Archive for ‘Personal Stories’

November 10, 2013

Right Back What is Wrong, We Move Along

I’m kind of struggling with how to even start this post.  On Monday, I resigned from my current teaching job.  Just typing “I resigned” brings up a lot of emotions of disappointment, relief, shame, hope, and shock.  So I get it if you feel any of those things, too.  I would have written this sooner, but I had to wait until it was public information (my position is now posted for someone to apply to).  Not only did I turn in my resignation, but on Tuesday I gave my 30 days notice at my apartment complex and began making arrangements to move back to Orlando.

For most, I feel like all of this is coming out of left field.  Those who are close to me know it’s not.  I have been unhappy for a long time feeling like I can’t be me and take care of myself as well as do my job.  Between working at home and working at school, I was putting in about 70 hours a week towards teaching.  Even though I’ve been cleared for boot camp with my knee, I can’t imagine having time to go.  I don’t call my friends to hang out as much anymore.  Whenever I have a free moment, I want to nap or at least lay down in front of the TV for awhile.  I don’t wake up excited to mold the minds of America, but instead worry about how I will get through the day without crying and/or passing out from frustration and exhaustion.

I see all of my Facebook friends post pictures of going fun places, eating out, falling in love, getting married, traveling the country and the world….each picture just served as a reminder of things I can’t do because I’m barely keeping up at work as it is.  The last two years were hard, but I had my weekends mostly free, and I’d usually come home during the week done with work instead of putting in a couple extra hours developing worksheets and lessons for the next day.

Some of my co-workers seem to be managing so much better.  Some are always offering to take on more and pioneer new initiatives to make things better.  Others seem to cope with the workload better because they have good friends at work.  I think I’m still closer to the staff at my old school than I am to the one I work at now.  Whether it was my knee and mom visiting, the amount of work I’m trying to get done on my own, or me just not making enough of an effort- I just never got as close to anyone this year. It shouldn’t feel like a constant struggle to get out of bed every morning.  I shouldn’t be crying 5 out of 7 days a week.  I know you need to give a lot to your job, especially as a teacher, but it’s not the right fit for me if that is how I feel.

As for moving to Orlando, I actually started applying to teach in other places in Tulsa first.  Then I started to realize how few things were actually keeping me here.  Orlando may not be the place for me either, but at least my family is there.  They can support me through this transition until I find my next home.

My last day of work will be the 22nd.  We have the week of Thanksgiving off, and I felt that would be the best transition point for the kids if I couldn’t make it to the end of December. I will be moving in the first few days of December back to my parents house as I wait for my Florida teacher certification to go through.  I know it’s not glamorous to say you are moving back in with your parents, but I am grateful to them for giving me a place to stay while I can put this all behind me and move on to a new opportunity.

My family and friends have been extremely supportive as I made this difficult choice- I am thankful to all of you.  This was not an easy decision or one that I made lightly.  My students deserve someone who’s heart is in their fight and is excited to get them on their way to college.  I feel like I can’t be that anymore since I can’t take care of myself.  Hopefully I can find my way back into that fight once I’ve had some time to recharge.  I know I am meant to be a teacher- I just have to find the right school for me to be at my absolute best for the kids.  All kids deserve that.

May 5, 2013

You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

Now that most people in my life know, I can finally share this news:  I have accepted a job offer at KIPP Tulsa as a 6th grade social studies teacher for next year!


If you had asked me last year what I was thinking of doing when my TFA time was up, I would have told you that I would be staying at my current school and teaching my second graders again (moving from 2nd to 4th grade had them looping back to me).  Many things have happened this year, though, that made me consider other options.  In January, I was recommended for a position to teach in a new charter school in Tulsa.  I figured I’d go for it and completed two phone interviews and a sample lesson at the end of February.  When my interview was done, though, it became clear that they weren’t sure of what open spots they would have for months.  I was discouraged that there might not be any spots open, and I wasn’t sure if the school was a good fit after the interview.  I started to think that staying at my current school another year might be better than switching to the unknown, but then KIPP came my way.

The principal (or school leader) of KIPP e-mailed me personally inviting me out to chat about teaching opportunities at KIPP.  Apparently, the same person who had recommended me to the last charter school had also mentioned my name to KIPP.  Even though I was starting to sway back to my own school, I decided there was nothing to lose by meeting up with the principal.  Business school taught me that if the head of any organization is going to take time out of their schedule to spend one on one time with you, take advantage of the opportunity and learn all you can.  So I did.

