The teacher across the hall from me is named Julie as well. My last name is Ruble. Hers is Reulbach. We’re both have long, blonde hair and blue eyes. We’re the same height. We both blog and tweet. We’re both energetic (read: spastic) in the classroom. It’s easy to get confused.
When I saw Julie’s post on her amazing math education blog, I Speak Math, yesterday, I knew I had to write a copycat post. Her post was “A Day in the Life” post, written as part of Drawing on Math‘s initiative to show what teaching really entails. I’m not a math teacher, but I loved the idea. So here it goes.
A Day in the Life of a Language Arts Teacher
6:00 am – I wake up, stick some oatmeal in the microwave, and jump in the shower.
6:20 am – I dry my hair, doctor up my oatmeal and finally take the dog out to potty. I rush her and feel bad, but it’s hard to tell if she’s dawdling or really has to go.
6:45 am – I respond to a few emails and check the schedule while eating my oatmeal, taking my medicine, and throwing my dog’s bone a few times, hoping she’ll feel like I’ve spent some quality time with her.
7:05 am – I shuffle through the dryer for some clothes to wear. Byrd is whining because she knows I’m about to leave her — apparently the quality time trick didn’t work. I assure her that I’ll be back after school, stuff my computer and cord in its case, and grab a pack of popcorn for lunch.
7:30 am – I’m sharing “early teacher” responsibilities with Julie, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m supposed to get to school by 7:45. At this point I’m usually rushing out the door, trying not to forget a stack of papers or my keys.
7:45 am – I arrive at school and pull up my lesson plan. I write the Do Now and homework up on the board while chatting with a few students who like to come in early and spend time with me. I’d love to just have some quiet work time here, but there are always a series of small fires to put out: “The pen on the reading chart broke,” and, “I can’t find the book I’m looking for,” and of course, the dreaded, “I lost my notebook.”
8:00 am – I rush out to make copies and cut apart questions for our discussion groups today.
8:15 am – I find a nice relaxing station on iTunes radio for my first 7th grade class to listen to as they complete their 10 minute Do Now. They’re chatty today and late getting started. They also forget to stand their independent reading books up to display what they’re reading for the class. I warn them that if they can’t handle the freedom of a 7th grade Do Now, they’ll be relegated to the structured 6th grade version (which is silent and strictly enforced). Today the Do Now is a discussion reflection where they’ll think about what went well and what went poorly in their group discussions last week. They have to set 1-2 goals for themselves in today’s discussion, which is the first one they’ll receive a grade for.
8:25 am – We discuss the last few chapters of our novel, Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, together. I realize as we’re describing two girls’ changes throughout China’s Cultural Revolution that it would be best represented as a double line graph, so I jump up and have the students help me create one on the board. They copy it down in their novels as a succinct portrayal of character transformation. I’m pleased with myself and have Julie Reulbach run in from her class across the hall and check out our math skillz.
8:55 am – The students share the discussion goals they created during the Do Now and start on their graded small group discussion. I observe and record grades in my grade book based on the dynamics and content of their discussions. The question is a hard one: to develop empathy, I’m having them find evidence from the text to support Communism — something they’ve been trained all their lives not to do. It’s hard to see others’ points-of-view, but even though they’ve discovered so many negatives about the system, they jump right in to figure out why some people in China thought it was a beneficial change.
9:10 am – I’m late dismissing my students because I’m quickly explaining their homework to them. They’re to scan through the chapters so far and draw symbols representing characterization and character transformation in the text. We’ll use these next week. Finally, I tell the students to do their Exit Procedure (where they clean tables, push in chairs, and usually get their agendas checked). Today I skip checking agendas and dismiss them all, wary of keeping them much longer.
9:11 am – My next 7th grade class filters in as my first one leaves, and I turn on the Do Now music. I repeat the lesson, though each class feels remarkably different due to the varying discussions.
10:05 am – I rush to dismiss my second 7th grade. Even though the 6th graders have a 10-minute break before the next class starts, they are already filtering in my room with tons of questions: Can they start their Do Now? (No, it’s not even written up on the board yet!) Is snack in my room today? (Check the schedule!) Have I ever read this awesome book? (No, but it sounds neat!)
I play-gripe at them to go outside and enjoy their break, which is my only break too. Some of them leave, but some of them dawdle, thinking that “having a question for me” is a good excuse to stay. Sigh. Especially when their questions are about books or one of their hobbies — baking, gaming, etc. — I feel bad shutting them down. After all, isn’t one of my primary goals as a teacher to build them up as people? So I listen and try to respond while scanning over my lesson plan, writing the 6th grade Do Now and homework on the board, and running through the hallway to make a few more copies (yes, they follow.)
10:15 am – My first 6th grade class of the day is already seated when I rush back in with copies. They complain that their Do Now isn’t written up (what a change from 7th grade today!) and I explain that their Do Now will be verbal today because it’s complex. I have them line up around the room and grab a Writing Log and a manila folder to staple it into. I’m the staple person, since I’ve long since learned that they will jam the stapler 8 times over before we get through the line. I staple each student’s Writing Log into the folder and they go back to their seats to sort through their portfolios. We’re preparing for Portfolio Review tomorrow, where their parents will come in and see the amazing work they’ve done in all their classes so far this year. They log their first essay — a descriptive essay of their perfect world — into their new Writing Log, place all of their graded work into the portfolios, and put their portfolios back in the crate.
