Sunday, August 31, 2014

Road Trip!!

Before I get started, and to lessen the confusion as much as possible, I'm going to give you a list of code names I'll be using for everyone that I'll be talking about today:
C - Peanut's dad
PE - Psycho Ex (aka Peanut's dad's piece of trash girlfriend)
D - Peanut's grandfather (aka C's step-dad)
L - Peanut's grandma (aka C's mom)

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 3AM, drank a cup of coffee, and woke up Peanut.  We got dressed, loaded up the car, programmed my GPS, and was on our way to our Road Trip destination by 4AM.  MapQuest told me that we'd arrive in Lebanon, TN at 1PM that afternoon... so a nine hour drive was a head of us, and that wasn't including stops.

Peanut was already fast asleep just 30 minutes in to the trip.  Which wasn't so bad.  I had the radio on, there were very few cars on the road, and it was a good time to think about how the trip could play out and how everything was going to go with me and C's parents.

It wasn't long before I started seeing lightning, and just 45 minutes in to the trip, I got to drive through my first down pour.  I say first down pour, because it definitely wasn't the last.  In fact, it rained pretty much the ENTIRE nine hour drive.

We made our first stop just outside of Little Rock around 6:30.  We grabbed some breakfast to go, took a bathroom break, and was back on the road by 6:45AM.  I was shocked when we made it to Little Rock by 7AM.  That's only three hours after we left, and we had stopped.  I was making great time.

The drive between Little Rock and Memphis was long and boring, but we crossed in to Memphis around 9:30.  Peanut was in awe at the skyline and we both thought it was very neat that the state line between Arkansas and Tennessee ran down the middle of the Mississippi River.  There was no stopping to get a picture with the state line for that reason.  But, Peanut did manage to take some great pics of the skyline and the state line from the car.

After we got through Memphis, it was a long, wet drive to Nashville.  We made it to Nashville around 12:30, and we finally arrived in Lebanon (where we were heading) at 1:06PM.  That means I made the drive in 9 hours and 6 minutes, with three stops on the way.  That's pretty good timing.

We arrived at our hotel and got checked in, and then it was time for us to head on over to D & L's house. What a warm welcome we received.  It felt so good to see them again, after it being 15 years since I last saw them.  Even though so much time has passed, it seemed like only a few weeks had passed.  They hugged me, hugged Peanut, and from that moment on, treated us like we'd lived there our whole lives.
I felt so at home with them.  The way they spoke to me, they way they joked around with me, it just all felt so right.  Like I belonged there.  Peanut was a little more nervous, but that's not surprising.  The time was ticking away towards her meeting her father for the first time in her life.  I assume she was absolutely TERRIFIED.  I have to admit, I was also nervous.  I mean, I knew he was going to show up with PE and I just didn't know how that whole situation would play out.  Both Peanut and I absolutely loathe her, so I knew we'd feel uncomfortable.

A few hours passed before they finally arrived.  C, PE, and their three kids showed up (well, their one kid and her two kids).  The minute they walked in, Peanut jumped up and grabbed her dad.  He was shaking so bad, it was hard for him to return the hug.  I could tell he was just as nervous as she had been.  After seeing their warm reunion, I decided to slip out the front door.  I just couldn't handle being in the same room as PE.. the desire to punch her in the face was just too overwhelming.  So, I went outside to where D was cooking on the grill.  It felt nice to stand out there talking with him.  My ability to breath returned back to normal, until he sent me inside with the hamburgers.

He told me to walk in to that house and just be myself, and that's exactly what I did.  I took the hamburgers to the kitchen, joked around with L about how much trouble we'd had cooking them, and just completely ignored the ice glare I was receiving from PE.  In fact, the whole time they were there, I didn't look at her ONCE.  Not a single time.  I couldn't tell you what she looked like, what she was wearing, if I could actually see the horns growing out of her head.  I have no idea.  Plus, there was no way I was making eye contact.. who knows what kind of damage that would do to my insides.

Too much mean?  Maybe?  Oh well... I'll try to lay off a little.

The rest of the evening went really well.  I continued to make myself at home, joked around with D and L like we'd been family forever, and completely ignored C and PE.  Peanut got to sit next to her dad for a while, in between him having to get up and check on PE... cause you know, she can't handle not being checked on every 30 seconds.  It drove Peanut crazy, so she finally just decided to lay down on the couch with her "Papa" so her dad wouldn't have to keep getting up and down every five minutes.

The reason I am making so many digs is because I was not happy that he even showed up with her in the first place.  My baby girl couldn't even get one evening alone with her dad, and that makes me angry.  Can't help it.  I know I sound like a petty school girl, but I don't get to speak my mind on here near as often as I like.. so I figure I'm going to now.  I will admit, though, it sure did feel good knowing how AMAZING my life is and how nothing she really is.  Whoops, there I go again.  My bad.  I will try and say something nice....something...something.... OK, here's something.  She did manage to stay out of the room last night for a little while, as long as I wasn't in the room.  So, I guess she did try to give C and Peanut some time along.  There, a nice thing.

Pushing the petty aside, I can say that I absolutely ADORE D and L.  They are amazing.  I know that I'm really going to miss them when we have to leave tomorrow.

Tonight, instead of staying at the hotel again, we'll be spending our last night with them.  I'm happy about that, because then I'll get to sit up and talk as long as they want without feeling like I need to rush off.

Our plans today consist of more fun and getting to spend time together.  C is supposed to make an appearance again this evening (with her), so that he can see Peanut before we leave.  I just pray that he gets over there early enough to actually spend some time with her, and not waiting until the last minute when she's all worn out and ready for bed.  But, we'll see.

I'm ready for Day Two.  I am so glad we came... and really want to enjoy today.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Big Weekend Plans!!!


Well, I've been back at work for two full weeks, so it seems fitting that we get an extra day off this weekend to celebrate.  I've worked very hard these past two weeks, and it's time for a break.  It's going to be awhile before I get another "extra" day off, so I plan on enjoying this weekend.

Normally for Labor Day weekend, I'd be sitting at home, relaxing, doing some work, cleaning house, and all the other stuff I usually do on the weekends...but just for an extra day.  But NOT THIS LABOR DAY WEEKEND!

This time, I'm taking a mini-vacation.  Well, Peanut and I are taking a mini-vacation.  

At about 3:30AM tomorrow morning, Peanut and I will be loading up the car and taking a nine hour drive to Tennessee.  A state neither Peanut or I have ever visited.  We will be staying until Monday morning, and then driving the nine hours back, ready to go back to work/school on Tuesday.  And, I'm sure that Tuesday morning I'll be utterly and completely EXHAUSTED.

Peanut and I are making the trek to Tennessee so that she can meet her grandparents, and hopefully her dad.  It's the first time in her life she'll be meeting any of them.  I am both excited and extremely nervous.  

I am very excited we get to make this trip, and that we get to see her grandparents.  I'm very nervous about how things will go with meeting her dad, and pray to all things holy that Peanut has a good experience and enjoys the time with him.  

Since C (Peanut's dad) got back with his psycho ex (PE), there has been no communication made between him and Peanut.  Not that I'm surprised, he told us what happens when they are together and how she destroys the relationships he has with friends and family.  Why he puts up with that is something that still baffles me, but I know he has his reasons...and he's shared them with me.  I guess I can understand them in a warped kind of way, but unfortunately for PE, she has no idea what Peanut is like when she has her heart set on something.

This trip has been planned since before C and PE got back together.  I really thought that Peanut would want to cancel the trip after they got back together, but she didn't.  As she said, there are other people in Tennessee that she has her heart set on meeting, and if PE thinks she'll keep Peanut away from her dad she has another thing coming.

One thing I'm very proud that my daughter inherited from me is my strong will.  There's not a weak bone in her body.  Like her mother, when she has her eye on something, she goes for it full force whether the outcome is good or bad.  She fights for what she believes in, she fights for what she wants, and she doesn't give up until she has it.  That's definitely my blood coursing through her veins, that's for sure.  

