Now that we’re a family of 3, I’m always thinking of fun new traditions to start and enjoy for decades to come. As I was passing through the dollar section of Target (aka a Mom’s Vacation), I came across these adorable felt envelopes. At a dollar a pop, I just had to snatch them up! They are very large and can fit quite a bit of goodies, including books. In the same section, there were also some felt hearts, which inspired me to personalize the envelopes (I created the felt letters myself). The extra one is for our puppies, Rocket and Ruffy, and yes they got some treats, too!
This was Elaine’s first Valentine’s day eating solids, but that didn’t mean I wanted her to have all of the traditional teeth-rotting sugary sweets of sticky candy and chocolate. I settled upon a book and some fun, special treats that we don’t get very often. She went straight for the Lucky Charms, and picked out all of the marshmallows (just like her mommy, sheesh!)
At 1.5 years old, I’m sure she was pretty confused by this new tradition. Nevertheless, she loved opening her envelope and getting presents, so that is a win! My sweet husband filled my envelope with various chocolates that he knows I love and a thoughtful card. I filled his with chocolate and beef jerky.
Can’t wait to bring out these envelopes again next year to continue our tradition!
I have this awesome whiteboard stop sign that I place outside of my classroom door. I try to greet my students each day / hour with a funny pun. It’s turned into a truly remarkable experience for everyone this year. My students will let me know if the joke isn’t funny, and this often turns into a teachable moment where I can share with them a finer point of the English language, or a colloquialism.
What’s great about middle school students is that many are finally starting to understand sarcasm and double meanings, along with symbolism and metaphor. I get to watch their brains develop right before me! It’s an incredible honor. When they truly get a joke and laugh, it’s a gift for both of us.
This experience has brought many new students to my door – students who aren’t even ‘mine’ – just to say hi, thanks for the joke, or share a joke that they’d like to see on the board. Many colleagues stop by and let me know that they miss the joke-of-the-day when I am too busy to make it happen. I love this new tradition! Here are my faves so far this school year (I’ll try to add more throughout the year):
As any teacher will tell you with a wide, genuine smile and a sparkle in their eye, summers are the best part of our profession (well no, students are the BEST part, but summer is a close second!).
Though I always look forward to summers, I was a little nervous going into this one. I mean, I have a 1-year-old now. This is new, unchartered territory for me. And thinking back to last summer with my newborn – that was scary. I was struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression, I had just moved into a new house, I felt socially isolated, exhausted, and I was plagued with all the new parent fears. I was scared to leave the house with my baby because it always took me 1-2 hours to get out the door, I was pumping, and I was afraid to leave the comfort of our safe, climate-controlled house with a baby. I was a wreck!
This summer was SO different. And it was honestly the best summer of my life! I feel like I am finally getting into a groove as a mom (which means life is about to throw me a curve ball, right?). I am not afraid to leave the house with my daughter. In fact, I insist we leave the house at least once a day, even if it is just to go to the post office. Anything can be an adventure!
To help ease the transition into summer, I made a bucket list. It was important to me to set goals for things we could do together, and things that I needed to do for myself. Of course, as I expected, the list was very ambitious and I wasn’t able to complete everything. The silver lining here is that I now have items to earmark for next summer!
We did have SO much fun. I loved seeing the world through her eyes, taking in all of the new places and textures and people. I learned that my daughter LOVES the water, and would swim daily if she could. However, she HATED the beach! All the sand was a total disaster, and she was miserable. I wish we had gotten to the animal farm, because she is obsessed with animals. When she sees any creature, from dog to goat to raccoon, this strange shriek of pure joy comes out of her – an alien sound I never hear otherwise.
I loved learning about my daughter this summer and making it my mission to help expose her to new experiences. I became her ‘summer school teacher.’ And all those naps and cuddles? BLISS. I felt like I had won the lottery every day.
I also set personal and professional goals for myself. I needed to keep my mind sharp, and I always need to be working toward goals. I didn’t manage to learn as much about AIMSWeb as I had hoped, but I have made it my mission for this first week back to school, our In-service and Professional Development days, to seek out the information I need for the school year.
