Thursday, December 31, 2015

To you, 2015

I used to blog, and then, you know, things like life happen and blogging doesn't seem so important. It is my favorite way to capture what is going on in our lives, so I figured I would write a quick 2015 recap to ring in the New Year.

This year saw Lily turn 4, Jackson turn 2, and Tom and I celebrated the big 3-0. Jackson started the party train with a birthday party during a snow storm in February. He celebrated with a Planes themed brunch and, despite the snow, most of our family made it to celebrate.

Tom and I celebrated our birthdays with a joint gathering of friends at Fogo de Chao. It was delicious and we had a wonderful time with friends. Lily turned 4 in June and we celebrated at home with friends and family. Her birthday was Peter Pan/Tinkerbell themed and mostly involved jumping in her new bounce house.

Professionally, work was insanely busy. I was the nominated for BCPS Teacher of the Year as the teacher from my school. That was a huge honor and felt incredibly validating as our administration makes the decision about who to nominate. In the late spring a group of us decided that we needed to take on more work and we pitched an enrichment period. It was accepted and this year we are piloting it! It is amazing and overwhelming and exciting. I coached what will be my last season as a volleyball coach (at least for the foreseeable future). It was a tough season, but I coached the best group of girls that I could have asked for. I am working on my ESOL certification. I am taking department chair courses. The job is busy, but it's wonderful.

Personally, I am thankful that 2015 was a year of happiness and health for me and my family. We had a smooth transition to pre-school for Lily (fingers crossed for kindergarten for next year) and Jackson loved starting 2-year old school. My brother and his soon-to-be-wife settled into their new house and are working to make it a beautiful first home. We traveled to Austin, TX for a work trip (though, when you get to travel on work trips with your husband, it doubles as a getaway). We enjoyed another summer at our beloved shore house. My parents and grandfather are healthy. My friends welcomed new babies, some after long roads and losses. God was good to us.

If there was one sad spot in an otherwise lovely year, it was the loss of Marge Kenney. I still feel like I could pick up the phone and make a lunch date with her, but I know her love and lessons will always live on in her girls. Her loss was cutting; Mrs. Kenney was a light in the world that went out too soon.

So here's to 2016. To love. To happiness. To health. To a healed world. To faith restored. To peace.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Busiest Week Ever? Yes.

This is the busiest week ever. No joke. I woke up with a cold (thanks, Jackson!) and now get to plow through spirit week, testing week, Homecoming week, pep rally week, fighting it off. Add in volleyball, grad class, and teaching...and, well, it's going to be a long week. Thank goodness for weekends. Right? Well, this weekend was equally as busy.

Saturday we were up at school building Homecoming decorations with SGA. We had between 10-15 students show up. They moved all of our decor to the closest mechanical room, put together most of the decorations that could fit through doorways, and they generously entertained my children. Emma, who Lily was extremely excited to see, allowed Lily to follow her around. Remy happily glittered a poster with Lily. They let Lily help with the Homecoming banner. Jackson was getting a cold and he mostly followed me around like a little lost duck. Kenisha bought the kids Popsicles. When people wonder how I can do everything I tell them: my parents, my husband, and my really awesome students.

Today I took Lily to Target. Then, came home and tried to catch up on as much grading as I could. I did get most of it finished between hugs and snuggles from Jackson who has a full on cold. Tom took Lily to my parents to dinner, while I stayed home with the sick boy. We worked on arts and crafts, had dinner, and he took a nice bath. He went to be quite easily, which was lovely. Now, I hope he (and Lily) sleep well. I need them to stay healthy!

Here's to a busy week! I am looking forward to a fun spirit week.

Oh, and, our new enrichment program launched on Friday and it was, simply put, amazing. Big things are happening this year...and it's awesome.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

{Finally} Fall

It's finally fall! This weekend, we greeted autumn with outstretched arms and apple picking. Lily had soccer on Saturday morning, we went to my alma mater's Homecoming festivities, and then we went apple picking with friends. The best part of the day, by far, was apple picking.

We went to Baugher's Farm and had a near perfect afternoon. It was overcast, so it never got too warm and here was a cool breeze. It was essentially the best sweater weather. Lily and Jack were so excited to pick apples! They were equally excited to see baby Sam. Their love for him was evident on their faces in all of the pictures.

Today was a more trying day. Neither kid slept very well and Lily threw tantrums all day long {I wish that was an exaggeration}. The whole thing was exhausting for her, and me, and I am glad the kids are nestled in bed and I have a little time to myself.

Tomorrow begins the first of a slew of 5 day work weeks for me (I know, teacher life). It's the last week of September, though, October begins on Thursday and I am looking forward to everything that the month will bring!

Oh Sam, you have her heart. Oh Jack, you are a giant 2 year old.

That's the look of some serious Sam love.

Me and my girl.

My favorites.

This picture makes me insanely happy. That is his whole personality right here. Also, he is 2...that shirt is a size 6!

Taking the tractor {school bus seats and all} to the orchard!

Love her so much. Wish all her days were just this happy.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Just a quick check-in!

Hey guys! I am still here! I am just in busy, back-to-school mode. This mode won't end until after the fall season is over, which is when busy, holiday mode will kick in. Why are things so busy you ask? Well, here you have it...

1. Volleyball season is well under way. This occupies most of my extracurricular time at school from mid-August-mid-November. I have a weird relationship with coaching. I love volleyball, and I really enjoy being with my players (they are just the nicest group of girls...who may have cried when we one our first game today...not set...we didn't win the whole thing...just one of the games...). The girls really make coaching worth it. The part I don't like so much is being pulled away from home and my own kids. Luckily, my players embrace my family as much as they do me as their coach and Tom happily brings the kids to home games.

2. SGA is busy with homecoming. We plan spirit week, homecoming, and the festival. And all of those things will be happening in just over 2 weeks! EEP!

3. Enrichment. I am working with a group of teachers to plan, launch, and run our first enrichment program. Enrichment is a weekly club period that meets, so students can participate in a club as part of the school day. We polled students and found that many would like to stay for clubs, but can't, due to work obligations, siblings who they need to watch, sports, or transportation. We wanted to make sure every student had access to a club, so that he/she could find a place to belong. Our dream is starting to become a reality and it is, seriously, one of the most empowering experiences I have ever been a part of. I am so proud of the teachers who worked to see this through.

