All in Practical Self-Care
I can't believe the whirlwind of the first week of summer school is over. There always seems like there are two camps in education: Those that can see why people work summer school and those that think we are crazy. The former camp has been refreshing to return to after working writing camps at the university for the past few summers. And really, teaching is teaching. Isn't it? That depends on who you are talking to. I wonder sometimes if why we all often get into teaching is something we feel renewed with on a day-to-day basis. Do I have to remind myself, what is my why for teaching? Yes. And often.
Imagine the plate spinner at a circus performance. So many intricacies of hand-eye coordination, focus, and practice have gone into making sure that the plates don't fall to their demise and break into thousands of pieces. Censorship in the classroom is best described as the plate spinner. There is an intricate balance that goes into contemporary content, current events and issues, parent and family input, school curriculum, administrative support, and more. Sometimes, you will find teachers not wanting to put themselves in that fight. All of these factors lend to the dizzying effect of plate spinning, but the question is what breaks when we don't present this content to students? Controversial content comes with major risks and rewards. The American Library Association has put together a pretty cohesive timeline of banning content in the past 30 years. Words like "censorship" and "banning" are used with intention in this purpose because often we are asked as educators to keep information from our students.
Can you hear me clapping? Can you hear me screaming in happiness? If you can't, imagine one excited English teacher from Kalamazoo, MI that is proud and excited her district is approving thousands of dollars in research to help infuse the curriculums and classrooms in it with diverse literature in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. Currently, I am working on a team of teachers to read, research, and review hundreds of diverse texts.
I could talk about sketchnotes all day. I could also really talk about how I think they merge seamlessly with thinking maps and create a visual method of note-taking for students that defies traditional norms of the column or teacher-guided notetaking.
I would like to take a second to pause out of all of the hustle and bustle of testing and the end of the month of May to realize that it is really, the end of the month of May. I have spent 9 months with my students. Thinking back about accomplishments, it is easy to see how far they have come. Then, I do what all teachers do, and I focus on what they don't know. My missteps, my come-up-shorts, my "yes, you tried, but you didn't quite make it" mentality. This is the ugly stepsister of make-up or catch-up growth: Realizing you still have a long way to go.
It is always good practice to revisit experiences that are similar from year to year. I wanted to look at the Testing Post from last year to see what I did to survive, and what my new additions are for this year. The goal here? My students and I make to June with our sanity, AND we still are pushing ourselves to learn new information each day.
The title of this post is also what I named my This I Believe Personal Narrative assignments in the fall. Let's talk cell phones. I would like to start this post by recapping every single conversation I have ever had with a new teacher, a seasoned teacher, or an intern about the use of cell phones in the classroom.
I am not sure what I did before warm-ups. I think what I did before warm-ups when I was first starting out was make a warm-up activity that was catered to each and every lesson. As a new teacher, this was exhausting. After doing some research a couple of summers ago, I moved to canned warm-ups, and I have loved every minute of them. What I mean by canned warm-ups is that each day has a theme and each week uses a specific form. In other terms, there is a plan.
I have to admit that I love the "What's in your bag?" posts on different blogs and on YouTube. It is interesting to see what people can and cannot live without when they are taking on the workweek. Also, QVC purse reviews are my jam. I will also admit that a good handbag is one of my weaknesses, kryptonite if you will, that can block my focus throughout the day. We all have these vices. Some like skincare or beauty products, some like technology, some really like chocolate or treats. Indulgences are what can keep a teacher sane. Mine just so happens to be my bag. I also really enjoy the memes about teacher bags being a carry-all for all of life.
I just finished 95 student writing conferences on Friday. Besides going through my fair share of coffee and green ginger tea, I have come out on the other side a bit more reflective. This whole process started with a student comment three weeks ago, when students were getting ready to turn in their first draft of their research papers.
In one of my more recent posts, I outlined how to make a research unit in just a few hours. I was in a crunch that was unexpected and I wanted to showcase my process for freshening up a unit from year-to-year. One of my favorite parts of the research unit teaching students MLA format and also teaching them how to use source pages to take notes.
I stumbled upon bullet journaling one day on Pinterest when I was looking for a new planner. As a middle school teacher, I, like many others, am addicted to office supplies. I know what pens I like, I know what size sticky notes I prefer, and I know that the idea of a fresh new notebook makes me almost giddy. I even started making my own notebooks with my dad as a hobby because I love notebooks so much.