I hope you had a wonderful, relaxing, purposeful summer, and that you are recharged and ready to hit the ground running this week for back to school! As a teacher, I am grateful for the summer time to re-center myself, thwart burnout, and be the best version of myself that I can for my students each year.
Yesterday morning, we completed The Color Run as a family. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and this meant bringing along our 1-year-old baby/toddler (I’m not sure what to call her!). I thought I might share our experience, in case it might help others. I have completed (and LOVED!) The Color Run before, so I knew what to expect going in. It was a new experience with a baby, however, but I felt prepared.
Even though The Color Run peeps say the coloring is safe, I still didn’t want to expose my daughter to it. What can I say, I’m a paranoid First Time Mom. I was worried about it getting into her lungs and her eyes, so I knew I wanted to protect her as best I could. I asked around, and some people suggested goggles, face masks, hats, the whole 9 yards. I couldn’t imagine my daughter tolerating all that, nor did I want to deal with it, so I went the simpler (read: cheaper and lazier) route. I invested in a stroller rain cover similar to this one.
I did bring our Tula baby carrier, but it was much too hot to wear her for 5K (in cooler weather, I totally would have just worn her and saved quite a bit of hassle). We brought the stroller and kept the Tula in a garbage bag in the storage area (I couldn’t bear to see it ruined by color staining! But I wanted it just in case). As it turns out, I was actually able to avoid each of the color stations by going around them. I simply met up with my family on the other side. And as far as getting colored myself? I opted not to, because I wanted to be able to hold and comfort my daughter if she needed it, and I wanted to stay ‘clean.’
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this taking all the fun out of it? Why bother doing a Color Run if you’re just going to skate through and come out lily-white on the other side? Well, I did actually have a lot of fun. I enjoyed seeing my family members get messy and silly, and my daughter enjoyed looking at all the fun colors, bubbles, and clouds of color dust. The excitement is palpable, so much fun music, smiling faces, and lots of high fives! It’s a great atmosphere, and truly is the happiest 5k on the planet.
I know many other moms give their babies the true Color Run experience and have no problems, but I know that’s just not my personality, and I’m okay with that. You do you, and feel free to use the info in this blog post to make the best decisions for you and your family.
You should be aware that a very real hazard, much more dangerous than the color dye itself, was the loud volume of the event. In the start up line, there were booming speakers that made my daughter scream. And at the end, the after party was a loud, bumping base full of Zumba fun. I love loud music, and it was really fun, but it is also very dangerous for such young ears. I would say to do your best to avoid areas with large speakers.
A few other tips I have.
I brought extra towels (to cover our car seats), changes of clothes and shoes, and garbage bags to put all the dirty stuff in afterwards.
Bring your cell phone or camera, for sure! If you are really concerned, you can put it in a clear baggie to protect it from dust. But you won’t wanna miss these pictures!
At the finish line, there are people with leaf blowers at a “blow station.” If you got dust on your stroller (and yourself for that matter), this is a great opportunity to remedy that. Also, we’ve found that blowing off the color is MUCH more effective than rinsing it with water, which just serves to spread it around.
Bring water. Make sure you have a cold sippy for your baby. I also brought a frozen lunch bag with cold milk and fruits.
Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, etc. And if your baby is too young for sunscreen, try a muslin blanket and stroller clips (I like these)
If you have color treated hair, or really blonde hair like me and my daughter, the coloring might temporarily dye your hair. Hats are a great multipurpose solution.
Laundry wasn’t a big deal for our clothes, but light colored shoes and anything made of terry cloth did pose a problem. Blow off, pre-treat, bleach, and sun dry.
Drop a pin in Google Maps when you park your car so you can easily find it again!
At the beginning of the semester, I decided that I needed a reading bulletin board to celebrate catching my students reading. I wanted to fill my room with positive images of students filling their hearts and their brains. The initial blank board looked like this:
The hashtag at the top reads #wmsreads. Note: This was never posted on actual social media – this is for my classroom use only.
I added about 2 – 3 photos each week. The students REALLY looked forward to seeing their pictures appear on the wall! I began by catching candids, but after a while, students came up with their own ideas and asked to pose for pictures. By the end, students were taking their own pictures and submitting them to me for approval and printing.
