Monday, November 30, 2015

Wordy post

Sorry readers. This will be a words only post. I usually fancify my posts with pictures and colors and links, but I just wanted to say how much I needed this fall break.
I don't think I realized how burned out I was. There I was  thinking I was on top of everything and then something would happen and I would crash and burn.  I would get discouraged and think to myself, "Shouldn't this get easier?"  After all I am in my eighth year of teaching so I should be a veteran by now, right?
As a teacher, I feel like a super hero sometimes. Not because I feel invincible or have super human strength, but because sometimes I feel that when I am weak, or discouraged, I don't have the luxury of showing it. I'm supposed to have all the answers and know everything and be on my game all the time. These kids are counting on me. Teachers don't like to ask for help. We want to do it ourselves. Or is that just me?
It's hard for me to remember how I was my first year of teaching. I made lots of mistakes and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. I didn't. I did what all first year teachers did: survive.
But looking back, I envy that naivety. I wasn't yet beat down by the pressure of testing and teaching struggles and people looking down on my profession. A question I ask myself every year: Am I making a difference? Are these kids better off; are they well enough equipped?

I try to tell myself yes. But the nagging voice in my head is saying that I always need to get better.
And that's why I've been feeling so stressed. Because it's hard. Every year.

But this break helped me recharge, refocus, and remember why I chose this profession. Why I love what I do. I love teaching. I love kids. Today was such a good day. I was excited about what I was teaching and all the kids were engaged (for the most part) and on task. I got most of what I wanted to teach done today, which fellow teachers know makes that a pretty good day when you actually teach what you planned (yea!).

And the hugs. Oh those sweet hugs. And the "Ms. Kang guess what" or "Ms. Kang I did this.."
Or "I read a lot over the break." Or when they make connections in their learning. Melts my heart every time.

It's true when they say teaching is really really tough. But the rewards are tenfold.
I'll never forget an email I got from a parent thanking me for teaching his daughter and telling me that all my hard work and diligence would continue to bless her and those around her for a lifetime to come. That's powerful. That's super hero stuff.

So there will be times when I'll be superman with my kryptonite. Or like the Hulk when I'm frustrated. But it's days like this that I feel like I can take on the world. At least my classroom world.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


What does this word mean to you?
Webster defines it as a chance or possibility that  something will happen or exist in the future.  It is a quality that something or someone has that can be developed to make it better. It's an ability that someone has that can be developed to help that person become successful.

 I recently watched a movie called Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about an 85 year old sushi chef  who is constantly striving for greatness in his work and passion. His work ethic is inspiring and made me realize some things about myself as a teacher.

1. Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work.
 I don't know about completely immersing yourself but I think you need to dedicate your time and effort to improving a little bit each day. As a teacher I feel like I'm constantly struggling to meet the demands of my job; meetings and deadlines and forms, professional development classes, and emails. I sometimes forget that the most important part of my job are the kids. What I do (or not do) directly affects their lives and the path of their learning.

2. You have to fall in love with your work.
 There's no doubt that I love kids and teaching. I love the rare moments when every single child is engaged and working, and not for an external reward or to please you. When I see that genuine enjoyment and passion for learning, I think that maybe I'm in the right career. I love to see the growth from  the beginning to the end of the year. I'm so blessed and privileged to be a tiny part of their lives and sometimes I get so emotional when kids leave my classroom because of how much you invest in them. I still worry about MY kids. They'll always be my kids. I love my career despite the constant nagging I give, the extra 3-4 hours after school, spending money I don't really have, and the list goes on. But it always comes back to the kids.

3. Never complain about your job.
That one's tough. It's so hard not to complain about the things you don't like about work. This is something I really need to work on.
 There is also the issue of teacher salary, policies on education, budget cuts, and occasional views of seeing us as no more than glorified babysitters. Sometimes teachers are the last ones thanked, but the first ones blamed. But why am I trying to change things I can't control? Why am I complaining about things I don't even try to change? So instead of complaining, focus on what you can change. Focus on the good. Fortunately I am blessed to be in a school environment where I have full support from parents, staff, and administration. I have no idea where the teachers who don't have this support get their strength and energy.

4. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success  and the key to being regarded honorably.
This is also hard. Sometimes I wonder if I really am getting better as a teacher or if I am flat lining. How can I become better? What strategies can I use to improve my teaching skills? What will engage them the most? Am I getting through to them? Are they even listening to me?
These are questions I am constantly asking myself. I know I'm loving and caring and strict and teach them respect. I try to meet their individual needs. I wish there was a simple formula to being a great teacher. And it's hard not to look back and think if I had just done a little more, they would be doing better.
But doubts and regrets are useless. I live in the present. I have kids now.
Like Jiro, I want to strive to improve daily and never give in to the idea that I've reached my peak.
Potential. We all have it. It's not impossible if we have the potential to achieve it. If I believe the kids have the potential to learn, why shouldn't I have that potential also?

 I like this quote about perseverance where it says that perseverance is the hard work you do in the classroom after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. It's a struggle, but it's one I will keep doing because this is my calling. This is part of who I am. I am a teacher.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Back from my hiatus

I can't believe my last post was back in March! I didn't have anything particular going on except work, but I guess I started to drift any from blogging for a couple of reasons.

I mainly started a blog to record my daily (or in my case, monthly) happenings. Like an online diary. I've always kept some sort of diary since I was little. I think my first diary was at the age of 10. Writing has always come easier for me than speaking. I am not eloquent with the spoken language. I wish I was a great speaker but I'm not. But I think God gave me a gift and love for writing. When I couldn't convey in words what I felt or thought, I would write it down in poetry form or through a story. I would write about my day and how I felt at the moment. Sometimes I'll look through my old diaries and laugh because it's so funny to read back on the tween me and what I worried about.
Now that I'm grown up, I have different stressors and seemingly more things to worry about. I guess I felt like I was complaining a lot or writing about things that didn't matter. Not that my blog is well followed or anything, but there's also the fear of being known about; in a private diary, you can say whatever you want, but an online diary is different. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to write.
But writing is also a sort of therapy for me. It lets me speak when I can't. It's my story for those who will listen. Years from now, it will help me remember a time when I was blessed and be grateful, or when I struggled so that I can learn.
I've recently started my school year and I can already feel the pressure and stress to succeed. While everyone else's lives seem to be full steam ahead, I'm still at the station. My question of "Why, God?"  and "When, God?" seem to go unanswered. But I know God is working for my good. He is molding me and changing me. He is patiently guiding me on the path and steering me from harm. Instead of asking why and when, I need to be asking, "What next, God? What do you want me to do next?"
So in the daily grind of life, when stress comes my way, I always think of this verse in Colossians 3:23 that says:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.
So no matter how you may feel, think that you are working for the Lord. It gives me strength and makes me think twice before complaining.
That being said, life is hard sometimes. I forget constantly how blessed I am. I feel like Dory sometimes because I praise Him one moment and turn around and forget everything I'm thankful for.
I want to write so that I can remember.

Lately I've been reading Paige Givens' blog and it's really motivated me to write again.  I don't have to have this wonderful life or exciting events to write a blog. Maybe this will give someone encouragement. Or maybe this is just an encouragement to me. Either way, I want to write again.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spring Break Blog

Why do I only blog on breaks? I looked back at my previous posts and realized that I blogged during the summer and spring break 2014.

How can spring break feel so long and short at the same time?
It seems like forever since I've been in my classroom but the thought of going back to school tomorrow seems highly irregular and I'm displaying signs of avoidance, including trying not to look in the general direction of my huge crate of "school stuff" I brought home to work on. How cute of me.

Still, I know that starting tomorrow, I am in it for the long haul; Open House on Thursday, and then getting all my kiddos ready (as much as possible) for 3rd grade. It's a huge task, and every year I worry and wonder if I did everything I could. And every year, I start over again, hoping to be better.

Even though the break went so quickly, I am always grateful for a chance to recharge.

