M. Colleen Cruz

Writer, Educator, Consultant

Bend Your Knees and Brace Yourself

November 8, 2015

Tags: unexpected life events, teaching is tough, pessimism is positive

Those of you who follow my Twitter feed or read this blog might have noticed Iíve been mostly missing for the last 6 months.

Itís because Life came at me like a hurricane to a drought-savaged land. Storming with much welcomed water, while also destroying a lot of what lay in itís path.

Ok. Maybe not THAT bad, butÖ

To re-cap, a treasured family member had a life threatening health crisis, which resulted in huge changes to their lives and all of our lives. I had a rather complicated surgery, only to find out that there were complications and needed to have another surgery to correct things only two weeks later. And I recently got married to my longtime partner (hurray) Ė but due to an incompetent Uber driver, both sets of parents were over an hour and a half late to the wedding (donít worry, we waited for them). Those are just a few of the highlights.

It has sort have begun to feel if there is any chance of something going wrong, it will absolutely happen. If thereís a tack on the floor, I will step on it. If Iím in an elevator, it will get stuck between floors. If thereís something important to print, there will be no toner left.

On the other hand, for every tack, thereís a person who helps me pull it out. For every stalled elevator, thereís been an elevator repair technician. For every printer snafu thereís been a friend whoís willing to print something out.

Distress Ė gratitude Ė distress Ė gratitude Ė distress Ė gratitude.

The last six months of my familyís lives have been so filled with ups and downs that I canít tell if I should lie down or throw up.

And sometimes, even for an avowed pessimist like myself, it is just too much.

I expect everything to go wrong and am pleasantly surprised when it doesnít go wrong. But that doesnít mean I donít get tired every once in awhile.

And this has gotten me to thinking of the teachers I know and love. It feels like last yearís downward spiral has been replaced by this yearís roller coaster (bungee cord, or fill in your favorite example of something else that goes up and down in a nauseating fashion).

There are new initiatives that seem child-centered and effective, but the materials and information on them didnít arrive until the end of September. Thereís time set aside for planning, but more things to plan. Thereís more access to digital tools but no time to learn how to integrate them authentically into practice.

Good Ė bad Ė good Ė bad Ė good Ė bad.

Iím sure you could insert your own up-down scenario (or a few). It has gotten, for many of my schools, to an almost comical level. Itís almost as if anything that is good that happens then seems to have something bad happen immediately after Ė as if the entire planet is operating under some sort of bad luck from a broken mirror we arenít aware we broke.

So, whatís a teacher to do, if you find yourself nodding along to this description?

I actually donít really know.

What I do know is that the past six months have been tolerable and not crushing, despite their extremes, because I was never expecting everything to be great. In fact, each time I was about to enter into a part of my life (on the way to the airport to catch a plane to Paris, being wheeled into the operating room, heading to my wedding) I allowed myself to feel excited, but I also braced myself for the inevitable bad.

This posture of joy mixed with pessimistic expectation has reminded me a lot of my days growing up in southern California. My brother and I would wade into the ocean, loving the feel of the summer sun and the warmth of the Pacific Ocean tickling our legs, but always walking with our knees bent, knowing at any moment a powerful wave could wash over us and we wanted to be ready to face it.

So thatís what Iíve been doing lately. Both in my day-to-day life and my work as an educator. Iíve been enjoying the happy things as theyíve come, but keeping my legs bent and my eyes ready for the inevitable crashing wave. Because itís important to experience the joy and fun, but itís also important to not get taken by surprise by the hard stuff.

And I will also say, just as I reached for my brotherís hand as the wave crashed over us, I have found myself turning more and more to the people around me. They might be going through the exact same things, but not being alone in it, and sometimes even being able to help each other, has made everything so much less catastrophic feeling.

When I think back to my wedding day, two weeks ago, I remember heading to the hotel in the morning, where everyone was meeting to get dressed, and thinking, ĎWe have this all planned too perfectly. I canít imagine whatís going to go wrong. But I know something will.í It was that moment of thought, that little acceptance of inevitable disaster that allowed me to bend my knees and get ready for a two hour wait for my parents to arrive at the wedding, knowing that we were surrounded by love, and that all of us had each other.

As you move deeper into the fall months, I encourage you to consider doing the same. Take in all that is good and enjoyable in your teaching practice and your schools Ė soak in those wide-eyes and cherish the giggles. But then get those knees braced for the crash, and your hands ready to grab someone elseís.

Next week, I plan to blog a bit about my portion of the topic Jen Serravallo, Barb Golub and I will be presenting at the NCTE Convention.


  1. November 9, 2015 8:35 PM EST
    Colleen, you have captured perfectly the start of this school year. Thank you for putting into words what I have been struggling to convey now for weeks. Thank you for always having a go to strategy handy as we navigate the experience. Bending my knees too but also looking to the people around me as I brace myself.
    - Ruth
  2. November 9, 2015 8:37 PM EST
    Thanks for your kind words, Ruth. It's nice to know we have people in real life and virtually we can reach for :)
    - Colleen Cruz
  3. November 9, 2015 8:40 PM EST
    Great advice for everyone. Love reading your thoughts - keep writing!
    - Kiran

Selected Works

A book that addresses some of the most common and challenging struggles a teacher of writing might face - and offers solutions
Professional Literature
A practical resource for 3rd grade teachers looking to teach writing workshop
A practical resource for 4th grade teachers looking to teach writing workshop.
A practical book and quick read from Heinemann's Help Desk Imprint
Co-written with Lucy Calkins, this book is a part of the Units of Study First Hand Series from Heinemann.
Designed for teachers, this book discusses the ins and outs of teaching students to cultivate independent writing lives.
Young Adult Novel
A finalist for the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, this book follows the story of Cesi as she embarks on a journey to Mexico in order to learn more about her family, and herself.