Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Labor Day Lesson

A Labor Day Lesson - A contemporary tale...

Happy Labor Day
Principal Ben Scroogens tossed his red pen beside the twelve-inch high pile of unread lesson plans as his head flopped onto the stack of the First Day  Motivate Me activities he had demanded each of his 175 teachers turn in for his approval before they left for the three-day Labor Day weekend. “Twenty-five down- 150 more to go before I send my Sunday night Acceptance or Denial e-mails,” he said as a yawn spiraled into the stale air of his locked office.  He rubbed his red-rimmed eyes, his teeth clenching in anger when he thought of the English 12 lesson plan on Friday Night Lights he had just read.

“Once again I see that Rita Rebellie is refusing to be a team member and get with the program. She’s supposed to be teaching The Stranger like the rest of her Professional Learning Community, but, No-o-o, not her. Hah! I can’t wait to see how long she’ll stand her ground against my policies when she realizes that I’ve scheduled her for lunch duty every day.”

He sat up so quickly, he sent his brand new ergonomic leather swivel chair into a spin that ended with the left side of his shaved head smashing into the corner of his faux mahogany filing cabinet. His last thought before he fell into unconsciousness bounced around his brain, “Rita and her friends will just have to miss their barbeques while they revise their plans to meet my guidelines.”

Minutes…or maybe hours later, he had no way of knowing,  Ben awoke amidst a blizzard of papers swirling around his desk and slapping him in the head.  “How could this be?  I keep my windows locked,” he thought.  His eyes slit open just as a pale hand zoomed toward his jaw. His peripheral vision caught a glimpse of another ghostly white hand sending yet another fistful of lesson plans diving toward his head. 

“What the heck…” he raised his head onto his left arm in an attempt to push himself upright.

“Wakee uppee Bennie-boy.” A grating squeak not unlike nails on a blackboard rasped his ear drums as cold finders patted his bald pate.

The principal managed to raise his head enough to rest it in his cupped hands that topped his arms, bent so his elbows took the weight. His eyes widened into Os of wonder. ‘You are Carol Whatshername- the Ghost of Christmas Past from…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah- from Scrooged.  Got that in one, Bennie-boy.”  She yawned and rubbed her fingers over one of her sparkly-red gel nails. “Drat it! These nighttime treks are the nemesis of manicures.”

“Why are you invading my dreams?”

“Oh, hon,” the Carol Ghost visage leaned toward the principal, “you are definitely not dreaming.  See.” She grabbed his left forearm with both hands, twisting each one in a different direction. “I am the Ghost of
Carol Kane The Ghost of Christmas Present (Scrooged)
Teachers Past, Present and Future.” She patted his arm. “The economic downturn condensed our job descriptions.”

“Geeze Louise, lady. That hurt.”  As he propelled his chair backwards, Ben caught a look of his trashed office.  The precisely aligned stack of his teachers’ lesson plans now lay in pieces on top, around, under and beside every piece of furniture.  “What the heck did you do that for?”  He flapped his hands at the paper drifts.

“Oh, Ben, Ben, Ben, none of this is your business in the first place.” She picked up a paper labeled Physics and Phenomenology: Time- it might not be Fundamental, and flicked the paper toward the principal. “Didn’t you drop Basic Physics your senior year in high school when you realized that it wasn’t relative for an English Liberal Arts major?”  She giggled at her pun.

Feeling not one iota of humor, he responded, “Yes, but, as the principal, I must keep my finger on the pulse that pumps the learning lifeblood through the students in my care.”

“Ben, you are clogging your teachers’ professional arteries. Just let them teach.”

“But they don’t always know the right way…”

“Whoa there, Bennie-boy. Now that’s a different tune from the one you carried in your classroom days.” She pointed at the TV screen, holding her hand steady until a clear picture appeared.  A young man sporting a light brown comb over and gym trim physique clung to the door of a classroom while twenty-five entranced students followed his every move.  “Hmm, you’re being Gregor the dung beetle in The Metamorphosis again, aren’t you?” Carol the Ghost Teacher’s voice oozed warmth and understanding.

“Yeah,” Ben sighed happily. “I loved playing the parts of characters. That always hooked the kids’ attention.”

“You should have been teaching subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent agreement that day, though, right?”

The principal’s backbone turned to steel as he straightened up in his chair. His eyes glowed softly, though, as they watched the passion, the fire in his younger self.  “I knew what my students needed! After all, I talked with them, listened to them and dealt with them every day. We’d get to the grammar and everything else on the Program of Study; we always did.”

“So does Rita.” The Teacher Ghost’s pale hands pushed away the wrinkles on the last lesson plan Ben had read.

“But she doesn’t listen! The teachers all have objectives…goals… PLC agendas that they must follow. She is no exception.”

“Sure she is Bennie-boy.” With a flick of her finger, the Teacher Ghost switched the scene on the TV to one where a slightly older Teacher Ben paced in front of the same desk where he now sat. A previous principal, the one he had named the Ice Queen, perched in the principal’s chair.

