I feel like a character from a Frances Hodgson Burnett story.

A week ago I came down with what I assumed was just another cold. A nasty one, sure, and in some ways poorly timed (although my big vacation plans involved a lot of sleeping and reading and hanging out, and my actual vacation activities have now consisted of those, plus drinking a lot of tea, so not that different), but pretty standard.

Today I was diagnosed with bronchitis and croup. Yes,
croup. Commonly contracted by the under-five crowd, particularly those living in Victorian novels, and me. I now have an inhaler, and cough syrup with codeine, and some antibiotics (just in case it's bacterial bronchitis in addition to the viral croup, since I'm on day 8 without getting much better).

At least Hulu has the first three seasons of 21 Jump Street. I heart Johnny Depp.

(Image credit to

Support our schools and our students.

Bill Ferriter of The Tempered Radical has a great post up about how the public thinks they know just what to do to fix this giant sloppy mess that is education....but how they really have no idea. Bill focuses on specifically the idea that a level playing field at the school level (funding, supplies, teachers) is all that any kid needs to learn.

Boy, wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that be freakin' AWESOME?

Because that would mean that home environments and external concerns don't affect student learning, and it would be so nice to believe that. I'd love to think that these kinds of stories don't impact what happens inside the school.

I could stop worrying so much then, stop feeling so much responsibility, just teach 'em about reading'n'writing and not have conversations about how crappy it is that their favorite cousin just got shot in the face, or that their brother got arrested last night, or that their sister is pregnant and has run away from home (all of these have happened in the last month. Not exaggerating even slightly).

Because those things wouldn't affect their learning - they could just ignore them and focus on how sometimes off is an adverb and sometimes it's a preposition and it just depends on how it's being used. And then we could all laugh about how wacky the English language is and skip lightly off to lunch, chatting and singing songs about how wonderful life is. Tra la! Tra lay!

As is. Not so much.

I left a comment on Bill's site about how it's not just the general public who judges kids in poverty and doesn't want them around their precious little darlings - teachers do it too. Sometimes it's teachers from other schools, sometimes from my own. I know a teacher who is very vocal about how she wouldn't send her son to our school because of the bad influences and how academically low our kids are. I think if she wouldn't send her son, she shouldn't come herself.

A student asked me a few days ago why the kids from other schools don't like us. This big tough eighth grade boy, someone who looks a little scary, who might make people cross the street if he was walking toward them late at night, genuinely wondered and was genuinely hurt by it. His voice cracked as he asked me.

Whenever you hear someone speaking disparagingly of students like mine, or questioning why the teachers in high-poverty schools struggle to raise scores as high as those in middle- and upper-middle class schools, please remind them a lot of factors influence education, and that we do the best we can to make things better for our kids. It's not about making excuses for them - God knows I don't want to do that. Education is their only way out, their only chance to escape the generational poverty that so many of them are born into. And so I'm hard on them, I push them, I love them. But I need a little understanding from the public that what I'm doing is worth it, that these kids are worth it, and that they can do everything that anyone else can do but it might take them a little longer and a little extra support to get there.

(Image credit to Travelin' John)

A pause to say goodbye.

We have three days left. Three days to get through, to try to keep them focused, to do some sort of learning and not just completely give up on everything.

They're losing it a little bit. Honestly, some of them, more than a little bit. It's not just the end-of-term-right-before-a-long-break-with-little-stability that we usually get at this time of year (because we do - ohhhh did my 8th period get wacky last year), it's that it's basically the end of a school year. When we come back, kids are going to be in new classes with at least some new teachers. They may or may not have classes with their friends. They may or may not have classes with the teachers they like and respect. They're beyond apprehensive about this change - some of them are flat out terrified. And so they're acting out.

I can't really blame them. I'm nervous too. But we're going to get through the next three days. We're going to finish our current unit (commentaries, which they are rocking), and we're going to have a celebration of the year. We're going to stay in class, and learn, and grow, and share, and we're going to feel better for it.

In every class over the last week or so, I've taken a class picture. I'm going to get copies made and give each student one. We'll honor what we've done and who we've been before we move on. The new might be just as good - for some students, it might be better. But we need to say goodbye to the old before we can consider welcoming the new.

(Photo credit to Peter Kaminski)

So looking forward to explaining this to admin.

Awesome: Hearing the lockdown siren go off right at the beginning of my worst-behaved class and immediately going into action mode. Herding all kids to the front of the room, closing the door, turning off the lights, getting them seated and keeping them SILENT.

Less awesome: Realizing ten minutes later that oh, wait, that's not the lockdown siren, it's the new fire alarm, and we've spent the last ten minutes barricaded in our classroom rather than evacuating.


Four more days.

I feel pretty fancy here, I tell you what.

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Ebner of School Gate very kindly nominated me for Best New Blog in the Edublogs awards. Obviously, I'm super honored, and now all the nominations are up. I'm in good company, I'm sure - I don't actually recognize any of the other new blogs (though I read a number of the ones in other categories), so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to check them out! (You know, with all that free time teachers have. Well, winter break is coming, at least....)

If you are so inclined, I'd be pretty psyched if you'd go check out the noms and maybe even vote for me? I'm listed about two-thirds of the way down the page. Of course, if you think another nominee is better, vote for them! And then tell me who they are so I can start reading them too. :)

Sarah, thanks again for the nomination!

Timing is everything.

One of my kids is in trouble.

He said something really dumb to another teacher and he was suspended for five days pending a threat assessment - funny how schools frown on students threatening violence to their instructors.

This is a kid who is generally pretty dang good for me. He does his homework, works in class, is usually polite.....we just work well together. I'm the exception - the teacher he threatened is the rule. He's a kid about whom I've been a little concerned with The Change as I'm probably the only teacher he likes.

