Facebook Free Fridays

facebook-addiction-7I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook (FB). The website occupies a larger space in my life than I really want, but somehow, I can find it in me to quit. How else will I instantly keep up with my all friends and family simultaneously—who’s getting married, who’s having babies, who’s graduating or achieving some other life milestone? Where else will I get to see vacation photos, baby/kid photos, everyday snapshots, and the like? FB also helps me know what going on with all my favorite restaurants, companies, and amusements for the kids (hey, there’s a show at the Science Center this weekend. Does the zoo have anything? Oh, a new movie is coming out? Do they have a FB with the trailer? Let’s watch it and see if the kids are interested in going). FB tells me all the latest news headlines, both serious and humorous. I use FB to watch for items I need on various local swap sites (as well as sell some of my own no longer wanted pieces). It’s also the place where I co-admin two great groups of science minded parents from all corners of the globe, none of whom I would have ever met without FB. And frankly, I love all those parts of FB. I love seeing everyone’s daily news and pictures and videos. I love attending virtual FB parties and being able to support people.  I love sharing my own news and pictures of my mostly lovely children. But I also hate FB. I hate how much time it takes to keep up with everything. Especially when my FB newsfeed doesn’t show me what I want to see (thanks, crappy FB algorithm) and I have to go looking for it. And all that time on FB is time I have my face in a screen and not in front of my family. It’s time I’m not doing something remotely productive. It’s papers and tests ungraded and my dining room table untidied. It’s the yard unraked and the dinner unmade. So, as much as I love it, FB is a time suck, and that’s why I’ve decided it has to go. For one day a week-Friday.

Last Friday was my first Facebook Free Friday. I was determined not to log in from my computer or check FB from my phone for the entire day. Not logging in from my laptop was easy enough, but multiple times throughout the morning, I found myself reaching for my phone with the intention of checking FB. It was a compulsion…what am I missing? Did so-and-so have her baby? What about that other mother-to-be that I know? Or the other one? Are there any interesting articles that I’m missing? What’s trending? Is everyone in my groups behaving themselves? These thoughts ran through my head all morning. But as the day wore on, not only was I more productive (in fact, I wrote last week’s blog post on Friday, cleaned out my closets, and caught up on grading), but I found that I also craved looking at FB less and less. By 4pm, I was no longer reaching for my phone to check FB. I spent the evening watching Iowa State give away a basketball game and interacting with my kids. Then I went to bed–without checking into FB “one last time” and then getting sucked in for 2 hours. It was nice.

Although it was lovely to spend time free from Facebook, the day did not break me of my FB habit. As soon as I got SNN2724A1-532_1460433aup on Saturday morning, I checked FB from my phone, but when I was done reading updates and checking in on my groups (which really only took about 10-15 minutes), I was able to put down my phone and move on with my day. In odd moments on Saturday and Sunday, I still checked FB. Monday; however, found me without interest in “checking in,” and as the week wore on, I found myself less drawn to FB, the web, and technology in general. For whatever reason, it just didn’t hold the appeal it did previously. This past week, I didn’t pull out my phone during those odd moments where I had nothing else to do…like in the doctor’s waiting room, or while I was supervising my children play outside, or during the time where I wait for the clock to reach the hour where I can start class, or a hundred other times I might have normally reached for technology to entertain me. I found myself present during those little moments in life where there isn’t really anything going on but just being a human among other human beings. It’s nice to remember how to just be.

Knowing how tFacebook_like_thumbo just be and be happy is a powerful skill as is the ability to entertain yourself without a flashing screen in your face every second of every day. This is not to say that I think we should give up FB permanently. I have nothing against social networking sites or technology in general or the manner in which we use these tools. I don’t pine for the days where information was scarce, we couldn’t immediately connect with people both near and far from us, or where I could only shop my local retailers and had to be satisfied with their hours and their current inventory. FB is lovely and I will continue to utilize all the features of it that I love. Just not on Fridays. Fridays are Facebook Free.

