Tag Archives: Teaching

Valentine’s Day Confession

It’s official, I’m out of the closet, I love Valentine’s Day!

I used to force myself not to like it.  I reasoned that it made people that I love feel lonely, so I wanted to support them by not liking it.  I also scoffed at how arbitrary the date was– complaining how it was a capitalistic excuse for more materialism.  Last year, I went so far as to tell Alex that I did not want presents and that I did not care if he had the closing shift at work, (I thought that I was being generous to his coworkers that actually wanted the time to celebrate!).

Today, however, I realized that I do like Valentine’s Day, even if there are aspects of it that still annoy me, (like all of the horny men wandering around looking for flowers at the grocery store!).  Despite the annoyances, it no longer bothers me that it is a day that we made up.  So what– aren’t all holidays days that we made up on some level or another?  Maybe this one is more recent, but I do not see anything wrong with a day based on love.  After all, isn’t love critical to our happiness as human beings?

I’m not saying romantic love… Although, that kind of love is nice too.  I’m just saying love.  As an adult, I’m finding that Valentine’s Day is a day that I tell my friends, students, and family that I love them.  I don’t tell them with expensive gifts, but with little gestures: a cut out heart with kind words, a card, a text, a phone call.  In fact, it turns out that Valentine’s Day results in the greatest outpouring of token gifts and sweet little cards from my students of any holiday.  I have a veritable mountain of candy and cards that make me feel appreciated!  What’s so wrong with expressing our love this way?

In truth, I witnessed many little acts of love that made me happy to be alive today:  A coworker’s husband marching across campus with a gigantic bouquet of roses, (to the sheer excitement of the 120 students watching at recess!).  A student excited to deliver her one special hand-crafted valentine to a boy that she likes, (reminded me of the valentine that Alex made me in fourth grade!).  My students treasuring the little valentines that I made them.  My dad unexpectedly delivering a valentine to my school, complete with a generous donation for our upcoming field trip.  Incredibly kind words of support emailed from my mom.  A woman taking the time to pull into the grocery store parking lot just to cuss me out for changing lanes at the same time as she did, (okay, that happened, and it made me laugh, but maybe it doesn’t belong on this list!).

Even though I’m looking forward to seeing my husband tonight, it has been the acts of love from other people that have brightened my day so far.  I’m sure he’ll make me smile too, when he gets home from work, but I’m realizing that Valentine’s Day is far more than a romantic holiday based on excessive consumerism.  It’s a chance to tell people that they matter to you.  If you’re feeling sad or lonely tonight, you’re entitled to dislike this holiday, I don’t blame you, but also consider reaching out to the people that you love.  It will make them smile, and chances are, it will make you smile too!

The valentines that I made for my students.  It is amazing how a few kind words so clearly brighten their day!

Simon going nuts on one of my gifts from a student… oops!

You’ll be happy to know that the bear survived!  Happy Valentine’s Day!
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The Mixed Emotions of Sunday

Each week, Sunday brings mixed emotions for me.  My job as a teacher can be all-consuming, so Sunday reminds me that it’s time to gear back up and get ready for the week to come.  It requires grading, planning, and refocusing to minimize my stress during the week.  It is also the day that I visit my family and attempt to catch up on my book.  Writing is requiring a lot of patience because I have so little time to do it and so much desire to lose myself in it…  Not to mention grocery shopping or making sure that our house is clean for the week!

In short, Sunday is full.
I know that life is full too, not just Sundays, but for whatever reason Sundays often feel like the fullest day of the week.  I find myself trying to cram everything that I want to accomplish into Sundays because the week days are monopolized by teaching and Saturday is the day that I let myself relax, do less, and generally spend my time with Alex, (since it’s the only day off of the week that we share).
I want to learn how to achieve more balance while also holding onto all of my priorities.  I guess prioritizing is a part of life, I just wish that I had time for everything!  What a lovely world it would be if I could get everything done that I need to be a good teacher, have plenty of time to write my book, keep a clean house, get enough exercise, and still have enough time for my friends, family, and Alex.  I can’t even imagine what it feels like when you add children into the equation.  I guess your priorities shift.  
For now I just want to figure out how to fit all of my priorities into the picture!  I think that is why Sunday is bittersweet for me; I have so many things that I want to do with this one precious day and only 12 hours or so to do them!  I’m sure that there is some Zen teaching that would help me about now, but no time to look– happily off to the next Sunday priority but also sad to be putting my writing away for the day!
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This morning I woke up excited to go back to school on Monday.  Instead of a dream where nothing was going right in my classroom, I dreamed that I had a fabulous day where everything was coming together and I felt like an effective teacher.  Dreams are very powerful in setting the tone during my waking hours.  Now, I am sitting here re-energized to go back to school, excited to see my students, eager to try some new tricks and to be consistent with my old ones.

