Four Years and Counting…

It’s me again! I’m back with some insight into the world of a brand new teacher. The last time I wrote, I think I was wrapping up my second year, or perhaps starting my third year of teaching. Yikes. Way to go on keeping up, Tanya. As I am writing this, I am embarking on my fourth year of teaching language arts to middle school students.

I can honestly say that this is the first summer I haven’t pre-planned EVERYTHING in my school year. No changes in my routine; no last minute revisions on the first week of school. Just business as usual in Appling’s classroom. It feels sort of weird having things “how I want it.” Nightmares of teachers never changing their old school methods are popping into my mind. You know the kind of teachers. They are the ones who still show slide shows (and I am not talking about power point) of how to dissect a frog. This still happens today, people. My fear with the ‘laid back’ attitude I am having is becoming one of those teachers…the ones who never, despite countless evidence, change what they are doing in the classroom just because they are too scared [or too comfortable] to change. If there is one thing that I have learned in education, it’s that things are always changing, and you should be prepared to change.

And yet…

I am finding there are some old school methods that still work. Sometimes drill and practice can be the best thing for certain students. Sometimes giving students a classic piece of text can be just as inspiring as a current piece. Sometimes test scores don’t truly matter when it comes to measuring real education.

My goal for this year is to have fun. I finally feel like I can go into any classroom situation and be okay.  Gone are the days when I question: “Well, what if  a student does this?” or “What if a kid does that?” or “What if my class is like this…?” In my mind, I have scenarios which I have dealt with in my teaching career that help me answer those questions. Fortunately, my first three years have taught me a thing or two about classroom management; now, I am ready to take on the curriculum side of education. How do I get my students to really enjoy reading and connect to what they read? How do I get them to write what they are passionate about and communicate those passions well? How do I connect reading and writing to the real world and make it meaningful? These are the next set of questions in my ongoing career as an educator. My hope is to always be open to answers, no matter how long I’ve been teaching or how uncomfortable those answers make me.


Too Passionate to Teach?

I have a problem…

I care too much.

Before you roll your eyes, please hear me out.  This is certainly not going to be a pat on the back for myself. Being “too” passionate could potentially cost me the job I love.

Let me tell you what happened Friday.

It was a perfect school day. I got everything done that I wanted to get done with every class, and let me tell you, that rarely happens. Things were going swimmingly until one of my best students made a very snarky and rude comment while I was teaching.  I froze. And I did nothing. Nothing.

You might be saying to yourself, “Who cares? You work with middle school. You know they can be turds. We all can’t respond to things perfectly every  time.” To which I would reply, ” You are absolutely correct.”

But here is the kicker…it really bothered me. Not just a normal ‘hurt my feelings,’ then deal with it and move on type of bother; but I am actually writing a blog entry about it, it bothered me so much.

My reaction has sort of become the norm in situations like the one I just described or when something doesn’t go as planned in teaching. I have noticed that I have a tendency to dwell on things and mull them over until I become upset. The thing is, when something goes “wrong” in the classroom, I go into sort of shame cycle.

  • Students didn’t progress on the last district assessment? Shame cycle.
  • Sub gives a bad report after being gone? Shame cycle.
  • During the lesson, students seem unengaged. Shame cycle.
  • Hole in the wall appeared when a sub was there. Shame cycle.
  • While trying to teach, a student makes a rude comment, and I fail to address it. Shame cycle.

In a nut shell, a shame cycle usually consists of: what I could have done differently, why I didn’t do something differently, and/or ‘if I was a good teacher, I would have done ____'(fill in the blank). A shame cycle is always accompanied by feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and [sigh] sadness.

Talking with a colleague about this, they equated these feelings with being passionate for teaching. I want to do my job well and with passion, but my problem is I get so wrapped up in what goes wrong and the “what ifs”, that I get emotionally exhausted. Is this passion? If it is, am I too passionate to teach? I wish I could just let things roll off my back, but I can’t. I am not there yet. I am worried that my “passion” will one day burn me out of my calling.

How do I keep my passion for teaching, but not sacrifice my emotional well being?

I know the answer, but it’s easier said than done.

Give myself grace.

One thing I know for sure: God does not want me to give up teaching. Every time I think of an alternative path, even one that is still in education but not in the classroom, I get this deep down feeling that tells me, no. I don’t believe I am too passionate to teach, and I don’t believe in that statement period.

My main point is: I just need to chill out, take a deep breath, and…

Give myself grace.


Clean Up After Hurricane Sub

What do you do when you come back from a teacher conference only to find out that kids stole from you, the principal had to step in to calm a class down, and there is a giant hole in your wall?

Cry. That’s what I did.

I wasn’t sad; I was mad. No… some better terms would be hurt and disappointed. But yes, I cried.

This will not be a post about the competency of the substitute. Instead, this will be a post  about how you clean up after Hurricane Sub. What do you do when your kids really mess up while you are gone?

Here is a 10 step process I went through and you are welcome to copy.

Warning: not all steps will go exactly as planned.

1. Cry and then get really angry. Vow that you will eat the faces of those who made the sub’s day miserable and anyone who looks at you wrong at school the next day.

