Sunday, February 1, 2015

fresh start february+ugly brown polka dots

Good thing blogging isn't my career, because I'd be drowning in even MORE debt if it was. (Grad school, betchez, I mean really $$$$$$$$$). Anyways, I know what I said. Blah blah blah "I'm going to blog every week this year!" Blah blah blah "Hannah, you should document your experiences more often..." blah blah blah "I'm going to commit to my blog this year..." yeah yeah yeah. Okay. So follow-through was not my strong suit here. Or we could just say that follow-through got left behind in Minnesota when I moved back down here. My bad. I SAID MY BAD. (anna, lydia, nicole)

Well it's February 2015 and things they are a-happenin round these parts. To spare you the details, my fall semester started out SO GREAT....and then derailed quicker than ever. What FRESH HELL my friends. FRESH HELL. I can't pinpoint when it all started to go downhill, and I don't think I want to, because then I'd have to relive it. It was pretty much a repeat of last fall semester (aka first year all over again) only my pride was too big for me to give myself any slack. I went from 16 kids to 25-28 kids, and co-teaching with two very veteran teachers who held the first grade together to being the "veteran" teacher (WHAT A JOKE). The achievement gap hit me harder than ever when I welcomed 51 first graders, over half of which were still reading at a pre-k level. So there I was, faced with the challenge of getting these students to grow almost two years (or more) in 10 months. I will not lie and say I took on this challenge with ease and grace. No no. A lot of tears were shed. A lot disappointing feedback, disappointing results, personal frustration, and near-quitting. A lot of support, both for overcoming and for giving up. ("These kids deserve better than me" was my mantra.) There are plenty of reasons that it all happened, and sometimes I wonder, if I had just stayed in Minnesota and not thrown myself into this stressful and challenging situation, what would my mental health look like? (Because, folks, mental health has been on a downward spiral in this household. ROUGH.) But then I have those moments where I'm driving down a country road listening to country music with the 60 degree wind blowing through my windows at the end of January, and watch the spark when my kids realize that, WOW, they CAN read...or that one of my lowest, intervention, 2nd-time-in-first-grade, should-we-get-him-tested students got a B on our last test...a B my friends. THAT IS PASSING. HE GOT A B. HE SPELLED 80 PERCENT OF THE WORDS CORRECTLY. HE COULD HARDLY WRITE HIS OWN NAME BEFORE. Those are the moments that remind me. I'm here to teach them. But I'm also here to learn. And learn I have.

So with that update, here are the two things I'll write about today. They are two very different things: one from my personal life and one from school.

1. "Get out of my face with your ugly white face with its ugly brown polka dots before I break it." Said a six year old. To me. One of my students. One of my smartest students. One of my students that is too smart for her own good. Why did she say that, you ask? Because she was hurting another student and her clip was on "parent contact," so I sent a note home about her behavior. As soon as I handed her the note, it began.

"I don't care about your doggone note you ugly white faced teacher. With your ugly white face and your ugly brown polka dots. Better get that ugly white polka face outta mine before I break it. Walk your ugly white tail away from me. Ugly white teacher."

