November 27, 2014

Thankful Thursday with a Giveaway, Thanksgiving Edition

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

1. To start this week, I am thankful for my DVR. It's such a simple thing, but it really does make a huge difference. I honestly couldn't tell you the last time I sat through a commercial, which is why I almost never know what movies are playing these days. I love that I can go out and live my life, and my shows will all be waiting for me to watch at my convenience. I guess I can extend this thanks to include Netflix and Hulu Plus, which have made this even better (especially with series like OITNB). Right now, I have a backlog of primetime shows and movies I can't wait to watch over break while I'm snuggled in my pajamas because I don't have to work!

2. I'm a casual girl. It's not that I don't enjoy dressing up from time to time, but my happy place is in a pair of jeans (even better is a pair of yoga pants or leggings) and a hoodie. I'm not sure what it is about being able to dress down, but everyone always seems more relaxed and pleasant on these days. When I worked in Corporate America, our new CEO announced that our casual summer policy didn't need to end, and people were literally dancing and cheering in their cubicles! One of the nice things about being a substitute is that I can pretty much show up in jeans every day (but don't worry, I only really dress down on Fridays with my school shirt). Especially in cold weather, this brings a smile to my face!

3. I'm thankful for my sister, who celebrated a milestone birthday this past weekend, which officially makes her the oldest sibling now because I will forever be 29 years old. She had a cute idea to celebrate with a bunch of her friends (as well as our mom and me) at a local nail salon. We had a few bottles of wine and some snacks, and it made for a fantastic way to celebrate her day! I'm amazed that I've never thought to do this type of celebration for myself, as it's nearly impossible to get my friends together for an evening because they all have kids. Seriously... plan on a trip to the nail salon in March, friends!

I feel very fortunate to have Amy as my sister. We are, I think, a good mix of "OMG we're like the same person!" and "How is it possible that we come from the same family?!" I'm happy that she's finally in a career that she loves (nursing) because it's so fun to see her thrive. I'm proud to call her my sister and friend. xoxo

4. I feel like this is a given (like friends and family), but I can't imagine not saying so specifically. I am so thankful for my amazing students. Whenever I walk through the hallways, I'm bombarded by students in all grade levels with the question, "Who are you subbing for today?" My response is always followed by cheers when they learn they'll be with me or groans when they realize they won't. I have to admit, it's a great feeling! We actually bumped into three of my students yesterday while leaving a restaurant, and the girls were SO excited to see me (despite the fact that I literally just saw all three of them yesterday) that I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. To be completely honest, it's probably equally exciting for me to see them! :)

5. Finally, I'm so thankful for this blogging community, which has introduced me to so many wonderful friends across the world! I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect with so many of you, and I think it's pretty awesome how some of you have become "crossover artists" and are now counted as my IRL friends (including some of you I have not actually met in person due to location). I genuinely enjoy connecting with you guys and look forward to reading about your personal lives and hearing your classroom stories. Thank you for making this such an amazing community!

To show my appreciation for you all, I want to do a little giveaway today. Each person who links up to today's Thankful Thursday post will be automatically entered to win my 40 page A Christmas Carol Novel Study Packet, which is full of activities to help your students master characterization and symbolism. This product is my best seller in my TPT store, and this is your opportunity to get it for free! All you have to do is link up with your Thankful Thursday post! It's a perfect unit for those few weeks in December, and I've included everything you'll need to teach the novel from leveled vocabulary lists and activities, formative and summative assessments with answer keys, characterization and symbolism guides, and everything you need to help your students write an accompanying expository essay. Check out the Table of Contents for all the goodies that are included:

The winner will be selected using on Sunday evening after the linky closes. 

