I've Got Writes!

Teacher, Writer, Proofreader

Archive for the tag “middle school”

What I use to Engage Students Before Reading a Novel

How does a reading or English teacher get students excited about reading a novel? Perhaps you’ve used the following strategies:

  • Fill out and discuss anticipation guides.
  • Preview text features.
  • Examine the picture on the book cover.
  • Read the summary on the back of the book.

I’ve used all of the above pre-reading activities during my twelve years of teaching. Not a huge fan of any of them. I mean, they’re fine if that’s what you want to use. Maybe you’re much better at using those methods to get kids geared up to read a story than I am. However, I’ve used something for 4 years now that sucks them in more effectively and is tons more fun for me!

About five years ago, I watched a teacher on Teaching Channel who created a bulletin board full of objects, pictures, and words that related to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If I remember correctly, she used it to give the kids a heads-up on some unfamiliar vocabulary and to provide some background knowledge to help them understand what they would be reading before each chapter. I loved the idea of using tangible items, not just pictures.

Since I do not have time or motivation to be changing my bulletin boards with any kind of frequency, I modified this idea. Also, I wanted something I didn’t have to tear down. I wanted to create something that I could use year after year. Something easy to store. So I did.

I created a prediction board for The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer. (I’ve blogged about it before.) I used words and objects that related to the story, but did not give any details away. See photo below of the original:

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This is the first one that lasted me 3 years.

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This is the new and improved version. I added two more words and two more images.

This one board creates more questions, more curiosity, more class discussion, and more fodder for writing a prediction paper than any other strategy I’ve used.

More details later . . .

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Fidget Spinners to Loaded Guns

Last year my colleagues and I had a collection of fidget spinners that we’d confiscated. They’re supposed to help kids with attention problems to be more focused. Well, they were more focused. On watching the damn thing spin around, not on doing their school work. They were trading them, changing the colors or whatever—anything besides being focused on their jobs. We were all sick of seeing them. The spinners, I mean. (Well, if I were being totally honest, we kind of get sick of seeing certain kids, too. Don’t judge. If you’re a teacher, you get it. If you’re a parent, I’m assuming you get it, too. We all know that you can’t wait for them to go back to school after a long break because they’re driving you nuts.)

Though we do not have metal detectors and don’t search backpacks at the door, we did search pockets and shoes on the last day of school last year in order to be sure that no one brought anything they weren’t supposed to bring. Specifically, yep, you guessed it, fidget spinners. Of course, we still confiscated some because most middle schoolers think they’re slick and won’t get caught.

Fast forward to January 2018. Not even a year after the fidget spinner chaos and crack-down. Now we’re wishing that those damn spinning things were the most distracting items found at our school. They seem to have disappeared. I suppose the craze has worn off.

What’s rattling us now? The fact that our kids can hide guns in their hoodies and shoes. Two of our students proved it. Last week. Unsettling? Startling? To say the least. Not that we are naive enough to rule out that possibility, but we thought things were going fine. We have cameras in all of the hallways. We haven’t had major problems in our school for several years. (Since before I started working there.)

But now, we’re on high alert. Cracking down on procedures and rules that we’ve been lax with and implementing new procedures to help prevent this from happening again. Do I think no other student in our school has ever brought a gun to school? Nope. But, I really hadn’t thought about it before, not at this school anyway. Do I think there’s a possibility that another student was carrying even after this incident? Definitely won’t rule it out.

To think about a kid sitting in my class with a loaded gun hidden on their person scares the shit out of me. You never know what’s really going on with a kid. When you have over 20 kids in your class at once and see about 120 walk through your class per day, it’s kind of tricky keeping up with who’s in what kind of mood, who’s on an IEP, who’s got a difficult home life, etc. I tend to piss students off from time to time. Goes with the territory when you’re trying to push kids to do their best. I’d rather the child whom I’ve angered NOT have possession of a firearm.

I’d welcome fidget spinners now if it would eliminate the possibility of guns in the hands of my students.

