Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Value of the Homemade Poster

Last spring, while I was cleaning out my old classroom in preparation for the move to the new school, I threw out ALL of my old motivational posters. They were pretty dirty and curling up at the corners, so throwing them out made perfect sense.

However, as I spent some time today setting up my new classroom, the one with lots of white empty space on the walls, I panicked. I thought, 'What is wrong with me?! Why the heck did I toss all of that stuff? Now I'm stuck!' And what with our local teacher store closing after a zillion years of business, I now had no place to go and get-more-POSTERS! And on top of that, I had already spent far too much money on new classroom materials anyway. Then I got an idea. I could just make my own motivational posters. Duh! So, I came home, got on the computer, and made my first poster with this exact text:

You CAN achieve!

Just remember to:

1. Believe in yourself even when things get difficult.
2. Show up and do your best.
3. Refuse to compare yourself to others.

(I also added a little picture of the sillouette of a man holding his arms high above his head as if he'd just won a basketball championship.)

Freaking amazing, right? OK, maybe not. However, I realized that my creation was in some ways better than buying a generic poster from a teacher store. No, my poster didn't have the cool graphics and designs that its manufactured counterparts possess. It was actually a little boring to the eye. But it did have something infinitely more valuable: a sentiment written in my own language and one that I am striving for in my own life, so much so that I dedicated this entire blog to achieving more success and happiness at work.

That has to count for something when it comes to kids, right? They can smell sincerity (or the lack thereof) a mile away.

So now I'm going to crank out more posters whenever the inspiration hits me. In the meantime, feel free to use the text above for your own classroom posters. Add to it! Improve it! Then share it with others! We need each other in this business of teaching!

Happy poster making!

Ms. J

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yay Structure!

If you're like me and you find it difficult to stop pacing and just sit down and get your head straight when it comes to unit planning, this great unit plan template from Intel might give you the structure you need. It's all set up for you! All you need to do is type your great ideas into the designated spaces. Might not work for everybody, but it's a tool I liked that I wanted to share. Find it here:

Happy planning!

Ms. J

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Get off your own back!

Last night I was watching the Ron Clark Story (a movie based on an 'against all odds, I will get you to succeed' kind of teacher) and realized that I was having an actual physical reaction to the scenes in which he was being tested to the zillionth degree by a new classroom full of struggling sixth graders.

Then I started thinking about how scary it is to start off the school year not knowing who your kids are and what they're facing. They say the first days of school are the most crucial and yet they are also the most daunting because, as a teacher, you can't see what's coming. You have to figure it out as you go along.

You will, inevitably make stupid mistakes no matter how long you've been teaching. The trick, I think, is to allow that to happen. I'm not saying that it's a good idea to consciously make stupid mistakes. But it's okay to allow mistakes to be what they are: opportunities for growth. Don't bash yourself over the head with regret and negative self-talk (i.e. I suck! I should have never become a teacher!)

WE ARE NOT NINJAS. Seriously, we're not! We're human beings and all we can do is our best. We still need to eat, sleep, have a family and friends. I used to make the mistake of thinking that dedicating every waking moment from August - June working on or worrying about my classes would result in me doing everything right. It didn't. It almost resulted in me becoming a total burn-out and that wasn't good for anybody.

So, my advice to myself and to any teacher is this: take care of yourself, do your best but make room for imperfection. A teaching guru of mine used to say to me, "Get off your own back. You're doing fine." And I probably always was. There are messages that will come from "up above" that tell you to be perfect, get those scores up. . .you know the ones I'm talking about. Take them with a grain of salt. Their job is to keep us teachers on our toes so that our kids get what they need.

Just do your best, ask for help, and be sure to balance your profession and the other parts of your life in a healthy way.

P.S. You'll know you're out of balance when your face is breaking out, your dog is barking at you, you forget to eat, and you haven't gone out on a Friday night for five months. But maybe that's just me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I went to school today and met with the English department to finalize some common assessments that we will use throughout the year. We were very productive!

But I have a confession to make: I didn't make it through the day without snarking. Yep, I broke my promise to myself and feel that I owe it to my three (possibly four) readers to admit my misdemeanor.