November 24, 2014

Bears Victory Freebie

I have to admit, since this has been a rough season for my bears, I haven't been good about having my freebies ready to go in case of a win. I'll keep this one live for at least 24 hours so you have time to pick it up! Please let me know if you have any issues with the download!
This Daily Research Log was such a lifesaver for me. Each year, I do at least one big research project, which requires independent work in our school library. As you all know, it's very easy to get caught up in assisting a handful of needy kids and never quite make it all the way around your class. This has left me with a few issues I needed to address:
  • I wanted to make sure my students were making progress in their research and not just looking busy when they weren't really doing much. It's incredible how skilled some students are in this area!
  • I wanted increased communication with parents about what their children are doing in my classroom. Yes, this gives them accountability because they have to share their findings, but it also gives parents a heads-up that the paper or project is on the horizon. This eliminates the element of surprise and lets them see the daily progress (or lack thereof).
  • I wanted to hold my students accountable for their behavior in the library. There's nothing worse than taking your students out in "public" and watching them forget all your behavior expectations, making you look as if you lack classroom management. I solve this with daily points, which can be removed for off-task behavior. I find that having these points on a paper, where I can physically cross off a number, serves as a great reminder to stay focused.
Using this log puts the responsibility on my students. If they can't tell you what they've done productively for the day, then they aren't using their time wisely (or they need to ask for help). It also gave me a quick way to assure that I am at least checking in with each student (because I have to initial each day). 

I left the file in a Word document in case you need to modify it for your needs. I hope you like it!

IMWAYR: Yes, Please!

Happy Thanksgiving week! DEVOLSON (for those that aren't teachers, this is the Dark Evil Vortex Of Late September, October, and November) is nearly done. After a good dose (or two) of turkey this week, we should all be in better spirits as we move forward. To be honest, I haven't felt the effects of DEVOLSON much this year, but I can see the toll it's taking on my co-workers.

Since it's Monday, and since my classes are busy watching Pixar short films this week (looking for principals and elements of art in animation), I have time to share with you my latest read: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.

I recently joined Goodreads because I wanted a place to record the books I've read, what I want to read, and to get suggestions of other books I might enjoy. If you're a user, I'd love for us to become friends so I can check out your bookshelves too!

When I signed up, I had to pick a favorite genre. I honestly hadn't ever given that too much thought, but it didn't take long for me to determine that I really enjoy a good memoir. I especially enjoy reading books by funny women. Here have been some of my favorites:

Kathy Griffin
Ellen Degeneres
Chelsea Handler
Tina Fey
Kristin Chenoweth
Jane Lynch
Jen Lancaster
Tori Spelling
Mindy Kaling

Amy Poehler's book Yes, Please falls easily into line with these other women. I find her to be very relatable while still very entertaining. I want to be her friend. In fact, when I read that her college roommate was a girl named Erin from Chicago, I hoped I could pretend that was me. Just don't mind our age difference! :)

This memoir isn't meant to be fully of belly laughs as much as it's an honest account of her life. She discusses her childhood, relationships, career, and all the successes and failures that have brought her to where she is today. I really enjoyed this book!

Of course, not all the memoirs I enjoy are by funny women. I like reading first-hand accounts of things I've learned about in the news or experiences I will (hopefully) never understand. Some of the other memoirs I've enjoyed include:

Amanda Knox
Sharon Rocha (Laci Peterson's mom)
Lance Armstrong
Nujood Ali
Mitch Albom
Dave Pelzer
John Grogan
John Howard Griffin
Todd Burpo
Cupcake Brown
Anne Frank
Jennifer Traig
Piper Kerman

I believe that reading (or listening, as the case may be) the stories of others helps us strengthen our empathy. It gives us the opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes, which hopefully helps us become more compassionate about the struggles of those who aren't like us.

I think this is important for all ages, but I especially think it's important for our middle and high school students to learn that everyone will not share their same experiences and opinions. And there are some great lessons to be learned along the way, even from these funny books!

November 23, 2014

Sunday Letters

I have been meaning to link up with my girl Michelle at Big Time Literacy for weeks and weeks. I always seem to miss it, so I'm super happy to be on top of things this Sunday!

Without further ado, I present to you my Sunday Letters. 

November 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday, Week 3

Happy Thursday! I honestly feel like this week flew by in the blink of an eye. I happened to check my blog stats last night at 10:00 and realized it was almost Thursday, and I didn't have this post scheduled yet. Oops!

