Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Beating the January Blues

I think it is safe to say that every teacher hates the month of January.


1. It's cold. Very cold.
2. You leave the house in the dark and arrive in the dark. Unless your classroom has a window (thankfully mine does) you are literally in darkness 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.
3. You are used to your students and they are used to you. This can be good and bad...but ultimately it just means that the luster of a new school year has not only worn off, it's become very dull.
4. It's easy to get in to a rut with your teaching materials.
5. Spring Break seems like it's light years away.
6. The word "testing" seems to linger like a subtle whisper around every corner. "Testing's coming up..." "Are the kids prepared for the test?" "We need to raise test scores this year..."

Yuck. January.

This is also the time of year that people in general are a little crabby (probably the lack of Vitamin D) so teachers are getting ornery. Last week in a meeting, a teacher was boastfully talking about how she was going to quit and start a coffee shop, her lifelong dream. The rest of us chimed in on how we would help her get started. Our meeting was diverted for at least 10 minutes as we all relished in the thought of taking coffee orders and smelling like espresso.

Rather than float away on caffeine dreams, I decided to consciously try a few things to keep my January from feeling like a wasted-crabby-blur-of-a-month and to make sure I'm staying excited about my curriculum and keeping my students on their toes. Here are a few...

1. I'm forcing myself to learn a new app once a week. There are plenty of resources out there and my school has a ton of awesome references for great apps (our tech department has a Pinterest board of tech ideas, my personal favorite). The apps I've embraced are free and easy to use. Last week I played around with Doceri and this week I am looking at ClassroomDojo (though that's a bit less fitting for high school students).

2. I'm "thinking Spring." And by that I mean I'm looking ahead...way ahead...and making important planning decisions for the Spring right now. In about 3 weeks I will be starting Romeo & Juliet, my absolutely favorite unit to teach. I'm pumped that because my school is on a Trimester schedule, I'll be teaching it this tri and again at the end of the school year. As it's my 5th go-around in teaching this unit, I'm trying to add a few more activities and supplements to what I've done in the past just to keep myself excited about this unit. I also took elements from my old unit, mixed with some of my new ideas and began to "pretty them up" a bit so I can hopefully sell it on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Here's a preview below. It's a li'l nonfiction (but very biased) news article to please the Common Core. This is free at my TPT store now, with a set of close reading questions and a teacher key.

3. On that same note, I created a new and improved 2015 Teaching Planner for my TPT site. It's so pretty it's tempting to have this one printed out as well. But I'll hold back until next school year.

4. I'm trying to embrace vocab units in my lessons. Ugh, I hate vocab just as much as any high school student. To me, "vocab" in English class is synonymous with "boring worksheet where I'll memorize the words and never actually learn them." Up until this trimester, that's exactly what it was in my class. I'd hand out the lesson on Monday, never mention it again the entire week, then un-enthusiastically roll through the answers on Friday. Well, I took some time out of my prep to make some Vocab activities that actually relate to the novels we are reading in class (To Kill a Mockingbird in one, Lord of the Flies in the other). These actually use the words in context of the book and inspire a bit of competition...which every high school teacher knows is the key to a teenager's heart. I still don't feel 100% awesome about vocabulary, but I'm getting there.

5. I ordered new books for my classroom library on Amazon! I am especially excited about this because I rarely have cash that I feel justified in spending on classroom library books. Lately a lot of my students have been perusing my classroom library. Possibly because the shelf is so darn cute. It's a 1950's greeting card rack from an old drug store, discovered at a Minneapolis thrift store this summer, and turned in to this gem...

Anywho, so with a Christmas Amazon Gift Card, I ordered 6 new books that should be here by February (ugh, I can't wait!!) I'm so excited to read these and do some book talks with my students. Several of my students have been stopping in my classroom between classes to talk about great YA books with me and I love making that connection.

So those are just a few of my "conscious" decisions to help beat the January blues and keep me feeling good about my job. Another "conscious" decision I would like to make is taking a trip to Hawaii to escape these negative temps but that's just not in the cards for me. *Sigh*