Category Archives: Lessons about Life

Is there an “off” switch for the teacher brain?

I don’t claim to be a “veteran” teacher.  This will be my 8th year teaching.  Yet, it seems to me that, within the past few years, I’m noticing a change in how I view everything in the world around me.  No matter what I do, my thinking seems to transport me into my classroom.  Here are a few recent situations where my classroom smacked me upside the head unexpectedly:

My munchkins and I were at Discovery World in Milwaukee (if you haven’t been there, it’s worth the trip!)  and, although the exhibits were a bit above my kids’ heads, I was fascinated with the Simple Machines portion of the museum.  I kept reading all the signs, helping my kids “play” with the hands-on machines.  And then… I was thinking of our 8th grade Science classes and how great of a field trip this would be for their Laws of Physics unit.  Wait.  Pause.  I DON’T EVEN TEACH SCIENCE! And … IT’S SUMMER!

A friend of mine recently decided to take a teaching/coordinating job in a different district.  While I am extremely happy for her, I didn’t sleep for days afterwards.  I kept thinking about how her department would change and what I would do without her to bounce ideas off of.  Wait…  IT’S SUMMER!  WHY AM I LOSING SLEEP OVER SCHOOL?

We were in the Dells recently for a little family vacation.  While I waited for my oldest to be done on his 8th trip on the go-karts with my husband, I wandered around the indoor theme park with the little guy on my hip.  I stared at the arcade games and wondered how I could help my students determine the probability of winning the jackpot on the spin-the-wheel type games.  Hold on a minute… I DON’T DO MATH!  And I’M ON VACATION!

Those who ride in my van exclusively rock out to KLOVE  because it’s one of the very few stations we can listen to. (My oldest son is a sponge for song lyrics and has literally every song the station plays committed to memory. So listening to something like Lady Gaga … not okay.)  Anyway, the station keeps sharing the stories of the immigrant children from Central America who currently sit at the Mexico-US border.  Besides the sadness this causes me that over 50% of US citizens feel no moral obligation to help these children (my thoughts on this could result in another blog post), I can’t help but think about what a fascinating story this would be for my students to use as a Running News Story (reference: Harvey Daniels … I think…).  Pause.  This is a HUMANITARIAN CRISIS, not an exciting opportunity for reading.

So I suppose I’m not sure what to do about this extra setting my brain has developed.  On one hand, it’s great to continually think of new ways to engage my students; teaching should be anything but stagnant.  On the other hand, it would be nice to turn it off once in a while.

I guess this is another example of how the real-world teacher doesn’t actually get summers off.

By the by, my next blog entry will probably be a Running News Story unit on the topic listed above… Go figure.


My Summer of Reading

Ahhh… I love summer!  Time to relax, turn a darker shade of pasty, hang out with the munchkins, and READ!  There are several books on my “done” list and several still on my “to read” list.  I’ll share my two lists and keep you up-to-date.  Also, the hyperlinks bring you to the Amazon listing and review… you know, for your convenience. 🙂

Books I’ve Read

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Okay, so please don’t throw tomatoes at me.  I enjoyed the book.  I cried and laughed. But honestly, I didn’t like it nearly as much as Looking for Alaska.  Green develops the characters well and I appreciated the humor and realness of the plot. I can definitely see why teens enjoy it and why it was turned into a movie (which, by the way, I haven’t seen…).  I just feel that it was extremely predictable.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – I’m not kidding.. this should be on everyone’s “To Read” list.  A phenomenal book about the struggle of introverts in our society to fit in and feel “normal” when extroverts clearly have the preferred personality type.  I always considered myself an extrovert, but after reading, I realized that I am a pseudo-extrovert or an amnivert (a mix of the two).  I see so many applications for me as a parent, spouse, teacher, church-goer… I can’t say enough about this book!  I am SO pumped to facilitate a book club for this book in my school district.
  • Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana – So this book was a freebie at the International Reading Association Convention this year.  I didn’t have high hopes.  But I picked it up in June… and finished it the next day.  It’s a riveting story about a 10-year-old girl’s plight to survive Hurricane Katrina and care for her 2 younger siblings after she is separated from her parents.  I bawled and I didn’t want the book to end.  Lamana is a brand-new author who, as an educator, helped orphaned/lost children after the Hurricane.  Her emotional connection to the event was clear, and I hope she writes more books.
  • Perfect by Rachel Joyce – We read this for the book club I participate in with my husband.  We’ve read some amazing books, but this wasn’t one of them.  Constant flipping between perspectives and time periods, slow character development, and very few characters that I actually liked.  But I did enjoy the discussion and snacks at our meeting. 🙂

Books I Plan to Read

YA Books

  • The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale – This is one of the books for the WI Battle of the Books competition, and I’ve been asked to write questions for it.  I’m excited for the opportunity!  Reviews are very positive and summaries have me intrigued.
  • Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth – It’s a guilty pleasure.  Don’t judge me.
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer – This was a National Book Award finalist that I bought off of Amazon.  I may not get to it, but I hope I can!
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz – This is another award winner from this year.  Unfortunately, my plans to read this were thwarted by a fire-alarm-pulling 8th grader who borrowed it before I got to read it and was suspended for the rest of the school year for her antics before I could get the book back.  Arg.  Still waiting for it from the library.

PD Books

Well, that’s all for now.  What books do YOU suggest for me?  I’d love to hear your reviews and suggestions!

