Priorities and End of the School Year

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Another school year has come to an end. It was a pretty great end if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, not every one of my students would agree on that which makes me sad, but more on that later.

Recently, through Nerd Fitness and through Fitness Blender I read/heard two amazingly simple and obvious phrases that set off light bulbs in my head that apply to teaching and to my outside life. The first one was about priorities and how what we say our priorities are versus what priorities we actually work towards are not always the same. The second is the fact that if we want to improve something about ourselves, we are the ones who have to do the work.

Priorities

What would you say your priorities are? What are your big goals that you have in your life that you want to accomplish? What’s your “raison d’être”? For me, it’s education, being healthy, my family, theatre, my friends, not specifically in that order.

Now think back on the last few weeks or even the last month or so and sit down and actually calculate where you spend the majority of your time and money (other than sleeping for time and necessary bills for money) and then you see what you have made actual priorities in your life. Do they look the same as your first list? Great. If not, maybe make some changes.

For me, most of my money goes to bills and my classroom which is fine. I spend too much time on the internet so I cut back a bit. Of course there are times when my priorities shift, like the last month has been crazy with stage managing an awesome show and then having the end of the year rush with report cards and everything. But it was an interesting exercise to see where I actually spend the majority of my time and money and whether or not they line up with what I perceive are my priorities.

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I had my students do something similar just with where they spend their time and far too many have their priorities centered around video games and being consumers (rather than creators) on the internet. I hope that some of them are able to take that new self awareness and make the choice to make some changes. But that’s the hard part.

No one will do it for you

This one was a HUGE light bulb moment for me while I was working out one day and it really shouldn’t have been but it was. I’ve been working on strength training but I was always holding back a little because I didn’t want to push myself too hard and then not be able to do the next exercise. I didn’t do burn-out rounds or extra reps or up my weight even when it was relatively easy.

It was like I was waiting for someone to come along and tell me do more, or push me to try harder rather than pushing myself. But of course, if I want to do better, I’m the one that needs to tell myself to do more, no one will do it for me.

This turned into a lesson in my classroom where I told my students that no one was going to learn the material for them. I can give them the tools and the space and some inspiration and motivation, but I can’t actually learn it for them. Neither can their parents or their friends. I saw some realizations cross faces which was great.

But not all of them got it. There’s one student who really didn’t get it in particular. We’ll call him Sam. He’s a great student who generally did well but often rushed through his work and didn’t do as well as I knew he could. There were some focus issues and other things happening at home but he genuinely wanted to do well but I feel like I failed to get the message of what learning is when it came to him.

I had all my students pass in one writing piece per month while we were in the English term. I reminded Sam of his May writing piece and he whipped off a single page story in about ten minutes, lacking periods, capitals all over the place, no paragraphs, very little use of interesting words. I marked it and gave it back with an approaching grade level mark.

Sam was brought in to my classroom after school by the VP in tears because he didn’t want to go home with a paper with a low mark. We sat and talked about why he got the mark he did and that if he wanted to, he could use that paper as a rough draft, make some edits, and pass in a better paper. Eventually he agreed. An hour later, just as I was about to leave, he came running in with a new paper (he hadn’t taken the rough draft or marking sheet home) that he had again written very quickly. I couldn’t give him a higher mark. In class the next day I sat him down while other students were working independently and went through the checklist carefully with him and explained what a good grade 5 piece should have.

Same day I also gave back a re-test he had written for math. He only managed to get one point higher than the first one and was upset about that.

“Sam, what did you do between the first test and the re-test?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you go over the first test and look at the mistakes you made and figure out how to fix them?”

“No, you didn’t tell me to do that. And it’s a different test so what would be the point?”

Sigh

Should be obvious but I guess not always to a ten year old.

He eventually re-wrote his writing piece again, this time taking more time and adding more of the details and punctuation that I had asked for. It was finally something that was an at grade level piece.

But what amazed me was that this student who is bright and generally “does well at school” hadn’t figured out that just wanting to “do better” isn’t going to change your mark. Trying again without learning from what you did wrong in the first place means you’re just going to keep repeating the same mistakes over again.

Well, time to work on some of my priorities and figure out my workout plan for this summer! Happy summering!

