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Do Me a Favor

6 Nov

If you’re reading this right now, odds are that you know me. At very least you’ve read my blog before and you’re curious about why I’m blogging now, after ten months of radio silence. The fact is, I need you to do me a favor.

Tomorrow, November 7th, residents in the Anoka-Hennepin School District will have the opportunity to vote on the district’s Fit for the Future referendum. It would be easy for me to copy and paste facts from the district’s website about the referendum onto this blog post. If I did that, though, all I’d be doing is giving you abstract facts and figures. If you work or have a child in the district, then you’ve already gotten a bijillion numerous phone calls and emails with those facts and figures. I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

Instead, I’d like to tell you about why this referendum matters to me.

In case you don’t know, I teach in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. The building that I teach in is filled to maximum capacity. We have more teachers than we do classrooms. This means that we have several teachers that travel throughout the day either by pushing a cart through our crowded hallways, or by lugging carry-on sized luggage and stacks of milk crates full of materials. This is an inconvenience for them to be sure. That would be bad enough on its own, but an unfortunate side effect of this situation is that in order for these teachers to teach, they must displace another teacher from his/her classroom. I am one of these displaced teachers. All of us involved in this rotation of rooms lose valuable time each day hauling supplies, running back to rooms we forgot things in, re-logging into computers, and sifting through hurriedly-gathered-to-make-room-for-the-next-class stacks of papers. Doing all of these things takes away instruction time from our students, and invaluable minutes off of our prep periods. Best practice dictates that students have learning targets posted for them, organized and clearly labeled spaces for late work/missing assignments/materials/etc., start-up work on the board ready to go, and exit directions in place. These aspects of best practice are difficult to achieve when you’re not in the room before your students, and they’re impossible if you’re one of the unfortunate teachers without a room to call your own. Is this constant changing of rooms a pain in the ass? You betcha. It also adds unnecessary stress to a job that’s already undeniably tough.

If this referendum passes, an addition will be built on to my school. This would eliminate the portable building at my school, providing a much more secure environment for all students and staff. This would be a win unto itself. The icing on the cake is that it would also provide much needed classrooms for us teachers. So, please, get out and vote yes tomorrow.

But ok, let’s pretend for a second that you don’t care about me as a person. Maybe you don’t give hoot about my job-related safety or stress level. Perhaps then, just maybe, you care about my children.

You know, these guys.

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Right now, the school Child #1 attends has more children in its attendance area than is safe to have in the school. Kindergarteners that are supposed to go to his school are bussed an extra 30 minutes each day to a different school because there is simply not enough room where they are supposed to go. These kindergarteners are separated from their siblings and neighborhood friends. If this referendum does not pass, this will happen to more than just kindergarteners. It could happen to my son. If growth in my area continues, it could happen to all of my children.

If this referendum passes, however, a new school will be built just across from my neighborhood. My children would be walkers to a brand new, clean, shiny, technology-filled school that can actually fit them. Some people in my family have already asked what my children want for Christmas. It’s this. A new school. A brighter future.

It’s easy to think of voting and politics as theoretical things that perhaps don’t impact our day-to-day lives all that much. I guarantee you that this vote will impact my every single day. For most homeowners in the district, the referendum will cost them about $11.00/month. (Okay, so maybe I did decide to throw in some good old district-provided facts. Sue me). You can impact my every single day for the price of two Starbucks beverages. My every day will be better, and the average checking account won’t even feel the difference.

So please, please, please, do me a favor. Vote yes tomorrow. If you’re not in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, then encourage all those you know in the district to get out and vote. If you don’t vote, then you can’t make a difference. This will make a difference. It will make a difference to me, and it will make a difference to my kids. So if you like me, even a little, get your butts to the polls. I’ll owe you one.

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The School that Saved Me

5 Dec

I’ve always been the type of person who likes to stay busy. I complain about it, of course, but really it’s all of my own choosing. Apparently, Child #1 has inherited that trait of mine. Through my school district’s Community Education program, my kiddo has basically done it all. Swimming, gymnastics, t-ball, basketball, cooking, science, Lego engineering. He’s jumped from one activity to the next, always excited about trying something new. His newest class? Karate.

