Thursday, August 31, 2017

Labor Day means a Battle of Emotions for present and former teachers

The last few days, a feeling of having forgotten to do something but not being able to remember what it is has dogged me. Finally, in the middle of last night, I dinged onto the answerI’m missing the last minute lesson plan finalizing, checking off my Things to Do checklist, i.e. copying handouts, gathering textbooks from storage, making sure my sub folder is complete and keeping my stress level in the reasonable zone. My emotions aren't suffering the roller coaster ride of anticipation and anxiety for a new school year, the fear of the unknown and the joy of working with teenagers that always has accompanied every new school year.

During lunch with colleagues still leading classrooms, and through discussions with teachers on Facebook and in emails and texts, I have heard concerns about AYP, PLC, standardized tests, required data collection, and, of course, class schedules, and have felt their excitement, as well as their passion for teaching and meeting new students. Do these situations cause a twinge of sadness for what is now my past? Sure, but on its tail is a sigh of relief. It’s their time, now.

Still, my heart and mind echoes with the Battle of Emotions between the armies of Loss and Relief.
·        Loss because I loved watching my children (as a parent) and other parents’ children (as a teacher) grow academically, emotionally and socially into responsible, reliable and respectful adults.
·        Loss because young people challenged my thinking and kept me authentic.
·        Loss because teenagers kept me laughing, and
·        Loss because I fed on the energy that can only come from teachers, students and administrators.

·        Relief because I don't need to worry about whether I am doing right by my students academically, emotionally and socially.
·        Relief because I don't have to wake up before dawn, to tackle a mountain of papers to grade, or to prep for that night's dinner.
·        Relief because I don't have to face a classroom of recalcitrant adolescents who dare me to turn them on to the love of learning, and
·        Relief because I don't have to deal with administrative directives that detract from teaching and learning.

But…but…the itch that refuses to be scratched is: I loved most everything about school-as a teacher and a student- and always will. As a teacher, I loved seeing the "AHA!  I get it!" lights blink on, relished how kids kept me learning by showing me  a side of a character I never noticed, or an idea or a concept that I hadn't occurred to me, and miss those cherished  moments when struggling students began to believe in their value to themselves, their family, their friends, and to society.

As a teacher,
·        did my frustration level soar when I encountered students who felt they were too cool for school or whose sense of apathetic entitlement challenged my patience? Of course.
·        did the petty dictates of a few administrators puffed up with their newly awarded power cause nights of teeth grinding? Of course.
·        did I despise waking to the clanging of my alarm clock at 4:45AM? Of course.

More importantly, though, I prized lively book discussions with my students and celebrated their happiness when they realized that they could express themselves orally and in writing. Their confidence in their newfound skills and abilities not only warmed my heart but also encouraged me to continue to create lessons that dared them-and me- to keep on reaching higher and trying harder. 

That being said, the arrival of September will always spawn tingles of anticipation, shivers of fear and heart rays of joy. This ninth month of the year will forever be more of a New Year to me than January. From both sides of the desk, I will always, always love school.

Happy Labor Day Weekend.

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day Every Day!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Kick off fall studies with H.G. Bissinger's 'Friday Night Lights'

Classroom Colleagues,
This is a revised post about H.G. Bissinger's iconic book about high school football, Friday Night Lights. I originally posted it a few years ago on this site, but wanted to update it because it is such a terrific way to hook students' fall football psyches into reading as it fuels many an analytic discussion about Academics vs. Athletics and other societal issues.

“I can't wait for high school football to start
'Cause Friday Night Lights will get to play a part.
This is the book that students will cheer
When teachers choose it to begin the school year.”
 (adapted from the song, “I’ve Been Waiting All Day For Sunday Night” sung by Carrie Underwood
and set to the tune "I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett.)

Okay, okay, my colleagues, I know many of you would love to find a page-turning nonfiction read that could roll right into the first literature study of your autumn term. But if you could find a book that will engage your students and jumpstart discussions of contemporary issues such as gender, race and class, I bet you would give a cheer. A 24-page unit plan coinciding with this book and that offers you the gift of time at the always hectic beginning of the school year might cause a sigh of relief, too.

Friday Night Lights H.G. Bissinger
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger is the perfect match. Let me explain how my scoffing at a book about high school football turned into a decade and a half of, "Just say 'Yes! to the book" enthusiasm.

A while back, my husband, Tim, and I were driving through Virginia on the clogged, as usual, Route 95. We were on our way to Hatteras Island's on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
To keep me from groaning about the lines of traffic, Tim began to enthuse over a book about Texas high school football.  Trying to hook my teacher brain, he explained that this book was not just a paean to football, but was a social commentary on how so many towns allow high school football to dominate their whole lives. The author, H.G. Bissinger chose Odessa Texas's Permian High School's 1988 football season to focus his study. 

Friday Night Lights Gender Issues
Tim iterated a list of issues the author develops in the book, such as the special treatment of athletes, athletics over academics, racism,  gender, class, entitlement, etc. He offered anecdotes about how the black football players were considered equal on the field but separate off of it, and how some of the girls felt that  their sole purpose was to take care of their football players with gifts of food and pigskin-themed decorated homes. He regaled me with stories about little kids who wore jerseys with their favorite high school and not pro team player, and how athletes weren't expected to accomplish much at all academically.

Yada, Yada, Yada. I was not impressed and fell asleep.

Friday Night Lights Conflict activity
Fast forward to a week later, our last day on the beach. As I lounged on the deck eyeing the ocean for dolphins, my husband's and son's animated conversation about the book, which my son had devoured in two days, wiggled its way into my sun-drunk  attention span. Soon, I found myself caught on the Football Express. This time, though, after just a few pages, instead of itching to get off, I bought a reading round-trip ticket.

Starting right then, and during the 6-hour drive home the next day, I read. After filling the washer with salt and sand encrusted clothes, I read.  As my husband slept and my dog snored, I read.
By the next day, I had finished H.G. Bissinger's iconic classic and was ready to subscribe to the Odessa American newspaper so I could follow the Permian Panthers' football season that fall. 

The first thing Monday morning, I explained my desire to teach this book to the local HR manager for a national chain bookstore. She contacted whoever she needed to, and within the hour, I was the ecstatic recipient of two softcover class sets of Friday Night Lights-50 books in all! Next, I swung by the high school and begged, pleaded and generally pestered the principal until he gave me the thumbs up to teach it that fall.

The rest of the summer, I developed my Literature - Friday Night Lights Unit Plan. This complete unit plan includes: Common Core standards which you can easily adapt to your state's benchmarks, the grade level and time frame, assessments, and detailed daily plans as well as writing journal openers, essay topics, chapter by chapter discussion questions, a project, a review sheet and a test. Ten analyzing the elements of literature activities go hand in hand with the lessons and follow Bloom's Taxonomy.

Reading this book along with viewing the movie is sure to generate some terrific analytic discussions.

Make a touchdown with your students this fall and Download this 4.0 rated 24-page plan Literature - Friday Night Lights Unit Plan, from ($).Before you know it, your students and you will be under the spell of Bissinger's football fever and will be singing,

“I can't wait for this fall's school term to start
When Friday Night Lights will win my students' hearts.
This is the book that they will certainly cheer,
'Cause it speaks in such depth to all that they hold dear.”

Enjoy a Teach it Now Day Every Day.