Thursday, December 19, 2019

Waiting for Summer: The Detrimental Effects of Putting Work Before Yourself

I wrote a while back about my struggle with PMDD. Untreated, I spiral into depressions, anxiety, and panic attacks. I have trouble believing myself likable; I tend to think most friendships based on pity or a need to avoid an awkward conversation.

A couple of years ago I was put on seizure medicine, and, as per usual, my body took on many of the more rare side-effects. Most of these have been allayed by adjusting the dosage, but one that I did not realize at the time was interference with my birth control, which I was taking to control my PMDD.

I mean, I was unusually stressed in November, but that could be explained by outside factors. I didn't fully recover over winter break, but maybe that was because break was shorter last year and I didn't really get a lot of downtime, so it made sense that I was feeling a little defeated. I had lots of reasons to tell myself that my feelings made sense and weren't out of the ordinary considering all of the factors I could point out to myself. I just needed to keep going and when summer came, I could rest.

Until February. February 2019 was not a special month at all. Nothing happened that I could point to. I just started spiraling out of control. Crying on the way to work and sometimes in my empty classroom. Crying on my way home--basically whenever I was alone.

I finally decided to talk to my doctor. That summer.

I was way too busy to go right then.

March brought with it a new level of depression and anxiety, and with it, a sensation I hadn't experienced since I was in fifth grade: the wish to die. If you haven't experienced that level of depression, you will mistake it for being suicidal. There is a difference. I didn't wish to take my own life. I was just okay with my life ending, and not having to face the world anymore. The line between these two things seems thin, but it's large and important. Still, it's not healthy, and I let my husband know I was in a bad place and that I was definitely going to see my doctor because I was pretty sure the hormones were not working anymore.

As soon as I could get in to see her that summer.

March is a very busy month.

I somehow stumbled through April and May, crying, wishing to die, and being possibly the worst teacher I have been in my life--I had trouble making myself go to work, so trying to do much more some days was almost beyond me--and finally made it to the summer.

I saw my doctor. She was aghast that I'd waited. She could tell by my demeanor that I was not myself.

I got a new prescription that I had to wait to start.

I had to go be professional before I got to start my prescription and had a depressive attack publicly. I think mostly only good friends realized it happened. I still feel ashamed that it happened and that I lost control in that setting.

I am ashamed of the teacher I was last year. I feel like I let students and my teammates down. I definitely let myself down.

The Moral of the Story

Luckily, once I started my new prescription, things changed. To a huge degree. I have since realized that my depression had started even before November. This school year I missed half of pre-planning and expected to start school even more exhausted and unmotivated than last year. Last year I missed no pre-planning, I just got back to the state right before pre-planning and I was uninspired. I liked my students--that has remained unchanged throughout all of this, thank goodness--but I could not get excited about any aspect of teaching.

This year I was excited. I wrote stories and plans and created things to share with the other teachers in my department. I have finished another unit for Stepping Into CI and am thinking about finally finishing a novella I started a year and a half ago. I have been inventing games again. I am slowly becoming my old self again.

And I compare that to where I started the school year last August and I realize that I was already sinking. I was already viewing things negatively.

I waited almost a year to get help for myself.

I waited until summer.

And that was so very dangerous.

We are trained as teachers to put our jobs, our careers, ahead of ourselves. And I am an especially driven teacher; at least half of my identity is wrapped up in being a teacher (a good part of what remains is being a mother, with some little bit left over for being a wife--my poor husband). It feels wrong to me to give up time to almost anything, including doctor's visits, when I've scheduled things like board meetings, or I need to grade, or plan, and I am almost unable to take a day off for that purpose (the one exception being to take my son to the doctor).

Yet imagine if I had gone at the first sign of danger in November, or when I really realized things were wrong in February. Imagine how much better my classes would have been if I had gone to get help in March when things were irrefutably wrong.

Who else out there should be getting help now, but is waiting for winter break? spring break?

Who else out there is waiting for summer?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Slap Jack: A Small Group Alternative to Flyswatter

Almost every teacher has played a version of Flyswatter. If you haven't, it basically goes:
  1. Project information on the board/screen.
  2. Divide the class into two teams.
  3. Give representatives from each team a flyswatter.
  4. Have students hit the correct information with said flyswatters based on clues.
  5. Hilarity ensues.
I have played this game with my students off and on for sixteen years. I generally have enjoyed it, and there have been some nice improvements on the game, such as Keith Toda's move toward pictures and sentences instead of just vocabulary.

