Posted in Teaching

Forgetting the Pledge of Allegiance and Other Symptoms of Adult Summer Slide

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A couple of weeks ago, I was at my parents’ house when my mom mentioned that she “pledged the table.” She meant that she used Pledge cleaner on the kitchen table, but I (being the hilarious and punny daughter that I am) wanted to make the obvious joke that she pledged allegiance to her table. I put my right hand over my heart and said, “…” nothing. After a few seconds of sitting there with my hand on my chest and my mouth hanging open, everyone started looking at me funny, possibly wondering if I was having a heart attack. So I put my hand down and said, “Um, how does the Pledge of Allegiance start again?” My dad, looking concerned/disappointed in me, replied, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…?” at which point I was like, “Oh! Right!” and lamely finished my joke to a bunch of blank stares.

It wasn’t one of my finest moments.

You might be thinking, So you forgot the Pledge of Allegiance. Big deal. I don’t remember it either. But what you’re forgetting is that I’m a teacher. In Texas. Which means that every weekday morning from mid-August to May, I recite not only the pledge to the American flag, but the pledge to the Texas one as well. So, when I failed to bring those words to mind in late July, I knew I was in trouble.

Most parents and educators have heard of the “Summer Slide.” For everyone else, no it’s not the new ride at Schlitterbahn. The Summer Slide refers to the tendency for students to lose some of the academic achievement they gained during the school year while they’re off for summer break.

What many people don’t know is that teachers suffer from the adult version of the Summer Slide. (I’m trying to come up with a catchy name for it. So far, I’m partial to the Vacation Veer or the Sunny-Days Slither. Let me know your thoughts.) No matter what you want to call it, it exists, and forgetting the Pledge of Allegiance is the least of my worries. Here are the…

Top Six Things I Forget Over the Summer:

1. My Password for That Thing We Will Inevitably Have to Use on the First Day of Back-to-School Professional Development

It’s some combination of the year one of my pets was born and the middle name of one of my former students… I think…

2. Roughly Half the Acronyms I Need to Know on a Daily Basis

Go into SEEDS and review the IEP and BIP before the ARD. Then make sure the data is up-to-date in TEAMS and document the MOY and ISIP scores in ECST so the LSSP can access them. And do it all ASAP, OK?

Sure thing! Just let me Google a couple of things first.

3. What’s Appropriate for Seventh Graders and What’s Not

When September rolls around, I’ll pull out those notes I made in July for that really engaging lesson I wanted to teach, and then I’ll realize that excerpts from House of Leaves and clips from an episode of The Santa Clarita Diet probably aren’t approved resources for twelve year olds. Oops.

4. Where I Put My One Good Staple Remover

Seriously, where is that thing?!?! I’ve already broken two fingernails!

5. Pretty Much Everything About How to Teach Grammar

Sleeping past 7:00AM and swimming in Barton Springs and wearing pajamas all day somehow knocks subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns right out of my head every summer. I have to relearn them again every year.

6. Exactly How Short Forty-Six Minutes Really Is

In August, when I start getting excited about school again, I go into idealistic mode, which is fun but, cruel. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as creating the perfect week-long lesson full of inspirational warm-ups and ample time for questions and enrichment, only to realize later that it would take me ten days to actually implement my plan. Soon I’m bummed to find all those little extras are on the educational cutting room floor. Forty-six minutes a day is just too short for everything I want to teach them, but I do the best I can. Sometimes I think it’s good that I forget how short the time really is, because it makes me plan those ideal lessons, and once in a while I keep the good stuff and cut something else. (Shh!)

***

The Summer Slide (The Dog Days Decline? The Free Time Free Fall?) is real. For students, the best way to fight it is with a book. Getting kids to read over the summer keeps their brains active and prevents them from losing important reading strategies and vocabulary. As for me, well, I’ve read seventeen books this summer, but that hasn’t helped me remember how to reset my voicemail message or reserve a computer lab, so I’ve got some studying to do. I guess it’s time to make some acronym flash cards.

***

And now, a quick moment of seriousness. Are you worried your student is slipping down the Summer Slide? It’s not too late to do something about it! This would be a great time to check your school’s website and see if your child has a summer reading assignment he/she’s not telling you about. Or, take them to the library and have them check out one of my favorite books. (There’s a section of YA & middle grade titles about halfway down.)

 

 

Posted in Life, Teaching

There’s a New Version of Me in the House, and She’s a Little Wacko

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My hubby refers to the person he’s living with right now as “Summer Carie.” Summer Carie is a little crazy. She stays up late but also, somehow, gets up early. She reads for hours on end, only stopping to skip over to her husband, kiss him on the cheek, and tell him her latest idea for a creepy short story. Summer Carie decides on a whim to turn an old skull candle into a bird feeder or clean out the medicine cabinet or reorganize all of the books in her house. She takes walks and naps and texts her husband far too often while he’s at work. Summer Carie can be a bit exhausting, but she’s happy and relaxed and carefree and creative.

I love her.

