January 30, 2012

My Students Make Me Feel Old

I have naturally curly... or kinky... or wavy... (it kinda depends which section you're looking at)... hair. Like most women in the world, I think the grass is much greener on the other side and want desperately for it to be straight. I've spent years becoming best friends with my straightening iron. I have to say, I've got it pretty much down to a science, and that's usually how you'll see me on night on the town... or pretty much any time I care about how I look.

For work, though, it's not always convenient to straighten my hair. Mostly because I do that whole shower-at-night deal, and my straightened hair always gets a stubborn, funky kink after sleeping on it. So, often, I scrunch in some mousse and try to embrace the curl.

Today, after our math quiz, some of my sixth graders were talking about hair, and one of them asked me if mine is naturally curly or straight. As soon as I confirmed the former, a couple of the girls began lamenting about how they wished their hair were curly too.

And this is when I made the fatal mistake of informing them that my hair was actually pretty straight as a kid. So straight, in fact, that when I was in sixth grade, I begged my mom to let me get a perm. I was insanely jealous of the large, bouncy (clearly, no one had introduced me to hot rollers yet) curls in Stacy's (Ferguson... as in Fergie) hair on Kids, Incorporated. I remember my mom forking over the $80 for my perm that fell out days later (something about hormones causing the solution not to work correctly). But, oh, were those a glorious few days.

To which my students responded, "What's a perm????"

Oh. My. God.

When did I get so old? I mean, weren't the 80's just a decade ago??

I've attached my sixth grade picture, taken about a week after my perm (which, you can see, was fading fast), for your viewing pleasure. I distinctly remember thinking this was one of my better yearbook photos. Not only did it show my "curly" ponytail, but check out those bangs (I guess frizz was stylish back then)! And I don't know if you can tell, but there were shoulder pads in that shirt. Oh yeah! This was pretty much the peak of my coolness in life.

And then I got old.


January 22, 2012

Crock Pot Stuffed Peppers

During winter break, Mary introduced me to my new online obsession: Pinterest. If you're not on it, you need to be. While many of the pins are simply amusing, there are several that I've found helpful, including some delicious recipes.

My "Kitchen Creations" board has proven helpful in inspiring me to try new dishes. This is a pretty big deal for me because, as my mother will tell you, I've never enjoyed cooking. It's always just been something I've done out of necessity. Recently, however, I've started to enjoy my time in the kitchen, provided I'm not hungry or rushed in the process. I throw on a good playlist or audio book and can happily spend a couple hours working away. I know... it's surprising even to me!

To be completely honest, I'm still learning my way around the kitchen. I can follow a recipe, but I sometimes I have to call my sister (who studied culinary arts) to ask her what something means. And I'm not at all experienced enough or creative enough to just throw things together and know (or hope) the result will be fabulous. But we've all gotta start somewhere, right?

At the moment, the scent of crock pot stuffed peppers is wafting through my home, and since this is the second time I've made this recipe in recent weeks, I thought I'd share it for anyone looking to try something new. If it's easy enough for me to make and enjoy (twice, I remind you), anyone can do it.

Oh... and contrary to what anyone may have read on Facebook, I cooked these in my crock pot, not a cock pot. I'm still not sure what a cock pot is, but if you find one, let me know. :)

Crock Pot Italian Stuffed Peppers (adapted from Stephanie O'Dea)
  • 4-6 large bell peppers, depending on the size of your crock pot.
  • One package of Jennie-O Italian seasoned ground turkey, cooked
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 can of garlic and onion tomatoes 
  • 1 t  worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T ketchup
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1/3 cup water

The Directions.
In a large bowl, mix everything except the water and bell peppers together. 
Wash and clean out the bell peppers. Save the tops.
Pack each pepper with the ground turkey and rice mixture
Nestle the peppers into your crock and put the little pepper tops back on.
Pour in 1/3 cup of water around the bases of the peppers
Cook on low for 6-8 hours. 

January 16, 2012

Wise Words for Our Nation

Today is a day set aside to celebrate one of the greatest leaders in our history, whose words and ideas have undoubtedly impacted our great nation in ways so many never thought possible. And while I believe we still have room for further progress, I also think it's also incredible to see how far we've come.

A friend of mine was teaching her first grade son about Dr. King today, and he could not, for the life of him, comprehend why anyone would treat others differently (much less poorly) because of skin color. It warms my heart to think that this is the mentality of our future generations.