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Weight Loss, Vanity Sizing, and Fugly “Fashions”

**Fair warning: this post contains a copious amount of snark and swearing.**

For various reasons, in August 2013 I decided to try to eat healthier, exercise more, and just generally be more active. Although health and not necessarily weight loss is my ultimate goal, seeing excess pounds slowly drop away is nice side effect, and I am happy to report that I am rapidly closing in on getting rid of 25 pounds from my frame. While I would like to lose a few more than just the 25, this milestone indicates the time has come to shop for new (smaller) clothes. Not only do the clothes I currently own fit my body like an army poncho from the WPAFB Exchange, no pair of pants in my closet will sit correctly on my hips. In fact, my last few days at work have been an exercise in me covertly hitching up my sliding pants…that is NOT good when your profession involves walking around a classroom and frequently alternating between sitting and standing as you help students understand the enigma known as mathematics.

I was initially excited to shop for new clothes (SHOPPING!), and possibly a cute pair of sandals for the upcoming summer, but I was also a little irritated. Shopping for new clothes means I have to make a whole day of it or spread out my shopping time over several days. Why? Well, because of vanity sizing, of course. I’ve made no secret of my hatred of vanity sizing; not because of the psychological issues, but because I don’t feel I should have to try on EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. OF. FUCKING. CLOTHING. IN. EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. STORE. to find something that fits. A ladies shirt size large should be standard across all stores and all brands. A ladies size 10 pant/short/skirt should conform to standard measurements. If you outgrow it, either get comfortable with the next size up or lose weight. Clothing should not grow with you. I should not have to take the entire rack of a single style of shirt or pants into the dressing room because I have literally no fucking idea what the hell size I am. Am I a size 10? Size 6? Size 14? WHO THE HELL KNOWS? IT SURE ISN’T ME THAT KNOWS! AFTER ALL, WHY SHOULD I KNOW MY OWN CLOTHING SIZE?

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This was all I could find to try on. Note how many different sizes there are in just 7 items. They ALL fit. ::headdesk::

*rant continues* Additionally, not only should *I* not have to schlep all those damn clothes into the dressing room, store employees should not have to reshelve all those damn items BECAUSE I HAD NO IDEA WHAT SIZE I AM DUE TO SOME DOUCHE-IDIOT CLOTHING MANUFACTURER WHO DECIDED THAT MY WEAK LITTLE FEMALE BRAIN WILL BUY CLOTHES ONLY WHEN THE NUMBER ON THE TAG IS SMALL!  That is not how I buy clothes…I buy clothes I look good in, regardless of the tag number. No one else knows what the tag reads; I don’t go around with a giant red symbol on my chest ala Hester Prynne! The only thing other people see is how the clothes look on me. STAHP WITH THE VANITY SIZING! I DON’T HAVE 20 HOURS TO SHOP SO I CAN FIND A SINGLE PAIR OF PANTS! GET IT TOGETHER, CLOTHING MANUFACTURERS! **deep breaths**

Okay, back to topic…I lost weight. I need new clothes. So, I head on the first of what I know will be multiple shopping trips. I decide to start with Dillard’s; I needed to go out to the “Massive Waste of Land Mall” anyway. I enter the ladies department only to find that 1970’s fabrics have vomited themselves onto 1980’s clothing styles. WHAT THE HELL? The first item I saw is what can only be described as paisley print on what I consider to be pajama pants, but according to the tag, they’re supposed to be dress pants. AND. THEY. ARE HIGH. WAISTED. VOMIT.  NO. NO. NOT OKAY.

And there were jumpsuits and rompers.  For women. Not for children—-for women. Are you kidding me?

I’m not even sure what all this flouncy-ness is across the bodice of this dress. Is it some kind of shield to help ensure my nipples stay warm? All dresses are apparently required to have it. Nipple Shield Dress at the end of this link.

After enduring rack after rack of horror, I called it a day. If you’d like to embrace the fullness of what Dillard’s is offering for spring 2014, feel free to follow this link. Come back before your eyeballs melt. Sobbing.

Okay, now you’re back. I hope your eyeballs are okay. After a day of reeling with both disappointment and amazement (disappointment, because clearly the buyer for Dillard’s is going to be fired! UGH. Amazement because someone thought central Iowans would buy this garbage. Have you been here? Have you seen what we wear? Jeans. Solid color sweaters. Cardigans. Fun t-shirt tops. No one is going to buy $79 paisley pajama/work/yoga pants!), I decided to give clothes shopping another go. This time I was ready to take pictures of any fugly-ness I encountered. THERE WAS SO MUCH FUGLY-NESS. Here is just a sample of what I saw at various IOWA clothing retailers this week:

This is fairly innocuous. It makes the slideshow because it is a white jean jacket. It has a popped collar and TIGHT ROLLED SLEEVES.

