10 Disjointed Thoughts and Reflections on the End of the Year and The Impending Summer

Saturday, May 31, 2014


I had every intention of writing up this really cool, powerful, funny end-of-year post.  But guess what? MY BRAIN DON’T WORK. 

So instead, I’m going to leave you with a list of thoughts.  Some are reflective thoughts about the end of the year; some are random bits of information from the most unvisited corners of my mind.  I apologize in advance.

1) People who do ANYTHING and teach at the same time are gods.  Holy cow.  These past few weeks, between teaching and grad school, I have been just barely able to keep my head above water, and grad school's not even a 24-hour gig.  How do some of you teach AND parent? Or teach AND coach AND parent? Or teach AND coach AND parent AND do grad school?

You must be aliens. Or robots.

It’s the only logical conclusion I can form.

2) One of the best feelings in the world is that last round of buying groceries for school breakfast/lunches.  Ahhhhh.  Goodbye, magma-temperature Lean Pockets; hello sourdough toast topped with avocado and an over-hard egg, all on a real plate, and with coffee in a pretty teacup that I shall sip daintily instead of sloshing down my gullet on my way to work.

3) If you have a job where you don’t have a summer off, just know that I wish you did. I think you deserve a summer off, too.  I’m running for president in 2016 on that platform alone. Vote for me. 

4) I am taking a little, tiny, mini hiatus from blogging/updating the next six weeks. First I’ll be on vacation, then I’ll be at another residency for grad school, and then I’ll be sleeping all day.  After that, let’s say July 12th, I’ll be back, rested, and ready to write up more stories about me accidentally projecting my own cleavage onto the board!

5) If you haven't finished up the year yet, you should make a First Day of School Video. I’m moving up with my students next year (WOOOOO!), but if I wasn’t, I would be working on interviewing my students for a First Day of School video I would show in September for my next batch of students.  I would ask my current students questions like:
  • What advice would you give to next year’s students?
  • What are some things I love to see in the classroom?
  • What are some things I can't stand?
  • What was the hardest part about my class this year?
  • What was the most fun thing we did this year?
  • What was the craziest thing you remember happening? 

And I would show the video on the first day of school and my new kids would say, “Wow, those guys and girls in that video have a great relationship with their teacher. I want that! I’ll think I’ll just start out the year doing exactly what she says, because that’s way easier than testing her boundaries until Thanksgiving.”

Hahahaha.  No. They won’t do that.  They will push your buttons like you’re an Xbox controller. But it would still be a fun video to show. A much better alternative to the standard paper syllabus, amiright?

6) Next year, I’ve decided to not fight the pencil battle anymore!  That's right. I'm going to give a pencil to any kid who needs it.  No collateral (which is what I do now), no asking why they made it all the way to last period without a pencil. Read this article by Chad Donohue; it’s what changed my mind. When I first read it I was like, “But that’s enabling! I want to teach my students responsibility!” But really, there are plenty of other ways for me to teach my students responsibility, and I don’t think this one small gesture will mean I’m enabling them.  Plus, the pencil issue drives me CRAZY, and I think it would drive me a lot less crazy than just having them available.

Also, do any of you have like $175 I can borrow? I want only Ticonderoga.  And a really amazing pencil sharpener.

7) You should read these books! I am not planning on reading any books this summer, as I will already have a MOUNTAIN of them for grad school.  But here are some awesome kid/YA books I’ve read this year for school/myself that you should put on your summer reading list! RIGHT NOW!

-The One and Only Ivan by K.A. Applegate- So sweet and beautifully written. I read it and then spent about four hours looking up information on gorillas.
-Wonder by R.J. Palacio- I could not recommend any children’s book higher. Seriously.
-The Julian Chapter by R.J. Palacio (companion book to Wonder)- After you read Wonder, you’ll DEFINITELY want to read this. It’s only on ebook though, so get yourself one of those newfangled contraptions (or borrow or steal one).
-Paper Towns by John Green- And also The Fault in Our Stars if you haven’t read it! 
-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- Just pinky promise you’ll read it this summer?

