Posted in Life, Teaching

May Memories

May is always a full month, but this year it seemed more full than usual. Despite the fact that COVID-19 has, in many ways, made the world feel smaller, it can’t stop time from marching on, nor can it stop people from celebrating its passage, albeit in new ways.

This May marked twenty-five years since I graduated from high school. I watched online from 200 miles away as my niece accepted her high school diploma and concluded her own strange senior year.

This May marked ten years since my husband and I got married. We celebrated at home with takeout from a favorite restaurant and lots of laughter and a few tears as we watched our wedding video and looked through a box of old letters and photos and other relationship memorabilia.

And this May also marked the twentieth anniversary of my first year of teaching.

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Me as a first year teacher

This particular milestone snuck up on me. Since I took time off in the middle of my career, I haven’t actually taught for twenty years. I just finished my seventeenth year of teaching seventh grade. But it was twenty years ago, in May of 2000, when I said goodbye to my very first group of students ever.

A lot of teachers have horror stories about their first year in the classroom, but not me. I loved it. I had great kids that year, and I bonded well with them. In retrospect, that was probably because I was a just a kid too, only ten years older than my students. Now that I’m in my forties, it seems a little odd to put a 22-year-old in charge of the education and well-being of fifty pre-teens, but I think I did an okay job.

To celebrate this life landmark, I read the notes written in my 1999-2000 yearbook. Then I reconnected with several of those first year “kids” (now in their thirties) on Facebook and posted a bunch of old pictures of them in their most awkward stage of life. It was so much fun seeing them now and watching them squeal at the photos of their former selves. I really loved those kids. I still have little gifts that some of them gave me and notes and drawings. All treasures.

As much fun as it was to reminisce with my former students, it made me more sad about what I missed out on with this year’s kids. I haven’t been as torn up about the strange ending to the school year as a lot of teachers. I’m not sure why. I think I was just so focused on the reason for the school closures and the anxiety over keeping everyone safe that not getting the last few weeks of lessons in didn’t seem like a big loss. Plus, I live in the neighborhood where I teach, so I’ll run into some of my kids at the park and the grocery store (when I start going back inside the grocery store).

But now I’m lamenting the losses. The lost conversations and end-of-year countdowns and talent shows and final reflections. And the yearbook. I bought one this year, and I’ll get it eventually, but it will be too late for signatures, too late to see who writes the funniest comment and who surprises me with a heartfelt note about something I didn’t realize made an impact.

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Packing up my classroom on May 8th. The board was still set up for March 13th, the day classes were cancelled.

There are other losses too. This is the first time in seventeen years of teaching that I didn’t get to share S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders with my students, didn’t get to gasp at their profound observations and cringe at the skits and videos they made of the novel’s violent scenes. (Every year, I’m convinced I’m going to get fired because of students acting out knife fights in the hallway with paper switchblades that I told them not to make or sharpened pencils that I have to confiscate. They learn a lot though, I promise, and have a lot of fun, and no one has ever been seriously injured.)

It took looking back twenty years to really see the past few months.

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Ready to congratulate the graduating 8th graders from a safe distance

Although the end of the year fizzled out in a less-than-exciting way, the rest of the school year went well. It was filled with hard work and reading and writing and stories and struggles and, as usual when you work with middle schoolers, some really interesting moments.

Here are a few that stood out in the 2019-2020 school year:

How My School Year Started

* Journal entry from August 20, 2019 *

This morning before work, I was getting ready to leave and microwaving a sausage & biscuit for breakfast when Hubby came into the kitchen to take my first day picture. He peered into the microwave (which was on) and said, “There’s nothing in there.”

“Ha,” I said. “If that were true, that would be really weird.”

Hubby looked at me funny. Then he opened the microwave and showed me that nothing was inside. There, on the counter, sat my cold sausage & biscuit.

*

Before school, I was on duty in the commons with E, politely telling students to put their cell phones away and keeping an eye on a group of 8th grade boys who seemed moments away from becoming a mosh pit. Exactly two seconds before the principal released 1,300 kids to stampede to class, a girl dropped her glass water bottle on the tile floor. It shattered, sending water and glass shards into a huge, dangerous puddle. E and I blocked the spill with our bodies, yelling, “Go around us! Broken glass! Watch your step!” to 1,300 stampeding kids. Then we FOLLOWED THE EXACT PROTOCOL AS OUTLINED IN THE SAFETY TRAINING VIDEO FOR CLEANING UP BROKEN GLASS. THE END.

