Tag Archives: Teacher thoughts

Fighting the Plague…

by Cyndi Faircloth

On Monday, my classroom was the source of a “symphony of sickness”. Hacking, coughing, sniffing, wheezing…you name it, we heard it.

I think all but one student was sick. And I might have been the worst off. (Of course, I’m also a whiner when I’m sick so it might have been in my head)

On Tuesday, I went to Quick Care to check in for the 2nd time this round of sickness. There were lots of other coughing, sneezing victims in the waiting room. The doctor took pity on me and listened to my complaints, and gave me another prescription to fight the plague. After one of my hacking sessions, I asked the nice doctor if he took Airborne when there were this many people coming in with these kinds of symptoms. He said he doesn’t take supplements.

He just washes his hands…a lot.

Seriously? That’s his preventative measure when he works with people coughing a sneezing in his face every day?



The CDC says that “Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick.”

I thought I washed my hands pretty regularly at school, but I realize it is something I have to consciously think about doing because there isn’t a sink in my room. Other than the regular bathroom trip, or before and after eating, I’m just not near a sink during the day.

Yet students are in my room all day long…touching things. Sneezing on the desks. Coughing into the air. Blowing their nose and throwing dirty tissues into the garbage (…or at least aiming for the garbage. Sometimes they miss and have to pick them up off the floor).

If you really think about the possible sharing of germs that can happen in a classroom, a germophobe might go into convulsions.

So it was kind of a reality check for me that the doctor (into whose face I had nearly coughed while he examined my nasal passages a few minutes ago) believed that handwashing was the best way for him to avoid getting sick.

I need to up my game during flu season. Maybe all year long.

So here’s my pledge: I will start washing my hands during every class break that I can.

This creeping crud is finally losing its hold on me (thanks to the doctor’s prescription, I think). And I don’t want it back again. Ever.

I will wash my hands whenever I pass the sink in our school kitchen. Or whenever I go in the Science classroom. And whenever I’m standing at the copier waiting for a job to finish (there’s a sink right around the corner). I may buy stock in SoftSoap at this rate.

‘Course I probably also need to invest in some good hand lotion because all this handwashing is going to dry my skin out. But that’s a story for another day…


Spring Broken

Spring broken

One of the students titled one of his blog posts “Spring Broken” when we got back from spring Break a couple of weeks ago. In his post, he wrote about being disappointed in his break, because he spent much of the week sick. Several other students commented that they were sick too. Our schedule was so rushed when we came back that I didn’t have much time to reflect on any of that.

But that was part of the problem.

Not taking enough time for self-care can make people sick. For the week or two before break, we were all focused on making it to Spring Break. It may be our busiest time of year. For some reason, our third quarter often includes some of the most difficult classes we offer in a year. On top of that, Senior Projects and SP Presentations are due. Despite Spring Break, the quarter feels like it moves really quickly.

“I just need to finish this paper and it will be break.”

“I’ll get these presentation slides ready and then I’ll be ready for break.”

“I’m almost done with my project-just in time for break.”

“I need to finish my book for English before break.”

Teachers assign things to be done just before break. Students work hard on those things with the thought that they can ‘relax’ over break. But when they slow down, and finally take time for themselves, I think that when their bodies finally relax, their immune systems relax too.

And then the germs take over…

kleenexThe weeks after break, we saw lots of absences (sometimes up to 40% of the students) because of illness. Those of us in the building heard sniffling, snuffling, coughing, hacking, and hocking (gross!) while we were here. It sure made the end of the quarter even more stressful for everyone.

So I made a note to myself after reading that student blog post.

My goal is to do a better job of including some moments to help students “de-stress” in the weeks leading up to Spring Break next year. Periodically, I want to plan a few moments to stretch, take some deep breaths, reflect on what they need to do. Somehow, I will help students learn some coping strategies so that their stress doesn’t build up and lead to illness over the break from school.

I remember an NPR story about how childhood stress can contribute to chronic illness as an adult. Maybe the story referred to stresses outside of school, but I can’t imagine that a lot of stress is good for anyone, no matter what the source is.

So, note to self:

“Help students manage stress before Spring Break next year.”

And (bonus!) maybe there will fewer gross, sickness-related sounds in the building in the weeks after break.


Food Festival

chocolate_chip_cookie_dayby Cyndi Faircloth

The last few weeks at PCR have been a bit of a food festival. Not exactly by design, but more through luck.

First, there were all the apples left over from school lunches. (Note to self – or at least to the groovy kitchen masters that make our school lunch – students don’t eat apples in February). On Fridays, rather than throwing them out or feeding them to Matt’s chickens, I took them home and made an apple pie and brought it in on Monday. After the first week, I started to get creative with the recipe: weave the top crust together to decorate. Add a little cinnamon. No, add a handful of Red Hots candy – that will spice things up!

After the apples, it was oranges. There were fewer oranges than apples left over, but the bowl on the kitchen table was still getting full at the end of the week. Jim and I decided that we will need to get a juicer so he can use the juice from the oranges in the smoothies he makes for breakfast. (We really hate to throw food out!)

