Favorite Thing Friday: Setting Major Goals

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This week I attended a training workshop for National Board Certification. For three days, my brain was stuffed with information about what a teacher has to do in order to become National Board Certified. Between reading and analyzing standards to completing insane timed writing practice tests I’m pretty exhausted! However, I know it’s all going to be worth it.

Achieving National Board Certification means a lot more to me than  simply having a few extra letters after my name. It’s about validating my teaching practices and considering how I can get even better in the classroom. Teaching isn’t about settling into the status quo. It’s about constantly learning and improving for the betterment of education as a whole.

After teaching for 13 years, I felt like I was starting to fall into a rut. The last thing I want is for my students to get stuck with a teacher who is stuck and wallowing in “been there, done that.”

I realized I needed to feel the excitement of discovery, again. I got a taste of that brand of excitement during the last school year when I was tasked with creating curriculum for AP Art History. That particular challenge got the adrenaline rolling again and now I’m thirsty for more.

With that experience in mind, National Board is sure to give me a major jolt! While the process is long and rigorous, I can’t wait to see what I learn about teaching, my process, and myself.

On the last day of training, I got a great piece of visual motivation to keep on my desk as I work. The organization that offered the training closed out the event by giving away a series of door prizes that only teachers could love. I should state that I never, ever win door prizes. So, I sat in my chair looking around the room trying to guess who would win. Then, they called my name for the first prize. Cool beans!

Here’s what I won:

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I got the green one.

Is this nerdy? Yes, but I love, love, love tumblers with lids and straws. I will be using this thing every single day, which means it will be a great reminder of what I’m working for and that I have a great group of people supporting me as I jump into what is sure to be a challenging process.

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p.s. Don’t worry I’m still hard at work on the writing thing, too!

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c.b.w. 2014

Favorite Thing Friday: Teacher Appreciation

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Towards the end of the school year, my school has a tradition of having students write letters of appreciation to their favorite teachers. Every year, I get a couple in my mailbox and they always make me smile. A little thank you goes a long way.

After a school year that’s had its fair share of challenges, I was beyond surprised to find so many letters in my mailbox both this week and last week.  Instead of the usual one or two, thirteen letters found their way to me. And they were amazing. Several came from students I thought couldn’t stand me or have never said as much as three words in class. To hear their voice and understand the positive impact I’ve made in their lives was an incredibly moving experience. They wrote about the little things I do – like making the classroom comfortable, decorating for holidays, the fact that I smile all the time and say good morning every day – that I never thought they noticed. It turns out those little things mean the world to them.

Some of the letters I received from students this year.

The biggest surprise, however, came through my e-mail. In the school’s weekly newsletter, my name was listed among teachers nominated to receive the “above and beyond” award by the United Parent Council of my district. At first, I felt like an idiot because I had never heard of this particular award, but after asking a few questions I found out it’s a pretty big deal. The award is only given when a parent or student writes a letter to the council explaining why a particular teacher deserves the honor. Of course, that made me really curious: Who nominated me?

A few days later, an envelope showed up in my mailbox. Inside, I found a nomination letter that was written by one of my students. She wrote the equivalent of a five paragraph essay detailing all the reasons why I was her favorite teacher. I sat at my desk and broke down in tears – everything she said meant so much to me. Her words made all the hard work, the stress, and sleepless nights totally worth it. Not only is this a student I never would have guessed felt that way about me or my class, but she is a student in my AP Art History class. Teaching this class was a huge undertaking that tested every professional skill I possess. To know I did something right, is immensely gratifying an deeply rewarding.

Last night, I was publicly recognized by my district’s superintendent and governing board. While the professional recognition is nice, I treasure the letters written by my students more. They are the reason I go to work early every day and give so much to the job I love.

As the school year begins to wind down, please encourage your children to let their teachers know how much they appreciate them. It means everything to us and encourages us to keep trying as challenges continue to grow. I keep every letter I’ve ever received in a box and I read them whenever I have a bad day. This year’s batch is sure to raise my spirits for years to come. Aside from learning, this is the best gift a student can give a teacher.

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c.b.w. 2014

What I’ve Learned From All Of My Jobs

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It dawned on me earlier this year that I’ve officially been part of the workforce for more than twenty years. It all started when I was ten years old and wanted a Barbie Sweet Roses 3-Piece Wall Unit for my dollhouse. It cost $12.95 and with my allowance there was no way I could afford it. I ended up going to work with my mom, who was a master dog groomer. She paid me 25¢ for each dog I bathed. It was hard work, but worth it in the end.

