Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So Many Careers


Well, yesterday I introduced the kids to the Future is NOW project, and it was met with a great response.  I gave the kids their questionnaires, and after they were finished, I gave them a rundown of how the rest of the year is going to play out.  And, I have to say I was very excited by their excitement and enthusiasm about the idea.

Once I collected all of the papers and wrote down their job choices, I ended up with 20 different professions that the kids had selected.  I had lots of interest in police officers, the military, firefighters, doctors, nurses, teachers, and athletes.  There were also some that I didn't expect like water tank builder, chef, and security guards.  It was very amusing to read some of the things the kids knew about the jobs and some of the stuff they wanted to know.

One student wrote he was interested in learning more about being a security guard.  He wrote that he knew they wore tuxedos and sunglasses all of the time, and they don't talk.  He wanted to learn more about why they don't talk.  Using my context clues, I realized he wasn't talking about a regular security guard... he was interested in Secret Service.  That will be fun to learn about.  

Another student wrote that she was interested in learning more about being a nurse.  She wrote she knew that they took people to rooms, but she wanted to know more about what they do when they get to the rooms.  

Yet another wrote about wanting to learn more about the people that build the giant water towers.  He knew they built them, but he wanted to know how they build them and how the water gets in there.  

I was so impressed by the level of curiosity I had at my fingertips, and so excited by their enthusiasm with completing the questions.  

Thankfully I had two students who gave me the professions I wanted to start off with:  Vet and farmer.  Being that we're reading Charlotte's Web, I think it will be great to tie in professions that work with animals.  Thanks to the nurse's assistant at school, I think I may have a connection in getting a vet to come in and talk to the kids.  I think that will be awesome.  

Not only that, but I have already started reaching out to our school's police officer, and he's going to try and help me with getting the SWAT team to come in and see the class.  My fantastic assistant superintendent gave me a connection to a military person to come in.  And, my school nurse is next on the list for me to hit up to help me out. 

I told the kids that I wanted to dress up for each of the occupations, and how they'd have to wait until Monday mornings to find out what the next assignment would be.  They thought that was an amazing idea, even more so when I told them that they'd get to join in for the rest of the week.  I have quite a task in hand when it comes to dressing up, though.  I noticed one student had wrote "Ballerina" on her paper... not sure I'll be able to pull that one off.  Well, I could, but nobody needs or wants to see that!  I will also have to condense a little, like adding all of my athletes in together.  I think it will be a lot better to do a sports week, rather than try and do a week for football players, a week for baseball players, and a week for soccer players.  

Which reminds me - if anyone I know has any items that could help me with dressing up PLEASE let me know.  I need all the help I can get.  It's going to get rather costly to buy all the supplies I will need.. but if anyone knows where I can borrow some uniforms, I'd be forever grateful.

Yesterday, during our library time, the kids all checked out a book about a job they're interested in that they are required to read this week and present about on Friday.  I have never seen my class so eager to check out books before.  They were all sharing about what job they wanted to read about, and I couldn't get them to put the books down once we got back to class.  It.  Was.  Awesome!

Even though we haven't started with a career yet, I told the kids that this week's focus is on school and how important school is.  I am having a couple of Jr. high kids come and talk to the class today or tomorrow.  But, yesterday, we discussed how important note taking was in the upper grades and in college.  I showed them my college notebook.  We learned about the word "initiative", and how it's vital for school success.  

I tried a little experiment with them to test their initiative.  On Mondays, we take our spelling pretest.  Usually, I grade them and give them back so that they can write their missed words on their spelling contracts.  Yesterday, though, I told them to start working on their missed word list BEFORE I handed back their graded pretest.  I told them that I wanted them to read through the spelling list and see if they can recognize words they don't understand the meaning of, or knew they didn't spell right.  I was utterly shocked to see the kids scan and study those lists and write down words they knew they didn't know.  I expected some kids to just write all the words down, and try and impress me.  And I expected some kids to write a couple down, thinking that would get them out of some work.  

Well it goes to show how much I know.  Almost every student wrote down the exact words that they missed on their pretest, and a couple more or less.  I had some kids tell me that they knew they could spell a couple of the words, but didn't really know what they meant.. so they added them to their contract.  I had some kids who got the words right on their pretest but had written some of the words on their contract because they said they guessed how to spell them, and they may not guess right on Friday when they're taking the post test.  I had a couple of kids who knew how to spell pretty much all the words, and knew it, and then asked if they could add the bonus words to their contracts (usually something I don't ask them to do).  

Goes to show what a little push of initiative can do, huh?

During math, I had the kids focus on note taking, and they did a practice assignment in their notebooks to use for reference.  It was amazing to see them writing down the vocabulary words and the definitions, making little notes in the margins on how they got the answer, and hashing out a word problem with different pictures and notes on how they could solve it.  They were all very impressed (as was I) when we went over the assignment and almost every student got every problem right.  The same can be said during our science time when we were studying for the test that will happen today.  We discussed that students in the upper grades and college students spend a lot of time studying for tests, but their teachers usually don't hand out study guides.  We discussed how the students in those grades are responsible for coming up with their own study guides.  So, we spent some time going over some of the important information a study guide might have, and they then got to work on making one.  Once again, I was floored by the way they used their glossary to look up vocabulary, how they made notes and wrote down definitions, and how they wrote down main concepts from the chapter (like what a sample food chain looked like).  

All in all, it was a FANTASTIC day.  I left feeling happy and excited.  I had a pep in my step and enthusiasm for watching this idea grow in to something amazing for my students.  And most importantly, we all had fun.  

Watching their little eyes widen with excitement was the highlight of my day.  There's something very magical about seeing sixteen pairs of eyes look at me with excitement and curiosity.  It's even more magical when those sixteen pairs of eyes are focused, motivated, and eager to learn.  It's almost as if those eyes are capable of sending me superpowers, because every time I was met with those eyes, I felt like I could accomplish anything.  There's nothing more motivating or invigorating than having the entire class hooked on every word that comes out of my mouth, and them in a buzzed frenzy about how excited they are to come back to school every day.  

One of the most powerful moments of the day happened when I spoke with a student who's had a few struggles over the past few weeks.  It got to the point where I had to sit him by himself.  He is not a bad kid, the opposite in fact.  He's a great kid, he just gets a little too distracted and unfocused sitting with other students.  Well, yesterday I told him I'd like to try sitting him with his table again.  You know what he said "Please don't move me.  I work harder when I sit by myself.  Unless you want me to move back, then I will just try even harder to work hard while I'm sitting with them."  Kleenexes anyone?  

How do you respond to something as powerful as that?  I told him that I was going to leave the decision up to him.  That he has the initiative to know where the best place is for him to sit, and whenever he feels like he's ready to move back... he can make that decision.  He gave me a big smile and thanked me.  

And THAT folks, is why I have the absolute, hands down, best job in the entire world.  From one little day of being the teacher I was born to be, I can walk away feeling the power of my actions.  My kids will learn, they will enjoy learning, and it will impact their lives.  That's why I do what I do... it's not about the teaching, it's about empowering the students to want to learn.  And that is what I'm going to do.  We're going to have a ton of fun doing it, too.

Have an AMAZING day, everyone!!


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Future is Now!

For the past twenty four hours, my mind has been a whirlwind of ideas.  I've thought about and researched TONS of different ways that I can make my classroom a more fun, meaningful place to be, and I think I've finally come up with what I'm going to do.

On Friday in the PD, we heard a lot about the students having their sights set on the future.  If there's no "end game", there's really no focus.  They've got to have something they're working towards.  It could be as minor as preparing for 5th grade, more in-depth like preparing for high school, or it could be the ultimate end game:  What are they going to do as a career?

I definitely see myself as an "end game" thinker.  I make long term plans, and then think about all the little steps I need to get there.  I mean, hello, I was planning my future career at the ripe old age of five. Even then, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and throughout my school life I prepared for that career.  OK, so things didn't turn out exactly how I planned, but the end game still came out the same.  I just managed to get some more life experience under my belt before my plans all worked out.

