Saturday, December 4, 2010


There are sayings that are instinctual with teachers. They are the ones that emerge from some unknown place in my gut that heard it long ago. Sometimes they roll off my tongue so quickly, I surprise myself…and hate myself simultaneously. I’m sure that these phrases are as flat and empty to them as they are to me.

1. “Please be respectful.”

I’ve been using the word “respect” like I’m Aretha Franklin lately. I toss it out there anytime I can’t think of anything else to say. Talking when another student’s talking? “Please be respectful and listen when __________ is talking.” Touching another student’s stuff? “Please be respectful and keep your hands to yourself.” Leaving notebook entrails on the ground? “Please be respectful and throw your garbage away.”
RESPECT: The most useless term tossed out at the fastest rate.

2. “Use your time wisely.”

How does an 8th grade student use his/her time wisely? By actually doing the assignment given. It’s so simple, yet such a complex task.

This is such a teacher term. In what other industry do you say “use your time wisely”? In what other industry do you even ask someone to “be wise” about anything? None. And why are we asking 13 year old kids to “be wise” anyway? They are THIRTEEN. Wisdom is not a trait of someone who wears silly bandz, giggles when they hear the word “sex” or paints each fingernail a different color of the rainbow.

3. “Do your best.”

This phrase is vital and necessary for me. It is my best cop-out to any situation. For example, when students are testing, they often ask for help clarifying a question on the exam. If, by my help, I might potentially give them the answer, I stop myself by saying “Use your best judgment" or "do your best." Then they swiftly turn back to their seats to finish their test, still clueless about the question being asked. I say this constantly. It curbs confusion that I can’t clarify and complaining that I can’t resolve.

It’s funny to stop and think about these teacher-isms. These are phrases that aren’t really heard anywhere but in the classroom, yet are repeated so often they are said to dead ears.

Anyway, in other news, Holidays are here. I’m lucky to be teaching in a school that hasn’t outright banned anything and everything celebratory (i.e. kids were able to dress up in costumes to school on Halloween, an unheard-of, gasp-worthy idea for any public school these days). So this fact really makes Christmastime fun. I am teaching The Christmas Carol to my 7th grade and the kids are really getting into it. It’s these simple joys that make me really appreciate my job.

And, in the end, I don’t mind that I’m in the only industry that constantly repeats “use your time wisely” because, let’s be honest, especially as adults, we all need the reminder to use our time wisely.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Honoring My Best Teachers

Yesterday we had the day off from school to honor Veteran's day.

Alright, actually it was the end of 1st quarter and we got the day off for grading.

But I was thinking about Veteran's day and about honoring people who have served our country and I thought about how teachers, arguably of course, have given a large amount of the same blood, sweat and tears for the goodwill and successful upbringing of our country. It's a corny stretch, I know, but I have been thinking about writing a blog post honoring my past memorable teachers for awhile, and this seemed like the convenient time to do so. It's a good opportunity to reflect on the people in my life who have truly made an impact on me and perhaps (whether or not I'll acknowledge it) have made an influence on my choice to become a teacher. Richfield Alumni, you will most likely appreciate this blog post the most of all my readers.

. . .

My Most Memorable Teachers

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Mr. Vrtikapa - 8th Grade Social Studies
Anyone else out there remember this man? His career was shortlived at RMS, lasted one year, my 8th grade year, and then he was never heard from again. I recently looked up his teaching license on the MN department of education website, but it looks like he hasn't taught anywhere since 2005. (I'm a stalker, I acknowledge that).

What made him so great? I can't put my finger on it. It wasn't one moment. It was who he was as a person that made me, well, really everyone, respect him as a teacher. He was young and full of energy. He listened to us but he shot us down when we needed to be. He joked with us, he spoke "our language", and he lectured and wrote frantic notes on the board that we scrambled to decode and record in our own notebooks.

I have 2 specific memories of him:
One was when, in our homeroom class, he asked us to bring lyrics to music to discuss as a class. I brought in Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton. He started crying during the song. He explained to us what the song was really about. I'd never seen a teacher, typically such education dispensing robots, be so human.

