Posted in Teaching, Writing

Happy Spring!

Hello, World! What have you been up to? Me? Oh, the usual… reading, writing, accumulating pet hair on my clothes, and trying to get seventh graders to understand time management and the consequences of their actions. The time management thing would be easier if any of them could actually read an analog clock. [Here’s an idea: Let’s start putting analog clocks side-by-side with digital clocks in the hallways at schools to see if the visual comparison will help kids learn to tell time the old-fashioned way. It couldn’t hurt, right?]

As far as how the whole “actions have consequences” thing is going…

I used to have a cat who was addicted to curly ribbon. A package wrapped with curly ribbon couldn’t be in my house for five minutes before the cat would sniff it out, find it, and devour as much as possible, gagging all the while. I took to hiding my bag of gift-wrapping supplies in the top of my closet to keep the stuff away from him. One day, I couldn’t find Gink. I was looking all around my apartment, calling for him, when I realized… I’d left the closet door open. As I approached the space, I heard rustling sounds. Yep. High up on the shelf in my closet, there was a black tail sticking out of the bag of wrapping paper and ribbons. Having found the mother load, Gink gorged on it until he choked and began throwing up in that horrible unique way of cats. (Cat owners, you know it well. Front legs stiff, chin tucked, eyes bulging, tongue sticking out, sides convulsing, and the tell-tale “huck huck huck” sound.) But this was no ordinary hairball. Gink had swallowed, without chewing, an entire ball of curly ribbon. So when it started coming out, it didn’t stop. Like a terrible magic trick, lengths and lengths of blue plastic ribbon emerged from my cat’s throat, still connected, gagging him more with each heave of his little kitty belly. After a few agonizing minutes, it was all out. My poor, traumatized cat sat panting next to a pile of shiny blue vomit. I stroked his black fur and spoke soothing words into his fuzzy ears. “Poor Ginky. That looked awful. Why would you do such a thing? Do you see now? Do you see what happens when you eat curly ribbon? This is why I keep it away from you.” And as I comforted the poor dumb beast, he knelt down, stretched his neck forward, and tried to eat the pile of blue vomit.

Gink lived to 19 despite his addiction to curly ribbon.

Let’s just say that sometimes my students remind me of that cat. No forethought. No planning. Very little self control. For some of them, the curly ribbon is procrastination. For others, it’s online games on their school computers. For a few, it is the deep, unending NEED to reach across and poke the person in the desk next to them, over and over and over, for absolutely no reason.

Anyway, we’ll continue to work on it.

That’s not even what I came here to blog about today.

Spring has sprung, bringing all the usual delights: longer days, warmer weather, evil flowers, ghosts, and, of course, mummies.

Beware of Flowers

Today, I decided to celebrate the warm spring weather by going on a hike. Along the trail, I spotted these beautiful blooms and wanted to take pictures of them. Little did I know, I was falling right into their trap. When I knelt down to snap a photo of these pretty pink flowers, the dying cactus next to them stabbed me. Either that, or I was attacked by the world’s tiniest porcupine. Either way, I stood up with a finger full of thorns that I had to pluck out. Ouch! Beware of beauty. It bites.

Ghosts

If you think spirits only haunt in October, you’re wrong. I’m proud to announce that I’m writing my third book in the Spooky America series. The Ghostly Tales of Burlington will hit the shelves this fall. Since I have a day job and my own moderate case of curly-ribbon-esque procrastination on the weekends, I tend to do most of my writing late at night and, let me tell you, some of the stories in this Burlington book gave me the shivers, even though it’s nowhere near Halloween. The tales in this collection are so creepy, I may have to head to Vermont to check out some of these haunted places firsthand. Who wants to come with me?

In the meantime, you can still buy my first two Spooky America books. The Ghostly Tales of New England and The Ghostly Tales of Austin are available on Amazon, but if you order from me, I’ll send you a signed copy. $12 for one copy, or $20 for two. You can pay me via PayPal (@ cariejuettner) or Venmo (@Carie-Juettner). Just fill out this form to send me your address and the names of the person/people/pets you want the books signed to.

