Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Pencils Are Ugly

I was having a rough week. I was letting little things get to me. I was feeling unproductive and like I was starting to lose my motivation.  Then one of my students angrily told me that my pencils were ugly.  And I’m really glad that they did.  Here’s why: I have absolutely no control over what my pencils look like.  I guess I could use more of my classroom budget to buy prettier pencils, but SERIOUSLY?  I don’t have control over my students’ pencil preference, and I don’t have control over any of their likes or dislikes.  I can only work with what I’ve got.

After that comment, my week started to look up. (Okay, okay, AND it’s Friday.)  I laughed it off and apologized (with a hint of sarcasm) for the lack of beauty in my pencils, and continued on with the lesson I was teaching.  My students are the reason I’m here and I feel lucky to have them motivating me.  My new challenge to myself is to find humor and creativity in their insults to my classroom supplies.

On a personal note, B and I are doing great!  Brendan is over his cold and back in the swing of things.  He didn’t miss a beat!  He’s getting the hang of having his own classroom and even our assistant principal is calling him a natural!  The kids love him and he’s starting to develop relationships with them, which is really benefiting the students he’s working with.  The students didn’t earn open gym this week due to lack of attendance last week, so we’ve been enjoying our evenings at home together!

Cooking a healthy dinner together every night has been one of my favorite parts of this move.  This week we’ve been feasting on black bean burgers, peanut sesame noodles, homemade vegan pizza, kale chips and fresh french fries. Eggplant parm is on the menu for tonight! 

Despite how much we love cooking and eating at home every night, and how much we are enjoying our new home, we are definitely counting the days until our Christmas trip home.  We are looking forward to seeing SAMPSON, friends and family, eating out, drinking beer and taking a much needed break! Can’t wait to see you all in 56 days!! (Approximately.)

This weekend we’ll be sleeping in and relaxing.  I have a bunch of grad work to catch up on, papers to grade, AKT2 obligations to fulfill, lessons to plan and bread and apple crisp to make. (We've been hog piling all of our apples from Full Circle, and finally have enough!)  B has lessons of his own to brainstorm as well as sports to watch!  We were hoping Season 3 of Dexter would arrive today, but sadly it didn’t make it.  Looks like it will be a productive weekend after all.  Lunch break is over…back to my ugly pencils!

Skype dates ALWAYS welcome!

*I keep promising people I will post pictures of our house—it’s on my to-do list for the weekend!!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why I Became a Teacher

Well, it was one of those weeks.  I think since I've been here I've been teaching on adrenaline and excitement, but this week the adrenaline ran out.  I had more than one moment where I felt like I was about six inches tall and my voice was muted.  I felt like I wasn't that productive and was discouraged about the amount of learning (or lack of) that went on this week.  The majority of my time was spent on classroom management, and it was exhausting.  After speaking to colleagues and friends, I learned that this feeling is not uncommon among first year teachers, and it was comforting to know that I'm not alone.  After journaling about my rough week, I decided I wanted to create a blog that I can refer back to when I have another week like this past one.  Although I'm optimistic that the good weeks will outweigh the bad ones, I think it's important to remember why I became a teacher in the first place, and keep the focus on progress, rather than on the fall backs.

So I'm going back to the beginning, and brainstorming all of the reasons I became a teacher, and also the things I have to look forward to.  I hope this helps any other first year teachers out there, and I'm always looking for feedback from seasoned teachers! (Hint hint: Someone PLEASE tell me it's going to get easier ;o) )

Reason #1:  I Love Learning

I'm embracing my inner geek and admitting that I love school, and always have.  I try to keep in mind that school has always come easy to me, and the fact that that's not going to be so of the majority of the students that I teach.  I've enjoyed almost every class I've ever taken and I'm always excited to learn something new, take a new class or read a new book.  I like learning about new people and new cultures, which is what drew me to this specific teaching job.  Across the country there are students that enjoy learning, and students that absolutely despise the thought of having to get up and go to school.  I'm trying to take my love for learning and focus it on learning how to motivate those that don't care to be motivated and how to make learning interesting and fun.  Everyone has the right to learn, yet the classroom is not always best suited for each individual student.  I hope that I can find a way to be an effective teacher by inspiring not only my students to learn, but myself to continue learning in new ways.

Reason #2: I've Been Inspired by Great Teachers

I have been seriously blessed to have been taught by the teacher's that I've had.  I went to a public school and was taught by teachers who were passionate and serious about learning.  The people teaching me played a huge role in the reason I still love school.  I can only aspire to be as effective and inspiring a teacher as those that taught me, but in my mind, it's a wonderful challenge and an opportunity to give back to our society.