4. Lily has soccer, which isn't a huge time obligation, but it's an added weekly event.

5. School is starting, so things are always a little busier and crazier. Getting to know students, getting to know schedules, etc...can be a task!

I am not saying all of this to complain. I am happily busy. I like feeling like I am making a difference in my school by being able to offer my time to things that I enjoy doing. I feel very lucky to have such supportive co-workers, friends, and family members who allow me to do what I love and be the teacher that I envisioned myself being.

That said, I will welcome a breather when November rolls around...just in time for the holidays! Fall is, seriously, my favorite time of the year and I am happy that it is well under way. I may get around to updating this thing in another month!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lily starts preschool!

Our girl had her first day of preschool today. She is attending the same school that she has been attending since she was 2, so it wasn't a particularly different or difficult day for her. Preschool will definitely be more school-like than any experience she has had yet. My mom took pictures of Lily before school with a chalkboard that I decorated for her. Of course, I wrote the wrong date on it (so I corrected that error when I got home...). Lily loved her class and teacher. She recited the rules for me, and she even had a little homework. She is extremely excited for Friday because it will be her first show and tell. She is ready for school and so excited for this experience...and I am so excited for her!

After school. Corrected date. 
Before school. Notice, the wrong date. Way to go, mom.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Is this a post mid-week confession?

I am curious: do parents of BCPS students realize the cost to retrofit a school with A/C (and get building up to code to do those renovations)? I am following all of these big A/C debates in school and I am wondering a few things:

1. Where do people think millions of dollars can appear from to get A/C?...
2. What has changed since I was in schools without A/C? (because there wasn't some crazy public outcry when I was in school...there were fans, water bottles, and some very warm days...we just dealt with it)...
3. One argument I've been reading is that kids get dehydrated. I regularly hold volleyball practices in a gym that isn't air conditioned. Temps are definitely in the 90s, plus the girls run around. I am very good about giving water breaks, but I also tell the girls they need to drink more water at home to work on prevention. Don't parents know to keep kids hydrated at home to work on preventing dehydration before it begins?

This just seems so #firstworldproblem to me. There was a time, not so long ago, when A/C wasn't in any building...anywhere. Have humans changed that quickly that we can't cope when it's hot?

I am genuinely curious. I just wonder if we get so accustomed to technology that we forget how to human (in more ways than just this one...).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Welcome to my room!

Learner centered is the buzz this year, and Sarah (my work wife) and I are embracing it. We had a little conversation last year about alternate seating and it grew into actual practice in our rooms. I finally got around to taking some after pictures, and I am just getting around to putting them on the blog. My students are enjoying the room (I think!). Their favorite things, so far, are the core balance cushions I got for their chairs. They inflate and they can sit on them and wiggle a little to get energy out during class. They are great for quiet writing because it takes unfocused energy and allows students to concentrate on writing. I got 5, but so many kids use them, I may need more!

Anyway, without further room (well, my room and the English room of about 130 students!)!

When students walk in the room they can see the date and day (A or B). The bathroom pass is on the board and the papers for the class are on the small table.
The board for class agendas and homework,

Reading area. A few bean bag chairs, a lamp, an area rug, and 4 clipboards on the wall to use if a student is writing.

The whole room.

Back corner. Teacher computer (no desk!), storage for students' supplies, a computer for student use, reference posters, and other student resources.

English 9 board for I can statements. Also showcases our GRIT program.

Another reading area. Looked so cozy in the sun. The pink storage units are for bags filled with markers, pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, etc...for each table group. The kissing pumpkins are a student project from 2 years ago. It depicts Proctor and Abigail Williams dancing on Elizabeth Proctor's grave...

Goals bulletin board...we haven't written goals yet.

My favorite area! Hanging file area, objective area, and info bulletin board. 

The OM letters were given by the principal for commitment to the school. The gold seals are for various programs I facilitated.

Seriously. This just makes me happy. Nerdy teacher happy. BUT SO HAPPY.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bye Bye Summer 2015

So, I sort of paused the reflective teaching challenge, but it's for good reason...I've been enjoying my last days of summer vacation. Friday we went to the National Zoo and hosted a get together with friends, yesterday we went to the family shore house, and today we played outside. This morning I got to spend some quality time with my computer while I took the final exam for my grad class. The hardest class I have ever taken is OVER! Of course, my next course starts in a week and a half, but that's at least a week to get my bearings at school before the class begins.

This summer has been wonderful. We didn't have a formal vacation, but we spent a lot of time with our kids and enjoyed being home. We went to the shore a lot, explored playgrounds with friends, played in the yard, did some gardening, ventured to Austin, read a lot of books, and just had fun. Being a summer stay at home mom is definitely fun. I am grateful that I get to have two worlds to enjoy-- my world at home and my world at work. The summer felt short, and it was, just 8 weeks, but they were 8 enjoyable weeks. I am sad to say goodbye to the summer, but I am also happy to say hello to school and autumn and a schedule (oh thank goodness for a schedule!). Saying goodbye to Lily and Jackson tomorrow will be hard, but I know they are excited to see grandma. 

Here's to summer 2015! Welcome fall!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Reflective Teaching: Day 11

How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

Wow. Tough question. If I could envision what technology will look like in five years, what the landscape of education will look like...this question would be easier. I know these things for certain: I want to continue to learn and grow, 2. I want to include more technology in meaningful ways, 3. I want to stay current, 4. I want a truly learner centered environment in my classroom. I think creating a learner centered classroom will be an evolving process over the next five years. It will unfold slowly as I discover what learner centered looks like in a high school classroom. Over the next five years I want to continue to push my students by engaging them in discussion and debate. I want to learn to be more fearless and embrace positive chaos better. This school year is sure to be one where my style of teaching changes. I am planning on trying so many new things that I am hoping my classroom looks completely new and different to those coming through.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reflective Teaching Day 10 (1/3 of the way through!)

Still no room pictures. I am sure you are all waiting on the edge of your seats for those, but I still haven't transferred them over...

