Wednesday, April 23, 2014

10 Things About Being a First-Year Teacher

I've always known that I wanted to be a teacher and I have spent years in college preparing for this job I love so much, but there's definitely a few things I feel I must share with other burgeoning teachers out there. Some humble, realistic things that I learned during my first year that they definitely did not teach me in the teaching program of my college.

1. Classroom Language. By this I don't simply mean what bad words will you allow or not allow in your room (though definitely make sure you do that and are consistent). I mean what vocabulary are you going to use in your room. For example: When I want kids to use a more complex idea I tell them to "Go to Level 3" our classroom has an image of critical thinking as thinking in layers, level 3 being the most complex. My students are familiar with that language. The language you use has to be all your own and consistent with the objectives of the school/department. Make sure you use it consistently!

2. Building/Department Priorities. At our school we teach a specific style of argument writing (anyone familiar with Toulmin?) make sure you ask others in your department what is crucial. If I hadn't asked, I would not have known that not only does the English department do that style of writing, but the entire school!

3. Ask questions. A lot. I'm gonna be honest... everyone knows you're a  new teacher. So asking questions doesn't make you look dumb. It shows you're new. And everyone knows. So who cares. Ask where the staff bathroom is, ask what times you're supposed to be at the school, ask what dances you have to chaperon, ask what professional learning opportunities there are. Ask. Ask. Ask.

4. Plan AHEAD. A lot of my new-teacher friends really struggle with planning. My recommendation? Get a big weekly planner from Target or Wal-Mart and map out your units ahead of time. Write in days you won't have contact with kids and budget your time around vacations. The biggest complaint my friends have is that they are planning the night before they have to teach. That sounds #stressful to me and I'm not about that life. I lay out my units (typically four) and estimate time needed for each. That doesn't mean I've hammered out the details, but at least I have a time frame in which things need to be accomplished. I typically can plan one semester ahead, at least.

5. Google It. I'm all about being creative and using your own lessons but let's face it, it is your first year teaching. You have one billion things you need to accomplish, the dog to feed, the house to fix, Induction meetings to go to, IEPs that you have to attend and pretend you have some idea what they're talking about, and suddenly they want you to create a super intricate lesson plan. Yo. Someone else probably already has. Type it into Google. Download it. Tweek it as need it. It's not "cheating" it is being resourceful. It is not "stealing" if that other teacher didn't want people to have it... they wouldn't have openly shared it with the internet world. I can't lie. This has saved hours of my life, especially creating movie worksheets and similar assignments.

6. Be Consistent! I don't know how to explain how powerful this one is. I personally suck at remembering rules, especially ones that I've made. Some people suggest making a poster together as a class where everyone contributes their rules and it is a class effort. Well. I have 5 separate classes and as a high school teacher, that seems rather unrealistic. So that doesn't work. I pick the one thing I can't stand and hold to it. For instance: SnapChat. My main rule is: Respect. Even students I don't have know that's my rule. It essentially means being respectful with their cell phone and music usage, to their teacher, to their peers, and to the building and materials around them. I make a big deal out of it.

7. Say "No." There are so many programs, teams, sports, groups, and PLCs you have to be a part of. Don't make it hard on yourself that first year and sign up for more than you can handle. Personally, I didn't sign up to help with anything but a couple sporting events and one Speech and Debate Tournament. I love being involved and I love my school, but I spent five years in college (17-21) without any free time, friends, or breaks. I want to make sure that I pace myself as I move into my professional career.

8. Grade at School! Even as an English teacher I tell you this. I only plan one large scale assignment that will require me to grade at home per quarter. I suck at grading at home! I'd rather drink a class of wine or go out shopping or nap or anything but grade. You are given a set planning time at school, use it to do both. I plan on Mondays and Tuesdays (make copies, write out activities, etc.) and the rest of the week I grade during my planning periods. If I can't grade it then, I can do it while my students are working on independent tasks in class, or perhaps stay for maximum of an hour after school. Let work be work. Let life be life. I find not mixing the two over much is the best.

9. Utilize Technology and Other Resources. I work at a great school, but even so we have suffered from budget cuts just like everyone else. We don't have enough thesauruses for my students to do all the activities that I need them to do when writing. However! They have plenty of smartphones! So the 3 or 4 kids that don't have smart phones can simply use the thesauruses or share with a peer. Tools like and internet databases help. Make friends with the Library Media Specialists in your building. They'll hook you up! I also use our gradebook to upload and link .pdf versions of our assignments, helps eliminate excuses from students and allows them to take some responsibility for missing work. Plus that means I don't have to keep track of a hundred different assignment sheets. Also! Pinterest has some awesome teaching stuff!

