Hate's in the past.

Siobhan Curious had a post recently in which she asked her readers what they’d learned from their most challenging student. My most challenging student…oh, he sucked. He sucked hard. Or at least our relationship sucked, for a looooooooong time.

The issues began in January. My school had a lot of issues this year with truancy (I know. In sixth grade. Atrocious, right?) and one day, Slick decided to join in. He and three of his friends ditched. Which wouldn’t have been SO bad, except they also decided to throw rocks. Through windows. Of houses. And then they ended up with felony charges.

The kids involved were suspended for a week, post-ditching (because THAT’S a punishment), and when they came back, we were told to not treat them any differently than any other kids. Okay, fine. It’s not like I’d been planning on some sort of public self-flagellation, but I’d make every effort to treat Slick and his pals just like everyone else.

Apparently, Slick didn’t feel I was following through. Slick felt I was singling him out by doing things like calling on him during class for the answer to a question, or by asking him where his homework was when he didn’t have it out. I got a lot of pained sighs and rolled eyes, ignoring me when I asked him questions, refusing to follow directions.

And here’s the thing. That doesn’t fly in my class. Ain’t nobody going to treat me with that kind of disrespect.

But Slick was, and because of the edict to treat him like everyone else, I let it slide for a couple of days, despite that fact that I was absolutely treating him differently by being easier on him than I normally would have been. My back? Bent over to make sure this delicate tulip didn’t feel awkward.

I talked to Slick about it. I talked to his mom about it. I talked to my colleagues and my admin about it. After about two weeks of his jackassery, I set up a parent meeting, and the rest of my core came too, as he’d been giving them all kinds of crap as well. In the meeting, I made it clear that I wanted him to be successful but that I would not stand for him undermining me in front of his peers. Subtext: if he wanted to fight, we could fight, but I would win. His mom agreed that was not okay, and it got better. Mostly. One day he did attempt to turn in a paper by shaking it in my face, but after a brief chat, he reluctantly acknowledged that he’d made an inappropriate choice and would not do so again.

A few months passed, and Slick was absent for over a week, unexcused. I asked his class if anyone knew what was up. The Natural Athlete piped up with, “Maybe he’s ditching because he hates your class so much.” I silenced him with a look, and then asked him to join me in the hall. We discussed how it’s probably not the best idea to tell a teacher how bad their class sucks during class, to which the Natural Athlete assured me that he loved my class, it was his second favorite, just Slick didn’t like it. We moved on from there, but honestly, I was taken aback. Because the thing is, I thought things had changed. I thought Slick and I had worked through the previous animosity. Recently he’d been joking around with me some, turning in work, doing assignments without repeated requests. So the Natural Athlete’s comment was disappointing.

Slick came back, and still seemed fine. A couple of weeks later, he asked me if I needed any help with anything. He owed community service from the January incident and wanted to serve it with me. Again, taken aback, but I agreed. He started staying after school to help with whatever I needed.

A few hours into the community service, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Hey, Slick?”

He looked up from his filing. “Yeah?”

“Would you agree that for a while there, you and I weren’t getting along so well?”

He nodded emphatically. “Oh yeah. Absolutely. Really bad.”

“And now, would you say we’re getting along better?”

He nodded even more emphatically. “Yup. Waaaaaay better. Like totally different.”

I paused. “So….what changed? Why are we getting along better now?”

He paused too. “Well…I don’t know.”


“Well…I think mostly the difference? The difference is that I kinda grew up and figured some things out.”

What a great response, I thought, but I didn’t want to push it. I nodded. “Got it.” We both went back to work.

As I mentioned before, Thursday was the last day with kids. Slick still needed three community service hours, so he came in on Friday to help me out. After three hours, I signed his card and told him how much I’d appreciated his help. He didn’t move. “So, um, what else do you need help with?”

I looked at him. “Slick, you’re done. You’ve been great, but you can totally go if you want to.”

He fidgeted with a pencil. “I could still help if you need more help. Because, like, I needed the hours, but mostly I just wanted to help.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” He stayed for two more hours and is coming back on Tuesday to help me move my room.

This is the kid who hated me more than anyone. This is the kid who made me dread seeing my second period some days, because he could be such an asshole. This is the kid who told the whole class that writing was boring and pointless.

I don’t know what happened, I don’t know how I did it except to treat him with respect and try to be aware when he seemed to be on the verge of shutting down, but somehow, this is a kid I reached. This is a kid who hugged me goodbye on the last day of school. This is a kid who laughs at my corny jokes. This is a kid who says Language Arts is his favorite class now, when he hates reading and writing. This is a kid I reached.

What did I learn from him? Treat everyone with respect. Sometimes you can’t control how people feel about you. Everyone deserves a second, and third, and eighth, and seventeenth chance. Anyone can change, but sometimes you have to change first.

When he learned I was moving to eighth grade, Slick got very quiet. “I wish you weren’t going,” he said.

I smiled at him. “But this way you’ll actually see me more often. My new room is by the seventh grade classrooms.”

“You’re still teaching here? At this school?”

“Of course.”

He visibly relaxed. “Oh. Okay. That’s okay then.”

He hated me most. More than anyone. It’s nice when hate’s in the past, isn’t it?

The end.

I didn’t cry at school on Thursday.

I thought I might, but I made it through. Some of my kids wanted me to cry, I think. Tears mean they matter. Tears are a tangible expression of my love for them. But I didn’t. It was such a good day that tears just didn’t come.

When I told them that I would be moving to 8th grade, they were delighted. Countless kids asked if I could arrange it so they were on my core again. I told them I couldn’t, that it’s all done by computers. One particularly enterprising student suggested that I hack the system; I said I’d take it into consideration. Another student, who’d choiced out of my low-rated urban school for a highly rated suburban school for next year, said he’d come back for 8th grade so that he could be in my class again. I told him that was probably not the way to choose a school but that I appreciated his enthusiasm.

