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.

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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...

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Welcome to my room!
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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."
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My little corner of photos and happiness by my desk.
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Some teachers would kill for even a tiny window, I have a ginormous one. Isn't it great?
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Some pretty awesome posters I found online.
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Schedule for the first 2 days.
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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.