24 September 2010

iSurprised

My American Literature students have been in the computer lab for the past two days completing their initial drafts of their first writing assignment.  As I was circulating the classroom today, monitoring their progress as they were getting started, I paused at one student's computer, seeing a quick fix that I wanted to address. The following conversation ensued.

Me: Hey, student, I notice a change I'd like you to make. Your MLA formatting is a little off. Remember, correct MLA format is a requirement of the assignment.

Student: Oh, yeah, I know. I just noticed that, too. It's a little messed up because I typed it on my iPod last night. 

Me: (taking pause) Oh? You typed it on your iPod? Wow. I'm impressed.

Student: (looking confused) Really? Didn't you know you could do that on the iPod Touch? I do it all the time. I just use the Notes app.

Me: Well, yeah. I mean, I've used the Notes app on mine before. But not like that. I give you a lot of credit for typing all two pages of your draft using that. 

Student: Oh, gotcha. Yeah, I was just adding stuff as I had ideas throughout the day, and then I emailed it to myself so that I could paste it into Word today when we got here.

Me: Well, I'm glad that you were able to do that. It looks like you're almost done. Make sure you fix that formatting before you print. Do you need help?

Student: Nah. You're talking about this part here and here, right? (I nodded.) Okay, I know how to fix it. Thanks, Ms. K! 

Later, with about five minutes left in the hour, another student politely asked if, since he was done with his draft, I would mind if he got on Excel to make some changes to a spreadsheet. Here's that conversation:

Me: Is it school-related? If so, that's fine. If not, I'd rather you don't.

Student: Yes, it's school-related. It's for school organization XYZ.

Me: Okay. But only because you're done with your work, and we only have about five minutes left.

I hovered for a moment to make sure that his intentions were good, and when he pulled up the obviously school-related spreadsheet, I was blown away. It was elaborately hyper-linked and organized. Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate Excel, mostly because I am inept, but that I am in awe of anyone who is adept with the program.

Me: What is that

Student: Oh, it's my spreadsheet for member activities. I have everyone's name hyper-linked to this (and he starts clicking around furiously, showing me all of his hard work) and that's hyper-linked to this to track this, which reports to this chart, and that's hyper-linked to this...

Me: Wow. That's impressive. They're lucky to have you! Excuse me, though, I have to give everyone final directions. And my head hurts just thinking about all of that hyper-linking.

I'm utterly baffled by how tech-savvy my students are. I don't know why. I mean, the amount of instructional technology I have available to me in my classroom is vast, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my students are doing things like this. It makes me wonder what's coming next. I've just figured out how to use my SMART board. I know my students are ready for a classroom like this:


But am I?

23 September 2010

Doing Teacherly Things?

Officially, my long-term substitute teaching position has started, and the past two days have been a whirlwind.  The original start date for my position was this Friday, when the regular teacher's maternity leave was scheduled to begin. I've been teaching in my classroom since yesterday.  I had planned to be in the classroom yesterday regardless--just to observe one last time, take some things in to the classroom, and get some other loose ends tied up before Friday. Yesterday started, though, with a phone call from the regular teacher, letting me know that she just wasn't feeling well at all and that she wouldn't be in to school.  Of course, I was the sub. Now, I've been prepared for this to happen because a) I've gathered that babies don't really wait for anything nor do they concern themselves much with their parents' schedules and b) she just looked really ready to have that baby soon, and I was hoping she would if only for her sake and comfort.  Yesterday ended with a text message letting me know that Mama and Baby were safely and comfortably celebrating a birthday together.

So two days,  150 new students, 60 projects newly-completed-and-ready-to-be-graded, 75 journals of the same nature as the aforementioned projects, one two-hour-long staff meeting, and countless steps around the school building trying to track down the guy who is supposed to give me my school email address later, I'm teaching. And getting paid for it.

My triumph for today is still managing to leave school at 3 p.m.

But I think I did a "scary" teacher thing today.

As I was getting my outfit for tomorrow ready, I grabbed a comfy pair of shoes that I wore frequently during my teaching internship. I slipped them on to make sure that they were indeed still comfy, and in doing so, I noticed a kind-of-big scuff on the back of one of the shoes. Now, if they weren't still comfy, I would have just put them back where I found them (which was under my bed, where they likely had been kicked sometime in May. I know, this is possibly how they became scuffed in the first place. Touche). Still comfy, though. So comfy.

What was I to do? I didn't want to wear scuffed shoes to school on my third day. Still trying to make a good impression here, people. And it would have nagged at me in the back of my mind all day. Woe.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the many black Sharpie markers that lurk around my house.  Thirty seconds later, my comfy shoes are scuff-free.

I don't know whether to just be glad that I own a surplus of Sharpies, one of which happened to be conveniently located for DIY inspiration, or whether I should be worried that I'm now mending my clothing with office supplies. I don't fancy myself a cobbler, but with the new knowledge of how quickly and well this works and armed with the new multicolored pack of Sharpies that I just bought, I fear that this might be something that occurs again.

If I start pinning my hair up with paperclips or fixing hems with Scotch tape, stage an intervention. Please.

14 September 2010

Here is where people/ One frequently finds/ Lower their voices/ And raise their minds*

*The lines of poetry in the post title are from Richard Armour's "Library."

Among the many things I've rediscovered an interest for this summer (i.e. this thing and this thing) in order to keep myself from going mad with boredom in my hometown, I have started going to the library again.

