Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loss

I've been thinking about loss a lot lately.  As I'm getting to know my students this year, I'm coming to terms with how much loss they've gone through.  Many of my kids this year come from the WONDERFUL children's home here in town.  Several of them have had their parents killed or experienced the loss of their parents in late elementary/ early middle school years. These kids know all sorts of loss- whether it was the loss of their parents' income as the mills closed here, or the loss of their family as they were removed and placed in the children's home.

The thought that I keep returning to is this: Everybody copes with loss differently, even if it is the same loss.  Who am I to make a harsh judgment because someone snaps at me one day or deem a kid a 'problem student,' when it may just be that they're working through their loss?  What can you really do to help someone experiencing these things?  I feel like I have a better handle on it outside of school, but what do you do for the kid whose dad committed suicide last fall, or whose dad left mom and him and his siblings behind for another man that they've all known forever?  We don't have gobs of time to listen? How do we show compassion and give them the time and things that they need to heal?  How can we help them continue with daily life and still continue to grieve?

I don't have the answers to these questions; I don't know if I really ever will.  I know that during some of my greatest losses, I've felt like I was lost on a deserted island with no ties to reality.  I didn't know how to explain what was happening in my world to anyone, and even the people closest to me that held me and were consistently there for me couldn't swim out to that island.  I know that other people went through similar experiences, but none of their "Oh, I know exactly what you're feeling" comments helped.  Actually, in some circumstances they made me bristle, even though I know they were spoken with the best of intentions.  I don't know that we ever truly know exactly what someone is going through, but if anyone has any answers (besides more psych classes, which I love, but don't have time for), I'd love to know what you think, or what you do when your students or your dear ones are experiencing a loss.

PS- I think if I can figure this out, at least 2 of my handful of most difficult students will be much easier to manage in the classroom.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Time Flies

...when you're having fun!

I'm having so much fun with my kiddos this year.  I can't believe tomorrow will wrap up our 6th full week of school.  I can hardly believe it, and then I realize how soon all the state standardized tests are... yowza!  I'm still adjusting- but is any teacher ever used to having 30 kids in her class and trying to help all of them?

My honors science kiddos had their first benchmark today, so we'll see how they do. :)  It looked like most of them were doing pretty well, from the peeking I did as I walked around.

My general science kiddos did our first webquest today- except I forgot that webquests involve a LOT of informational text, and for my classes, that's incredibly difficult.  Regardless, they were all excited about using the computers and most put in an impressive display of effort, even if all of them were raising their hand to have me hover while they worked.  There was just not enough of me to go around today, but I had a good time watching them enjoy the computers.

My social studies angels are talking about proprietary/colonial times.  We're super weak in the dates of events according to their most recent test.  So, as a review, we made a timeline today.  Each kid was responsible for an event- year, picture, brief description.  Looking at it was the stimulus that led to this post.  I can't believe how much we've covered.... and how little, according to the standards!  Here's our timeline so far... I plan to keep it going around the room for the rest of the year.






Predictable Fashionista

My coworkers are so sweet and genuinely seem to enjoy some of my clothes.  Those of you that know me know that most of them come from the clearance rack at Ann Taylor Loft or from TJ Maxx.... you know, the pricey stores?  I'm definitely not the most fashionable girl around.  I think I look cute sometimes, and I do make an effort to look nice and professional, but.... I wear khaki colored corduroys when it's not winter yet, I sometimes wear socks that aren't black with black shoes (but that's usually right before laundry day), I wear white when it's warm enough- regardless of whether the date is between Memorial and Labor Day.  I rarely wear makeup other than eye makeup and a little blush if I need it.  I'm not the best-dressed, most stylish girl around, nor do I think I'm the best dressed in my school by any stretch.  Nonetheless, I often get compliments on my outfits.

Once upon a time, I had to wear uniforms to work, so though I was conscious of my students paying attention to what I wore to school, I didn't really notice it.  This year, I have students comment what feels like constantly on my clothing and accessory choices.

My 7th period loves to come down the hall and see whether I've 'grown.'  They mean whether or not I'm wearing heels.  I switch it up a lot, but do wear some sort of heel several days out of most weeks.  I've tried explaining to them that when you're an adult, you don't grow up anymore and instead grow around, but they don't seem to understand that.  It's become a bit of a running joke that I 'grow' and 'shrink' overnight.  I'm their very own Alice.

