July 30, 2014

Why I'm All About That Bass

I've been holding back saying this since the criticism began because I know it comes across as bitchy... and that's honestly not my intention. But I'm honestly SO tired of reading articles about how this song is so offensive. 

For those who haven't listened to these "offensive" lyrics, the ones in question are:

I'm bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches Hey
No, I'm just playing
I know you think you're fat
But every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

Some people are way too hung up on the phrase "skinny bitches" and haven't stopped whining about it since. Not only do I think these people are missing the entire point of the song, but 


I'm sorry, but I just don't feel bad for any "skinny bitches" that take offense to that line. Meghan Trainor addresses this herself in the lines that follow by saying you only think you're fat when, in fact, you're perfect from the bottom to the top.

I can't even count the number of comments I've read in the past week about how the word skinny is just as offensive as the word fat. Interestingly, I don't hear anyone crying out in disgust over Skinny Lattes at Starbucks, Skinny Jeans, Skinny Girl Margaritas, or any of the other items marketed as skinny to attract a following. 

I'm not even going to address the "bitches" part of that phrase because anyone who takes offense to it in this song probably shouldn't be listening to any pop music at all since it's in pretty much everything. Moving on...

We curvies have ONE SONG in all the history of music where someone is saying it's okay to have curves and that boys will still like you if you're not a Barbie. And while understand the argument that a boy's approval shouldn't be the basis of one's self-image, every curvy girl can tell you that they live in a world that tells them they aren't deserving of love or sex because of their curves. Unless, of course, you're curvy like BeyoncĂ©, which, let's face it, still isn't very curvy. 

The point is, I NEEDED a song like this when I was a teenager (and still today), when EVERY message I received from the world told me I was less-than because of my body. And I am thrilled a song like this has gained the popularity it has because somewhere out there is a girl who needs to hear this message!

Yeah my mama, she told me don't worry about your size
She says boys like a little more booty to hold a night
No, I won't be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll
So if that's what you're into, then go ahead and move along

To all the thin women who are offended by this song, I want to say IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. It's the same argument I hear for a straight pride parade, white history month, and white entertainment television. I'm here to tell the world that it needs to stop. Instead, I ask you to recognize that you are a member of a privileged group who maybe just can't understand the need for music like this in mainstream media.

Because we can't turn on the television and see beautiful women like us on every channel. And when they do appear, they're likely in a comedic role rather than a love interest like their thinner counterparts.

We aren't adequately represented in mainstream fashion, despite the fact that we make up more than half of the population. In fact, even many of the stores that do offer us clothing options force us to shop online because GOD FORBID we shop in the same store as our skinny sisters. 

And because no one photoshops an image to make the subject look like us. In fact, they go to epic lengths to create the opposite. Anyone else remember the ridiculously photoshopped thigh gaps in Target's ads earlier this year? Here's a whole list of extremely photoshopped images that prove this point. 

Before I end, I do want to acknowledge that body shaming can happen to people of all sizes. I'm not oblivious to that. I don't support ever pointing out a person for the purpose of criticizing his or her body. I'm also not saying that thin women don't have body image issues. Of course they do. 

But that's not what this is about. 

What I am saying is that this song is about body acceptance. It's about celebrating and validating the beauty and worth of girls who are subjected daily to messages that speak the opposite. It's about giving girls a reason to love their curves, and I'm proud to call it my summer anthem!

July 29, 2014

Remaining Optimistic

I received an email yesterday informing me that I didn't get the job I interviewed for twice last week. 

He offered no explanation or suggestions for what I might to do differently in the future. It was just a statement that they were going with another candidate.

At the end of the day, I guess I just wasn't the best fit. And I have no choice but to accept that. I'm holding on to my statement that I wouldn't change anything about the way I represented myself. I went though the interview questions in my head several times, and although I could change my answers, I'm not convinced anything I'd change would make me a better candidate. 

I'm not going to lie, I was really bummed about this. And it's been pretty humbling because I've always been told I interview well. So, this has shaken my confidence a bit. 

