Checking in on Goals

Luke Stackpoole

I set goals in the beginning of 2018, and I reviewed them mid-year. It’s the beginning of December, and I think December offers us an interesting moment as we relate to goals and New Years Resolutions. It’s the point when we start to think about next year, but we still have the chance to make a difference in our goals for the current year.

Health

1. Maintain my current level of fitness and make progress throughout 2018.
I have been consistent with this goal – I can run faster and further than I could six months ago, and I successfully completed my first half marathon in February. I have hit PRs in my one mile and 5k times this year, and I’m running a 5k on Wednesday. Depending on some variables in my life this fall, I may or may not be running a second half marathon in the fall, and I’ve registered for the Mississippi River Half Marathon in 2019.

This is the goal that I have met with the most success. I’m on track to run the Mississippi River Half Marathon in February 2019, and I did run a second half marathon in November – I did what I call my “DIY Half Marathon” which means I filled up my Camelbak, stuck some Gu in my pocket, loaded up an audiobook and ran 13.1 miles on my own. It was hard, but it was also faster than my first half marathon.

 

2. By the end of 2018, I will drink 68 oz. of water daily.
This is harder in the school year than it is in the summer. On a majority of the days this summer, I’ve been drinking 68 oz. of water – it’s so much easier in the summer because there’s more motivation. If I’m not well hydrated, running will make me feel like death because it’s 95 degrees outside.

I’m still working out how, exactly, to drink a bucket of water every day and also teach all day. It looks a little bit like drinking water first thing in the morning, then using the bathroom before school starts, then drinking a ton of water after school.

3. I will floss every day in 2018.

This is going well and I have also become a low-level flossing evangelist, which goes over really well at parties.

I’ve started using HabitBull to track my health related goals, and I highly recommend it.

I stopped using HabitBull for no particular reason, and my flossing has waned a bit. When I went to the dentist in November, I had two cavities that were between my teeth, and the dentist told me that I need to be flossing more effectively – making sure to get all the way between my gum and tooth.

Blogging

1.Write two blog posts every month.This one has not happened with consistency. I’ve met this goal in 2/6 months, in May and June. A major challenge for me has been finding time to devote to blogging, and finding ideas to blog about. I’m not great about keeping up an editorial calendar, which is silly – I have a degree in PR and I ran my college newspaper, I know how to do this. It just wasn’t a priority for me earlier this year.

I feel like I’m still in a similar place with this goal – it’s been hard for me to plan blog content out in advance, and while school is in session, teaching and grad school take priority over blogging. I’ll be super transparent – I’m writing this blog post over Thanksgiving break, and scheduling it to post in December. Maybe that’s the key – writing blog posts in a huge burst over breaks, then scheduling them to post months out.

2. Write one book review every month for the blog.
This one is embarrassing – I’ve written 1/6 book reviews, and I have another draft of a book review in Google Docs. Reading is lower on my list of priorities during the school year, and as a result, the book reviews haven’t been happening. Coming up soon will be reviews of a few nonfiction books I’ve read over summer break.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what book review I had drafted in Google Docs. I looked back through my Drive, and I cannot find anything, which is so frustrating. I read Ghost, and reviewed it last week. I have read The Book of Essie and Little Fires Everywhere, both of which were excellent, and both of which I need to review. I also read The Book Whisperer, and I can write reviews of all those books. I’m currently reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, which I can also review. It’s a matter of finding the time and making it a priority, both of which have shown to be a challenge for me this year.

Ghost

I picked up Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, in doing research for Creative Writing Club. I’m working on the fiction unit, and looking for a mentor text to have my kids read. In doing this research and preparation, I read the book. This is the first wholly young adult book I’ve read in a while, and I really liked it. Ghost is Castle Crenshaw’s nickname. Castle eats sunflower seeds all the time, a habit he picked up from his dad, who was abusive towards him and his mom. They ran away from his dad, hiding in the back room of a convenience store, and Castle has been running ever since. His dad is in prison now, and Castle is struggling, understandably, to cope.

One day, Castle is hanging out by the track near his house, and he races another kid who is on the track team. The coach notices how fast he is, and recruits Castle for the Defenders track team. As he joins the team and begins training with them, he becomes a better runner and builds a strong relationship with his coach.

In reading this book, I realized that I’ve read very few books that focus on sports, and I’ve never read a YA book that is centered on any kind of athletics. I liked it for that – it was interesting and unique, with a likable main character. I’m still working out the particular details of how I will include it in the Creative Writing Club curriculum. There are parts of it that I think my kids could learn a lot from, with how Reynolds fleshes out Castle’s character and shows the person he is.

