Monday, September 20, 2010

Pseudonymed Job?

My mom has a name that is easily transposed over the phone or in noisy rooms. Sometimes when she orders coffee at Starbucks, she gives a fake name for simplicity. She'll just say Sarah. Whether they add an H or not, she'll know it's her drink. She calls it her Starbuck's name. I don't have the heart to tell her that strippers also have fake names that they call their stripper name, which is where I'm fairly sure the term "Starbucks' name" might have been copied. Then again, maybe it's my mom who doesn't have the heart to tell me where she got the idea to give a fake name at Starbucks. Probably not though.

Recently Dr. Awesome and I are considering inventing fake jobs.

A few years back we started noticing that the innocent question "what do you guys do for a living?" often turned into either a long drawn out conversation of Dr. Awesome's research (Awesome is so complicated!) or else a heated political debate about education. Everyone has something to say about teachers. We started slowly modifying our responses whenever we didn't feel up to a fight or when we were looking for a quick escape.

How is the job market?
You know, it's about the same everywhere right now. I think everyone is just working really hard.
Isn't no child left behind stealing money from public schools to give to private schools?
I'm pretty sure they are still separate but I usually let the politicians fight it out.
Oh so you could get a job with (insert name of company that is completely unrelated to Dr. Awesome's research or career path.)
Yeah potentially! I'll have to keep my options open. 
 (After lengthy explanation of research) Oh I get it!
(thinks: no, no you don't.) Great!

The other weekend at a sports bar. We shared a booth with a couple we just met owing to the large football crowd. As we got to talking, the inevitable "so, what do you do?" question came up. Unfortunately, it turned out that the the guy was a student at the college where Dr. Awesome teaches and the gal was an aspiring preschool teacher who apparently knew everything there is to know about the job market. Also most unfortunately they talked through the entire game despite our indications (screaming, booing, fist pounding) that we were there solely for cheering on our team. As soon as we'd quiet down there would be a comment or question about charter schools, or the job market, or firing teachers based on test scores.

And so it went on and on.

Don't get me wrong, most of the time we enjoy sharing about our lives and what we do, especially with friends and family. Certainly (obviously) education is a passion of mine and Dr. Awesome is well versed at explaining his life's work. But sometimes, like on Saturday afternoon when we just want to watch the football game with a beer, we don't feel up to being tiraded about charter policies, wondering if we are drinking in front of a student, or being reminded that our career paths both have a long way to go before we land in long term positions.

I wonder what spies tell people they do? Maybe I should tell them I'm a stripper. Or at least that I work at Starbucks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

High school kids are still mean to subs, fyi

My brain is still a little bit numb from the overwhelming experience of starting work again, in a new CMO, a new city, a new neighborhood. Oh and I subbed for ninth grade yesterday!

The question I keep getting from friends and family is simply "how was ninth grade?" And I'm not sure why anyone is so shocked to hear that I really did not like it. But let me tell you some of my stories and you can decide for yourself if you think subbing high school is something to be enjoyed or survived.

My first two classes were both 2 hour blocks, 9th grade English. The students came in the room so loudly that I almost stood on my tiptoes and shouted before I realized that I was actually still the teacher. I thought it would have been demeaning to ask them to "show me 5 if you can hear my voice" or touch their nose or put both hands on their heads. Actually come to think of it they might have thought I was trying to arrest them if I asked them to put their hands on their heads. And, call it my really good instincts if you must, but I knew that this, if ever, was not the time to go on a bear hunt. So I spoke loudly and asked for their attention, waited, asked, waited, demanded, waited, scolded, waited, called out individuals, waited... basically did everything wrong. I hate teenagers. At some point in between my first and second blocks I heard shattering glass, but didn't immediately find out what it was.

I taught a lessons about facts/opinions and ethos/pathos/logos and because I was bored from teaching the same lesson 4 times, I made two kids get into a real argument made the others classify their arguments. Do you know how long high school lessons are? I had 120 minutes for that stupid block! Can you imagine doing only one subject for 120 minutes? Poor kids! No wonder the girls started pulling out their mascara and eyelash curlers. And ask to go to the bathroom every five minutes. And pass notes that were folded and sealed with lipstick kisses but claimed to be "math homework".

FYI, if you make girls put away their makeup, and tell someone they can't go to bathroom on the basis of "teachers can't go either", and take away someone's lipstick sealed "math homework", you are not a nice sub. Actually you are not a nice person. The things they called me I can't repeat on this blog because if I did 1) google's profanity blocker would screen it from many searches and 2) most of it was in Spanish so I don't remember it. But I know it was mean.

Also FYI if you glare back hard enough at a kid who is calling you something racist, they'll shrug and say "but whatever it's cool." Did I mention I hate teenagers?

After a quick lunch I was requested to help co-teach with another sub, who was teaching science. Apparently the other sub was also having management problems similar to myself. After the kids were given a stern lecture from the principal, the two of us were left with them. Most of them had been in one of my the classes in the morning but had since decided that I was cool (or perhaps the principal scared them) and put their heads down and did their work. I also kept a glare on my face and did not smile the entire time. When someone shouted "That was the bell!!!" 8 minutes before the bell rang, and nearly the whole class got up to leave and the other sub almost let them, I almost cracked a smile. Almost. Instead I commanded everyone back into their seats and I threatened detention if I ever found out who shouted that the bell rang.

And so went the rest of my day. No smiling. No fun. No silly songs and no dancing around the room looking for letters or patterns. Just sit down and shut up and do your work. Turns out high school still sucks.

As I was leaving, I found out that shattering glass I heard? That was a kid being thrown through a window. The kid who threw him was permanently expelled within the hour and the next day (which I guess is today) someone on the waiting list will be at the school in his place.

Then today I gave my kindergartners a spelling test, but only after singing and dancing. It is going to be an interesting year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mrs. Awesome Subs Again, reprised

After nearly four weeks of hoop jumping, I'm back in action, subbing for ninth grade English today. Careful readers will observe that I have a multiple subjects credential, which means I'm normally an elementary school teacher.

Today I'm remembering what a mentor once said: If you don't think you know what you're doing, just pretend like you do and keep trying until you fail enough times to learn it well enough to stop pretending.

Holding my breath, diving in!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Consider me oriented

I just got home from orientation to my new sub pool. Who knew there even were such things as new hire orientations for substitute teachers? Apparently this CMO (that's charter management organization, and yes! I finally have a name for it!) has higher standards for its teachers, students, and substitutes. I went to the orientation more than a little skeptical, but that was kind of a waste of perfectly good cynicism. Here's what I found out.

First, my new CMO fills its sub pool only with candidates it would consider hiring into full time teaching positions, or candidates it considers "highly qualified". My chances of getting hired by them are significantly increased now IF I do a good job subbing, and of course if there are any openings that I am available for this year or next.

In the room with me were about 20 new sub hires and we were told point blank to consider ourselves "lucky and at-will" because there hundreds of other applicants. Apparently we are evaluated each time we sub and one negative eval will get us kicked off the island. Also when we sub we are treated like normal teachers, which means if a teacher was scheduled for a walk-through with feedback that day, we'll get it instead, including feedback on our teaching. I know feedback is important for improvement, and I don't disagree with this idea in principal, but dang. The no-nonsense attitude is going to take some getting used to. Also what happens if I sub for someone who just doesn't like me or if I just have a bad day? Seems a little harsh. On the other hand, I cannot tell you how often I'm completely infuriated at systems that allow people who suck at their jobs to keep working. For once in my life, my opinion is not yet formed on this issue.

Of the 20ish people in the room, it sickens me to think about how many of them had several years of classroom teaching experience. We have perfectly good teachers with experience, and they aren't in a classroom right now? Many were coming from local districts that had laid them off and wanted to offer them less the $100/day to sub. Almost all were full credentialed like myself. Welcome to the recession.

Aside from putting a fire under my butt regarding principal walk-throughs and impromptu evals, I really wholeheartedly found myself agreeing with the charter's mission and pedagogy. And I don't think it was just because I need a job and want to like where I'm working either. Maybe I'm a sucker for a powerpoint with good graphic organizers, but I found the whole orienting process a welcoming, positive, and meaningful experience. Most of all, I feel like it was time well spent. Obviously subbing at this CMO will not be the same as subbing in Small Town, USA so I'm glad someone took the time to outline the differences for me.

Some of the things that are different about subbing for this CMO:
-I'm welcome at all of their professional development activities (not paid, but I can add to my resume and more importantly, improve my teaching)
-Depending on the school, I'm welcome at their staff meetings (extremely rare)
-My pay is $35/day more than in Small Town, USA.
-I'm encouraged to volunteer and observe on days that I don't sub. It's like... they actually want me to be a better teacher.
-I have to wear dress clothes. No more jeans like in Small Town, USA, not even if I pair them with a blouse. If you know me in real life, you know I live in jeans.
-I can get direct deposit, but there is no centralized sub line or sub coordinator. Give and take, eh?

