5-4-3-2-1 (Back-to-School Edition)

[my classroom, which will have to be redone
considerably before students are one day let
back in... I miss it!]

In case you're new here, I am a high school IB English teacher who is about to start my school year teaching virtually. I also have a first grader starting a new school and an eight-week old puppy that perhaps was a bit of an impulse decision, but is adorable and I'm sure she'll be a great dog in like four years. I also have a lot of hobbies, try to exercise 6-7 times a day, am actively pursuing an at-home social life (ha! what is that, even?). Basically, I am busy like everyone else on this planet.

5 ways I'm trying to make my life easier:

Plan, plan, and plan some more- I am fairly organized and I often have multiple to-do lists going at a time,  so I am definitely a seasoned planner. When it comes to planning for my classes I need to really rethink my time constraints, my platform for teaching, etc... so that I can optimize every minute I have. When it comes to home, no time can be wasted. I am getting up at 5:30 right now and I need to start using the time before then and work as productively possible (picture me blankly staring at the Keurig). 

Have designated no-work times- I am definitely plugged into email round the clock and I will never hesitate to reply to a student or colleague as I am laying down to fall asleep at night (or even at 3 am recently when I was up with the puppy). I won't limit myself to contractual hours; it's not how I roll. I do plan on having blocks of time during the day, after and before contract time, that I am not accessible. 

Organizational tools- I have a paper planner, a to-do list for work, a to-do list for home, Google calendar for work, icalendar for home, and am going to start using a paper habit tracker for a visual. I also adore my Forest app, as we all know, to help me take a break from my phone. 

Have a designated work desk away from my family- I know that a lot of people might not have the room to do this, but I set up a space in the room I use for my treadmill, bike, and crafts (and Sawyer's toys so he can hang out while I work out). I don't plan to always be in there, but it will be a great place to store my stuff and retreat to when I need a quiet space to work. I got rid of so much junk and it looks a million times better. 

Start dinner earlier every night- I know this sounds so simple and silly, but I think this little fifteen minute shift will make our nighttime routine a lot easier. Most days I don't get to sit down and actually relax for more than five minutes until after the dinner-kid shower routine is over, so it will give me a few minutes to chill. If distance learning last spring was any indication, I will spend every minute from about 7:30 to 4:00ish on work and helping Sawyer with his school stuff, 4-6 catching up on chores, taking care of the dog, and trying to get some actual QT with my kid (as in drawing together, not doing math together). Again, I know it's not exactly revolutionary, but I like to find little tweaks I can make to our daily schedule to help things run efficiently and give the illusion of giving me more time. 

4 ways I plan to boost morale:

My teacher Instagram account- I used to only allow alumni on it, but I have opened it up to current students as well, and it has been such a fun way to connect to the kids. I have put up a lot of informational items for getting this crazy time worked out, but I also put up fun polls, games, and personal touches from my own life to help them feel like they know me. I just stopped typing this to help a student figure out who to talk to about her schedule and also noticed an old kid joke around about something else I had posted. 

Star students- I started doing this last spring with my seniors and I got so many messages thanking me. Each day on Instagram Stories I'd mention a few kids who were doing great work and put them in a highlight- it was that simple. I think not only will I give them an insta shout out, but I'll incorporate into my Google Site as well- sort of like an student of the week kind of thing, but with no one filling out a collage about their favorite foods. Under normal circumstances our students may not receive enough positive feedback and attention, which means they need even more during these trying times. 

Positive emails- I started sending out 2-3 positive notecards to students each week last year and I got such great feedback. It was everything from "you have the greatest sense of humor and you do wonders for classroom morale" to "your thesis writing has improved so much" to "your constant attention to turning your work on time has been noted." I am going to keep doing that, but through email! Parents have also mentioned it at conferences and it's just nice to know that the kids are feeling validated and their families are proud.  

Virtual student work bulletin board- I love love love decorating my classroom walls with student work, so I plan on doing a virtual board on my google site. I haven't worked out the details, but 

3 things I won't be doing:

Staying off the bitmoji train- This is a huge thing right now in education, but it's not me and I'm not going to take valuable time to create a cute little person and animated classroom site. I teach juniors and I just don't think that this is going to be what sucks them in. I totally get why people are doing it- they want to connect with the kids somehow, they want to be creative, they want to be engaging. That's great! I just don't want to and don't think it's going to enrich my personal teaching practice. 