When I was in grade school, I loved going to the library. My dad would take me and my sister to the library, almost every weekend. He'd grab a comfy chair and read National Geographics or the newpaper while my sister and I pored over the stacks, looking for the perfect books to take home with us that week. The deliberation over books was crucial. We were both voracious readers, and the library only allowed children to check out two books at a time, so we had to choose wisely. Do I get this really long book that looks so interesting, so that I can make it last for a few days? Or do I get this book that I have been dying to read and that I know I will devour by the end of the night, only to risk being book-less and bored until next Saturday?  I usually went with the former choice, because I knew my own reading habits so well, and I discovered so many great books, like The Devil's Arithmetic and Gallows Hill.  These were books that pushed me to read above my reading level at the time and spurred in me an intense interest in historical fiction. I kept going back for more of the same, and these two books stick out in my mind because I never found anything quite like them again.

In high school, the library was not the place to be. No, you could find me at Borders most of the time. Librarians don't allow you to LOL with your friends, loitering until 11 p.m. And they certainly aren't serving you over-priced coffee. The moody but handsome, guitar-playing, Jack-Kerouac-reading older boy also was not at the library. Where else could my friends and I go where he might catch a glimpse of us buying our own copies of all of the awesome stuff he and his friends liked? Only Borders.

In college, I hated going to the library.  I associated the library with late night early morning solitary walk-runs through campus to where my car was parked, enough coffee to cause heart palpitations (I'm not kidding, it happened), and the migraine-inducing buzz of fluorescent lights.  When my roommates and I made group trips to the library, it was a little better, but sometimes that resulted in little work getting accomplished. I can't recall a single time in five years when I went to the library just for pleasure. Even when I did finally get a library card for the East Lansing public library, it was only to check out copies of movies that I had to watch for a class.  I was mere steps away from library phobia. Plus, when I was in college, I developed a preference to purchasing my own copies of books--that way, I could write all over them, annotating every square inch of margin, and nobody could fine me.

I still prefer to have my own copies of books (and so, I have a lot of books that I've never read), but something spurred me this summer to revisit the local library that I so loved in my childhood. I wandered around the library for about two hours on my first visit, because I hadn't arrived with a game plan or a reading list. Did I want to find some "teacherly" book to teach or inspire me? Well, sort of, but the selection was kind of shabby. Did I want to read the Sookie Stackhouse novels? The answer here was, "Yes, desperately." But good luck finding those at any public library, unless you want to start with the last one in the series.  Did I want to read Eat Pray Love? The answer here? "Not really." And again, good luck finding that book anywhere.

Getting discouraged, with a brand-spanking new library card just scorching a hole in my pocket, I wandered over to the young-adult literature section. Now, when I was young, all of the YA lit was mixed in with the children's literature.  Someone finally righted this situation and created a whole new section, right smack in the middle of the library, full of YA lit. And I'm a grown-up now, so I can check out as many books as I want! The teacher and the fourteen-year-old girl in me squealed simultaneously. I can't take them anywhere. I could read a bunch of high-interest fiction for young adults, keeping in mind the really good stuff for a future classroom library! I could remember what it was like to have crushes, and sleepovers, and persistent feelings of not-fitting-in-and-my-parents-don't-understand-and-my- best-friend-is-mad-at-me-for-no-reason-except-that-there-is-a-reason-and-it's-totally-my-fault-but-it-will-all-be-okay-in-the-end-and-I'll-learn-something-really-important! (Okay, yes, YA Lit is so much more than that, but when I was a young adult, that's the general plot of most of what I read.)

Now, I fully planned on reading the armload of books that I checked out on that first visit to the library as voraciously as I would have when I was a child. Alas, as fate would have it and as it always does, adult life has gotten in the way. Instead of basking in my haul of YA lit, I'm reading and re-reading texts that I have to teach (although happily, The Outsiders is one of them) and lesson-planning. But waiting for me in those rare moments when I can relax are the following:

Before I begin this, I should note that all of the images used below are credited to Amazon.com, linked via LibraryThing.com.

 The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais

Ah, two best friends like the same "perfect" boy. Most girls have been there, done that, had her fifteen-year-old heart broken, and lived to tell about it. I'm looking forward to Lotus Lowenstein reminding me what it was like in this glimpse into her diary.
 The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

I'll admit, I was drawn to this book because the book jacket mentioned St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Desperate Situations and Hopeless Cases --that Patron Saint to whom my grandmother reminded me to pray every day this summer.  Antonia is fifteen, waiting for her first kiss, and doing everything that her Italian-Catholic upbringing has taught her to get it.  I guess it must have sounded familiar to me.

And the ones I am looking forward to most:
 The Loser's Guide to Life and Love by A.E. Cannon

The book jacket says it's a "fresh, contemporary twist on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream." Um, sold.





 Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

When I found this book, Teacher Me started squealing again. (You'd think she would have learned from the last time. I'd send her to time out, but her services are frequently needed.) Shakespeare's Macbeth, from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old ward of Lord and Lady Macbeth. My favorite Shakespearean tragedy, YA lit, and an old favorite among YA writers? Le sigh.

08 September 2010

If there's something weird and it don't look good...

Who ya gonna call?



Gather 'round the campfire, kids, and hand me that  flashlight so I can hold it below my chin for eerie effect. I have a ghost story. I would not usually post about something this silly, unless I was thoroughly creeped out about it.  And I am.

I must begin this tale with a little exposition.  You see, last night I went to bed a little early and did some reading in preparation for my upcoming teaching gig. I fell asleep with the lamp next to my bed still on, and the window in my room wide open, blinds and all. The part about the window and the blinds will be an important plot point later. Take note.

Nothing weird about any of that, I know. Normal night.

My mother leaves for work at about 6 a.m. every day. She always pulls the car out into the driveway, leaves it running while she grabs her coffee and what not, and then leaves. This morning, when she slammed the car door shut and pulled out of the drive, the noise startled me awake. Realizing that I left my lamp on, I leaned over to flick it off, never getting out of bed. I repeat, never getting out of bed.