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Shame, shame, double shame

I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation lately; both for myself with trying to get more exercise and for my students. We’re doing a unit in heath on healthy habits and I’ve been trying to use what I’ve learned about habit forming for myself to help them to change small habits to build up their healthy choices. For the most part, I have a group of students who are relatively active and eat pretty well with a few exceptions. It’s hard to know how to motivate those few who just don’t want to be active other than, well, what I’m doing already I guess, sharing positive stories, encouraging and celebrating their successes.

What I want to stay away from at all costs is shame. There’s too much around body image and so called “motivation” that is shame based. Sometimes it feels like if there’s anything “wrong” with our health, then it is our fault because we’re too lazy to exercise to fix the thing that’s wrong. Not getting enough sleep? Exercise more. Feeling depressed? Get more exercise. Gaining weight? Get off your couch and move!

It’s this whole weird complicated mess of emotions when it comes to body image and fitness and health. It’s hard to get motivated to start and hard to help others get motivated to exercise more while skirting things like shame. “It’s my fault that I feel like this”. Putting a positive spin helps, thinking about making positive choices and making it more about responsibility to yourself and your health rather than blame, but it’s a hard and mucky emotional bog.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days is I’ve had some success with getting more exercise this past month and I noticed an interesting benefit that brought back an old memory. This month, I noticed that my cramps and my period were much milder than usual. Normally they’re extremely painful and unimaginably heavy (approximately 4 times heavier than an average woman’s period) and this month has been surprisingly easy. No pain killers needed. But it’s not like I’ve never been this active before and one month doesn’t actually prove anything. It does however, make me think of a time that a teacher used shame to try to “motivate” me to be more active and how much that backfired.

When I was 16 and in grade 11 I took this course called PAL – Physically Active Lifestyles. At that time I was walking to and from school, about half an hour each way, dancing 4 times a week plus practicing at home, and was active generally, biking, ice skating, swimming, lots of walking, not sports or anything but dance was pretty intense so I was very fit. One day I started having cramps at school so badly that I could barely walk but I wasn’t one for missing school. In PAL that day we were going to play tennis but I told the teacher my stomach hurt and I didn’t feel well enough to play. I sat out and watched the class play.

At the end of the class, one of my classmates came up to me and asked why I hadn’t participated that day. The teacher overheard and in a loud voice said that “Jeannie is not physically active enough to help alleviate her menstrual cramps.” I wanted to fall into a hole and disappear. Why would a teacher do something like that? There was so much wrong with that whole statement. It’s amazing how something like that can stick with me for almost 20 years that even now I feel ashamed just thinking about it and it’s not an easy story to share. And 16 year old me was a lot more easily embarrassed than 34 year old me. 34 year old me would have stood up for myself.

Teachers are people, and people make mistakes. I wonder if that teacher knew that I didn’t take her class seriously and thought that somehow this would motivate me to change that. I didn’t respect her much as a teacher, and after that, well, my respect for her went way down. After all, not only was her statement incredibly inappropriate and rude, it was also false. I was physically active. I wish I was half as strong and in shape as I was back then. Did that motivate me or any of my classmates to be more active? I doubt it. It certainly didn’t motivate me.

So when I’m doing a fun, on your feet moving kind of video or exercise, I try to encourage them all to try rather than telling specific kids to get up and move. I hope none of them ever feel ashamed of how they look or if they’re out of shape because I know that shame is not a good motivator.

Nerd Fitness vs Fitness Blender

This is another exercise related post instead of a school related post.

This past week, one of my friends stumbled upon this website called Nerd Fitness, and naturally, being the nerds/geeks that we are, we started looking at it and trying to decide if it would be worth trying out. I had been trying to get back into working out regularly, though I make lots of excuses of why not to based on weather, lack of energy and lack of time.

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I had moved my dumbbells upstairs to the living room since it’s too cold to workout in the basement but I’d only managed to convince myself to do a work out from Fitness Blender twice in the past month. Nerd Fitness seemed to be more about motivation, which is something I felt I needed, and a few other friends decided to try it out as well so I signed up.

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Another friend was visiting while I was debating this whole thing and so I went through some of the pros and cons with her but now that I’ve been using Nerd Fitness for a week, (and keep in mind this is only week 1) I want to share some of what I’ve noticed about both sites for anyone who might be considering using them or sometime similar.