Ben’s lips moved in sync, remembering the words his younger self spouted as he admonished the elderly administrator to, “… permit the teachers to help their students regain their love for learning by allowing them the freedom to teach what they want, when they want and how they want. “

“Remember your words, Ben, ‘Each teacher is exceptional, just like each child. Just let us teach, and they will learn.’”

“Man, I exuded passion, didn’t I?” Ben shook his head at the memory.

“That you did, Bennie-boy.  That you did.”  Carol fluttered her finger again and the picture changed to the whole staff meeting just that morning. In it, Ben narrated a PowerPoint presentation that jumped from the test-by-test breakdown of the previous spring’s SOL exam results, to slides depicting regimented lesson plan criteria- by department, to samples of data-collecting forms, to the ten ways to contact parents, to the school policies on attendance, tardies, to expected bathroom, hallway and cafeteria behavior and to teachers’ professional duty assignments, i.e hall monitors, bus duty, cafeteria duty and Copy Room assignments. Carol shook her head. “I think you forgot to include the one on goose-stepping.”

School Rules
“We need rules, doggone it!” Ben slammed his hand on his desk. “Without them we will have chaos.”

“Without the majority of them, you will have teachers who want to teach and kids who want to learn. And when that happens, you will have students who want to earn Proficient and Advanced Proficient test scores instead of Charleying out on them because they love and appreciate learning for learning’s sake.”  

She spun Ben’s chair to face the screen. “Look at your teachers’ expressions! Where is their passion? Their fire? Their hopes and dreams and compassion for their students?” She twirled the chair to face her. “Smashed under your micromanaging fists, that’s where.”

“I know what scores we need from these kids to meet AYP. I know this takes coordination in each department by course and grade level. I know what my teachers need to do so…”

“…so you can remain principal.” The two glared at each other.

Ben ended the glowering contest first.  “I am the principal. And as a professional, I have been deemed worthy of making the hard decisions.”

Carol sighed and pressed the palms of her hands against her temples in frustration until her temper cooled enough that she could speak. “What are your teachers?  Androids?  I thought they were professionals, too.”

“Of course they are. They have to respect my position as their leader, though.”

“Respect is a two-way street, my friend.  And from what I see, you micro-manage; you do not lead,”

She pulled a stapled sheaf of papers from a hidden pocket in her pink and purple skirt. “’Effective principals are just that because they have enough confidence and respect in themselves and their staffs to lead instead of micromanaging every campus-related detail. They understand when to grasp the leadership reins and when to delegate authority to the professionals who surround them.’ Sound familiar?” She held the thesis paper in front of his face so he could read his name.

“Yes, I did write that but that was before I sat in this chair and realized what was at stake here.”

Instead of responding, Carol pointed at the television screen until a quadrant of pictures appeared.  In each one, students filed into a classroom where a teacher sat behind a desk that held a tray labeled: Assignments to be Completed and another for:  Assignments Finished.  Stacks of texts for English, Social Studies, Science or Math or various other high school subjects perched next to the trays, depending on the classroom. On the teacher’s right side was a pile of Standards of Learning exams with an Exam date written in bold black indelible marker on a cover sheet.

As the students shuffled by the desk on their way to their work stations, each with a laptop and printer, they picked up an Assignments to be Completed instruction sheet and a text book. Carol fast-forwarded the tape, but Ben could still see that the students worked for the allotted time, completing any written work on their computers that they sent, to the teacher, he surmised. They also printed out a hard copy of their work which they deposited in the Assignments Finished tray. No conversations, emotions or interaction broke the robotic scenes.

“Welcome, Ben, to the future of this school unless you wise up and smell the rank odor of frustration, low morale and apathy emanating from your staff and students.”

Ben stared at the television, watching his image march from classroom to classroom, ripping down any posters promoting a love for learning and admonishing any teacher talking with a student. They each received some harsh words that he couldn’t understand if they showed even a glimmer of a smile.

Jumping through hoops
“But what am I to do?  I have criteria that my bosses expect me to follow, too. I have to jump through hoops, too.”

“Work with me here, Ben. You know as well as I do that hoops won’t stay in the air without someone’s help.  Fire up your old passion and add it to your leadership skills. Things don’t have to stay the same. Bring back a love for teaching and learning, Ben.”

“But where do I begin?”

“Right here.” Carol deleted the morning’s PowerPoint presentation from the screen and Ben’s hard drive. Next she tossed all of the teachers’ lesson plans into the trash. Finally she brought up Ben’s email, and typed:
This year all teachers will follow their department’s Program of Study, but will choose what they want to teach, when they want to teach it and how they want to teach it. You have the knowledge, skills, the professionalism and the passion to ignite your students, your classrooms and these halls with a love and desire for learning.”

Carol flipped the desktop to face Ben. "Now create a list of five to ten behavioral expectations and school rules that you will print out and laminate for all teacher to post in their classrooms.  Finish with a few hearty words, something like, ‘Welcome to a truly New Year. Let the Learning Begin.’”

Ben shook his head, his thin-lipped expression showing his skepticism. “It’s that easy?”