This is fairly innocuous. It makes the post because it is a white jean jacket. It has a popped collar and TIGHT ROLLED SLEEVES.

FAME called. They'd like their ugly, over-sized, off-the-shoulder sweater back. *shudder*

FAME called. They’d like their ugly, over-sized, off-the-shoulder sweater back. *shudder*

This poor poor crepe confection top...it never even saw that attack doily coming.

This poor, poor crepe confection top…it never even saw that attack doily coming right for its throat.  RIP, crepe confection top.

Mom shorts. Kill them. Kill them with fire.

Mom shorts. Kill them. Kill them with fire.

WTH is this? Is it a dress? Is it a shirt? *NO ONE KNOWS*

WTH is this? Is it a dress? Is it a shirt? *NO ONE KNOWS*

On the left is a sweater? I think. Your FAME dance partner can wear it! On the right is a sweatshirt. With lace sleeves.

On the left is a sweater? I think. Your FAME dance partner can wear it! On the right is a sweatshirt. With lace sleeves. Yes, you read that correctly. A sweatshirt with lace sleeves. For your FANCY yard-work!

AI-YI-YI! This...well, this is a shirt (it comes in two colors). The back of each color is on the left and the front is on the right. The front is cotton. The back is a crepe-y polyester blend.

AI-YI-YI! This…well, this is a shirt (it comes in two colors). The back of each color is on the left and the front is on the right. The front is cotton. The back is a crepe-y polyester blend. It fits tightly in the front and loosely in the back. JUST HOW WOMEN LIKE.

Stripes? Check. Flowers? Check. Lacy Panel on the Back? Check. Vomit? Check.

Stripes? Check. Flowers? Check. Oddly placed and largely useless buttons? Check. Lacy panel on the Back? Check. Vomit? Check.

At least they're on clearance?

Zipper earrings. At least they’re on clearance?

Dressy shirts should NOT have a Daisy Duke at the bottom. Why not just get me a t-shirt clip?

Dressy shirts should NOT have a Daisy Duke tie at the bottom. Why not just get me a t-shirt clip and be done with it?

They made a matching set. They thought this fabric (polyester) and pattern was THAT good.

They made a matching set. They thought this fabric (polyester) and pattern was THAT good.

Elastic bands at the bottom of shirts look good on NO ONE. Not even the hanger.

Elastic bands at the bottom of shirts look good on NO ONE. Not even the poor defenseless hanger.

Great for a seamless transition from work to your after work golf game!

These pants allow you to seamlessly transition from work to your after work golf game or second job as a birthday party clown!

Perfect for your date with Edward Scissorhands! There will be no need to worry about your clothes being randomly cut because YOU BOUGHT THEM THAT WAY.

Any of these are perfect for your date with Edward Scissorhands! There will be no need to worry about your clothes being randomly cut when you make out because YOU BOUGHT THEM THAT WAY.

Random Ugliness bookended by a 1970's embroidered hippie-like shirt and a paisley mu-mu.

Random Ugliness bookended by a 1970’s linen and embroidered hippie-like shirt on the left and a paisley mu-mu on the right.

Dishonorable mention. The only thing even remotely fashionable here is the necklace on the middle model. It costs $50 and is plastic. NOPE.

Dishonorable mention. The only thing even remotely fashionable here is the necklace on the middle model. It costs $50 and is plastic. NOPE.

I couldn't decide if this belonged in this Hall of Shame or not. It looks like a great outfit to go boating in the 1970's or early 1980's. It also makes me look pregnant. I am NOT pregnant. This is not the 1970's or the early 1980's. I am not going boating.

I couldn’t decide if this belonged in this Hall of Shame or not. It looks like a great outfit in which to go boating in the 1970’s or early 1980’s. It also makes me look pregnant. I am NOT pregnant. This is NOT the 1970’s. This is NOT the early 1980’s. I am NOT going boating.

Well, so what should I do? After all, I still need clothes that at least stay on my body! Shall I embrace this rebirth of terrible fashions in terrible fabrics that were awful the first time they passed through stores? Because that’s all there is out there, ladies! This meme sums it up:

Who’s with me?  Wine and yoga pants are always in fashion.

It’s my BIRTHDAY!

