Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Post: Five Ways I Stay Sane as Teacher

Teaching is such a rewarding career. It is also one of the craziest. I’ve heard of people who make a job out of “extreme skydiving” or “extreme rock climbing,” but I’m almost certain that these jobs can’t get any more extreme than teaching. When I first started, I often felt like I was in the midst of a category five hurricane. I never really felt in control. Today, it’s a different story.

It took some time, but eventually I learned how to manage my classroom and find my Zen. This came from learning though my own experiences and taking advice from other teachers. This job may have tried to break me down in the beginning, but by practicing a few habits, I now stay calm in the eye of the storm.

As others did for me, I would now like to offer my own advice on how to stay sane as a teacher:

1. Keep a diary: This could be because I teach English, but I discovered that when I wrote about a day that didn’t go particularly well; the day never sounded half as bad when I read the diary entry back to myself. I have dozens of diaries now. It’s my way of purging bad feelings and thoughts.

2. Bring the comforts of home to my classroom: The floors in my classroom are tile, which seem very cold and hard. To warm up my space, I purchased a colorful yet durable rug and placed it under my desk. I also placed a few framed family photos, a pretty lamp and a radio on the bookshelf behind my desk. This turned the classroom into my classroom which, for some reason, gave me a greater sense of comfort and control.

3. Stay healthy: Teaching is a pretty germy job, and the stress can beat your immune system down even more. After a few bouts of the cold virus, I realized that I needed to start taking better care of my body. I now take a daily multivitamin with extra Vitamin C and try to work out at least four times a week. I also stopped drinking coffee all day. After my morning cup, I only drink water the rest of the day. I’m not saying this prevents sickness, but I definitely feel better than before.

4. Keep reading (or keep practicing a hobby): I teach English, because I love reading and writing. However, when I first started working, I became inundated with my lesson plans and didn’t write or read a new book for at least 14 months. This actually hurt my students, because I was losing the passion I had for the subject. Now, once I finish a book, I move on to another one, and I write in my diary nearly every day.

5. Keep work at work: I found that when I brought my work home, I never took the time to escape from my job and enjoy my family and hobbies. Even if it means staying later, I now try to finish all work at school before going home.

Another thing I had to do was learn how to let go and realize that no teacher is perfect. Honestly, once I came to that simple realization, most of my anxieties disappeared.

By: Lori Hutchison
Lori Hutchison teaches high school English and owns the site:  In her spare time, she enjoys writing guest blog posts about various topics of interest; especially teaching!

Up Next: Guest Blogger

I was contacted recently by the administrator of the website Masters in Teaching, who wanted to know if I would be interested in accepting a guest post from her on my blog.  I've never featured a guest blogger before, but I'm definitely not unfamiliar with the process, so I thought, "Sure, why not?"  I just finished reviewing her informative article (which offers tips for teachers trying to maintain their sanity) and gave her the green light to publish it on my blog, so the entry that follows this one will be her guest post.  That being said, without further adieu, I'd like to introduce you to my guest blogger, Lori Hutchison.

(Well there might be a little bit of adieu, but not much).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Parks and a Flu

I'm going to be swamped for the next few days, so I'm trying to squeeze in a couple things before I desert my blog for the weekend. 

First, I might have a guest blogger post an entry in the next day or two--possibly earlier.  If I do, I'll write a quick entry to introduce her, lest her post look like I was the one who wrote it. 

Second, I had just reached my prep period this morning when I got a phone call saying that Elijah was throwing up all over the place.  Awesome.  So I had to pick him up and spend the rest of this beautiful, sunny day cleaning up blankets and pillows and feeding him soup.  It wasn't terrible though; he is such a sweetheart when he's sick and the nurturer in me loves to take care of him and make him feel better (minus the puking-part).  Plus I did get some painting done.  And my student teacher was able to take over my classes, so I didn't even have to scramble to come up with emergency lesson plans for a sub.  Of course my lesson today involved PowerPoint, graphic organizers, a class skit, and sign language...but I'm sure she did just fine.

