Friday, August 29, 2014

It's Weekend Time!

Oh Friday, you came so quickly this week!  So much for dragging out those dog days of summer...

This weekend, I'm thankful for the holiday.  School is closed today through Monday and it forces me to focus on something other than setting up my classroom.  I mean, I'm pretty much done, but it's nice to remember that I physically cannot even get inside the door if I wanted to.  

Here's what I'm happy about this week:

1 // In the span of about 48 hours, I knocked Gone Girl and Divergent off of my "to-read" list.  Both were fascinating, though I'll admit that I liked the twisted thriller better than the young adult dystopia.  But man, it felt good to have my nose in a book again!

2 // After my disappointing Groupon manicure, I called the salon and let them know how atrocious it looked.  They were nice and let me come back in to have it redone.  I ended up with an adventurous (for me) color this time - "Borrowed and Blue"  

3 // Though I couldn't sleep at all on Wednesday night, being awake in the quiet of my living room allowed me to flesh out some feelings that I have on this upcoming year.  It was oddly therapeutic.

4 // I am in love with the BeFit channel on youtube!  I found a 90 day workout challenge that I'm really enjoying - I find that 35 minutes burns ~400 calories, which seems pretty darn time efficient to me!  Add to that some Tone It Up moves and you've got yourself a super solid workout.  

5 // It's going to be a busy weekend, full of social engagements.  First of all, Walker and I get to hang out with precious Maggie while my parents are away.  Plus we have friends coming to dinner tonight.  And on Saturday...I might just have a BLATE! (blogger date)

What do you have planned for this Labor Day weekend?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stressful Days & Sleepless Nights

No teacher sleeps well the night before the first day of school.  It's a given fact.  We go to bed early, lunches packed, and clothes set out, and then toss and turn like mad trying desperately to get some rest.  If we're lucky, the night is dreamless - if not, we watch our biggest fears of inadequacy come to life with nightmares of rebellious students and failed lesson plans.  

Apparently my body is a week ahead, because school doesn't start for another seven days, yet I'm writing this post in the middle of the night in hopes that my heart will stop racing and I'll wind down a little.  One of my (failed) sleep techniques was seeing if I can name all 20 of my soon-to-be fourth grade students in alphabetical order.  Spoiler alert: I can!  Guess all those hours of writing their names on stuff really paid off...

So here I sit, hoping and dreaming about the next 180 work days of the coming year.  I'm not sure how to verbalize the way I feel about my role as a teacher, but it's really unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  Sure, when it comes right down to it, my job is cut and dry - teach the curriculum, prepare for PARCC (our lovely new standardized tests) and prove that they make progress.  I've written before about the intricacies and nuances of the profession, but something happened yesterday that really struck me.

As I roamed the halls at school on my way to the copy machine, I saw a third grade teacher setting up her room and stopped in to say hi.  After we exchanged pleasantries, I rattled off some of the names of my students' and she was able to give me tips - everything from "oh he's a character" to "oh my gosh, she was such a dollbaby!".  She then told me a story about something very sad that happened to one of the sweet girls who I am privileged to call one of my own this year.  Without divulging the specifics, this child still holds onto emotional baggage from something that happened in kindergarten.  Her teacher called her a name (probably offhandedly) and it has stuck with her for the last four years.  She's completely consumed by it.  As a result, she hardly speaks in the presence of her teachers.

I.  Am.  Horrified.  Not only because I feel for this particular student, but also because I am now overwhelmed with the sheer power that I have.  I walked away from that conversation with a whole perspective.  You mean to tell me that every word I say to a child could have a lifelong and profound effect on him or her?  Whoa.

You know I pray for my students?  I'll admit, sometimes it's a please, Lord, let Billy show growth on this standardized test, but oftentimes, like tonight, it's for their character, their livelihood, their souls.

Yes, I want my kids to get good grades, to get along, and to be successful in school.  But more importantly, I want them to feel safe.  I want them to feel confident.  I want them to see qualities in me that they strive to emulate throughout the rest of their lives.  

I have the opportunity to spend more time with these children, these developing minds of the future, for seven waking hours of their day.  Chances are, they will go home at 3:00, do some homework, eat dinner, participate in some organized activity, and go to bed.  I may actually have more day to day influence than their parents!  That's a whole lot of responsibility.  

