Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Heart Flooded with Gratitude

Lesley Snyder
7th Grade ELA Teacher
Contact Mrs. Snyder
Twitter: MsTeachELA


Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a planner. I practically breathe because I’ve scheduled it into my overly expensive, color-coded Erin Condren planner. Over-planning isn’t my best quality, I also tend to be stubborn and often put more on my plate than I should. These aren’t my best qualities, a phrase that has taken some time to admit. Thankfully, I had plenty of opportunity to work on these qualities the past few months. The one-in-a-thousand year flood wreaked havoc over our state and drowned all of my well-laid plans. That being said, I’ve never been more grateful for having gone through such a trying situation.

A few weeks before the flood, I was blessed to find out that my husband and I were expecting our first child. Being the planner that I am, I started to make lists, timelines, and deadlines for all of the things we needed to get done. My husband and I went to bed the night before with big plans of working on the soon-to-be nursery the next day. We had spent the evening cleaning, organizing materials, and deciding how we wanted to arrange everything…super romantic Saturday night, I know. Unfortunately, we awoke to chaos. Within thirty minutes, water was pouring into our home from every exterior wall. The floors were lifting up and breaking apart. We scrambled to pick up our pets and anything meaningful that we could. We huddled with our animals in the attic until the water receded in our house a few hours later. When the water cleared, it became evident that everything was ruined. Many of our belongings were littering neighboring yards or floating in the street. It was so much to process at once, and the only thing I felt was numb.

Immediately, the well wishes, prayers, and love poured in. My phone was almost dead, but that didn’t stop the text messages and phone calls. At the time, we truly didn’t know what we needed, but somehow everyone else knew exactly what we needed. The outpouring of hope and love really helped us get through the initial period of shock. Within hours, co-workers, family, and friends were trying to help us wash clothes, make food, and so much else. It was difficult to start accepting so much help at once. Living my life with the “I can do it by myself” attitude sure didn’t help. Thankfully, everyone was persistent and kind with their offers. I am not sure I’ve ever been more thankful for a hug, a pizza, or a box of basic necessities. My students went to Edmodo showering the timeline with posts of encouragement and love. Within days, my house was cleaned out (even this was a blessing). What few possessions we had left were boxed up, and we were left standing in an empty home trying to figure out what to do next. I’m not sure I could have ever planned to be pregnant, carless, and homeless. I wasn’t even sure I was ready to deal with this reality, but with everyone cheering us on, it didn’t seem so daunting. 

Insurance worked slowly, but eventually, they arranged a hotel for my husband and me. Hotels are great to stay in, but only on vacation. Those words taste a little bitter coming out of my mouth. It seems ungrateful to say that I hated living in a hotel, but honesty is an important quality too, right?  Two months in a hotel being sick, pregnant, irritable, and living in a one room space isn’t fun. To be honest, it quickly brought our newly wedded bliss to an end.  We often joked that it would be a miracle if we didn’t get divorced before our home was ready. Though, at times, it didn’t seem like a joke. We had good days, and we had days that seemed worse than the day of the flood.

Many people sought me out and let me vent. They offered their positivity and prayers. They reminded me that they were here for us, and that they were in our corner. For those things, I am truly grateful. I’m not sure those people will ever truly recognize the abundance they gave me with their simple presence and listening ear. You realize when living in a hotel that: cooking is impossible with just a microwave, you must wait to use the restroom (even if you really have to go), it is impossible to catch up on your graduate studies when your husband is watching football loudly, and that you have no idea how expensive washing your clothes at a laundry mat truly is. Even those small annoyances were met with solutions. Those solutions gave me the hope I needed to push through the trials.