Aside from fruit, there was my baking cupboard to clean out. I’ve been trying to eat less bread so I haven’t been baking as much as I used to. Opening the cupboard and seeing the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder just calling to me, I decided that a baking binge was in order to clear them out for my sanity.

Two batches of Rice Krispie Treats and eight dozen chocolate chip oatmeal cookies later, my cupboard had some empty shelf space and I had quite a few gallon ziplock bags of treats to share with the students. (In all fairness, my husband’s office also benefitted (?) from my “cleaning” spree)

The last treasure trove of food came when a friend had to clean out her dad’s kitchen after his battle with cancer (Cancer won). For Thanksgiving and Christmas, she sent him some gift baskets from Mahoghany Fields (or whatever that food company is called). She lives in California, so she doesn’t really want any of the food items. She brings them to me; I bring them to school for the students. Crackers, cheese, smoked salmon, short breads…it was Snackville!

I think the food festival is coming to an end. It looks like this week the leftover food is going to be baby carrots. Unless someone has a creative recipe to use those up in bulk, we may just be pushing rabbit food on everyone during Open 4th period Friday. Wait…maybe I need to Google “carrot cake” recipes…

Fickle? Or Just Working for the Weekend?

By Cyndi Faircloth – English/Social Studies/Art/Journalism teacher

Ahhh…students. Sometimes they’re so fickle.

Last week, I went home in a great mood and told my husband how great my History class is. The kids were excited about class that day. One student said, “I love learning History this way!” Another commented that they’d learned “so much” in my class.

Students said this as I was passing out a set of documents for them to analyze, in order to answer an essential question. My little teacher’s heart was glad that they were enjoying the class and it was nice to hear students say that they were actually learning something from me! (Wow! My work was worth it!)


Today, we were finishing up a set of documents from yesterday. Then, we were starting another set of documents on a different topic.  Apparently, kids can only handle one topic per day and learn “so much” from me.

As I was handing out the second set of documents, I heard complaints:

“So many documents!”

“So much to read!”


Fickle I tell you. Fickle.

I tell myself its because today is the last day of the school week before a long weekend. They just don’t have the stamina today because they are focused on the next couple of days off. [Point of clarification – “off” for the students does not mean “off” for me. I have two days of professional development classes and discussion ahead. I sure hope no one hears me say anything like “So much to read!” or “More?!”] Or maybe its because they weren’t done talking about the first topic and they wanted to spend more time on it. Or maybe I didn’t do a good job introducing the topic and how it connects to today.

Who knows? But we’ll finish those documents on Monday and start some new ones. Keep on swimming…



By Cyndi Faircloth – English/Social Studies/Art/Journalism teacher

It’s that time of year.

The kids who are close to graduation start running of out steam and find it hard to focus all day. Teachers spend more time practicing amateur psychology and trying to head off emotional meltdowns, than we do celebrating the success of various assignments.

Student smarts off in class? We have to ask ourselves if it was intended as a rude comment for the teacher (or another student) or if it was a fight-flight reaction to being afraid that he/she didn’t know the answer. And we have to do that mental processing in the second or two it takes for us to respond so that we can respond appropriately. Make a joke out of it? Suggest a time out, like getting a glass of water? Or impose a more serious consequence?

Making the wrong choice may mean the situation escalates and takes the class off-track.


One of our past lead teachers had this theory that seniors go through a mini-phase where the terrible twos reemerge. He believed that senioritis, and the resulting condition of “jerk-headedness” that sometimes comes with it, are actually part of the student’s process of saying goodbye to both parents and school. That period, where neither side is really enjoying each others’ company on a regular basis, is key to being able to let go when the student moves on after graduation.


Sorta makes sense.

And, that theory is part of what gets us through the end of the year. We work at not taking things personally when students act up. “Senioritis,” we tell ourselves when the basketball breaks the backyard light fixture at lunch.

“Senioritis,” we say when a student stares at the blank computer screen and says, “My head will explode!” when we make them work.

“Senioritis,” is the mantra when a student can’t stop talking during 4th period, dominating class discussion.

Whatever helps us sleep at night, right?

Just in case it isn’t obvious, teachers look forward to graduation as much as students do. It is the cure for “senioritis”. Both students and teachers can relax and go back to the usual merriment and general delight in each other’s company.

We’ll be really glad when “this time of year” ends on June 4th!

Are We Watching a Movie Today?

By Cyndi Faircloth

Matt and I were talking about using videos in class yesterday. The conversation went something like:

Matt: I need to show a clip in Astronomy tomorrow.

Me: Ugh. That stinks!

Matt: I know…I need to get home so I can start searching for clips.

Me: I need to do that for Thursday, but I don’t have time tonight. Guess I’m watching videos tomorrow.

Matt: Bummer.

Really? Showing video clips in class is not fun?

Actually, it’s a lot more work than people realize. I’m teaching History this quarter and he has two science classes.  All three subjects lend themselves to using video clips in class.

