Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lessons Learned in 2013

I confess that I am one of those people that gets completely caught up in the transition from one year to the next. My rational side is all there is nothing special about this day and any day can be a new day and a new start blah blah blah. My sensitive side with all the feels, though, (and this is the part of me that usually wins little internal debates) can't help but romanticize the passage from one year to the next.

Rational Side Means Business
Emotional Side Has All the Feels
There is something so satisfying about closing the door on one year and opening the door to the next. Anyone who has been following this blog for any time (and by the way, thanks for hanging around!) already knows this about me. Last year I wrote 13 for '13 sharing my resolutions for 2013 (some of which were very successful and others were a total bust) and I also wrote a New Year's Eve post on the eve before the beginning of this school year. This year, in the spirit of change, I want to examine the things I learned in 2013 and the things I hope to do/learn in 2014.

Wisdom tooth extraction sucks more than I thought it would. (x4)

Facebook is a waste of time and an unhealthy habit.

The SmartPhone (when utilized properly) is the greatest gadget I own for managing my life.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but too much absence will make the heart sick.

All of life's difficult moments are much more tolerable when you have a dog by your side.

Student deaths are tragic under any circumstance, but losing a student with whom you developed a good relationship is like losing a family member.

Sometimes you're the only Jesus a student will see all day.
(Lesson courtesy of Elizabeth from www.emyselfandi.com)

There is no substitution for the euphoria I feel when eating awesome food.

I'm really bad at keeping friends, but the ones worth having stick around for the long haul.

I am an introvert and my life makes a lot more sense now.

Short hair is the way to go and, even though my husband would love it if I did, I'm not sure I'll ever grow it out again.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but I'd still rather not be a squeaky wheel.

You're a lot happier when you are doing things you love. (Duh.)

When I start taking myself too seriously, I get unhappy.

Retail therapy works wonders.

Unfinished business weighs heavily on a person and should be taken care of ASAP.

There is a lot of political b.s. in public education, but it's pretty easy to ignore it when your focus is on the students.

Tea > Coffee

God is in the rain.

What did you learn in 2013?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Turning Up the Heat Part 2: ...Pour in the Bubble Bath, Have a Glass of Wine, and Breathe

On Wednesday I shared with you guys this post about what it felt like to have to heat turned up. I consider myself someone who works well under pressure, but the kind of pressure that was going on then (and continues on even now) was really fracturing my overall well-being. I was stressing about things that ultimately don't matter, ignoring the things that do matter (ummm... my sanity?), and generally falling apart. When I shared with you guys that I was taking a break I told you that my heart wasn't at its best and that I was just all out of sorts.

A part of this did in fact have to do with my personal life. My husband, whom I respect, admire, and absolutely adore, took an excellent job opportunity that resulted in great work experience for him (he's an electrical engineer and this is work in the field), a little padding in our bank account (that will hopefully be applied to a house next spring), and a lot of time away from home (which has been hellish for both of us). I can't tell you how much more I respect military husbands/wives and other work widow(er)s who are home while their significant other is away. It's taken a lot of work on both of our parts to adjust to this big change, so that has been rather stressful.

As discussed in my previous post, though, the majority of my recent sadness (I don't want to throw around the word "depression" because I don't think it is a term that should be used lightly, but I do wonder if that's what it was...) was coming from my workplace. Those of you who teach (and I think that is the vast majority of my readership) know how much your profession infiltrates your life. Your entire life. Being a teacher is not just my occupation; it is a part of my identity. My school building is my second home. (Some of my students were astonished to discover that I have a hairbrush, deodorant, makeup, a set of clean clothing, dry shampoo, a manicure set, and various other toiletries stashed in one of my cabinets... but I have to! I live there for 10-12 hours a day, 5 days a week!) I've often joked with my theatre kids that, while my husband is away, the stage and the classroom are my paramours.

Needless to say, when you fall out of love with teaching, it brings a lot of unhappiness to your life. And that's where I've been.