Third, we're going to Disneyland for two days.  The kids are participating in the "Tinkerbell Races", an event that is generally held at Disney World.  This year, Disneyland is holding their first annual version of the race, and Clint's mom signed Trinity and Elijah up to participate.  This should be interesting since my son was vomiting like something from the Exorcist all day today, but he swears up and down that he feels better now.  Clint's family is leaving in the morning tomorrow and spending the day at California Adventures, but Clint and I won't be able to drive down there until I get off of work.  If all goes well, we'll arrive sometime around 5:30 or 6:00.  We plan to have dinner on our own at House of Blues in Downtown Disney, and then meet up with the rest of the family.  We got a giant suite at the Disneyland Hotel, which is a completely new experience for me.  I think I'm more excited about the suite than the amusement parks.  On Saturday morning, we will be attending the Tinkerbell Races at California Adventure, and then heading over to Disneyland, where we will spend the rest of the day. 

On Sunday, I will be laying comatose on my couch, physically ravaged from two amusement parks and possibly sick with the flu.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Student Teacher and Deadly Doors

Today was my first day with my student teacher!  Wait--did I ever talk about that?  Hold on, let me go check----

Okay, I'm back, and from what I can see, I never explained the whole student-teaching thing.  I'll make this quick.  Student teachers are university students who have just finished their credentialing classes, but they now need "on the job training" in order to apply for their credential.  They are assigned to work with a master teacher for an entire semester.  In the beginning, they start off by observing only, but little by little the master teacher relinquishes control of the lessons and classroom management to the student teacher (that part is a little scary for the control-freak in me).  My principal asked me if I would like to be a master teacher for the second semester of school, and of course I agreed.  It was such a complement to be's not like principals choose the crappy teachers to represent their schools.

So today I met my student teacher for the first time (since I might talk about her again in the future, I'll dub her S.P).  S.P's a little on the shy side, but after introducing her to several different teachers and talking her ear off all day, she did start to warm up.  She's supposed to be in on everything I do as a teacher, so that's going to take some getting used to.  I love the solitude of coming into my warm classroom in the morning, turning on my iPod, making a cup of hot tea, and checking my e-mail.  It's that quiet before the storm.  Now I have to come into my classroom in the morning and make small talk with another person.  It's not a bad thing, it's just a break in routine that I'm going to have to adjust to.  Honestly, it feels like going from living alone for a long period of time, to suddenly having a room-mate.  There are lots of benefits to having a room-mate, such as always having someone to talk to and the general feeling of camaraderie; but it still takes time to acclimate to such a huge change.  Even the physical environment of my classroom has changed.  I had to pull out a row of three desks in order to fit in a nice, large teacher's desk for S.P, which resulted in some tweaking of my seating charts.  That was something I did out of the kindness of my heart--I figured since she was going to be with me for the rest of the school year, she'd like to have her own space.  I stocked it with a bunch of supplies (pens, post-its, etc.), and even made her a name plate.  I also had my students make her a giant "Welcome" card on Friday, and they all wrote really sweet messages on it.  That gave her a huge smile this morning.  Overall, I really like S.P. and I'm excited to have her in my classroom for the rest of the year.

On a somewhat related note, I've had a few accidents in my classroom the last seven days.  Last week, as I left my room, a student (thinking I was another student) slammed the door on me HARD.  When I reeled back from the impact and he saw it was me, he was immediately sorry.  He had been trying to play a prank on one of his fellow classmates.  But I still had to give him a referral because it was a purposeful act that could have caused injury (I was wearing boots that day, or else it would have thrashed my toes).  On Friday morning Ms. Whatsit's tail got trapped in-between two desks while students were cleaning up, and when a student shifted his desk, it squished her tail and ultimately she lost the tip.  That was a gory little mess.  She's healing up nicely though and should be back in the classroom this Wednesday.  It's sort of cute because the students are SO concerned about her and ask about her every period.  You would think it was their pet dog whose tail got circumcised.

