Sometimes, students break your heart

Not because they want to, but because they get depressed and feel like the only way out is ending their life. We had a close call, and I care about hir a lot. And my heart is broken.

But today, some kids also warmed my heart and made me smile.

"I was watching The Simpsons last night and they made an allusion to Icarus AND I TOTALLY GOT IT!"

(We’re studying Greek and biblical myths and allusions to them for this exact purpose. Teacher win.)

"You can’t see my homework because I wrote it in invisible ink" *sly smile*

"Your BS doesn’t work here, try again," I smile back.

"I love you, Ms."

Yesterday, hithertokt posted a beautiful piece about times when teaching is hard, and times when it’s so, so worth it. And my day was filled with both.

It was the first cloudy day we’ve had in a long time, and it was one of the cloudiest days in my mind. But rays of sunshine always poke out, and I appreciated them a little bit more today.

Self-Care Sunday: Sometimes, You Just Need to Take a Day Off Edition

In long months without any vacation days (I’m looking at you, October and March), taking a day off is sometimes needed. You’re allowed to do this. And you should do this. And you should not feel guilty about this. Taking a rest day can prevent oncoming illness, relieve anxiety levels, or just give you a day to recharge your battery. All of these are good, ESSENTIAL things.

In a perfect world, you could spend the day relaxing on the couch, or going to get a massage, or doing something fun like going to the beach. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and as teachers, sometimes that day off is most relaxing if we spend the entire day getting caught up on grading because then we’re caught up on grading and there’s nothing more relaxing than that.

If you take a day, use it well. Sleep in. Have a restful morning. Then, if anxiety starts setting in because that stack of papers is looming, then grade some papers. You’ll feel so much better getting stuff done. Just don’t overwork yourself; it defeats the purpose. Take breaks. Watch awesome TV or movies. Eat delicious snacks, etc.

If you take a day, and sleep in, and decide to be lazy on the couch all day - ENJOY IT. Oh my goodness enjoy it as much as you can. You deserve it. 

Self-Care Sunday - “October is Upon Us” Edition

So, October. The most stressful month in teaching, in my opinion. The time when kids stop doing their homework, their grades start tanking, we have no days off, and we’re all getting sick. It’s that time. That time when self-care should be at the forefront of our minds, but we shove it to the back-burner because LOOK AT ALL THIS OTHER STUFF I HAVE TO DO AND CARE ABOUT!

Please remember, you can’t get all of that done if you’re a stressed out, sick, possibly depressed mess of a person. One simple way to prevent yourself from becoming that person is to make time for yourself every day.

Not just on Sunday. Not just when you’re about to lose it. Every day. 

When you plan your week, plan some self-care time each day. For me, the things that keep me happy and healthy are yoga, reading, delicious and healthy food, delicious and unhealthy food, and TV shows that make me laugh.

So, my self-care plan for the week includes:

- Reading each night.

- Relaxing yoga routine at least twice this week in my house, and going to one class at the studio.

- Showering in the evenings so I am not rushed in the mornings, and so my hair can air-dry instead of subjecting it to the dryer and straightener.

- Healthy lunches and snacks every day (made on Sunday, then stored in the fridge in individual containers so packing lunch in the morning is easy).

- Healthy, home-cooked dinners most nights, with Indian food on the menu for at least an evening, because it’s just so delicious.

In October, my weekday evenings are sacred. I don’t bring home work unless I am unprepared for the next day and have to do it. I never bring home grading during the week. I’d rather lose a weekend day to that than be stressed during the week. It’s a choice I’ve made.

So, my challenge to you - how will you take care of yourself each day this week?

For previous Self-Care Sunday posts, click here:

Reading Edition

Overwhelmed with Work Edition

Exercise and Meditation Edition

Gettin’ a Bit Sick Edition

Treat Yo Self Edition

Concussion care in sports


By David Brody


The media have been paying a lot of attention to concussions lately. This is not a bad thing; concussions and their sometimes serious effects have been largely overlooked until recently. A good example is the coverage of the World Cup concussions, and the decision to put…

This is so important. One of my students suffered a concussion. Two weeks ago and was put on brain rest. She couldn’t read, and still can’t do homework, per doctor’s orders. While initially I thought this was a severe response, I also was grateful that the doctor knew what to do. So many of our football players get concussions and then don’t get treatment at all. What happens to their brains?

Self-Care Sunday : Reading Edition

During my first year of teaching, I convinced myself I didn’t have the time or energy to read.

This was a mistake.

During my second year of teaching, I forced myself to read for 20 minutes before bed every night. This was the best decision I made for myself that year.

I had trouble sleeping during my first year. I was anxious and exhausted, and my mind just wouldn’t stop thinking about lessons and grading and my students’ personal problems and my frustrating coworkers. So even when I decided to sleep instead of read, I tossed and turned for 20 minutes (usually more) instead of actually sleeping.

I was also more resentful whenever I realized I hadn’t picked up a book in months even though my job was to teach reading.

When I forced myself to read the second year, it changed so many things. I slept better, and I didn’t resent my workload so much because I made time to do something for me.

So, yes. You do have time to read. Or run. Or watch tv. Or whatever it is you love to do. And it’s crucial that you take that time.

If you haven’t been, why not start today? :)

Self-Care Sunday

So, it’s Sunday afternoon/evening, and you’re just full of anxiety and grumpiness? Yeah, I’m feeling that today. The “there’s never enough time” feeling or the “I hate that I have to do this instead of, oh, I don’t know, have a life and hobbies” feeling. Yes. I know it well today.

You have two options.

Option 1: Don’t do your work and enjoy your day/evening. Make it worth the misery you may feel tomorrow. Enjoy the heck out of your day!

Option 2: Do your work, and make it as painless as possible. Here are some ways to do that:

- Beverages. I always have a beverage while working. It’s often tea. My favorite teas brands are Yogi, Tazo, and Good Earth. Since I drink coffee in the mornings, I don’t often have caffeinated tea in the afternoon, but sometimes I just can’t resist some chai. Either way, have a yummy beverage to enjoy while you work.

- Background noise. I can’t work in total silence. I love instrumental music like Do Make Say Think, and have an entire Pandora station based on that band. I highly recommend. On days when I’m super stressed (today) and need legit distraction while I work, I watch Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I definitely watched it two weeks ago while grading as well. And no, I never get sick of it. It’s perfect because I love it, but I know it well, so I don’t have to pay attention to every single thing to enjoy it.

- Snacks. Need I say more? I’m not much of a snacker myself, but I know for some, snacks are more important than beverages. :)

- Comfortable place to sit, and comfortable clothes in which to sit in. Comfy couch and pajamas? That’s what I prefer. If you prefer your desk, do yo thang.

- Short term goals. Grade half a stack, take a break. Or, grade 5 papers and take a break. Whatever. Set a reasonable goal for the day that you’ll actually reach and can live with, and then set a “If I have more time to do that task, then great!” goal. Don’t set an unrealistic goal because that only sets you up for failure, which is highly unmotivating. You’ll likely not even get started because the task is so daunting. Be kind to yourself. :)

Two years ago, today would have left me frustrated. With myself, with my students, with everything.

I’m so grateful for the ability to detach.

That student’s defiant behavior is not about me. It’s about his awful home life.

That code blue in the middle of school picture make-ups that trapped my students outside of class for nearly the entire period was unavoidable. We’ll get caught up next period.

The district’s lack of leadership does mean I have to fight the good fight for our students, even when it’s against teachers who think they know more than me and who are definitely louder than me. But it’s the right thing to do, so I’m going to do what I can.

Two years ago this would have kept me up and frustrated because I had a hard time detaching from the day.

But I’m going to relax tonight and get some sleep because thinking about this any more is pointless, and I know it’s not all about me.

Dear first year teachers…


This time last year, I didn’t think I was going to make it. I felt scatterbrained, defeated, depressed, my classroom management was nonexistent, I had no confidence, I could not find time for myself, and often went the entire day not eating because I had no time. 

If you are reading this and it is your first year and you have experienced none of this so far. Congrats :D Then these tips might not be so helpful. If you have… and are in survival mode, constantly looking for advice and hearing struggles of fellow first year teachers (searching the web for horror stories to know you are not alone) well here are a few words of advice.

  • Set up routines and be consistent. Last year, I did not even know what routines to begin with. Let alone how to organize my classroom. I spent the entire year trying to figure it out and felt really overwhelmed. Questions to ask yourself include: How will my students enter my classroom? (Talking, quietly? single file line?) What will they do as they enter? (Find seat, sharpen pencils, work on a warmup? in groups? quietly) What will I do during that time? (check homework? put on a timer?) What responsibilities will I give my students? (This year I have a class jobs poster with students having different jobs—paper passer outer, calculator number checker, paper and supply collector, it really helps!!!) Teaching math, last year my kiddos had one notebook. It got super unorganized as the year progressed. I had them glue and tape stuff in there too so that didn’t help. It took forever for them to find their homework in their notebook.So this year…I have two notebooks. 1 class notes, 1 hw. It’s working really well so far and it prevents them from doing their hw in class! Also for their class notebook I had them make a pocket in the back to put their warm-ups in instead of gluing and wasting pages. They seem to like that a lot so far :)
  • Build relationship with students. Talk to them, see what sports they play, what their interests are, what tv shows do they like. (My 7th graders watch ANTM…say wut? lol they were surprised I did too) I was not myself last year. I kind of placed this wall between me and my students, not on purpose…but because I did not know how to be myself trying to manage them at the same time.  I did not know much about them until the end of the year, and they did not know much about me. Part of it is developing thick skin through experience, the other part is building different hats—-when will I need to put on my teacher hat? my discipliner hat? This year I have learned how to redirect a student if they aren’t following instruction in a stern voice and then back to my normal voice when talking to the class. Teaching really is the art of acting. You can’t really predict what will happen but you just gotta be prepared. It’s so hard and I by no means have mastered it yet..but it’s good to have some tricks up your sleeves. And there is a difference between saying “________stop”/ just call out their name versus just looking at them straight in the eye and say “your actions are disrupting your own learning and others around you…please make sure you write this down…etc”
  • Do not talk over them. I repeat. Do not talk over them. I made this mistake year 1. I was so excited about the curriculum and mathematics, I forgot that I was teaching 12-14 year olds that are social creatures who would rather talk about the lunch fight that happened rather than the distributive property. I struggled to get their attention everyday last year. Sometimes it resulted in me yelling over them…the last thing I wanted to do but it got so out of control. This year I started day 1 with the silent fox/ quiet llama/ quiet cayote hand signal. The middle schoolers love it. All I did was tell them this is how I will get your attention in class….when this signal is up you put that signal up to and shut your mouths and get your peers to be quiet too by raising the symbol silently. I told them this works. And they believe it so it has been working pretty well. (Not fool proof…but think of it as the ripple effect…eventually they will be quiet…sometimes faster than other times). I also count down 5-4-3-2-1 but use that minimally. It’s good to keep them on their toes.
  • Your time is precious. Do not let others waste your time. You can talk and vent to other teachers for hours upon hours…but what you really need is YOU TIME. As in go home, eat dinner, watch a tv show and leave school at school. This sounds too good to be true right? I didn’t do this until end of May-June my first year. But it is possible. During your prep periods…go make copies, plan for the following week, grade. Do not let others come and bother you.
  • There is no “THE WAY” or “One Way” in teaching. I constantly compared myself to other teachers and classrooms year 1 and felt like a failure everyday. You need to find YOUR WAY. What works for YOU. And it’s hard to figure that out not ever having your own classroom and learning all these new things on your own. Even harder if you have co-teachers, but it can be a blessing if you have them. Everyone else had beautiful posters and organized classrooms. Mine was a hot mess. HOT MESS.  But through observing other classroom last years and thinking about what my class needs I have come up with my own systems (not perfect) but it works for me…and that’s what you need to figure out. Right now I have portfolio bins, class job wall, focus question board, agenda board, homework board, word wall for both classes, concept wall for both classes, and the rest is the posters the students make for class. Whatever you do…keep it simple and manageable.

Yours truly,

Second year teacher who somehow survived year 1. 

This is great advice!

Also, first year teachers, all of this gets easier if you experiment. Try new things! Not so often that the kids don’t know what’s happening from day to day, but enough that you are finding that personal style or preference. Enough that that feeling of having absolutely no idea what to do goes away a bit because you know some things that work for you and some things that don’t.

I was afraid to do this my first year because I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing or give the administration any reason to not hire me next year. Now I realize that administrators want teachers who will do what’s best for their students, which includes trying new things when one thing isn’t working.

Good luck! It gets easier. :)

Self-Care Sunday: Exercise and Meditation Edition

When I’m exhausted or stressed out, the idea of vigorous exercise is often not appealing in any way whatsoever. I know that it helps me with my stress and anxious feelings. I know it has tons of benefits. But sometimes, I’m just tired.

Several months ago, I went to a class at my yoga studio in which the teacher blended yoga and pilates strategies for a calming and effective workout. Basically, we did core and arm workouts, but focused on slow, deliberate movements that allowed us to maintain a consistent, calm breathing pattern. And once we closed our eyes, it was like a meditative state while doing our crunches, or our forearm planks, or whatever else we were doing. Mainly because the focus was on maintaining our breath.

Deep, slow, consistent breathing patterns are so calming. Whenever I’m feeling stressed out, I find a few minutes to sit in a quiet place and just take a few breaths. 

So, today, if you’re feeling anxious and don’t have the time or energy for a long, vigorous workout, pick a few simple workout moves and try to perform them slowly while breathing calmly. This could be lunges, squats, push ups, sit ups, leg lifts, or any other activity. The slow, deliberate movement will enhance your muscle strength and control, and the calm breathing will help ease some of that anxiety.

#educationlesson - Reading and Annotating a Nonfiction Text

hithertokt said it was a DARE, and I just finished pl*nning, so WHY NOT. Here’s the thing though, I’m not required to type up or turn in formal lesson plans, so here are the bullet points from my pl*nner.

Success Starter: We’re going to listen to a song (probably “I’ll Be There for You” by the Rembrandts) and they’re going to write down as many details as they can. We’ll probably listen to it twice so they can write down some more. Our last academic vocabulary word/phrase was supporting details, so this will be a nice connection to last week. Then, they’ll work in their groups of four to agree on the five most important details. This will be our segue into our AV for the day: key details!

(I get my Success Starter and Academic Vocabulary ideas from these awesome books that I am never without!)

Pre-Reading: We’ll take a look at the article we’re going to read and talk about what we notice - title, author, date of publication, skim for types of evidence (numbers, quotes), and discuss what we know about the topic (this week, it’s e-cigarettes).

Reading and Annotating: Then, we’re going to read and annotate the article together (I got it from Kelly Gallagher’s website, which is full of awesome articles!), and they will be instructed to label evidence (that was our AV a couple of weeks ago), key details, important points, and things that confuse them. I like to have them write this at the top of their paper so if they forget they can check there instead of raising their hand and interrupting whatever we’ve moved on to.

The way I do reading in class is I ask for four or five kids to volunteer to read. I list them on the board. The first one starts, reads as long as they want, then stops. Then the next one starts, and so on until we’re done. This way, no one is forced to read aloud (I disagree with the “It’s good for them” philosophy), there’s no anxiety for anyone, and I can focus on modeling. Using the doc cam, I model while they read. Kids who need support in annotating are able to watch and copy, and kids who don’t can focus on their own paper. 

This early in the year, I also stop every few paragraphs and explain what we just read. Or I ask clarifying questions, or ask them to share something with their neighbor, or whatever else is needed.

Preparing to Write: When we’re done reading, we will fill out a graphic organizer that will prepare them to write a paragraph response that uses evidence from the article to prove their point. I usually model the first part, then they work on the second part in groups, then they do the last part on their own (Gradual Release of Responsibility, whaaaaaaaaaaat!).

Then they go home and write brilliant paragraph drafts, knowing they’ll have a chance to revise them later.

I’ve taught lessons like this for a while because it’s a main assignment all teachers in my grade level do at my school (in preparation for a common writing assessment), and I love it because it’s scaffolded and differentiated, and leads to high level thinking and writing for students of all ability levels. And the revision opportunity just motivates them so much to do that first draft because they’re less likely to give up because they think they can’t do it. 

And it bears mentioning that I follow this same process with poetry later in the year. And when they show they’re able, I start assigning the reading and annotating for homework because that’s what’s expected of them next year.