Though the two months out of our home drug on, help came in constant, rushing waves.  Somehow, the complete destruction of how I thought my life was supposed to go over the past few months didn’t seem so disastrous with the help of so many. My fellow co-worker, Jeff Burden, probably sums it better than I ever could,

“I am so thankful for all of the support that my family has received through this experience.  My church, my friends, my co-workers, my family, small businesses around Columbia and other people from around America have been so supportive.  Not only have,folks helped me tear out walls and clean my home, but my family has received everything from quilts and food to prayers and money from wonderful helpful people.  We would not have been able to get through this had it not been for the generosity of others.”

I have learned so much about myself and the world in the past few months. Despite seeing negativity constantly on the news, my faith in humanity is truly restored. I learned that it is TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE to ask for and accept help (I wasn’t sure I was ever going to learn that). I learned that the best experiences sometimes come out of unplanned, terrible situations. Cynthia Pierce, our registrar, in all of her grace, expressed her gratitude to me after having gone through the flood. She said, “Earl and I have been amazed at the ways God is still blessing us every day.”  I have found that even when everything seems lost, there is still so much value and love that exists in the world. Sometimes we simply have to shuffle through the mud, clean ourselves off, and allow others to help build us back up. This holiday season, I am thankful for a great support system and the opportunity to grow. Now that we are starting to move back into our home, I’m ready to start creating new lists and deadlines in my planner. The first item on the agenda is to send out an abundance of gratitude; then, I’ll get back to planning that nursery. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

From Nothing to Something!

Danielle Odom
8th Grade ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Contact Mrs. Odom

When I present a problem-based learning project, all I see are wide eyes staring at me with fear, confusion, and anxiety plastered all over their faces. I can see the panic set in as we go over the rubric and requirements for the projects and slowly they begin to unwind. I tell them many times over, “Don’t worry, I will be with you every step of the way, this is a process.” No one ever believes me. They fire question after question trying to determine how big the project is and how long will it take. Their lack of confidence is evident and in a way it saddens me because I want them to believe in themselves as much as I do.

They begin this journey with an empty paper in front of them. They ask questions that I will not answer for them because this is a journey that they have to take. Once they realize that this is THEIR journey, they begin to talk, and debate about what needs to be done and where their project will go. Their questions go from how do I tackle this to how BIG can my project be?!! They begin with nothing but the requirements and the rubric and they create beautiful works of literature and art that amazes me every year.

This year we began AAP with our Utopian project. Students are responsible for building their own Utopias and in the end explaining how their world is better than the world they currently live in. They have to create a government, healthcare, educational system, employment, create a philosophy, address the citizenship of the country, a declaration of independence, economics (importing and exporting goods, money, etc.), and help to sustain life in their communities. It seems like a lot, but they started to tackle it, one step at a time. The thing I love about problem based learning is not only the cross curricular element, but the ability to incorporate new ideas and problems for them to solve along the way. Every Monday we discuss current events and propaganda. We used the propaganda to create posters inviting people to join their Utopias. After the migrant crisis in Syria and Europe, we compared and contrasted three articles from reputable news sites and discussed how our current world is handling the situation. I then gave each Utopian group 16,000 migrants to take into their Utopia. They have to figure out how to feed them, house them, educate them, and fully incorporate them into their world. Students then had to write a newsletter to their community to let them know the plans for the migrants. The problem solving skills of these students floors me sometimes. They had so many ideas on how to help the Syrian’s and yet the leaders of the world are at a loss as to what to do with them. I am wondering if they are smarter than an 8th grader.

My other classes worked tirelessly on Public Service Announcements as we read Tears of a Tiger which deals with some serious young adult issues. They had to research and discuss issues that are not usually talked about in class and create a poster project that shows their understanding of the research. Could they do it? ABSOLUTELY! They too started with a blank page and lots of questions, but when they were done, their creativity shined through. The students put their all into the projects and while many claim “they cannot draw” they are still creative in their own right.

The best part about problem-based learning for all of my classes is that I can incorporate service learning into the curriculum. The best is yet to come. Our goal is to make an impact so big that we break the cycle for so many who have been dealt a poor hand of natural talents.