Then today I slammed a student's head with the door.  What is up with that door?  It was right before homeroom, and I swung the door open to usher the remaining students inside the room.  Adrian was inside the deadly red circle right behind the door, and it hit him head-on with a loud crack.  I have no idea what he was doing back there, but the impact knocked him almost completely backwards.  His friends were standing around and he immediately tried to play it off as "no big deal", but it was obvious that he was feeling dizzy as he walked into the room.  I had him escorted to the nurse's office, despite his protests.  I called ahead, and when the counseling department picked up, I said, "Hey C, it's Jodi.  I just slammed a door into a student's head and--" but before I could finish, she started laughing so hard.  I wailed out,  "Wait, why are you laughing?!"  And she's like, "It just sounds typical!"  At any rate, Adrian is fine (parents planned to check for a minor concussion after school) and he has had a really good sense of humor about it.  He was the same student that shifted the desk that cut off the rat's tail that...(I just wanted to say "that" one more time. It was beginning to sound like a nursery rhyme), so he claims that I was subconsciously wreaking my vengeance on him.  I told him, "Yes Adrian, I sneakily peered out the window for twenty minutes waiting for you to walk up, hoping you would step into the red circle so I could clock you with the door."  But I have to admit, it WAS fun telling students all day, "Hey, get crackin' on your work lest I decide to bean you with a door too."  

And of course S.P. is watching all of this, taking notes.  Glad I'm not privy to the conversation she'll be having with her university mentor later.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Inspiring Author and Commissioned Art

Okay, get ready for a shallow intro here: Stephanie Dray is following me on twitter!  See, one day she stumbled upon one of my witty tweets (haha) and thought, "Wow, here's a clever tweeter.  I should follow this person." 

You're not buying that story?  Okay, fine.  *sigh*  Here's what really happened.  I @mentioned her in such a way where I hoped she'd notice my existence and maybe click the follow button.  And she did.  Hey, I didn't say I was proud.  Satisfied?  Yes.  Proud?  No.  Well, maybe a little.
Oh, in case you don't know who Stephanie Dray is....

In addition to being the writer of two intriguing novels ("Lily of the Nile" was her debut), she's just an altogether nice person.  We went back and forth a few times on her blog last year, and she doesn't let the fact that she's a published author get in the way of having ordinary conversations with 'ordinary' people.  As far as authors go, she's really becoming one of my inspirations.

In other news, I sort of alluded to this in a previous blog entry, but now it's official.  I've been commissioned to do an oil-painting.  It started because Shannon posted my oil paintings on facebook.  One of her FB friends saw my artwork and asked Shannon if she could pay me to do a piece for her.  Shan went ahead and referred her to me, and the rest is history. 

This whole situation has created a few miniature dilemmas.  The first thing I had to decide was if I even wanted to do a piece of art for payment.  My dream is to be a writer--not a painter--so I can't really see what benefit there would be to taking up a project that would probably cause me more stress than it was worth.  Also, my customer (for lack of a better term) wanted me to paint an image that I found disturbing, and that was something I really wrestled with (hence the question I posed on a previous post regarding compromising your taste/style for the sake of selling a piece).  Shan helped me to settle the first dilemma by telling me "Sell one piece, just to say that you've done it".  Well, the conversation went a little deeper than that, but that was the gist of it. Then a friend of mine helped me to solve dilemma #2 by explaining to me that selling art is a matter of economics.  If I don't feel any passion for the project I'm working on, then it's up to me to decide if the money is worth the exchange of my talent and time, minus that passion.  In a way, here's where art becomes a "job" rather than a pleasant way to spend your Saturday.   

The customer in question--let's call her "A"--has been really awesome to work with so far.  She decided to meet me halfway on her picture choice, and exchanged her first image with one that was much more palatable for me.  It's still not my taste, but doesn't leave me morally unsettled like her first choice.  And with the colors, shapes, and shadowing it involves, it could actually be fun.  I'm charging 'A' $115 for an 18x24 painting, which is nothing when compared to my daily teaching wages.  Shan and I figured that I should go cheap for a first sell, and $115 breaks down to 25 cents a square inch...can't go much cheaper than that.  Now I know where the term "starving artist" comes from.  Better not quit my day job.

Friday, January 13, 2012

You Are my Destiny and Nostalgia

Trin and I just finished playing "Just Dance", and the girl is creaming me!  I used to win her on every song, but somehow the tables have turned and she suddenly got GOOD.  I need to sneak and practice while she's at karate or something. 