But as proud as I am of her strong will and desire to finally meet her biological father, I'm scared to death that she's going to somehow get hurt from the whole ordeal.  I know that she will absolutely ADORE her grandparents.  They are good, loving people.  They will cherish the time they get to spend with their granddaughter, and both grandparents have told me how crazy excited they are to finally get to meet her.  I know they will also do everything in their power to make sure things go smoothly between Peanut and C.  That he shows up to meet her, and that he gets to spend a little time with her.  I think both Peanut and C need that time face to face.  He needs to see what an amazing, beautiful, strong, smart, and loving daughter he has.  She needs to see the man she's dreamed about since she was old enough to know that she'd never met her biological father.  I know that both of them want the same outcome, but whether or not that will happen only time and this trip will tell.

All I know is that after work today, I get to take the kids to part of the home football game and hopefully get home before 9PM so that I can get some sleep before I have to get up at 3AM.  I'd much rather us not go to the game, but I promised Peanut and Butter that we could go at least for a little while.  I know that Peanut wants to go, because coming home from school and having to sit around for a few hours will just make her antsy, and it'll drive her nuts having to wait to go to bed before getting up for the trip.  It's OK for her, though, at least she can sleep in the car.  HA!  But, I'm quite used to getting about 6 hours of sleep each night, so I'm not too worried about driving for so long after not getting much sleep.  The only way to really enjoy our mini-vacation, though, is to get on the road as early as possible so that we can at least enjoy part of our Saturday in Tennessee.

Despite all the nervousness I have about the trip, I can't wait to see C's mom and step-dad.  I've only met them once in my life, but I got to spend a whole week with them when I did meet them.  It was back when C and I were together, and they lived in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  It was my first trip outside the state of Arkansas, and my first and only time I've ever been to Florida in my life.  I remember that trip like it happened a few weeks ago. I remember the condo they lived in, I remember going to the beach, I remember visiting NASA, I remember seeing alligators walking up and down the road, I remember singing karaoke in a small restaurant, I remember hearing the space shuttle come back in to the atmosphere during the middle of the night and thinking that a bomb had gone off down the road.  I also remember how wonderful both C's mom and step-dad were to me, and how much I enjoyed spending time with them.  And, now I get to do it again some 15 years later in a different state.  

I've spoken to C's mom and step-dad quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, and they talk to me like there is no 15 year gap since the last time we saw each other.  Not that I'm surprised.  That just goes to show how amazingly awesome they are.  Family is important to them, and they have shown that with every phone call, text message, and Facebook message I've received from them.  Regardless what happens with C, I know the time with C's mom and step-dad will be amazing, and Peanut will come home having two grandparents she absolutely adores.  That I know without a shadow of doubt.  

So, today I plan on getting through all that needs to be done, going to the football game for a while, and then coming home and preparing for the adventure that awaits.  

I'm excited.  I'm ready.  It's going to be a GREAT three-day weekend.

Have a great Friday, everyone!!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Class Where I Get to Vent? Yes Please!!

Last night, I attended my first ever class at Graduate School.  I'm a big girl, now.  All grown up and embarking on a very grown up journey to receiving my Master's Degree.  And, I'll admit it... I was nervous.  Even though I'd told myself I'd be OK, and that I'd get through it no matter what, I still kinda sorta thought I was going to be diving in a little over my head.

Well, after last night I realized that I'm going to at least make it through the first class.  And, not just make it through, but actually REALLY enjoy taking the class, too.

My first class is Current Issues in Education.  

It's an 8 week class, but honestly it's a class that could last 20 years.  Simply because there has always been and always will be "issues" with our education system.  It will never be perfect.  There will always be problems, struggles to overcome, and government officials trying to figure out the best approach to education even though they've never spent a day in their life teaching children in a classroom.

Issues with education is a hot topic with me.  Hello, I'm a teacher.  Of course I have issues.  There's always someone from outside of the education world trying to change things, even though they have no idea what they're talking about.  There's never enough money.  There's always test scores that have to be focused on, and data that needs to be collected.  There's always changes being made to curriculum and standards.  There's never enough money...oh wait, yeah well that deserves being said twice.  There's always people that don't like what we do, or parents that have issues with education or teachers.  There will always be a few teachers that don't like to change or won't change or refuse to listen to anyone else's ideas.  There will always be government mandates looming over our heads that could drastically affect our future as teachers.

I could go on and on and on with this.

And, if I ever want to become an administrator, I have to not just complain about these things... but actually think about how I'm going to deal with these issues.  That's tough.  And, after my first class I can tell you that if I was a principal tomorrow, I'd fail.

But, I also LOVED having the opportunity to vent and let out my frustrations about these issues last night.  I also look forward to learning more about these issues, and continuing to vent my frustrations.. but also thinking about possible solutions to the problems.  Right up my alley!!

The first hour of our class was spent getting to know each other.  Well, let me rephrase that.  We already know each other, it was mainly spent introducing ourselves and learning a little more about our teacher and what the class will entail.  There are 8 students in our cohort, and seven of them are teachers from my school.  Our teacher is the current superintendent from a nearby school district.  That, in itself is very exciting to me.  It's great to have an actual administrator standing in front of us, listening to our vents and sharing with us some of the issues he has to face and how he has to deal with them.  

I digress.

The next two hours, we discussed the hot topics:  Money, testing, government mandates, and curriculum and standards.  We discussed how teachers are dealing with higher expectations but less resources in order to reach them.  We discussed the ever shrinking budgets.  We discussed the argument over Common Core and new standards that Missouri is adopting.  And we discussed how teacher tenure is currently under attack in Missouri, and how unfair the "teacher report card" is that could be used to determine if we're doing our jobs or not.  

For example...In the town I teach we have an extremely high diverse population.  Not just diverse, but an extremely high amount of non-English speaking kids, or kids that have limited English.  We also have a high poverty rate, and on a "national scale" our kids are very low in terms of their grade level counterparts across the country.

Right now, the majority (81%) of my kids in my class are reading on a 2nd grade level.  That doesn't have anything to do with the teachers in previous grades not doing their jobs, it has everything to do with the fact that we have such a high turnover and population of limited English speakers.  In fact, in our eyes, the fact that we have students that didn't speak a word of English a year ago that are now reading on a 2nd grade level is a HUGE accomplishment.  And, if we are able to get these kids up a grade level or two each year, we are most definitely doing our jobs and are very proud of the gains our kiddos make.  

BUT... if current legislation gets passed that "grades" teachers on test scores and student achievement, our students will be compared to students in other schools that don't have the same diversity and limited English issues, and we'll look like our kids are way behind where they should be, and that we aren't doing our jobs of making sure that our students are "on grade level" before they are promoted to the next grade.  Thus, possibly getting us fired because we don't "perform" to the standards that other teachers in different districts are achieving.  Like I said last night, that's like comparing apples to car engines.  It's absolutely impossible to grade us in such a way.  

If the government wants to see if we're doing our jobs, they should look at the progress OUR students make from when they step in to our classroom and compare it to when they leave.  If the kids have made gains, know more than when we started, and are proficient in the skills we have been able to teach them.. then we're doing our jobs.  There's no way I'm going to get a kid that reads on a 1st grade level when he enters my classroom reading at a 5th grade level when he leaves.  But, if that same kid is reading at a 3rd grade level when he leaves?  I think I've done an extraordinary job of improving his reading ability, and closing the gap just a little more.  

THAT'S how we should be measured.  

And, if that's how we were measured, people would truly get to see what an amazing job we do each and every year.  

This is the type of stuff we get to discuss in this class.  Each week, for 3-4 hours we'll be tackling these and other issues head on and looking at them from an administrators point of view.  As teachers, it's tough because we are thinking about ourselves and our students, but as administrators we would have to think about ALL of the students and ALL of the teachers.  And, I already have even more respect for our current administrators that are dealing with these issues right now.  They are hard to think about, hard to discuss, and hard to solve...and that's just from a teacher's point of view.  I couldn't imagine having 25+ teachers under my supervision and dealing with all of their concerns about these issues.  

But, if I ever, for a second think that I want to be a principal, I need to start thinking that way.  Even if I don't plan on being a principal for 15 years.  Those same issues will be there, and probably even more so.

So, as you can see, I'm fired up and ready for this class.  I am excited about it, I know I'm going to enjoy it, and I am ready to learn everything I can.  

Sure, it's going to be challenging.  It's going to be tough to keep up with the workload that the class requires.  But, it's about stuff I enjoy learning more about and talking about and venting over.  It's personal to me.  And THAT'S what's going to make me give my all in to doing the best I can.  