So that happened. I mean, students have said terrible things to me before, as many of you know. They usually are pretty harmless like calling me a "bald head" (not bald--not offended) or saying "I hate this school" (well I'm not too fond of you right now either, thanks for asking). But this was the first time it was actually directed AT ME and my skin color. Like she thought (knew?) the biggest thing she could insult would be the color of my skin. I don't know if I handled it the right way. I was shocked. I knew if I responded, she would escalate. It was the end of the day, she was leaving, so I ignored it. She kept yelling (six years old) and I kept ignoring. She got on the bus, I cried a little. Other teachers told me I should write her up. She needs to be suspended, go to ISD, get a paddling, whatever. You can't talk to teachers that way. I don't know if I made the right choice, but after going home and sleeping on it, I decided not to write her up. She had just gotten back from a two week suspension (not my problem, I know, but still). I wanted to talk to her about it instead of just get mad. So when she came in the next morning I pulled her aside. She knew. I simply said "You wanna talk to me about what you said to me yesterday?" She said "I called you polka dots." I said, "What else?" She didn't want to answer. It was morning, I was feeling patient, I waited. "What else did you call me? Polka dot what?" "White." "How do you think that made me feel?" "Sad." "Really sad. Why did you say it?" "Because you gave me a bad note." "Did it make it better, calling me those things?" Etc. (I won't type the whole conversation, because it was long and complicated and sad.) I don't know if it was the right thing, people, and it's certainly not how I always handle these situations, but I'm telling you, this girl was better behaved that day than she has ever been. RESPECTFUL. Was it the Lutheran, Mid-Western, Scandinavian, Susan-Forster style guilt that I had inflicted? Or did I get through to her? I don't know. But it made me realize that I definitely need to be having more talks about culture, race, identity, and ACCEPTANCE with my students. I still don't have the answer.

On a lighter note, here's the second thing I want to write about. FRESH START FEBRUARY. As many of you know, I live with four other girls, so five total, (and three dogs...yep, sorority house dog pound style, y'all). And when one of us slumps, we all slump. So when I say my fall was bad, I'm telling you, I was not alone. Just like last year, we took turns talking each other off the ledge. "I'm quitting." "I don't want to go." "Don't make me." I won't pretend this job is easy. It's SO HARD. But we also sometimes forget how lucky we have it. We have a home. With heat. We are all healthy. Our dogs (that are literally the cutest things ever) are healthy and happy. We have cars (new cars, at that). We can afford to travel. We eat well. We have friends and family who love us and support us. I mean, gosh darn it, we have JOBS. But sometimes, when test scores are bad, students are telling you they hate you, your faculty doesn't think you can do it, you feel like you've hit a wall, and the only thing you see is the dry and empty field behind your house, this place can feel absolutely miserable.

And when things feel miserable, we start acting miserable. Mental health, and overall health has lost place as a priority in our house lately. So we have decided that, as a house, we are going to get back on track. We are cooking healthier meals. We are going to walk the dogs more (for longer amounts of time, at a quicker pace, more than once a day). We are going to take a break from the alcohol (because, believe it or not, drinking a whole bottle of wine right after getting home school because a six year old said you look pregnant is NOT a healthy coping mechanism). We are starting a healthy meals initiative. (We cook together every night, and I'll tell you our meal plan for this week in a bit.) We are tracking it, like good, data-driven teachers, and we are setting goals. It's not a diet. It's about more than weight and fitness. It's about living a healthy lifestyle. Weight and numbers are not the ultimate goal here (though a few pounds disappearing wouldn't make me upset, am I right?). Mental, emotional, and spiritual health are the goal. So I'd like to try to blog about that. (We'll see what happens. Clearly I'm not in a position to make promises.)

So here's what week one of healthy meal initiative looks like:
Sunday: Vegetarian Chilli (thanks Christina)
Monday: Rice and Beans with Cornbread
Tuesday: Tacos (we hope....RIGHT ALICIA?_
Wednesday: Spaghetti Squash Eggplant Parmesan
Thursday: Veggie Pasta

I know it's not "salad salad salad." But I didn't say we don't eat salad. We live on salad. We LOVE salad. Sometimes it's all we eat. But we are trying to incorporate more health into big full meals too. Not just salad. Today Christina and I took the dogs on a 52 minute walk (we timed it, yes). When I got bored and wanted to eat ranch dip, I didn't (self-control in the making, my friends). And tomorrow we'll do it again. Health teachers=happy students. Happy students=happy teachers. Happy teachers=happy home. Worth it.

