Category Archives: Work

Latest project

The state of New Mexico has an elaborate rubric that it uses to evaluate teachers. It is possible to score 4 out of 5 on any given category on this rubric simply by being good at your job. The only way to score 5 out of 5 is to do what the New Mexico Public Education Department refers to as “leadership,” and what I refer to as “being insufferable.”

Basically, to hit that top level, you have to be willing to tell other people how to do their jobs.

I found a loophole as I was working on my state-mandated professional-development plan a couple of months ago, and in a moment of weakness, I acted on it: Swapping ideas with people online appears to count as a form of leadership, at least in some categories, so I said one of my goals for this year was to create a special blog just for sharing stuff I was doing in my classroom.

Yeah, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, either. I forget they make you follow up on that crap twice a year and report your progress. I remembered when my boss told me to log onto the PDP site and post my midyear update the other day.

In the interest of staying out of trouble, I spent part of this weekend setting up the new blog.┬áThere’s no content on it yet except for a header photo and an introductory post, but if you’re interesting in seeing it, you can find it at: https://foolishwandwaving.com/.

The name is a reference to the Harry Potter books and Professor Snape’s announcement that there would be “little foolish wand-waving” in his class. Alan Rickman was magnificent, but I am certain that if Snape were a real person, we would NOT get along at faculty meetings, because my teaching style is the polar opposite of his. Somehow I can’t see him decorating the potions lab with tinsel curtains and mermaid pillows or letting his kids play Vocabulary Jenga as a means of learning the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane.

Emily

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Outdoor office

I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago. It’s much smaller, lighter, and sturdier than my old one, which makes it just right for using outdoors.

I really like the idea of taking my lesson plans and curriculum-writing projects outside to work on while the dogs play in the yard. I like my home office, but fresh air and sunshine are always better than sitting inside on a pretty day, and this is the time of year when we’re likely to get a few pretty days.

With that in mind, I’ve been surfing Pinterest and poring over hardware-store websites in search of furniture of the right size, stability, and durability to use in an outdoor office.

Most of the ready-made stuff I found was either too light to withstand New Mexico winds, too top-heavy to withstand regular assaults by a blind rat terrier and a clumsy shepherd puppy, too finicky to sit up straight on uneven ground, or too expensive to meet with Ron’s approval. And none of it seemed to fit my style or go well with anything else in my yard.

As I was winterizing the pond and trying to figure out what to do with the cinderblocks I’d been using to support the now-obsolete clarifier and gravity-fed external filtration system, inspiration struck.

Monitor-riser mode. If I want to work on a deeper surface with the laptop keyboard lower, I just move that top paver down.

Twenty minutes’ worth of elbow grease and a few flat pavers yielded a dog-proof, windproof, mid-century-inspired, faux-Brutalist desk and stool with a top that easily converts into a monitor riser if I feel like bringing out a keyboard and mouse.

Ignore the color variations. Some of the blocks were wet because I’d hosed dirt and cobwebs off of them.

I rummaged around in the carport shed and found a couple of bungee cords just the right length to anchor an outdoor pillow (purchased on sale for $3.50 at the dollar store) to the pavers on the seat.

Bungee cords anchor the cushion to the seat.

I test-drove it while blogging the day I built it, and it works just about right. If I end up using it a lot, I might see if I can rustle up some breeze blocks somewhere and expand it into a bigger and more ornate desk with some built-in storage, but for now, it’ll work just fine for typing up lesson plans and posting blog entries on sunny afternoons when it’s just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how much desk work I need to do.

Emily

Classroom reveal, Part 2

I forgot to do this earlier, but here’s the updated classroom reveal, featuring my tissue-paper truffula forest and IKEA leaf canopy, along with a few flourishes I’m pretty sure weren’t there when I did the first reveal.

A few details:

The inflatable chair lasted about two weeks before it developed a leak. Disappointing, but I didn’t expect much for $5.

I can HIGHLY recommend the mermaid pillows, which have a soothing effect on kids and adults alike.

When we read <em>Beowulf</em>, my seniors thought it would be hilarious to have a plushie of Grendel’s arm hanging above our door like the entrance to Heorot, so of course I made them one.

The truffula trees were time-consuming but very easy; I’ll post a tutorial later if anybody wants one.

The bulletin board on the desk is made from old ceiling tiles.

The big leaf is a baby-bed canopy I picked up for $15 at IKEA. The balloon lamp is another IKEA find — $6, IIRC.

The lights on the “Pride and Joy” board are battery-powered fairy lights that came with little clothespins attached. I use them to display student work, school pictures, etc.

The shoe organizer is a cellphone parking lot. I stuck a power strip to the underside of the chalk tray next to it and plugged in chargers with extra-long cords to give kids an incentive to surrender their devices without a fuss.

The file pockets hold copies of the week’s Common Core objectives. I’ll share how I use them in a future post.

Not pictured: my beloved wax warmer, which makes my room smell like a cinnamon roll, thanks to dollar-store wax melts.

I wanted my room to feel like the children’s section at Barnes and Noble. It ended up being better. Elementary kids come in and hang out after school just because they like it. Colleagues wander in occasionally when they’re tense and need to unwind. Meetings are less stressful when I host them. I suspect part of the magic is that it allows people a safe space to be childLIKE, so they don’t feel the need to be childISH.

