April 30, 2012

Teacher of the Year

I have something to brag about.

It doesn't involve food. But, I'm going to write about it anyway. Because it's my blog...and I can. So there. ;-)

A few weeks ago, I learned that I was nominated for a teacher of the year award. Each year, the top 8% of seniors from 20 area high schools are given a Silver Medallion Award for their academic achievements. These students also name a teacher from their school to be recognized, but only one person is chosen by the Silver Medallion committee as Teacher of the Year

Last week, I won that award.

This is my second year being nominated by my students (in only my fourth year teaching at this high school). Confession: I was really hoping I'd win this year. BUT, I didn't really think I would. I mean, I'm still kinda new at this high school gig (having taught middle school & college for 15 years prior to this high school job). I just wasn't getting my hopes up.

As they announced the award--first listing adjectives that the students used to describe the winning teacher (the students all write recommendation letters with their nominations), then quoting from some of the letters--I started to realize that they were talking about me! Of course, the students sitting at my table were exclaiming: "That's from MY letter! I wrote THAT! It's YOU!" I looked over at my principal sitting at the next table, and she was slightly shaking her head "yes."

I was overwhelmed. Seriously, I started crying. Proof: Here's the pic that was published in my local paper.

Ok, so, that's not too flattering...but I DON'T CARE. I was SO HAPPY...and I'm NOT GOING TO APOLOGIZE for crying like a baby. And since I didn't really expect to win, I hadn't prepared anything to say (or chosen a very nice outfit to wear...sheesh!). I simply thanked the committee for choosing me and, most importantly, my students for nominating me. I said it was an honor to be their teacher and to know each of them. I meant that from the bottom of my heart. It IS an honor to be their teacher. This year's senior class, in particular, is pretty amazing. We have some awesome young people at our school, and I do feel lucky to know them.

This award means so much to me. First, it's very special because it's student-nominated. I'm not easy on my students; I make them work hard. Because of this, I am not usually everyone's "favorite" teacher. But, being popular among the students isn't all that important to me. My job is to teach them something. As an English teacher, I feel like it's my responsibility to teach them not only about literature and writing, but also about life...art & music, how to be a good college student, how to think critically, how to respect other people & their opinions, how to stand up for themselves & their beliefs, how to perfect the art of argument, how to pay attention to the world around them, how to analyze what they see & read, how to recognize & fight injustices...the list goes on and on for me. So, it means the world to me that they respect me enough to nominate me in the first place.

Just the other day, I was thinking about the nature of teaching. We put so much of ourselves into teaching...all the planning, teaching, grading, conferencing...it's never-ending. Anyone who thinks that teachers end their day at 3:00 is delusional. I grade or plan or answer students' questions in emails & tweets EVERY NIGHT, including weekends. I think about my classes CONSTANTLY. I have some of my students for English during their junior AND senior years. That means that I see them nearly every day for two years. I hear about their daily lives, their illnesses, their relationships, their successes, their heartaches, their problems. For some of them, I see them more than their parents do. I get to know them, I start to care about them, and I come to like them as "real" people, not just as my students who I have to see for 50 minutes a day. And then, they graduate and I often never hear from them again. I'm happy for them, of course, but it is a huge emotional release in May every year....and then it all starts again three months later.

Being a teacher is quite exhausting...mentally, emotionally, and physically (standing in front of a class all day is tiring, y'all!).

This award is also special to me because it means that I'm doing something right! I'm my biggest critic, and I often beat myself up over my job. I constantly evaluate and question myself: Am I doing everything I can to help my students? What can I do BETTER? Are they learning all the skill they will need in life? If not, how can I help them become better students, better workers, better thinkers, and--ultimately--better people?

It's been kind of a rough year, professionally & personally. I have questioned my career choice a few times over the last nine months, wondering if all the stress, frustration, and time is worth it. This recognition proves to me that it IS worth it. Teaching is what I am meant to do with my life. I've finally found my niche....it's being an English teacher at East Alton-Wood River High School.

And, despite everything you may have heard me complain about in the past, I LOVE IT.