Bring on Graduate School.  I am now OFFICIALLY ready and willing to learn as much as I can and get through these next 18 months.

Have an AWESOME Thursday, everyone!!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I'm sure you've all heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  If you haven't, then you don't have Facebook, Internet, or which case I'm not sure how you're reading this right now.  But, just in case you do have those things and have still, somehow, managed to allude this phenomenon then I'll give you a quick explanation.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media campaign to raise awareness for the disease ALS.  It requires the nominated person recording themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their head, challenging three new people to do the challenge, and then paying a $10 donation to the ALS foundation, or pay $100 for not doing the challenge.  Either way, it helps raise money and awareness for a great cause.

ALS is a horrible disease, and one I knew little about before seeing the challenge start to grow.  ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.  As the disease progresses, those diagnosed start to lose the ability to control their muscles, and in the later stages are often confined to a wheel chair, are unable to speak, and can not swallow.  There is no cure for ALS.  

What I also found out, once the challenge started to grow in fame, was that my daughter's aunt has the disease.  This was new information to me, because I've only had contact with Payton's aunt for a few weeks.  She is a great woman, and thankfully is still in the early stages of the disease.  She can still walk and talk, and even though she has ALS, she doesn't let it slow her down one bit.  But, once I found out, I knew I had to do my part for this cause.

In fact, I am going one step further.  I did the challenge, yet I'm still going to donate $100 to the organization.  Because I didn't do the challenge to get out of paying more, I did it because I never pass up a good challenge, and I want to be someone that is raising awareness as well as donating to the charity.

I have never seen a charity challenge blow up like this one has.  Athletes, movie stars, singers, and even past Presidents have taken part in the challenge and posted their videos online.  The challenge has swept through the country, and even the world, and the last I heard has raised over $20 million since the challenge got started just a few months ago.  

I know that there are people out there that are sick and tired of seeing the videos pop up on their newsfeed of people doing the challenge.  I've read statuses of people complaining about the videos, and saying that people are only doing it for attention and that there's no real benefit from posting a stupid video on Facebook of ice water being dumped on their head.

To those people I say, really?  I'd say $20 million is a HUGE benefit.  And of course we're doing it for attention.  That's the whole point.  So other people learn more about ALS, the cause, the disease, and how to help build support to put more money in to finding a cure.  

It's amazing how many people have told me that they really knew nothing about ALS before the challenge got started.  I was one of them.  But, there are countless more people that have told me the same thing.  That means that awareness is definitely getting raised.  

There are people complaining that the foundation won't use all of that money for research, and that it'll go in to the pockets of the corporations founders and board members.  I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that with the amount of extremely wealthy people (Bill Gates, President Bush, and Mark Zuckerburg to just name a couple) donating to the cause, I doubt they would sit idly by and watch their donations go in to the pockets of people working for the cause.  That's my opinion.  I know people will argue with me, but this isn't just one of those fundraisers that requires spare change being put in to a jar.  Several famous people have donated THOUSANDS of dollars as a part of this campaign.  I'm positive that those people are going to want to know what their money is being used for.

But despite all that, even if it's just "annoying" to see all the videos, can't we have a little compassion?  For once, our newsfeeds are full of quick videos raising money for a good cause, versus the pictures, videos, and status messages about the President, corporations taking away rights, gun control arguments, or cat videos.  For a few weeks, people have joined together for a great cause rather than fighting over whatever the hot topic of debate currently is for the week.  I can open up my newsfeed and feel a lump in my throat as people with ALS share their stories and give their thanks for what the nation is doing for them.  I can watch celebrities take part in a cause that normal people are doing, instead of hearing about their latest DUI arrest, or drug charge, or how many bazillion dollars they're making for their next movie role.  I look at these videos as a refreshing break from the normal, depressing news that I normally see and hear.  

But, I have also learned that no matter what the latest craze is - good or bad - there are going to be people that complain.  It's just who they are.  Nothing makes them happy.  I often wonder if the only reason these people have a Facebook account is so that they can complain about everything. They hate seeing all these "stupid videos" yet, they somehow feel that all their friends and followers are far more interested in hearing about what they ate for dinner the night before, how they're tired of the girl at work that plays her music too loud, or what time they are going to bed.  That stuff is WAY more interesting.  

One thing I've learned to do with my Facebook, that apparently others have yet to discover, is the fact that I can control what videos I choose to watch.  If I don't want to watch a certain video, I just keep scrolling through my feed.  I've turned off the new setting that allows videos to start playing instantly when I get to them, and I actually have to click on the video in order to watch it.  And, if I don't want to watch it.. I don't.  So simple.  Maybe I could make a video explaining how to do this, so that all those whiners and complainers out there would be free from the "stupid videos" that they HAVE to watch.  

I just wish there was the same setting to turn off all the negative comments and complainers.  That is something Facebook needs to be working on.  I can always unfriend those people, I know, but I feel like it's harsh to delete Aunt Betty from my newsfeed just because she complains too much about videos people are posting... then how would I hear about the grocery shopping excursion she took last weekend?

Oh well.  Like I hear all the time.. "Haters are gonna hate".  It's just who they are, and I guess I feel sorry for those people.  If they have nothing better to do than spend their lives complaining about 30 second videos that are raising money for a charity, then they must have pretty boring, sad lives.  

But, never fear Haters of Facebook, once the challenge loses steam, you can go back to the constant feed of bad news, sad news, and downright boring news.  Just hang in there.  Don't give up hope that the good will start to fade away soon....once every other person in the world that has jumped on the bandwagon of taking part in a great cause has posted their video.  

Until then, I'll enjoy watching the videos and feeling good about such an enormous outpouring of support - and knowing that I did my part.  Not just me, but my three kids also took the challenge and nominated people to do it, too.  They loved it, and I'm happy that I'm raising three kids who are so willing to take part in something like that.  They know why they did it, I didn't just tell them to dump ice-water over their heads.  They probably would have still done it... but knowing why is the important part.  

If you have taken part in this amazing challenge, I say THANK YOU.  Good for you.  That's awesome.  If you're someone that thinks it's stupid, and will have absolutely no part in such a stupid cause.. I say, you're entitled to your opinion, and I'll respect it.  But, respect my opinion of wanting to take part without complaining about it.  OK?

Alright... Have a great day, everyone!!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting Mentally Prepared for MY First Day of School

Even though I've been back at work, teaching, for almost two weeks, tomorrow is a very important day for me.  Tomorrow, is MY first day back to school.  And it's been three years since I last went to school.

By school, I mean college.  

Tomorrow is the first day for me to embark on my journey of getting my Master's Degree in Elementary Administration from William Woods University.  Sounds fancy, huh?  In eighteen short months, I'll be graduating from college for the third time.  This time, with a license to become a principal... if I ever choose to go that route.

I'm not going back to school to get my Master's because I want to be a principal.  Not right now.  It's more about having the opportunity, and just wanting to get it done and out of the way.  It goes along with never really being able to say that I'm done with school, and always wanting to learn more and achieve more.  Plus, it will be really great to be able to have the extra money that comes with having a Master's Degree.  

When I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in May 2011, I had no real intent to get my Master's.  I mean, it was something I figured I'd do one day, but not for several years.  It was tough just getting through those four years, and I just wanted to get out there and teach without ever having to worry about being in another college class for a VERY LONG TIME.  Especially after I got my teaching position.  I felt content.  Like I didn't need to worry any more about classes, books, homework, studying, or tests.  Unless I was giving or grading them.  

Yet here I am, just starting my third year of teaching, and I'm already back at it.  Thankfully, though, this time around should be a lot less stressful and demanding.  There will be no traveling, no having to quit my job because I'm going to school too many days to work, and no heavy class load.  This time around, it should be a walk in the park compared to what I went through while getting my Bachelor's.  Back then, I took a full time load each semester, taking four or five classes at a time.  

It won't be like that, thank goodness.

This time, I'll be taking one class at a time.  I'll be spending four hours a week in class, and it'll be after work right where I teach.  The college professor will be coming to the elementary school to give the classes.  How awesome is that?  We are going to have our very own cohort campus right where I spend all day working.  The people in my class won't be complete strangers, they will be the people I work with each and every day.  We'll be learning together, studying together, and helping each other get through it.  

