My new classroom!!! (Don't misread the exclamation points--I'm not really all that excited, especially after FIVE hours of lesson planning for the upcoming week. I know it will get easier. I think. I hope.)

Now bear in mind that this room, along with the six other classrooms in this very large portable, had been used as a dumping ground for materials for TWENTY-FIVE years. Count 'em. That's twenty-five years. When I walked in on day one, all ready to move in with my boxes, I hadn't counted on hauling boxes of textbooks from the seventies OUT first. (On a related note, teachers are pack rats... THROW IT AWAY PEOPLE!!)

Anyways, here's the spiffed up version (you may recognize stuff from years past on my wall-- no time to be creative this time around...):

The "Put your best foot forward" is for students to display their personal goals for this year. The empty yellow bulletin board above the red chairs is for language arts stuff.

All that's missing is some students and a busy teacher!

Sarah gets a history lesson

I found out some interesting things today during lunch recess. I was having a conversation with a fifth grade teacher (Mr. K) and Coach. Both are probably in their late fifties. The interesting thing about Coach is that he is from eastern Michigan and started teaching in this state in 1984.

This is what Coach told me:

In 1984, my particular district hired hundreds of new teachers. Three hundred of them were from Michigan. When Coach was hired, no one told him about the salary step schedule that doesn't ever get very high, and no one told him that the health care was SUCKY. No one told him that this state doesn't have a teacher's union like Michigan has.

In 1985, a politician decided that every teacher was going to have to take a test to determine whether or not they were qualified to teach; if they didn't pass, they would be fired. There was a huge uproar but nothing to do about it (remember? no union?). It turns out that the test was just a thirty minute thing that basically you could only fail if you were illiterate.

But most of the Michigan teachers decided that was the final straw. Two hundred out of the three hundred left this state after just a year.

Oh, also? No tenure here!! So it looks like I may be an untenured teacher for the rest of my days :)


So I've officially taught special education in three states. California! Michigan! and now Texas!

Did you know they all have different acronyms for special education terms? You might conduct an IEP in California, but it's called an ARD in Texas. You may hold a MET in Michigan, but that's a Triennial in California, and an FIE in Texas. Confused? You should be :)

On top of new terms for common paperwork, I'm adjusting to a new school culture and new personalities. Let's see, there's a flamboyant kindergarten teacher, an eighty year old resource room teacher (yes, she is actually 80, that's no exaggeration!), and a surly office manager. And I'm still trying to figure out the principal. My school has about 300 students, 85% of which are Hispanic, 13 % are African American, and 2% are Caucasian. The staff is even more diverse!

Despite all the newness, the kids are still the same everywhere I teach. There are those who are a handful and those who are delightful. They are all at that age where deaf kids think it's uncool to be wearing their hearing aids. They are all hoping to succeed, feel good about themselves, and feel cared for by their teacher.

My self-confidence comes back when I'm with my kids!

Getting to know my school ... and the ER

So, I'm done freaking out now. I think. The newness is slowly wearing off and I'm getting more and more comfortable the more time I spend in my new classroom and school. A bit of unexpected grace saved me on Wednesday when one of my deaf ed. colleagues told me that we won't be pulling kids out for the first week of school. What?? A whole other week to get my room and myself prepared? Burden just rolled off my shoulders like tumbleweed in the southern wilderness!!

I've found out more about my position: I'll be doing pull-out services for deaf/hard-of-hearing students for reading and writing remediation. I'll have five fourth graders for two hours in the morning, and eight fifth graders for two hours in the afternoon. The rest of the time, I'll be going into their classrooms for extra help in other subjects. I'll also have a teacher's assistant to send out wherever my kids are needing more help.

We'll also be using a language arts curriculum new to the district this year. The district administration has said that because students working with this curriculum have had lots of success over at the State School for the Deaf, that it's going to be successful with our kids too. Never mind that the school for the deaf is a total communication program heavily emphasizing sign language. Our oral students should succeed with it too. This may be a major headache, but I'm trying to keep an open mind.

For a much more interesting post on why we spent our Saturday evening in the emergency room, see here.

Breaking them in

I've decided that taking a job in a new school (and in a new state too!) is just like getting a pair of brand new shoes.

When you first get the shoes, you think how lovely and pretty they are and what a delightful choice you've made. And then fall comes around and it's time to wear the new shoes. And suddenly you realize that these new shoes aren't as comfortable as your old sneakers. You're not as steady on your feet now and the process of breaking them in is difficult and sometimes painful. You can't wait to get home and take the shoes off and rub where the blisters have formed.

And yet. The only way to be comfortable in these shoes is to keep wearing them until you've made all the right cracks in the leather, until you've endured through all the newness and the discomfort.

And then hopefully one day you'll walk around comfortably and feel like these shoes have always been a part of you...