I told a few former students, current 7th graders. They screamed so loudly that a custodian came rushing over, sure someone was mortally wounded.

Three of my girls wrote me a letter about how much they were going to miss me. They’d typed it up, decorated it with hearts and flowers and squiggly things, and put it in a red folder. That was the closest I came to tears.

One of my boys hugged me….and hugged me…and hugged me. Finally I told him he had to let me to go to class. He agreed. Kept hugging. I said it again. Yep, he said, he definitely had to stop and he would, but then he didn’t. Finally I pried his hands loose. I know that I’m his favorite teacher because I have more patience for his antics than some of my colleagues, but I also know that sixth graders are short and hormonal and his head is riiiiiiiight at breast level.

DC asked if I was going to cry. I said I wasn’t sure. “Don’t,” he said. “If you cry, I’ll cry.” So he was safe.

I had all my students sign a yearbook; I buy one each year because I think they’re a nice memento of the year. One student wrote that I was her hero. Several, including the Charmer, wrote that I was the best teacher ever. BB Bob thanked me for helping him so much this year. DC drew a self-portrait and wrote simply, “Miss u.” I might have cried if I’d read those at the time, but I waited till Friday.

At the end of each class, I reminded my kids of the part in Freedom Writers when Miep Gies comes to visit and talks about how ordinary everyday people can be heroes, and how we’d talked about that and I believed it too. Then I reminded them that she also said their faces were engraved in her heart. I told them that their faces were engraved in my heart, that it had been my honor to teach them this year, and that I would miss them all and couldn’t wait to see them next year. A few of them got all misty eyed at that, but I timed it so the bell rang right after I finished speaking, so they sniffled it away and moved on.

We finished the day with an awards assembly. I wish more kids could be recognized for their achievements, but we increased the numbers this year and I’ll work on it again for next year. Plus they’d all gotten the notes from me about their strengths, so that’s kind of like a mini-award. At the end of the assembly, I was mobbed. Kids surrounded me, hugging me and asking for pictures and saying how much they were going to miss me. They are so sweet and so loving and so open; that’s one thing I will miss about sixth graders. Eighth graders are more reserved. Too cool for school. I'm looking forward to a lot of it, but that'll be a loss.

It was a fabulous end to a fabulous year. Painful and challenging at times, yes, but what worthwhile things aren’t? I’m looking forward to resting and rejuvenating this summer. But I also have to start planning – I have a whole new curriculum to get ready for.

Movin' on up!

Yesterday was our last day of school. I’ll post more about some of the highlights later, but I just wanted to mention one thing. I’m simultaneously exhausted and delighted to have a break, and heartbroken that I won’t see my kids again for two and a half months. It was a fabulous, fabulous year, my kids are delightful and talented and incredible, and I will miss them terribly. But I’ll get an opportunity to teach at least some of them again in two years, as I’m moving to 8th grade. It’s not quite what I’d been asked for, but it’s pretty close.

I’ll post again this weekend with more details, but I hope all of you who are done are as emotionally mixed as I am about it, and that those of you who aren’t are still energetic and excited for the rest of your year.

Happy summer, y’all. We are the luckiest people in the world; I fully believe that and I hope you do too.


I started this blog all the way back in March - a whopping two and a half months. I started it because on a LiveJournal teaching site I read, someone recommended It's Not All Flowers and Sausages. I went to check it out and I was hooked: funny, touching, introspective, biting, intelligent...I wanted to be just like Mimi! Which I'm clearly not. But either way, I was in. And from there, I started reading other education blogs that I found on her blogroll, then on those people's blogrolls, then on THOSE people's get the idea. And blogrolls are great, and I should put one up myself, and I'm totally going to once we actually hit summer break and I have some time and can actually figure out how to do it. But another way to find new blogs you like is the Carnival of Education. (I'm writing this post like I have people who read this who don't already follow the Carnival of Education. Maybe I do! Could happen. Anyway.)

The Carnival of Education may not have popcorn or sno-cones, but it definitely will take you for a ride. Some posts are cyclical, linking you back to other ideas, just like a Ferris wheel (which I just capitalized. Is it supposed to be capitalized? I feel like it is. Hmmm. Oh, yep, Wikipedia bears that out). Others are full of wild ups and downs, leaving you breathless at the end and maybe a little bit wanting to vomit - the education blogosphere's rollercoasters. And some are the neverending line you wait in, assuming it's going to lead somewhere good but in the end you get out of the spinning teacups and you're like, "Was that it? Seriously? Huh." But most are from the fun, interesting, thoughtprovoking analogies! Very few are completely unfulfilling. No matter what your style of reading, there's something there for you.

As of today, the most recent Carnival of Education is up - I've been reading 'em since, like, Carnival #217, and this is #225, so you know that I go waaaaaaaaaay back with this whole thing. Though I do have a post in it - yay! I can't wait to go check it out and find some amazing writers that I've never heard of before. I hope you do too!

Showing them they matter.

I gave my kids their cards today, and composition notebooks a la Freedom Writers. They all thanked me profusely. Many taped or stapled their notes into their new journals, while others said they were going to put theirs up in their rooms. Some hugged me. A few cried.

I love my job.

A different memorial.

Today’s Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who have given their lives to protect our country. I am deeply grateful for their dedication and sacrifice, but today I’ve been working on a different kind of memorial. I spent pretty much the whooooooole day writing end-of-year notes to my kids. They’re not long, just three or four sentences and they take about three minutes each to write, but when you’ve got 119 kids, that adds up. Fast.

I meant to start them earlier in the week but kinda forgot, and then I meant to start Saturday morning but kinda procrastinated (I did spend three hours grading on Saturday, so it’s not like I was just, y’know, enjoying my personal free time or something crazy like that), and then I meant to do them yesterday but only got through about fifteen of them, and then this morning, there it was. So I spent the day watching movies and basketball and writing my cheerful little letters.

