Author Archives: Lauren Muellner, Education

My holiday break bucket list

School is almost over, which means I will have a ton of free time soon.  The only way that I can take full advantage of my time off is to create my Holiday Break Bucket List.

Last summer, I wanted to start learning Spanish, apply for a couple scholarships, and lose 10 lbs.  Well, I ended up losing some weight but did pretty much nothing else.  So now, I have about 6 weeks off and I am going to get things done!

1) Go to the Dentist!! I haven’t gone for a long time mainly because of lack of time and money.  And I KNOW I have cavities. I just need to do it!!

2) Read I Am Malala.  She is so inspiring.  I have had this book on request from my local library for months.  Must be very popular.  So, I am going to just go buy it and read it.

3) Read The Reason I Jump.  It’s a memoir written by a thirteen-year-old Japanese boy with Autism.  I’ve studied a lot about children with disabilities, but I’d like to learn as much as I possibly can about very specific disabilities like Autism.

4) Be as organized as possible with Christmas shopping.  I already have a master list with pictures of what I am looking for, and where I can get them.  I am making many of my gifts this year so I need to keep a “To do” list so I get it all done in time.  I also need to budget everything and keep track of how much I spend.

5) Watch movies and be a couch potato once in a while. I can’t remember the last time I just laid around and watched movies all day.  So, I’m gonna do it….at some point.

6) Make a list of schools I am thinking of to do my student teaching.  It is a huge decision and will most likely propel me into my first teaching job.

7) Meet up with old friends.  There are people I haven’t seen in years and I want to organize a get together so everyone can catch up.

8) Get back in shape.  I wasn’t able to work out this semester due to not having any free time, ever.  Now I’m getting back into it and then when spring comes, I don’t have to worry about losing all those Christmas cookies that went straight to my hips.

9) Plan something awesome for New Year’s Eve.  My boyfriend and I are clueless when it comes to making plans for NYE.  This year, I want to go somewhere and have it planned ahead of time. Any ideas?

10) Get another tattoo.  I have been wanting a 2nd one and finally know what I want.  My cousin and I have been thinking about getting matching tattoos for a few years now and have a date set! Pictures to come!

11) Spend more time with my family.  It sucks that we all have such different schedules and it makes it hard to spend time together.  I hope to change that these next few weeks.

What kinds of things are on your Holiday Break Bucket List?


The Ugly Sweater Run

Everyone has an ugly Christmas sweater, right?  Wrong.  A few months back, my cousin and I decided to do the Ugly Sweater 5k.  We had an elaborate plan to make ugly sweatshirts and tutus.  We went to Michaels crafts one day and bought things that would be easy to put on a sweatshirt (felt stickers, little pom poms, etc.) and got to work!

After we glued random pieces of Christmas-themed felt, pom poms, little presents, a big Santa clause that was WAY too much work to put together, little bows, Christmas lights, and some wise men, we used glitter glue to put out names on the back of the sweatshirts.

It took a really long time for the glue to dry, so we moved on to the tutus.  My cousin bought red, green and white tulle fabric.

We used all of this tulle and tied it around a ribbon to make the tutu.  We both had Christmas socks and black leggings to throw into the outfit.  The only thing we had left to do was run the race (and by run, I mean mostly walk).

This is before the race in the garage at Soldier Field, where you can really see our sweatshirts glow!

We had PLANNED to start running a few weeks ahead of time so we could actually run the race without dying.  (Yes, I am that out of shape).  But that didn’t end up happening, so we decided that we could walk most of it.  We ASSUMED most people would be walking because it wasn’t a really serious race and more about having fun.  Anyways, as we were getting in line at the starting point, we realized we were a part of the first wave.  In my mind, the sooner we started, the sooner we could finish and can go get food and drinks!  They told us that runners would be on the left and walkers would be on the right.  Well, apparently everyone was running so….we did too.  Until, about a 1/2 mile in, I thought I pulled something from not stretching enough and she was having chest pains from breathing in the cold air.  I tell ya, we may have had the best costumes, but we were not prepared for exercise AT ALL.

In the end, we did it!

I think I am going to do the Ugly Sweater 5K every year!! It was a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Giving thanks

This week, I am giving thanks early.  For all the times I complain saying, “We don’t have any water pressure!,” or, “There isn’t anything good to eat,” or “I wish I had a job that paid more,” I really do have a lot to be thankful for.

