Paperback, Here I Come!

I’m surprised at how heartsick I’ve felt while reading my colleagues’ back-to-school statuses on Facebook. My identity as an educator has a significant impact on my way of thinking and being. So it’s strange that it is September and I’m not lesson planning and high fiving students as they enter my classroom.

You can imagine then how excited I am to get into New Zealand classrooms, especially since I will get to see how things are taught in a new cultural context.

Poster of Jessica for her classroom

One of the posters I had made for my classroom. Maybe there will be a day with less late work!

In the spirit of my love of teaching and learning, I’d like to tell you about a book project I’m happy to be a part of. A friend and colleague, Aaron Poldner, the youngest-ever Golden Apple teaching award winner in the state of Illinois, published a book called How Would You Handle It?: Questions For Teachers To Ask ThemselvesThe book asks introspective teachers to examine their pedagogies and teaching philosophies to see how their beliefs impact their practice.  

As a follow-up to this book, Aaron polled teachers on how they would answer the questions, and I got to be one of the teachers. Look out for How We Handle It: Hundreds of Answers from Classroom Teachers on Amazon.com within the month!

I’d thought I’d give you some insight of who I am as a teacher.  Below are some of my contributions to the project. Hope you enjoy!

How are you going to take care of your physical and mental health while you teach, especially during the first few years? How often do you go to the doctor? Do you exercise regularly? Do you have a healthy diet? Would you ever consider therapy or psychiatric care? How do you plan on finding a balance between all of your needs and activities?

Picture of a card and cookies given by students

Gifts given by students after I had suffered illness and loss.

Towards the end of second day in my first year of teaching, I passed out in the women’s restroom. It was the last period of the day, and it was my prep period (thank goodness). I woke up on the bathroom floor, and army-crawled down the empty hallway and into an administrator’s office (the hall monitor never once noticed a grown woman in a dress slithering down the hall on her belly). Flipping over onto my back, I moaned to the secretary that I needed help. Two hours later, I was standing in a hospital emergency room clad in a see-through hospital gown with SpongeBob Squarepants underwear holding a cup of my own urine. The school’s superintendent arrived while I was in this precarious position to see if I was okay. To say I was embarrassed is an understatement.

My first three years went on like this. I made two more trips to the ER for walking pneumonia and extreme vertigo. I suffered from migraines and exhaustion. But, I never rested or slowed down. Finally, I took a good long look at my plate: I was teaching full time, coaching an additional twenty hours a week, taking an improv class at Second City, and starting a master’s degree at Northwestern. To make matters worse, I lived across the street from the school, so I would often get home from coaching track at 6:30 p.m., I’d take a nap and eat dinner (which often consisted of hot pockets or a jar of peanut butter), and then I would go back to school to lesson plan and grade until two or three in the morning.

My first few years of teaching were already incredibly, incredibly hard, and my extra commitments added to its difficulty. After looking at my plate, I made some crucial changes. First, I moved a twenty-minute drive away from school so that I wouldn’t be tempted to walk back to school in the wee hours of the morning. Second, I quit coaching track. I LOVED coaching, but I needed more balance in my life. Third, I joined a gym and started exercising four times a week. Fourth, I strategized ways to become more efficient in my grading and planning, so I could have more time to hang out with friends and enjoy some downtime.

Now, in my seventh year of teaching, I still sometimes struggle with balance, but I am a very, very happy teacher. I finished my master’s degree in literature, and now have time to read books for pleasure. I never take any work related to school home, and I make sure to be really efficient while I’m in my classroom. I always make it to my favorite dance class on Thursday nights, I rarely have to pull out a frozen meal, and I drink coffee for pleasure and not out of necessity. I might not get essays back within twenty-four hours, but I also haven’t seen the inside of an emergency room in four years (knock on wood).

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That Time I Didn’t Turn Right

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

I’ve been in New Zealand exactly a week.  In the spirit of a “throw back Thursday,” I thought I’d go back and share with you the gritty details of my trip over. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to publish this diary, but I want to document and share with you all the ways in which this trip initially felt impossible before it turned amazing. In fact, if it wasn’t for some of the events in the story, I wouldn’t be as happy in New Zealand as I am today.

Jessica smiles at party

My going away party the night before I left. Theme: All American BBQ
Mood: calm before the storm.

8:00 a.m. Monday, August 18th

My mom wakes me up in my favorite way, with a steaming cup of dark roast coffee diluted with Crème Brulee coffee creamer. I know she is making this morning extra special for me, as I can smell homemade popovers baking in the oven—a favorite breakfast pastry that takes getting up early to give it the nurturing time it needs. My dad is busy trying to help me fix my old Mac computer. I look with admiration at parents that are trying so hard to make this transition and final hours in the US special and stress-free for me.

12:37 p.m.

My mom and I high five each other as we’ve both finished my packing. I had packed before I left Chicago, but later realized I’d have to repack because my bags were so overweight.

Two weeks before departure I’d ascertained that books are considered a good gift to give New Zealanders because they are so expensive to buy (someone told me a Lonely Planet to NZ was $50!). I also found out through discussing with several people that certain cosmetic and toiletries are very expensive, and it may also be difficult to find the specific brands that I need because I’m a curly girlie. Therefore, I also had a liter of my favorite conditioner, two bottles of moose, and other products to make these follicles of frizz magically turn into ringlets.

So yes, my bags were drastically overweight. My mom and I would transfer some stuff to the other bag and then back again. Feeling defeated, I called United, and they said that it is $100 for an extra bag anyway and an additional $100 for luggage over 50 pounds. After going to the post office, I discovered it would already be $70 to ship the excess books, so weighing my options (ha!), I decided just to make one bag heavy and pay the fine.

3:30 p.m.

We leave for the airport. I feel surprisingly calm, and I relax in the sunshine streaming through the car windows.

4:45 p.m.

We arrive at the airport and all calmness melts away.  I had thought the extra bag would be $200 total. The actual price comes out to $500. And although the United clerk is helpful, I still burst into tears. I was already emotional, and for some reason, the fact that I couldn’t take some simple gifts because of the cost breaks my heart. 

4:58 p.m.

I refocus. We discover that if I carry 27 pounds of books on my person the 8,000 miles, the total cost will drop to $300. Even though my parents graciously offer to ship them to me, I get a giant plastic recycling bag and plop them in along with my heavy messenger bag to make it “one” carry-on bag (thanks for the tip, United man!). I put on the heaviest jacket, dawn knee-high compression socks, and lace up my heavy hiking boots to help get rid of some of the weight.

I give my lovely parents a tearful goodbye and walk through security with a backpack on my shoulders, and the giant plastic bag with its visible contents in my arms.

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