I rolled over and attempted to fall back asleep. My phone rings. It's Mom. She surely saw me turn my light off and would know that I was awake, so I thought maybe she was having trouble getting our consistently malfunctioning garage door to shut. She probably wanted me to get up and shut it from inside. Grumbling and sleepy, I grabbed my phone off the bedside table.

"What?" I groggily growled.

"What are you doing in your room?" She asked.

"Um. Sleeping? I just woke up when you left, and I had to shut my light off."

"Why?"

"Because I fell asleep with it on last night?" At this point, I'm a little confused and upset that I was not notified about this morning's quiz.

"Oh, okay. I saw you shut the light off. But I was wondering why you got up after that, opened your blinds, and stared out at me in the driveway like a creeper."

"Um. No. I didn't."

Refer back to your notes. Recall that I did not ever get out of bed. I realize that I had just woken up. I promise, though, that I was lucid enough to know that I never got out of my bed.
 
I pulled my covers up to my chin and stared around my room. I watch a lot Ghost Hunters, and I started to run through all that the guys from TAPS have taught me. Was there paranormal activity going on in my very bedroom?
 
Now, I fancy myself a skeptic when it comes to this stuff. I don't necessarily believe that there are beings beyond the living in this world, but I don't not believe it either. There have been a couple of instances in my own life--to summarize, weird and unexplainable things have happened surrounding the deaths of loved ones--that have made me wonder.Those instances are ones that I have often found slightly comforting, thinking that those I've loved who are no longer with me in person might have stuck around in spirit for a little while, like they were saying goodbye.  There have also been weird and unexplainable happenings that have made me uncomfortable. Say, the shadow thing that I've seen at night creepily sliding along the walls in the darkened hallways of almost every place I've ever called home, for example. Or the strange stories that my parents used to tell me about the hundred-year-old house that we lived in when I was born. I guess I've chosen to stake some belief in the things that don't make my skin crawl and to dismiss the things that have. If it creeps me out, and I can't prove it wasn't something scary, I'd rather pretend it didn't happen.

But, dude. In. My. Bedroom. In MY bedroom? Eff that noise.

02 September 2010

Sew Much

It's been a while since I've sewn...anything. And the extent of my sewing experience--as in sewing with a sewing machine--is limited to the pillow I had to make in Home Economics in sixth grade. Well, that and the small clothing repair every once in a while.

As I get ready for the school year, I remember how HOT it was in my classroom at the beginning of last year and how jealous I was of my mentor teacher in her cute dresses and skirts that looked so comfortable and cool. With my funding being limited, my taste in clothing being picky, and my need to be fairly conservative in my classroom wardrobe being imperative, I knew that any shopping excursions to find clothing for the time in between hot and cold weather would be unproductive and/or financially draining.

When I found these tutorials for a simple and fairly conservative skirt, I knew I could have some unique pieces to add to my wardrobe for this fall. Boldly, I will go where I have never gone before with little experience and a determination to, at the very least, sew two pieces of fabric together.

I may post pictures of my final products here. We'll see.

31 August 2010

The End of an Era?

almost adv. very nearly, all but; implies very little short of

teacher n. a person who teaches or instructs

The Almost Teacher. It's been my self-identity six years in the making. Five years of undergraduate study, one year of student teaching, four very long months of a tedious job search...and to what does this all add up?

A teaching job.

Well, actually a semester-long substitute job teaching English in a high school that I have wanted to work at forever. It's not exactly what I have been working towards for so many years, but it's one important step closer to that.

This development begs a couple of  new questions for me, though. Am I still The Almost Teacher? If I am, what does this mean to me? And if I'm not, how do I now identify myself?

My friend and colleague, Sarah, recently blogged about this very conflict. When she wrote this, my thoughts were:

"We're all going to spend a lot of time in the near future evolving into the teachers we want to be, striving to prove to ourselves and various others that we are what we want to say we are. And the next step in that for many of us is certainly that first permanent job, whether it's already set in contractual stone or not."

I expressed this to her from a position of joblessness. At the time, my next step was to find another new job posting and apply for it. Now, my next step is to embark on a long-term subbing position. It's not permanent. It's not "set in contractual stone." But it's mine.

I won't be "almost" teaching. I'll be teaching. I'm already doing the things teachers do--going through all of my materials from last year to choose and revise what I can for the units and texts that I will be teaching again, researching and gathering new materials for the units and texts that I have not taught, thinking about how I will get to know my new students, etc. In a couple of short weeks, I will be doing more of what teachers do--implementing all of the things I have planned, revising what I have planned yet again to be accessible for this new group of students, grading, assessing, etc.

And all of this will be regardless of how long I do it.

Am I still The Almost Teacher?  Honestly, at this point, I don't know. I highly doubt that I will feel like The Almost Teacher for much longer--at least, not in the same sense.  So what's my new definition of The Almost Teacher?

The Almost Teacher n. A teacher who is almost the teacher she wants to be and who, through reflection, revision, and hard work, will never stop striving to be the teacher her students need.

An imperfect and incomplete definition, but for now, that's my story.

26 August 2010

Rat Race

Countdown to the 2010-2011 school year:

T-minus NOW.  

How are jobs still becoming available?

I am overwhelmed.

24 August 2010

Nightly Attacks

My cat has a bad habit.

Well, really, he has a number of bad habits, but he has one in particular that is life-threatening.