Because of the suspension, he hadn't heard about the change until his threat assessment today. It came back low, and it's not going to go any further at this point, but his schedule will change immediately to remove him from that class. His only concern was if he could still be in my class.

For everyone else, the answer is a resounding "depends on what the computers do." For him, now, because the school's worried about him, because I'm his sole connection, because they want to make sure he doesn't deteriorate....for him, the answer is yes. He'll be hand-scheduled into it.

He chose the right time to do this; a few weeks later and he'd be in whatever class he was put in. At that point I'm not sure if they would have moved him back had he been placed elsewhere.

(Image credit to JDS303)

Change is in the air.

We told the students about the schedule change today.

We put the best possible spin on it, talking about how going to blocks is good for learning, how they'll have fewer transitions, how they'll get the same amount of learning time in each class but just grouped differently....

They are not happy. Not happy at all.

Some actually proposed striking - making signs and having a picket line. (Which is kind of awesome, and if they do it, rock on.)

A lot of them aren't particularly excited about the change to blocks - 90 minutes sounds awfully long to them (which I get - it IS a long time). But more, they're upset about the teacher change. Odds are some of them will get their exact same teachers, some will get some of the same and some new, and some will get entirely new. And they are not pleased.

I can't put a good spin on that side, not really, not if it's something you're upset about. It sucks to think that you'll lose those relationships that you've been building. And I acknowledged that. I told them that while I'm super excited about the blocks, because I do think having that chunk of time will be great, I'm unhappy about losing so many of them - that if I could, I would keep each and every one. But I can't, and I told them how sad I am about that.

The most positive thing I could say was that they'd potentially (not definitely - possibly) have the opportunity for a fresh start if they currently have a teacher that they don't really get along with. I said I was sure that some of them were really excited about the possibility of not having me anymore, and that was okay, but even if they end up with me again, they'd at least get the chance to have a fresh start in a fresh group of kids. To their credit, not one kid did any sort of fist pump and whispered "yesssssss" to that, which I thought awfully polite. :)

Actually, several of them broke my heart just a touch - they asked if I could make sure that I still had them. And while realistically I probably can (and will) for a handful, I certainly can't for all of them. It just sucks. There's no way around that.

We have two weeks left together now. Nine more class periods before the change. We'll get through our current unit and end with a celebration of our time together. In each class over the next two weeks, I'll be taking pictures. I want them each to get a class photo of their current group. It's important to remember what we've had. Important to honor it. Important to hold it in our hearts and cherish it. Yes, we'll move forward - but our past won't leave us and we'll keep it close.

(Image credit to David Reece)

PS Hi! Sorry I've been MIA - my computer broke (suddenly it didn't think it had a hard drive....) and I just got it back. Round of applause for the Apple Genius Bar!


I don't have time tonight for a real post, so a quick update will have to suffice:

* Going on a field trip tomorrow with our G/T kids - we're going to an independent bookstore so each kid can choose a book, taking a tour of the downtown of our closest city to expose them to some history of the area, and visiting an art museum for some culture'n'stuff. The kids are SUPER excited, as am I - when we're back, we're going to do a Socratic seminar on beauty (specifically, is it in the eye of the beholder or is it universal?) and it's gonna be suh-weeeeeeet!

* We're about to start a unit on commentary and I've spent the last hour pouring over Leonard Pitts' collection Forward from this Moment. I'm a little bit in love with Leonard Pitts now. I knew he was good, but DAMN. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry, he...well, he makes me want to be a better person and stand up for things that should be stood up for. My only problem? Narrowing the columns I love to a reasonable selection. I've gotten it down to seven (from fourteen) but I need to cut to five. Husband's being enlisted to help because how can I drop any others?

* Feeling better from yesterday. Being back at school, seeing my kids, actually experiencing all the things I love and not just trying to remember helped. Immensely.

* I like how even my short posts are actually kind of long. Writing too little has clearly never been a problem of mine.

(Image credit to wwarby)

Just five more minutes, mom, pleeeeeeeease?

I love teaching.

I love my kids, I love helping them understand new concepts, I love reading their work, I love it all.

But this weekend has been delightful. I have done nothing school related except for read some stuff that I could potentially use in the classroom (some as content, some to inform my practice). I have cooked, and read, and watched movies, and hung out with friends, and walked my dogs, and slept in. I haven't stressed about our upcoming change or felt overwhelmed by planning and grading (though I sure will be come next week....) or had to help a colleague when I'm just squeaking by myself. And it has been fabulous. And I don't want it to end.

Is it a bad sign that I'm really, really, really not ready to go back?

Just as good as the first.

My five day weekend started off beautifully this morning; after my husband left for work and the dogs went outside, I spent my first few hours of freedom immersed in Catching Fire. Magnificent. Damn, Suzanne, what am I supposed to do until Book 3 comes out?

(My 8th grade pal from whom I'd borrowed The Hunger Games is just as bereft as I at the wait, if not more so. He has decided to write to Ms. Collins in hopes that his letter will speed the publication. Though I think it unlikely to work, I also think it's an awesome idea and I'm all for it.)

Just stay out. How hard is that?

The weirdness continues. Card Player has been told that he is not allowed to have any contact with me. At all. Can't talk to me, can't come in my room, can't stand by the door, nada. Mi casa no esta su casa. Which I think is appropriate, particularly in a covering-myself-so-I-never-get-accused-of-anything-inappropriate way. Because this is gross.

Last Wednesday, he was lurking outside my door, waiting for a friend. Okay, not great, but at least he didn't come in.

Thursday he came in. Didn't talk to me, just to his friends, and I sent the whole group out as I had a meeting, but not cool. So I emailed the appropriate people to say, hey, this is happening, I don't think it's supposed to, can we make it stop?

