Staying Sane While Teaching

In Defense of Doing Nothing This Summer

Disclaimer: Sorry for all you poor souls who teach year-round. You can disregard this post.

“I’d let someone punch me for nine straight months if it meant I got two months off,” a friend of mine has said to me. For many teachers, that is what it feels like: Nine months of getting punched in the face (metaphorically, but if you’ve really had a bad year, literally). I was one of the lucky ones. My cousin was taken aback when, a couple days after school ended, I answered “It’s been pretty great, actually” to her “How was the end of the school year?” She figured most teachers are pulling their hair out. For me, the end was joyous and not that stressful. One of my students in my “family” graduated, and I got to take a group of kids to Boulder to go hiking. There wasn’t much drama, and I got enough done during our work day to throw in the towel and not have to bring anything home for now.

I don’t have the post-end-of-the-year aftershocks like I have had at the end of school years before; maybe I’m just getting better at being resilient and knowing what to let go. My “it is what it is” attitude, for better or worse, is very refined at this point. I actually felt like “Ok, what next? What new learning for myself can I get my hands on?” But then I stopped that thought and deliberately decided that, for two months, I am going to do absolutely no work, trainings, or anything related to teaching. I have checked the SAT scores of my kids because I’m curious. And I looked at my email a couple times. But that’s it.

A few years ago, a very successful and seasoned teacher said to me: “In the summers, I live it up. I don’t do anything related to school.” Back then, I wondered how to become a great teacher and not use that valuable free time in summer. What’s better—read that new book about differentiation, or watch twelve hours of Orange is the New Black? (Answer: I have not only watch the whole OITNB season, but also the new House of Cards. Winning!) There really is so much free time (at least for me, because I have no kids ūüôā ) I felt very guilty if I didn’t devote it to getting better at teaching.

If you follow other teachers on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media, you probably see posts of the ISTE conference, the AVID trainings, twitter chats, etc. Being part of the blogging world, I see teachers (and people who aren’t) all wrapped up in sharing ideas rampantly on Twitter. I figure that’s a small percentage of the teaching workforce. But it doesn’t seem like it; it seems to like everyone else is more devoted or amped about education than those of us who choose to sit back and do nothing. It’s like FOMO, but for teaching. If that’s a thing. Am I alone in this feeling?

Being introverted, you’d think I’d love to connect with people about teaching through social media because I don’t have to actually talk to them. But that’s not the case. It actually stresses me out and makes me feel like if I’m on the internet, I can’t divide life and work. I don’t want work to pervade my screen time. It’s all or nothing for me, most of the time.

I don’t know how my situation compares to the majority of teachers across the country. I sympathize with the “teachers do work a lot in the summer” sentiment, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this Atlantic article for some perspective. It seems that a lot of schools vary in their expectations of what teachers do, basically, for free. I said no to attending two trainings this summer sponsored by my district (of which I could use for re-licensing hours), and two paid summer school teaching type positions for extra duty income. I am painfully aware that many teachers need the money, and they’ll do the extra work. Living in Denver, my colleagues need that extra money to pay for the ‘extras’—vacation, kid’s sports fees, etc. I could write a whole other post about this. I may have to change my ‘no-summer-work’ policy in the future, depending on my financial situation.

But for now, I do nothing. I am enjoying (save this blog post) taking a break from blogging, immersing myself in other things I like doing and learning about, and catching up with family. Take care of yourselves, teachers. Summer is sacred. Say no to the not required trainings. Go outside. Avoid the education book aisle. (Playfully) Scorn your work friends who bring up work (shout out to my work friends who playfully scorn me, ILY). I am also starting graduate school (Curriculum and Instruction: Reading and Writing–holla!) at the University of Colorado-Denver this fall, so I guess you could say I’m banking the R&R now in preparation. Winter is coming. You can bet between that, National Board, and teaching full time, I’ll be writing something related to keeping my head up through it all.

