14 Things For Which I'm Thankful (?)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A post is coming soon updating you on my teaching/personal/virtual life, but in the meantime I thought we should talk about things I’m thankful for. Things for which I’m thankful. Whatever.

As always, my students, awesome parents. This year, I’m thankful for those things and also so thankful for a supportive new school environment and to have energy and my normal enthusiasm back. 

But here's a list of things that I (and maybe you, too) are thankful for that you might not find on other edublogs that are better and more professional than mine:

The Thankful List, 2015

1. For unexpectedly finding what you need in the supply closet. Most of the time it’s not, and I have to buy it. But sometimes, as if my teaching supplies fairy godmother has heard my plea for three pale yellow poster boards, I walk in and there they are, like giant planks of gold. 

2. When a student actually remembers to wait before sharpening his/her pencil while you’re talking to the class. Every time I want to give them a Congressional Medal of Honor.

3. Orthopedic shoes. 

4. Coffee. And for people who bring me coffee. And for coffee gift cards. And coffee, conceptually. Amen.

5. Cardigans. Warmth without the bulk. Also they make me more like a Puritan, whom I admire*. I love them so much I wrote a whole post on them, which is part of a conglomeration of reasons I’m single.

6. When someone on the announcements trips up their words and then tries to recover. I die every time. I did an announcement after school once and said, “Ms. Teach, please report to (student)’s room. Wait. Nope. I’m Ms. Teach. Hahahahaha,” and hung up.

7. When you overhear students saying nice things they don’t think you can hear. Then my heart cracks into a thousand pieces because it can’t handle the joy.

8. The email saying a meeting has been cancelled. 

9. Watching an inter-student friendship blossom right in front of your eyes. CAN’T. EVEN. HANDLE.

10. When you come up with a game you think may be marginally fun and your kids end up treating it like the Olympics. My favorite is the Easter egg hunt with questions in half the eggs and answers in the other. Whether you have second graders or high school seniors be prepared for shriek-inducing insanity.

11. When you have colored paper to make copies. My favorite is salmon.

12. Finding snacks or candy in your desk drawer you totally forgot about. Rarely do I forget about snacks/candy, but when it happens it’s great, amiright? 

13. When a student accidentally calls you Mom. This was the first year I got called “Mommy.” I almost cried. (It was during DEVOLSON.)

14. How teaching has made me a better person.  I know that sounds real eye-rolly, but hear me out. There have been some pretty bleak times in my life as a teacher, but ultimately I think it has changed me for the better. I don’t see people as unredeemable anymore. It takes a lot to hurt my feelings or get me riled up. I can think pretty well on my feet (as long as I’m not on the phone. When I pick up a phone my communication skills always break down). I embrace change. There are very few things that scare me anymore**. I have a lot of feelings right now in this transitional period of my life, but mostly I’m just so grateful that the past six years have changed me more toward love. And that I know now that you come out of things that are difficult with a bigger heart, a better set of eyeballs, and much stronger love muscles.

And with that, go forth and eat all the turkey, my friends. And make this caramel apple pie and eat that, too.

I love you.



*Not for their persecution of others. Just their neutral-toned, concealing clothes. 

**only static electricity, air travel, ice fishing, and any headache I get

10 Things They Should Teach You in Teacher Training But Totally Don’t

Saturday, October 24, 2015

This week I had a bad day at my new school. I was embarrassed because I wasn’t following a certain grading policy I didn’t know was there (which is my fault for not having read the district handbook closely). I cried at school, which is always a terribly feeling. Then, when I got in my car, as if I activated some magic switch with my butt, I realized these things:
  •  During the last five years, I never once made it until late October without crying. In fact, in past years, I would have cried several times by now from school-related frustration.
  •   The administrator who pointed it out to me was so unbelievably kind. She took full responsibility (even though she shouldn’t have) for not reminding me, and she followed it up with like five minutes about how much students and parents love me and how much she values me.
  •  This “bad day” was nothing near like what my bad days used to be like, when something would break me that was out of my control.
  •   Even at the end of this “bad day,” I still felt happy, valued, and hopeful. I never felt that on my bad days before.

And then I went home and went to the gym, which I also wouldn't have done before (or, let's be real, even on my good days before).

In many ways I feel like it’s my first year all over again at my new school, but with nowhere near the level or kind of negative feelings I experienced before. Which got me thinking:

Why back then did I have to learn so many things on my own?

