Being a Teacher During the 2016 Election

This election has been exhausting. Though I am excited about the possibilities ahead of our country, I’m also ready for a break. One of the things we’ve talked about amongst the teachers this year is whether or not to bring the election up with our fifth grade students. This is my first time teaching during a presidential election, but my colleagues have said that usually they love election years because it provides a whole slew of teachable moments–especially in fifth grade, when we learn about how the government works. But this election is different, and most of the teachers at the school won’t even touch it for a variety of reasons.

I’ve thought a lot about being a teacher during this election, and especially over the last few months. I been absolutely appalled and disheartened by so many things, whether it’s the words of a candidate or the reactions of voters. But each time I feel like it’s about to push me over the edge, I remember that I’m in a position to affect change.

One of the tools we use at our school is called THINK. It’s an acronym that leads students through a series of questions so that they can determine the appropriateness of what their saying. They ask: is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to the questions are no, it’s probably not the best thing to say.

I’ve thought about this acronym and how helpful it would have been to so many people this past year; the absence of truth and kindness is especially concerning. I think of my fifth grade students, and what I expect from them. They know that their opinions must be based on fact. They can’t just say whatever they want; they have to back it up with evidence. When we’re reading a book, they have to find quotes to support their ideas. When we’re looking at nonfiction articles, they have to point to the moment in the text that backs up their position. When they answer a question, we respond with, “how do you know that?” And they answer, even if the answer is as simple as, “I know this because you wrote it right there on the board.” I’m teaching my students the importance of truth based on fact–not just opinion. I teach them that it’s up to them to make their own conclusions based on the fact–but they must have those facts backing them up. I teach them that everyone is allowed to have their own opinions–as long as they’re backed up by fact.

My students are also kind. Even though I work in a middle school, we spend a lot of time schoolwide making sure our students understand kindness: what it is, why we need it, and how to live it. I’ve seen my students reach out to someone else who is struggling, or may be sitting alone. Most of my students know to use kind words, but I’ve seen my students apologize when they’ve made a mistake. They don’t blurt out whatever they’re thinking; they take a step back to take perspective, and think about how their words will affect others. I am confident that my students can go out into the world and treat others with kindness–even when a teacher isn’t checking over their shoulders.

Last week we had a discussion about the election during morning meeting. Students shared who they would vote for and why. Before we shared, we had a talk about respecting everyone’s opinions, basing our opinions on fact, and making sure we treated others with kindness. I reminded students that everyone could have their own opinion, and while we definitely do not need to agree with everyone, we do need to respect everyone. I also explained that if students wanted to keep their opinion private, that is perfectly okay too.

Students went around the circle and shared. We had students who said they would support both major party candidates, as well as students who wanted to keep their opinion private. Afterwards, we talked about the importance of basing opinions on fact, and then where we could learn these facts. Students said that they could listen to speeches, look at candidates websites, read articles, and listen to the news. We discussed how some news sources will think one candidate is great and the other is awful, and other news sources with think another candidate is great and the other is awful, and so it’s important to examine both sources and then make your decision. We discussed all of this before 8:30, and everything was fine. We finished our discussion and went on to have a great day.

Every time I think of this election, I try to think of my students. I think about the absence of kindness and truth that I’ve seen from voters across the board as well as from politicians (and one candidate in particular). And then I think of how impressed I am everyday by the kindness I see in my classroom, and by my students’ thirst for knowledge. And while I’m excited about the direction our country could possibly take over the next four years, I’m even more excited about what’s going to happen in fifteen years when these students are running things–students who value the truth, and who value kindness. That will be a nice change of pace.

 

 

 

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

Obviously I’ve sort of fallen off the blogging radar. I just looked at my stats, and WordPress so gently reminded me that it’s been 6 months since my last post–thanks! But what do you do when you start writing a blog about a specific period of your life, and that period is so, completely over?

I’m never doing TAPIF again. I will never live in France again. And now I’m completely over that two-month phase when I moved back home and the thought of that made me depressed.

I’m now in my second year as a fifth-grade teacher and I absolutely love it. I’m married. That’s about it on the adult stepladder as we still have to do other important things like buy a house and whatever, but we’re getting there, and that means a lot of things have changed since my first three years of post-grad life when all I did was travel around Europe, or impatiently wait for my next trip to Europe.