One of the exciting things about Community Ed. programs is that they take us to schools in my district that I never would have set foot in if not for the class we were there to attend. As a teacher, poking around other schools is something that I love doing. Karate class, however, took me to more than just another elementary school. It took me on a trip down memory lane.

When I talk about the elementary school I attended as a child, I talk about Desmond Charles Elementary.* But, in reality, Desmond Charles only accounts for half of my elementary education. Before I went to DCE, I attended a private, Catholic, elementary school. In kindergarten I didn’t mind it, but at the age when school was mostly play, what wasn’t to like? As I got a little older, my Catholic elementary school became repressive. I felt like I wasn’t able to have a personality. Or really, I wasn’t able to have my personality. There are some who may have thrived in the rigidity of the rules and regulations. Not me. I had always loved learning, but I became less and less excited about school. While I was still young at the time, I remember my unease about going to school vividly. When I was at school, I felt like I was a shadow of my real self, only visible in the right light. I began to try to get out of school, crying to my parents that I didn’t want to go back. I am beyond blessed that they listened.

Desmond Charles Elementary saved my life. That may sound melodramatic, but I know it to be true. At DCE I had teachers who provided me with opportunities to be goofy. They encouraged and helped me to be creative. To write. To read. To sing. I found a home at DCE, and in that home, I found myself.

When I walked through the doors of DCE to take Child #1 to karate, I felt just as at home as I did the day I had left. The ceilings felt lower. The media center, massive in my memory, felt smaller. The desks most definitely felt shorter. What hadn’t changed a bit was the ease I felt as I walked the halls. To an outsider, they’d be nothing special. Just elementary hallways with plain walls masked by student artwork. To me, they were a reminder of the power of great teachers, and parents who truly hear their children when they speak.

There has been much talk in some circles of how public schools are failing our children. In some cases, that may be true, but it was public school that saved me. I won’t soon forget it.

*Desmond Charles Elementary is not the actual name of my elementary school. It has been changed here for privacy.

+DISCLAIMER: I am sure there are many, many people who have had fabulous experiences with Catholic and other kinds of private schools. I am just not one of those people.

A Bit of Poetry

4 Nov

Let me preface this post by saying I am no poet. My efforts are small and pale in comparison to that of, say, Ali (@alwayscoffee). But, every now and again it’s fun to try my hand at it. These little ramblings are the product of some poetry exercises I did with my writing club at school. The inspiration for some of them actually came from the paint names on various paint chips. Maybe you can tell. Maybe you can’t. At any rate, I happened upon them when cleaning out a file the other day and figured it didn’t hurt to share.

Untitled
I speak the language of riddles,
Hidden by silence,
Disguised as echoes,
Halfway between tomorrow and yesterday,
Lost for years among the shadows.

Not So Happily Ever After
She descends from her ivory tower,
Her bed of roses no longer a comfort.
“Lantana,” they whisper,
Velvet slipper disguising,
Ruby red lips smiling,
Bunchberry wine,
Poison, then gone.

Moon Shadow
The moon shadow chases, follows,
Like the song echo through a blue memory;
Still is the winter lake under this navy sky.
A blue spell it casts;
The cool dusk has turned,
From twilight’s melody to hazy dawn,
The Regatta Bay sings back,
And the moon shadow is no more.

 

 

I’m Just a Festive Person

31 Oct

I’ve been debating all week about this post. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. In the grand scheme of things, or even the small scheme, it’s not a big deal. I should probably just let it go. But, the fact that it’s days later and I’m still thinking about it means that for whatever reason, this issue resonates with me.

Let me start by saying that I love holidays. Not just the big ones like Easter and Christmas. ALL holidays. I’m the person that switches out her home décor the day after one holiday is over to be ready for the next one. I’m the person that wears green for St. Patrick’s Day when I’m not even a little bit Irish. I even celebrate Flag Day. That’s just the kind of person I am. I’m festive.

