Empty.

Well, it’s taken me a week or so to process it all, but about ten days ago I experienced a day from hell in my classroom.

First of all, let me say this: student teaching did not prepare me for this crazy time in the lives of children. The few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are insane and the children are, for lack of better term, off the CHAIN. My student teaching finished right at the end of November, so I never saw this period of time at school — such an eye-opening experience.

Friday, November 30 is a day that will live on in my memory as my lowest teaching moment. 24 eight-year-olds made me cry in front of them and I just walked out of the room in my dismay.

Yes, you read that correctly my friends: I cried in front of my class because they were being so disrespectful and rude and then proceeded to just leave them.

I rearranged the whole afternoon so that I could help them with math. We’re behind in finishing our current chapter book read aloud, but I decided to push that to the side so that I could reinforce some math skills. Kids were playing around and crawling on the floor and one of them stepped outside in the hallway because he didn’t feel like finishing his work — seriously, I felt like the most incompetent person in the world. I told them to put everything away and go sit at their desks since they so obviously didn’t want any help with the assignment. There were still kids playing around the room and I was just fed up with their absurd behavior (“absurd” is a word that my students now know because I use it so often to describe the way they behave at the end of the day). It was like all of the disrespect and the little things just finally  made me explode into a rage of tears. I was fortunate enough to not start shedding uncontrollable amounts of tears in front of them, but my voice quaked and my eyes reddened with each word I tried to speak (read: yell). Then, I just walked out into the hallway.

To be completely honest, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I couldn’t really believe any of it was happening. Did I just walk out of my classroom? As I was alone in my thoughts, I heard one student yell, “YOU MADE MISS STEWART CRY!!!” and I secretly in my heart hoped they all felt terrible.

Another adult saw me in the hallway and went into my room to tend to my class. This certain adult is a man sent from God as a behavior specialist in Durham who is able to tame uncontrollable behaviors. He’s magical.

As I cried in the bathroom alone, all I could think about was how weak I was — how I couldn’t even keep it together in front of my students. How unprofessional and inappropriate and, ultimately, embarrassing.

The students left and I was able to talk out my feelings with my coworkers (love my third grade team to the moon and back), and we came to the conclusion that maybe this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe the kids needed to see that Miss Stewart has feelings like a real person, too (because let’s be serious, when you were a kid you didn’t think your teacher was a real person either).

I finally finished my sob-fest and told myself that Monday was the start of a new week. As I was cleaning up and getting things ready to go, I saw a key in one of my drawers across the room.

Friends, this key wasn’t just in any random drawer — it was in my confiscated toy drawer (yes, BeyBlades are the bane of my existence and I seize them upon witnessing their presence in my classroom).

This was funny to me, considering the fact that I did not confiscate any toys on that particular day.

I walked across the room to the unlocked drawer and opened it only to find a few of the toys missing. I felt so many things all at once: anger, violation, frustration, sadness. Where does a kid learn this stuff? Trying to analyze this predicament, I realized that this student first would have needed to get into my teacher cabinet where I keep the keys (in this teacher cabinet, I also keep my personal belongings, such as my phone, wallet/purse, and car keys). Then, he would have had to unlock the drawer and take the toys.

Essentially, this is a classic case of elementary breaking and entering.

Truly, I was furious, and yes, I did cry again. Why would a child steal from me? What kind of environment have I been fostering to make a child think it’s acceptable to behave that way? What could I have done differently?

In that moment, I had to pack up everything and leave. I couldn’t be in that building anymore. Driving home, I simply felt empty. That dull, empty feeling was like I got kicked in the stomach.

See, I work so hard in creating good lessons (and executing those lessons) for these kids. I want more than anything in the world for them to love learning and to really gain a positive school experience. I’m doing everything in my power to pretty much give these kids a brighter future and they disrespect me and steal from me. That really hurts, and to the point where words aren’t even really sufficient since it’s such a deeply pained emotion.