We were probably out for about an hour and a half, and by the end of our meeting I was sold.  Here was a school leader who had a strong vision for the next decade that I wanted to be a part of.  I filled out an application that night, and had a sample teaching lesson scheduled for the week after spring break.  Now I am not one to make decisions lightly- anyone who really knows me is aware of this.  I talked to several teachers at KIPP to get a good, well-rounded perspective of what it is like to work there.  I feel like different teachers have different experiences, and it’s good to hear what they all have to say to get a good feel for the school environment.  I also tried to be observant as possible at my interview and drop by as many classrooms as I could during my free time to tour the school.  One class was dissecting frogs, another was dissecting a novel, and a third was receiving a stern talk from their teacher about not quitting in the final days before testing (I can’t count how many times I’ve given that speech).

Overall I loved the atmosphere, and I really enjoyed teaching a group of their 5th graders for an hour.  I saw a bit of my students in the class (ex. the one who ALWAYS has the right answer), which made me miss and wonder about my 4th graders that morning.  I came back to hugs and smiles from my whole current class, and it was hard to even think about leaving.  The truth is, though, they won’t be my kids next year.  They are moving on to two very strong 5th grade teachers at my school who will take just as good care of them as I could.  I know I will love my class wherever I am- it’s just time to take another leap of faith with my career and hope it works out for the best.

I signed my job offer at KIPP on April 3rd.  This means I will spend the next two weeks at my current school finishing up the year, and then take a two week vacation home to Orlando.  I have to be back by June 5th to start summer school as a faculty adviser (I will FINALLY be on the other side of the TFA process), and will work in that position through mid-July.  I’m hoping some of my family will come up to visit then before I leave for the annual KIPP Summit in Las Vegas (last year it was in Orlando- that would have been so convenient!).  I am so excited to meet with KIPP teachers across the nation and learn as much as possible before I start there the following week.  KIPP starts in August with professional development and then a couple weeks of summer school for their kids.

Thank you to all those who have been really supportive of the move.  It is not easy to leave the school that has been my home the past two years, and I did think about all aspects of the decision before making it.  Yes, I know the hours are longer.  Yes, I know I’m on call for the kids.  Yes, I know that it is not a contract position.  I promise I’ve thought of these things, but I do appreciate you looking out for me, too.  I’ll keep you posted on the transition.  Until then, you can see a little about KIPP’s story here:

January 27, 2013

Can YOU beat Table 7?

Last night I got to attend Bishop Kelley’s annual Trivia Night fundraiser with a bunch of my fellow teachers.  I went last year and had a blast, so I was excited to return for a second time.  The event is run in two separate gyms of the school- the large “serious player” gym and the small “loud player” gym.  Last year we had a back table in the small gym, and this year we were put in the quieter gym called “Material World” (yay Madonna!) after their 80’s theme this year.

Material World Trivia Night

One of the alumni walking around working the event had on a Kellly Kapowski shirt from Saved By The Bell.  I complimented her (because I love that show!) and she told me she bought the shirt two hours before the event and had no clue who was on it…..REALLY????

Kelly Kapowski Shirt

This was the design on her shirt.

The people working the event were supposed to be the graduating class from 1988, so I figured they would know this even better than me (Quick note:  When they announced this was the class of 1988’s year to run the event, I shouted “That’s the year I was born!” which was immediately met with eye rolling and groans from my whole table- I have so much payback coming my way in a couple decades, haha).

They had 120 tables split in two gyms- it was packed!

They had 120 tables split in two gyms- it was packed!

Each gym gets the same questions over six rounds with 12 questions each.  They go through the questions and give you about two minutes to answer them, with an extra few minutes at the end to go back and write down any other answers you needed more time to debate over.  Every round has a title, but this has no bearing on the questions.  The questions range from history to politics to pop culture to business.  You’ll see in the questions below that pretty much every topic is covered.  We ended up getting 42 out of 72 correct, which landed us in the top 30-40% of the table groups (as you can see there were a LOT of people competing).

I wanted to post some of the questions to test your own trivia skills.  We were given the same pictures for the ones that have an accompanying photo.  I’ve posted the answers at the bottom of this post.

1. What ship was the first and only ship to come to the RMS Titanic’s aid when it sank?

2. What was this structure called in New Hampshire before it collapsed?

new hampshire

3. What did Lego call the sets it marketed specifically for girls in 2012?

4. What movie won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Writing in 1988?

5. What object represents a threat or death in all three of The Godfather films?

6. What airport boasts having the longest runway in North America?

7. What is 100 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit degrees?

8. What was the “Friends” spinoff from 2004 called?

9. Who is the oldest living person to win Best Actor (not actress!)?

10. Who wrote the poetic verse “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me?”

11. What Korean singer came up with the popular 2012 hit, “Gangnam Style?”

12. Who designed this past year’s US Olympic team uniforms?

olympic team uniforms

13. Which state joined the union right after Oklahoma?

14.  What does the blue logo represent?


15.  What city and team was Kobe Bryant originally drafted to in 1996 before being traded for Vlade Divoc?

Between rounds they would do little mini-games for door prizes, like which lady had the most lip products in her purse (the lady who won had 18!) and who was the youngest player in the room (a 21-year-old beat me out for this).  That helped pass the time while they tallied all the scores.  They also had these giant 1 and 2 balloons they would put on the tables who were in the lead.  We never got the balloons, but at least we were in the top half of the scores throughout the night : )