Anyway, moving right along to..."What is your favorite part of the school day and why?"

It's going to sound typical, but I love the end of the day. The reason why, however, is not what you might think. I think the typical answer would read something like, "because the day is over! FREEDOM!", but I look at the end of the day differently. When the day ends my day isn't over. I move from teaching to coach class, or meetings, or practices, or advising a club. The end of the day is the time when I decompress. I regroup with my colleagues and go over my day. I recall my successes and my not-so-successes (they aren't usually failures, but sometimes things just don't go the way I planned!). I hear about what my colleagues did. I might run through plans with my grade level team (so, Sarah). The end of the day gives me time to center myself and settle myself. I get ready for the events of the afternoon and the next day. I clean up my room. Change my objectives. I get ready for my next new start. This is the really wonderful thing about teaching. Not only do I get a whole new school year EVERY year, but I get a new start EVERY day. That's pretty magical.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Day 9: About me.

Today's task is a long one. For Reflective Teaching Day 9, I need to:

1. Share five things about myself
2. Share four things on my bucket list
3. Share three things that I hope for this year (as a "person" or educator)
4. Share two things that have made me laugh or cry as an educator
5. Share one thing I wish more people knew about me

Here we go...

1. Five things about myself...

  • I have 2 beautiful kids, Lily and Jackson. They are my motivation to be the best teacher that I can be. I want to be the educator that I would want them to have.
  • I coach the varsity volleyball team. I coached for 3 years before I had Lily. I am in year 2 of my second stint as coach.
  • I try to be a runner. I have gotten better about running as I have gotten older. I am going to be running in a team relay in October.
  • I function best when I am on a schedule. This might be one of the reasons why I love teaching so much.
  • I met my husband at work. I also met my wife there. (This is only sort of a joke.)
2. I don't even think I have a bucket list...but these are the things that I would like to do before I turn 100...
  • Visit more states. I don't want to say all 50, but I just wanted to see more of the country.
  • Travel to Europe. Specifically to England. Specifically to stalk literary sites.
  • Be happy, always.
  • Keep in touch with the people I love. (So, maybe the last two are a little lame and aren't really concrete things to go do, but as I was doing this I realized I don't have some long list of things I feel like I HAVE to do.)
3. Three things I hope for this year...
  • That my learner centered classroom works beyond my expectations.
  • That I stay balanced at home and at school.
  • That I get Jackson fully potty trained and sleeping in his bed all night long.
4. Two things that have made me laugh or cry as an educator...
  • One crying moment: I had a really tough co-teaching experience that just wore me down. I was carrying my load and the co-teacher's load and it was just a huge burden. I definitely broke down crying in my classroom when that was happening.
  • One laughing moment: A lot of things make me laugh. One moment isn't particularly educational, but it is funny. When I was pregnant with Lily one of my students who was sitting in the front row of the room blurted out, "OH NO! I am in the splash zone!" I replied, "What do you mean, splash zone?" He replied, "If your water breaks! I AM IN THE FRONT ROW!" I told him I would get him a raincoat.
5. I wish more people knew that I work so hard at my job because I believe the students who I teach deserve a fair chance at a good, solid education. I also believe that each student who I teach needs an adult in his/her corner. Sometimes balancing my job and my home life means late nights and long days, or dragging my kids to school for another function, but I believe it's worth it. I don't believe I am sacrificing one thing for another by being involved at school. I love my work. I love my family. I am so lucky that I can make both worlds work.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Day 8 of Reflective Teaching...and no pictures yet...

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

I really had to think about this one. Probably my greatest accomplishment was being named the OM Teacher of the Year this past year, but after that was in the newsletter, most of my colleagues know that (although, you all might not know that!).

I think my biggest accomplishment was getting through my 11th grade class this past year. It was a tough class. I had a really challenging 11th grade class of mostly boys. They all knew each other, they were all (mostly) friends, and they liked to push buttons. It took the entire year to really figure out how to best handle those guys. I worked so hard for that class. I changed lessons, modified EVERYTHING to try and break through to them. By the end of the year I had kids asking to be in honors. I moved at least 3 students up to honors, and I am happy to say, almost every student passed (the ones who didn't were attendance problems)...and they didn't just pass with Ds...they passed with Bs and As. There were days when I felt like I could walk of of my room in tears, but I pushed through each class and worked my hardest to teach them. In the end, it all worked out. I forged some really solid relationships with some of my students, which is really the greatest accomplishment. I think my biggest accomplishments and successes are the ones where I can break through with a kid. Those are the moments that truly count.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reflective Teaching: Day 7

Guess what? I still haven't uploaded those pictures! I am clearly on my A-game with this...

Because of my lack of picture uploading, I will move on to the next Reflective Teaching challenge. My reflection today: What's in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from those contents?

Haha. This makes me laugh. Which drawer? What time of year? When I was pregnant with Jackson, I tore through my desk in the office and cleaned it out right before period 1. I didn't finish. I had to leave it a mess and go teach. I did finish during period 2. Nesting at its finest.

Anyway, that wasn't the question. If you look in any of my desk drawers you will find some assortment of the following:

Post-it notes
Binder clips
Hall passes
Staples and Stapler
Tape and dispenser
Tide To-Go Pen
Gum and/or mints
Tylenol or Motrin
Stamps and ink
Keys (coaching keys, usually)
Masking tape
Hair product
Small brush

I am sure I am forgetting things, but you get the gist. I have a lot of school supplies and a lot of medical and beauty aids. So the school supplies are fairly self-explanatory...I teach...I need things to write notes on, to write with, and to generally keep the administrative side of my job together. I have medicine because sometimes you just don't feel well, but you still need to get it together and work. And, secret, it's easier to go to school sick than to make sub plans. If I can pull it together, I will be at school. Most of the beauty products come out when I have parent conferences or back to school night. After a long day teaching I generally need a touch up before meeting with parents (or other important people). The Tide-to-Go is because I spill things. The Band-Aids are because I get a lot (and I mean a lot) of paper cuts.

