Category Archives: yearbook

Meditation Trial and Error: Tales From the Classroom

When I reach the end of my Calm session and the coach says “okay, now if you’re ready, open your eyes…” I’m never ready.

I have a giant class this semester smack dab in the middle of the day. The class that follows is not big, but they are loud and excited about life all the time.

I asked if they wanted to try breathing with the Calm app and they were all in.

So we sat in a circle and closed our eyes and focused on breathing.

About half the class broke after a minute. They couldn’t stop the laughter.

It does feel awkward to sit silently breathing the first few times you meditate. It’s just weird when we’re so used to constant bombardment from a million different directions. So I get it.

A few of us kept breathing, but the kids who laughed got busy working.

We’ve tried a few more times with the same level of success.

Then yesterday hit and the kids sat in a circle breathing, no laughter, no anything other than breath and peace. When I stopped they said “Nooooooo! That was like a minute.”

Nope. 2 minutes 48 seconds.

We made it to 4 minutes and started work.

Y’all, those four minutes were everything.

The stress of the day was gone for me AND for the class. They were so much more focused in their work. And they could not believe how much time had passed.

We don’t meditate every day, and it’s completely optional. The kids said they wished we would make it an everyday exercise.

Maybe we will.

I just really like this new leggings print.

Living Deliberately

Maybe that headline is little too much, but I’m making a point to be a more aware of my time second semester.

It’s super easy to get caught in work and to live in the newsroom. I like it there. It’s fun. I like the kids. We do great work. The students like 80s music and will jump into a dance party on demand. I mean, yeah. It’s AWESOME.

But I need to reclaim my time. And they need to reclaim theirs.

Yes, after school deadlines are part of my world. No, staying after school every day is not healthy, wise or a good lesson for my kids.

So…

I have a signup sheet on the table. If kids need to work after school outside of designated work nights or past the 30 minutes I’m always here, they have to sign up on Monday for the week. They can’t stay after Friday. We’ll see about Saturday mornings. They’re fun but they make the weekend short, and that’s not good for any of us.

This live deliberately goal will require all of us to plan better. It will also encourage us to do more outside the classroom.

I want my room to be vibrant and alive and exciting and fun. But I want us all to be healthy with the time we spend.

We’ll see how it works. 😊👩‍💻👏

An aside: you guys, Quest chips are LCHF heaven.

What I’m Loving: coffee, Diet Dr Pepper, these temperatures, Quest chips, LCHF, our yearbook cover, the scene I just wrote in my WIP, getting all my electrolytes in, the Daily Calm

What I’m Writing: So Much For Happily Ever After

21st Century Education: Yearbook

A few years ago someone asked me if yearbooks were even relevant anymore.

I was ready with my standard response: Kids in publications classes learn to communicate effectively, collaborate, problem solve, question why, tell their community’s story creatively and work on a deadline under massive stress in complete chaos. Relevant? Check out the 21st century education skill sets demanded by today’s top corporations and you’ll see yearbook checks almost every box. With design and surveys, it even makes the math cut.

Yearbook, newspaper and journalism classes aren’t just about the end product. BUT the end product does, in education speak, show mastery of the skills learned in the course. In yearbook’s case, the book encapsulates the school year FOREVER. In 50 years the book will be what people turn to to learn about the past. The yearbook is the school in book format.

Yearbook is not just relevant, it’s essential.

(More on this tomorrow.)

Part the Waters

This time of year is almost always tough in the yearbook advising business. Adding the weight of more school shootings, an awful flu season, the Texas political situation and its impacts educators and their healthcare, and a plethora of life’s emotional dings has made the last six weeks so tough.

Seriously.

This week has pushed and pushed and finally I felt like breaking.

In that moment as I sat in my classroom during my conference looking at what all has to be done and trying to find a plan to make it happen, I looked up and said, Jesus Help.

When I spoke those words I felt so completely broken and yet so completely sure that whatever else happens, God’s got me and I’ve got Him.