I’m also a public school teacher. Emphasis on the word public. All inclusive, all walks of life, all religions, all ethnicities. Public. There is chronic indecision in the public school system on how to handle The Holiday Situation. Do we celebrate all holidays, ever? Do we celebrate the holidays applicable to the majority of students attending? Or do we not acknowledge holidays whatsoever? My district, in particular, seems divided on this issue.

At the school where I teach, we play music for two minutes each morning. The music acts as a “two minute warning” for students to get to their first class. Through a series of events, the duty of selecting the songs to play has fallen into my lap. It was my plan this week to play the song “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Knowing our conflicted approach to the holidays, I went through the appropriate avenues and did get the go ahead from my principal to play the song. We played the song Monday, and it was awesome. Tuesday my principal told me that I couldn’t play it anymore. Apparently there were parent phone calls, and parents were concerned that we were celebrating Halloween as a school. I asked my principal if parents had specifically mentioned the song in said phone calls, and she said no, other factors had led to the calls. But, since we don’t officially celebrate Halloween as a school, I had to ixnay my song.

I was crestfallen. I love that song, and I was beyond excited to play it for our morning music. Yes, this is partially due to the fact that I love Halloween. But this song is also fitting for another reason.

Halloween is a big deal in my town, the town where my school is located. A BIG deal. We have three separate parades dedicated to Halloween. One of these parades even includes the public (PUBLIC) elementary school students getting out of school for a day to march in it. Together. As public schools. We have pumpkin carving contests, ghost tours, a Halloween gala, a medallion hunt, and then some. To say that Halloween is a part of our local culture is an understatement. Did I mention that the words to “This Is Halloween” include the line, “This our town of Halloween?” We ARE the town of Halloween. I don’t think I could have found a more fitting song.

I know that really, it’s just a song. It really should not be a big deal. But celebrating holidays is a part of my traditions. It’s a part of my culture. We speak a lot in education about celebrating our cultural diversity. Does this not include letting people celebrate their traditions and holidays, whatever those traditions and holidays may be? I can’t help but feel sometimes like I’m being told, “I do not participate in that tradition, so you can’t either.”

This is probably an awful way to feel. I know that I am naïve, and self-centered for thinking this way. I am in the majority population locally in almost every category. White. Middle Class. Christian. I’ve never known what it’s like to be in the minority. I’ve never known what it’s like to see 98% of the people around me participating in something that I’m not a part of.

But then again, I wasn’t asking anyone to participate. I was just asking to play a song. There are those that would argue that I’d be forcing all students to participate in the listening of the song. I can see that. But I’d happily play a song pertaining to any other holiday from any other culture/religion/tradition, and I’d happily listen to it. Like I said, I’m all about embracing the holidays of the world. I’m just a festive person.

Maybe I’ll bring this up again with my principal. Maybe I won’t. It is just a song, and a lot can change in a year. In the meantime, Happy Haunting for those of you who celebrate, and happy Friday for those of you who don’t!

Young Love, Real Love

16 Oct

This past weekend I had the joyous pleasure of spending some time with a few of my former sixth grade girls who are now in ninth grade. They had invited me to go see The Maze Runner with them, since that is a book that we read together when I had them as students. To say I was flattered when they invited me is a gross understatement. When people talk about teaching being a rewarding profession, this is what they’re talking about.

We were the only people in our theater, which was fantastic. It allowed us them to cry out things like, “All four walls are supposed to be open!” and “Why does Theresa look like Bella Swan?” without fear of being kicked out. After the movie we went to Starbucks because, well, duh. After our discussion of the book and the movie and why the books are always better unless they’re Lord of the Rings, our discussion strayed to other topics. My girls told me about their classes and how middle schoolers should never, ever complain about the amount of homework they get because high school is so much worse. They told me about their families and their friends and their cell phones or lack thereof. But then the conversation took an unexpected turn. It went something like this:

Student: “Well Ms. Nelson, we had something we wanted to ask you.”