He's always been an ankle-biter. When he was a kitten, he would follow my roommates and I around our apartment, practically tripping over himself in his efforts to latch on to our feet.  With so many moving targets, he quickly perfected his technique. His favorite time to do this is in the wee morning hours, when he knows that he has the advantage because you're bleary-eyed and barefoot. Or immediately after his prey has gotten out of the shower.  The modus operandi in such stealth attacks is precise and carefully calculated. He hides just out of sight, but within enough reach to curl his extremely dexterous paws  around your ankle, as the first foot comes into his cross hairs. He knows that you likely have enough momentum as you stumble to the coffee pot to shake him free quickly, so with a lightning-quick maneuver, he gator rolls his body so that it is curled tightly around the foot and sinks his back claws in for leverage, immobilizing his prey. The kill switch engages, and he nips his very-tiny-but-oh-so-painful fangs into whatever soft skin is in easiest reach.

Now, this is really more of a catch-and-release effort, as he is well-aware that the supply of feet is limited with no immediate chance of replenishment. After his prey acknowledges that they have been temporarily defeated, he leaps out of reach in a side-winding move, and runs away giggling.

When Milo moved from my apartment to my mother's house, he discovered a fresh supply of completely unsuspecting prey in my mother and my sister. This, however, was not the most exciting part of the move for him.

We have a dog.

I imagine that his thoughts upon discovering this were, "Oh. Mah. Gah. What is this perfect specimen?! Is that four legs I see? And a tail? Schwing!"

And last night, he tortured the dog until 5:00 in the morning.

Needless to say, after little sleep, this is how the Almost Teacher is feeling:



23 August 2010

Methinks I'll keep her...

Although I don't remember the exact date of the conversation, I'm thinking it probably occurred somewhere in the realm of 21 years ago. However, unless I made this up in my healthy-albeit-overactive imagination, I have the distinct recollection of a three-year-old Me asking my parents for a baby sister. What my mother and father said, I don't remember. 

But I received a couple of things for my 4th birthday:

 

I am relieved to see that I do not look so crazed in the picture with my baby sister as I do in the one with my new Barbie.

I remember the day she was born--twenty years ago today. I'm pretty sure someone must have explained to me where Mom and Dad went in the middle of the night (I was not one to stand by being uninformed. "Hi, my name is Rachel. I'm a recovering question-asker."). What I remember most, though, is my grandparents taking me to Burger King on the way to the hospital, and I was upset to tears about it because, let's face it, the Burger King Kid's Meal was no Happy Meal. I mean, they never, ever came with Disney toys.

Once we were able to visit my mother and new sister in the hospital, I clearly remember my mom being very nervous to allow me to hold the baby. I was allowed to sit on the hospital bed, though, and look at the baby. (Even after you had been forced to make due with a mediocre Burger King toy? you ask. Yes, 'tis true.)  I was still 9 days shy of 4, though, so I suppose I can't blame her. My biggest curiosity about the baby was what her "bungee" cord looked like. Now that I think about it, perhaps the bungee vs. umbilical cord misunderstanding is why I was disallowed from holding the baby...

Eventually, they did let me hold her, as is evidenced by the picture above. I believe that photo was taken a few days after she had come home, and if I'm not mistaken, it was the first time I was allowed to hold her.  She was so cool!

On sisters, Toni Morrison said, "A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves--a special kind of double." If there ever was a better way to express the relationship between my sister and I, I'd like to see it.  It can be guaranteed that, when my sister and I are together, we will not walk away from it without someone having said to the other, "You just always have to be right, don't you?" We're cut from the same cloth, but we are very different people. We're sisters, but she's the Leo (well, a Leo-Virgo cuspian actually, which throws a whole new wrench into the gears sometimes) to my Virgo. In the very dates of our births, it is cosmically determined that our relationship should be tumultuous, but that our personalities also serve to balance each other. When I'm freaking out about something, she's matter-of-factly telling me to chill the heck out before she smacks me. When I'm examining the minutiae of a situation or task, she's got a knack for realizing when enough is enough and it's time to adopt a "Whatev" attitude. We're not hesitant to point out to each other when the other one has done something wrong. But I will be the first to admit that my sister has so many enviable strengths. I wish that I had her self-confidence, her initiative, and her extroverted nature, without having to think so dang hard about it. So many things come naturally to her, and when something doesn't, she does everything she can to make it happen.  If I'm not good at something, I'm usually content to never do it again. We're both perfectionists, but we present it in very different ways. 

To be sisters " is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship," the anthropologist Margaret Mead noted. Though my sister and I have moments in our relationship at which even oil and vinegar would shake their heads in disbelief, I wouldn't trade her for anything.  My sister is the only person who will ever understand me fully, because she's been by my side for twenty years, when life has been great and when it's been heartbreaking.  I'm glad that she's been, and always will be, my sister. 
















So here's to my sister on her birthday. Nicole, I hope you had a very happy one. Just know I haven't called yet because it took me all day to write this blog post.  I love you. 

The thought bubble here would surely say, "Nom nom nom nom!"

21 August 2010

Teacher to Teacher

One of the most useful resources I've discovered as a new teacher has been the English Companion Ning, created by the brilliant Jim Burke.  Now, I love the EC Ning for many reasons. Not just because Jim Burke was one of the first thinkers and doers in English education I was introduced to in college who

a) was still alive and/or a practicing educator, and
b) actually provided practical and useful knowledge to back up his ideas, answering that age-old teacher education question of "Okay, nice. But HOW?!"

Mainly, I love the EC Ning because it's teeming with helpful and creative ideas from almost 20,000 other educators that can actually be applied in a real classroom. It's teachers helping teachers (and pre-service teachers, which is invaluable) in very real ways. My favorite post recently, one that I go back to almost every day despite currently being unable to implement the ideas, is this one about how to spend the first day of school.  New ideas, old ideas, new ways to rethink those old ideas--I think this post is a perfect example of what the EC Ning is and can do for teachers.

