teaching

Happy Halloween!

This is one of my favorite days. I love pumpkins, and the colors and the cooler temperature. I love how for one day out of the year you can be whatever you want to be. I love hearing the kids in my neighborhood running around and  ringing doorbells. I love doing something special for my students.

This year my grade level team decided to dress up as character from Hocus Pocus. Only…no one got it. Have I officially become….old? Granted they were distracted by the fact that one of the male teachers is one of the Sanderson sisters and I got to be crummy Allison so my costume looked more everyday than it did costume, but COME ON!

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Hocus Pocus is one of the best movies. It was the first movie I ever got to see in a movie theater. And it came out not around Halloween and I remember it pouring rain, but my mom took me to see it anyway that day. And it was just the coolest. 

I may have then spent home room projecting movie photos and explaining it to them. It was in that moment I felt so old. When I first started teaching, I was in my early to mid-20’s and the kids just liked me because I was young. Add in the fact that I look like I’m 12, and kids saw me more as of an older, cooler peer than an authority person. And that worked for years, but more recently, I have noticed the shift where I have become the authority figure and though I am enjoying every moment of that, at the same time, I am a little sad that my references are now….outdated.

Kids these days need to brush up on their movies because if they don’t know this one, then they sure are missing out on some great flicks.

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life · love · teaching

Seasons of Your Life

Women are different then men. We think differently, we respond to the world differently, we approach life differently and more even more noticeably, we age differently.

For men, I think life is a long continuous line of experiences and outcomes. They are born, they grow, they become old and they pass on. Women, of course, do the same, but it’s so much different for a woman.

Women age in seasons.

And each season is compartmentalized with old wants and desires, dreams and achievements that you know you will only have a chance to hit at certain points in your life. Women are much more aware of the limits of time and how time takes all. 

Looking back at my own life, which I have been doing a lot lately as I prepare to become a wife, I can categorize big chunks of time. There was of course my childhood, my adolescence, my first real boyfriend, college…

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My first real love.

Not that I didn’t love my first boyfriend, but there the first time you fall in real love as an adult it is very different from the high school/college boyfriend that was probably most if not all of your firsts.

There’s the inevitable heart break from that first real love.

Then there’s your wine-fueled 20’s where you are working on your career, but not really settled and since you’re not over your first real love, you’re just dating idiot after idiot because the only time they can ever really hurt you is when they do something that reminds you of that great big let down that was your first real love.

Out of nowhere your life will begin to settle. You’ll finish graduate school maybe. You’ll find a stable job, you’ll eventually get to ditch the room mates and take on a cat or two. You’ll get so busy with your own life that the drama of your 20’s seems to die down and you’re no longer spending Thursdays at the bar with your girlfriends drinking too much wine and going to dark scary places of thoughts borrowed from TV shows.

You’re so busy in fact that you don’t even see the real, big love coming. You’re not really dating jerks anymore or any really because your life has become your job and the life you’re building for yourself. You kind of like it that way too, it’s easier to just worry about yourself and your fur-babies.

Then it happens, the blind date that you reluctantly agree to go on because your new work friend is just so excited to be introducing you to her friend. You had talked to him for a little bit on Facebook and it flowed well enough, he seemed to like your jokes and had some of his own. Before you know it though, there’s that instant spark and without either of you really planning it, you’re together from that moment forward.

He’s the only guy that will bring flowers to your mom when he meets her for the first time. And as he’s courting you he brings flowers to you whenever he’s thinking of you which is often. He holds doors for you and since it’s the winter when you meet he starts carrying a blanket around in his car because he knows how cold you get, you find it absolutely endearing when he tucks you into your seat each time even if it’s only a 5 minute car ride. It’s easy to love him and it’s even easier to be yourself, the good and the bad around him.

You blink again and suddenly you’re a tenure teacher and becoming a leader in your field. You buy a house and for the first and only time in your life, you agree to live with someone and it’s the best decision that you ever made because you slowly watched as your love for each other grew and changed until he asked you to marry him and you accept without hesitation.