Where Am I ??

We closed on the house on Wednesday and moved in that night. The next four days were spent frantically unpacking and shopping/buying appliances (also, desperately missing the Internet!). Last night, we got the living room, kitchen, and bedroom looking in tip-top shape then threw the rest of the boxes into one of the other bedrooms. Outta sight, outta mind... right?

Today I started my first day of school. Well, more like the beginning of in-service week before the kids show up next Monday. I could bore you with all kinds of details like how I'm teaching 4th/5th and how I have my very own pull-out classroom for my deaf/hard-of-hearing students. I could tell you haunting nightmares of the DISASTROUS state of my new room and how the overwhelming sense of "no-way-will-I-be-prepared-for-kids-by-Monday" reduced me to tears. I could tell you about my friendly co-workers and how the jury is still out on whether or not I'll like the principal.

But instead I'll tell you about the incident that sticks out the most in my mind today. I went out for lunch with the art teacher and with one of the other deaf ed. teachers who is also new (and a first year teacher!). I'll call her Jane. Jane is slightly younger than I am and she has lived in this state her whole life. She was telling me and the art teacher the disastrous state of her own classroom when she walked in last week:

"There were hundreds of transparencies and note cards covering the floor! Broken crowns everywhere!"

I snapped to attention as I tried to figure out why there would be crowns on the floor. Burger King crowns? Happy Birthday crowns?

She continued: "and it was too bad about the crowns, because I don't have any of my own and Kindergartners really love to color and write with them."

As the realization hit me that she was actually saying crayons, I felt truly out of place. My version of normal pronunciation is clearly all wrong down south!! I stopped myself just in time from saying what I was thinking: "Ohhhhhhhhhh... you mean CRAY-ONS!!"

They talk funny down here :)

I'll miss the family too!

Dear Meijer,

In just one more day, we'll be moving down south, away from all of your hypermarket goodness.

I remember the first day I saw you, fresh off the plane from France, shopping for college dorm room stuff in your huge aisles stocked with overwhelming choice. It took some getting used to you then, but by the time I was doing all of my grocery shopping with you a year or two later, I had fallen totally and competely in love with all you had to offer!

Then later, when we moved to California and you weren't out there, we were a little lost. We spent two years shopping at four different grocery stores every week just to get what we needed. That was horrible!

And what will happen now that you won't be moving with us down south? I suppose there's still Costco and Kroger, but Kroger is usually overpriced and Costco is so... big. Many would claim that Super Wal-Mart will easily replace you, but they haven't seen Meijer's fancy cheese selection, or their organic selection. And Meijer brand food is so TASTY compared to other off-brands. And your non food-stuff is of such better quality than everyone else! Meijer, why are you making this so hard?!?

I will miss you. Wait for me, I'll always come back to you.

PS: Who is going to entertain me with hilarious commercials?

This and that

Well we got back to Michigan with only 24 hours of travel (that's including all the layover time and drive time in addition to length of flight) without any major incidents.

The cats were happy to see us, when they remembered who we were.

I slept a grand total of six hours last night. (I hate jetlag!)

Now we have lots of stuff to do and take care of before we drive down south for the big move. All of it has to do with our stuff, our cats, our cars, and our finances as we close on the house. I actively try not to think about the school year starting because when I do I start to panic...

I have absolutely NO idea what I'll teaching and who will be my co-teacher. I've bugged my new administration about it, but they don't seem to know either as it depends on other staffing issues. So as it stands, I'll either be teaching grades K-1 or 4-5 (with most of the class being regular ed., and a small group being hearing impaired). I would be fine with either, but I am anxious to meet the teacher I'll be working alongside of all year. Day one with the students is Aug. 24th and as it stands, I will be a whole lot less prepared for the classroom than I'd like to be!

So for now I'm pouring all of my energy into moving to a new house, because that's all I can do!!

Finally in France

**NOTE** This is my third post today. Scroll down to see pictures of Bratislava and Vienna, and of our eventful travel day!

It was a long drive from Bratislava back to my parents' house in Alsace, France. We knew it would take about 9 hours drive time, plus we figured with bathroom breaks and the possibility of traffic, it could easily take us 12 hours! No one was really looking forward to this. Here I am wondering if we're there yet:

And then my dad dragged us all to Salzburg, Austria on the way home. Now I don't want to sound like a snotty, stuck-up European traveler as I say this, but we had just spent nine days being tourists 24/7 and we were EXHAUSTED and everyone just wanted to get home. But dad decided it would be some kind of crime if we didn't stop in Salzburg, even though we were in the middle of a massively long drive home. So with sighs of resignation, we gave him a ONE HOUR time limit and we hopped out of the car to see the city square:

To his credit, he did manage to get us back in the car after one hour (after we graciously agreed to start the timer after we stopped for fuel). And I suppose Salzburg was very pretty in the end, so no harm done.