8) THIS TIME TWO WEEKS FROM NOW I WILL BE IN LONDON!!!!!!!!!! I am so excited for tea, Antony and Cleopatra (at the Globe!), the English countryside, and to spend almost all the money I’ve made this year!

Also, there is a small chance they might not let me in the country because of an internship I was offered five years ago by a certain British publishing company that failed to provide me with proper paperwork.  In that case, I will come back from my hiatus with a lovely story for you about how deeply I enjoyed the detainment center at Heathrow.

9) Something exciting is coming this summer!!! But I’m not telling you what it is. Even if you pay me $50. (But maybe if you pay me $50 million.)

10) Thank you. Four years ago, I started this blog as a way to keep my mom and my friends up-to-date on the goings-on in my life as a teacher. I had no idea it would connect me with so many teacherfriends (and non-teacherfriends!), or that writing and hearing from you guys would make me feel so much less freakish and alone.  Those Sunday night panic attacks my first year of teaching seem like such a distant memory.  So thank you for reading and sharing your stories/selves with me. I think this quote from singer-songwriter Alanis Morisette does a good job of expressing my gratitude:

 “Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you.”

–Alanis Morisette, from her hit song, “Thank You”

Oh, and I think you’re beautiful.

See you July 12th J

All my love,


7 Signs It's the End of the Year

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Because I’m normal, I often imagine what it would be like to time travel.

Because I’m weird, I also often wonder: if I time-traveled and didn't know to which time period I was going, would I be able to tell?

I know for a fact that if I ever time-traveled and was dropped off in May or June of any of the past four years of my life, I’d know it, without even looking at the date. Here’s how:

1) Writing anything on the board seems like THE BIGGEST BURDEN IN THE WORLD

For this entire week, I’ve been having my students change my date and objective. I just can’t bring myself to do it. 

2) Your brain is so slow that you ask people to repeat their questions to you, not because you didn’t hear them, but so that you have time to think of a response while they’re talking

Other teacher: Did you get my email?
Me: Oh, I’m sorry, what did you say?
Me, (inner monologue): Uhhh, let’s see… email… email…. what is her name again… Ms. Paulsen… what was her email about… oh yeah, the final exam… did I get that email?............. yes! Yes I did.
Other teacher: Did you get my email?
Me: Yes! I’ll get on that right now.

3) You check the lunar calendar at the end of every day, because every day you're sure it must be a full moon

I don't know if it's true that full moons make students behave crazier, but I like to believe it.  It makes me feel like less of a failure.

4) “TREAT YOURSELF!” becomes your answer to everything

Do I really need these expensive hiking sandals? TREAT YOURSELF!
Should I watch another episode of Secret Princes or do my lesson plans? TREAT YOURSELF!
Shall I have a third piece of cake at the end-of-year luncheon? TREAT YOURSELF!

5) Grades? What are those?

When I do remember to grade things, it is hard to stay on task. Today, all the 100s I graded received a hat. 
Because nothing says "Well done!" like a tiny sombrero. 
Or a fascinator.

6) Everything is funny.

Earlier today, one of my students said, “The daig was Dawsy” instead of “The dog was Daisy” and I laughed so hard I cried.

7) Everything is also emotional.

Last week, before I found out I was moving up with my students next year, I was watching them take a test and started crying.  I still don’t know why.

Hope you are ending the year less crazy than I am.  Or if it’s more crazy, I hope you’re spending most of your time laughing.



One of my students cried during silent reading. I wrote him this letter.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

For our fiction unit we did a few months ago, I had my students preview eight fiction books and then choose one to read and discuss in small literature circles.  One of the books was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. 

If you haven’t read it, The Book Thief is a really beautiful story centered around a girl growing up in Nazi Germany.  It’s written in this really unique, lyrical style with Death personified as the narrator, and is equally gripping, heartwarming, funny, and dark.

The ending is crushing, though. 

On one of the last days of our fiction unit, I was sitting with The Outsiders group and heard quiet gasping behind me.  I turned around, thinking that someone in another group was laughing.  I saw a student I'll call Fernando, one of my students in The Book Thief group, with his hand to his mouth making little sniffling noises.  Fernando’s group mates looked at me with concerned expressions.

