Thursday, August 23, 2012

The lesson planner conundrum

This fall I begin my 6th year of teaching. Over the years some aspects of my job have become easier, but there is one ritual I do every single year in preparation for the new school year that just doesn't get any easier: picking a lesson planning book.

I apologize to any readers who are not teachers. Heck, I might even need to apologize to my fellow teachers out there for such a boring post! Maybe I'm the only person who has such a hard time picking a lesson planner every. single. school year! But it's my blog, so I'm writing this all down for posterity. Join me in my pain.

I have a few theories on why it's so hard.

For starters, I'm a middle school teacher and my local teacher stores in America seem to have forgotten that educators need tools after the 6th grade. Perhaps I'm the only middle school teacher who frequents the parent/teacher stores in my area, I dunno. But 98% of the teacher planners offered in the stores back home all say things like "The perfect planner for preschool teachers!" or "Great planning tools for the elementary teacher!"


Because everything is so heavily geared to the elementary teachers, I can never find a planner/record book-in-one that suits my needs. Have I mentioned I'm a middle school teacher? Well, I am. And because of that fact, I keep a lot of records: attendance for each section and each quarter or grading period I teach, grades for every section and each quarter/grading period, records of contact with parents for each student I teach (which this year will total somewhere around 125), behavior matrices for those days I'm doing informal assessments and don't have the time or patience to make up an excel spreadsheet.

I NEED A LOT OF RECORD PAGES, PEOPLE! And yet when I went to the parent/teacher store before leaving for this school year, the most pages I could find in the lesson planner+record book combos was 15!! FIFTEEN 2-page spreads to keep all my records on! That's only 3 spreads per section this year!

So what do I have to end up doing? I have to buy a lesson planner and a record book separately. Doesn't sound like such a big deal, right? Well...those who have ever had the pleasure of seeing my classroom know that my desk is always a hot mess. My students are frequently entertained by my search for the stack of copies that I just had in my hand and yet I can't find in the piles of paper that are on my desk. So my need for a record book and lesson planner in one is a serious necessity. Because nothing instills confidence in your student's teacher like when she spends 5 minutes of your parent/teacher conference tearing her desk apart so she can show you her evidence of your student's grades.

And now that I've added teaching in Islamic countries into the mix, my search is always going to be disappointing. Why, you ask? Because the printers of all the fabulous elementary school lesson planners pre-print the freakin' days of the week in the books! This is all very helpful and time-saving for teachers in predominantly Christian countries who work on a Monday through Friday school week...but in Kuwait, the work week is Saturday through Thursday! It's like they're plotting against me.

It's a hard life, folks, I tell ya.

Every year I go through the same dance. I stand in the planner aisle at the parent/teacher store and weigh the pros and cons of each option on the shelf. Do I sacrifice the record keeping pages? Do I want the long and skinny planner or the fat, notebook-like planner? Why do none of the planners have middle-school friendly sections to write in!? How can any teacher work with those huge, poster-like, wire-spiral-bound planners?! WHY CAN'T THIS STORE CARRY A PLANNER DESIGNED FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS?!

By October I will have completely forgotten about how annoying the planner search is. I will have gotten into the habit of using my dual books and this struggle will be a distant memory. But in the mean time I thought I'd share with you the kinds of things that added to my pre-return flight stress. Like packing and airline fees weren't stress enough.

Vicariously yours,


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dealing with Jet Lag: our tricks

The Mister and I are by no means experts on this subject, but it is something that has become a big part of our lives and, in the spirit of letting our readers live vicariously, I thought I would share our tactics for dealing with jet lag.

Some of these might not be new information to you, but here are our time-tested tricks:

1. Nap every chance you can get
We have a super long layover in Germany on our way back to the land of sand this time around, so the Mister and I have booked a day room in a hotel close to the airport. I searched for airport hotels near our layover destination and found the cheapest room that met our needs. There are a few airports in the world that actually have a microtel right inside the airport (Amsterdam Schiphol, for one) so you don't have to deal with the hassle of going back through security when you return to the airport. If you have a layover that is longer than 6 hours, I cannot recommend enough that you spend a little cash on a room in a hotel.

Since our layover will be taking up the better part of one day, the Mister and I are going to get to take a nap, shower, and change clothes before we return to the airport for the third leg of our journey back to the Middle East. This will be huge!
"Nah, I think I'll just save money and sleep at the airport," you say?
I don't know if you've had the pleasure, but it is nearly impossible to hunt down airport benches without arm rests. And once your find them, you can't sleep because of all the noise and announcements. There are some airports that have recliner style benches, but those are hot real estate and you have to stake your claim and not move for the whole duration of your layover. Just not worth it, especially if you're the kind of person who likes to--I dunno-- EAT every 5 hours or so. Nope. We're happy to fork over about a hundred bucks, get real sleep, and feel nice and fresh, thankyouverymuch.

2. If landing at your destination late at night, go to bed right away.
The nice part about our long lay over is that we'll be arriving around the normal time we'd be going to sleep in North America, so our bodies will be ready for some Zs anyway. Once we finally arrive in Kuwait (even though we probably won't be all that tired) with a little help from our good friend NyQuil, we'll be able to go back to sleep while it's dark outside.

We never sleep much on that first night back in the Middle East because our bodies are just so fried, we seem to wake up on our own around 4 am. So we usually get back up around 5 am, take our time getting ready for work or whatever tasks we have to do, and then burn through our first day back in our home away from home.

3. Do something on the first day back.
I had a friend in Saudi who would go shopping on her first day back in the country. The visual stimulation combined with being forced to walk around made for great jet lag (and retail) therapy. Whatever you decide to do, try to spend as much time as possible outside, especially if it's a sunny day. I read somewhere that just looking up at the daytime sky helps to reset your body's internal clock. I have no idea what kind of science went into this finding, and of course I can't find the article now that I want it, but my experience has shown that this little tidbit of information is actually pretty helpful.

But I digress.

The morning and early afternoon of the first day back in the Middle East is never all that hard. But once we get to 2 or 3 pm in the new time zone, we hit the wall and boy oh boy we could kill for a nap! I force myself to stay awake until at least 5 or 6pm on that first day, and let me tell you, that is a real struggle!

4. Go to sleep as close to sunset as possible.
Being that we will be arriving back in the summer time, we will likely be going to sleep while the sun still shines this first time around, but forcing your body to rest as close to sunset as possible will make the second day overseas soo much easier!

As long as you burn through the first day back in town, you should have very little jet lag on the second day. Whatever you do, don't give in and go to sleep before 4pm at the very earliest! You'll get sucked into the vampire cycle: awake all night, sleeping all day. Just keep your mind (or at the very least, your body) occupied for as long as possible on the first day, and you'll be golden.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The woes of packing as an international teacher

The Mister and I are returning to Kuwait very soon (!!), which means our thoughts are filled with packing and airline baggage policies.  Add to that the fact that we are dealing with drama surrounding the Mister's passport (lesson learned: Don't trust the USPS with important documents that need to be returned urgently), and you can get an idea of how low my anxiety level has been for the past few weeks.

Not helping: this is what our bedroom has looked like for most of the summer. Actually, this is pretty clean compared to what it looked like a few days ago. ::sigh::

We moved most of our stuff up to Kuwait when we finished our tenure in Saudi Arabia. That means that a lot of the necessities are already there and ready to be unpacked. I'm really excited about that because it means we are able to bring a lot of fun things with us on our return flight. Souvenirs, artwork bought in Italy, fun decorations for the house, and lots of new teacher clothes are going to make the trip with us back to the land of sand and sun. So why all the headache?


I try to think like a business person. I understand that baggage handler unions and rising fuel costs prevent the airlines from giving passengers free rein when it comes to cramming their suitcases to the max. I don't mind paying excess baggage fees; they're a LOT less expensive than shipping costs. What bothers me is the fact that I'm not really sure how much I'm going to have to pay until I actually show up at the airport.

Here's the story:

Back in June I called the airline to find out just how much we were going to have to pay. The representative was very annoyed that I had given up on scouring their extremely confusing website in favor of talking to a human being and discussing my complex situation.

Based on the information the airline representative gave me in June, I calculated that our baggage fees were going to be about $500 for all our stuff. Not too terribly bad, especially when you consider that our new school will reimburse us for up to $700 in baggage fees per person. I was pretty stoked. We'd budgeted $1000 for the baggage fees, so as long as I gave myself $200 wiggle room, I'd still be under our budget, right!? More shopping for me!!

Fast forward to yesterday when I was double checking and noticed that the baggage information pages on the website had changed. So I called again. Spoke with another annoyed representative who told me that the baggage fees would now add up to TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!! Whaaaat!?

We had to regroup. We culled back through all our baggage, eliminated some of the creature comforts that we didn't really need, and weighed everything. The way I figure it, we have two options:

Pack everything chock-a-block full and deal with the overweight, over size baggage fees (that would be about $1200) and only take 1 big suitcase, 1 trunk, 1 carry on, and 1 duffle bag.

Here's the trunk. We bought it at the beginning of the summer thinking that we had a 100 lb max limit that would cost just $400 to take on the plane with us. Turns out that if we pack it to 100 lb, this once piece would cost us $700.

Option number two is to pack things to within the 70 lb limit, still pay overweight fees on some bags, and take 2 big suitcases (that are only about 75% full), the trunk (only about 50% full, but the storage will be great in Kuwait), 1 medium suitcase, 1 carry on, and 1 duffle. If all my information is correct, all that luggage will cost us $800.

This is what the medium suitcase looks like right now...and we only have 1 small load of laundry that hasn't been packed yet.

This whole situation is so ridiculous! I understand that the baggage handlers don't want to get sneak attacked by a random 100 lb suitcase, and I agree that they should be compensated for schlepping my heavy stuff...but seven hundred dollars for 1 not-that-big piece of baggage!? Seriously!?

Alright. Rant complete. Back to stressing about visas instead.

Vicariously yours,