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Choices

It’s summer break, as I might have said a time or two in recent days.

Part of my routine has been to read . . . as often as I can (in between working out, PT, and household chores).

I brought home a pile of books from my classroom library, but I have also ordered a few . . .

I’ve been wanting to read this for a couple of years now; however, I found that I couldn’t locate it at the end of the school year, so off to Amazon I went.  One of my students did her final project on this book.  I hope it’s as good as my kiddos keep telling me.

I had another book delivery a couple of days ago . . .

Thanks to Rebecca for raving over the first couple of books in the Jenny Han series.  I actually had the first two (the one pictured above is the first in the series), but again, one of the books magically “walked” off by the end of the year.

I saw the book, Wonder, on a friend’s Instagram feed and knew, after reading a synopsis of it, that I had to order it.  I suspect that it will become one of my read alouds this next school year.

I am not sure if I’ll get through all of the books that I brought home, but I certainly don’t lack for choices!

Weekend of Fun

My first weekend of summer break was a blast!  I’m sure you understand how relaxing it is when you know that you have more than two days off in a row.

I spent about four hours at my neighborhood pool on Friday.  Talking to my sweet friend, Megan, who lives in the subdivision across the street (which shares my neighborhood pool) was a rare treat.  We teach at the same school, in the same department, but we rarely have time to chill together.  She taught me something new:  how to read while sitting in the pool.  Novel idea, eh?  I read a lot poolside as well!

I managed to finish the book later that evening.  I’ve got to say that this is one of my students’ favorite authors.  This book, in particular, ranks as her top three on my scale of favorites.

Friday night, I queued up the movie “Before I Fall” on Amazon Prime.  I’d just finished reading the book, which had hooked me from the opening chapter.

The movie pretty much stuck with the book.  It was your typical teenage movie . . . not bad.  Sad, though.

I turned off my alarm and slept in on Saturday.  It was my rest day from my workout program.  Just as I was getting up, M texted me to see if I wanted to go to the store with her.  I had different plans in mind and invited her over.  You see, it was the day I had set aside to do the “We Run Free Because of the Brave 4-Miler,” a virtual race hosted by Gone for a Run.

M went with me on my walk, and we had a lot of fun chatting.  Four miles seemed to fly by . . . except for the humidity and my sore ankle.  We were wiped out when we finished.

Check out my tank top.  It’s one of my favorite race shirts; the medium fit perfectly!  Sizing is sometimes tricky with these race shirts.

I was loving the calorie burn too!

After M left, I got cleaned up, and the Mr. and I went to see the movie, The Mummy.

I liked it, although the story line was a bit confusing at first.

Before the movie started, I saw promos for the USA show, Queen of the South.  It seemed like something I might like, so I looked for it on Netflix when we got home.

It tells the story of a female drug cartel leader.  I watched four episodes that night.  I finished with Season 1 and the first episode of Season 2 (this episode was On Demand) on Sunday.  It was that good.

Sunday wound up being a chill day.  The Mr. and I attended church.  There weren’t a lot of people there.  We suspect that the reason was because the bottom dropped out of the sky shortly before the service began.  The rain put the kibosh on my hopes for going to the pool . . .

Plan B:  Knitting while I watched TV on Sunday.  It wound up being a great day of rest!

I managed to get in a bit of baking (if you’d call it that).  Here’s a picture of the Peanut Butter and Honey Chewy Granola Bars I made.  The recipe can be found here.  They are chock full of peanut butter flavor and are simply divine!

Yeah, I can’t complain at all.  Summer break has started off well.  I’m getting much-needed rest and am still being productive in the process.

Test Stress

It’s Thursday night as I’m composing this post, and I am stressed.

Why am I stressed, you might wonder?  After all, it is summer vacation, so I shouldn’t be.

I should be happily enjoying a book . . . by the pool . . .

I won’t let the answer float around for long.

