Category Archives: in the field

in the field

do quit your day job

October 1, 2015

do quit your day job

Hello!

Today I am teaming up with The Ladders, a career building company that wants to help you find a new career or improve your current one. They’ve asked me to share with you all the interesting bits about my career, and more specifically, how my “first” job got me here. Close friends will tell you that I had a bit of a quarter life crisis when it came to my first post-college job, and they’ll also tell you I love talking about finding happiness in your work. So I’m super excited to share this with you today.

For those that don’t know, I am currently a 5th grade science and math teacher. This is my first year of teaching. I know now that elementary education is the field where I have the most talent and can do my best work, but if you’d told me in 2007 that I’d be a teacher in eight years, I would have laughed. So hard. Right in your face. I never could have imagined teaching was my calling when I was 18 years old. In fact, I had to become a drastically different person from the time I started college to the time I returned to school to even know that I wanted to teach–or even be capable of taking on such a unique and challenging career.

Now, let’s be clear. I’ve never been shy of a challenge. In fact, from the age of six or so, I’ve wanted to be a physician. (Just check out this diary entry from my elementary-aged self for proof!) When I started college at Drury University, I forged ahead with this plan, even though, during my freshman year, I was already unsure about my major. I dabbled in psychology my sophomore year, and then went full steam ahead as pre-med. I graduated with a degree in Biology and after graduation, was paralyzed with fear over applying to medical school. So I decided to recalibrate and started researching nursing and physician assistant (PA) programs. I settled on a PA program and got to work bolstering my CV with the necessary pre-requisites I lacked, like accumulating over 2,000 hours of direct patient care experience.

So I applied for jobs at the hospital and even applied to an Emergency Medical Technician program. I landed a position with a regional healthcare system as a clinical laboratory assistant. This position included no direct patient care responsibilities, but there was the possibility for performing phlebotomy (drawing blood for laboratory tests)  every now and then, so I took it. At the same time, I was accepted to an EMT program. Looking back, I can be honest and say I still had no intention of ever actually applying to any graduate programs in the medical field. I couldn’t admit it then that I didn’t want to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a PA, or an EMT, but I continued with the plan. Pretty much for the sake of the plan.

It would take me two years to finally come to terms with the fact that I hated  working in the medical field. My first “real job” as a clinical laboratory assistant was not something I enjoyed at all. Still, I kept at it, vying for time on the phlebotomy floor. I ended up working a double shift–everyday–for months–to try and secure a position as a full time phlebotomist. Around that same time, our laboratory started outsourcing to the Mayo Clinic. I was pulled back down to specimen processing, which was the gig I was hired for, without a word about how much time I’d spent with double shifts on my schedule. Nobody even told me whether I was a good phlebotomist or not. I didn’t really know how to speak up for myself, and my resentment towards my job grew to the point where I knew I could not remain in the field–at all. My indecisiveness about entering the medical field coupled with the dislike I had for my current job was enough for me throw my hands up and finally move onto a different path. I was done pushing against the resistance I felt from my own intuition.

I had always known I wanted a professional career with a high level of critical thinking and decision making, but what I hadn’t known as a college student was that I would come to value creativity to the same degree. I didn’t know that about myself in 2007. I didn’t know that until I grew up a little, changed in the ways that young adults do, and moped through a job for two years that had absolutely no hint of creativity. After several more months of soul searching and crying in the shower, I decided to look into teaching. I came to the decision in a very practical way–with a pro/con list. “Pros” included “Teaching is creative,” “I love learning,” “I love school,” “I love structure” “I have way more patience now than I did when I was 18” and “I won’t have to go back to college for another four years.” I knew immediately that I had found my place the minute I stepped into an elementary classroom. I knew it in my heart.

As a first year teacher, I work longer hours than I ever did pulling double shifts at the laboratory. We’re talking 12 hours several days of the week, plus a lot of time on Saturday. But every single morning I wake up so excited to go to work. Exhausted, mind you (I’ve taken to rubbing ice cubes under my eyes to perk up in the AM), but HAPPY.

