Saturday, December 21, 2013

That moment when the high school usurps your curriculum...AGAIN

Last post was about my thrilledness (Humpty Dumpty and Shakespeare give us all permission to invent words) over my highly gifted kids getting into Lord of the Flies. I was exuberant.

(I never blogged about why this unit was a big deal. See, I'd been teaching Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird to my 8th graders for four years when the high school VP emailed my principal and told him those books were now (thanks, Common Core) going to be taught in 9th grade. It was more than lame--for one, I was getting ready to launch AF in a week or so, and two, TKAM is just my favorite. For three, teaching TKAM was so awesome after teaching Elie Wiesel's Night--to teach about a man of courage just brought me joy and was a wonderful counterpoint to Night's darkness. OK, I reconciled myself to writing units for two new texts this year. I asked the VP what the upper grades were teaching and only heard from one 9th grade teacher.

Fine. I spent days creating a unit for Lord of the Flies, and boy did I get excited. Talked to a teacher friend in Texas. Stole a few ideas from a teacher in Pennsylvania. Got some ideas straight from the Creator. Man, this was gonna be waaaay better than AF, waaaaay deeper. You can see read about my excitement here and here.)

Things just kept getting better, especially when I assigned chapter 8 for reading and the kids came in all shaking their heads about the answer to the question, "Who IS 'Lord of the Flies?'" Whoo!!!

After school that day I had a couple of formers come by to visit, sophomores in Honors English at the local high school. "Guess what we're reading, Miss M?" Oh dear Lord, please, no....

I dashed off an email to my principal and the high school VP, forwarding an old email where I'd asked for what the upper grades taught. I told them I'd heard no reply. I told them SOME of what my unit contained--Hobbes, Rousseau, leadership theory, Christ figure symbology, Freud--and got the response: "My best advice is to check with the department head before you select novels."

Are. You. Serious....

If my kids could do this in 8th grade, shouldn't the 10th grade teacher tackle something tougher? Give them Plato. Or just TELL ME WHAT THE UPPER GRADES ARE DOING, AS I'D ASKED. Or ask US what WE'VE done at the lower grades!

Anyway, my principal wrote a response supporting me: "Please understand that we need to keep Lord of the Flies here at DP." I haven't heard anything back from the high school or from him. I am hoping no new news is good news, but it's been a loonnnnng time since I have been that deflated. Gonna press on this year with my plans--comparing Peter Brueghel's paintings to the novels, finding music that goes with each character (compiling the definitive LOTF soundtrack with rationales), writing fine literary analysis papers, and celebrating all of it with a luau complete with PORK (bahaha) and the "islands" creating displays of the symbols and characters chosen from the text: fire, specs, the conch, the beast, pigs, Ralph, Simon, Jack, Piggy......and when they get to high school and the high school forces them to do the same things I had them do already, it will be upon THEM to write a new unit. These kids are ready for more.

And I think I am done giving up the books that work so well with my history course. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

That Moment When the Class Finally.....

I was beginning to think it would never happen, that inner click you feel as an educator when your class corporately buys into the book you are reading. But it happened today, and what a relief.

DAY ONE: Name choosing and nametag making was fine, fun, childish, unacademic, and silly--but good team-building. 

DAY TWO: It did NOT go well. We began with a Golding bio--fine as it went, and then started the book from the Pulitzer Prize winner. But the yards of description Golding pours into the island bogged us down (my exact 10th grade reaction: "Who CARES about all this stuff?? Tell the story, already!").  Boring. Yawn. I brought out the conch--mild interest--passed it around--mild interest. Sigh. I assigned the rest of chapter one for homework. I felt defeated.

DAY THREE: I passed out leadership style readings. This was a bit more interesting. In their islands they had to connect the styles to the boys and write down where in the text their support was. I asked, "Was this activity ok?" B., who LOVES to learn, said sincerely, "This was fun!" But MR. gave me that apologetic head tilted smile that said just as loudly, "Not really." I still felt better because the groups were talking. We launched the next chapter and made lists of the boys, their traits, the symbols, and our designations of meanings. The list-making was full-class but half-hearted. I trusted that list, though. I was thrilled when the kids posted Ralph as democratic and Jack as autocratic. Small victories when things aren't going your way can feel like huge ones.

DAY FOUR: I began chapter three with a handout about characteristics of Christ figures I teacher-stole from a wonderful teacher in Pennsylvania. More interest, especially when we looked at Obi-wan Kenobe, Gandalf, and Dumbledore in that light (they weren't familiar with Cool Hand Luke). "Is Simon going to die?" asked an astute person. "Perhaps, but necessarily--do you think Simon will be crucified or resurrected?" I returned. The normally jolly N. was uncharacteristically scornful: "Number 11 on this list is dumb! No one is a carpenter!" And so we began the chapter only to find the Simon is helping Ralph build a hut. "He IS a carpenter!" someone yelled triumphantly. Things were looking up. They finished chapter 3 over break. The Christ figure trope was a revelation for them, a novelty, cool and adult.

DAY FIVE: We pretty much straight read chapter 4 as a class, adding to our list about the boys. I talked about symbols, and the kids were a bit more into the drama. My VP walked into watch. Wish I had something better than reading aloud. Nope.

