It’s all about the little moments.

The number of times I uttered the phrase “I don’t get paid enough to work here” during and after my time in the middle school today might be a new record.

I don’t know if you’ve worked much with MS kids, but they are an interesting group. Let’s just be honest – MS is hard. Each kid is at a precious, confusing age and life is weird. Suddenly you are developing different interests and, in some cases, becoming a different person almost overnight, which is scary for anyone.

The amount of growth – physical, mental, and emotional – I see reflected in my kiddos over the years is absolutely crazy. I am currently employed at the Chadron Middle School After School Program, and this is my 4th school year with my people (MS’ers). I’m not sure I can fully articulate my years spent in the halls of the MS, but I can say that it’s been a roller coaster. I’ve had the best days where I felt like I was walking on air and the worst days when I went home and questioned my ability to be a teacher. It has been an experience that I am thankful for; despite all of the long and challenging days, leaving in two weeks will be one of the hardest things I’ve done.

Today, though, was especially rough. To be honest, I spent most of the day counting down the minutes until I could leave. So when I finally made it home, I was jarred by reading the following question: “What do you love most about teaching?”

Wow. What do I love most about teaching? Although I’m not a classroom teacher yet, I have spent nearly 3.5 years with these students. I’ve watched them grow over the semesters, and I have, in some cases, spent every day for a year or more with them. Some of the bonds that we’ve formed are ones that I will always remember and cherish. With that being said, I think the thing I love most about teaching is the little moments.

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The little moments make everything worth it. It’s the surprise hugs coming from the kids you least expect them from. It’s the animated talks about Star Wars and the latest pop culture craze (I cannot begin to tell you how many times I watched videos of the Harlem Shake). It’s seeing kids after a summer and suddenly they’re a foot taller but still just as sweet. It’s being approached by a student who hasn’t been to program in over a year to buy candles for a fundraiser because they thought of you. It’s catching up with those 8th graders who have been busy with sports and still feeling the close connection you made your first year working (which was pretty rocky if we’re being honest). It’s the smiles on the hard days. It’s being stopped in Walmart by high schoolers who remember you and want to catch up. It’s the talks sitting cross legged on the floor. It’s hearing “HEY MS. REGAN” being screamed out the window of a moving car. It’s the laughter. It’s learning about their family and background.

And, today, it was being grabbed in the hall by a 7th grade student and told that even though they haven’t seen me yet this year, they don’t want me to leave in 2.5 weeks.

It’s knowing that even though I have messed up time and time again, they still love me and want me here. This is the magic.

So what do I love most about teaching? It’s this. All of this. The love and compassion shown by kids that are in a volatile period of their life. It’s being loved and giving love. These kids are my people, and they gave me so many of my “firsts.” They allowed me to be human. They allowed me to grow.

They gave me an even bigger heart for teaching. I love them more than they will ever know.

 

RG

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/27/17

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I am currently immersed in a book flood, and I am LOVING IT.

I spent my Thanksgiving Break week doing a lot of travel, which in Regan’s world means a lot of reading. I traveled hundreds of miles between grandparent’s houses and my school visitation. This extra time allowed me to crack open some new finds from the fabulous NCTE conference and also get into some books that had eluded me over the past few weeks.

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One of my goals at NCTE was to snag Matt de la Pena’s new picture book, Love, and I’m proud to announce that I did it; yay! I stood in line and made awkward small talk while he signed this gorgeous, moving picture book. If anyone ever tries to tell you that picture books aren’t for adults, they haven’t had the chance to experience this one. Love reminds readers of the many ways we experience the true, precious feeling that unites us all. It was beautiful and moving. As I rated it on Goodreads, I noticed another user said that her daughter loved it as well and thought it deserved “twenty hundred stars.” I have to say that I agree. I can’t wait to use this in my classroom (and brag that I got it months before the rest of the world).

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I feel like a failure of an English major for admitting this, but I hadn’t read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 prior to diving into this graphic novel adaptation. I bought this novel at NCTE because I am a firm believer that the “classics” as they stand just don’t suit every kid (I mean, do they really suit any kid?). However, I do believe that there are ways around reading the classics, well, classically. Graphic novels are a great way to work the system when novels such as this are required and inaccessible for many. The heart of this novel – censorship – really spoke to me as I read. The depictions of the firemen burning books that are seen as central to our recollection of history was jarring. This is something that we need to continue to reflect on today, and I am lucky to have this particular novel in a different format because, to be honest, there is no way I have the time or energy to sit down and read the entirety of Fahrenheit 451 and neither do my students. This reading definitely has me convinced that any required reading in my classroom will be accompanied by graphic novel adaptations and Cliff Notes.