Now, I do have all of the things I need, so I suppose you could say I am always prepared; however, they are in total disarray, so I am a little disorganized. I find my desk drawers are where that ends. I try to keep (and generally do keep) everything else fairly organized and in place. At the beginning of the year, my desk drawers are usually clean and organized, but they devolve over the course of the year. Honestly, I rarely venture in them unless I really need something. The things I need (pen, classroom key, ID, etc) are in my bag or around my neck. If they aren't...that's means I left them at home...and that is when I really have a bad day!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reflective Teaching: Day 6

I still didn't upload classroom pictures, so I am tackling the day 7 question for day 6...

Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

This is one loaded question. I have so many current and former colleagues who I really admire and respect. It is hard to narrow my answer down to one colleague. I can only pick one colleague, though, so I will do just that. The colleague that is and was the most inspiring to me is Cindy. Cindy was the long-time health/PE teacher at OM. In addition to teaching, she coached the allied teams and advised SADD. She retired this year after a long recovery from a car accident. Her spirit will be impossible to replace- she exuded enthusiasm, joy, and happiness. Her students loved her. They trusted her. She is the teacher that you remember long after you graduate; and, if you become a teacher she is the one that you point to and say, "I teach now because of her." Cindy was simply amazing and extremely inspirational. I am so glad that I was able to be her colleague for eight years.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Reflective Teaching: Day 5

So, I had to switch days 5 and 6 because day 5 asked me to post pictures of my classroom, which I haven't uploaded to my computer. I will do those tomorrow when it's not 10:00 at night. That said, tonight my question is:

What does a good mentor "do"?

A mentor is a person who can guide another in the right direction. She provides support, and that support can take many forms-- academic, social, emotional, etc... She can see strengths in the person she's mentoring and bring out the best of those strengths, but she can also see the weaknesses and help fill those holes. She knows when to push and when hold on a bit longer. She is honest. This might be the most important trait. Honesty can tell a person when they are in over their head. It can also tell a person when maybe the job choice isn't the right one. A mentor needs to be able to have these conversations because without them, the mentor would be leading the person they are mentoring down the wrong path.

I mentor my students, I guide them through my English class, and I also think (I hope) I give them guidance through their dramatic and complicated (sometimes truly complicated, sometimes teenage complicated) lives.

I also mentor new teachers (well, teacher interns who will be new to the job). This is definitely the harder mentoring job because I have to help prepare new teachers for the workforce. I have to know when to give them a push, or hold on a bit longer. I have to be really honest about their work and their performance. It's such a delicate balance, but it very important work.

Sometimes, I think (I hope), I mentor my co-workers. Maybe not through everything, but through the areas that they might need help in. I know they mentor me. Teaching itself is evolving learning. Every year, every day, really, I evolve as a teacher. By mentoring others, I am learning. By accepting guidance from my peers, I am learn. I live for that stuff. I love to teach, and I love to share it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Reflective Teaching Challenge: Day 4!

Day 4 challenge: What do you love the most about teaching?

I love my students. I love that they challenge me, surprise me, and encourage me. They can be crazy and silly or they can be serious and studious. I come to work every single day because I know my students need me to be there. Now, they are teenagers, so they can push my buttons. They know how to drive me crazy and make me mad and can definitely frustrate me.

But they are also kind. And caring. And smart. And talented.

Some of my students have experienced hardships that I cannot even imagine. Some of my students are gifted beyond measure. Some of my students simply surprise me at every turn. I love being involved at school because I know I am working to make the experiences of my students, better ones. Experiences that they deserve to have.

My absolute favorite teaching moments are when students engage in fantastic, thought-provoking conversations, or when they execute the perfect homecoming decor, or when they win a tough volleyball game. I love watching them grow and learn and dream. I love watching them graduate.

So, my students. They are what I love about teaching.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reflective Teaching: Day 3

Day 3: Discuss one observation area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

So, in my school district our evaluations are made up of two parts: our SLO (student learning outcome) and our actual evaluation based on the Danielson framework. I do fine on the evaluation and regularly get effectives and highly effectives in each of the domains. This year, had I gotten one point higher on my SLO, I would have gotten a highly effective overall, but, alas, I did not. SLOs are just not my thing. I am really good at tracking data, but it's hard figuring out the appropriate percentages for the SLO and to even figure out what the SLO should measure. 

In English, I find it really hard because I measure so much on growth. I might have a student start really, really low, but grow a lot of the course of the year, to somewhere in the middle. Our SLOs are supposed to be rigorous and push our students (and ourselves) to do better. Sometimes, though, for my students doing really well, doesn't look rigorous on paper. 

My summative year was last year (read: year that counts for my evaluations), so that gives me two years to really work on writing SLOs. I want my SLOs to be rigorous and to be meaningful (there are teachers who create ridiculous SLOs that have no rigor and don't hold students accountable for anything just so they can get highly effectives). I think that working on this area of my evaluation will be one of my major goals for this year. I also hope to be a department chair in the near future, so working on this area will be helpful when I am working with my future department.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Teaching Reflection: Day 2

Day 2

Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you’re hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

This year I am going to try integrating Google Communities into my AP class as an online forum. I want my class to be able to communicate about texts outside of the classroom and I think the format of Google Communities will allow them to do just that. I hope they will integrate video, text, images, etc...into postings about pop-culture, novels, pieces of non-fiction that they are reading, etc...into order to create community and work on writing (and analyzing). I am hoping to truly extend learning beyond the classroom in a meaningful and engaging way for my AP students. I also think it will be a lot of fun to see what they can come up with!

Monday, August 3, 2015

I am stealing from Sarah. What's new?

Hi guys! I am back. That's right...two days of blogging IN A ROW. I just put the finishing touches on a presentation that I am giving tomorrow, so I decided to not think about how nervous I am by blogging...

My BFF/work wife Sarah is doing a teaching reflection 30 day challenge over on Grover's Corner. I am totally stealing it. Teachers are extremely gifted at stealing, so I figured, why not? Seems like a good challenge to prepare and focus before I head back to class.

Reflective Teaching (here is where Sarah stole from...)

Day 1: Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you'd like to be!

