Monday, April 30, 2012

Worth the Effort

A student's accident prompted my little rant today.  She's not a bad kid (and really, no one has said she is), but the first comment I heard from someone today was "I wonder if she'd been drinking?"  It kind of rankled me and it got me thinking about the double standard we apply to kids.

We get a little jaded in education.  We sometimes think we have it all figured out.  We think we know just how to reach kids. We think we know which ones are the "good" kids and worth the effort and we think we know which ones are the "bad" kids and we should just write them off.

Kids don't change, you see. Kids don't grow up and mature. Kids don't realize they need to step up.

The "good" kids,

  • the ones worth the effort, 
  • the ones that would never cheat 
  • the ones that would never party on a Saturday night
  • the ones that make us think school is their number one priority
if something happens to one of them, everyone is is a tizzy.  The whole school would be on alert.
  • "Oh, the poor parents."
  • "What can we do to help?"
  • "I wonder what happened?"
But, the "bad" kids,
  • the ones not worth the effort
  • the ones that do whatever it takes to get through school because no one cares
  • the ones that let loose on Saturday night
  • the ones that let us know school is not the top thing on their list 
when something happens to them, the first words spoken are, "I wonder if he was drinking?  She must have been partying somewhere. Great. Now they'll be behind again." No one considers that they might have just been driving down the road.

But
let's not forget, that those "bad" kids, the ones not worth the effort, the ones that people write off, they are someone's kid. Someone loves them. Someone was scared senseless with a late night phone call. Someone thinks they are worth the effort.

And they are.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Should Know Better

Really.

I should know better.

20  more days of school. The bitchers and complainers are in top form.  They band together like a pack of hungry wolves ready to pounce--or at least talk about pouncing.  They don't actually do anything. They just complain about it. Make up the rules they think they would like to have. But they won't do anything about anything because they don't want to get their hands dirty.

I should know better.

Bus evacuation drill this morning and for some reason, I stood with the B and C's.  WHY????

Just wasn't thinking.  But it didn't take long for the pouncing to start.

"Does anyone else see the shorts that are too short. Four of them, right in a row."
"Yep"
"Why do we have to tell them over and over again?"
"They are young adults. We should tell them once and expect them to remember."
"Yes. And if they wear them anyway, kick them out."
"We should have big baggy sweatpants for them."

You get the drift.  On and on.

But, not one of them stepped over to the girls and said anything about the shorts.

Not one.

Not one of them turned the girls in to the office.

Not one.

Because, evidently, it's more fun to complain about how nothing is ever done than it is to do something.

I left.  I suppose I should have said something, but I didn't think the shorts were bad.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

She Sits Alone


I watch her during the night. Sitting there in a dress that is very much her, yet somehow, strangely wrong. A little too short. A little too tight in the wrong places. A little too much.  It must be hard, sitting there alone on the bleachers while most of those around her dance as if their lives depended on it. She tries to look like she is having a good time, but knowing her, she has put a happy face on her anger and despondency.

For half the night, I thought she came by herself.  Some do. But she wouldn't--not without her posse. So she must have a date somewhere.  Ahhh, there he is. Sitting at a table in the cafeteria with his buddies. He's a quiet kid. Very unlike her. How did they become prom dates? He,  a fringe of the popular crowd. She, one of the wild ones.  His friends are all here, hanging out together while their girlfriends dance.  She isn't friends with the girls. Doesn't think much of them, I know.

So she sits alone on the bleachers....

Later I see her in the senior hallway, phone plugged in to the lone outlet. She stands, texting the friends that stayed away. Those who make fun of the prom goers, even as they realize, they would be out of place in this secret garden of high school drama.

A cynical laugh as we talk, "It's awkward, you know."  An old boyfriend is there with his new girl.
"He keeps trying to talk to me, but..."  She lets the sentence hang there, much like she has been left to hang.

"Well, at least you found a plug in."

That laugh again.

She finds me later, in the gym.

"I feel sorry for him," and she points to a young man I don't know, sitting alone on the bleachers.

"Who is he?"

"E's ex. They broke up like a couple of weeks ago. But they had his prom last weekend and hers this weekend, so they decided to still go together.  But she just left him sitting there. I feel sorry for him.  I think I'll go talk to him."

She skips over to the bleachers, trying, I know, to look like the giddy high school girl she is not.

I see her as the dance is ending. "I think I'm going home. A is tired and so am I. Think I'll just go home and crash."

"Good plan," I say.

And put an end to this night of sitting alone on the bleachers, I think.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ready to Flip

Twitter is my favorite PD. Last September, I found an article through a tweet that introduced me to flipped classrooms.  I immediately retweeted it and noted that it was something I was interested in looking into.  My wonderful new principal (whom I didn't know very well at the time) asked if I would be interested in seeing it in action. Before I knew it, three colleagues and I were on our way to his former school to visit with teachers already implementing flip classrooms.

It was mind changing.  They were honest with us about the work it took, the drawbacks, what it took to get it going.

