December 31, 2012

Resolutions for 2013

If I had to come up with one word that would summarize my 2012, it would be: challenging. Following my heart and moving to Louisiana has been one of the biggest risks in my life. And though I haven't enjoyed every experience here, I can say that I have learned from each and every one. And despite the challenges, I would make the same choice again to be with Joel because he's totally worth it!

In honor of the New Year, I'm participating in my very first linky party today to publicly declare my goals for 2013.

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My Resolutions

1. My big goal for school is that I'm revamping my entire classroom this semester to include daily center instruction. I am focusing on mini lessons and three rotating centers each day. This will help me give my students the small group instruction they need, but I have a lot of anxiety about the management. My students have a hard time doing anything without my direct help, so it's going to take a lot of adjusting for them to work independently at two centers. I am committed to this, though, because it's what's best for their learning. Wish me luck!

2. I am starting an account at Donor's Choose so I can ask others to donate to my classroom. For the past seven years, I've only turned to my own bank account when I needed to purchase things for my classroom. And let's face it, teachers always need things for their classrooms. As an ELA teacher, I've purchased hundreds of books for my classroom library. This year, though, my student population is very different than my students in suburban Chicago. This means I need to expand my library to allow for their interests and much lower reading levels. When you factor in my need to have four copies of each book (for book clubs), you'll see why it's a great idea that I start requesting these resources from others. There are plenty of people out there looking to donate to a worthy cause, and my classroom certainly qualifies!

3. I need to figure out what I want to do after this school year is over. At this point, Joel and I are hoping to move back to Chicago, and I'm not very optimistic about my odds of getting hired in that job market. Of course, I will try, but if I don't secure a teaching job for next year, I will need to decide if I want to sub again or try another route (Boys & Girls Club,YMCA) so I can have insurance and a steady paycheck. 

4.I haven't blogged about this at all yet, but I was diagnosed with PCOS this fall. I've been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster since my diagnosis, and I think I'm finally entering the phase of acceptance (although, I reserve the right to revert to previous stages of grief as necessary). Joel and I spent $200+ on groceries today and filled our kitchen with what my mom calls "God foods" to allow for a low-carb lifestyle. As someone who could happily live on a carb-only diet, this is quite the adjustment. I may not be happy about this, but I can't change the reality of it. I guess that makes this a forced resolution, but it's one I need to keep. If you have any good recipes, I'll taking suggestions!

5. I'm committing to starting some networking in the blog world. I need to start commenting on the teaching blogs I read and taking part in linky parties (like this one) to get my name out there. I want to participate in the education dialogue rather than just lurking in the background. I want to connect with other teacher bloggers so we can exchange stories and help each other become better teachers.

Wishing you all the best as you enter another calendar year. May it be filled with love health, wealth, love and learning!

December 30, 2012

Home Sweet Home?

I struggle with referring to our house in Baton Rouge as "home" because Chicago already has that place in my heart. But for lack of a better phrase, we're home! In less than 13 hours, I might add!

We initially intended to stay in Chicago until Wednesday since I have to be at school for professional development starting Thursday, but we decided to hit the road early for a number of reasons:

1. We weren't able to spend as much quality time with our friends as we had hoped. It's hard to make plans with friends around the holidays. Relatives are in town. People are traveling. It's a busy time of year for everyone. And normally, I am totally understanding of this. Except that it was kinda frustrating this year when I'm also in town for the holidays and want to hang out with those people who don't have time for me. I know it's not because they don't care, but it was still really disappointing since I don't know when we'll be in town again.

2. We were ready to be back in our house. We're super grateful to be able to stay with my parents when we come into town, but it's not the same as being in our own space. After a week and a half, we're both happy to sleep in our (significantly larger) bed, breathe easier (I love my doggies, but we're both super allergic to them), watch whatever we want on TV (without judgement from my father haha), and all the other little things that make each home unique.

3. It's cold in Chicago. The one benefit of living in the South is the warmer winter, and darn it, we were missing it once it started getting cold and icy!

4. I have so much school stuff to do. In the grand tradition of semester breaks, this is a time of reflection and revamping. I'm literally changing everything about how my classroom operates for this next semester (more on this to come), and I'm having quite a bit of anxiety (losing sleep over it, to be honest) about all the things I need to do to prepare for this. I have tons of planning and organizing to do to get ready for when my students come back next week, and I know I'll be more productive here where I have access to my "things" and can go to my classroom if and when necessary.

We had a great trip home, and I already miss my family. (To be completely honest, I was unexpectedly reduced to tears the second I said goodbye to my dad.) The hardest part is not knowing when we'll be back, but we're holding on to our long-term goal to move back. This is just the second half of our "adventure", right Ma?

December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012 Recap

I'm sure it goes without saying that Joel and I are loving being home for the holidays. This trip has been much more relaxing than Thanksgiving. We made very few plans for the course of our stay, which means we've spend lots of days lazing about in our comfy clothes and relishing the fact that we can sleep as late as we want.

We kept Christmas simple this year. Our festivities started at the Christmas Eve service at our family church where we do the traditional candle lighting ceremony as we sing "Silent Night" (my favorite part of the service each year) and were visited by "monks" (a group of children) who had taken a vow of silence who "sang" (by holding up signs) the "Hallelujah Chorus." It was such a fun way to kick off the holiday.

My mom decided to serve appetizers and drinks instead of a sit down meal this year, so Joel's family joined mine for some yummy treats on Christmas Day before we all headed to the movie theatre to watch Jack Reacher, which won the vote, much to my mother's dismay (she doesn't like violence).

To further simplify the holiday, we agreed not to exchange gifts, but after the movie, we went back to my parents' house for a grab bag exchange. I think Joel's family must think mine is a bunch of alcoholics after opening wine holders, cork screws, chillers, and even bottles of liquor! I mean, it's really hard to find grab bag gifts that work for both males and females of such varying ages. I guess everyone thought it was a safe bet!

After playing a few rounds of Awkward Family Photos (yes, it is a game now), we were all pretty exhausted and called it a night. Joel and I went upstairs to change into comfy clothes and never made it back downstairs. Instead, we snuggled into bed and talked about what a great day we had together.

I absolutely love that our families came together again to celebrate the holiday. That's really the only gift I need. :)

December 23, 2012

Thank You, Kaitlin Roig

For the past week, the media have been fiercely debating gun control, in light of the Sandy Hook shooting. I don't care to add to that debate today. Instead, I will say that I'm glad to see a national conversation around the importance of mental health care.

As a teacher, it hits close to home when I hear about a school shooting. I was particular touched by the story of teacher, Kaitlin Roig, who barricaded herself and her first-grade class into a bathroom and whispered to them, "I want you all to know that I love you very much." She said in interviews that she wanted those to be the last words each child heard.

What an exceptional teacher!

There are so many things that happen within a school that are out of our control. This, of course, is an extreme example, but there are so many external factors that impact what happens within our classrooms. The one thing we can control, though, is making sure all of our students know they are special, to know that they're loved.

I kept that idea in the forefront of my mind last week as we battled our way through three days of testing. It helped me keep things in perspective. The boy in the back who taps endlessly on his desk isn't being bad, he just has a lot of energy. The girls that can't stop talking during the exam are just looking to connect with each other about their excitement over the impending break.

I hugged each and every one of my students as they left the building on Wednesday. I wished them all a wonderful break (though I know, for many, it won't be anything special) and told them I loved them and would miss them. And I meant it.

And I'm choosing to come back to school in 2013 with this story, and the others just like it, in my mind. I'm going to make even more of an effort to make sure my students know that I care about them as people, not just as learners. I want them to believe they are my priority, not the administration, parents, or curriculum. None of those things matter without my students.

December 11, 2012

Today, I Made a Difference

It's crazy how an innocent conversation with a couple students about a book (in this case, Speak) can impact so much. Let me show you how...

Me: How are you liking that book, D?

D: It's good.

Me: Did you know it's a movie, too?

D: It is?

Me: Yes. With Kristin Stewart, the girl from Twilight.

D: Oh yeah! I saw that on Lifetime! It's the one where she's at a party and she's molested by the guy so she doesn't tell anyone. And then when she does, no one believes her because he's a jock, so they get mad at her.

Me: So, you mean to tell me you're halfway done reading this book, and you haven't realized yet that you already know the story?

D: (sheepishly) Yeah.

Several minutes later, a new student came over to me...

C: I think I want to read that book.

Me: What book?

C: The one D is reading.

Me: Okay, I'll write your name down, and as soon as she finishes it, you can check it out from me.

C: Okay. Because I think I can relate to it.

Me: (heart dropped) What do you mean you can relate to it?

C: I was molested by my step brother.