20 August 2010

On Optimism

The school year is staring me down. And if I had to personify it, I would say that it's probably doing so with red, beady eyes and a taunting grin.

petrify v.t. to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion

This is almost the word I am looking for.

I can't say that I am not frightened by the prospect of not having a teaching job in two weeks.  I'm almost petrified. I say "almost petrified," because I'm terrified sometimes to the point that I want to give up. I want to let this job search reach a standstill. I want to stop scouring the postings, writing these carefully researched cover letters, and driving for hours to interview after interview. This usually happens after a phone call from an administrator letting me know that they're going forward with someone more experienced, albeit telling me that I was the other top candidate or that I interviewed "so well."  Thanks. That's awesome. I'm glad the 10 interviews (yep, you read that right. You left your chin on the floor back there.) worth of practice has...not paid off?

And then, when another job posting pops up, or I get another invitation to interview, I realize that attitude isn't going to get me anywhere. I've seen how much can happen in just a matter of hours in this endeavor. I see my former classmates land jobs, which means there are triumphs to be had out there. Plus, my mother starts in on me.

And if it's things out of my control, like experience or a second certification in another core subject that I don't have yet, that are holding me back--well, that's just it. These are things that are out of my control.

So, when I do have my own students, and when they're feeling like nothing is going their way or like their only option is to give up on something they want, I'm not going to hesitate to tell them often (i.e. pull my handy soapbox out from under my desk and climb up to the top of it) that you cannot give up on what is important to you.  In the end, it will be the things that we've felt challenged by that make our successes all the more sweet.

And it won't be as embarrassing when the Fresh Prince walks in on you doing this:

19 July 2010

My new favorite afternoon snack



A happy accident when I was hungry this afternoon. I knew I wanted the Kashi cereal and the strawberries. I wasn't feeling the milk in the fridge (it's probably fine, but I have a "thing" about drinking milk that is more than a couple of days past its sell-by date). My next move was going to be vanilla yogurt. No such luck. Lemon yogurt seemed like it might work okay with the strawberries and the cereal, so I gave it a shot.

My new favorite afternoon snack was born! It was so summery-tasting, and it will hold me over until dinner. And for very few calories!

I've thought of all the things I'd like to say...

I've been tossing around some ideas for organizing my blog. Some of the blogs that I most enjoy reading have a weekly post schedule. Certain topics are posted about on Mondays, another topic is posted about on Tuesday, and so on throughout the week. I don't know why I feel the need to schedule posts for my blog like this, but these bloggers never seem to run out of things to say. It might challenge me to write about something other than teaching, too, since I did revamp this blog and state in my first post that I didn't want it to be all about teaching.   At the same time, I feel like it might limit me. If I'm supposed to post about--I don't know, the book I'm currently reading--on Thursday, I would feel like I would have to. Even if I didn't want to.

Plus, I suppose the whole weekly schedule of posts really works best for lifestyle blogs, and this is not a lifestyle blog. At least, it's not a blog about an interesting or worthwhile lifestyle. I'm not being self-deprecating in that statement. I just lead a rather boring life, and I've come to terms with that.  There's not much to it right now. Maybe there will be later, but at this point, scheduling my blog around all of the interesting things I do on a daily basis seems a touch inappropriate.

In other news, I want to see this.



This may be my shortest blog post yet.

PS- The title of this post is a line from the song "Can't Finish What You Started" by Motion City Soundtrack. Need to give credit where credit is due. 

16 July 2010

How's this for optimism?

I continue to browse the internet for things that I want for my future classroom. Because I will have a future classroom, soon.  And I will have money, soon. That's a promise I've made to myself in the past couple of days.

And that classroom will be the best darn looking classroom anyone has ever crossed the threshold of.

And so, the list from yesterday continues:

1. I found this poster on teachersdiscovery.com. However, I don't think I would ever pay for it. It was created with wordle.net, which is free to use and very cool, and I've been using it for a couple of years now.  You can create these word clouds for absolutely anything, and you are in (almost) complete control of the content. It can be time-consuming, especially if you have a preconceived notion of what you want. From my experience,  a rough idea of what you'd like to see represented is good, but really only in terms of the words you want included and maybe some general size relationships between those words. With Wordle, you have to allow it to randomly generate word placement, but you can pick the general shape and color scheme of your Wordle. I've had a much more rewarding and exciting experience when I've just let things happen. You can  regenerate the same word cloud all day long until you reach something that you are satisfied with, and it's surprising how your own understanding of the content of your word cloud can be illuminated in new and interesting ways by what Wordle generates for you. Although I won't buy this poster, I will say that I had never thought of using Wordle in this way. I always saw its possibilities for a student assignment, but I think this medium could make a really interesting discussion prompt for the end (or maybe even the beginning?) of a unit.


 2. I really like this series of lit elements posters from teachersdiscovery.com, because they seem to be a little more visually interesting for older students (or more cool? Not so cutesy as some that I've seen). It also looks like they do a really nice job of illustrating the concept. I don't know why I seem to be gravitating so much towards this idea of being able to talk about visual representation and non-text messages, but I'm thinking these posters lend themselves towards that nicely.

I seem to be finding a lot of stuff to decorate a classroom and create those visual elements that can get kids thinking. That's all well and good, but I'm also trying to find practical things for my classroom, especially to help establish management procedures. So far, I've only come across callowayhouse.com as a good resource. What else is out there?

