Homecoming 2014

Homecoming was a success this year. I felt like the kids were more spirited and engaged than any other year.  I really enjoyed the dress up days and the Pep Rally.  However, student engagement cost me class time.  Next year, I will use the last couple of days of Homecoming Week to do a leadership lesson.   I attempted to teach my last last block How to DBQ in the hour before the Pep Rally. It was RIDICULOUS to expect Freshman who are having their first pep rally to focus on a skills lesson.

This year I have been focusing on teaching more skills.  So far this year, they are using OPTIC to evaluate documents, writing thesis statements, and learning to write a DBQ Essay.  This first DBQ is really easy because the DBQ Project has already done the groupings for them.  Additionally, students will not discuss POV due to the structure of the DBQ.  I am just exposing them to writing about documents and using the DBQ formula.

Before the next DBQ, I will add on POV.  I am thinking about using the football DBQ or the Brad Pitt DBQ to teach Point of View.  And eventually, I will give them documents with no guiding questions or they will write the DBQ in class as a major assessment.

One of my big struggles this year in classroom management is getting students to begin working as soon as the bell rings.  Honestly, its so frustrating to remind students every day of what they are supposed to be doing.  I think maybe I will create some sort of reward system for being on task and silent when the bell rings.  I was thinking about making it some sort of competition.  Like giving out tickets and the person who has the most at the end of the quarter can exempt a homework/daily assignment.  Or maybe, include working when the bell rings into their participation grade in Class Dojo.

It seems that my first year of teaching in Houston was about adjusting to the culture and climate of my new home.  Last year was clarifying who I am in this new culture and restructuring the course  This year, I am focused on building strong skills because in the long run will they remember Cyrus or Sennacarib?  However, they can take with them using evidence to make a good argument and that is the job of any good historian.


Taking Control of My Internet Presence

So, I joined PLP and the kick-off session was today.  I’m excited about the journey and being a more connected teacher.  Everyone knows I love good PD.  A few of my takeaways:

  • Why be Connected?  Reduce Classroom Isolation & gain the Wisdom of Crowd.  Years ago when I started blogging, it was for this very reason.  I loved being apart of online communities and growing and learning from them.  Without Carson and Duez and Dede and Margaret and Amy and Kristine and Kary and Tamara and Marcy and Jessica and Lisa (and so many others), I would not be the teacher I am today.  They read my posts and offered improvements for my lessons.  Honestly, it was the best collaboration I have ever had.
  • The facilitator said we should “Transparently share with others once I contextualize what I’m learning.”  Even more, she told me that I should take control of my presence on the web.  For me, this is extremely challenging.  I have been “Teacha” for years.  Desperately trying to hide my real name and picture from my online activities.  Most of it was because in public school, contact with the press could get you fired.  What if the paper/news found my blog?  Then, I made the move to a Conservative Independent Christian school.  I was even more frightened. What is hilarious about all of this fear?  Technology coordinator said that they knew about my blog years ago when I accepted the job. I am not as anonymous as I thought!  So now I face this inner debate:
    • keep this site and use my real name allowing this site to become “personal” and less anonymous.
    • or take my old school website that has my name on it and make it my new online presence.  And this site would be my personal space to blog about my life.
  • “True leaders replicate themselves” and create more leaders.



Decisions. . .

This afternoon, as I was searching for new utility provider, I had a thought:  “I need a husband.  I’m tired of making decisions.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love being an independent, single lady.  I like that I don’t have to clear my girly whims,  share my schedule or discuss the budget with anyone else–I can do what I want, when I want.  But I am just so tired of making all of the decisions.  Why can’t someone else to do it for me?

I am a VERY slow decision maker (one of the reasons I could never be a principal or head of a company).  I like to mull things over, pray about them, make lists and more lists.    When I finally make my decision, I am often pretty happy with it.  Spur of the moment decisions, not so much.  When I applied for the teaching position in Houston; I knew about the opening for a month before I decided to submit my resume.  By the time I decided to apply, I thought the position would have been filled; however, they were still interviewing.  When the school called with a job offer, I knew I could say yes.  I’d been praying about it, mulling it over and making lists for approximately two months.   On the other hand, I bought a car once because my mother said I needed to. . . just showed up at the dealership with nothing in mind except to get a car.  I never really loved the car, hated the car payment and from day one I knew that the deal did not benefit me–but I did it because my mom said so.  Last story, I have been looking at apartments and comparing prices since December of last year.  My lease expires at the end of July.  Over the past six months, I have visited complexes, read reviews and talked to residents of ideal choices (yes, honey, I drove around the complex, stopped people and asked questions.)  I involved friends in my comparisons and doing the “math.”  I feel really, really good about my choice and I am really excited about the move.

