When it came to teaching characterization to middle school, I’ve always taken the direct approach. Explicit notes, concrete definitions, and an assumption that students were coming to me with a very solid idea of how adjectives and character traits are one and the same.
Until this year.
I have a cohort of students who are, as we say in our district, “low” in terms of English content knowledge. They struggle to identify nouns, verbs and adjectives from each other. It was a very slow beginning to the year, starting from scratch, and getting them up to speed for 7th grade content.
With this group, explicit note-taking techniques did not always prove to be successful. Most 7th grade students are disorganized, yet this group seemed to make disorganization an art form. Any notes they DID take were somehow lost in the abyss of their backpacks or lockers. I knew I had to flip my normal teaching routine to reach them.
So, when characterization identification came up as one of their weaknesses even halfway through the year, I decided to make it interesting. When the students entered the room, I had drawn an outline of a body on the board. Around the body, I labeled the Head, Mouth, Hands, and Feet.
Then, on a separate white board, I defined each of the body parts.
Head: What does the character think or wonder about that reveals a character trait?
Mouth: What does the character say that reveals a character trait?
Hands: What does the character do that reveals a character trait?
Feet: Where does the character go or spend significant time that reveals a character trait?
I then gave each student a Post-It Note and broke them into groups of four students. The groups sat together and determined which student was in charge of which body part. As a class, I informed them, we would be performing a Character Autopsy. Whaaaaat? The reaction was priceless. We would be cutting into the “guts” of our character to find the deeper character traits within! To make it simple, I assigned the same character to each student.
Students were in their small groups of four, which helped them have little discussions if anyone was confused on a certain trait, or needed help finding a particular piece of evidence. I circulated the room, checking Post-Its as they worked and guiding any students who were completely off-base with their answers.
Then, students were given a Characterization Autopsy handout. Within their group of four, students traded Post-It notes and filled in the different body part sections. It is interesting how critically middle schoolers examine the work of their peers! Many groups worked together to hunt down better evidence for some character traits, and eventually each group had perfected their character’s “autopsy”.
If you find that your students are struggling to understand characterization, and need a different approach for finding evidence to support the character traits they do identify, this activity has limitless potential for being fun, engaging and down-right educational!
Other Creative Lessons from The Genius Educator
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this article is not meant to prescribe any form of treatment. It is always advisable to talk with your doctor before making any changes to your routine.
Chances are if you are reading this post, you have felt a bit overwhelmed by the symptom flare-ups from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While everyone is little bit different, we can all agree that these symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, if not downright painful. I set out on a journey to heal my thyroid as best as I could and I am going to share some of the things that have been successful for me so far. It is my hope that I can provide some relief for others out there who are going through a similar experience.
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I am assuming you have done your research on Hashimoto’s, and understand the basics for keeping this autoimmune disease at bay. If not, here are the absolute basics that I had to follow.
Knowing what triggers a thyroid flare-up is essential to living a comfortable daily life. The very first thing that I had to do was entirely change up my diet. Personally, my antibodies attacked my thyroid after eating anything with gluten, soy, dairy or nuts. How did I know this? Whenever I would eat something with one of those ingredients, within two hours my throat felt swollen, I would get a SEARING headache that made me irritable beyond belief and my neck muscles would ache as if I had overdone a workout times ten.
I removed all of those from my diet, and within three days the “globus sensation” I kept experiencing in my throat nearly disappeared. My headaches became minimal and my neck aches were just a dull throb.
If you’re not sure where to start with creating a hypothyroid-friendly diet, try the Thyroid Cookbook. I can’t recommend any cookbook more for this disease. Not only did this one guide me on the right foods to eat, but each meal was designed to provide my body with the different nutrients I was probably lacking. Love, love, love this as a starting point for changing your diet.
Most Hashimoto’s (and other autoimmune diseases) are set-off from an imbalance in our gut bacteria. Most Americans have an issue with their gut health and experience bloating that can lead to Leaky Gut syndrome. Nutrients leak through the stomach lining, which your body identifies as foreign bodies and attacks it. Unfortunately, if this isn’t healed, the body can begin to attack its own tissue (like the thyroid) when it becomes confused as to what is the true foreign body.
