Posted in Teaching

Year 15: What I’ve Learned, Where I Am, What I Hope

Version 2
Year 1

Tomorrow I begin my fifteenth year of teaching 7th grade English, so naturally some reflection is in order. Last weekend I reminisced about my previous years of teaching on Twitter. (You can see the thread by searching #teacherlife #year15.) But now that the first day with students is almost here, I’m trying to compress all those memories into what really matters. To do that, I’m asking myself three questions:

* What have I learned from my years in the classroom?
* Where am I in my career?
* What do I hope for this school year?

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

Some Things I’ve Learned

* Note: I did not learn these lessons the easy way.

  • Kids will see through you, so don’t try to be something you’re not or sell something you don’t believe in. There’s no point pretending you’re a scary teacher to be feared if you’re really a softie who’s not going to follow through on discipline, and there’s no point pretending you care about the students if you’re not going to back it up with genuine compassion. They know. There’s also no point trying to pretend a lesson or assignment is important if it’s not. Seventh graders can spot a fake. So what do you do? Be yourself. (A professional, positive, best-version of yourself.) Show them your rules are meant to be followed by giving consistent, fair consequences for misbehavior, but also be kind. In other words, ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE STUDENTS. If you don’t, find another job. And call a spade a spade. Once in a while, teachers have to make students do an assignment or activity that just isn’t a good use of their time. Own up to it and explain that this is how life works sometimes, and promise them that when it’s your choice, you will always give them work that matters. Then follow through on that promise. If a student doesn’t understand why something is important, explain it to them. If you can’t explain it to them, reevaluate it.
  • Sometimes the students who drive you the most bonkers on the first day of school are not the ones who are going to drive you bonkers on a regular basis. They’re just so excited about school that they can’t contain themselves on the first day. And that’s really adorable.
  • When light projector bulbs burn out, they sometimes sound like a gunshot.
  • Never underestimate the power of silence. Especially YOURS. Teachers shouldn’t fill every empty space with words. Let your questions sit for a moment before calling on someone to answer. Rather than repeating instructions five times, pause after saying them the first time and let them sink in. To get a chatty class’s attention, don’t talk louder. Whisper. And if finally (FINALLY!) that chatty class calms down and gets quiet and everyone is on task, don’t interrupt to tell them how great they’re doing. Show them with your smile. The school day is often fast-paced, crowded, and noisy. Sadly, teachers are sometimes our own worst behavior problems. Whenever possible, don’t add to all that noise. Lead by example, take breaths between speeches, and respect the power of silence.
  • When a student asks you, “Are you cool?” NEVER SAY YES. You’re not. Get over it.
  • My job is impossible. That’s not a hyperbole. Or a metaphor. I’m not whining. I’m not exaggerating. Literally, the number of things that we are asked to do with the number of students we are in charge of in the time that we are in charge of them is impossible. It is as if someone has given us a 1,000-piece puzzle, except there are actually 1,227 pieces in the box, and they still expect us to complete the puzzle. We can complete it (it’s difficult, but we can do it) but there are going to be pieces leftover. That’s just how it is. Deciding which ones to include and which to leave out can cause friction between the teachers and the administration or between the teachers and the district or between the teachers and their loved ones who haven’t seen them in a month because they’ve been spending all their time trying to put together an impossible puzzle. I’ve learned that, in the end, you have to do what’s best for kids. Keep the pieces that matter most. Keep the books and the journals and the lessons that really reach them. Keep the piece with that group project that students still remember years later and the one that makes even struggling readers smile. Some of the pieces you leave out might have important sounding acronyms on them. They might be assessment pieces. One might say, “We know this isn’t part of your curriculum, but could you just find a half hour to…” Leave it out. It’s okay. Yes, you might get questions about those pieces. There might be meetings. There will most certainly be emails. But as long as you’re doing what’s best for kids, you’ll be able to defend your choices and therefore sleep at night. After you finish grading papers.
  • As important as it is to take care of our students, we also have to take care of ourselves. Tucked inside my many spirals and binders and planners this year are notes reminding me to SIT DOWN (what a novel idea) and BREATHE (it’s actually quite useful) and GO HOME EARLY (meaning on time). My goals this year are not about how quickly I will grade papers. They are about how many times I will go to yoga and how many days a week I will leave work at work. This is hard work, this self care stuff. But it’s important work, and the sooner teachers learn that, the better off they will be both in and out of the classroom.
  • Some twelve -year-olds believe if you lose a toe in an accident it will grow back.
  • Lockdown drills are commonplace to today’s kids. They came about during my teaching career. I don’t remember what year they started or what the first one was like, but I do remember speaking calmly to my frightened students and telling them why we needed to practice this (to keep you safe, just in case) while also explaining that there are many reasons to go into a lockdown, and many of them don’t involve a person with a gun. They listened, wide eyed, and asked many questions. My students today have been doing lockdown drills since kindergarten. They have grown up with the term “active shooter.” They are quicker and more efficient at closing the blinds and huddling in the corner of the room than I am. Most are unfazed by the drills. I am not.
  • You shouldn’t yell “Holy crap!” during the first fire drill (or any fire drill really) no matter how loud it is or how badly it scares you. And if you do, you should always be extra kind to the student who says to you, “Don’t worry. ‘Crap’ isn’t a bad word.” (Thanks, kid.)

Where I Am

I am in a very happy place. Teaching is a hard job anywhere, but I am so fortunate to be in a good school with great students and an amazing faculty. My teammates are the best you could ask for– hard working, caring, supportive, and (most importantly) hilarious. I’ve become so close to them, it’s hard to believe I still haven’t known them a full year. I came back to teaching in mid-September last year and spent the next few months playing catch-up. I’m so excited to be able to meet my students on day 1 this year. I know I sound like a giant nerd, but honestly, Monday can’t come soon enough. I’m ready. 🙂

What I Hope

This year, like every year, I have high hopes for my students and myself. I know I can’t do it all. I know plans will go awry, and lessons will flop, and a poster will unstick from the wall and crash down onto a student’s head during a test, but right now none of that has happened yet. Right now, my planner is still neat and tidy, my big ideas still seem possible, and all my glue sticks still have the caps on. Right now, it’s still all going to work out.

IMG_20170810_160854 (1)

Here are a few things I hope for this coming school year:

  • I hope my students are funny.
  • I hope my students think I’m funny.
  • I hope my posters stay stuck to the wall.
  • I hope my books leave my shelves and come back with crumpled covers and soft corners from how much they’ve been read and loved.
  • I hope I earn my students’ trust.
  • I hope I can run an effective reader/writer workshop in a 46-minute period.
  • I hope a desk does not collapse underneath me while I’m sitting on it (like last year).
  • I hope I never mispronounce a student’s name more than once.
  • I hope my classroom will be a safe space for every single person who enters it. I hope its walls keep out the negativity of the whole world.
  • I hope at least once, free breakfast tacos arrive unannounced in the faculty lounge on a day when I have forgotten my breakfast.
  • I hope we get one snow day.
  • I hope my computer does not crash, my projector does not die, and my overhead screen does not fall off (like last year).
  • I hope I don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • I hope, at the end of the school year, every student leaves my class with at least one inspiring lesson or positive memory to carry with them for a long, long time.
  • I hope I leave with a hundred.

 

Posted in Random

Back-to-School Sale at Pumpkins & Poetry!

Happy August, everyone!

(I can say that because right now August is not acting like August. It’s 72 degrees and raining here in Austin, which might be a sign of the end of the world, but I don’t care because it’s nice.)

Anyway…

EtsyLogo

Earlier this summer, I opened an Etsy shop called Pumpkins & Poetry, where I sell decorated journals, fortune-telling games, various objects featuring my cat’s picture, and a few vintage collectibles. If you’re shopping for school supplies, teacher gifts, or a new something snazzy for yourself, you’re in luck because this month I’m having a back-to-school sale! Until September 1, 2017, all you have to do is enter the code BACKTOSCHOOL at checkout, and you’ll receive 15% off your entire order.

Here are a few of my featured items:

* Decorated Journals

These hardback, 190-page notebooks are perfect for writers, teachers, students, and obsessive list-makers like myself. Each design is one of a kind, so if you see one you like, grab it before someone else does!

IMG_20170806_172159.jpg

“8 Signs You’re a Teacher” Journal – $10 + shipping

il_570xN.1232788538_lanp

“To Do List” Journal – $10 + shipping

il_570xN.1280240505_74l3

“Question Everything” Journal – $10 + shipping

To see all my decorated journals, click here

* Toby Gear

Toby is a sweet, adorable, drooly ball of snuggles with a lot of cattitude. He enjoys napping on the couch, posting on Facebook when I’m not looking, and typing cryptic messages into the novel I’m working on. He also looks great on t-shirts and mugs.

il_570xN.1271255251_2pm9

Toby T-shirt – $17 + shipping

il_570xN.1271261183_8bec

Toby Coffee Mug – $14 + shipping

il_570xN.1311300553_3v2j

Toby Journal – $10 + shipping

For more Toby gear, click here.

* Other Cool Stuff

PicMonkey Collage

  • Need a daily dose of advice? Shop my homemade fortune-telling devices and never leave the house again without knowing what the world has in store for you!
  • Looking to add a touch of nostalgia to your kitchen or office decor? Choose from this collection of vintage cloth calendars from the 70s.
  • Did you know Halloween is less than three months away?! Start your costume-planning now with one of these spooky pocket notebooks.

*

Thanks for visiting Pumpkins & Poetry! Don’t forget the BACKTOSCHOOL coupon code when you check out. The 15% off sale ends on September 1st, so hurry! 🙂

Posted in Life, Poetry

Get a Cat (or Don’t)

IMG_20170129_131704

Cats are such a joy.

Usually.

On one hand, they’re adorable.

IMG_20170616_161648
* Love *

And they provide hours of entertainment both in the form of comedy…

CatJokes3
“Mama, I ate ALL the catnip!”

…and drama.

CatCollage3
The Six Stages of a Relationship

But they can also be needy…

IMG_20170619_150733
“Could you bring me a beer?”

…and creepy…

IMG_20170718_230726
She seems to be waiting for something to come out from under the couch. (!!!)

…and owning a cat often means waking up to this:

IMG_20170708_072258
“Good morning. I’ve been grooming your hair while you sleep.”

It’s a tough choice.

Maybe this poem, first published by the Poetry Society of Texas in A Book of the Year 2016, will help you decide if you need a cat. (Or not.)

Get a Cat (or Don’t)
* a series of haiku *

Why you should get a
cat: Explanation for all
those mid-night noises.

Why you shouldn’t get
a cat: The increased number
of mid-night noises.

When the cat doesn’t
help: You hear a noise… the cat’s
sleeping beside you.

When the cat makes it
worse: You hear nothing… the cat
hisses anyway.

Worst possible case:
There is a ghost… the cat likes
it better than you.

What should you do? Get
rid of the cat—problem solved.
Wait… what was that noise?

© Carie Juettner
First place in the Poetry Society of Texas Fill in the Blanks Award, 2015

*

Need a mug with my cat’s mug on it? Or a semi-political cat t-shirt?
Visit my Etsy Shop and click on Toby Gear.