The point of the letters is to focus on something the kids are good at so that they end the year on a positive note and have a good memory with which to start the summer. To show that they’re seen, as individuals, as someone who matters with individual characteristics that make them different and special. Sometimes I write about content-based stuff, but mostly I focus on personal qualities: hard work, good attitude, sense of humor, loyalty, etc. Traits that can translate to most areas of life.

I started it last year because I had a teacher who wrote me and all my classmates year end notes when I was in high school, and it was incredibly meaningful to me. I think most of my kids really appreciate it; last year I found one in the hallway that a student had dropped, and when I returned it to him, he thanked me profusely and said he’d been worried that he’d lost it. Maybe some couldn’t care less, but no one likes those kids anyway. Kidding, kidding! Probably.

Over the course of the day I managed to get almost all of them done. Then my hand started cramping up, so the last ten are going to have to wait until tomorrow.

I’m kind of excited to give them out. And I hope that the men and women who gave so much would appreciate that instead of just barbequing today, I worked on improving the lives and self-esteem of many of those for whom the sacrifices were made.

A mixed compliment.

Early last week, DC and Oh Yes were rooting through my recycling bin. Oh Yes had a makeup social studies assignment to do, the same one that DC had done the previous day, but he was missing the word bank that went with it. DC was pretty sure that he’d tossed his in the recycling, so they started looking for it.

I was talking to a colleague when suddenly I heard DC say, “Um, Ms. Teachin’?”

“What’s up, DC?”

“We just found a picture of you in here and it says on it that Ms. Teachin’ is a big fat meanie.”

I laughed. “Well, you know, DC, I AM a meanie.”

He looked at me and very earnestly said, “Yeah, but you’re not FAT."

Apparently I may be cruel to the core, but at least I'm relatively skinny.

That could've really blown.

Today was our field day. It’s not a real field day with prizes and stuff – we just do it as a reward for the kids with all As, Bs and Cs, and then the others are in study hall trying to bring their grades up. The teachers who need to get some grading or organizing done take study hall rooms, and everyone else runs field day stations.

Though I certainly could have used the time inside, I spent the afternoon running the balloon pop and jump rope relay station, which was super fun. Basically the kids blow up a balloon, tie it, sit on it to pop it, and then jump rope down around some cones and back (maybe 30 feet). Although at first some of the kids think it’s kind of weird, they get really into it, especially because I get them all amped up with running commentary – I’m just like a sports announcer on ESPN, except with better grammar (burn to ESPN!).

Numerous times today, I caught myself shouting things like, “And Chrissy’s blowing her heart out! She’s blowing like she’s never blown before! Blow, Chrissy, blow!”

Yep. I said kids were blowing their hearts out. Shouted it to groups of twenty-plus.

And yet. Not once did a kid start snickering or even give me a second look. They were too busy cheering for their teammates and getting themselves ready to blow like they’d never blown before.

Thank god I teach sixth grade and not eighth.

(PS I’m better now.)

My heart is a little broken today.

“What do you do when things like that happen?”

“Cry. Sometimes for hours. And then you’re just depressed all the time because what else can you do?”


I had a student come visit after school today – we’ll call him Smiley. Smiley had missed class today for a dentist appointment, so he’d come to see what we’d done. I filled him on the speeches that had been presented and then gave him my end of the year assessment to fill out. I have kids answer a few simple questions, just to give me a sense of their perceptions: what did you like and why, what did you dislike and why, what did you do a good job with, what could you have done better with, what did I do a good job with, what could I have done better with. Content-wise, it helps me think about what I need to just tweak a bit and what I need to revamp dramatically, and me-wise, it both strokes my ego and keeps me humble.

After he finished, he stuck around to talk for a bit. He’s a chatty kid, and we get along well, though we’ve had some rough patches (he was the kid who said I wanted to get with him earlier this year, among other things – he has a temper and when he gets mad, it doesn’t go well, though he and I have worked hard on finding solutions to that). He had a friend with him (a kid I don’t have but know slightly), and DC and Oh Yes were also in the room.

I was messing around on my computer and he came to sit by me. I’m not even sure how we started talking about this, but he started telling me about all his family members who have been in jail, or been badly hurt, or have badly hurt someone else.

This is stuff I’ve heard from Smiley before to some extent. After we watched Freedom Writers, we did a Socratic seminar on it (more on that another time) and he talked a lot about his dad’s past as a gang member, and getting out, and the violence threatened against his family. When he talks about these issues, he speaks with a slight sense of importance, sort of a you’re-not-going-to-believe-the-shit-that’s-happened-to-ME quality, but mostly it just comes across as really honest with absolutely no filter.

So today he’s sharing more stories, and his friend is too, and I’m listening, and responding with comments like, “That sounds like a really hard thing to go through,” and, “I hope you’re not going to get involved in stuff like that,” and, “That’s really scary.” Because, really, what do you say to a twelve year old who’s telling you about how his uncle shot at a guy who was trying to steal the uncle’s car?

After fifteen minutes or so, Smiley started telling me about a cousin in jail. And then as I was listening, I noticed his eyes were looking a little watery. And then he started to cry.

He’s cried with me before, once when talking about his grandfather who lives in another state and whom he misses tremendously, once when I told him I was going to have to call home about a behavior issue. But I’ve never seen him cry in front of students.

This kid is cool. He’s athletic, funny, crazy, confident – pretty badass for a sixth grader. Crying is definitively not cool.

The other boys froze. Smiley was sitting on a desk with his feet on the seat. He hunched over and buried his face in his knees. I got up and put my arm around his shoulders, rubbed his back, told him how sorry I was and he was okay. After a minute, his friend moved around to stand next to him too. He collected himself after another minute, wiping his eyes and breathing heavily.

“You okay?” I asked.

He nodded, still a little teary.

“It’s hard to lose people you love. No matter how you lose them, to death or to jail or to someone else, it’s really hard, isn’t it.”

He nodded again, and started talking again. He talked about the man he’d seen die in a car accident. He talked about his uncle who’d punched through a window when angry with his aunt. He talked about another cousin who’d been in jail and had missed Smiley’s birthday.

