Teacher Tuesday- Classroom Tour

I love seeing the internal workings of other teachers’ classrooms, so I thought as we head into these posts I’d share a quick classroom tour. I have to preface this by saying this is legitimately what my class looks like on a day-to-day basis; there was no mad clean up involved (clearly, look at my desk area). There are a few things that I feel really firmly about: a focus on student work, group seating, and having a space where I can inject my own personality.

Currently, my back bulletin boards are where I focus most of the attention. There are three main sections, all devoted to Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. The first is a collection of brainstorming the students did as a class, focusing on the form and function of the text, where they did some analysis on post-its in groups. The middle poster section is an activity we do for everything we read- the students are given essay prompts in group (or actually, in this case, they were just given topics and had to create their own prompts) and then must create a detailed essay outline together, which they then write timed-writes for independently later. I have found that this has helped their writing a ton- the thesis statements are always strong, the textual support thoughtful, and the essays organized. The third bulletin board is usually some sort of extra-credit, creative sort of thing. For this book they had to find a descriptive passage from the text and illustrate it- some of their pictures are amazing.  The fourth section is just administrative- extra hand outs that are applicable for the whole year (boring).

Two counters, one for basic supplies and where they turn things in at the end of the period. I also keep a binder for the book we are currently reading full of handouts in case they’re absent or lose something. The other counter is mainly for copies I’ve run in advance and also for tubs for each period that house graded work that the students can get when they have a second (we do massive paper-passing out days every few weeks, too).

I have collected a few broken desks for a back work area, where I keep the papers I need to grade and an area of my totally awesome TA to work. I don't have her grade papers (totally against that), but she is amazing at getting things organized, alphabetizing, checking things in, etc... Right now I have a very manageable amount of work to grade, but there are times where you can barely see the desks.

Miscellaneous items include the table of contents for their current notebook, the agenda, seating charts, etc... A group of kids has suckered their way into a taped off area of the board to hang their own silly memes and whatnot, which is fun. I also have a "struggle bus" poster where kids can anonymously put up questions regarding whatever it is we are studying. 

My students sit at groups of six desks, although in some periods there are only four kids at each. When I first started doing high school I did rows, which I hated. Groups of four are tough (sometimes I have up to 36 kids in a class, which makes it really crowded), but I found a sweet spot with the room is shaped with six. I can move around really well, the kids can work in pairs or large groups, and we can also change configurations for Socratic Seminars or partner activities really easily. 

My corner is controlled chaos, which is fine with me, as long as the rest of the room is in order. I love collecting things to put on the walls- kids' thank you cards, pictures they give me, little trinkets they bring back from trips. There are so many stories on my walls and on my bookshelf that make me so happy. I love that someone can go in my room and know a bit about me and what kind of person I am without talking to me- I think that it makes the kids feel more comfortable, that I'm a teacher with a personality and interests. I remember in high school we had a teacher who had floor to ceiling posters and I adored his room.

So, that's it! I spend so much of my time in my classroom everyday- sometimes more waking hours than my actual house! It's important to me that it's how I like it and that it represents what we're learning. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

The time change and then a holiday? Plus a day out for meetings? This week has totally thrown me for a loop. A day late and a dollar short, but whatchya gonna do?

I bought Sawyer his first The Magic School Bus book and he loves it. He's already super curious about the human body and it's many functions (today he asked where exactly he was born from... I explained and he was like "oh, I thought it was your mouth."). 

I started Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, and it is so good. The writing is beautiful, but there also these little surprises in there, like a sudden outbreak in a story you think is going to be strictly about relationships. Her memoir will definitely be on my wish list.

Our Thanksgiving plans suddenly changed for the better recently, and I couldn’t be happier.

I am a person who almost passes out several times a year, but never actually does. It’s who I am, and it’s fine. What’s not fine is that it almost happened in front of my students the other day! That lovely feeling of being super hot, sick to my stomach, and lightheaded started creeping in during second period as we were getting things organized for a test and I had to plop myself down regain composure (probably the result of a decongestant/coffee for breakfast combo). Luckily the kids didn’t notice, but it got me thinking- what would be worse, throwing up or passing out when kids are in the room? I think anything involving bodily fluids would be far grosser, although knowing my kids they’d call for a very unnecessary ambulance.