I teach 4th grade, so I have a class full of nine and ten year olds.  They're still at that age where the thought of a career is a tiny blip in their radar, but their curiosity is at its peak.  They can imagine themselves as any career they've thought about.  They may not have set their sights on one particular career, but they have interest in the professional world.  People like doctors, lawyers, teachers, football players, fireman, and police officers are exciting people.  They are careers my kiddos show interest in, yet they don't really know enough about any career to make a solid decision about what they want to be when they grow up.  And that's OK.  Very few kids have their futures laid out in 4th grade.  

But, as my mind was in the whirlwind state yesterday, I realized that there's nothing wrong with starting to infuse some career goals and inspiration in to their young minds.  While they are excited about the future, and curious about what they are doing today and how it will affect tomorrow.  I can start to open their eyes about the possibilities that are out there, and give them some motivation about where their lives are heading.

So, that brought me to the idea I plan on using for the rest of the school year (if it goes as well as I hope).  That would be The Future is NOW!  The name of the project I plan on starting with my kids this very week.

This morning, when my little darlings come in to start their day, they will find a short questionnaire waiting for them at their desks.  Each student will select three careers they are interested in.  They will write those jobs down, and then write a short list of things they already know about the job and a short list of what they'd like to learn about the job.  Once I've collected all the answers, I will compile the answers and use them to plan and prepare for each week.

This week, my students will discuss going to Jr. High, high school, and college.  I plan on having a few kids come down from the Jr. High to talk to my kiddos and explain to them some of the things they wish they'd paid more attention to in 4th grade, and the stuff they are still using that they learned in 4th grade.  I also hope to have a high school kid come in to, but that requires some more logistics.  

Anywho, this week will focus on school.  Then, on Friday, each kid is going to put on a cap and gown and take a high school graduation picture.  I want them to have something to envision, something that they can look at for motivation, and I'll display them in the classroom.  

Starting next week, the fun will begin in full force.  Each and every week (maybe every two weeks if we need more time) the kids are going to learn about the careers they wrote on that paper.  Everything we do in the classroom will have some connection to the careers that they selected.  All of the work they do, and the assignments I give will put them in to a career-minded scenario.  Because, I figure, if I want them to understand why they're learning what they're learning... what better way than to make them learn it through a way that's used by adults in careers?

The fun part will be the fact that they won't know what the next career will be until they come to school on Monday morning and find me dressed up as that career.  My hope is that they'll go home each Friday dying to come back on Monday just so they know what their next job assignment is.

My hope is that each Monday I'll get to dress up like a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a nurse, a vet, a football player, etc.  Then, for the rest of the week, I'll encourage the kids to dress up somehow.  To get in the spirit of what's going on.

Last night, Peanut and I hashed out some ideas.  She loves stuff like this, so I knew she'd be a great resource.  We discussed how I can bring some of the careers in to the classroom while still focusing on all the skills we're learning.  

She wants to be a lawyer when she's older, so she said the best way for kids to experience what a lawyer does is by having a mock trial.  Having them investigate and prepare evidence, interview people, etc.  Then, maybe another week the students can be police officers and investigate a crime.  Look for evidence, interview suspects, write up reports of their findings, etc.  For the medical field, I can have students study vets and bring their favorite stuffed animal to class each day and discuss the care for those animals.  We can discuss ecosystems, habitats, perform math problems related to medicine their animals may need.  For doctors and nurses, we can discuss some health issues and discuss the human body, preventative care, and how doctors and nurses make people better. 

In reading, we're currently reading Charlotte's Web, and in science we're currently studying ecosystems.  I think a great way to get started with the careers is by picking something like a vet or a farmer.  I know that at least one of the students in my class wants to be a vet when she's older.  So, I think that will be my starting point for next week.  Once I get the kids graduated from high school and had plenty of time to explain what we're going to be doing for the rest of the year.  

I plan on infusing technology in to all this by having the students blog about their experiences each Friday.  They can share what they've learned, what they liked about the job, and any concerns they might have.  Plus, the best part is, the students may only have interest in a few jobs but after we're all said and done, they'd have been exposed to at least a dozen different professions.  My hope is that some kids will get excited about careers they hadn't even thought about.  Then, I plan on having some people from those careers respond to their blogs, answer questions, etc.  I also plan on inviting some professionals in to the class to speak to them, as well.  Plus, there's computer research and Minecraft that I can pull in as well.

I have no idea how this will all play out, and if it will be as successful as I want it to be.  I may get in to it and find that the students just aren't that interested, or they don't jump on board with the same level of excitement that I have.  And that's OK.  I at least want to try.  It will require some serious work and creativity on my part, but I'm willing to put the work in if it means upping the effort and ability levels of my students.  

One of my most favorite projects I did in college was a GRASPS project.  That's basically a two-week themed project where all the learning occurs around a centralized topic.  My topic was The Laws of Motion.  I had to create a two-week curriculum based on the laws of motion, and was given 2nd graders to do it for.  For the entire two weeks, they students were given the role of undercover secret agents that had been hired by the President to uncover the secret of learning Newton's Laws of Motion.  They learned about it in math through measurement, they learned about it in reading and writing by reading about Newton and writing stories as if they were super heroes given the super powers of defying friction or gravity.  They performed science experiments to test the laws.  And, then at the end of the two weeks, they had to work in groups to present their findings.  They were given free reign on how they could present.  I had some kids act out a football game, with an announcer, a football player, and a cheerleader all explaining the three laws.  I had another group that presented as if they were on a talk show interviewing Friction and Gravity, as if they were famous people.  I had a group write a reader's theater.  If was AMAZING.  A topic that usually doesn't get much interest from 2nd graders became a full-fledged project that the kids absolutely LOVED.  

I can do the same with my project.  I can get these kids excited and pumped about different careers.  I can show them how their learning impacts those jobs.  I can prove to them that school is important, and everything they do connects to their futures somehow.  

I'm so excited to see how it goes, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they love it as much as I hope they do.  And, at the end of the day, if they're still no closer to figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, yet they have some fun and enjoy what they're learning... I'm OK with that.  Because, really, that's all I want.  I want them to enjoy their 4th grade experience.  I want them to find the relevance in their learning.  I want to motivate them to put in the effort and increase their abilities.  And, maybe one day, I can have a few kids come back to me and tell me that they chose the career they ended up choosing because they learned about it in my class.  How awesome would that be?

This morning, I have the feelings inside me that I've missed.  That fire of getting up and being excited and ready to get my day started.  I'm excited, once again.  I'm determined.  And I can't wait to have some fun with my kiddos.

Let's get this day started!!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Family Fun, and Fears Overcome


Yesterday, I decided to take the kids for a much needed day out to Silver Dollar City.  I really wanted a day with my kids where we didn't have to think about anything but spending some quality time together, and enjoying some family fun.  What better place to do it than at a theme park?  Even though we went to Silver Dollar City three times over the summer, they were just as excited to go yesterday as they was the first time we went.  I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that Peanut was taking her boyfriend with us, and the other two were desperate to get out and have some fun.  It's been a while, and they never tire of riding roller coasters.  

We made it to SDC around 10AM, and the first thing I noticed was that the parking lot was already PACKED.  Not exactly a good sign, because I don't do too well with extremely large crowds.  Plus, I'm as bad as the kids with impatience when it comes to waiting forever to get on a ride.  But, thankfully, the crowds seemed to be more interested in the fall festival that's currently going on there, and weren't as interested in riding all the rides.  Which was great for us.  We didn't wait more than 10 minutes to get on a ride all day.

Our first ride of the day was Thunderation.  The smallest and mildest of the extreme roller coasters at SDC.  We walked the winding trail to the ride and was able to get straight on without waiting at all.  The same can be said for the Electro-Spin and the Pirate Ship that we went on right after.  

Then we decided it was time to try our first water ride of the day, and hit the Lost River of the Ozarks.  Now, the weather yesterday was BEAUTIFUL.  The sun was shining, and the temps were in the 70s all morning/early afternoon.  However, the water was FREEZING.  We had a great time, but it's a lot different going on a water ride in the fall than it is during the summer.  It's not as refreshing.  We still enjoyed it, though, and the wetness just made us walk a bit faster and stand in the sun more to dry off.  