I can’t begin to say how proud I was to go to Toys R’ Us with my hard-earned money and buy one awesome Barbie Sweet Roses 3-Piece Wall Unit. The funny thing is, I still have it.  Every time I even think about putting it the donation pile, I remember how hard I worked for it and I just dust it off and rearrange the “China” plates and cups inside of it. (Yes, I still have my dollhouse, too. My Grandpa built it).

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Not a single piece is missing! Intact since 1988.

Despite the money I earned, dog bathing just wasn’t for me. I got my first “real” job when I was fifteen (and a half). I spent my summers with my grandparents in small Northern Wisconsin town, so it was only natural that my first job would be in a tiny family owned business. For two summers, I worked at the Christmas House as a cashier and stocker in the midst of tourist season. I still consider it the most fun job I’ve ever had. It was literally Christmas every day! I set up Department 56 villages, decorated Christmas trees, hung up lights, and created beautiful displays of dishes and figurines. In the middle of all that fun, I learned about collectibles (what’s valuable, what’s not, and how to tell) and Christmas traditions from all around the world. Sadly, the Christmas House closed it’s doors last year.

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The Christmas House as I saw it last summer. So sad to see it closed.

My love of animals led to a job at Petsmart. I was a cashier and also did some floor work (cleaning up shelves). While I loved the animals, I hated the corporate atmosphere. I also hated having to wear a back brace every day (I sometimes had to lift enormous bags of dog food). The only take-away I got from this job was having a healthy respect for anyone who works in a big store. It’s not easy cleaning up after customers who don’t put things away or make huge messes down each aisle. To this day, if I change my mind about something I want to buy in a store, I put it back where I found it instead of on some random shelf.

After leaving Petsmart, I went back to working for a smaller company. It must’ve been my artistic side that drew me to the idea of working for a flower shop. My job was to unpack, clean, and display each day’s shipment of fresh flowers. Then, keep the floors and cooler clean, water the front showroom plants, and take orders over the phone. Being around so many beautiful flowers was wonderful, but the work was brutal. My hands paid the price with cracked skin and permanently green grooves. On the up side, I learned how to do a variety of floral arrangements ranging from corsages, funeral wreathes, and wedding bouquets, along with the standard vase and bowl arrangements. Not a bad skill set, indeed.

Desperately needing to fix my damaged hands, I started working for The Body Shop. This is the job where I learned how to sell, sell, sell. Every day I was responsible for meeting certain dollar quota. Talk about pressure!  I never thought of myself as a salesperson, but I dug deep and learned how sell every product in that store. That meant learning everything about perfume oils, lotions, body washes, and creams. I even learned how to do in-store make-overs to sell cosmetics. Make-up has never been my favorite thing, but it was a lot of fun to make people feel pretty. I would have stayed at The Body Shop longer, but the arrival of a new fragrance ignited a pretty severe allergic reaction. I couldn’t even touch the bottle, so I had to quit.

In the same mall, just around the corner was a locally owned store called the Hobby Bench. It sold everything from cross stitch patterns to radio controlled cars. Even before I applied for the job of cashier, the Hobby Bench was one of my favorite stores. I was hired instantly and stayed there for almost five years. Aside from learning a number of new crafts, this is the job where I learned how to handle crabby and attitudinal people. Within a year, management had me working returns. In a store that didn’t give cash refunds. And always on the day after Christmas. I took a verbal beating often and that caused me to develop some pretty tough skin along with some witty diplomatic strategies. I was studying to be a teacher at the time, so these skills ended up being an essential part of my education.

It may seem amazing that I stayed through all the verbal assaults, but it really wasn’t a hard choice to remain at my post. The Hobby Bench was where I met my soul mate. While I rang up customers in the front, he sold and fixed R/C cars and trucks in the back. Even the crappiest jobs feel like heaven when you’re best friend and love is working just a few feet away. It’s been fifteen years and we’re still together, even without the Hobby Bench, (about three years ago, “our” Hobby Bench closed down).

