Back to the Future.

Prompt: When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

When I was 17, my senior English teacher didn’t want us to write a traditional research paper. Instead, we had to write a letter to a friend in class, imagining our lives 10 years in the future. We still had to do quite a bit of research, but I remember loving the writing process, dreaming up where I thought I would live and what my life looked like.

Because I am somewhat of a pack rat, I still have that paper. Here’s some highlights of the life I imagined in my research paper:

  • Graduate from BYU with a degree in music education
  • Go to Juilliard and study jazz for my M.A.
  • Perform a concert series with Harry Connick, Jr.
  • Marry my high school boyfriend and honeymoon in New Zealand
  • Buy a house in Seattle and teach vocal jazz and piano at Seattle University
  • Get laid off from job in academics, due to budget cuts
  • Have two kids, Mike and Jess
  • Get a part-time job teaching choir in a high school

So to compare with what my life actually looks like:

  • Went to BYU but did not graduate from there; degree in Secondary Ed, Language Arts Emphasis
  • Went to Bowling Green State for my M.A.
  • Saw Harry Connick, Jr. in concert, sat on the front row, and HE LOOKED AT ME THREE TIMES, IN THE EYES, so it’s basically like performing with him.
  • Did not marry my high school boyfriend; have never been to New Zealand
  • Live in Nebraska and teach piano to children
  • Escaped layoffs from budget cuts in academics
  • Have dozens of kids who at times feel like mine, even though they aren’t
  • Get a full-time job teaching journalism in a high school

The broad strokes of what I saw my life-to-be as a 17 year-old are pretty darn close to where I ended up. The best part? I’m pretty happy with how my life has turned out, even if close up, it looks a bit different from what I imagined as a kid.

Spring Break

The last time I had a full week for spring break was…let me think…grad school. Bowling Green, 2008. This year, our district scheduled a week-long spring break instead of splitting the days between a winter break in February and days off around Easter. 

I don’t do well without the routine of school, even though I desperately need the break. Since last Friday my body has subtly reminded me that I am not immune to colds, despite not having one for over two years. I haven’t been knocked flat on my back, but I haven’t been operating at 100% either.
Add in five straight weeks of high-stress situations, and it’s a wonder I haven’t been crabbier than I’ve been with my students. So the timing of this break is rather serendipitous. 
That said, I don’t do well without the routine of school.
I thought about this flaw of mine, this compulsive need to be needed (because that’s really what it comes down to), and this morning I actually panicked a little with what the next nine days would look like for me. Especially because I’ve been beating back this demon for a good two weeks now. 
So I made a list of things I could do over the break, you know, responsible things like finish my book and grade some papers and clean the microwave. 

But I’m starting spring break with my TiVo, that is 41% full, and some homemade brownies made from scratch.
It might be Monday before I get to that list.

This Kid.

Today I’m grateful for the kid who wrote this story.

I first met the kid who wrote this story four years ago when I assumed the role of newspaper adviser at the high school. That first year was rocky (not as rocky as my first year coaching speech, thank goodness), but he stuck with through his senior year of high school. 
This kid is now a freshman at UNL, on scholarship, and is killing it for The Daily Nebraskan. I’m so stinkin’ proud I can hardly think about what he’s accomplished this first semester without tearing up just a tidge.
I’m grateful he’s following his dream of becoming a sportswriter, and grateful he sends me his stories, not only because I like to read them, but also because it reminds me that what I do as a writing teacher can have long-term effects on some select students, and that’s a good thing for me to remember this time of year.
Thanks, Nick. Keep ’em comin’.

World Teacher Day.

TL;DR: Teachers work hard. I love my job, but like anything worth doing, it doesn’t happen without sacrifice.

Today is World Teacher Day. I didn’t know there was such a thing (thanks, Twitter) and I thought this post that I started Monday might be appropriate. I kept track of how I spent my time on Monday, because I am feeling more pressure than ever before in my teaching career. Even when I taught in Utah and I had 180 students, I loved my job and didn’t feel the weight of politicians’ and school boards’ and district administrators’ expectations crushing my back.

But those Halcyon days of teaching in Utah was pre-No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. I could teach for the joy of teaching, I could do what was best for my students, I was generally trusted as a professional. And while I am given more resources than many schools in the country, I feel like too many people who place expectations on me and my colleagues have no idea what a typical day is like.

So Monday I tried tracking what I did during the day, just to see. Here’s a summary:

7 a.m., arrive at school.
  • Plug in iPads–I forgot to charge them last week.
  • Skim chapter in the graphic design book I’m teaching from 1st hour
  • Update Google Classroom
  • Look over lesson plans in all classes
  • Check in cameras that students bring back from the weekend
  • Help a sub with a computer issue
  • Print rubrics to copy later.
1st Hour, Desktop Publishing
  • Teach for 25 minutes
  • Take attendance after 10 minutes of class, in between teaching/asking questions
  • Give students time to work on project
  • While working, send email to a parent about her student’s work
  • Log the parent contact in the grade program
2nd hour, Journalistic Writing
  • Blessed day: a quiz. Some time for me to….
  • Add to my to-do list
  • Send another parent email
  • Log that parent contact in the grade program
  • Teach for 15 minutes
  • Connect and charge iPads at end of class.
3rd Hour, Tech Trainer
  • Walk upstairs to get radio
  • Check email on phone–teacher requesting tech help
  • Help teacher figure out issue
  • Stop by a friend’s room to catch up for 5 minutes
  • Talk to Activities Director about journalism
  • Help another teacher with a tech problem
  • Walk back upstairs to do commons supervision during passing period.
4th Hour, Plan time
  • Return emails from the morning
  • Clean desk–random piles of papers have piled up and need organized
  • Go to office to make copies
  • Pay Newspaper bill
  • Make copies
  • See district administrator, have brief conversation (necessary convo, but makes me late for class)
5th Hour, Pop Culture
  • Teach/discuss content for 50 minutes (bled into Silent Sustained Reading time, but the conversation my students were engaged in was worth it)
  • Manage SSR time by reading an article for a grading pilot I’m involved in
  • Finally–HAVE LUNCH! 30 minutes in which I force myself to not work.
6th Hour, Pop Culture
  • Teach/discuss content for 50 minutes. This class is quite different from my 5th hour, so my questions have to be framed differently in order to get them thinking about what I need them to understand. This means that I can’t really teach these classes the same, ever, even though the core content is the same. The tiny decisions I made just 90 minutes earlier are completely different with this group.
7th Hour, Newspaper
  • It’s rundown meeting day, so students are supposed to have brought in story ideas. Some did, some did not.
  • Once the rundown meeting is done, my 16 staffers have varying needs and questions, so I am juggling 16 different compartments of my brain to make sure they are taken care of.
8th Hour, Guided Study Hall
  • 21 students from our three publications staffs are assigned to the journalism room for this 35 minute end-of-day study hall. They mostly stay on task, but sometimes I have to get them to quiet down.
  • Other students from our video journalism intro classes and publication design classes are in and out during this time to take photos, gather interviews, or work with iMovie or InDesign. It is 35 minutes of managed chaos, but the kids really are good and on task for at least 30 of those 35 minutes. At the end of the day, that’s impressive.
At 3:20 the bell rings and the room empties. It is quiet. I look at my to-do list, which has grown throughout the course of the day. I try to focus on any simple task before I leave, but I know that my best bet is to tidy the room, answer and delete some emails, eliminate other digital clutter, and do mindless tasks before taking on other tasks such as grading and adjusting lesson plans for the next day. 
This was a relatively light, drama-free day.
I go home around 4, after a quick stop at the district office to drop off some paperwork, and I allow myself to watch a TV show for 45 minutes. Then it’s time for dinner, and while I eat, I double check my lesson plans for the next day. I read a couple of articles I found on Twitter that will help make the next day’s plans more relevant. I move items around on the calendar to accommodate taking a little more time with how I’m teaching writing in my 2nd hour class. 
I know I should grade the quizzes my 2nd hour class took, but I have an appointment with my trainer at 7 (these appointments ensure I get to the gym at least once a week), so I ready myself for that.
I get home at 8:15, and I feel happy I was able to get to the gym. I take a look at the list, and I know I should try knocking off a couple of items, but I’m trying to get to bed earlier, so I listen to a podcast while I get tomorrow’s lunch ready and do the dishes from the day. I read a little more, and by 9:45 I’m in bed.
I don’t know how my teacher friends with families do it. I am barely hanging on, and I only have to take care of myself. I’m sure I would figure out the balancing act, because that’s what we humans do. We survive. We adjust and adapt. 
But I fear I’m adjusting and adapting to taking on more and more work instead of adjusting and adapting to letting myself have more of a life. I feel guilty when I do anything that takes me away from figuring out how to do my job better (or actually completing the tasks I’m already not completing).
Today is my church’s General Conference, which means four hours of church on TV. Since I am at home on the couch in my yoga pants and a tshirt, I’m comfy and happy. The sun is shining, and I’m about to make pumpkin waffles and bacon for brunch. 
But I know that while the leaders of my church are speaking, I will be working. I will be grading, I will be planning lessons, I will be emailing students and parents. Because if I can get even the slightest bit ahead today, then maybe next week will be a little more manageable.
Happy World Teacher Day.

As Usual…

I’m allowing school to take over my life. 

Notice I say “I’m allowing”–because I certainly have a choice over what I do when I come home. And lately, I’ve been choosing to work. Granted, I’m working while also watching TV, which isn’t the most effective, I know.

Regardless, for the past two weeks, if I’m home, my computer is on and I’m working on something, be it lesson planning or grading or sending emails.
Last week as I worked, I watched Ken Burns’ documentary about the Roosevelts. It was fascinating, and if you have the chance to catch it somehow, you totally should. I could take away a million lessons form the 14-hour film series, but here’s probably what I need to take away most:
I need to stop.
As World War II raged for the last part of FDR’s presidency, he still took time every day to do what he enjoyed. Stamp collecting, reading, cavorting with mistresses, it really didn’t matter as long as he took some time each day to do something for himself.
This really struck me, because as a wartime president, I’m sure he could have allowed his work to take over his life. But he didn’t. Every day, pockets of time were his and only his, to do as he pleased.
It’s newspaper deadline time for me, and luckily I figured out last year that if kids come in for a few hours on Saturday, I’m not staying at school every night for a week. Just Monday and Tuesday. I spent five hours at school on Saturday, and tonight I left school around 8 p.m. I still have scads of work I should be doing. 
But instead, I wrote this little post, and after I put together tomorrow’s lunch and dinner, I’m going to crawl into my snuggly bed, read a comic book, and I hope, fall asleep much earlier than I did last night.
(Don’t worry Stueve–I will make sure the comic book is put back in its protective sleeve and placed on a shelf before falling asleep.)
If FDR can take an hour or two for himself while managing a war, certainly I can take some time for myself while managing things of much less consequence. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my very survival requires me to do so.