NOT goodbye. See you later.

On the last day of school, I wanted to say something to all the kids, give them a little goodbye speech. I decided to write it out in advance, to make sure that I included everything I wanted to include; you get in the moment and you forget stuff and then after it sucks that you left out something this is what I wrote:

Here’s the thing. I’m not good at goodbyes. I don’t like to lose people that I’m close to, people that I love, and so I don’t like to say goodbye.

So here’s what you need to know. First, this is not goodbye. This is….see you later. Because you’ll come back and visit next year, and you’ll contact me this summer about your summer literacy challenge or just to say hi, and you’ll keep in touch, and it’s not goodbye.

I have loved every minute of being your teacher. You are all so amazing – smart, kind, funny, creative, brave, silly, sweet – awesome. I am so glad I came to 8th grade this year so that I got to have this experience with you all. It has been my privilege to get to spend a few months, or a year, or two years with some of you, as your teacher.

I’m sure I have learned as much from you all as you have from me; maybe more in some cases. I wish I could be your teacher forever, that I could go with you to high school and just keep learning and growing together. But I can’t (which I’m sure some of you are really glad about), and that’s why you’re going to come visit.

As you go into your summers and you celebrate finishing 8th grade and starting high school, as you spend time with your friends and your families, as you have fun and sleep and play games and read and write and live….remember to be happy. Remember that you shine, that when I look into this room I see the glow that comes from deep within every one of you. Remember that you can change the world, and that you can be the people that I teach my future students about.

In Freedom Writers, when Miep Gies comes and talks to the students, one student gets up and says that she’s his hero. And she says that they are the real heroes and their faces are engraved on her heart. You are all heroes to me. You all do things that are heroic every day, whether big or small. You are heroes. And your faces are engraved on my heart.
I cried when I read it, each class. Each class, at least a few people cried too. (Over a third of my first period was openly weeping by the end. LOVE the power of language.) Each class, after I finished, the class had a brief moment of complete silence....and then each class, everyone started clapping. Each class, as they filed out, every single kid came and hugged me - even my homie who didn't like my class. Maybe the speech helped him realize that I'd meant all of it, everything I'd said to him this year, everything I'd tried to do to help him; maybe he was finally able to let go of whatever was going on with him enough to be in the moment more clearly....or maybe he just didn't want to be the one kid who didn't hug me when all his friends were. :)

Actually, one kid did not hug me, just waved, but that's of course totally fine; he and I got along okay but we certainly weren't close. And on that last day of school, we were hugging up a storm everywhere: during the awards assembly, in classes, in the post-class celebration....a lot of people got their 12 hugs a day for growth (and then some) that day.

Before I read the speech for the first time, I felt a little weird. Would they think it was lame? Would they be like, dude, don't be pathetic? And some of them probably did feel that way - but I don't care. I'm an emotional person and I wanted them to know how much I care about them and how much I have enjoyed being their teacher. I wanted to end the year with that. Some of these kids were there on my very first day of being a teacher ever; I wanted to close out their middle school career with....well, with joy.

They promised to come visit. They better keep that promise.

(Image credit to megarooo)

Beginning of the end.

The tears started for me on Friday, when I had kids do my end-of-year evaluation. This one was more extensive than my trimester ones:

In this class, I feel I learned: a lot some a little

I tried my best in this class: all of the time a lot of the time some of the time

The pace of the class was: just right too fast too slow

Ms. Teachin’ is patient: all of the time a lot of the time some of the time

Ms. Teachin’ is concerned about me and my life. Yes No

I liked this class. Yes No

The following were the three most important things that helped me as a reader this year (pick 3):


_Classroom library

_Conversations with classmates

_Independent reading time in class

_Personalized book recommendations

_Public library


_School librarian/library

_Teacher who reads

_Other _______________

Any comments?

The following were the three most important things that helped me as a writer this year (pick 3):

_Class magazines

_Creative choice

_Mentor texts




_Sharing work in class

_Teacher who writes

_Using technology

_Writing in a variety of genres

_Other ___________________

Any comments?

One thing I enjoyed was...because...

One thing I didn't enjoy was...because...

I wish we could have...

I did a good job with….

I could have done better with

Ms. Teachin’ did a good job with...

Ms. Teachin’ could have done better with...

I feel Ms. Teachin’ cares about me as a person and a student when...

I feel Ms. Teachin’ does NOT care about me as a person and a student


(Optional) Anything else to add?

Only one kid said that he had not liked my class, and that was okay; he struggled a lot personally the second half of the year, and he just did not like my touchy-feely style. He didn't like any class, though, so I don't take it TOO personally. And the evaluations were helpful - I need to work on my patience, as most kids said I was patient "a lot of the time," but I also got some "some of the time"s. Which is probably true, so that gives me a goal for next year. I still have to go through and really analyze all of it, especially what kids said was most helpful in their reading and writing growth, but that gives me something to do this summer :)

But why I cried.....two kids wrote things in the "Anything else to add?" section that just made me lose it. One was the Antagonizer (who I struggled with all year - we had our ups and downs every week, sometimes every day, but overall he did better for me than in most of his classes). He wrote that he was sorry if it ever seemed like he was mad at me, that when he was mad, it wasn't at me, it was that he was mad at himself for his behavior. Not only is that a crazy good insight to have about yourself, but it was so nice that he apologized for some of those difficulties.

