I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s time to make things Internet-official. I’m stepping out of the classroom next year and taking a leave of absence. I’m excited beyond expression, but I’m also scared. Scared that maybe I’ll never come back or that I’ll realize I was doing things wrong the whole time. Scared that I’ll be away from inspiring educators and remarkable kids who keep me going. Scared that I won’t take full advantage of this opportunity.
Who am I when I’m not a teacher? Am I really going to stop being a teacher when I’m out of the classroom? How can I best improve myself and equip myself to return to a vocationÂ of teaching and learning?
I’m fortunate that the district approved my leave (after sending me a very official piece of certified mail that lookedÂ SO SERIOUS that Toby texted me asking if I was in trouble). I’m fortunate for the Internet so that I won’t be isolated in this year away. I’m fortunate for the support of remarkable friends who help me become a better person. I’m fortunate for administrators whoÂ advocateÂ for the best interests of my students and for the mental health of educators.
Although I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with depression and mania, mental health isn’t the core of why I’m leaving, although I think it does explain why I feel so thoroughly drained and ready for reflection. Teachers leave the profession because they’re burnt out. I hope I’ve caught myself before going over the burnout cliff, and that I will returnÂ to my classroom a more thoughtful and proficient educator.
This week is spring break. I’m working with Toby to craft some sort of framework or schedule so I don’t just sink into a fog of ennui in my bed and never emerge. As first-world-problem as it seems, breaks and vacations are really difficult for me, and it often takes a few weeks into the summer before I stop feeling like my skin is crawling. Routines and schedules help my students, and they help me too. One of my tasksÂ is to write something every day. So here’s my work for today.
Learning, apprenticeship, and study. Those are today’s intentions.
I’m a laughable cook, but a pretty proficient baker. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have sizable lapses in my knowledge. This morning, I engaged in a Twitter conversation with MJ, a representative at King Arthur Flour. Here was my takeaway:
The impact of the positive baking reinforcement I'm receiving from @KingArthurFlour is directly related to the feedback we give our students
Not only did MJ provide fabulous customer service, our conversation also mirrors what I hope a writing / math / literacy conference looks like in my class.
Walk with me through our exchange. I’ve bolded critical moments that we both took as student and as teacher.
First, I took a risk. I started with a vanilla scone mix and made the choice to cut up some fresh raspberries. I also ran out of regular milk, so I used almond milk instead. Struck with a lack of confidence, I Tweeted:
I've either made the most glorious @KingArthurFlour scones or potentially a disaster. Used almond milk and fresh raspberries in my batter.
It was a timely response from MJ, which offers a suggestion with “as long as the dough is not too wet,” as well as encouragement, “nice and tender and light.” Both comments are immediately practical and specific.
@KingArthurFlour You have the best Twitter presence. They are soggy. 8 mins to go, though! No fault of the product's, obvi.
There’s the positive reinforcement. MJ recognized my effort with a specific compliment, “I love the pink color,” and she also nudged me further and gave me next steps with “just a little cream on the side.”
Then, she gave me this Lucy-Calkins-esque “off you go” statement:
@MsHoughton Teaching and learning is what keeps us going forward. Enjoy your yummy scones! ~ MJ
Finally, as I was typing this post up, surprised that just three tweets could have such a huge impact on my baking experience, I realized the last key to this effective conference was that MJ kept it brief.
Here are my scones!
Where do you find conferring moments in your extracurricular activities?
Julian, in addition to being an excellent advisor on men’s clothing and home goods, is also an all-around encouraging chap, personally and professionally. So when I sent him a message FREAKING OUT that Paul O. Zelinsky suggested we meet up in New York, Julian told me I should totally go for it. “But for reals?” I think I probably squealed. “YES FOR REALS.” He said, but probably not in all caps. I’m the one who’s heavy on the shift key.
So on April 2, I met Paul O. Zelinsky! (Toby says he hates it when I refer to Paul by his full name. He’s taken to calling him “Paulo” with an Italian accent.)
Paul suggested I meet up with him to see him speak at the Gateway School, the first private school I’ve ever been inside.
On my way to the school, I accidentally entered the AMDA building, located next door to Gateway (there was scaffolding up, so I couldn’t see what was written on the storefront). “Hi there, I’m Shannon Houghton, here as a guest of Paul Zelinsky?” I said. “Ashley?” The woman asked me, handing me a name tag with Ashley Somethingorother printed on it. She gestured me toward a staircase. “We’re ready for you, you’re going to head up the stairs to the left.”
Apparently I was about to perform an audition at my potential educational institution. I TOTALLY SHOULD HAVE GONE and posed as Ashley, but instead I said, “No, wait wait wait, I’m SHANNON, and I’m looking for the Gateway School?” “Oh, next door.” I hurried out, bumping into a nervous-looking young curly-haired woman, who was presumably Ashley. “Good luck!” I said, earning a perplexed look.
I went up to the 6th floor and wow. What a facility. Then I met Paul, who was setting up for his presentation. YAY! Meeting in person!!!