Friday he showed up again. Again, I sent everyone out. This morning I went and tracked down the behavior specialist who's involved. She was surprised and annoyed, as she'd been the one to tell him to stay away. She assured me she'd remind him of the expectations. I thanked her and went on my merry way.....

....till he appeared AGAIN after school today. WTF, y'all, WTF? I was leaving to go run a club so I shooed everyone out but was stewing about it a little bit. The behavior specialist happened to drop by the club, so I told her. Oh, homeboy's in trouble now.

And for the first time in my life, I know what it's like to be stalked. Not like this is anything near as intense as what some people experience, but still, it's pretty dang creepy.

We have one more day before the Thanksgiving break. Here's hoping this kid stays away at least tomorrow so I don't have to deal with it yet again.

(Image credit to Richard.Fisher)

Lucky #13.

A belated link: the latest EduCarnival V.2 is up!

Hungry for a rockin' new read?

The Hunger Games is the scorchin' hot title at my school right now. Our library's copies are always checked out with quite the waiting list, and those at our book fair sold out by the second day.

One of my students devoured it; he'd come to class, slide into his seat, and read frantically until the bell rang, signaling the end of passing period. Walking through the hallways, his face deep in its pages, a friend walked next to him to help steer. At lunch, he gobbled his food before slipping his bookmark out from between the pages and diving back in (he didn't want to read while eating because he feared dripping ketchup on its pages). Any time he had a free moment, he read.

When he finished, I asked him if I should track down a copy and read it.

He looked at me, clearly stunned. "You haven't read it?"

"Not yet - it's always checked out and I don't want to take a copy away from student availability."

"You HAVE to read it. It's like the best book I've ever read. Ever. You HAVE TO."

I smiled. "Wanna loan me yours?"

His face lit up. "I'll bring it tomorrow." And he did.

For the first week that he'd loaned it to me, I had no time. I was sick and in a grading crunch, and keeping up with that was about all I could handle. He'd check in every day, and every day I'd have to admit that no, I hadn't started it yet. And every day, he'd shake his head and tell me I didn't know what I was missing. And I'd say I'd start it soon. Then I just kind of forgot about the whole thing.

Yesterday I remembered. It had been buried under a pile of papers on my desk, a pile I finally sorted through. So I popped it in my purse to take home this weekend.

I started it this morning. And finished it this morning. And then scampered over to my computer to place a public library hold on Catching Fire (though I think I'm going to have to hit my local independent bookstore tomorrow to buy a copy - I'm number 45 on the hold list of 34 holdable copies and I just can't wait that long). Hot DAMN, that is a compelling read.

I'm late to the HG bandwagon, but I'm firmly on now. Thank you, Suzanne Collins, and thank you to my 8th grade reader who showed me the light.


The Antagonizer did more work today than any day yet this year. He was generally polite, and mostly quiet. When I told him he couldn't do something, he argued momentarily, then got back to work.



I kinda lost it today. The Antagonizer would not stop talking, stop making noises, stop interrupting me and everyone else, stop arguing about every.single.task. He would not start doing his work, start speaking in a respectful way, start listening to directions. And I. Was. Done.

I yanked him out of the class (a speech/language pathologist was in there, so she covered). I stormed and he sulked over to the library. We called dad. I...well, kind of ranted, honestly. You know how they say to write a letter to someone when you're mad but don't send it? This was me sending it.

Dad? Was totally supportive. Totally on my side. Granted, I have spent literally HOURS working with this kid, trying to create a relationship, doing everything I can, and dad knows that, and everything I brought up is stuff that's true, stuff that's in this kid's history, stuff that is a problem......but I still feel like a failure right now.

Here's the thing. I believe that education should be a partnership between schools and families, and I believe that kids need support from both sides.....but I still feel like I failed because I had the Antagonizer call home. Because I couldn't just deal with the issue within my classroom. Because I ceded responsibility. Relinquished authority. Quit.

In the end, I think that's the problem. I don't like to send kids to the office because that shows them that I can't deal with the problem within my classroom. This to me does the same thing. And even more frustrating? It's true. I CAN'T deal with the problem within my classroom. I NEED that help from parents. Is that a bad thing? I'm honestly not sure. Right now, I feel like it is.

Tomorrow I'll go talk to the Antagonizer. I told his dad that I'd like him (kid, not dad) to set up a time to come talk to me about what we're going to do to make class work better for everyone, and he'll have to do that, but I'll probably pull him out of class for a few minutes during one of my plan periods to set up that meeting. Don't think he'll do it on his own.

And.....I'll apologize. Was he in the wrong today? Yeah, he was. I'm sure of that. But I was too - I let my anger get the best of me and that's not fair to anyone involved.

The weirdest thing a kid will ever say to me. (Knock on wood.)

What's the weirdest thing a kid has ever said to you?

I ask because on Friday, I had a student say something to me that I sincerely hope will be the weirdest thing any kid ever says. Anything much odder and my head will explode.

I have this kid. Actually, I don't - he's not mine, he's on the other core, he just comes to my room after school periodically because I have most of his friends. Anyway, a couple of days a week he usually stays after to "help" me with classroom chores. (He's part of Space Cadet's little helper core.) He's a little more consistent than the others, and a little less emotionally stable, as well as fairly....well, geeky for lack of a better word (he's super into role playing games, particularly Magic the Gathering, and fantasy books, he doesn't care about his clothes, he's not athletic).

Card Player and another student seem to have a rivalry for Space Cadet's friendship; I think if it weren't for Space Cadet, they wouldn't be friends at all. On Friday, Space Cadet was hanging out with the rival, so Card Player offered to stay and keep helping me. We were in the early hours of a big storm, so I wasn't convinced he should. "Are you sure, Card Player? It's getting pretty bad outside - I don't want you to have to walk home in the snow and dark."

"Yeah, I'll be okay. I can probably make it fine."