So now the only thing standing in my way between getting those first calls is a TB clearance, so I will have to wait at least another week. In the meantime, it's shopping, college football, and enjoying what looks like the end of summer and the end of my "unemployment".

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Surrogate Classrooms

Well unfortunately I have nothing to update regarding the job hunt, other than I am trying to find a place (and motivation and moolah) to get another TB test done so I can get going with my charter sub pool. Also I need another cooler way to reference subbing for aforementioned charter network, as it is not really a district or network but just a charter with several campuses.

In the meantime though I've tricked two people into adopting me. First, my sister-in-law who teaches third grade let me come and help her set up her room last week and pick her brain about groups, reading programs, resumes, and other fun teacher stuff. She is doing a polka dot theme this year and we made some pretty awesome boards. I plan to steal her ideas of how to run a focus board for small groups (a themed white board used only for small group instruction) and her paper monkey tree was adorable! I also helped watch my niece, who thought the books in the room were hers. I managed to teach her to say "mommy's classroom" but not "Auntie". Go figure. My sister-in-law doesn't care for laminating though. I thought all teachers secretly become teachers just so we can write on the white board and laminate things? In any case, I laminated a ton of stuff and it was super fun! I'm so glad I live closer now because now I can go visit a ton. If only it was a bit closer, then I could apply to work in her district or volunteer at her school when I don't have sub jobs.

Second, my good friend and colleague from grad school just so happens to live and work as a second grade teacher in Big City, USA and so I made her let me come and spend the day in her room. As per norm, I talked her ear off while we set up bulletin boards, shared curriculum and management ideas, dreamed about the day we could finally work in the same school and maybe even share a classroom, and gossiped about boys. I will most definitely be volunteering in her room on days that I don't get sub calls, and also I'll be trying to get hooked up to sub for her charter!

Friday, August 27, 2010

When being awesome isn't good enough, be better

I just $52.50 to prove I'm STILL not a crook. I think I got ripped off. Up next are more fees to renew my TB and who knows what else. I know yesterday I was all "I'll jump the hoops" but today my bank account feels pretty empty. I'm not going to lie.

Meanwhile, I'm spending the afternoon completely revamping my resume and cover letter template. I did it at the beginning of the summer but I can't help but think maybe I could make it better.

If you had to write about one "hot" topic in education in your cover letter (e.g., differentiation, equity, management, assessment) what would you pick? Why? Or would you nix hot topics all together and give them a business cover letter that highlights what your resume does not explain/cover?

Maybe I should just say, "I think walking down the aisles at Staples is relaxing and the teacher supply store is better than Toys R Us. I want to be a teacher because I like writing on the white board and I still think I can change the world." 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The why in "why I still bother"

Having the summer off and enjoying not working makes a slippery slope down the path of "is it worth it" and "why even bother". Yesterday I started to dig deep, but realized my reason for bothering has been right at the surface all along. 

As you know, I began the hoop jumping to start subbing for a chain of charters in the inner city, c/o Big City, USA. I filled out a crazy detailed online application, showed up for an interview, wrote some essay questions on the spot, got grilled about best practices and my views of guest teaching, and got selected to join the limited guest teacher (re: sub) pool for the 8 locations k-12 in the inner city neighborhood that this particular charter serves. I paid a total of $42 to have two different official transcripts ordered and tomorrow I'll pay another $25 for a fingerprint & background check. Next week I'll attend a mandatory orientation. I don't want to talk about gas or minutes spent in traffic but at least no one can hear my singing in the car.

Why the hoops? Is it because, as it seems on the surface, that I'm so desperate for a job that I'll take anything that comes my way? Is it because I'm so pathetic I can't do any better or get hired in a "good" district?

Let me tell you why. And this is the real answer--not the interview answer, not the essay question answer, not the friendly polite dinner conversation answer. I'm not trying to be cute or coy or even, for once, awesome. It's just the truth.

It's because I think the only way to change the world is to teach our children to ask questions. 

I believe that so strongly I'm willing to put it on my sleeve or nail it to my door with a sword. So when I drove to my interview yesterday and saw graffiti on every flat surface and poverty and hunger, and saw babies with babies and teenagers with gang tattoos, I didn't think "how sad." I didn't think "welfare kids" or "I can save them!" or "they need help" or "am I safe here?". I didn't even really think about difference or privilege or agency or equity or any other hot topic that often keeps me awake at night.

I did think "I wonder if anyone is teaching these kids to ask "why" or "how".

So yes, I will jump the hoops and fight upstream with the thousands of other teachers who believe we can change the world. And if that means subbing or working part time or driving in traffic or paying for another stupid transcript or background check (I'm still not a crook!) then I will. Maybe I never will have my own classroom. Maybe I will get hired next week. Maybe I'll stop working when I have kids. I don't know right now. But right now, I sure as hell am going to keep bothering with the hoops, because kids need to be taught to ask the questions that grown ups are too afraid of.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mrs. Awesome Subs Again

Apparently I had the right answers, or else the interview was a formality, or I'm doomed destined going to spend my life swimming in the sub pool, because I am going to be hired into the sub pool for the network of charters where I interviewed today.

Also, apparently, I hate myself, because I told them I would sub any grade, and when he found I had taken college level calculus, he wrote "math, 7-12" on my paper. Uhhh does anyone remember the panic attack I had when my spring sing was at a high school campus? I think involved lots of forcing myself to walk by rows of lockers and being convinced the teenagers were looking at me.

Well... what's done is done. For now I'll keep applying to whatever positions I can find, and plan on getting my fingerprints, etc. done before sub boot camp next Friday.

Sub pools for the great recession

How do you prepare yourself for a job interview? What if that job interview was to join the sub pool?

Would you practice getting your pulse taken? Or take it more seriously, and bring in samples of daily summaries, prepare a list of curriculum you're familiar with, and be ready to explain/discuss management issues through the lens of a guest teacher? Would you wear a suit? Prepare a sample lesson... just in case they see how incredibly awesome you are and change their mind and decide to hire you full time after all? 

All year last year when I subbed people would say "well hey you have a pulse!" but apparently having a pulse and passing a background check is no longer the minimum qualification to be a substitute teacher. In fact, most of the districts in Big City, USA will not even accept new substitute applications right now because their sub pools are full of teachers who were laid off last year.

Welcome to 2010, teachers.

I did manage to land myself a bona fide job interview... to join a sub pool for a chain of charters. I did also apply for a classroom position with the same charter but no bites there.

While I'm still actively applying for the few job postings that I can find (and thinking about seriously revamping my cover letter & resume) I'm also wondering how I'm going to continue my career. As a planner by nature, my 1, 5, and 10 year plans get changed almost weekly as my career prospects dwindle. Am I a lifer in the sub pool? Will two years post teacher ed without my own room kill my classroom teacher potential? Can I still consider pursuing my special ed credential next year?

Or will I not even get picked for the sub pool? If that happens I may as well grab my green apron and go knock on the window at Starbucks and promise not to steal too many SKVLs.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Life, differentiated

I finally have internet at my new apartment. And by finally I mean it's been three days since we got our keys. Addicted doesn't even begin to describe it. I'm hoping to get back in it to win it soon and get things like twitter up and running (my new phone should arrive soon!) and potentially update my blog to include links to all the awesome teacher blogs I've found this summer.

This move have been as much symbolic as it is physical for Dr. Awesome and me. We spent just over five years in Small Town, USA and we both earned our degrees there. We're officially moving on from being graduate students and moving on to the next part of our lives. Small Town, USA is where we got married and grew from undergrads into the people we are today (when we figure out who those people are we'll let you know.) Although neither of us particularly liked living in Small Town, USA, we felt kinda sad leaving it, as it is where our marriage began and grew and where we solidified the permanence of "us". Also it's where we decided to stop being lame and start being awesome instead.

Now we're in Big City, USA, though perhaps GIANT City is a more appropriate name. Our apartment is tiny, we're both having car troubles, I haven't had one single call for a job interview, and we have to move again next year. But I already love it here.

Right now I'm closer to my sister-in-law for one year, during the exact year that my brother is deployed. Right now we have a small apartment when our little family of two + kitties is the smallest it will ever be. Right now we have car trouble but we don't have to make car payments. Right now I'm planning on going to some amazing concerts and visit some really rad attractions because they are in my neighborhood, and I can, and because I don't have to go to work. I love the way people drive here, order coffee here, and most of all I love that Dr. Awesome is here with me.

Is this my life, differentiated?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sorry for the hiatus, but then again, who needs to apologize for summer? I just wanted to let the blogger world at large know that I'll be back and blogging again soon(ish) but in the meantime, you'll have to go outside and play.

