Category Archives: life as a teacher

Throwback Thursday: Black Friday shopping

When I was 14, my aunt took me Black Friday shopping for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited. Back then, the deals were impressive and most of the stores opened early, but early was 7 am.

I stayed the night at my aunt’s house and we got up at 6 am so that we could be in front of our first store, which was Zayres. My cousin, who was 7 really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin doll for Christmas and Zayres had the best deal on it. Our aunt was bound and determined to get one. We stood outside the store, in the pitch black with about a hundred other people just waiting for the doors to open. Since I was smaller and quicker than a lot of the adults, my aunt told me where the toy aisles were and told me to sprint for one and that she’d catch up.

As we waited for the store to officially, open, I slowly started making my way closer to the front doors.

By the time they opened, I was one of the first people in the store and as soon as I was actually in the doors, I made a mad dash to the right and headed straight for the toys. I was one of the first people to lay my hands on a Teddy Ruxpin, and after I had it, I quickly moved out of the way, using a side aisle to avoid the chaos. My aunt, who took several minutes to find me, had a cart with her, so I deposited good ol’ Teddy and we went on our merry way, her pointing out items she wanted and me swooping in to get them.

When we finished at Zayres, we headed over to the mall. Our first stop there was L.S. Ayres, where they were giving out boxes of Cracker Jack with special shopping surprises. My aunt got a 25% discount on her entire order in her box. I got a $25 gift card in mine. Seeing as how I had limited funds, that gift card allowed me to buy two different Christmas presents: a stuffed sheep dog for one of my aunt’s (it looked just like the gianormous sheepdog named Muffin she’d had when I was a child) and toy for my cousin.

We spent a few hours at the mall scooping up deals at the big department stores, then we headed over to Burger King to have breakfast. It was about 10:30 am and we were done for the day.

Over the next decade and a half, my aunt and I made Black Friday shopping a tradition. We braved earlier start times, larger crowds, crazier deals and bitter, bitter cold, all for a few hours of togetherness and some pretty sweet deals. I never really bought that much as for the majority of our shopping trips I was either in high school, college, or just starting out as a teacher with a very, very small salary. But it wasn’t really about the shopping. It was about spending time with my aunt and sometimes my cousin or my step-mom. But mostly just me and my aunt.

The year I moved to Florida was the first time in 15 years I did not go Black Friday shopping with my aunt. Since the move only lasted for 6 months, I was right back at it the next year, but it felt like something had changed. The stores were opening on Thanksgiving day. The crowds were more hostile and the stuff on sale was either way too grandiose for me, or absolutely nothing I needed.

The following year I was pregnant with my son and there was no way I was getting up that early, getting jostled by crowds or standing in the cold while 6 months pregnant. I haven’t set foot in a store on Black Friday in 11 years.

I haven’t stopped Black Friday shopping though. I’ve just joined the thousands of people all across this country who have decided that o’dark thirty in 30 degree weather amidst angry hordes is not worth it. Instead, I jumped on my computer at 7 am and started ordering away. I still had a good portion of my shopping done by 10 am, but I got to do it in the comfort of my den while sipping my tea in my jammies.

Since it was never really about the shopping for me, I don’t really miss it. But I do get nostalgic for the talks my aunt and I used to have while standing in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store, during quick car rides between stores and over sausage croissants at Burger King.

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Wildcard Wednesday: A Panera letdown

When I first met my husband, the Panera around the corner from his apartment was one of our favorite places to go. I liked that it was fast-ish food where I could get fresher, healthier options without completely breaking the bank. Although I had a full time teaching job at the time, I was living on my own paying rent at an apartment that was probably a bit more than I should have afforded, but I was already in the complex when my roommate deserted me and I was just thrilled they technically let me break the lease to move to a significantly cheaper one bedroom place right across the hall, so I didn’t complain.

As time has passed, our lives have gotten more stable and we’ve added kids to the mix, I find myself at Panera less and less. Tonight, my daughter had a Girl Scout meeting and although I’d had time to get a quick dinner for her, there was not enough time for me to eat and get her to her meeting on time. Since I had a ton of grading to do, I thought I’d take advantage of Panera’s soup and free wifi.

From the moment I walked in the door it was a series of unfortunate events. First there was quite a long line and only one person behind the counter. Of course, the moment it was actually my turn to order, another cashier came up to take orders.

“Just my luck,” I thought. But, I was in a pretty good mood and had time to kill, so who cared, right?

