Category Archives: Teaching

Horsetooth Half Marathon Training, Week 1

Remember when I used to write training recaps? Perhaps more accurately, remember when I used to train? And then I got The Injury That Wouldn’t End, so I couldn’t train and didn’t blog. Well, (knock on wood) those days are over. I’ve got a race on the calendar and a training plan to get me there so I can race it, not just run it like I have the last few races.

Training kicked off last Monday. Before I get into the details of the week, I’ll give you some of my basic goals for this training plan and explain how it’s different from my pre-injury days:

  • 5-6 runs per week, with 1 day of cross training. My physical therapist has suggested NOT running 6 days a week, every week, just yet. So one week I’ll run 6 days, and the next I’ll run 5, replacing one run with a cross training session, most likely on the spin bike. My gym doesn’t have spin classes, but they do have spin bikes, and I can make my own workout via apps and Pinterest.
  • 3 days of strength training (or two days of strength + 1 of yoga).  I lost a lot of strength when I was injured, and I’m building that back. Plus, I need strength to prevent another injury and to power me up the hills of Horsetooth. Which brings me to…
  • Hills. All the hills. Because the course looks like this:
    Horsetooth Half Marathon Course Elevation Profile
    I’ve got a combination of short hill repeats, long hill repeats, and hilly tempo runs on my schedule, and I’m trying to make my long runs as hilly as possible. The Fort Collins Running Club is hosting some training runs on the course, so I’m planning to hit a few of those, too.
  • Stretching, mobility work, and PT exercises. I do. not. want. to. get. injured. again. So I’m doing everything I can to avoid it. I recently read Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett (review coming soon-ish), and I’m devoting about 10 minutes per night to mobility stuff I learned from his book. I’m also still doing my physical therapy exercises almost every day to keep the old injury from sneaking back up on me.
  • Rest. Don’t worry when you see that there’s no rest day on the weekly recap you’re about to read. I fully understand the importance of rest and know that neglecting to rest is as bad as (or worse than) neglecting tough workouts. I’ve got some scheduled rest days and will not hesitate to take unscheduled ones if my body asks for them.

That’s the general idea. Here are the specifics from this week:

Monday: 3.1 easy miles plus four strides, followed by strength work.

Tuesday: Fartlek workout: 15-minute warm-up, 6 x 2-minutes at 10k pace with 2-minutes recovery, 15-minute cool down; 5.5 miles total. Followed by core work and stretching. Side note: This is what I wore. In January. In Colorado.
FullSizeRender (8)

Wednesday: Indoor cycling intervals for 30 minutes, then strength training.

Thursday: 6 easy miles, plus 4 strides, followed by core work and stretching

Friday: I had the day off (it was technically a teacher work day, but we can work from home), so I strength trained in the morning, then took a mid-day break from working and ran an easy 4.

Saturday: 5 miles easy. Neglected my core work because I was cold. Excuses, excuses.

Sunday: 10 miles. Thought I was choosing a hillier route than it was, but it was fun to explore a new-to-me loop. Plus it was an absolutely gorgeous day.
Want to follow me on Strava? I don’t do much on it, but you can follow me here.

Total Mileage: 33.6

My other big goal for this training cycle is to see how fit and fast I can be compared to where I am now, not where I was three years ago. If I start comparing times and mileage to pre-injury, pre-move me, I’ll get down, and that’s silly. This is where I am, and who I am, today, and that’s okay. Here’s to Week 2!

What are you training for right now? Races? Adventures? Life?

How’s the weather where you are? Colorado is weird — 30 degrees one day and 60 the next.

Movement in the Classroom: Why it Matters and my Plans to Incorporate More

Sitting all day is a struggle.

Kids need to move to learn.

Sitting in their desks all day makes students sleepy and disengaged.

Our kids sit in desks all day, moving for four minutes every hour as they hustle to their next classes, then sitting again. That’s not good for their health or their learning.

None of this is rocket science. I’ve known this for a long time, and I’ve always tried to give my students the chance to get up — planning activities that require them to move around, telling them that they can stand and work if they need to, even allowing the occasional bathroom break when I know the kid doesn’t really need to pee, just to move. This summer, though, I’ve done more research on the evils of sitting and benefits of allowing kids more natural movement, and I’ve decided that my former efforts are not enough. It’s time to up my classroom movement game.

This learn-about-movement quest of mine started as I listened to Ben Greenfield’s podcast. In one episode, he mentioned this school in California, which is trying to raise enough money to purchase standing desks for every student. Greenfield explained that this project is great, because we need to teach kids that “they don’t need to sit to get sh*t done.”  Amen, Ben.