DAY SIX: But then today. Ah. Half the students read about Rousseau and the other half about Hobbes. Then we had a Chalk Talk--I had prepared the classroom with ten quotes, half from R, half from H, and the students responded to the quotes and to each others' responses using dry erase markers. It was like having ten silent conversations at once! I had warned them about writing stupid things like "I like turtles," but about three boys couldn't help themselves (Hobbes would say that--and I will use that tomorrow as an example in class). When we began to review chapter four, a shift happened. I don't know what, but the kids began to see the story as a story of human nature. I let them talk. "Would the kids treat Piggy differently if he looked different?" "I think Jack punching Piggy is a sign of civilization running down." (!!) "But what about the cover on this book? Why is that giant fly near Piggy? Is he Lord of the Flies?" And off the discussion ran: who WAS Lord of the Flies?

God bless this ambiguous cover
I finally shared what any bible-reading, church-going Protestant fifty years ago would know, that The Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub, Satan. (I did this by showing Wikipedia's entry and scrolling to the verses in the bible in Matthew 12.) The kids got excited about the reference to the house divided--"The island is dividing!" And then they wondered if the Beast, or maybe Jack, was the Lord of the Flies. Someone wondered if Piggy's name was connected to the pigs on the island. "The names are significant," is all I would say until a girl jokingly asked if Ralph was going to vomit since his name is slang for vomit. "His name means 'counselor,' I said. A thrill ran through the class, I felt it. I decided to share with them the secret of names that had captivated me decades earlier.  Above the lists of the boys, the students watched as the meanings of the names were written:
Ralph - counselor
Jack - supplanter, usurper
Simon - listener
Roger - spear

"Piggy's name is significant because it means what it says." And the class blew up--"Piggy is going to die, not Simon!" "Simon is going to save Piggy because he is the Christ figure!" "Jack is evil and must be the Lord of the Flies!" They were all* so excited and absorbed, making connections and predictions--"Roger is Jack's tool to kill Piggy, just like Jack speared the real pig!" "Jack broke Piggy's glasses, does that mean the end of intelligence?" OK, cue the bell.

Tomorrow we will look for Hobbes and Rousseau in the text and have a quiz contest among the islands groups. But I believe that when I assign chapter five as homework the kids will enjoy it. FINALLY.

*"All" is a relative term. Do 36 students ALL do anything at the same time? In a class of 36, many of whom are introverts, it is sometimes difficult to be accurate about "all." I use it here in the teacher sense of "heavy majority with 36 sets of eyes looking alert."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Teaching Is a Scream

He has alopecia...AND five times as much personality as the average person
  my eyes fill a little
  spill a little

   my heart beats a little quicker
   feels a little bigger

Unless you have taught
   and been hopelessly caught
   by the fun and the joys
   of these girls and these boys....

that my job
is truly
the best in the land.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Launching a Novel: A Team Approach

Today was Day One....but the books weren't here yet so I needed to stall.

I already had the kids in groups of four balanced for extrovert/introvertedness and work ethic (they are all bright, so I didn't have to worry about that). On the board were posted nine teams--or ISLANDS, as I am calling them:

Conch       Fire       Pigs      Spectacles     The Beast      Ralph      Piggy      Jack     Simon

First, we had a rock/paper/scissors war to see which team chose which name. And then, in reverse order, teams select from nine different colored team name tags. And then, teams had to choose an alliterative name and design the name tag. This took all period!

(I felt a little badly, because I know how some of the teams will bond with their character--Piggy's team will be upset, but will they be more upset than Jack's team? And Jack [his real name] is on Jack's team....but....)

....This was team bonding. They were exercising decision-making and tomorrow when we discuss leadership styles and launch the book, they will not only be analyzing the characters in the novel, but the characters on their "island."

So here they are:

Cool Conches
Fergalicious Fire
Petrifying Pigs
Sassy Squid Specs
Bewildering Beasts
Reck-it Ralph
Proper Piggys
Just Jack. (with the period)
Simon Says

These tags are on a board, and there will be a place for the best team for that assignment to move to called "Who's Got the Conch?" Plus, when I was in Puerto Rico I bought a gigantical conch and it will be magical when they see it after Ralph in the book finds it. And they will enjoy David Gunnar blasting it (especially since one Sassy Squid Spec is named Gunnar) :

Don't be fooled by this dorky intro; we will be reading Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sigmund Freud, leadership theory, and more before we end, and we will each write a serious piece of literary analysis. The culminating salon will be a luau with ROAST PORK, of course, and each Island will decorate their table appropriate to their symbol/character, and will present at the luau how their character or item highlights Golding's theme, adds to the plot, and something else I haven't yet decided.

Having the students on Islands means they have built-in discussion partners, built-in, long-haul team work, and that some days I'll only have to collect nine assignments instead of 36. I am also pitting them against each other (overtures of Jack versus Ralph, right?) for each response and that should up the quality for this highly competitive group.  My dream class would be where we could decorate the room like the island in the book as we learned details about it...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Profits, Supercookies, and Generosity

Yes, gimme dem.
I love me a good cookie.

I love me a BIG good cookie.

For years, our cafeteria sold "supercookies" for fifty cents. And then a few years ago,
apparently someone told the cafeteria people that the price of living had gone up, so they jacked up the supercookie price to .75.

Ouch! That's a 50% increase. I can't think of anything else that jumped that much in one year besides college tuition and One Direction tickets. But these cookies are good, and I love me a good cookie, so I forked it over.

This year they raised the price to a dollar. Now I didn't mind when the cookies, thanks to our former governator, had changed from white flour to whole wheat flour. They were still pretty good. But the cookies have shrunk from really big to just merely somewhat bigger than the average cookie, and paying 100% more for less was just too much for me this year.

