Saturday, December 29, 2012

Build It and They Will Come

Reflections on Book Love by Penny Kittle
I'm participating in not one, but two online discussions about this book. I read it as soon as it came out, but these groups are giving me time to reflect and shape my thinking. 

I don't know what I was thinking when I left most of my first classroom library in the junior high where I taught.  Did I think high school students didn't need books? Did I think high school students only read classics? Did I think high school students didn't need easy reads?

I don't know. But I left most of that library on the shelves for the next reading teacher (bangs head on desk).

I moved into my new room at the high school, a room I shared with another teacher. She taught freshmen English in the mornings while I was in another room. I taught speech there in the afternoons. Roomie and I are very compatible, so the arrangement worked great.  At some point, we began bringing our books into the room.

And that is how the second classroom library began. A few books from home (high five).

Slowly, it grew.  We both taught a scripted reading program that we hated (poking eyes out with dull spoon). The only good thing about the program was 15-20 minutes a day of choice reading (Well, choice if you taught it with fidelity. Some who are teaching it now are bastardizing the choice component by assigning genres.) Because of that choice component, we began buying more books (I love Scholastic)  and the school bought many (woohoo!).

The library grew (cheers from the crowd).

It's hard to find good books for teenagers. Not what most adults think are good books. I wanted those books that high school students and their teachers thought were good books. Young Adult fiction.

This was about the time that I took Twitter seriously (@mrsday75). And do you know what I found?  People like Roomie and I. People that taught teenagers, respected teenagers, and, best of all, LIKED teenagers (It's amazing to me the number of educators who don't actually like kids.) And these Twitter people LIKED to read young adult fiction. And they wrote about it. They shared titles. They shared book trailers!

I began keeping a list. A long list. If all I did was read every day (I want that job) I might be able to keep up with the young adult fiction out there, but for now, I'll trust the opinions of others.

I started haunting garage sales and second hand stores. My husband knows that if we are in a town with a Goodwill, we have to stop. And I will be there awhile. My favorite finds have been a brand new hardcover copy of The Book Thief  (and it only cost me a buck). A copy of Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver (This resulted in my author crush on Maggie). An autographed copy of Dick Vitale's autobiography (My basketball players are SERIOUSLY impressed). 

The point is, you never know what you will find. You do your research. You keep your eyes and ears open.

And then you ask. When I taught seventh grade, I would ask parents to donate any books that they were going to get rid of (I can't imagine getting rid of books, but people do it!). I couldn't use all the books I received, so I took what I wanted and put the rest in the lounge of our K-8 building. They were scooped up. (It's about time I do this again!). Roomie and I have also had students donate books to the library when they are done with them.  We always write in the books "Generously donated by___" on the inside front cover so others can see where the books come from.

So, that's how it happens. One or two books at a time.

And now the books are nestled in their baskets on the shelves.

But, do they read them?

Roomie is now in her own room, teaching Spanish around the corner. She left her books with me because it was easier than moving them. She just comes down and grabs books for kids when they need them. Every once in awhile, a student will appear at my door during class.

"Schwade sent me to get a book."
"Do you need help?"
"No, she gave me a list."

Someone will show up between classes...
"Help, Mrs. Day. I need a book."

Or a staff member will say, "What have you read lately that's good?"

And that's how it happens. One or two books at a time.

Book Love.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Pathway to Difficult Reading Begins With Books They Enjoy

Reflections on Book Love by Penny Kittle
I'm participating in not one, but two online discussions about this book. I read it as soon as it came out, but these groups are giving me time to reflect and shape my thinking. 

Introduction and Chapter 1

I started my career as a seventh grade teacher. I was somewhat shocked that all students didn't love to read like I did. So we would talk. They told me they didn't like to read. They liked to hunt and skateboard and play video games. Some were musicians, others liked to sing or draw or act. I taught football players, volleyball players, basketball players, runners and wrestlers.

But I didn't teach readers.

Reading has been a part of my life forever. I don't remember not knowing how to read. And, as a child, I was surrounded by it. Both of my parents and most of my grandparents were readers. I read everything I could get my hands on. As I like to tell my students on the first day, I'll read the cereal box if I don't have anything else.  I can't imagine a life of not reading.

Because of my love of reading, I made a promise to those 7th graders. I will find you a book that at the end of it you will be able to say, "Well, that didn't suck." (Never tell a teenager that you will find them something they will love. It turns them off immediately).

And then I work to do just that.

Now I teach high school students.  High school, where the love of reading goes to die.

"I don't have time."
"Reading sucks."
"I haven't read a book since __________."
I've never finished a book."

And I again am making my promise. Just one book...

Because I know if I can find the one right book, that may make all the difference.

It takes time to do that. It takes talking to kids. It takes a lot of books. It takes patience.
It takes a teacher who reads and shares that love of reading.

This year I am keeping my list of books read front and center in my classroom---literally. I have a poster of the books I have read, complete with stars. Another poster lists my To-Be-Read list (I need another poster, this one is full). And outside my room and many other rooms in our school hangs a poster:

Poster created by Tanya Riehle, art teacher extraordinaire.

What I like is that even some of my nonreaders ask me what I'm reading if I have left this blank.  It's a baby step toward reading, but a step nevertheless.

Quotes to Embrace:
"Allowing students to make choices about what they read has been presented in our procession, especially at the secondary level, as enrichment--something to do once the hard work is over. I believe, instead, that it is at the center of our work."

"A book isn't rigorous if students aren't reading it."

"Teenagers want to read--if we let them."

"The pathway to difficult reading begins with books they enjoy."

" pleasure in constant confusion..."

"I believe we own a reader's improvement in the year we have them."

"Nothing without joy."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Two Sides to Every Story....