Florida teachers who, about a week ago, bade adieu to our precious students, are starting to receive test scores for the recent administration of the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).

It is my sincerest belief that his event trumps all others as the most stressful time of the year.  The state, after all, has trained us that all of our value is derived from the magical numbers associated with such scores.

It is extremely nerve wracking to pull up rosters of children we spent ten months with and go through each name to see how they fared on a test that is “supposedly” designed to showcase their knowledge.

Ahem.

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating because the Powers that Be never seem to listen:  What the heck are the people in office thinking?

We teachers see our students as kids with faces . . . stories that differ as much as their individual DNA patterns.  The state thinks that they are all molded from the same clay and should, therefore, fit easily into cleverly designed categories.

We teachers know that our students arrive on test day with a lot of baggage . . . homelessness, frequent absenteeism, behavior issues, hunger, single or no-parent homes . . . the list goes on and on.

The state thinks that students can turn on a switch and perform on command . . . forget about the emotional stuff weighing them down.  They are, essentially, expected to be robots.

I’d love to see open-ended questions that ask students to describe books they read during the school year, because if we teachers have done our jobs properly, we will have fostered some sort of love for reading (or at least started the process).

I bet our kids would be shocked to see a question that asked them to draw a picture of the plot of a story they read.  My kids would ace this type of question . . . one that would allow them to express their knowledge in a creative manner that goes beyond A, B, C, or D.

Yeah, I’m sure those questions would get scrapped pretty quickly if they were ever mentioned during test question discussion forums.

After all, you can’t exactly quantify such answers, now can you, and the state is all about its numbers.

Looking through scores and comparing them to the previous year’s to determine learning gains produces much anxiety.  Take a look at this chart, published in the FSA manual . . .

That right there is how the state decides if a child improved or not and is part of the equation that determines if a teacher is worth his or her salt.

Seems rather fair, doesn’t it.

Ahem.

There are so many things you cannot assign a number to.

I’d like to see the state award extra points to the kids who come to school on the rainiest of days despite living on dirt roads where their buses won’t drive.

Points should be given to the kids who stayed up all night babysitting younger siblings because parents had to work double shifts to make ends meet.

We should double the amount of bonus points every time a student finishes a book and loudly exclaims how much he/she enjoyed it.  All of my students would get these points if that were the case because not a single one leaves my classroom without being able to talk about at least one book that touched their heart (or a series of them, in many cases).

What about the kids who walk or skateboard to school because the bus won’t drive out that far to get them and they have parents who are sleeping off the night shift when it’s time for their children to get to school?  They should be awarded a few points too.

But the state doesn’t care.  Nowhere in their magical formula is there a place for such seemingly “anomalies.”  Isn’t an anomaly something that is rare?  In many schools around Florida, this stuff is the norm.  Dare I say that those who make the rules are completely out of touch with the everyday “minutia” that truly is the education system.

Before I became a teacher, I was one of those “out of touch” people who had no clue what a real school looked like.

Now, I understand.

A real school is one that accepts every child, regardless of ethnicity, learning ability, or gender.  A real school accepts teachers who are just learning the ropes . . . who might have the “with-it-ness” but need time to learn a few of the basics without being completely punished for lack of experience.  A real school is one where the staff builds relationships with the kids with the knowledge that sometimes it takes a few years for the kids to grow up but, in the end, they will, and they will be celebrated as they walk across the stage to accept their diplomas.  Why punish them in the meantime if they don’t make the cut score?

To be sure, test scores can and should be used as a jumping point for reflection, both on the part of teachers, administrators and students; however, the numbers should not be the end-all, be-all.  I wish with all of my heart that the public wasn’t so hung up by the numbers and could see past them to the faces that the numbers represent.  Each face has a story; each story will tug at the sternest of hearts.

The state should place a higher priority on the business of raising children.  Doing so would naturally result in high achievement scores as students would finally believe that others are there supporting them, lifting them up when they can’t stand on their own, and eventually releasing them to fly unassisted.

As it is, the kids know that at the end of the day, it all boils down to The Test.

Which stresses them out.

Which takes us full circle.

I vote for E . . . sleep all summer until it’s time to do it all again.

Thankful Thursday

You may have noticed that I’m writing more lately.  Well, cue in summer break and a promise to myself to let my heart speak through my favorite medium . . . the written word.

I struggled, though, with an idea for today’s post . . . until I saw Rebecca’s, and then I knew I just had to join in on the fun.  So, I’m linking up with her for my first Thankful Thursday post!  I’m not going to number my items, though.

  • Summer Break – This week, I am so very thankful for summer break.  I don’t really think it’s hit me that I don’t have to go back for a couple of months; it feels more like a long weekend.  I will say, though, that I’m deriving a delicious sense of joy that I can do such things as read a book at leisure, while enjoying a glass of wine, on a Wednesday night.  Yes, that was me last night.  The glass?  I got it from BoredTeachers.com.

  • The Furminator – Y’all, I have dogs who shed.  Like seriously bad.  I’d washed the dogs on Monday, but because it took forever for them to dry, I never got them brushed out.  Molly looked horrible; her fur was sticking out in all directions.  She was also shedding all over the place.  I was vacuuming AFTER the Roomba had run.  I decided she needed a good brushing, and WOW, what a difference!  Not only does she look better now, but my house doesn’t look like it’s been snowed in.


  • Rare Impulse Buys – On Tuesday, I had an appointment with my surgeon.  His office is two hours away, because when you need a good surgeon, you don’t mind traveling.  As I was leaving the city, I passed by a fun little boutique that I knew sells Ginger Snaps.  I don’t know if you remember, but Super Sis bought me a necklace with a charm for Christmas, and I’d since purchased a few more.  You can change out the snaps according to what you’re wearing or your mood.  I absolutely love this piece of jewelry.  It’s so fun and versatile.  So, because the store is located right next to the interstate, it was convenient to run in real quick.  Oh my word, but I saw an adorable little purse, and it just called out to me, as did the Buy 4, Get 1 Free sale.  Ahem.  So, I splurged, while I talked to Super Sis on the phone (she totally agreed that I’d earned it since I survived the school year with all of my various challenges).

The two snaps in the middle are only placed there so you can see them . . . they don’t really snap in place there. That would look weird.

  • Vegan Recipes – Boy, am I thankful for people who know how to write recipes that cater to my dietary needs.  On Sunday, I whipped up a batch of Vegan Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vegan Peanut Butter Date-Sweetened Cookies.  I did take a few of each to share with the physical therapy gals.  They adore baked goods.


  • Long Phone Conversations with Wonderful Friends – On the way home from my doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, I rang up my sweet friend, Jane.  She and I taught our first year together and have enjoyed a sweet friendship since that year.  She recently retired, sort-of, moved to south Florida, and continues to stay rather busy.  I miss her so much.  She’s both a friend and a mother figure.  So, we spent one hour and 47 minutes catching up . . . nearly my entire drive home.  She’s coming to town this week, so we are hoping to meet up for lunch one day.  That will definitely be an afternoon of many laughs.  I love her so.
  • New Friendships – Yesterday, I told you about a new friend I recently made.  I am extremely shy, which is kind of surprising to some people given my presence on social media and this blog; however, I don’t do the public social scene very well.  Thus, it can be hard for me to make new friends.  It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just hard because I have so many insecurities.  I’ve been rejected a few times, hurt in ways that left lasting impressions.  Plus, it takes a lot of time to invest in a good friendship . . . time that a lot of people aren’t willing to spend or are already spending on other friendships.  I guess there’s a difference between acquaintances and deeper-level friends.  Maybe I just expect all of my acquaintances to be those deep-level friends.  Dang, but see how I overthink things?  Cue in the social awkwardness.  Anyhow, I am thankful for common bonds that bring new friendships together.