On Gratitude

gabrielle cole

I am well aware that gratitude practices are actually a pretty significant key in leading a happier life, and I am a person who does, semi-regularly, think of gratitude. I think it helps me to cope with some of the things that happen in the world that are challenging- not by avoiding them but making sure that my thoughts have some balance, avoiding getting swallowed by awfulness. However, I am not always excellent at expressing that gratitude publicly – I’m more of an internal processor. Still, it helps to make it public, write it down and such.

I am grateful for my family, for being with them, and for their health.

I am grateful for a family that’s willing to engage in dialogue about challenging topics.

I am grateful for my health.

I am grateful for my friends.

I am grateful for friends who make time to see me when I come to town.

I am grateful for my friends who have maintained friendships for years upon years.

I am grateful for my stability.

I am grateful for my independence.

I am grateful for having somewhere to stay that is safe, warm, and dry.

I am grateful for my access to healthcare.

I am grateful for my reliable transportation.

I am grateful for a job that is meaningful.

I am grateful for my access to free graduate education.

I am grateful to every person who supported me and helped me along the way, even though they didn’t have to.

I am grateful to have a week off of school to rest and recharge.

In the fall, you will fly

I started running about a year ago. I started running thirteen years ago when I was on the cross country team in seventh grade, but a year ago is when I started running and kept it up enough to get stronger and better. I did my half marathon in February, and I kept running through the summer in Mississippi, when it was horribly hot and constantly drenched in sweat, grinding out my 12:30 miles and feeling like it was just too hard.

I go running with a friend pretty regularly, and I sometimes go running with the local running group. They’re all a lot faster than me, but it’s still nice to run with other people and have it be an event, rather than just me and my audiobooks. On one of those running group runs, where it’s 90 degrees and humid and you feel like you’re dying the whole time, the woman who runs the group said that these runs are hard now, but if you stick with it and keep training through the heat, you’ll fly in the fall.

This week, it finally got a little cooler in Mississippi. I don’t think we’re all the way to the end of 80 degree days, but the cooler weather has made running so much easier. Easier enough that I hit two PRs this week, which I’m incredibly proud of.

On Thursday, I ran a 5k with my friend. It was a smaller, local race, and I definitely went into it with the mindset of hitting a PR. My goal was running ten minute miles and hitting a PR.

I made it. 9:56 miles, PR met.

Today, I had a 6.5 mile run on my training plan. I woke up this morning, and it wasn’t hot at all, and I had that goal – hitting a PR on my 10k time. I also wanted to do longer than the 6.5 miles, because this week I’ve been thinking of this (silly? unreasonable?) idea of running another half marathon at the beginning of December, so I wanted to push up my long run mileage right now. I figure if I did 7 miles today, I can do eight miles next weekend, then nine, ten, eleven, and probably be good to go at the beginning of December.

I made it. 1:12:02. Somehow I ran a 9:44 mile after having already run five miles. Check it out on Strava, the splits are kind of ridiculous.

Running felt amazing today. It was cool, and quiet, and I barely saw anyone on the trail – it was perfect. When I felt tired, it was 100% in my legs, not my lungs, which is a good feeling, a nice switch from barely being able to breathe in the summer.

I’ve found that running can be a great push in helping me find a balance between teaching and life – having a goal that I care about, that I want to work towards, and that has nothing to do with teaching has helped me to put down the grading, put down the computer, and just focus on running.

Mid-Year Progress Report

Glenn Carstens-Peters

We’re halfway through 2018, which feels weird and unexpected. It also pushes me to evaluate the progress I’ve made towards the goals I’ve set towards 2018, and adjust my actions as needed. Here’s the post I wrote in December about goals for the year.

Health
  1. Maintain my current level of fitness and make progress throughout 2018.
    I have been consistent with this goal – I can run faster and further than I could six months ago, and I successfully completed my first half marathon in February. I have hit PRs in my one mile and 5k times this year, and I’m running a 5k on Wednesday. Depending on some variables in my life this fall, I may or may not be running a second half marathon in the fall, and I’ve registered for the Mississippi River Half Marathon in 2019.
  2. By the end of 2018, I will drink 68 oz. of water daily.
    This is harder in the school year than it is in the summer. On a majority of the days this summer, I’ve been drinking 68 oz. of water – it’s so much easier in the summer because there’s more motivation. If I’m not well hydrated, running will make me feel like death because it’s 95 degrees outside.
  3. I will floss every day in 2018.
    This is going well and I have also become a low-level flossing evangelist, which goes over really well at parties.