In the end the students learn how to solve problems and become the true leaders they were meant to be. I am excited to see these projects all the way through, but their growth is what amazes me the most. With every problem-based project they grow more confident and more ready to turn nothing into something.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What A Year!

Robert Harris
Family & Consumer Harris Teacher
Hand Middle School
Follow us on Instagram @hand_facs.

Year One. Where do I start? How do I keep up? Will I make it? All of these questions seemed to cloud my mind as I began my first year as an educator. I was anxious to see what teaching was all about, but more so, what type of impact I would have on my students.

During my internship, I was introduced to Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). FCCLA is a national Career and Technical Student Organization that provides personal growth, leadership development, and career preparation opportunities for students in Family and Consumer Sciences education. While at my internship, I was given the opportunity to work with some of the students in the FCCLA chapter. It was such a rewarding experience; so much that when I got my own classroom, I knew that becoming an adviser would be essential to my FACS program and the overall development of my students. Through the tremendous support of my principal at the time, Mrs. Marisa Vickers, I completed the necessary paperwork to start the chapter at Hand Middle School. We became the first middle level FCCLA chapter in Richland County School District One and one of three in the state.

Immediately, after submitting the charter paperwork for FCCLA, we began to work. Although we were small in numbers (12 charter members) for our inaugural year, we accomplished a lot. Throughout the year, we raised funds through our Krispy Kreme fundraiser, Carolina/Clemson paraphernalia, donated socks to the Oliver Gospel Mission through our "Sock"tober event and donated coats, jackets, gloves, and hats to Goodwill through our Warm Up Drive. Additionally, we participated in the SC FCCLA State Fall Leadership Rally at the SCEA in November in Columbia where members learned more about FCCLA, developed the state's program of work and represented their school. Hand Middle School won the award for the "Best Chant" out of schools attending. 

There was no stopping us! In March, we attended the SC FCCLA State Leadership Conference in Charleston, SC. Six of our members traveled to the state conference where all of them placed (Gold, Silver and Bronze medals) and one became a state officer, holding the position of SC FCCLA Vice President of Middle School Programs. But it wasn't over yet. We traveled to Washington, DC with our gold winners and state officer to attend the National FCCLA Leadership Conference in July. Our winners placed SECOND on the national level, which was an amazing accomplishment for those students and Hand Middle School.

What a year! I am extremely grateful for the support from the students, parents, faculty and staff to make our inaugural year one to remember. We are in our second year and well on our way to another year of success!!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tied to Success

William Judge
Science Teacher
Hand Middle School

Standard 8.E.4 of the South Carolina Science Standards suggests that there is an observable universe.  Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is in that universe.  In the Milky Way exists an unfathomable amount of stars.  Our star is the sun.  We live on Earth, which orbits the sun once every 365 days.  Every 24 hours, Earth makes one rotation on its axis at a speed of 1,040 mph.  

The order of the universe continues.  At the start of each period, my 8th grade gentlemen know to set their materials at their desks and line up outside of my classroom for “the talk.”   This is when I have the opportunity to teach young boys what it takes to be a man.  It’s something that goes beyond academics.  Manliness is about self-respect and the respect of others.  It’s about selflessness and service.  It’s about doing the right thing when no one is looking.  It’s about looking your best, feeling your best, and doing your best.

These young gentlemen have begged me to give them the opportunity to voice “the talk.”  Now, I have the privilege of listening intently to these leaders encourage, challenge, and inspire their classmates and me.  Outside of my classroom, boys are becoming men.  They’ve learned to look a man in the eye, extend their hand, and execute a firm handshake.  They know that presenting a man with a “dead fish” is never an option.  We are currently learning to properly tie neck ties; a skill that every man ought to know and no man will ever forget.   It must fall to center of the belt.  Not too long.  Not too short.   