And it got me reading. I've read the pros and cons.  I've pinned articles to my Pinterest board on Flipped Classes so I can go back and review them. I began lurking on #flipchat on Twitter. I follow blogs and news articles.  Most of the information I find deals with math and science classrooms, but I don't believe they are the only classes this can be done with.

And I am ready to make the commitment.  My summer challenge for myself is to prepare materials and flip my creative writing class. Creative writing seems the easiest of my classes to flip. The main reason being since I use a writing workshop approach, I have many mini lessons prepared already. The directions and the examples are ready. Also, I reworking the details of this class anyway, and following Kelly Gallagher's ideas from Write Like This: Teaching Real World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts. 


It just makes sense to flip this class.

And the bossman challenged me to get this going next year.

So...
What is a flipped classroom?  Essentially, for me anyway, it is a delivery method.  The flipped classroom delivers the instruction for the class outside of the classroom--generally online (although a podcast I listened to yesterday says it doesn't HAVE to be online). The learning, the "homework" is done during class time. During class time, so the teacher is there the moment a difficulty arises.

Flipping a classroom really creates a student centered classroom--well, it does if you do it right. It does if the teacher is willing to give up control. Teachers must think through their lessons. Here's what the students need to know when we are done. How are we going to get there? Content before technology.

And, students need to take control of their own learning. And they need to know it will be hard.

So, stay tuned. I'm sure there will be more posts as I struggle to change the way I "Stand and Deliver".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"I Am Not Invisible"

I read many student pieces in the course of a year.  Many attempts at honesty. Many attempts at poetry. Many attempts at storytelling and personal memoirs.

Never have I become so engrossed in a piece that I quit reading it as a teacher and just read it as a reader.  But, this morning, sitting in my comfy pink chair in the front of the room, I dropped my Flair and read an incredible piece of writing.

A memoir told in verse, (17 poems, to be exact.) this student revisited a dramatic incident from her high school life last year.  She recounted her side of a story that everyone in the building knows. She told it honestly, with no excuses for her behavior. Just the reasons.

She showed through her words how she has grown through the experience. I understand why she doesn't regret her choices. I applaud her for standing up for herself.

I laughed. I cried. I cheered. I am in awe. It was truly the most fabulous piece of student writing I have read in a very long time. I wish I could share it with you all.  It teaches lessons far beyond her experience.

It haunts me still, hours later. 

I can't get it out of my mind.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Just for Today

I arrived at school this morning and saw the big, pink comfy chair sitting in my reading/writing center. It called to me. I wanted to sit, but I know if I do, nothing will get done. I started this poem instead. One of my students told me I could call it Whiny Wednesday....

Rainy
Gloomy
Damp

Eyes droopy
Head aches
Throat sore

I'm whiny
I don't want to correct papers
I don't want to teach
I don't want to do nothin'

Just for today
I want to be the kid in the comfy chair
          in the hall
          in my sweats
I want to put my earbuds in and
                  write
                  chat
                  giggle
                  read
I want to play with my own writing
Throw the words around on paper
         and see how they fit
I want to open a new book and
         sink into its world
         not coming up to breathe
                 until
I shut the door on the very last page

Just for today....
                 


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Like a Squirrel Gathering Nuts

Although I haven't been writing for the blog much since the end of March, it doesn't mean I haven't been reading, writing, and thinking.  I've been following through on my New (School)Year Resolutions and reading more professionally. And, like a squirrel gathering nuts, I've been squirreling away resources and ideas to work on over the summer.

Right now I am reading savoring and working through Kelly Gallagher's book Write Like This: Teaching Real World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts.  In this book, Kelly discusses real-world writing purposes. He writes chapters on the six areas he feels students will write long after they leave his classroom.  Kelly provides mentor texts, assignments, and strategies to help a teacher get started.

I'm am loving all that I am learning from this book.  I started reading it fast. Then stopped. Started over. Took notes. Tried activities.  Some are hard. But if I want to use these ideas next year, I want my own mentor texts.

In the first chapter, Gallagher describes and gives examples of each of the purposes. He then shares an activity that has students take one topic they are passionate about and come up with 18 ways to write about it.  I'm working on it, but it is tough for me to do--especially the Analyze/Interpret area and the Propose a Solution area.  My mind doesn't seem to want to work that way. Sure glad that I am trying this first and not just winging it in front of class. Although, when I teach this to the class next year, I will try a new topic and let them see me struggle with it a bit.

The rest of the chapters work through the six purposes. I really like these (they actually incorporate the genres that I now require). I think it will help me give kids more focus in the course. They definitely "fit" better into the common core. I want to work his ideas into the things I am already doing. I'm going to keep doing activities myself and writing and thinking about what I learn.  It's hard. But in the end, I think it will be worth it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Playing Around

Playing around on the computer--checking our Facebook and Twitter and landing on Pinterest. And found "You Are Your Words" from American Heritage Dictionary. You upload a picture and some of your own words and POOF!  A self-portrait.  I used a blog post....