It's partly because I didn’t major in education in college. I majored in English because all my teachers from K-12 said FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER! YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO!, and I wanted to be a writer, so I majored in English. I knew all I needed to do was graduate and start cranking out bestsellers and live off the profit from all the movies and theme parks based on my novels!!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Hahaha. Ahahaha. Haha. Ha.

(That didn’t happen.)

I ended up getting my alternative certification through a program in my area. Apparently, as alt-cert programs go it was one of the more reputable ones (there are programs that give out teaching certification in as little as 6 weeks), but even so, my first year felt like a complete and total learning curve.  

I’ve heard it said that nothing can prepare you for teaching except for teaching, but I don’t think that’s true. Here are some of the things I really needed to know that the teaching books left out that would have made my first few years not entirely un-horrible, but a little less horrible.

1. How to perform copier machine surgery. I will estimate that approximately 50% of my tears during my first year were due to the copier jamming and me not being able to fix it. I can’t tell you how many total hours I wasted trying to fix jams or trekking over to another part of the school to find a non-jammed copier. Now, I’m like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman or Cesar Milan with the copy machine. “Yeah, I think it doesn’t like Tray 1,” I found myself saying to a newbie the other day, as if it were a wild mustang I was taming.

2. Expo Marker Management. Store them upright, cap-end down. Game-changer.

3. What to do when your administration is the worst. I remember reading a chapter in a professional development book about conflict with the administration. Looking back, the examples in the book were laughable, like what to say if the principal wanted to trim the budget for a club you sponsor or get rid of the bulletin board outside your door. Did the writers of these books teach in Disneyland or something?
Where was my class on what to do when your principal tells you to forge application essays for an Ivy League principal program for her? Or when your assistant principal threatens your colleagues and students on a regular basis? Or when your principal refers to the history department as “a bunch of skinny white bitches” in an unintentionally forwarded email and goes on to win district awards for outstanding leadership? When your principal is best friends with her boss, so there’s actually nothing you can do?
I think I’ve toughened up enough since then that I would be better at handling those administrators than I was my first two years. But still, a course in What To Do When Your Administration is the Worst should be requisite for teacher training.

4. How to give a serious, stern talk without beginning to ramble, stumble, or spout nonsense. The worst is when a colleague or administrator walks up while you’re giving a serious talk and you mess up just a little part, which then makes you hyperaware of the fact that you’re speaking words, and then you find yourself talking about a documentary about an Irish mafia leader.

5. De-escalation techniques.

Teacher training: Here’s a tiny chapter on how to deal with a student who is disrespectful or even (*gasp*) refuses to do work.

Reality: Here, deal with this student who is crossing the room to literally rip out the hair of another student. Oh, and you can’t send the student to the office because your administration said nobody was allowed to write an office referral for the rest of the year. And students aren’t allowed to leave your class. Good luck!

6. Medical care. No Band-Aids unless you’re bleeding, the nurse can’t fix your headache, if your stomach still hurts in 15 minutes let me know, OR you can go to the nurse, but after you’ve turned in your test.

7. How to teach a class of 30 in which half of your students are Special Ed or Emotionally Disturbed, you have no co-teacher, and an administrator who expects you to advance all students 2-3 grade levels in 9 months.

Still beats me.

8. What DEVOLSON is and how to cope with it. If I’d known about the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November before I started teaching, it might not have been easier, but having a diagnosis would have made life way more manageable.

9. How to redo an entire lesson plan in your head and on the spot. In teacher training, they made it sound like you might have to modify part of a lesson as you’re teaching it if you see it’s not working. But what about when your school’s electricity goes off in the middle of class and you’re given specific instructions over the intercom to keep teaching? Or when you realize on book preview day that ALL the students have read the novel you just spent five weeks planning? Or when you reserve the one computer cart for 75 classrooms in your school and find that none of the laptops are charged, or that another teacher took the laptops and TOTALLY DIDN’T EVEN USE THE GOOGLE DOC TO RESERVE IT.

Sorry. Touchy subject.

It took me years to be able to quickly transition over to a new activity confidently and without a student saying, “Uh, did you just make that up right now?”

10. Managing your budget on a teacher salary while having a savings account with actual dollars in it.  Um. I still need someone to teach me this.

When I start my Love Teach Teacher Training Program To Teach Teachers How To Teach Good And To Do Other Stuff Good Too, all of these will be courses. Or maybe we should crowd-source-write a book or something (but only if it could be made into a theme park).

What have you learned from teaching that your teacher training could have never prepared you for?*



*What’s the grammatically correct version of this sentence? “For what could your teaching training have never prepared you?” Dumb. Can we just agree to dangle certain prepositions?

