agnestirrito

"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe


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Remembering Summer’s Promises in the Midst of Fall

Yesterday marked the beginning of a most welcome break. Thanksgiving holidays are here, and my district gives teachers the entire week off.

I find myself revisiting summer’s promise to myself: make time for the people and things that matter.

Honestly, there hasn’t been a lot of that going on lately. The days have been too full with meetings, changes, issues. But not these nine days…

These days offer hope and promise.

I spent part of yesterday shopping and laughing with my daughter. Cookies were made. Bean dip devoured…recipe for that to come soon…

Today’s good gifts? A long walk, knitting progress on a sequined scarf, and reading all of Mitch Albom’s the time keeper. It’s a winner.

I hope to write about my impressions of that soon…many art ideas coming to me just from having time to sit and read.

This week has the potential to be a turning point. While the days will be filled with welcome Thanksgiving preparations, they will also be filled with free time.

There will be no runs to the classroom.

This is my “rededication to change” week. The holiday season is upon us, and I want to enjoy the moments. So, boundaries must be established, time for reading and writing and time with family and friends must be moved up the priority chain. This will be my gift to me: time.

It means the smart phone’s work email is turned off this week. Facebook time will be limited, too. I want to disconnect to reconnect.

Excited to see what the coming days hold…hopefully lots of creativity that will continue long after the break is over.

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Pumpkins, Poetry, and Positivity

Well, it was a pretty good day in fourth grade today. We painted paper plates (less than one minute each), designed and created a face (fifteen minutes) for the jack-o-lantern, and created a poem incorporating either a simile or hyperbole (fifteen additional minutes). There was drying time in between, but that was not a problem. We just continued with the regular routine while we waited.

It was a good use of our time and an added benefit is that the kids are proud of their work. Each class stood in the hallway and made observations: None of the faces are the same, Some people used different colors for the stems, This one has triangle eyes.

We were able to plan a project, follow directions, work within a time limit, brainstorm a list of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and prepositional phrases in our journal as part of the prewriting process, and decide upon certain elements each poem should contain this time: a name for the pumpkin, a location, a description, and either a simile or hyperbole. The students did not disappoint!

Best of all, they were proud of their accomplishment and could really see the impact of the result when the display was finished(which they also took part in helping create).

There were eight kids absent today–quite a large number. I’m hopeful to group them with someone who was here and get their work on the board tomorrow.

Teachers from other grades complimented the children, which of course is motivating. Parent conferences and report card day is tomorrow, so this display will be a source of “good news” to share as well.

Poetry, art…it’s always a good idea.


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Journal Entry: Taking Some Time for Me

Late in the summer I made the decision that this school year would be different. I would make a concerted effort to spend more time at home doing the things I enjoy instead of spending several extra hours a day at work. How’s that going? Well…

I think I am on the right track, but am not home free yet. I did work at the school for a little while this weekend. I did bring work home. But, I also spent a lot of time with my husband. We took in an ATV show, rode four wheelers, started a renovation project. I took some walks, leafed through photographs, boxed up memories from my parents’ house.

My paints are sitting idle at the moment, and I have a stack of books I want to start. There are two quilts waiting to be put together. I can’t make it to any of that yet. More hummingbird nectar is made, but it’s still in a measuring cup waiting to be taken outside.

This weekend, I texted my friend  Alicia who is staying home from teaching for a while. She was one of my interns years ago. She loves her life at home, and she finds the days go fast. Her days are every bit as busy and full as they were a year ago. They are just a different busy.  It’s good to hear from people who have the same values, who know that the time we spend on ourselves and our families is necessary.

I look at the calendar for the week ahead and see that I have penciled in some time for me. That’s good. Most days look good for leaving work right on time. That’s good, too.

Step by step, I’m getting there. And, I’ve written in my journal every single day. I like keeping promises to myself. I keep wondering where this journey will lead. I can tell I’m in a transition.

I bought an old-fashioned cork bulletin board this weekend. It’s going to  be “a happiness wall” near the teacher desk in my classroom.  It will hold photographs, quotations, drawings, mementos. It will be a visual reminder that when the kids go home, I should, too. There’s a creative life waiting, one that I must make time for.  It is up to me. Looking forward to the days to come.


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Of Pencils and Perfectionism

What's in my Pencil Case

The first week of back to school is over, and with all its ups and downs, one thing stood out worth mentioning: There was no pencil drama.

For anyone who has taught for any length of time, you know what a big deal this is.

Pencils can drive a teacher nuts. Absolutely nuts.

The companies that make them these days make them cheaply. Parents do not tend to buy the Dixon Ticonderoga of my childhood days. Remember how  long a good pencil could last? Days on end…even weeks. I remember writing with the smallest nub of a pencil and hated to see it get too small to write with any longer. These days, a pencil might last a couple of days…forget a week.