There are so many more things I am thankful for, but it’s 12:30, the sun is shining after two solid days of rain, so I’m going to head to the pool (remember the first item on this list?).

I am thankful for soooooo much, but this has been fun . . . purposely listing a few of them.  Thanks, Rebecca (I’m thankful for YOU too!!!).

Monday #1 of Summer Break

Can I just say how marvelous it was to wake up yesterday and know that I didn’t have to go into work?

Hold up, lest you think that I didn’t get up until late in the morning.  I had actually set my alarm for 6am because I wanted to get a couple of things done before I headed out the door.

First up was a 2.5 mile walk to finish out my Sirius Half Marathon, a virtual race hosted by the Hogwarts Running Club.

It only took me four days to cover the distance, but who cares!  What matters is that I did it!

Next up on my agenda was physical therapy.  I’ll talk more about that when I post my weekly update.

I had a few errands to run after that before returning home to work out.

Since I had finished a round of Piyo on Sunday, I’d been debating if I was going to do another eight weeks of it.  I discussed it with my physical therapist, and he said that I could lift weights if I was careful not to go too heavy for lower body workouts.

Hence my second try at Body Beast, a Beach Body workout program.  I’d tried it the beginning of March but had one of the worst weeks ever with my ankle, so I had to stop.  I’m going to try to ease into it this time.

After working out, I looked around and wasn’t really sure what to do next.

When ten months of each year are dictated by a 45-minute bell schedule, you aren’t used to having “free time.”

I had so many things on my to-do list that I had a difficult time choosing.  I felt like I had ADHD, not to make light of this, but seriously!  There were so many things I wanted to do!

I decided to tackle a small project that really needed doing . . . replacing the door handle for my laundry room door.  The thing had been coming off every time we shut the door lately.  I’ve got a few new handles in a closet, so I grabbed one and went to work.

This is a chore I’ve done quite a few times, so it didn’t take me long to finish.

Next up was a much-needed task . . . bathing all three dogs.  Gambit had been stinking to high heaven!  This was not something I was looking forward to, though, because I didn’t know how much my ankle would be able to take.

I started with Gambit because he’s always been the hardest to wash.  He surprised me by walking up to me willingly and, for the most part, standing still while I scrubbed him down.  Truth be told, I think he realized that he was getting the best scratch of his life!

Molly was next, and she was definitely the hardest to do.  Her fur is THICK, and she did not want to stay put.  It made me nauseous to feel clumps of her hair on my fingers as I worked.  I need to remember to use gloves next time.

I saved Pele for last.  He LOVES his baths . . . always has!  In fact, he’d stood near me the entire time I was washing the other dogs, even allowing me to spray him with the hose.  What a strange dog!  He sat down and did not move while I scrubbed him.  He looks kind of pitiful in the picture below, but he was smiling a few moments before I snapped it.

By the time I got Pele toweled off and got in the house, where the other dogs had been waiting, I found a huge mess of hair.

I think Molly and Gambit had streaked through the house trying to dry off.  Molly had also rubbed up against the couch, as she’s wont to do.  Sigh.

My last order of business was cooking.  I wanted to make another batch of  Vegan Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies.  These are seriously easy to make, and the texture is PERFECT!  You’d never know that they’re vegan.

I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t bake something for the Mr., so I put together a Peanut Butter Cake for him.  I frosted it later, after the cake had cooled.

I had one more recipe I wanted to make before calling it quits for the day . . . Vegan Peanut Butter Date-Sweetened Cookies.  I’d seen this posted on Detoxinista’s blog earlier in the morning and knew I’d be making it.  They turned out pretty good and are tasty!

In between the baking, I managed to cook up some chicken thighs for the Mr., because I can, occasionally, be a good wife.

By the time I was finished cooking and cleaning the kitchen, I was beat.  My ankle had been hurting for awhile, so I knew that I needed to get into my recliner, put the STEM electrodes on my ankle, and ice it down.

