April 30, 2011

10 Things Every Teacher Needs

1. A set of pretty pens to make grading *almost* tolerable.
Grading is definitely a part of teaching that I HATE HATE HATE.  It seems like it is always building up, and I am constantly scrambling to keep up...So pretty pens (and sometimes stickers) are a must. :)
2. Something cute or silly to set on your desk that will bring a smile to your face even on a rotten day.
  My desk buddies :)

3. Something or someone to, when you're about ready to quit, remind you why you first got into this profession in the first place.
Thanks to my *interesting* liberal arts education (insert joke about fake classes here), I have done a TON of reflecting about teaching, education, and why I wanted to get into teaching in the first place.  Yeah, I was more than a little idealistic in those days, and more often than not, when I reread those things I want to vomit. BUT sometimes seeing that kind of thing is just what I need.  While the reality of teaching is night and day from what I expected it to be when I was a bright eyed college student, the reasons I teach are no different.  It's nice having that kind of reminder sometimes.

4. A snack drawer, heavy on the chocolate.
Chocolate covered espresso beans are a must. :)

5. A pair of comfortable shoes to keep in your classroom for those extra long days.
My mary jane crocs permanently live in my supply closet.  I don't break them out very often, but honestly there are some days when I am so exhausted that even my feet cannot take it any more!  Slip these babies on and suddenly I'm walking on foam resin clouds...(no, I don't care that they're pretty ugly...)

6. A good water bottle.
I carry one of my stainless steel water bottles around constantly at school.  My kiddos love filling it up for me too--double win!  I particularly love this one because the flowers make me smile. :)

7. A "happy" folder in your desk drawer to keep cute notes (and art!) from students, parents, and principal to look through when you need a confidence boost.  
I know 1st grade teachers CONSTANTLY get artwork and love notes from their students, but it's a little rarer with the big kiddos, so every piece is special.  I save the extra special ones and go through them when I need a little something to make me smile.  My principal also occasionally leaves a note after observing, and I save all of those too to look back over...

8. A coffee shop within a 5 minute's drive of school that can be visited before school, after school, or immediately before a long staff development meeting...
There is a Starbucks literally 3 minutes from school.  With a drive thru.  It's become a major financial problem for me, actually...what can I say, I have very little will power when it comes to soy lattes...

9. A big, sturdy bag to tote all of your random crap around in.
It may not be cute, but it holds 2 teacher manuals, a mess of grading, and the hodge podge of grading pens, markers, paper clips, and post-its that litters the bottom at all times!
Thank you Scholastic Books and your wonderful incentive programs...
10. A bunch of teacher friends to share celebrations with and vent to (teacher bloggers work too!!) 
[Although it is not required, it helps if these sessions take place over wine. :)]
I cannot tell you how important this is.  People who aren't teachers just don't always get what it is that we do, and how hard we work.  (Ahem, you might already know my thoughts on this issue...)  Sometimes it's just necessary to be around people who DO get it because they live it too.  It also saves time on explaining acronyms! :)  RTI, TRS, ISAT, MAP, AYP, you get the idea...Oh, and they are less likely to smack you when you bring up school for the hundredth billion time...
Me & Miss R, my wonderful teacher friend!

What am I missing?  What else does every teacher need?

Missed one of my other "tips for teaching" posts?

April 29, 2011


So I sponsor a club at school called Battle of the Books which is basically a big geek-fest of kids who love reading. :)  My dream come true!  All year long the kids read books and practice writing/answering questions from them in preparation for an end-of-the year "battle" between other schools in the district.  My school is a low-income school in what is otherwise a pretty well-off district (for the most part), and we kind of have a reputation...let's just say when a friend who works in district heard I got a job at this particular school she kind of grimaced and told me good luck!!!  yikes!  Anyways, it's not so bad; crazy as it is, I am happy at my school.  But other schools definitely view us a certain (non-complimentary) way.

Yesterday evening was the much-anticipated Battle.  Our kids have been working SO HARD to prepare, but I don't think ANYONE thought we had a shot.  To say we were the underdog is the understatement of the century.  Well...

Mrs. Lit Specialist, Good Luck Charm Baby J, & Me :)
WE WON!!!!!

This is super exciting for a few reasons.  First, after working SO HARD this year with the kids, to see their hard work pay off (and mine!) and see their excited smiling faces made all of those hours as a club worth it.  Second, how awesome is it to see kids get pumped about literacy and reading?  Come on.  Our society doesn't exactly celebrate achievements in reading very often... The kids are so proud of this badass trophy our school won.  Plus, what a great example to set for other kids in the school that reading is actually pretty cool.  The best part for me, though, was showing other schools in the district that we actually have some pretty amazing, smart kids and good teachers over here at my school.  We work hard too, and so do our kids.  Even Ms. Assistant Principal who accompanied us to the battle was like, "What now?!" :)

I was having some reservations about sponsoring this club again next year because it is so much work, but after seeing the kids get so excited about their win, I'm wondering if it might be worth it...

April 27, 2011

Running makes me LOVE MY BODY!

Today I'm linking up with Julia over at Pain, Pride, Perseverance for her Monday FOOT notes about lessons learned from running.  I haven't been running for very long, but trust me when I say I have learned a lot of lessons!  Girls on the Run Chicago has also been doing a series of blog posts asking girls on the run of all ages to share their responses to the statement, "Running makes me _________."  I have been thinking about both of these topics recently and decided to combine them in this post...