You plan a beautiful wedding at the venue you fell in love with long before you ever met him. You enjoy your year long engagement but before you know it, you’ve blinked again and it’s fall, the season of your wedding.

Your shower comes and goes, you’ve cleaned your house out of most of the old stuff that came from apartments and past lives, making way for an entirely new life with your husband. Suddenly, you’re home from your best friend’s house where you held her baby all day and you’re cleaning out your guest room for wedding guests, eagerly selling and throwing out artifacts of former dreams and suddenly a new one really begins to take hold…

When your guest room starts to look empty and you label a few more pieces of apartment furniture for Facebook marketplace and begin to think about your best friend’s baby and how suddenly ready you are to turn your guest room into a baby’s room.

And just like that, you’re into your 30’s, ready to become a wife and mother, and for the first time in many years, that sounds just exactly like what you want to do even if it means you have to slow down in other parts of your life and not work 80 hour weeks.

teaching

Back to School

This summer was an absolutely crazy period of my life, so I apologize for going MIA for a little bit. I worked full time to save money for our wedding, wrote a lot of big checks to people FOR the wedding, interned at my district’s high school where I logged over 160 hours, took a stats class (my LAST PhD course) and took another class towards my certification in arts integration.

It was absolutely crazy and I actually found myself longing for school to start so that the craziness would kind of end. I finished the stats class and the art class. However, I am still working 3 jobs but the wedding is…58 days away so it shouldn’t be for that much longer even though the extra money has been nice.

I also re-did my entire classroom for the year with special thanks to Princeton University for the couch and chairs donations and to Target for heir amazing dollar bins this summer:

I hope everyone else has had a wonderful start to a fantastic school year!

teaching

Finding Your Voice as an Educator

I have been teaching for about 9 years. Of that, I have been in public schools for 7 years and of that, I have taught college for 2 years. Out of all of my experiences, I have found that teaching college was the hardest because of my age. I was 29 when I became an adjunct professor, but I did not look a day over 21.

My first class was filled with nontraditional students, mainly adult learners that had come back after many years of not being in school. The looks that they gave me when they saw me walk in and out my bag down on the desk, would be enough to have driven someone less driven right outside the door.

Instead, I made a joke about how I know I look like I’m 12, but I assured them that I did in fact have the credentials to qualify me for the position. It turned out to be one of the best classes I have ever had and to this day, I am still in contact with many of my students from that course.

I created my class with many opportunities to complete the required work and in cases where assignments were missed, I offered alternatives. Mostly, students are successful in my classes because they not only learn the material, but find a way that fits them in meeting the requirements and expectations outlined by the college.

This semester has been a hard one for me, as I have been working full-time at a hotel for wedding money while interning full time for my PhD requirements AND teaching a summer class. I am also enrolled in a quantitative research class that I am somehow maintaining my 4.0 in. Oh and let’s not forget the arts integration certification program I signed up for before I realized I had to take the hotel job. So, I cry a lot.

I pretty much don’t sleep. And the white stripe in my hair is I believe about twice as big as it was at the start of June. However, I am at the end of the summer class and my integration program and internship are winding down too. I am almost into the “I did it” phase.

The stress of this, I think, led me today to find my teaching voice in a college class. I teach a 5-week long course, I email students a month prior to the start with their book lists and inform them how intense these shortened classes are. I provide them with an outline, ways to structure their workload to ensure success and make myself available as much as I can. So, today, when several students request on the day that their course project that they have known about and been given opportunities to work on every day of class for 5 weeks, ask for an extension on it, my teaching voice came bubbling to the surface before I could stop it.

I, nicely, said to my class who looked at me wide-eyed; “You all have known about this project since May and I have been giving you chances to work on it since early July. I am sorry that you have to work or babysit, but the reality is you are in college and in college a deadline is a deadline is a deadline, especially when you have had a month of knowing that deadline.”

