Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stuff Students Say: Winter Edition

So I skipped a month of this little installment in December. MY B. MY B. Here are a few lovely gems my second grade superstars have said in the past two months. Enjoy.

Ms. Gesch I can see into your eyes. I know what you be thinking.

(a student quote, said to me, after throwing up FOUR times)
Ms. Gesch?
Yes? (As I'm holding a garbage bag in front of him.)
I need to tell you something.
Okay, what is it?
I think I'm sick.
Yep. I think so, too.

How do birds get pregnant?
(This random question was met by a very unprepared and awkward response by myself: "Uhhh, like how everything else gets pregnant," and then I quickly changed the subject. Mature, I know.)

You have green hair.
(I don't have green hair, in case you were wondering. Hence the weirdness of this statement.)

Ms. Gesch I like looking at you because I can see myself in your glasses.

You don't got a son yet? 

Ms. Gesch you married?
No, I'm not.
Do you want to marry my daddy?
No, that's okay.

Christmas is important to me because of all the awesome presents I get. I mean they are awesome.

Student 1: Girls can be boxers too!
Student 2: Is Veruca Salt a girl boxer??

Student 1: I'm Michael Jackson and you be Tito.
Student 2: Yeah? Well you the Jackson 5!
(What a comeback.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Good Friends

Miss Ashley and I 

January has been full of chances to reunite with friends from different little parts of my life. The beautiful Ashley Wisz (you first met her here) from my semester in Spain came to visit me for a day and see my life here in Chicago. We went to the afternoon show of The Second City, got dinner at Simone's, and watched Pitch Perfect. I know, that sounds like A PERFECT DAY to me as well. Acca-believe it. She is a beautiful, fun, and vivacious girl who just got engaged! She's gearing up to get married and start a new life adventure this June and I had to hear all about it. We had a great time catching up, reminiscing about hilarious European moments, and dreaming about what's going to come in the next few years. I am addicted to reunions. Can't get enough...


...which leads me to last weekend. We had a Teach For America reunion with Zach, Julia, Sam, and myself and got to relive a little piece of our time together at Institute. We caught a show by a band called The Freelance Whales (we all kept making stupid comments about how nice it must be for these whales to work from home) at Lincoln Hall (super cool place) and had a great time. The venue is attached to a bar and was relatively small with no seats for the audience, which made for a nice atmosphere. This band has inspired me to learn to play bass. There was one chick in the band who was wearing the most doubty looking thrift store 90's dress who played the bass. She had black hair cut in a bob with bangs and red lipstick. The dress was denim and floor length and ugly. It was awesome. I suddenly have a nagging itch to cut my hair off, cut my bangs back in, and start wearing frumpy ensembles whilst pseudo-playing the accordion and jumping around onstage with a band of cool guys. Then I remembered I'm a teacher and that frumpy denim isn't my best look. But it was tempting. We'll see if my impulse gets the best of me. I think I'll play for a band called Cubicle Dolphins. 

note the photobomber behind me. gold. also, sam stole my glasses. 

co-teachers back in business

After the Spain reunion, the TFA reunion, I fit in one more reunion saved for Trinity friends! Karlie, Andy, Jeremy, and Jacquelyn came up to the city (from Iowa and Palos Heights) to see my apartment, check out my favorite coffee shop in Pilsen, and come to church with me. It was happiness all around. 

I just finished up another weekend full of Downton Abbey (OBSESSED and not ashamed) and am now capping off my Sunday afternoon with a healthy dose of laundry folding and watching Pride and Prejudice. Apparently I am really into the whole English thing these days with my choice of programming. I find their understated wit perfectly brilliant. (Read that last sentence with an accent, please.) Any other people looking for a reunion, comeeeeee onnn downnn! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

By the Numbers

I had Martin Luther King, Jr. day off yesterday. I naturally made a To Do list for myself and mapped out my day in the morning. I took my time and got to everything on the list by the time I went to sleep. One of those things was even to go for a run in the 8 degree weather. (Brr.) But there was one little item on the list that I passive aggressively avoided, and it still is not completed. In fact, I've just received a slap-on-the-wrist email for missing this deadline. It's not a huge deal, but I'll admit I hate being late with anything, and yet something in me is still resisting completing this task punctually.

