I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cue Classroom Color

Enjoy some classroom pictures:

As you can tell, I'm a woman of few words tonight...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No More Cutting Corners

"It's the easy way, but it's not the best way."  One of my students stated this in response to a question along the lines of "Why can't we just copy from the book?"

"It's the easy way, but it's not the best way."  When I heard that response, I just looked at my co-teacher, and we both smiled in understanding of the simple but deep truth that this young lady had just uttered - after all, as she went on to point out, if we don't put it in our own words, then we're not really sure we understand it. (Truth.)

"It's the easy way, but it's not the best way."  How often do we find ourselves cutting corners because it makes it easier in that time and place? I know I do from time to time (especially when it comes to filing papers or folding my laundry). And what do I find later? Things are much more difficult than they would have been if I had not been quite so lazy with the earlier task. 

"It's the easy way, but it's not the best way."  And that's the way it is with teaching too - Sure, we could go along with what we've always done because less changes would save more time. But maybe one of our assessments wasn't quite designed right or at the desired level of difficulty/critical thinking. Maybe one of our lessons doesn't meet enough learning styles. If we sit there and say, "Oh well, at least it's something that's been done before," then who are we really cheating? Hmmm...Yeah, it might be easier at the time, but let's think about the consequences.

"It's the easy way, but it's not the best way."   I feel that this phrase is now emblazoned in my brain, so it's time to make sure I won't be the one to cut corners this year. 

Guess it's time to put those scissors back on the shelf.

Monday, August 29, 2011

First Day = Full Heart

Nicely pressed jumpers...tucked-in shirts...squeaky shoes...shorts with belts...nicely-combed hair...brand new backpacks and supplies...smiling faces...

You guessed it - school started today. Well, I sure got a dose of nostalgia for my own time as a Catholic grade school student - plaid and all - taking my first day of school pictures and getting ready to meet my teacher and class for the year. I just remember being SO excited - everything was new and fresh, and there was so much opportunity ahead.

As I greeted the students (those in my class and those in other classes), I realized that they were ours for the next 170-something school days.

And my heart was full. (I swear, I can't move again any time soon because I just keep meeting such incredible children!)
And my mind began to race: Will we have reluctant writers? or perhaps voracious readers? Will we have Notre Dame fans or ones who cheer for the Cubs at baseball season?

Only time will tell. Guess I'm just going to have to be patient...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Full Speed Ahead

For Sunday being a "day of rest," it sure had me fooled. Although, I eased into the day, after about noon I was on full speed.

A special Mass was held at my new school this morning, and it was beautiful! From the students in uniform (I'm so excited the children wear plaid here too!) to the familiar music to the well-spoken homily of the Cardinal to the reception in the school cafeteria, everything was well-planned and welcoming. It was nice to sit with the other faculty (and for my sister to come and meet my co-workers too). I even saw a handful of my students! (And, admittedly, I got all excited because I realized that these children are about to be entrusted to my care for the upcoming year, and there are lots of memories to be made.)

Following Mass, I drove over to Marisa's old apartment to help her with the final clean and move. (Don't worry, we had lunch and gelato (yum!) first. After all, you can't work on an empty stomach...) We were pretty efficient, but quite sadly her bookcase was less than a centimeter (on each end) too wide to fit in her trunk. So much for that idea. 

Plan B - buy a new bookcase at Target...and then assemble it. That meant I had to buy some tools too. (I was proud of myself for getting in and out of the store so quickly - usually Target is a great diversion.)

Back at home (yes, I felt like a ping pong ball), I first decided to put together the end table that had come with my bed. It took nearly an hour, but it has a drawer that pulls out (and it works), so I was pretty satisfied. With that done, I decided a short run was in order - Lake Michigan, how I love you!

And then it was back to work - this time on that bookcase. (Well, I did have dinner first.) After putting a few boards together in the wrong direction, I reviewed the directions and made the fix. And voila! I must say, things are looking much more organized in my bedroom. I can see parts of my floor, and there are no more random boxes - things are either on the shelves, under the bed, or in the closet. Phew! What a process!

And now it's after 10:30 - that's definitely past my bedtime. Yikes! Time sure flies when you're having fun. Although, I honestly don't feel that tired...and I know I probably won't be able to get much sleep anyways - tomorrow's the first official day of school!

After such a long summer, it's hard to believe that school is back in session. But here goes nothing...

Friday, August 26, 2011


Today was officially the first day back - not that we had class or anything, but it was Open House for students and families. (And, of course, everyone had to check out the new building.) From about 9 until right before 11, we had a pretty consistent flow of families in and out of our classroom.