It took me a couple days to get back to my normal teaching self. Monday I was still pretty upset, even though I tried to mask my frustration with the situation. Tuesday was a little better, but when I discovered who the toy thief was I was pretty unhappy with that, too. It wasn’t until Wednesday I would say that I felt like I was back in my groove — and trust me, that’s a while for me to be off-kilter in a job where I normally feel very in my element.

My small group leader told me that when I was telling her about all of this (there were tears involved in just the retelling of this fiasco), it reminded her of the compassion that God has for all of us, even when we disrespect Him and steal from the toy drawer. Stepping back, I’m able to see more of how this is such a perfect opportunity to show God’s grace and love to these kids.

Even though I feel like I hit rock bottom that day, I’m confident that it can only go up from here. This time is just so difficult for my kids — the holidays are crazy for everyone, but I think the prospect of not really having holidays to celebrate is what makes it even harder for these kids.

A friend told me I wouldn’t be as upset as I was if I didn’t love these kids as much as I do. I think she’s right.

UNC: Round Two.

As I stand here in my room looking at my life splayed on my bedroom floor, I can’t help but think how soon it will be before I have to pack it all up and move back to Chapel Hill, possibly for good.

They really aren’t kidding when they say time flies: a second year of my college career at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has swiftly and secretly escaped me with ease.

How that happened, I am not really sure, but it definitely happened.

Despite the expedient nature of my sophomore year, I think I learned and grew more than I could have imagined. The last nine months have been amazing, fun, heart wrenching, painful, bittersweet, and absolutely phenomenal. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. The experiences I’ve had this past year have been too great and too crucial to my development as a young adult for me to possibly dream of giving up – that would just be absurd.

Let’s start at the very beginning – according to Julie Andrews, it’s a very good place to start.

Coming into sophomore year, I had a boyfriend. Within a month of being back in my element at school, I did not have a boyfriend. I got dumped. I cried, I had to change my facebook relationship status (that was a lot harder than I would have imagined it to be…don’t judge), I ate chocolate, and I was consoled by my fantastic group of friends (thanks again for that by the way – you all know who you are). I was absolutely heartbroken; the fact that we lived two floors apart wasn’t much help at all. The months after the breakup were filled with lots of bitterness and confusion; so much struggle to attain a new sense of normalcy. I learned how hurtful words truly are during this time; how vulnerability leaves you completely susceptible to repetitive heartbreak. I was caught in this vicious cycle that was ultimately unhealthy for all parties involved. I definitely learned a lot during this time, not just about how to handle the situation but also about myself. I learned that I am nine times out of ten too nice and will always hate hurting someone’s feelings even if he hurts mine. I learned how important good friends are. I was reminded that I am my own person and a significant other should never define who I am. My life and my relationships need to be God-centered – I knew this breakup was going to be hard to get over, but at the same time it would be best for the both of us in the long run. It’s nice being able to finally say that I’m on good terms with my ex-boyfriend, even if it is seven or eight months later.

Relationships are important and I admit that I think about them a good bit. Relationships with my girl friends, relationships with my guy friends, relationships with my parents, with my brother, with my roommate – relationships with everyone I come into contact with. I took a sociology class this past year about family and society and marriage, and we spent a lot of time just learning about different relationships and whatnot (definitely a beneficial class – to my UNC peers, SOCI130 with Anne Hastings is fantastic, I highly recommend it) and it was just so eye opening to see how different men and women handle relational situations. Building strong relationships is so crucial to sanity if you asked me. I don’t know what I would do without some of my friends sticking around and keeping me in check with reality and reminding me what is important in life, and it’s nice to have family to support me no matter what I do. This past year was filled with cultivating stronger relationships with people while also making new friends.