One thing that I find hilarious is that the tables always build beer can towers from their leftover cans (keep in mind- this is a Catholic high school).  Only a few tables participated in our “serious gym,” but when I went to the other side to check out the architecture, it was pretty epic.  These people swung string over the poles in the ceiling to keep their towers up.  I took a picture of one of the highest ones right in front of a giant cross, haha:

Beer Can Tower Trivia Night

I am so glad Bishop Kelley does this fundraiser every year.  It’s a lot of fun for the guests, and they must make a huge profit off of it.  Tables for ten are $200 (so each person only pays $20), and they sell snack items and drinks for $1-3 throughout the night.  Another big moneymaker for them is the 50/50 pot.  Tickets for this are sold for a dollar with no limit on how many you purchase.  They put all the proceeds in a pot, and split it 50/50 with the winning ticket.  Last night I know the winner went home with over $2,000.  I didn’t buy a ticket, but I’m starting to think I should have!

If you are interested in attending Trivia Night at Bishop Kelley next year, it will be on Saturday, January 25th.  If I’m still in Tulsa, I know I will be there.  Check out the school’s website for more details and contact information.  Tickets go on sale early, and this year sold out in less than a day!  Make sure you get on their mailing list ASAP!

And now for the answers to the trivia questions listed above.  The seven in bold are the ones we got right:

1. RMS Carpathia   2. The Old Man in the Mountain   3. Lego Friends    4. Rain Man   5. An Orange    6. Denver   7. 212 Degrees   8. Joey     9. Sidney Poitier   10. Emily Dickinson   11. Psy    12. Stella McCartney    13. New Mexico    14. Decepticons   15. Charlotte Hornets

P.S. I finally tried out the Forever 21 jacket/shirt I mentioned I hadn’t worn yet in this post.  It went well with skinny jeans and black heels, and I got a few compliments on it.  Success!

Finally sporting some peplum!

Finally sporting some peplum!

January 23, 2013

Winter Break Haul: Forever 21

When I was younger, I NEVER shopped at Forever 21. I remember going there once a really long time ago and getting a pair of gray pants. I wore those things until one day (not because of how they fit), the zipper and clasp just fell off. I was like…uhhhhh. This didn’t even happen while they were on! I had been warned about Forever 21 clothes’ early expiration date, but this was pretty crazy. It wasn’t until I started watching a bunch of YouTube beauty gurus and their Forever 21 hauls that I even thought about going into one again. My friend Erin got me a gift card for my birthday last year, and when I went home to Orlando for the summer I stopped by and bought a few things. They didn’t disintegrate (I guess I should say “yet” right about now), so over Winter Break I went back for more. Here’s what I got:

Note: Forever 21 regular sizes are very small for me, so I shop on the lowest end of their Plus Size collection. Unfortunately, they don’t have Plus Sizes at every Forever 21, but the outlet mall store in Orlando does. That’s the only one I’ve ever shopped at. All the items below are from their Plus Size collection in case you are looking for them.

Forever 21 Black Top

I was afraid this shirt would be too tight when I got it, but it actually worked out well. It’s nicely fitted at the top, and then looser around my midsection which is perfect. I am not big into studs on clothing, but I liked the small use of it to add detail to the shoulders. It goes great with dark skinny jeans (I grabbed a pair during this trip- they fit great but I figured since they look like all other dark skinny jeans, they weren’t worth photographing).

Forever 21 Cocktail Dress

I don’t have a lot of occasions to wear cocktail dresses, but I am really going to try to make an effort to put some more fancy events on my social calendar after finding this dress. It has a nice champagne shimmer to it, but its subdued enough that it doesn’t look too metallic. The black band at the waist is stretchy, so I feel like I could gain a couple pounds or lose a couple pounds and the waistband would still stay snug to create a nice a-line at the bottom. I also love the thicker straps so I can wear a bra. I hate spaghetti straps or strapless dresses because if you have a bigger than average chest size, you’re kind of screwed. I think this dress will be great for weddings, and I hope to wear it to a colleague’s one in March (Dear Tulsa weather- please warm up by then!).

Forever 21 Peplum Jacket

This jacket/top was a last minute decision. I have really liked the peplum trend, but haven’t found anything to buy that incorporates it. I saw this jacket on my way to check out and tried it on in the middle of the store. It fits REALLY well. It creates a nice shape for my torso, and can be worn with or without a shirt under it. The white piping and zipper add nice detailing to it. I bought it, but have yet to decide what to wear it with. It was pictured on a model with dark skinny jeans, but Erin also said it looked good with my bright blue jeans, too. It’s also a sporty material, so that’s been a bit of a conundrum to match with other fabrics. I’ll have to think about it some more and try to find looks that incorporate a similar top to get some ideas. I would say this might be the edgiest thing I own, in that it is more trendy than a basic that I can wear with anything.

