“My Gift is My Song…”

I can’t believe there are less than 30 teaching days left in this year.  And there’s so much to be done!

My students are reading The Hunger Games.  I have never seen some of these students willingly read out loud or brag about how much homework they’ve done- until now.  Truly (wait for the lingo) transformational.

I am attributing some of my recent happiness to the fact that I have started a choir at my school!!!   I recruited a ragtag bunch of 5-8th grade boys and girls who don’t have a music class at school but belt it out err’ day in the halls.  Even some of my most quiet students have joined, and I see them opening up more every day.


My quick music history- see where you fit into the story!

Home videos of “Do, a deer” with choreo….talent shows….Church choir….Middle school plays and choir….High school choir…..Madrigals….A cappella groups…..arranging and directing my first composition….the College a cappella experience (CD coming soon!)….Greek Sing….minoring in music theory…..

I  cannot imagine my life without the opportunity to experience music.  I cannot thank all of the above groups of individuals enough.  I am so lucky to have been surrounded by artists who taught me all they knew, teachers young and old who pushed me to excel, and musicians I have had the privilege to sing with.  Music is my expression, how I get through the day, how I deal with tough times, how I learn to take risks, and where I get to be super cheesy and goofy.


PS: Apparently no one reads this, but if you do, you may notice that I changed it up a bit.  I am a teacher- I am claiming that more every day.  But I am a lot of other things.  So deal.


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Fun Life Update:  I’m training for the Chicago Triathalon!  Check it out: http://www.chicagotriathlon.com/

My roommate convinced me.  Swimming, no prob.  Biking, it’s been a while, but my thighs can handle it.  Now running….let’s throw some honesty out for kicks.  I have NEVER run more than 3 miles before this.  I’m not good at land sports.  Always been a waterbug.  Joints are whiney, bad back, I’m basically an old lady.  Sooooooo I got new shoes!  I got fitted for exciting shoes that actually support my feet so that I don’t break my body.

Aren’t they purty????  They have a fancy wave thing (made by wizards, the cute guy at Fleet Feet assured me) that supports my pronating ankles and absorbs the shock through the shoe instead of my shins.  Hopefully I’ll look like this guy.  Or meet this guy.


Other potentially exciting news- I went to dinner with a program director at Posse, a non-profit group that provides scholarships and support for students in high need areas to gain admission into top tier universities and STAY IN THEM using the cohort model.


If any of you have gone out with me on weekends, you’ll notice that I give a different answer every time someone asks what I want to do after teaching.  This seems to combine all of my interests, and if not this program, then there are other similar programs.  Woohoo!

P.S. When my party clothes go on, I’m there to start the party.  Not to answer your 8888888888 questions about my job.  Unless you are the gentleman pictured above- call me, maybe?

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Bear Hugs

Give yourself a bear hug. Do it! Now find someone today to bear hug.

I am en route back to Chicago after a phenomenal Carnival experience. It was my first year back as an alum, and it was pretty darn sweet not having any responsibilities. Although if it was warmer I would has totally wanted to do teardown. (if you’re confused about any of this, visit Carnegie Mellon’s Carnival website). The best part about my Carnival was the quantity and quality of the bear hugs I experienced. There was so much genuine love and genuinely missing people that it felt so wonderful just to be back in their presence. College is a strange time because you are thrown into living with complete strangers for 4 years, so they become more like family than anything. The connections I still hold onto from those years are strong in an inexplicably powerful way, considering I may have only known them for a year or two.

Pictures and more details to come. Just wanted to express some love. For those wondering about my teaching experiences, I will continue to update about that, but my life is so much more than that so I intend to write about the things I love and am thankful for. Special thanks to those involved in the bear hugs and my good friend who inspired this attitude shift.

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Hunger Games

Yes, I read the books (first two- who has 3??). Yes I love them. Yes I saw the movie on opening night (not midnight Thursday, I’m too old for that business). Yes I cried. But I cried more than I expected.

SPOILER ALERT: a child dies. In a book about 25 kids put into a put to kill each other off for entertainment.

I cried more than I expected because those could be my students. That could be N in there, or CC and his little sister. Then I realized how much I am scared for my kids. I am pleased with how the movie portrayed the deaths- not overly sensationalized, but clearly not taken lightly.

A 17-year-old was shot recently and the nation is in uproar. 41 people were shot and 7 killed just on St. Patrick’s day weekend in Chicago. Every single weekend I hear on the news and from my students about the shootings that happened in their community that weekend. Many of my students have witnessed a child’s violent death, either because they were in the line of fire or they have the wrong affiliation. How does a child deserve to die for that?

I understand that the the Florida shooting is a separate case. But please, let me know when I can stop praying that my students make it back from the weekend alive. Please let me know when the nation is in an uproar about 41 shootings per weekend.

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Test Anxiety and the Uterine Wall

You think you have text anxiety?





Think again.


I think from now on I am just going to call them quizzes.

During one 2-hour testing session (come on kids, there were only 12 questions), I had at least 5 meltdowns, 5 write-ups (disciplinary measure), and a 13-year-old singing “I’m sexy and I know it” while dancing in his chair.

And there were only 5 students in the room.

They are so scared to fail, that they don’t even try.  These poor kids have spent years failing, so why bother trying?  The idea of a test stresses them out SO MUCH that they flip out- sometimes actually doing flips in the classroom.  I am so lucky that I am a good test-taker, I had never thought about how awful it would be to experience that level of stress in a testing situation.


The girls at my school went on a field trip to learn about the birds, the bees, and the crazy changes happening to their bodies in middle school.  They all came back looking a little uncomfortable, but definitely thinking about what the HECK ARE CRAMPS AND WHY DO THEY HURT SO BAD and BUT I LOVE HIM WHY CAN’T I HAVE A BABY RIGHT NOW and their OVARIES, FALLOPIAN TUBES, AND CERVIXES- oh my!  At least my girls trust me enough to talk to me about their questions, some of them don’t have someone they can ask.  It’s amazing how much they still have to learn, it’s such a throwback to my own middle school days……hearing boys scream while watching the MIRACLE OF LIFE….


Welcome to the life of a lady.


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Almost Spring Break!

Note from my girl N today:

“Why are you so miserable Ms. Gumbel?  Check one:

a) The kids are disrespectful to you

b) N is being a brat

c) You don’t have a boyfriend

d) All of the above

Answer honestly!”

Gee thanks, N.  But yes, I have probably been acting fairly miserable in the classroom.  It’s post ISAT (standardized testing), almost spring break, and beautiful outside.  Kids have no desire to do anything whatsoever except get into trouble and be rude to me.  Still working on catching up on work- always, always behind- and desperately need a break.  In fact, I’m writing this post right now to postpone doing more work.

Also, what is it with middle schoolers and being obsessed with knowing everything about their teachers’ lives??  First they thought I was pregnant (again, gee thanks), then they thought I was getting married this summer (no, just a bridesmaid), then they’re trying to get me involved in all of their drama.  Middle schoolers.  So much peer pressure, so much social anxiety for students struggling in class- even for those students doing well, sticking out of the crowd is a constant concern.  They are constantly asking me how their hair looks and trying to fix it in class.  As someone who spends about negative 5 minutes on their hair a day, all I want them to do is learn math!!!


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Putting things in Perspective

Best pieces of advice I have received:

“No one wakes up in the morning wanting to fail.”

I think of this every day, especially when a kid is really getting on my nerves or when someone on my commute cuts me off.

“Men don’t mature ’til they’re 30, and even then, it’s questionable.”

Thanks to Dad for this gem.

Hit me with your best inspiration!

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if(lostAndConfused == true || learnDisabled == true) then (grade == F);

Imagine your first class on the first day of college.  You’re pumped up, you’re ready for the year.  You walk into your first class, nab the best seat in the auditorium, and take a seat.  The professor walks in.  The first powerpoint slide:

You recognize the words “Hello World”, but this is an entirely new language.  You look at the paper being passed around and realize that you have stumbled into 15-251, Great Theoretical Ideas of Computer Science instead of 82-206, Abnormal Psychology.  You’ve never seen a line of code in your life.  You’re scrambling to fit in, pretend like you’re supposed to be there.  You don’t have a laptop with you, so you stick out like a sore thumb.


