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Archive for the tag “teacher education”

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.

 

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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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Don’t Wear Your Feelings on Your Ugly Teacher Sweater!

Have I offended you already? If so, you’ll need to toughen up if you’re going to survive middle school the second time around, and you should probably ditch the sweater.

Let me give you some personal examples of opportunities that await you.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by a student, “Miss, are you PREGNANT?” Not with a gentle whisper in a private conversation, because most middle schoolers do NOT know how to whisper or the meaning of “private”. This question has been blurted loudly in an auditorium full of students and teachers, or in front of the entire class, or in the crowded hallways.

The first time, my friend and school librarian swooped in and set the young man straight, just as loudly or louder than he had yelled the question.

“NEVER, EVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant! I don’t care if she’s sticking out to here and she’s wearing a shirt that says “baby” with an arrow pointing to her belly!”

(Thank you, my friend. You know who you are.)

Did it bother me? The first couple of times, yes. But, I had to get over it and move on. There are a thousand demands on you as a teacher, and if you waste time getting your feelings hurt, you’ll never accomplish anything positive.

For the record, I’m not, never have been and probably never will be housing another human inside of my body. I’m simply not shaped like a model; I’m shaped like a teacher who frequently stress eats chocolate, pasta and bread.

 

Another, more serious aspect of teaching middle school aliens that will require you to toughen up is when you invest time, energy, and patience into a student who desperately needs someone like you to believe in him or her.

Occasionally, a student will recognize the effort that you have extended to help him or her be successful, but be ready for the times that students seem to show no gratitude whatsoever. Right when you think you’re gaining ground with them, building rapport, seeing small successes, BAM! They screw up or turn on you. Human nature at work.

I don’t mean this to be pessimistic or to discourage you from putting your neck out to invest in a kid. I’m just reminding you that you’re dealing with the simple nature of the beast (middle school age) and with some who do not come equipped with a skill set to receive and trust your attempts to support them. These kiddos will often disappoint you and fall short of your high expectations for them.

Do you need to have these idealistic expectations? Of course. Some will rise to the occasion. Others might let you know years later that you really make an impression upon them. For the majority of them, in my experience, you may never know what affect, if any, you had in shaping them.

Only you can determine how thick your skin can be or needs to be, depending on where you work. But, if you teach middle schoolers, I can guarantee you’ll need to find some kind of “tough” before you walk into your classroom. So, work hard for your kids, have high expectations, and acquire some alligator skin!

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