An aside that I haven’t had a chance to blog about yet so whatevs, I’ll just make this into an enormously lengthy post. I had “met” Paul in late 2012 when he Skyped with our classroom.
Which was glorious in and of itself. We got to see his studio AND EVEN his grandmother’s painting that inspired his version of Hansel and Gretel (which I learned about in the excellent biography Show and Tell). He even wore a Yale sweatshirt because I told him we’d be Skyping on our school’s college dress day. Little things like that make me so impressed with humanity.
With the wee kids, Paul talked about Z is for Moose and read it out loud (amazing). He explained the difference between tight and loose art.
He collaborated with students to create a ZMoose.
Seeing someone draw in person is breathtaking. The kids applauded Paul’s rad charcoal sketches.
After the presentation and a book signing (And isn’t it remarkable when someone is able to put people at ease even if their companion is obviously kind of nervous? Mr. Schu told me that’s something Paul does well, and he was right), we took the subway to Brooklyn and then we had snacks at Paul’s studio, where I had a chance to hold a thumbnail book mockup (!!!!!!) and all sorts of original art.
Did you know that the veneer sheets that Swamp Angel and Dust Devil were so super-thin and flexible you can see light through them? They’re gorgeous. GORGEOUS. The cover art for Rapunzel made me all weepy, and the gold thread on the cover for Rumplestiltskin (my favorite POZ book) absolutely glowed.
You may have seen that Julian dropped by…
So in addition to seeing Paul draw earlier in the day, I also had a chance to see him use Photoshop. <3
We took a circuitous walking route to lunch that took me by amazing buildings (the entire neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights is protected as a historical site) and an incredible view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
The view of the city from Brooklyn Heights is probably the best I’ve ever seen. I didn’t bother taking a picture because I knew I’d just be disappointed that I didn’t capture it right. Not to get all John Mayer circa 2001 on you, but it’s true.
We ate, then we parted ways! And that was my day! (Well, there was actually more, there was also ridiculous dress-purchasing at Hooti Couture and seeing All in the Timing. It was kind of an insane day.)
I don’t know how to end this post! Other than to thank Paul for being so generous with his time; for being such a friendly and talented and charming human being. And to thank Julian for giving me permission to not let fear stop me from going on adventures.
Thanks as ever to Niki OhsBarnes for getting this snacky show on the road.
Today I’m planning my next social studies unit, which focuses on geography. I’m SUPER pumped because this will line up really nicely with our plant science unit — the culminating activity for the social studies unit is to create a community nature center guide, with each kid picking a different community in the US and discussing the plant life (and landforms) found there.
I’m hoping it might also be a good time to play around with Mystery Skypes, which I heard about from the inspiring, thoughtful Cheryl Steighner. This is my social studies unit for my National Board entry, so I’m hoping to make it really beefy and wonderful.
Anywho, back to snacks. Upon discovering I’m officially, medically overweight (according to one measure), I pretty much eliminated sweets from our house. But I do still have AMAZING Michigan potato chips from my parents’ thoughtful Christmas prezzie. I have an entire CASE of Better Made BBQ chips. YESSSSSSS. (“What do you want for Christmas, Shannon?” “All of the Michigan things!” And they delivered. Because my mother is the best gift-buyer on the planet)
OMG speaking of which, look at what SANTA included with Toby’s Taco Bell gift certificate.
Yeah. So snacks. Salty > Sweet every time. Happy Treat Tuesday.
Oh! And so you should totally follow my mom on Twitter. She’s kind of seriously the best around. And she has mastered the art of ironic hashtags.
I asked Toby to walk through starting a webstream with me. He spends forever and always watching Minecraft streams and indie game streams and League of Legend streams. (I was going to link to all of the streams that are constantly being broadcast in the mancave, but Toby pointed out that most of the streamers use profane language. Which is another topic for another day.)
Anyway. So why’d I bother setting up a stream? I mean, I know I’m not going to be fascinating to watch, unlike my artist pals who livestream their sketching. WHICH IS AMAZING. But I have had a few folks ask me how I’m able to design units or assessments or write stuff so quickly, so I thought seeing what I’m doing might be useful. Plus, you get to listen to the sweet tunes I’m listening to. And eventually you’ll be able to hear my commentary too.
AND WHO KNOWS, maybe one day you’ll be able to watch me die aÂ fieryÂ death in Minecraft.
So here’s how I got everything set up. It took me less than an hour, and that included me getting grouchy and stopping briefly.
1. Acquire streaming software.
If you have Windows, you can use FFSPLITÂ and have a stream ready to go in two seconds. No joke. It’s crazy-fast. I don’t have Windows. If you have Windows, skip to step 4.
2. Cry because you’re using a Mac. Shake your fist at your father because you know he’s laughing at you for using a Mac.
3. Look at this article. Follow all the directions EXACTLY. All of them. (The only thing I changed was that I created a streaming account at Twitch rather than JustinTV.)
I’ve been reading quite a bit in the past week, mostly before bed as I’ve been a slacker as far as taking the bus goes. Yesterday my iPad fell on my face while I was reading The Second Siege in bed. Whoops.