LOVE Columbian food! @Casa Vieja

Hands down BEST pie shop in the area

My free piece! Drunken Nut

Blueberry & Nectarine Pie
I used my last batch of blueberries I picked last summer. I took two recipes and tweaked them to make my pie. Recipe coming soon!

 Okay, so I am slightly obsessed with this movie. I got a chance to see an advance screening of it. I guess it was the first screening being shown because they were taking up phones. My other screenings didn't do that. And then we were wanded. In spite of all that, we (Mere) spotted the binocular guy in the theater to detect any light from cameras! Anyway, the acting was phenomenal, costumes, scenery, and casting were on point (although I kept picturing Bellatrix Lestrange when I looked at the fairy godmother). I love Lily James and Richard Madden; their onscreen chemistry was palpable! My friend was making fun of me because she was telling me something about the actors, and I said, "Yea I know that." And she said, "Of course you already know." She knew I had already researched everything I could about them. It's funny how they're both dating Dr. Who actors. I must start watching that along with Downton Abbey and Sherlock.

I'm also super excited about the live action Beauty and the Beast coming out in 2015!!! This is my favorite Disney movie, so they better do it right! Having Emma Watson, Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey!), Luke Evans (Hobbit), and Josh Gad (Olaf) as cast members is definitely a great sign of good things to come.

What else did I do on my break? I did boring stuff like clean my apartment and purge some clothes to donate. I also did fun things like paint, bake, visit friends, and read the dusty stack of books on the floor.

My goal this week is to not stress myself out over getting ready for Open House and enjoying the little things.
One of my favorite quotes from Anne of Green Gables is: Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.
So no matter what happens today, tomorrow always holds a fresh start; a clean slate. Here's hoping that you have a fresh tomorrow!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Typewriter series

I am thankful for...
               nights that turn into mornings
          light that filters through
          in drowsy moments
      sounds you can only hear with
               quiet concentration.
          home, and for those that call it that too
          a mind that speaks, music to drown in

       art to admire and be in awe of
          books books and books
          pages and chapters and real emotion
          over fictional characters

        sharp pencil points
                    forever memories

                   and faded memories
            peace and friends who remind me
            to smile and not fade away

           the ability to start over again
            seeing one more time
                       one  last   time

            if only in a dream
           all these pieces of life

            make me think
                     and thank

             the One who gave it all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Book Club

So a few months ago I saw something on Pinterest about doing a book club with kids. A parent was talking about doing this with her own kids and their friends, but I thought, how cool would it be to make one with my students this summer?

As a teacher I always try to advocate reading and show my love of books. I wish I read as much as I did as a kid; I used to borrow a pile of books weekly from the public library, on top of the books from school, books at home, and even the books my sister was reading. I think at one point, I owned 3 library cards. Now, as an adult, I find it hard to fit reading into my hectic schedule. That's why I've made a challenge for myself to read 50 books this year. And making a book club was the perfect kick off!

I first brought the idea up with my students and asked what they thought of it. About half my class loved the idea, so I thought I might be able to do it. I reminded them that this was their responsibility and they needed to be 100% sure (or as much as possible) that they could and would put effort into it. Plus, I told them they needed their parents on board as well. I wanted to see who was really serious about it. Then I sent an email to parents explaining the virtual book club. Since they already had google accounts, I used google hangouts and made a group for them to type out their responses. Then I found out online that multiple video chat could work too! It wasn't perfect; there were many, many, technically issues so here are my tips if you ever want to start your own book club! I am thinking about even doing this during the school year!

1. Book choice

The Pinterest idea recommended a slightly easier book than their level because you want them to be able to read and understand it on their own. The book I chose was The Runaway Dolls. It's the third in a series I used as a read-aloud to my class so all of them were interested in the book. It's fairly easy to read but still has mature vocabulary that we could discuss.
I gave several options on how to get the book: public library (free), half price, or amazon. Amazon was selling it starting at $0.08 (excluding S&H).