First of all, I’ve realized that actually teaching is way harder than TAPIF–sorry TAPIF-ites. Yes, there are certainly challenges that come with moving to a foreign country, but the actual teaching part of TAPIF is a total breeze. I understand that you have to plan lessons, and it’s difficult working with French teachers who are totally bizarre, and sometimes you don’t understand what the kids are saying, and there are all these weird rules and you’re expected to yell and be totally mean, and all that can be really hard. I get it. I was in four different middle schools during my two years, and one of them was so awful to work at that I considered leaving the program over Christmas break and just staying in England with my now-husband because the thought of going back to work at this school was that upsetting. But the stresses of TAPIF are not the same as being a full-time teacher, where you’re responsible for standards, IEPs, and responding to thousands of parents and student emails, among other things.

This is something that’s so hard to realize in the throes of France-induced craziness, but it’s so clear to me now. And while I still love to give advice about TAPIF and would answer any question that someone has, I also have the hindsight knowledge that everything works out and it’s a total character-building experience and the whole TAPIF life pretty easy in the grand scheme of things, and so I can’t keep writing in this blog as a TAPIF-guide shrine.

My years in France were some of the best years of my (so far pretty short) life, but in my real life I’m totally over the phase of starting every sentence with, “well, when I was in France…” and there would be nothing worse than continuing to write all about being a teaching assistant long after finishing the program. In fact, this is probably most I’ve thought about TAPIF in the last six months, and that’s because the title of the blog is “Hannah Goes to France” so I kind of had to. I did get a wave of sadness when I realized that this was the first time in six years that I would be breaking my “year in France, year in US” cycle, but there’s so many other awesome things going on that the feeling passed pretty quickly (and now, three days into the new school year, I’m too busy to think about it anyways).

I took a class this summer about how to teach writing to students and while most of the class did little in helping me adjust my practice, one thing became immediately clear to me. The professor asked us about a time we felt great writing, and most of the people in the class struggled to answer. They said they hated writing, or they never did any writing, or they struggled to teach writing because it was so difficult for them. And the whole time I was thinking about how I maintained a pretty regular blog for three years and totally loved it, and maybe I should get back to that.

I’m super busy and have a strict 9PM bedtime, and I have nothing to say about France or being a teaching assistant, and I am deathly afraid that a student’s parent will stumble across this blog and learn I am an actual human being outside the classroom (though having a new last name does give me an extra layer of security). Let’s see where this goes!

 

The Nostalgia Years

I have no idea why, but last year I downloaded the the timehop app and I’ve been love/hating it ever since. I totally understand the appeal of seeing what you were doing a year ago, or five years ago, or whatever it is. Yes, wall posts were dumb in high school, and I can’t believe I wore that. And I know everyone gets nostalgic when they look back at whatever they were doing in the past, but sometimes doing that can be a little overwhelming, especially this year, since my life is so drastically different.

Take this morning’s update. I woke up at 8:43, not because I set an alarm or anything, but because I get up so early to be a real live teacher during the week that I can no longer sleep past nine, a feat I thought was impossible. Last night I graded 100 papers to get up to date for the end of the trimester on Friday. I had an internal discussion: should I go to Weight Watchers and the gym, my normal Saturday morning plan, or should I stay home and try to plow through the last fifty papers and get a jump start on entering the first 138 grades out of the 368 with comments that have to be entered in two weeks?

I rolled over and grabbed my phone, going through my normal morning routine: check email, see what lame offer they’re running at groupon right now; check work email, cross my fingers that no one had a problem on Friday night; check my message group, see what Anne wrote after I went to bed and what Julia added before I woke up; check timehop, immediately cry/hate my life.

There are days when I know I’ll get extra nostalgic, like January 13th, the day I arrived in Grenoble, or February 2nd, the day I met Gabriel, or the whole end of April which will bring on the biggest sobfest because it’s when Anne and Julia and I went on our perfect trip. But today falls into one of the most well-traveled weeks of my life and I had absolutely no idea.

Because apparently, seven years ago I was in Switzerland. Six years ago I was in Romania. Five years ago I was in Grenoble (checking out the Grottes de Choranche). Four years ago I was in London. Three years ago I was in Béthune. Two years ago I took a break, but last year I was in Chambéry. And then today I woke up debating whether I could make a deal with myself to skip Weight Watchers because I ate too much this week as long as I spent the time doing work.