Up to this point, I had been stalling on heading over to one area of the park.  That would be where Outlaw Run is located.  It's the biggest, craziest roller coaster at the park.  It's a new wooden roller coaster that climbs to 160 feet before plummeting down at an 81 degree angle.  It then does a variety of corkscrews and crazy dives at 68MPH.  I can't ride Outlaw Run, because I'm too big.  It's the only ride I've ever faced that problem, yet it's one of my motivations for losing weight.  Before this year is over, I WILL get on Outlaw Run.  However, it wasn't me that was so excited to ride it, and causing me to try and stall as long as possible.  No.  It was Jelly wanting to ride it that was causing me so much anxiety.  

Ever since our last visit, Jelly has been bugging me about letting her ride it.  Now, Jelly is a little dare-devil and has ridden on every other ride at SDC.  She loves the Barn Swing, PowderKeg, and Thunderation.  The only reason she hasn't been on WildFire (the other giant roller coaster) is because she's not tall enough to ride it.  But, I promised her last time that I'd let her ride Outlaw Run the next time we went.  So, I had to follow through on my promise, even though I was absolutely TERRIFIED about her getting on such an extreme coaster without me riding with her.  

As Peanut, her boyfriend, Butter, and Jelly waited in line to get on Outlaw Run, my stomach was doing flips.  As I watched them all climb aboard, it took everything I had not to scream for them to pull Jelly off.  Peanut and Butter could both see the worry on my face and kept trying to comfort me with signs and signals from the line.  Easier said than done.  As I watched them pull out of the station, I said a silent prayer and watched them start the climb up to the 160 foot drop.  As the cars dropped on the other side, so did my stomach...and I held my breath for the duration of the ride.  Within a few seconds, I saw the train come back in to the station and managed to capture this picture...


I know it's hard to see, but Jelly (as do the other kids) all have a GIANT smile on their faces.  Jelly LOVED it!  So much so, that she was straight off and back in line before I even had a chance to question her about the ride.  While the kids waited for another ride, I went and bought the picture from their first ride.  I wanted to document the amazing look on all of their faces, and I was lucky that they had all sat together.  I was able to buy a keychain with the four of them making the most amazing faces of glee, excitement, and terror.  Jelly was the face full of glee.. HA!

Once they'd ridden a second time, we decided to head on over to something else.  We rode Fire in the Hole and then planned on riding PowderKeg.  Unfortunately, PowderKeg had been closed to some form of malfunction, and it stayed that way for the rest of the day.  It always worries me when coasters close due to "malfunctions" so I wasn't too disappointed that it didn't open again for the rest of the day.

We stopped for some lunch at that point, and then headed on to my favorite coaster: WildFire.  I love WildFire because it's the only roller coaster that does full loops.  However, due to my fear of heights, I have never ridden with keeping my eyes open.  I have always closed my eyes as we are climbing the first hill and only ever opened them while I could focus on something other than how high up we were. Yesterday, however, I made the promise to myself that I was going to overcome my fear of heights and keep my eyes open on ALL rides.  And, I did it!! I kept my eyes open, and even enjoyed the amazing view 150 feet up in the air.  Of course, I could only enjoy the view for 3 seconds before we were plummeting down to the ground again at 66MPH... but just the fact that I did it is amazing.  After the ride, I walked out on to the viewing deck and took a second to take in the view I usually rush past because it used to make me dizzy.  I stood there, feeling a little uneasy, but just told myself that I was missing out on too much beauty by being afraid.  Once I took a deep breath, and told myself that I was officially over my fear, the dizziness started to fade and I was OK.  

Fear of heights officially overcome!!

The rest of the day was just as fantastic.  We did A LOT of walking, we rode on more rides, and we just enjoyed each other's company.  It was an amazing day.  Before we called it quits, we decided to take some photos with the beautiful fall arrangements that have been set up at the park's entrance.  It felt good to take some photos with the kids.  And, now I have more photos to store in our photo memory book.  



Days like yesterday are so important.  Spending time with my kids is something I love doing, and I'm always looking for new adventures that we can go on.  Buying the season passes to SDC was probably one of the best investments I've ever made.  Next year, I think I'm going to up the ante and buy passes for Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, too.  Sure, it's a much longer drive, but it's another place I know the kids would love and we'd have such an amazing time.  

Today, I have some work that I need to get done.  The deal I have with the kids is that we spend one day together, and the other day I spend working.  I want to really sit down with my lesson plans for the next week and see how I can add some of the fun back that I spoke about yesterday, and really hash out some longer range goals for changing up how things are done in my classroom.  I'm actually excited to get the work done.  I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I'm pumped and recharged after the PD on Friday, and a lot of that also has to do with the fact that I got to spend a great day with my kids and I can now sit back and work knowing we had some quality time together.  

Of course, there's plenty more work I have to fit in between lesson plans.  I have grading, school work, laundry, grocery shopping and such... but I don't feel in the slightest bit overwhelmed or stressed.  Fun is so refreshing for the soul.  I can start this week off full of positivity and motivation.  What a wonderful way to feel!!

Have an amazing day, everyone!!


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Time to Bring Some Fun Back in to the Classroom


What an amazing professional development day I had yesterday.  I mean, I've often walked away from a training and wanted to try some new things in my classroom that I've learned, but I don't think I've ever walked away wanting to COMPLETELY change the way I teach.  Well, not so much change how I want teach, but actually teach the way I want to...and know that it's OK to do so.

Yesterday's keynote speaker and whole group presenter was Steve Barkley (@stevebarkley if you want to check him out on Twitter). He's an educational consultant and teacher educator, and he's probably one of the most enjoyable education professionals I've ever listened to.  He was funny, passionate, and everything he said made so much sense.  

His focus for the day was inspiring teachers to work as a team, and to build effort and ability in students.  He bases his teachings on student behaviors and how teachers can help students grow by instilling the student behaviors in the classroom.  He explained to us that teachers don't cause student achievement, students cause student achievement.  And, if they don't have the desire to achieve their goals or if they aren't willing to put in the effort, the teacher can't make those things happen.

He did explain in great detail, however, how teachers can create student behaviors that are desirable for student achievement.  He explained how students have to fail in order to succeed.  They have to understand that improving their abilities requires a formula of effort times ability with a manageable task equals success.  He explained that students have to learn how to be independent, take responsibility for their own learning, and have a clear goal for the future and how their learning will impact that goal.  

Everything he spoke about was stuff I've been struggling with, lately.  I have struggled with students who don't give much effort, they give up easily, or they just shut down if they think they can't achieve the results I'm looking for.  I have been beating my head against a wall trying to figure out different ways to make my students put in more effort, work through stuff that they find difficult, and taking some responsibility for their learning.  And, it's been tough.  What I've realized though, is that I can't make those things happen.  There are steps I can take that may improve their desire to succeed and put in the effort, but until they decide that they want to succeed and they can overcome the obstacles put in front of them, they won't succeed.

I have always had high expectations for my students.  Always.  I have always made those expectations known, modeled what I expect, and held the students accountable for the work that they do.  I discuss effort a lot in my classroom, and we discuss how effort is just as much a part of learning as the actual learning is.  If something is hard, yet they work through as best as they can...they are putting in the effort to learn.  If something is hard, and they just give up or shut down...there is no effort and they are giving up before they even start.  Learning can't occur if there is no effort.  

It was nice to hear that holding the high expectations and being tough on the students who show little effort is OK.  It was nice to hear that there's nothing wrong with demanding more effort, and expecting it.  It was good to hear that effort is one of the most important student behaviors I should be focusing on in my classroom, and that I shouldn't give up on that expectation.

There was something that I discovered, though, that helped me realize where I'm missing the mark.  That would be in the fact that I've drained the fun out of my classroom.  My classroom isn't a fun, inspiring, challenging place to be.  It's a room filled with hum-drum lessons, drill and repeat skill practice, and pencil and paper handouts.  No wonder my kids don't have much effort or desire to succeed.  They're being fed the same ol' same ol' week in and week out, and they walk out of the classroom at the end of the day full of energy to get home and burn it off.  Where as the teachers are walking out of the building dragging their feet and fighting to stay awake.