Have a great week everyone!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

classroom jobs for 2014-2015

Classroom Jobs

1. line leader (#1 in line, alphabetical order, will always be line leader)
2. door holder (#2 in line, alphabetical order, will always be door holder)
3. lunch helper (pass out napkins every day a lunch)
4. lights (turn lights on and off when asked)
5. smartboard (turns smartboard on and off in morning and at end of day)
6. messenger (take messages to other classrooms or the office)
7. safety monitor (get bandaids when teacher needs it, get nurse passes, escort to nurse, etc)
8. clip chart monitor (carries clip chart in the hallways)
9. door closer (closes and locks door when we enter the room)
10. paper passer (passes out papers for the teacher)
11. paper collector (collects papers and puts in alphabetical order for the teacher before putting in basket)
12. pencil collector (collects pencils and erasers at end of day, puts broken pencils in basket)
13. folder checker (checks folders for homework in the morning)
14. folder filler (put homework in folders at end of the day)
15. pass out folders (at end of the day)
16. trash collector (pick up trash after crafts and at end of day)
17. backpack manager (pass out backpacks)
18. behavior secretary (write down behavior log)
19. librarian (tidy the library)
20. substitute

werk ur body

My beautiful and wonderful friend Anna Ayers Looby sent me a link today that really got me thinking. Here's the link:

Basically it gave me the flashing reminder that my students NEED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY in their daily lives. Everyone should have a total of 60 minutes of some sort of physical activity every single day. Since my students only get P.E. twice a week, most of them just want to eat their snack instead of run around at recess, and the rest of their 8 hour day is spent sitting....majority of those minutes depend on me. Now, when your school and state have a deathly fear of failing and standards, objectives, mastery, and test scores are at the core of everything you do, it's easy to forget about the importance of educating well-rounded children. If you'd asked me to add physical activity to my classroom during my first year of teaching, I probably would have started crying (ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME I CAN HARDLY GET ALL THE OTHER ISH THEY WANT ME TO DO DONE IN TIME WITHOUT COMPLETELY LOSING IT) but with a year under my belt, I'm ready to tackle these things that I value as a teacher, and so I started doing some research.

Here are some ideas I've found for quick little ways to add physical activity/brain breaks to your daily routine:

1. Step one, make one of these bad boys! What a fun way to decide how to take a quick brain break rather than coming up with something off the top of my head when I notice the kiddos getting a case of the wigglies! Plus, it gives them some autonomy, since I can let my student leader roll the cube.

2. Daily physical activity rule. So, the rule of the day might be that if you go to the bathroom, you have to do arm circles the whole way, or you have to walk backwards, or you have to do lunges, or something fun that makes monotonous routine activities a little more exciting.

3. Q and A Stretching. This is basically the same type of thing I do with whiteboard Q and A, only the kids are standing while they do it (brilliant, absolutely brilliant, WHY DIDN'T I DO THAT). Teacher gives multiple choice review questions, students stand at their desks, write their answer on a whiteboard, and then hold it up as high as possible to show the teacher (this is the stretch part!). 

4. Race In Place. Students will run in place at their desks. When the teacher gives a signal, they listen to the question and write their answer down as quickly as possible.
(source of 2-4 is via pinterest)

The next few are some that I already use but I need to remember to implement and use more regularly throughout the daily routine:

5. Protractor (Angle stretch). Have students drop their hands down to their toes. Slowly, together, count up to ten as you raise your hands from the floor to the ceiling (by ten, your hands should be stretched way above your head). THEN, you have the students show you different angles based on where there arms would be during the ten count (for example, if the teacher says the number three, the students should stretch down to where their arms would be at number three---close to the floor, but not all the way to zero at their toes).

6. Body Shake. Students start with their right hand up in the air and shake it, counting down from 8. Repeat with left arm, right leg, left leg. Repeat this counting down from 7, then 6, then 5, then 4, then 3, then 2, then one last big whole body shake for 1.

And some more I found from pinterest that I liked:

7. My Day So Far. Students have thirty seconds to act out everything they've done that day, starting with waking up, getting dressed, etc.

8. Walk This Way. Students walk each way for ten seconds (baby steps, giant steps, limping, bunny hopping, backwards, tip toes).

