Say What?

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Adding to the list of things you never expect to say as an English teacher:

“Don’t put chicken in my file cabinet.”

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Happy Teaching 8th Grade In My Happy Classroom!

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Goodness gracious!  It’s been so long since I have posted anything.  So much has happened!!

Last year, I started teaching third grade and quickly realized I was in the wrong place and the wrong grade.  So, I decided to do something about that.  I spent last spring teaching full time and going back to school to get my secondary teaching endorsement in English/ Language Arts.  Best decision I ever made.

Now, I am teaching close to home, instead of a 45 minute one-way commute, at a deliriously wonderful middle school, and even have my daughter at the school.  LOVE having her with me every day!  I couldn’t be happier with my school and the staff.  I have even been able to use my almost 2 decades of community theater experience in the drama department co-directing the 8th grade play and now the spring musical.  My amazing daughter is involved in sports and stage managing the shows.

My classroom is my happy place.  Even the other teachers come in and “zen out” for a while sometimes.  I get so many comments on how good it smells (which is something to remark on with middle schoolers) and how peaceful and orderly it is.  I have lamps and strings of lights (the blue lantern ones around the tree board weren’t up yet for the picture), cool peaceful colors with a few splashes of bright colors, and things are organized and simple.  It makes me smile when, even into the second semester, my students come in, settle in to their desk and sigh, “I love this room.”

My peaceful classroom

My peaceful classroom

To make my space feel extra homey, I created my own personal space at the back of the room.  My “office” as I call it.  Anchored with a cute rug, I have all of my personal supplies within my reach, but harder for the kiddos to get into without my permission.   Organization is key.  Behind the lime green curtain (on a tension rod) is all of my personally purchased supplies organized in tubs and containers, which would look neat enough, but even cleaner out of sight.

My "office" space

My “office” space

Another feature of my classroom is art.  Several paintings around the room are my own work (the large pink one was done by my daughter), and three were done by a friend to bring my Louisiana roots into my room.  I believe that art can inspire the imagination, so what better decoration for a writing classroom?  The READ letters are re-purposed frames from a thrift shop and some letters and craft supplies.  I put a roll of contact paper on the front of the desk to dress it up some and tie it into the rest of the room.  It’s the simple things that pull this room together and make me happy.

These pictures are from the start of the year and some things have been added, such as student work and the bulletin board tree “leaves” have changed with the season.  (At the moment, it is glittery white with snow covered hills and penguins sledding among the student work hanging up.)  My door changes with the season, or my mood.  🙂  I just took down my 3D snowman and am in the process of replacing it with a 3D blooming cherry tree and dandy lions on a hill.  Here’s the snowman (We named him Bernard and the kids did journal entries on his adventures with the penguins, Bartholomew and Nigel.)  Pictures of the tree when it’s done!

Meet Bernard, Bartholomew, and Nigel.

Meet Bernard, Bartholomew, and Nigel.

Sometimes you have to take a few steps back from what you thought you were supposed to be doing, listen closely to your heart and gut feelings, and step out on a limb for something new.  Last year, I questioned whether or not teaching was what I was supposed to do at all.  This year, I KNOW it is and I KNOW I am teaching what I was meant to teach and have created a space that makes me happy, productive, and at peace.

Is it hard work?  Definitely.  Is it worth it.  You better believe it!

Make It Look Good

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It’s been a while since I posted here and there’s a reason for that. It’s been a tough year for this teacher. Like second-guess your career choice tough. Not being one to air my grievances on my blog (I save that for my poor Facebook friends, bless them), I decided not to post anything at all.

But with the end in sight and creative juices flowing (not to mention being on spring break and able to breathe for a few days), I thought I would post pictures of my classroom and some anchor charts I’ve done for the kids.

Hey, if it doesn’t feel good, at least make it look good.

First up, my new spring time classroom door decoration.  My room is known by the green pouf on the door, so I left it and added the flowers I made.

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Next, my I’m Done poster.  Kids need to know what their options are.  There’s a blank apple that I can write something else on with a dry erase marker.

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Water Cycle

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Cloud Types

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Parts of Speech

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Weather Tools (I used the foldable that was my model for their class assignment.)

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Types of Communities

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I suppose I could work on my handwriting, but I’m old, so who cares.  It’s a sight better than that of my third graders.