"Yes, Bennie-boy.  It is truly that easy.”
The End
To all of my colleagues starting or preparing to start a new school year, allow me to  paraphrase Tiny Tim, “Happy Labor Day dreams to all, and to all a happy school year.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

This is What I'm Hungry For!

This is What I'm Hungry For! Cover
The elements of literature and story structure are like spaghetti and meatballs.  Yes, each component can exist without the other, but when they do, patrons push themselves away from the table wondering, “Is that all there is?” Although they might be full, they still feel unsatisfied-like they are missing something.
They are. “Where is the spice?  Can I get some substance here?” they cry out to the chefs.  Piecemeal lesson planning can leave students hungry for substance, too. As chefs of the classroom, teachers must ensure that each novel unit offers students a full course meal. The elements of literature form the structure of this classroom menu; the individual lessons-with each one based on one of the elements: Character, Plot/Conflict, Setting, Theme, Symbols, Tone/Language and Point of View-offers one of the courses: Appetizer, Breads, Soup, Salad, EntrĂ©e, Sides, and Dessert.

Trying to fit all of the elements into one lesson results in a tasting menu situation.  Each one is
This is What I'm Hungry For! Teacher Notes
glossed over instead of savored for its meaning and nuance. Instead, teachers need to spread the elements throughout the length of the unit, returning to explore those that need more clarity and explanation as they note their students’ knowledge and understanding.

Today’s teaching idea, This is What I’m Talking About! Thirty Discussion/Writing Topics for Literature

·         offers instructors thirty activities- a genuine buffet that will engage students in their exploration of the elements of literature

·         proposes three ways they may incorporate these topics into their literature studies-individually, in pairs or in small groups

·         ensures that students will think, write and speak, often

·         empowers students to add depth and dimension to their comprehension of any text, and

·         can be used over and over throughout the school year. 
This is What I'm Hungry For!  Elements of Literature Topics

If you are hungry for a complete meal instead of a snack, download this Common Core and Bloom’s Taxonomy aligned product for grades 6-12 from: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/February-Frenzy-Fabulous-Five-Packet-1090848

UPDATE: This activity became a part of the February Frenzy packet in February 2014. It joined hands with four other activities for a "Fabulous Five" packet.

Happy Teaching and Bon Appetite,

Monday, August 19, 2013

August that month of hazy days and school-dazed nights

August Nights
Last night a frustration/stress dream about school-from a teacher’s and parent’s point of view- woke me at 4:27AM.  “So?” my sleep-deprived brain whined as it climbed into consciousness,” After all, a new school year does begin in a few weeks.” 

“That is true for some people,”   I sighed as I glanced at the clock, rolled over and punched my too warm pillow, “but not for me.  After all, my children have long been adults and I. Am. Retired!”
Yes, I turned in my keys and walked out of room 216 for the last time two years and 53 days ago- but who’s counting?  I am. 

Maybe that’s why the surreal August school daze dreams where my slo-mo shuffling feet can never reach my classroom before the images switch in midstream to a migraine moment with a colleague nemesis, and then jump into a scene where I’m back in high school but as my daughter, and I have a final exam in Algebra 4 but I can’t find the right room and will fail the class if I don’t, until finally I crawl to the edge reality, fighting the forces of this run-on sleep invasion...
…and punch my innocently sleeping husband in the face. He grunts and rolls over; after over four decades he’s used to the fist flings that often accompany my See You in September sleep assaults. Wide awake, I crawl out of from under the white down comforter that now offers me no peace.

Maybe these dreams are more prevalent again because my granddaughters called me the other day to share their excitement and trepidation about their first and fourth grade teachers for this year.
Even though I’m two years out of the classroom, the August Anticipation vs. Anxiety conflict still hits me hard.

School Supplies
Will I ever quit feeling nostalgic when I see the shelves in Target and Office Depot piled high with notebooks, folders, and Sharpies of every hue?
Will I ever quit counting down the hours of freedom until the bells, bells, bells begin to chime yet again?

Will I ever again sleep peacefully in this eighth month of the year?
Probably not until I relegate everything educational to the closets of my mind and heart. And that decision is not even a blip on my horizon.

Until that does happen, I will hold onto the anticipation because it fuels my curriculum creations. I will quell my night-time anxieties, though, by suggesting ways teachers, parents of school-age children, and those who wear both hats can stymie their own undesirable, sleep-depriving  August school daze dreams. Here are a few mental meanderings that rolled into my head as I took Tommy the Newfoundland on a pre-dawn stroll around the neighborhood this morning.
1.      As you fill your carts with pens, pencils,  paper (lined, unlined, construction etc.) and push pins, remember to toss in some presents for yourself: Kleenex, paper towels, spray cleanser and hand sanitizer. You will be glad you did about a week into the year when two-thirds of your students are suffering from the Back to School Germfest caused by too many breathing bodies in an enclosed space and the back of your nose teases you with its pre-cold tickle.

2.       Create detailed plans for the first month- yes, the first month before the Starting Bell.  Why?

Because PLC, department and faculty meetings will consume a good deal of your contract hours.