9. Air Band. Play a song for a minute or two and have students pick their air instrument and rock out until the music stops.

10. Choose an exercise from the cube. 20 jumping jacks, 20 hops, run in place for 30 seconds, etc.

So basically the plan would be to implement enough of these little brain breaks throughout the day so that with recess and PE, my students are getting their daily 60.


Monday, July 14, 2014


One of my main goals for my classroom this year is to teach my students how to communicate their emotions and use productive and healthy coping mechanisms.
So, I introduce to Miss Forster's first grade class...


The mood-o-meter!!

Here's an example of a mood meter that I found online:

Basically, here's how it works/how I want to use it. The colors can represent different types of feelings on the spectrum. 
Blue: low energy/unpleasant=sad, depressed, sulky, tired, etc.
Green: low energy/pleasant=happy, content, peaceful, calm, etc.
Yellow: high energy/pleasant=excited, surprised, enthusiastic, etc.
Red: high energy/unpleasant=angry, frustrated, annoyed, etc.

In our classroom this year, we are going to start the year off by learning about this spectrum of emotions-->the mood meter. We'll discuss what the different colors represent, what someone looks like when they're feeling each emotion, what you feel like doing when you're experiencing the mood/emotion, how we can help someone, and a healthy way to cope. We'll do some coloring activities, show some faces of emotions, and practice using our own mood meter.

Here are the faces I'll use for week one to introduce the basics of the mood meter:




And here is a picture of the mood meters I made for my classroom and my fellow first grade teacher:
Ultimately, I want my students to be able to walk into the room, find their name, and place it on the mood meter to express how he/she is feeling at any given time/in the morning/that day.

Some coping techniques I'm considering for when they're feeling negative emotions and need to take a break:
- getting crayons of the color they're feeling and drawing a picture to express how they're feeling
-getting fabric pieces and building a picture with the coordinating color to express how they're feeling

These are hands-on ways for them to take out any anger/frustration and also distract them from the situation that is causing the emotion. It also gives them another way to communicate their feelings to me or any other teacher/adult.

Fabric Feelings Boxes
-when a student recognize that he/she needs to take a break due to negative actions/feelings, they will be able to be the color that describes their mood and use these fabric strips on the carpet to express their emotions (either by making a picture, squeezing and stretching them, or throwing them around  a little to get the stress out).
-I plan to write different emotions on the outside of the box in sharpie as we learn new words to describes our moods/feelings.

set goalz make moneyyyyy

(scratch the making money part, I mean who are we really kidding)

I've been thinking a lot about goals for my 24th year. If there's ANYTHING this rough, rough, but rewarding year has taught me, it's the importance of taking care of myself and prioritizing the activities and people that make me the happiest and best me. I was reading one of those buzzfeed blog list things that are always floating around facebook and it was a list of things all women should have before they turn 25. Aside from the usuals (a little black dress in the closet, an idea of what they want from a relationship, a steady income, blah blah blah), it said that every young woman should have a HOBBY. Sounds easy, right? Well here's where it gets hard. A hobby that does NOT INCLUDE: drinking, shopping, working out, or helping other people. Yep.
I'm willing to bet that every single one of my friends reading this is going "well what the heck else is there to do??" It sounds SO superficial, but it actually got me thinking about the importance of doing things for ME. Things that help me to grow and find fulfillment for MYSELF. It's SO easy to get caught up in just the daily survival, turning my brain off as soon as I get home from the school so that I don't go absolutely insane, and staving off sleep deprivation. But living for survival sin't really living, I don't think. Survival does not = living. I don't know about y'all, but I want to LIVE. (A wise person once said "Life is not about the number of breaths you take, but about the moments that take our breath away." Ever heard it? lolz lolz lolz)