I am thankful for the food I have, the showers I can take and the job that I have.

I am thankful for the opportunity that I can go to school.  Not many people have the time, energy or money to be able to continue their education like I have.  I’d be sooooo thankful if Obama forgave student loans, though!!

I am thankful for my family. I know I can always count on them to make me laugh, make me mad and most importantly, support me.

I am thankful for my boyfriend.  He is amazing and I don’t know what I would do without him in my life.   

I am thankful for my organizational skills.  Without them, I’d be lost.

I am thankful for the money I have in my pocket.  It may not be much, but at least it’s something.

I am thankful for hand sanitizer.  Believe me.  Spend one day in a school and you’ll be thankful for hand sanitizer, too.

I am thankful for the success of my brother’s restaurant, Pie-Eyed Pizzeria.  They have come such a long way.  They’ve had ups and downs and still continue to be more successful every year.

I am thankful for scarves.  I like scarves a lot.  They keep my neck warm.

I am thankful for the teachers in my life that have mentored me and allowed me to learn so much from them.  I was very lucky to be placed at Mary Lyon school for practicum this semester, and even luckier to have the cooperating teacher that I had.

Last, but certainly not least…


It’s here!!!

Nothing to get all excited about.  I am talking about FLU SEASON.  It’s here and it’s here early.  Have you ever seen the movie “Contagion”?  Now, THAT is a scary movie.  One of the lines that Kate Winslet says, “The average person touches their face two to three thousand times a day.  Three to five times every waking minute. In between, we’re touching doorknobs, water fountains, elevator buttons and each other.” EEEK!

Back in October, my boyfriend, who works at a hospital, got his flu shot and URGED me to get mine.  “I will, I will,” I said.  As most of you know, I am surrounded by little germs all day.  And by germs, I mean children.  So, the flu shot is kind of a must for me.  The fact that people are getting it in early November, should be a sign that it’s going to be bad and it’s a must for you, too. Now, I know some people are against vaccines.  I mean, I can’t even remember the last time I got a flu shot before now.  I can be a big baby about needles.

A common myth is that getting the flu vaccine will give you the flu.  I always thought that as well.  My boyfriend claimed that as a myth and I looked into it.  According to the CDC, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu illness. If you get a flu shot, you will be getting one that has an INACTIVE flu virus, or no virus at all.  BUT some minor side effects could be soreness of where the shot was given, low-grade fever or aches.  But it CAN make you sick if you get the vaccine when you are already sick.  If you have a fever or on the mend from being sick, wait.  Getting the vaccine while your body is already fighting an illness, CAN make you feel worse.

Another important fact about getting the flu shot is not only does it lower your chances of getting the flu, but it also means that you cannot be a carrier of the illness.  Even if you don’t have flu symptoms, you can carry it to other people. Small children and people over 65 are the most at risk and should get a flu shot.  Everyone else can play the germ game all winter.

So, after my entire family got the flu this past week, I decided it was time to get the flu shot.  It was like the walking dead at my house.  Coughing, moaning and noses being blown in every part of the house.  Monday night, I only left my room to take shower.  The good part of that was I got a lot of stuff organized.  The bad part is I realized, “Wait a minute! Why am I the one quarantined to one room? THEY should have to stay in THEIR rooms.”  Well, by that time the house was already infected.  So, I decided to stayed at my boyfriends for a few days.  I did eventually have to go home to get a couple things but I wore this (thanks to my boyfriend).

Whether you decide to get the flu shot or not, you should always wash your hands after touching doorknobs, touching money, before and after you eat, and especially if you come in contact with someone who is sick, etc.

UIC’s Wellness Center has some further information: 

Stay well my friends!