Also: Special shout-out to my husband, who just finished a three year-long medical residency and is now an independently practicing doctor. I have been relieved of the burden of relaxing enough for the both of us ūüėõ ‚̧

What do you think, teachers? What’s your philosophy during summer? Can you split your time effectively between new learning and rest, or are you more like me—all or nothing? Let me know your thoughts!

-SB

Being an Introverted Teacher in an Overwhelmingly Extroverted Profession

PLCs.

Collaborative structures.

Team-based learning.

Parent meetings.

Group work.

Are you getting anxious just thinking about these words? I am.

These past few weeks have been very trying on me, to the point where I considered not teaching. Just…stopping. And doing what? I don’t know.

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The Road to National Board Certification Part 7: 11 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of the Dark Place

What is it about February that makes us deplore it? Is it the long-haul to spring break? The fact that Valentine’s Day somehow makes¬†teenagers spontaneously reenact¬†Days of Our Lives¬†scenes at all hours of the school day? It may be the shortest month, but to teachers, it is definitely the longest. And it always makes me question my career: I call it,¬†The Dark Place.¬†

I’ve written about this before¬†and¬†how to prepare for the storm.¬†My February is no exception. I prepare for it like the best of them, but it still doesn’t matter. I will never love February. I am working on my NB Certification and my students and I cannot afford to check out. Therefore, in a quest to make this profession sustainable, I present to you:

11 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of The Dark Place

  1. Come up with the most menial list and feel proud of it 

My to-do list gets ridiculous. “Plan out the rest of the week” is ALWAYS at the top. I never get that far, honestly. I just don’t. Something more urgent always comes up. So, I make a menial list. “Empty¬†the small trash by my desk into the big trash can” is perfect. Really. Get something done and feel good about it.

2. Fight the urge to sit

I have an adjustable desk, so I raised it to a standing desk this week. If I sit down while kids are working I get into a rut of sitting. Being sedentary does no one any good, and it really diminishes the interactions I have with my kids. If you don’t have an adjustable desk, then remove your chair from your desk. (But not like this).

3.¬†Don’t play into people’s negative B.S.¬†

Negativity is catchy. I am great at catching negativity because of my charming yet cynical personality (so my husband says). One word: EMAILS. Delete those passive aggressive missives like they have the plague.

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The Road to National Board Certification Part 6: Teaching While Grieving and Learning More About Formatting Than I Ever Wanted to Know

December was probably one of the worst months of my life. I have lived a privileged one in that I had never, up until this month, lost someone near to me due to tragedy.

It’s 7:30 a.m. A green bubble on my¬†phone says, “Missed Call-Dad.” It’s not like him to call me this early, but he’s a man of idiosyncrasies—maybe he bought a Christmas gift for someone and he can’t contain the secret—so I call back.¬†My mom answers (why would she call me on his phone?)¬†She asks me if I’m driving right now. I’m not. The first thought in my head says¬†dad is gone.

She sobs the news, news that I receive in front of a group of high schoolers. ¬†The juxtaposition of it is¬†too much and I make it to the front office. ¬†I learn that I’ve lost the equivalent of an uncle (my dad’s cousin, but more of an uncle to me). Relief washes over me, horrifyingly¬†bittersweet. Not my dad—but my cousin’s.

Collecting everything–thoughts, tissues, breath,¬†I explain what happened to the first person who sees me in the office¬†and then say, “I’ve got to teach in ten minutes.” I decide that I would teach, by God—especially after being absent¬†a day last week due to a cold.

I’ve never had to try to function at school in the immediate shadow of devastation. One of the first things on my mind was “I have to teach today because I don’t have my National Board evidence yet and time is ticking so I’ll suck it up and get through the day.” I open up my laptop in my office and I can’t do¬†anything. I don’t even remember what my first hour is doing.¬†¬†I’m convinced when my principal pulls me in and begins the ‘now what?’ process of phone calls, buying plane tickets home, somehow contacting my husband who is at work and unable to talk on the phone, that I need to go home.