For a long time it was hard for me to get over the time I “lost” as a lab assistant. At the end of that era, I felt like I’d wasted so much of my life (at the old age of 24). I know now that those two years were just a time that I had to take to learn about myself–time I didn’t take in college while I so stubbornly–doggedly–trudged forward with my major.

My friend Whitney, who is probably the wisest friend I have, told me that when you’re “in it”–in that wild and scary time of navigating toward what you are meant to do–it feels like the longest road with a switchback every two miles. But then, when you look back on it, you can connect the big dots in a pretty straightforward way. You come to realize that the path couldn’t have been any different. You had to go that way. This, coming from a gal who has known forever that she wanted to be a dentist and is embarking on year three of dental school. Hmm.

But her words are still true, I think. And I’ve learned a lot on that seemingly endless trail I had to take to find my niche in life. Such as…

If you’re no longer learning at your job, find one that is more challenging for you or better captures your interest.

If you’re on a path that feels downright wrong, listen to that feeling.

And certainly, if you wake up at 4:30 in the morning and dance a jig right straight out of bed–well, you’ve probably found what you’ve been looking for.

–Cat

in the field

Wellness Contract

July 17, 2015

Apples

I’m sharing with you a little tool I use to maximize my wellness at an awkward time because I have a cold that just won’t quit. I am unwell, considering I’ve demolished two bottles of DayQuil and two bottles of NyQuil in a week. Any suggestions?

Anyway, I’m starting a new job (a teaching job… have you heard? I talk about it all the time…) in two short weeks, and it’s times like these I like to sit down and have a little meeting with myself about my wellness. Wellness is such a relative term–what contributes most to my overall wellness changes all the time. This is why I think it’s important to check in with yourself prior to any big life changes (to preemptively plan for your wellness) or during times when you just feel icky–to get your wellness back on track. I like to develop what I call a Wellness Contract.

During the summer, my idea of wellness is sleeping till whenever, watching gobs of television, and idling by the side of the the pool. Of course, this sort of routine won’t do for the fall, when I’m responsible for the safety and intellectual development of 25 fifth graders. Even if I could manage that routine and still have a full-time job, a lack of structure does not make me very productive. So yeah–it’s time to check in and refresh my habits for a Fall 2015 Wellness Contract: First Year Teacher Edition!

I typically like to keep this concept simple, but there’s going to be so much going on in the fall. So this time around my Wellness Contract is a little lengthy–some points are super concrete, others are more like mantras–but you get the idea. Some things on my contract will really stick, and some will not. Be flexible with yourself–I find that usually the most important habits stick around even if you let some others go.

FALL 2015 WELLNESS CONTRACT: FIRST YEAR TEACHER EDITION

Professional:
pack lunch at night
clean out and repack tote nightly
arrive at school one hour before students
communicate, communicate communicate
ask for help!

Relationships:
plan one date night per month
make time for a friend one time per month
otherwise, say “no” guilt free

Personal:
one hour of TV a day
one hour at a coffee shop on Saturday–don’t take any work with you!
a few minutes of reading or meditation before bed

Fitness:
high protein breakfast
drink water during the day
daily movement; YMCA at least twice a week
grocery shop and cook food for the week on Sundays
maintain a sleep schedule

I’ve jotted all of this down into a little notebook and I’ll refer to it again and again throughout the semester. Next I’ll work on turning some of these points into actionable items–like going through the YMCA fitness class schedule and adding them to my calendar.

What would be on your Wellness Contract for fall?

–Cat

photo from Death to the Stock Photo

in the field

First Year Teacher Prep: Document Sorter

July 7, 2015

Paint Swatches

Good morning! Today I am sharing with you another tool I will be using to organize and manage my classroom that I DIY’d using paint swatches.

While shadowing my soon-to-be co-workers during the last few weeks of student teaching, this lady introduced me to the organizational tool that is going to change my life. It’s a document sorter!