The second one is a little bit more muddled. I believe someone found out that he was not going to be coming back the next year. I don't remember why. We understood, as 8th graders, that it was the decision of the administration. As a class we organized a protest after lunch, and marched to the principal's office. We got into a lot of trouble, not for protesting but mostly for skipping class.

We thought we'd be heroes to Mr. Vrtikapa, a bunch of kids showing administration how much we appreciated a good teacher. We thought we would make a difference. But when he found out what we'd done he lectured us for a whole hour about how it was wrong. It was wrong to organize an unruly protest. It was wrong to skip class. It was wrong to storm the hallways unsupervised. We were crushed. And we knew he had been defeated by the administrations decisions, and there was nothing we or he could do about it.

What I learned from him, when reflecting on it now from the perspective of a teacher, was that you can find the fine line between the "cool" teacher and the effective teacher. He was both. I'm glad I was there for the one year he had to leave an imprint on Richfield middle school.

Mr. Weibe - 12th Grade Creative Writing
I had Mr. Weibe only as an elective teacher in high school and for a brief period of time. He had a reputation at Richfield for being the "cool" teacher. When I had him, spring semester of my senior year, he was a little burnt out. He had suffered some family deaths and it had not been an easy year for him. The creative writing class was dangling by a thread waiting to be snipped by the Budget Preserving Scissors of RHS, and only about 12 kids were enrolled in the class. I vaguely remember the curriculum. It was sparse and unfocused, but I didn't care. I just needed an excuse to write.

What Mr. Weibe did for me is something that has stuck with me for a long time. After class one day, he pulled me aside and said, "You know, Maddie, your stuff really reminds me of Hemingway."

Hemingway? I thought. That guy who wrote that fish story? And that dreadful war story, A Farewell to Arms, I read in 11th grade?

"Really?" I asked, a little offended...perhaps confused.

"Yeah. But mostly just his short stories. You pay the same attention to detail. Your climaxes are subtle but important. I think you'll like this."

Wow, I'd never had my stories analyzed like this before.

He handed me a very rough, beat-up copy of a collection of Hemingway stories and told me to keep it.

Up until that point I'd never had a teacher put a book into my hands that had been specifically chosen for me. It gave me a sense of power. I felt I had something to live up to and something to study, not for the benefit of a good grade, but to improve my writing. I felt I had the responsibility not only to read the book, but to absorb the author.

And he was right...not that I am a young 21st century Hemingway replicate, but that I would like his stuff. I read every single story in that book and I often reread my favorites every summer. I think about the impact that small event had on my life as a writer and reader and it helps me remember now, as a teacher, how I have the opportunity to give kids that same power just by putting a book in their hands.

Mr. Motes - 12th Grade Honors English
Here was a typical week in Mr. Motes class: Lecture for four days a week, assign an in class writing prompt one day a week. A recipe for student resentment and boredom. He was the only teacher I ever knew who could successfully pull that off.

What Mr. Motes did for me was the exact opposite of what every other english teacher had done for me at RHS. He knocked me down a peg or two. I was cocky for a lot of reasons in 12th grade. I'd been doted on as a talented writer by every other teacher. I'd gotten the best grade in my class on a "Les Miserable" essay I had written without reading more than 10 pages of the book. I was walking on air as far as I was concerned.

--Until, of course, I got back the first in-class writing prompt essay. It was out of six. Six measly points. I had gotten a three. 50%. Failure. He announced, not to shame us but to perhaps comfort our fears of failing isolation, that only one student had even obtained a five. I cowered behind my paper. Unlike every other time, that student was not me.

Rather than smack the grade atop the paper and be done with it, Mr. Motes had inked up the margins with endless comments and critiques, suggestions for improvement and grammar correction. Like any other adolescent, I first assumed he hated me, he had something against girls or thought I was some dance team ditz. I rolled my eyes, huffed and puffed about it over lunch with my fellow writing buddy, Danny (who also, uncharacteristically for him as well, had not scored the only five in the class) and made my best "I don't even care" speech in my head.

I quickly got over that when my desire to succeed in his class overcame my self-centered teenager thoughts and the next in class writing day arrived. I was determined to do better.

Slowly, but surely, my grades improved, and with that, my writing improved and matured to more college-level skill.

