Friday, July 31, 2015

Another New Beginning

As I sit here on Friday night, my last of the summer, I find myself reflecting on what has been amongst the hardest months of my life. This is not the first time I have felt this way, nor the last I would imagine. Each time the tough trials get tougher I have managed to remember one sure thing: I have overcome each of them.

A few months ago I was let go from my job. A job I loved passionately. The type of job I'd wished for since becoming a bone fide adult. It was a big blow, as nothing I did caused its occurrence. By all accounts I had been, and still am (!), a fantastic educator. In fact, over the course of the last few months I've had more praise handed my way than I can ever remember. (I love praise but am embarrassed when it is received and don't always acknowledge it well. So thank you to each who have said something kind!) From co-workers who have called me brave and a big loss to friends who have admired my tenacity and perseverance to my family who have seen my character my entire life and have served to enforce belief in myself and my abilities. Even today I was told I am "a hot commodity" being certified to teach in three content areas and at two different education levels. These are all things that have kept me going.

There was an episode of TURN: Washington's Spies where a character gives a toast saying, "Loss begets gain." When you are in the thick of losing something you so dearly wish to keep it is hard to see the truth behind the phrase. But now, I have what is shaping out to be an amazing new job in a new district and I am already seeing the gains I have been given. All of the co-workers I have met are beacons of light in the sea of education. They are passionate, collaborative and hard-working. They have all been friendly and have embraced me and trust me a lot. I certainly hope I live up to that trust in every way possible!

It has been difficult to find ways to write about this change over the last few months. I wish no ill upon my past employer and I'm coming closer to letting go of the difficulties I faced as a result of their decision.

There is joy in believing things happen for a reason. And I do believe it! I'm thrilled to kick the new year off on Monday. I hope to wow the socks off of people I will be working with. I can't wait to hike up my skirts and help students see the world and challenge what they know and believe about that world. To help them gain new skills in technology and engagement.

Happy last day of summer all. Happy....


Post Script: TURN: Washington's Spies is a fantastic, historically-based TV show on AMC. If you haven't seen it, give it a go! I was recently part of a global Twitter campaign to push for the show to be renewed for a 3rd season, which, I am happy to report, was approved in small part to the contributions of our social media campaign!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Singing Makes A Heart Happy

It has been a long time since a blog post. But my experiences this weekend warranted a write. Here's a taste of how I felt after singing this weekend at Church.

...There was a moment this morning with just under a minute to go in the 11am service that Andi, one of the worship leaders at church, came over to the choir before the mics were live and said he had heard nothing but amazing things about having the choir back this weekend. He thanked us. We all thanked him. It was a, "thank you for thanking us" moment. We joked together, all the while he strummed his guitar which was also not flipped live. I watched the clock tick down those last few seconds and away we went with the first song of the service.

There is something magical about performing. It doesn't matter if it at a rock and roll show or a church service. There are many similarities. But there is much that happens, even at a church, that people that attend don't ever see unless they are up on that stage. Here are a few of my favorite moments.

First of all, the choir rehearses about 3 times prior to services, at least that has been the case the last 3 times we have sung at church. Next time I think we get 4-5 rehearsals, but either way, it isn't a lot as a group.

On Saturday, around 2pm, the band, production crew and choir get to church. It seems early, since service isn't until 5pm but trust me, it takes a while to make it all perfect. The first hour is the band's time to get everything set. The choir sits patiently in the first few rows and watches the magic happen. This is everything from tempo, to getting the right sound in each members' ear piece, to messing with keys. You'll hear things like, "can I get more clicks? Less loops? I need more of Andi's guitar. I can't hear myself enough, can you turn me up and the clicks down?" There is a lot to get right so that you can focus on worshiping once the time comes. Then there are the key changes. Andi has a great vision for the service and a great mind for music. That's why he is a wonderful songwriter. He can sense the song. There was a point yesterday when he told the band he was going to apologize for what he was about to do. He changed the key from E to F#. If you are a music person, you know that is less pleasant. As a guitarist, I hate the F chord. F# just makes it worse. Thankfully, capos are cool, and just like that the band was off again playing the song in the new key, with no fuss and no mistakes. So amazing.