Do all the bells and whistles- Kind of an extension from above, but I think a lot of teachers are overwhelming themselves with seventy-six Google extensions, websites, and youtube channels right now. It's so easy to! There are so many resources that instead of feeling assisted it's easy to drown. I am going to stick to Google Classroom, Zoom, Google Meets, Peardeck, and email. 

Comparing myself to other teachers-  There are some people who are tech whizzes, there are some people who never get to know their students, there are some people who grade everything the day it's turned in, there are some- you get the point. I have been teaching for fifteen years and I know what my personal strengths and weaknesses are and will adjust from there. 

2 things I am looking forward to:

A vaccine- I have very little faith in our state's ability to open up before the new year, and I really think if we can push out a vaccine asap we might get back in our classrooms this school year. If anything, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and maybe people will feel... lighter. 

November- I have such high hopes for this month. I have a post in the works to talk about my hope soon! (This is literally 100% nothing concrete and is like my own personal harmless conspiracy theory)

1 things I won't miss about going in to work:

The commute- I spent about 45 minutes in the morning and at least an hour in the afternoon driving in traffic, between getting Sawyer and going home. I would gladly continue to do it if it meant life was normal, but I'm trying to look on the bright side! Also, I know I'll spend that time working instead, most days, but at least less time driving and less spent on gas!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. The school year in my district started today, for teachers. We have various online meetings throughout the next three days, but we also have a lot of time to prep, plan, etc... I am doing most of it at home, but I hope to go in to work for a few hours for some quiet time to really tie up loose ends tomorrow. I am fairly certain that I know what I am teaching, but everything is in flux (I am one of the lucky ones that knows; our district, like many others, are scrambling to accommodate the various instructional plans they offered. Basically, it's a mess). I plan on writing a post later this weekend to sort of unburden myself of ALL THE THOUGHTS.

2. I'm reading three books, but I feel like I am making progress. There's one for work, David Mitchell's Utopian Avenue, and then I am still slowly making my way through Bill Bryson's The Body. All are good in their own ways, but also long (well, not the one for work, I'm just moving through it slowly).

3. Little Ellie, our new golden retriever puppy, is growing quickly! She is now 8.5 weeks and we've had her just over 2, so I feel like she's a permanent fixture now. She sleeps through the night, meaning from about 10-5:30, without any accidents. This is sort of cramping my style, big time, in terms of having time to myself at night, but I am trying to readjust and just take that time in the morning. I am literally counting down the days until I can take her on walks, after she is fully vaccinated. September 27 cannot come fast enough! I have these grand ideas about taking her on walks in the morning before I start working in order to tire her out, and then again in the evening. I am fully aware that I am completely ignoring what a pain it is to teach a puppy how to properly walk on a leash, but I'll just stay in this bubble until then. 

4. I have been neglecting my embroidery terribly these days (wow, don't I sound like someone straight out of an Austen book or something?), and I'm a little sad about it. Despite it being August, I still want to finish my symbol-a-book hoop from 2019, do a few things for my Etsy shop, finish a fun little reading llama hoop I'm doing for myself, think about a few Halloween options, and start a Christmas custom- portrait push. I have not really tried very hard to push the holiday sale aspect of this tiny little side business, and while this year probably isn't the time, I just might attempt it anyway. 

5. I am trying to plan something to look forward to every weekend, mostly involving Sawyer, since I know this is going to rough on him, with my days being so structured and him going back in some form soon (his district is a lagging). I told him on Saturday we'd swim a ton, get takeout from somewhere we haven't yet, do something delicious for dessert, and he could stay up late to watch a movie (I'm pretty strict about him going up to bed by about 8 every night, just because I need time at night and he does well with routine). We have been so lucky with mild summer weather (knock on all the wood), so I can't wait for fall when it gets cooler and even easier to go hike or whatever. Even better will be when we can take the dog! 