For the next few days, I paid closer attention to my own learning process. I was reading a book on pedagogy — a book that I wanted to learn a lot from. As I read, I moved from standing, to sitting on my stability ball, to draping myself, belly-down, over the ball, to pacing. This is natural for me; I can’t just sit and study. I’ve never been able to. And then it  hit me: If learn best when I’m moving, why am I not giving my students the same opportunities?

I dug deeper into the research, buying James Levine’s book Get Up: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It. (Side note: Everyone in America should read this book. Seriously, it’s fantastic). In the book, Levine details his decades-spanning research into sitting and how it’s literally killing us. Diabetes, obesity, and a slew of other health problems are directly related to our proclivity for sitting in chairs all day.

Most relevant to my current interests was Levine’s chapter on learning, but the chapter on workplaces that encourage NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis — i.e., not sitting all day) was also helpful. Levine names eight benefits of NEAT workplaces:

“1. Increased productivity
2. Improved health measures and decreased healthcare costs
3. Decreased employee stress
4. The ripple effect: Although these programs are delivered to the workplace, we consistently see the benefits ripple into employees’ home lives.
5. Increased happiness
6. Positive atmosphere
7. Decreased staff turnover
8. Hiring advantage” (137).

While the last two aren’t as relevant to the classroom, the first six are absolutely things I’d love to see in my students. The chapter on learning provided even more evidence that our kids need to move more. Levine and his team designed a NEAT school –one in which students were free to stand, sit, walk, shoot baskets, etc., all while learning their lessons —  and studied the students’ learning. Here’s what they found:

  • “[Parents] reported that their children came home from school more relaxed and happier to do homework.”
  • Students diagnosed with ADHD were able to focus on lessons without becoming a distraction to others
  • Student test scores (because we all know how important those are these days) “improved by 10 to 20 percent.”
  • “[A]ctive learning is associated with improved educational attainment and better health” (161).

Now, obviously, I’ve got to take baby steps here. I can’t exactly convert my entire school into a NEAT school in the month before classes resume. But Levine and his staff also found that “using a NEAT classroom for only 45 minutes per day increased a student’s activity for more than 36 hours” and that after just one class period, “students were more active for the rest of the day” (159). Even more encouraging: Levine also found that a mere five minutes of movement increased kids’ activity over the course of the day.

What are those baby steps I’ll be taking to increase NEAT in my classroom? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Get a few stability balls so my kids can still be sitting, technically, but also engaging more muscles and moving more naturally while working.
  • Move my two torso-height bookshelves out from the wall so kids can stand behind them and use them as standing desks (I use them when I’m grading presentations, and it works fine. I just need to give the kids space to get back there… and find a new home for the junk I store behind them).
  • Keep clipboards handy so kids can stand or pace slowly while still writing.
  • Incorporate more movement-centric studying — simple things like jumping or walking while memorizing prepositions, for example.

That’s where I’m at right now. I know this is a running blog, but it’s my running blog, so I plan to write occasional updates here: one, it might give other teachers ideas and allow people to give me more ideas, and two, the accountability of posting about this will help prevent the mid-year “let’s just go back to what we know” trap that we all tend to fall into.

How much do you sit on a given day? 

Any other suggestions for how I can create a sit-less classroom?

“What Do You DO All Summer?”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a teacher.”

“Summers off, huh? Must be nice. So what do you DO all summer?”

That’s a conversation that every teacher has about 47,000 times a summer. Sometimes the tone is snarky, but most of the time, I think people are simply curious. A few people have left comments on the blog asking how I spend my summers, and I’m assuming that these people fall into the “curious” category and not the “snarky” (if I’m wrong, leave me to my delusions, please). Here’s a little insight on how I spend the time I’m not required to be at school.

  • I teach. I don’t teach summer school every summer; I’ve taught it only twice — once at the middle school and currently at the community college. This college gig is not bad — two hours a day, three days a week (plus grading and planning time, of course)–but it would be nice if my students came to class a little more often and a little more promptly.
  • I read. A lot. Summer is prime time for professional reading.  I subscribe to several English teacher journals but rarely have time to even open them from August to May, so I spend a lot of time in the summer catching up. I also bookmark lots of online articles throughout the year, thinking “I’ll read them later.” “Later” always ends up being summer.

    I also read a lot of adolescent literature during the summers, which I’ll readily admit does not feel like work. But I need to stay abreast of current YA lit trends, hit books, and up-and-comers so that I can recommend books to my students and have discussions with them. And I usually buy the books I read so I can put them on my classroom shelves, so Amazon LOVES me in the summer.