 

Today’s Roller-Coaster Moods

I was on an emotional roller coaster today. Weepy. Grateful. Thanking God that all my students and colleagues are safe. Thinking, “Why am I responding so strongly? I wasn’t even in the mix of what happened. I was just working in my room while everything unfolded.” It could have been so much worse. The potential was brewing, but no one was hurt. Too many students and teachers eslewhere have experienced so much more. Horrific, graphic tragedies. We didn’t. But, I was still emotional. I guess it’s the realization of what could have transpired. I’m sure there’s a scientific or medical term for it, but I don’t feel like looking it up right now.

My colleagues who responded, running on fear and adrenaline, kept the situation under control. Kept us safe. My heart expands for them. Much respect. Much gratitude.

I’m sad for the two who made wrong choices because they are receiving consequences for their actions that will change the course of their lives, at least for several years.

To be honest, one thing that might be playing in to my emotional state is the fact that I went two days without my hormones. Makes it a little more intense. I’m hoping to get a good night’s sleep tonight. I should schedule a massage soon. I need the stress worked out. The weekend is coming up. Love me some weekend relaxation.

This isn’t going to make my 500 words, but I’m rambling to sort out some thoughts before I go to bed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write something more significant, or more cohesive.

 

Potential Tragedy Snuffed

I don’t usually answer my phone when I don’t recognize the number, but for some reason, I did today.

My colleagues, parents, and I received a recorded phone message this afternoon from our principal briefly explaining an incident that occurred right after school. Apparently, two students were arrested for possession of guns. One, a real gun and the other a BB-gun.

I’m certainly grateful for whomever alerted our leaders to this situation. I’m also thankful that those guns did not go off at school. My assumption at this time is that the students were carrying the weapons around in their pockets or backpacks, or that perhaps they stowed them away in their lockers for the day. I don’t know, but I’m really glad that one of them didn’t get pissed off at somebody and make a fatal decision.

I suppose we were not put on lockdown because the situation unfolded after all the students were out of the building? I’ve never really thought this through before, but do we not put the building on lockdown if there’s a situation and only the faculty is in the building? I have a few questions. I’m hoping some will be answered in the emergency meeting that’s set for tomorrow after school.

Why the hell did middle schoolers think bringing guns to school was a stellar idea? Maybe they were scared of a bully and wanted to bring some protection? Maybe they wanted to impress their friends? Maybe they had a plan? Maybe they are in a gang or are heavily influenced by someone else who is coercing them to join?  Maybe they hunt or a family member collects guns as hobby?

I don’t know the answer. I only hope that the investigation reveals some sort of answer that can be addressed effectively in order to prevent such an occasion from arising again.

I’ll admit, my brain was rattled after that phone call. Should I end my teaching career at 12 years and call it good? Should I apply immediately to an online school? Should I apply ANYWHERE else? Should I just let it roll off, just like every other situation that has risen along the way?

Again, I don’t know. This seemed different. There was no way we would have known which kid had a weapon and which kid just might get angry enough to do something tragic.

God, thank you for your protection today. And, thank you in advance for protection tomorrow. Send someone to connect with those kids and their families to help them navigate safely through our society.

No more statistics, please.

No more.

I want to go to work to teach and train, not to lose my life or watch others lose theirs at the hands of a hurting and hurtful young person.

Keep us safe and guide us in spreading love, not hate. Kindness, not rudeness. Peace, not chaos. Truth, not deceit.

Keep me alert, agile, swift, and wise.

Rampant Apathy and Learned Helplessness

Twelve years ago in central Oklahoma, I began my teaching career in middle school in an area infested with gangs. I’ve probably learned boatloads more than I’ve taught. I’ve had roughly 1200 students pass through my classroom door. (Would’ve been more, but I looped with a group of kids through their middle school years.) I’ve witnessed and experienced a lot of sadness, joy, apathy, excitement, fear, fury, bat-shit craziness, “you can’t fix stupid,” and straight-up “I can’t make this shit up!” Any educator should know exactly what I’m talking about.

Which brings me to today. This school year with sixth graders. I have many hard-working, creative, and well-mannered kiddos for whom I’m grateful. It’s the “others” that are a problem. A problem not just for me because they’re in my class and make me question why the hell I did this to myself, but a problem for you and everyone else in society who will have to deal with their “idiosyncrasies.”

All kids are self-centered and think the world revolves around them and think the world owes them something and think that every adult in their presence is a complete idiot. It’s the age. It’s normal. Irritating as hell, but normal. We all did it to some extent.

