The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for December, 2010

A New Year

It is shortly after 7 am on 31 December 2010. In just 17 hours, this year will be over. At times it felt like it was just zipping by and at other times it seemed like time would just not move forward.

Despite the numerous personal difficulties that I have experienced this year, from not being afforded many opportunities to teach during the end of the last school year, to applying for hundreds and hundreds of full-time teaching positions and only having one interview (that didn’t produce anything other than a long early morning drive across the state and back again), to running a business that started failing in 2009 and finally closed this summer, to a few extremely personal trials that I don’t care to share in this venue… despite all that, there were good things, too.

Some of my highlights of this year has been the many opportunities to teach during the first part of this school year, especially in a new school district, which has challenged me as an educator, which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I’ve learned that family and friends are amazingly supportive, and that no matter how long and dark the road ahead may seem, there is an end in sight. I’ve developed new friendships, strengthened old ones, and learned that my older brothers can be a lot of fun.  I have learned that cataloguing my books takes a long time, but it definitely worth it, and know I want to catalogue my movies and music, as well.

I have no idea what 2011 is going to bring. I have hopes for some things. I hope for an opportunity to teach full-time. But if I continue to work as a substitute teacher, I will not be upset. I love my job, and I am a dang good substitute. I expect to have more time to do more things outside of the house with my wife. She started working a new job in the middle of December, and it has been a godsend. She loves it, and I love that she loves it. There are still going to be bumps on the road; I know that, and she knows it. But 2010 has taught us that the bumps aren’t too bad. We can get through it. And I continue to plan on sharing my adventures in substituting throughout the coming year. My students are all of the students in two districts. Perhaps I’ll start subbing in Urbana and Rantoul, as well. The adventures will always be here, and as long as I am capable, I plan on sharing them with you.

Happy new year!

My Love Affair with Books

In the beginning, I didn’t know how to read. (more…)


Last night, or, more likely, early this morning, I had a dream that I missed a teaching assignment at Washington Middle School in Ottawa, Illinois. Here’s the thing:

  1. I don’t teach in Ottawa.
  2. They don’t have a Washington Middle School. (They do, however, have a Jefferson Elementary, a Lincoln Elementary, and a McKinley Elementary, but none of those are the correct president. Oh, and they aren’t middle school. The middle school in Ottawa is Shepherd).
  3. Even if I did and they did, the district is, like most other districts (except my little sister’s, apparently), are on Winter Break right now.

There were other strange elements to the dream. I had apparently thought the assignment was at Washington Middle School in Washington, Illinois, which is where I grew up. I had initially gone to the old building where I had gone to middle school, but the building is now owned by the park district, since the school district upgraded to a new building several years ago. I thought the assignment was from 1:00-2:30 pm, which is a ridiculous assignment, but it was actually from 8:00-9:00 am, which is even more ridiculous. Also, my wife was dropping me off at work. Never mind the fact that Washington is a good hour and a half away from where we live. Oh, and she had apparently stopped on the side of the road in front of some guy’s garage, and he got really upset and started yelling and screaming at her for blocking his drive, because he had to go around the van (we were in the van we sold about a year ago) to put his trash can away. Then a police officer popped his head in the window and told her that she could park “over there” (a location that actually made sense to me). All this while, I was using the Google Maps app on my phone, along with the online substitute assignment site, to discover that I had completely missed the assignment and had gone  to the wrong school, the wrong district, the wrong city, and even the wrong county. At some point in the dream, I had thought that maybe I was supposed to be at the Washington Middle School in Peoria, Illinois, which is a town close to Washington.

I can only assume that this is a form of madness that comes to teachers who have not been teaching for a while, but wish they were. The fact that I actually looked up information for the Ottawa Elementary District 141 in order to verify all of this only contributes to the madness that are my dreams. The strangest part of all, though, is that I generally don’t dream. I tend to think in my sleep. When I do dream, the dreams are short and vague. This was long and vivid and detailed. Enough so that I woke up actually nervous that I had botched up an assignment!

Good thing I am on break!

