December 31, 2008

Four Seasons

It is still December (if only for today), which means that winter is far from over. If you live in Chicago, you know that our coldest months are yet to come and that our winters can stretch well into spring. Why, then, did I receive an e-mail from Old Navy advertising "New Spring Styles for the Family" today? Anyone else find this disturbing? I mean, what would I do with a lace-knit cami or mid-rise Bermudas this time of the year? Seriously!

Anyone else feel like this phenomena seems to happen earlier and earlier each year? It's along the same lines as selling Christmas decorations in October (which happened this year). Why are we always in such a hurry to get to the next thing?

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I feel like winter is practically ignored when it comes to clothing. The fall line is revealed, a couple of sweaters are added to the mix, and then the spring line is introduced. I was still waiting for the really warm stuff to be revealed. Did I miss something?

Certainly, I recognize that there are parts of the country that do not freeze over into a winter wonderland, but I feel somewhat slighted that these massive clothing chains have dismissed winter before it truly arrives. Would it really be that difficult to sell winter clothing all winter long? When I finally get sick of digging out my car in ballet flat shoes, it would be nice to walk into a store and actually find snow boots still on the shelves rather than flip flops. I'm just sayin'!

December 29, 2008

Highlights of 2008

As the new year rings in, I thought it would be fun to share some of my highlights of 2008:

1. Subbing - The 2007-2008 school year was a tough one for substitute teachers. Many districts had moved to electronic systems that no longer gave anyone preferential treatment. This is certainly better for the new subs, but for those of us who had worked our way up the ladder, this was a tough pill to swallow. Jobs I would have been guaranteed in the past were now taken by others (it is a first-come, first-serve kinda thing). I went from working 4-5 days a week to hoping for 2 (and most of those I nabbed because my friend and I cheated the system... and because he gets sick a lot). Combined with my knowledge of the upcoming weeks of zero paychecks, I was a stressed girl for a while. The good news is that I really did learn a lot from subbing. The great thing about being in so many classrooms is that I get to see so many ideas - and steal the ones that work for me! :) I also made some good friends in the process!

2. Student Teaching - In March, I began my student teaching experience. My cooperating teacher was amazing, and I feel eternally grateful for her guidance and support. I taught 7th grade language arts and social science. It was a much different experience than my subbing days. I certainly missed the paychecks, but it was awesome to be in the same classroom each day and really having an opportunity to know my students. I was challenged by the new curriculum and by learning classroom management (something that cannot be taught). I really enjoyed working with those students and came to feel like they were really my students!

3. Graduation - In June, I received my Masters of Education from DePaul University. I don't think I was very challenged by this program, but I do feel that it prepared me for the classroom (for the most part). I had some fabulous instructors and made some great friends in my program. The decision to obtain my teaching certificate was certainly the right choice for me. I think about where I might be if I had stayed in marketing, and I know I would not have the sense of accomplishment that I feel today. I needed a career where I could feel like I was making a difference. My only regret is that I didn't do this earlier!

4. Summer School - For those that don't know, I am an instructor for the summer school program at the local community college. For the past two years, I have been assigned the Freshmen English. To say the least, this is a challenge. Freshmen are the hardest students to teach for a multitude of reasons. My classroom is filled with students who failed the first (or second, or even third) time around, which should give you some insight into their attitude about English (and school in general). My challenge for the summer is to find a way to reach these students, who resent being "sentenced" to my classroom from 8-12 five days a week.

The hardest part is getting students to "buy in" - but I think that my enthusiasm is kinda contagious, so I work with that! :) Our final project for the summer was for students to prepare and present "How-To" speeches, and I was so impressed with their work. I was able to teach them so many important skills by allowing them to choose their own topics. Our last day of class was spent presenting their topics - I saw everything from skateboarding and beading to a fiesta! What a fun way to end the summer!

5. New Job - In August, was fortunate enough to start a full-time teaching job in a fabulous school district (at the same school where I student taught). With so many friends unable to find positions, I am well aware of my good fortune in avoiding that stress and landing this job in a highly-respected district. I also can't tell you how comforting it was to have all those familiar faces during my first few weeks of school (co-workers and students).

I have a great assignment teaching my 7th grade language arts. 7th grade is such a unique age because students are walking a fine line between dependence and autonomy. It's so fun to watch their personalities emerge as they learn and grow each day, and language arts is the perfect curriculum for that growth. How fortunate I am to be in a classroom where I can encourage students to express themselves through journals, stories, poetry, music - where they learn to make connections and learn from each other. I know they are challenging themselves because they challenge me - what an awesome opportunity!

I feel so blessed to be able to wake up every day with enthusiasm about my career!

6. Co-Workers - While we're on the subject, I can't talk about my new job without mentioning my amazing team. If you don't know, middle schools are set up so that the core classes (math, science, social science and language arts) take place within a team. My team is awesome - I can truly call them my friends and look forward to working with them each day. I didn't know it was possible to laugh so hard or so often at work!