Here's a quick list of things I've been up to.

Vacation (is there anything better?)
Packing/moving (is there anything worse?)
Applying for jobs (putting my name in sub pools...)
Sending my brother off to Afghanistan (I'm a proud Navy sister but damn wars suck)
Attempting to catch up on my classics (started and am actually enjoying Bleak House by Charles Dickens)
Alright, our moving truck comes tomorrow so back to packing it is! Good luck to everyone setting up classrooms, meeting new kiddos and parents, interviewing for last minute openings, and generally starting off a new year!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tweet Tweet

I decided to join the world of twitter. I'm brand new to it. I don't even have a personal twitter account so there will definitely be some learning involved. Also this may or may not lead to a new phone purchase, as my current phone flips AND has a retractable antennae.

So are you on twitter? I'm @mrsawesomeblogs so watch for me as I try to figure the whole thing out. It can't be that hard.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting over myself.

Thank you so much for all the encouragement! Between my blog readers (and stalkers) and real life friends and family, I had a lot of support yesterday as I whined my way through the day bemoaning my terrible chances of finding a classroom job this year.

Today though I'm back to feeling awesome. Thank goodness because no one likes (or hires) a complainer. I may be one in a thousand trying for the job, but that also means I was one of a thousand who had my hopes dashed to pieces yesterday when I opened my email to see how slim my chances really were. Right now I'm grateful to be able to continue pursuing a teaching career, even if that means sticking it out in the subpool for another year.

Now I'm ready for more traveling, more summer, and more family time. And I guess I have to stop procrastinating packing for our big move...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

0.5% chance of becoming a real bone fide teacher!

A half of a percent. That's the chance I have. Thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands of tears, one hundred quarter units in twelve months from a top fifty education graduate school, one year of keeping my head above water in a sub pool/contract teaching, and now I have earned myself the chance to roll the dice on a HALF of a percent chance at a job.

Today I received an email from a district I applied to, stating that I was "one of over 1,000 applicants for five positions". Let's be generous and forget to read that little word "over" and estimate that there are 1,000 people vying for five positions. Straight up that's half a percent chance if we're looking at name drawings out of a hat.

If it were me, and thank goodness it's not, I wouldn't pick me. I'd pick someone with a couple of years experience but no tenure to transfer over. That would be the cheapest way to get a teacher with some experience. What can I say? I'm a numbers person. But today, just for once, I wish I wasn't. Because then I wouldn't realize how dire 5/1000 really is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Surving the hunt

Like many of you, I'm in over my head with my job hunt this year. There are hardly any openings so I've had to expand my hunt to include after school positions, middle school positions, and private schools that may or may not line up with my personal religious beliefs. We're all fighting to stay positive, keep searching, send in apps as soon as the jobs get posted, and tweak and re-tweak those cover letters. I keep hearing about places getting hundreds of applications for a single opening and thinking that there is just no way a district is ever going to even consider calling me for an interview, not when there are teachers out there with years of experience who can pull the "I got laid off" card. The whole thing is just rather depressing, for me and for everyone else.  And I haven't even begun to talk about the kids, who are hurt the most by the layoffs.

In the middle of all this, Dr. Awesome and I are up to our neck in boxes, as we're not far from our big move. Trying to convince myself to move several boxes of teaching supplies for a "someday" that may never be is getting harder and harder.

Like any normal person, I did the only thing left to do. I hit up and spent so much money that my credit card company called regarding abnormal activity.

That's normal, right?

My new sandals arrived today. Writing essays doesn't seem so bad now that I'm wearing PJs and my new OluKai sandals. Now that's summer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Everyone likes to be read to: a book review from my niece

Every summer my parents take my niece and nephew for a week or so, giving my brother and his wife a much needed reprieve from the summer doldrums and giving my mom and dad a chance to spend some uninterrupted time with their grandkids. Well, uninterrupted until I come and visit and crash the party!

After a day and a half of making cookies, reading books, playing piano, getting whooped on guitar hero, and video chatting with Dr. Awesome, I had to be on my way home so Grandma could take the kids on a road trip to Six Flags. I gave my mom an audio book of Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume to help make their drive go by with less episodes of iCarly playing on Grandpa's portable DVD player.

In the car rode my mom, her friend, and three kids ages 7, 10, and 12. No one had ever read Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing before (how is that even possible?) and it turned out that the book was a huge hit! They listened to the whole book in the car and everyone enjoyed it. The thing is, people love being read to, especially when its a good story. It doesn't matter if the book is grade level or if you're a grown up listening to a kids book or a teenager listening to a young readers' book. People like to be read to, and they need to be read to.

Two days after their big amusement park trip I talked to my niece on the phone, expecting to hear about water rides and long lines. Instead, she told me all about the book and how everyone loved it. I thought I would share what I could remember of our conversation.

Auntie Awesome guess what?
We listened to all three CDs! That's the whole story!
Wow cool, did you like it?
Yes we all did everyone laughed. Even my brother liked it. And well it was kind of weird because the whole thing was said by a girl so even the boy voices sounded like a girl.
Well that's because it's a girl reading a book, so she has to read all of the voices. 
Yeah I thought it was so funny...
What was one part you liked?
Well I liked all of it, but Auntie Awesome, did you know there were gross parts? Like when Fudge poops the turtle?

There you have it. It's funny but it's gross when Fudge poops a turtle.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wrap it up, it's a mummy

We usually need to clap, pour rainsticks, and trick our youngsters into singing a song with hand motions so that they'll can it and put their eyes on the board. Getting and keeping kids' attentions is a struggle we battle with on a daily basis. Having the right hook for a lesson can make a huge difference, especially when they are adolescent and angry at the world.

When I was in London recently, I had the chance to visit the British Museum. While there, I snagged some pictures that are certain to nab the attention of even the most uninterested preteens. I'm not sure yet how to relate it to any and all curriculum, but teaching ancient civilizations never sounded so good!

Tell me these shots aren't freaky awesome enough to make even you want to drop your multiple subjects credential and teach history!

Guess who this is? Well yes, it's a mummy, but guess WHO it is? It's Cleo-frickin-patra! That's right, she's just laying right there on a shelf all royal-like. It's Cleopatra, queen and pharaoh of Egypt! Not exactly a royal or peaceful resting place, but she's certainly getting some publicity here.

Okay I'm not really sure who this guy/gal is but that is indeed a mummy. The next time you have a toilet paper roll mummy wrap contest, consider this as your guide. I can't imagine that being a relaxing way to rest in peace, but to each culture their own. 

Who doesn't like bones? Skulls? Entrails? Yuck. Hooked yet, aloof and disinterested middle school boy who cares about nothing?


Well haven't you always want to unwrap a mummy? Common... you know you're curious to see how well that ancient preservation really worked!

 What? You think it's cool? A 3,000 year old dead body preserved with ancient technology? You don't want to learn about it, do you? Oh, you're interested in a closer look? Ok, but don't cry to me if you get nightmares!


Now that's history. And I bet you're ready to learn. Check out the British Museum website here and I hope someday you get the chance to travel and be inspired (or at least really wigged out!)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Telling it like it is: job application essays

I'm still in the UK, still enjoying a whirlwind of sightseeing with Dr. Awesome, and still squeezing in job hunting during the long boring days while he's at work and my legs are too tired and sore to carry me through even more walking tours. I am, however, getting a little burned out from these essay questions on job applications. I thought I would share some of my brutally honest answers.

1. If you are bilingual, please state the languages you speak and proficiencies.
I speak several languages. I speak parent, principal, administrator, and coworker. In addition, I speak several forms of child, including hungry, sleepy, frustrated, and whiny. All fluent. I also am moderately proficient at teenager, urban foo, and valley girl.

2. Why do you want to work for ___School?
You're one of three accepting applications right now. 

3. As an educator, how do you use assessments to inform your teaching?
I use every lesson to prepare the kids for the state test. Then I get my state test scores back, fear for my job and salary, can't make a difference because my kids that took the test are already in a new grade, and try again with a metaphorical whip on my back and new kids. 

4. How as collaboration impacted your performance?
Mrs. Next Door tells me how I do everything wrong. Mr. Next Door tells me how Mrs. Next Door is getting divorced. Ms. Down the Hall helps me with my weekly block plan and I help her with math and science prep. All four of us tell the principal we are a united grade level team. 

5. Please describe the management system in your classroom and give an example. 
I take away recess. Example: Kid is a terd. I take away recess. Kid is less of of terd. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I just wanted to you to know...

While I could be outside with Dr. Awesome, looking at sites like this....

or this....

or this....

I am not. Instead I am inside, in a library, in between stacks huddled by a plug with my UK-US adapter, working diligently on job applications that should have been finished a month ago. Oh wait, there weren't any openings a month ago.