The other day I came across the folder I had saved for his class. It was loaded with the curly, frayed notebook papered essays he had assigned. The one that lay on top was titled "A Critical Analysis of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach"." It was the first essay I had received a 6/6 on in his class. Reading it, my brain went right back to the place it had been 5 years ago when I got that score. I was just as proud of myself, but perhaps even more impressed. I realized where I had gotten many of the current writing traits I have now, and that was 5 years ago.

. . .

Brief teacher shouts outs:
Ms. Rydell: 4th-6th grade Basic Writing teacher, taught me to stop using the word "thing" when writing. Sent me to a "Creativity Convention" in 6th grade.

Ms. Picket (yes, that teacher was supposedly completely off her rocker and retired a year later): 9th grade honors english teacher, brought me 4 brochures to colleges that specialized in creative writing programs and pushed me to join an adult writing class in uptown.

Professor Neuhaus: Cooky as he is, I will never used a cliche in anything I ever attempt to publish.

My student teaching teachers, Mrs. Benson and Mrs. Anderson: They showed me that you can keep inspiring kids to read as long as you put the right books in their hands and take the time out of your day to do it.

I guess what all these teachers have in common is that they really took the time to be good teachers. It sounds brainless, but the job is crazy and hectic, and it's easy to skim papers and slap a B+ at the top of them. They decided they were going to put in the 5 minutes more it takes to pick out a book for a kid, or to write an individualized comment on a paper. These memories make me stop, breathe for a minute, and realize that I can do something small but sincere to impact a student's life by just taking the time.

Thanks, teachers.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Staying Positive

Hello friends and family. I haven't updated recently and you can probably guess why. Most of you who are teachers most likely remember your first year teaching as one busy, overwhelming, fuzzy year. Well, that's where I'm at.

On top of grading 80 personal narratives, 70 book reports, and creating new lesson plans for The Giver, I also began teaching a book I have never read--Esperanza Rising, and decided it would be a good idea to completely revamp the essay rubrics from the teacher before me (while I now stand by these new rubrics philosophically, it was a daunting, time-consuming task that I should have saved for another year). In addition to this, I have my first observation of my Paideia seminar with the 8th graders this Thursday, AND I have been given the task of creating a new rigorous, classical grammar curriculum for the 7th and 8th graders.

With all this, I have begun to feel a little negative about my career choice. I use my 30 minute commute to school to therapeutically repeat to myself, "I love my job. I love my job. I love my job." And then my 30 minute commute back home to ask, exasperatingly, "Why did I choose this job, again?!"

I realize now, why so many teachers, the positive beacons of the future, tend to fall into that deep dark pit of negativity and cynicism. Like I have mentioned before, negative teachers are what irk me the most about this profession, and I have always swore to myself I would never become one.

So I decided to compile a list of all the things that I have experienced thus far that have given me that warm, gooey feeling in my tummy. You know, those moments where you smile, sigh deeply and think to yourself "Now this is why I love my job"...

1. When my students 'prepped' me for the Staff vs. Senior volleyball game at pepfest last week. They showed me how to properly stand and hold my hands so I didn't break my thumbs, then lined up to high-five me after the game (though I probably made contact with the ball one time).

2. When students rehearsed their arguing points for my "Lady and the Tiger" trial during recess, so they could prepare for their trial in class that afternoon, which proceeded to get extremely emotional and heated.

3. When the social studies teacher told me my kids referenced Atticus Finch when she asked them "Who is a great role model?"

4. When a group of jocky 8th grade boys stopped me in the hallway before school to apologize for reading ahead in To Kill a Mockingbird, "I'm sorry, Ms. Baird, but that was just evil you made us stop right before Tom Robinson got on the stand. I just had to keep reading."

5. This is going to sound mean, but when I failed a student for not following directions or typing his book report, asking him to please re-do. Based on the student's history with me, I expected him to completely blow it off. He turned in it the next day, re-written and typed. I realize that was probably with much parental pressure, but I was still just happy to know he finally took me seriously.

6. When I have trouble starting my class because the students are all angry and upset about their reading from the night before in The Giver. "The world Jonas lives in is just STUPID. How can they call it perfect when there are so many rules?!" I've never seen so many kids get so involved in a book!

