Tuesday, December 27, 2011

John Cougar Mellencamp Got It Wrong

For Christmas, my wonderful parents bought me an iPad, a great gift that I can use at home and at work, and that very conveniently fits in my purse.  Most importantly, it gives me 24/7 access to books, so that I can be an even more shameless book worm.  The first book I bought on my iPad was Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), a book I've been wanting to read for about a month now.  I started reading it on Sunday night, after all the Christmas festivities came to an end, and I finished it last night.  I'm sad to say I didn't know much about Mindy Kaling before reading the book, except that she was Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and I love her character.

Since finishing the book, I have become convinced that Mindy and I would be best friends if we knew each other.  She is awesome.  On top of being awesome, I kept finding myself agreeing with so many things she said in the book.  If I were ever on one of those "make a wish come true" reality shows for being a super dedicated, young teacher, I would totally make my wish to spend the day with Mindy.  We would browse the Gilt Group app on our cell phones, looking for great deals on great clothes, and she would tell great jokes while I struggled to come up with witty and smart comebacks.....Anyway, I digress....

I think the main reason I loved her book is because Mindy Kaling loves her career.  So many women in Hollywood write memoirs about their love lives or their broken childhoods or their falls from grace, but Mindy wrote about her real, normal, pretty well-adjusted life.  She wrote about her successes and her failures with a funny, frank honesty that I found so endearing, because it is real life.  Here's some "real talk" that I think serves as important reminders for people my age (including me):

John Cougar Mellencamp got it wrong.  Very few people are like Jack and Diane.  And if your "thrill of living" is gone at eighteen, then you are headed for a long, miserable existence.  I enjoyed high school, but I did not have a "Jack and Diane" high school experience.  I studied hard, had a great group of friends who also studied hard, and went to an all-girl's high school, where people cared about their GPA and class rank more than hanging out at the Tastee Freeze.  I did spend a sizable amount of time sitting at Sonics and hanging out in parking lots, but I must say that I am glad I have grown out of the "loitering" stage of socialization. I am convinced that the best is yet to come.

Marriage is tough.  In the book, Mindy talks about the ratio of "happily divorced" to "happily married" couples she knows.  I feel like I know a lot of people who are recently married, getting married, or engaged (especially after the recent holidays), and I am thrilled that they have found love and happiness.  Marriage sounds scary to me, though.  It's a life long commitment, and I have a hard time deciding which brand of hummus to buy at the grocery store to last me one week.  I want to, someday, have a long, happy marriage like my parents.  But for now, I am going to concentrate simply on the task of taking care of myself.

It's cool to love your job.  Like I said, my favorite thing about this book was that you could just tell that Mindy Kaling is passionate about, and good at, what she does.  I want to be like that about my job for a long time.  I want to like my job and be excited to go to school everyday and be creative in the way I teach.  I think "work excitement" can be applicable to any career, whether you're a teacher, a writer, or anything else. People, myself included, LOVE to complain about work--example, Post-Grad Problems on Twitter.  But, let's be real, the best way to get through the day is to make lemonade with those lemons, unless you are already highly successful at whining on Twitter, that is.  I, however, have to take the high road, because I am not naturally witty or funny in small snippets.  Anyway, I get it Mindy.  I like my job, too.

So these are a few of my favorite things.  I am crazy about a book that makes me think, especially if it makes me laugh at the same time, and this book made me do that.  I am still considering whether or not to mention Mindy Kaling when I post this to Twitter and dream about the small chance that she might read it and enjoy it.  You know, every girl can dream.  I hope you, too, had a wonderful Christmas with your family and got an awesome gift from your parents.  Happy New Year.  Time to work on those resolutions, folks!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Love and Compassion

SCHOOL'S OUT! As silly as it may sound, I think I was just as thrilled as the children about Christmas break.  My school went all the way until this last Wednesday, while pretty much every other district was done on Friday, so I was soooooooo ready to call it a semester.  I feel bad complaining about my break though.  Most people work all the way up to Christmas Eve, and some on Christmas Day.  I am thankful that I get a couple weeks to recharge before I get right back to it in January.

Speaking of January, I've placed a few of large goals in this next semester that I'm nervous/excited about:

1. I applied for my Praxis 3 assessment, which determines whether I get to keep being a teacher or not.  No pressure, I just need to pass to get my initial license replaced with a "real" teaching license....
2. I registered for extra grad school classes this semester, you know, just to keep things interesting.  The course load I took this semester was definitely sufficient to keep me busy, but I guess we'll see how this goes!
3. Finally, I signed up for the Little Rock half marathon in March.  I'm so excited to have a running goal in front of me, and I know I can do it.  However, 13 miles still sounds like a really, really long distance.

I'm excited/nervous/anxious about these developments in my life, but I don't technically have to think about them until January.  Today, I want to focus on my favorite holiday--Christmas!

In my last post, I talked about the "Christmas slump," how I was just struggling to find my Christmas spirit this year.  I think part of the problem was that I was just overwhelmed by lots of other junk.  I wasn't allowing myself the time to savor the moments that make Christmas so special.  However, this week I have watched several Christmas movies, baked, wrapped Christmas presents, and, in general, made merry.  Tonight, we start family Christmas festivities with my dad's family, and then they'll keep going strong until Sunday night.  I'm super excited. Bring. It. On.

Last night, my family went to dinner and the Arkansas Rep to watch it's performance of A Christmas Carol the Musical.  I taught this play to my seventh graders this year, so I was really excited to see how the musical compared to the original Dickens work. (You may now forever call me a nerd for that statement.  I realize it makes me sound like such a book snob.)  In many ways, it was very similar.  There were even lines lifted straight from the original work, which I appreciated.  However, there was one song that was repeated throughout the musical that really spoke to me as the true theme of Ebenezer Scrooge's story of redemption.

It said:
Let the stars in the sky remind us of man's compassion.
Let us love 'til we die
And God bless us every one.

I think, for me, that pretty much sums up the true meaning of Christmas.  I think about all the Christmas movies that I have loved over the years.  In each one, a main character learns the meaning of Christmas, and that meaning is ultimately love and compassion.  It is compassion for the less fortunate, like when we buy for Angel Tree children; it is love for family and friends as we go out of our way to see each other; it is love for a season that brings people together more than any other.  I love the lights and trees and trappings of Christmas, but my favorite thing is the way it makes people feel--to know that they love and are loved.  So, Merry Christmas.  I love each person that reads this blog, because it makes my day to know I'm not only writing to myself.  I hope you have a blessed holiday season, filled with love and compassion.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Christmas Slump

It's been longer than I would've liked since the last time I had an opportunity to blog, but it's par for the course in Christmas season.  Not only do all the "normal" daily duties exist, but Christmas becomes a looming presence--wonderful, because it's my favorite time of year, and overwhelming because it seems that there is so much to be done!

I have LOVED getting to teach Christmas literature in my classroom since we came back from Thanksgiving.  My 7th graders read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a classic redemption story that's been redone so many times over the past few years in movies that I have an endless list of possible connections to make, and my 6th graders have been reading Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which is probably my favorite Christmas story of all time.

Both books offer a story of judgment and redemption.  The main characters, both Scrooge and the Herdmans, are hardened, unhappy characters who initially cause their unhappiness to spread to all around them.  However, they quickly change their ways once they are caught up in the spirit of the season.

I think it's been good for me to teach these novels at this time of year, because it's a constant reminder to me that I cannot, and will not, let myself be a Scrooge.  I can't lie; I'm exhausted.  Yes, I love my students and my school and my job, but I am just as ready for a break as the children.  In fact, I may be more excited than they are. I put a countdown up in my room the day we came back from Thanksgiving.  Because of the exhaustion and stress that I've been attempting to push to the back of my mind, I have found myself so tempted over the past few school days to squelch the joy of my students.  I find myself so concerned with my own tiredness and headaches that when they come in overjoyed from recess and full of adrenaline, all I want to do is create silence and order.  I don't know what I'm thinking.  If I can't get full order in September, when there isn't a single holiday, it certainly isn't going to happen now, when we have seven days of school until break.

I realized today that I need to relish these moments of excitement.  The reason I chose middle school, and the reason I love it, is that kids still contain just a glimmer of that childlike wonder.  I don't want to be the tired, Scroogey teacher who snuffs that out.  So tomorrow, I'm going to try to jump right back in to the Christmas spirit with the children.  This IS my favorite season, and I need to act like it all day long.  Bring on the Christmas crosswords and the Santa-themed grammar worksheets!  Ms. Herring is ready to rally.