And then I remembered that I had told you guys about the interview, so I owed you an update as well. I didn't have it in me yesterday. Forgive me.

I feel much better today after a couple good cries and lots of words of encouragement from family and friends. This is pretty typical for me because my initial reaction to everything is always emotional, but I always get to the rational part soon after.

I'm not giving up. I never stopped applying. I have to believe that there's something else out there. I just need to find it.

Preferably before August 20th so I don't have to go back to my TA job. That would be great!

Onward and upward...

July 24, 2014

The Interview

I just walked in from my interview, and I wanted to jump on here to give you all the details.

I don't want to brag, but I feel very confident about my interview skills. In my first teaching interview, I was told that I make it seem like we're two friends chatting about coffee, which, I guess, is a good thing. I think I'm pretty good about being professional yet laid back. I always make the interviewers laugh, and today was no different. 

My favorite Q&A of the day was when they wanted an example of a challenge I overcame in teaching. Immediately, all my charter school stories came flooding to my mind, but I settled on one. I referenced the movie Dangerous Minds (although none of us could think of the title for several minutes). I tried to find a gif of the moment, but this is the only one I could find....

What I referenced, though, was the part in the movie when Ms. Johnson is told that if she wants to reach the class, she has to get Emilio on board. I had that kid, and I knew he was the key to my success in that classroom. I had to find a way to reach him, and I was able to do so through his goal to be a famous rapper (he has a full album on YouTube). I had to convince him that ELA would help him become a better rapper through enhanced vocabulary, the use of literary devices, and by studying poetry. And you know what? It worked! When he saw the value in our lessons, he was engaged. And when he was engaged, the rest of the class was free to learn without distraction.

Most of today's questions focused on content, as I previously answered questions about my teaching style in the phone interview. I was able to provide relevant examples to support each of my answers, which I hope proves I'm a great candidate for this job. 

Ultimately, I wouldn't change any of my answers today, so I hope I said what they were wanting to hear. It gives me peace of mind to know that I represented myself well, and I can rest easy knowing that if I'm not selected, it will be because I'm truly not the best fit, not because I didn't say the right thing. 

And above all, I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to interview. I can't tell you how many years have gone by when I didn't even get a call. It gives me confidence that my resume and application are on the right track!

The principal said he hopes to get back to me by Tuesday, assuming he can reach all the references by then.


July 23, 2014

My Favorite Thing About Teaching

I'm excited to link up with the Big Time Blogging Challenge to share my favorite thing about teaching. This is, hands down, the easiest post for me because I can say, without any hesitation, that my favorite part about teaching is building lasting relationship with my students.

You see these young men and women in my photo? In the past week or so, I've had lunch with each of these kiddos, who are former students of mine. It was SO MUCH FUN to catch up with them and hear their stories. I can hardly imagine it's been FIVE YEARS since they were in my classroom every day.

I pride myself on being a teacher who can connect well with her students. I think my students know I'm genuinely interested in learning about them as people because I spend a lot of time asking them about their interests, preferences, and experiences. I do my best to use that knowledge to make my lessons relatable and engaging for them. 

Those three girls in the bottom picture? I actually bumped into them while out with the boy in the top left photo last week. We definitely made a scene in the middle of Chipotle with all our excitement, but we didn't care. It was SO unexpected and fun to run into them. 

They were telling me, at our lunch today, about how they still talk about my class all the time (to the point that their other friends get annoyed and tell them to shut up). I asked them if it was because it was fun or because they learned things. Immediately, they all three confirmed, "Both!" and went on to list multiple activities we did that year that they loved. In particular, I was beaming with pride to hear them say how much they LOVED my book clubs and that they've never read so much in their lives. They were even able to rattle of a list of books they read that year and recalled how they used to become obsessed with the characters and cry when they died. Proud teacher moment!

I know many districts have policies against befriending students via social media, so this is a major benefit to me since I'm no longer employed by their district. I have my students in a special group on Facebook where I can control what they see (and really... I just have to approve the things my friends post because I never post anything bad). It's allowed me to watch and cheer for them on the sidelines of life, which is a role I treasure. I love that they WANT to keep in touch and tell me about their lives, and I love that I've been able to be a support to a few students who really needed it.  