On a personal side note, I've become hooked on Toddlers & Tiaras on TLC. I think its entertainment value, for me, comes from its astounding capacity to dumbfound me.   Also, it is giving me some good Halloween costume ideas. For your entertainment (and mine), a Youtube! video of my favorite T & T moment, with commentary from the host of The Dish.



She's four. I was waiting for her to wallop someone upside the head with that pink wand thing she had in her hand. The most astounding aspect of this little girl isn't even in this video. The ridiculousness of her behavior is amplified most when she is frantically looking for her "ni-ni"--her pacifier.

I think all of our inner four-year-old selves kind of admire her a little, though. Only mine? Well, okay.

15 July 2010

All that moving and shaking is compromising the infrastructure.

I finished my last post feeling optimistic because I had a couple of things on my plate in this whole teaching job search.  Yesterday, I finally got that phone call I had been waiting for from my interview last week. Again, they chose someone with more experience. I won't use this blog entry to vent or think through this issue.  I had my meltdown last night, which was utterly unproductive, and now that the resulting headache is gone, I don't want to relive it.  I woke up this morning ready to keep pushing forward, and that's my intention.

I had an awesome meeting yesterday afternoon in East Lansing with a former teaching instructor. This is the first time we've had a lengthy conversation since I finished the teaching internship, so we talked about quite a few things--job search, the internship, and how those things are so interconnected now.  As we talked, particularly about how I'm reflecting on the internship as I talk to prospective employers about that experience as my teaching experience, I got kind of emotional.  Well, okay, I may have cried.

It became evident to me that all the "things I learned" that I've been articulating to people are not really the most important things I learned. Yes, I learned what I didn't know about classroom management (which, let's be honest, was everything). Yes, I learned what I didn't know about instructional strategies. Yes, I learned that my content knowledge is more than amply sufficient, but that doesn't always (hardly ever) matter. But as I talked to my former teacher, who is now a fellow teacher, and reflected on my internship more deeply, I found myself saying things about that experience that I didn't even realize I believed.  I realized that, above all else, I saw what it takes as an educator to deal with intensely difficult problems affecting your classroom and to still be a good teacher, to still want to be a good teacher. We're in an intensely difficult era of education in America, and difficult classroom situations aren't getting rarer, so this is something. 

I'm still trying to figure out how to get this on paper, and I'm not going to do it in this forum because it's so personal. I need to figure out how to say these things. These things answer the question that I am so afraid of--Why should we hire you? Why would you be the best choice for us? What more do you have to offer us than our other candidates? I know something right now about myself as a teacher that some teachers don't figure out for a long time, that some never figure out, and that some figure out and in light of it are pushed to leave the field.

I feel like this is getting dangerously close to me needing a soapbox to stand on, so I'm going to move on.

All right, even though I am lacking the essentials typically required for one to even be thinking about this (i.e. a teaching job and money), I've begun a list of things that I want for my classroom.


1. This paper sorter from callowayhouse.com. I'm usually a very organized person, but it became apparent during my internship that I may not be the most organized teacher. Trust me, there is a difference. I see lots of possibilities for this paper sorter, mostly centered around organizing my teaching materials for myself, so I may need more than one. Kind of expensive at 79.99 each.

2. This paper collector, also from callowayhouse.com.We had this in my classroom last school year, after some issues with students taking others' papers from the turn-in box. This solves all problems. The slots are big enough to slip even a packet of papers in, but certainly not large enough to slip a hand in. The back is closed with tabs, so it's pretty much "teacher-only" access.  Not to mention, it neatly stacks papers for you. I never knew how important this would be to me.

3. Dry-erase lapboards. Callowayhouse.com might be my new favorite website. We also had these in my classroom last year, and they were great for drills, whole class formative activities, learning games, etc. The students really enjoy them, and as long as you preface their use with an explanation of appropriateness, they're really effective.


4. From teachersdiscovery.com, I just love this poster. It's accurate, and has a ton of information on it. The Facebook-esque organization presents it all in way that students will recognize, be intrigued by, and probably spend a few extra seconds looking at.
Teachers Discovery also has them available for other authors, including Steinbeck, Hurston, Poe, and Neruda. OR! You can get them in a set of 16, which includes all of the available authors plus 8 novel characters (like Scout Finch and Odysseus)!

 5. Teachersdiscovery.com, again. I don't necessarily want this poster for The Giver, but there's a large selection of similar movie-style posters available for other novels and short stories. Most of them are pretty beautiful, and again very recognizable. And this poster for The Giver is a good example of how much information about the literature is conveyed in these posters. So, we'd be reinforcing content from the novel, and it might aid in a great conversation about critical visual literacy or media literacy. Shazaam!


6. A smart board. Impossible, right? Maybe not. Apparently, you can make your own smart board with a Wiimote and a few other items, for comparative pennies (or about $75). I've seen one of these homemade smart boards in action, and it's legit. Do yourself a solid and at least watch the video below to see if this is something that you want to get to working on.





I would put "a classroom" on this wishlist, but that's a given.

14 July 2010

Things are starting to move and shake...in a good way!

Soon after I posted my first entry on this re-conceived version of my blog--and when I say soon, I mean within 24 hours--I got a phone call for my first teaching interview. Needless to say, this was an enormous relief. I at least knew that I was successfully getting my resume out there and that others thought I was as qualified as I thought I was--enough to deserve an interview.  I spent the whole weekend simultaneously eagerly and nervously anticipating my Monday interview. Monday came, and I went to the interview with my portfolio in tow, a nervous stomach, and lots of encouragement from my friends and family. The interview went really well; I know this because I thought so, and they told me so as we finished up. The next day, I got a phone call from one of the principals on my interview panel, letting me know that they had decided to move forward with a couple of candidates with at least one year of experience in the classroom.