And POOF again


And one more time


You can change fonts and colors and the contrast, so each picture is unique.  I think my creative writing students would really like this.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mrs. J





She looked like the stereotypical farm wife--housedress, Keds tennis shoes on her feet, no frills, just her wedding ring and a handkerchief.  She loved deer hunting in the fall and "her kids" the rest of the year. She always had a smile on her face and I don't know if I ever heard her raise her voice.  She didn't need to.


I received the email that she passed away on Saturday.  Mrs. J, as she was fondly referred to, wasn't the world's best teacher--but she was one of the most loved teachers I have ever worked with. Young adults in their 30's remember sitting in her class, vying for the infamous sour balls she kept in her room.  (I'm sure she must have owned stock in the company).  Even when she was a sub in her later years, there were always sour balls for the good, the bad, the loud, the lonely.  I'm not sure what it took exactly to be rewarded with a sour ball, but you felt special when you earned one.


I first met Mrs. J in about 1988, when I took a long term sub position in sixth grade.  She had the room across the hall from me.  I loved hearing the learning and the fun coming from her classroom. Especially considering I was teaching from the notecards in the box on the desk, a sure sign that the teacher I was teaching for never changed her lesson plans. Mrs. J always had practical advice, and she made sure I had back up when I needed it. 


While she loved all her students, boys seemed  to be her favorite. And they loved her. My oldest son's  Facebook status on Sunday, "Goodbye Mrs. J. You're one of the reasons I want to be a teacher." And it's true. His love of history and his wanting to be a teacher are a direct result of her teaching in fifth grade.  


A colleague posted, "When people ask me who my favorite teacher of all time is, the answer is so simple for me. No doubt in my mind Mrs. J was the one. She gave me my nickname of Rah back in 5th grade and it has stuck with me through the years. You have touched so many lives and will be missed by so many!"


Mrs. J had to retire when her husband became ill.  She wasn't ready to go. We all knew that. After he passed away, she came back to sub and continued until about five years ago.  I don't know how old she was, but she continued teaching long after most would have. And she will be missed...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Failure

Failure is a funny thing.
If we don't do something quite right, we failed.
If we don't connect with each and every student, we failed.
If, heaven forbid, a student has more issues than we can deal with, we fail.

We tend to focus on the one
Forgetting about the many.
We want a magic potion to fix what needs fixing.
We want the giant S we wear under our clothing to mean something.

What we really need to do is
Be kind to ourselves.
We need to realize
Even the wisest people on the planet
have failed.
And sometimes, a student has to have the desire
To succeed.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hades


I am in English teacher hell.  I can't think of what to write.  None of my ideas seem worthwhile. Putting too much pressure on myself, I'm sure.

None of the books I grabbed to read grabbed me.  I've got a great pile.  And some suggestions from others.  Nothing, however, just feels right.

I have Creative Writing to grade. Ugh.  Usually I don't mind, but today my heart isn't in it.

It's Tuesday. I can read and comment on others' blogs.  That usually good for inspiration.
But not today.

But, write I will, because it's good for me!


Monday, April 2, 2012

Dear Mrs. Day

He was never given much of a chance. In fact, one of his teachers declared it Christmas when he was removed from school and sent away.

He was 15 years old.

Academically challenged.
Poor home life.
Anger issues.


Students loved to say and do things that set him off. 

It happened several times. Yelling and screaming. A broken window. A knife.  

People at times were understandably afraid of him.  There were plans in place to handle him. You were never to yell at him in front of others, or even to point out when he was in the wrong.  Basically, if he was in your class, you handled him with kid gloves.


A recipe for trouble.

I remember the first day I really talked to him.

Three years ago in May, I sat in the library while my students were researching a speech.  He was sitting at a different table with the man who was his one on one aide.  The man was a retired teacher hired just to follow this student around, and make sure he got some work done in class. But mostly, this man was hired to make sure the student didn't fight with others in the hallway.

The boy came over and sat down beside me.

"Mrs. Day, can I talk to you about speech?"
"Sure. What do you want to know?"

He, like most freshmen, was afraid to take my class.  Mostly, because it was speech, but, also, he had heard in junior high that I was tough. We talked for the entire class period.

There were minor incidents in my classroom the semester I had him in class, but for the most part, he was a good kid.  He worked hard on his speeches and really liked doing them.  He always did his best for me. And I always let him know when he did well.

He came back for a visit a few weeks ago.  He had just been released from the facility where he was sent. We chatted for quite awhile. I asked about what he did in the facility and how he was doing now.

"It was pretty good, Mrs. Day.  They really helped me handle my anger issues. I haven't hit anybody in months.  I also got caught up on my classes. I might be able to graduate with my class next year."

He wants to go into the service.  I'm not sure how that will go, but it might be just the thing he needs. Structure and discipline. Something he didn't get a lot of at home.

Why did I write about this young man. Because today, you see, I got a letter in my school mailbox.  The grammar wasn't correct, nor was the punctuation.  But it was sincere. And the last line made me cry--

In all Mrs. Day, I would like to say thank-you for believing in me.


And that is why I teach.