On my mind this week: Independent Reading, Teaching, Book Podcasts, Weight Loss and House Plants
1) This past week I (re)introduced my independent reading program to my ninth graders (whom I've taught for 1 year, and who did independent reading last year) and they were all, with the exception of a few, SO excited about it -- about the chance to read. For all my previous students wondering what kinda crazy nerdy kids I have (because my independent reading program was really (far too needlessly) arduous at DA) I've changed my reading program a lot, and I've changed a lot as a teacher in a lot of ways (subject of another blog post, perhaps). My students choose one book with a few "rules" as to the selection per reading period (which may roughly align with a quarter). They'll write three journal reflection prompts throughout the reading period that answer questions about the beginning, middle, and end of the book, and then complete a project of some kind as the summative assessment of their reading. The projects are actually fun (I have been told this by students; I'm not just assuming) -- they can create a board game, interview a character, create a Snapchat story, or produce a "book trailer" and more.
All of this is to say that it was so amazing to see my students so excited about reading -- even my reluctant readers -- and then having them come in on Friday begging for more reading time to get into their books, and then, getting really excited that they were allowed to take their books on China trips (a week long "classroom without walls" type of experience) next week.
I became an English teacher in large part because of my love of reading, and I have this deep, deep drive at the core of my being that wants to help other people find books that they love to read, or find out that they can love to read.
|9th Graders READING: This is NOT a posed picture. Photo Credit: J. Riege|
2) On changing as a teacher -- A "brief" note on this. Sometimes I wish, in retrospect, that maybe I hadn't gone to DA right after I graduated from college. That maybe I had found a teaching position in the States, and taught for a few years with more experienced English teachers as mentors, rather than being mostly on my own as a new, new, new teacher. I loved my time at DA -- I don't regret that. I would be a different person if I hadn't done that. But I sometimes wonder if my teaching life experienced a bit of stunted growth, because I literally turned around after college and taught the same courses I had been taught 4 short years before, rather than getting to experience a different type of school and English department. I don't know how to write this without sounding like I'm overly critical of my five years at DA, and of myself; I just think maybe I could have been a better teacher with a more diversified experience.
I don't know -- if I hadn't, I'd probably be writing this wondering what my life would have been like if I had gone to DA (and most of the people reading this blog wouldn't be in my life). I would never, ever give up the friendships and relationships I had during that time -- from faculty colleagues to students. But, I do shudder at some of my earlier teaching practices, and wish that I had just had a slightly more experienced mentor to help me out, rather than feeling like I was floundering on my own, and making some big mistakes (at my students' expense) for a few years till I mostly found my footing. Maybe all teachers feel this way about their first years of teaching? I don't know. I do know that I have grown and changed in so many ways as a teacher, in small, incremental ways that add up to a lot of big things, from my approach to assessment, content, feedback, and classroom management and routines (I'm older, and I have a lot less to prove that I'm the Boss to my students at 33 than I did at 22, as well, I guess).
[Oh my gosh, I was so, so, so young! It's hard to believe I was that young when I started teaching. I know we're all about 22 when we start teaching, and we don't feel as young as we are, because we're always feel the most mature at whatever age we are, but still...22! A baby!]
I'll always be grateful for my years at DA -- they were special in ways that cannot be described in brief, but I'll also always wonder what kind of teacher I could have been with a little more...nurturing from experienced English teachers in those early years.
3) Back to reading -- my sister has been recommending this podcast called "I'd Rather Be Reading" to me for a while, and for some reason, it's taken me a while to try it. Oddly enough, the idea of listening to a podcast recommending books that I haven't read didn't appeal to me. But, I started listening to it, kind of randomly, and I LOVE it. It's just really good. (How's that for precision of language?) Anne Bogel interviews a variety of people who love to read -- some famous, some not (which I like). After a conversation about books, she then asks them to share 3 books they love, one book they don't, and what they are currently reading. And then, she gives them recommendations based on this list. My book list is getting incrementally longer and longer as a result, but I don't think that's a bad thing. If you like books, and like talking about books, try it out!