Way back in September right before lunch, I shared my supercookie angst with Period 4.

This Thursday, B., a scruffy waif of a kid who struggles emotionally and (of course) academically walked up to me at the end of the period right as everyone was tearing off to lunch.

"Know how those supercookies are a dollar now? Well now you can have one," and he pulled out a crumpled dollar for me.

"Oh, B., this is the kindest most thoughtful gift! I have money, so hang on to your dollar, but I gotta hug you because your generosity just made my day!"

I love my job. More than cookies, most of the time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

No no no no no no no

He died defending his children and therefore his country 12/21/13
Michael Landsberry
Marine, Teacher, Dad, Hero

(I can't let myself
feel this. It takes such a toll.)
He took a bullet...

Were all his papers
graded? His grades up-to-date?
How about his soul?

 (I keep wondering
what I would do, but all I
can do is wonder.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Feeding Your Teacher-Soul

Let me lay down some truth:

1) No one understands this job who hasn't done it, but they all think they understand. People will always say stupid things like, "If you complain about grading it, why did you assign it?" They will say stupid things like, "You get out at 2:30 and get all those holidays off." It helps me to remember that if Jesus forgave people for crucifying Him, I should forgive such radical, deep-seated, COLOSSAL IGNORANCE of what it takes to do this job well. Keeps the old blood pressure low.

2) If you care about your job at all, Teacher Brain happens. This is a condition that is marked by the inability to think or talk much about anything else except what happened in the classroom and what you need to get done for school. Where ever you go, you are thinking about lesson plans or challenging students. It can make you verrrrry boring because all of your sentences begin something like, "Last Thursday in period 4...." In extreme cases of Teacher Brain, you dream about school all the time.

Now teaching is the most important job besides parenting. And I love it. But the Two Truths have made me doubt what I do at times.  Look, forever being misunderstood and isolated by my career's idiosyncrasies is no way to live my one precious life.

So here are some ways I've found to feed my Teacher-Soul.

a) Unplug. Choose one night a week to go screenless. No grading allowed. No planning. If at all possible, no talking. Find the quiet. Ahhh.

b) Read a book that is NOT a professional development book. (This is my favorite!)

c) Read Angela Watson's Awakened, a book specifically written to help us teachers deal with Teacher Brain and teacher burn out. It's reallllllly sensible, and since Watson was a teacher, she KNOWS.

d) Watch teacher movies that inspire you, not demean you. Say "yes" to "The Ron Clark Story," "Stand and Deliver," "Dangerous Minds," "To Sir with Love" and the like. Buy them. Watch them when you are down. Avoid movies that trivialize the true work of educators.

e) Schedule fun. If you don't, those @#$% essays will consume you and embitter you. (Not a pretty combo.)

f) Join social media that is deliberately teacher-uplifting. I am loving Angela Watson's "Encouraging Teachers" on MugBook. Talking to other people who really DO understand what you do is a safe place to vent without boring anyone, and no one will say profoundly STUPID things.

e) If you can swing it financially, keep your precious summers free of summer school. It'll take a little while for Teacher Brain to subside, but that time will rejuvenate you and ensure that you love your job even two decades after you started. Well, that's a personal testimony. But we simply MUST step away from the classroom for our own mental well-being.

f) Exercise! But you already knew that one, right?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Feeling lucky? I can't believe what I just said---

If Johnny Depp couldn't bring this style back, no one can
Test today.  "Who wants to wear the lucky tricorn hat?" I sing.  After winning a brief roshambo game, M. dons the hat.

As the test goes on, I ask, "Can you just FEEL the luck seeping into your brain from that hat?" Tolerantly, she nods her head.

Soon enough, M. rises to turn in her test. "Can you just FEEL the A-ness of your test?" Instantly
I turn red, and I wish I could, like Cher, turn back time and say "A plus-ness," but it is too late. The class laughs, and pretty swiftly,  the kids return to their tests.

Cher is trying to turn back time
But I think I will put that hat away.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Last Day....AGAIN: the life of a military kid

Today was B's last day at DP today. He is a fun kid with a quick sense of humor, the kind of guy who gets along with everyone. Kind of lazy about work, unfortunately, but definitely a bonus in the classroom. I am going to miss him--we all will.

After everyone else left for lunch and I signed off his parting grade (a C, but you guessed that), he got as serious as I've ever seen him: "In all my nine years of going to school, this is the only class that I have talked about every day after school with my family, telling them cool facts..." My eyes filled first, I think, but his voice cracked and down his tears came. We hugged and he sobbed, "I don't want to leave!" I sobbed with him.

It's unnerving when perpetually cheerful boys sob.

He wasn't crying about my class. He truly loves DP. "I finally got to like someplace!" he cried. He is a military child who has to move because his dad serves our country. "B, there are some great people at this school who will miss you, but listen: good people are everywhere, and there are awesome ones at your new school who are gonna be so lucky to meet you! Until you know them, yeah, this move is so lame. Do me a favor, B, and figure out who they are. Choose your friends carefully, ok?" His face was tragic, but he nodded. "Jeremiah 29:11 is for you, B--God has plans for you!" He nodded again and gave me a teary smile--we first met last year in Bible Club. We both reached for the Kleenex.

I am so grateful that he purposefully took the time to give me his appreciation, realizing each second in my bungalow was a precious second away from his friends. He pulled himself together, and then sped off to spend his last lunch with them.

JEREMIAH 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Temporary Amnesia of July and the Mystery of Exciting Housework

I'd forgotten.

