October 22, 2016

Death of A Martyr

These are some thoughts that cross my mind pretty frequently:
*I am overworked and underpaid.
*I'm a teacher. I don't have time to take care of myself.
*I'm a mom when I come home from being a teacher. I don't have time to take care of myself.
*There probably aren't any other professions out there that require a 60+ hour workweek, but pay you as if you only work 30. 
*If I didn't have to spend so much free time writing lessons, I would probably be a better friend.
*I am overworked and underpaid.
*I don't have the time/money/energy to cook healthy food for myself. I'll just eat take-out. Again.
*If I had an easier job, I'm sure I'd have the mental and physical energy to exercise more.
*I spend much more time caring for other people's children than my own. I have nothing left to give my family when I come home.
*I am overworked and underpaid.

This is embarrassing, but I could have made that list MUCH longer. Did you notice how similar many of those complaints were? How obnoxious. Who would want to talk to someone who is a broken record of complaints about the work that she does? Why would someone choose to be in a public service profession, and then whine about it 24/7?

Unfortunately, I am not the only teacher out there who gets bogged down in the negativity surrounding the education profession. But we all keep showing up to teach, year after year. Eventually, that bitterness will eat away at us all...we will begin to believe that we have no control over how miserable we are. We are teachers, so we must suffer. Being bitter about all of the things we think we don't have or can't do is totally justified when you have a job as taxing and thankless as teaching...right?

But we all forget about this thing we have called Mindset. 
I learned through some reading last year (Thank you, Angela Watson), that your mind is so, so powerful. It has held true this year. If I want to love my job and the life that I'm living, all I had to do was decide to love it. It actually was that simple. 
Making small mindset shifts throughout the week led to some big changes. 

If I feel like a standard is developmentally inappropriate, or I just plain didn't teach it well, I choose to focus on the kids I did reach that day, rather than the ones who seemed lost. 

If I am dreading something I have to do one week (report cards, grading a test, etc.), I choose to knock it out as quickly as possible early in the week. I know that if it is behind me, I will feel better. 

If I'm missing Isaiah, and I feel that pull to pout about it, I think about the kids in my classroom. These are their parents' Isaiahs. I need to focus on them while I have them. 

If I want to do something, and realize I don't have the funds, I choose to pray for gratitude for what we can afford. We own a home, two cars, and have a healthy baby that we can clothe and feed. 

After I put Isaiah down for bed, I choose to run. I focus on how much better I will feel afterwards, rather than on what a long, tiring day I had. If I dwell on that math lesson that didn't quite click, I will feel tired before I even put on my shoes. 

I work a true 40 hours a week now, with the exception of report card or parent conference weeks. I don't take many things home. If it will drain me and make me less excited to see my students the next day, I save it for planning time, or 30 minutes before or after school. I won't take it home unless I absolutely have to. I used to have the mindset that the best teachers worked crazy hours, or that it was physically impossible to work from 8-4 each day. I no longer believe that. With a little strategizing, and a ton of self-discipline, I am proof that you can be just as effective working less hours. In fact, I would argue that I'm proof that I am an even better teacher now than I was back when I was clocking 70 hours a week. I have time to recharge at night, and that has made all the difference.

I can't take all of the credit here. These ideas about Mindset and cutting back on hours are from other, better teachers who already figured out that you can gain energy from your career as a teacher, rather than letting it drain you. Spirituality also plays a big part here. Prayer really helps me. When I pray for the wisdom to lead the little lives I've been given this year, I have a MUCH better morning. But that's another choice I have to make each day. 

None of this is easy. It's really hard work to choose to to be positive. I have many, many days where I fall apart and lose sight of all of this. Today was one of those days. But I always manage to snap out of it and remind myself that I have the ability to make my day good or bad. And it's an explicit skill that I can model for my students and my own baby one day. 
We have the power to be the teachers we want to be, with the lives we want to live. You don't have to be the martyr among your friends and family, leading the tragic teacher life. All you have to do is choose. 

July 25, 2016

8 Keys of Excellence!

Oh my goodness. Summer is over. 
I mean, I technically still have 7 days. But when you're moving into a brand new building and you haven't had clearance to work in your classroom until recently...it means summer is over.

Who am I kidding? I was up at the school working like a dog the last 7 days of summer at my old school too. :) 

If it weren't for classroom decor and TPT ideas, I would seriously mourn the loss of summer. It's the cute stuff that keeps us going!

On that same train of thought, I also use this time to brainstorm ways that I can incorporate all of the ideas I had last school year...or the ideas I saw other teachers have that I wanted to borrow. :)
My teammate from last year was a big fan of the 8 Keys of Excellence, and she incorporated them daily into discussion with our second graders. I had heard of the 8 Keys, but I had never really seen them in action before. They really caught my attention a couple months into the school year when I saw how they had shifted my class's language. 