It sure beats the dreams I have where everything is going wrong and I wake up a stress-case!  It’s funny too, just yesterday I was telling a friend how the end of breaks are always so hard for me, how I start to stress about time slipping away from me, about how quickly I’ll be back absorbed in the challenges of my classroom.  However, with a shift in perspective brought on by a restful week and an encouraging dream, I’m now sitting here excited to go back.

Realizing how easily my perspective can shift from a stressful one to an excited one causes me to wonder whether there is an easy trick for always remembering to reframe my thinking.  I feel like it is trickier than it sounds, but I also think it is funny how often something seemingly little can help me change how I see things.  In this case, I’d like to find a way to always remember to step back and look at my job as an exciting and rewarding challenge when I start to become stressed, overwhelmed, or nervous.  I’m determined that it is possible.  If you have any tricks, I’d love to hear them.

So, happy Saturday.  I am determined not to look at today as two days before I have to go back to work or as “Oh no, time is running out.”  Instead, I am determined to embrace today as its own, completely independent entity full of events and activities that I have been looking forward to, as well as a chance to get caught up on little tasks before everything gets busy again.  May you have an equally enjoyable and productive day and remember that how you look at everything around you matters too.

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Job satisfaction, life satisfaction

Alright, so this week has not lived up to last week in its revelatory nature, but it has been a good week.  Not perfect, or over-the-top amazing, but good.  I guess that few weeks in life really are perfect or over-the-top amazing, so good is satisfying enough.

When I left my old job, I left in search of job satisfaction.  I was determined that there had to be a job out there that I could feel good about on a consistent basis.  A job where I would not while away the hours feeling frustrated, bored, slave-like, and stressed simultaneously.  For awhile, I even lost faith that such a job existed, at least within my grasp.  This is why making the leap to teaching was such a gigantic leap of faith for me.  I was willing to give up money and prestige for the fantasy of job satisfaction, but I was uncertain that job satisfaction was truly possible.

Fast forward one year four months, and, at least this week, I feel satisfied.  Teaching, though full of its own stresses, moments of failure, long long hours, and public scrutiny, is also immensely satisfying when it goes well.  Breakthroughs with challenging students, sparks of love for learning, and being able to share myself as inspiration to kids that really need it, feels good.  Really good.  My students are smiling more, I am smiling more.  Thursday I actually came home from work with a big smile on my face and that sense of job satisfaction that had seemed so illusive.

Yes, I still feel stressed, and yes, I come home more tired than I ever have from any job, but I also feel passionate for the first time ever about what I do.  This morning, I woke up to read a teaching book of my own volition.  No one is making me read it.  I want to read it.  I am deriving pleasure from reading it.  It is called The Book Whisperer, written by Donnalyn Miller, a teacher that requires her sixth graders, regardless of reading ability, to read forty substantial books of their choosing each year.  I expected to find a book about reading less-than engaging, but instead it has reminded me of my own deep love for reading and ignited my desire to inspire that same love in my students.  It is stuff like this which makes me love teaching.

A recommended read for all teachers!

Even this week, teaching has been a mixture of emotions, sliding back and forth on the job satisfaction scale.  I began the week being observed by teachers from a neighboring school during a few of my less-fine moments, leaving me feeling shitty about my teaching, (for lack of a better adjective).  It is such a strange part of teaching that what works one day may not work for the same students the next.  It also seems to be a common trend that the moments I am the most proud of, the moments I wish the whole world was watching, are also the moments that my revolving door of observers are not present.

I ended the week feeling like I still have so much room to grow but also like what I’m doing is working, a little bit at a time.  The students are beginning to do the right thing on their own, quieting down more quickly as I also grow in my own patience.  I can also feel their engagement and love for learning grow, even if it is still just an emergent sprout in need of a lot of encouragement.  I expect that there will be a thousand more highs and lows, including what seems to be the weekly moment where I ask myself how long I will last as a teacher.  However, a deep, underlying sense of job satisfaction is beginning to emerge that is spilling over into my greater sense of life satisfaction.  I have heard it said that teaching is more than a job, that it is a lifestyle choice.  I am beginning to feel what this means.  Today, at least, it is a satisfying choice.