I sit now in the quiet of my living room, my mind swimming with all of the things I would say to my fourth graders if they were sitting in front of me.  I may run a tight ship, I may be a stickler about uncompleted homework, and I may not tolerate backtalk, but deep inside, all I want is to make a difference.  

So sweet students of mine, you may be nervous about the first day of school.  You may have heard that Mrs. S is nice, or maybe you've heard that she's mean, but you'll get to decide for yourselves soon enough.  Until then...just know that somewhere, Mrs. S is praying for you and planning for you.  She's spent the last few weeks preparing for your arrival into her classroom, cleaning it up just so and spending her own money on making it a special place for you.  She hopes this will be your best year yet and promises to spend countless hours making it as great as she possibly can.  Why?  Because you are worth it.  You deserve a quality education and she knows that you have the potential to succeed.  She cares for you, even if you've never met before.

There's no better feeling than collapsing at the end of a busy day, dead tired, but knowing that your existence is meaningful.  You're making a difference in the lives of a child.  What an amazing privilege it is to teach.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Guide to Your First Year of Teaching

Last night, I was browsing through my Bloglovin' reader and I saw Emily's post.  For those of you who don't know her (and you totally should because she's amazing!) this is her first year teaching kindergarten.  She was writing about overcoming anxiety and all of the pressure that teachers face in the classroom.  I was totally able to relate and practically wrote a whole novel with ideas that help me when I'm stressed.

So I figured...why not write a post of my own about that very topic?

Everyone has their own tips and tricks for surviving those first few years, and many of them depend on the grade level or subject matter that you teach.  Today, let's talk about a few basic ideas that helped me remain sane last year.

1. Leave Work AT WORK

This doesn't make sense for everyone, but it was truly my saving grace.  When I leave school for the day, I do not bring any work home with me.  I know one of my grade level partners does all of her grading in front of the TV at night and does her lesson plans at her dining room table on Sundays.  That is not my jam.  The last thing I want to be doing at home is prepping for the next day, so I stay at school until it's done.  This way, I can give all of my attention to my evening activities and be fully present with Walker.  

**My only exception is that I do check my work e-mail (it comes to my phone).  Parents and students occasionally have questions about homework and I like to be available for them.  Unfortunately, this sometimes backfires when I get a nasty e-mail with a parental complaint because then I obsess over it, but I will admit that it's good to begin the following day prepared to handle the situation.

2. Know When to Step Away

My only exception to #1 is when I'm too overwhelmed or stressed to function.  Unless whatever I'm working on is due tomorrow, once I reach the hysterical point, I walk away and come back fresh the following day.  One of my colleagues is often at school until all hours of the night because she is trying to do a thousand things at a time and can't focus.  That's not worth it to me, so I leave and come back when I'm more levelheaded.

3. Meal Plan/Clean on Weekends

I grocery shop, clean the apartment, and prep a lot of our meals on Saturdays and Sundays.  I always make enough dinner for at least two nights, so I'm only cooking twice during the work week (we get dinner at church on Wednesdays).  This cuts down majorly on the stress that I face when I arrive home.  
4. Keep Your Comments to Yourself

I have exactly two coworkers that I trust at school and that's it.  I know I can talk freely with them about anything, but otherwise, I keep my mouth shut.  Working with women can be difficult (gossip comes very easily to us!) and it's just too tempting to get sucked into a rantfest.  Watch what you say, because before you know it, so-and-so told your principal that you complained about blah blah blah and all of a sudden, you find yourself in a sticky situation.  

5. Remember that Children Are Resilient 

My favorite college professor would always say that.  Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for.  It's SO true!  If something goes wrong, they can roll with it. You are your biggest critic and it's easy to think that every little mistake or slip up is OMG impacting their lives in the worst possible way. Just relax, and take it one day at a time. If your lesson goes south, laugh about it and write down what went wrong in your lesson plans so that you know for next year.  Chances are, they have absolutely no idea that that thing wasn't supposed to happen.

What tips would you give a first year teacher to help him/her stay sane?
Let me know if any of these help you!