Dr. Awesome and I are indeed having a fabulous trip though. Last weekend we cruised through all kinds of amazing things! This week while he works and I job hunt, I have managed to sneak in a few extra cups of coffee and read a bit more of my summer reading list. It is, after all, summer vacation. Our next weekend will bring us more adventure though, and more blog hiatus!

I do have to wonder though... will I ever get to have a summer vacation that isn't spend with that nagging worry of "what next?" Or are all new educators doomed to years of pink slips and reapplications? If I had my own room, my own grade, surely I would be taking pictures to share with my kids. It is a someday well worth the pursuit.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dr. Awesome

Please forgive the recent radio silence. Things have been crazy preparing for family visiting for Mr. Awesome's defense and planning for a trip to the UK. Unfortunately there will be more stints of quiet as I'm soon going to be more interested in seeing Hogwarts historical sites than blogging.

But first I have some very important news to share! Yesterday afternoon Mr. Awesome passed his doctoral defense and after his committee signed his papers, he officially became Dr. Awesome, Ph.D. That's right folks, I am now married to a doctor! Just imagine what schemes we'll be qualified to come up with now... mwhahahaha.

I'm so proud of Dr. Awesome and all the years of hard work it has taken to get to this point. After we get back from the UK, we're off to Big City, USA where Dr. Awesome has accepted a one year visiting assistant professor position. After that? Probably world domination. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I just got back from a quick trip to visit family and see my nephew's 6th grade graduation.  *Sniff. I can't believe he's going off to junior high in a couple of months. He's an awesome young man and I'm so proud of my brother and my sister-in-law for being such awesome parents. I know some day Mr. Awesome and I will have a lot of questions re: how to raise a son as cool as my cool nephew.

This year I've heard lots of opinions about graduation. My friend who teaches preschool has a family celebration, but refuses to make cardboard hats for her Pre-K kids who are more likely to spill juice on their hats than sit back and have a moment of self reflection such as "hey, my fine motor skills, number sense, and phonemic awareness totally improved this year! I'm SO ready for kindergarten now!" Not that a preschooler shouldn't be proud, but it's not the same as say, an 18 year old graduating from high school who can look back and say, "man, I did it and I made good life choices along the way." Or, say, Mr. Awesome who has been in school since he was five and on Sunday will be walking across a stage in a funny gown.

So where does 6th grade graduation fall in the mix? What about 8th grade? Kindergarten? Personally, I think it really depends on the teacher and the school and the community. I thought that my nephew's graduation was fabulous. Although, as some have pointed out, I am extremely biased when it comes to my nieces and nephew, so perhaps I am not entirely fair. But the ceremony I saw was a great reflection of the school's community and values, honored the students' hard work without acting like it was the end of their academic career, and reflected on how these kids were moving on from being the little guys in elementary school to growing young adults facing all the things young adults face in those places known as junior high and high school.

If I get a job teaching sixth grade, or kindergarten, or fifth grade in a district that is a k-5 elementary school district, I'll have to decide for myself or be forced into helping with graduation. I'll probably be the kind to go all out with paper hats and goofy favors. I think the kids work hard and deserve a celebration. Plus who doesn't like cake and pictures and neat slide shows with corny music? 

Of course, you could look at it in the eyes of my niece (nephew's little sis). It's totally NOT FAIR that sixth graders get to graduate but first graders still have to go to school. 

Yeah, what a jip.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Show me the money!

Have you heard about the new $100 bills? They are so cool!!

When I was subbing a couple of weeks ago I got to see a special presentation from a local bank about the new bills. The bankers brought really neat super size color copies of the current bills and then they had copies of the new bills too. The kids were invited to find as many similarities and differences as they could. It was a fun little compare/contrast and I had a hard time letting the kids do the work.

At one point the bankers started explaining to the kids how the new bills won't really be made of copy paper, but they'd be made of cotton. They went to say that the cool thing about the new bills is that when you fold the bills a certain way it would create a 3D effect.

At that point I almost interrupted to explain that these kids were too young to pick up on subtle sarcasm, and that they wouldn't find it funny to be teased in such a way. I thought it was so mean that the bankers were telling the kids such a ridiculous thing! I mean, a 3D effect on a paper bill? Come on, you might be able to pull a fast one on these kids, but not on me.

Luckily I didn't say anything though, because it turns out they were serious! Apparently it wasn't the kids who were too young to understand the adults, it was Mrs. Awesome who was too much of a cynic to change with the times.

You can read about the new bills here, and even watch a cool video! 

In any case, check out the new bills! So cool! I can't wait to get one. I guess I'll need a job to earn it first. Hmm.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What day is it? Huh?

It's amazing how quickly I let myself get into the flow of a summer schedule. I don't know what day of the week it is and I'm staying up later and later every night, reverting back to my night owl ways. I love staying up late. So does Mr. Awesome and so do some of my closest friends. This is dangerous for a reformed insomniac and really fun for a professional procrastinator. I am literally procrastinating bedtime.

Last night Mr. Awesome pondered what would happen if we stayed up 4 extra hours every day. In 6 days, would we get an extra day? Or would we have lost a day by sleeping through it at other times? Or would you be able to discipline yourself into keeping a 28 hour schedule and be able to quite literally add more hours to the day? I wanted to try the experiment right away but Mr. Awesome is smarter than me and he reminded me of things like other people in the world.

My bathroom is sparkling and smells of bleach, my kitchen is spotless and smells like lemon fresh cleaner, and every item of clothing I own is laundried and put away, excepting my current outfit. And now I'm blogging about topics interesting to about 3 people in the universe.

I must be procrastinating. Yikes. Don't tell my future boss about this habit I have. Remind me not to mention it when they ask about my "weaknesses" in an interview. I can imagine it now...

"Tell me, Mrs. Awesome, what would you say is your biggest weakness and how does it impact your work?"

"Well, there's the whole procrastination problem I have but don't worry, I always finish by the deadline and I usually get fun side projects done on the way too!"

Oh look, a bookshelf to reorganize! 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I like to mouvs it mouvs it!

Today I stopped by my (old) school to pick up my (last) paycheck and generally goof off while I didn't have a sub call. I was totally surprised to find my box filled with thank you and love notes from my children! I am so grateful for the teachers who orchestrated this and while I know many of them just put a list of the peripheral teachers on the board and had the students write letters during "choice" time, I am touched none the less. Some of the cards/letters I got were priceless. This is my very first batch of thank yous from kids that weren't from student teaching or college volunteer work and I will admit to tearing up more than a little when reading through the notes they wrote me.

First, I got a GIANT card from a conglomerate of students from several classes. I'm not sure who organized this but my best guess is some of the sixth grade girls. My favorite comment is from Justine: "PS, you make great cookies." Justine is a teacher's kid who has been at some of the dinners I've gone to and she's had the chance to sample some of my homemade cookies. This kid knows her priorities. Another cool thing was that each of the third grade classes made me a card. One of the students took it upon himself to draw a picture of him and me on the back of the card, including labels. I'm pretty sure he has a teacher crush on me.

But of the cards, my favorite quote comes from a batch of first grade letters. The best notes are always from the kids who have the toughest times in school and this kid is no exception. I love that the teacher gave me cards in their purest form: the way kids wrote em and not rewritten by teachers until they looked "perfect." I'll translate for those of you who aren't trained in the skill of reading the writing of young authors.

Dear Mrs. Awesome. 
My favorite song is Surfin USA, The Yellow Submarine, and I like your moves. I like you Mrs. Awesome.

Best Student EVER.  

Well I'm glad to know I wasn't just dancing around for the sake of acting like a goon. Turns out, I've got mouvs!

And with the thought of me and my awesome mouvs, I'll leave you with pictoral proof that I truly rocked out with my kids this year. I give you.... Mrs. Awesome, as seen in the eyes of a first grader.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hunting Season: Now Open

All the pieces have finally fallen into place. Mr. Awesome accepted a position in Big Giant City, USA and so I know where to apply for jobs now. And as of yesterday evening, I finally got all the letters of rec I was waiting for, so it's official. I am officially on the market. Looking. Available. Unemployed.

In between jobs.

Starting today, I'm spending a bit of each day working on my job applications. I need to revamp my resume (should have already done that, but as you know, I am really good at procrastinating) and I need to get my shell cover letter set. However, the biggest obstacle is simply going to be finding a place to send my apps. Right now there are several districts that simply have information on collecting unemployment. Others are only accepting applications from current employees. Others want you to have years of experience. I wonder if any of them are looking for me?

Here's my first cover letter:

Dear peeps:
Please call me for an interview. I'm awesome. w00t. 
Mrs. Awesome. 

I think it needs some work. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Teacher Sweater Explained

The other day I was eating dinner with several teachers from school. Somehow the topic of clothes came up and a few of us started giving giving Mrs. Sixth Grade a hard time about her outfits.

Previously, I had deduced that the teacher sweater must be a symptom of PTSD, or Post Teaching Stress Disorder. I thought once you go teacher sweater you are gone forever, your sanity lost to the trenches of education. However, I am here today to announce that I may be a teensy incorrect, or possibly totally wrong.

Mrs. Sixth Grade explained that she loves dressing up for school. It's not about looking cool or professional or nice or even comfortable.

"So what's it about?" I asked, thinking of her pencil earrings, holiday themed sweaters, #1 teacher brooches, and apple pendant necklaces.

"Well, I would never get to dress this way in real life. School is just a pretend world. Everything there is make believe! You can wear anything you want and all the fun stuff because it's totally just a costume. I would never dress that way in the real world, yuck! Haha. Yeah... I like wearing fun costumes to school. It's all pretend."

So there you have it folks. The teacher sweater: it's just make believe.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 4, the performance

If you feel so inclined, check out the rest of my spring sing posts:

And that brings us to Part Four: The Performance. 

Last night a few of my friends were kind enough to watch the DVD of my spring sing with me. They even said nice things because they are contractually obligated to. As I was watching it I realized there was now proof of my first year of teaching and my first year of attempting something that I really had no idea how to do. I really did make a bunch of kids show up and sing songs and some of them even liked it and most of them really did learn a lot about music. 

When I first arrived at the high school where we were performing, I nearly turned around and left. All I saw were lockers and little cliques of teenagers hanging out after school and posters advertising prom tickets. I started to sweat and my heart rate skyrocket. Oh god, I'm in high school, oh god, they're looking at me, oh no, oh no eeesh what have I done? And the lockers were everywhere and the sound of them slamming echoed in my ears as I walked through the campus, awkwardly carrying my music stand and my bag of recorders. A few teachers popped their heads out their doors at the sound of my heels clicking down the halls and even then I felt like an idiot, but I just kept willing myself to keep walking, as if I could escape the mania of grades 9-12. 

Can you believe there are teachers out there who willing teach in such a place? Ugh! There will never be a day that I teach high school. That's a promise. 

Luckily once I found the amphitheater I relaxed. Soon enough kids and families and my principal showed up. The sound guy had everything taken care of, the video guys had their stuff done, I was meeting family after family, and the PTA was selling seats in the first three rows for $10 a pop. Can you believe Mrs. PTA President didn't even give me a commission on that? I figure at $10/seat x 60 seats we must have rolled in $600 bucks. And don't get me started on the sixth grade bake sale. I know I didn't get them a food sales permit for the concert! 

I suppose it's good to bring in money. I suppose the kids need it to do cool things, like hire a music teacher and art is cool too. I suppose. Hmph. 

The show started and I was grateful for my principal who MCed the whole thing. Each grade came on the stage and sang their bit. It was very simple. Children came onto the stage, sang their two songs with me in front modeling their motions and looking like a goon, and then the kids left while the new grade came on the stage. Kinders, then first, second, and before I knew it fifth was leaving the stage and sixth was up and we were almost done! Then I put the whole school on the stage for the finale and after 80 short minutes, my entire year was over. Just like that, my first year of teaching ended. I said goodbye to 500 kids with one giant wave and high-fives with the 6th graders. No one fell off the risers. No one backed out of singing their solo. Not one parent yelled at me (though some would have liked to.) My principal didn't forget my name. It didn't rain and nothing caught on fire. It was awesome. 

My first year teaching was everything that I hoped it would be. I don't know what my plans are for next year. But I do know that I'm ready to try again. Bring it. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 3, song choice

Sorry for the delay! Life happens. Blogging gets put to the back burner. 

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here

Part 3: song choice

During my job interview, my principal asked me "How do you feel about pop music?"

I told her I thought it was great. I thought pop music was the way to keep music in our schools, and that keeping music relevant and connected to our kids would bridge the gap between real world learning and school learning. I told her I thought it was our place as educators to make careful choices about lyrics and artists such that we're choosing age appropriate pop, but ultimately I liked the idea of incorporating music kids were already listening to into the curriculum in addition to the various genres we already studied.

Was that the right answer? Who knows. It was my answer and it was in sync with how my principal felt so I got the job. It's also the attitude that had so many people talking about me and the songs I picked after the spring sing.

Some of the artists we sang were:

The Beatles
Michael Jackson
Green Day
Natasha Bedingfield
Owl City

We sang the real versions of the songs done by the real artists. There were no "kiddie" versions dumbed down or rearranged. We rocked the house. I had third graders moonwalking across the stage and sixth graders belting out like they never felt self conscious in their lives (ok at least most of them).

My secret formula? Sing songs kids like and songs parents approve of. And that you like.

When I had three classes per grade level practicing each song two times each week for ten weeks, I listened to each song about forty-five times. Probably more when you count the recesses and lunches I spent working with soloists. So yeah, I picked songs I like.

Well songs I liked. I like them less now. A lot less. 

I fretted for weeks about what songs to sing. I worried about the lyrics and the key and the length and the rhythms and balance of female and male artists. In the end I had all my songs approved by the principal and I sent copies of the lyrics to each teacher (lest anyone have the chance to complain they "didn't know" we were singing that) and I still worried someone would say something.

It turns out people sure did have lots to say. Most of what they said to my face was good though!

They said "you sure picked fun songs" and "wow those are songs from the radio" and "hey wasn't that song on Glee" and "Isn't that from American Idol" and "my kid loves that song I can't get him to stop singing it" and "I don't really like Michael Jackson, I know what he did!" and "Is Natasha Bedingfield really Rock N Roll" and "my kids know these songs from playing Rock Band" and "I'm so glad you're singing real songs now."

Hey, at least I gave people something to talk about. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Awesome!!

Today is Mr. Awesome's birthday!!!

He's spending the day working on his dissertation, boo!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Awesome. May none of your future birthdays be this lame. Ever.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 2, my worries

You can read part 1 here

I really like to worry. I'm a professional. And boy, before the Spring Sing, did I ramp up my worrying. It was (like all worrying) completely wasteful.

About a week before the performance I made the call to "go green" and skip printing programs. Why waste 500 pieces of paper that would just end up on the ground, only to be picked up by unpaid staff at the end of the night? My pal (the principal) loved the idea. Save paper, save time, save backs. A few teachers warned me I would have angry parents about the lack of programs. I worried about this but no one complained.

I had also made the call to dress the kids in blue jeans and white tops. I knew we were performing outside and I knew families were feeling the recession as much as I was. Some people warned me that parents are used to their kids being more dressed up for the event. I worried. No one complained. Actually I got a lot of compliments on the outfits because "it was so easy and it looked so good." Of course in each grade I had a few green dresses and red shirts, but who cares? These are just little kids! Let the high school teachers be picky about uniforms. But still, right up until show time I worried about the outfits.

Now for me... I am the teacher who wears jeans every day. I stand on linoleum, not carpet so I also wear tennis shoes. I never, ever, wear skirts or dresses. I hate them. So of course for the Spring Sing I bought a super girly pink floral print dress with a black cardigan. I told all the kids who commented that it was because Spring Sing was a really special occasion. I had more than one little boy say shyly "Mrs. Awesome, you look really pretty." Oh dear. Watch out, Mr. Awesome. I think some of my heart went to the five year olds in room KA. Before the spring sing I had worried almost nightly about what I would wear and if it would be ok. Turns out I did just fine.

Coming up towards the big event I also wasn't sure how the sound was going to work. I have never really operated a sound board before nor could I see how I would run one while modeling hand motions and dance motions for the little guys on the stage. Also I didn't know if we would even have big speakers or electricity. I worried and worried and worried about this issue. I called and bugged and emailed until finally my principal made one magic phone call. It turns out we had a parent at our school who does sound stuff for his church and he came and saved the day. Whew. In the end I didn't even have to plug in anything.

I also worried about video. We let a professional company record our performance, then they make DVDs and sell them. It's a great fundraiser for our school. However I didn't know if I needed to schedule it, sign papers, write a contract... or?? But sure enough, two days before the performance, the guy calls me and everything is taken care of.

So basically, everything I worried about came together and, in the end, had viable solutions. How wasteful worrying seems after we find the solution, huh?

Next up... Song Choices (or why most contestants get kicked off American Idol)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 1, background

It's been a week since the Spring Sing so I figure I am long overdue for a review. Before I can go into all of the details of the actual event though, I want to share some of the background because I think it is relevant. All of the following things are bits of info I've been able to piece together from what people were willing to share with me in the staff room.

