Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

Since we are well into the month of November, I figured it would be silly to start a monthly goal. So, instead I’m going to challenge myself to a seasonal goal. Join me!

Goal Number One: Daily Exercise

When the going gets tough, the tough sit their ass on the couch…. 😖

Seriously, I’ve got to exercise. I know. Know. KNOW. that exercise will make me feel better in every way. How to make sure that I follow through? Set an internet goal!

1.) Walk my dogs daily. Poor pups… they don’t get enough exercise!

2.) Plan and commit to hikes with the Sierra Club.

Goal Number Two: Learn More Lean & Green Recipes

This weather makes me crave soups, chilis and other comfort foods! But, when I made a broth based soup, I got too full too quickly on the broth and missed out on the quantity of vegis and proteins I need for my diet. When I made a pot of chili I didn’t have a portion plan and ended up eating so much that my stomach was in literal pain!

1.) Select three new recipes to try out.

2.) Become an expert at new recipes.

Goal Number Three: Connect With Community

Join me to help me achieve my goals! Use #AutumnFitness and tag me in your posts so we can support each other!

Embarking on a lifestyle transformation is never an easy decision. You’ve got to give up something in order to bring new things into your life. Habits, ideas, maybe even people need to change in order for true change to take place. Habits that provide comfort are the hardest. As I’ve been slowly correcting the way that I use food and adjusting how I spend my spare time, I’ve become aware of the way that comfort can lead to self sabotage, and in this case could set me back into the yo-yo pattern I’ve been working so hard to end.

The month of October was the hardest yet. As autumn takes over, those habits of comfort seem to kick in at even greater lengths. One “annual” pumpkin spice latte leads to another… One candy corn pumpkin leads to 10… One sugar rush leads into just another quick “hit” and before you know it, you’re secretly grabbing a bite of pizza and stashing a candy into your bag because your body is now craving it.

What can we do in order to avoid these struggles when all around us are carefully orchestrated, researched based marketing ploys encouraging you to give in to these comforts?

I found success by reaching out to my community of health. Talking to friends and family that are also on the path of transformation saved me. After making myself physically ill from “indulging” in not only those despicable candy corn pumpkins, but also fluffy frosting covered cookies and greasy cheese pizza, I reached out to my community. My long time friend and inspirational leader told me, “Girl! Perfection isn’t long term. There will be times you have the opportunity to learn from choices you make.” These words not only unburdened me from the feelings of guilt that I had, but also illuminated a problematic feature of most health programs.

On my past health roller coaster rides, I’ve done really well… until I didn’t. When I gave in to those cravings, I felt as if I had to start back over again. For example, with one temporarily effective program I followed, Whole 30, if you screwed up, you started back at Day 1… I used this program for about 90 days and even though I gained some healthy habits along the way, it wasn’t sustainable. The mental concept of having to ‘Reset” to Day 1 was effective for only the first month. After that, with very little progress made in weight loss goals, resetting just became defeating.

Long term change will only happen if you are persistent and forgiving of your humanity. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for growth in change. I didn’t have to start over an entire 30 days, I just had to change my very next choice, and then the one after that.

I’m excited to share my progress so far. This is my 3rd month on program and my body has changed so much I can hardly believe it is true. Sometimes when I walk by a mirror, I pause to see the woman I’m becoming. I’ve seen glimpses of this woman in the past, but never like this. When I was at a healthy weight in the past, I was a 19 year old girl. I didn’t have kids, a career or an education. Today when I look in the mirror, I’m the woman that I’ve always wanted to be: a healthy, strong mother with a college degree and a stable career.

This is only the beginning.

Want to know more about my transformation? Just ask.

For years I have battled with my health and weight. I remember noticing that I was chubby as early as 8 years old and it caused me some distress all through my pre-teen and teenage years until I took exercise into my own hands and started using diet shakes. It was transformative and then my life took off in a completely different direction and I fell back onto what I thought I knew. Portion control, calorie counting, exercise are all the things that go out the window from me when I’m thrown a life curveball.