    Of course, I also do more pure pleasure reading in the summers — from novels to nonfiction to running books/magazines to my Internet friends’ blogs. Though I also read those things during the school year, I have more time in the summers to read what I want to read.

  • I write. A lot. I firmly believe that a person cannot be a good writing teacher if she never writes. That’s part of the reason I started this blog, actually — I hoped that if I had an audience and a consistent topic that interested me, I would at least do some writing during the school year. In the summers, I do a lot of other writing, too, from responses to silly prompts I find in books or online to professional writing (which someday I will get the nerve to submit to a journal). I have also participated in writing groups and classes in the past, but I’m not this year simply due to scheduling.
  • I catch up on little things. As the year goes on, my stacks of “things to do later” just continue to grow. Small but necessary things like filing paperwork and inventorying my classroom library tend to get put off all year. Once the maintenance crew is done with my room (usually in July), I head in for a few days here and there to take care of all that junk.
  • I work on improving what I do. All year, I jot little notes about what needs changed. in each unit and in the class as a whole. In the summer, I go back and make adjustments. I also adjust my plan for each year based on the incoming students (that’s the great thing about being in a tiny school — I have all my kids at least twice).
  • I take classes and go to workshops. Some summers, I take all-summer classes (like when I was in grad school and when I did the National Writing Project). Other years, like this year, I just attend a few day- or week-long classes and trainings. Regardless of their length, these classes/workshops give me a chance to learn something new and network with other teachers — and I don’t have to take a day away from students.
  • I go places. I may have made it sound thus far like summer is all work and no play, and that’s not true. Summer also gives us a chance to get away for a while. J and I usually try to take one big trip a year (South Carolina was this year’s), but we also do weekends in the mountains and visit family (see this post about our visit to my parents or this one about our weekend in Evergreen last summer). Even short weekend getaways are challenging during the school year, so we relish our chances to get away and relax.
    beach toes at mbsp
  • I go to the gym at non-peak times. And I love it.

    photo (9)
    Look at all the people not around me!
  • I go to the bathroom when I need to. Yes, this feels like a major privilege. If you get to do this on a regular basis, don’t take it for granted.
  • I use silverware and chew my food. I know this sounds ridiculous, but having time to eat is something I look forward to most in the summers. During the school year,  I almost always pack a morning snack of veggies and almonds… and it often takes me three hours to get it eaten. And our lunch break is 25 minutes, so by the time I get all the kids out of my classroom, use the bathroom, fill my water bottle, and get my turn at the microwave, I usually have just a few minutes to shovel down some food and get back to class. So it’s really nice to, you know, chew for three months.

So, in a (fairly large) nutshell, that is what I do all summer.

If you are a teacher, what do your summers look like? If you’re not, what would you do with a summer “off”?


How to Nail the Teaching Job Interview

I recently served on the interview committee for a new social studies teacher at my school. It was a rather eye-opening experience, as I’ve never been on that side of an interview, and I found myself making mental notes about what to do and what not to do the next time I’m back on the other side of the table. Since I know I have at least a few readers who are or plan to be teachers, I decided to share my interview tips – and most of these are good tips for any job interview, not just a teaching one. Some of these seem like pretty basic, common-sense tips, but all stemmed from actual events in the interviews, so maybe those things are not as common-sense as I thought.

Days before the interview:

  • Carefully proofread your resume, cover letter, and application. And for heaven’s sake, it’s 2014: type the application. Grammatical errors – especially spelling errors – and a handwritten application say, “I don’t really care that much about this job” – or, worse, “I’m not very smart” — and that’s not the impression you want to give for any job, and especially not for one in education.
  • Do some basic research. We offered one candidate the job, only to have him turn it down because the commute was too long. Fifteen seconds on Google Maps before the interview could have told him how long the daily drive would take, but he wasted his time and ours by interviewing for a job he didn’t really want.
  • Prepare answers to some of the questions you’re likely to be asked. Ask some of the teachers and administers you know to tell you what they ask in interviews, especially for your content. Every teaching interview asks some of the same questions – What is the basis for your interest in working with (insert population) students? How do you decide what to teach and when to teach it? If I walk into your classroom on an average day, what will I see?There will be some content-specific questions, too. When you get the call to schedule the interview, ask a little about the position – what grade(s), what’s covered in those courses (i.e. early American history? World history? Civics?) – and brush up on that information so you don’t draw a blank and look like a fool in the interview.

