Teacher Tuesday – Designing my Planner

In case you don’t know, I’m a little bit of a control freak… there I said it, admitted it… don’t judge me.  Usually when people hear “control freak” they think of someone who isn’t flexible or has to have it their way and this may be correct in some ways but I’m more referring to my need to have things organized and well run. In high school I was terribly disorganized, lost things, forgot my homework, the works.  It wasn’t until college when I had more on my plate, more activities, more committees and overall more responsibilities that I learned to take control and organize my life.  I figured out that I needed to organize my life in advance so that everything could fall into place instead of taking it as it came because that is when I got overwhelmed and stressed.

For instance, in my classroom and home, I like to have everything organized so that everything has a home.  You see, if everything didn’t have a home, that’s when my messy side comes out because I don’t have any where to put it.  I have to force myself to be organized up front, or I go crazy, drowning in clutter later on. Read More »

Teacher Tuesday- How being a teacher helps me in photography

Teacher Tuesday- Ten reasons why being a teacher helps me in photography
Yesterday you learned more about me and what I’m passionate about in my blog post My “Day Job” – Living my Dream You read about my love for teaching and for photography and how I plan to keep working for both of these dreams.  
A lot of the other photographers I know, started off as or still are teachers alongside of shooting weddings and family portraits.  This got me thinking about the qualities that good teachers and photographers need to posses and I realized that the qualities teachers have can benefit them as photographers.  
So here are the ten reasons why being a teacher has helped me in photography.  
1) Teachers plan.  Good teachers know that having a successful lesson requires a lot of planning and being prepared.  We plan down to the minute and make sure to include time for off task behavior and even have back up plans in case something goes wrong.  As a photographer this has helped me making sure I have rain plans, and a general idea of the workflow for the session.  If it’s a family with little kids versus an engagement session, I plan out the general progression of the day so that I’m more confident when I get there. 
2) We have to be flexible.  We know that even with an incredible amount of planning and preparedness, sometimes things don’t go as planned.  We have to be flexible if students need more time on a particular subject and we’re quick on our feet to make changes as necessary.  This goes with sessions as well.  Let’s say a younger child has a melt down or they want to run around and can’t sit still.  Being flexible means adjusting posing ideas and working with each family differently.  If getting a good shot means sitting far away from a distance or running around, well then I’m going to do it to get a good image. 
3) We’re good with transitions.  With only 45- 90 minute blocks we know how to manage our time well and keep things moving.  We have to manage transitions well in order to maximize time without loosing focus.  In sessions this is important so that kids don’t get bored or tired and instead feel like they are having fun in the process.  I try to keep transitions during sessions short so we can all stay focused.  
4) We strive to see the best in everyone.  Teachers can find the strengths in everyone, it’s our job!  We get to know our kids so we can use their strengths to help them overcome challenges.  As a photographer I aim to take images that show off genuine character in each family member.  
5) We are good managers.  Teachers know how to manage lots of kids at a time.  With our class sizes ranging from 22 to 30 (sometimes larger) we’re good and keeping the attention of a lot of kids at one time.  We can give good directions, set expectations and keep everyone on task.  This helps me as a photographer especially with a large family.  Being able to keep everyone involved, focused and working together is so important.  Sometimes I have to hold myself back from saying “If you can hear my voice, clap once”… (yoikes!) 
6) We give good directions.  This was already said in number five a little but is really important.  Good teachers give good directions that are clear and set everyone up for success.  As a photographer, making sure everyone knows what to do is really important.  People feel more comfortable when you are confident and can clearly direct them.  This is something that I honestly have to work on during sessions, being clear.  But when a person knows exactly what to do in the image then they can relax and enjoy the session which ultimately shows up in the picture.  
7)  We can be goofy.  This doesn’t apply to all teachers obviously but I have found that my students respond well to me when I’m myself which of course is a goof ball. Not to say we goof around in class but if I need to sing out directions to keep them interested or act out chemical bonding, I do it.  In a session I’ll make jokes, use weird voices, anything to get the attention and genuine smiles that I like to see in images.  
8) We’re creative.  Again this doesn’t apply to all teachers but generally speaking we are all creative to a point.  We have to take hard content and figure out a creative way to break it down so that everyone understands.  This is kind of an obvious correlation but let’s say I get a session and there isn’t much going on for great backgrounds or the light is too harsh.  I’ve had to think creatively to find different looks within the same session.  
9) We can talk to kids.  This may seem silly but some people just can’t communicate well with kids.  Being a teacher means we have to be able to communicate with all different types of kids of all ages.  Every family is different which makes each session different.  Treating each person as an individual and making sure to communicate with them in the way they need helps them trust you and listen carefully.  
10) We love working with kids and people. Teachers become teachers because they love young people and they love working with them.  I love working with young people.  I think the best part is getting to know them and learning from them.  It’s so cool to work with people who have so much potential and are still have so much in front of them!  I love photographing people and learning who is in front of the lens.  If I can take a picture that captures who they are and shows off their genuine character, then I’ve done a good job. 