I'd forgotten how much grading is generated by thoughtful instruction. I'd forgotten how much time it takes to carefully read and respond to thoughtfully done work, to give meaningful, helpful feedback.

I'd forgotten how, faced with ten piles of work, I suddenly get the mad urge to clean the house, which in all fairness really DOES need a good cleaning. It is a triumph of will to sit and grade and not run towards the vacuum.

Suddenly MugBook is compelling. Words with Friends is frolicsome, even when all I have is auuwiio. On a beautiful day, I simply must remember that I am employed serving wonderful people doing stimulating work.

Mostly, I'd forgotten about the incredible amount of time. I remember now.

(Note that I am writing this entry as the ten piles glare balefully at me.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wasn't it Ella Who Sang "Too Darn Hot"?

I am TOO CRABBY to be flattered. Three kids came back to visit on this first Friday of the new school year, all happy and sweet and nostalgic, but NO. The back of my knees were sticky and there was an actual creek running down my spine. I was able to take about fifteen minutes and then diplomatically closed up the room and ended the visit early. (For being loving and diplomatic in my physical and psychological condition, I expect a major award or a Nobel Prize or something.)

Don't get me wrong--my kids are great. They are champions, sitting there on the plastic chairs that save their body heat and generously return it to them, reading about Jamestown's trials and tribulations. But that room.....

No Friday is good, but especially do NOT come visit me on a Friday when my bungalow's thermometer is at 92°.

Go away.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ego, Ants, and Houston, We Have Lift Off

7:00 am The light guy is in my bungalow to fix two of the ballasts. As he leaves, he says that now I can see my pretty face reflected. Aw. Whatever that means. I don't care, he called me pretty, he meant it,  and I'm a hundred years older than he is. 

8:00 am So I open the first pie box in order to cut the pie into unequal pieces for my first lesson, and--oh no: I had bought pies that needed to be cooked first. The pie is all gooey pumpkin slush.  Pujols.

8:05 am Head to Vons to buy ready-made pies. They have only apple. Apple pies are difficult to cut. Whah. I have no choice.

9:00 am The kids come up the ramp and we begin! The butterflies are there, but Teacher Mode kicks in and I remember how to do this. Um, there are ants EVERYWHERE. How do they find food so quickly? I move the pies to a safer, ant-free zone.

11:00 am I have my prep. It is the greatest prep ever--teach two, break, teach one, lunch, teach two. I can breathe and prepare for almost every class individually. I have time to file papers and put things away. This may just be The Year of Good Habits.

1:00 Lunchtime. My feet hurt. Why did I wear these shoes? Why is it a million degrees? Why is the lunch room so far away? Whah.

1:30 Class starts. I make a reference to when I was in 2nd grade and a kid mumbles, "That was forty years ago..." Welp, there goes my morning ego boost.

3:50 The first day is in the books! A girl from 7th period walks right up to me and says, "You taught us! Now it's YOUR turn to learn!" And she teaches me how to Dougie. !!! I know, right? Now I know how to Dougie (rather badly).

4:00 Time to get ready for tomorrow.

5:15 I roll out of the parking lot. While in the air-conditioned car, I make plans to go for a walk when I get home.

6:00 After laying inert on the balcony, I realize the walk isn't going to happen. I fight the urge to go to bed right away. I realize that dinner will be cold cereal.

6:30 I realize: if I want to go to bed early, what's stopping me?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

All Aboard!

It really is often like this...
We are starting a new year and I need to remember my true calling and my true Captain. I can't stop reading this sonnet and applying it to the school year, especially the public school year. I haven't been excited AT ALL about this coming year, perhaps because last year was my best ever, but this poem inspires me in a way that nothing has so far, not even the aisles of The Container Store or the techniques in Teach Like a Champion or having a spanking-clean and ready room:

The Call of the Disciples 
by sonnet master Malcolm Guite

He calls us all to step aboard his ship.
Take the adventure on this morning's wing,
Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,
Whatever storms or floods are threatening.
If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,
Then, as on Galilee, we'll rouse the Lord,
For he is always with us and will hear,
And make our peace with his creative Word,
Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set
All his beloved lovers in an ark;
Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float
Above the rising waves, the falling dark,
As fellow pilgrims, driven toward that haven,
Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled forgiven.

(In search of more curricular inspiration, I will be watching Stand and Deliver sometime this three-day weekend before the ship sets sail on Tuesday....)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Teach me HOW to, Dougie....and I'm just wild about Harry

THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: For many years I have believed Harry Wong was the only one who really knew how to write so that teachers would become better at what they do. He knew without good management skills, good teaching was near impossible. When he said to NOT do a fun activity to lead the year, it was water in my face--a shock. Really? Wouldn't that make kids excited about school? But he explains himself and he is right. I have read this book sixteen (16) (XVI) times and it's probably time for me to do so again. Wong always reminds the reader of how respectable our profession is, how indispensable, how wonderful. He makes me proud of what I have chosen to do, and he helps me do it better.

At first I thought that was it. This was the one really great useful book for teachers. Oh sure, there were lots of little inspirational ones, or little helpy ones that usually didn't apply to my content or whatever. But then our site decided to delve school-wide into:

TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION: Doug Lemov succinctly explains the best techniques that the best teachers use, and he shares how to implement them.  He cares about EVIDENCE, not trends, upon PROOF, not intuition. I kind of laugh when I hear some of our staff members say, "This is all stuff I do already," because, tee hee, "No it isn't. You do SOME of the stuff, and some of the stuff you do, you do in the way that he says not to do." Not gonna lie--I thought I was a pretty good teacher until I read this book. I have a long way to go and lots of room to improve, and Lemov's eminently useful book is going to get me farther in my journey to be an awesome teacher than I could have dreamed. I also bought the field guide to accompany the book but can't speak to that since I haven't cracked it open yet. Lemov makes me eager to see how much I can grow.