Today is my birthday! At 36 years old (today!) birthdays no longer hold the extreme excitement that they did during child and early adulthood, but even though I bemoan getting older, it’s still a day for celebration. After all, who doesn’t enjoy guilt-free cake? (There are no calories in cake eaten on yourImage birthday-that’s just a scientific fact.) One of the best things about being born in Iowa on March 23rd is that you almost NEVER have to go to school on your birthday because of spring break …and since I also grew up to be a teacher, I also never have to work on my birthday either! WIN!

Seriously, though I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting older. At 36, I am not really old or even to the middle of my life as of yet. Some days I feel old, though. I possess an entire retinue of stories that start with “when I was your age…” and end with no real connection to the original thought. I have gray hair that needs coloring or touching up at least every 8 weeks. I have the beginnings of crow’s feet and other wrinkles as well as skin that could probably use tightening. When someone says 10 years ago, I think they’re talking about the 1990’s and I probably always will. I no longer recognize some of today’s “celebrities.” After a hard training run, I don’t bounce back like I did when I was 26. Such is the aging process.

Getting older also brings some benefits. I’ve become more confident in myself and who I am. Take me or leave me; that’s up to you. I no longer obsess so much about my perceived flaws; I earned those wrinkles, dammit! I’ve made big mistakes and small mistakes and ImageI’ve tried to learn from those errors. I can now discuss my accomplishments without sounding like an egotistical ass. My real friends are still around; those who weren’t my real friends have long since flown the coop. I’ve experienced many every day and unique situations and learned how to deal with them effectively. I have the knowledge that no matter what today brings, a good night’s sleep will improve my outlook on that situation. I’ve also learned that all of life’s big problems are solved in the shower while I am washing my hair.

I celebrate today. I celebrate my wrinkles and my crazy stories. I celebrate my accomplishments and mistakes thus far. I celebrate my occasionally creaky knees and fast friends. I celebrate the final day of spring break and the opportunity to teach my class tomorrow. I celebrate. 

I’m BAAAACCCCKKKK!

Well, I clearly fell off the radar of the blogosphere. I had started this blog years ago with the intention of posting a new entry every couple of weeks, and that obviously did not happen. As I now have more time on my hands, I see no reason I cannot pick up right where I left off. 🙂

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My Philosophy

During my time in hibernation, I gained quite a bit of weight for various reasons that will be the topics of upcoming posts. Everyone in my life was nice enough to not mention the sudden increase in my weight, but in August of 2013, I decided to take off the weight for good. As a part of that goal, I again picked up running-mostly because it was summer and all it required was that I buy was a nice pair of shoes–cheap and accessible is always a WIN! I doinked about my neighborhood, probably horrifying neighbors as I went jogging about in my shorts and running bra glory (hey, it was 90+ degrees out after the sun went down, you just have to deal with my stretch marks), and I found that I LIKED running. I felt free. It seemed to be the only 45 minutes of my day where I wasn’t someone’s mother or wife or daughter or teacher; there were no demands on me, no one asking me questions, and no expectations. I was just me. Just Juliane. It has been a long time since I was Just Juliane. It was my Just Juliane Time (JJT). I also found that when I finished my run, I was a better and more patient mother, wife, daughter, and teacher-and I started losing the extra weight. It was wonderful. I finished out the nice weather part of the year with a fun little 5k in October 2013. Of course, as I am wont to do, once the 5K was over, I stopped running…the weather changed, school took up a lot of my time, I was working at a job I loathed (more on that in another post), the kids needed me, blah blah blah excuse excuse excuse.

Fast forward to January of 2014. I regained about 5 pounds of the 20 pounds I’d lost. BOO! I’d worked way too hard to let that stand! I joined a gym (January in Iowa is not outdoor running temperature, no matter what those hardcore nuts say!), and I started running again as well as training on the weight machines. I thought about running in a race; I felt like I needed a goal. The next race coming up near my location was a 10k. In March. Questionable outdoor running conditions as March in Iowa can be anything from 10 degrees below zero with snow and ice on the ground to 60 degrees and sunny. The charity sponsor was one that I have mixed feelings on, but as they overall probably do more good than harm, I decided to be okay with that. The distance required would be a challenge…I’d NEVER run more than 4 miles at a stretch, let alone 6.2 miles. I felt like I was up for it…after all, the only thing I really had to lose was the $37 race registration fee.  I found a nice little 10k training plan online at Women’s Health and began trying to find time to train on the schedule. It was very difficult, not only time-wise, but also endurance-wise: Not only easy runs of 3 miles or so, but also speed training runs and distance runs of up to 7 miles. 7 miles on a treadmill? Really? Yes—and I did it and I didn’t die! I also got faster and stronger throughout the 8 week plan, going from a 14:00 minute mile to hovering around 11:30 per mile. Amazing! Although I did have to sit out a week in February due to a nasty stomach bug, I managed to complete most of the program and I felt ready for the big day. 