What Grinds My Gears, Part II

In no particular order:

1. Itchy sweaters.

2. Itchy tags on itchy sweaters.

3. When people forget how to drive when it rains or snows.

4. That sinking feeling you get when a sickness hits you and you just KNOW ” Uh oh…THIS IS NOT GOOD.”

5. Getting stuck by a freight train or on the expressway when you really have to go to the bathroom.

6. That dreaded first workout when you haven’t worked out in a long time.

7. Getting tickled. Yes. I laugh…but I hate it.

8. When you’re picking up a tantruming toddler and he goes boneless and limp.

9. When people ask me questions or try to talk to me the second I wake up in the morning.

10. People who seek attention all the time. Ahem…we all do it but I’m talking people who do it ALL the time.

11. When someone walks in while you’re in the middle of a movie or show and proceeds to ask 50 questions. “What’s that guy’s name? He is married to that one chick from that one movie. What movie is that called? Where is the other guy from? Oh! What a great movie!! Who directed this?”

12. When every radio station is playing techno. What is up with this techno boom boom music kids listen to these days?

13.  When the Hawks blow their lead in the 3rd period.

14. When I am so exhausted, that I feel drunk.  And trust me…its not a fun drunk feeling.

15. When little kids give me attitude. “Don’t you sass me! I am the queen of attitude!”

16. That you supposedly have hundreds of TV channels and cannot find anything good to watch.

17. That I constantly have cold feet. I think it’s Reynaud’s disease.

18. That I can’t go on Web MD without finding a bunch of diseases I think I have.

19. Even though you make a doctor’s appointment, you never get called in at the “appointed” time.

20. Uncomfortable furniture.

And I can probably come up with some more but I want to know, what grinds your gears?

Tricks and Treats

This Halloween, I won’t going out or win the best costume contest. Sad. I know. I am far too busy to plan something to top last year and my guy works on the night all the parties are happening. Oh well! I have some other things in store.

Here is my Pete the Cat costume: The top and jeans I got from Old Navy, the tail I got at the dollar store and covered it with blue fabric from Jo-Ann Fabric, the gloves I got from Five Below, the white shoes I got from Payless, and the mask is actually two parts. The top part I got from Party City, and the bottom nose I got from a Halloween store.  Both were painted blue and I added the yellow around the eyes since Pete has yellow eyes.  Probably will look better when I have it all on.  Let’s not forget, it’s for 4 and 5 year olds! :) I’ll post pics when I have it on at school.

I made bats with my students and they loved so much that I decided to make them with the kids I nanny.

One thing my kids love to do, that takes up time is bake.  I found some cool ghost and pumpkin designs on Pinterest for them to decorate cupcakes.  This is what they looked like on Pinterest:

This is what the looked like when we did them…nailed it!:

Looking for something to do? On Halloween Eve, my dad, Tommy Muellner, will be performing his annual Halloween concert at the Jazz Showcase!

October 30, 2013
8PM & 10PM, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Free admission

WDCB night at The Jazz Showcase presents: a special appearance of the DRACULA all stars! - with Bill Overton(AKA as Count Orloff) on reeds & vocals, Art Davis (the Count of Bebop) on trumpet, Kelly Sill (the warlock) on bass, Xavier Breaker (visiting from the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania) on drums & Tom Muellner (Drucula’s son’s, son-in-law’s, 2nd cousin removed) on piano, with a special appearance of the Countess Arlene Bardelle. We’ll be doing a recreation of Johnny Griffin’s “Blues for Dracula” recorded by Philly Joe Jones.


On Halloween, I’ll be dressing up for school as Pete the Cat, of course.  I’ll be carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seed, and scaring trick-or-treaters!

Pete the Cat

I decided, after taking a poll on Facebook, to be Pete the Cat for Halloween at Mary Lyon.  They are allowing the students to dress up and I am BEYOND excited to dress up, too.

For those of you who do not know who Pete the Cat is, you are missing out.  Pete is the star of a series of children’s books that all have a moral to each story. I Love My White Shoes is about Pete the Cat walking along in his brand new white shoes singing “I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes,” and “Oh no!” he accidentally steps in a big pile of strawberries, turning his new shoes “RED”.  “Does Pete cry? Goodness no.  He keeps walking along and singing his song. “I love my red shoes, I love my red shoes.” The story continues with Pete stepping in blueberries, mud and water.  “Does Pete cry? Goodness, no.” And the moral of the story is, “No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song.”