Whether you have one of those moments where you decide to change your whole game plan up, or if you have something (like I did) that caused you to go into an unexpected mad scramble, sometimes it is helpful to know how someone else tackled a difficult task in a short amount of time. Research is the mother of all daunting tasks that may be the hardest thing to accomplish imaginably...in a small amount of time.
I love and hate the self-help book section. It is packed full of gems like Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, and many others that make the wheels in my teacher-entrepreneur brain go crazy. However, I also have visions of myself as the teacher that is seen staring at the self-help book section in a bookstore with a crazed look in her eye, teacher bag thrown over their shoulder, dark bags under each eye, that just seems in need of...help. How many of us can relate to this image as we struggle with the teaching profession as a whole and the day-ins and day-outs of being a teacher? Enter in why I picked up this cute little blue book by Penquin press. I was tired, and it seemingly seemed to address a question I ask myself all the time:
Is teaching my purpose in life?
...Her concepts of the growth mindset and fixed mindset were not new, but the way they were phrased was profound and interesting to the English educator giving feedback. I initially keyed in on the type of feedback I was giving students. I wanted to make sure I said more than "good job." I was also saying things like, "I love the way you added detail" and "great job revising your paper" to give specific feedback. This idea of rewards and feedback was just one single aspect of growth mindset studies; it does not capture the entire picture. The best way to describe growth mindset is how you build new pathways to learning...without giving up. I have adopted this mantra with the teaching of writing. I mean...my blog is called writing MINDSET after all. How we think about teaching, writing, and learning. This is what matters. It would be negligent to not discuss growth mindset in my practice as it has directly impacted how I think about teaching outside of the classroom in meaningful and significant ways
I first starting calling these things labeled "hop-checks" as a joke. I was talking with my teaching buddy on our plan time, and she was telling me about her "class list" system that she uses during class. "So, you just hop around with a pen and pencil and check off what they are doing?" I asked. Her response was "Absolutely, I do." Little did I know that hop-checks would become not only common practice- but exemplary practice- in my writing classroom.
For the first every weekly blog round-up, I wanted to start with one of the hardest and most controversial topics to teach when it comes to English Language Arts and writing instruction: grammar. Understanding grammar is essential to understanding how to put thought on paper, and yet it often falls off to the side of any planbook because we get stuck on ideas, content, voice, and organization. Even with my new rubric coding following the six traits of writing, I grade voice, organization, and ideas first, and only then do I go back in and help students edit and revise in terms of conventions, grammar, word choice, and sentence fluency.
I waited tables at a restaurant during college as many of my pre-education partners-in-crime did. I hated whenever I had to order something OTF or On The Fly. Why? Because immediacy demanded attention out of me, the cook line, and everyone else around me. I would dare say that the entire field of education operates under OTF standards. Every thing is an emergency in education, yet there is no fear like the fear that sets in when sub plans have to be made. In my 105 Ways to Make the Most of Winter Break post, I remind everyone to schedule those sick days...even if you aren't sick. However, the ultimate fear of scheduling sick/sub days-planned or not planned-is making sub plans. These lessons take hours, are a giant hassle, and sometimes will get printed or setup correctly, and then sometimes not. This post strives to give 25 different sub plan ideas for the writing teacher. These could be used for any teacher, but they are particularly helpful if you are an English teacher that focuses on writing.
Last year at New Years, my friends and I dubbed 2017 the #yearofselfish. What this meant was engage in more awareness when it came to self-care, workout, invest in personal opportunity, meditate, seek out a work to life balance, and try new things. I definitely tried new things. Writing Mindset was a leap out of nowhere that constantly challenged me on one end because I thought of it as a personal business move, but I also saw it as a way to reflect on teaching. Writing Mindset simply was a way to connect to my teaching and share my teaching with others. I set up my LLC, invested in a website hosting platform that I thought was aesthetically pleasing, and then tried to write a lot. Then, I realized that writing and working full-time were more difficult than I ever imagined.
Granted this upcoming weekend is a "winter break weekend," but it still counts as a weekend. Now is the time to practice amazing and nurturing habits for the back-to-the-grind that is about a week away. I have rested this past week between the Christmas holiday and New Years with the full intention of getting to my pile of papers next week after the last holiday (casually looks at all the teacher memes that say we aren't touching it even with the best intentions). I need to get into that stack. I have three preps worth of essays that I think I can get through using my rubric coding system with the six traits. I feel good about being updated with grades and lesson plans by the time we get back, yet, I know that it will be all too easy to get wrapped up in the Monday-Sunday, when we open our eyes to when we close our eyes, day-to-day that is teaching. The re-takeover of our time starts with the weekend. It was always meant to be ours anyway.