Monday, July 22, 2013

So THAT'S why...three of 'em....

Little nodules in my throats
Little nodules gets my goats
Little nodules isn't noice
Little nodules takes my voice

Size of salt grains, all you is.
Cut yous out? "Oh, no," is his
opinion--get some rest and then
your voices should come backs again

But this my jobs, my livelihoods!
If I can't talk, that ain't no goods!
He signed me up for speech rehabs
They 'spose to teach me how to blabs
More easy- how to use my chords
efficientsly. And so towards
this goal of resting nodules,  I
won't say no mores. (At leasts I'll try.)

Doc says mine aren't symmetrical, which is unusual.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is good spelling a waste of time, or a waist of thyme?

Day At The Races Dress- Black
I can never buy this dress.

Man oh man. We are are either getting dumber or lazier, not sure which. Tooling around on a fun fashion site, I clicked on a link that took me to a sentence containing two consecutive Autocorrect problems that no editor checked/caught/knew enough to spot--read it and weep, and try to ignore the unnecessary comma:

"Day At The Races Dress- Black 
We love the fit of this dress! So classic, and cute! The synched waste is sure to show off the best parts of you!"               
 I am grateful that I was born a great speller. Got a word that needs spelling? I'm your go-to. (Except "occurance" or "occurence" or "occurrance" or "occurrence"--only one of these is right* and I truly didn't know without the little spell check feature on this bloggy.) But I know that spelling is not a function of intelligence. HOWEVER, good publishing demands that someone spend some time editing and checking, lest embarrassing moments happen to otherwise good writers:
That's one laep forward, two laeps back
Mr. Rogers wants you to be his neighhobor
Hey, aren't we supposed to be creative?

*The last occurrence is correct. It was the last one I typed and I truly was surprised. (Every time.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Strictly Surprising, Somewhat Unsettling

Soooo. A friend of my mom's is a kindergarten teacher, retiring any minute now. L. tells me she ran into a former student of mine, that they discovered this mutual connection somehow, some freakish incidence of Six Degrees from Lola Bacon. Apparently what he told her about me as a teacher is that I am very..... strict. Strict???

Though I've been teaching since the dawn of cell phones, this is the first time I've had THAT feedback. I kinda don't know what to make of it.

It's better to be remembered as strict than as lenient, I suppose, and "strict" is waaaay better than "horrible." asks students to rate a teacher's helpfulness, clarity, and easiness. I do really well on the first two and think that is a teacher's goal. Students do not perceive me as an easy teacher. Is that the same thing as saying someone is strict?

What does that word mean, anyway? When I was in elementary school, it kind of was synonymous with "mean." If a teacher was nice but was in charge, we'd say, "She's nice, but she doesn't let kids get away with stuff," because the word "strict" had some bad connotations.

Am I strict? In September, I am super strict, I admit (a little defensively proud of it). There are only four rules for class and I have to make sure 35 or so 8th graders, crammed together in a small wooden bungalow with no a/c, LEARN stuff that they don't, let's face it, care about. When kids learn how to behave in September, that pays big dividends for the rest of the year.

But am I strict? I don't write referrals because my kids behave. The principal (well, the one who just left who was at the school for eight years) sends in student teachers and visitors and staff members to watch me because she thinks I'm a good class manager with good class rapport. Am I strict? Did that former student REALLY mean I was "mean?"

Postscript: This morning I read a blog that is usually way above my head, and I caught whiffs of my  post and of other doubts I've had about the meaning of my life, that I've never written a book, about possible self-delusion, and personal struggles as a teacher in a public school setting (a Christian teacher, what's more).  This post by Dr. Holly Ordway gave me a handle:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Homework done!

I've rediscovered
the joy of days I choose to fill
(NOT paperwork--NO!)
Chick Fil A gave free
breakfast to us, dressed as cows,
my awesome cousins

And then alfresco
lunch at the winery with
mom and dear friend

Theater tonight!
Playing on my retirement
island. (C'mon, Lotto!)

And I just finished
one of the best books I've read
in years of Sundays

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer School Homework

I've written elsewhere about the delicious, holy moment that comes with turning in the classroom key.

But I haven't really told you how hard it is to slow down.

When the Blessed Day comes, I find I am running still, and it takes about two weeks to truly enter into the joy of rest.

On the first day off, I become aware that my breathing is shallow. I do some post-guest laundry and put-aways. I play Words with Friends. I finish two books (one I started last month and the other, a year and a half ago). I take a nap. I put on walking shoes and hit the bay. I go to the grocery store.

Except the nap, everything I did was a Have To. Those are ordinary Sunday afternoon activities. (I wouldn't ordinarily put reading on a Have To list, but that nine billion page memoir by Condoleeza was a present from my mom and there were twenty pages left, and the other was a meh Hemingway novel.)

The problem is that all year long there is a steady stream of "If I only had some time" thoughts and a steady stream of invitations and fun things I turn down because of grading and planning. When the days of freedom arrive, I feel that I need to rush to get all the summer projects done at once before Summer runs out, that I need to get out there and have some Fun, quickly, before I put my brain to the plow again. But when Fun is something you HAVE to do, it smells a little like Work.
This fellow's Fun looks like Work to me--and that's how my first two weeks of vacation feel.

