Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ten Things Tuesday

We’ve started the new year, and I’m already loving it.

1. We’re on a new schedule, so we’re doing a M/W/F and a T/TH thing instead of an A and B day (which was a lot harder to manage than you might think). I think it’s going to be fantastic. That means I don’t have to plan a five-day class, and it means that I get more time for the upperclassmen on the T/TH schedule.

2. I’ve got a delightful mix of students I’ve had before and kids who are brand new to my teaching style (and who haven’t heard my stories yet!). The T/TH schedule, which we ran today, is awesome – the kids are great.

3. I scored an ENORMOUS t.v. for my room. I came in in Sunday and found a bunch of my colleagues standing around the beast, looking like they had no idea what to do with it. I quickly volunteered to take it, and it’s been installed at the far end of my room. I got myself a 25-dollar DVD player from Targ*t the other day and got it all hooked up all by myself. Film and Literature class is going to totally frickin’ ROCK.

4. My M/W/F schedule has me done with students at about noon. That means that I’ll be able to get home on days when my girls have early release (which is almost always on Wednesdays) and we don’t.

5. My “Mrs. Chili, do you ever have a song stuck in your head” kid showed up today in a kilt. Boy totally rocks the kilt. I love him.

6. The teacher who blew the didgeridoo to start morning announcements left the school at the end of last term to be a full-time dad. I was worried that we would have to figure out a new way to call the community to order, but two boys have picked up the tradition. This made me very happy.

7. I have discovered, much to my dismay and dislike, that my room gets hot when it’s hot out. We’ve got the sunny side of the building, too, which doesn’t help much, either.

8. We have a bunch of guitar players in residence, and we’ve now got a new boy who plays the banjo. The feel of the lunch room has changed ever so slightly; it’s a little more fun now. Banjos sound happy.

9. So far, so good on getting the girls up and going in the morning. This is only day two, though; I’m hoping it will continue, but I’m going to be patient…

10. My duty is the morning quiet study. We open the doors here at 7:20, and the kids who come that early need to come in, sit down, and be quiet (either reading or working, but not talking and not playing music) until 7:40. Since I get to school around 7 in the morning, anyway, this works out well for me.

I mean it, you guys; I have a really, really good feeling about this year. I hope that energy extends to you who teach, as well.

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Ready or Not…

… here we go!

Everyone in our neighborhood goes back to school tomorrow. My room is ready, one of my four syllabi is set in stone (two others are almost ready), I’ve written my speech for orientation tomorrow, and I’m feeling like, while I’m not quite as set as I’d like to be, I’m set enough to at least start taxiing down the runway.

The girls are doing a little stressing out; they never made it to the school to scope out their lockers and try their combinations, so we’re going to get up extra-early (yeah, right) to see if we can sneak in a bit before school starts so they can get their bearings without having to fight the proverbial herd. Other than that, though, they’re ready, too; school supplies are bought, a new outfit was obtained today, and they’re already thinking about what activities they’re going to join this year.

I have a good feeling about this year, both personally and professionally. I think it’s going to be great, and I’m eager to get started.

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Kicking Around an Idea…

Dear Readers-Who-Are-Also-Teachers, I have a question/favor to ask.

I’ve been thinking a lot – as I am wont to do – about connection and communication. The other day, while willing myself to get out of bed, I had a thought. Please keep in mind that it is still in its nascent stage and that any and all suggestions are cheerfully and gratefully welcomed.

I would like to get my (white, mostly affluent, suburban) high students in touch with kids whose lives are different from theirs. Sure, we read about experiences that other people have, but I think the act of having real contact with a real person who lives differently than you – of having a connection with an actual person with whom you can form a genuine human bond – is far more profound and meaningful.

What I would like is to connect with a teacher in another part of the country (or the world, even; isn’t the internet da bomb?) and get our kids in touch as part of our language curriculum this year (if this works with even a modicum of success, I would like to make this kind of cultural outreach a component of the English curriculum going forward, but that, as they say, is another bridge). What I originally envisioned would be a sort of sister-classroom scenario, but if we end up connecting to more than one school in more than one place, that will work, too (and, I think, can open up a lot of really great opportunities for discussion and research).

I’m imagining all kinds of communication; email, blogs, Skype, and (gasp!) letters written on paper and sent through the post (Mrs. Chili, can people still do that?!). I don’t know yet how often this communication would happen, but I would like for it to be an organized thing for the classroom – whether or not the kids get in touch on their own time is up to them.

