Sunday, March 4, 2018

Recommended Reading: Spring

One of the best parts about spring is sitting outside with a good book. Maybe for the rest of the country the beginning of March doesn't count as spring, but minus a few cold days, springtime has definitely started in south Mississippi.

I haven't been able to do as much reading as I would like lately because going to grad school while teaching leaves me with less free time than normal. Even so, I have been able to read a few books, and I always have suggestions. Mostly YA and children's books. Apparently, I no longer read fiction written for adults.

(Actually, I do have plenty of fiction written for adults sitting in a pile next to my bed. I just haven't gotten to it lately. Plus, YA books have cooler covers.)

The Books

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

You've probably already heard of this children's book before because it won a Newbery Medal in 1963, and it's become a classic. Although it is a "children's book," it deals with a heavy theme of good and evil that challenges adults just as much as children. If for some reason you haven't read this yet or if it's been a long time, now is a good time to read it again because a new movie version is being released in theaters on March 9. I'm definitely going to be there.

Red Queen and Glass Sword - Victoria Aveyard

After the popularity of books like The Hunger Games and The Selection, do we really need another YA dystopian series with a ridiculous love triangle?


This is a new-ish YA fantasy series with three books published so far. I am not going to argue that these are deep, thought-provoking books. However, they are extremely enjoyable to read, the characters are interesting, and I have been surprised by every single twist in the plot. I haven't read the third book yet, but I can fully recommend Red Queen and Glass Sword.

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

I saw this book in the public library and checked it out because I had seen several of my students reading it at school. It's not a book I would actually recommend to my students because some of the subject matter is a little mature for the age I teach. If you've run out of Nicholas Spark books or John Green books, and you're looking for a romantic book to read that will make you cry a little, then this is a good option. The ending was not everything that I wanted it to be, but there were a few tears in the middle.

For the Love - Jen Hatmaker

For the Love has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2015. I'd already read her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, and I follow Jen on her blog and on Instagram. The book was even better than I expected. Jen talks about what it looks like to love people as a Christian. Her writing is honest, funny, and insightful which is a difficult combination to hit with this topic. The book is the kind that you will want to read and then reread later on. Out of all the books that I've read over the past few months, For the Love is the one that I'd recommend the most.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Being a Middle School Teacher Actually Is the Best

When most people think about teaching middle school, the idea does not sound particularly appealing. To be completely truthful, the less than desirable parts that people imagine definitely exist.

The job is challenging. There are times when the pitying look people give you when you say that you teach middle school is completely warranted.

But, there are some people who absolutely love teaching middle school, and somehow, I've become one of them. Although I complain about it on certain days, there are some good reasons why teaching middle school really is the best.

1. You have the most exciting stories to tell after work.

Did anyone else have an 11-year-old girl assist them in trapping a yellow jacket in a trash can during the middle of 3rd period while the rest of the class panicked?


I didn't think so.

2. You have an army of enthusiastic people who are ready and willing to volunteer for every task you need completed.

Will it get done well? Maybe, maybe not.

But if you ask for a volunteer, ever single child in the class will raise their hands before you've even explained what you need done.

Passing out handouts, erasing the board, picking up books, moving desks, sharpening pencils. Why is this exciting to them? I don't know, but I am not complaining.

3. The drawings

Maybe this is just 6th grade and not all of middle school, but I get lots of drawings from students. Of dinosaurs eating muffins, of characters from books, of my name, and occasionally of me. Obviously, every single masterpiece needs to be kept in a file folder because you can't just throw them away, right?

4. It's probably the closest to famous you will ever be.

You'll hear people yelling your name all the time. Random kids you don't even know will say hi to you and know your name. When you walk past a group of students lining up, you just smile and wave continuously.

Sometimes, when you're just trying to cross the school parking lot to go home like a normal person, a child will shout your name at the top of his lungs across the athletic field, and then, the entire cross country team will be aware of your presence. Which is only problematic if your two least favorite things are loud noises and having a lot of people looking at you.

5. Every once in a while, your students realize that your last name sounds the same as a death eater in Harry Potter.

I admit this is probably not something that happens to everyone, but I'll leave you to imagine the way a child reacts to my name when they reach the end of the 3rd book.

6. On a related note, you also get to see children reading Harry Potter for the first time.

Most children in middle school are just getting to the age where they are old enough to appreciate the entire series. (I know they could start younger, but the books get darker towards the end of the series.) So you hear them agonizing with each other over every single plot-twist and getting completely caught up in the story.

The best part is when they race into your classroom and go straight to the bookshelf.