As the Earth keeps spinning and Hand Middle School becomes a memory, my hope is that “the talks” stick.  I hope that handshakes and neck ties become reminders to my young men of their worth, potential, and success.  My 8th grade boys are model Hornets who “Love Blue” and “Live Gold.”  They truly are “tied” to success. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Success to Success

Brian Williams
Assistant Principal
Hand Middle School
Twitter: @brwilliams15

The term “success” is used often times to describe a person who has completed a task or has finished a career or life of vast accomplishments. Success is always seen as a destination that we all want to reach one day. We set short term goals and long term goals, and when we reach those goals, we refer to ourselves as a “success.”  I was challenged to think of a successful life as a journey, and not simply a destination. The idea of a successful life being a journey or a process is an oxymoronic idea in nature. How can one be a success on the way to becoming successful? 

During a recent conversation with a former student, I was enlightened to the reality of what a “success” truly is.  A success, by my definition, is simply doing what you were placed on earth to do! There is a process that leads to that ultimate success, but are you not successful during the journey?  Success equals fulfillment.  Money or fortune fulfills no one completely, but a successful person understands the purpose of their existence.  Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why!” What a remarkable statement! The key to success is knowing exactly what you were created to do and doing it!

Seven years ago when I began my teaching career, I knew that I was fulfilling my purpose and reaching young people in a way that only I could. I felt contentment with my career; I could teach for 30 years and never get tired. There was a joy that accompanied going to work and seeing the eyes of my students light up when we were engaged in the learning process. Over time that feeling changed. I felt as if I was wrong for not feeling the joy and happiness I once felt in the classroom. I came to the realization that when seasons change, a discontentment takes place in our heart and it pushes us to greater things. That discontentment is what moves us from good to great, it is the driving force by which we journey from one season of joy to another. When there is more in us to do, we can’t stay where we are.

I am more than humbled to be a part of the Hand Middle School family. I am learning daily from the comradery and teamwork displayed at Hand Middle. I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I am looking forward to this journey from Success to Success!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A New Year’s Gifts

Helen Schell
ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Contact Mrs. Schell at

The first several weeks of school, while often epic and discombobulating for my new-to-Hand sixth grade students, are days that I treasure. There’s electricity in the hallways that follows the students into my room, crackling and snapping from their heels as they locate their seats and smile at their neighbors. In a way, it’s like I am waking up each morning to some grand holiday or my birthday, and the presents I am receiving are the students.  On Monday I unwrap seven or eight, on Tuesday another eleven, on Wednesday six more, until I’ve unwrapped every single child and am left to marvel at his and her talents.  The same is true for my students; they are busy unwrapping one another, finding out about each amazing person who is sitting beside them or is grouped with them for certain activities. There are so many smiles and laughs as we celebrate the new community we are building.

Toward this goal, I recently had my students grouped into “neighborhoods” for an activity in which they wrote answers to four questions and then took their time sharing responses. As a result, my young people learned about each other’s embarrassing moments, favorite technologies, good habits, and kind memories they harbored of former teachers. At the end of class I collected their response cards and took them home to read after dinner. I was transported. Their reflections were both humorous and powerful, and I found myself being especially moved by their memories of former teachers.

In this category, loving acts were recorded that painted a picture of daily life with all its trials and triumphs. One student appreciated a teacher reimbursing him a coin from her purse when the pencil machine ate his quarter. Another received photos at her fifth grade graduation that the teacher had saved since kindergarten. A different student was told to climb the jungle gym knowing he would be caught if he fell. On and on my students wrote: I was taught how to create the art that I love; I was given the job of taking care of the class pets; I was defended when my classmates bullied me for being short; I was seen for being musically talented and encouraged to become a singer; I was given a second chance; I was pulled aside and comforted when I had a really bad day; I was so good at history that my notes were used to create the class study guide; I was called smart; I was given a tie-dye shirt made by my classmates when I moved to SC; I was understood and forgiven.