It’s hard to know what to say in these situations…fuck hard, actually, it’s almost impossible at times. I want to be positive, I want to be supportive, I want to say the right thing, but….what IS the right thing? Here’s what I went with, after he talked about the cousin.

“Smiley, that’s why I hope you keep making the right choices. That’s why I hope you stay in school and get an education and do the right thing, because I would hate for the people who love you to feel the way you feel right now. It’s really hard for you to not have these people around you, and I would hate for anyone to feel like that about you.”

He nodded. “I just don’t want to go to any more funerals for the people I love.”

He left after that – mom was outside and he had to go. Before he left, DC came over to him and did a little fist pound thing. It clearly let Smiley know that DC heard him, and felt him, and they were together.

I managed to hold it together until Smiley left. DC and Oh Yes were playing pool (I have a mini pool table in my room – the kids love coming in before school or at lunch to play; it’s adorable), and I started tearing up. DC noticed after a minute. “It’s sad, isn’t it,” he said.

I tried to smile through my tears. “Yeah. It’s really sad. Um, do you guys have stories like that?” I know some of what DC’s been through, but not all. “You don’t have to tell me, but…I was just wondering.”

DC shrugged. “Not as bad as Smiley’s, I’ve never seen anyone die, but yeah. Some.”

Oh Yes was quiet for a minute. “Yeah, sort of.”

I nodded, they went back to playing and after several minutes and a quick trip out of the room to get through it, I managed to stop crying too.

A little later they were ready to go. It was late, so I gave DC bus fare (Oh Yes refused it). “Can I ask what kinds of things have happened to you guys?”

DC leaned on a desk. “It was really bad where I used to live. We heard gunshots a lot. Sirens all the time. Once there was a gang fight in front of my grandma’s house.”

I looked at him. “That just…I just don’t think kids should have to deal with that kind of stuff. It must be really scary. I mean, you’re 12. You shouldn’t have to deal with that.”

He nodded. “And that was when I was like six or seven.” Oh Yes leaned on a counter and stared into space.

And that’s when I asked. “What do you do when things like that happen?”

DC shrugged again. “Cry. Sometimes for hours. And then you’re just depressed all the time because what else can you do?” I know it’s a cliché, but he seemed so much older than twelve. His eyes…my heart shuddered to see them.

“I just hope you have someone to talk to. Someone who will listen when you need them.” DC nodded to that too, but Oh Yes kept staring into space. I looked at him. “Do you have someone to talk to?”

No response for a minute, then, “No. Not really.”

My eyes filled again. I blinked rapidly. “You need to find someone. It’s important to have someone to talk to.”

They left, and I left a minute later. When I got outside, they were fifty feet away. “Oh Yes! C’mere for a sec!” He turned and trudged back. “I just wanted to say that if you ever do need someone to talk to, I’d be happy to talk to you. About anything. And if you ever need help with anything, I’d be happy to talk to you about it and try to help you.” He nodded. “Okay, see you tomorrow.”

“Bye,” and he walked away again.

I wept the whole way home.

Taking responsibility.

Yesterday BB Bob said something borderline – I don’t remember what, I just remember that I cut him off in the middle.

“Dude. Seriously. Teacher. Remember, I already got you suspended once. STOP IT.”

He and his friends laughed, then BB Bob sobered up. With a sheepish smile, “Naw, you didn’t get me suspended. I got myself suspended.”

“True,” I said, and we moved on.

But what a great thing that he recognizes and will admit to that, right?
Okay. If there’s a blog that I totally want to be able to read and it’s all, “It doesn't look like you have been invited to read this blog. If you think this is a mistake, you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation,” how do I DO that if I can’t find an email address in the person’s profile and I can’t get to the blog to leave a comment and they don’t have any other blogs that are public that would give me an in?


This is a blog that (I think) is written by someone who used to have a public blog that then went private a week, maybe a week and a half ago, that then just up and disappeared entirely a few days ago. Which I was totally sad about, because I really LIKED this blog and I felt really connected to the author, and then I found this new (or different, or something) blog that seems to also be theirs. And I was all, “Yay!” But now I’m all, “Boo! Sucksucksucksucksucksuck.” because I can’t figure out how to contact them.

If the author to whom I am referring is reading this, and if you recognize yourself, I would so love to keep reading your writing. I felt like we were very much on the same page about education, teaching, dealing with colleagues, commitment to the job, connections to students, etc, and I’d love to keep up with your perspective. Please email me at imadreamerteacher at gmail dot com or comment here or something.

In the meantime, I say again: GRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Cry me a river.

My new thing that I say to kids when they have a random complaint or problem that they express in the form of a statement.

“Huh. Sad story.”

The point I’m trying to get across is that bitching isn’t going to get them anywhere. Y’all, if you need some damn help, ASK FOR IT. Don’t just tell someone that something’s wrong and expect them to dropeverythingnownownow to fix your mess.

Yes, you’re a delicate tulip whose very existence brightens my day and I probably should want to leap to your assistance at the change of a breeze (What? A mud puddle? Here, my child, let me drape my jean jacket over it to keep your Jordans from being soiled…) But, um, so are my other 125 students. And I’m not actually psychic (though, dude, it would be soooooooo useful if I were….oh, the crazy stories I could see through to the truth) so I need you to USE YOUR WORDS AND ASK ME FOR WHAT YOU NEED.

So now, when I say it, I get a variety of responses. Some laugh and say, “I know, right?” Some rephrase right away to a question. Sometimes they just look at me. And don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and I want to help them, so if the phrase “sad story” gets a blank stare, I add, “What’re you going to do about it?” That cues them that I need some more before we’re going anywhere with this situation.

But they need to learn to ask for help instead of demanding it, and in the meantime, doing it this way keeps me entertained.

A loss.

I know. I understand that in our current educational system, tenure trumps all. I get it, I really do. I vehemently disagree with it, but I get it.

