Monday, February 3, 2014

Life Organization: Arc vs. Erin Condren Planners

I have yet to find the perfect planner organization system. I want my planner systems to be paper-based, flexible, and very mobile. In the last year, I've tried an Arc system (from Staples.com) and an Erin Condren life planner.

I fell in love with the Arc system because it is highly customizable. The hole punch is an expensive one-time purchase, but the notebook cover was very reasonable. It uses a series of discs to bind the pages together, so I can move pages and sections around and replace covers. I decided on the full-sized poly-plastic cover. This was great because I simply printed the pages I needed weekly or monthly. Crazy week? Different planning guide. While using this notebook, I had a monthly plan, daily plan, and a reference section. 

One negative I found with the Arc system is that regular printer paper tended to curl, as above. Most of the pages, such as the weekly pages, could be tossed at the end of the week. However, I like to keep at least the monthly pages as a record of professional development, major appointments, etc. I did purchase larger discs, but my goal was to keep my notebook very mobile-but then where do I put the record sheets?
However, my biggest problem was simply the size and remembering to print or hole punch, creating a hot mess. I left the expensive hole punch at home, but I did almost all my printing at school on standard paper. Really, a slightly heavier paper would be better. My Arc will stick out of my beloved Timbuk2 purse, so I tended to leave it in my school bag on the weekend. This was a problem because I constantly needed to add to my calendar when out with friends or at church.

I have now switched to an Erin Condren Life Planner. While expensive ($50 before adding accessories), it is very sturdy. The paper is a good weight, the spiral is metal with a plastic coating for smooth page turning, and the tabs are laminated. While I have largely been impressed with the excellent quality, the plastic zip pouch in my planner split along the side a few days into carrying two felt pens. The company credited my next purchase for $10, and I duct taped the split closed- a hassle, but not a deal breaker. 
I did not purchase the additional pen holder ($8 really?!?), but perhaps this pouch was not designed for pens; if so, they should fix that!
 
The best parts? It easily fits into my bag! Its basically adorable! I bought my planner, and then my mother, school counselor and her daughter all bought one: serious planner envy. 



 The monthly planning squares are a decent size and I use the note section to record flexible deadlines and the like.
The weekly pages are on two pages with spaces for notes to the left and below. However, it's automatically divided into morning, day, and night categories. This doesn't allow for as much flexibility for crazy weeks as my Arc. Generally, the list of things I need to complete during my second period planning period fills the morning square completely, never mind the things I complete from 5:30-7:45 before school!
Weekly Worksheet copyright of The Together Teacher (thetogetherteacher.com).
You should really consider checking out the blog and The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin
 if you are into creating an organized teacher life! 
By comparison, I could easily customize my weekly worksheets in my Arc, with spaces to divide my goals for the week by my role as a teacher, friend, etc. I could break down my day by hour or by morning and night. 

In summary: I like my Erin Condren planner and will definitely finish the calendar year with it. However, in the long term, I feel my planning needs will force me back to my Arc. I can easily print several months worth of weekly planning sheets.To improve on it, I would suggest printing paper that will be referenced constantly on heavier stock or put into a page protector/folder insert. I also need to position my hole punch near wherever I'm doing my printing, and create a designated place to put old monthly and weekly sheets. I have also considered buying the half-sheet sized cover for the Arc or (*SIGH*) resigning myself to an even larger purse- thoughts?

Feel free to share any suggestions, or share your organization systems in the comments! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Unit 1 Reflection

More often than not, when teachers "reflect," they don't often see an honest picture. It has taken me literally years teaching to honestly reflect. There are always good things and strengths, and always things that could be better.

Positives so far in my first unit:
1. I've been using Kelly Gallagher's "Article of the Week" to make sure I teach nonfiction skills along with the short story unit. My kids have written a 1 page response for each article and have read about Tesla electric cars, Seamus Heaney, and how to improve their brains.

2. I tried a Socratic Seminar for the first time, and it ROCKED. The kids had rich conversations and a better  written response as a result.

3. We read The Scarlet Ibis, The Necklace, The Gift of the Magi, and will be finishing up The Red Headed League soon. We had some very rich conversations. I loved how mad some of my students were at the end of the Necklace.

4. I have developed an easily updated system for Bell Ringers. I'm loosely following Kelly Gallagher's outline of grammar skills found in "Write Like This!"

Negatives/A chance to grow:
1. My unit plan turned out to suck. I did not effectively backwards plan assessments, nor plan for effective learning goals with effective exit tickets. I'm going to have to get better about grading meaningful assignments based off of clear learning goals and assessing smaller chunks. 3 short stories in one unit test? WHAT WAS I THINKING?!

2. I did not effectively pace my reading assignments. Part of this was because I truly struggled to gain data about my students. It was easy for me to look at some basic writing samples and see some giant holes in their writing understanding. But, I did not start the year with reading levels. I went from the last two years looking at DRA scores to only having anecdotal information passed on from lower grades. I don't know how to effectively gauge reading levels for 150 students.

