Three Things I'm Being More Flexible About These Days (and Three Goals for the Week)

I. Like. Structure. And order, routine, lists, and self-discipline.

But, we're living in a weird time, so I've had to lighten up in a few areas, which is challenging for me, but important. I thought I'd share in case you also need a push to give yourself permission to be a little more flexible:

Phone Time- Prior to this fiasco I was trying to be really strict on myself about screen time. Now I am still fairly so during the "work" day, but afterwards, especially after Sawyer goes to bed, it's a source of social connection. The past two Friday's I've gotten together with friends on House Party, I'm in a few Marco Polo groups, plus all the Instagram banter. It makes me feel better.

Stepping back from the news cycle- This is similar to the previous; I try to stay away from it during the work day, so that I can focus on being Sawyer's teacher and my students' teacher. I don't need to get obsessed with information that I literally can't do anything about. I am incredibly worried and sad, but I am doing what I am supposed to do in my home, so being glue to CNN constantly isn't going to help. I take a little time before breakfast to catch up, and then maybe once in the late afternoon, and once at night. Be informed, no obsessed. 

Distancing myself from people who make me anxious or annoyed, even if I feel obligated to them in some way- I know this sounds vague, but I let guilt and obligation run the show sometimes. Not right now! I have to protect my sanity so that I can be a good mom, a good teacher, and good to myself. I have started muting tons of people on social media, am offering quick polite replies if I don't want to invest my energy in a lengthy conversation, and am refusing to engage in conversations that might cause me unnecessary stress. 

Also, three goals for the week:

In bed earlier- I have been going to bed way too late and am still being woken up fairly early. Just even thirty minutes will help.

Finish at least two books- I am a solid way into three right now, so this seems doable. 

Five student check-ins a day- I am trying to email five students a day to check in on them, and I was doing well until spring break last week. I need to keep doing that! It's important for them to know I care and am thinking about them, and it also helps me stay connected to school. 

Homeschooling a Kindergartner, as a High School Teacher

I wanted to take some time today to talk about how I have approached teaching my kindergartner at home the last three weeks, and will continue to do so for the rest of the school year. First of all, a few several disclaimers, in no particular order:

- This is what works for us; there is no one-size-fits all approach and I'm not here to tell everyone what they must do, I'm simply providing ideas if anyone wants them
- I am a high school teacher; I teach IB English to 12th graders. I am also credentialed to teach high school biology, and also elementary grades, which is where I started out. I have never taught lower than 4th grade, though (I student taught 3rd and 4th, and taught 5th grade for three years and then 4th for one). 
- My son is an eager student and is on track, if not a little ahead, in language arts and math. I don't get hung up on Lexile levels (confession: I hate them as a high school teacher) and I am not formally assessing him.
- I make up a lot of things on my own, but I also look at things online (especially Pinterest for crafts), have gotten things from Teachers Pay Teachers, and also have some workbooks that I've picked up over the year
- I am constantly working on my own classroom work throughout the day. I instruct him a lot, by modeling, but once he is released to independent practice on a new concept or reviewing something I jump onto Google Classroom or am planning. I plan out his lessons each night and I really try to be strategic so that I am delivering instruction to him and my students. Basically, between Sawyer and my job I am busy with those two things from about 8:30-4:30 every day, and then I work at night after he is in bed on planning for his next day and doing more work for my students. I have less free time now than ever! But it's okay.
- Sawyer didn't get a spring break, since I didn't want to ruin our newly established routine, and I didn't stop working myself. It's fine. Really! 
- I only have one child. For this, it is definitely easier, but also remember that I am his sole companion, so this can be tough at times when he wants to play or show me things constantly. 
- His teachers sent home nothing; he goes to a private kinder and they are under no obligation to do so, at least this month, since they waived tuition.
- We get fully ready and dressed before the school day starts (fine, I don't really put on a full face of makeup or curl my hair, but the idea of not being in our pajamas and starting "the day" is a good transition).
- Our day is structured and there is a lot of learning and practicing going on; this might not work for everyone, but I really do think it's important that there is an attempt to keep kids learning is essential. 

That was a long disclaimer, but what can you expect coming from me? 

