A letter to my students

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I wrote this yesterday after my students performed poems they had memorized. Yeah, it's sappy, but as George Washington once said, "Sappy's aiight every once in a while, y'all."


Dear students from March 26, 2014,

Sometimes being a teacher is hard.

It's been particularly hard lately because we're in the middle of standardized testing season, which, as you know, turns us all into crazy people.  You guys take 6 tests a week to see if you're ready for the battery of standardized tests coming up, while I have to "drill and kill" you as administrators breathe down my neck, because their bosses are breathing down their necks, because the state is breathing down the districts' necks, and so on.  (There is a lot of neck-breathing going on.) 

Anyway, all of my colleagues thought I was crazy for scheduling a poetry memorization project in the middle of testing season, and with good reason.  You guys said I was crazy, too. Making you memorize poetry when you've got mountains of packets of test review? That's flirting with an Eighth Amendment violation, right there.

I explained to you why were doing this.  I said that when we memorize poetry, we internalize it; we have a new relationship with it. When we learn a poem by memory, inexplicably, it becomes a part of us. We learn about fluency, pausing, shifts, tone, and sound devices, yes, but we also learn about study skills, about determination, and about going outside our comfort zone. Then I gave you the guidelines and rubric. (You responded by booing.)

Today was the performance day, so I got to school extra early to decorate our room.  As I stood on wobbly desks to hang Christmas lights from the ceiling tiles, it finally dawned on me that I was crazy, and not because of the multiple fire/work safety rules I was violating. I realized that I had asked too much of you.  You are in 7th grade, after all.  You probably wouldn't be able to even appreciate the poem you'd chosen to memorize-- many of you chose poets like Longfellow, Keats, and Byron, poets you don't usually read about until high school. Plus, many of you come from homes where there might not be anyone willing to help you memorize it or listen to you practice. Or maybe you do have people at home who want to see you do your best, but just don't know how to help you.

And maybe the whole idea of this poetry project was just me being selfish.  Part of me thought it would be fun because I did a poetry memorization project in fifth grade that I remember being fun.  Was I just unfairly projecting my nostalgia onto you? Maybe it was only fun for me because memorizing was easy for me and I was relatively outgoing as a child-- what about for the kids who are painfully shy or for whom memorization is extremely difficult? I got down from the desk I was standing on and began to panic.

I had visions of almost whole classes standing up to perform with hardly anything memorized, of anxious criers, of students falling asleep as their classmates performed right in front of them.

I thought, "What have I done?"
I thought, "This will be a disaster."
I thought, "I will let the first few kids go and see if I need to call the whole thing off."
I thought, "Maybe I'll just take it as an extra credit grade."

I thought wrong. You blew me away.

There was the student who memorized a nearly 400-word spoken word poem that included a singing part. Our jaws dropped.

There was the student, a recent immigrant, who performed Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again” in a way that left us all breathless.

There was the girl who is painfully shy in class; who will barely speak above a whisper to me, and doesn’t speak at all to her classmates. In a clear, loud voice, she performed every single word of  Amy Gerstler’s “Touring the Doll Hospital” flawlessly, her words easily reaching the back row. You guys gave her a standing ovation. I don't know if you saw her while you were clapping, but she wasn't just smiling. She was laughing triumphantly.

Then there was  the boy who performed "First Love" in such a way that I'm sure if John Clare were in the room with us, he would have said, "Yes! You captured that perfectly.”

There were the girls who wrote and memorized original poems about self-harm, bullying, and other deeply personal subjects, and their words moved the audience to tears. Some of you wrote and performed poems about hamburgers or monkeys with mustaches, and we laughed, because good poetry makes you laugh, too.

Being a teacher is hard sometimes. But other times you remind me how lucky I am to be here; that knowing you and learning with you is my greatest privilege.

Thank you. 


Your teacher

Cardigans: A Love Story

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hello. My name is Ms. Teach and I am addicted to cardigans.

Why cardigans?

Because cardigans are everything, you fool. Here's why:

1) They can be worn all school year.
That time Sybil wore a cardigan on Downton Abbey.
Over sleeveless shirts and blouses, over long-sleeved shirts in autumn, in winter under your coat, with your Easter bonnet.  ALL THE TIME. Forever.

2) They protect from the sub-arctic blasts of the air conditioner, yet aren't so bulky that you start marinating in your own juices.

Here is Kate Middleton, not looking sweaty.
That's the last time I talk about my juices. Promise.

3) They are versatile.
May I be you, cardi lady?
They can be worn unbuttoned, buttoned, halfway buttoned, dressed up with chunky necklaces or belts or brooches. Or you can step inside the arms and wear them as pants if you'd like.

Hahaha. I made myself laugh.

4) They keep you from looking like a hussy, as my grandmother would say.

Emma Pillsbury from Glee looking anti-hussy.
No sleeves? Put on a cardigan! Florescent lighting turning your white shirt see-through? Put on a cardigan! Low-cut anything? Put on a cardigan! Boyfriend won't respect you? Put on a cardigan! (Just kidding. Dump him.)

5) They are universally flattering.

Roz, looking fetching in a burgundy button-up
Maybe I am making this up, but I feel like they make my arms look awesome. Anyone else have this delusion?

6) They are comfortable.

Love, Teach does not condone anyone over the age of 19 wearing a skirt this short.

It's like wearing a blanket, but without the weird looks that a Snuggie would/will get you.

My Cardigans

I just counted. I have 15 cardigans in the following colors:

Navy (2)
Black (2)
Forest green
Coral and white striped
Army green

This discovery has led me to my next question,

How much is too much?


