Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Back At School With A New Attitude!

Yes, I am still here!  Maybe my New Year's Resolutions will explain a few things.

Susan's Non-OCD New Year's Resolutions
1. Strive for balance in everything - work, nutrition, exercise, and play.
2. Don't feel guilty about resting and relaxing.
3.  Make time with family and friends a priority.
4.  Spend more time doing what I enjoy.
5.  Have an adventure.

I realize that some of those seem like no-brainers, but my resolutions last year consisted of a four page carefully organized list of everything that needed to be done around the house, school, TpT, and how much exercise I needed to do and when.  This is a much healthier approach to the year, and I am off to a great start.

This weekend we went to the Pantages and saw Wicked.  It was my niece and nephew's first time in Hollywood (much squealing and picture taking), and their first time seeing a professional production.  That smile on her beautiful face stayed there all night.  Worth every minute of the Friday night traffic and sleep lost on the late night.

I have spent many a night happily knitting.  Over the last month, I have pretty much knitted something for everyone in my family (who would let me, nephews in their twenties are not very fun).  It relaxes me, allows me to be creative, and I love it.

Hank and Lucy are very happy because our walking has once more become a regular thing.  Not the frantic paced "workout walk" of before, but a leisurely couple miles after school.  

I am working really hard at staying focused at school.  I have been using every minute of time preparing and grading, no more tangents and stress-pity parties.  Not only that, but with a few exceptions, I have been out the door and in the parking lot within an hour after the kids leave.  The best part, nothing is going home with me during the week.  On Fridays, I do take home a few select sets of papers and things to plan with for the next week.

One of my few late days was because I attended a Read 180 meeting for the district.  They shared our district wide results for the SRI.  My partner and I had the best results of any middle school in the district - by a landslide.  I allowed myself to enjoy the praise and shared it with my class.  They were thrilled!  In addition to an average growth of 147 Lexiles in three and half months, six of my System 44 kiddos blew away the SPI and moved into Read 180!

 Of course, it is hard for me to not look at the bottom few and question my teaching.  However, I am trying to be more positive.  One student moved, one was leaving for vacation that day and was frantic, and the others still exceeded the district expected growth.  Still, I wanted all of them to shine.

Finally, I wanted to share what I found on my desk the first day back.
Our administrators left a personal note on each teachers' desk.  I can't tell you how nice that was to see on Monday morning.  It changed my whole attitude about starting back.  We have about 45 staff members.  That was a lot of note-writing over break.   Mine is clipped above my desk in the back of the room.  I must have read it over twenty times.  It still fills my teacher heart with a happy smile every time.  This is my 26th year of teaching, and I have never had such a thoughtful note to greet me on the first Monday back.

Bring it on 2015!


Monday, January 5, 2015

New Semester's Resoultions! (SALE!)

Happy New Year!  Like many, I have been relaxing, enjoying my time off, and not blogging!  Many teachers are back at school this week, but I have one more week (don't hate me:).  A week that I intend to enjoy.

Our family holiday gathering was just two days ago, so Christmas just came down today.  Why is it always harder to take it down than to put it up? 

So today, I sorted and packed all of my tree decorations by color and size, into little tubs.  It made me so happy.  You are probably not surprised, or you are surprised that they weren't already that way!  I need to get back to work.

In my head, I am planning for lessons and our conferences!  My school does not require a second set of parent conferences, but with my boo-boos, I like to do them again at the semester.  One of the things that will be in their little packet is my New Semester's Resolutions!

 It will be on 20% off until Wednesday afternoon!

Now, I have to finish a scarf for my niece, make a bunch of Bigfoots (or Bigfeet, or just Bigfoot? - in any case, it is a long story and a post for another time) for the classroom, and relive my twenties by watching Friends on Netflix (darn them and their evil plan to keep me from working)!

Hope your holidays were filled with love, friends, and family!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

May Your Season Be Bright!

Last year, I was a little bit of a sad Grinch about Christmas.  I waited until the very last moment to decorate and only because I had family coming over.  Let me just admit to being a tad depressed last year about the holidays.  This year, I am totally in the spirit:).