So back to my thoughts earlier today.  Sometimes, I just wish I could let someone make the big decisions for me.  It is exhausting making decisions in my personal life…I want leadership I can trust (sounds like one of those Republican commercials). Although I know that singleness may be God’s gift to me, a girl can still hope for man, right?   *sigh*  Maybe one day, God will do the miraculous and when he does, in typical Teacha fashion, I will make a list, mull it over and over and pray fervently.  For now, I need to select an electric company and I have less than 5 days to do it.  Decisions. And way too many choices.

Random Stuff

In my classes we debate today:  Which was the better society, Sparta or Athens?  My students love debate.  They like the opportunity to argue and persuade someone to see their perspective.  After the lesson, many students asked “Can we do this again?”  I am so grateful for their enthusiasm.


My pacing is off this year.  There were a lot of changes to the schedule and we lost time.  My struggle has always been how to teach a large amount of material in a short period of time.  I know I should focus on big ideas . . . but implementing it is so difficult.


Today, I was talking to a colleague about dating. Colleague says you have to put yourself out there.  I asked how does one do that.  “Well, you can’t be here all the time working.” “You develop routines and have a face that says that you are open and friendly.”  When I leave school, I’m tired.  But if I’m thinking about dating, I’ll need to develop activities that put me “out there”after work.  So, I signed up for a church social this Friday.


Thankful for the gift of laughter with my students, an evening on the red couch reading and playing games, I am thankful for the Lord’s provision.

Taking it personally. . . (a whining, pity party post)

Do you take it personally when kids overwhelming fail a test or quiz?  I do.  The rational part of me says, “they don’t study.”   I know they don’t.  They admit they don’t.  The same kids that always do well on tests and quizzes did well on today’s quiz.  Largely grades are Cs & Ds and the sad thing is that half of the answers were on the board.  It makes me sad. It makes me feel like a failure.  What can I do so that they perform better?

Add to this, the kids keep whining that the other teacher is easier.  “They don’t have to read the book . . . why do you make us read the book?”

Student evaluations came back and my feedback just was not as good as I hoped.  Teacher next door scored better than me and was upset.  After he sat in my room and complained for 10 minutes, I told him to close the spreadsheet and never look at it  again. That is what I have done.  In the future, I will not even open it.

Why do we take it so personally?  Why do our feelings get hurt by criticism.  Is it because we work so hard and it seems we do not see any fruit?  Where is my “hood” skin?  Certainly, I had tough skin at old school.  At old school, I didn’t care.  I knew I was doing my job and I was good at it.  Here, there are so many wicked smart and talented people.  Makes me feel insecure.

On up note, Algebra lady knew I was upset by the the quiz results and would not let me go until she prayed with me.  This is certainly something I appreciate about New School!

Random Thoughts on Saturday Night

  1. I don’t know why I stopped blogging.  It could be fear (since I am no longer anonymous).  I don’t feel like I have much to say anymore. I am not trying new or inventive things in my classroom.  I will say this:  when I blogged more frequently and read other teachers work, I was certainly more excited about teaching.  I am having a great year with my students, but I miss the enthusiasm for sharing the happenings in my classroom.
  2. Using QR codes:  I have wanted to use QR codes in my classroom for a while now.  I have read several articles about teachers who have used them for scavenger hunts.  Students use the QR codes to gain instructions for an activity, read a website or watch a video and then are pointed to another QR code.  When students come back to the classroom or whole group instruction, they complete a reflection activity.  I have been encouraged my administration at my school to be adventurous and try new things.  Maybe, I should really look into this more. . .I am in love with idea, just struggling on HOW to implement it.
  3. My students ARE reading the textbook this year, at least more than last year.  So my strategies with reading quizzes and requiring notes are working. Whining about reading is growing, but not as loud as last year.  I think this is because the book is easier for them to digest.  I will need to give students a survey at the end of the year to determine if this was good book choice for students.
  4. In all of my teaching and planning and adjusting to Texas, I forgot how much I LOVE reading.  I’ve been listening to audiobooks when I take walks or am driving, but outside of prepping and reviewing for school, I haven’t been reading the way I used to.  (Minus the summertime and Christmas break–I devoured several books during the breaks)  We had a snow day and I started looking into digital book subscriptions services–reviewers call it the netflix of books.  I signed up for trial version of Scribd and I must say, I like it!  I don’t like the layout of the book on my Ipad (i’m spoiled by kindle), but that’s forgivable.  Here is what I like about service:
    • I don’t feel like I’m spending tons of money.
    • I can read several books at once–yes, I’m I engrossed in about 3 different books already.
    • I’m not waiting for that email from the public library telling me that the e-book I want is available.  Seriously, I’m 17 out 48 on the waiting list for one e-book and I’ve been waiting for about 2 months.  I was on the waiting list for the Sonia Sotomayor autobiography forever. Now, I have something I can read while I wait.
    • It will give me the opportunity to explore a variety of authors.  When I’m spending money for individual books, I’m usually pretty selective.  I dislike buying a book and then hating it and I have never tried to return a bad book.  I usually end up donating it to Goodwill.  Now, I can try books I would not typically pick.

So maybe, I will keep the service at the end of my trial period.  We’ll see!

2013 Reflections

Facebook gives you a year in review, telling you your 20 biggest moments.

  • 12 of my 20 reflections were about school and students.
  • I had a car accident which motivated me to buy a new car. It is a Chevy Spark and gas efficient.
  • I went home twice and was able to thank people who mentored and loved me.  Apparently, I missed home a lot more than I thought I would.
  • Spent a lot of time touring Texas and really getting to know Houston.
  • Found a church and took steps toward becoming apart of that community.

Reflections on 2013:

  • School is going exceptionally well this year.  I stayed current on my grading.  Students don’t complain as much about the textbook.  My classroom management has improved significantly–my first year at the new school, I didn’t have a plan.  Now, every visitor positively comments on my classroom management.  
  • Buying a new car mobilized me.  Therefore, I have seen more of Texas and even driven back home a couple of times.  These trips home have rejuvenated and encouraged me–something I never thought could happen.   I was able to see how important friends and family are to one’s life. I miss that in Houston.  I miss always having a friend or family member to “do lunch” and chat and Starbucks and ice cream moments.
  • This year, I dropped one main extracurricular activity to focus on  spiritual growth, BSF and finding a church home.  I really committed to my group and doing the lessons and I’ve seen fruit.  Moreover, I found a church.  This church was a mix of everything I have been looking for–I knew at the first worship service.
  • At the beginning of the school year, I ate well and lost weight.  But it kind of fell apart somewhere late in October.  I’ve got to find more constructive ways to handle stress other than eating.  Strangely, I’ve bought a few bottles of “The Gateway Wine” and have been engaging in a glass or two here and there.  But wine will not help me, physically.  So, again, I got to find a more productive way to handle life’s stresses and joys.

Goals for the New Year

  1. Find life joys and pleasures outside of work/school.  I will find a hobby or activity that is not school or sitting in front of computer screen.  As much as I enjoyed blogging before, I do not desire to return to blogging for educational and professional development purposes.  I want a life beyond school.  I have started this by signing up to volunteer and serve Houston.  I hope to write more about this in the future.
  2. Build community, family and friends at church.
  3. Continue to travel and see sights.  I want to leave the US in 2014.

Ah, Lecture!


Ah, Lecture . . . This week, I did a lot of lecturing and I was observed twice (one of them was a pop-in).  I try to avoid lectures for observations, but I had to lecture, we have a test coming up and I wanted make sure students had the content. (And I think this was my first whole class period lecture of the school year) Personally, I don’t like lecture:

  • The lecturer is like an expert.  I am certainly no expert–I don’t have all of the answers and I let students know this.  I still learn everyday.  Experts have spent 10,000 hours with their content.  I haven’t spent 10,000 hours on specializing in Ancient Egypt. So, I am NO expert.  I just enjoy history.
  • I don’t want to torture my kids and make them sit still for 80 minutes while I drone on and on.  I can’t even sit still that long.  I get uncomfortable in church if the pastor goes longer than 45 minutes.  Our attentions spans are just not that long anymore.
  • Honestly, how much of a lecture to we really retain?  Only the most interesting stories or gory details.  If I didn’t take notes during church, I would never be able to tell you what the preacher said.
  • Lecture is physically exhausting.  Usually, my voice grows weak and my feet hurt from standing and pacing all day.

With that in mind, imagine how it feels to be observed by your peers and department chair while you are doing the part of teaching you hate the most (outside of grading).  However, I received positive reviews from both of my evaluators.  Here’s why:

  • I use the Chunk, Chunk, Chew method.   I give notes for two or three slides and then students must  do an activity or respond in their journals or we have question and answer.   For example, I was lecturing about mummification, I gave them a slide of notes with vocabulary.  I played a funny mummy song from youtube, then instructed students to draw a timeline of the mummification process in their journal.   Finally for this segment, I had 2-3 students come place their timelines under the document camera to share out.   (all of this about 10 minutes)
  • I use many of visuals in the powerpoint.  Sometimes, all that is on a slide is a picture and quote.  I often select a student to read the quote aloud.  And I ask questions, what might it mean?  What does the image tell you?
  • When I lecture for an entire period, I make sure students stand up at least once during that lecture.  In my lesson on Wednesday, after students took notes on Egyptian achievements.  All students had to stand for a human barometer and argue which achievement was them most important contribution.   Sometimes, if I need a quick transition or movement, I’ll put up a test question, use a 4 corners strategy.
  • Most of the time lecture is conversational.  Kids ask questions and I say, “google that!” Or, I’ll ask their opinion about the event.

The feedback I received from one of my reviewers was this, “Everything in your class moves so fast.  You do so many things.  What if a student didn’t finish the timeline in the 2 minutes you gave them to do it?”  My response, “It was plenty of time.  If they didn’t finish, it’s homework.”  Administrators have said this before–that my class is fast paced and I agree. In public school, if you spent too much time on one thing, it gave children time to get off task and that led to trouble–especially for 9th graders.

To me, the measure of my teaching comes from conversations with a students at the end of class.

Me:  A long lecture today, hunh?

Student:  Yeah, but it was good.

The next day, when students came to class.

Me: We have one more lecture day for this unit.

Student raising his hand:  Will it it be like last class?

Me:  Yes

Student Nodding:  Okay!


Week 1-Complete

This week was intense . . . it was not a true first week of school in that most of it was spent in orientation for Freshmen.  Although I did not plan lessons for this week, I was asked to engage with students rather than busying myself with school preparations during this time.  It is a challenge to be still, fellowship and not work.  But this week, I was left with no choice.  So while nothing was completed, mentally I feel ready to attack next week.    However, physically, I’m wiped. I’m supposed to be sleeping, but my internal clock is off.

A few things I’m doing differently this year:

  • Teaching classroom procedures.  When the freshmen arrive, they are still 8th graders–not seniors.  Last year, I didn’t teach procedures well.  I have updated my classroom procedures packet.    I’ll share them at some point. I’m still updating them with notetaking and FAQ info about my classroom.  Their first assignment was to complete a  scavenger hunt of the document (tried to avoid the traditional Q & A format).  Also, I am posting classroom rules and infractions, so  that their are no excuses when I start issuing consequences.  I’ll probably drop the hammer to avoid having issues similar to last year.
  • Outside of quizzes, I am not grading daily work or homework.  I will take it up and pretend to grade, but they’ll report as completion grades on my chart.  Sometimes, I will have students self grade or highlight phrases or answers.
  • Much of the daily work/Q & A type stuff will be written into their journals which I only grade 2-3 times per quarter.  I found this great idea on pinterest  (making Q strips to paste into journals instead of wasting pages & pages of copy paper)  that I will use this year with journals.  It is perfect for activities like speed dating or mid-lesson checks.  I wish there was a way to do journals online, but it would only encourage plagiarism and I often have students draw charts and graphics in their journals.
  • Reducing the amount I print by uploading documents and study guides to our school website.
  • My notes will only be available a few days before a test.  I am hoping this will force student to take their own notes and be more responsible for their own learning.  Last year students were so reliant on my notes, it caused a panic anytime notes were not available.
  • Adding checkpoints (for a daily grade) for projects and essays.  Many of my students waited until the last minute to begin working.  I’m hoping that the checkpoints will get them started early.  In the spring, when students are doing more research work, I plan to have them make annotated bibliographies to prevent plagiarism and encourage students start their work early.