"Okay then, if you're sure." We kept sorting my classroom library.

After a bit, Card Player cleared his throat. "Ms. Teachin', are you married?"

"I am."

"Oh." Silence for a moment. "It's good I didn't ask you what I was going to ask you then."

Okay, honestly, my first thought was that he was going to ask me for a ride home. In retrospect, considering the actual words, perhaps that was somewhat short-sighted, but at the time, I was thinking about the weather. I figured if he asked, I could explain about the legality issues and what if I got in an accident and blah blah blah. "You can ask me."

"Uh...well...." He paused. Odd, but I kept sorting books. A minute later. "What I was going to ask you was....what I wanted to ask you was....what I was going to ask you was...."

And that's when I started to think maybe we were going somewhere else other than a ride home. Was he going to ask me what it's like to kiss someone? Was he going to ask me to go out with him? Oh god. "You know, you don't HAVE to ask me."

I'm not sure he even heard me.

He stammered his way through six or seven iterations of that phrase, getting redder and redder, until he finally finished. "What I was going to ask you was.....can I feel your boobs?"


How the FUCK do you answer something like that? WHAT do you say?

Somehow I stayed very calm and in control - externally at least. What I said: "No, you can't. And that was an incredibly inappropriate thing to say, to me or to anyone. I'm a teacher, and that would be both illegal and immoral, and I'm really uncomfortable with this conversation now."

"Okay, I'm sorry," he said miserably. "It's just my friends keep bothering me to ask you and I wanted them to stop ---"


"Okay, well, anyway, I'm going to need you to leave now, so have a great weekend and thanks for the help." Card Player
slunk out and I double-timed it down to the office to report it to my principal (who was completely shocked, and then laughed and laughed).

It's still being dealt with - a behavior specialist and a variety of other school personnel are involved in trying to figure out the situation: why he said it (because the friends thing is just weird), is he likely to say anything similar to a student, appropriate consequences, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And the story has spread, because how do you not tell a story like that? I don't really blame anyone who's passed it on. Responses have been a mix of horror, shock, and amusement, pretty much in equal parts. Pretty much mirroring my own reaction.

My favorite response, though, was from my husband. "Can't fault him for his taste," he said. Which I suppose is a good way to look at it.
But please tell me I won't get much weirder than this?

(Image from CarbonNYC)

Not everyone does, but I do.

"Do you like your job, Ms. Teachin'?"

I looked at the student who'd just asked that. "I do. I love it. Why?"

"It just seems like some teachers really don't like kids. They're always mad and always yelling. And I just don't get why they're teachers. This seems like a really bad job if you don't like kids."

He's right, of course. Teaching is a terrible job if you don't like kids. Why would you want to work so many hours for in such a relatively low paid job with such high stress if you don't like the people with whom you spend 80% of your time?

And he's right that some teachers clearly just don't like kids. Some teachers clearly find their existence annoying, or even just inconsequential. And not all kids - I'd venture a guess that those teachers would say they do like kids, some kids, the kids who do their work or don't cause problems or are always respectful. But if you don't like all kids....why do it?

"Do I seem like I don't like kids?"

"No, you seem like you actually like us. I just don't get why some people are doing it. Do you?"

I paused for a moment. But I wasn't willing to lie and claim that all teachers like all kids, nor was I willing to tell the hard truths about why some teachers teach despite not liking kids. "No, I don't."

He nodded and walked to his next class. I watched him go and told my next class how great they are and how much I enjoy being their teacher.

(Image credit to suchitra prints)

End of the term

Friday we finished our first trimester of school. Grades are generally good - I give out frequent progress reports and point out to students how missing work is hurting their grades. In addition, every student with a D or an F called home last Tuesday to let their parents know. The conversations generally went like this:

Me: Okay, call your mom/dad/grandma/brother/whoever.

Kid: ...Really?

Me: Yep. I told you this was going to happen.

Kid: Yeah but ----

Me: No buts. Dial.

Kid (apprehensive look; dials phone): Hi Mom/Dad/Grandma/Brother/, I'm not in trouble, my teacher made me call to tell you that I have a D/F/7% [a very special snowflake] in Language Arts and that's going to be my trimester grade unless I hand in Missing Major Assignment/take Missing Quiz by Friday......I know......I KNOW......but --- .......yeah, but --- ......I KNOW, OKAY????? I'M GOING TO GET IT DONE!!!!!!

They'd hang up, shaking their heads at just how freakin' irritating their parents were (imagine the nerve! Wanting your child to succeed academically! What is WRONG with parents today?!?) and I'd ask if they'd be getting the work in. Yes, they'd say, I have to now. I'd smile sweetly and call the next little slacker over.

Sometimes the parents would ask to talk to me, and I'd reiterate the message and say that I just wanted them to be aware of the situation. They all thanked me for the call. All but three of the students completed the missing work by Friday, taking their grades up at least a letter grade, if not two.

That's the beauty of finishing the damn work, especially when you'd already done all of the work that led up to the publication. If you've done the mentor text analysis, the prewriting, and the drafting, and you've started the revising and just need to finish that and publish....why the hell wouldn't you? Nice that I could convince most of them to see it my way.

Tomorrow we'll be doing some binder organization (oh, our binders are disasters of epic proportions.....papers shoved in every which way, and I have a suspicion some aren't even for my class), and then a review of the class thus far. I do this at the end of every trimester (though I'm expanding this version). What have they learned, still find challenging, liked, disliked, wish we could have done. All stuff I want to know; it will help me plan for the future (both the rest of this year and next).

But then there are some other questions too, about me and how I'm doing. And that.....that I'm nervous about.

Because what if they think I suck? What if they think I'm a huge asshole, or incompetent, or any number of bad things? I'm still gonna ask because I still wanna know, but it could (likely will) make for a humbling and discouraging day. Either way, it'll probably be good for me.