Big. Fat. Bummer.

At first, my thoughts were, "Wait just a hot second! What was I doing from September to April, precisely?" It's not like I completed a 10-week or 16-week long teaching internship (not that I'm saying anything against any certification program that offers their internships as such). Thirty-three weeks I taught, and for those entire 33 weeks, I was solely responsible for one entire class of ninth graders, in addition to the long stretches when I was required to pick up extra preps. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, which really only added to the nervous stomach I'd developed. Sweet.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was okay. I was going to be okay. People were looking at my resume, and I now knew that in at least one case, they were impressed enough to take time from their day to get to know me as an educator. Yes, I technically have one year of classroom experience, and that's significantly more than some others leave their Teacher Ed. programs with. I would hesitate to say that I believe that the year I just finished will be anything in comparison to my first year in my own classroom, so I can understand their decision. I have to be gracious and appreciate that interview for what it was. It was a chance, and it was one more chance that I had the week before.

I continued to pore over the (actually quite numerous) job openings across the state of Michigan. I expanded my search to include some areas that I wasn't originally going to consider. Just as I was starting to get all pukey again about my efforts, I was asked for another interview. Later that same day, I was randomly called for a phone interview at yet another school district. Granted, that phone interview did not go well because a) I was on the way to hospital to support a family member during surgery, b) I was caught completely off-guard by the administrator, who wanted to conduct the interview right then, and c) I really don't enjoy talking on the phone to very many people. I was also generally unimpressed with the other side of the conversation, which really didn't feel like a conversation as much as it did an interrogation. Ahem. I've digressed.

I went to my next interview, which went even better than the first one. I was more comfortable. I had a lot in common with my interview panel, in many different ways. We laughed a lot. It was...fun? Yes, fun. I'm waiting to hear something from that high school. At the suggestion of my very Catholic grandmother, I am also imploring St. Jude (the patron saint of hopeless cases. I don't know whether to take that as a vote of confidence, Grandma...) for his assistance. As much as I want a job, more than anything I want the right job, so that's what I'm asking for.

On the way home from that interview, I got a phone call for a pre-interview "walk-through"  at another high school. Now, I've never heard of this approach to the interview process, and I don't know how common it is. It was stressed when I was invited that this was supposed to be a really informal chance for the school to get to know me and for me to get to know the school. Literally, the principal who called told me that it was really a chance for the school to brag about how great they are. My walk-though was today, and again, it was actually pretty fun. It was just me and an assistant principal, walking around the school, chatting about what they have to offer and me asking about what I was interested in about their school system. I'll hear close to the end of the week if they'd like me to come in for a formal interview next week.

Plus, my dream school just posted an English job opening on Friday.

Things are starting to happen. For me, that's a good feeling.


A few personal notes from this week: 

1.  I saw the trailer for Charlie St. Cloud, Zac Efron's new movie, and I thought, "Hm, haven't really seen much from him in a while." 17 Again happened to be On Demand for free, and so I re-watched it. I have to say, I truly enjoy that movie. I don't know exactly why, although it probably has something to do with the massive crush I've had on Matthew Perry since I was 8 years old.  While I was watching, I was reminded of a couple of songs on the soundtrack that I meant to download a long time ago--The Kooks' "Naive" and Spoon's "The Underdog." I like The Kooks song because it's incredibly catchy, and I find myself listening to it repeatedly and singing along. I know I like a song if I can get in the car karaoke zone with it. You know, that place where you can imagine the drivers of passing cars looking over at you wielding your air mic and thinking, "Day-um, she's awesome!" No? Only me? Okay. The Spoon song I like mostly because I'm a sucker for those brass horns and the lines, " You got no time for the messenger/ Got no regard for the thing that you don't understand/ You got no fear of the underdog/ That's why you will not survive." I mean, take that, you!

I can't resist posting the videos.






2. My mom loves Deadliest Catch (like wants-to-move-to-Alaska-and-marry-a-crab-fisherman love), and so we watch it pretty religiously. Tonight's episode was the final farewell to Phil Harris, one of the fisherman on the show, and it was pretty heart-wrenching.

3. Check out my cute cartoon version of me on the right side of the blog! I don't know if it really looks that much like me, but goodness, I wish my hair looked like that every day!

This post has grown far too long and probably far too boring. For your sake, I'll resist the urge to keep typing.

05 July 2010

Nostalgia

I'm a sucker for anything that reminds me of my childhood, especially if it allows me to relive it. I get super excited about these sorts of things, and I can't help but feel this way about Ramona and Beezus, the movie adaptation of Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby books.

The Ramona Quimby books were the first real chapter books I read as a kid.  I was probably about seven years old when I started reading them. I can't recall which characters in the book I felt more of a connection to then. Probably Ramona, because I was always that "busy-body" kid running around, getting dirty, getting into mischief, and getting yelled at by adults.  But maybe it was Beezus, because right around the time I was reading those books, I had a "busy-body" little sister, too. (Yeah, we were both "busy-bodies." That's what our grandmother called us, and apparently, it ran in the family).

I don't remember very much about the books, but I remember loving them. I do remember feeling badly when Ramona's cat died, and I remember that his name was Picky-Picky. I thought of Picky-Picky when my own cat, Dusty, died when I was nine or ten.  I remember feeling badly again when Ramona's dad lost his job, and I was reminded of her again when my own dad lost his job. Come to think of it, there were a lot of sad moments in those books--moments that I could relate to and see happening in my own life, sometimes--but I recall that there were quite a few happy ones, as well. I do know that I was always glad at the end of the books, when whatever particular conflict Ramona and Beezus were having in that book was finally resolved. 