P.S. Only seven days of school until we get a nice, long, much needed break :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chaos and Comfort

The past two days have been crazy.  One would think that the children would come back from Thanksgiving break in a food coma, but they actually come back all the more ramped up for Christmas.  My classroom management skills are getting a legit workout lately with these holidays.  Thankfully, I have a handy, dandy Christmas countdown on my board in my classroom, so that I can also see how close we are to the end.  I can't believe how quickly this semester has blown by me.  I feel like I say that in every other post, but it really is mind-boggling to me that I have been a "real teacher" for six months now.  I've taught lessons, been observed by my bosses, gone to conferences, had successes, messed up badly, and found lots of places to laugh in between.  In short, I'm counting my blessings in a big way lately.

A particularly chaotic thing happened this morning.  My principals (all three of them) came to my room at 7:40 looking like they were bringing a death sentence.

"Jessica, we've got some bad news."
Oh, great......
"Your heat is out, so you'll be teaching in rooms where the teacher has a prep period until its fixed."
Did I mention I was giving a test today?  This kind of chaos is perfect for seventh grader concentration.  Perfect for annihilating it.
My response: "Ok, thanks for working it out!  Just tell me where to go!"  With a big, huge smile.

I taught my first three class periods in three different classrooms.  Nothing like a little chaos to spice up a Tuesday.  Honestly, I was a little worried that it would affect their module test scores (and behavior), but, as it turns out, I should have a little more faith.  All things considered, their behavior and focus were great.  They made me look pretty darn good on the seventh grade hall.  I'm always proud of my students, but I was especially proud of their monitoring and adjusting abilities today.

In addition to this chaos, there were also a couple new (or newly realized) comforts added to my school life today:

1. The principals bought a Keurig coffeemaker for the teacher's lounge as our Christmas gift.  That beats a poinsettia any day in my book.  Yes, I had two cups of coffee, and yes, I ate one of the accompanying homemade cookies that were brought to ring in the arrival of the coffeemaker.  I deserved it. Remember, my morning was chaotic.
2. I realized, yet again, how lucky I am to work where I work.  I value knowing that I work somewhere where I am comfortable.  It was so comforting to be able to play musical classrooms this morning and feel like all those teachers were totally on my side, even though I probably did put them out.  It was comforting this afternoon, when my principal complimented me on a lesson I taught last week.  It is comforting to know that I work in a place where I feel appreciated and like I'm part of something special.

I know that last part is borderline cheesy.  Or perhaps terribly cheesy.  But it's also true, and I think it's something that very few people experience or realize that they experience in their workplace.  Therefore, I am choosing to celebrate both chaos and comfort today.  Happy Tuesday!

Only 26 days until Christmas.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Gets the Shaft

It is officially my favorite time of year.  It's finally starting to feel like fall here in Arkansas, the leaves are changing, and there are Christmas decorations/music/gifts everywhere.  I'm in holiday heaven.  However, I do believe that Thanksgiving gets the shaft for the bigger, more commercialized version of Christmas that we all fall prey to.  I'm not going to lie, my house is already decorated for Christmas, I've already purchased Christmas gifts, and I love it.  But this blog entry is about Thanksgiving, in all its forms.

I'd like to begin at the beginning of this sidelined holiday.  These past few days, I've been teaching my 6th grade students to evaluate and analyze texts by comparing different stories of the "real" first Thanksgiving. They were put in groups and each group had to present their findings to the rest of the class.  One sweet student, who read an article from the perspective of the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans, stood proudly in front of the class and said loudly "Thanksgiving was a time of death and disappointment."  

Well, thanks, sweetheart, how nice.  She was right, of course.  It wasn't exactly a cheery, lets-be-best-friends day for the Pilgrims and the Indians, but I had to force myself not to laugh.  Oh, to be an overly-dramatic pre-adolescent girl.....

Anyway, I'm thrilled that Thanksgiving is no longer a day of death and disappointment.  Instead, it has morphed into a commercialized food fest, complete with turkeys, both real and cartoon, a Charlie Brown movie, and several casseroles that involve vegetables covered in butter and cheese (thanks, Paula Deen).  But I would like to focus on the THANKS part of THANKSgiving today.  I asked my students to list ten things they were thankful for this week.  For the sake of space, and so you don't stop reading, I'm only going to list five.

1. I am thankful for my family. I have two sisters who are two of my best friends. I have loving, supportive parents and grandparents. I truly could not think of enough words to express how much I need my family and how thankful I am for each one of them every, single day.
2. I am thankful for my best friend.  There are few people in this world who will wake up with you at 5 AM to go to the gym everyday, who will whine with you (and wine with you), laugh with you, and who share the same brain as you.  I am infinitely blessed to have a person like this, and it's something I don't say enough.  I am thankful for a best friend who know I'm thankful without me having to say it.  I am also, obviously, thankful for all of my friends, both the ones that live far away, for school or work, and the ones that live here.  Being the busy, over-involved person I am, I love my friends for picking back up where we left off, even if we haven't seen each other in a while.
3. I am thankful for my boyfriend.  Chance meetings can lead to great things, and I'm thankful that we met and gave this dating thing a shot. I'm thankful that I have a boyfriend that I can have fun with and share interests with.  I'm thankful that we both love and appreciate food, Razorback football, and so many others things.  And I'm thankful that you cheer me on in all that I do, especially at work.  This is a man who's never seen me teach but is convinced I'm the world's best teacher.  I love it. I'm also thankful that he has a family I look forward to seeing throughout the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving day.  They are wonderful people, who made me feel comfortable and at ease from the moment I met them.
4. I am thankful for my job.  In this economy, I feel blessed just to have a job. But on top of that, I have an awesome job.  I am thankful for my administrators, who cheer me on and support me everyday.  I am thankful for the teachers I teach with, who are talented and funny and so supportive of each other, and I am, ultimately, thankful for my students, who without knowing it are my "guinea pigs" this year.  They have jumped in to every assignment and followed my lead and made me laugh and smile so much along the way.  They have also supplied some great blog material :)
5. Last but not least, I am thankful for the little things in life--the small, sweet moments. I am thankful for good books, cups of coffee, smiles from students as they walk by in the halls, good talks with friends, yoga classes when I'm stressed out, the ability to run and walk and be active in general, and the joy of knowing I am loved by more than one person in this world. 

The beauty of Thanksgiving is that it is the one day of the year when we are forced to accentuate the positive and recognize the plethora of blessings in our lives.  I'm looking forward to it (and to the food fest).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Validation Station

I took my "one more mile" philosophy from last week's post seriously, and got my plans for the rest of the semester set in stone.  These next few weeks are sure to fly by.  When I started writing everything down on my big desk calendar, I was struck by how fast each month seems to be moving.  They say that time flies when you're having fun.  I think time also flies when you're flying by the seat of your pants and there's a sense of urgency behind each work day.  But, you know, that's kind of the same thing....

Anyway, I had a little journey of self discovery this week.  There's really no sweet student story to go along with this little life lesson, but not everything in life is learned in middle school.  Otherwise, I would've figured out wayyyy more stuff when I was thirteen.  This lesson came from a different kind of middle--a middle of the road place.

I think most people who know me well would consider me a terribly Type-A personality.  I compulsively clean my house at random times (ask my roommates), I am notoriously organized, and I hate clutter.  But this week I had a lapse in mental organization, which led to a stress/tiredness-induced meltdown moment today.  Last Monday, I realized I had forgotten to turn in a major assignment for a class I'm taking for my graduate degree.  This meant a zero grade.  Not only was I mortified at forgetting something so important, I was also mad at myself, because the teacher in me hated that I was one of those kids that frustrates me so much at work.  You know, the one who can do the work and understands what's required, and just doesn't turn it in.  I was very frustrated with myself, to say the least.  That first forgetful moment set the tone for the whole week.  I felt like I was playing catch up and losing the race.  On top of that, I was fighting this mysterious cold-like illness that was making me feel terrible.

Now, I do my best to put forth a confident image of myself.  I love my job and am proud of my work.  I love my life and all the relationships in it, and I strive to make those relationships strong and meaningful.  But I am not too confident to admit, to God and to the Internet world, that I have a little bit of a self-doubt issue.  Needless to say, my week of mental lapses and missed assignments brought that self-doubt glaringly into the forefront of my mind.  I want to be more than just good at what I do, and I've always been that way.  I'm a striver.  However I, and I think most people, also have this desire to be validated for that striving.  In my perfect world, there would be a Validation Station in each work place and neighborhood.  It would be a little stand where you could go on a bad day, pay a dollar, and have a sweet, smiling person remind you how awesome you are in whatever area you feel that you are lacking.  I think I could make some serious money off of this idea.