(Image credit to coxy)

Why blogging rocks.

Rachel at Progressively Unnecessary wrote a post yesterday about leaving her school at the semester and how sad she is about it. It's for a good reason - her husband got a new job in a new state and they can't afford to live in two different places - but she's heartbroken about leaving her kids. Which I get. I would be too. (Heck, I will be. What's that? I'm dwelling? Yeah, little bit. I'm working on it.)

When I read her post, though, my first thought was, "Oh no! I don't want you to go!"

Think about that for a second.

She's a blogger. Who lives across the country from me. Whom I've never met in person. Whom I've never even talked to - we've just read and commented on each other's writings.

And I still felt like I was losing a friend.

But that's the fabulous thing about blogging - I'm not. Because I assume that wherever Rachel goes, she'll still be blogging. Different kids, different curriculum, lots of changes - but still writing about it. And I can still read it.

Ain't blogging grand?

(Image credit to firepile)

I want them all to visit.

After school today, three of my boys were hanging out in my room. They stay periodically to "help" me with whatever I need and I pay them in sodas and chips. Some days they do actually help; some days I shoo them out speedily.

One of the three is particularly attached to me. His mom died when he was little and his dad's not the most supportive, so I give him pencils as needed, read his personal writing and make encouraging noises, slip him granola bars when he's hungry. He's kind of a space cadet but he's sweet.

Today they were helping me reorganize my classroom library. Another "helper" had thoughtfully put all the books back into bins....but she'd combined them into as few bins as possible. So they no longer were categorized at all, and the library was pretty well useless. Thus we were pulling the books out to resort.

Space Cadet asked why I had so many books. "You should give them to the reading teachers," he said.

"Well, I'll be a reading teacher too soon," I answered.

Though I teach Language Arts, right now I focus primarily on writing, listening, and speaking; that will change with
our kickin' new schedule. That the kids don't know about yet. Which I realized when Space Cadet said, "You will?"

So I immediately covered. "Yep, next year."

"Will that be here or at Local High School?"


"Oh." He was quiet for a moment. "Well, I'll come visit you next year."

"I hope you do."

I hope I get to keep him with the change. I hope he can wait till next year to visit and doesn't have to start in January.

(Image credit to
LizMarie. Ah, would that my classroom library were so organized....)

Relationships make teaching worth it.

Today after school I was asked to speak to a group of student teachers about my experiences as one, and as a new teacher. A handful of us, maybe five total, bestowed our extensive wisdom on the young'uns.

We were given a few parameters for the discussion - what should they watch out for, what we remembered most, what we wished we'd known, what the best parts were. We all talked a lot, and I think I'll do another post with some of the specifics we included, but a lot of the conversation came down to one thing.


Build 'em. Keep 'em. Treasure 'em. The relationships are what make teaching worth it. They're why we bother. They're what matter. We all agreed.

As my school struggles with how to revamp our schedule to better serve our students, I hopewishpray that those in charge take some time, think back to what it's like to be a teacher, remember how much those relationships matter, and find a way to keep them.

Our teachers and our students deserve that.

(Image credit to lumaxart)

Carnival fun!

#12 is up at Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable. Get thee hence!

Sure isn't.

"Well, it's never dull." Thus spake Ricochet at the end of a post detailing some class/student turmoil. I read it and thought wistfully, Boy, but wouldn't it be nice if it was? Just for a few days? Just once in a while?

Today I:

made a social services call (first of this year but certainly not the last);

tried to convince some of my colleagues that a new student probably deserves a chance and some assistance to help him fit into our school before we simply throw up our hands, declare he's hopeless, and look to expelling him (yep, he's acting like a little shit, but he's clearly a troubled kid who needs some help, and we can't just throw kids away - we're not a charter school, after all);

learned that the Charmer has moved schools again, though he apparently tried to call me yesterday before he did (I got the contact info for his grandparents, his new guardians, and am working on getting in touch with them);

talked to a student about why it's not his fault that another student got beaten up (which it really truly isn't, but he sure doesn't believe that yet);

talked to another student about why social services came to talk to her (because of a really, really, really horrible thing that happened to her little sister;

persuaded a student with broken ribs to go to the doctor (yay football injuries!);

harangued four kids into staying after school and getting enough work done to move from high Fs to very low Cs (ah, the beauty of completing assessments that you'd started and just hadn't taken to's like magic!);

and.....huh. Guess that's it for the day. Oh, and did some teaching and grading and stuff.

Never, ever, EVER dull.

(Photo credit to Kapungo) (Okay, can't get it to upload. Will try again later. But theoretically credit is to Kapungo!)

Bear witness.

Joanne Jacobs had a post last week referencing a Newsweek article about the new movie Precious (based on the book Push by Sapphire) in which the Newsweek writer complains that Precious should be taught math rather than being encouraged to write her story. And the article and its comments left me frustrated, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why (except of course that I'm a Language Arts teacher and I think my content matters). So I went about my way feeling irritated but unable to articulate a response.

Then yesterday I read a post from Larry Ferlazzo referencing a post from Angela Maiers about using the words, "I notice..." with students. In Angela's post, she quotes the movie Shall We Dance, saying,
"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."
And suddenly it was so clear to me.

Everyone needs a witness. Everyone needs to know that their life matters, that THEY matter, that they're SEEN. If you feel like you're nothing, like no one cares, like you have no possible future other than violence and pain and trouble, why would you care about your education? I sure as hell wouldn't.

Maybe I'm speaking hyperbolically when I speak of no possible future. For some kids, I certainly am. Not for all of them, though. For some, it's true.