Finally the choir hopped on stage to check spacing and sightlines. The spot-lights were very bright this weekend. Typically, the words are projected on the back wall for the service. Everything from the song lyrics to the prayers to the notes for the Pastor's welcome message. With those spots, it was hard to see the words. Thankfully, there are monitors down on the floor in front that display the words, too. They are good so long as the worship leaders aren't blocking your view! (Choir doesn't typically rehearse the worship set, just the choir specials, but we sing the worship set, too, so words can be helpful!) The monitors also show images of what the cameras are shooting at any given time. And on Sundays, it shows what it happening at one of the other church campuses to make sure we are on pace with the rest of the churches in the Harvest family. When video announcements also are displayed there when the cameras aren't trained on the stage.

Speaking of the cameras - there are 4 of them. Two on each side, one in the back and then the big boom/swing camera. If seeing the hundreds of faces in the crowd isn't enough, there are always the orange lights on the "live" camera to let you know which angle is being used. But, that can also be seen on the floor monitors. Not that I'm really looking at them! I'm worshiping and trying to just sing to God!

Rehearsal can lead to a bunch of laughter. It is a great time to get out the mistakes. When we are all one and really belting it out (hard not to do in rehearsal but there are THREE services to come after all) it truly is magical. Harmonies paired with drums, electric guitars and piano are just awesome!

Then there is the service. There is always that moment in the 1st song that you wonder when the congregation will get to their feet. It happens at different times in each service. When they do all start standing, there is a surge of adrenaline that hits you, because the emotions are just filling the room and worship is all around you. I love that feeling. At that point, I just let my voice flow and smile and try and just let the congregation see me smile as I sing to God. Usually I can forget about the fact I am on stage, but not always. It is not a performance but you are still leading the church in song. I can't ever entirely let go and let it just be me and the Lord. Perhaps I am prideful. Either way, it is a wonderful time with wonderful people!!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: Year in Review

I had an epiphany when I was at Church this past Sunday. Not exactly a new idea but one I struggle with. Time to let go of the past and move forward. It was based on the passage from Philippians 3:13. I accomplished 1 of my 7 core life goals this year. Sometimes I get upset that one isn't enough. But truthfully, most of life is not in my hands. So I am focusing on 2014 with the idea that God is in control and I am holding the wheel. Sort of like one of those electrified track race cars at the local fair. They are guided by electricity. The track gives you a bit of freedom to move and adjust how you move into the curve and how much gas you give the car. But none of it is possible without the electricity.

In this vein, I took a look back at 2013. Here is my year in review.

1. Attended a wedding of a co-worker. I was a guest of an invitee. It was a true pleasure to be asked and a great evening. So happy for the lovely couple!
2. Visited a local wind turbine farm called California Ridge near Urbana for part of a work institute day. Very cold but very interesting. I learned a lot about the power grid.
3. I went to my one and only U of IL sporting event. A womens basketball game. Thanks to a co-worker who invited me to share her extra ticket!

1. I endured a whole new round of allergy testing due to my inability to feel well. Blood tests, allergy tests and asthma tests. I was given a sheet that included foods to avoid if allergic to mold. (On the list by the way is beer, wine, soy sauce, canned tomatoes and sourdough bread). I was not a happy camper!
2. Celebrated my dog, Piccolo's, 2nd birthday

1. Chaperoned my 2nd Senior trip to the Wisconsin Dells. This trip was a blast, perhaps more for the adults than the kids!
2. Near the end of the month we had over 8 inches of snow. Needless to say, Piccolo had a blast. I love shoveling (it is a great all body workout and good for clearing the mind). Which is odd, since I hate cold.

1. Race Month. I ran the Shamrock Shuffle. Again. My goal was under an hour (My longstanding goal is to get under 50 minutes but since Spring is particularly bad on the sinuses, it is not likely!)
2. I did the "Mini i" Challenge as part of the Illinois Marathon with a friend. She has been an inspiration and was thrilled to run a race with her (at least the first race). Consisting of a 5k on Friday night and a 10k on Saturday morning, it is a tough race (the "I Challenge" is the 5k plus either the 1/2 or Full marathon, btw). I rolled an ankle half way through the 5k when I caught a pothole but managed to finish well. I probably overdid the 5k and struggled in the 10k. But finished. And so glad I did the challenge!

