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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Say A Little Prayer for You

Prayer is oftentimes the best we can do, the most we can offer.

And so, this morning I did just that...at the Grotto on Notre Dame's campus.

After all, it's not every day I get to go there - I was blessed with my experience this weekend due to involvement with ACE Advocates in Chicago.

But the Summit itself must be saved for another post, another day.

This morning, I said a prayer for my students. And I lit a candle. And I pray this will serve as a reminder to me, especially as the week progresses. And I pray I will keep my center...especially amid the classroom craziness (and a full moon).

I know God hears our prayers. We just have to wait for His answers in His time...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Breaking from Normal

A taste of Arizona tonight -
One student from SJV
who now lives in Chicago with her family,
playing volleyball for her school.

Cheering and watching in the crowd,
catching up with her mom and sister.
They won!
And it was truly a lot of fun.

It's good to take a break from the normal routine of everything and enjoy something different and special. Tonight I went out to the suburbs to see a family from the school I taught at during the ACE program. It was almost surreal, seeing them up here in Chicago, when the last time I had seen them was back when I visited AZ in March...

Even though traffic was easy to complain about for the ride home, it was still worth it. And I'm looking forward to seeing them again soon.

Friend time is definitely not wasted time. It's time well-spent, for sure.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gifts from the Day

“Take as a gift whatever the day brings forth...” 
 ~ Horace (65-8); Roman lyric poet ~

As I stood by the window at the hospital, I found myself thinking about how busy I've been lately.

It's more than just school (which, quite frankly, is sometimes enough in and of itself) - it's commitments like Ministry of Care, before-care and aftercare duties, ACE Advocates meetings and conferences...

And then I stopped. And I thought how fulfilled I feel by participating in and volunteering for all of these activities. They do take up time, but my life would be empty without them. Yes, I'd have more time for myself, but if I have enough now, why do I need more?

I believe in a life well-lived...and I am going to do my best to make sure my life is well-lived for others.

Just one closing thought - came across it the other day:
"Paradise is not made for slackers. Let's get to work!" (St Ignatius of Santhia)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Teachers Make

I came across a good video that articulates "what teachers make" pretty well -->


Also, check out "Teaching Myths Debunked" on EdWeek - it also "clarifies" the teaching profession.

With a lot of negative press in the news about the teacher strike in Chicago recently, it's important to keep in mind that there are many teachers who don't fall into those stereotypes, etc.

Our kids need great teachers - we can't settle for less.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dance! Dance!

Just had to share this cute brain/body break song:

I honestly don't know who had more fun doing this dance today - the students or me.

Things were actually going well - students were doing controlled movements by their desks, but then our SMARTBoard decided not to turn off, so the students got all excited when they saw the ad for The Duck Song. That also went well (and it was pretty cute), but then they got silly at the end and a few minutes of class ended up being wasted.

However, I still think the "Ants in Your Pants" song above is worth using - and it would have been perfectly fine, except for that malfunction.

Some things you just can't control.

Sometimes all you can do is dance...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Aquafresh Challenge

Aquafresh toothpaste (1 tube)
Toothpicks (22, 1 per student)
Paper plates (11, 1 per every 2 students)

Challenge: To use the toothpicks to physically separate the toothpaste into the three distinct colors (red, white, and blue)

Hidden Challenge: To compare this 3-in-1 toothpaste to the Trinity (our Church's ultimate mystery of 3-in-1)

How'd they do? 

Well, there was some separation of the toothpaste, but all of the students soon came to realize that it was quite impossible to complete the challenge. It was then that we revealed the main reason for the activity - no, it was not really a partner exercise - and we asked why we would have them start a lesson on the Trinity with such an activity.

And that's when I was blown away by some responses to what the Trinity is/means for us and our faith. Students explained that since the Trinity is 3 persons in 1 God, they are really one and cannot be separated, just as the toothpaste has three distinct colors but can't be physically separated too. (That was the gist of it, anyways.)

The rest of the lesson wasn't anything special - in fact, some students got off task - but when we all came back together in the end, I showed them the hand signs for all three persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

And for those 4 minutes at the end, they were engaged completely again.

This makes me realize that when these students do things focused on group discussion or group activities, they really have a hard time focusing. However, when they are hands-on and/or moving, they can stay focused.

But we can't make all of our lessons moving and hand-on all the time, can we? I don't even think we should necessarily. But I do think we really need to keep this in mind.

(As you can see, we're still working through the struggles of the chattiness and off-task-ness of our class.) Oh, where is that magic formula?

But seeing as that isn't likely to happen, we'll take the little victories...like the Aquafresh challenge...and Writers' Workshop...and dismissal...