Right before the interview

  • Dress up! I thought this one was common sense, but I was amazed at how many men (we interviewed only one woman) wore a sleeves-rolled-up button-down shirt and tie, with no jacket. Maybe suits are old-fashioned, but chances are, so are the people interviewing you… even if they’re relatively young. The oldest person on our interview committee is 36, yet all of us agreed that it was inappropriate to not wear a suit to an interview. Borrow a suit or buy one from the thrift store if you don’t have one, but dress like you are taking this interview seriously.
  • Arrive early. Another “duh” one, I’d think. But when you’re being interviewed be a group of teachers at the end of the day at the end of the school year, know that your interviewers are tired, frazzled, and really want to go home. Your showing up even five minutes late is SUPER irritating, and again – not the impression you want to make.
  • Act like everyone is interviewing you. Smile and say hello to the security officer, the secretary, anyone you see in the halls. No one wants to work with a jerk, so don’t be one. You never know who’s watching (and whom they’ll talk to).
  • Focus on the school’s positive attributes, and don’t point out the negative – even if the negative is pretty minor. One applicant arrived early (smart) and made small talk with a few of us while we waited for the rest of the committee to arrive. One of the first things he did was mention that he had read our online school newspaper … and found a typo. Now, dude had no idea that I am the newspaper adviser or that I started this newspaper a few years ago because some kids begged me to, and I didn’t want to turn them down regardless of my lack of newspaper knowledge. Sure, it was a stupid typo, and my editor and I should have caught it. But pointing it out embarrassed me and definitely did not give me a good impression of the applicant – and the interview hadn’t even started.

During the interview:

  • If your interview includes teaching a lesson to actual students, make it a good one. We know that some days, teaching means lecturing, or having kids read and take notes, or even assigning a worksheet (with decent content). But that’s not what we want to see. Show us your best. Do something creative, engaging, and unique. If I hear the kids still talking about your lesson when they get to my class later, you’ve probably gotten the job. One of our candidates lectured, but he did so while having the kids play Bingo and take notes on the Bingo grid. It kept them interested and rapidly taking notes, and it provided them with a nice little graphic organizer to study from later. And he will be our new teacher this fall.
  • Sit up straight. Sliding down in your chair makes you look like one of our naughty students and, again, like you don’t really care. Act like a professional if you want to be one.
  • Be yourself. I know it’s hard. You’re so nervous, and you just want to make a good impression. But try to let your personality show. If you usually crack a lot of jokes, make some in the interview. If you’re boisterous, be boisterous in the interview. If you’re laid-back, be relaxed. If you’re sarcastic, be sarcastic (a little bit … don’t be offensive). Let the interviewers see who you are so they know if you’ll be a good fit in their school.
  • Be engaging. If you bore your interviewers, they’ll assume that you’ll bore your students, too…and you will not get hired. Tell stories. Use examples. Be animated – talk with your hands and with inflection in your tone.
  • Don’t drop a billion buzzwords or acronyms. We went to education school, too. We read all the same books and journals you do. We know all the trendy terms like “backwards design,” “standards alignment,””21st-century learners,” and “differentiation.” And those aren’t bad things … but say something else, too. Tell us how you use them, with specific examples. Tell us about the breakthroughs you’ve had or the kid you differentiated for and saw succeed. And for goodness’ sake, ease up on the acronyms – UBD, KWL, CWD, DBQ. You’re not interviewing via Twitter. Use your words.
  • It’s okay to admit you don’t know some things – but at least try. Several candidates we interviewed came from placements in districts with very little freedom – they were given a curriculum and basically told, “Be on this page on this date or else.” We don’t do that – our teachers have a lot of freedom. So when those candidates were asked how they would decide what and when to teach, they didn’t have solid answers because they had zero experience with that. The best candidates explained their situation – but also told us where they thought they would begin. The not-so-great candidates just said that they weren’t sure.
  • Ask questions, but again, focus on the positives. One candidate told us he’d looked at our standardized test scores and wondered what the problem was in one (non-social studies) area. Not okay, dude.

After the interview

  • Shake hands. Smile. Say thanks. Ask if we need anything else. And then leave. Don’t stand around awkwardly while we all gather our things. We want to talk about you and go home.
  • As with any job interview, send a thank-you note. One candidate sent a thank-you e-mail and attached his electronic portfolio, which I thought was a nice touch. It showed us some of his stronger assets that we didn’t get to talk about in the interview.

I hope these tips help you as you get ready for your job interviews. Good luck out there!