1. Find balance. This year, especially this fall, I am going to be really busy. I coach volleyball, co-advise SGA, and am running two committees. Fall is a big season for SGA (homecoming, spirit week, etc...) and volleyball obviously eats up a lot of time during the first quarter. Finding balance with teaching, grading, planning, coaching, advising, parenting, wife-ing, always a bit of a challenge. I know I will find balance and hit a groove, but I need to maintain some sanity while in the process of doing that.

2. Launch enrichment. This year, I am helping on a teacher-led committee to launch an enrichment program at school. It's a big undertaking, but I am really excited for this opportunity. I think my school will benefit so much from the program and hope it launches the way we envision it.

3. Get learner-centered. Sarah and I started musing about this last year, and we continue to discuss the ways we want to manipulate our classrooms. Elementary classrooms are so vibrant with stations and reading centers and comfy seating. Then, you get to high school where things are, well, not like that. I want to create a space that students can really make their own and feel comfortable learning in. I also want to work on creating centers where students can work cooperatively. I think this is definitely do-able, but I need to find some resources in order to execute the vision. Sarah and I are going to be hitting Ikea soon to scout out some deals on ways to transform our rooms. I think step 1 is getting rid of the good old teacher desk...which means cleaning out said desk...

I always hate saying goodbye to summer and my days as a stay at home mom, but I love welcoming school because I thrive on a schedule. I also love getting back into my classroom (and seeing my friends...). I am hoping this year sets the tone for the direction in which I wish to take my teaching. I can't believe I am entering my 9th year!

See you tomorrow for day 2!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Exploring Austin, Enjoying Summer, and Back to Teacher Mode...

I have been quite the lazy blogger this summer. I love blogging, but I love spending time with my family even more (and leisure reading, I love that, too!), so the blog has taken a backseat. I have been busy lately, enjoying summer, but also preparing for the new school year. This summer feels like the shortest summer I've had (as a teacher). From July 22-25 I was in Austin, TX at the National AP Conference. I teacher AP English Language and Composition, and attended the conference last year. The idea of traveling to Austin was exciting and I loved the conference last year, so I knew I wanted to go back.

To start-- we (my husband, who also teaches AP traveled with me...and we went with a group from our school district) were scheduled to take off at 1:10pm. We pulled out...and pulled right back in. The airplane had a maintenance light turn on and it needed to be checked. That check turned into a hour delay, which meant we were bumped to a later non-stop 9:50pm. This later flight meant we got to really got to know the airport. Southwest did give us food vouchers and flight vouchers for the inconvenience. While the delay was annoying, it did give us the opportunity to get to know our colleagues, and that was very nice.

Austin itself was a beautiful city. It was very warm (ok, hot), but the city was open, uncrowded, walkable, and interesting. We enjoyed two awesome dinners (Stubb's BBQ was amazing!) and walked around the eclectic area of South Congress. We also enjoyed Gourdough's doughnuts, which were delicious (I had the Nutty Valentine-- a hot doughnut with Nutella and strawberries). Austin is definitely a city I would love to travel back to and really have time to explore. We really snuck in time between sessions and after the conference ended for the day. I could really use a few days to fully explore everything.

The conference itself was really good (again!). The keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, was engaging and interesting. His thought provoking keynote about education and creativity really set the tone for the conference. I tried to vary the sessions that I attended, and enjoyed each one for different reasons. My favorite session was on the power of 2. Basically, getting a 2 (out of 5) on the AP exam indicates that the student is possibly qualified for college. The teacher who led the session teaches in the inner city and most of her kids get 2s. She teaches an extremely challenging group of kids and has to fight to get counselors to put kids into AP. Her students get 2s, but almost all go to college and do extremely well. She spoke about the importance of having the opportunity to just take an AP course and how the challenge of the course prepares students for academics beyond high school.

The conference was excellent, yet again, and got me thinking about what I want to accomplish this year with AP. Continuing with my preparations, I went back-to-school classroom shopping with my BFF/work-wife, Sarah. She is going with a chalkboard theme for her room, I chose a paint/rainbow theme for mine. I am really excited to put my room together this year. I am working toward creating a student centered learning space, so I am thinking beyond desks and chairs and traditional, and looking toward stations, beanbags, exercise balls, standing centers...etc...I am really excited to pick up a few more furniture items for my room. I got my class lists, and, right now my classes are definitely manageable (for now...I know this will change). I am really looking forward to the year and the changes it will bring!

I will post tomorrow...I have so many other back-to-school things to share. Lots of changes will be happening this year, but they are all very exciting!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer is busy!


Summer is busy.

It's good busy though. I have a few minutes to update the blog, so I figured I would do a quick "this is what we've been up to" update.

Let's see...we just celebrated July 4th. We started the long weekend with a trip to see the Frederick Keys play. The game was fun, and the kids did a great job (for their first ball game). Jack ate his weight in French fries and Lily thoroughly enjoyed popcorn. There was a carousel for the kids, and they rode that twice. There was also one of those long slides that you usually find in places like Pump It Up. Lily really wanted to go down it, so we got her a ticket and she climbed the whole thing by herself and then came down on her own. The coming down was more of falling and tumbling down the slide, but she did it...and wanted to do it again. The second time she did a much better job coming down. She told us the first time she didn't really sit, but the second time she did. Silly girl! After the game they had fireworks, which were awesome. They were really loud, which scared Jack a bit, but Lily was mesmerized.

The next day was the 4th of July. We got up early and went to the Dundalk Heritage Parade. The weather held until the last 10 minutes of the parade, when it started to rain. The kids were troopers, though, and did a great job with the parade and the rain. We got home and relaxed for a while before heading to the Catonsville parade. We are within walking distance to the parade, so we walked and the kids fell asleep. They slept through the fire engines (shocking!) and then proceeded to sleep through basically the entire parade. Tom and I enjoyed a peaceful viewing of the parade, which was very nice. After eating dinner with my parents (ribs, corn, and potato salad...yummy!) we headed to the fireworks. Tired Jackson fell asleep mid-fireworks, but Lily made it through the whole show. She was very excited that she didn't need to cover her ears. All-in-all we had a very nice 4th of July.

Sunday we caught up with some friends at the family shore house. We played outside, went fishing, and had a delicious lunch. In the evening we got together with our friend, Mike, to watch the US women defeat Japan in soccer. The game was awesome!