I think I moved on to what I thought were bigger and better books (Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley Twins) before I could read all of the Ramona Quimby books.  I went hunting through my house just today for my old copies of them, with no luck (although I did locate a very tattered copy of Roald Dahl's Matilda, so score!). They probably got sold in a garage sale or given away to a library sometime long ago. I'm a little saddened that I didn't miss them before now, and that I didn't think to keep them. I do hope, though, that another kid had the chance to enjoy them. I'd even be okay with it if they crossed my name off of the inside front cover and scrawled in their own.

So, for those of you who loved Ramona Quimby just as I did, or maybe for those of you who never got the chance to enjoy her, HarperCollins publishers has the full text of Beezus and Ramona available for you to read. And here is a trailer for Ramona and Beezus, due out July 23!

23 June 2010

Feeling Loopy?

I will not allow this blog to be solely about a job search or about teaching, since those aren't the only things that I do with my life. Well, I guess the job search is kind of all that I do with my life these days, and teaching was all that I did with my life prior to 8 weeks ago. But I am truly trying to use this summer as a way to get back to some of the hobbies that existed in my life prior to my teaching internship.  One of those hobbies is crochet.

I've always enjoyed crochet for a lot of reasons. For one, I find it easy. For a basic project, get a crochet hook and a ball of yarn. Really the only other skills you need are the abilities to read directions and tie knots. Describing crochet like that could potentially get me in trouble with really advanced and talented crochet artists.  I will say, for those who design and execute their projects from scratch, sans pattern, there is quite a bit more control, planning, and insight required. But for the types of projects that I usually get "hooked" on (pun intended), I find that crochet is not a really difficult task. I also enjoy the fact that crochet is pattern-based. I like counting and repeating stitches. I always feel like I have control over the project, and most of the time, it becomes predictable. That relaxes me.  And with the medium of crochet, I find it reassuring that, if I make a mistake, I can back up and redo it. It's fixed and fixable.

Now, I'll be honest--I used to be slightly embarrassed that I enjoyed crocheting. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps because it's the kind of hobby that you usually associate with an 80-year-old lady, something that she does to pass the time between shuffleboard and group swim at the community center. That's very stereotypical of me, I know, but my grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was 8-years-old, and it was never exactly the trendiest thing to do.  I didn't want to be the girl known for wielding a crochet hook and expertly crafting an afghan, especially not once I got to high school. 

The thing is, now crochet is kind of trendy. Check out Etsy.com, and you'll notice--the craft of crochet is no longer limited to back-of-the-sofa doilies or patchwork afghans. Aren't some of these accessories pretty darn cute?




(I believe there are a couple of regulations that I have to adhere to here. First, credit for these images belongs to the Etsy sellers who are responsible for creating them. Top left: Millie at BigFrozenMelon. Top Right: SavorTheFlavor.  Bottom: TheCrochetHook. Second, all of these items are for sale on Etsy, but I have in no way been compensated for promoting or displaying these products on my blog.)

During my teaching internship, I started an afghan project that I really focused on over my holiday break. Unfortunately, the holiday break ended, things got busy again, and I couldn't devote any more time to it. It sits unfinished in my crochet bag, and I can't even remember what row I left off on. I'll have to restart it at some point, although that probably won't be this summer. With July approaching, I can't imagine spending hot Michigan afternoons with an afghan blanket in my lap. Instead, I picked up this book a few weeks ago:



I've had so much fun with some of the projects in here! They're quick, and pretty easy (although the process of felting makes me want to cry, because I am so inept, and it is so pretty). Most of my projects I have turned into pins for sweaters or bags, and they're fun to wear.  Someday, when I have time and/or an attention span,  I'll finish that afghan, but for now, I'm just crocheting my own little flower garden.

A New Beginning...

Times flies...when you're having fun, I guess?

It's been quite some time since I updated this blog, and it fell a bit by the wayside.  Originally, this blog was a project that I started for one of my teacher education courses at Michigan State University, as a sort of "teaching notebook." The blog format ended up not working out for my purposes, and unfortunately, I neglected it for almost 2 years. I'm sorry, blog. Now, as I search for my first teaching job, I feel like this might be a good place to document this time in my life. Especially since I spend a great deal of my day online anyway--searching for, bookmarking, and applying for teaching jobs here in Michigan.  Perhaps when I get totally frustrated with the hunt, this blog will serve as a much needed forum for decompression. Hopefully, though, the scope of this blog can move beyond a simple sounding board for my frustration. After all, if that's all it turned out to be, things could get a little hairy around here. In time, I hope that it can evolve into a space for me to share the triumphs and tribulations of my first classroom. Baby steps for now, though.

For now, I feel like I'm still "The Almost Teacher." Without the promise of a job in my future, I still feel "almost" there.  Granted, I've finished my year-long teaching internship, and my certification is processing through the state Dept. of Ed. at this very moment. Both momentous occasions. A job would be most momentous, though, before I end up feeling like this:



Enough complaining/ moping about the job situation! I've got an exciting opportunity coming up this weekend. Tomorrow, I get to return to Michigan State University to work with the Red Cedar Writing Project for their annual Greenrock Writers' Retreat. My big job, other than working with the writers, is going to be to compile the anthology for this year.  It's going to be a compilation of the writing that the kids do during the retreat, as well as photos documenting all of the fun we had.  I'm working with a couple of really great educators, and I'm practically giddy (okay, maybe more than practically) about this experience.  I get to work with really motivated and talented kids, stay in the dorms again (and eat awesome MSU cafeteria food all weekend!), and create something for these kids that will help them remember this weekend forever! I'm going to be up all night, packing probably, but more likely just being excited!