What's in a good cardigan?

So I used to get my cardigans from Target or Old Navy or somewhere around that price range. Every once in a while I would get one that held up well, but for the most part, those would fade super fast in the wash or get pilly. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Now I usually get mine from J.Crew (teacher discount!), or I try to find ones on sale at places that are generally out of my price range.  The cardigans from these places are definitely more expensive, but they last upwards of three years, where my Target ones barely last a school year without looking ratty and feeling like a washcloth.

Cardigans I want right this instant

I am currently saving up for a trip this summer (and am incurring thousands of dollars in debt already with grad school, yay!), but if I weren't, I might be putting money towards one of these bad boys on my Cardigans board on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/loveteachblog/cardigans/


Except for the Oscar de la Renta one. That's not happening unless I win the lottery or find a treasure chest full of gold on my next afternoon walk.

Tell me about your cardi obsession. Your car-devotion, if you will. Your cardig-amity.



16 Things You Can Do While Actively Monitoring during Standardized Testing (or the next time you’re crazy bored)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I know I use a lot of superlatives, but administering standardized tests is pretty close to the worst.

Let’s stop for a second. I know what you’re thinking. “What’s so hard about handing out papers and watching students take a test? That sounds pretty cush to me. I would love to do nothing for six hours!”

Wrong-o, my friend.

The type of “nothing” that you are thinking of probably involves a lot of things—reading a magazine or a book, checking your phone, looking around idly—but this is not the “doing nothing” of standardized test administration. While administering a standardized test, the only two things you can do are 1) walk around the room, and 2) watch students take a test.

No computer/phone/technology of any kind.

No writing, drawing, doing crossword puzzles, or Sudoku.

No lunges, jumping jacks, or anything that would distract students.

No grading papers or getting caught up on work.

No sitting for more than a few minutes.

No standing in one place.

No zoning out.

The State would call this "actively monitoring." It's not that actively monitoring in itself is terrible, but, much like Chinese water torture, hours of it (and for several days at a time) will turn anyone into a crazy person. 

 Because of this, I've become somewhat of an expert in creating mental and physical activities that can be done while actively monitoring that won't distract children or get you in trouble.  WIN-WIN!  (If you're not a teacher, you can use any of these the next time you're getting an CT scan!)

16 Things You Can Do While Actively Monitoring During Standardized Testing:

1.       First of all, wear a pedometer. Set up a contest with other teachers to see who can get the highest step count during the day.  Whoever wins gets, I don’t know, a bottle of 100 year-old single malt scotch. Hahaha. Just kidding (or am I?) But make it something good.

2. Do a few laps around the room pretending to be an Olympic speed skater during a slow-motion replay.

3. Walk down the rows imagining you’re:
  • walking down the aisle to marry your favorite celebrity and all the students are wedding guests
  • on the red carpet in the most awesome dress/tux of your LIFE and all the students are paparazzi
  • walking the plank on a ship and all of the students are pirates
  • walking in a cemetery and all the students are ghosts
  • scuba-walking on the bottom of the ocean floor and all your students are sea creatures
  • a flight attendant and the students are passengers on the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" Twilight Zone episode
4. The Active Monitoring Workout

  • Abs: I read somewhere that one of the most effective ab workouts is simply exhaling all of your air, then tensing up your ab muscles as hard as you can.
  • Legs: Put ankle weights on during a break of at the beginning of the day, and do calf-raises when you get to the back of the room (students might get distracted and/or you might earn the nickname Twinkle Toes if they see you doing them)
  • Arms: Flex your bicep as hard as you can for various increments of time 
5. Imagine what animal each student would be. Not personality-wise, but strictly based on facial appearance.  For example, the Mythbusters guy looks like a walrus.

6. Imagine who you would be friends with if you were that age in school right now.

7. If your group of students somehow got stranded on a desert island, which job would each student have? (Ex: firewood collector, hunter, shelter builder, resident artist, town fool, etc.)

8. Dream up your Best Day Ever.  Best Day Ever means that you have 24 hours do whatever you want, whenever you want, and with whomever you want.  Try to plan out every detail. What would you eat for meals? You would stay in one place the whole day or jump around to different places in a teleport? Who all would you see—friends and family, celebrities, or a combination? Your imagination is the limit!*

9. Think about what kind of unrealistic things would make the world a better place.  For example:

  • If streetlamps were also bubble machines
  • If hallways were trampolines
  • If instead of receipts we were handed chocolate chip cookies
  • If we got paychecks for laughing instead of working

  • 10. Think about your answers to these compelling “Would you rather…?” questions:

    • Would you rather get pooped on by a bird every time you go outside, or never get pooped on but be allowed outside for 5 hours on Saturdays only?
    • Would you rather change gender every time you sneezed, or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby?
    • Would you rather have to smell a fart all the time or have super bad breath?

    11. Think about how happy it would make you if a parade of your favorite animals and/or people just randomly burst into the room. Also think about what song would be playing during the parade.

    12. Look at the items in the room and think about how you would use them for survival if there was a zombie apocalypse

    13. Think about where on your campus you would hide if there was a school-wide Hide-and-Seek with a $1,000,0000 prize

    14. Use some Crest White Strips or other teeth whitening agent

    15. Buy three different kinds of gum and time all three of them to see which one loses flavor the fastest

    16. Take your pulse before and after thinking about the most annoying person you know and see if it changes

    Now I would like to know your answer for your Best Day Ever and at least one of the Would You Rather questions. 

    Wishing you a happy and healthy testing season,


    *dorkiest thing I’ve said all month. Not apologizing.