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Pride of Baghdad was given to me a couple weeks ago in Special Methods, and I finally got to it this week. If I remember correctly, it made the rounds around the class until it finally found itself in my hands with the message that this was a must-read novel. This graphic novel – and I do mean graphic – depicts life on the war torn streets of Baghdad. When 4 lions escape the city zoo following a bombing, can they survive? Or will the environment they wanted to be reunited with so desperately be their ultimate end? This novel follows the pride of lions and their struggle to survive. Through the vivid pictures and text,  readers will fly through the novel to find out the fate of the pride.

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Honor Girl was a step straight back to the early 2000’s. In this graphic novel memoir, Maggie Thrash reminds us all what it felt like to be 15 and straddling the edge of being a kid and trying to find yourself as an adult. Maggie spends summers at an all-girls camp far from her Atlanta home. Camp Bellflower has always been the place where Maggie goes to participate in a peaceful summer, and at the onset of this summer, it appeared that this year would be no different; with her love of all things Backstreet Boys and aiming at getting her DE in shooting, Maggie’s summer seems to be shaping up like it always does. That is until it suddenly becomes much more than ever before. Suddenly Maggie finds herself falling for Erin, the older camp counselor. As she tries to navigate newfound feelings and friendships within the camp, Maggie begins the process of peeling back the layers of who she is told she needed to be and finding the person she wants to be. When I first started reading Honor Girl, I was a bit nervous. The reviews I received from others were that it kept you reading and then dumped you off at the end with no real answers. I must say that I felt the same way, like there was a piece missing at the end. However, the angst and heartbreak are certainly palpable. Also, if you enjoy the Backstreet Boys, give this novel a read; it had me listening to some throwback tunes all night.

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I have one word for Angie Thomas’s debut novel: stunning.

The Hate U Give is truly a modern classic. This is a novel that had me staying up until 3 a.m. because I had to know what was happening next. It follows Starr, a 16-year-old who finds herself stuck between two worlds: Garden Heights, her home, and Williamson, the fancy prep school she attends. The thin partition between these worlds comes crashing down after Starr is the witness to an act of violence involving a cop that ends in the death of her unarmed best friend, Khalil. Soon, Khalil’s name is plastered everywhere, but no one is telling the story in the same way. Was it murder or was it self defense? As tensions escalate, Starr’s home becomes a war zone and school becomes less of a neutral ground. She feels compelled to share her story, but she knows that it could destroy her home and put her in danger as well.

In today’s world, The Hate U Give serves, as Jason Reynolds puts it, “as a much-needed literary ramrod.” This novel approaches the topics of systemic racism and police brutality with complete honesty and heart. This is a must read for everyone.

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P.S. – This is not the same cover as my novel, but my phone camera is doing weird things.

One of the coolest things about NCTE was the fact that so many awesome ARC copies were available to take for free; yes, for free! I managed to snag quite a few and left most of them at home over break, but I brought back The Cardboard Kingdom with me because it’s a graphic novel and I am very curious. I’m not far enough in to give you all a quality review, but I will say that the graphics are fabulous and full of color. Check back next week for a full review of this ARC graphic novel set to hit shelves in June of 2018!

 

RG

Reality.

You guys. We have 2 weeks of actual class left this semester.

Two weeks until Chadron State College releases us out into the wild, crazy classrooms of Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and everywhere else to actually put our looming degrees into practice. Two weeks left as residents of Chadron. Two weeks left of hopeful (or hopeless?) cramming to finish all of our obligations still unfulfilled this semester. Two weeks until our English family is broken up, until I won’t see any of the people who encouraged and pushed my thinking daily for the past 3.5 years anymore or possibly ever again.

Sometimes, reality bites.

Despite the craziness and tears that the next few weeks will inevitably hold, I am choosing to look at the bright, joyous side of the coin:

We are FINALLY entering a classroom in a month!

I can’t articulate how thrilled and scared I am to enter a classroom as “Ms. Garey” (seriously – a kid called me that on my visit last week, and I almost didn’t answer). In just a few short weeks, we will be preparing to enter into classrooms and soak up all the knowledge our cooperating teachers have to offer. We will learn from the students as we play double duty in the student/teacher mode. We will have the chance to learn, grow, teach, and touch lives. How amazing is that?