My first step in healing my gut was to start eating foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory. This really aided in calming the swelling I was feeling in my thyroid, and my body was getting a ton of nutrients that I was missing.
Secondly, I began taking a Turmeric & Bromelain supplement twice daily (1200 mg). This was a life-saver for anti-inflammation and has become a staple in my life. There are many options, but I use NOW Turmeric and Bromelain due to its clean ingredients.
If you suspect you have SIBO (small intestine bacterial growth), you need to begin the healing process by taking care of this FIRST. Otherwise, no amount of healthy eating is going to fix what is happening in your gut. The absolute best probiotic for healing SIBO quickly is FloraMyces Saccharomyces Boulardii (500 mg). This aids in stabilizing the gut environment so that the good bacteria outweighs the bad bacteria (causing your bloating and Leaky Gut issues).
Lastly, if you’re having trouble with your regularity which is common with Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism, your body may be lacking magnesium. I use Thorne Magnesium Bisglycerate in powder form (no flavor). I take one scoop in a glass of water about an hour before I head to sleep. I have found that this helps immensely with my regularity AND it has aided with helping me fall asleep. It took about three to four days for this to take effect fully, so stay patient.
Brain fog, anyone? Not many people know how important the thyroid is until it starts to become compromised. Yet, the thyroid and the adrenals work closely together to produce hormones that your body needs to function. When one is down, the other must work overtime. For those healing their thyroid, they must give added support to the adrenals to ensure they are able to keep up during this time.
In order to support my adrenals fully, I take Natural Sources Raw Adrenal twice daily. Within three days I went from foggy to focused, which was critical for my daily life. I felt like myself again after this, and found myself enjoying conversations again.
Mostly due to Leaky Gut, your body has not been absorbing the nutrients it critically needs to function at its best. You must now take the precautions to supplement and renew those stores as your thyroid begins to heal. It is best to ask your doctor to run blood work to test what nutrients you are lacking. However, most Hashimoto’s patients are lacking Vitamin A, B6 & B12, D, E as well as selenium (and a few others). If you are a menstruating female, you will want to check your iron levels as well, to be sure you are not anemic.
I chose to find a Woman’s Multivitamin to supplement for these deficiencies. This is where you need to be careful. You must find a multivitamin that does not contain wheat (or any of your other triggers). Yes, I’m speaking from experience, and this is actually how I found out one of my triggers was soy.
I personally use MyKind Organics Women’s Once Daily and I notice within an hour of taking it each day that I feel even more relief from any symptoms or slight flare-ups. I take this in the afternoon, since it contains calcium which can interfere with my Levothyroxine absorption in the morning.
You will want to take some form of Omega’s as well. Since one of my triggers is soy which is commonly used to coat omega capsules, I take Flaxseed Oil which provides my body with Omega 3, 6 & 9! Everything you actually need, and this is plant-based.
Admittedly, hair loss was the hardest thing for me to accept after being diagnosed. I never knew how attached I was to my eyebrows until they started thinning. To anyone else, that may sound ridiculous, but if you also experienced hair loss, I’m sure you understand.
My greatest hair loss was when I had not taken gluten out of my diet. My flare-ups were constant and I felt like I had the flu almost daily. When I cut gluten out of my diet, I noticed my eyebrows starting to return (and my flu-like symptoms abated). However, the hair on my head had thinned considerably, which was unacceptable to me. So, I began taking a scoop of Primal Kitchen Collagen Peptides (unflavored) in my coffee each morning. Within a few weeks, I noticed my skin became vibrant again, my nails were pretty and… HAIR GROWTH! This was significant since my TSH and T4 levels weren’t even optimal yet. This could also help those of you who are feeling joint pain.
The difference between Collagen Peptides and Collagen Protein is something that may come up. It’s simple. Collagen Peptides are more bio-available for your body, meaning they can be used by your body quicker than the Collagen Proteins. However, the Collagen Proteins have different flavors. So, it’s really up to you!
I have found that doctors are not well-researched in this disease, and often believe that placing the patient on thyroid medication is enough. We know, however, that thyroid medication often ISN’T enough – not if we want to truly enjoy life! If you also have success with these methods, please don’t hesitate to share your experience with our readers!