Suddenly the whole class is laughing at the Hello World slide, and you don’t get the joke.  The professor starts talking about data structures, and you think you hear him talking about pancake stacks, but everything is whirring by.  Giving up, you sit there in silence, looking around the room, eventually pulling out your phone to text your friend.  Your phone beeps, and suddenly the whole class is silently staring at you while the professor launches into a speech about how unprofessional youth are today, stating that anyone who disrupts the class again will be removed from the roster.

Finally, the hour-long class has passed, and you just want to go cry at home in bed.  But the professor hands out a quick quiz to complete on your way out.  It’s certainly not in English, it’s full of strange brackets and terminology you’ve never seen in your life.  A loop?  A string?  A method?  You write down something about the steps to tying a string in a knot and run out of the classroom, feeling embarrassed and dumb.


Many of my students have experienced this every day for 6 or 7 years.  And yet I hear from teachers in many schools, “They just won’t do the work.  I can’t pass them if they won’t do any work.”  It’s no wonder they won’t do work- they know they’ll just fail anyway, end up in summer school, and miraculously get passed along into the next grade.   Yes, some kids are lazier than others, some are more motivated than others.  And I’m not saying that teachers aren’t try- I understand that it’s difficult to focus on one student when you have 30 others trying to cause trouble.

But show me a kid who wakes up every morning saying, “Today, I’m not going to do any work!  I can’t wait to fail!”  and I will gladly give them the F they crave.  Until then, everyone needs to walk a mile in the shoes of the students who try so hard to succeed but are stuck in 15-251.


PS: When I googled “Computer Science Nerd”, a picture of Randy Pausch came up.  So much Tartan Pride.

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Think of the sassiest middle school girl you can possibly imagine.  Now triple that.  You’ve met N. (names of students kept private)

Now I knew this girl wasn’t going to warm up to me easily.  The first week of school she hid under a little house of mats she made for herself, if she even came to my pull-out class.  I recognized that she had to come to trust me in her own time.  N has been suspended on a regular basis since elementary school for fighting, disruptive behavior, and speaking her mind a little too often.  She doesn’t trust anyone, and she told me every day for the first two months that she hates teachers (lies- she does like one other teacher at the school, her 4th grade teacher.)

Eventually N and I started talking a little bit, bonding over our mutual love of singing and baking.  N started refusing to leave my classroom at the end of the day.  She wouldn’t talk, she would just sit there while I did work and then leave after a while.  One day in November, N stayed after school and just wouldn’t shut up.  We must have talked for at least two hours straight, about absolutely everything.  Since then, she has been calling me her “best teacher” and chatting it up all the time.

Today she refused to talk to me again.  Through mediation with her other favorite teacher, we discovered she was upset that she didn’t get computer time due to an unforeseen schedule change. She even wrote a note to me saying how much she hated me- certainly better than cussing me out like she often does to other teachers.  I explained my reasoning and gave her time to think.

She looked more serious that usual, then asked me the following questions:

“Why do you care about me so much?”

“Why do you push me so hard?”

“Why are you so nice to me?”

She then proceeded to explain to me that every other teacher has given up on her, and why she thinks she isn’t smart.  I almost cried.  This is the same girl who just made a year’s worth of growth in reading in 3 months.  This is why I teach.


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Baking Improves Sanity

Quick post before I talk about real things: I took a Myers Briggs test and I am…….

Extraverted (100%)

iNtuitive (25%)

Feeling (62%)

Perceiving (11%)

Surprise, surprise! I am social and do things by feel rather than by logic!


Also, I made Chocolate Banana Bread.  It is delicious.  I have a theory about baking.  The reason I love baking so much is that I can complete something from start to finish independently in a reasonable amount of time and have a (usually) delicious end product.  It’s my quick way to feel successful when things feel out of control.

Also, I fully believe that chocolate can cure anything.  Even a broken heart.


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