Are You Happy Here?

What a question!

I walked out at lunch the other day to talk to one of my assistant principals (we have four), and after our short discussion about my concern, he started this conversation:

“You’re doing a great job with everything. Are you happy here?”

“Todd, I’m not the most emotional person, but let me say that this is the best job I’ve ever had. I am extremely happy.”

“Good. That’s good to hear. We don’t ever want you to leave.”

The Job Jackpot

This is the third district I’ve worked in since I started teaching in 2010. Which, by the way, was probably one of the worst years to start teaching. There were so few jobs, and so many applicants…that first summer I didn’t have a single interview, but thankfully the district in which I student taught brought me back as a long-term sub. The next year I had two interviews. The year after that, maybe two or three. And believe me, I was the queen of applications. I finally got hired full time out of the area, so I moved, and got some good experience on my resume before deciding to make the move back to my home, Southern California.

I had two conditions when deciding to move back (over 800 miles, so it was a big one): I would not take a temporary position, and I only wanted to teach high school. I applied to about 12 open positions, and got six, SIX interviews. What a difference five years makes!

I went to the first two, actually, the first one, and thought I had it in the bag. Nope.

Second, totally wasn’t a good fit, and I think both the panel and I knew it.

Third, well, let’s just say when I walked in the office, my only thought was, “Boy, would I like to work here.” When I got into the interview, a panel of five, plus three candidates, I pulled out my notebook (as per usual), and the principal promptly asked me to put it away. They did not allow any candidates to have materials in front of them during the interview. I felt like a dummy, and then my next thought was, “I blew it!”

The interview wasn’t my best (at least I didn’t think so…), and I left feeling just OK about it. I was still living out of the area, but staying with my mom at the time, so I was kind of just biding my time until the next interview. I went to look at a couple of apartments, and then went to the beach. This was a Friday, so I didn’t expect to hear until Monday.

Saturday the phone rang with the school number. I almost forgot how to answer the phone. I had really liked the principal and the rest of the panel, especially the athletic director who laughed at my story about coaching middle school volleyball.

I answered it, and it was the principal! What?

He said, “Hi Noelle, this is not an official offer, but I can’t seem to get a hold of your references.”

I told him I’d get on it, and let him know when I’d made contact.

I knew that there were three positions at the school, but only one was probationary, so as excited as I was, I knew I’d have to wait until Monday to hear from HR. I did tell my mom, though, since you know, she was probably listening to my phone call.

Human Resources

I got the official offer on Monday, and I hate to admit this, but before I said yes, I said, “I need to know if this is a temporary spot, or if I got the probationary contract.”

“You’re the lucky one. You got the prob spot.”

Well, if that wasn’t the best news!

Expectations vs. Reality

I guess you never really know what you’re walking into until you really walk into it. The first week of school was actually so easy and fun, but I didn’t let myself get too worked up about it.

After a few weeks, when you start to figure out how things work at a new site, you start to observe who does what job, and if that job gets done well or not, etc., etc.

And wouldn’t you believe it? Everywhere I looked, went, everything I inquired about from tech to custodial, it got done within a day. One time, I had a five-minute turnaround on a leak in my air conditioning unit. FIVE MINUTES.

I am not even kidding. So what, right? I mean, how much does all that peripheral stuff matter in the day-to-day when there are 150 kids who need you for a million different things. Oh, it matters. It matters that at a school with 2,600 students, over 100 teachers, five administrators, six counselors…the list goes on…that everyone has a job to do and they actually do it.

I’ve been in the “our teachers wear many hats” school. It’s taxing. More than you realize until you have no option to say no, ever.

The Happy Ending

The truth is, it’s so important for me to work in a healthy, functioning school. All those little gears and mechanisms that turn together to get stuff done on a daily basis, all of those dedicated faculty members who selflessly give to the kids, all the staff that runs the offices, security, and facilities, all of it together make for a positive work environment for the grownups and the students.

It’s the first time I’ve worked in a place like this, and it will be the last place I work.