Sunday, September 16, 2012


As I was getting a blank thank you card from my stash (to send to my ACE housemate's parents for putting us up for the night on Saturday after the MSU/ND game), I happened to choose the one into which the 2 prayer cards for my grandpa's memorial service had slipped.

I think it's fitting that I should be reminded of him on this weekend, as he spent many a football game in Spartan stadium, and, under any other conditions, I would have been cheering for the Spartans on Saturday in his memory.

And so I share with you tonight "The Parting Glass" - it's a traditional Irish folk song with words that really do hit home.

I'm thinking of you tonight, Grandpa - good times and all...

The Parting Glass - Irish Traditional

Oh all the time that e'er I spent,
I spent it in good company;
And any harm that e'er I've done,
I trust it was to none but me;
May those I've loved through all the years
Have memories now they'll e'er recall;
So fill me to the parting glass,
Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
Oh all the comrades that e'er I had,
Are sorry for my going away;
And all the loved ones that e'er I had
Would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should leave and you should not,
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
Of all good times that e'er we shared,
I leave to you fond memory;
And for all the friendship that e'er we had
I ask you to remember me;
And when you sit and stories tell,
I'll be with you and help recall;
So fill to me the parting glass,
God bless, and joy be with you all.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Challenges in the Classroom

It's Thursday night - and, admittedly, this is both easy and difficult to realize at the same time. Each day has seemed to drag on (as I had curriculum Wednesday night and aftercare tonight at school), but, taken as a whole, the week has almost flown by.

In respect to school, the classroom has been presenting quite a range of challenges and rewards. At times, it is hard to believe that we're dealing with the same group of students. They can be so focused and on task at one moment but then completely chatty and off-task the next, especially during work that is supposed to be independent. And, I hate to say it, but I've been at a loss of how to deal with it.

I have been pointed in the direction of "Whole Brain Teaching" by a friend and fellow teacher, but I haven't tried the techniques yet - waiting for my co-teacher to watch the videos so we're on the same page. I think we definitely need more high energy activities that make the students think so they don't have time to think about misbehaving.

This class is actually starting to remind me of my third year of teaching out in Arizona. They were a chatty group too. Somehow, we managed to get through the year (and that was with some additional help/suggestions from my principal), so I have faith we can do likewise here. They are just a puzzle I haven't been able to solve yet.

So many personalities...talkers...caller-outers...

But so many laughs...shares...smiles...thoughts...moments...

Good (and sometimes great) things are happening in our classroom every day. Sadly, it's easier, oftentimes, to see your downfalls and those of others.

But I try to remember the words from an old film favorite, "Pollyanna": "We looked for the good in them, and we found it, didn't we?"

And I challenge myself to do just that.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What the Weekend Taught Me

I sat down (well, in all honesty, I had already been sitting most of the evening) to compose a post for this blog last night, and I came up empty.

It's not because I haven't been doing anything - it's quite the opposite - I've been super busy: ACE Advocates gathering/party, my school's family run event, Ministry of Care at the hospital, local art fair, ND "game watch," trip to the grocery store, long run, my sister's school's Reventon ("explosion!") celebration, lesson planning...

You get the idea.

But, again, there should be some inspiration there somewhere...

In looking back over the weekend, a few things stand out to me -

1) Volunteering and ministering to others makes my heart happy. (The fall weather helps too.) I wasn't sure that I wanted to get up so early on a Saturday morning if I wasn't running for my own benefit, but I'm so glad I decided to go to my school's running event. It was a mere 1K (for the little kids) and 3K (for the older kids and parents), but, more importantly, it was an opportunity to see the students outside of school and to see everyone coming together to share in a good time to support the school. The fact that I followed this volunteer opportunity with my MOC duties really cemented this realization (#1) in my head (and heart). For some reason, everyone I visited at the hospital this weekend was so full of joy - maybe it's because they all had visitors - but I can honestly say that I've never had a more pleasant experience doing MOC. Wow.

2) Running along the lakefront path is a wonderful sort of therapy, where staying in shape, socializing, and relieving stress meet. I can't say that I always enjoy waking up before 7 a.m. on a weekend day, but for running along the path with my sister, it is worth it. The weather was just perfect, and it's always motivating (and more fun) to run with someone else. And maybe I can convince this someone else (ahem, ahem) to do another marathon in the (somewhat) near future...

