Reflections on the School Year

The last day of school for teachers is finally here! It’s been a year of extremes – and I’m writing this up in my new classroom (at the same school)! After 3 years of photographing outfits in room B201, I am moving to a new science room that is properly set up with a fume hood. I’m teaching Chemistry next year, for the first time ever.  That’s right, every year is a new challenge, and every year is a different beast to slay! So goodbye, room B201, you’ve been good to me. Hello, room B241!

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sunnies: freebie swag from b – cardigan: american apparel – top: f21 – jeans: mother denim – belt: jcrew – shoes: saltwater sandals

This year was like a split personality. On one end, I had the best year I’ve ever had with students. This was the first year I’ve ever had students actually thank me on a daily basis. More than one kid did this, every day.  It seems silly, and it seems small, but holy crap! After 6 years of investing mentally, emotionally, and introspectively into my classroom with (what felt like more often than not) zero thanks for my hard work, this year’s batch of amazing young humans breathed new life into me. The letters I got at the end of the year really made my efforts totally worth it. I had kids write me that they “will never look at the world the same way again”, and “thank you for making me enjoy science”, and “you’re a really good teacher who isn’t afraid to expose their students to the real world, it is important that you do that because it sticks”. Words can’t even express how good this feels.  I just can’t even. *tears*

On the other, I had a very challenging year with the educational system. At our closing meeting this morning, our principal talked about the importance of never giving up on our students, and advocating for them, no matter what it takes.  The word advocate really stuck in my mind, because I thought about all my kids and how I will always advocate for them, and of their letters thanking me for it. But then I thought, who is advocating for me? Am I my only advocate (professionally)? Do we teachers all have to fight our own individual battles, or is that just part of the culture here at my school? Here in Denver, we have an evaluation system tied to your pay, and tied to whether or not you get to keep your job. It is not meant (or maybe used?) to actually help you grow as an educator, because there’s too much at stake professionally. In addition, there is absolutely no incentive to go above and beyond, because to be better than just an “effective” teacher is to be a unicorn. I don’t want to go down a negative rabbit hole, because that’s not where my heart is. Instead, I’ll leave you with this picture of a pin, and a picture of how rewarding teaching can feel.

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If You Must, Do it Directly (guest post!)

Hey guys, Erika asked if I (one of her friends/ colleagues) would want to write a guest-post in her blog.  Sounded fun, so I agreed.  You’ve seen me here before!  Erika and I have been teaching at the same school for 3 years strong.  We have also bonded over the challenge of fly-fishing – I’m sure you’ll read about some fishing this summer.  We will be teaching partners next year, which I am very much looking forward to (<- ignore the prepositional stranding throughout!).

People who get along tend to share values in common.  Turns out I get along with people who share my love for being outdoors – my closest friends are women who don’t paint their nails compulsively, but rather hike, bike, run, climb, and compete in their free time.  All my other friends are men with whom I play sports.  I love people who can yell at each other [or more accurately, when I can give them a hard time on the sports field], and then 2 minutes later we’re over it.  Environments where there are so many emotions/too much sensitivity can be a struggle to manage for me. I find that when people handle disagreements with the right balance of sensitivity and reason (emphasis on reason), they are easier to get along with.

I think that’s one reason Erika and I will crush the co-planning gig for Chemistry next year.  Erika is a direct communicator, just like I am.  My prediction is that we will be VERY efficient in meetings, but have the right amount of socializing in the mix.  Due to this predicted efficiency, I think I will finally hit my stride in accomplishing all the things teachers have to do in the 12 minutes of plan time that aren’t consumed by meetings about meetings, more meetings, emails, phone calls, data trackers, and more data trackers.

I am looking forward to what it might be like if my life were NOT consumed by my job – hopefully round three of Chemistry will be less of a struggle than the previous two years.  Also, wish me luck as I try to convince Erika to give up some hours over the summer to plan out Chemistry content so we can save time in the fall!

As an aside on the note of direct communication, if you haven’t watched the full monologue of Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, you should really get on that. In my opinion, comedy is one of the most engaging forms of entertainment.  When you couple it with direct communication,  there isn’t anything more complex or a more astute presentation of information.  Hasan’s monologue was so good that I have watched it three (3) times – worth every minute.  Finally, and most importantly, I wish I could teach class like this monologue EVERY DAY.

“Do you want to know what he’s not doing while he’s golfing? Being president. Let the man putt-putt…  apocalypse delayed; take the W.”  – Hasan Minhaj

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Nasty

Nasty Women of the world unite! I saw this t-shirt a while ago on the Instagram feed of a woman I watch on Youtube – Stephanie Villa (#stylecrush). I loved it so much I absolutely had to pick one up for myself even though I started a shopping ban at the start of the year. I wore it yesterday, and turns out it played right into the spirit week theme for the day – black out. Winning.

Speaking of winning, I’ve decided today that it’s ok to give myself some pats on the back more often. Over the years I’ve been so well trained by evaluation rubrics (like LEAP and Danielson) and professionalism rubrics (that’s a thing here in Denver) to think only in terms of what I coulda/shoulda/woulda have done better – because unless you’re a unicorn, you are not a good teacher (or at least just effective). So well trained, in fact, that I’ve completely forgotten to remember that sometimes, I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! 

Today I hosted a learning lab through PEBC, where about 15 teachers and administrators came into my class and watched me teach. I was so nervous, my hands were shaking a bit at the start! The focus of this learning lab was on teaching students to use thinking strategies in a Science classroom. The content for the day was gene expression, so I taught it through the lens of supernumerary nipples, with some reading, discussion, and grappling. The kids were great – they did everything I planned, and asked the best questions. They performed so well they even all remained in their seats and kept discussing the prompt while I went into the hall to break up a fight! Seriously. Never a dull moment. Today’s learning lab was more learning for the observers than my own learning, but I did get one valuable lesson out of this – that I’m actually a pretty darned good teacher sometimes, and it’s ok to admit that to myself more often. It’s ok to be a Nasty Woman!

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glasses: warby parker – t-shirt: twostringjane (etsy) – cardigan and jeans: uniqlo – boots: madewell – bracelet/cuff: julia szendrei – belt: urban outfitters

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

Weird Teacher Dresses

A couple of things from today: I wore a weird dress, and it’s been a weird (but cool) week. This week has been my sexual health week in bio class. During this week, we talk about HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and consent. This also means that sexual health week is when I will answer any and all questions students have (submitted anonymously) regardless of how graphic or silly. Some questions are super science-y, some earnest, and some questions require a quick Urban Dictionary search.As to be expected, teenagers are very curious about “all of the sex”. I get questions about everything, and every year I try to be as scientifically open and honest with these kids as I can.  It has been an interesting, but awesome start of the week!

Now this dress, is just weird, but I really like it! I have to be careful though, since there are no actual sleeves on this dress, just holes for your arms to stick out of. So the higher I raise my arms, the higher the hemline climbs.  I kept my arms practically glued to my sides all day. I picked this dress up from COS while I was in Melbourne this past summer.  We have COS here in the states, but not anywhere near Denver. COS is weird – I think of it as the Swedish minimalist-but-architecturally-interesting-older-sister of H&M. Naturally, I looove this stuff.  Lately, I find myself weaning off of the young-Brooklyn-hipster-Madewell aesthetic and moving on to the more mature-but-interesting-natural look that I often see on (also very hipster) places like Kinfolk. It’s all very shallow, I know. But this is my shallow little hobby, and I’m ok with that.

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glasses: warby parker – cardigan and dress: cos – shoes: steve madden – watch: pebble

How’s School So Far?

This school year has been pretty awesome so far. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and these kids are still just absolutely amazing. This year I’m teaching Biology, Honors Biology, and AP Biology. With three classes to prep for I’m definitely not short on work, but it feels doable still. AP Bio is a new class for me, and it hasn’t been taught at my school for a long time (if ever? who knows with the level of teacher turnover at my school).  That means I’m basically getting the course off the ground from scratch. Thankfully it’s a tiny class (14 brave kiddos!) and there are great resources to pull from online (Bozeman Science, I love you!). So there’s that.

I have awesome kids this year. Seriously I feel like Im in an alternate universe sometimes. I have kids who actually thank me daily for a good lesson. Today we examined case studies of homeostasis gone wrong (disease), and my students had to diagnose patients and design a treatment plan to get homeostasis back on track. One kid hung back and told me, “thanks, miss! That was really fun today, I think I want to be a doctor because that was so interesting!” Seriously.  Like, Srsly.

B was out of town this past weekend, so I went shopping as usual. I found this sweater/tank/turtleneck/side-boob top at Nordstrom Rack and decided it was a good lazy morning top. It was a big hit.  Teachers and students complemented me on it all day, and some people even asked to touch it. You know it’s got cool texture when people want to touch it. I’m pretty happy with this purchase. Also, I’ve been obsessed with this woman named Sophia Chang on Instagram lately, and I’m trying to steal some of her style points.

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sweater: free people – tank and shoes: target – jeans: current elliot – lips: glossier in fig