For several years prior to this year, our school has had our Spring Sing in a big formal concert hall. We had a staff connection and were able to rent the hall for almost nothing. In this big formal concert hall, the story goes that families wore their Sunday best, children came on their best behavior, and there was standing room only by the time all 500 kids plus their extended families arrived.

However, the hall came at a price. People had to pay for parking. It was an administrative nightmare. Teachers were pulling their hair out trying to coordinate kids onstage. Transitions in between grade level performances took as long as ten minutes and the entire concert lasted as long as three hours. Performing at the concert hall was really cool, but many secretly hated it.

This year we no longer had the staff contact available to get us the concert hall for cheap. And with budgets being the way they are, paying anything extra for an already extravagant music program was out of the question. Our performance was scheduled to take place at the local high school in an outside amphitheater before I even interviewed for the position. It turns out this is where the school used to perform before the discovered "formal concert hall" anyways. It also turns out that everyone had something to say about the new location but me.

Another thing to keep in mind as you read about the Spring Sing is that I replaced "Mrs. Old Teacher" who was the music teacher at our school for many, many years. She was not a credentialed teacher but that didn't stop her from being an amazing music teacher. I knew big university buzz words like differentiation and assessment but she had decades of teaching experience and a choral background suited for teaching kids to sing. However, as she was 30 or 40 years older than me, she had a different style and chose different songs. She also had fallen into the pattern of doing some of the same lessons and songs every year.

The two most controversial things about the Spring Sing this year were its location (I had nothing to do with that) and the song choices (all me). I wish I could go back in time and tell my past self that so I would not have fretted about everything else. In the end, I could have saved myself a lot of grief. be continued.

Read Part 2 here

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Lie Revealed

First, I must apologize for my absence. My excuses are valid. It was Mother's Day, so I went to visit my parents. Mr. Awesome had some writing to do so I helped him proof read and edit. I had allergies so I couldn't think through the zyrtec fog. I was tired so I took a nap. The Amazing Race season finale was on. You know, good excuses.

But now it's back to business as usual. Remember last week when I posted about my favorite ice breaker game, three truths and a lie? It turns out that no one guessed correctly! Here's the run down and the lie revealed.

#1: True Story. I did it to prove a point to the most out of control class I've ever had, and I'm not sorry. I don't know why children thought it would be ok to run and shove and jump down four steps and scream and push and pull hair just because there is a new teacher in the room, but believe me, they never did it again. And I never raised my voice and I never told them they were bad kids. So maybe I'm not so much mean but effective.

#2: True Story. In Small Town, USA we really do have chamber orchestras who perform in elementary schools for free. And I am really am that much of a smart ass. And my pal, the principal, really is cool enough to like me better for it. Though I will admit that I am (and have been for about 10 years) working on learning to hold my tongue. This blog isn't helping because it's allowing me to embrace my inner snark.

#3: True Story. This tops my list of most embarrassing lesson moments ever. I'm still not sure what possessed me to think it was a good lesson plan. I do know that unlike some failed lessons, which just need to be retaught, this one will never happen again unless I'm at summer camp.

...which leaves #4.

#4: LIES. All LIES. I'm so proud of myself for tricking even the best of gamers. I must say though, you all must have a terrible idea of what full inclusion looks like here in Small Town, USA. We DO have 1:1 aides and interventions and special day classes and generally amazing special ed programs. If there ever was a child that had behaviors like I made up I'm sure we would be able to meet his educational needs. Also, at the school where I work, my teachers are all team players. If I ever said I had trouble with a kid, we would certainly work on it together. So #4 is actually entirely made up.


Has anyone ever played this game in a classroom? I think it would be a fun game to play either in the beginning of the year or at the end. It's fun to see what kids share about themselves. It would also make a great bus game for those long bus trips with fifth and sixth graders.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring Sing has been Sprung and Sung!

Just wanted to put up a quick note to say the Spring Sing last night went off fabulously! I'm so proud of all my kids! (all 500 of them, even the ones who picked their boogers on stage and the ones who stopped singing in the middle of the song to shhh! the person next to them....) My principal even offered me the position again for next year, should I still be in town and in need of something more than subbing. Always good to have a back up plan, I suppose!

I have a lot more to share about it later, but for now I'm off to enjoy so much needed rest!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tonight... we sing!

When I saw this a year ago, I never would have guessed that I would be teaching this song to 70 fifth graders (and pretending that I had a show choir instead of an entire elementary school full of wiggly kids.)

Glee - Don't Stop Believe - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Tonight we perform. I'll be the first music teacher in years (decades, truthfully) to pick something other than "Sesame Street" or "Barney" songs for the Spring Sing. We're singing Journey, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Green Day, Elvis, Natasha Bedingfield... I haven't so much as rocked the boat as bought a new one.

It's on.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three truths and a lie

There is an ice breaker called "three truths and lie" that I have played countless times in various leadership retreats, sleep away camps, staff training, and other similar events warranting a group get-to-know you event with generally amiable people. Of all the ice breakers out there, three truths and a lie is one I love to hate. I hate trying to come up with things both outlandish and awesome but I love hearing what crazy things other people come up with. I always want to be the one that stumps everyone but inevitably I am the easiest to call.

If you've never played, here's how it works. In a group of newly acquainted people, each person takes a turn telling four "facts" about themselves. One fact is supposed to be a lie and the other three completely true. The group then tries to guess which outlandish fact is a lie.

In honor of my contract being up this week, I bring you three truths and a lie about my job this year. Your task is to guess which anecdote about the last 20 work weeks is a lie. Even if you know me in real life, feel free to play along. I've saved up some of my stories for this game. Of course, everything on my blog is made up anyways, but, you know. Play along.

1) One time I made an entire first grade class practice walking from the door to the stage and back again over and over until they could do it without running and screaming and jumping and being completely physically out of control. We walked with the whole class. The boys watched the girls walk. The girls watched the boys walk. We counted off and the 1s watched the 2s and then the 2s watched the 1s. It took 10 minutes of a 30 minute class. I never had management issues with that class again. I am a mean teacher. Probably the meanest they've ever had.

2) Sometimes we have assemblies scheduled in the MPR when I am supposed to be teaching music. Usually I reschedule my music classes and then do prep work in the lounge or else go to the assembly. On one particular occasion, we had a chamber orchestra scheduled to come so I made sure to be in the MPR. However, they were late. My principal said to me "well, we might need you to do something with these guys" and I said seriously "sure, we can practice our finale song." She stared at me like I had said "sure, I'll cut off my hand." I think her jaw dropped to floor. Finally she said "you would really do that with no notice? you would just stand up here and practice with all of these guys all at once without any notice at all?" and I said "of course, isn't that what you just suggested? besides, what else are we gonna do?" and she said "well..." and so I said "I think you underestimate me. I am very willing to try things and I'm not shy. If we have time, I'll jump on that stage and go for it." My principal was still staring at me like she'd never seen me before when the chamber orchestra walked in. 

3) One time I played a game where I made everyone sing a different song, such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "The Farmer in The Dell." Students were told to either keep singing the song they were assigned or, if convinced via singing, sing what someone else was singing. The idea was that in the end, the whole class would come down to two or three groups competing for singers. This was, believe it or not, a game from a book of lesson ideas I found in my music closet and one of the worst ideas I have ever had. The game got so loud my principal came into the MPR to check on us. I poured my rainstick (my quiet signal) and the class was instantly quiet. I was mortified that the principal came over. The principal was shocked that I went from loud to silent in two pours. Needless to say I never played that game again, but I heart my rainstick. 

4) Early in the year I did a few lessons that required kids to use pencil/paper. I handed one kid a pencil and he growled at me. Apparently I was supposed to hand him a pen. All of the other kids in his class quickly explained that he only uses pens. It's "his deal". The growling child squatted down and started hopping around. Apparently this is some kind of anime inspired game they play on the playground. Can I just say that if you ever have this happen like I did, you will feel like your classes on full inclusion special ed were a complete waste of time because no one helped you think of what to do when a kid growls and hops around on his knees because you didn't give him a pen instead of a pencil. After class I told him he had to bring his own pen. And I told his teacher that the next time she brings her class to a new teacher, she needs to give a fair warning that one of her students has a propensity for growling and hopping when not given the proper writing apparatus. She told me she had no idea what I was talking about and she had no such student. 

Well, there you have it! Four things that may or may not have happened this year. How'd I do coming up with things both outlandish and awesome? Anyone want to take a guess at what the lie is?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The End. (is near)

Have you ever heard that call and response song that starts "The other day... I met a bear..."? Well the end goes like this:

The end the end.
The end the end.
The end the end, the end the end!
The end the end the end the end!

This is 20th week of my 20 week contract. Thursday night is our big Spring Sing and I'll spend Friday doing a big inventory of the music closet. And after that, it's just me and the wide open job hunt.

