Mississippi River Half Marathon

I did the thing. It was raining the entire time. My time, according to the chip, was 2:57:34. My unofficial, I will be okay even if I don’t make it goal, was under three hours.

I made it.

Here’s the full race report:

Before the race – I spent the night at my friend’s house in Indianola, about half an hour away from Greenville. I had driven into Greenville the night before to get my race packet, and then had dinner in Greenville. I woke up around 5:15 or 5:20, and left Indianola at 5:40 or so. It was a very early morning. All the runners park at the finish line, then busses take everyone to the starting line – either the Mississippi half, or the full marathon/Arkansas half. I sat next to someone on the bus who I consider to be TFA-MS famous, and I fangirled a little bit.

I planned to walk for some portions of  the race – I walked some during my long runs in training, and I noticed how much better it made me feel, even if it was just for a short interval. Initially, I planned to run the first five miles, walk a mile, then run the rest of it, relying on race day adrenaline to carry me through miles 6-13.

Mile 1 – I expected that there would be some kind of starting gun, or some kind of noise to let everyone know that the race was beginning. Instead, it was more like everyone walked up to the highway, then just kind of started running when the clock started. The first mile was on the bridge, and was pretty easy – I took it slow. I had heard of there sometimes being terrible winds on the bridge, but that wasn’t an issue. It was pretty foggy, though. My clothes were soaking wet immediately, but it took my shoes a little bit longer to soak through.

Mile 2 – Still on the bridge, but running downhill. This is when I started to become concerned for my phone, in it’s not-waterproof case. I remained concerned.

Mile 3 – Off the bridge, and I picked up my pace a bit, going from 12:51 in the first mile to 12:13 in the second mile, to 11:53 in the third mile.

Mile 4 – I stopped to use the restroom and then got right back on pace.

Mile 5 – I was still feeling pretty good, despite the rain and everything. I decided to run mile 6, then take a walking break.

Mile 6 – Still on the highway, still feeling pretty good.

Mile 7 – I walked this, at a relatively brisk pace.

Mile 8 – I grabbed a Gu at the aid station, then back to running, albeit at a significantly slower pace. It started raining a lot harder during mile 8, and we turned off the highway onto a residential road. I should have tried Gu during training, because it was definitely a weird feeling to have the Gu just kind of sitting in my stomach while I was running.

Mile 9 – I stopped under the tent at the aid station and ate a doughnut and lived my best life for a minute. Right around here is when it started to feel much, much harder. The entire back of my leg, my hamstrings and calves, were just sore and tight and it hurt.  

Mile 10 – This is mostly a blur of rain and sore legs. I think this was where the person who won the full marathon sped past me and I was just kind of amazed.

Mile 11 – This was where we were getting into downtown Greenville. I think this is also where I got a bit confused about how much longer I needed to run. I told myself I would run all of this but ended up walking parts of this.

Mile 12 – Same as mile 11, really. It was in downtown Greeville, I didn’t really know how far, I was running some and walking some. I was pretty determined to make it to the finish line before 11 (under three hours) but I wasn’t consistent with my speed or effort.

Mile 13 – I was really all over the place with running and walking, still.

Mile 13.1 – I ran all of this, but not very fast.

I’m glad I did this – I know that my time wasn’t anything stellar, but that wasn’t the point of it – the point was to push myself to a level of fitness that I haven’t reached before, and to do something challenging, and work towards a goal that was outside of the classroom. I did those things, and I did my half marathon in under three hours in the process.

My 2018 Reading List

Alfons Morales

One of the blogging goals I’ve set for 2018 is to publish a book review every month. That means I need to write a book review every month which means I need to read a book every month. (Yep, I learned about backwards planning from TFA.)

Here’s a tentative list of books I want to read in 2018. I’m prioritizing reading fiction by women of color. If there’s any other books that are wonderful and amazing that I should add to my list, leave your recommendations in the comments.