It all started because I forgot to take my
blood pressure pills and vitamins Monday
What started?  I don't know what she's talking
about.  I was just entertaining myself.

I went home during my prep because I
left my pills and vitamins on the counter.
The last time I did that, Chloe got the bottle 
off the counter and got the lid off.  
Thankfully, she didn't eat any of the pills,
but I found the bottle and the pills on her 
blanket, just outside of her kennel. I was 
worried she'd do it again, so I went home.

Really, shouldn't she have to warn me when 
she's coming home early?  I mean, when do 
I get a little privacy in this place?

I walked into the house. The first thing
I saw were chewed up kleenex on the rug.
Great. She's gotten into the bathroom 
garbage. At least there wasn't a huge mess.

Maybe I'll pretend to be asleep. If I don't come
out of my kennel, she won't yell at me.

And then, I saw the kitchen. 

Geez, oh geez, oh geez.  I think she noticed the 
kitchen. I promise Santa. I was going to clean
up my  mess. Really I was. She just came  home 
too early! 

What a mess!  Garbage all over. You 
couldn't even see the floor. Yogurt cups,
butter wrappers, plastic containers, and 
coffee grounds. Everywhere. It was 

I was a little bored after they both left. and  I
haven't gotten much exercise lately.
I just smelled something soooo good in the can.
It was driving me crazy, so I had to find out
what it was. And I didn't finish supper last night, 
so I was kinda hungry.  And, well, I love yogurt. And 
then there was a hamburger wrapper and some
bread and....well, you get it. One thing led to another.

And Chloe?  The barker? The snoopy one
who greets everyone at the door. She didn't 
get out of her kennel. She lay there with her head
hanging over the door frame of her kennel, looking out 
from under her eyebrows...

They yell at me all the time for barking 
in the house , and now she's mad  because
I DIDN'T bark in the house. Jeesh. You
just can't please some people.

I start picking up the big pieces of garbage
(Remember, I was just running home for a
few minutes. It's my PREP time.) Guess 
who slinks out of her kennel? 

She wasn't yelling. In fact, she was 
kind of smiling. I thought it was safe.

Butt wagging, smiling and so glad to see
me. It was hard to be mad.

Puppy dog eyes. Gets her every time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Words That Are Speaking to Me

Words that are speaking to me:

"Writing, painting, singing--it cannot stop everything. Cannot halt death in its tracks. But perhaps it can make the pause between death's footsteps sound and look and feel beautiful, can make the space of waiting a place where you can linger without as much fear. For we are all walking each other to our deaths, and the journey there between the footsteps makes up our lives."

     From Reached  by Ally Condie

Friday, December 14, 2012

They Were My Kids Too

It's not that I wasn't touched by the movie theatre shooting or the mall shooting or the temple shooting. I was  (How sad is it that I don't have to be specific in naming those events?). But today's shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut had me in front of my computer all day close to tears and tonight in front of my TV letting those tears fall.

It's not that those other shootings weren't horrific. They were.
It's not that those other shootings didn't affect me. They did.
It's not that those other shootings didn't leave families in mourning. They did.
But this was a school shooting.

And I am a teacher.

Those were MY kids.

That was MY classroom.

It doesn't matter that I teach high school kids and the victims were babies.


And I'm not sure that anyone who is not a teacher understands the depth of feelings in a teacher's heart tonight.

We have lock-down drills in my high school. Practice for something I hope I never have to face.

Cell phones off.
Lights off.
In a corner.
Blinds pulled.
Door locked.

"What happens if we are in the bathroom?"
"What if I'm in the hall?"
"What if I'm in the computer lab?"
"What if...?"
"What if....?"
"What if I get here after you shut the door? Will you let me in?"

I watched those teachers leading their kids out of the building. Thinking of what was going through their head. And I know what it was. And it wasn't about themselves.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12: My 12 Favorite Christmas Ornaments

I love decorating my house for Christmas, and, just like my grandma, I have LOTS of ornaments. It's only natural then that my 12/12/12 post is about my 12 favorite Christmas ornaments.

The Noel Angels

I love these little angels because they remind me of home.  I got them out of "Grandma's Garage" after she passed away. My mom also has a set that my sisters and I played with. For years, my mom was the N, I was the O, my sisters were the E and L.  My brother was born when I was 8 and we all moved up an angel. Poor mom was kicked out of the angel club.  

Santa Baby Toy

My oldest son was born a week before Christmas and this was his very first toy of any kind. It was given to him by someone who was a dear friend during this time of my life.  Although I gave both sons all the Christmas ornaments that were theirs when they married and moved out on their own, this one I kept. It holds lots of memories.

Old Fashioned Santa

This is another treasure out of Grandma's garage.  There used to be two. I always let kids play with them until one was destroyed. Then I put this one up.  I collect Santas and this was really my first. 

Family Pictures

I always have family pictures sitting around. I think it has to do with the fact that no family lives in town. At Christmas I have favorite holiday pictures in winter frames. This particular one is of my mom, my sisters and I one family Christmas. We're singing along to the Jackson 5 Christmas album (that dates us a little, doesn't it). It was silly. It was fun. And it started a new family tradition.

Snow Days Screen Painting

What teacher doesn't love a snow day once in awhile? My husband bought this for me one year and it remains a favorite of mine. An added a bonus--I can leave it up until I'm sick of winter!

A Gift From Santa

I am a firm believer in the rule "If you don't believe in Santa you get underwear for Christmas". And because I am a believer, I often get Santa presents in December. This one came in early December one year so that I could enjoy it the whole season.

Snowman Scene Nightlight

One year my best friend and I were doing a little Christmas shopping in town.  I saw this and loved it. She bought it right out from under me. I was so disappointed. But several weeks later gave it to me when we celebrated Christmas together.