 The most important lesson I've learned from running is to love and appreciate my body NO MATTER WHAT.  The story of how I learned this lesson and became a runner actually starts a long time before I ever ran a single step...

Running makes me love my body.

If you were to ask me if I loved my body, the answer would be a resounding YES!  This doesn't mean I think I look perfect or that I am going to throw on a swim suit and ogle at myself in the mirror.  But it does mean that I love and appreciate what my body allows me to do every day.  This wasn't always the case for me, though, and I owe a big part of my change in perspective to running...

For a long time, I hated my body.  I thought it was too slow, too ugly, too weak, too fat, too uncoordinated.  In fact, I decided long ago that my body was NOT that of an athlete.  Eventually, I began to blame a lot of other problems on my body too, for some reason thinking that an imperfect body was responsible for everything that was wrong or hard in my life.  Crazy, I know.  At some point during high school, I decided that the perfect solution to all of my problems was to change my body, and I decided that the best way to do this was by starving myself.  
I thought this would make me like my body better and make things easier in my life, but I of course was wrong.  Even as the pounds melted away, I liked my body and myself less and less.  Thankfully I am one of the people who has a triumphant success story to tell when it comes to their eating disorder.  Still, even as I stopped restricting, learned to eat, and worked on recovery, I didn't love my body and continued to feel uncomfortable in my skin.

I started running in college mostly as a way to lose weight.  I didn't really enjoy running and would vacillate between hitting the treadmill every night one week and not setting foot anywhere NEAR the gym the next.  When I did run, I would fixate on the calorie count on the treadmill or the number of laps I made it through on the track.  If I had to walk, or if the number wasn't as high as the day before, I'd get angry at myself and blame my "useless" body.  Then I'd decide it wasn't even worth the effort because clearly I would never be an athlete.  I didn't really understand that getting angry at my body and myself did NOT make me a good runner.  In fact, it made me a terrible runner, but I didn't see the connection.  

In the past few years, things changed for me.  Actually, that sounds so passive...things didn't change; I changed things.  After years of effort (including some therapy), my eating disorder is finally behind me.  I have 
learned to let go of my vision of a "perfect body" and learned other coping mechanisms for life's problems besides my eating disorder.  And while I can't credit running for my recovery, I can honestly say that few things have helped me learn to love and appreciate my body so much as rediscovering running in the past year.

Running used to make me angry at my body.  You know what?  Just like I needed to let go of some silly vision of the "perfect body" I thought I needed to have, I also needed to let go of the vision of the "perfect runner" I thought I needed to be.  When I did that, everything changed for the better.  Instead of seeing running as something I could do to control my body, I started seeing it as something wonderful my body allowed me to do.  I run because it makes me STRONG and POWERFUL.  I run because it makes me feel BEAUTIFUL.  I run because it makes me see my body as an amazing tool and NOT something I have to just deal with.  I run because I have never felt as INVINCIBLE as I have after a really great run.

When I'm running, I appreciate every step my feet can carry me.  Yeah, it's frustrating when I have an off-day, but an off-day is better than a non-running day!  I look at my body now and see a body that has been through a lot.  I haven't always treated it right, but it does so much for me anyways.  When I was letting my eating disorder tell me how to feel about my body, there was NO WAY it could have carried me through 13.1 miles!  I've learned that loving and appreciating my body actually makes me a BETTER runner!  It means that I fuel my body with good, healthy foods, that I take the time to streeetch my muscles and give them plenty of TLC, and that I take time to listen closely to my body and give it what it needs.

I've learned a lot since I've started running, but the lesson for which I'm most grateful is simply this: My body is amazing and beautiful, and it is capable of anything when I treat it right.  Running makes me love my body.  I never dreamed that I would be able to say something like that, but it's true.


Thanks for letting me share my story with you. :) What does running make YOU?

**If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, get help.  
There is hope, and there is something better waiting for you.**

April 26, 2011

Let the Half-Marathon Training Fun Begin!

Today starts my training for the Chicago Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon.  Well technically yesterday did, but since Mondays are "stretch/strength" days aka "miss teacher takes a break b/c she fails at stretching AND strength training," it wasn't really blog-worthy.  This evening tho I will slip on my fabulous new pink compression sleeves (thanks T for the awesome bday present!!) and hit the treadmill for a nice, easy 3 mile start to my training. (Never mind that 3 mi is probably too short of a distance to warrant compression sleeves but I could really care less because they are awesome.)  I have to admit that I am really looking forward to starting training, and already eagerly anticipating the August race!  While I am *nervous* that, with my recent luck, another injury is lurking in the future, I have a different overall attitude than when I started training for the Disney Princess Half-Marathon.  At that time, I had no idea whether or not I could even make it through 13.1 miles!  Now I know I can (slowly but surely!). :)

I love training for a race bc I am a very goal-oriented person. I know people who are able to just get out there and run for the love of it.  I am not one of those people.  Don't get me wrong; I love running.  But at 5pm when I am leaving school, exhausted after a 10hr day, the gym is not exactly first on my list of "places I am dying to be right now."  And as a complete non-morning person, when that alarm goes off for the long run sunday mornings, you better believe I am not exactly leaping out of bed with a grin on my face.  (Forget about trying to run before school...that's just laughable.)  But when I'm training for something that I care a lot about, I can make it happen in spite of whatever obstacles I happen to encounter along the way.