I don’t think I would have said that a year ago, I probably would have given the extension and stayed up late to grade. However, what this summer taught me, even in my PhD program as I have watched more and more people get weeded out, is that there are a lot of people who talk the talk and will tell you about all the things they want to accomplish, but they never set out and just do it.

And it really is that simple. If you want it, you just have to do it. And if you choose not to do it, no one is going to hand anything to you. You are entitled to nothing. And your life? Your life is pretty much what you make of it as well as the choices that you choose to follow. Sometimes, you will have to ask for an extension or a pass– but those times shouldn’t happen when you know that you haven’t proven yourself yet.

teaching

The Secret to Success as an Urban Educator

I saw a status from someone who began teaching around the time that I was deciding to commit to teaching myself. She wrote that her former students were shocked that she had had a baby and that just because she has high expectations and wasn’t a “nice” teacher doesn’t mean she wasn’t a nice person in life.

Seeing that, just dumbfounded me. Particularly because we both teach in inner cities and teach special education populations, her more so than me as I am not a special education teacher, but for the majority of my years in the inner city, I had volunteered to be the general education teacher in inclusive classrooms for my grade level.

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And there is a side to teaching wherein if you want to be successful, meaning you help students achieve academically in your subject area, then you have to have high expectations, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t love your kids as well or that you have to be “a not nice teacher” to communicate those expectations. With city kids, that means being consistent in your judgement, consistent in your love and your criticism as well as being flexible and truly listening to what these kids have to say.

The majority of the students I have taught remain in contact with me, updating me on their lives and their dreams. They visit sometimes and when they do, it’s always with big hugs and excitement. That is how I know I am successful in what I do. Sure, I have years of data that back me and show my administrators that I am successful in teaching kids how to read and bringing them towards career and college readiness, but that’s not all there is to teaching.

I remember the first time a student called me mom. Continually. Later, when I asked them why I had become their mom I was told it was because they knew that I was there for them, even when they were acting a fool. They knew that they could come to me with anything and I would do my best for them. That was when I knew that I was on the path of becoming the kind of teacher I knew that urban kids needed.

Urban kids are different from your suburban kids that come from nice homes, with semi-intact families and better financial support systems. Urban kids are often starting school well below their suburban counter parts because of the environments they are raised in, they often have parents or grandparents working multiple jobs meaning they’re home alone more times than not or in state-funded daycare. Urban kids are also semi street smart, because really, kids are also kids in any environment and come into school with an attitude more times than not because they feel like they don’t fit.

However, if you hold these kids to a high expectation of achievement as well as give them them the empathy and love that so many just need, then you are not only going to have success in their academics, but you’re also going to have success in helping to raise a better future in that, your love and acceptance may be what sets that kid up for an entirely different path in life.

Within urban education, I firmly believe all students need it. Some more than others, specifically kids with difficult home lives and worse yet, the kids that have spent their lives in and out of the system. If you pursue your teaching career in an inner city district, you have to become an educator with clear expectations as well as someone who will become another mother or father towards the kids that you are working to educate.

And I carry that belief with me in everything I do. For instance, the college class I am teaching this summer is at the city campus. It took me less than 5 minutes to e-mail the students who missed the first class to just remind them that class was today. Within 30 minutes, I even had one show up late to class.

Sometimes, you just have to be that person for other people. If you want to be a successful teacher, you need to remember that you have chosen a profession where you are in service to others.

teaching

The Longest Wait

At the beginning of each school year, I think the longest wait is until Christmas break. Then we hit that mark of the school year and I look forward to the 100th day of school mark which brings us to the dregs of the year where school just feels endless. You’ll blink and it’ll be spring break and the year will start wrapping up pretty quickly.

That is, until, you hit June. In New  Jersey, we pretty much go to the end of June. This year it is June 26th. Which means as of today, if we don’t count weekends we have 13 days left of school.