So, yeah, Todd, don’t worry. I’m sticking around.

Grizzlies

How I Haven’t Missed a Day of School (Sick)

Food

You may be shaking your head right now, but you read the title correctly: I haven’t missed a day of school because of illness this year. I’ve missed a few for departmental PD days at the district office, but otherwise, I have been in school every day.

In addition to hating not being in control of my classes, it’s simply easier to go in than not.

It’s totally possible, too.

That’s not to say I have not been sick AT ALL this school year. It’s just that I’ve been healthy enough 99% of the time, that when I do get sick, it’s usually not for more than 12-48 hours. And this, my friends, is where diet comes in.

Dieting and diet are not the same. Obviously, our society is OBSESSED with dieting fads. Protein shakes! Protein bars! Pre-workout supplements! Low-fat! Sugar-free! Zero calories!

Man, are those companies making a killing off Americans.

First and foremost, I don’t buy anything with a label on it. I eat only single-ingredient & organic foods. And, it’s changed my life.

I used to be the girl who totally bandwagoned fitness and dieting trends, including: vegan, paleo, corporate-sponsored multi-level-marketing schemes (ahem, rhymes with reach, and ends with body). And then my thyroid kicked my body into a spiral of depression and weight gain, fatigue and sleeplessness, you name it…I had every symptom of textbook hypothyroidism. It took two doctors telling me I was “fine,” or “just vitamin-deficient” before my OBGYN caught what was going on. That was a year and a half ago. I’ve been on medication since then, and even changed doctors (only because I moved), but at first, the doc recommended I didn’t change how I ate to see how the medication would affect me. I gave it a month, and started feeling more like myself, and even started losing some of the 20 pounds I’d gained. Basically, all of my symptoms started to subside, and that’s when I decided to straighten out my food plan.

After reading many medical journal studies about thyroid and hormone health, it was time to eliminate all the garbage from my diet. I gave up gluten and sugar first. Soy was out. Most fruit, gone. Starchy vegetables out, too.

And that’s when I hit the diet jackpot: high fat, also known as the ketogenic diet. I found a blog of a nutritionist who struggled with the same hormone issues as I did. She took herself off her meds, and went rogue with this style of eating to see what it would do to her body.

It worked.

Now, ketogenic diet? Oh, isn’t that a trend? Well, I am not doing this for weight loss, so I don’t look at it the same. I eat this way to support my body (fuel), and hormones (out of control for a long time). Basically 80% of my calories come from fats. It’s kind of awesome.

Here’s a sampling of foods in my kitchen: coffee, avocados, coconut oil, salmon, bacon, tuna, mayo, eggs, kale, cheese, broccoli, butter, macadamia nuts…just to name a few. It’s heavenly.

And, it keeps my immune system as strong as a horse. It’s also regulated my hormones to such a point that I now have regular menstrual cycles for the first time in over a year. A YEAR.

Supplement wise, I take fish oil and vitamin E. Both support immune function, and have a host of other benefits.

If you are eating anything that comes in a package, you are most likely putting unnecessary products (chemicals, pesticides, additives, allergens) into it. Period.

Exercise

Ever heard the saying “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet”? It’s true. And that’s why exercise goes hand-in-hand with my diet. I run three days a week (for a total of about 15 miles), walk my dog countless miles (he also runs with me), and weight train two days a week. That’s it. If I am tired (and haven’t taken more than two days off), I rest. I don’t kill myself over it.

I used to go to the gym. Ew. For hours. Ew. Ew.

Now I run with a friend, and do supplementary workouts in my living room so as not be bothered by slimy gym-goers.

Cleanliness

So, I am sure many people don’t think of equating the cleanliness of their home (or classroom) with staying healthy, but it’s a HUGE part of it, as far as I am concerned. I clean something in my house daily, and I vacuum at least twice a week. I like keeping my windows open year-round (and can where I live), so I dust constantly, clean windows and screens, windowsills, blankets, sheets, etc. all the time.