I don’t know about science, but kids love to watch videos in History. Rarely does a day go by that someone doesn’t ask, “Are we watching a movie today?” (Some days I wish Monty Python had done History of America, Part I (rather than History of the World) since I teach US History–but that’s a different blog topic) You’d think that I have a magic dvd player where I plug in the period in History and it magically shows images from the years and concepts we’re discussing.

I don’t know about Matt, but I’ve heard people make fun of History teachers. Something along the lines of: “I’d love to be a History teacher. They just put on a movie and read a book in the back of the room.”

I wish. I don’t know where those people took their History classes, but it wasn’t at PCRHS.

I tend to watch 3-5 hours of video for every hour I show in class. Topic: Chinese Immigration in America? I watched a 90 minute clip of Ken Burns’ The West so I could  show a clip or two. I wanted to introduce the railroads that many Chinese immigrants worked on in the 19th century, but Ken Burns weaves multiple stories together in each episode of a documentary so I had to figure out which minutes corresponded to the railroads and which covered Plains Indians. (FYI, in Episode 5, it is something like 3:00-7:54 and 11:22-16:00…) Maybe someday I’ll get smart and write down the minutes that I use in class in my lesson plan rather than on a sticky note that disappears after I show the video.

I rarely show any clips longer than 30 minutes…because I’d rather that kids looked at primary sources to analyze. My hope is that videos make them curious about the topic, or give a little background so that they can better understand the documents. No magic dvd player could help the kids understand how historians research and write about history as much as working with primary documents will.

If anyone wants to watch History documentaries and make a time log of what the movie covers and in which minutes, I’m happy to share titles with you and you can give me your time maps when you finish.  That might cut my movie previewing time down.  Then my conversation with Matt would be something like:

Matt: I need to show a clip in Astronomy tomorrow.

Me: Awesome. Do you have your time maps so you can figure out what to show?

Matt: Yep. I only need another 10 minutes to finish this lesson plan and then I can go home to play with my kids.

Me: I finished my Thursday lesson yesterday! I’m going home to walk my dogs.

Matt: Nice. See you tomorrow!

Technology…friend or foe?

Cyndi’s Thoughts:

As an educator, I have been pushed to adapt in many ways over the past 10 years.  The challenge helps to “recharge my batteries” and find new things to be excited about.

When I started teaching, the internet was just an early idea for Tim Berners-Lee and the rest of the net inventors. Now, it’s a daily tool in the classroom. We have You Tube, TEDTalks, email, Blogs, wikis, and classroom websites available as tools. These are exciting but can be pretty overwhelming! Knowing I want to share a link for all of the students is one thing. Deciding which platform to use is another. I’ve experimented with a number of sites, some work smoothly, some less so.

Some of these sites the kids enjoyed and found intuitive, others not so much. Few things are more frustrating to me than having six or seven students in the lab asking for my help at the same time with some technical issue they encounter.  Its kind of amazing how many different ways my name can be called out…especially when they all sound plaintive. “Cyndi…I don’t get it!” “Cyyyynnnnddiiiii! This sucks!” “Cyndi…this isn’t working!” (Maybe I should have just written the address on the whiteboard, instead of having the kids join a new website or creating a classroom wiki…but then they struggle with typing it out or misspelling some key word in the address…)

Many times it made me think of that old bath bubbles commercial where the woman’s hair is standing on end and she starts pulling it, yelling, “Calgon! Take me away!” Clearly, some of the website appearances in class were short-lived.

Students often ask if we can watch a video, expressing disappointment if we are reading or doing something without technology instead. Their eagerness to put themselves in front of a screen (whether their phone, the computer, television, or projector screen) makes me cringe. One of my personal goals is to help them become as active a “watcher-of-screens” as possible.

Technology image

Sometimes technology is a distraction, and sometimes it can be a tool, adding enjoyment or a special way to share information. Using it effectively is a constant challenge for me.

Right now we’re experimenting with Google in my English class – encountering ups and downs, successes and failures. It has been helpful to have the kids turn their writing in via GoogleDocs. We can look at parts of student work and discuss what is going well, make suggestions, and help those who need more examples of what a successful assignment might look like. It has reduced paper usage in our building, since I’m able to read drafts and give feedback on-line. In fact, at times it is tough to get the kids to actually print something when I have an activity for them to try.  I like to have them colorcode their writing, highlighting different parts of a paragraph to ensure that they have a claim, evidence, and reasoning all together. Funny that they’ve embraced the paperless world, and often don’t want to bother walking to the printer and back to their desk to do that task.

I’m working on a Google Classroom site to try with the 2nd Quarter History class. I often have kids read and do activities with primary source documents from the Library of Congress or National Archives. Hopefully the GoogleClassroom will let me share hyperlinks with them more effectively. Or…it may generate some more Calgon moments. Wish me luck…

All of this is in anticipation of using Chromebooks in our building.  We are hopeful of having a set that we can use with the kids in class – sometime before the semester is over. I’m sure some of our posts will address that development if it does come to pass.  Both staff and students are excited about the possibility.

All of this to say, I have mixed feelings about technology.  I appreciate the tool that it can be but worry that sometimes we’re all too dependent on it and lose some portion of creativity because we can’t see past what the technology can do.