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7 miles on the treadmill.

 

Race Day!

For this race, I decided to pursue three reasonable goals:

  1. Finish.
  2. Try not to finish last in any category (overall, gender, age group).
  3. Finish in 80 minutes or less.
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6:30 am on race day

Early weather reports showed March 15, 2014, to be 55 degrees and sunny, but as the day got closer, the prediction changed to 40 degrees and cloudy with a brisk Easterly wind at 15 mph. Great. Still, I woke up feeling positive.

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Feeling better right before we left

After my mom arrived to take care of our boys (thanks, Mommy!), I put on my awesome race tutu and my hubby drove us to the venue.

There is nothing like the feeling/excitement/vibes in the air right before a race. Although most of us knew those elite runners (women who can run a 10k in about 39 minutes and men who can do it in about 39 minutes) would cross the finish line far before any of us, there is still a feeling of anticipation and camaraderie. For lack of a better description, it is a “We’re all in this together,” kind of feeling. It’s the culmination of 8-10 weeks of preparation to race against yourself and the official timing clock to try to set a new personal best (PB). If you haven’t ever been to a race as a participant or even as a spectator, I highly recommend it. It’s VERY addicting. At 5 minutes until the gun, the organizers had us line up according to our average mile times–jack rabbits in the front, turtles in the back. Clearly, I was lined up with the turtles as Imagemy best training mile had me at about 10:56 per mile. For me, being lined up so far back from the starting line made the beginning of the race a little anti-climactic; it took about 2 minutes to get from where I was to the actual start line after the gun went off due to the sheer number of people in attendance.

 

 

 

 

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Mile 4.5

The race route called for us to travel from Principal Park towards Fleur Drive and through Gray’s Lake Park, and then circle to the Principal River Walk and back into Principal Park. The Des Moines Police Department closed off W MLK Parkway, but the rest of the streets around the route remained open and we received many honks of encouragement from passing motorists. Although we runners were being officially timed using the chips in our bib numbers, I still activated my Runkeeper App prior to the start of time 10k so I could keep track of my mile times, as well as the overall distance I’d traveled and my total time. Even though I just wanted to finish the trek, and hopefully not dead last in any of the categories, I did really want to come in under 80 minutes, which was my fastest training time. Mile 1 to mile 3 was relatively easy…in fact, I was shocked when my app told me I passed the 5k mark at about 30 minutes. I’d NEVER been that fast; not in training, not in my last 5k, not EVER. I was barely sweating thanks to the 15mph breeze and I was not really winded or tired. The back half of the 10k, though, was significantly more difficult for me. For one thing, as we turned into Gray’s Lake Park, we were straight into the wind. Although I would have liked to have continued on my pace, it was simply impossible for me as breathing in the whipping wind froze my lungs and just generally made it hard to operate. And breathing is relatively important in both life and a foot race. Unfortunately, we remained into the wind off and on throughout the second 5k. My muscles were beginning to get sore and tired and I could feel my legs starting to flag in spite of my strength training. My most difficult mile was 4 into 5. Not only did I have the wind with which to contend, but we were to run through Gray’s Lake Park and then backtrack, which is always somehow disheartening to me. I just ran that stretch and now I have to turn around and run it again? WHY??? Better route planning needed! Once I hit mile marker #5, though, I felt a little better. I could see the River Walk, the state capital building, and, about a half-mile later, Principal Park…the locale of the finish line! As soon as we came out of the slight tree cover onto the River Walk, we were again running directly into the wind. There is nothing so refreshing as the smell of the Des Moines River in March (this is sarcasm—all rivers smell like sewage to me). At least as we turned onto the bridge over the river and headed toward home, we were no longer into the wind and I could no longer smell the wonderful river. Small victories.

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Principal Park and the last leg of the 10k

The Finish Line:

Although Al tried to snap some pics of me crossing the finish line, they just didn’t turn out. Fortunately, the folks at JMS Racing Services have a nice YouTube video of me coming over…I’m in the blue shirt and awesome tutu (obviously). Start the link at time mark 35:10.

