Monday, March 15, 2010

What I Wish I Had Known (but probably wouldn't have listened to anyway)

Mom Thoughts:
This is going to be a new section of my blog as I have recently gone from being not only a vegan teacher but a vegan mom as well! As I go through the first week and a half of my son's life, I am having some time to reflect back on what I wish I had known. Some of these are things that I don't think anyone told me about, and some of these are things that I know friends and family told me about, but I didn't really get until now!
  • Being in labor hurts like nothing else - but it will end, and I did (you can) handle it
  • Pushing was the easiest part because I had some control over it (this may not be the case for everyone, but it was comforting to me!)
  • Eat lots of iron-rich foods before you go into labor!
  • When you are in labor have at least one person in the room who has gone through it and/or that you are willing to listen to and trust
  • Trust your instincts - especially when you are overwhelmed with information from the rest of the world
  • In the first couple weeks there will be little or no pattern or routine to your life - learn to live with it. It will not always be this way (or so I'm told)
  • After giving birth about the only thing your body is capable of doing is feeding your child. Let everyone else do other stuff for you
  • Don't feel guilty or upset if you find breastfeeding both difficult and boring
  • People want to do things to help you - let them!!!
  • There are a million different emotions you can have with regards to your baby that range from frustration, indifference, joy and excitement - and you will probably have them all at various points. That is how it is - don't get stressed about it.
  • If the baby is calm and quiet but awake, you are allowed to put him/her down and do something for yourself, whether it is sleep, eat, take a bath or call a friend
  • Babies make funny faces that may or may not mean anything yet
  • Being a mom doesn't stop you from being the person you were before - its an added piece, not a whole new identity. Don't be afraid to do things you would normally do, even if others find it strange
Teacher Musings:
Well, my brain has not been fully teacher engaged recently. After a month away from the classroom, I can already feel my teacher sense atrophying as it did when I was a literacy coach - only now it is more so since I am not in a school at all. However, I did, finally, get to read through some work e-mails this weekend and give some feedback on a possible writing prompt we would use to assess student writing in grades 9-12. The prompt uses a few quotes from articles in it, but also gives students the choice of using their own experiance as evidence to write about social networking in the internet age. For me this brought up one of the issues I grapple with constantly as an English teacher. When we are trying to teach students how to develop their ideas in writing, often we are asking them to write about things they have read. Obviously this is important, since the majority of the writing they will do, both in college and in professional settings, will be based on some text they have read. While I might take issue with teaching them literary analysis as an isolated skill, I do recognize the importance of being able to craft an argument in an essay based on a text (or several texts). However, when I read the students' writing, and they seem to be struggling, sometimes I don't know if there struggle is in the writing itself (i.e. they need to be better taught how to craft an argument, etc.) or is based on the fact that they really didn't understand the text that they read. Sometimes I have assumed that students have a "writing problem" only to find out that if I ask them to write about a text that they read and understood the write fairly well. Interestingly enough, I have also found that when I "explain" a text to them (i.e. they didn't really get it on their own and I force fed the ideas from it to them) their writing about that text still seems problematic. So, while I do find it useful to assess some aspects of writing independent of reading, the two still are so inextricably linked, and it is impossible to teach one without detail with the other in the day-to-day teaching. As someone who likes things organized and compartmentalized, this has been difficult for me both comprehend, and figure out what to do. I still don't know, but I do have ideas for how to better integrate the two next year, starting with using writing to help them understand their reading (both through annotation - which I already teach - and short written responses to reading, which I started to do this year and found very useful).

Yummy Stuff:
With a new baby in the house, I have not done much cooking at all, and G-man has only done a bit more. Luckily we have amazing friends who know we are vegan and are still willing (and often excited!) to cook with us! Just a side note - babies are supposed to gain their birth weight back by the time their two weeks old - if they are not on track to do that they may not be getting enough to eat. My son gained all but one ounce of his birth weight back by one week after been breastfed exclusively by his vegan mom. Not enough protein my butt!! My point is that both me and my son are thriving on our whole-foods plant-based vegan diet and loving it!

Now, with not having a lot of time to cook, we had to strategies our meals a bit. This included getting some "easy to make" options from the store. I thought I would share some of the things we made last week (while G-man was home) for anyone else out there with limited time or energy on their hands.