All in all, it was a very fun activity, and it helped spread a positive message about reading being ‘cool’ 😉
Here is the final product. And wouldn’t you know, the very DAY that I finish the board, Instagram went and changed their logo on me? Oh well, I like this one and I will keep it up for a long time!
I was very excited to introduce this new bulletin board in my room. Each of my 126 students got their own spot on the train, and I provided post-its and a set of guidelines.
It took only 4 DAYS to fill the train. Kids were flocking to my room to fill it out, including students I don’t even have in class! They were thrilled. I especially loved watching the more shy or quiet students meander by and slyly try to check out their spot, and then watch their face light up when they realize someone left them a compliment. It was the highlight of my year!
Below are some of my favorite entries on the train:
Obviously we need to work on your/you’re, but what a fun tradition! I plan to leave it up for 2 weeks, then let them take home their post-its. Then we will clear the board and start all over again!
And I was only deaf in one of my ears! 2 weeks ago, a nasty sinus and ear infection turned into a ruptured ear drum, which – if you aren’t aware firsthand – is incredibly painful. Teachers, take care of yourself if you are ill, and have so much sympathy for our littles when they complain of ear pain. It is horrendous!
My ruptured eardrum left me deaf in my right ear for 2 weeks. In fact, my hearing isn’t back to 100% yet, but it started slowly improving yesterday. Your first thought might be, as mine would have been a month ago, “Well, at least she could hear out of her one good ear!” This is an uninformed way of thinking and does not completely capture the impossible challenge of carrying on with life with partial deafness. I can’t emphasize this enough – being deaf in 50% of my ears reduced my ability to communicate by 80%.
My students needed constant reminders that I was not functioning at 100%. They quickly forgot and got frustrated when I couldn’t understand or respond to them.
Prior to this experience, I had heard of disabilities such as audio processing disorder, and I never fully understood it. I still may not fully understand it, but I have gained much more respect and understanding for the struggles associated with processing information aurally. Below is a list of everyday experiences that were altered for me during my short-term disability.
I could not judge the direction of sound.
This is huge. People / students would be calling my name, but I couldn’t tell where to look. Students would be talking out of turn, but I didn’t know who to discipline. Sounds were coming from various rooms of my house, but I didn’t know which. This will drive you insane. I felt like a chicken, constantly jerking my head in every direction erratically trying to identify the source of a sound. I can see how this would lead to attention deficit issues.
I could not judge volume
Without two working ears, it is difficult to judge volume. This included my own volume (no more private conversations, and having to repeat yourself if you were too quiet), and the volume of my students (I couldn’t tell when we were getting out of control, so I often lost control of my students.). I had to rely on others to give me constant feedback on volume.
I needed to make eye contact.
To have a simple conversation, it was necessary to look the speaker in the eye. This allowed me to focus on them (while attempting to ignore the surrounding environment) and to try to read their lips. Unfortunately, young students quickly forget your needs, and they often talk to you from feet away without looking at you. And I believe several got frustrated when they thought I was ignoring them when, in reality, I had no idea they were speaking to me.
I could not separate specific sounds from the ambient sounds.
When I would go to pick up my daughter at daycare, and the workers were trying to talk to me about her day, all I could hear was a sea of babies crying. I couldn’t pick out what the daycare worker was saying to me. You can imagine how this went in my classroom. During work time, a student would ask me a question, but all I could hear was a sea of everyone’s conversations. As I told my class, it sounded like the Peanut’s mom, “Waaahmp Waaaaahmp.” Impossible.
I felt completely lonely and isolated.
One-on-one in a quiet room, I could easily have a conversation with one person. However, this is not life. I went to lunch with my coworkers, and I missed key words and therefore could not follow the conversation. It was like playing Madlibs where every 5th word was deleted. I mostly just nodded and smiled, but had no idea. I went to a birthday party and tried to hold a conversation with several people – nope. I don’t want to be that person who is constantly asking, “What? Can you say that again?” I know that is annoying. So I suffered in silence.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
Along with feeling isolated and alone, you also quickly realize that you missing out on so many whispers and inside jokes and subtle conversations. Everyone is smiling or laughing, and you’re not sure why. You are on the outside looking in.