I wipe down doors and handles about once a week, sinks and toilets almost every day. I clean my refrigerator once a week (uh, duh. Your food is in there!), and cabinets every couple of weeks.

AND I never use hand sanitizer! Oh, no. Shocking.

I have multiple bottles in my classroom, but I don’t touch the stuff. Good old soap and water for me, thanks.

Oh, and I dust and wipe down surfaces in my classroom every week (I use a homemade spray of water, vinegar, and essential oil).

Anyway, yeah. Be clean.

The Flu Shot

Never had one. Never will.

The flu virus mutates ALL THE TIME, so why would I get a strain injected into my body that may not even exist by the time the flu makes its rounds?

Also, I am very unlikely to do whatever the government recommends, just on principle.

(Yes, my parents fully vaccinated me as a child, but I still got everything: measles, mumps, you name it. I was the sick kid in the house.)

Now, as an adult, I have almost complete control over my body and health. Sure, there’s always the chance that I will catch something, but my body is more prepared to deal with it because of my other habits. When I used to get sinus infections, I would need to take a harsh, 10-day course of antibiotics (gross), and I’d be laid up with a fever for multiple days. Now, I have one day where I just sleep, shower, use steam and saline rinses to clear my sinuses, and drink tons of water, and that’s usually enough to do the trick.

I’m No Doctor

Clearly, as a teacher, I didn’t use this space to deliver suggestions to you about how you should handle your health and well-being. I just wanted to share what, after many years of struggling, works for me.

I almost never see my doctor–which, although a small tragedy, for he is superbly handsome and fit–is just fine by me. (He’s also a D.O. who fully supports a pro-active approach to health, and only recommends medicine in the case of severe illness.)

Why Does This Matter?

I love my job, and never want to miss a day if I can avoid it. My students are better off when their capable and supportive teacher is there, and I feel good knowing that one of my priorities is possible because of my lifestyle.

Teachers so easily fall into traps that harm their bodies: baked goods in the office, kids who gift them cheap chocolates, stopping at Starbucks every day for a sugar-filled “coffee,” sitting.

I want everyone to experience health on the level I do. And, oh my gosh, get rid of your teacher desk! Move with your kids, move around your classroom, get a standing desk, get healthy, and stay healthy.

Just a few thoughts for you, my teacher friends.

Who, or Rather, What I Love

vday blog hop.jpgTimeliness, it seems, is key in so much of what we do and who we are in life and in work. Don’t you think? I happened upon two separate posts/emails regarding how teachers spend their time in and out of the classroom, and it made me think about how, after 5 1/2 years of teaching, I figured out the best combination of time spent on school and me, and most importantly, how to keep the two separate.

WAIT. You must be thinking I am a horrible person for saying that. I keep my teaching life and my REAL life separate. I am not obsessed with teaching, nor do I constantly Tweet, FB, blog, or Instagram about teaching. Yes, I have moments. One of which I will describe in this post, that just make me SO DAMNED happy I teach. But it’s not all of who I am or what I do. I’ve sort of written about this before, and all of my friends know it, but here it is — nice and simple: You can have a career that does not affect/interfere with your life outside that career. So, what makes me happy? What do I love? I love teaching. When I am at school. When I drive off campus, my life becomes about being with others I love, doing things I enjoy, and pursuing avenues of external happiness. That’s it. I leave it at school. All of it. The grading, the email, EVERYTHING. I don’t touch school when I am at home (TPT is another blog post! — but even then, I don’t kill myself over it).

So, my confession…my heartfelt sentiment to you, teacher, reader, student teacher, whomever is reading this: if you feel tormented by the workload or the pressure to keep up on social media, to constantly show a smiling face and all your #teachertips, calm down. I have found the secret to success as a happy, content, unstressed, non-overworked teacher.

What is your real passion?