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I had big plans for my fall break.  I was going to clean my house, get caught up on my to-do list for school, and take a trip with Alex.  Instead, I got sick.  The trip with Alex is still happening, but everything else has shifted into slow motion.  Yes, I have muddled my way through some household chores and crossed off things on my school to-do list, but for the most part I have lazed around the house, watched t.v., surfed the internet, and thrown myself a pity party.  While most of those activities would warrant envy from me on a typical busy day, the reality is that I have a really hard time sitting still.  If I am not engaged in something either socially fun or personally productive, I go stir crazy.

Which makes me wonder, why is it so hard to sit still?  Why do I feel like I always have to be accomplishing something?  Why does “relaxing” not feel like an accomplishment in itself?

Even sitting here now, writing this all down, makes me feel stressed out.  My house, while orderly, is far from clean and is definitely disorganized in places.  Just going out to the backyard with the dog to pick the last of summer’s tomatoes made my anxiety levels rise as I looked around and saw how much work I could be doing out there.  Sitting on the couch now, the disarray of dvds in our entertainment center is making me desperately want to go straighten them out and then dust the entire house…

Earlier, when talking on the phone with my mom, she made the astute observation that maybe I need to become more comfortable with not always having complete control over my classroom.  I know she’s right.  I also know that this connects to my obsession with having a clean house.  Cleaning is something I can control, so a messy house negates this sense of control.  Likewise, being sick pisses me off because I do not feel like I’m in control of my own body.

Now, I’m laughing to myself, because I’ve created an entry that makes me sound like a control freak, but I know that I’m not alone.  I also know that I have gotten better at letting go of some control in my life.  For example, living with Alex has taught me to let some things go, like learning generally not to let the garage and backyard bother me when they’re not as orderly as I’d like.  I have also learned to pick my battles, which is further testament to the fact that I’m not actually a control freak, (or at least not an out-of-control one!).  Moreover, I have to let some things go in order to leave my classroom at a godly hour, otherwise I’d be straightening desks and cleaning surfaces until I was the last teacher left at school!

So, now, I wonder to what degree the desire for control is a bad thing and to what degree it serves a purpose.  It seems like many accomplishments in life are fueled by the self-discipline that accompanies the desire for control.  Likewise, I derive a sense of happiness, superficial or not, from checking items off my list and putting my life into an ordered state.  Even so, I agree with my mom that I need to learn to let go of control more often and become more comfortable in this space.

Accordingly, I am now sitting here trying to embrace being sick.  I am trying to allow myself the space to do nothing, which is terribly difficult for me.



I’m tired.  I feel beat up by teaching this week.  So far it has been such a roller coaster of happy and frustrating moments.  This week I’m on the frustrating down-swing.  I feel ineffective, which I know must be the root of my dissatisfaction.  I just don’t get why sometimes I feel highly effective and other times I feel like I suck.  I’ve been told time and time again that this is what it feels like to be a first-year teacher, but sometimes it is hard to remember what it feels like when it’s good.  I’m nowhere close to throwing in the towel, I am just feeling frustrated and think it’s important to be honest about it.

Even with this feeling, I don’t regret my decision to teach.  It has changed my life.  It has made me tougher and given me back a lot of my self confidence in dealing with people that went missing for awhile.  It has gotten me out of working in a windowless cube for eleven hours a day, (not that I’m working less, because really I’m working more, and for far less money).  I now know what the weather is like outside and get to actually be outside during daylight hours.  I get to watch the seasons change and hardly sit in front of a computer.  I get to talk to people all the time, young and old.  I finally use my Spanish.  I get to be a dork and the kids love me all the more for it.  Even if my hours are long, I get some flexibility in choosing when to spend them, and I get more than three weeks off a year.  Most days I feel like I’m making an important difference in the world, even if it is hard.

So with that little dose of honesty, I will gather myself together and do it all again tomorrow.

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Make it fun, damn it.

Today I had a lot of time to reflect on my teaching at our regional professional development day.

The last couple of days have been challenging.  The students were beginning to go through the routine of the day with fewer reminders from me, so I took a couple of steps back, and as soon as they smelled the freedom, they went wild.  The last two days have been me stepping back into my vigilantly strict role, which has left my classroom a little somber and a little boring, at least to me.  I have a hard time being strict and fun simultaneously.

