Let men be men by letting boys be boys.

I have something to say.

I expect J to open doors for me. I expect him to walk me to my car at the end of a date. I expect him to help me with my coat and offer to carry my shopping bags (which, no joke, are usually his shopping bags).

Now, I don’t have to worry about these things. He always opens the door. He comes around to let me out of the car (unless I’m driving, apparently the rules are different then). He walks on the street side of the sidewalk, even if that means moving me to his other arm. Unless I trick him out of it, he always pays for dinner or coffee or tickets to wherever. I tease him a little about his chivalry, but I never dismiss it; I always thank him. Not because I feel obligated to, but because I want him to know how much these small acts mean to me.

e119a73f114933e5619ebda890cfee07In my classroom, when I want an act of physical labor performed, I ask for a young gentleman to help me. Not because I don’t think that the girls in my class could handle it, but because I want to teach my boys to be men. Men who stand when a lady enters the room and hold doors open. Men who grow up to be husbands and fathers and take care of their families no matter what, even if it means working 3 jobs to make ends meet. Men who conduct themselves in a respectable and dignified way.

But I teach middle school.

An expectation of miniature men is unrealistic, even damaging. Boys will be boys. I see it every day. Boys smirk and laugh about inappropriate things. Boys throw things at each other and tease. Boys are hyper and rowdy and can’t sit still for an 84 minute block. It’s not hate speech when boys taunt each other. It’s not a danger to the school environment when they can’t sit still. It’s childhood playing out in the classroom. But it could be irreversibly detrimental to pigeonhole spirited young men into labels of “defiant” or “hyperactive” while destroying their desire to learn.

I’m not alone on this.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in conjunction with Prager University, put together the following short video about the effects of a “female-centric” academic culture. It’s chilling stuff.

May I let my boys be boys, so that they can grow up to be men…

Happy Weekend!

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The End of the Road | Internship Recap

So here we are, friends.

its-no-use-going-back-to-yesterday-because-i-was-a-different-person-then-quote-111 classes, 275 students, and 79 batches of GAK later, and I’m finally staring down the last week of my student teaching experience. After the first week, I wrote some tips for survival. They were all true and exceedingly helpful. But oh, how much I’ve learned in the last few months. I feel as though I’m a completely different person than the one who bounded into my first placement like an eager puppy back in August. So I bring you five more things I’ve gathered:

Learn names

Nothing builds rapport with your students faster than learning their names. Make a seating chart and study it. Force yourself to pass back papers. Stand at the door and greet each student by name as they come into class. Sure, it will take a while to learn all of them (especially at the second placement) but your students will appreciate your effort. I may never remember which twin is Kasey and which one is Kelly, but they know I’m trying, and they cut me some slack. Plus, I Kasey has the curly hair…ee25687bdad83ffb2d74923e46d4ad7e

Take advice…with a grain of salt

Everyone has an opinion and everyone has advice on how the classroom should function. Warm ups or no, read the objective or have students read it, individual vs. group work, the list goes on and on. As a student teacher, you are in a position to glean all the best advice from the people around you, but you are free to ignore the advice that doesn’t apply/doesn’t work. Be gracious, say thank you, and go your own way. In your cooperating teacher’s classroom, you need to be respectful of their rules and procedures, but once you’re on your own, it’s your show.

Steal everything. Everything.

Handouts, lecture notes, PowerPoint slides. Ask your mentor or content partner for their best work and more than likely, they’ll tell you to plug in a jump drive and take it all. Teachers are generous. As long as it isn’t licensed material (don’t be that person) take anything they offer. You don’t have to use everything, but it’s great to have a bank of ideas. Your county or school server is also probably rich with strategies.

Try not be offended

It’s going to happen; someone will forget about you. There won’t be enough handouts at the staff meeting or no one will tell you that you can wear jeans on Friday. It isn’t personal, but the team isn’t used to the extra body and sometimes, they’ll forget to include you. Or, they’ll forget that you don’t get department-wide emails and that you have to be told information in person. It’s easy to get your feathers ruffled – get over yourself. Assuming your team is generally good-willed, believe in the power of the honest mistake and don’t throw a fit when you feel left out.