I’ve been looking forward to this season of life for years. Teaching has always been my path, and I have looked forward to teaching my own classes since I was playing house and sitting through classes that weren’t effective in high school. They always say that “rubber hits the road” when you student teach, and I’m excited to see and remember what being in a school for 8 hours a day feels like.

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Obligatory “Student Teaching Visit” picture 🙂

I got a small taste of this on Tuesday when I went on my visit. For those that don’t know, I am officially *half* placed for next semester’s student teaching requirement. I will be teaching 8th grade LA, Linguistics, and Journalism in a middle school located in Central Nebraska. It was a whirlwind of a week; between trying to schedule my visit on short notice to traveling from Denver to home right before, I was tired yet on fire to teach at the same time.

Reality, in this case, was a welcome relief. My cooperating teacher is an absolute rockstar. From the moment I met her to walking out the door, she was welcoming and kind, answering any and every question I had while asking me questions to get to know me better. She let me be involved in the classes while I was there and introduced me to her students, who all seemed to eye me with a mixture of excitement and question (“is she even old enough to teach us”) running across their faces. I walked out of the middle school feeling relieved. I have confidence that this next semester will be rewarding. I know that my cooperating teacher will be helpful and, with a classroom like hers, I will be able to learn and grow under her guidance.

For me, reality is hitting. Hard. I was sent home with books to read, apps to navigate, and the knowledge that more is coming for me to learn and pick up. I know that student teaching won’t be a cakewalk. I know that even though I have been looking forward to leaving, when it finally comes time to do so, I will be nostalgic and sad to leave behind so many great friendships and people that I love. But I also know that this semester will be full of new life adventures and excitement. I know that these people that I love will always be a phone call or text away when I am stuck on something or need help. I know that CSC has prepared me and given me a network of people I can lean on when I need to.

I know that I’m ready. T – 2.5 weeks.

 

RG

“It’s all good.”

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m a perpetually stressed out person.

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I try my best to put things into perspective and reign in the stress, but sometimes it gets to me. Being a senior in an education program is the recipe for stress; you’re trying to pack in as much information as you can before being tossed into the waves. I am constantly told stories of student teaching experiences, and, not surprisingly, most are horrific. Absolutely cringe worthy. Seriously, I’ve had nightmares. Between this, the cramming of information, and lack of communication regarding my placement, I have felt like a person being slowly pulled into quicksand.

Pretty deep, huh? Luckily for me, I heard some great advice last week that has become my mantra: “It’s all good and all okay.” In only 6 words, I felt myself relax and breathe. It’s all going to be okay. I stopped stressing out about not being “officially” placed anywhere. I realized that the extra money I had to come up with to student teach wouldn’t be made through the hours of stressing about it because I don’t get paid to do that. Cramming won’t get me anywhere. The Praxis II will turn out how it will turn out. I will student teach somewhere. You see, I came to a big realization: my stress points can’t be my whole life.

Living stressed is not a healthy life. As a teacher, I know that the opportunity to feel stressed will be at my doorstep every single day. Between meetings, student and administration issues, and balancing my personal life, there are numerous things to stress out about daily. I also know that I can’t let myself fall prey to these feelings.

You see, I am not functioning at my best when I feel stressed. My sleeping goes haywire, I feel run down, and I become a person that doesn’t match the Regan others know. I want to bring my authentic self to the table every day I am a teacher because that is who my students deserve. Sheesh, it’s what I deserve. Choosing to live with the mantra of “it’s all good” is both personal and professional, which makes it a win-win in my book.

Deciding that it’s all good and all okay has made this past week one of the best this semester. I finally shed the stress that had been blanketing me constantly for the past few weeks and reminded myself that everything was going to be okay. I enjoyed NCTE to the fullest while connecting with thousands of English teachers from across the nation (post to come soon!). I screamed at the top of my lungs while driving home in the middle of the night. I walked (semi) fearlessly into a school after finding out I had been half-placed and met one of my cooperating teachers and her students. I got an email that reminded me that sometimes things work out. I also got a text that reminded me that there are bigger things in life than school. I was reminded time and time again that life throws you curves, but you learn to work with them as best as possible.

Sometimes life is great and the puzzle pieces fit together. Other times they don’t. No matter what season you’re in, just remind yourself of two things: it’s all good and all okay.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/13/17

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Today has been the most Monday-est Monday ever.