One thing that all teachers deal with is PAPER. From Kindergarten teachers to college professors–paper, paper, paper. Even in classrooms that take care to reduce, reuse, and recycle–and even those that utilize 1:1 technology–you’ll still find paper turned into a tray somewhere.

Having students turn papers into a tray automatically creates a jumbled mess of papers. But what if those papers could be alphabetized (and thus, coordinated with the structure of your grade book) as they’re turned in? The document sorter is the tool just for that. And here is my DIY version made with paint swatches, brads, and labels.

DIY Document Organizer

You’ll also need a hole punch, and I added masking tape to the back to keep the swatches from pivoting around the brads. It’s really just a matter of hole punching each swatch in two spots (except for the first one) and attaching it to the swatch that comes before and after.

Adding the labels extended the length of the swatch so that an 8.5×11 piece of paper could fit in between swatches without covering up the next label.  I used a Sharpie to label my swatches 1 through 24. If I gain a few students, I just have to snag a few more swatches and attach them to the back!

Find a piece of scrap cardboard (like from a tissue box) to attach behind the last swatch so there’s a landing place for the last piece of paper.

Can you think of other ways to use this document sorter to fulfill a professional/creative organizational need?

–Cat

in the field

First Year Teacher Prep: Water Marbeled Labels

June 15, 2015

Water MarblingThis post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

Hello friends! Glad you’re here.

Special hello to any first year teachers. I hope we can become close friends, because my first year of teaching is right around the bend, too. Let’s be there for each other. Let’s navigate the First Day, in all of it’s uncertainty, together. And be there for epic fist pumps when the going gets good. Are you in?!

Over the next few weeks, find your way back here to snag ten ideas for preparing for the first year. Some are DIYs, some are organizational, and I hope all of them will be useful beyond the first year. Share the love with your fellow teachers, and definitely share your own ideas through a comment!

Today, I’m sharing with you a simple way to create beautiful labels through water marbling. This is a pretty easy technique and could cost you nothing, depending on the supplies you have on hand.

Supplies Needed:

sturdy white paper (like cardstock or scrapbooking paper)

a container that can accommodate the dimensions of your paper

nail polish in a variety of colors

lukewarm water

a method for writing on/labeling your paper (if that’s what you choose to do with your paper)

I snagged a few nail polishes in the colors I needed and found a stack of scrapbooking paper that was white on the back that I’d been hoarding for four years. I purchased some gold number stickers to add extra pizazz, because I knew I wanted to use these to label each of my kiddo’s “creative boxes” where we’ll store extra supplies, like colored pencils and scissors.

I started by filling up my container (I used an under-the-bed-organizer) with lukewarm water. Next, I poured a little bit of each color of nail polish into the container, creating the pattern I wanted as I poured. I started with my main color (teal) and then splashed my accents (gold and coral) in and around the blue. Many water marbling tutorials (like this one) have you place droplets of color into the water and use a tool to marble, but my color droplets would burst and spread completely, no matter how the temperature of the water. So I adapted my technique and still came up with some beautiful results, even though I couldn’t try my hand at these beautiful patterns like I wanted to. I think perhaps the size of my container had something to do with this problem.

Once I had my color in, I gently laid my paper down and ran my hand over the back, pressing it onto the color but not into the water. After a few seconds (when I could see just a bit of water soaking into the paper, I lifted the paper out and laid it flat to dry. I found that the swifter this motion, the better. My paper was dry in a few hours, and I found that the best results came from using China Glaze and Essie.

Water Marbled Labels

I knew that the only way I’d be able to use this paper as labels in my classroom was if they were laminated, but I was sure the polish would melt and smear. To my total excitement, they laminated perfectly. I cut my 12×12 marbled paper into 3×3 squares and I added my gold numbers. A little hot glue later to attach them to my containers and they’re adding a lot of fun to my classroom. I had several labels left over, so I used Washi tape to create a writing surface on the label and organized my library book bins by genre. I can’t tell you how much I love these labels.

Do you have any unique ways to add color and organization to your classroom? If you want to try your hand at this technique, check out Sally Beauty Supply’s nail polish BOGO sale!