Forever 21 Owl Necklace

The last thing I got was this owl necklace. I always look through Forever 21’s jewelry because it is so cheap. I went straight to the earrings because they are my go-to jewelry choice, but this owl necklace caught my eye. I really liked that it wasn’t very big or long (I haven’t mastered the whole statement necklace trend yet). I could easily wear this to work with one of the many black tops I have (or with the first top on this page). It’s very cute, and helps me incorporate more gold into my primarily silver jewelry collection.

I spent around $90 total on all five of these things (remember, I didn’t show a picture of my skinny jeans). That sounds like a lot, but cocktail dresses alone could be half that, and jeans usually are $30 or more (I think mine were around $16). Main thing is- I’m happy with my purchases. Let’s just hope they last at least a little longer than those gray pants ; )

January 22, 2013

My Favorite Things: Christmas Edition

Yes I know this is almost a month late, but I’ve been wanting to post about some of the fun and interesting things I got this year for Christmas. This isn’t everything, but it includes some of my favorites.

Nail Polish Gifts

My mom, now super happy that I share her love of nail polish, got me all four of the colors I requested on my wish list. From left to right, I received Beyond Cozy and Leading Lady by Essie, and Casino Royale and Goldeneye from OPI’s James Bond Line. Both of the glitter polishes are really thick- you could probably cover your nail in glitter in one coat (two at the most). I had to really thin out the polish on the brush to make it into a thin shimmer layer over a solid color. Here is what I was able to get to with the Casino Royale on all my nails and Goldeneye just barely streaked over my highlight nail (keep in mind this was several days after initial application).

Casino Royale and Goldeneye

I tried Beyond Cozy later with a purple nail polish called Marrow from Butter London, and also found myself trying to thin it down to create a toned-down shimmer. I think this thickness makes the glitter polishes more versatile because you can thin it out or use it alone as a color. Casino Royale is also nice because it is a dark berry color that can work with a variety of outfits and settings (bright colors can be a little much at work for an elementary school teacher). I love my two owl nail files, too. Thanks mom!

Owl Painting

My dad, knowing my love for owls, bought me a painting from one of the guys he works with. I don’t have a lot of decor in my apartment, especially in my bedroom. I’m thinking I’ll hang this up over my bed, but I’m trying to decide whether to risk putting a nail in the wall (I am HORRIBLE with tools) or risk it falling on my head if I use two thumbtacks. Thoughts?

AJ checking out the Russian Candy

AJ checking out the Russian Candy

Polina, my Russian exchange student from when I was in 4th grade, got me TWO awesome gifts. I usually get little decorative Russian things, but since I took the time to go to Russia, she got some other ideas. I was very excited to open my first gift which was two bags of the candy I like there (certain colors were better flavors and yellow and blue were always the best!). As soon as I opened it and rediscovered my love for this candy, I felt sad that the tea I loved there wasn’t included. BUT WAIT. There’s a second package!

Tea from Russia

Yes, this canister is FULL of Kenyan Sunrise, a delicious black tea that got me hooked on tea to begin with. I found something similar to it here, but nothing can quite beat the original. I’m so excited to have so much of it, too, because now I don’t feel so pressured to ration it (it’s not available in the US).

Owl Listography Book

My friend Erin knows I love writing and making organized lists, so she took a page from the Listography books and created a book for me with topics to fill in, including my favorites, things I wish for, and experiences I’ve had. What made this book especially fun was that she filled in the beginning of some herself so that it is fun to read, too. Here’s an example (and yes- I may go beyond one page).

Page from Owl Book

Finally, since I have not yet outgrown being a kid, I did ask for and receive this from my sister and Dan:

lego lord of the rings wii

Oh Lego games…how I love thee. I am definitely not one to play video games by myself often, so I like the co-op feature of this game (a second player can drop in and out at any point as one of your partners). I also love that Lego games are not that hard. They are long enough that you feel like you accomplished something by the end, but they are not impossible or require a high level of patience. Since Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite movies, it seemed appropriate to snatch this one up. So far it has been pretty good. The cut scenes are a little weird because they use actual dialogue from the film (most of the Lego games just do a lot of miming to convey the story), and I’ve been a little confused at how some of the easy parts of the story are hard (I got stuck for like 30 minutes trying to jump a ledge to open Moria) and some of the complicated story parts (like defeating the Balrog) take little to no effort, time, or thought. I’ve only finished the Fellowship part, though, so we’ll see how the rest goes.

Thanks to everyone for the gifts listed above. You guys rock! If you want to see the gifts I gave my closest friends and family, you can check out my own DIY Gifts post.