After my teenage years, I found myself once again on a journey towards better health. I began weight lifting and running along with taking a pill, Metabolife, that decreased my appetite. I was nearly to my weight goal. That all ended one day when I gave into just one bean and cheese burrito and one quesadilla from Del Taco. I remember the day specifically because I began to gain weight after that and then I got pregnant.

I was sick a lot throughout my pregnancy and I developed acid reflux that seemed to be relieved when I ate… This combined with marital troubles brought me into a depression and I never regained my pre-pregnancy body. I was even heavier with my second pregnancy.

After I had 2 miscarriages and recovered from pneumonia and an umbilical surgery, there was a shift in my thinking and I began to focus on my body again. I began to lift weights again and followed a body building routine and clean eating diet. This had amazing results and I was on a good track, but then my entire world blew up again. I got divorced.

The divorce brought on new challenges. I was already in feeling pretty good about my body at that point, even though I wasn’t down to my goal weight. I was doing pretty good until once again my life got turned upside down. I got sick, had to move in with my parents and ended up commuting to college.

The next time I worked on my weight, I was enrolled at university. I had been slowly gaining weight and then discovered the diet “Whole 30”. I worked the diet with fidelity and got down from 200+ to 176lbs. Then I started student teaching and my masters degree. Over the last couple years I’ve been working on managing my weight, but it always comes back on. Some life altering event happens and my habits, routines and healthy choices disappear first.

Finally, I feel like I am in a place where my career is stable and I’ve got a good handle on the time management it takes to make my classroom go smoothly. I have embarked on another diet program, hoping this one will be my last one. This one is different than all the ones I’ve tried before. They sent me a book that focuses on habits of health. Once I get to my ideal weight I will begin slowly to transition away from the provided food and slowly work on how to balance caloric intake and output through meal planning and exercise.

Other areas of health that I am focused on are financial and social which should continue to support my healthy life style choices.

After one month on the program I am down from 187lbs to 173lbs. It’s been rapid weight loss but I have immediately seen the results of feeling better, looking better and most importantly having more energy. My goal weight is 140.. but my life goal is to maintain my health and make my life a priority.

Overcrowded classrooms hurt everyone.

In the education world the motto is, “Do what is best for students.” This is wonderful and inarguably needs to be the goal for all educators. But what does that really look like and what are the powers-that-be doing to achieve that?

The basic ideas of education are high quality research based curriculum. Looking at the history of education you can see clearly that different generations have different feelings about what this looks like.

In college we learned about educational psychology. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs humans first need to be fed, clothed and sheltered. Next we need safety and security. Then, loving and belonging. With these three elements in place humans can then develop self esteem and finally self actualization.

This means that if a student doesn’t know what they are going to eat, where they are going to live, and are in unloving or inattentive families, they aren’t going to be able to learn.

Schools have solved some of these problems. We offer free or reduced lunch, have programs and resources available for homeless families and provide a loving environment in our classrooms that helps students who aren’t getting the love and attention they need at home.

But, what happens when educational policy works directly against the teachers being able to provide that loving environment? Teachers get stressed out and burnt out, that’s what.

This is exactly what happened to me in my 4th year of teaching. My first couple years I had large class sizes. 27-30 eight-year-olds requires good classroom management skills, but I managed. All my students were at or near grade level, and I only had a handful of students that needed severe interventions. A student in need of severe intervention is one that is several grade levels behind their peers. A balanced classroom allows for a teacher to give equitable attention to all the students.

But, my 4th year… I was assigned a 3rd grade class of 32 students. Over half of these students were severely below grade level (reading and math at a kindergarten-first grade level) the other half were one grade level behind. Very few students were readers, and none of them could access the 3rd grade curriculum (textbooks, etc) that I had on hand.