My house is decorated.  Not crazy lady decorated, but nicely done.  Just enough to make me smile, and I love what I did.
This little antique basket is full of gold, stars, and snowflakes.  It sits on my kitchen table, and I love the way the morning light catches it.
I have been leaning towards an serious obsession with little trees.  As a little girl, the Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood were my absolute favorites.  Betsy and Star had a little Christmas tree in their room, and I have been obsessed with the idea of them ever since!  I am only letting myself buy one little one every other year.  There may be a few more that are not in the picture...
My day has been spent filling these little boxes with lights!  Every year, I make myself insane with baking, fudge-making, and more baking.  I find myself rushing around to the point where I am cranky the whole last week of school.  I get so stressed out about those little presents for my colleagues and office staff.  I promised myself that I would be "in the moment" with my kids this year, rather than distracted by a million other things.  Over Thanksgiving break, I was at Ikea (indulging in my little tree obsession) looking at Christmas tree decorations when they put the whole display on sale, right as I was standing there!  I scooped them up and counted later!
Beautiful, right!  They took a little putting together, but once I figured it out, it was easy!  The little LED lights each have a snowflake that snaps over them.  It felt like holding a magical fairy bouquet in my hands.  I spent the whole day giggling and covered in snowflake lights.  Tomorrow night, I am going to tie a little bow on each handle with a tag that says, "MAY YOUR SEASON BE BRIGHT!" 

The boxes were a freebies, and I figure that the lights, snowflakes, and batteries might be a little more than what I would spend on baking supplies, but I am not going to be baking ALL WEEK!  Plus, the left overs are not going to find their way onto my hips!  I plan on doing a little baking for treat week in the lounge, and some extra for a few of the guys (who probably would not appreciate snowflake fairy lights, and they have already asked what day I would be bringing their cookies:).  Please don't get me wrong, I love baking.  I just don't love baking all night and getting stressed out about it!

Before I sign off, I wanted to let everyone know that I am fine.  Southern California got hit hard with a few storms, but my house is fine.  I am about a million dollars shy of living in those neighborhoods that were damaged in the awful mudslides.  We needed the rain, just not 8-10 inches in one 24 hour period.

I will post a few pictures about what I am doing for my kiddos later this week!  In the meantime...

May Your Season Be Bright!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

December Currently - Bonus Post

This is a bonus post for the day.  It just won't happen if I wait until tomorrow.  I have missed the last few Currentlys and figured I needed to make it happen now.


Listening:  I know!  It is an outlandish movie, and I almost peed my pants the first time I saw it.  So silly, and so funny.  One of my nephews is deployed (in a relatively safe place) and we've been trading lines on Facebook.  
Loving:  I am totally planned for the upcoming week!  Enough said!
Thinking:  Really, really, really, have to be careful not to slip up and throw a line out there or it is all over until after Winter Break.
Wanting: No explanation necessary
Needing:  Stop blogging and go to bed!
Giving:  I need to be focused on the moment and not let myself get all stressed out by the season.  We are going back to MAP testing, R-Skills, SRI, and semester grades - I need to keep them moving, but I need to enjoy the little things with them.  They are such a great class, they make me smile and laugh everyday.  I need to do the same for them during this stressful stretch.

Don't forget to go link up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade!  She has a great idea about Random Acts of Kindness for the month - I am totally stealing it!

Big Sale and Read 180 Labels

Just in case you haven't heard from Teachers Pay Teachers and every other blogger out there...
Please make sure to swing by Teachers Pay Teachers and support your fellow teachers by picking up a little something to get you through the next few hectic pre-holiday weeks.

Earlier this month, I ventured into previously unexplored territory and started playing around with making my own labels.  I wasn't finding anything I really liked for my new Read 180 Next Generation library.  So, I made my own!
I have always loved the red and turquoise color combination.  Probably because at the old ranch house, my grandma's kitchen was all done in red and turquoise.  She had this awesome kitchen table with red vinyl chairs.  The plates were turquoise melmac (or were those just my mother's?).
In any case, I made a different design for each Lexile level.  Not that the kids will really notice, but it makes me happy.
These are all printed out and ready to go get laminated as soon as Lakeshore opens up.  I made oval ones too, but I am not really sure if I am going to sell any of them.  I am not sure how that part of TPT really works.  However, I will put the labels up with a few blanks for a super low price (there are too many pages for a freebie).  Please remember that the titles may differ slightly from what you have in your library.  It just depends if you added to it or kept books from the Enterprise edition.  These are about 3.5 by 3.25 inches.  They were made to fit on my Ikea cardboard magazine holders.  If you do buy them, please be kind.  This is a stretch for me!  