Here's a general run down of our schedule:

8:30-9:40 (Sight Words and Phonics)
- 10 minutes of independent reading for him (I help as needed)
- Sight word practice (we go through the ones he has on a ring and then either come up with sentence that he writes from them or do some review worksheets). We spent the first two practicing what he already had and then I added two new ones this week. Sometimes we use Bananagrams, Scrabble, or Upwords, to also practice.
- Lately we have been working on digraphs- ch, sh, and th. There's a lot of brainstorming of words, doing worksheets, drawing pictures to go with the words, etc...
- Twice a week he does penmanship, writing each upper case and lower case letters from memory
- He reads a phonics book to me; we have tons of the boxed collections that I kept ordering from Scholastic (now I am so glad).

9:40-10:00 Snack break and a scooter walk around the block

10:00-10:15 We usually read a story and do a comprehension activity that's based to some sort of broader mini-unit we are doing for the week. The first week it was Iggy Peck, Architect, last week it was The Nowhere Box, and this past week it has been camping books. 

10:15-11:15 Math
- Number fluency chart, 11-20 
- Addition and subtraction practice- for this we use worksheets, dice, objects, and whiteboards
- Some sort of other skill- shapes, graphing, inequalities, etc... 
- I am trying to make this a mix of worksheets and interactive activities (like hiding dinosaurs with math facts all over the house that he has to solve)

11:15-12:15 PE (aka one hour walk around our hilly neighborhood)

12:15:12:45 lunch

12:45-1:30 Science
- The first two weeks we continued learning about bugs, since that was what he had been doing in school and was excited about continuing. Now we are doing dinosaurs (his choice... I am not the hugest fan)
- Usually I do two things, choosing from quick youtube videos, part of an episode of The Magic School Bus, books that we already have, and crafts

1:30-2:00 Independent coloring or "centers" (aka play while I do more work)

2:00-2:10 Share time- We share with some friends of ours on Instagram video, which gives the kids a chance to talk, ask questions, and see people who don't live with them

2:10-3:25 rest time in his room alone (this isn't really homeschooling, but I think it's important that parents are giving themselves a formal break in a safe way that allows their child to sleep, rest, or play independently).

Fridays have a culminating project from whatever little unit we are doing; the first week he was an architect and built his own city, the next week he got to decorate a large box like the character in the book, and this week we set up a tent in the backyard to go camping.

Once a week we read a poem and he does his own drawing based on it- he loves this and asks to do it daily. 

Things I need to work on:
- I need to stop planning the night before, like a rookie, haha. I hope to sit down this weekend and plan the entire week out, including printing everything I need. My students at work are back from "spring break" on Monday, so I feel like I need to even be more structured and organized to juggle all of this and give everyone what they need
- I need to let him do more dot-to-dots and color... that's what he loves and it's fine
- I need a more systematic approach to math, which I hope to plan this weekend as well
-  Taking a look at the standards a little more carefully

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

First of all, I hope everyone is healthy, handling their time in whatever way works for them, and is staying in their homes (unless they have an essential job). I don't want to sit here and lecture people on what they hopefully already know, but, please stop going to your friends' houses to hang out, letting your kids play on playgrounds/going to sports practices, and being in the "bubble space" of your neighbor when you chat. The more people are careful the quicker this will decline and the faster we can get on with our lives.

On that matter, California schools are closed for the rest of the school year, which I have been predicting would happen since we left work on March 13. If people look at China, it took over three months to lighten restrictions, and they shut down things a lot faster than we did. It's data, plain and simple. Does it suck for our students? Yes! My kids are seniors and are missing out on so much, besides content. Does it suck for teachers? Yes! We love our jobs, we care about our kids, and we know that playing catch up will be a huge challenge. But, in the scheme of things two and a half months isn't going to ruin anyone's entire academic career (especially since we lose so much time at the end of the year to testing, various activities, etc...). In order to flatten the curve, to save lives, and to allow our medical professionals to tackle this virus, people, everywhere, need to stay home unless they are an essential member of the workforce. Yes, young kids don't get terribly sick from the virus, this is true (and great). But, what happens when the teachers and other staff members get ill (or die)? Or when these kids bring home the virus they picked up at school and give it to their guardians at home? Then there are the adults on campus for student pick-ups, supply deliveries, special education services, maintenance issues, etc... Not to mention that most schools don't have the  man-power to be cleaned properly every day. It is horrible and I don't want to be out of my classroom, but when we look big picture at society in general, you have to see that there are way too many variables in schools that can increase the spread of the virus. It's a hard choice and it's going to have consequences, I'm not denying that. I want my own kid at school! He's an only child and is missing out on socializing and content (although I think we're doing okay there). But let's say one of my high school kids get it. They then bring it to school and pass it to their girlfriend, the three friends they were passing their phone around to for Tick-Tock viewing, the librarian they accidentally sneezed on while checking out a book, and one of their six teachers. Those people contract it, and then repeat the process. This can happen at any grade level; younger kids can still have the virus and not really show symptoms. It has to be this way. If you want this whole thing to get under control, it just has to. 