Me: “Ok?”

Student: “Well, ok. We’ve been trying to find our soul mates, so we wanted to ask you how you met your husband.”

My first reaction was to laugh at how stinking cute they were for asking me that. My second thought was the obvious one, that ninth grade is far too young to be worrying about things like soul mates. But then I really thought about it. Husband and I met each other when I was in tenth grade. Granted, we didn’t start dating until a year later, but still. I was only one year older when I met my husband than these girls are now. It was a really hard idea to wrap my mind around. They still seem so young in so many ways! Was I really that young myself when Husband and I met? Then I realized that whether I was or wasn’t, it didn’t matter.

It’s easy to dismiss relationships that start at a young age as puppy love. A fleeting feeling that isn’t “real,” and cannot possibly withstand the test of time. For many, that may be true. But for some relationships, like mine, it’s the real deal. The beauty of love, true love, is that it evolves with the people who carry it and mold it. The love Husband and I have for each other now is different from the love we had back when I was in high school. Our love is calmer now, less full of angst. It seems less urgent somehow, but no less vibrant. No less meaningful. No less real.

My first reaction was to laugh at my students and brush off their request for advice on finding one’s soul mate, but to do so would have belittled the lives they lead. In retrospect at age almost-thirty, the trials and tribulations of my fourteen-year-old self seem small and unimportant. But I remember clearly, that at the time they were everything. So I told them my story. Husband’s story. Our story. Even the embarrassing parts. Especially the embarrassing parts.

These particular girls hold a special place in my heart. They’re my girls from my first year of teaching and my first year of our middle school book club. If I’m being completely honest, I see parts of my sixth-grade self in each of them. Their proclivity for falling in love with fictional characters, their feelings of self-doubt, their yearning for fairy tale romance, kindred spirits and something more. I can relate to it all. The thing that got me through those painfully awkward years were my friends, my books, and my teachers. Teachers who took me seriously, related to me, and saw my life not as a fleeting moment in time, but as the only moment that mattered. If I can do that, be that, for these girls, then I will be able to consider myself a success.

 

Breastfeeding: A Pros & Cons List

31 Dec

Society would dictate that as this is the last day of the year 2013, I should be writing some sort of reflective blog on what this past year has taught me, etc. etc. Sorry. Not going to happen. Instead, today I’m going to blog about something that has been eating up an enormous chunk of my time over the past couple of months (pun intended): breastfeeding.

To say that I hate it isn’t quite accurate. I don’t hate the actual act of nursing or pumping, now that the whole sore nipple pain part has gone away. I’m rather indifferent about the process. But that doesn’t mean I’m not frustrated. This isn’t the first time I’ve expressed some of my anxieties about breastfeeding (please see Evidence A and Evidence B). I had told myself that I was going to stick with it at least until my birthday in March. Then, as a birthday present to myself, I would quit. Now that the supplementing with formula band-aid has been ripped off, though, quitting sooner rather than later has been on my mind. As per usual when guilt is involved, I’ve wavered back and forth enough times to give me metaphorical motion sickness. In the end, I’ve recommitted myself to sticking with it until March. Still, because I’ve decided to play the martyr, I thought I’d share my pros and cons list with you, World, so you can truly appreciate my sacrifice.

Because they somehow consume more of my thoughts, we’ll start with the cons.