3) My brain was not built to function in the early morning hours before I've had my cup of coffee, nor was it built to function in the later hours of a Sunday night. So, on Saturday morning, while volunteering at my school (see #1), one of the parents yelled out as she passed me that my co-teacher had come too. I had not yet seen her that morning, so I wanted to make sure I saw her before I left. After the race, I was talking to my roommate (who also teaches at the school) and another woman (who was actually my co-teacher - but I didn't recognize her due to her sunglasses, hat, etc.), and I remarked that I had to find my co-teacher. Both women turned and looked at me in disbelief - she was standing right there and we had been talking for 5 minutes. (Ah! I was so embarrassed.) So that's proof in the pudding, as they say, that coffee is a must in the mornings before doing anything that requires brain functioning. On a related note, there should be a cut-off time for my brain at night, especially on Sundays, because I'm pretty sure it shuts down and I make comments in emails and such that don't really make sense or are not as coherent as they would have been, say, 2 hours earlier.

I am pretty sure I learned a few other things this weekend too. However, it's just about that time to head out for school, so those thoughts will have to wait.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Teacher's Job...

"…a teacher’s job is always to bridge from the known to the new. Because there really is no other choice. Kids are who they are. They know what they know. They bring what they bring. Our job is not to wish that students knew more or knew differently. Our job is to turn each student’s knowledge, along with the diversity of knowledge we will encounter in a classroom of learners, into a curricular strength rather than an instructional inconvenience."

- P. David Pearson, 1997

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Breaking In the New

As I was about to walk out the door this morning, I had the sudden urge to change my shoes - instead of wearing one of my new pairs, I opted for the old, broken in pair.

My reasoning? It was likely to rain (so I didn't want my new pair to be ruined), and I didn't think my feet would be happy with me at the end of the day if I chose the newer, stiffer ones.

It's hard to break in new shoes. Even though they're beat up and worn, the old ones are comfortable and familiar.

With teaching it's kind of the same way. (Bear with me - Yes, I am comparing my classes to shoes.) There are so many days at the beginning of the year in which I have longed for my class from last year. It's not that I don't enjoy this year's class - it's just hard to break them in. Everything just takes longer...and I don't know if they always get my jokes...and it's always the hardest to get started with something new. (And when last year's class was SO good, it's hard not to compare.)

But, if you think about it, last year's class was once in the same position - they were the "new shoes" that needed time and wear. 

Now, it is time to break in this new class. I think they're ready to go. (Again, they'll be a little slow at first, and they'll need a lot more guidance and scaffolding, but they just need some time and practice.)

And it's also time to break in those nice new black shoes...

(Just not tomorrow - I have aftercare duty.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Simplify, Simplify

In looking back over Gift from the Sea, one of the main focuses early on is about simplification of life.

(This actually reminds me of a line from one of my dad's favorite movies, in which they quote Thoreau: "Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify" - but I digress.)

Based on experience, simplifying by getting rid of old things no longer needed, donating clothes no longer worn, shedding the excess, etc. is one of the greatest cathartic actions a person can do. But, for some reason, it is (usually) anything but simple to accomplish.

For example, when I moved from Arizona, I made a lot of trips to Goodwill and also some trips across town to give some stuff away - there was absolutely no possible way all my belongings were going to pack neatly (or not so neatly) into my little Honda Civic. And I wouldn't have wanted it all to. Because, you know what, it felt good to get rid of stuff. In fact, it felt so good that I vowed I'd never buy new things again.

(That worked out well. Um, or not...)

Somehow the collection of clothes, school-related materials, and other odds-and-ends keeps growing.

And it comes to the point where I wonder why I have so much junk.

And it makes me ask, Could I get by with less?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh begs that very question - Is it necessary?

It's times like this when I look around and realize just how much stuff I have, that I really consider doing what this following quote suggests:

I would gladly live out of a suitcase...

No, really, I'm not even kidding.

Because it would be completely worth it.

However, I don't think that's likely to happen any time soon, so until then, I'll be looking to simplify my life in other ways - one Goodwill donation bag at a time...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Some quotes for this week's journey

Not feeling very original tonight, so here are some quotes & thoughts I'm using to gear up for the week - it's going to be a full one. I hope you may find some inspiration/joy/etc. in these as well:

Albert Einstein
Need to remember this in the classroom - and inspire those kiddos to do the same!

But I do have to remember to stick to that bedtime...at least on school nights...

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sometimes this is, indeed, the hardest thing.

Margaret Atwood
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Why is this one quite often hard to remember?

This one reiterates "Gift from the Sea" that I just finished reading. Alone time is much needed and should not be overlooked or looked down upon!

And the last one...

anne of green gables quote.  love.
For only in looking at tomorrows will this ever be true. But mistakes are important and worth taking risks for. Gotta keep trying, that's for sure.

Have a most wonderful first full week of September!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

How am I different?

The idea of leaving Mass different than when we came was an idea on which our priest preached tonight. And it's not a new idea to me, by any means; in fact, I believe I've blogged about that very thought before (as it was mentioned by another priest at one time or another).

But I needed reminding of that tonight.