  1. Little Fires Everywhere – I’ve already started this.
  2. The Hate U Give – I started this one months ago and put it aside, will pick back up.
  3. NW: A Novel – This has literally been on my Kindle since 2013 and I just haven’t read it yet, how embarrassing.
  4. Turtles All the Way Down – Yes, I realize this is by a white guy.
  5. Harmless Like You
  6. Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
  7. Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke that Changed My Life
  8. No One is Coming to Save Us
  9. A Good Country
  10. The Tower of the Antilles

My plan is to add books to this list as the year goes on and add links to the book reviews that I write when I’m done.

2017 >>>> 2018

Jungwoo Hong
For me, 2017 featured a lot of growth and a lot of learning.

I know this is a surprise to zero percent of the people who know me in real life, but I am a little bit Type A and a little bit goal oriented and I love setting New Years Resolutions. I love how they have this promise that we’re all going to make vast improvements, fix all our flaws, change our lives. If there’s one part of the year when I want everyone to believe that it’s possible for people to make a change, it’s the grey chill of January.

In the spirit of New Years, I’m going to share my health and blogging goals for 2018.

  1. Maintain my current level of fitness and make progress throughout 2018.
    I made a lot of progress on fitness in 2017, and I want to keep that momentum going in 2018. I will be running the Mississippi River Half Marathon in February. I plan on running a 5K at some point in the spring (perhaps in April) and I plan on running another half marathon in the fall. I’m not sure exactly which races those are going to be – I’m looking at some smaller local races for the 5k, and I’m considering doing the Detroit half marathon in October, but there’s also the Yazoo Delta half marathon in November that might be more doable.
  2. By the end of 2018, I will drink 68 oz. of water daily.
    I’m going to track this using the WaterMinder app (because I love seeing the water level get higher throughout the day.) I say that I’m going to do this by the end of 2018 because I know it’s going to take some getting used to – my goal for Q1 is just to track water intake every day, Q2 is to reach 40% of the goal every day, Q3 is 70%, and Q4 is reaching 64 oz. every day.
  3. I will floss every day in 2018.
    It’s a small thing, but flossing more often was a major improvement I made in 2017 – my dentist definitely noticed! As I’m getting older, it’s become more of a priority that I care for my teeth, and I plan to maintain and improve upon current levels of flossing in 2018. If you’re someone who wants to start flossing more often, the biggest recommendation I can make is getting those little plastic flossers and keeping them in a visible place in your bathroom.
  1. Write two blog posts every month.
    Remember in college, when I would write a blog post every week (or more often than that, even?) That was a great time. Anyway, I realized that I only published 16 posts this year (I guess this is number 17) and I feel like I can do a lot better next year. I plan to blog about teaching, books, faith and personal finance.
  2. Write one book review every month for the blog.
    I haven’t read as many grown-up books this year as I would have liked. I read Mosquitoland, Dispatches from Pluto, Buffering, Hunger, Pushout, and most recently, Sing, Unburied, Sing. In the semi-embarrassing self-helpy category, I read Food Freedom Forever and Codependent No More. I’ve also read some excellent picture books, including numerous Pete the Cat books, Pout-Pout Fish and the Big Big Dark, and Milk Goes to School.
    I like reading, and I like writing about books, and I know that writing book reviews will push me to read more books.

A running update

I ran six miles this week.

I mean, I ran 11.7 miles this week, but I ran six of those in a row. I’m really proud of that.

Two months ago, I was definitely not capable of running six miles, but now I can. I could probably do seven right now, but I’m all cozy and I don’t want to right this minute. Maybe tomorrow.

I’m decently on track for the half marathon, but I haven’t been following a plan with any kind of accuracy. I’ve been using the Nike+ Run Club app, but I haven’t followed it exactly because life is a thing that sometimes gets in the way of running.

It’s funny how running more and getting halfway okay at running changes the way you feel about two things: running and your body.

Running first, because that’s a lot easier than bodies.

