and filled my heart with gratitude and pride because I knew, without a doubt, I was impacting the life of a child. 

I decided to make a major commitment to you by pursuing my Master’s Degree. Figuring out how to afford such an undertaking on a teacher’s salary was ludicrous, but love makes you do strange things! And I loved you so much that I was willing to do anything to make it work. I believed that by accomplishing this endeavor,  you would love me even more.

After two years, two other part-time jobs, night classes twice a week and lots of tuition payments, I finally earned my Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist. But even with my “specialist” label, I was anxious to stay in the general education classroom so ALL students might benefit from the knowledge I had gained. Wouldn’t I be able to help more kids that way? I had met your expectation and you appeared to be pleased.

But then life interfered with our relationship. I got married, had a child of my own, and everything changed. For the first time, the students in my classroom were no longer first on my priority list, and that was difficult for us both to reconcile. I took a 12-week leave (even though I didn’t get paid for most of it) to learn how to be a new mom. But who can learn how to do the most important job of your existence in just 3 months?!? I tried my best to keep up the high standard I set for myself before becoming a mom, but it just was not possible. The hours I used to spend in the classroom after school now required me to pick up my baby from daycare and spend a few precious minutes with him in between commuting in rush hour traffic and bedtime.

Later, when I moved to a new state, I had to start all over because you refused to acknowledge me as a teacher. Didn’t all my years of teaching experience mean anything to you!? Instead, you required me to take more tests, more classes and spend hundreds of dollars out of my pocket so I could be eligible for the same job I already held in my previous state. However, I still loved you so much that I would do anything to make it work. And I believed our common goal was to positively impact the children which was all I ever wanted to do.

But over the years, we have both changed. My family has grown and your expectations continue to evolve. Sometimes, the changes between us were subtle, like when you needed me to add an extra recess duty or after school meeting to the weekly schedule. Or when I chose to spend a weekend with my family rather than in the classroom working for you. Other changes were so obvious they were scary, like when my class sizes grew to nearly 30 students or when I didn’t have enough books, desks or supplies for the students in my room.  

These occurrences seemed minor at first, just something that happened here or there. But small compromises eventually lead to larger ones and soon I found myself making decisions that put other people’s children in front of my own.

I’m not going to lie, there were many times I doubted we could make our relationship work. But somehow, we always managed to find a way. I felt so proud of us, too! Against all odds of time and space, we managed to get the lessons planned, meetings attended, grading completed, interventions documented, paperwork turned in, reward parties prepared, hugs given, students tutored and kids LOVED - each and every day. Every time we accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of surviving the school year together, my confidence was renewed that our marriage would survive.

But these last few years, it’s gotten harder. Each time we stagger into summer break - exhausted, depleted, and consumed by responsibility - a little piece of me could not recover. It is only in retrospect that I can see it now. Whenever I was able to create something out of nothing, to exceed expectations of student achievement or professional responsibility, I incidentally set a new standard. The seemingly impossible victory has now become the status quo, and the expectations just keep rising while your support and resources continue to dwindle. I simply can no longer sustain this pattern of behavior we have established. My once bottomless pocket of passion has been emptied, and I do not know how to refill it. 

So this is it for me, no more. I wish you well and yearn for your success. I believe in your potential, but worry you will continue to allow uninformed and disingenuous individuals manipulate your true purpose. It is imperative that you endure and provide our children with the education they deserve and our educators with the resources they require. Please know, I will always support you and do my best to fight for you from the other side as a parent, where perhaps my voice may be heard more clearly. I hope you can look inwards to understand the changes you need to make to prevent this from happening to your future relationships.

Wishing you all the best,

Mrs. Mullins, 5th grade teacher

Do You Really Need A Bigger Home?

BUYING A LARGER HOME OR A RENTAL HOME?

Have you ever wanted to make a significant purchase but truly taken the time to explore why you think you want it or need it in your life? How often do we fall into the trap of unintentionally following the crowd or doing what is expected of us? Even as mature, supposedly evolved independent adults, we have a tendency to follow certain behaviors and spending patterns of those around us.