6. I accidentally discovered someone trying to be sneaky on Instagram recently (not my husband, haha- I feel like I have to make that disclaimer here) and the fact that they made such a rookie mistake is pretty hilarious, although clearly they were trying to pull a fast one on me. On that note, doesn't social media really truly bring out the childish side of us? I mean isn't this ooooooozing passive aggressiveness right here?

7. I have tried to use an online habit tracker and I'm really horrible at using it, s o I paid $3 for a super cute printable one from Etsy and am excited to get it filled out. I think in a lot of ways going back to school is like the new year, for many people. 

July Reads

I'll just say it, even if everyone else is: HOW IS IT AUGUST? This year, man. 

I read a lot in July, but I'm slightly terrified to see what will happen in August, since I start back at work in four days. I guess that's all par for the course, but considering the circumstances it all seems a bit more overwhelming this year. I made a list of non-negotiables the other day of things that I need to spend at least a few minutes a day doing to not lose my mind, and reading was definitely on it. Anyway, this month:

I had two re-reads this month, one with Sawyer and one with Julie. Sawyer and I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which we both obviously enjoyed. Julie and I read A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of my favorite Irving books, for a post we did the other day.

Two of my books were for the two book clubs I am a part of, which has definitely been a positive to come out of all of this. With my little trio of good friends we read Stephen King's Misery, my first fiction read of his since high school. It disturbed me in all sorts of ways- the idea of being held captive in a house (slightly triggering these days), the gratuitous violence, and Annie's instability. I read Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other, as well, which I thought was outstanding. Her narrative structure, discussion of gender, and syntactical style will make for great discussion when we "meet." I have to say, now that I have read both of the Booker Prize winners from last year, Atwood's was far, far inferior to this and I respect the Prize far less now. 

Kevin Kwan's Sex and Vanity was like a literary dessert- totally over-the-top and delightful. He still possesses the wit, charm, and attention to detail as he did in his trilogy, and I was amused from beginning to end. It was the perfect pool read. 

I enjoyed Jami Attenberg's last novel, so I was excited to pick up All This Could be Yours when it came out earlier this summer. A father-on-his-deathbed-bringing-everyone-back-together kind of tale, we learn about the secrets the family possessed in the past and in the present. 

Finally, Michele Harper's memoir The Beauty in Breaking was perfection. I have read several doctor memoirs before, but never one by a black woman- there aren't many of these books out there. She approaches her profession and personal life in the text, looking at the moments one breaks, and how you can choose to learn and grow from these experiences. I was brought to tears a few times, reading about an old man who chose to die without treatment for cancer and child severely beat. I think these days when many of us aren't at our best this book can help us realize the lessons we are hopefully learning. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. The Japaneses theme park industry has verbalized what I've been feeling during lock-down, if not for years. If interested in buying the embroidery hoop above, visit my Etsy shop here.

2. The last week has made me feel like I have a newborn again (although not as sore... and said baby already walks and plays)- Ellie usually wakes up 1-2 times a night to go out and then sometimes cries when she goes back in her crate. Last night she slept from 10-5:30 which was AMAZING. I am going to really try to embrace the early mornings, since no one in my house is up. Currently, as I type, it's not even 6:30 yet and I have watered a bit of the lawn, done dishes, replied to work email, and am now writing this post. We'll see what happens tomorrow... ha!

3. Sawyer was tasked with the mission to read me 50 books this summer and he's only a few away! Most afternoons he reads me one of those horrible easy-readers and then I read him a book, and at night we read a few pages in whatever chapter book we are working on. When he is done he gets to pick out a new book, which, originally I was going to do online, but my husband and I talked and we might let him mask up and go to the bookstore when it opens. He hasn't gone to a store since early March, so going to get a book seems pretty damn fitting.

4. I feel like such an adult this week- we had our tree trimmed, our pool filters serviced, I attended a Zoom call for my son's new school, and I did some stuff with money.

5. I don't care what anyone says- I am still using a planner this year. I am totally #teampaper, so I bought my new one for the school year and it's already starting to accumulate Zoom meetings, appointments (Sawyer and I are each going to the dentist next week! Oh boy!), and virtual happy hours. It actually makes me really, really happy.