Seriously, these things are awesome.  

Have to stay late at school?  Great, night run it is!!  Early church sunday?  No problem, I'll just sleep in my running clothes and get up even earlier!  Injury?  I'll give my body whatever it needs to get better and cross train in the mean time!  Sick?  I will just rearrange my workouts and swap a rest day with a run later in the week!  Obstacles ain't got nothin' on me.

When I'm not training tho?  I'll admit it--I look for excuses.  Yes, I'm that girl...Sad but true.  That's why I am so pumped to start race training this week.  Can't wait to keep you updated on my (hopefully injury-free!!) progress!

April 25, 2011

Yay Spring :)

I love spring.  It's probably my favorite season--I love that after winter always seems to drag on and on longer every year, spring always comes (no matter how late!).  Flowers, trees, sun--can't beat that.  And I am overjoyed that it FINALLY seems to be here!!!   Hopefully to stay.  I mean, two weeks ago we had an 85 degree day, last Monday it snowed, and Saturday it is 60.  Way to go, Midwest!

Anyways, Saturday I finally got to take my bike to my favorite path in a nearby forest preserve.  I brought my phone in my spi belt to take some pictures.  Now I will warn you, I think this trail is beautiful, but I don't live in the prettiest place in the world!  No beach, mountains, pretty desert...but in the suburbs, it's a relief just not to have to stare at houses and Targets for a change!!! :)

This sign was on a bus stop shelter at the end of my route.  Loved it.
The winds were so strong I was barely moving at a few points, but I still enjoyed a wonderful almost-12 mile ride.  I am by NO MEANS a cyclist--I got passed like 100 times by super intense people--but I loved every minute, even getting covered in mud riding through the puddles leftover from yesterday's rain.  

April 24, 2011

10 Fail-Proof Ways to Build Relationships with Your Students

Be this kind of teacher... (source)
When I was student teaching, the principal at the school kindly offered to do a mock-interview with me for practice.  During the interview, he asked me this question: "Do you want your students to like you?"  Caught off-guard, I mumbled some kind of inarticulate, "Well, no, but they need to respect me..." type of answer.  Afterwards, he told me to throw that answer right in the trash and tell the truth: of course I want my students to like me.  And it's true.  In order to really teach kids, you first need to capture their hearts.  When they like you, they'll do ANYTHING for you.  I truly believe that teaching is a relational endeavor.  Here are my favorite ways to build relationships with students...

Not this kind of teacher... (Source)
1. Greet them at the door every morning with a handshake, eye contact, a smile, and a "Good morning, (first name)."
I do this every morning.  It's a quick, easy way to interact one-on-one with the kids.  I can quickly ask them how they are, assess who is still half asleep, and let the kids know that I'm glad they're here.  It's a wonderful start to the day for all of us, me included!

2. Respond to their journal entries as often as possible with personal notes.
If you have your kids write in a journal, every couple days or weeks collect them and read an entry or two.  You don't need to write much in response, just enough to show them that you are interested in what they have to say.  

3. Celebrate their achievements with them privately.
When one of my students gets a particularly good grade on a test, especially if it's unexpected or if they have been working extra hard, I like to call them over to my desk and share it with them that way.  It's wonderful seeing their eyes light up and being able to share in that excitement with them.  It also lets them know that you really truly are proud of them.

4. Learn about their lives.  
From the first day of school, find out what sports they play, how many siblings they have, what kind of books they like, etc.  Then mention these things to the student as often as possible.  Ask how football or cheerleading practice was.  Wish them luck at their soccer game.  Find out how that book was that they were reading all week.  

5. Share your life with your students (in appropriate ways).  
In my experience, this helps the kids see you as a real person, and opens up the door for them to share their lives with you.  I tell kids about my running, what book I am reading, etc.  I don't go into details, but share just enough so that they see that I have interests and hobbies. 

6. Regularly say these words out loud to the kids, as cheesy as they may sound: "I like you," "I'm glad you're here," "I'm so happy you're part of our class," "It's great to see you today," "I care about you," "I want to help you succeed."
Trust me when I say that these little things WORK.  Especially for tough kids who don't hear these things at home.  Even when a kid is upset with you, say them.  One of my kids earlier this year who had big time behavior difficulties was telling me on repeat how he hates this school and hates me.  I just smiled and said, "I'm sorry you hate this school and hate me.  I really like you.  I will keep on liking you all year long no matter what."  Unfortunately he moved in January, but let me assure you that by the time he left he was like putty in my hand thanks to the amazing relationship we had built.

7. Call parents to share celebrations in front of the student.
I save this one for really special achievements to keep it extra meaningful for the kids.  Sometimes if a student makes BIG growth on the MAP test, I will call the parents with the student and tell them what special news we have, and then let the student talk.  I will tell you, it is amazing to see how excited the students get when I call home for something positive, and even more amazing to hear the love and pride in the parents' voices.  I haven't done this much this year, but I plan to look for more opportunities in the upcoming weeks.

8. Have lunch with a few kids every once in awhile.

This is another one that doesn't have to be frequent--doing it just every now and then keeps it special.  Sometimes I will invite a student or two to have lunch with me in the library or some place.  I usually do this as a reward for extra hard work, or some times with a student I am especially concerned about socially to talk.  It shows them that they are special to me, and it's great interacting with the kids outside the classroom.  

9. Be consistent.
Consistency helps build trust.  When kids know they can count on you to reward them when they do the right things and correct them when they do the wrong things, they will see that you are dependable and trustworthy.  A little trust goes a long way in the classroom--kids who trust you will risk everything for you in learning, because they know you will be there to help them when they need it.

10. Deliver consequences with empathy.
I can't take credit for this one; it's straight from Teaching with Love and Logic by Fay & Funk (my absolute favorite book about classroom management!  Read more about some of the ways I use L&L in my classroom here).  The idea here is that you can build relationships even when you're delivering a consequence to kids.  The long and short of it is that while no one likes giving consequences, kids make mistakes and we need to follow through with what we say we're going to do.  But that doesn't mean we have to destroy our relationships with the kids in the process.  In my experience, when I deliver consequences with empathy, it tends to make our relationship STRONGER almost instantly.  Here's how it looks for a disruptive kid, for example: "What choice were you making during class?  Do you think that the best choice you could have made?  Listen, I really like you.  I care about you, and I love having you in our class.  But when you choose to [fill in the blank], it makes it tough for you and others to learn, and for me to teach.  Do you think you can turn things around right now, or do you need a little break first?  When you're ready, we'll move on and keep learning."  The message is simple: I like YOU.  I care about YOU.  I do not like your CHOICE.  

What am I missing?  How do you build relationships with your students?

April 23, 2011

Muddy Buddy, Then & Now

My first ever race was a pretty special one.  I wasn't blogging back then, so I thought I'd do a flashback race recap post.  In August 2008, my very special friend M and I decided to run/bike/crawl the Muddy Buddy race.  :)  Heard of it?  The Muddy Buddy is a silly race that you do with a partner (your "buddy").  You start separately, with one of you running and the other on a bike.  At the first mile marker, Buddy 1 leaves the bike and starts running after completing a silly obstacle.  Buddy 2 will pick up the bike after getting to Mile 1, and start riding.  This goes on for about 6 miles total, culminating in a crawl to the finish through a giant mud pit.  AMAZING.
Pre-Race & Squeaky Clean :)
(I'm on the right)

M had run more marathons and half-marathons than she can count.  At the time, I was barely a runner, still working though my love-hate relationship with the sport, but M convinced me to do this race and we ended up having a blast.  Our team name (you have to register with one) was "21 & Invincible" after the Something Corporate song--fitting because we were both 21 at the time.  The race was on a beautiful farm, and it was great to run and ride on the trails instead of asphalt for a change.  I remember it was super hot that day, but that didn't keep the smiles off of our faces the whole time!  Possibly my favorite part was when we briefly would see each other throughout the race, one of us riding past the other on the bike, always with a huge cheer for our buddy.  Well, maybe that was my favorite part after our reunion and mud crawl.  :)  The pictures speak for themselves...

So. Much. Fun.  I knew when I finished that this was a race I'd like to do again someday...and this week I registered to do the Muddy Buddy Atlanta with my college roommate!  We are SO PUMPED.  L has thought the Muddy Buddy was awesome ever since she say M & my pictures, and since she recently moved out to Atlanta for school, we decided to give it a shot there this summer.  
L & Me Junior Year in College
Always sharing the roomie love! :)
I CANNOT WAIT to do this race, even if it will probably by 90 degrees out in the Georgia sun!!!  Our team name is WeWereInfinite, a quote from the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I couldn't be more excited. :)

What's the coolest race you've ever done?

Book Club Geekiness

I've talked about my book club before on the blog, but I think you should know the truth about us.  We are not so much a true book club as three friends who use "book discussions" as an excuse to get together and eat massive amounts of food.  We do all love reading (especially young adult books...), but we love eating more. :)  I totally forgot to take a picture of the amazing spread!  But if you had seen it, you would have wondered when the other 30 or so guests were arriving to help us finish.  Nope, just three girls who eat like champs.

Yesterday we met for a brunch that ended up lasting over 4 hours and resulted with us all laying on the couch in a full-tummy induced stupor, all strugling to stay awake and continuing to eat chocolate eggs no matter how full we were.  Bliss.  We discussed Unwind by Niel Shusterman , a very dark YA novel that I have yet to do a full review of, mostly because rehashing it makes my stomach turn.  (Ever since we read The Hunger Games we have been completely obsessed with YA dystopian fiction.)  It wasn't my favorite book, but it was definitely a good one for discussion.  Set in an unspecificified year in the future, the basic idea is that America has fought a second Civil War between the Pro-Choicers and the Pro-Lifers.  The result of the Civil War is that abortion is illegal, but (as a compromise??) a parent can choose to "terminate" their child's life through "unwinding" between the ages of 13 and 17.  What that means is that the child will be taken apart piece by piece, and all of his or her organs and body parts will be used for donation.  SUPER CREEPY.  The idea is that it's okay because the kids are still living as their body parts and organs are all still in tact...This book was difficult to read at parts.  Again, I wasn't thrilled with the plot and charcters, but it certainly made a statement.

