Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A week of thankfulness

When I collapsed in my chair last Tuesday evening to blearily write last week's post, I was just thankful that I had survived my first cRaZy week of the year. (1 down, 1 to go: I change schools again in the spring!)  As I read through other slices of life and received a string of thoughtful, encouraging comments on mine, I was thankful that I started reading the Two Writing Teachers blog this summer and jumped into this whole blogging thing!

Wednesday morning, I was thankful for the glorious feeling of waking up in a snuggly cocoon of blankets and stuffed animals, realizing that my teaching day would normally be halfway over, then rolling back over for some much-needed rest.

Thursday, I was thankful for delicious food and wonderful family.  Highlights of thankfulness included:

  • my cute, sweet, loving husband who understands me and supports me and dutifully helps glue together game cards, cut out laminated items, put stickers on kids' papers, run errands, wash dishes, and other things that keep me sane
  • my wonderful parents, who have always supported me in everything and made it clear that they love me more than anything in the world
  • the fact that I got to know all of my grandparents and enjoy them through high school and some beyond, although they aren't around anymore
  • my also-wonderful other family members and the fact that I do get to see all of them sometimes, although not as often as I'd like
  • that both my husband's parents/grandparents and mine live close enough that we can celebrate holidays with both of them in the same day!
  • the ridiculous amount of delicious food we ate at our two Thanksgiving meals, and the fact that we always have plenty of delicious things to eat
Friday, I was thankful (again) for sleep and also for the rare opportunity to spend the whole day with said sweet, loving husband.  

Saturday, I was thankful for how much fun my parents are.  We always have a blast when we spend time with them, and we are so lucky to live close enough that we can see them every weekend!  I also felt thankful for the chance I had to attend such a fantastic university and especially for the amazing experience I had while I was in band.  Too bad the team went and lost to M*ch*g*n!  Since it was (almost certainly) the last warm day of the year, I also got to be thankful for nature and how it speaks to me.

Sunday, I kinda slacked off... but I guess I was thankful for lazy Sundays!

Yesterday, I started letting myself listen to Christmas music in the car, and I was thankful for the hopefulness of this season.  I always feel an excitement and sense of anything-is-possible at this time of year that is unmatched the rest of the year.

And here I am today... thankful for the supportive, inspiring, encouraging community of slicers that I've met over the past few months!  Reading your posts inspires me to become a better teacher and helps me find new ways to reach my kids.  The fact that you exist has let me re-find my long-lost identity as a writer, while allowing me to document my reflections on my teaching.  Getting comments from you encourages me, lifts my spirits, and makes me believe in myself.  My husband makes fun of me because I talk about people I've "met" in this community, but it's true: I feel like I know you and you know me.  And for someone who's never stayed in one building all year (through 5 years of teaching and counting), the fact that I can connect with you all year is a big deal in itself!

Now if only I could remember to be thankful more often!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just keep swimming!

For the past week, I've been humming Dory's song from Finding Nemo to keep me going through my transition craziness: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."  And it worked!  I survived!  Now Thanksgiving break is here and I've never been so glad to see it!  However, I'm much too exhausted to write a "real" post, so that piece on thankfulness is going to wait until next week, after I've had the chance to sit down and be thankful for things!  For now, here's a peek at my past few days:

3:30pm: School day ends and the trimester officially does too. (This means my classes and my time at this school are over for this year.  My students will move on to other classes, like gym and art, and I'll move on to another school, where I will provide my classes to those students for 12 weeks.)  I'm sad to see my kids go and sad to leave my colleagues at this school.  I finish grading a few last projects and begin packing up my room.  :-(  I hate packing up rooms; there are so many memories of the community we had and the learning that took place in that community!
view from the front of most of my (now-dismantled) room at School #1
5:00pm: I take a quick break to blog about a special note I got from a student on the end-of-class survey.  Such a great memory; I just had to record it!

5:30pm: Back to packing.  Lots of packing. My back is killing me.

7:00pm: My husband arrives straight from work to help me pack.  We grab a quick 45-min dinner and then head back to school for, that's right, more packing.

8:40pm: We load up both cars and drive away from School #1.  See you next year, School #1, (provided that I still have this job)!  Luckily, School #2 is only about 5 minutes away from School #1!

9:45pm: We finish unloading the boxes into my new room at School #2.  We are both about ready to collapse.  Time to head home.

Home football game takes up the whole day.  The end.