I have a friend. She is an amazing teacher who is passionate about her work, who loves her content, who knows her students deeply, who holds them to the highest possible standards while still supporting them, who is one of the most ethical people I’ve ever met….

Two days ago she lost her job. Because she’s in her second year, and there were budget cuts, and it is what it is. I could go on ad nauseum about how unfair that is, but right now that doesn't do any good. It doesn't help anything.

This is a loss for her, for her students, for her school. She’ll get another job eventually at another school, where she will shine just as brightly as she did at her current school, but right now….

Right now, I am sad for my friend.

How Assemblies Should Be

I’m going to brag a little bit today.

Yesterday we had an assembly at my school. I put it together as our year-end Positive Behavior Support lesson. We do schoolwide PBS lessons about once a month, and each month’s focus is developed based on our data (mainly referrals – like when we had a lot of disruption referrals, we did a lesson about disruption. Pretty straightforward).

This one, was mostly just to end the year in a positive way. I have a friend who is famous. For privacy, I won’t go into details, but he’s pretty rockin’ and a good chunk of our kids totally know who he is. I started talking to him about a month ago about coming to my school to do an assembly. After a lot of back and forth and schedule manipulation, we finally managed to make it happen.

My friend’s a musician, and we planned a school-wide assembly at which he would perform a few songs, talk to the kids about some position stuff (stay in school, be involved in your life, don’t be assholes to the people around you), take some questions. After the assembly, everyone would go to their PBS classroom, have a discussion, and do a writing prompt to conclude the lesson. My friend Rockstar would go with me to the library and work with a group of kids who’d applied for the opportunity.

The whole thing went better than I could have possibly imagined.

Rockstar was, well, a rock star. He got the kids engaged, he treated them with dignity, he was open and honest but unfailingly positive. He talked about how he’d been teased in middle school for being different, for liking math, for being a critical thinker (though he phrased that as “for getting really into one thing and then thinking about that one thing a lot”). He shared personal stories but brought it back to them. He performed original songs as well as medleys of popular songs (but with the words rewritten to be about positive school-related stuff). He was friendly, caring, funny, complimentary, interested, incredible.

And the kids…oh, the kids. My kids rocked. They were respectful, engaged, excited. They participated, they listened, they took pictures, they cheered…they were fantastic. During the assembly, I watched Rockstar some but mostly I watched the kids. Some of them clearly couldn't care less about being there, but most of them were with him for every song, every word, every moment.

The kids in the writing workshop piece were just delightful. Forty-three applied to be part of it, so we took ‘em all. Rockstar led most of the lesson, talking to them about creativity, about heroism, about how they could be heroes instead of just looking up to people like Tupac (who made some good music but a loooooooot of shitty choices) and Kobe Bryant (who’s a huge dick). They read copies of one of Rockstar’s songs that related to heroism, discussed it in small groups, and wrote about it. Some of them shared what they’d written, others just listened, but every child was a model student for that hour (well, mostly – I did have to hiss in BB Bob’s ear at one point that if he did not cut the crap and start treating others with respect, I would throw him out of there so fast his head would spin and he would rue the day he'd crossed me. He shaped up). They represented my school well.

For the rest of the day (and today too), I had kids and teachers thanking me for putting it together. This was something really meaningful for our kids, and really special. Several told me they’d never forget this, and I truly believe that a lot of them will remember this for the rest of their lives.

I’m so happy I could make this happen for them, and so proud of everyone involved for making it an unforgettable day.

Be careful making rash promises...

I cannot stand when students use the word gay as an insult. It. Drives. Me. Crazy. My kids learn very quickly that they don’t want to use that word in front of me, because they’re going to get called out on it at a minimum, and if necessary, I will make a great big fucking deal out of it until I get my point across. Few sixth graders want to have anything about their lives made into a great big fucking deal.

Seventh graders, on the other hand…

This is a battle I fight CONSTANTLY with the Charmer. Though he is in many ways a great kid, he’s pretty homophobic. He and I have talked about it, and he says he doesn’t have a problem with gay people, just why do they have to be so flaming?

So I’m working on the general homophobia, but in the meantime, I’m trying on the language. I correct him on it every single damn time he uses it.

A few days ago, I was fed up with it. One of his friends said something, I don’t even remember what, and the Charmer looked at him and sneered, “Dude, you’re gay.”

I stopped the conversation. “Charmer. I’m serious. That word is not okay to use as an insult. You can insult your friends, whatever, I’ve worked through that, use whatever word you want, but you are NOT allowed to call them gay. STOP IT.”

The Charmer looked at me. “I can call them whatever I want?”

Here’s what I assumed he’d go with: Stupid. Idiot. Loser. Something insulting – whatever worked, as long as it wasn't gay. I was wrong, and I walked right into it, and I couldn’t even really complain, because I’d started it. “Whatever you want.”

The Charmer looked at his friend. He took a breath. He rolled the word around in his mouth as he spoke it, savoring each syllable, each letter. “Cocksucker.”


Happy Mother's Day!

Periodically a student asks me if I have children. Depending on my mood, I respond with something like, “I have 125 of you,” or, “I have plenty of you people here – I don’t need ‘em at home too.” Either way, I always acknowledge that no, I do not have children of my own, but that I do think of my kids as, in some ways, my kids.

Don’t get me wrong – I know I’m not a mother to them. But I care deeply about my students and their well-being, and frankly, this minimal mothering as all I can handle right now.

I work 55 to 60 hours a week (some weeks up to 65), between my time actually at school and the additional time I spend planning and grading at home. I can’t imagine how I could possibly do my job well and take care of my own children well. I fully believe this will change as I grow more experienced and get to a point at which I want to make it work, but right now I have no urge to do both, nor could I handle both.

Mad props to all the moms (and dads, frankly) who manage both. Happiest of Mother’s Days to you all.

The want of a dollar.

As I mentioned, I had lunch with a group of the Charmer’s friends three days in a row last week. It should have only been two.