Steve Barkley told us that it should be the opposite.  Students should leave school each day absolutely exhausted, while the teachers should leave upbeat and wide awake.  The teacher should be providing fun, challenging, creative lessons that make students put in more effort and making them learn through having fun, and wanting to learn.  I've spent too much time doing too much of the work.  I should be coming up with lessons and projects and assignments that take little effort from me to deliver, but plenty of effort on the students' parts to complete.  

One of the most inspiring parts of the day was when Steve discussed the optimal learning behaviors for student achievement.  He showed us a continuum of student behaviors seen in the classroom:  Boredom, comfort, attention, and fear.  He asked us to determine between which two behaviors the most learning took place.  Most of us agreed between comfort and attention... but we were wrong.  He explained that for students to get the most out of their learning, and really apply themselves, they had to be kept between attention and fear, with small intervals that allowed them down to the comfort level.  I was shocked, but when he explained why, it made so much sense.

Think of going to the gym.  Most people, if they want optimal success from going to the gym, will hire a trainer.  That trainer will keep the person at a point where they think they could give up, but they keep pushing themselves because the personal trainer is giving them the encouragement that they can push through the pain and succeed.  Often that is seen by a person on the verge of giving up, and the trainer then upping the intensity even more.  Making that person almost scared, thinking they're going to die, but then feeling a rush of fear that pushes them through.  Then, once the person has achieved a goal they were pushing for, the trainer lets them come down to the comfort level for a few minutes to get their breath back.  But, as soon as they really start to get comfortable, the trainer ups the intensity again and the trainee is back in that fear and attention threshold.  However, people that want to go to the gym but aren't as willing to commit to the process will go to the gym, get on a treadmill, and walk at a comfortable rate of speed and then give up when they have had enough.  That person burns some calories, but they never actually reach any form of success.

That made so much sense to me.  Rather than giving my kids work that I know they can do, I should be raising the bar and challenging them.  Making them really think, almost to the point where they could give up, but keep reassuring them that they can do it, they can figure it out, and the result is more about the effort - not the right answer.  

The same can be said about the fact that he told us many teachers are "steroid givers".  He used quite a few fitness analogies, and he told us that people who want to get big muscles but don't work out have to take steroids.  Sure, they get muscles for a while, but pretty soon everything starts to crash.  Many teachers are steroid pushers.  They give the kids the results without making them work for it, make it easier for them, and just get them through the year without thinking of what struggles they will deal with in the future.

Think about subtraction in the elementary grades.  Most kids in elementary are taught that in order to subtract, the big number ALWAYS goes on top.  That is a steroid.  Teachers are making it easier for kids to perform the subtraction problems, but aren't making them understand the problem.  The kids get in a routine where they don't even pay attention to what the problems say, they just find the biggest number and subtract it from the smaller number.  Then, a few years down the road, when the kid goes in to 6th or 7th grade, that teacher is faced with the steroids wearing off and the following crash.  Those same kids learn that the bigger number doesn't ALWAYS go on top.   

Teachers have to realize that in order for the students to be TRULY successful, and get the most out of their learning, the future has to be a part of the picture.  What will I teach today that will impact my kids tomorrow?  Am I making it easier for them to just get through it, or am I helping them think critically so that they can understand why they are doing what they do, and how it will impact them one day?

All in all, it helped open my eyes.  I realized I'm making several mistakes in my classroom that need to be fixed ASAP.  It's not the mistakes I thought, though.  Instead of backing off, I need to get tougher.  Instead of coddling my kids, I need to challenge them.  I need to let them fail, and then help them understand why they failed and strategies that can help them next time to not do the same.  And, most importantly, I need to make sure they are having fun.  Because even the hardest of material is more effort worthy when there's fun involved.  I know that I'm willing to work a lot harder when I'm having fun, so I know that my kids will too.  

Speaking of fun, I got to teach my two sessions of Minecraft yesterday.  They went great, and I even got to do a small piece for the news!! How exciting is that?  And, while teaching the Minecraft sessions, I realized that Minecraft HAS to come back in to my classroom.  I have to start using it again.  There's the fun that I had been missing, well, some of it anyway.  So, no matter what, I'm going to figure out a way to let my kids use Minecraft.  Somehow, someway.  

OK, I really need to go.  I'm taking my kids to Silver Dollar City for a much needed family fun day.  We've been looking forward to it all week, and I'm ready to have a day off with my kids.

So, have a wonderful Saturday, everyone!  I know I will.  :)


Friday, September 26, 2014

Time for Some Professional Development

My kids don't have school today.  They get to sleep in and enjoy a long weekend.  That's because while they get to enjoy a day off, the teachers will be spending the day learning some new tricks and tools to use in the classroom.  Yep, it's Professional Development Day.

The focus for today's professional development is technology. Gadgets, tools, and websites that teachers can use to enhance the learning of their students, and stuff to make their lives a little easier.  Being that I'm a techie girl, that type of stuff excites me.  I'm always on the look out for new technology and tools I can use in my classroom... I just wish there was a bonus of time that came with all the wonderful things out there for me to use.  But, what teacher doesn't think there's not enough time in the day?  Am I right?

I actually get to teach two sessions of professional development today. They will both be on Minecraft.  While I'm excited to share the possibilities that Minecraft has to offer, I'm also a little upset that I get to teach other teachers how to use it, yet I can't actually use it myself right now.

Time is the number one reason behind that.  We only have one computer lab available for me to use, yet when I could squeeze in the time to do some Minecraft, the computer lab is being used by another class and vice versa when it's not being used, I'm in the middle of interventions that I can't get away from and go play Minecraft for a while.  

I have always managed to wangle my way around the time excuse before.  There's always some time that I can move things around, rearrange my schedule, and make things work...except for this.  First, our building got struck by lightning a few weeks back, and it completely destroyed our internet abilities and that hit us hard on technology use.  While working on fixing the problems, IT deleted Minecraft off of the computers it was installed on.  That means I now have to find the time to go and reinstall it back, when the problems are completely fixed.  That's still a work in progress.  Then, once I do get the program back on the computers, I just can't wangle my schedule around at all to accommodate the times the lab is open.  The only time it's open each day is from 2-3PM.  That's when I'm doing school wide interventions, and that time is strictly for focusing on skills and remediation.  While I think the Minecraft would be a great skill building activity to use, I only have kids for 20-25 minutes before we rotate to a different group, and that's not enough time to do anything on the computer.  

I get 30 minutes of lab time a week for my class, but that's not enough time to really do much.  By the time I get the server up and running, and the kids all logged in, they might get 10 minutes to do something before we're shutting down and going off to lunch.  

I do have three student computers in my classroom, but even that doesn't really help much in this certain situation.  I mean, I can use the computers for other great resources that we have, but Minecraft is so much better when the kids get to work together and collaborate.  I can sit three kids down at a time and have them do stuff, but they miss out on the collaborative experience...and then I hear a lot of disgruntlement from the kids that the thing they created the last time they played has been taken apart by someone else or stuff is missing.  

It's just kinda frustrating.  And I didn't mean to vent about it this morning.  It's just something that's been playing on my mind.  

But, even with my disgruntled feelings, they won't stop me from promoting how amazing Minecraft can be for students, nor will it stop me from encouraging other teachers to try and use it with their own classrooms.  My hope is that today's sessions will be filled with Jr. high and high school teachers that have more flexibility in their schedules, and have more ability to make it work.  Because, even though I can't use it right now, it doesn't mean I'm going to give up on finding some way to make it work.  It's just probably going to require a lot of whining and complaining on my part to get it done.  HA!

I actually think it's quite an honor to be teaching professional development.  I mean, I'm a 3rd year teacher and I've been asked to teach teachers how to use something.  How awesome is that?  I'm no expert on using Minecraft, and I have a ways to go before I would even consider myself any form of expert on the matter, but the fact that I've tried it, I've learned quite a bit about it, and I've seen how it impacts my students and their excitement level is something I can share with other teachers.  My kids know more about Minecraft than I do, and they end up teaching me much more than I teach them when I've used it in the past.  But, that's one of the best things about it, and the part I really want to focus on today.  That teachers don't have to be tech gurus or Minecraft experts.  Heck, I had never played the game before I started using it with my students.  