The thing is, I love my life. I’m not saying this to convince myself, like, hey, Hannah, you’re really happy now, REMEMBER?? I really do. First of all, I can’t believe Gabriel and I are actually living together, and not flying back and forth across the Atlantic to see each other like we had to do for the first four and a half years of our relationship (and thank god we haven’t gotten tired of each other yet). I love my job; my students are crazy and hysterical and I work with amazing people and even though it’s a ton of work I don’t feel like I’m just going through the motions. I love that I can hang out with my family and my friends, and get Brody’s on Sunday mornings and drive my car to a shop that’s open after seven pm and on Sundays. But, man, it’s tough not to feel like, “what the hell am I doing now?” when I see it all laid out like that.

I had a major freak out like this last weekend: I will never be able to live or travel like that again. I was looking at pictures of Anne and Julia and me in Portugal and I realized that part of my life is totally over and I burst into tears. I’m not going to be jetting off to France for the year any time soon, and my responsibilities are going to get bigger and bigger. I can’t just blow $4000 on a trip somewhere–I have to buy a freaking house! But then Gabriel talked to me, and calmed me down, because he gets it too.

We’re not one of those couples that you’re going to see in one of those articles posted on facebook: “They gave up all of their possessions and have spent the last three years traveling the world–it’s easier than you think.” But we did decide to go to the bank, and open up another bank account, so we can deposit $50 from each paycheck into a travel fund and go somewhere totally freaking awesome each summer. And the next time that sneaky timehop wallops me with a particularly well-traveled day, I can go online, log into my bank account, and start planning my next trip.

 

 

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate. I missed three days in a row, but who cares?

Mom Knows Best

It’s International Women’s Day, and I thought I would take this opportunity to give a big shoutout to the number one woman in my life: my mom. She taught me how to do pretty much everything: how to be kind, how to have fun, how to manage a million different things at once and not let anything drop, how to listen, and how to problem-solve…among other, more trivial things, like don’t forget to take a jacket because it will be really cold, and make sure you go to the bathroom before you leave, and are you sure you don’t want to try on the next size up?

There’s one story that I always tell about my mom that really sums her up quite perfectly: loving and kind, and always looking for the teaching moment.

When my sister and I were younger, my mom took us to movie camp. I was seven or eight, and my sister was two years younger, and I only have a few memories of the whole thing. I remember it was far away, and it was in the morning so when you left the theatre the heat wave would hit and you would instantly start to sweat, and the sun was blinding after two hours in the dark. One time they had a guy in a popcorn suit there, and another time they took pictures beforehand and then projected them on the screen and that was very exciting for eight-year-old me. Each week during the summer, in between work, and summer camp, and trips to visit the family, my mom took us to movie camp.

The only movie I remember seeing at movie camp was Grease. Or maybe it wasn’t even at movie camp, and I just saw it as a rerelease when I was younger. I loved the music, and the dancing, and the whole thing, and spirits were high as the movie ended with Sandy emerging as her new, sexier self amidst the high-energy last song. My sister and I loved the movie, and I couldn’t get enough of it. My mom walked my sister and I out, listening to us gush about the film (and probably attempt to sing the songs), when she stopped us to impart one important pearl of wisdom: “I know it was a really good movie, but remember, don’t ever change yourself for a man.”

This is one of the most vivid memories from my childhood, and I still can’t hear the movie Grease mentioned without thinking about it. My mom let us have fun, and she let us enjoy the movie, and she probably sang the songs with us all the way home but my mom also made sure that I never got the message from anyone–even Sandy Olsson–that I should be anyone other than myself. And sometimes I make fun of her for turning Grease into a teachable moment, but the real thing is that I’m lucky to have a mom who, even when I was eight years old, made sure that I always knew to be confident in who I am. Thanks, mom!

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11454297503_e27946e4ff_hSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Memory Lane

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I took this picture five years ago. When I studied abroad in Grenoble, I didn’t have class on Mondays, and Gabriel had two weeks of vacation, and so we decided to go on a day trip–just as friends, since this was before we started dating. As the resident European, I let him plan everything. He chose two towns for us to visit: Annecy, renowned for its beautiful everything, and Chambéry, another famous town that maybe wasn’t as picturesque as Annecy, but it was on the way from Grenoble, so why not stop there too?

We arrived in Chambéry early Monday morning, without a map or a plan. All we knew was that there was a pretty famous castle and an elephant statue. And that it was Monday. Which means that everything was closed. Literally, everything. We found our way to the elephants, I took the above photo, and somehow we wandered to the castle. Closed. We passed an adorable little bookshop, right at the mouth of an alleyway, that I was dying to visit. Closed. Bakeries, shops, cafés, all closed. The weather was grim, the town was empty, and we didn’t really have much to do or see. Somehow, we stumbled onto what seemed to be a deserted main street, and we found a restaurant that was serving lunch.