It was actually an idea that I had already given some thought to this week, as I am reading Gift from the Sea (by Anne Morrow Lindbergh). It is a book in which she focuses on the demands and stages of life for women, and she also makes a case for balance, solitude, and peace. So, again, the idea of preparing myself for Church to allow myself to be renewed by the experience was already mulling around in my head.

In the book, she says,

"The church is still a great centering force for men and women, more needed than ever before...Our daily life does not prepare us for contemplation. How can a single weekly hour of church, helpful as it may be, counteract the many daily hours of distraction that surround it? If we had our contemplative hour at home we might be readier to give ourselves at church and find ourselves more completely renewed..."

Therefore, as both the priest and the author (of Gift from the Sea) noted, we should expect to be changed by our weekly visits to Church, but only if we prepare ourselves throughout the week in our thoughts, words, and actions. As it said in the Readings this weekend, " Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves." (Jas 1: 22)

So, the ultimate question becomes, How am I different - What am I doing now to put what I heard and experienced at Mass into my life and actions?

And the answer...?

I guess I need to be more aware of finding that each day too.

(On a different, but Mass-related note, I thoroughly enjoyed the preparation hymn this evening, so I decided to include the lyrics below. I particularly like the part in verse 2 that says "Let my actions, Lord, express what my tongue and lips profess." Enjoy!)

As a Chalice Cast of Gold

1. As a chalice cast of gold, 
Burnished, bright, and brimmed with wine, 
Make me, Lord, as fit to hold 
Grace and truth and love divine. 
Let my praise and worship start 
With the cleansing of my heart.

2. Save me from the soothing sin 
Of the empty cultic deed 
And the pious, babbling din 
Of the claimed but unlived creed. 
Let my actions, Lord, express 
What my tongue and lips profess. 

3. When I bend upon my knees, 

Clasp my hands, or bow my head, 
Let my spoken, public pleas 
Be directly, simply said, 
Free of tangled words that mask 
What my soul would plainly ask. 

4. When I dance or chant Your praise, 

When I sing a psalm or hymn, 
When I preach Your loving ways, 
Let my heart add its Amen. 
Let each cherished outward rite 
Thus reflect Your inward light.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Shaken Up

The first week of school flew by - and it certainly seemed that, aside from the chattiness, everything was fine.

The problem was, it wasn't.

An email from a parent caught me off-guard on Friday morning as I was preparing to leave for school. Her daughter (who is new to our class) had been visibly upset every day - she cried on the way home, and she did not want to come to school. She was upset because she had felt excluded at lunch, especially before another student in our class invited her over to another lunch table. The student's mother was not upset, but she was concerned.

As a teacher, this was crushing. After spending so much time in preparation for creating a warm, loving, and inclusive classroom environment, a student still ended up remaining on the fringe.

What had gone wrong?

After composing my thoughts, I replied to the mother - I spoke about how we could set up a buddy system with another student in the class. That way, her daughter would have someone looking out for her (without her knowledge) to make sure she had a place to sit in the lunchroom, etc. until she got to know the other students more on her own. (And I had just the student in mind who would be a great buddy.) This idea came to me because I had just read about something similar done in the young adult fiction book Wonder (which I blogged about this summer), where a student new to the school had other students looking out for him until he was more familiar with the school and his classmates.

I also suggested that our student sit at the peanut-free table, as it is a place in the lunchroom with a smaller number of students (all girls) who are very friendly. (I figured it would be a little less intimidating.) So, on Friday, I checked the student's lunch box in hopes that I would find a peanut-free lunch (which I did!), so I suggested she sit at that table, and she did.

According to her mother, with the help of the student buddy and with my co-teacher's discussion of feeling comfortable at the start of school (during our community circle meeting), there were no tears after school on Friday. Yay!

This situation makes me realize a few things. Even though I consider myself a very aware teacher, there are still interactions and feelings among the students that I can miss. This means that we, as teachers, cannot emphasize enough the importance of students feeling comfortable to come to us should they (or one of their classmates) experience exclusion, bullying, or any other feelings of being uncomfortable. It also means that communication has to be open and inviting for parents too, when, in situations such as this one, a student lets out feelings on their parents but not necessarily at school. (And this also means that parents need to spend time with their children, asking them about their day and making sure everything is all right.)

I'm not perfect. I know that. And the mistakes I make in the classroom are ones I can learn from - such as the fact that I messed up the "I have, who has?" game on Friday during Math. However, under no circumstances are mistakes or unawareness when it comes to students' well-being something to be taken lightly or remedied slowly. These things (even if, for some reason, they are overlooked at first) must be corrected immediately, and they must be monitored and followed up throughout the year.

And I must do my best to make sure such exclusion doesn't happen in my classroom again.