January 7, 2013

Dusting Off the Soapbox

I am well aware that I live in Oklahoma- a firm red state where people are very happy to support the right to bear arms.  I try to keep my mouth shut about a lot of things here following Thumper’s rule “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all,” but today I heard something on the radio that completely pissed me off and made me really sad for our country.

The radio hosts were talking about how a lady was called a hero for defending herself when a man broke into her house.  They explained that a man kept ringing the doorbell and eventually broke into the house when she and her two kids were home.  She was able to take her two kids and hide in some type of crawl space, but when the man found them and tried to enter the same space, she shot him like 5 times.  He somehow got away, but soon crashed his car- likely unable to drive from the injuries he sustained.  He is now in prison.  You can read more about it here.

shooting story

They got a deputy on the line who dealt with the incident and he was like “We need more people like this lady who are responsible gun owners who can defend themselves.”  I TOTALLY don’t believe anyone should have a gun in their house, *especially* if you have children around.  When I was little I used to watch Rescue 911, and there were a bunch of episodes, like the one below, where kids would find a gun in their house and accidentally shoot their sibling, friend, or themselves.  This was horrifying to me, and I believe growing up in a family that never even mentioned guns made me more rooted in the belief that they don’t belong in the house (if you own one at all).

Anyway, I could usually get over hearing a story like this.  The lady didn’t kill the man, and maybe she was able to protect her kids and herself from getting injured or killed.  I don’t know enough details about the break in to pass judgement.

HOWEVER- I was basically enraged by the female radio host’s response: “I can’t believe she let him go!  I would have killed him.  You can come break into my house whenever you want, but you WILL NOT walk out of it.”

Really lady?  Someone is going to break in to steal your TV and you are going to feel like you have the right to kill them?  REALLY????  Ugh.  I find this disgusting.  If I was in a scenario where I had to fight for my life and actually killed someone- even if it was to save myself or a loved one from death- I feel like I would carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life.  No matter what the circumstances, taking a life should not be something you are completely fine with doing.  And it should never be something you joke about on the radio.

I am so disgusted by this one comment I honestly thought about writing the station a letter about it.  I then decided to write here and share this story and my reaction with you.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and share my anger, and its not like I don’t have friends who own guns.  It’s just not a choice I would make.  I know people are going to get guns if they want them, whether they are allowed to or not, so I don’t think stricter gun control will solve much in the way of violence in our society.  My issue is more with the fact that some people seem to have no problem with the idea of taking a life.

January 5, 2013

My Go-To (and actually healthy!) Breakfast

Last year I spent a lot of time hard boiling eggs for school. I’d take one or two with me in the morning and try to scarf them down while I took attendance, listed off the day’s agenda, and recorded which students ate the school breakfast. It was not the easiest of feats, but I managed. Now in my second year of teaching, I’ve come to appreciate the greatness that comes from eating a really filling breakfast. While I was putting together my LifeSTYLE Book, I came across a “recipe” (it’s less of a recipe and more putting food on top of each other) for a little twist on the usual Eggo waffle breakfast.


The recipe suggested getting two multigrain frozen waffles (less than $2 for 10 at Target), toasting them, and then spreading Sunbutter on top. I have always been loyal to peanut butter, and it was hard to make such a drastic change, but I tried it. It’s a bit smoother than peanut butter and has a little more of a nut flavoring. It’s pretty comparable, though, and from my research the health benefits are pretty even for both. But, if you are looking for a change- I’d pick up Sunbutter from your local Target. It’s in the aisle with all the regular peanut butter stuff, but keep in mind it will be more expensive. I usually pay about $6 for it and get a new jar every three weeks or so.

After you make your fateful Sunbutter vs. Peanut Butter choice, cut up a banana and throw those slices on top. I have to buy really small bananas so I don’t have to cut these huge chunks to fit on my waffle, so try grabbing those mini bunches when you’re digging through produce at the store. This is how it should look (no surprises!):


I eat this almost religiously on school days unless I’m running late. It can keep me full for about 6 hours, which is amazing. I’ve made this for lunch and dinner sometimes, too, if I’m feeling particularly lazy and want a quick food fix. Delicious : )

January 3, 2013

Tales of a Gift Giver: DIY Gifts for Any Occasion

Being a teacher isn’t the best way to save money on gifts, so I decided to get a little more creative this year and put a homemade aspect into a lot of my family’s gifts. Here is a rundown of my DIY gifts, and how to make them in case you get inspired ; )

For my mom….