One last thing: I am an incredibly impatient person and a control freak. But, I am also realistic and I trust the models on community spread. I control what I can control in my home now- my daily schedule, how I present content to my students, how often I contact them ("Man, every time I get a notification on my phone there's a 50/50 change it's coming from Google Classroom from one of my teachers"), what I make for dinner, and when I do all my household cleaning. 

Now, some good news: every single one of my students have joined Google Classroom, 90% of them have done at least one assignment, and I am nearly caught up on the grading I brought home from before the closure. I am rereading The Awakening to teach with them next, and it's one of my favorites.

Sawyer lost his first tooth! He was so excited and, long story short, it almost fail down the drain since the big even happened in the shower. Judging by how small his (loud) mouth is and where that adult tooth is growing, I need to start saving for braces asap. 

What I'm watching: Tiger King, baby. 

What I'm listening to: the memoir Wine Girl by Victoria James (I am not a huge wine drinker, but this is really interesting!

What I just started reading: American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (so far, so good)

Current favorite apps for socializing: Instagram, House Party, Marco Polo, and Zoom (Facebook can suck it... there's way, way too much junk on there that ends up making my anxious

March Reads

I talked a little bit about how disappointing my recent reading habits have been in a post earlier this week, so the fact that I've read four books after being off half a month is pretty pathetic. On the other hand, I'm so competitive with myself and goal-oriented that I'm pretty much guaranteed to have a much better reading month in April. I'm just going to put in out there now, but I'm hoping to come in at a solid eight books, doubling what I've done here

Before work I read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, for hopefully the last time. Ever. We are switching the curriculum and it will no longer be included, so hopefully we're parting ways permanently. It's racist, it have some incredibly boring parts, and my students despise it.

I read two other novels, The Cactus League by Emily Nemens and The Power by Naomi Alderman. The Cactus League was about spring training and followed several characters, including players, executives, players' wives, etc... It had some really solid parts, but it also was a little slow in others. It was fine, but nothing amazing. The Power, on the other hand, was outstanding. It was our book club selection for our English Department book club, which we had via Zoom last night (it was such a breath of fresh air!). This feminist sci-fi novel looks at the world from the perspective of women being in control, once they realize they have this electric current power that they can harness to gain dominance over men. We had some really great discussions about authority, the use of the frame story (my one issue with the novel), and how men were represented. It was really outstanding in terms of characters and story. 

Finally, I read one memoir this month, Chuck Palahniuk's Consider This. I have read some of his older stuff, at one point finding his newer works subpar (but I haven't read some of his newer newer ones, so I can't speak to those), so I was interested in what he had to say. He spoke about his experiences as a writer, but also gave a lot of really helpful advise to those who are interested in writing fiction (I hesitantly raise my hand). He didn't come out and say it, but I felt like some of his more recent books were just sort of churned out to make money (he has always had money trouble, both from his own doing and from someone who worked for him embezzling). I have always had a soft spot for Palahniuk, as his was the first author event I ever went to, in college, when a course required attendance to a reading of our choice that quarter. Hundreds of us were smooshed into a Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica with no AC (turns out this was intentional) while we waited for him to read from Haunted, bringing severed plastic limbs as prizes (he talked about how he did this to stop people from wanting him to autograph their actual body parts for eventual tattoos). 

Hopefully when I return for April's reviews I'll have lots more to say and maybe we'll see some progress with, as my son calls it, "the sickness" in our country. Stay safe, stay healthy, and try to read as much as you can, friends. 