I think I can handle that.

Of course, I'm not naive enough to think that I'll only be spending four hours a week on school.  I'm not stupid. I know that I'll sit in class for four hours each week, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of homework to keep me busy during each class.  

I was and still am the only person in my family to graduate college with a Bachelor's Degree.  That was a big a big deal.  The oldest of six kids, and the only one to go off to college and graduate.  My brother did go to college and did some kind of graphic design course, but I hold the highest degree in terms of college success.  

I know that sound like I'm bragging, but.. well.. I am.  It was and is a big deal to me.  Especially with how many setbacks I had when I first got out of high school.  Two kids by the time I was nineteen, living in poverty for several years, working long hours just to make ends meet, and moving from here and there and everywhere because my bills would always catch up to me and become a little too much for a single mom with two kids to handle.  Especially one that didn't have anything more than a high school diploma.  

So, when I made the decision to go to college, it wasn't for the prestige of being the first and only one in my family to do so... it was about getting the job I'd always wanted, so that I could give my kids the best life possible.  And I did that.  I can check all those boxes.  Went to college, graduated from college, became a teacher, and am now living without any form of assistance in my OWN house that I bought, spending my days doing the job I absolutely love, and the evenings running my kids around to their various sports and activities.

That was what I always wanted, and I did it.  No matter what struggles were thrown my way.  I overcame them and pushed forward.

Which is why, I think, getting my Master's is such an awesome opportunity.  Because, for the first time ever, this is all about me.  It has nothing to do with supporting my family, or needing to be better or do better.  It's just something I want to do.  

Getting my Bachelor's meant I could be a teacher, which was/is MY dream job... but it was also about having a career that was parent-friendly.  I work the hours my kids are in school, I'm off work when they are off school, I get to be at their games, parent meetings, and performances.  It also pays well enough for me to support them, give them a great home, food in their bellies, and all the supplies they need.  

This time around, though, it has absolutely nothing to do with any of those things.  I get to go back to school because I want to.  I get to earn a higher degree because I want to.  And, at the same time, I get to show my kids that there's always higher to go, and be someone that they can be even more proud of.  That I never stopped fighting, never stopped climbing, and was able to do this without it interfering with them (this time around).  Lord knows they hardly saw me during my first four years of college.  But, it won't be that way this time.  I won't falter on my parental duties, and I'll gladly sacrifice sleep and weekends to make sure that nothing really changes.  Besides, it's just 18 months.  I think we can all handle it.  

The only sacrifice they are going to have to make is having me home all summer, next year.  I'll still have to attend classes one night a week during the summer.  Which is no big deal.  We don't have any major vacations planned, or any intent on planning one.  I'll still take them to Silver Dollar City, Water Parks, and all the other stuff we usually do.  

All in all, I'm super excited.  I know I can do this.  I'm ready for the challenges that await, and hopefully I'll still be singing this tune a year from now.  Fingers Crossed.

OK, it's that time again to get ready for another WONDERFUL day in my classroom.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!!


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Honeymoon Period is Over

I've said a few times that this is my third year teaching.  While I'm still a newbie, by teacher standards, I have done this whole back to school thing a couple of times... and I've picked up on a few things to watch out for.

One of those things is "The Honeymoon Period".  

It's usually the first week back to school, when the kiddos are all absolute angels.  They are quiet, shy, they follow directions, and do just about anything I ask them to do.  And, then week two rolls along, and I get to see them break out of their shell just a little and I start to get to see the real them emerge.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, and doesn't mean that during week two I have a bunch of kids show their true colors and end up being the complete opposite to the angels I had during week one.  It simply means they tend to not be so quiet and shy, they've started to acclimate themselves to my expectations, and they are starting to understand some of the procedures and routines.

In fact, over the past two years, I've been quite lucky once the honeymoon period is over.  I've ended up with the majority of the kids staying little angels that work hard, follow directions, and do what they can to please me.  But, there's always that one or two or five that want to start testing the boundaries, which is completely normal for this age group. They want to see how much I will tolerate.  They want to see how much I'll let them get away with.  And it's not usually long in to week two that I have to start getting a little firmer than I usually am and proving that there isn't much wiggle room when it comes to the expectations in my classroom.

For the past two years, my first week has consisted of a rigid demeanor.  One that emanates all work and no pleasure.  Sure, we spent the first couple of days playing "get to know you" activities, but as soon as the first week started, all games were gone.  I have been compared to a drill sergeant during my first week, repeating rules over and over and over again.  My classroom management routine during the first week definitely set the bar when it came to "daring them" to test my boundaries... but it didn't mean I didn't have kids that tried.  

This year, however, I went for a different approach.  I have so many kids that doubt themselves and are scared silly, not of me, but of fourth grade in general.  This was new to me.  The past two years, the kids were scared of me, but not fourth grade.  So, this year I decided to opt for a softer, warmer persona.  My first week was still spent going over and over rules and procedures, but in a nicer way.  I "reminded" students about my procedures by giving them friendly reminders, either in a fun, upbeat chant or by joking around with them in some way.  I have started using the Nike Swoosh as a way of getting kids to "Just Do It".  Meaning, instead of asking a bunch of questions before they even try... they just have to do it and see what they can do on their own.  And, I'm happy to report that I've already started seeing an improvement in their self-esteem, and they've even started speeding up already and not sitting there and stressing so much.

That's a lot of accomplish during the first week, and my hopes are that this week I am starting a new protocol for "The Honeymoon Period".  Meaning, that I won't have a few kids that try their best to do the exact opposite of everything I tell them to do, but instead have a bunch of kids that spent their first week unsure about everything they did move in to a more comfortable mindset of trusting themselves a little more.  

I will say that after my first week of teaching both my first and second years, I was able to pinpoint exactly what kids I'd have to keep an eye on.  Not because they were bad, or gave off a bad vibe, but I was able to identify which kids would try and test my boundaries because they really needed a lot of attention and I had to be the one to show them that negative attention doesn't have to be the only way of getting attention.  And, I feel that I succeeded with that, for the most part.  My first year, the kids were all fantastically behaved, hard workers, and I was able to have a LOT of fun with them.  The second year, I had one or two kids that no matter what I did, they just never caught on to the fact that I was only mean when I had to be.. and that if they'd just try some of the things I suggested, their year would have been a lot more fun and productive.  But, both years were great for learning my strengths and weaknesses, and I think both years have helped carve the way for the year I'll have this year.

This year, I can honestly say that there isn't a single kiddo in my class that has risen that "must keep my eye out" flag.  I have a strong feeling that this year, my only obstacles will be getting a few kids to either slow down and not rush through their work, or stop questioning everything they do and to trust themselves more.  And those are two obstacles I will gladly work my way through.  

For the first time EVER, I had all but one student turn in a spelling contract during the first week of school.  OK, in fairness, I've never given out a spelling contract the first week of school... just because they require a lot a modeling and explaining.  I usually ease in to them over the first few weeks.  But, I thought I'd throw caution to the wind, give them a contract by only explaining the bare minimum, and seeing how they do with that kind of challenge.  I figured it'd be a great way to get an idea on how the rest of the year will all these kids did spelling contracts in 3rd grade.  Mine is just a little more vigorous.  There wasn't a single week last school year were all but one student turned in a spelling contract.  NOT ONE.  And here I am, first week of school, getting all but one... and the only reason I didn't get the last one is because he left it at home.  I know he did most of it, because he showed me each day.  I told him he could turn it in to me today, because that's a big part of the nicer, softer me emerging.  

If these kids can complete a spelling contract that's pretty hard and confusing the first week, with little explanation and guidance from me, then I can already tell that I'm going to have a FANTASTIC year.  They are at least going to try their best at overcoming the obstacles I throw their way, and that's all I can ask for.  

It's downright amazing to me that during the first two days of school, I had so many kids that wouldn't write a word without checking with me that they were doing it right and then those same kids complete a spelling contract by just going with their gut and my friendly "Just Do It" reminder.  That's the most progress I've ever seen during the first week of school.  Not just that, but during the first couple of days I had to wait about 10-15 minutes while the kids wrote a sentence, and I'm not exaggerating at all.  By Friday, those kids were completing five written response questions (that require complete sentence answers) in about 20-30 minutes.  

