It's Blustery!

It's a blustery day here in the Midwest! Snow is on the ground, the wind is blowing, and the smell of a wood stove is permeating our house. My last post I mentioned that there's almost no other profession I love as much as teaching. Well, today is one of those days that makes me love my current profession as a stay-at-home-wife. Being able to get up, make hot chocolate, have supper in the crockpot, and just generally not have to go out in the cold is fabulous! Though I LOVE teaching, and hopefully will be able to do some part-time work soon, being able to stay at home, love my husband and enjoy being a wife is even better than being in my classroom.

So, bring on the hot chocolate, baby! The low is 10 here tonight! As my dad would say, it's going to be brisk!

The Greatest Profession Ever

When you teach, there are days, and then there are The Days. They're the ones where your lesson plans are clicking, students are interacting, and the classes are clicking along. On those days, when I'm in my classroom doing this thing called teaching, it's almost a rush. To have my students learning Spanish, laughing with me---the days when teaching almost seems effortless, those are the days that I absolutely love my chosen profession.

Yes, there are the frustrations, and, yes, if you listened to me complain sometimes you would wonder if I actually enjoyed my job, but overall, teaching is just the best profession there is. To have even a small impact on a young person's life, what more could I want to do? To be able to teach my student some Spanish, give them a positive idea of learning, and to encourage them to be positive, constructive citizens in this world...there is almost no other profession I could love more.

Check back soon for the almost clarification.


Though it often comes too early and too soon, the start of a new school year holds a special excitement and anticipation that only a teacher can fully appreciate. I'll try to describe the feeling for all of you non-educators!

You leave your classroom in June, feeling tired, impatient, slightly cynical and just all-around cranky from the previous school year. 180 days with 15-year-olds is enough to leave any teacher having white-sand and crystal water visions! So, the green grading pens are put away, teacher manual's stored, and the classroom locked up.

Then comes the special bliss of summer -- sleeping in, staying up late, and being creative for creativity sake, not the student's sake. Flexible schedules, no deadlines, and leisurely lunches invigorate a tired teacher. Summer projects are completed (or put on the list for next summer!), and the fresh summer days are breathed in deeply.

And then, that day in August comes, when you walk back into the school building. As the car is parked, you view the building with fresh eyes. Even the building itself seems excited: the smell of fresh paint lingers through the hallways and the freshly-waxed floors gleam.

Teachers greet each-other with smiles that were virtually non-existent 3 months previously, administrators start meetings with a positive plan for the new academic year, and curriculum is creatively planned. Anticipation builds as teachers get ready for the new year.

A fresh optimism fills the hallways as teachers count-down the days until students will, once again, flood into the builidng. Break out those grading pens, baby! A new school year, here we go!

Burn Out

Last week the count-down began. Before the bell rang, I caught a conversation between 2 students, both seniors. They were discussing whether or not the count-down to summer (and, more importantly, graduation!) should include weekends - and both felt strongly about their personal method of counting, with the countdown updated weekly in their planners with cute markers and stickers. I just smiled and continued my "6-minute-shuffle," the time I have to organize, sort, and stack between classes.

Inside, though, I thought "Woo-hoo!" only 52 (or 70-something, depending on your method!) days left!! Visions of leisurely mornings, followed by afternoons by the pool, filled my brain. The 6-letter word that's a teacher's motivation this time of year: summer.

I love my job. However, the late-nights, the continual pressure of school-work on your mind, and the never-ending to-do lists wear on even the best of educators after 9 months of school stresses. If you're not in education you may have problems understanding the constant pressure that weighs on the mind of a teacher, but if you could learn even a fraction about life From the Other Side of the Desk, you would understand.

Almost three years ago, when I was embarking on this journey of education, I talked with one of my now dear friends, who had previously taught in a year-round school in California. At first I thought it was utterly crazy, but after talking more with her, and after three years of this concept steeping in my teacher-crazed lifestyle, I wonder if, perhaps, year-round school isn't quite as out there as I originally thought.

The basic concept (scheduling the school days with more smller and more frequent breaks through out the year as opposed to the one major summer-time break) is radically different. And, in fact, that's one reason why year-round scheduling fails in school districts---it's simply to hard to go against the ingrained, traditional school schedule. However, is the tradional method always the best method?

