Friday, December 30, 2011

Honest Conversations

My second hour speech class talked a lot. They moved around a lot.  They needed music going all the time.  They demanded my attention--good or bad.  They wanted me to notice them, to talk to them, to like them.  Many of them didn't get those things from other people teachers.

One of our last days of class together, as they put finishing touches on their "Commencement Addresses", some of us got involved in a conversation about teachers and school.  A very honest conversation.

Most of them hate school and can't wait to "get out of here".  They hate homework, boring classes, and lectures. When I asked them when was the last time they liked school, they told me elementary school (except for Mr. Cocky Wrestler, who told me he never liked school).  Their teachers were nice and the work was easy.  According to them, that changes in about fifth grade. In our district, that's the year they begin switching classes and teachers--and evidently, the work gets harder too.

It's the year we begin losing them.

By high school, their school "personalities" are fully formed...

So what did they hate about the high school?  Lectures, the same thing happening day after day after day, paper and pencil work all the time, teachers who write on the board all the time with their back to the class, and teachers who don't care.

What would they like to see their school like?  More hands on classes where the work makes sense, less lecturing, less "homework", teachers who care.

They want connections with teachers.  They want to know their teachers realize that students have lives outside of school. They want teachers who ask about those lives. And, they even want to know about the teacher's life outside of school.

Connections.

I'm not naive enough to believe that simply asking a student about their day is going to make them love school. Going to their game is not going make them A students or raise our test scores. Attending a concert is not going to make them do their homework. None of that is going to change anything--especially if it only happens one time.

When you ask an elementary teacher what they teach,  most say, "I teach ______ graders". When you ask middle school teachers you get a mixed response, but when you ask a high school teacher, 95% of them will say, "I teach ____________ (fill in subject).  When did we forget the most important part of our job?  In defense of high school teachers everywhere, there is always pressure to cover all the curriculum. To prepare our students for the next class in the spectrum.  To make sure they "get it".

My classes make it easier to connect, I know that. In speech, the first three or four speeches are about the students.  Actually, since they choose their own topics, all the speeches are really about them.  I find out many things about students in listening to those speeches.  Creative Writing also gives me opportunities to find out about my students.  Their writer's notebooks, their personal narratives, their poetry and stories, all give me a glimpse into who they are.

But I think all teachers at every level can find ways to connect with the kids in their classes.  It takes some time. It takes some effort. It takes teaching young adults and not curriculum. It takes knowing that in the end, it will be worth it.




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Favorites: 2011

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The end of 2011 is also bringing to an end my first year blogging.  Although I didn't start Coffee With Chloe until March, I started a different blog elsewhere in January.  Last night I deleted that blog.  It just didn't fit with my blogging life.

As I read through many of my posts, I sometimes wondered how I had the nerve to publish some of them.  They certainly weren't very good. Others I read almost as if I was reading them for the first time--I almost didn't remember writing them.

And then there were the old friends.  The ones I loved as I was writing them. And, I think that love shows in the writing of them.  I always preach to kids to write what they love--I guess that goes for me too!

So, here they are, from the early ones to the latest ones. My favorites posts of this past year. Not necessarily the most popular--but the posts that I loved writing.


