Monday, August 31, 2015

First Assignment

August 31, 2015

Well, I'm in with two feet. I've turned in my first college paper in a very long time.  The requirement wasn't especially a long paper (and naturally, I went beyond the minimum; brevity has never been my strong suit), but there was a little bit of trepidation and intimidation and procrastination and "what-if-they-don't-like-what-I've-written?", even though ultimately I feel pretty good about what I wrote.  It was essentially a paper synthesizing information in four different articles about the teaching of literacy, something I am passionate about and about which I have something to say.  So, you know--I had buy-in.  But it did give me a minute's pause to remember that our students face trepidation and intimidation and procrastination and "what-if-they-don't-like-what-I've-written?" even (especially) when we ask them to write about something they are less than passionate about.  I think everyone who's been on the teaching side of the desk for awhile should get back in the students' desks every now and again.  It's a good reminder.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Quiet Sunday

August 30, 2015

Today was quiet--a little sleeping in, a little shopping around Fashion Fair and River Park for Doug and me before dinner at PF Chang's, and then homework time and grading papers for me in front of the VMA's tonight.  Sometimes it's good to take it easy.  I know that in just a few weeks I'll be drowning in papers and meetings and mom-taxi obligations and the never-ending housework that seems to multiply exponentially while we all sleep, but for now, I'll relish the calm before the storm.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Another Bit of Evidence That We're Off to a Good Start

August 29, 2015

I was running around this weekend, celebrating the end of the first week with a little retail therapy, when I ran into one of my new students.  (Side note: It NEVER fails that I run into a new student sometime during the first week outside of school, and I don't recognize them because you know, I just met 200 new folks and I haven't learned who they all are yet.  I always feel awkward when they come up to me and say, "Mrs. Lutjens! Hi! How are you?" and I'm thinking, "Have I seen you before? Were you in my class? Was your sister in my class? How is it that your face isn't ringing a bell?" and then I realize, "Oh, you must be in my class THIS year!")

Anyway, this lovely young lady shyly approached me and said, "I just wanted you to know that the book I checked out from your library--you know, that one by James Patterson?--I started reading it in class on Friday, and I can't stop reading it!  I don't like to read too much, but I do like mysteries, and this book makes me want to keep reading to find out what's going to happen."  Then, by the way, she introduced me to her mom, who told me how happy she was that her daughter loves her school and loves her classes and her teachers and is looking forward to a really good year.

That, my friends, is a win for the week.

Friday, August 28, 2015

First Week Down

August 28, 2015

The first week of the new school year is in the books, and here's what we know so far:

1.  My classes are big. Like, really big.  Like, I'm thankful for the class where I only have 34 students because it's super small compared to the ones where I have 42 kids.

2.  Even though my classes are big, I'm already liking the personalities I see in my kids.  I seriously love teaching seniors.

3.  All the time and money I've spent seeking out newer books for my classroom--worth it!  I had at least 30 kids check out books from my classroom library because something there appealed to them.

4.  Danielle is going to survive this year even though she and Megan have no classes together.  

5.  Danielle likes her teachers and they like her.  I mean, she IS a pretty likable kid.

6.  Nicholas is excited to get to take Japanese classes in college, just because.  I made him take Spanish in high school for practical reasons; he gets to take Japanese now because he wants to.

7.  Nicholas has so far impressed me with his willingness to get up and head to his classes not only on time, but early--even though my not-a-morning-person son took an 8 a.m. class.

8.  Taking all his A.P. classes enabled Nicholas to take some Engineering courses right off the bat as a freshman, which will definitely help distinguish high school from college.

9.  My own Fresno State classes are now online instead of face-to-face, due to low enrollment.  I was looking forward to an actually in-class experience, but this format actually gives me a little more flexibility in terms of time.

