Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lesson #22:

Lesson #22: Choose to give:

My classroom is desperate to conclude our project through We are about $500 short and have hit a wall in donations! I'm trying to spread the word as best I can so here goes, blogosphere:

If you can donate any amount, we would be oh so grateful! You will also receive a handmade thank you card from our class as well as a picture. :-) Click here to donate and THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lesson # 21:

Lesson #21: Nurture Your Passion

I have jugglers in my brain. Juggling multiple batons and adding more constantly, and then more jugglers keep coming to see if they can juggle amongst the hundreds already there and for some reason the Circus Master (that would be me) keeps allowing this to happen.

"Sure! We could ALWAYS use more!!" says I, whilst nervously trying to maintain the jugglers already in progress. Batons keep falling and rolling on the ground and I narrowly escape tripping over several, as I run around scrambling up juggling apparati, meanwhile keeping an air of grace and dignity. And a smile. And jugglers keep chasing after rolling batons as new jugglers come to join the party all excited and fresh and ambitious, showing off their new juggling! And at a certain point I think: This can't go on forever.

This is an analogy of how my brain feels. Pretty darn crazy.

I wish I had a picture to inset here of a view of my brain and all its craziness.

Wait...I do...

My Brain. On Jugglers. Note the multiple bottles of wine in the background...a necessity.
Here's a breakdown of that analogy:

The jugglers are the many thoughts that enter my head and decide to set up camp there for a while. For example, I've recently been entertaining the idea of a summer job, one that would also nurture a passion of mine, and that is photography. So, I would like to try my hand at this hobby enters the juggler. He has a baton for each class I should be taking, another for each equipment I need to purchase to be "professional", another for books I need to read, another for contacts I need to make, another for time I need to set aside, another for money I need to save to get this going, another for artistic inspiration...and so on and so on. You probably get my drift. That's just one juggler. Some people have a couple of these going on simultaneously. Or maybe more. I don't know. All I know is that I have too many of these. Too. Many.

I literally have spent hours working towards goals such as:
1.Becoming a better photographer (ok, that one is not a silly one),
2.becoming a professional public speaker of some sorts (I was inspired last summer by my ability to give a speech at a wedding and not feel nervous. I think know it was the shots beforehand. But still, I thought of myself for the next few weeks as the next great motivational orator of America),
3.becoming a writer,
4.becoming a songwriter,
5.becoming a mosaic artist,
6.becoming a YouTube sensation: "Girl Playing Ukelele AWESOME!",
7.becoming a professional Ukelele player,
8.becoming a DJ (I'm dead serious about this...I think I can make great mixes. I always get down to my mixes. Plus, I've done some hard core Dj sessions in Best Buy sampling their equipment. I think I've got this one.)
9. opening up my own private school that is Spanish Immersion Montessori based.
10. Traveling the world and writing a blog about it. And directing a vlog about it. And sending vlog to a network and then having them pick it up to start a tv show.
11. Traveling the world to teach English.
12. Traveling the world on photo expeditions.
13. Running a marathon.
14. Joining a dance troupe (for 30-somethings...)
15. Opening up a dance studio
16. Teaching yoga
17. Getting my Phd and becoming a professor of early childhood education

This is not a list of pipe dreams folks. I truly have spent time on each of these goals (jugglers) and I keep adding more for some reason. Oh yeah, and I already have a profession. That of being a Teacher. And that takes up the most time of all.

So...what's a girl to do with all these thoughts running around?

I guess one remedy would be to write them all out. I mean, amongst all these lofty life goals I have, I also have deep, emotive thoughts trudging through it all simultaneously (these are the Circus Elephants). And each ti

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lesson #20:

Lesson #20: Don't EVER Give Up

Teaching is hard. It has been a challenge returning to it after being in the "real" world of business for two years. Teaching, like I explained in my last post, is exhausting, both mentally and physically. This is the main reason that I haven't had time for other interests, including writing in this blog.

It makes me nostalgic for my previous life, one where I showed up to work at 7:30 and left at 4:30 and did not have to take anything home with me. I did not have to be "on" all day every day and I did not have someone constantly watching me do my job and evaluating me. I did not have to stay after work late to catch up before the next day, all the while feeling like I was never truly caught up. I did not have to forgo things I enjoyed such as reading good books, attending classes FOR FUN, making art, music and writing, hanging out with friends, cooking a nice dinner, working out, running, dancing, etc.etc.etc. Basically, feeling like a human.