March Mummies

And last, but not least, springtime really wouldn’t be complete without a mention of mummies, right? On March 16th, Daily Science Fiction published my punny piece titled “20 Signs Your Neighbor Might Be a Mummy.” Check it out, and be sure to click the “Display Entire Story” button at the bottom to see the whole thing.

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That’s it. That’s what I’ve been up to. Reading, writing, teaching, getting stabbed by plants, and determining whether or not my neighbors are mummies. Oh, and I also celebrated my dog’s 11th birthday. How cute is this good boy?

Posted in Teaching

A Year Like No Other

This school year was truly like no other. I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to write about it, what to say. Sometimes I wonder if I need to say anything at all. I mean, we know. We all know what a disaster this year has been. I’m tired of talking about the pandemic. Tired of asking, “Pfizer or Moderna?” Tired of answering, “Yeah, we’re starting to go out again but still taking it slow.” Tired of nodding and agreeing and commiserating and rehashing. We all need some new conversation topics. But I also feel like I have to say something about this school year, reflect on it as a whole, for myself if no one else. But how? How to sum up? It can’t be summed up.

My 2020-2021 Teaching Timeline: (Click to enlarge)

* Note: I just realized I left off the two weeks during the second semester when my coworker had to be out unexpectedly to take care of her sick mother, and I had to take on one of her classes. Those were the weeks when I had over 50 students in my 3rd period Zoom classes.

They say the devil is in the details, and it is true of this year. The hardship wasn’t in the accumulation of months; it was in the weekly changes, the daily obstacles, the nightly eye strain, the hourly stress. It was in every minute spent waiting for an invisible student to respond to me in a Zoom breakout room, every second my eyes flitted between my in-person kids, my Zoom camera, my gradebook, my attendance sheet, my inbox, my audio settings, my online grammar workbook, my online monitoring software, my chat, my other chat, my lesson on the shared screen, and back again. It was in the 19 times a day I sanitized my hands and the 29 times I reminded kids to do so. It was in every moment that I smiled extra big at something a student was saying, in hopes that my encouragement would show in my eyes, beyond my mask, through my screen. It was in the times I had to console a crying student via Zoom while speaking quietly and not saying their name to prevent my in-person kids from overhearing our private conversation.

Instructions for Taking Attendance This Year: (Simple, right?)

Like I said, it can’t really be summed up. I think this school year is best told in moments. Here are a few from the past year.

* Haiku Composed During the STAAR Writing Test on April 27th: *

caged children suffer
from lack of fresh air and sun
the answer is D

As difficult as this year was, and as glad as I am to see it come to an end, there were good things about it too. I learned SO many new skills, both technological and socio-emotional. I loved my students, especially the ones I got to meet and the ones who stayed home all year but allowed me to meet them by showing up on Zoom and engaging with me.

While I dealt with more missing work this year than ever before, some of the work that was turned in was outstanding. We read novels in verse and wrote poetry and essays. We shared our post-pandemic hopes and plans. Around spring break when I suddenly had over a dozen people in my classroom for the first time in a year, I rediscovered the joy of having to ask a class to be quiet. Noise. Beautiful noise. I had been missing it. During the last six weeks, I was able to share S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders with my classes again, and some of the projects they turned in about the book were amazing.

Even though there were days/weeks/months when I felt like a terrible teacher, many of my students didn’t see it that way. They were sweet and complimentary in their end-of-year surveys, acknowledging the challenges teachers faced, appreciating what they learned, and thanking me for my support. Some of their messages brought tears to my eyes.

Comments from my end-of-year survey:

  • “I appreciate how understandable Ms. Juettner is especially with how difficult the last year has been. I also enjoyed Ms. Juettners humor and her funny stories.”
  • “I would like to say thank you for an amazing year. Even with covid and the difficult year, you made it easier for us and you were very empathetic towards us.”
  • “I appreciated that she understood how hard it was to learn on zoom and she was always so helpful.”
  • “I enjoyed just joining zoom and Mrs. Juettner always taking about something. She always was super happy and ready to teach it kind of made me more intrigued on what our lesson would be that day.”
  • “One of the main things that I appreciate about Ms. Juettner is that she is very understanding and she has created a safe and friendly evironment in her classroom. Ms. Juettner is always quick to reply to emails and to help you out and she is extremely patient and empathetic.”
  • “Just that I would like you to know we all respect you and the other teachers for powering through this year and somehow teaching zoom kids and people in person at the same time, I recognize that is very difficult to do and I personally think ya’ll did a marvelous job.”

My End-of-Year Letter to My Students: (Click to enlarge)

This school year cannot be summed up, and this post doesn’t come close to truly describing the highs and lows of the past few months. I don’t even know how many people will read it. It’s ok if you don’t. It’s ok if you’re too tired of talking about the pandemic to read about anyone else’s experience. It’s ok if you’re a teacher whose school year ended a month ago, and you’re deep into summer relaxation and don’t want to have a flashback. And if you’re a teacher whose year has not yet ended, I am sending you a big hug. You can do this. I was where you are last week. I made it, and you will, too. So it’s ok if you don’t read this. The point is, I needed to post it, to document—in some messy, unfinished format—what this year was like for me.

And now, I’m ready to move on from it.

Bring on summer.

Posted in Life, Teaching

The Beauty of Learning

It’s fun watching learning occur.

My parents have a new kitten. She wandered into their yard, a tiny, scrappy, smart little thing, barely big enough to be away from her mother but somehow surviving on her own. They fed her and sweet-talked her from afar until she got curious enough to come inside the house. Since then, she’s been getting to know them on her terms, venturing out from her hiding spots a little more each day. They named her Spunkie, and it fits.

Kitten
Spunkie

I visited them last weekend and spent hours playing with Spunkie. It was so fun watching her figure things out—how to climb on top of things, how to play with new toys, how to trust. You could practically see her little brain working.

That big cat is so cool! I’m going to follow him and see what he does! Ooh, he growled at me. Ok, I’ll watch from over here. 

Being picked up is scary! But ooh! It comes with pets and belly rubs. Hmm, maybe this isn’t so bad…

By the time I left, she was trying out being a lap cat and eyeing the height of the kitchen counter for a future late-night scouting expedition.

Baby Goat
Leo

My school has a green ag program, complete with chickens and goats. Last week, one of our goats had her first baby—an adorable little buck named Leo. As soon as I could, I made it my mission to go meet him. (New teachers, take note: Make friends with the green ag teachers!)

Leo was six days old when I held his wiggly furry body and watched him frolic around his pen, kicking up his hooves. While I was there, he jumped onto a big rock for the first time. I think it surprised even him! He looked rather proud of himself until he considered how to get down. The little goat walked to the edge, backed up, walked to the edge, backed up, then finally kneeled down on the rock, as if asking himself, Will this get me closer to the ground?

When I left, he was still there, but his mama was with him, and I have no doubt he found his way down eventually, learning all the way.

Baby Goat on Rock

Teachers frequently expound on the joy of watching students “get” something. The look of comprehension, the sigh of relief, and the smile of finally accomplishing a difficult task are the rewards of our profession. But I think I enjoy watching adults learn even more.

Earlier this week, my principal held a meeting with the school leadership team in which she started every other sentence with, “As of this moment in time…” (I feel sorry for our administrators. They are working so hard for us and doing the best they can, but things change daily in the district/state/country, and so much is out of their hands.)

During the meeting, she practiced using various online tools for the first time, figuring things out as she went, working through problems as they came up—modeling for us, showing us she is learning and adapting too, giving us permission to try and fail and try again. I’m thankful for her leadership during this stressful time. Learning something brand new takes courage. Most adults choose to do it in isolation. I will teach myself this skill, and when I am good at it, I will let others see. It takes bravery to learn in front of people.

ScreenShot
Screenshot of me learning I cannot eat while on a zoom chat if my cat is in the room

Regardless of what school or online school or homeschool or no school looks like this fall, learning will occur. Look for it, watch it, and when you see it happening, encourage it. Learning does not require a classroom or a bell schedule. All it takes is a positive attitude, curiosity, and a little courage.

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What are you learning right now?
What lessons from this time will you carry with you into the future?