So here are my goals for year 24. (some are personal, some are professional, some are just random life goals):
1. learn how to golf 
2. start recycling (dear MN friends, this may seem stupid to you, but we don't recycle yet in Mississippi so we have to actually make an effort to do this! My roommates and I plan on recycling at our house and bringing our recycling to one of the nearby recycling plants--since it can't be picked up....and I'm going to start teaching it and implementing it in my classroom as well).
3. Start my masters. This is already set, but it will definitely be one of my priorities this year, if not a goal.
4. Cook and eat healthy foods. Try new foods! Enjoy the process and art of cooking (this could be a hobby!).
5. Be crafty. Make things that aren't just for school (and things that are for school).
6. READ. Read for fun and read to become a better teacher.
7. Teach my students how to communicate their emotions and different strategies for coping.
8. Have a thorough, comprehensive, integrated morning meeting with community building and activities for social and emotional development.
9. Use music in my classroom.
10. Set a precedent of soft voices in my classroom, leading by example. (This way I don't lose my voice).
11. Sing in a church choir.
12. Get more involved in the local community.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Year 24.

Honey I'm hoooooooommmeeeee (that's me, yelling to all of my loyal followers, because I haven't written on this blog since first semester).
Long story short here is my reason:
I'm not one for writing about negative things. I usually like to put a positive/goofy twist on it (who wants to reading whining, am I right?). Anyways, this past year turned negative pretty quickly.
-crazy, mean, curse-word loving roommate
-two of my nearest and dearest quit working at the school and left Mississippi
-moving to a new house in a new town
-taking more criticism than I could have ever imagined
-learning that I do, in fact, have a breaking point and my patience with children is, surprisingly, not infinite
-full on panic attacks every time  I had to return to Mississippi. YEP. worst thing EVER

So I stopped writing. Nobody needs to hear about that biznasss. Y'all are reading to hear funny stories about my cute and ridiculous little students!

But first, a little update.
-moved to a new house, turns out I LOVE MY NEW ROOMMATES SO STINKIN MUCH (shoutout to Ashley, Amy, Christina, Alicia, and the dogs (Freddy, Micah, and Bentley). Yep. Five girls, three dogs.
-turns out having nice people and a pup or two to come home to really does make the day a lot easier.
-Mary Margaret (my beautiful teacher role model at Sanders) became one of my BEST friends and introduced me to the ways of life in the deep and dirty south. I went ridin', threw beer bottles at road signs (against all of my morals but HEY WHEN IN ROME), rode through a cemetary on a golf cart in the pitch dark, rode on the back of a dirt bike, shot a gun (at a can, don't worry guyz), babysat at a hunting lodge, went to the town bar (whoops), drank around a campfire in a field, and made some AMAZING friends.
-decided to in fact stay for a second year (maybe even a third....THE WORLD *mississippi* IS MY OYSTER)

So here's my goal for 23 (or as my dad would say, the beginning of my 24th year of life).
WRITE IN THIS BLOG. (weekly maybe?)
-make it funny
-be real
-be honest
-write down the moments that need to be shared

Peace out homies. Stay tuned.
Bentley says hi.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Guest Post: Ms. Nelson

A note my dear teacher friend in Minnesota sent me that I think everyone (ESPECIALLY first year teachers, TFA and non-TFA) should read.