Because. They. Need. The. Next. Book. Right. Then.

7. You get to talk about your favorite subjects with students all day long.

Assuming that you teach something you like. Which hopefully you do. Personally, I spend all day long teaching students about reading, writing, and grammar, and I spend about 87% of my time thinking about those things anyway.

8. Your co-workers are awesome.

This one is probably true for high school and elementary, too. At every school I've been at so far, I have been seriously in awe over how these people manage to be hard-working, patient, and dedicated while still being incredibly fun.

Also, some of them make really good food. I felt I needed to point that out because that's one of the criteria that you look for in a quality work environment.

Teaching middle school is not for everyone, and even for the people that it works for, there are moments when it seems like a misguided decision. In all honesty, there are days when I finish work, and I have no idea why it ever seemed like a good idea. But, there are also plenty of moments when middle school really is the best thing ever.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day Trip to the Grammy Museum Mississippi

It turns out that Cleveland, MS and Los Angeles have at least one thing in common - a Grammy Museum. Given the musical roots of the Mississippi Delta, this fact is less surprising than it seems at first.

Over the past year, I've been trying to make a point to enjoy the places that are in Mississippi. I want to live here, but sometimes I worry that I'm missing out on the experiences I was able to have when I lived other places. This might be true. But, I think part of the problem is that I don't make a point of taking advantage of the opportunities here.

So, when I heard about the Grammy Museum that opened last year in Cleveland, MS, I decided that I needed to take my first visit to the Delta. And, of course, I convinced a friend to come along with me because friends make everything better.

It was a good decision.

For anyone who is a big music fan, this museum is probably exactly what you want. If you're just a casual music fan, then the museum is still interesting.

One of the sometimes nice parts of being a teacher is that we're out during the summer when most other adults are working. In this case, that meant that we had the museum almost entirely to ourselves on a Monday afternoon. There were maybe 10 other people in the museum during the 3 hours we spent there.

In completely unexpected and surprising news, my favorite part was the Taylor Swift Experience.


Basically, T-Swift personally (or, you know, a recording of her, whatever) walked us through her life and her music career. We got to see costumes she wore in her music videos and on her most recent tour. I still cannot believe that I was only two feet (and a protective display case) away from hand-written "Teardrops on my Guitar" lyrics.

Not to mix pop culture references, but this is what dreams are made of.

I did not want to leave the exhibit room. Ever.

Unfortunately, the Taylor Swift Experience is only at the museum until August 13. 2017. But if you're slightly, or more than slightly, obsessed with Taylor Swift, then you should try to make it to Cleveland, MS as soon as possible.

Overall, I would recommend going to see the Grammy Museum especially if you live near it. Cleveland seems to have some interesting things going for it. Which I was unaware of until this trip.

The summer might be almost over, but I'm glad I had a chance to do some exploring in my state. It's something I'll definitely continue doing.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Recommended Reading: Summer

Reading books is kind of one of my favorite things. That doesn't surprise anyone who's spent more than about 5 minutes near me. I can use my job as an excuse for why I need to read a lot, but I would do it anyway even if I didn't teach. Sometimes though, I forget how much I enjoy reading. It's easy to get caught up in important things that take up my time - like work - and then fill all of my free time with media - like netflix and cat videos on youtube. In my defense, I do really want need a cat.

I've been making an effort to read more over the past two years because time spent reading makes me less distracted and less stressed.

As strange as it may sound, the thing that encourages me to just sit down and read is actually other people. Being able to talk about books with other people who are just as enthusiastic about them as I am can be as much fun as reading. I've spent hours in bookstores with friends and taken group trips to libraries. When I go to someone's house, I will be looking at their bookshelves. Not because I'm judging, but because I am looking to see what I might be able to borrow. I love it when friends bring me a book (or an impossibly large stack of books, no names) that they think I'd enjoy. Reading seems like a solitary past time, but, in my experience at least, it's a social activity.

I have more free time during the summer. Which means that I have time to catch up on books that I've been meaning to read and to work on a few book challenges. Even though I didn't read as much I as would have liked, I have read some good books over the past few months. If you're looking to do a little (or a lot) of reading over the summer, here are a few books are interesting/entertaining.