Once we got the dark and twisty book out of the way, we turned the discussion to our other recent reads, Shiver and Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.  Read my review of Shiver here.  I loved these books, but after talking about them more, I think we all realized that they are just a better-written version of Twilight with a male-protagonist who is less of a jerk than Edward and Jacob.  Then, we majorly got our geek on and started recording the similarities and differences between Shiver and Twilight--I am almost embarrassed to share that we did this...but then again, it was fun.  I guess I can't hide my inner-geekiness forever!
Seriously, that is a TON of similarities...I still like Shiver more, even if it did rip of Twilight... :)

Book club is one of my favorite ways to start a weekend. :)  Another favorite way is laying in bed blogging past 10am, which I am doing right now.  The sun is ACTUALLY SHINING today though--MIRACLE--and my bike is starting to call my name...

What are your Saturday plans?
I'm looking forward to the rest of this day!  After my bike ride I'm planning to do a little shopping, grading/planning at Caribou, then birthday dinner with my family and drinks later on with friends.  Sounds like a recipe for a wonderful day.  

April 21, 2011

Three Things Thursday

So today is my birthday.  Which, on a school day, doesn't mean too much. :)  I did purposely write it on our class calendar so I got several "Happy Birthday!"s throughout the day from my kiddos, and I like to think they tried extra hard to be nice to me... :)  We actually had a good, productive day together, so maybe they did put on their best behavior!  In any case, I am officially 24 and probably way too old to be living with my parents and refusing to cook anything for myself short of oatmeal and omelets.  :)

I did enjoy starting my day with these two happy items...
These things are like crack I swear...
Mrs. Mentor Teacher replenished my stash of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Espresso beans.  :)  

Mrs. Literacy Specialist (who is also a peace-loving hippie teacher) brought me this adorable mug filled with dark chocolate...hmm I'm seeing a pattern...

I think my IT band is *FINALLY* on the mend!!!!!  (*silent cheer*) Tuesday I ran 3 miles with NO knee/thigh pain.  MIRACLE!  This is the first time since February's half-marathon that I've been able to reach 3 miles without discomfort.  Hooray!  Additionally, I got a massage this evening (my last for a looong time as I've decided I need to probably stop living like I make a six-figure salary if I ever hope to move out of my parents' house...*tear*), and the therapist said my legs felt WAY better!  She even had time to massage my back!  (Yes, my massages usually consist of 60 minutes of digging into my legs with me holding back tears.  Not so relaxing.)  It was pretty exciting to have a relaxing, relatively-painless massage for a change. :)

Can I just share for a moment how happy I am that this is a three-day weekend??  My gosh, I feel like this is the best birthday gift in the world.  Now that the kids have decided it is almost summer (which it kind of is...but come on we are still learning here!!), they are extra silly squirrels.  I believe that from here until June, every week should be a four-day week.  Who's with me?!?  :)

More Writing Gems & The View from Here

First off, a big THANK YOU to What the Teacher Wants for featuring my post 12 Tips for Surviving Your First Year Teaching as part of Management Mondays!  Also, welcome to my new readers!  I'm glad you're here. :)

This week in literacy we read a short article about Lewis and Clark.  Needless to say, my already social-studies challenged students are now sufficiently chronologically mixed up, as we are also studying the american revolution...we talked about valley forge and how the soldiers didn't all have shoes yesterday, and sure enough today one of the kids is worrying about lewis and clark not having shoes...ANYWAYS, I was hysterical when I read this writing response from  one of the kids:

PROMPT: Do you think you would have wanted to be a part of Lewis and Clark's expedition?  Why or why not?
(Warning--spelling is FRIGHTFUL...)

How is THAT for voice?!

On a different note...I also wanted to share with you the view from my desk...it's now facing the wall after one of my many furniture moving adventures, and I like having my little bulletin board right at eye level.  Here it is:

Memos, to do lists, and some smile-inducing things like pictures of my family (including the adorable kid pic of me and big brother with our halloween pumpkins at the top!) And some quotes...on the left side is a page I pulled from a magazine with one of my favorite quotes:

Do not ask what the world needs.  
Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

This quote was really special to me my senior year in college when I was spending a lot of time puzzling over my life and post-grad choices...it's a great reminder that I teach because, even when it's draining, it really makes me feel alive.  :)

Hanging in the bottom center is another piece of inspiration.  I was recently reminded of the poem "Undivided Attention" by Taylor Mali by Lauren, my fellow Girls on the Run Coach.  A beautiful poem about teaching, I decided to hang a copy right at eye level.  (Read the full text here) Because some days you just need a little reminder why you're doing this job...

Hope you're having a great week!  Yay for a day off school tomorrow!

April 18, 2011

Book Review: The Help

When I first saw people reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett last summer, I wasn't interested in picking up a copy myself.  I was consumed by the wonderful world of young adult fiction, more interested in reading and rereading The Hunger Games than a serious novel about race relations in 1960s Mississippi.  So, when a friend loaned me a copy of the book, I let it sit on my bedroom floor for a few weeks before cracking it open.  Honestly, I knew nothing about the book except that it seemed to be the hot title of the past year.  I was craving a good book to lose myself in on a Friday night a few weeks ago and decided to give it a shot.  And it was, in a word, breathtaking.

Stockett weaves an unforgettable story of three women, strong in very different ways, living in a world that seems infinitely far away from where I live.  But I know that it is a world that was, and still is in some places, very real.  We meet Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, and fall in love with each of them.  Aibileen and Minny work as domestic maids (aka "the help") in the homes of society white women, while Skeeter is the daughter of cotton plantation owners and a college graduate, awkward and unmarried in a town of young society mothers.

I immediately found myself lost in a world of old fashioned society rules, unspoken codes of conduct between the family and "the help," domestic maids who basically raise the entire family only to be fired for ridiculous reasons, and women who face and overcome so many different challenges every day.  I don't want to fill this review with lots of plot summary because I want you to read the book and discover its magic for yourself, but let me just say that I felt for these women.  I cried and cried throughout the last chunk of the book.  I felt that I knew them by the time I reached the last pages, and was sad to see them go.  The Help is beautifully written and an enchanting story.  Read it.  You won't regret it.

April 17, 2011

On Being a Vegetarian, Part 2: The Gelatin Question

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about why I am a vegetarian, as well as the ethical "gray areas" I struggle with as a vegetarian.  After some thought, I decided to say goodbye to the gelatin in my diet...

*whispers* bye gelatin :(

My brother, who is wonderful but once told me that veganism is a marketing scam (I still don't understand what the hell that means, but I chose to move on rather than get into a ludicrous argument with a very stubborn individual...), doesn't understand why I would feel wrong about eating gelatin when animals are not being killed to produce gelatin.  (Note: from my albeit limited research, it seems that the skin and bones that are used to make gelatin are typically slaughterhouse waste.)  I feel wrong about consuming any animal product that an animal had to die to give me, whether they were killed specifically for that purpose or not.  It just makes sense to me right now.

It actually hasn't been too challenging, but I had a mini-panic attack when, after making that choice, I started researching gelatin-containing foods...Holy Pigs Hooves, it is in EVERYTHING!!! (exaggerating, but that's how I felt!)  Who knew that the following foods (besides jell-o) ALL contain gelatin...

frosted mini-wheats cereal * pop-tarts * some yogurts, including dannon and yoplait * mentos * altoids (huh??) * starburst * valentine's conversation hearts * Planter's dry roasted peanuts (turns out it holds the salt on...WHAT???) * margarine (Promise and I can't believe it's not butter brands) * junior mints * certain kinds of frozen vegetables (that's just scary...) * many other packaged desserts (ex. Sara Lee French Silk Pie * gummy bears & worms (my favorite candy... :( ) * marshmallows

I felt more than a little overwhelmed after browsing the internet and finding all of these foods that have secretly been hiding gelatin...but just as I was mourning the loss of altoids and frosted mini-wheats, I discovered this gem of information:


Hallelujah.  I will just fill the gummy bear void in my life with fish.  Swedish fish, that is.  (Sour Patch Kids are also gelatin-free.)

I feel good about this choice and don't think it will be hard.  It will just take a little more ingredient-list reading for awhile, but that's no big deal.  Just like going vegetarian, all you have to do is replace the things you can't eat anymore with wonderful yummy things you CAN eat.  It's no problem to replace the yoplait yogurt in my life with yummy greek all-natural greek yogurt that not only tastes better in my opinion, but is better for my body.

As part of my venture into a gelatin-free lifestyle, my dad and I took an field trip to Whole Foods today on a quest for Vegan Marshmallows and some other yummies.  I've had a hankering for rice crispy treats lately, and honestly I was just curious about gelatin-free marshmallows.  I almost NEVER go to Whole Paycheck  Foods because I get super excited and spend more than I make, but every now and then for a special treat is okay, right? :)

Voila!  Vegan Marshmallows!  And they are DELICIOUS!!!!!  I almost don't want to waste these ($$$) babies in rice crispy treats...but then again, I probably don't need to just eat them straight from the bag either...
These are Dandies vanilla flavor vegan marshmallows.  Read more about them here...

Of course we bought a few other goodies...but the best part was when we spotted the Grind Your Own Peanut Butter station!  OH MY GOSH!  Holy PB goodness!  Peanut Butter is my favorite food after blueberry pancakes (which dad just happened to make this morning...this is why I am 23-almost-24-and-still-living-at-home...), and I inherited this love from my Dad.  While he doesn't attack the jar with a spoon or drizzle it over everything from oats to sweet potatoes, he did teach me the beautiful simplicity of a PBJ.  Obv we had to grind some honey roasted peanut butter...

 He thought I was a little silly for needing a picture of this, but come on.  How could you NOT document this amazing experience???
 Result: quite possibly the most delicious peanut butter I have ever tasted.  Worth its weight in gold.  (Which is almost what it cost!)  Oh Whole Foods...I love you so much...why must everything in your magical store cost more than I make in a day???