  1. Puppy Kisses  The first, the scariest.  I introduced Chloe and myself to a whole new world.  I'll never forget clicking "publish" for the first time and then figuring out how to link this post to the TWT site.  It amazes me I was that brave!
  2. Look Gramma, It's a Princess  I write many posts about the grandkids.  This story is a particular favorite. I still remember that day vividly.  I don't know that I did it justice with my words, but for me it was important to record the memory.
  3. Dance With the Red Dog  Another Chloe post.  I like this one because it gives readers a glimpse into my mornings.  This is a dance I perform daily.
  4. Goat Dog  I wrote a lot about Chloe at the beginning of this blog.  She is a constant source of inspiration.  
  5. Lake of the Spirit  "The Lake" is another favorite topic of mine.  This piece shares why. Also, it's the first time Alan Wright commented on a post of mine. I admire his blog so much so this seemed like a milestone!
  6. Today I Walk  Funny. This wasn't on my list last night, but as I saw the title this morning and I reread it, it made the list.  I miss my dad a lot.  And our school memory walk is something I am proud of since I was on the original committee that started it.  This piece still makes me cry.
  7. Just Read I am passionate about my teaching, my students and reading and writing.  This piece did create great conversation and introduced me to The Book Whisperer.
  8. Flying Books  A moment in my classroom that made a difference to a few kids.  At the end of the semester, a couple of them came and asked me if they could still check out books from my room even if they didn't have me for class next semester.  Now that's success.
  9. Let It Be Me  More than my teaching, I am passionate about my students.  There are always a few I would take home with me if I could.  This piece and the poem Throw Away Kids are about two of my students this year.  Unfortunately, the young lady in this piece has dropped out of school (well, technically, she's being home-schooled). I'm happy to say, the young man from Throw Away Kids and Just Gone is back and with me.    
  10. Time  This post ran through my head so many days that it almost wrote itself.  

So, from Chloe and I, our favorite posts.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Peek Inside: My New Notebook

I started a new writer's notebook last month--my geekiness is showing, isn't it? I love it.  It's actually a notebook that I sent for a year ago and GOT FREE!  A cool free notebook--does life get better than this?


I have found the perfect pens to use when writing in it. The right pen is always an important component in writing in my notebook, It's got to look good...


I've been playing with words in it. I did write a blog draft in it.  I am adding others writing that inspires me.  "Revolution for the Tested" by Kate Messner is one I turn to a lot.

The inside cover of the notebook has a copy of a journal card that my art teacher friend gave me entitled "Introduction".

Introduction
 The last paragraph says,

We have to be willing to be observers.
To listen to leaves blow, to look for rare pennies and
to be anonymous.
Only then will our observations begin to
unfold, as we scribble, attack, write, draw, and scribble some
more until who we are slowly appears like invisible ink and
the pain stops for that split moment...and then we do it
all over again.

I apologize I can't credit this right now. When I get back to school I'll get the name of the journaling set.  It's awesome.  

I've used it with my freshmen and showed them how I add little snippets to it

A place I am comfortable/A place I am uncomfortable



I also copied a form from Angela Maiers that gave me permission to play!

Permission to play
I've stashed some previously written pieces into it. Who knows if they will see the light of day, but they are there.  There's a list of ideas for blog posts, there's a list of things to include in a writer's notebook.
I'm excited to share this with my new classes in January!

So, what's in your writer's notebook?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Celebrations for the End of the Semester

It's here.  That most wonderful time of the year. Winter Break!  For our district it is also the end of the semester.  We've finished those projects and tests, said good-bye to those we won't have in class next semester, thrown away the trappings of the beginning of the year and are ready to move on.

But before I move on, there are a few things to celebrate:

  • As I listened to my sophomores give their graduation speeches, I was amazed at how much they had all grown.  The skills they have picked up during the course of the semester showed as they stood in front of their classmates.  Even the boys, notorious for their "Slacker Voice", stepped it up for this last speech.  Students who read their speech looked up at us and spoke with enthusiasm. The students who took the time to memorize their speech were phenomenal!  Some of the best speeches ever given.  
  • The reflections written by my creative writing students show that I am on the right track with this class.  I still am not whole class sharing as much as I would like, but they shared amongst their writing groups well.  Most like that they are able to write what they want, when they want.  Most liked that they could start a draft and abandoned it if it wasn't going the way they envisioned.  I laughed as they also wrote that they learned to never throw a draft away because you never knew when you might want to work on it again.  
  • Our new principal is wonderful.  "Bossman" has been in the "line of fire" so to speak since day one.  I am amazed at his resiliency and ability to keep smiling after the semester he has been through.  He is the ultimate professional and treats his staff as such.  It's been a long time since I had an administrator treat me like this.  If you want to try something new, he is all over it. Finding you resources, sending you to observe finding the money.... 
  • The attitudes and behaviors of students in our building are improving--thanks in large part to our principal.  The rules are the rules and they now know if they break them, there are consequences.  Students are learning to respect that.  Many of the graduation speeches in class talked about his arrival and how it was hard to adjust. They all acknowledge this was a change for the better.  He won them over!
And now, on to second semester.  I wonder what surprises it will have in store?




Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks for Being Tough


Dear Mrs. Day,
You know how most of my speech was about victory and survival? Well, ironically, I can't believe I survived that! I mean, my speech was better than I had expected, but I would never have DREAMED  I could turn a four- minute speech into one that might just as well have been a perfect 6 minutes long! Thank you SO much for pushing me like you have in this semester! If you had gone any easier on me, my grade would be even worse than it is now (plus I would still be a chicken on the stage today!)

I often feel like I've failed kids. That I haven't done enough for them.  But not this student. The student from the above email, I actually felt like I was picking on him at times.

He's in a wheelchair, you see.  Spina Bifida. My instinct was to coddle him.  But I soon realized, he had had enough of that. And it was his body that was handicapped, not his mind.

In addition to being in a wheelchair, he had also been home-schooled (Don't jump all over me. I have had some excellent students who have been home schooled. But some, including this one, don't have the skills, social and otherwise, needed to "survive" in the school setting).

In talking to Mom at conferences, she appreciated most of the challenges going to high school afforded him. She wanted us to be tough.  And things happened that made me tough with him.  

Fast forward to last Friday morning before school.  It's our annual staff Christmas Breakfast potluck.  We all look forward to it.  Shortly before school starts, I see him sitting in his chair outside the library door.  I just know he's looking for me.

"Mrs. Day, I really need more time for my speech.  I haven't got it memorized, it's not long enough. I just need more time to prepare."

It's tempting to just say OK.  But it is clearly written on the assignment handout I give all students that once the order is set for speeches, there is no changing.  And if you skip are really sick the day you are supposed to give your speech, then you go to the end of the list.  Or maybe, you just receive a zero. Depends on the case.

His case is this.  Once he has a computer in his hand, it gets all of his attention. He hears nothing--not people talking around him, not bells, not directions.  And even though somewhere in his backpack is a sheet entitled "Commencement Address" filled with all the important information one would need to complete this final speech, he doesn't remember this. Or if he does, like all students, he thinks he is the exception to the rule.

I explain all this to him.  Again.  (he also accidentally deleted his speech once during the time we were working on it)

"Go down to my room and go over the speech. You are giving it today. It might be short, it might not be memorized. But it is not fair to the people behind you on the list for you to get more time.  It is now or never."

"Fine," he snapped as he rolled down to my room.

By the time class started and a few others presented, he was ready.  And you know what?  It was quite good.  A little short. Not memorized.  But good.  And as you can see by the email at the beginning of this post, he learned more than just how to give a graduation speech.



SIlly Snippet Slices

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Ok. So this last week has been crazy busy.  You all know what I mean.  The end of the semester craziness of:

  • semester projects (and getting them graded), 
  • tests (and getting them graded), 
  • portfolios (and getting them graded). 
So, frankly, I haven't written since last week. Nope. Haven't even thought about it.  Because on top of all the " of the semester, gotta cram it all in craziness", there's also the "Christmas is coming chaos".  You know:
  • finding the perfect gift (and wrapping it), 
  • baking the cookies (and frosting them),  
  • Christmas cards (scratch that--maybe next year).
So not one word has escaped from my pen.  However, that does not mean I haven't thought about writing.  Here's the list of never written blog posts:
I even took pictures of my notebook!
  • I started a new writer's notebook.  This makes me inexplicably giddy.  It will have a decent start when my new writing classes start in January. I can't wait to show them how I use it.  This notebook is so different from my old (but never forgotten) notebook.  I bet it will fill up faster too. (On a side note--I found graph paper sticky notes while shopping last weekend.  Those excited me also--I love writing notes on graph paper)
  • I'm frustrated with my English 9 class.  New textbook that I don't feel comfortable with is the main cause. It got better as the semester wore on.  I hope to have some time to prepare more over break.  I also feel like my freshmen are really immature--not just socially, but in their reading and writing abilities.  Need to fix that!
  • I'm thinking of tinkering with Creative Writing again.  Sharing is still an issue, but I noticed that my students broke themselves into groups naturally and shared through that.  Ruth's post on crit groups  has me thinking.  It's a much more comfortable way for students to share.  
  • I revisited my New School Year Resolutions.  Checked off The Book Whisperer. She and I really do think alike. I have created a new web site for English 9 (oh, did I mention in the craziness I took an online class on Google Apps?).  It's finished for class, but I will definitely be working on improving it for the kids.
  • A student THANKED me for being tough on him.  And trust me, that is a story in itself.
  • I continue reciting my quotes when things get rough: Attributed to Buddha, the first is Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind? The other quote that I used as a mantra last summer and will continue to use throughout the year, You must be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Ghandi. 
Whew!  I really can't go a week without writing again!  There's more, but I really have to stop and get ready for school.  Semester tests start today!  Yippee!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Elf on the Shelf

Thirty years ago an elf made an appearance at our house. He didn't look quite as fresh and new as this one. Especially as the years went by. Playing with two young boys tends to take a toll on an elf. But, even with all the abuse he took,  he was an annual visitor to our home.

Elf generally made his appearance on December 1st.  All of a sudden, he would just appear somewhere in the house.  We've never had a fireplace, so we knew he didn't come down the chimney,  We lived in  small towns and didn't lock the doors much, so I suppose he could have gotten in that way.  However he got in, his arrival was always an annual event.

Elf would spend the month with us, making sure the boys behaved themselves in those crucial days before Christmas.  It was hard to keep track of him because he moved about the house at will. Sometimes he showed up in the playroom to watch the boys at play. Other times he sat in a kitchen window sill to make sure they ate all their supper.  He liked to watch over them at night, so many times he slept in their room.

If the boys had an argument or didn't pick up toys, and sometimes when they were really good,  Elf would disappear for awhile. Never for long, and he always came back, taking up his station on a shelf somewhere in the house.  He liked to come down and play once in awhile, but the older the boys got, the less Elf got to play with them.

Soon, he just sat on a shelf.

Elf continued to make occasional appearances in our house for a few years after the boys were grown and gone. I think he was lonely and bored.  There wasn't much to do without two young boys in the house. And finally, one year, he just didn't show up on the first of December.

I see all the "Elf on the Shelf" books and toys for sale now.  He even has his own Christmas special now.  The Elf is everywhere.   Good for him. Success comes for those who wait....

But somehow, I miss the years when he was just ours.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Morning

Hot coffee
Warm blanket
Paper read
Writing done
Homework Avoided.

A whine
Nose in lap

Put that computer down
Writer's notebook, be gone.

I need some morning hugs.

And it's cold with my new
Haircut
Share the warmth

What?

Another cup of coffee?

I'll just go sleep on the couch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No Gifts With Cords

I am a  "What I Want for Christmas" list maker. My husband is not.  I love to make long wish lists of things I would love to receive. My husband does not. I love getting other people's "What I Want for Christmas" lists. You guessed it--my husband does not.  My philosophy is if you make the list long enough, you won't know what you are getting, but at least it will be something you really will enjoy. My husband believes it takes all the fun out of opening gifts because you already know what you got.

We "argue" about this every year.  It happened again over the weekend as I left a "wish list" of books and music on the kitchen table. Problem was, at the time, there was only one CD on the music list.  Evidently, it the one he was going to buy me.

So don't buy it. Look at the list of 15 or 20 books that are at the top of my book list. I'd rather have those.

Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking I'm being selfish, greedy, materialistic.  Really, I'm not.  Let me tell you a story.

Back when the boys were living at home we always planned a night for our own Christmas before our annual Christmas trip to Mom's.  We'd fix a favorite dinner.  Later settle in the living room  and pass out gifts. The boys were pretty good at finding gifts for mom and dad on limited budgets, always striving for the gift that would mean the most.  We'd take turns opening the gifts, appropriately oohing and ahhing over them.

But there was always one.  One that my dear husband would qualify before I'd even open it.  "Well, this one is kind of for all of us."

The dreaded gift with a cord.

One year it was a toaster we needed. Another year it was a blow dryer.

My question--if it's really for everyone, why is it wrapped and given to me?

Hence, my number 1 gift giving rule for men:  No gifts with cords (unless it specifically listed on the aforementioned Christmas list).

If only I could teach him how to search the Amazon Wish list....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Special Thank-You "You Matter"


Just had to show off my new "You Matter" picture.  The wonderfully talented Christy Rush-Levine made if for me (she also made herself a new header for her blogs).  Of course, then I had to redesign my blog again to go along with it.

Christy is starting a new blog also for her former students--students who want and need books to read now that they are in high school.  It's called Reading Beyond the Middle. I love that she is going out of her way to make sure they have good book recommendations to keep them reading long after they have left her classroom.

So this week's You Matter goes to Christy for going out of her way to make sure her students know they  matter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Middle of the Night

3:22am

Ferocious barking coming from the kitchen. Not your " Oh my gosh, I saw a dog (reflection) in the window! Why won't that other dog play with me?" bark. Not "How dare that squirrel, rabbit, stray cat run across my yard!" kind of bark.  This bark was of the "Danger! Danger Will Robinson!" variety (of course, at 3:22 in the morning, all barks could sound like that).

Chloe never barks in the middle of the night.  Never.

I sit straight up in bed and let the sound register in my head.  I walk to the front window and look out. So does Hubby.  A red truck is backing out of our driveway. A red truck I have never seen before.

"Good girl, Chloe,"  I say.  "This is a good time to bark in the house."

She wags her tail and leans against my leg, seeking comfort.

"Did you see that red truck go down the driveway?"

"Yea.  Maybe they were just backing out to turn around."

"No. They were all the way up to the house.  Who would do that?"

"Could it be the weekend paper starting?"

A check of the front door confirms....paper delivered.

We pat Chloe and turn to go back to bed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time


Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.  ~John Archibald Wheeler



My life is chaotic right now. I'm so tired at the end of the week, I can hardly wait for bed on Friday night. However, I put all the blame on the clocks in my life.  This is how this morning went as I tried to make it to school on time for a 7:30am rehearsal (anytime kids are willing to rehearse at 7:30, I am going to be there!).

  • got up, according to my bedroom clock, at 6:14am (never mind that my dear hubby sets his clock 15 minutes ahead. So that clock is at 6:34!)
  • walked downstairs and it was 6:21am  (I'm slow in the morning, but not that slow!) Start coffee and take a shower.  6:34 when I head to the living room, according to the clock on the stove--the one on the wall actually tells me it's 6:36
  • After checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and drinking a cup of coffee while watching the morning news, I left the living room at 7:04am and walked to the bathroom to dry my hair--arrived there at 7:07 (again, not that slow).
  • Got ready to leave the house. Kitchen clock said 7:21
  • Started car. Clock said 7:17 (Oooo, I'm speeding up!)
  • On school street the sign outside said 7:21(still good!  I'll make it on time. Understand I only live five blocks from school. I should make it on time.)
  • Walked into school building. One cafeteria clock said 7:28 the other said 7:31 (really--I don't walk that slow!) 
  • Office clock says 7:29
  • First hallway clock I pass says 7:30
  • Turn the corner to my room. Clock in my hallway--8:36!!!!!!  Arrrrgggghhhhh.
Really--I'm not making this stuff up.  I need to get my clocks together!