And the other one....oh my. This was a student that I had in 6th grade too, and we always got along well, but I never thought that she particularly loved me - she's just not one of those effusive kids. But what she wrote....

She said, "I have loved my 8th grade year in Ms. Teachin's class. She is always here for us, her students, and we always know we can go to her with any problems. I wish I could have Ms. Teachin' as a teacher every year."

I wish I could have Ms. Teachin' as a teacher every year.

The tears just came when I read that, because.....I mean, seriously, how nice is that? You see why I love this group of kids? They say awesome stuff like that!

Between that and the kid who'd said that I'd made Language Arts her favorite subject when she'd never liked it before, I can't imagine better compliments.

(Photo credit to jenny downing)


My sister emailed me today to check in. She said, "is today your last day of students?? excited/sad?"

And it was my last day. So I replied, "Honestly.....heartbroken. Like, not really, but oh I am so so so sad. I have cried 7 times today - in the awards assembly, once in each class, after school as I watched two of my very favorite students walk away, on my way home, and after I got home. Some of these kids are kids that I've had since my very first day as a teacher EVER....I can't imagine my school without them. Like, really can't imagine it. And I'll be totally good by the end of my first week (well, mostly good - totally good by the end of the first month), but right now.....I'm so sad. They're SO awesome. The notes I got, the awards, the hugs, the everything.....they're amazing kids and I will never ever forget them. Okay, make that 8 times I've cried today."

I'm at 9 times now.

I'll post more about the last few days later, but now I need to go to bed - I still have to clean my classroom tomorrow.

God, I'm going to miss them so damn much.

(Image credit to anirbanbiswas_c8)

Summer Literacy Challenge

We're almost at the end, y'all. It's so close...and I'm so sad.

Sure, I'm tired. And I'll enjoy the time off, and I desperately need to get my house in shape (what's that, room that I have just been stuffing crap into for the last three months? You're creating your own universe in your depths? Soon it will burst out and destroy it all?), and I'll garden and read and watch movies and hang out with friends and exercise, and it will all be great....

But, oh, I'm going to miss these kids.

I'm going to miss these kids so much.

But on a brighter note, I gave out my summer literacy challenge today --- and they were excited about it. They thought it was such a cool idea, and they (almost) all said they were going to do it.

I decided to base it off a mix of the idea I got from
Stacey and this one that Rachel found. I made it points-based, like the secondary one, and gave kids a menu of options; to get the High School Survival Pack, they need to get to 30 points. And if they earn 60 points, they get an Extra Special Super Rockstar High School Survival Pack. As to what's in those survival packs, well, you got me....but I have three months to figure that out and hit up local businesses for donations and scour the sales fliers for cool stuff. :)

As to how I incorporated Stacey's adventure, I gave my kids some pretty specific ideas that were linked to summer or to things we'd done in class. I thought the grid that Rachel found was good but I wanted to have somewhat fewer options, and I made sure that everything on the list was something they'd been explicitly taught this year.

The kids....well, I can't say for sure how it'll work out, but they really did seem interested. Some were even jotting down notes on their packets as I talked about it all. So of the 55 or so packets I gave out today, I'm hoping that maybe 10 will actually get completed. Heck, I'd take 5. Or one, really.

I'll keep you all posted on how it goes. For some of the options, they have to get in touch with me, so if anyone does, that'll give me a sense that this is actually happening. Fingers crossed now!

Oh, and if any of you are interested in seeing what I created, shoot me an email and I'll send it to you. I did it pretty quickly, honestly, but I'm still pretty pleased with how it came out, at least for the first year.

Let's hope it pans out, and the kids agree that reading is, in fact, good.

(Image credit to San Jose Library)

Notes of love

I'm in the end-of-year-grading-and-planning-madness throes, so this will be super short (why did I assign a massive project due the week before school got out? Why have I not finished my summer literacy challenge already? AAAAAAAHHHHHH), but I just wanted to say one thing.

I've mentioned before that I write all my kids notes at the end of the year, focusing on something that they're good at. It's my way of giving every kid an award instead of just a handful of top students; I still do that (we have to), but this way everyone gets something positive to take with them as they leave.

What I hadn't thought about before was that not only is that good for my students, it's good for me. Spending time thinking about each and every kid and what their strengths's such a nice way to end the year, especially as some of them are starting to act out a little bit (that whole approaching instability thing). I'd rather keep my focus on the good things about each of my students; it's better for all of us.

So even though I'm swamped with grading and planning and cleaning my room, I'm still taking the time to do the notes. That little bit of positivity is what we all need right now.

(Image credit to Tim Morgan)

It's a process

I don't know, y'all, sometimes this blogging thing feels kinda spooky. Because this morning I'm all, "I asked the student involved for one more thing to demonstrate that new leaf, and that has not yet come. Which makes me sad, because I don't think I can back down on this one."