This is hands-down my and Trin's favorite song to dance to on the game.  It is so high-energy and fun.  The original Jai Ho featured on "Slumdog Millionaire," but I like this version with the Pussycat Dolls much better.  The video leaves a little to be desired, especially with the blatantly obvious Nokia promotion at the beginning, but it's not too bad. 

Tomorrow Elijah turns eight years old.  This particular birthday really snuck up on me, because he's still such a scrawny little guy with this little pip-squeak voice.  I can't seem to stop viewing him as a five-year-old.  I know it's cliche, but Elijah's birthdays always give me relentless waves of nostalgia.  I just love him so much.  I love cuddling with him, and I love the way he pummels me with bear hugs the second I come home from work.  I love how hilariously witty he is every single day.  He brings so much laughter and joy into my life, and it scares me sometimes how quickly these moments are speeding by.

For his birthday tomorrow, we're taking him to a snow-tubing park up in Lake Arrowhead.  One of his favorite places to go to is Knott's Soak City, but we can never take him there for his birthday since it's in January.  So we decided that the tubing park would be a good winter alternative.  Same concept (either way, you're sliding down on inner-tubes), but the former has slides while the latter has hills.

For dinner, we're taking him to his favorite restaurant: IHOP.  Shan and Jer will be there too, along with Carey and Teri, my mom and dad, and a whole bunch of kids.   

I got interrupted in sort of a funny way (too long of a story to share right now though), but now I'm back.  Of course, now it's almost 11:30, and we're getting up early for our snow-tubing adventure tomorrow, so I guess I'm done after all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Back to Work: Still in the Honeymoon Phase

I'm trying to remember what #3 was the other day.  Work, cameos, and...what? 

I'll mention really quick that my first two days back to work have been pretty awesome.  Of course, it's been only two days. It's possible that my students are still sleep-walking lethargians trying to recover from being on the swing shift for the past three weeks, and thus too tired to engage in their normal antics.  But I'll take what I can get.  I have also been in an inexplicably good mood these last few days.  Even yesterday, when I was running on a few hours of sleep, I felt so upbeat.  Long story short: I'm happy. 

Wow, it's like being on break for three weeks slammed me right back into the honeymoon phase with my job.  It's almost nauseating.  In a few days, I'll be cringing at these words, rolling my eyes, and muttering "moron" at myself.

Off the work topic, my weekend was good. Thursday Becky and I went out to lunch. As usual, it was incredibly pleasant to relax with her over some greek salad and iced-tea, chatting about whatever.  Friday I went somewhere, but I don't remember where.  The end of break has been sort of a blur.  On Saturday I went out to Sizzler with Teri.  Sizzler's food is not the best, but I have a soft-spot for that place.  Shannon and I used to go there on our birthdays when we were kids, and we always brought along our best friends at the time, Sam and Jackie.  I still remember this one year, Sam grabbed a fortune cookie from the buffet (back when they actually had fortune cookies).  She didn't like her fortune, so she went back and grabbed another one.  She didn't like that fortune either, so she disappeared a third time.  This time, when she came back, she had an entire plate full of what must've been forty fortune cookies.  I remember I couldn't stop giggling as she tore through fortune after fortune, determined to get the "perfect" one.  Okay, I'm digressing majorly here.  I think I must get long-winded when I'm tired.  Or sometimes I get long-winded just because I'm long-winded.  What was I talking about again?  Oh yeah.  After lunch with Teri on Saturday, I visited with Julie for a couple of hours, which I loved.  I always feel so comfortable and safe with Jewls. 

I remember what #3 was!  I was curious if an artist should ever compromise their own tastes/style for the sake of selling a piece.  Two days ago I had my reasons for pondering that issue, but I'll have to explain later when I'm feeling more energetic.  I'm losing steam with writing tonight. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The End of Winter Break and Cameos

Three quick things. 

First, I'm fighting off the blues right now because I start back to work tomorrow.  I'm excited to see my coworkers again, and I do miss some of my students, but I'm dreading the heavy work load, the grading, the deadlines...all of that stuff.  It'll all be fine once I'm back in the rhythm of things, but having three weeks off gives you that little taste of paradise, and it's depressing to give that up.  Plus I'm definitely not looking forward to my alarm going off at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow when I've been staying up until 2:00. 