  • Trader Joe's frozen pizza (veggies without cheese!)
  • Trader Joe's black bean enchiladas (again, no cheese and with yummy tofu and veggies!)
  • Trader Joe's 17 bean soup (comes in a pack with dried beans - you need some celery, onions and bell pepper with it, and I recommend adding some spices, but it is easy and really good!)
  • Homemade chili (beans pre-made before the baby and ready to go in the fridge)
  • Tofu scramble with Trader Joe's frozen stir-fry veggies (to minimize chopping time)
  • Pre-made and frozen mushroom and rice casserole (recipe from Vegetarian Times)
  • And of course whatever your friends bring you (we got some amazing dal and several rounds of Darwin's sandwiches - thank god for that! Also some friends brought us frozen cookie dough and bags of spinach - the spinach helped me build my iron stores back up and the cookies were so comforting on this last rainy weekend!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Collaboration and Maternity Leave Reflection

Teacher Musings:
Well, its been a whirlwind of a few months since I last posted, although the days go by much slower now. I have been officially on maternity leave for over a week, and I spent the time from Christmas break until my leave working hard to make the transition as painless as possible for the amazing teacher who is taking over my classroom. I am incredibly lucky that my students will continue to get taught, not babysat, while I am away.
In these last few months I have really found myself having to acknowledge one of my many weaknesses - I struggle to collaborate with other people. Let me be specific - I really enjoy and get a lot out of sharing ideas and discussing pedagogy with other teachers. These conversations have always improved my practice, and I really enjoy the process of taking ideas or even just germs of ideas from these conversations and making them my own. But (and you knew there was a but) what I struggle with is collaboration that involves an aligned curriculum. I am currently on a team with two of the most thoughtful and talented teachers I have ever worked with, and we have been lucky enough to have my equally thoughtful and insightful replacement planning with us for the last nine weeks. That means four thoughtful, interesting and dedicated teachers have been trying to align themselves with each other - and it has been damn hard (at least for me). What I have realized during my week of reflection (giving me ample time to read some teacher books and magazines I have been ignoring) is that part of the difficulty of this type of collaboration, for me, lies in the apparent similarity of all the people at the table. All of us our somewhat experienced teachers, but we all want to improve, and all of us know we don't necessarily have the "best" way of doing things. While we have similar goals and share some basic principles on the surface, I am starting to suspect that the actual goals and principles that drive our teaching may be just different enough to cause some tension without being able to pinpoint where that tension resides. Often as a group we will come up with a plan, or an assignment, or a reading, that seems fine at the time, but then when I go to use it, I realize that there are problems I didn't see. Most of this is due to a lack of time - we don't get nearly enough planning time together, and the time we do have is often squished between classes, which is not always conducive to real work. However, I have also realized that I have some strong beliefs and principles that drive my teaching that I was not acknowledging to myself or to the group. This meant I was pushing back on some ideas without knowing exactly why, which was frustrating to me, and I'm sure frustrating to others as well. So, in the last week I have decided to really reflect on and think about the principles that drive my own decision making on teaching, and really critically think about how those principles are useful and not useful. I am hoping that this will make me both a better teacher and collaborator next year. I think that the more transparent I am with myself and others, the more productive any planning can be.

Yummy Stuff:
Whenever I am feeling stressed or down (which has been off and on the last few months - its hard to tell what is mood swings and what is stress!) I love to have breakfast for dinner. For me, there is nothing more exciting than waffles and tofu scramble at the end of a long day - it feels like a special treat! Tofu scramble is one of those things that I have seen recipes for, but never used one recipe - instead I have taken ideas from a lot of places, but essentially made my own. So, here is one of MANY versions of a delicious tofu scramble:

Tofu Scramble:
1 block of firm or extra firm tofu (your choice)
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 a small onion, chopped
1 1/2 cup of chopped veggies (Your choice - I often use a stir-fry mix from Trader Joes, or veggie leftovers from other dinners. I suggest broccoli, bell pepper, mushrooms and carrots as a good start)
1 1/2 TB of tamari/soy sauce
1 TB cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp turmeric

1. Drain the tofu and crumble it over a saute pan with you hands. I like to have big chunks that break down more when cooking, but you can crumble it to the consistency you want.
2. Cook the tofu over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring every once in while - not too much (maybe 2-3 times). You can drain out some of the water that will appear if you want - it will help make a firmer scramble.
3. Push the tofu to the side of the pan and pur in the oil. Saute the onions for 5 minutes
4. Put in the rest of the veggies with onion and saute for 3-5 more minutes. Then, mix the veggies in with the tofu.
5. Pour in the tamari and stir it around to coat all of the tofu and veggies.
6. Put in all the other spices EXCEPT for the turmeric. Stir around to coat the tofu and veggies
7. Finally, put in the turmeric and stir it thoroughly so that it coats all the tofu. This will give it that nice yellow look, along with some flavor.
8. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are cooked through. Enjoy (with waffles!)