Despite the intimacy of this (because these are not things I normally share with others, let alone with the internet), I'm telling you this, dear readers, because I want you to know how I got myself out of this predicament. I want to leave this little breadcrumb trail in the hopes that, should you ever get lost, it will help you find your way back out.

1. Avoid the poison. The poison is negativity. Avoid it like the plague. I've written in the past about how you might consider avoiding teachers' lounges and such places because they are often the hatching grounds of pessimism, rumors, and mutiny. I don't know why I did it, but for some reason I felt drawn towards the poison while I was at my lowest. It was like we had a common enemy and I felt like there was someone who would understand. Guess what? That negativity doesn't accomplish shit. It just makes you feel worse. Suddenly you find yourself dwelling on every awful thing that ever happened in your career as an educator. It's ugly and it's not worth it.

2. Teach what makes you happiest. If I asked you what your happiest times in your classroom are like, I'm sure you could tell me. We know what we most enjoy in our classrooms, and we know what we detest the most. I detest prepping for standardized tests. You know, it's different if I'm prepping them for a unit assessment. I like that. I love our test review days because they feel productive. Let's use the trite old metaphorical mountain. We know we're trying to get to the top of the mountain. We can see the top of the mountain, and we can see the path to the top. I let the students lead the way as we climb the mountain together and I help them out when they get stuck. Sometimes I'm able to look ahead and see part of the path that's going to give them problems and I can say, "Hey, watch out for that really narrow ledge there. You're going to have to take that nice and easy." Then we all make it to the top of the mountain and we celebrate with candy with positive praise. That's how normal test prep works. Prepping for a state standardized test? Well, first we put beer goggles on the students... not the kind that makes everything look sexy, because multiple choice questions aren't sexy... the kind that impairs you like you've been drinking too much. So those first, because the world of standardized testing is totally skewed. Then, I get to wear a blindfold because, quite frankly, I'm going in blind. The damn test is so different from year to year that I really don't know which path is the best one to take. Then we all hold hands and I lead the way and I drag them up the side of the mountain. Oh, did I mention the mountain is the size of Mt. Everest so we can't see the top? Or that it's spewing lava?! Or that it is on Venus?!?! Yeah, that's a state standardized test.

What I'm trying to get it (in a totally roundabout kind of way) is that prepping for standardized tests IS NOT FUN FOR ME. At all. So, while I was in my funk, I had to do the things that made me happy. So we read a novel and did a WWII/Holocaust unit because, even though the Holocaust was an extremely sad and horrible thing, it was more enjoyable for my students and myself to study the Holocaust than it was to stare at more multiple choice questions. Oh, and a funny thing happened on the way to the forum... while we were studying our novel unit, my students learned literary terms that I guaran-freaking-tee will be on the test. I think. Okay, you know, it's a state test so maybe not... but maybe. So it's like we did test prep... but we weren't up to our armpits in lava and we weren't breathing in noxious gases from Venus's atmosphere.

(That, my friends, was waaaay too long. More of an allegorical mountain than a metaphorical one... But I'm keeping it. If you made it this far, I salute you. Just reading that was probably like climbing a mountain.)

3. Find a little spot of sanity in the insanity. I did a stupid thing (academically speaking) during my third semester of college. I was very close to wrapping up all of my gen ed classes so I stuffed as many of them as I could into one semester. I did not take a single class that made me happy. I took... math. And physics. And biology. And all those other classes that make English majors like myself want to crawl in a hole and die. It was awful. That was by far my worst semester of college. From that point on, I vowed to take one "sanity class" a semester. Best. Idea. Ever. I would recommend that to any college student, and now I recommend it to you. Find something that keeps you sane while you teach and hold onto it for dear life. During this horribly sad time in my life, the only thing that kept me sane was theatre and, more importantly, my theatre students. It was the same way at School #1. That extracurricular activity, despite being extremely demanding (and you have no idea how demanding it is unless you coach/direct an art), was/is the spot of sanity in my day. I always look forward to theatre practice after school each day. Find your sanity spot.

