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.

Slice of Life


Easter, 2018

The day was perfect. The sky was blue with just a hint of clouds, and the air was just warm enough for a light jacket. I smiled as I unpacked my supplies for Sunday School — the sidewalk chalk for the art project, the picture book that explains the Easter story, and the 80 plastic eggs I bought and stuffed for the children I expected.

After putting down my things in my classroom, I went into our beautiful courtyard to spread the eggs. The bright colors of the plastic eggs against the new spring green of new grass and freshly planted flowers made me smile. I tucked the eggs into flower pots, the twisted crooks of the crepe myrtles, up under the bell, and behind the painted display of the empty cross and tomb.

The children arrived, dressed in beautiful pastels. A beautiful hand printed Easter card was presented to me with a smile. We put names on white lunch bags and headed out to gather the eggs. “I found one!” was happily shouted, as the adults watching smiled and laughed.

We all wandered back inside to use wet chalk over painters tape in the shape of a cross to make a painted picture as the Easter story was read from a children’s Bible. We headed back outside for some more playground time before it was time for worship. “Watch me swing!” “Please push me!” — their voices just made the day more sweet.

But then, like cold water thrown in the face, came the harsh voice: “Oh great! More plastic eggs for me to throw away. Come on, let’s go.” And with that, she stomped out of my classroom with her child in tow.

Words. Presented on a beautiful hand lettered card with a smile.


Words. They can uplift the heart and make you smile.
Words. They can be used as a weapon, thrown from the hurt inside, without care of those that are hit in the process.


Changes · Family · Life with kids · Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving for Change

Last week in Sunday School, I taught my students the story of Balaam’s donkey. In this story, the king of Moab asked Balaam to curse God’s people. As a prophet of God, it would not have been a good thing for Balaam to have cursed God’s own people, but the king was offering a fat paycheck for Balaam’s service. Balaam knows it is the wrong thing to do, but he sets off with his trusty donkey to talk to the king, and the assumption is that he intends to take the money and curse God’s people.

As Balaam was traveling to see the king about this request, and God sent an angel who stood in the roadway, scaring the wits out of poor Balaam’s donkey. The donkey first walked off the road, then lay down in the middle of the road– wanting to do anything but cross the angel standing in the path. Balaam couldn’t see the angel, didn’t understand the donkey’s behavior, and responded by beating the poor animal. He basically threw a hissy fit because his plans were being changed and he didn’t want to adapt. The story ends with the donkey receiving the gift of speech, so he could explain his behavior, and Balaam’s eyes were opened to see the angel standing in their path. Balaam realizes that he was on the path to sure destruction, and his donkey’s behavior was protecting him. The lesson, I explained to my class, was that sometimes our plans are blocked by situations we don’t understand, and sometimes it is God blocking our path to keep us in His path and not on our own path.

I thought about this story as I prepared for hosting Thanksgiving this week. This year, for the only the second time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving. Originally I was not pleased to have my traditional Thanksgiving changed. But it turned out to be very nice.

Thanksgiving is about more than just the food. It is about family and getting together. It is about life and love and surviving another year and being thankful for everything that happened in that year. Normally, my family’s Thanksgiving is loud and messy. We gather at my parents’ house — 3 children, a couple sons-in-law, 9 grandchildren, a few dogs and significant others, and most recently a great-grandbaby to enjoy. It is a giant slumber party, with football at the local elementary school fields, and long walks and talks, football on TV, jigsaw puzzles in the living room. And of course, my mom’s cooking. I love it.

But this year is different. We aren’t having our normal, crazy family Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. My sister will be with her family. Only two of my four children can come this year. My parents are staying at their house with my brother and his family. It will be quiet, less stressful for sure — different.

My mom says that change has to happen, that it is the normal way of things. But to be fair, I don’t like any change anyway. I’m quite change-averse. I set out on my path, like Balaam in the Bible story, and I get very frustrated when something makes me change my plans. I have spent the last few weeks being upset that Thanksgiving is different this year.