However, today, I declare no more!  I am determined to be fun and strict simultaneously.  Students that cannot handle it will just sit out of the fun.  Problem solved.  I’ve noticed that some of the best days that we’ve had have been days with little surprises, little quirky joyful moments, little rewards.  One of my favorite moments of this school year so far was when a student taught our whole class, including me, how to shuffle, (see below).

With this recent memory in mind, I have a plan for tomorrow.  In listening to me go on and on about all of the attention seeking behavior in my classroom, my husband suggested that I have a mini-talent show at the end of the day on a semi-regular basis if the students earn it.  I’m so excited to see how it goes.  I’m going to have three different randomly selected judges that write positive adjectives on their white boards after each round instead of scores.  I’m also going to have a theme song (Huskies got talent, yes we do, huskies got talent, we’ll show you!).  And, last, but not least, I’m going to have a game show host.  Now, all I need is the talent!  I know there are dancers, rappers, joke tellers, magicians, and singers all looking for a little extra love in my room.  Here’s to hoping that they come out of their shells and participate tomorrow…

I’m determined to make it fun, damn it.  For their sake and mine.


Patience is a virtue

Growing up there were a lot of sayings in my family.

This too shall pass.

Life’s not fair.

Patience is a virtue.

I cannot help but wonder how far back these sayings go.  I know that my grandparents used to say them, but did their grandparents say them too?  What about their grandparents?

I also wonder what hardships these sayings originated from, because clearly these are the words of people that have known hardship.

As I go about my day, I often hear these words of supposed wisdom in my head.  And, while I recognize their truths, I recently began to simultaneously question their faults.

This too shall pass screams to me a certain resignation in the present, an omission of the power of action in creating happiness.

Life’s not fair has a similar ring.  Why can’t it be?  Why don’t we rise up and make it fair?  (At least as much as anything is in our control…).

And, finally, patience is a virtue makes me think that maybe patience is overrated.  Patience can be the kind of thing that numbs you into submission as you wait for things to improve.

I definitely see a pattern in my new-found interpretation of these truths.  A certain laissez faire attitude about life that is not in my nature.  I guess that is probably why I had to hear these sayings so many times as a child.  I was frequently displeased with the present, enraged by injustice, and impatient.  But, who is to say that those things are so bad if they make you take action toward something better?

Even so, I doubt that these sayings will disappear with me.  As much as they irk me, they’re also part of me.  I have already found myself saying them to my students and, I’m sure, I’ll also say them to my own children.  They’re easy fixes to complaints, even if they leave the recipient a little unsatisfied.

So, as I feel impatient and frustrated about some of the circumstances in my life, I guess that I should remind myself that patience is a virtue and that this too shall pass.  I just wish that I could find a way to not want it to pass.

Maybe I need some new sayings.

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Sometimes it’s best said by a ten-year-old…

Today I reluctantly taught my class of fourth graders about 9-11.  I was reluctant because I did not know if they would be mature enough to show respect for the content and I did not want to seem like I had an agenda.  I also worried that I would be repeating something that they had already heard over and over throughout their short lives.

To my relief, they were enthralled and respectful.  To my surprise, when I told them about how I watched the day unfold on September 11, 2001, I got some serious goosebumps.  It was so strange to stand in front of 29 people that knew so little about what happened.  Most of them were not even born yet.  Explaining what the day was like for me made me remember how much fear I felt that day.  I never realized how it affected me, even though I heard over and over on the news that it changed my generation.

I tried to keep the content pretty mild and absent of any political undertones one direction or the other.  We read what it was like for a student that went to school down the street from the WTC and watched a short kid-friendly video about the sequence of events that day.  After our discussion and free-write, the kids decorated a small quilt square in memory of what happened.

One student, a boy that speaks English as a second language and sometimes has trouble expressing himself, called me over as he was working.  He was so excited to tell me what September 11 had taught him.

He said that it taught him to enjoy life because you never know what will happen.

Apparently teaching these kids about September 11 was more worthwhile than I expected.

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Something Old

Yesterday after I wrote about my necklace, I remembered how as a kid I used to carry around a good luck charm in my pocket.  In elementary school alone, I went to four different schools, and often had trouble making new friends in the beginning.  Somewhere along the way, I devised a plan to carry the little porcelain chick below in my pocket.  Just like the necklace, it helped to give me both courage and comfort when I felt alone.  Given its small size, I’m amazed that I never lost it!