Music Meme

Today is the first official day of the two-week Winter Break. My friend Natasha recently made a blog post based on a Facebook music meme, and I thought it’d be fun to do, too. Also, it gives me something to post today as I continue my ongoing project of recording and sorting my library. The meme was to list the first fifteen songs that play on your iPod when you set the songs to shuffle. I agree with Natasha that fifteen is just not enough, so I decided to follow her example and double it. So here’s the list of the first 30 songs that played while I was sorting through my classroom collection of juvenile nonfiction:

  1. Take It Outside – Barenaked Ladies (Everything to Everyone)
  2. My Love – Celine Dion (Taking Chances)
  3. Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down) – Santana (Caravanserai)
  4. Lean On Me – Bill Withers (on a mix album my wife and her best friend made)
  5. She Will Be Loved – Maroon 5 (Songs About Jane)
  6. Backdoor Man – The Doors (The Best of the Doors)
  7. Feels Like Today – Rascal Flatts (single track)
  8. Baby, Let’s Play House – Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap soundtrack)
  9. Disenchanted – My Chemical Romance (The Black Parade)
  10. Spawn – George (Polyserena)
  11. We Never Wanted a Legacy – Jealousy Curve (demo album)
  12. I Still Miss Someone – Johnny Cash (16 Biggest Hits)
  13. I Wanna Be Like You – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Swingers
  14. A Thousand Years – Sting (Brand New Day)
  15. Master of Puppets – Metallica (Master of Puppets)
  16. Shine – Plain White T’s (Stop)
  17. Evil with a Dog Face – Theodore Shapiro (Marley & Me soundtrack)
  18. Blow Ya Mind – Lock N Load (Best Remixes)
  19. Not Coming Home – Maroon 5 (Songs About Jane)
  20. Tongue Tied – Eve 6 (Eve 6)
  21. Agony – Robert Westenberg (Prince Charming) & Chuck Wagner (Rapunzel’s Prince) (Into the Woods soundtrack)
  22. Tears – Bonnie Tyler (Faster Than The Speed Of Night)
  23. Speed of Sound – Coldplay (mix album)
  24. All The Things She Said – t.A.T.u. (200 km/h In The Wrong Lane)
  25. All The Way to Reno – R.E.M. (In Time: The Best of R.E.M.)
  26. You Love to Sing (Slow Version) – Copeland (Dressed Up & In Line)
  27. Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting (Bring on the Night Disc 2)
  28. Angel Eyes – Tony Bennett (Perfectly Frank)
  29. If This Is It – Huey Lewis & The News (The Heart of Rock & Roll: The Best of Huey Lewis & The News)
  30. OK – Holly Conlan (Bird – EP)
  31. Bonus: SNL Celebrity Jeopardy – Alex Trebek, Ozzy Osbourne, Martha Stewart, and Sean Connery (I know that this is not a song, nor does it actually feature any of the celebrities listed, but it showed up in the shuffle, and I figured it was worth including.)

Looking over this list, I am very happy that Barenaked Ladies were first. I love their music, and own every album they’ve released to date. I am also glad to see that I had a wide selection of my musical tastes represented. I was kind of shocked to have more than one song by Sting show up, particularly since I own considerably more BNL music, but that’s just the luck of the draw. I’d love you know what kind of music you all listen to, as well. You don’t have to list the first 30, or even 15, tracks from your iPod’s shuffle, but feel free to share some music! Gretch and I usually find ourselves in possession of an iTunes gift card or two after Christmas, and we’re looking to expand our music collection.

Taking a Break

So it has been almost a week. I taught on Tuesday, but not any other day this week. When I started this blog, I had the goal of writing at least once each day during the week. Of course, I had also planned on having teaching assignments on each of those days, which would provide the much-needed inspiration for blog topics. This week was the first time that I had missed a day at all (not including holidays). I’ve had a total of 48 blog posts (this one included) in the nine weeks since I started writing about my adventures. Not bad, considering that I should only have 45 total. Of course, some of the posts have been really late in the day, but I’ve tried to get them out there.

I need to figure out how I can better track who my visitors are. I can track the number of unique hits to the site, which is why I know that on October 20 I had 43 hits (the highest to date). I also know that I tend to average 14 visitors on any given day. So I’m interested in figuring out who you folks are who are stopping by and visiting.

I also need to figure out what exactly I’ll be doing over the next two weeks. As I’ve indicated, I am planning on spending a lot of time putting together my philosophy of education. It has been something hovering on the back-burner for several months, and I had a friend recently ask me to share my philosophy with her. I want to have something that is fairly concise but still covers the points that I believe are most important. However, I don’t know if I will be posting every single day during the break. I will be home every day while my wife is at work, but I want to use the time to read, to write, and to catch up on things. So we’ll see what happens.