The restaurant was long and narrow, with rough stone walls, and to my 20-year-old, fresh off the plane self, it was so French. I had the lasagne, which came with a small salad (mustard dressing, of course), and in the middle of the lunch I was struck by how intimate the whole situation was. There I was, an American in France, on a day trip with my British friend (who I secretly had a huge crush on), hiding from the rain in a tiny French restaurant. We sat across from one another, and throughout the whole lunch I kept thinking, “okay, how am I going to eat these giant pieces of lettuce and still look kind of cool and coordinated and also consume this entire plate of lasagne without spilling sauce on myself and he’s staring me right in the face??”

We left the town after lunch, and went to Annecy which completely eclipsed little old Chambéry. The sun came out, the lake and the mountains were stunning, and we took tons of pictures and wandered through the little streets, talking and marveling at the Frenchness of the whole place. I took my mom and sister to Annecy when they visited later in the semester, hung up pictures of the town on my wall, and promptly forgot about the gloomy little town we visited on the way, of which the most vivid memory I had was the anxiety of trying to look cool while eating lettuce.

And then four years later, I found out I was going to be working and living in Chambéry for eight months. As soon as I got my placement, I combed my memory for any details about what would be my new home: cloudy. Elephants. Book shop. Messy salad.

And after eight more months building on that one morning’s experience in Chambéry, I was able to update those impressions just a little bit. It’s actually quite stunning there when the sun comes out. They took the elephant statues away for cleaning, but it didn’t really matter anyways, because there were so many beautiful buildings and details in the town that the elephants didn’t really matter after all. The book shop was actually only open for about eight hours a week–and I would know, because I lived right above it. I never went in, but I did exchange friendly nods and bonjours with the owner whenever she was there. And I went back to the restaurant with Gabriel a few months after I moved there. I only had a chocolat viennois and I didn’t care at all how messy I was when I was eating it.

 

 

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

 

 

 

Adventures in Wedding Planning

The thing is, I haven’t really touched this blog since I started teaching. It’s a combination of being ultra busy, not wanting my students’ parents to find out about my awesome, non-teacher life, and feeling like the stuff that I’m doing now isn’t very interesting compared to weekend trips to Turin and Copenhagen. But my best mountain friend (and amazing blogger) Anne and her teacher guru mom Sally told me about the Slice of Life daily writing challenge and I thought it would give it a try. I get so caught up in feeling like I have to write about something fleshed out and *~*~interesting~*~* and this will be a nice change of pace.

 

One of the reasons that I’ve been so busy is that on top of struggling through my first year of teacher, Gabriel and I are also planning our wedding. In the eyes of the wedding industry, I’m probably a pretty bad bride. My pinterest board has been long forgotten since last July, when we first started planning. I immediately delete any vendor email I get. And neither Gabriel nor I are too bothered about spending money on the little details that get super expensive, but nobody really cares about anyways. $1500 to upgrade from the regular chairs to Chiavari chairs? No thanks. $2 a person to upgrade from regular potatoes to fancier potatoes? Yeah, not happening. $3000 on over-the-top centerpieces that will die in a week anyways? Nope.

The little details are actually pretty low-stress, because neither of us care too much about them. We want to have people we love there, who are having fun and dancing a lot, and that’s about it. So sometimes we’re not the best at “wedding situations,” because it’s pretty hard to swallow all the crap that people try to convince you that you MUST HAVE for your wedding. I’m a nice person, and I’ll smile through the sales pitch, but I really can’t be bothered to be completely extravagant about things that don’t matter at all just because it’s for a wedding!!! Like last night, when we went to open up our registry at Bed Bath & Beyond.

First of all, we live at my dad’s house. We’ll probably be living at my dad’s house for at least another year, probably two (thanks dad). And so we can’t really register for everything in the house…because we don’t have a house. But we decided to register for kitchen stuff, because we know we’ll need that no matter what and it won’t have to match anything.

We thought we would just get one of those scanner things, and then walk aimlessly around the store. We didn’t realize that there would be a woman whose entire job was following us around and guiding through the registry experience (which we had already decided didn’t really apply to us anyways). The poor woman at the store was ready for the hard sell.

“Have you thought of what china pattern you want to buy?”

“Nope, not our thing!”

“You’ll need to register for at least three sets of sheets.”

“We don’t know what size our bed will be when we have our own house.”