When I set the cards down I felt humbled, humbled that they would share these treasures with me and humbled by the role of teacher. In the twenty-first century, data plays a starring role in a teacher’s life. August is when we analyze data on end-of-year testing to get a snapshot of our incoming students. This allows us to shore up a class’s strengths and weaknesses and set goals for the year ahead. Each one of us wants to build on the strong foundation laid by previous teachers and propel our students into new realms of thought and comprehension. We are intimately aware that our efforts feed future successes in high school, college, the job market, and our students’ waiting adult lives. But for just a moment I want to push all of those expectations and numeric data aside and simply inhale the sweet fragrance of my students’ heart-felt note cards. I want to sit still and absorb the gift that each child is. And if there is one prayer on my lips, it is that I, too, will come to hold a sacred spot in their hearts. 

A Little Taste of Oxford

Ashlynn Wittchow
ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Follow Ms. Wittchow 
on Twitter @AshlynnWittchow

This summer I embarked on the Professional Development experience of a lifetime: six-weeks of studying English Literature with fellow English teachers at Oxford University. Each summer, the program enrolls approximately 85 international students, mostly teachers, to study and learn at Lincoln College, one of Oxford’s smallest and most beautiful colleges. At the end of June, I packed my bags and boarded a plane to London Heathrow, ready to hit the ground running. Oxford was calling.

The summer was overflowing with valuable learning experiences. As a visiting student, I had access to the Bodleian Library of Oxford, one of the finest research libraries in the world. The Bodleian Library is over four hundred years old and houses manuscripts significantly older. As one might imagine, they take security pretty seriously. All students and visiting researchers have to recite an ancient vow not to bring any open flames into the library. It was hard not to feel as though I had stepped back in time wandering its oldest wing, Duke Humphrey’s Library. 

In front of Shakespeare's home

As a cohort, we embarked on various learning excursions. We visited Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon and watched the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello. We attended lectures delivered by many of Oxford’s world-renowned professors. We traveled to Bath to visit the ancient Roman temples, explored restoration theater, and wander the footsteps of Jane Austen. We sponsored poetry readings, pedagogy workshops, lesson planning sessions, and a graduate conference covering topics that ranged from Shakespeare to Jaws. And of course, we visited London at every available opportunity. Its museums and libraries are among the finest in the world.

The opportunities for hands-on learning were unparalleled. I cannot wait to bring everything that I learned this summer back into my own classroom this year at Hand Middle School. However, one of the greatest assets of the program was its people. It was a privilege to learn and grow with passionate and intelligent educators from across the globe. I hope to maintain these connections this year in a professional learning community that extends beyond the walls of Hand Middle School. Indeed, through the latest developments in one-to-one computing through Hand’s Digital Learning Environment, I hope to give my students a little taste of Oxford, connecting students with classrooms across the globe. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Urban Leaders Must Seek Student Assistance

Charles Seamans
Assistant Principal
Hand Middle School
Follow Mr. Seamans on 
Twitter @charles_seamans

It is time for the youth of Columbia to think critically, build for the future, and speak their minds! If nothing else, recent events have shown us that the choices of a small few can overwhelm the work of so many. It is for this reason, and because of the untapped potential in Columbia, that our students must take advantage of the opportunities in front of them. As citizens of this great city, it is our duty to assist in devising long-term ways to systematically create a community of the people for the people! As teachers, we know that we are working with the future leaders of our city, and we must entrust to our students a real sense of civic duty. Here is one way that schools and students can get involved in making Columbia a city for all cities to follow:

Columbia 2.0 (based upon the Atlanta 2.0 model- thank you Lovett School and the Westminster Schools!)