Every once in a while, you might even be surprised that they remembered you. Like when your Testing Coordinator printed out a copy of the data-access instructions because he knew you couldn’t get to the server, or when a group of teachers throws you a going away lunch on your last day. Relish those moments and let the other ones go.

Be kind to yourself

This works a couple ways. You’ll have days that you blew it; not enough copies, your pacing was all wrong, and you snapped at a kid because you told him to stop rocking in his chair for the 573rd time. Try not to carry over the feelings of inadequacy and regret into the next day. More than likely, your students won’t remember and the only person you’re punishing is yourself. Be reflective, but give yourself a break. You’re still learning, you will absolutely make mistakes.

Which leads to the second part: take care of your body and soul. Student teaching is a lot of work, but you’re no good to anyone if you are sick and worn down all the time. Take time to sleep, exercise, see friends, or hang out with your boyfriend. Balance is key; better to start setting boundaries at the beginning, than when you’re already drowning.

Have fun

It sounds cliche, but honestly, these can be some of the best times of your life. Enjoy the ride, learn all you can, and take time to appreciate the whirlwind experience. Before you know it, it will be over and you’ll be thrust terrifyingly into first year teaching.

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Drink the coffee and do the things | Leaving your baggage at the door

One morning, I hit a deer on my way to work. Understandably, I was a bit scattered when I walked in the front door of my school. A student immediately cornered me for help on his Atoms and Period Table study guide for the test I’m giving on Wednesday while another student tried to explain why he didn’t have his project to turn in, even after he had all last week in class to work on it.

And I hadn’t even set down my bag yet.

Two of the girls in my home base check in with me before heading off to various early morning commitments (overachievers). In my frazzled state, I was unusually dismissive and shooed the girls off to their activities without taking time for my regular cheery small-talk.  One of the girls, who we’ll call…Melissa (names have been changed so I don’t lose my job) called my bluff. This conversation followed:

“Ms. Alger! That is not how we start our morning! Where is your coffee?”
“Um…on my desk?”
“Drink it! We’ll try this again later.”

Bossy thing, isn’t she? But she was right. I let my frantic rushing about and crammed schedule impact my relationships with my students. They look to me to be consistent and positive. Sure, everyone has bad days, but how often do we use a bad day as an excuse to be snarky or negative to the people around us?

Drink your coffee and start your day again. And watch out for deer.

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Wildly Identifiable | Easy ID Lanyard DIY

I have to wear an ID badge at work. I must have it on at all times while I’m in the building or at a school function. It allows me to be identified as a “staff” member (sort of…I don’t get paid to be there) instead of a threat to National Security. In a constant effort to be adorable in everything I do, I wanted a cute lanyard on which to display my lovely ID.

Hello, Target dollar section.

I found a cute sparkly lanyard ($1!!!), but after wearing it for less than a week, it was already starting to fall apart. I guess you get what you pay for. So I did what I should have done the first time. I asked Pinterest.

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Which is how I found this completely adorable fabric lanyard tutorial from Two Peas In a Pod. Even with my terrible novice sewing skills, I easily whipped out this baby in about 10 minutes. If you have a sewing machine and can sew a straight line, you can make this lanyard. Ridiculous. Since I used fabric scraps I already had lying around and repurposed the hardware from the now defunct Target lanyard, the project cost me a grand total of $0, which is my favorite amount to spend on things.

20150829_111653Mine is a wee bit wider than the original, because I started with 2.5″ scraps instead of 2″, but other than that, I followed the instructions pretty closely. You could use this same method, and wider fabric scraps to make key chains or luggage tags. The possibilities are endless!

Happy Crafting!

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Student Teaching | An insider’s guide to the first week

I’m two full days into my student teaching and I feel as though I’ve learned more so far than in any single graduate course I took. It’s incredible how much there is to know, and how important it is to learn quickly.

And school hasn’t even started yet. Oy.

If you are a student intern (student teacher, intern teacher, or whatever your program might call you) here are my words of advice from someone in the thick of it. Some of these lessons I’ve learned myself, while others have been graciously handed down to me by teacher friends who have come before.

Ask Questions

Your mentor teacher and the staff at your school are absolutely going to forget that you don’t understand the acronyms and jargon they use. Instead of trying to reason it out, just ask. Don’t wait until mid-October to figure out what is going on.  Asking questions helps you seem interested and leaves a favorable impression on those around you. It also makes you feel more comfortable in your surroundings.