So, I am going to share with you my plans for my Halloween costume! I think am going to be Pete the Cat from “I Love My White Shoes.”  I already purchased a pair of royal blue jeans and a royal blue long sleeve top.  Those things I know I will wear again, so I am not spending money on a one-time outfit.  Next, I am going to go to Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric to get blue fabric, maybe wire, and velcro to make the tail.  Then, I am either going to use a pair of Converse I already own and cover one with red duct tape, and one with blue duct tape, OR I’ll buy all white shoes.  Not sure which I should do.

Lastly, the head.  I have not figured out how to do the head.  I could make a mask out of paper, BUT I think that isn’t creative enough.  I saw someone create a head with a ton of paper mache.  BUT I don’t think I have the time or energy for that.  Another idea I could do is buy a cat mask that is the right shape and paint it blue, definitely feasible.  I could also get a hat with ears and paint my face like a cat.

The moral of the story is no matter what I do, this costume is going to be GREAT!

My teacher was very excited when I told her.  I’ll be the hit of the school! I’ll post pictures!

Going through the motions

The semester is only halfway over. Yikes! I feel like I’ve been on autopilot and just going through the motions because my brain is already fried.  In the last few years in grad school, I’ve definitely been challenged more than ever in my life.  The papers, the observation hours, the assessments and going to class two nights a week for 3 hours takes a lot.  And I would say that up until now, I have been pretty much constantly stressed.  Stressed to the point that I can still function and have fun as a person.  But this is the first semester that sometimes I feel like I cannot take one more thing or I will just lose it.  And then another thing comes along and I have to deal with it.  If I wasn’t as organized as I am, writing reminders and post-its everywhere, I WOULD lose my mind (like good ‘ol Johnny here).

To be perfectly honest, when this devil semester started, I was questioning if this is really what I wanted to do.  (I can already hear my mom’s voice in my head yelling at me for that one, “What do you MEAN…you aren’t SURE this isn’t what you want to do?! You’re TWO YEARS into your program!).  Well, I was scared because I wasn’t happy.  I still am not as happy as a clam. I can’t go out and do fun things and relax much. But happiness has to start with me and how I look at things.  I just have too much work to do for school that I don’t have time to analyze my “glass half-empty” outlook. Ironic, isn’t it?

Then I took a look around my class one night.  I looked at each and every person listening to our professor (while I should have probably been doing the same).  EVERY single person looked just like me. Exhausted. On the brink of a nervous breakdown.  Hungry.  Confused.  And this sounds bad, but it made me feel better.  I wasn’t alone.  Everyone was just as stressed as I was.  Everyone felt this semester was evil.

After that, I took a look at myself and thought about what part of the day I enjoyed the most.  My favorite part of the day (besides the part when I get to go to bed) was being at Mary Lyon and doing my clinical work.  The part when I actually get to teach kids.  I mentioned this to a friend and fellow teacher and she said, “Lauren, that’s all that matters.”  All this time spent, and papers written and classes attended doesn’t matter in retrospect.  What matters is that I love teaching and I am going to be great at it.

You know how I know this? When I was in high school and even in college AND now I struggled greatly with math.  I asked my older brother “When the heck am I EVER going to need to know or use this?”  The answer was “Umm never.  It’ll teach you to keep working at something.”  The point wasn’t because I’d need to teach kindergarteners the Pythagorean Theorem.  (Although it might be if we continue to allow people, with no knowledge or experience teaching children, to make our education policies. But THAT’S A WHOLE OTHER BLOG). He meant that the whole point was to learn perseverance. How to persevere.  How to push myself, even if I don’t understand.  How to solve problems.  Not division problems. But problems of life.  And was he right.

Everything I am doing now (even if it stinks…a lot), will in some way, teach me something.  What to do, what not to do, whatever it is.  I am going to succeed and I am going to be great at what I do…simply because I know how to work hard, I HAVE worked very hard to get to where I am and because I am strong.

And THAT makes me happy as a clam :)


My classroom

I have the privilege to spend my clinical hours in the library of Mary Lyon.  The library resembles any other classroom, except that there are more shelves of books than an ordinary classroom would have.  The room is spacious and feels very open.  As you walk in, there are five large wooden rectangle tables with sturdy wooden chairs. To the right of the tables and chairs are the bookshelves, computers and the library tadpole/ frog tank.  Located in the back of the room are a teacher desk, washroom, “Create” center and carpeted story area.