10:45 am – The rest of class is workshop time for them to work on their current project: turning a Greek myth of their choosing into a comic strip. The project refines smaller skills like making a presentation neat and attractive, using appropriate layout and spacing on a poster, and attention to detail. But the main goal is to reinforce their ability to pick out the main points of a plot, something we’ll work on all year long. They’re also careful to use the drawing skills they’ve learned so far in their art class.
Today most students are working on character sketches, 4 panels that will introduce main characters to the viewer. The panels include the character’s name, a drawing of the character, a description of their physicality and personality, and the role they play in the myth. During workshop, I confer with students incessantly for questions ranging from, “Is this good?” to, “I can only find 3 characters in my myth.” We troubleshoot and brainstorm together. At both the beginning and end of workshop, I do a Status of the Class check, where I call out their names and they give me a quick summary of where they are in their process (for instance, “I’m on character sketch 2 of 4.”) This allows me to assess their progress.
11:10 am – Time for 6th grade Service Learning, which I inevitably forgot we had today. No worries; it’s my fifth year teaching Service Learning and I know the fantastic curriculum by heart. 6th grade focuses on Animal Advocacy. Today we’re demonstrating a dog treat recipe for the students. They’ll bake batches of them at home (alone with their parents or in groups) and bring them in to package, price, and sell at our town’s Christmas festival. The money we raise will be donated to the Charlotte Humane Society and Cornelius Animal Shelter, two local animal shelters.
I grab the ingredients for the treats and explain our goals to the students. We head down to the campus kitchen together and crowd around the island. I thank God when I see Julie Reulbach, who’s also my fellow Service Learning teacher, has already laid out bowls and handed out recipes to the arriving students. I prepare the dog treats, tossing in a few cooking pointers here and there while my co-teacher throws herself into the role of fabulous cooking assistant: opening ingredients, shushing students, and washing dishes. We high-five afterwards for pulling everything together.
12:05 pm – My planning period! Another teacher asks for some advice dealing with a behavior issue, so we take care of that together. The student involved is tearful, having made an uncharacteristically poor decision, so I feel my role vacillate between disciplinarian and comforter. Teaching is an emotional experience.
I head back to my room to draft a few emails (a thank you to a parent volunteer, a question to another parent) and find a new message in my inbox about Grandfriend’s Day, when our students will bring their grandparents and friends to school to share their daily experience. It’s coming up quickly and I know I need to look at the guest list and prepare. Like so many emails throughout the week, this message gets filed under “to be dealt with” in my brain, since it requires actions I don’t have time to take at the moment. So often, as my colleague describes, my inbox becomes an “email graveyard.” I periodically clean it out, but currently it has 219 emails in it — some of which I’m sure I was supposed to have already responded to! I try my best.
12:35 pm – This is my only prep period, so I have to eat my lunch quick before it’s over! I pop my popcorn and eat it while vegging out to the tune of Facebook, CNN, and People.com.
12:55 pm – I’m usually still stuffing the last few pieces of popcorn into my mouth (or let’s be realistic, dropping them all over my lap) as my next 6th grade class walks in the door. I welcome this new class and grab my stapler to repeat my lesson plan for them.
1:50 pm – This is project work time. My 7th grade students are working on finishing up the last bits of their Japanese anime project — an interdisciplinary application project that combines social studies, language arts, science, visual arts, and music. I rush down to the art room to help the art teacher facilitate their stop-motion animation, which we’ll show at their “Japanese Film Fest” style Portfolio Review. I feel a little useless since I’m not particularly artistic, but I at least offer a few helpful pointers about the animation process to a couple of groups and retrieve some colored whiteboard markers for another.
2:45 pm – Now it’s time for advisory, where I meet with a small group of 7th grade girls and check up on their academic and social well-being each day. Today we’re continuing a discussion on body image. They’ve brought in magazines and they each choose an advertisement and brainstorm about how it might make “everyday girls” feel inadequate. We have a good time poking fun at the ideals being touted by each magazine.
3:15 pm – I dismiss my students and head to Cookie Capers, a weekly baking camp I hold with several lower school students. This week we’re baking Pumpkin Cake Cookies. It’s a chaotic hour and a half, but somehow everyone emerges unscathed and well-fed.
4:45 pm – I jump in the car and head home to Byrd, who — as one of my fellow teachers like to say — is probably dancing around with her legs crossed.
5:05 pm – Byrd gets some relief when I take her out to potty. I’m exhausted, but I eat a quick snack and check up on emails I missed during camp. I fill my turtle’s feeding tank and feed him.