And then I get to school, and the first thing Drama King does is hand me that final thing I'd asked for. (Which, by the way, was an apology letter - again, words, but for him to actually write something out is kind of a big deal, especially since he'd told me he wasn't going to do it because he didn't see the point).

So that was a nice thing to start with. Then I started having kids sign this year's yearbook today; when he signed, he wrote in it, "Thanks for never giving up on me. :)"

Thanks for never giving up on me.

Makes me feel even more strongly that you can't quit on a kid. Of course, they need consequences and expectations, absolutely, you can't just let them get away with whatever they try, but.....I'm going to keep believing that kids can change, and (unless a kid refuses to let me help) I'm going to keep trying to help them do it, as exhausting and frustrating as it can be sometimes.

I know we're not done here. I know my friend Drama King will continue to stumble at times and we'll continue to clash over it. But it gives me enough hope to keep trying.

(Image credit to blumpy)

How long can you try?

Still struggling with the loss of trust over here. Some of the behaviors have changed (which is actually pretty awesome, since those have been problems for a loooooooong time) but it's still discouraging; I asked the student involved for one more thing to demonstrate that new leaf, and that has not yet come. Which makes me sad, because I don't think I can back down on this one.

And then I read a post by my friend TeachEnEspanol that was awfully similar to my situation (go read!), and the comment I left her applies equally well to me. She said:
I guess the truth is that they've made their bed. Why then, do I have such a hard time letting them lie in it?

And my response, which I need to remember for myself as I'm having that hard time:

It's hard because it takes a long time to break a habit that was formed over a long time....and you want them to break that bad habit. And you want them to get that feeling of success that elissa mentioned, and you want them to have the triumphant end to the year that everyone else has had.

Because you're a good teacher and you care and even when you know someone has made the wrong choice, you still want to believe that they CAN make the right one.

Because you see though the missing work or supplies or appropriate attitude to the kid underneath who can make you laugh or has great insights into the reading or is kind to the bullied kids or takes on too much responsibility at home.

I'm not saying you should keep giving chances because that's not the best thing for the kid either (I'm in the middle of that myself......sigh), but that's why it's hard. At least, that's why it's hard for me. :/

That's why it's hard. That's why I have such a difficult time letting go. That's why I can't give up, even when my husband and my colleagues think I'm being too soft.

The picture I chose today is kind of a cheesy metaphor, I know that, but still. I believe that light is there, and if we can just keep going, just a little further, we'll reach it. Because how sad would it be to quit when (I think) we're so close?

(Image credit to extranoise)

I know fool me once and twice, but what about fool me seventeen million times?

I had to figure out today what losing trust actually looks like. No eating lunch in my room, no more being my student assistant, and no more joking around. That's to start; we'll see if it goes anywhere else. It happened suddenly; no decree from me, threatening as to what the consequences would be if he didn't do x or y or z. Just a kid thumbing his nose at....well, at me.

Apologies can be so effective. But sometimes an apology is not enough. For an apology to matter, it has to not only sound good, it has to lead to a change. When apologies have been given over and over and over and OVER and nothing changes, they stop being real. They're just words. And as much as I usually believe in the power of words, sometimes words are empty and their only power is to suck the truth out of the ones that could have mattered.


(Image credit to Bitpicture - even though I'm really sad, looking at this picture kinda makes me smile, and I didn't want you all to have to deal solely with my you get a funny hydrant!)


A few days ago I mentioned our big upcoming reward field trip (which, by the way, the student in question decided she didn't want me to get involved, so I did not). It happened Thursday, and it was awesome.


98.6% awesome, to be precise.

Let me explain.

We went to our local amusement park. It's a tradition at my school to take the 8th graders, and they used to do it on the last day of school, but last year the district said no one could use buses during the last week at all. We still have two more weeks, but the park is only open sporadically till Memorial Day and wasn't open during the day any days next week, so Thursday it was.

Not all of our kids went; because it was a reward, you could only go if you'd had no referrals for the last 6 weeks, so that knocked out everyone who'd ditched or gotten in a fight or did something else generally stupid recently (though a number of those got their parents to excuse them and went anyway - which, whatever, I have some sympathy with because they're finishing 8th grade too and want that celebration).

And it costs money, around $20, and that took out some more kids (next year, I'm going to come up with some sort of fundraiser that kids can do if they want so that more can go, because it made me really sad that some of them stayed back because they couldn't afford it).

But 140 of our students came on the buses with us. We got there at 9:30, left at 4:30, and had a great time in the 7 hours in between. As a chaperone, I had to do lunch duty for 45 minutes, but other than that, I was free to go on the rides and stuff just like everyone else, so several of my teacher friends and I spent the day screaming our ways through the park roller coasters.

I went on a couple of rides with kids who asked me to. Neither are kids I'm particularly close with, just kids who happened to be in line at the same time as me, but it was fun to sit by them and chat and stuff.

(Side note: after, I got guilt-tripped by other kids who I AM really close with for not going on rides with THEM. "You didn't ask me," I said, reasonably, I thought. "You didn't ask US!" they cried. "I didn't want you to feel like you had to hang out with a teacher if you didn't want to," I said. " should've still asked us....." they whined. "....Okay. Next time," I said. Which, there won't BE a next time, but that still seemed to placate them. Ah, teenage inconsistencies.)