And while most of us could probably recite excerpts from MLK's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, there are lists of lesser known quotes flying around the Internet today that deserve some contemplation. So, without further ado, here are my favorites from "Other Things MLK Said":

  1. Almost always, the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.
  2. An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
  3. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
  4. A nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual debt.
  5. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
  6. Power, at its best, is love implementing the demands of justice. And justice, at its best, is power correcting everything that stands against love.
Do any of these quotes resonate with you??

January 10, 2012

Reading Log Alternatives

Since I was home yesterday, I was online to see a neighbor's irritated post about her son's reading log assignment. Apparently, his homework was to read 500 pages during the month of December. Mom diligently signed off on the first 470 pages within the first couple weeks of the month, while school was still in session. But over break, even though her son did read, she forgot to sign his paper. The result was an unhappy second grader with a failing grade on his reading assignment.

Reading is important. Any educator can tell you that. And the intention behind a reading log, commonly used in K-8 classrooms, is positive: encourage reading. The problem, in my opinion, though, is that they don't work.

When I was subbing and working toward my teaching certificate, I saw many reading logs at many grade levels. Although the approach varied (some teachers require only a record of time spent reading and pages read while others require short summaries), the result was always the same: it didn't motivate student reading. In fact, I think it often does the opposite by making reading a fight between parents and children.

I have plenty of students who read on their own. Whenever they have even a few minutes of free time between activities, their noses are deep into thick novels that I basically have to pry out of their hands. But do you know what I learned? Many of these very students were the ones with failing grades on their reading logs! Why? Because these students are reading for the joy of reading and aren't worried about recording their every page. Or because they forget to take their sheets home for the required parent signatures. So, in this case, a reading log punishes students who actually read because their parents aren't signing off on it. Dumb!

Even more common, though, were reading logs that were completely falsified. Students who forge their parents' signatures (I was totally that kid, I admit it) and/or make up stories about what they supposedly read. On more than one occasion, I've seen incomplete reading logs with parent signatures down the page... so the students can fill in whatever they want. And you know what? These students end up getting full credit because their sheets are complete by the time they're collected on Friday. So, in this case, a reading log rewards students for lying. Also dumb!

I am passionate about reading. I understand how important it is for students to spend time reading on a daily basis. I, too, want my students to be motivated to pick up a great book and get lost in its story. But the first thing I did when I had my own classroom was abandon the reading log assignment (a decision that was applauded, literally, by parents and students alike).

So how do I make sure my students are reading?

I give them time to read every day in my classroom. Yes, that means I sacrifice other activities, but I think it's that important. This also gives me the opportunity to have mini reading conferences with my students where I can help them find new books, encourage them try a new genre, and have meaningful dialogue about the stories.

Additionally, one of the best decisions I ever made in my classroom was to start book clubs. I allowed my students to choose their own groups, books, and reading speed. I have been conscientious about stocking my classroom library with relevant, engaging novels in sets of 4 for this very purpose. One of the inherent benefits of my books clubs is that even my most reluctant readers are motivated to participate because their friends are reading the same stories. And because I gave them the freedom of choice (something that's very important to middle school students). I met with each group once per week to listen to their discussions and facilitate deeper thinking as needed. It's one of the most authentic things I've ever done in my classroom, and my students responded with enthusiasm. In their eyes, I gave them a pass to "hang out" with their friends, but I can tell you with certainty that they were learning! They applied the reading strategies, made deep connections, challenged each other's thinking, and most importantly... they read a ton of books!!

And not once did I ever use a reading log.

*** Note: I have posted a follow up to this post to address many of the questions I've been asked. Please see my new post here, and of course, let me know if you need further directions. :)

January 9, 2012

Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive

While everyone else is working, I'm typing this post from the comfort of my bed, not unlike the way I've spent most mornings the past two weeks of winter break. Except that I kinda had my hopes set on working today as it's the first day back to school. There's a sick part of me that's actually looking forward to seeing my students with all their new flashy phones, ipads, and Ugg boots that they surely got for Christmas. But then I remembered around 2:00 AM that probably not many teachers would need a sub today. So, I guess it's back to work tomorrow, for me. 

My house is still adorned with Christmas decorations. I've been procrastinating on taking them down for a number of reasons:
  1. I need to go to Menards and get one of those big Christmas storage containers. This is not money I want to spend. Money that will sit in my garage, unnoticed eleven months out of the year.
  2. My house looks so homey, so inviting, with all the decorations. And after my roommate took down all of our Halloween decorations, I realized how boring and generic this house looks without holiday decor.
  3. Valentine's Day is still a bit too far away. For some reason, this holiday is not like the others, when it's perfectly acceptable to start preparing months in advance.
  4. I have two small trees. One in the living room, and one in my bedroom. And I really enjoy the way the lights bring warmth to each room at night (and by night, I mean 3:00 when it starts to get dark around here these days.) It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The christmas trees are really the big reason. I just love them. They give off the perfect amount of glow so it a) looks like someone might be home even when we're not and b) allows me to walk through the house at night without turning on any lights. I prefer to think of them as glorified nightlights. 

