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.

Creating an Office from a Closet

A work space doesn’t need to be large, just a functional one. This closet worked perfectly.

September 7, 2019

Like most moms, I seldom prioritize my own needs over those of my family’s until I reach a breaking point.  Due to unplanned circumstances, our family ended up moving into a home that was twice the size of what we were living in and my mom moved in with us.  It worked out well in that we had a game room for our boys to have their computer/video games and toys, a living and family room, and another bonus office.  But when my husband started a new job working from home, our “shared” office space became a challenge since he makes a lot of phone calls and I write and make videos.  I tried using various places around the house, but there was always some kind of distraction, or sound and light issues.  I loved filming outside, but between crazy Florida weather or the noises of a busy suburban neighborhood, sometimes it would take an hour to get a decent 15-20-minute video.  My frustration levels were at an all-time high.

I was talking with—okay venting to—my adult son about the situation and my frustration.  He pointed out that we had a large hallway walk in closet that was just a drop spot for stuff that could go other places and that it was a nice size for a small office/studio area. I saw the potential in his vision and set to work in relocating and planning the space.

The first task was to clear the closet out and find a home for everything.  The winter coats and suitcases were able to fit in our separate closets, the pantry items and card tables were able to find a home in the laundry room, and the donation drop box items went to the donation center and we just found a smaller box and another spot to put stuff we clear out.

Once that was done, I took measurements and started scanning the web and Pinterest to get a vision for what I wanted.  A home office/recording studio wasn’t something I found readily available, but by pulling ideas from larger scale set ups of each, as well as elements and color schemes that appealed to me, I was able to create an idea of what I wanted.  I made a list of items I would need: a desk, a rug to go over the hard surface floor, storage, sound paneling, lighting, office materials and decorations.  The next step was creating a budget and finding items that would fit that budget.  I did a lot of online comparison shopping and store wandering before finding what I was looking for on Amazon and at Lowe’s, Wal-Mart and Target and having a realistic idea of costs.  I also scavenged the house and my own stash of supplies and décor in my classroom for the little touches that could save me money.  I settled on a budget of $1000, hoping desperately for it to be less since this was all that was in my rainy-day fund.  Here’s a breakdown of what I purchased and spent.  I am happy to report I was WAY under budge and able to keep money in my rainy-day fund for another day!

  • Paint Lowes $25.18
  •                 Paint color from Lowe’s HGTV Home/Sherwin Williams Web Gray SW7075 (flat)
  • Rug Target $59.49
  • Desk Amazon $106.99
  • Storage 6 cube organizers Wal-Mart $28.24 each x 2 ($56.48)
  • Storage boxes Target $4.99 each x 6 ($29.94)
  • Cork boards Target $11.39 each x 2 ($22.78)
  • Acoustic panels  Amazon 3 12 packs $16.90 ($50.70)
  • Letters  Amazon 4” & 2” $21.98
  • Borders  Amazon $21.13
  • Backing (gift wrap) Hobby Lobby $4.99
  • Desk lamp  Target $14.99
  • Floor lamp already owned
  • Dog bed Pet Supermarket $13.99
  • Stapler/Tape dispenser $7.59 & 4.99 ($12.58)
  • Camcorder/cell phone camera—gift/already owned
  • Decorations—already owned
  • Odds and ends (glue, rollers, etc. $40-50 ish)
  • Light ring with phone mount $39.99
  • TOTAL costs: $531.21

My first step was to paint the room a fantastic grey color I found after going cross-eyed with colors and samples and I settled on one I found at Lowe’s called HGTV Home/Sherwin Williams Web Gray SW7075 (flat).  My husband, the photographer, applauded my choice for being an 18% grey that works well on film.  Hurray for luck being on my side. 

The next step was ordering furniture and getting it assembled and in place.  I moved things around several times while trying to find a cohesive workspace that would record well.  Then, I shopped for lighting and sound paneling and worked at getting that installed.  That was a bit of a challenge as I didn’t want to ruin the walls by gluing them directly on.  I ended up hot gluing them onto the cardboard packaging it shipped in and affixing that to the wall with picture hooks, hot glue, or anchors (on the ceiling panels).  The sound absorption has proven to be a challenge as I didn’t want a completely soundproof cave, nor did I want a ton of dust collecting material since I have a severe dust allergy, so I needed the surfaces to be relatively easy to clean. I found a rug that could be steam cleaned and also strategically placed throw blankets on a shelf and hanging on the door when needed to help dampen the sound a bit.  Next, I played with the lighting and, while I found some great light boxes on Amazon, they proved to be too large for the space, so I opted to go with a light ring camera mount along with the lamps and overhead light that was in the space.  It isn’t perfect, but it works for what I needed and with my budget.  Finally, I scavenged for accessories that would personalize the space. 

I added a couple of bulletin boards, one of which became my dream board with pictures to inspire me and remind me of what I am working towards.  I also collected up artwork I had created at various painting parties and other mementos that would make me smile.  I also added a dog bed into the corner since our pups like to be wherever we are working.

My “mom cave” was a fantastic place for me to work and be inspired, as well as be left alone when I need to record or concentrate on work and I don’t have to stop the rest of the family from what they are doing or wait for the weather to cooperate.  I’m sure I will still create videos in other spaces, but it’s nice to have a go to place of my own, and one that was under budget!

Life update:  as this project has been in the works, life has continued to happen.  If your life is like mine, it happens at the speed of light and this summer has been twice that.  Shortly after getting the studio office set up, a great opportunity to work from home came up and I jumped on it.  Unfortunately, the closet studio was no longer the best space for working 8-10 hours a day, plus it was in a main thoroughfare in the house, so we came up with a new plan. 

Since my husband and I both work from home, we decided to commandeer the boys’ game room since it was larger and away from the family area so we can work and they can live at the same time, let our oldest have the old office and the closet studio became the toy room.  So, we spent a weekend swapping everything around and getting reset, but it is working out fantastically.  We have been able to make the space a shareable office that can double as a studio and, with the addition of a futon, it has actually made a great spot for the boys to come and sit and share their day with me when they get home while I take a break from work.  I know it will probably change again, but for now, it is inspiring and comfortable and exactly what we need to be productive.