Monday, our friend Mindi stayed over because she was headed to Hawaii and was leaving from BWI. We got to catch up and have dinner together. In the words of Lily she "had a sleepover" and then Tom took her to BWI Tuesday morning for her flight.

We have been getting in daily walks, which has been very nice. I have been experimenting with some different recipes, which has been fun. I love that I have more time to cook in the summer! We are going to be equally busy in the coming weeks as we've been for the past few. We are really trying to do new things and enjoy the summer. Having the time off with the kids has been great!

Friday, June 19, 2015

On the eve of 4...

Dear Lily,

Tomorrow, you turn 4. Four years ago, at 6:09am, you made your entrance into this world. You made me a mom. We have never looked back.

I love you, little girl, more today than I did the day you took your first breath. Every single day I fall in with you over and over again. You have the sweetest smile, the funniest expressions, and the sassiest attitude. You are 4 going on 30. You talk more than mommy and daddy combined, which is a huge accomplishment because, let's face it, mommy and daddy love to talk.

You can get very frustrated. Very upset. Very mad. You wear every single emotion on your sleeve. When you are happy, you are the happiest kid on the planet. When are are angry, you are the grumpiest kid on the planet. You are so thankful for everything. You get a sticker from mommy and it's like receiving a diamond necklace.

This year you have learned to share so much better with your brother. The relationship you share with Jackson is the sweetest, most loving relationship I have ever witnessed. When he is upset he runs to you. Just last night, after Jacob left, Jack ran to you, hugged you and said "I miss Jacob!" You do such a good job consoling him (sometimes, too good a job mothering him...). You teach him new things every day and he loves to learn from you. I hoped you would teach him to use the potty; however, tonight you said, "Mom, I just can't train Jackson. I think you need to do that." I am so glad that you love each other and care for one another. It does my heart good to see the two of you share your love.

I hope that you have a fantastic 4. You are smart and kind and compassionate. You love to mother your babies, which is super sweet. I hope that you continue to learn and grow in your passions. I will do my best to nurture your curiosity and answer all of the questions you throw my way (and there are a lot of questions!). I will love you every single minute of every single day. I will give you what you need, but not always what you want (sorry, kid).

Four will be a big year. You will end your time at the pre-school you love and move to the ranks of a kindergartner by the end of next school year. An you will undoubtedly continue to amaze me in everything you do.

I love you to the moon and back.

Your mama, xoxo

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thanks for the Memories

I know, I know, all of my posts have been about Mrs. Kenney. It's been easier to process this by writing about it and talking about it, so write and talk I will.

Yesterday was the funeral. I knew it would be hard. I also knew I needed to grieve with my SK family. I had the opportunity to do just that, ugly cry and all. My heart goes out to Mrs. Kenney's family-- for as broken-hearted as I feel, I know they are feeling this in an even deeper, more acute way. I thank them for sharing her with the world, and, especially, with SK.

The funeral was harder than I imagined it would be. The minute the choir started singing the Irish blessing, I knew I wouldn't be able to keep any emotion in check. I don't think there was a dry eye in the church.

I know, moving forward, the pain of Mrs. Kenney's loss will fade a bit. I know when my own grandparents died the pain of their deaths faded and the memories and love I shared with them replaced any feelings of sadness that lingered. I know there will be little things, like when I think of calling Mrs. Kenney up to schedule a lunch date or look for her at a SK event, that will remind me of that sadness I feel. I also know that the memories and time shared with her will always be with me.

I also know this-- every time I teach, Mrs. Kenney will be right there with me. I know that every school year, I will renew a promise to myself to be a better teacher for my students. I am putting a picture of her in my classroom to remind me of the teacher, and person, that I want to be: one who is selfless, committed, and passionate.

Thanks for everything, Mrs. Kenney.

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world.” -H.D. Thoreau

Monday, June 15, 2015


This past week has been a weird, trying, heart-wrenching week.

Last week, I found out Mrs. Kenney passed away. This weekend was really tough. I know that, eventually, the people who I love and admire and respect will all pass away. I teach English, death is major topic of discussion in my line of work (please see every work in the English 10 curriculum). I just don't think we are ever ready to face death when it actually happens. This loss was sudden and unexpected, which only makes it more difficult.

Additionally, the people who I would mourn with, my fellow SK alum and friends, aren't around. They are in a Facebook kind of way, but not in a I can hug you now kind of way. I think that makes this all the harder because mourning, I think, needs to be done collectively. Our memories. Our love. Our loss. I am attending a viewing tomorrow evening and will be going to her funeral on Wednesday. I am hoping that I will be able to find some peace, and some closure, by going and by seeing some old, familiar faces.

Today, I wore my class ring for the first time in ages. First of all, my ring is MUCH heavier than I remembered. My right ring finger got a serious workout. Secondly, I still love that there is a miraculous medal inside the ring. I adore Mary. Seriously adore her. So having that medal in the ring is something very special. I decided to wear my ring to have some physical connection to SK. Mrs. Kenney so loved teaching and SK, and any little physical manifestation of my connection to the women who I attended school with and the faculty who taught me somehow brings some comfort to me.

Moving on...I said this week was weird. The week is all of 2 days old, so I know it still has some time to prove otherwise, but this time of year is always a little strange to me. A time of transitions and letting go and farewells. Today, we said farewell to our retirees and to some of the faculty members who are moving on to other schools. Our health and PE teacher, Cindy, retired after 30+ years of service to the county. It was a joyful celebration of her teaching career, and, really, her life as she survived a terrible car accident the first week back to school (that forced her to take this year off in order to heal). Cindy is just an amazing spirit. She is a teacher who truly connects with students and brings out the best in them. She coached allied teams for a number of years and was such a gifted teacher and coach for her allied players. Her presence at school will surely be missed.

