Appreciating Other Teachers

It’s teacher appreciation week, when excess (and excellent) food appears in the teacher’s lounge and Chipotle offers a free burrito to anyone with a valid teaching ID.  It’s a good week.  Some of the parents at my school are ordering Chinese for the whole staff tomorrow, and yesterday a stack of papers covered in notes from my students appeared in my school mailbox.  It’s nice to be appreciated.

In the spirit of teacher appreciation week, I want to take a moment to reflect on the individuals who constantly inspire me to be a better teacher. I am surrounded by amazing, quality teachers. Yes, I have seen my share of less-than-inspiring teachers, too, but I am honestly awed by the caliber of individuals that are also in this field with me.

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Different Teachers

Katie was so poised.  She stood with perfect posture behind the podium.  Her demeanor was sweet and kind, and the respect the students felt towards her was palpable.  They quieted immediately at her first hint of starting class.  As she taught with gentle authority, her own interest in the topic intrinsically engaged the students.  She was alert and vibrant, but still calm.  She almost never moved from behind that podium, except maybe to write something on the board.  Her students listened attentively, actively responded to her questions, and took her words to heart.

I’m not her.  I learned a lot from Katie in the months when I student taught under her supervision, but we’re very different teachers.  I can’t stand still.  I move.  I pace.  I wander between the desks.  I write on the board frequently.  The only time I’m immobile in front of a class is when I sit on the stool I place next to the podium, but I never stay there for long.  Katie’s voice was one of quiet confidence, while I speak with a voice trained to be heard in the back row of the balcony.  She would laugh and crack jokes, but she was always so sweet and gentle even then.  I’m more sarcastic.  I banter.  Instead of praising Romeo and Juliet as a grand, sweeping love story, I make fun of the characters for behaving like stupid teenagers.  Students know that I care about them, but they also know I like to joke around.

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Maybe I Should Just Go Flip Burgers

#Fightfor15 @wendys @fightfor15 #strikefor15 #...

(Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

On a drive with my husband this weekend, the conversation turned to the striking fast food workers asking for their pay to be raised to $15/hour, which would effectively double their current income.  When a current-events topic like that comes up, I’m usually able to go on a rant about my opinion while still maintaining a fairly good mood.  This time, though, my thoughts weighed on me, making me quiet and, for lack of a better adjective, tired.  My husband managed to voice my thoughts for me as we drove, though.

“I was thinking about it,” he said, “and have you ever made that much money teaching?”

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That Darn Apple on a Stack of Books

The Christmas tree ornament version (Photo credit:

I’ve never had a student give me an apple.

Actually, come to think of it, I’m friends with a lot of teachers, and I don’t think any of them have ever received an apple as a gift.  I’ve seen gifts of candy canes, popcorn, and various baked goods.  One teacher I know named Mrs. Pringle once had a student present her with a single potato chip.  Another teacher friend keeps a tin box in her purse for all the restaurant and coffee shop gift cards she receives.  But I don’t know of anyone who has actually received that iconic apple.

And yet… there it is, stuck on all those trinkets, pins, and cards designed to be given to teachers.  I’ve heard various theories behind the source of the symbol.   Continue reading

StrengthsFinder Theme #5: Woo

Ok, dear readers, here is my commentary on my final StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment theme.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to write this one.  Maybe it’s because I wanted to write about other things.  Maybe it’s because life got so busy with subbing and then moving.  Or maybe it’s because I took so long to figure out how it fits in my life.


People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over.  They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.

The book describes people who are great at parties, who love meeting new people and making great first impressions.  I had to mull this one over for a while, because this isn’t true in my social life.  My social life draws more on my Input Strengths.  I prefer deep conversations with a few close friends over mixing and mingling in a big party, where conversations stay at the small-talk level.  In those situations, I tend to hang back a little and let others be the life of the party.   Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher

5:55 am:  I wake up to the organ blast of Phantom of the Opera coming from my phone.  I wish for my husband’s sake that I could pick a quieter ringtone, but anything subtler won’t jolt me awake enough to coherently answer.  I know who it is, but I glance at the name anyway.  For a fraction of a second, I’m tempted not to answer.  I wasn’t planning on taking a job today because my dog has a vet appointment, but last night my husband’s externship adviser texted him and unexpectedly gave him the day off.  So he can take the dog to her appointment, and I’m free to take a job.  I’m still tempted not to answer, but who am I kidding?  I never say no.  I pick up.

“Hello?”  I try not to sound too groggy.

“Hi, it’s Carol.  Are you free to come in today?”  She gives me the teacher’s name and classroom number, which I quickly commit to memory.  (I forgot to put paper by the bed last night.)  Then she informs me that this teacher has 1st period prep.  Normally that wouldn’t make a difference since my husband and I only have one car, but today that means an extra 45 minutes of sleep.  Oh, thank goodness!   Continue reading

Kids are Kids; Teenagers are Teenagers.

This is always a weird time of year for me.  I am a teacher, so I should be preparing for a new school year.  I should be cleaning a classroom and prepping curriculum maps.  I should be anticipating the arrival of students, cataloging books, and planning all those amazing lessons that may or may not work, depending on the class dynamic.

But for the third time in five years, I’m not.  For all intents and purposes, I’ve only held two full-time, full-year teaching jobs.  But I still consider myself a 5th year teacher, because despite my nomadic life, all the jobs I’ve held in the last four years have stayed within the realm of education.  I’ve always been in the teaching field – I just haven’t always been a full-time teacher.  I’ve subbed, filled in for women on maternity-leave, taught after-school classes, and of course, now there’s The Princeton Review.  Between all those jobs, over the last four years I’ve been on the inside of over 10 different private schools across the United States. And without going on too much of a tangent, I’m just going to say that those schools represent a ridiculously wide range of social demographics, educational philosophies, and financial stability.  Traditional and progressive, religious and non-religious, wealthy and financially struggling, large and tiny, strict and laid-back, urban, suburban, and out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere — I’ve seen it all. Continue reading