Lunch Bunch: Mexican Hats

This is my go-to appetizer that looks far more impressive than the time it takes to prepare.  While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a lunchtime potluck, I included it because it is the perfect item to bring to a holiday party.

1 lb of ground sausage (or substitute ground turkey)
1 cup grated shredded cheese
1 cup of salsa
1 package of wonton wrappers (I have better luck when I let the wrappers sit at room temperature for a bit)
Sour cream (garnish)
Scallions (garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brown the sausage or ground turkey. Drain the liquid from the meat.
Add salsa and cheese and mix together in pan. Let the mixture cool completely. You can prepare the mixture the previous day and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook the appetizer.

1. Lightly brush a mini muffin tin with oil.
2. Place one wonton wrapper into each cup **The wrappers will not take the shape of the tin until you place the mixture inside. Also, carefully place the wrapper, or else they will tear**
3. Cook for 10 minutes on 350 degrees.
4. Remove the wrappers from the tin, place on cookie sheet for another 5-10 minutes until the outside is lightly browned. The wrappers shouldn’t be flimsy; make sure each one has cooked through.
5. Serve with a tiny dollop of sour cream and a few scallions on top, or put in the center of the dish for individual serving.

**The pictured dish is a representation of what your dish should look like, but this particular one calls for slightly different, but equally as tasty, ingredients**

Teacher Toys & Tech: Kagan Timer Tools

One of my favorite professors gifted an oversized hour glass to everyone in our graduating cohort.  I thought it was the great thing until our principal installed Kagan TimerTools on every teacher’s laptop.  TimerTools solves all of my time-management dilemmas like, “I have 50 minutes to get through 6 rotations, what do I do?”  No problem TimerTools will keep students on the move without my interrupting, forgetting, or mathematical shortcomings.  Need a countdown timer that all students can easily see as they move through their warm-up?  Plug in your speakers, turn on your projector, and you’re students will be self-disciplined to finish tasks on time wtihout your nagging.  I’m amazed at how well my students respond and the independence it instills.  I never have to yell “Rotate!” again!

My favorite uses:

1.  Group rotations made easy.

2.  Keep me on track to pace my lesson (I keep it running in the bottom of my screen — out of student view).

3.  Keep track of warm-up or beginning of class procedures.  It provides consistency for students and they their warm-up better be complete by the time it starts buzzing.

4.  Individual seat work – the timer keeps students on track.

5.  Review games, say “quiz, quiz, trade”.  Students know they have 30 seconds to wander the room, as soon as the alarm buzzes, they have the next two 30-second intervals to quiz one another and trade.

6.  Kagan suggests additional uses.

KaganTimerTools can be purchased at and for under $30.  Pool together with some colleagues and get a discounted bundle of ten.  TimerTools is also available at the App Store.

Until I had TimerTools I relied on my oversized hourglass.  There are several online timers that may suffice if you would like the “budget-friendly” version.  I’m sure there is a range, but here is the most basic.

Teacher Dress Up: Naked Legs Are Not Okay!

If you’re the type who transitions into cold weather one step at a time, you should have already crossed over the bare legs bridge.  It’s no longer acceptable to roll up bare-legged at 7:00 AM.  So, pull out your tights, they’re about to be your wardrobe staple for the next three-four months.

I believe the poor fashion roaming our schools can be partially attributed to woman’s aversion to tights, limiting the wardrobe up to 50%.  I grew up on tights and never stopped wearing them.  When it came time for student teaching and interviewing, appropriate leg attire is what separated the amateurs from the professionAls.  While I don’t sympathize with the “too restricting, too confining, too uncomfortable” arguments, I understand they exist.  I wish I had an elaborate rebuttal outlining the benefits of tights.  Instead I have a few simple words.  Tights make you look thinner, sleeker, and taller.  Suck it up, put ’em on, and learn how to dress appropriately for the season.  I’m willing to try anything that buckles me in and bundles me up…the tighter, the better.  Here are a few guidelines to get you on your way…

Quality:  In one ear I’m hearing, “tights are nylon, why spend the money?”.  In the other ear I’m hearing,  “tights are worn multiple times per week, multiple weeks in a row, get a quality pair”.  Hue, DKNY, and Simply Vera by Vera Wang for Kohls are my favorites.  Check your discount stores before spending retail at a department store.  Filene’s Basement usually has a great stock of the basic brands while Loehmann’s carries higher-end brands of leg ware.  Purchase early in the season, or else you’ll be left with zebra print legs on Christmas Eve.  Always have one or two back ups of a basic black opaque (more on this later).  When you find a pair you like, buy in bulk.

Color & Texture:  The rules are simple, match your tights to your bottom half (skirt or dress) or your shoes.  No need to complicate things and add a rainbow into the mix, unless of course it’s Wacky Tacky Day.  As far as texture goes, the smaller the weave, the more professional.  Just like slacks and skirts, you need a few basic colors to build a well-rounded winter wardrobe:

Black — as opaque as you can find it.  I like this pair from DKNY or this pair from Hue.  Black opaques will go with black boots, pumps, flats, or booties…just about anything.  I also recommend a textured pair to spruce up your basic black pieces.  Choose a diamond print like this pair from Express.  Stay away from floral prints and lace at work.  A general guideline I follow, if my dress or skirt fabric is a thick wool, I can go lighter on the tights.  If the dress or skirt is a lighter weight, I bring on the most opaque pair possible.  This balance will keep you work-appropriate.

Grey — I prefer it in a texture and recommend a herringbone style alternating a light grey and dark grey.  This pair by Hue offers the right amount of texture and opacity.  Stay away from a sheer herringbone for the work environment.  Grey tights work with black boots, grey pumps, and a snakeskin flat.  These tights will pair nicely with a grey pencil skirt or any type of shift or sheath dress.

Neutral — My recommendation is a nude fishnet.  Yes, fishnets are appropriate if the weave is fine and the holes are small.  This pair from Simply Vera Wang at Kohl’s seem to fit the bill.  “When in doubt, wear black” doesn’t really work with tights.  Nude fishnets will fill those gaps in your wardrobe and allow you to wear the bright pencil skirts or prints throughout the winter months.  Keep the nude fishnets away from black skirts and dresses, it looks a bit to risqué. Stay away from a print because it actually looks like veins or scarring.

Dark Brown — you need a dark brown for your warm colors and earthy neutrals.  Since you will probably pair your brown tights with a cognac-colored boot, you’ll want to keep the tights solid and opaque like this Simply Vera Wang pair from Kohl’s.

Navy Blue — Although it’s difficult to match navy blue since not all are created the same, I do keep one pair for the items that it does work with in my closet.  Here is an opaque pair from Kohl’s, although I do recommend bringing along the item you will most frequently wear so that you have a good match.  Again, keep them opaque and solid.  You can pair this with a denim pencil skirt or a navy skirt/dress.

Bright Colors — Unless you want to fit in with the teenage trendsetters, stay away from purples, teal blues, and reds.  It’s just one more way you can be mistaken for a student.

Fit: Avoid frump in your mid-section by wearing a pair of tights that actually fit.  Extra bunching at the top will only enhance your tummy.  Read the back of the package, sizing may vary by brand.  I prefer to be sucked in and only buy tights that are clearly marked “CONTROL TOP”.  I don’t think Spanx are necessary for work.  If you need to be sucked in that much, your outfit is probably too tight.   Make sure there isn’t extra bunching at the knees or ankles.  Twist your tights so that they are going in the same direction.  Yes, there should be a front and back.

Care:  I accidentally threw a pair in the washer and dryer and thought the shrinking would be minimal.  Boy, was I wrong.  I was walking around with a pair of tights halfway down my backside and it was probably the most uncomfortable day of work!  Handwash your tights in a basin and hang them to dry.  I wash my tights once a week at the same time for convenience.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught some of my most fashionable savvy sistas wearing tights with tears, rips, and runs (above the hemline of course).  Is it really necessary to walk around with a crotchless pair of tights?  Get a new pair!  If you find yourself with small holes in the toe area, repair them, you never know when you’ll have to take off your shoes.  Lotion before wearing tights, they’re a trap for dead skin.

If you haven’t crossed this bridge yet, make it happen!  Professional women don’t show up to work with naked legs!