Yesterday, I wore a white top that I've worn twice recently with my super rockin' green pants.  One of my girls asked me if something was wrong with my green pants.  I told her no, and inquired about her reasons for asking.  Her response: The last two times you've worn that shirt, you wore it with your green pants.  Lesson learned, girl, lesson learned.  Mix up my staple items better with my outfits.

They also love to ask me, "Didn't you already wear that on Thursday?" on a Thursday.  The first time they asked me, I didn't quite get it and fell for the joke.  I responded with something like, "I have no idea what I wore last Thursday. I can't remember last week."  Now, I get it.  They still trick lots of others.  You know how it's some sort of cardinal sin to wear the same outfit on the same day of the week when you're in middle school?  I think it's even worse if you're a teacher.  The other teachers probably won't notice, but you can guarantee our students will.

So..... what are your tips for making a staple wardrobe more diverse?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Winter, Spring, Summer, Football

There are clearly four seasons each year.  As a good Southern girl, I celebrate the season of football.  With football/ fall comes some of my favorite things:  Yummy foods, long days and evenings on the porch, spiced cider, fall clothes, pumpkin and apple picking, fall crops, hayrides, corn mazes, and so much fun!  This post is dedicated to some of our fall activities.

farm fresh veggies - last week of summer harvest.

'spaghetti' - spaghetti squash with homemade marinara

high school swimming

Fall veggies. Even the kitty thinks they're good. 

Football.  This was the picture used in the "which shirt should I wear?"
 message to my favorite Florida State fan.
My newly decorated for fall front door.

The mums in pumpkins are so much fun.  They make me smile just looking at them.  It was easy and cheap.  2 $3 pumpkins and 2 $2.50 mums.... right at 11 dollars and about 15 minutes of work to cut the tops off, gut the pumpkins, and punch holes in the bottoms for water drainage.  

I saved the tops of the pumpkins and baked them.  My house smells so fall-y and the pumpkin is getting made into a treat for my faculty on Friday.  It's my group's turn to host the party. 

The wreath was also a great deal.  I spent the days and weeks after the major holidays last year haunting Wal-Mart and Target and waited until their decorations were 70-75% off or more.  This particular wreath cost the high, high price of two bucks.

As for school, my life science students are doing "Why do leaves change color" activities.  I keep trying to link them up or use google docs, but I'm thinking I may just have to start a TpT page...thoughts?

I can't wait till the leaves really start changing -- they're just starting to tint red -- and I can start going for long, scenic walks and drives.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Angels in the Classroom

Y'all, I just adore my students, even on the days that they make me want to pull out all my hair.  I often call them angels.  In previous years, I had one class that would respond with, "Angels, who's been tellin' you lies?"  I know that realistically they aren't angels.  They're just like the rest of us- with flaws and insecurities and problems.  BUT, they're also all children, and they all deserve to be loved and taught by their teachers.  Me calling my students angels isn't as much for them as it is for me.  I need that reminder regularly that they deserve my best, my patience (that's a hard one!), and my attention, both inside the classroom and out.  They all try to behave sometimes, even if they just aren't very good at it.  It's my reminder to see what's causing the problems and try to make my classroom a place where they can learn and not have to worry about what's happening at home or their deployed parents or the middle school drama that's ever- present in our world.

My students have made me laugh every day of every school year.  They are angels, if even for a moment.  I haven't shared many funnies lately, so I'm working on a list.




Monday, September 17, 2012

Making My Mama Famous: Jambalaya

Just found this oldie in the drafts. :)  It's a DELICIOUS RECIPE, and worth the post.


All said, I could've done a lot worse last weekend.  Admittedly, starting the full lifestyle change on Labor Day Weekend was rough, and I didn't do such a hot job.  I probably ate less healthily than I normally do.  I headed down to the beach to visit with my parents and some friends for the weekend.  It was a much-needed getaway. :)

I ate a lot of fresh, wild shrimp.  I ate some fresh veggies.  I couldn't avoid the jalapeno hush puppies, though, and ate them, along with some homemade potato chips.  My mom also made a batch of her jambalaya, which everyone in my family loves.  It's our Christmas Eve dinner tradition, and we get it sporadically throughout the year as well.

Here's her recipe:

1 lb. boneless chicken cubed
1 lb. shrimp boiled in Zatarains
1 lb. smoked andoulle sausage
1 large onion
3-6 garlic cloves
4 ribs celery
3 small cans tomato paste
1 28 oz can tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth
2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cups long grain rice

It's pretty easy to adjust and make it even cleaner than it already is.... mostly by buying local and fresh.  Real tomatoes instead of canned, etc.  Grass-fed meat, consider cutting out the sausage.  You can do it. I'm a firm believer that recipes aren't to be strictly followed unless you're baking.