But as the day arrived, I realize how much good is in this change. I was relaxed with no long drive to mom’s house, no packing of the dogs, making sure Sugar got her car-sick medicine an hour before we left. As much as I love my mom’s house and her wonderful kitchen and greenhouse to just sit in, it was nice to enjoy extended time in my own home. It was fun to watch Taylor setting out her pre-dinner snacks and to get out serving dishes that are rarely used. We were able to include a friend who didn’t have any place to go, and Taylor’s boyfriend was able to work and enjoy family Thanksgiving. And I got to watch Moana for the first time, while lying on my favorite Lazy-Boy chair under a cozy blanket.

I still don’t like change, but I’m trying to embrace it. Change can be good.


#metoo #butnotreally

#metoo #butnotreally


I have always been extremely cautious, not at all inclined to take risks. I have usually been able to learn from mistakes and misfortunes of others. If someone else has had a problem with something, I tend to shy away from it. This proclivity toward cautiousness was the reason I have never tried any illegal drugs, I have never been drunk to the point of illness and I have gotten only one traffic ticket in almost 40 years of driving. I watched other people’s pain and embarrassment, and I avoided following in their footsteps.

But being cautious also means I have missed out on many opportunities that may have been wonderful. I don’t take risks in general. If someone, sometime, had any sort of problem, I tended to avoid similar problems. I avoided “difficult” courses in college. I gave up a job that was probably really interesting because it did not guarantee a certain income (though I was good at it and probably would have been well paid) and other people had financial difficulties. And, more importantly, being so cautious has always meant that I avoid any situation that might present a risk to myself.

The recent reports of women and men who were sexually abused by powerful people — and random strangers — has me thinking about how many situations, jobs, and experiences I have avoided because of the risk of being sexually abused. The lesson I learned about sexual abuse as I was growing up was that it was going to happen unless I stayed away from certain situations, and dressed in a very certain way. That was just the way it was. What I never learned was how to stand up for myself, and say STOP. I never learned how to protect myself, beyond avoidance. If this was driving cars, I would have learned to avoid all traffic accidents by never driving a car — effective to be sure, but terribly limiting behavior.

I was raised to be a southern lady. The worst thing a southern lady can do is to break the social norms — to be rude. Confrontation is often taken as rude behavior, so I was never taught how to confront people. I was taught to smile and ignore poor behavior, then to talk about the behavior with a third party with the understanding that the message would eventually get back to the person behaving badly, in a round-about, passive-aggressive manner.

When I was in high school, my favorite activity was drama. I loved being on stage. Being an actor seemed like a dream occupation. I participated in every school play I could, and sought out voice and acting classes outside of school. But my dreams died the day my mom explained the “casting couch.” She told me I would never make it as an actor if I was unwilling to sleep my way into roles. As I saw it, if I was unwilling to participate in these “extra activities” and failed to reach my goal to be a professional actor, I would never know if it was because I wasn’t good enough. To fail and to know I just wasn’t good enough would be hard enough. But to fail and never know what could have been would never had been acceptable. So I gave up that dream, and never went back on stage.

In college, I was really good in calculus. I worked hard, but kept an A average. I knew I was good in math when I picked up a friend’s statistics textbook (a class I hadn’t taken) and was able to understand the chapter and explain it to her. But just as I was about to consider a major in math, I picked up a science fiction novel my professor had written. It was sexually graphic and disgusting. I could no longer look that man in the eyes, much less go to that man’s office to seek advice on math careers. I had heard of other students being sexually molested by professors, and had been warned about being in a closed room with men all of my life, so I avoided another potentially dangerous situation.

Sexual abuse does not just affect people overtly. It has a ripple effect throughout society. Because some women have been abused, other women have taken themselves out of many situations completely. The overt act shames and diminishes the woman who experiences it. But the ripple effect diminishes many other women who are watching.

Women have been diminished enough. It is time to call out every abusive act, from the small to the large. No one should be diminished by another person’s crude joke, misplaced touch, or innuendo. It is not ok and should not be tolerated for another minute.


Just Jump In?

November 5, 2017


Last July, I wrote a narrative about jumping off the diving board. It was a true story. It really did take me years to work my way off that high dive. But I also meant my story to be symbolic of jumping into scary things, of getting started without knowing how it would end. I purposely didn’t end the story, but left the reader hanging, not knowing — but assuming — that all ended well, that I was able to survive my jump and safely swim to the edge of the pool. I think I really wanted to convince myself that jumping into scary things would end up ok.

