Thursday, September 1, 2011


This post is for the unbelievably amazing first year teachers at my new school. Y'all, I am barely holding my sh*t together with all uncertainty and the crazy schedule and the fact that no one has an answer because there is no "last year we did this" - I don't know if I would be able to be a new teacher in this situation on top of it. I admire them so much and know that they will get through it.

Because I did. If I can get past my anxiety, stress, and 103405903493 meltdowns, so. can. you.

I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to my expectations of myself and what I do. Even if to everyone else, I am teaching a great lesson, what I am thinking about is how I can make it better or what more I could have done. This has eased some as my teaching career has gotten underway, but it's still there under the surface.

I remember at one point, a few weeks into my first year, when I had a meltdown at 3:30 and decided to screw it and go home, I ended up melting down AGAIN to an administrator because I felt like a slacker for going home. She, in her infinite wisdom and fantasticness, told me the following: "Katie, when are you going to realize that your 'slacking' is most people's 110 percent?"

It put things into perspective for me. Perception is reality, people. And, much in the same way that 13-year-old girls are convinced that everyone notices the GIANT zit on their face when in fact you can't even see it, you are doing a great job and no one noticed that you forgot that one tiny step of the lesson except you. It's not a pimple on the face of your lesson.

One thing I did for myself my first year was create an iPod mix that I called Classroom Zen. I would sit in my car outside of school at 6:45 a.m., listening to "Let It Be" and bawling.

Another song on the mix is "Vienna" by Billy Joel. Whenever I am stressed I listen to it:

Slow down you crazy child
you're so ambitious for a juvenile
but then if you're so smart tell me
why are you still so afraid?
Where's the fire, what's the hurry about?
you better cool it off before you burn it out
you've got so much to do
and only so many hours in a day

but you know that when the truth is told
that you can get what you want
or you can just get old
you're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
when will you realize - Vienna waits for you?

Slow down, you're doin' fine
you can't be everything you wanna be before your time
although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight
Too bad, but it's the life you lead
you're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
you know, you can't always see when you're right

you got your passion, you got your pride
but don't you know that only fools are satisfied
dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true
when will you realize - Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you crazy child
and take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
it's alright, you can afford to lose a day or two
when will you realize - Vienna waits for you?

So to you stressed-out teachers, first year and otherwise: relax and remember, all anyone else sees is the 110 percent.

**UPDATE: I reread this post and realized that I forgot the r in 'borderline.' Obviously this is unacceptable and I fixed it. Perfectionism. Case in point.**

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Agenda

It took us 45 minutes to go over and write down our homework today.

Here was the aforementioned homework:
-Math: Practice Sheet 1-1
-Read for 20 minutes. Record it in your reading log.

Getting it from the board to their agendas took forty. five. minutes.

Yes, things always take a long time at the beginning of the year. But seriously y'all... I almost put a Dixon Ticonderoga through my eyeball. A rough sketch of this scene (and mind you, this is after going over both pieces of homework and opening our agendas to the right week.)

Boys and girls, your homework is written on the board. Please copy it down in the box that says Tuesday. That box says Monday, darling. Tuesday. What's your question? "What's my reading log?" It is the notebook we JUST labeled with the words READING LOG, remember when we did that? No sweetie, Tuesday. Not that Tuesday - see? The top of that page says October. We want AUGUST.

And Hubs wonders why I am snappy when I get home. I love my job, and don't get me wrong - being with kids all day is still vastly preferable to being in a cubicle all day - but holy hell do I forget every year how helpless they are in August.

Sunday, August 28, 2011



The first two days of school with students - and more importantly, my first full set of lesson plans for the coming week - are finished. It's been such a whirlwind that I don't even know yet how I feel about everything. Depending on when you asked me in the past 4 days, I might have felt overwhelmed, overjoyed, overtired, overworked, or very much overly excited. Probably all of the above.

After the excitement of meeting the students at Open House, Wednesday was looking to be a great, great day. Then, I got to school and something unimaginably, ridiculously awful happened to me. I discovered that the USB flash drive I have everything - everything! - I've ever made for teaching on it was not being recognized by my computer. It had gotten bent and was, as it turns out, broken. Granted, there is still hope that the Geek Squad at Best Buy can recover the data, but once I take it in it may be several weeks and as much as $500. Needless to say, there were hysterics, tears, and approximately 17 meltdowns. Not a good way to finish the last day of teacher planning week.

However, the first day of school went relatively well, considering no one in the entire school really knew what they were doing. I have figured out that it takes approximately 10 minutes to do a bathroom/water break (waaaaay too long), and a full 5 minutes to get my class where they need to go (also insanely long). It also hit me that I really have no breaks during the day. We eat lunch in the cafeteria with our students, and our specials period isn't until 2:10 p.m. For the first two days, we stayed with our students and went around to meet all of the specials teachers, so I had no break until after carpool duty. I was literally punch drunk by the time the last car pulled off on Thursday (around 4:30 pm!) I know that all teachers work hard and deserve credit and all that, but there is a serious difference in the amount of planning/free time available to elementary teachers vs. secondary.

All things considered, though, things went pretty well. I don't appear (famous last words) to have any major behavioral problems - as in defiance, overt meanness, etc. - in my class. I have a few lovely darlings that I can tell have serious attention issues, but that's par for the course. They all impressed me with their desire to try and follow what I ask them to do, even if they don't succeed.

I went into this new school thinking it would be very much like my last school in New Orleans, partially, I think, to ease my anxiety about all this change. In many ways it reminds me of my old school - the crazy overachieving type-A teachers, the administration that puts faith in you to do what you need to do, the focus on the arts. But so many things are different.

For instance, at my last school, the "average" student was in fact very much above average. We had 100% pass rate for the 3rd grade on state testing, and most of the kids read above grade level. Plus, I was working with the gifted literacy kids. The population at this new school is much more varied - I definitely noticed a wide range of kids' levels. It's going to be a big adjustment not being able to assume a certain level of knowledge, and honestly, it's the thing that most terrifies me about this year. I am terrified that I will fail these kids who are coming to me below level. I have always had an easier time working to challenge the gifted kids. I lay awake the other night wondering to myself, What if I don't do them justice? What if I can't get them where they need to be? I put such pressure on myself - state testing and guidelines aside - that I am scared I will drive myself crazy.

The other big adjustment is not being in a school where if I sent an email to parents asking for X, Y, and Z for the classroom, five Xs, Ys, and Zs would be in my room the next day. By contrast, after two days of school and twenty students, I had eight pairs of scissors and only five boxes of tissues. I can tell that these are dedicated, loving, involved parents, but they do not all have resources. I am currently snacking from a giant tub of Goldfish I bought because a girl in my class told me she wouldn't be able to bring snack until her mom got paid. Don't get me wrong, this is not a super-low-income, incredibly needly population, but it's definitely a change from where I was.

Here's hoping the rollercoaster evens out as we build up speed.