New Boots.

Five years ago, I decided I wanted to be a hiker. Growing up, we weren’t the most outdoorsy family–we went to the beach each summer and went to lots of baseball games, but we never went camping or anything remotely like that. Honestly, I didn’t really love the outdoors as a kid. I have a distinct memory of being on the bus in kindergarten, looking out the window, and lamenting over my hatred for the color green because it was *~everywhere~* you looked outside. Don’t get me wrong, as a kid I liked playing outside (read: rollerblading, pretending to be Michelle Kwan in the cul-de-sac), but my go-to favorite activities were drawing and listening to music.

It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I really started to love being outside. I started running my first year teaching, training for 5Ks and then 10Ks and then the Tar Heel Ten Miler. I ran to prove to myself that I could do it, to prove to my mom that I could do it, and to prove to anyone who cut me from a team or didn’t pick me to play dodgeball at recess that I could do it.

When I decided to become a hiker, I had been making regular trips to Asheville with some of my best friends. We would find short day hikes to do and we always had the best time doing it. I figured that it only made sense that since I was going on these hikes once or twice a year, that I should shell out for hiking boots. I did some research and asked friends who I knew were avid hikers about which kinds of shoes to get. I ordered a pair of Keens off of Amazon and they were at my house within the week and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Opening the box, I revealed a beautiful pair of hiking boots–pristine tread with Carolina blue accents around the shoe and laces. I immediately put them on and wore them around the house and to run errands, as though it wasn’t the middle of August in North Carolina where humidity seeps into every pore of your body causing you to sweat profusely regardless of where you are.

I wore those Keens for five years without replacing them. Five years of hikes, five years of dry feet amidst muddy trails, five years of creek crossings and waterfalls and snow pack. Five years of some of my favorite memories to date.

About four weeks ago, I went into REI to look for new hiking boots. After five years with the Keens and starting to do longer and more regular hikes, I felt like it was time to find a new boot. Also, I had a big trip coming up with my husband, where we would be doing day hikes nearly every day, and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I brought in my Keens to show the salesperson working the shoe section, just to confirm the thoughts I had about actually purchasing a new pair of boots. Her first words to me were, “ long have you had those?” I thought about her question, replied sheepishly, and listened intently when she told me I should “most definitely get a new pair.” I found a pair I loved and packed them up to take with me to Wyoming and Montana.

I hiked all around Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks the last two weeks. I traversed many miles and ate an embarrassing amount of jerky, almonds, and applesauce while doing it. My new boots were comfortable, kept me warm and dry, and did everything you’d want a hiking boot to do.

The day after getting home, I started doing laundry and noticed my Keens still sitting on the floor where I had left them by the back door. I went over to them, picking one up to examine it. Was I going to get rid of these boots now that I had new ones? Would getting rid of them mean I’m tossing out those memories that are attached to them?

I slipped my feet into the familiar boots, laced them up, and set out for a walk.

Walking the streets of Hillsboro Village, I couldn’t help but think about the growth that these boots have seen me through. I’ve hiked through stretches of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Washington, and British Columbia in those boots. I’ve hiked state parks, national parks, and various trails weaving through forests. During those times I had experienced great joy and deep sorrow. I hiked to clear my head, to feel rejuvenated, to come face-to-face with physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. I’m so proud of who I’ve become in the last five years with my trusty Keens hugging my ankles.

I’ve returned from my walk and my boots are still laced up, secured snugly around my feet. I know getting rid of the Keens won’t erase the memories I’ve made in them or reverse the growth that’s occurred since my impulsive Amazon purchase five years ago, but I don’t think there’s any harm in keeping them around just a little longer. It’s nice to have physical reminders of dear memories, personal development, and the story behind my love for hiking.

Allison Redden, MPP.

I find it fitting that I graduate at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week and that as I write this post, raindrops tap the windowpanes surrounding me. Over the course of the last two years, I have wrestled with the idea of re-entering the classroom after conferring this master’s degree. I have wondered when the nostalgia of teaching would wear off, when I would finally “get over” the immense heartbreak of leaving a profession that I was so good at and groups of students I loved so deeply. The two years of this program have been challenging and rewarding, full of tears at bedtime and laughs on the back porch with friends, laden with stress and joy, disappointment and pride.