So a fabulous, fabulous day. Until the very end. When two of our 140 did not come back to the buses (they are the 1.4% not awesome). Both of the two had been directly told by teachers (one by me!), "Now is the time you need to head toward the bus." And....nothin'.

We waited for a while, tried to get in touch with them, but no luck, so we took our 138 responsible kids back to school and called ahead to let the building know that they'd skipped out. One finally went home at 7:30; the other, not till after 10, after all district administrators and higher ups had been notified that a kid was missing, after the police had been called. Not good.

I'm not sure what's going to happen to them. The AP was so mad that she wanted to take the weekend to think about what to do. We did do one thing, though; we pulled both girls into a room during their first elective and all the teachers went in to talk to them about it.

We took whatever perspective we wanted. One teacher talked about how they'd endangered all of our jobs by doing this; another talked about what the consequences are in the military (he's former Air Force) when people miss troop deployments (execution, turns out, or at least it can be); another talked about how her sister had done this when she was in high school and how scared her family was while she was missing.

I talked about a couple of things (because it's me, and I'm chatty!). I talked about how anything could have happened to them and how scary that is for people who care about them, how I'd just met one of them for the first time that day but now did not have a particularly good view of her and that view had been spread to the entire district since she stayed out so late, how this trip might not exist going forward and that there were 500 6th and 7th graders in the building who might not get to go now.

But mostly I talked about how they had to decide what kinds of people they wanted to be. I told them that in high school, nobody would hold their hand and walk them through things, that they had to choose if they wanted to be someone who did whatever they wanted with no regard for anyone else, or if they wanted to be the kinds of people that they could be.

A few weeks ago, we had a guest speaker come and talk to the kids about not making excuses, about having goals, about taking responsibility. He was amazing and the kids really responded to him. I asked these girls if they'd been there for that. They nodded, and I said they needed to remember his message and choose what direction they wanted to go in life.

I didn't figure it was too meaningful to them; I don't know either of these girls at all. But the next period, one of them (the 7:30 returnee) came and apologized to me.

She said she knew it didn't change anything, but she wanted me to know that it wasn't that she hadn't been thinking about anyone else, it was that things aren't very good at home and she just.....hadn't been ready to go home yet, and she was so sorry that she'd done it. She sat on my couch, slumped over, looking so defeated and sad.

I looked at her. "Actually, to me, it does change things. I think if you're apologizing on your own, then that shows something, and I respect that. So.....thank you."

She smiled a little at that, and we talked a little longer. I told her how sorry I was that things were that bad at home, and that I hoped she could find someone to talk to about it. And I shared the line about mistakes that I shared with Bump It a while back. I've shared that with several kids recently; they seem to respond to it pretty well. A few of them have even actually changed the behaviors that triggered those conversations.

When we finished, I walked her down to another teacher she wanted to apologize to so that she didn't have to go in on her own. The whole thing left me feeling much better about the situation, and much more prepared to fight for the future of this field trip.

Because 98.6% awesome is worth it.

(Image credit to
auggie tolosa)

Temporary reprieve

We've been working on major research projects for the last several weeks and have accordingly spent a lot of time in our school library. The library is conveniently located right across the hall from my room, so it's easy for me to run back and forth if needed.

As we were heading over today, I realized that I'd forgotten a list of topics that I needed so I turned around to go grab it. It took a couple of minutes of searching before I found it and went back to the library.

When I entered, one of my boys came running up, looking alarmed. He grabbed my arm and hissed, "Ms. Teachin', you almost got scared, but that lady in brown got it instead!"

Though I was not at my best today (new cold....bleah), this still seemed somewhat nonsensical. "What?"

"I was hiding behind the door and I was going to scare you and I heard you coming and I jumped out and went, 'Boo!' but then it was that lady instead!"

I looked around. Another teacher's class was in there too, with a sub, and the sub was wearing brown.

He continued, "Ohhhhhhh, it was so embarrassing! She was like, 'Ahhhhhh!' and she jumped back and went like this," and he threw his hands up to demonstrate.

I started laughing. "Guess it serves you right for trying to scare me!"

He nodded solemnly. "Oh, it does. Next time I'll make sure it's you first."

I guess I better be ready!

(Image credit to GVician0)


During one of my planning periods today, I was sitting on the couch in my room, grading. I'd taken off my shoes so I could sit crosslegged. At the end of the period, I got up to put stuff away and get myself back together.....and one of my shoes was gone.

At first I thought I'd just kicked it under the couch. But a quick peek revealed that nothing was under there except maybe some dust bunnies. I searched for a minute - then turned to the four boys who were in my room catching up on work. "Okay, where is it?"

"Where's what?"

"My shoe. Where is it?"

They looked at each other, a veritable tableau of wide-eyed innocence. Denials spilled out, one over the other, convincing, confused, constant.