Wooden Santa Hanging

More proof that Santa exists!

The Elves

They're just plain cute. I used to put this in front of our Christmas tree because I liked how it looked as if the elves were decorating the tree. But then we got Chloe. She tends to eat things like this. So I moved them to the top of the stairs. Yep. I decorate the upstairs bedrooms too.

Santa Treetopper

What I really want for the top of the tree is Mom's one-eyed angel (long story there). But I have to settle for my Santa.  

Ornaments from students

As a middle school teacher, I still received gifts from students (high school students just don't seem to do that). Many of them hang on my tree. They give me a smile every year.

Santa Portrait

I found this portrait one year and had to add it to my Santa collection. This is just what I imagine the jolly old soul to look like.

Musical Snowmen

I love these guys. Often when I'm cleaning or cooking I wind them up and let them play. These used to sit at the foot of the bar in our dining room. But once again, Chloe. She has this thing about stuffed toys of any kind, so now I put them up.  The grandkids love them, so when they come for Christmas, I'll have to put them somewhere lower.

Snowman Family

One of our sons gave me this for Christmas one year.  It's just cute and I like it. Always reminds me of him.

The Grandparent Snowmen

My husband gave this to me the year our first grandchild was born. I left the tag on because it says "To Grandma Deb from Grandpa Googie". The first thing I received as a Grandma.....

So, that's it. 12 of my favorite Christmas ornaments. All with special memories. All given with love. All shared with you.  Now, what are your 12 favorite things?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snow Dog

It snowed here on Sunday. Big fluffy flakes. Picture postcard perfect flakes. Beautiful for a first snow, although I'm sure the same snow in February or March won't be near so beautiful or perfect.

I don't think Chloe remembered what that white stuff was. At first she just went out, did her business and came back in. It wasn't until we went in the back yard to play that she really got the white stuff figured out.

And then she went nuts.

I tried to play fetch, but the cold air made her frisky. She growled and jumped and did her happy, crazy race around the yard. She stuck her nose in it, tasted it and rolled in it.

And then, I tried to make a snowman.

I start the perfect ball. Get it rolled just right. Put it in the perfect spot.

Chloe thought the ball was for her. It must have looked like a fun toy. Surely if she picked it up and ran, I would chase her. Every time I made a ball, she dove in. Sometimes she tried to eat it. Sometimes she tried to roll it with her nose. I never did get a festive holiday snowman made for my yard.

But, I do have a snow dog...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Unwritten Vow

It wasn't part of our wedding vows, but it should have been.

I dealt with poopy diapers and poop in the yard.  I dealt with puking kids and puking animals. I kept turtles and frogs and fish in the house when everyone knows those creatures live in the wild (I drew the line at snakes). I killed my share of spiders and other creepy crawlies.


I will not deal with mice and dead critters.  That's his job. (I'm sure it's written in a husband handbook somewhere.) And it is a hard and fast rule in our house (It tops my No gifts with cords rule).

So when I saw the tell-tale signs of a mouse in the house, I followed the rule and told my husband about it.

"Oh, no. Are you sure?" 

Am I sure? Really? As I am taking all the dish towels out of the drawer and washing them (I'd really like to throw them all and get new ones, but that may be a little extreme), he asks me if I'm sure.

I give him "the look".

"OK. I'll get something tomorrow."

The next night he came home with glue traps. GLUE TRAPS.  The mouse runs across them and gets stuck to the trap. He, of course, talked to people all day about what to use.

"These work great," he proclaims.

"Fine," I answer. "But I will NOT be touching those things after I put them out.  That's your job."

He chuckles. "I know."

A couple of days go by. No signs of anything. Of course, it has warmed up outside. The critters don't need to come in and get warm. Each day I take a peek inside the cupboard under the sink and the towel(less) drawer.

And then it happens.

I peek in the drawer and there it is. A mouse stuck to the trap. I'm sure I looked and sounded like a cartoon character.

"Oooo, oo, oo.  Greeeeggggg.  There's a mouse in the drawer.

"Are you sure?"

Really? Again with the are you sure?  Just because I'm running from a mouse stuck in a glue trap, you question what I saw?

He laughs as he walks to the kitchen (shouldn't he be running to save me?). Opens the drawer. Yep, there's a mouse in there.  He grabs a plastic bag.

"Well, come out here and hold the sack and help me."

Really? I have a serious case of the heebie-jeebies and he wants me to hold the sack.

I don't think so.

"No. I told you when you bought the damn glue traps that I would have nothing to do with this. I will not hold the sack."

He laughs at me again.

"Come on. Just hold the sack.You don't have to touch it or anything. I'll pull out the drawer and dump it in."

See, he's not too fond of this either.

"Oh, I think it's still alive. Maybe I'll get it tomorrow."

Yeah. And I won't be helping you then, either.

Enjoy more Slice of Life stories at Two Writing Teachers!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Explosion in room 25
Combustible attitudes
Overworked teacher
Tired Students

An F bomb drops
Not acceptable
An "I'll do what I want"

Going nowhere
Others waiting
To see where this train is headed

To an impasse
No winners
Only whiners

Today's Task

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where I'm Headed

I first heard about flip classrooms last year. And, true to form, I began reading and learning all I could about them. I didn't jump right in. I sat back and watched and learned.  Here's what I believe and where  I am headed (and in many ways, I'm already there).

Flip class--giving students what they need when they need it. Not on my time. Their time. So I'm not flipping lectures. If I need to say something to the whole class, then I'll talk to the whole class (and record it for those who are absent. A bonus for those kids who want to go back and see it again.) And maybe that's blended learning.....

Flip class--expecting students to take charge of their learning. Yes. I know I have to help them along the way. Yes. I am the teacher. Yes. I need to give them a gentle nudge once in awhile.  But they need to take charge. What do they need to know to move forward in their learning?  I expect them to tell me and find some of the information themselves.

