Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Thankful For...

When I was a kid, there was this song we’d sing at school for Thanksgiving.  In my family, we still sing it as a joke sometimes, because I sang it so much when I was little.  (I was rarely quiet if you can believe it.)  Since my last post, the words have been echoing in my head (in the cheesiest of ways). 

The song goes like this:  There are many things I am thankful for / I can find them near and far / There are many things I am thankful for/ Let me tell you what they are…”  After that, the kids in the class sing, “I’m thankful for __________” and take turns filling in the blank, then the last line of the song says, “And I’m thankful to be me.”

Sometimes I worry that this blog is too gloomy, that I spend too many words lamenting and not enough lifting up.  In truth, I do live a very blessed life and I am so very thankful to be me.  So today, I wanted to prove that I’m taking my own challenge and “just trying” to focus on the positive.  Today, I wanted to fill in the blanks of that childhood song and tell you that…

I’m thankful for

my family.  This starts with my husband who has proven his unconditional love to me time and time again.  So many times, I have cried to Brent that we’ll “never have a family” and every single time he has looked me in the eye and emphatically replied, “We are a family.”  He’s right, and he is everything to me.  I am also thankful for the families that we come from.  We both were blessed with parents who put us first as they raised us, and love us for the adults we have become.  Last (but not least) I am blessed to have a sister who is also the greatest friend I could ask for, and I’ve watched Brent become closer with his brother the last few years as well.  There’s nothing better than family you’d choose to be friends with!

friends who feel like family.  I’ve never been one to classify the importance of a relationship by whether a person is family or not.  If you’ve invested in my life, taken the time to get to know me for who I am, and loved me well, you are family in my book.  I’ve been blessed throughout my life with people who fall into this category, and I am thankful… every weekend away, every day spent at the waterpark, every long conversation over a cup of coffee or dinner, every Saturday night playing games and laughing, every text just checking to see how I am.  It always amazes me how God places just the right people in our lives at just the right times.  All we have to do is be willing to open our hearts.

a job that I LOVE.  Recently at a teacher of the year reception I sat next to a young man who works at our school system’s central office.  He seemed perplexed that I had worked at the same school in the same capacity since college and didn’t have any aspirations to go elsewhere.  I’m not sure he bought into my explanation of why I’m truly content where I am, but luckily, it doesn’t matter what he thinks.  All that matters is every morning I walk into a classroom at a school that feels like home and am greeted by twenty-some little people who think I know it all.  It’s an awe-inspiring responsibility and yes, some days it feels overwhelming just like anyone else’s job.  But unlike most jobs, the pay comes in unexpected hugs, uncontrollable giggles, and an unexplainable bond with so many children whom yes, I slip up and call “my kids” sometimes. The truth is the truth, and in some ways, they will always be mine.  For that I am thankful.

my faith.  I am thankful for the challenges of the last few years because they have taught me that my faith is real.  I am thankful for a husband who loves God even more than he loves me, who has refused to let me give up on my faith even when things are hard.  I am thankful for our church, for the people there who love God and love each other, and perhaps most of all, love to have a good time.  I am thankful for our pastor whose words of truth on Sunday morning ring out over the lies I’ve been telling myself all week more times than not.  I’m thankful for the youth group we work with for reminding me of the roots of my faith every time I answer their questions, hear them sing a song of praise, or listen to them pray.  Every moment that I feel God working in my life, I am thankful.

you.  I started this blog about a year ago and it was a huge and scary step for me.  Personally, I had kept our infertility a secret from many people in our lives up until that point and professionally, I was just reaching the point in my teaching career where I thought I might have anything worthwhile to share.  I had this web address reserved for six months before I actually got up the nerve to post, but it’s a risk I’m glad I took.  I’m thankful you are willing to read it and I’m thankful for any way that God has used it to uplift.  I’m also thankful for the way people have shown support to me, and I’m thankful for those of you that have reached out to me for support now that you know my story.   So thank you, for listening to my heart and for sharing yours.  I’m thankful that we’re all in the crazy thing called life together.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Just Try

There is always a reason to be thankful… not just in November, not just when we’re praying at the dinner table, not just at church on Sunday, not just when a specific prayer is answered.  Always. 

For some of us, ironically, it’s harder to be thankful this time of year than others.  The simple reminder, the unspoken pressure, the general expectation to be thankful sparks involuntary recoil deep inside of me.  You see, I have prayed the same prayer continually, persistently, for well over five years.  Yet my prayer has remained (and seemingly will remain) unanswered.  So when commercials with kids piling out of cars at grandma’s on Thanksgiving fill my television, pictures with babies in Santa’s lap fill my computer screen, and every display in Target reads, “Give Thanks” the human side of me says, “Why?” 

But something even deeper inside of me says, “Just try.” 

Thankfulness, gratitude, isn’t our natural human tendency.  We are much more inclined to be selfish.  We are always wanting more, demanding more…of those around us, of ourselves, and whether we like to admit it or not, of God.  But the truth is, we could get everything we think we want, and it still would never be enough, at least not this side of heaven.  Every single life has holes, missing pieces…some of us just rearrange things to hide them more easily than others.  But the missing pieces are no excuse to overlook the rest of the puzzle. 