2pm: After dragging myself out of bed, eating lunch, and showering, I force myself to head back to School #2.  That empty room is calling to me... no way are my kids starting the trimester in an ugly empty void!  My wonderful husband dutifully comes along.  He's amazing!  The new room is just like the old one -- a former science room -- so it's easy to figure out where everything goes.

3pm: We enlist my dad to help move around all the tables in my new room.  (He says, "Can't you just leave it how it is?" but helps anyway.  He's not a teacher.)  I canNOT teach with the desk at the front of the room and the tables in rows facing forward.  (My dad is surprised to find out that I don't sit at my desk.  "You stand up all the time?" Yes, and walk around helping my students. Welcome to education in the 21st century, Dad!)

5pm: Our mad frenzy of unpacking and throwing decorations and important procedural items around the room has to pause for an hour for dinner with my parents. Then back to School #2 for more crazy unpacking, decorating, and preparing.

8pm: The new room is READY!  (At least, ready enough for the kids to come!  My stuff is still all in boxes, but everything they need is up and in its place!)
"superstars" board waiting for students to do something outstanding!
hall passes waiting for kids to come and go
part of the culture corner

First day at School #2. A blur of new faces, new schedule, new class times... everything is upside down and backwards from School #1.  In a couple of classes, my students mention that my room looks really nice and I must've worked really hard on it.  (They know it was empty in the fall.)  Success!

A little better than yesterday; more of a fog than a blur.  I'm having trouble getting used to the new schedule, and I feel overwhelmed by my students because I only know a few of them.  However, the room is done, the students are nice and sweet and excited for Spanish, and I finally have only a normal amount of work to do after school!  Not to mention... THANKSGIVING!

Friday, November 18, 2011

I'll miss these kids!

Today was the last day of the trimester -- the last day of Spanish for the kids and my last day at this school.  On Monday I'll be at my new school, with new kids.  Sad and exciting at the same time, like always.  I REALLY loved a couple of my classes this time though so it was hard to let them go.

I just had to share what has to be the cutest thing I've ever gotten as a teacher.  My first-period class was a small, sweet, close-knit class who was very sad at the end of our class today, and I was sad to leave them.  I always give all my classes a survey on the last day (and at various other times during the trimester), and I enjoy reading their comments.  I've gotten a lot of wonderful comments from kids over time, but one particular survey today took the cake!

These two screenshots (from that student who wants to be a Spanish teacher) say it all:

 Heart melting.  Who knew 7th graders could still be so sweet?  (Well, I did because of that class, but still, it was unexpected!) And the misspellings just make it even cuter!

I will MISS these kids!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I don't feel like writing today

It's only 4:40, nice!  I think to myself as I absent-mindedly sing along to whatever's on the radio.  This is the earliest I've left school in weeks.  Nice to have a little break before crazy project-grading madness comes tomorrow!  Too bad the sun's already starting to go down across the cornfields.  This time of year is miserable.  Long shadows stretch over broken-down cornstalks that fly by my window. Oh no, it's Tuesday.  I don't feel like writing today!  I let out a deep breath and lean the back of my head against the seat.  Ugh.  I'm so exhausted and I don't have anything to write about.  I remind myself that I usually get into the writing mood after reading some other people's posts from the Two Writing Teachers community.  But I'm sooooo tiiiired.  I'm whining to myself like a kid.  But if I don't write when I'm tired, when will I ever write?  I've been doing so well since I started this summer...

Fine.  I sit down at the computer when I get home and open up the SOLSC comment link.  Tab after tab of stories I want to read.  I have fun leaving comments and reflecting on posts... But I still don't feel like writing!    The magic fix didn't work today.  I'm only slightly inspired / guilted into writing.  "Well, you won't get much done in life if you only work on the days you feel good," one of my favorite quotations tumbles into my head.  I don't remember who said it and I'm too tired to find out.  True though, here goes nothing...

I open up my blog and here we are!  Not a very insightful or entertaining post, but at least I wrote it!  It's actually a really good connection to Ruth's post from yesterday, now that I think of it!  Sometimes you just have to make yourself write, because that's what writers do!

Next Tuesday (or maybe sooner if I'm really good!) I'll fill you in on the craziness of this week at school for me!  Preview: it involves grading final projects and doing final grades at my current school, tearing down my classroom there, planning/preparing to start over my next school with whole new sets of kids, and putting my classroom back up at that school!  Thanksgiving cannot come soon enough!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the awful waiting game

This morning, I ran downstairs to get my iPod Touch, opened my news app, and collapsed on the bed sobbing. Shocking.  Devastating.  Hard to believe.