As always, if you have any topics you’d like to read about, please leave them in the comments. Otherwise I might just default to posting videos of awful holiday music. And as much as we all love terrible music, I’d rather keep this focused on education. So if you don’t see a post here every day, don’t worry. It just means that I am taking a break, as well!

Books, Books, Books!

Today was a continuation of the three-week winter famine. So while I was home and my wife was at work, I popped in a movie and started working my way through my four 5-shelf bookcases that are overloaded with juvenile literature. Working through these bookcases is a labour of love obsession compulsion. My goal is to catalogue, sort, and organise all of my books. I started several weeks ago with my adult literature, moved on to religion and philosophy, and then tackled the small shelves (only three shelves on two cases) of vocational texts. All of these books have been organised according to category, author, and title (in that order).

The juvenile fiction is being organised in a slightly different fashion. I am going through and listing them according to grade level (using the Scholastic Teacher Book Wizard), then author and title. However, I also need to keep all of the hardcover books on the bottom shelves, and I want my series/sets to be separated from the rest of the books. So I am also sorting by those categories. Then, to make it more interesting, I need to separate out the books that are my personal collection and those that will someday reside in my classroom. So the process has taken quite some time. I spent roughly six hours working through about 200 books or so, and I still have two and a half large shelves to get through. Since I am not working tomorrow, I will be continuing this process, hopefully with more success.

Among the interesting things I am learning about the books I own are the following:

  • I own parts two and three of the Shiloh series, but I don’t own a copy of Shiloh itself
  • I seem to have several dozen copies of Esperanza Rising and Ginger Pye
  • There are five books in Madeleine L’Engle’s amazing Time Quintet, not four, as I had previously thought
  • I own considerably more books that I have not read than I thought–I’ve only read about 70% of my total collection, not 90%
  • There are surprisingly large numbers of books that are considered age-appropriate by interest for younger students that are not within the typical reading level for these students (example: Pippi Longstocking: interest level is between 8 and 10 years old, but the reading level is 11-12).

When I am done creating my amazing catalogue of books and placing all of them on the correct shelves,  I will be posting a picture of the golden awesomeness that is my library. If you are, for some crazy reason, interested in seeing the complete list, drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll send it your way.

Winter Famine

Today was another in a recent spat of days in which I did not teach. This isn’t because of a lack of interest, nor is it due to teachers not wanting me in the room. Rather, it is the result of the regular winter famine that comes to nearly every substitute as the last days before the end of the term approach. Teachers now have two days to finish everything they need to teach and assess before the students turn their brains over to the mindless drudgery of video games, cookies, hot chocolate, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. Not that I have anything against any of these activities. It is just a reality that students will try desperately to forget everything they have learned over the past four months in roughly two and a half weeks.

So instead of teaching today, I spent the first part of the morning getting my wife ready for her first day of work at her new job. She was recently hired as a graphic designer for a local company that, among many other things, puts out a quarterly coupon catalogue for local businesses. It is an awesome job and initial reports indicate that she is very happy to be working at what she does best: designing. She will also continue to run her freelance design company, although she will only be able to take on new projects on a limited basis.

After making sure she was set, I went off to help two of my best friends move. Dan and Rachel got married not too terribly long after Gretch and I did. I’ve been friends with them for about five years or so, and Gretch has been friends with them for the past four years or so. Rachel was just hired onto the faculty at a small girls’ college in a small town in Alabama, and she starts work in January. So they had to pack up and move. I went yesterday afternoon and helped them load up the truck for about four hours. Then I went this morning with my friend Noah and we continued to load things up. Noah had to leave around noon, but I was able to stay a few hours longer. We got the truck loaded up and set for the trucking company to come take it. All in all, I spent over ten hours helping them load up their belongings and prepare for the long drive to Alabama. They are leaving tomorrow morning and will arrive at their new home some time on Friday.

Now I am back home and wondering what I should do with the rest of my day. I don’t have scouts or class this evening, and Gretch is still at work. I will probably work on organising, sorting, and recording all of my books. When I finish the complete project, I will be sure to post a picture for everyone who cares to see the awesomeness that is my personal library. I also need to start thinking about what I will do during the next few weeks when I am not working. I think I am going to devote some serious time and energy into writing my philosophy of education. As it develops, I will probably post it here for your critical review. My goal is to outline my beliefs regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how of education. Let me know if there are any aspects of education you would specifically like to know about!