This week, I will also say farewell to my department chair, 9th grade team member, and friend. Becky hired me 8 years ago this past May. We hit it off fairly immediately and the rest is really history. I have been completely blessed to work with, and for, her. She threw leadership opportunities my way almost the minute I walked in the door. She allowed me to flex my teaching muscles with GT and AP classes...and with Accelerated English...but I can forgive her for that. When I needed to cry she let me cry, when I need to be crazy she let me be that, too (she gave me weird looks, but she let me be crazy). She was one of the first people to know that I was pregnant with Lily, and then, later, with Jackson. She's been supportive, and encouraging, and really what I needed a DC to be as I entered the teaching profession. She isn't going too far, just to a neighboring high school (that is really less than 5 minutes from where I teach), which is oddly comforting. I will be sad to see her go, but I know we will maintain our friendship, and, I am sure will still get in our planning together.

So that is my weird, trying, heart wrenching...crap-it's-only-Monday week. I am sort of all over the place with the emotions because the week is always an emotional week. There is some act of catharsis in the wrapping up of a school year, which is really amplified by the other events surrounding this week.

As a side-note....It did occur to me, though, that Mrs. Kenney's passing couldn't have happened at a more appropriate time of the year. The end of a school year. The consummate teacher finding the end of her earthly life at the end of a school year. I don't think she could have planned that better.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mrs. Kenney

Yesterday, my warm-up for freshman seminar read, "Write about a teacher who inspired you. What about him or her was so inspirational?" I gave my students some time to write and then asked for contributions.

I waited...

...and waited...

...and waited.


Finally, after the requisite wait time (the awkward time), I volunteered my own contribution, hoping that, maybe, it would give the kids some reason to talk. Of course, I talked about Mrs. Kenney.

Mrs. Kenney was my 10th grade American Literature teacher. I entered her class quite intimidated by her; she had been my CCD teacher at church and called me Rachel all the time, despite my name actually being Emily. She also thought, for a very long time, that my dad was a priest. Fast-forward a few years-- 10th grade English and I got a 48% I got on a vocabulary test. Mrs. Kenney kept me after class and said, "Emily, is this going to be a trend?" Let's just say, it wasn't a trend.

I remember so much from that 10th grade year, most memorably-- that you should never go behind the barn, never drink blood in the woods, and that King George III was "crazy as a hooty owl". I read, and wrote, and worked and fell in love with literature in a very profound way. As a 10th grader, I knew what I wanted to be: I wanted to be a teacher.

Mrs. Kenney clearly loved teaching. She was funny. She was smart. She was engaging. She was the teacher you read about in novel or see in a movie. She also clearly loved SK. She was at every event. She advised the yearbook. She always coordinated senior class events including prom and graduation. And at graduation she was also hiding on the sidelines, a glimmer in her eyes. She was always proud of her girls.

When I graduated, I remember returning my gown to her. I hugged her and simply said thank-you. She pulled back, looked at me, and said, "no, Em, thank you". Those words have been with ever since that day. And, now, as a teacher I more clearly understand the meaning. I now know that for every lesson I teach my students, they teach me 100 more.

It's because of Mrs. Kenney that I decided to teach English. Tenth grade American Literature opened a door for me, and I have never looked back. I work, every day, to be half of the teacher and mentor that Mrs. Kenney was. Knowing that I won't see her again, or speak with her's heartbreaking. When I posted on Facebook about her passing, one of my friends wrote, "What a great lady and mentor, and you can pass her on to others". I hope I am, and I hope I can. My American Literature class surely knows about crazy old King George and they definitely know that you should, never, under any circumstances, go behind the barn.

Mrs. Kenney, thank you for the lessons you taught me. Thank you for being a mentor, a mom, a friend, and a teacher to the thousands of young women who you educated. I am glad to have known you. I am better having known you. Rest in eternal peace.

Friday, May 22, 2015

It's been...well...too long

I know, I win the award for worst blogger ever. Here's the thing, when you work a full time job, have two full time kids, and need to find time to sleep, it leaves little time to blog. We have had a busy spring, which has been a blessing-- get us to summer a little faster-- and a curse-- we have little time to catch our breath. Tom's playing in a softball league, he coached the high school team (the season ended in early May), we worked on SGA initiatives, I took on some new commitments at work, and the kids were, well, the crazy kids.

Today was Lily's last day of 3-year-old school. She brought home a piece of artwork with an inchworm on it that said she grew 3.5 inches since school started in September. It's amazing she grew so much taller, but what's more amazing is the way she is growing as a kid. Traces of toddlerhood are gone, and in their place is a little girl. She loves Peter Pan (still!), she loves to draw and paint, she loves to read, or try to read (and is learning a little more each day!), and she loves to play outside. She is so smart. And I don't mean that in an "I am her mom, and my child is a genius" way, but she is very smart. She is sensitive. She is caring. She nurtures her babies. She asks daily for a new real baby in our house. She loves her brother. She throws crazy, epic, dramatic tantrums, then turns around and apologizes for her fit. She loves school and her best friend, Evelyn. She won't be in Evelyn's class this summer, and that is devastating to her. She will, somehow, be four in mere weeks. She is beautiful. She is amazing.

Then there is my little Jack-man. Well, my not-so-little Jack-man. He is a full blown toddler. He is the craziest kid I have ever met. He is insanely silly and knows how to work a room. His hair has full blown, insane, unruly blond curls on his head. He flirts with all the ladies. He plays hard. Makes big messes. He talks all the time, but half of that is parroting what everyone else is saying. He is tall. Almost as tall as Lily. He is heavy. Almost as heavy as Lily. He is basically the size of a 4 year old with a baby face. He has been waiting his whole life to go to school with Lily. He loves to swing outside and swing "I high as a bird!" He loves to dig in the sand. He loves his big girl crush, Abby. He is so funny. He has silly bucky teeth from his love of his pash (he gave that to the Easter bunny). He loves his sister. He loves babies. He is cute. He is joyful. He is my little snickerdoodle.

This last month has been busy. I am glad we are winding down the school year and that summer is on the way. I will be starting another grad class and have two or three school projects to work on over the summer months.  I know the summer will fly by, so I am going to work on enjoying the build up to those gloriously long, warm days. I might even try to update this blog a little more often!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore, students, and making a difference

Yesterday, I wanted desperately to write about the Baltimore riots. The city that I called home for 6 years (I have lived in the Baltimore suburbs all of my life, but lived in the city for college and two years after) was experiencing turmoil and chaos after looting, property destruction, and fires were set in the wake of the Freddie Gray funeral. I decided to wait to write because it's easy to get caught up in emotions, and truly, my emotions were mixed. I put my two babies to bed with prayers for guidance and strength, but also with prayers of thanks that they are too young to understand any of what is going on. Most immediately, my thoughts turned to my students, some of whom have family members in friends who live, work, and go to school in the effected areas of the city. How would I face them with the assurance that they would need when I felt so unsure myself?