These are my favorite moments that have stood out above any other. Of course, there are some of those cute "aw, they really like me!" moments, but those aren't nearly as significant as the ones where my impact as their teacher can be recognized. If you're not a teacher, you are probably rolling your eyes or shrugging your shoulders thinking, "what's the big deal?" but if you are a teacher, especially a first year teacher like me, you probably realize just how rewarding these little things can be in a day.

So, while I look ahead to my Saturday slurping down a chai, hovering over 50 more papers with my correcting pen in hand, I can at least put it all into perspective. Yes, I am busy. Yes, my job is hard. But looking back at this little list, at least I can repeat therapeutically to myself "I love my job. I love my job. I love my job" with a little bit more conviction.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This is what happens when you get busy in life...

My room accidentally exploded this week.

I realize this post has nothing to do with actual teaching, it is more just the side effects of teaching. It's amazing that in the interview for my job, I actually sold myself as a "highly organized person."

In other developments, last week, around Thursday, I finally started to feel somewhat comfortable in my job, like I had a hold on things. Of course, this week I have 165 papers coming in (85 personal narratives, 80 outside reading reports), so that might change. But I do feel like I have developed bit of a rhythm, I know what to expect from my students and they know what to expect from me. I'm not nearly as exhausted every night, nor am I desperately scrounging for lessons at 11 PM every night. Don't get me wrong, I'm not quite cool as a cucumber yet. I'm still an anxious, insecure first-year teacher. But my stress-induced heart palpitations have definitely decreased :-)

With this newfound comfort, I think I might be ready to start living on my own. I've been perusing craigslist lately looking at apartments. I'd like to live in St. Paul, which would shave off a good 10-15 minutes from my commuting time. I imagine myself inhabiting the childhood home of F. Scott Fitzgerald, with the original hardwood floors and porcelain sinks, his writing inspiration seeping in through the white wood trimmed windows. *Sigh* But I'll settle for something close...a 1 bedroom with hardwood floors will do. Anyone know of anything available?

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Went to Value Village this weekend to shop for a very special upcoming birthday (you know who you are, missy!) and bought loads and loads of books for my classroom instead. My students are required to do a lot of outside reading in different genres (and, shocking fact, there is no library at my school). They tend to lean toward the classics, so I plucked those off the shelf first. I was happily surprised to see The Odyssey and As I Lay Dying (a personal favorite). I also grabbed some fun ones: Lightning Thief, Marley & Me, and Miracle Wimp. They seemed interesting!

My lovely roommate snapped some very artistic photos of my new books.

On a related note, I'm hoping to begin To Kill a Mockingbird with my 8th graders on Friday! I'm looking forward to it mostly because I already have an entire unit plan I created for it in college. It will be nice to have some breathing time from the nightly planning scrambles.

Happy Fall, everyone! Enjoy the changes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Conflict Squares

So last week I taught my 7th graders the 4 different types of conflict in a story.

Pop quiz, can you name them?









Time's up!

Okay, take out a pen, please, to correct your answers. The four types of conflict are: Character vs. Character, Character vs. Nature, Character vs. Society and Character vs. Self.

How did you do?

So I decided to have my kiddos draw pictures to illustrate the 4 different types of conflict in a story we read, "The Wise Old Woman." (It's Japanese folklore...according to Prentice Hall Textbook Publishers, it is just as popular in Japan as "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is here in America. The overall message is: Don't let all the elderly go up to the mountain to wither out and die, instead keep them a part of society because they are very wise! No seriously.)

In reflecting on my past week, one where I have been struggling just to keep my head above water (okay, okay, blog critics, I promise to start following the unwritten code of English teachers and stop using cliches...but can I have just that one?) I thought about the 4 different conflicts I have been facing. And, for no other reasonable purpose than for this blog, I created my own "Conflict Squares" based on my life.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

My biggest conflict is one that could not quite be illustrated, and that is, constantly staying one step ahead of my students. I have survived most of my life on the great procrastination theory...that, if I wait long enough, inspiration and motivation will strike me simply because I have no other choice. Unfortunately, middle schoolers are like intuitive little bloodhounds, sniffing for teacher weaknesses. They can sense exactly when a teacher doesn't know what she's doing. Their noses were definitely turned up into the air last week when I wavered while correcting some vocabulary homework as a class. The truth was, I hadn't even begun to think about how I was going to score the homework (Was each answer worth 1 or 2 points? What if they got half the answer right, but not the other half? etc.). Anyway, lesson learned, plan ahead for every, and I mean, every minor detail. I've had to train myself on how to begin to expect the unexpected...a nearly impossible task.