Unfortunately, there are no Validation Stations in life.  It's up to me to remember that I may not be perfect, but I'm striving.  And that's the important part.  As long as I'm giving my best, I can stand confident in knowing that I'm in the right place at the right time.  Mother Teresa said "We cannot do great things, only small things with great love."  I need to remember to validate myself in the small things--the smiles and sweet moments--and remember to breathe and know that in this moment, I'm doing just fine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One More Mile

Well, I am officially a believer of at least one of the "first year teacher myths" I heard before I started teaching.  You really do catch all the kids' germs.  And your poor, unsuspecting immune system has no idea how to fight off the onslaught of adolescent cooties, so you're bound to experience sickness on a whole new level.  For the second time in less than a month, I've fallen prey to the cold/allergy/stuffy head/can't breathe symptoms of some mysterious, nameless disease that requires antibiotics.  Thank God for health insurance.  I'm hoping I feel better tomorrow.  We shall see...

Before the germs attacked, I got to experience two great things this past week.

#1 - I went to the Arkansas Curriculum Conference on Thursday and Friday.  This meant that a) The children and I got two days apart, b) I got to see lots of people from college and other "teacher friends," and c) I got to hear Christopher Paul Curtis, a young adult author, talk about his writing process and read his work.  As an aspiring writer, or at least as someone who would rather write than pay a therapist, I loved every minute of hearing him speak.  Curtis writes from very personal experience and from a deeply rooted love of family.  It was absolutely breathtaking and inspiring to have him share so much of himself with his audience. Yes, I'm kind of a nerd, and yes, I loved every minute of those two days.  I was starting to feel bogged down at school, and I needed to learn some new tricks to reenergize myself for these next few weeks leading up to Christmas.  I have a feeling I'm going to need LOTS of tricks up my sleeve to keep the kids' attention with Santa Claus coming to town.

#2 - I ran another 5K on Saturday and dropped my time by four minutes.  My goal was to drop it by two minutes, so I was pretty excited.  However, I loved this event for a different reason.  In my last post, I talked about one of my 6th grade students who loves to run.  After parent/teacher conferences, this student came up to be at my desk one day and asked me to write down the dates of the next few 5Ks that I was running.  I wrote them down, thinking that he probably wouldn't be able to make it to all of them, especially not the first one on the list, which was an hour away from his house.  But not long after we checked in Saturday morning, I heard a familiar voice behind me say "Ms. Herring!"

Sure enough, there he was, with his whole family, ready to run.  I met his mom, dad, and sister, who I hand't had a chance to meet yet, and grandma was there too.  He got to meet my dad & roommate who both came with me to run.  Now when I say this kid is a runner, I mean that he is fast.  We asked him his pace before the race, and he nonchalantly said, "Oh, I don't know.....about 7:30 per mile."  That, ladies and gentleman, is WAY faster than me.  My student ended up winning the whole race.  My dad came in 2nd right behind him.  Dad tried to tie him, but he said the kid looked at him with this sneaky smile and took off at the end.  No way was he going to let anyone even get close to him.  After they finished, they both ran back to me and ran in again.  My student said, "Hey, Ms. Herring, there's a little girl right behind you that's probably gonna beat you.  You better hurry up."  He was loving every minute of being better than me.  He even posted a picture of us on Facebook later.  The caption says: "I beat my English teacher."  I was more than happy to let him win.  It actually made my day.

Racing on Saturday was a fun way to get to know my student and his family, but it also made me think about my life in the classroom.  When I run, I often tell myself, "one more mile, Jess!"  I feel like these last few weeks until Christmas are my "one more mile" at school.  Sure, there's another semester in the spring, but we'll consider Christmas break our "water stop" in this race.  I gave the first leg of the race everything I had, and I need to make sure I've conserved some energy for that last mile.  I want to set my best pace now.   So here we go!  Two weeks until Thanksgiving, and then three and a half until Christmas -- I think this is definitely a race I can win.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Parent Conferences!

I survived my very first experience with Parent/Teacher Conferences tonight.  Between the hours of 1:00 and 7:00 pm today, I met several of my students' parents and discussed progress.  I was a little nervous leading into this day, although I loved every, sacred minute that I got to sleep in this morning.  I had almost forgotten how rested one can feel when they don't have to wake up until 7:30.....anyway, I digress.

In my mind, I had this terrible feeling about conferences.  I just knew that some parent would come in my room ready to devour me/pick on me/belittle me since I am a first-year teacher and, therefore, new to this whole thing and a terribly easy target.  I could not have been more wrong about how the day went.  Far from being negative, it was a very positive experience.  There were some parents I wished I could've met, just to get some at-home support for some kiddos, but all-in-all it was a great day.  I even had a student, in front of her mother, say "I just want to thank you, Ms. Herring, for helping me understand English.  I never got it until now."  I smiled so big.

There were several moments like this, with kids and parents:
"We were nervous about seventh grade English, but this is his favorite class."
"I don't know what you've done to him, but he can't put down books these days.  He's always hated to read."
"I hear about your class everyday.  She must really like it."

After all the fretting I have done this semester about whether or not I'm doing this teaching thing right, it was so rewarding to hear parents be excited that their kids were excited about English.  More than anything, I loved hearing parents talk about how often they saw their students reading a book.  If I can give any one thing to my students to take with them out of my class this year, I want it to be a love of reading.

If there was one, wonderful conference all day, it was with a grandmother of one of my sixth graders.  This student was convinced he was "bad at English" from Day One.  He even told me so every, single day, in front of the entire class. "I hate English," "Writing sucks," and "I don't even know why I'm in here" were a few of my favorite Whinese phrases in this kid's vocabulary.  I was determined to convince this student that he actually was good at English, but I seemed to be failing terribly at this goal.  Then, two weeks ago I happened to mention in class that I was running a 5K that weekend.  His face lit up.  "Ms. Herring!  I run too!! I'm running in that!"  From that moment on, his attitude about English made a 180.  His grandmother told me today that he has, in fact, never liked English.  He does, however, like this English, because I run too.  I told her I would run a marathon if it meant he would keep liking English.

This conversation made me realize that I can't make prepositional phrases fun for everyone, but I can show an interest in my students as people and not just as students.  I did run that 5K, and I was not fast.  But my student came in Monday, told me he looked up my time online (which his grandmother confirmed), and told me he hoped we ran in the same race again.  It's the sweet, small things that make my day, but the same is true for my students too.  I didn't do anything special; it just happened to be enough. If I can continue doing enough this year, then I'd say that's a good start to my life in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Accentuate the Positive

The week and a half since I last blogged has been nothing short of a whirlwind.  Yesterday, I was late for our 6th grade Literacy meeting (for the second week in a row), and amidst my apology I told my literacy specialist, "I'm sorry, the past two weeks have felt like one really, really long day."  And they have.  It has been a hodge podge of pacing guides, grading, teaching, grading, answering millions of questions, grading, and trying to have some semblance of a social life in between.  

I will say, my birthday week threw me off my groove, in terms of school.  I paid dearly for all that time I spent with friends and family when I had a stack of about 500 papers to grade the next week--talk about a near meltdown.  I got it all done though, just in time to turn in grades and start all over.  My students are now learning to write narratives in 6th grade and informative essays (3 point papers) in 7th grade, which means my grading hours have gotten MUCH longer this past week.  In addition, my grad school class is attempting to hijack my life until Christmas.  All of our assignments for the course are due in the second half of the semester, starting now.  Merry Christmas to me.  

Despite all of this venting, I have to say that I LOVE my job more and more all the time.  It is desperately frustrating when smart kids get bad grades because they don't turn in their work, and teaching middle school can drive you crazy if you focus on the fluent "Whinese" speakers all day long. Instead of focusing on those things, I have been trying to do my best to focus on all the good things that have been happening lately.  

Example--one of my 6th graders, who has told me all year long that he is "bad at English," showed me seven different examples of prepositional phrases today AND told me he was starting to get better at English.  Yay! Success!   Another student in 7th grade wrote an almost perfect 3 point paper about S.E. Hinton and The Outsiders last week.  It was so wonderful to read a paper without ever picking up a grading pen.  

A friend of mine used to say "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative," and that couldn't be more necessary in my everyday life.  Crazy things happen.  Lessons get scratched or modified or just plain won't work.  Kids act like they've never heard of rules before.  Those things happen, but our days cannot be defined by those small annoyances when there are so many fantastic little victories to celebrate.  So tomorrow, I will celebrate.  I will be unflinchingly positive, and I will refuse to let those crazy things get in the way.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Inspiration to be Better

Steve Jobs passed away last week.  I would have blogged sooner, but my life got taken over by a barrage of papers needing to be graded and lessons needing to be planned, etc., etc.

Anyway, now is as good a time as any to pay homage to a man who has, through his innovation and technology, kept my life running for the past ten years, at least.  I got my first computer in the 8th grade, and it was an Apple iMac that looked like this:
Old school, right?   To this day, I will never forget driving to the Apple store in Memphis to pick it out.  I was so excited! I also still have one of the original iPods.  You know, the one that felt like a brick in your hand and had a simple, black and white display.  You should've seen my face when Santa brought that to my house.  When I graduated from high school, I got a Macbook Pro that is still faithfully serving its purpose today.  I've replaced the hard drive, the battery, and the internal charging whatever-you-call-it (I'm no computer genius, here), and added more memory, but it's still getting the job done almost seven years later.  I'm currently typing this blog entry on the Macbook Air my parents gave me when I graduated college, and I'm checking my fantasy football score on my iPhone, which I don't think I could live without.  

Steve Jobs, you changed our world.  You have been a part of every educational milestone in my life thus far, and you keep me organized everyday.  But beyond all of that, you left the world with a calling, an inspiration.  Your life and accomplishments taught us to defy the odds.  Be bigger and better than anyone expects.  Be the big surprise.  In the days since Jobs died, I've read several quotes of his, but this is, by far, my favorite: 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

I want to live by these words.  There's something to be said for paving your own way, and I want to see where it takes me. So thank you, Steve Jobs.  Thank you for changing our world, and thank you for making me want to change it, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Small, Sweet Moments

Well, I missed a blog post.  I make a sincere effort to make the time to blog/decompress once a week, but, as we say in middle school, Life happens.  And lots of life has happened in the past two weeks.  Here's a short recap....
  • Last week was my Birthday Week.  Yes, I said Birthday Week, NOT BirthDay.  That's how we do it around here.  I might add that it was the BEST birthday I've ever had.  Whoever decided all the "fun" birthdays were over after 21 told a big, ole lie.  
  • I started teaching novels in sixth and seventh grade.  I love to read, but I despise forcing kids to read on a schedule.  It's stressful for me. It's stressful for them.  More on that later...however, we are reading two fantastic books.  If you have never read Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, you need to pick up a copy ASAP!  And who can hate on S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders?  Talk about a middle school classic!

  • Finally, I received news that we are changing our writing test to get ready for the Benchmark/Common Core next year.  It will now take a week instead of one day.  Let me just throw my calendar out of the window now.  But, seriously, I'm trying to stay positive.  Promise!
I meant to blog last week about Birthday Week, stuff that happened at school, etc., but I decided to live a little life instead of writing about it.  It was a fantastic week of school and celebrating with friends and family.  Plus, I got to use my birthday as classroom management leverage with my students!!  All I had to say was, "You wouldn't want to step out of line and ruin birthday week...." It was perfection.

Anyway, now that I've recapped, there is one event in the past two weeks that stands out to me as the biggest and best small, sweet moment of my "teacher life."  I blogged at the beginning of the year about getting past the scowl. For this to make complete sense, you might want to look back at it for background.  I essentially told a story about a student who, after a couple weeks of being shut off and shut down, finally smiled at me for the first time.  Made. My. Day.

Well, my birthday was last Thursday, and my students were sweet as can be.  They sang me Happy Birthday every class period and were on their best behavior.  Great day, but my best school birthday present came on Monday.  I was taking my sixth graders to the library to check out books.  This particular girl, the one who I thought hated me from Day One, asked if she could please go to her locker.  She forgot something.  I said sure, but meet us in the library quickly, thinking that she had forgotten her library book that needed to be returned.  Five minutes later, everyone had been released to find a book, and I was walking around helping students when she walked up to me and slipped a pair of earrings in my hand.

"Happy Birthday, Ms. Herring.  I remembered that you said you liked mine, so I got you some."

It really is the sweet, small moments in life.  The first week of school, when this student had a rough week and a few dress code violations, I just happened to tell her I liked her earrings as I was calling roll. She remembered.  I remembered.  I could've cried right then and there as she handed me those earrings with a smile.  Teachers really do leave footprints on hearts.  Sure, we're there to educate the mind, and with testing, testing, and more testing breathing down our necks, it can be easy to forget that we educate the heart, too.  I will be wearing my new earrings to work tomorrow as I teach.  Thank God my students continue to teach me lessons everyday, too.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Week of Tests

In military and police training, they have a week called "Hell Week."  It's considered the toughest week of training, the time when people either step up or step out.  This past week felt a little bit like my teaching "Hell Week."  Let me explain....

On Tuesday, I gave my kids their first test of the year.  It was over literary terms, something that may not be thrillingly exciting, but is very necessary for English class success.  Every class period my students would come in and say "We had a test?!" or "Uh oh, I totally forgot to study." or "Can we just do this tomorrow?"
Uh oh is right.  I was so afraid of what was going to happen when I graded those tests.  And those fears were realized.  Yikes.  However, part of the problem was me.  I gave them wayyyyy too many matching questions in a row.  Talk about test anxiety.  All morning, my seventh graders would open their test packets and stare at the matching with their mouths gaping open.  I have three A's all day.  I teach 127 students.  Enough said.

On Wednesday, Hell Week continued when one of my sixth grade classes pushed me over the edge.  One mistake of the first year, young teacher, at least in my case, is that you have this desire to be the "cool" teacher.  You want to be nice and let things slide, and never really give a detention.  However, on Wednesday in sixth grade, the honeymoon was over.  I felt helpless as they just kept pushing the envelope, seeing just how much talking they could get away with in my class.  Well kids, I mean business.  Thursday started a new era in my teaching career with the advent of the DH List.  I just started writing names on the board whenever I saw a kid talking inappropriately, and then followed up.  No more empty threats from me, kids.  I can't make you learn, but I can make you stay quiet so other people can learn.  I gave four detention halls on Thursday and Friday alone in one class period, and it killed me.  I am terrible at playing "tough teacher."  But I will not be letting up until the problem is contained.  Done and DONE.

Also on Thursday, my kids had to take a module test.  These tests are prep for the Benchmark in the spring.  We have no idea what exactly will be on it.  We can't really completely prepare our kids for it.  We just have to smile and say "Do your best!".  Kids hate it; I hated it.  Yuck.  On top of that, it was their second test in a week.  Sorry kids, Ms. Herring didn't plan so well.....On Friday, I let my kids do a retake on the matching section of their test, to fix the test anxiety problem I had caused.  Since they now knew I meant business, most of them studied this time around, and grades went up considerably.

It was a tough week, for me and for the kids, but I feel like we both stepped up.  I even had a student get a 100% on her module test!  I know this is not the last tough week I will ever have at school.  Far from it, I'm sure it's the first of many.  But I'm stepping up.  I can do this.  And at least I always know I have Saturday and Sunday to recuperate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

3rd Period

This week has been one of those weeks that seems to fly by, but at the same time, the individual days have seemed so long.  Weird how that works....I started out the week sick.  By sick, I mean congested, can't breathe, can't talk, throat is closing up sick.  Yuck.  Despite that, I went to school everyday, because I would rather try to conduct class as a mime than have to come up with substitute lesson plans.  

And I was greatly rewarded by my decision to teach through it, in more ways than one.  Number one, I'm notorious for being the biggest wimp about being sick.  Going to work anyway helped me prove to myself that I can fight through the sickness, no matter how crummy I feel.  Number two, and the vastly greater reward, was the way my students participated in their work this week.  All of my classes are great.  I look forward to teaching each one for a very distinct and different reason.  However, every teacher knows that there is that one class period that somehow makes you smile everyday.  When I student taught, that class was 6th period.  Sure, they acted out occasionally and may or may not have made a few inappropriate comments from time to time, but they loved school, and they loved English, and I loved them for that.  

This blog entry is going to have to be dedicated to my current 3rd period.  They made my week awesome.  As a first year teacher, I am required to be observed by my mentor teacher throughout the year, and ultimately, by a Praxis III assessor, who will decide if I am competent enough to be a teacher.  My school also requires observations, which are done by our principals.  This week, I had two assessments, one by my mentor teacher and one by my principal.  Let's just say I was a little stressed.  I asked both of them to come visit my 3rd period, because I already had reason to believe that they would do everything they could to make me look good.  All I can say is WOW! They delivered.  

