Hello, 2013. Thanks for Visiting.

Ode to 2013

2013 is a year that taught
me copious lessons. It brought
hope and some trepidation,
faith and some affirmation.
A bounty of choices demanded attention,
giving my simple life greater dimension.
An unheard of act of risk taking
led to an act of decision making.
I cried, I cheered, and I laughed
(What the hell is a mosquito craft?
This rhyming dictionary is weird.
)
I frequently disappeared,
sinking into my protective shell
dealing with change and doing it well.
Today I celebrate the good
in 2013, just like I said I would.

__________________________

At the beginning of the year last year, I made a “Resolution to be Successful.” My goal was to concentrate on the great things that happened throughout the year. I had never done it before– usually ending the year with a “thank goodness it is over” feeling. I was tired of living my life, waiting for the year to end so I can start afresh. It was time to realize that every day is a fresh day and I needed to acknowledge and celebrate that fact. I made a jar and I filled the jar with wonderful things so I could write about them at the end of the year. I hope you enjoy my adventures.

Family

I am thankful every gosh darn day for my family. Without them, I would not have as much joy in my life. They keep me from staying in the darkness when I’m depressed, and still love me when I spend extra time there. Here are some highlights.

  • We have a little raised garden in our back yard. It has become a family project. Every season, we clean it out, hand till it, and plant it. Pretty much every season, we end up with very few veggies– they get creature-eaten or frost-bitten or die in the hot, hot sun. Yet we continue to do it. There is something about sticking your hands in the earth that reminds you how connected you are to everything around you.
  • The girl figured out how to tie her shoes. It may seem like a little thing, but she was determined to never learn how– at least not from me. Thank goodness Hubs has the patience of a saint or she’d still be in Velcro shoes. Now if we could get her to keep them tied…
  • We were able to send the girl to Camp Invention. It is a week-long critical thinking/problem-solving day camp. She learned so much, including how to work with others to solve real-life problems. It was fabulous listening to her stories about what she learned. Her excitement was palpable.
  • We took two camping trips. I am not very fond of camping, but I like to be outside with my friends and family. The first trip was with my brother, niece, and nephew. I had so much fun during the day. It was fabulous being with them in a different setting than the living room. I want to do it again with them before my brother moves on to his fellowship and my niece and nephew go to college (or wherever– no pressure, guys). The second time was with my BFF, Jen. It was freezing and relaxing and wonderful (for camping, anyway). We did decide that next time we’d camp in a motel. It’s so much better that way.
  • We actually had some weather this year. I love it when we have weather in the desert. After one seriously rainy day, the girl and I played in the puddles until she had mud up to her eyeballs. It was so glorious letting loose and getting dirty. I think my heart grew three sizes that day.

There are so many more, but I know that it’s important to keep posts short so people read to the end. ūüôā Maybe I’ll do a part deux.

Educational

Both my husband and I are pursuing degrees– his is a B.S. and mine is an M.A. I’m so proud of us for managing school, work, and family without wanting to hit each other in the shin. With a car. I celebrate the following:

  • After a bazillion years of study, I am so close to the end, I can see it. I submitted my application for graduation. This does not mean that I am done, but it does mean that, if I take the last FOUR classes that are required, I can graduate at the end of the summer term. FOUR CLASSES! I really need to be done because I’ve got such a serious case of senioritis (mastersitis?) that it makes my eyes burn.
  • I had to take a graduate research class. It was horrible and felt pointless to me. Focusing on the positive: I had one of my favorite professors again, I earned an A, and it is another class down. Only FOUR more to go!
  • I took the summer off. It was fabulous spending the time with my family. Even though it put me a little behind, I needed it. I still only have FOUR more classes until I’m done.
  • My degree program is online, so I miss the face-to-face interaction that I enjoyed with I was getting my B.A. This last semester, I had a colleague taking the same classes. It was wonderful! I had someone to bounce ideas off of for the first time in a bazillion years. I wish he was going to take my final FOUR classes with me, but he isn’t. Still– I had someone to kvetch with… er, share ideas with.

In case you didn’t notice, I have only FOUR classes left until I’m done. Not that I’m excited or anything. Not me. Not at all.