So this week, I’m taking that challenge from deep inside my heart: just try, and hoping you will do the same.  With a little effort, I think we’ll see, no matter our circumstances, that it’s easier to be thankful than not to be.  As long as I keep a tight grip on my selfish desires, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m lacking, that it’s not enough.  But if I just try to overlook the missing pieces, with a deep breath, with a whispered prayer, with a fresh look at all those pieces I do have, it’s harder not to be thankful.

Besides, what if the missing pieces aren’t really missing at all?  In truth, we have everything we need to be happy on any given day.  Too often, we create reasons to be unhappy, to be ungrateful.  We focus on the one thing we don’t have instead of the thousand things we do have.  Yes, it’s possible that we’ll find the missing piece and the puzzle will be complete.  But sometimes, just when we least expect it, the puzzle gets rearranged and we realize we had the pieces we needed all along.  Other times, we may spend our whole life wondering about that hole, but I’m convinced when this life is over, we’ll understand. 

There is always a reason to be thankful… not because we are better than someone else, have more than someone else, or have achieved more than someone else.  Instead, we are thankful because we are better than we have been, because we have what we need, and because no matter what we have or haven’t achieved, there is always the opportunity to do more, to do better…to be better.  We just have to keep trying, even (especially) when it’s hard. Because there is always a reason to be thankful…

Thursday, November 20, 2014

8 Steps to a Class Party You Can Enjoy

When I think back on my first year teaching, there are many things that make me shudder, but perhaps this is most true when it comes to my holiday party.  Back then, I was still a little bit afraid of the ever-threatening parent involvement so I asked exactly ONE parent to help with my party.  I also drafted my sister to come help, but being that I was 22 and she was 19, most of the expertise in creating childhood Christmas fun came from my lone grade parent.  Bless her.  Most of what I recall of that chaotic hour and a half involves a roomful of loud and crazy fifth graders with my head spinning and counting the moments until it would be over while I tried to juggle every activity, craft, game, and snack.  

Thankfully, I’ve since learned how to plan a classroom holiday party that I actually enjoy so I thought I’d share my plan:

Step 1: Draft as many parents to help as possible.  There is no such thing as too much parent involvement for this event (the kids are so wild by this point- the more adult eyes that are on them, the better).  

Step 2:  Allow parents who have their own idea to run their own station and for the parents that don’t have their own idea, provide an easy-to-run station that they can run by themselves (see below).  Do not plan to run a station yourself.  This frees you up to do other things during the party OR to run a station should the need arise. 

Step 3:  Compile a list of needed supplies and send home this note to parents who were willing to send in supplies right away.  Ask that the supplies be sent in a day or two before the party.  Ask someone to send in six inexpensive plastic table covers (Dollar Tree) so you can throw them over the student desks and other tables in your room and instantly have a party room instead of a classroom.   This also contains the mess at the end of the party- they all go in the trash!

Step 4: About a week before the party, e-mail a few choice parents and ask them to come thirty minutes prior to the party to set up.  Get the kids out of the room for this time (think specials, lunch, recess, etc.)

Step 5: The day before the party, put the supplies for each station in a plastic grocery bag with a copy of a sign for that station stapled on the bag.  Print another copy of the signs and include one in the bag so that the sign can be put on the table after the station is set up.  Leave these bags out for the parents who will come in to set up before the party.  Don’t forget the plastic tablecloth for each station!

Step 6:  Put your students into groups (however many stations you have should be your number of groups).  As you walk in the room, assign each group a table to start at and roll.  I allow 10-15 minutes for each station.  A tip: make snack one of your stations.  Five students grabbing for food at once is always better than 25.  

Step 7: Enjoy the party!  I walk around chatting with parents, having fun with students, and most importantly TAKING PICTURES!  The parents will be busy running the stations so they won’t be able to travel with their child from station to station.  Every year, I make a Winter Party Animoto and e-mail the link out to parents the next day as a thank you.  It’s a hit year after year!  Educators can apply for a free Animoto account.  Check out my Animoto from last year here so you can visualize the whole thing:

Step 8: End the party with ONE whole group activity, usually the best one (a grand finale of sorts).  This could be a crazy game, a fun video, or a book exchange.  See ideas below.

Easy-to-run Holiday Station Ideas (Step 2)
·      Holiday Drawing with a Twist:  Have students follow these directions, but have them draw on a paper plate that they must hold atop their head as they draw.
·      Holiday Pictionary:  Get a free word list here.
·      Holiday Bingo:  If you play this, make sure you ask a parent to send in candy for the prize.  Order a Holiday Bingo here.
·      Holiday Musical Chairs:  Simply play holiday music and play the classic game.  You’d be surprised at how much kids still enjoy it.
·      Make your own snack:  The ideas on Pinterest these days are endless.  My personal favorites are simple: decorate your own sugar cookie or decorate your own Christmas tree (a sugar cone). 
·      Make your own holiday cards:  Every year, I ask a few family members and friends to give me the Christmas cards they would otherwise throw away.  I let my kids cut them up and make their own cars.  Simple, free, and they love it!  You can let them keep the cards to give away or you can donate them to a local nursing home.