Possibly the Weirdest Moment of My Entire Teaching Career

* Journal entry from September 24, 2019 *

Today, three days after seeing It: Chapter 2 with my family, I was teaching my 5th period class of 33 students, plus me, plus my co-teacher, plus my college intern. I was standing on the side of the room, and every student’s eyes were focused on me when a boy on the far side of the room pulled a red lipstick out of his pocket and proceeded to draw lines from the corners of his mouth, up his cheeks, over his eyes to create the Pennywise clown makeup. (!!!!!) I raised my eyebrows at him and shook my head in a subtle but assertive, “No, uh-uh,” sort of way. The boy blushed, pulled the collar of his shirt up over his head and pulled it down over his face, wiping off all the makeup in a single motion. I glanced around. No one was reacting in any way. A student had transitioned into a clown in the middle of my lesson and transitioned back into a boy again in a classroom of 36 people and NO ONE SAW IT BUT ME.

You cannot make this stuff up.

A Proud Moment

There was a student I didn’t know who had a locker right outside my classroom. At the start of the year, he had locker trouble. He lost his lock. Then he lost his combination. I helped him once and I saw another teacher help him on a different day. Eventually, he just stopped locking his locker. It drove me crazy. Sometimes he didn’t even close it. So on October 16th, I wrote this note and put it in his locker when no one was looking. Later, I saw him find it, look around suspiciously, and read it.

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From that day forward, his locker was closed and locked every single day. I don’t think he ever knew who put the note there.

An Unfortunate But Portentous Moment

* Journal entry from January 10, 2020 *

During my grammar lesson today, I accidentally demonstrated how communicable diseases spread.

Students were labeling parts of speech in practice sentences. I went around with a marker and put a check on students’ papers that had every label correct. Those students in turn were deputized as teachers, got a marker, and walked around checking other students’ answers. The students they checked did the same. It was a wonderful, engaging, cooperative lesson that my coworker came up with, and it had worked beautifully all day.

Until 7th period.

In 7th period, I made a mistake on the first student’s paper I checked. He had an error I didn’t notice. Unknowingly, he passed his diseased answers on to others, and they did the same. By the time the problem came to my attention, it was too late. Half the class was already infected. We all just stared at each other, not knowing what to do, until student zero said, “It’s like the coronavirus.”

It turned out to be a great cross-curricular science-related discussion and a really terrible grammar lesson. Oops.

[Note: When student zero mentioned the coronavius, everyone laughed, including me. This was mid-January. The term was just a buzz word. I barely even knew what it was at the time.]

A Funny Moment

* Journal entry from January 16, 2020 *

The worksheet said: Write a sentence about a tiger using a semicolon.

The student wrote: The tiger used a semicolon as a weapon.

Touché, kid.

*

Good memories, all of them. But none of these memories could have happened if I hadn’t started somewhere. I’m so grateful I had such a good first year of teaching. The last thing in my journal from that inaugural year is a list I made. Everything on it still holds true.

10 THINGS I LEARNED MY FIRST YEAR OF TEACHING

  1. Decorating a classroom is more difficult than it looks.
  2. Over-planning is much, much better than under-planning.
  3. Be very flexible and calm and let things roll off your back.
  4. Don’t always proclaim a winner in games.
  5. Juggling is a great attention-getter.
  6. It’s important to write legibly on the board.
  7. Students mirror their teacher, so enthusiasm and smiling are essential.
  8. Teachers should be required to take at least one theater class in college.
  9. Gaining respect has little to do with age or experience.
  10. Be able to laugh at yourself in front of large groups.

*

Done and done, especially #10. Now to go brush up on my juggling skills.

Happy Summer, everyone.

Posted in Reading

Marketable Mashups: The World Needs These Books!

This is the time of year when everyone is posting lists of books they’ve read. But what about all the books we WANT to read? And more importantly, what about all the books we WISH we could read, but we can’t because they haven’t been written yet?

I’m a big fan of cool musical mashups. Give me Glee, give me Pitch Perfect, give me more more more of that awesome dance scene in A Knight’s Tale. TV crossovers are fun too. I get a kick out of seeing the ER doctors guest star on Friends, and that episode of The Simpsons with Mulder and Scully from The X-Files is still one of my all-time favorite pieces of television. So… why not apply this cross-contamination amazing plot blending to our favorite books? I mean, come on, who WOULDN’T want to read these future best-sellers?