Which of these do you think is most important? What tips would you add?

Dear News Media: I Don’t Want to Know

This is not my usual health-and-running post. But this is weighing heavily on my heart and mind, and this blog is the platform I have for expressing my thoughts. Back to your (ir)regularly scheduled shallowness later.


Dear News Media:

Yes, there was another horrible school shooting in my state today. It was terrible for all who were impacted, particularly the injured. The gunman is dead. The rest of the students are home safe now.

Please, don’t tell me any more.

Last I checked, the gunman hadn’t been identified. Please keep it that way. I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to know what he looked like — whether he had vacant, careless eyes or classic boy-next-door good looks. I don’t want to see his face plastered across the front page of the newspaper, filling every T.V. screen at the gym, staring out at me from my RSS reader.

Don’t unearth his yearbook pictures, the ones of him running cross country or posing with the debate team, showing them on the screen while you quote his teammates who “still can’t believe he did this.” Don’t find out why he had a vendetta against his teacher — and if you do find out, please don’t tell me. (I didn’t even want to know these things about him, but you already told me).

You see, I don’t want to know these things because if know them, so does everyone else in the country. And now you’ve publicized and glorified another killer. Once you’ve publicized and glorified him, another sad, mentally ill kid starts wondering if a similar act of violence will solve all of his problems and bring him that same glory.

We learned in my earliest education classes that students who act out are seeking attention. Acting out gets them attention — negative attention, but to them, that’s better than no attention at all. A school shooting is “acting out” on the largest, most horrific scale. When you, news media, constantly report on every little detail of it, you are giving that desperately-sought attention. (Don’t believe me? Then please tell me why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are still household names 14 years after their attack. The answer is you.) So stop. Please stop.

These senseless acts of violence are becoming deplorably common. I’m not saying it’s all your fault, media. But you definitely play a role. So please, stop fueling the fire. Don’t tell me any more. Because I don’t want to know it.

Ten Little-Known Perks of Being a Teacher

I wasn’t going to blog today. My plan was to run (8.2 miles in the nice, cool morning air. Glorious.), have breakfast and coffee, and then head in to work to start working on my classroom. But J is going in today, too, so we decided to carpool, and he’s taking a long time to get ready. This is a post I started yesterday, and since I was waiting around, I finished it up.

Ten Awesome Things about Being a Teacher

Obviously, the best parts of teaching are watching kids “get it,” getting to know your students and sharing in their successes and failures, being the shoulder to cry on or the palm to high-five when a kid needs either. Those are the reasons people get into teaching in the first place. But once you are a teacher, you discover that there are some other fun little perks that come along with being an educator (and no, they’re not “June, July, and August.” The next shmuck that makes that joke gets punched in the throat). Here are a few:

  1. The massive paycheck. Ha. Ha. Ha. Just kidding. But since we don’t get a massive paycheck, we do get…
  2. Discounts. While the media may hate us sometimes, people in the real world like us. And they know that we don’t make much money. Many places give teacher discounts (here’s one list ), and even those that don’t advertise discounts might hook you up if you mention that you teach. J and I have gotten discounts on everything from clothes to gym memberships to travel by mentioning that we’re educators.
  3. You don’t have to sit at a desk in a cubicle all day. Sitting is killing you. This recent Runner’s World article is one of many that I have read recently that explain how terrible for you all-day sitting is. As a teacher, you’re on your feet, walking around, literally all day. Extra calorie burn, anyone?
  4. No one judges you for your caffeine addiction. I think it’s actually a prerequisite to drink copious amounts of coffee. I tell my kids that they should probably expect a coffee spill on at least one paper per year.
  5. Or for reading adolescent lit. This took up a fairly substantial part of my summer. It’s research, right?
  6. You’re easily excited. Some things that excite you:

  7. You get to wear a new outfit on the first day of school. I still do this. Every year.
  8. Someone will always laugh at your incredibly unfunny jokes. It’s probably the kid who really wants an A in your class and hasn’t realized that kissing up doesn’t actually affect her grade, but at least you’re guaranteed a giggle.
     (I will forgive the missing commas here because I like what it says.)
  9. You still get to go to prom. Actually, that’s not a perk. It’s kind of gross to watch your kids grind up on each other, and you realize that you’re super old because you’re exhausted before the dance even starts.
  10. It’s never boring. Every class is different, every kid is different, and every day is different. It’s awesome.

Yep, being a teacher is pretty fantastic. I’m getting excited for the start of a new year!

What are some perks I forgot?

If you’re not a teacher, tell me some little-known perks of your job.