I didn't care. I stood in the doorway. "None of you are leaving till I get my shoe back." The bell rang. They started to walk to the door. I didn't move. They stopped. High noon at the OK Corral and no one was giving an inch. A tumbleweed rolled past in the hall (okay, maybe a student ambled by - kind of the same thing), but I didn't even blink. In these situations, you can't even think about backing down or you've already lost.

Finally the standoff ended when Drama King grabbed a box. "Oh, maybe your shoe's in here." He flung the lid off. And there it was.

Two and a half more weeks. I can survive for two and a half more weeks, right? I don't even have to keep my eye on the prize - just my shoes on my feet.

(Image credit to gamillos)

Carnival time is here again!

New Carnival of Educators is up over at I Want to Teach Forever - go read the goodness!

My post about losing kids is included, as are many others. Though a lot are great and totally worth reading, two especially stood out for me.

Pat at Successful Teaching wrote about how That Kid could be the Great Kid. One line in particular made me well up a little (remember, I'm a crier): "I should focus on all of my kids as if they are all Great Kids." I know, it's not anything new, but at this time of year, it's a really good reminder.

And Molly is having a tough time. She lost her job, and she's really sad about it. It broke my heart to read this post from a dedicated teacher and to see how destroyed she is by this situation that is all based on money. Because I came really close this year to being in her situation, and I feel so fortunate that I'm not, and odds are fair that next year I will be, and it's just so scary and terrible.

Sticky situation

One of my girls is having.....issues (to put it v. mildly) with two other girls at the school. Long to short, Athleta was BFF with one of the other girls, they grew apart, both shared inappropriate secrets, a cafeteria fight was narrowly avoided, and the other two got suspended while mine only got a warning.

The conflicts have continued, and today it came to a head. At lunch, Athleta came into my room looking super upset. I asked if she'd come in to watch a movie (we'd discussed that earlier), and she shook her head. She grabbed her binder and started to head out. "Everything okay?" I queried. She gave me this look that was a mix of horror and deep irritation and stormed out.

For a second I thought about just letting her go - she's really mad at me right now (I wouldn't allow her to speak to me in an extremely disrespectful way on Thursday....yeah, I suck) and I didn't really want to have another conflict. But this seemed more than that.

So amid calls from some of the boys in my room ("Did she just roll her eyes at you?" "She's muggin' you, Miss!" "Dang, what's her deal, muggin' like that?"), I followed. "Athleta!" I called. She was already halfway down the hall but stopped reluctantly and waited. I caught up. "You okay?" But as I said it, I knew she wasn't - her eyes red and her eyeliner smudged halfway down her cheeks, she was anything but okay. I paused. "Honey, what's going on?"

And the story spilled out. The other girls had accused her of calling them names when she hadn't, and now she wasn't allowed to go on a reward field trip, which was unfair because she hadn't done what they'd said and the administrator in charge hadn't listened to her or even given her a chance to tell her side. Her mom was super mad, both at Athleta and the school, and she wasn't sure if she was going to be allowed to finish the year. Everyone hated her and she only had one friend left and she was so sad all the time and so mad too. The tears spilled over again as the words tumbled out, and all I could do was listen.

When she finished, I hugged her (sometimes you have to), and tried to find something to say. I offered to talk to admin with her, offered to talk to her mom with her, offered to take a witness to Athleta's side to the office. But she shook her head to everything; I don't think she could understand, not right then. So I told her we'd talk tomorrow, and I let her go.

I don't know what to do. It's not my fight, I know that, and I don't really want to get involved - administration's a little....touchy right now and I don't need to be on anyone's bad side. But I like this kid a lot, and she's miserable right now. I remember what that feels like, to be a teenager and have all of your friends turn against you and to feel like no one cares, like you don't matter to anyone at all, and I just don't want her to feel like that.

Should I still offer to go to admin with her? Should I talk to her mom (not to tell her what to do, just to make sure she's okay if I'm involved)? Should I just bow out?

Any input would be much appreciated. Because right now, gah.

(Image credit to megyarsh)

Hugs, not drugs

I got hugged tonight. Twice. Once by a parent, once by a student.

It's not that this is a bad thing, per se. It was just....surprising.

I was at a basketball game - not for my school, but three of my kids are on the team and they'd invited me, so I went. I got there a little late so I sat by myself, but afterward, I went up to the mom of the kid who'd invited me. (Same mom, by the way, who was so mad at me earlier this year - we've come a long way since then.) I said hey, and she said hey and reached out and hugged me. And....I don't know, I was surprised but it seems rude to back away from a hug and she had already initiated it so I hugged her back. And then when her son came over, he grinned, "Oh! You came! Thanks!" and as he was speaking, reached up and hugged me. Again, I hugged back. What else could I do?

I generally don't hug kids. If someone's really upset about something and talking to me about it, I'll hug them, but I don't initiate it unless it's something like that. I'm more likely to do it with girls than boys, just because of...well, you know why, and no matter who I'm hugging, I usually make it a side hug, kind of an arm-around-the-shoulders-quick-squeeze-and-release kind of thing. Just for safety. Just to be appropriate.

The thing about not hugging, though, is that it sucks. I'm a hugger. Always have been. Greet my friends that way, say goodbye that way, give hugs for congratulations and excitement, hugs to console or's a big part of how I interact with the world. But I can't with my kids because of the potential creepazoid factor.