Columbia 2. 0 is a semester-long cohort of 15 seniors in Richland One Schools who wish to take an active role in improving the quality of life in Columbia. Specifically, students will explore the relationship between the community and its public spaces. Through engagement with the city's leaders and citizens, a variety of readings, and expeditions to a broad spectrum of Columbia neighborhoods, students will examine a range of models for the renewal and revival of community centers and public spaces.  Students will then design a public space initiative and/or a request for proposal that addresses the needs of a local Columbia neighborhood, collaborating both with his/her group members and neighborhood residents. At the end of the course, they will present their ideas to residents as well as some of Columbia’s established urban renewal leaders. The course design assumes our students learn best through experience, expedition, problem solving, the integration of studies, and a commitment to public service. For 2016, students will explore “Association, Collaboration, and Urban Renewal” in a range of Columbia neighborhoods. It is our hope that the city of Columbia will adopt and initiate at least one student proposal each semester!

Proposed Assisting civic organizations included but are not limited to:
City Hall: Office of the Mayor                Columbia City Planner/Architect
Columbia Parks and Recreation              Columbia City Center Partnership
Columbia CVB                                        Columbia Metropolitan Airport
One Columbia Arts and History              Historic Columbia Foundation

Proposed Neighborhood Councils included but are not limited to:
Shandon                            Rosewood                  Melrose Heights          
Washington Park              Garners Ferry/VA      Earlewood
LR/SE Columbia              Eau Claire                  Lyon Street
Waverly                            Pinehurst                    Mills Historic

We're Bulding for the Future!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Start of a New Year

Jennifer Wise
Richland One District Teacher of the Year
Hand Middle School Algebra & Geometry Teacher
Follow Mrs. Wise on Twitter @awiselearner

Each school year meets me with a flurry of emotions.  To say I get a touch of butterflies is an understatement.  Like many of my students, I lay out my first day outfit well in advance; I pack my book bag, and I anxiously await the coming August days.  This year has begun no differently.  As I begin my eighth year at Hand Middle School, I find myself reflecting on the previous seven.

I came to Hand fresh from the University of South Carolina.  With ideas I knew would revolutionize the teaching profession, I boldly began my next chapter.  I say with pride some of those ideas have been everything I thought they would be, and I say with honesty that some did not exactly go as planned.  For seven years, I have worked to perfect the craft that I will resume in just a few short days.  Just as in the fall of 2008, I have some plans sure to knock your socks off.  That’s the great thing about teaching, each year, each week, each day, we refine ourselves and our practices.  We strive to make ourselves better so we can inspire the futures of those in our care.  I want my students to be as successful as possible, and I expect the best from them.  In the same way, I want them to receive the best from me.  My best preparation, my best attitude, my best EVERYTHING.  You see in my seven years one fact has remained abundantly clear, I get what I give.  When I am excited, my kids are excited.  Enthusiasm for learning is like a wildfire, it spreads quickly and takes over everything in its path.

I wish each of you could be in my room when my students derive a formula.  They could not care less that someone else discovered it 200 years earlier.  What matters to them is that on that day they made their own personal math history.  That realization and the sense of pride that comes with it has power I cannot begin to explain.  I am sure you know this moment from experiences with your own students.  While for me it’s numbers, maybe it’s grammar or unlimited government or a jump shot for you.  No matter the source, as a teacher you know that moment.  And it is that moment that gets me up each day and has me trying on first day dresses the second week in June.  It is who we are, and so as the first day draws near I begin to channel my inner Katniss and encourage others to do the same.  This year, be a “Girl (or boy) on Fire!” 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Being in Your Element

Jennifer Simmons
Theatre Arts Teacher
Hand Middle School
Follow Mrs. Simmon on Twitter: @theatrehms

“It must be so nice to be a teacher – you get your summers off.”

If there is one thing that every teacher can agree on, we all cringe when someone says that.  Of course I totally understand that misconception.  As a career-changer myself, I used to think that as well.  I was excited about having all of this time during the summer where the only obligation I had was to take care of my son.

I had no idea how incredibly wrong I was. 