The children sit at the large wooden rectangle tables.  The tables and chairs are nice but are far too large for the kindergarten, and even some first graders.  Unfortunately, this is out of the teacher’s control.  However, having the students sitting in groups does promote opportunities for children to work together.  When the teacher has the students on the carpet to read, it very much supports a feeling of togetherness. 

There are many things displayed around the room, like posters, student work, and goals and objectives.  Since the library is larger than a normal classroom, there is plenty of space forthings to be organized and in its place.

 Every week, the teacher reads a different book to the students. This week, she is reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  Before she reads the story, she goes over information like author, illustrator, and basics of treating books with respect, to make sure the students know what to do when searching for their own books.  

The teacher and I set up 4 centers that will be changed every 4 weeks.  The 4 centers consist of Explore, Investigate, Buddy Reading and Create.  This month’s theme is ABCs, so we based each center off a different activity involving ABCs.  The Explore center allowed the students to have magnetic letters and a board to create different words.  The Investigate center allowed the students to work on the computers.  The teacher sets up a specific game in which they have to investigate their ABCs.  Buddy Reading allows the students to sit in “Leo’s Library” and read with a partner or buddy.  The teacher also has big stuffed animals they can lay on.  Lastly, the Create center — which the teacher allowed yours truly to set up!  I decided for the first graders, based upon the teacher reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, to focus center around creating a coconut tree.  I had all the materials ready for them and they were able to spell their name up the coconut tree.

They really enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to take them home to show their parents.  Go me!

Philosophy of teaching

I was thinking the other day about HOW I feel about everything that is happening, or not happening, in our school systems.  There is far too much to talk about it all.  It is suggested that children can start falling behind in school in early grades, even as early as kindergarten. Spending more time in the classroom than I ever have before, I am starting to develop my own teaching philosophy.

In between all the assignments to do and practicum hours to complete and assessments to give, you start to build opinions.  Opinions on things you see, hear or read about.  Last semester, I was actually able to help a child.  I observed his behavior, with no known diagnosis, and came up with my own ideas and ways to help the child.  I saw a behavior, created an intervention to “fix” the behavior and implemented the intervention.  It worked and it was the first time I felt like “I can do this!”  This was the intervention chart.  His behaviors decreased immensely and I was so proud of myself…and him, of course.After that experience, I truly started to believe in certain philosophies and I started to create my own. However, now I am in a whole other ballgame.  Our school system recently adopted a new curriculum for our children.  There are some things I believe in but there are some things I don’t.  And now, I am starting to wonder how I can create harmony between my beliefs and strict standards.

When I think about my experience in elementary school, it wasn’t all that great.  My parents were trying to do the best for me and to give me a good education.  Who knew that Catholic schools weren’t always the “best” schools.  But I don’t regret any memory I have.  I embrace it because it made me who I am and I truly believe it has helped define my teaching philosophy.

Why are students treated like little soldiers? Being quiet in the halls, hands behind their back, using a level 1 or 0 voice, making sure they ask before getting a tissue or a drink of water, and beating math facts into their heads.  Are these appropriate expectations? Are we taking away from their childhood by not allowing them to act like children when they’re in school? Or is this necessary to have a productive class?  How could we handle this in a different manner? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these questions.  Sometimes the answer cannot come from a single person.

The debate about the new curriculum that we have adopted is very controversial.  One side says that the standards are not developmentally appropriate and we are dooming our kids to fail.  And the other side says standards are necessary, we need to close the achievement gaps and if we don’t close these achievement gaps…we are dooming our kids to fail.  Wait…what?  Yes.  Even I am confused on where I stand there.  All I want is the best for my future students. Isn’t that what everyone wants?  Is there an option for that?  I’m sometimes afraid that money and politics take too much part in our education system.  Do these new standards not support what we already know of how children learn?

Are we doomed to fail our children if they are pushed to a level they aren’t ready for? OR will that encourage them to persevere.  What about children with learning disabilities? IEPs? Special education services? What does it mean for them?

I will soon find out.  Or maybe I wont.  Maybe this will be an ongoing quest for me.  Maybe this heated debate will continue throughout my career.  If it isn’t this debate, there surely will be a different one.

What we can agree on is that we want our children to succeed.  And I am going to try my very VERY best to make that happen.

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