I was happy to finally begin putting names with faces (and personalities). It seems like we have a great group of students, and everyone was all smiles, eager to start school. (We'll see how long that lasts.)

And our school is actually starting to feel like a family to me - Maybe it helped that I kept hearing "Welcome!" more times than I could count, or maybe it was because I have already had a few hugs from the students.

Even the co-teaching came more naturally today. (I think it helps that parents are already familiar with the co-teaching model and all.) It's more challenging than I expected (especially planning-wise), but it's incredible to be working so closely with three other highly motivated, talented, creative, and dedicated teachers. One day at a time...

Now it's on to the weekend. After some errands and grocery shopping, I think I might just reward myself with a nap or good book before heading out to spend an evening in celebration with friends. Good times.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come and See...

Well, don't come quite yet - we still have a few (who am I kidding? a LOT of) things left to do to organize and prepare by Friday's Open House. But progress has been made, and I am quite excited by some recent room decorations (see pictures below).

Student "poetic licenses" and poems will be added within the first few weeks to our poet-tree

John Staud would be proud - so ACE
Sorry to be so short (and not so reflective) again, but there is quite a lot to process before I put it in writing. (Otherwise, it probably wouldn't all make sense.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Picture This...

Not much to say tonight - just a couple of pictures (with more to come once school starts) to give a small idea of our classroom goings-on...

Front Religion bulletin board - the dove will actually be a student mosaic...

Some of our classroom library books sorted into genre and author buckets

And yes, that white image on the bulletin board is a dove (an upside down one) - bear with my art here...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Co- What?

Confession - I actually had to go back and read old blog posts (good thing there aren't too many!) to see if I had already penned (well, typed) my thoughts about co-teaching. I haven't...until now.

What is co-teaching? I'll let you know when I find out...

JUST KIDDING! Long definition short (and sweet) - it's 2 certified teachers in a classroom each giving 100%, providing smaller groups, team teaching, intervention, and support to the students (and each other) every day.

Oh, but where to begin? First thought - Wow, with two teachers working together there should be less work, almost like divide and conquer. Yeah...uh...no. It doesn't quite work out like that. In fact (as I've told numerous people this week), it actually takes about 3-5 times longer to get things done because every decision is made as part of a team.

So yes, we even had to come to consensus on bulletin board colors and designs. (I am actually quite pleased with how they came out!) But hey, once we decided what colors to make them and what slogans we would use, we had those babies up in no time.

Is it frustrating? Not really. Call me crazy, but the accountability and identity as a team is very assuring. Maybe that's why I'm not freaking out that our classroom and lesson plans aren't finished yet. Quite frankly, we're not even close to being done for Friday's Open House. But we'll get there. Strangely enough, I feel like time is on our side.

I guess I have yet to provide a complete answer to what co-teaching is (Sorry!), but, like our classroom, my definition will be shaped and finished over time.

Guess you'll just have to stick with me on this journey as I find out more about it on a daily basis and then proceed to relay it here for you as best I can...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mass Changes Us

"You should never leave Mass the same as when you entered it."

Bam. I said it. Well, someone said it to me. But, wouldn't you say that such a simple truth is often overlooked?

And yet, it's impossible not to be changed in even some small way after hearing God's Word and participating in the most holy Eucharist.

By no means am I saying that I leave Mass every week with greater insight, less burdens, or all prayers answered. Heck no. But there's always at least some small take-away and a sense of hope felt in being in communion with others during that one hour. Prayer is so powerful.

And, I just have to believe it is that way for the students as well, even if they don't realize it or if they go kicking and screaming (figuratively, of course). This year we are so blessed because, for the first time at my new school, we will be having weekly Mass for the older students on the new campus. I hope no one at my school takes this for granted! (And I pray I never do either.)

Now that this truth has been pointed out, I don't think it's possible to be forgotten. When I go to Mass, I'm going to try to be a little more conscious of how God is working through me during that time and after the priest sends us forth. And I urge you to do the same whenever you come before the Lord.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tell Me Where the Days Go

It's hard to believe, but in less than a few hours I can say TGIF.

Meetings, classroom organization, schedule-making, errands - you name it. And then add some more errands on top of that. Good thing there's still a week of in-service left for me...because the lesson planning hasn't even started yet.

The whole co-teaching thing is definitely new and challenging in many aspects. It's really been keeping me in check because I've had to be a lot less impulsive in my decision-making. Yes, it's a bit frustrating at times because it takes 3-5 times as long to do most things than it would if I were teaching by myself. But, on the other hand, I'm getting loads of good ideas, techniques, and checks of accountability.