And this would be the moment my jaw dropped. In my seven years in schools, this is the first time I've had to deal with a situation like this. I couldn't believe how casually she dropped this secret, and I'm so proud of her for doing so. Of course, I called our school counselor immediately, and we called the girl's mother to the school so we could support the student in telling her what happened.

I've never heard a mother cry like I heard her mom today. It literally broke my heart to hear her grieving for her child. And though streams of tears, they both kept turning to me, thanking me, for helping them share this secret that's been hidden for so many years.

I know there's a long road ahead for this family, but I also know that my student will get the support she needs... all because she trusted me enough to share her secret.

Although my role was really quite small, I helped someone today. Not with an assignment or a test. But in a way that means so much more.

December 10, 2012

Shout Out

Today was pretty crappy. Most Mondays are for me, and not just because they're Mondays. I have my worst schedule of the week on Mondays and Thursdays (my schedule changes day by day) with my best class first and my worst class last, after I'm already exhausted.

Our Dean of Students is out this week for medical reasons, so students are pushing the boundaries in her absence. And let's be honest, we're getting closer and closer to Christmas break (we're done with curriculum this week, and next week is just three half days for midterms), so behavior always declines at this time of year.

After six hours in a row with students, I was DONE. I needed a break. And then I checked my email to see that I have a meeting on Friday with my principal and superintendent about my students' low exam scores. Because that's what I want to talk about right before Christmas break, right? Honestly, I'm probably more frustrated and worried than any of them. I don't have any more solutions, unless they find a way for me to sell my soul to the Devil himself.

When Joel picked me up from school, he was pretty giddy. He was like a kid in a candy shop, but I didn't know why. Until we got home, and I found the following:

1. He fixed the remote starter on my car, just in time for us to drive back to Chicago next week.
2. He scrubbed both bathrooms spotless.
3. He vacuumed the whole house.
4. He did all the dishes.
5. He fixed my broken closet door.

Am I a lucky girl or what?!

Thanks, Baby, for taking such good care of us and our home! I love you!

December 1, 2012

Observation Time

Yesterday, I met with administration to schedule my first of two formal observations (COMPASS) for the year. The score I get from these observations, along with how my students score on the state standardized test (LEAP) will determine my effectiveness as a teacher this year.

This is not my first time being formally observed, as Illinois has been doing this for the entirety of my teaching career, but it's my first time in this school, with this population. I've already told you how I don't see eye-to-eye with these folks about what "good teaching" looks like. Call me stubborn, but I'm still doing the authentic teaching thing, as opposed to skill building lessons like the rest of the school. I'm sorry, but I refuse to lower my expectations and treat these 8th graders like elementary students.

Anyway, the good news is that my mentor teacher said they're starting with the strongest teachers first (based on our informal observations earlier in the year). So... I have that going for me.

After learning that my administration wanted my first observation to happen before Christmas break (aka: within the next two weeks), my heart skipped a beat. This past week, after having Thanksgiving break, my students were out of control. Students that are normally well behaved were, all of a sudden, acting out. And students with behavioral issues were definitely testing. It was exhausting, to say the least.

I figured the behavior is only going to get progressively worse as time goes on, so I chose to get it over with on Monday. Yes, this coming Monday. And since they're usually my best behaved class (unless they're at all like they were yesterday... yikes), I asked that my inclusion class be observed. I have them first and second periods on Mondays, so I hope my biggest issue will be keeping them awake.

Wish me luck!

November 24, 2012

Everything We've Missed

This past week has been perfect. So much so that neither of us is looking forward to the trek back to Louisiana today. As I write this, we're waiting for our last load of laundry to finish so we can pack up the car and head "home," even though we don't call it that.

This whole week has been filled with lamentations from our friends and family about how much they miss us and want us to move back here. As much as we want to be in Chicago, we need to find jobs before we can justify breaking our lease and walking away from my income. We're working on it.

Thanksgiving couldn't have been better. Joel's family joined mine for the holiday, and we had a great day together. It was just awesome to have everyone together for the whole day. I'm looking forward to a repeat at Christmas.

We had all the foods we've been missing: Chicago-style pizza from Giordano's, Italian beef from Portillo's, soup and fresh bread from Panera, and, of course, all the Thanksgiving staples. Our week of gluttony is officially over, and we're going to have to eat extra healthy for the next few weeks to make up for it! But let's be honest, it was worth every single bite!

I hope you all had a fantastic holiday with your loved ones!

November 15, 2012

Where My Heart Is

Today, after school, we had a grade level meeting to discuss the students who have fallen so far off our school-wide PBIS system that they just don't care anymore. These are students who know they won't be able to attend the celebration activities (held every three weeks) because their "paycheck" balances are far too low.

For the eighth grade, we had about 25 students. Seventeen of them are mine, and the vast majority are in the same section.

Welcome to my life!

The goal of today's meeting was to set up mentor relationships with these students. Teachers were asked to select one or two students with whom they felt they had or could develop a positive rapport. We're supposed to meet with our students individually to identify two target behaviors for improvement.

The great thing is that they've given us the freedom to set our own rewards/consequences, and they're willing to support us with gift certificates and special privileges for those rewards. We also have the freedom to decide how and how often we will track the behaviors.

This... is my area. This relationship-building thing... it's what gets me out of bed every morning.

When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher gave me the advice to pick one student each year to be my "project." She told me I can't possibly save all my students, but if I work hard to significantly impact the life of just one of my students, I've done something right. Each year since then, I've had one (okay... sometimes more than one) student who's had a little more of my effort and attention than the others. Not always because I like them best (in fact, my first year, it was the opposite until our relationship developed), but because they need it.

Today, I chose not one, not two, but three students. I may have gotten a little overzealous, but to be completely honest, I had my eye on about 5 other students I would have happily snatched if no one else wanted them (which was definitely a problem with some students).

One of my girls has already been established as my project child, and she knows it. When she gets kicked out of other classes, she always comes to my room. When she gets in trouble by other teachers, she knows it means a lecture from me. I've told her on numerous occasions that I will not sit by and watch her throw away all her potential because of a bad attitude. Her mom is in prison, and I think she really needs to connect with adult females to help fill that void. I want her to realize her value now to help her make the right choices going into the future.

My other two girls are more of a problem for other teachers than me, so I snatched them up in hopes that I can help them be accountable for their actions everywhere. One of them recently convinced the entire class she's coming to Chicago with me for Thanksgiving, so we already have that little rapport going in our favor. The other, was so mad when I was out sick, she ditched my class for two days. Interestingly, those are the two girls that fought in my classroom and bruised me up in the process. Ha!

I'm actually excited about this part of my job. Is it more work? Yes. But this is the kind of work that's meaningful and even life-changing. Something I'm happy to donate my "spare time" to do.

November 11, 2012

Reality TV and Reading

My mom sent me an email today and asked me to help a family friend who was looking for suggestions of books to read with her 17 year-old daughter who doesn't like reading. Of course, I jumped on it right away and threw together a list of many of my (and my students' favorites).

In case you're wondering, here's the list I sent:

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (My post is here.)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (You can read my post about this book too.)
Marley and Me by John Grogan
Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
Seriously, I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

After looking over my list, I realized how surprised I was at the number of non-fiction books. When I was a kid, this would have been my last choice in reading, but now, I have more autobiographies on my list than fiction books. Which, of course, led me to question why that was the case.

Partially, I think it's because when we were forced to read non-fiction, it meant we were reading a textbook or a biography/autobiography on someone assigned. Usually, it was a person about whom I had very little interest, like a president or other "ancient" leader. Certainly, I would have been more interested to read about people I liked.

I'm willing to accept that some level of this interest comes with age and maturity. I know I'm much more open and interested in learning from others today than I was when I was a child. Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike was the first autobiography I read by choice, and I really pondered his perspective on life and loss.

Also, though, I wonder if there's any evidence that shows an increase in non-fiction reading since the birth and evolution of reality television. We are basically encouraged to become voyeurs by following everything about peoples' lives. And somehow, we've been convinced (I include myself in this. You know how much I love my reality trash.) that it's entertaining to know every last detail about celebrities and reality-celebrities.

I'm inclined to believe that this shift in television and magazine entertainment has helped increase my (and perhaps others') interest in non-fiction. I mean, if it's fun to see pictures of where they're eating and what they're eating, it must be even better to hear their thoughts in their own autobiographies, right? We just can't get enough of these people!

What about you? Do you think you read more autobiographies now than ever before?

I Can't Believe I'm Considering This

I honestly felt I found my true calling when I became a teacher. From the moment I started grad school everything felt right. I loved setting up my classroom, determining procedures, planning my lessons, engaging with my students... it was a dream job.

And then, this year happened.

I was warned by several friends and family not take this job.