7. Friends - I went through a time last year that caused me to evaluate my friendships. I started to ask myself what friendship really means and who I could truly consider a friend. I can honestly say that at this point, I feel confident in my relationships. Old friends or new, the people who are in my life are people I truly care for and know they care for me in return. After years of trials and tribulations... this is a good feeling!

Happy 2009 to you and yours!

December 28, 2008

Hostess with the Mostest!

This was my first year hosting Christmas. It was not planned, but when my poor mother came down with food poisoning, I had no choice but to step up to the plate. The good news was that I had been a part of the whole preparation process, so I knew what to expect. Mom and I had already done all of the grocery shopping and decorating in the days prior, so when she announced her plan to remain in bed all day, I was able to continue with the plans (and take care of my sick mother).

We decided on an appetizer theme for this year's menu rather than a traditional Christmas dinner. We served chicken fingers, meatballs, meat and cheese platters, shrimp, veggies and dip, pizza bites and so much more... we had plenty of food to feed a small army. Even after 16 people made their rounds (and I do mean rounds), we had plenty of leftovers!

With some assistance (my sister came early to help with the last minute items and my dad helped me clean), I was able to pull off the evening without a hitch. I only wish I had remembered to document the day with some pictures!

It was an exhausting yet wonderful day - I hope yours was just as great!

December 19, 2008

Christmas Elves

Sometimes, the best lessons happen outside of the classroom. For our December service project, our students participated in a Letters to Santa campaign. We adopted two kindergarten classes in a nearby city and our students fulfilled the Christmas wishes of each child.

They line to adopt a child stretched outside the classroom on sign-up day. Students spent days contemplating and shopping for the perfect gifts. I was overwhelmed at their generosity - and that they were sincere in their efforts to please these children.

I was fortunate enough to take a small group of children to deliver the gifts. It was such an amazing experience to stand there and watch my students act as Santa's Elves. They were so excited to watch the reactions of those little guys as they tore into their presents. The smiles on those faces and the hugs my students received were probably the best gifts they will receive this year! I was so blessed to be a witness to that experience!

A Trip to the Theatre

Each year, the entire seventh grade takes a fieldtrip to see A Christmas Carol after reading the novel. This was a highly anticipated day for our kids - they get to dress in their Sunday best, watch a wonderful stage production, and have lunch on the town. What more could a twelve-year-old want? We make it very clear to our students that a trip to the theatre is quite different than an afternoon at the movies. We talk about proper etiquette and attire for such an occasion (read: no jeans allowed). Well, this year, our students went above and beyond our expectations. The girls slept with curlers in their hair, painted their nails in shimmery Christmas colors, and donned their best dresses and high heels. The boys combed their hair (this is a feat for many), dusted off their dress shoes (or borrowed from a brother or father), and dressed in their best shirts and ties. Some even wore suits for the occasion. It looked like a middle school prom!

After a lengthy bus ride (thank you Chicago winters) our little ladies and gentlemen enjoyed a wonderful morning at the theatre followed by a leisurely lunch at Portillo’s. They were very well-behaved and even received two compliments from other patrons at the restaurant. Once again, I was a very proud teacher!

December 18, 2008

How Do You Measure Up?

Anyone else find this to be absolutely hilarious? I can only imagine how many boys will be trying these on for size (pun intended)!

December 15, 2008

Secret Santa

My coworkers have arranged a Secret Santa Exchange this week. We are supposed to leave a little something each day of the week. I don't know about you, but I love the idea of giving and receiving surprises each day - anything to brighten these dark, winter days!

My Secret Santa hit the jackpot this morning by leaving me a cute little bag of Holiday Chai mix! There is nothing I enjoy more on a cold winter morning than a hot chai tea latte. Yum!
I can already tell you that my commute will be much better tomorrow with this in my hand!

What a Dismal Day!

If you've ever read Jack London's "To Build a Fire", you might be able to get a sense of how bitterly cold it was today in Chicago. I know that Illinois isn't exactly located in the middle of an arctic tundra, but this was as close to that feeling as I ever want to feel!

I first knew it would be a rough morning when I awoke at 3:00 frigid in my bedroom. I realized immediately (from the sound of the blasting air) that my bedroom window was not locked shut, thus leaving my room more-than-comfortably exposed to the cold. I have a closet full of extra blankets, but it was even too cold to emerge from my covers to gather a down comforter. Instead, I covered my trembling body with extra pillows and willed myself back to sleep.

I woke up extra early for the day. Knowing that the roads and my car would likely be full of ice, I allowed myself plenty of time for an extended commute. However... I did not anticipate that after 25 minutes of pre-heating my car (thank you again, C for my wonderful remote starter!), my windows would still be covered in layers of ice. And my ice scraper did not help at all! I literally drove to school with no view out my rear window (even after my 50 minute commute) and only one of my windshield-washer-fluid-projector-thingies working (and of course, it was the the one on the passenger side that worked). Did I mention that it took me 15 minutes to drive 3 miles? I think I knew people in high school that could run faster than that!

