The In-between: 2017 Reflections
Every year seems to be busier than the one that came before it. Is that because we start to forget the moment we stop being right in the thick of something? We’re not dealing with it then and there, we don’t have to manage the chaos, and consequently only focus on what is immediate? Perhaps so. I mean, I can remember feeling like 2016 had been massive, and I can remember feeling like that at the end of 2015 too. I can look at the reflections I have written in the past on each year as it ends and those years were definitely full: of moments, of events, of ups and downs, of life. Yet despite that clarity of knowing I feel this way every time I reflect on a past year, I still wholeheartedly believe that the past twelve months were hectic!
I think a big part of it this time around though is that I made the conscious decision over the past year to make the concerted effort to really be present in the moments. Not to just live through them, but to really engage with them, think about them, participate in what was happening, and truly be a part of my own life.
The purpose of this particular blog post is purely selfish: I want to be able to go back over my year and reflect on those moments where I made that effort to be present, and on what have I learned as a result. It is crucial to the process of setting myself up for an epic 2018 and that is 100% my intention for this upcoming year.
Let me recap on 2017:
It began with a family trip to Geelong. My husband, our son, and I took some time out for ourselves for the first time in a long time and went away as a trio. Despite some initial tension early on as we worked to find our balance again when not surrounded by the rest of our tribe, the mini-holiday was absolutely a success. We reconnected, talked through all the things we were hoping for the upcoming year, and had some genuine quality time together as a family, which had been the whole purpose of our trip. Highlights of the trip included: visiting Fairyland, Adventure Park, and Flying Brick Cider Co; exploring all the family activities that Geelong’s foreshore had to offer; morning runs along that same foreshore; a fantastic coffee date with my Masters degree supervisor that we were able to make some time for; and the ferry trip from Geelong to Sorrento as we headed home. This trip reminded me of the joy that my little family provide, and how well we work together when we make the time to really focus on appreciating what we have.
My work year began at full throttle and didn’t slow down. Taking on the role of learning group leader and becoming responsible not only for my usual classrooms of high school students but also the wellbeing and management of a group of year seven students was definitely a massive change to my usual work routine. Especially since it had been eight years since I had last stood before a classroom of my own year sevens to teach! It was a year that had its challenges, though perhaps the biggest of these were learning the limits of my own patience and resilience, and also learning that people see in me skills and abilities I hadn’t truly seen for myself. My career so far has allowed me to develop and refine the skills needed when managing complex situations, and for helping students to find their feet amongst those situations. This year taught me that I am, in fact, excellent at doing exactly that. Alongside that year seven form group (a group I also taught for English) I had my usual VCE load, which in 2017 shaped up to be a year twelve Literature class, a year twelve English Language class, and a year eleven Psychology class. Teaching VCE is hectic at the best of times. There are strict deadlines to be met, a myriad of other events that need to be worked around, and the complexities that come with sixteen-eighteen year olds who are braving the tough realities of finishing high school and beginning to think about what comes after. Add in the fact that my classes are the type that have a significant amount of writing and reading, and the time pressure seriously expands. So began the long days, the late nights, and the reality that is the life of teacher.
Along with the practicalities of my work as a teacher, there were also the extra-curricular realities that come along with the classroom: I joined my colleagues for two school camps in 2017, I took part in helping students with their school production, and of course joined in on all the sports days, dress up days, and more. The first camp was a three-day trip into a small country Victoria town with just under 100 year sevens and a focus on getting to know the students that were launching into this crazy high school life. This also happened to be the first school camp I’d even attended since becoming a teacher, and it was a blast. I work with some pretty incredible people, who make every day a lot of fun. The second camp was massive - twelve days touring through Central Australia with two bus-loads of year eleven students. This camp was full of emotional challenges for me: it was the longest amount of time I’d ever left my son, it was the longest continuous amount of time I’d ever spent on a camp with so many students in such close quarters, and while I was travelling, my father-in-law had a health scare and I couldn’t just run home to be there. It was full of just as many challenges for the students: tackling serious anxieties, facing fears, more physical activity in a short period of time than most of us were used to, traumatic news from home, and more. I got to have some wonderful experiences on this camp, from hiking through the Flinders Ranges, to seeing Uluru and I learned so much. It completely reinforced how amazing my colleagues are, and it also reinforced for me just how rad the students are that I get to teach and how willing they are to rally around one another. We have some pretty phenomenal young people soon to be heading out into the world! Being a teacher is an exhausting profession, but it is also one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
In March of 2017, the pace picked up even more as my university year resumed. My plan for the year was to complete all the required final coursework in readiness to write my Master of Literature thesis in 2018. I had two classes of coursework remaining, and I was determined to not only complete both, but to maintain at least a distinction average, and to push that up into the high distinction range if I could. It took a lot of hard work, some very long hours, and included a meltdown towards the end of the second class that was very messy and set off by skyrocketing anxiety and the pressure that I had put upon myself to really do well. Yet despite all of this, I am very proud to say I maintained that distinction average and I am looking forward to finally getting stuck into the thesis proper when uni resumes for 2018!