Speak Up

Reading the syllabus and see what seems to be a contradiction? Bring it up. In a content area meeting and realize that the deadline for opting in to science fair is before Back to School Night? Point it out. Have an idea for an activity or bulletin board? Suggest it.

Teachers are overwhelmingly collaborative and generous people. More often than not, they’ll appreciate the fresh take and extra set of eyes. You’re an intern, not a child. You get to have an opinion too. Stay humble, but don’t be afraid to contribute.

Branch Out

Your intern/mentor relationship will be a unique and special one, no question. Don’t restrict yourself to one source of information though. Get different perspectives on everything from warm-up ideas to approaches to test prep. Two teachers who teach the same levels of the same classes will have completely different teaching styles. Experience as much of what the faculty has to offer as you can. Get to know the guidance counselors, front office staff, and administration. There are obvious career advantages, but it’s also a great way to glean as much from your intern experience as possible.

Say “Yes”

If anyone offers you any opportunity, take it. Sit in on meetings, observe special education classes, attend professional development workshops. Your internship is the only time you are completely free to float around and do everything without any real responsibility. Take advantage.

If anyone asks you to help with something, do it, even if it seems “beneath you”. A teacher across the hall asked for an extra set of hands hanging bulletin board paper yesterday. By helping her for 10 minutes, we built a rapport and I gained a reputation in my content area as a team player. 10 minute investment, endless possible return.

Stay Organized

In-service handouts, meeting notes, handbooks, syllabi, the amount of paper generated during your time will be extraordinary. Keep it all. A binder is probably the easiest way to keep everything in line. Add in a notebook or legal pad for meeting notes, and it’s smooth sailing.

A huge part of teaching is documentation, so get used to writing everything down and you’ll have good habits forever.

Happy Interning!

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Inside Anxiety | A live account of an anxiety attack

It starts when it occurs to me that I have more time left in my class than I have activities to fill it. No problem, I tell myself, I can always come up with something. Even as the words cross my mind, I know that the storm is coming. The pacing issue is the least of my worries, this has been building for weeks. Uncertainty, travel, exhaustion, and new stress in my life have left me wide open, a sitting duck for the inevitable episode to come. That feeling of sickness, of a heavy weight in my throat. My mind races, a million disconnected thoughts run through. Through it all, I can’t break. Young, innocent faces look up at me, oblivious to my inner struggle. They don’t know about my disease, what I’ve been through, or what I’ve seen. They don’t know that I feel like I’m dying. I try to crack a joke, to smile, but I can feel the laughter die as it gets caught by that throaty roadblock.

I think, for a moment, I may be having a heart attack, but I know it’s not true. This is just my anxiety rearing its ugly head. My brain chemistry playing a trick on my body. It seems cruel that the same mind that allows me to understand complex scientific concepts, find musical harmonies, and appreciate Dutch still life would betray me in this way. Like a fair-weather friend, it knows that I have 6 hours left in my school day, but disregards my schedule.

I send my students to break early, grab a snack and something to drink, and put on classical music to calm my nerves. I think a lot of people assume that anxiety attacks are like you see on television, but screaming and hyperventilating have never been my style. Instead, I sit in a quiet room, the strains of Schubert’s Impromptu For Piano In G Flat Major begging my mind to release me from this prison.

My students were the reason I went on anti-anxiety medication in the first place. Before it, my coping mechanism was to remove myself from a stressful situation and let the feelings pass. I knew that I couldn’t abandon a classroom full of students, so I talked to my doctor. The first few weeks were hellish. Once the nausea and exhaustion passed, I started to feel more human. Instead of twice to three times per week, I walk this path only once every few months.

Ironically, the infrequency of the attacks doesn’t make them less intense or less frightening. If anything, their randomness increases their potency. I send up a silent prayer of thanks that the next activity on my lesson plan is a karyotyping study that requires quiet, individual work and gives me time to wait it out. There is no telling how long this feeling will last. Sometimes the waves pass in only a few minutes. On other occasions, aftershocks rack my body for hours or until the next day. The uncertainty is often the hardest part. Uncertainty and the duty to pretend this isn’t happening.