Ideas for Grand Finale (Step 8)
·      Backward Charades:  Divide the class into two teams.  Put two students (one from each team) in front of the board with their back to the board so the rest of the class sees the clue but they don’t.  The rest of the class silently acts out the clue while the two people who are “it” guess.  We played this with regular words at youth group at church recently and it was a huge hit!  I’m trying it for the first time with my class this year.  You can get my PowerPoint for free here: Holiday Backward Charades
·      JibJab:  I’ve gone over the top the past two years and created JibJab videos with my students’ faces.  A JibJab account ( is $18 per year, but I’ve used it for church and other things as well.  This is always a surprise to the students and they LOVE them, make me link them on my website, and watch them again and again.
·      Fat Santa:  Get sweatpants and sweatshirts that are WAY too big for your students (two outfits).  Choose two students to put on the sweatsuits and split the students into two teams.  Provide students with balloons (it would probably be a good idea to already have them blown up- perhaps the parents who help set up can do this) and whoever can stuff the most balloons into their person’s sweatsuit in two minutes wins.   This game always gets lots of laughs.
·      Classroom Book ExchangeStudents can bring gently used books or Scholastic book club always has a lot of $1 books to choose from.  You can do the book exchange using any party present giving game or idea.

Lastly, when the party is over, you’re only faced with one final task: making sure you kept all those sweet gifts straight and writing thank you notes for all of them.  I believe that it is really important that the thank you notes get written promptly so that children understand the importance of gratitude and manners.  However, I tend to be wordy with my thank you notes and spend more time than I really have to spend on them at times.  The past couple of years I’ve used a shortcut that’s too good not to share.  After Christmas, I order kids’ thank you notes on clearance, the kind that just leaves blanks for you to fill in and a place to sign your name.  I almost always write in a couple of extra sentences as well, but this still has cut the time I spend on thank you notes in half while still getting the job done.  Here's a sampleThank You Notes

Remember- this is one of those moments that the students may actually remember when they look back on their year in your classroom.  Hopefully some of these tips will allow you to be all there and enjoy the moment with them. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rainy Mondays

When it comes to the list of things we teachers love to hate, rainy Mondays are at the top.  Of course there’s that first thirty minutes of the day when they come in dazed and confused, cold and wet, shoes squeaking and umbrellas dripping, leaving a trail to their desk that someone else is bound to slip in soon.  Those first thirty minutes aren’t so bad… They’re as tired as you are, as cranky as you are, and there’s this overwhelming sense in the room that perhaps if we’re all quiet, we can pretend we’re still in bed and this is just a bad dream. 

If you’re lucky, that eerie quiet and stillness might even last through the first hour or so.  That’s all dependent on whether or not someone slipped in the previously mentioned puddle, causing the whole class to erupt in giggles and suddenly wake out of their rainy Monday morning stupor.  But if you manage to sop up the puddles by skating around the floor with one foot on a paper towel while you collect the never-ending pile of Monday morning paperwork, lunch money, and transportation notes, you might manage to steal an hour or two of peace before the hysteria sets in.

But no matter what, the rainy Monday hysteria will have set in by 10 am.  As soon as they realize they’re trapped in those four walls for the entire day, the silliness and senseless questions will begin.  Every time you stop to breathe, they’ll start to chat, and every time it starts to rain harder, someone will announce it, causing everyone to stop what they’re doing and stare as if they’ve never seen rain.  Heaven forbid we hear a clap of thunder; who isn’t afraid of a storm if it gets them out of concentrating on their work?  And just to be sure, despite the monsoon outside and even if there has been an occasional clap of thunder, AT LEAST half a dozen kids will ask throughout the day if we’re going outside.  Today I actually had another student answer this question even more sarcastically than I would have myself.

You can’t dim the lights to calm them down, because there’s no sunlight to justify the appearance that we’re still accomplishing something.  And if you do manage to keep them calm somehow, that will change when it comes time to walk down the hall, to specials, to lunch, to wherever.  Apparently rain is even more amazing when it’s spotted outside larger doors and windows in the hallway, and we all have to point it out to our friends and sometimes we even stop and stare.  Not to mention the twenty-some pairs of squeaky shoes and the fact that some of us decide to count the line-walking as our exercise for the day and start spinning and skipping as we go.

There comes a point in the midst of a rainy Monday when you realize you’ve gone into survival mode and the day has become an out-of-body experience.  You continue on with the lesson plans and the teaching, but in your mind, you’re already at home on the couch, under a blanket, by the fire, making plans to make Tuesday more productive (with a little help from a sunny forecast).  Thank God it’s that time, and thank God we’ve survived another rainy Monday!  And, most of all, thank God that I love my job, even on a rainy Monday.  Still yet... here's to hoping the next one is cold enough for a snow day instead! :)