My content area lends itself to seeing kids - they write about things that matter to them, personal experiences, hopes and fears. And I get to read that writing, and so I get to know more about them than some of their teachers do, perhaps more easily. But the thing is, any teacher can see a kid. Any teacher can get to know them on a personal level. Any teacher can notice a student who seems off and say, "Hey, you okay?" I asked a student that this morning; she told me she'd been crying last night, thinking about her dad who was murdered last year and then her cousin who died yesterday. I'm not close with this student; she told me because I'd asked. Can I do much about her situation? No. But at least she knows that I know her well enough to see when something is wrong. And I'll check in with her again tomorrow to make sure she's okay, or see if she wants to talk any further.

A burden shared is a burden halved; an old, perhaps trite, aphorism...but true. And sometimes burdens are so incredibly heavy that they crush you to where you can't even inch forward. If you don't share it, you'll never get out from under. You'll never be able to move, to heal, to breathe.

See your students. Talk to them. Listen to them. Do it whenever and wherever you can - in the hall, at lunch duty, when they come in to make up a test, at a concert or game. Give them a chance to open up to you. Because they have to tell their stories, they have to know they're seen, they have to get through those life-sucking burdens, or they'll never be able to care about the statistics and probability lessons that Newsweek's Jennie Yabroff thinks are so crucial.

Be their witness.

(Photo credit to Sonnett)

Always nice to be invited.

On Friday, I was standing in the hall before first period when Motormouth's sister SkateStar walked over to me. I had her last year as a sixth grader and we always got along well, so the combination of our own history and of my closeness with her brother means we chat a lot.

SkateStar asked me what I was doing that weekend. I said something about grading and meeting some friends, and asked about her plans.

"I'm having a birthday party."

"Ooh, happy almost birthday! How fun!"

She nodded. "Yeah, it's going to be great. We're going to Local Popular Skating Rink."

"Awesome! I assume by telling me, you're inviting me to the party," I joked.

SkateStar nodded again. "Of course."

I laughed. "Boy, wouldn't you and Motormouth be surprised if I actually showed up?"


"Yes you would."

"Well, I would, a little....but not Motormouth. He's not invited. You really should come though."

I laughed. "Thanks for the invite but I'll pass....I think it would be weird if I came."

Just then, Motormouth walked up. "Weird if you came to what? What're you guys talking about?"

"Your sister just invited me to her birthday party. I hear you're not invited, though."

"What! You're inviting Ms. Teachin' and not me?!?!?!?" SkateStar smiled sweetly and nodded. "Aw, that's messed up. That's real messed up. For real - that's not cool." Motormouth walked into the classroom, still shaking his head and muttering about the situation. His sister laughed, gave me a hug, and skipped off to class. I went inside to teach.

Obviously I didn't go to the party. Would've been really weird. Plus I didn't want to rub it in to Motormouth any more. But it's always nice to be invited!

(Photo credit to smaedli)


Tracey at Walking the Dog posted a bit ago about how great the group dynamic is with her current students. (And they do sound delightful.) She ended her post with:
I'm curious though: how does that happen? How does one group develop characteristics different than another, even though the members of each are very similar? Where does a group dynamic come from? Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
I've thought about this a bit, and I have a theory. The group has a bellwether.

A bellwether is basically a leader - someone (or something) who is cutting edge, a trendsetter. The term comes from shepherds putting a bell around the neck of a ram leading a flock, so the flock could be heard before they could be seen.

Tracey's kids right now have a bellwether among them, and that person is a great kid. And because that great kid is a leader, all the other kids are following that student in that positive direction. It's a good situation to be in.

Last year, we had a bellwether in my core. Ours wasn't the positive influence that one might have hoped, though. He was suspected of (or had confirmed involvement in) a number of things, some of which included being a gang member who was actively recruiting; committing three different felonies (going back to fourth grade - FOURTH GRADE!); cutting school repeatedly; being sexually active; beating the crap out of a kid in the bathroom; jumping up on top of desks and running across them while screaming at a para.....the list goes on and on.

In classes, when a teacher gave instructions, kids would look at him to see what he was going to do. If he was doing the work, they would do the work. If he just sat, they just sat. If he started talking about how dumb it get the picture.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked me and he liked my class. So in my room, he always did what he was supposed to and he'd actually harangue other kids into doing it too. "Whaddaya mean you don't have a pencil? That's so dumb. You gotta come to class with a pencil!" He'd shake his head as the unprepared kid would hunch down and frantically paw through a backpack. Or, "We started the warmup like an hour ago! You can't just sit there!" as the student in question would scramble to catch up. He'd even stay after school to do work that he was behind on (you miss a lot of work when you're hanging out in the park or having parties rather than coming to school). He had a pretty steady C for me, same in gym - Fs in everything else.

Around February, his schedule was changed. An issue of him getting the appropriate services. (Sounds so familiar....) He was moved out of my class. By the end of the year, he failed every single class. I was sorry to lose him, and not just because he was actually fairly successful in my class. As that bellwether, he'd had a lot of influence on the other students who were so desperate for his approval. When he left, it took us a good couple months to get back to the point where everyone did what they needed to do - at first, they were all just terribly confused.

One kid can change everything. It's nice when they start out as a good influence, but you at least gotta figure out who that one kid is and get them on your side.

The most ridiculously stressful day EVER. (Knock on wood.)

In addition to all the drama around this potential schedule change, I had two other incredibly disturbing things happen yesterday.

First thing in the morning I had this horribly awkward meeting. I don't feel I can go into what it was about specifically, but basically I had to sit there and explain to someone how they weren't doing their job, and list off all the reasons why, and let them defend themself, and then go over the evidence supporting my position AGAIN. Sososososo awkward. So that was a kickin' way to start the day.

But worse was what happened before third hour. I was doing hall duty when GLA (my grade-level administrator) walked up. "Do you remember
the Charmer?" she asked.

Um, obviously I remember him. I looked at her. "Yeah....."