That might seem a tad dramatic, but today has been insane. We had some security issues involving the house I live in, so it’s been a stressful, draining day trying to sort everything out and take care of what needed to be done to get ready for the busy week ahead of me. I’m so excited to head out to the 2017 NCTE Conference for the first time! On a day like today, keeping my eye on the positives is important.

And the books… all the books!

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First up this week was Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry. I have to say, this was one of the cutest graphic novels involving the undead and an evil plan to take the lives of teens. This graphic novel follows two sisters, Katia and Victoria, on scholarship at a private boarding school. One desperate to fit in and the other happy to be herself, the sisters get into an argument and head out to cool off. The girls find themselves stuck in the underworld of a graveyard nearby, one foot in the real world while the other is conversing with some not-so-friendly ghosts who serve a master in need of a child’s soul. Can Victoria find Katia before its too late? Can Nikola be stopped by an unlikely team? Full of beautiful graphics, this is a lighthearted story that will be a hit with anyone.

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Marqui loaned me Trickster a few weeks ago, and I am finally getting to it (sorry, Marqui!). Trickster is a compilation of Native American tales revolving around the trickster, a creature who uses his cunning wit to disrupt the order of things. This anthology holds over 20 tales that have been adapted into a graphic novel form. Many storytellers from all over the nation came together to reproduce the stories and were then joined by artists to morph them into comic form. I loved the different tales and the completely different colors/graphics that came with each story. It was so clear that different artists had worked on every story, personalizing it to the tale itself. At the end of the novel, Dembicki, the editor, provides background on each writer, which culture they come from, and also credits the illustrators.

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I’m not sure what I expected this book to be, but it wasn’t that; it was more. Blue Is the Warmest Color took me on a rollercoaster ride I didn’t see coming. At the beginning of the novel, Clementine is a 16 year old student just trying to make it. She fits in, has a group of friends, and gets along with her family as well as any teen can. She meets Thomas who then becomes her boyfriend, but after catching a glimpse of the girl with blue hair, Clementine feels distracted and distant, unsure of whether or not she is with Thomas because she wants to be or because she has to be. Her life is flipped upside down when her best friend takes her to a gay bar where Emma, the girl with the blue hair, steps back into her life. It’s this event that leads Clem to question past notions she had about herself and leads her into a love that is both passionate and heartbreaking. Blue Is the Warmest Color is gorgeous with the pops of blue throughout the book. The story is gorgeous and bittersweet, a tale of love found and lost.

Happy reading and traveling this week!

Mini-Lessons: The Backbone

The backbone. When most people think about the backbone, they think about their own body. Our backbone, or vertebral column, holds us together and protects the spinal cord which, if injured, can cause lifelong difficulties. I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to understand that the backbone is integral; it’s an essential part of our makeup. Despite all this, the vertebral column is not the first thing I think of when I hear the word “backbone” – I think of the 2012 movie The Campaign

Before you decide to completely disregard this post, let me make one thing clear: I absolutely hated The Campaign. I know that it was supposed to be funny, but I loathed it. Even as a sophomore in high school, I knew that this movie would be etched in my brain, a movie I would never forget. The Campaign is focuses on the re-election of a congressman and centers around the campaign trail. It is one part in particular that makes me think of the word “backbone” when I remember the movie. At the very beginning, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is shown campaigning in numerous locations with groups of people who hold very diverse jobs. It is here Brady proclaims that each group he is with is “the backbone of this nation!” The crowd (for the most part) goes wild with applause in each location, cheering at the thought that they protect and keep the nation upright.

When we begin to consider our lifestyle as educators, I think we can see the backbone of what we do fairly clearly: we read, we write, we discuss. These three things should be at the base of what we do daily because, well, we’re English- Language Arts people. But the more we dive into lesson planning and the way our classroom with function, I think it’s worth noting that there are many facets to what we do, and one backbone might not be enough. Yes, we read, write, and talk, but what about the nitty gritty details? That’s our overall backbone, but I think we need something else to structure our class time with and do this “teaching” thing.

This is where the mini-lesson steps into the light. Mini-lessons are rapidly becoming my most favorite part of the classroom. The mini-lesson is a down and dirty lesson on a micro subject that our learners need to move forward within the unit of study. The lessons are short (hence the word “mini”) and get directly to the point, no need for fluff.  These lessons are authentic and narrowly focused on a  single skill. Since the lessons are micro and to the point, it conserves our energy as teachers and also allows students the time to work in a reading/writing workshop.