For those that don't know, this is my annual November linky where we come together each week to share the things for which we're giving thanks. For the readers who are not bloggers, you can share your Thankful Thursday submissions on my Facebook page.

Things I'm thankful for this week include:

1. I got to spend a much-needed night out with some of my old neighbors at a local painting class at an adorable art studio called The Chilled Palette. If you're in the Chicago area, there are dozens of these places around, but you MUST check out this location. The owner was so hospitable and made the night so much fun! Here are a couple pictures of our night. As you can see, I chose to paint a glittery deer instead of the Let it Snow image that was scheduled. I just fell in love with it when I walked in and knew it would go better with my decorating style.

2. Remember how I told you guys I had to get a new credit card last week? Yeah... I already put that to good use when I stayed home from work one day and received an email about a mega sale at JC Penney that I couldn't resist. I donated a bunch of my winter clothes when I moved to Baton Rouge, and was really needing some more warm clothes to get me through what's shaping up to be an epically cold winter. So, I treated myself to some retail therapy and LOVED everything when it arrived on Tuesday. Online shopping is dangerous but oh so satisfying!

3. I'm thankful for unconditional love. We all mess up, sometimes in pretty big ways. I'm grateful for the people who are understanding about that and willing to give second (or more) chances. I think we all need that forgiveness and acceptance from time to time.

4. Wide-calf boots. Seriously. I cannot express to you how thankful I am for these! It's so great that designers are realizing more and more that women (and men) come in many different shapes and sizes. I can't tell you how happy I was to walk into DSW this season and try on several pairs of boots that all fit. Not only am I thankful for this because they're trendy and cute, but I love that I won't spend another winter freezing in ballet flats. Unfortunately, a photo is not included because I suck and didn't plan ahead this week. But my favorite new pair is by Unisa. If you need pics, let me know, and I will post some later! :) 

5. I started reading Amy Poehler's book, Yes Please, this week, and I'm loving it. I've talked before about how I really enjoy reading memoirs of funny people (women, in particular) and this book is totally my style. If you haven't read this yet, you need to get your hands on it. 

I'm also linking up with Jennifer again for Positive Thinking Thursdays.

November 17, 2014

IMWAYR: Before I Fall

I stayed home sick today with an epic migraine that just wouldn't quit, even with prescription medication. If any of you are sufferers, I'm sure you understand the grogginess that comes with this pain, which pretty much means I'm useless when it comes to teaching when I get them. Anyway, I share this because it's also why I'm SUPER late linking up today, so I'll keep things brief.

The latest book I finished was Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. To an outsider, protagonist Samantha Kingston seems to have everything any high school girl could ever want. Through this story, though, she realizes that her superficial world is lacking and strives to give her life some meaning.

What drives her to this point? Her death. Yes, I realize that sounds weird, but Sam mysteriously gets the opportunity to relive the last day of her life a la Groundhog's Day seven different times. In a very Butterfly Effect way, she learns exactly how much power she has by making tiny changes in this one day.

This is another book I listened to and wish I hadn't. I don't mind the concept of the book at all, but I HATED the narrator. In particular, I hated the way she made all of Sam's friends sound insanely whiney and annoying, no matter what they were saying.

If you enjoy books that make you question our role in this world and how your actions can impact others, this would definitely be a good read for you!

November 16, 2014

Bears Victory Flash Freebie

This has not been a great season for my Chicago Bears, but thankfully, we did earn a W against the Vikings today, which means I owe you guys a freebie!

Miss Lifesaver

What I have for you today is a great powerpoint that reviews some elements of characterization. It's divided into three sections, so you can use it for multiple mini-lessons. 

In section one, we learn the difference between a protagonist, antagonist, and foil characters. There's a built in review activity, which includes references to popular movies your students will recognize and love!

Section two focuses on the difference between static and dynamic characters as well as round and flat characters. We then review the types of words that are used to describe character traits. 

Finally, in section three, we discuss the difference between direct and indirect characterization. I introduce my buddy WALTeR, who helps us remember the different ways we can learn about a character indirectly.

After reviewing this PowerPoint with your students, they will be so much more confident in their ability to discuss the characters in their stories!

What are you waiting for? Grab this freebie Characterization PowerPoint while it lasts!

If you're looking for a great addition to this freebie, I have a fun protagonist/antagonist/foil sorting activity that's a great extension. You can use it in a center or as a formative assessment piece. Read all about it here.

Bear down!

November 13, 2014

Thankful Thursday, Week 2

Happy Thursday! This is my annual November linky where we come together each week to share the things for which we're giving thanks.

For the readers who are not bloggers, you can share your Thankful Thursday submissions on my Facebook page.

Things I'm thankful for this week include:

1. I spent the entire weekend in the city with one of my BFFs. Bobbie has been family to me for the past 14 years when we were two lonely freshmen living in Ohlson House (as unofficial roommates since ours were never around). We went to a REALLY small school where we felt like complete outsiders because we didn't grow up going to camp with these people, and none of them were our family (seriously... everyone was related to someone at that school). Bobs and I decided that we would be cousins and spent our entire four years together convincing everyone we were family. To this day, we still call each other Cousin, and I love her like one. We are sometimes very different people in regards to our likes and dislikes, but somehow, we work. She has taught me so much about life, and I know I'm a better person because of our friendship. I'm grateful for our much-needed girl's weekend of chick-flicks, shopping, manicures, and cooking together. I loved every second! Well, minus the 2.5 hour drive to get there... haha! Love you, Bobs!

2. I finally got to watch The Fault in Our Stars this weekend. Like the book, the movie had me ugly-crying and in need of a box of Kleenex. I know that sounds like a weird start for a thankful post, but I really am grateful for stories that can pull me in like that. I love to get lost in a good book or movie. It's an escape for me. I love connecting so strongly to the characters and their stories that I am filled with emotion. I guess that's why I became an ELA teacher.

3. On my last day of my long-term position, I was showered with cards and gifts from my thoughtful students. Many of these gifts included Starbucks gift cards. I literally have't paid for a single cup of tea since the beginning of October because of their generosity, and I'm thankful for this every time I need a pick-me-up. Without the gift card, I would certainly force myself to go without, and it's amazing how much more I enjoy my day with a venti green iced tea in my hand!

4. We had a pretty cool Veteran's Day assembly, which included a performance by the national champion Marmion Academy Drill Team as well as speeches and music performances from several students. It was a nice way to honor the veterans and thank them for their service. 

5. I found out on Sunday that my credit card was missing. When I looked up the account, I saw that the card was used twice after Bobs and I had dinner Friday night, neither time by me. I don't know if I left the card on the table, dropped it, or if I just didn't get it back. In any case, Chase was awesome about removing the charges from my card and sending me a replacement right away. This is my FOURTH card for 2014 (thanks to all these security breaches)! So, why am I thankful about this? Simply because I had only received said card two weeks prior and had not yet taken the time to move all my recurring charges over. So, it really didn't result in any extra work for me. It's the little things in life! :)

I'm also linking up with Jennifer again for Positive Thinking Thursdays, since our linkys go hand-in hand!

November 12, 2014

Pressure to Pass

This week, the Orange County School Board in Orange County, Florida voted 7-1 to pass a proposal that says no middle or high school student can receive a grade below 50% on a quarter or semester report card.

This new grading system, which has been unofficially in place for a year, aims to "keep students motivated" toward graduation. The idea, I guess, is that a super low score in one quarter could make it impossible for a student to pull that grade up enough to still pass. 

Like many teachers, I have a major issue with this policy. How is preparing students for the future if we inflate their grades to meet a policy rather than reflect their learning? How can we "reward" students with a passing grade (at the end of the year), when they've only done half the work?

How does this make sense?

