April 29, 2011

We're Moving!!!

Tom and I signed a lease today and will start moving into our townhouse tomorrow!  Eek!  Sooo excited!  Pictures to follow! 

April 26, 2011

No More Applications, Please!

I heard back about my interview today.  The principal called to tell me they were going with another candidate but it was a tough decision because they were "very impressed" with me.  I had a feeling this would happen because I heard through my contacts that no one in the district was hiring anyone with a Master's degree.  The good news is that I would have to take a significant pay cut for that job... the bad news is that I'm back to filling out these stupid applications.

Tom and I didn't get the house we loved.  We ended up having to compete with another couple who offered to pay above the asking price.  Boo!  Then, we found another townhome in the same subdivision that was for sale.  Our amazing realtor called to see if they'd be interested in renting at all.  They told us to go ahead and look and they'd talk about it if we were interested.  Once we saw it, we knew we wanted it... and then they changed their minds.  Ugh!  We looked at a few more places today.  We found one we like, but it's not in an ideal location for us.  It seems, though, that there's always something wrong.  And everything else about this place is great so we're putting in our application.  Don't let me get my hopes up!

April 21, 2011

Bully for President?

I'm not saying he isn't a successful businessman.  I'm not even saying he couldn't help turn our economy around.  But I am saying that recent actions have made me weary of the possibility that Donald Trump may run for President of the United States of America.

Not because he's a reality star.  (Though, I do have concerns about the lack of respect this would cause our nation.)
Not because of his terrible hairstyle that he's so proud of.

Not because he looks like an oopma loompa.

But because he's a bully. 

Trump publicly questioned President Obama's citizenship on The View, a topic I thought was long ago addressed.  Since then, he has received quite a bit of backlash from people with brains in the public eye.  I'm not even worried about the fact that his obsession over the birth certificate is stupid.  What concerns me, is how Trump has responded to the backlash.

He wrote a nasty letters to several writers who have published less-than appealing articles about him, including Gail Collins of the New York Times and Julie Weiner of Vanity Fair.  Apparently, even if you don't publicly denounce him, you're still the enemy if you don't support him.  After Jerry Seinfeld backed out of an upcoming appearance over the birth certificate comments, The Donald wrote another letter criticizing his television show and charity work.  Low blow! 

I feel that it's very juvenile the way he responds to criticism.  It makes me wonder how he'd react in a political campaign when people are certainly going to disagree with him.  I just think that this man has surrounded himself with yes-men and has no tolerance for any opinion that isn't like his own.  I'm not sure that's a recipe for a great leader for this nation.

April 20, 2011

Mandated School Lunch Programs

I recently came across this article about a south side Chicago Public School that has banned brown bag lunches in an effort to improve student health.  Some people are up in arms about "the government feeding our kids," but I'm willing to bet that most people who say this haven't been in school cafeterias recently.  I've done my fair share of lunch duties, and even in my upper-middle class district, there is very little that can be considered healthy about those "home-made" lunches.  Instead, I see pop, sugary juices, chips, cookies, and processed meats and cheeses.

There are way too many people in this country that do not have the education or the resources to provide proper nutrition for their kids.  No one wants to feed their kids crap, but some just don't know any other way.  Or they lack the finances to make it happen.  Others are just too busy to worry about it and turn to pre-packed snacks in an effort to make their lives easier.

And yes, I recognize that there are parents out there that make great decisions for their kids and feel it's their "rights" to pack them a lunch.  But I would ask those parents to consider the needs of the vast majority of students and what would be best for the greater good.  I'm a believer in the whole "it takes a village" mantra and think that we should be concerned with the health of all of our children, not only the ones we parent. 

To be completely fair, I share the concern that the school lunches I've seen are not much healthier.  From what I've seen (at eaten), they offer canned fruits and salads, but it's also carb-city in there: pizza, tater tots, breaded meats, pasta, rolls, nachos, etc.  And because they offer candy bars, chips, pop tarts, etc. as well, I've seen too many students make a lunch out of those things day after day.  I believe our schools really need to be dedicated to offering a nutritious menu - especially when school meals are sometimes the only meals for students on the free breakfast and lunch program.  I also think the parents who are resistant to the idea of mandated school lunches would feel much better if they knew their kids were going to be served healthy foods!  Seriously, Jamie Oliver should be welcomed into every district with open arms!  

