Taking the Road Less Traveled for a Smile

I did it today.  I took the leap.  I plunged into the deep end. I took the road less traveled.
I dropped the cover of the security blanket and quit my job mid-year to stay at home and take care of myself and nurture my spirit and soul.  As I told my husband, when I walked back to my car and promptly got on my cell phone, "I feel happily irresponsible."

I've actually been on a leave of absence for the entire second quarter.  Whether it was the stress of the parents, the ever changing standards, the administrative expectations, the overwhelming paperwork, or all of the above, it had chewed away at me like a mouse on a block of cheese and I was frayed.  I was suffering from virtually daily migraines and my lifetime battle with depression and OCD was becoming much more difficult to manage despite my medication, so it was decided by a group of people whom had my best interests at heart that I needed a break, and boy were they/we right.

The past six weeks off has been a gigantic blessing.  I've gone from having six migraines per week to having two migraines in 6 weeks.  That in itself is a life changing event.  Yet on top of that, my family tells me that they've never seen me smile so much.  I've been investing in myself and exploring my passions and hobbies and I finally feel awake and alive again.  It's so rejuvenating.

So after two months of no paychecks and living off my husband's salary while dealing with two catastrophes - our sewer pipe collapsing and needing to be replaced and our bulldog having to have emergency airway surgery - we decided we could take the leap, make the plunge, and travel the road, and so today I made the decision final.  It's a little scary, or should I say exhilarating, but I know it also isn't carved in stone.  Things change, life goes on, and if need be, I can be a "bread winner" again, but until that time is needed, I'm taking some time to invest in me, better myself, develop my passions, do what I love, and keep impressing my family with how much I like to smile now.

Thankful for a Little Differentiated Math Practice

Thanksgiving day is quickly approaching, a time for discussing the history of the holiday and the meaning of thankfulness. It also means a lot of kids and teachers eagerly anticipating a fall break. It's always good to have a few extras on the side that blend learning into the seasonal events. One good example is this Thanksgiving color-by-number math practice activity.

This package comes with different levels of math skills from Pre-K all the way to eighth grade. There's bound to be a match skill sheet for every child in your classroom in this super-easy bundled package.

After 17 years of teaching 6th grade, I know that I can give an addition sheet to those IEP students who are still struggling with their first grade skills while giving the bulk of my students a sheet on least common multiples, the skill we've currently been working on in class.  And for the gifted kids who have already shown that they've got LCM down, I can give them a sheet on multiplying and dividing fractions.

The best part about all these exercises is that the look exactly the same at a cursory glance, so the kids tend not to notice that they're all working on different skills, or at least they don't give it a second thought.  Even better, all the sheets, regardless of the skill being practiced, work out to the exact same answer key making it super quick and easy for grading.  It's the best of both worlds.  You can differentiate for all the students, yet you don't have to kill yourself grading on the back end.

So not only does everyone get to cover Thanksgiving in multiple subjects, they all get to be thankful.  The students are thankful they got to complete some math problems in a unique way, coloring a picture as they solved problems,  and you can be thankful the entire break is not taken up grading papers, leaving time to enjoy friends and family.  I wish you a wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating Thanksgiving.


First Quarter is Done & So Am I

I can't believe I am saying this, but the first quarter ended, and so did I.  It's a big change and a big announcement, but at the end of first quarter I took a leave of absence and walked out of my classroom.

My husband and I packed up most of my stuff and brought it home, I finalized my report cards, chose my winners for the first quarter awards, and then quietly walked away from teaching.  It felt weird but heavenly.  I have been battling almost daily migraines this school year, as well as an overwhelming lack of confidence and desire to be in my classroom.  I find this odd because of the wonderful summer I had prior to this school year.  I was the most relaxed and rejuvenated I have ever felt going back into the classroom.  I was preparing as I had back in my early years by doing cutesy stuff for the kids, buying new posters, etc.  Yet within a couple weeks of school starting it was gone, the mojo had faded and been replaced with something else.

So instead, we're tightening our financial belts and I am taking a quarter to get healthy and decide what I want/need to do.  I'm seeing my doctors, exploring nature and taking lots of pictures, and creating work for my TpT store.  I'm one of those people who always worries about the money and the finances, and we're only a week in, but I'm loving every minute of it. :)


School's Back in Session

It's been quite awhile since my last post.  I got wrapped up in the pre-year prep and forgot everything else, as can also be seen by the giant stacks of laundry I just folded on my bed.

We've had 6 days of PD and teacher prep. and 3 days with students.  It seems like a lot of time without kids, but they used to give us a day here or there over the next 9 weeks and it almost felt like we never saw our students during this first quarter.  So this year, they gave it all to us at the beginning and besides federal holidays, we pretty much go straight through until conferences in October.  I might be singing a different tune in late September, but right now I am very happy with their choice as I feel the most prepared I think I have ever felt.  I literally have no school work to do today.  It's a miracle!  Thus, I have time to blog.

So I thought I would share some pics from my classroom and what I do to stay organized and in control in the crazy world of 6th grade math.

First of all, I got this crazy idea to dive back into my elementary years a little and decided to make my students, all of my students, all 120 of my students, a little treat to welcome them on the first day.  It was the first year we ever tried just having 6th graders come on the first day and I think it was a great success.  Not only could they get used to the building and their lockers and class rotations without the pressure of 7th and 8th graders looking at them, but we also had the 7th and 8th grade teachers there to help us all day long.  So for their first day, each one of my kids received this little treat.

Secondly, I like to use color to help separate things in my head, so I color code each class and everything about them is that color for the entire year.  I use the rainbow as a guide, because most people can remember the order of the rainbow without much trouble.  My first class of the day is red, my second class is orange/yellow (I mix those two together since yellow can be hard to read), my third class is green, my fourth class is blue, and my fifth class is purple.  Whether it's the ticket jars, the color I write their agenda in, the color of their portfolio folders, etc. their color stays with them all year long and it helps me to keep class periods straight and separate.  You can see it in these pictures below.

Lastly, I wanted to share my seating arrangements.  I use pods to group my kids, but I don't just put them in groups of four that I think will work well together and not drive me crazy.  There is a bigger picture and a lot more work behind the scenes to my groupings.
I group heterogeneously, and I do so very systematically.  I read this all in a lady's book and I wish I could tell you who, but it was so long ago, I forget and all I can remember now is that it was a female. Anyhow, taking my students most recent standardized scores, which in our case is MAPs testing done in our first full week of school, I break my kids into four even groups based on their test score.  Since studies show that I can pull that lowest kid up by pairing them with higher kids, I want to do that.  Yet studies also show I can pull my high kids down, and I want to avoid that, so I try to use something that is fairly evident at most dinner conversations.  We tend to talk to people directly next to us or across from us, but rarely diagonally across from us (apparently it's too far or too awkward).  So I place my kids (one kid from each group) in such an order to keep my highest and my lowest diagonally across from each other.  Using the colors on the pod above for an example...the red sticker would be a kid from the lowest group, blue would be a kid from the third group, green would be a kid in the second group, and the yellow sticker would be a kid from the highest group.  So my highest kid (yellow) is diagonally across from the lowest kid (red) in that pod, yet the lowest kid still has the second and third highest kids to talk to and build off from, hopefully improving along the way.  And let me add the caveat here, that our classes are already grouped somewhat by ability so we are not talking a radical difference here between first and fourth anyways.  If this was a genuinely heterogeneous group I would probably have to rethink my seating arrangements some more.

So that's some of what I do to start the year and keep myself sane and organized.  What do you do/use?

Is it August Already?

This summer has been the most rejuvenating summer for me in quite some time.  Maybe it was the two-week long road trip to the south, or maybe it was being able to accomplish so many projects, or perhaps it was tripling my products on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Regardless of what it was that did the trick, I have never had a better summer in my professional life.

Yet, as August 1st looms and my summer vacation shrinks down to only days, I can't help but realize how different this school year will be for me personally, and although I am nervous and anxious, I am also excited and eager.

One week ago my oldest child moved out.  Not only are bedrooms being rearranged and painted, but the feel of the house has changed as well.  We've gone from a loud, bustling, somewhat crowded house of four, to a quiet, calm, little house of three.  And as my daughter prepares to take over her brother's bigger bedroom, I finally get to reclaim the office I lost 13 years ago when she blessed our lives with her birth.

It's quite surprising how much a 96 square foot office can get me giddy, but I couldn't stop smiling from ear to ear when we finally bought the paint this evening.  No longer will my desk and files be in the storage room in the basement.  No longer will I have a computer and table of school supplies in the living room.  No longer will I have to work where others are trying to relax, fighting off a dog and a cat for some space on the couch.  I get to reclaim my office, I get to reclaim my living room, and I get to reclaim a part of myself; I can't wait.  Now if only I can get it repainted and get everything moved and settled before my vacation is officially over.

And So it Begins...

About to start my seventeenth year of teaching, I've suddenly gotten this crazy notion to do something new and wildly different.  I am going to start my own blog.  Blogs themselves aren't wildly different, but for me, it is, and for me to document my teaching, my classroom, my observations, and the humor that goes on inside my walls with someone other than my family and a few close friends is a radical shift in my daily behavior.  So here we go.  Buckle up and hold on.  We've got 4 weeks until inservice starts... 
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