When you first start running you are inevitably kind of garbage at it, and it’s hard, and you just kind of hate it. In my last year of college, I started running again, with plans to run a 5k, and I started running a fair amount, doing Couch to 5k, and my own program of running as far as I could, and increasing the time by one minute for every run.

It was awful! Western’s incredibly hilly campus didn’t help. I would cuss out loud while I was running because it made me feel marginally better about the awfulness of it all. The only good part of it was when I would lay down in the cool, moist grass for ten or 15 minutes after every run.

It has gotten better, by a lot. Now, I actually look forward to running, and while I am running, I am actually enjoying myself and in a generally good mood.

That’s an awesome and interesting transition to make, and I like it.

Body feelings are so complicated. I wouldn’t say that I have a bad body image, but also I am a woman living in 21st century America, so it’s not like I have always had a great body image either. The path I have found to a positive body image is focusing more on what my body can do rather than solely on how it looks, and running does help with that.

Sometimes it feels like, yes, my thighs jiggle but also, they are an integral part of me being able to run six miles, so who cares that they jiggle? And overall, who cares about my physical appearance when I can do hard things, and run for a long time, and push myself every day to do things I never thought I would be able to do?

I’ll see you at the half marathon.

On Christmas and Loss

My grandpa died a week ago.

I was lying in my bed, in Mississippi. Groggily checked my phone, there’s a text from my mom saying “Call me, urgent.” I didn’t need to call her to know what it was, my grandpa was sick, in and out of the hospital, for months. My mom kept me updated on how he was doing, talking about whatever surgery he had, how dialysis was going, how he was going to have the hyperbaric chamber treatment for wound healing.

He came to Thanksgiving dinner, at my parent’s house. He was ill and he was in pain and his condition was not going to improve. Maybe it’s good that he went when he did.

I really expected him to be around another week or so.I went home early, on Thursday morning, getting home just in time for the visitation to start. At funeral visitations, I always do this, I go into friendly and presentable mode. I think I told 50 or 60 people that I’m in TFA, in Mississippi, and so on. I’m not going to actually feel sad when there’s that many people around.

We went to the funeral on Friday. It was at our church, where I spent my childhood running around barefoot and sneaking around the belltower. I actually cried there, during an eulogy that a family friend gave.

We did a funeral procession, all the way across town to bury my grandfather next to my grandmother, near my great grandparents and my great aunt and great uncle.

All of the realization that he’s gone has been hitting me in waves. Everything’s good one minute, then the next I think of something little, anything really, and I realize that my grandparent’s house is not a place I’m ever going to go back to.  I realize I’m never going to use my grandfather’s deathtrap drill press again, or see my grandpa spoil every dog, giving them too many treats. It’s this mix of nostalgia and grief, so much of what I’m missing was so long ago.

In my family, the only force capable of causing any kind of change in holiday traditions is death. On my dad’s side, we had Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house every year, until my grandmother died. On my mom’s side, we had Christmas every year at my grandparent’s house, until the Christmas right before my grandmother died.

On my mom’s side, Christmas is formal, sit down dinner, traditional food on nice china. This year, it was sitting on the couch, funeral food leftovers on nice china. I’m not complaining about this, I advocated for a chill, low-stress Christmas.

When my grandpa wasn’t at Christmas dinner, it was another wave of remembering. He’s not here. He isn’t going to be here. Not this year, not next year, not ever.

I feel compelled to come up with some bible verse or some quote about how he’s in a better place, but that doesn’t feel right. I miss him, and that’s all.

Nine and a Quarter Years

By now, we’ve all heard of the 10,000 hours idea. In case you live under a rock, the gist of it is that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become expert at anything. This idea is more of a guideline than a rule, but basically: If you want to be an expert at something, you have to spend a lot of time working really hard at it.

Tonight, I was working with a bunch of other teachers at the TFA office, and I said to someone “My reasons for wanting to teach next year are mostly selfish. I just want to be good at teaching.”

I fully stand by that statement. I want to get to a point where I can look anyone in the eye and say “I am a good teacher.”

Am I a good teacher right now?