Tuesday during lunch, the Charmer mentioned not wanting to come to my school next year. This was a surprise. He’s not in our district and he and I have been working on getting him choiced in for next year, so to hear he suddenly didn’t want to come back was unexpected. I asked him why right at the end of lunch and he gave me a look and said that I knew why.

I had no idea why.

I asked if he and I could have lunch one day to talk about it. He said sure. I asked Wednesday or Thursday. Whatever. Seriously, I asked, Wednesday or Thursday? Choose! He said he didn’t care, either was fine.

Wednesday I went to get him. Not today…he wanted to have lunch with his friends today. Okay, then, tomorrow? Sure. Then his friends asked if they could eat with me. I said they could come but he didn’t have to. He came too. At the end of lunch, I reconfirmed for Thursday. Totally, he said.

Thursday I went to find him. Absent. Instead BB Bob and the Chowhound came, which was fine, but I was perturbed.

The Charmer’s attendance sucked when he first came back to school this year. He would miss about a day every week to week and a half, which is absurd. Once I started mentoring him, it got a lot better – he and I looked at his attendance (I don’t think he realized how bad it was till he saw it on paper) and talked about the issue, and then we managed to get him a bus pass.

For about 6 weeks, he was there every day, then it dropped off again. Not as bad as before, but not good. One day he told me that he hadn’t come because the weather was bad, his jacket was at school and his sweatshirt was at a friend’s house, and he didn’t want to wait for the bus in the snow. That’s all the warm clothes he had – a jacket and a sweatshirt. And I couldn’t argue with him. How am I going to tell a kid to wait outside for the bus in the snow in a t-shirt? So I asked him to call me if he was going to be absent and we’d figure something out. He agreed, and for about three weeks he was there every day. And then he wasn’t. Long story, but he told me something that led to the social services call. That was two and a half weeks ago. He’s missed two more days since then. The first he said he’d had a dentist appointment, mom doesn’t have a car, a friend had to drive them, he couldn’t come…I didn’t push it. The second was Thursday.

It really pissed me off that he wasn’t there on Thursday. Honestly, I thought it might be kind of a fuck you to me – he and I had an agreement to talk, he and I’d had run-ins before about his attendance...this struck me as possibly intentional. I told his friends to tell him that we needed to talk. They agreed, and the Chowhound said he didn’t know why the Charmer was absent all the time, but that he should come to school more. He rambled about that for a minute, till all of a sudden BB Bob blurted out that the Charmer didn’t have a bus pass.

“What?” I said.

“He doesn’t have a bus pass right now. That’s why he’s not here, I think.”

“Why doesn’t he have a bus pass?” I was skeptical, wondering if he’d given it away or something.

BB Bob shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s just what he said.”

Later that day his counselor came to talk to me about something else. I mentioned his absence; she confirmed it and brought up that his bus pass had come that day. Apparently she’d gotten a nasty message from mom about it, but couldn’t really do anything about the situation. He’d get the bus pass when he came back to school, whenever that was.

So it was true. He wasn’t coming to school because he couldn’t come to school. Bus fare is only a dollar, but they didn’t have it, I guess.

I wish he’d called me like he said he would. He lives a few miles from school, but it can’t be more than a ten minute drive – I could have driven to his house and given him the money to get there. And now I’m guessing that’s why he doesn’t want to come back next year. I’m guessing he doesn’t know how he’d get to school, and so he doesn’t want to deal with it. Hopefully he and I will get to talk on Monday, and I can confirm my guess and try to work around it.

The want of a dollar – what a sad reason to miss out on your education.


The Eyeliner Queen is back and attempting to stay out of trouble. So far, it's going okay. She and I are going to keep in touch over the summer just so she knows someone is there if she needs support. I get super antsy over vacations if I don't have stuff to do, so this will be good for me too.

DC declined to pursue the issue with Ms. Science. He said he felt better after the weekend and it was just a few more weeks of school, so he could deal. I said okay, and he’s seemed fine since.

I readdressed the issue with the Charmer & Co. the next time they asked to eat with me. Reiterated how I was uncomfortable and why it was inappropriate. They apologized. I said if it happened again, we were done with the lunches. They agreed. It’s been perfectly appropriate since. It better stay that way.

The Natural Athlete filled out a sort of “don’t hurt yourself without talking to someone first” contract. At school, I’m his first contact if he’s feeling majorly upset and Ms. Counselor is his second. At home, it’s Dad and Grandma, I think. He was sent home early on Wednesday – I guess his parents thought it was kind of silly, but Ms. Counselor talked about how they might not agree, but his emotions are his emotions, and we needed to take it seriously. The next day, we touched base. He’s much better but promised to come talk to me if he needs to.

Preventing Skin Cancer, Courtesy of 6th Grade!

We’re working on procedural speeches right now to finish up the year, which are speeches on how to do something. They can do theirs on whatever they want, as long as it’s school appropriate (one little delight proposed doing one on kissing girls, and assured me he was indeed an expert – I assured him I didn’t want to know or have him share his expertise with the class – instead he’s going to do how to do a backflip).

Yesterday I modeled for them how to plan their speech as we’re using a new planning format. It’s pretty straightforward, but they still need practice with it. I did mine on how to grow tomatoes, as I enjoy gardening and am pretty good at it.

While I modeled, I let the kids contribute ideas. Keeps the buy-in higher and off-task behavior down. In three different classes, under the list of materials needed to be a successful gardener, students said necessary materials included sunscreen and/or a hat. And in each class, they then clarified with, “You know, for YOU.”


The kid I never imagined.

Today BB Bob and another one of the Charmer’s friends, the Chowhound (the boy never. stops. eating.), asked to have lunch with me. I’d been looking for the Charmer, but he was absent (story for another day…grrr), so I said sure. This is the third day in a row that these boys have had lunch with me – the last two, the Charmer and the fourth in their group, the Talker, had been there too, but the Charmer was absent and the Talker had detention, so then there were two.