However, as my classes have grown in size and, to be honest, changed in demographic from students who are super engaged in school to students who feel much less represented and are therefore largely disaffected with academia, I find that flyswatter leads to poor classroom management that, at best, means a bunch of students are sitting around not paying attention for large sections of class time and, at worst, means juggling student behavior while still trying to keep a semblance of a "fun review."

So, simply, I stopped using it. But I missed it.

I also wanted to do something that would allow students to self-select a difficulty level and provide a means of differentiation as my classes and those of my colleagues have grown more inclusive of students with learning differences.

Here's my solution: Slap Jack!

I took the images I would have used in a round of Flyswatter and made them into images I could cut out, then created a ppt with sentences to go with the images, and voila! A small-group version where all students are engaged.

Slap Jack
  1. Gather images and sentences you would like to use. I used images and sentences from some short vocabulary stories we had recently read in preparation for a myth we were about to read.
  2. Divide the images into 4-5 groups. For this one, I made four groups. Mark the backs of the images with the number of their group so you can keep track. For example, if there are six images that will be called out first, they are in group 1 and need to have "1" written on the back of their pictures.
  3. Make a powerpoint or Google slides that coordinates with the group numbers (without putting group numbers on it). So the first six sentences are all for group 1 images (I put the answers on the ppt as well), and the second six (or whatever number you set) are for group 2 images, etc.
  4. Cut the images out and put them in envelopes marked with the group numbers. This is the most tedious part of preparation. I made ten sets of images so I could have nine groups and an emergency set.
  1. Put the ppt on the board and give students a chance to choose how hard to make their game. 1 envelope = easiest setting, 2 envelopes = medium, all envelopes = hardest. Make sure they know to keep the envelopes in order and that they need to open them and use them in order.
  2. Have students take their chosen number of envelopes and put out the images face up between them all.
  3. When the sentence goes on the board, say it out loud. The first student in each group to slap the right image gets to hold on to that image.
  4. Whenever you finish a group, give time for setup for any groups who are doing one envelope at a time.
  5. When you finish all the images, students count their images to find out who got the most points in each group. You can give prizes if you want to.
  1. Cleanup is pretty easy--have students look at the numbers on the backs of the pictures and put them in the correct envelopes!
I wish I had taken some pictures but I was just caught up in the moment so I didn't. Sorry. What I can offer is the Google slides and document I made for the game we played earlier this year.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Interactive Vocabulary - a New Take

Firstly, let's start with credits!

Credit to Suzy from TeachStudentSavvy for the idea for this activity. I found it originally on Pinterest, but her blog post explains it very well and gives visual samples! The links I link below are my own creations using Google Docs. You can find her original post here.

I came across this looking for ideas how to help a student with vocabulary. We were coming to a head on how to help them achieve their goals in Latin when our traditional CI strategies were not simply enough. I had looked at a few ideas on Pinterest, but I wanted something that provided extra support and could be a resources as needed in class. Then I found Suzy's idea: VocAPPulary!

Basically, the idea is that students create an interactive vocabulary sheet that has a variety of information on it. Suzy's examples are from science and mine are from Latin below.

Suzy put it best: "It combines the use of illustration, word walls, and flashcards in a trendy, student-friendly package." (TeachStudentSavvy, 2019).

You start with a blank cellphone template. Here is mine without boxes. Here is mine with 8 boxes already added. I drew these on my computer.

Students then add to this template the key vocabulary and notes. Here is an image of some I made for the first chapter of Pluto: fabula amoris. I colour coded my notes and included the following for each word: The Latin word, the definition in English, a note about derivatives, or categories, or similar words, and a note about a single Latin word that is related. Subsequent chapters make use of other primary colours for the Latin word and meaning.

The student then took blank boxes and drew a picture of the word. They cut those images out and taped them to the completed cell phone template.

Now, the student has a resource. They automatically see the words and the images. They can then flip up the image to find the definition and some notes.

In subsequent chapters I also considered including notes like:

  • other forms of the word
  • sentences using the word
  • personalised questions (What do you find beautiful? What do you like to do? etc)
  • examples
With this particular student, I slowly lessened the amount of notes I wrote for them. As we get further into the chapters, they will have to fill in more and more information with me, their teacher, or on their own. This is so that eventually they can make this on their own without my assistance.

If I were doing this with an entire class, we would take the notes together.

Here is the completed set of handouts I made for this activity including the phone template and empty boxes for drawing images and cutting and pasting.

Here is a completed example of the VocAPPulary using the same first chapter as above: