Friday, July 31, 2009

Well, I'm the only one here -- #38

"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"

You better be. We can only assume you're the only one out there.

I've spent the past 2 weeks devoring new literature like my library membership is going to expire*. I am unashamed to say that I love Young Adult (YA) fiction - I read it partially to get recommendations for my students, but I also just plain ol' like it. I guess because there's an element of predictability there. I know that (a good) YA book will deal with deep or heavy conflicts, but in a sensitive, usually hopeful way (how cruel would it be to leave emotional hormonal teenagers with no hope?!) and in a focused, subtle-but-not-too-inconspicuous manner. Yes, there's the stereotype of the clueless adults and EMOtastic protagonists to deal with, but once you accept some of those facets as genre staples, it's really quite delightful. It also doesn't hurt that the reading style allows me to zip through them. I love the thrill of a new read.

And if you like bossing people around**, here's your chance. Post a comment telling me the title of one book you think I should read next...and I'll do it. Just make sure to give me the title & author, so there aren't any mixups!
Now, for the FAQ:

"Do you have any stipulations?"
Just one: a recommended book you think I could also recommend to my students (i.e. do not tell me to read the newest Danielle Steele or classic Charles Dickens. Ain't happenin', homefry.).

"Does the book have to be YA lit?" No, not at all! I am fortunate in that I have advanced students so many are venturing into the foray of adult literature, for example: Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Anthony Burgess, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks. I would simply like to be able to recommend this book comfortably to a 15 year old and/or place it on my classroom shelf.

"But, does it have to be a book I've read?" Nope! Is there a book you've been meaning to read but haven't gotten to? A book you've heard a lot about? A book you are uncertain about reading and need a guinea pig test subject? That's fine! I'll share a brief review over whatever books I end up reading, so I can help ya out a bit, if any of the above is applicable.

"What if you've read it before?" I have no problem re-reading books. You can usually find something new the 2nd time around. If you're worried about it, though, you can check out my "read" list on to just double check. sure to check in again
because I'm going to do a FUN contest/giveaway
in regards to the books I've read.

Now, in all seriousness, this next little game ain't gonna work unless you lurkers de-lurk, stop in briefly and agoraphobically, then run home. So, take a deep breath...and hit comment. Otherwise, I'm the only one talkin' to me!

*note: for you non-bibliophiles, that is sarcasm. public library memberships are free and do not expire.
**note: this is also ironic. you are a teacher. i already know you like to boss people around.

photo source: / CC BY-NC 2.0

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Room exhaustion - Post #37

Do you have to pack up your room at the end of the school year? Some schools do, some don't. Ours does because they have to wax the floors. I know it's one of the more frustrating aspects of returning to school - we have these crazy, chaotic rooms but we're stuck in Beginning of the Year Logistical Meetings all day. Another one of those times that teachers have to come in on their personal time because a teacher workday doesn't actually,

I finally hit up my room today to assess the damage. Not too bad, actually. While 2 bookshelves were on the opposite sides of the room than they needed to be, the custodians at least tried to put my desks into rows when they returned them after waxing. Isn't that nice? Unfortunately pointless, though, because I ended up having to shove them to the side and create an aisle to draaaagggg my desk up to the front after playing the "Parallel Parking with 3 Stiff Wheels" game with my computer/TV stand. Still, a nice gesture.

So, I pushed & pulled & realigned & shifted things into place in my room. It's a different setup - I used to have my desk at the back, but now I have it in a front corner. It really opens up the back of the room for moving around, so that's a positive improvement. All in all, I spent a good 2-3 hours at school, moving furniture & unpacking. There's still a few details to work out, but they can wait until next week. Two former students (who are now the field commanders for marching band, huzzah!) stopped by. I felt bad because I was on the phone and would have liked to chat w/ them, but I was in the midst of explaining to my husband the details of my hellacious doctor's appointment that morning. I plan to go out of my way tomorrow to stop by the school and visit band practice. Just to remind them that I still like them...and maybe even miss 'em a little.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What's your nightmare? - Post #36

I've been consciously trying to put aside all thoughts about returning to school in T-minus 9 days, because every time I start thinking about one thing, it's as though I've opened a floodgate and a wave of thoughts sweeps me off my feet. Unfortunately, my subconscious hasn't quite gotten that memo. Over the past 2 weeks, I've had more than a couple teacher nightmares. Many other veteran teachers assure me that this common, but that isn't quite a warm & fuzzy thought.