That annoys me. Why should a few creepy weirdos who can't behave appropriately with students ruin things for everyone else? Physical contact is a good, healthy thing, and people need it - there's plenty of research that supports that. Virginia Satir even said, "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." Twelve! And now schools are banning hugging entirely!

I get the potential for problems, I really do. I had a colleague my first year who made me very uncomfortable because of his lack of understanding of personal space (both with his peers and with his students), and I have a friend who works in a school that had a teacher/student affair crisis. Both of those are terrible things, and no kid should ever, ever, ever have to go through that. But I just think that so many kids and teachers could benefit from a little more contact.

In general, I try to pat my kids on the shoulder or back, give high fives or fist bumps, or place a hand on an arm if I'm going to initiate physical contact. That's what I've done and that's what I'll stick with. I wish, though, that it could be different.

(Image credit to Julie McLeod)

Teacher Appreciation Week

I like Teacher Appreciation Week.

I don't work in one of those schools where the PTA goes all out and does big luncheons and gifts and things for teachers; we don't actually have a PTA (don't get me started on our lack of parent involvement, let alone engagement - Larry Ferlazzo would be so disappointed in us....), so not much happens there. Anything that happens is really coordinated by individual teachers, and so it's sort of hit or miss, but the things that do happen are really, really, really nice.

The seventh grade math teachers this year had kids write a Thank You Gram to a teacher in the school that they appreciated. Since I taught 6th grade last year, I got quite a few - some from kids that I knew loved me, and some from kids that were surprises. One even from a girl who really disliked me (or at least I thought she did....guess not). They were super sweet, and I will treasure all of them.

In my class, I asked kids to write letters to a teacher that they felt had really helped them with something, had really made a difference in some way. I asked them to be specific about what it was they appreciated because specificity is always good, and to write something that is at least four or five sentences long. And I told them they could write to anyone - to any teacher they've ever had in our city's metro area. All they had to do, if they were writing to a teacher from another school, is put the name of the school and the district at the top of the letter, and I'd get the letter to them. I did this last year too, and I felt it was a little more authentically appreciative than insisting on them writing to a teacher currently in the building.

Naturally, a lot of kids wrote to teachers at my school. But a lot didn't. I have letters to send to elementary teachers, guidance counselors and teachers at other schools (again, that mobility thing), even teachers who have moved out of the state (I'm Facebooking two people to get current addresses).

The letters are so sweet. I got several, of course - and I don't say of course because I think I'm such an awesome teacher that I deserve a bunch, but because I'm the teacher in the room asking them to do this. I don't want letters from kids just because they're looking at my face while they write them, only if they actually mean it, but I think at least a few probably wrote to me because I was there. Which is fine - but I'd rather they wrote to someone they really feel helped them.

Some of the letters I got, though, were so touching. I got one from Drama King in which he called me his hero (especially nice considering the last few weeks' ups and downs), and one from the Chowhound, in which he said he wished I could go to high school with him. I got one from the girl who'd written that she feels like I don't care when I don't notice that something's wrong; she wrote that I do notice when something is wrong, and that I'm the only teacher she's ever told a few personal things to because she knew I cared.

My very, very favorite letter was from one of my quietest students. She works hard, she always gets everything done, she will do and redo her work until it's good enough....she's awesome, but she's not one of the kids who comes and talks to me about stuff or who hangs out in my room or any of that. But her letter....oh my.

She wrote that she'd never liked Language Arts before this year but this year it's her favorite subject. She talked about how much she thinks she's grown as a reader and a writer. She finished by saying that I am one of the most unique teachers she's ever met.

As a teacher, hearing that you've changed someone's perception of your content area? That's a humbling and incredible experience.

I keep every single letter I've ever gotten from a student. I have them in a file; I don't go through them very often but they're there. Mostly it's because I don't feel like I can just dump these heartfelt and appreciative feelings into a recycling bin and walk away from them. That just seems so cold. But it's also so that I can go back and read them when I'm feeling down or irritated or something.

I will cherish these letters. And I hope that the teachers I send the other letters to will cherish theirs also. It's a little bit of extra work for me, but I think it's worth it. I know how meaningful it would be to me to get letters like these from former students who aren't even in my building anymore. I hope someday I get one, but until then, and honestly even after, I'll keep these notes both in my filing cabinet and my heart.

(Image credit to cello512)

Ultimatum update

I posted this in the comments, but thought I'd update here as well, re: my homeboy Drama King and my possibly unwise ultimatum.

I got very thoughtful comments from several people, but OKP's especially made me think.
I think you did the right thing. Let me start there.

I just don't know how it's going to work on your end. How does he know what it means to not be trusted? What does that look like?

If the trust is gone, does that mean he can't come to your room? You stop riding him about his work, or requiring him to come in? You don't call him by his first name (professional distance)? You don't give him tasks? Or treats?

Does it mean more detentions, more often? Calls home?

If the loss of trust has a consequence for him, then maybe he can try to earn it back.