10.  I'm really liking my professor for my first Master's class.  I think this is going to be fun!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Checking Out the Classroom Library

August 27, 2015

A few comments overheard in class today during our Book Pass, where I introduce students to some of the books in our classroom library:
--"What are the odds? She happened to put the one book I've been wanting to read on MY desk!" (Sheer happy coincidence--I placed a random book on every desk.)
--"Oh my gosh...she has the book I wanted to finish. I lost mine before I finished it!"
--"Wait..this book on film-making counts for our independent reading? I'd actually READ that book!"
Not to mention at least 25 kids checked out books from me they found interesting after the Book Pass. Woo hoo--I'd say that was a positive experience!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stealthy Birthday Wishes

August 26, 2015

Danielle's best friend Megan's birthday is tomorrow, so we went out on a mission late at night so that Danielle could decorate her window and leave her a little surprise on the door step.  I texted Megan's mom to ask her if it would be okay, because I had visions of Danielle not quite being able to carry out her middle of the night ninja mission and being loud enough for the Kroeker family to think someone was trying to break into the house!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

First Day of School, Part 2

August 25, 2015

Nicholas started his first day at Fresno State today with his Tuesday classes--a programming class and a communications class.  Tomorrow he gets to check out his Japanese class and his first engineering class.  Off to a good start!

I also started back at Fresno State--after an absence of 25 or so years.  Our class didn't have enough students to form a face-to-face class, so our class became an online one instead, where we meet via video chat once per week.  After an initial technical difficulty, we got things up and running for the first time tonight.  I'm really excited to start digging into the curriculum for my first class--Teaching Language Arts K-12.  Even though I've been teaching for 25 years, there's always ways to improve and strengthen the tools that we use to help our kids!

Monday, August 24, 2015

First Day of School, Year 2015

August 24, 2015

I've got only one more kiddo at school with me now, since Nicholas graduated last year.  This beautiful girl (and her bestie, Megan), are ready to take on Junior year in style!

It was my first day back to school as well, of course.  Cheers to beginning year 26 in the teaching profession--25th year at Buchanan High School!

Friday, July 31, 2015

It's Never Too Late

July 31, 2015

About 18 years ago, I reached a point in my academic career where I was ready to be not just a teacher, but a student again.  I learned about a Master's Program in English Literature that was geared toward teachers.  It was a two-year summer intensive program at UC Irvine, and something about the timing just seemed right.

SEEMED right, yes.  And mostly, it was.  I loved being in the classroom again.  My sister lived near Irvine, so I traveled down south to stay with her Monday-Thursday, and I came home again Thursday night through Sunday.  I didn't have to pay any additional for housing, and I had study time in the evenings while I was there, so that part was great.  The difficult thing was I was a mom to two young children (4 and 18 mo.), so every week during those summers I was without them part of every week. Their dad, who is also a teacher, took full-time daddy duty on my school days, and when I was home I was on full-time.  It was exhausting, and I was guilt-ridden often (especially when I was told by a close family member how selfish I was for abandoning my children--to their dad!--and that they would suffer life-long rejection issues because of it).  But, I also wanted to show myself and some day my children that I was capable of this kind of success through perseverance and hard work.  I wanted to be a good role model for them.

At some point after I'd enrolled in the program, but before classes started, I discovered that I was pregnant with my third child.  I was elated, but didn't really process the additional logistical hurdles this would create.  The first summer went as planned, but during the following school year, she was born, which meant she traveled down with me to Irvine during my 4 day school week during the second summer.  I enlisted one my sister's good friends, who was a stay at home mom, to watch her while I was in classes, and I would drive over in between my classes to nurse her.  In the evenings, of course, she was at my sister's with me. I studied with her in my lap or by my side, and then on Thursday evenings we'd make the four hour drive back home together.  It was even more of a juggling act, but we managed.  I completed all of my coursework and even managed to get my premise and quite a bit of my rough thesis worked out before the session was over, and then I packed up and headed back home to my husband and oldest children for good.