I teach in a teeny-tiny school – no, really; we’re expecting slightly fewer than 80 students this year – so my classes are never going to be more than 20 students (my normal class size is between 15 and 18 kids). If this is something you’re interested in (or something you think a colleague might be willing to play along with), leave a comment. I’ll happily answer any questions you ask (though do make sure you enter your email address with your comment; I’ll only answer some questions privately as I’m maintaining the illusion for myself that I’m protecting my anonymity here).

Do you think this will work?

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Kicking Them to the Curb

I’ve been asked to offer up a short speech during new student and parent orientation on Monday. The topic of my presentation is the importance of parent involvement as it affects student achievement.

Most of what I have is anecdotal. I’m a parent. I’m a teacher. As a writer, I tend to be pretty observant of what’s happening around me, so not only am I looking at my own experiences, but I’m peeking in on others’ lives, too. What I’m seeing – and what is being borne out again and again in the research – is that the kids who roll their eyes because their parents won’t let them watch t.v. until their homework is done, or who sigh in exasperation when their parents show up to potlucks and to chaperone dances, or the kids who bitch about parents who insist on proofreading essays or lab reports are the kids who, without question, do better in school than the kids who spend from 2:31 until dark at the skate park, who are a little too good at World of Warcraft, and whose parents never return my emails or never come to community events.

Is it a pain in the ass to be elbow-deep in your high school student’s business? Ummm.. yeah. High schoolers are all about the independence – sometimes, they’re worse than the three-year-olds and their “I do it MYSELF,” so getting even wrist-deep can be a challenge. Pair that teenage resistance to all things that even hint of authority with the very reasonable attitude that kids of that age SHOULD be given more autonomy and responsibility, and it’s very easy to see why so many moms and dads throw up their hands in surrender. That is, of course, the worst thing parents can do.

I’m not advocating a GPS chip behind your teen’s ear or that you force your child to spend every waking moment in your presence – you’d both be indicted for attempted murder if you tried that, don’t you think? What I am asking for here is some level of participation in the life your kid leads outside of the walls of your house that shows your kid, in whatever roundabout way you need to do it, that you really truly care about what happens to her at school, and that you know he can succeed. How about family dinner now and then? Talk to your kid; find out what kind of music she’s listening to (and give it a listen; some of it’s pretty catchy), what movies he wants to see (how about a Saturday matinee?), who their friends are (pizza night at your house?). When your kids’ teachers give you their websites and email addresses, USE them. Check in every once in a while; lurk on the websites to see what’s going on in science class and then see if you can surreptitiously work that into dinner-table conversation. Find out what’s being read in English class and then let your kid see YOU reading that book. Did you suck at math in high school? Commiserate. Fire off a quick, “Hey, I’d like to check in to see how little Johnny’s doing in class” and answer attempts teachers make to get in touch with you.

Raising a kid is serious business. So is teaching one. If parents and teachers can work together to support kids through what most adults will agree are some of the most challenging years of a human’s life, imagine what kind of miracles we can work.

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I’m a Teacher; That’s What We Do

I love, love, LOVE this man.  Here, to inspire us all as we begin another adventure in the classroom, are two of my favorite Taylor Mail poems.

Give them what they need before they know they need it, and go out there knowing, in every fibre of your being, that you make a difference.

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Ten Things Tuesday

Ten random things.

1. I am VERY much looking forward to starting the year. While I’m still not 100% confident of my plans, I know from experience that it’ll all work out.  As I’ve been telling my teacher-blogger friends, I have a really good feeling about this year.

2.  I’m also eager to see some of the kids again (though I have to re-familiarize myself with some of their pseudonyms).  There’s one boy in particular that I’m eager to see – he and I have a daily tradition of telling each other which song is playing in our respective heads, and I’ve missed not having anyone to tell that bit of weirdness to (at the moment, it’s “Too Late” by Carole King.  Don’t ask me how it got in there, but there it is…)

3.  My classroom is almost completely put together.  A friend and I did a commando raid on IKEA yesterday and obtained more book cases (two of which I put together yesterday; the other two will get built this afternoon).  My sister-in-law (how much do I love THAT?!) gave me a box full of geeky teacher things – sheet protectors, Post-its, scissors, that sort of thing – that I’ve got to put away this afternoon, too.

4.  Mike and Will are planning on putting up some drywall and making an office for the English department.  As soon as the fire inspector okays the plans, the walls will go up.  It’ll be good to have that space; we’re not a department of one (as many of my colleagues are) and having a spot to work while our room is being used is going to be important.  For now, we’ve blocked off the space with metal cabinets and, while that works, it is not at all elegant or practical.

