Treat Yo Self, Teachers!

Summer has finally arrived…and not a moment too soon. The last month of the school year often feels like I’m caught in a whirlwind, just trying to keep up and finish the year off strong. More and more I’m starting to doubt I’m the only teacher who feels this way since so many teacher memes cropped up on social media the last month of school. I decided to include my favorite one below…

Teachers through school yr

Sleep-deprived and exhausted, I struggle to find time for anything other than work and my son as the school year draws to a close; between lesson planning, creating final exams, spending time after school with my little guy, and trying [trying being the operative word] to make home-cooked meals, I barely have the energy to brush my teeth at night. That’s why I like catch up on some much-needed me time during the first week of summer vacation…Here are some ways I recoup and refresh the end of a school year:

Massage

We have a  Massage Envy in town, and I’ve finally started using the annual membership my husband got me for Christmas. Since they have various locations in different states, I can even use my membership if I travel. I certainly have stress built up by the end of the year, and a good massage helps me relax and reenergize as my summer break begins.

Mani/Pedi

Love getting summer-ready by picking out some bright colors for a mani/pedi. I was definitely thinking about one of my fave summer foods, watermelon, with my latest choices- pink and mint green.

Summer Reading

I’m definitely a book lover and there are so many books I have on my “To Read” list during the school year that I can’t wait for the summer to begin so I can dive into them.  I recently finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed and was completely inspired by author’s brave journey on the PCT trail after struggling to cope with the loss of her mother. Next, I’ll be working on some young adult books, since I’d like to try lit circles with coming of age books in the fall; I have some great titles and authors on my list: Deadline and Whale Talk, both by Chris Crutcher; Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan; and Slam by Nick Hornby, who happens to be the screenwriter for the film adaptation of Wild.

This year, I’ve signed my little one and myself up for the summer reading challenge at our local library.  It’ll be fun to keep track of all the fun things he and I will be reading this summer.

Best of all…Quality Time with Family and Friends

One of the greatest joys of summer is spending time outdoors with DJ and my husband!  We now have a pool and swingset in our backyard, so we try to be out running, swimming and playing as much as we can.

DJ Swining

Also, just because school is over doesn’t mean good times with great co-workers have to come to an end. The first week of our summer vacation, my fellow English teachers and I got together to unwind with some drinks and painting.  Our subject, a starfish on the shore, was just right for kicking off the summer season!

Summer Painting

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Start of a New School Year

A new school year is here again, and I don’t know where my summer went.  This year it’s especially difficult to get back to work because I won’t get to spend entire days with my little boy- no more reading times at the library or lazy afternoons in the pool. Therefore, I decided to cheer myself up and get excited about a new school year by stocking up on  some great back-to-school items…

1) My Erin Condren lesson planner- though quite pricey, I love the plastic sheet protectors, extra notes pages, and monthly calendar pages.

2) I have always been a sucker for fun writing tools- this year I found scented highlighters and scented pencil erasers- I feel like a kid again 🙂

3) While we were visiting Disney World this summer, my husband bought me Alice in Wonderland souvenirs- a tin of tea and matching mug.  I’ll definitely be decompressing with my new favorite tea and mug at the end of some hectic school days.

Though it’s hard ending another amazing summer with my little guy, we have lots of after-school fun we can look forward to. Got my school bag packed and ready for the first day tomorrow. A nice cup of tea will be calling my name at night when I’m exhausted.

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Mixed Feelings about Back-to-School

I have love-hate feelings about any back-to-school topics at this point in summer break. On the one hand, any back-to-school ad or commercial signals the nearing of the end of all the quality time I get to spend with my little boy.

On the other hand, there are some things that do get me the teensiest bit excited about back-to-school. Case-in-point… Getting my Erin Condren teacher planner. For a year now, I’ve seen posts by different teachers about this custom-designed planner. I even watched a teacher unwrap & look through her planner online to see if I’d like it myself. Though pricey, it certainly feels like Christmas come early. I have a new bag to keep it in, and like a little kid, I’m storing up my new school supplies and looking forward to using them for a new school year. Just not anytime too soon…

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Sharing What I Learn from My Students

My friend and I have known each other since sixth grade.  She was my maid of honor, and she’s also my son’s godmother.  We rarely have opportunities to talk on the phone since work and life keep us so busy.  My life feels like a spinning top, gaining more and more momentum as soon as the school year begins.

No matter how long it’s been, however, I know I’ll laugh the next time I talk to her, and we’ll pick up right where we were. Last night she called me to share some special news. One of our favorite high school teachers is being honored during the graduation ceremony of the university where my friend works. We got to chatting about other things and I got around to telling her about the typical challenges of adjusting to a new job- I recently made the move back to high school after teaching middle school for a few years. I told her about how I missed my lunchtime buddies from my old school; these days, I have lunch by myself due to different lunch periods and class schedules.  Then, I told her about how I love to learn the slang teenagers use these days.  Working with high schoolers again makes me realize that I really need to get with the times again.  As we continued chatting, I said, “Cha’ feel you” (this means ‘I feel you’, an expression of empathy teens use) when she started venting about frustrations and challenges at her work.  She replied, “Oh no, if you say YOLO next, I might hang up.”

