Reflecting on My First Semester of Teaching

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As I wind up my first semester of teaching in rural Arkansas, I finally have the chance to step back and examine my life for the past five months. Since relocating from the northeast (where I was born, raised, and attended college), settling in down south has been a challenge, but one for which I am very grateful. This semester has been full of firsts for me, and I have learned from each one.

  • This is the first time I have ever lived somewhere other than my comfort zone.
  • …the first time I have ever been a teacher.
  • …the first time I’ve ever been homesick.
  • …the first time I have ever uprooted my life for a job I care so much about.
  • …the first time I’ve been out of college and trying to navigate my way through the swamp that is post-grad life.

With each personal conversation I’ve had with a student, I have created a lasting connection. Those moments have not only deepened my perspective on this profession and the impact it can have, but also have made me realize that teaching is one of those jobs that is just bigger than myself. I am humbled by that realization every day I step into my classroom.

It is through the individual and memorable connections with my students that the stressors of classroom management, grading, standardized testing, and homesickness seem insignificant. The relationships I have built with my students have made all those “firsts” unforgettable, and I have learned enormous life lessons from every single one.

Teaching is hard. Keeping up with grading 100 students assignments can be tedious and overwhelming. Missing your family during the holiday season when you’re so far from home can weigh on you. But, it’s moments like when a student goes out of her way to come into my room to just chat or when one invites me to a basketball game and reminds me of it every period, that I remember why I’m here and why I decided to be a part of Teach for America. I’m here because together my students have had a positive and empowering impact on my life and I’ve had one on theirs.

Since the end of the semester is coming to an end, I’ve been asking students to truthfully reflect on my teaching so I can continue to grow and get better. A few of my students wrote:

“Ms. M, you should keep connecting with the kids and be happy like you always do. Keep being yourself and tell us stories like you told us.”

“Ms. M, I like that you’re super pumped up about teaching and if I’m confused I know I can ask you for help.”

“Ms. M, something you should keep doing as a teacher is relating to your students. You’re really good at that.”

After reading each response, I took a step back from all my worries of being a new teacher, the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and the areas I need to improve, and recognized the small things I do on a daily basis that have brought positivity and happiness to my students’ lives—even if just for a brief moment.

Thank you, first semester of teaching, for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined and making me a better person because of it.


5 Family Recipes to Get You in the Holiday Spirit

A great, family recipe, handed down through generations, is such an integral part of the holiday season for so many. We asked some of the fine folks at Teach For America to share some of their favorite family food traditions. Enjoy their heartwarming stories and recipes below.

Mexican Atole recipe

Black Bean Salsa family recipe


Granny's Sweet Potato Pie family recipe

Matzoh Brei family recipe

Pumpkin Bread Pudding family recipe Happy holiday cooking from all of us at TeacherPop!


Weekend Sales: Hot Deals for Teachers


It’s the last #FrugalFriday before winter break—can I get a “heck yeah!”? Whether you’re looking for party duds or last-minute gifts, we’ve got you covered here at TeacherPop.

Lands’ End: Through Dec. 19 (that’s today, folks), get 40% off your entire purchase! Use coupon code SNOWMAN, pin 1714.

Linens and Things: Stock up on sheets and kitchen supplies with 25% off and free shipping. Just enter code GIFT25 from now ‘til Dec. 23.

J. Jill: Who needs a sweater refresh? Save 30% storewide through Saturday. No code necessary!

Kohl’s: Don some new duds for an extra 15% off with code THANKS3720, pin 8284.

Brooks Brothers: For all the dudes looking to up their button down shirt game, check it out at 25% off and codeless through Dec. 23.

American Eagle Outfitters: Yep, that’s right, these friends of TFA are getting into the holiday spirit with 40% off and free shipping. Use code HOLIDAZE, and then go take a gulp of egg nog while you wait for your packages to arrive.

Happy holidays, teacher-shoppers!



By |December 19th, 2014|Take a Break|0 Comments|

To All the Teachers Who Wear the Same Pants Every Day

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I was cleaning my room when I took a moment to fold my gray pants, and on examination, I discovered patches had turned sheer.

I briefly considered making some sort of quilt out of them, but I don’t sew, so instead I balled them up and threw them away. Those gray pants had some memories.

When I was a first year teacher, I spent most of my days wearing that same pair of pants. They were light gray, comfortable, and an obvious choice on mornings when I didn’t have the mental capacity to pick out an outfit. (That was most days.)  Sometimes I’d pick them off the floor and pull them on. They matched the one blue shirt I owned that was clean. I’d run a brush through my hair, put on a hint of mascara, and run out the door an hour before the children arrived.

My students gave me a lot of grief about those pants. Sometimes they’d call me out on my outfit repeats: “Ms. Freeman, didn’t you wear those yesterday?” And although I value honesty, the gray pants often compromised me. “Of course not,” I’d say. Or better yet, “I did laundry last night. They’re clean.”

At this time last year, I was at my lowest. I took off a day of work because I couldn’t stop crying about the frequent disasters that were happening in my classroom. I counted down the days so well and could tell you in early October how many days in each week we had to be at school, and by December, you could just look at me and I’d say: “We’re gonna make it guys. Thanksgiving, and then it’s just five days, five days, four point five days.” And, obviously, I was wearing those gray pants daily.

The holidays are coming, and soon all the teachers who wear the same pants every day will get to rest. That provides some solid hope. Hold on to hope—solid, tangible hope— for your classroom, for your students. Real hope isn’t, “Maybe things will get better.” It’s more like, “Things will get better. Someday soon, I will throw away my gray pants.”

WATCH: Students Write Holiday Wishlist for Favorite Teacher

Mr. Spencer’s high school class sat down to write a wishlist for their favorite teacher. The results weren’t exactly what they expected, but they all agreed on one thing—Mr. Spencer is a pretty cool teacher. Watch the video.

Want to make a real difference? Teach! Find out how at Teach For America.

Pop Links 12.18.14: Effective Teachers; Law School Numbers

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Pop Links is Teach For America’s twice-weekly roundup of education news and resources for teachers.

  • Do you consider yourself to be an effective teacher? Over winter break, reflect on the 11 Habits of an Effective Teacher.
  • Due to a troubling history of homophobia in school systems, many LGBT teachers feel a need to retreat to the proverbial closet for the hours of day they spend with students and colleagues. An alum writing for the Atlantic speaks to the challenges LGBT teachers face.
  • This fall, law school enrollment reached a historic low. The New York Times explains why a once envied graduate program is seeing its applicant pool dry up.
  • Get rid of your old Jeopardy PowerPoint, and  create fun classroom review games for your students using FlipQuiz!
  • TFANet Resource: Grammar
By |December 18th, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

Affordable, Last-Minute Gifts—Order by Dec. 19 for Holiday Delivery!

We get it: You’ve been reaaally busy, buried under final exams and keeping your students engaged in these frenzied days before break. Shopping for holiday gifts for friends and coworkers may have slipped off the to-do list, but never fear, it’s not too late!

TeacherPop put together a few affordable options. Best part? They are all under $25, and if you shop til you drop by Friday (Dec. 19), you’ll receive free shipping and delivery by December 25.*

affordable gifts

  1. Be Your Best Selfie Tote
  2. Moonstruck Chocolates
  3. Flutter Beauty Tall Canister
  4. Essie Winter Mini 4-Pack
  5. Sputnik Vase
  6. Philosophy Holiday Duo
  7. Porcupine Pencil Holder

Happy holiday shopping!

*Please check individual stores for specific shipping deadlines.


By |December 17th, 2014|DIY, Take a Break|0 Comments|

8 Tips for Finding a Mental Health Professional


Now that we’re almost halfway through the school year, it’s a good time to step back and ask yourself how you’re doing with your mental health. There’s no doubt in my mind that the semester was hard. And there were probably particular periods in the classroom that felt like lows. Were you able to harness resources (both personally and by reaching out to those around you) to manage your teacher stress and wellbeing?

With winter break ahead, now might be a good point to invest some time in locating a counselor to work with next semester. Because finding a mental health professional can be a difficult process, below are some tips on what to look for:

  • Finding a good therapist is a bit like buying a new car: you want to find one that meets your needs, it probably requires a little research, and taking it for a test drive and kicking the tires is probably a good idea, too.
  • There are a bunch of different types of mental health professionals, so it can be confusing. In short: 1) psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD) who primarily prescribe medication for treatment. Some also engage in talk therapy; 2) psychologists are doctoral (PhD) level providers who provides counseling, psychotherapy, and assessment, but typically do not prescribe medication (this varies state-to-state); 3) Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed professional counselors (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) all have master’s degrees in their respective areas and provide counseling and psychotherapy; and  4) primary care providers, or family doctors, while not actually mental health providers, often prescribe psychiatric medications.
  • You want to make sure the person you’re seeing is licensed by your state, as this ensures they have met the minimum standards in their field to provide competent services to you. Search for the provider on your state’s licensing board for physicians, psychologists, and licensed therapists.
  • Choose which type of professional based on whether you would like to be evaluated for medication or engage in talk therapy and learn new strategies for coping and addressing mental health symptoms. The most important thing is that you engage the process of getting help. If you see one provider and determine that your needs for treatment might benefit from a slightly different angle, the person will make a referral.
  • You can begin to gather a list of possible providers by determining who is covered by your insurance carrier, perhaps by visiting your insurance’s website and searching mental health benefits. Word of mouth is a great way to find a good provider, and it is definitely appropriate to ask around if any of your friends or colleagues know of any good therapists.
  • Your primary care provider may be able to prescribe medication for mental health concerns if you have uncomplicated depression or anxiety issues. However, for more complex mental health concerns, such as suicidal thinking or multiple mental health issues, or for help determining which diagnosis best fits your situation, a psychiatrist should definitely be consulted. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask your primary care provider.
  • Your first session with a counselor or therapist can be used to get to know your provider and determine if you think his or her working style will be a good fit for your needs. It is perfectly appropriate to enter into a first therapy session with some skepticism, not knowing if it is something you want to do. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions such as “what is your view on how psychotherapy works” or “what is a typical psychotherapy session like with you?”
  • Pastoral counseling, often with a provider who is a religious/spiritual leader, can be an excellent option, particularly if your concerns are of a religious or spiritual nature. However, if you are exhibiting symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression, more severe anxiety, disordered eating, substance abuse, etc., then seeing a licensed mental health professional is the best option.

It can be a challenge to figure out the best way to get help for a mental health concern. If you have questions about the process, please feel free to reach out to me at