That's why the binders I HAVE to organize are in the closet--they will keep until I re-learn how to live like a normal person.  Here's my new Have To list: I need to re-adjust my internal clock to my usual past midnight bedtime and 8 am up-time. I need to say yes to friends' invites, unless I don't want to go, in which case I need to say no.  I need to waste some time, to feel hours grow slower. I need to lay by the pool or the beach with a really good story (not some political recap), and Malcolm Guite's poetry, taking snoozes if I want to. I need to watch some movies I've missed and watch some oldies I've seen before that feed my soul. I need to resume what I like to call my morning "runs." I need to sit in coffee shops, post-"runs," drinking noncoffee beverages with books, books, books. And maybe a friend. Yes. I need to waste more time. I need to learn how to vacation breathe.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Student Teacher's German Lesson on the Last Day of School: a follow-up haiku to last post

Eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf
German lesson had some oomph!
sechs, sieben, acht, neun--

My student teacher
did just fine. Acht, sieben, sechs,
funf--he survived it

and there's proof: vier, drei,
look down! There's no blood upon
the ground! Eins and now

he's done! Learning German was
sorta fun. Now I simply
have to run. I'M DONE!!!!!!!!!

(yes, there was candy)

Friday, June 7, 2013

The YMCA School of Swimming, German, and Feisty Sharks

Long ago when we were wee 'uns and enrolled in a Backyard Swim class, my brother told me that at the YMCA, they just threw you in the pool and let you figure out how to stay afloat. Although that's not true (is it?), my student teaching felt a bit like being thrown in the deep end after having merely READ about swimming, with a university supervisor, master teacher, and my own rising panic all screaming, "Swim better!" as I flailed about in a pool with 30 smallish but feisty sharks. Consequently, whenever I have student teachers, I've always tried to make things easier for them.

My current student teacher began the semester boldly independent, sure that he could be an amazing teacher right away, mostly by building rapport with kids, which meant talking about football. Without realizing it, he began pretty much copying my day-to-day lesson style and sometimes whole presentations, using my examples and pauses, borrowing far more from me than he imagined, because lesson planning is time consuming and he was teaching, going to school, and working ten hours a week: "I liked the test you're giving, so I'm going to use a lot of it" meant he was pretty much going to change my joke question to one about the Philadelphia Eagles. I suggested activities, had him spin them his way, let him use my homework, and let him believe that he was mostly original.

So. Student Teacher realizes his 4th period is beginning to turn on him (the worst feeling) with only two more days of school, today and next Monday. Finals are over today. "What do you have planned for Monday?" I ask.

"I don't know."

"You better think of something, because the natives are restless." With no test to dangle over young teens and as a teacher without much life experience and with not much originality, he's in deep water.

He hemmed and hawed and hung about, and said, "I wonder what I could do? I wonder what would keep them involved? Hmmmm."

Yes, he was flailing, hoping I'd rescue him. "The internet is loaded with ideas, M." Suddenly, I was working for the YMCA.

"I know! I'll teach them to count in German!" He looked at me for feedback. (Teach them to count in GERMAN?!? OK, that'll be interesting to about ten of them. But twenty sharks'll kill you just as dead as thirty. "If you were thirteen, would that interest you?" is normally what I would ask, pushing him to fix his lessons until the answer was "yes.")

"What incentive will you use? I think you are going to have to cave and buy candy."

"Yes, that's what I was planning to do." I tell him I'm glad he thought of that, because middle schoolers will do anything for a Jolly Rancher, but I think he told a fib. I hate fibs: my brain thought, "You and your German lesson are on your own. After ninety days of Lola-designed, -modified or -approved lessons, you are going to have to apply what you've learned at Backyard Swim."

I'll be in the room so there will be no blood, but fifty-five minutes feels a lot longer when you see fins.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Teaching My Favorite

Loving a book is one thing; teaching it to a class--in late May-- is another. My man Abe Lincoln said you can't please all of the people all of the time, but something in me needs everyone to like, nay, love this book. I first taught To Kill a Mockingbird to the first 9th grade English class I ever had, exactly three days after I'd read it for the first time--I loved it so much I HAD to share it with kids, right away. Trouble is, if a kid doesn't like this book, I am mortally wounded and darkly conclude the child has no soul. Fast forward a billion years and I love the book even more, so am even more crushed and devastated if anyone rejects my favorite.

Mr. B., the math teacher, told me the kids were buzzing about the book, really enjoying it, pursuing conversations about it outside my classroom. YESSSSS! Perhaps it is inevitable--one of my kiddos' middle name is (really and truly) "Atticus."

And imagine my elation when JB., upon entering my bungalow this morning and seeing the weekend's homework was to read three chapters, voiced, "YESSSSS!" with a huge smile on his face.

"JB., you're not mad you have some homework over the weekend?"


And yes, he said it in all capital letters; my heart heard his correctly.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Teachers: WE ARE OK

Our school is launching a little aid raiser for the Red Cross in honor of the victims of the Moore, OK tornado. Our goal is to raise $1000, a dollar per student.

One teacher ordered "We are OK" wristbands online to give to donors.
Two are manning the collection table during their lunch.
One is housing the funds during our drive.
One wrote the bulletin announcement.
One is doing an "all call" to the parents.
One will manage the transfer of funds to the organization.