Last night, despite the fact that our district is one of the highest-achieving AND fiscally efficient districts in the state, 53% of voters rejected our levy.

Because the district has already cut millions of dollars over the past few years, cuts now will be massive.  Over 150 teaching jobs will be eliminated.  Entire programs will be scrapped, potentially including both of the programs I and a colleague built from scratch over the past 5 years in our previous and current positions.

Nothing is certain yet... other than the fact that it's going to be very, very bad.  I am devastated... for all the hard work I've done that might be wiped away, and for the students who won't get to experience so many of the wonderful  programs and teachers that make our district outstanding.

Now we have to play the awful waiting game -- what exactly will be cut?  Who will have a job next year, and what will that job be?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

For their country

As the bus pulled into the parking lot, we could see a gathering of dark uniforms on a hill in the distance.  "You can take pictures of anything except funerals that are going on now," the guide reminded us over the bus microphone.

Wow.  Suddenly I had a lump in my throat and I had to blink my eyes a lot.  (Nobody look at me, please.)  There is a funeral going on right over there.  A young soldier who gave everything off in some desert on the other side of the world?  Or it could be a surly but sweet old Marine who, like my grandfathers, signed up to save the world 60 years ago.  It could even be someone long-lost but suddenly found, like my great-uncle who's buried right here, somewhere.  His plane went down over Europe and they never found him until a lake got drained decades later.  It was such a shock at that point that his wife, who had re-married, didn't even make the trip here for the funeral.  Can you imagine?

We step out the doors of the visitor center and the sight of all those white spots laid carefully over the rolling green hills takes my breath away, even though I've been here before.  My eyes are drawn to them so that I can hardly focus on counting kids to be sure everyone's still with us.  So many white markers, and they go on forever as we walk.  Another hill crest, another endless stretch of white on green.  And this is only the ones who wanted to be buried here.  Countless more across this nation, and thousands more overseas.  That poem I had to memorize in 7th grade pops into my head, as it always does in such places.  "In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow / between the crosses row on row / that mark our place, and in the sky / the larks, still bravely singing, fly / scarce heard amid the guns below..."

Thank you to all of them, I think.  Thank you to the ones who lie here and the ones who lie in similar places around the world... and the ones who lie hidden where they fell, without even a white spot marking their green space.  And thank you to the ones who might be here someday: those who are working and fighting for us right now and those who will choose to follow their brave leadership in the future.  And thank you to their families, who bear a heavier burden then I think I could ever stand to take.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day of the Dead

Just a quick post that I wanted to write last week but never had the time for:

Nov. 1-2 was Day of the Dead in Mexico (and other countries). Ever since I've had my own room in the fall (last year), this has become one of my favorite holidays to teach about.  I love the idea that dead loved ones come back to visit on these special days!  In my classroom, I set up a real ofrenda (offering/"altar")  to my grandparents to immerse the kids in the holiday.  It's a fantastic conversation starter and really gets them curious, excited, and into the spirit of the holiday.  We go from "What's all that food, can we eat it?" to "Your grandparents are dead? I'm sorry," to connections to their own families in about 30 seconds!

my ofrenda to my grandparents

We watch a few short video clips about the holiday to explain some of the traditions and beliefs a little bit more, but having the ofrenda set up is what really brings the holiday to life.  Since I've been able to set one up, I've noticed a big change in how the kids react to the holiday.  Before I started setting up the ofrendas, they still had trouble understanding how a holiday that's about death could be celebratory instead of creepy or sad. With the ofrenda, it becomes real and they connect with the idea of setting out your loved ones' favorite things because they are coming back to visit for a day!  (Of course, they also love the fact that I bring them real pan de muertos -- "dead bread" to try!)

My 7th graders finish by designing their own ofrendas (for anyone from a pet to a family member to a celebrity!) and they love to take what they've internalized about the holiday and make it their own.  We've had some great conversations about relationships and beliefs, and it's a wonderful time to make connections!