My "Day Job" – Living my Dream

So I recently saw an article that said “Your Dream Job vs. Your Day Job” and was all about how to strive for your dreams while working a full time job to support your dream.  A great article, but it got me thinking.

What if my “day job” isn’t just a day job?  What if my day job is also my dream job?  Does this mean that photography can’t also be a dream job?  Am I limited to how many dreams and passions I work toward and pursue?  

Here’s a little background about me… I love life.  This sounds cheesy so let me explain.  I love the idea that we all have souls and passions and make choices and can explore.  I love that we create our days and how we spend them.  Every day at school someone on the announcements says “Make it a great day, or not.  The choice is yours” and I LOVE this.  We have choices.  Growing up I was so blessed with the ability to pursue passions and explore my choices in life.  It was around the same age that I picked up a camera and decided I wanted to be a teacher.  They both called to my heart and for awhile I put photography on a shelf as a hobby because I thought, I can’t do both, I am going to be a teacher, not a photographer.

Well I’m here to tell you, that I want both. 

I love teaching, love it, really really really cheesily love it (and since I am a science teacher I can get away with using words like cheesily that aren’t spelled right and don’t exist).  I knew when I was 16 years old that I was going to go to College to become a teacher because I loved the feeling of helping younger kids.  So here I am, 4 years into teaching and every day that I come to school I get excited about seeing my kids.  Talking to them, listening to them, working with them and learning from them.  Is it perfect? Heck no.  Is it pretty?  Not usually.  Is it stuff that people want to read about on social media?  Well if “YES student _______ got a B on this test and worked so hard!!” or “lunch duty was a killer today”.. then yeah! but let’s be real… probably not.  Do I get tired and worn out and wonder if it’s worth it?  Absolutely, but the reality is, I love this job and it’s not just my day job, it’s my dream job… my first dream.

So how does this tie into photography and the “Alexandra Michelle Photography Blog”?  Well, if you like my images and you’d like me as your photographer you should know that I’m more than just a girl with a nice camera.  I’m a dreamer.  I’m a “not gonna settle for just one passion when I have lots” kind of girl.  I’m also a “if I love it I’m not going to give up on it”, kind of girl.  I am a teacher, and I’m also a girl with a small business who dreams of taking gorgeous images for families who love life the way I do.  I love photography in the same way I love teaching.  I plan and then I get to shoots and meet the families involved and we try things, I take pictures and many times they turn out really well.  Are there images that I delete because they didn’t turn out?  Yup.  Are there lessons that I delete because they didn’t turn out? Yup.  It’s another avenue to interact with people, learn about them and capture their best selves.  Teaching is the same, it’s part content and part working habits but it’s also trying to get kids to do their best, whatever that may be.

I decided a year ago I wanted to chase this dream and I had people who asked, so are you going to quit teaching?  I didn’t know what to say because I felt weird.  I didn’t want to give up teaching.  But I also didn’t want to fail at this either.  I felt shameful that I had two dreams, selfish almost like I wasn’t supposed to have both as if I couldn’t do them both well.  Well, I don’t think I should have to give up on either dream.  I don’t want to just work a full time job, I want to love my full time job.  I can’t let myself live life void of passion.  So I’m here, a year later, trying.  I have two big dreams and I’m trying to do them.  I have one that is full time and one that is just a little small business that I love and am excited about the long term potential for.