I'm too lazy to look them up right now, but I know there have been studies about the link between school lunches and student behavior and achievement.  With little nutrition in their meals, how can we expect our kids to be in the best state for learning?  Schools that have revamped their cafeteria lunches have shown marked improvement in state assessments as well as behavior.  Why wouldn't we want that for all students?

What are your thoughts?  How would you feel if this mandated school lunch program came to your child's school?

April 18, 2011

On God and Sexuality

My education at North Park University taught me a thing or two about the Evangelical Covenant Church.  I am not claiming that I understand the denomination fully, but its position on homosexuality has been adequately documented in the 1996 Human Sexuality Resolution.  Because the ECC sees homosexuality as "sexual sin," members of the GLTB community have been shunned and silenced.

During my time at NPU, I wrote for the North Park Press and covered stories about the then newly-formed Gay-Straight Alliance on campus.  I guess I shouldn't have been shocked to learn that so many of my peers were so intolerant of this group and wanted to go so far as to deny them the right to congregate on campus.  I honestly think they believe it's possible to Pray the Gay Away, that God will save them from their "sexual sins."  From what I gather, this mentality is still very present on campus as well as in the Covenant community at large.

This is the kind of thinking that makes me angry with organized religion and why I haven't been a part of of a church for years.  It's just not in line with who I believe God to be.

This year, people in (or formally in) the Covenant community have started to take a stand by expressing the voices and opinions of the LGBT community and supporters on what I think is a fantastic blog called Coming Out Covenant. Below is an excerpt I want to share from Ralph Sturdy, a retired Covenant pastor, but really I suggest that you read his post in its entirety. In this excerpt, he has articulated my own thoughts better than I ever could:

      Do we not believe that every person is a child of God?  If one is born with a homosexual orientation, as part of their DNA, did God make a mistake? Or if a person is created with a particular orientation, does that make him/her a sinner simply because she/he has a different orientation?...

     I take the Bible very seriously. However, we tend to “pick and choose” which parts of the Bible we are going to give special emphasis. Let me illustrate. People used to think that illness was God’s punishment for the sins of the person or the person’s parents; now, we understand germ theory. We used to blame mental illness on demons; now, we understand about neurotransmitters and other biological chemicals that cause mental illness. There was a time when the Bible’s was used to support slavery. In South Africa, Apartheid, the practice of the virtual slavery of Africans, was given Biblical and theological support for many years by the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. No longer do most Christians, anywhere in the world, believe that illness is God’s punishment; mental illness is God’s wrath or that slavery is Biblically justifiable. We have moved beyond that. We understand that there are greater principals suggested in the whole message of the Bible that preclude embracing an accepted practice within first century culture. Perhaps now is a time for us to take a different path, in light of our understanding of homosexuality.

April 13, 2011

Paperwork in a Digital Age

One of the many groups I follow on Facebook is Scholastic Teachers.  I love reading the teaching tips, articles, and lesson plans they post and appreciate having a community of teachers to swap ideas with.  This afternoon, the following post appeared on the wall:

"Which areas of your classroom do you need the most help decluttering and organizing? The magazine is working a story and we'd love to tackle your problem spots!"

My jaw dropped when I saw the responses only two hours after the post first appeared.  Of 76 replies, almost every person mentioned papers - on desks and in file cabinets as being their biggest problem areas.  There were lots of comments about endless paperwork that needed to be filed and desperate requests for suggestions about how to organize handouts. 

This is just not an issue in my life.  The OCD in me would never be able to tolerate random stacks of papers in search of a home.  I like everything to have a place and everything to be in its place.  I once had a coworker ask me if I'm human because he was amazed that I didn't have stacks of paper all over my desk.  True story.  The truth is, I can't work when I'm surrounded by all that clutter, so I can completely understand the frustration these teachers are expressing!

Fellow teachers, your days of feeling overwhelmed by papers are over!  Being the organizational guru that I am, I have a couple suggestions that might help!

My first year teaching, I created a binder for each unit and used index dividers to break up the varying components.  The labels varied depending on the needs of each unit, but for the most part, they were divided as follows: vocabulary, teacher resources, student handouts, tests & quizzes, student examples.  I made sure to keep a master copy of everything in my binder (but never any "extra" copies).  During my planning time, I would just take the binder for whatever unit I was working with, and everything I needed would be right there. 