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Go With the Flow

I haven't posted in awhile... just adjusting to everything this new school year has brought into my life. :)
For those of you that know me, I plan.... a lot!  Of course, adding roughly 130 kids to your life makes it a *teensy* bit harder to follow your plans. :)  I'm doing pretty well with the pacing of my lesson plans, but I'm experiencing leveled ability classes for the first time ever, and it is quite the adjustment.  I learned very early on that my lesson plans need to be modified depending on the class (and individual kids within the classes), but I'm still getting to do much more with my kiddos in a day, even in my slowest paced classes, than I did until now.  It's such a treat.  After my first real lesson, one of the mentor teachers asked me how my day was going.  I looked at her with a grin and said, "I just taught a lesson that normally has to be broken up into three days all at once, and it was glorious!"  She laughed at me, but seriously, I loved every minute.  I was certainly glad I'd planned ahead, since I used my plans for the next day as well. So many of my kids have such a hunger for learning.  I teach primarily life science, so it's easy to make it relevant, which I'm sure helps with the interest levels.  These kids -- especially some of the lowest performing -- ask thoughtful, applicable questions.  Sure, sometimes they tell me that something's too hard for them, but they'll ALL still try.... after a few pep talks, that is. :)  The naivete must still be in me because I still love seeing those light bulbs go off over their heads.

With 130 or so kids of my own, a school nearly the size of my college, and roughly quadruple the staff size I'm used to, I feel like a fish swimming upstream in the hallway sometimes.  The plus side? High heels, a big smile, and the fact that my kids will move out of my way, or at least swarm around me without bumping into me. :)  I feel so much that everything around me is flowing very quickly.  In three months and 8 days, I should be graduating with my masters' degree.  We're approaching the end of our 4th week of school, and I feel like we just started!  We have our first benchmark in 2 weeks.  My friends' babies are growing bigger daily, and the world is changing.

In the past four weeks, I've made new friends, had innumerable interactions with kids, and been to my first high school football games since I was in high school.  More and more these days, I'm letting go of my inner planner.  These days, my famous "Mom planner" is staying in the office at home for major events, and I'm just using the planner in my teacher binder for school events and the kids' sports/ shows/ etc.  It's weird, and is still unnerving at times.  The teacher my classroom connects with has noticed that I'm still a planner at heart.  She laughs at my preparedness in the classroom and planning mentality.  I'm much stricter about my classroom procedures with double the number of kids in the room.  I couldn't get by without my "were you absent" file folders or some of my other classroom organizing tools (more about that in another post).  I don't think I'll ever be able to give up planning and list making... I'd forget too many things I want to remember.  But for now, I'm embracing the flow and "going with it."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Connections

You know that New Year's Resolution thing where you pick one word and make that the 'theme' of your year?  Well, I'm making a New Year's Resolution for school this year.  My word is connections. 

I was talking to another teacher yesterday about the difficulty I'm having in connecting with some of my students this year.  I don't think the majority of my difficulty is in the personalities of myself and my students, but rather a result of lack of time.  I think that connecting with students is one of the most vital aspects of good classroom management.  I know that we're only  2 1/2 weeks into school, and that many more connections will come and strengthen with time.  I'm also adjusting to having about 3 times the number of students I had last year -- quite a change!  It feels like there's a lot less of me to go around right now, but I'm already starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of it (or the kids are feeling less needy :) ).

Today, I am walking on sunshine wo-oah, and don't it feel good!  I had a fabulous day with my kiddos,  despite all of us being tired and most of the teaching staff being a little under the weather with the infamous crud.  You know, tired, stuffy, then the runny nose, sore throat, losing the voice, general yucky feeling?  I think a bunch of the kids have it too, judging by the number of tissues I've gone through in the last two days.  We worked well most of the day, with only a few adjustments being made in my classes that require more accommodations.  I had the opportunity to talk and teach one-on-one with ALMOST every kid I teach today. :) :) :) Towards the end of the day, I realized that I liked it better if they were working alone and not with a partner, which surprisingly enough, made them ask me less questions and gave me the freedom to move around and monitor more.  I think maybe they stopped second guessing themselves?  I scanned their work, and a lot of the individual work is higher quality, too.  One of my ESOL kids absolutely MADE my day.  He's acted rather like a thug for most of the last two weeks, except for when I've moved him away from everyone he likes in class, when he acted like a punk and refused to do any work.  He's still not sitting with his best buds, but seems to understand that I'm really not 'out to get him' and that I'm willing to help him understand and to try and explain things so that he can break them down and translate them into his native language and complete the work.  He did a phenomenal job on our assignment today, after telling me he couldn't do it.  