I spent a lot of time this week trying to make a product that I will never use in my classroom, and I realized at 1:30 a.m. that I had had strayed from my mission.  So just to reaffirm what my "store" is all about...

I will only create and sell products that I use in my classroom.

There are plenty of very successful and talented sellers on TPT who offer a wide range of products that cross grade levels and disciplines.  They have wonderful products and I totally respect them.  I am really not sure how they do it, and am in awe of them!  However, at this point, I am not straying from what I actually use in my classroom.  I will only put on TPT the products that have worked well for me.  I agonize over each and every one before I push that submit button.  It is just my personality.  I am a seriously an obsessive perfectionist, who is very organized and selfish about her personal time.  Plus, I am getting old and cranky...lol:).

This post was more for me than for anyone else.  I got a little crazy-pants this week trying to make everyone else happy. 

Please head over to Teachers Pay Teachers to make your wishlist!  Sale starts tomorrow!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Catch Up, Otzi, and Maroo!

It promises to be a beautiful California "fall" day this morning.  Blue skies and bright sunshine, with just enough chill in the air for me to wear my fluffy slippers and pull over hoodie around the house.  Before I go out and do the yard work, I wanted to take a few minutes to catch everyone up.

It has been a bit since I posted.  Nothing wrong, just happy and busy with work and life.  I have been working really hard on this thing called "balance."  I have been really trying to limit the work that I bring home.  Which has put a serious crimp in my posting, but has really helped me relax and get more rest.  One of the things that I have been working on is eating better. 
My homemade Lara Bars were delicious!  The protein banana pancakes, well.....not so much.

This eating better theme led me to buying a bigger food processor and a new hobby - fighting with Cuisinart customer service!  The lid never fit properly.  Used it four times, and each time it got more difficult.  On the fourth time, it was impossible to remove and the food processor refused to even work.  After an HOUR with Cusineart "customer service," this is the result.  Their suggestions and my responses were as follows:

Cuisinart:  "Have you tried turning the lid to the left?"
Me:  "Really, the left?  Are you serious?"
(insert holding with scratchy holiday music)
Cuisinart:  "Have you tried soaking the bowl and lid in hot soapy water?"
Me:  "Yes, and I was able to finally force it off."
Cuisinart:  "Oh, good!  I am so glad to have helped you solve your problem."
Me:  "No, you didn't solve my problem.  Am I supposed to soak the bowl and lid in hot soapy water every time I use it?  What about the food inside?  Do I shake it out?  Do I use tweezers to pluck it out?"
(insert holding with scratchy holiday music)
Cuisinart:  "Have you tried force?"
Me:  "How much more force do you expect me to use?"
Cuisinart:  "I don't know what else to tell you."
Me:  "What about how sorry you are and how you are going to replace it?"
(insert holding with scratchy holiday music)

Poor little customer service representative.  Hopefully, I will have more Cuisinart Improv to share with you next time.  I am thinking about dedicating an entirely new blog just about my battles with Cuisinart Customer service.