The Books

Entwined - Heather Dixon
Good fairy tale retellings are some of my favorite books. This one is based on the twelve dancing princesses. Each of the girls has a distinctive personality which is one of the best parts of the book. It's not a difficult read, and I completely got lost in the story.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon - Kelly Barnhill
If you keep up with children's lit, you might have already heard of this book because it won the 2017 Newberry Award. A witch rescues a baby girl left in the woods as a sacrifice, and she accidentally gives the girl magic. This book has witches, dragons, monsters, and magic. Basically all of the necessary points for a good story. The book is intended for middle grades, but even if you're not ages 8-12, you can still enjoy it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling
Celebrity memoirs can be annoying because the celebrity tries so hard to be relatable, and sometimes it just doesn't work. But, Mindy Kaling actually manages to get this right. While reading her book, I came to the conclusion that Mindy Kaling and I should probably be best friends. This book and her other book Why Not Me? make perfect, hilarious beach reads.

Paris, My Sweet - Amy Thomas
Another memoir. This book sends you back and forth between New York City and Paris, and it includes descriptions of sweets that will make you incredibly jealous. This book was right up my alley in every possible way. At one point, she mentioned Valrhona chocolate, and I could barely keep from pausing to take a look at trans-Atlantic plane tickets. Read this one if you're prepared to deal with some wanderlust.

Maus I and Maus II - Art Spiegelman
Change of pace from the rest of the books on this list. This book is not a light, fun read. It's a graphic novel based on the experiences of the author's father during the Holocaust. The book isn't easy to describe because it doesn't fall into the format that I typically read and I don't have any references within my reading to compare it with. The main characters are difficult and real. Sometimes, the story feels overwhelming. I had to take breaks. I wouldn't have picked this one up on my own, but it's worth reading.

Hope that you've got some good books lined up for your summer reading. Also, I'll always happily take book suggestions (and offers of armfuls of books to borrow).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

To the Girls Who Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere

It's probably no surprise that I loved the Disney live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. These days things related to France tend to send me day-dreaming. It seems likes it has been much longer than two years since I left, and I miss it.

And, then, in addition to my feelings for France, the movie's main character is one of my favorites. A girl in love with books growing up in a small town, but dreaming of something more.  

That does sound familiar.

Maybe it's just that I make friends with a certain type of people, but many of the women and girls that I know identify well with that character too. I see her in my friends, in the people that I work with, and in the students that I teach.

Right now, it is hard to remember the time when I felt like my life would never change. It seems like a long time ago that I was the girl who kept wanting more from life than the options that I saw the people around me having. I know that I am lucky because my family didn't think that what I wanted was unusual, but there are girls out there who haven't had the same encouragement that I've received from my family, my friends, and my teachers.

To all the girls dreaming of adventure in the great wide somewhere,


You will go one day.

It will happen.

Although it may seem impossible to you today while you feel stuck in your tiny little corner of the world where everything continues the same day after day, you will find a way to have your adventures one day. They may not happen quite the way that you expect, and let's be honest, in life nothing ever happens quite the way that you expect. But, if you keep your eyes open and you keep working towards it, you will find a plane, a train, a job, or an excuse that will get you there.

Don't get discouraged.

While you're waiting, don't be waiting. Don't spend your life on hold waiting for your adventures to begin before you start living. Your life is happening around you now.

Let your dreams be as wild as your imagination can run. But, enjoy where you currently are. Your starting point might not be exciting every moment but don't miss what's in front of you while you are dreaming of more. Even the smallest of places has something unique about it. If nothing else, you can wake up for the sunrises and stay up late to see the stars. That's something worth doing anywhere.

Still, don't feel bad for wanting to leave. Even if a place is good for others that doesn't mean that it has to be right for you. Maybe you'll come back in the future. Maybe not.

The fact that you don't want to stay in one place forever doesn't mean that you don't love the people or the place. If you're fortunate, the people around you will understand that your need to wander is part of the way that you are. That no matter where you started out, you would have had to go see what else is out there.

Some people are just made to live that way.

But for the moment, until you leave, enjoy where you are. Despite what you think now, you will miss that little place when you are gone.

Please know in advance that while adventures are magical and wonderful, life gets difficult and complicated and messy, and life doesn't care that you are in the middle of living your dreams. Go anyway. Because life will get difficult and complicated and messy even if you don't go.

I see you there with pictures on your walls of far-away places that you want to go and notebooks full travel lists that never stop growing. Keep dreaming and keep planning.

I know that sometimes you are afraid that you will always be dreaming and never doing, but your whole life will change one day in ways that you cannot even imagine. One day you might find yourself looking out from the top of the Eiffel Tower with a friend you've know since kindergarten, amazed that the two of you have somehow gone from afternoons on the playground to strolls through Paris. There will be days in the future when you will not be entirely sure that you are even awake because your new normal is worlds away from the life that you had for so long.

Those days will come, eventually.

Right now, it is ok that your head is in the clouds and your nose is always in a book.