3. I want my students to be able to continue to develop their writing into multiple page assignments; we are scheduled to write a 2-4 page research paper in January and I want students to start that assignment with some foundation writing skills. However, assigning a 1 page response for homework, even after reading the article in class and modeling an outline gets me a 50% return rate.

4. Vocabulary instruction-what vocabulary instruction?

Next steps:
1. I am starting to Kill A Mockingbird with more resources; I will find exemplar assessments to align standards and learning goals to weekly sets of chapters by the end of the week. I will build an end of unit assessment based off of those weekly quiz questions/essay topics.

2. I will research high school reading assessments for next year. I will consider asking the grade below me assess students at the end of the year.

3. I need to better incentive smaller homework assignments; starting this week, I will assign 1/2 page paragraphs or short grammar practice-after looking at the unit assessment results, we could use some more practice.

4. I've bought a couple of vocabulary instruction books. I will find pre-made lists from Mockingbird, or I will have kids preview the texts and make a vocabulary list/per chapter. Either way, I will find a system and try it. If it doesn't work, at least I tried something in this unit.

Since you read this whole thing, have something cute from the internet:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Cautionary Computer Tale

I've been getting up early, getting to school around 6:30, and generally getting home around 6. Not particularly healthy, I know. Unfortunately, it's my computer who paid for it.


Inside the white square, above, is a tiny dent. Funny story. I had let my iPad charge last weekend and then carelessly laid it on top of some clothes I hadn't put up yet. I was up late the other night making notes for the next day; when I finally went to sleep, I laid my macbook gently on the floor next to my bed. In a hurry to find a shirt the next morning, my iPad fell from the chair and onto my macbook. I hurried to school without another thought. 

That afternoon, I opened my laptop to find this: 

I didn't know whether to throw up or cry. I did neither.

My nearest Apple store is more than a two hour drive; when I attempted to call Apple support (cue the internet laughter), I was prompted to cough up $20. Yeah. Right. I called a few other repair places and got estimates of at least $400 to $800; all said at least a month repair time.

I went with a friend to Best Buy to bemoan the state of windows laptops; did you know they are mostly touchscreen now?!? Crazy. I was generally more impressed with tablets, but I still need a laptop for managing music, using Office products, managing teacher files. Anyway, I decided to buy another macbook pro, this time with a three year protection plan.

My first macbook would have been 2 years old in two weeks. Moral? 1. Naked laptops should never be left unattended. 2. Always buy the warranty. 3. NEVER leave laptops on the floor.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Classroom Tour, 2013-2014!

When I think about starting my third year of teaching, all I can think about is the song above. Even though I'm moving from a small district to a large one and from elementary to high school, some things never change, including the facts of teaching in high poverty areas. Even though my new district is whiter and more affluent, it is still over 60% free and reduced lunch. In fact, some parts of setting up this year feel exactly like the first time I set up a classroom: not enough materials, not enough information about expectations, and equipment that just doesn't work. But, just like always, the bottom line is creating an environment and a curriculum for the kids. Here's my shot at creating the environment part. 

The outside wall; I had the poster printed up at the local print shop.

The back of my classroom.
 One great thing about my current district is the availability of actual textbooks. I'll have a class set and see if I need to check out books to individual students for homework and make-ups.

My massive dry-erase board.
 I was able to recycle both a parts of speech poster and a word choice poster. My plan is to start grammar instruction in the first unit with a review of parts of speech and word choices; I'll just have to see where my students are at with some sample writing. And, yes, my student desks are in boring rows. I didn't know how else to fit 30 desks!

Student materials and turn in zone.  
Just inside the door, I have my trays to turn in work by class period. Underneath the table, I have extra binders and paper for students to use if they need either. I also have a red cup with pencils, hand sanitizer, a hole punch, and a stapler. 

My desk area.
My desk is a discard from a local bank, so it's roughly the size of a tank; not ideal, but so much better than my previous teacher desk! I have my computer on a table, instead of taking up desk space, which is nice, but I'm not totally in love with it facing the door. 

Unit Binders
I am probably most excited and proud of this. I am creating binders for each of the 6 units this year. I have tabs for vision/big goals, lesson plans, assessments/modified assignments, and tracking student data. I plan on keeping virtual and hard copies of lesson plans and major resources with the hope that I can actually teach the same units next year and make them better! So far in my short career, I haven't taught the same grade or subject more than once. 

I'll leave you with this excellent quote that will be the focus of my first unit.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Alumni-hood

Yesterday was my last professional Saturday with Teach for America. An approximately 3 hour drive to Cleveland, MS, a panel discussion, a vision-setting session, an Arkansas-specific session, then I picked up my overly large certificate of completion, and that was that. Soon, I will have my 5 year teaching license and join the ranks of more than 20,000 alumni.