Owl Piggy Bank

When my sister came to visit me in Tulsa, we visited Color Me Mine in Tulsa. This is a “paint your own ceramic thing” kind of place, and of course, I chose the owl. It’s actually a piggy bank, and I instructed my mom to use it to save up money for her next trip to come see me. We always end up going shopping, so I figured every time she is feeling stressed out from daily life, she can look at the equally stressed out owl and deposit change in it to save up for something fun later : )

For my sister….

book of awesome

Last Christmas, my sister gave me this book called “The Book of Awesome.” It contains short passages about the small things in life we should appreciate like driving around to see Christmas lights, finally remembering where we’ve seen someone before after staring at them forever, and playing Robin Hood with batteries in your remotes around your house (steal from the rich and give to the poor!). She not only bought the book, but also had marked it up commenting on various things, drawing illustrations, and coming up with her own Awesome things unique to us. I would randomly read it all year, and was absolutely *delighted* to find out they had released a sequel to it. I bought it, and also the holiday edition, and spent hours and hours marking each passage up and thinking up new awesome things. I was actually afraid she would buy the same thing for me, so I tried to add as much as possible and bought that holiday edition as a back up bonus gift, haha. Luckily, she got me Lego Lord of the Rings instead, so I was safe ; ) Taking a coffee table book and personalizing it for a friend or family member is quite awesome on its own, and it is an easy gift to put together.

For my dad….


Confession Time: I watch a lot of “beauty gurus” on YouTube. I think I follow like 20 now??? It’s a bit ridiculous, but led to a great Christmas gift idea this year. Rachhloves posted a video a long time ago about DIY gifts, and one of them was a jar of notes. Essentially, you decorate a jar and write a bunch of notes with quotes, sayings, memories, etc. for the person to read throughout the year. Well, I am more fond of boxes so I went straight to my local Michaels and bought this basic black wooden box and some scrabble-like tiles (yes, I had the scrabble idea and assumed the store would have it- luckily it did). I spent about an hour arranging the tiles into the perfect way to state the purpose of the box and take up most of the lid. I did this while Inception was on TV, so I feel like I deserve extra points for processing the movie and putting together this gift. After the box was decorated, I just wrote all the notes- most of which are fond memories I share of growing up with my dad. I had bought a bag of randomly sized, colored paper from Michaels, too, which made the notes look a little more fancy and also had been cut down to size. I ended up making 52 so my dad can open one a week. Warning: This can be extremely fun to make and you may want to keep it for yourself by the end.

For my best friend Erin….


I made Erin the same present as my dad except her box was very different. I bought a white cardboard one for her, and then spent forever cutting out quotes, cute pictures, and inspirational words to decorate the entire outside and inside walls of the box. The longest part of this project was arranging everything just so on each side of the box, especially on the top (because that has the biggest real estate and will be seen the most). I probably went through about 5 different layouts before deciding on one. This was done during the movie Elf, though, so my mind was a little more freed up than when I made my dad’s gift. Once I laid out all the magazine clippings, I painted Mod Podge ALL over the box to glue it down and create a finishing effect. It looked pretty awesome in the end. I used the same note paper to write Erin’s notes, and once again wrote 52 to make it last all year (though I did tease her that she wouldn’t be able to wait and I’d find her laying in a sea of opened notes, kind of like Monica opening all her wedding presents on Friends).

For my grandfather….


My grandfather is extremely hard to shop for, so I had to enlist the help of 26 4th graders to put his gift together. We just finished reading Dear Mr. Henshaw the last week before break, and as a “final project,” each student wrote a letter to him telling about themselves and an aspect of the class. I took a picture of each student holding a “Hi Mr. Barr!” sign, too, so my grandfather could see all the cute kids who wrote the letters. I didn’t have time to do practically any editing, so the quotes from some of these letters are hilarious. For example:

“I’m ten years old. I bet you’re really old.”

“My name is Ethan. Do you like my handwriting?”

“Ms. Schrumpf teaches us a little bit too much social studies.”

“My brothers make fun of me. They tease me a lot, but life goes on.”

This was actually really easy to put together. I used a spare binder and some page protectors, had the kids paste their pictures on paper and decorate them like frames, and then stuck all the letters and pictures in the book side by side. And BAM. Present. I think if you’re a teacher, getting your class in on making a gift can be great- but only if you can tie it into a teaching objective (letter writing!). It’s a great way to share what you do with someone else!

For my brother-in-law….

grab and go popcorn

Dan is SO EASY to shop for because I can basically throw Dunkin Donuts gift cards at him and he’s ecstatic. However, Dan’s birthday is December 25th, so I run into the dreaded TWO PRESENT CONUNDRUM. Luckily, Dan and I share a love of fantasy movies, especially Lord of the Rings, that Katie isn’t really as into (and by not really into I mean doesn’t care at all). So, I made a homemade coupon in Dan’s Christmas card offering to take him to go see The Hobbit in any format (there are three ways to see it- basic, 3D, and 3D High Frame Rate) and a $10 snack budget. We went on New Year’s Day and saw the fancy 3D High Frame Rate one at the new and improved Downtown Disney Theater (I hadn’t been to the NOT Fork and Screen side in a long time and was very impressed with its multiple fancy snack bar choices and grab and go popcorn- as seen above). We’ve done movie outings together before (again-usually to the one’s Katie doesn’t care about). I know we saw Tron in IMAX 3D and some of the Harry Potter films, and it’s fun. Homemade coupons may be cheesy, but when a free movie outing is involved, they are golden.