I really hate to say that the rest of my fall semester is kind of a blur – between recovering emotionally from the breakup and dealing with the struggles that accompanied that, all that seems to stand out is the amazing plays I saw for my drama class (with the one and only Greg Kable, of course). Opus, The Importance of Being Earnest, Nicholas Nickleby (parts one AND two) – all phenomenal. The shows for the 2010-2011 year will surely be just as great, if not better (oh HEY ANGELS IN AMERICA) – I’m pretty excited. I did however spend the latter period of fall semester into Christmas break applying to get into the UNC School of Education. I wrote my essay, got my recommendations, and had that sucker submitted by December 25th – Merry Christmas to me! After that, I had to wait nearly three months to hear back about my acceptance (or denial). The people in admissions were running behind on their responses, which certainly failed to help my nerves. Someone asked me while in my School of Education limbo period what my backup plan was – backup plan? Was I supposed to have a backup plan? I had never even thought about a backup plan, really, but I sure as heck was after that conversation. What would I do if I wasn’t going to be a teacher? I still have no viable answer to that question. Fortunately, when my letter finally came on the last day of spring break, I didn’t need to have a backup plan.

The Eleventh Annual UNC Dance Marathon was the most cathartic 24 hours OF MY LIFE. I was part of DM last year on the Outreach Committee and also a dancer, but I left the Marathon early due to a prior engagement. This year, I was there the full 24 hours – I don’t know if I have ever experienced such a gambit of emotions like that before. Despite people being tired, there was still this air of energy looming around, keeping people on their feet. Everything went amazingly – entertainment was good, food was really good, activities were fun (who says no to a rave at 9am with free glow sticks? No one at Carolina, that’s for sure). Heck, we’re in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the longest massage train EVER! How cool is that? I, Allison Rae Stewart, am in the Guinness Book of World Records. Looks like I can check that off of my list of things to do before I die. I was not only a dancer, but again was on a committee – this time, Event Donations. I worked with a great group of people who were all passionate about getting free stuff for the Marathon, and my committee head was a baller. I feel like when you’re more involved with DM, the closer you feel to the cause – I guess that may be a bit of an obvious statement, but I feel as though it is necessary nonetheless. At the final hour of the Marathon, some of the children and their families come out to Fetzer Gym to talk about how Dance Marathon and the “For the Kids” Fund has impacted their lives. This was, by far, the most emotional thing I have been part of thus far in life. I don’t know if it was partly because I was exhausted after standing for 24 hours or what, but hearing those mothers and fathers talk about how we essentially were saving the lives of their children, I was an absolute crying mess. After the families talked, it was time for the big reveal – how much did we make for the kids? 1600 UNC students, packed into a gym, “Baba O’Reily” blaring from the speakers, Overall Committee members lined up on stage, people holding their breath in anticipation for the moment of truth.

$421,851.32.

FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTY-ONE DOLLARS AND THIRTY-TWO CENTS. THAT IS SO. MUCH. MONEY. WE RAISED THAT IN LESS THAN A YEAR FOR THE KIDS AT NORTH CAROLINA CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL. HECK TO THE YEAH.

Well, you guessed it – I was crying again.

The feeling of being part of something greater than yourself that is doing so much good is a feeling that cannot be matched. I’m sure that many of you have heard me preach about this, but I truly believe that DM is an organization every student at UNC should be part of to at least some capacity before (s)he graduates. It is definitely one of the most fulfilling things you can do while on that campus, so if you go to UNC and are reading this, let’s talk about DM sometime, yeah? Good.

So, I took my passion for this organization and applied to be an Overall Committee member. That’s kind of a big deal, considering the OC is in charge of making the Marathon happen. I made it to the interview stage and soon discovered I wasn’t selected to be on the OC. Bummer. Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t completely devastated. I guess I figured if I was on the OC, I wouldn’t have time for literally anything else on campus, and I didn’t really know how I felt about that. The following week rolled around and I decided to apply for a Sub-Chair position for a committee. I didn’t really have much to lose and half of my application was already filled out since it’s the same application to get on the Overall Committee anyway. Again, I made it to the interview round, which was exciting, and what’s even more exciting was that I got a call from the Outreach Committee Chair a few nights later telling me that I was selected to be the Elementary Schools Outreach Sub-Chair! Perfect, right? I mean, I AM going into Elementary Education – such a blessing. Hopefully that will come in handy when I start looking for a job in a couple of years (fingers crossed!).