In case you don’t remember being a middle school male (or if you never were one), crying in front of your peers is kind of a big deal. I mean, it’s a big deal for girls too, I know, but I think the stigma is particularly bad for guys. It’s made worse at a school like ours, where the vast majority of our students have been raised in a machismo-type culture that sets some pretty rigid expectations for men.  On top of this, it’s not like Fernando was crying about losing a sports game or getting in a fight or something.  He was crying about a book. 

Although everything in me just wanted to scoop him up and cry along with Fernando (and also adopt him), my top priority was to address what was going on without drawing more attention to him than necessary.  I wrote him a pass to go to the bathroom as long as he needed and set it on his desk quietly.  He got up and left.  A few kids noticed him leaving and looked at me. I motioned for them to go back to their reading and they did, because I have created a classroom environment I call Love One Another Or I’ll Destroy You in which my students know I will take a blowtorch to them if they so much as snicker at something like that.

After fifteen minutes or so, Fernando returned while the rest of the class was at lunch.  His eyes were still red and puffy.

“Hey, Fernando,” I said quietly.

“Hey,” he said.

“Was it the ending?” I asked stupidly. "You okay?"

“Yeah,” he said, "It was just so sad." He instantly started to cry again. I do that, too, when I’ve been crying and anyone asks if I’m okay. I walked over and put a hand on his shoulder.  I didn’t really know what to say, so I just stood there.

He insisted he was fine, blew his nose a few more times and went to join his classmates at lunch.

As soon as he left, almost the moment he had shut the door, I began typing a letter to him that I wrote out by hand later during a break. That afternoon, I had the front office send a note to him during class asking him to drop by my room after school, and when he came by, I had the letter in an envelope for him.

“Here,” I said, handing it to him. “Don’t read it until you’re home, okay?” 

“Okay,” he said.

I don’t know if Fernando read the letter or not. His family ended up moving a few weeks later, and he never mentioned the letter (though I didn’t expect him to). I imagine that, if he did read it, it was the type of thing where he read it once, threw it in the back of his closet, and won’t see again until he digs through his stuff when packing for his freshman year of college, and even then he might only say, “Oh, Ms. Teach! She was so weird. I remember the day she had a cracker in her hair.” 

But I’m glad I wrote that letter.

So often I forget to acknowledge the things and people that amaze me.  I’m talking real, meaningful acknowledgment, something that shows I have sat with my feelings for longer than it takes to type out a text or upload a grateful Instagram.  I didn’t even think about it when I typed out my letter to Fernando, but it makes sense that that was my instinctual response.  I express myself best through writing, so writing to Fernando was the best way I knew to let him know that I noticed him and was proud of him.

I would like to challenge myself and you to notice and acknowledge the people around us more.  Maybe you acknowledge differently than I do—by creating little gifts or having face-to-face conversations.  Some people acknowledge by baking or doing really kind favors for people. Maybe you acknowledge people by buying them gin and tonics, in which case I hope you acknowledge me very soon.

This was my letter to Fernando.  I came across it yesterday while cleaning out files on my computer, which is also what prompted me to write this post.  I didn’t delete the letter because it’s also going to be my letter to the next guy (or girl) who is moved to tears by literature during my class.

Dear Fernando,

I just wanted to let you know how moved I was by your response to the end of The Book Thief. It really shows me that the lessons the book teaches us—and really, the lessons that The Holocaust teaches us—have affected you deeply.

I cried while reading The Book Thief, too.  Even though it is a fictional story, there are so many people whose lives were like Liesel’s.  And Max’s. And a lot of the other characters, too.

Learning to be a good reader is way, way more important than your grade in this class or even your score on [our state’s standardized test].  It’s about reading a text so closely that it grabs you by the collar and shakes you. It’s about being so entrenched in the lives of characters that you find your heart pounding, or you laugh out loud, or you cry.  It’s about grieving characters when they die because they have become a part of us.

I hope you know that it is always okay to cry. I also hope you are proud of the scholar and the young man you are becoming, because I am. Very much so.


Ms. Teach

Go forth and acknowledge your Fernandos.



P.S. What was the first book that made you cry?