Yep, this year is going to be amazing.  And even though the honeymoon period is technically over.. I'm not worried in the slightest.  I have a great feeling that these kiddos are just going to keep blowing me away with their growth, their desire to learn, and their desire to improve.  

Their honeymoon period may be over, but mine is just beginning.  And I think my honeymoon period is going to last all year long.

Have a great Monday, everyone!!


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Family Fun, and More Chip Talk


OK, so before I tell you about the fun I had yesterday, I need to make a semi recant of the opinion post I wrote yesterday.  If you remember, I wrote about how horrible the new Lay's Cappuccino flavored chips were.  I also stated that I doubted that the Mango Salsa would be any good.  That's the part I need to recant.  I got to try them yesterday, and they weren't just good.. they were AMAZING.  I was shocked to put a chip in my mouth that tasted so strongly of a fruit, yet still taste so delicious.  I also tried the Wasabi Ginger, and they were also pretty good.  But, right now, my favorite by far are the Mango Salsa.  They have a sweet Mango kick followed by a mild spice punch.  

I love Mango Salsa, and these chips come very close to having an authentic Mango Salsa flavor.  And, being that I've eaten chips with a Mango Salsa dip before, it makes sense to have a chip with this flavor.  This one, Lay's, you nailed on the head.  I'm going to be very sad when they aren't available anymore.  The Wasabi Ginger have a good flavor, but I think they'd have been better made on regular or wavy chips, and not the Kettle Corn version.  But, I'd eat them again.  

And now that part is over, I can get to talking about my Saturday. 

Yesterday, I did a whole lot of lazing around the house and then Butter, Jelly and I went swimming for a while.  It seems as if summer has finally hit our neck of the woods, giving us temps in to the upper 90s, with heat indexes in the 100s.  We didn't have that kind of weather during summer break.  But, now that it's here, we might as well enjoy the pool..finally.  We spent a couple of hours swimming, playing, and relaxing in the water.  The water was and refreshing.  

After swimming, I made some spaghetti for everyone to eat, and then I had to head out to pick up Peanut from her uncle's house.  I took Butter and Jelly along for the ride, because they also love going to Peanut's uncle's house.  

Peanut went over to her uncle and aunt's house Friday night.  Her Uncle K wanted to take her kayaking, as she's never been before.  They all said they had a great time, and Peanut told me that it's definitely something she'd love to do again...and again...and again.  Which is probably music to K's ears, because he loves kayaking.  In fact, we've already started thinking about going camping together when the weather cools down a little.  

I, also, had a great time going over there.  I love K's and M's (Peanut's aunt) company.  We can sit around talking, laughing, and having a great time.  Butter loves to hear anything and everything fishing and hunting, and K has plenty to talk about when it comes to those things.  I love talking to M about kids and life and just generally goofing off and making fun of men.  Jelly has a blast playing with her cousin that is just a little younger than her.  They are like two peas in a pod together, and I don't hardly hear or see her the whole time we're there, because she's off playing.  

We were there for a couple of hours, but time sure does fly when you're having fun.  It seemed like we'd only just got there when I looked at the clock and realized it was after 9:30PM.  Being that they live an hour away, we had to get on the road so that we could make it home before 11PM.

I have to say in all the excitement of Peanut getting to meet her dad's side of the family, K and M have really gone above and beyond to show Peanut that she is family.  Not that the rest of the family hasn't, they have all been super nice to her and reach out to talk to her often, but Peanut has really clicked with her uncle.  She adores him, and he adores her.  She knows that she can pick the phone up at any time and he'll be at the other end to talk, or gladly opens up his home for her if she just wants to hang out with him.  The same goes for her Aunt M.  And with some of the stuff she's dealing with right now, I don't think K and M realize how much it means to Peanut to have them there for her whenever she needs them.  

And, what makes me love them even more than just being there for Peanut is the fact that even though they are only Peanut's family, they have NEVER made Butter or Jelly feel like they aren't family too.  Peanut may get to go off and spend time with them alone, but K and M have told Butter and Jelly that they'll also get their chance to do fun things with THEIR Uncle K and Aunt M.  Butter is going to get to go fishing and hunting with K, and Jelly is going to get to spend the night with her little cousin.  

And that, folks, is what family is all about.  Looking beyond the bloodline, and accepting everyone in the family unit.  

Peanut loves having the chance to have her own piece of the attention, and having her uncle and aunt there for her to support her.  But, I love the fact that they are fully aware that there are other kids in the house that may feel a little left out...and are OK with bringing them in on the action as well.  

I really can't say enough good things about K and M.  They have been an absolute God send to Peanut, and it's so great to see her getting out of her room and going out to try new things with them. They are really helping fill the void that Peanut has with her dad.  I wish I could say that things were going as well with him, but they're not.  I'm not going to elaborate more than that, except to say that without them I don't think Peanut would be coping half as well as she is.  That means so much to me... more than they'll ever know.  

I just hope that if one day, Peanut can have HALF the relationship she has with her dad that she has with her Uncle K, things will be just about perfect for Peanut.  I'm not sure that will ever happen, but I do know that Uncle K and Aunt M will NEVER leave Peanut hanging, and Peanut will always have them there for her.  

And that means the world to me.  And Peanut.

OK, I need to get around and get some things done, today.  I hope everyone is having a great weekend, and is ready for the new work week.

Have a great Sunday, everyone!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Not Cool, Lay's...Just Not Cool


Around 6:30 last night, I got home after an exhausting day of work.  I wandered in to the kitchen to find out what we were having for dinner (because Hubby usually has dinner waiting for us when we get home), and I came face-to-face with this bag sitting on my counter.  Now, before I go any further, I should probably explain something to you, so that you can really understand my opinion on this bag that was sitting on my counter.

I love coffee.  And that's putting it mildly.  Coffee is my most favorite thing to drink.  I can't even function if I don't have my daily coffee intake requirements satisfied.  And, I'm not just talking about the caffeine thing.  It has to be coffee, because there's just nothing better than starting out the day with a hot cup of coffee.  My love for coffee doesn't even stop there.  I love the smell of it, and have coffee scented candles and Scentsy bars.  I a;so love various flavored coffees: Mochas, lattes, cappuccinos.  I will drink coffee hot or cold, and love Frappes and iced coffees and frozen coffees.  I go ga-ga crazy over coffee flavored ice-cream, candies, and cakes.  I just can't get enough of the stuff.

I absolutely LOVE coffee.

But, when I got home last night and saw this bag on my counter, my first reaction was WHAT THE HECK ARE THEY?  Coffee flavored potato chips?!  Yet, being such a lover of coffee I thought that I better try one before making rash judgements on such a thing.  I have tried chocolate covered potato chips and loved them, so maybe...just maybe coffee flavored chips wouldn't be so bad.

I was wrong.

I placed one of the chips in to my mouth, and I can't even describe the yuck that penetrated through my mouth.  It was disgusting.  I don't know if it was the texture or the combination of chip flavor and coffee flavor, but my taste buds knew instantly that they were no bueno!  I have never put a coffee flavored something in my mouth and been so repulsed.  They were GROSS!    

Hubby's heart was in the right place by picking them up.  He knows my addiction to all things coffee, so he was just trying to be nice.  But, there is no way I'd ever put another one of those things in my mouth again.  

I understand that Lay's is just trying to be creative and come up with some fun, new ideas for chip flavors... but there are somethings that just don't belong on a potato chip, and coffee is one of them.

I wasn't really that impressed with the last round of flavors.  The Chicken & Waffles and Cheesy Garlic Bread were OK, but nothing for me to really get all excited about.  This new set of flavors offer Bacon Cheesy Mac, Wasabi Ginger, Mango Salsa, and the abominations that are Cappuccino flavored.  I'll try the Bacon and Wasabi... but I'm not holding my breath that the Mango Salsa will be all that great.  I'm just not into sweet chips.  

But, the problem with coming out with all these new flavors is the fact that even if I find one I really like, they won't be around long enough to really enjoy.  You get to liking one of them, and BAM...they've disappeared off the shelves.  I'm OK if the cappuccino ones disappear, but say I really like the Wasabi Ginger, just like several people who have already told me how great they are.  Say I really love them.  Unless the entire country votes to keep them, I will only get to enjoy them for a little while until they're ripped off the shelves and replaced with some other crazy, new flavor.  

That's why, when it comes to chips, I stick to the classics.  Give me a bag of sour cream and onion or barbecue, and I'm all set.  Because they taste great, and I know they're not going anywhere.  

I appreciate creativity.  I appreciate trying to step out of the box and trying new things.  But, when it comes to my love of coffee and my love of chips - I'll stick to the boring flavors I have always loved, and keeping them completely separated from each other.

Have a great Saturday, everyone!!


Friday, August 22, 2014

It's Time for Some Football


It's that time of the year, once again.  School has started back up, which means it's time for some FOOTBALL.  I am not a NFL football fan.  Don't have a favorite pro team, not interested in pro games, and you'll never catch any form of pro football playing on my TV.  But high school and Jr. high ball?  That's where my heart is.  I LOVE watching some football played when I'm right there in the stands, cheering on kids that I know and love.

One of those kiddos will be Butter.  His first game is September 11th, but the high school kicks off their season tonight.  I won't be at that game, unfortunately, but there's plenty more that I'll be attending over the course of the season.

I don't know what it is about local football, but it's so much more exciting (in my opinion) than watching a game on TV.  You can feel the dedication, the support, the sportsmanship.  It's great to sit side-by-side with other parents and fans and cheer on our home team.  

This year, I also get to experience some college ball.  Not just ANY college ball... but MY alma mater:  The Arkansas Razorbacks.  

Now, I'm not a big Razorback sport watcher, but I consider myself a Razorback fan.  Because I keep my support driven towards the college where I earned my degree.  I spent four years being a Razorback, so it's only right that I continue my support for the team where I once called my home away from home.  

But this year?  This year, I get the opportunity to be at EVERY home Razorback football game.  However, I won't be there watching the games, I'll be there working in the concession stands and listening to the game.  

As apart of the high school show choir fundraising efforts, the booster club has the opportunity to run a concession stand at the Razorback football games in order to earn some money for the choir.  Not only did I jump on that opportunity when it was presented, but I was also volunteered to be the parent in charge of the whole thing and be at EVERY home game.  

Each parent is responsible for volunteering for two or three games or events over the course of the school year, to help raise money for their child that is in show choir... I'll be going to six games.  And, I'm OK with that.  I told myself that I wasn't going to start volunteering to take on too much this year, because I'm going back to school and the kids keep me plenty busy running them to practices, games, and performances anyway.  But, I couldn't pass up a chance of going to every Razorback home football game, and making some money for the choir in the process.

Which is why I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty for not signing up for anything else to do over the year.  I think the time I'm volunteering during those six games is more than enough.  Especially being that I'll be working from around 3PM to around midnight each Saturday that I work.  

The Fall is always the time of year I love the most, because I'm always so dang busy.  Usually it's football and volleyball.  But, being that Peanut decided against volleyball this year, it's going to be football, football, and more football.  The last half of my weeks are going to be CRAZY busy.  I'll be in school for 4 hours each and every Wednesday night, Butter has his games on Thursday nights, the varsity team play on Friday nights, and then there will be the Razorback games on Saturdays.  Thankfully, I'll only be going to the home games for the varsity and Razorbacks, so it won't be EVERY weekend.  I'll get a couple of Friday nights and Saturdays off here and there.  

If I had any hope of getting and staying organized, it's going to have to happen now.  Being in college for my Master's Degree is going to be a tough endeavor.  Throw in all the extra-curriculars, and it's going to be an exhausting ride.  I'm going to have to really make sure I manage my time wisely, and stay on top of all of my school demands in order to make it all work.  There won't be any room for procrastination and just waiting until the last minute to get everything done.  Cause there may not be a last minute.  Each minute is going to have to be carefully planned out and accounted for.  

But, I'm energized and ready to take it all on.

This past week, I've been happier than I've been in a long time.  The last couple of weeks of summer break were boring, and I got lazy and moody.  I hated sitting around the house, twiddling my thumbs, trying to come up with something that would keep me occupied.  Now that I'm back to work, and getting my crazy, busy life back... I'm feeling happy, energized, and ready to keep piling it on.  

Even though some people think I take on too much and stretch myself too thin, I don't look at it that way.  I look at it as making memories.  Making each moment with my kids count.  When they are all grown up, with kids of their own, I'll be able to reminisce with them about their childhood, how I was at all their games, working at fundraisers, driving them here, there, and everywhere.  My life is all about them.  I am their number one fan...and that's how it should be.  It's just an added bonus that I love doing it so much.

I work hard so they have everything they need, and plenty that they want.  It's just a bonus that I have the job that I've always wanted and love doing.  I willingly give up all my free time to attend their games and performances.  It's just a bonus that I absolutely love watching them play and perform.  I gladly accept not getting home until after 6:30PM so that they can attend practices each and every night.  It's just a bonus that I get to use that time working in my classroom.  And, I'll gladly give up my weekends to work in a hot concession stand for 8-9 hours so that my child and the whole choir has money to buy the supplies that they need.  It's just a bonus that I get to listen to the football games while I'm doing it. 

And, it's not like I don't ever take time for myself.  I occasionally get to go out with a friend, or lay on the couch all day.  I'm going back to school, which is something I'm doing for myself.  Every once in a while I'll sleep in, or go shopping alone, or sit out on the patio and read.  

But, at the end of the day, I'm most happy when I'm doing something for or with my kids.  Because, that's what being a mother is all about - and it's just a bonus I absolutely LOVE doing exactly that.  My kids will never be able to grow up and say that I wasn't there for them.  They'll never have to struggle to think back to a time where I was there for them.  In fact, they'll have to struggle with thinking of a time I wasn't there... because that will never happen.

My relationship with my kids is everything to me.  I got to have my childhood, I've got to experience life without the burden of work and bills.  And now it's my kids turn to have all of that.  I'm just making sure that I'm a part of it.  I want to be a part of those memories that my kids hold on to.  

And, that's something I will always cherish.

Have a great Friday, everyone!!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Week Recap

Well, we've officially been back to school for an entire week.  Five full days in the classroom.  Everyone seems to be adjusting very well, including myself, but I thought I'd give a recap on how my week has been as well as my kids' first week.

Peanut is now in high school.  A freshman.  It's a hard pill to swallow, seeing my first born all grown up and heading off each morning to go to school in a completely different town.  I am so stinkin' proud of her though.  She is doing the Honors Track, and so she is taking several advanced classes.  She's taking Honors English, Pre-AP Biology, she was able to skip taking Algebra (because she did that in 8th grade) and went straight in to taking Geometry.  She's also taking Debate, Spanish I, word processing, and Show Choir.  

She has already realized that taking the classes she's taking is going to be quite the demanding handful.  She's been locked in her room each night working on homework.  She has half her schedule on one day, and half on the other.  It's a block scheduling rotation, except for Fridays in which she has all of her classes.  

Even though the first week has been quite an adjustment for Peanut, she's taking it like a champ.  She's using me on our rides to and from school to practice her Spanish words, she's working on homework in my classroom after school, and she's making good use of her new laptop to write up her essays and other stuff when she gets home.  She hasn't once complained, and always has a smile on her face when her day is over.  I love her dedication and she is very committed on sticking with her tough demands.  She told me that a few of her friends are ditching the honors route because there's too much work, and I was happy to hear that she has no such intentions.  She has big plans for her future, and I love that she is already thinking about that kind of stuff right now.

Butter is in 8th grade, this year.  He was able to select two elective classes, and he went with Ag. and Outdoor Classroom.  He originally wanted to take drama, but apparently that one filled up too fast.  So, he chose two electives that keep him working with his hands, and learning about farming and agriculture - which is an interest for him.  He's also playing football, again, and he's been practicing each and every night with his team.  

I'm not too sure how his other classes are going, because he doesn't really talk about them and I haven't seen him bring any homework home yet.  I hate being that teacher-mom that's constantly checking up on him, but I will if I think I need to.  Once the first set of grade cards come out next week, I'll be able to see if he's adjusting well.  He seems to be doing OK, though.  I know he's gotten in to a bit of trouble in his math class for being disruptive.  But, I'm not that surprised.  He's a non-medicated kid with ADHD that has a hard time sitting still or being quiet.  He also doesn't do well with change, and the math teacher is a new teacher to our building this year.  Not that he can use that as an excuse.  The reason he was taken off medicine was because he has the ability to control himself when he really wants to... it's getting him to realize that he has to control himself when he needs to, not just when he wants to.  But, I think once all the changes settle in, and he gets to know his new teacher, he'll calm down.  I'm still extremely proud of the progress that he's made, and feel that this year will be a great year for him.