Also during this time, I decided to apply for an on campus job for the 2010-2011 school year. I was planning on having my car on campus junior year and needed to keep gas in it somehow, so why not apply to be an Office Assistant and get paid for doing my homework at a desk? I put in my application, made it to the interview round (so many interviews at this point in my life, goodness), and ended up getting hired (praise GOD). I’ll be working in the Connor Community, where I will ever so conveniently be living (Winston 220, what’s up).

Winston 220. Should be a good set up if you asked me, but getting to said good setup was not easy. My darling roommate of the last two years decided to live with some girls in her sorority, leaving me sans roommate. I ended up meeting a girl through one of my friends, and she was a surefire winner – except for the minor hiccup of her being in Chile for fall semester. To our dismay, the living situation was not going to work and I was still sans roommate. The day before I had to pick my room (with a random roommate – terrifying), another friend calls and gives me the name of another girl. Not to my dismay, we’re living together in the fall. That, my friends, was a close one (insert sigh of relief here).

I went to an event with a couple friends called Dating and Dessert that was done by the women of UNC’s Intervarsity group on campus. There was a panel of women, each at different stages in their lives, who were all ready to answer any questions this room full of female students had. More than willing to share their stories and experiences, these women were amazing and beyond helpful. Something one of the women said that really stood out to me was that I, as a woman, deserve to be pursued by a man. I don’t need to do the pursuing. Women weren’t wired to pursue, we’re wired to be pursued. That makes me life about a million times easier.

Later that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about how important it is to have God-centered romantic relationships (and all other relationships – see the beginning of this dissertation with the paragraph that starts with “Relationships”). I started keeping a prayer journal upon my father’s brilliant suggestion a few weeks prior to the event, so I put pen to paper and started writing a lot about prayer for my future husband. I gave the whole guy situation to God (it’s not like I ever really had any control over that in the first place) and basically said okay, here, let me know when You’re ready for something to happen. My fifth grade teacher always said that patience was a virtue – I couldn’t agree more.

A few weeks after I started writing about relationships and such in my prayer journal, this wonderful guy comes out of seemingly nowhere and I cannot help but think that there was some kind of divine intervention there, because that stuff just cannot be coincidence (I’m an “everything happens for a reason” kind of person). I’ve been talking and getting to know this guy for the last few months now and have truly enjoyed every minute of it and I cannot wait to see what God has in store with that relationship. Whatever it is, I know it’s going to be good.

After returning from spring break adventures in Florida (filled with Disney World and drinking from the Fountain of Youth…let’s hope that was worth it) with my mom and her sister, I was ready to get back to UNC life – what better way to kick things off than going to see John Mayer in Greensboro with one of my best friends? Let’s be honest, there is no better way. Trekking to Greensboro Coliseum, we got some Bojangles’ and were ready to tailgate. For some reason I wore this cute little sundress I got while in Florida (I guess I thought John would see me, find me irresistibly attractive, and ask me for my hand in marriage) because I suppose I thought it would be warm enough in the middle of March to wear it – FALSE. For future references friends, don’t count on the weather being warm enough to wear a paper thin halter sundress in March. I. Was. Freezing. And to top it off, it was super windy. That made the whole dress thing kind of awkward since I was trying my best not to flash anyone else in the parking lot (like the sketch car a few spots down from us). Once inside, we made our way to our FLOOR SEATS and the show began (the opener is irrelevant). John put on an absolutely fabulous show – I mean, how could his show be bad when he plays “Why Georgia” whilst incorporating the James Taylor hit “Carolina in my Mind”?! Something about that man’s music just moves me – it moves me so much that I wrote a sonnet about him.

Now, I must have you know that I don’t randomly write sonnets about John Mayer. It was an assignment for my Introduction to Writing Poetry class, which I thoroughly enjoyed (I’m signed up for the Intermediate level class for this fall semester). I took so many great classes this past year – poetry, geography, sociology, Latin American history, weather and climate – it was just such a good academic year for me, I can’t wait to start again in the fall. I really appreciate eclecticism when it comes to class selection, and I’d like to think that my class schedule this year was pretty darn eclectic to say the least (whenever I told people which classes I was taking, they always wondered what in the world my major was – I think that constitutes as fairly eclectic).