"I'm afraid that environment is going to destroy everything you love about teaching," Carolyn warned me. "You're a fantastic teacher," she told me, "and I don't want this to change you."

But I needed a job. I needed the benefits. And I was desperate to have my own classroom again instead of subbing.

And now I hear her words over and over again in my head. Because she was right. I hate my job. Hate it! Not the kids, at least not as people. In fact, developing relationships with students is still the best part of my job.

But I'm beyond exhausted because of the rest of it. Teaching in a charter school means you are micro-managed to death. Joel keeps lamenting that I spend my whole weekend working, when the truth is, I spend the whole weekend filling out their stupid lesson plan format, not actually making my lessons. It's a colossal waste of time. I have to log, on our discipline site, every time I give a kid a warning about behavior. Don't they realize this is a full time job in itself? Oh, and I have to log, on another site, every conversation I have with every parent. Ever. And someone comes around every period and checks your name off on a spreadsheet to make sure you're doing hall duty. So don't try to run to the bathroom in the 3 minutes between classes! And about once a week, you'll get an email from your department head or AP about yet another spreadsheet they need ASAP so they can track something else about your students. So, you'll have to work on that during your "planning time" too.

Any amount of freedom or creativity I've experienced in the past 6 years of teaching is all but gone. They do not value authentic learning because they focus so much on teaching to the damn standardized test. Even my AP agreed with me on Friday when I said this isn't authentic learning. He said, "This isn't the best practice, but it's what we do because the test is so important."

All they care about is numbers. This is so frustrating to me. There is a lot of learning that happens in my classroom that simply cannot be assessed on a multiple choice test. But they don't care about that learning. And don't you dare try to do any fun formative assessments; it must be a LEAP-aligned exit ticket.

I'm so grateful Thanksgiving is next week because I'm seriously at my breaking point. For the first time since becoming a teacher, I'm seriously questioning whether or not I want to do this for the rest of my life. I know teaching doesn't look like this everywhere, but I do think teaching looks more like this than what I experienced in suburban Chicago. So unless I can get another one of those jobs, I just don't think I want to do this again.

I'm starting to do some research about alternative careers. I still want to work with kids, this much I know for sure, but I don't want to be in a job where my effectiveness rests so heavily on their ability to show mastery on one stupid test.


November 6, 2012

Election Day

The great thing about Election Day is that there wasn't school today. The buildings are used as polling places, so for safety and logistical reasons, it is not an attendance day. I have to say... I like this plan!

My students participated in a mock election last week during social studies, and not surprisingly, Obama was the winner by a landslide. This probably won't be the result of the state, but at least we know where the youth of Baton Rouge stands. 

This year is the first time I haven't participated in the election. Truth be told, I'm still registered in Illinois, and I was a little preoccupied with Joel's car accident (and ongoing recovery) and my own health issues (including my recent double ear infection) to think about trying to get an absentee ballot.   

To be honest, I'm only heartbroken about it for symbolic reasons, as I know my vote wouldn't make a difference in my state anyway. Illinois always votes Democratic; they don't need my vote to help. And since I'm not currently living in the state, I haven't followed much of the local politics to have an educated opinion on those issues. 

And while I have some very strong, personal beliefs about this election (and the politics that go along with it), I've tried really hard to stay away from the Facebook debates because they've gotten pretty ugly this year. Politics and religion are two areas, I've learned, that people are unapologetic about their beliefs and have very little (if any) room to consider alternatives. 

So rather than fight with my friends and family, I choose to focus on the fact that we live in a country where we have the right and privilege to cast our votes, even it is with limited choice.

November 4, 2012

Mama, I'm Coming Home!

There are 9 school days left before Thanksgiving break. Nine.

And I have a feeling these are going to be the longest 9 days of my life because as soon as I get home from school on that 9th day, Joel and I are hitting the road.

Since I get an entire week off of school and Joel is between jobs (and still recovering from his car accident), we decided to head back to Chicago for the holiday.

I'm seriously so excited I can't even stand it. My heart races every time I think about it. We will have a full week with friends and family... I can't tell you how badly I want this. How badly I need this. How much we need it.

So much has happened to the people I love since leaving Illinois. It's definitely time to play catch up!

My parents moved into a new home the week before I came down here. I saw the house before I left, but it was still unfinished. I'm looking forward to seeing their home with all the new furniture and boxes unpacked. I wish the weather was still nice so we could take advantage of their pool!

And my puppies! I get to see my puppies! This excites me more than you can know. Joel and I spent some time watching Animal Planet yesterday, and they were showing a marathon of Too Cute, which is a show about puppies and kitties... it's seriously adorable, but it's made me miss my dogs so much. I can't wait to cuddle up with Wrigley and Gizmo. I can already see their tails wagging with excitement when I walk in the door..... eek!  So happy!

I could shriek with excitement over my plans to see my BFF from high school, Ashley. Since I last saw her, she has announced that she's expecting twins, making me an auntie times two (she she's my sister from another mister), and she moved into a new (dream) home. We already have plans to see her and her house, and I'm so relieved to think I'll finally be caught up on the fun, new thins in her life.

My dear friend Carolyn has already declared that she's basically planning to camp out at my parents' house for the week that we're home so we can spend lots of time together. Since leaving home, her son, Ryan, has started walking and talking... I'm missing way too much. I also need to go see their new home, which they moved into a week after I left.

We're planning to spend Thanksgiving Day between Joel's family and mine. It will be the first time each of us will meet the extended families... yay!

Finally, we have plans for a night out to celebrate my sister's birthday with her before we leave. My brother will pretend he doesn't care I'm coming home, but I know deep inside, he's pretty excited too. He misses his favorite sister... who wouldn't?! ;)

It's going to be an action-packed week with lots of time visiting loved ones and eating foods we miss (Portillo's and Chicago-style pizza, we're looking at you!). Oh, November 16th, please come soon!

If any of my Chi-town peeps want to get together during the day Monday-Wednesday while the rest of the world is working, let me know! Our schedules are filling quickly!

October 31, 2012

Is That Supposed to Be a Compliment?

"Ms. L, you look like a pumpkin today," one of my students casually mentioned as we walked to the classroom after lunch.

"A pumpkin?!" I squealed as my eyes bugged out of my head, "Is it because I'm round??" I pouted.

"Oh, no!" she informed me with all sincerity, "It's your orange sweater."

Uh huh.

Guess who has a new sweater for the Goodwill pile?

October 28, 2012

It's True What They Say...

Thank you, cold front, for finding your way to Baton Rouge. While the drop in temperature hasn't been appreciated by the locals, this Chicago girl certainly loved it. It felt like a big bandaid for my soul that still aches to be in the Windy City. We donned sweatpants, hoodies, and slippers, slept with the windows open so we'd have a good excuse to snuggle all night, and I've been busy making some of our fall favorites: chili on the stove, cornbread, and pumpkin spice cake. I tell ya, nothing makes Joel love me like when I feed him a good meal. :) I guess it's true that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach!

We're having a lazy Sunday at home today. We're both still in our pj's, and I have no intention of changing that today. We've spent hours snuggling on the couch drinking chai tea lattes and sharing plans of our dream home as we watched HGTV. And now, as I type this, he's shimmying and shaking as he plays balance games on the wii board... we're quite the entertaining couple, y'all!

Really though, we're soaking up the last of our time off together because tomorrow morning, I'm headed back to work. Finally. (I say that for my co-workers and students, not for myself.)

Even though I'm still not feeling 100% (Most of my hearing has returned to my right ear, but my left one is still a mess.), my alarm is set for 5:30 AM. Teachers are only allowed 10 days off (sick and personal leave) per school year, and I've already managed to use 7 of my allotted days in the past two weeks. I want to save those last three days in case I get sick or something else important happens.

Also, I've decided that my students simply need me back. I was able to check Kickboard (our school-wide PBIS system, with which we document all behavior) from home several days last week, and I was astounded to see how terrible my students' behavior has been across the board. I liken it to puppies pooping in the house when they're angry at mom and dad for going out of town. They're feeling abandoned, and they're rebelling.

So, even though I'm not completely me yet, I think half of me will be better than no me at all. I need to save my students from themselves and get back to the curriculum (versus the babysitting that's been happening recently).

But things, they're gonna be changing around my classroom.  Yes, indeed.

October 23, 2012

Teaching Integrity

For various medical reasons, I have only been in school for two days in the past week. After a visit with the ENT today that confirmed that I have a severe double ear infection and cannot go back to work this week (because it's kinda hard to teach when I can't really hear... seriously), Joel took me over to my school so I could drop of my medical note to my principal.

While I was there, I decided to run to my classroom to check on the sub notes from the past 3 days. Before I even got there, though, I was stopped by various co-workers and students who informed me that today's sub actually left school in the middle of one of my classes. Yep. They were that bad.