My goal was to start this blog — ironically named “Just Jump In”.

I started it alright. I even paid money for an upgraded blog package because I was really going to start writing now. I think I managed two whole posts all summer.

And then CRICKETS.

I found myself back on the symbolic high dive, wanting desperately to add to my writing, but unable to make that jump. I even wrote in my introduction to the parents of my 5th grade students that I write something every day (actually true IF you count writing lesson plans and completing endless paperwork).

Last month, I read the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson. Then I subscribed to his blog (markmanson.net), where he promised access to a class on writing, and has a post about starting a blog which is only available to subscribers. (I love his book AND his blog, BTW.) One thing I learned from his post is that to become a writer, you have to actually write. Not news, since literally every book I have ever read about becoming a writer says the EXACT same thing. But Mark says something more quantifiable — he said that you need to write hundreds of thousands of words, and over 100 pages on a single topic before you even know what you want to write about — before you ever find your voice.

So, imaginary reader, this blog will probably take the form of a Seinfeld episode for a while — a blog about nothing specific. My goal is to write, to find my voice. I hope someone joins me for the ride.

385 words down, 999,615 words to go.

Life with kids

Drum Corp Mom

Drum Corp Mom

Marybet Hudson

Dedicated to my two favorite drum corp kids.

I am a Drum Corp Mom

A quick hug and kiss goodbye, and you are off again, never staying home for more than a day or two.

I search endlessly for pictures on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, just to see your face for a moment, to know you are happy, or worry that you are not.

I wake up in the middle of the night, just to check scores from competitions on the other side of the country.

I am a Drum Corp Mom

When people ask about you, I have to start with, “Do you know about Drum Corp?”

If they know drum corp, they understand.

If they don’t, they’ll never understand.

But I don’t think anyone really understands, except for other Drum Corp moms.

I am a Drum Corp Mom.

I am happy if I get a quick hug in the lot as you warm up.

I sit in the stands wearing your show shirt — when what I really want to wear is a giant poster that says, “That’s my kid down there!”

I want everyone to see my love and pride for all that you are doing.

I sit in the stands to watch you practice, smiling at your talent and dedication.

Then you walk off the field, only to do it all again tomorrow, in a different city, in a different state.

I am a Drum Corp Mom.

I am continually amazed that 150 people can work together to make something so amazing.

As the brass belts out the enormous sounds

As the rifles fly to impossible heights, just to drop perfectly into waiting hands

As the drummers hit the beats and the mallets fly so fast I can’t see them

I cry tears of joy and pride at all you have done.

Then I watch the young fans come to you, asking for selfies and autographs.

You are kind and generous with these young strangers, always taking time to talk with them and encourage them.

I am a Drum Corp Mom

I know about the hours spent alone, practicing over and over

Hours you could have spent with friends,

or watching TV

or just sleeping.

It is these hours spent alone that make you.

I know that this is your bliss.

I am so proud of you.

I will always be a Drum Corp Mom.

Reading Life · Slice of Life

4 Hours, 41 Minutes — Slice of Life Tuesday

4 hours and 41 minutes.

That is what my Kindle is telling me it will take me to finish my current library book, Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.  I have 3 days and 8 hours before my loan ends and the title disappears from my Kindle library. How can 3 weeks go by so fast?

At the beginning of the summer, I thought I had a great plan for reading all of the books on my growing list. I simply put library holds on the books I wanted to read, using the Overdrive app linked to my local library, knowing that most of them had impossibly long lists of people ahead of me. If you have never tried the Overdrive app, it is simply amazing. You can link it to any library you choose. You can request e-books or audio books, and if the book is available you can start reading it as fast as it takes you to download. If the book has a wait list, an email will alert you to the book being checked out to you and ready for download. You can get Kindle format, or read on your device in EPUB or PDF formats (depends on the book). My school district has even partnered with our local library to provide ebooks to all students through Overdrive and their school id. And the best part — at the end of the loan period, the book just disappears — no late fees or last minute drives to the library to beat the clock. But as with all library books, if there is a wait list, you can’t renew the titles — you have to get back in line to borrow it again.