Now that I teach kids, the chick is a good reminder that sometimes we all need something magical to believe in.  I’ve noticed that many of them carry little toys in their pockets that I confiscate throughout the day.  It never occurred to me that some of these toys might be a source of strength when they need it!  
Tomorrow I will bring my little chick to class and share my story with them.  Maybe it will mean something to some of them. I just hope that I can help make their childhoods a little happier, (even if I still have to temporarily confiscate their good luck charms from time to time!).  
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Teacher Brain

I have teacher brain.  I don’t know if all teachers develop teacher brain or just people with obsessive thought patterns, like me.  All that I think about now is teaching and my students.  My poor husband has to listen to me rattle on about their backgrounds, their behaviors, their quotes, my fears, my little victories…  When the dog wakes me up in the middle of the night, I come to from a fog of classroom dreams.  While I’m talking to friends, I find myself droning on with my teaching stories.  I called my dad back after a ten minute conversation about teaching the other night just to tell him one more story.  It consumes me.

I wonder if teacher brain ever goes away or whether you have it as long as you’re teaching.  In a way I like it, because I feel passionate about it and my brain seems to be eagerly processing the challenge of so much information coming from so many different directions.  On the other hand, I think I might drive the people in my life crazy if teaching becomes the only thing I talk about!
Since I’ve admitted that teaching is all that I’m thinking about right now, I’ll share a couple of my favorite moments from the week, (and, to be fair, I guess it’s not ALL that I think about, I have also been planning where we’re going to travel during my breaks, but maybe that is part of teacher brain too?!):
  • Yesterday my students wasted time during art by playing around when the art teacher asked them to clean up their supplies.  When I came to pick them up, they were nowhere near ready to leave, so they ended up wasting about ten minutes of my instruction time and ten minutes of the art teacher’s prep time.  When we got back to class, I had them write letters apologizing to me and the art teacher for wasting learning time by playing around.  The responses were hilarious.  My favorite letter was one where a student tried to explain to us that the Huskies, (that’s what I call them because our class university is UW), just want their freedom because this is a school where they come to learn, not play.  His use of the word freedom made me giggle.  Ironically, the letters made me like my students more because they were generally very endearing and included references to how important learning time is. ❤
  • This week one student told me in the middle of solving a math problem on his white board, “I LOVE THIS SCHOOL!”  (Same student that was trying to explain in his letter that the Huskies just want their freedom…)  I asked him why he loved it and he responded, “I just love it,” while smiling down at his math problem.  I asked him if it’s because he’s good at math and he gave me the biggest smile/nod combo.  Adorable.
  • At afternoon recess, a group of girls called me over away from the other students to show me a cheer they had made up, (or partially stolen from some book about witches turning themselves into eternal youths).  It was pretty hilarious/cute at the same time.  They were so nervous to show me but so proud of themselves when it was over.
  • Last, but not least, our school is participating in an event put on by the 20/30 club where students in need get to go on a mini shopping spree for back-to-school clothes, (thanks to an amazing teacher on my team!).  Five of my students were selected and when I handed out the notices I felt like it was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the golden tickets.  I made sure to do it discretely, but in my quiet little conversations with the students that received the spots, I felt like I was handing them winning lotto tickets.  They were so excited!  I could feel some of the financial stress that they already carry at such a young age melt away.  I’ll admit, it made me a little teary.  

Thank Goodness

I’m afraid to say it but I’m finally starting to feel back to normal again, like I can do this and I like children.  I’m afraid to say it because I do not want to jinx it!

Today I realized that I’m starting to fall in love with my students.  I fell in love with my students last year, which is an odd feeling.  You just suddenly find yourself really caring about them, even when they’re challenging, or maybe especially when they’re challenging.  I felt twinges of it this weekend when I missed them a little, but today I actually realized that I’m beginning to know them and like them.  That sounds odd because you expect people that work with children to like the kids automatically, and even though I do conceptually, it takes me a little time to truly care about them as individuals.  Today reminded me of the feeling that makes me like being a teacher.  Hopefully, the more that I get to know my students, the more I will go home with this feeling.

Yesterday, a student came out of nowhere and wrapped her arms around me and told me that I’m her favorite teacher.  Every teacher knows that you only get to be the favorite teacher while the student is in your class.  But that’s beside the point, if nothing else, at least the universe still finds a way to remind us that what we’re doing matters to someone.


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