Then I tried to place my order. My squash soup was no problem, but the flatbread I wanted to accompany it was nixed. Apparently the panini press was broken, so no hot sandwiches were available. I tried not to be snarky when I asked, “so are there any sandwiches you can make?” It was a legit question as the only sandwiches I ever eat at Panera are always warm. I know there was an edge to my voice and I tried to push it down. The manager listed a few off and I picked the chicken salad.

When I went to pick up my order, the next snafu occurred. They were also out of baguettes to go with my soup. One of my favorite things about Panera is the ability to dip bread into my soup. It’s way better than crackers! I sighed and took my chips with a heavy heart. I tried to joke with the woman handing me my food, “it’s not a good day to order at Panera, is it?” She gave me a half-hearted smile and moved on.

I shrugged, resolved to still enjoy my meal and get some grading done. I went to fill my cup with diet Pepsi (blast!) and although soda filled my cup, my entire hand got sprayed with water that appeared to be leaking from the front of the diet Pepsi button. Try as I might to maneuver my hand so I could get soda in the cup and not ice water all over my hand, it was no dice. I calmly mentioned it to the manager (who’d heard all of my woes to this point) and he told me he knew of the problem and that he’d called Pepsi to get it fixed.

I tried to joke with him, “it seems like it’s a day where 5 million things go wrong, huh?”

In what I think was an attempt to make something go right, he came over and tinkered with the machine. He got it to stop spraying water, but not before my cup was full and my hand was drenched. He finally joked back, “what was that you said, 5 million problems? Well, I have one less now, so what does that make it?”

We jokingly did the math together, laughed a bit and then he went back behind the counter as I headed to my table.

The soup was good, the sandwich ok. My husband will like the chips. The meal was saved by the Kitchen Sink cookie, which I probably should not have eaten by myself, but I went to Zumba today. And damn…it was good!

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Teaching Tuesday: Fight!

During SRT (student resource time) I heard a shrill noise coming from outside my room. At first I couldn’t quite place it, but when it rang out a second time, I realized it was a whistle. A few years back every teacher in my school was given a whistle and told we should attach it to the lanyards that hold our IDs, which we wear around our necks. Although mine has faithfully been there ever since, I’ve never once blown it. In fact, in the 13 years I’ve been at my current school not only have I never had to blow my whistle, but I’ve never heard anyone else blow theirs either.

That’s not to say we don’t have fights at my school. We do. Sadly, they’ve been occurring with an unnerving frequency lately. However, I cannot actually recall a time there has been a fight upstairs, let alone in my hallway.

My school has two floors, but there are really only three hallways upstairs. Two of the house the science department (and really the second hallway is really only like half a hallway–there are only 4 classrooms in it). The other houses all 12 of the English classrooms,  and four history classrooms. The rest of the school is on the first floor.

Since our hallways are not very wide and they don’t hold any large intersections or gathering places (like the library, gym, cafeteria, auditorium, etc), they aren’t the place to hang out. Those honors all go to downstairs areas, which is why almost every fight that has ever happened, has happened downstairs.

But there I was, standing in my classroom listening to what I now realized was an emergency whistle. Since I knew my newspaper kids would be 100% ok for a minute while I checked out the situation, I told them to stay put and headed into the hallway. Next door, our theater teacher was ushering two boys out of her classroom as carefully as possible. Thankfully her yell, followed by the whistle shocked the boys so much that they stopped thrown punches for a moment. When she started yelling at them to get in the hallway, amazingly, they went.

When they saw not one, not two, but three other English teachers in the hallway as they emerged, they thought better of returning to punches. As she was telling one boy to stay put and one to head to the other side of the hallway, she told us that they’d started a fight in her room. One of the boys was still very upset and started punching the wall. Since there were even more teachers in the hallway now, I told her I’d get the on duty police officer upstairs and ran back into my classroom.

As soon as the call was done, I went back in the hallway and then stood between the two boys, one of whom would not stop pacing, while she went back into her room to call one of the vice principals to make an official report.

Even though there were several other teachers in the hallway, they were all hanging back a bit. I was the only one directly between the boys. I wasn’t worried as they seemed to have calmed down, or at least decided throwing more punches with a cop on the way was the quickest way to get taken out to the squad car rather than just the office.

The officer escorted the first boy, who was obviously more agitated, to the office first. Even he didn’t want to risk them getting back into it. I stayed near the other boy. When he too was removed, our drama teacher told me that she was watching the boys for another teacher who had to go to a meeting. The boys started off joking with each other in a fairly friendly manner and the next thing she knew, they were swinging.

Ironically, a student had just asked her the week before what she’d do if a fight broke out near her. She laughed and said she’d yell for our colleague across the hall who happens to not only be one of the two guys in our department, but also the basketball coach. It was his kids who got in the fight in her room and since he was in a meeting, he couldn’t help at all.