I no longer watched TV or listened to the radio.
I know Close Captioning exists, but after a long hard day of teaching, that can be pretty taxing on a brain that isn’t used to it. It wasn’t worth it to me, so I just sat in silence. Pretty sad!
I couldn’t hear my alarm clock or my baby cry at night.
If I accidentally rolled over and buried my good ear in my pillow, I was COMPLETELY deaf. I couldn’t hear the baby monitor or my phone alerts. As you can imagine, this was very problematic!
I felt like I had short-term ADD.
When you spend all of your energy deciphering the words people are saying instead of trying to comprehend them, this is very similar to how our young readers spend all of their energy decoding words on the page instead of trying to comprehend the message. What you get is a fragmented sense of the meaning of things. My brain couldn’t handle the overload, and it felt very fragmented. I found myself focusing on minutia instead of the big picture. It was very frustrating!
I was completely exhausted every night.
It’s worth repeating. Partial deafness, for me, meant a full-on assault to my brain and my ability to function and comprehend. Life was incredibly taxing. I have a new appreciation and understanding for our students who are hard of hearing, deaf, or who struggle with audio processing disorder.
In the future, if I had a student with any of these concerns, I would alter my behaviors in the following ways: always make eye contact, provide written instructions, keep the classroom environment quiet and focused, re-voice student questions and comments, allow them to work in small groups / pairs in a separate quiet environment, provide extra time and frequently check for understanding, provide a quiet place for socializing during lunch or recess if they would like, and generally offer as much patience and compassion as I can muster.
Here I am at the ENT after being told my ear has healed and I should get my hearing back within 2 weeks!
I would love to hear your feedback if you or anyone you know have ever experienced partial or temporary hearing loss.
I am writing this post in hopes of helping any other teachers who happen upon my blog and are looking for advice about returning to work after a maternity leave. It is an anxious, emotional time, and I hope I can help ease your transition by sharing about my experience.
At the beginning of this year, I missed the first 12 weeks because I was out on maternity leave. This means I didn’t get to set up my room or meet my students until we were well into the school year. On top of all that, it was a new position for me, so I really had NO idea what I was coming back to. A new grade, a new age level, new material, new room, new everything. It was a lot to take in.
Luckily for me, I had an amazing substitute teacher who made everything so helpful and efficient for me. Additionally, my district gave us 3 overlap days where we were both in the room – that helped with the transition immensely. On the first day, I simply introduced myself to each class and sat in the back to observe the atmosphere. By the second day, he was still teaching, but I became a support in the room, traveling amongst the students and asking questions, listening, and assisting. By the third day, I was leading the lesson while he supported. On the fourth day, I was all alone but feeling confident.
My first day, waiting for my students to arrive.
Throughout this post, I have shared my personal choices and experiences, including what worked well for us and what is (and continues to be) a struggle. Feel free to ask questions or share your own experience in the comments – I’d love to learn and do better!
My husband and I chose to leave our daughter in a daycare center while we work. I know there are many different options for childcare, and people tend to turn up their nose when we say we chose a daycare. However, I chose to focus on the positives of daycare: my daughter will be cared for by certified staff, there will always be multiple adults on hand, she will be exposed to learning activities and many different kinds of people (and germs!), and she will be socialized for school.
Leading up to the first day of daycare, I took my daughter to the center a few times and just sat in the infant room with her. I did this so we could both get use to the atmosphere and the people. It gave me a chance to observe the routines and to ask a lot of questions. The staff said they didn’t mind (I hope they meant it!) and even encouraged me to come as many times as it took to feel comfortable. And each time I came in, I brought in more supplies for her drawer (diapers, wipes, outfits, creams, pacifiers, etc.) so that I wouldn’t be burdened with that ask on the first, hectic day. By the way that’s a big theme in my life – prepare, plan, do things in small chunks, and get it done before a deadline.
At first, sitting in the room was terrifying. There were babies crying and so much activity. I felt I had made a huge mistake. I wanted to quit my job and stay home forever. But then I got a hold of myself (and my crazy postpartum emotions) and became more settled with the idea the more I visited and self-talked. Everything would be okay. This is a good thing for everyone – mom and baby.
It is a very strange feeling to leave your child in the hands of someone else, all so you can go to your classroom and take care of other people’s babies. But this is my calling.
I have to tell you that I am so grateful that my husband does the drop-off each morning. If I had to do it, I would always arrive at work a total basket case (that’s if I would actually able to detach myself from my daughter and leave the daycare building). I do the pick-up, and it is definitely the best part of my day.
A big tip I have for you: Do NOT call in the middle of the day to see how your child is doing. I fell into this trap on my first day back, because I wanted to make sure my daughter was doing well on her first day, too. I couldn’t even make it through the phone call without crying. For me, it is best to just keep busy and let the professionals do their job. I had to have faith that if they needed me for anything, they would contact me.
The First Day
The first day – okay week – is THE hardest. People mean well, but everyone will ask you trigger questions like, “What’s it like to be back?” and “Who has your daughter?” and my favorite, “How was it leaving your daughter today?” I cried each time someone asked me any of these questions. Hormones, man. I sat in the bathroom and cried during passing time. It was hard. When the bell rang at 3:05, all you could see was a big blur behind me as I bee-lined it to the parking lot and attempted to follow all traffic laws on my way to pick her up from daycare. It will get easier. REPEAT: It will get easier. Everyone told me that, but I had to experience it for myself. Now I take my time leaving. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands before I leave work (because I won’t get a chance when we get home!).
Focus on your job and why you are there. Try not to think about your baby. You need to stay in the moment. Your baby is in good hands, and you are needed here, now, to take care of these babies. It will be okay, and it will get easier!
I have lots of routines to help me get through life, and this should be no different. I quickly figured out a routine that worked for all of us to help make the nights and mornings go as smoothly as possible. This is survival, people!
Each night, I put my daughter to bed around 6:30pm. Then, I immediately wash and reset the bottles for the next day and pack them in her lunch bag in the fridge. I add any notes or supplies she may need right in the bag so it is ready to go. I pair up all of her clothes when I wash them on the weekend so her outfits are ready to grab-and-go in the mornings:
For myself, I also make my lunch, set out my clothes, and take a shower. I used to take 1 to 1.5 hours to get ready in the morning (let’s be honest, I used to putz. I checked my email, did some house work, etc. Not anymore!). Now, I can get ready in 20 minutes flat. This is important, because you don’t know how your morning will go. Will she be sick, sad, or needy? Will you just NEED a cuddle? Be ready for anything. Preparing the night before is essential to having a smooth morning.
After I’ve gotten all of her things and my things ready, I spend about 20 minutes TOPS straightening up before bed, because it makes me feel good. Then I tackle my nightly chore from the next section (Housework and Errands), and I’m done.
For my own sanity, I attempt to go to bed as close to my daughter as possible. My goal is to be asleep by 10pm, and my alarm is set for 6am. This way, I am lucky to get 8 hours of sleep between all of the night feedings and wake ups. You have to preserve your sleep! Make it a priority. Skip all non-essential things and just S.L.E.E.P. It is how you survive being a teacher and a parent – two incredibly draining and demanding jobs.
Housework and Errands
I have also had to adjust the way I run our house. I used to do almost everything on the weekends – cooking, cleaning, and chores. Now, however, I want to covet that as family time (and down time). To that end, I have made a schedule where I do a little bit every day, like the old adage of eating an elephant. I also try to run short errands right before I pick up my daughter from daycare. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where I will take her on the errands, but right now it’s easier to do this way and just leave her in daycare an extra half hour.
Also RE: Amazon Prime / Amazon Mom: JUST DO IT. Seriously. It makes your life so much easier.
Here is an example of our weekly schedule, designed to free up our weekend time (Do I actually get to all of these things? No, but I do try):
Vacuum / mop
Clean out fridge and microwave
Saturday & Sunday
We have tried to make grocery shopping a family activity, as well. My daughter really likes all the sensory experiences of a grocery store.