While this method worked very well for my first year (and I still think it's a great place to start if you're new to this whole organization idea), I decided to change it up for my second year.  I found myself revising my worksheets several times, and it became cumbersome to always have to remember to put the "new" master copy in my binder.  What I ended up discovering was that my digital files pretty much mirrored my unit binders, with the exception of the things that had been handed down to me and student examples.  Thankfully, the copy machine at my school doubles as a scanner, and I made it a habit to scan anything I didn't have digitally as I went through each unit.  Now, everything I have is on my computer (and backed up on an external hard drive), which means I don't have to carry around any more binders.  The only hard copies I've kept are student samples. 

This system has also come in handy when coworkers have asked me to share files because I can send them electronic copies without worrying about losing my masters.  Also, it's extremely helpful when using the SMART board because any of those electronic papers can be easily attached to a file.  Also, if you have to email assignments or attach things to a homework hotline, everything is already at your fingertips!

And I don't limit my electronic filing to only my lesson plans.  I scan just about everything I want to keep: letters of recommendation, evaluations, district information, CPDU certifications... everything!  My file cabinet is filled with stationary and other special papers rather than files I have to dig through just to find one worksheet.  It takes a little more time on the front end to actually file everything after it's scanned, but the end result has been worth it for me!

A Bit of News

I have an interview next week for a middle school language arts position for next year.  The school is in the same district where I did my long-term positions this year, and I was recommended by my old principal.  I'm trying not to get too hopeful, but I would be lying to say I'm not excited about the possibility.  There are a couple other openings I've been recommended for (in two districts) as well so hopefully, one of these will work out.  Carolyn (my friend whose maternity leave I covered) told me that our assistant principal said I interviewed really well for her position.... let's hope these new principals agree!

On a completely unrelated note, my friend Tom and I may have found the townhouse we want to rent.  It's a bit out of our desired price range, but it's the perfect location... and so darn cute.  We're going to check out some more places this weekend just to consider all our options, but I think our hearts may be sold!  I'm getting more and more excited to move out and be a real adult.  Even if it means we'll have to become super couponers to afford it!  :)

April 10, 2011

Things I Love About Today

  1. Warm weather.  I think it was 85 degrees and sunny today.  I drove with the sun roof open and all the windows down - it was that nice!  I know it's not yet here to stay, but I still enjoyed it all weekend.  It's so fun to see everyone outside enjoying the sun after a long Chicago winter.
  2. Flip flops.  Mom and I went through the extensive shoe collection in the garage this weekend, and I got rid of about 20 pairs (no joke).  And while I was at it, I busted out the flip flops and wore them all weekend long!  It was nice to be able to show off my DIY pedicure complete with shatter polish. 
  3. The swing.  For the first time in way too long, I spent a couple hours hanging out in our backyard swing (It's the best gift I ever bought someone and get to use myself!).  I love listening to the sounds of spring and feeling the warm breeze on my face.  It's so relaxing!
  4. Time to Read.   While I was lounging in that swing, I finally started a book I've been wanting to read since August: Mockingjay.  It's the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and its off to a great start.  I highly recommend this series to anyone and everyone. 
  5. Starbucks.  I sipped on a passion fruit iced tea while visiting with a friend today.  It was the perfect afternoon beverage for a day like today.
  6. Grilling out.  Nothing in the world compares to my daddy's steaks on the grill.  Nothing.  Thanks for a delicious dinner, Dad!

I wish every weekend could be this perfect!  Hope yours was as good as mine! 

April 7, 2011

Speaking of Organization...

OK… time for an actual teaching-related post. Get excited, people! (Non-teacher readers, you totally have my permission to skip this post. Or you can keep reading and mock my OCD tendencies if you prefer!)

One of (maybe the only?) good things about subbing is that I have the opportunity to steal ideas from many other teachers since I'm several classrooms each week (at least most weeks... when jobs are available). Sometimes, I take note of a classroom routine that impresses me. These are some ideas I'm totally stealing... and posting here so I can remember them when I have my own classroom again (please let this be next year!).

I am a very visual person, so it's extremely important to me that a physical space has a clear purpose. One of the things I hate about primary classrooms is that the walls, floor, ceiling – every inch of every space- is usually covered with “things.” And while I certainly recognize that these are often learning resources, it drives me crazy because I usually don’t see a rhyme or reason to most of the displays. If it were my classroom, I would group like-things together. All math displays, for example, would be on one wall, while writing would be on another (and I would need “white space” to break up these displays so my brain could process them as separate). This is often not the case, causing me to feel overwhelmed in such settings (and I imagine this is the case for many students as well).