Professional

This is the aspect of my life that changed the most. This is where I took a leap and let the Universe catch me. I don’t generally do that because of my anxiety. Here are some of the positives:

  • I finally said no more to the job that was disintegrating my being. I was turning into a person who I didn’t enjoy being and it affected every aspect of my life.
  • I woke up in the morning and didn’t have a debilitating panic attack thinking about going to work. After I decided it was time for a change, I began to repair myself. This was the first sign that it was working.
  • I got a new job. Even though I felt beaten down and almost destroyed, I was able to keep my head straight during interviews. Even though I felt like a fraud, I was able to tell potential employers how wonderful I was. It worked. If you want to read about it, I wrote a couple of posts about it: Part One and Part Two.
  • I made a decision about my professional goals. The public education system no longer suits me. I can’t do what they ask me to and still live with myself. I finally decided to leave the public school system. After 13 years, I am taking a break from it. I may come back, I may not. It just depends on where life takes me. Once again, when I made that decision, another layer of anxiety and fear disappeared. Once again, I have no fear that my decision is the wrong one. I have no clue what the future may bring and that doesn’t scare me. Weird for someone who’s live her life in fear that she’ll make the wrong decision and destroy the world.
  • Hubs attends one of Embry Riddle’s satellite campuses. He is good friends with the director there. They are in desperate need of English teachers. Hubs has worked his magic and there is a great possibility that I will be teaching some classes for them when I’ve completed my M.A. (FOUR more classes!). This is a wonderful opportunity and I hope it comes to fruition. I’m trying not to want it so much.

I haven’t felt so sure of myself professionally in a very long time. I am thankful for the year that passed and am definitely looking forward to the future possibilities.

Other Awesome Stuff

Not everything fits into lovely categories, so here is the potpourri of great things that happened this year that don’t fit anywhere else.

  • I got a new, used car. It is the car that I’ve always wanted. It has a sun roof and, because I’m spoiled, brand new speakers and a kick-ass radio. It also only started with 30,000 miles. Because it’s a Toyota, I will get to enjoy it for many, many miles to come.
  • I’m getting crafty up in the hizzouse. I started crocheting again, something that relaxes me and makes me feel productive. Hubs got me a sewing machine for Christmas and I’ve already made myself a purse. Creating is such a wonderful feeling and I am glad that I’m doing it again.
  • I was brave enough to put my writing out there. When I won NaNoWriMo in 2012, I had a mostly, sort-of finished manuscript. I’ve been sitting on it, fearful of letting it go into the world. I decided to share it. There are so many plot holes and loose ends that I need to tie together. I wasn’t able to do so objectively. Hopefully it’ll get worked out. Either that or my readers will tell me that it’s too convoluted in its current state and will need to be disemboweled and reanimated in another configuration. I’m comfortable with either possibility.
  • One of my students graduated this year. This young lady has been in my life since she was a sixth grader. I love her like she was my daughter. I’m so proud of who she has become. She honored me so much when she asked me to escort her to senior night basketball game. Her mother and I proudly stood next to her before her final game of her senior year. I felt truly blessed that I meant so much to her that she asked me to be there. Teachers don’t always see how they affect their students’ lives. Chelley made sure that I knew.

There are so many other things, but brevity is the soul of wit (so they say).

The Girl’s Celebration

The girl was so excited to participate in this project. For the first seven days. Because she was six. I told her I’d post everything that she wrote down. Here it is:

  • “I have school.”

She’s so awesome.

Final Thoughts

This was a great exercise for me. I am thankful for my blogger friend Danielle for making the commitment to do this with me. If it had not been for her, I am pretty sure I would have stopped writing the good things down about the same time that the girl lost interest. I’ve decided that I am going to do it again in 2014. I think it is part of the reason why I’ve been able to make the positive changes in my life. It helped me live in the moment.

__________________________

Resolve to be successful

For Jen

My best friend’s birthday is coming up, and I want to give her a gift. ¬†The thing is, purchasing presents¬†causes me some anxiety. Okay, tons of anxiety. I always want everything to be so perfect that I become inert, unable to decide anything. How do you purchase something for someone who means so much to you? How do you communicate to them the joy you have because they are in your life?

I am complete crap at buying presents. We didn’t have much money so gifts were homemade– and not like “Oh! WOW! Did you make that?” kind of homemade. More like the “Uh, thanks?” type. I never had the chance to practice buying gifts, and doing so is awkward for me. The ideas don’t come and then I feel like I am a horrible person because I have no ideas. Silly, right?

Anyway, I am not super crafty, so I can’t make her something. Well, I guess I could make her something, but I want her to remain my friend. I was considering making her one of those pasta necklaces; you know, the kind with the paint on so you can match them to what you are wearing? I could even put glitter on it! No? Okay.