I don’t normally like my days packed with so much activity during my vacation, but I think I felt some kind of pressure at having to do “stuff.”

I’m going to try my best to slow down a little bit more and not try to complete as many tasks in one day.

Still, I think it was a good start to my summer break!

Humbled – Reflections from Year 7 of Teaching

Seems like only a short time ago that I donned my blue dress and headed out for the first day of school.

Then, BAM!  Here I am at the beginning of my summer break.

Ok, so it really didn’t seem that quick, if I can be honest with you.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I have had quite the year with some difficult personal challenges strewn along my way.

I think that’s why it’s especially important that I sit down and reflect, as I’m wont to do, while the feelings are fresh.

I’ve been looking back at my end-of-the-year teaching posts to help me identify themes throughout my time in the classroom.

Year 1 was overwhelming.  I would have been accused of lying if I’d written about everything being flowers and butterflies.  By the way, I REALLY love the post I wrote that year.  Like really, really, really love it.  So much.

Year 2 was stressful with a move to the public school system and a completely new prep to learn how to teach.

Year 3 was magical as I began to gain confidence in myself.

Year 4 was impactful.  This was the first year I really felt like I’d made a difference.

Year 5 taught me all about adapting to change, empowering myself to speak up, and balancing work and home.

Year 6 was about transformation.  I definitely left that school year on a high note.

And so I find myself at the end of Year 7.

If I had to sum up this year in one word, it would be humbling.

Never, ever think too long on something when it’s going well because there’s always a flip side.

I feel as though I started a bit behind the eight ball by having two preps, which I’ll admit that I did agree to last summer.  I went into the year of planning in a bit of a nervous state, and that came through in the early weeks of school.

I lacked confidence when it came to teaching my two, 45-minute Freshmen Honors English classes.  The time was shorter, the kids were new to high school, and these students were really good readers.  Heck, they even found a few typos in some of the stuff I projected on the Smartboard.

By November, I was hitting my stride pretty good, though, just as I injured myself in my freak fall over my dog.  Recovering from surgery and being out for almost two weeks took every bit of energy out of me, and it took me awhile to get back into the groove.

Then, the Mr. got admitted to the hospital, thus beginning our still-continuing roller coaster ride with his health, in addition to my ongoing physical therapy to rehab my ankle.

Through all of the challenges . . . multiple lesson preps, teenagers who either wanted to be taught hard-core or didn’t show up for class at all, and some ongoing behavioral issues . . . I learned how to lean on God more fully.

Heck, I kind of had to since I only had one good foot.

Ha!

I think that it was good for the kids to see me dust myself off after being knocked on my butt.  I hope it showed them that a person can get stronger even when brought low.  I’d like to think that my students saw my determination to be a consistent presence despite a few setbacks.  I pray that they saw me finish strong at the end.

During the last couple of weeks of school, when my students were working on their final projects, the vibe in my classroom was very chill, and the kids were able to converse more freely with one another.  During one conversation, a student told me that I was a really good teacher . . . that I worked hard to make sure that everyone understood what we were doing in class.  Other students echoed her sentiment.

Y’all have no idea how much this touched my heart because these students were in a class that had been especially challenging, behavior-wise, all year.  I had suffered from doubts about how effective I’d been.  I was humbled to see that God had come through once again and shined through my efforts.

God had been my strength when I struggled both physically and emotionally.  When I was drained of energy and didn’t know how I was going to put one foot (or boot . . . or crutch) in front of another, He supported me.

Something else that humbled me occurred after I passed back the cap and gown photos I’d taken the first day of school.  My students always love getting to take these home.  Several students in one of my 9th grade classes asked me to sign their pictures . . . like a celebrity would do.

I’m not kidding!

Wow.  I was, again, humbled.  I so much adored these children all year; they were reciprocating with their love at the end.

Yesterday morning, as I left for school on what was the last day, I turned on the radio and heard the song, “I am Redeemed.”

