Jumping From A Perfectly Good Plane


            I went skydiving on Sunday, jumping out of a perfectly fine, albeit tiny, aircraft strapped to an experienced skydiver.   The two of us had met about thirty minutes before takeoff. As the doors shut and the plane started ascending, he made small talk to put me at ease. Between nerves, the rushing sound of flight, and the fact that he was tightening a number of straps that brought the two of us extremely close to one another, I was having difficulty keeping up the thread of conversation.

Under optimal conditions, I can struggle with small talk. Trying to keep up with conversation in the thick of all that was practically impossible. Then he asked me about my job.   My job. Under optimal conditions, explaining my job isn’t easy. I can’t just say “elementary teacher” because people envision a room of twenty kids or so in their desks. I can’t say “special education teacher” because people envision a classroom on the other end of the spectrum that is special education. We’d be on the ground before I could adequately say what my job really was, before I could make him envision what I actually do.

Luckily for me, before I could answer the doors opened and we were greeted by a freezing rush of air that took my breath away. The two of us scooted toward the opening, our feet dangling in open sky as he shouted last second directions about what to do with my feet, hands and head as we prepared to hurtle toward the ground.

I could tell you about the exhilaration of falling in a crisp blue sky. I could tell you about the jerk you feel as the parachute opens. I could tell you about how you then leisurely glide over the landscape until all of a sudden, the person behind you (who you totally forgot was strapped to you) tells you to raise your legs so you have them in the right position for landing. I could tell you about how you want to throw up when you land, then how you want to catch the next flight up. I could tell you all that and still wouldn’t have the words to really make you understand. They tell you to get photos or video of the experience because you’d be at a loss for words when trying to describe what it felt like. It’s similar to how small talk can’t really create a picture of what my job really is.

Reflecting more on it today at work, I realized that skydiving and my job have a lot more in common than one may think. Doing a tandem skydive and teaching both require preparation, expertise, awesomeness and a little bit of craziness. Parachutes have to be packed, lessons have to be planned. Planes have to be fueled; materials have to be prepared. There’s plenty to know in order to make it to the ground safely from a plane, just like there’s plenty to know in order to take students in the direction they need to go. There’s awesomeness in plunging from a plane just as there’s awesomeness in working with children. Then there’s the little bit of craziness. Jumping from a perfectly good plane takes a little bit of crazy, just like teaching does. Skydiving and my job have a lot more in common than one may think.

So if I could go back to that conversation, I’d know what to tell him. My job? It’s a lot like yours I’d tell him. My job? It’s a lot like jumping out of a plane. And I love it. And I’ll do both again and again and again (even if sometimes all I want to do is throw up.)

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Incredible Day? Let Me Count The Ways…

Did I just have an awesome day? I think I did.

When I committed myself to weekly Character Costumes this year, I promised myself that I would get everything squared away the summer before. I promised that I wouldn’t be scrambling the week of trying to find knee high socks or making tutus. I promised that I would keep it all organized and this crazy idea of dressing up as a character from a book once a week would not take over my life. My track record isn’t that great when it comes to keeping self-promises. For the most part though, I’ve been good about this one. Until today.

Today I got out of class thirty minutes late because the professor isn’t so good at time management, and I should have headed straight home and been in a terrible mood. After all, I wouldn’t be getting home until after nine (which when you leave at seven in the morning, makes for a long day) and all I had for dinner was popcorn and peach tea. Instead I went shopping for a yellow plaid shirt. I had a red plaid shirt all ready to go when I realized this morning that the character totally wore a yellow plaid shirt, and in more than one book too. Those scholars would totally call me out if I showed up in red. Coupled with the stress of upcoming standardized testing, how did all of this add up to an incredible day? Let me count the ways…