"Well, his new school called. He's missing. He didn't go home last night."


"They want to know if any of our kids might know anything, and I thought since kids will talk to you, maybe you can ask around ---" Before she was even finished talking, I'd grabbed the Charmer's two best friends who both happened to be walking by.

the Chowhound, already knew; the Charmer's brother had called him the night before when trying to find his missing sibling. But the Chowhound had no idea where the Charmer was. I pulled the kids into the library to talk to them while our teacher-librarian covered the start of my next class. The Charmer's other best friend, Motormouth, had the Charmer's new cell number, so he tried calling it to see if the Charmer would answer. Phone was disconnected. Great.

I asked question after question. Where would he go? Who else might know? Who might he call for help? Who might have seen him recently? We brainstormed names, places, possibilities. The kids texted, called, shared ideas. They were scared - really scared. I emphasized that we didn't know that anything was actually wrong, but that we needed to do everything we could to try to help. More names, more calls.

His counselor called me. I'd called her in September, just to check in on him. She'd left a message back that he was doing fine. Then three weeks ago, she'd called me, but though I called back several times and emailed, I never heard from her. At least she called in the crisis. I shared some info that the kids had told me.

An hour and a half later, they found him. Or I guess he found himself - he went home. Claimed he'd fallen asleep at a friend's house, hadn't woken up till 10:30, didn't know people were worried. Honestly, I don't buy that that's the whole story, but whatever. He's okay.

I'm hoping to get to talk to him at some point. When his counselor called, she said she'd told him that I'd like to talk to him. He was surprised, apparently. She asked if he wanted to talk to me. He said yeah, he guessed so. From him, that's pretty much a hell yes, so hopefully we can make that happen.

Oh, it was a fun twenty-four hours.

(Photo credit to Greg Westfall.)

Well, I've stopped crying, at least. (My eyes still hurt.)

So here's the deal. We've got two issues going on at my school right now.

First, a good chunk of our students apparently are.....misscheduled? Not getting the services they need, anyway, for a variety of reasons, but the problems are mainly around our ESL and SPED departments. And there are a variety of reasons for that, too, which I won't get into.

We're also having issues with teacher burnout. We changed our schedule pretty drastically this year to allow for extra math, and it's been hard. Really hard. Diamond hard. (I know, really I mean challenging...but I like hard.)

So our principal decided to try to deal with it. And while not all decisions have been made yet about how to change the situation, right now it seems that all students will get new schedules and will be redistributed.

We have four eighth grade Language Arts teachers. Best case, I end up with half of my current kids, as no matter what we're blocking (from a more traditional schedule). If we shuffle all students, odds are I'll end up with a quarter of my current kids.

Best case isn't good.

Odds are is even worse.

Kids need relationships. So much research exists about relationships and school success, particularly among at risk is it okay that all these kids will suddenly lose the relationships that they've been building since mid August?

Imagine being one of the kids in a new class. Half your class know the teacher. Know expectations. Know procedures. And then there's you. You won't feel like part of the class for weeks - maybe months. You'll be an interloper. You'll walk by your old teacher's room and wonder why you didn't get to stay. Why you got moved. Why you got screwed.

Imagine being one of the current students to stay. Suddenly tons of your classmates are gone. Your teacher is trying to incorporate all these new students into the class. She's trying to build community - why? Your old community was just fine. These new kids don't know how it's done. Your teacher is frustrated. You wonder why this all happened. Why they got moved. Why you got screwed.

I just don't think this is okay. Though I have nothing but respect for my principal for trying to fix this, I can't agree with this way of doing it.

Now I'm building resources so that I can make my case to admin. I don't think I'll win, but I have to try.

(Photo credit to


I wept the whole way home from school today.

We got some news.....I don't think I can write about it yet. Not in detail.

Don't worry, no one's dead, or mortally injured, or anything like that.

Just....a change. One that kills me. I'll probably lose around 75% of my kids come January.

I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to go in tomorrow and act like I know where the year is going, like everything's fine, like nothing happened.

I don't. It's not. It did.

The tears just keep falling. And I don't know how to stop them.

(Photo credit to fractured-fairytales)

EduCarnival V2 Issue 11!

This weekend, we fell back an hour. I can never remember if that's Daylight Savings, or Daylight Spendings (okay, I know that's not really a thing) - all I remember is that I feel like I get an extra hour. So what are some teachers around the blogosphere using that extra time for? Oh my goodness, so many kickass things....

Darren of
Right on the Left Coast is using it for some of the many tasks that teachers do that actually have nothing to do with delivering instruction. (He is far more focused at school than I.)

Mo of A Day in the Life of a Selfish Brat is spending some time reflecting on how she got her job, and questioning herself. (Go cheer her up!)

Mathew Needleman of Creating Lifelong Learners is wondering how to get teacher education programs to address integrating technology in the classroom. (Any thoughts?)

Pat of
Successful Teaching is using it to connect to school board members near and far. (And I'm totally going to be using some of her suggestions to do it myself.)

Richie of
Bellringers is meeting high school newspaper deadlines....and doing it CHOCOLATE FREE. (A shiver just ran down your spine, didn't it? I know. An extra hour's not enough time for that kind of tragedy.)

Siobhan Curious of Classroom as Microcosm is applying a personally frustrating experience to her students' learning experiences, as seen through the lens of what sounds like a really smart book of Buddhist precepts. (I'll be adding it to my reading list! For, you know, when we fall back three days and I have the time to read it. What? That doesn't happen?)

Old Andrew of
Scenes from the Battleground is creating some handy negative correlation illustrations. (My favorite is the last one.)

Pissed Off Teacher is helping her students set some pretty dang useful goals. (I should try that with a few of mine.)