Within a couple of hours several little things happened to help relieve some of my worry.

I believe in the miraculous power of God. I believe the biggest miracle of all is God’s unending grace. I believe God had a hand in showing me yet again that if I turn to Him in my always those break down moments don’t have to be so all encompassing.

Yesterday nothing huge changed in the day to day business of a stressful final deadline when deadlines have been a struggle all year. There was no physical “Part the Waters” moment. But that moment of prayer and the peace that came after…the psychological and emotional sense of peace and comfort…it was beautiful.

I’m sitting in my classroom now, and I know it’s going to be okay.

My prayer is this: Lord, help me to remember my why in the classroom instead of letting deadline become my focus. Help me to let go and let You, help me to rest assured in the knowledge that when things are overwhelming, I can turn to You, but I don’t have to wait until that moment. You are always even when I forget.

Opening lyrics to the song that I love so much: When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord

When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea

When I cry for help, oh, hear me, Lord

And hold out Your hand

Touch my life Still the raging storm in me

Yearbook Day

I want the yearbooks I advise to make kids happy. I hope when they look at the book they see their school and think, wow, my school is so cool! I want people who don’t go to my school to look at the book and think, wow, I wish I went to that school. And I want the book to be pretty. 

When the book comes out, I hope it looks like the process of making it was effortless.  (Hahahahaha.)

And, I’m not gonna lie, I hope people say they love the book.

All of the above is me. The kids on staff want to world to love their hard work. They want kudos too.

Which is why for years, ever since adviser Lori Oglesbee shared her yearbook day letter at a workshop, I’ve done the same.

The letter says something along the lines of: yay yearbook! Then: all the facts about distribution. Then:  to teachers, in the same way you wouldn’t criticize an athlete for a bad play or a theatre kid for a flubbed line, please do not hurt the kids by complaining about the book to them and please come see me if there are real issues that need to be addressed. 

I warn the kids to be ready. Love your work. Be proud. You did an amazing job. You took all these pages that were completely blank and turned them into this beautiful work of art. But there will be mistakes because this is a printed product produced on a deadline and you and I are human. Mistakes are part of the process. And mistakes or complaints will be a constant in your day when we release the book. Love the book anyway. And come up with some great ways to handle the minor complaints: oh man, I am so sorry! Wait. We only have 12 people on staff next year. You should fit yearbook in your schedule and we won’t have that problem! Or oh wow! Yeah. You have 100s in all your classes too, right? No? But it’s the same thing. Our mistakes are just published. Or just a simple I am so sorry meant for real. On the big things I tell the kids to bring the kid with the issue to me. 

We do respond now though. But always in a way that hopefully stays fun. Negativity is a snowball. Little things grow and grow and before you know it one person’s little problem has become an entire group’s avalanche of awful. Add in social media and you’ve got a mess sometimes. 

And all of that is so important for the kids to learn and experience. 

Thick skin is something you have to acquire through trial by fire. Once you’ve got it, it serves you well for life. 

So yesterday was yearbook day 19 for me, and it was beautiful. And it was also tough. But more than anything, it was a huge part of the learning experience. 

Yay yearbook!


The photos are from when the staff saw their book for the first time. They were so happy. That’s the moment that makes advising the best!

Senior Pictures

Did you get your senior picture taken? Did you make your senior appointment? Don’t forget the senior deadline. Get your picture done. According to my records you have not had your senior picture taken. Hey guys, help me out. Here’s a list of seniors not pictured. Can you tell the kids in your classes to get their pictures made? Okay, Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take your last minute senior pictures. 

Hello. This is Mary Beth Lee. According to my records your senior has not yet had their photo taken for the yearbook. Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take all last minute senior photos. This is the LAST chance for your senior to be photographed for the yearbook.

Notes (168 of them last year) delivered in class the week before final chance photos. Appointments required. Appointments made. 

Library set up. Pictures taken. 