It's my kids' data. 
Basically, all Teach For America corps members submit their students' standardized test scores into a huge database so that the organization can track how your class is doing. We took a round of standardized testing this Winter, got the results a few weeks ago, and need to report these results to decide how to plan for the coming quarters of school. Before I go into why I hate this, let me say that it IS a good thing and meant for the good of the students. They are using this information to support me, to help me become a better teacher. The test scores help you see where you can challenge some kids to push even harder and really do some work in helping other kids catch up to grade level and further. It is crucial for my kids to not fall too far behind, especially in reading, in order for them to have a good foundation for school when they stop learning to read and start reading to learn in the next few years and beyond. So I'm not excusing myself for the lateness. It's not okay and I'm not trying to justify something I should have done. Teach For America is not the problem; they're only trying to be effective, efficient, and productive.


I still hate it. I hate that my kids are assigned numbers, letters, and reading levels. I hate that my kids already think they aren't good at reading or math. I hate that my girl T has been working her butt off during reading this quarter, yet still received an F on her report card for reading to signify that she is still technically below the grade level of where she should be at the halfway point of second grade. I hate that second graders, seven-year-olds, even receive grades at all. I hate that my kids' talents, strengths, abilities, personalities, and passions don't come across on those tests or in that data. I hate that I spend a lot of my time figuring out how to be a numbers person and use trackers for objective mastery but I just can't get the hang of it. Woof.

I know I should be a "data person." I'm supposed to be. I am a Teach For America girl, after all. Data is what it's all about! But I also know some other things. I know that I never had someone tracking my mastery when I was growing up. I know I was not given A's, B's, or C's until much later than 2nd grade. Also, however, I know that my home life and school life were coordinating for my educational success, so maybe that's why I didn't need all my data being tracked until kingdom come. So that's the tension I'll have to live in for my kids. In an imperfect world, we have to be acutely aware of what it's going to take to overcome a lot of obstacles that shouldn't be there for little kids. It's crunch time for my second graders, and knowing exactly where they stand on exact objectives, I suppose, is definitely helpful in figuring out how to help them grow as much as possible...

...but grow into what? People who have mastered objectives? People who pass tests? I don't like the sound of that. All that hard work so they, one day, might have a paycheck with a bigger number on it? This is where I still can't find the words for what I mean to say. I guess what I'm getting at is that, while I'm not a great teacher yet, the fact remains that the heart of my kids is what matters the most to me. It matters that C learns to speak up for herself. It matters that R has shown huge strides with social interaction and understanding social cues. It matters that A smiles when she walks in the door for breakfast in the morning despite what's going on at home. It matters that M is singing gospel songs to himself as he does his math assignment. It matters that T, despite the F in reading, still came up to me the day after parent-teacher conferences and politely asked if she could do extra work on the side for a book that she's reading. And there's no number that can capture that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

101 Books. From Me (and friends) To You.

Well, people, my listing side has finally gotten the best of me. This is probably going to be the longest blog post on this thing to date, but I am so excited to put it up here!

I've been finding myself these days in constant need of a good, trustworthy book recommendation. A lot of my friends seem to be finding themselves in the same situation. Thus, this list was born. I reached out to some friends who I know are great readers and asked for some book titles that they would definitely recommend. I got an overwhelmingly positive response with lots and lots of wonderful books. 101 to be exact. Here is a list of 101 book recommendations. A few things you should know: the list is organized as Title - Author (Name of Recommender). This is important because if you buy the book and hate it, you now have the name of the person you need to find and slap in the face for recommending a crappy book. This is also important because if you buy the book and love it, you now have the name of the person you need to find and hug for recommending a fabulous book. It is also good to know that these are in no particular order. I'm just the messenger of quality information. Look up any titles you find interesting and give them a try!

Before I give you all of their favorites, I want to give you some must-reads from my life. Maybe I'll do a post that delves into why all of these particular books have so touched my heart, but for now I'll just give you the names of some books that every human being should read: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. And clearly, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (but I firmly believe that this book transcends any list). Also, although I'm not a Harry Potter expert, J.K. Rowling's series was recommended a million times. Clara's comment on getting into the series: "Don't give up after the first one. Harry's eleven. It was J.K.'s first book. Cut them both some slack. It's about to get way better." Okay. You have my picks. Ready for the list? Drumroll please....


1. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (Clara Connis, me, everyone else in the world)
2. Intensity – Dean Koontz (Karley VanDyke)
3.The Princess Bride - William Goldman (Sasha Blasen)
4. Brave New World - Aldus Huxley (Colin Shevlin)
5.  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - Donald Miller (Zak Hood)
6.  Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut (Colin Shevlin)
7.  In the Garden of Beasts - Eric Larson (Nicole Ongna)
8.  The Hours - Michael Cunningham (Liz Brice)
9.  Lord of the Rings Trilogy - J.R.R. Tolkien (Jennie Hill)
10.  Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (Ryan Jensema)
11.  The River Wife - Jonis Agee (Jacquelyn Iwema)
12.  Atonement - Ian McEwan (Mike Merlino)
13.  Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut (Mike Merlino)
14.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith (Katie Chappell)
15.  The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach (Andrew Knot)
16.  High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (Zach Blair)
17.  1984 - George Orwell (Andy Van Soelen)
18.  Divergent - Veronica Roth (Nicole Ongna)
19.  The Tipping Point - Malcom Gladwell (Rudi Gesch)
20.  The Red Tent - Anita Diamant (Sasha Blasen)
21.  Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison (Courtney Randle)
22.  Love Walked In - Marisa De Los Santos (Clara Connis)
23.  Green Eggs & Ham - Dr. Seuss (Andy Van Soelen)
24.  Three and Out - John U. Bacon (Andrew Knot)
25.  Along Came a Spider - James Patterson (Jenna VanMaanen)
26.  Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely (Sam Handel)
27.  On the Road - Jack Kerouac (Colin Shevlin)
28.  Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling (Gina Ciametti)
29.  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard (Jennie Hill)
30.  Haunted Ground - Erin Hart (Clara Connis
31.  Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman (Zach Blair)
32.  Blink - Malcom Gladwell (Sam Handel)
33.  The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat - Oliver Sacks (Sam Handel)
34.  Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis (Ashley Wisz)
35.  The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis (Andy Van Soelen)
36.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safron Foer (Andrew Knot)
37.  The Host - Stephanie Meyer (Ashley Wisz)
38.  Lamb – Christopher Moore (Steve Ragatzki)
39.  Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand (Ryan Jensema)
40.  Malcom at Midnight - W.H. Beck (Liz VanDrunen)
41.  His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (Ryan Jensema)
42.  The Giver - Lowis Lowry (Alyssa Nekic)
43.  A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (Colin Shevlin)
44.  The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (Nicole Ongna)
45.  The Song of the Dodo - David Quammen (Jennie Hill)
46.  Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris (Katie Chappell)
47.  Scribbler of Dreams - Mary E. Pearson (Jenna Reidenga)
48.  Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand (Nicole Ongna)
49.  The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon (Zach Blair)
50.  The Mistborn Trilogy – Brandon Sanderson (Steve Ragatzki)
51.  Number the Stars - Lowis Lowry (Liz VanDrunen)
52.  The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver (Sasha Blasen)
53.  Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott (Sasha Blasen)
54.  Good to Great - Jim Collins (Rudi Gesch)
55.  Redeeming Love - Francine Rivers (Karley VanDyke)
56.  The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Euginedes (Andrew Knot)
57.  The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (Sasha Blasen)
58.  Straight Man - Richard Russo (Katie Chappell)
59.  Where The Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls (Alyssa Nekic)
60.  The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown (Rudi Gesch, with an anecdote to read the series)
61.  Counterfeit Gods - Tim Keller (Andy Van Soelen)
62.  The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (Mike Merlino)
63.  Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton (Ryan Jensema)
64.  Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (Jennie Hill)
65.  Outliers - Malcom Gladwell (Rudi Gesch)
66.  How to Cook Everything – Mark Brittman (Steve Ragatzki)
67.  Soul Pancake - Rainn Wilson (Gina Ciametti)
68.  Pale King - David Foster Wallace (Colin Shevlin)
69.  Map of Lost Memories - Kim Fey (Jacquelyn Iwema)
70.  Last Light - Terri Blackstock (Jenna VanMaanen)
71.  East of Eden – John Steinbeck(Courtney Randle, Jennie Hill)
72.  Palo Alto – James Franco (Courtney Randle)
73.  Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller (Zak Hood)
74.  The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne (Lauren Haney)
75.  The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (Katie Chappell)
76.  BossyPants - Tina Fey (Gina Ciametti)
77.  The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton (Clara Connis)
78.  A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (Liz Brice)
79.  Columbine - Dave Cullen (Sam Handel)
80.  Other People's Rejection Letters – Bill Shapiro (Gina Ciametti)
81.  The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan (Liz Brice)
82.  Heaven is For Real - Todd Burpo (Ashley Wisz)
83.  Freakonomics - Steven Levitt (Rudi Gesch)
84.  Wonder - R.J. Palacio (Liz VanDrunen)
85.  Through Painted Deserts - Donald Miller (Andy Van Soelen)
86.  The Fault in our Starts - John Green (Sasha Blasen)
87.  On the Road - Jerk Kerouac (Mike Merlino)
88.  Prodigal God – Tim Keller (Lauren Haney)
89.  The Reason for God – Tim Keller (Lauren Haney)
90.  The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory (Clara Connis)
91.  City of Bones - Cassandra Clare (Ashley Wisz)
92.  Frequently Avoided Questions – Smith and Whitlock (Lauren Haney)
93.  The Meaning of Marriage – Tim Keller (Lauren Haney)
94.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C.S. Lewis (Liz Brice)
95.  Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (April Saxma)
96.  One For The Money - Janet Evanovich (Jenna Reidenga)
97.  Freedom - Jonathan Franzen (Katie Chappell)
98.  MAUS I and II - Art Spiegelman (Zach Blair)
99.  Molloy - Samuel Beckett (Zach Blair)
100.  Because of Mr. Terupt - Rob Buyea (Liz VanDrunen)
101. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story - D.T. Max (Andrew Knot) 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Small Town