“Why don’t you register for some nice sheets for while you’re still living at home?”

“We really don’t mind using our crappy, $15 IKEA sheets for now.”

But she adapted to our minimalist registry mindset, and walked us around the store, pointing out anything we could possibly need in the kitchen. Things ranged from necessary (like a set of pots and pans) to pointless for us (a high-tech blender) to pointless for anyone (a crème brûlée torch). And then we got to kitchen gadgets.

We picked out wooden spoons, and a can opener, and a cutting board. “Hey,” my mom chimed in, “don’t forget a wine opener! You’ll definitely need one of those!”

“Oh absolutely!” our registry guide gushed. “This is the best one.” She held up a $50 wine opener set, complete with a whole bunch of things that confused the hell out of me. So I asked her why you would possibly need a whole box of things to open a bottle of wine?

“Well, you know, if you’re a wine connoisseur this would definitely be something you would want to have.”

I’m well settled into my American life. I know that I won’t be moving back to France for another TAPIF year. My pining-for-France time is usually limited to one or two afternoons a month, and to the eyes any outsider I am pretty much a typical townie girl. But then every once in a while, there comes a moment where I can take my ultra-cultured France years out of my back pocket and flash them around in the most extravagant of manners (because how else can you refer to the years you spent living in Europe?). And this was one of those times.

“Well, I lived in France for two and a half years, and all they use to open their wine is a tiny little corkscrew.”

Wedding industry – 0. Sophisticated, post-France Hannah – 1.

 

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Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

2015 by the Numbers

Sooooo I’ve kind of fallen of the map a little bit. Here is my excuse: first year teacher (and no, TAPIF doesn’t count). It’s a combination of having absolutely no time to do anything and living in fear that a parent will find my blog. I had good intentions when the school year started to muster up at least one blog a month, but my last post was in September…and now it’s December. Oh well! Something to work on for next year. Anyways, I swear I will write more about the all-consuming role of being a real live teacher, but right now it’s T-13 hours until 2016, and there are bigger things to talk about.

2015 by the numbers:

6 countries visited: France, UK, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, and USA (home tourism!)

3 jobs held: TAPIF teaching assistant, incredible English tutor, and 5th grade teacher

76 books read: I probably won’t ever read this much again until I retire. Highlights include Half of a Yellow Sun (Adichie), The Red Tent (Diamant), Ready Player One (Cline), The Book of Strange New Things (Faber), Station Eleven (Mandel)

3 trips to Grenoble: My favorite place in the world got a lot of traffic this year

1 engagement: On that Grenoble note…

3 weddings in the works: Getting married to an English guy on a K1 visa inevitably means you’re going to have a lot of parties

2 new BFFs: Anne and Julia, what would this year have been without you guys??

40,000 facebook messages: The best way of keeping in touch with said BFFs, whether we’re living down the hall from each other, or across the ocean

25 trips up and down the mountainous road in St. PierreI may have cursed this walk, and this job, on each walk, but man that view was beautiful

285 miles ranAnd this is really only from March to August, so that’s pretty good

2 10Ks ran: Leeds and York

446 students taughtHopefully

1 perfect trip to the beach: Mandatory bridesmaids event

6 sweaters purchased from Loft: Because now I have to dress like an adult at work

9 roommates: Including my four French roommates, my roommate’s cousin who showed up and didn’t leave for two months, the roommates in Leeds when I was crashing in Gabriel’s room for three months, and my dear old dad

14 croziflettes eaten: Still having croziflette withdrawal

1 elephant returned: It may have only been the plastic one, but I did get to see the return of a Chambéry elephant!

20 cheese naans devoured: No better lunch to be found for 3.5o euro in Chambéry

4 weekend trips around the UK: London, Liverpool, Wales, and Swindon…I really got to see everything that the UK has to offer

2 birthday trips: Samantha’s birthday in Copenhagen and mine in London

1 chicken found on the front porch: Yeah…

5 chicken caesar sandwiches eaten at the Geneva Airport: So expensive, but soooo good (but actually probably not that good)

1 lion crocheted: My crochet game made up in quality what it lacked in quantity

368 grades reported: A feat of perseverance

234984209384 chaussons aux pommes consumed: A rough estimate

150 podcasts listened to: Also a rough estimate, but this one is much more realistic. Thank you Radiolab and TAL for making my 25 St. Pierre walks more manageable

73 morning meetings led: Which means about 50 games of “Night at the Museum” played

23948230948 nostalgic moments thinking about Chambéry: Not over it