Anyways, we were very happy to be home again after such a wonderful trip!!

Back and forth between Bratislava and Vienna

The next day, we toured around Bratislava for a few hours in the morning, and then headed to Vienna (only thirty-something miles away!) in the afternoon.

Let's start with Bratislava. We started by hiking up to the Bratislava Castle (inhabited since 3000 B.C)! Unfortunately, the whole thing was covered in scaffolding and undergoing renovations so it was closed to tourists. This was disappointing.

After our picnic lunch, we walked around the city taking pictures:

You know you're American if you pose with statues:

Vienna was a spontaneous decision. Max had never been there so it was reason enough to go. We power-walked all around the city and were able to see the main attractions. Click here for Max's version of the play-by-play of stuff we saw there... Here I'll just post some random pictures in no particular order:

Above: We ate NUTELLA ice cream in one of the many city squares. NUTELLA! ICE CREAM!
Below: We stopped shoving food in our faces long enough to pose in front of St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Below: When we're not eating or posing, we're behind the lens. Max is taking a picture of some fabulous building and in the background is the Rathaus (mayor's building):

Above: The two very nice people who spoiled us rotten on this trip. I call them mom and dad!
Below: For all of his eccentricities, you can't go to Vienna and pass up a peek at Sigmund Freud's house.

After walking around until we were ready to collapse, we headed back into Bratislava for dinner at the Slovak Pub, which my dad had heard about from a local. Authentic and CHEAP Slovakian food:

We had the most amazing garlic soup (I think I can still taste it!), and some kind of dish with special Slovak cheese made from sheep. It was incredible and I recommend going to Bratislava for no other reason than going this restaurant!

On the road again

We had an eventful travel day from Wroclaw, Poland, to Bratislava, Slovakia.

We woke up in Poland.

We ate lunch in the Czech Republic:

We booked a hotel in Bratislava, Slovakia:

We ate dinner in Hungary:

We had ice cream for dessert in Austria:

Weary in Wroclaw

We drove three and a half hours to Wroclaw, Poland. In looking over the pictures I took of Wroclaw, I was momentarily puzzled by the few number of them, and then I remembered Oh yeah, we were EXHAUSTED!

We started out with lunch at an out-of-the-way restaurant. We were looking for traditional Polish, but happened upon traditional Georgian food (you know, the Republic of Georgia, not the state!). We figured that never in our lives would we get an opportunity to sample the fare of such a small country so we went for it... and we weren't disappointed!

Next, we found another church tower to climb for views of the city. The view was worth the stairs and all the pigeon poop:

We posed for lots of pictures at the top. Here's one where I am reminded once again that I married a goofball!

And here's me and dad:

When we got back down, we were extra tired. Did I mention it was also one of the few very hot days we had? We rested inside the church we had just climbed:

We walked around the town's square a bit more and then collapsed on a bench. At one point, mom said "What we really need is a big air conditioned mall". And then we all laughed warily because 1) they don't "do" malls in Europe, and 2) air conditioning is rare here too.

But whaddayaknow? We happened to walk a few blocks out of town and to Max's great delight (hope you heard that with sarcasm, folks!), we came upon a four story, nicely air conditioned mall!! My parents were, of course, besides themselves to run into a bit of America all the way over in Poland. So we humored them and spent some time there :).

We finished the day with a very late (and yummy!) dinner back at the hotel. This finished our last day in Poland, and all in all we very much enjoyed it. It's definitely not a very well-known tourist destination but I would definitely recommend it. Great prices there too!

Next up: an eventful travel day!

Proud of Poznan

The next day we headed for Poznan, Poland from where we were staying near Gdansk. We decided to go to Poznan because it's the town that my dad's grandfather is from! Anyway, the trip was supposed to take four hours. But let's just say that the Polish roads aren't the best (yes, Michigan has worse potholes, but at least the speed limit is 70 in the U.S and not 40. FORTY!!). Also there was some construction and that slowed us down so all in all it took us about seven and a half hours to get there.

We had some fun on the way though. We saw, outta NOWHERE, this giant Country Western saloon themed restaurant and hotel and we stayed there for lunch. I'd never seen anything themed up this much ever. Not even Disneyland. Or Dollywood. The pictures don't show much of the decor, but just the fact that they gave us all cowboy hats when we asked the waitress to take our picture should give you an idea of how it was:

We finally got to Poznan ("my people", dad kept saying) and didn't know what to expect, as it wasn't a popular tourist attraction. But it ended up having a lovely square with very colorful row houses and some cathedrals:

It also happened that there was a display that boasted of Poland's independence from Prussia in 1919 in that very city square!

That evening, we ate at one of the many open air restaurants lining the city square. Here I am laughing at some of Max's antics (or some chest pain, I can't be sure...):

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