I still think you did the right thing.
As soon as I read that, I was like, "....oh. Right. What does that actually MEAN." So then I thought about it, because, yeah, forever, awfully long time, and what DOES it look like, and decided that it would mean that he was no longer allowed in my room for lunch, but would be able to earn the trust back if he got the work done.

(Didn't end up being much of an issue, though, because he came in with the work. It wasn't completed, but it was a lot closer, and it was good enough. He'd stopped because he was stuck on where to go next with the piece, so he came in early this morning (he was absent yesterday), I helped him think through it, and he got it done.)

But that, I think, is why the ultimatum was the wrong choice - it didn't necessarily mean anything. It would have been better to be more concrete and have specific, measurable consequences, like not being able to come to my room, or like not being able to call me Mom, as with Honey.

I don't think telling him that I would have lost trust in him was wrong; I'm completely with TeachEnEspanol:
[T]his is a very important life lesson about the kind of man he is going to become and it is a true test of how much he values the relationships that means something to him.
He needs to know that promises should matter, and do, and breaking them isn't something to do lightly.

And as Rachel said, I could've asked him what it looked like. That would have been interesting for me, and useful. It's always good to ask kids what they think consequences are/should be. Gives good insight.

I'm really glad it worked out, that he did keep his promise. Next time I do that though, I'll be more clear on what my grandiose statement actually means.

(Also - see? This is why blogging is awesome! Because I got totally good insights and thoughts from super smart teachers whom I would never have otherwise known! Yaaaaaaay Internet!)

Should you give trust ultimatums?

I did something today. Gave an ultimatum. And I don't know if it was the right choice. I need you guys to tell me if I messed up.

I've written about Drama King a few times recently:

Drama King has been somewhat....difficult this year; he's feeling pretty burnt out on school and he's not getting a lot of work done. He's supposed to stay after school to catch up on his work and it happens now and again, but not with any regularity.

Today was another day he was supposed to stay, and OH he did not want to. And I get that, I really do - it's been a long day, he's tired, who wants to do more work after? But he doesn't get it done in class and he doesn't get it done at home and I don't know what else to do.

So he was all whiny about staying. And I told him that it was his choice and he could do whatever he wanted, but I gave him the serious unhappy-with-your-choices face, and he was like, "See? Now you're all mad!"

And I did the whole teacher, "I'm not mad, but yeah, I'm disappointed in you," spiel, and we went round and round on the whole thing, and it ended with him PROMISING that he would get a piece of writing done. And he pinky promised, which is something he usually doesn't take lightly (as juvenile as I feel doing it, kids seem to respond to it and mean it). But at first I wouldn't do it, because I told him that I didn't believe him. I finally agreed, but I told him that this was it - that if he broke this promise, that the trust was broken forever.

At that he wavered. "Like really forever? Like you won't trust me again?"

"Probably not, no. You've said you were going to do things too many times and not followed through. I'm tired of it. I'm done."

He thought for a moment, and then he held his pinky out, and promised.

I'm not sure - should I have told him that? I THINK it was the right thing, I think he needs to know that promises aren't something you can make lightly, but.....I don't know, I guess I'm just sad because I don't think he's going to come through, and it's going to break my heart a little tomorrow.


(Image credit to KaylaDavis)

My least favorite sub yet.

Last week, I had a sub on a day when I was at a leadership team meeting. I had to go back to school after the meeting, and when I got there, I went straight to my desk to get the sub notes.

Except there weren't any.

"Huh," I thought. "Weird. Okay, must be in my box."

But they weren't there either. I even checked with the receptionist; no notes had been left. Puzzled, I went back to my classroom. Once there I found Drama King and Short Stuff. After we'd planned our Saturday meeting, I asked about the sub.

"Oh, he was cool! He let me watch the movie!" Drama King blurted.


"He let me watch the movie after we did research."

"He didn't send you out to finish your project?"

"Nope, he said that you'd left a list of kids who couldn't watch and I knew I was on it, but he said that he didn't care and we could just all watch."

And I realized at that moment that I'd had one of THOSE subs. The ones who completely ignore all directions, do whatever they want, tell the kids that they know better....the ones who give the amazing, hardworking, put-upon, awesome subs a bad name.

The plans I'd left had been simple. Take the kids to the library to do research for a project we're in the middle of, pass out copies of a conventions editing agreement for memoirs, give them 20 minutes to work on said memoirs, and then show them the start of Freedom Writers (we're going to do another seminar in a couple of days - hopefully it goes as well as last year's). Not too complicated, really. And yet.

He took them to the library, but then read a book while they worked. When they got back, he didn't pass out the handout, didn't give them time to write (he apparently told them to finish it for homework), and let everyone watch the movie, INCLUDING the kids whose names had been specifically left as not being able to, either due to missing work or to a missing permission slip.

And that's where he crossed the line. Because I've had subs ignore lesson plans before, and I just don't have that person back to my room, but this dude actually ignored a district policy on permission slips for films. That's something that could come back on me, and I'm not having that. So I went to my AP and told her the deal, and we're filing a complaint with the sub office.

I guess it's too bad for him that my kids are generally honest with me, even if they know they messed up; I think they'd rather tell the truth than lie and possible get caught. And in this case, they knew they shouldn't have watched it, but that's not on them. That's on him.