Those concerns were quickly put to rest as I listened to our students articulate their thoughts and emotions about what had happened in the city. Some felt angry and frustrated, but many felt sad and upset over the acts of violence that occurred. I was impressed by our students willingness to speak out for peace and justice in front of their peers, administrators, teachers, and community members. Our administration included community members, including parents, to the town hall held during period 1, so that they could express their thoughts, as well. I heard parents speak of how scared they are for their children. I watched small acts of bravery and courage as one-by-one students took the mic and talked. It felt safe. It felt open. It felt peaceful.

My third period class was light, only 6 students were there out of the 17 I normally teach. I didn't want to introduce Romanticism and Realism, so I decided to show them The Freedom Writer's Diary. It seemed timely as the story of Erin Gruwell and her students took place after the 1992 LA Riots. Toward the end of the section that we viewed, one of Gruwell's students reads an entry from his diary about the horrible summer that he had. He concludes the entry by saying that being welcomed back to school by his teachers and his classmates made him feel like he was home. One of my students came up to me, tears in her eyes, and said, "That part, it just reminded me of you and Mrs. Hohlfeld*. You guys make this feel like home for me, too." Well, if that doesn't just get a teacher to tear up, I am not sure what will.

My hope in all of this is that students do find sanctuary in their school. I want my students to feel included, needed, and, honestly, loved. I do value each of them for different reasons and in different ways. I hope my classroom can be that place where their voices can be heard and they can feel at home. In this time of change and turmoil, I believe that many students need this now more than ever. This is why I teach. It's why I love my job. I hope that, moving forward, Baltimore can rebuild itself and become a stronger city. I think with the voices of the kids that I witnessed it, it certainly can.

*Sarah Hohlfeld is my teaching neighbor, twin, and BFF. We have been told by multiple students that we should team teach because it would be the greatest class ever. We are certain it is really because of our awesome dancing skills.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lily's First Movie!

Today, I took Lily to see her first movie in the theater. I believe she thought Cinderella would be a live show, like a Broadway production, so she was very confused at the enormous "TV screen" in the theater. Before we went to the movie, I picked her up from school and we went to the mall for lunch. Of course, Lily barely ate anything because we needed to get to the movie, so we were very early for our 2pm showing. Lily decided she wanted popcorn because "you always eat popcorn at movies" and she also picked out M&Ms (which went untouched), while I chose Raisinets because I never eat them and I wanted her to try them (after telling me they were ick she basically ate the entire box...she also ate the whole bag of popcorn and whenever I tried to eat some, she would yell at me to stop eating).

The previews before the movie are really the thing that stuck with Lily because they previewed the movie Pan. A few weeks ago I wrote about Lily's love of Peter Pan and the preview basically blew her away. All she can talk about is going back to the movies to see Pan. The movie itself looks awesome, though I fear she might find it a bit scary. We are going to see what it's rated to determine if it is ok for her to see in the theater. She generally isn't easily scared and she loves Peter Pan so much, I think she would be crushed to not see the movie at the movies.

Anyway, we saw the live action Cinderella and we both loved it. I cried probably an inappropriate amount (because there was a lot of death and that was quite sad), but it was just lovely. The sweeping scenes were beautiful and the whole Cinderella transformation was breath-taking (seriously, I cried when she was transformed into the "princess" in the magnificent dress, but was equally impressed with her wedding gown at the end of the movie--it was gorgeous). The step-mother was awesomely wicked and the step-sisters were perfectly ridiculous and Cinderella was good and lovely. As it should be. Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother might have been the most spectacular godmother ever! Her outfit and quirkiness were just perfect!

The thing I found most lovely about the movie was that I never felt like Cinderella needed saving. She lived on the motto, "Have courage, be kind" that her mother told her (on her death bed, I might add, cue tears...) and it truly carried her throughout the movie. Prince Charming (Kit, in the movie) didn't swoop in and save her from the wickedness of her step-family; she saved herself by being a good and loving person. She was portrayed so beautifully. The Prince finds her lovely partially for her looks (she is beautiful), but he constantly talks about how good she is. Her goodness gives her beauty.

All-in-all, Lily and I had a great time together. She did a great job during the movie and promptly fell asleep in the car on the way home. I can't wait for our next movie together!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mid-Week Confessions (and some Easter pics)

I decided I have a little time this week to do some updating, so I decided to do mid-week confessions and post a few Easter pictures.

1. I am tired of technology. Funny, since I am writing this on a computer. Really, I am mostly tired of social media, and I am considering a summer long hiatus. We will see how that pans out. I don't want to raise tech crazed kids (I see enough kids who are tech crazed at school...) and I want to take steps to make sure that they aren't worshiping at the altar of the selfie.

2. I want to simplify my life. I suppose this goes with #1. Today, the kids toys just seemed overwhelming. All of the stuff we own seems overwhelming. I want to seriously purge what we don't need and don't use. I think it would save a lot of space and probably provide enough for another family of 4.

3. I hate allergies. That isn't so much a confession, that is really just a statement (as spring is blooming (finally) and my allergies slowly begin to assert themselves).

4. I was reading an article earlier and one of the point in the article was about people who post too much about their sex life on social media. I second that. I have read blogs from married women who share details of their sex life. The whole world doesn't need to know what happens in the bedroom. Tell your best friend on girls night, not the people who you barely know on Blogger/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. I blame this on Carrie Bradshaw. Thanks, Carrie.

And now...a few Easter pictures (because two separate posts is just asking far too much right now). We had a very nice Easter-- breakfast with my parents, then to church, then back to my parents for a late lunch/early dinner with my family. Lily and Jack LOVED their gifts from the Easter bunny and had great fun with their cousins. All-in-all a very successful holiday! Oh yeah, and Jack got rid of his pacifiers!