Back at the Classroom...
My kids have finished their Iceman projects.  They did a fantastic job.  The amount of writing for them was a challenge.  We did three paragraphs together in small group, and then they were responsible for the others.  Are they perfectly cited paragraphs?  Nope, but there are moments of brilliance sprinkled in with the awkward, and I couldn't be happier.  
 From there we moved to character sketches of Maroo.  They had to find five quotes that told them about Maroo.  "This textual evidence tells me that Maroo...," was the sentence frame that we started with, but they ventured from it.  Interpreting the text was difficult for all of them, so I allowed them a few freebies of "description" rather than character.  Remember my kids are reading Far Below - primary grade level.
This last week, we have been concentrating on Science rather than Social Studies.  They were so "written out" from Maroo and Otzi, we did it a little different.  They have PE 5th period, and then come back to me for 6th.  They come back sweaty, smelly, and hyper.  This week, I decided not fight it.  I had a roll of old newspaper print that I cut up into desk sized pieces.  While they were "chilling and watching a video,"  I mentioned that they might want to take some notes and draw some pictures about the video.  I call it visual mapping.  With a word bank on the board, paper and colored pencils on their desks, and a cool video, they were hooked.  Pretty amazing stuff, and a real insight into how their brains work.  Some only drew, some wrote questions, and some did a combination.  I was really pleased to see how much of the important stuff they got down on paper.  No torture, just chillin' and little sneaky learning.




Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Post-Red-Ribbon/Halloween-Week Debrief

Red Ribbon Week and Halloween in the same week?  Really?  How much does the world hate teachers?  Maybe it is better to get it over with in the same week?  Yesterday should have been horrible, but it wasn't at all.  It was a wonderful day.  In any case, the start of the week was ROUGH!  Jersey Day, Crazy Sock Day, Backwards Day, and the Door Decorating contest with Halloween looming was just a little much for usually wonderful class.

Monday- Door Decorating Contest

For some reason, at 7:30 a.m., I went all Common Core and thought it would be an excellent idea for my kids to pair up and use graph paper to to draw a scale plan for the door.  After tearing through a ream of graph paper, I watched them as they ran for their lives from the room to lunch and cursed the idea and the Door Decorating Contest!  I did what any rational teacher would do and decided that we were NOT going to participate in the stupid Door Decorating Contest!

Tuesday - Jersey Day

I only have a Dodger jersey, enough said.

Wednesday - Crazy Sock Day

My normally wonderful class has been possessed.  I am walking around in scratchy novelty socks over my pants.  Yet, I still try to complete the Door Decorating concept again.  This time, no Common Core.  Just old school, "Write NO on this paper in dark crayon until it is smooth and shiny!  No TALKING!"  Then we did speed watercolor washing and they scrubbed the tables clean.

Thursday - Backwards Day

I hate wearing anything backwards.  The tags scratch.  Not to mention that the only tops that fit me backwards are T-shirts.  My curv-a-licious body was not made for wearing anything else backwards. And I do not know how many times I warned them not to wear their pants backwards!  Yet, a few did exactly that and regretted it when they tried to do normal bodily functions.

Friday - Wear Red Day

Despite my worst fears, they were wonderful!  We are not allowed to do the party thing, so I had to sneak some fun in during the day.  I replaced our regular Math lesson with a graphing activity that let them draw a witch.  They happily did that during small group while I graded their notebooks and touched base with them about their independent reading.  We skipped ahead and read "The Fall of the House of Usher" in our R-books.  I turned off the lights and read it aloud to them complete with spooky voices.  Then I gave them the "how-to draw" Halloween stuff that I had pulled off of edHelper.com to help them with their afternoon mini-project.  We used 4x6 pieces of construction paper to make a mini-book about Halloween.  The only rules were that they had to include the five pictures from the "how-to draw," that it had to be about Halloween, and appropriate.  During this time, we did a 2nd computer rotation for Read 180 and System 44.  

It was heaven!  They were so happy and serious about their books.  They worked so hard and happily on their books that they begged for just a little more time on Monday.  I agreed, and they cheered.
They were doing such good work!

About 10 minutes before the end of the day, I called it and they cleaned up.  I passed out little treat (no candy or food) bags to them all.  I included some pencils, erasers, tattoo stickers, eye patches, fake mustaches, and a coupon for them to use for a missing assignment or extra points on a test.  They announced the winners of the Door Decorating Contest, and when we didn't win, one of my boys stood up and said, "Arrrrgh! We were robbed!"  Which, of course, led to a copy-cat chorus of the same and giggles all around. 
Blue suns added to protect my little pirates.
 I thought that they might think it was all too babyish, but they loved it.  I got hugs as they went out the door!  This does not happen in middle school.  Best Halloween Ever!