I love being a teacher, but I also love my summers. I NEED my summers. Without them, I would not love my job. I haven’t once checked work email since the last day of school (I probably should, I will eventually) and I haven’t planned any lessons. Right this moment, I can’t even tell you what day we go back to work (and I don’t want to know). But every day, while I rearrange books and work puzzles and make bird feeders and take pictures of raccoons, somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Could I use this in my classroom? Could this tie in to a lesson? How could I share this experience with my students?” I’m always a teacher, even when I’m Summer Carie, and I think I’m a better teacher upon returning to work because I allow myself this time.

Please don’t hate on teachers because we get the summers off. It’s not why we do the job. It’s why we CAN do the job.

Ok, I’m off to hide something that belongs to the hubby and leave him a trail of sticky note clues to find it. Summer Carie strikes again!

Posted in Writing

A Summer of Words

Summer

Writing is like exercise, and I am out of shape.

Writing is difficult, at least for me. I’m a perfectionist and a procrastinator, who’s easily distracted by new ideas, cute animals outside my window, and chocolate. None of these qualities do a consistent writer make. I’m also a teacher, and during the school year I’m a slave to my job, spending so much time teaching and grading and planning and collapsing from exhaustion, that a rarely write.

It’s not that I don’t have time to write. I do. I could. Others do it, and I exist in a state of constant awe of those people. But I don’t. Yes, I can pen a poem now and then, blog a couple of times a month, and maybe work on a short story. But the deep dive into novel work? No, I can’t take that plunge. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’ve quickly come up gasping for air.

HABIT

So, yes, writing is hard, and the longer I go without doing it, the harder it becomes. For real writing to happen, it must be a habit, and in order for something to be a habit, you have to start small. Anyone who’s ever tried to sprint without warming up first knows it’s a bad idea. You have to stretch. Build up your muscles.

That’s why I’m back to using 750words.com. This site’s monthly challenge has been the kick I’ve needed in the past, and I hope it will be the habit-builder I need now. On June 1st, I sat down at my computer (which was hard to do) and started typing (also hard). I used a prompt from my Storymatic cards, thought of a random scene in my novel, and wrote, sluggishly, for fifteen minutes or so before running out of steam. By that point, I had 295 words. And they weren’t good. I doubt any of those words will ultimately make it into my novel.

But I wrote them. And when I couldn’t take that scene any further, I stayed in the chair (which was the hardest of all) and kept writing. I wrote some questions about my novel (to be answered later), then I wrote some of this blog post. After an hour and twenty minutes in front of the computer, I finally got to 750 words. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But I did it. And then I went for a walk, because actual exercise is on my summer list too.

DISCIPLINE

For me, discipline in writing requires discipline in all aspects of life. I’d love to be able to sleep until ten, eat junk food all day, watch some TV, and then sit down and write a couple thousand brilliant words, but that’s not how it works. I need to move, be outside, drink lots of water, and fuel my brain with inspiration if I’m going to bring my best, consistently, to the page. That’s why, in some ways, my summer routine is more vigorous than my school year one. It includes daily walks, yoga, or swimming, as well as a healthy(ish) diet and plenty of reading time, both for fun and for research. Equal amounts of coffee and water. Equal amounts of sitting and stretching. Fewer naps and more walks. No TV during the day and time to read the latest Writer’s Digest.

I will not be perfect. Far from it. But if I don’t even make the effort, I won’t come close to succeeding. Already this summer, I’ve been more active in brain and body than I have in weeks, and it feels good. There will be lazy days and gooey chocolate brownies in my future, but hopefully they will be rewards well-earned.

MOTIVATON

Writing is hard, so writers need motivation to keep going. There’s no point in sprinting if you don’t have a destination or a finish line or something scary chasing you, so it’s important to set goals.

Goal setting is something I enjoy, but I’m not always smart about it. As a teacher who’s also a writer, I put a lot of pressure on my summers. The lists of things I want to accomplish is often enthusiastic to the point of overwhelming. Last year, my summer to-do list was three pages long and included all sorts of unrealistic expectations for someone just coming off her first year back in the classroom. At the end of the summer, I checked off some things, crossed off a lot more, and wrote “Hahahaha!” next to a few lofty objectives I didn’t come close to meeting. Realistic goals are key, and I’m trying to get better about that.

Also, motivation can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be a finished novel. It can be the stay-in-bed day you promised yourself if you meet your word count for the week, or it can be a submission deadline for a publication you want to send your work to. Whatever it is, most of us perform better with a carrot hanging in front of us, so it’s important to find what motivates you and work toward it.

I was fortunate enough to receive a very nice piece of motivation this week. I’m so proud to announce that my current work-in-progress won first place in the middle grade category of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest. This honor has earned me entrance to the always-awesome WLT Agents & Editors Conference at the end of this month, as well as a ten-minute consultation with the agent who chose my work as the winning entry. I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity, and now have a LOT of work ahead of me. I want to progress my novel as much as I can before the conference, so that I can (hopefully) speak intelligently about it to editors, agents, and fellow writers. Wish me luck!

In the end, though, none of that hard work will matter much in June if I don’t keep writing in July. And July’s work won’t mean much if I give up in August. So I must find new motivation and maintain discipline and keep getting to the page. Maybe, just maybe, if I fill my summer with words and truly make writing a habit, I can keep it up come September.

One can hope.