1. Resigned my position after 4 years at Urbana High School. Love my coworkers. Learned a lot. And so glad to be a teacher.
2. Hired at Mundelein High School - part business/part social studies. I love this job. Check off lifetime goal #1 - Get hired as a teacher in Chicagoland.

3. Attended graduation 2013 for my Urbana Seniors. Technically I had to, since I was the 2013 class sponsor for 4 years. But I wanted to. So happy for these kids!

1. Celebrated 2 years with Piccolo in my life.
2. Was with my sister, brother-in-law and niece for part of two days! She celebrated birthday #2.
3. Visited historic Springfield, Illinois, land of Lincoln.

1. Went to the U of IL fireworks display for the 4th. Just me, a blanket, a bio on Ben Franklin and some gorgeous fireworks. And a few thousand people nearby!
2. Moved to the Chicagoland area! Set up my apartment with the help of my parents.

1. Began my new job!
2. Received my great-grandfather's naturalization papers in the mail. One step closer to becoming a real Italian citizen (technically, I am recognized as one via consanguinity. I just need to prove it).
3. Met one of my fave chefs, Fabio Viviani. Of course he is Italian. Love his humor. Enjoy a lot of his dishes as they are simple and rustic yet can be fancy at the same time!
4. Friday Flyover at school. At work before 6am with hundreds of students and staff to form words on the football field for the helicopter to show on local tv. Fun morning!

1. New immunologist. Learned a TON of things. Life changing. Foremost being, I can't/shouldn't ignore the fact that I have asthma.
2. Got a Fitbit Flex fitness band. Love this thing. Not only aiming for over 10k steps per day but it tells he how well I slept (or didn't).
3. Joined the Sweatshop, an amazing gym in Buffalo Grove, IL. 

1. Welcomed a brand new niece into the world from a distance. She was born in New York.
2. Enjoyed watching The White Queen on Starz network, about the War of the Roses, one of my favorite time periods in history.

1. Painting outing (my 1st time ever) with my high school gals. We still meet up regularly.
2. Chaperoned a trip to Cleveland with Mundelein's Future Business Leaders of America students. All 114 of them!
3. Spent part of Thanksgiving week with my Aunt and cousins. So fantastic! Met my new cousin, Henry.

1. Birthday dinner with my parents at my fave Chicago restaurant, Quartino.
2. Ended my 1st half of the year at Mundelein. Time is flying. Still loving my job.
3. Celebrated my great-Aunt Sug's 90th birthday. She is an amazing woman. And knows it, which is lovely to see. Still trying to convince her to sell her doll clothes for more when she works her craft shows!
3. Spent part of 3 days during Christmas week with my sister, brother-in-law, parents and two nieces. Love these folks.
4. Spent an afternoon lunch with my parents and Aunt.
5. Celebrate (d) New Years Eve on the Irish time zone with Chicago pizza and best friends. That is the plan anyway!

So there you go. A walk through my year. Lots of great moments. Incredible stuff. And more to come. Looking forward. Not dwelling on the "what is not" or "what went wrong" or "what I don't have". It is about the present and what my situation is currently. I can hope. I can dream. But in the end, I need to live out each of the 365 days I am given. Hoping you will do the same with the new year you are blessed with. Share your favorite moment of 2013 in the comments. Let's all reflect on 2013 as a good one!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

MOTI (Moment of Teacher Impact)

I coined a new phrase this week. I experienced a "MOTI" otherwise known as a Moment of Teacher Impact.

Not long ago I wrote here about how proud I was of the debate my Economics students did. Well, this past week it was my Intro to Business students that just blew me away and left me laughing.