Here comes the “but” …

BUT, THIS GROUP! Holy freakin’ cow! The apathy, the learned helplessness, the unwillingness to participate in any way in their own learning is ABSOLUTELY ASTOUNDING! I’m truly frightened for anyone who has to deal with them as adults. I can only pray and hope that somewhere along the line, someone will be able to connect with them and motivate them toward excellence, or some semblance of it, at least.

 

The Mailbox Prep

So, I’m about to embark on the 5th time teaching The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer to my 6th graders. I’ve refreshed my prediction board because it was starting to look a little sad. I’ve added a couple of words (foster care and PTSD). It looks great, even if I say so myself. What do you think?

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I’ve also loaded links into Google Classroom that will be used as extended activities or added background information that connect to the story. I haven’t specifically nailed down the order in which I’ll share these with my kids, though. This is the first year all my kids have had their own iPads and have quick and easy access to internet searches. So, I’ll try to keep detailed notes and plans on how and when I’ve used them. I don’t want to spoil anything. Also, I’m thinking that some of these might be used when we must be “flexible” because circumstances outside of our control will change my class times, or will take some of my kids out of my class. (ELL testing, assemblies, snow days, etc.) See those links below:

In addition, I have loaded vocabulary words from the first chapter into Quizlet.com. One word, however, is not in the chapter. It’s dialect. Most of my kiddos don’t yet know what this is. Every time Uncle Vernon speaks, he is using his dialect, which tends to throw them off. You could have a mini-lesson on dialect, using examples from other books. I will probably only have time to brush over it, which is why I added it to the vocabulary list.

Ideally, I will load words from each chapter onto Quizlet, or maybe later into the book, I will use some other vocabulary lesson. I know there are better ways to teach vocabulary, but my kiddos need something that will help them learn a boat load of words in a short amount of time. Most of them are English as second language learners.

Now, notice I said ideally. Once we get going, I’m going to be pressed for time.  I’ll be spending weekend time, like right now, on prepping for this. At some point, being with my family and taking care of my personal life will take precedence. I’m planning on starting the book after next week. Or, at least, creating and building anticipation and excitement in my students for the book. It makes a difference. It captures the attention of more kiddos, even those who haven’t paid attention or given a flip about school since day one. That should be something else I keep track of, come to think of it–the individual kids who haven’t participated in their own learning during the first semester.

Sidebar: I’ve missed a few days of my 500-words-a-day challenge. So, I’m going to do a couple more posts today to try and catch up.

Writing Prompt Day 6: Something You Were Proud of in the Last Few Days

This one is tough. The last few days have not been my best. But, I guess I can talk about my 6th graders. I prepped them this week before beginning a novel with them. I have a “prediction board” (see photo below) that I created, dangling hints about the story.

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I showed them the board and had them discuss with each other what they thought the book would be about. Then, I had them write a prediction paragraph. So, for two days, we discussed, we questioned, and we predicted. I loved watching the anticipation rising in them.

Right before reading, I had them raise their right hands and repeat after me.
“I do solemnly swear that I will not, under any circumstances, be a book spoiler.” (I make a huge deal about this.)

So, we read (I read it aloud to them while they followed along) the first chapter of the book Thursday, then I made them close the book. I’ve taught this book three times before. As ususal, they were shocked, moved, and begged to keep reading. They peppered me with questions, to which my repeated reply was, “That’s a great question!”

Even students who “hate reading” are hooked, as I knew they would be. These are the times when I feel like my job is worth something, when I am actually making a difference and enjoying it.

What’s the title of this awesome book? That’s a great question!

The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer

 

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A Teacher’s Decade: Suck it up, Buttercup!

Wednesday the 25th marked the official ending of my tenth year of teaching and my second year at Hefner MS. Unfortunately, the infamous Oklahoma budget cuts have forced me and many other teachers to leave our exceptional coworkers and administrators. Apparently, reading classes aren’t important enough to keep as core subjects if your school isn’t already a Title I school. But, whatever.

Experience and college degrees speak volumes in education, right?

Let’s talk a second about tenure and years of experience. The two are not compatible unless you stay in the same district forever. My 10 years of experience doesn’t count. My coworker’s 16 years of experience makes no difference. One of my social studies friends who has taught for ten years and enhances classroom learning with his military and travel expertise is still job hunting after being “let go.” We three have only one or two years each in the district. So, we are in the group that gets cut first.