(If you don't know much about Day of the Dead, here is a great video clip! I know it's an ad but does a fantastic job of capturing the feelings of the holiday!)
My favorite is the ending, where he says that people always ask if they really believe the dead return, and he says "Can you prove they don't?"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Last week I traveled to Washington, DC with my school's 8th graders.  I've always loved all the monuments, museums, and history, and all that was still wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the FDR and new MLK Jr. monuments, since I hadn't seen either one before.  However, the highlight of the trip was Thursday.  On my bus, we were had a student whose dad is an FBI agent.  He arranged for our bus only (lucky us!!!) to tour the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA.  AMAZING!

From the moment we pulled into the USMC checkpoint to enter the Quantico Marine Base, the whole bus was abuzz.  "Look, real Marines!" the kids shouted as they saw the men in camo gear patrolling the checkpoint.  The bus wound through a forest spotted with tan buildings sporting USMC logo signs.  My chest puffed with pride every time I saw that yellow and red anchor logo, a symbol of my two Marine grandpas. We even passed a huge outdoor shooting range: a lush field with rolling bunkers and trenches leading to the targets at the other end, presumably so the Marines can practice shooting while crawling and hiding.  However, even that was nothing compared to what awaited us on the other side of the 2nd checkpoint: the FBI Academy.

A white SUV emblazoned with "FBI Police" met us at the checkpoint and escorted us to the main building.  "Wow, the FBI has their own police?" I thought.  Even that was cool!  I started getting shivers of "I can't believe I'm here!" as we turned past signs that said "FBI Training Academy".  S's dad boarded the bus in his FBI agent garb, along with our tour guide for the morning: a retired Marine who now does administrative work for the Academy.  We drove past the new FBI Laboratory, where they can now process DNA results in 24 hours.  Then, one of the biggest treats of the day: Hogan's Alley.

Hogan's Alley is a fake town used for cadet training simulations, complete with a fake bank, hotel, drugstore, movie theater, restaurants, barber shop, laundromat, pawn shop... and anything else you'd want in a town!  Our guide joked that the bank is "the most-robbed bank in America" -- it gets robbed about every day!  The Academy pays regular people to pretend to be the "bad guys" who commit robberies, murders, etc. throughout the "town".  The FBI Academy cadets then swoop in (with training guns that shoot special paintball strong enough to break your skin!) to deal with the situation and arrest the "criminals" in the best way they can.  As we walked through the town, we could see small groups of cadets entering various buildings, and our guide said they were getting briefed on crimes that they would then have to solve.

When we rounded one block, we could see a "bad guy" hanging out in front of a storefront: sweats, just loitering there.  Something was about to happen!  We sat down on the sidewalk, and within a few minutes, he stole a lady's purse!  She screamed, the cadets came tearing around the corner firing their guns, and he ran into a house.  It only lasted a minute but everyone was mesmerized!  Our guide explained that this particular situation was an evaluation where the cadets would get a pass/fail grade, since they were in about week 16 of their 21-week training.

Although I could've stayed there all day just to see what simulations would pop up, we had to continue the rest of our tour.  We were treated to a tour of the main academy building, including the dorm buildings, classroom buildings, indoor shooting range, workout facilities, and a courtyard with a moving 9/11 memorial.  Then we got to eat lunch in the academy cafeteria with the real cadets!  We learned that you can tell apart the FBI cadets and National Academy (law enforcement enrichment) students by their uniforms, and that they always wear a gun (either real or training).

After lunch came the most special part of our already amazing day: a private tour of the top-secret Hostage Rescue Team compound, given by the HRT commander himself.  This is never included in the (rare) tours the FBI gives: we were only there because S's dad is very good friends with the commander!  With his well-defined chest muscles outlined through his camo sweatsuit (with padded elbows and knees), the commander briefed us on the history of the HRT and then led us toward the indoor shooting range.  We walked by boxes of live bullets and flashbangs as we looked at the maze-like walls of the range, which were riddled with bullet holes.  When we came out, several HRT members happened to be shooting at the outdoor range, and we watched from behind the green line -- just 10 feet or so away!  Finally, we went to the helicopter hanger, where we learned about two of the HRT's Bell helicopters and got to sit inside them!  A pilot explained to us how the agents use drop ropes like fireman's poles to descend from the helicopters at 90 feet, something they had just practiced earlier that day!

While I'm certainly not brave enough to be an FBI agent, I didn't want that day to end.  It was such an incredible experience to get a behind-the-scenes look at the men and women who do so much to keep us safe.  I have a much deeper admiration for them and other special forces after seeing what they go through just to become agents!