On an unrelated note, I would LOVE if you would send some good vibes my way tomorrow morning because I have a second interview for a sixth grade ELA job in my town. I debated sharing this here because I'm afraid to jinx myself, but I think I need all the support I can get! 

July 21, 2014

IMWAYR: Okay for Now

Confession: I started this book like 3 weeks ago and had a hard time finishing it. I wanted to LOVE it because my friend Erin at I'm Lovin' Lit told me I would. At first, I was going to tell you that I just found this book to be kinda... meh, but after writing my review, I realized that there were many parts I enjoyed, so I'm changing my review to say that I liked, but didn't LOVE this novel. 

I'm glad I read this because it's on the Rebecca Caudill list for this year, which means many of my students will be reading it. There were definitely parts I enjoyed... actually, as I write this, I'm realizing that I enjoyed many parts of the story. I loved reading about the dynamics of the family and the pieces of US History that are blended into the storyline. I loved the little love story between Doug and Lil, which wasn't too over-the-top to scare away your boy readers. And, just like in The Wednesday Wars, I loved the writing and dialogue. 

The parts that always seemed to lose my interest were when Doug was at the library learning how to draw the Arctic tern with Mr. Powell. Maybe this comes from my own lack of knowledge - I'm not much of a nature person and don't really care for birds - but I didn't pay much attention to his instruction here and was always waiting for the next scene to start. I mean... I still understood the metaphor behind it... I just didn't care as much.

For me, the interesting parts of a novel have to do with the relationships. I enjoyed reading about how his abusive a father led him to be more loving and compassionate toward his mother. 

The teacher in me really appreciated the recurring idea that there's more to people than what first appears. I really appreciated the moment his brother confessed that feels trapped by the label as a misguided trouble-maker and doesn't want to be that way. It made me wonder if that's true for any of our students, which is why I prefer not to know much about my students before they enter my classroom. I don't like having any expectations, especially negative, about my students before I meet them myself. 

This also applied to Doug's "so-called-gym-coach," whom we learn is also a Vietnam vet who is dealing with his own demons. As soon as Doug learns this about Coach Reed, he's able to see him as a person instead of just an evil drill sergeant. Doug shows great empathy and uses that relationship to help his own brother, recently home and injured from the war, come out of his depression. 

I would recommend this book to peers and students alike because I think it lends itself to some great teachable moments. I think, at the end of the day, there is much to be learned from Doug's experiences, especially related to how everyone has their own story to tell.

As a side note, I actually listened to this book on my OverDrive app in the car with Joel, which I think makes this the first novel he's completed since high school. I'd call that #winning!

July 16, 2014

You Don't Have to Try

Colbie Caillat is a singer/songwriter I've loved for years. He'd probably never admit it, but even Joel has taken a liking to her. When we're in the car, and he can see that I'm antsy, he'll sometimes offer, "Do you want to put on a book or listen to Colbie Caillat?" He's pretty awesome about tending to my needs and wants like that!

If you follow me on Facebook, you've probably already seen that I'm obsessed with her latest video, "Try" and am declaring it my new anthem. I've basically been listening to this on repeat for the past week. You can also read a great interview with Elle Magazine about her inspiration for this song and video. I've already saved a copy of it to use as an Article of the Week (I like to provide multiple options to meet different interests and reading levels) because I think it will bring up some amazing conversations in the classroom or small group. 

My favorite lyrics from this song:

Put your makeup on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim
So they like you
Do they like you?

Wait a second!
Why should you care what they think of you?
When you're all alone by yourself, do you like you?
Do you like you?