Cost:

Fitness Blender – Free to use the videos as much as you want, and then preset modules are never more than $9.99 for six weeks worth of workouts. I found the modules well worth the price because they would lay out for you exactly which workout you should do in which order so that you aren’t focusing too much on one thing and not enough on another, and, like with NF, once you’ve bought one module you can continue to use it over and over as much as you like.

Nerd Fitness – $99 plus tax American but then you can use everything on the site for free forever and they have a money back guarantee. Honestly, this was one of the biggest drawbacks to Nerd Fitness for me. Yes, it’s much less expensive than a gym membership even for just one year and I can, in theory, use it for many years. Plus, paying that much gives me added incentive to actually use it and it makes me feel more entitled to let them know if something isn’t working correctly.

Motivation:

Fitness Blender – When I first tried FB in the summer, I felt very motivated to keep at it and used it a lot. Once I started working though, I had trouble staying motivated. The workouts can be quite challenging, which is great, but it meant that I could justify not working out because I would need to: change my clothes, get my equipment, figure out which workout to do, warm-up, cool-down, shower and change again. That kind of time commitment is difficult to keep after working all day and there’s NO WAY to motivate myself to work out in the morning before work.

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Nerd Fitness – This site is all about motivation through gamification of fitness and a lot of self assessment. Before you even get started, you are asked to look at your habits in terms of fitness and nutrition and what kind of person you are when it comes to trying out new fitness plans. The other big motivator is the community aspect. There are facebook groups for both sites but with NF I have other friends trying it out as well and that’s a HUGE motivator. It’s nice to be able to talk about how things are going with other people who are going through the same things. We’ve even decided to schedule a once a week outing and meal together.

The gamification aspect is also something that speaks to me. I like being able to “level up” my character through completing quests. Quests are things like Complete 10 push-ups or Go hiking with a friend. You can also set your own quests and create your own reward system. For example, I want to drink more water so I’ve set a quest to drink at least 6 cups a day for 5 days in a row and then I can go and buy myself some new tea. You get to decide which “class” you are as well and pick quests based on your class. I decided to go with Ranger because it’s a mixture of strength and endurance but I’m also going to do some quests from the Scout class for running and biking. (There’s no real option to chose to be a dual class Ranger/Scout but you can do quests from any class)

Workouts:

Fitness Blender – There are so many of them with so much variety! This is where FB really shines in comparison to NF. One aspect that I love about them is that it’s a husband and wife team and sometimes they do the videos together and they show modified versions of either easier or harder versions of the exercises they do and sometimes he does the easier versions and sometimes she does the easier versions. I like that they’re ACTUALLY doing the workout that you’re watching. You see them sweat, you hear them getting out of breath and not being able to speak when it gets tough. You see them lose count and have to change weights to something lighter when they need to. They talk you through the whole thing so you don’t need a timer or to count for yourself and they give you tips and pointers the whole way through.

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The disadvantages to FB workouts are: one, there are a LOT of them which can be overwhelming when you’re trying to decide what kind of workout you want to do. Two, there are way more higher difficulty workouts than lower which, again, can be challenging when you’re starting out. I wasn’t completely out of shape when I started and had been running for a while so at least my legs were pretty strong but I think for someone who is very out of shape the workouts would be more challenging. That being said, you can modify the movements and use less or no weight when you’re starting out and probably be fine.

The modules can help with this as well but one disadvantage of the modules is that they aren’t set up very well on your personal calendar. When you say you want to start one, it sets up your calendar to tell you which order to do which workouts in which week but not necessarily on which days. The one that I did had four workouts a week with three rest days, one of which was meant to be an “adventure day” of your choosing. That’s great but it set it up so that the workouts were four days in a row followed by three rest days so you would have to go back and fourth from one day to another to do your rest days between the workout days. There may be another way to fix this issue but I couldn’t figure it out.