I have learned a great deal in these two years, specifically relating to comfort and trust. Both of these have deep roots with vulnerability, which I have been reflecting on in light of reading Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead. In her book, Brown defines vulnerability as

“the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure; it’s having the courage to show up, fully engage, and be seen when you can’t control the outcome.”

Deciding to attend graduate school was 100 percent full of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. After quitting a job I hated that also helped pay my tuition in the first semester, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to afford school. I went to part-time status the following semester while also planning my wedding. I emptied my sad savings account to pay for a summer class to stay on track for graduation. It is by the grace of God and the financial planning of my husband that we were able to figure things out.

Having the courage to show up and fully engage meant more than just attending classes and doing assignments; it was also about learning to take care of myself, acknowledging when I needed help, and being intentional with building and strengthening relationships. It was about learning to extend grace to myself and to allow myself to get help from the counseling center for my anxiety. I had silently struggled for so long, even before getting to Nashville, telling myself that being the most productive was the most important; that my worth was measured by my outputs. Learning to manage anxiety as a Type A Perfectionist has been quite the journey, but I’m in it for the long haul.

I am confident that the knowledge I have acquired will make me a better educator, advocate, and research education analyst at RTI International. I am confident that the people I have met will continue to be great friends and future colleagues. I am confident that the decision to move to Nashville to pursue this MPP was the absolute right move for me, even though it was painful at first.

There is transformative growth that comes from initial bouts of uncomfortable, uneasy unrest. Without leaving what is comfortable, I would never have grown in the ways I have the last two years. I am still learning to trust the process, to embrace uncertainty when I cannot see the outcome, to live a life full of strength in my vulnerability that reminds me that I am wonderful, I am human, and I am loved.

I have a flurry of emotions about walking across the stage to receive my master’s degree tomorrow, but I also recognize that these two years are about more than a fancy piece of paper. The graduate school experience was about learning in its most holistic sense: learning about education policy topics, learning how to become a better writer, learning how to communicate complex ideas in a pithy way; learning how to manage time, learning how to make new friends, learning how to find balance; learning how to navigate a new city and a new life, and learning how to cope with the loss of the life I had before embarking on this programmatic journey. I am better for these experiences and am stronger and more confident in my purpose now than I was before.

I realize now that nothing can take my classroom experience away or diminish the relationships I have with students and parents and teachers. Every moment I have been granted has led me to this one; every hardship, every success, has gotten me to where I am. My cheerleaders and my haters have pushed me to this very place. This moment is monumental, and a starting point for what’s to come.

I can’t wait to see what’s to come after the rain stops tapping at my windows and I officially become Allison Redden, MPP.

A Brief Introduction.

For one of my classes this semester, a professor asked us to write a one page introduction essay outlining who we are. I haven’t been nearly as active with my writing and reflecting in the last year or so on here, so I think this could serve as a nice transition piece since I am no longer in a classroom and some of you who are reading might not actually know what I’m doing right now. I feel as though this brief introduction is a pretty straightforward look at who I am, why I’m at Vanderbilt, and what the future could hold. -AS

I was born in outside of Charlotte, North Carolina and after a brief stint of living in Ohio thanks to my father’s job, my family returned. We moved in the middle of my second grade year, and my parents never let me forget that I told them that they “ruined my life” for uprooting me, pulling me away from my Brownie troop and my drama classes (because clearly, I needed those). My parents sent my brother and I to public school while maintaining non-denominational Christian faith at home. I always loved learning, and my Type A personality worked in my favor throughout my years of school. I have always been a strict rule follower and never liked disappointing others. I take great pride in the work that I do, and have always been organized. I like to play guitar and sing, play tennis, and do various crafty things like handletter or paint. Rarely have I ever turned down chances to grab a beer and watch UNC basketball, and I am an avid Twitter and Ticonderoga user. I am also a sucker for a great story.

Regarding education policy interests, I am particularly interested in issues around equity and teacher leadership. I frequently wonder what happens to the students who do not receive the vouchers (or opportunity scholarships, depending on which side of the aisle one may sit); what happens to the students who do not have any school choice; what happens to the students who do not have teachers to speak in their defense. It frustrates me knowing that there are winners and losers in education, when I strongly believe that every child deserves a good education. After spending five years teaching in public schools across the Triangle region of North Carolina, teacher leadership is also something with which I regularly battled. I attempted to create committees to deliver teacher-led professional development, I asked for positions that would leverage my leadership ability to help others outside of my classroom, and each endeavor was squelched in some way. I “did not have enough experience” or I was “too young” to pursue positions of that nature within my schools. I do not believe that years of experience in a classroom alone define the capacity of an individual educator; because of this, I have enjoyed reading about school leadership and various models that could reshape what that looks like so that teachers, administrators, and students all benefit.