Maybe this blog post comes off braggy (if that’s a word) and I really don’t mean it to.  I don’t want anyone reading this to sit there and say “well gee, must be nice that you love your job so much”.  I’m here trying to say, if you want something, you should try for it.  We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our dreams, we should try!  If your day job is just a day job then don’t give up on your out of work passions.  We should choose to explore joy in being alive, to live passionately and not settle.   Easier said then done but someone once said to me “It should be a little scary, that means you care and that it’s worth it”.  For me, a year ago, it was easier to keep photography on that shelf.  It meant I didn’t have to put myself out there, fail publicly.  But it also meant I was suppressing a dream and then the fear switched and I became a afraid of the regret of never trying.

So after a very long blog post, that you’re probably not reading any longer, I’m here to encourage you to live your passions.  Make life important to you, dive into your dreams and try.  I am a teacher and a small business owner, but ultimately, I’m a dreamer who is passionate about life and I won’t give up on either of my dreams or any of the future ones to come.

Teacher Tuesdays — Substitute Plans

So anyone who is a teacher knows, that planning for a substitute can be stressful.  You want to make sure that the plans are easy enough to follow and implement, engaging for students to stay focused on, long enough that it leaves no time for unstructured time, and of course on topic so you don’t lose time.  Planning for a substitute is enough to keep me in school even when I don’t feel good just because of all the extra prep work.  In the next few weeks I’ll be planning for substitutes more frequently then I’d like. Luckily I have a substitute lined up that I trust and can rely on to manage my classroom the way I need in order to accomplish goals.

To ensure that everything runs smoothly with a substitute I like to make super detailed plans to ensure that the substitute doesn’t feel unsure of what to do.  I like to use the “Teacher will – Students will” model with instructions for students and for what the substitute is actually responsible for.  That way the substitute knows exactly what the student work will look like.  I also like to include an “If all else fails” section with an emergency backup in case the internet goes out etc.

What I would be most uncomfortable with as a substitute is being in someone else’s classroom and not knowing where things are.  Since the students know more about the daily routines I always put a list of “helpful students” for each block.  This includes three to four students that the substitute can go to for questions or help.

To make sure they know what to do in any circumstance, the introduction page in the beginning lists out what to do in emergencies and includes a section on where to find things such as clickers, manual attendance sheets etc.

Here’s a look at what my substitute plans look like!  Ultimately these people are doing me a huge favor!  The least I can do is make it an easy day for them 🙂

Teacher Tuesday – MEGAMANGI

So today I’m going to share with you my all time favorite review game to play with students…MEGAMANJI! It is basically three review games combined for the ultimate game of strategy, skill and fun.  Here’s how it works…

Each team starts with 5 points.  Each team gets asked a question and if they get the question correct they can take one point away from another team OR they can shoot the trash ball (the points are written on the board and are simply erased when they are taken away).  If a student shoots from the “free throw” line and makes it, they can take two points away from another team (or two teams), if they shoot from the 3 point line and make it, then they can take three points away.  (I put the trashcan on top of the counter and then put duct tape down on the floor for the shot lines)  The teams are competing to maintain the most points but can not add points back to their team.

Once a team is eliminated then they are playing to get back into the game.  IF they get their question correct instead of taking a point away from another team, they pull from the “Leap Frog” pile (using my leap frog cards from the “Leap Frog” game).  The cards vary in point value from 1 point to 100 points.  For every 20 points that are pulled the team gets 1 point added back to their team.  Example:  If they pull the 50 card they get two points to re-enter the game, if they pull the 100 card then they get all 5 points back.  There is also a “Leap Frog” card which means they get no points and essentially get skipped.

If the team gets the question wrong then the question gets passed to the next team.

Teacher Key:  I always tell students that I am the master of games and can take points away for teams that talk out of term or for being unsportsmanlike.  If a team keeps talking they can get negative points which means their next turn, even if they get their question correct, they do not get to pull a leap frog card.