Self-care is, without a doubt, one of the most important habits of a teacher if they plan to be in the profession long-term. Finding what makes you feel less stressed is essential to being productive and happy in the classroom. Yet, for a long time, the media has made it seem like teachers just need to sleep a little more and drink more water. Self-care is much deeper than that.
By the time we get into our mid-twenties, we need to start preparing for the next stages of our lives. We no longer than get away with treating our bodies like we did in high school and possibly through college. We need to start looking further than next month or even next school year; what do we need to start paying attention to so that we can be living our best life into our 40’s, 50’s and beyond?
Once you get into your mid-twenties, it’s crucial to start paying attention to the nutrient levels in your body. This is a proactive way to be sure that all of your organs are operating at optimal levels. While it may not seem dire at this time, if your levels are even slightly off, within a few years you could be facing critical issues.
Women who plan to have children should especially get their blood work done during this time. Women are more susceptible to certain diseases, especially diseases dealing with the thyroid gland. Getting levels checked even when you’re feeling great will ensure that you continue to feel great down the road.
People become comfortable once they spend a good deal of time around the same people. If you have been around friends or co-workers who have consistently been negative about teaching, life, or your aspirations, know that eventually you will start to lower to their frequency over time. Make sure you surround yourself with uplifting people who are going to skyrocket you towards greater things; do not continue to be around average people who pull you back into the “average bucket” so that they have company.
If your life isn’t where you want it to be now, take a look around you. Who are you surrounded by? Don’t like what you see? It’s time for change.
You did not become an educator to use that teacher salary to pay the bills and be a slave to small children. What is the one thing in life that sets your heart on fire? The thing that, when you are doing it, time flies by and you are ENERGIZED afterwards? Go do that. A lot. Find the driving purpose of your life and start to incorporate it as often as possible into every single day.
I know you love teaching and kids, but there is more to you than being this rock star educator. Don’t forget that you are a person too who has a higher purpose for being put on this Earth. Go do all of the things that make you feel alive beyond the routine of work.
Why is youth so enthralling? There are SO MANY THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO! Turning 16 so that we can drive, graduating high school and being independent, turning 18 so that we can vote, going to college or getting our first job, turning 21 and legally being able to drink, graduating college or getting promotions at work, buying our first home, getting engaged/married, starting a family… life is just a giant storm of wonders!
However, once we get to mid- to late twenties, things start to calm down. We no longer have these built-in milestones to look forward to and many people lose their sense of wonder about life. Make a point to schedule something a few months out such as a vacation somewhere with loved ones or friends, even if it is only a weekend trip. Get tickets to that awesome band you’ve always loved. Pre-order that wonderful book you’ve REALLY been wanting to read. Always have at least ONE thing to look forward to, and keep reminders of it in sight. Life is meant to be lived in anticipation of the next great thing!
Take care of yourself so you can live your best life, for the rest of your life.
When I think back on my own journey towards becoming the warrior-teacher I am today, I laugh gently at myself for the mistakes I made along the way. Especially the mistakes I made with my very first group of students. Wherever those wonderful souls are today, I’m sending you all the love in the world for living through those first months of teaching with twenty-two year old me. You’re all angels.
Teaching is not a profession for someone who is unwilling to give more than they get. Most weeks we zombie-walk through Fridays simply because our hearts have given so much love and attention to so many kiddos all week that we absolutely need the weekend to recharge. Anyone who tells you that teaching is merely babysitting adolescents and getting summers off has clearly never stepped in front of a classroom full of hormonal teenagers and had to make learning engaging and meaningful.
Today I drove an hour, one way, to check out a space for our group’s prom this coming May. My co-class advisor met me there. Both of us were a bit tired out from the week and our personal lives, yet we were there as two of the students from our class oohed and aahed at the beautiful space. We remembered being so excited for prom, even if the sparkle of the event didn’t appeal to us anymore. It was during this time that I looked at my co-worker and thought, “Her and I have changed so much, even during the four years we have known each other”. I knew I needed to write this post for all the new teachers out there who are watching the veteran teachers and wondering, “How do they do it? How do they make it look so easy?”