Right now, there are some things that I do well. I’m  good at thinking up centers activities that will be the right level of rigor for my kids. I’m good at writing unit plans and keeping track of all the moving pieces involved in that.

There are a plethora of things I have improved at. I have gotten better at classroom management. I have gotten better at being consistent with rewards and consequences. I’ve gotten better at planning out instructional routines. I’ve gotten better at recognizing when my students need a brain break and providing that. I’ve gotten better at keeping everything I need for a lesson organized, so I’m not scrambling to find it as we go.

There are areas where there’s still plenty of room for improvement, like building relationships with students and making sure that everyone finishes all of their work and being up to date on my gradebook and being up to date on my data and finishing my intervention paperwork and remembering every meeting and I should probably wipe down the tables in my room and and and and and.

Anyway. 10,000 hours. I’m at school for eight and a quarter hours per day by contract, 10 by necessity, and we have six hours of instruction every day. So I’m devoting six hours per day to deliberate practice, trying to get to the point where I can say I’m a good teacher. Six hours times 180 days of school is 1080 hours per school year. 10,000 hours/1080 hours per school year is nine and a quarter years of teaching to become an expert at this.

I guess the good news is that I’ve already made it through a year and a quarter, so I have eight years left, and then, hopefully, I’ll be able to say that I’m a good teacher.

A Literacy Experiment

Jessica Ruscello

Reading growth is a thing. A really important thing.

The reading growth goal that TFA assigns us is 1.6 years of growth on the grade equivalency scale, when our students take their STAR Reading test. Right now, we have a range of scale stores from 66 to 88, which translates to a .4 to 1.2 in grade equivalency.

1.6 is a lot of growth! It means I need to get my kids to read at a 2.0 to a 2.8 reading level by the end of the year. In other words, I need to get every child in my room reading above grade level.

We took STAR for the first time on August 27, and our average grade equivalency was .59. We took STAR again on September 20, and the average grade equivalency was .80. That’s growth! I think there are a few factors going on – first, the kindergarten and pre-k test (STAR Early Literacy) reads questions to the students, so the first time they take STAR Reading, a lot of the kids are taken aback by the fact that they have to read the questions on their own. I think this pulls down some scores – kids who show that they’re high readers in the classroom had some relatively low scores on the first test, and this might be why.

One idea I had to improve our reading growth was sending home books to read – I have access to Reading A-Z, and I thought that if I send home one of their leveled readers every week with every child, along with instructions to read that book every night for of the week, that might make a difference. Using the leveled readers also allows me to differentiate – I can send home a level C book with my lower readers, a level D book for my on-level readers, and a level E or F book for my high readers. This should allow my kids to get more of what they need in terms of reading material, and help them grow more. By December, I should be sending home a level E book with my lower readers, a level F book with my on-level readers, and a level G or H book with my high readers, and that should continue to progress throughout the year.

Of course, this relies on parent engagement too – I need my parents to remind their kids to read. I also need to pick texts that my kids are interested in, so they’ll actually want to read those books.

The one thing I wish I could do is isolate the effect of this – I wish I could, somehow, have a control group of students who are receiving regular classroom instruction, and regular homework, but not sending books home. I think that would be unethical, though, to do something that I think would help improve reading scores, but only do it for half of my kids. I wouldn’t want to have to explain to parents that I tried to do something extra to improve reading scores, but their child wasn’t included in it because…I wanted to run a little experiment in my classroom. It wouldn’t be useful, either, to compare my STAR data from last year to my STAR data from this year, because I’m not teaching the exact same way I was last year, and I wasn’t in the same classroom for the entirety of last year.

So, readers, I’m looking to you – how can I test to see if this is actually working, while still including all of my kids, and all of the kids in the other first grade class? If you have a bright idea about testing the effectiveness of different methods in elementary classrooms, leave it in the comments on this post.

Half Marathon?

In August, I did something that was a little bit ambitious and a little bit impulsive. I registered for a half marathon, which is coming up in February.