I had enough of a struggle with this when I taught in Louisiana because the grading policy for special education students said that I couldn't give them anything below a C. Basically, it was nearly impossible to fail a student in special education, even if the fault was entirely on the student for lack of effort. The paperwork involved was enough to scare off 99% of my co-workers, but I held my ground and did fail several special education students that year. Of course, this required heaps of documentation and endless meetings, but I firmly believe this was the right move. I did everything in my power to help these kids succeed. I modified every assignment and assessment. I provided unlimited extra time without penalty. I pulled these students often for extra tutoring during the day and after school. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. 

At some point, the accountability has to be put back on our students. 

Apparently, in Orange County, Florida, though, they do not agree. I would hate to be a teacher there, trying to motivate these students who now have a free pass to screw around for half the year as long as they can pull decent grades the other half. I can only imagine the nightmare this will create for classroom management. 

I have an 8th grader this year who has the ability to be amazing but chooses, instead, to be a thorn in the side of his teachers. Not only does he not do his work, but he also disrupts the learning of his classmates. When asked about this, his response was, "They made me go to summer school this year, and even though I still didn't do anything, they passed me to 8th grade. So, why would I work?" 

Sadly, this student has a valid point. And this is what happens in a school district that supposedly does allow students to fail. Supposedly.

I worry that policies like this are creating a generation that knows very little about true responsibility because everything is handed to them. 

November 7, 2014

Five for Friday

Usually, I'm so exhausted on Fridays that I miss the chance to link up wih my Five for Friday, but since I have the day off, I'm actually participating this week. Go me! :)

1. I actually had a pretty lengthy blog-post written this morning, but then I lost it all when we had connection issues and I tried to restart my laptop in an effort to fix things. Grrr.  I'll save myself the headache of re-typing it all, and just share the video that inspired it (Note: NSFW) of comedian Lewis Black:

2. For anyone who missed it, yesterday was the kick-off of my annual Thankful Thursday linky party where we post weekly about the things for which we're grateful. It's still not too late to participate, as the party stays open through the week (and then the Week 2 party starts on Thursday). I know several of you already do this on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so feel free to take a screen shot or copy and paste your responses. I want my page to be filled with gratitude. If you're a reader but not a blogger, I invite you to share your thanks on my Facebook page in the comments section!

3. I'm a carb junkie. This is especially true for me when it comes to snacking. I've been making an effort to push myself away from the various crackers and chips. To that end, I've learned how much I really enjoy various nuts. I currently keep a stash of them for when the munchies hit, and I honestly have been very satisfied. Right now, I'm loving pistachios for my salty craving and a few coconut almonds or vanilla almonds when I want something a little sweet. Double bonus: the pistachios take longer to eat so I eat less!

4. The kiddo I tutor turned eleven yesterday, so I picked up a huge, chocolate cupcake from the bakery at Mariano's (the BEST grocery store in the world... for real). He was so surprised at this gesture that his eyes nearly popped out of his head. I think he said the most sincere "Thank you!" and hugged me at least 5 times. Totally worth it!

5. I'm headed to the city this weekend for some quality girl time with a dear friend. We have plans to cook, pamper ourselves with DIY manicures, and I'm sure there will be red wine... you know... because we care about our health.

Cheers to Friday, friends. I hope you all had an excellent week!

November 6, 2014

Thankful Thursday 2014, Week 1

It's Thankful Thursday, everyone! This is my annual November linky where we come together each Thursday (because I'm a sucker for alliteration) to share the things for which we're giving thanks. Nothing is too big or too small.

I invite you to join me in publicly by linking your post below. You can write about one topic or twenty; the choice is yours. The link stays live all week long, so be sure to come back often to read the newest posts.

Also, for those that are readers but not bloggers, I'm inviting you to share your Thankful Thursday submissions on my Facebook page. I can't wait to read them!

Things I'm thankful for this week include:

1. The fact that I get to do 99% of my subbing in the same school where I covered a maternity leave at the beginning of the year. It makes me feel like I'm still part of the staff, and I love working with them. It's also SUPER nice that the students all know me, so I don't have to deal with being tested all day by middle school kiddos who question authority. I love that I still get to see "my students" on a regular basis, and that they're always super excited when I'm subbing for one of their teachers.

