Posted in ebb & flow, education, gratitude

Out with the old; not yet in with the new

Teaching has some qualities about it that are unique.

Today—for better or worse, as with every year before—was one of those unique-to-teaching days.

The kids left.

They’re not coming back until July. (We’re on a modified year-round calendar in my district.) The oldest ones aren’t coming back at all.

Every year, the clock starts on the first day and runs relentlessly to the end. TV timeouts only. No stopped play for fouls, for rule book consultation, for rowdy fans.

Sometimes, you had a great school year with this crop and you’re sad to see them go.

Some years, time can’t run out fast enough. The mix of personalities or the way you and they work together (or don’t) can make even the simplest of tasks grueling.

But every year ends, whether happy or sad, and in a handful of weeks, we get to start over, to try again, a little bit wiser than we were before.

We get “new years” twice a year—once by the calendar and once by the school year. What a privilege!

My brain is busy with ideas of how I want to start the year next year—the beginning is critical because it sets the tone—and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to try again.

Posted in food, gratitude, mindset, socializing

Trying new foods

When I moved to Arizona 16 years ago, I was a pretty conservative food consumer. I didn’t eat many foreign foods (Americanized or not). Some Polish (see: weird last name heritage), some Italian (see: married to the Pole), Chinese as long as it came in one of those highly-recognizable paper boxes. Tacos.

In grad school, I had friends whose palates were more adventurous than mine. They took me to many types of ethnic* restaurants: Ethiopian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, Lebanese, Indian, Greek.

My world expanded incredibly in those two years. I distinctly remember the first time I had a piece of avocado, now a delicious and luxurious staple in my diet. (I also remember going back East once, going to a grocery store, and asking an employee if they carried guacamole. “That’s that green stuff?”)

In the years since then, despite my options becoming limited through vegetarianism, I’ve continued to be introduced to new foods (and am more adventurous with what I’ll cook at home as well).

And I’ve paid forward “come with me to this amazing restaurant and I’ll teach you what I know about their menu and food.”

Walking alone into a restaurant serving an entirely unknown cuisine is much more intimidating than going with someone who knows what they’re doing. (Except that I can’t help with the meat dishes.)

I’ve introduced many friends to Ethiopian (Cafe Lalibela), Thai (Thai Basil), and Indian at an assortment of places. We’re lucky to be in a region with so many amazing foods. I’m grateful to have friends who will come with me to places they’ve never been to eat food they’ve never tried.

These foods are so good. Very different if you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of person. But tasty.

Beyond seemingly endless restaurant options, there are also a few phenomenal Asian markets, a giant Indian market (with a restaurant inside), a huge Middle Eastern market (with counter service inside) and several smaller Middle Eastern/Mediterranean places that are half and half.

And these are only the places I happen to know about within a 10-ish-mile radius of my house.

So glad to have had my world opened by friends. So fun to open others’.


*I don’t like describing restaurants serving foreign food—Americanized or not—as “ethnic.” Everything is ethnic. Those places are simply foreign. I used the word ethnic there just to be able to make this footnote.

Posted in exercise, gratitude, mindset, motivation, physical health, thoughtfulness

Gratitude for more than health

A few years ago, I was doing a 10k and was maybe a little undertrained. (What?! Never!) Was running it with a good friend and we knew we’d have a good time, even if we didn’t have a good time.

Somewhere around mile 5, I got a text from the guy I was dating at the time:

Hey! As you make progress toward the finish line think about how really lucky you are to participate in that 10k. In the grand scheme of things it is pretty cool. It means you’re healthy enough, financially secure enough, living in a place that can safely put on a big event like that. It’s a good way to spend a free morning. Lots of people all over would love to be in your shoes, feeling what you’re feeling. It’s pretty cool. Hope you’re having fun!

I’ve often been grateful for good health and mobility, not just in the context of running. But he added extra layers that I take for granted most of the time.

So if you’re out this weekend, particularly at something you’re maybe less than excited to be at (I’m looking at you, track meet!), soak in some of his good thoughts about all of the other variables that we take for granted to make it possible.

But it’s also a reminder of one of the reasons I move it move it: because I can.


Posted in about me, ebb & flow, gratitude, meandering, mindset

See yourself through someone else’s eyes

The other day, I wrote about contributing to my school community. Another great thing happened in that little piece of the day.

I’ve been struggling with many of my classes.

Without getting into too many details, my classes are not your typical elementary band classes, because that approach hasn’t worked with the populations I teach.

“Your classroom is like a petri dish for beginning band innovation,” The Tall Daddy summarized.

But we’ve been in a long stretch of it not working. Or sometimes just not working the way I want it to.

I’ve felt frustrated, demoralized, cranky, ineffective, drained. There have been bits and pieces that I’ve been excited about, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I am free to experiment, but mostly, work is not the highlight of my day. (There was a time when it was.)

So the other day, an outside observer came in, silently hung out for a while, and left.

