Your Favorite Staff Meeting Attendees

Staff meetings. An educator’s favorite time of the week. A quick scan of Pinterest gives a sense of what teachers really think of staff meetings.

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But, honestly, every job has meetings. Every job has pointless meetings on a regular basis. Teachers aren’t any different in this aspect and educators have to realize this.

What makes us different is that we work with children and deal with, on a daily basis, the fact that there really are stupid questions.

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So why is it that, without fail, one of the educators in the room will ask the dumbest question ever?! Why is it that an educator will speak just to summarize what has just been covered? Sound familiar? Here are a few of the coworkers you are likely to see at every staff meeting.

Coworker 1 – doesn’t realize that we are all chomping at the bit to go… yet still raises hand just as people are packing up to leave

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There really isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about this coworker. We’ve all been there and have inwardly groaned, “Just ask your dumb question after the meeting so the rest of us can go!” Unless the question is truly relevant, and chances are it isn’t, the staff meeting leader really needs to step up and dismiss everyone else before getting to this person’s pointless question.

Coworker 2 – needs step-by-step clarification for every. single. directive

I have one student in my class who I have to literally spell out every single step in any given process. Half the time it’s because she’s not listening, but honestly homegirl just does not comprehend on a “with a quickness” speed. Sound familiar?

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Unfortunately these traits carry into adulthood and you’ll most likely have one next to you in a staff meeting. Go ahead and be proactive by drawing pictures before the confusion sets in.

Coworker 3 – shares stupid story that nobody cares about

My fifth graders do this all the time and I’ve become quite used to interrupting with, “We are doing ________ right now, not telling stories.” As adults we really should start employing this for our work colleagues. Better yet, be direct. Apparently they’ve yet to receive the message and you’ll be doing us all a favor.

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Coworker 4 – asked to share information that could’ve been disseminated via email

Did you really need to take up my time with something that could’ve been put in an email that I could skim, disregard, and eventually delete? I didn’t think so.

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So the next time you have a staff meeting, keep yourself occupied not by listening and actively participating, but by pointing out how your coworkers are so much like your students. It’ll make the time go by much faster.

Classroom Novels

I recently submitted a Donors Choose project for a class set of the novel Wonder by RJ Palacio. To be honest I hadn’t read it, but the reviews were outstanding and I needed a new novel to begin in January. Luckily my project was funded within 24 hours, thanks to the Kia and Disney match promotional codes. Now I await the arrival.

I went ahead and read the story this weekend, as I was curious, obviously. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed. I mean, it has a great message and is totally relevant to my students’ lives, but I wasn’t left feeling “wowed” like I had after reading some of my faves as a kid.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Giver, and Island of the Blue Dolphins will always be my favorites. Wonder doesn’t even begin to compare. There’s no real climax and everything feels kind of too perfect at the end. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I know my students will love it and I’ll use it for a few years, but I just don’t see it becoming a classic like the others.

So what are your all-time favorite young adult novels? Am I totally wrong about Wonder? Is there something more contemporary that I should be reading in order to share with my students? Enlighten me!

In the meantime, here’s how I’ve been keeping up with the winter weather and bipolar temps in Indiana.

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A great thrifted find on Instagram from @nyc_closetz

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A classic look, thanks to J. Crew Factory

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The amazing herringbone vest I mentioned in the previous post.

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Another thrifted Instagram find from the retail J. Crew. It’s actually 100% cashmere and oh-so-soft.

Transitions and What Teachers Hate Most About Teaching

I came home from work today steaming. I was so angry, so frustrated, so pissed. Why? Because of parents. Yes, parents. The worst part of teaching.

I have some parents who are amazing. They follow through, help their child without actually doing the work, and support me 100% by just being on my side. Most parents fall into this category. They realize that teaching is a job, and for many, a job they’d admittedly never be able to do and stay sane! I love these parents and truly hope that I am in this category for my own son’s teachers.

But then there are the other parents. Those breeders who copulated with some other human and created an offspring whom they could care less about. Those mommies who still wipe their little darlings’ butts. The helicopter parents who want so much to be the “cool parent.” These parents drive me to consider leaving teaching multiple times a year. They are, by far, the worst aspect of being a teacher.

