#disconnected

Last week I did something that seemed impossible.

Let me start by setting the scene with a brief description of the devices in my home. In my office, I have a desktop computer with a second monitor, plus a television. I also have a work laptop that I use sometimes when I need the Mac or just need a third screen. Like any good bookworm, I have two Kindle Fires and a Kindle Paperwhite. I have a gaming laptop in the living room and a smaller laptop that I use when I need something more portable (gaming laptops are heavy). I also have a Nintendo Switch Lite (though I’m in the process of upgrading to a full-sized Switch, and I’m so excited). Oh yeah, plus my cell phone.

All of these screens help me keep track of all my various roles, including three Microsoft Teams accounts, five email accounts, and several social media accounts, both professional and personal, plus they help me relax and engage in my hobbies. It can all be a bit much sometimes.

Cartoon-style image of a frustrated woman surrounded by computers and other electronic devices

Last week, I disconnected. I mean I DISCONNECTED. Completely. Entirely. No screens. No email. No Teams. No messages. No social media.

It was more intoxicating than a mojito-filled pineapple on the beach in the Bahamas.

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#AECT21 – A Return to Conventions!

When I was a kid, I loved going to VFW Conventions with my mom. As an undergrad, I attended my first professional conference when I presented at NCTE 2013 in Boston. As a young professional, I jumped at any opportunity to attend an NCTE or ISTE conference, though I found it to be a struggle to find funding and time off for professional conferences. Like many others, I haven’t attended a conference in person since before the pandemic, when I flew to Vegas in 2019 to accept an award for a journal article that I co-authored. Even then, as it was during the school year, I was only able to get a substitute for three days of that convention.

Last week brought me back to the world of conferences in a big way, and after getting full-time immersive experience, I am contentedly exhausted from a week of attending AECT 2021 and exploring the city of Chicago.

I have a terrible track record of writing these reflections after attending an important event (Exhibit A: the April 2021 TxDLA reflection that is still sitting half-finished in my drafts folder), so this time I’m taking advantage of some airport WiFi to reflect on my experiences while they’re still fresh. Or at least get started in my reflection before I board my flight home.

Side note: As I’m becoming more of an academic and a researcher and learning about various research methods, I’m wondering if these blog reflections constitute a form of auto-ethnography.

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Once a teacher, always a teacher

This morning, I took the dogs outside and when I didn’t immediately melt under Texas heat, I realized that it is September. In fact, it’s almost the middle of September. Since I left teaching middle school, I’ve found myself far less capable of tracking time. I thought time had no meaning during the pandemic lockdowns; I had no idea people with “regular” jobs had to work so hard to know what month it is!

This year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have a true summer, and I honestly frequently forgot that it was summer until I’d walk outside of the house. Between working full time as an Instructional Designer and taking two intensive 10-week doctoral courses, June to August was actually the busiest couple months of my year so far, maybe even of my life so far.

Now that I’ve made it to the other side of that stressful semester, it’s time to take a step back and do some reflecting. As I do at the end of every semester, I like to think about what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained, and what I need to keep doing, but this time I’m finding myself in the middle of an identity crisis.

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The Future Dr. Hebert

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the end of my last synchronous online meeting of CUIN 3312: Educational Technology, one of my students commented that I am Superwoman for teaching their class while teaching full time and working on my doctorate. I personally don’t think I am Superwoman, but I am probably crazy. This has been a… busy semester, to say the least.

I knew what I was getting myself into when I started. I thought long and hard about whether to continue teaching at the University of Houston once I started my own doctoral classes, and ultimately decided that I just could not give up teaching that class. Teaching CUIN 3312 is the highlight of my week every week. It’s my favorite part of my busy schedule, and there was no way I would give it up. So, I knew coming into this semester that I would be one busy beaver, teaching at UH and teaching 8th grade English and completing two doctoral classes all at the same time. I did step down as department chair because even I have limitations, and I didn’t feel I could commit to the amount of extra time the position required in order to do it well. I probably could have made it happen if I needed to, but I knew that I would not be as good of a leader for my department with all my extra responsibilities.

Of course, I did not anticipate the pandemic. (Who did?) I did not know how different and how impossible my job as an 8th grade English teacher was going to be this semester. I received my acceptance email to Sam Houston State University on March 5th, just weeks before the pandemic lockdowns began. I have thought numerous times about whether or not I would have stuck with starting the program this year or if I would have postponed my doctoral plans for another year if I’d had the foreknowledge of what this semester was going to be like. And if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I don’t think I would have changed it. What can I say? I’m stubborn. I mean, determined.

And so here I am, once again sitting in front of the post editor on my blog and reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past fifteen weeks of classwork. It’s been more than two years since I last did this, and yet it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I know that I am just one of those people that is as comfortable as a student as I am a teacher. Even in the two years between completing my MEd and beginning my EdD, I never stopped learning.

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The Professional Development We Need (And Deserve)

An amazing thing happened today. I found myself this afternoon standing in the front of my classroom, desks in evenly spaced rows, a big jug of blue hand sanitizer near the door, my laptop projecting on the Promethean board, my iPad under the document camera, a bright yellow mask on my face. Spread out in a mixture of standing or sitting on top of the desks, a group of English teachers laughed, commiserated, and eagerly listened and shared ideas in preparation of our foray into hybrid education that starts Monday.