Sunday Mo’ning: What the American Church Has Gotten Wrong

Most everyone knows I am Christian and I love church and often look forward to Sunday morning.  As a matter of fact, the Mary Mary song, “Sunday Morning” absolutely captures how I feel about my faith and the Church.  Side note:  Yes, I am religious and proud of it. . . being “spiritual” is just a bunch of malarkey and lack of commitment.   I’m sure to offend people on this blog.

Despite my passion for Christianity and the church,  the last year has been the most inconsistent for me religiously. I don’t belong to a church.  I attend a different church every Sunday and sporadically.  And I haven’t felt called to any one church.  It makes me uncomfortable that I have no church community. I have been thinking for sometime about why I have yet to find the perfect community in Houston.  This lead me to broader issues in the American church.  In my opinion, here are  a few things we need to improve:

  1. Eliminating Segregation and Favoritism–Sunday morning is STILL, even in 2013, the most segregated time of the week–not just racially, but socially, too.  Everyone likes to say there are cultural and worship style differences.  CHILD, PLEASE!   (In my best grandma voice)  Segregation goes far beyond race.  American churches are not welcoming to different people on the whole–think about it.  Can you walk into a church an be openly gay or a drug addict or stinky or just plain weird.  James 2 abhors favoritism.  Yet the American church as a whole plays favorites.  When people with difference walk in, we don’t speak to them or we beat them over the head with their sin and mistakes. Jesus was compassionate and loving.  He said “go and sin no more.”  The Bible has called to love others.  I strongly believe that this love will cause personal conviction and repentance.  As a person studies the Bible more and more, the scriptures will speak and CALL them to repentance.  But the first step is love and stop playing favorites.   If you are judging other’s sin, are you loving them unconditionally?  The church should intentionally welcome difference! Think about sinners Jesus ministered to and hung out with. My challenge to you, my brothers and sisters:  Reach out and welcome folks, don’t just stare.  Walk up and invite that visitor or church newbie to lunch.  Get to know them and hear their story.
  2. Including Singles–Point #1 feeds into this.  When I attend church, everything is about family and marriage.  Yet, the numbers of older singles is increasing in this country.  However, the American church excludes, devalues or minimizes the impact of the unmarried.  Some churches go as far to advocate that singles should be praying heartedly for marriage, as if singleness is a sin and completely discounting Paul’s words valuing work of unmarried.   Everything has become about saving the family to the detriment of helping singles grow in faith.  Sunday morning can be a lonely time for a single Christian.  Imagine walking into a church and sitting alone and then leaving alone.  American church, we singles have great things to offer, too: free time, adventurous spirits and disposable income.
  3. Stop Pushing Political Agendas–Pastors are now advocating political parties and candidates.  Some attempt to mask this behavior by saying they are promoting Biblical values. However, many review and offer rebuttal to American political matters during worship service or even allow political candidates to speak in church services.  They are blurring the lines.  And my goodness, some pastors have TOLD congregants who the “best” candidate is.  Jesus said that we should render to God what is His.  Sermons are His, not polarizing American politics.

This was a challenging post to write because I am hesitant to criticize the church.  But the following has been on my mind for some time and if no one acknowledges there is a problem, it will never be fixed–although I doubt that national leaders and preachers are reading my blog.  However, it is my prayer that readers will be challenged as they walk into their own church Sunday mornings.  They will begin having discussions with their brothers and sisters in Christ, talking to their ministers and elders and planting seeds of change.

Interesting commentary on the American church, that I’ve read in the last year: