Wednesday, June 1, 2016


"Oh no," I think "Not now. Please not now."

I pull my shopping cart to the side of the aisle, close my eyes, and start breathing deep breaths. In the nose, out through pursed lips. In, out, repeat.

With my head hung over the cart, I try to remember what that last item it is I need before I can go home. What is it? The harder I try to remember, the more I'm distracted by the throbbing in my head. A minute ago, it was simply in my temples but now it's spreading as though someone placed a baseball cap on my head and is slowly tightening it.

Milk. I need milk. I push the cart slowly down the aisle to grab my last item before making it to the checkout counter. In, out, repeat. In, out, repeat. I know from experience that I can't easily stave off the nausea building in my stomach this way, but somehow just completing the act makes me feel as though I'm doing something. I place my items on the conveyor belt and try to keep my breathing steady.

"Um, m'am? Are you ok? You're looking...pale?"

I keep my face down as if my wallet has suddenly become very interesting as I assure her that I just need to get home.I make my way to the parking lot in the rain, dump my groceries in the backseat and call my mom. It's amazing how even though I'm married and she's a thousand miles away, I take comfort in hearing my mom tell me everything is going to be ok.

The thing is, I've had some health issues recently and it's been hard to communicate what it's like to people. In fact, sometimes I've forgotten WHO I've talked to and who I haven't. This school year has definitely put a strain on my health - I've had more bouts of the stomach bug than I can remember - but more seriously, several on the job injuries.

The beginning of March, I fell backwards while I was at school and landed on my back, my backside and on the back of my head. After my principal drove me to the ER (and several hours of waiting), I was diagnosed with a concussion. I spent the next few days following doctor's orders.

No lights. No reading. No television. Lots of sleep. Meds. Lots and lots of meds.

In hindsight, I should have taken more time off. When I went back a few days later, I still rocked the neck collar to help my neck out. Being so close to March break, I hoped to work hard at school, come home to crash, repeat and make it until I had a week off to do nothing but sleep. When I followed up with the neurologist, he said all was progressing. Just remember to eat well, sleep a lot and take my meds. More meds. Different meds. But above all, do not get another concussion.

Within 72 hours, I was back in the ER after having my head smashed into a wall at work.

This was worse. Way worse. I had to wait a few days before I could get in to see a neurologist. No lights. No reading. No television. Lots of sleep. Meds. Different meds. And no work. For two months.

I always said that one thing I never wanted to do was leave my class in the middle of the year. I got a job offer at the beginning of Year 3 just 3 weeks into the school year. Even though I was sure it was going to be a rough year, I knew I didn't want to leave my students. When the same job was offered again at Winter Break, I had the same response: I couldn't leave my students in the middle of the year. I was devastated when I got transferred 5 weeks into the year during Year 4 because I had to do what I said I never wanted to do. And now, in Year 6, I found myself having to leave my class to finish out the year with my amazing teammates who stepped up and each absorbed a few additional kids into their classes.

For most of my life, when I've wanted something to happen, I've simply tried harder. SAT scores not high enough? Work harder, take them again. Fundraiser not raise enough money? Work harder, try again. Become a teacher? Work hard, and plan out how to make it happen.

Getting better when you're recovering from a concussion doesn't work that way. Work less. Do less. It's hard to explain to people what it's been like. There's good days, where I feel almost normal except for sleep. I haven't had a solid good night of sleep in almost three months. Then there's the bad days. The days when I hear a ringing in my ear that no one else can. The days when I curl up just a little bit longer in bed with my eyes closed tight to keep the light peeking through the curtains from reaching my eyes. The days when I stand up and immediately reach for the nearest solid object to steady myself. But the worst is the headaches. It seems to be some equation of weather, energy exerted, sound, and sleep that I just haven't figured out.

Although I've been in contact with my doctor throughout, I go back in a few days to learn whether I have the go ahead to go back to work. And for the first time in a while, I'm optimistic. The question is simply at this point, what will that work be? All I know at this point is that my chapter at my current school is over and for the first time in a very long time, there is no plan other than focusing on my family, my friends and my health.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thumper Rule

From a young age, one thing was clear: I liked to talk.

When I started teaching, I did a lot of talking. I talked at my students and aimed to talk with them. I talked about my students with other co-workers to make sure that I could get them what they needed to be successful in my classroom, whether it be tutoring, testing, counseling, clothes or food. I talked to my parents. I talked with my students parents. I talked with my teacher roommates. I talked in graduate school classes. There were many days I was just tired of talking. And, at the beginning, I did a fair amount of talking on this blog.

I have tried to keep my posts honest and positive. Recently, I've had more and more friends comment that I haven't posted as much. In keeping with the Thumper Rule, I haven't said much about the past school year and the reasons I chose to leave my TFA placement school.

Ultimately, there wasn't just one reason and it was harder than I thought it would be to leave. It had been the only place that I'd taught and I really fell in love with some of the students and families I worked with. It still warms my heart to get text messages and photos telling me how my students are doing this year. 

Which is why it broke my heart that, despite the efforts of some amazing educators, the school makes headlines for this

Am I surprised? Unfortunately, no. Am I saddened? Yes. 

I have lots that I could say about it. There's a lot that I want to say. But ultimately, it accomplishes nothing. If anything, it makes me want to go to my new principal and simply say thank you for taking a chance on me. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Change: By the Numbers

Teachers are obsessed with data. Ask any teacher about their class and they can regale you with hilarious stories, sad stories, bizarre and strange stories. Qualitative data. In recent years, education has emphasized quantitative data. Well, here goes.

5 different principals
4 years of teaching
3 different schools
2 different grade levels
1 very tired teacher

This past week, I was out on Wednesday for a training. I got a call from one of my teammates. After three weeks of school, the numbers were in: We didn't have enough students enrolled to keep all the teachers. 1st and 2nd grade had the lowest enrollment. The principal was asking for volunteers to transfer to one of the schools with high enrollment in need of additional teachers. 

I had a sinking feeling after I hung up the phone. Could it be me? I teach first and was one of the newest teachers in the building. On Thursday, my principal called and asked to see me. Even as an adult, I still get that sinking feeling when I get the call to the principals office. Although I had to wait another 30 minutes, I knew it could only mean one thing. No one had volunteered to transfer and so it was going to be me. 

Within the hour, the transfer was complete. I'd gotten my first choice school from the list of places in the district that needed additional teachers. I'm incredibly fortunate -- it's still first grade and it's not all that far from my house. 

On Thursday after school, I went over to meet the principal and get a tour. On Friday, I started packing up my classroom (managed to get all boxes packed and moved to the new school by Saturday). I had to let my students know that I wouldn't be coming back Friday afternoon. Last year, I had an offer to switch to a charter school at this point in the year. I turned it down because I couldn't imagine leaving my students, even after a few weeks. One year later, and I had to do the same thing.

People keep asking me how I feel. Honestly, I don't know. It's all happened so quickly that it's been hard to grasp that I left one class of students on Friday and will have a completely different class at a completely different school...on Wednesday.  

In looking to leave the school where I started at, I wanted to find a place where I could work with the same student population but a different staff culture. I wanted a place with staff stability and a place where people could balance working and having a life. Having a family. Keeping that in my head has been what's made this process all that much easier. Instead of just one school where I saw that, I get to now see that in action at 2 schools. 

It took me a week to set up my first classroom. I have 2 days next week. I'm oddly calm about the whole thing. Perhaps its because so many people have been supportive. My new-old co-workers, who helped me pack up my things and shared their experiences of being in the same situation. My new-new coworkers, who have been so welcoming. My amazing boyfriend and friends who helped me move things into the new building over the weekend. My parents, who have listened from a thousand miles away and helped to keep me sane as I figure out how I am going to make it through this transition emotionally, professionally and financially (moving is expensive!). I have a feeling I'll be trying to work Donors Choose a lot more this year to make sure I have everything I need for my new kiddos!

Here's to yet another new adventure, whatever it may bring!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Twas the Night Before School

and all through the apartment, the teacher was wondering where summer went.

Although it feels much much to early to be back at school, I've actually been moving into my new school for the past week and a half. My new school may be only 3 miles from my old one, but so far it's been a world of difference. We came back early for Professional Development sessions and have had hours in the afternoon available to work with the team and set up the classroom. I'm so excited to be in a professional environment that is supportive and encouraging of the teaching style I want to develop.

Take a peek in my room!

Welcome to Room 113!
This is probably the cleanest this will ever be...

Books! Look at all those books! My team has been so wonderful in passing along great texts for Read Alouds and for  independent reading. We still need books -- check out my donors choose project here

After 3 years of teaching, I'm able to repurpose materials from my old classroom setup. This will be my first time with tables instead of desks -- the cubbies used to be my shelves for Guided Reading. Yeah Target Itso brand for having interchangeable parts

I'm pretty nervous but excited. I've already met 3 of my students at Meet the Teacher night. My roster now currently has 17. 17! That's six fewer than last year. Trust me, that's a significant change. I'm going out of town this weekend to see 2 of my most favorite people in the world get married so I'm trying to get ready for the first day AND next week (tomorrow is like a soft opening -- half day and then return again on the 5th).

And now for the shameless plug. I currently have a project on Donors Choose and time is running out of time for funding! Check it out

Here's to hoping that the number 13 is lucky this year!

Monday, April 29, 2013

I've been holding it in...Boys stink

As any teacher will tell you, each class has a different personality. You may teach the same grade for 30 years, but each class will have some characteristic that makes them different from the one before or the one after. My first year teaching my 4th grade girls drove me crazy with their cliques and mean girl attitudes. There was a stretch in there where weave was rolling down the hallways like tumbleweed after a girl fight. One girl latched her nails into another girls weave and managed to lift her off the floor. At the end of that year, I thought "Man. Eight years of all girl's education did not prepare me for this. Bring me a class of boys." Well, ask and ye shall receive. My second year in 4th grade was probably my favorite overall class, although it wasn't without issues. I had some sweet boys, a lot just full of anger.

Well, this year my boys are full of something but it sure ain't anger. 

Boy #1: Mark
Each morning, we have a whole school assembly. Classes line up around the gym, cheer, sing, and get ready for the day. Last week, I approached my early arrivers and was overwhelmed with a smell. Not a smell, a STANK. All the kids were giggling and looking around when I noticed that little Mark's backpack was wet. And leaking. As I approached his backpack, he got really defensive of it.

I try to model the right kinds of behavior for my kids but I just couldn't hold it back -- when I opened his backpack, I had to gag. A pencil had punctured a chocolate milk carton he had placed in his backpack. Based on the smell and texture of the milk, there's no way that that he'd picked up that milk that morning. I tried to see if there was a way to clean it out, but I couldn't keep it open long enough to clean it out. I hate throwing away my kid's things because they place a lot of value on material things, but this was past redemption. 

Boy #2David
I've been having an issue with my little friend David. He's incredibly talented at mimicry. However, recently he's decided the emulate The Hulk, complete with grunting and attempting to lift things like classmates. Needless, sometimes it's difficult to keep the other kids from paying attention to his antics. Just when I thought we had been making some progress, he's developed a new skill.

He has learned how to make himself throw up and has done it daily. For a week. 

Boy #3: Gerald
As I was getting David settled in his time out at recess, a gaggle of girls ran over to me. "Ms. A, Ms. A, Gerald's peeing on the tree!" I looked at another first grade teacher out on recess duty and we just kind of stared at each other like "Is this real life?" Gerald was hiding on the playground at this point. I managed to take his hand and walk over to the tree and, undeniably, there was a wet spot that stank of pee. The conversation went a little like this

Ms. A: Gerald, what happened here?
Ms. A: Who peed?
Ms. A: Gerald, did you pee on the tree?
Gerald: I peed on the tree. It needed to grow.
[It needed to grow? This was not what we covered in the unit on living things]
Ms. A: Did you not use the bathroom before we came outside?
Gerald: I didn't have to go
Ms. A: Why didn't you come find me?

Needless, this was one of the more strange parent phone calls I've had to make. As he was crying on the phone with his mother, I wondered: How many people saw him? How many of my students saw him peeing? Oh god, what kinds of calls am I going to be getting from parents tonight?

Then, I realized I'd held his hand.

Boy #4: Kenneth
My class is a mix of 1st and 2nd graders (although more heavily on the former).  Normally, it's not a big deal but we're doing standardized tests and they have to be separated. When Kenneth returned from his testing, my co-teacher told me that there had been an accident during testing. Seeing as most of the kids haven't taken must standardized testing, my initial reaction was that perhaps something was wrong with his materials that I'd given to Ms. T

My curiosity got the better of me and I went to ask Ms. T about what happened. Turns out that while Kenneth was testing, the proctor noticed something unusual and called Ms. T over. Kenneth had peed his pants. Not just a little woops, but dripping down the chair and puddling on the floor. Apparently they had to call the janitor in the middle of the standardized test. Yet another reason why small children should not be getting standardized tests.

So there you have my evidence. Mark. David. Gerald. Kenneth. Conclusion? Boys stink.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Good things come to those who wait

One of the best things about living on the fringes of my school's neighborhood has been bumping into students outside of the building. I, for one, was one of the few children who did not believe Rebecca's story in first grade about "What Teacher's Do When We're Not Around" (aka the teachers go crazy partying at school and sleep there) because I was the child of a teacher. Granted, sometimes it feels as though I live at school. Also, I am guilty of fooling some gullible kiddos at Saturday tutoring that I do in fact sleep at school.

In the last 3 weeks,  I've bumped into 3 different students from my first class. All of them go to the kick-ass charter school that opened last year in the neighborhood. I've kept tabs on some of them through fellow TFA people, but there's something different about actually seeing them in person.

The first one was at the local Redbox. In all honesty, I recognized his little brother before I recognized him. The awkward, shy kid with the goody smile who showed up 6 weeks into the school year with enough English to get him reading kindergarten level texts? Almost missed him as this teenager stood before me, talking fluently about how he liked school and how he was doing well. 

Today, I bumped into one of my fiesty girls from that first class -- she was the first one to get into a fight in the school year (not under my supervision) and was heavily involved in girl drama. You think girl drama emerges in middle school? False. Ask me sometime about her one day relationship. She loved to write, but has serious phonological gaps. She enjoyed math alot because numbers put together made sense, but letters didn't always. 

As we walked through the grocery aisles, I asked her about how life and school was going. I asked her first about math -- she's had the same teacher for two years and every student I've had go one there has loved him and subsequently math in a way that warms my heart. In the same breath that she reaffirmed her love for math, she said "but I just got 100 percent in writing, so I'm starting to really like that too."

This time of year, this final push, is always hard. There's report cards to finalize, testing, testing, testing, projects to finish, and lots of loose ties to finish up. In essence, you feel like your routine is out of whack and that you don't spend as much time actually teaching. You are so focused on the short term, it makes you forget the long term.

I've walked away from each of these interactions feeling inspired. I may not have been the best teacher that these kids ever had. Most of them walked away only a little less angry, and while showing some solid growth (or even impressive), still behind most of their peers. But I do remember conversations with these kids and their parents/guardians about their options for middle school and what it would mean to go to a charter school, especially one that was just opening. When I talk to these former students, I know that they are on the path to college. I see that somewhere along the way, they've let go of some of the anger that they clung to like a comfortable sweatshirt -- you hold onto it for way to long and for no reason other than it's comfortable and familiar. 

When I think of what it will be like to bump into them down the road, I can't wait to hear about what high school classes they're taking and ultimately what college they plan on attending. Because unlike their classmates who went to their zoned school, whose high school has produced a shockingly low number of college ready graduates, I don't worry about them being ready for college. I know that they will be ready, academically and socially, when college comes around. 

And that feeling is what's going to get my tired, sick behind into work tomorrow. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Meet My Honey Boo Boo

That girl? She ain’t got nothing on my Honey Boo Boo.

While I do admit to my fair share of junk television watching, my knowledge of Honey Boo Boo is limited to snippets and clips that I catch online. One of my favorite clips, however, has been watching her catchphrase “A dolla make me holla”

Holla? A dolla doesn’t just make him holla. It makes him kick, scream, cry, and threaten others. BOOM – more bang for your buck, right?

My Honey Boo Boo is also famous. Well, at least at my school. Like Honey Boo Boo, he loooves attention and it really doesn’t seem to matter how he acquires it. For a while, he got it by simply not talking. That method only worked for so long. Then, he turned to theatrics.

My Honey Boo Boo loves him some sugar. Yes he does. He brings a snack or dollar to buy a treat essentially every day. The last few days, it’s been a dollar to get a snack at lunch. Except he drops it at our morning meeting and doesn’t retrieve it. I do. I’ve taken to retrieving it myself and making him earn it back. We’re still working on determining how frequently he needs rewards. Friday, without the support of my beloved co-teacher and without his parent coming to fetch him from school, it was a pretty immediate 1-1 ratio of following a direction to a treat. At this rate, he’ll be as lard-a-licious as the real Honey Boo Boo by Christmas.

So why was he supposed to be picked up?

Honey Boo Boo was in fine form. We even had a visit from unannounced observers (that’s another post in itself) and he managed to call attention to himself. He pulled every trick out of the book it felt like: picking fights, rifling through supplies, jumping off desks. I called for assistance and a member of the school leadership team came in. I appreciate it – that rarely happened in previous years. But she had places to go and work to do and left after a while.

I’ve been trying to train my students to ignore Honey Boo Boo. As if that’s really possible. Regardless, it can cause Honey Boo Boo to try even harder to get more attention.  In this case, he stands on the desk and yells “You’re gay!” right at me.

Now, calling someone gay is a hard limit in my classroom. It isn’t done. Period. Unfortunately, it’s happened every year that I’ve been in the classroom. Sometimes the word chosen is different. Regardless of the word choice, the students don’t really understand what it means.  In all honesty, that’s the approach that I take with them in the conversation. With my 4th graders, we talked about the history and meaning of the word faggot. With my first graders, it’s more about how it’s not a bad word but when you say it in a certain way, your tone tells people that it’s an insult.

So here’s Honey Boo Boo, standing on top of the desk for the second time today, yelling repeatedly, “you’re gay! You’re gay” Breathing deep, I addressed the class and said “it’s really sad that he doesn’t remember our conversation about what that word means.” Most of the class just smiled at me, nodded in agreement, and went back to work.

Well Honey Boo Boo was NOT having that. Not one bit. He squinted his eyes and yelled, “I know what it means. It means you SUCK DICK.”

Uh, say what? I decided this was one of those rare “non-teaching” moments.