If we’re being honest here, this is the first time I’ve read your blog post, BUT, I’m very glad I did. And here’s why…
I feel the same way. You are bored living in the Delta. I am bored living in St. Cloud. I feel there is no one here who is under the age of 30 and not married. My college roommate lives nearby, but she doesn’t like driving into town on the weekends. I drove out to see her a few times. Then I stopped. Since then, she’s seen me once, after work. She has yet to drive into town just to see me.
I feel like I should make friends, but I spend 12 hours at school and I live alone. I tend to leave on the weekends so I can see people I know. So, I tell myself I don’t have time to make friends. I convince myself next semester will be easier. Maybe I’ll make friends then.
As far as teaching goes, I’ve been barely keeping my head above water. I thought continuous weeks of 6-or-less hours of sleep a night were a thing of the past, left behind with graduation. But they’re not. If I go to be before midnight, it’s a good night. I’m supposed to leave my apartment at 7:10, if I want to be on time for my contractual start time. I’m consistently 10 minutes late. (That part of my life hasn’t changed.)
Coming into this job, I thought I was pretty good. At the time of graduation, I don’t think I’d had any major classroom management issues. I was the only person that managed to teach something during the classroom management lesson in Mattson. Now, I spend hours wondering what I did to create a classroom environment where I have to wait two minutes for everyone’s attention. Where I consistently say the same six names everyday. Where I feel like I’ve lost control of my classroom.
In student teaching, I had, in my opinion, created relevant, engaging, and successful lesson. I knew I wasn’t the best, but I thought I’d be all right. Now, I don’t even bother to make a PowerPoint for the day’s lesson. I plan my lessons 15 minutes before school. I show far more videos than I ever thought I would. And, I don’t know how to relate World History to students’ lives. I haven’t taken the time. And, I’m disappointed in myself for that.
I am very envious of people who work only 9-5. For a while, I was considering giving it all up, moving to a farm, growing my own food, and subbing just enough to pay for gas and insurance. Or becoming a waitress. And, despite all the times I thought, “Someone else has it worse,” and pictured a starving African orphan, I still was unhappy with my life. I kept telling myself, “Survive this year. Maybe you can make a change next year.” By change, I meant move back to Iowa, to what I know, to safety, to home. And, while I still sometimes entertain those ideas, something happened today.
To understand what happened today, you need to know that I had my first formal observation by the principal on Friday. I thought it was a pretty bad lesson. At the request of the other World History teacher, we were covering nationalism and the Industrial Revolution in one day. First off, I didn’t know much about nationalism until the day before. While nationalism is a little bit more relatable to students than, say, the Safavid Empire (Did you know they were a thing? Because I didn’t, until I got to teach them a few weeks ago.), I didn’t think I had enough time to talk about current nationalism conflicts. So I didn’t. As for the Industrial Revolution, it is usually considered the second-most important event in all of history. I spent twenty minutes on it. Basically, my principal saw me talk for nearly 85 minutes straight. The students didn’t contribute very much. I threw in a few questions for her benefit. And to wake the students back up because, let’s be honest, me talking for 85 minutes is not very exciting. Especially right away in the morning. Especially when I haven’t really given you a reason to care.
Today, I had my post-evaluation conference. I was fully prepared to go in there, admit I had a poor lesson, and set goals to better myself. Big goals, since I have so far to go. (Side note: I hate writing goals.) But, I sat down, and, instead of reminding me of all the engagement things I should be doing, she told me what a good teacher I was. While she encouraged me to use more formative assessments (and she’s right), she also told me I have great content knowledge. (Keep in mind, most of what I talked about, I learned the night before.) She told me I had built relationships with each of my students. That this is some thing she can’t teach people. And that not everyone has it. She told me she was so excited to see me grow and improve. And, she told me over and over again that I sparkle when I’m teaching. Sparkle. Me? But I’m doing such a bad job. I’m doing my students a disservice. They could be learning so much more about World History. But, she thinks I sparkle.
And, while I think I’m a little to tomboyish to actually wear anything with sparkles, it was so nice to hear. With that word, she reminded me how much I love teaching, despite all its challenges. How much I care about my students. And, how excited I am to have the opportunity to do this for most of the rest of my life.
So, Hannah, I want you to know that you’re not the only one. Sometimes, school sucks. Home sucks. Life sucks. But, I want you to know that you sparkle. You bring light wherever you are. Your laughter is contagious. Students love you. Peers love you. You sparkle, and you make the world around you better. So, while I’m in no position to give advice, I’m going to. Take a deep breath. Remember that one time a student made you laugh for a stupid reason. Get a good night’s sleep. Warm your face in the Sun tomorrow morning. Smile at your students. And just be happy.
Good luck!
- Erica