10. Have Fun! This one is the absolute most important. Love your job. Whenever people ask me, and they do, a lot; how I can stand to be a teacher I simply tell them: "Holy crap, because I love it. I go to work everyday and get to be my weird self, and laugh!" All I do during the day is laugh. I would say only one out of 30 days is truly that hard, because I make it fun. I rarely feel as though what I'm doing is "work." I get to hang out with books and talk about books and joke with kids and build relationships. Everyday I go in and 50-90 kids are looking forward to seeing me. I wouldn't trade that for the world. If you find that having fun is a struggle, make a "Feel Good Box." One of my mentors recommended it to me. Mine is a cardboard box with colorful duct tape all around it that holds pictures, cards, art, and letters my students have given me. When my day gets hard, I go look at them and almost instantly feel better.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dressing for the Evening

For about four months I've been living with this situation as my master bedroom night stand... let's just say... the lamp was the only good thing about that situation. 

 I searched around all the thrift stores in town trying to find something that would fit in that section and that I would be able to get to coordinate with all my other furniture that is existing. I was telling my bloggy BFF Sam that there is not one set of matching furniture in my entire house, I feel it is a personal challenge to make my thrift shop finds coordinate and appear to be intentionally put together.

Finally after several months of shopping, I came across this desk at Salvation Army, and it was in my budget! I never like to spend more than $20.00 on a piece of furniture I plan on revamping more than 90% of. And it was $19.99! Perfect.

My friend Alexa from work helped me fit it in the back of her hatchback Subaru and drove it over. I was so excited. Part of the reason it was so cheap is because of how damaged it appeared to be. That seems to be the trick the ones that actually are sturdy, but look bad or have hinges hardware hanging, are cheapest. This one looked a bit rough to an uninspired eye. :)

During my two week Spring Break (!!!) I brought it out into the living room on a Thursday while watching an HGTV marathon of Rehab Addict. I love Nicole Curtis. A lot. At this point I can bust out a paint job in just a couple hours. Strangely this guy only needed a light sanding and a lot of cleaning. 

Two or three episodes of Nicole later and I had everything but the hinges painted! I left the top part wood toned because I didn't want to make everything too matchy in the bedroom. Plus it was super duty sealed/coated on top and there was not a scratch on it. At first I was hesitant but ever since I painted my interior door I've been more adventurous.

Here's the new nightstand desk in position. I used decor that I already had around the house, the lamps have been in my room for a long time but the vintage camp chair is a cool one I found at Habitat several years ago, the vases and accessories have been collected over time. My brother lives in Durango and they have this fabulous brewery called Steamworks, every time I'm there I grab a few of their Colorado flag inspired coasters. They add a fun flair. One of my friends was visiting and was in my room and laughed at the incredible amount of books I store on my nightstands and dressers, her words: "How to tell if you're an English teacher... there's no TV in your room, and not a surface without a book."

When my friends were visiting over our two week spring break I picked up some fabulous local art. The picture on the left is a bike with books on it! Of course I love that. 

It is so nice having some space again and not keeping my home reno stuff in the corner of my room! The poor desk has already become overloaded with books. (Though I keep my tank tops in the drawers, I'm a girl with a lot of clothes lol.)

What do you think of my thrift shop redo? :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Counter Attack

It has finally happened! My counter tops are fully installed! I am going to do a few touch-ups and redos before I post a new "Kitchen Tour" picture page but for now... Let me just show you the final before and afters! 

The initial look of the kitchen in 2008: 

And after my second remodel of the cabinets back in 2010/2011:

My absolute favorite part!! How it looks now:

Bahhhh I can't even get over how holy-crap pretty these are! I seriously sped home as fast as possible from work so I could hang out with my counter tops! (Though ignore the over flow on the bar area. It was a catch-all during this process.) Remember last week when I pointed out that funky spot under the end of the bar? It was a big ole gap but now! It is fully filled in and I even added tile wallpaper on the right side of the counters instead of getting an end chunk of countertop, I think it looks better.

Even the cat liked em! Actually she got caulking on her fur. Which she wasn't a fan of. Therefore she had to lay on the counter until I served her properly and cleaned it up. 

Here's a run down of the things I kept from 2008 and the things that are new. I have to say so far this is one of the biggest impact projects I've done so far!

New vs. Old:

  • old hardware, just spray painted with oil-rubbed bronze.
  • old cabinets, painted with crisp white paint. (Does require maintenance of paint but worth it)
  • old sink. Just a couple repairs and it was solid again.
  • old stove. It works, it works for me.
  • new counters!
  • new back splash. I used tile looking paintable wallpaper by Allen Roth from Lowe's. The old stuff was twenty cent bathroom tile.
  • new fridge and dishwasher
  • new wall color
  • new switch plate and outlet covers
  • new light fixture (might update it again though, that one was $3.00 on clearance but it is rather modern for this space now.)
  • new window covering

Now I just have to figure out something for the "L" shaped bar area. I thought it'd be fine with the new counters. But now... that looks trashy compared to all the other remodel work I've done recently.