Finish stats: Juliane finished the Leprechaun Chase 10K – Iowa in a Chip time of 01:10:19, a gun time of 01:12:14, overall place 884, gender place 538, division place 86.

I was in shock to see my time: 1:10:18.9 with an average pace of 11:18 per mile. In spite of the wind challenges, the muscle soreness and tiredness, I was able to make all three of my goals, and come in significantly under 80 minutes, as well as maintain a good average mile time throughout the 10k.  I am very pleased with myself. (Race Results)

So now what? I finished my 10k and set a new PR. Well, on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014, I start training for my upcoming 5k’s and a potential 10k in the fall. I’d love some company if anyone is interested! 

Run or Dye

The Glow Run

The Color Run

The Three Rocks: My Teaching Journey

I always find revising my teaching philosophy to be quite difficult.  How do I distill everything I have experienced and all my beliefs about why, what and how I teach as well as how I assess student achievement into not more than three pages?  Teaching is an art, not a science.  There is no step-by-step manual or perfect teaching equation, “do this and then that and the students are guaranteed to learn.”  To me, writing a teaching philosophy is like describing a piece of art to someone who has never seen it; your portrayal pales in comparison to the real thing.  The other reason I find this type of exercise so challenging relates to my core teaching belief: teaching is about the student, not the teacher.  How do I write a cohesive, one-size fits all statement when each student is different?  When each class and each situation is different?  Why should I describe what I have done and what has worked in the past when I know that strategy may not work in the future?  Therefore, instead of a traditional teaching philosophy, what follows is the story of how I came to embrace a student-centered classroom.  It is the story about the Juliane who was a novice teacher and grew with her years of experience.  It is the story of how I almost left the profession, but returned to it renewed and ready to tackle my second decade of syllabi writing, the expansion of my pedagogical content knowledge, as well as discussion facilitating and grading. 

In the spring of 2012, Iowa State University selected me to be a Wakonse Fellow.  I traveled with a group of current and future faculty to Camp Miniwanca on the shores of Lake Michigan for a six-day intensive teaching conference and retreat.  Mentally exhausted and seriously considering leaving the teaching profession after just over 10 consecutive years in various classrooms, I looked forward to taking a step back and re-evaluating my career choice.  Upon arrival, I saw the camp’s motto, “My own self, at my very best, all the time,” plastered on what seemed like every wall.   When I read that statement, I knew I was in the right place to re-find myself, whether it turned out to be a teaching self was yet to be determined. 

One morning midway through the conference, I was up before the sun, walking along the deserted sandy beach; the gulls were looking for their breakfasts, the freezing cold water lapped at my toes, and a stiff wind pulled at my hair.  My eyes burned from a night of too little sleep and my sides ached with the night’s laughter and camaraderie; it was a delightful dichotomy.  I stopped to watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan and suddenly, I felt the water push three solid objects at my toes.  I looked down and saw three small rocks at my feet.  Absent-mindedly, I picked up the stones, rinsed off the sand and muck in the lake surf and placed them in my backpack where I promptly forgot about their existence.  Later, as I sat in a rather uncommonly stilted group seminar, I was looking for my pen in my bag and came across the rocks.  As I wrapped my hand around them, I excused myself from the meeting.  Alone in my room, I lined up the rocks along the edge of the small bedside table and considered them in the midday stillness, these two black-gray rocks and this one white rock with fine gray lines.  I imagined the rocks as they were when they entered Lake Michigan, likely much larger, pointy and sharp-edged.  Buffeted by the waves, now their edges were smooth and round, their faces indented to the point a latticework of vertices were evident.  They had spent an unknown amount of time in the surf, making their way, somehow, through the whole of Lake Michigan, to land at my feet that early morning.  With my finger, I traced the tiny scars evident on the smallest of the three rocks.  Clearly, it was battle worn, but it was still recognizable as a rock.  I took comfort in the weight of the rock in my palm as it offered its own best self to me. 

It occurred to me then that the process my rocks went through to arrive at my feet that pre-dawn, not-quite-summer morning was not unlike my personal teaching journey.  When I first entered the role of quasi-instructor in 2001, what I considered my very best teaching self was full of sharp edges, absolutes and inane rules.  Working with mathematics and business students, I considered calculators cheats and required my students work without one.  Late work and absences were unacceptable under all circumstances.  Cellular telephones, in their infancy in 2001, had to be off in class or else, and all work had to be shown in pencil.  Ever the sage on stage, I considered myself the alpha and omega of knowledge.  My lessons were purely lecture-style and in my arrogance, I often told students, “If I am speaking, you should be taking notes.”  I cared not for different learning styles or student goals, and when students did not do so well on assessments, I simply thought that they should have studied harder.  After all, I clearly “covered” all the material! 

Fortunately, time passed; I taught more classes and met many different types of students, from highly gifted second graders to adults struggling to earn their General Education Diplomas.  I worked with students entering college directly from high school and others who juggled their studies with working part-time and caring for children as single parents.  I educated high school students who, try as they might, could not overcome their personal issues to find success in a traditional classroom and found themselves finishing out their high school diplomas in an alternative educational environment.  My student encounters, from triumphs to miserable failures that still haunt me, buffeted me as the waves of Lake Michigan worked their magic on my three rocks.  Like my rocks, over time, my sharp edges also became rounded.  I realized absolutist ideas had no station in my classroom.  Students could be trusted to use calculators as tools and not crutches.  It did not matter if a student completed the homework in pencil or pen.  Cellular phones sometimes needed to be on, and there were valid reasons a student simply could not be in class.  As my edges softened, my own best teaching self also evolved, shaped by not only my students but also my never-ending quest for pedagogical content knowledge.  I moved from a lecture-based to a collaborative style; in my current classroom, you will often find students working in small groups and then presenting material to the class either at the board or from their seats.  I transformed my favorite activities from single-answer, easy to grade questions into multiple-entry point scenarios that required all group members to come to class ready to contribute and saw an increase in student attendance, timeliness and retention.  I began requiring that students write and share with me their class learning goals so I could better shape my lessons, activities and pre-planned questions.  My assessments expanded from traditional tests and quizzes to mathematical essays and portfolios that actually showed student learning.  The biggest change I made in my classroom; however, was the decrease in the amount of time I spent speaking. 

Although I have amassed a great deal of knowledge about my content and appropriate pedagogy, I have realized it is not always necessary for me to dispense it directly.  Instead of being a fount of facts and procedures that spews forth two or three times a week for 50 to 120 minutes, in my class I now speak only when necessary and let my students have the floor for the rest of the time.  Student’s vocalizations, whether to me or to their small group, give me a valuable window into their current level of conceptual understanding and let me know the direction in which I need to steer the discussion so we may accomplish the learning objectives.  I now understand that my job as class instructor is to observe, listen, and measure what students already understand against our goals, then push that existing knowledge to the next level by directed questioning, well-planned activities and thoughtful assessments.  It is the reverse of what my larger than life egotistical self said many years ago; “If my students are speaking, I should be taking notes.”  

Ten years of classroom experiences have left their marks on me.  Like my rocks, I have evolved and developed rounded edges, yet I maintain some soft vertices that represent the classroom policies and procedures that are necessary to maintain order.  My core belief that became cemented over time: teaching is about the student, remains.  Since students are a heterogeneous and fickle enigma, it is clear why I cannot write a traditional teaching philosophy statement.  I can only say that I plan and write lesson objectives and assessments in conjunction with the course learning objectives and then I observe and listen to my students.  I take note of student goals, their experiences and their process of understanding our content, and then I go back and adjust my objectives, plans and assessments as appropriate.  I capture all the little pieces that constitute learning and mesh them together in the same way an artist mixes paint or clay to weave the art of my teaching.  It is an imperfect, subjective process under constant construction.  As my time at Camp Miniwanca ended, I realized that my own very best self is a listening, observant teacher.  I returned to my university to undertake the academic work of teaching with newfound joy.  As I weave my teaching art, I look at three rocks sitting on my desk that came out of the surf of Lake Michigan.  Three rocks that offered me not only their own best selves but also a surprising reminder of how far I have traveled in this profession.  Three rocks that changed in the tides but remain rocks, just as I changed in the wake of experiences with students and yet remain a teacher.

So…it’s been a while!

When I started this blog, I intended to post at least every couple of weeks, but, as you can tell, I have not met that goal!  This blog was supposed to be about the mod of me; what was left after everyone else had been given their little piece.  After returning to school this past fall, I found my mod was 0 after I spent my days teaching, learning, doing homework, grading papers and writing lesson plans, spending time with the boys and maybe, just maybe, working in some time with my husband.  Although the fall semester ended in December 2011, the wounds it left on all of us have taken a while to heal, but I’m feeling much better now and much more like my old self.  I’m working on a new post I hope to publish toward the end of next week and I am renewing my goal to have a new post at least every two weeks.  Until then…Namaste.