How much longer until Spring break????

December 11, 2008

The Plan

About a month ago, a friend of mine celebrated her 28th birthday. I saw this declaration on her webpage, to which I replied, "She can't be 28! She's only a year older than me!" At that, my wonderful boyfriend reminded me that I will be turning 27 in a few short months.

I know that some people think I am crazy when I admit my emotional response to the realization that I am much closer to 30 than I cared to remember. You see, I had this mental list of all the things I wanted to accomplish by the time I reached that milestone. And none of these things are done!

My mom has always said that 30 is the age when a person truly becomes an adult - when people stop thinking of you as young or inexperienced in life. By my 30th birthday, I planned to be happily married to the man of my dreams with 2-3 children, a perfect home and the perfect job. Lofty dreams, I know, but I think that the overall hope was for stability and happiness.

In reality, I am unmarried, childless, living with my parents, and just starting my second career. But you know... I'm actually pretty happy with my life. Maybe it's time for a New Plan!

Quality Time

I was always a very conscientious student, but sometimes I had difficulty getting to class on time (to say that I was a social butterfly would be an extreme understatement). This was especially true for my German class. You see, Frau's classroom was the classroom furthest away from the main building, and sometimes I was simply unable to traverse the hallways before the bell. I honestly think this was the only class for which I was ever tardy.

Frau had a 3 tardy policy. Our first two were freebies, but after that, we were assigned "quality time." Yes, these were truly detentions, but there was something about spending "quality time" with our dear German teacher that was much less threatening.

As a teacher, I think I'm truly starting to understand the value of one-on-one time with my students. I already mentioned one student, in particular, but I have seen many positive changes after giving several students some "quality time." Sometimes, this means I need to pull a child after class and simply ask, "What's going on?" Sometimes they just need someone to care.

These are the moments I am reminded how much I love my job!

December 5, 2008

What Not to Wear

I was thinking today about the fashion articles online where the experts tell us what to wear and what not to wear. My favorites are the ones where they go out and take pictures of real people on the streets of a major city. Most people would be quite pleased if their faces ended up on the fashion "Do" list. Imagine, however, the horror people must feel to recognize their faces on the "Don't" list. Bad mullets, visible panty lines, extreme muffin top... think of all the possibilities!

I'm no fashionista, but I sure hope I have enough fashion sense to never see my face (or body) on such a list! (Good thing I own a full-length mirror!)

Locks of Love

I'm debating a change. For some, this type of change is rather insignificant, but I approach this change with great trepidation. I am a creature of habit. I don't really embrace change as I know I should. But I'm trying to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I'm not talking about moving across the country or buying a new car. I'm talking about a new hairstyle. Seriously. This is that much of an issue for me. I've had long hair all of my life, but now that I am approaching the end of my 20's (I know it's still a few years off, but that big 3-0 feels as though it is looming just ahead. But that's another blog for another time.), I feel that it is time that I lose my long locks. It's time to accept the fact that I am, indeed, and adult!

I admit that part of what has inspired this consideration is the fact that my hair has gotten much thinner over the years. I don't think I'm in any danger of having bald spots, but my hair is significantly thinner than it was when I was younger. I'm not sure what's causing this, but I do feel the need to accept this reality. Long, thin hair tends to look stringy, and that is not a look I desire.

This is sort of the style I'm considering (with many more layers for volume). What do you think?


Grey's Anatomy is my favorite show, but I am having a really hard time with this recent relationship between Izzie and Denny. In case the writers have forgotten, Denny is dead! I, for one, find it really creepy that Izzie is sleeping with a dead man - on a regular basis. And I find it disturbing that she prefers this over live, human contact (especially when that human contact includes Alex). Anyone else with me on this?

December 3, 2008

Special Attention

I have a student, J, who is one of seven children in his home. He's a great kid, but he can be very distracting in the classroom (imagine the loudest child you know and magnify that by ten). It isn't hard to imagine why a child from such a large family would need to adopt some attention-seeking behaviors, but he has a hard time turning that off in school.

A couple of weeks ago, J asked if he could sit with me behind my desk in a spare chair. Although this is an odd request from a middle school student, I permitted him to move. At the time, I was willing to negotiate pretty much anything to get him to stop talking and stay on task!

It's been about two weeks now, and J is still happily sharing a desk with me during his language arts classes. Because of his proximity, he is often the first student I ask to do me small favors (turn on the projector, hand out papers, etc.), and he is eager to comply with my requests.

J's behavior has dramatically improved with this new seating arrangement. I think he really relishes in having that "special attention" from me and with his added responsibilities in the classroom. It's amazing how such a small, seemingly meaningless change can sometimes have such a profound effect.