On a related note, they amped up the class sizes at my school (the waiting list is still 500+ to get in) and as a result I don't have full class copies of novels to teach. I didn't realize this (ahem...that's that whole procrastination theory) until last week. My plan was to start To Kill a Mockingbird with my 8th graders this week but I am 12 copies short. So, I've had to stretch out my creative tallons and dig into some uncharted territory...duh, duh, duh, the textbook. I'm hoping I can stretch out a Short Story unit for about 3 weeks (yikes) until the books come in. Any suggestions?

I'll also take suggestions for teaching Fahrenheit 451 and The Outsiders!

And any sympathy from others who survived their first year teaching would be great. How, tell me how, did you do it? To use short story terms, did your conflicts ever come to a climax? And was there ever any falling action and resolution? :-)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week One Done...

Hello all you back-to-school hooligans, college class crammers, and Autumn-lovin' readers.

I must say I am quite flattered by the number of requests I have received to update my blog. I didn't realize I had such a crowd interested in the green budding stages of my teaching career. Hopefully, your interest won't dwindle as the monotony of school ensues. I will do my best to keep my posts interesting and tantalizing.

Well, at least interesting.

So, I survived the first week of school and I now have a newfound appreciation for three things:

1. Strong Coffee/Diet Coke
2. Band-Aids
3. The Weekend

I never knew how important all three of these were until last week. The coffee and Diet Coke are self-explanatory. There is not enough caffeine in all the world to keep up with the energy of middle schoolers. The band-aids became a staple in my everyday wardrobe as my blisters created blisters from my heels (Sidebar: Just as most young female teachers promise never to purchase a holiday or apple themed jean vest, I also promised myself to never purchase a pair of those awful, rubber-soled orthopedic looking teacher clogs. Instead, I opted for a brand called Softspots, the cutest brand I could find with the comfiest amount of support. Unfortunately, even those couldn't protect me from blisters.) And finally, the weekend. From sleeping in to being able to enjoy a night out with some of my favorite people, what would have before perhaps been an 'average' weekend, is now one I thoroughly enjoyed. Apologies to my friends on Friday though, I had a little trouble keeping my eyes open past 11 PM.

I'd love to go into detail about my day, my lessons and all my students, but even now, on Sunday night, as I scramble to plan out the last details of my Monday, I just don't have the energy. In summary, there's a big learning curve for new teachers, and a huge difference between student-teaching and the real deal. I spend a heck of a lot more time planning and fretting than ever before and am deathly afraid of failure. I think about teaching all day and worry about it all night.

I know I will "get into my groove" as they say, but right now I'm having a little trouble finding the rhythm.

(Okay, that metaphor was super cheesy...but I'm an english teacher, I have permission to do that!)

And while I'd love to end this post on that lonesome, brooding note, I'm going to end it by showing you all some pictures of my classroom. My roommate visited and had fun snapping and flashing at my school...

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Welcome to my room!
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
The view if you stand at my doorway at the front of the room. My Beatles art and Andy Warhol picture with quote: "The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting."
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
My little corner of photos and happiness by my desk.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Some teachers would kill for even a tiny window, I have a ginormous one. Isn't it great?
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Some pretty awesome posters I found online.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Schedule for the first 2 days.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
An homage to my clothing idol, Emma Pillsbury. (Season 2 of Glee starts September 21st!)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

School starts in 2 days...

...and I hope my first day plan is good enough.