About the time we were doing our space unit, I happened to go into a clothing store at our local mall and mentioned I loved the decorations and wished I could have some for my classroom.  The manager told me to hang on a minute and she would see what she could find.  Turned out, they had taken down a display and had tons of Mylar balloons and metallic garland.  So, I took it to school and turned my room into my own personal galaxy.

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You may notice the sparseness of the room.  I’d say it is because I am a new teacher and haven’t accumulated much.  Partially true.  Mostly, I’m just OCD like that about clutter and stuff being out of place.  The kids are funny and have got me figured out.  I stood by a particularly cluttered desk area and the student next to the mess maker said, “Dude, you better clean that up.  You’re freaking her out!”  Well said, small friend.

Setting a New Standard

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This week, I learned a lesson in unexpected outcomes. The teachers at my school, like so many these days, are feeling a tremendous amount of pressure to perform in ways we are asked to by administration while trying to balance that with doing what we know our students really need from us. It is a juggling act and so many of us feel that we are one missed catch from the whole thing crashing down around us.
Fall Break thankfully arrived to give us a moment to rest our weary hearts and minds. The teacher across the hall from me has been a tremendous help as I stepped in to a growth position and struggled to get acclimated. In her spare time (insert sarcastic laughter here) she has helped me as much as she can. Knowing she needed the break from the stress and a laugh as much as I did, I gave her a copy of my book Mushrooms in My Head, Dead Lions in the Yard to read.
Not having mentioned that I am a writer before, it took her a bit by surprise that the name on the cover was mine. The next day, I got a message from her on Facebook. She was halfway through the book and in tears. I admit, the reaction I am most used to in response to the book is laughter, not tears. But she saw something in the story of my little girl that I have always seen: Max sees the world and the people in it for what they are without expectations of what they could or should be. That simple truth struck a chord with my friend and inspired her to be who she is and not take on herself what others expect and to be true to her own talent and what she was created to be without apology.
Then, she shared her revelation with her friends and family on Facebook and inspired others to read it and see the world through Max’s unassuming eyes. It was a vivid reminder for me as well. I have been so wrapped up in trying to be what others are insisting we be as teachers even though it makes no sense to us: uniform instruction across the board when our students are as far from uniform as it gets, teaching identical material at an identical rate and style when we are all unique individuals as teachers as well as students. We became educators because we have a passion for it and that passion is being micromanaged away, but we don’t have to let it. Yes, what the admins want drives the culture of the school and they evaluate us which determines our futures, but I have to think that if we are true to ourselves and what we know to do, ultimately, if not immediately, we will succeed in making a positive impact on the world’s future generation. We must learn to see ourselves and our students through the lens that Max sees the world: a lens of acceptance and honesty, even in the face of not understanding it all.
So the lesson in unexpected outcomes is that the book written to inspire others to accept and understand my child with a disorder has led others to be inspired to accept themselves. I am truly humbled and blessed. And inspired.

Get your copy (paperback or Kindle) following the link here:

Mushrooms In My Head, Dead Lions In the Yard

Whatcha Doin’?

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I can’t tell you how many times I get a text like that from my husband this summer. Every time the answer is different, but you would think, with it being summer break and all, that the answer would be one thing: sitting by the pool. Wouldn’t that be nice?

As it is, that has only been the answer once or twice. Instead, my replies have been “sitting in the lobby at the doctor,” “organizing the pantry,” “climbing Mount Laundry,” “proofing my novel,” and the ever popular answer for a newly licensed yet not working teacher: “applying for jobs.”

What I really would like to be doing is sitting by the pool working on a new novel. Perhaps before the summer ends. Of course, it would mean I have another novel to add to the list to send to publishers. Thinking of all of this begs the question for all of you:

Whatcha doin’ this summer?

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Field Trip #1 – Downtown Baton Rouge

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People often ask me where I am originally from. It’s a common question around here since hardly anyone you meet is actually from Nashville. My friend took her kids on a local field trip (something I love to do here) around my home town of Baton Rouge. It brought back so many memories for me and reminded me that no matter how much we take our towns for granted, they are a world of discovery and learning for our kids! Enjoy!

Patience Is A Virtue (That I Don’t Have.) Tell Your Story!

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Cherry blossoms in SpringThey say “Patience is a virtue.”  It is amusing to me as I sit here and think about the ways I have patience and the ways I don’t.  When it comes to thinking about the future, I have no patience at all.