6. Speaking of school... my district is apparently running a pretty tight ship in terms of schedules, which I appreciate. I have to teach "live" for about 3 designated hours a day, offer office hours, and have prep time. Sawyer's district seems much more... flexible, which I'm not pleased about. I know once we get his teacher assignment it will probably be more explicit, but I wish they would remember that families need time to plan.

7. I had one book club last Friday and another one this Friday- there are VERY few good things to come out of this mess, but now being in two book clubs that mean once a month each is pretty great.

8. I finished the most recent seasons of Dead to Me and Workin' Moms  this month, which is some kind of record. I started The Babysitter's Club, which feels a little silly to admit, but I loved the series growing up, so I can't wait to see what this is like. I have only recently started watching Netlfix more on the treadmill, which is easy if I am walking but harder when I run. We'll see how much I get in once school starts. 

Bloggers Banter- A Prayer for Owen Meany

Oh man, do you every know peripherally that you love something but sort of forget how much? That's how I felt while reading A Prayer for Owen Meany- it's just so good. Julie and I decided that it would be fun to do a rereading version of Bloggers Banter and after jotting down a few books we'd be up for rereading we settled on this. Here's some thing that stood out: 

Julz: Did you know that Irving originally wanted Owen's dialogue printed in red like some Bibles print Jesus' words?  But the publishers put the kibosh on that because it would have been too costly. 


Christine: I had no idea about the red text part. That’s so interesting. Part of me totally loves that, but then part of me wants Irving to trust his reader enough to realize the sort of allegorical implications. I wonder if his shift to all caps was done in lieu of this.  


JulzYup, I think that’s the case.  


OK, English teacher, let's talk symbolism.  The color red and the arms (or lack thereof) were obviously prominent.  Where there any others that particularly struck you? 


Christine: I really love the motif of baseball in the novel, and how it’s meaning sort of shifts throughout. There is so much that falls under the umbrella, the game itself, the cards, the ball (as a weapon). I’m also very partial to the symbolism armadillo, as well. It’s sort of this sacred mediator, between Dan and Johnny at first, then Johnny and Owen. I think everyone needs an armadillo in their life.  


Julz:  Yes, I remember when you text me about the Armadillo exchange with a cry emoji!  I need an armadillo figurine or something for my shelf. 


Do you believe Mr. and Mrs. Meany's claim that Owen was a virgin birth?  Or are they just the crackpots Johnny took them to be after Mr. Meany's confession? 


Christine: I think one’s faith is probably a huge indicator as to how Owen’s conception is interpreted. I don’t think he’s the second Christ child (although he clearly serves as Christ-like-figure), I’m more inclined to think his mom was taken advantage of.  


Julz:  You’re probably right that she was too na├»ve to know what had happened to her. They both seem like such simpletons.  I also agree, I don’t see Owen as a Messianic figure, more of a prophet than anything. 


Christine: What did you think of Rev. Merrill? Do you find him a sympathetic character? 


Julz:  I didn’t really have strong feelings for Rev. Merrill either way.  I thought he was kind of a wuss.  But the fact that he kept the baseball and Owen knew all along (pretty much) was the most significant aspect of that whole father confessional scene.  Man, those two times that Johnny heard Owen’s voice then something ominous occurred gave me the SHIVERS. 


Christine: Yes! I remember the first time I read this I was so disappointed on Johnny's behalf that Merril was his dad. I'm so glad that he had Dan.  


I thought there were so many memorable more minor characters. I love Hester, and what she represents of this time period. And Johnny's grandmother reminds me of Violet Crawley from Downton. Anyone stand out to you in particular? 


Julz:  I though Owen and Hester were such an unlikely couple. Did you know she was named after the adulteress in the Scarlet Letter? And I was looking at my Goodreads personal notes on the book from when I first read it 10 years ago and this is what I said about Grandma Wheelwright: “I loved Johnny’s grandmother. She was traditionally stubborn, amiably opinionated and comically likeable as Owen’s benefactor. 

Otherwise, I loved Tabby. Considering who her mother was, her gentle nature and the fact that she didn’t care what anyone thought was so different than even her sister. Once she had found Nice Guy Dan, I was sad they didn’t get more time together.  But I loved that Dan formally adopted Johnny and that they kept each other close throughout their lives.   


But there will never be anyone as memorable as Owen.