Why Don't I Matter to You, Congress?: A Plea from a Teacher

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A few years ago I was in a meeting before school when one of our clerks came in and told us that the police just called. We needed to immediately go into lockdown because a man who had been shooting randomly in the apartments across the street had been seen running onto our campus.

I had been worried about this kind of day. Columbine happened when I was in elementary school, but plenty of other mass shootings had taken place after I started teaching (Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, etc.). Every time I heard about another school shooting I wondered what kind of teacher would I be in that situation. Would I bravely and selflessly put myself in the line of fire to save a child? Or would I panic and freeze under pressure? I scared myself just thinking about it.

People are quick to say what they would and wouldn’t do in an emergency or tense situation. I’ve heard so many people give confident answers about how they would react heroically in a life-threatening circumstance, and I’ve always wondered how they could be so sure. I think I’m generally a good person, but if I’ve learned anything being on this planet, I’ve learned that you can never know how you will think, feel, or react in a situation until you are there.

That day a few years ago, I was there.

Eerily, almost robotically, the other teachers and I got up and walked briskly but calmly just as our principal came on the intercom. In a controlled but clearly tense voice he announced we were on lockdown and told us to grab any students in the hallway that we could and usher them into our rooms.

I don’t even remember getting to my room, but when I did I had about twenty kids following me in as I locked the door from the outside. When I could see the hallway was clear, I went inside and turned off the lights. Students were asking questions nervously, but I told them everything was going to be fine and that they had to stay quiet. I happened to have my desks stacked on top of each other in a corner of the room for a class activity that day and told the kids to sit behind them, which was of sight from the classroom window. They did so quickly and silently, to my surprise. As noiselessly as I could, I slid a few desks onto their sides and up against the door so that they were barricading it shut but not able to be seen from the window at the door. My reasoning was that if someone were to break down the door, they could at least be deterred for a few more moments. I crouched on the hinge side of the door, between the door barricade I’d made and my students.

Once I was still, I could think again. I was surprised how easy it was to think. Except for my heart beating at full volume in my ears, I was completely calm and lucid.

Our prior training for a school shooting only went as far as turning off lights, locking doors, and hiding, but I reasoned that if the shooter actually made it into my room, it would not take them long to find my students. The only hope of stopping something from happening would be for me to act fast. I was at the perfect angle from my crouching position to tackle from the knees—the report had said the shooter was alone, so I knew my chances wouldn’t be great, but would be better than if there were more than one attacker.

For another minute or so, everything was silent. And then I could hear boots—a single pair—outside our building heading into our wing. I held my breath. I could hear a few students whimpering. Mine was the first door on the right after walking inside. If an attacker were to enter, my room would surely be the first target.

The footsteps came closer and were heavy but purposeful, a gait almost at a jog. I was afraid, but still strangely calm. I was made of adrenaline. Not the jumpy, scary-movie kind. A weird adrenaline that made me feel at once alert and perfectly still.

I watched the handle on the inside of my door jerk up and down. He was trying the door.

I’m ready to die, I thought. I felt a hundred things—regret, anticipation, certainty, uncertainty, courage, fear. I waited to hear a gunshot, a boot kicking down the door, something.

But then I heard the boot steps moving down the hall. I heard the other doors being tried. And then I heard them leave.
It wasn’t until later that day that I found out the footsteps I heard belonged to someone in a SWAT unit doing a sweep of the building. Why they didn’t announce who they were, I still have no idea.

Our school was in lockdown for around an hour before we were given the all clear. Evidently the shooter had run towards our school but never actually onto school property. He was caught minutes later in a neighboring apartment complex.


This wasn’t the first non-drill lockdown I’ve been in, and I know it won’t be the last. But this was the first lockdown where I felt almost certain of my own death at the hands of someone with a gun.

The good news is that I know I'm much braver than I thought I was. (And since I can’t even handle haunted houses, chances are you are much braver than you think, too.) I know that I can count on that weird adrenaline to take over and think for me when I'm in a situation like that.

The bad news is that I might actually be gunned down one day. School shootings are now common. 

This week, after hearing about Umpqua, I questioned whether I want to teach anymore, and not for the first time. The number of firearm-related deaths, whether mass shootings or not, in the past decade combined with Congress’s refusal to enact stricter gun laws indicates to me that the trend in America of mass shootings is only going to grow.
There are so many problems facing teachers and students in our country’s educational system, and I haven’t stayed silent about them on this blog. But for the first time I’m realizing exactly how much I’m up against. It’s a much larger beast than I thought. But for now, I will continue to find an answer to the question I’ve been pondering this week, which is really the question at the heart of every issue that has bothered me since I began teaching:
Why don’t I matter to you, Congress?