Because Back to School night information and edicts will start filling your email and snail mail boxes before Labor Day (some BTS nights start as early as the second week of school in Fairfax County). These will sap your planning energy with thoughts of how to prepare a welcoming and engaging presentation.

Because your students will demand your full time and attention, which is what teaching is all about in the first place, as they adjust to the new term, and because administrators will want to see how you plan to ensure each one’s proficiency.

3.     Ladies- no matter how incredibly chic those new gray Zigi Soho Tasmin Peep Toe Pumps are, or how sophisticated they look with your new dove-gray pencil skirt and purple silk blouse- DO NOT WEAR THEM! Your feet will hate you until December.

4.     Gentlemen-do not don your Cool Story Bro tee-shirts until your students and colleagues get your droll sense of humor.

5.     Be firm but fair. If you want your charges to join you on the Learning Path, it is more important for them to view you as challenging than easy. The former means that you are poking at their minds and teasing their brains to actively respond-verbally or in writing. The latter might be construed as “I don’t care” when you want it to be interpreted as academically open-ended. Remember no conflict exists with happily ever after. That’s why Julian Fellows had Matthew die at the end of Season 3 in Downton Abbey. Challenge leads to conflict of the positive or negative variety which leads to thinking and doing which ends in learning.
1.     Buy each of your school-aged children an alarm clock-the louder the better. Teach them to be responsible for waking up and making it to the family vehicle, the bus or the sidewalk in time to roll into class before the late bell. Yes, the little ones still need your guidance and help, but by 6th grade, all kids should be responsible for getting to the school on time. Not you.  

Here are a few suggestions to rouse those, “Ten more minutes” drifters from their slumber:
http://www.womansday.com/home/10-alarm-clocks-thatll-get-you-out-of-bed-118525. Personally, I like Clocky. I just wish this Alarm Wonder had been available when my kids were still in high school. Due to their morning grouchiness, they wouldn’t have appreciated how Clocky rolled around and hid from them when they tried to turn him off, but I would have giggled…a lot.

2.     After you toss that clock in your shopping cart-virtual or real- grab a laundry basket for each child that you deem old enough to run the washer and dryer without causing floods, fires or wardrobes full of doll-size clothes-all in Precious Pink.

My last day of teaching the June before my son entered eighth grade and my daughter began eleventh grade, I stopped at Target and bought them each one. The whole drive home I berated myself for not thinking of this years earlier. No longer would my teeth clinch painfully about 9:00pm, when I heard pleas of, “Mom, can you wash this shirt for me?” along with false promises to “… do the dishes the rest of the year”.

Instead, I gave them the summer to learn which clothes needed cold, warm or hot water and why they should never, ever put sweaters or any products made from wool in the dryer. They also learned to make sure that their baskets were out of the laundry room on my laundry day. Parents, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Note: you can add in an ironing lesson or two if needed, too.  

3.     Set schedules for completing homework- and stick to them! No one welcomes the eye-rolling, door slamming sighing flare-ups and possible verbal battles that often occur when young people are redirected from playtime to homework time. These limits are vital for everyone’s sanity and stress levels.

4.     As far as academics go, know when to push and know when to sit back and let what happens happen.  If Zelda chooses to text Bertha for hours instead of reading 25 pages of The Odyssey even though you have explained the cause/effect relationship so often the dog could reiterate it, or if Bubba forgets to finish his government project even though you had the due date stuck to the fridge in size 72 font, with that Class of _ graduation date magnet, remember: they made conscious choices and earned  their grades.

No matter how much you hate and fear to see them fail, they will learn more from those Fs than they ever will from constant reminders.  Lobbing that Responsibility Ball into their bedrooms instead of into yours is the right choice. They need to care about their futures and their place in this competitive world as much as…no…more than you do.

5.     Above all, Listen- to what they say as well as what they don’t say. Their body language, their clothes and the way they walk and talk shout their emotions as clearly as a referee does fouls in a football game.

They want your attention as well as your advice. 

They need you to see them for who they are not who you want them to be. 

They will never tell you this, though.

They will never, ever admit that on some deeply hidden level, they still see you as those Perfect Genius Parents you were when they were five-years-old, although they respond to you as if you were dumber than the rock wall that surrounds the rhododendrons in your front yard.

For me, maybe these August Anxieties will fade away like old soldiers when all things educational fall from the pedestal where I placed them when I was seven-years-old and playing school with my dolls and stuffed animals, and learn how to be retired.
Maybe someday I will enjoy sweet dreams every summer night through Labor Day. Probably that won’t happen until I learn to act like I’m retired and quit tethering myself to my computer during school hours.

But do you know what? Even as the insomnia and teeth-gnashing school daze dreams flicker across my closed eyelids, I realize that I’m just not ready yet to see them go. And that’s okay.
For all of you who yearn for an end to school-dazed nights  during the hazy days of August, I hope this blog offers you sweet dreams.

Until next week,

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back to School Bonanza

Back to School Bonanza Blog Hop

Today is the day for the fantastic Back to School Bonanza featuring a cornucopia of lesson  and classroom management ideas to inspire Middle School  teachers and to engage their students. In this Blog Hop, you all will have a chance to click on the logos of 16 top middle school bloggers and pick up a FREE Back to School product from each of them. Click on their buttons at the bottom of this post.