10 Literary Mashups That Need to Be Written ASAP:

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* On THE ROAD

A beatnik narrates his carefree travels through an apocalyptic landscape.

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* Something WICKED This Way Comes

One Halloween night, a carnival comes to Green Town, Illinois, bringing with it a misunderstood little girl named Elphaba and a cast of talking animals who sometimes break into song.

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* Emma Eyre

When witty, precocious young Emma becomes governess at Thornfield Hall, she tries to play matchmaker for grumpy old Edward Rochester by reuniting him with his wife, Bertha, but things do not go as planned.

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* We Have Always Lived in the House of Leaves

Constance and her sister Merricat live in a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside with their insane uncle who continually writes his memoirs over and over again, sometimes backwards, sometimes upside down, sometimes with only one word per page.

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* Anne of Green Eggs and Ham

Desperate not to be sent back to the orphanage, an orphan girl attempts to endear herself to her new family, school, and town by offering everyone she meets a unique home-cooked meal.

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* The Martian Chronicles of Narnia

Four children discover a magical wardrobe that leads to the harsh landscapes of Mars. Will the children succeed in colonizing the red planet? Or will they succumb to the Great Loneliness and perish?

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* The Lord of the RING

A Hobbit named Frodo receives a mysterious videotape that warns him he will die if he doesn’t journey across Middle-earth to cast it into the Cracks of Doom.

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* Life of Pie

When Alice’s Aunt Polly dies and leaves her famous pie recipe to Lardo the cat, Alice goes on a quest to learn the delicious secret, which takes her on a 227-day journey in a rowboat with Lardo.

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* Knuffle Bunnicula

Trixie adores her beloved stuffed toy, but when plush vegetables turn up with their stuffing removed, her parents begin to wonder. Could Knuffle Bunny be… a vampire?

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* Gone with the Wind in the Willows

An epic Civil War drama about the lives, tragedies, and tangled love affairs of a mole, a badger, and a toad.

*

Ok, people, let’s make this happen. Get to writing.

 

 

Posted in Teaching

Christmas Carols for Teachers

* Put down your grading pen, grab an eggnog or two, and warm up your singing voice for these soon-to-be holiday classics. *

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Working in a Public Middle School

* To the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”

School bells ring, so many missing
In your class, no one’s listening
These December days
Eat your sanity away
Working in a public middle school

Gone away is your patience
The things kids say, they don’t make sense
Their obsession with memes
Makes you want to scream
Working in a public middle school

In the commons, kids are chugging Starbucks
Eating chocolate and candy canes
Things are fairly peaceful but with your luck
Someone will pull the fire alarm again…

Later on, by the fire
You’ll dream of retirement
From lesson plans made
And papers to grade
Working in a public middle school

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Whose Paper is This

* To the tune of “What Child is This”

Whose paper is this, which came to rest
Upon my desk with no name?
Its handwriting is so messy
I cannot read it anyway…

This, this is what I do
I track down kids to find out who
Used haste, haste to do their work
And will have to redo it anyway…

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First Period Bells

* To the tune of “Jingle Bells”

Dashing through the Starbucks
A large coffee in hand
You’re late again and it sucks
You’ll get a reprimand
But there’s no point in teaching
Without your cup of joe
The students would be smirking
At the answers you don’t know

Oh, first period bells! First period bells!
Why are you so early?
How bad would it really be
To start at, say, nine-thirty?
First period bells! First period bells!
Your timing is so poorly
Teachers and kids alike
Would enjoy some more sleep, surely

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Deck the Halls

* To the tune of “Deck the Halls” (duh)

Deck the halls with student artwork!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
The tape you chose refuses to work!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Down it falls into a pile!
Fa la la, la la la, la la la!
You replace it with a smile!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!

Down it falls again tomorrow!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
A glue gun you seek to borrow!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Burn your hand and rip the poster!
Fa la la, la la la, la la la!
In the recycle bin it goes!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!

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Grading Around the Christmas Tree

* To the tune of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

Grading around the Christmas tree
It’s December 24th
Your friends and fam are all celebrating
But you’re still working, of course
Grading around the Christmas tree
There’s still so much to do
Cookies to bake, people to see
And lesson plans to make too

You will get that carpal tunnel feeling in your wrist
From writing, “You could do better”
While wearing your Christmas sweater
Grading around the Christmas tree
Add some eggnog to your rum
Whatever you do, try not to think
About your small income

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* Happy holidays, teachers! Extra credit to anyone who shares a video of you and your coworkers performing these tunes! *