I mean, come on. I am a girl with two, TWO degrees in English and one in Education. English, I would say when I was in my 20s (ah, that distant decade!), was my passion. I COULD NOT BELIEVE PEOPLE DID NOT FEEL HOW I FELT ABOUT ENGLISH WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE!? Ahhh. Yes. I am happy to admit, and say straight to my lovely framed degrees, YOU ARE NOT MY PASSION ANYMORE. Sure, I use it as ammunition in the classroom. You really want to argue about the spelling of that word with someone who has read and written more in her life than everyone in this room combined? 

My REAL passion, and sorry for all the caps, but my real passion is this: DOING WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT TO DO IT. For the last two years, it’s solo trips to Hawaii. Yes. SOLO. You know why? BECAUSE I CAN DO WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT TO DO IT. And it’s amazing.

It’s going to the beach with my dog. It’s cooking. It’s going on runs with a friend and whining about our aging bodies (no more marathons/half marathons for this girl!).

So, ask yourself: is teaching, or being a teacher, your passion? If it is, good for you. I am HAPPY you found it. I thought I might have been that person, but nope, I am not.

Why do you teach?

Ok, let’s get dirty here: why does ANYONE really teach. I mean, come on. The kids have no manners, cell phones rule the day, parents can be the worst, and honestly, are the kids really going to remember anything you “teach” them in class? Maybe…maybe not. On Thursday (my Friday, as we have a four-day weekend, thank goodness), a student “accidentally” said something to me about something he thinks he shouldn’t be doing, but does anyway. I have a great rapport with my students, and I figured he was just being silly or trying to get my goat. Nope. He was serious. I asked him to come in the other room with me (we were in the library’s computer lab), and talk. So, it went something like this:

Me: What do you want to tell me about this bad thing you’re doing? Are you putting yourself in a bad situation physically or what?

Student: (laughing a little) Calm, down Ms. Franzen, it’s not THAT serious.

Me: Serious enough to make me pull you out here to talk.

Student: I help a friend with his homework. You know, he’s in the same math class, but a different period, and he’s a senior.

Me: You’re in the same math class as a senior?

Student: Yeah, I don’t even know if I am doing the math right, but I take a picture of my homework and send it to him. He pays me in Monsters and lunch sometimes.

Me: First of all, you’re cheating. You don’t know if the answers are right? Isn’t he having you do this because you’re good at math? And second of all, those Monsters will kill you. Stop drinking them. (This reaction is probably what prompts comments like: “You’re like a strict mother.”)

Student: (laughing, again) I am only telling you this because I trust you and feel like you’re more than a teacher to me. Does that make sense?

Me: I get it. I get it. Look, you need to decide the choices you make in your life. I just wouldn’t sacrifice your integrity for someone else. Everyone screws up. Just make better choices.

THAT is why I teach. Because on a human level, I’ve connected with these other humans. That goes further any day than all the sentence structure and literature analysis I can teach them in a year. Because I am more than a teacher to them. Read that again: I am more than a teacher (and I hope we all are, really).

Quick tips for helping you cut the cord.

  1. Leave the grading at school. I DON’T care how much you have. Leave it.
  2. Take the damn school email off your damn phone. Actually, throw your phone in the drawer for a day and reconnect with civilization.
  3. Find something to do! I LOVE running, walking my dog, doing workout videos in my living room where no one can see the horrible faces I am making. I love wandering around Whole Foods, and eyeing the $15 grapefruit juice and exotic mushrooms. I love old cookbooks that call for LARD because everyone needs more animal fat in their lives! I love just being outside. I could lay on the beach all day (thank goodness I live at one), and read, nap, watch people, jump around in the water. We only have one life, man, and it it shouldn’t be spend under fluorescent lights.
  4. Ask for help. Don’t be a hero. We all need help (ideas, lesson plans, what have you) sometimes.
  5. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF. Other teachers are not you. You are not them. Stop.
  6. TRENDS are annoying. Do what’s best for your students when you are at school, and do what’s best for you (and your family, if you have one). Simple.