Not long ago we went through a period where we wanted to buy a bigger home to live in. The fact that we were even considering an “upgrade” was amazing to us. A mere 5 years earlier, we were on the brink of foreclosure on our Chicago condo that we needed to sell after our relocation to Oklahoma. Unfortunately, we had bought at the peak of the market in 2005 and were trying to sell as the market plummeted in 2008. The financial burden forced us to near bankruptcy and put a tremendous strain on our marriage. It took a great deal of patience, sacrifice and vigilant budgeting to crawl out of that financial hole so the magnitude of a home purchase is not lost on us one bit.

Due to the fact that our kids were getting older and bigger we thought it made sense to have more room and ensure we all had our own space! Other people our age appeared to be having the same thoughts and conversations and we gravitated towards these ideas without much creative or critical thinking around the topic. The trap was set and we were reaching for the bait.

We started the process like most eager house hunters, exploring the internet for potential neighborhoods and homes that met our wants and budget. We excitedly began visiting some homes and discussed the potential interior changes we would make if we went ahead with the purchase. We figured we would need to buy something that was about $100,000 more than our current home in order to get the space we were looking for in the right neighborhood.

One day we randomly came across a really small house in a neighborhood we were looking at for about $100,000. At times through the years, we had tossed around the idea of buying a rental house as an investment opportunity, but it was all just talk and no action. This time however, we really started discussing the pros and cons of buying this rental house instead of upgrading our own living space. We were not in a position to do both so it had to be one or the other. This is what we came up with:

     


LARGER FAMILY HOME                                                                                     

  • PR0: More Rooms & Space, Bigger Yard for Children to Play
  • CON: Higher Mortgage Payment, Higher Utility Bills, Higher Remodel Costs, More Cleaning & Yard Work, Extra Furniture,  Moving Costs and Hassle of Moving

RENTAL HOME

  • PRO: No Mortgage Payment, Tax Benefits, Passive Income, Diversify Investments, No Cleaning or Yardwork, No Moving Expenses
  • CON: Landlord Duties & Increased Accounting                                     

As you can see the list made it very obvious to where we wanted our money to go and having someone else pay for the extra square footage we would own ended up being a very easy decision. We see now with some simple updates and organizational changes to our current home, that we never needed the extra space in the first place. Even as our boys grow each year, we are better able to discern between our wants and our needs. Trying to make life easier and more comfortable for our boys, doesn’t really make life easier for them later in life.  We could not be happier with our decision and even believe now that we could live in a much smaller home and be every bit as happy.

We are not saying this is for everyone. Buying property can be risky whether it is your primary residence or a rental. We lost a lot of money on our first property purchase which we lived in for 3 years, so we are very aware of the negative side of real estate investments. The lessons we learned from our first disastrous real estate purchase were put to good use when determining whether or not this was a smart investment opportunity. Fortunately our instincts were spot on and we had it rented for a positive monthly cash flow within hours of closing on the property to a wonderful tenant.

Our Rental House

Our Rental House

Before you buy your first house or decide you need a bigger home, take some time to really question what is motivating you to make this decision. Home ownership is not for everyone despite what you hear! See if you can make some changes to your current living situation in order to have it work for your family’s needs.  Remember, the expenses associated with buying a bigger house are not isolated to simply the purchase of a property; everything gets more expensive with each square foot of space added! Make your own list, with your own circumstances like we did, it may make your decision making process a little easier.

We can’t imagine living in a bigger home now and we laugh at the fact that we ever thought we needed a larger space to inhabit. We use every square inch of our current home and feel like we have more than enough room to be comfortable.  We now try to apply this thinking to other aspects of our life and question when we are following the herd and when we are doing what truly makes sense to our needs, not our wants.

Getting out of Credit Card Debt

Wants vs. Needs

Opening my first credit card account symbolized what I thought was the final stage of my transition from student to full-fledged adult. Only real grown-ups with real jobs have credit cards! Looking back, I wish I could have entered adulthood with a much more sound financial outlook because within three months of opening that account, I had accumulated thousands of dollars of credit card debt. Did you know the average American earns $51,017 yet carries $225,238 in debt? I certainly didn't! That's nearly five times the income to debt ratio!

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