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!