This game gets so heated as the kids love shooting the trash ball and the strategy needed to win.  The best part is that no team is truly “out” and not participating because they can re-enter.  I’ve had some teams get eliminated and then pull the 100 card for 5 points and win!  Let me know if you try it with your students and how they like it, mine love it and beg to play before tests.  🙂

I attached the leap frog cards for you just in case you want to play!
Leap Frog Cards

Teacher Tuesday– Incredible Me

Today’s Teacher Tuesday post couldn’t come at a better time.  Yesterday we kicked off our kindness initiative at school that  a bunch of teachers have been working on for months!  I am beaming with delight for how well it went.

Our idea is to spread kindness through our school so that it becomes part of our school environment!  We’re doing this by starting a school wide competition for random acts of kindness.  When students are kind to one another they will fill out a kindness card for that person and turn it into their grade’s drop box for credit!  The grade with the most kindness cards at the end of the year will get to have a grade level carnival that they plan!

All the small logistics got planned out but we needed a theme, and then we came up with “Incredible Me” (like Despicable Me!)  We hung up our “Incredible Me” posters that are all minion themed and the teachers dressed up like minions.  In the gym classes we pitched it to them and showed all the kids the video that Jen (one of my administrators) made to get everyone hyped up!  I have to admit I was incredibly nervous because it all depended on the kids and if they liked it.  As each block passed and the students saw the video, you could feel the excitement building in the air!  The kids were asking questions about how to fill out the cards, who they can give it to, if teachers are participating and more!  They were so excited and were even slipping the cards under Jen’s door at the end of the day 🙂  As they left for the day more and more kindness cards kept coming in.  One girl wrote a note asking if she could go around the school during her 1A class to put up nice sticky notes on everyone’s lockers.  The best part was she even mentioned how she didn’t want the credit to go towards the carnival 🙂

This is honestly what I love about kids, they never fail to surprise you with how big their hearts are.  I’ll keep you posted on how everything goes throughout the year but in the mean time take a look at the video that Jen made!

Teacher Tuesday: Ms. Frizzle

Now that the Facebook page and website are up and running I wanted to start my new blog series “Teacher Tuesdays”.  As I see where this photography journey leads I want to pay tribute to my first dream come true, becoming a middle school science teacher.

And what better way to do this then to pay tribute  to the show that started it all, The Magic School Bus.  Picture me in elementary school bus… much shorter then I am now… still looking 5+ years younger then my real age and with a bow in my hair.  I sit by the TV and wait for Ms. Frizzle to come into her classroom and take the kids and me to a new land!  I was in love with the adventures, the matching outfits and of course the science!

As I went through middle and high school, I constantly related my knowledge back to the good ole days with the Friz and what she had shown us.  I realize now that the reason I so vividly remember those lessons is because they were so visual and you experienced the lesson with Ms. Frizzle.

In high school I realized I had to be a science teacher.  I was teaching a swim class as a Junior Counselor at Camp and I just fell in love with that moment when it all clicked.  The moment when a kid accomplished something and became filled with pride made me so happy that I knew teaching was for me.  I knew I wanted to teach and I knew it had to be Science (my favorite subject).  I went to James Madison focusing on Elementary Education and wanting to be a science teacher exclusively.  I soon came to realize after talking to multiple people that this was not very likely and that I should move to Middle School…. and so I did and I can’t imagine ever going back.

When I tell people I am a middle school teacher, they first look at my short stature and then make a face like “oh wow…” and then of course they make a comment of “Really?! Well that must be hard with that age group!” or even “Is it weird for you that you look like one of them… or that they are taller then you?”  To which I can only ever smile and express how I just love it.  It’s funny to think that my first intention was not to teach this age group but now that I have, I’ve fallen in love with it!  I love how crazy and quirky they can be and how each day is completely different.   Now don’t get me wrong, constant mood changes and their social focus can be challenging at times and does make me wonder if I’m actually making any difference but this added challenge keeps me thinking and changing and working.  Even in my third year I’m never 100% satisfied with what I’ve done, and I consistently want to do better.  I get bogged down with guided notes and time frames and find myself thinking “what would the friz do?” sounds silly but it’s true!  I just want to be as innovative as she was and provide experiences to interact and self discover with material.  Now if only I had the rockin outfits and of course… that bus.  

So to wrap up, I hope you’ll stop by on Tuesdays for more adventures from my classroom.  And of course I can’t leave you without the iconic theme song 🙂 (to which I know all the words….) Have a great day!