Taking a Chill Pill

First off, thank you everyone for the outpouring of support and shared thoughts. The flow of responses both publicly and through email has helped bolster my spirits this past week immensely. I’ve been more zen about trying to do it all, and I’ve learned a few things about what teaching might be like in other areas around the world. I think teachers are inherently an empathetic bunch, and more often than not I just need a good shoulder to cry on/with before hitching up again for another wild ride at school.

This past week I participated in the Global Women’s March, took 10 teenagers from school snowboarding, worked a 50 hour work week, and taught my students a little bit about Chinese New Year in between all the science. I would call it a successful week. To ease out of the work week, I dressed super chill today with stretchy jeans, sneakers and a sweatshirt.  Kids responded with: “we can’t even tell that you’re a teacher, miss. You look just like us today!” and “Ms. Schenck’s got the second best shoe game in the building!” I have no idea who is first. I’m ok with being second.

I picked these up at the tail end of last year while out shopping the holiday sales. I needed another pair or shoes like I needed a hole in my head, but I had a moment of fashion weakness. Stan Smith sneakers have been back in trend for ages now, and I finally caved. It’s funny how Adidas sneakers have made it into 3 rounds of trends (that I’ve noticed directly) since I’ve been alive.  In the 80’s, these exact shoes were all the rage amongst the asian kids who played tennis, and Adidas shell toes were gracing the feet of hip hop legends like Run DMC. In the mid 90’s, Adidas sneakers were once again all the rage amongst my friends and the skater boys. In the early 2000’s, old school Adidas shell toes were all my friends and I wore – to concerts, on the motorcycle, to parties, all day every day. Now I feel like Adidas sneakers are in the midst of a new resurgence. I’m pretty glad I still had a pair in my closet from the last cycle in the 2000’s, but I of course “needed” to add these to the collection. I’m sure once the current Adidas craze dies down, they’ll be back out for another round in about 10 years. I’ll be prepared.

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sweatshirt: automattic (present from b) – t-shirt: ??  (stolen from b’s closet) – jeans: f21 – belt: gap – sneakers: adidas

Teacher Burn-out

The straight path to teacher burnout goes right through the district and the high school I work at.  There – I said it aloud to the public internets. My school and my district is burning me out.

I worked a 13 hour day this past week, and the rest were 10 hour days. These long days *only* include teaching five 60 minute periods, planning 3 different lesson plans (one of which is a college level course), and depending on the day, giving 100% attention to one hour-long department/grade level/staff/team meetings, and tutoring students during after school and lunch time office hours, all without a lunch break because students first. By the time my day ended at 8:30pm last Tuesday, with all lessons ready for the next day, I felt so stressed I could barely talk and when I could, it was only to pick a frustration fight with B.

One of the values I hear constantly in my school district is “students first”.  I’m totally on board with this – my teaching should be centered around what students need and how to facilitate their learning. But what it feels like, is students first, at the expense of teachers. It feels like we have a constant revolving door of teachers at my school, especially in the science department. In our district, there was a 22% teacher turnover rate from 14/15 to 15/16, well above the national average of 14%. At my high school, the science department has experienced an average 50% turnover for the past 5 years.

So what is the plan for teacher burnout? There doesn’t seem to be any plan in my district to retain teachers at all farther than “we are the highest paying district in the area” (which isn’t saying much, actually). This past week, our district superintendent came to visit for a Q & A session (don’t even get me started on how set up and fake it all felt), and when asked about his plan for teacher burnout and such low retention rates, he pulled a smooth move and basically said a lot of things without saying anything at all. Frankly I’m surprised my district is not more proactive about teacher retention, considering how costly a revolving door of teachers can be. I don’t even want more money – I just want the time and space to grow and be a better teacher. At least with my admin I feel heard, but not helped.

Instead, I’ve gone searching for help myself. I hosted a learning lab today where a group of experienced teachers came to watch a lesson in my class. Afterwards, we all debriefed, did some research, and discussed ways to increase thinking and build more inquiry into a science lesson. It was all together extremely inspiring, and I’ve agreed to host another learning lab in a couple weeks. I’ve also been asking teachers how they plan and will be searching more into how I can streamline my planning process and make it more efficient.  Lastly, I really need to just be ok with having mediocre lecture based lessons sometimes, because those are the ones I can get done quickly. It’s the only way I’ll be able to keep my sanity and not harbor bitterness, which leads to burnout.

Sorry for the big rant, readers, but I reached a big breaking point this past week. I need some self care, and some time. I will pull through. In the mean time, here are some old photos from before the break that I never got around to posting.  The dress is from Anthropologie, and the colorful pattern is really not my usual thing. But I loved the embroidery, and it just felt special, so I snapped it up from the sale section.