Last year’s students were rough. At six years, four of which were severely inner-city, they were the hardest class I’d had. The parents were a little rough too. I had the anxiety-ridden tweaking kid who, being in my “high” math class, lived under the same roof as Mr. and Mrs. Military. Their child would literally incapacitate himself with anxiety if he was unable to grasp a concept. After one quiz, I wrote on his paper, “Did you study?” I received an email from his Corporal Mother asking how dare I write such a thing on her child’s paper when it should be obvious that he did study. Rather than inquiring if I could offer some suggestions on how to better study (because apparently the chosen method had failed miserably) I was considered in the wrong by the Squad Sergeant. Compared to the parents I have this year, this instance was tame.

Another parent was absolutely certain that her precious little cabbage patch child was being bullied and I was doing absolutely nothing to stop Precious from being emotionally scarred for life. In all honesty little miss Priss was an instigator and Mommy Dearest couldn’t bear being wrong.

This year I’m seeing more and more of the latter parent. Parents who swear their child is a victim. Innocent. Can do no wrong. Is that really how we are raising children these days? By telling them they are perfect and are to be trusted over adults?

I don’t think so.

Today my son was placed in timeout for throwing mulch at his teacher. Did I question the punishment? No. Did I question the teacher’s story? No. By choosing to send my kid to the day care, I have chosen to trust in the teacher’s ability to educate, discipline, and care for my child. While at school, my child is expected to treat his teachers as he would treat me and his father.

So why do so many parents assume that the teachers are the bad guys? Do they expect that I treat each child as though they are the only one in the class? Should I spend my teaching time dealing with each child’s personal issues. Let’s get real! As adults our bosses do not coddle us, and we can’t start coddling our youth as they transition into middle school.

Teachers must be tough and parents must be tougher. It’s that simple. Parent your child so that I can teach your student.

What types of parents have you encountered as a teacher? Share your horror story below!

Fashion Tip
An outfit to keep you sane during the transition from an Indian summer to a true autumn:

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Warm up a summer dress with boots, frilly boot socks, and simple (pearl, gold, silver) versatile jewelry. Orange is a great transition piece to pair with brown! Add a pop of teal or purple to brighten up the colors.

What’s Really Important

Apparently I am no longer a Type A personality. I swear I used to be. I used to fit the Wikipedia definition to a T. I was status oriented and wanted to be the best of the best. So how did I go from A to B?

To be honest I think I grew up a little. Now that I have a family that needs me, I don’t have the luxury of worrying about abstract ideas like perfection and popularity. As a neophyte teacher I was more self-absorbed and, as my husband worked on his career goals, I too strove to be the best of the best. And that was okay for me at that time in my life. But having a child, and really relying on only my husband for any kind of help, turned me into a definite Type B.

Do I still do a great job at work? Yes. I take home work once in a while. I arrive much earlier than required in order to accomplish the necessary tasks. I care about my career. But, at the same time, I leave work right at 4:15, the end of my contract time. I go home and play and enjoy my evenings without a single thought for work. I don’t really care about teacher rubrics for effectiveness or any number that’s tied to my abilities. I let this attitude guide my teaching.

My students know that they are more than a test score. I also know that they are more than students. They are softball players, actresses, little diplomats, gamers, basketball players, caregivers, chefs, maids, little mothers, big brothers. At the end of the day, they leave the student hat on the desk and go on about their lives. So I have to be compassionate enough to understand that they, too, have lives that should not revolve around perfection and popularity. I have to care about the other hats each child wears which involves listening, talking with, and being silly with the students. Teaching and being a disciplinarian are only small portions of my job. The rest is maintaining a bunch of personalities and pushing each to succeed for a short time during the day so that they can succeed at wearing many other hats throughout their lives.

So which personality type is better? I’m definitely going with B… For now!

Some recent outfits to transition to fall:
Old Navy striped waffle-knit sweater (bought in three colors)!

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Anthropologie thrifted dress (I got so many compliments on this one)!

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Old Navy white waffle sweater and Old Navy Rockstar fit pants (also bought in three colors)!

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The white waffle sweater over a plaid J. Crew Factory button down!

