It's OUR job.

There's a blog I read. I've been reading it for a while, and I enjoy it, generally agree with the author's perspective, usually feel like I understand where s/he's coming from. But recently....I'm having a hard time with an attitude the author is expressing.

S/he has a class that is particularly challenging. And I get that, I do. (Hi,
eighth period! How are you?) But right now, the author seems to be blaming the student behavior solely on the students. And sure, the kids are in charge of themselves, and kids make crappy choices all the time. But so do we all, and in the end, we're the adults, and it's our job to figure out how to make the class work.

Let me say that again: it's our job.

And if the class is out of control, we're not doing our jobs.

I know that's an unpopular viewpoint in a lot of circles, and I also know that classes ebb and flow, and even the best classes can be sucky some days, and it's almost impossible to not get annoyed. But after we get over being angry, we need to look at the root of the behavior, because whatever we try, whether it be punishment, rewards, negative reinforcement, or what have you, nothing will work permanently unless we can figure out the root of the problem and deal with that.

I'm learning that the hard way right now, a story I'll share tomorrow.

To be continued....

(Photo credit to waka jawaka)

Bet Red: Thank you, Tomato Nation!

How many of you have used Donors Choose? If you've never submitted a proposal (or possibly never even heard of them), you should look into them.

Basically they're a site that allows teachers to submit proposals for materials or experiences that will benefit their students, and generous people give money to fulfill those dreams. It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?

I submitted a proposal in early September for two digital cameras, two memory cards, and two digital voice recorders. With the products, shipping, a donation to Donors Choose for operating costs, supplies for a thank you package to donors, the total cost was not quite $700.

That's a lot of money.

I sent it out to my friends and family, hoping some of them would like to donate, and several did. But yesterday something amazing happened because of a woman with a mission, a group of like-minded people, and the power of internet organizing.

Every October, Donors Choose does a social media promotion. Sars at Tomato Nation is a tremendous supporter of teachers and students and just general coolness, and every year, she gives her readership a goal to reach. As incentives, she sets up matching donations at certain levels, prizes for donors, all kinds of good stuff. This year, the base goal was $150,000 - a HUGE amount of money - with the hope to get to $210,000 through a match from HP.

They reached it. They passed it. They're still going.

As of right now, just over 1100 donors have given (including matches) over $300,000, reaching over 50,000 students. Including mine.

Isn't it incredible to know that so many people want to help kids learn? So many people are willing to give so much to enhance student educational experiences? Kids they don't even know?

Below is the letter I wrote thanking them. If you haven't ever checked out Donors Choose, look into it. Not every project gets funded, but a whole lot do. And if you're ever looking for a rockin' blog to read with advice, humor, a supportive and intelligent host and community, check out Tomato Nation.

I will always Bet Red.


Dear Sars and everyone at Tomato Nation,

It's not quite 4 am and I'm sitting at my laptop in tears. But not like the 4 am kind of tears that mean something terrible just happened.

Sometimes I don't sleep very well, and so I get up and go do something while I'm waiting to feel tired again. Tonight was one of those nights. As I was playing on the internet, I decided to go look at my DonorsChoose page just for kicks - I like to check in every day on my projects. Usually not much has changed (often not anything). Today was different.

My page looked different. Suddenly my projects had been split up - and one was listed as fully funded. What?

I clicked through to the page. Yesterday, three Bet Red donors finished funding my project to create digital stories. (Four Bet Redders gave in total.)

Although I knew that Donors Choose was a great organization, although I knew that donors help teachers and students every day through them.....somehow it hadn't seemed quite real till now. Hadn't seemed possible.

You guys kick SO MUCH ASS.

From me, from my kids, from everyone you've funded -


Much love,

Ms. Teachin'

Made with love

My snow day was lovely. I read, I relaxed, I baked cookies, I played with my dogs in the snow, I watched a movie (Dreamgirls - delightful!)....I did everything I wanted to do.

But....I kinda missed my kids.

I know. That's lame. It's only one day off - every weekend I'm away from them for longer than that. No way did any of them miss me. And frankly, some of them are pretty damn irritating pretty damn regularly.

And yet....I did.

So tonight I made three batches of rice krispy treats and carefully cut them into about 120 little squares (very little, honestly), and tomorrow I'll share them. And as they bite into them and feel the marshmallow melt in their mouths, I hope they'll also taste the love.

Because as annoying as they are some days, I do love them.

I hope they know that.

(Photo credit to timlewisnm)

Winter wonderland!


I am experiencing a teacher milestone here.

Like....for reals.

Are you ready for this?

Make sure you're sitting down.


Will be my first snow day of my teaching career.


I have a big ol' pile of papers to grade and I am not going to do any of them.

Instead I am going to read, and nap, and write, and hang out, and bake cookies, and play with my dogs, and watch a movie, and just thoroughly enjoy every.last.minute.

It's gonna be sweet.

(Photo credit to I Love Egg)

I'm okay with my class being hard for this reason.

A conversation today:

Spikes, tossing down his pencil dramatically: Ms. Teachin', this class is HARD!

Me: It is? [Spikes {for his hair} does really well in my class.]

Spikes: YES! I'm always having to THINK and try my BEST and reDO things if I don't get it the first time!

Me: [internal squee of joy, because what a great thing to say?] Well, but you are doing your best and your grades are reflecting that. So I think it's okay.

Spikes, skeptically: I guess.

Then he picked his pencil back up and got back to his self-assessment.


(Luckily, Spikes does not seem to have broken down from his efforts. Photo credit to jcorrius)

Shouldn't teachers be informed?

I need to know if I'm in the wrong here.

Today. Third period. One of my kids His eyes look sunken, he's pale, his focus is odd, he just seems....weird (it's a medical term). I ask him if he's okay; he says yeah. I ask if he wants to go to the nurse; he says no. I ask if he's sure, just 'cause he's so much quieter than usual; again, no.

A few minutes into class, as they're doing their warmup, I go around to check homework. I get to Zombie Boy (he's weirdly obsessed with 'em), and he's breathing heavily, almost panting. That's it - I send him to the nurse and have a kid walk him down. As they leave, I call the office, just to give them a heads up.

A little later, the companion returns. I thank him for his help, and he announces to the class that the office said I should have had two students walk this kid down because he might have had a seizure. Um, what? Since when would I assume a kid would have a seizure? We usually aren't even asked to have another student walk a sick kid to the office - I just did it because it seemed sensible.

Later I'm in the office, so I mention it. The attendance clerk says she'd forgotten that Zombie Boy had a seizure disorder.

I'm floored. I never knew. I'm horrified at my ineptitude at reading the health concern list. I stammer something to that end, and rush back to my room to see what else I've forgotten about health issues.

I grab my list. I read it.

Then I read it again.

One more time.

Zombie Boy's not on there. At all. Um.....WHAT??????

I send an email saying I'd like an updated health concerns list to reflect this and asking if I'm missing any other medical issue information. I get a response saying that Zombie Boy currently is not diagnosed with a seizure disorder and that's why he's not on the list. He's not diagnosed with anything. THEN WHY WAS A STUDENT TOLD THAT I SHOULD HAVE SENT TWO STUDENTS IN CASE ZOMBIE BOY HAD A SEIZURE???????

Am I wrong to be (a) annoyed that I was told I'd screwed up, and (b) disturbed that a student's private medical information was shared with another student?

Because I am both. Deeply, deeply both.

ETA: Talked to my grade-level administrator today. She is in complete agreement with me and had already addressed the situation with the person involved; my grade-level admin brought the principal in on the conversation so that she was aware too. Probably the other person will now be all annoyed with me, but it's good to know that my school doesn't consider this acceptable behavior, and that it was just one person overstepping their authority, which has now been addressed. Thank you all for your support!

(Photo credit to dsasso)

I worry.

We've officially done with summer here....those late season 70 degree highs have blown away with the leaves, leaving behind only bare branches and scarf weather.

I like this kind of weather - when white wine segues to red, when flannel sheets float out and settle over the bed, when cheeks blush from the pinch of the early morning chill. I like the change in seasons, every season....but this particular change is always bittersweet.

This is the season when I start to worry about my kids even more than usual. They huddle together outside in the mornings, some still clad in shorts and t-shirts, maybe a threadbare sweatshirt draped across hunched shoulders. When they come inside, they spend their first few minutes flexing and unflexing stiffened fingers, trying to jump-start their slowed circulation.