I feel personally convicted when I watch this video because I know I always feel more confident when I'm in presentation mode (perfect hair, makeup, cute outfit, etc.). Not that I do this on a regular basis, because I don't, but I definitely notice the difference in how I feel on the inside with my outer appearance better fits the mold. You may recall that I took part in No-Makeup November several years ago with the women of amy Alma mater. This was an eye-opening experience for me because I learned that even though I don't wear a ton of makeup, I'm still pretty dependent on it. When I taught at the charter school, where makeup was forbidden for students, it was much easier to go without because we were all the same (it helped that much of our staff went without as well). It makes me imagine how great our world would be if natural was the norm instead of this glamorized version of ourselves. 

On a similar note, I LOVE this video! Unfortunately, it's not appropriate for school, but I love it anyway!

Not only is that video absolutely AMAZING (I especially love the male dancer), but these lyrics really speak to me:

My mama she told me don't worry about your size
She says like boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won't be no sick-figure, silicone Barbie doll
So if that's what you're into, then go ahead and move along

I can tell you that it's been a VERY long journey for me to learn to love myself, especially because of my size. For the majority of my existence, I've believed the lies from our media, telling me I'm "less than" and "unworthy" because of my curves. And while I wouldn't say that the battle is won, I'm definitely making progress. It helps that I'm part of an amazing community of women who support each other in this endeavor. 

If I could influence my female students in one way, it would be to help them find their self-worth in who they are as people rather than how they look on the outside. And while I wish I could protect them forever from any messages to the contrary, I can certainly help them filter out those messages by telling them over and over that they are wonderful and worthy!

July 15, 2014

Word Crimes

You may recall, in my post about Take-off Poems, that I use Weird Al Yankovic parodies to help my students understand many literary techniques. In his latest video, Word Crimes, Al addresses the common grammar and spelling mistakes we see on social media (among other places). It's FANTASTIC!

I will DEFINITELY be using this in my classroom!

July 14, 2014

My New Reading List

The power of suggestion is sometimes more than just a suggestion for me. Sometimes, when I see a list of suggested titles, be them movies or books, I become compelled to check every single title off my list. I think it gives me a sense of accomplishment, like I just finished a really big assignment in school. 

This list by Epic Reads of 30 YA Books That Changed Our View of the World is RIGHT up my alley! I guess this is evidenced by the fact that I've already read 7 of these stories and loved them all (For the record, the titles I've already read include: The Book Thief, Elsewhere, The Fault in Our Stars, Speak, Monster, Thirteen Reasons Why, and Everyday.

You can click here for a list of the titles above with links to their summaries and book trailers. 

Are there any books you would add to this list???

Excuse me while I go stalk my public library for copies of these books!

July 11, 2014

What My Students Think of Me

For today's Blogging Challenge, we were asked what our students would say about us. While I could certainly give you my opinion this, I figured it would be better if I simply asked them myself. I have been fortunate to build lasting relationships with many of my former students, some who are now college students (which makes me feel super old), and I keep in touch with many of them through Facebook. So... here's what I posted in preparation for this post:

What do my students think of me? Good question! Let's ask them... 

And here are their answers, verbatim:

RT: Fun loving, relatable, and creative.

SS: The worst! Just kidding. Super fun, helpful, exciting, energetic, and passionate (and everything Rachel said)

CK: Let's see what I can remember from 5 years ago... You were the best! Always there for your students and willing to listen and help. :)

VP: Relatable or warm hearted. 

CB: Energy filled and a huge desire to have her students learn about education and their own lives.

EZ: Enthusiastic, caring, and genuinely trying to get to know each student and make learning fun. :)

KW: AMAZING! and the best teacher in the world and still my favorite teacher!

NK: AH, JD, and I still talk about all the fun and creative memories we had in your class. You always gave us a good laugh and were there to listen to our crazy stories.

JK: How to rage!

As you can see, I have pretty much the best students in the world! I mean, I certainly wouldn't expect any of them to tell me I'm awful or boring, but they definitely didn't have to respond at all. It makes my heart happy whenever I hear from my kiddos, and this thread pretty much has me beaming!

I wish I could use this as a letter of recommendation! :)

July 9, 2014

I'm Wearing Something I Have To Share

Look, I know the rules. I know it's like a cardinal bloggy sin to post twice in one day, but I completely forgot to link up with Jivey to show you guys what I'm wearing right now!