Reason #3: I Believe in Education

You can't choose the life that you're born into, the parents you'll have or the opportunities you'll be given.  I feel immensely lucky to have been born into a caring and supportive family that loves me and motivates me to learn and to help others.  However, I know that not everyone has had it as easy as I have.   In our society, education is what leads you to independence, and I believe that everyone, regardless of whatever circumstance they have been dealt, should be educated and given the ability to stand on their own two feet.  While I have mixed feelings about the values of standardized test scores and other standards to which students are held accountable for, I do believe that school--public or private, should be the place where kids can learn without being judged, and can develop a foundation for themselves, regardless of the path they choose post high school.  I try every day to try to get my students to relate what I'm teaching them to their lives, and to apply it to life outside of school.  It doesn't matter where you teach or to what population, education is empowering and that alone is motivation enough for me.

Reason #4: IT'S FUN!

Kids are insanely refreshing.  Not a day has gone by where my students haven't  given me a new perspective on something or made me laugh.  The world changes everyday, and it's so much fun to gain perspective from the minds of your students.  As much of a chore that writing seems to be, my students are SO creative!  I hope that I am able to get them to recognize and embrace their creativity, and turn it into something productive.  While teaching might become exhausting or discouraging at times, I don't think it will ever get old.  The anticipation of meeting new students and discovering new ways to meet their needs each year is, at this point, more exciting than daunting.  Any of you that know me, know that I'm a bookworm, so if my job entails reading books for the rest of my life, then I'm pretty psyched.  Writing has always been a passion of mine, and I consider it both creative and therapeutic.  I'd like to be able to make it fun for my students, especially those that groaned when they found out that Language Arts was code for reading and writing!  You never know what the day is going to bring, but Brendan and I can bet on being able to exchange crazy stories over dinner when we get home.

There are a million more reasons I became a teacher, but these are the biggies.  Of course I'll enjoy my summers and holidays off, especially once we have a family.  The new technology infiltrating schools is an exciting perk too, one that I'm still trying to get the hang of.  The collaborative environment of a school staff has proved to be extremely helpful, and I'll forever get to cheer on my students in sports and extracurricular activities, that I can continue to take part in.

After a long, trying week, I took Saturday completely off and didn't try to work or to lesson plan.  I took a nap, read for fun and did some journaling and online shopping.  It was refreshing to take a day for myself and to spend time with B.  I decided I needed some perspective, so I'm starting my week off with this blog and staying optimistic.  There are going to be great weeks and there are going to be not so great weeks, but I think that maintaining a positive outlook and being flexible will make it easier.

Brendan gets his own classroom starting tomorrow, and is about to get a crash course in lesson planning!  He'll be in the Alternative Learning Environment, getting back to basics with some kids that need one-on-one, focused attention.  I think he's a little overwhelmed, as this all happened today, but he's going to be great!  We'll keep you posted on his success! :o)

Like I said before, ANY advice is much appreciated!  We are learning so much every day, and are so thankful to have each other.  This experience continues to be an adventure and a challenge, and we are still so excited to be here.  It's time to get ready for the upcoming week--I'm going into it refreshed and motivated, prepared and hoping for the best!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Busy B!

The Red Sox finished their season this week, which was a big bummer in B's book.  However, I think if they had continued playing for the next month, Brendan would have had to take time off to catch any games! Everything happens for a reason--maybe we'll get a TV next year and then the Red Sox can make the playoffs!

When we first started talking about moving to Alaska so that I could teach, the question that always came up was, "What will Brendan be doing?"    We had our answer memorized after the first few people asked, "Oh, he'll be coaching and working the school store and hopefully subbing!"  I think our answer was more hopeful than was actual fact. We'd been assured he'd have something to do, but were uncertain about how many hours he'd be putting in and whether or not his income would be stable.

Well, we had nothing to worry about.  He started out the year coaching Cross Country.  He got to know mostly upper elementary and middle school kids and was able to attend a meet in Unalakleet, AK.  He had kids place in the top 3 at the meet, (WOO!) and had a lot of fun doing it.  He got some great experience as a first time head coach and survived his first trip traveling alone and being responsible for a team.  Needless to say, he was well prepared for the school year to start!