Trial and Error – The Story of my Life

So lots of people have been asking me: How’s your new job?  My one-word response: busy.  (I may have substituted this with different, tiring, or weeeelllll… depending on who you are, how much time we have, or whether you’re showing signs of really wanting to listen to me or not.)  Maybe you want a more detailed response.  Maybe you don’t.  You can decide if you want to keep reading.

I really do enjoy my new job.  It’s constantly working my brain to develop new ways to meet the individual needs of my students.  I have  small class sizes AND these wonderful ladies called “interventionists” who work with me to have kids in small groups.  However, I feel this enormous pressure to succeed.  Maybe it’s because we don’t have a contract in our district and if I’m not doing a satisfactory job then it’s not too difficult to get rid of me.  Or it could just be me being my typical perfectionist self.  Or it could be that I don’t have a curriculum.  Yes, teacher friends, you read it right.  No curriculum.  Literacy standards, yes, but no defined curriculum.  Guess that’s my job to figure out.

My day is constant movement.  I’m never bored.  Ever.  So’s here is the gist of my day:

1) Prep time from 7:05-9:21.  This seems like a long time.  Do not be fooled.  During this time, I have meetings about 2 times per week.  I also have to make 15 trips to the copier because of my absent-mindedness and the copier is a 90 second walk from my classroom… one way.  Also, I have to make copies of my lesson plans and assignments for 10 people.  Not an exaggeration.  ELL teacher (who co-teaches with me and already knows the plans, but it’s good to make certain we’re on the same page), 2 interventionists (these have to be detailed because they teach with me), and 7 special ed teachers.  Lesson plans also get posted to my classroom website.  Also during this time: data entry and organization, individualized planning for classes (3 different classes x 2 groups in each class = 6 different lessons per day), coffee drinking, breakfast eating, email checking, and room organizing. Oh yea.  And Friday AM bus duty, which I’m still struggling to remember.  Have to bring my allen wrenches with me to make sure I don’t get locked out at bus duty.  Fun.

2) 6th Grade Classes: 9:24-11:01.  These kids are ANGELIC, but I’m still struggling to meet the needs of all members in this group, who are reading 2-6 grade levels below where they should be.

3) 8th Grade Classes: 11:04-12:41.  The group I thought would be the easiest has proven to be the most challenging.  (Does this have to do with Murphy’s Law?  I think it should be a new law if it doesn’t.  Goodger’s Law?)  We have an excellent strategy-based workbook to use in this class, but it has now been proverbially thrown out the window in favor of a more thematic approach centered around different essential questions and novels (including “The Skin I’m In” by Sharon Flake, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, and “We Beat the Streets”).  Here’s to hoping that these units will make the kids feel smarter than the workbooks did…

4) Lunch: 12:41-1:11.  I think this is mathematically a half-hour chunk. It certainly doesn’t feel that long.

5) 7th Grade Classes: 1:14-2:53.  They’re trying to kill me.  Honest-to-goodness.

6) After School: 2:53-4:00. Have bus duty on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays (again, still struggling to remember to go).  Cross country (for the rest of the month) is on every day but Friday.  The other days, I rush into my room, clear out anything I think I might need to do at night, and book it out of there to pick up the munchkin.


More updates to follow if exciting things occur (or if I just need to ramble on to an inanimate object such as my computer).

Mice in the Car and My New School Year Goal

Well, friends, another school year has begun.  Mine has been, let’s just say, eventful.  But I believe that my feeble brain has conceived yet another teaching analogy inspired by an unrelated part of my life.  Here it goes.

So I’m getting Mason in his car seat, trying to get a move on to attend day #5 of professional inservices when I see them: mouse poopies.  In my car.  On Mason’s seat, in my cup holders, on the dashboard, everywhere.  Do I have time to clean them out?  Of course not.  So I cringe, wipe them off of Mason’s seat, strap him in, and call my husband crying on the way to work.  Got home, vacuumed the car, Clorox wiped everything possible, and yet, later that night, more poopies.

Luckily, my husband is not cheap when it comes to things such as this. He got the pricey traps.  You know, the “no see, no touch” kind that are little pods which lure the dastardly creatures in and kill instantly?  Lo and behold, the little beast was no longer living the next morning. He had a hasty funeral that ended in the garbage can.

So here’s my analogy between the little crapper who lived in my car and teaching.  No, readers, I will not be referring to my students as “little crappers”.  Rather, I compare the unwelcome mouse to those unexpected things that come up in the classroom on a daily basis: random farting noises spread by giggling 8th grade boys who know better, a frantic secretary who calls looking for a missing student, the fourteenth message over the PA system in the last hour, the comment “but we did this last year” from students upon receiving an assignment, etc.

Are these things frustrating? ABSOLUTELY!  You’re trying so hard to keep students focused and give them the best opportunity to succeed in life through the skills they learn in your class, yet your efforts are thwarted at every turn.  But what I learned from the little mousie who thought he could conquer my car is that you can either complain about it or do something about it.  You can either become frustrated at your noisemaking students or you can make every effort to show them how to behave in a classroom and why it’s an important lesson to learn. You can either become frustrated about the calls you get or understand the importance of having secretaries so you don’t have to do all of this.  You can take your students’ complaining about already having done an activity and use it as an opportunity to teach them the value of rereading.

My goal this school year, besides the always-present goal of being SuperMom, is to take these inconveniences and DO something about them.  I spend a lot of time whining and complaining about things, but I don’t have time to do that anymore.  I HAVE to be efficient with my time and find solutions to my problems that make whatever curse I face into a blessing.

That is my rant for today.  It is time to make cookies, exercise, and shower in the next 45 minutes.  Can I do it?  YES I CAN!  Bless your weekends!