Additionally, some districts and states won’t accept all of a teacher’s years of experience from another district or state. One of my colleagues has moved to Colorado. She already has a job lined up, but the Colorado district won’t accept all of her years of teaching science.

Is there any other profession that doesn’t really take into account all of your education and experience besides Monster Ed.? If there is, please inform me.

I call our educational system Monster Ed. because students are not a priority, at least not to those who are making the laws and mandates. It’s never really about the kids, and it certainly isn’t about the teachers. It’s about the almighty dollar, of course.

Perspective

However, since April, when my principal reluctantly conveyed that I would be looking for another job, my mind was bombarded by words that I say so often to my students.

In response to their, “That’s not fair!” declarations:

Life’s not fair. If anyone tells you that it is, they are lying to you. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome the obstacle. There’s always hope.

  • [sidebar] This reminds me of a Princess Bride line when Whestley says, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Then, there’s the less formal bit ‘o wisdom:

Suck it up, Buttercup! Put on your big-girl pants!

  • [another sidebar] Oh, look! Another reminder of The Princess Bride. Happy coincidence!

So, that’s what I’m doing. Just call me Buttercup ’cause I’m suckin’ it up, putting on my big-girl pants, and thanking God that I have a job in place at another school, same district. Change is never easy, but it prompts us to learn and grow. What’s happening in our state’s budget crisis isn’t fair, but I have to go with hope and overcoming the obstacle. If I don’t, then my words to my students are empty–and I don’t like that.

Thanks for reading. I’d like to hear your stories of “suckin’ it up” during this budget fiasco (link to my letter to legislators). Please share! 🙂

Entitlement of Sixth Graders

Warning: This is a venting rant full of sarcasm that all frustrated teachers of middle school aliens will completely understand. Tread carefully if you seek to judge or are easily offended.

Disclaimer: I’m aware that not all students can or should be lumped into the following generalization. I’m not an idiot.

 

What the frack?! Why the hell is this generation so freakin’ ENTITLED?? Good grief! A frightening number of parental units are raising a bunch of whiney-assed, wussy kids who have no gratitude, and no clue what exerting effort entails. It’s like Garfield multiplied to the Nth degree. Self-centered, lazy sloths. (No disrespect to actual sloths intended).

Their motto:

The world revolves around me and should cater to my snarky, rude, disrespectful whims. Everyone, especially my teachers, should entertain me 24/7.

I get the fact that self-centeredness is a natural quality displayed in most adolescents, but at what point does it stop? I don’t see much evidence of the entitlement lessening as teens approach adulthood.

Who or what is enabling all this entitlement?

Thoughts?

How Does Writing Fit?

While perusing my “Blogs I Follow” page, I landed upon the following quote by Suddenly Jamie, and it hit home.

“I find myself wanting to better understand how this writing thing fits into my life.”

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. Smooshed under the layers of work, stress, being too tired from dealing with precious sixth graders all day, trying to keep up with housework (or at least, thinking about it), and plugging through all the chores of life, this thought has been there. Nagging, poking, scratching like a June bug on the window screen of my soul. It’s been annoying me that I “have no time” to write and keep up my blogs. I have no real opportunities to apply myself to writing because all of the necessities of life are getting in the way. I have to do all the things that help me bring home a paycheck, as minuscule as it is. I don’t have a choice. If only I were married to a guy who made enough money that would allow me to be at home, or at a Starbucks or Panera for hours a day, musing, writing, editing my next masterpiece. I guess another way to put that is, “I need a sugar daddy!”

Yeah. That’s what I need. But, that’s not what I’m going to get.

So, how does my writing fit into my life?

Well, as I say to my students, “You need to learn to take responsibility for your actions.” The same stands true for your NON-action. I must take my own advice. I must take responsibility and require myself to write consistently, regardless of all the other distractions. I need to be free from the relentless hounding that I’m not fulfilling all of who I am if I’m not writing. I need the personal satisfaction that what I’m writing matters. If not to anyone else, though I hope some of it does, then to me. It matters. And we make time for the things and people who matter, right? So, it’s time to put on my big girl pants (another mantra that I frequently share with my students) and get on with it, already! Write! Make it happen!

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