The pencils look sharp in their containers, but we also know that is a lie. As soon as a child picks up a pencil and puts it to paper, the dreaded, “My pencil is broken!” or “I need another pencil!” rings out through the room. And, as we know, when one pencil breaks, others follow.

But not this time.

This time I decided to buy mechanical pencils, too. And pens. I do not like mechanical pencils myself because my pressure is too hard and they break. Then, there is the issue of children taking the leads and doing something with them. I don’t know what exactly because by the point I see the leads in one hand and the pencil in another, I have to go to my teacher corner and utter a silent prayer for patience.

But pens? A hopeful solution. This week, each child had regular pencils, a mechanical pencil we immediately labeled with his initials, and an ink pen. A very cheap solution to a problem I’ve been dealing with for years.

My instructions? You have three different kinds of writing implements. Make them do and make them last. If you make a mistake with pen, draw a line through it and go on.  If you like mechanical pencils, make yours last six weeks or bring your own. If you are attached to pencils, there are some extras sharpened in a bucket on the table. Just don’t ask me about it.

And they didn’t.

This is the first year in twenty-nine years that I did not replace and resharpen pencils every single day after school.

Pens in math class? You better believe it. If I am able to teach with one less interruption, I’m for ink in every color of the rainbow. This, I know, is my own coming to terms with perfectionism. Every paper is not going to be pristine, but really…how many ever are?

I have not even mentioned the issue of hand-held sharpeners. New teachers: just say no. Trust me on this one.


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Journal Entry: Last Summer Sunday

Today is the last summer Sunday I will have for a while, or I guess I should say the last carefree summer Sunday. This time next week, I will be ironing clothes, setting an alarm, thinking about quick evening meals for the first week back to work. I love my job as a teacher, so I do not mean this as a complaint. I just know that if I am not careful and vigilant with my time, I spend too much of it in the classroom when I could be spending it here, doing the other jobs I also love: being a wife, mother, artist, writer–just being me.

While students don’t start until August 27, teachers report back the 20th. This is the first year in a long time I have not spent many summer days at the school. I have been up there, but not as much as usual. There is still a lot to do before children arrive. If I were a brand new teacher, I would be stressed just thinking about it. But, if I have learned anything after nearly three decades of teaching, it is this: nothing really matters except my relationship with the kids. I can’t work on that until they get there.

Somehow, I know everything else will get accomplished: the bulletin boards will go up, the table tops will be cleared, there will be new pencils in cups, new notebooks ready for writing. I say this often, but it is true: “It’ll be fine.” And, if “fine” means storing a bunch of stuff in bags and stuffing them in a cabinet for a while, that’s okay, too.

I have enjoyed my time at home this summer. I have painted, sewn and quilted, made collages, planted, photographed, gardened. I have written letters, started this blog, made some new friendships. I have filled hummingbird feeders, played with my dogs, taken long walks, read new books–and reread some old ones. I have fished with my husband, enjoyed time with my son and daughter, and just generally enjoyed a leisurely life. There is something to be said for that.

Every year I tell myself I’ll continue these kinds of days once school starts. And every year, it is a lie. This year, I hope to follow through. Not being at school most days of the summer is a good start. Leaving at a decent hour and scheduling in time to “just be,” is my goal. I think making time for myself will make me a better teacher. Taking that time to explore new interests, spend time on hobbies, even time to just relax will impact my teaching days positively.

I almost feel like I’m making a New Year’s resolution here. Starting a new year is a new beginning, even when the new year starts in late August. Here’s hoping I make it. Here’s hoping my students benefit from my new goals every bit as much as I do.


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Teaching Tip: Managing Your Time as a Teacher

English: Gentaur schedule

English: Gentaur schedule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time. Who has enough of it? Teachers certainly don’t. I have spent a lot of time this summer thinking about time in general: how I spend it, how fast it goes, how to make the most of it. I have decided upon a few things to put into place for the coming school year. Maybe these ideas will help you, too.

I am a big fan of lists, but I have found that they don’t do me a lot of good if I don’t review them, or worse, if I cannot find them! I have been keeping one small notebook for all of the things I need to do for the day, and then I go back over it at the end of the day, transferring some things to a future date.  I have said goodbye to sticky notes for the moment. My colleagues won’t believe it, but I am finding that having one list in a notebook is much more efficient for me.  I always know where the notebook is, and I can add or delete things easily. This brings us to the subject of prioritizing.

There is just no way I am going to be able to do all of the things I want to do in one day.  I try to list one or two big projects a day, and I block out time for those things. I’ve found that if I build in some fun time, I tend to feel better about all of the other things on the list. Right now, my fun time comes early in the morning. That is usually when I write, work on art projects, and other things. That will change in a few weeks when school begins.