4) Some of you may know this because you saw me over the summer, but I've been trying (and succeeding) to lose weight this year. It's not something I've publicized, even to close friends. I'm certainly not showing you progress photos (but no judgement if that's your jam). This is an...awkward thing to talk about but I feel like I want to mention it, not so much to say "Look at me!" but to say...it is possible! Today I hit a pretty significant milestone, and while I have a few more pounds to go to the healthy BMI goal I have in mind, I feel like I could stop "trying" to lose weight and be comfortable, and healthy, where I am. I haven't done any kind of "special" diet other than mostly math -- counting calories, trying to eat better food, reducing (but not eliminating) carbs, cutting out added sugars, and exercising consistently. I figured out my basal metabolic rate when I started, and figured out how much of a calorie deficit I needed to lose weight, and started adding in more intentional exercise, and slowly, slowly the weight has come off. So much so that I wonder why I didn't try this years ago -- but that's mostly because the weight came on very incrementally and it was almost like I didn't notice I was overweight until I was, if that makes sense. I also think I've been reticent to try to lose weight because in my senior year of high school I lost a lot of weight -- too much -- and got a little too focused on it (I wasn't anorexic but I was a little too obsessed with it, and I do think it was something of way of controlling my life in the aftermath of a big change that happened to my school that year) so I've always been leery of "trying to lose weight" because I didn't want to get obsessive about it. I've been a little obsessive about it, but there's a big difference between an adolescent being a little obsessed about weight, and an adult and so I've been careful not to go overboard.
Anyway, I mostly want to share this because it's possible. And, yes, awkward. And kind of funny, too, keeping track of people's...reactions. I lost most of the weight over last semester, but slowly enough that most people didn't notice (and that I hide out in my "basement" classroom and don't see people often). So, when I got back to school, it seemed more noticeable even though I didn't lose anything over the summer. Comments range from the blunt: "You've lost a lot of weight" to the more indirect "You look...really good..." to the funny: "You look so much younger...something's different about you" (from a parent). Ultimately, I feel a lot healthier, in ways I didn't know I didn't feel before. It's a long road, and difficult one at times, but if you have relatively normal health (like, you don't have an overactive thyroid or some health problem that is making it hard for you to lose weight), it's possible without fancy diets or pills or protein shakes, friends. I'm not saying that to make you feel bad if you are overweight, but just to say: if I can do it, you can.
5) Like I said, sometimes I get a little obsessive about things, and my latest obsession are house plants. It's like I've discovered a whole new world. No -- not "like" -- I have discovered a whole new world. I grew up in the very arid Sahel, where things do not grow very well. And (sorry Mom and Dad) I don't think my parents really have green thumbs. Some might say they have black thumbs...So I didn't grow up in a house with a lot of plants. We had plants around the outside of the house, and then at some point we planted some cactus, and it literally overtook the entire yard.
|Our yard in Kayes. I'm not exaggerating (for once).|
|My beautiful African Violets blooming in winter in my classroom..and yes that is a little TARDIS peaking through the leaves...it was eventually stolen (the TARDIS) but it was a sweet Secret Santa gift from a colleague.|
|I bought an orchid...you know, such an easy plant to grow for a novice.|
It's a little embarrassing, because I can't seem to stop buying plants and putting them around my classroom. Oh, and then I started buying plants for my apartment (after a little research on plants that do well in low-light because my apartment is a little dark), and I suddenly have a greenhouse at home. And, I just bought herb seeds to start an herb garden on my balcony, and I grew some grass for my cat so she'll stop eating the other plants. I've definitely gone from 0 to 100 miles per hour very quickly, and now I'm just waiting for them to start dying but...so far, only one has died, and it was wilting when it arrived, so I don't think it was my fault.
Well, folks, I guess when it rains, it pours -- thanks for reading this long, long, long post, if you made it to the end!
*Contained to pots so they can't go crazy!