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! *

 

 

Posted in Life, Teaching

It’s My Brain and I Can Turn It Off If I Want To

OOO

“WALLET!” my husband shouts from the car, as I bound across the parking lot to Walgreens.

“Oops!” I say, trotting back to the car to retrieve my wallet. I smile at my hubby. He does not smile back. This is after I asked to go on his errands with him because I needed something really important at Walgreens, then almost left the house without shoes, then went to Walgreens with him and bought everything except the one thing I really needed, then did his other errands with him, then remembered the thing I really needed from Walgreens and asked him to go back, then tried to go buy it without my wallet.

“How do you function?” he asks. “Seriously, how are you a teacher?”

I ignore him and go to buy the very important item.

The answer is, I function quite well, thank you very much. I am an organized, efficient, productive teacher who juggles my duties with confidence and flair. But all that remembering and accomplishing is exhausting, so sometimes at home I turn my brain off. I think this is a healthy thing to do. Everything needs rest, even the brain. Especially a brain that has to be so on-the-ball all the time. My friend Lori refers to this need for a brain break as a “responsibility hangover,” and it’s the perfect description. Sometimes we need a vacation from responsibility. It’s such a relief to not have to remember anything for a few hours, to let someone else do the thinking.

The problem is that I don’t let other people know when my brain is powering down. There’s no maintenance schedule for my brain. Updates are spontaneous and unpredictable, even for me. One moment I’ll be reading peacefully, without a care in the world, and the next hubby will be looking at me strangely asking, “Weren’t you in the middle of doing laundry?” or “Have you eaten anything today?” or “What’s that sound? Did you turn on the tea kettle?”

At this, I will respond with a glassy-eyed stare and ask, “Laundry? Eaten? Kettle?” as if repeating the last word he said will somehow give the whole sentence meaning. Then I’ll snap out of it and eat a sandwich or make some tea or put the clothes in the dryer before slipping back into blissful unawareness until hubby reminds me of the next important thing I need to do.

I make no apologies for this. There’s just no better feeling than allowing yourself to drift cluelessly for a bit, relying on others to remind you about things like wallets and shoes and food. I think everyone should do it. Although, admittedly, it would be better if we took turns. If you’ve ever found yourself hanging out with a friend when both of you turn your brains off simultaneously, you know what I mean.

This used to happen a lot when I was with my cousin Kelley. Separately, Cousin Kelley and I are both intelligent, hard-working, mature-enough adults, but people who have only met us together don’t know this because our brains shut themselves down when we come in contact with each other. It’s like how some women’s cycles sync up, but we do it with our brains instead.

Kelley and I once decided (on two low-battery brains) to drive around aimlessly in the middle of the night to listen to a new mix tape* one of us made for the other. There was a whole conversation about which car to take and who should drive, and somehow we decided that we should take Kelley’s car, but I should drive it. We headed a few miles west, turned off the bigger roads, and drove slowly and aimlessly– singing along to the latest Roxette or David Bowie song– on small streets where no one was awake but us. Soon, we were lost, but we did not care. A short time later, we were being pulled over because driving slowly and aimlessly down dark, uninhabited streets at three o’clock in the morning is apparently suspicious behavior. No big deal. We were neither drunk, nor disorderly, and I knew the police officer would recognize this as soon as he talked to us.

Then I realized I didn’t have my license because, at no point during the which car/ which mix tape/ which driver conversation did we consider which one of us was carrying her purse.

Oops.

Thankfully, the officer was kind and we got off with a warning. Kelley took the wheel, we both turned our brains on to medium power, and we went home.

Medium power is about where my brain is right now. School ended today at 3:40PM (I’m free! FREE!) and although it was tempting to go into sleep mode immediately, I knew that was a bad idea. I have quite a bit to accomplish in the next 24 hours, like laundry and packing and navigating travel plans, so I need to keep my mind at least 50% charged. Otherwise I’m likely to wander into a bookstore or decide to rearrange the metal lawn animals. (Come to think of it, they do need to stretch their legs…) But when all that is done, watch out world, because I’m hitting snooze on this thing until January. If you see me slumped on a chair staring dreamily into space with a goofy grin on my face or a little drool glistening at the corner of my mouth, don’t fret. I’m fine. I’m happy. Just put a cookie in my hand, pat me on the head, and whisper, “Sleep well, brain. You have no responsibilities here whatsoever.”

Snowflake

* Dear readers under 30, a mix tape is like a playlist made of thin plastic that can unravel and get stuck in your car’s tape deck.**

** A car tape deck is a narrow hole the dashboard of your car where you stick a tape and sometimes a plastic straw to get the tape out and sometimes a pencil to get the plastic straw out.***

*** A plastic straw is a small flexible tube that people used to use to drink cold liquids so they wouldn’t freeze our teeth or mess up our lip gloss, but are now instruments of the devil that murder turtles and will therefore incur dirty looks if seen in use.

Posted in Teaching

Year 15: What I’ve Learned, Where I Am, What I Hope

Version 2
Year 1

Tomorrow I begin my fifteenth year of teaching 7th grade English, so naturally some reflection is in order. Last weekend I reminisced about my previous years of teaching on Twitter. (You can see the thread by searching #teacherlife #year15.) But now that the first day with students is almost here, I’m trying to compress all those memories into what really matters. To do that, I’m asking myself three questions:

* What have I learned from my years in the classroom?
* Where am I in my career?
* What do I hope for this school year?

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

Some Things I’ve Learned

* Note: I did not learn these lessons the easy way.

  • Kids will see through you, so don’t try to be something you’re not or sell something you don’t believe in. There’s no point pretending you’re a scary teacher to be feared if you’re really a softie who’s not going to follow through on discipline, and there’s no point pretending you care about the students if you’re not going to back it up with genuine compassion. They know. There’s also no point trying to pretend a lesson or assignment is important if it’s not. Seventh graders can spot a fake. So what do you do? Be yourself. (A professional, positive, best-version of yourself.) Show them your rules are meant to be followed by giving consistent, fair consequences for misbehavior, but also be kind. In other words, ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE STUDENTS. If you don’t, find another job. And call a spade a spade. Once in a while, teachers have to make students do an assignment or activity that just isn’t a good use of their time. Own up to it and explain that this is how life works sometimes, and promise them that when it’s your choice, you will always give them work that matters. Then follow through on that promise. If a student doesn’t understand why something is important, explain it to them. If you can’t explain it to them, reevaluate it.
  • Sometimes the students who drive you the most bonkers on the first day of school are not the ones who are going to drive you bonkers on a regular basis. They’re just so excited about school that they can’t contain themselves on the first day. And that’s really adorable.
  • When light projector bulbs burn out, they sometimes sound like a gunshot.
  • Never underestimate the power of silence. Especially YOURS. Teachers shouldn’t fill every empty space with words. Let your questions sit for a moment before calling on someone to answer. Rather than repeating instructions five times, pause after saying them the first time and let them sink in. To get a chatty class’s attention, don’t talk louder. Whisper. And if finally (FINALLY!) that chatty class calms down and gets quiet and everyone is on task, don’t interrupt to tell them how great they’re doing. Show them with your smile. The school day is often fast-paced, crowded, and noisy. Sadly, teachers are sometimes our own worst behavior problems. Whenever possible, don’t add to all that noise. Lead by example, take breaths between speeches, and respect the power of silence.
  • When a student asks you, “Are you cool?” NEVER SAY YES. You’re not. Get over it.
  • My job is impossible. That’s not a hyperbole. Or a metaphor. I’m not whining. I’m not exaggerating. Literally, the number of things that we are asked to do with the number of students we are in charge of in the time that we are in charge of them is impossible. It is as if someone has given us a 1,000-piece puzzle, except there are actually 1,227 pieces in the box, and they still expect us to complete the puzzle. We can complete it (it’s difficult, but we can do it) but there are going to be pieces leftover. That’s just how it is. Deciding which ones to include and which to leave out can cause friction between the teachers and the administration or between the teachers and the district or between the teachers and their loved ones who haven’t seen them in a month because they’ve been spending all their time trying to put together an impossible puzzle. I’ve learned that, in the end, you have to do what’s best for kids. Keep the pieces that matter most. Keep the books and the journals and the lessons that really reach them. Keep the piece with that group project that students still remember years later and the one that makes even struggling readers smile. Some of the pieces you leave out might have important sounding acronyms on them. They might be assessment pieces. One might say, “We know this isn’t part of your curriculum, but could you just find a half hour to…” Leave it out. It’s okay. Yes, you might get questions about those pieces. There might be meetings. There will most certainly be emails. But as long as you’re doing what’s best for kids, you’ll be able to defend your choices and therefore sleep at night. After you finish grading papers.
  • As important as it is to take care of our students, we also have to take care of ourselves. Tucked inside my many spirals and binders and planners this year are notes reminding me to SIT DOWN (what a novel idea) and BREATHE (it’s actually quite useful) and GO HOME EARLY (meaning on time). My goals this year are not about how quickly I will grade papers. They are about how many times I will go to yoga and how many days a week I will leave work at work. This is hard work, this self care stuff. But it’s important work, and the sooner teachers learn that, the better off they will be both in and out of the classroom.
  • Some twelve -year-olds believe if you lose a toe in an accident it will grow back.
  • Lockdown drills are commonplace to today’s kids. They came about during my teaching career. I don’t remember what year they started or what the first one was like, but I do remember speaking calmly to my frightened students and telling them why we needed to practice this (to keep you safe, just in case) while also explaining that there are many reasons to go into a lockdown, and many of them don’t involve a person with a gun. They listened, wide eyed, and asked many questions. My students today have been doing lockdown drills since kindergarten. They have grown up with the term “active shooter.” They are quicker and more efficient at closing the blinds and huddling in the corner of the room than I am. Most are unfazed by the drills. I am not.
  • You shouldn’t yell “Holy crap!” during the first fire drill (or any fire drill really) no matter how loud it is or how badly it scares you. And if you do, you should always be extra kind to the student who says to you, “Don’t worry. ‘Crap’ isn’t a bad word.” (Thanks, kid.)