I should still be able to find time to do the things that are important to me, so budgeting time is important. I already see that I will need to leave work at a reasonable hour in order to have energy and time for the other activities I have enjoyed this summer. Relaxing and enjoyable times should be part of our daily life, not just reserved for summer months.

Look at the things you really enjoy doing. Estimate a reasonable amount of time for them. Enter them into your list or schedule as “you time.” If you make time for yourself, you’ll be much happier. I’m convinced that teachers who make time for themselves and the things they enjoy have more energy in the classroom. They have new experiences to share with their students because they gave themselves time to switch gears and do something besides work all day.

Use a timer. Whether at home or at school, a timer helps me stay on track. I look at the list for the day and estimate a reasonable time to do certain tasks. Knowing that the clock is ticking helps me stay focused. Many times, it is possible to get certain tasks  done in less time than I allotted. All the better!

One other tip that has helped me manage my time is to make a list of what I accomplish in a day instead of making a list of what I should do. You might be surprised at all of the things you actually do in the course of a day. Reading over a list like that can lift your spirits because you are framing it in terms of  “I did this” instead of “I still have to do this.” You may also think, “Wow, I accomplished a lot more than I thought I did.” Another benefit of listing what you do is that you realize there are certain nonnegotiables in our daily lives. Many of us have to do laundry, shop for groceries, pay bills. Those things, while not particularly exciting, still have to be part of the schedule.

Protect your time. Do not let other people spend it for you. You  probably wouldn’t let them spend your money, but sometimes we let others spend our time in excess. There will always be times when we need to handle issues with certain people, but if it comes to the point when nothing was solved or improved as a result of the time spent, it probably wasn’t a good investment.  It’s not a good feeling to let people distract you by venting or complaining, and leave you with a lot of work still to handle at the end of a long day.

Typically, teachers do not have a lot of time within the work day for all of the things that must be done. If you can designate certain days for certain tasks (copying, writing lesson plans, calling parents, changing bulletin boards, etc.) you might see that you feel more relaxed. Also, try to do some tasks while the students are working independently. For example, if you have a sustained reading time in your classroom, you could get some of your  professional reading done at the same time. Teach students to be responsible for cleaning up their work areas.

Pay attention to your evenings. Are you so tired by the time you get home that you don’t have energy for the things you enjoy? It could be that you just need to readjust your schedule. Set reasonable after work limits. Leave as soon as you can so you have time and energy for the other things you have and want to do! After the initial back to school rush is over, I plan to do this as much as possible.

We all know there is no way to get everything done that you might like to in the course of a day. Still, making a schedule that allows time for the things you like to do and sticking to it really helps. Good luck!


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8:00-4:00 Teaching: Will you take the challenge?

“She’s one of those who is out the door when the bell rings.”

Have you heard that before? Have you even been guilty of saying it or nodding in understanding when it is said of another colleague?

This is not a post for teachers only. It is for anyone who knows a teacher, who understands what they do and how much heart and soul they pour into their classrooms. Most of all, this is for every teacher who gets to school on time and leaves on time.

There. is. nothing. wrong. with. that.

I think sometimes we get  caught up in the mentality that the longer we stay  at work, the better prepared we will be, or the better results we will get. And, for those who don’t stay, the opposite is true, right?  Wrong.

I have been the teacher who stays late. Even when I am determined that this will be the year I don’t do that, sometimes it still happens. But it does not make me a better teacher. It makes me a tired teacher. It makes me a teacher who can’t give my best because I have not taken the necessary time to recharge.

What makes me a better teacher is being at school when the kids are at school. Period. Being there when they are there. And, if I can be there rested and refreshed because I left on time, then all the better. Read those words. Left on time. Not early. Not illegally, of all things. But simply, on time.

I can lift up my teaching friends by supporting their choice to leave on time to be with family, work a second job, take a walk, run errands, explore a creative habit or hobby,  and just be the people they are. I support them because it is their time.  I can also support my colleagues who choose to stay. I just want to point out something about how those hours add up. It’s good information to keep in mind.

We all know there is no way to accomplish everything we hope to during the course of a school day. The real question is, how many hours would it take? Think about the time you or someone you know spends before or after hours, for no added compensation. Let’s just say an hour extra a day. Say you get there 30 minutes early and you leave 30 minutes late. That’s reasonable, right?
After one school year spending that daily extra ONE hour only, you have given up 180 hours. 180 hours divided by 24 hours in a day= 7.5.  So,for every hour a day you stay, you lose over a week of your time. Your time. Not your employer’s time. Consider that.

Will I make it out of the door on time every day this year? I doubt it. But, I’m willing to take the challenge to try. More importantly, I will not criticize other teachers who do.