He's been working the school store (the CoOp,) since school started.  The community hosts Open Gym at night for the village, as long as the students keep their attendance as a whole student body above 83%.  This happens Monday-Saturday, and occasionally on Sundays.  Brendan is the CoOp manager, so he opens it up for Open Gym every night, in addition to after school.  He's in charge of ordering and stocking food, soda, candy, snacks and apparel, and also of scheduling students to work and raise money for their class.  It's insane the amount of candy and soda (pop) that they've gone through! I think the CoOp could be a full-time job in itself, but B manages to pull off three other jobs anyway!

For any of you that know B, you know he's extremely talented at computer graphics and web design.  He's got great ideas and such a creative gift of design, that this job is perfect for him!  The principal contracted him out to design the new school website, which he has been working hard on.  If you go to right now, it will say "Under Construction," but stay tuned for Brendan's awesome creation that will be live on the web shortly!  It'd be awesome if the other schools liked his design and had him do the rest of the district...which he could do in all of his free time..HA. (This is the perfect example of me volunteering him for things...I think/hope he's getting used to it!)

He hasn't had to substitute yet, but I'm not sure he'd be able to anyway, because he has his own title at school now.  He's an Educational Aide and this is a pretty all encompassing job title.  He mans the lunch room (a job I could NEVER do) and keeps track of the kids that have to serve lunch detention.  He keeps them in line during their free gym time that they get when they finish their lunch. I'm not really sure how one person does all of these things at one time!  In the afternoons, (and sometimes in the morning) he is in charge of the kids that have been given In School Suspension.  I keep him in mind when I'm sending students to the office, and even though he has to deal with the kids that I can't handle, he hasn't gotten mad at me for writing them up...yet! :o)  Soon he'll be overseeing the computer lab, which is currently still being set up.  He's helped get teachers' classroom computers set up for students, and organized the laptop carts last weekend.  His technology background is coming in handy!

Volleyball started this past week, and he's assistant coaching the co-ed team.  You all know as well as I do that he looks forward to volleyball practice more than anything else in his day!  He coaches along with another former college volleyball player, and so far they are a great coaching team.  What are the odds that two highly qualified volleyball coaches end up in Savoonga, Alaska? Beats me, but I think they are going to have a great season, as volleyball is a favorite here in SVA!  Up next, he'll be assistant coaching Cross Country Skiing, which we are both really excited about!

Last weekend, when all of the teachers had to travel to Stebbins, two of the teachers approached B and asked him to pet-sit.  We both miss Sampson more than anything, so it was nice for him to be able to feed and walk our neighbor's husky.  The other pet was one he's not as familiar with, a Quaker Parrot.  He had a quick training session before we left, but unfortunately the parrot wasn't a huge fan of B, and pecked/bit his finger when he tried to feed it!  Everyone survived and the owners are now home.  I'm not a bird fan anyway, so it didn't break my heart to learn that we'll probably never have one as a pet!

In addition to never having a moment to himself at school, (I at least get 20 minutes of silence on my lunch break) Brendan makes me breakfast, packs my lunch, and makes an extra trip home before CoOp so that we can have dinner together every night.  He's pretty amazing and an absolute natural with the kids at school.  He's applying to a distance Masters program through the University of Southeast Alaska, and I think it will be perfect for him! As long as he has time to do the work, that is!  It's great that he's able to stay so busy and learn so much about working in the educational environment.  It's also a perk for me, that I get to see him throughout the day...he keeps me going!

Unfortunately, on the home front we got some sad news this week.  B's sister-in-law's mother passed away after a long battle with cancer.  She was a wonderful person that I know Brendan has considered family for a long time.  We are really wishing we could be at home this weekend with family, but unfortunately it's just not feasible.  Meg and Mar, we love you so much and are thinking of you and sending lots of love your way.  We're counting down the days until Christmas when we can be at home with our loved ones! While we're embracing our adventure and our new surroundings, times like these make us realize how far away we are, and how much our family means to us! Please keep Brendan's family in your thoughts and prayers as they're now missing an amazing person in their lives.  My mom will be walking for Judy at the annual Making Strides walk in Salem tomorrow, another family event we wish we weren't missing!

Another full week ahead, with the juniors and seniors taking the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.  As of tonight, the house is clean, laundry is done, the bread is rising and my lesson plans are almost done.  We'll be at school all day tomorrow, but will definitely enjoy some pancakes with our Vermont maple syrup and Green Mountain Pumpkin coffee before we get to work!  We might be missing the foliage, but we're making our own fall season. :o)

Lots of love to everyone!!