I was a little surprised, to be honest. BB Bob was one of my kids from last year, but he and I were never particularly close. We got along fine, just nothing beyond. This year, when the Charmer and his friends started coming in for lunch, I assumed that BB Bob was pretty much just along for the ride – better to be with your friends in a teacher’s room than by yourself in the cafeteria. But they came.

Right after we got to my room, BB Bob asked me oh-so-casually how often I talked to his reading teacher. “Do you guys talk, like, all the time?”

“Not really – I don’t see her that much. We have pretty different schedules.” I wondered why he was asking, then I realized.

The day before, I’d told the Charmer that his reading teacher had complimented him. They don’t get along, AT ALL, but she’d made a point of emailing me about him, so I wanted to pass it along. She’d said that he’d really turned things around, which I’m pretty sure means that he’d started to play the game the way she wanted, but whatever, I thought it might help him to know. He hadn’t seemed to much care, but I guess the others had been listening.

BB Bob is a really good reader. Ms. Reading used to compliment him, and I’d heard his current teacher compliment him too. And he was wondering about that.

“She’s told me a bunch of times what a great reader you are.”

He shook his head. “Naw. I’m not.”

“Yes you are! And Ms. Reading used to tell me too, so I know you are.”

He shook his head a moment more, then a slow smile broke out. “Yeah…maybe.”

The conversation moved on, and after 20 minutes or so, the Chowhound said he was going to go outside for the last ten minutes. I assumed BB Bob would take off too, but no. He stayed another two or three minutes – we chatted some more, about his options for next year and why he might not come back to my school, until he suddenly seemed to realize that he was in a room, with a teacher, by himself, BY CHOICE, and he had no idea how to deal with that.

“Uh…I’m going to go outside too.”

“Okay. See you later.”


“Have a good day, Bob.”

“Thanks.” Then a split second later, “Uh, you too.”

So funny to learn that you matter to a kid you never imagined would care.

It's all about the relationships.

After school today, I was talking to one of my administrators who is going back to the classroom next year. He was telling me a story about one of our little charmers, and I said I couldn’t imagine being in admin. The administrator said it had a lot of good parts, but it was definitely different. I agreed – it seems like the student relationships would be so different. I shared the following story with him.

One of my boys came to class this morning looking pretty down. This is a kid who is always good-natured, always friendly, always open. When he doesn’t understand a concept, he flings his arm in the air and says, “I don’t get it.” Language Arts is challenging for him, but he always tries his hardest, always participates, always is polite and respectful and kind. I’ve seen him off before, but usually from a physical issue – the kid’s a natural athlete and fully commits to the moment, so he often comes to class clutching his side or limping from a morning football injury. I fully believe that someday he would throw himself in front of a car rather than miss a pass. But I digress.

Today’s mood was different from what I’d seen before. The Natural Athlete was upset in a different way. “Hey, you okay?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Not really.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

Shrugged again. “No.”

I didn’t push it, but when I saw him staring at his desk five minutes into class while everyone else finished making kites (we’re practicing following directions and then analyzing the directions), I called him over. “Honey, what’s going on? You seem really upset. You sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

He still didn’t really want to talk, so I switched tactics. “Here’s the thing. You’re kinda freaking me out right now. You just don’t seem okay. I need to know if you’re thinking about hurting yourself in any way.”

He shrugged again. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Awesome. “Do you want to go talk to Ms. Counselor?” Definite no from him. “Then I need to know what’s going on.”

After some more pushing, I finally asked if it had to do with a relationship. He’s been going out with one of my girls for a few months, so I assumed it was linked to that. He affirmed. I asked if it had ended. He affirmed again, and then poured out the story. They’d been going out for three months, but then she dumped him this morning and he didn’t know why except that she said he talked about sports too much, but he didn’t even talk about sports that much, and now she and all her friends hated him, and he just didn’t know what to do because he was so sad about it all.

Yep. Girls. Always causing problems.

So the Natural Athlete and I talked about relationships, and how they end but new ones are formed, and how he’s a great kid and I’m sure will have no trouble finding a new girlfriend when he’s ready, but he should take his time, and he’ll get there in the end, and it’s hard now but it will get easier. He nodded, and sniffed a bit, and nodded some more.

After we talked, I asked him again about the hurting himself. He said no, he didn’t think he would. But saying you think you won’t hurt yourself isn’t good enough, so I pushed him again about going to see the counselor.

“I don’t want to! I don’t even know her – I don’t want to talk to her about this. I know you.”

Which I get. I wouldn’t want to talk to someone I didn’t know either. But I couldn’t just let this go – the possibility of self-injury isn’t something I take lightly.

“Okay. Here’s the thing. Take some time and think about all this, and then let’s talk this afternoon and we’ll see how you’re doing then. Cool?”

He agreed, and we left it at that. At lunch, I found Ms. Counselor and filled her in. She said that when I talked to him to ask again about if he was thinking about hurting himself.

I stopped him on his way into his reading class. “How’s it going?”

“Better. I’m still kinda sad, but not as sad. She’s not talking to me but whatever.”

“Are you still thinking about hurting yourself?”




“Cross your heart?”

“Well…I don’t know if I can cross my heart.”

“Yeah, I’m going to need you to go to Ms. Counselor.”

“But I don’t want to!”

“I know. And I’m sorry. But your safety is the most important thing, and I need to make sure you’re safe. You know that, right?”

“Yeah…I guess.”

I looked at him. He was staring at the floor. “Would a piece of candy help you feel better?”

His face lit up. “Yeah!”

So I gave him two Jolly Ranchers, signed his pass, and sent him up.

That’s why I love teaching, and why I don’t want to be an administrator, at least not at this point. I have relationships with these kids that you don’t get if you’re not in the classroom. Yeah, they can be built, and the counselors certainly do build them when they can, but the Natural Athlete trusts me, and that’s why he was willing to tell me what was going on. It’s all about the relationships.