Nerd Fitness – NF takes a different approach to workouts. It gives you a set of exercises to do in three circuits and a form to keep track of your progress. There are videos and explanations of how to do the exercises and how to modify them as needed, but there aren’t workout videos to follow along. Also, you do the workouts in an ABAB or ABCABC pattern for a few weeks before moving on to the next “level” of your workouts. I like that you can take your own time to do the workouts without feeling pushed to complete a certain exercise within a certain amount of time like you do with a video. And I also enjoy that you do the same workouts for a few weeks so that you build up your strength in specific ways before moving on. There also seems to be a good balance between cardio and strength within the workouts themselves.

Warm-ups and Cool-downs:

Fitness Blender – There are two different kinds of workout videos on here, those with warm-ups and cool-downs built in, in which case the warm-ups and cool-downs target the specific muscles you’re using in the workout, and there are stand alone workouts and stand alone warm-ups and stand alone cool-downs so you can mix and match on your own. I preferred the videos that combine all three into one because I don’t like having to go hunting for good videos.

Nerd Fitness – This is another big disadvantage so far with NF. There are two warm-up suggestions of series of exercises and two for a cool-down but the accompanying videos mostly just show you how to do the movements. The main cool-down video is better in that you can follow it rather than writing down the exercises or trying to remember them, but there’s no sound so when you’re doing something like downward dog or touching your toes, you don’t know how long she’s holding a stretch before moving on. I ended up coming out of the stretches early to look at the screen to see what comes next or missing the change to the next one. I find this the WORST part of NF so far and I think I’ll just use an FB warm-up and cool-down for my workouts from now on.

I also don’t like that they aren’t tailored to the workouts. They’re pretty general and get to most of the muscles you’ll be using but they aren’t as focused or specific as the FB ones so I found I’m doing my own stretches and warm-ups as well. And again, that’s fine, but where I’m paying so much for this site, I want more from it.

Nutrition:

Fitness Blender – FB is focused more on fitness than nutrition. When you sign up for a module you get a great explanation of some basic nutrition ideas. They are both vegetarian but not militantly so. They recommend what kinds of foods to eat before and after a workout, drink lots of water, try for less processed food, less sugar, more home cooking, all of those good ideas. They have some recipes and ideas on the site as well. And honestly, I don’t feel that the kinds of food I eat are an issue with me so this was fine for  me.

Nerd Fitness – Nutrition is a much larger focus with NF. Unfortunately, the founder’s main nutrition philosophy is Paleo which gives it a huge red X in my brain. And honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the name. I think if someone said they wanted to cut down on carbs and dairy and processed food and try to eat more vegetables and protein I’d think “sure, if that works for you, go for it”.  I don’t want to go into a huge rant about the subject just now other than to say that I believe that different dietary choices work for different people and that if it works for you, great, but I’ll continue to eat my agrarian diet.

With NF you’re asked to keep a log of what you eat and drink to help you self-analyse the nutritional choices you’re making. You’re not asked to count calories or anything (thankfully) but just be more mindful. This part I can totally get behind. Also, I can see that I already make good choices all the time and can celebrate that. I don’t eat out very often, maybe once or twice a week, and I’m making an effort to make more of my food at home rather than buying pre-made food. I don’t drink any sugary drinks and very rarely drink alcohol and never coffee, only tea and water, so that part’s easy. Just finding ways to encourage myself to drink more water and not going through the school day without going to the bathroom can be challenging.

So there you have it. Two different approaches to fitness, both useful, both excelling in different ways and both aimed at slightly different audiences I think. NF is much more about motivation and overall well-being and nerdiness whereas FB is more focused on fitness through a balance of strength, flexibility and cardio. I’m going to continue to use both for the time-being with a more of a focus on NF while I improve my motivation with FB for some different workout options from time to time.

Have you ever used either of these sites or a different one for fitness? Let me know what you think in the comments.

September in February

 

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There’s a special and challenging time ahead for me starting next week as Intensive French comes to an end and I break out the “Compacted Curriculum”. We’re doing the switch over to English right now in grade 5 classrooms all over New Brunswick and it’s like we have a second September, but it’s February and I don’t have the same amount of energy I had at the beginning of the year.

Luckily, this is not my first kick at the can. I’ve been through this particular kind of turn-over, one where I get to keep the same students but switch subjects, three times in the past six years. The other three years I kept the same subjects but switched students. Both kinds of switches have their positives and negatives. Teaching just Intensive French is easier in terms of planning and marking but it’s hard changing students, whereas keeping students and changing subjects is a lot harder for planning and marking, but at least I have already an established relationship and routine with my students.