I expected to find frazzled notes from the substitutes telling me what has been happening in my classroom. Instead, I found nothing. Not even a name of who had been with my students. (Perhaps because they were left unsupervised on more than one occasion?)

What I did find, though, is that my classroom was in shambles. My filing cabinet had been ransacked; the giant bags of candy from Sam's Club that I keep there were completely gone. Empty. All that was left was the plastic bag itself.

The plant pot I keep on my bookshelf of pens for student use (which I've had to refill on three different occasions already) was completely empty. I am not exaggerating whn I say there were probably 100+ pens in this thing. We have a good system going. Students take a pen, sign their names on the white board, and erase when they return. Any remaining names at the end of the day lose money from their paychecks (our school-wide PBIS) system for being "unprepared for class." Now? I have no pens to offer. And I'm so disgusted that they would steal them like this from me that I don't want to refill it... AGAIN!

And most disturbing is the fact that students also went through my personal desk. I keep a giant box (once again, from Sam's Club) in my desk of assorted sandwich crackers for the days when I need a snack or forget a lunch. Apparently, my students felt they were entitled to these as well, because more than three-quarters of the box was taken.

I feel violated. Betrayed. By students who have been whining all week about when I'm coming back because "they can't learn" without me.

I think this calls for a good lesson on integrity, because this behavior shows me that my students are clearly lacking in it.

I'm also trying to think of appropriate consequences. I'll never know exactly who was involved, but it had to be a good number of students. Something has to be done, right?

If you have any good suggestions, I'm open to them.

October 14, 2012

Fake Fall Break

For the first time in my entire life, I had to work/attend school on Columbus Day. Apparently, Southerners don't have any respect for the man who didn't discover America. The nerve!

When I first discovered this atrocity I was indignant, but my anger quickly subsided when I looked further at the school calendar and saw that this weekend was Fall Break. Or, as it should be called, Extended Summer Break because I'm still waiting for fall.

No, really... where is it? The trees are still as green as ever, and I'm still sweating. Bring on the cool breezes; jeans and hoodies with flip flops; pumpkin spice lattes (okay, we have those, but it's too hot to actually enjoy them), apple cider; creamy soups;

But even though the weather isn't cooperating, I'm happy to accept that I'm on Fall Break. I couldn't tell you, between my students and me, who needed this four-day weekend more. Oh wait... yes I can. It's totally me.

As soon as school got out on Thursday, I joined a coworker for a reflexology massage. Dear Lord, it hurt like you-know-what, but my feet felt very relaxed when we were done. It was a great way to decompress from the week (although I don't know that I'll ever do it again).

Joel and I had a much-needed date night on Friday. I straightened my hair, put on a dress and some makeup, and busted out my jewelry for our night on the town. Per my mother, he deserves to see me like this from time to time even if he loves me just as much in my sweats with my hair in a messy bun and a face sans makeup.

We spent pretty much all of yesterday shopping. It was nice to spend some time walking around the mall together and just enjoy the day. And It didn't hurt that I walked away with three new pairs of shoes. :)

Have I mentioned that I'm on day three of sleeping in? Those 5:30 AM wake up calls aren't getting any easier for me. I don't know how all you mamas do it.

Today will be spent finalizing grades and preparing for the new quarter. Neither are my favorite activity, but they must be done. At least I don't have to worry about the Sunday Night Blues since I don't have to work tomorrow.

October 4, 2012

THIS is Love

Joel loves my guacamole. So much so, in fact, that he has offered a daily trade of a personal foot bath and massage for a bowl of my guac.

Truth be told, he eagerly offers me the foot rubs without the exchange... but I'm happy to pay him in avocados!

October 3, 2012

Is This Real Life?!

Homemade cinnamon streusel muffins made by the world's best boyfriend!

My Thursday morning outlook has improved tenfold!

October 2, 2012

My Handyman

My friend, Carolyn, gave me this console table when I moved into my last house. She was trying to make room for all the baby stuff in her home and didn't need a table full of plants and picture frames with a toddler on the way.

Since the day I got it, I've had big plans to refinish it. There were water stains from her potted plants, and the light color didn't really fit with my other furniture. I ended up finding a perfect home for it behind a couch in my living room, and being that it was mostly out if sight, the refinishing project was on the back burner.

When we moved into this house, we ended up using the table as a TV stand in the living room. While I appreciate the height of the table, I despised the unsightly cables and cords that were visible. (Anyone who knows me knows much much I can't stand clutter.) Joel agreed that it was time to buy a real entertainment center, and after a little comparison shopping, we found one we love!

Not only did Joel (and Michael) stay up until 1:00 AM assembling the new stand, but Joel immediately jumped into the next project of refinishing the console table for me. I'm a lucky girl to have my very own handyman to take care of these projects (he also fixed my broken closet door, repaired a drawer on my IKEA dresser I poorly put together last year, fixed our broken garbage disposal, and changed the oil in our cars.)

It felt great to come home and see my "new" table in its perfect home. And the view during said project wasn't bad either! :)

My First Fight

At the age of 30, I can officially say I was punched for the first time in my life. (Okay, I'm sure there was punching between my siblings and me when we were kids, but this was my first non-family altercation.)

Something must be in the air today because my students were involved in two fights before 7:30 AM! Silly me, I chose to step in the middle of two scrappy girls who went at each other in my classroom.

I couldn't even tell you what set it off. I've never seen these two girls speak to each other before, but there's obviously quite a bit of animosity between them. All I know is one of the girls screamed at the other, "Do something about it then!" and she sure did.

It felt like several minutes (I'm sure it was just seconds) passed while I desperately held them apart, getting pelted with punches, slaps, scratches, and kicks. Thankfully, one if my boys finally pulled one of the girls away, allowing me to focus on the other (feistier) one while another student went to get help.

I am easily twice the size of these little girls, but my arms are swollen and tender from their little fists.

For the record, no one ever told me I'm expected to step in and break up these fights. But, as the adult in the room, my instinct was to step in and protect my students. (Although, that instinct isn't nearly as strong when its two boys fighting...)

By the time the two girls were finally separated, I was out of breath. And as soon as they were escorted out of the room, I had to refocus my attention on regaining control of my class and proceeding with the lesson as if nothing happened. And, I had six more classes in a row before I had a chance to sit down and breathe.

And people say teachers are paid too much!

I Miss These People crazy.

My Uncle Tom was visiting Chicago from Denver and snapped this photo of my adorable parents while they watched the Bears game in a bar.

I am so jealous I don't even have words. What I wouldn't do to hug these two at this very moment.

September 30, 2012

Do Not Embarrass Me

Teachers in the state of Louisiana are assessed on their effectiveness based on two factors: COMPASS evaluations (two formal observations per calendar year) and student progress (as measured by the state standardized test). Each of these factors contributes to 50% of my overall score.

I would be lying to say this doesn't intimidate me. In Illinois, I was never held accountable for my students' performance on the standardized test, probably because my district was exceeding the state requirements each year. In contrast, there is definitely a lot of pressure on teachers and students in Louisiana to achieve tremendous growth on these assessments, because they are so far behind.

The good news, I've been told, is that because our students are so far behind, it's pretty much guaranteed that they will show growth each year. Even the Teach for America teachers who come in with little training have been able to see how success in their students' scores.

Observations, I've learned from experience, are super subjective. We were formally trained on the COMPASS evaluations during a staff development meeting the other week, and even as a staff, we were unable to come to a consensus score for the model videos we watched. And when I say we didn't agree, I mean one group would evaluate the teacher as highly effective while another group would evaluate the same teacher as ineffective.

To help us prepare for these formal observations (which are done by persons from the state rather than building administrators), our administration and mentor teachers do several practice observations to give us feedback on where we stand. The big joke in 8th grade is that we're all going to be evaluated during our one section of students that has terrible behavior problems. Everyone has huge issues with this group, so no one wants them to be the measure of success, even in an informal observation.

On Friday morning, I had an unexpected informal observation during that section. Surprisingly, though, they weren't all that bad. I mean, they were by no means model students, but for them, they were pretty darn good. I didn't think a whole lot of it until the principal and mentor teacher walked out and one of my students said, "Miss L, we were really good, huh?"

"Yeah, did you see how I stopped arguing with you when they walked in?" another one chimed in.

"We didn't want to embarrass you," the first student informed me with pride. (I found out later that they were awful for another teacher who was observed during their section earlier in the week, and she chewed them out for it.)

I looked around the room at a sea of faces eager to receive praise for their positive behavior. It was all I could do to not laugh. Didn't they realize that was how they should behave all the time?? I thanked them for their support and gave them all a candy reward for "not embarrassing me."

Well, at least they know how to pull it together when another adult walks into the room... right?