Also, you must enter an amazing guiveaway for a Back To School Survivor Pack. Be sure to click on the pink-backed poster at the end of this post. Pretty awesome, isn't it?  While browsing the various teacher/bloggers' sites, do some shopping for the rest of your lesson plan needs, too.

Our purpose is to insure that you start the school year with an, "Ahhh," and not an, "UhOh".

Who: Teachers- grades 6-9
What: Back to School Blog Hop
When: August 16th 12:00 midnight starting time
Where: See the fantastic poster Kristy MacKenzie created (stay tuned-coming soon)
Why: To give our teaching colleagues a bag full of Back to School goodies

Although I have blogged about this item before, I have gotten such a terrific response to this product, that I am adding it as my FREEBIE to this Blog Hop. So once again, by popular demand, here is Teaching Lifesavers: Twelve Classroom Management Forms.
Back to School Bonanza

Knowing that behavior issues would be stymied with good classroom management, over the years, I created, revised, tweaked and revised again (and again) these twelve forms in an effort to help me organize and manage my classroom. My main objective was to create a safe and exciting learning environment. In order to accomplish this goal, I knew that I had to thwart disruptive student behavior before it even began, and to ward off encounters of the negative kind with administrators. I offer them to you all who are still leading classrooms. Note: If your school district has forms that they require teachers to use that coincide with various policies, use them, of course. If they don’t, download this packet, “Get thee to the copy room, “ (Sorry Shakespeare, no nunneries here), and in a few minutes you will be ready for whatever left hooks the year might toss your way.

The Twelve Forms Include:

  1. Lesson Launch: Writing Warm-Ups (Teachers)
  2. Lesson Launch: Writin Warm-Ups (Students)
  3. Honor Statements
  4. Book Sign-Up Sheets
  5. General Essay Grading Rubric
  6. Oral Presentation Rubric
  7. Late Homework Request
  8. Tardy Sign-In Sheet
  9. Restroom Pass
  10. Hall Pass
  11. Completed Assignments/Graded Assignments Folders
  12. Incident Form
  13. Closure: Exit Pass

Most of these forms are self-explanatory, but here are a few clarifications:
All Forms: In your desk or file cabinet, have a folder for each of these forms: blank ones as well as those you have used in class. The latter is very important for your personal well-being, but also for those times when you need information to take to a parent/student conference.
Tardy Sign-In Sheet: I stapled these together and kept them on a small table right by the classroom door along with a pencil. After a few reminders the first week of school, students knew that they had to stop and sign-in if they arrived to class after the late bell. Each week, I flipped to a new sheet. Every grading period, I put the stapled sheets in a Tardy Sign-In Sheets folder so I could have it handy when I finalized the grades, or if I had to contact parents – whatever was necessary to meet the school’s policy.

Except for the Lesson Launch examples, this packet is for all subjects. Teachers can adapt the Lesson Launch idea to their subject areas. Download it from: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Printables-Teaching-Lifesavers-Twelve-Classroom-Management-Forms-768230

Enjoy a terrific Blog Hop. What a fantastic way to add engaging lessons to you Repertoire Bag.

Happy Teaching,

Want More Back to School Goodies?

Enter our AMAZING back to school giveaway!
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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Learning is Winning

 Learning is Winning
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Andrew McCutchen #22
makes a diving catch. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
In the top of the 7th during the 8/6/2013 baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins, centerfielder Andrew McCutchen threw his whole body into an outstanding catch. As a line drive headed toward a gap in left-center field, McCutchen, after an all-out sprint, dove, levitating his body horizontally with the field. With his left arm stretched forward as far as physically possible, and his eyes never, ever leaving the ball, he turned his gloved hand outward and caught the speeding ball, stopping one, if not two runners from crossing Home Plate.  I turned to my husband and chortled, “That man is hungry for the Series!” as inwardly I winced for McCutchen. Ooh, the pain from his landing must have been intense!
As a parent and former teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder, “With one month until school begins, are students as hungry to learn as McCutchen is to win? After all, in my world and, I assume, that of parents, teachers and concerned adults country-wide, Learning is Winning.

Although our Kim and Matt are adults with school-related sugar (and a few sour) plums occasionally
 Learning is Winning
dancing in their memories, I can still remember the anxiety, the stress, the concerns surrounding their academic challenges.  Were they trying hard enough?  Did they really, really care about Train A and Train B hurtling toward each other at varied speeds, especially since early on in their educations, they  both fully realized that any form of math would never become a crucial element to their future success?  Did they understand that it was the higher level thinking skills, not those doggone trains that were important? Did they care enough to throw their whole bodies into their learning?
When I was a classroom teacher, as the dog days of summer edged toward the more temperate days of September, the same stresses began their annual build up in my brain. Although high school kids are too cool to show their love of learning too openly, this year, would the scheduling genie bless me with more inspired students who found English challenging but fun than “apathetic, entitled adolescents” as one senior drawlingly called his peers and himself?  Immediately prior to Josh’s laconic comment, exasperation and frustration had laced my Lecture #267 about the students’  all too prevalent impacted wisdom teeth behavior as I handed out job applications to fast-food franchises.