4. Don't get stuck in a rut. I did that too. For a couple of weeks my days were very "wash, rinse, dry, repeat." Once I realized I was in that rut, I started doing little things to get out of it. I drove a different way to work. I sat outside for lunch one day. I worked in the auditeria during my prep instead of in my classroom. In the evenings I watched a couple of movies I had been wanting to see. It's amazing what little changes like that can do for your overall morale.

5. Be meaningful. This Huffington Post article refers to this Ted Talk when it mentions there are three different kinds of happy lives. The happiest living, according to this, is when we lead a combined life of engagement and life of meaning. We are at our happiest when we are engaged (working) and we are using our strengths in the service of something larger than ourselves (meaning). I'm pretty sure that's the definition of teaching right there. According to this, teachers ought to be the happiest people around (obviously there are many factors that contribute to unhappiness in our profession, but we already know what those are). I think one of the reasons I felt so out of sorts is that turning up the flame under my ass to get those amazing test scores was sucking all of the meaning out of my work. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I basically had to put on my big girl panties, push my woes to the side, and remember why I teach and for whom I am teaching. And that's my students.

It isn't fair to them when I'm unhappy at my work. It isn't fair to me when I'm unhappy at my work. So I started kicking it old school. I went into my classroom, I shut the damn door, and I taught. The students led the discussion. The students asked meaningful questions. The students learned. I was merely a guide, and that's what I've wanted all along in my classroom.

I firmly believe that you can teach yourself into a happier classroom existence. I think that sometimes we forget our own power. My husband and I have talked about this a lot. Happiness is a state of mind. You choose happiness. We have the power to choose how we want to look at things. So for now, despite all of the negativity, despite the junk funneling down from the higher powers in the public education system, I am choosing to teach and I am choosing to do it with a smile on my face.

"Happiness is a state of mind, a choice, a way of living; it is not something to be achieved, it is something to be experienced." - Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Turning Up the Heat Part 1: When Life Puts You in Hot Water...

First, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all of my fine readers who supported me during my absence. Your emails were touching and restorative. I assure you that I will respond to each and every one of you.

I've been gone for a while, and I've been "gone" in multiple ways. Gone from the blog, gone from myself, gone from teaching... just gone. To say I was in "a funk" would be a gross understatement (ha... pun on "funk" and "gross" not originally intended, but my subconscious is a sly bastard, so I'll take it!).

I started this school year with a fire under my ass, and it was burning hot. That fire looked something like this.

Now understand this: this fire has been burning beneath me as long as I've been an educator. I graduated from college in 2010. From my understanding, that's about the time the fire started getting good and hot. For a while, I didn't really feel the burn. Or maybe I did feel the burn, but it was disguised as something else.

After the honeymoon period was over this year (I guess about four weeks into the school year), it started getting very, very hot. I started sweating under the collar a bit. After three years of sitting at a simmer, I finally felt myself coming to a boil.

Why was I feeling the heat all of a sudden? After much consideration, I believe that the heat got turned up in the following ways.