I wonder how many people realize that teachers not only have to know all of our content AND be able to relate it to an children who often wants nothing to do with it, but we also have to put ourselves physically between those children, risking harm to ourselves, to make sure they don’t beat each other bloody.

None of my education classes taught me how to separate a fight.

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Free Reading Friday: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon and the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by  Becky Albertalli is yet another book on the this year’s Rosie list, so I had to read it. Before I picked it up, I had no idea what the book was about. The title was intriguing though and even though I’ve read comments that the cover is keep no of boring, I like the faceless body and the title as a quote bubble.

It only took me about 20 pages to get into Simon’s story. My favorite chapters were definitely the emails between Simon and Blue. I love how cute and genuine their emails feel. I love how vulnerable they are with each other. And even though there was a part of me who wanted Blue to cave and reveal who he was to Simon much sooner, I understand why Albertalli had him wait. Blue’s reluctance to truly reveal himself to Simon (and the world) reflects just how scary first relationships can be. They are terrifying when you are straight and conform to all the expectations of society, so I can only imagine how immensely more terrifying they are for LGBT+ teens. Especially in Georgia…or any area that is intensely conservative.

Since my best friend lives in Athens, Georgia, it was doubly fun for me to read this book which is set outside of Atlanta. It was especially great to see Albertalli mention the Junkman’s Daughter since I’ve been to the original store in Athens. I love when I find places I’ve visited in real life in books as well.

Even though I was not thrilled with the idea of going back to school after the break, I was excited about sharing this book with my students. My school has a growing LGBT+ population and I knew I would have a bunch of students who really wanted to read it. I think it is super important for them to find books which portray romantic relationships they can relate to and see themselves reflected in. Sure enough, the second I book talked it, multiple hands reached out for it.

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Wildcard Wednesdays: Dream Dinners

Dream dinners cookedBack in August, one of my best friends invited me to a rather unique birthday party. She invited four of us to a Dream Taste event she was hosting through Dream Dinners.

For a couple of years I’ve heard her talk about Dream Dinners. Often when I’d stop by her husband’s classroom to get my lunchbox out of his fridge (unlike the rest of us, science teachers get to have fridges in their prep rooms), I’d see him eating some of their leftovers and they always looked great. A part of me was interested in finding out just what Dream Diners was all about. However, a larger part of me poo-pooed the idea as I consider myself a pretty good cook and I love garnering the praise my family heaps on me after a successful meal. Even if it means I sometimes spend an hour (or more) putting dinner together after a 10 hour day at work (including my commute).

But when she invited me as part of her birthday celebration, how could I turn it down? Ok, I could have turned it down and still not been a total jerk of a friend. Since attending the Dream Taste required me to purchase at least three meals to prepare while I was there, my friend made it very clear that I was under no obligation to come. She knew I’d been interested in the past and thought the Taste might be an easy way for me to try it. She had a feeling I would love it as much as she does, but she didn’t tell me that at the time.

I was not quite sure what to expect when I got there. I arrived with a cooler in tow, just like she’d told me to. I found the birthday girl and three of my other friends ready and willing to experiment with something new. Since we’d had about 8 different meals to pick from, we had some overlap in what we were preparing, but each of us had at least one dinner no one else in the group was making. My friend, in true hostess style, showed us all how to get our order forms, our cooking instruction cards, our aprons and gave us a brief tour of the facility and  outlined the rules.

dream sideThankfully the “rules” are pretty simple. Find an empty station with the recipe card for the meal you want to prepare. Get the proper sized plastic bags to store meal contents in. Using the very handy, very clearly labelled recipe cards, follow all the steps exactly. Then, pop the cooking instruction card in the large bag (with all the smaller bags inside), put the meal in the fridge (on the shelf with your name on it), wash your hands and start over.

At first I was a little nervous. Although I am a good cook and someone who has done make ahead meals before, I’ve never done it in an industrial kitchen with all my recipe items already chopped and waiting for me. Plus, there were other people outside of our party there and they all knew exactly what they were doing, which was also a bit intimidating. However, after my first meal was measured, bagged and stored, I had the hang of it.

It was so simple and so fun! On several of my stations I got to work right next to my friends, so we had the chance to chat while we assembled our meals. Then, when we finished, there were samples from next month’s menu ready for us to try (along with candy and soda), so we all pulled up chairs, sampled, talked and looked at next month’s offerings. At that point, an employee came over and told us how it would all work if we wanted to come back for another round. It was a very low pressure sales pitch and two of us decided we liked it enough to try again (one lived in another state so it was never an option for her).