Though I do sound silly using teen slang, I get a real kick out of practicing the vocabulary I learn from my students.  I just hope that whatever I teach them sticks as much as what they teach me.

By the way, I feel like the female version of this when I use teen slang…

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Confessions of a Teacher/Cafeteria Monitor

Four times a week, I have to monitor the last lunch period at the high school where I teach. It’s a pretty uneventful task. However, our impending winter dance brought on an interesting event last week, which also happened to be our first full week back from school…

I stood at my usual post in the cafeteria- at the front by the exit- and watched students munch on their popcorn chicken and sweet potato fries. Other students had opted out of the school fare and were enjoying Spaghettios and homemade sandwiches. As I mused at the idea that Spaghettios still remained a top lunch-from-home preference, I suddenly heard a male student yell out “Attention!” from the opposite end of the cafeteria… in the back.

Immediately I thought to myself This can’t be good. Nothing good ever happens when a kid does something in the “back” of my class- there’s usually some mischief going on. The back of the cafeteria can’t be any better. I stood there, unsure of what my next move should be. The teacher in the back of the cafeteria also seemed bewildered at this sudden change in the usual lunchtime routine.

The students quieted down and turned their attention to the boy, who then directed everyone’s attention to his friend, another boy holding a corn dog. Corn dog boy bellowed out across the cafeteria, “Leila (name has been changed to protect the innocent), will you go to Winter Formal with me?! I bought you a corn dog!!”

Leila and her friends laughed as she got up from her table. Students began clapping and she headed toward the boys to accept the date and her corn dog.

Just when I thought I was about to find myself in the middle of some food fight extravaganza, it turned out to be a romantic (yet quirky) teen moment. Phew!

Mentors Out There in the Worldwide Web

During my time at the Teachers College Writing Institute this past summer, one of my group session leaders was Chris Lehman, who has written books about teaching research writing and helping unmotivated young writers.  He’s an amazing instructor and has excellent strategies for teaching research writing, which has always been challenging for me. One great piece of advice Chris Lehman gave us was to get on Twitter. “It’s one of the best ways to stay connected to writers and an excellent professional development tool!”  he told us.  Though I didn’t instantly sign up for a Twitter account (truth be told all the hash tags overwhelm me), his advice stayed with me.

In an effort to start this new year by finding new ways to stay informed and gain more knowledge as a teacher, I recently signed up for a Twitter account and discovered that Lehman was right!  I came across the pages of many great mentor authors I usually work with in the classroom- Jon Scieszka, Ralph Fletcher, Sharon Creech.  On top of that, I’ve come across the mentors I normally depend on to help me personally as I strive to be a better teacher of writing- Ruth Ayers, Stacey Shubitz, Jim Burke, Chris Lehman, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle.  The list goes on and on!!! Every day I look  forward to reading about what is on the minds of these great people, these great mentors.  I love to read the articles they share and learn more about the projects they work on.  For example, thanks to Twitter, I learned that Ralph Fletcher has created a new blog that focuses on his life as a writer. I immediately added his link to my blog roll and began waiting patiently for the first post, on the edge of my seat and ready to embrace any words of wisdom I could take in and later share with my students on ways to become better at writing together.

Storybirds- Story of Growing Success

As part of my fiction unit, I decided to create class accounts on Storybird, a site used for writing stories using artwork different artists contribute to the site.  I hoped the online writing component would engage my sixth grade writers, especially since there would also be a visual component for learners who work better with pictures; images; and visual media, but I certainly did not guess the kids would like Storybird as much as they do!  They come into class asking if we’re going to the computer lab to work on more Storybirds and they’ve started commenting on each other’s writing, since the site allows readers to respond to the stories created on the site.  Last night as I was monitoring student comments (I was clear about making sure to be respectful and supportive but still feel I should check comments to be sure), I came across this little snatch of conversation…

Student 1:  really good story

Student writer: thanks [classmate’s name]!!!
Student 2: Very cute! I like the idea for that story!
Student writer: Thanks [classmate’s name]!! hey im having trpuble coming up with other ideas for another story do you guys have any ideas?
 

Okay, I noticed that the students were not watching their conventions, but something big was happening here…. The student writer who was getting the comments about her work reached out to her peers for more writing ideas!

I felt really proud of my writer for generating an open forum that would help her start a list of ideas she could use to keep her writing going, especially since this young writer sometimes has trouble with getting her writing work started.  If Storybird work keeps going in such a positive direction, I might work Storybird into poetry or other writing we can do in May 🙂