  • I was given the majority (and by no small percentage) of the high-pressure English 10 kids. The numbers were a bit more evenly distributed last year, so the weight was spread around better.
  • I'm just going to say it. Those high-pressure English 10 kids, for various reasons, aren't where they should be right now academically, mentally, or socially. They are a very challenging group. Now don't get me wrong... if you put them in my classroom, they are my kids and I will do my very best. I'm not angry that these students are mine. In the words of Helga Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot and treat them just the same."* But they do present their own unique challenges.
  • My "target class period" only consists of eleven students. That means that I have to ensure that eight of them pass the state assessment in order to be considered "effective." It's just not in me to be satisfied with "effective." I want to be "highly effective" and, damn it, I'm capable of that! I just can't quite wrap my brain around how their scores can be an absolute judgment of my abilities. I think every teacher in the world uses this mantra sometimes to help them sleep at night: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
  • I'm freaked out by this target class period business (known as our SLO class). I might have a small touch of PTSD after last year's SLO class disaster.
  • As a result of all of this stress about my English 10 classes, I started doing benchmarks and test prep right away. Anyone who tells you that they just love test prep is either a saint or a damned liar. Nothing will make a teacher (who loves her content matter and her students) go crazy faster than test prep. It is tedious, mindless, and outright boring for the teacher; it feels tedious, mindless, outright boring, and totally useless to students. Guess who's having fun? Not a damn one of us.
  • A friend and mentor of mine is a wonderful teacher. Her students like her, she's great with her content, and she is passionate about what she does. She is a born teacher. Her students generally score well on tests. As a punishment result, she now only teaches test prep classes all day long. And she's burning out. And I think she'll quit her profession within the next two years. I don't want this to happen to me! I don't want them to take away my favorite courses in favor of making me test prep all day. (NOTE: this has not been suggested to me in any way at all at this time... I was am prematurely panicking.)
  • Lately I feel like I'm just shouting into the wind. (There are lots of little things kind of like this that I'm just not at liberty to discuss in a public place like this.)
  • In a completely unrelated manner, my personal life got turned upside down a bit at this same time. (Everything is okay.) Home, which was normally a salve for my burns, wasn't quite the same and wasn't nearly so soothing.
By the middle of September, I found myself waking up with that old familiar stomach ache, the same one that plagued me at School #1 during my horrid first year of teaching. I started oversleeping again. I got out of the habit of keeping my prep work ahead of schedule. I found myself smiling less. I developed an absolutely God-awful ache in my TMJ (temporomandibular joint) from clenching my teeth (a very bad stress habit of mine). I was in an extremely unhealthy spiral. For the first time in my life, I wondered if I needed medical help. I am strictly against the flippant use of pharmaceuticals and I will always favor a natural remedy over putting some kind of drug in my body. But I just couldn't figure out how to make myself happy again.

The only thing that was keeping me sane was my motley crew of theatre kids. Those kids saved me and they don't even know it. More on them another time, perhaps.

Whether you just found this blog during your Pinterprising efforts or you've been a long-time reader, you should by now know this about me: I love teaching. I love my content area. I love my students. I love my grade level. I love my building (most of the time). I want to see my students succeed, not just on the test, but in life. I don't like to spread the negativity of teaching because it just seems so futile. We're all shouting, and we aren't getting anywhere fast with it.

So why in the world, you might ask, would I be sharing this with you? In a place that fosters passion, creative thinking, and devotion in teachers, why would I share with you how "turning up the heat" completely destroyed me over the last several weeks?

Because I need you to learn from where I've just been.

More to come.

*Why yes, I did just quote a fictitious deceased educator from the Harry Potter series that the readers never actually meet, didn't I?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dear Students, Never feel like you have to be Miley Cyrus.

Dear Students,

Never feel like you have to be Miley Cyrus. You can be so much more than this.

You guys are all on your own journeys through life. It is yours and yours alone. Your journey will take you through twists and turns, through storms and sunshine, to the most beautiful highs and the most desperate lows. The journey is yours, and I urge you to make it yours. I encourage you to take chances, to not fear failure, to love deeply, and to live happily. More importantly, though, I urge you to take paths that will lead to a better you, and to never give up your self-respect. I'm a firm believer that you cannot possibly love others well until you love yourself well.

While I agree that she has certainly taken a risk, and I agree that she is an adult and can make her own decisions, Miss Cyrus's recent VMA extravaganza proves to me, if nothing else, that she does not have much respect left for herself or her art. While there are always those who disagree, I do think that Miley Cyrus has talent, but I also think that, at least at this point in her life, she is choosing to waste it. Miley is not doing a novel thing here; her behavior is reminiscent of a small child willing to do anything to get an ounce of attention. If her goal was to just get people to talk about her, she's done that, but what a sad, sad thing for a twenty-year-old girl to reach out for all of this negative attention. I honestly don't think I've read or heard a single positive thing about this fiasco.