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glasses: warby parker – dress and tights: anthropologie – boots: dr. martins

Questions for Teachers

I have foot-in-mouth disease, and it’s been getting me into trouble for as long as I can remember. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person anymore. Sometimes the more extreme of these moments can haunt me for years (not an exaggeration), and I spiral into a death pit of shame, regret, and embarrassment, every time something triggers the memory of what I had said. A bit dramatic? Yes. But it’s #truths. Occasionally I have to remind myself that it’s better to just have awkward silence than to say the wrong thing. I’m pretty bad at small talk and socializing in general with strangers – combine that with my RBF, and I’m doomed.

Today I had one of those foot-in-mouth moments AT WORK. Oh god. I need to remind myself just to shut up more often during staff/department/grade team meetings. Today I basically told an admin that it was “irresponsible” to give a teacher multiple preps (multiple courses to prep for), when one of those preps is an AP course that has never been taught before by that teacher or even at the school (especially when a teacher is new to teaching). When I left the meeting and re-played things in my head, a flush of “oh my god what if that was taken the wrong way, I should have chosen better words!” came over me. #deathpitspiral

So here I am with a lot of questions for the teachers out there. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I spend my time as a teacher, specifically how I can optimize time in terms of planning/grading/etc to stave off burn-out. I would also like to get a pulse on what is considered fair game in terms of the work expectations placed on teachers.

First, how much time does it take you on average to plan a lesson for one course? I find that if I’m planning a lesson from scratch it takes me on average 2 hours to complete, from finding resources, creating the PowerPoint slides, and creating the handouts/worksheets.  I have never worked out of a book, and I’ve never heard of a science teacher teaching from pre-built lessons/curriculum. If I get to reuse materials from previous years that work time gets cut down, but I still have to lesson plan and create new slides every year.  Am I doing something wrong? How long does it take you to plan a lesson?

Secondly, how many preps do you think is reasonable for a teacher to have? Two preps? Three preps? Four preps? This year, I have 3 preps – AP Bio, Honors Bio, and Regular Bio. At our school, we teach 5 classes and have 8 hour school days, which means I teach for 5.5 hours and have 1-2 hours a day to prep (on average, with block schedules and meetings).

Lastly, what types of additional tasks are you asked to do regularly on top of teaching, planning, grading, meetings, etc?  At our school, we have stacks on stacks of data tracking spread sheets, surveys, analysis, and plans that we have to submit. Do you consider these documentation tasks to be fair game as a part of the job description?

I have a very real fear of being the ever present negative complainer, which leads to even more foot-in-mouth moments. Please, teacher friends and readers, give me some fresh perspective!

In the mean time, here is my throwback to the 90s outfit from today. I picked this dress up at Urban Outfitters a little while ago, and decided to go all out Sassy Magazine in the mid 90’s style with my Docs and my granny-chic new glasses from Warby Parker x Leith Clark. It was fun getting dressed this morning.

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glasses: warby parker –  cardigan: uniqlo – dress: urban outfitters – tights and tank: h&m – boots: dr. martins

Hello 2017!

Another day, another year! 2016 was pretty amazing (deaths and politics aside) – B and I planned and grew our first vegetable garden, we traveled all through Australia, climbed three 14ers, took a canoe camping trip, and my sister had twins! Last new years, I made a small bucket list and I got through every item except for one – the hike from Aspen to Crested Butte. That hike is definitely going to happen this year, no excuses. This year’s bucket list is also going to include a trip to Paris and London, more planning and growing (we’ve tripled the growing area this year) vegetables, climbing four more 14ers, going fly-fishing a lot (and actually catching a fish on my own), visiting/camping in every national park in Colorado (there are four), snowboard Vail and Whistler, and getting more comfortable snowboarding through trees. Also, I’m turning 37 this year – hello middle age! If I could afford it, I’d add, buy a motorcycle, to my bucket list but let’s be real – I’m working with a teacher’s salary here.

B and I threw another New Years Eve party this year and it was so much fun, I think it’s going to be a regular thing from now on. It was a small but close group, and the shenanigans went into the wee hours of the night. I picked up a vintage punch bowl at the thrift store a few days ago, and we mixed a double batch of very, very potent Rabbit Punch for the party. That punch fueled a lively game of catch-phrase, B showed off his favorite Christmas present (a Silky Saw), and I managed to get some fabulous photos of everyone. Most of my friends are/were teachers, and we all know how to have fun!

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Happy New Year everyone!

