Books · Reading Life · Teacher Life

Too many books, not enough time

Today I read a Twitter post written by a man whose father has just died of pancreatic cancer. This man said that when his father was told he had limited time left, his response was, “But I have so many more books to read.”

I have 145 books on my “to-be-read” list, and many more that I haven’t added to the list because my list is already too long. I know I will never have time to read all of the books I want to read.

Unless I make a plan…

The most books I have ever read in a year was 105, and many of those books were children’s books and were quickly read.

My Goodreads goal this year is to read 75 books — about 2 books a week. With no new books added to my lists, I can clear my list in 2 years — but there is no way I will not be adding books to my list.

My new plan is to read (or listen to if I’m driving) 200 pages a day for the next 6 weeks (what is left of summer break 2021). Once school begins, I will plan on reading 100 pages a day.

Anyone want to join me in this reading challenge?

We can call it “Clear the TBR Lists.”

Let me know what you think — can it be done?

Coronavirus · Covid-19 · Safer at home · Teacher Life

A gift from the heart

A few weeks ago, I was helping pass out student belongings at my school. We didn’t know on March 13, 2020 that the students would not step foot inside the school building again this school year, so many of their belongings were just left in the cubbies and desks. We all tearfully packed their things, and then helped to pass them out as their parents drove by the school building. It was a final chance to see my students in person before the summer break.

Then a car pulled up with one of my students from last year. He was waving and his mom was calling my name. He had a gift for me with a card. It was a beautiful face mask. His mom said he wanted to make sure I had one to be safe.

I love this mask, and I will wear it with pride.

Today in NC, masks are now mandated in public. I have actually been stocking up on different masks in different materials, and different styles — it is almost a new fashion obsession. But this is the mask that touches my heart.

Changes · Coronovirus · Covid-19 · Safer at home · Teacher Life

Pandemic day 106 — June 25, 2020

I don’t really know what day it is in the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has been about 105 days since I was sent home from my job of teaching 4th grade. At first I just couldn’t write — the feelings were just too intense. But we are living in extraordinary times, and it should be documented.

It is officially summer now, so my days of online teaching are on pause. We are waiting here in NC for the governor’s decisions about school in the fall. No matter what the initial decision is, this school year is guaranteed to be stressful and challenging. I have a stack of curriculum materials to wade through — all of my curriculum is changing this year, which would be challenging enough, but the idea of teaching children I don’t know and can’t see regularly is daunting. I need the audience to know if my lessons are hitting their target. Distance learning with children I already knew and had relationships with was hard enough.

But for now, my days are slow moving. I am studying French and Spanish on Duolingo, and working on guitar and voice exercises through Yousician — two wonderful apps which I highly recommend. I am also plugging away at my “to be read” book list, which is ridiculously long.

My current TV obsessions are Nurse Jackie (Netflix), which is years and years old, but since I never watched it the first time, I’m enjoying it now. I’m also working through Killing Eve (Hulu), and Ozark (Netflix). I finished Bosch (Amazon)(sad face), and Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu). I am also obsessed with the YouTube channel “Sailing La Vagabonde” — two Australians sailing the world. It is a great distraction from being at home all day, most days.

Goals for today — practice French, Spanish, guitar, and voice, exercise on my indoor bike, clean out Zack’s dresser, take a load to Goodwill, and read at least 3 chapters in the two books I have started. It is Thursday, so dinner is likely Thai takeout from our favorite restaurant. And then an evening of streaming TV. Life isn’t terrible in shut-down mode.

Books · Reading Life · Teacher Life

Have you seen this book?

Have you seen this book?

SavinSaving Fable_Cover (1)g Fable by Scott Reintgen (@Scott_Thought)is an exciting mix of fantasy and adventure. Saving Fable is set in an imaginary world where characters train and wait to be picked to become parts of stories. Indira Story is one of those characters. Indira is hoping to become a protagonist in a story yet to be written, one that will be loved by readers everywhere — like Harry Potter. However, the process that leads to being picked by an author is demanding, and difficult. Some characters are destined to become side characters, antagonists, or worse, unfinished characters who spend eternity in the Sepulcher. 

Indira is a strong, female character. She faces many difficulties, including a classmate who seems bent on thwarting her every chance at success, and trusted adults giving her false information and advice. But Indira rises above her own doubts and difficulties, and becomes the hero that she was determined to become.

Middle grades readers who enjoy fantasy and adventure will enjoy this book. 

Teacher Life

A Teacher’s Summer — Day 1

June 14, 2018

So many people have asked, “What do teachers do in the summer?” that I thought I’d answer that in my blog.

Yesterday was my first full day of summer break. I filled it with what you might expect — I read on the back porch (10 more chapters into War and Peace), I walked with friends, and I did laundry. But I mostly went to my routine appointments that I had put off for several months. I started the day with a mammogram — only 2 months overdue — and ended it with a trip to the dentist — only 5 weeks overdue. And in between I made phone calls to schedule more appointments. And I am not alone in the teacher rush to make appointments during our summer break — most teachers do this, postponing routine physicals, dentist appointments, etc, simply because it is too hard to miss school days.