Then I thought about buying her some little doodad that would make her smile. For about ten minutes until she remembered that it would need to be dusted. She is also a minimalist. Her apartment is warm and uncluttered. I love going there and hanging out in a place so opposite from mine. I’m blaming hubby and the daughter, because I *always* put my things back where they belong. Yeah. Sure

Then I realized that I am forgetting about something I can do for her. I will write her a birthday present. So, here goes:

________________

Jen,

I thought I knew what being a best friend was all about. After all, I’ve had many special people in my life that I counted as best friends, but they were momentary. I enjoyed my time with them and love them still today, but they were there for only a season. You have taught me so much about friendship and life.

For someone younger than I am, you have so much wisdom. Your steadiness balances my anxiety. When I am freaking out over something, you plainly state your opinion with no judgement. You give me time to process what you’ve said. You don’t preach. You don’t try to solve it. You just listen.

You accept me for who I am. You don’t get upset if we don’t talk to each other for a while. You understand that I need time alone to renew myself. You understand because you are the same. It is so nice to have the freedom to be who I am, to not stress about whether or not I’ve hurt your feelings. You *get* me. I never thought that would happen. Never.

You encourage me to try new things. Even when I am reluctant. And somehow, I end up doing them. I don’t like new things– they stress me out. Your patient persistence has opened my eyes to so much. I’m still not going back to Goodwill with you, though. Adventures with you aren’t as scary as adventures alone. Thank you for stretching my boundaries.

We share so much. You make me laugh. I make you laugh. We share a similar twisted sense of humor. It is totes adorbz, btw. We are awesome, be-yoo-ti-ful ladies. We both love songs with the f-word in them. We are both introverts who are learning about ourselves. I learn so much from you.

You’ve helped me in my journey to self-acceptance.

I have been made better because of my time with you. I am thankful every day that I was one of your mentor teachers and that you stuck with me, convincing me that I really *was* worthy of a reciprocal friendship.¬†I love you, my¬†bff. ¬†You are frikkin’ amazing. ‚̧

Elizabeth

P.S. Natalie told me to tell you that you are pretty, too. And you are really nice. And you are really sweet.

Haters Gon’ Hate… (but it still hurts when they do)

The Nobel Prize winners have been announced (Yay, smart people who are changing our world!)

One recipient, John Gurdon, is receiving extra attention not because of what he did but because of what was done to him. Someone dredged up an old report card of his from high school in which the teacher lambastes him for being a rebel, an outside-the-box thinker. The words that the teacher uses are horribly unkind and, if they were written today, the teacher would lose his job before he could say lawsuit.

One of my favorite FB sites, “I f*cking love science” posted a graphic with the remarks paraphrased– check it out here. I have no issue with the comments being brought to light. I do have a problem with the comments that follow the post.

There were some positive posts:

And then there were some not-so-positive posts:

And my all-time favorite:

Don’t forget the one that caused a WTF, YOU IDIOT! moment:

Huh? This doesn’t even make sense at all. Respect has to be earned. I work hard to ensure that my students respect me by being truthful, straight-forward, and fair. I expect the same from my students and won’t tolerate any less. I’ll be damned if I will “respect” <— WTF does that mean anyway??— > my students just because they might be a Nobel prize winner or president or a tyrannical dictator someday. If they are not at the level they should be, I let them know as kindly as possible. ¬†But they still need to know. How can you improve if you don’t know the truth about your abilities?? I’m so tired of ¬†being expected to coddle little (insert student name here) when they really need the truth and encouragement to get themselves out of the hole they’ve been allowed to dig for themselves.

Okay. Rant over. Wait… maybe not.

I know that I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does. Every day people get bombarded by how horrible teachers are. Every day. You rarely turn on the news and see something positive about them. Every day I see the media/parents/students/my favorite authors talk about how horrible educators are.

Nobody asks us. Nobody tells our story.

Do you know how many principals I’ve had in the last 6 years (just in one district, mind you)? Four. Four changes in command. Four people with very different management styles and different focuses for the school vision. Four adults who my students feel have abandoned them. I don’t think everyone realizes how much kids yearn for stability. Sometimes school is the only stability that they have.

Did you know that, every year, teachers are told that their methods (that were successful the year before, btw) are now COMPLETELY wrong and have to be changed immediately? Not just a few aspects of their methods– oh no– everything that they do. Never mind the fact that they are master teachers and can show it because their students are LEARNING beyond the test. The new strategy du jour is more effective than anything else (even if it is largely untested).

Did you know that most teachers provide the basics for their students in the classroom? If I want to do anything with my students beyond pen and paper learning, I have to purchase all of the supplies. According to the district, there is not a budget for those things. Asking my students to bring their own doesn’t usually work– very few do. One teacher I know actually got reprimanded for asking students to bring supplies (not with my current administration– they’re lovely).

Did you know that, because of legislative budget cuts, most teachers in my district are getting paid much less for doing more work? Yet we still do it. Teachers are on campus at 6:00 in the morning working hard to give their students a head start. They stay until late grading papers and making parent phone calls. (I don’t even want to get started on parent phone calls. It is apparently the teachers responsibility to let the parents know if their students aren’t passing classes. If they aren’t passing classes, it is because teachers haven’t made the lessons entertaining or engaging enough. Because, you know, jobs are ALWAYS going to be entertaining and engaging… bah.)

____________________

I guess I’ll close with this. Teachers are PEOPLE. Yes, they are imperfect, but who isn’t? ¬†So many forget this, I think, and are vitriolic in their criticism.¬†If someone did tell the teachers’ story, would anyone listen? Or is it so much easier to have a scapegoat for society’s ills?

Year 13 Begins

The next few weeks are going to be very hectic for me. I return to work on August 1 and students arrive on August 8. I will be working on getting my classroom set up and planning my first quarter. One of the challenges that I am (very) excited to face is the implementation of 1:1 technology. For those of you who aren’t knowledgeable in educationese, it means that all of my students will have netbooks and the use of textbooks will be limited. The transition will be fairly easy for me because I don’t generally use the textbook anyway and I had a classroom set of netbooks in my classroom next year. I still have to plan and plan and plan (it makes my brain happy). I’ve decided to take my teaching a step further and make my class inquiry based. It is a big step for me because I give up some of the control that I am used to. Thing is, the kids are fully engaged when you give them a choice.

Another challenge that I face is the fact that I will have to work with new people this school year. Because of teacher movement, half of freshman level teachers are brand new to the school. Some are even brand new to teaching. I love that we have fresh ideas, but I am also sad because our group last year worked well together. They knew me and my quirks. They didn’t get upset when I would hide in my room because I needed alone time. Plus, I get terribly shy and anxious when working with new people. I’m either silent or have¬†diarrhea¬†of the mouth and say the stupidest things! Time to retrain everyone (myself included).

One of the aspects of teaching that I love is mentoring new teachers. I like offering them support and helping them make it through the first few years. Teaching is hard and if you don’t have support, you’ll never make it. True words, those. I’ve already met one of our brand new baby teachers (term of endearment, btw). My first impression of him was that he was T.A.L.L. I have no idea how tall he is, but I had to twist my neck to talk to him. He’s an Algebra teacher, but I won’t hold it against him. (J/K. I love my mathmagician friends. They astound me.) It was exciting to hear his ideas for next year. He is so fresh and so hopeful. I want to help him keep some of that as the year progresses.

I went into work yesterday to get the keys to my classroom. Usually I don’t go into work this far in advance. However, I have a new classroom.

I know! First a new principal then new teachers and now a new classroom. Doesn’t anyone understand my brain?!?!

I have 12 years of teacher stuff. At the end of May, I had to sort through scads and scads of resources to determine whether or not I needed them anymore. I ended up getting rid of/recycling 8 big black garbage bags of things I hadn’t used in a long time. I didn’t realize how cathartic it would be to get rid of so much. Even though I pared down my resources, I still had to pack them up to be moved to my new room.

Here it is, in its natural state:

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Before I can even think about planning or the other hundreds of things teachers do at the beginning of the new year, I have to unpack. Things just don’t work unless I’ve got my little nest set up. The room is so much bigger than my previous one AND it has more storage. You know what the best feeling is, though?

I don’t have enough stuff to fill up the storage space! I don’t feel completely overwhelmed with things. Maybe this will help me in the next school year. I’ll have space to breathe.

This year is looking up already!

Oh, don’t worry, I’ll post my classroom when it is finished. I know ya’ll were skeered that I’d forget to show you the beauty of it. =)

Eclipsing Post, or Phoning it in

(tee hee… see what I did there?)

On May 20, my fam and I were able to see the annular eclipse from our front yard. I took many pictures, but will only subject you to a few of them. Hope you enjoy! I know we did.

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Philly "Phirsts"

Okay… I know that was a bad joke, but it made me giggle.

My district sent me to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Philadelphia. I was one of the lucky ones that got chosen. I was very excited to go. What I didn’t realize at the time that I was chosen is the fact that this trip would change my perceptions of so many things.

First off, Philadelphia is an awe-inspiring city. I didn’t realize how much history and diversity is packed in the small area where we were. We stayed at the DoubleTree on Broad Street. It is a gorgeous facility with a lobby that is great for people watching and hanging out. The best thing about it is that it was within walking distance of so much. I took advantage of it as much as I could.