2. Call mentors and ask for advice. Cry some more and get reassured that you are a good teacher, kids mess up and take advantage of subs, and make a plan to punish those who are on the sub’s bad list.

3. The next day at school, walk around with a look that says, “If you even sneeze in my direction, I am going to poke you in the eye…don’t mess with me.” Start terrifying kids and making them nervous to even enter your classroom.

4. When class is in session, put a scowl on your face with your arms crossed as each student tiptoes into your room. Announce that today, if anyone does not follow your directions to a T and does not do it silently, they will be immediately sent out. Have students write for 5 minutes straight on the writing prompt: Reflect on what happened with the sub yesterday. If you stop writing, you are out of here.

5. Stop the time, and really lay on the guilt. Tell the class how disappointed and rude they were. How their behavior will not be tolerated and those who were on the sub’s “bad” list will miss the first dance of the season due to their after school detention with me. At this point, eyes get wide, and lips start quivering…

6. Pause for dramatic effect and collect their writing prompts. Do a happy dance in your head because it is really hitting home for most of the students. Announce that you will not even give them a platform to openly discuss what happened with the sub; their prompt is their platform. You are moving on and so will they. Teach a REALLY BORING LESSON.

7. Deal with bawling kids about missing the dance. Feel bad but stick to your guns.

8. Deal with a couple of parents who claim: “I will not have my kid serve a detention because a sub was picking on them..” Roll your eyes and calmly reiterate your expectations…inform them the office will deal with their “precious” if they choose not to have them serve their detention.

9. Take a deep breath, the day is almost over.

10. Get a positive parent visit which includes an apology, a ‘thank you,’ and a ‘good job’ for holding their student accountable even if it means they are missing their first middle school dance. Thank Jesus that there are truly great parents out there.

Hopefully, this will be my first and last Hurricane Sub clean up. We will see…the next time I will be gone will be in November 😉



Mrs. Appling, the “Strict” One

My personality lends itself to being more laid back and fun loving. I get uncomfortable with confrontation and try to avoid it at all costs. When I first started teaching, this was (and still is) the hardest thing I had to deal with almost on a daily basis. Kids mess up…they lie, they don’t do their work, they don’t listen, they talk when you’re talking and you are the one who has to draw the line on what you’re going to accept and what you are not. Many times, as a teacher, you have to remind them of that line right up until the last day of school.

This year, I vowed I would be more strict. Yes, I would keep the fun loving part of myself, but I wanted to work on the tough love. Let me tell you, it’s tough.

Two weeks ago was the official start of marking tardies for the 7th grade students. In our school, we only have 7th and 8th grade, so for those of you who only know the 6th-8th grade model of middle school, 7th grade is a lot like the 6th graders-brand new, scared, can’t get their lockers open. But they are also like the 8th graders-sneaky, know how to get around procedures and policies 13 year olds. Because of the newness of middle school, we try to give our 7th graders some time to adjust to getting to class on time.

The Wednesday before “tardies week,” I noticed that a lot of the 7th graders were purposefully not getting to class on time. They had their things, but they were just standing around talking and when the bell rang, that’s when they would “rush” to their classes. I suddenly had a flash back of last year, when students could care less if they were tardy to class, and they would run a muck in the halls. A burning passion started to well up inside me…they will not be late to my class or else suffer my wrath.

On Thursday, I warned my students that on Friday I would lock my door and when the bell rang, I would shut that door, and they would be locked out of my room. The procedure would then be to stand by the door and wait patiently until I got them…I didn’t want to hear any excuses. Now, kids were allowed to come to me and tell me if they were having locker troubles before the bell rang, but if it was after and they didn’t communicate, they were tardy.

Here’s the kicker though. Those who were locked out of my room on that Friday had to call their parents to let them know they were tardy. I wrote a script on an index card, and it kind of reminded me of the movie, “Up”, when Russle first meets the old man: “Hello, my name is Russle…”

Friday came, and you better believe I was true to my word. I have never seen kids get so red when talking to the one(s) who created them. A couple of times I felt my strictness waiver because I had both “good” and “not so good” kids call who were locked out. But I had to remember the boundary line I set: If you are tardy to my class, you will suffer my wrath [or consequences, for those who think that’s a little much].

Guess what? Monday, not a single person was tardy, not even the kids who continually push the envelope. It. Was. Glorious.

Am I always going to be that radical with my strictness? Probably not. But I have to remind myself that students crave boundaries. Students hate to be reminded of those boundaries, but in the end, they feel safer in your classroom if you stick to your guns. Tough love-that’s mark of a great teacher. Am I there yet? Nope. But someday I will be.

Two Years Down

It has been so long since my last post. I was looking at some of my drafts that I started from last year, and for some reason, they just never made it to the published phase of my blog. Honestly, last year was rough. Not just for me, but for all in my school.