Socratic Seminar: It’s Okay My Parents Never Got Married

It’s only natural for teenagers to inquire about your dating/marital status. While some may be clever enough to check for an engagement ring, others may mistake a cocktail ring for a committed relationship. n some cases, the absence of a ring carries no weight in finding an answer to the question, “Miss O., do you have kids?” As a young teacher, my opinion on sharing personal information with students has remained that same since I began my career. Share – nothing! I find it unnecessary to encourage an already hormone – crazed adolescent and find that they are more intrigued about my dating life than the old lady matchmaker singing in the church choir.

There’s always the argument that students need to see their teacher as a human being. To that, I say, there are other ways to do this besides starting your science lesson with, “one time my boyfriend…”:
1. Family and friends is one of the easiest things for students to relate. Share your holiday plans or even a fun appropriate activity you plan to do over the weekend.

2. Your hobbies and interests. Let them know that you stayed up to watch the NBA finals or that you’re bummed about your football team losing the Super Bowl. If you’re a competitor of hot dog eating, cup stacking, riflery, I don’t care what it is, share your successes and challenges. Let them know you have commitments outside of teaching.

3. We all have bad days, sick days, tired days. I’m upfront with my students when I’m feeling a bit off. If you command enough respect, they’ll react accordingly. If you don’t, well you’ve got other issues to confront. Allowing them into your life may open the door for them to approach you when they encounter a rough day.

Now that we understand there is a lot of information to cover before you give up your relationship status, here are my final words. Once you divulge the information the follow-up questions ensure and really, there’s no turning back. Just like you regret listing “in a relationship with Evan” when it turns out that Evan isn’t so great after all, you’ll regret sharing the information when your students ask why “Mr. Evan” is now “Mr. Andy”. So, according to the wedding guest etiquette enlisted by my best friend, “no ring, no bring”, I say, “no rock, no talk”. This will save you from an awkward conversation when “Do I have kids??? I’m not even married yet!” is followed up with, “It’s okay, my parents never got married!”

Teaching Trenches: Snacks For Work

My classroom may be mistaken for a grocery store at times because I carry a range of snacks to keep me satisfied throughout the day.  Since I have access to a refrigerator, I replenish a few staples every week so that I can rely on them if I don’t have time to pack a lunch or dinner if I know I’ll be spending evenings at work.  Here is my stash:

Snacks For Work

Cliff Bars if I ever forget or don’t have time for breakfast.
Dried apricots mix well with the almonds. Throw in a few with the handful of nuts.
Chobani are stocked on a weekly basis, and yes, sometimes they go missing just like they do in the commercials. I prefer vanilla and find it to be an incredibly filling afternoon snack.
Ak-mak sesame crackers are a nod to my heritage. I keep them in my desk drawer as a pairing for the turkey or peanut butter if I need a mini-meal.
Almonds are filling and hold me over if I need a quick bite before the bell or if I’m going to run errands after work.
Larabars, self-explanatory and are the perfect sweet snack when you need it.
PB&J is my comfort food when I need a dinner and don’t have one. I have it with the sesame crackers since keeping bread isn’t ideal.
Jolly Ranchers, when you need a pick me up.
Cottage cheese is a good alternative to yogurt when you need a snack.
Unsalted pretzels when you need carbs.
Turkey — yes, I’m serious. I keep this at school for dinners when I’m trying to cut back on carbs and increase protein. This keeps me from buying junk in the vending machine and fills me up.
Grapes. Frozen. These are a staple in our workroom and just about everyone lives off these suckers.

Share the Wealth: An eye for an eye

When only five minutes remain until Macy’s closes, you need to have an eye for the one worthwhile piece on the clearance rack. Among M&M bracelets (seriously, stop buying these items so that they can finally put an end to their production!), I quickly scanned and landed my eyes on the only gem in the mess of strands and bands. A gold pendant resembling middle eastern jewelry, reminding me of an evil eye. I tried it on, admired it, and decided another gold long necklace is the last thing I need. My mom caught me and gave it her seal of approval. Sure enough, it was the one Rachel Roy piece on the clearance rack. After coupons it came to just under $15. Unfortunately, the item is sold out online, but check your clearance rack or head over to her site and purchase the ring. Did I mention, both pieces function as lockets?  At least I filled that void in my jewelry chest!