I’ve started using HabitBull to track my health related goals, and I highly recommend it.

Blogging
  1. Write two blog posts every month.
    This one has not happened with consistency. I’ve met this goal in 2/6 months, in May and June. A major challenge for me has been finding time to devote to blogging, and finding ideas to blog about. I’m not great about keeping up an editorial calendar, which is silly – I have a degree in PR and I ran my college newspaper, I know how to do this. It just wasn’t a priority for me earlier this year.
  2. Write one book review every month for the blog.
    This one is embarrassing – I’ve written 1/6 book reviews, and I have another draft of a book review in Google Docs. Reading is lower on my list of priorities during the school year, and as a result, the book reviews haven’t been happening. Coming up soon will be reviews of a few nonfiction books I’ve read over summer break.

I’ve also set other categories of goals – personal, finance, and career. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of all the goals in all the categories, but it’s interesting – I haven’t really told anyone about those categories, and I didn’t blog about them. They feel a bit less “real” than the ones I articulated on the blog, and I have a harder time tracking my progress towards them. Because I don’t blog about them, I don’t feel accountable to anyone. Any ideas for holding myself accountable, but in a way that’s more private? How do you set goals and track your progress towards them?

The World’s Largest Man

The Worlds Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key, on a blanket with sandals nearby
The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key

I read a book!

Years ago, this would not have been a noteworthy development in my personal life. As a child, I was a voracious reader, powering through book after book. And then jobs and college and teaching came along, and they took up my time, and I don’t read for pleasure like I used to.

That’s changing this year, right? At the beginning of the year, I declared my intentions to publish a book review every month, and now it’s June and…this is my first book review.

It’s important to set big goals for yourself, even if you fall short of them.

Harrison Scott Key spent his early childhood in Memphis, and this memoir opens with this explanation of the south and storytellers and it paints this image of slow, quiet Mississippi. He gives some background on his family, and how his parents ended up together, and about telling his daughters stories about growing up in Mississippi. It’s setting the stage for being a storyteller about Mississippi.

The first Mississippi story starts with this bit, which sums up the experience of explaining that you live in Mississippi to people who have not lived in Mississippi.

This funny thing happens when people ask where I’m from, especially when I’m at academic conferences, where people are so often from uninteresting places.

“Mississippi.” I say.

“Oh, wow!” they say.

I can tell they’ve never seen a real live racist before, or at the very least someone who’s related to a racist, or has seen one in the wild. It’s exciting for them. They want to tweet it. They want to write a memoir about it.

“So,” they say. “What’s Mississippi really like?”

He moves on to writing about his father, and about his family abandoning Memphis for a more rural lifestyle in Mississippi. Key’s father is a living, breathing stereotype of a rural southern man. He’s interested in hunting and sports, but not sports like running or soccer, manly sports like football and baseball.

The family moves to Mississippi, and Key’s father is intent on creating a farm. Key and his brother are roped into working to create this farm with him. When Key goes to school in Mississippi, his peers are a world apart from his classmates in Memphis – they are bigger and tougher than him, they know how to hunt, they sport injuries from outdoors behavior and questionable judgement.

In Mississippi, Key’s father takes him and his older brother hunting frequently. His brother takes to it, Key does not. Personally, I have never been hunting and have zero intention to ever go hunting, but the passages about it are entertaining and resonate on a level of failure to live up to expectations.

That theme of failure to live up to expectations flows throughout the book, breaking at a key moment – Key’s father is the coach of a peewee football team, and takes Key, who is in high school at the time, to play in a game. Key crushes it. He crushes it against children who are much smaller than him, but crushes it nonetheless.

The book loses steam when focus shifts from Key’s childhood in Mississippi to adulthood, when he is married and struggling in his relationship, when he is a father who is sometimes not as present as his wife would like. It loses steam because we transition from a focus on those unique stories about his dad to more ubiquitous stories about struggling in adulthood in the way we all sometimes struggle in adulthood.

Was this book great? The first two thirds were. The last third? I read it but I didn’t love it.

I made it through TFA

It was hard. Really hard, actually.

It’s funny – school got out not even that long ago, but my memories of what every moment of TFA felt like are blurring fast – I can name my kids and describe their personalities, but can I remember everything I taught?

We read Whistle for Willie both years. I remember that. I struggled to find time to do guided reading and math interventions. Spelling and phonics showed such a wide range of student understanding and I never really figured out how to bridge that gap. The multiple-choice-exit-ticket-in-groups-with-plickers thing worked out really well. I tried to make phonics more interesting, but honestly, it was a challenge.