I continued to work at the Hobby Bench during my first two years of teaching. Then, one day I decided it was time to let it go. My focus had shifted from a job that just paid the bills, to a career that means so much to me. I’ve been teaching for the past thirteen years and it is every bit as rewarding and challenging as I thought it would be. Some days are difficult, but most of the time I’m thankful to have a job that brings me so much joy. There are million things I could complain about, (as the public education system is far from perfect), but this is the only job I’ve ever had where I have an immense amount of control over my day. I get to decide how to teach material and I can be creative in everything I do. However, the best thing of all is watching a kid learn. I love it when a student tells me “I hated history until now.” Yup, that’s a good day at work!

I will likely remain in the teaching profession until it’s time to retire. I honestly never thought I would last this long, but it turns out I’m tougher and more patient than most. If I’ve learned anything from this job, it’s that the key to staying in the classroom is the willingness to learn as if you’re still a student. No one knows everything, not even a teacher.

But, I do still know how to make one hell of a two dozen rose vase arrangement!

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c.b.w. 2014

Favorite Thing Friday: Feeling Prepared

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When school resumes in August, I’ll be teaching a “new to me” subject, AP Art History. I was pretty much guilted (or suckered) into teaching this course for a few reasons: a) I’ve been teaching World History for 12 years so I have a pretty good handle on the international timeline, b) art is something I enjoy, (though I have never been formally trained in the arts ), and c) I can’t say no to my Department Chair as she has done me numerous favors.

For a couple of months, I held out hope that the powers that be would change their minds about offering the course (and find another way to fulfill the humanities requirement of IB), but alas the schedule for next year still has AP Art History next to my name. This would be all well and fine if I felt remotely qualified to teach the course and if I had the right resources.

One of the books they gave me is best suited for the desk of an art history professor as it is massively huge, has no bolded vocabulary, and is unbelievably boring. The other is a skinny paperback that is meant for people who have a passing interest in the subject and possess some background knowledge. Neither text was appropriate for high school freshman or a nervous teacher.

Thus, began my search for reference materials that would help me organize the curriculum and help my future students grasp a complicated subject matter. Oh, and every resource had to be incredibly cheap. No easy feat to say the least.

After months of hunting, I’m relieved to have three solid resources:

History of Art: Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Graphics, Technics by Parragon Books

Contains historical timelines for each era, key artistic terms, and colorful visuals. It’s more of a picture book than anything else and I plan on using it as such. However, the art terminology at the beginning of each chapter is invaluable!

Found it on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble: $10

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A Basic History of Western Art (7th Edition) by Anthony F Janson

A fantastic textbook geared for undergraduates, but simplified enough for advanced high school students. Filled with visuals and bolded vocabulary, this ties art and history together in an easy-to-understand format. A great resource for the analytical elements of art history, while also providing inspiration for critical thinking activities.

Found it at Half-Price Books: $8

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Art History For Dummies by Jesse Bryant Wilder

The old standby for many teachers, the Dummies series does a great job of breaking down detailed subjects into  smaller pieces. Casual language, humor, and simplified outlines makes this an ideal resource for curriculum mapping and creating presentations my students can easily understand.

Found it through the amazon marketplace: $17

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With these reference materials I feel like I can finally start the planning process! This is a huge relief and I’m actually excited to dig in and create lesson plans. It’s amazing how feeling prepared can lead to a surge in confidence.

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What is your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2013

Reconstructing the Lennon Wall . . . Again

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Over the last few months, I’ve written several times about the Lennon Wall I’ve created in my classroom. From the initial debacle of having to take it down to sharing student art, the response from readers has been overwhelming. Knowing that the message of the Lennon Wall has reached beyond the confines of my classroom is an incredible experience and I hope the message continues to spread.

In the months since I posted Reconstructing the Lennon Wall, the Listening to the Wall series and Clearly, I Will Not Be Silenced, the Lennon Wall has been pieced back together one section at a time. I made the decision not to re-create the same pattern that existed prior to the walls being painted.  Instead of returning to a moment of sadness, I decided to move forward with a fresh start. I used all the same pieces my students created in May 2012, but I let the random nature of fate decide their new positions on the wall.  The result is a beautiful new Lennon Wall that is full of vibrant optimism.

Center Section of Lennon Wall as of August 2012

On the first day of school, my students from the previous school year stopped by in droves to check out the newly constructed wall and to find their pieces. Meanwhile, the power of the Lennon Wall continues to grow as my new students are already buzzing about creating their own pieces for the wall. I am so excited to see them embrace the beauty of individual expression and I can’t wait to hear their voices.

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c.b.w. 2012