You'll get your adventure in the great wide somewhere,

And that will only be the beginning.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Few Words

First of all, for those of you from home who are worried about me, there's no reason to be worried about me right now. I am no where near Paris, and everything has been as calm as can be expected here.

Originally, this week I had planned to write about the trip that I took with my sister during Christmas break. We had a wonderful two weeks together traveling to different cities around Europe, and we had an experience that we will never forget.

Now, though, in light of the recent events in Paris it seems like the wrong time to talk about that.

On Wednesday in Paris, two men killed 12 people at the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Because I'd rather not repeat all the details here, you can read an update from the BBC of what is known so far.

People in France are both shocked and saddened.

Yesterday, all of my teachers had to speak to the children about what had happened. Before the children left for lunch, they had a moment of silence for those who were killed.

It was an odd experience to be with 10-year olds whose country has just been attacked by terrorists.

Because I remember being about that age and finding out about the same thing. 

People are saying a lot of different things about the attack. There are so many issues all in this one event. Issues about freedom of speech, the press, religion, immigration, and identity. Too many for me to talk about or give my opinion on. Especially since I can't pretend to completely understand it all.

What most worries me about this attack is the possibility that the men who killed the workers at Charlie Hebdo might win. 

It's entirely too easy to respond to violence with violence and to hate with hate. We see it every single day, and unfortunately, some days we're the ones doing it.

But hatred only leaves everyone worse off than before.

My condolences go out to the families of the victims, to those who are now afraid that they will become targets of violence, and to all of France which now has to recover from this tragedy.

All of them could use your prayers right now.

My hope is that love and understanding will triumph over hatred and violence and that the result of this event will be that France heals in time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What an English Assistant Actually Does

In addition, to running around Europe and looking at cool things, I actually am working while I'm in France. While I'm sure my mother and my sister enjoyed me showing them a story about turkeys while we were skyping earlier this week, I don't think that I accurately explained to them what exactly it is that I do. So, here it is.

The kids that I work with are young. From about age 6 to 10/11ish. On the one hand, this is perfect because they are in the stage where they are adorable and when I walk outside during recess, I am mobbed by young French children who run up to me to say hello and hug me. On the other hand, their English skills are pretty basic (but still much more impressive than my French skills at age 6). For the youngest, we learn maybe 5 words a week. The oldest ones can learn more and can usually understand part of the instructions that I give in English. It depends.

Although it seems as if they aren't learning much, please remember that most of my students have about an hour of English practice a week, and I'm with them for about half of it. The main goals for my students in elementary are for them to get used to making sounds in English (especially sounds that aren't normally used in French) and to get used to how English sounds. When children are exposed to a foreign language early, it makes it so much easier for them to learn it later.

I try to do similar lessons with all of my classes for each week, but I modify the lessons for the ages of the students. I also try to have some back up ideas in case whatever I have planned just isn't working with a particular group. Because sometimes the class that has finished with recess isn't quite so calm as the one that I had at 9 am.

One of my favorite lessons so far has been the one from last week. Yes, I use pinterest for my lesson ideas occasionally. My older children learned a song called "Five Little Ducks." We went through it line by line, and I made the motions with the ducks. Then, I sang one line at a time with them while they sang it back. And, then we sang it together. French ducks don't say quack, quack. They say coin, coin. So, as you can imagine, they loved making the English duck sounds.

I made lots of duck noises that day. Sometimes, I feel slightly ridiculous in front of the class, but since they're happy, I just keep on going.

The students also like whenever we do cultural lessons. My roommate (who is from the UK) did a tour of London lesson with her students. She handed out tickets for the bus, had a powerpoint that showed all the sights in London, and had postcards for the children to write.

She even made a mail box for the postcards. So much cooler than any of my lessons. I definitely wanted to join her classes and listen with the children.

Although I titled this post What an English Assistant Actually Does, we all do slightly different things. It depends a lot on what the teachers want, what the students are capable of doing, and what the assistant wants to do.

This week I'm talking about Thanksgiving, of course. With my younger classes we read a story about a turkey and learned a few words. With my older classes, we'll learn a few words as well, and I have a powerpoint about Thanksgiving with a little bit of the history and with today's traditions (that includes a short clip of a football game, naturally).

Also, thanks to my friends who sent Halloween cards to me in October. My students loved it! And, for those who want to send Christmas cards for me to show my class, then put them in the mail within the next week or so, so that they'll get to me in time. Of course, I'll be happy to get any cards whether or not I get them in time to use with my class.

Hope everyone at home has a Happy Thanksgiving this week!