I had never really considered myself super political—as a registered Independent, I have always placed my political action in voting for the best person who I thought would deliver on his or her promises, regardless of party. As a teacher, I realized the importance of taking a stance and becoming political, and current events—from Trump’s inauguration to NASA finding new planets—would come up in my classroom on a regular basis. I started reaching out to my legislative representatives, inviting them into my classroom to see what was going on in a school; this led to additional opportunities to meet at the General Assembly in Raleigh, and I started attending committee meetings. I continue to keep up with North Carolina and national news.

After graduating with my MPP, I am unsure what the best path will be for me to take. I often miss teaching and the connections with students, but at the same time feel a very urgent call to do something greater for students everywhere. As a product of public schools, I feel dedicated to staying in the public sector. It is important to me that I do not lose touch with what is going on in schools, as I believe that in order to make good education policy, one must be up-to-date with school happenings. I do not have a great desire to work in a school district’s central office or a department of public instruction, as those both seem far removed from the sacred work of teaching. My deepest desire is to help others through the lens of education, and currently I am very open to learning more about what opportunities will allow me to do just that.

Five Years Later.

Five years ago, I was wrapping up my first semester teaching third grade at Parkwood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina. It seemed like any other day — I was running copies in the morning, going through social studies lessons about different winter holidays in the afternoon, wrangling kids from recess to the cafeteria to specials. Once the last child in my class got on the bus, I looked at my phone and saw a couple missed calls and a text from my younger brother.

“hey, are you okay? I love you”

I read the text and thought, Well this is both nice and strange.

Before I could even put my phone down, another teacher on my hallway came into my room and told me about what happened at Sandy Hook.

We spent some time together processing, reading some online news articles and checking Twitter feeds for more updated information before I had to pack up my stuff and go babysit for the evening. I didn’t have cable in my apartment, so when I put the kids to bed I turned on the television. I’m not a huge television watcher, but knowing what had happened in Massachusetts earlier in the day had me wanting to turn on the news.

Every single news channel flashed faces on the screen. Photos of families, love, and unity; children with their siblings, in soccer uniforms and dance gear and smiles.

I felt a deep, all-encompassing sadness. Tears welled in my eyes and barreled down my face as I wept silently for the 20 children and six educators who were gunned down in their own school.

“hey, are you okay? I love you” had a new meaning.

It meant that my brother, and many others in the world, realized that teaching is more than just disseminating content to children; it’s also keeping children safe at whatever cost.

I considered this during every lockdown drill my school ran after Sandy Hook. There were windows by the door coming into my classroom — how was I going to cover that up so people couldn’t see inside? My classroom was right next to an external door — how could I be sure that a random person from the outside wouldn’t just enter the building? Even after I left Parkwood, the thoughts still persisted.

In my second year teaching, I taught in an old building that was constructed in the 1960s. We had a lockdown drill and the lock didn’t work on my classroom door. The handle jiggled as I sat silently with my third graders lined up against the wall of my classroom library, and in an instant the police officer applied just enough pressure to push open the door. I stopped breathing and my heart skipped a beat. I closed my eyes to pause for a moment emotionally. I debriefed the situation with my kids, telling them that it was good to learn about the lock now rather than later, that the principal would have someone come out to fix my door as soon as possible. A student asked what would have happened if that wouldn’t have been a drill.

I explained that my top priority was their safety first, and then their education, that this is why we have drills — so we can practice what would happen in times of danger. We outlined the path where we would run if needed and where students could hide. I felt cracks form in my heart with every word I had to use to reply to their questions about their feelings of safety at school.

If that would have been reality, a duplication of Sandy Hook, a repeated Adam Lanza circumstance, I would have done everything in my power to keep my kids safe. I would have ushered them outside to the field, I would have fought with everything in me against any offender, I would shield those children with my life to keep them safe.

This is my first year out of a classroom and I still feel that way about all of my students who have graced my rosters in the last five years.