Here is how I spent my “summer vacation:”

Right after school got out, there was about a week of “closing up shop” that I had to do.  I was reorganizing stuff from the end of school, answering emails, filling out paperwork for grants I had received during the year, and more.  After that week, I packed up my belongings and went to live in a dorm for a week with a bunch of other arts teachers at a professional development.  I spent the week learning how to be a more effective educator, while also getting lots of tips and tricks from other teachers from across the state.  (Let me point out that Mr. Arcovio was also at this event, and simultaneously, Mrs. Turlington was at a concurrent professional development at the same location).  The main reference material for this course was a book called The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.  If you haven’t heard of Sir Ken Robinson, check out his Ted Talks on YouTube.  His book was about finding that place where your ability, passion, and opportunity meet.  At the time, I thought it was an interesting read and probably one of the best text books that I ever had to read for a course (mostly because it is filled with behind the scenes/background stories about celebrities like Paul McCartney and Meg Ryan).  Little did I know at the time, but the book’s theme would be a prevalent thread throughout the rest of my summer. 

While I was at the professional development, I was contacted by the Richland One Visual and Performing Arts Department and asked if I would be the lead teacher for theatre for the district.  Of course I accepted, and was immediately told that I was going to also then be part of a team to re-write the guide for gifted and talented –artistically in the district.  As soon as I returned from the professional development, I jumped in on that.  I was also asked to help input curriculum maps for theatre for Mastery Connect.  Therefore, a good chunk of the rest of the summer was spent working on those opportunities. 

In addition to the straightforward work from the District, I did some “alternative” professional development.  The first being that my son was in Workshop Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz.  Not only did I get to spend the first part of the summer seeing about 7 of my students on a daily basis, I got to experience a new perspective – being a parent of a kid in a show.  It was definitely an eye-opening experience.  The whole time I thought about things that I liked and things that I wished would have happened during the course of the show, giving me a lot of ideas of how to make the shows I do easier/better for the parents/families of my kids.

And if that wasn’t enough, I also had auditioned in the spring for Mary Poppins at Town Theatre.  This was my first on stage role in a couple of years, and my first on stage musical role in a very long time (decades actually, as most of my on stage experience is with straight plays). While I was focused on my lines, blocking, and choreography, I was also using this as an opportunity for professional development.  The whole process for that was amazing because it forced me again to put myself in my students’ shoes.  It is easy to forget what it is like to be on the other side.  It has definitely given me a lot of food for thought for how to be a better director/teacher. 

In between all of that, I’ve read approximately 10 full scripts and about 2-3 dozen samples of scripts for possible shows for next year.  I’ve pinned probably 300+ items on Pinterest that have ranged from costume ideas for selected shows to classroom management to classroom organization to lesson plans to fun teaching tools.  I’ve applied for more grants and searched for more to help out with the classroom.  I’ve collaborated with Mrs. Corley to plan a trip to NYC for next summer with our kids.  I’ve also started scouring the back to school ads and have tactically made multiple trips to Office Depot each week (and to multiple Office Depot stores) to start loading up on their penny items that they offer for back to school. 

Which begs the question, why am I doing all of this extra work?  I could very easily sit back and not do that.  I could not do anything and just wing it for the year.  However, the answer goes back to that book I read in the beginning of the summer.  I am in my element.  After spending 10+ years in a career where I just went to work each day and did what I was told to do, I have found the place that I feel like I thrive.  I love being with the kids and making art.  All of the daily grind that we deal with, all of the crazy shenanigans that we put up with, they all melt away when you see a kid do something that makes them smile with pride.  It’s a rush and it makes all of the sweat and tears totally worth it. 

Every day I’d also make sure to get some down time to myself, where I would check in on social media.  Which cracks me up because my feed was always filled with my co-workers and peers talking about doing the same sort of stuff.  Whether it was Dr. Coletrain going off to Boston and representing us Ivy-League style or Mrs. Wittchow studying literature in London, we were all doing something to better ourselves and better our students.