Let me condense that list for you like a chunky can of Campbell’s Cream of Celery (nice alliteration, huh?):

  1. Don’t grade at home
  2. NO EMAIL
  3. Find your passion
  4. Swallow your pride
  5. BE YOU
  6. Priorities, not fuss

Ready to pack up…

I know at the end of every long, tiring, talked-out, crazy student-filled day, that I am a very good teacher. How do know? My students tell me, and I see their progress. But, more importantly, I have balance, and my students see that. They see a calm, rested, happy person, and not a harried, worried, quick-to-anger person. I want to be the best person I can for them.

They will remember that.

-Noelle

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Thanks to Lauralee at Language Arts Classroom for asking me to participate in this Heart to Heart bloghop🙂

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

Teaching seems to change every year for me. I am no longer working in a Title I school, I’ve moved back home to Southern California, and I am teaching at the high school level again, which is my dream.

Two weeks in, and it’s smooth sailing.

I am hoping this year is the year that renews my love for teaching. The last two years have been tough. I actually thought about throwing in the towel. Twice.

What keeps me coming back? Well, I could say: the kids, the laughs, the lightbulb moments, etc. But, truly, I think for me it’s a little different. I don’t go gaga over what I do. I enjoy my work, and I enjoy the kids, and them learning. I REALLY do.

It’s just…it’s just not that emotional for me.

I am 110% present when I am at school. Trust me. I am a hard worker, and I care about my students.

But, I leave it there. It’s not all of who I am, or how I spend other time.

It keeps me sane, and it keeps me energized. Oh, and I also stopped grading everything. And I don’t assign HW. So, that helps, too!

So, I guess what keeps me coming back, and I suspect this feeling with strengthen as the years go on, is that I not only have found something to do in my life that I truly enjoy and am good at, but it is something that I can leave in a heartbeat (on a daily and yearly basis). I go home in my car, and school doesn’t ride in the passenger seat.

I am so happy with who I am as a person now, that I am ok with being a teacher for as long as I am supposed to be a teacher. I will know when it’s time to leave, or continue another year. Because, and simply this: I love my life EVEN WITHOUT my career.

Some may think this is ridiculous. Others may wonder why I don’t eat/sleep/breathe teaching. Look, to each his own…I go to work every day and am a complete professional (I don’t gossip or concern myself with others’ outside lives), I allow my students as much access to me as possible for help, advice, or just as a calm, quiet room so they can read during lunch. I provide a safe learning environment. I treat all students as equal. I personally guide students who need help with something that may be easy for 90% of the class. I respect my students, their privacy, their health concerns, and their self-identifiers. I care.

BUT, it is not my entire life.

How about you? What works, and what doesn’t?

On the Eve of Year Five

Sometimes teachers joke about the quirks of the job. You know, the kids who say inappropriate things in class at which we wish we could laugh. The helicopter parents. The use of LOL in an essay. But, teaching is more than that. Teaching is the only job I’ve ever done (for more than a few years, I might add), for which I am well-suited.

Tomorrow, I begin my fifth year of teaching — teacher prep days and some professional development — and the students arrive on Monday, August 25. And all I see everywhere are horrible news reports of bad teachers, unwarranted crime in our cities, racial profiling (still!), mean-spirited accusations: basically turmoil. Public schools often see the brunt of negative educational news: shootings, drugs, sex, you name it. If it’s happening in a public school, it’s not good.

As someone who grew up attending private school for over a decade of my education, I am here to tell you how I ended up a public school teacher, something I never saw myself doing.

I, too, had many misconceptions of what public school in the 21st century was like when I started my journey. Before getting my student teaching assignment, I had subbed mainly in private schools (parochial, generally), I was actually extremely concerned about being in a public school all day, every day. Call me naive, but I had so many thoughts about what could go WRONG.

On about day two, those ideas were swept from my mind. This was going to be the best job I’d ever done.

The kids were welcoming, they listened, they laughed at my jokes (well, most of them, anyway). There were the few who wanted to be disobedient, or inattentive, but they were in the minority. I successfully completed my semester of student teaching with all my body parts and a sense of accomplishment.