When I signed up, I only put $20 down on my next order, making sure to double check that I could cancel if my family tried the meals and did not like them. Thankfully, that did not happen. My family LOVED the meals I’d prepared. And they were so EASY! I thawed each one in the fridge two days before I planned to cook them. Since all the cutting and measuring was done, I came home, pulled the back out of my fridge, spent a few minutes mixing ingredients and cooking and before I knew it, dinner was on the table. Seriously, one of the meals took me less than 15 minutes to cook. And, it was delicious. Everyone in my family raved about it.

dream dinners coolerSince my initial order of 3 dinners, I have gone back three times. I actually just finished up my fourth order on Monday. I now have a freezer full of delicious dinners to try. I have chicken bruschetta skewers, oven baked chicken chimichangas, coconut shrimp with Thai chili sauce, pesto ravioli with chicken & walnuts, and rosemary smokehouse turkey burgers on pretzel buns to name a few. Of the 15 meals I’ve made, only one hasn’t been fantastic. Perfectly fine, but not fantastic. However, since I get to rate each meal and make comments on them, each time when I get the next month’s printed menus, if that item is on it again, I’ll get to see what I rated it so I’ll know to order a larger portion or to avoid it. In the four months I’ve been making meals there has yet to be a repeat offer.

dream dinners rawLast month I discovered their mini chicken pot pies. We’d gotten to sample them at my first official Dream Dinners session and I knew my kids would go gaga over them. When I put together all of the ingredients at the store, I was a bit worried that they’d be complicated, but they were amazingly simple to prepare, ready in about 30 minutes and my family raved about them. The only way this dinner could have been easier to make was if I’d bought frozen processed pot pies from the grocery store and then they would have had all those extra preservatives, salt and who knows what else. However, with these pot pies, I knew exactly what was going into them and could even tweak the spices if needed. My husband told me I had to order them every time I can.

While Dream Dinners isn’t cheap, it’s run me about $200 for 12 meals (we get 4 portions out of each meal, so it’s about $5 a portion), considering the time I save on nightly food prep and cooking time plus the food waste I’ve managed to cut down on for recipes that only call for a few tablespoons of an ingredient, I think it is completely worth it. I know I will be going back for many months and maybe years to come.

 

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Thanksgiving break

My first teaching gig definitely spoiled me when it came to Thanksgiving. Since I worked at a university laboratory school, things worked just a little bit differently.

For those who aren’t in the know, let me explain what I mean by a laboratory school. No, we didn’t have the students penned up like lab animals, but yes, we did experiments on them. Sort of. Laboratory schools, which are few and far between these days, are linked to universities with particularly strong teacher’s colleges. They exist in part to help train would be teachers. They also exist to try out new ideas in education. It’s because of experiments in laboratory schools that different types of scheduling like block 4, block 8, trimesters, balanced calendar, etc exist. Laboratory schools also exist for professors and student to conduct educational research on a wide variety of educational topics.

Don’t worry, everyone who sends their children to laboratory schools does so voluntarily (in fact there is usually a high demand and limited space in them) and with complete knowledge of the experiments, research, etc that goes on in them.

There are tons of perks to both teaching at and attending a lab school. My students were easily able to audit college classes (at almost no cost to them, but only for high school credit), take college classes for credit (at a cost to them, but some of my students graduated from high school with enough credits to be college sophomores), they were able to attend lectures from experts in a variety of fields (I got to take my high school freshmen to hear Elie Wiesel speak before we read his book Night) and, we got extra vacation days.

While we did not get every day off that the university did, we got many off that our city school corporation kids did not. When there were snow days, if the university wasn’t in session or the university closed, we didn’t have to make them up. Also, unlike every other school corporation I’ve ever worked at, we got Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week off.

Although it may not seem like much, that one extra day off was so important. My husband’s family lives in North Carolina and instead of having to set off for a 9 hour drive after working a full work day (which put us in NC between 2-3 am), we could sleep in on Wed if we wanted and still be at his parent’s house by dinner time. Plus, we got to spend three full days visiting with both his family and friends. If we decided to visit my folks, who only lived 2 hours away, I had a full day to make sure all of my grading was done so that I could actually have four restful days off.

For the past 14 years I’ve taught in regular ol’ public schools and we’ve only gotten Thursday and Friday off. When our son was born 10 years ago, we made one final trip to visit my husband’s family for Thanksgiving. Despite leaving as soon as my work day was over, we rolled in way too late with a very cranky baby who had major trouble getting back on his schedule and vowed we’d never do it again. That was our last holiday visit to North Carolina.

