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Teaching with Chronic Illness Survival Tip: Get Help Staying Organized

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get organized

One of the first things to be affected in any chronic illness is memory.  Pain, medications, lack of sleep all can negatively affect one's memory.  Given everything we're supposed to remember as teachers, though, that memory problem can turn into a big issue when evaluation time rolls around.

The good news is that there are many ways to support memory loss.  Since educators are already used to documenting, it just means documenting a bit more and more effectively.  This is also where your phone or tablet can really come in handy, even better than a million sticky notes on your desk. Memory supports I use and suggest:

Evernote.  True, there are tons of good note-taking apps out there now, and you might find that a different app works better for your style, but few come close to the power of Evernote.  You can try it for free before deciding whether or not to pay for a higher level, and many find that the free version does more than enough.  You can take all kinds of notes in Evernote, from taking pictures of handwriting or meeting handouts to making an audio note of a conversation.  It even has scanning capabilities now, so you can scan important documents and have them with you all the time.

The best part of Evernote is the ability to easily organize and find any notes.  You can put notes into notebooks, add tags quickly so you can search on that topic and find the note fast, and you can even stack notebooks.  Evernote even has handwriting recognition software, so you can search picture notes of handwriting and find what you need.  Add in Evernote's ability to take notes on PDFs and even use a stylus to write your note on your phone's screen and then just tap what notebook to put that note into, and it's an adaptable, easy to use way to document what you need help remembering.

I am also a fan of Evernote's ability to work with Google apps.  WebClipper, a Chrome extension, means that you can clip anything you find online to any notebook in your Evernote account.  You can even tie your Evernote and Google Drive accounts.  I have been using Evernote for years now, and I still haven't figured out quite everything it can do.

Livescribe Pens.  I am still new to this one, but what I like is the ability to easily take audio and written notes at the same time.  With pain comes brain fog, and it really helps to be able to take audio notes.  These are great for parent conferences, but just make sure that you get permission to record from all parties, per your state's regulations.

What's really nice about the Livescribe Pen is that you can take notes in meetings, record the audio, and then watch the audio playback on the free app on your phone, which highlights each word as it's written along with audio from that moment.  If you are going into a serious meeting and worry about missing something, this is a valuable tool.  If anyone is concerned about consenting to the recording, just send them the link to the note, and they can hear it all, too, so everyone has a copy.

Moleskine or other paper notebook.  I use a Moleskine weekly planner so I can take notes for the week as well as see what I have scheduled.  I'm still enough of a paper person that I have to write down when my appointments are so I can see the whole week at a glance.  Moleskine and other similar planners are also great for the bullet journal method, which many people really like.

* Google Calendar.  The best part of Google Calendar, at least for me, is the ability to set multiple reminders. While I keep a paper planner, I also keep a full copy on my Google calendar as well.  That way, I can set reminders, have the map to the new doctor's office available on my phone, and even attach notes on what to bring, when to get there, or whether or not I can eat beforehand.  I can even attach the link to an Evernote note in the comments box if I need to be able to show the doctor a copy of my medications or whatever.  Google Calendar will even add on driving time and send you a notification of when to leave to get there on time.  For those of us with chronic illness and therefore many appointments outside of work, this can be a real help.  I even have added in the water yoga classes I need to take and reminders for exercising.

Brain Focus or a similar Pomodoro or timer app.  For those of us who need reminders to get up and move every 20-30 minutes so our muscles get the stretching they need, this app is really helpful.  I also use it for any project that I know can draw me in (i.e. grading, lesson planning) so that I take breaks as needed and remember to go to the bathroom or stretch.  You can even set it for the classroom and use it for 8 and 2 or a similar method.  Even better, the phone app can disable your phone's wifi and sound during a work session to help you stay on task better.

Cell phones these days are powerful things, and there are many tools available to us to help with memory issues, reading problems, staying organized, or even staying on task and taking breaks as needed.  If you know of any other ones that help, put it in the comments!


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Carina Hilbert is a middle school English/Spanish teacher currently on medical leave from Kalamazoo Public Schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Carina has 10 years of teaching experience in urban, suburban, and rural schools; public, private, and charter schools; and grades 6-12. Last year, she also earned her Master's in the Art of Teaching from the University of Southern California through the Rossier Online program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages with her capstone research being on rural English language learners in Michigan. Carina's main teaching interests are blended learning, alternative education, project-based learning, and working with language learners across the curriculum. She lives in Kalamazoo with her two amazing children, her fiance and his son, as well as their two cats and her rather sizeable book and yarn collection.

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Guest Tuesday, 19 March 2019