For the last week or so I have kind of been in denial about the fact that my job really is ending. I have been lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful staff who have helped me learn to do a job I never prepared or planned to do in teacher ed. I kind of thought I would be excited to have my contract be over because this job hasn't exactly been what I bargained for. Writing music curriculum and managing a new class every 30 minutes is a long way away from guided reading or classroom inventories or even (gasp) test prep. I wanted 20 kids, not 500. I thought I would be writing IEPs, not guessing which kids had behavior contracts and which kids were just pissing me off to see how mean the new music teacher was.

But now the songs have been practiced, the soloists picked, the venue arranged, the sound system set, the video recording arranged, and all that is left to do is practice once more with each grade level before our performance. I'll even admit to thinking that the recorder performance might turn out half okay.

Sometimes kids still ask me what happened to the old music teacher. One conversation with a very young student went like this:

What happened to Mrs. Old Teacher?
Well, she retired.
What's retired?
When a person works for a very long time, they get to stop working because it's the end of their job. Then we say they are retired.
Oh. So she's not coming back?
She might come back to visit, but she's not coming back to teach.
That's why you teach us now!
Yup, you got it.
Oh no, are you gonna retire too?

I thought there was supposed to be some sort of built in auto-detacher to make saying goodbye to kids easier come May and June. I thought that I was supposed to stop giving a crap in May so that by June I could say goodbye and then it would come back in August so I was willing to go back to work again. I thought that by having 500 kids I would not get attached to anyone so much that it would kill me to leave them.

Now instead of 20 goodbyes I will have 500.

Thanks recession. Thanks.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Have you ever played BUNCO? Some of the teachers at my school host a BUNCO night and tonight was supposed to be my second time in attendance. Unfortunately it was cancelled but I'm sure we'll find another night to have it soon. I am not sure BUNCO needs to be in caps but when you play with my group of teachers, it does. Here is the long story of my first time at BUNCO and why it will forever be in caps in my mind.

Before the first time I played, I asked a few people what BUNCO was and if they thought I would like it. Someone suggested I look it up online and then decide. My summation of the online descriptions:

"Bunco is a mindless dice game that is really an excuse for drinking and gossip."

Well I didn't want them gossiping without or about me! So I was in. I signed up and offered to make cookies (a decision that while I don't regret, has designated me the cookie bringer ever since!)

BUNCO was supposed to start at 6:00. I was advised by several people, including the host, to arrive at 5:30 for dinner. Knowing that I live in an area where "fashionably late" is 15-20min late, I arrived at 5:50. I was the 4th person there. Everyone else arrived around 6:15. I was mortified. In a group that can tell the difference between a 13 minute lesson and a 15 minute lesson, timing is everything.

Luckily people started trickling in and drinking (though I should say guzzling) their wine. Before long the tables were set up and pencils were handed out. I still, mind you, had absolutely no idea how to play. By the luck of the draw, I got seated across from my pal, the principal. Also, even though everyone else was sloshed, I was not drinking anything because 1) I was driving and 2) I didn't want to embarrass myself on the very first time I hung out with coworkers outside of work.

Finally I decided I had better speak up. I called over to the host and said "um, Mrs. Host, I have never played before!" and then even though I was uncharacteristically nervous to shout out in a group, it turned out to be a good thing I did so. Because of the 20 people there, 16 others called out "YEAH, me neither!"

Oh good gracious. After much shouting and gesturing, someone finally stood on a chair and tried to give a lesson on how to play BUNCO. If you've ever played BUNCO you know the game is very simple but might be a little tricky to explain. Especially if everyone in the room (except the newbie who apparently only likes water and root beer) has had two or three glasses of wine.

Have you ever tried to give a lesson to a room full of teachers? If you have then you know that teachers are the worst students, and more so after a few glasses of grown up grape juice. We shout about how we want the lesson differentiated or we need individual learning plans before we can continue. Someone asks if this will be on the state test or if she is wasting instructional minutes. We interrupt without raising our hands, we talk with the people at our tables then ask questions that were just answered, and we tap our pencils and fidget our feet until someone notices us. In short, we regurgitate the behaviors of our students.

Eventually we figured it out though and the game got going. It turns out that you just have to roll the dice and shout a lot. There is lots of shouting. I can't emphasize this point enough. If you get lost just roll the dice and shout. And then when you roll the correct combo of dice, you shout BUNCO! And with this particular group, someone comes and puts a giant green cape around you which you have to wear until the next person shouts BUNCO.

We all shouted and rolled dice and shouted until some lost voices. Everyone else finished all the wine in the house and I drank water and people gave me a hard time for it. Finally the game ended, prizes were given out, and amused husbands arrived to take home their less-than-graceful spouses. I waited to make sure everyone had a safe ride home (I'm like that) then drove myself home, laughing a little at the thought of my principal shouting severely inappropriate curse words at the table when she didn't roll the right numbers.

Now, I have played my fair share of shouting games involving grown up drinks before. I did, after all, go to college. I have also been to Vegas and played craps which also employs the use of shouting and dice as well as people bringing me complimentary drinks. All I can say is those experiences have nothing on playing BUNCO sober with a bunch of inebriated teachers. That was awesome.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Snack Recess

Hey Mrs. Awesome, what did the duck bring for snack today?
I dunno, what?
..... Cheese and Quackers!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAH

Today was my turn to help out with our staff monthly snacks. Once a month a few people bring in snacks for the staff room for everyone to enjoy during snack recess. At the beginning of the year, I purposefully signed up for a late month thinking that I wanted to see how things were done before it was my turn to bring snacks.

One week someone made sandwiches, complete with cucumber and avocado. They sliced up the little sandwiches into cute little triangles and we had hundreds of them. They didn't last past the k-2 recess. But then magically a second platter appeared for the 3-6 recess. I learned to hide 1/2 of my food for second recess.

One week a teacher brought lots of fancy drinks like bubbly lemonade and apple cider. People were grateful but no one drank them. I learned that no one comes to snack recess for the juice.

One week a teacher went all out and made a bunch of paper decorations including little paper place mats and wall art. A lot of teachers oohed and ahhed and said "Neat! Thanks for making it festive!". Behind her back teachers said "I mean come on doesn't she have anything better to do?" I learned that decorations are optional.

One week teachers brought a bunch of store bought things and people still ooohed and ahhed and said thanks. I learned that teachers are happy for anything free, especially free food.

So today was my week. In the past, the days have been shared by four or five people. Today it was just me and one other teacher. I decided to just bring a bunch of homemade cookies. Who doesn't like cookies? I was a little worried that people might complain that I didn't make cute little sammy triangles or bring a big crock pot of homemade stew, but I did bring 3 different kinds of cookies and some brownies.

This week is the first week of our state testing. I wish instead of baking cookies I could have been getting pissed off at testing and stressed out with all the other teachers. Pretty much every teacher around had hair sticking out the wrong way, blotchy cheeks, and angry eyebrows permanently drawn in over her eyes. It turns out that this was a good time to show up with A LOT of cookies. By the end of lunch, there was not one single crumb left.

Today I learned that during state testing, bring sugar. Bring lots of sugar.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I read a grown up book!

First off, I must say that I normally only read books meant for kids. Books with pictures. Books about sharing and being nice to the kid with glasses or being unique or being loved. Books like Loser by Jerry Spinelli. If I read a chapter book it is usually meant for a kid under the age of 15. When I read grown up books, I normally like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or other such books that generally cry out "nerd!". 

But my sister-in-law didn't know this so when she lent me a grown up book I took it and decided to actually try it. And it turns out I liked it!

I read Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. It wasn't a "can't put it down" book but it was, nonetheless, enjoyable.

Short story for the skimmers: I would definitely recommend it.  

I would recommend this book to the following people:

-Anyone who likes to cook. This would seem like a given, but Julie describes cooking and food in the way that only someone who has experienced both triumphs and disasters in a kitchen could describe. I must admit to skimming through some of her descriptions of the french food but let's face it, I had no idea what it said. I did like that she kept it real though. Sometimes you try something crazy in the kitchen and end up ordering pizza and trying not to think about how much money you wasted on the ingredients for your failed meal.

-Anyone who has ever found themselves in a rut and needed to prove to themselves they could do something. Julie's story is more about making a big change in her life than it is cooking. Two years ago I quit my office job so I could spend lots of money on grad school, and while it wasn't because I turned 30, I did need a big change.

-Anyone who is married or in a life partnership. Julie's view of marriage is so UN-hollywood that I found myself cheering for her all along the way. She refers to Eric (her husband) as her partner and acknowledges his role in her life as a friend. Eric's pretty cool. He's no Mr. Awesome, but I admired Julie's view of marriage and how she and Eric made such a stressful year work. After all, isn't that how every year of teaching is?