This is big! I ran a 5k in college, and I ran a (very, very slow) season of cross country in seventh grade, but overall, I have not-very-much running experience. I’ve been running more since I registered for the half marathon. I’ve been following the Couch to 10K app, which is interval based and then moves on to just running 2 miles, then 2.25 miles, then 2.5 miles and so on.

I’ve looked into a few different training plans, and I haven’t come up with a singular plan that I’m going to stick to. I’ve looked at the Nike Run Club app and the Hal Higdon plans

Another factor that I’m really concerned about is the fact that I’ve mostly been running on a treadmill. Mississippi is really hot and humid and I would much rather run in the cold than in the heat. Also, I can watch Netflix whole I run on the treadmill.

I’m telling myself that once it cools down a little, I’m going to start running outside, but I’m worried that the treadmill is different enough from running outside that it’s going to be a tough adjustment.

I’m going to keep writing about this half marathon thing, because that’s the only way I know to hold myself accountable. Check back for updates, and all that.

July Money Challenge: A Retrospective

The view of the river from the rooftop bar in Vicksburg.

I’m going to be honest: Posts about the July Money Challenge were cut short because I got busy with school stuff really quickly. Still, I’m a procrastinator, not a quitter, so I’m going to get it done!

Saturday, July 22

$4.06 – Groceries. I honestly don’t remember what this was – it must not have been more than one or two items.

$12.00 – Two beers at a rooftop bar in Vicksburg, where we sat and looked out at the river.

Sunday, July 23

$20.84 – Brunch in Jackson

$31.30 – Groceries, an actual weekly stock-up.

Monday, July 24

No Spending!

Tuesday, July 25

$3.26  – Coffee

Wednesday, July 26

$2.18 – Coffee

$28.63 – Groceries

Thursday, July 27

$33.50 – a bunch of letterpress cards on Etsy.

Friday, July 28

No Spending!

Saturday, July 29

$3.78 – Baskets for my kids to put their pencils in, from Dollar General. I think I cleared out their stock.

$15.33 – New school shoes – Keds-esque navy shoes. Are they cool? Not really. Are they comfortable enough for me to stand in all day and match with my school uniform? Yes.

Sunday, July 30

$63.71 – Groceries, including food for a potluck I hosted with my roommates.


I feel like the commitment I made to share my spending publicly was a big factor in my spending decisions for the month – every time I reached for my card, I had to ask myself if this was something I wanted people to know that I spent money on. It’s this self-imposed peer pressure/public accountability factor that probably made me spend less than I would have otherwise.

The amount of time I spent out of town in July made a difference in how much I spent – it removed me from my regular routines (making dinner at home every night) and I ended up spending a bit more. I don’t regret it – it was great to be able to travel to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding, and I liked working in Kickoff at Delta State. I see that kind of spending as a part of life – I keep my expenses when I’m in Jackson low enough so that it’s not a big deal to spend some money to go out with friends when I’m out of town.

I think I also spent more money than average on gas, because I drove to New Orleans, and summer fellowship I had at RePublic required me to commute further than my teaching job during the school year. That isn’t a huge difference, but I noticed that I filled up my gas tank more than I normally do.

Something that I’ve been considering lately is trying to adjust my thinking about budgeting to be a little more…chill. In college, I really had a mindset of trying to pinch pennies, and that’s what I needed to do at the time – I made very little money, so it made a difference to buy store brand coffee even though it didn’t taste as good. Right now though, I feel like I have the big factors taken care of – I have very low rent, because I live with roommates in Mississippi, and it also helps that we split utility bills. I cook at home most of the time, I don’t drive a lot and I have a car that isn’t expensive to insure. I don’t go shopping for clothes as a hobby – I’ve basically just bought my school uniform clothes, a sweatshirt from the thrift store, and some new underwear this year. I feel like if I optimize those bigger factors, I don’t really need to worry about buying flavored seltzer instead of only drinking tap water, or going out for coffee twice in one week. It’s kind of an 80/20 principal. I’ve done my best to optimize the 20% of money decisions that make 80% of the impact, so that hopefully, I can be less worried about the other 80% of decisions and focus my mental energy on other things.