Yearbook day: I’m not in the senior section!! Did you get your picture taken? Well, I did, in January. I called you, sent you notes, made your teachers harass you, the counselors called you down AND I made announcements the entire time Lifetiuch was here for last chance photos in OCTOBER. You’re right. You’re not in the senior section.
My introduction to my new school came courtesy of senior pictures. EM-S ISD uses a company called Glamour Craft, and they were on campus this week taking senior pictures. My new admin wanted me in the building just in case I was needed. I wasn’t, and that’s probably a good thing.

Monday was tough. I started unpacking my boxes and setting up shop in the new digs. It doesn’t feel like home yet. Brian and I stayed at the Venetian once. It was the swankiest place I’ve ever been. We had a butler and a doorbell. But we were still happy when we got home to the old house. That’s what Monday felt like. My new school is like the Venetian. But I have to find a way to make IT home.

I grew up in black and gold. I chose to swap the black with purple.

When I finished unpacking Monday, I sat at the computer and said What the heck have you done, Mary Beth?

After a few tears, I shook the bad feelings off and reminded myself I always hate school before the kids get there. Then I made a list of things I needed, because lists make me happy.

A bookcase was at the top of the list. Walmart to the rescue. $15.96 for a Mainstay 3-shelf bookcase. Sign me up.

People who know me understand the hilarity that was about to ensue. When it comes to mechanical issues, I’m pretty sure I have a learning disability. The book case instructions were photos. No words. YouTube took care of that. Two videos later (random guy:awesome, Target, your video is foreign language to people like me who don’t speak assembly required!), I tackled the project. 

Step 1: go find a screw driver because I left my years of tool collecting in the old newsroom.

Step 2: arrange everything and make sure the pictures match.

Step 3: use the hammer

Steps 5-9: suck it up and get over being afraid of doing it wrong. Do the work.

Step 10: unpack the books and put them in alpha order in the new shelf.

And with those books, a whole lot of joy.

Because words are my business and books are my first friends and sharing books with my students makes me so happy. 

That bookcase changed everything as far as attitude goes. 

I’ve taken a huge leap and change is crazy scary, but I’m still me, and my new kids will be my kids just like my old kids are still my kids. And this year is going to be hard, so hard, but hard isn’t bad. 

I’ll always bleed black and gold. But adding a little purple to the mix is a good thing. 


*I’m missing so many books. I think I lost a box somewhere. 

*putting old staff photos up on the shelf helped.

*a screw lock or something like that fell off the case. I threw it away because the case seemed fine without it. I hope the case is still standing when I make it back to the newsroom next week.

*standing there and letting fear stop you from moving forward is always the wrong answer.

#YearbookForever

When my first principal called and asked me to take over yearbook, I said no. In my mind, I said a whole lot more than no. Newspaper was part of my soul. I’d grown up revering Walter Cronkite and reading newspapers. I fell in love with journalistic writing in high school when my adviser Mrs. Gillespie introduced me to the wonderful world of UIL and then taught me how to win.

We toured TRN and the people working at paste up with the light boards and glue and tape were so happy. And the smell of ink and paper…ahhhh. Heaven. And the reporters with their cubicles and frenetic pace. And the editor and his big office with the giant conference table for planning the issues. Yes. This was perfection. I’d found my purpose.

But yearbook? No. Just no. It was a bunch of debutantes and cheerleaders and preppy boys. No, thank you. (Former students, stick with me here. There’s a moral to this story.)

The excuse I gave was not so disparaging. I just started my MA, so I wouldn’t have time. No, thank you.

But that principal didn’t take no for an answer. He told me to call a crosstown J adviser I knew from student teaching who advised both programs and who had finished her MA advising both. I called Linda Fain, and she told me I’d be crazy not to do both because teaching English was waaaayyyy more difficult than advising yearbook.

So, cheerleader, debutantes and preppy boys all, I took on the job of yearbook adviser. It took less than a day for me to realize stereotypes suck for a reason. Because yes, yearbook was filled with all those types of kids. Just like newspaper, it was filled with all types of kids period. AND cheerleaders, debutantes and preppy boys were the same kind of wonderful as all the other types of kids out there.

