Posted in Poetry, Teaching, Writing

Why I Love Writing Club

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Two years ago, I began assisting with my middle school’s Writing Club, and last year I took over as sponsor. It makes for a long Friday afternoon, and sometimes I need to just sit in the silence of my car for a few minutes before I drive home so I can get the ringing in my ears to stop*, but overall it’s been a very pleasurable experience.

* Ringing in your ears? It’s a Writing Club. Doesn’t that mean you spend the hour listening to the peaceful scratching of pen on paper? Um, no.

At my school’s Writing Club, the focus is on the word Club more than on the word Writing. The hour after school is as much about students gushing over their latest literary crush, arguing over which fandom is better: Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, and complaining about the perils of writer’s block, as it is about writing the great teen novel. We do eventually put gel pen to journal most days, but first there are beach ball ice breaker games and a general LOUD decompressing after a long day/week. Some students come to the club with works in progress—comics, sci-fi novels, poetry—that they add to or work on. Others sit down with a blank page and see what happens. Some just come for the company. Because, most importantly, Writing Club is a place where these young writers can be among their own kind and let their inner selves out to play without judgment.

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Random gift from a Writing Club kid. It hangs on my fridge.

My favorite part is when we end with sharing time because these kids, silly or not, are killing it with their poems and stories, and they’re not afraid to put themselves on paper or take their fiction to dark, shadowy places. Last week at our first meeting of the year (yes, we started Writing Club on a full moon Friday the 13th) one girl shared a heart-wrenchingly honest poem written to her math class crush, another read a haunting piece full of dramatic imagery, and another shared a witty, rhyming poem about the latest trends that had both me and our principal in stitches, even though we didn’t get all the references. These kids always inspire me. Which brings me to my other favorite thing about Writing Club… It often gets me writing.

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Poem I wrote during Writing Club

I’ve drafted unexpected blog posts in Writing Club and written poems based on prompts, and even wrote the first page of a story about a zombie crocodile that I later turned into something I really like. The ideas that come to me in this setting are things that probably would never cross my mind elsewhere, as if I, too, can channel my inner “young writer” around all this creative youth.

I’m grateful for Writing Club, and I’m looking forward to more meetings with this year’s bunch of unique little oddballs. They are my people.

Posted in Teaching

On Fire: A Completely True and Not at All Sarcastic* Look at Differentiation in a Middle School Classroom

* ok, maybe a little sarcastic

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Imagine trying to light ten different fires while simultaneously trying to put out seven. That’s what differentiation in a classroom of thirty students feels like.

I once taught a dynamic, interactive, differentiated lesson that included modeling, group work, individual accommodations, and a reflective recap of the learning objective in front of an intern, an observer, and my inclusion teacher, and it all went near-perfectly. (Once. I said this happened ONCE. It was like seeing a unicorn standing on the back of the Loch Ness Monster.) Afterward, my inclusion teacher told me, “Wow! You were on fire!” I said, “Thanks, yeah, that’s pretty much what it felt like.” Then I collapsed into a plastic chair for a full 30 seconds before setting up to do it all again for the next period, during which neither Nessy nor the unicorn made an appearance.

Accounting for every student’s distinctive learning style, individual accommodations, unique personality, and level of stress makes direct teaching difficult and giving inspirational speeches almost impossible. It seems like I’m always pressuring my students too much or not enough. I can never find the proper balance. I don’t think it’s my fault, though. Mixed-level classes and large class sizes and the amount of variation in accommodations make it tough for one person to address an entire group the same way.

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Consider this: What if Abraham Lincoln had been required to accommodate the Gettysburg Address? What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had wanted to inspire half his audience to action while also thanking the other half for all the work they’d already done?

Abraham Lincoln:
“Four score and seven years ago (that’s 87 years) our fathers brought forth on this continent (North America), a new nation, conceived in liberty (that means formed in freedom), and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (I’ll pause here for a moment while you think about that. Danny, here’s a paper copy of the speech. Yes, Betty, you may go to the restroom.)”

Martin Luther King, Jr:
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. (Sally and Albert, you’ve done an excellent job exalting valleys so far this year, and Robert, you’re making good progress on straightening those crooked places. You should feel proud of yourselves.) Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. (Mississippi, I know you’ve been struggling with the whole freedom thing. You just keep applying yourself, okay?) Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado…”

I’m not critiquing the practice of differentiation. It is absolutely the right way to teach and the best way to help students progress. We have come so far from the days where every lesson was a teacher-centered lecture that left bright, creative, differently-engaged students behind. My point is only that individualized instruction is difficult, especially in large classes. You need a lot of matches and a lot of damp towels to concurrently ignite and douse the coals of each individual student’s motivation to the appropriate level, and if you do it right, there will likely be smoke coming out of your ears by the end of the day.

I think that metaphor got away from me. Sorry. To clarify, don’t bring matches to school.

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Teaching

My Numbers

I love the scene in Erin Brockovich when her neighbor asks for her number and she says, “Which number do you want?” Then she proceeds to give him the ages of her children, the number of times she’s been married, and the amount of money in her bank account before sharing her phone number. It’s a great movie moment because Julie Roberts delivers her lines so well, but it’s also a great reminder that people cannot be summed up with just one name, label, or number.

Here’s a clip of the scene. Be forewarned, Ms. Brockovich has a bit of a potty mouth:

I’ve been thinking about my own numbers this week.

Tuesday was my last day of work for the 2018-2019 school year, and my school had our annual end-of-year breakfast to celebrate the year’s achievements, say goodbye to staff members who are moving on to new adventures, and welcome new teachers to the campus.

During the meeting, our principal handed out pins to teachers who have been in the district 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30 years. (Yes, when you have taught in the same school district for THIRTY YEARS, you get a PIN. Welcome to public education.) I didn’t get a pin because my years of service don’t add up to a multiple of five, but it got me thinking about my numbers anyway.

  • 16 is the number of years I’ve been teaching 7th grade.
  • 2 is how many districts I’ve taught in and 3 is the number of schools.
  • 4 is how many years I took off from teaching to recoup, relax, and recharge.
  • 58 is how many times I’ve read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
  • 1,200 is roughly the number of students I’ve taught during my career.
  • 1 is the number of times a student has thrown up in my classroom (and thankfully, it was in the trash can).

Those numbers might not be pin-worthy, but I think they’re pretty impressive.

Of course, those aren’t my only numbers.

Today is my wedding anniversary.

  • 9 is the number of years I’ve been married.
  • 13 is the number of years I’ve been in love with my husband.
  • 0 is the number of children we have (by choice).
  • 3 is the number of pets we have (sort of by choice… if it were up to only me, we’d probably have about 7).
  • Uno is the name of our dog.
  • 18 is the age of the cat we just adopted.
  • 0 is the number of times we have adhered to the rules about traditional anniversary gifts.
  • 100,000 is roughly the number of times my husband has made me laugh.
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Hubby doesn’t like his photo to appear on social media, so I drew a picture of him instead. It’s pretty accurate.

But there are still more numbers. For instance…

  • 42 is my age.
  • 3 is how many cups of coffee I’ve had today.
  • 21 is how many books I’ve read this year.
  • 7 is the number of novels I’ve started writing.
  • 1 is how many I’ve finished.
  • 74 is the number of summer vacation days looming before me that I hope to fill with coffee, books, stories, laughs, pets, and adventures with the hubby before it’s time to go back to…
    • 9+ hour work days…
    • 150 new students…
    • and roughly 10,000 papers to grade.

I’ll take those numbers. Most days, they make me feel like I’ve won the lottery.

So, what’s YOUR number?