Joanne Jacobs is promoting a new way of training teachers involving mentoring that is far more extensive than our current system. (I think it sounds great! Plus the comparison to young doctors makes me assume it would be as dramatic as, say, Grey's Anatomy, and that'd be fascinating.)

Mister Teacher of
Learn Me Good is regrouping his thoughts around subtraction regrouping and questions that involve words as well as numbers. (His math tests are way more thought-provoking than I recall third grade being. I just had to, like, add and subtract and stuff.)

Mr. D. of
I Want to Teach Forever is hooking up his math teacher homies with a rockin' sounding game to help with number sense. (Sounds way fun to me - perhaps I should come up with something similar for parts of speech....)

Jose Vilson is thinking deeply and sharing generously about his writing process. (I super heart his simile from his title. THAT'S some effective figurative language right there, my friends.)

Mr. B of Docere Est Discere is reviewing a book that responds to a question we've all gotten a few times, and reconsidering how to answer that question. (I'm with him - you have to be willing to answer that question. I wish more teachers would.)

And I of
here :) have been worrying about my kids and the change of seasons.

Only one list post - peruse Rachel Holtz's article if you're looking for a change in career and
want some non-traditional majors. (#9, yo - Casino Dealer. Not for me, but totally badass.)

Boy. Will you just LOOK at everything that got done with that extra hour? Rock on, y'all. Keep up the good work, and don't forget to
submit for next week's EduCarnival V2! I think it'll be back at Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable, but keep watching there and Clix will let you know if it's going elsewhere.

(Photo credit to Mike Licht,

Clearly, I'm a big jerk.

Today a parent yelled at me. First time since my first year of teaching.

My crime?

I told her daughter that when she's absent, she needs to stay after school to find out what she missed so she can make up the work.

Boy, I am an ASSHOLE. Trying to get a kid to do the work so she can pass? Wow, I suck SO HARD.

This kid missed the first three days of a writing project. She has no idea what's going on. She hasn't even asked in class for help - she just sits. When I tell her she needs to find out what she missed, she complains that she doesn't knooooooow what she missed, and continues to sit.

So today I had her call her mom to tell mom that she needs to find a way to find out what she missed. I can't catch her up on three days of work in a few minutes in class. It's not possible.

Mom yelled at me that they don't have a car right now and that it's my responsibility to get her child the makeup work. That I need to find a way to make it happen. That her daughter can't stay after school and I better let her come in at lunch or before school. I said that I have lunch duty and that her daughter is welcome to come in before school, but she's never asked to do that either. And then Mom said that of course her daughter couldn't come in before school and I wasn't doing enough to help the kid succeed.

I kind of thought that encouraging the girl to find out what she'd missed and letting mom know that she hadn't done that WAS helping her daughter succeed.

(Photo credit to


I b'lieve I'm hosting the next EduCarnival V.2 - so if you haven't submitted, feel free to email me a post you'd like featured at Tell your friends!


I made a kid cry today. Kind of out of nowhere, honestly.

It started in the cafeteria. He and another student were wrestling over a container of bubbles, and he bit the other kid. I've pretty much had it with biting (I can't believe I'm saying that, but it's true - we've had a minor biting epidemic. Yes, middle school. No, not three year olds. It's very weird) so I sent the two to the office to be dealt with up there.

Later I stopped in the office to ask about a separate issue, and ran into the administrator who'd dealt with it. Except that they'd both denied any biting, and she'd sent them back to class. When I pointed out that I'd seen the bite marks and could verify, she called them back up.

The first to arrive was Shortstop. He began by again denying the biting, to which I pointed out that I'd SEEN the bite marks and he'd SAID he'd bitten the other kid. He AGAIN denied it, at which point my administrator got annoyed and asked if he was calling me a liar. After a bit, he finally admitted to biting but said he hadn't meant to. And then my administrator got even more annoyed and pointed out that it didn't matter if he'd meant to or not, he'd been lying when he said he hadn't bitten anyone, and that they were going to be calling mom, and he was in trouble now. And that's when he welled up.

This is the Antagonizer's best friend, and he's a pretty tough kid. He and I don't always get along (I find his attitude annoying - he complains about accommodations that kids in special ed get and would rather do just about anything than do his work), but I didn't want him to think I was out to get him. Because honestly, that's how it would've come across to me if I was in his shoes. So I asked if I could talk to him for a minute.

I told him that I wasn't out to get him. He shrugged. That I know he thinks I don't like him - he nodded - but it's not true. That I think he's a smart kid and I wish he'd focus more in class, that I think he could do better than he does, that he could try harder, that he has a lot of potential. He shrugged. I said I was sure he'd heard all that before, and he shook his head.

He hadn't heard that he's a smart kid? That he has potential?

No to both.



I couldn't believe it. What kid hasn't been told that at some point? I mean, seriously, does that happen?* And maybe he was lying again...but I don't really think so, because this is when the tears were slipping out more and more.

I talked some more about how he can do better if he tries (though he does okay), how I'll help him, how I hope he'll get over being mad at me but he doesn't have to, and he nodded. I asked if his mom had told him when I'd called home earlier in the year (one of my positive parent calls). Nodded. Did he like that I'd done that? Nodded. Would he like me do it again? Nodded. Okay, then, give me a reason. Show me I should call. Nodded.

Shortstop's not my favorite kid. His attitude frustrates me. But I left the whole thing feeling....well, just really bad for this kid. Probably the tears were because he didn't want to get in trouble, and he shouldn't've done what he did, never have been told that you're smart. To never have been told that you have potential. That's.....that's terrible.

I'm going to focus on being nicer to this kid. On helping him do better in my class. On seeing him. Because I'm not sure any of us at my school really do right now.

(Photo credit to Mike "Dakinewavamon" Kline)
"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
Copyright 2009 I'm a Dreamer All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates created by Deluxe Templates
Wordpress Theme by EZwpthemes