I'm also really fortunate that I've become the go-to sub for many staff members in the building, so I get requested regularly. I'm not going to lie, it makes me feel really good when staff members get possessive over me and want to request me on a day I'm already scheduled. I've had THREE different teachers in my building fight for me for the two days before Thanksgiving, and I kinda love it! :)

2. This week, I am thankful for science. I know that may sound weird, but I can explain. In case you haven't heard the good news, there's a new study that shows that drinking one glass of red wine is equal to one hour of exercise. Yes, you read that correctly. I have a renewed dedication to my health because of this news, and I'm fairly confident that I can commit to this healthy habit for the long-term. Which leads me to my next point...

3. I FINALLY got to hang out with my girl Michelle from Big Time Literacy this week! I loved this girl from the moment I met her here via our blogs, and I'm so glad our schedules were able to coordinate so we can officially be IRL friends! We joked that our dinner date (if you can call it that since we only had red wine and appetizers...haha) felt a little like a blind date, but I instantly felt at ease with her like I was hanging out with an old friend. My only regret was that I forgot to snap a photo so share in this post! Next time, friend!

4. Since I didn't work on Monday, I went over to my BFF Ashley's house to spend the day with her and her twin girls, who are nearing the 20 month mark. I love this girl with every fiber of my being because we have been there for each other through all of life's ups and downs. It's great for me that she's chosen to stay home with her little ones so I can visit with them on my days off! I mean, how can your day not be great when you get to experience life through the eyes of a child and take in all of this cuteness...

5. This week is parent-teacher conferences in my district, and I don't have to attend! Now, I may be poor due to a shortened week, but we'll still call it a win! :)

ETA: I'm also linking up with my girl, Jennifer for Positive Thinking Thursdays, since our linkys go hand-in hand!

November 4, 2014

To Tutor or Not to Tutor, This is the Question

I honestly can't remember (and I'm too lazy to look right now) if I've mentioned that I started a side tutoring job this fall. It's one hour twice a week, but it's honestly a pain in my you-know-what.

It's not the kid. I adore him. He's a very bright, respectful, driven, and funny little 5th grader.  I enjoy the hour I spend with him very much. 

It's the time that surrounds our session that's killing me. Originally, we were scheduled to meet at their local library at 5:00 PM. They informed me that this was the ONLY suitable time for them since he must eat dinner when he arrives home from school at 3:45. 

But you know... the plan sucks for me. I get out of school at 3:00. I work 35-45 minutes southwest of my house. These tutoring sessions take place about 15 minutes east of my schools. That left me with 1:45 of time to kill twice a week. It wasn't SO bad when I was doing my long-term because I could keep myself busy with grading/organizing/copying/planning, but once that ended, that time just dragged on and on.

And let me just say that I'm not really cut out for 12 hour days. I mean, I will happily meet a friend for dinner or drinks, but when 12 hours of my day is spent working or commuting to/from work... no. Ain't nobody got time for that!

On days that I don't end up working, I still scheduled my whole day around tutoring because there's just no good way to get to this library at that hour. I live about 15 minutes north of the expressway, and the library was at least that far south. This leaves me stuck sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.  It didn't take long for me to hit my breaking point when I was literally crying to my mom in the library parking lot where I sat after driving 1.5 hours to get to the library during rush-hour in Chicago. 

Through my tears, my mom suggested that I push back and ask them to make some changes to better accommodate my needs. I'm the one with the skill they want, after all. I offered to pick him up from school, change locations, ANYTHING, to make the time earlier. 

So, now I go to their home (and extra 10 minutes out of my way) at 4:00. It's definitely better on the front end, but coming home sucks! It took me 23 minutes to drive about 3 miles. Seriously. I know people who can run faster than that (I would not be one of these people, just FYI). 

I guess my question is... at what point do I thrown in the towel? Yeah, the cash is nice, but is it worth all the extra aggravation? Would you do it?