2. Group size

Keep it small. The ideal number for this age group (2nd graders) would be less than eight. Four is ideal. If you want a book club for your whole class, you could have 3-4 groups depending on your class size or levels. Initially I had 9 students interested. That dwindled to 5, due to vacations, other commitments, etc. It was a perfect sized group.

3. Pick a day

I chose Mondays because it was easier for me to remember and it's the start of the week! I first asked parents if there was a time best and then adjusted according to that. I chose Mondays at 2:00. Usually afternoons are better for kids so they're not sleepy. I think.

4. Book club discussions

The Runaway Dolls has 19 chapters, so I assigned about 4 chapters per week (they did pretty well with reading the assigned chapters). Stress to them that they MUST not read ahead! I forgot to mention that, and some students read the whole book! It's hard because they can't make predictions or they forget what happened in a certain chapter. Or they return the book to the library. Haha.

To prepare, I read the first four chapters of the book. After reading the first chapter, I went back and
 made some comprehension questions to ask them. These included simple text questions, inferences
about the text, personal connections to the text, predictions, etc. I also underlined and tabbed all the vocabulary I wanted to talk about. I went a little crazy on the first four chapters and tabbed everything and ended up not having time to discuss them all! So just talk about a few important vocabulary words they may see again in the upcoming grades.

We also discussed a lot of similes and idioms (the book used many) and also had them compare and contrast things. Summarizing the chapter was the hardest because they wanted to tell me everything; that's why typing was good because they could only type one or two sentences.

I assigned homework for them on top of reading. Maybe it's the teacher in me, but reading wasn't enough! But I think next time, I will lay off on assigning homework. Or at least give them just one or two things. One of the things I told them to do was to write down vocabulary words that they didn't know and find the meaning of those words. Sometimes text clues don't help, especially when I read, and often I misinterpret the meaning of a word I don't know. So I think that's good practice, because sometimes you just have to look it up.

5. Technical stuff

Oh technology. I love and hate you. That was probably the hardest part of this book club. The first book club meeting I had we used Google Hangout and just typed. It was actually really wonderful! The only downside is that if you have students who are not great typers they can get very frustrated. The solution to that is that they could use an iPad or something that can allow them to use the microphone to speak and type it out for them. My iPad Air does that, and it's easy for me to "say" everything, especially if it's a long answer. With typing, you don't have to worry about talking over each other and not being able to hear someone.

After the first meet, I tried several times to get the video chat to work. The first time they couldn't hear me. The second time, some students couldn't hear each other; also, because they are minors, video chat doesn't work for their accounts, so the parents (thank you!) made google accounts or used theirs and let the kids get on. On the last day of book club, I asked the students (and parents) what they liked and any suggestions for the future. They enjoyed the book club and the only suggestion I got was to set simple parameters for talking on video chat.

The main problem with doing the multi-video chat was them talking over each other and not focusing on the book club. They got so excited seeing me and seeing their friends, they would get a little silly and get off topic. Which is totally normal for kids, especially in the summer. I didn't want to be too strict seeing that it was an optional activity. Nonetheless, I suggest making simple rules to follow when video chatting. Remind them to focus only on the book club and talk about their summer either five minutes before the book club or five minutes after the book club. Speak only when the teacher calls on you and don't talk over someone.
By the time we all got video chat to work, there wasn't much use to discuss the rules, but definitely I will make sure to set the rules before we video chat.
That being said, I really like the typing method better. Even if a mom started typing for him when he gave up. ;)

Anyway, that's it. Technology was the frustrating part. But I really did enjoy doing it. In the beginning, parents would email me telling me how excited their kids were to get the book and start reading. One mom told me she caught her daughter reading until midnight in the shower stall (with a light)! Even the boys in my book club loved reading the book, which a parent said, they wouldn't have read if I hadn't chosen it. That's what I wanted to achieve with this book club. I wanted them to get excited about reading whether they were reading with their parents or on their own.

As a surprise, on the last day of book club, I told them they had one more assignment (their faces dropped a little). I told them to write it down, and said I would treat them to froyo as a book club celebration! They were so excited!