What I plan on sharing today, is the fact that it's OK for the students to take the lead on stuff now and then.  Giving them structured free reign on creating, and then having them explain and show how they have used the skills they've learned in class and applied those skills to the game is amazing.  Last year, I had several kids that struggled with area and perimeter.  On paper, they just didn't get it.  But, let them play some Minecraft, and they were explaining how they figured out that if they laid down six blocks and wanted a square house, they needed to find eighteen more blocks in order to finish the perimeter of their house.  They were then able to tell me that they needed 36 blocks of carpet to cover the floor inside.  There's some real world application for ya.  

I also had kids that could explain electric circuits based on the circuits they were building for rail cars.  They could tell me that they needed a power source, and then had to connect the track together in order to keep the power flowing through the entire track.  They were able to explain switches and how they had to engage the switch in order for the power to start up.  That was before we ever got to electricity in our science books.  

I've spent my time researching Minecraft enough to know that the possibilities with this game is endless.  Some teachers have had students recreate cells, time periods, science experiments, etc.  And, the best part about the Minecraftedu package that's available for teachers, is the fact that it allows them to even add in some writing and documenting assignments.  

But, you know, at the end of the day, my most favorite part about using Minecraft is the fact that it's something I can do WITH my kids.  When we used it last year, I sat down right along with them and played.  I oversaw what they were doing in the game, I dropped items that they were needing, I wrote assignments, and then I would get in there and help out some of the students with their creations..and they would help me do the same.  We were all equals in that little virtual world.  They were teachers and I was a student just as much as the roles were reversed.  I can tell you from that experience alone that students LOVE teaching their teacher something they know more about.  It doesn't happen often, so they bask in the fact that they are the experts and I can't teach them about it, because they already know more than me.  My job was simply allowing them to apply the stuff I'd been teaching them to the game, and explaining to them how those skills had help play apart in their creations and thinking.  

Ugh, just writing about how much I love it makes me even more sad that I don't get to use it with my kids right now.  But, like I said before, it's going to fuel my motivation in teaching today...and hoping I do a great job at convincing those that take my class to use it with their classes.  If I can convince even a couple of teachers to try it, and the popularity grows, then maybe, just maybe, more will be done to help me get time to do it.  Or I can figure out a way to get the money to get a new set of laptops for my class so that I can do it in my classroom.  That would be awesome.  Anyone out there got any connections to a business that might want to supply my class with a set of laptops?  Anyone know how to send this blog to Oprah or Ellen, and see if they want to help a class out?  

If you do, please be sure to pass this on.  I could really use the help.  And when I say I could use the help, I really mean a class of precious, amazing kids that would be forever grateful if they could get this opportunity.  

Oh well, I better go get myself ready.  I'm excited and pumped to share today, and I hope it goes well.  With some of the stress and frustrations I've been dealing with lately, this will be a great way to do some good and spread some cheer.  And, I'm ready for that.  

Have an awesome Friday, everyone!!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Team Weight Loss Challenge

I started this blog five years ago for one purpose and one purpose only:  To document my weight loss efforts.  It seems hard to think that for the past five years I've been writing in this blog, that originally started as a weight loss blog, and I'm not that much lighter than I was five years ago.  Of course, the blog has gone off in a much different direction than when I first started, but it makes me sad that after five years I haven't really succeeded in the one thing I set out to do when I first decided to start an entire blog about it.  And that would be to lose weight, and keep it off.

Five years ago, this blog was called Diary of a Mad, Fat Woman.  I started off slow, posting here and there when the surge of motivation rushed through me to, once again, try and tackle my weight issues.  I had been told by countless weight loss professionals that blogging was the way to go to really hold myself accountable.  Of course, if there's going to be someone to prove the professionals wrong, it's going to be me.  Not that I'm proud of that.  I mean, I'm not happy nor proud that I followed the advice of so many professionals about how to go about my weight loss efforts and still sit here, some five years later, weighing only a few pounds less than I did back then.

Of course, there has been some major success along the way...it's been holding on to the success that I've struggled with.  Four years ago, when my blogging really took off, I was at my highest weight and determined to get it down.  And I did.  I lost 80lbs in 2010 in to 2011.  I got down to my lowest adult weight, and I was doing amazing things.  I was able to run 5K, I completed fitness bootcamp, I was faithful to exercise and healthy eating, and I no longer shied away from a camera but kept my blog and Facebook updated with constant photos of my ever changing body.  

Not only did I do those wonderful things, but I did them all during the height of the most stressful times of my life.  The last year of college.  While it should have been the time where I binged and ate due to stress, it was the one time in my life that I stopped myself from using stress as a crutch and used it as my motivation to succeed.  If I was stressing about class expectations, student teaching, creating a portfolio, or what would happen after I graduated, I just got up and went for a run.  And I ran until I felt better... less stressed.  And I walked across the stage on my graduation day weighing less than I've ever weighed during my adult life, in a dress that I had picked out to highlight my new curves, and in 5" heels that I never thought in a million years I could even take a few steps in, let alone walk across a stage in.  

But, unfortunately, my new found confidence and smaller dress size didn't last very long... and slowly the weight started creeping back.  

I have tried over and over and over again to get back to that girl that took her stress to the track and pounded the pavement until it was gone.  I've tried so many times to find that motivation that made me beat all of the odds and overcome the cravings and desires to eat junk food.  Yet, I still have yet to find her.  She's in here, somewhere, dying to come to the surface once again.  I just have to reach deep down and pull her out.

Which leads me to my new weight loss effort:  A team challenge.

In the two years I've been teaching, I've participated in several weight loss challenges hosted by our school nurse.  She arranges and coordinates the weight loss challenges, oversees all of the weigh-ins, and keeps track of everyones progress.  And, not one of those challenges has even gotten me close to any form of good weight loss.  I pay a fee to join in, yet my motivation is short lived and I end up paying out week after week because I gain instead of lose.  I don't know why.  I mean, it's not like I deliberately try and gain weight after I join in one of those challenges, but it has always seemed to have gone that way.

So, why on earth would I put myself through trying it again?

Well, this time it's a little different.  This time, I'm not doing it alone.  This time I'm not the only person accountable for my success.  This time, I will have a team of people counting on me as I will be counting on them to see us through to weight loss victory.  Our school is doing a team weight loss challenge.

When I think back to the time that I decided enough was enough and I really needed to lose weight, I joined a fitness bootcamp.  I went to a gym three times a week and worked out with a group of people that were counting on me to be successful.  If I failed, we all failed, and we all paid the consequences.  If I didn't log my food, we were doing sets of grueling calisthenics.  If I complained about the exercise being too hard, I was pushed even harder.  Yet, if I was able to overcome and obstacle I didn't think I could do, I had an entire team pushing me to do it and helping me every step of the way.  And overcoming some major obstacles was what I really think pushed me in to overdrive to continue succeeding.  As I watched the young, fit people run circles around me, I told myself that I could do anything they could do.  They could do pushups?  Well, then I was doing pushups.  They could run through the obstacle course in record time?  Well, then I was staying on their heels giving it my all to beat their times.  Anything they could do, I would do.

Being a part of a team is really what pushed my motivation in to high gear.  If I know one thing about myself it's the fact that if there's no one counting on me, I have no one to let down.  I have no one to answer to.  If I don't succeed in a weight loss challenge, I have only myself to blame...and I'm OK with that.  But, throw in a group of people that are going to be counting on me to (excuse the pun) pull my weight?  That's a game changer.  I don't like to let anyone down, and I'm not about to sit back and bring a group of people down because I can't be bothered to find the motivation I need to succeed.  

So, I'm going to give the team weight loss challenge a try.  Maybe, just maybe being a part of the team was the root of my success back then, and it's been the missing factor ever since.  Maybe, just maybe having people counting and depending on me is what I need to succeed and show them and myself that I can lose the weight (again).  Maybe, just maybe I can finally find some success and hold on to it.

I just don't understand how I can be the woman that has overcome so many struggles in her life, yet can't control this one tiny hurdle.  Losing weight isn't really hard, if I put my mind to it.  It just requires motivation.  That's it.  Motivation to stop shoveling food in to my mouth, motivation to get up and exercise, and motivation to change my habits so that I stay on the path of success.