-Anyone who just started a blog. Julie started blogging in 2003/2004 so reading her book is sort of like looking back in history. Blogging was so different then (she had dial up. DIAL UP! Can you even imagine?) and she blogged before the rest of us thought it was cool. Or maybe you all did and I am really the last soul on Earth to create my own blog. But either way it was neat to read a book about a blogger right when I am just starting my own.

Ok now for my negatives:

I would NOT recommend this book for the following people:

-People who are on a diet. I wanted to eat every time I read the book. Rather than inspire me to cook, this book really inspired me to go to a fancy restaurant. Mmmmm.

-People who like nice strong plots. This book is definitely not like the kinds of books I'm used to reading. There was no archetypical hero, no driving plot, no crisis, no climax, little resolution, and no real cast of very dynamic characters. However it was still quite pleasant to read and the characters were all very real and believable.

-People who want the book to be exactly like the movie. The book is an adaption of the blog, the movie is an adaption of the book... get over it.

In any case, I liked the book, I do recommend it, and I look forward to the next book my sister-in-law lends me! Of course, I have to give her this one back...

Friday, April 23, 2010

My awesome car

This week I have been driving Mr. Awesome's car to work. It is a lot of fun to drive, but it was not made for short people. I miss my car.

My regular car is very practical. It's a mom teacher car. It's a blue station wagon. No, we don't have kids. But we do like buying things at Costco and taking our card table to people's houses for poker night and putting four suitcases and four adults in the car very easily for road trips. We've even had practical sedan-owning people ask to borrow our car. And when I have things like my makeshift flip chart I'm trying to bring home, it fits in easily without having to collapse.

Our other car, Mr. Awesome's car, is the opposite of my car. It's a two-seater, rear engine, t-top, sub-woofer under the driver's seat, why didn't anyone tell me I was marrying a car guy, white old sports car. It's very cool. When I drive to work in it I have trouble not speeding. My flip chart does NOT fit into the tiny trunk.

Today after school one of my little guys saw me across the parking lot and shouted "Hey Mrs. Awesome! I like your car!" (Alright you caught me, he didn't really call me Mrs. Awesome, but this is my story!)

I felt so cool. I was the teacher driving an awesome car! Oh yeah! Screw trunk space! I'm keeping this car! Mr. Awesome can see how it feels to drive the other car!!!!

"I'm glad you like it!" I shouted back, grinning.

"Yep! It's so cool! I like it because it's the same color as my dad's car!!!!" I looked at his dad's car that the little boy was pointing to.

It was a white station wagon.

I want my car back, Mr. Awesome!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That's a good question.

Remember the Giving Tree? Have you ever asked your students if it was fair to take so much from the tree?

Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg from Mount Holyoke College has a whole philosophy outreach program. He asks young readers tough questions like "is it fair" and "what do you think?" And he actually disagrees with Piaget. GASP!! Piaget and Vygotsky aren't gods and you can fund research that disagrees with one or both of them? After you get up from falling off your chair, you can read the NYT article here.

All through my student teaching my supervisor pushed us to ask the kids analytical questions. He made us think of the questions we were going to ask the kids, write them into our lesson plans, and he made sure to comment on the kinds of questions he observed us asking. Once he even had me write down my questions on an index card so I had them in my pocket while I was teaching, just to be sure I would ask good questions. If there's one thing I learned how to do last year, it was ask my students really good questions.

If only I had known then that "is it fair" and "what do you think" would have landed me an article in the NYT!! Because some of my questions were awesome. Once I asked a kid "How do you know? Prove it!" and that was on a video tape of myself that I had to send to the state in order to pass a test to get my credential. It must have been a good question because they gave me a credential.

Wait have you read that article yet? I understand if reading the education section of the NYT isn't your idea of a relaxing evening. Sometimes it really ticks me off too. Sometimes I would rather grade papers. But I don't have papers. I just have a spring sing I'm procrastinating work on.

So it's true, a habit I have is reading about the goings on in education. I read about politics and merit pay and test scores and how McGraw Hill is bathing in money when we're laying off teachers and making kids go without colorful construction paper. I read about school violence and gangs and school lunches and obesity. I read about charter schools and national standards and vouchers and unions.

But a lot of the times I read articles like this. Articles about some study some professor is doing in some school. And I imagine if it were me. Only instead of imagining myself in the role of the teacher who opens her room to a local professor to be part of a study, I see myself as THE professor.

I think it might just be because I am realizing that my contract position is up in two weeks, and then job hunting season will be officially open. Ack. Ack like Cathy eats chocolate Ack.

Of course, if I can't find a job, there's always the option the option of more grad school...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A rather serious post

A bit of a departure from the normal tone today. Read on for some reflections on the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

Eleven years ago, I saw my math teacher for who she really was.

I was sitting in my math class (yes I was still in high school eleven years ago) and my math teacher was hanging up the phone. She had just been told about the tragedy at Columbine High School.

I never cared much for this particular math class. I usually spent her class studying vocab words for my infamous English class after I did my math homework. This was usually while she lectured or while I was supposed to be doing group work. I know, it's always the worst kids who grow up to be teachers!

But on that particular day eleven years ago, I saw something new in the teacher's eyes. When she sat us down to talk with us and let us ask questions, it wasn't fear or sadness or anger or shock that I saw. I wasn't quite sure what it was until I realized I had seen the same look in my own mother's eyes. It was a look I knew well. One that said "Nothing evil can come between me and these kids. Now leave or I will MAKE you leave."

When my math teacher had heard that some kids had been harmed under the watch of a teacher, she had reacted like a mother bear. The look I saw was the look of a protector. I knew when I saw that look that she wasn't thinking about her own safety or wondering how the other teacher's were handling their classes. I knew she wasn't debating whether or not to turn on the news or wondering what the new school policies on trench coats would be. I knew the only thing on her mind was that right then and there, she was responsible for us kids.

I wish I could say I stopped using math as my own private study hall after that day. Much to my own regret I was still a prat all through high school. But I think somewhere, deep down, my ideas about teaching changed that day.

I know that when a parent drops their child off for school, they trusting some teacher to protect their child for them. Some teacher that they didn't even get to choose! And I know that for a mama bear, that can be tough. Because sometimes bad things happen. They just do. The world can be an awful, awful place. I'm not saying teachers can stop bad things. But I'm saying there's a huge amount of trust that goes into giving someone your kid all day.

In the last two years, since I have quit my desk job, I have already done two fire evacuations and a full gun lock down. None of them were drills. All had happy endings, thank goodness. And each time I got that emergency backpack, checklist, roll call, and silent position, I thought of my math teacher from high school.

And I thought about how in the days and years following the Columbine tragedy, I have been so very fortunate to have people in my life to protect me, and even more fortunate to never need them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another day in the subbing trenches

The truth is, I do actually value my time as a sub. I often get a lot out of the days I spend in other people's rooms with other people's children teaching other people's lessons. I consider my subbing as paid learning time.

It's not what I wanted. It's not what I planned for or hoped for or paid for a very expensive graduate degree and state credential for. I really hope I can say this is the last month or two I'll ever do it because next year I'll have my own room.

But for now, subbing is what I have. Two days a week I am a substitute teacher. That is that so I may as well get something out of it.

Today I got to sub in a multi-age classroom. I had 4th-6th grade in one class! It was at one of our "alternative" learning style schools in our area. This school has a k-1, a 2-3, and 4-6 classroom. Let me tell you something--this is not something you can learn about in your teacher program and not something you can learn by watching for 30 min with a planned observation and a clipboard! After subbing this year, I really have come to see the value in just stealing a class for a day with an open mind and heart.

Today I saw:

-a classroom that was 1/4 library space
-truly student-ran class jobs
-group work done in... groups!
-classroom completely cleaned and tidied by the students, including vacuuming, in 5 minutes.
-more parents than I've seen all year combined
-test prep
-class meeting

There were negatives too. I wonder how the sixth graders will fare at junior high next year, when they will be thrust into the land of 7th &8th graders having only been exposed to multi-age classes for 7 years? Will they be ok when they have to go the whole day without ever seeing a parent volunteer? And what would I have done if there wasn't a teacher's aid AND a parent volunteer all day? Who paid for that aid in a district that only provides aids for K-1?

I dunno. A part of me thought this kind of job fit my teaching style perfectly. I actually felt like my day went really fabulously. But then another part of me, the cynic, thought... well shoot this isn't real life. Real life is test scores and 55min class periods in junior high and bozo parents and do these kids know algebra yet?

Meanwhile, in the land of music, Spring Sing is in 2.5 weeks!!! I'm terrified. There, I said it. I think the whole thing might be a total disaster. I found a dress to wear, so that problem is solved... I can't tell if I'm excited or nervous or... eeep. I think nervous.