The truth is, teaching never was nor will it ever be easy. You will spend some days after school curled up in the fetal position with tears streaming down your face, wondering why in the hell you ever thought you’d be a good fit for this job. There will be days you questions whether you can keep going, and wonder how you are supposed to be a teacher as well as a student’s stand-in parent, therapist, disciplinarian, life coach, guardian and everything else that comes with the job. Teaching is complex and emotional – and the best part about YOU is that you want to help little human beings grow into the most amazing version of themselves possible. That is commendable.
So, here are a few major mistakes I made my first year of teaching that made life harder than it needed to be:
With youth, came this unexplainable self-doubt. Despite the fact that I had spent years developing my skills of Literacy and English Language Arts at a renowned teaching establishment, there was this tiny voice in the back of my mind that questioned whether I was truly qualified to teach humans. At some point during my time in college, I had transitioned from being a kid getting her degree to the adult in the room, and that sudden shift was not something my subconscious was having an easy time with. I was also only two or three years older than some of the students I was teaching, which was very challenging in itself.
“What if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to?” Immediate cold sweats just thinking about it. I was not a strong public speaker either, having gotten out of many class presentations in high school since most kids whined enough in my class that the teachers just quit assigning them. I had to develop my voice as well as my own inner confidence in a very short amount of time. To say this was a stressful time in my life is quite the understatement.
Advice: This is called imposter syndrome. Don’t listen to that little whiny voice telling you that you are a fraud who is not qualified to teach these amazing little geniuses. They need someone who is exactly like YOU to guide their learning, someone with a heart just like YOURS to foster their hopes and dreams. You chose this career for a reason. Personally, I loved everything about reading and writing, and I wanted to impart that love onto as many kids as I could. Take that voice that says you’re not enough, and snuff it out. Find your confidence. Teach like a rockstar (even if everyone else watching thinks you’re absolutely nuts).
Classroom management – the one aspect of teaching that college neglected to actually prepare me for. I had NO idea how to manage a classroom of students the right way. My greatest mistake was coming in SUPER hard on my upper level students before establishing any sort of relationship with them.
Don’t get me wrong – having high expectations and sticking to them are essential. However, I barely allowed them to twitch in their seat without giving them the evil eye. I was hyper-aware of potential infractions. This, my dear new teacher, only seemed to encourage my students to continue to test me in order to establish just how hard of a line I would draw. It also left me stressed out. I didn’t want to always have to be so strict. I felt like I couldn’t even be myself in my own classroom, because if I let my guard down I imagined they’d all mutiny.
As the months went on and I started to slowly develop relationships with the students. I grew lax in some areas, while remaining hard in others. I was unknowingly giving my students mixed signals about my expectations, and could NOT understand why they weren’t being model students. This led to many tearful drives home, questioning my own adequacy as an educator.
Some days I worried I was too much of a softie, cutting breaks when I knew a kid had a hard home life. Other days, I worried I was too strict for this current generation of kids and obsessed over how to properly police the behavior of my cohort of students. It was a nightmare that lasted for months until the school year ended. I remember feeling miserable, and wishing I could start the year again with the knowledge I had gained from the year itself.
Advice: Before you step in front of your group of students, ask yourself exactly what type of educator you need to be for these kids. Firm and unemotional? Gentle and understanding? Go ask their previous teachers about their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses (yes, even if you’re brand new and you don’t know their previous teachers. I promise you, those teachers are a gold mine of information. They won’t bite, no matter what your anxiety is telling you).
Develop a syllabus that has clear expectations, clear grading policies, and clear consequences for behaviors. Be TRANSPARENT in the type of teacher you are. Let the parents know your rules as well, so that everyone is on the same page. Consistently use your mentor teacher for help and advice. Mostly, whatever you choose, stay the course even if things get bumpy with a student or a parent. Staying consistent is key to avoiding issues, as your expectations were made clear and you are merely upholding them.
I can hear first year teachers rolling their eyes saying, “I would NEVER not plan ahead”. Slow your roll. I did not say that I didn’t plan ahead. I said, I did not plan my year out fully, September to June.
