Favorite Thing Friday: That New Start Smell

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A friend of mine loves this time of year because she loves the way a new box of crayons smells. I’m with her on this – there is nothing quite as wonderful as that waxy Crayola aroma. It means the crayons are perfectly sharp and that a new school year is about to begin.

At this time last year, I didn’t want to go back to work. My usual enthusiasm for teaching was buried under the huge weight of grief. Within days of losing a close friend to cancer I was expected to show up at work with a smile on my face and “get pumped” at professional development meetings. No amount of welcome back activities or fresh crayon smell was going to get me excited for a new school year.

Things only got worse as the school year progressed: Three more people passed on, including my Grandfather. I found myself pretending to be enthusiastic and happy, when I really  just wanted to go home and cry. Some saw through it, but many did not. It’s funny how you find out who your real friends are when you are stuck in a very black hole. Even when I folded in on myself, they never gave up on me. I credit them with keeping me afloat.

I walked away from the last school year knowing I could’ve and should’ve done better. I didn’t do a horrible job, but I certainly didn’t reach my personal standard. My inner critic wanted to harp on this fact, but when it comes down to it, I was in survival mode. I did my job and my students learned what they needed to learn, but I couldn’t connect to them in a way I’ve been able to in the past. Quite honestly, I couldn’t connect with anyone.

After a year like that, I spent my summer healing and rediscovering my spark. It’s been two months of exploration. Two months of renewal. Two months of learning to live again for the sheer thrill of it. I did the things I loved most, traveled, and spent time with friends and family. It was all about reconnecting to everything that mattered most to me. And it worked.

I am excited to go back to work this year. So excited, in fact, that I’ve been working on curriculum for the last two weeks. I decided it was time to give my arsenal of lesson plans a much needed refresh. Instead of rehashing the same old thing, I’m opting to experiment with the Flipped Classroom Model.

It’s a terrifying thing to suddenly shift gears, but I’m relishing in the challenge. Aside from the issues I had to deal with last year, I realized I was bored. The last thing I want is for my students to feel the same way, so it’s time to shake things up.

So far, I’ve got class websites set up for both of my content areas and two weeks worth of lesson plans/assignments constructed and uploaded. I am literally getting up early in the morning to have extra time to work on it. Everything is looking awesome and I can’t wait to try it all out on my students.

Next, I’ll be heading into my classroom, (four days early!). I’m giving the place a mini-refresh by getting rid of some furniture and clutter. Since I got new student desks this year (OMG, so thrilled for this – the previous desks were over 20 years old), I’m considering a new desk configuration. I’ve had the same configuration for ten years, and I think it’s run its course. For the walls, I’ve ordered some new posters and they should be here any day!

It’s a new start and it feels really good. The grief is still there, but it serves as a more of a reminder that I was loved and I know how to love. That’s a powerful thing. Far more powerful than sadness or self-criticism.

My first official day back at work is next week. The day before, I plan on buying a fresh box of crayons. In the moments before a long day of professional meetings, I’m going to open the box and enjoy that “new start” smell.

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2015

Favorite Thing Friday: Caffeine in General

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For the last week I’ve been knee deep in preparing my portfolio entry for National Board Certification. This means working 12 to 14 hour days without much of a break.

This insane project includes:

  • a 13 page paper that essentially describes and analyzes my teaching strategies, outlines a series of lesson plans geared towards the ultimate goal of developing critical thinking and reasoning, and addresses the standards of teaching laid out by National Board.
  • three packages of lesson plans complete with full lesson description, instructional materials, and resources
  • three packages of student work samples that align with lesson plan goals and show growth indicators
  • full description of my classroom and school

Now you know why caffeine is my favorite thing this week. I need it in order stay in a good mood and power through my day. Sleep was never my friend, but remaining in a ridiculously good mood and having massive amounts of energy to work my way through a labyrinth of paperwork can only happen with the jolt of caffeine.

Whether it be chocolate (M&Ms, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers bites, Milky Way bites, Kit Kat bites, Hershey drops, and Hershey kisses) or my favorite muse juice, a Cafe Mocha, I owe many thanks to the miracle that is caffeine!

I’m in the homestretch of this segment of the National Board Process. I’ll be uploading my entries over the weekend! May the caffeine gods be watching over me!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2015

Favorite Thing Friday: T-Rex Logic

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After a very busy week of grading final exams and last minute assignments, a good old fashioned T-Rex meme is just what I needed. A friend sent the below quote graphic to me on Pinterest, thinking it would be a great quote for a Social Studies department t-shirt and it’s been making me laugh all week.

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I’m usually not big on work logo shirts, but if my department decides to do this, I will totally wear it. Science is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but Humanities rocks, too!

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2014

 

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