Here are some of my firsts in Philadelphia:

I had my first Philly Cheesesteak at Spatoro’s in Reading Terminal Market. Let me tell you, the experience was definitely an interesting one. I waited in line for 45 minutes for the steaky-cheesy-oniony-peppery deliciousnes. Believe me, it was worth the wait. I now have a baseline for what a good Cheesesteak tastes like.

The buildings had murals on them!

I had my first ride in a taxi. It may sound corny, but it was something that I’ve always wanted to do. Luckily, I was with a very city-savvy young lady who made sure I didn’t die (thanks, Tracy).

I walked around a big city by myself. Previously, I wouldn’t be caught dead by myself in a place the size of Philadelphia. Here is the back story: My travel companions didn’t want to go to a gift shop that I wanted to enter. Instead of just passing it by, I told them that they could go ahead without me. It was a phenomenal feeling not having the pure anxiety that I used to have when walking alone. By the end of the trip, I was completely comfortable with being on my own.

Broad Street

I talked to people I didn’t know at all. In fact, I made first contact. Usually I sit back, observing everyone, thinking things in my head that I want to say aloud, and keeping silent. I pushed myself out there and struck up conversations with complete strangers. I decided that this ISTE conference would be one where I focused on my networking skills. It was very enriching. I think I get why people do it now. I am still not 100% comfortable with it, but I’m closer.

I took my alone time when I needed it. I am not good at taking myself out of a situation or a group because I don’t want people to think that I am not social. I’ve come to realize that I need my solitude in order to process. If I don’t get this, I go into a sort of a panic mode. By giving myself permission to go be by myself without feeling guilty, I was able to avoid some of the troubles that I usually have when dealing with large groups. It also helped that the great group of people I am with didn’t take it personally when I didn’t hang out with them.

Overall, the ISTE conference really enriched my life, both personally and professionally. I am so very thankful for the opportunity. I think I am going to have to figure out how I can attend next year’s conference in San Diego!

8 Big Ideas

I was recently turned on to this post by Scott McLeod (thanks to Twitter). Mr. McLeod writes about the GenYes Blog’s post about the 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab. As I was perusing the “8 Big Ideas”, I started thinking about what goes on in my classroom. The ideas outlined seem like no-brainers, but I had to ask myself if I followed the concepts presented. After all, part of being a life-long learning is reflection, correct? The process was very eye-opening to me.

I realized that I still need to work hard on learning by doing. Trying to figure out how to make reading and writing a hands on activity is something that I struggle with. One of the ways that I am going to try to address this is by having my students be more hand on with their learning. I am going to go over the standard with them (thank you, Common Core Standards, for allowing me to do this without my brain exploding) and then ask THEM what they need to know in order to master the standard. I know that it will make planning more extensive, but the benefits will greatly outweigh the costs.

This segues perfectly into the next idea that struck me as pertinent: learning to learn. By giving my students more control over their learning, I will be giving them skills that will help them for the rest of their lives. Maybe it will encourage them to take the next step and the next and eventually not be so reliant upon other people to give them information. I also know that it is going to be a long process to get my students where they need to be. Many of them will be frustrated and challenged more than they’ve been challenged before. However, once they get started, they will enjoy it.

Hard fun is the third concept that stood out to me. Once they get used to the difficulty of guiding their own learning, they will start to see the fun in it. When I think of the classrooms of teachers that I admire, I see the students working hard, but having fun. The teachers in those classrooms take a challenging, abstract idea and make it the students’ responsibility to make it concrete. They guide the students, of course, and give them the help that they need when they get stuck; they also allow the students to fail over and over again in search of the solution. The thing is, the students love it. I like to think that I give my students some opportunities like this. I also know that I could do so much better at providing these sorts of things for my students.

Big idea #5, taking time, is one that worries me the most. I know that I can give my students unplanned time in the classroom. In fact, I do it often. When I say unplanned, I don’t mean letting the students do whatever they want. I mean that they have a task to complete in a certain amount of time, but how they get there is up to them. Unfortunately, my ability to give my kiddos time to learn how to manage it is limited by the requirements of the district. In this time of benchmarking, testing, assessing the assessments, and high stakes testing, the timeline of my classroom is determined by my administrators. Instead of being allowed to go more in-depth with what my students are learning, I have to fit 20 performance objectives into four-week intervals. I have to figure out a way to help my students get to where they need to be while still passing the “formative” pencil-and-paper tests required by the district. Maybe giving them the skills to learn on their own will help.

This is only the beginning of my musings on this topic. I know that I will have many more epiphanies as my brain chews on these concepts.