13. 13 days that really feel like 50 sometimes. The kids are done. PARCC testing kills their desire to do anything after that and then when you add in all the end of year testing we have to do to them on top of curriculum and the like, the kids are just done. And really? So are you.

You start envisioning what it would be like if you could just take over total control. What would it be like if you could snatch every water bottle that is flipped? What about slapping every fidget spinner there is in your sight right into the garbage? What if you took every cell phone and made yourself a throne of cell phones? What if you could say everything exactly the way that inner devil is thinking it without sugar coating it? What if….

Of course you won’t because you love teaching and know you’re just burnt out from the year, but during this final sprint into summer sometimes the day dreams just take over and you think maybe Mrs. Krabappel did really have the best day ever when Bart spikes her coffee with booze after she gives him a “Z”:

 

love · teaching

Dallas & the Seasons of My Life

I’ve spent the last week decompressing from being in Dallas, Texas for much of last week. I was there for my final doctoral residency. Once I got out of the Dallas Fort Worth airport, I was immediately reminded of what I hated about Texas the most: the heat and humidity.

The last time I had been in Texas was when I went to La Porte, Texas to visit one of my little sisters from my sorority. I loved the openness and the relaxation that it brought. It was so different from NJ.

This time though, the residency was at the airport hotel and I didn’t get to see much of Dallas which was disappointing because I had never been and they have a pretty cool art scene. The point of this final residency was to, by Sunday night, have an approved DRP plan to submit for SMR and IRB approvals. Mine got approved the first day of “classes” which was Friday and it happened early in the morning. I then had to sit there for the next three days and work on my presentation and a paper for another class. I was so bored, but since these are considered to be “seat hours” I literally had to stay, in my seat….for hours.

Sitting around not doing a whole lot, to me, is more exhausting then even my most trying days as a teacher. By the end, I was extremely happy to go home to NJ to Phil and our tiny zoo. I am officially set to enter comps (doctoral comprehensive exam) in January. I probably could do it this next term, but with the wedding I just don’t think it would be a good idea. Better to let us settle into married life before I go crazy with another exam.

This spring was all about taking the School Leadership Series exam. ETS charges…are you ready for this? $425 PER TRY! How crazy is that??? I was so thankful when on the day, I got in the day before the 16th anniversary of losing my very cherished and much loved grandfather and was put on computer 16. I definitely felt like he was there with me that day and I finished with an hour to spare. It was a long 16 BUSINESS days of waiting, but when it came back that I passed I ran around our bedroom dancing.

In my personal diary, I talk a lot about seasons of my life. I firmly believe that women age in seasons, each one not like the one that came before it. A couple years ago, my more carefree season of my 20’s ended when I made a larger commit to my boyfriend at the time and we bought our first house. I remember how sad and excited I was to be leaving my life in Bordentown with my small apartment and my three cats. Even looking back professionally I was just a middle school teacher then with some publishing credits to my name.

Then I moved and I had finally made it to my life at the Jersey Shore, only 10 minutes outside of Point Pleasant where I had always dreamed of living. Then I started my PhD program and worked really hard to become a college professor. Then we got engaged and now, we’re going to be married in 5 months. I just don’t know where that time has gone, and lately, I have begun to have that feeling again…the one you get at the end of seasons as the new one starts intermingling. 2017/2018 is going to be a year of a lot of change: I will have tenure, I will be completing my doctorate and we might even be starting a family. All of those things, will push me into a new season of my life one where I will be settled, grounded and making huge leaps in my career.

And that’s just the stuff I know about, there’s still all the surprises that have yet to come and the very real idea that we could very well be leaving our little house at the shore to start a family life in my hometown. When I was just out of college and moved home to figure out my next move, my friends and I who were all in similar circumstance at the time, would joke…”All roads lead back to East Brunswick. Every last one, eventually we all come back.”

EBHS