Jelly is now in 1st grade.  I'm happy to report that there hasn't been a single tear shed this first week about her going to school.  The first couple of weeks of kindergarten were a nightmare.  She cried every day, and it about tore my heart out of my chest.  But this year, she's excited about getting on the bus each morning to ride over to the primary school.  She gets off the bus at the end of each day full of excitement about her day, and is so happy about her teacher, her class, and everything they've been doing.  

The only minor issue I'm having with Jelly is how cranky she is due to being tired.  Last year, she was in bed by 7PM each night because she was EXHAUSTED.  And that was after sleeping all the way home in the car.  But this year, she's fighting the sleep, and I'm having to make her go to bed around 8PM.  I know she's tired because she gets very cranky or very sensitive and the slightest thing can make her upset.  But, having a new kitten has a lot to do with that.  She wants to spend time with Shadow when she gets home, and when we're not getting home until after 6:30PM, it doesn't give her much time to spend with him.  She wants Shadow to go to bed with her, and so she is trying to stay awake long enough to where he's tired enough to go to sleep with her.  Thankfully, that's working right now because he's so little.. but I think she'll be in for a rude awakening when he gets a little older.  But, then again, Katniss goes to bed with me every night so maybe Jelly will be lucky.

As for me?  Well, this is my third year teaching.  I didn't have near as many jitters about starting this year as I did the previous two.  I have hit the ground running, and having a great time.  I have an awesome class, and I love each kiddo already.  They are so shy, quiet, and unsure of themselves.  And I fully intend on bringing them all out of those closed-up shells.  They want nothing more than to please me, and don't want to make any mistakes or be wrong about anything.  I have my work cut out for me, showing them that in my classroom, we learn from our mistakes and grow by being wrong sometimes.  We can't all be right and know everything.  Even me.  I've made it a point to make a couple of mistakes each and every day, so that they can see that even I'm not perfect nor do I know everything.  

And that's really the only "struggle" I'm dealing with.  Sixteen kids who stress FAR too much about making mistakes.  And when I say stress, I mean stress.  My poor little darlings are actually stressing out about assignments, and giving them a pretest was like pulling their teeth out with pliers.  It was painful for them, and painful to watch.  So, my numero uno objective is to make them feel at ease... take away some of the stress.  I plan on doing that by taking grades for their effort, rather than wrong or right answers.  I've always been a firm believer in rewarding effort.  If a child spends time working on an assignment and doesn't get a single question right, should he make a zero?  Absolutely not.  He tried, so he needs credit for at least doing that.  What kind of message would I be sending if I said "You got every problem wrong, and so it was all for nothing".  If I was that kid, I'd say "Screw this, I'm not even going to bother, I'm not going to get a good grade anyway".  Plus, if a child is missing every problem, that means I need to step up my game and make sure that kid doesn't make those same mistakes next time... but I'm definitely not going to punish him for trying.  If he didn't get what he was supposed to do, but tried anyway, he shall be rewarded, and then we'll go over the assignment together finding out where he went wrong.  

I WANT my kids to make mistakes, and understand that it's OK.  Especially this early on in the game.  If they came to me knowing everything I plan on teaching them, this year, then what on earth would I do with myself?  But, if I have a class of kids that freak out because they don't know everything, then it's going to be an extremely tough year for them.  That can't happen.  In my classroom we embrace the mistakes, we use them to grow, and we are comfortable with sharing our mistakes with others so that we can all work together to learn from them.  

So, I have full confidence that I'm going to have a great year because I've got a bunch of worriers.  That tells me that their heart is at least in the learning process.  They WANT to do well.  I just have to give them all some confidence and help them understand that in my house?  We are free to share, and are safe from anyone thinking less of us just because we don't get something.  

And that's one of the absolute favorite things about being a teacher.

Man, I love my job!

Have a great Thursday, everyone!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm a Bouncing Ball of Positivity

Before the school year got started, I made a list of New Year Resolutions.  I wanted to be more organized, less stressed, and more happy and positive.  And I'm happy to report that I've been doing exactly that.

It could just be beginning of the year excitement, but I've definitely been carrying around some pep in my step since school got underway.  Each morning, I'm up and out of bed at 4:30AM ready for my day to begin and excited about what the day will bring.  When I get to work, I'm eager to get all of my stuff ready to go and make sure I'm fully prepared for everything I need to get done.  When the students come in to the room, I'm happy and cheerful about seeing each of their cute, little faces.  And I've found that any time I have something somewhat negative to say, I've started using a "but" follow up statement.

"My kiddos sure are having a tough time with spelling...but they sure are well behaved."

"Some of my kiddos need some serious help with their handwriting...but they sure do try hard."

"Man, my kids did NOT do well on that pretest I gave them... but they work so quietly and do everything that I ask them to do."

It feels really nice to be able to shower my kids with praise, even when stuff isn't going exactly how I'd hoped.  

And, I almost feel like I'm right back in my first year of teaching.  So excited about the new possibilities that await, with kiddos that are equally as excited about what they're going to learn and to see the improvements they will all make.  

My first class was an AMAZING bunch of kiddos.  They were so low, bless their little hearts, but they had a dedication and drive that fueled my fire each and every day to do whatever I could to help them achieve the goals they had set for themselves.  I had several kids that were reading well below grade level, and they were desperate to catch up.  I had kiddos that couldn't add two one-digit numbers together, but wanted to be able to multiply.  And, I spent that year doing exactly what THEY wanted, together, and I'm happy to report that my class had AMAZING gains and test scores at the end of the year.  

Last year, I had great kids, but the dedication just wasn't there.  No matter how much I pushed and shoved, I just couldn't get most of them to buckle down and commit to learning.  I had several kiddos that seemed perfectly content not finishing their work, making low grades, and even having privileges taken away for not doing what they were asked to do.  They often whined and complained about ANY form of work we had to do, even when I tried to make it more fun.  That ended up making me more and more frustrated, because I felt that it was MY fault.  If my kids weren't enjoying their learning experience, and striving to be better.. do better... then I was doing something wrong.  

I lost count with how many times I cried, last year, out of frustration.  I don't know how many weekends I sat in front of my computer researching ways that I could turn their motivation levels around.  I had stacks and stacks of parent letters I had sent home, and still not seeing a lick of difference.  And, it all got to me so much.  I had a wonderful group of kids, but no matter how hard I tried, there were several of them that just weren't interested in anything I had to say.  And, when I received my end of year test scores from last year, I wasn't in the least bit surprised to see low scores and not many gains.  

But, one thing I will say about my class last year versus the first class I had is the fact that during my first year, I completely marched to the beat of my own drum.  I did novel studies with my class, even though most of them couldn't read a paragraph of the books we studied.  I incorporated our science and social studies in to those units, and even the math.  Last year, I went with a new approach of more student choice activities.  Giving them menus of activities to choose from, letting them decide what books they read, giving them lots of choice about how the learning took place.  Which I thought was what I needed to do.  It seemed to make so much sense...if a student is struggling with following the directions I was giving, why not let them make their own choices?  And, I realized very quickly, that probably wasn't the best way to go for those particular kids.

So, this year, I'm going back to the way I did things my first year.  Unit learning, novel studies, challenging them to dig deep and overcome the struggles that they are facing.  Facilitating the learning. Giving them some choice, but lots of guidance.  It's all about high expectations.  If a kid isn't succeeding, it may not be the best idea to just let them choose how to succeed.  If a kid isn't succeeding, I need to find the best way to motivate them to succeed by guiding them and setting the challenges for them.  

I have sixteen students in my class this year (so far).  We are getting new kids left, right, and center.  But, the kids I have right now are eager to please.  They have asked for homework, they want to be the first one finished, and they are excited when I tell them what we're going to do be doing.  There is one obstacle I need to overcome, cautiously, and that's the fact that they are all so quiet and shy about sharing and having class discussions.  Not a single one of them want to be wrong, and I can see the fear plastered on their face when I call on them to answer a question... even if I know they have the right answer.  That's something I had to break my first class out of, too.  But, once they realized that our classroom is a safe place to make mistakes, and that's how we grow and learn... our classroom was constantly buzzing with discussion.  That same thing will happen this year, I know it.