During weekend nap times, I cook. This is how I SURVIVE, people. I make all of our lunches on the weekend so they are ready to grab-and-go. I also try to make a casserole or dinner for the evenings. But honestly, I usually don’t have time for dinner and just skip it (oops). This preparation saves a huge amount of time and money throughout the week.
Grading and Working At Home
What I have to say about this is short and sweet: FORGET ABOUT IT. You will no longer do any schoolwork at home. Oh, you’ll have good intentions. You’ll bring home a bag full of things to do, emails to check, etc. But you won’t do it. Nope. You’re exhausted, and you miss your baby. My best advice is what I have learned to do – do not leave work until you have done everything that MUST be done by tomorrow. Emphasis on must – you do have to stop and leave at some point. Maybe you can finish grading those papers tomorrow? Prioritize. Just don’t bring it home. It will sit in your bag / car and it will haunt you.
As a new parent, I find that I have a new perspective on my role as teacher. I have done a lot better job of communicating with parents, now. I also try my best to include them on as many decisions as possible. I always thought I was doing a good job with this, but now I see that I could do even better. Even though my students are ‘grown up’ 11-year-olds, their parents still like to hear nice things and be kept involved. At this age, many parents begin to start distancing themselves from the school in hopes of encouraging and allowing more independence from their children. I do my best to respect that, but also see that information is always welcomed.
As a new parent, I also see that I have so much more empathy and patience for my students. I love them all, each one, but now I also see them as someone’s baby. Everyone is someone’s baby!
You will be awesome
This is what you were born to do. You will rock it!
I was so fortunate to be allowed to spend a day at the 2016 WSRA convention this year. It was incredibly energizing and inspiring! I feel that every teacher should attempt to make it to a convention at least once a year to be reenergized and infused with exciting new ideas to try in the classroom. I got to meet several famous authors and researchers, and I felt like a total fangirl. I also came back with a plethora of ideas to share with my colleagues.
I’ll get straight to the point and share with you my top 5 take-aways from the day.
I need to buy these books ASAP
Limit Teacher Talk to 1/3 of your instructional time
In an excellent session by Cris Tovani, she explained her Student Engagement Model and how she limits her Teacher Talk to only 1/3 of the time. The remaining time is students ‘doing’ – practicing, exploring, and producing. That’s difficult for the die-hard lecturers amongst us, but it is a necessary shift for so many critical reasons!
Breaking the Vocabulary Code
One of my favorite sessions by far was “Scaffolding Complex Text to Maximize Student Learning” by Mecca Sadler and Natalie Bourn. I got so many excellent ideas for incorporating more deep-thinking vocabulary activities into my lessons.
A few ideas I want to try immediately are the Vocabulary Triangle and the Image Explanation
For the Vocabulary Triangle, you invite students to place a different vocabulary word they are working on at each of the triangle points (tell them to choose the hardest word, the easiest word, and a medium word). Then, on the connecting lines, they need to write a sentence that explains how the two words are related.
For the Image Explanation, you present students with an interesting image and ask them which of their vocabulary words it is related to. THIS IMAGE REPRESENTS ____ BECAUSE _____ There is no one right answer, and you can discover evidence of their processing by listening to the connections they make. For example, let’s say my students are working on the following words:
And then I present them with this image:
You can see how they could use nearly any of our vocabulary words to complete the idea “This image represents ____ because ____.” I can’t wait to try this idea out! The presenters said this activity would also make a great assessment tool as well. Real life application!
So long, Venn Diagrams
From the same presentation by Sadler and Bourn, I learned about using a Y shape instead of a Venn Diagram for comparing and contrasting. The legs at the top can be for contrasting two items, and the stem at the bottom is for comparing what they have in common. The added bonus of this shape is it reminds us to ask, “why?” at the end. As in, why did the author(s) make the choices they made? I plan to use this idea next week to compare several dystopian fiction stories that my students read.
There you have my highlights of the convention! Not to mention seeing a lot of wonderful friends and colleagues. I look forward to the 2017 Convention!