It'll have to be because that's all I got.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What I learned this week at workshops

I have sat in teacher workshops every day since last Wednesday. Today marks my first day off, but I'm planning to head into my classroom this afternoon and finish more work. There is so much I could write about in this blog, but my head is spinning. September 7th is looming, and I haven't quite finalized what I'll be doing in class the first week...or the first day for that matter. I have always been a procrastinator but part of me thought I would knock that bad habit once I got a real job. Nope.
So rather than regurgitate all that I've learned the past 2 weeks, I'm going to make a nice list, as concise as possible.

What I learned this week:

1. My school consists of some of the most positive, welcoming people I have ever met.
I don't have that awkward, uncomfortable "I don't know anyone" feeling you get when you start something new. Instead, people are constantly stopping by my room, introducing themselves in the hallway, and checking in to see how I'm doing. It's clear to me that everyone wants the new teachers to be successful and I am so thankful for that. My roommate told me that when she told a friend where I was working, the friend replied, "Oh she's so lucky, I hear that place is really great for teachers."

2. Charter schools are awesome, and I hope they take over the world.
Not really, but I hope more people start creating successful charter schools and more families enroll in them. For some reason "charter" always had a negative connotation for me. Perhaps this was because the only charter schools I knew were the ones kids went to when their grades were bad, or when they threatened a teacher, or when they got pregnant. In my education this week, I learned that these types of charter schools were the "first wave" of charter schools. My school is in the second wave, a school that is essentially another option outside of the public schools in the area. A lot of charter schools have different missions and philosophies. Some are all about hands-on learning, or seminar-based, or tied to a specific culture. My school is similar to a private school; the students wear uniforms and the curriculum is classically based and rigorous, BUT, unlike a private school, parents don't have to pay to send their kids there. It's equal opportunity, higher level education. Who can argue with that?

3. Positive Teachers = Better Education for Students
This ties in to #1 and #2 on my list. After spending the past 3 years of my college career observing a wide range of classrooms all over Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota, I've seen my fair share of crappy attitudes. And not from the students. From the teachers.
Yes, teachers, the images of optimism and positivity, are some of the most negative people I have ever encountered. Negativity spawns more negativity, and it leaks out like a disease into the hallways. I can't tell you how many lunches I have endured in staff lounges where not one positive comment can be heard. Teachers complain about students, calling them horrible names (often with the ickiest swear words you can imagine). They complain about other teachers and what they do or don't do in their classrooms. They complain about administration, and their lack of support or their emphasized support with something they hate. They complain about not enough books or the wrong books. They complain about everything and anything, and it goes beyond the normal healthy venting session every human needs.
This is not the case at my school. Granted, I have only been there for 2 weeks, and I expect that there will be times the teachers need to vent. But the feel of the whole place is one of a positive environment. Teachers support other teachers, rather than be in competition with them. No teacher has "dished the dirt" to me about another colleague or about the administration. I can usually spot the one bad egg of the bunch, the teacher who rolls her eyes, doesn't listen during meetings or makes comments under her breath. There hasn't been a single one at my school.
And in turn, the school is extremely successful. Our testing scores are roughly 25% higher than that of the state average. I'm sure it has to do with a lot of factors, but I firmly believe that staff attitude plays a major role in this. A good learning environment is a positive one, plain and simple.

4. Kids at my school love school.
Okay, am I making you sick with all this optimism? Trust me, I've wanted to pinch myself ever since I got the job.
Picture this, you are a nervous, awkward 7th grader. You are going to rotate classes for the first time. You no longer have one homeroom teacher with a few specialists, but you have 7 different teachers who teach 7 different subjects. You don't have your best friend in your class. Summer is over. In summary, you are not excited about this new year. Especially not when your Language Arts teacher hands you a list of the 12 books you'll be reading this year in her class.
Okay, now picture me, on back-to-school open house this past Wednesday. I hand out my informational brochure to my students and their parents, and explain the looming reading list on the middle panel. I see eyes light up. Not just from the parents, but from the students. I'm not kidding you, huge smiles on faces, excited comments like, "Ohh I love this book!" or "Ohh I can't wait to read this one." I just about died.