Thanks again to my students for nominating me...and for doing your best work, for playing along, for laughing at my jokes, for listening to my stories, for knowing when I'm having a bad day also, for putting up with my tastes in literature & music & movies, for letting me bring my personality into my classes, for being great students & incredible people. You all rock. For real.


Also, CONGRATS on your accomplishments throughout high school. Best of luck to you all! <3

April 22, 2012

Baked Cake Donuts with Chocolate Glaze

I bought a donut pan a while ago, like a year ago, with the intention of waking up many a Sunday morning and baking fresh donuts for breakfast...even though there's a little local bakery just up the block from my house. Yeah, well, that picture-perfect, Martha Stewart Sunday morning never happened...until recently. I finally made donuts for Easter brunch.

They were much easier than I expected...no harder than baking cupcakes, really. And now I have all these ideas for different donut flavors. I am particularly excited to try bacon donuts (add finely-chopped cooked bacon to the batter) with a maple glaze.

Wait. I know what you're thinking. Baked donuts? Yes, fried dough is so much better than baked. But, you see, I've always been partial to the cake donut. A vanilla cake donut with chocolate icing is always my first pick, followed closely by an old-fashioned fried sour cream donut. Long John's and jelly donuts? Nah, you can have those. Though, I'll take a custard-filled donut any day. In a pinch, I'll settle for the standard glazed.

Anyway, the recipe I used a few weeks ago gave me donuts that were a bit too dense. So, today I tried a recipe I found on Kitchen Heals Soul, which I liked much better. They were light & fluffy inside, and crispy outside.

Yeah, that's right...I baked donuts on a random Sunday for no particular reason. And I ate all 6 myself.

Baked Cake Donuts with Chocolate Glaze 

April 12, 2012

Citrus-Cured Salmon

Lately, I've had a serious craving for raw or smoked salmon. And, NO, I'm not pregnant. For weeks, though, I've wanted a toasted bagel with a thick schmear of cream cheese and thin slices of fresh salmon dotted with salty capers. I finally satisfied my craving over spring break last week by curing some salmon for a simple Easter brunch.

I've tried curing a couple things in the past (like wild duck breasts) with no success. It was always too salty in the end. THIS, however, turned out perfectly. It's so easy; you just have to plan ahead.

Any leftovers are a delicious addition to scrambled eggs or pasta. Yum.

Citrus-Cured Salmon

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lime zest
One 2- to 3-pound/1- to 1.5-kilogram skin-on salmon fillet, pin bones removed and very thin pieces of flesh trimmed
  • In a small bowl, combine the salt and sugar and stir to distribute the sugar throughout the salt. In another small bowl, combine the citrus zests.
  • On a work surface, lay a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to extend beyond the length of the salmon. Spread a third of the salt mixture in the center of the foil to serve as a bed for the salmon. Place the salmon skin-side down on the salt. Distribute the citrus zest evenly across the salmon. Pour the remaining salt mixture over the salmon. It should be covered. Fold the foil up to contain the salt. Place another sheet of foil over the salmon and crimp the sheets together firmly. The idea is to have a tight package in which the salt mixture is in contact with all surfaces of the salmon.
  • Set the foil package on a baking sheet/tray. Set a pan or dish on top of the salmon and weight it down with a brick or a few cans. This will help press the water out of the salmon as it cures. Refrigerate the salmon for 24 hours.
  • Unwrap the salmon and remove it from the cure, discarding the foil and the cure. Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. To remove the skin, place the salmon skin-side down on a cutting board. Holding a sharp, thin, flexible knife at about a 30-degree angle, cut between the flesh and the skin. When you can get a grip on the skin, pull it back and forth against the knife to separate it from the flesh. Set the salmon on a rack or on paper towels on a tray and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, to allow the salt concentration to equalize and to dry the salmon further. Wrap the salmon in parchment/baking paper and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
NOTE: I used a 2-pound salmon fillet. I let the salmon cure for about 20 hours, then let it chill after I washed off the salt for only about 3 hours. The texture and salt concentration was fine.