The school year I never expected

Teaching is a draining and demanding profesion. However,  as the years pass, teachers manage to find a balance between home,family and career. In my 25 years of  experience I’ve managed to raise two beautiful daughters, struggle through the the loss of a parent,  survive a difficult divorce , and meet and marry the love of my life. Through each of these experiences, I  was always able to perform well in the classroom, handle duties of department chair and maintain the yearbook,newspaper and broadcast staffs. Unfortunately, on September  15th, 2015, my ability to juggle home life and school life shattered.  My husband of only three years was hospitalized and diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma.
I had never heard of  cholangiocarcinoma before, but now I am a scholar on bile duct cancer ,its treatments, chemo drugs, pain drugs,nausea drugs and many other drugs. His prognosis, six months to a year, was mind numbing. We have begun a journey that has taken us to Tampa,FL and back to Thomasville for treatments.  He’s endured nine rounds of toxic chemo drugs, two ERCPs, two stent placements, numerous appointments with a pain management specialist, a gasterointerologist, an oncologist, and a radiologist. The journey continues with every day  radiation treatments for 10 weeks. Additionally, he will soon start on a second- line chemo drug while applying for a drug trial. He continues to fight with all he has. My husband told his doctor to never tell him that there was nothing else that could be done. So,the fight continues.
This rollercoaster ride of emotions shattered my ability to maintain my usual attentive nature to my job as 10th grade English teacher. For the first time is 25 years, I’m not researching new ways to present materials, I have missed more days than I ever have in one school year,  and also for the first time ever, my heart is not in it. I have cried over the diagnosis,  I’ve cried over the eventual loss of my husband, I’ve cried over the loss of our lifestyle and I’ve cried because I feel my students have suffered as well.
However, as a life-long learner, I know that every experience, good or bad, comes with lessons. I have learned that in times like these, the true professionals and other compassionate educators step in and take over when I can not. I’ve learned who my true friends are and how I truly appreciate them.  Most importantly,  my husband and I have learned of God’s infinite wisdom. He was preparing both of us for this painful journey long before we had any idea what was in store. As this journey continues,  we will learn more lessons. I will survive in the classroom because educators are the most compassionate people you will ever meet.  Also, the next time I teach Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers,” I will be able to communicate its meaning with new vigor.  I have learned that…..       “Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops-at all-”

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HAVING A SUCCESSFUL FIRST WEEK

Surviving the first week at school is always a battle. Not only are our bodies having to get used to the rigorous schedule again, we must also prepare mentally to be in front of a class full of students for the whole day. After 24 first days, I have learned a few things to help ease us back into the groove. 

1. During the pre-planning time, try not to stress about the fact that you are in meetings all the time. This is a given. KNOW and EXPECT it and plan your day accordingly. Every year I’ve gone back, there are complaints: “When do I get my classroom done if we are in meetings all the time?” – I finally came to the realization a few years ago that fretting about this doesn’t help. It only  stresses us out more. So, go in a little earlier, stay a little later. ( no more than an hour- any more than that and you’ll exhaust yourself)  

2. Don’t over decorate. We all want the cutest classroom , but realistically it is sometimes out of our realm of possibilities. There are those who are super at this and my hat goes off to those uber-creative and energetic teachers. You guys rock! However, I couldn’t measure myself against those who were experts in that area. I’m not that creative . What I decided to do a few summers ago was to research simple ways to make my classroom functional and last a long time. The most efficient time-saving idea I found was buying burlap for my bulletin board. It doesn’t tear, it looks good, and it matches anything. I put that up at the start of last school year and all I did this year was repair the boarder. BAM! Time saved!  ( Summertime is Pinterest time!) 

3. Be prepared for the first day by having easy-to-follow instructions for students as they enter the room. Even though I teach six different classes, I had assigned desks with the students’ names already on the desks. This reduces movement in the classroom and enables me to start on time and transition smoothly. 

  
4. Pretests are your friend! We pretest the 2nd and 3rd day of class. This gives me an opportunity to complete a few tasks that I may not have finished during the ever-busy pre-planning week. Also, since students are in assigned seats with their names on the desk, I have an opportunity to learn their names as I distribute materials. 

These are just a few lessons I’ve learned to help my first week run smoothly and I can end up with a little energy at the end of the day. 

Yay Days

As many veteran teachers know, not every day is successful in the world of education. However, when those successful days arise, we feel a high that comes only with the satisfaction of knowing ~they get it! They really get it! I refer to these as my ” Yay Days.”
Today was a “Yay Day.” Building on an idea from Sara awes sling from the Teaching Channel, my students participated in what Sara called “pinwheel discussions.” My students have just completed reading three works from Ray Bradbury: “The Pedestrian”, ” There Will Come Soft Rain”, and Fahrenheit 451. The longer this discussion continued, the more excited they got. After a passage was read, in response to a comment made during the discussion, the students were actually cheering! It was enough to give this teacher of 26 years chills!
For innovative ideas and to connect with other educators, I would suggest using Teachingchannel.org. This is an awesome resource that has helped me have a few more “yay days”!

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Semester Two

As the new calendar year begins, another semester continues the school year. This is always a good time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t with my students during the first semester. Each school year brings a new set of students and each class has its own personality. It is import to keep these nuances in mind and be prepared to adjust plans to fit the personality of the classes and students.

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