I hope I never die in a school shooting, or a shooting at a movie theater, or in a place of worship, or on a street corner. But if I do, let my death be on the consciences of those who learn about mass shootings, have the legislative power to do something about it, and look the other way.



How To Throw Your First DEVOLSON Party

Monday, September 21, 2015

If you’re just tuning in, there’s an acronym I coined for the period of time every fall when I cry about 10 times more regularly than normal.

It’s called DEVOLSON.

During DEVOLSON, the happy, shiny newness of Back-to-School has faded. Boundaries are being tested. The work is getting tougher. The workday is getting longer while the hours of sunlight are getting shorter. And there is no break in sight.  

It’s the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November.

And it is upon us.

Martial artists know that the best way to deal with an opposing force is to move your body in a way that embraces the force instead of resists it. In this post, I’m taking the same approach to DEVOLSON. When we try to pretend like DEVOLSON isn’t happening or try to work against it, we merely increase the tension until we reach a point where we become frustrated and feel hopeless. Recognizing DEVOLSON and laughing about it with our teaching buddies? Suddenly this long, break-less period of doom is tackle-able.

I now command you to host a DEVOLSON party for you and your coworkers. Here is everything you’ll need.

1. Invitations
 Paper invitations make anything more fun, but let’s be real: it’s DEVOLSON and you’re tired and have no money. Luckily, the good folks over at Paperless Post* have your back. Super cute, super easy online invitations. And many of them are free! Here's one I whipped up real quick on their website:

If DEVOLSON already has you too hopeless to create online invitations, don’t worry. You can just save one of the images below and slap it on an email.

2. A banner  Anyone who walks into your DEVOLSON party needs to know that feelings are okay. Banners with customizable alphabet letters are everywhere these days. I think I want mine to read, “Everything Is Terrible,” Simple, true, to-the-point. Other options:
-“The DEVOL Made Me Do It”
-“It’ll All Be Over Soon. Except Not.”
-“Welcome to Your 3-Month Nightmare”

3. Comfort foods
 There is a time in life for celery sticks and puffed rice discs, but now is not that time. Pasta, an ice cream sundae bar, mashed potato stations, this is where your mind needs to be when planning food for a DEVOLSON party. Here are some recipes I found for treats that are easy and emotionally soothing:


3. Raffle for an item related to a DEVOLSON-approved activity
  •       Massage/spa gift certificate
  •     Netflix subscription
  •     Candle, miniature Zen garden, bath products, or other relaxation-related item
  •     One of these awesome head pillows for sleeping at your desk during your conference period


4. Drinks
If you’re off campus, you will need to make arrangements for lots and lots of wine. If you’re on campus, stick to grape juice and pretend in your head that it has real-wine powers, or try non-alcoholic versions of these not-really-signature-but-with-fun-names DEVOLSON cocktails:
·      Miser-ita (margarita)
·      Whine
·      Angry-a (sangria)
·      Oh-no-sa (mimosa)

Was that last one too much of a stretch? Don’t care. #devolson

5. Games

Come up with a list of as many DEVOLSON teacher behaviors as you can. Use those statements to create Bingo cards. I almost typed out the rules for Bingo, but then I remembered we’re all teachers!  Here are some sample statements to get you started:

1. Locked your keys in your car.
2. Locked your keys in your classroom
3. Tried to open your classroom door with your car keys, or vice versa.
4. Pressed your snooze alarm more than five times in one morning.
5. Have given up on any and all health regimens you were rocking this summer.
6. Are currently wearing some type of unintentionally mismatched clothing (shoes, socks, etc.)
7. Called your student the name of your child/cat/spouse, or vice versa.
8. Had a school-related stress dream.

Teacher Meme Game

Have teachers try to guess the teacher memes on this matching game. First one with all correct wins! (This game might be better if you’ve got a younger crowd, though seasoned vets could totally hold their own!) 

Click here to download the PDF from Dropbox! (You might also be able to save the image below and print it out.)

Click here to download the key from Dropbox!

I sure hope you’re all ready to throw your first DEVOLSON party, because it’s time for me to go to bed. (It’s 8:32).

Share your party (and just general DEVOLSON shenanigans) with me using the hashtag #devolson!

And remember:

You can’t spell DEVOLSON without LOVE,


*They are not paying me to write this. I have yet to encounter any company that wants me as a product spokesperson.