And the classroom's starting to look pretty good - pictures to be posted soon!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Alike...But Different

And then there were 60...or maybe more. Holy cow. With that many people on faculty, it's a little overwhelming, especially when coming from a school with between 20 & 25 faculty members.

Now, that's different. Man, it's going to take awhile to memorize names and faces, let alone meet and get to know my fellow teachers. You  might say I have a bit of a head start - I think I know about 7 or 8...

I did find comfort in the "normal" back to school routine (minus the whole getting up before the sun thing), with passing out of schedules, handbooks, etc. I suppose most schools are the same along those lines, right? Plus, we had a whole afternoon of emergency preparedness training. (I have to admit, though, that even after a can of Diet Coke, I was still fighting the yawns and heavy eyelids - and the presenter was actually pretty good!)

But do you know what gets me really excited about the back to school routine? Decorating and designing the physical classroom space! (Ok, maybe that's a rhetorical question, or maybe it's just an obvious answer.) But seriously, I cannot wait to see my classroom (tomorrow!) and get started.

Yes, maybe these next few days will bring longer hours, but I've come to expect that - it's something that stays the same as a teacher no matter where you serve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Happiest

"The happiest people are those who discover what they should be doing and what they are doing are the same thing."
- Unknown

As my school year finally (trust me, I do mean finally) begins, this quote gives me great encouragement. I know - and we're talking "deep down in my heart" know - that God has called me to a vocation of service and love of young people. It's the (be-it-far-from-perfect) match of what I should be doing and what I am doing.

And I am happy. (And, no, I'm not just talking about being optimistic or even just plain oblivious. That's different.)

It's not that I don't go through days of frustration, worry, concern, sadness, or feelings of a similar nature. I can't claim that I have all the answers - trust me, there is so much I have yet to learn to become a better teacher. And, truth be told, there are often times when I would rather be doing something other than lesson planning on a Sunday afternoon.

But, when it comes down to it, I know (at least for now) that I have made the right choice. And I know that because I am happy.

And happiness is what we should all strive for in our lives. Face it, God wants us to be happy. (Heck, that's why He gave us the Beatitudes.) It's time to do what we are meant to do...and happiness will surely follow, even if it is in a way we do not expect.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Put a Name to It

Have you ever heard of the phrase "Treasured Sorrow?"

Perhaps you aren't able to put your finger on it right away, but I bet if you thought about those two words, some ideas may start popping into your head. You've probably had multiple experiences of this throughout your life, but you might not have been able to give it a proper name. It's part of living, and it comes with the territory.

Here's what it is...

"...It is a life situation where we experience pain, challenges, hurt, and grief. At the same time, we come out of the experience in way that we treasure the experience we have been through because of what we have learned and who we have become."

Read more about "Treasured Sorrow" here.

Most recently, I experienced this in my latest teaching transition from Phoenix to Chicago. I cannot begin to even explain how much it hurt for me to move on from such an incredible, faith-filled community of teachers, families, friends, and religious that made up our parish. I was even looking at first day of school pictures of some of my previous students last night (yes, they started school already out there), and those pictures tugged at my heart because I realized just how much I miss those kiddos. 

And I wondered, "Did I make the right choice in leaving?" and "What would have happened if I stayed?"

Now, I probably don't even need to tell you how dangerous the "What if?" game can be, and I feel like such a hypocrite playing it when I constantly told my students the past 3 years that such a game would not be played in our classroom. 

That’s because wondering "what if" does no one any good. If we spend our time wondering “What if?” we lose the time we could be asking “What now?” and we lose the ability to be fully present to those around us.

So, yes, it is incredibly challenging to make this change, and a lot of tears have been shed in the process. (That’s the sorrow part.) But it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. (That’s the treasure part.) Being in ACE (and especially in ACE in Phoenix) provided me with many (often unexpected) opportunities for growth and change. And, while those experiences don’t define who I am, they sure helped shape me into the person I am today. And those times in Phoenix, even though they are hard to leave behind, are among the ones I will most treasure for the rest of my life.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Let's Give 'Em Something to *PRAY* About

It's sad but true that I hardly ever get the whole gist of a homily because my mind tends to wander every now and then, especially if the priest goes in a few different directions.

And this Sunday was no exception. (For me and for the priest)

But what he was saying was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I don't know how exactly he came to this point (again, my mind is a wandering thing), but he said that prayer should never be a last resort. In other words, we shouldn't just look to prayer when we need something or because nothing else seems to be working.

And that made me think of the following quote by St. John Vianney:

"Prayer is to the soul what rain is to the soil. Fertilize the soil ever so richly, it will remain barren unless fed by frequent rain."