My mom was in town last weekend and it was so fun. We went to Downtown Disney for lunch one day and the beach the next. This weekend we have a Kid’s 1K at Universal Studios on Saturday and a playdate on Sunday morning, all subject to change if the ominous “there have been cases of vomiting” sign on my son’s school door comes to fruition (seriously, is there anything more terrifying than those health alert signs?). The kid next to Sawyer got sick and the teacher reassured me she had Lysoled everything down. My response? LYSOL my child, too. She doesn’t really get my humor though, so we had ourselves a slightly awkward moment.

Jonathan Safran Foer is on the Armchair Expert podcast- this is very exciting news. I’m slightly scared of his new book, about global warming, just because I think it might depress me even more about the current state of our planet. I’ve seen him speak before and I found him to be very witty and a little sardonic, so it will be interesting to see how Dax and Monica balance him out.

A student recently tried to bribe me with dozens of bags of Baked Flaming Hot Cheetos to give his class an easier version of the test they were taking. IT DIDN’T WORK.

Teacher Tuesday

When brainstorming post ideas recently I noticed that there were several teaching-related ones. Instead of turning this into a partial-teaching blog, I've decided to start a Tuesday feature called Teacher Tuesday, highlighting different things I do in my classroom, strategies that have worked well for me, changes I've made, anecdotes, etc... 

This week I though I'd just give a quick background on my career so far. I started off premed at UCLA, changed to psych for a second sophomore year, and then landed in English, since I was an avid reader and loved writing. And what's an English major to do? Typically, we teach, try journalism, go into various forms of marketing, or become lawyers. Admittedly, part of my decision to become a teacher stemmed from the idea I could complete the credentialing program in a year and then land a stable job. I had no interest in law and was nervous about trying anything else. Plus, I did enjoy kids and thought I'd probably be decent at the gig, since I was the oldest of four siblings and had been bossy since I'd come out of the womb. Despite my English degree, I decided to be elementary teacher- I was 21 and barely out of high school myself! I went to a Cal State for my credential and decided to try to stay out in the Riverside area, since my boyfriend at the time, now husband, lived out there. 

After getting my credential I immediately got a job working at a school I student taught for, which I was at for three years as a fifth-grade teacher. This was during the Great Recession and California slashed a ridiculous amount from the education budget, so I received a pink slip for the first time, despite being tenured. It was devastating, but a huge wake up call. It taught me a valuable lesson about not trusting so-called dependable things as much as I did, but also that I should get MORE credentials to solidify my teaching spot once I was rehired back (I was two weeks later, after our district "found" money). I was transferred to another school as a fourth grade teacher and went to work getting my English and Biology credentials, as well a my master's, knowing that those things would basically make me lay-off proof in the future. Yes, I know my need for control, terror of being unemployed it really shining right now. 

At the the end of my fourth year teaching elementary school I was once again up for lay off, but my English credential saved me, allowing my to snag a spot at the lowest performing high-school in our district, which was being forced by the state of California to restructure or force being taken over by the government. I was hired in as a part of a staff that was 50% new to that school- it was a huge adjustment for everyone. I was in charge of the yearbook, a few sections of sophomore English, and a now defunct class called CAHSEE Prep, which helped kids who couldn't pass the high school exit exam (which we no don't have). It was a really challenging year, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Yeah, the kids were bigger and swore, but I also got to teach Julius Caesar and To Kill a Mockingbird! I loved how I now had six class periods as opposed to being with the same kids all day, and that they understood my humor. I was able to finish my bio credential that year, further cementing my place in the employed column.

The following year I was given some AP Language sections and soon after I took over an IB English spot and the rest was history. I now teach four sections of IB English to seniors, who I had as juniors, and IB Theory of Knowledge class (IB stands for International Baccalaureate, a highly advanced and rigorous honors program). I advise IB Extended Essays as well, and basically am willing to do whatever I need to for the program, since I too am a proud IB graduate myself. 

The work load is definitely insane. I pretty much always have a few hundred assignments waiting to be grade and many more on the verge of being turned in. It's controlled chaos, though, and for the amount of papers being turned in I do a pretty good job of keeping up on things. I've instituted some different systems that I'll talk about on later posts to explain how I've gotten this area of my professional life under control.