My First Week: a Follow-Up

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I've had a lot of feelings the past few weeks. ISIS, Syrian refugees, and racial tension in our country aside, I've been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions on a personal level at my new school. I can see now that in my last post, I didn't communicate these emotions very well. I was heartbroken to hear that people were getting the message from my writing that I was saying only bad teachers teach in low-income schools. In my time as a teacher in the five years I worked at a low-income school, I met some of the most amazing teachers, people, and kids I’ve ever known, and have seen on a personal level the dedication and sacrifice that this job takes. I must have seriously and egregiously erred in my communication for anyone to think I would intentionally shame teachers, and I offer my sincerest apologies to anyone who was hurt by what I said.

To clarify, here is what I was/am feeling:

1. Happiness. I am so happy that my anxiety and stress levels have returned to what feels like an all-time low. I’m happy that I love my new school, have made new friends, and adore my new set of darlings. I’m happy that I’m supported and am, for the first time, under really great and talented leadership. 

2. Sadness. I look around at all the advantages kids at my new school have—the amazing resources, fancy equipment, low class sizes, the fact that very few of them ever have to try to learn while worrying about their safety or well-being or hunger—and feel sad that my students at my previous school don’t have these things. I feel sad that my teacher friends at my former school and others like it have to teach in an environment where education policies make teaching way more difficult and stressful than it should be (you can read more on how I arrived on that thoughtprocess here). I feel sad because I think if the amazing administration I have now had been the administration at my last school, I think of how different things could have been for students, my colleagues, and for me.

3. Anger. I’m angry that in 2015 things still aren’t equal because of things kids have no control over. I’m angry that there’s no quick fix.  I’m angry that the trend in education policy-making seems to focus on blaming teachers or finding quick fixes rather than looking for the root of the problem. I'm angry that the students at my last school don't have anywhere near the same resources and advantages as the kids at my current school. 

Those are my feelings, boiled down to their most simple form.

However, I think it’s important to know that, while these feelings are obviously directly related to my own experiences as a teacher, that there are facts about educational inequality that support the notion that I am definitely not alone in feeling this way.

I hope that all teachers, regardless of where they teach, are aware of the reality of educational inequality in America: that students in areas of poverty get short-changed in every area when it comes to education: funding, resources, administration quality, teacher experience, the list goes on and on. If this sounds like surprising or untrue information, I encourage you to visit some of the resources I’ve provided at the end of this post, or simply Google “educational inequality in America” and read up on the vast amount of research that supports this. Are there inexperienced teachers who are doing amazing work that is better than many veterans in high-poverty schools? Absolutely! Are there Title I schools who have a 100% graduation rate and have unlimited resources and amazing administration and stellar, well-supported teachers? Yes, of course! But I hope even the teachers at those schools would see and recognize that their situation is an exception to the rule: that for the most part, students in low-income schools across the nation are not getting an equal education to their wealthier peers. Saying that kids in poor neighborhoods have less chance of success doesn’t mean that they have less potential or ability to succeed: it means that there is a network of policies and systems in place that are holding them back, and that will continue to hold them back if we don’t do something about it.

I also hope that all teachers recognize that the disturbing state of education in America is not the fault of students OR parents OR teachers, but of an aggregation of systems, policies, and ideologies that continue to ignore difficult truths and continue to try to find “easy way out” solutions— blaming teachers, creating more standardized tests, ignoring the reasons why there is such high teacher turnover, etc., etc., etc. (Sidenote: I think it’s interesting in that vast research I uncovered about education inequality, I couldn’t find anything about the disparity in administration quality. As several readers pointed out, a good administration can make or break any school experience, regardless of what type of school it is.)

I hope I’ve made clear what I was trying and failed to say in my last post. If you don’t agree with what I believe or what I feel, that’s perfectly fine. If you think that I’m weak for leaving my former school, or that I’m a sell-out for moving to a school where I’m in a healthier environment, you’re entitled to that, and I’m glad we live in a country where you are free to say so. But I hope that no matter what you think of me, that you join me in believing that all kids should have access to high-quality education, regardless of the zip code in which they live.

To those of you in Title I schools, fighting the good fight, whether you have an amazing administration or an oppressive one, whether you are well-supported or whether you and your colleagues create your own network of support, whether you come home at the end of the day with tons of energy or whether you come home at the end of the day feeling barely human from exhaustion, know that I respect you immensely, and am behind you and what you're doing. 

Love, and also a million other feelings,