  1. I told a joke to a stranger and she laughed. The cashier asked if I wanted to keep the hanger and laughed when I punned “No thanks, you can hang onto it.” I didn’t even have to go “ba-dum-tiss.” She knew it was a joke, and gave a genuine laugh.
  2. I actually learned something from class tonight! I walked out with something I want to try with my students and something else I want to try with my teachers. While I might moan about the work, I’m happy to have decided to go back for this post-grad certification program.
  3. Sunroof. I got to use it today. It was amazing.
  4. My “problem” behavior this afternoon was that two of my students (in my most difficult group both academically and behaviorally speaking) kept sneaking out their choice books and reading when there was even half a second of a break in instruction. One even said, “I like reading.” This is a kid who hated reading and didn’t care about anything we did all last year and the year before. It was so gratifying to have this problem and to have him inspiring others to engage others in the same behavior.
  5. New music. I love getting new CDs (I know I can download music, but I’m still attached to the paper insert you get with CDs.) I love when I get something I can listen to over and over and over again until I am sick of it. Then I don’t listen to it for a long time, rediscover it and love it again.
  6. I actually got a moment to reflect on my instruction and was happy with what I had. Normally, my reflection skews more to “what went wrong?” Today I was reflecting on how I’m teaching persuasive writing, and realized that using mentor texts alongside letting the students write collaboratively, the graphic organizer, and the RAFT strategy pushed on me by a peer is making teaching persuasive writing so much more effective (and fun!)
  7. Cupcakes. There were free cupcakes in staff dining today. I might have eaten two.
  8. I got to read a book of my choice for enjoyment. I love reading, and I have since I was a kid. Still, I will find myself in a dry spell where I haven’t read a book of my choice for weeks. Recently though, I’ve got sucked into a good book and love sneaking moments here and there to read it. Today it was when I was brushing my teeth.
  9. My injuries have healed! Slacking on my running then doing two races in one day was not a good choice this past weekend. Add falling off the step and onto my ankle in step class, and I was not in very good shape. Things were not looking good for weekend’s race. Today though, I’m pain free and looking forward to Saturday.
  10. I got my electric bill today and it is less than half of what it was last month. I’m so happy winter is done!

Life is good. Plus, I found a yellow plaid shirt. It will be a $7.97 well spent.

Cell-u-less

Today I left the house with both my girls, all of their stuff and most of mine.  I kept feeling like I forgot something.  Turns out I didn’t even realize what it was until after I dropped the girls off at the sitter.  It was my cell phone.  I live 30 minutes from my work and just dropping the baby off every morning makes me 10-15 minutes late, so going back for it was NOT an option. Usually during the day I am checking e-mail on my phone, playing games while I pump (because I am nursing and working), pinning things while I pump (both school and personal related) and continuously using it for multitasking and “keeping in-touch” purposes when I am away from my computer or just have a spare moment. I think that today without having it, I spent more time actually paying attention to my surroundings like looking at the people I work with and spending more time speaking with them.  I try to be conscious of being on it when it is time to communicate personally but I felt it even more today not having my phone at all. Another thing that I realized was that I used to memorize phone numbers.  Now, I didn’t even have the phone number to where my kids were because it is saved in my phone.  I think I am going to make more of a conscious effort to memorize important phone numbers! Sometimes it is ok to put the electronics down and actually take a look around, even if we don’t think we use them that much, they take up more of our lives that we realize. image

Pom Pom What? From Erasers to a Victorious Visual Schedule

Some days my brain works better than others.  Some days, I have “Ah Ha!” moments.  Some days, those two things happen at the same time.  One such example came when I was sitting in my living room, talking with Aileen.  She says, “I used pom poms on the dry erase markers.”  She continued on with the conversation and I had to stop her and ask what in the heck she wanted to use pom poms on her markers for?

She explained that on Pinterest ( check out our Web Wednesday on that amazing resource) she found this awesome idea to create dry erase erasers by using pom poms on the dry erase markers.

Thanks to Fifth Grade Frenzy for this quick but incredible tip.

My mind was officially blown.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of that myself, or much sooner for that matter.  I immediately put it to practice in my classroom!  I LOVE IT!

In that discussion, we also talked about an idea I had not completely formed.  My students were struggling with their morning and afternoon schedule.  I really had trouble with them following through on tasks that were everyday occurrences and had been for the last 1.5 years.  I had already created a visual schedule that we broke down into tasks and made it available for them to see every morning and afternoon.  This did not work in getting them to follow through.  I was discussing a checklist that would hold them accountable for each task and had not figured out how I was going to make this work without creating more work for myself.

Combine the PomPom Ah Ha with the need to improve our daily routine and the visual schedule went to to checklist/task form.  I placed them in page protectors so that the students could use dry erase markers to check off the tasks as they complete them.  Another great part of them being in page protectors is that I can easily flip them so the students see their morning responsibilities in the morning and their afternoon tasks in the afternoon.