I saw 7 year olds to remind each other to "speak with good purpose" when someone said something inappropriate.

I also saw them encouraging each other when a concept was difficult. They would chant "failure leads to success". 

I was so amazed at the positive classroom culture that these little keys created! I piggy-backed off of my teammate all year, and I promised myself that I would use them this coming school year. I made some posters for my classroom that I wanted to share!

All 8 posters are up in my TPT store (link below). There is also a link about the 8 keys if you are interested in learning more about them. I can't wait to use them with my kiddos next year!

And happy decorating to all as we near the beginning of a new year!

Link to TPT store: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/8-Keys-of-Excellence-BlackBrights-2656476

8 Keys: http://www.8keys.org

March 24, 2016

Going Digital on Bed Rest + A Freebie!

Yes, it's true: I am a teacher who was put on bed rest with no warning. I survived, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone! It was a normal Friday at school with my 2nd grade babies. I was 32 weeks pregnant and I had just walked them to their busses and said goodbye to them for another weekend. I made it back to my classroom and started organizing things for the following Monday, and I started having contractions. 

I went home and kind of pretended that they weren't happening. I had a dance team fundraiser the next day, and I knew that if I faced the reality of possibly going into labor, that it could really mess up my plans (mistake #3,192 I've made while pregnant). I continued to have the contractions sporadically all weekend, and I finally called my doctor Sunday morning. 
To make a long, stressful story very short: the contractions were for real. I was dilated and effaced, and I had to be put on bed rest until I made it 36 weeks in an attempt to not have my baby boy too early. No teaching. No coaching. Nothing.

I learned a few things about myself during this bed rest period. 
1.) I am a control freak. Turning my classroom over to someone else with no ability to warn my students or parents or go in and prepare for a sub caused me so much anxiety I actually had higher blood pressure than normal when I would visit the doctor's office. Higher blood pressure than I had when I was teaching full time and coaching part time! Unbelievable. I had already started organizing and preparing for my maternity leave...it was going to begin the day before my due date BTW (LOL). The baby wasn't supposed to come until my classroom was ready. Instead, I was being forced to take a leave of absence 8 weeks before I had planned, and slap together some emergency plans in less than 24 hours...I wanted to just let it go and focus on my baby's health, but...
2.) I am not a graceful loser. I continued to believe that, even after the verdict had been stated, my doctor may change his mind or something. I went into each appointment with the same slew of questions. "Do you think I could go back to work if I found a way to sit a lot more?" No. "What if I only went 3 days a week?" No. "Maybe I could go back at 34 instead of 36 weeks?" No. I even tried to argue with my HR department to let me work part time, despite the doctor's orders. I really did that. I had to be told pretty firmly that it was illegal for me to work with medical orders to stay home before I stopped emailing them.

My original maternity leave organizational system. A box for each week...this idea was inspired by Miss DeCarbo over at http://secondgradesugarandspice.blogspot.com.  
Each box has several labeled file folders in it. Some had already been filled, but I had many more copies to make before I had planned to leave! 

3.) I genuinely love my job. I'm afraid that this post is making it seem like I wasn't concerned about the health of my baby. That's not true. But I did come to realize that this new role as someone's mom  was going to replace teaching as the most important work of my life...and part of me was going to have to accept that teaching would be 2nd place. I didn't expect that to be such a difficult thing to swallow. Teaching provides so much stress and busy-ness all year, that I really didn't know how much I appreciated it until I wasn't allowed to do it. I missed my students, my fellow teachers, the parents...everything. 

All of this taken into account, I realized that in order to still plan maternity leave my way I was going to have to get creative with how I could have a hand in the planning from my bed. Enter Dropbox.com. 
Within my dropbox account, I created a folder titled "Maternity Leave". There is a folder for each week of Wonders that needs to be taught. I have been filling these folders with various rotation activities that match the standards, graphic organizers, etc. These weeks in the photo above are actually the weeks that I am hoping to come back and teach myself...but we will see how long baby boy stays in there once I go back next week! If I have to stop teaching at any point before my original plan, all I have to do is enter my interim sub's email address and share these folders with her! This will keep me from feeling like I have to go up to school to communicate everything that needs to be done. What amazing peace of mind for a control freak like myself!

To round off this post, I wanted to share a free product that I created while I was thinking through how I wanted to teach the various skills this week. Problem & Solution is coming up, and this graphic organizer gives students 3 questions to ask themselves to come up with the main problem in any story! Enjoy!