Here I am in my sexy no-makeup photo to show you my new favorite thing.  My mama bought me this new headband while she was on a bike trip (as in bicycle, not Harley) with my dad in Door County.

I promise I'm not naked in this photo! Also? Where are my eyebrows????
I have a love-hate relationship with headbands. I can't stand my hair in my face, so they're super good for holding it back, especially on a sweaty, humid day when I can't seem to control my face-framing frizz, BUT they never fit me right. I always spend my entire day readjusting them because they slip back and pop off my head. And then I get hair-aches... that's what my college roommate used to call them. Anyone else with me on this?

Well, let me tell you, my headband woes are gone because THIS HEADBAND DOESN'T MOVE! It's go a no-slip liner that actually works! True story.

I actually found similar headbands at a Learning Express in my area while shopping with a friend last week, but they were much more expensive. Also? They didn't include my favorite part... Every purchase pays for three meals for a child in Uganda. So you get to be fashionable AND save the world at the same time! I'd call that a win-win!

The bands come in multiple sizes and colors (mine is wide, just to give you an idea). AND... they even offer them wholesale. So, if you're the person in charge of spirit wear at your school, they can make custom headbands for you using your colors and logo. I know... awesome!

Big Time Blogging Challenge: My Fur-Babies

I'm linking up again today with my new friend Michelle at Big Time Literacy for her Big Time Blogging Challenge. Today's topic is to share about our furry family members, and I just can't resist sharing my fur-babies with the blogging world!

Kisses from Grandma's dog!
As evidenced by my first photo, dogs have always been a part of my family. According to my grandmother, my dad used to bring home stray dogs all the time. He got my first pet, Bosco, a black lab shortly after meeting my mom. Unfortunately, I don't have any pics of him, but trust me, he was a great dog! I have very vivid memories of him walking into my room each night to check on me before he'd go sleep on the floor next to my dad's side of the bed. Now, my dad is not an emotional man. I've seen him cry exactly twice in my lifetime, and the first time was the day he told us that Bosco needed to be put down. He was really old and suffering from hip problems that made it agonizing for him to walk up and down the stairs. 

Fighting the evil vacuum!
Our next dog, also a black lab, was Rocky. Actually, his formal name was Rockefeller. There was some discussion about me learning how to train him and taking him to dog shows, but that never happened. He preferred drinking out of the toilet and barking and the vacuum! Rocky was a great companion, particularly for my brother who was homeschooled. He loved to play soccer with us, and was a great snuggle buddy. He ended up getting cancer, and I was at work the day I got the call that he had to be put down. I was at my first big-girl job out of college and totally lost it right there in my cubicle. I STILL get teary-eyed thinking about him. 

My sister proudly showing off our little Gizmo.
In 2003, my mom and sister decided they wanted a little dog to fit in a purse. This is when such things were all the rage in Hollywood, and I guess they wanted to be celebrities. They found this little guy, Gizmo, who is a long-haired Chihuahua, and brought him home. He was small enough, at the time, to stand on my hand, and it was adorable... or at least we thought so. My dad wasn't so smitten. In fact, I remember a few nights of him sleeping on the couch in protest, but of course, he ended up bonding with our "rat-dog" and loves him to pieces today. Gizzy thinks he rules the roost and is happy as long as you're petting him... seriously... don't stop, or he will bump himself against you and whine. :) 

Cutest puppy EVER!
Napping with Dad.
For our last next dog, according to my mom, we decided to switch things up and got a yellow lab. I know... we really branched out there, huh?! Wrigley is special. No... really. My dad nicknamed him Brain-Damaged because he's a lovable doofus. You see that blue "blanket" lining the bottom of his cage? He carried that thing around the house in his mouth forever. It was the cutest thing! While Gizmo thinks he's the guard dog in the house, Wrigley is convinced he's a lapdog. He refuses to get in the water, and prefers to visit with all the humans at the dog park... maybe he's smarter than we think... he knows who will pet him! 