Google it. The most powerful words I know.

If I want to learn more about something, I first google it and get the basics. Then I find a book. Then I find people who know more than I do. Or sometimes, I flip this. I go to the people first. I move on to google. Then I find a book. It really depends on what I want to know more about.

And I don't limit myself to those things--I blog and love the comments. I use Twitter. I have asked my Facebook friends. I ask students.

Flipped Learning. That's where I'm going. I expect my students to take control of their lives and their learning.

Besides modeling what a lifelong reader and a lifelong writer look like, I want to show them what a lifelong learner looks like.

Because I am one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Do People Need to Learn to Write

Last week, Ruth Ayres wrote a thought provoking post over at Two Writing Teachers. At the same time, I have been struggling with where I want my Creative Writing classes and English 9 classes to go.  I can see in my head my ideal classroom, but the reality is ugly. We're not there. And I'm not sure of the road I'm taking. So, the questions Ruth asked got me thinking and questioning myself and exploring and writing. The results, my beliefs about writing, will be here, in a series of posts.

I learned to write by writing. Sounds simple, doesn't it.

But it's not that simple. I really believe there is much more to it.

People need time to learn to write. A dedicated time in their day where the focus will be putting pen to paper---or fingers to keys--and they write. And how do I know this? Because I haven't been making that time. I find all kinds of other little time suckers and I haven't been writing. Not like I used to. And in my classroom, I sometimes just need to step back and let my kids write.  Conferencing is good. Mini lessons are good. But sometimes, those are time suckers too. The other day I asked my students if they needed me. Did they need me to conference? Did we need to talk about ideas some more?  Or did they just need me to shut up and get out of the way. They just smiled and told me they were fine. They just needed the time to put fingers to keys and get those thoughts down.

People also need time to play and practice.  This semester I been more intentional about sharing mentor texts and sharing my own writing.  It seems to have freed up my students imaginations. Before starting their own pieces, we play around with the mentor texts.  We use them as templates. We write from prompts I have intentionally chosen (most of the time) for the type of writing we are doing. All before they actually choose what they are going to write.  By the time I finally turn them loose, most are begging to get started.

People need freedom.
Freedom of choice, most of all. The freedom to choose what they will write about. The freedom to choose how they will write. While I try to have all my students write the same type of text, such as informative pieces or fiction pieces, HOW they write it is up to them. Right now my students are writing fiction pieces. I've read drafts of children's stories, ABC books, short stories and stories in verse.

People need the freedom to choose NOT to write at a particular time, choosing instead to think, to stare off into space, to listen to music until something lands in their brain that begs to be written. I have students who sometimes just need to think. And, I understand that. I do too. The writing of this post is taking several days.  I need to process my thoughts. I need to figure out my words.  So do my students.

People need effort.
Their own effort. Writing is hard. Harder some days than others. Some days it is so easy to leave the writing behind and get caught up in those time sucking tasks. But in order to write something worthwhile, something relevant, something heartfelt, a writer has to give their best effort and they have to sustain that effort. I think sometimes that is the hardest thing for my students---sustaining effort (who am I kidding? It's the hardest thing for me too.). Beginning a piece of writing, working hard on it for 40 minutes and then leaving it, only to return the next day, makes it difficult to sometimes to sustain that effort. Momentum is lost. I constantly struggle with how to help them come back to a piece with the same intensity and effort that they left with. In the end, I think it has to come from inside the writer.

People have to be willing to fail spectacularly.
I know. That sounds odd coming from a teacher. We aren't supposed to let anyone fail. But, I don't mean to fail the class or the assignment. People need to try new things and write in new ways. And while they are writing in these new ways, they have to know that what they write may not be perfect. Their audience may not like it. The words may not come. They may fail.

And it's OK. Because a writer can go back and fix their failures.  A writer goes back and tries again. A writer goes back and tries a new way to say things. A writer goes back.....

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Smiley Faced Box

The Smiley Faced Box.
It sat on the kitchen table
All night
Waiting patiently.
I knew what was inside
So I left it where it was
So it wouldn't distract me.


I bring it to school 
for that is where it belongs.
I didn't open it.
At First.

I planned
to organize my room
and clean the smudge
off my desks.
I would write lesson plans
and run off papers
and be ready for next week.

There it sat.
The Smiley Faced Box.
Looking at me.
"Just take a little peek."

So I did
(even though I already knew
the magic it held).

And there inside the
Smiley Faced Box
were whining children
waiting to be eaten by

And there was Ralph
who thought he didn't have a
story to tell,
but told me one anyway.

best of all
waiting patiently
at the bottom of the 
Smiley Faced Box
Reached for me
Ready to share with me
How they made it to the end.

Who needs lesson plans anyway?


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Absolutely True Slice of Life Post

This is another one of those "I don't write about books, but I gotta write about this book" post. And. I'm late to the party.

I've been meaning to read this book for awhile now. It's been out for years. I just never got around to it. Kept putting it off. But this school year, it kept creeping into my life.

I'm talking about Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Kelly Gallagher used The Unofficial and Unwritten (but you better follow them or you're going to get beaten twice as hard) Spokane Indian Rules of Fisticuffs as a mentor text in his book Write Like This. So I tried it with my students. They loved it and wrote great unwritten rules of their own

Then, Ruth sent me this quote:

Back on the rez, I was a decent player, I guess. A rebounder and a guy who could run up and down the floor without tripping. But something magical happened to me when I went to Reardan.Overnight, I became a good player. I suppose it had something to do with confidence. I mean, I’d always been the lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole --- I wasn’t expected to be good so I wasn’t. But in Reardan, my coach and the other players wanted me to be good. They needed me to be good. They expected me to be good. And so I became good.I wanted to live up to expectations.I guess that’s what it comes down to.The power of expectations.And as they expected more of me, I expected more of myself, and it just grew and grew…

I loved those last two lines--the power of expectations--it's one of those things I believe about kids--they will rise to your expectations. 