But let me tell you, it's tough going complaint-free! I couldn't even go one day without doing it! ONE! How am I going to make this happen for an entire academic year?

Wise Self Says: Inhale. Exhale. Forgive thyself and begin again.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Today I noticed a feeling getting stirred up deep inside my gut. It's always there around the same time of year...mid-August. It's called FEAR! I get an almost paralyzing fear of the beginning of the school year. If I'm going to be honest and ask my wise self what the heck scares me so much, I am given the following answers:

I'm afraid of failing.
I'm afraid of doing a bad job and not teaching my kids anything.
I'm afraid I'll disappoint someone and get screamed at by a parent or a supervisor.
I'm afraid I'll have so much work to do that I won't be able to go out with my husband, walk my dog, write, watch movies, simply enjoy my life.

Hmm. There it is. So, what does one do to counteract all of those unhelpful habitual thoughts that are born from fear? Luckily, I've been doing my research and here's what I've found. If we focus our attention on something, it grows - it gets bigger. So, if I really revel in those mean little thoughts that are telling me I'm going to fail, then all I'm going to create are more of those thoughts which, in turn, will produce more anxiety and keep me in that stressed-out and stuck place. I don't want to live there anymore. I want to bust out of that place with my arms and eyes wide open.

Therefore, my secret weapon will be...drum roll, please!....affirmations.

Whenever I have those thoughts (i.e. 'I suck at this job!', 'I can't handle all this work!', 'I need a new career!'), I'm going to tell myself some version of the following:

"I'm a smart,calm, and resourceful person. I know how to do this work and what I don't yet know, I'll be sure to learn. I am balancing the work just fine and will ask for help if the need arises."

Are you rolling your eyes at me right now?
That's okay. I get it.
But maybe somewhere deep down, you understand what I'm trying to do here. Maybe you understand that someone placing her attention on success and her strengths can help her (or him!) to create more success and more strength.

Trust me - I don't think that using affirmations makes fear just disappear into thin air. Fear is real and needs to be acknowledged. But once you've turned around and said "hello" to it, it's helpful to have a more positive place on which to turn your attention.

There are infinite possibilities when it comes to how we experience life. Fear is only one of the options- and I've gone down that road for much too long.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

10 Mistakes I Will Try Very Hard Not To Make This Year

1. Remaining in denial of the paperwork piling up on my desk.
2. Staying up much too late correcting papers and therefore...
3. Getting to work five minutes before the homeroom bell rings.
4. Comparing my classroom to that of other teachers.
5. Committing to events for which I know I have no time.
6. Engaging in "snarky" faculty room conversations.
7. Obsessing over what could have gone better during a lesson.
8. Obsessing, in general.
9. Escaping into TV land instead of exercising my stress away.
10. Letting problem student behaviors push my extremely sensitive buttons.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Take Part in the National Day on Writing

Take Part in the National Day on Writing

The National Day on Writing is October 20, 2009. Take part! Contribute your writing or start a local gallery of your own!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just Stop!

"Okay, okay, so I'm a wimp. Fair enough," I told my husband in response to his accusation that I shrink in my dealings with authority figures at work. "But what do I do now?"

"I don't know. Just stop doing it," he said.

Oh, really? So easy for you to say, Mr. Cool. Just STOP? Could it really be that simple?

Six months ago I would have argued with him and whined that being assertive is so much more complicated than just ceasing to engage in wimpy shrinking behavior. But lately, I'm not so sure. Maybe it really is just a matter of showing up in the moment when said assertiveness is necessary, and then acting on it. The moment my shoulders hunch up, I can take a breath and let them relax again. When the urge to unnecessarily apologize arises, I don't have to do it.

I could fall back on my old Ms. J "M.O." and really create a bunch of mucky drama around the situation and obsess over the reasons for having acquired the habit of becoming a shrinking violet; But, the thing is, ruminating on the reasons and the "story" really doesn't change anything or make me any happier. I know the reasons already, and I honor them. But let's get real, shall we? I want to create a new experience for myself and a new career within my old career.

So, the next time I go into the main office at school and Administrator A, B, or C wants to speak to me for whatever reason, I will experiment with my husband's advice and JUST STOP.