So, let's talk about you. You are amazing people with bright futures ahead of you, but you need to invest in that bright future. You have the potential to change the world, but you don't need a trashy cry for help to do it. Miley Cyrus should not be a role model for you. She isn't being edgy, or tough, or sexy, or a total badass. Hell, she isn't even behaving much like an adult. She's just dying for the spotlight, and she'll get it however she can. A certain foam finger has proven that.

You might know people who behave this way, who will do anything, who will give up anything, just to be the center of attention. There will be girls out there who want to model themselves after Miley, down to the tongue hanging out and the ill-fitting nude two-piece. Girls, resist. Remember what it means to be a strong woman, not a trashy chick with no self-respect. There will be guys out there who will talk about how smokin' hot it is for girls to be overtly sexual, who will talk about wanting "a piece of that." Guys, resist. Remember what it means to be a strong man, not a pathetic jerk who dehumanizes women.

Seriously, it's about self respect. It's about loving yourself and taking care of yourself. I can't imagine that Miley Cyrus is feeling a whole lot of love right now, and it's because she doesn't love herself enough to make good choices.

Want to respect a celebrity? Respect Adele. She doesn't feel the need to take off her clothes or do outrageous gimmicks to earn our love. She's classy. She loves herself, her body, and her art, and that's what people love about her.


Respect Neil Patrick Harris, who is perfectly comfortable in his own skin and proves it every time he walks out the door with his partner, David Burtka, and his beautiful children.

Respect Matt Damon, because that guy respects teachers and he's not backing down on what he believes!

Respect Natalie Portman, an actress who embraces her intelligence. She published a research paper in a scientific journal in 2002 while at Harvard, for Pete's sake!


And respect Ashton Kutcher, because that guy had some wise words for teenagers like you during his acceptance speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards (skip ahead to 1:35 to avoid listening to screaming teenage girls).

If you want to be "sexy" you don't have to twerk onstage. You don't have to prance around in a ridiculous costume. You don't have be so disgusting that the entire Smith family is revolted while watching you.

Will Smith and his kids watching Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. Classic Fresh Prince of Bel Air right there.

You just have to be really smart. And you have to respect yourself.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Quick Note About 2013-2014 Calendar Pack

Hey Guys,
It was brought to my attention that the Word version of my free 2013-2014 calendar pack was messed up. I double-checked and realized that the font change (I used a specialty font when I created it) caused some of the dates to be messed up. I sincerely apologize for that. The 2013-2014 calendar is still available, but until I can figure out that issue, it is only available in PDF form. Everything should look correct that way. You can download the calendar and many other free templates by clicking the "Free Templates for You!" tab at the top of this webpage. Thanks to Jillian for letting me know about this issue!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

First Week Back and August Giveaway!

Hey guys! I'm finally back after a whirlwind first week back to school. There are all kinds of things at home I should be doing, but I need this day to recharge. I love getting back into my routine, but the adjustment from summer life to normal life usually takes a little while. I thought it might be entertaining at the least (and helpful at best) to share with you guys the things that I did right to start off my school year and the little failures I had as well.