But before she left, she wrote me a card. Photo of the text is above.

“I could feel a sense of love and excitement for music.”

It’s there. Someone saw it.

I have wondered more and more lately: if my teaching situation was different, would I get my mojo back? Or am I just burned out?

It’s still there.

Thank you, random outside observer, for taking the time to write that note to me before you took off. It gave me more than you know.

(That’s part of why writing cards to people is a great habit.)

On the receiving end, when someone pays you a compliment, believe them. Take a moment and see yourself the way they see you, no asterisks.

I could have read the card and said to myself, “Well, she doesn’t really know me and didn’t even see me teaching band today. If she was here more often, she would know that that’s not true.”

Instead, I accepted the compliment, took it as validation, and on I went. (But the card is still on my desk.)

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

And, of course, take a moment to pay a compliment. You never know how much it might mean to someone.


Posted in about me, gratitude, motivation

Making a contribution

This post started as just a Facebook post and flowed very earnestly. It reached a length and depth where I decided to make it a blog post. I was very excited to post it until I got near the end, at which point it felt like useless prattling on. I decided that the feeling was instigated by fear—because there’s a lot of vulnerability in this post—and not because it actually was dull. To help me strengthen my self-assessment abilities, would you give me feedback? Yes, it was interesting and thank you for sharing it, or no, your sudden realization that this wasn’t interesting to a reader was correct. (Yes, that answer will sting, but if it’s honest and it’s kind, then it’s useful. I’m asking to assess, not fishing for compliments.) Thanks!

One of my “things” is wanting (needing?) to feel like a part of a group. While this is a human thing—we are social animals—in me, it’s also rooted in being the black sheep of my family, of being consistently and explicitly labeled as “other” for my formative years.

Being a traveling teacher makes it really difficult to have a work family. (For those unfamiliar, a traveling teacher has their assignment broken up onto multiple campuses. We might be at different schools on different days, we might go from school to school within the same day. Depends on the position and how the schedules are designed. My schedule now has me on each campus for an hour every day.)

I don’t see most colleagues regularly and almost never for more than a few minutes at a time. Depending on schedule, I might not have lunch at anyone else’s lunch time. (Or I might have lunch at a campus where everyone eats in their room.) Being somewhat socially anxious doesn’t help.

So the people around me have work family (their team or the campus at large or whomever) and I pop in and out. This is definitely a part of my life where social media reinforces my “other” status.

(As an aside, I remember the first time a coworker came into my room not because they needed something but just to say hello. It was in 2006. And the first people I hung out with outside of school. Same job. I was full time on that campus, not traveling. That school and the one I’m about to write about are the only two—out of 14 in my career—where a colleague popped in and started a conversation not about work.)

Having the same home school for the past five years helps. I go to teacher work days with the same people every year. I know who most of the people on campus are, and they know who I am. (Well … I know at least half. I’m not so good with classified—they’re not at our meetings. And some teachers I recognize but don’t know who they are…)

Having a home school with friendly people helps a little. While there have been other jobs where I’ve felt more “at home” on campus, that was more a result of the schedule than the people, and I’m grateful to be welcomed into the “family” at my home school, even if I’m the kid who is only there every other weekend and two weeks in the summer.

Also as a traveler, it’s difficult to be able to do things on campus beyond basic job responsibilities. When I didn’t travel, I spent one or more years as team lead, mentor teacher, testing coordinator, member of the school improvement committee, member of the school’s community council.

(What’s the point of all this, Heat?)

My home school is going through the process of applying to be an A+ school. Because my principal knows I’m a strong writer and am reliable, I was invited to do editing, to help ensure the voice of the application was consistent, even with multiple people contributing their writing. My writing ego was stroked (hat tip to the principal for her solid move there) and I was able to contribute to my campus. Opportunities like that help me to feel more like I’m part of the whole.

Today was one of two days that we were observed as part of the application.

Today happened to be a day in the rotation that I was teaching hip hop. We just added it in January to see if it works with the grade level (I’ve only taught it to slightly older kids before) and with our kids and with the schedule and on and on. It’s an experiment.

The class is small but we’re having a good time, learning a lot. Reading, writing, listening, talking. Lots of thinking/opinion questions. Some great conversations. Periodic temperature check with the kids indicates they both enjoy it and think it should be offered again in the future.

So today, we got to “show off” for the observers. The class itself wasn’t super-exciting to watch: mostly reading questions and writing answers before we had a conversation about them. But it’s something that’s not offered many places and, as I learned later, one of the students gushed to one of the observers about how awesome the class is some time before class.

Besides me enjoying teaching hip hop in its own right, today it got to be a feather in my school’s cap. I feel good being able to contribute more than “the usual.”


Oh! The post I said I’d share today about carcinogens and their ubiquity and the pieces of that puzzle that are on us but shouldn’t be? I’ll share that one tomorrow. For real this time.

And the curriculum I’m using for the hip hop class is called Fresh Beats by Rob Vagi.