One thing I love about mini-lesson is how diverse they can be. For example, you could have a mini-lesson dedicated to introductory adverbial phrases and how to spot them one day and then switch to a mini-lesson on the art of selecting an independent reading book the next. They are versatile and anything but rigid, which keeps the classroom moving and the students learning. I also love that they are planned but can also be reactive and spur of the moment. Educators can create a list of mini-lessons to correlate with their unit, but if something is noticed that needs to be discussed that isn’t initially in the plan, it can be addressed in a mini-lesson and the original plan can be shifted to the next day easily. It’s really about what works in your classroom and for your students on that day; shouldn’t that be what all of our lessons revolve around?

The mini-lesson is, arguably, the backbone of the classroom. It is where the traditional notion of “teaching” takes place in an untraditional way. It allows us to present useful, necessary material in an authentic way without eating up an entire class period where the only things students do is hear our voice. If we’re serious about facilitating a workshop environment, condensing our lessons down to be mini is important. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the gasps and naysayers.

We protect and cherish our own backbones because they are integral to maintaining our health and function. In the same way, we need to utilize the mini-lesson and realize the benefits it provides us. After all, just as the human spinal column uses its 33 bones to protection as well as structure and support, mini-lessons work to provide the same services in a classroom. They are, as Cam Brady would say, the backbone of the classroom.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/6/17

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Welcome back, fellow book lovers!

Monday.. Week 11.. Yikes! I am feeling the downward slope of the semester a lot lately, which is both exciting and terrifying. Despite this, we will continue to plow through!

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With the return of fall, Sunny heads home to begin middle school. This obstacle is huge, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to the turmoil of Sunny’s home life. Dale is gone, Grandpa is still in Florida, and even when they return it doesn’t feel right. Instead, it feels like the world as Sunny knows it has been flipped upside down. Luckily, Sunny has good friends and a new neighbor willing to let Sunny in on the fun of her activity. Can she remain Sunny-side up? Or will life drag her down? I came into this story expecting a lot, and, to be honest, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. This graphic novel by Jennifer and Matthew Holm was good, but I loved the first installment so much that its sequel didn’t match the hype I created. Nevertheless, it was a great story with beautiful pictures. I can’t wait to read more about Sunny’s adventures in the future!

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This graphic novel was loaned to me by my wonderful friend, Carlie. It depicts the silent agreement between the Kurbs and the humans that gives the humans power and a place to live. Each year in June, the Kurbs hide their power inside of a token. The people then have until December 21st to place the power back in its safe space before the Kurbs retake control and freeze out the human race. For years the ritual has remained a secret, buried within a family of women and passed down as a daughter’s duty. However, all that changes when a power hungry man discovers the secret and wants to harness the power for himself. Suddenly, a young girl questions everything her father has told her; is her mother truly dead? What is her destiny? And why is it that she can see things that aren’t before her? Soon she and her friend, Carlos, find themselves on a journey to save loved ones and rescue the city that they both call home. The only question left is will they make it in time.

Okay. I LOVED this graphic novel! I had my doubts at the beginning, but the story is so wonderful and the pictures depict the events beautifully. I found myself being sucked into the story of good vs. evil. By the end of the novel, I was hanging on every last word.

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As a person who knows nothing about ice skating except for the bits and pieces of knowledge gleaned from obsessively viewing Ice Princess, this novel was completely new to me. Tillie Walden’s graphic novel memoir, Spinning, chronicles her life as a competitive figure skater. For over 10 years, Tillie’s entire life was dedicated to the sport. She woke at 4 a.m. to head to private practice at the rink, go to school, and go back to the ice rink to skate more. But what happens when you outgrow the identity you created for yourself? What do you do when you no longer fit with the person other people perceive to be you? This graphic novel explores what it means to find that place while also passing difficult milestones of a teenage girl. From near death experiences to coming out to her parents and friends, Tillie Walden spills her life out for readers to see. The pictures were beautiful with an ice-like tint, but I also felt that the story was a bit unresolved at the end. This long graphic novel (almost 400 pages!) held a beautiful message, but I still have so many questions (like what her deal was with her mom.. angry face).

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Here is a weird thing I do: when I get into a reading frenzy, I really get into a reading frenzy. I got this overwhelming feeling last week that I just have not been reading enough. So, naturally, I picked up more books and have been devouring them. I’m currently working my way through When I Was the Greatest, The Hate U Give, and Readicide. So far all are amazing, but wow – The Hate U Give is truly stunning and powerful. I can’t wait to book talk it once I’m finished!

Stay tuned for next week’s update when I have (hopefully!) finished these. Until then, happy reading!