August 29, 2011

Zumba in the Nightclub

For any of my readers in the Chicagoland area, I wanted ask you to join us for Zumba in the nightclub at Tropix (formerly North Beach) in Downers Grove this Sunday at 6:00 PM!

The instructors for this event are none other than my fabulous roommate, Tom AKA Shakey and Zumba Jammer Lisa D. Tom and Lisa are by far my favorite instructors, and together, they make quite the dynamic duo. They bring so much energy to the dance floor and are known for their awesome choreography and music selections. Time always seems to fly by when I'm in their classes because I'm having so much fun!

This weekend is extra special because we're celebrating Tom's birthday!  Wooot!  Nothing would make him happier than to see a crowd full of happy faces dancing with him. So bring your friends, and help us celebrate!

And since Monday is a holiday, you can stick around after the event for some tasty food and drinks. Yum!

Click here to register today. Space is limited!

My Arms Feel Like Jello

Tom and I don't check our mail very often. We have a mail room across the street where all the neighbors on our side of the subdivision have to get their mail. It reminds me of college except that I never get any fun packages from my mom or grandma, and instead I find way too many bills.

Today, I was reminded why I don't like to check the mail when we received three violation notices from our HOA.
  1. We are missing a light fixture. It broke during one of the storms. Or perhaps by one of our unruly neighbors. Either way, it's broken, and I don't know where we get another one - they all match around here cuz that's what we do in Pleasantville, I guess. My neighbor suggested Menards, so it looks like we have some shopping to do before our deadline.
  2. The light bulb by our garage has burnt out. In fact, it hasn't worked since we moved in. Oops.
  3. Our lawn and garden are "unsightly." This may be because we haven't tended to either since the last time I posted about them. Excuse us for living our lives!
So, like any responsible adult, I immediately set to the yard work. Unfortunately, I realized that we have neglected both for way too long, and this is now a huge project. Have I mentioned how much I loathe this task? 

After several hours of working, my arms feel like jello from holding the weed whacker in just the right position to mow our entire lawn. A lawn that I thought was tiny. It didn't feel so tiny today.

Thank you to my friendly neighbor who came over again and showed me which things in my garden were, in fact, weeds and needed to be filled. I swear some of those things looked like plants. She's so sweet to always come over when I'm working in the yard to say hello and give me her sage advice. She always, always offers to come help me, but I know she has better things to do then tend to my neglected yard work.

I filled two bags full of weeds and decided I had enough for the day. I was a hot mess... literally. I needed another shower. A cold one. And it felt great.

I don't even want to think about how many bags we have left to fill before our yard is once again presentable. 

At least I did something productive today, right?

Back to School... Kinda

I'm back from an amazing weekend in Green Lake, Wisconsin with my roomie and friends (more on that later) and finally have some time to catch ya'll up on what I've been doing.

I spent the better part of the past two weeks helping out my dear friend, Carolyn. For those that don't know, she was my coworker last year when I taught ELL, and I did her maternity leave over the winter months. Carolyn knew she was going to have a busy summer soaking up the sun with her beautiful little boy, planning her early August wedding, and moving her classroom to a new school (again!). What she didn't plan on, though, was that she'd end up in the hospital on three separate occasions with mouth infections from dental work.  Except for the week she was in Florida for her wedding, she spent the last month of her summer in the hospital or recovering at home.

Needless to say, Carolyn needed some help with her classroom, so I was called in for reinforcement. And when the doctors ordered her to the hospital for the third time, I was on my own. Her classroom was littered with roughly 100 boxes of her supplies and old curricula (the result of too many directors in too few years), and I was tasked with making sense of those items and preparing the room for the school year.

Organizing is one of my favorite activities, but it's much harder to do this for someone else, especially when they are cut off from communication, per the doctor's orders. It's a good thing I was in her classroom last year and had at least an educated guess on what most things were and where to put them. I wanted Carolyn to be able to walk in on her first day and not feel overwhelmed. The start of the year is stressful enough without having to worry about where your things are. 

And then, when the doctors told Carolyn she'd need to be on bed rest for the first week of school, she asked me to step in and start the year for her. This meant, we assumed, going to all of teacher meetings on the days before the year began so I could take notes for her and collect any paperwork she needed. She said she spoke with the principal and that he knew I was coming. So, on Monday morning, I awoke to my alarm at 6:30 to head to the first institute day. I spent four hours in meetings about people I didn't know and things that were completely irrelevant to me, simply because I though this was the expectation. And then I spend the afternoon finishing up the setup and decoration of her classroom so it would be ready for the first day. And, I learned at the very end of the day, I was not getting paid until the students arrived. So the multiple days of work I had already put in... nada.

I wish someone at the administration level had seen her classroom before the hours I spent in there. There is no way they would've let kids come into that room on the first day. It was nearly impossible to navigate the room let alone learn in it. How can they justify not paying me for the time I spent there? It's ridiculous!

So, I took Tuesday off to rest (and attempt to regain my voice) and started again Wednesday with the students. I spent three days learning about them and trying to establish some routines and expectations. I got to see some familiar faces, which was nice for me and also for our students (who moved to this new school with the entire ESL department). I hope I made the transition easier for everyone.