Hopefully I can do this again, and having this trial run will really help me with my next book club!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer School Reflections

I was tempted to title this blog post: How I Survived Kindergarten Summer School. It seemed a bit too dramatic... although, there wasn't a lack of drama during my 20 days as a kindergarten teacher.

I've been a second grade teacher for 6 years. I student taught in second grade. I'm used to teaching second graders. It's my comfort zone. And although I've taught Sunday school with little kids, am around my friend's children and also children at my school, I wasn't quite prepared for the complexity and required level of patience that I needed to have for 10 six year olds. Here are some highlights:

If you know me, I am not the most animated person. To teach kindergarten, in my opinion, you must sing. Sing everything if possible. When I was talking, it was like I wasn't there. "Clean up," I would say. No response. Then I would start singing Barney's Clean Up song, and they would all sing with me and actually clean up! To be fair, this happened in the beginning of summer school. By the end, they learned to listen to just my words and cleaned up or stopped talking. Oh, and they LOVED all the nursery rhymes we learned. I mean, they sang it while they worked, at recess, or during breakfast. They even sang on the steps after school. Randomly. Like they were on a playlist in their mind.

Ms. J:
My sweet second graders called my name. All the time. I probably heard my name over 100 times a day (I tried to count one day, and gave up). It was to a point that our computer teacher would put me in time out and the kids could not come up to me for ten glorious minutes. It was only ten, because eventually one kid would crack and come up to me. Which I cannot be annoyed with, because it was always to tell me how well they did on their spelling, or how many facts they mastered in XtraMath. So here are these adorable kindergarteners, who are calling me all sorts of things: teacher (a classic), Ms. K (they can't quite get the -ang out), and one sweet boy who constantly called me Ms. J. The first time it happened, I thought, 'Oh, just a slip of the tongue.' Then he kept saying it. And no matter how many times I corrected him, spelled it on the board, and even though the other kids said no, it's Ms. KANG, to him, I was Ms. J. Did he have a teacher named Ms J? Nope. Know anyone by that name? No. I even did a whole mini lesson on the letter 'K'. At least I tried.

Bathroom and Tattling:
They go to the bathroom a lot. They tattle a lot. I finally got used to that by the second week, but man, I was shocked.

Funny Moments:
Every time someone did something (accidentally, like break a crayon, or tear a paper), they thought they were in trouble. There would be "Oooo's" or "You're in trouble! I'm telling!"
They also say the funniest things. Like a girl tripped and she said to me, "Ms. Kang, I need to practice more walking." Or a boy said he had something important to ask me, and it was during a lesson, so I said he could ask me after lunch. I forgot about it, and then at the end of lunch, he said, "Ms. Kang, you forgot my question I was going to tell you." And I said, "Oh, what is it?" He said, "I am growing up." :)

I think the most frustrating part was trying to teach so much in such a short amount of time, and just hoping I made some difference and taught them something. Some days I was discouraged, especially when they just didn't get it, or just wanted to play. I felt the burden of teaching them their abcs, phonic skills, and ability to read and comprehend a story. I kept thinking if they weren't on grade level, I had failed.
But people around me encouraged me and my friend said something that really stuck out to me:
They are getting more at school than they probably do at home. 
That gave me some encouragement. And although I cannot say they are on level for first grade, ones that didn't know their letters, do. They can memorize rhymes, and identify rhyming words. They can write a full sentence and punctuate (sometimes). They can read high frequency words and paint and retell and play with others. They definitely learned manners (I made them say 'thank you' and 'your'e welcome' for doors, papers, to the lunch ladies, etc.). On the last day, a mom picked up her daughter and I was telling her what a hard worker she was and how I was going to miss her. I told her that I hoped she learned something in summer school to help her in first grade. And her mom said, "Yes, I noticed she improved a lot in her reading." And I almost cried on the spot. Just knowing that at least one student improved, makes me happy.
Yes, it was hard waking up at 5:30 when it should be my summer break. These past 20 days felt like 90. But it was worth it if I helped them. And I worked with some amazing people that kept me going and kept me sane. Like my friends said, I experienced it.