I may need a giant lint roller every time I leave the house, but I also have a lot of love from my furry family! ;)

July 7, 2014

Made it Monday: Getting Creative in the Kitchen

One of the things I love about summer is that I have time to experiment in the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I still HATE to cook, but it's nice to have the time and energy to try out new recipes to add to our repertoire. Also, Joel really likes it when I feed him, and I aim to please. ;-)

I'm linking up with Monday Made It to share what's bee happening in my kitchen lately...

The first picture is of my a hand-stuffed, spinach and ground turkey manicotti. This recipe was simple (I followed the one on the back of the box) but VERY labor-intensive. I spent about two hours prepping it in the morning (AKA procrastinating on job applications) and then threw it in the oven for about 40 minutes before dinner. We both loved it, but I definitely think this will be a weekend or school vacation meal.

Underneath that photo, you can see some of the fresh fruit I cut up for our fondue night. Joel asked for a fondue for his birthday, so we got a set and promptly made a very expensive and failed attempt at a cheese fondue. In fact, we tried it twice. For whatever reason (despite the fact that I followed my sister's directions explicitly), the cheese would not melt, and we were left with a large wad of cheese that resembled the inside of a mozzarella stick... which is great for that, but not so great for dipping fondue. There may have been some tears on my part after I spent an hour cutting up veggies and chicken for that night. I'm pleased to report that we did MUCH better with the chocolate sauce. :)

To the right of those pictures is one of my FAVORITE crock pot meals: chicken fajitas. I use a packaged chipotle lime seasoning from Target (note: it's a liquid, not spice, so you'll find it with the Mexican food). I throw in some frozen chicken, peppers, and onion with the sauce and let it cook all day. The result is non-traditional because the chicken is shredded and covered in liquid, but it tastes SOOO yummy!

Underneath that is my favorite summer salad made with strawberries, Craisins, sliced almonds and goat cheese with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. We eat this year-round because we're both obsessed with goat cheese! For this meal, we paired it with a grilled salmon we marinated in a lemon pepper dressing. It was DEVINE!

That last picture on the bottom left was more spur of the moment...I don't know about you, but we never eat the white rice that comes with Chinese takeout. Instead, we always order a side of fried rice to accompany our food. While this works out better for my taste buds, I always feel guilty wasting the rice, which never stays good the next day. This weekend, I had a genius thought to repurpose our leftover rice by making a delicious rice pudding. I found a super easy recipe on allrecipes.com and threw it together with ingredients I already had in the house (I even forgot the butter but don't think it was necessary). Even my mama, who isn't much of a sweets eater, asked for a cup for her bedtime snack! 

I feel like such a domestic goddess! 

July 6, 2014

Photo Dump: My Summer So Far

Somewhere in my blog stalking today, I came across the Big Time Blogging Challenge. While I certainly won't participate every day, I'm keeping the July calendar as a reference and inspiration. Today's goal is post about what we've been doing this summer, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity for a photo dump!

Of course, I started with this past weekend, which I spent with hardly any plans at the request of the boyfriend. Something about working 12+ hours in one day wore him out for the whole week, so he asked me not to fill our weekend with plans. So, I didn't.... and I was bored! Our 4th of July was very laid back and included a picnic in the park with my brother and his girlfriend. He then took me to a secret parking lot from which we could see fireworks and hear the music from the high school a few miles away. It was pretty perfect!

Last weekend, we went to a family BBQ with some of our old neighbors. I met a lot of people in that subdivision, but these three girls have remained my friends through distance and time. It was super fun to get some baby snuggles and catch up on life over burgers and hotdogs. I LOVE these ladies!!!

The weekend prior was my friend Jon's birthday. Jon (in purple) and Matt (in green) were two of my very good friends in college. As you can see from our HUGE smiles, we had a blast at this party, which was held at a bar called sidetracks in Boys' Town. On Sunday nights, they do Showtunes, which means there's a huge montage of musical tracks, which they play on every TV in the bar. And let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've watched 200+ grizzly gay men belt it out to the Frozen soundtrack!