I am a PLANNER and a PERFECTIONIST. I started planning for September and October, using those planning forms that my college gave me for each individual lesson. I estimated the times of lessons, sketching out how long units would take without any true knowledge on how long it actually takes students to transition between activities.
I began the school year with these awesome units for the first two and half months of school, thinking that I’d have time during nights and weekends to continue my perfectionist approach at planning my lessons. None of my pacing was right. Some of my lessons did not fit my students well and had to be scrapped. Last minute changes were a daily thing. My social life slowly dwindled to nothing as I tried to keep up.
Advice: The plain truth is that once the year starts, you have very little time for much your first year of teaching. September through December are a whirlwind of back-to-school and then multiple holidays. Before school begins, sit down with a yearly calendar. The best way I have found to plan is to determine what skills I want to teach during certain parts of the year, then write down the texts I plan to use to teach that skill. I plan out what my final assessment will be, and get the rubric prepared. Then, I can start to dive more into individual daily lessons. I try to have September – February mostly planned out before school starts, because we have a few breaks in the winter that I can use to plan out the rest of the year.
Very few lessons will go to plan, so take it easy on yourself if a few of them bomb. Analyze why things went off-course, reassess and move forward! Just as they tell us to give our students a fresh start each day, give yourself one too. Don’t worry that the kids are judging you over the previous fail – they only use it against you if they can sense that it bothers you. Learn to let the bad days slide off your back and you will be doing just fine.
I think back to my first year and cringe. I woke up and absorbed teacher social media. I went to school and was overly-prepared for each day. Whenever I spoke to my co-workers, the only words coming out of my mouth were around students and assessments and units and school. Bless their sweet hearts for listening to it all and still wanting to associate with me. They knew I was just REALLY excited about teaching and had a million ideas flowing out of me for how I was going to change the state of education. Every new program that came out, I jumped on board. My friends learned more about teaching in those months than they ever wanted to know. My family was SUPER supportive but even they mentioned that I needed to stop spending so many of my weekends re-decorating my bulletin boards.
I wanted to engage my students every second of every class, and in order to do that I had to create visually appealing walls and perform my butt off everyday for the kids. That kind of energy is addicting and the kids loved it… but it wasn’t sustainable. By mid-February I was flat out exhausted. I am a morning person, yet I was having to convince myself to roll out of bed everyday. Coffee became my elixir of life. I was burning out.
Advice: Find actual balance between teaching and your personal life. Draw a HARD line for yourself, and do not “cheat” on it. For example, if you say, “I will not work past 5 PM each night and will only come in on weekends for SPECIAL occasions”, make sure your vehicle tires are turning towards home at 5:01 PM. Those papers you have to grade will still be there tomorrow. As will you, since you took the time to rest from your work, and so can continue showing up everyday for your kids.
Plan one to two high-energy lessons a week, and then more mid- to low-key lessons the rest of the week. Kids will love the variety and you get a break from being non-stop on fire in your teaching. Eat lunch with a trusted co-worker who is positive as a way to get “adult-time” in each day.
Resist the urge to only ever talk about teaching. Some people want to have those conversations, and that’s fine! Just make sure that you are still pursuing your other hobbies and goals, and find the time to talk about those things too. Have a girls night, binge watch your favorite show, go travel… find actual balance.
If you’re a veteran teacher reading this… what mistakes did you make as a first-year teacher that may save future generations some trouble? Comment and share!
New to teaching and wondering if middle school is the right age for you? Here is my post on the realities of teaching that age group.
Need some teacher inspiration? Here are five books that set my teacher heart on fire!
Feeling overwhelmed and need some tips now? Here is my post on Time-Saving Hacks to give you back your sanity.
This school year began as most school years do – planning weeks in advance, creating an atmosphere of welcome for my new cohorts, anticipating seeing co-workers again after a long, relaxing summer. I was excited to be starting my fourth year at my district and couldn’t wait to see the new faces in my classes.
There was one, seemingly insignificant, difference. I was dog tired before classes had even started.