So yes- gift giving this year was pretty awesome. I definitely had to step it up a notch to make up for the fact that I am poor, but it turned out to be really fun to put everyone’s gifts together (and go see The Hobbit!). Hope this gives you some DIY ideas for upcoming birthdays, mother’s and father’s days and the occasional anniversary : )

PS- For each of the kids in my class, I wrote a hand written card. I do this every year because I remember LOVING when a teacher wrote a heartfelt message that was unique to me. This takes me about four hours, but watching each kid read their fairly long message of encouragement, appreciation, and care is totally worth it. Plus, I always get a couple of cute notes back and I gain the trust of some of those hard to reach kids ; )

August 6, 2012

The Misfit Piece

At our Teach For America summit today, we had to bring in a 5-7 minute story about ourselves.  There weren’t a lot of guidelines beyond that, so I wanted to share what I came up with.  It’s pretty personal and discusses how I struggled a bit before finally getting into teaching.

My Story

Have you ever made a really big puzzle before?  Not those kid ones that have a two-digit quantity of pieces, but those huge ones that you work on slowly for weeks?  Well, I have made a bunch of those.  I was raised on puzzles as a kid, and my family almost always had one out in the dining room for all of us to pop in and work on for a bit.  It was a good bonding experience, but that’s not the story I want to tell today.

I brought up these challenging puzzles because of that misfit piece.  There comes a time when you get really frustrated with a the puzzle you’re working on, and even one fitted piece would make you feel as though you’ve made significant progress.  You come across the piece you think you’re looking for, and it really looks like it should fit where you had planned.  But then you notice that the edges aren’t quite matched up.  You realize you can either leave the piece there, and hope that maybe it is the right piece in the end, or you can accept defeat, take it out, and find its true home.

Well, until October of 2010, I was that misfit piece.  I was determined to keep trying different places to see where my perfect fit was, but I constantly found myself stuck where I didn’t quite match up with my peers.  This started in college, when before freshman year started, I gave up on my dream of teaching and opted for a better financial future by majoring in economics instead.  Sure I enjoyed my econ classes and did really well on my exams and projects, but was my heart in it?  No.

After a summer job at a hotel, I realized that maybe I should veer into business instead.  I really enjoyed working with people, and felt that a Masters in Economics might trap me behind a desk, while a Masters in Business would keep me interacting with all different kinds of people.  I applied to a private college with a great reputation for its business school, was granted a sizeable scholarship, and found a way to commute from home to save for the remaining tuition.  Everything was lining up, and I was ready to finally feel like I was in the right place.

Unfortunately, figuring out logistics doesn’t mean you’ve figured out your life path.  In my two year MBA program, I completed three internships, one full-time summer HR job, and three graduate assistantships.  At three of these positions, I was told by a manager that while I was doing fantastic work, I needed to change my personality to fit better with the company.  Yes, I cried over this.  It’s hard enough to change your work ethic, but your personality?  I was basically told that “we like your work- we just don’t like you.”  That was tough.

I also faced a lot of challenges fitting in with my peers.  The team I was put on for the first year was very frustrating to work with because it took us so long to decide on how to complete projects, and often times, I ended up doing more than my fair share of the workload.  My second year was even harder because we had to choose our own teams.  I had one class where I was almost certain I was going to drop it to make room for a consulting project instead, and a girl still refused to allow me on her team.  All I could think of was “is this seriously still happening when I’m 22 years old?”  I can understand if someone didn’t want to work with a slacker, but I was hard-working, dependable, and rarely got lower than an A in any course.  I hated this girl for humiliating me for a while, but perhaps I should thank her for what happened next.

There I was, sitting in the back row of a Technology in Business class, occasionally adding comments to the heated discussion on social media in the workplace when I had one single thought: “I wish I was teaching elementary school kids right now.”

To this day I can’t tell you where this thought came from, or why it popped up in the middle of that class.  But suddenly, I was scouring the web for ways to become a teacher.  I figured it was a phase that I would forget in a week, but I kept feeling a pull towards the classroom.  I ended up applying to Teach For America the day I saw Waiting for Superman in the theater- not because the movie is amazing, but because the whole time I thought “I WANT TO DO THIS!”

I was so scared when I sent that TFA application in.  I didn’t tell my parents because I was afraid they would be upset that I wasn’t using their generously funded MBA wisely.  I didn’t tell anyone at business school because I was afraid they would look at me like I’m crazy- “You’re going to apply for WHAT?”  But January rolled around, and I found out I had skipped the next step in the application process and had to schedule an interview two hours out of town.  This meant it was time to fess up.