Another context of the word connection in my classroom this year is that we are focusing on connecting subjects.  TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) requires that we emphasize real-world connections and personal relevance in our daily lessons.  We're implementing a new program in addition to TAP called FSL (Facilitating Student Learning).  FSL takes the real world and personal relevance connections and amps it up by becoming more thoroughly cross-curricular and by connecting each thing we learn to each other thing we learn.  Luckily, I teach life science.  It's a little difficult for the kids right now because they don't have all the building blocks yet, but just the basic exposure to things seems to be sparking the neurons.  As we call them in class, brain waves.  I did something to try and increase the rigor in my classroom (helloooo Common Core!!!) and one of the kids told me I was trying to stretch his brain too far.  

I'm also making connections with the other teachers in my school.  There are 12 subject area teachers in my grade (ELA, math, science, and social studies).  This is more teachers than there were in my entire middle and high school last year, and this is only academic subjects for one grade!  I'm looking forward to getting to know these ladies and gents better and to learning from them as well.

Oh, and the b-i-g connections?  I'm a science olympiad coach.  From my understanding, if you teach science and don't have a legitimate excuse, you can go ahead and sign away your Saturday mornings to science olympiad coaching.  It's a really cool extra curricular, and I wanted to coach even before I was officially contracted.  Conveniently, when I went in to talk to the head coach about it, she handed me a book and said, "Here...which events are you strong in??? You know you're coaching, right?"  Our school has a long history of winning, so I hope I don't let them down.  There are lots of people who help with the team, so the responsibility level should be decently low.  Today, a school staffer asked me if I'd be willing to be the assistant coach for the Academic Bowl.  I reminded her that I was already committed to Science Olympiad, and she assured me that it was only about a 6 week season, with a competition every other week (school nights, not weekends), and one practice after school a week for a few weeks leading up to the competition season.  It doesn't sound bad, but I have a really bad tendency to overcommit myself, so I'm 'thinking about it.'  More connections to the community, other teachers around the state/ nation, etc.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chicken

The food I eat comes up in conversation routinely.  For starters, I'm eating in a school cafeteria, which means that the food I eat is foreign to a lot of the students.  At the teachers' table, I eat quite differently from many of the other teachers.  There are a variety of levels of healthy eating at our table.  We tend to notice what the other is eating, what smells good, etc.  Two of the people I regularly talk food with and swap clean eating ideas are great company.  I'm pretty sure the rest of the staff thinks I'm nutty for my choices, but let's be honest, we're all middle school teachers and therefore all nutty.  One of these people is a chicken farmer.  I was talking to him about meat, because that's what I feel like I know the least about in embarking on my 30 days on the plate goal.  I'm trying to research, but what with teaching full-time and working on my masters full-time, I'm a tad bit busy. :)  Anyway, I was talking to this chicken farmer about meat.

Maybe I just totally missed this, but it's illegal to feed chickens (or inject chicken with) hormones.  So, when you're at the grocery store, and the only difference in the chicken on sale for 1.98/ lb and the chicken that has a label that says "no hormones" is about 6 bucks a pound, don't waste your money.  Just watch out for the antibiotics.  As I'm learning seems to be healthiest for both the animals and the people who eat them, as well as what provides best flavor, grass-fed or "pastured" chicken has a consensus in my research as being the 'cleanest.'  

The chicken farmer and I had a candid conversation about meat and how far to go with the "clean" eating.  It was both enjoyable and informative for me.  We talked extensively about the lack of regulations for labels such as "free range/ free roaming."   There really aren't any in many of these 'clean eating' categories, so you can't be sure of what you're buying, how humanely it's raised, and truly what it's fed without doing more research.  Here is a link to Food Labeling for Dummies.


This is my new bedtime reading material.

In Musings of a Housewife, I read that for buying pastured chicken, 

You can find farmers who sell direct on EatWild.com. Prices run you anywhere from $2.25 to $3.50 a pound for pastured chicken.  The best case scenario is to buy in bulk; you can usually get a discount for purchasing that way, and chickens are only harvested in the summer months so it’s a good idea to stock up for the winter when they’re available.