Carolyn is back at school today and already called to tell me how great the classroom looks. At the end of the day, I know I made a difference for her, my friend. And that matters to me more than anything.

For me, today marks the day I begin stalking the substitute website looking for jobs. I will continue to apply for full-time positions and maternity leaves as they pop up, but they are much more sporadic now that the year has begun. This year, I'm going to concentrate on building relationships at the schools where I'm working so I can, hopefully, get my foot in the door as opportunities arise.

August 24, 2011

Oops!

Dear Bloggy Friends,

Please accept my most sincere apologies for my lack of posting recently. I've was so busy trying to soak up the end of summer, celebrating an amazing birthday in the city, attending more baby showers, flirting with boys on a dating website, upgrading my texting plan so I can keep up with my friends, fighting a cold (if that's what you call it when you lose your voice), and starting the new school year. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me for neglecting you all this time. I promise to catch you up on all the fun details very soon!

Hugs,
Miss Lichtfuss

August 15, 2011

5 Habits that Make You Fat

Today, many of my teacher friends officially went back to work after what has been the most amazing summer.  I'm sad, not only because summer, as I know it, is ending, but also because this means that I am, once again, without my own full-time teaching position for this school year.

So, instead of sitting in meetings or preparing my classroom today, I am desperately applying to jobs with the last bit of hope in me. And watching E! News because... well, because I have nothing better to do.

There was a quick segment that caught my attention about 5 Bad Habits that are Making You Fat with Clint Carter, Associate Editor of Men's Health Magazine. Here are the five habits he discusses, because it's always good to remind ourselves of the ways we sabotage our weight loss goals:

1. Eating low fat foods.  Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But those highly-processed foods usually add more sugar and carbs in place of that fat, so you're really not doing yourself any favors there. Apparently, these foods make you hungry faster too, so you just eat more later. Lame.

2. Diet soft drinks. Apparently, drinking just two per day see their waistlines increase five times faster.

3. Breadsticks.  I know... everyone loves their breadsticks. It's the main reason we love The Olive Garden so much. But they're making us fatter, ya'll! On average, each of those sucker contains about 150 calories, so if you have just two (and let's face it... we always want more), that's 300+ calories before your meal even arrives. He didn't say so, but I know this same thing applies to the chips and salsa that call my name at Mexican restaurants as well.

4. Too little or too much sleep. Six to eight hours is your goal, people. Any more or less, and you're likely to gain at least twice as much belly fat.

5. Skipping meals. We usually make up for our missed meals the next time we eat, plus more.

You're welcome. Now, go eat a cupcake cuz I don't see that anywhere on his list!  :)

August 12, 2011

The Great Facebook Debate

I don't know if anyone else follows these stories, but I read the other week that the state of Missouri has passed a law that makes it illegal for teachers to have any private communication on social networking sites.

The article peaked my interest because despite being seriously hidden, my stalker (which I say endearingly) students find me on Facebook and friend request me all the time. I've struggled with how to respond to their requests. On one hand, I love that they want to be connected with me even though I'm not their teacher anymore. On the other hand, I don't want to look unprofessional. To date, they are all sitting in Facebook Purgatory because even though I haven't accepted them, I can't bring myself to deny them either. It feels like I'm sending a message that I don't care about them outside of my classroom, and that just isn't true.

In many ways, these social networking sites are just an extension of our communities. Certainly, I wouldn't ignore my students if I saw them in a restaurant, grocery store, or walking around my neighborhood. I would stop and chat with them. I enjoy hearing about their lives. I feel a sense of responsibility for them and want to see them succeed and find happiness.

And even though I'm not friends with any of my students, they still message me all the time. In fact, the message me because I won't accept their friend requests. Yes, I have an email account where they can reach me, but the fact of the matter is that generation doesn't use email. They use Facebook.

One of the lawmakers was quoted as saying that the the motivation behind this law was to keep teachers from being predators to their students. Really? You trust us alone with them in the classroom all day every day, yet you don't trust what we might say in a private message (which, by the way, is eternally stored on the Internets)? I'm so offended!

[Yes, there are creeper teachers out there, but they are obviously not the norm. And you don't make a law like this to prevent a very small minority of people from doing something that's usually harmless.]

Our jobs as teachers shouldn't end at 3:00 just because the learning day is over. We should be positive role models and mentors to our children wherever and whenever they find us. I think it's great that there are teachers that are willing to reach out to their students on a level they appreciate and who extend themselves beyond the walls and hours of the school day to show their students they care. They're in a position to be able to model appropriate Facebook behavior, which many students can benefit from. They're making themselves available to the students that may not be comfortable approaching them in person, to those that may need a positive adult role model in their lives outside of the school.  

At the end of the day, I think it should be a teacher's right to friend whomever they want on Facebook or Twitter. I'm annoyed that state governments have the audacity to dictate whether or not I can communicate with my students. 