On Tuesday, we held a Socratic seminar on our study of the September 11th attacks and the 10-year anniversary.  This is a type of student-led discussion in which students write their own questions and use them to facilitate classroom discussion.  They did an amazing job!  They held a 30 minute discussion about topics ranging from how children today might feel growing up without a parent who died in the attacks to whether or not the government should tell people how to commemorate the attacks.  They really analyzed what they had learned and read and watched in class and used it all.  

On Thursday (today), we had a far less exciting lesson.  We defined literary terms.  Woohoo!!  But they did a great job!  They had examples for all of the things we talked about, they recalled things I taught up to three weeks ago, and they even high-fived each other for getting the right answer.  Way to make me look like a rock star, 3rd period.

I know there is really no lesson or great story in this entry.  I thought about my week, and several things came to mind, but I felt like I really needed to brag on these kids.  They are the reason I love going to work everyday.  I am thankful for all my students and for the opportunity to wake up every morning and be a teacher, but today I have to say a special thank you.  So thank you 3rd period.  You are one fantastic group of seventh graders.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Don't Speak "Whinese"

Millions of dollars are spent each year on cheesy educational posters.  "Reading is succeeding."  "Attitude is important for success." "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars."  You get the idea.  I'm sure you even have your own favorites.  When I started decorating my classroom, I couldn't help but cave and buy at least two or three.  However, my favorite poster I have ever seen in a school still hangs in the attendance office at my high school.  Where Mrs. Head, the head of the attendance office, proudly displays a poster that boasts "I Don't Speak Whinese."  

Now let me just tell you that part of why I chose to be a teacher is that I love school.  As nerdy or trite as it may sound, I simply enjoy the fact that, for the rest of my life, I will learn something new every single day. If I could be a professional college student, and make money doing it, I probably would make it my career. However, I did not necessarily feel that way in high school.  I took several "personal health days" each quarter.  So much so, during my junior and senior year, that I got a letter with each report card threatening summer school if I continued my "personal health day" trend.  Needless to say, I spent some time in the attendance office "speaking Whinese" while I explained away these "necessary" absences.  

While I may have been a native Whinese speaker in high school, I realized this week that I am no longer fluent in this language as a teacher.  However, it seems to be a language that is widely spoken in the middle school.  In the same way that fluent Spanish-speakers can flip flop between languages, I have students who flip flop between English and Whinese all day.  Whether they forgot their notebook at home or brought their notebook but just can't fathom the effort of writing ONE WHOLE PAGE or they don't want to read or they don't like to read, the amount of Whinese I am trying to translate into English this week seems a little silly.  On Wednesday, a student started to ask me why he had to write so much, and I found myself saying, without skipping a beat, "I'm sorry.  I don't speak Whinese."  And in that moment, I knew I had reached a new plateau in adulthood.  So here's to you Mrs. Head.  Thank you for not speaking Whinese.  I vow to uphold your legacy and hold my students to a higher standard.  No more Whinese in Ms. Herring's room.  It's called English class for a reason.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Past the Scowl

Something happened at school today that reminded me why I love teaching middle school so much.  Before I tell you what happened, a little background is necessary.  I teach sixth and seventh graders.  While you may think that one grade doesn't make much difference, just believe me when I say that it definitely does.  Sixth graders are still nervous, a little confused, paranoid of getting detention hall, and, most of all, they are still little kids.  Seventh graders have started hitting puberty and moving on to adolescence.  While sixth graders may be adolescents in the physical sense, their minds are still in elementary school at this point.  They are still little. 

Anyway, the very first day of school, my first class of sixth graders came in right after lunch.  This group includes a girl who, I must say, does not come off as still being a kid.  She came in late and frazzled, sank down into the seat closest to the door, and scowled at me the entire class period.  With the exception of a few occasions where she has talked to other students (while I'm talking), this girl has scowled at me since Day One.  I initially thought, well, here's to adolescent angst.  Bring it on, sister.  I started working hard to get beyond that scowl.  I even got her to crack a smile for a millisecond, when I complimented her earrings one day.  Today, she showed me just how to get through to her.

This week, we worked on grammar.  Specifically, we talked about types and kinds of sentences.  The kinds of sentences are declarative, interrogative, etc. etc...We all learn them in elementary and grade school and then store that information with all the other school stuff you don't use when you're a grownup.  Anyway, I put the kids in groups and had them write skits where each character was a kind of sentence and could only speak in that kind of sentence.  It's harder than it sounds.  You try only talking in questions.  The kids have done a great job and had a lot of fun with it.  But what made this whole week worth it was a short, five second conversation I had with scowling girl.  

I was walking around, monitoring group progress, and she stopped me.
Girl: "Ms. Herring?"
Me: "Yeah, what's up?  How can I help?"
Girl: "Oh, we're doing fine.  I just wanted you to know--this is so fun!"

She had the biggest smile on her face.  All I could think was "I got past the scowl!"  I was so excited to see her excited.  I now know that she had a rough first couple of weeks at school.  She was tardy to classes because she was learning her schedule; she got sent to the office a few times.  But beneath that tough exterior, she's a kid, too.  She wants to have fun, and she wants somebody to care about what she wants.  I obviously can't make every day fun, but I can keep in mind the ways she wants to learn.  I can also try everyday to make her, and all my students, feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued.  So I guess I can say "one down, a bunch more to go."  I am learning more and more each day that it is a never-ending task to truly know your students, but I am determined to get it down.  Happy long weekend!  I've never been so excited about a Monday off!

Friday, August 26, 2011

"For Real" School

Well, the first week of "real school" is over.  Week One was great, exhausting, overwhelming, but Week Two was the real deal.  We actually started learning stuff.  I am happy to say that I now know all of my students' names, which means I can officially call on them at random and catch them off guard.  This is a good thing, mostly because some of my sweet kiddos are still in summer mode and have absolutely no desire to pay attention.  Now don't get me wrong, my students are awesome.  But I did have a student say this to me this week after I asked them to copy FOUR QUESTIONS off of the board:

Me: "Now guys, you need to be writing this down.  We are going to ask these questions throughout the year, when we discuss the different books we are reading."
Students: "You mean we have to write in here?!"
Me: "Well, yes, actually, this is English class.  We definitely write in here."
Student: "Well then I hate English."

Ok, bro, but you still have to copy this down.  What I learned from this is not necessarily negative.  I was immediately annoyed at this situation, obviously.  I mean, how hard is it to write down four sentences?  I typed them, plus two pages of notes that I GAVE you, so you wouldn't have to take notes.  While it was frustrating for me to see how little work some students were willing to do, it also spoke volumes to me about the type of student we are educating today.  Kids don't have to write in real life anymore.  They type into a computer.  If they really need to know something, they don't look it up in a book, or take notes, or even make copies of pages anymore.  They Google it.  I mean, who am I kidding?  I Googled subordinating clauses today to get a complete list.  They really have no real world context for taking notes that is non-academic.  This doesn't leave me much of a leg to stand on as far as answering "so what" questions from kids.

However, there is one great reason to take notes and focus in school and, in general, to be a good student.  There's a great quote I read this week that said "The most valuable result of all education is the ability to do what one ought to do, when he ought to do it, whether he likes it or not."  What a true statement.  No, what we want to do is not always what we'd like to do.  I would like to not grade papers when I get home from school, but that is already proving to be an impossible dream.  That kid in my class would like to not take notes, but then he would also probably never retain anything I taught this year.  We learn a lot of specific skills and specialized information in school, but the most important, and most lasting, lesson we learn is to do what we don't want to do when it needs to be done.  So get ready to write, kids.  Because we are going to do some learning this year.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Beginning of my Middle School Education

It is finished.  The first week of school has come to a close, and thus concludes my very first, first week of school.  I will never again be going in blind.  In a way that is both comforting and very weird.  Everything is so new right now that it seems strange to think about ever really being a "seasoned" teacher.  Today, as a treat to myself, I have not even opened my handy dandy "teacher bag."  I slept in, had coffee with my sweet friend, Noel (who also got her first job teaching 7th grade and who I am thrilled is living in the Rock town again), and treated myself to an hour long massage and lunch from the always delicious Boulevard Bread Co.  Today has been an excellent day.  However, now that I've taken a step away from Week One, I feel like I can accurately blog about it.