It is a tremendous challenge for me to think about my teaching future at the moment.  I need a job.  There, I said it.  Student teaching is work, but not a job.  Having a job implies that you are paid for the work you do in ways other than experience, so I need to get me one of those lined up.

Here’s where the lack of patience comes in.  As is the norm for the spring, there are positions being posted in the county for next school year.  As they come up, I am tempted to apply because of the previous comment.  However, there are issues with each of the positions.  The main issue is that they are not at one of the few schools I really want to teach in.  Here’s the problem: once you take a position, you must wait 3-5 years to request a transfer.  So, just taking a job for the sake of having one that is somewhere you may not thrive is risky.

I know where I want to teach.  I am trying to be patient for openings there, but to be frank and honest, as so many of you have thanked me for in the past, I am freaking out a little over here as jobs post at different schools.

Let me hear from you.  How did your first teaching position come about?  Was it where you wanted, or was it a foot in the door thing?  Tell your story!  Maybe hearing the journeys of others will help me develop some patience, or if nothing else, pass some time while I enjoy reading them!

Spring Break!

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Little Sandy Toes on the BeachIT”S SPRING BREAK!!!!! Time to get things done. Many folks will be heading out to relax on the beach or going to that special place with the mouse. Not me. This student teacher has a lot to do.

First things first. Since I never changed my name on my social security card to my married name (almost 7 years ago), I will be taking care of that this week. It hasn’t mattered until now. It is important to fix that before my teaching license paperwork goes in.

My second project will be going through my e-potfolio and getting all of the attachments that are required to be in there all plugged in and ready for my symposium.

Other than those very important tasks, I will be working on cleaning and purging the apartment to start fresh and get this small space back into a functioning home. When you are student teaching things become a little out of control. There is always something for school, whether college or the school you are working at, that needs doing and it always seems to take longer than you plan and then the laundry pile grows before you realize what happened.

So, enjoy your sand between your toes and overpriced concessions. I will be spending my spring break cleaning house and getting things all wrapped up and ready for graduation! Have a wonderful Spring Break!

 

Refusing To Say Good Bye

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This post was lost in Draft-land but worth sharing anyway.

Today was the last day in my first student teaching placement, and I am flatly refusing to say “good bye.” There is no way I can let these amazing people, big and small, leave my life as finally as the words good bye would seem. My cooperating teacher has become a dear friend and I am so blessed to have someone I know I can talk to and cry to, and I pray she knows she can do the same with me. My students will forever have a place in my heart. There are some who made me laugh, others who tested me, and all made me proud of them and sad to leave today.
Tears will flow as I read and re-read, and read again the sweet letters they wrote as a farewell. I know that there will come a day when I am feeling defeated and stressed and that will be the time that those letters will be the bouy that lifts me out of the flood and carries me through the storm.
I am forever grateful for this experience and the friends I have made. The time flew far to quickly.
Tomorrow, I start a new adventure in a different school and different grade level. There will be much to learn from this placement as well, and memories to be made, but sitting here in this moment, I cannot imagine feeling this way twice. I am blessed. And I am refusing to say “good bye.”

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Twitter in the Classroom?

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twitter-bird-blue-on-whiteTeachers, how do you use Twitter in your classroom? Social media is taking over and students are constantly checking in. And it doesn’t stop there. As an elementary teacher, I know my students’ parents are becoming increasingly dependent on the platforms of Twitter and Facebook for their daily news and interactions.

So, do you put them to work for you?

I have seen high school teachers tweeting news and assignments to their students knowing full well they will check that long before they look in their agendas. Many teachers design Facebook pages for their classes. But, how do we use it in Elementary school? Obviously, our students are too young to be using these platforms (or they are as far as Twitter and Facebook rules go, but really, how many have an account??). So, how do we use it in a way that reaches parents and keeps them involved?

If you have a method that works for you, please share it here!

Also, for kid friendly ways to keep elementary students tech savvy and engaged in the classroom, check out Kidblog as a resource. It gives teachers a way to start a thread and monitor replies and comments while allowing students to explore the world of blogging. For those of us comfortable here on WordPress, it looks and functions almost identically as far as the dashboard goes. Edmodo is another teacher led platform that looks a lot like Facebook, but is teacher controlled. Great resources both of them.

Share you ideas! Then, share this post to reach out to the teachers that you know who are making great use of technology in their classroom to pass on their favorite tools!

Then, tweet about it! @MrsHopkinsTeach Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter!