Browse Author: Samantha

July Money Challenge: Week Three

The nachos were great.

My spending this week is a little different than normal, because I’ve spent most of the week traveling. I went to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding, and when I got back to Mississippi, I went to Delta State University to volunteer at Teach For America’s Kick-Off.

Saturday, July 15

No spending!

Sunday, July 16

$6.89 – Chipotle burrito bowl

$4.23 – Latte at the airport

$45.00 – Parking at the New Orleans airport. This is about $13.00 more than it normally would be, because the less expensive parking lots were full when I flew out.

Monday, July 17

$5.98 – Nachos

Tuesday, July 18

$14.69 – Going out with friends

Wednesday, July 19

$9.00 – Going out with friends

Thursday, July 20

$14.00 – Paid a friend back for gas money

Friday, July 21

No spending!

July Money Challenge: Week Two

Saturday, July 8

$2.50 – a succulent at the Farmers market.

$23.02 – groceries

$6.63 – getting photos printed

Sunday, July 9

$6.27 – two coffees

$16.19 – a broom and a dustpan and something else at Target

$36.00 – drinks (no, they were not all for me)

$14.97 – at the craft store

Monday, July 10

$18.04 – groceries

Tuesday, July 11

$20.00 – doctor’s co-pay

Wednesday, July 12

$4.52 – a latte

$14.30 – groceries

Thursday, July 13

$2.50 – coffee

Friday, July 14

$23.00 – gas

$5.45 – breakfast

July Money Challenge: Week One

Saturday, July 1
$1.oo – a basil plant at the farmer’s market.

 Sunday, July 2

$90.28 – a week’s worth of groceries and a bunch of other stuff – new headphones, a spatula, dish towels, a cast iron skillet and a saucepan. $41.41 of the total was non-food.

$2.99 – the This American Life app in the Google Play store. I bought the same app years ago on my iPhone, but now I have an Android. 

$12.31 – a shower curtain and shower curtain rings, since my roommates moved out.

Monday, July 3

No spending!

Tuesday, July 4

$6.31 – Coffee for myself and a friend.

$14.97 – Alcohol

Wednesday, July 5

No spending! 

Thursday, July 6

$7.50 – Lunch

$22.64 – Gas

$6.30 – Gelato

Friday, July 7

No spending!

July Money Challenge


This July, I’m embarking upon a monthly money challenge – I’m going to share all my spending, on my blog, for the entire month.

Why am I doing this? I’m a personal finance nerd – I don’t blog about it on here much, but I’m always reading about how other people spend money, save money, and think about money. I also had a pretty spendy June – in part, because I went to Michigan, and in part because of irregular expenses that came up close together.

I want to do a reset – not resetting to some kind of obsessively frugal lifestyle, but spending less and making sure I’m only spending money on things that matter to me. Since it’s summer break, I have more mental energy to expend on setting myself up with good habits, which I’ll hopefully carry into the school year.

Every week of the month, I’ll write about how much I’ve spent, and what I’ve spent money on. I won’t include my rent or my utility bills in this – this is about examining the money I spend on coffee, groceries, library fines and clothes, not about the money I spend to keep the lights on and keep a roof over my head.

Total transparency – let’s see what happens!

Teacher Planning Camp

Alternate title: my nerdy aspirations.

I have big, exciting plans for the upcoming holiday weekend, basically just planning for the upcoming year.

I have 4 days off and I hope I can get the majority of my planning done for the month of August. This includes planning the sequence of teaching procedures,

Here’s the agenda:

Friday, June 30

Make a list of procedures, begin scripting directions for procedures.

Saturday, July 1

Schedule teaching procedures for the first two weeks of the year.

Script directions for all procedures.

Put together 100 chart (cut numbers apart)

Create number cards for 100-120.

Sunday, July 2

Write social-emotional learning/class culture plan.

Write ELA first month plan.

Write math first month plan.

Write weekly assessments for first month (ELA and Math)

Monday, July 3

Write first month lesson plans for ELA, including student investment plan.

Write first month lesson plans for math, including student investment plan.

Write year-long writing plan.

Organize files in Google Drive.

Tuesday, July 4

Find/create worksheets for OA dry erase board center.

Set up binders for OA dry erase board center.

Create exit tickets for first month math plans.

Create any required printouts for first month ELA plans.

I’ll keep this updated with anything else that comes up – I’ll mark things when they’re completed, and add whatever else comes to mind.

Summer at RePublic

Last week, I started my summer fellowship at RePublic Schools! I’ve mostly been working at Smilow Prep, but I’m going to spend the majority of my time at ReImagine Prep, which was the first charter school to open in Mississippi.

My fellowship is an operations position, and most of the work I’ve been doing is preparing the space and materials for students to arrive in August. On the first day, we unpacked and set up all the Chromebooks, above. Today, I affixed college flags to the walls in all of the classrooms, which was more challenging than I expected.

It’s been interesting to see the ways in which RePublic runs differently than a public school – they face different challenges with their buildings, their curriculum, in relating to parents and building school culture. I’m hoping to use this summer to gain a better understanding of what’s working for RePublic, and try to bring some of that into my school in August.

Michigan to Mississippi, by the numbers.

931 miles.
160 miles driven on the Natchez Trace. For anyone who hasn’t driven on the Natchez Trace, it’s a slow, scenic drive with very inconsistent cell phone service. The scenery is very similar to northern Michigan.
10 phone calls.
1 state driven through by surprise. Hello, Alabama.
3 gas stops.
33.67 miles per gallon, on average.
1 nap taken with the window rolled down at a rest stop in Kentucky.
2 potted plants in the car with me.
2 caffeinated beverages drank.
4 cheese pies eaten.
1 Chipotle burrito bowl eaten.