To sum up, I am feeling really great about my gelatin decision.  And happy that I don't have to miss out on yummies like Smores and rice crispy treats just because I'd prefer not to ingest pig skin and bones... :)

Note: Again, I am sharing this information because it is a part of who I am.  In no way do I believe that this is the *best* or *only* lifestyle out there.  Everyone in my family and most of my friends choose to eat meat, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Also, if you are a vegetarian that chooses to eat gelatin, that's okay too! I am doing what I feel good about and what works for me and my body.  Please do the same. :)

12 Tips for Surviving Your First Year Teaching

If you're a newer visitor to my blog, you should know that my first year teaching (last year) was no picnic.  Let's just say that there were A LOT of tears and a lot of times I considered quitting.  Luckily, I had a lot of wonderful people around me to help me through the year, and I came back this year for Round 2 renewed, refreshed, and with a new perspective.  I've given the First Year a lot of thought, and I've decided that these are the 12 most important things that helped me make it through, or that would have made things easier.  The truth is that so many teachers quit in the first few years, and that doesn't have to be the case.  Teaching is hard, but if you are one of those people with the passion for teaching in your heart, then it is SO worth it. 

*If you like this list, please share it with the young teachers in your life!* 

1. Build a support system for yourself both in and out of school
This was so important for me last year, and continues to be important for me this year.  If you are as fortunate as I was in my first year, you will have a great mentor assigned to you and a couple of really awesome, supportive teammates who make it their business to get you through your year.  I'm not kidding, one morning when I was in tears over how many management issues I was having in my classroom, my teammates came in and helped me rearrange the desks, then covered my class for the first 15 minutes of the day while I collected myself.  It's important also to have other teachers to talk to who KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH!  For me, this was another first year teacher in my building and a friend from college who was also starting out her career.  Our other friends didn't understand why we were so stressed out, and it was therapeutic to be able to talk about what I was going through with someone who was going through the same thing. 

2. Have an outlet to relieve stress that is completely unrelated to teaching
This is something I really wish I had done a better job at last year.  It is easy to become consumed by the job, especially the first year, and I'm sorry to say that I definitely let myself become far too consumed last year.  Make time to work out, play a sport, read, etc. as often as possible.  Burn out is real, and a balance of work and fun is so important.  I am still working on this one.  :)

3. Set a cut-off time for yourself to leave school each night, and STICK TO IT
This is another one that I wish I had done a better job at last year!  While there is so much work to be done as a teacher in general, it is extra overwhelming as a first year teacher.  It's really easy to get caught up and suddenly be the last one in the building...Last year, I stayed at school until 7 or 8 on a nightly basis.  One particularly rotten night, I was at school until 10pm.  I vowed that that would never happen again.  I still have lots to do this year, but now I set a cut-off time for myself.  Pick 1 or 2 days when you're going to stay at school late to copy things or do whatever you need to do, and on the other days, do everything possible to get yourself out of the buildng early.  Trust me when I say that it's good for the soul.

4. Make peace early on with the fact that you will not be able to "do it all" the first year
Oh gosh, this was a tough one for me to learn.  When I realized all of the challenges in my classroom last year, I was overwhelmed.  I had no idea how to help 5th graders who could barely read, unmedicated and out of control ADHD kids, kids with terrible home lives and emotional problems, and kids with no respect for adults.  A life long perfectionist, of course I thought I needed to fix everything and everyone right away.  I also thought I needed to be awesome at teaching every subject right away.  Realistic expectations, right?  Guess how I felt when it turned out I wasn't an immediate rockstar?  Let's just say there were a lot of tears...About two months into the school year, I started adjusting my expectations.  I focused on growing stronger in one area at a time.  First it was management.  Then reading.  Then math.  Then writing...you get the idea.  Am I an expert now?  Nope.  Not even close.  But once I realized that I wasn't going to be amazing at everything right away and started setting smaller goals, it was a lot easier to feel like I was growing and see that we were making progress.

5. Ask for help
And ask again, and again, and again.  The truth is, you're gonna need a lot of it (if your first year is anything like mine, that is)!!  There are resources in your school to help you with difficult children and difficult curriculum--USE THEM!  No one wants to seem like an incompetent idiot their first year, but don't be afraid to ask for help from your principal, social worker, psychologist, reading specialists, special services teachers, teammates, etc.  I would never have made it through last year without the support I received from so many wonderful people!

6. Know your limits
...and respect them.  Maybe don't volunteer to coach a sport or start a club your first year.  Maybe don't sign up for committees.  Rethink the second job.  Remember, it's okay to say no to some things.  It will pay off in terms of  keeping your sanity in tact!!!

7. Celebrate small achievements
This goes both for you and for the kids.  It took me awhile to put things into perspective with my kids.  I had student taught in a fairly affluent elementary school, and starting my job in a low-income school was a reality-check.  When I saw just how academically needy most of my students were, I panicked.  Eventually, though, I realized that while I may not be able to get every kid up to grade level, it is worth celebrating every small step.  It's also worth celebrating YOUR growth as a teacher.  Take a moment to celebrate that you finally have trained your kids to line up appropriately or walk down the hall without talking.  Celebrate that you got through a math lesson without losing your patience (still working on this one... :-/).  Celebrate that you made it through a week without staying past 6.  As new teachers, it's easy to get caught up on the things we still need to improve at.  Take time to appreciate how far you've come.

8. Think of something you loved about the day before leaving school, no matter how small it is
This is one little thing that makes a BIG difference.  It's easy to get caught up in and dwell on the negative things, and there were many days I'd drive home in tears thinking about the challenging students or what had gone wrong in my lessons.  One of my coworkers told me very simply that I need to think about the wonderful students at night, NOT the ones that were draining my life.  While there are good days and bad days, I found it easier to classify good and bad in terms of moments.  There weren't many days that were 100% good, but when I looked for happy moments, it was easier to find them.  Sometimes they were just reading aloud to the class, or how, when my water bottle spilled, one student jumped up, grabbed paper towels, and cleaned it up for me.  Look for a happy moment that reminds you why you're here, and can get you back into school tomorrow.