The goal of this project was not to reach some sort of budgeting nirvana, but instead to use my resources wisely and act like an adult. I feel like I did that pretty effectively.

First Grade: Round Two

Somehow, it was the first day of school, and now we’re 15% of the way through this year. It’s weird how fast time has passed this year.

I think my management has gotten a lot better this year – we started teaching routines on day one and I’ve been trying my hardest to stick to them. Lining up the same way every day, moving to the carpet the same way every day, moving centers the same way, doing bulldog bucks at the same times and for the same things, that kind of thing.

I’ve been working on cracking down on the little things, so that my students won’t get the idea that they can get away with little things and move on to big things. For instance, I’ve been giving a lot more consequences for talking out of turn, calling out, and getting out of seats without permission. Hopefully, that’s going to give my students the idea that they can’t get away with anything, and prevent bigger issues like hitting and kicking. I’ve also switched from using a clip chart in the classroom to using a clip stick that I carry with me everywhere. Last year, I would need to give consequences at recess or in the hallway, but I had a hard time maintaining that consistency between the classroom and the rest of the school.

I’m also proud that I’ve been able to make rewards consistent for my students. I’ve been awarding bulldog bucks on ClassDojo for attendance, morning behavior, lunchtime behavior, and afternoon behavior. At the end of the week, students who have 15 or more bulldog bucks get a special treat. The treat changes week to week, but I’ve made sure that it happens every week.

Academics are also playing out a differently this year. I’m writing ELA plans, for one, and my teammate is writing math and science. Last year, it was the reverse. My principal wants us to use Saxon Phonics, but there wasn’t any money to pay for the refill kit, so I’ve been trying to make do with the parts I have left from last year. I really like Saxon and I think it helps tremendously with reading, but it’s a puzzle to teach when you don’t have the resources. We also had this issue with out reading curriculum – our school was supposed to be getting Wonders, but we didn’t have it for the first month of school. Now, Wonders has arrived, but we don’t have any teacher books and we don’t have any kind of training in how to teach it, so everyone’s hesitant to use it.

For the first month or so, I was just using EngageNY’s Listening and Learning strand and doing read-alouds of fables, then fairytales. I think my kids liked it, but my teammate and I were concerned that we were doing them a disservice by not putting more text in their hands – tasking them with actually decoding words on their own. This week, we went back to using Journey’s, which is the reading comprehension curriculum that my school has been using for years. I’m not a huge fan of Journey’s, but it’s what we have, and it’s been working okay. This was my first time using the assessments from Journey’s – last year, my teammate planned ELA and made the assessments, but I thought we’d give the curriculum ones a try. Looking at the assessment, I thought that it might not be rigorous enough, but it was a pretty reasonable bell curve for my students grades.

Our schedule changed this year, so that we’re doing centers in the afternoon, right before math. Our math block is shorter this year, and I’m worried that we’re not fitting enough in, and that our students are going to fall behind in math. I’m also concerned that we’re not incorporating enough spiral review into our lessons. Our curriculum, GoMath! doesn’t really have any spiral review, and I think it’s really important, but it also feels like we just don’t have time. I’m also worried that we’re not pushing our students to higher order thinking enough. At first, I was trying to work those in through my math meeting routine, but that took 15 minutes – it wasn’t working to do math meeting and then keep my kids on the carpet for our math lesson – it’s way too much time for first graders to sit still on the carpet. I’m still not sure how to make that it happen.

It’s funny – I’ve had a couple days this week where I felt like I was right back where I was last year. When I’m writing all of this out, taking the time to think and reflect about it, it does feel like I’ve made progress. It’s helpful, I think, to consider that progress when it feels like you aren’t moving forward fast enough.

And, because I am a total cornball, here is the song lyric that comes to mind in this situation.

“Look at where you are
“Look at where you started”