I worry about those that don't have beds, that have to sleep huddled in a corner of the couch or tucked into a chair.

I worry about those that never get to eat much and what their nutritional intake will be as produce prices climb and availability dips.

I worry about families that can't afford to turn the heat on yet, not yet, not yet, pushing it back and back and back because they don't know how they'll pay for it when they start using it.

I worry about students trudging between home and school in the dark, too tired to look carefully as they cross the street, cars sometimes only inches away.

I still enjoy the change in season. But I worry.

(Photo credit to

Gotta call seat-backs.


The room is furnished with a couch, two occasional chairs and a semi-broken rocking armchair that no longer only rocks back and forth, but instead can rock a full 360 degrees. It's uncomfortable to sit in, and is currently avoided by the human residents of the house.

Present are TEACHIN', her HUSBAND and their two dogs. teachin' is on the couch, reading blogs. Husband is sitting in one of the two occasional chairs, and BARKY DOG is curled up in the other. LAZY DOG is sitting in the armchair.

I'm going to get some water - do you want any?

I'm okay.

Husband gets up and walks to the kitchen. Lazy Dog, always hopeful for a snack, jumps down and follows him. A moment later, they return. Husband walks to the armchair.

Lazy Dog! C'mere! Come on, good girl!

Lazy Dog looks at Husband and runs past him. Pushing under teachin's leg, she trots over to the non-occupied occasional chair and hops up, turning to look at Husband as she settles in.

teachin' breaks into uncontrollable giggles.


Husband turns and stares.

She got you! She totally set you up! Good
girl, Lazy Dog! Heeheeheheehehheeeeee!

(sighing heavily as he sits in the armchair)
Sometimes I hate you a little.

The room returns to peace, punctuated only by teachin's continued giggles, Lazy Dog's snores, and Husband's occasional glares.

Celebrate Good Times: Classroom Celebrations of Writing

Y'all, I am all kinds of happy and excited tonight. Today was as fabulous as last week was sucktastic.

I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to celebrate the National Day on Writing somehow - it's an awesome idea and should be supported. So I brought it up to my department, and they all thought it was a great idea. We decided to do classroom celebrations of writing that day, and to read quotes about the value of writing over the intercom at the beginning of each period.

In eighth grade, we decided to have our kids share their pieces of writing about their meaningful objects and do a potluck.

It was FABULOUS. I brought Capri Suns and apples; kids brought chips, cookies, cake, even fruit salad and pizza. The kids practiced reading their writing out loud with a partner, then each got up and shared with the class. They ate while they listened to each other, clapped at the end, commented on parts they liked.....oh, it was so great.

Sure, I'm still way overwhelmed with grading and planning and everything....but this was so worth it. It's important to celebrate the good times, to value effort and commitment. I'm going to do more celebrations - probably not on this level, but something whenever we publish. I'm so proud of my kids and they're proud of themselves; we all should acknowledge that together.

(Photo credit to bfick)

Things you shouldn't say if you don't want to get smacked.

I almost started a fight at a party on Saturday. Not a physical one, but I came reeeeeeeally close to a severe verbal altercation. A friend actually had to talk me down.

One of my friends recently bought a new house, so she had a housewarming. She's a teacher in my district, though at another school. My district is pretty divided between schools like mine (inner city - we're 85% poverty, 70% minority, over 50% English Language Learners) and schools like hers (typical suburban, though percentages in each category are going up). She used to teach at my school before she spent a year traveling the world, which is how I know her.

At the party, she introduced me to a few of her coworkers. We were chatting and I mentioned my student who might be leaving, because if she does, she wants to go to this school (she lives near a bus route to it so it'd be convenient). I did it from a, "Oh, if you get the Chatterbox, she's one of mine, she's awesome, you'll love her" perspective.

The response I expected? Something like, "Oh, great, I'll watch for her." Or maybe a, "Why's she leaving?"

The response I got? "Oh, I have two students who used to go to your school. They like it sooooooo much better with us. They keep saying that your school is just dirty and gross, and there they were like the smartest kids, but at our school they're just normal."
I'm not kidding. That's what she said.

I wanted to punch her in her smarmy, smug, stuck-up little mouth*. Instead I stood speechless for a moment, and then muttered something about throwing my plate away and walked off. Because I couldn't conceive of a way to be polite to her after that. Just wasn't possible.