I had a year to process and finish my thesis.  I didn't do it.  There are lots of excuses why I didn't do it--at home, with three children five and under, and a husband, and a full time teaching job, and all of my household responsibilities, well, it just seemed I couldn't justify locking myself away to work on a paper when all of these other needs were just on the other side of the door.  Four hours away when I was taking classes, I could compartmentalize.  At home? I found it nearly impossible.  And I didn't WANT to be away from my babies.  I found it easy to drop my thesis to the bottom of my priority list, which, by the way, was a very long list.  I'm sure lots of folks will say I shouldn't have taken on the task to begin with; just as many will say if I had already sacrificed all of my time with my family anyway, it was a waste not to stick to it and finish it out.  Both of those things are probably true.  But so is it true that pursuing my education was a worthwhile and vital thing.  These things contradict each other and are simultaneously true.

The bottom line is, I didn't finish then.  And it has haunted me every since.  I don't see it as a waste of time, because I grew from the classes I took.  I don't even see it as a waste of money, since I do earn more because of the additional classes I took.  I do, however, see it as a failure on my part--a shortcoming I haven't rectified. I've always been embarrassed that I set out to get my Master's Degree, and I didn't cross the finish line.  Once the finish line got so far away from me, I didn't even know how to jump back into the race.

Now, 18 years later, a new opportunity has made itself available. Fresno State has a Master's in Education with an Emphasis in Reading (with a Reading Specialist Credential) that they are building a new cohort for with teachers in our district and a neighboring one.  Reading is a passion of mine; the teaching of critical reading to high school students is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.  I had no idea there was such a program, let alone one offered right here in my own backyard.  To have become aware of it now that my children are (mostly) grown and independent feels like a second chance for redemption.  I've been saying for years that I would eventually go back and finish my Master's Degree, but honestly I think I didn't really believe it.   It's been so buried on my life's 'To Do' list that I didn't know if I would ever really get to it.  And yet, here it is.  I have applied, and have been accepted.  It's never too late--and I can't wait to get started.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Looking Back Doesn't Mean Never Having Left

July 24, 2015

This is a milestone year for me--I've got my 30th high school reunion coming up shortly.  In addition, the high school where I teach is getting ready to host its 20th reunion for the first graduating class of our school--a class of students I taught when I was in my second year of teaching.  I'm very much looking forward to both of these reunions and the chance it will give me to reconnect with people I have not seen in a very, very long time.

There are several people who graduated with me who I remain close with and see on a regular basis still.  Similarly, there are students from that first graduating class of my current school with whom I have kept in close contact over the years.  Then there are folks I see only online, mostly through the world of Facebook.  These are people with whom I might not have been especially close, or for whom geography plays a role in the fact that I haven't seen them in real life much, but they are people I like to interact with and celebrate life's successes with.  There are also many people I haven't connected with at all over the years for whatever reason, but I'd be thrilled to see them at a reunion and see where their life's path has taken them.

Some people feel that high school reunions are all but obsolete in the days in which it's as easy as a click on an internet search to know whatever-happened-to-him/her, and I can understand that mindset to an extent, but nothing is the same as the good old fashioned face-to-face conversation a reunion provides.  The thing that is really amazing to me though, is the number of people who think that going to a high school reunion means you are stuck in the past--a stereotypical jock or cheerleader artificially trying to recreate and relive the glory days.  There are people who deem themselves as somehow 'above' the desire to meet up with old acquaintances because they feel if there was any reason to associate with them now, they'd never have lost touch to begin with. There are actually lots of films that deal with this very theme.  I find that a little weird, though, honestly.  Sure, there are people you might meet up with at a reunion that you didn't like before and you still wouldn't necessarily hang out with on a regular basis. But what's the harm in finding yourself in a room with a couple of those folks and wishing them well and then moving on your merry way?  I focus more on the fact that we have all traveled divergent paths and have grown and changed through all of our varied experiences.  I mean, I'm not the same person I was 30 years ago--I don't know anybody who is.  We've all (or at least most of us) grown up. Why on earth would I deprive myself of the opportunity to get to know people who could have become pretty great folks for fear of running into one or two who didn't?  Do we do that in regular, every day life, too?  I can't meet anybody else new, because one of them might not be nice?  Not me, man. I, for one, am looking forward to meeting some old acquaintances anew, and who knows--maybe finding some new friends.