I kind of wish students were driving this drive.

(As I was sharing our drive with an advisory class, a student asked, "When did this happen?" Hmmm.)

And as this school year zooms toward its end, I reflect on the two real lock downs our neighborhood schools had--the teachers were champions. I reflect on the teachers at Sandy Hook and Plaza Towers and Briarwood--the teachers were heroes. I reflect on Q, tutored after school by my student teacher, who is going to pass now--my student teacher is a champion. I reflect on the teachers' hearts prompting this drive--they want to help the hurting so badly. 

Hmmmmm.............................maybe teacher-bashing can end for a season, m'kay?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Gettysburg Address, R. Kelly, and the Custodian

It's that memorize-the-Gettysburg-Address-and-get-two-points-of-extra-credit-for-every-line time of year!

Two students came by after class to make the attempt, one a Gettysburger (memorizing the full speech) and the other nailing down four lines before being stumped by, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this," despite the imaginative visual clues given by the Gettysburger and me (in a failed attempt to prompt the word "altogether," we even grabbed hands and sang, "Kumbaya.").

They stayed awhile, chatting about my offer to skip the final if they earned 103% in the course. One asked, "Do you think I can?" And I launched into my loud and horrific take on R.Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." Fortunately I only know four lines so their ears weren't bleeding yet.

The night custodian, J, popped in to empty trash.

"Can you sing?" I asked.

 "A little," said J.

"Sing 'I Believe I Can Fly,'" I challenged.

And he did. The three of us stood there, stunned, chins on the floor, ears all happy and tingly as J's voice easily hit all the actual notes of the song which I had merely approximated. Our custodian can SANG. He happens to have been born with just one hand, so it's even cooler to say, "Our one-handed custodian can SANG." Anyway, just another day at the office.

I love my job.

Can You Sing?

I ask a question--
our chins drop as you sing out
an affirmative

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Must Be Nice

Courtesy shuttle--driver, passenger, myself.
P: You're going home, not to work?

M: It's spring break! I'm a teacher at DPMS.

P: Must be nice.

D: My sister went there! Did you have J.I.?

M: I did for a while, then she transferred to Mr F.
She's a junior now, right?

P: You must have a great memory to remember each student. How many kids in a class?

M: About 34.


M: It used to be worse--around 180. 

P: How do you know what they don't know?

M: I grade their papers, but you're right, it's hard.

P: You can't grade all their papers--you have TAs for that.

M: I wish. I grade it all. There are no TAs for that. Look, here are some papers right here. (shows bag full of work to be graded) That's what I'm doing when I get dropped off. Look, some studies say class size doesn't much affect student learning, but no one ever studies how it affects the teachers.

P (sympathetic): How could it not? My kid's elementary class has eleven students.

M: Must be nice.

P: What do you teach?

M: History.

P: Excuse me for asking this, but can't they just ask their smart phones for what they need to know? For when stuff happened?

This is where normally I would bridle and get out the soapbox and quote George Santayana and preach for twenty minutes and totally school him. But you know what? My head didn't explode and I didn't melt his face off. I tell myself I must be nice: he simply demonstrates once again that the study of the past is both undervalued and misunderstood. Unless it is taught poorly (and this is why there were no explosions or melting, because it so often is poorly taught), it is about WHY stuff happens, HOW it happens--much more than just WHAT happened. 

Although it would be nice if people knew WHAT happened, too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cruel to Be Kind

Last post wasn't very cheery, was it?
But it was real.

A large part of my angst was training a novice teacher. All kinds of ego and fear were in the picture, because he wanted to design his own lessons and he was going to take over two classes full of my giant thirteen year old babies.

"You do realize that teaching is three huge jobs at once--presenting, planning, and class management, any one of which can be really challenging..." I really thought it might be best to use my already designed standards-based lessons, not because I thought they were good (which I do), but because I wondered about his ability to do the other two. Truth be told, he is physically a bit awkward and his enunciation is mushy; when he shared that he'd 1) been bullied in high school 2) overcome a speech impediment and 3) had had an IEP, I believed him. Colleagues would ask me, "How's he doing?" with the small, knowing smile of one who already knows the answer; they thought he'd be lunch meat.

Here's the surprise: he generally connected well with the kids. He was able early on to think on his feet, to persevere, to press on--wow, stuff that you can't teach--impressive. Granted, he was blessed with the best behaved kids I have ever taught IN MY CAREER, and they were already trained when he took them. But their awesomeness built his confidence on the management front.  Presentation-wise, he was pretty good, sometimes even funny, and his mushy diction didn't seem to pose problems for anyone but me. His incessant football references helped him with some students (although they seemed to alienate others, truthfully).

His lessons? Hmm. That was another story. I worried about how he never. ever. wrote anything down. He shared with me that he responded well to encouragement. Uh, oh. I feel weird about high five-ing grown ups, and in the beginning I wasn't sure I should even be encouraging. I was (and remain) freaked out by the atrociousness of his spelling and grammar ("mils" for "mills," for example). I was concerned about his lack of, or over simplified reflections about how the class had gone. His class management? The typical problems of wanting to win the approval of "the cool kids," of needing them to like him, of passing over the quiet children.

Real conversation snippet: Me: "So what went well today?" Him: "It was AWESOME!"