I love feeling this way.  Excited and happy.  Not that I was unhappy last year.  Well, not unhappy with my kids...more unhappy with myself that I felt like I was letting them down.  There were lots of other factors at play, however, and it wasn't my fault or their fault that our year went the way it did.  But, this year I need to learn from my mistakes, challenge myself, and really get my kids motivated about the goals they are setting for themselves.  

The rumor about me being a "mean teacher" has dissipated.  My kiddos all seem to love me, already.  I'm full of smiles and sunshine as I walk the hallways, and I'm having such a great time each and every day.  

That's what it should be about.  I've realized that.  Sure, the mean demeanor worked for a while, but it's run it's course.  I don't want to be that teacher.  I want to be the fun, but firm teacher that gets stuff done... but in a way that the kids enjoy their learning.  I want to go back to giving out rewards and parties...just because they're working so hard, not because I'm trying to bribe them to do something.  I want to be the funny teacher that always has a smile on her face, and has her kiddos laughing until their sides hurt.  All while doing things they never thought they could do. 

I can already feel that this year is going to be an AMAZING year.  But, we're just getting started.  I have to hold on to this feeling every minute of every day.  I can't let anything bring me down.  If things start to falter, I just need to hold on to how I feel at this very second in order to see clearly, and overcome all the struggles that may come my way.

I got this.

Have a GREAT Wednesday, everyone!!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Yay for Homework?

Homework.  That thing that teachers give as a form of punishment and because they want their students to have absolutely NO life after school.  Also, a way for teachers to make sure that students are getting in whatever they didn't have time for during the school day.  And, also a blessing for some parents that want stuff to keep their kids busy in the evenings, and a curse to parents who already have tons of activities their child is already involved with.

That's right, right?  

At least, that's what I've heard and been told by various different people.

Homework has always been a hot topic of debate in the teaching realm.  Is homework OK to give?  If so, how much is considered "fair"?  Are students really benefiting from homework?  Is homework just more work for the teacher?

All valid questions I've had to think about over the past two years.  But, that's not what I'm going to discuss today.  I'm only going to share about MY views on homework, and a situation that I was shocked by yesterday.

So, MY view on homework.  You wanna know the truth?  I don't like homework.  As a mother that has one child in football practice EVERY night, another that's involved in show choir and debate, and a third that's so exhausted by the time we're home from said practices that's she's usually falling asleep over her dinner, I am NOT a fan of homework. I don't think it's right that my two oldest kids, who don't make it home from their extra-curricular practices until almost 7PM should have to spend an hour or two working on homework.  We leave our house at 6:30AM and don't get home until after 6:30PM...that's a long freakin' day for a kid.  Why should they have to extend that time even further doing homework?

But, you know what?  Even though that's my personal view on homework, the first thing my kids have to do when they get home each night is complete any homework.  Even though I might not like it, or think it's harsh to make them try and work on homework when they are exhausted and just want to go to bed... I make them do it.  Because their teachers expect them to do it, and my kids will do what their teachers expect.  Period.  Their college professors aren't going to be lenient about extra-curriculars, so I consider it good college prep.

Being that I'm not a fan of homework, I don't assign much of it.  Yep.  You heard me right, I don't assign MUCH.  That doesn't mean I don't assign any.  My kids know my homework policy from day one.  If they don't finish an assignment in class, or during the time I give them to finish up assignments at the end of the day, then they have to take it home and finish it.  That doesn't happen very often, and a student usually only has to take work home if they misused their class time by not working as hard as they could.  Then, I don't feel so bad.  I give them ample time to do it in class, so if it doesn't get finished it's usually because they wasted their time.  They waste their time in the classroom, I think it's only fair that I should take a little of their free time for them to finish their work.  I also send home a spelling contract each week that requires the students to spend about 10-30 minutes completing an activity that helps them learn their spelling words.  They complete one activity a night, and it's due on Friday.. so if they miss one during the week, they have all week to make it up.  And many of my kids get in to the habit of working on the contract during the day, after they've finished up assignments, so even then they don't have homework.  

I think my homework policy is fair.  It's not overkill, in my opinion.  Spending 10-30 minutes a night on homework (usually closer to 10) is reasonable, and still gives the kids plenty of time to enjoy their evenings.  

But, something happened last Thursday that down right shocked me.  First day of school, and I get asked by SEVERAL students if I'm going to give them homework.  That's not the part that shocked me, as that's actually quite a common question to receive on the first day of school.  The shocking part came when I told them "no" and then explained my homework policy.  I received several huffs of disappointment.  Disappointment that I wasn't giving homework on the first day AND disappointment that I don't give much homework.  What the what?  

For the past two years, explaining my homework policy has always received cheers.  The kids I've had in my class the past two years have been relieved and excited to hear that they won't get much homework while in my class, and they will have plenty of time to work on assignments and such in class.. and that they can even work on their spelling contract when they have some extra time, so they don't even have to take that home if they work on it during class.  That's usually the highlight of the first couple of days of school.  

But with this class?  That information caused disappointment.  When I asked them why they were disappointed, one little girl said "I want homework, I love homework... can you give us some if we WANT to take stuff home to work on?"  Urm....I didn't know what to say.  And, she wasn't the only one.  SEVERAL of my students looked to me with hopeful eyes as the young girl asked her question, all nodding their head in encouragement to what she'd just asked.  

That's never happened to me before.  I didn't know what to say.  But, I just shrugged it off as first day excitement and figured that once they received their first spelling contract, or the first time they had to take something home to finish it, they'd whistle a different tune.

Yesterday was our first spelling pretest.  Before they took the test, we went over the spelling contract and how it worked.  I explained that they amount of words they'd have to practice would depend on their spelling scores.  The more words they missed, the more words they'd have to practice, meaning the more they'd have to do on their contract and more time would need to be spent on "homework".  What a silly thing to tell a bunch of kids that WANTED homework.

After that test, I had several kids that missed EVERY. SINGLE. WORD.  All 20 of them.  And, not for one second do I think that they're just REALLY bad spellers.  Not all of them.  I think that several kids deliberately missed every word so that they'd have MORE homework.  I'm not kidding.  When I told them that they'd have to work on all 20 words, and that would mean spending more time on homework I was actually met with.... cheers!  I was so astounded, I kind of expected someone to rush in to my room with a video camera telling me I was on a hidden camera teacher prank show.  

The same thing happened during our reading time.  The kids had 6 questions that they had to answer. SIX.  In a 45 minute time frame.  After about 30 minutes, seeing that many kids had only finished about two questions, I told them that they'd have to take the questions home to finish them, because they needed to answer those questions before we were able to move on and get started with reading our novel.  Once again, wrong thing to say.  I had several kids that, after 45 mins, still had two or three questions left to answer and would need to take them home.  Once again, I was met with cheers of happiness that they had MORE homework.  

What is happening?  What's going on?  Is this some kind of elaborate prank that I'm being pulled in to?  

I'm very curious to see how many of those excited little darlings actually finished their homework, and enjoyed it as much as they thought they would.  If they didn't enjoy it, I have nothing to worry about.  But, if they DID enjoy it...and want to do stuff like that EVERY night... I'm going to have a serious problem on my hands.  I'm going to actually have to, for the first time in my teaching career, come up with an alternative plan for getting work completed in class.  I'm not going to be able to "threaten" them with having to take work home.  

What teacher has that problem?  

Maybe, just maybe, they are all super geniuses and are using reverse psychology on me.  Maybe, just maybe they are thinking that if they seem excited by homework, that I'll have to come up with an alternative for getting work done.. thus eliminating homework all together.  Is that their real motive with all of this?  Pretending to be excited so that I give them less work or not allow them to take it home?  

I don't really think that's the case, but it's an interesting theory.  

I'm just shocked, though.  

I guess we'll see how today goes, when I check their first homework assignment.  We'll see how many enjoyed having to give up their free time to work on it, and how many of them still want to continue down the Homework Path.  

Fingers crossed that number has dropped, drastically.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!