5. Despite this list of amazing attributes at my school, I am still scared to death.
Last night I had my first First Day of School nightmare. It involved me scrambling before the bell was going to ring, trying to put a seating chart together, students filing into class and mass chaos ensuing. I woke up with that gasping sigh of relief that it was all just a Dorothy groggily coming back from Oz.
I am confident that I will survive, that my first day of school will go well, perhaps not perfect, but close enough. It is just the build-up of it getting there that has me shaking in my teacher shoes until it arrives.
Despite my nervousness, and the fact that last night's dream was probably just the first of many, I couldn't be happier and more thankful to be where I am.

Now it's time to get that seating chart done before it creeps into my subconscious fears again.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Do you have a teacher discount?"

It's my new favorite question.

You could say I am a thrifty shopper. Like anyone, I love the thrill of a great clearance rack find and I peruse the aisles of Arc's and Saver's on almost a weekly basis.

I have this odd fantasy that I will be wearing a skirt every day of the school year. No pants. No capris. Just skirts. So my summer goal was to build my teacher wardrobe in the cheapest of all possible ways. As the dog days of August are quickly winding down, I can accurately proclaim that my goal was accomplished successfully.

I purchased 18 skirts this summer. Only 1 was purchased at full price (and that was the turquoise skirt from The Limited that landed me my job). My total estimated expenditures = approx. $100.

I bought in bulk at a store called TurnStyle in Roseville. It's like Plato's Closet for the 18+ crowd. There are many around the metro area, and all have surprisingly affordable deals on quality, name brand clothing, and an abundance of adorable skirts. I also made some great discoveries at the Richfield Arc's Value Village and Bloomington's Savers. I also found a very cute Vera Wang skirt (seen below) on the Kohl's clearance rack for $4.99. Here is just a taste of some of my fabulous finds for teaching:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It's a good thing I am easily attracted to bright red "SALE" signs because I am also a self-proclaimed Shopaholic. It's a hobby of mine right up there with scrapbooking, cardmaking, and writing.

I have learned in the past few weeks that many great retail stores really appreciate teachers. Perhaps they recognize (more so than our government) that we work pretty dang hard not necessarily for the paycheck, but because we love what we do. And that deserves a special discount.

So lately, as I purchase my new cardigans, school supplies and classroom decorations, I've been asking at the check-out counter, "Do you have a teacher discount?" Surprisingly, most of my already favorite stores do! So I thought I would compile a list of the stores/promotions for all my teacher friends out there. These are only the ones that I have discovered, so please, comment and let me know if you have any discoveries of your own:

(Most are 15% off your entire purchase)
Joann Fabrics
BestBuy (educational software only)
Borders (20% off!)
Barnes & Noble
The Limited
New York & Company
J. Crew
The Apple Store
Ann Taylor Loft

OfficeMax also has special promotional days (I unfortunately missed out on it this year) where you receive 30% off all you can pile into a recyclable shopping bag.

I also visited a warehouse in Bloomington called Companies to Classrooms which offers FREE donated teacher supplies to teachers in the Bloomington and Richfield school district. Luckily my roommate ( mother) is the new Technology Integrationist for Richfield Public schools, so I dragged her and her coveted Richfield Teacher ID to the huge warehouse chalk-full (no pun intended...or was it?) of teacher goodies. I snagged 6 plastic assignment sorting trays, a handful of post-its, a slightly used laminated Shakespeare poster, and some other miscellaneous supplies. All free.

It's nice to know that people do appreciate teachers and that companies support our positions in society.

So what is the lesson of the day? Never be afraid to ask for the teacher discount.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Power of Words

Have you ever seen those movies and TV shows with a scene where a woman is taking a bubble bath, drinking a glass of wine?
I've always wanted to do this. So tonight, on my night off, with the house to myself, I made a bubble bath (sans bubbles, unfortunately) poured a glass of boxed wine, and turned on the most recent episode of This American Life.

This American Life is a public radio program based in Chicago. As host Ira Glass would say himself, there is no easy way to describe it, other than that the program takes a theme and tells stories based on that theme. I've been an addict to this show since I was introduced to it by my roommate last fall. I subscribe to the podcast, and every week I upload a new show (or a rerun, which is usually still new to me).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
So anyway, a partner of This American Life is a program called Radiolab. It's similar in that they use a theme to tell one or a number of stories, though these stories are usually more experimental or scientifically based.

