Slice of Life #18- Unicorn Birds


I am a very amateur birder. I put up a bird feeder last year and it’s become a bit of an obsession.  This year I joined Project Feederwatch so that I can contribute citizen science data to the project.  I love watching the birds and I’ve logged some pretty cool species at home this year.

I also bring my camera on every hike I take with the dogs, and the hikes usually take place daily.  I log most of my hike sightings on eBird, another citizen science project that collects birding data.  The eBird data is also shared with the public so I can keep track of migrations and rare sightings.  I’ve seen some pretty cool birds on our hikes but I have one unicorn bird.

The pileated woodpecker.

I discovered a family of pileated woodpeckers at a nearby park last year.  They are huge and look like dinosaurs.  On top of this, they are loud. But when I checked eBird I noticed that pileated woodpeckers don’t usually live around here.  They used to, but humans pushed them out with habitat loss.  At that point I assumed I was wrong, that I either misidentified the birds (that were very high in the trees) or the birds were just passing through.

But then I saw and heard them again.  And again.  And again. It was soon normal for me to hear them or see them 3-4 times each week.  At that point I became determined to get photographic evidence.

Not an easy task when the birds are usually 90+ feet in the canopy of the trees.

I got one photo like this.




A lot of photos even worse than this:


Both of these are heavily edited.

And then this week I finally, finally saw the pileated woodpecker up close!  I still didn’t get a fantastic picture, but I got a pretty good one.  A birding achievement, for sure!

Version 2

Slice of Life #17

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Is there a saint in charge of naps? Because that’s who I would like to celebrate today. 

One more week until spring break. I know it is an early Easter so I should just be grateful that spring break us early…..but oh my goodness it can not get here soon enough. I’m exhausted! I can’t wait to sleep in a bit, hike in the morning (not just at the end of the day), and binge watch some guilty pleasure TV. 

It’s almost here! This time next week I will be on break!

Slice of Life #16


My life by the numbers:

  • 74 essays
  • Shortest essay- 2 pages
  • Longest essay- 7 pages
  • Average essay length- between 4 and 5 pages
  • Average amount of time spent giving feedback on each essay- 20 minutes
  • Days I spent grading- 4.5 
  • Average number of essays per day- 16
  • Number of hours spent assessing and providing feedback each day-5 hours and 20 minutes 
  • Average number of hours of sleep this week- 5 (to be fair, that’s not drastically different from my normal time spent sleeping)
  • Average number of steps per day- 10000 (below my normal average)
  • Magnitude of how glad I am to be done providing feedback on draft #1? Infinite. 

I’m done!!!

Slice of Life #15- Rough Drafts


Every year around this time I drown in rough drafts.  My research paper assignment is process-based so it’s pass/fail.  However, much to the chagrin of my 9th graders, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy assignment.  Because my students tend to think that the writing process consists of draft, spellcheck, and turn in the final draft, I force them to slow down and write more.

I ask my students to write an argument essay focused on who or what is to blame for the deaths in Romeo and Juliet.  Instead of a literary focus the students approach it through a science lens.  The students research adolescent brain development and the biochemistry of love and decide if either of those is an excuse for the decision Romeo and Juliet make in the play.  I love the assignment and in the end my students usually do, too.

What I don’t love is reading 74 rough drafts in 3-5 days.  Oh my goodness.  After working through drafting a thesis statement and prewriting (extensively) the students compose their first rough draft.  I then read all of the essays and provide extensive feedback.  I also assess the papers based on a rubric that doesn’t have any scores on it. Once the papers are returned (thank goodness for Google Classroom!) the students revise based on my feedback.  Then they will submit a second draft which will be peer-edited.  They will revise a second time based on that feedback.  Then they will submit a final draft.  It’s a long process but so worth it in the end.  I firmly believe my students learn more from the process than they would just writing and submitting a paper.  As 9th graders they have a lot to learn and this is the best way I’ve found to do that.  Coupled with their daily NYTimes writing and their blogs they write constantly in my room.

But oh my goodness has it been a long few days.  Every moment I’m not doing homework or walking the dogs or teaching I am reading rough drafts.  I have about 25 left and I want to finish by Thursday morning.  So I’m off to read 1-2 more before bed….


Slice of Life #14- This is not a moment, it’s a movement


I am a little obsessed with Hamilton, the Broadway musical.  I listen to the cast recording constantly and when that’s not on I’m listening to the audiobook version of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton (which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical). I saw the show back in January and I have tickets for one more show in June.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation musical.  If you aren’t familiar with it you should check out the recording of the cast performing at The White House today. Jump to the 40-minute mark to watch.