5.  We teachers are officially back tomorrow (the kids start next week), but most of the day will be spent resetting the spaces that haven’t yet been brought under control.  Since we THOUGHT we’d be moving to new digs this summer, everything was packed up in anticipation of the move.  Now it’s all got to be UN-packed and replaced, and a bunch of rooms are shifting purpose and people are relocating into different spaces.  The girls and I will go in this afternoon to finish working in “my” room (the quotes are because it’s not MY room; I’m sharing it with Will and Mike, but writing that all out every time is tedious), and we’ll head in tomorrow after Punkin’s appointment to see if we can be of any use to the folks who aren’t settled yet.  It’s not fun work (remember the last time YOU moved?), but it’s got to be done.

6.  I’m eager to spend time with my coworkers on a regular basis again.  We have a really kick-ass team put together, and I can’t wait to see what kind of magic we can work during the school year.  I’m especially looking forward to seeing TK (my work husband and an all around snarky son of a bitch), and to having Sphrynatude be a regular part of my days.  Will got a part-time contract and will be a regular fixture in the school as he goes back to college to earn his teaching degree (yay!).  I’m dying to work more closely with Mike, my colleague from Local U; he has an energy about him that I find simultaneously attractive and challenging.  Then, of course, there’s Bob (DUDE!), about whom I feel terribly conflicted.  He’s looking for new work, and he’s said he will leave if he finds it.  I want for him to find a gig that he really wants, and I completely understand why he feels he needs another situation, but I really, really love having him be a part of our team.

7.  I know it’s not very charitable to say so, but I’m really glad that a number of students aren’t coming back this year.  There are quite a few kids who I’m relieved I’ll not have to deal with in class again.  That being said, there are quite a few kids who graduated last term who I’m going to miss very much (Yes, I’m looking at YOU, Kiki!).  It’s all about balance, I suppose…

8.  The board held a meeting in “my” room last week and no one raised any objections about the Buddha.  In fact, I’m not certain that anyone even really noticed him – no mention of him has made its way back to me – though I KNOW that the room was scrutinized fairly carefully.  I’m leaving him right where he is.

9.  The science teacher from last year decided to take some time off to be a full-time dad.  His wife got a better job than he had, and the decision was kind of a no-brainer (and I love the commitment he has made to his family.  It reminds me of the truth in the bumper sticker that says “men who change diapers change the world.”).  I’m going to miss him a great deal; he brought a kind of carefree levity to the place – nearly perfectly balanced with an iron-clad commitment to integrity – that can never be replaced.  He was also the guy who blew the didgeridoo to get the day started, and I’m wondering if anyone is going to pick up that mantle….

10.  I feel like I’ve been away for far too long.  While others are lamenting the end of summer vacation, I’m rejoicing in going back to the work that I love, to feeling useful and necessary, and to interacting with kids and colleagues who inspire me to continue to strive for my best self.

Happy Tuesday!

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Ten Things Tuesday

The “tour my room” edition!

1. Here we have a poster that my sister gave me. It is a compilation of simple wisdom offered by the Dalai Lama, and I love it.

(sorry about the glare. Go here to read the full text…)

2. Here’s one of the many magnets with short, thoughtful sayings I have posted around the room.

3. … and another. (Honestly? I think this one is my favorite)…

4. My dragonfly coat hook. I tried to not buy too much stuff for the class with my own cash, but I needed something dragonfly. It was an impulse buy; I saw it while I was in T*rget looking for something else.

5. PLANTS! I went on a buying binge when I found very healthy plants for five bucks each at a local greenhouse. My room is now filled with plants at just about every compass point.

6. A William Shakespeare action figure. I shit you not. Suzanne gave me this one. I have another at home, gifted to me by Kizz, I think. He came complete with the book and quill pen; how cool is that!

7. The bookcase Buddha. He’s tucked serenely and unobtrusively in the corner, and there he’ll stay, reminding me to breathe and allow my students to come to their highest and best selves by their own paths.

8. My fish! Remember my fish? We’re down by one – the little goldfish is missing and I suspect that she fell victim to the school of tiger barbs in there – but those who remain seem happy and healthy.

(wow; that’s a rotten picture. Use your imaginations, would you, please?)

9. BOOKS! I mean, really; I’m an English teacher – what did you expect? The truth is that I have FAR more books than I have shelves on which to put them, but I’ll be remedying that soon enough.

10. O’Mama gave me this poster last year, and I’ve been dying to put it up ever since. Now that the room is mine, up it has gone!

(again with the glare; go here to read the full text)

I LOVE the space now; it feels clean and airy and ready for community!

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