One of the more stressful dreams I had was one in which the whole day went fine - I had honors classes 4 out of 5, until (of course) 6th period, which was unexpectedly a standard class. Naturally, as the last class of the day, it was chock full of the most behaviorally-unmanageable kids I'd ever had. There were only about 4 Meek & Milds in there - everyone else had ADD or ADHD and was bouncing off the walls. They were all students I'd had before, too, so I was dealing with:
A. the bafflement of why they were in 10th grade English again, and
B. frustrated rage that they wouldn't behave.
For about 45 minutes (note: the entire class period), I ran around just telling each kid to sit down...SIT down....sit DOWN....SIT DOWN!SHUTUP!SITDOWN!!! *insert scream of agony* The bell rang and I gave them what'fer, informing them that we will NOT have another day like today, because God bless 'em, there's 4 kids in here who are good & want to read and BY GOLLY I WILL TEACH THEM. My nerves were positively knotted when I woke. It took about 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises before I recovered.

Dream #2 was similar in that it started out okay: it was the first day of school and my first period was absolutely angelic. The bell rang, I dismissed them, and then...and then *insert music of Dread* second period began, and ohmygoodness. I didn't have one empty seat, which was a problem, because I had 30 desks. Some of you overcrowded teachers may scoff, but 28 is about the limit to my room and still be able to move around - teacher or student. So, I was side-shuffling my way around the room, stopping at each desk and asking the student to sit quietly. Of course, it was useless; again, I felt my patience & nerves wind up like a taut violin string - one more turn and I'd snap. To add insult to injury, Competent Assistant Principal (CAP)#1 was sitting at my desk for an evaluation! I begin seething inwardly. How dare they pull an observation on the first day! What are they thinking!?

A minute later, a student in the back begins talking, so I meander in the direction, channeling Steven Seagal -- out for justice, if you will. I lean over and say in my most threatening growl, "If you utter one more word, I'll have you out of this room and into The Office before you can blink." Imagine my surprise when I look up to meet the eyes of CAP#1 AND CAP #2, who were the source of the chatting. They held my eyes for just a moment before bursting into laughter and apologizing for the noise. I blush to the tips of my fingernails and murmur a half-laugh/half-apology and back away slowly. I remember thinking, "Well, at least they like me and can take a joke..." I return to the front of the room, cringing, and silently cursing them again for choosing today of all the days that are holy to evaluate me.
Man. I have do some deep breathing exercises after just recounting those horrors. But, since they're supposed to be common to all teachers, c'mon, spill. What are some of your more vivid or memorable teacher nightmares?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Votes - Post #35

Thanks to those who gave me feedback & voted! I like to hear other thoughts and know I'm not alone in my ideas. It's not that I'm the only teacher at my school NOT giving out a cell phone's just that there are a few teachers I respect/want to respect who do, and I feel a bit conflicted about it. But besides that, I like to engage in debates/discussions!

So, thanks again for your comments & feedback. I loved hearing from you. Overall, it seemed that most people (53%) felt the way I did - no way should you be giving out your personal cell phone number. 30% said that maybe sometimes it's okay, but only for special circumstances. 7% thought it was okay, no strings attached, and 7% explained their conflicted thoughts in a comment. I still have the poll up, in case people stumble across my blog between now & the end of the month, but there hasn't been much activity on the poll lately, so I thought I'd talk about results.

I mentioned Facebook & Myspace in my post also, which in retrospect, would be a topic on its own. If you don't remember my opinion on them, you can probably guess, just based on how I feel about cell phones! As one reader pointed on in her comment (thanks, Kellea!), you can't always control how other people will handle your information. You don't know how they will interpret it, and you don't know how they will share it.

So, fellow teachers, I just want to remind you: even if you think you are being careful, consider how someone else might use the information who ISN'T being careful. As I used to yell out to my little brother when he was going on a date, "MAKE SMART CHOICES!"

Are you interested in hearing what others think about additional education "hot button" issues? Let me know!

*edit 8/16/09* By the time the poll closed on July 31, a few more votes came in but the percentages didn't change drastically. 52% said no way, no how; 31% said maybe, for a team; 0 said ok with phone but not texting; 10% said sure, no strings attached; 5% said their opinion different & would explain in the comments.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How personal is too personal? - #34

How much of a personal relationship with students is TOO personal?

Your mind probably jumps to those very obvious lines that were crossed by Mary Kay LeTourneu and others who join her ill-reputed ranks. Let's just assume that a sexual relationship with a minor is TOO personal. I'm not talking about sexual relationships. I'm talking more along the lines of blurring the lines of mentor & friend.

