Lessons from Mommy Bird

For the past fourteen years, I have been teaching students at transitional points in their education.  Either I have been getting them ready for high school, or transitioning them into high school.  It is a very funny age because the students are wanting their independence, but also wanting to cling to you for answers, reassurance, and support…much like you are Google with encouragement and the ability to quickly check their work.

Which leads to a number of questions that I don’t answer:

Can you look at this essay and tell me what grade I will make?  Is this okay?  Is this what you want? Is this right?  Is this the answer?  Can you read this over and tell me all of the stuff I need to fix?  Is this good?  I need to make an A on this paper.  Is this an A paper?” 

I don’t answer these questions because I am mean, although my students will tell me that I am; I don’t answer them because these questions do not make the students independent thinkers.  In fact, these questions don’t really require them to do much thinking at all.  They just want me to serve as their “Google it” feature so that they get immediate feedback and can be done.  It becomes nothing more than something to check off their list.

I want them to think it through, reason it out, and take their answers to their logical end.  And to answer their knee-jerk need reassurance that I am right although I have no idea how I arrived at that answer questions simply invalidates the need to think.  That has led to my talk with my students in the last few weeks:

“This Mommy Bird is shoving you out of the nest.  It is not that Mommy Bird does not love you, but it is time for you to do this on your own and fly.  There is no reason that you cannot do this.  If you are in real trouble – like you are on fire or being eaten by a bear – then Mommy Bird will come rescue you.  But your not being able to put things from the novel in your own words after three seconds of thought is not real trouble, and I am not coming to rescue you.  Now get out of my nest and fly.”

The students thought that was a good analogy, and it lasted about three minutes.  Then, they were back.

“But I can’t…”

Yes, you can.  Now go try.

“You have to help me…”

I am.  I am making you think.  You will thank me later.

“Help!  Mommy Bird!”

Fire?  Bear?  If the answer to those is no, you don’t need me.

“You are being mean.”

Nope.  Now get out of my nest.  I’m redecorating your room.

“Really???”

And despite all of the protests to the contrary, my little flock of seemingly helpless birds will come to class the next day with beautifully reasoned out arguments for their beliefs, which they have to rush into my room as soon as the first bell rings to share with me.  They are flying.  It is not perfect flight, but they do figure out that they are more capable than what they thought they were.  They also figure out that there is sometimes not a right or wrong answer, for the world is not always objective questions, but ones that must be answered from inside them.

Sometimes the best thing a Mommy Bird can do is shove the baby birds out of the nest and let them figure some things out for themselves.  I know that I have taught them to the best of my abilities, and they simply need to use what they have been taught so that they can fly.  It is a natural transition.

And it makes this Mommy Bird very proud.

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Quick and Easy Mini Meatloaves

A big meatloaf takes forever to cook.  These taste great and are super quick.

You will need:

Ground beef or turkey (both work well)

Ketchup

An egg or two

Almond flour or coconut flour (you can use breadcrumbs or oatmeal as well)

Italian seasoning or thyme

Onion powder

Garlic powder

Mix the protein, a good squirt of ketchup, the egg(s), and the seasonings.  Mix. Add flour or breadcrumbs until the mixture is no longer soupy.

Scoop the mixture into a muffin pan and fill each muffin cup with about 1/3cup of the mixture.  Or you can use the same scooper that you use for your muffins.  I used the Pampered Chef scooper.  I don’t work for them or anything; it just works for me.

Bake your mini meatloaves at 400 degrees for 20ish minutes.

Serve with salad and veggies or freeze and reheat later.  I love keeping these in my freezer for lunches or quick suppers.

Enjoy!!

Because You Do…

I’ve made some pretty significant changes in my life over the past few years.  It was important to me to improve my health and the health of my family.

And I am often met with the well-intentioned question:

“How do you do that??”

Because I do.

It is not really a smart butt answer.  It is the truth.

If you want to make a change in your life, you have to DO something to make that happen.  It would be great if we wanted to change something and BOOM it happened.

But then again, given some of the things we have wanted to change on a whim, maybe that is not such a good idea…

The truth still is that if you want to change something, you have to DO something.  If I want to be healthier, I have to exercise, which means I have to DO something by showing up to CrossFit and doing something while I am there.  Not really just doing something, but working my tail end off.  I cannot just show up and expect something to happen; I have to be an active participant.

If I want to make smarter food decisions, I have to put down the boxes of processed food and pick up healthier choices.  I have cook meals each week from scratch.  And I have to prepare things ahead of time.  I have to DO something.

And if you want to change something, you have to commit to DO something.

The change will not be automatic, it will not always be easy, and there will be times when you will fall down.

Get up, brush yourself off, and keep doing something to move yourself in the right direction.

And at some point, someone will ask:

“How do you do that??”

Because you do.

Crock Pot Pork Chops

Finally, we will have a weekend where we do not have to go outside dressed in a parka and snow pants, which very few of us on the Gulf Coast actually own anyway.  Really, I am 45 minutes away from the Gulf.  You want sandals and shorts – I’m your girl.  Cold weather gear – well, not so much.

So while my family and I are out enjoying this weather, and finally seeing the sun, I am going to let my crock pot do the work for me.

Here is what you will need:

Pork chops – boneless or not

Onion – chopped

Turkey or chicken broth

Seasonings of your choice – I use onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper.  My cousin said she used ranch seasoning and that worked well, too.

Add all of the ingredients to the crock pot.  Set on high.  Go away and enjoy about 6-8 hours of your day, depending on the thickness of your chops.  When these are done, the meat should be falling apart.

Serve with side dishes of your choice.

Enjoy!

Choose Your Battles

I have great empathy for teachers who “float” throughout their teaching day.  Been there.  Done that.  I floated the first year I taught – actually I trudged between two buildings and five classrooms.  Two periods a day, I shared a room with a teacher who was really likable and fun…outside of her classroom.

The inside of her classroom was a different story.  She was the teacher who would not allow backpacks in her room, gave detention for a student’s feet being in the aisle, reset her rows at the end of each class, and was intolerant of the least disruption of the routine.  All blanks had to be filled in, all of your I’s dotted and T’s crossed, and the mimeographed worksheets had to be submitted exactly on time and in exactly the correct format.   I dared not come into her classroom two seconds early, and I made sure to be out of her room almost before the students.  Those were the battles she chose to fight, and she fought them well.  I respected her boundaries, as did the students.

When I finally won the lottery for an open room, I too, chose my battles.  My students were responsible for moving their desks into whatever configuration the lesson of the day required.  My room was rearranged several times a day.  Backpacks were allowed but had to stay out of the way.  And because of the standardized testing at the end of the year, my students worked their tail ends off every day.  My biggest battle was ensuring that every student had improved that year.  Laziness, poor effort, and not turning in assignments were not tolerated.  Those were my battles, and I fought them every day.

And years later, I ran into one of my former students at the mall.  She had classes taught by me and the other teacher.  And in our conversation, she said how much she had appreciated both of us.

What?  I really liked her, but she fought me tooth and nail some days.

She went on to explain that her life was missing something, and that between the two of us, we had managed to teach her.  From us, she had learned the self-discipline that she needed to finish high school.  We would not accept less than her best, and she learned she was worth giving her best…as well as her son who she was raising while finishing high school.  She said that she did not always like the lesson at that exact moment, but over time, she had realized exactly what both of us had taught her.  She was grateful.

That was one of those moments that made fighting the battles completely worth it

You see, as teachers, we all choose the battles that are most important to us, and those that we feel will benefit our students the most.  One battle is not more important than another, since they all come together to benefit the entire student.  Even the ones who will fight tooth and nail because they don’t like the lessons at that moment in time.

Eventually, they get it.  And if we get lucky, they get to tell us about it.

Tell Me What I Did Right

I am just like most other teachers – harried, stressed out, exhausted, working under impossible deadlines with mountains of papers to grade, emails to answer, forms to submit, meetings to attend, and students to teach.  With all of the demands placed on teachers, I just as easily fell into the trap of grading, especially essays.  I spent long hours making comments in margins, writing some of the same things a squillion times on each set of papers, only to have all of my efforts ignored as students only looked at their grades and then threw the papers away or complained about their grades without even looking at the comments that I had taken hours to write.  Feeling frustrated and undervalued does not even come close to describing how I felt on those days.

And then something changed.  I was attending an AP workshop during the summer, and the presenter handed out a list of numbered comments to us.  These were comments that she typically made on papers, and instead of writing “Your thesis statement in unclear” or “The topic sentence is in the wrong place” fifty times, you could simply write a number, and students would have to refer back to the numbered comment sheet to understand what that number meant.  This numbered system also had positive comments to let the students know what they had done correctly.  She assured us, and she was absolutely right, that this method would cut our grading time, so that we could give more feedback more quickly to the students.

Awesome!  I was going to start using it immediately, as I taught both Pre AP and AP English at the time, and the grading was crazy.

Indeed, using this system did cut my grading time significantly.  But something else amazing also happened.  As I handed back papers, students stopped immediately digging for their grades.  They started counting their even numbers – the positive comments – to see how many they had, and what they had done well on.  Some would be thrilled that for the first time ever, they had received a “4” on their thesis statement, which meant they had a well-written thesis.  Some students would compete to see who could get the most even numbers.  They could finally have a paper back that not only did not look like I had bled all over it, but also let them know what they had done correctly.

You see, that is the trap.  As teachers, we are so crunched for time that too often we focus only on the things that were done incorrectly, and neglect to let the students know what they did well on so that they can do it again.  I had fallen in to that trap, and I am now so glad that I am out of it.

Because now, by and large, students keep their papers and refer back to them to see how to write something now based on the correct model that they already created.  Their questions are better, instead of why did I not get an A, it is now how can I improve this so that it is worthy of an even number.  And they are better judges of their own writing now, and base their evaluation of improvement on more even numbers, as opposed to less writing in the margins or a grade.  The focus is now in the right place – what did I do well.

As stressed out, harried, exhausted adults in this crazy messed-up world, we also tend to focus on the “what went wrongs” instead of the “what went rights” of the day.  We all need to take a time out from that, and instead of bleeding in the margins of the essay of our lives negative comments on all of the things that we messed up, we need to take a deep breath and start acknowledging what went right.  We all did something right that day; give yourself a break and a little credit.  Do the same thing the next day, and then the next.

When you start to look at all of the things that went right, it makes fixing the things that did not go right a little more doable.

Focusing on the positive makes the impossible possible.

Crock Pot Cooking – Roast

I love roast in the crock pot.  And I love it when roast goes on sale – chuck roast is my favorite.  And you can do a ton of stuff in the crockpot with it, so all the better.  Here it goes…

Take your defrosted roast and season with pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.  Put in your crock pot.  Here is where the fun begins, now what?

Add onions, sweet potatoes, and low sodium beef broth.

OR, add a few cups of black coffee and onions.

OR, add onions, carrots, potatoes, and low sodium beef broth.

OR, add purple onions and BBQ sauce of your choice.

OR, add onions, diced tomatoes, and low sodium beef broth.

OR, add onions, mushrooms, and low sodium beef broth.

OR, use your imagination.  What ingredients do you like?

Once your ingredients are all safely in the crock pot, put the lid on it, set on high, and go away.  Come back in 7 hours or so (depending on the size of your roast), and your meal should be ready.  Enjoy!

Oh, and freeze the leftovers.  You will love it all over again.