I've already told you about the first day.  It was such an adrenaline rush--meeting the children, realizing that I'm in charge, not only of their behavior but also of their educational fate for the next year, remembering all the gazillion first day tasks required school-wide as well as staying on track with my lesson plan.....I'm can't lie, when I got home, I felt a little bit like a rock star.  Not necessarily because I was a rock star.  Far from it.  Mostly, I was just so pumped that it all went according to plan.  I can tell you this much, by the end of Day Two all that adrenaline had worked its way out of my system and my feet HURT.  I came home and completely crashed out.  I am not exaggerating when I say I went to bed at 7:30 p.m.  Ridiculous.  However, after that momentary crash, the rest of the week seemed to go progressively better each day.  By Friday, the kids were quietly staying on task and even getting a little excited about English (Yay!!).

Instead of walking you through the whole week, I decided to make a Top Three list of my favorite moments.....

1. Student: "Ms. Herring, you look too young to be our teacher."
Me: "Oh yeah?  How old do you think I am?"
Student: "19."
Me: "Well, I am not 19...."
Students begin calling out guesses ranging from 21 to 30 years old.  Finally, I said, "I'm 46."
Student: "Wow! Did you have a facelift?!"
Lesson Learned: 6th graders are not to be trusted with that kind of humor.  Ever.  EVERYTHING is taken at face value.  Literally. Oh yeah, for those of your who don't know, I'm about to turn 23 years old. 

2. On Thursday, I asked my students to paste photographs or pictures in their writer's notebook and write about how each picture told me about them as individuals.  I have one student this year who has a difficult time with verbal communication, but is also obviously very intelligent.  While most of my students did the assignment and chose pictures of sports or family vacations, this student used pictures symbolic of the way he felt.  He chose six pictures that told a story, in extended metaphor, of how he felt overwhelmed at school.  When I asked to see his notebook, and he showed me what he had done, I was a little overwhelmed, too.
Lesson Learned: I can't always know immediately what kind of poetry is hidden in a child's mind, and, no matter what, it's my job to find it and nurture it.

3. On Friday, I had my students draw Heart Maps.  I saw this assignment when I student taught last year, and I blogged about it then.  It was one of my favorite assignments last year, and I knew I wanted to use it to get to know my students this year.  What made my week so wonderful was watching students share their Heart Maps and seeing my name on some of them.  Made. My. Day.
Lesson Learned: Even on a tough day, I might still be the best part of my students' day.  I want to teach in an impactful and exciting way.  I want to always be the very best I can be, not just for myself, but more importantly for my kids.  They deserve every ounce of energy I can give. 

So that's Week One wrap-up.  I'm excited to see what this year has in store for me.  I know there will be days I want to go home and cry, but I also know that there will be lots of tiny little blessings and pieces of wisdom hidden in every day.  For now, I'm just going to enjoy the rest of this lazy Saturday and bask in my lack of productivity for at least a few more hours.  Happy Back-To-School, guys!

P.S. Please check out Noel's blog, too.  You can find it right here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The First Day

Day One is complete!! Woohoo! This is how I felt at the end of the day....
I made it!  I spent the whole weekend being so nervous.  What if I'm not as good as they think I'm going to be?  What if the kids think I'm terrible?  I didn't want to be too friendly or too tough--just enough of both for the kids to like and respect me....

And after all that worrying, it went just fine.  Sometimes, you really do have to let go and let God.  I was trying to do it all by myself, but I'm not kidding when I say that there was some definite Divine intervention in my first day of school.  I expected things to go wrong all day.  I expected major monitoring and adjusting to have to occur.  But I walked in at 7:15 AM, collected my thoughts, put an objective on the board, and it was like everything just worked.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It wasn't perfect.  I still have a long way to go toward being the teacher I want to be.  But I also didn't feel like my classroom was going down like the Titanic.  Not even once.  Therefore, I declare today a personal success. I  kept my cool, and (hopefully) fooled those kids into thinking I knew exactly what I was doing all day.  I'll try to post more on Friday about the first week.  Just wanted to share a little excitement and get out those first day jitters.  Happy back-to-school everyone! 

P.S.  You can follow my English classes and their progress this year here.  Hope you find the time to check it out!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Razzle Dazzle 'Em

To say that the past three weeks have been overwhelming would be an understatement....and I haven't even starting teaching the children yet!  I'm not complaining, I promise.  Every step of the "get ready" process has been so fun.  I've learned a lot in the past few weeks, and every time I think I like my classroom just the way it is, I seem to think of at least three other things I need to add to the always-in-flux list I keep on my phone.  Despite the feelings of slight unpreparedness, I am genuinely so excited for the first day of school!  I can't wait to officially meet my first group of kiddos.

Technically, I've already met some of my students.  Monday was Open House, and I can't lie to you and say I wasn't nervous.  To be perfectly honest, Open House probably scared me more than the first day of school.  Nothing like jumping in feet first and meeting parents, students, siblings, and various extended family members before school's even started, right?  Right!  I had very little idea what I was doing, but I shook a lot of hands and answered questions and smiled, and I feel like it went well.  One of my favorite musicals/movie musicals is Chicago, and there's a great number in the show called "Razzle Dazzle".  I couldn't help but smile to myself and think about how that's what first year teachers are kind of doing.  I'm not saying that myself, or any other first year teacher, doesn't know what he or she is doing, but I do think there's a certain amount of "faking it 'til you're making it" that occurs in those first few weeks of figuring everything out....

So here I am now.  Open House was as successful as I could have expected it to be, staff development went really well, and now the first day of school is only three days away.  I've made my copies and soaked up as much information as my overloaded brain can take, and I'm going to make every attempt to "razzle dazzle" those kids on Monday.  There's a great Henry Ford quote that says, "Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars.  Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will, and energy to execute your ideas." I may not have a perfect first day.  In fact, I'm almost positive it won't go exactly the way I've played it out in my mind.  But I am enthusiastic about being a teacher to my students.  I've found that positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way toward convincing yourself that your know what you're doing.  Who knows...with a little enthusiasm I may even "razzle dazzle" myself.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Last week was "get my classroom looking like a classroom and not a prison cell week," similar to shark week, except no one get attacked....Anyway, much was accomplished.  I'm going to try to take pictures today when I head to the middle school and post them later this week.  On Friday last week, after working all week in my classroom and getting more and more excited about school, I kind of had what I call a "blah" day.  Everybody has them.  Nothing's going wrong, but you just need a little lift in your spirits.  Anyhow, I got on Facebook and found this on my wall:

Dear Miss Herring, 
we, the previous 7th and 8th graders, miss you dearly. we all wish we could see you again, but as we know you will be working soon so we wish you love and luck.
♥ Jordan and everyone who has ever known you ever

Well, that was just the "lift" I needed!  This was one of my student from my student teaching semester a year ago.  In addition to her message on my wall, two other students sent me messages on Facebook, wishing me good luck at my new school. There's just something about encouragement from an unexpected place that makes you feel good inside.  There's a great John C. Maxwell quote that says, "Remember, man does not live on bread alone; sometimes he needs a little buttering up."  We all love to hear that we're doing a good job.  I don't think it's selfish, but I do think it's necessary for the human spirit.  My principal is one the best encouragers I have ever met.  Working in my room last Friday, I could hear her all the way down the hall, stopping in every open classroom door and commenting on everyone's hard work.  All she had to do was tell me she liked how my desks were arranged, and I couldn't help but smile and feel a little bit better about how my room was coming together.  

Anyway, I say all that to say that I'm going to do my best to do a little "buttering up" this week and this school year.  When my roommates or my friends or the teacher across the hall seems to need a little lift, I'm going to try to be encouraging the way those former students encouraged me without even knowing it.  When my students work hard or have a rough day, I want to be the teacher that praises them and makes them feel important.  School is a place where it's easy to feel lost in the crowd, and I want all my students to remember that they stand out. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Three Weeks

Well, with another school year comes a new background design for the blog.  I'm terrible at manipulating anything blog-related, so changing the background is as exciting as it gets for me.  It's just a place for me to write, so I guess that's okay.  Even though it's still July, summer is already slipping away.  I am, in no way, referring to the heat.  That seems to be sticking around for awhile.  But it seems like it's finally that part of summer when we start to wish for cool breezes and cardigans, for changing leaves and football games.  Looking at my calendar yesterday reminded me that there are only three weeks left until school starts.