But it’s not just the musical that I love.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the musical, is pretty inspiring to this teacher.  See, LMM went to a high school very similar to mine.  (I’m an alum of the school I teach at). Both specialized high schools attract a phenomenal student body which is amazing and terrifying.  As a student, I remember looking around and wondering, “Where on earth do I fit in?  I do not have a 100 average in math.  I love science but I also love reading and writing.” Thankfully, I realized I could (and should) combine my loves.  I’ve also managed to leave math behind (for the most part). And it’s worked out pretty well for me.  I figured out what I was good at and I pursued it.

While watching the 60 Minutes special about Hamilton earlier this year I was struck by something Lin-Manuel Miranda said about his time in high school.  I ended up copying the quote and sharing it online.  And lucky for me, one of my colleagues surprised me by blowing it up so that I could hang the poster in my classroom.  Miranda’s quote is one that I think all of my students need to hear on a regular basis:



Lin-Manuel Miranda: You know, I went to a school where everyone was smarter than me. And I’m not blowin’ smoke, I, my, I was surrounded by genius, genius kids. What’s interesting about growing up in a culture like that is you go, “All right, I gotta figure out what my thing is. Because I’m not smarter than these kids. I’m not funnier than half of them, so I better figure out what it is I wanna do and work really hard at that.” And because intellectually I’m treading water to, to be here….I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. So I, that’s the honest answer. It was like, I was like, “All right THIS.”

So simple, yet so important.  We can’t be everything to everyone.  We don’t need to be everything to everyone.  Sometimes we suck at things.  Sometimes we are amazing and blow everyone else away (shout-out to Philip Hamilton there!). But most of the time we are all average.  Except for that one special trait. That one special thing we love.  That’s what makes us who we are and that’s what we should pursue.

Today I’m a high school English teacher pursuing a graduate degree in biology/wildlife conservation.  I also write.  And blog. And use a lot of social media.  And take my therapy dogs on visits. And help teach therapy dog training classes.  Those are the things I love, the things that make me who I am, the things that are in my lane.

I want my students to realize they have a lane, too.  And that pursuing whatever is in that lane is more important than building a resume just for the sake of a resume.  Because colleges see right through that stuff and you have your whole life to do what everyone expects you to do.  Take the time now to figure out what you love, what you enjoy, and what makes you happy.  Then do those things.  Do them for yourself and then find a way to do them for other people.

A coalition of colleges and universities recently released “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions”.  This document lays out a plan to change the way college admissions are handled in the next two years.  Instead of encouraging applicants to fill up their resumes with mindless activities that are only meant to help them stand out in the applicant pool, colleges are hoping to encourage students to become involved in more activities for the common good.  Service for service’s sake.  Community service that helps others rather than builds up your resume.

One of the best ways we can help with this endeavor, as teachers, is to share success stories with students.  Share Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words of wisdom and his story with students.  Tell them about people like Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai. Help them find their lane and be happy in it!

I’m thrilled to see colleges moving away from the rat race that is current admissions policies and towards something that will encourage more students to be involved with their communities while also finding their own areas of expertise.  In the words of Alexander Hamilton/Lin-Manuel Miranda, “This is not a moment, it’s a movement”.  And we are in the driver’s seat.


Slice of Life #13

Sunday is errand day at my house. I tutor in the morning, Chris goes to the gym or has a race, then we do all of our errands for the week. Today was no different. 

I tutored this morning while Chris ran in a local St. Patrick’s Day 8k. After we both got home we took the dogs on a 3-mile hike at the county park down the street (because we were out most of the day on Saturday). That took about an hour. 
Then we headed out to the stores. We went to Lowes for garden supplies (Chris has seedlings already growing in the basement). After that we stopped st Whole Foods and discovered they opened a ramen shop inside! We bought our St. Patrick’s day bangers and some breakfast yogurts before leaving. 

We finished our food shopping at Stop & Shop. That’s where we picked up our corned beef (and cabbage. Ugh). A totally Americanized meal but I do love corned beef!

Once we got home Chris did some gardening while I cleaned the kitchen and made Irish soda bread. The rest of the night was spent catching up on SNL, Life in Pieces, and Big Bang Theory. Oh, and two episodes of the new season of House of Cards.

Before I knew it I was working on homework and falling asleep!

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