PomPom AHAH


Simple but effective and life changing, the perfect Ah Ha Epiphany.

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10 Things Nobody Told You Your Classroom Needs But That It Absolutely Does

For all the years teachers have to spend in school before getting a classroom, you’d think everything would be figured out.  Not true.  Not to trash our college education (which we both are still paying off), but there are SO MANY things you learn in the trenches of the classroom.  Many of those things relate to what you need to have in order to make your teaching life go smoothly.

DISCLAIMER: Everything on this list is in one or both of our classrooms, and while we may have brand names/products listed here we are not getting any kickbacks and 100% realize that for most of these items, nearly any brand would do, except Duct tape, nothing beats Duck Brand Duct Tape. (Try saying that saying that 10 times fast).

Without further ado, here are 10 things nobody told you your classroom needs but that it absolutely does. (In no particular order because we couldn’t agree which things were more important than others…)

  1.  Tool Kit: We are not talking something super fancy but you’d be surprised how often you need a hammer, wrench or screwdriver.  Pliers also come in handy in a pinch.  The one pictured (and Aileen’s classroom) is from IKEA.  It is easier sometimes to just have the tools to fix something yourself quickly than to bother your custodial staff (but be careful to ask for help when you need it so you don’t cause a problem somebody else has to fix!)
  2. Duct Tape: What isn’t duct tape used for?  You can hang your posters, level your tables, mark on the floor where students line up, use it for crafts,  create your own dry erase pockets, and customize nearly anything.  Check out this pinterest board dedicated just to creative uses of duct tape.
  3. Cinder-block Hooks/Command Hooks: Make you you check with your custodial staff before using things like cinder-block hooks.  Command Hooks are usually pretty safe as far as not causing damage.  Once again you’ll find yourself using them to hang nearly anything.
  4. Twine String: Twine comes in handy when trying to hang larger items like visual schedules.  It’s also good for connecting things like markers to marker boards (check out posts to come from Jessica for how she makes this work!)
  5. Hot Glue Gun: As you will discover from the character costume posts, Aileen has an addiction to her hot glue gun.  It’s a fast, easy and relatively non-messy way to stick things together and mend things.
  6. Label Maker:  A hard fact is that many of the things that we find in our classrooms are things we paid for ourselves, so making sure your name is on your belongings is important.  However, the possibilities of a label maker are much greater than that.  One simple label maker can make a huge difference in how organized your classroom is.  The one pictured is actually the same that Aileen has.  It was the best Christmas present ever.
  7. Teacher Water Bottle: Hydration is hugely important, and when you can’t leave your classroom, having a water bottle is essential.  We recommend not having a SUPER HUGE water bottle, but rather one you can easily carry and that keeps you from needing too many potty breaks (because we all know how hard those are to come by.)
  8. Clear Totes:  Where to start?  Totes are wonderful items to have for storage.  Both Jessica and Aileen have million of these totes from Target (everyone once in a while our local Targets go crazy and put the clear colored ones on clearance… then a couple of days later they are back in stock for full price… don’t question it.)  The 66 qt is a good size because unless you are putting books or bricks into storage, even full they hold a lot but are not too heavy.  The clear ones are better than others.  Non-clear ones can be cheaper at times, but being able to see what is inside is worth the extra money.
  9. Zip Ties: These items can keep your cords in check, help you create shelves out of crates, and hold things together that shouldn’t be falling apart in the first place.  Aileen has also used them on desk legs to keep rows/groups of desks together.
  10. Sweater/Jacket: Unless you work in a magical place that lets you adjust the temperature, chances are good that you are at the mercy of a thermometer nowhere near your room.  One minute hot, one minute freezing, so having a sweater or jacket to leave in the classroom is always a good idea.  Just make sure you take it home to wash every once in a blue moon.

BONUS: This is an item that neither of us have and that Aileen is always borrowing from another teacher.  If you have drop ceilings and want to hang things from it you need this.  It’s called a Ceiling Hanglers Grid Clip Put-er Up-er.  Here’s a picture for your to drool over.

Ceiling hangler put-er up-er

There’s plenty other things out there that are essential.  What are your thoughts?

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