The voice of Junior is so true. So alive. His courage in choosing to leave the reservation to go to school is inspiring. He surrounds himself with people who make him better. People like Gordy...
And he certainly helped me through school. He not only tutored me and challenged me, but he made me realize that hard work--that act of finishing, of completing, of accomplishing a task--is joyous.

Junior's comics are a peek inside his soul. Through those comics, you can understand his struggle with the racism in his life, and the conflict between his two worlds. Junior grew in so many ways throughout this book, but most of all, I think, in the way he began to trust those around him. He realized that although his parents weren't perfect, they were pretty good. He understood his best friend/enemy Rowdy and found it inside himself to forgive him. He stood up for himself and, in the process, made a friend. And, in the midst of a trying time in his life, he made an important discovery, "If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing." And with that came the realization that he wasn't just a part of the Spokane Indian Tribe, but a part of a much bigger world.

I love this book so much, I'm considering it for a class novel (and you know how I hate class novels)--or at least a read aloud (although there are a few parts I wouldn't want to read aloud!). I do have several boys who chose it for their banned book project.  I can't wait to see what they think about it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thankful For Parents

After reading Stacey's post about the month of thanks and reading several friends' Facebook posts, it came to me that one thing I am thankful for is caring parents. Those parents who take the time to come to conferences when I'm sure there are other things that need their attention. Conferences are different in high school. Although they can sign up online for a time and they don't have to see every teacher, not as many parents come to them. Some because their kids are doing well and they don't see the need and others, well, maybe they don't come because it's just to depressing.

I had a good crowd this week. Not swamped, but quite a few parents showed up. I am happy they all came, but here are a couple who stood out.

I am thankful for the parents who showed up at 7:00pm Thursday, apologizing for being early, but wondering if I could fit them in. I gladly did. The only problem, and one they didn't realize, their conference was actually supposed to be Tuesday night.

I'm thankful for New Boy and his mom and dad, who although late, made the time to come. I loved that they really moved here because their son had been campaigning for years to move to the area to be closer to family. They moved from a suburb of Chicago. His high school was almost as big as our whole town. We talked a long time about how New Boy was adjusting. They were thankful that on the very first day, students went out of their way to befriend him and make him feel welcome in our little school. New Boy is VERY happy with the move. And now we can move on to academics.

I'm thankful for the mom who introduced herself as if we were meeting for the first time, although this is the fourth child of her's that I have had in class.

I'm thankful for the parents who come that I don't know--their presence often explains a lot about their child.

I'm thankful for the parents who come right from their job because they know that being a parent is really their most important job.

And, because in my experience I've learned that some parents think teenagers are disposable, I am thankful for parents who care.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HIdden Heartshots

They were here for under 24 hours. 
Things shouldn't "disappear". 
Four adults scoured the house, 
looking for anything left behind 
or forgotten. 

But, slowly 
throughout the week,
 small heartshots revealed themselves 

A pacifier 
dropped as something new to explore was found.

A sippy cup
Abandoned in the excitement
of being outside
and dogs and balls and running

A shirt nestled in the couch
A package of wipes forgotten on the table.

All found at different times 
On different days
bringing smiles in the midst
of a busy week

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sometimes It Gets Ugly

I'm starting a personal narrative unit with my freshmen, so in looking for mentor texts, I decided to share a couple of blogs posts with them. I wanted them to see how to take a small, everyday moment and explode it into a piece of writing.

I've discovered that since sharing with all of you on this blog, I don't mind sharing my writing with my students. It gives me another audience and it lets them see that when I talk about writing, I know a little something.

As I was reading, I discovered something...

I write a lot about the successes in my classroom. It sounds like a magical place to be.


It's not.


it's just plain ugly.

For every boy who comes in, excited about his poetry, there's five more who would rather do homework for other classes, check out Craig's list, and watch videos on YouTube.  By the way, the tech guy in our district called me one day when a boy was on Craig's List, that's how I know it happens.  The truth is, in teaching an elective class on writing, you get kids in your class who DON'T LIKE TO WRITE!

I know. Hard to believe.

For every student who writes a wonderful, intense memoir in verse, there's the others who if feels like I have to drag words out of their mouths with my hands.

I might convince a student to come to school every day for a week....
But then she misses two days the next week.

Here's the truth. My teaching is sometimes just down right ugly. Ugly days I'd just as soon forget. Ugly days I'd like to take back and start over.

There are days I am behind my desk just way to much.
Days I spend Creative Writing time grading papers or planning for the afternoon classes instead of talking with my writers.

I'm STILL working with 9th graders to make them thinkers and learners instead of receptacles. Many days, I feel like I'm trying to herd cats. Reading and writing workshop--forget it.

Ugly days.


Sometimes, those ugly days end with an email from a student:

"Sooo I really miss creative writing and being able to write everything that was on my mind down and have someone read it and comment and feel everything I'm feeling.  Are there any writing competitions or anything I can do stuff for?  I really miss just showing the emotions I normally hide..."

And then, I put the ugly days back in the closet and celebrate small successes....

Friday, October 19, 2012

What I Write

Letters and lists
Plans and poetry and posts
Tweets and To dos
Status updates
These are the things
I write.

Conversations with Chloe
Sharing giggles with grandkids
My love of the lake
and my classroom.
These are the things
I write.

A secret novel
Mentor texts
Comments for kids
Ideas ideas ideas
These are the things
I write

Hopes and fears
Loves and hates
These are the things
I write...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What I Didn't Intend to Write

I didn't intend to write a post like this today. I intended to write a poem about fall at the lake, or a review of The Raven Boys, or

...well, anything but this.