Teach for America: We made it

Me, leaving my end of year meeting with my TLD

Yesterday was the last day of school.

Over the summer, I wrote in my classroom vision that I wanted to have a class where my students were collaborative and supportive and learning from each other. Come October, December, February, this felt like a silly, naive idea, totally irrelevant to the actual struggles I’ve had in my classroom all year.

All year, when a student doesn’t know the answer to a question, I’ve been saying “Can anyone help [student]?” Then, I tell that student to call on another student who has their hand raised.

Yesterday, I was reviewing trigraphs with my kids during our phonics lesson – I introduced the trigraphs, then I asked my kids to think of words that included that trigraph. For example, words like “light” “fight” “right” “tight” and “night” all include trigraph igh. The trigraph was dge, and I asked “Can anyone think of words with trigraph dge?” Z raised his hand, I called on him, then he spent a minute trying to think of a word. Then, J was sitting next to him and said “Z, do you need some help?” And suggested a word.

Totally unprompted.

It was this tiny glimpse of something I’ve tried in my classroom actually working. Like “Hey. I did that! I made that happen!”

Teaching as Design

TFA frames teaching as leadership. That’s the name of the framework we’re following, TAL – Teaching as Leadership. Throughout the recruitment, this is a point they head home – this is leadership training, our students need strong leaders, and diversity, equity, and inclusivity is the center of our leadership. As a student leader, this was appealing to me, but they could have sent a message that would have hit my heart in an entirely different way.

Teaching as design.

Teaching is an undeniably creative process, and to me, it’s design thinking. Specifically, it’s human centered design – you are constantly iterating and trying new things with real, small humans. In design, you start out with a problem, or a goal; making a thinner iPhone. In teaching, that goal might be getting your students to understand two digit addition with regrouping. You’re getting feedback, constantly, and you modify your work to respond to that feedback.

In teaching, the feedback you get is often loud and unruly and sometimes children stick their middle finger up at you if they have a problem with what you’re doing. Sometimes the feedback looks like data – test scores, exit tickets, STAR planning reports.

In design, the feedback is focus groups, user testing, A/B testing.

Either way, the feedback informs the way you proceed, it informs the changes that you make to your practice. With both design and teaching, it is a practice, and your practice is going to change and evolve over time – my classroom is going to be different next year from the way it’s been this year, in so many ways.

My students took the TFA math summative, and I spent hours grading and entering data for every student, for every question. It’s a sixteen page test, and I have 18 students, so this was tedious, to say the least, and it’s a rigorous test – my students were showing mastery on the tests I’ve been giving all year, but when the summative happened, we didn’t do nearly as well, as shown on the above spreadsheets. Look at 1.OA.6, 1.OA.1, and 1.NBT.5 – I can look at the feedback and get results that will inform what I’m doing next year. You bet we’re going to devote more time to those standards, from the beginning of the school year, and I’m going to be integrating more rigorous content into the curriculum that the district provides.

To me, this is design thinking – iterating and testing out ideas, and creative problem solving is at the heart of it all.

Grading Anxiety

When I was at Western, I was obsessive about my GPA. It felt like a chance to redeem myself from what felt like a huge failure at art school, it felt like a chance to finally prove that I was smart. In two and a half years, I only had one B and one BA, finishing with a 3.96 or 3.94 or something.

That number would have been higher if I hadn’t taken Early American Lit, which ruined me.

It felt like an accomplishment.

At high school graduation, I undoubtedly had the lowest GPA out of my friend group. I wasn’t dumb, but I had made some mistakes (I’m looking at you, C in freshman year Earth Science) and some things just didn’t work out the way I hoped (hey, straight Bs for the semester because I spent the week before finals in the hospital while my grandma was dying.) I graduated with a 3.4, which some of the colleges I applied to recalculated, adding in extra points for AP and honors classes.

I honestly thought that the obsession and investment and confusion over grades would be over when I graduated.

I was wrong.

My elementary school didn’t give out grades. My elementary school was, compared to the school where I teach, hippie-ish. There were movable walls! There was team-teaching! We had recess twice a day! Our report cards were a long list of skills, academic and social-emotional and practical, and you got a grade on each of those. They would include things like “Adding and subtracting two-digit numbers,” “Plays appropriately with peers,” “Using scissors” and “Identifying left and right.”

In kindergarten, I distinctly remember getting the left and right one wrong, because the person asking me gave me a hint, saying “Your right hand is the one you write with.”

I’m left-handed.

At my school, we give out grades. Numbers that translate into letters that translate into passing or failing.

Grading is frustrating because I have to give a number, to every student, for Reading, Language, and Math. That number doesn’t have a way for me to say “They are still behind but they have improved so much.” and it doesn’t have a way for me to say “Their grammar is great, but they struggle with phonics – they don’t quite get vowel patterns yet.” There’s no way for me to say “Their behavior changed recently, and we’ve been working on changing how we react to this kind of situation.”

I’ve spent this year trying to figure out how to handle grading – which assignments to grade, how to grade homework, how rigorous assignments should be in order to count them for a grade. I’m always trying to strike a balance – if the work you’re grading is too hard, everyone’s failing, if the work you’re grading is too easy, then your gradebook is full of 100’s and it’s not rigorous enough.

Then, there’s the troubleshooting side of things – how do I manage making up tests when students are absent? How do I manage making up work that was unfinished in class?

I still don’t feel like I have it figured out.