Yes, my faith foundation is strong. It has been cultivated, nourished, and developed since before I can remember. Schooling, retreats, camps, CSU, teaching, and other influences have all worked together over time to guide and support me on my faith journey. But unless I spend more time in prayer, my relationship with God cannot grow, and I might even be in danger of being a person I don't want to be.

Let's just say I really needed that reminder. With school, it's much easier (at least for me) to get in a habit/routine of praying often and in many forms. Time to start the day - ok, time for prayer. Test coming up? Say a quick prayer to Jesus. End of the day - let's thank God we made it!

But summer has provided me hardly any structure (except for Sunday Masses) to help with my own routine of prayer. And I had forgotten what daily prayer really felt and looked like. Sadly, I had gotten into the habit of merely talking to God when I needed something or to say grace before a meal. (And that wasn't even for every meal!)

So, I tried something this morning when I first woke up (and before I rolled out of bed to go for a quick jog) - I told God thank you. I prayed the Prayer of Jabez (my favorite daily one). And I asked for blessings on my day. Amen!

Yep, it feels good getting back on track with God. (And I haven't even had my morning cup of coffee yet.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Give Me That Toe-Tappin', Song-Singin', Smile Shinin' Music

Do you ever have those songs that come on the radio or your iPod that just bring a smile to your face? (Well, ok, that's probably a rhetorical question.)

I confess that I have a whole slew of songs lined up like that. But most recently, that song that just makes me smile whenever I hear it is "Good Life" by One Republic (video embedded below). I hadn't heard it before the previews for the movie One Day (it's the music in the background) came out. But when I did hear it, I was hooked...and I haven't been able to stop humming along since.

Maybe it's the beat, or perhaps the tune is catchy, or lyrics like "but please tell me what there is to complain about" and "the hope is we have so much to feel good about" might just hit home...

What is it about music that tugs at our heartstrings and begs us to sing along?

And as you ponder this question, enjoy the music (or enjoy some of your own - whatever makes your toes tap the beat and your heart dance). The answer might come when you aren't expecting it.

Good Life - One Republic

By the way, just curious --> What song makes you smile?

...Is your toe tapping yet?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inspiration Revisited

The inspiration just wasn't flowing today, and sometimes that happens.

But being in Michigan on vacation is always something that stirs old memories, so today I share with you a poem that came from inspiration in this very same place this past Easter...

Michigan Grass
KMF, 04-23-11

We called it "Michigan grass."
It was soft and cool between our toes
and even though we were only in Ohio,
we knew we'd be to Michigan soon.

We called it "Michigan grass" -
it smelled like summer
and it tasted like grandma's peanut butter-chocolaty treats
fresh off the stove.
(We could smell them all the way from the basement!)
It was the taste of sweet raspberries too,
right after being picked from the backyard bush.
(Sometimes we had to wait all summer just to get our first bite!)
It was the splash of cold water
after jumping off the makeshift wooden-red ledge
into the familiar pool.

It was trips to the park
and pretending we were in the Old West.
Family barbecues and July birthdays
were always cause for celebration.
Even a trip to Dairy Queen was an adventure.
(And sometimes it would be so hot 
the ice cream would slowly trickle down our skin,
daring us to finish faster.)

We called it "Michigan grass,"
and it was perfect for sitting and star-gazing
or for catching a glimpse of the fireworks
over the tops of the trees lining Grandpa's street.
It was card games like Euchre, Crazy Eights,
and (especially) Pinochle.
Trips to the zoo were quite the tradition,
and we always enjoyed the sugary slushies
in their special plastic mugs...and the penguin exhibit.

We watched so many movies those summers -
we must have kept Blockbuster in business.
We learned to love the smell of coffee
long before we acquired a taste for it.
When in doubt, we could always make a gift
of coffee mugs to Grandma and Grandpa -
they could never have enough.

We called it "Michigan grass"
all those summers when the pullout couch
became our makeshift bed
and the basement became a favorite reading place.
We would often lose ourselves for hours
playing ping pong and pool (without the cues, of course).

It was "hop in the car"
and we were off and running,
as dad tried to squeeze in too many visits
into the few days we had left.
(But I don't think we really minded much -
Dad was just really good at keeping up with friends.)
The sand dunes were somewhat daunting,
but we always managed to make it to the top.
We visited where Grandma grew up,
and, in time, we often planted flowers on her grave.
Northern Michigan has always been
a place of peace and family.

We called it "Michigan grass,"
but it was much more than that -
it was that knowing feeling of being home.

And it does feel so good to be home...