Cons

  • I am still living my life in increments. They are (mercifully) longer than 2 hours now, but they are increments nonetheless. I can’t agree to a spontaneous full day of Christmas shopping at the mall without first strategically planning out which parking lot has the most privacy so I can pump in the car, lest my boobs explode and/or I leak through my shirt. For example.
  • I am a teacher. This means that the only time available to pump in my work day is my prep periods. That would be just dandy, if my prep periods weren’t the time in which I typically make copies, do my planning, collaborate with coworkers, perform my lunch duty, and grade papers. Oh yeah, and pee. So now, instead of doing any of those things, I pump. Consequently, I am now always behind on my grading. And my copies. And my planning. You get the point.
  • Child #2 has started sleeping through the night (cue chorus of angels singing). Guess who hasn’t? That’s right. In order to keep up an adequate milk supply, keep my clothes dry, and not be horribly uncomfortable, I still have to get up far earlier than I normally would in order to pump.
  • I know you know I like wine. But do you truly, truly understand the depths of my love for a glass of wine after a long day? I’m not sure you do. Sometimes, one glass just isn’t enough. Except for me it has to be. I know, I know, “Pump and Dump” is an option. But if I have to put in the time to pump anyway? Well that just seems wasteful.

Pros

  • Nutrients, antibodies, etc. etc. that make breast milk the healthier option for my baby.
  • Saving money. Have you looked at the price of a canister of formula lately? That shit’s expensive. My au naturel option is free.
  • Feeling like a good mom. There’s something to be said about knowing you’re making the best choice for your baby. And, if I’m being honest, there’s a little tinge of me that likes being the parent that he needs most, even though it’s on a purely primal level.
  • Snuggles, when I’m nursing. Yes, I still bond with him when I’m bottle feeding, but there’s something comforting about that skin on skin contact.
  • Built-In Get Out of Jail Free Card. Oh the dishes need to get done? Sorry, I need to pump. Child #1 needs help wiping his ass? Sorry Husband, Child #2 is attached to my boob. No, I’m not just sitting on the couch watching this Four Weddings marathon; I’m feeding my child thankyouverymuch.

Anyway, like I said, I’ve decided to stick with it. It’s a choice that I’m at peace with. March will be here before you know it, and before I can even blink he’ll be old enough to drink real milk. It’s time to savor these baby moments, however inconvenient they may seem now. I know I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

*Disclaimer Just In Case Someone Is Accidentally Offended By This Post: I am not at all trying to say that if you don’t breastfeed your baby you aren’t a good mother, or that you’re making the wrong choice. No two mothers’ circumstances are the same. Everyone needs to do what’s best for them in their own personal situation. 

Classroom Rewards Advice Wanted

2 Sep

As a third-year teacher, classroom management is something that I am constantly working on improving. Most of the time I think I do a pretty good job, but I’m a long way from perfection. I really love the idea of positive reinforcement as a classroom management tool. Because of this I’ve been searching Pinterest the internet in search of classroom reward systems, and I’m a little overwhelmed by all the options out there.

A lot of the options I’ve stumbled across seem pretty complex. They involve pennies or popsicle sticks or little pom pom balls and then these things are traded in for stickers which are added up to equal different amounts and then those amounts can get you a coupon which you can then use to “purchase” a reward. Ok, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. These systems involve a lot of storage and an intricate filing system that just isn’t plausible in my current teaching position. I’m a middle school teacher with 90 students to keep track of, not an elementary teacher with a class of about 30. Furthermore, I don’t have my own classroom in which to store these objects or walls hang a sticker/incentive chart on. Throughout the day I travel to four different classrooms, so what I need is simplicity.

I know this much: I love the systems that involve reward coupons like “Listen to your iPod while you work” or “Sit next to a friend for a day.” What I’m struggling with now is how exactly to have my students earn these rewards. It seems clear that I need to hand out some sort of ticket or token which they would then turn in to earn those rewards. But how often do I hand out these tokens? What do they need to do to earn a token? How many tokens do they need before they can earn a reward?

The closest system I’ve found to what I’ve been envisioning is one in which paper tickets are handed out for positive behavior, 100% on tests, etc. Once ten tickets are earned, students can put their names in a drawing for one of the reward coupons. At the end of the month, three names are drawn and those are the students who actually earn the reward.

Are there any teachers out there who have tried a similar system? What has worked in the past for you? I’m particularly interested in advice from middle school teachers. Any tips or tricks would be much appreciated!