Change is an inevitable part of life, and in education, it’s definitely the norm. It is to be expected. However, my second year of teaching was…overwhelming, to say the least. With one of our plan times taken away and more students given to us (I had 170 students at the beginning of the year which eventually dwindled to 155 due to some scheduling changes and kids moving), those things alone were enough to make anyone go insane. To top it off, language arts (my subject) and math were under some heavy pressure to raise scores for the MAP test. Our PLC times were consumed with data we didn’t know how to interpret and frustrations on how to make very capable students perform well on a state assessment they didn’t take seriously. To top it all off, behavior of the students dropped and we, the teachers, were too tired with everything else to combat that. It was a very overwhelming year.

I am two weeks into my third year, and I can say that it has been going very well so far. The teachers in my building are used to the new schedule change, and they definitely don’t want to see behavior drop like it did last year. People are stepping up and holding themselves and students accountable for maintaining a pleasant school environment. Even though last year was tough, in a way it really made all of us more courageous and willing to step up when needed. I have to admit, I am not afraid of any students and I have become more efficient in my grading, time management, and discipline because of last year. In the midst of last year’s chaos, I don’t think I would’ve been able to see how it was going to make me a better teacher. But it really did.

This year, I am really trying to focus on honing in my discipline and “with-it-ness” in the classroom. My goal, and I am very far from it, is to be fun loving but strict. I am committed to keeping up with the blog this year, so I will let those of you who follow this blog know how those goals are going. Pray for me and my fellow teachers in my building and around the country. No matter how bad or how good our school year is going, teachers could always use a prayer 🙂

First Week Down

I feel so much better this year starting out than I did last year. I am even doing something really goofy (Whole Brain Teaching), and it is going fabulously well. Next week, we start hitting content, and I am ready. Its been all about procedures, procedures, procedures for the last week, and its about time to move on.

This will be a shorter post as later on I will write about my 50 minutes in hell that I experience each day with my 7th hour. All my other classes are good to go so far. Even my 7th hour doesn’t bug me. They just keep me on my toes. I find that this year, I am less afraid and doing more problem solving than I did last year. I am sleeping way better–no more waking up at 2:00 a.m. and sadly, my weight is staying the same.  😉 There is more to come as I will write more specifically about my Whole Brain Teaching, and how I am dealing with my chronic kids in 7th hour. I will undoubtably have much to write about this year!

I Did a Very Bad Thing

I am a planner. Let me rephrase that: I am an anal planner to the point that I have had my classroom done now for over a week, and school doesn’t start for another 2 weeks. In June, I already had lesson plans made for August through October, and in mid-July I had my seating chart made and ready to go. It’s so bad that every day I even practice what I am going to do and say the first day of school! I know…freaky Mrs. Appling.

My obsessive planning has now taken a new twist: I looked up my students’ behavior records from last year. You must understand–my intentions were good. My thought was, “If I know what their behavior is like, I can better serve them in the classroom and thus plan on what I am going to do to respond to it…” which is true to a certain extent. If you have a student who has a rap sheet that covers the length of the computer screen, you know something is up and can sort of prepare ahead of time.

However, this new knowledge and “planning” has hindered me in two ways: 1) I am now very nervous about some of the kids I am going to have, 2) I now have a pre-conceived idea of what a student is going to be like even before they set foot in my room which is never good and isn’t fair to a student.

Hindrance #1 has bothered me because I read about what some of these students did last year, and I am paranoid that it will happen to me. “Oh my goodness! Will they call me a b**** or give me the one finger salute when I tell them to finish their work?” Veteran teachers who are reading this might be thinking, “You haven’t gotten those responses? I get them about once a month…” to which I can thankfully reply, “Not yet.” Fear is a powerful emotion if you let it be. It’s what slowed me down last year at the beginning of my teaching career, and I don’t want a repeat of the start of my first year.

Hindrance #2 is the biggest deal because now I have an inaccurate idea of what some students will be like. Will some of them live up to their pasts? Probably, but not all of them. Unfortunately, when I get a  negative notion about someone in my head, I tend to treat them with more…caution. It’s hard for me to want to get to know them. Instead of everyone starting out on a level playing field day 1, week 1, or month 1, there are certain students who I might (and I am sad to say it) treat differently all because I read they were little terrors the year before. That’s really not fair to them.

One thing I can plan on is students will “mess” up my “perfect” plans because they are people; I can plan to a certain extent, but I can’t prepare for everything, especially behavior. I realized through this very bad thing I did (looking up behavior records-and it is legal if some of you are wondering) that not all students live up to their reputations. I started thinking about my 7th hour and how if I would’ve read the students’ behavior from the previous year, I would be even more scared than I am now. I had a student who, in his 7th grade year, would run up and down the hallway screaming bloody murder because he didn’t want to do something. Never did it in my class. There was a girl I had who was suspended because in the middle of her performance in a talent show, she stopped and started yelling, “F- you!” to another girl she thought was laughing at her. Never heard or had anything like that happen in my class.

My point is: just because a student’s record says one thing, does not mean that is how they will be for you. Me looking up my students’ stuff from last year doesn’t give me an accurate picture of how they will be this year-it just makes me more worried. What I need to do now is just take a step back and remember that each student has potential no matter what their past says, and it is my job as a teacher to look past all their stuff and give them a fresh start.

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