Where I Am

I am in a very happy place. Teaching is a hard job anywhere, but I am so fortunate to be in a good school with great students and an amazing faculty. My teammates are the best you could ask for– hard working, caring, supportive, and (most importantly) hilarious. I’ve become so close to them, it’s hard to believe I still haven’t known them a full year. I came back to teaching in mid-September last year and spent the next few months playing catch-up. I’m so excited to be able to meet my students on day 1 this year. I know I sound like a giant nerd, but honestly, Monday can’t come soon enough. I’m ready. 🙂

What I Hope

This year, like every year, I have high hopes for my students and myself. I know I can’t do it all. I know plans will go awry, and lessons will flop, and a poster will unstick from the wall and crash down onto a student’s head during a test, but right now none of that has happened yet. Right now, my planner is still neat and tidy, my big ideas still seem possible, and all my glue sticks still have the caps on. Right now, it’s still all going to work out.

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Here are a few things I hope for this coming school year:

  • I hope my students are funny.
  • I hope my students think I’m funny.
  • I hope my posters stay stuck to the wall.
  • I hope my books leave my shelves and come back with crumpled covers and soft corners from how much they’ve been read and loved.
  • I hope I earn my students’ trust.
  • I hope I can run an effective reader/writer workshop in a 46-minute period.
  • I hope a desk does not collapse underneath me while I’m sitting on it (like last year).
  • I hope I never mispronounce a student’s name more than once.
  • I hope my classroom will be a safe space for every single person who enters it. I hope its walls keep out the negativity of the whole world.
  • I hope at least once, free breakfast tacos arrive unannounced in the faculty lounge on a day when I have forgotten my breakfast.
  • I hope we get one snow day.
  • I hope my computer does not crash, my projector does not die, and my overhead screen does not fall off (like last year).
  • I hope I don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • I hope, at the end of the school year, every student leaves my class with at least one inspiring lesson or positive memory to carry with them for a long, long time.
  • I hope I leave with a hundred.