We started a new term a week ago and since it technically began on a Friday and finals had just ended the smart folks in my department planned to get students involved in the term "activity" right off the bat. There is an investing game teachers (and anyone) can play at and a classroom of students can compete to earn the most money. So last Friday I set my two Intro classes up with $100,000 in investment "Cash" and let them loose picking stocks and learning the ropes of the stock market. [Side note: I meant to do 10,000 but the extra zero butted itself into the game...results should be the same, although perhaps a bit more dramatic and varied depending on what really happens to the market].

Anyway, by Wednesday of this week, my students were SO competitive! Most of them went for stocks of corporations they were familiar with. The two biggest purchases were for Google and Chipotle. Turns out, both of those companies saw massive jumps in the market earlier this week after releasing positive earnings reports.

The MOTI for the week came in my Homeroom, where I have 2 students from Intro plus a few of the other business teachers' Intro students. They all had their smart phones out and the Marketwatch app and were checking their position against others in the game. "Hey I'm in 2nd place!" "Hey, Ms. B., I dropped 3 places in the last twenty minutes! Help!" They had conversation for nearly 20 minutes straight about stocks and the market. I was sitting at my desk just tickled!

Before the bell rang on Wednesday, one of my students said to another, "I think this is the most adult conversation I have ever had."

This made me a laugh hysterically. I told the kids how proud I was that they were using their knowledge from the game and the Investing unit we had just completed and were talking about it. And to tell the truth, by Friday they spend the entire Homeroom period doing the same thing.

Now, if I can just get them all to be playing the market long term instead of trading stocks every day....

We shall see by the time December rolls around and the game concludes!

[Side note #2: I am also playing and am currently in 37th place out of 62. I am playing the long-term game. I don't know that it will make the point I want it to in just 2 months' time but we shall see!]

Have a great wrap on October everyone. Go learn something and have a conversation.
(Then let me know what it is you learned!)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On Being Healthy

Before moving back to Chicagoland I had made two health goals.
1. Find a new allergist within my insurance plan who had a great reputation from their patients
2. Find a new gym to workout at.

I am proud to report, three months in,  I have accomplished both!

I visited the allergist for the first time once September rolled around and insurance kicked in. She was amazing! She was able to not only notice things that most allergists in the past had just ignored or shrugged off as nothing but she connected my sinus/allergy issues to a host of other issues and "irritants" that made them worse. I had made these connections years ago but no one was able to back them up or told me I was silly. Now I had proof, from medical journal articles she gave me and pamphlets on ways to protect my environment (all of which I have done for years). In one four hour visit, I was tested for all sorts of allergies from mold to trees to weeds to animals to the foods I had supposedly been allergic to. Most of the tests came back as I expected. The food allergies, I am pleased to say, are all extinct.

I also received a list of the times of years when my allergies would be worst and why. Apparently Spring is my worst time (I always felt it was fall, which as I am learning this last week is not a good time of year but it is not due to allergies). It starts with the trees (my worst allergy) and molds then leads to summer with the grasses. That then turns into weed season and mold again, which is frequent due to inclement weather and temperature swings. It is these temp swings that have been wrecking havoc on my sinuses these last few days. Subtle changes in humidity are tough. Just going from my door to the car then back out and into work can disrupt the balance. I suppose this is what several sinus surgeries can do to a person. I don't regret either of them for any reason, even the botched first one helped for a few years. But there are issues that surgery can not even change. Much the way knee or shoulder surgery patients say they can feel the weather changes in their bones, I suppose.

ANYWAY, on to the other vow to myself. Join a gym. I researched a bunch in Champaign. It took a few weeks (3) of unpacking before I resumed the quest. I ended up calling a place called The SweatShop. I walked in on Wednesday night expecting a brief chat and assessment. What I got was a full on workout. Wasn't expecting that. But now that I know how the gym operates, I should have! The place is genius. A workout "Plan" on the board gives a theme for the day. Walk in whenever you like, no classes (except on Sat mornings). I've seen everything from Toss Your Cookies to Alphabet Sweats.  It is a fun place to workout and I can tell people that attend are in the same zone as I am - needing the workouts, enjoying the workouts and willing to work hard but at our own pace.