In these days of instant gratification for food, friends and financial gain, young people consider education a long-term reward, not a pleasure they can enjoy in the here and now.

To them:

Education is that P.S.A.T test in October, the S.AT  the first Saturday of most months, and that state standardized test and A.P. exam next spring, not the word music of Markus Zusak in I Am The Messenger that they are currently studying.
Education is the seven-letter word- COLLEGE-hovering over their far-off horizons, not the possibilities of space-time they are learning about in science class.
Learning is Winning

Education is the, “…job that will support you and your family,” somewhere way down that road to adulthood, not the support of your BFF after the painful break-up with your significant other.
To them, Education is Then-Not the Now.

How can we entice students and make their minds growl with the hunger pangs for Learning, NOW?
How can we lead them to the Waterfalls of Learning and make them want to leap into current instead of just dipping in their toes?

How can we show young people that Education/Learning is the spring training to their major league- a life worth living?
As teachers, parents, mentors and guides we should:
  • Relate the material under school study as well as lessons outside of the classroom to children’s lives as often as possible. Although this might be difficult on an academic level, adults can reel in young people by baiting their teachable moments with emotional and social hooks. After all, whether they are 5 or 18, who is the center of young peoples’ interest?  Themselves.
  • Offer challenges- in classes, with home chores and with community sports and activities where there are winners and competitors.  Anyone who has been around kids for any length of time knows that children fully realize and accept the fact that they will not always be winners, but neither are they always losers. Sooner or later those in the lower end of the win/loss column will want to rise higher.
A Middle School SPED/English teacher told me of a situation where he offered a Warm-Up activity every day to his students. At the start of class, he would write a few words on the board, such as Pittsburgh Steelers Rule, and challenge his students to create as many words as possible from those letters in ten minutes.  The winner received a prize- a granola bar, a piece of candy, the first in line to go to lunch, etc. After a few weeks, a young man came to him and said, “I am tired of losing! I have been practicing at home every day.”

The teacher shook the young man’s hand, handed him a snack-sized Twix, and announced to the class, “He is a winner because he cared enough to work hard to be one.”
  • Show students (don’t tell-telling turns kids off) through examples from the worlds of sports , music, entertainment, politics, medicine, finance, education, etc. how people who  understand that learning is the key to success- be it monetary or personal pride and everything in between- will push their minds farther, will try harder and will challenge themselves to overcome any hurdle to reach their goals.
  • Share a love for learning by walking the walk as well as talking the talk…every day, no matter how difficult that may be.
  • Parents need to live a love for learning and show their respect for the educational system their taxes support.  After all, as parents we are our children’s first and most important teachers. Young peoples’ attitudes toward school and learning have taken root by the time they start school.
After over 30 years as a teacher and 40 years as a parent, I can attest to the fact that positive attitudes create inquisitiveness, an eagerness to step up to the plate and accept challenges, and a “Teach me, more, please,” chorus.  Negative attitudes breed lethargic responses to learning, behavior issues and a “What’s this have to do with my life?” chorus.

Learning is the be-all end-all to a life worth living.
Learning will foster proficient (and higher…often much higher) test scores.

Learning will lead to college and post high school educational acceptances.
Learning will lead to that all-important First Job.

Learning is Winning.
What a wonderful world it would be to hear cries of, “That young person is hungry for Learning!” echoing from schools, homes and newspaper headlines.

Until the next time,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Thank you for the two Liebster Award nominations

Tales of Teaching in Heels button
A short time ago, Stephanie at Tales of Teaching in Heels (http://talesofteachinginheels.blogspot.com/) and  Dava Smith at Dava Smith English Teacher
(http://davasmithenglishteacher.blogspot.com/2013/07/liebster-award.html) each nominated me for a Liebster Award. This award is presented to new bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. As of today, I have 66. Hopefully these awards will bring more Followers to http://teachitwrite.blogspot.com.
Thank you ladies, for your support.
Dava Smith

After receiving this honor, the recipient has to:
  1. Answer the questions the nominator asks you
  2. Link back to their site
  3. Nominate five bloggers with under 200 followers, and
  4. Create 11 questions for them  and an 11 Random Facts Facts About Me category.
Here are my responses for Stephanie's questions: 
1. How long have you been teaching?
In 2011, I retired from teaching.   For 30+ years, I taught English 7-12, creative writing and journalism.
2. What's your favorite teaching/coaching moment?
When I was teaching at a correctional institution for adolescent delinquents, I was directing a play that consisted of a series of monologues written by inner city youth.  One of my students,with the street name of Cool, was 16, but couldn’t read. He had his cottage peers teach him his monologue which began, “For what reason was I born? To speak words no one listens to no matter how hard I try?” (from The Me Nobody Knows, edited by Stephen M. Joseph). When he sat on the stage apron and recited his lines with the passion of someone whom lived the meaning of these words, I cried.  Stunningly poignant.
This is one of oh so many classroom memories that will remain showcased in my mind.
3. What's your favorite blogging site? (it doesn't have to be related to teaching)
http://thatwritinglady.com/  authored by Catherine Killingsworth
4. Which store is your favorite place to buy things for your classroom?
Office Depot
5. What advice do you wish you got as a new teacher?