In classes and other pedagogical conferences, I've heard encouragement that teachers should share some of their personal lives with students. They will respect you if they can see you as a real person instead of a robot or just an echo of authority. Though I've heard that encouragement - and thinking back to being a student, I remember enjoying learning more about my teacher - I'll admit upfront that I don't get personal enough with my students.

In my professional, as well as personal life, I'm fairly private. I'm rather reserved and don't make a lot overt offerings of personal info; if someone asks me about my life, I'm willing to open up, but until I really get to know ya, I'll just take a quiet backseat. In my classroom, then, I don't know that I am able to push those natural personal boundaries. Because I prefer to be private, I don't naturally extend those personal questions to students, and I'm somewhat reserved in my answers to their personal questions. Additionally, the reminder is ever present in my mind that I'm their teacher, not their friend. Sometimes, I don't want to know what goes on in their personal lives -- very often, I look at them differently because of it (sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not). There's some things I don't want to know; likewise, there's some things that I don't need to know.

Still, I need to be better about engaging them personally. I am aware of my personal inhibitions, so I need to be more purposeful in overcoming them.

But then I question, how much is too much? Yes, we should be accessible to students for consultations or help. Most of us have school email addresses that students & parents could contact with questions or information. But that's a professional email address. Would you give out your personal cell phone number? There are some teachers at my school who give students their cell phone numbers and will allow students to text questions about schoolwork (I presume that's all there is). Some other teachers may need those students' cell numbers if the teacher is also a coach who may need extra points of contact. What about Facebook & Myspace? I've seen some teachers who befriend students on Facebook once the student is no longer in his/her class. I'm still uncomfortable with that. I don't want my students to see the goofy pictures/videos I take with friends/family. They already know I'm crazy, but they also need to know I'm professional. Teens like to categorize & label their world - in general, they have difficulty with "Gray" areas. Which means the pressure is on the teacher to maintain a firm line between student & teacher...and I think teachers make it more difficult on yourself, as a teacher, when you begin blurring that line. Or at least re-drawing it.

Or am I just being over-cautious & paranoid?

What do you think: where's the line? Would you give a student your personal cell phone number and allow them to text/call you?

What do you think? How much personal information/contact is too much?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Workshop & Grammar in Context - #33

I'm a Dreamer commented that she was curious as to what I did to teach grammar in context.

Let me just say, I am NOT an expert at this and do not pretend to be. Last year was my first attempt, and I wasn't entirely by-the-book. No matter, I am not disheartened. AP Conference has given me hope and determination to do a little better this year. If you have suggestions or recommendations to add to my mad methods, leave a comment!

Writing Workshop
What I did: I implemented writing workshop for the first time last year, and basically followed Ralph Fletcher's format in his Writing Workshop guide, but we only had time for once a week. I had to establish a "due date" periodically, otherwise students would just play around/dilly-dally on their pieces. After a piece was checked off as "published," students put it in their writing workshop folder; this folder stayed in my room and held copies of current drafts and published works (I didn't make them keep the rough drafts once they were done with the published work...just too much paper). At the end of the year, they chose their favorite pieces to put in a portfolio. For each piece, students wrote a short reflection discussing the process of that piece. They also had to write me a one-page reflection on the portfolio as a whole, which were wonderful to read -- and I'll get to that later. This was perhaps my favorite project ever because by the time I receivved the portfolio, I had read everything in it (except for the reflections). I basically graded whether or not the pieces were there and whether it was professionally/creatively put together. Piece'a cake!

What will change: After the AP Conference, I wondered if I needed to talk about the different modes of writing more (expository, persuasive, etc.). They are familiar with them, but mostly with persuasive and narrative. Last year, they could write on anything in WW. They wrote fiction, nonfiction, letters, editorials, poetry (oh, friends, the bad poetry I read!)-- nearly any form was fair game. But if they need to know more about the different modes, I might need to structure writing workshop more, dictating specific forms. Instead of "work on whatever you want and I'll check for a published piece in 6 weeks," it might have to be "work on your persuasive piece and we'll check it for the next 3-6 weeks." The former option has the freedom of choice, and students work at their own pace (good & bad). The latter ensures that we're all working at the same pace and people are getting "the steps," but they wouldn't have as much freedom in selecting the form. I can't decide right now.

