Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve

I've struggled to write anything in honor of ending this calendar year. In teacher life, the end of the year is May, the beginning is August, so December just doesn't feel exactly like the end of anything-it's more of a middle feeling, a not quite done thing.

In my life, I feel like I have crammed the equivalent of a year in under 6 months. I left a job and moved in with my parents for four months, leaving Oklahoma for Arkansas. I searched for a house, made an offer on  a house that was denied, bought a different house, then moved into that other house. While that was going on, I took one graduate class, and put off working on my final internship until the last possible moment. I turned thirty; a few weeks later, I pulled off a semi-miracle and turned in my internship assignments, and completed the master's degree. Oh, and I designed and executed a 9-12 grade curriculum- that went (mostly) okay.

Here and now, at the end of December, I just feel drained; even writing the overview of the last few months feels frantic. I did not participate in much holidaying- the only tree in my house is the desktop-size one from a classroom of mine from the past. I didn't decorate it.

Going into the next semester and into the next year, I want to find some sort of rhythm that feels somewhat sustainable to me. I like being busy and working towards goals- so I need to find some new goals that feel right.

I'm just struggling to figure out exactly what those goals should be- I suppose I need a healthy dose of inspiration. But first-rest.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Text Selection: Another Teacher Moment

I have spent over $800 of my personal money on books for my classroom. A few friends have sent over books, which I am eternally gratefully, but one of the problems is balancing buying copies for whole class (10-20 copies), book clubs (3-5 copies), and independent books (1 is fine- more is cool too!) And, before you ask, my principal told me there was no money until the end of the school year, and all evidence in the room points to maybe purchasing 2 class sets a year at most.

I know that a problem I have right now is that a lot of the diversity I have (authors of color and women, characters of color, books written in the last 50 years, LGBTQ characters), lives in the book club and independent world. I'm hoping that there will be kids who love an independent book enough to want to make it into a whole class book- which I'm cool with, I just have had genuine trouble finding enough copies to make a class set or, honestly, to justify the cost. I just can't get wholesale prices for many of the more recent books.

And yet....sitting in my classroom currently are class sets of "Divergent" and "Hunger Games"- both totally great books, but I question whether they are meaty enough to warrant having a whole class slog through them (never mind recent movie adaptations). some point recently, the school purchased them.

Which leads me to a conversation with my bestie.....the biggest thing I've been thinking about lately is that incredibly complicated, and politically and morally, fraught choice of text choices. (Wow-am I ever overthinking this....but that's genuinely how it feels!) So, of course I talked to my best friend about it. He loves books, reads a lot of YA books, and frankly- has great tastes. I told him that one of the challenges I was thinking about was picking between "The Scarlet Letter" (have read- loved) and "The Crucible" (haven't read). And he said something that stabbed me in the heart....

"The AP class at [REDACTED-the high school we both went to] read both. We didn't read both because we weren't supposed to go to college." 

I stopped.

I had thought a lot this summer about how text selections communicate the value of different identities. Students deserve to see themselves in the authors and characters we read about, and not as flat, side-kicked, or evil characters- but as the richly, fully human, types they truly are. And also....students deserve to have texts put in front of them that communicate my full belief that they will conquer college level texts one day.

So, I went home from having lunch with my bestie, and I went over to Thriftbooks and spent $90 on 20 copies of "The Crucible" and 10 (more) copies of "The Scarlet Letter."

I know their is a lot of need in a lot of corners in the world....but if you would like to help support my quest to provide rich and varied texts to my students, I'd appreciate it- and so will my students!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Teacher Life Update

Teacher Desk
Since the last time I've updated, I've accepted a teaching job across the state line in Missouri, and moved back to rural Arkansas. I have been busy trying to make a decision about housing, while staying at my parents, taking summer graduate classes, and trying to reset my orientation back to teacher. Oh, and planning for my fall internship for graduate school. So....definitely not busy. Nope, not at all.

I will be the English teacher for 9th-12th grades. When I met with my principal, he was supportive of my plans to implement what amounts to a readers/writers workshop model. (I'm excited to finally get the opportunity to try this model out- especially after reading 180 Days (Gallagher and Kittle) and Novel Approach (Roberts) this summer). I asked about curriculum guidance or required texts per grade, and for the first time in my teaching career....I sort of have free reign. This is both really exciting, and.....well, a big responsibility. My priorities are preparing 11th graders for the state state (of course), but I also have other concerns.

Since students can read almost anything, within reason and my personal budget, I have a few things I am considering:

1. I want students reading a volume of books, and I want kids to have experience reading in a variety of groups. I want my units to include independent reading, book clubs (reading the same book with 1-4 other students), and probably 2 whole class opportunities to experience a book or play all together. 

2. I don't want students exposed to books based solely on my tastes, or on tradition. And since I expect mostly white students in a rural community, I feel pressure to find diverse authors and characters, particularly positive LGBTQ representation, different ethnic and racial background, and English language learners.

Built in shelves AND windows!
3. I am also mindful of how I pace 4 different grades can either make it unnecessarily challenging for me, or I could spread the load out to be more manageable. For example, balancing 4 whole class novels at once feels hard; balancing potentially 4 grades with 4-5 different book club options going on sounds like a potential hot mess.

I have built a decent beginnings to a classroom library for independent, choice, reading- but I am concerned for creating enough choice in level with enough copies of individual titles for book clubs. I am also needing to make a decision between The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible for 11th grade so I can order copies, and a little at a loss for 12th grade whole group texts. I have a rough draft idea to do a Southern Lit themed year, or plan for choice: give students the option between a couple of different combinations of whole class texts. If you want to creep on my planning thus far, here's a link.

In good news, I have heard we are ordering chrome books for students (Yay!). I also feel like I have a decent handle on how I want my writing units to look like, where every grade follows 3 deepening laps in 4 chunks (not exactly genres) of Narrative, Informational, Argumentative, and Multi-Genre. I think if every grade is following the same chunks, I can differentiate the models, and cross-pollinate (if you will), having students write to each other and share their writing.

If you happen to be reading, and would like to help with books for my classroom library, I'd greatly appreciate it!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Few Words About Acrylic Yarn

Since January, I've done my best to avoid buying yarn, no matter how crappy my day has been or how much I've wanted to forget about my troubles for a minute in the local big box craft stores. I knew that I wanted to buy some high quality yarn when I went to the Dallas Fiber Festival, and I knew the only way I could psyche myself up to make the purchases was if I knew I had not indulged in several months. And besides, I needed to finish up an assortment of half-started projects anyway.

In the last 2 years or so, I have had the luxury of living in a city, and not only that, I have lived one street over from a Michael's, JoAnn's Fabrics, and a Hobby Lobby. When I have been particularly sad or anxious, I have gotten into the habit of visiting these stores. It's not like I've bought something every time I've been in- heck, I walked around two of them today and made no purchases. However when I have made purchases, all of those purchases have been acrylic or acrylic blend yarns. I will admit to not having a clear intention of what to make for most of those purchases, though I've been really into crocheting blankets, and generally bought enough of any one purchase to make what I guesstimate would be enough to make at least a small baby blanket to an afghan.

While I was acquiring for the first time what felt like an unlimited stash, I began listening to an assortment of podcasts, getting back into reading blogs, and generally tentatively stepping back into the crafty community at large. And that community was loud and clear- acrylic was evil, crap, and only suitable for the homeless and others who could not be trusted to properly launder things.

That ideology was not shocking to me- I had heard all of these things when I started loom knitting seriously in college. I also recognized that there was a huge divide between the knitters that I followed through podcasts and blogs, many of which were sponsored by wool based yarn companies, and the crocheters online who were either independent or sponsored by the big yarn conglomerates I could easily shop for in the big box craft stores.I get it- I don't fault folks for trying to pay the bills.

However, I know that I am uniquely privileged- I have access to local yarn shops and big box stores in my city. That's something I didn't have access to where I grew up and went to college. If I want to purchase yarn when I'm visiting my parents, my options are Wal-Mart or a 45 minute drive to the Hobby Lobby. That being said, the local yarn shops in my area are not open the hours of the big box stores, as conveniently located, or frankly, as welcoming to browse aimlessly.