Yummy Eats

I feel like I'm always looking for new recipes to add to my repertoire. Pinterest has been a huge help in this area because I have some friends that provide great feedback about dishes they've tried.

Since he's been off of work, Joel has been a huge help in the kitchen. We've always planned our weekly menus and done the grocery shopping together, but now he's taken the lead when it comes to cooking, at least on weeknights when I'm too tired or lazy to cook.

One of our recent successes has been the white chicken enchiladas with Spanish rice. It had a great flavor, though, we all agreed that we liked the top parts best, which had been cooked by the broiler, so we're gonna change it up a bit for the next round by cooking it first without the sauce. We also decided we'll use only half the sour cream sauce because it was just too much.

This weekend, we bought a bag of Parmesan crusted tilapia from Sam's Club and threw it together with some rice (topped with garlic sauteed mushrooms) and green beans. It was probably one of my favorite meals yet.
And the best part of our meals is that Michael is officially in charge of dishes, so I don't even have to do the cleanup. Yay!

Working with SPED

Up until this year, I've really had it easy when it came to my teaching assignments. Of course, when I was a substitute, I taught everyone, but in my own classrooms, I've had the "luxury" of teaching the gifted classes. Those students, too, come with their own challenges, but, for the most part, I could at least depend on a group of kids that enjoyed learning - or at least that were able to follow directions and produce quality products.

In my new assignment, I'm not only dealing with an entirely different population than I've ever encountered before, but I have Special Education students in each of my mainstream classrooms. Only one of my classes is considered an inclusion class (and, therefore, co-taught with a SPED teacher... which is an entirely different set of challenges I'll save for a later post), so I am on my own with my other sections. I don't even have an aide to help in those other classes.

My biggest challenge in working with these students is the amount of small group or individual attention they need. In one of my sections, in particular, it's nearly impossible for me to work with any individuals or small groups because the entire class needs constant behavioral management. I'm convinced that this is the reason I'm so exhausted at the end of each day. I cannot mentally rest for even a minute because I have to be two steps ahead of their antics.

When you work with SPED students, you are required, by law, to meet their accommodations. And in my school, I have to document every single accommodation I do for each, individual student (in addition to the required behavior documentation, including warnings). You can probably imagine how time-consuming this can be.

Last week, I received an email from the SPED Department Head inviting me to a meeting to discuss the three SPED students who are currently failing my class. I needed to bring all of my documentation and examples of student work for said meeting. I was prepared for her to tell me I wasn't doing X, Y, or Z, and that I needed to change their grades immediately (because a SPED student cannot fail if the teacher is not consistently providing all required accommodations).

Imagine my surprise when I presented my documentation and learned that I'm doing everything exactly as required. On her meeting paperwork, under "Next Steps for Classroom Teacher" she wrote, "none." None!

It feels so good to know I'm meeting the requirements for these students because I know I'm doing everything I should to help them succeed.

Now, if I can just motivate them to make better choices... we can bring up those grades!

September 19, 2012

Reading Success

After working at 12 hour day today, I want to take a minute to remember something very good that happened in my classroom today:

I managed to get all 25 students in my homeroom class, the class with whom we do DEAR each day (that's Drop Everything And Read, for those that don't know), to be fully engaged in their personal reading books.

And when I say fully engaged, I mean not one person in the room was "fake reading" (ELA teachers out there will know exactly what I'm talking about) as they have been for weeks. They were not just reading the words on the page, either. They were eagerly devouring the stories in front of them... for pleasure!

I know! It's super exciting, right?!

You're probably wondering what the heck I did to motivate these reluctant readers. And you're in luck because I'm gonna let you in on my strategies here...

We started with a very high-interest class novel, A Child Called It, which my students read with fervour. The shocking content of this novel was exactly what this group needed to stay engrossed in the story. It was like a bad train wreck; they just couldn't stop reading about the terrible abuse in the story. Every time I would stop them to talk about a passage, they'd rush me through my modeling to get back to the reading. It was pretty much the most engaged I've ever seen students in a whole class novel study.

As you read in my previous post, the reason we chose to read that novel for our autobiography unit was because of a discussion of "banned books" in my classroom. Since that time, my students have asked me daily about which of those books they can read next. My students find it very appealing to be able to read what others cannot.

To that end, I walked into my room today with a box of books from my personal stash. Books like Go Ask Alice, The Lovely Bones, Such a Pretty Girl, Black Like Me, Thirteen Reasons Why, and the remaining books in the series by Dave Pelzer. I also included some of my high interest books like The Hunger Games series, The Twilight Saga, The Help, and the Percy Jackson series. I explained to my class that these books were chosen especially for them, and that no other classes would be allowed to read them.

They. Were. Hooked.

I thought maybe a few of my fake readers would come browse through the box, but I was pleasantly surprised to see all of my students jump out of their seats to see what I brought. They immediately started calling dibs on novels and asking me to make waiting lists for the most popular titles. Within 10 minutes, all of my students had new books in their hands they were so excited to be reading. I told them we needed to keep reading after the DEAR bell since we spent so much time choosing new books, and not one student even flinched.

I don't even have the words to express how I excited I am to see them so engaged in reading. I now feel like DEAR time is my happy time. I could cry... tears of joy this time! :)

September 12, 2012

Roses and Thorns

Once upon a time, I heard about a family (I think it was the Kardashians, but don't let that turn you off) who once sat around the dinner table and shared the "roses" and "thorns" of their day. With so much stress in my life right now, I think I need this reminder that there are roses at the end of those thorny stems.

Here are my big ones right now...

1. My magnet class is loving their novel, A Child Called It. They can't wait until it's time to read the story each day and complain when I scold them for reading ahead or trying to sneak the book home. Today, the class was misbehaving, so I told them they had to read on their own and fill out a comprehension packet. This was supposed to be their punishment. Not one student complained. In fact, I've never seem them so engaged in a lesson. They happily read along for 25 minutes, and even when I announced the possibility of a "pop quiz" tomorrow on the reading, the students never even flinched. Success!!

2. My department head used my lesson plans (the ones I complain about making every single week) as an exemplar during our meeting. Staff were re-taught parts of the lesson plan template that are commonly incorrect, and then they were to work in small groups to create sample plans. I was asked to lead a group because apparently, I know what I'm doing. Holla!

3. A certain someone who loves me a whole heck of a lot has taken to making me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every night so I have something to eat in my crazy, busy days. I am reminded of how much I love that man every day when I take my first bite.

1. Babe (who has insisted that I stop referring to him as such on this blog and will henceforth referred to by his name, Joel. So much for privacy! haha!) was in a car accident on Monday afternoon. Remember when I said people down here can't drive? I wasn't kidding! He called me at school to let me know, and I immediately went into panic mode when I heard the ambulance sirens and his confirmation that they were there for him. I left school right away (thankfully, I was done teaching for the day) and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening in the ER. The good news is that he'll be fine. The doctor prescribed some strong pain medications and a muscle relaxer, and he needs to do some follow up for his back/neck/shoulder pain.

2. Our hot water heater is out... again. This makes four times, people. The handyman who comes to fix things (per our property managers) said he had to order a special part or something and will notify me when it arrives. In the meantime, cold showers suck, I can't do laundry, and dishes are piling up fast.

3. I'm still dealing with some severe behavior issues that I can't seem to control. In one of my classes, there are so many students with Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) that even our dean (whom I love, BTW) struggled to help me with the seating chart. There are just too many of them to separate. And each of them has the ability to set the whole class off with just one outburst. They exhaust me.

I hope the rest of you have more roses than thorns lately!!

September 9, 2012

Cooling Off

This past week, I feel like I hit my breaking point. Since moving here, we've been hit with one thing after another, and my stress level is at an all time high. I've cried more in the past few months than I have in the past few years.

The company Babe has been contracting for is super shady. He's had it out with the owner on a weekly (okay, sometimes daily) basis about the illegal practices and money missing from his paychecks. This guy owes Babe so much money, it makes me want to scream. And now he's being "punished" for sticking up for himself by not being given any work. Obviously, this is a huge financial stress on us, but even more concerning, to me, is the fact that it's put Babe into a funk that he can't seem to shake.

After months of trying to make this work, and too long of giving the owner the benefit of the doubt, Babe has resigned to the fact that it's time for a new job.

I'm sad for him. I'm angry for him. I'm worried for us (not about our relationship... just about paying our bills).

All this stress just emphasizes the fact that I am so homesick for my family, my friends, my pets... everything. Life has been so much harder since moving down here.

And to top it all off, I logged into Facebook on Friday to read dozens of status updates about all things Fall happening in Chicago: beautiful, cool weather; pumpkin farms opening; apple picking; German Fest (aka: North Park Reunion); and the start of the Chicago Bears season.

My favorite time of year in that beautiful city, and I'm missing it all!

The tears... oh, the tears.

And then, I woke up this morning, with Babe by my side, and saw on my iPhone that the weather was a beautiful 63 degrees. I'm not kidding when I say I couldn't tell you another day when the weather has been below scorching down here (even in the rain)... I seriously hate going outside because I melt in the heat.

"OMG! We have to have breakfast on the patio!" I excitedly declared. And he instantly agreed.

So we did. We sat outside (and I got to wear a sweatshirt!!!) and enjoyed our coffee, eggs, and music. We relaxed out there together for about three hours, which was only possible because he didn't have that stupid job to go to today. It was Heavenly.

And it was a good reminder that even through all the stress, I have my best friend and biggest supporter by my side. Our relationship is stronger through each tribulation we face, and I think that's a huge testimony to the strength of our love and commitment.


God knew I needed today. It was just enough rejuvenation to get me through this next week.

September 3, 2012

Glimmer of Hope

I just realized I forgot to share what has been my glimmer of hope for this school year: my magnet class. Now, while this is a term that is used very loosely in this population, they are still my most motivated class. They are the group that closest resembles the students I used to teach, meaning they want to learn.

I've had several conversations with all my classes about college choices. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of my students have goals of attending college. We've talked at length (and will continue to do so) about how the choices they make every day will impact their future. I use reminders about "college choices" as a way to correct off-task behavior so they will believe in the value of their learning time in my classroom.

One of the college choices we talk about in my ELA classroom is independent reading. I've shown them statistics about how reading for just 20 minutes a day will dramatically improve their test scores (directly determining which high schools these students can attend). I tell them that my goal is to get students to enjoy reading, something about which many (okay, most) of them are very skeptical.

When I mentioned to my magnet class, though, that one of the ways I will get them to love reading is by letting them read whatever they want, their eyes widened with interest. Clearly, these students have never been given much choice... something that will be a welcome change for them in my classroom.

Through our discussion, students learned that while I pretty much give them free choice for their book club selections, I do require parent permission for certain books, if they will be reading them without my guidance. Instantly, my magnet class wanted a list of such books.

Haha! I hooked them!

In a matter of 20 minutes, I had the entire class literally begging me to change the novel selection for our biography/autobiography unit. I was planning to read The Diary of Anne Frank with all of my classes, honestly, because it's in the textbook and less work for me (Remember how I was feeling overwhelmed? I wanted to keep it simple for the first unit.), but with their prodding, I have agreed, instead, to allow their class to read A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.

The fact that this is a "banned book" with mature content (even though it is required reading in some middle schools) has these students intrigued. They are so excited to start reading tomorrow... I can't wait!

Finally, Caught Up

Thanks to Hurricane Isaac and Labor Day, I had the past six days to rest, recuperate, and get myself caught up on school work. I was able to spend a couple days at home with Babe, which is a luxury with our (okay... mostly his) work schedules since everything shut down in the state. It was nice to be able to relax together, even if I was crabby without power for part of it!

After a couple days to relax, both mentally and physically, I felt rejuvenated enough to dive into school work. Since starting the year, I've felt behind. I know this feeling comes with starting a teaching job after the school year has begun, but I don't like it at all. I'm the kind of person who plans way in advance, so it's been hard for me to feel like I've been grasping at straws just to make ends meet each day.

For the first time in my teaching career, I have to submit formal lesson plans, on a template provided by my administration for every single day. In Illinois, I only had to submit lessons for my scheduled observations, twice a year, so this is a huge change for me. The biggest issue, I've found, is that I feel like I'm forcing myself to make lessons that fit their teaching model rather than doing what comes naturally to me from experience. The template, unfortunately, doesn't lend itself very well to a ELA classroom as easily as it does to math simply because we cover many objectives in one day rather than one (and because so many of our lessons are not confined to only one day or activity). I do not normally include modeling, guided practice, and independent practice in every lesson. Still, I've been struggling through this because it is the expectation. To be honest, I feel a little like I'm making it up just to appease my administration, which I feel is a waste of time... but what do I know?

Today was the first day of the school year I actually submitted my weekly lessons (which are typically due by noon on Saturdays for the following week). It took me way longer than I'd like to admit, but hours of work, I've finally met the requirement. Now, the task will be to stay on top of this every week.

The great news is that I used my extra time off to come up with some really cool lessons I hope my students will enjoy.

I would love to be this productive every weekend... think we can make them all six days???

August 31, 2012

Back to Life

After two miserable nights without electricty, I nearly cried tears of joy and relief when the power came back on at 10:00 this morning. I've never been so grateful to have air conditioning in my life. Ever.

We checked on the price of generators at The Home Depot yesterday: $600. Originally, we scoffed at the price, but after last night, I'm thinking that it may be a worthwhile investment. Especially if we have to deal with these hurricanes for another 3 months.

It's incredible how much happier I am with cool air, ice, the Internet, and Bravo. I know... I know: first world problems. Whatever.

This experience has confirmed what I've always said: I prefer to be cold over hot any day. You can always add layers, but you can't always take them off. Trust me on this one.

As we tossed and turned in bed all night, I was brought back to my days at Silver Birch Ranch, a Christian camp in Wisconsin I visited in my childhood summers. The cabins weren't air conditioned, and usually only our counselors had fans, since the rest of us rode up on a school bus. Sleeping while hot is nearly impossible for me, and I remember many nights, lying frustrated in my bunk, unable to catch any Z's.

Last night was definitely like that... only way more sauna like as the humidity was definitly higher. I finally gave up trying to sleep around 6:30 when the guys got up to go to work. Poor guys! I know they're dragging today with no sleep, no coffee, and no food.

Now that we can all say we're hurricane survivors, I need to figure out something nice to for the guys tonight since they had to deal with my general crabbiness for the past two days. Good thing I apologized in advance. :-/

August 29, 2012

Spoke Too Soon

Our power literally just went out. Boo!

Isaac Update

The fact that I'm able to both write and publish this post is reason enough to celebrate because it means that we still have power in the midst of this storm. Hundreds of thousands of people have not been so fortunate.

We were prepared to lose power yesterday, but Isaac is so terribly slow that the rain didn't even reach us until this morning. It started with a slow, constant drizzle (comparatively) and has since morphed into a steady stream of water from the Heavens. It's probably about as consistent as a shower, if my shower head were as wide as the sky and constantly hanging over my house.

The winds have been up and down all day. There's a huge tree in our front yard that's lost some branches, but we haven't seen any real damage yet (nor will we, hopefully). The storm doesn't really seem to be intensifying at all, so it looks like we're just going to have several days of wet and rain. At least, we hope this is the case.

Our greatest fear in all of this (besides being uncomfortable without electricity) has been tornadoes. Yes, I grew up in the Midwest, but I'm deathly afraid of those giant spirals of death. When we were kids, my sister and I would scare ourselves by watching nothing but the weather channel as soon as we were alerted of a tornado watch in our area. Then, we'd stare out the window, convinced that everything was a funnel cloud heading straight for us. On many occasions, we'd run next door to "grandma's house" (really, just the nice lady next door) to wait out the storms in her basement until our mom got home from work.

I know why no one in Louisiana has a basement, but my Midwestern state of mind is convinced that it's impossible to survive a tornado without one.

Needless to say, I had to take a Benadryl last night before going to bed so I could knock myself out rather than lying in bed all night having an anxiety attack over our impending doom. It's probably safe to say that I'll need another one tonight (which will be awesome for Babe beacuse I always have the weirdest dreams when I take that stuff for multiple nights in a row).

No... I'm not a drama queen at all. ;)

I'll be back tomorrow with more updates (as long as the giant river in our backyard doesn't swallow us whole first).

August 28, 2012

How Preparing for a Hurricane is Like Preparing for Labor

Isaac is coming! Isaac is coming!

My friend Elaine has a son named Isaac. If he were the Isaac in reference here, I would certainly be celebrating. Unfortunately, though, I'm talking about the anxiety-provoking hurricane that is currently heading straight for us.

Preparing for your first hurricane is a lot like preparing for the labor and delivery of your first child. At least, what I imagine it will be like to prepare for the birth of my first child because, as you know, I have no experience yet in that arena either.

What I do know, though, is that both experiences will be somewhat unpredictable (even given advance warning of the impending doom), messy, a little scary, and definitely uncomfortable. In either instance, I have the ability to turn to my significant other and ask, "How the hell did I let you get me into this mess? This is all your fault!"

See? They're pretty much identical.

School closed early yesterday and is set, at this point, to resume Thursday. We have parent conferences on Friday, so really, in my opinion, it would be stupid to bring the kids back for only one more day. Also, the weather centers are predicting that we'll still be experiencing some pretty strong storms at that time, and with the inevitable power outages, I predict school will not be in session again until next week. I plan to use my hurricane days (as opposed to snow days, since I won't have those anymore) to catch up on all the things my administration wants me to do but I never have time to complete because I'm... you know... teaching and things.

Although, as soon as our power goes out, I probably won't get much done.

In preparation for Hurricane Isaac, Babe and his brother are at work today. Because it's obviously a wise choice to have your cable/Internet/phone installed the day a hurricane is set to destruct your entire neighborhood, right? I can't believe they're expected to work today when we should be fleeing the state!

I get crabby when the electricity goes out, y'all. I need air conditioning. I loathe being hot!

Yeah, I'm sure I'm gonna be a big, ball of fun for the next few days.

I should probably apologize in advance... I'm sorry for being a crabby bitch.

There. That should make everything better.

Anyway, while the two of them are busy installing cable and Internet that will no longer work by the end of the day, I'm at home doing all of our laundry and cooking everything in our kitchen (including the $200 in frozen fish, chicken, and ground turkey I bought at Sam's Club last week) so it doesn't all spoil... and so we have things to eat as we stare at each other over candle light... except that it won't be nearly as romantic as that sounds.

So far, I've made the following:
  • crock pot dump (kinda like a Mexican, chicken chili)
  • a double batch of two timin' pasta with ground turkey
  • an entire Sam's Club bag of frozen tilapia with parmesan and lemon
  • two bags of chicken nuggets
  • a party pack of mozzarella sticks (I think Babe snuck those into our cart)
  • 2 loaves of banana bread (I needed to use the Greek yogurt)
  • chocolate chip cheesecake dip (I needed to use the cream cheese)
  • three tubes of cinnamon rolls (requested by the guys)
At least if we're crabby, we know it won't be because we're hungry!

August 22, 2012

People Here Can't Drive

So, I know I'm a little biased, but I think Chicagoans are probably some of the best drivers in the world. There are some things to be said about those that have learned to drive in such a driving in such a densely populated city:
  • We're good at navigating both expressways and sidestreets.
  • We've all learned how to be agressive yet defensive.
  • We undertand that you cannot, under any circumstance, come to a complete stop while trying to merge onto said expressways.
  • We know that the left lane is for speeding and the right is for slow drivers.
  • Slow drivers in Chicago = those doing the speed limit on the expressway.
  • We know that the real speed limit is 5-10 over on the side streets and 10-15 over on the expressway.
  • We know how to make a right-hand turn without feeling the need to come to a near stop.
  • The ever-present road contruction has taught us about the wonders of the zipper merge.  
  • We know that it's okay, when making a left-hand turn, to inch your way into the intersection so you can proceed when the light turns yellow/red.
I could keep going... but these are some of the things I miss about driving in Chcago. People in Baton Rouge drive like idiots. There's just no nice way to say it. The three of us agree that people down here just haven't learned these rules of the road. Every day here feels like an accident waiting to happen. Maybe that explains why this is the most expensive state in the country for car insurance.

It's been about a month already, but I was rear-ended by a guy on my way to the bank. He was pulling out of a car wash and decided not to look to his right as he pulled out into traffic to see that I had slowed down to make a turn at the bank next door.

Luckily, he hadn't accelerated enough to do much damage. I was completely fine. my bumper needs to be replaced (again... this makes three times on this one car). And the next day, Babe saw a crack in my winshield. Our only explanation is that it was cracked when the frame of the car shook on impact.

Oh, joy!

So, as if I needed yet another thing on my To Do List, I have to go get a copy of the police report and an estimate on the damage to submit to his insurance.

August 19, 2012

The Maid Is Gone

I've been working seven days a week since I was first called for this job interview. I feel like I'm still playing catch up, both at work and at home.

All of us, in this house, are working 12+ hours a day, which means housework (lawn care, laundry, dusting, scrubbing, vacuuming, etc.) has taken a back seat. The only reason our laundry has been washed at all is because the school is closed on Sundays, leaving me working from my couch (not the ideal space for lesson planning, but convenient for hearing the washer and dryer chimes).

None of us like the fact that our house desperately needs a good cleaning (okay, Babe and I don't like it... his brother probably couldn't care less), but we understand that there are only so many hours in a day. I'm good about keeping things clutter-free, but I haven't found the time to bust out the steam mop in the past week and a half... and trust me, we need it. Most nights, I'm counting the minutes until Babe walks though the door so we can eat dinner and collapse into bed. We're a fun couple, huh?!

Speaking of dinner... since I'm home first, this task typically falls on my shoulders. I've never really been a huge fan of cooking, but I especially hate the pressure of, "Oh shoot.. the boys will be home in an hour, and I didn't thaw any chicken for tonight's dinner."

If I were only feeding myself, I have plenty of options:
  1. Skip dinner (I skip every other meal now, so one more can't hurt, right?)
  2. Cereal
  3. Peanut butter and jelly
  4. Toast
But... I have a family to take care of now. And these boys... they like to eat! And, apparently, no meal is complete without meat. And since Babe is on this "red meat kills you" kick, many of my go-to meals have been banned from our repertoire (I'm sorry, but ground turkey doesn't taste good in a taco.. it just doesn't). 

To make matters worse, I usually come home to a kitchen that needs cleaning (a dishwasher full of clean dishes, and breakfast/lunch-making dishes on the counter/in the sink) before I can even start prepping dinner. This has been a huge frustration for me because I cannot cook in a messy kitchen, but I don't think I should be responsible for cleaning their mess (I leave before them in the mornings.

So, I had a sit down with the guys and simply explained that if they want to keep eating dinner, they have to help me out. The two of them can be in charge of unloading and reloading the dishwasher each morning so I can come home to a clean kitchen.

And while they both agreed to help, I've yet to see it happen. Not because they aren't willing to do the work. Both of them are great about doing anything I ask of them. But therein lies the problem... I leave for work before they get up, so I'm not there to ask/remind them!

Apparently, it's not just my students who need some procedural training!

August 17, 2012

It Gets Better

Happy Friday, y'all!

I'm sitting in my classroom as I type this post. Yes, at 5:30 on a Friday. I feel like this is the first time I've been able to sit down and really concentrate on work the entire week. My "To Do" list is a mile long, and I'm still overwhelmed by the procedural and paperwork things I need to have in place. I plan on spending a lot of time at school tomorrow catching up on everything and getting myself organized.

The good news, though, is that it does, indeed, get better. To say I have some tough kids would be a gross understatement, but I also have some really great students that genuinely want to learn. They're not oblivious to the world around them. They know they're behind in their education, and I have some students who are very serious about their goals to catch up.

The public high schools here are atrocious. I wouldn't want to send my child to any of them. The best shot my students have at a future is to get into the few charter schools that exist. Most of them will need some sort of scholarship to afford tuition. And all of them need to improve academically to meet admission requirements.

The great news is that most of my students are not yet defeated by their circumstances They still dream big. I have classrooms full of children who want to become doctors, lawyers, presidents, professional athletes... they have dreams! This is oh so important for this demographic because too many children in their situations have had their dreams stifled. I want them to dream big. I need for them to dream big. It's the only motivation we have for their continued education.

I've gotten to know my students well enough that I can see the good in pretty much all of them. Children are not bad. They make bad choices. And often because they haven't been taught how to make the right ones.

We have so far to go... but I have hope that we will get there.

August 13, 2012

Hoping for Better Days

I really wanted to sit down tonight and share about how great it felt to be back in the classroom today and how excited I am for the year ahead... But that's simply not how it feels.

Today was a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.


I knew this would be hard, but woah! I feel like a first-year teacher all over again. I'm questioning everything I thought I knew.

I'm exhausted... mentally, physically, and emotionally. I feel so defeated.

I'm desperately holding onto the hope that it will get better. It's the only thing that will propel me from my bed in the morning to try this another day.

More to come...

August 10, 2012

Long Story Short

I got the job!

To be honest, I wasn't sure how I was feeling about it when I got home last night from the interview. The principal had pretty much deflated any excitement I had about the job when he talked about virtually nothing but the stupid standardized test for the entirety of my interview. I don't believe in teaching to the test - it's not how I was taught to teach. And coming from where I have, the tests haven't really mattered all that much because our students/schools/districts performed very well. There honestly wasn't a lot of pressure.

But this school is all about the pressure. The scores are pretty much the only factor in validating the program's effectiveness, and if they don't perform, they will be shut down. And the students' scores directly effect their high school options. And their ability to graduate from the 8th grade (because this IS a school that holds students back... something that's unheard of where I come from).

Anyway, I was feeling very apprehensive about the position, so when the principal invited me to spend the entire day at school today, observing, I happily agreed. And I'm so glad I did. My department head was super encouraging and basically told me it would be impossible for me to do anything but help these students.

It's going to be a challenge for sure. This is a completely different population than I've ever worked with in the past. I'm sure there will be days of frustration and tears. But I also think that this is a population that I can really impact in the way I envisioned during my teacher training.

More to come because I have two days to set up my classroom and get lesson plans together... because I start on Monday, baby!

Wish me luck!!

August 9, 2012

The Interview Scramble

I really shouldn't be writing this post, but if procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would be a great contender for the gold medal.

I just wanted to let ya'll know that I have an interview today! It's for a middle school ELA position at a charter school. I don't know much about the school, but what I do know is certainly not ideal (low pay, under-achieving, Saturday school, really early start time). 

Earlier this week, I reluctantly applied for the position online thinking, "something is better than nothing, right?" and never expected a call. Much to my surprise, the principal called yesterday around 4:00 and asked me to come in for an interview and to teach a lesson. He asked if I was available yesterday or today, and I asked him if I could do this afternoon so I could spend the morning putting together a lesson. 

Now I'm scrambling to put together a formal lesson plan (which I haven't done since grad school) that I can teach to adults in 15 minutes that will give them a sense of my teaching style. No pressure or anything. Oh... and I have only my electronic files to work with because all my teaching stuff is in storage. Awesome. 

And I can't help but laugh at myself because I have reverted back to my college days... the house is spotless, laundry is mid-cycle, bills are all paid, our paperwork is organized in the file box, I rectified Babe's paycheck (something I do weekly... just not usually this fast), tonight's dinner is prepped for cooking... and these are all things I've done since receiving the interview call. 

It's not that I haven't been thinking about my lesson... it's just that I haven't committed anything to paper quite yet.

Okay, no more procrastination...

August 1, 2012

I Wanna Buy School Supplies

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address." - You've Got Mail

Okay, so I'm in Louisiana, not New York, and it's August 1st, not exactly fall... but I agree completely with the sentiment about buying school supplies. I've always enjoyed Back to School shopping: new school clothes, coordinated folders and notebooks, the colored pencils and markers with perfect, never-used tips.

My love for this time of year was only heightened when I became a teacher. I'm not exaggerating at all to say that I literally dream (both day and night) about desk arrangements, bulletin board designs, storage solutions, classroom library decorations, and classroom management techniques. The beginning of each school year is the perfect time to implement all the new ideas I've been stalking on teaching blogs and Pinterest for months.

The only problem, though, is that I still don't have a job for this year. It seems as though the job opportunities are not as plentiful in the Baton Rouge area as I hoped. I have noticed, though, that the pay scale starts at only two years of college, leading me to believe that there are a lot of under-qualified teachers in this area. My application is on file with the schools in the area, but at the moment, the only potential employment I have is a substitute application for a district out in the suburbs. (Their middle school, by the way, starts at 7:10 AM and is a 20-30 minute drive from my house. Have I mentioned how I am not a morning person?) Oh... and have I mentioned that some of the schools here have already started and others begin in less than two weeks? Yeah.

It's not ideal by any means, but I guess I'll be starting the year as a sub and hoping something opens up as the year progresses. At least Babe can be glad we're not spending any money on school stuff now, right?

July 24, 2012

Louisiana Expectations vs Reality

Things I knew or thought I knew about Louisiana before coming down here:
  1. Hurricane Katrina devastated this place.
  2. It's hot and humid all year long.
  3. Everyone talks like the guys on Swamp People and are impossible to understand.
  4. They cheer for the Saints.
  5. Bourbon Street is where it's at.
  6. There are alligators everywhere, and they will eat you.
  7. Food here includes: po' boys, gumbo, jumbalaya, crawfish, and beignets
Things I've learned about Louisiana since coming here:
  1. People are buried above ground because of the flooding
  2. There is no such thing as a drainage system. When it rains, everything floods.
  3. It rains a lot. Most afternoons it storms really hard for about an hour or two.
  4. It's hotter and more humid than I assumed. The air conditioner in my car has a hard time keeping up sometimes.
  5. Most people don't have garages. Instead, they park in car ports. I'm still getting used to locking my car doors every time I pull in. 
  6. Cockroaches are a part of life. And I don't mean the little ones that infest your house. I'm talking about huge, creepy ones that can fly. They're called tree roaches down here, and they're the most disgusting things in the world. I would attach a picture here, but I can't even bear the thought of looking at them on the Internet. They're so gross. Nothing keeps them away. They'll die in your house after they eat your insecticide or whatever your boyfriend and the exterminator sprayed, but those suckers can't be deterred. For about a week (before the exterminator came), we were finding one every morning, dead or slowly dying in our house. I may have cried when I saw the first one. Everyone down here shrugs it off and tells me I'm supposed to just get used to it. I don't see this happening. In my 30 years of life, I still scream at the sight of the tiniest spider, so I don't think I'll ever be okay with roaches.
  7. I can, in fact, understand every single person I've met. Babe has encountered more of the Swamp People variety, but he travels out into the country for work. I think I'll stay in the city.
  8. Much to the dismay of Babe and his brother, none of us have seen any alligators yet... probably because we live in the city, not the bayou.
  9. I assume people cheer for the Saints in New Orleans. Here in Baton Rouge, though, it's all about LSU. It's like a cult down here, ya'll. Car decals, bumper stickers, house paint (no, I'm not kidding... even our carport is painted yellow, and we have purple doors and shutters), flags, aisles of merchandise in every single store. It's commonplace to see people walking around in head to toe LSU clothing, and every restaurant in town has a Tiger special. Alumni must be required to stay in the city upon graduation or something because they're everywhere. And we're talking about a city of a million people here, not some small, college town. 
  10. 99.9% of churches are southern baptist. And there are a lot of them. I'm not sure why Mardi Gras is so big down here because honestly, I don't think I've seen a single catholic church.
  11. People here can't drive. Seriously. They're all idiots. Stay tuned to my next post for more on this...
  12. You can't get good pizza down here. And I'm not even holding it to the Chicago-style standard. 
  13. Po' boys are delicious, but that's all the creole food we've tried so far. I know... we're lame.
I'm sure I'll come up with more things, but that's what I have for now. :)

July 23, 2012

Unpacking Fun

Everyone keeps asking to see pictures of our new house. Things are still coming together around these parts (I feel like I should work for a maid service with the amount of cleaning that's being done), but I promise to post pictures just as soon as it's not embarrassing me to do so!

Today was garbage day, and the guys promised me they'd have all the empty boxes (woohoo... finally unpacked the last two yesterday) in our storage area (for our next move) or recycling last night... but that didn't happen. And I'm still waiting for them to move some boxes and plastic totes full of my teaching things into storage as well... some of which have been sitting outside in our carport for a week now! I feel bad nagging them about it because I know how exhausted I would be with their work schedules, so I let it go... even though it's driving me crazy!

If you know me in real life or have followed my blog for a while, you know how much I love to organize. The best thing about moving, I think, is the organizing that follows the unpacking. I find it to be very cathartic to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Babe has pretty much given me free reign of our domain, so I've busied myself each day by finding spaces to put our (okay... mostly my) stuff.

Babe also gave me the closet in the master bedroom for all my clothes (this was completely his idea, I swear). To be honest, it was kinda necessary because I have a lot of clothes (and am realizing that I may need to do some serious donations soon to simplify - okay, let's be really honest here- to make space for the new wardrobe that's necessary for this climate). Luckily, his wardrobe is much simpler than mine and fits easily (with plenty of room to spare) in the closet in his man-cave.

Since his brother moved in with us, I lost the use of our guest room closet, which I planned to use as storage for my non-clothing things (photo albums, art supplies, etc.). This has left me with no choice but to take over some of the space in the man-cave closet. I've been careful to not take it over and done a good job, I think, of purging and/or storing items that were really not necessary... but there's some stuff that I just need/want to access (and there's no space left in my closet... I promise).

Upon coming home one day last week, Babe went to change our of his work clothes, and this is the conversation ensued:

Babe: Baby, what's this?

Me: What's what?

Babe: This! What's this girly crap in my closet?

Me: Oh.. ha... ha.. that? That's just my scrapbooking stuff.

Babe (in utter disbelief): Your what?

Me: My scrapbooking stuff. 

Babe: Your scrapbooking stuff?

Me: I didn't have anywhere else to put it!

Babe's Brother (yelled defensively from the other room): You can't scrapbook in a man-cave!!!

At this point, the three of us erupted in laughter, and I promptly handed Babe a beer and reminded him of the delicious, hot meal that was waiting for him in the dining room. Thankfully, as a teacher, I'm a bit of an expert at redirection... a skill that has proven to be most valuable in the home as well!