Three weeks.  Three weeks to plan all those lessons I was going to get ahead on over the summer.  Three weeks to soak up these last few lazy weekends at the lake and days at the pool.  Why does summer seem to slide by so fast?  Today, I finally got my classroom all clean and organized, and for the first time, it felt like I was standing in MY classroom.  Not someone else's room that I happen to be teaching in, but my very own space with my very own desk and my very own students.  This exact same thought passed through my mind in June and I immediately got overwhelmed.  I had no idea how I would ever get it all together.  However, after working today I felt less overwhelmed and more capable.  It's amazing what a little ownership of space can do for the mind.  Don't get me wrong, there is still work to do, but boxes are unpacked and all my books say "Ms. Herring" inside the cover.  I had big plans to write my welcome letter to parents as soon as I got home, but of course, I had to watch Iron Chef America and blog first.  It's all about baby steps.  I'm going back to school on Wednesday to hang posters and put some finishing touches on things.  I'm so excited for fall--the cooler weather, the football games, the changing leaves, and all the organized chaos of embarking on my first adventure in teaching solo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Well, it's been an exciting couple weeks since I last had an opportunity to blog.  I spent a week in Dallas at a national dance competition with the kids I teach, I came back for two days, and then I spent a week recovering from an appendectomy.  At 22 years old, I had my first experience with surgery, and I am in no hurry to have another one.  I will never ignore a stomachache again.  Anyway, surgery allowed me to have what I like to call a "forced vacation."  For a solid seven days, a whole week, I couldn't do anything but lay in a bed or on the couch.  I watched a LOT of movies, caught up on the USA Network Law & Order marathons, and read The Help by Kathryn Stockton, a book I would highly recommend to anybody searching for a good read.  I simply could not put it down.

Besides having to remind myself, almost constantly, that patience is a virtue, I also had an opportunity to count several blessings over the course of the week.  So this is a blog of thanks for the many things that just happened to work out in a "best case scenario" situation in the past week.

  1. Thank you to my mother for still treating my like a child when I'm sick, for coming to the doctor's office, and subsequently the emergency room with me, for sleeping in a very uncomfortable hospital room chair so I didn't have to be alone, and for letting me stay in her house for a whole week.
  2. Thank you to my dad for cancelling our family vacation at the lake, for sitting in the ER, despite knowing that "it's just a stomach bug, Jess."  Thanks for listening to me whine about being in pain, too.  We all know I have the lowest pain tolerance known to mankind.
  3. Thank you to my Nanny (that's my grandmother) for visiting and calling everyday, for sending me flowers, and for making random Walgreen's runs when I needed anything at all.  You. Are. The Best.
  4. Thank God I was not at Miss Arkansas last week.  The past two years, I have spent this past week competing in the Miss Arkansas pageant.  Thank the Lord that the wonderful Miss Arkansas chaperones were not the ones rushing me to the hospital with appendicitis.  I think they're probably thankful for that one, too.
  5. Thank you to my boyfriend for coming to visit me everyday from Conway, for sitting in the waiting room for two and a half hours during surgery and recovery, for sending me flowers, and for letting me take advantage of his DVD collection. 
There are a lot of reasons everyday to be thankful.  I made an effort last week to say "thank you" to everyone who did anything for me, because there were a lot of things I couldn't do for myself.  It made me realize how many things I probably take for granted everyday.  Even when I'm running at full capacity, there are still a lot of things I can't do alone.  I'm going to try to remember this week to still say "thank you" to people who help me in ways both big and small.  I'll start right now.....Thank YOU for reading my blog.  Have a great week :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Uniquely Burdened"

Last week, I spent the whole week at UALR's AP Summer Institute.  It's an opportunity to learn AP strategies, and teaching strategies in general, from other practicing teachers.  It's also an opportunity to meet teachers from all over the state and hear about their teaching experiences.  One teacher I met there was a woman about my age who had just finished her first year of teaching in Dumas as a Teach for America teacher.  In talking to her about her year, I found out that she, too, was a blogger, and I decided to check out her blog.  In reading her most recent entry, I ran across a term that struck me as applicable to so many aspects of life beyond teaching. 

In this entry, she talked about being in a meeting with other Teach for America teachers who were discussing the ways in which teachers are "uniquely burdened."  Teachers, and I can agree with this wholeheartedly, have this immense personal burden of educating the future of our nation.  I am perfectly aware that the statement I just made sounds melodramatic and maybe even a little silly, but it's true.  Not only do teachers have to produce results on yearly tests, we also have to produce intelligent, productive citizens.  Talk about pressure!

Anyway, this phrase, "uniquely burdened" has been bouncing around in my mind all week.  Sure, teachers feel uniquely burdened, but don't we all feel uniquely burdened everyday?  I think about how many times a week I say "I'm tired," like I'm the only human being who has ever given up sleep to complete a project or fit everything into my day.  I'm not uniquely burdened in my exhaustion. People all over the world work a lot harder than me and probably have a lot less of a payoff.  What makes me feel so "uniquely burdened," so alone in my problem?

I tried to figure that out this week.  Anytime I would start to feel sorry for myself or feel overwhelmed, I reminded myself of how many other people were probably feeling just like me at that particular moment.  Maybe I didn't know them, but I knew there had to be other people with my problem.  No man is an island, and no problem exists in isolation.  The more I thought about my own daily, unique burdens, the more I realized that my problems were so small.  Not only do other people have my problems, but some people would gladly trade in their problems to have mine.  I may be burdened, but I am also so blessed.  My parents are still married and love each other very much.  I have a job and wonderful friends.  I wonder sometimes how I find so much to complain about when I look at my life this way.  So this week, my goal is to remember that I may feel uniquely burdened, but I'm also uniquely blessed.  As human beings, we are so drawn to negativity and the drama that surrounds it.  This week, I will remember that I'm not alone.  And I will value the good things, because there are so, so many of them.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just a Breath Away

I started going to yoga since my last post.  By that I mean I've gone twice.  However, I have great intentions about going regularly, or at least once a week.  Of course, I also have good intentions about blogging regularly, and we see how well that goes.....Anyway, I started going to yoga, because my mom kept going on and on about how much she loved it, what a great workout it was, and how calming she found the practice.  Therefore, I decided to improve on my own  sense of inner peace, which has lately been more of a sense of inner chaos with an ever-growing to-do list looming over my head.

My first yoga class was what I would like to classify as cardio-yoga.  While it was definitely not boot camp, kick-your-tail style cardio, I was seriously sweating by the end of the hour.  As much as I love a good workout, I didn't achieve that calming feeling I was hoping to find in my new yoga practice.  Instead, I found sore muscles the next day....this girl hadn't stretched in a while!  The following Thursday, I attended a restorative yoga class in the evening.  It had been a really, really long day, and I thought maybe this would be a way to turn around the negative attitude that had been growing throughout the afternoon.

Bingo! Restorative yoga did the trick.  It was a very small, very relaxed class, which was fantastic, but it was what the instructor said during the class that really helped me more than my less than perfect child's pose or downward dog.  Toward the end of class, she reminded us to keep our eyes closed and said, "Everything you need is only a breath away.  Courage, peace, patience; everything you need is only a breath away."  Talk about hearing just what I needed!  I have a tendency to get so caught up in all my thinking and list-making that I just increase my stress level twofold by narrowing my focus to all the plethora of tasks that need to be done.  I forget to breathe.

Today, I sat down to plan out my lessons for the year.  Staring me in the face were ten sheets of paper for the ten months of the year I have to plan out.  This task has been looming over me for about three weeks now, and I keep putting it off in hopes that it will complete itself.  "Peace is just a breath away, Jessica."  I took a deep breath and dove in.  I can happily report that the task is halfway done.

Now, I'm not dumb.  I know a simple breath can't fix every situation.  Were I to rear-end a car at a stoplight, I'm pretty positive I couldn't take a deep breath and avoid a traffic ticket and a disgruntled, angry person from the car in front of me.  However, it is a step toward changing my outlook on a situation.  When I feel overwhelmed or frustrated or angry or whatever, the easier option is to keep it all pent up inside, but I'm trying to learn to breathe.  I just have to remember that everything I need is just a breath away.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Real Education

This past Thursday and Friday, I officially started my new teaching job with two days of staff development.  On Wednesday, I was so excited about going in, meeting the teachers, and getting started.  In my typical optimistic and idealistic way, I couldn't wait to hit the ground running.  On Thursday morning, about 30 minutes into our meeting, I felt like I might throw up.  Being a teacher is wayyyyy overwhelming.  Between test scores and modifications and grading and test prep and lesson planning and organizing my classroom, I can officially say that this will be a working summer.  Whoever said teachers get the summer's off does not remember the summer before he became a teacher.  Now don't get me wrong, I feel like I was so well prepared by my college of ed.  I also feel like I am going to love my job, but on Thursday morning I felt like I was sinking into a very large to-do list of seemingly insurmountable tasks.