I feel guilty and angry that my life’s got to eat into what I do for a living—and often. Sickness, death. In an ongoing quest to overcome perfectionism and embrace the screwed-upness of life, this is a lesson in taking care of myself and picking up the pieces when I return to school. And although I’m at school for¬†the next four days before flying home for the funeral, I let teaching take the back-burner. I had to turn my head to the wall often because the tears kept coming at random.¬†Not much comes to mind when I think,¬†what did we do that week? It was a wash. After I came home from the funeral, it was time to wrap up the semester. I was backed-up on getting feedback to students form their final projects, and honestly did not get to treat everyone equally with thorough feedback. And I feel really, really guilty.

I had spurts of productivity in the past couple of weeks with board stuff. One second I think “I’ve got this!” and the next I think “I don’t got this! No way!” I spent half a day figuring out what formatting I should be using for my component two submission. After reading posts on proteacher.net about candidates failing it because they accidentally submitted one blank page instead of their writing and FREAKING OUT about the horror of that feeling (and paying 300 bucks to resubmit!), I am making sure that I cover it all.

Google Slides–Did you know that if you want to print out Google Slides with comments, you can’t? Now you know. Did you also know that if you print out the “handout” version with 4 slides on a page, it will shrink the slides down way more than they need to be (to the point where you need perfect vision to read it) and there’s nothing you can do about it? Now you know. Did you know you can import Google Slides into Powerpoint, but it will pretty much give you no benefits because it’s Powerpoint and basically worthless? Maybe you already knew that.

Dochub–I discovered this because I needed to get around Microsoft Word’s clunkiness. Upload your .doc/x to Google Drive and it will offer to open it through Dochub. It’s basically a cross between Microsoft Paint and a word processor. You can edit PDFs and all that jazz–cool!

Microsoft Word–Did you know that Google Docs won’t let you print out a doc with comments, but Microsoft Word will? Probably its¬†only redeeming quality.

All in all, I have had an unproductive working week at home but a relationally productive week at home. I saw family and friends I haven’t seen in years. I looked at many, many photographs. I sat and watched tv with my sisters and snuggled my dog. I drive home this week to Colorado to spend time with more friends, and I am planning on getting a couple days in (hopefully) at work before we start back. The balance is hard with unstructured vacation time, but I’m thankful for it.

Amidst that, I started studying for the GRE. I am crazy. Goodnight.

 

-S

 

 

 

Stocking up for back to school when it’s not your first year

I feel like I am finally out of the woods with my introductory years of teaching. For example, I know that I can stop kids from scaling walls and I know how to just keep on a-teachin’ when my crappy lamp from Wal Mart sparks out and nearly catches the carpet on fire. It’s all downhill from here, and I¬†am confident going into year four in how to not die, how to put the fear of God into teenagers, perfect my snooze-hitting skills on my phone alarm clock, and also teach stuff.

I know we all get excited for the back to school shopping sprees, and “It’s only July!” you say, but I’m already thinking about it. I always go for the optimistic, all-I-need-is-office-supplies-and-my-life-will-be-perfect sort of list. And I always am think, “dude why didn’t I just buy hordes of chocolate” by the second week of school. In a Cali-boy surfer accent.

As excited as I am about buying fancy gel pens that I know my students will “borrow” anyway, (and then deny, deny) I am learning from experience and planning ahead. It’s my fourth year of teaching and I know there is a storm to prepare for, as Love, Teach has described as DEVOLSON: Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November.

Disaster Preparedness for the Savvy Teacher

1. This. In giant mason jars. Hidden everywhere. Office, desk, teacher’s lounge, staff meeting room.

my mouth is literally drooling

my mouth is literally drooling as I type this

2. It’s perfect. Without actually talking, I get to drink coffee while I throw the teacher look. And blast a classic hip hop tune.

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What I Learned in 2014/2015

Shout out to Sam G., who tagged me in her recent blog post! You have motivated me to write, lady. Please check out her blog–it has some great ideas that I’ve totally “borrowed!”

