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The Guide to Off Duty Fun

by Mary Ellen Flannery
You can't grade papers all the time. Get out! Get out!

Becoming a teacher doesn't mean your social life has to revolve around the old laminate table in the faculty lounge. You might not have any money—or even any friends in your new community—but you can still have fun. Here are just a few ways to get the party started.

Invite your new colleagues to join a book club. It can be as serious—school-related books only—or as casual (nothing with CliffsNotes!) as you like. The National Council of Teachers of English has handy guidelines on forming "Teachers as Readers" groups (, and the International Reading Association sells a "starter kit" at for new book clubs. Gayla Moore coordinates Oregon's Teachers as Readers groups and says they're a great way for new teachers to meet new friends. To broaden your social network, try getting people from other schools, Moore suggests. (We've also got ideas to get started right on page 49.)

Eat out for cheap! At www., you can access a limited database of happy hour specials around the country. It's not as cost-effective as mom's house, but you're free to smoke and swear…(Just kidding! Set a good example already!) In many establishments, the calories are complimentary, the music is free, and you can nurse a $2 Coke for a mighty long time. Think $1 tacos and 25-cent wings, and you'll eat for less than the cost of a Starbucks latte.


The average amount of debt for graduating college students with loans. (Makes it hard to dine out, no?) For help, check out NEA's college affordability page.

Source: Project on Student Debt

You may fondly remember the days of high school soccer—the camaraderie, the fine weather, the sweaty, stomach-heaving passing drills…or not. Fortunately, adult leagues also offer camaraderie and fine weather, with adjustable levels of sweat and athletic effort. Your local YMCA or Jewish Community Center is a good place to find a team.

What else do you like to do? Hike? Knit? If it's hiking, contact the local outdoor supply store and ask about hiking clubs. If it's knitting, do the same at the yarn shop. In bigger cities, there's an interest-based club for everything from mushroom-hunting to cave-spelunking. If you're in a smaller town, get one started yourself. If you don't know anybody, put up an invitation in the faculty lounge, local coffee shop, bookstore, etc.

You might be suspicious of our motives here at NEA Today, but seriously—becoming active in your local Association really can be fun. "I love the fact that I've gotten involved," says Heather Mielke, 29, a high school math teacher in Wisconsin. "It's helped me know the school community—the custodial staff, the aides, the members of other departments. They feel like they can come talk to me. Just to chat!"

Along the same lines, becoming active in a political campaign in your off hours also can be a hoot and a half. Tis the season for phone-banking (which is practically guaranteed to involve free pizza) and other political activities. Go to to learn how to get involved. You can make a difference!

Or, if politicking isn't your thing, find another way to feel good about a cause that you support—and connect with like-minded folks.

A great place to look for volunteer opportunities is where you can sift through 52,000 listings by ZIP code and interest, including such things as animals, arts and culture, children's causes, gay and lesbian issues, homeless or hungry, and so on.

It does take a little effort. None of this is as easy as knocking on your dorm mate's door with a remote control and a six-pack of Diet Coke, but it can be done. You can have both a professional and personal life!

Party Like a Political Rock Star

During a hot election year, there's nothing cooler than being a political party animal. You might have heard of young people across the country going to a house party through or one of the presidential campaigns. Or maybe you've seen the photos of civic-minded celebs gathering for a bash for a candidate. Why not throw one yourself? It's simple: If you don't already have a candidate in mind, first head over to to find someone who supports improving teacher pay, overhauling NCLB, and stopping the spread of vouchers. Then put together these three must-haves for a great party:

A Political Playlist

Mix some tunes that match the party's theme. A few to try: "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks, "Politik" by Coldplay, or Neil Diamond's "America."

A Themed Cocktail or Mocktail

Whether you add a splash of the hard stuff or stick to Shirley Temples, give it a jazzy name that fits your theme. Try an Obama-rama (Malibu rum and fruit mixers to honor his time in Hawaii) and the Raising Arizona martini (a straight martini for a "straight talker"). Or, come up with your own names and don't forget the chips and dip to go with it!

Swag Bags

Gift bags don't have to be limited to those on the Hollywood A-list; they don't have to be frivolous; and they don't have to cost you a penny. Send off your guests with literature about the candidate, buttons, yard signs, bumper stickers, and anything else their campaign office can load you up with.


Where Do You Hang Out Online?
These days, the social networking sites you use may say more about you than a Rorschach test. Here's our rundown of just a few of the sites that keep our social worlds turning. Now, we don't need to remind you to post only appropriate material that would never be unbecoming of an educator, do we? Good, we didn't think so! ; )


Best for - Your students

Who's on it - Teens and attention addicts make up a hefty percentage of the MySpace population.

What you get - A great tool to collect, organize, and display your friends like a coin collection. But aren't we a little old for that?

What you don't get - A career boost. The tell-all, who-can-out-juicy-photo-who atmosphere slightly sullies even the squeakiest of clean profiles. (Quick! Remove the college party pics!)

Coolest app - Fuser—It lets you see your MySpace messages, plus comments from your Facebook account. Soon you can phase out MySpace all together!


Best for - Oscar, not Felix

Who's on it - Just graduated, eh? Oh, that's right, now Facebook is open to everybody.

What you get - With 70 million users, you have a good shot of reconnecting with old high school buddies. Plus, more than 13,000 applications can help you sync up those contacts.

What you don't get - White space. Your page will be littered with application icons and friend updates in no time. Before you know it, you'll have little breathing room.

Coolest app - Scrabulous. You never knew you could keep so many Scrabble boards going at once.

Best for - Felix, not Oscar

Who's on it - Well, hello, Little Miss Organized and Mr. Got it All Together. Not the MySpace crowd.

What you get - "Stay connected wherever you are on the Web," says Flock. It's a Web browser and social site aggregator, with an impressive ability to organize all your accounts and feeds.

What you don't get - Distance from your online social life. But if you can stay on task when you're supposed to be doing online research, for an article… hold on, someone just commented on my blog.

Coolest app - "Flock's Favorites" lets you tag and add descriptions, plus it's totally compatible with Scores of cool tools include a widget.


Best for - Anyone with a "So many books, so little time!" T-shirt

Who's on it - Teachers are well represented among the bibliophiles on this site.

What you get - Not only do you get the immense satisfaction of finally organizing your bookshelves (virtually, at least), you can connect with others reading the same titles.

What you don't get - Everything for free. You can log up to 200 titles in your virtual library for free, but more will cost. (A modest $25 does get you a lifetime membership).

Coolest app - LT's blog is worth reading, not just for new feature how-to's, but to watch founder Tim Spalding shun corporate mentality even as his site takes off.


Best for - Social entrepreneurs

Who's on it - Grownups, mostly the kind who have professions and interests they want to discuss with others, including teachers.

What you get - Using Ning is hands down the easiest way for the pioneering soul to start her own network. Whether it's open to the public or invitation-only is your choice.

What you don't get - Ning lacks sophisticated search functions (a "school teachers" search shows 6,000 networks, including several for High School Musical fans). It's better for starting a network than finding one.

Coolest app - Ning staffers cheer you on with demos and tutorials and well-articulated explanations on managing your network. Also, check out

Photos: Meiko Arquillos; iPod photo: Frank Anusewicz; Mixed Drink: Yan McVay; Present: Thomas Northcut; Political partiers: Rick Runion; girl with hair: rubberball Resources


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