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”

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.