They need me to be my best, and I’m certainly not that now. 54 minutes until the end of class. I feel that if I can just make it to the break, I’ll be home free. My limbs feel heavy and thick as I move through space. I can’t breathe, but I don’t let my face belie my turmoil.

49 minutes left. Just hold on…

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All photos from Katie Crawford’s My Anxious Heart

Monday Musings | of phoning it in, a game plan, and a new friend.

1) I need to apologize. I hate apologizing. Not because I’m never wrong, but there is a certain defeat in apologizing. It means that I couldn’t fix my mistake and all I could offer were some words. My service-oriented personality finds the words “I’m sorry” to be absurdly inferior when I really want to make things right.

Regardless, it’s time. While I had a blast doing Project27, it left me a bit burned out on the blogging front. Coupled with some personal issues (I won’t bore you) and an increasingly busy schedule, I’ve been giving less than my best to this blog. There are many of you who faithfully follow my ramblings and I’ve been taking you for granted.

I’m sorry.

I’m not going to make empty promises, but I will endeavor to do better. My goal is to provide you with honest, authentic content. I’m not catering to your interests or pandering to the crowd, but you deserve to see more than fluff or mindless drivel.

(I suck cards from Jen at Witsicle)

To that end…

2) I’ve made a game plan for the next couple of months.

Be on the lookout for the Best Balsamic Vinaigrette you’ve ever tasted (and probably the easiest), my Tips for Memorizing Scripture, and an exposé on the Relative Merits of Coyote Urine. That’s right, Coyote Urine. You won’t want to miss that. I’ll regale you with tales of Kids College and show you my attempts at building a teaching wardrobe for the fall.

I’m also determined to host a contest/giveaway before the summer is out. You hear me? Determined!

Speaking of teaching…

3) I had the opportunity to meet up with my mentor teacher for my first placement in August. Because I’m in secondary education, I have to complete a placement in both middle and high school. Middle school is up first and I got together with the teacher who will guide me through my first 8 weeks.

She is awesome. Seriously. Ms. G (that’s how you’ll know her) and I have similar philosophies of teaching, and no nonsense attitudes about classroom management. She had a horrific student teaching experience as a student, so she is determined to make this a great experience for me. States of matter, here I come!

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day 16 | My final Final, Finally!

Oh, sweet friends, it’s been a rough week. I’m feeling quite worn.

Yesterday, I took my last final exam. It’s a strange and beautiful thing to finally be free of the classes that have, for so long, kept me from my dream. The final wasn’t too bad, except that it was at 8 am. Never acceptable. I realized that I’ve taken a couple dozen final exams in my illustrious, if extended, school career and garnered some useful knowledge, which I now share with you. Because I’m a giver.

1) Buddy Up
Studying with a partner may not work for you (it doesn’t for me), but take a little time to go over key concepts with a friend. Even if you just explain the material to someone who has no idea what you’re talking about, when you try to put what you know into logical thoughts, it solidifies the information in your brain. Plus, it’s good practice for essays.

2) Get Some Sleep
Seriously, don’t pull an all-nighter. It sounds like a good idea, but rarely is. Get at least a few hours of shut-eye. Your brain processes information as you sleep and you’ll be overall better equipped to ace your exam.

3) Get Ready
Even if your exam is late in the day, get up at a reasonable time, eat breakfast, shower, and start your day. A disturbance in your normal routine can make you feel sluggish or disoriented, which can mess with your testing mojo. Besides, rolling up feeling grungy and sleepy is never the last impression you want to make on your professor.

4) Dress Comfy
Comfortable ≠ slobbish. Dress in light layers so that you maintain an ideal temperature no matter what the conditions of the testing room. Reach for layer that button or zip, rather than pull off over your head so that you can easily add/remove clothing in those bizarre and unreasonably tiny chairs.

5) Chew Gum
Or suck on a mint. Science has linked mint to increased concentration and memory retention. Plus, chewing gum gives you an outlet for all that nervous energy.

Final thoughts: If you get stuck…
It happens. You thought you were prepared and took every precaution to do well. Then the wording of a question or that one essay topic throws you for a loop. Stop and take a deep breath, you can do this.