Let's start with the fun stuff... the failures. :P

  • I definitely did not buy enough groceries to make my lunches for the week. I don't know what I was thinking! By Friday, I was eating a granola bar for lunch.
  • I went to bed late Monday night. Tuesday we had professional development and meetings... for five hours. Guess who probably wasn't as alert as she should have been? This girl right here.
  • I completely forgot to have my students say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning this week. I'm going to have to assign a kid to be our Pledge leader, because Mrs. Richardson is obviously not capable of remembering this daily detail.
  • I wore a sleeveless dress and a cute bright green cardigan on the first day of school. It was not only a very cute outfit that actually showed a bit of my personality, but it also looked very classy and professional. Sounds like a good thing, yes? Okay, my classroom, for the first time in history, was a million freakin' degrees on the first day of school. So guess who had to wear her cardigan all day long in the swampy environment of her classroom because she was wearing a sleeveless dress? That would be me... the one with a serious case of swamp boob by the end of the day. (too much information?)
  • I wore high heels on Friday. I don't usually wear heels to work, and I should have known better than to wear them during the first week, because I'm not quite used to being on my feet all day long again. I feel like I should clarify why I decided this. A few weeks ago I got a pixie haircut (which, by the way, is maybe the best decision I've ever made regarding my hair). It's super cute, but you really have to dress up a pixie haircut to maintain a certain sense of femininity. Friday, I wore my staff polo shirt (black) and khaki slacks. With my androgynous outfit and my black-framed glasses, I was sporting a not-so-feminine look that I didn't want to work with so early in the school year. I decided to class up my outfit with dangly silver earrings and the heels. The earrings were a yes. The heels led to a day of blisters and band-aids.
  • I didn't do my homework about Edmodo. Have you guys heard of Edmodo? It's a classroom website/network and I got super excited about it and I just jumped right in face first and set up my Edmodo classrooms and thought this was going to be the best thing since sliced bread to ever happen to my classroom. (This is extremely uncharacteristic of me, by the way. I'm the person who will deliberate for twenty minutes over which brand of cheese I should buy. I did research for four weeks before deciding to cut off my hair. I'm in the midst of deciding if I'm going to buy this cute pair of boots I saw in the store three weeks ago.) It turns out that our school computers hate Edmodo, approximately 30%(!!!) of my students don't have internet or computer access at home, and a teacher in the building had major issues with Edmodo in the past and apparently the "next big thing" is called My Big Campus. I've already been fielding parent phone calls over this whole thing. Tell you what, I'm about over the whole virtual classroom craze at this point, and I love virtual worlds! I blog, for Pete's sake! But seriously, this is dumb. Just let me teach in my classroom. Amen.
Now for the things that make me proud... the things I actually did right!
  • I made all of my copies for the first two weeks of school before we started back. I spent a ton of time in my classroom over the last several weeks and, even though I was banging my head against the copy machine a couple weeks ago, I did not have to make any last minute copies. This is a major success in my book.
  • I did my usual first day of school seating arrangement, and it worked like a charm. This year was the a record for me... fastest time taking attendance on the first day.
  • I let the kids pick their seats (for now) and instead of passing around the chart and letting them write their names in the correct spot, I took the time to make eye contact with each kid, look at their face, and write their names down on the seating chart. This is already helping me learn their names faster.
  • I'm going to tentatively say that my new Writer's Workshop program this year will be a success. I'm already seeing good signs. (I pinkie promise I will write about this very, very soon.)
  • My room is a well-oiled machine, better than ever before. It was so easy to maneuver around my classroom! I knew exactly where everything was, the layout of the room is comfortable, and it's generally just a pretty happy room to be in. I'm very pleased with my classroom at this point (exceptforthebackcabinetsbutIdontwannatalkaboutit).
  • I have the entire 1st quarter of the school year planned down to the day. My Friday prep for the upcoming week was exceptionally easy yesterday. Boo yah!
  • I arrived to school early every day this week. This, my friends, is a major accomplishment.
  • I ate breakfast every day except Wednesday, and that's because I had the first-day-of-school jitters. (Do you guys still get those??)
  • I have been much more sociable than usual with my coworkers, which is a big deal for this introvert.
  • I did not spill any food or drink on myself at work this week. Not even once. It's sad that I'm proud of this.

I think the year is off to a great start! I'm already particularly excited about the group of freshmen I have this year. They are enthusiastic, creative, and chatty. That's the way I like 'em!

And now for the giveaway!

Even though I'm back at it, lots of you lucky readers still have summer left! I've got a giveaway for August, and it's something a little different. For those of you who are still preparing for your school year, why don't you class things up a notch with some unique items from Etsy? Let me show you some Etsy finds for teachers that I'm loving right now.