What I did: Confession: I wasn't great about grammar-in-context. I intended to teach grammar mini-lessons each Friday, then have students go back into their journals and find a piece they could edit for that grammar focus. just fell by the wayside, and I fell back on grammar drilling worksheets. I can't remember why I stopped...maybe I was pressed for time a couple days, I don't know. I just did. By the end of the year, I would teach a mini-lesson, giving a worksheet (or do an activity), and then say, "When you're done with that worksheet, you may start working on your writing workshop piece. Think about [That Grammar Concept] while you write and revise today." Obviously, just saying it isn't enough!

What will change: This year, I'm going to be much more intentional about grammar-in-context. I'll give them a prompt/freewrite for about 5-10 minutes, then do a grammar mini-lesson, followed by going back to their prompt/freewrite and editing it for that grammar. Either that or do the mini-lesson first and then the freewrite. I want to do more throughout the week with that grammar, too: maybe do a written response on something, then give it to someone else to edit for the most recent grammar structure. It means I need to do more SHORT writings in class, so that's a change, too. I feel really hopeful about this change.

Too much grading?
If you think writing workshop/grammar-in-context means more grading of writings, I want to say: NO. Do not think you have to grade every activity. They may want you to, but remind them that you're doing this for practice so they can learn. Just because it's not graded doesn't mean it isn't a valuable experience. If you do grade a writing, grade it only on the things you've taught! Sounds simple, but often we grade them on EVERYTHING in a paper -- break that habit and focus on a few things. Tell them ahead of time you're focusing on only commas and subject-verb agreement and then grade only on those. It's so tempting to mark up the other mechanics, but don't. (Confession: I still circle spelling or typos, but I don't take points for it)

If you've never done Writing Workshop or taught grammar-in-context, I hope I haven't intimidated you. It might be a change from what you're used to, but I promise it's worth it. Remember those reflections students had to write in their end-of-the-year portfolio? A considerable number of my students remarked in the overall portfolio reflection that they didn't think writing would be fun, they thought it would be hard (you've heard it all)....but ultimately they were pleasantly surprised because they ENJOYED this writing process, and it was cool to see works take shape. Reading those wonderful affirmations made all the headaches worth it. Basically, I want to encourage you: even if you're scared to do it, even if you don't go by-the-book, even if you mess up or make's okay. Be daring. Do it. It CAN (and will) be worth it!

And if you've done any of this and have suggestions/recommendations of any kind, please share!

sources: Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson, Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher, AP Conference Facilitator John Williamson

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Goal Setting - #32

Summer is a nice way to relax, but I doubt that teachers ever really stop thinking about the next school year. I've already had several school dreams (one in which my 6th period had ALL of my Most Misbehaving Students (and some I just heard about) ever. I literally woke up in a cold sweat).

Last year I set several goals for myself that I think I accomplished. Some had to fall by the wayside because I had too many goals. I outlined a few in my last post.

But what about you? What's on your "to-do" list for the upcoming year?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Final Installments & Goals - #31

Ah, I'm too lazy to re-post the final installments of my trip, so if you are interested in seeing the non-teacher side of me doing fun things, here are the concluding sagas:

On the Road Again: Van Gogh West, Young Man!

On the Road Again: We forgot the flowers!

I was out of town last week for an AP Conference, which was not only fun but also inspiring and challenging (in a good way). I teach 10th grade, as you know, so it was a bit intimidating. Sometimes I had to remind myself that some of the skills we discussed were intended for 11th graders--our facilitator didn't expect 10th grade to grasp it. He really challenged me to incorporate more nonfiction into my curriculum (and he gave us some great resources, so I have someplace to start!) and to speed things up a bit. I spend WAY too long on pieces (plays/novels/etc) because I'm trying to teach/address EVERYTHING in that one piece. I cannot do that. I need to accept the fact that there are just some things that we won't be able to "get to" or talk about, maybe because it's over their heads or it's not crucial to the skill-set I'm trying to teach.

So, those are a few goals this year (I'm a little worried I'm overwhelming myself with too many, but we'll see what gets dropped once the year starts):
  • call on every student each class period - mark in the grade book if I've called on them
  • read at least one nonfiction contextual piece for every unit
  • spend no more than 2 weeks (MAYBE 3) on a novel or unit
  • add Life of Pi to curriculum
  • MORE grammar-in-context - I tried last year but wasn't entirely successful. But now I have a new plan.
Honestly, the time issue worries me most; I never INTEND for a novel/unit to take 4-6 weeks, it just happens when we lose class time for pep rallies, homecoming, in-school plays & shows, etc. We have all kinds of things that go on throughout the year that make us lose class time. That will be the biggest struggle, I fear.