Shots were fired in a small town to the south of us. Our school district is not in lock down, although the schools closer are. It's scary.

And here's what is worse. One of the shooters is rumored to be a former student of our district. As soon as his name was announced, there were shakes of the head. Kind of like, Yeah. That makes sense. He always was trouble. And I know he could be....

He must be 25 or so now, but to me, he will always be 13 and sitting in my English class. Hair in his face. Doodling on his paper. Drawing cartoon characters. He almost never turned work in. When he did, it was a mess. Pencil smudges everywhere. He was often sent to the alternative classroom for behavior or late work.

I remember his dad died after he left my class. Mom didn't have much control over the three boys (brothers, whom I also had in class.) More serious trouble seemed to follow him.  When I had the youngest of the three boys in class, he hated it when a teacher slipped and called him by a brother's name. He didn't want that reputation.

I look back now, with 20/20 vision. I see a young man who needed someone to care. Needed someone to hold out a hand and offer help. Someone to set boundaries and expectations.

No one did. It was easier to write him off as a bad one. Easier to expect the worse and ignore the good.

He was someone's kid. Someone's brother. And the adults in his life failed him.

And now, it seems, it may be too late.

So, the lesson for today is to take the time to connect to that kid in your class that no one likes. Smile at the "bad one" and ask how his/her day is going. Take a minute to give a pat on the back to the kid who never gets one.

Take the time to say You Matter.

Thanks again, Christy Rush-Levine!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why Do You Come To Work Every Day?

That's the question Bossman has asked us to discuss in our PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) during Wednesday's inservice time. Oh, there are other things scheduled. Other learning we will be doing. But this is the first task on the agenda.  I've been thinking about it for several days.  It's a question that hangs with me.

Monday I came to school to begin our demonstration speech unit. I think it's my favorite speech.  I am privileged to sit and learn about the passions of my students--most of those passions I don't really have a working knowledge of, so it is truly a day of learning.

Tuesday I came to school to wear J's volleyball button as she played her first JV game. She was nervous about moving up. I think she was worried about what her friends would think and what the JV players would think.  She did great.

On Wednesday I had to come to school to chew on a student a little bit.  This young man is in my room twice a day. Once for speech. Once for freshman English. He's smart and personable. He thinks he's going to get by in my classes because we can laugh and joke around. I needed to tell him to quit being a slacker. I was tired of getting less than his best. He looked kind of astonished that I called him on this, but his attitude about the work changed.

New Boy started on Thursday in my 8th hour class. So I came to school to make sure he had a smiling face and a safe place to land at the end of the day. I talked to my students on Wednesday about being the New Boy in a new school two and half months into the school year. They rose to the challenge. They made sure he didn't eat lunch by himself. They introduced themselves in classes. And they fought over whose video group he was going to be in.

Friday I came to school to celebrate with K.

It was the first week she made it to school ALL day, EVERY day. Really. Going back to when I had her as a freshman last year. K isn't much of a school kid. She could be. I think she wants to be.

She wants to please.
She wants someone in her corner.
She wants to matter to someone.
She always had me. This year, she has another (thanks, Roomie). And, it's making a difference.

At midterm, she had Ds or Fs in most of her classes. As of Friday, she has only one. And that should be moving up when some last minute work gets recorded in the gradebook.

That was last week.

Tomorrow I'll be back
to listen
to cajole
to smile
to laugh
to cry
to learn

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Little Secret

Check out more Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers.
We're going to let you in on a little secret.

Shhhhhh. Don't tell anyone.

It's OK to write poetry in Creative Writing.

No one makes fun of you.

It's not girly.

It's not "gay" (God how I hate that word).

It's not stupid.

It doesn't have to rhyme---or it can if you want.

It can be about anything--

Anything at all.
And we're pretty good at it too!

Just don't tell anyone about it.
We don't want them to think we're weird.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sometimes They Still Surprise Me

I know most of my students pretty well. I work really hard at knowing them. I learn about boyfriends/girlfriends, out of school activities, jobs, sports, music, family, books. You name it, I really try to find out about it.

But, once in awhile, one of them surprises me.

Today was one of those surprises. It started with a phone call...

"Sorry to bother you in the middle of class. H has some questions about some poetry you are doing in creative writing. Can he come down or are you in the middle of a lecture?"

Lecture? Me?

"Send him down. My students are recording today. I've got the time to visit with him."

Now, you should know that this is the same young man I wrote about last week. We're getting to the meat of his story, but it still has a ways to go.

He saunters in. I really expect to tell him that he doesn't have to write poetry. I just want him to try a draft of it.

"So," he begins, "last night, when I got home from work, I wrote this and I just wondered if this is what you want."

He hands me his phone.

"You wrote a poem after work last night?"  H does not do homework.

"Yea. I write a lot of poetry."

"You do?????" I am incredulous.  This was not what I expected. Not from H. And the poem--it's really good.

"Yea. Why do you think I took Creative Writing? I have lots of poems at home."

"Really? Will you let me read them?"

"I have to type them all up???"

"No. just bring them to me and let me read them. You can use some of them for this assignment."

"OK. Sure. I'll bring them in tomorrow."

We also had a conversation about sharing--I've figured out that he comes to me during his study hall because he doesn't want to conference during class when his friends are around. I promised I wouldn't share it. I promised I wouldn't let his friends know. But I let him know that I thought the poem was really good.

H comes to class next hour with a typed copy of the poem for me. But first, HE SHARES WITH HIS FRIENDS! They think he copied and pasted. They google it. They don't find it. They ARE impressed.

And now, it hangs on my Pride Wall.