Emily

Anniversary celebration

Today was the anniversary of my first day at my current teaching gig.

My kids didn’t know it. I forgot to tell them. But they helped me celebrate anyway.

I had an observation today. Because we’re a tiny district with only one administrator, our superintendent does one of our two mandatory observations every year, but in the interest of fairness, she brings in an outside evaluator to do the other.

Knowing our outside evaluator would be observing English IV today, I decided to let the kids teach. The class developed a rubric for grading the discussion leaders and another rubric for grading themselves on their class participation. We’re reading John Gardner’s Grendel, and the kids are REALLY getting into the part of the book in which Grendel encounters a dragon with some decidedly nihilistic views. The kids LOVE dragon symbolism and spent the hour connecting the dragon’s words to other books they’ve read, movies they’ve watched, mythology they’ve studied, and discussions we’ve had earlier in the semester. I participated, but only a little, and only when the conversation had gotten so interesting that my English-major soul simply couldn’t resist joining the fun.

I won’t know how I did on my evaluation until I meet with our guest on Thursday, but I think it bodes very well that she asked the kids a few questions, which they answered beautifully — including a couple of questions about their objectives for the lesson and how they’d know when they’d achieved them, which is the kind of question evaluators generally ask teachers during a post-observation debriefing. (They were a little baffled, as she hadn’t asked any questions like that in their other classes. I assured them that was a good sign: They taught like grownups, so she treated them like grownups.)

I don’t know how many points I scored. I don’t really care. My kids were awesome, they knew they were awesome, and somebody besides me got to see them being awesome.

That’s a pretty great way to celebrate an anniversary.

Emily

View from the Sidelines

If someone had told me, two years ago, that I could be happy sitting on the sidelines, watching other journalists work, I would have organized an intervention, because I would have been absolutely convinced that person was smoking crack.

As it turns out, the view from the sidelines is rather striking.

About a month and a half ago, Ron got an unexpected job offer from our local weekly newspaper. A week later, I took over the journalism program at the tiny, rural high school where I teach.

I’ve spent most of the past 30 years chasing stories, designing pages, and mentoring the occasional promising rookie. I’ve known the frustration of fruitless investigations, the excitement of breaking stories on deadline, the tedium of crunching crime stats, and the frenetic energy of a newsroom on Election Night. I’ve pored over court records, coached young reporters through their first breaking stories, redesigned entire pages in less than 10 minutes after technical glitches suddenly ate two hours’ worth of work, and done shots of peppermint schnapps to remove the stench of dead bodies from my sinuses.

Living like that, a girl can get jaded.

The past few weeks have been nothing short of magic. I’m watching Ron rediscover the unique rhythm of weekly deadlines, the exhilarating madness of covering four events in a single day, and the fun of getting to know a community intimately by talking to its residents.

This afternoon, I watched my students distribute their first issue of our monthly school newspaper. It looks incredible. Their writing sounds professional. Their photos are well-composed and technically sound. And their superintendent is delighted (even if we did unnerve her a bit by using her as our guinea pig to practice filing Freedom of Information requests).

Their enthusiasm is palpable — and contagious. Watching them discover the joy of journalism at the very moment Ron is rediscovering it, I remember how the business felt when I was a 17-year-old high-school senior freelancing for my hometown weekly, young and hungry and hopeful, and I am content.

There’s something to be said for vicarious joy.

Emily

Classroom Reveal, Part I

Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.

I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:

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I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.

My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, here’s an update showing the finished room.

No “Stairway”? Denied!

Things that happened today:

1. I started my morning feeling a little groggy after a recurring dream in which I kept trying to listen to a Led Zeppelin album but kept waking up a split-second before the needle actually touched the vinyl. (This was considerably more stressful than it sounds. In retrospect, I think it might have been an omen.)

2. Got to school and literally had to put out a fire. Not a big fire, mind you — just a little grease fire that flared up when a kid spilled bacon drippings on a burner while preparing the FFA’s annual faculty breakfast — but exciting enough to shake off the grogginess, anyhow.

3. Met with the outside evaluator who visited my class Monday. Got a good score but was told I needed to set up a “mindful classroom” with a “social contract” involving some kind of hand signal the kids could use whenever someone failed to use “the language of peace,” because I was at a tipping point, and “the energy in [my] classroom could go either way at this point.” Was also advised that I might want to consider “cleansing the room” of the last teacher’s “negative energy,” because she could still feel it in there. (When I ran this suggestion by the kids, they told me to call in an exorcist, because a little sage wasn’t gonna do the job. X______X )

Got that? During my professional evaluation, the evaluator’s ONLY criticism was basically that I’M NOT A BIG ENOUGH HIPPIE.

(Yep. That weird Zeppelin dream was definitely a sign.)

I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that somewhere, Bob Waldmire is disappointed in me tonight. Or laughing his arse off. Or both.

In case you’re wondering, my plan for improving my score next time involves burning patchouli incense, schlepping around the room in Birkenstocks, and playing the Dead’s “Europe ’72” album on vinyl while the kids munch on homemade brownies and discuss that Kerouac quote about how “the only people for me are the mad ones.”

Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

(And I’m buying a stairway to heaven.)

Emily