It snowed a few times again this year – sadly, it was not as epic as Snowbama Day from my Freshman Dissertation, but it was still pretty great. And no, classes were not canceled, per usual.

I started volunteering at Kidzu, the children’s museum on Franklin Street at the end of fall semester/beginning of spring semester. I am in love with that place. I volunteered once or twice a week every week – leading craft time, talking with parents, exploring with kids – I wish that job would pay, but I do it just as happily without monetary gratification.

This past spring semester was quite a busy one for me socially – I was a stage manager for a show called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and I was cast in a production of Into the Woods. Both of these were, needless to say, very different experiences.

I took the Kindergarten job partially because I suck at saying “no” to people and also because I thought it would be a good experience to have a backstage kind of view of how a show is done. Being stage manager was quite the rollercoaster ride to say the least – I fluctuated between feeling like I wasn’t needed, useless, and unappreciated and being busy and feeling good about whatever task I was doing. The cast was small and everyone got along really well, which was very fortunate, and they were such a pleasure to work with for sure. The hardest part about being stage manager is learning that you shouldn’t be a stage manager. Translation: I learned I was made to memorize lines, not read them from the script when people call for them in a rehearsal. There was this desperate longing I had in me as I would sit there watching everyone rehearse; it was almost painful sometimes. In the end it was definitely an experience I am glad to say that I have. I learned so much from being an observer rather than a performer that will not only benefit me on stage, but in everyday life.

Because of my longing to be on a stage, I auditioned for Into the Woods and got cast as Snow White/Milky White. Yes, this was a dual role. I had one line. I’m not going to lie: I was bummed about that. I remember talking to a friend about this dilemma and he reminded me that I got cast in a show at UNC – a college level production. That definitely helped me out a bit in the beginning. The path leading to the final production of the show was certainly an interesting one – I was adjusting to a directing style I wasn’t familiar with while trying to cope with being cast as a cow for most of the show (gotta love expanding the acting repertoire). Looking on the bright side, I met so many incredible people throughout the whole process, all of whom I treasure greatly. I am far too blessed to have so many dear friends, both new and old. Being part of the Pauper family is such a neat thing and I love it. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to auditioning for Sweet Charity this fall and working with everyone in the future.

I still attended The Summit in Durham for my Sunday church festivities, and I was still beyond happy with Pastor JD’s messages and the worship experience week after week. That church has been such a stepping stone with my faith in college – the messages and worship are just so on point every week and are just what I need to hear everytime I’m there, it’s insane. I’m really looking forward to getting back up to Chapel Hill just so I can go to church. Crazy, right? Also I really just want to babysit JD’s kids.

After getting back from school, the summer was filled with finding a job and UNCC summer school (biology, you were fun – thanks for the memories). I put in a few applications around the mall and found a job fairly quickly. Ann Taylor Factory Store (store #1292) at Concord Mills is my current employer. Honestly, I really like my job. I don’t mind folding clothes and dressing middle aged women. It’s actually kind of fun, I feel like Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear. It’s been nice having something to do during the summer and making a little bit of money while doing it. In less than a week from now, I will be in Tegucigalpa, Honduras doing mission work with a high school youth team from Concord Christian Church. I’m taking my guitar and lots of bug spray, how could that not be anything short of a marvelous trip?

I refused to slip into a sophomore slump. I wanted this year to be better than the one before; I wanted to come out stronger, more sure of myself. I’m happy to say that I had more of a sophomore upward slope (you know you like that math jargon) from fall into spring. This past year was dedicated to learning more about relationships I think – I learned more than I wanted to know about relationships and their functions and how quickly they can change (but also how constant some can stay in the midst of hardship).

I’d like to think that at the rate I’m going now, junior year is going to be the best year yet (until senior year, of course). I’ll be taking classes specific to my education major, I’ll be in a classroom for observations, I’ll be an UPPERCLASSWOMAN – maybe people are right when they say things get better with age.