Things I’m looking forward to with this change:

The subjects: There’s so much in the grade 5 curriculum I enjoy teaching. I love doing literacy with my students and getting know them as readers and writers. I love sharing that part of my passion with them. And science! There are always a few students who struggle to get excited about other subjects but shine when we do science and I know this year is not going to be an exception. I’ve already noticed a few who rarely speak in class, especially during French, but who have confided a love of science to me. I also have the opportunity to pilot the new Health curriculum this year. I’m looking forward to that.

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Projects and independent learning: Yes, in intensive French we do little “projects” and sometimes in math as well, but it’s not the same. For first time language learners, they are so reliant on me and my knowledge of the language that it’s hard for them to work independently on projects and nearly impossible for them to do project work at home. We may officially be a bilingual province but the amount of parents I have who speak French is extremely low. I’m looking forward to doing a LOT less talking and a lot more listening over the next 5 months. I often feel like I’m a performer during the IF block. I have to speak slowly and clearly, with a lot of gestures and actions to convey meaning. I draw, I dance, I sing, I act like a fool to keep the energy and focus up in my room and it is exhausting. As much as I know I will need more time and energy for planning my lessons, I’m happy that it will take less energy to teach.

More variety: The great thing and the challenging thing about IF is the routine of it. Every day is pretty much the same. We have three hours of IF everyday plus one hour of math and sometimes a specialist subject like gym, music or art. Everyday we start our day the same way. We do a warm-up (which has been duolingo lately, more on that another day) then we do our “mini-prof” routine where a student asks other students questions about the date, the weather, preferences, mood, etc. and then we do our message of the day, we circle the sound we’re working on, we learn a new question and answer dialogue, we read a book, we listen to a song or play a game and we write a little bit. Everyday with only minor variations. I love routine and I know a lot of my students like to have things so structured and routine so they know what to expect next but, frankly, it gets a little boring especially after teaching the same thing for six years, sometimes twice in one year.

Things I’m not looking forward to:

Planning: Planning for IF right now is so easy! As I said, this is my eighth time teaching the same program and the program hasn’t changed since I started teaching it. I’ve changed up some of my methods, but the core hasn’t changed. It’s a very scripted program and I’ve moved away from the script of course but I’ve taught it so many times that I don’t even have to think about it. Planning mostly involves writing my morning message and finding new songs and games to play. Frankly, I’ve become a bit lazy when it comes to planning. Not so much for math, but that’s only one hour of my day. Now I’m going to actually have to plan for the whole day and go back to consulting curriculum guides more often.

New Curriculum: This is kind of related to the previous one, and is also a positive. Since I last taught the compacted curriculum, there’s a new curriculum for social studies, and as I said before, I’m part of the pilot trial run for the new health curriculum (which is written for a full year of teaching, not compacted yet for grade 5 so that’s going to be a challenge in and of itself). This is an interesting new challenge, especially in social studies, because I don’t have the resources and previous knowledge of what I’m going to be teaching yet. It’s exciting in a way, but also daunting. Plus, I miss the old social studies where I got to teach about ancient societies and medieval cultures. That was always so much fun! Instead I’m going to be teaching about how to use artifacts and aboriginal societies which will be interesting too and it’s important stuff, just not what I’m used to teaching.

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To top this all off, January has been a busy month and February is looking much the same. I started stage managing a new show with my community theatre group, we had a visit from another school to look at how we’re doing flexible math, I got my students ready for Drama Fest and we had our dress rehearsal / performance for the school on Friday. Looking forward to February, I’m helping out a friend by doing sound for his show all next week, I’m taking my students to Drama Fest on Monday, we finish up flexible math groups this week, and I have friends visiting from PEI and from Korea this month. All great stuff, but also stuff that’s making me feel a bit like I’m burning the candle at both ends.

On the whole though, I am looking forward to this change. I know that once I get going, a lot of my fears about more work will dissipate and I’ll enjoy the new challenges that are coming my way.

When I can’t find a wheel that fits

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“Don’t re-invent the wheel. Look and see what other people are doing.

Yes, but what if the wheels I’m looking at don’t fit?