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My Beef with Teach for America

Although my current school has zero TFA members, my previous school was a revolving door for the “brilliant” TFA movement. At one point it seemed we had more TFA members than legitimate teachers.

I have maintained friendships with several of the TFA members, but their personalities and capabilities aren’t what turned me away. It’s the whole model and idea behind the company. In case you’re unfamiliar with Teach for America, the gist is that recent college graduates are fast-track trained to work in the nation’s worst urban school districts.

The process is simple: realize you don’t know what the hell to do after graduation and decide that teaching can’t be that hard. Plus, changing the world is a great résumé builder. Apply and gain acceptance, especially if you are a male or a minority. Then spend the summer (approximately 6-8 weeks) working with inner-city kids in a highly supervised environment. Finally, get “hired” at a school district where most of your salary is paid for by the TFA corporation.

So let’s summarize: you aren’t adequately trained but you’ll get hired over a fully trained teacher because your salary is subsidized by a corporation. Fair? Not exactly.

We all know that the most qualified isn’t necessarily the one hired. It’s all about the money.

Within the four years I worked at my previous school, we had TFA members for three. That totaled at least fourteen teaching positions that were given to TFA over highly-qualified educators.

However, this isn’t even the bubble-bursting piece of information that ultimately turned me off of the corporation. TFA members are only required to work in the schools for two years.. Yes. Two.

After two years, only 3/14 were still educators in an urban environment. The other 11 were scooped up to work for TFA doing recruiting and other operational duties. After their two year stint a new cycle of members come in and the process repeats itself, never allowing continuity, consistency, or teacher retention for the already at-risk urban school.

On top of all this, I personally find it demeaning to lead others to believe that, after a mere two years at a job, one would be considered an expert, enough to recruit, train, and lead others into this profession. I’m currently in my seventh year of teaching just intermediate elementary and I learn and change daily!

While the fact remains that urban areas need good teachers, TFA belittles the struggle by allowing administrators to hire long-term temps who are then swooped up by the corporation rather than being encouraged to remain in the teaching field.

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Women…

Prior to working at my current charter school, I was employed for four years at another charter that was considered legitimate inner-city. Our charter was held by a company and run by a man who knew how to fundraise. He was a pro. I don’t know who he talked to or how he managed to get our little place the big bucks, but we did pretty well.

The whole fundraising idea was never even brought to our attention. As teachers our job was to do just that… Teach! What happened in the “back of the house” wasn’t anything for us to stress about. If we needed something, we asked and poof! It was there. I know that this isn’t very realistic for every school, but it was certainly nice to be pampered so much with new textbooks every few years and free school sweatshirts for the entire staff and student body.

When I left that school I was quite naive in assuming that all charters ran the same way, with lots of fundraising. I assumed there would be old white guys in suits trolling through the school to gawk at us teaching the little unfortunates. Very Oliver Twist. I could not have been farther from reality.

So, when my current employer hired a fundraising liaison, or whatever you call a glorified begger (haha), I was completely taken aback when we teachers were approached to make donations. According to her, our “business” would be at a severe disadvantage without 100% teacher participation. To me it seemed shaky at best. Not once had my previous employer even mentioned employee participation in fundraising. What was this lady talking about?!

I could see the uncertainty and wariness in my coworkers’ eyes as they listened to this newcomer. Not a single one was overly impressed or eager to cough up our hard-earned dollars, least of all me. When speaking about it later with my husband, he was adamant that, should I feel harassed for not participating, I should take action.

While it never came to that, I did feel hounded, and I find that very unprofessional and hurtful from an employer who I have already given so much. As I thought more about the idea of giving and what would make me actually donate, we were “generously” given the opportunity to have a monthly jeans day if our building had 100% participation. I know of other schools that allow teachers to wear jeans if they donate a certain amount. It sounded like a plan to me! I donated anonymously (from my paycheck, haha).

So where is this story going, exactly?

Today, after our building has been stuck at 93% participation for the past week, a fellow coworker bravely approached me to inquire about my participation. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, 93% correlates to just two staff members who have chosen not to participate. She wondered if I was one of the two based on conversations we had had earlier in the month.

Nope. Not me. I do, however, wholeheartedly admire the two that are standing their ground. Am I upset that they are the reason we aren’t able to wear jeans once a month? Not at all.

As I sat and thought about the whole situation this afternoon, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. Was the purpose of this whole “giving” idea meant to turn us against one another as we conducted a witch hunt to find the two who are holding out? Probably not. But it is interesting that it’s landed here. Salem, part II.

Women have a tendency to be witch hunters. They want to sniff out the ones who aren’t conforming and then ostracize or act catty toward the nonconformists. Will they do this to the nonconformist’s face? Nope. Which is why I appreciate the coworker who outright asked me if I had donated. She’d heard rumors and wanted to come to me directly, like an adult, before the mob began their hunt.

This brings me to the moral of my long-winded post: if you want to know something, ask. Don’t start hunting witches until you know there are actually witches to hunt. Otherwise you’re just as bad as the ignorant, intolerant, judgmental assholes from the original witch hunt.

Oh, and all in all I really appreciate my former employer for not including us teachers in just another “thing” that takes us away from our actual job… Teaching.

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You Don’t Have to Try So Hard

Have you seen the amazing “Try” video by Colbie Caillat? I have had this song stuck in my head all morning as I pondered what to write. I finally realized that I needed to make a deep and dark confession.

I dieted over the summer. Scratch that. I attempted a diet over the summer.

Hubby and I decided, after a recommendation from a friend, to go on Ideal Protein. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but suffice to say that this was the first real diet I had ever done. Shocking since I’m a 30 year old female, right? But dieting is not my thing, nor has it ever been.

Working with a bunch of women I see daily the newest fad diets. Whole 30. Shakes. Protein powders. Cleanses. Everything. Up until this summer I had managed to steer clear. But something prompted me to attempt this Ideal Protein diet. Something sinister.

Hubby and I signed up (fail #1) by paying a crazy amount of money and receiving a few complimentary pre-packaged foods to try. Did they taste good? Some. Did this diet work? Yes. I lost 6 pounds within days. So why did I stop?

Never in my life had I been so unhappy. Each day I awoke only to instantly start thinking about food. What would I have for breakfast? How long until I could have lunch? Did I want my allotted snack in the morning or after dinner? I was absolutely miserable. At the end of the week I finally told hubby that I would prefer fat to sad.

So why did I jump on the fad diet bandwagon? I suppose, after seeing certain coworkers always attempting these diets, I wanted to give it a try. Deep down, though, I know that I love to eat whatever I want. I just need to balance that with moderation and exercise.

As I listened to Colbie Caillat’s song I again began questioning myself. Why did I try so hard? Why am I so afraid of being myself? I like who I am, and while I would prefer to lose some weight, it does not define me as a person. I should work out because, ultimately, I feel better emotionally. My anxiety is lowered and I have a happier outlook. If I lose some poundage, great. If I don’t, that’s okay too. I don’t have to try so hard.

What do you try so hard? Does it make you happy? What are you going to accept about yourself today?

Top: LC by Lauren Conrad for Kohls (old)
Bottoms: emerald skinny pants from The Limited (very recent and these were 40% off too)
Bracelet: J Crew Factory

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Post-Teaching Stress Disorder

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Many moons ago I worked at a school in one of the roughest parts of the city. To say that my white suburban-raised ass was out of place is an understatement. I was completely clueless.

When I began my position as a neophyte teacher I was hired by one principal only to have another as my boss. I saw four in four years. The administrator who stayed the longest during my tenure was a veteran for a mere 2 1/2 years before getting the boot. She was something else entirely.

I once attended therapy after becoming a teacher, but before having my son. I was experiencing severe anxiety to the point that I was terrified of returning to work after summer break. As I sat in the therapist’s office and spewed forth my story, he mentioned that many teachers, especially those in poverty-stricken areas, experience signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

I was baffled, but he went on to explain that, where I worked, I was entering a war zone daily. This was due to my white upbringing, which while not rich or entitled by any means, was eons away from what I was experiencing daily at my job. To top it off, I was dealing with teacher evaluations by an unstable supervisor who was only compounding the stress and instability of the situation.

The principal had bipolar disorder. She frequently shared this with members of the staff, along with other details of her personal life. Because of this, my therapist explained that it was akin to living with an alcoholic parent. Each day I would show up to work, never knowing if I was getting happy “mommy,” sad mommy, manic mommy, or angry mommy. Knowing that I could be a target, as I saw many others become, added to my anxiety.

Once, in the middle of one of my first staff meetings (only her second as the boss), I and the entire staff witnessed her accept a group’s report only to ball it up and throw it in the trash with absolutely no explanation. The group, consisting of a second grade teacher and two middle school English instructors, were horrified.

Another time, as I was weeks into my very first class and still reeling from the idea of lesson plans and such, she manically came up to me and demanded that I take my students on an overnight field trip to Marengo Caves, as her son had just read a book about spelunking. She began speaking in quick succession about an entire unit designed around caves and stated that it was my duty to plan and submit it to her.

By the end of the year we teachers were forced to create and present power points highlighting reasons we should keep our jobs. After prepping all semester and waiting eagerly to share our project, she would stop us midway through our presentation to begin babbling about non-work related things.

Within the second year I felt that I had become a target. Her supervisor would gently suggest that she dress more appropriately, using my wardrobe as an example, so I was now singled out. During standardized testing she would peer into my windows and state that I was sitting down instead of circulating the room (I had merely leaned against a desk for a few moments as time wound down). She would later explain that I would be fired the next time. I received emails asking why I hadn’t greeted her in the morning when I was only busy with other tasks. She accused me of being rude and stated that I couldn’t teach boys. She once taunted me for having lower scores than my co-teacher and laughed as I wondered why our scores would be separated from within the grade level.

My coworker, who was pregnant at the time, was also a target. The boss, being rail thin and wild-eyed, commented regularly on my coworker’s weight gain. It was embarrassing and hurtful. When my friend didn’t immediately slim down to a size -2, the principal was at it again. When I became pregnant I was terrified that I would go into labor and need to be driven by her to the hospital.

One of my last memories is of her wearing a “Cat in the Hat” costume for Dr. Seuss’s birthday. She would serve up green eggs and ham to the younger students as her white face paint drilled into the scrambled eggs. Later, her supervisor came to the building with many other “suits” for a scheduled meeting. Without changing out of her costume, and with her face melting off, she sat through the meeting. The staff saw her later as she cried in her office, which was clearly a low point. However, as a highly-educated professional and the face of our school, I did not feel she was being unfairly reprimanded by her boss.

When I did go into labor and went on maternity leave, she snuck onto the maternity ward floor of the hospital after I kindly requested to not have visitors. I was experiencing difficulty breast feeding and, as I sobbed dejectedly to the floor nurse, heard a loud knock on the door. My family had left to give me some privacy as I attempted to feed my son, and here I was being accosted by a woman who terrified me. I begged the nurse to send her away and we all wondered how she had managed to get in, as each patient received a code to share with visitors that unlocked the ward doors. I hadn’t given her the code and neither had any other family members. She simply showed up, like the Wicked Witch, in her green noxious gas.

Everything came to a head when it was discovered she was using work computers for a new employment search. Her boss, who for years we were terrified of due to her character-slaughtering lies, had had enough of her crazy shit and she was soon replaced with a principal who was the complete opposite of her.

So, you can imagine why I truly believe that teachers can experience PTSD. Hell, having a horrible boss can lead you to experience PTSD. Was my principal the only stressor that I experienced while teaching? No. But when you don’t have a positive leader or, hell, even a stable leader, the stress compounds itself and suddenly work becomes a place of tension, fear, and harassment.

I highly encourage all of you to check out the links below. The incidence of PTSD in teachers, especially those in urban “war zones,” is on the rise.

Take care of yourselves!

CPS and PTSD

PTSD in Middle School Teacher

A Little Bit of Family

It’s time to get real about office politics and coworker relationships. Whew, it’s a touchy subject and certainly one I’ve dealt with a lot.

My first real world job was as a juvenile home detention officer in an affluent suburb of Indianapolis. I got along with everyone for the most part. I was 23 years old and working second shift with two other grown men who had their own case load. Some of my offenders were 17 and 18 year old boys and I had to conduct school, work, and home visits. Every once in a while, especially during a home detention installation gone wrong, I’d request one of the other guys to go with me. This was mainly for help with the equipment, not actually feeling like I was in any real danger. I was a neophyte and didn’t know all the tips and tricks to troubleshoot the Internet connection, especially in houses that had WiFi or crazy advanced systems.

So, once I asked the younger of the two, Doug, to ride along and help me with an intricate system. The house was a mansion, literally, with a guest house and the whole works. I kept trying to get a signal for the monitoring box, but the phone and Internet wouldn’t cooperate. I was frustrated and drove all the way back to the office to grab a third box, thinking it was the equipment. I asked Doug to come with and to please help with the setup, but he refused. He always refused. So much for helping out your coworker. That guy was so lazy it was a crime! It wasn’t the first time I’d asked for help, so I don’t know why I expected a different response than before.

As I moved into teaching I truly enjoyed the coworkers at my first school. I met my best friend, Amanda, who I am still friends with to this day (seven years later). She’d do anything for anyone. Jessica, Amberly, Spencer, Mary-Catherine, Alisa, Harden, Frances, Rouse… They were all amazing people who I utterly trusted and would do anything for me, as I would for them. We made each other laugh, but could also vent and know that it’d be locked down. Sure, we got on each other’s nerves but we were a family and that’s what we remembered at the end of the day.

One by one we eventually all moved on. First Amanda to Michigan for her husband’s residency. Then Spencer and Mary-Catherine as their time with Teach for America expired. I chose to leave next as a new opportunity presented itself at an A-rated school. I knew it was the right choice, but I miss our group.

My new school is great. The culture is better. The rigor and expectations for both teachers and students are high. Parents provide transportation so I frequently have face-to-face contact. It’s a much better school. But I still haven’t replaced my old school’s family in my heart.

I’m older now, and mainly want to spend my free time with my kid. The school day is much longer so we are all ready to go right at 4:15. Other times, when I just need to sit and talk about life and not be consumed with work, I long for my old school and coworkers. I long for a lunch room that is so tiny we all have to cram together at the table and have a “no work talk” policy for the 25 minutes we are allotted. We talked about our lives and really knew each other. We had inside jokes and weren’t afraid of offending anyone because no one got offended. We all rolled with it, laughed and teased, and realized that listening in on conversations and then ratting on the person was simply not done. We were professionals. Not high schoolers.

We laughed and joked. We sent each other silly emails. Once Amanda sent a first grader over with a note that read, “Tigers don’t like pepper. They like cinnamon,” all because she knew it would make me laugh. When I found out I was pregnant, I sent Amberly a drawing of a chicken sitting on a nest because my husband didn’t want me to tell people yet and I was hoping she’d decipher it on her own. Those little things I still remember after seven years…

I sure miss those guys!

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Example of an email I sent a fellow pregnant coworker. Sometimes being a family was just as important as teaching the kids. We had fun and laughed daily!

TMI!

And so it begins… Not the misbehaviors or sass, but rather the TMI, cringe-worthy information that parents love to share with teachers. ::shudder::

I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard about little girl’s menstrual cycles, boys’ exposing themselves, and even parent personal issues (that really should only be shared with a doctor). Today, though, I got an eyeful via email about how one of my students has been having “accidents” since returning to school last Thursday.

Um… Didn’t need to know that about a middle school aged boy. But let’s face it, boys are disgusting. I have one and I’m married to another. They’re gross and they don’t necessarily take care of everything down there! So I’m finding it hard to believe that the student (who has remained in my class close to my desk as these “accidents” occurred) experienced legitimate número two fiascos. Just saying… My classroom Scentsy ain’t gonna mask that kind of stank!

So, on top of being a teacher, counselor, psychologist, parent, and disciplinarian to these students, I am now a nurse practitioner, eager to hear all of your child’s symptoms and bodily concerns. Share away because it’s not awkward at all to know such things about your child!

Lucky for me I at least had a decent wardrobe day, student issues and all!

Dress: Old Navy ponte fit and flare (loving this style as it is similar to last week’s pink J. Crew dress. So flattering on all body types).
Necklace: LC by Lauren Conrad for Kohls
Bracelets: made by yours truly
Belt: Francesca’s

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