9. Find something to love about every single kid, no matter how tough that may be
This one pretty much speaks for itself, but I am a firm believer that teaching is an act of love.  We need to love our students, and we need to get them to fall in love with us.  The former makes the latter possible.  

10.  VENT.  But also understand and respect the line between venting and complaining
Venting is important, if only because it preserves your sanity!!  

11. Approach every day as a fresh start, both for yourself and your kids
Lost your patience with a kid yesterday?  Lesson flopped?  Couldn't control your class?  Lucky for you, every day really is a fresh start with teaching.  If you realize one day that your behavior plan isn't working, the next day go in and change it.  If your seating arrangement isn't working, change it.  If your lesson flopped, teach it differently tomorrow.  If you lost it with a kid, go in tomorrow and apologize straight off.  I guarantee they will forget about it in a day (the younger ones will at least, and the older ones will let you earn them back).  The really great thing about kids is that they adapt.  It gives you a change to learn and grow and adapt too.  

12. Remind yourself every day that it only gets better from here :)
It does.  I promise. :)

More Teaching Advice Posts:

April 16, 2011

Why yes, I AM a party girl :)

Tonight my big Saturday night plans were a date with a treadmill at the gym.  I realize that admitting this to you all  might ensure that no one ever reads my blog again because this officially makes me a pathetic loser, but I'm not embarrassed.  It was all I wanted to do tonight...well that, and lay around reading after!

While I was disappointed not to be running in the Bloom & Zoom 10K this morning, when I woke up at 9 to gray skies and rain hitting my windows, I was MORE than happy to hit the snooze and go back to sleep rather than layering on running clothes and slathering my IT band with Bio Freeze...We definitely made the right choice to pass on this race.  Instead, I spent my morning enjoying this yummy bowl of oats at Corner Bakery along with some Teacher TalkLife Talk with Miss R. :)
Since I wasn't 10King this morning, I decided I wanted to at least give running a shot this evening.  I haven't run since my Tuesday 2 miles, as my IT band was sore a few days after that, and I definitely didn't want to push it.  It's felt much better the past few days though, so I gave it another shot.
What, don't ALL the cool kids go to the gym Saturday nights??
Hooray!  I made it 2.5 miles without pain!  Again I felt a TINY bit of discomfort...not enough to stop, but just enough to remind me that I'm still injured and not to push it.  I'm excited that I actually seem to be on the mend, and pumped that I'll be able to start my training for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in a couple of weeks.  Yay. :)
Slowly but surely...I'm coming back!

And now, I'm off to finish an awesome book...I've been reading Feed by M.T. Anderson.  It's another YA dystopian novel (sensing a pattern?), and it's really interesting/thought-provoking/different/GOOD.  I'm excited to see how it ends, and can't wait to tell you more soon in a book review.  Have a great Saturday Night!  Hopefully it's more exciting than mine. ;)

April 15, 2011

Friday Ramblings

This morning I attended a professional development on our new social studies series.  I am EXCITED to report that the series ROCKS!!!  I literally can't wait to begin using it, and actually plan to incorporate a lesson or two into my current social studies unit on the American Revolution.  We are using the TCI Social Studies Alive curriculum, and it is loaded to the gills with interactive components.  I know that I (and MOST teachers) spend hours upon hours trying to come up with interactive lessons and hands-on activities to bring social studies to life, and TCI has it all right there for you.  It even has a digital presentation to go along with EVERY lesson!  So. pumped.  I would love to hear more about it from a teacher currently using it!
Does anyone currently use TCI Social Studies Alive in their classrooms??

While I must say I was bummed to return to school after the training (I love my kids, but honestly a full day of grown up talk and a long lunch would have been nice...), there were several other "little happys" in my day. :)

Like this daffodil that was waiting for me when I got back to school!

And this note from a VERY VERY challenging student who hates me about 70% of the time.

And the cherry on top, the new Bondi Bands I ordered Tuesday arrived!!!

I couldn't resist using the 5 for $25 coupon I received when I ordered two of these headbands before my half-marathon.  I LOVE them and was thrilled to pick out 5 more of the super cute designs.  Seriously, they are so comfy and don't slide around at all.  Best of all, not only are they sweat-wicking, but they are super wide so they hold back all of my crazy fly-aways.  Now, if only I could RUN!!!

Which brings me to another topic...tomorrow I am registered to run in a 10K at a nearby arboretum.  I have been looking forward to it for months and was super excited about running with a friend and walking around the arboretum after.  Enter complications...

First of all, it is raining and nasty cold here.  It is supposed to be rainy and nasty cold tomorrow too.  Second, I have a sinus infection and next to no voice.  Third, I have yet to surpass 2 miles with my bum IT bands...
As much as I hate wasting money, all signs point to a NO GO for me for tomorrow.  :(  Oh well, there will be other races.  The bondi bands can wait.  ;)  Instead, I am looking forward to a quiet night in my jammies with a movie and tea to soothe my throat...and hopefully a productive work day tomorrow!  

What are your plans this weekend?  
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