I soon realized that I didn’t have the resources to support these students. I reached out to my administration, got two aides and some 2nd grade materials. How could I teach students 3-digit addition and subtraction with re-grouping when they didn’t have basic number sense to add 8+3?

In a balanced classroom, I would be able to get the majority of students on independent work, and then provide small group intervention to the ones in need.

With both my aides and myself taking on small groups, dividing 32 students into 3-4 groups still means you have 8 students in a group. 8 students isn’t an ideal “small group”.

I have come to find that many students that are below grade level have behavior challenges. Their motivation is smothered by repeated failures or they didn’t learn the material because their behavior got into the way. Also, home challenges manifest into behavior challenges at school, as mentioned above. With 6-7 students struggling with behavior problems, it was sometimes impossible to teach because their behavior seemed to bring the rest of the crowded class into a frenzy. It seems like one would trigger another and then before I knew it I had to stop teaching.

By the end of the year, my physical and mental health had deteriorated rapidly. I was in and out of the doctor’s office, for migraines, stomach aches, fatigue, and muscular/skeletal problems. One day one of my colleagues had to actually drive me to urgent care. I was not okay and my students were suffering right along side of me. I was looking for alternate careers, and felt like a failure as a teacher.

Ideally these students would have benefited by first being separated so that the burden didn’t fall on one teacher. Next, they needed a smaller class size so that more time could be devoted to each student.

When one begins to talk about class sizes a bunch of negative clamoring is found. Teacher grumble that class sizes are too big, but say that research doesn’t show that smaller class sizes affect achievement until you get to about 18 students per class. This is impossible they say, because the district won’t spend the money on more teachers and more facilities. And so, the cycle continues with teachers getting sicker and more burnt out year by year. The attrition rates are high and that turnover isn’t good for our future.

At some point in time small class sizes were mandated by the state. A maximum of 24 students per teacher was the law. Somewhere that law changed so that primary grades (K-3) can have up to 32 and intermediate grades (4-6) capped at 34.

A number of problems arise with this many students including lack of physical space, management challenges and more work for teachers.

This year is the first year that I have had a small class. With 18 students, my classroom feels like a dream. I have two students severely below grade level, some near grade level and some above grade level. My small groups are going to be fantastic. 3 groups of 6 students is so perfect. I can devote a significant amount of time to each student as I walk around the room conducting formative assessments. My students all fit into my classroom without crowding onto each other. They have space to breathe and to get away from each other when needed.

Grading time is significantly reduced and I have found that I don’t need to take things home to grade. I am saving money on materials and was able to buy one pack of birthday gifts instead of 2. When a student has a behavior challenge I am able to devote more time to helping them find better coping skills. Since I only have three students that need extra practice in self control, I can give them the attention they really need to help them earn those skills. For example, I am able to have one student that has ADHD sit close to me so that he can be my helper. Meanwhile another student with ADHD can be on the other side of the room with freedom to move about without disturbing others.

I know that I learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person last year. But at what cost? The experience put me into a depression that caused my health and finances to suffer. I was spending money on building my own curriculum to support my students. The medical co-pays began stacking up and I had to take multiple days off. The cost to me as a person was high.

The bottom line is, what is best for students is also what is best for teachers and vice-versa. When teachers are less stressed students thrive.

If you care about your child and the future of education, you can take action by petitioning to your local school board demanding smaller class sizes. Go to school board meetings and get to know the people in charge of your district. You can call your legislative representatives and explain to them the harm that is being done to students due to lack of oversight in class sizes. In California your district has developed a plan called, “Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). This plan requires parent input. You can become involved in your school’s School Site Council meetings where budgets are approved and parents vote on where the school’s money goes.

Getting involved is the best way for everyone to make the changes that are necessary for the wellbeing of our future. Smaller class sizes are what is good for students. It needs to happen. Because when the teachers are happy, everyone is happy.

Tom’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

Finding Normal

Single parenting in the ADHD Family

Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.


Thoughts and ramblings of a young adult