Eating the Frog – A Taste of a Teacher’s World

One of the frogs living in my garden in progress posed for a picture with me

By Sonya Barnes 4/4/2020

I’d love to hear what your frog is!  Comment below or join me on social media: Facebook join the group Addicted to Teaching or Twitter follow me at AddictedtoTeac1. Don’t forget to like this article and let me know you like it so I will keep them coming!

There is a story from my childhood that comes up from time to time about when, after reading about the frog prince, I went outside, gathered a bucket of frogs and, one at a time, kissed the frog then tossed it over my shoulder and moved on to the next one when it didn’t turn into a prince.  I adore frogs, but the idea of eating one seems completely out of the question.  So when I was having a monthly chat with my instructional leader and she asked me about eating the frog, I definitely raised my eyebrows, before she went on to explain to me and encouraged me to share this concept with all of you.  So here I am.

Brian Tracy wrote a book on this catchphrase of Mark Twain’s, equating it to our modern day lives        and the tasks we do.  As educators, we have many things we must do regularly, and they are not always enjoyable tasks.  It took me many years to figure out effective strategies in my classroom for managing everything and that seemed to change from year to year depending on several factors from leadership to level of students in my classes.  When I moved virtual teacher and working from home, it became even more apparent that time management was incredibly important, especially with family home during the day when I was working. 

If you haven’t caught on my now, this phrase has little to do with literally eating frogs and everything to do with the figurative element of it.  You see, eating a frog is a repulsive idea and something we will put off if possible.  But the gist of this phrase is about taking on the most difficult thing to do and doing it first thing.  For me, grading has always been the bane of my existence—grading is my frog.  I have primarily taught reading and language arts in my career field, so grading meant reading a great deal of writing assignments several times checking for content and mechanics to help improve their skills.  I’d procrastinate on this task due to having so many other things to do and not wanting to, that I’d have a massive pile with hours of grading to do. Sometimes, I’d have so much when it was quarterly writing time, that I’d burn a personal day to spend grading just to have a quiet house to work in—and I’d still procrastinate.  I justified it by saying I was more effective if I graded at once, so I had the same mindset for all and wasn’t so subjective. 

Attempting to catch a frog in the garden was about as challenging as trying to eat the frog in my work day!

Now that I teach a technology course virtually, the grading isn’t quite as time consuming for each item, but it is still time consuming since many of my students will complete more than one assignment in a day and we have an expectation of grading within a certain time period.  This has helped me make sure I make time for it in my day.  I used to work it in when I could, sometimes leaving it to the end of the day, sometimes forcing myself to do it both in the beginning and end of my day. I even tried only grading every other day so that I didn’t have to deal with it as often but could still make the expectation. But after that conversation with my leader last month, I started grading as my first thing of the day every single day.  My brain is fresh and rested and I can start on it early before everyone in the house is awake and moving—which is much more of a distraction now that we are all at home during the Covid-19 orders. 

And do you know what I found?  It really does work.  Not only is my most challenging task completed, but it helps prepare me for the rest of my day.  I can then run an updated report to see the exact status of my students which prepares me for the phone calls I have to make during the day to students and parents.  If my student is successfully ahead and I call and they are stressed about some upcoming test or project, I can talk to them to plan around it. If they are behind or have a poor grade, we can talk about how to catch up or improve their grade and I know exactly what is needed.  It makes these conversations less about what they are supposed to be doing based on a checklist and makes it a more personal conversation about their individual learning and success. 

Considering parent calls were my second frog that I used to avoid in my brick and mortar days and now it’s a routine part of my day, finding this change has made those calls the most enjoyable task (second only to checking things off of my to do list!).  I can tell mom, dad, guardian, student not to stress or worry, we can do this together— do you have a plan or here’s a few options, which works best for YOU? 

This approach to my interactions has allowed me to be a blessing and they answer my calls, instead of the annoyance they send to voicemail.  When I have called home during this challenging time of everyone home and sharing devices, I have been able to be the calm and kind voice in their day.  I can hear the smile in their voice when they answer and saw me on caller ID or hear my name.  I want to be a blessing in people’s lives, so if that means I have to eat that frog every day, I will do so with a smile.

No frogs were harmed in the making of this blog.

Using Your Break to Better Yourself

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                       June 13, 2019

What is it that we crave about summer?  We count down the days as we race towards it at breakneck speeds—longing for its arrival—but why?  Is it the chance to slow down?  Is it temporarily doing away with agendas, alarm clocks, meetings and parent communications? Is it traveling or getting quality time with family that we don’t see during our hectic school routines?  It may be some or all of these, depending on you.  For me, it is not only these things, but also the chance to sit back and analyze how I did things, what worked and what didn’t work, as well as trying on new habits and seeing how I can make them fit in my life.

Routines are an important thing to me, and not just because I am OCD (CDO my husband likes to say since I have a habit of alphabetizing things (don’t get me started on my love of my label maker), but also because I have learned that routines make for consistency and efficiency, two key elements for success.  This past school year has been a challenge. We moved into a new house to make room for my mother, my oldest son finished his Associate’s degree and started at a new college for his Bachelor’s, my husband changed jobs after dreaming about it for two years, and I was committed to a training program for the duration of the school year that came to a conclusion about the time my mom became fully retired.  Whew! I was exhausted.  The routines we had had in place since my husband had joined the ranks of the teaching world 4 years before (which were pretty consistent from when he ran his own business before) were suddenly thrown for a loop only a couple of months into the school year when he decided to leave education and go into business for himself again.  We did our best to adjust, but by the time the school year ended on the same day that my mom became a full retiree, we still hadn’t adapted. 

I am also a huge travel bug.  I often jokingly say that I work to support my travel habit, which is not too far from the truth.  I have downsized possessions dramatically over the last few years into a more minimalist lifestyle as well as paid off most of our bills, so a good portion of our budget was for now and later fun money (vacations, entertainment and retirement).  With the job change, that changed for us quite a bit, so we’ve also had to adjust and, luckily, had room in the budget.  But we still plan to work in a few trips this summer.  Truth be told, I am writing this in the kitchen of one of our family members we are visiting as we are doing a loop to see them and check off a few more states from our bucket list.

Every educator does different things with their down time.  For me, I spend it reconnecting with family, both near and far, refreshing my home with a variety of projects and trying out new routines that I can establish at a slower pace and maintain when I go “back to work” in August—although I, like most, will work during the summer attending trainings, reviewing my practices and material from the past year, analyzing test data when it drops, and creating/adapting new things for next year based my end of year student surveys and data about the upcoming students given to me by the prior grades teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I also get out and enjoy the longer days and extra family time by taking advantage of some of the discounted or free activities available in our local area like weekly movies, zoos, aquariums or theme parks—if you are lucky enough to live close to any of those.

Our family will have to establish some new routines with all our lives changing in the last few months, so there are things we can do over the next 6-8 weeks to help us out during the school year.

I use this in the camper with a dry erase marker to keep it super simple. One of these days, I will do it for the main house.

Meal Planning and Preparation. We will try out new recipes and get back into meal prepping and menu planning, as well as simplifying our meals.  We got in the awful habit of eating out or eating prepackaged/easy meals for the last month and that did not help us handle the crazy routines that the end of year brings.  We have tried all of the prepping ideas for meals and have actually found the simplest for us is stocking up on family packages of meats and freezing into portions (we cut into bites when cooked to cut down on overeating) and we keep fruits and veggies on hand to accompany them.  We can go from freezer to table (or lap on the back porch) in 45 minutes, even on a busy day, and feed our family of 5 for well under $20 for the meal.  Going out is actually an inconvenience for us. 

Home projects. There is always maintenance to be done as a homeowner, so we will take care of those, as well as cleaning out closets and cabinets to purge forgotten possessions and reorganize them.  We have found that having less stuff helps us clean faster and we have less to clean, which means more time for life.  I stumbled over minimalism a few years ago while looking for solutions since I am a terrible allergy sufferer and we have loved the simpler lifestyle.  But those old habits of a lifetime to take a while to break, so refreshing the home and reviewing the books I have help quite a bit.  Not familiar with minimalism, or not sure how it could possibly fit for you?  Check out the author Joshua Becker and his realistic family approach that works for us at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/.

Planning for the next school year.  I know, you don’t want to think about it, and I don’t either.  But I don’t like a crazy start to a new year, so I do a few things early in summer to help.  When we are cleaning out those closets and cabinets, I purge any clothing items that don’t fit or need repair or replaced so that I can get those ordered, fixed, purchased or budget for them.  My son’s school has a uniform, so we will pass on any items that someone else can use and get his items ordered early so that we can pick them up at orientation.  I also start shopping school and art supplies, prepackaged snacks, cleaning supplies, and anything else that could help around the house or classroom or could be donated to his classroom teacher.  Those BOGO sales run all summer, so taking advantage now helps me out a lot later in the year.

Nap time is a summer favorite, especially during those afternoon storms Florida gets

New routines and habits. My daily reading, devotions, exercise and cleaning routines all slacked off in the last couple of months.  I take the time to figure out why, shuffle my day around and put into practice my routines during the summer.  I can go at a slower pace while I make them a habit and then a few weeks before going back to work, I can time how long it takes me to do all the things, allowing me to adjust my wake-up times and bed times to accommodate.  I do the same for my little one so that we can reestablish his routines before going back, as well. I also look at how well we have done with chores and will adjust our chore charts, laundry rotations and shopping days.  With so many changes this year, many of our routines never got followed or were tweaked during the year, so a family meeting over a delicious and relaxing meal gives everyone a chance to chime in on what works and doesn’t work so that we can adjust.  It sounds like a silly thing, but no one fights over the washing machine, yells about a stack of dishes, or complains about an empty cabinet when we work together.

Hoping to get 5 more states filled in this summer, then we can start working our way out West.

Travel and quality family time. We usually plan a couple of trips in the summer in addition to celebrating birthdays for several family members.  We usually plan a big family trip and a smaller get away nearby, and sometimes these double as a birthday celebration.  With the change in jobs, we sold our camper and have less time to go on adventures.  This year, we are fitting in an early summer trip to see family and check off more states (with any luck, by the time you are reading this, I will have checked off state number 50 for me, and number 30 for my soon to be 8 year old).  We are also working in a couple of other trips, but they will be business related for my husband.  When we are at home, we capitalize on the summer movies at the local theater and the passes to parks nearby.

The beach is our happy place

Rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. This is probably the most important one I do with the slower pace.  I love to sit on the porch in the early morning, before the Florida humidity chases us all into hiding until sundown like in those apocalyptic movies. While I am out there with my tea, or a book, I will take the time to connect with each sense—what do I see, hear, smell, taste, feel—and it really helps me connect with the world around me and helps me stay clear and focused during the day.  I also try to get in for a massage, a new exercise program I heard about from a friend, as well as taking care of as many doctor’s appointments as I can so as not to interfere with the school year.

So, what kind of things do you do over your break?  Are you a Netflix and chill in your jammies all day, every day while capitalizing on Uber Eats and grocery delivery services?  Are you like me and try to accomplish a lot?  Or are you somewhere in the middle?

If you are not a teacher, or get only a week or so off, you can work in some these ideas to your own schedule, even with only a week or two off.  Choosing only one or two things to start with this break can still make a difference and you just work on other things on future breaks.  It may not sound like how you want to spend your break, but if the way you were doing things wasn’t working or making life run smoothly, then you owe it to yourself and those around you to try new approaches to making your life easier.  You just need to take that first step.  Happy summer!

Riding the Momentum Wave – Keeping Consistency Every Day

Sonya Barnes June 3, 2019

Caught in a “focused” moment

Some days I think I am a unicorn.  No, not the mythical horse with a horn sprouting from its head, but a rare and possibly mythical person in society, for sure.  I am that person that does my best to be consistent in effort and expectation each and every workday, not just for me, but also for the people around me.  And, from what I have seen, heard and observed throughout my working years, I am an anomaly. 

You know what I am talking about.

It’s Monday, I have a weekend hangover. I can’t today today.

OK, Tuesday, time to get focused and work!

It’s Wednesday/hump day! 

Thursday!  It’s Friday Eve, the weekend can’t get here soon enough!

Fri-YAY!  It’s the weekend, what are your plans?

And right before or after a holiday, it seems to be magnified.

Students stay focused when we stay focused.

In Education, we see similar behaviors throughout the school year—and I’m not even talking about the kids.  The first week back we are dragging after having more flexibility in our summer schedule as well as the dreaded list of things to do we set for ourselves, along with the list from the school, then pulling long days to get ready in time for the first day.  The first week of kids can be tough trying to cover all the things and be rock solid and execute those overly ambitious ideas we’ve had for years and THIS IS THE YEAR IT WILL HAPPEN, especially when they are still shifting from summer mode.  Then, we get to our first holiday (for my district, its about 2-3 weeks into the school year) and the day before or after there’s a shift into easy mode.  This can also happen on Early Release days, something we have in our district, that has become such a widespread “down” day, that many kids don’t even bother to come to school.  With several holiday breaks and early release days throughout the year, the cycle perpetuates.  By the time we get to the last few weeks of the school year, we may be feeling that burn out–policies and rules aren’t being upheld consistently across the school, or at all, and there can be a total breakdown with students that think they don’t have to do things we’ve expected them to do all year.  Yet, ironically, this is also the time of year that many teachers and leaders begin talking about the policies and procedures they are going to start with at the beginning of the year.

People, people, people.  First, let’s talk about the kids.  They need consistency at school all the time because many of them don’t have it at home.  Not to mention that we should just set a good example of work ethics.  They are in their formative years and we help define what that really means by expectation and example.  Next—and this is a big one for me—it may be their last day of school, but it’s probably not yours.  The world isn’t ending and you are probably not retiring, so why would you risk your career, all of your hard work throughout the year, or worse, the perception of your work ethic as teachers are being considered for new positions or eliminated positions. 

Consistency is better.

They need you to be consistent.  You need you to be consistent for your own peace of mind.  I won’t bore you with tons of research points on how consistency is better for your health, career, etc., because you probably already know that you work better when you are consistent and have a rhythm from following your routine.  At least, I know that I do and most of the people around me do, as well.

Stick to your routines. You’ll be glad you did.

So, make your daily routine lists, your weekly/monthly routine lists, plug those bad boys in your calendar or on a corner of your desk and  get it done.  You’ll be glad you did.  I promise, you will feel better sticking with a routine because it becomes automatic, which helps on those days you may not be piquing.  If you are truly dragging or having an off day, have a pal to boost you up or follow the “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra and act like you have got it together, at least in front of everyone. Your kids will be better with routine, which means you will do less behavior interventions, and you will be able to make those last days more meaningful.  And that will make your break more relaxing for you, as well. 

Make every day count for something by being the best version of you that you can be.

My first blog – ever

I have wanted to be a writer my entire life. I spent much of my youth writing short stories and poems that mainly saw either the inside of my drawer or the occasional teacher’s inbox for an assignment. I spent a good amount of my youth composing the letters of a family member that had something to say to the local paper on a regular basis but needed me to type and edit it for them. I briefly wrote movie reviews when a friend put me in contact with another friend. But those weren’t the dream. The dream was the novelist, but the realistic dream was the travel writer.

I still dream of being a travel writer and having my husband, the photographer that falls somewhere between professional and amateur, capture images that added visuals to my globetrotting tales. I dream of us living on the road full time and finding a way to pay for that journey while doing what we love. The dream is still there. But the reality of life has delayed it a bit.

By day, I am a teacher. I never planned on it. But my desire for family time and travel time combined with a love of reading and writing brought me to the classroom where I have stayed for the last twelve years, and will probably be for a while longer while I figure out how to do what I want to do when I “grow up” (for the record, I’m 40 and still don’t consider myself “grown up” except when I try to move first thing in the morning). But I love what I do. Sharing a passion for literature, poetry, fact and truth with tomorrow’s leaders. Helping teachers around me strengthen their craft, picking them up on tough days and leaning on them when I am having a tough day. It’s not an easy job and I have wanted to leave so many times, but I can’t yet.

I’ve had a YouTube channel for a couple of years where I have posted several videos about the classroom and balancing life. I’ve taken some time off to get life together as my husband changed jobs and we settled into being a multi-generational household.

But now is the time. Now is my time. I will be posting blogs to accompany videos I will be posting on YouTube. Most of it will relate to classroom content, but some of it will be life stuff since I believe we are more than what we do for a living. And, with any luck, there will be some travel stories, too.

This is me!

So welcome to the family and into my crazy life. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me as I grow as an educator, mentor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, writer, traveler, vlogger, blogger, and whatever else crosses my mind to try. I’d love to hear your story, your why, or what brought you to my page. We are all here for a reason, and it should be to strengthen each other.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Thanks for being here. Thanks for being you.

Sonya