I'll let you know how it goes...

Ms. J

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Challenge Numero Uno

Here's a bit of awareness : I am about as assertive as a coffee table when it comes to communicating with members of the administration team at school. My husband will back me up on that. He came with me for my visit to school today and we stopped by the main office to say hello and to check in before we went up to see my classroom which, by the way, is absolutely beautiful and oh-so-CLEAN!

He said that, as I spoke to one of the administrators, I became a different version of myself: shoulders hunched, little girl voice, tentative expression that read, "I'd really love to go see my classroom, but if you don't want me to I can just back off and get on out of here. No problem."

My beloved told me that he wasn't one bit surprised that that particular administrator always bosses me around like the wimp I am. Show up like a wimp, get treated like a wimp. Gahhhh! After turning various shades of purple and blue and digging my fingernails deep into the palms of my hands, I had to reluctantly agree with him. I was asking for it!

This is Challenge Numero Uno: Stop being a wimp and start being assertive. I need to believe that I am a valuable asset to the faculty and to my profession in general. This takes practice, practice, practice. Everyday I need to intend to be confident in my abilities and to be clear with administration and other faculty members. It's nice to be nice, but there's only so much one can accomplish by being sweet, uber-humble, and uneccessarily apologetic.

Getting my feet wet...

I'm an hour away from going into school for the second time this summer. The first was for a school climate committee meeting. The point of today's visit is to get my head around going back this fall. I know, I know, it's only August 11th and we don't actually start school until September 12th, but here's the thing: A huge mistake teachers make is to wait and wait until they HAVE to go back and get their classrooms ready. That's reactivity. That's what I want to get away from. So, I'm going back today, just to get the feeling of the brand new school building (yay!), to visualize how I want to set up my soon-to-be super friendly and functional classroom, and to just be there and see what kinds of feelings come up for me so that I can start the year off with lots of awareness. Breathe in, breathe out, be brave!

Ms. J

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome to The Responsibility Project

This has been my M.O. as a teacher so far: An intense reactive perfectionist; Affectionate and enthusiastic, but easily blown off course and annoyed by the little things; Afraid of doing the right thing and standing up for what's right for fear that I might be hated or shunned by administration and colleagues; An idealist; A stress ball; A whiner.

Ok, so I'm simplifying and focusing more on my weakness rather than my strengths, but there's a reason for that. I have allowed myself to spiral into a situation at work where I am not only unhappy, but unhealthy.

I work as a middle school teacher in an inner-city school. There are a lot of us out there: people who love teaching but just can't seem to figure out how to thrive and stay positive in a profession that gets more and more demanding and stressful everyday. Last year I even went as far as to enroll in a demanding MSW program so that I could start all over again in a completely different career. I wanted to run away from it all. I felt too tired to keep doing the work (And I thought that adding 12 credits per semester would make me less tired? What the...?)

Then I sort of stumbled upon some excellent reading that was all about changing mind-sets, creating our lives instead of living reactively, and changing the how and not the what. I thought, maybe I'm just going about teaching the wrong way. Maybe I just need to change how I'm doing it instead of jumping in to a whole new career (which, by the way, would seem just as stressful, heavy, and exhausting if approached in the same crazed manner).

So I decided to do an experiment. I'm calling it 'The Responsibility Project'. I'm going to approach this coming academic year with a new intention: no more complaining, whining, or gossiping; Instead offer solutions, make requests, smile, have fun, be imperfect and learn from mistakes.

I expect this to be difficult at first. I have, after all, spent the last eight years of my teaching career teetering back and forth between moments of complete bliss and those of teeth-grinding, hair-pulling, face-melting frustration. There have been moments about which I still smile, and moments that make me cringe to remember (many involving my own goof-ups). I've developed a habit of, at times, pointing my finger at parents, administration, other teachers, even the kids. There is no point in doing that anymore (there never was!)...finger-pointing just drains me of essential mojo that I need in order to create what I'm sure can be a beautiful and rewarding career if I just open up to it and embrace the ups and downs instead of stomping my feet and running away every time things get difficult.

Join me on my journey, will you? And feel free to offer your advice and thoughts along the way.

Until next time!