I love surprises.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Real Story

He thinks he's writing about his small cousins' birthday party.

But he's not.

He doesn't know I understand. His sister shared a very similar story last year.

His first piece of writing is just too much. You know what I mean. There's almost too much story there, covering up the one he really wants to tell.

We talk. We peel away layers. We strip away details until it hurts.

And there it is.

The real story.

He won't want to share it with anyone and that's OK.

He shared it with himself.

The real story.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Things That Made Me Smile

Taking a moment to remember the little things that made me smile this week.

Smile number one: My freshmen English classes meet the last two hours of the day.  On Fridays, it's almost impossible to get them to focus on much of anything.  The last two weeks we have worked on "fun" writing assignments. The first was a version of a pass-back story. I gave them three totally unrelated words and they had to use them in a story.  Each member in the group of four wrote for one minute. When the timer beeped, they passed the story on to the next person in the group. These turned out pretty silly, but the kids had fun and they were writing. Last week we wrote ABC stories. The stories were 26 lines long and each line started with a letter of the alphabet.  I couldn't believe how hard they worked on these!  They giggled. They wrote. They shared. I love it!

Smile number two: This smile started with a post Chloe and I wrote this summer. One of the elementary teachers in our district tweeted that she liked Chloe's writing and said she thought their dog could blog also. Well, over the weekend she let me know that her son and his dog had started a blog.

I just love that when this young man is bored he and his dog write a blog post.  It's really cute. You should check it out.

Smile number three comes from my "Reading Machine". Josh is home from Afghanistan and in college. I keep track of him through Facebook. Yesterday, another former student posted on Facebook that she was struggling to get back into free reading and asked for book recommendations. My reading machine told her about John Green books and offered to let her borrow his copies.  From non-reader to book recommender. How can I not smile about that?

Writing this post has made me smile all over again. What made you smile this week?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Don't Be Boring...

I love my drama class.

Most of them are my "Speech kids"...those kids who work with me from November through March to go to contest.  But there are also about five who just took Drama because they needed an English credit. They are, however, very talented and fit right in with my kids.

The assignment I give the first day of school is called "Don't Be Boring".  Students can do anything they want in one to three minutes. They just can't be boring.  It's purpose is to get them to perform right away. There's nothing worse than waiting for days before you have to perform in front of the class, even if you know them well.

This class showed some talent--I had a student play the ukelele and sing a Jason Mraz song. One sang, another played her clarinet, several told stories.

And when we were done, they wanted to do it again.

They seemed to have a new found respect for the others in the class--especially those they didn't know well.

"I just learn so much about people with this," said one of my senior contest speech students.

So, we planned another one for last Friday.  A couple were gone, and we ran out of time for a couple of others, so we finished up on Monday.

Again, I was blown away by some of the talent in my classroom. This time we had an acting piece, someone played piano on computer and we went to the band room for a percussion piece. There were also two dance numbers and several oral interpretation pieces

When the last person performed today, the same contest speech senior said, "Why aren't these people out for speech?"

"Yea," said another. "These are better than most of the things we saw at districts. And they didn't have much practice time."

Why indeed.

There are several things I love about this. But the main one is that my very talented contest speech students recognize talent when they see it. And instead of viewing this talent as competition, they look at great additions to our team. And they encourage and recruit those people to join us.

And the next "Don't Be Boring" Day is scheduled for September 21.  I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting Them Ready to Write

My creative writing class this semester is boy heavy. Boys who don't like to write. Most, took this class because they needed another English credit, and they like me. That's not bragging, it's just what it is.  They are some of the SSB's that I have written about in the past.  Many are not the students that one would wish to have in class--especially a class that makes them think and write and create.
They're just not that kind of student.

Ask one about the band he is in and you are likely to get a history of rock and roll.
Ask another about what he did over the weekend, you'll find out everything you ever wanted to know about racing.
Hunting is always a favorite thing to talk about.
So is football. So is wrestling. So is farming.
There is one young man that I can't get to be positive about anything.

But write?

Text messaging is about all the writing they do. A few also on Twitter or Facebook. They write when they have to at school.

They write as little as possible.

So, these first two weeks of school I have spent more time than I ever have working on ways to get writing ideas. I have liberally stolen exercises from my favorite teacher/authors, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. I have had writing prompts on the board that make them think outside of the box and beg for more to be written.

I show them work from the past.
I have them practice different styles (they thought 6 Word Memoirs were going to be easy until they had to try to write a couple).
I make those styles short!
I talk to them.

Next week, they are going to start telling their story.

We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It's been four years since I've taught a drama class. In four years, I forgot how much I enjoyed it.  I laugh every day at the craziness that comes out of high school students. For them, I think this class is like recess....


We've been working on pantomimes in class.  Creating small stories without props. Today's assignment was a real person pantomime. We had moms driving cars, little kids watching TV and even Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk. My favorite was a dead on pantomime of our principal when he walks into a classroom. Hysterical. Really. Everyone knew who she was doing.

Next, a student did Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.  And the following conversation brought tears to my eyes.

"Isn't it Armstrong? Isn't it Louis?"

"No. Louis was a jazz trumpet player. Neil was the astronaut."

"Yea. Yea. Neil. Didn't he just die or something?"

"Yes. He did."

"Oh. Now both moonwalkers are dead."

Confused looks on the faces of the rest of us....

wait for it....

"Yea. Neil Armstrong AND Michael Jackson."

Really. I can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Practicing What I Teach

After reading and discussing Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle this summer with a group of blogging friends, I vowed I would write more WITH my Creative Writing students. Today's prompt I really like ("stolen" Diana at One Literacy Coach)

Things I Didn't Do This Summer:

I didn't go to the hospital when I rolled my ankle (although I think I should have)

I didn't get to see Los Lonely Boys in concert in Arnold's Park (although we went to another concert and saw them.