Holidaze with the Schebenses

B and I hosted a small holiday party this past Saturday with a few of our friends, and I just wanted to share some photos from the night. I have been waiting for a good opportunity to break in our new dining room table with a feast, so I bought a standing rib roast and made prime rib. B and I are not religious in the least bit, but I do like the festive coziness of a Christmas tree. A couple of our friends brought their menorah along with print outs of the prayer (written phonetically) for Hanukkah. We started off the night with gin martinis, friends brought the red wine, and we ended it with hot apple cider and group photos!

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Break Time

I’m on day three of Winter Break today, and it feels so glorious to be able to sleep in, drink coffee in bed, and take leisurely strolls around the neighborhood. These first few days of break are always filled with hard core lounging, so here’s a quick wrap up of the key chill action that took place last night and today.

Last night, B and I joind our friends Bear and Mallory at a cute little speakeasy style bar in Golden, Colorado callled Golden Moon Speakeasy. This place is so awesome, any feeble attemps to describe it just won’t do it justice. The drinks are named after Lord of the Rings phrases, such as What Has It Got in It’s Pocketses, and they distil their own spirits at a separate locationn nearby. B got a flight of their spirits, and my favorite was the Violette, which is a beautiful lilac colored liquor that is sweet and florally but with a healthy kick (a bottle of it will be in my stocking tomorrow morning, becuase B is a nice guy). I ended up trying out a couple of their cocktails, the “An Unexpected Party” and the “Cloud City”.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis morning, B and I lounged till late morning, then took a stroll with Bambi over to the Denver Central Market which is a warehouse type market with high end food stalls – similar to the Ferry Building in SF and th Chelsea Markets in NY.  Every major city has at least one of these now. I obviously love them, and I love that this one is within walking distance from our house. Also, the bakery in the market has pudding crossants. I sat outside admireing the street art with the dog while B went in and got our treats.

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I made B play photographer on the way over. He was not happy and moaned/groaned the whole time. He does not make a good Instagram Husband at all. Nothing new with the outfit, just a recycle from this day. The bag on the otherhand, is a recent present to myself.  I’m not a bag lady by any means, and most of the time I just put what I need in my coat pockets. Having a little purse like this can be handy though, when the coats can be left at home. It’s the middle of December today (Xmas Eve), and it is 52˚F out right now! Happy holidays everyone!

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sunnies: rayban – cardigan and jeans: uniqlo – t shirt and belt: urban outfitters – shoes: adidas – bag: minor history – bracelets: madewell

This Week.

This past week has been craaaaaazy.  It started off with a holiday party on Monday, went on to a 13 hour work day Tuesday, into Finals week, and is ending today (Friday) with another holiday party.

The Fall semester is winding down to a close with the last 2 final exams taking place on Monday.  Grades are due the following day, and we are on winter vacation starting Thursday. It’s been a great semester – I’ve been growing as an educator without feeling overwhelmed, and my kids have been super awesome. Teaching AP Bio is super cool, as the kids are self motivated and more importantly excited for my class every day. Mind blowing, seriously. All my classes have been awesome – these kids man, they really warm my heart to the core every day, even when my face still looks stone cold.

I really hope it all continues to go well next semester – but I’m wary since I’m getting an additional class to teach come January. This means my average 45 hour/week job is turning into a 50+ hour/week job, which to me is not sustainable. Fingers crossed I find magical time in my day to make it all work!  Sadly, we (in science) all know there is no such thing as magic.  I crush my students’ dreams all the time when we get to the unit where we discuss the Conservation of Matter and the first Law of Thermodynamics.  It’s when I tell them that magic doesn’t exist, and while we’re at it, Santa Claus doesn’t either.  Nothing can be created or destroyed, only converted. So back in the day, the Santa Claus I thought I saw in my living room just converted his clothes from dad clothes to a red furry Santa outfit!  I’m so mean. Just to remind every one so I don’t start getting hate comments, these are 15 year olds.

On Monday, I got dressed with “day to night” in mind.  I knew I’d be at school late (hello finals week!), and that I would have to rush just about straight from school to a holiday party at the Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton, CO.  Brewery tours aren’t exactly the place for typical sparkly holiday outfits, but I still wanted to spice it up a bit. Good thing I had new boots to throw on!  I picked these up from the Madewell site recently with all the great holiday sales going on. They are calf hair, meaning they feel even more like a dead animal than just plain leather. I really am a terrible person. Lastly, I topped it all off with the goth-iest of lipsticks I own, Kat Von D Liquid Lipstick in Damned.  Because damn, I’m damned after that last comment about my shoes being made from baby cows. Terrible.

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top: free people – jeans: mother denim – boots: madewell