Here's really the only picture of it I have: 

The problem is the strange shape of the counter. To buy a piece of laminate that matches and then chop it up just seems ridiculous. It would cost a lot of money. I'm sort of thinking to take some wood and build a surface. It has to be relatively light since the cabinets aren't the most solid things ever.

Here's a couple images for the overall look I'm thinking:

Obviously those are a little fancier than what I would probably go with. But I think the contrast is nice and would keep the cottage feel of the house and add some desperately needed character to my house. "Do all things with character!" 

For instance I found an example of someone doing their entire counters with wood and then staining and sealing, I think that could look awesome!

I am excited to update that portion but one big project at a time is probably for the best. Not having countertops and microwaving dinner in my dining room wasn't my favorite experience. 

Dining Chair DIY Update

This project is mega old but I keep forgetting to finish my post about it. But no more! I finally have to post and share these lovely things. I inherited my dining set from my aunt when I first moved into my house in 2008. It is a beautiful and very traditional solid cherry wood set with four upholstered chairs. When I first got the set you could tell the chairs had scarcely been used, partially because of the pristine ivory cushion covers. Fast forward five years and multiple roommates later... those cushions were anything but pristine.

So I took em off!

The seats were so nasty I'm embarrassed to show you, so here's the bottom of the cushion. I simply stapled the new fabric (about 4 yards from Hobby Lobby) over the old after cleaning them with bleach and stain lifters so they wouldn't stink or anything.

I didn't paint the chairs or anything, choosing instead to leave the traditional cherry. The new cushion cover looks great though! It adds some great character and subtle fun to the room. I love it!

Here's a closer shot of the fabric. I sprayed them with water repellent designed for exterior furniture. I figured it would help these hold up better. Not that I plan on taking them outside or anything like that of course.

I moved the two armed chairs over to flank the coffee bar to make it easier to maneuver around the table and use them when we need them. Since it is just my sister and I at the house we don't need all four chairs around the table, and we tend to just eat at the bar area anyway since it is farther from the animals.

I think it looks awesome! I love the fun patern and the fact that I don't have to buy a new table and chairs just because they were dirty, a staple gun and $30.00 in fabric and they were fresh and clean! Now if I could just get the leg on the table to stay connected... we'd be golden... the struggles of DIY. haha.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Counter Install... The Struggle.

A couple of weeks ago I shared that I finally bit the bullet and bought countertops for my kitchen. After we brought them home, they lived in the guest room. Where they were not as happy...

Last summer when I worked at Lowe's I found this kitchen faucet on sale for super cheap, I believe it was $20.00, but I really don't remember. It isn't the fanciest brand out there and doesn't have crazy cool features but! It doesn't leak and I can actually fit a pan underneath of it. Which is awesome! Especially after five years of filling up a pot with a cup and water.

All of my decorations and the microwave went to live in the dining room for about a week. I hired a contractor for this install, one of the three times I could count. Part of the reason was because I didn't have the experience or the right tools and $200.00 in counters was not something I wanted to mess up!

Here's the bare naked countertops! Out with the old... see that ugly gap in the middle where the bar ends? Yuck. I even was able to fix that! But we're not there yet... hehe

Tony, the contractor came over and started the tear out process. Which was icky. I had to replace a section of my "back splash" because it was stuck to the old counters. Luckily! I had originally used a tile inspired paintable wallpaper from Lowe's which I had extra in, and is still in stock! No money spent there.

When they took the sink out I had them set up outside, a kneeling outdoor kitchen! Kidding... I did get to do some cleaning on it though. See that old short faucet? Adios!

Of course Lucy the cat was being all sorts of creepy and up in the production of everything. We have to keep a baby gate up to keep the dogs out of the cat stuff and their food. It looks beautiful. Maybe one day I will redo it? Add it to the never ending list.

Always looks way worse before it looks better...

But seriously... its naked and it was scary. See that old ugly wallpaper? Ewwww.

Look at these beautiful counters as we prepped them to cut! They look so bright and clean and sparkly and I love them so much.

Dry-fitting them into the cabinetry and looking at them against the "tile" made me so excited and happy!

Keep your eyes peeled next week and I will show you all just how fantastic they look in action. Even my brother (who doesn't really look at such things) thought that they looked great and said it was money well-spent. I couldn't agree more!