With the high number of school shootings and overall violence in the United States, the cracks in my heart continue to deepen knowing that children are entering school buildings where they may feel unsafe. It is my sincerest hope that we can make good, sound policy surrounding things like gun control and bullying so that kids can feel like school is a safe place, and it is my sincerest hope that we do not become numb to these happenings.

Sinking In.

I’m letting it sink in that tomorrow will be my final day of school in my fifth year teaching. It’s my last ending to a school year where I will be a teacher, at least for a little while.

One of my students from last year gave me a letter that moved me to tears within the first paragraph. She told me I was her school mom, that I was there for her when she needed someone, that she was grateful for all my advice this year about academics and boys, that she was sad I was leaving but happy I was going to be able to advance my career. Reading her words and letters from other students in the last week shook my heart and watered my eyes.

I flash between wondering if this graduate school path is the right one when I receive these messages from students. Students who tell me they used to dislike science but now love it; who say I helped them through their tough decisions this year; who remember our projects and remind me about why I love this job so much.

As I step back and look into the deepest part of my being, I know I’m making the right decision right now. I recognize the calling to pursue this degree, to learn more about the interworkings of education policy, to incur change at a larger scale than just my classroom for the betterment of thousands of students at a time. Despite this, it doesn’t make closing this chapter any easier.

Tomorrow, I will drink in all the moments: the chaos of a mildly disorganized yet productive classroom, the calm of the hallways right before students are released for dismissal. I will make the most of every opportunity with students, as their teacher, facilitator, advocate, pseudo-mom, and everything in between.

I’m preparing myself as the feels continue to sink deeply into my heart, my brain, my entire being. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have ever prepared for this day in full, but here goes nothing everything.

Appreciating Transition.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week; a much awaited week by teachers everywhere, full of free food and “thank yous” from many. It is during this week, this very day, that I find it appropriate to write this.

I am finishing my fifth year as an educator this year. I have worked in three schools and districts, in magnets and in neighborhood schools, devoting these last five years of my life to teaching children in schools around the Triangle. There have been times it has been thankless, times it has been overwhelming, and times when it has been inexplicably rewarding.

One day, I really do think I’d like to write a book about all of these moments, but I’m sure if you read my blog you’ll get the gist. 🙂

It is with a heavy, excited, terrified, and overjoyed heart that I share with you that come fall 2017, I will not attend Open House or spend countless hours reorganizing a classroom to house children.

I have formally accepted my admission to Vanderbilt University, and in August, I begin my graduate studies in the field of Education Policy.

I honestly don’t think I can tell you how many tears I shed over this decision — happy tears, sad tears, anxious tears. So happy that I have the opportunity to study something about which I am so passionate at a place that has the strongest program in the nation. So sad that I am leaving a place that I love so deeply; a place full of friends and family and sweet memories. Anxious that I don’t have logistics fully realized yet, like where I will live and when I will move.

It is very accurate (and mildly clichéd) for me to say that I would not be in this current position without the educators in my life. Without Sanchez Johnson telling me that leadership isn’t about titles but about the way you life. Without Alex Drake assigning a crap-ton (technical term) of Brinkley APUSH readings regularly, which probably ultimately prepares me for my moment in graduate school (hindsight is always 20/20). Without Gary Mace pushing me to become a better writer. Without Joan Gale giving me a chance to be a peer mediator/helper, equipping me with skills to listen and communicate effectively in the midst of crisis (for whatever it’s worth, middle schoolers go through a LOT of crises regularly — both silly and serious). Without Lana Siefring sketching pictures in class and reading stories, cultivating creativity and showing me what an outstanding teacher looks like and inspiring me to be one, too. Without educators in my schools having high expectations for me, there’s no way I would have accomplished half of what I have today, and for that I am humbled and grateful.

I found it appropriate to share the news of my graduate studies pursuit on Teacher Appreciation Day, for it is precisely my deep love and respect of this job that is pushing me outside of Lab 209. I love what I do too much to continue to sit idly and watch students not receive appropriate services because of poor legislation and to see my colleagues work long hours at school only to drive to a second job after the bell rings.

To my former teachers: thank you. To my current colleagues, friends, and family in the world of education: thank you. To my students and their families: thank you. I am beyond grateful for your love, your support, your time, and your dedication to bettering the lives of others. May we continue this service for many years to come, in any capacity we can.

Being a Woman in STEM

Today is one of my favorite days of the year: International Women’s Day. I love celebrating my womanhood and speaking out to advocate for my rights as a woman. It’s a great feeling to be surrounded by incredible women regularly, and it’s even better lifting up a collective voice that screams “girl power” with every breath.

On this day in particular, I think about what it means to be a woman in STEM.

No, I’m not an engineer or an astrophysicist or a marine biologist (to my fourth grade self’s dismay I’m sure), but what I am is a science teacher to middle schoolers in the greater Raleigh area.

Wake County Public Schools is the 14th largest school district in the country, serving nearly 160,000 students. 76,862 of those students are female and I get the chance to work with a portion of those students daily.

I revel in the fact that I get the opportunity every day to make magical moments of science happen for students, especially female students, every day. These moments can be as simple as looking under microscopes are stomata to as complex as using a CAD system to design a spacecraft to colonize a planet.


Giving young girls the chance to see themselves in a STEM-filled future is such an amazing gift. I love teaching about women who have influenced the scientific community and giving girls hands-on experiences to engage in science content (also, #girlsdoingscience is only my favorite hashtag of all time — just check my lab Instagram account). I get so excited watching these students grow into confident, strong young ladies who are willing to get up and independently lead a class science review and completely OWN it.

I have girls who want to be everything from astronauts to cosmetologists to veterinarians and beyond, who never fully realized they could achieve those dreams until hitting a sixth grade science lab.

When I taught elementary school, it was maybe even more imperative that I displayed what a woman in STEM looked like.

IMG_1097IMG_1224In third grade, I had students performing soil tests on our school grounds’ soil to figure out where the best place for a school garden would be (then they presented websites they made to a panel of PTA, Garden Club, and administrative representatives to state their cause – they even stayed within a budget!). These students also designed spacecraft by taking measurements in their notebooks and noting what elements of flight were present in their craft. We analyzed weather patterns and matched those to potential rocket launch dates. We read books and articles and wrote essays about science topics, growing content vocabulary daily.

Sparking a love for STEM starts in elementary school, but ultimately this isn’t just about the beginning; rather, it’s about the sustainability.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up less than 30% of the science and engineering workforce (and women make up a total of half of the college educated workforce in the country!). Sure, girls might “outperform boys” on standardized math and science assessments, but this isn’t about a test score.

This is about a radical shift in highlighting the natural talents of women and honoring their words and ideas. A shift in treating women like equals and paying them as such. A shift in making STEM interests more accessible to girls of all ages and races and socioeconomic statuses.

We must be a proud community of women in STEM. We must show our girls that it’s okay to be a boss because that doesn’t make us bossy. We must demonstrate leadership, compassion, and grace in all aspects of our lives. We must continue to thirst for knowledge and be models of impassioned learning.

If not us, then who? Who will teach our girls that it’s okay to ask questions and challenge the notions of boys in class? Who will empower our girls to speak up and advocate for themselves and others? Who will ensure that women will end up making more than 30% of our science and engineering workforce?

I love being a science teacher as it is a total joy for me getting girls excited about STEM. The only thing better than teaching girls to embrace science is the waiting to see what they’ll do with their excitement, for their future is limitless.

Hypothetically Speaking…

At last week’s Education Innovation Lab presented by BEST NC, a question was posed that got me thinking —

What do you want education in North Carolina to look like?

I sit and ponder this question with great intentionality.

There would be more technological resources, as well as old school resources (because honestly, children basically eat at least one glue stick a day and take the markers home for snacks). There would be more human capital in schools to work with students, such as social workers or therapists, in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. There would also be human capital like TAs to help with daily tasks so teachers can focus on actually doing their job (which is teaching in case anyone forgot). Standards wouldn’t be so constraining and there would be a huge focus on soft skills/people skills in curriculum.

(Side note: do we even need science and social studies standards, anyway? I understand language arts and math standards need to be a little tighter based on developmental needs, but why can’t we just let kids choose which topics within science and social studies they want to learn about? This would allow for deeper content knowledge and the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice somehow with an application phase of coursework perhaps. Just thinking “out loud” here and would love to hear some of your ideas with this, too!)

Essentially, everything would be centered around a problem. Students would have to find solutions to real world problems in a PBL setting in their classrooms. Everything would be framed around relevance for students, with an emphasis on current events, too.

I’ve always been a believer that I want my students to leave my classroom better people, not just better students. I care more about them learning how to collaborate with one another than whether or not they remember how earthquakes occur — that’s why all of my projects are in a group/partnership setting.

There are studies showing that many high schoolers don’t feel prepared for ‘adulthood’ when they graduate because school didn’t prepare them for the real world. That, to me, is an extreme disservice. Our schools should absolutely be preparing students for what’s to come down the road, whether that’s college or instant career experience.

Needless to say, you can bet that I’ll ask my students this question upon our return from fall break next week.

So now I ask you, friends, both in and out of North Carolina: what do you want the future of education to look like?

Deep Gladness, Deep Need.

Last week I attended BEST NC’s Education Innovation Lab at SAS. It was refreshing to sit with those both inside and outside of education to try to solve the state’s overarching issue of recruitment & retainment of teachers. There were several keynotes followed by smaller breakouts, both of which had my wheels turning at an alarmingly rapid rate.

Andy Baxter of the Southern Regional Education Board spoke about the narrative around teacher turnover, and how ultimately, according to a NC DPI report on turnover from 2008-2014, only 1.5% of North Carolina educators leave the profession because they’re dissatisfied with teaching. Despite this small number (that has, to be fair, risen since 2008), we keep hearing about all the teachers leaving the state to teach elsewhere or exiting the profession because they’re burnt out or tired of dealing with the same problems that seemingly go unfixed every election cycle.

The point he made that resonated most with me was a quote from one of his campus pastors when he was in college.

Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.

Deep gladness, deep need.

I sit and think about why I do what I do. This job is exhausting, and honestly, I have REALLY been feeling that this year. I’ve been frustrated with so many things, mostly outside of my control, and all my sprinting from these last five years teaching is finally catching up to me. I sometimes find myself unmotivated when I get home, and many nights I am just exhausted. But why do I do this? I do it because I get student feedback on projects that say “I learned that I can do more than I ever thought I could” and “I learned I can make friends.” I do it because it’s worth it when a kid comes back and thanks you for being a hard teacher because (s)he learned more from you than any of the other ‘easier’ teachers. I do it because watching students’ eyes glisten as they see their dreams 3D printed into reality is real, actual, unadulterated magic.

I do it because I find deep gladness in fulfilling a deep need: the need to invest in children and educate our society.

There is a very special happiness that washes over me when I am in my element with students, helping them learn to love stuffing their brains to the brim with knowledge. Moments where I can step back into my doorway with students not noticing I’m there, when they’re so engaged in their own learning process that my presence is irrelevant — those moments I savor. They’re moments when I remember my deep gladness meeting, maybe even exceeding, that deep need.

My focus for the upcoming quarter and remainder of the year is to make it a continued priority to stop and take pause to recall these small moments, to revel in gratitude for my passion to work in the lives of children, no matter what the circumstance. It is imperative for us all to remember why we carry on in this profession.

Deep gladness, deep need.

More Than Just Jitters.

My teeth are brushed, my hair still damp, my fan (and mind) spinning.

I’m staring at the ceiling because I can’t sleep.

My lunch is packed and in the refrigerator, my coffee mug set out on the counter, my outfit hanging by the door.

Tomorrow is the first day of my fifth year teaching.

Every year this happens — this “first day jitters” kind of deal. I’m beyond thrilled to start the year and get to know my new students. I’m always a little nervous at least, because I want to make sure I don’t forget something big to tell them or show them. The first day of middle school is huge for these kids and I’m determined to make it a positive experience!

But tonight isn’t normal first day jitters.

I’m lying here awake because I feel so incredibly grateful to be this excited about my job.

Seriously, this is like second Christmas for me.

The blessing is real, y’all — I get to go to work and teach kids about the wonders of our world. I get to show kids their own hidden talents and help them realize their potential. I get to facilitate the learning of young people who might march for civil rights, cure cancer, or go live on Mars.

I get to work with a fabulous team of human beings who are dedicated to doing what’s best for kids.

I get to wake up in the morning and know I have a job that provides me with health insurance and the ability to pay a mortgage.

I am so thankful for these things. I am so thankful for the people in my life who aren’t at school with me every day who encourage me, love me, and challenge me. I can only hope to be a conduit of blessing to those around me wherever I go.

While I definitely have first day jitters tonight, I stand in awe of so many blessings God has granted me, including the passion He wrote on my heart to educate young people.

Here’s to a brilliant fifth year, friends — full of gratitude and constant amazement.