This abbreviated excerpt from my post What College Never Taught Me summarizes a teacher’s basic needs:
  1. Administrative Assistants run the school. A friendly, “Good morning,” and an occasional chat about their families will garner me that last ream of copy paper, get me a meeting with the principal about the mouthy kid when everyone else thinks he is,  “Lunching with the superintendent,” and ensure a heads up on Monday morning when the principal plans, “… a few drop-in observations to check out the teaching that is going on,” and I had scheduled Reading Time so I could wake up sleep-deprived brain.
  2. Custodians can make life heaven or hell.   Choose heaven by picking up the day’s detritus left by students, by making sure the  trash cans aren’t the result of a “How Can we Pile the Junk before it Spills” contest, and by cleaning my own white boards. This guarantees:  a bottle of white board cleaner when everyone else is told to, “Buy your own; more desks from the custodians’ secret stash when the counselors have blessed me with five more students than I have seats for in my class, and a sweet cushioned before they send out an All Staff email to, “Come and get one.”
  3. Technology savvy students are to be showered with smiles. They have saved my sanity more times than I can count by fixing the connection between my computer and television so I can show that PowerPoint I spent a gazillion hours designing, by finding the Editorial pages that magically disappeared twenty minutes before the school newspaper has to be sent to the printer to make deadline, and by showing me how to add external links to professional documents.
6. What three things are always in your teaching bag?
I am not in the classroom trenches anymore, but when I was, my tote always had: green or purple pens for grading papers, waterless hand cleaner and a stash of chocolate.
7. What teacher inspired you as a student?
Ms. Gertrude Handler, my English teacher for both my junior and senior years of high school earned my Favorite Teacher award, but not until years later, after I unlocked the door to my first classroom.  She was one tough, tough, tough teacher.  Knowing that I wanted to be a writer, she would fill the margins of my papers with her often caustic comments.  My favorite was, “What do you have against the English language that you torture it so.”  Her criticisms motivated me to think, “Ha! Just wait until my next paper, Ms. H.  I’ll show you!” She inspired me to think more deeply, to dredge my mind for better ways to focus and clarify my thoughts, and to try to hook readers with my vocabulary and sentence structure choices.
8. What do you love most/worst about teaching?
The students will always be the raison d’etre of teaching. The “AHA” light in their eyes made the days when they were acting like impacted wisdom teeth worthwhile. Also, they kept me real and made me remember to laugh as often as possible.
9. What's your favorite piece of technology to use in the classroom? How do you use it?
Computers rule, especially those loaded with the InDesign (I’m sure a better publishing program exists now-two years after my retirement) program. Together, they made publishing both the school newspaper and literary magazine much less stressful.
10. How do you plan to incorporate the new Common Core Standards this next year?
Each and every activity that I create comes with a Teacher Notes page that shows what Common Core Standards and verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy will be addressed in the lesson. See my blog, Common Core Standards are a tool, not a complete toolbox (http://teachitwrite.blogspot.com/2013/06/common-core-standards-are-tool-not.html) for my thoughts on the CCS.
11. What do you love to do when you aren't teaching?
As I am not teaching anymore, I have plenty of time to indulge myself with a plethora of soul-satisfying activities. I love creating curriculum, promoting my recently published teacher resource, The House of Comprehension, reading books, researching recipes on Delish.com, Food Network, and Big Oven, traveling with my husband (we’re going to the Encore in Vegas in two weeks-can’t wait),  spending time with my granddaughters, playing with my cats and dog, and trying to beat Solitaire on my Kindle Fire way too often.
11 Random Facts About Me:
·         I am an unrecovering readaholic
·         I published a YA novel about teen dating abuse, A Fine Line, in 1993.
·         I love, love, love Downton Abbey
·        Between the ages of 12 and 16, I had 4 concussions (one due to roller skating and the others because of bicycle wrecks). Wheels (and blades i.e. ice skates and roller blades) and I do not get along.
·         I love blondies much more than brownies, which leave me feeling, “Meh”.
·         I love Vegas- the 5-star restaurants, the shows, and, of course, the slots
·         Dr. Zhivago is my favorite movie
·         Before public school assignments, I taught in a boys reform school, a residential facility for ED adolescents and an alternative school for kids sent from the county courts and who came from substance abuse recovery programs.
·         I would love to live somewhere with a vista of the mountains from my backyard, or in a place with an ocean or lake view.
·         I’ve seen Les Miz 6 times, Phantom of the Opera 3 times, Miss Saigon twice and Jersey Boys 3 times.
·         The Prince of Tides is my favorite book.

Here are my responses to Dava:

1. What is your favorite professional development book for teaching reading, writing, or grammar?  If these aren't your areas of expertise, pick any PD book that you love.

My favorite teacher resource is The House of Comprehension, the teaching resource
that I wrote and that Compass Publishing released in March. I love these classroom -tested and tweaked lessons, not only because I created them, but because they reach the whole learner by focusing on comprehension, writing and higher level thinking skills. 
2.  What thought inspires you to continue through the tough days?
I always loved seeing the "AHA" look in a student's eyes after a sometimes long struggle of urging him/her to step off the curb onto the Learning Path with me. That light in the student's eyes, usually accompanied with a smile, made all the hard days worthwhile.
3.  What is your hobby (i.e. what do you do when you aren't teaching, planning, grading, etc.)?
Even though my teaching days have ended, I am still immersed in my passion: teaching b/c I create and develop curriculum...but on my own terms and time. When I am not working on creating curriculum and marketing my products, I can be found reading pretty much anything, traveling with my husband, spending time with our kids and grand daughters and surfing the net for recipes.
4.  What is your favorite book to teach and why?  If you don't teach books, pick your favorite topic.
Oh goodness, how do I pick just one,? If I had to, it would  be Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer). The students become so involved with the story because they can identify with Chris McCandless and his issues with his family and society on so many levels (intellectual, personal, emotional and spiritual, to name four). This makes discussions exciting, thought-provoking, and meaningful. I also love I Am The Messenger (Markus Zusak) for the same reasons as I mentioned, and because Zusak's word pictures are totally absorbing and often take my breath away. Night (Elie Wiesel), The Crucible (Arthur Miller), and The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka) round out my Top Five.
5.  Explain aspects your classroom organization system that help your classroom run smoothly.
My four basic rules that my students and I must follow: Be Responsible, Reliable, Respectful and offer No Excuses form the basic foundation. I also have a number of forms (Hall passes, bathroom passes, Tardy sign-in Sheets, etc) that build on this foundation. Knowing that a focused classroom management plan will thwart negative behavior, I developed twelve classroom management forms. Download this product from: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Printables-Teaching-Lifesavers-Twelve-Classroom-Management-Forms-768230
Twelve Classroom Management Forms
6.  What is something new that you are going to try next year in your classroom?
As I mentioned, I am retired, but if I were still in the classroom, I would make The House of Comprehension my planning home (http://www.teachitwrite.com/).
7.  What is your favorite store and why?
Any store?  I would have to say, Chicos.  For teaching supplies, I love Office Depot.
8.  What type of technology do you use most in your classroom?
I loved InDesign because it was so user-friendly and helped my students issue a monthly newspaper and a yearly literary magazine.
9.  What's your favorite teaching moment?
I will use the same answer that I gave Stephanie:

When I was teaching at a correctional institution for adolescent delinquents, I was directing a play that consisted of a series of monologues written by inner city youth.  One of my students, with the street name of Cool, was 16, but couldn’t read. He had his cottage mates teach him his monologue which began, “For what reason was I born? To speak words no one listens to no matter how hard I try?” (from The Me Nobody Knows, edited by Stephen M. Joseph). When he sat on the stage apron and recited his lines with the passion of someone whom lived the meaning of these words, I cried.  Stunningly poignant.

That is one of oh so many that will remain showcased in my mind.
10. What advice would you give to new teachers?
Befriend Administrative Assistants, custodians and the technology teams.  They basically make the school run smoothly. See Stephanie's #5 above for a more detailed explanation.
11. What is your teaching style?
As I explain in The House of Comprehension, my approach is three-pronged:
Show Me:
The teacher presents lessons about the elements of literature and models how
those elements create the story’s structure.
Help Me:
The activities give students the chance to practice and exhibit what they are
Let Me:
The discussions, projects, and assignments in the program allow students to
synthesize their knowledge and understanding with their personal experiences
and feelings.
Eleven questions for my Liebster Award Nominees:
  1. What aspect(s) of teaching make you smile?
  2. What aspects of teaching make you frown?
  3. What is your dream schedule-courses(s) and grade level(s).
  4. What are the qualities of fantasy your principal?
  5. What course(s) do you wish your college had offered to better prepare you for the realities of the classroom?
  6. What are your three most important classroom rules?
  7. If you could give any advice to your students, what would it be?
  8. Summarize the lesson you love best to teach?
  9. What is your most important piece of advice to parents on Back to School Night?
  10. What do you wish you could teach that is not in your school's course of study for your academic area?
  11. What is the best advice someone (say who this person was) gave you regarding teaching?
  12. What was your happiest classroom moment so far?
    Liebster Award

My Liebster Award nominees:
Learning to Teach in the Rain: http://learningtoteachintherain.blogspot.com/
Making it as a Middle School Teacher: http://www.makingitteacher.com/
Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach:
Weird is Cool in Middle School: http://weirdiscoolinmiddleschool.blogspot.ca/
Simple Steps to Sentence Sense: http://simplestepstosentencesense.blogspot.com/ 

Because I am responding to two Leibster nominations on one post, I have included ten, yes, TEN blogs for you all to follow. So sit back and enjoy a Blog Hop around these terrific sites.

Happy Travels,