August 4, 2011

30 Lessons By 30

Even though I have ages until I turn 30, I was intrigued by this list posted by Erin Henry on the Huffington Post. Although I have definitely mastered some of these lessons, there are others that are a work in progress.  Good thing I have so much time until that day comes!  :)

Here's her list:

- The most important things in life are your relationships.
- The things you're afraid of letting go of are the things that hold you back from being your true self.
- Honesty is the best policy in relationships. The truth will come out eventually.
- We are all on our own unique time lines. Wherever you are on yours is exactly where you need to be. You will soon find out why.
- Being vulnerable isn't always comfortable, but it's so much easier and takes much more courage to ask for support when you need it then trying to do everything all alone.
- You must be happy being alone before you can be happy in a relationship. How do you do this? Be nicer to yourself and get to know who's in there. Learn to love the places that hurt.
- The outer expression of your life is a reflection of your inner reality
- Judging yourself gets you nowhere. The same goes for judging others.
- Forgiveness of yourself and others just makes life easier. That includes your parents. They did the best they could with what they had.
- What you admire in others, you possess somewhere inside of you.
- Personal growth, soul searching, spiritual awakenings, therapy and any other form of self-help are things to be proud of, not ashamed of.
- You are not your old issues anymore.
- Gratitude is essential.
-True friends love you equally on the best day of your life and the worst day of your life.
- You are worthy of love.
- It's not your business what other people think of you.
- Losing ten pounds won't make you any happier.
- You find out who your true friends are when you have to move.
- It is completely acceptable to put yourself $11,000 in debt if your dog needs surgery.
- The worst part about being single is having to stuff the duvet into the cover alone every time you wash it.
- Matzoh crackers and coconut water are the best cure for hangovers and the healthiest option available.
- If you consistently date men in finance and it's not working, there's a reason.
- It's 2011. If someone gives the excuse that they've lost their phone as a reason for not returning your call for a week they are lying.
- If your friends act like they are living a fairy tale life, they're lying.
-If your bed is in your kitchen, you need a bigger apartment. I don't care if you live in Manhattan.
- At 30, it's not acceptable to date men you meet on South Beach.
- If you don't have any close female friends, you're the problem not them.
- If you desperately want a man, get a dog first. You own him, snip him and put him on a leash and drag him around. The only crap in the relationship is his and you can just toss that in the trash.
- If a man asks you to feel the weight of his black credit card, RUN!
- It's easy to bash men, but they have their own struggles in life just like we do.
- When you're 30, memory loss begins to set in. We had some other good ones but I already forgot them!

August 2, 2011

The Myth of the Extraordinary Teacher

I came across this article today in the Huffington Post by Ellie Herman that I think everyone involved in Education Policy needs to read.

The article criticizes a very popular belief that reductions in class sizes will have very little effect on student performance. I, for one, think that anyone who believes this has not actually been in a classroom.

The US wants to compete with Japan and South Korea, whose class sizes are much larger than ours with better results on high-stakes tests. No one, though, talks about how the majority of of those families pay for after-school tutoring to make up for a lack of individualized attention at school. Or about how Finland, with the best scores in the world, has average class sizes in the 20s, and it caps science labs at 16.

Herman argues, "...we can't demand that teachers be excellent in conditions that preclude excellence."



Last year, I was in a middle school language arts class of 11 ELL students and a mainstream class of 37 students (including SPED). When it came to writing essays, my ELL students had one-on-one writing conferences with me up to seven or eight times. They were able to get specific, detailed feedback about every area of their writing.  I loved being able to coach each student individually in whatever areas they needed. Their needs were so diverse, but because my class was so small, I could sit down with each child multiple times to provide mini lessons and spend as much time as necessary helping them edit and revise.  The improvement from their first to final drafts was incredible. 

All of my mainstream language arts classes use rubrics (considered Best Practice) for grading that concentrate on maybe five areas for each assignment. It makes the grading process much more streamlined, which, let's face it, is necessary when you have that many papers to grade.  Conferences were very limited simply because of time restraints, though I did make it my personal goal to meet with every student at least once.  My mentor suggested that I allow my students to choose their own writing focus for our conferences. This way, she told me, they have one specific thing about which they want feedback, and it helps contain meeting to two or three minutes

How can anyone argue that this is what's best for my students?

An extraordinary teacher, any job applicant will tell you, will consider each child's learning preferences, multiple intelligences, and personal interests in addition to their academic needs. And I believe we all try; we really do. But when we have thirty-some students in teach classroom, it's next to impossible to consider all of those things in every lesson. We have no choice but to teach to the majority (or to the majorities if we are using cooperative group learning), and clearly, some students are sometimes left in the "sucks to be you" category (although no one wants to admit this) because their interests, needs, or learning modalities aren't what suits the others, and the reality is that no one has the time or energy to modify everything for that one child's needs. 

Herman declares, "I'm willing to work as hard as I can to be an excellent teacher, but as a country we have to admit that I'll never be excellent if we continue to slash education budgets and cut teachers... Until we stop that, we'll never have equal education in this country."

I couldn't agree more.

Matt Damon Speaks at SOS

This is Matt Damon's speech at the Save our Schools rally in Washington DC yesterday, and it's awesome. Yet another reason to love that man!