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. It is absolutely wonderful when that happens. Although I've been fortunate enough to experience this kind of a thing before (here's the story of one of my favorite instances), each time a stranger goes out of their way to do something kind, it shocks me. It was especially cool this time because it happened in a big place like the city of Chicago, where people (like myself) tend to expect it the least. 


This weekend, one of my favorites, Ashley Wisz, came to visit me (more on that in an upcoming post) and I took her around my neighborhood and favorite places to show her a little bit of my life in the city. This, of course, includes Simone's, my favorite bar. Ashley is too nice for her own good and treated me to my drink and would not take no for an answer. I should invite friends like her over more often. But then, that meant that I didn't have to check my wallet for the rest of the night. This means that my purse stayed on the bench for the duration of my meal. And this also means, of course, that when I left the bar, I was so happy and thankful for Ashley's generosity that I left my purse right there where I set it down in the first place. 

Bad move, Anna. The prognosis on leaving a purse behind anywhere in public is not a good one. If I left my purse out in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, I wouldn't be too hopeful about getting it back. Chicago, I thought, must be hopeless. Who knows who's walking past that bench? I figured it was a goner. 

On Sunday morning, I was rushing around looking for my purse so I could drive us to church. Alas, I figured it out. Crap. I'm an idiot. That thing is never to be found again. 

So we continued on to church and went about our morning, waiting until Simone's opened so I could give them a call. I'll admit to you readers (this is not a proud moment) that instead of confessing my sins during the silent prayer, I was asking God to PLEASE let that brown purse and all of its contents to be safely nestled behind the bar on the corner of Morgan and 18th. I know, not cool. All I could think about was calling my parents to tell them about my stupidity as I asked for what the next logical steps were to reclaiming my life. I was facing identity theft, a trip to the DMV for a new license, new credit cards, and, of course, and maybe most painful of all, a long, long sermon from my father about the importance of situational awareness. This is what was on my mind at church.

But then - as you've probably already figured out by now - I made the call and found to my delight that I did not have to face any of that at all. "Yes, we are so happy to tell you that we have your purse for you!" said the voice on the other end of the phone. I stopped by Simone's on my way home from church, ran inside, thanked the lady profusely, and promised my undying loyalty and support of her local business (pretty sure she doesn't own the place and that she is just a bartender, but hey...I was excited) for as long as I live. Every last dollar, card, and check was still in my wallet. It was a great moment in humanity. 