On top of this already massive year, 2017 was the year that I finally made my own health my main priority. Following the birth of my son in 2014, I had slowly returned to running thanks to the ease of access provided by my local ParkRun, and had also taken up aerial hoop classes as a way of trying to have some fun while exercising. In that time I had lost between 15-20 kilograms, yet I was struggling all the time to enjoy exercise fully. I wanted to be strong, and I wanted to be healthy, yet constant pain and difficulty breathing were making those goals much harder than they needed to be. In early 2017 I took the steps that were needed to make that better – I made an appointment with a surgeon to discuss booking in for a breast reduction. The consult went better than I ever could have expected and I left with clear goals for what was to come. A week later, my surgery was booked in for December and my focus shifted to losing ten more kilograms in order to best aide my recovery. In the following months full of early morning runs, lots of aerial hoop and aerial pole classes, yoga, stretch classes, bootcamps, and boxing classes, along with a fierce fitness challenge put together by my rad personal trainer, I learned that my determination to be better could carry me further than anything else, and both my body and my brain began to crave exercise. It has been the most delightful discovery! I accomplished the goal, and in early December, now 30 kilograms lighter, I had the surgery I had been wishing for since my early twenties. To anyone reading this and feeling like they relate, if you can make it happen, DO IT! I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been, and now, without the constant pain and the ability to breathe properly, I can enjoy it!
I challenged myself in so many ways during 2017:
- I got not one, but two tattoos. This was a challenge for me because though I adore tattoos and had long wanted the two that I got, I am quite adverse to any kind of ink on my skin. Getting tattoos, having ink embedded into my skin that I couldn't just wash off, was a decision I found really hard to make. I haven't once regretted the choice though, as the two tattoos that I chose mean so much to me: the opening bars of music from the Jewel song that I have sung to my son every night since he was born, and a semi-colon to signify that my story is not yet over.
- I not only tried pole dancing classes, but continued taking them. After some miserable and humiliating attempts throughout my twenties, I had determined that I was useless at it, I would never be able to do it, let alone make it look easy, and resolved never to try again. An unexpected class cancellation saw me pick up a pole class as a replacement and I haven’t looked back, because to my utter delight, I discovered that I was not only strong enough to climb the pole, but I could do it multiple times! Granted there are many, many things I cannot yet do, but the difference between ‘in-her-twenties-Corissa’ and ‘in-her-thirties-Corissa’ is that now I know that with hard work and determination, that pole and my own anxieties and self-esteem issues won’t beat me!
- I completed Summit Survivor - a 5km obstacle course challenge! Following a last-minute invitation to take another woman’s place in the team, and despite all my fears that I would make a complete fool of myself in front of a number of people that I admire, I showed up. I attempted every single obstacle on that course, and even when I came across some I couldn’t complete, it only served to make me more determined to get through them in 2018! I’ve already put my name down with my PT to sign up again.
- I faced some disheartening feedback head on and made every effort to improve it. Following some pretty crushing feedback from some former students, I determined that 2017 was the year that students would talk about my classrooms as being the ones they really loved being a part of, not only because of the atmosphere in the space, but because the work they were doing and the feedback they were receiving was always valuable to them. Any goal with the word 'always' in it is risky, and yet with some clear coaching, advice from a number of colleagues, and some serious effort to improve my skill set, I made a number of conscious choices that without a doubt changed the way my seniors experienced my classroom. Nine years into teaching, I no longer feel like a brand new teacher who doesn't know what's happening around her, but I definitely still appreciate being able to learn new skills and see them work within my classes.
- I took guitar lessons again! I have an awful fear of making a fool of myself around people who are far more competent than I am, and consequently lessons of any kind fill me with all kinds of anxiety. However, I’m also a huge believer in challenging my own boundaries and pushing myself to do the things that scare me, so for the first half of 2017 I took lessons from a rad woman who never once made me feel incompetent. She gave me a solid foundation of skills to take away and play around with at home, and that is exactly what I had been hoping to achieve. While the lessons didn’t continue (I finally ran out of time to fit everything in!), I got to learn something I truly wanted to learn and also got to meet an incredible woman out of it – both wonderful outcomes.
- My fear of looking foolish in front of people more skilled than myself was further challenged when my aerial hoop class was merged with the advanced class that ran on the same evening. Not only was I going to have to deal with trying to learn new and complicated tricks that I found so difficult already, I was going to have to do it in a room full of women who could already do those things and who were far better at them than I was. Yet from the very first merged class, it was clear that this fear was all in my own head: not only would my phenomenal instructor never have stood for any negativity in her space, the women in that class are amazing. Every class I spend with them brings me so much joy – being in such a supportive environment has truly done wonders for my soul. Everyone should experience what it feels like to be surrounded by people who genuinely just want you to succeed!
Surrounding all of these moments, there are also the everyday things that make my life so wonderful: waking up each day next to the person I chose to share this life with; our delightful gremlin-child whose mix of a fierce independence and a desperate need to be my focus so completely fill me with equal parts love, pride, and frustration; our beautiful families – whether our interactions with them occur in person or via video calls and text messages; our little zoo that keep me company and also endlessly entertained; our tribe of friends both near and far; the books that fill our home, and of course, the writing. Oh, the writing. How it keeps me sane among the chaos of life.
Yet I didn’t write nearly as often as I thought about writing this past year, which makes my 2018 desire so easy to identify. Where the main focus in 2017 was my health, 2018 is the year of my writing. It feels damn good to reflect on this past year and see the way forward so clearly. It feels even better to know that I am already on the path to making my dreams become my reality. Stay tuned for what’s to come. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!