There are a myriad of supposed problems-economic, scheduling, funding, support-the list goes on. I don't want to debate the advantages or disadvantages (if you're that interested, just google it). I just want to propose one simple idea: would I be a better educator in a year-round school?

I think, perhaps, I would be. For the longest period of time a teacher in most year-round school district teaches with out at least a week-long break is six weeks. With a year-round schedule, every time that I, professionally, felt tired and needed a break, I would have one! There would be no long-haul, hard-core push from spring break until summer. More frequent breaks translates into fresher teacher AND fresher students, which would help motivation and classroom management.

I LOVE summer. The thought of giving it up is terrifying. However, if I hadn't just pushed myself to the max for the previous 180 days, would I need the summer so desperately? If I had frequent breaks from my classroom, would I need 2 1/2 months of so badly? If I were able to frequently escape the pressures from my classroom, would I be so worn-out by the end of the year?

Hypothetical, I know - I'm not likely to teach in a year-round district. At this point in the school year - only one grading period left - an educator can't help but wonder what would help prevent exhaustion. Tell me what you think.

As for now, I leave you with this quip:

"Teachers love summer as much as parents love fall."

Never Dull!!!

Teaching 15-year-olds is never dull, and I think you could teach for 30+ years and still be surprised. Though I've only taught for 3 years, here are 2 semi-funny, semi-inappropriate for the classroom, yet true, stories that happened this past week.

The first comes from my own classroom--between classes last week, a student wrote an anatomically inappropriate word in huge letters on my chalkboard. (And when I say written on the board, it was in 4 foot letters across the entire chalkboard). When I walked into my classroom and saw it, I tried to remain calm and just casually erased it as the class was slightly snickering. When I stepped out in to the hallway for a moment later that class and came back in, the word was written again, this time spelled in smaller letters, but still spelled incorrectly! I just tried to ignore it and continued the class.

After finding out who wrote it, I talked with the assistant principal about the kind of funny, but still inappropriate word for a Spanish classroom!! The principal laughed and told me to just ask the student why she did it, and then the principal told me this similar story that came from a recent biology class...

The biology class was doing group presentations, and one group (of nice, but boisterous students )chose Tourettes Syndrome as their topic. Their opening statement, and their opening Powerpoint slide said, "Tourettes Syndrome: What the F*** is it?"

Nice, eh? Ah, the life of a highschool teacher - - - sometimes, a little more boring would be nice!

More to Life...

Sometimes my classroom becomes larger than life. In the daily-ness of working with teenagers, with all of their drama and issues, sometimes teachers can begin to think that their one class is more important than it actually is. I can quickly become irritated with why students don’t have their homework done or why struggling students don’t come in to my tutoring times for help. I can easily become cut-and-dry with classroom guidelines and policies and easily justify my firmness. I can easily see my students as just “my 3rd period class” as a whole instead of 30 individual teenagers who are each struggling with their own identities, their own families, their own lives.

Occasionally, though, I get a chance to step back from my classroom and am offered a glimpse into the life of a student. Sometimes it will come in the form of a note from a parent or a visit with the student’s counselor. Today, however, 2 students gave me a glimpse into their lives by just being themselves.

This morning a sweet, though slightly immature student from my 7th period class came to talk with me before school. I really like this student—his sense of humor is sharp and his easy laugh keeps the class interesting. (I did have to tell him recently, though, to stop throwing paper airplanes into the ceiling!) This student came in and just talked with me, and I could tell that he wanted something from me. Well, he suddenly handed me a card and said, “Senora, this is for you,” and quickly left. I opened the card to find that he had written me, apologizing for his grade the past 6 weeks, telling me that he liked my class, and asking if there were any way his grade could change. He than thanked me for “considering the request.” Right then I realized that here was this sweet, though boisterous teenager, who couldn’t quite figure out Spanish, but was nice enough to hand write me a letter pleading his case.

The second glimpse into my students’ as individuals came today between classes. A student of mine, who moved to Dallas and entered my class only a month ago, saw me in the hallway and stopped and said hi. I had no idea what he would then tell me: a month ago today, his mother passed away for sudden heart failure. He and his brother had to move to Dallas to live with their aunt, their only surviving relative.

I was once again reminded to look beyond my classes as entities and to try to see my students as true individuals, some with more serious life issues than I could ever dream. Though I can often do little to help, I can pray, and I can also try to create a warm, caring, safe environment where my students learn a little Spanish along the way.

Art Class 101

Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquieros are the TRES GRANDES (the Big Three) of Mexican Muralism. Deeply political, they each combined their communist views and left-wing ideas with societal issues to create deeply moving, controversial, and thought-provoking works of art.

Those are the ideas that I'm trying to get across to my classroom of 15-year-olds. Today we began our mural project, which will take us through Spring Break. It starts with a lecture on what murals are, then discusses the TRES GRANDES of Mexican Muralism, and then allows the students the chance to create their own artwork. We did the lecture today and will finish it up tomorrow, and then the students will be in groups to create their own murals. In years past the mural themes have ranged from Mardi Gras to the Twin Towers to Environmental Issues. Of course, there will always be the groups that do nothing, but for the most part, the students enjoy the project. It gives them a chance to step outside of the classroom box of language learning and put their ideas on paper---(which, really, is part of the reason I like to blog--blogging lets people take all of the ideas in their heads, all of the thoughts, and gives people an outlet to channel them).

As the groups channel their ideas, I'll try to post some pictures of previous murals. I think you'll be suprised by some of these 15-year-olds' creativity and artistic depth.

If you're interested, here's a link to some reprints of Rivera's work. (One of my personal favorites is La Molendera).

I'm definitely not too into art, and I even appreciate these works! :-) I enjoy murals because I love learning the stores behind them--what the pieces are representing, what issues the artist is discussing or even flaming.

And, if you want to read about a controversial work, check out this link to Siquieros' Tropical America, which attacks America's imperialism and the oppression he believed it to cause.

So, we'll see how the students do. If I can get them to think a little bit larger, a little bit beyond the walls of my classroom, then I think this time & energy-consuming project will be worth it.

I Needed A Starbucks for This...

College didn’t come close to preparing me for this. It was only 9 minutes into my 3rd period class today when the student decided to test her teacher’s Monday-morning-didn’t-have-time-to-stop-for-a-Starbucks-today mental acuity.

My 3rd period is, generally, one of those classes that a teacher can teach on auto-pilot. The 24 students are slightly brighter, on average—they come to class with their materials, they don’t complain, and-this is the best-they even (sometimes) laugh at their teacher’s jokes! They’re all friends with each other, and aren’t afraid to just have fun with me, which makes it an overall terrific class to teach—kind of a breath of fresh air amidst my morning hecticness. We laugh a lot, talk a lot, and even get some Spanish learned in the process.

So, that’s why today’s eruption caught me unexpectedly. We were just starting to work on our vocabulary (which, I must admit, even makes me inwardly groan—I have never in my life needed to say “I need to check my radiator” in Spanish!) – and a girl from the back of the class gets out of her seat. (Now, you have to understand that “Miss Walker” can NOT handle students getting out of their seats---this one of the ONLY rules that I enforce strictly). So, as a student is asking a question, I quietly motion for the girl to sit back down and quietly tell her to ask permission. Somewhere in that one sentence, something went wrong.

The girl STOMPED out of my classroom, making the heels on her designer boots smack against my floor, stopped briefly at the doorway, threw her hair over her shoulder and proclaimed that she was going to leave, because no one ever does any listening to her anyway!

The class was stunned. It was one of those moments where in everyone’s head we were all thinking “what is THAT about?” I had zero clue what her deal was. She hadn’t asked to go anywhere or do anything—it was only 9 minutes into class! I would have liked to pause my classroom and take that snapshot back 4 years to my theoretical education class that discussed what educational philosophy camp we landed in and asked that prof what would have been the best philosophy to handle THIS student!

So, the girl left, and even the other students in the class asked what in the world that was all about. We continued on, I later emailed the principal about the girl and let him decide what do, and the rest of my day, well, pretty uneventful.

However, tomorrow, it’s definitely a Starbucks morning.

We've all been there. It's 10 minutes before the bell is going to ring, you're exhausted, and you have a classroom of 30+ students that will be almost literally bouncing off the walls if you don't have something ready.

Some call us educators. Some call us teachers. On certain days you could call our job crowd control. Whatever the title, entrusted to us are 130+ students that daily arrive in our classrooms. And, whether we're ready or not, they're expecting some sort of learning.

This is dedicated to you, my fellow eductors. Here I'll post my tricks, tips, and goofs for your reading pleasure

So, take a moment, put those green grading pens aside, and read. Browse. Enjoy. And hopefully you'll be a better teacher because of it.