JJ

Endings & Beginnings

The 8-week Summer 2011 semester ended on July 20, 2011.  For some reason, I decided teaching 10 credit hours in the summer would be a piece of cake…after all, I had previously taught all the offered classes multiple times.  Of course, the appeal of earning enough money to pay outright for M’s school tuition and replace the back deck may have had something to do with the motivation to say ‘yes’ when my team leader approached me.

As usual, the semester was anything but easy; it has taken me nearly 3 weeks to digest the happenings of the term.  My Applied Math class was full of students lacking the mathematical background to really understand and process the material, a narrow majority of my Arithmetic class felt that attending once a week during a summer class was perfectly acceptable, and the bright spot on my schedule, Pre-Algebra, was so full of super-stars that they often eclipsed the students who needed additional assistance.  I started the semester with a little over 60 students; in the end, 35 or so finished their respective classes.  Along with the professional challenges there was, of course, personal turmoil.  Yet, somehow, 8 weeks passed; the chapter closed, and the stage is set for a new slate of students to open their own mathematical chapter on August 25, 2011.  I’m sure I will learn just as much from them as they will learn from me.

As my semester was coming to a close, a new chapter in life was opening for my son, M.  I had decided back in February to sign him up for a week-long summer camp at our local children’s zoo.  It seemed like it would be a fun adventure for him; they were scheduled to ride the train, as well as feed the goats, koi, parakeets and giraffe for the week’s major activities.  There were also crafts and games galore along with a daily snack.  It was, I reasoned, a safe environment for him to spread his wings and flap around a bit without actually leaving the nest.

When the big day came, my husband and I stood with M and waited patiently for the zoo workers to unlock the gate.  I took in the whole scene…those parents with older children were lounging on the benches, checking their cell phones for news updates, old hands at the drop-off scene.  Those of us with younger kids were standing, unsure of what to do, clutching backpacks and taking photos to pass the time.  Eventually the gate was opened and we walked M to his classroom; it was a happy place with colorful blocks, carpet squares, art supplies and 15 or so nervous 3 and 4-year olds.  M was a bit unsure as well; my husband had to stay with him for 30 minutes or so on Tuesday and Wednesday, but by the time Friday rolled around, I was dismissed with the flap of a hand shortly after delivering M to the classroom.  At pick-up time, I watched, hidden slightly behind an overgrown bush as M led the charge of 3 and 4-year-old boys down the hill, all of the them screeching like monkeys, laughing and playfully shoving each other.  M had, I realized, developed ‘friendships’ with the other children; children I had not specifically vetted or decided he would play with.  He had taken the opportunity of zoo camp to not only go to the edge of the nest and flap around a bit, he had hopped out of it to meet the other baby birds, formed opinions of them, and interacted in a way I had not anticipated.  In short, he had begun to develop a social circle beyond my choosing; an important step toward true independence and eventual adulthood that both elated and saddened me.

This fall M will continue flapping his wings away from our nest as he begins pre-school; the continuation of the chapter we opened on a hot, sticky summer morning.  This fall also marks the beginning of a chapter in the lives of my new students.  The brave-hearted among them will follow me as I lead them on a 15-week tour through the brambles of Pre-Algebra / Elementary Algebra.  Like my son, those students will also stretch their wings and flap around the nest we create together, but eventually the student leaders will emerge and begin to hop away, and they will take those destined for success with them.  There will be new friendships formed among students and faculty and in December, I will find myself 2 or 3 Facebook friends richer.  It’s a beautiful thing and the ultimate compliment in this digital age.

On M’s first morning of zoo camp, my husband wanted to stay close by in case M needed us.  We went to kill time and stay cool in Best Buy, where my husband decided he needed a new video camera to record our boys’ lives.  We bought the camera, but I need no video to clearly  remember the moment I saw my son running pell-mell down the path toward adulthood, just as I have not needed video to revisit the moments of my teaching that truly saddened or elated me.  In our lives, chapters are constantly opening and closing…it’s what you do when the chapters open and close that matters.  Embrace new experiences, create a safe nest and when it’s time to gently nudge someone toward their own greatness, let them spread their wings.