After listening to the latest TAL episode (and at this point, I've dried off and am on to glass #2), I saw that Radiolab had posted a video.

I've been brainstorming about how to use either of these radio programs in class. They both speak about such relevant, probing themes, and demonstrate the art of storytelling brilliantly, a lesson topical for any English class.

After watching this Radiolab video titled "Words" tonight, I know there is a lesson there. But what? Watch for yourself and tell me, what do you think is the lesson?

Lesson or none, it is still a beautiful video that captures the real power of our english language.

P.S. I know this has nothing to do with my bubble bath/wine fantasy that began this blog, but I was just practicing my art of storytelling! :-)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Original Mr. T

I got my teaching job on June 29th. Needless to say, I've been pretty obsessed with furnishing my classroom ever since. I think most teachers-in-training have all dreamed about how they are going to decorate their classrooms. I am no exception.

But now that I have a room, I'm finding myself to be overly picky with just what I slap on those classroom walls. I'll be teaching 7th and 8th grade, so the cutesy Back-to-School bulletin board crap just won't fly there. I'm not a fan of motivational "Be Yourself" or "Attitude Makes a Difference!" posters because I find them condescending. Besides, attitude might make a difference, but does a little 11x16 poster proclaiming that make a difference? To a student, it all just blurs into the walls.

So I've had my eye out for the perfect pieces. I want posters and wall art that invoke conversation, ones where students ask "What the heck is that?" or "Where is that from?" But that's more difficult than one would think. First of all, a nice poster can run anywhere from 20 to 30 bucks. A pretty penny for a teacher on a budget.

So I turned to my faithful Thrift Stores. I have relied on stores like Savers, Value Village and TurnStyle to furnish my new teacher wardrobe of skirts and cardigans (trust me, I will be blogging about my great teacher clothing duds soon!) so of course these frugal little markets were the perfect place to turn in a time of teacher poster budget crisis.

It was after work one day when my mom mentioned to me her discovery. "Value Village had a Mark Twain statue for 3 bucks. I woulda bought him for you but I wasn't sure if you'd want him."

Wasn't sure if I'd want him?

It wasn't long before my little 15 inch tall Mr. T was cradled in my arms in the checkout line at Value Village (that and a burberry pencil skirt for only 6 bucks!).

I would like to introduce you to my first classroom addition. Say hello to Mr. Mark Twain.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Confessions of a First Year Teacher

As I waste my summer away in the thick Minnesotan humidity at the Richfield pool, my mind has been focused on only one thing: a date.

No, not a date with some handsome young buck. A different kind of date.

September 7th.

My first day of school. The day that 90 7th graders and 90 8th graders are introduced to Ms. B, their new Language Arts teacher. It will be the first day I officially transfer from student to teacher, and one that I have been preparing for for the last 5 years of college...and possibly my entire life.

Okay, so maybe I am being a bit melodramatic, but this is a major turning point in life. I don't remember feeling this nervous/anxious/excited/scared-shitless since I left my comfy suburban life in Richfield for the rolling acres of River Falls University--a whole (gasp!) 40 minute drive away!

Now I am leaving the familiar college life of 11am classes, papers written the day before due, and 2 hour naps at noon for the world of real education. The world where I am at the front of the classroom. No longer am I the bored student in the second row, or the eagerly nervous student- teacher attempting to follow the footsteps of some pre-established teaching excellence. Now it is my turn to make a classroom my own.

This year has a lot in store for me. I am planning to cut the umbilical cord and make my first adult move into an apartment near my school (though my summer days with my "roommate"..., were nothing but mostly blissful). I will be taking over 2 grade levels of Language Arts in a fairly new, but fairly established Prep school, and filling the place of a teacher who did not quit, nor was fired, but was promoted to a higher position in the building (In other words, I have some intimidatingly large shoes to fill). I will, hopefully, be directing and choreographing a middle school musical. AND, I still plan on coaching the JV dance team in Hudson, Wisconsin.

I thought keeping a blog would help keep myself in check, and would also be a great opportunity for me to stay in touch with all the other budding teachers out there.

People say I'm crazy for going into education, especially middle school, and perhaps after reading this blog, then they can decide whether I truly am.