My plan was that my books would naturally pace themselves due to the long wait times. I was 30-90 people back from the top of the list for the most popular books I wanted — The Handmaid’s Tale, and Big Little Lies for example — the books I want to read before watching the shows (and probably everyone else in my area had the same idea).

At first, this plan worked well. For my first month of summer break, I would have one book to read and one on deck to read next. I even managed to read a paper book that had been collecting dust on my shelf. But then my holds caught up with me. I was getting 2-3 books a week checked out to me. I’m a fast reader, and I can usually cover 2-3 books during a summer week, but this book abundance coincided with a week’s vacation with limited reading time (I managed to read only 2 books, Camino Island by John Grisham and Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, primarily on our cross-country plane flights).

One year I assigned students the goal of reading and writing about a book a week. There were many days when I counseled students to make a plan to meet this goal — determine how many pages did they have to read each day to complete the book they chose, look at the rest of their commitments/assignments and determine how they would get this assignment completed. So now, I will counsel myself. For the next 3 days, I have to read at least 2 hours each day in order to finish this book before it disappears. I have to work this around other commitments, including a live-stream Drum Corp International event from Oklahoma tonight in which my 21 year-old son will be performing, getting my 18 year-old son through his college check-off list, my daily exercise and music goals, and basic household responsibilities.

I guess I need to go read…                             .225x225bb


Mount Rainier

Last week I tried to describe Mount Rainier to a friend based on facts that I knew. My husband’s family has lived in the Seattle area for decades. They have told me about the mountain, and I’ve seen pictures. But I had never been to Seattle myself, so I had never actually seen it. I had heard that it was large, but I’ve been to the Alps, the Tetons, and the Rocky Mountains–I’ve seen tall mountains. In the back of my head, I really thought everyone was exaggerating just a little bit. I was sure it was big, and beautiful–but so are lots of other mountains.

Mount Rainier is so much more massive than anything I have seen. At 14,409 feet, it is the most prominent peak in the lower 48 states. I could see it from just about everywhere I went. It wasn’t like in North Carolina where you can see the distant mountains as blue bumps on the horizon. I could see the snow topped cone of the dormant volcano from 100 miles away, looming over the horizon.

We spent a day in the Mt. Rainier National Park. We threw snowballs in July–well, I threw snowballs–and we hiked a few miles into a mountain meadow area about a third of the way up the mountain. The heavy snows from last winter were still covering many parts of the paved trails. We took picture after picture because the beauty of the area is beyond words.

Being able to learn from books and videos is wonderful. The internet can take you to places you can’t access and can connect us to the world. But it doesn’t compare to getting out in the world and experiencing it for yourself. You have to just jump in.


Just Jump In

The high diving board stood an impossible 10 feet above the pool. All summer I would watch friends line up to climb the ladder, then launch themselves into the air. Some would turn flips, entering the water gracefully with barely a splash. The boys would compete to see who could create the biggest splash. Cannon balls and jackknife dives were the tools they used as they attempted to empty the pool of its water each summer day.

All summer, I would watch from the safety of the shallow end of the pool. “It looks like so much fun,” I would think to myself, as I imagined the amazing flips and twists I would execute from that board. In my daydreams, I would break the surface of the water to the sounds of amazed applause. “How did you do that?” My friends would surround me and beg me to teach them my tricks.

Daydreams explode like the soap bubbles of our childhood without action behind them. Everyday as I gingerly sat on the blistering vinyl car seat leaving the pool, my soap bubble dreams popped.

Finally, I had enough of my daydreams. It was time for action. I was going to jump off of that board.

As I stood in the line, my confidence began to fade, as the doubts and fears tried to take over again. I watched friend after friend make the climb, dash to the end of the board, and fly into the air, landing with a happy splash. Then it was my turn.

Hand over hand, I climbed the ladder. Standing on the board so far above the pool deck, I could barely breath.

“Come on! Just jump in!”

My friends were becoming impatient for their turns as I stood there, frozen.

I inched my way to the end of the board until my toes were hanging off the edge. I looked down one last time, into the deep blue of the pool. I closed my eyes, and stepped off.