At least he didn't kill a beloved class pet - that would've been worse.

(Image credit to Hoggheff aka Hank Ashby aka Mr. Freshtags)

Saturday school

Something cool happened yesterday.

At least, I thought it was cool.

On Wednesday, one of my most delightful but most challenging students, Drama King, stopped in after school with a friend of his, Short Stuff. Both of these kids are fabulous, but Drama King has been somewhat....difficult this year; he's feeling pretty burnt out on school and he's not getting a lot of work done. He's supposed to stay after school to catch up on his work and it happens now and again, but not with any regularity. Wednesday was a day he was supposed to stay, but he came by to tell me he couldn't because his mom needed him to go somewhere. After he told me and I told him how disappointing that was, he stared off into space for a moment. "I just wish I could come in on Saturday."

"Yeah, right," I said. "You don't ever do any work over the weekend."

"That's because I put it off and put it off! But if I could come in and do it here, I'd totally get it done."

I looked at him. "Really? You'd actually come in?"

"Yeah, I would. It would be different because I wouldn't be tired from a whole day of school. But no one's here and I can't do it."

Was this true? Did he mean it, or was he just trying to get me to stop being mad? "Um...I have a key. If you really want to do this...we could do it."

"I really want to do it."

Short Stuff chimed in. "Can I come too? I want to get my work done too."

Wow. "You guys seriously want to do this?"

Yes, they said, they did.

"Then I'll talk to administration and see if it's okay. I'll even bring donuts."

I got permission the next day. And I figured since I was coming in anyway, I might as well let anyone who wanted to join in. So I opened it up to all my kids - explained that I knew a lot of them were behind on projects we're working on, that it can be easier to get work done at school than at home, that I had grading to do so I would do it at school and then they could get help on stuff if they needed it. I even told the other 8th grade Language Arts teachers so that their kids could come if they wanted.

A whole bunch of kids said they were coming; I hoped it was true. But then Saturday came, and I started to second-guess. It was a beautiful day - who'd want to waste it at school? And they'd said they'd be there, but they say a lot of things. I bought two dozen donuts and two gallons of milk (also requested), but as I drove, I wondered where I could donate everything when no one showed.

When I got to school, 9 kids were already waiting outside.

Over the four hours I was there, 17 students showed - 15 of mine and two friends. They worked for anywhere from one to three and a half hours, and while they probably didn't work as solidly as they could have, they generally got a LOT done, and those who didn't get a lot done at least got more done than they otherwise would have.

Seventeen 8th graders at school. On a Saturday. By choice. Sure, the donuts helped, but still.

I am so damn proud of them. It was a great idea of Drama King's, one I never would have thought to suggest - but I sure will in the future.

(Image credit to Chris.Corwin - okay, it wasn't quite THAT crowded, but still.)

End of year ideas?

Because it's close, people, awfully close (at least for those of us non-East-Coasters - I know some of you go to like the end of June). I've got 17 school days left - 17! And then.....goodbye.

So I'm trying to figure out what I want to do to wrap it all up. It's different this year since I'm teaching 8th graders; they won't be back in the fall and I feel like we should mark the passage to high school in some way.

Here's what I've got so far. Some is the same as every year; I want to add some new, though.

- I'll do my end-of-year notes and composition notebooks. I stocked up on those last summer when they were on sale for 50 cents each rather than the usual two dollars - feeling pretty proud of myself for thinking ahead here. :) I'll also do a class picture of each class and give each kid a copy.

- All my kids will sign a yearbook for me to keep as a memento; I really like doing this and would recommend it to everyone if you don't already.

- They'll do an evaluation for me about the year and my class and things I should change and things I should keep and all that good stuff. It'll be a little more extensive than my trimester-ly one, but not a whole ton.

- I got a fancy copy of Oh, the Places You'll Go! and may get another one, because this might take two. We're going to have every 8th grader write a sentence about the places THEY'LL go in the book and then keep it in our library for future kids to look at, or for themselves to come back and see.

But....that doesn't feel like enough. I could do letters to their future selves and deliver them to the local high school in four years, but with our mobility, a lot of these kids won't be there in four years....a fair chunk won't even be going next year.

I've thought about doing a Summer Literacy Challenge. I think it's such a cool idea, and while I don't know that too many kids would actually do it, it'd be awesome if any of them did. And I could totally come up with sweet stuff for a high school survival pack. Plus that would offer a way to continue our relationship a bit; they'd be able to email me or mail it to me or drop it by the school....and actually I could go to the high school one day to collect them from the kids who do go there (which is most of them). And I could talk to them about the summer reading gap as encouragement to do it....okay, as I'm writing, I'm talking myself more and more into this, so I think I will do this too. Actually, I'm kind of in love with the idea now and can't wait to start planning it.

But still. I want more. More of a celebration - maybe have kids read bits of their favorite portfolio pieces? As one final class celebration, and bring snacks and stuff again? Make a banner for next year welcoming my new students to class - ooh, maybe with six word memoirs about the year on them?

What do YOU do?

(Image credit to Eleaf)
"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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