What I've Learned About Life from Reading Memoirs

Over the last few years my nonfiction reading has increased by quite a bit, being partial to memoirs from runners, chefs, travelers, and writers (and the trashy celebrity ones I listen to occasionally). I think in a way these books are a form of self-help for me, as most of the time you're learning about someone who has experienced major obstacles and has had to dig deep to succeed. For me, that's a lot more influential than an instruction manual on how to live life. I've been thinking a lot about some of the major takeaways lately, as I just finished one, so I thought I'd share a few:

If your child writes a memoir, how would they portray their childhood? This has been such a huge one for me everyone always talks about their childhood in their memoirs (see below). There have been some stressful things that have come up in our home since Sawyer has been born and I either try to keep them from him, or explain things in age-appropriate terms. I try to be positive, a problem solver, admit to my mistakes, and also show that I have my own interests outside of just motherhood and my job. I'm sure their are flaws he'll hone in on once he's older and more reflective, but above all I hope that he sees I've always really tried.

Speaking of childhood, no one cares (with exception)
I usually really can't stand the childhood sections of memoirs, unless they're particularly interesting for some reason. It's just one of those things... if I don't really know someone I don't need to know they played soccer for three years, what type of cigars their father smoked, or what their mom cooked on Sunday nights. Call me a monster, go ahead, but those really are the sections I can't wait to get through.

Problems resolve, and new one arise
Ain't that the truth? So, if you're a memoir-writer it's because you presumably have a unique story to tell, and you're obviously still alive and able to tell it. If you look at the range of memoirs, there's everything from abuse to accidents to disabilities to poverty to every other horrible condition imaginable. These people rise up, conquer the challenge and often have to do the same later. But, it's like running- at first five miles seems impossible, but you do it. Then, when you later have a seven-miler on your schedule it doesn't seem as bad because you've built up the endurance. It's the same way with life- we can hone those problem solving skills and be ready to take on more. 

Be willing to accept help, and then give back when you are able
So few people do it alone, whether they ask for help or it is forced upon them. Personally, I detest asking for help, but there have been moments in my life when I have had to at least accept it. When I was nineteen, in college, I needed help with getting a down payment for a new car so that I could commute and stay at UCLA; my mentor/boss/friend who had no children lent me the money and we created a schedule for paying her back. I was horrified, but now as an adult I know that she really wanted to help and did it because she could. But then, once able you have to give back (I'll refrain from publicly patting my own back). This happens in memoirs ALL THE TIME- people start scholarships, foundations, they mentor others, they help advance careers. I can't think of any memoir where someone did it alone.

Repression will come back to haunt you 
Oh yes, the possible outcome of compartmentalizing! Not all, but many of the memoirs I have read have had people really struggle to come to terms with things from their past. I think the act of writing these books is therapeutic in and of itself for many of these people, but often there is mention of therapy, life changes, heavy conversations, etc... that help the authors come to terms with things that have happened in the past. 

Push Yourself Harder
You don't write a memoir because you sit on your ass and watch Netflix all day. You end up writing a memoir because you did something great or you persevered through something hard. People are running marathons with one legs, overcoming no formal childhood educations to become celebrated academics, and start from poverty to build empires. You can really do great, big things if you want to. 

Some of my all-time favorites (memoirs with a few essay collections thrown in):

Anything written by Leslie Jamison- focus on her life as an addict and academic

Heavy by Kiese Laymon- a memoir that looks at what it means to be black, gay, and to struggle with your body in America

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi- A doctor details his journey with cancer (although maybe not during Covid19)

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell- She recounts her many brushes with death, both literal and metaphorical

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah- Noah talks about his life in South Africa under The Apartheid 

Becoming by Michelle Obama- She's amazing- no need to say more

Dear America Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antionio Vargas- Fascinating discussion of immigration 

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl- The story of  Gourmet magazine's editor

I Hear She's a Real Bitch by Jen Agg- A female restaurantear who has to fight the boy's club in Toronto

Anything written by Anthony Bourdain 

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor- a running memoir that's applicable to the sport and life in general (it's so motivating, I use it with my students too)

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt- a story of a family in which one of their twins was trans-gendered and how they navigated this road together 

Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah- A look into Jehovah Witness, and leaving it

The Rules do Not Apply by Ariel Levy- I thought it was such an honest, raw look into a marriage

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco- A Obama staffer who is just so brilliant and witty

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell- Holy cow, I learned so much about drugs from the beauty editor's memoir