I've been at the high school level for ten years, which brings me to year fourteen. I don't have any ambitions to get my administrative credential and move out of the classroom, and as long as I am happy with what I am teaching I'll stay at the secondary level. If things ever change I may return to elementary some day, since there are elements of that level I do miss. 

Nonfiction November- Be the Expert

Week three of Nonfiction November, hosted by Doing Dewey, give us a few options- I'm choosing the "Be the Expert" one and giving you not one, but two, lists. I couldn't choose! First up? Running. Second? Food/Restaurant Memoirs.


I have been a very slow runner (fine, fine, jogger) for well-over decade. I've run twelve or so half marathons and a handful of other distances and try to get on the treadmill to run, or run/walk, five times a week. I've actually recently decided to train for a half in February, after taking a few years off from long distances. I have an ankle issue, but I've decided to push through the problem and get back to running for a purpose (other than health). Running books always help me get motivated, stay on track, and be inspired, so here are my top three favorites, plus a bunch of runners-up (ha, see what I did there?):

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor- This one is without a doubt imperative for the psychological aspect of running. She is so insightful, honest and motivating. I actually started off the year with an excerpt from this and one other running book to help my kids get started. 

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall- Honestly, can you have a running book list without this one? The ultra marathons that he describes are incredibly and make you realize that the 5k or half or whatever it is you're training for is totally doable. 

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon- This is my go-to guide of training plans, tips on nutrition, and basically anything else you could ever need, whether you're a newbie or an advanced runner. 

Also worth a read:
26 Marathons by Meb Keflezighi

Run Less Run Faster by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss

Confession of an Unlikely Runner by Dana Ayers

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

The Long Run by Catriona Manzies-Pike

And now my other nonfiction love, chef memoirs, restaurant start up stories, etc... I love cooking and baking, and I've worked in a few restaurants in my lifetime (and have really loved it). The Food Network is seriously the only thing I really feel sad about missing, since we gave up cable years ago. Here are my all time favorites:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat- I read this cover-to-cover. The first four sections are a primer on each area, followed by recipes. 

I Hear She's a Real Bitch by Jen Agg- The Canadian restauranteur talks about her struggles as female in this male-dominated world.

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney- This work is a syntactical wonder, told in a sort of stream-of-consciousness day-in-the-life style. 

Runners Up:

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Anything by Anthony Bourdain 

Andrew Sean Greer and Sloane Crosley Event at UCLA

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to receive a complimentary ticket from CAP UCLA to hear writers Andrew Sean Greer and Sloan Crosley. I read Greer’s Pulitzer winning Less for book club earlier in the year and really enjoyed it, and while I have never read any of Crosley’s work it’s been on my wish list for awhile. I went to another one of these Sunday evening events at UCLA a few weeks ago and really loved the ease of it all; traffic is super light both ways, I get to visit my alma mater, and the venues are beautiful. This time I made it faster than I expected, so I was able to walk into Westwood to relive my glory days.

Greer and Crosley had never met, but their chemistry was immediate and delightful. I’ve been to readings where the moderator and author seemed to borderline hate each other, but this was the complete opposite- I could picture them heading out to dinner afterwards in a non-obligatory sort of way. Both are hilarious in their own right, poking fun at themselves, writing in general, society, and their characters. Their humility seemed incredibly genuine, both so thankful for their success.

I think the best story of the night was when Greer relayed the episode in which he found out he had won the Pulitzer. He had been working at some sort of writer’s retreat of some sort, reporting to a Contessa (I may me botching his position, but you get the gist). Margaret Atwood was due at the villa for dinner and Greer was in charge of getting a pair on dog-underwear on the pug with suspenders, which was apparently very difficult (as one would imagine). When he finally checked his phone he saw a number of missed texts and calls, so he was quite confused. He saw one from Michael Chabon, who was congratulating him, so he called him for clarification. What a way to learn about your Pulitzer! From Chabon (who I have also seen speak and is absolutely amazing).

I cannot wait to read more from both of these authors. Both are extremely talented at their craft and it was an absolute pleasure to hear them share their ideas and insights.