Adhesive Chalkboards
Monthly Calendar Chalkboard Wall Decal

Classroom Sign

Teachers Plant Seeds That Grow Forever

Personalized Teacher Notepads

Hall Passes

Customized Teacher Stamps

Coffee Lovers Unite - Caffeine Molecule Tote Bag

Monogrammed Canvas Tote Bag

Custom Name Notebook

I don't know about you guys,but I would love to have every single one of these items, and tons of others! (Y'know, in case you are someone who wants to give me things. I hope my husband reads this...) 

A $25 Etsy Gift Card
You are on your way to adding some class to your class!

Your name can be entered twice in this giveaway!
Ways to Enter:
1. Leave a blog post comment telling us your funniest teaching moment.
2. Create a Facebook status including #EatWriteTeach. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.)

Convinced yet? Join the giveaway fun!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck and happy teaching!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Year's Eve


My 2013-2014 school year officially begins tomorrow, which makes today the real New Year's Eve. I've been partying it up today, too. I slept in late, didn't work out this morning, I'm wearing blue jeans and Chuck Taylor knock-offs, I drank a soda with lunch, and I'm not planning on doing anything school-related for the rest of the day. I probably won't stay up until midnight tonight, but maybe I'll drink a glass of bourbon bubbly chocolate milk before calling it a night at 10:30.

Back in January, I shared my 13 for '13, which were my thirteen resolutions for 2013 (most of which are going fairly well, I'm pleased to say). Any teacher knows, though, that the beginning of the school year is the real time for change, so I want to share my School Year Resolutions with you. Some of these are old standbys that I try to live by daily, while some of these are things I'm really going to have to push myself to do.

To those of you who use PicMonkey for your photo editing needs, they now have a school theme!

1. Have some form of breakfast every single day.
2. No working during lunch break. This must be a time to recharge.
3. Avoid making copies frantically five minutes before class starts.
4. Arrive to work no later than 7:45 each day (I'm required to be there by 8:00).
5. It's okay to be busy, but it is not okay to burn your candle at both ends. I will try to better balance my work life with my outside-of-work life.
6. Turn in your attendance! (I'm notoriously terrible at remembering this, and that's not good.)
7. Make the most out of every single day and every single class period.
8. Become a bigger part of school culture. Attend more events (but don't risk breaking resolution #5).
9. Smile often and maintain a high level of enthusiasm.
10. Be tough as nails the first couple of weeks of school, then ease up later.
11. Avoid negativity in the building!
12. Be a game-changer for students. Empathize with them, advocate for them, and make them feel important every day.
13. Just breathe and eat that elephant one bite at a time.

Do you have any resolutions for your upcoming school year? What will you be working on?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Screen Capture for Windows: A Quick Tutorial

I'm a visual learner, so I also tend to be a pretty visual teacher. I had a comment from Renaissance Teacher on my Pacing Guides post asking me about screen capturing. This is one of those little computer tricks that is extremely simple and comes in handy a lot more often than you would think! Here's just a quick little tutorial (with pictures) about screen capturing.

Screen capturing (also known as "printing your screen") is a quick little trick that basically takes a picture of everything that is on your screen. You can then paste that picture into a Word document or wherever. Here is an exact screen capture of what I'm doing right now.

A little Pinterest, a little Facebook... that's pretty much what my tabs always look like. :)

As you can see, it's a picture of my computer, including the tabs at the top and the bar at the bottom.

As I shared in my last post, I use this little screen capture tool to help make my pacing guides. I start by opening the PDF document of our school corporation calendar. I zoom in or out on the screen to best display what I want to capture, and then I hit the Prnt Scrn key on my computer keyboard. You will likely be able to find this button somewhere above or around your Backspace key.

On a desktop computer keyboard
On a laptop computer keyboard (it will be somewhere in this vicinity)
Now, open up a Word document and click Paste (or Ctrl + V). Your screen shot should appear in your document.

Yeah, I still have Word 2007 on my laptop. Don't judge me.

Ta-da! You have a picture of your screen, and you can manipulate it like a picture. The first thing I always do when manipulating a picture in Word is to change the text wrapping. Double-click the picture, find the icon of the little dog on the horizontal striped background (labeled Text Wrapping) and choose In Front of Text for the most flexibility.