It was all nice. I felt very well-rounded. But one thing I missed was feeling important. My job was not as essential as being a teacher. As a teacher, I shape and mold minds and people. I introduce worlds that had previously been unknown to my group of 7-8 year-olds. My classroom does not function with the same efficacy without me there. Each day I see my kids and help them to cross from point A to point B and when they struggle I go home, I brainstorm, and I come back the next day ready with a new arsenal of ideas to help get them there. Because I'm not going to let them fall back and be left behind. Because I care about getting them all to the other side. Because teaching is important.

It's true, we don't get paid what we should. So many people like to think that teachers are overpaid, considering their summers off and Christmas holiday. But if you put together all our hours that we put in during the school year (I usually arrive at 7am and leave around 6 or 7pm). I take work home with me and sometimes end up falling asleep with papers lying all around me. Weekends end up being the same. My husband and I spent one whole weekend grading papers in time for Progress Reports. I go to REQUIRED professional development classes after school and during the summer. Not to mention the fact that the job itself is so draining. There's no time or energy for other interests. Granted, there is a bit of a break over the summer, but it is necessary for sanity. Without it there would be no way to get through an entire year and go right into the next. Teachers are still human, after all. All told, the plight of a teacher is a difficult one.

I had a feeling last night that maybe teaching isn't what I'm meant to be doing. And perhaps there are other things I could pursue. But then another side of me came back with strength and dignity and shook me, saying "Andrea! Never EVER give up!". I thought of my kids. I thought of my ideas of ways to make things better. I thought of myself and the importance of what I do. I thought of progress. And I thought of the race.

I used to run Cross Country in High School. There is something very noble about that sport. It's kind of like teaching. There's not a whole lot of glory in winning Cross Country meets. There's a lot of sweat and exhaustion and early morning training and forgoing normal teenage activities during that time of year. But every time I would start the race I got into "the zone" and nothing mattered but me and my own pace and each breath going in and out my lungs in the same rhythm with my legs moving forward, right then left, right then left, right, left, right left. And once I was in that zone nothing could take me out of it. And you get that "runner's high". And sometimes I wouldn't even want to stop once I crossed the finish line because I had entered such a steady pace. I guess you could say that's how I'm beginning to feel about teaching. I'm in the zone. I can't stop now. I can't give up. And even today I'm putting together a new set of Math Centers and I'm organizing a lesson plan to help my struggling students from last week's topic, and I'm redoing a powerpoint presentation for the fourth time to make it even more engaging and informative.

So it is with teaching, and running, and life in general. Don't EVER give up.

“I ran and ran and ran every day, and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened.”     - Wilma Rudolph

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lesson #19:

Lesson #19: Exhaustion Doth Not Beget Creativity Nor Productivity

So...I'm returning to teaching. I am excited to be back in the classroom but there is one little thing I forgot about...

The beginning of school is EXHAUSTING!!!

There are a lot of reasons why it is exhausting. I may happen to be a little more exhausted than most this time around.

Here's why...

Setting up a classroom is PHYSICALLY exhausting. There are tables to be moved, cabinets to set up, things to hang from the ceiling, boxes to unload from your car, boxes to reload back to your car. It would be wonderful to have some assistance that first week moving in.

Then there is the mental exhaustion, which I think is draining me more than anything.

I am returning to school after be gone for two years. Not only gone from teaching but gone from this town and state and school. Everyday I've been up at school to do stuff in my classroom, I've found myself seeing someone I haven't seen for two years so I have to play catch up. Then I go back into my classroom and stare at all that has to be done. Then I leave and walk around and talk to some people. Then I come back and fix the border that I had already put up because I didn't like it. Then I leave. Then I stare.

I also have never taught this grade level and I have never been departmentalized (meaning I only teach Math and Science and my classrooms rotate). I don't really know what to set up so my time in the classroom has been slightly unproductive. There are also rules about where things have to go, what things can be seen or not seen, to the left or right of the dry erase board, what tools can be used and which can not (tape is OUT!).

I have so many ideas when I sit at home and think about them but when I get to school I look around and just want to hide all my things in the cabinets and come back another day when I feel more inspired.


Another reason I am exhausted is my commute.

So, I went back to teach at the school I had been at before because I really loved all the people. They are really friendly and it gives me a sense of camaraderie. Plus I started teaching at this school so it is familiar.

BUT it is a looong way from the neighborhood my husband and I live in. We also like where we live and don't want to move near this school. The commute on a good day is now 45 minutes but in traffic it is close to an hour. And it's not a pretty commute. It is a slam on your breaks, or haul A#$, or close your eyes and cross your fingers you don't die because you have to cross 7 lanes of highway traffic to get to your exit and that's just how it is in Houston, Texas because when the speed limit says 65 it means go 85 and that'll keep you moving with the flow of traffic. Seriously. I got so used to those Pittsburgher drivers who are so slow that now I'm totally out of my element. So by the time I get up to the school I am already frazzled, my nerves are SHOT and I'm ready to go home. So yeah, that part has been exhausting too.

And finally, I am exhausted because I am, by nature, an introvert. That doesn't mean I don't like people, or I am shy, or that I get embarrassed easily (talk to my husband about that...he wishes I got embarrassed more easily). It mostly means that too much social overload can wear me out and I need space and time to rest myself alone to get my energy back. Some people don't understand what being an introvert truly means and I remember growing up falsely claiming that I was NOT one because, for some reason, in our country it is given a bad rap. Like, "Ew, you're an introvert. I'm sorry." It really just gives way to greater introspection and a different way of achieving productivity (I prefer to do work alone then share it with others and collaborate that way rather than all talking and working simultaneously as a group).

But this is a whole other blog topic....the main point here is that I am talking all day long with people and, though I love them all, at the end of the day, with my mind in a million places and physically BEAT from moving and rearranging and decorating and organizing and laminating and copying and writing and hooking up computers and...and...and...well I'm just so tired. And then I have to make my looooong commute back home. Wah wah wah.

(Cue the tiny violin)

All of this is to say that I. AM. TIRED!!!

And all the ideas I have are completely useless when you are so freaking tired.

So what can you do to overcome this???

Today I am taking a day off. I am trying not to plan anything. I'm just resting my mind and hoping that I can really crank it out next week.

Another thing I can do is take one day at a time. Think about getting things ready for Meet the Teacher. Then after that get ready for the First Day. Then start thinking about the following weeks. I know that's not what you want to be doing ideally (ideally you should not be planning day by day and trying to keep your head above water that way...ideally you should be one step ahead, ready and prepared). But that's really just how it's going to be until I get my feet wet again.

One step at a time.

by Iain Macarthur

 "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lesson #18:

Lesson #18:Make Time to Play


I was going to make this blog post about my recent professional development coursework which was heavily focused on Smartboard technology, amongst other techie type teacher solutions. 

But then I started thinking (and you know that's never safe...)

So much of our education system is focused on success, success, success at any rate. And I totally agree in working towards would I survive as a teacher if I didn't want that as an end goal? But there is an issue when the drive towards a numeric goal -say, a test score - overrides the importance of developing the person that the student is to become.

I write this now, having been through numerous courses over the past couple of days, that all made me feel a bit nervous about the numbers. Numbers that my students needed to meet,  numbers that the state requires of us, number of hours for this and that, numbers, numbers, numbers! I swear to you, my anxiety as school approaches has skyrocketed! And I'm the teacher! Think about being a student and having those pressures to perform put on you.

Fortunately there have also been many staff development opportunities that have emphasized the importance of a more holistic approach to education. I've really latched on to these training sessions and it has made me feel a bit better. My most important job in these first few weeks of school should be to create an environment that feels safe and nurturing and where the students feel valued and respected.

And where we can play.

I've noticed within myself that I do many things better when there is an element of play involved. Like when I joined a bootcamp over the summer, the days that I found myself working the hardest were days in which the instructor had us play some sort of game (usually tag related). I'm all about playing tag! (And, if you are a teacher or parent or ever have worked with kids, you know as well that tag is the ultimate game at recess. Hands down.)

So it got me thinking about how I can make difficult things (like boring math and science) into games that can be played. Let's play our way through life! Why not!

I'm not the only one focusing a lot on the benefits of play and games. I recently watched a fascinating TED Talks lecture by Jane McGonigal that discussed overcoming a difficult ordeal through the use of gaming.

It seems that creating an element of play can really bring on beneficial changes, some of them we probably never expected.

So, some ways in which I have thought about bringing play into my classroom include:

1. Mystery Hall Walker Reward - As a game- who am I watching the whole time and who gets the prize at the end? Hall walking manners are either a teacher's greatest achievement or worst nightmare. Her class is there on display for everyone to see and her classroom management skills are summed up in the entirety of those 10 minutes it takes to walk her class from the room to the cafeteria. Unfair? Yes. Reason to incentivize? Most definitely.

2. Classroom Bingo -A Bingo Board for the class is created. At the end of each day (or class period) if the class has had no more than 3 verbal warnings for staying on task, keeping voices off, good behavior, etc then they can fill in a Bingo square. As soon as they get Bingo we can have a reward of their choice which has been predetermined - pizza party, extra recess, crazy sock day, WHATEVER those crazy little minds think up.

3. Finishing a task = Dance Party Break - A good student can come up to pick which dance party break we'd like to do for 3-4 minutes if we've made it through a task.

4. Special Chair Incentive - Can be an attendance award, bringing in homework award, bringing in signed permission slip award...may end up changing each week. Basically I will have a cool looking chair- paint, glitter, crazy, tacky stuff- and the person who reaches this goal I set will get to sit in it for a whole day. Kids dig this sort of stuff. Big time. They're so funny.

5. Silent Finger Math - While waiting in the hall I can sign out addition or subtraction problems, they hold up the answers on their fingers. The first one with their fingers up with the right answer (while remaining silent) gets picked to come up and make the next math problem. I haven't actually tried this one, I kind of just thought of it right now. I am always looking for games that have an element of QUIET since there are so many times when the kids have to be quiet and it feels like torture having to tell them over and over again to USE INSIDE VOICES or PUT A BUBBLE IN THEIR MOUTH. If I were a kid I'd be sick of that too.

I'm sure there are many more elements of play that can be added to the school day, or just everyday life!

Care to share? I'm all ears!

Photo By: HeadOvMetal

"It is a happy talent to know how to play". - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, July 19, 2013

Lesson #17:

Lesson #17: Gain a New Perspective

Yesterday I got contacts. As I went through the various eye tests at the doctor’s office, it suddenly became shocking to me that I had even been getting around previously without them! The world was suddenly crispy and focused. Clarity...ahhhh! How refreshing.

That was before the breakdown. I didn’t realize taking my contacts out would turn into such an ordeal! After many unsuccessful attempts I told my eye doctor that I was afraid I was going to push my contact around to the backside of my eye ball and get it stuck there. To which she laughed and told me that it was impossible to do that.

Well...I kind of did. Sort of.

While attempting to remove the contact while at the office, I managed to roll it up into a little contacty taco and then slide it up on top of my eye ball back in the eye socket. It hurt really bad! So I inevitably began freaking out. The doctor had to get me some numbing drops and some colored liquid stuff and then, using her microscope, she went in to get that sucker. Crisis averted. Tears...not so much.

I tried again and again and again to put on then take off those freaking contacts. The taking off being the only part that was AWFUL for me (because of the whole irrational fear of it rolling back into my brain via my eye socket).

Finally I kind of caught on and I was invited to wear them home then come back in a week for a check up. So I’ve been putting them on and off (as instructed to do) and experimenting with how it makes me feel. In this discovery process, I’ve noticed that things were so hazy before. When I take my contacts off, things that are far away are just so blurry. Now, with this new, fresh, clear perspective...I almost don’t know what to think. It sounds weird, but, it kind of hurts to have this much clarity. My head is having a hard time adjusting itself to seeing so well.

I can relate to this feeling. Knowing things in all their essence, seeing the truth through the crispness and brightness of utter clarity...that stuff is intense. And sometimes painful.  But it’s important to not be content in the haziness. Life is about seeing clearly, and acting purely, and being in the light.

“Mystification is simple; clarity is the hardest thing of all.” - Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lesson #16:

Lesson # 16: You're a Teacher, So What Do You Make?