This little princess is our niece Aniya (technically, Joel's niece, but I claim her too). I've been babysitting this little bundle of joy a day or two each week to help Joel's sister as she starts her new job. We've been playing with the dogs, going for walks, making music with old popcorn tins, and we even had a shopping date with my friend Jen last week. She's the easiest, cutest baby in the world... except for her blowout diaper. I don't want to talk about that one!

These little munchkins belong to my college roommate, Amy, and I absolutely fell in love with them when their family came to visit in June. This isn't hard to imagine since their mama was my other half in college. We seriously did EVERYTHING together, and I loved every minute! Amy is a twin herself, so it was a total surprise when she told me she was having a set herself. Claire and Amelia are as sweet as can be, and I loved that they had zero stranger danger, which meant I got to hold them and feed them and play with them all day long. We actually got to spend two days together, which was AMAZING! I haven't seen Amy since her wedding two years ago, so it was such a special treat to be able to catch up!

Joel is a big outdoors guy, and as much as I'm not (Unless I'm in a pool, of course. I hate the hot, humidity, and bugs), I try to appease him when the weather is tolerable. We've been taking our pups on some walks (and the kids in the neighborhood love to join us for this), and he likes to visit the local parks and walk along the river that goes through town. As much as I hate to admit it, it's good for me (but not my allergies) to get out of the air conditioning from time to time and enjoy nature!

What about you? What have you been doing this summer? If you post about it, link up with Big Time Literacy

July 3, 2014

Getting Personal About My Professional Experience

A big part of the reason why I stopped blogging last month was because I've been struggling with a desire to be more authentic in my writing. I don't want my blog to be a giant TPT advertisement or limited to surface-level linky parties every day. I'm not saying it's bad when other people do this, but I want a space where I can talk about the things that are more personal. This post is my first step in that direction, so I hope you'll stick around for the journey...

This article popped up in my newsfeed today about a Chicago Public School teacher who is now banned from working in CPS despite previous excellent ratings all because she didn't print out her lesson plan for the day of her evaluation.

The story struck a nerve with me because I understand what it's like to be a dedicated and passionate teacher who is kept from the job she loves. I'm going to do my best to share the short-version today, but it's a pretty involved story...

I was fortunate, or so I thought at the time, to be offered a job at the school where I student taught. I was in a top-ranking school district with endless resources at my disposal, and I was assigned to teach gifted students, meaning, for the most part, my students enjoyed learning and were eager to please. The team of teachers with whom I was assigned to work were like the dream team. We all got along, personally and professionally, and not a day went by without laughter.

It wasn't long into the school year, though, when I learned that my principal had a reputation for making people walk on eggshells. She had her minions, as we called them, who were her prized teachers and could never do wrong. The rest of us, I learned, had to learn to live in a state of paranoia, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that a minion would report back to the boss.

This principal split up my dream team for my second year, and I ended up working closely with a new teacher, whom we recruited from another district (when her former principal and mine became buddy buddy). She and I were assigned to a split LA block, meaning each of us taught one period of the block. It didn't take long for our roles to be established: I was to do all the planning and creating, and she would run copies. Each morning, like clockwork, she'd come to my room to collect handouts for her class and ask me what was on the agenda for the day. I mention this because it will be pertinent later.

In my two years at this school, I really did love my job. I developed great relationships with my students, parents, and the few teachers I knew I could trust, some who are still friends today. I was cordial to everyone and worked hard not to ruffle any feathers because I had seen the consequence of this the year prior when a fourth-year colleague, who was about to become tenured, was let go for using sarcasm in her classroom. No, I'm not kidding.

In this district, first-year and second-year teachers were evaluated four times by two administrators. Two evaluations are planned, and the other two are pop-in. The evaluation lasts one period, even during a block class. All eight of my evaluations were great. In fact, during my last one, which happened in February, under suggestions for improvement, my principal wrote "None" with a smiley face. 

Imagine my surprise when I was called into her office two weeks later and berated for an incident that had happened SEVERAL MONTHS prior. To this day, I couldn't tell you how she even knew about it because she certainly wasn't present, but I guess that's why she had minions. Anyway, here's the story...