I remember how irritated I was that we had to split one class set of books between two first grade classes, that we only had one set of teacher books between the two of us, that kids had to share books because I had 15 books and 16 kids.

I remember the constant struggle surrounding the bathroom in my classroom, preventing kids from making a mess in it, failing to prevent kids from making a mess in it.

The day they told us that yes, our school would be closing for sure, there was an adult who was in my classroom and they told me I couldn’t manage student behavior in front of my students. I held it together all through dismissal and the meeting after school where they told us we would have jobs in the district next year. Then I went back to my classroom and I called my mom and I cried.

I was too strict sometimes and maybe I raised my voice too much.

I feel like I should be able to distill the past two years into this short, sweet list of 7 things I learned from TFA. I can’t, really.

I learned how much I love my kids.

I learned how weird it feels when your kids mention that they saw you walking out of your front door, and you know that half of your kids know exactly which house you live in.

I learned what phonemic awareness is. I learned what a phoneme is. I learned what sounds short vowels make, I learned which g sound is soft and which is hard, I learned what a digraph is and what sound digraph oa makes. I learned what decoding means. I learned what an open and closed syllable are.

I learned that it’s a good idea to stay late at school on pantry night to get a bit of face time with parents.

I learned how often special ed fails our kids. I learned how complicated it is, and how often parents don’t understand it. I learned that having a baby doesn’t come with a manual in how to navigate special ed systems.

I learned exactly what things needed to be in order for when MDE comes in.

I learned how to make use of 39 days of extended school day because the city was out of water for a week and a half in January and now we have to make up that instructional time.

I learned that being alone with 16 6 year olds from 7:15 to 3:15 on those extended school days can be grueling or it can be inspiring but usually it is a mix of both.

I learned that this complicated, challenging, engrossing thing is something that feels worth it to me.

Dear Future Samantha

Dear Future Samantha,

I hope teaching is going well! I hope that you’ve inspired your students to achieve and love school and learning.

I hope you’ve helped your students realize that they can do anything.

I hope that your students love to read and have favorite books and seek out new ones. I hope your students ask questions about the way the world is, and that they don’t stop inquiring. I hope you’re able to control the classroom effectively and create a culture where students feel cared for and supported. I hope you’re taking time to have a life outside of TFA, too – I hope you make time for friends and family and health and sleep. You’re gonna be great.

I wrote that letter to myself at the beginning of Justice Journey, nearly two years ago. It’s funny, looking back and seeing what is and isn’t true, where I’ve succeeded and where I’ve struggled. It’s funny how hard it is to put myself back there, two years ago, trying to remember what I was expecting going in to all of this.

I didn’t expect to learn half of the things I’ve learned here.

I didn’t expect to feel as deeply connected as I feel now.

I didn’t expect to want to stay here at least a third year and teach longer than that.

I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it has been.

I thought year two would be easier than it has been.

I thought I would be better than I am.

I had no idea how funny and unique my kids would be. I had no idea my school would be closing and I had no idea how weepy my school closing would make me. I had no idea that I would get as loud as I sometimes do in the classroom. I had no idea that I would care as much as I do right now.

Bringing Yourself to the Classroom

In TFA, I’ve heard people talk about how your classroom is a reflection of your personality, how you need to bring yourself and your leadership experiences to this work.

I’m skeptical of the idea. I feel, often, that my identities are not particularly helpful in the classroom, and I generally don’t see how they work with the classroom in any kind of purposeful way. I try to keep my life pretty private at school, just because I feel like it isn’t relevant and isn’t helping my kids learn.

For TFA, we have to do a student leadership project. I wasn’t particularly excited about this requirement – it felt like another thing piled on top of everything else going on at the end of the year. I collaborated on the idea with the other TFA teachers at my school, and we decided to make a video about the history of our school, because of the upcoming closure. When I talked about this with my kids, I framed it by saying this “Have you ever watched the news on TV? Do you know how there are the people who are on the news every day, the reporters who work for the news station? Do you know how they sometimes go and talk to regular people and ask them questions? Well, we are going to become reporters, and we are going to interview people we know about what it was like to go to our school a long time ago.”

We’re journalists. We’re reporters. We’re interviewing people. We’re telling stories about our community.

What was my leadership experience in college, which basically got me in to TFA?

I was the Editor in Chief of my college newspaper, the Western Herald.

You can only connect the dots looking backwards.

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. Continue Reading