In addition to the workouts I have been participating in a Biggest Loser contest at work. Turns out, one of the Biggest Loser contestant winners attended Mundelein. She was at Homecoming festivities this year. I have come close one week to wining something. I was a half pound off. I am not sure if I will enter the contest for Term 2. I will probably do so. With holidays on the horizon it can't hurt to have another motivator!

I am trying to get healthy. I can tell I am stronger. Now that finals are over I can hopefully graze a bit less on popcorn while grading. And if I can get past not feeling so great with my nose being stupid I might just plow through and not eat trying to ignore how nasty my sinuses are behaving!

So here we go. Towards the holiday season.  Give me a little cheering on! Being supportive is the best to keep me going!

Good luck to each of you as you also press on.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A month goes by & A new term begins

The last month has absolutely flown past. We went from temperate end-of-summer to true fall temperatures where breath can be seen as I walk the dog in the dark each morning.

Along with that month came the end to the first 10 weeks of the school year. In Mundelein reckoning, that means the end to the 1st term and two days of finals.

Monday was a day off for Columbus Day (brief thought: We get a day off for Columbus but not for Veterans Day?) and Tuesday and Wednesday were finals. My coworkers in the Biz Ed department had warned me that October and March finals are the hardest. I couldn't understand why. And then I realized once Thursday came....

On Tuesday and Wednesday students took two 2-hour finals. They had an hour break in between the finals and then were out at 12:45. Teachers had the afternoon to grade. It was like a snapshot. Add an hour for lunch and that leaves about 1 1/2 hours to grade each day. Not much! I had 1st hour off 1st Term and so I spent those two hours during finals trying to prep for Term 2 (which began on Thursday). I knew I'd be focused on grading and not prepping. I wrote my syllabus for my new course (Government) and consulted with another Gov teacher to make sure I had the right things prepared for the first few days. Then I got to work Tuesday afternoon grading the 30 5-10 page papers that my Econ kids did for their final exam. Technically, I only had about 25 of them. The other 5 were tied up in the Google Drive system app we were using which the Tech folks had sadly decided to start archiving. It took until this weekend for me to figure out how to access those few remaining final papers.

On Wednesday I gave my final two exams for my Intro to Business classes. This included a 60+ MC exam and a 5 question short answer section to complete in partners on their Virtual Businesses. There was a snafu for my 3rd hour final. Turns out the wrong final was saved in the drive and so I technically gave an older version of the final. That explained why the bubble sheets the kids used didn't match the test. It was a frantic hour between finals on Wednesday trying to determine the problem. It got resolved with a few minutes to spare and then 4th hour things went smoothly. So much for getting grading done while my 3rd hour kids took their exam. I spent the whole 2 hours answering questions about why the answer sheet didn't match the questions (sometimes even when on the board and spoken to the whole group once discovered, students don't listen - some too focused on trying to complete the test).

Thursday was a half day and the 1st day of Term 2. Students had 45 minute class periods in their Term 2 schedule. I had to remember that I did NOT have 1st period off anymore and that my new Gov't class was 1st hour. My prep hour is now 2nd hour. I think I like it better so far. At any rate, my Gov't students seem extremely enthusiastic and I tried to hook them in by showing them a document from 1832 (created after the 12th amendment was passed and before the Civil War era) that my immigrant/revolutionary ancestor was granted. I told them they all had people come to America for one purpose or another and at some time recent or long ago. Many of them came because of the political freedoms we have and the type of government that was created in America. This class would give them more details on why it is so important to know and why their ancestors also may have been drawn to this country. They were pretty curious. My Intro to Biz kids were given a brief intro to the new term. They are the same kids as last Term so an easy transition. They then had about 30 minutes to set up their Stock Market Portfolio as part of the Stock Market Game on Pretty cool.

That afternoon most teachers were listening to a speaker for staff meeting but the Biz Ed teachers, dept chair and tech specialists & tech directors headed to East Leyden High School to investigate their 1-1 program and student-led help desk course which we are implementing at MHS next year. I am extremely impressed at this program and excited to see it off the ground in Mundelein. However, I am trying to not get too excited. While it could mean job security for me, it also has a chance of not being so. I haven't even had a formal evaluation here yet! I love it at MHS so I am hopeful. I can only continue to do my very best. There will be trials. There will be triumphs. All of them will be important to my growth as a teacher.

So that's a wrap on what you've missed while I was gone. I'll try again to be consistent. Til then, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts. And if you are at a school with a 1-1 initiative, let me know!


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

September 3rd - A School Day To Remember

I need to pause for a moment and just soak up how nearly perfect today has been. Nearly perfect despite waking up pretty tired after three days of sleeping in and a morning where I didn't think I'd get everything done at work due to the school world all trying to make copies.

But the day really was amazing. I started my day with a 7:30am meeting with one of my department chairs. This particular person is also my evaluator and was the one who saw part of the debate my students did on Friday in Economics. Let me tell you, that debate. That one that I wasn't sure went BETTER THAN any student-driven lesson I've ever done.

To clue you in on that day (since I alluded to it in my previous post) it began at 5:30am with over 400 students on the football field awaiting the flyover of a local news helicopter. We were to form three different phrases on the field for three different flyovers to promote the beginning of the fall sports season. The school day begins at 7:45am and around 9:20 there was an impromptu pep assembly. My Debate was to begin at 10am and I was already nervous about the amount of energy (high or low) my Econ kids would have by that time of the morning. Turns out I had nothing to be concerned about. They listened patiently (mostly) as each side gave their opening arguments and points. Almost all but five students were fully involved. And by the time rebuttals were over these amazing students had pulled a ton of quotes from their packets into their arguments, books from English class (Outliers was the number one book applied) and personal life experiences. The team for Capitalism rapped their closing statement and tossed Monopoly money in the air at the finish. I wanted to cry.

Turns out my evaluator did, too. She is not in the classroom this year due to taking on other duties and misses it, so that was her reason. But she also told me the bit of the debate she had witnessed was among the top she had ever seen done in her years of evaluating teachers. I knew it had gone well. I didn't realize it was that great!

Those of you who are not teachers may not know how much prep goes into doing something like a debate. Even if it takes just two class periods, I probably put four hours into finding supporting documents (capitalism and socialism) to have kids use as sources, develop rubrics for the group and for each individual and then edit anything I might find to tailor it to my particular class of students at the time. Then there is the making copies and after all is said and done, grading the rubrics and students' own reflections/evaluations. Hours of work for just three hours of class time.

So that is how I began my day. After my meeting I had about one hour to enter a few lingering grades, figure out how to actually be sure my gradebook was set up correctly for progress reports due at 3:30pm (the popup box wouldn't show) and then make copies of a packet I worked about four hours on for my Econ class this week. The copier was booked solid for about 30 of those minutes. I checked three times and there was always a line. I finally caved at 25 minutes to the next bell to just get my job logged into the machine and wait for it. Thankfully I had about 10 minutes to go before the bell to pack my bag and be ready to travel to the next two classrooms before lunch.

I had a meeting after school for an hour and then made sub plans for the periods I am missing tomorrow due to new teacher meetings (didn't know teachers had so many meetings, did you?). Then a problem-free drive home, walk with the dog and finally my first relaxation moment of the day.

Then came the cap on an already lovely day. I opened my mail to find not just one gift card I thought I was expecting from a utilities promotion but two! I don't know if I should have received two, but I'm taking it. My amazing rep had told me he'd try and get me another gift card. He must have been able to make it work. Talk about customer service!! (AT&T, thank you! I might as well give you a plug).

I'm once again nestled onto the couch with my pj's on and ready to watch my hour of tv. (Who Do You Think You Are, one of my fave shows). I could have brought home more grading but life should also come before work and if I get just two hours of free time in my day, then I am going to set aside late work and make up work and keep my two hours to myself.

I'm so thrilled with the start of my school year. I really, really know this is special. I am sure some rough patches will occur. I'll try and give you a glimpse of these points, but I don't often dwell on the negatives but focus on the positives that result from all things. Glass half full.

I'll leave you with a few images from Friday morning's flyover. Enjoy your week folks!