Cinco de Mayo

As I assume y'all know, today is Cinco de Mayo. My school’s about 60% Hispanic and many of our students are actually from Mexico, so it’s a fairly big deal to our kids. As a school, we don’t do anything for it (I’m considering working on that for next year – any suggestions?), but I wanted to at least acknowledge it.

This year, I wrote Cinco de Mayo 2009 on my board for the date, asked them if they knew what the day is all about, let kids correct those who thought it was Mexican Independence Day, elicited explanations as to the true meaning of the day, and gave everyone a piece of candy, a pencil or a PBS school buck in celebration. Lip service, yes, but better than nothing, I hope.

During 7th period, a student asked me while I was taking the candy around if I celebrated Cinco de Mayo. I reiterated what I’d done for the holiday. He said, “I don’t celebrate it because I’m not Mexican.” He’s clearly Latino, but apparently didn’t want to be assumed to be Mexican.

Now, I’m about as white as you come. Blond hair, green eyes, skin so pale I have trouble finding foundation that’s dark enough…Casper and I have been declared cousins in the past. So after he made his stand, I looked at him and said, “Neither am I. Do you NOT want a piece of candy?”

Homes looked down, took a Jolly Rancher, and muttered thanks. Happy Cinco de Mayo to you, my friend.

Also, a student invited me to a quinceanera today. Is it appropriate for me to go? It's for his cousin and he's performing in it in some way - I'm not totally clear how, but I told him to get me the information and I'd love to be there. That's cool, yeah? I ordered Once Upon a Quinceanera from the library so I can learn more before I go.

Do The Right Thing.

I mentioned a while ago that I’d used excerpts from The Freedom Writers Diary in class, both for content and for…well, I could call it a morality lesson, or character education, or something, but I like to think of it as a do-the-right-thing lesson. The do-the-right-thing lesson didn’t have much in common with the Spike Lee movie (they’re both connected to racial issues, as my students who started punching the other kid did so because he was using racial slurs, but that’s about all), but was instead designed to make my kids realize that reporting someone for being an asshole isn’t snitching but is protecting yourself and the people around you.

We read two essays. One was about a boy who was being bullied, lost it, beat the shit out of the bullies and almost killed one of them, and ended up in juvie, when if someone had reported the bullying it might have all been prevented. The other was about how two boys from the Freedom Writers school went to Vegas and one lured a little girl into the bathroom to kill her while his friend watched him abduct her and then just walked away. That essay ended with the line that the friend could have saved two lives that day.

It went as well as I’d expected it would – I got kids to acknowledge the issue, at least some of them, and to pay lip service to understanding it, but I didn’t really believe I’d gotten through to any of them on any deeper level. I hoped it, sure, but honestly assumed that they’d forget about it as soon as they walked out the door.

Probably most of them did. At least one didn’t.

After school that day, one of my girls showed up – Sparkles (both her makeup and her personality sparkle – awwwww, I’m so cheesy!). This girl is incredibly sweet and friendly, very funny, very smart. Just a great kid. She asked if she could talk to me in the hallway, so I said sure. When I asked her what was going on, she told me a story.

That day in math, she and a friend of hers had been messing around. Talking, laughing, throwing little pieces of paper at the boy in front of them. Sparkles fully acknowledged that she shouldn’t have been doing that, but, y’know, she’s 12 and sometimes isn’t perfect. Then it escalated. Sparkles’ friend took a piece of gum and put it in the boy’s hair. Not cool. The teacher found out, got mad, and made everyone write about what they knew about the situation. Sparkles wrote that she had no idea what had happened because she didn’t want her friend to get in trouble. But then after class she started thinking. She remembered the essay we’d read, about the friend who’d let his friend murder a girl, and while she knew that gum in the hair was an infinitely less serious situation, she couldn’t get it out of her head.

Sparkles told me she didn’t want to be the kind of person who let her friends get away with stuff just because they were her friends, but she also didn’t want her friend to be mad, so she asked if I could report what had happened. I said I would, but that if they needed to know who the witness was, she’d have to come forward. Though unhappy about the possibility, she understood.

Before she left, I stopped her. I told her I was so proud of her for doing the right thing. It’s not easy to do, for adults or kids, and I was so delighted that she was that kind of person. She thanked me.

This kid rocks, and would rock no matter what, but my lesson had an impact on her. And if it affected her, maybe it affected some of the others too.

One month out.

We’re a month out from the end of the school year, and I’m already heartbroken. It sounds dumb, probably, that I’m literally in tears over losing my kids. It IS dumb, probably. Sill true, though.

They’ve started to lose it a little bit. More fights, more backtalk, more overwrought emotional exchanges.

A couple of days ago I asked one of my girls if she was feeling okay because she seemed a little off. She said she felt kind of dizzy and congested. I asked if she wanted to go to the nurse; most kids jump at that opportunity, because a break from class is always a nice change. She teared up and said she couldn’t miss a day, that her grades would go down and she couldn’t afford that. I told her that if you’re sick, it’s okay to stay home, it was only one day, she could make it up. She started to cry, saying no no no, she couldn’t, please don’t make her, she couldn’t leave. Finally I got her to stop by saying I wouldn’t make her.

I remember this from last year. I remember how taken aback I was at how they just totally fell apart a few weeks before the year ended. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them that it was really noticeable.

It happens because of instability, or so I’m told. A lot of my kids don’t have stable home lives. Parents aren’t around much, or if they are, they don’t always act like parents. The kids might have huge responsibilities or no responsibilities. They don’t always eat regularly. Violence is not uncommon.

School is a haven. They have a routine, they have expectations to meet, they have food. Summer….who knows?

I’d miss them no matter what. Even the most stable ones with the best home lives, I’ll miss them, just because they’re my kids and I’m attached to them. But I worry about their safety, both physical and emotional, and that makes it so much harder to be excited about the break. Because for some of them, it’s the opposite – school is the break from the trauma of their lives, and summer immerses them in it so deeply that I’m terrified they won’t make it back up for air.
"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.
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