If it’s a Multiple Choice (Selected Response) question, skip it, and move on. Come back at the end and eliminate the choices you know are not correct. Then, make your best guess. Trust your instincts and don’t keep waffling between your answers.

If an essay has you stumped, make a small graphic organizer. Whether the essay requires you to write about the social, political, and economic causes of World War I, or make a case for the most influential scientist of all time, draw a little chart and start putting down what you know. As more information comes to you, add it to the organizer. When you’re completely stumped, try making some logical inferences based on what you already know.

Happy Finals!

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day 15 | Favorite Things Friday: Education Edition

Oh, interwebs. How I love thee.

There are literally thousands of teacher resources on the internet, and as I look forward to starting my teaching career, I’ve been stockpiling (hoarding) good advice, lesson plan ideas, and classroom organization tips. Enabled by Pinterest, I’ve kept a running log of all things teacher-y.

Here’s what I’m obsessed with:

1) This ShutUP cute tee-shirt from Tee Spring.

2) This list of classroom jobs for middle and high schoolers from Mathchips. Because line leader just doesn’t cut it anymore…

3) This killer rock cycle lesson plan and comic strip project from TPerruna32. Because rocks are boring, and there’s no getting around it. Comic strips make them a little less boring.

4) Originally conceived by Dutch artist Wendy Plomp as an art installation, I’m totally stealing this idea to create a paper cave in my classroom. Totes legit

5) School Psychologist Files is an awesome resource for dealing with all kinds of disabilities. The site includes intervention ideas for students with special needs for teachers and parents and is a great way to learn more about the individual disabilities.

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day 14 | Climbing Kilimanjaro

I get deeply invested in (read: obsessed with) Vacation Bible School. 2015 marks my 5th consecutive year as the Pre-Primary Director (3-5 year olds). During my tenure, I’ve learned more than a few things about coordinating a week’s worth of lessons, crafts, and activities. To get through the week without pulling my hair out, organization is the key.

All a girl needs is a really organized binder, a large coffee, a pinch of faith, and a Master Plan.

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1) Master Plan: I start in Microsoft Excel and make a skeleton that holds all the information I need. Then I fill in each section, and when it’s done, I have a plan for the week! Of course, you know what they say, “A plan is a point from which to deviate.”

Isn’t it glorious?

Times are listed and the shaded box is to remind me that Thursday is Water Day (dun dun duhhhhh) which means chaos will erupt. I keep a copy of the plan in the binder and post additional copies around the classrooms so that my helpers can easily see what the next activity will be.

20150514_1055112) The curriculum book is full of all kinds of awesome things, but the workbook style of it makes it hard to organize. I spent way too much time flipping through the pages trying to stay on the right day. To solve this problem, I pulled out my handy-dandy paper-cutter, removed the staples from the binding, and sliced the pages free.

3) Order is key! This is how my binder is set up.

Master Plan
VBS Rules Sheet
Parent Info Sheet
Curriculum Book Intro Pages

Day Divider (5 total)
Coloring Sheet Master Copies
Daily Puppet Script
Discovery Center and Craft Cards
Daily Curriculum

4) Parent Communication is a huge part of our success. Between our “No Parents” policy and getting ready for water day, we have a lot to explain! I can’t be sure that in the craziness, I’ll get face to face time with each parent, so we send home announcements with the kids. Here’s my cute African themed sheet for this year!

VBS-Parents

This way, I can circumvent some of the my-kid-isn’t-prepared-because-you-didn’t-tell-me nonsense. I do get parents who are offended that they can’t sit with little Johnny or Susie in class and let me know that they’ll go where they please. A very diplomatic, “I understand, but my primary job is to ensure the safety of all of our campers, including Johnny/Susie,” usually cuts it. If not, I can bring out the big guns with, “I understand if you need to remove your Johnny/Susie from the class, but these are the rules, and they aren’t going to change.

A new strategy for the ones that think it’s cool to yell at me comes from my sweet friend Kristi, “Okay, but you’re yelling. Why don’t we talk about it?”

5) This year, I’m trying something new. For each Discovery Center and Craft, I made a card that has the instructions and all the necessary materials. This way, I can just hand them off to a helper and there is no need to micromanage everything that’s happening in my classroom! I formatted them in Microsoft word, and printed them on cardstock for durability.

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