I was hired almost immediately in a long-term sub position, then got my first contract the following semester. That was the 2009-2010 school year.

Since then, I have moved from my first district, gone back to private school teaching, and back again to a public school setting. I will receive my permanent (tenure) status on my first contract day next year. My job has taken me 600 miles from my home, somewhere I never thought I’d be, and at the same time, the best place I could be.

I now teach 7th grade English and Reading in a Title I middle school. Yes, this private school girl loves working in a public school.

I recently read an article about doing what you love. I guess there’s even an acronym for this now: DWYL. Ok. Anyway, that article, full of follow-your-dreams-and-the-rest-will-come advice was missing something. Something another article I read nailed pretty well: not everyone gets to do what they love. Some do, but maybe later. Some never do. And that’s ok. Work is good for you. Hard work, horrible work, dirty work. The value of working hard is so often overlooked these days. And guess what? It took my NINE years to figure out what I loved, and I had to work hard at plenty of crummy jobs before I got to do what I love. And guess what else? It made me a better teacher.

I will never view any job more difficult than teaching. But, it’s what I love to do. So, in effect, I can now do what I love because I spent quite a bit of time working hard at what I did not love. I was not the person who knew exactly what I wanted to do the day I entered college. I didn’t want to do a mainstream job. I didn’t have goals (especially in school), but I always worked hard.

And for those who do know: good for you. I just didn’t take that path.

Where I am now, at 34-years-old, and as a still new-ish teacher is the best place I’ve ever been, and I would not be here if it had not been for my years of toil and disappointment in various dead-end jobs.

But being a teacher! Oh, people think, “how nice!” I think, “stand in my shoes for one day.”

Most people, and yes, even though we’ve all been students before, really have no idea what goes into being a teacher. Teaching is not easy. Teaching is tough. And it challenges me every day. No day is the same. One must be ready to be sad, angry, offended, discouraged, proud, enlightened, happy, confident, ill-prepared, and fascinated all in the same day. I am in a room with approximately 30 different children who come from different families, all with different ideas on how to raise a child, discipline them, what an appropriate bed time is, what constitutes a “healthy” breakfast, or some who cannot afford to provide breakfast, let alone any structure in that child’s life. So, think about that for a minute. This isn’t the Army. It’s a motley crew.

Now, I must teach them reading, writing, listening, grammar, spelling, proper note-taking procedures, how to speak, when it is the right time to use a pencil sharpener. Because that’s my job: teaching your children how to be human beings. My classroom is an exact representation of any number of future job situations they might be in. They won’t like everyone, but they will have to learn to work with them. They might not get to do what they love, at least right away, and they need to understand that. I prepare my students for the real world. I hope you know that.

Teachers do so much more too! Let’s list: I give bandaids, cough drops, food, even jackets to kids. I give them advice on friendships and other relationships. I have given a student a ride home because her father had recently died, her mother works, and she had no other option. I’ve consoled students on any number of sad and horrible occasions: death, incarceration, eviction, homelessness, disease. I had a student tell me once that his goal in life was to rob museums. I’ve told girls their shorts are too short. Not to hang out with certain boys. I’ve sat with the kid who sits alone at lunch. I’ve been told by a kid who sits alone that he didn’t want me sitting with him. These are your children. If you don’t know what’s going on with them, chances are, a teacher does.

But you know what? Public school is life. Life is not a bubble, and neither must your child’s experience be. For my education I am grateful. I am also grateful that I knew kids who went to public school, participated in community sports, and even though I went to a private school for much of my upbringing, we were not totally sheltered from the world.

Now, am I saying that every public school is the best place for your child? No. You have to decide that. But from where I sit, and teach, and help these kids, on any given day, my classroom, and the classrooms of many teachers I work with, is probably better than a lot of places he or she could be.

I am a public school teacher. I care for your children, their welfare, and their educational opportunities. I want to encourage you to choose the best school for your child, but in the end, that may just be the public school around the corner.

I’ll be waiting on August 25 to welcome your child in to my classroom.

And I am a better person every day because of it.