I didn't enjoy the excessive heat we had for much of the last part of the summer (although I found ways to beat it)

I didn't miss my grandchildren ( I saw them a lot)

I didn't read near enough books

I didn't break any records in golf

I didn't write all I wanted

I didn't catch the bouquet at one of the weddings I attended this summer

I didn't cry when school started

Something Just for Fun
I found this video through Pinterest this morning and thought I would share. It just made me happy:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Letter to My Students

Read more great slices every Tuesday at TwoWritingTeachers
Dear Students,

If you haven't noticed from my whooping and hollering in the hall, the high fives with former students and the big smile on my face every day, I'm pretty excited about school starting.  I'm something of a school geek. I wake up in the morning thinking about what I'm going to do that day and fall asleep at night reflecting on the day.

And here's my little secret

I sometimes think I've failed you.


Sometimes I feel like a dog and pony show. I'm there for your entertainment, but am I really getting through to you?  I can make sure you pass the class. I can help you write wonderful speeches, create six-word memoirs, and understand theme in a story. By the time you leave my class you'll learn to deal with nerves, create a portfolio of your writing, and have your own idea of who was responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

What else is there you ask?

Passion. Curiosity. Imagination. Stamina.

I want you to have a burning desire to make your world a better place and a willingness to help those around you.

I want you to create works of wonder, even if no one sees it but you.

I want you to stand up and speak your mind when the bullies of the world try to quiet you.

I want you to know that anything worthwhile sometimes starts with failure and you have to try again and again to succeed. And sometimes, even when you think you know it all, you stop and start over again because something still isn't quite right.

I want you to know that learning doesn't end with a diploma.

I want you to leave my room with a passion for something that will carry you through the dark days and make the sunny ones shine a bit brighter. If this turns out to be your job in the future, even better.

In order to do this, I need your help.

I need you to say.  Mrs. Day, I don't understand. Can you show me one more time?

I need you to point things out.  That's just not right.  There's an easier way to do this.

I need to you to question me. Why are we doing this? When will I ever use this? What difference will this make in my world?

I need you to want to learn.

I need to know if something is stopping you from that learning.

And if we work together, we will work wonders.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Working on the Resolutions

Thanks to Christy Rush-Levine for this graphic
It was a great first week of school. Even the three days of inservice/work time. You know what I mean. Sometimes those professional development days are pretty worthless.  I felt good about most of ours, so that was a nice feeling.  Our district attempted differentiating the PD on Monday and that is a step in the right direction.  I learned a new tool to use with my classes and I always love that!

But Thursday was the day I was waiting for.

First day with my kids.

It was fantastic!

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to make better connections with my freshmen and I really concentrated on that the first two days.  Step one was making sure I learned all their names as quickly as possible. By Friday, I had learned the first names of all 45 of them (I also learned the names of the random upperclassmen I didn't know, but there aren't as many of them). I told them that we might have to review a bit on Monday.  Sometimes old brains lose things over the weekend.

I also got books in their hands the first day.  Made my annual promise to find them at least one book that they could honestly say, "Hey. That wasn't too bad."  I also posted a list of the books that I read this summer---both professional and for fun---and I wrote the name of the book I am reading on the board.  I think it's important that they realize I really do read. I also posted my TBR list beside it.  I'm going to issue a 20 Book Challenge on Monday. 20 books for the school year.  I wanted to do higher, but I think 20 is more realistic.  My freshmen come to me bragging about how they get around the reading logs and book talks in middle school.  One told me she always got an A in reading, but she never finished books.  I think my mouth dropped open when she told me that. Now, I'm a firm believer in the "only believe half of what they tell you" school of thought. I know kids tend to exaggerate things, but I know there is some truth to this also.

"Will we have to do reading logs."


"Book talks?"


"How will you know if I'm reading?" 

"You'll ask me for another book."

Eventually, I will have them show me some evidence of their reading. But first I have to get them to read!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My New Year's Resolutions

And here we are. Another summer gone. Another school year starting. And let me tell you a little secret...

I'm really, really excited to start school. Not necessarily the professional things we are doing before kids come, but the real school. You know...when the kids come.

As I did last year, I thought I would write down my resolutions for the new year.  Last year I referred back to these many times throughout the year. It kept me on track. Reminded me to keep reading my professional books. Kept me focusing on my quotes.  I felt better about my teaching and my life because of writing them down.

When I look at my resolutions, I don't feel like I did as well as I could have using technology in my classroom.  I wanted to integrate it into units more than I did, so I am keeping that resolution:

1. Teach Web 2.0 tools to my students and ask them to use them to display their learning.
I have learned several new tools this summer and have been writing down ideas for them.  I want to keep this list posted somewhere handy and get this technology into my students hands--starting day 1!

2. Implement new writing ideas learned from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher.
I read books by both of them this summer--Write Beside Them by Kittle and Write This Way by Gallagher.  The ideas in these books fit well together and I need to be conscious in using the ideas. They both emphasize using personal stories and topics that students are familiar with to increase their confidence in their writing ability.

I didn't do such a great job connecting with my freshmen at the beginning of last year. I feel terrible about that.  It took us a long time to become a community.This year, I am going to spend the first five days connecting with them--learning names, learning about their passions and what drives their lives. Freshmen, especially, need to make those adult connections. We'll complete activities together that will help us learn about each other and how we work. We'll do some writing and sharing. We'll talk about books we like and don't like. But mostly, we'll talk and get to know each other.

And I'm going to show them this video by John Green. If you haven't seen it, take a look. It's worth the watch:

3/17 I'm So Lucky

  I'm so lucky to have a birthday on St. Patrick's Day☘️ Everyone likes to celebrate my birthday (even if they don't like green ...