I like my Christmas tree lights so much, in fact, that I planned to leave the one in my bedroom up all year. It's far less traditional looking with it's long, slender frame. I took off the few adorning ornaments and told myself it looks like those lighted plants you sometimes see in office spaces. Yes?

Plus, the only real plant we have in this house is dying a slow but sure death. It's horrible. I pull dead leaves off that thing on a regular basis; there are very few green ones left. And once that plant is officially dead, we will have no greenery in this house, real or fake. See? This house needs my tree!

But then, about ten minutes ago, for no apparent reason, the lights on the tree went out.

And my heart sank a bit.

I think the universe is trying to tell me that Christmas is, indeed, over.

Maybe I should take that trip to Menards today and use my time off to pack up my Christmas spirit until next year.

Or... maybe I'll take advantage of some clearance sales and get some new lights for my tree!

January 5, 2012

Life Lesson: Be Consistent

After a three week hiatus, two of which were not option (my gym cancelled all group fitness classes for the last two weeks of December) but the other totally was (I usually choose to skip class when there's a sub), I finally got back to Zumba last night.

And let me tell you... UGH!

All of us girls were laughing at ourselves and each other because we. were. dying. It's amazing how much three weeks off from a fitness routine can really impact you. I didn't realize how easy Zumba had become for me until last night, when I was dying... three songs into the set.

It's kinda like driving a car. If you're consistently driving at 60 mph on the expressway, you never feel the engine rev. But if you drop your speed (because... I dunno, you see a cop and have that moment of panic where you have a mild heart attack and hit the breaks, even when your speed is perfectly acceptable... anyone else with me on this?) and need to accelerate again, you can feel that engine cranking, working extra hard, to get you back to your normal speed.

That's how my body felt last night.

Thankfully, though, I had my best girls there to make it fun and help me persevere. I wouldn't have made it through the hour without them by my side.

Consider my lesson learned! There will be no more time away from the gym for this girl!

In fact, last night I learned about and downloaded a great fitness app called GymPact. You set a weekly fitness goal for yourself and the app pays you (yes, in real money) for completing your goal. All you have to do is check in at your gym, and it clocks the amount of time you spent there. If, however, you skip the gym and don't make your goal for the week, you have to pay up. I think it's a great motivator for the days when I'm feeling lazy.

January 4, 2012

Plastic Surgery Gifts for Kids?

When most of us were kids, our family members gifted us with US Savings Bonds or college funds in order to prepare us for the future.

Today, I read about a mother, Sarah Burge, who gifted her 7 year-old daughter with an $11,000 credit toward future liposuction. This gift is merely a follow up to the previous gift of a credit toward her future breast enhancement.

Mom's defense?

“She wants to look good and lipo is one of those procedures that will always come in handy. I see these vouchers as investing in her future – like saving money for her education.”

Um... maybe all that hair bleaching has killed too many brain cells because I'm amazed that anyone would have to point out that a breast augmentation and liposuction package does not begin to compare to a college fund. Really?!

My heart is broken for this little girl, even though she's too young to understand it yet (evidenced by the fact that mom claims she asks for cosmetic surgery all the time). The message, though, is very clear: your value is directly related to your physical beauty. What a destructive message to send your daughter.

Add this woman to the list of people who shouldn't be allowed to parent!

January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

I'm a little late on this post... sue me.

For New Year's Eve this year, I joined my friends and their family at a hotel in the northern suburbs where we spent Thanksgiving weekend. It's always really low-key, which I enjoy. It's so low-key, in fact, that we all hang out in our pjs pretty much the entire night. (I know you're super jealous!) But don't you worry... all us girls showed our NYE spirit by sporting glittery nailpolish on our figners and toes! The food, drinks, games, laughter, and the ability to recover the next morning in the hot tob made for the perfect plan for ringing in the new year.

I hope the new year brings you lots of love and laughter. May it be your best year yet!

Here are a few pics from our night of celebrating:

Mary really likes decorating for a party! :)
Lawn Jenga in the hotel lobby was a huge hit!

My favorite 10 year-old and Clue buddy!

This is what happens to Paolo when we start drinking at 4:30 PM!

Ready to toast to the New Year!
The boys got creative with the decorations again... some people were too drunk to really care. Not mentioning any names.