My in-laws are both semi-retired (my MiL is self-employed), so when we couldn’t make the travel to them work, they decided to travel to us instead. While it is a lot easier when they come here, working a full day on Wednesday still makes the prep work for house guests and Thanksgiving dinner for 11 stressful and the “break” not much of a break.

Luckily this year my in-laws decided to stay at a hotel and take the entire family out for dinner, so I got a bit more of a break.

Still, I was thrilled to learn that my school just released our 2018-2019 calendar and for the first time, we will be getting Wed-Fri off. I’m not quite sure what this will mean, but it may mean a trip to NC to see my in-laws for the holiday, something my son doesn’t remember and my daughter has never experienced.

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Free Reading Friday: The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself Memoir

big tinyI have a student who is absolutely obsessed with tiny houses. As long as I have known her, which has been two years now, she has talked about her desire to live in a tiny house. When she first told me about this, I thought she was a little bit crazy. After all, she was talking about having cardboard furniture and all I could think about was her either getting a ton of paper cuts all over her backside or sitting down to watch some TV and having her “chair” collapse.

After she showed me what her dream cardboard furniture looks like, I felt a bit less worried for her. However, I still didn’t think it looked even remotely comfortable, even with pillows and blankets piled on it. But, to each his own, right?

This student is in my AP Language and Composition class and as part of the class, students are required to pick 4 books off of a rather extensive non-fiction book list. Each book has a different project that goes along with it. The first book, which they read over the summer merely has to be annotated. The second book, which they read during the second quarter, gets an essay over the author’s bias. The third book, which they read during the third quarter, also gets an essay, this time over the theme. The final book, which they read during their final quarter of high school requires a creative project which explores both bias and theme.

Although the list I provide has a wide variety of books to suit just about every reading interest, I also allow students to suggest books for me to read and then approve for their essays/project. Due to her love of all things tiny house, she asked me to read The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself memoir by Dee Williams.

Unlike some of the books my kids suggest, I was intrigued by this one. I wanted to understand the tiny house craze and what would drive someone to give up a perfectly nice sized house for something smaller than my bedroom.

Williams’ journey from slightly hippy Washington homeowner to full-fledged, living off the grid hippy Washington tiny house owner began after a near fatal illness, which made her re-evaluate her life and her priorities.

Slowly, she began downsizing all of her possessions and building her tiny house. The book chronicles here entire journey from her life before her illness, through her sickness, through building her tiny house (almost completely on her own), to actually living in her house (which she parked in friend’s backyards). It was interesting to see Williams go through the planning process to see what was absolutely vital to her.

It turns out that in order to have the size of house that would fit on the trailer she was having custom built, everything would have to fit in a 6X11 area. This meant that there was really no way for her to have even a shower in her tiny home. She also made a rather large measuring mistake and could not fit the small fridge she had intended to use in her new pad. So, she decided she could get by with a cooler. After all, she only has one hot plate burner, so it’s not like she was planning gourmet meals. Since any sort of space heater would be an insane fire hazard in the house, heat was also out. Instead, she invested in thermal underwear, lots of think socks and warm blankets for her sleeping loft. She tells stories of the frost and snow right above her head as she wakes up seeing her breath each morning.

Luckily for Williams, she’s not completely alone in her tiny house. For the majority of the book she has her beloved dog with her. A dog she carries up into the sleeping loft every night and then back down each morning. This leads to more than one slip, one of which does some real damage. Williams was also fortunate not to have to buy any land for her tiny house. Two good friends of hers allowed her to “park” her house in their backyard. While technically illegal for her to live in someone else’s backyard, as long as she claimed to be the caregiver to her friend’s aging aunt, she could live in her house with no interference. Which is exactly what she did.

Living in her friends’ backyard solves a few issues for her. First, she actually has access to a power source if she needs it. Although she uses solar panels to charge the rather large battery which she uses to power her burner and laptop, if need be, she can also plug her tiny house into her friends’ power source. In addition, she had an easy place to shower, negating her original plan to shower at truck stops. This arrangement also gave her access to safer food storage and an extended ability to cook. Since she had not only befriended Rita, the aunt, but was also helping to care for her, she had daily trips into full-sized homes.

The access to some of these amenities makes it easier to understand how she can survive in only 84 square feet.

Although the book is interesting, I think at times Williams comes off as a bit sanctimonious. While I cannot, and would not want her lifestyle, I did like looking into a life so very different than my own.

For anyone interested in seeing inside her home, here is a video she made not long after the book came out. Amazingly enough, since the book has come out, Williams has actually downsized even further, giving up her palatial 84 square feet for just 54. This time she does have a shower–it’s just outdoors. Check out her new house here.

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