So last Friday after something bad happened because he didn't write it down, I sort of turned into the calm, icy surgeon and let the scalpel fly a bit. "You don't read much, do you? You don't like to read. [I had tons of evidence]. It shows in your lessons. You don't want to admit to the kids you don't know something,  I understand, but you can't just make things up. You can't get up there and teach something you don't know about. You need to research the time period you are teaching, dig deeper than the text--read a ton!!-- make sure what you are teaching helps them understand, look at your presentation through the eyes of a thirteen year old. You need to rehearse your lessons, anticipate what they won't get, how they'll respond, blah blah blah...." It wasn't a monologue. But it sure wasn't the "Good for you! You are trying so hard" lines that tone-deaf grandmas give their American Idol wannabe offspring.

And I thought, "He hates me and thinks I'm mean." I'm not really used to being hated, and I'm not mean.

Funny thing is, he TOTALLY brought it this week! His lessons had depth, and so did his understanding. When kids asked questions, he fielded them with soft hands himself, or he said, "Hm, I'm not sure, Miss M do you know?" and let me either field them or shrug my shoulders with him. While teaching them about Sequoya, he even googled how to say "Hello" in Cherokee* and had a mini language lesson.

I gave him a high five after class. He earned it.

And then after school I began speaking in football terms: "I would think you'd want to review your performance--don't coaches watch films of games in order to improve and anticipate, to praise and refine? When I ask you how something goes--" He smiled and interrupted, totally understanding what this elderly lady twice his age was doing, but actually and finally COMPREHENDING the urgency, the importance of what I expected him to do to improve: "You don't want to know the score, you wanted to know the big plays," he said. "No, I want to go even deeper than that: I want to know why you called those big plays, how you were able to execute them, and why you went to no-huddle when the players were obviously lost and there was no audible..." 

Anyway, that seemed to change the air, clear it, charge it. Why can people take constructive criticism from coaches but not others? Coaches can literally YELL at kids and it's no big deal, and kids get out there and work for the coaches' curt nod of approval. I would gently say, "Can you think of another way to get S. to participate?" to a grown man and he'd cross his arms and look injured and depressed.

At any rate, I am finally relaxing. He will not mess up my giant babies. He will be a better teacher over time, he is doing quite well for how early on in the semester, he is grading 40% of the papers, and I will be able to do much of my grading at school, thus freeing up my weekends. Win-win. Or as he would put it, "AWESOME!"


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Two Weeks in February in an Ordinary Teacher's Life

Student teacher (Monday through Friday from 8am until 4pm, every single minute except the bathroom moments when I am soooo glad to have some alone time, however mundane)
Hello, March--just in time

debriefing with his university supervisor (30 minutes--my lunch time)

emergency trip to the dentist right after school (one hour--major pain)

trip to Kaiser for what the dentist couldn't fix during the school day--you take what they can give you (two hours total for a diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia, ugh, and to find the pharmacy was out of the meds)

trip to Kaiser to pick up the meds they didn't have the day before (30 min)

African American History Jeopardy video (45 minutes--my prep period)

Bible Club (30 minutes on Wednesdays--my lunch time)

Academic Club (two hours on Mondays, after school)

Instructional Leadership Team (one hour)

IEP meeting (90 minutes after school)

Dodgeball (30 minutes--my lunch time)

Chaparoning CJSF to Knott's on a Friday night (nine HOURS--we arrive back at 2am)

planning for the sub for when I'm at the Program Improvement retreat (probably two hours, yet to be done)

Program Improvement retreat, on campus (Monday, 8-4, and then I have Academic Team)

I am SO OVER February. And I am practicing a new vocabulary word in March. It begins with N and ends with O and has two letters.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"It Is so Happy to Love..."

"It is with great revelry and pride
that we send our
physician into the future.
Join us for the graduation of
Dr. M. M. G.
from Des Moines University
College of Medicine
on May 25, 2013"

M. was in my first class at my present school, one of the sparkliest diamonds in a pretty dang sparkly class, let's see, waaay back in 1998-1999. She is 26 now, having chosen the most difficult degree to pursue, and the world is better off because of her.  I am soooo proud.

When you love someone, you are vulnerable. When someone you love makes bad choices, you hurt, too. As a teacher I love about 160 new people a year. I have been teaching over 20 years. Frankly, that's a lot of hurting. I have corresponded with a former in prison who can't seem to shake drugs and the accompanying crime. I have attended the baby shower of a former who dropped out when she got pregnant during her senior year in high school (well I tried, but her water broke that morning so the shower was cancelled). I have heard of formers who work in the porn industry. One of my formers ran a drug ring at SDSU and will be in prison for a while. I have heard news about formers shot dead. One student fell to her death jumping out of a window to elude police crashing an underage party. These events are devastating. The hurts are nigh inconsolable.

This graduation invitation boosts me. She did not become a doctor because of me, nor did I steer her from bad decisions. She came out of the womb, I think, with her head on straight, and she kept it straight. This success boosts me because when you love someone who achieves her goal, you feel her exhilaration, her relief, her joy. It warms me because she is including me in her circle, knowing how great this makes me feel, who have always cheered her on, admiring her, knowing she could do anything with her big brain and bright smile. 

Here is a quote from my favorite allegory, Hind's Feet on High Places, that sums up why Love is always worth it, even though Pain is the risk:

     “She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed  lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn… ‘The seed looks very sharp,’ she said shrinkingly. ’Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?’

     He answered gently, ‘It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.’

     Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. ’When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,’ and a strange new courage entered her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, ‘Please plant the seed here in my heart.’

     His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, ‘Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.’

     Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, ‘It is so happy to love,’ and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes shown. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all.”
Hannah Hurnard, Hinds' Feet on High Places