Once I've done that, I crop the picture. Choose the Crop tool and drag the sides and corners to cut off pieces of the picture.

Now that I've got half of the calendar like I want it, I can plug it into my pacing guide!

Yay, screen capture! Seriously, one of my favorite tools on a computer. :)

Update - My friend Ronnie just pointed out that Windows also has a snipping tool. I knew this was available on Macs, but I didn't realize it was also on PC. Just search for "snip" on your PC and you'll likely find it. Definitely a lot easier than all this mess! Thanks, Ronnie. :)

Let me know what other little tricks you guys would like to learn! I'll see what I can come up with for you.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pacing Guides

Besides my golden rule (ask for help!), the best piece of advice I could give a new teacher (or veteran!) would be to make a pacing guide/course calendar. I didn't create a pacing guide my first year of teaching (and you can see how well that went for me here), but I've done it ever since. Your year will run so smoothly with a flexible pacing guide.

The idea of planning out your entire school year can seem extremely overwhelming at first, but I think I've got a system figured out that really can save a teacher a whole lot of trouble. I thought I'd share that with you today. :)

Keep in mind, we will have to create a pacing guide for each unique course we teach. I am blessed to only have two preps, but I did have to do this entire process twice. So yeah.

You Will Need:

  • a school calendar
  • several sheets of notebook paper and pens in multiple colors (trust me on the colors thing... you'll see why)
  • your textbooks/course novels

Step 1: Mind Map the Shiz Out of Your Class
Do you know Mr. Weinstein? Me neither. But I do know his methods, and I do know they work. He has greatly inspired my new writers' workshop this year (coming soon to a blog post near you). He's a big believer in mind maps. It's like web organizing on high fructose corn syrup. Anyway, you'll want to sit down with a sheet of paper and write your course name in the middle. Then you go to town, mapping out the course as much as you can. This is where the colors come in. In Language Arts, we have five major content areas we cover: fiction, non-fiction, conventions/grammar, writing, and vocabulary development. I assigned a color to each one of these areas while mind-mapping, and I started with five branches. Then I started to build each branch by plugging in my unit ideas, short stories, writing pieces, etc. It's easier if I just show you the picture.

Step 2: Time Management
Once you've mind-mapped your class, you will need to clearly define your units. I think about ten units a year is a good goal, if you tend to do 12-20 day units. (Tip: don't think about your units in weeks because that gets skewed. Your school "week" only has five days, and you've also got holidays and other breaks thrown in there. Think days.) Chunk up your map into units (you've probably done some of this without even thinking about it) and start figuring out the number of days your units will need. Once you've done this step, you're ready to start prioritizing units and listing them chronologically.

Step 3: Plug It Into Your Calendar
The picture above shows this next step too. Once you've got your units and your approximate number of days, start plugging those bad boys into your school calendar. At this point, you will probably have to make some adjustments to the number of days each unit is going to take, but that's totally okay. Be flexible. (Tip: add at least three extra days to each unit, if you can. Ultimate flexibility.) Watch out for things that can trip you up; you probably don't want to finish up the last day or two of a unit after Spring Break, for example.

Step 4: Create the Pacing Guide.
Now you can make your actual pacing guide. I just use Microsoft Word for this. I screen capture the corporation calendar and paste it into my Word document. Then I create a text box for each month and plug in my information. Again, this is so much easier to understand with a picture.

Once you've got a pacing guide established, planning is cake! I've already planned the entire 1st quarter of the year, following the pacing guide and continuing with my color-coding principles. ;) I zoom in a bit and actually broad-plan each day of the unit, like this.

Once I've got that, then I can put my more extensive plans in my Sanity Saver. This is my first full week, and it's a little weird-looking because I use my first full week of school to talk about skills.

Hopefully this is helpful and it sort of makes sense! If you've got any questions, feel free to drop those in the comments section below!

Happy It's Almost Time for School!