I have had about a month off teaching, and it has been a glorious month filled with everything not teaching related—climbing, hiking, a wedding, various bodies of water, catching up on old relationships and starting new ones, and the most glorious of all: gratuitous sleep. I mean, ridiculous amounts that I am (almost) ashamed of, especially since my husband just had his first 30 hour call shift. These things are necessary for recharging, but I caught myself picking up Penny Kittle’s¬†Write Beside Them, getting ideas for my classes,¬†and I knew it was time to start prepping for next school year and reflecting on the one past.

What better way to kick off my summer blogging than a good ol’ reflection? I made my kids do them, so I might as well have a taste of my own medicine.

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Coming back up for air so I can rant about “learning styles”

Hi all. As you can see, I haven’t posted on here for awhile.

This school year has been crazy, as I’m adjusting to a new teaching position. Though I definitely could have written more, I’ve chosen to spend it doing non-education related things, like enjoying all Colorado has to offer.

Today it’s raining, so it’s not offering me much. I’ve been meaning to blog for awhile (I even have a little reminder on my phone on Sundays to blog, which I’ve been directing my opposition defiance toward (“I won’t blog! You can’t make me!”)¬†I’ve been on the edge of teacher burn-out lately, as most are these days, so I’ve left the blogging up to someone else.

But I’m back, maybe just for this post, maybe not! Who knows?

Awhile back, my students had to complete a survey imposed by the Colorado Department of Education as part of its ICAP program, which has something to do with preparing students for college and career success. The survey, although I cannot recall its exact name, was focused on determining a student’s learning style—whether it’s “kinesthetic,” “auditory,” “visual,” etc. It seemed to be based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, appropriated into the “learning styles” pop psychology that had me schooled at some point into believing that it was true and valid.

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Clear to Neutral

I read somewhere that to be ready to teach every day, you have to practice
“Clear to Neutral.”

The practice of “Clear to Neutral” relates to procrastination and disorganization. If you leave a kitchen messy the day you plan to make a large dinner, it takes more time to clean it up and get ready to make a quality meal. You¬†could¬†cook in a messy kitchen, but then you risk contamination, you can’t find counter space, you get stressed out because everything’s dirty and you have to keep rewashing the same spatula. You clear¬†your kitchen to¬†neutral (i.e., restore it to its normal state) before any good productivity can happen.

More extrapolation on this here.

Once I read this, I began paying attention to the small things—my binder storage area in the classroom was a wreck, I had no system for my kids to get notebook paper, I hadn’t vacuumed my carpet in about a week, and it just looked straight up messy up in room 102.

There is, as well as physical neutrality, mental neutrality. These are the menial tasks: grading, grade entering into Progressbook, taking care of myself, packing my lunch the night before, making sure I get in bed at a decent hour, putting effort into how I dress for school. I don’t enjoy¬†doing these things, so I tend to put them off. Really, it just builds up and affects my work performance. If I’m not prepared for class or not “there” that day, my energy is shot and therefore the class period is a waste.

I have been attempting “Clear to Neutral” for the past few weeks, and it’s paying off. My planning has been a lot more focused, my attitude has been better, I feel more prepared, I have more energy, and my general overall feeling about teaching has improved. I’m able to get to that deeper level of reflection when I have more time for it; as a first year teacher, reflection is crucial. The more I get to reflect, the more I learn about myself and my practice.

-S

Damage Control

They say that the earlier you identify a problem, the more likely you are to prevent damage.

I guess what I’m about to say is kind of like that.

I’m not going to play up my teaching experience as a wonderful, squishy nice, fun fest in which every day I awoke with energy brimming, ready to embrace my disadvantaged, minority, inner-city students.

Not¬†every¬†day have I felt like that. Definitely some days, more than not I’d say, but not every day.

I highly doubt anybody feels like that. Not even those peppy Teach For America over-achievers. (A TFA-er works at my school, in which we discuss often that this job doesn’t get easier, only more difficult). Not that difficult’s a bad thing, but I notice that I have asked myself at least once this year:

“What if I went to med school?”

“What if I went to law school?”

“Is it too late to transfer to the business sector?”

“How long ’till I retire?”

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