I’ve just spent two hours traipsing about the internet trying to find an idea of some good projects to do with my flexible math group. I’ve been given the most advanced group, the group that has a good grasp of number sense, and I want them to apply that information using technology to make projects. This shouldn’t be hard to find but it is. Too many of the links I’ve looked at are pointing at sites that no longer exist, don’t have enough information, aren’t targeted at the right age group or aren’t focused on the right outcomes.

Finally I decided I wanted them to do something real world, where they choose occupations, houses, cars, deal with bills and living expenses etc. We could do all kinds of math with that but I don’t want to leave it too open. I wanted guidelines and helpful websites to send them to for information.

I remembered that when my mother was teaching they did something called The Real Game that I thought was kind of what I was looking for. It comes close, closer than a lot of the stuff I looked at, but it’s also not quite right. It’s something that I would like to do with my whole class rather than just my flexible math group because it’s more interdisciplinary than just focused on math.

So I’m back at square one with this vague idea of having students somehow come up with an occupation, figure out their budget and start spending money, with each day (we have four days a week for four weeks) being about a month so they can see their budget change over time. I think this would be fun and interesting but I also need to work out the specifics rather than just saying – “Here, do this thing!” and seeing how it turns out.

Sticky situation

We’re getting ready for our second round of flexible math groups. Before the break we had the students write a test with outcomes ranging from grade 2 all the way to grade 6. All the students from grade 3-5 other than a few exceptions wrote it. We marked the test and as a grade 3-5 team we went over the results and grouped our students based on where they excelled and where they needed more support. We’re focusing on place value and basic number sense for this one.

When it came to writing up letters for students to bring home, showing them and their parents which group they will be in and what skills they’ll be focusing on, there was a bit of a disagreement about what to do. Some parents and some teachers wanted to know which grade level their child the skills their child is working on come from.

On one hand, I get where they’re coming from, kind of. I get that they want to understand whether their child is working at, below or above grade level before the report card comes out. And someone pointed out that we shouldn’t be sugar coating things for parents if their child is working below grade level. If I have a grade 5 student working at a grade 3 level, they should be aware before they see the mark.

On the other hand, I had a lot of emotions in my class when I gave them their letters telling them which class they were going to be in. Lots of questions about what teacher was teaching the “top group” and who was in what group and what grade level everyone was working at. I had a long discussion about how we all have skills that we need to work on and that it’s not a reflection of who they are as a person or even whether or not they are a hard worker or persistent, but that it just meant that on that one day when they took that one test we saw those particular skills needed some work.

I don’t know what would have worked better. I really don’t. Any ideas? We have one more flexible group coming up in a few months and I want to do this better next time.

Is it weird I’m excited to go back?

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Now I know that I’m not in a typical situation. I just got my permanent contract two days before the break, I have a great, though large, class this year with no serious behaviour issues and I’m still a (relatively) new-ish teacher at a great school. I get that I’m privileged. But at the same time, I can’t be the only one who’s looking forward to this week with more excitement than dread, right?

And I look at the memes with teachers hiding under beds, being coaxed out by husbands and giggle. And yes, I will miss getting up when I want (9am) and having a well made cup of tea while I read over my newsfeed before playing some video games and getting some things done around the house. I will absolutely not be happy getting to school before the sun comes up and leaving after it sets, but that will gradually get better soon. As much as I enjoy having so much free time, I am more productive generally when I’m busy and most of all, I miss my students.

I miss how excited they are to come to school. I’m sad that I didn’t get to experience my students who are new to Canada’s joy when we had those two big snowstorms. I miss their stories and their ideas and I’m excited to get back to learning and I’m excited to try out having a class pet and switching from Intensive French to the Compacted Curriculum and projects and Science and Writing and all those other subjects I haven’t taught in a while.

January is going to be a busy month, undoubtedly. I have to get ready for the change over and I have a group of students I’m taking to DramaFest in less than a month. I have auditions for our next community theatre show (Into The Woods! I’m so excited!) in two weeks. But it’s all good busy stuff that I enjoy.

So yes, tomorrow will be an early morning and I will be sad to not be able to roll over and go back to sleep when I see how dark it is outside, but I will be happy to have breakfast with my colleagues and get back to work.

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