By this time I had three years of newspaper kids, so the program was finally mine. I knew nothing about yearbook, though. I mean NOTHING. I only had one of my high school yearbooks (now one of my biggest regrets). I never thought yearbook was important. I mean it was pretty and all, but it was filled with all the “popular, preppy, pretty” kids so who cared? (Again, stereotypes suck. Man, I had a chip on my shoulder I didn’t even know existed back then.)

My first group of editors taught me the truth about yearbook. Yes, the yearbook is filled with photos of kids who carry the school’s spirit. If they go to everything, they’re in the book more. AND they should be.  BUT the yearbook is so much more. It’s a writing, art and creativity laboratory where kids take the school and transform everything that’s awesome about it into a book format so that those memories last forever. It’s about making an archivable product that people open and say, Holy Cow! This is the best school ever. I want to go there! It’s about telling those stories that last forever in the best way possible: through words, photos or design. It’s about giving the invisible a voice, if they want it, and showing how even though we’re all different, we’re still all Raiders (insert whatever mascot if you’re reading this and not part of Raider Nation). It’s a stereotype breaker, a demanding product that requires hours of time, complete collaboration and thinking outside the box or else it gets redundant, and you don’t want that. It’s on the job training, summer training, fall training and constantly working to get better and better and better. It’s OHMYGOD nerve-wracking because what if people don’t like it?!? It’s a place to learn the thick skin needed when you have the courage to publish your work because GUARANTEED someone WON’T like it. It’s fun and amazing and hard and, dear Jesus, it’s expensive. BUT it’s also so, so priceless.

And it’s a lot like newspaper. Different, but the same.

And I love it.

That chip on my shoulder was smashed to pieces when I took on the yearbook, and I’m a better teacher because of it.

I thought yearbook was fluff. I’ve learned it’s life. It’s the school. It’s forever.

I’m so, so blessed.

IMG_8884

18 yearbooks advised this year. 21 newspapers. #Awesome

Dear Educators

time-thiefDo what’s right by your students but protect your time. Burnout runs rampant in this business because what we do is a calling. But we deserve and need lives outside the classroom. School is a job and people will take what you give. If you have a great administrator, and thank God I do (best ever, retiring, I want to cry), they’ll tell you or at least hint that you’re doing too much. That doesn’t always happen, though. So you need to tell yourself.

Remember you are a professional. And you deserve to be compensated for your time. That doesn’t mean you won’t work hours before and after school for free. It doesn’t mean you won’t spend money on your classroom and for your kids. But don’t go broke for your school. Not monetarily, physically or emotionally. And choose those free hours. Don’t let them be chosen for you.

Educate yourself, study best practices, don’t drink the Kool-Aid just because someone presents it as the Next Best Thing. Trust your gut. Practice your craft. Have fun. Teach the topic, not the test. It won’t be easy, but you owe it to your kids.

Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your kids. Fight for your fellow teachers.

If there’s a problem, talk to the person who can fix it instead of getting caught up in a perpetual gripe session with people who sympathize but can’t really do anything about it. If you’re afraid to talk to that person, get over the fear. If you can’t, remember you choose to stay. You control you.

And since you do, since you must, always remember,

Protect Your Time.

You can’t get it back. ❤

**********

I’ve been going through my blog tagging entries. This is what I wish I could tell myself. It isn’t original. I can’t tell you how many educators said these things to me on bus trips to UIL Meets, in district meetings, at Leadership Cohort, in offices, in the teacher’s lounge. The people who told me this were absolutely right. Looking back with regret for the time you missed with people you love sucks. You don’t want to go there. Promise.

 

 

Surround Yourself With Positivity

someonesmilesAt the NTRWA (North Texas Romance Writers) meeting last weekend the speaker reminded us about how important it is to surround yourself with positivity. She talked about how allowing dark presences in our lives can actually affect how we respond.

I’m a FIRM believer in that.

Two years ago I spent most of the school year focused on being positive only. I worked to keep my Facebook posts positive, I blogged about positive issues here, I wrote daily affirmations, I put motivations quotes up around my writing space and my classroom. It made a huge difference in my day and how I responded to kids at work.

I’m going to rededicate myself to the goal of surrounding myself with light and positivity. It’s easy to say in the middle of July. I’m going to focus on my affirmations, though, and when the school year starts, if I start to go negative, I hope my blog followers and friends will say, “HEY, hold up. Where’s your light?”

That doesn’t mean I’ll bury my head in the sand on politics or the war on education. It does mean I’m checking out of the spin zone. My emotions have been in constant turmoil for months because of the spin. I’ll focus on facts, fact finding and helping make positive change. I’ve already unfollowed most of my news feeds. I’ll be sticking to PBS NewsHour and print news for the most part.

In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield says most people complain to the wrong people. They complain to people who can’t fix the problem, which is really just an exercise in frustrated futility. Kind of like trying to fight a war on Facebook. Canfield is so right. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been a room and one person says something negative and another chimes in and then I chime in and before you know it, this little thing that really was No Big Deal has turned into a GIANT PROBLEM. That leads to crazy stress and hurt feelings and all sorts of emotional fallout. So, I’m checking out of that, too.

During my school year of positivity, I tried meditating at lunch and it was a HUGE success. I might try that again, although, I have to say I LOVE eating lunch with history teachers in the upstairs lounge. They have the most fascinating conversations. And it’s good to see grown ups. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. (I bet a history teacher could tell me the origins of that phrase! Or Google…nah. I’m not looking it up.)

I’m ending this post with this goal. My goal this year is to surround myself with positivity, to focus on the light, to use my energy for good. I hope you’ll hold me to it! Especially in August…when it gets tough to follow through and December and March. Yearbook advisers and anyone who has ever worked on their yearbook will understand. 🙂

****For the next 90 days The Guardian books, Dead Girl Walking and An Angel Earns Her Wings are available to check out for free to Amazon Prime members. Angel Eyes will join them on July 20. I hope you’ll look at them, read the blurbs, see if you’re interested. And if you read and like the books, I’d appreciate it if you’d write a short review on Amazon letting other readers know about them. As an indie author, word of mouth is how people learn about my books. Several of the ad sites require a set number of reviews before they’ll let you advertise.

Thanks so much!!

–Mary Beth @marybethleeybnp

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Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 by Mary Beth Lee releases July 20. Sharlene Gallagher is back. YAY!

 

 

Teenagers Do

It’s easy to complain about “kids today.” That’s been the beginning of many a tirade over the centuries. I can imagine the conversation after Jesus stayed back at the temple and Mary and Joseph realized he was gone.

But here’s the deal.

Teenagers today DO. More often than not they give of their time to help others, they encourage others, they want to be more and do more and see more. They are so freaking smart! It sucks big time that they’ve been brought up in this age of standardized testing where they’ve been encouraged to do less and think less by our government, but even though they’ve been conditioned to bubble, they still THINK BIG.

They understand collaboration, and they can multi-task like nobody’s business…not as good as they think but a heck of a lot better than me.

And they do all this in a world where distractions are a constant.

CAMP 1I saw all this at the publication camps I’ve been to with my students this summer. In Dallas my yearbook editors came up with an amazing theme and worked together to bring the idea to life. They did all this while keeping up with the World Cup soccer coverage.

Camp 2Then we went to the second camp last week with newspaper, photographers and other staff and HOLY COW. They scrapped their original idea even though it meant so much more work and created a whole new concept.

I’m so excited to work with this amazing group of kids. I’m excited to see what they do next in life too.

It’s easy to gripe about kids today, but the truth is they haven’t changed. They’re as awesome as always.

*****

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legs 1600by2400smallAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 comes out July 20! I can’t wait to hear what readers think!