I was so angry that I couldn't talk to anyone for a few minutes, and then I found a friend from my school and spewed the story. She pointed out that my friend the host has to work with this bitch every day, and probably it would be better to not make a scene, and I could always bring it up some other time if I ever see her again. And reluctantly, I agreed.

I'm still not 100% sure it was the right choice. I kinda think that when people say dumbass stuff they should get called on it, even if it'd be an awkward time in which to do so....but I made my choice and simply didn't talk to any of them again.

But if I do ever see her again? Oh, I will make my point. And it will be sharp, and she will remember it.

(Is the fish me, stunned at her idiocy? Is it her, mouth open wide enough to say something that dumb? Either way, credit to bensonkua)

Feeling down.

This week was hard.

I say that every week this year, I think. But every week it's true. And maybe that's a post for another time...but right now, I'm just feeling like this week was particularly tough.

Wednesday, a student had an asthma attack at lunch. She was having trouble breathing but wasn't in terrible shape so I sent her up to the nurse with a few of her friends. A few minutes later, one of them came running back out. "Ms. Teachin', she stopped breathing! She almost fell down the stairs but we caught her!" I sent another kid to run and tell an administrator as I raced inside; I got to her just as our school health aide did. She was okay after a while, but BOY was that scary.

Thursday, two boys almost got in a fight outside my classroom. I saw them just before it started and could tell - the body language, the tension, the expressions on faces - so I started yelling at everyone around to get to class as I moved toward them. And I was YELLING. Then the pushing started, and I yelled even louder, enough that I scared the crap out of a good number of kids and I had two teachers come to check on me later to make sure I was okay. (I was fine - my basic philosophy in a fight is that I'm not getting in the middle of it, but if I can scream loud enough that they're more scared of what I'm going to do to them than they are interested in watching the fight, then they'll move away and at least not encourage any more violence. It works out okay, mostly.)

This after the incident at parent/teacher conferences last week, plus two of my favorite kids had an altercation and I'm going to lose one of them no matter what (one is probably going to transfer schools; if she doesn't, the other one will be moved off my core), plus another kid I adored withdrew because of a fight from last year, plus the Charmer's counselor called me on Thursday and I have no idea why (I called her a month or so ago just to touch base and make sure he doesn't fall through the cracks - I've done it for DC and the Eyeliner Queen as well - at the time he was apparently doing well) but probably because he's getting in serious trouble of some sort.......

I went to bed at 8:30 last night and didn't get up till 9:30 this morning. Tonight I'm going to see Zombieland and I'm going to forget about everything school-related.

Because gah.

(Photo credit to whatmegsaid)

EduCarnival V2 is ready to be read!

Just a quick post to say that the latest EduCarnival V2 is up over at Bellringers. Go! Read! Comment! Show the love! My post on fun at parent/teacher conferences is included as are many other fine pieces of writing. Much finer than mine, in fact.

And next week, the EduCarnival is coming here (I think). So PLEASE submit your rockin'-est posts for the world's perusal. The site doesn't show an upcoming edition right now but I promise there will be one, whether here or elsewhere.

How not to behave during parent/teacher conferences.

Mildly awkward: when a parent gets mad at their kid during parent/teacher conferences and starts lecturing the kid in front of you on the possible lifelong repercussions of their choices.

Ridiculously awkward and completely inappropriate: same situation, but SOMEONE ELSE'S KID. Complete with pulling up the pants leg to show bullet hole scars and saying that he'd smack his own kid's face if he ever talked like that.

Boy, Thursday night was fun.

(Photo credit to spaceamoeba.)

Anger in the Classroom...IV, maybe? (Belated)

I'm still doing fairly well with the anger thing. Periodically I get annoyed and they're aware of that, but I'm not yelling. My 8th period has improved - I'm using Larry Ferlazzo's daily evaluations trick. It's helped some, though more could be done. But hey, it's a process.

And as I was at school today for over 11 hours, and the next two days are more of the same, peace out, y'all, I'm going to bed.

Turn up the HEAT for student learning!

Robin asked me to share a little more information about the descriptive writing assignment I mentioned Thursday. And as I am ridiculously proud of this assignment and the amount of student buy-in, I am delighted to do that.

We'd been practicing description, both as a good strategy that they could use anytime in their writers' notebooks and to encourage awareness/inclusion of the five senses in narrative writing. But I wanted to do something to turn up the HEAT on it rather than just assign an object or setting and make them describe it.

HEAT is an acronym I learned from Laurie King at a conference on 21st century skills that I attended this summer. It stands for:

*Higher order thinking

*Engaged learning


*Technology use

King breaks each concept down into levels; check out her handout on it
here (probably there are copyright rules attached to this so I wouldn't go reproducing it willynilly).

I wanted my assignment to get hotter - maybe not habanero, but at least jalapeno. So I started with authenticity. I think writing (or anything, honestly) is way more fun when you have a real audience that cares, and I wanted my kids to have that. What if they described an object that is meaningful to them, either because of who gave it to them, or because it belongs to someone they care about? Then that person would be a built-in audience for it. The students could dedicate their writing to that person as well.

Now, as to how to get the pieces to the audience, I decided it would be much cooler if the kids could type their work and include photos of the items. That would help them with their technology skills and make the work more interesting. Then we could put them together into a class magazine, so each kid would have their own writing and everyone else's too. (I'm not doing my whole core all together, just each class. They don't need 120 pieces in this. 20 to 25 will be just fine.)

For format, they had two choices, a paragraph or an ode. I used Pablo Neruda's "Ode to My Socks" and excerpts from
Maniac Magee (about Cobble's Knot) as mentor texts; both are about objects that are meaningful to the writer or character. We analyzed the mentor texts, and created lists of features that they could choose from when they wrote their own. Both texts include a ton of figurative language, heavy use of the five senses, and interesting and unusual word choice, so my writers all had to include those, but picked whatever interested them most from the other features we'd noticed.

The goal was to distribute them at parent/teacher conferences, but they won't be ready for that, so instead we'll use them in class on October 20th (the National Day on Writing) for a celebration, and then send them home.

This was a wildly successful assignment. The kids freakin' loved it. Although some chose items that I wouldn't have personally thought would be that meaningful (a video game controller, for example - the student in question loves video games and his parents gave it to him, so he's dedicating it to them), others chose in the most amazing objects. A sister's quinceanera dress. A birthday card from a stepfather. A brother's first dollar bill. A porcelain doll from a grandmother's doll collection.

My writers were so focused on their work, so engaged in what they were kicked so much ass. The eighth grade AP came into the library while we were working on typing the pieces yesterday, and read some of their writing, and talked to some of the kids. She couldn't get over how hard they were working and how much they cared about their writing.

The only reason they aren't finished is that the typing, formatting, and photo inserting took longer than I'd anticipated, and we can't get back into a computer lab for two weeks, so we'll have to wait to complete them. Maybe 20% of the kids got done. Hey, I'll know for next time.

I'm so damn proud of them, and I'm so convinced of the benefits of HEAT in student work. Every assignment from now on, I'll try to find ways to turn the HEAT higher, because my kids deserve that.

Robin (and anyone else who cares), I hope that explains it! If anyone wants to see the assignment sheet I created, leave a comment and I'll email you a copy.

Only this one.

Today after school, I spent an hour working with two of my boys. We've been doing some descriptive writing; the kids chose an object that was meaningful to them because of someone it's connected to, and they wrote about it. Tomorrow we're typing the pieces up and inserting photos of their objects, and then we will create a class magazine which will be distributed at parent/teacher conferences.

The boys I was working with today are not particularly talented writers; in fact, they struggle. A lot. But they stayed, and they worked, and they got their pieces done, and they'll be ready to type them tomorrow. It wore me out - every sentence was a struggle with one of them, a debate over whether or not he could think of something to say. Could he? Yes. But hot damn it took some time to get there.

At the end of the hour, I spent a few minutes talking to one of them about writing: his feelings around it, what he's interested in writing about, what he's felt good about in the past. He had nothing to say. I pushed him on it. "So what writing have you done that you're really proud of? When have you done a piece of writing that you thought you did a really good job on?"

He thought for a minute. "Well, only this one."

"The one you just finished?"

"Yeah. I never thought I did a good job before. But I think I did a really good job on this."

Suddenly I didn't feel so tired.

(Photo credit to frielp.)
"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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