Second, I'm suddenly attracted to cameos.  It started two days ago because I'm painting a small cameo necklace into the project I'm working on for my mom, so I google-imaged a few of them to use as a reference.  Looking through the various images, I started to feel intrigued by these little pendants.

Isn't that pretty?  Well, I guess the woman's silhouette isn't exactly pretty.  She looks "handsome" at best--but still...I love the vintage look of these things.  Here are two more:

That last one is a little morbid, but I still sort of like it.  It's like victorian meets goth.  These are all cheapy ones, by the way (I looked them up on e-bay).  I'm not sure how much a real cameo would cost, but I think I might look it up just for the fun of it.  Assuming that there is a such thing as a "real" cameo...didn't they used to be made out of bone, or ivory, or something?  Think I'll look that up, too.  Not tonight though.  Tonight I have to get lessons and such ready for tomorrow.  Blech. 

I had a third thing I was going to talk about, but I just looked at the time and realized it's after 11:00, so I better go get everything ready for work tomorrow.  Have I said blech yet?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Entering 2012

Yikes, I've had this post saved under "drafts" since January 3rd, and still haven't published it.  Okay, New Year's it is: 

I'm a little sleepy but I still need to talk about New Year's, so this is going to be the short version.  For New Year's we had a small get-together at our house with Shannon and Jeremy, Sarah, Becky and Steve, and almost all associated kids.  Everyone showed up at our house between 7:00 and 7:30.  For the first hour or so, we just hung out and chatted.  After that, Becky and Shannon played a game of shot glass checkers, which was pretty damn entertaining to watch.  As the name suggests, all of your checker pieces are actually shot glasses, and every time your opponent captures one of your pieces, you have to down the shot.  Since it would have been sheer insanity to take that many shots, Becky's glasses contained red wine, and Shannon's contained margarita mix.  Ultimately Shannon won the game, which meant more casualties for Becky to gulp down.  That didn't sound right.  I'm too tired to go back and fix it though, so moving on...

After checkers, we all played "Apples to Apples."  I mentioned this already, but that game is so hysterical.  And pretty screwed up too, depending on who the judge is for each round (I swear a little fear would enter my heart each time Steve judged).  We played the game all the way until the countdown.  During the countdown, we did our usual ritual of running outside and banging pots and pans.  Afterwards, the kids wouldn't stop blowing their party whistles, so Clint stole them one by one and kept throwing them into the fireplace.  Okay, I realize this sounds jacked up, but it was really funny.  Shannon, in particular, was driving him crazy with her whistle, so he chased her down, grabbed her whistle, and chucked it into the fire.  A minute later another one showed up in her mouth, so again they went tearing through the house, and whistle #2 ended up in the fireplace.  Thirty seconds later she had another one.  It was awesome.  She had somehow found a magical way to make these things materialize from thin air, just to torment my husband.  Later Elijah crept into the kitchen and asked, "Mom, where all the whistles?"  to which I replied, "Sorry, Daddy burned them all." 

After the countdown, Becky made a delicious champagne cocktail that tasted like butterscotch.  We pressured her into giving a toast.  About two minutes after saying "cheers", the power went out.  The timing for the outage was more than a little amusing, just because it came right after the countdown (not to mention Becky's toast).  We were all joking around about it being an omen of some kind.  And naturally, Jeremy was sitting there hootin' and hollering about 2012 and the end of the world.  Overall, the power was out for about an hour, I think, but with the fireplace lit and the massive quantities of candles we have in our house, it was never truly dark.  It was actually very warm and ambient.  I have to admit that I felt a little let-down when the lights finally came back on.

Once we had electricity again, everyone sort of lost steam and decided to watch a movie.  Becky, Steve, Shannon, and Jeremy stayed the night, and like last year, Clint made everyone breakfast in the morning.

This was the short version.  Makes me wonder what the long version would have been like.  A tedious yawn-fest, I'm guessing.

I never came up with resolutions for this year.  I'm still waiting to feel "resolved".