About the Author – The Proust Questionnaire

Published 6/18/14 by:

Picture of Kaitlin


Vanity Fair runs a monthly post in which they ask celebrities the Proust Questionnaire. I doubt I’m ever going to be a celebrity, so in order to better inform you about me as a blogger and human, I thought I’d fill it out. I want you to know that I took twenty minutes to respond to this, so these are my gut reactions. Tread lightly…


What is your idea of happiness? Good company, and no alarm clock set for the next day.

What is your greatest fear? Being alone in a body of water and drowning.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? I’m not much of a historian, but I’d like to think that I would’ve been an abolitionist, so Sojourner Truth.

Which living person do you most admire? It’s a tie: Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. They both can write and sing, and neither of them do anything they don’t want to do.

What trait do you have that you dislike the most? I am an inherently judgmental person. I judge people, homes, conversations, intellect etc. without even thinking about it.

What trait do you most dislike in others? Carelessness. How hard is it to care, just a little bit?

What is your greatest extravagance? I very rarely paint my own toenails.

What is your favorite journey? When I graduated from high school I went on a twelve day trip down the coast of California with my family. I fell in love with it.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Preparedness. There are rare occasions where authenticity lies within winging it.

What do you dislike most about your appearance? My fair skin. I blush easily (when drinking or embarrassed), and get sunburns driving in the car.

When do you lie? When I’ve half-assed something…I just pretend I didn’t know any better.

What word or phrase do you overuse? It is what it is.

What is your biggest regret? Not pursuing writing, publishing or editing.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? So far? Teaching and my family.

When and where were you happiest? This will sound odd, but middle school. I had a really good grasp on academics, and I was a fairly good athlete. I think it may have been the time that I was the most well-rounded. I also love a good school dance.

Which talent would you most like to have? I often dream about being a singer and having a tour bus filled with all my favorite people. To be able to sing, and make people happy by doing it, would be quite the talent.

What is your current state of mind? Exhausted and frazzled. My grades were due this week, and my sixth graders are being wily.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Teaching adolescents how to write with conviction.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? A piano that gets passed down through many generations of the same family.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be? A sea turtle.

What is your most treasured possession? I’m a big fan of things…I can’t choose just one.

What do you regard as the deepest pit of misery? The time in-between college and your first job, where you have no experience, so no one will hire you, but you need experience to be hired. It’s literally the worst thing that has ever happened to me. You feel helpless, idiotic and poor.

Where would you like to live? Some place where it’s in the 70s and breezy all the time. I think that’s maybe San Francisco?

What is your favorite occupation? Music supervisor – anyone who gets to compile soundtracks for television or film.

Who are your heroes in real life? Jim Henson, John Green, Ellen, and Malala.

What do you most dislike? Deadlines and grading.

How would you like to die? Uneventfully at a ripe old age.

What is your motto? You can’t win ’em all.


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A Word On Courage

Published 4/5/14 by:

Boston Strong Marathon Photo



I teach a unit from the Common Core called “Courageous Characters”. For six weeks my eleven and twelve-year-old students explore the definitions of courage, and what it means to act courageously. We read short stories and novels that demonstrate how courage can be as simple as befriending someone with an atypical appearance (hat tip to RJ Palaccio’s inspiring novel Wonder), or as difficult as mourning a mother who abandoned you, as well as a friend’s older sibling killed in action (Holt’s When Zachary Beaver Came to Town). During the research portion of the unit students gather information about people like Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, or Ruby Bridges. They look for details about how people overcame oppression, racism, physical or mental disabilities, stereotypes, and other dilemmas humanity grapples with. This is the third year I’ve taught this unit, and the themes have become eerily tangible for my classes.


My current students were born in 2001 or 2002. Their lives began with 9/11. They know the stories, the acts of heroism, and the Patriotism that followed. Then came Newtown. Some students wanted to discuss every detail, and kept uttering, “how could this have happened?” Some kids were sheltered from the details, which may have been for the best. Then the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred, and their awareness of terrorism, threats, and chaos grew exponentially. The town I lived in went into lockdown when the Brothers Tsarnaev were on the loose. It was a terrifying week. My students were saddened by Newtown, but devastated by the Marathon Bombing. Immediately, I assumed that because the bombing happened in our city it affected kids much more aggressively. It didn’t occur to me until later, after many conversations, and reflective writing pieces, that my students were more upset because the majority of people who survived the explosion were missing limbs. No one was showing gruesome pictures of the deceased from Newtown on the news, but the dancer who now only had one leg? She was everywhere.


So as parents, neighbors, siblings, educators, and genuine citizens of the world, how do we have these difficult conversations with kids? How do you determine what they should know? What’s the proper way to respond? In my experiences, if kids want to talk about it, I find an appropriate time to do so, but it’s not like I have any answers. I don’t know why a Malaysian plane disappeared into the atmosphere. I can’t comprehend how terrorism functions, and why it’s appealing to so many people. What I do know is that kindness matters, and listening to kids has a huge impact. These conversations, and the fact that we, as adults, are willing to entertain them MATTER. So as we rapidly approach the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings, I’m going to leave some room in my lesson plan itinerary for those chats, for whoever wants to have them. I’m here to listen, and I encourage you to do the same.

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Quick Rant: To the Parents on the Plane

Published 2/22/14 by:

Parent Homework Comic


*Author’s note: I recently traveled to Florida over Massachusetts’ February school vacation to visit my snowbird parents. This is my excuse for not posting much this week, but also gives you a preface for today’s post.


Dear Parents on the Plane,

I applaud you trying to make your kids do school work on the plane on your way to your destination because it’s a good use of time. Here’s the thing though: you’re doing it wrong.


1. Homework is a pre-assessment tool for teachers – we use it to figure out where the gaps are for our students. If you micromanage homework, and make your kid correct it all the time, then it automatically becomes useless for us educators. I love that you’re making your kid do his/her homework, but your job is to manage work completion, not guarantee its accuracy. So Dad #1 on the plane with the Catholicism workbook? Lay off. Your son’s teacher needs to know that 1) you read the entire thing aloud to him (much to my dismay), and 2) your son had to re-do every single multiple choice answer after you told him it was wrong. When his teacher sees that homework in a week, she’s going to think he’s mastered the material, but in reality: you’ve mastered it. Congratulations: you just finished the catechism requirements of your third grader (and he still has no idea what’s going on).


2. Don’t reward your kid for completing his/her homework unless you plan on doing that for the next twenty years of their education. While I understand that some kids need a light at the end of the tunnel for work completion, you need to remember that they’re like puppies: they quickly grow accustomed to treats. So, Mom #2 on the plane with the lollipops?  Cut it out. Childhood obesity is for real, and you don’t want your daughter to think that every time she completes a vocabulary worksheet she gets candy (which seemed to unfortunately already be an established expectation).


3. When your son or daughter gets stuck or frustrated with a topic on a homework assignment there are options other than forcing them through it. You could have them move on to a different assignment and come back to the original problem later (when they’re fresher), or you could have them try it for five more minutes and then initial the homework letting the teacher know it was attempted. Here’s what you shouldn’t do: have your kid give up and leave it blank, or make them keep hammering at it until they have a meltdown. Please listen to me on this. It’s really valuable information.
Best Regards,

The Middle School Teacher on the Plane

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Summer Camp: The End of an Era

Published 2/9/14 by:

Summer Fenn Logo 2


For the past decade (every summer since I was 19), I have worked at the same summer camp. When I was in college, and knew I wanted to become a teacher, it seemed like the obvious decision. While future CEOs and financiers were hustling at internships in stuffy offices, my apprenticeship entailed swim lessons, Dr. Dodgeball, tag, and freezee-pops. It was glorious.