For the past month, I have been a ball of anxiety. I have come home from work angry and upset just about every day. I’ve started chomping on Smoothie Tums like they’re candy, and I’m in the middle of a two week cycle of Prilosec. Like many districts, mine is getting ready to start phasing students back to face-to-face, meaning that starting Monday, I’ll have students joining me in my actual classroom and students joining me via Cisco Webex from home, all at the same time. To increase the anxiety, we’re transitioning from a half day schedule (two groups of students, one AM and one PM), to a full day, complete with a whole new bell schedule and all new rosters of students. For the past three weeks of virtual learning, I taught eight separate 45-minute classes, but starting Monday, I’ll have three 100-minute block classes. Because why not throw a full schedule change into the middle of stressful pandemic teaching?

I consider myself a good classroom teacher; I strive to do what is best for my students every day and to improve my practice through research-based strategies. And I think I’ve done a good job of teaching virtually for the past three weeks that we’ve been fully online. But the prospect of teaching both at the same time… how will that even work?

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Technology: It’s Not Just for the Students

In case you were not aware, today was #DigitalLearningDay. As far as I’m concerned, just about every day in my classroom is a digital learning day, but I am not one to pass up an opportunity to show off my EdTech prowess and design something extra special for the occasion.

For the past week, I worked with one of my favorite teacher besties who is also my across the hall classroom neighbor to build out an Escape Room activity. It was pretty rockin’ if I do say so myself. Even our admin team thought that it was a great learning experience for our kiddos.

Me and my across the hall teacher bestie with our Digital All-Star stickers and rocking our AVID shirts! ❤
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#ThisIsTeaching

My feet hurt, the underwire in my bra has come free and is stabbing me, I have a papercut on my finger from making copies, half of my lipstick is gone, there are no less than three different hair clips holding together this hairstyle that one of my students described as looking like broccoli (uncooked, not covered in cheese).

Today I had a really good lesson with a mixture of silent choice reading in the library and reviewing a big test they took last week to prepare for the upcoming STAAR. I used non-technology notecards for silent reading trackers. I used technology with Pear Deck for test review and in-depth, very animated discussions.

This is teaching.

Sometimes, well often, I struggle in this profession. I struggle with balancing what I know my students need and teaching to the test, with whether or not I’m doing a good enough job, with how much work I have to take home with me, with how much emotional baggage I take home with me, with how exhausted I always am.

And then sometimes I have a good lesson. Not even an awesome lesson or amazing lesson, and it wasn’t a perfect day. I still had deal with discipline and students who won’t listen or don’t get it. But it was a good lesson.

And when I left work today and thought about how my general appearance started out looking pretty snazzy with the makeup and styled hair and a dress and ended up with the description above, I realized how great this job can be.

If that even makes sense.

This is teaching.

Reflecting on Experiences

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

Sitting in a session about the effect of teacher education on teacher attrition and retention, I heard this quote from John Dewey, and it struck me deeply. I have been sadly lacking in this reflection since I completed my masters this past August. Of course, I knew this would happen. Many of my reflections in this blog centered around my masters coursework; in fact, the original creation of this blog was an assignment. However, having earned my degree certainly does not mean I am done learning or done reflecting.

I am, of course, proud of having completed my degree and of my several subsequent accomplishments. I’ve started drafts of posts about those accomplishments, but without a deadline or a requirement, I haven’t completed them. Even this post is coming a solid month after I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention and heard this quote. Continue reading

The Promise and Hope of Our Students

I haven’t had much of a chance yet this semester to sit down and talk about the two classes I’m taking in this last spring semester of my masters education (just one or two classes this summer and I’ll be done!). I think it’s time to remedy that.

This semester I’m taking another professional seminar class that is split into three mini-courses taught by three different professors, just like the one I took last semester. This time, the three topics are Best Practices, Leadership, and Social Justice, but I’m going to focus on Social Justice here. Continue reading

“Miss, I think you turned me into a reader.”

I am a teacher. I love my students fiercely. I do everything in my power to ensure that they are successful, not just on state assessments, but in life.

I am also human. And I get discouraged. And tired. And many days I question how long I can continue in such a mentally demanding and draining profession. This STAAR overloaded time of  year is always hard for me. I get hung up on the feeling that no matter how much I help my students, it’s never good enough. There’s never enough I can do. I let myself get overwhelmingly upset about students who I know are growing and learning and doing their best but still can’t pass.

During these times, it’s easy to get lost in the negativity and it can be hard to find the positive. I know that it is so important to focus on and celebrate the positives. My advisory class this morning watched Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk about the happy secret to better work. We discussed what he said about happiness coming before success, not the other way around. If you have a free 15 minutes, I suggest watching it. I watch it at least once a year to remind myself to calm down and look at the good.

I have had a lot of successes recently in my classroom that I need to celebrate (and maybe brag a little), starting with the Outside Reading Project. Continue reading