I didn't dare whip out my acrylic yarn project, even with everyone knitting and crocheting away, while at the Fiber Festival. I don't think anyone would have said anything, but I knew better. I'd rather look like the weirdo with no knitted accessory present (I have gifted almost everything I've made at this point), walking around alone, then be the idiot sitting next to piles of wool using the "crap" option. I intentionally signed up for a lecture based knitting class, and sheepishly participated in a crochet class with a skein that said "Wool-Like" on the ball-band. I skipped the seats on either side of me and hoped everyone near me didn't recognize the label.

This is where I've landed in my thinking about acrylic vs natural fibers:

*We (crocheters/knitters) should attempt to stop being judgy McJudgies. People outside of wealthy, typically white, neighborhoods don't have easy access to local yarn stores. Plenty of folks don't want to shop online for yarn, and so for access or budget reasons, you get the materials you get.

*Acrylic yarns are not the same as they were in the past- many of the premier acrylics are pleasant to work with and soften with time. However, they aren't natural fibers- they won't stretch, they won't block or felt, and they will melt in extreme temperatures.

*The project should dictate whatever fiber is used. I am not someone currently making socks, sweaters, or delicate or lacy fabrics. I have some projects in mind that are like that, and I get that I will have to pony up for more expensive fibers if I want to make those things.

*I like making baby blankets and afghans. There is no way I could afford to make those projects with purely natural fibers.

*That being said, I want to transition to more natural fibers for the same reason I didn't use a straw today at lunch. No, I don't want a medal, but I do want to be part of a movement away from unnecessary plastic use.

*I have saved up for months to buy "the good stuff" while I was at Dallas. This is what I got. From what I guesstimate, this will make 3 pairs of socks and a shawl. If that's all I worked on, I think this would keep me occupied for 2-3 months at my current pace. If I exclusively bought yarn like this:
-I couldn't afford to give so many of my projects away. (Like I said, I saved for months to feel okay with this purchase.)
-What would I do with the other months of the year?

I fully intend to purge my stash of yarns pretty soon; there are some projects I'm just not interested in anymore, and I've made peace with that and can forgive myself. I also know that I want to switch to having projects in mind before I buy yarn (as much as possible-I know myself a little too well). However, I think acrylic yarns will probably have a place in my crafting life for a while.

Monday, February 12, 2018

How I Organize Digital Patterns

This is probably a really dorky post, but one of my all time pet peeves is disorganized files. One of my favorite organization systems I've created is my ststem for keeping all of the patterns orderly. I don't think this is a finished system, but maybe it will give someone an idea!

I keep all of my downloaded files in .pdf format. If there is a blog post or non-.pdf file, I use to clean up any advertisements or fluff that isn't relevent.

I first created a general "Patterns" folder on my flashdrive. You can see from the screenshot (left), that I use a common naming convention. Basically, type of craft/thing being made/title of pattern.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD: If you are in charge of organizing a lot of documents for yourself or others, please come up with a naming convention. See how everything stays in alphabetical order? BEAUTIFUL. 

 As this folder got...well, a little long, I noticed there was some natural groupings that needed folder. As of right now, I've made the three folders on the right. Since I've been on a big crochet blanket/afghan/baby blanket kick lately, I decided to dive into organizing that particular folder further. I created two main sub-folders: CALs for patterns released over several weeks (i.e, crochet a-longs), such as the Atlanticus CAL, and then a subfolder called Center Start.

Why this folder? Well, I'm secretly very excited to tell you about this genuis idea I had for organization!  I've found that I've really enjoyed doing center start blanket projects since I can just use however much yarn I have to make whatever size blanket I can make that many rounds of- baby, toddler/lap, couch blanket....You get the idea.

 A couple of weekends ago, I went through all of my CrochetAfghan, CrochetBabyBlanket, and CrochetBlanket files (and no, this variation doesn't bother me-to me, it connotes size differences) and created the center start folder underneath the crochet blanket folder. I've found myself using this folder several times as I planned projects for my existing yarn stash.

So, there you have it- my system. I'd like to figure out ways to "tag" these files for different yarn weights or specific yarns I have in mind, but for now, all I want to know when I go to look for a pattern is CraftType/Thing Being Made and does it need a foundation chain or not.

Oh, and this is my current project...And it's a center start crochet blanket, in case you were wondering.

June 2020

Some context (and flowers):  When I was 16, I moved out of my parents house. My first roommate didn't stay, so I think a nine-weeks into...