I guess after two years, I wanted some sort of final closure, like a graduation ceremony. However, the point of Teach for America isn't exactly to provide some sort of definitive closure or answer. In my experiences and current understanding, the problems in poor communities and in failing/struggling school districts are ever present, very complicated, and ultimately something to be fought against, not necessarily permanently fixed.

I'm caught up in a lot of emotion about my TFA experience. I feel like I've grown up a lot, establishing something of a more settled set of core beliefs and needs than I left college with. But I also feel like a failure personally and professionally on many fronts; did I consistently raise kids self-confidence, skills, and test scores? I did the best I could always, but that wasn't always enough. Did I do like my fellow 6th grade teacher advise and "drive my own happy train?" Not consistently and not enough. Am I satisfied with the currently political-educational climate, my kids current lot in life, education in general? Absolutely not, but these aren't the only issues I'm frustrated with.

Going forward, I'm understandably terrified. I'm job hunting. As cheesy as it sounds, my passion remains with teaching Arkansas kids; it's frustrating that charter schools in other states are so much more interested in me as a teacher than local school districts. I'm not sure where I will be living or for how long post-June. I need to get my kids ready for one more unit test, a science fair, and a field trip to Little Rock. I have an End of Year conversation with my TFA manager.

Here's to the next step: figuring out alumni status.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Modern" Family Housing

Modern American Housing (ABC news)

The above news article is just one moment in something I've been thinking about a lot since graduating college and moving into my own apartment. I'm currently renting a small two bedroom apartment alone. Things that have rocked....

  • I can spread out, put furniture wherever, decorate however, and do laundry whenever I want to. 
  • I can be weird at will.
  • Don't want to eat? Who cares! So don't.
Things that have sucked...
  • Do want to eat? Too bad! Everything you bought is slowly rotting. 
  • Do want to eat? Well, if you make something, you know you are just going to watch it rot, right?
  • Upset? Call mom. Talk for 2 hours.
  • Still upset? Troll facebook. Feel more alone. Go back to above instruction. Repeat.
  • Still hungry? Want company? TOO BAD.
I really think I'm going to move back home, provided I can find a job. Yeah, it's not a totally perfect thing, but I think ultimately it will be a perfect temporary move. No, I don't know what I'm going to do with all my furniture. No, I'm not sure I will ever see a date ever again (but what else is new?) 

But-I will have...a big upstairs bedroom; a movie watching lounge area; someone to share laundry, cooking, and grocery duties with (who happens to know my crazy habits AND be willing to accomodate them); room to make improvements outside and inside. 

I don't think it's a perfect situation, but I do think it will be better than what I currently have. I really don't think I was meant to live alone. I do need alone time, but I also need social time. I also think that humanity, in general, has only gotten this idea of launching adult children into the world (sans marriage) after their education is complete/on hiatus within the last 40-50 years-ish. I think society tends to be more stable with strong multi-generational bonds. Yes, adults should go be adults: pay bills, be able to make independent decisions about sex, accept consequences; but what if parents could allow their adult children to do all of those things while sharing economic and emotional duties of living under the same roof? 

This will most likely be a temporary situation, unless I find employment I LOVE. 

I just wish more families could build the healthy bonds that create a safe place for young and old; where every member is equally valued, encouraged and supported to grow; and everyone could achieve financial and social stability and happiness. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I believe.

Herman Melville "[contemplated] a godless universe" in his one-hit wonder of a novel, aka Moby Dick. While this was SHOCKING in the nineteenth century, it's now the norm. The moral universe that govern most books, movies, music, etc. doesn't just contemplated a godless universe-it assumes a godless universe is a fact.

I read "Game of Thrones" over Christmas break. As a lover of epics like Lord of the Rings and Narnia, I was shocked by the lack of a moral balace to "Game." I don't mind sex, violence, or whatever in my media. Heck, sometimes I enjoy mixing my sex and violence....

But. I was deeply bothered by the moral universe behind "Game." "Bad" guys and "good" guys were much the the same, facing much the same fate in the end. There wasn't a rhyme or reason for it some much, either.

There hasn't been much in the way of rhyme or reason in my life as of late.

Okay, I guess this is what life is like post-college. Or, so I have heard. (Thanks, HBO & "Girls.")

I found myself circling back to God. Two years as a middle school teacher, coming home to a empty apartment every day....well, I guess it was time.

I want to write about my faith.

My often lack of faith.

My need for friends I can see everyday. My need for a relationship. My need to deeply love my friends talking to me on facebook chat (right now), calling (every couple of days), and going to eat pizza (most weekends).

My need to write.

Can I overcome "Game of Thrones" message of a godless universe? Probably not. But can I overcome my own feelings of godlessness with honest writing? Yes.