In past years, I was always a bundle of energy during Meet The Teacher night and was well-known in my district for being the “over-achiever” who would spend her weekends at the school prepping. This year, I was struggling to find the motivation to type up my usual materials in cute fonts (if you know me at all, cute fonts are everything).
I blamed the energy lag on a few stress factors outside of my control, promised to buckle down even harder on my nutrition and exercise routine (I already ran and lifted weights with a balanced diet), and to start meditating. I figured that it was all in my head and would go away after I got into the swing of things. I told myself that Year 4 must just be “catching up to me”.
It didn’t. My energy lag turned into chronic fatigue. Add to that an increasing brain fog that turned my processing speed to Jell-O, and I was miserable. I started forgetting things, feeling exhausted, and had to make even more lists (than I normally did) just to stay on top of my duties. Life was NOT fun. Teaching was unbearable.
Mid-October, I started noticing that I was down a lot (also VERY out of character). My diet hadn’t changed at all, nor my exercise routine, yet I was starting to gain weight. Only a few pounds, but it was creating a sense of helplessness in me that I had never really experienced before. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I snap out of this funk?
Then, Thanksgiving came around and I couldn’t deny that the weights I had normally been lifting easily were a struggle, I was irritable all the time (my poor family), and the glands in my neck were swollen as if I had contracted the world’s worst cold. Yet, I didn’t have any other cold symptoms. I couldn’t handle even the smallest bit of stress without losing it, my eyebrows and eyelashes were thinning out, and I was getting skull-splintering headaches that exploded if I laid my head on my pillow at night.
I begrudgingly scheduled a doctor’s appointment, which was pushed out well past Christmas due to busy schedules, I figured that I’d probably get over it well before then.
I did not take things so lightly when I woke up in the middle of the night during Christmas Break and could not breathe properly. It felt like someone was gently squeezing my throat closed, I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and my eyes were puffy as if I had pigged out on Red Lobster’s signature bread for days. The next day, I was elevated to the top of the appointments list and got in to see my doctor. My lab work found that my thyroid had, essentially, stopped working.
The thyroid functions when the TSH hormone in your body is sent out to inform the thyroid that the body needs more T4 hormone. If you have high levels of TSH in your labwork, that means your thyroid is underperforming and could lead to full-blown hypothyroidism. If your T4 levels are high, then your thyroid is overperforming and could mean you are experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism – both of which will mess with your body.
The thyroid regulates the body’s metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and bone maintenance. Without it functioning at optimal levels, you may experience:
If you are noticing these symptoms combined, you need to schedule lab work to check your thyroid levels. It is relatively easy to diagnose and thyroid levels can be balanced back out with a synthetic thyroid medication, as well as other natural remedies if the severity of the thyroid issue is low. There are many reasons that the thyroid could begin to dysfunction, such as Hashimoto’s, a virus from childhood, or even some research linking to prolonged birth control usage. 40% of Americans have some form of thyroid dysfunction! That’s nearly HALF of our country! It is more common than I ever knew.
In my case, I had severe hypothyroidism. TSH levels should be around 0.4 to 4.0. My labs read that my TSH levels were above 200. YIKES. I had waited way too long to get checked out and my body was doing everything in its power to get me to listen. Since my case was so severe, I was immediately placed on a synthetic thyroid medication that gives my body the T4 hormone it needs to function correctly.
My doctor said that I would notice the most changes within 6-8 weeks of being on the medication, as it needed time to build up in the body’s system and take effect. Within two weeks, I noticed:
Ultimately, do not make the same mistakes that I did. Your symptoms may not just be “teacher tired” or all in your head. We are trained as educators to push through rather than address these issues, to don our superhero cloaks and power through these insignificant discomforts. However, sometimes the struggle IS real. Your job as a teacher is of the utmost importance. You are nurturing the minds of our future geniuses, raising children in the confines of your classroom to become productive and thoughtful adults. It is of the utmost, absolute importance that we take care of you, first, so that you can take care of your kiddos.
As much as writing sub plans is devilish work (my personal opinion), I urge you all to get lab work at your yearly check-up. If anything, you will be able to rest easy knowing that your thyroid is working beautifully. Instead, you can plan a much needed vacation for that “teacher tired”!