A girl on my 7th grade team (not one of my students) had a crush on one of our male teachers. This was not a secret. EVERYONE knew, including him. Honestly, I thought it was pretty harmless and certainly more innocent than my crush on Channing Tatum. To be fair, this teacher was very young and looked even younger, so I could understand the appeal. I was supervising the hallways after lunch one day (a job I was not even assigned, BTW), and heard this girl yell, "Mr. XXX is so hot!" She immediately looked at me, and I giggled awkwardly and replied, "Um... maybe you should keep comments like that to yourself?" She nervously apologized and continued on her way.

And that was it. As far as I was concerned, the story ended there.

Until I was called into my principal's office and chastised for not being more stern with this student and addressing it with her parents and a detention. I sat there dumbfounded. It never even crossed my mind that this was a punishable offense. Never. (In my defense, I approached several other seasoned teachers and administrators about this incident after this fiasco, and they ALL replied that they would have reacted in the same manner.)

Flash forward to two days later when I go in to my pre-scheduled summative evaluation. This is when we're supposed to talk about all those glowing evaluations, but instead, I see that she has marked me as unsatisfactory, meaning that I do not possess the basic teaching skills and am not recommended for re-hire.

And her reasoning? "Inappropriate relationships with students," which is SUCH an inappropriate label, because she thinks I don't hold myself in a professional role at all times and am too friendly with students. I told her right then and there that I have NEVER had any conversation with any student that I wouldn't be willing to repeat verbatim in the presence of every administrator and parent, but of course, her decision was already made.

She also informed me that she would be "watching me" and that I wasn't to discuss this with anyone. I was literally too scared to even casually socialize with anyone for the rest of the year. In Illinois, teachers have be notified of their status for the following year 60 days (I think) before the end of the school year. This means, it happened in March, which meant I had to come back and teach in this school every day for 2.5 more months. It was TORTURE!

Of course, I went to the union, and my reps took it right up to the president, who was weeks away from retirement. He encouraged me to write a rebuttal for my records but basically said there was nothing I could do and that principals have absolute authority to write whatever they want on an evaluation.

I learned later that the new teacher on my team was promised longevity in her position at her interview. I found that very interesting because we knew going into that year that we were going to lose two teachers. She was also promoted to a team leader for the following year because, apparently, she showed great leadership and dedication using MY LESSON PLANS!

My unsatisfactory rating not only kept me from getting other positions in the district, but she also managed to ruin my chances at a job in another district the following year because she lied to me about what I should write on future applications. I suspect she needed a reason to let me go so she could keep the new girl, which is bad enough, but I don't know why she had to be so vindictive. My rationale is that she's just an evil person. A well-connected, evil person.

It's been four years since I left that school. I've worked in may schools since, but I haven't had my own full-time classroom in Illinois since, something I'm still seeking today. I also think I have some PTSD or something from the experience because I trust no one. When I'm at work, I live in a constant state of anxiety. Not enough to paralyze me or make me dislike teaching, of course, but enough to keep me from thinking anyone in my building is a friend. It's sad, really.

And you know what? In almost every school I've worked since, I've encountered teachers who are terrified of their administrators. Too many teachers live in this same state of fear, worried for their job safety. Even those who are tenured worry about being moved to new assignments or losing leadership positions if they upset the wrong person.

Something is wrong with our evaluation system when we have passionate, dedicated teachers who are unable to do their jobs because one administrator decides so, especially over such silly things. I continue with the hope that I will find my home school, and I will be able to move beyond this once and for all. I desire to work for a school where my administration is an ally and resource... please tell me they're out there!

July 1, 2014

Look Who's Back!

Hey... Look at me blogging again! I promised myself that I would make a blog post today, and then it happened to be the first of the month, which means it's time to link up with Farley for Currently. I couldn't have planned that better myself!

Stick around, folks! I vow to be a better blogger and commenter this month! I may even get back to work on some TPT products that are THIS CLOSE to being done... for like 4 months now!