Lucky for me, my parents ended up being really supportive.  They were surprised at my decision to be a teacher, but I think they could see it was something I had put a lot of thought into.  I completed my interview and was sent an e-mail a few weeks later saying I would be teaching elementary school in Tulsa for the 2011-2012 school year.

While my classmates discussed which job offers they should take- three figure salary at Corporation A, or two figure salary plus stock options at Corporation B, I was visiting local classrooms and furiously taking notes about how to manage a small group during centers.  I kept worrying that this huge risk wouldn’t pay off, but I can tell you standing here today that it did.

Yes I’m poor.  Yes, I’ve had days where I feel like I’ve completely failed a child.  And yes, I’ve even burst into tears a couple times in the teacher’s lounge.  But I did the impossible- I found my place in this big puzzle we called life.  I get along great with my co-workers.  I created my own family of wise owls with my class.  I found a job I enjoy getting up for every day.  I get excited about coming up with engaging lessons, centers, and projects for my kids.  And I feel like I’m genuinely helping people every day.  After 23 years of indecision and heartache, I’ve found a place where I can be the best version of me- and if that isn’t a perfect fit, I’m not sure what is.

August 2, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Coming back to Tulsa has come with a few unexpected surprises (of the bad kind), but let me give you some quick background.  I’m the type of person that makes a certain amount of friends, feels good about that group, and then doesn’t bother to really work on making more close friends.  Yes, I have people I see at big events and work meetings, but once I have my core support system, I’m pretty content.  It takes a lot for me to really work at widening my circle.  This past year I would say I was even more content than usual with just a few close friends.  I had to move to a whole new place, start a whole new career, and become physically and financially independent from my parents for the first time in my life.  That’s a lot to deal with- so making good friends had to come after taking care of my sanity.  Alright, that should be enough background- let’s move back to the present.

In the past month, two teachers at my school have left because they were offered better jobs, I was assigned a new manager for TFA (this is the 3rd time in a year…), one of my closest friends here was on the verge of moving out of the state (thank god she is staying!), I was getting into arguments with my co-workers constantly over how furniture should be arranged, and my small prospect of a boyfriend was gone before we even got started.  Now most people have families and their best friends they’ve known for years to get through these challenges.  I, unfortunately, don’t have either of those here.  Phone calls help- but we all know that’s not the same as coming home to those who love you.

I realized people I could count on last year are not permanent.  Things will change this year.  I’m teaching a whole new grade (a testing grade- which adds pressure), I may or may not create that same wise owl family with my students that I leaned on so much last year, and my teaching partner for my grade is not confirmed until a few weeks into school based on enrollment (so I don’t have anyone to collaborate with that I know will definitely be with me all year).  Having people who can support you through these unknowns is crucial.  I really wish people could appreciate how great it is to have a spouse, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews within a short drive (if not in your home).  Most days I’m okay being on my own, but others can be really difficult.

I have one year left as a Tulsa TFA corps member.  After that, it will likely be my choice to stay here and continue teaching at my school, move to a new school in a new city, or move back and teach in my hometown.  I’m lucky to have my career choice nailed down, but the place where I work long term?  That’s definitely a big question mark come May.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past month.  Yes, I had a lot of bad things happen those first few weeks back, but I’m not one to just stay depressed about something for long.  I like to find ways to make my life better.  So while I type out my big goals for my students, I am mentally drafting some for myself.  My biggest goal?  I want to really give Tulsa a shot this year.  I want to experience the annual festivals.  I want to check out this annual fair I hear so much about from my kids.  I want to find ways outside of teaching to help the community.  And most of all, I want to get to know more people.

I’ve already started on my goal a bit.  A big reason I don’t get out as much is having to take care of my dog on my own.  Well, I found a great dog park only a couple miles away that attracts a lot of people.  It’s been fun to go out and chit chat with random Tulsans for an hour while AJ gets to know the canine community.  I also joined a dog walking group on Meetup, and hopefully will get to know more dog lovers through their monthly group walks.

I also *finally* joined Tulsa Young Professionals last week.  The more I learn about this organization, the more fantastic I think it is.  It has a bunch of different work crews to get involved in that get you plugged in to your interests and helping the community.  They also have a lot of events including seminars, happy hours, volunteer jobs, and a running groups.  I volunteered with them at a music festival last week, and today I went to their little intro session for new members.  I can’t wait to start working with them, and they have a social event next week I plan on attending with some friends : )

Do I want to live in Tulsa past this school year?  I really don’t know yet.  I know I belong in the classroom as a teacher, but figuring out if I belong in Tulsa as me is going to take some time.

“Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m going to make this place your home.” Phillip Phillips, Home