Then, I went home and talked to my sister, who wisely reminded me that "every teacher has had a first day and a first year.  If they can make it, then surely you can, too."  Thanks, girl.  Way to motivate!  I went to bed ridiculously early on Thursday night, determined to have a better attitude and a calmer spirit on Friday morning.  I woke up extra early, and started packing up books for my classroom library and folders and binders and anything I thought would have a better home in my classroom than on my mess of a home office desk.  This, I told myself, was the first step to feeling comfortable--moving stuff.  I then proceeded to (almost) make myself late, when I had to make four trips from my car to my house because I kept forgetting things.  This series of trips culminated in the spilling cup of an entire cup of coffee on my passenger seat.  AWESOME, Jessica.

Unwilling to be deterred in my optimism, I took a deep breath and went to school.  "Every teacher has had a first day and a first year.  If they can make it, then surely you can, too."  Friday, unlike Thursday, was fantastic!  I work with a truly amazing group of people, who really do want to help me be a good teacher.  I just had to remind myself that all I have to do is ask questions.  There's a great Mark Twain quote that says, "Don't let schooling interfere with your education."  I think I kind of told myself that I was supposed to know everything on the front end.  That's why I went to college.  But my real education of how to be an educator is only beginning.  I'm sure I'll learn plenty of new real-life lessons, just like I did when I student taught (don't worry, I already know not to wear skinny jeans on casual Fridays), and I can't wait to share them on here.  After being in limbo for six months, it feels good to push my energy into a project.  So here I go.  I may be facing a year of the unexpected, but I can't wait to see what all of that unexpected will be.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Settling Down Place

I have once again managed to forget about my blog.  This time, it's been a solid month since I decided my ideas were worth writing down.  However, I will say it has been a super busy month.  During the second half of April and first half of May several of the wrinkles in my life seemed to just iron themselves out.  It's funny how I can let myself stress and stress and stress about things totally out of my own control (i.e. finding a job, finding more hours in the day), when I just need to let go of the situation and know that there is a divine plan for my life.

I would say that I'm always a pretty happy person, but in the last month or so the stars have aligned in a way that has brought me some extra happiness.  For example, after months of going to interviews, filling out applications, and stressing that I would never use my college degree, I got my first teaching job.  It's at a great school, and I cannot wait to start!  I got to see my future classroom last week, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about how to organize it.  On a bittersweet note, I also cleaned my metaphorical "life plate" and decided to quit my daytime job.  My house has never been so clean and my laundry has never stayed so caught up!  Creating an environment of order (and having just a few extra hours in my day) has such a way of cutting down on stress (especially for a major Type A personality like myself).

I read a quote by one of my favorite young adult authors, E.L. Konigsburg, just the other day.  It said, "happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place.  But there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."  This image kind of perfectly describes how I feel these days. I'm so happy about being in a settling down place.  I think about my new job or my future students or quality time spent with close friends and that little corner of excitement comes back around.  But the thing is, I think my excitement is geared toward the settling down.  I guess, in a way, my "middle place" is getting ready to change again.  Good thing I have all summer to figure out exactly where I stand all over again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Happy Plate

Well, I have managed to fall off the blogging bandwagon again.  I have found that when I get overwhelmingly busy, the first thing to get pushed to the side is my poor blog.  However, in realizing this, I found the topic for this post, so I guess it was worth the wait?  Anyway.....

One might discover, if they looked back over my blog posts from the past, that I have a problem with time management.  It's not that I don't know how to manage my time or use it wisely.  The problem is that I am a complete "yes man."  For some reason, I seem to be able to convince myself that I can pull a Hermione Granger and use a time turner to complete 48 hours worth of stuff in 24 (if that allusion is beyond you, please read Harry Potter.  You're missing out).  I just like to make people happy, and I don't mind being busy.  In fact, I think I prefer it. You see, I'm pretty positive that I'm genetically meant to be a busybody (thanks mom and dad).  My parents are the same way, just maybe not to the extent that I am.  I even follow a pattern for my busyness.  I pile as much stuff onto my proverbial "life plate" as I can, do the best I can at it for as long as possible, and then have a mini-meltdown that requires at least 48 hours of sleep in order to recover.  I then apologize for falling behind/apart and start the process over.

Today, I realized I was headed for that 48 hours of sleep and recover again.  Over the past few months since I've graduated college, I have worked three jobs consistently, volunteered, maintained relationships, and still found time to shop impulsively for clothes I don't need and shoes that are too cute to pass up.  I'm reaching the breaking point.  See, people talk a lot about having too much on their plate.  That's me.  Overloaded.

I have a friend who, when she cleans her plate at a meal, joyfully says, "happy plate!"  Because her food was so good.  It's become a thing we do when we eat out and have a great meal, or on one of the rare occasions when we actually cook and sit down and eat at the house. A happy plate is an empty plate.  Everything on it went toward making you feel happy and content.  After much thought throughout today's busyness, I've decided that I may need to make my "life plate" happier.  I'm not talking about knocking everything off of it.  I'm just talking about being sure that everything on that plate is there to make me happy and content.  The extraneous stressful things may have to be let go.  Because in order to fully appreciate and savor the little moments of perfection in life, you have to slow down enough to recognize them.

For example, last Saturday I had the rare treat of a whole day off from work.  I went to Starbucks and drank coffee while I read a book.  I went shopping with my best friend and bought a cute outfit, and I had the pleasure of meeting another friend's three-year-old son for the first time.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the hour I spent putting together puzzles, racing Hot Wheels, and playing Ironman was maybe the most blissfully joyful hour I've had in a long time.  I pushed everything off my plate for the day and just savored those little pieces of joy, and it was the perfect.  I am definitely thinking a few more days like that may be in order.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Perfect for your Purpose

Today I stopped by my parent's house on my way to work at the dance studio, and I was talking to my dad about what he'd been up to lately.  He serves as an adult advisor for a peer led spiritual retreat in Little Rock called Search.  When I was in high school, I attended Search and was very involved with the program.  It had a huge impact on my life at the time.  Shortly after I graduated and went to college, my dad got involved on the adult team, and he has been helping out ever since.  There are some truly amazing individuals who are selected to be on the "Search team" that leads the retreat.  To this day, I envy the strength of conviction and purpose that some of these kids have for God.  Maybe I had that, too, when I was in their place.

Anyway, I digress.....this past weekend was the spring Search retreat.  I asked my dad how the weekend went, and he said it went great.  The team did a wonderful job. The "Searchers" (retreat participants) had a great weekend.  Everything went well.  He also told me about a conversation that took place during the weekend that really struck me as important.  One team member was talking about a feeling of inadequacy.  That he could never be all that he was supposed to be or all that God wanted him to be.  He felt constantly humbled and unable to reach his potential.  Another team member responded to him by saying "You are perfect for your purpose."  

You are perfect for your purpose.  Those six words contain so much meaning.  I know, that like this guy, I feel like I'm so much less than I could be.  I read that it is scientifically proven that women are more contemplative than men, and therefore, are more prone to discontent.  Well, I'm pretty sure I help prove that statistic on an almost daily basis.  When I'm driving or at the gym or doing anything that doesn't involve a lot of thought, I find myself constantly examining the state of my life.  And typically I'm examining how it can be better, not how it's already great.  While my happiness project has changed that somewhat and made me a lot more positive and grateful, I still struggle to see the good sometimes.  Especially in myself.  

You are perfect for your purpose.  Ever since my dad told me that story earlier tonight, those words have been running through my head.  However, they are quickly followed by a question: "What is my purpose?"  I think being in that "middle place" between college and a "real job" makes it hard to answer that question.  So many people find purpose in their work.  I find a lot of satisfaction and purpose in teaching dance.  In a broader sense, I think I just find a lot of purpose in teaching.  I felt the same way about student teaching and believe I'll feel that way even more once I find my first teaching job.  For me, being in a classroom really is a perfect fit.  It gives me purpose and satisfaction and happiness, even when it's frustrating and overwhelming.  But I believe we all should have a purpose beyond our daily work, and I think that's what this kid meant when he said we're perfect for our purpose.  Human beings, in general, are a communal species.  We enjoy, for the most part, being a part of a whole or a group.  So maybe our purpose is to enhance or benefit the lives of those around us.  I know that sometimes even the tiniest gesture of kindness--a smile or a knowing look--can have a huge impact on my mood.  In the same way, a rude or biting comment can ruin a whole day.  Nobody is perfect, but it never hurts to strive toward that goal.  I may not know my "perfect purpose," but I know I can be perfect for the purpose of being a positive person, both for myself and for others, if I try really hard.