This improves dramatically in the middle schools because most teachers only teach one or two subjects. You may recall from pictures of my old classroom that I still have designated spaces for everything – it’s just how I like things! One of my favorite spaces is my “Student Center” where I house all of the supplies my students might need: paper, pens, markers, colored pencils, scissors, glue, etc. The first idea I want to steal is for this area, and it’s the hanging organizer pictured to the right. It’s a hanging file system made of durable plastic that I will use to store extra papers, one folder for each day of the week and one for “older” papers. Prior to this, I always just had one bin full of my extra papers, but I think this is a much better (and cuter) system!

Another idea I want to steal takes one of my own to a new level. In my classroom, my students have Study Buddies to fill out Absent Sheets for them while they are away. The Study Buddy records the day’s agenda and homework, which are always posted in my classroom and collects extra handouts to create a packet for the absent student. This saves me a lot of time during the precious few minutes of a passing period when I’m otherwise stuck reviewing yesterday’s homework with students who were absent. In the classroom where I was subbing, I learned that I can make this process even easier for myself if I hand back papers to those Study Buddies as well (otherwise, they end up in a pile on my desk that I have to sort through again later). Duh! Additionally, this teacher hangs each Absent Packet on a magnetic clip on the board so she can visually see if the absent students have picked up their packets the next day. I like this much better than putting them in a bin where students forget to look.

Do any teachers out there have suggestions for other organizers or routines that make life easier?

April 5, 2011

Cleaning Out My Closet

Spring Break 2011 is officially over, though I did not get any subbing jobs yesterday or today (no complaints here... at least not until pay day comes and I see my pathetic check.).  You will be pleased to know that I survived my Boot Camp.  (Insert musical celebration courtesy of Dora and friends singing, "We did it!  We did it!  We did it!  Hooray!" - Be thankful I couldn't find a decent copy of said melody to embed in this post.)  I should also mention that Tom made it clear last night that he is not finished with me... in fact, the party has just begun.  The training continues...

On Sunday, which you may recall was my day of relaxation, I was inspired by mom to clean out my closet.  And I'm not talking Eminem style (I will now be singing this song in my head for the remainder of this post... feel free to join me), I'm talking about a good spring cleaning.  It's incredible the amount of "stuff" that accumulates over the years.  Among my findings:
  • 1 prom dress- Periwinkle was fashionable.  Need I say more?
    Isn't that satisfying???
  • 4 dance costumes- Lots of spandex, flashy colors, feathers, and sequins.  The last time I saw these was my senior year at cheerleading camp- it may have had something to do with an initiation, but I'm not sure if it would be considered hazing nowadays (back then it was just hilarious) so we'll just pretend it never happened.  And no, I will not try them on for the blog! 
  • 7 pairs of dance shoes- Ballet, lyrical, jazz, hip hop...all in multiple colors and styles. 
  • 3 book lights- Popular Easter basket and stocking stuffers? 
  • Countless stuffed animals- I filled an entire garbage bag with only stuffed animals - And in the interest of full disclosure, they were all pigs... every last one of them.  Word to the wise: If you start a collection, it will take over your life because everyone you know will buy you more! 
  • 4 bags of clothes to donate- Making my life easier for my upcoming move.  My method was this: if the item had been sitting on a hanger long enough to accumulate dust, it was time to let it go!  Seriously, this happened... more times than I care to admit.  Ew! 

After purging and donating all necessary items, I was free to re-organize my clothes.  Yes, mother... again!  I've tried many systems over the years to find what suits me best.  I know a lot of people organize their clothes by color, but that just doesn't work for me.  I prefer to organize by type: jeans, sweaters, jackets, sweatshirts, skirts, pants, tanks, long-sleeved shirts, 3/4-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts, "going out" tops, workout tops, workout bottoms, etc.  One of the things I really like about this method is how easily I can move a whole section to the back of my closet when it's out of season.  Also, I always hang the most recently worn items toward the front of its pile, so I have a visual cue of what I haven't worn in a while. 

Although this task took up the better portion of my day, the end result was totally worth the hard work.  My closet is immaculate.  The floors are bare, each item is neatly hung and places in it's proper location.  There is even "room for growth" should I need it.  I no longer need to steal hangers from my siblings each time I come upstairs with new laundry to hang.  In fact, I gave them some empty ones! 

I love the satisfaction I feel from my newly organized space.  Somehow, organizing my physical space gives me the relief of organizing my mind as well.  That's why I love it so much - and why I organize and re-organize all the time.