I guess stuff like this happens all the time. People really do help other people out. Just because it's a big city doesn't mean that Chicago is an evil place. I'm starting to realize the great thing about this city is that Chicago is just a very, very, large small town. If I can help someone else feel like they're on main street just a little bit like that bartender did for me, I think that would be a great thing. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

California Dreamin'

Over break I got to (finally) visit my dear friend Lauren Haney in Visalia, California! IT HAD BEEN FAR TOO LONG. I missed this chick. As a bonus, my friend from my English classes Kailyn went and visited her on the same days and I got to hang out/get to know her better as well (she is like awesome already at being a out publishing world, she is coming to conquer you). It was wonderful to spend a week with girls who are thinking on the same life wavelength as me.
Kailyn, Lauren, and yours truly. Braving the elements to bring this picture to you. 
Let me tell you a little something about Lauren Haney. She is badass, in my opinion. I met her as a freshman on the soccer team at Trinity Christian College when she was a sophomore. She was an RA, OPC kid, east-coaster, fiercely independent, involved in everything, and possessed probably too much confidence for a nineteen-year-old. But, alas, she pulled it off. She has been such a blessing to me. She's the one who took me out for pancakes after my little freshman-in-college heart was broken by some guy and told me that I'd be happy it didn't work out. (She was right.) She's the one who refused to accept that it was winter and made her dorm look like a surf shack year round. She's the one who wore soccer clothes erry stinking day of college and then BAM turns into a glamatron when she graduated college (yet she was a knockout either way). She is just an original. Her insight, advice, and perspective has been invaluable to me at some very important junctures in my college life and beyond. To me, she is equal parts hilarious, intelligent, inspirational, and blonde. I could go on, but it's 9:50 and in a teacher's world that is late night stuff. Now just let's all scheme a way to get her to move to Chicago. Here are some snapshots of the time we three got to spend together.

Literally though. After 7 hours in an airport and no food all night, I commemorated
this momentous meal on the wall of a pizzeria in LA.
Although the weather did not really cooperate, (ummm 35 degrees and raining and cloudy? THANKS CALI. 'PRECIATE IT.) we got to fit in a fair amount of goodness. We did the LA/Beverly Hills/Wine Tasting/Classy thing the first weekend, and then spent the second half of the trip in full blown hick paradise. Lauren is dating a dairy farmer, so we spent some time touring the dairy farm, riding in the back of demolition derby cars, and ringing in the new year in a barn. What a life I lead.

Mountains! I am starting to get the urge to live by mountains someday. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Best Pintentions: 2013

Here we are, it's January 1, 2013! Once again, I've turned to my Pinterest account to help artistically illustrate the four areas of my life that I want to work on this year. While there might be some overlap from last year's list, I am excited to focus in on this stuff in the next 365 days:


#1: Be kind. I find that it is very easy for me to be very kind, polite, and considerate to strangers and new people that I meet. Yet when it comes to my friends, family, and students that I see on a regular basis, I give them a second-rate version of myself. Why is that? That's not fair. I want to be kind even when I don't feel like it. 


#2: Be Hopeful. Let me tell you, it is easy for me to lose sight of the goodness and possibilities of what could happen during a school week. Just because a lot of things are broken doesn't mean that a lot of great things can't still happen. This means for my kids, for my school, for my own life, and for this crazy world. There is a lot of crap going on these days! But that just means there needs to be more hopeful people rolling up their sleeves and getting to work; there needs to be people out there who believe that things can really change. 


#3. Run, Forrest, Run. I feel better when I run. That's a simple fact. Plus I think I look better too. So this year will have more moments like my November 15k in it. This year I want to do at least 2 organized running events. So stay tuned! I'm eyeing up the Shamrock Shuffle, maybe a Color Run, and maybe a half marathon? Aieee! 


#4: Stop talking, start praying. In case you can't tell, I'm a talker. This can be a strength, but when it comes to actually solving problems or overcoming struggles, it's a definite weakness. Talking about it can quickly digress into complaining about it. This is not only unproductive, but starts to hamper that hopeful spirit (see #3) that I am seeking to cultivate. I want to start using my words to make something happen, not further dig myself into the mud. This resolution is going to take the most work and daily commitment out of myself, but I think it's also the most important.

All right! So there you have it: the things I'm focusing on this year. I'd love to talk about your ideas too. Let's make 2013 fab-u-lous.