6:00 pm – Honestly, at the beginning of the year I’d usually lie down for a nap at this point, but then I ended up pushing all of my work later into the evening. Lately I’ve been trying to get it all finished earlier. Now, for instance, I might quickly piece together tomorrow’s lesson plan by adapting plans from previous years to students’ current needs and level of progress. Then I might grade some 6th grade projects. Thankfully, these are quick to grade since they’re not papers, but résumés the students wrote to apply for a job as the next Greek god or goddess.
When I have papers to grade, it feels like my whole schedule grinds to a halt. There’s never enough time in prep periods to get many of them finished — I can finish 5 a schoolday if I’m absolutely in the zone — and my schedule at home is usually jam-packed unless I’m staying up too late (which I always am). I’m so lucky to have a small number of students (60), but still, paper grading is a heavy burden.
7:00 pm – I throw on my workout clothes and drive to the gym for a 7:30 exercise class. Tonight it’s Zumba. I’m not very energetic, but I get through the class and the few individual exercises I do afterward — back raises, stair climbs. My night would be so much easier if I didn’t work out, but after developing health problems this summer, I’m not willing to sacrifice it.
9:00 pm – I head to my local deli to eat dinner and continue working. I usually read the news while I eat (or, let’s be honest, watch this live feed of the kitten room of a no-kill shelter), but then as soon as my food is gone, I’ll work on photo editing, recipe development, blog post writing, Willow Bird Baking social media upkeep, and email responses. I’ll also work on any lesson planning I still have left to do.
10:00 pm – The deli closes and kicks me out, so I head home to continue work. I take mini-breaks to poke around on Facebook, CNN, or my RSS feed. I always plan to get to bed by 11 but usually end up realizing around that time that I still have to take Byrd out, do something about the dishes all over the counter, rewash my laundry which has soured after being forgotten, brush my teeth, take my medicine, and other miscellaneous tasks before being able to go to bed.
12:00 am – I get into bed, kicking myself for not going to sleep earlier. I constantly lambaste myself for not using my time wisely; I feel like I could have peeked at Facebook less, not taken a nap (if I did), been a little more firm when 5 students came up to ask me a question at once during my prep period, or graded a few more papers instead of taking an actual break for lunch. In fact, my defensiveness about my exercise above probably stems from feeling guilty about taking that 1.5 – 2 hours for my health, even though I know it’s something I need and that ultimately will reduce (theoretically) my days out of work due to illness.
Unfortunately, since I have two jobs (you’re looking at the second one!), my weekends are slammed as well. Friday night is spent putting the finishing touches on a recipe, grocery shopping, and baking. Saturday is spent exercising, baking, styling food, and photographing food. Church is a highlight, but it consumes Sunday morning. Sunday evening is when I lesson plan and update my class pages. This means the only time I can spend with Mike is Saturday night and Sunday lunch (which is spent with Mike’s family). That’s on the weekends when he drives to see me in Charlotte. When I pack up, stuff Byrd in the car, and make the three-hour trip to see him in Raleigh, you can imagine the schedule havoc that creates.
So what’s the point? Just a big whine? Actually, no. I know that having a crazy schedule is a minor complaint. I love teaching and I love my students. I feel like I have the most amazing job in the universe. And frankly, I love that I have any job and a roof over my head.
But I would like to have time to prepare meals, exercise without guilt, and get enough sleep. This isn’t unique to me — this is the story of teachers everywhere. It’s just important that we know what we’re asking of teachers when making policies (and heck, pondering the state of their salaries across the country) so we’re treating teachers like the professional management that they are.
. . .
If you have time in your day to squeeze in some baking, these cookies are a comforting choice. They combine the salty, savory pimiento cheese with bright, fresh strawberry jam. I know it sounds like a weird combination, but just imagine the tart jam on, say, a cheese straw, and you’ll have a good idea of the awesome flavor of these babies. They’re easy to whip up and so unique — perfect for a holiday cookie swap or cocktail party (do people actually throw cocktail parties? And a better question: why are they not inviting me? Oh, right, because I don’t have time…)
Tell me about a day in your life!
One year ago: A Dozen Pumpkin Recipes from Willow Bird Baking
Two years ago: Easy Apple Puff Pastry Tarts with Almond Whipped Cream
Three years ago: Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas with Mexican Sausage Rice
Pimiento Cheese Cookies
Recipe by: slightly adapted from Southern Living, originally from Pawley’s Island Specialty Foods
Yield: 2 dozen cookies
These cookies are so easy, creative, and delicious! They taste like a spicy, nutty cheese straw with tart, sweet jam slathered on top. They’re addictive and perfect for Christmas cookie swaps.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Southern pimiento cheese, processed fine (don’t skimp on the hot peppers)
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 tablespoons apple jelly
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and pimiento cheese to form a paste. Beat in the finely chopped pecans and butter. Wrap the resulting dough in plastic wrap, forming it into a disc, and chill it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness, checking often to be sure it’s not sticking. Use a 2-inch circle cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place them on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Place 1 teaspoon full of jam (apple or strawberry) in the center of each cookie before placing another cookie cutout on top and pressing the edges to seal them. You can reroll the scraps once to get more cookie rounds.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Let them cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. No, really, let them cool, or you will burn your mouth off on flaming jelly. Do not ask how I know this.
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