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Carina Hilbert @CarinaHilbert

Carina Hilbert @CarinaHilbert

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.

Posted by on in Tools, Shortcuts, Resources

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.

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Posted by on in Professional Development

art materials

One of the side effects of teaching is that we often give up our hobbies, our crafts, even our art for our job.  Our jobs are so overwhelming that we often sacrifice our music, our art thinking we don't have time for it, not with needing to make another parent phone call or write another lesson plan.

For those of us battling chronic illness or even disability, though, we need to make time for our crafts, our art.  An interesting study by Stuckey and Nobel in 2010 found that patients with chronic health problems do better if they create something, anything, especially visual art, music, dance, or creative writing.  In all reality, it helps all teachers, since the study found that, "despite methodological and other limitations, the studies included in our review appear to indicate that creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances" (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010).  For those of us living with pain or chronic health issues, creating music or poetry, painting or knitting, dancing or sewing can help us heal: "When people are invited to work with creative and artistic processes that affect more than their identity with illness, they are more able to 'create congruence between their affective states and their conceptual sense making.'104(p53) Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing" (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010).  Finding that "reservoir of healing" would be amazing for most of us.

So, how do we fix this?  Kate Harper interviewed Rice Freeman-Zachery, author of Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art, and she came up with ten ways to make time for our creative processes.  In reality, many of these are tricks teachers already use to make time for our jobs at home, but we can also use these to fit in our music, our art, our writing.  I personally like #7, wearing what we need to feel like the artists we are.  We so often wear teaching clothes, even outside of the classroom, putting on that professional mask  It's okay to wear what we need to wear, put on what you need to write, create, sing, dance.  Do it to feel better, to be whole.


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Posted by on in General


When we get a major diagnosis, even if it's one we've been expecting, there is always a certain amount of denial, at least at first. Okay, the denial can last longer than just at first.  Just when we think we have come to terms with everything, denial sneaks up on us, and we find ourselves facing the realities of our diseases yet again. 

One thing I have read about in studying fibromyalgia, my main diagnosis, is that loud music and other stimuli can trigger a flare. One of my jobs on medical leave has been to figure out my triggers and learn how to manage my disease better.  I thought I had figured out most of them, and then I went to my daughter's high school band concert tonight.  I love band, and I love her concerts.  I was in band all through school, and I love watching her get better every year.  Tonight, though, for the first time, I reacted to the music and had a fibro flare. 

It felt like the music was hitting me in waves.  Every nerve felt like it was on fire, and then my muscles tightened up.  I couldn't leave in the middle of the piece without crawling over people, and I wasn't sure I could even stand up at that point.  I sat there and used every pain control method that has ever worked on me and prayed for the piece to end faster.  I managed to get through without entirely breaking down and crying from the pain, but this flare up has yet to calm down in the hours since. 

It all started with denial.  I was up all night in the emergency room with my fiance, sitting in a chair that got progressively harder to sit in as the hours passed.  Then, after a bit of a nap upon getting home, my daughter needed to get picked up from school due to illness.  (Yeah, it's been one of those springs for our family.)  Errands for meds and provisions were followed by the concert.  I was in denial of classic triggers for fibromyalgia: doing too much and getting overstimulated.  I had to be the good mom, the good fiance, and I was in denial about my limits and fibromyalgia reality. 

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Posted by on in Education Resources

stencil.twitter post 85

Carrying my binder around the Cleveland Clinic became more onerous each day of my visit.  I did not dare leave it behind, though.  My baby blue binder had my imaging CDs, my symptoms notebook, places for visit summaries and receipts, my to-do lists, and all of my medical history for the last ten years.  Sure, it was heavy, but I needed the place to take notes, to pull out what doctors asked for, and spots to put new paperwork in. 

The internist in charge of the referral program, Dr. Hayden (a truly gifted internist and worth all the hassle to go see), laughed at seeing my documentation, my note-taking during visits, and everything; yet, he smiled and said he just was not used to seeing all of it so organized.  I told him that it's because I'm a teacher.  We're like that.

If you are dealing with a chronic illness, pain, or a disease that is disabling you in any way, you are going to end up seeing many doctors, getting many labs and images, and getting many print-outs.  Worse, not all the doctors will agree with each other, so you will need to keep straight what each one says, and you will need a place to keep track of all your medication.

I recommend getting a big binder, just like what our students use.  Then, I recommend getting the following for the binder:

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Posted by on in Education Resources


Once the decision is made, there are some big things to do quickly.  First of all, talk with your union rep (if you have one) or, better, your local president.  That person often is your best resource for what you need to do. Next, contact your insurance if you have short-term coverage.  If you don't, contact your benefits office to get that started right away.  There are insurance forms that have to get filled out before you can take a leave (unless it's an emergency, and then that paperwork can get filed later).  Once you start getting some of that in place, then you need to talk with HR and get the FMLA paperwork.  Your doctor will have to fill out something if you are taking the leave for yourself, and there is often a form for requesting a leave from your district anyway.  So, to recap:

  • Contact union for district-specific info;
  • Make sure you have short-term coverage with insurance (if possible);
  • Contact insurance company for their forms;
  • Get FMLA forms from district so doctor's office has everything at once to fill out and send in;
  • Last, but definitely not least, document it all!  Faxing is better so you keep the original forms and can re-fax if the paperwork gets lost (ask me how I know...).

This is never an easy decision.  The kids are going to hate it, your administration will not be happy, but if you don't take care of yourself and your family, no one will.  Once you have come to this decision, you need to get some big things set in the classroom for being away.  The list includes:

  • Updating all grades as best you can, as well as any way to deal with big grade items before any long-term substitute can take over;
  • Getting anything important out of your classroom before the leave starts since you will not be allowed on school grounds during the leave due to liability;
  • Creating a sub binder with plans (at least a calendar of what should be covered each day during the leave), a list of kids' needs, seating charts, and copies of any handouts with prep marked and number of copies on it;
  • Creating another way for students and parents to get a hold of you, if needed or desired.

Keep in mind: FMLA exists for you and is your right to take when needed.  It won't go perfectly, but you can mitigate a lot and do your best for your students.  Our job, while amazing and worth so many sacrifices, is not worth losing our lives over.  If you need to take the leave and you can afford it in any way, take it.

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