This isn’t because I don’t have days I could take off for medical reasons. My district is generous with sick days, and  I now have a little more than half a school year saved up. I could take all the days I need to make these appointments anytime during the year.

The real reason teachers don’t take time off from work for routine appointments during the school day is that it is too much work to be away from the classroom. Substitute plans take hours to write. I have developed a template method, and my sub plans STILL take me about 2 hours to write for every day I’m out of the building. My template plan is this — at the beginning of the year, I write a basic sub plan template. I include emergency instructions (fire drill, lockdown, etc), students who need extra help or understanding, dismissal information, classroom rules and routines, and class lists. This template gets copied every time I need to write new sub plans, and I simply tweak it with dismissal changes, class helper changes, and adjust the class lists as students move in and out. That saves at least an hour of writing for every sub plan I have to write.

Because I teach at a departmentalized school, I only need to plan lessons for language arts and social studies, and then repeat the same lessons for a different class after lunch. That helps tremendously with writing sub plans, but they are still hard to write. The trick is finding activities students can do basically on their own that will be engaging enough so they won’t misbehave, but easy enough that they won’t need much instruction. Then I have to identify any problems that may come up with the lesson — primarily technology based — and teach a few key students how to troubleshoot these issues. For example, our social studies website has crossword puzzles that help students identify key vocabulary. It is an engaging activity which forces the students to reread the articles looking for the words that match the meaning given as the clue.  They enjoy it and it is a pretty easy activity to leave in sub plans. However, sometimes the crossword puzzle fails to load — I don’t know why but I figured out that if you simple delete the browsing history on the student’s Chromebook, it is fixed. It is simple enough on paper — but then I have to teach several 9 year olds in both classes how to find the settings, scroll down to advanced settings, and click through all the steps to delete the history – and then make them the classroom tech gurus to help everyone one else in the room — and hope that they aren’t absent (or forget) on the day I’m out of the room also.

But the real issue with writing sub plans is that often they are not followed — not even a little bit. Sometimes subs are not available, or they cancel at the last minute and the class has to be dispersed. But sometimes subs just don’t do what is on the plan. My favorite was when a particular sub was in my room and told the class my plans were stupid — then had them work on memorizing the states and capitals instead — not an objective in my state for my grade (or any grade since my WATCH can tell me the capital of any state or country in less than 3 seconds). So everytime I take a day out of the classroom, not only do I need to write meaningful lesson plans (copied to all administration in the building and all the teachers on my team), but I have to plan for those lessons to be completely ignored, which puts my class behind the pacing guide every time. (Kids, I’m truly sorry that instead of spending the 45 minutes I planned for writing your essays, the sub told you stories about her dog, but the district says we have to move to another topic on Monday, so your paper is still due tomorrow. Have fun tonight…..).

Yeah — that tooth cleaning can wait…….

I have to say, not all substitute teachers are that bad. Karen, Linda, June — I’m looking at you. But the good subs are usually taking the long term jobs in my building, and are booked up months in advance. And I understand being a substitute teacher is HARD. I was a substitute for 4 years in my district, so I know how difficult it is to come into a classroom just before the students, have to read and understand the plans, figure out technology that is new and different from classroom to classroom depending on the model and age of the device, and then be ready for a full day with students in 10 minutes or less. And most do try — but it is a very hard job.

So next time you wonder what teachers do on the summer break, remember that they are probably catching up on all the appointments everyone else makes during the year.


Reading Life · Teacher Life

A Teacher’s Summer

June 13, 2018

Often people ask me, “What do teachers do during summer break?” Recently I have seen many people saying that teachers don’t need to be paid more because they only work 10 months a year. Today is the first day of my summer break (after two teacher workdays cleaning and moving classrooms), and I thought I’d share a little of what I’m doing.

Today, I feel compelled to make some reading plans. Summer is full of long, unscheduled days and still my list of summer reading is daunting. My summer reading includes many purposes. First, there is the pure pleasure reading and book club books. Then, there are the books assigned by my principal that must be read. I also signed up for some professional development classes that are book based classes. I’m changing grade levels, so I need to brush up on some current titles for the slightly younger set. And finally there is the tall stack of books that I have purchased, possibly started, but never really finished. I really want to dive into those books and check them off the list.

I am currently reading The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, as well as War and Peace by Tolstoy. I started that because of the PBS special “The Great American Read” — I can’t resist lists and that program came with a list of America’s top 100 books, so I picked the longest on the list to tackle. At least each chapter is short, so I feel like I can get a little read every day.

Here is my partial reading list for this summer.

Book club books

  1. Killers of the Flower Moon
  2. Little Fires Everywhere
  3. The Great Alone


Books for professional development

  1. The Growth Mindset Coach
  2. The Growth Mindset Playbook
  3. Embracing a Culture of Joy
  4. What Readers Really Do
  5. Joy Write


Books I have bought and want to read

  1. Angels Flight
  2. A Darkness More Than Night
  3. City of Bones
  4. Lost Light
  5. How Writers Work
  6. Poetry Matters
  7. Rooster Bar
  8. Lost City of the Monkey God

And the books I need to catch up on for my new grade level – I haven’t picked them out yet.

This is a small piece of what this teacher is doing over my summer break.