I have overcome teen pregnancy, poverty, an abusive relationship, put myself through college, followed my career dreams, juggled work, school, and family.  Yet put down a donut or drink water instead of soda? Those are the things that I haven't been able to do.  Seems kinda silly, huh?

It is silly.  It's ridiculous, in fact.  There is no one, valid, viable excuse I can use that can explain why I am so able to overcome every single life obstacle thrown my way... except losing weight.  It doesn't make any sense, and it's high time I stopped being so stupid.  

I can do this.  I know I can.  And, I am excited about having a team of people to work with, encourage, get encouragement from, and succeed in losing weight.  Again.

First weigh-in is today, and I hope it's the last time I ever have to look at that number again.  I hope it's the last time I have to write one of these sorry blog posts about not being able to lose weight.  I hope it's the beginning of a new attitude, a new outlook on my abilities, and a new me.  

Today is the day!!

And I hope it's a great day.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fascinating Research Articles

OK, I never thought I would use the words "fascinating", "research" and "articles" together in the same sentence, let alone as the title for a blog post... but it's happening today!  

I'll admit it, I think reading research based journal articles and textbooks is the most boring, mind numbing way to spend my time.  Some nights, I would rather stab blunt pencils in to my eyes than read another word of another article that's devoted to some form of educational research.  Some nights, I have even needed to use blunt pencils in order to keep my eyes open just so I can get through one.  

Reading journals consists of putting myself through reading pages and pages of data, charts, fancy long words and confusing jargon.  If I manage to stumble through the cited sources, statistics, and data and come out with a slightest sense of what the article is about, I feel like I accomplished a big feat.  Cause, let's face it, journal articles aren't exactly written for reading pleasure.  

But, being an educator, a student, and a life-long learner requires doing my share of research.  It's inevitable.  My professional development requires reading and researching a topic, my college classes require reading and researching topics, and if I want to find the best ways to reach my students I have to read and research.  

As much as I am not a fan of doing those things, I did stumble across a research project that actually had me enthusiastically reading, and dare I say enjoying, what I actually found out.

As a part of my current issues in education class, I have to do a few research projects.  Two are with a partner, and one is by myself.  The first partnered project I participated in covered religion in schools.  We researched, we put together a paper and a PowerPoint, and we shared what we found out with the class.  I won't say it was exciting or all that mind-blowing.  This time around, however, we picked a subject I had no idea would lead me to be so interested and surprised by what I found.

This time around, my partner and I chose the topic of Closing the Achievement Gap.  It's a very common issue for educators and administrators.  I'd say it's probably one of the most prevalent parts of education today.  Achievement gaps are strongly associated with kids from non-English speaking and low-income households.  Study after study has shown that kids from minority groups and low-income backgrounds are far more likely to have academic difficulties than kids from English speaking and middle to high income households.  That is something I didn't have to research to know.  In fact, it's something that's taught to teachers while they're learning how to become teachers.  

The reasons for lower achieving students from minority and income challenged households has always been explained to me as being a direct cause of the obstacles these students have to overcome.  Learning a new language, struggling to meet basic needs before meeting academic needs, and limited support at home are all factors in to why students are thought to be lower achieving compared to the students who have solid financial and parental support at home.  

But, looking in to this issue further for my research project gave me information I did not know about, and left me completely stunned and shocked.  

Vast studies and research has shown that students who struggle academically, for whatever reason, has been strongly linked to the way teachers teach those students.  Not the limited English skills, not the poverty scale, and not the lack of parental support.

The research I performed for this project has shown me that many teachers and administrators opt for remedial level studies and direct instruction when teaching students who are considered "at risk".  They take away higher order thinking skills, and "dumb down" the content in order to fill academic gaps and raise achievement and confidence.  While many teachers and administrators believe it's best to lower curriculum standards and expectations in order to best suit the needs of at-risk students, vast research shows that the complete opposite has been proven to be true.  What do I mean by the complete opposite?

One study that I read followed under performing schools for a period of eight years.  The schools were made up of high minority and high poverty students.  The years prior to the study had shown that the schools were graduating students with a middle-school education at best, and many of the elementary students were 2-3 grade levels behind.  The school's approach to help raise academics was to implement tutoring services, interventions, and remedial level courses in order to "bridge the gaps" and supposedly help students feel more confident about their abilities.  

When the study came along, it was funded and overseen by a team of educators that were experienced in writing curriculum for gifted and talented students.  It required teachers and administrators to completely change their approach to how they taught, the curriculum model they used, and drastically increase the expectations they had for the students.

The approach was simply put:  Replace the remedial studies and direct instruction for inquiry-based, challenging, higher leveled curriculum.  The schools had to adopt project based studies, open-ended discovery questioning, and high order thinking skills.  A challenge many educators in the schools thought to be impossible with the "level" of students they were teaching.

But, do you know what happened?  I bet you can guess, huh?  The schools that participated in the study not only raised their academic levels, but started seeing a higher number of students going off to and completing college, staying in school, and performing at levels comparable to schools from a higher income/lower minority bracket.  The achievement gap became almost non-existent in those schools.  

In terms of standardized testing skills, the students from the schools went from a majority of below basic to basic scores to a majority of proficient scores, with a much higher percentage of advanced level students.  

Reading all the information and data was absolutely fascinating.  And, after I read one study, I started looking for more.  And, what I quickly discovered is that there is a solid trend in schools that have a lower achievement gap.  Schools that adopt a higher level of expectations and a more challenging curriculum for ALL students were far more successful than the schools that opted for remedial "gap filling" instruction.

After all that research, I have to say it makes a lot of sense.  I am a firm believer in the fact that students will perform to the expectations set before them.  Give students low expectations, they will meet them.  Give students high expectations, and they will meet them.  Assuming that certain students are only capable of performing at a certain level cuts off their ability to grow, and also cuts off their motivation.  They often become bored and less motivated to try.  Make them reach for the stars, and they may struggle but they will find success in their abilities to overcome the "impossible" and will be better prepared for the world that awaits them outside of school.  

In order for at-risk students to perform at the same levels of non-risk students, there has to be consistency and equality in curriculum delivery.  I'm not saying completely doing away with remediation, direct instruction, and interventions... but the at-risk students need to at least be put on the same playing field.  All the studies I read showed that at-risk students were more than capable of performing critical thinking skills, flourished by being challenged with project-based inquiry, and excelled at applying their learning to real-world situations.

One study I read covered a school that took part in a school wide research project.  Each grade level was given a country of the world to study.  The students learned about the country's culture, geography, and educational views and practices.  The students were then challenged to compare and contrast the country's way of life to their own.  The project involved reading, science, math, and social studies.  Students from that country were able to take a lead role in the project, providing their own input to their way of life before coming to America.  It was absolutely fascinating to read about the projects, level of inquiry involved, and the success and enjoyment the students had with the project.

The whole research project has given me a lot to think about, and a lot to share in tonight's class.  I'm curious to hear the thoughts of the other teachers in my class.  It's also given me a lot to think about in terms of my own teaching style and how I want to move forward.

But, right now, I have to think about getting my kids up and ready for school.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone!!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It's Terrific Tuesday!


Today is the first Terrific Tiger assembly of the school year, so I figured it's also a great day to start a new monthly (maybe more often) thing, and do my own Terrific Tuesday blog posts.  Anyone that reads this blog knows that I do my share of complaining, so I think it's high time I dedicated a blog post to share all the Terrific things that are going on with me.  

At school, Terrific Tuesday is celebrated with a special assembly recognizing the students that have gone above and beyond throughout the month, and it's a day that teachers can brag on their classes and individual students.  So, why not have a blog post where I recognize people, things I've done that I'm proud of, or just other random, awesome stuff?  So, here goes...

1.  I'm committing myself to another attempt at weight loss.
Now, I can't promise this will be all that terrific, but the fact that I'm going to at least try (once again) deserves a little recognition.  I've tried countless times to do the individual weight loss competitions at work, and failed miserably at those.  This time, however, we're doing a team challenge, so I'll be working with people and competing against other teams of people.  At first I was kind of against it, because I didn't want to be a part of a team and let people down if I failed.  Then, after some friendly words of encouragement, I realized that if I don't want to let people down, I'm going to have to try a lot harder than if I'm just competing by myself.  So maybe, just maybe, I'll be more committed and work a lot harder to make sure I can be someone my team is proud of. Plus, there's a cash prize at the end of it.  That's always pretty terrific.

2.  I am grabbing the interventions by the horns.
You remember all that whining I did about the intervention time that's going on the last hour of the day?  Remember me complaining about not being sure what to do, or how I'm supposed to approach it?  Well, after really sitting down and thinking about it, I realized that I was just trying too hard to do what everyone else was doing in my team... and as I keep being reminded, that's NOT what that time is for.  I have been given the opportunity to work with a group of kids that need some desperate intervention, and have several gaps that need to be filled.  So, it's my responsibility to do what I need to do in order to fill those gaps.  That got my fire burning, and made me start digging out all the tools and tricks I have up my sleeve.  I now have a clear direction where I want to go with the students that come to me, and I'm just going to do it.  It may not be what some people think I should be doing, but I know one thing about myself:  I can work with kids that are behind and get them motivated.  I'm good at that.  Pretty terrific, actually.  So, that's what I'm doing.

3.  I'm an organizing machine.
Last year, I got so overwhelmed by the clutter that seemed to accumulate almost overnight in my classroom.  I was constantly surrounded by stacks of paper, piles of stuff, and could never find anything when I really needed it.  This year, I committed to myself that I wouldn't let that happen again. So, I've been spending almost every afternoon, once school is over, working on organizing my classroom.  I've been busy creating binders of handouts and lesson activities so that they are easy to find and copy when I need them.  I've been getting rid of any lose papers that accumulate throughout the day.  I've emptied out the tubs of guided reading books I had piled up to on to a neat little book holder to where they are now organized in to levels, and easy to use.  I've put all my math station manipulatives and flash cards in to easy to use tubs.  And, my horseshoe table has been kept free of too much clutter so that I can actually pull kids back to it to work with them.  It's a daily chore to keep up with it all, but I feel so much better when I know where everything is, and I can use everything that I do have.  No more hunting for that one activity that I want to use, no more digging through tubs of books trying to find the books that are on my kids' levels, and no more feeling so overwhelmed by the stacks of paper that's constantly piled up.  Taking a few minutes a day does wonders for an organized classroom and a less stressed me.  

There's three things to get my first Terrific Tuesday underway.  I know that doesn't sound like much, but it's a good start.  And, at the end of the day, I know that my life is pretty Terrific.  I have a three amazing children, a great Hubby, a lovely home, an amazing job, and so much more to feel pretty Terrific about.

How often I forget how great my life is, and I need to do more posts like this to remind me about all the good - regardless of how small - life is being to me.  It's so easy to find stuff to complain about.  If I had a dollar for every time I complain about something, I could retire and live quite comfortably for the rest of my days.


Far too often I let the not-so-perfect interfere with me missing the big picture and enjoying everything that is pretty darned perfect.  I allow negative feelings of others to interfere and overcome me with negativity...and that's not right.  I don't want to come home every day feeling blue, stressed, or overwhelmed.  I should be counting my blessings daily, and seeing all that is Terrific that I get to be a part of.

One thing that I quickly forget is being that girl that couldn't find a teaching job for anything.  How downright miserable I was because nobody would give me the chance to do the one thing I've always wanted to do:  Change lives.  Then, the ecstatic, elated feelings I felt when I heard the words "You're hired!"

I didn't become a teacher so that I could be the person that whines and complains about everything.  I didn't become a teacher so that I could pick out all the imperfections of the public school system.  I didn't become a teacher so that I could find fault in myself or my abilities.  

I became a teacher so that I could change lives.  Simple.  To the point.  There were no restrictions on that.  No fine print that I'd only work with kids that wanted to have their lives changed or only doing it if I could do what I wanted to do.  It was with the understanding that I'd change lives no matter what obstacles I had to overcome.  In fact, I should be even more motivated and excited by the fact that I have so many obstacles thrown my way.  Because then it's 100 times more meaningful when that one student has their A-HA moment and realizes they want a better life and will do anything to get it.  

How quickly how I forget how pretty Terrific my life is compared to some of the students I serve each and every day.  And, if I would just quit living in a little pity party, share some of my Terrific with them, and do what I was born to do...my life would be a heck of a lot happier, productive, and amazing.

So, I hope that everyone has a Terrific Tuesday.  I hope that you, as will I, will try and remember how Terrific life is each and every day.  And, enjoy all that we have been blessed with.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Hello Fall!!


Today is the first day of my second favorite season:  Fall.  Winter is my favorite, but fall comes in as the close second favorite.  I am a fan of cold weather, and the fall kicks off the changing of the temperature.  The days start to get a little more tolerable, the evenings get chilly, and the early mornings can be spent sitting on the patio with a blanket and a hot cup of coffee.  

Yep, I love fall.

Fall also kicks off holiday season.  In a month it'll be Halloween, a month later will be Thanksgiving, and then a month after that is Christmas.  So many holidays, and so much fun.  There's so much to love about this time of the year.  

I don't know why I love cooler weather so much, but I do.  I find comfort in having to wrap up in a blanket or throw on a sweater or jacket.  During cooler temps, there's always something I can throw on to warm myself up.  The same can't be said during the summer.  There's only so much a person can take off when they're hot.  

Don't get me wrong, summer is fun.  I enjoy being off work for about six weeks, but I don't enjoy being hot and sweaty.  I don't enjoy bugs.  I don't enjoy having to crank up the AC in the car or at home because I'm uncomfortable.  I'd much rather have the windows and doors open, and enjoy the fresh air.  Plus, fresh air is a lot cheaper to use to cool my house than the AC.  

I can already feel fall making itself comfortable.  This morning, I'm sitting on my patio and it's kinda chilly.  The temperature is 57 degrees.  I lit my mosquito candle, and it's providing a nice glow of light, and a nice little burst of heat.  Not even a week ago, I was sitting on the patio at the same time and the temps were well in to the 70s.  What a difference 13 degrees make.  A few degrees cooler, and I would have had to grab a light blanket.  But, my coffee and my candle are giving me enough heat to keep me comfortable.  

When we first bought this house, the covered patio was one of the first things I loved about it.  No matter what the weather is like, I can come out here and sit.  I had no idea I'd spend so much time out here, but it has become almost like a sanctuary for me.  Every single morning, I get up, grab a cup of coffee, and come sit out here for as long as I can before I have to get the kids up and get ready.  I could easily spend another hour and a half in bed, but I don't.  It's my quiet time.  The time I can reflect, think, and mentally prepare myself for what the day has in store.  And, it's not just weekdays.  It's also how each of my weekend days start, too.  Of course, on the weekends, I can spend anywhere from two to three hours just sitting out here, enjoying my morning coffee, and enjoying the sounds and comfort of quiet.  

Even though we live in town, my patio is like my little nature oasis.  I have seen all kinds of wildlife during my time of just sitting.  I'm often greeted by raccoons, squirrels, turtles, lizards, rabbits, hummingbirds, and a beaver that has decided to build a home in our back yard under a pile of brush.  I have even caught a glimpse of a skunk here and there, and then held my breath hoping it won't notice me and get spooked.  I have also had to hold in a few squeals when I catch the sight of a mouse or a giant spider passing me by, but as long as they leave me alone.. I'm good with them enjoying their morning as much as I enjoy mine.  

Speaking of which, I have to share a quick "Mother of the Year" moment that happened this weekend. For weeks, I've had a GIANT spider living in by my front door.  Now, I HATE spiders.  Am terrified of them, in fact.  But, I am also a firm believer in not harming anything unless there's a reason.  A spider belongs outside, and as long as it's not IN my house... I leave it alone.  Well, this spider was sitting on it's gigantic web, and Butter (while standing on the porch) accidentally leaned back in to the web.  The spider disappeared, and Butter went about trying to get the sticky web off of him.  Then, all of a sudden Peanut notices the spider crawling up Butter's back.  Now, I had no idea what type of spider it was at the time, but I didn't stick around to find out.  Instead of protecting my child from a possible spider bite, I took off running out in to the yard away from Butter, screaming at the top of my lungs, as the giant spider is running up his back towards his neck.  Thankfully, Peanut's boyfriend came to the rescue and got the spider off of Butter.  I felt terrible afterward.  I mean, what mother does that?  We later found out it was an Orb Spider, and not dangerous at all.. but still.  A mother is supposed to protect her child whenever her child could be in danger.  Except, of course, the danger has eight legs and is as big as one of her fingers....then, it's all bets off, I suppose.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes... fall.  That's another thing I can't wait for, and that's all the bugs to start disappearing.  While I love my little patio, I don't love the bugs that also call it home.  I can't wait until the time I can walk out on the patio and not have to check my surroundings for grasshoppers, spiders, and any other creepy crawly that give me the heeby geebies.  But, regardless of how many bugs I encounter, I still enjoy every minute I get to spend on my patio... especially in the fall.  

It won't be long, now before I can start unpacking all of my fall apparel.  That's another thing I love about fall, the changing of my wardrobe.  I have my fall clothes packed neatly under my bed at the moment, as it's not yet cool enough to get out all of my long sleeved shirts and long pants.  But, I have a feeling I'll be doing that very soon.  I can't wait!!

And, now my time this morning is coming to an end.  It's that time where I need to go get the kids up and ready for their day.  

I hope everyone has a fantastic Monday, and enjoys this beautiful day.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learning How to Say No

I have a problem.  An addiction, if you will.  An addiction I've tried to get help for, a problem I've tried to overcome... but no matter how far I get in breaking the hold this addiction has on me, I always seem to relapse.  

I am addicted to volunteering.

I know I've written about this problem before.  I've written about how happy volunteering makes me, and I've written about how stressed volunteering makes me.  And, in all the time I've been dealing with this problem, I've realized that I don't have to be on one side or the other I just have to learn a very important word:  Moderation.

It's a word I'm not very good at using, or practicing.  I mean, hello, I'm an overweight woman who's been trying for years to lose weight.  Apparently, the word moderation is a word I struggle with otherwise I would have kept all the weight off that I've lost so many times.  But, just like I give up on watching how to eat moderately, I also give up on being moderate with saying the word "yes".  As much as I hate to, I MUST start learning how to say the word "NO!"

It's just so hard.  My kids are involved in all kinds of activities.  Activities that require parent participation.  Unfortunately, though, not all parents will or are able to volunteer for the various needs the groups need.  I can be sitting at a meeting, surrounded by other parents, and all I have to do is hear the words "Who's willing to...." and my hand shoots up before I even have a chance to hear what I'm volunteering for.  The same can be said at work.  If there's a committee being formed or volunteers needed for some special project, I find myself volunteering to help before I even think about how much time it will take, if there's any good reason why I need to volunteer, or if I'm even able to do it.  

Some of my willingness comes from a desire to want to help, and the other half comes from being able to stand there when it's all said and done and feel great that I was involved.  But, there's often a huge undertaking attached to my volunteering that I don't consider, and then I end up wondering why on earth I volunteered in the first place and then get all downhearted that I can't spend time with my family or I have so many things going on at once that I'm exhausted and burnt out.

But, I will say that I've come along way.  A few years ago, I was the person that had so many things going on at once, my head was a constant spinning mess.  Each and every evening I had some kind of organization or meeting or activity that I needed to go to because I had so many things going on at once.  I tutored, I was involved with two different sports the kids were participating in, I was involved in school organizations, and it got to the point where I didn't get home a single evening before 7PM, and I was even gone many weekends due to some of the stuff I had committed to.  After that year, I made the vow to take a step back and limit the amount of activities I participated in.  And, for the most part, I've kept that promise to myself.  

This year, I knew I'd be back in the saddle of taking on a lot.  I mean, I made the decision to go back to school to get my Masters, so I knew that would take a big chunk out of my free time.  Then, Butter plays football, Peanut is in debate and show choir, and then there's my normal teacher duties.  Yet, at the beginning of this year, I told myself that saying no would be OK.  I could still be active in my kids' activities without actually having to be active in my kids' activities.  Showing up, supporting them, buying stuff they were selling, and attending meetings when I needed to would be enough.  

What I hadn't expected, nor I've ever encountered before, is being volunteered for something without being consulted first.  That was a new one for me.  And, instead of saying "Wait a minute, I didn't agree to that", I just went along with it.  Because I didn't want to let anyone down.

That would be these U of A concession stand games.  

I did NOT volunteer to attend EVERY. SINGLE. GAME.  I vividly remember sitting at a booster meeting and being asked if I'd be willing to work A COUPLE of the games.  To that, I agreed to.  But, all of them? No.  I did not.  But, Peanut came home from school one day telling me that I'd been appointed as the parent coordinator for that specific fundraiser, and that meant going to every game.  

Now, here's where my problem lies.  

There are over 100 children in the choirs at Peanut's school.  That equates to 100 sets of parents and caregivers, and 100 children that are old enough to help out.  Yet, the choir is lucky to get 3 or 4 parents signed up for each of the games.  There are six games the choir committed to running the concession stand for.  My math tells me that six times four is  24.  Oh wait, I'm one of those parents (who is supposed to go each time).  So, six times three is 18.  That's less than a third of the parents.  

There are other fundraiser opportunities.  The choir runs a concession stand at the high school football games.  Parents can sign up for that, or they can donate baked goods and items to that fundraiser.  And, the requirement to work at one of those games is one quarter.  One quarter of the game the parents can help out in that concession stand.  Now, why couldn't that be one I was volunteered for?  Nope.  Instead, I get to spend 10 hours for six Saturdays working my behind off.  Where is the fairness in that?

Will my child get any more credit towards the items that have to be purchased for her than the kids whose parents worked a quarter of a home football game or the kids whose parents don't participate at all in any fundraiser opportunities?  Nope.  At the end of all the fundraising efforts, that money will be equally divided among all the needs of the choir.  No child will be given any more money than any other kid.  Once again, not really sure I see the fairness in that.  

I arrived at the concession stand at 1PM yesterday afternoon, and didn't leave until after 10:30PM.  The last time we went in at 10AM and didn't leave until 8PM.  So, in two games, I've already put in almost 20 hours, and I still have four more games that I'm supposed to work.  While other parents can work 15-30 minutes at the home football games.  Urm....not seeing the scales balance out at all on that one.  

Had I sat down in that first meeting and been given the option to volunteer to work off Peanut's share of the funds she'll need for show choir or just write a check for her portion... I would have probably said "Here's a check".  I wouldn't have bat an eye or lost any sleep over handing over the money they needed to buy Peanut's costumes or pay for whatever it is that she needs the money for.  And, I know that there are several other parents that would have gladly done the same.  

I know that there are parents that can't afford to do that. But, instead of having the parents who can afford to do that work all the fundraisers to pay for the kids who can't afford it, it should be an option.  Either/ or.  You either pay your portion up front, or you volunteer to work off your portion with all of the fundraisers.  It's just so unfair that the same parents are the ones you see working all the fundraisers, and they are usually the parents who would opt to pay their portion.

It makes me kinda angry, can you tell?

It just upsets me.  I don't mind pulling my weight, I don't mind helping out, I don't mind volunteering my time for a good cause.  But, I also don't want to spend several of my weekends away from my kids, away from my family obligations, and giving up the only slither of free time I get between school, college, and other activities I have going on.  

What it has done is left a bad taste in my mouth for volunteering, and that makes me sad.  I love helping out, I love doing what I can when I can do it, but I don't like being taken advantage of.  And that's how I feel right now.  I feel like I'm totally being taken advantage of, and that's not right.

So, I'm going to try and figure out the best solution to this little problem.  I'm going to discuss this problem at the next booster meeting and voice my opinion on the whole ordeal.  I know one thing, though.  It's time for other people to step up to the plate and take some of the load off of me.  I just can't do it anymore.  I have other things I need to do, and I don't want to spend any more Sundays feeling completely overwhelmed by how much I need to do in such a small amount of time.

I'm going to start using the word NO... loud and clearly.

Have a great Sunday, everyone!