Oh my, but the words about shaking off the heavy chains and not being who I used to be made me cry.

My chains this year have been physical . . . my cast, my boot, my still-recovering ankle . . . in addition to hospital rooms and doctor’s offices.

My chains have been emotional . . . self-doubt and frustration.

That’s what makes this journey especially sweet this year.  God allowed every challenge into my life to reveal to me just how much I need Him.  He was with me on the mountaintop last year; He never left my side when I was in the valley.

That knowledge helped me make it through the second half of the school year with joy still in my heart and a new thankfulness for the blessings He has poured upon me.

The lessons from this year define who I am at the end of this seventh year of teaching, and they are what I carried with me as I closed the door to my classroom and headed home for the summer.

This is the face of a teacher in the parking lot leaving school for summer. Please note the bright eyes and happy smile.

I called the Mr. on my way home and quoted the following . . .

That Muggle hubby of mine had no clue what I was talking about.  Sheesh.  You’d think he could put the pieces together.  Ha!

As I put my lunchbox away and hung up my classroom keys, I felt relieved that I’d have a couple of months to rest and recharge.

Each year, I want to be a better teacher than I was the year before.  I don’t know that I accomplished that this year, but I do know that I definitely taught differently, quit sweating some of the small stuff, and kept my eyes focused on the big picture . . . forming relationships with my students, fostering a love for reading, and maintaining a high set of standards.

One of my students made this crane for me on the last day of school.

So, if you need me between now and August, you’ll be able to find me playing on my phone, having fun with Snapchat filters, and just generally taking things as they come without a whole lot of formal planning.

Did my eyes really look like that, or was it the filter? Can I be vain a moment (because I’m loving the look).

Jumping on the Bandwagon

So, a couple of weeks ago, I jumped on the Thirteen Reasons Why bandwagon.

I’d read the YA book a few years ago and kept a couple of copies in my classroom.  The books are always being read by students.

I didn’t know about the Netflix series until a student told me about it.

Of course, I had to watch the first episode, and let me just say WOW.

It was powerful.

The book tells the story of a girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a set of tapes for people to listen to after she commits suicide.  Each side of each tape is addressed to a specific person.  The catch is that every person must listen to all of the tapes or else a second copy, hidden away with another person, will release it to the public.

The tapes detail little and big things that led to Hannah’s suicide.

The book is told from Clay Jensen’s perspective after he receives the tapes.  He doesn’t know where on the list he falls, but it’s clear that he cared about Hannah.

The Netflix series, directed by Selena Gomez, takes a lot of creative license, and the story doesn’t follow the book exactly.

For a purist like me, it’s bothersome.

The series was also graphic in parts.  The foul language really bothered me (yes, it’s realistic, though…I do teach in a high school).  The drinking and drugs also bothered me a lot.  The sexual stuff…yeah, I didn’t feel comfortable watching that even by myself!!!

The message, bullying, hit home though.

My students are all watching the series.  Many have binged on it, much like I did.  It took me two weekends to watch all thirteen episodes.

I stayed up until nearly 2am last Friday night watching and only stopped when I hit Clay’s tape.

That episode wrecked me.

It’s so powerful…so gut-wrenching.

I decided, because I couldn’t put my hands on the copies I already owned, to purchase a couple more.

I kept one to re-read and put the other one in my room.

Yeah, it’s already been snatched up.  The kids cannot get enough of it.  I’m encouraging them to note the differences between the book and the series.

I am so glad that Netflix made this series.  It’s a story that needs to be told.

Over.

And over.

And over again.

Y’all, kids are really hurting these days.  It’s hard for many of them to see how one small comment can have devastating effects on another person.

This series is opening the door for real talk in my classroom.  I love that.

Hearing kids discuss it warms my heart.  I even heard some kids at my neighborhood pool talking about it last weekend.

Have you read the book or seen the series?  What are your thoughts?

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