In January of 2004, I went in for an interview at the private school my brother had attended, where they had a very successful day camp for kids ages 5-15. The camp director asked me questions like, “why do you want to spend your summer with kids?” “What would you do in this difficult scenario?” “Do you feel like you’re good in collaborative environments?” “Are you able to be flexible and work with what you’ve got?” At age 19, most of my answers we’re completely fabricated. My resume consisted of working at stationary/gift shop, and babysitting for kids on my brother’s little league team. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I had very few marketable skills in relation to working with kids. Camp was supposed to be my internship, right? So hopefully this camp director realized that this would be a learning opportunity for me.

I didn’t get the job.

I was told that a lot of alumni applied for positions, and that an overwhelming amount of people were returning to work at this camp again. I was super disappointed and resigned to the fact that I would spend my summer ringing people up for helium balloons, and greeting cards. Fortunately for my sanity, and career, that’s not what happened.

In April I received a phone call. It was the camp director. Apparently enrollment at the camp was at an all-time high, and he could really use me for four weeks in the middle of the summer. Would I be interested? No-brainer. So, in July 2004, I started my illustrious career as a camp counselor. What I didn’t realize at the time, and can only reflect on now ten years later, is that it would be the hardest, sweatiest, most-rewarding, hilarious experience of my life. Apart from motherhood, I may never encounter another job that taught me so much. It’s with a heavy heart that I move on to other endeavors this summer, but this place, this experience, these friends, won’t soon be forgotten.


What I Learned:


If I’m ever in a position where I am reviewing resumes, applications etc. for candidates of any kind -whether it be in an office or school setting, and I see camp experience listed, that is going to escalate that candidate’s chances of getting the job ten-fold. Camp counselors are versatile, persevering people who have chosen to spend their summers with kids. That’s the person I’d want to hire. I leave you with this, a John Hurst quote that was read on every first and last day of camp for my first five years there: “There are beginnings and there are endings. What meaning and effect your experience here will have in your life only you will ultimately know. The responsibility as always, is yours to make of it what you will.”

One last time: Humba Humba (for good measure).



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Quick Rant on Questioning Authority

Published 1/29/14 by:

Questioning Authority Comic

My apologies for not posting a lot this week – I’ve been sick, and absurdly busy. February will hopefully bring some reprieve (and more blogging)!


I’m a huge sports fan. I like sports of all types and at all levels. I attribute my desire to watch sports live (at the amateur level) to sitting through most of my younger brother’s wrestling tournaments when he was a kid. There’s just something really spectacular about watching kids compete at athletic events when the only motivation is to win, and not a hefty paycheck. So, I was watching a dozen of my former students at our middle school basketball game on Monday afternoon, thoroughly enjoying myself. I had been sitting with some of my colleagues, but they couldn’t stay for the entire game. Upon their departure some serious heckling started to occur from a group of sixth grade boys (none of them my current students). Some of these boys had siblings on the floor, and others were just school super fans. Their comments became progressively louder, more frequent and negative. After suffering patiently through their “kill ’em!” commentary for twenty minutes, and noticing that the moms of the opponents were not impressed, I turned around and told them to can it. I sternly addressed the group and said, “we’re at a school; we’re not killing anyone! Say ‘get ’em’, or something else, but lay off the killing comments.”


It died down for about five minutes. Then one of the boys inquired, “why can’t we say kill ’em? What’s the big deal?” I had to compose myself. I was mad because they were ruining the game for me, and bewildered by the fact that 1) they thought this behavior was acceptable, and 2) they were questioning a teacher’s request. I told them that it was aggressive commentary and that there are better ways to express yourself at school. They were (relatively) quiet for the rest of the game. When I was in sixth grade (just 17 years ago), not only would it not have crossed my mind to question authority, but I wouldn’t have been (publicly) heckling people. I may have made some choice middle schooler comments among my friends, but I never would’ve been shouting them from the stands. I knew better than that, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why these kids don’t. When relaying this story to some of my colleagues they said I was lucky that the boys’ parents (who were in the stands, but sitting far away) didn’t yell at me for reprimanding their kids in public (something that they unfortunately have had happen to them). It’s clear to me that this world of ours needs an upgrade in terms of young adult accountability. Otherwise, the adults of the future are not going to be anyone we want to deal with.

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