My 2015 New Year's Teaching Pseudo-Resolutions

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I wish I could say it's been a good year, but if my 2014 were a person, she would be the love child of Ursula and Voldemort.  

Or maybe the love twins of Joffrey and Regina George.

What I'm trying to say is that I am very, very ready for 2015.

I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions. I don't think I've ever actually kept one for more than a month, and I just kind of see it as an additional way for me to eventually hate myself. With that in mind, I've created these pseudo-resolutions that I think are do-able, don't require a ton of work on my part, and won't induce deep, abiding shame if I don't get around to it. 

1) Tape down the cords and wires that currently run wild across my classroom floor like the vines in Jumanji 

As entertaining it is for both my students and me, I'm kind of tired of tripping over them almost daily.

2) Try to remember to take attendance 

Notice I did not make this quantifiable. That's how I like to set goals. 

3) Try to remember to wear my ID badge more

This one won't be hard since I think I wore it three times last semester. 

4) Do yoga... or something. 

I'm a much happier human when I work out in the mornings before school. Yoga would be great, but I'll also settle for hypocritically running down the hallway to catch and punish running students or holding a class wall-sit competition. 

5) Build a sense of community via Friday Teacher Treats

A friend of mine works in Austin, Texas, where she and her coworkers are on a rotating schedule of bringing each other breakfast tacos every Friday. Doesn't that sound magical?

I'm pretty sure if I can get my hallway in on something like this, all our students will pass all their standardized tests. It may also close the education gap.

I'll let you know how this theory plays out.

6) Look for the Jennifer Lawrence in Frustrating Work Person

Right now my way of dealing with my Frustrating Work Person is simply trying to avoid him at all costs, which doesn't feel like the right way to deal with anything, let alone a person. Instead of this, I've decided to pretend he's Jennifer Lawrence and I've just found out I'm sitting next to her on a plane and am trying to win her friendship by being friendly and kind but, like, totally low-key about it.

Don't lie. You think about celebrity airplane friendships when you fly, too.

(Or if you didn't, now you will.)

7) Don't put anything related to school in the back seat of car unless absolutely necessary 

Earlier this year I had so much school junk in the back seat that I actually moved up my passenger seat SO THAT I COULD FIT MORE JUNK IN THE BACK SEAT. Then a very tall man got in the passenger seat* and he pretty much had to ride with his kneecaps in his eyeball sockets because I couldn't even move the seat back due to the 30 plastic tubs that had made my car their permanent home.

8) Keep school whining to under 30 seconds 

I'm allowing myself to go over, but for every additional 30 seconds I have to first either do 10 push-ups or 30 crunches. I'll either stop whining or become totally jacked, either of which would be terrific!

The year's motto will be, "Less crap. More fun." 

I believe in you, 2015.



P.S. What are your New Year's pseudo-resolutions?

*Just realized this sounds like a random man climbed in my car. Don't worry. He was invited.

A New Story: a poem by 24 of my 8th graders

Monday, December 15, 2014

We just wrapped up our poetry unit, and as a culminating assignment I had my students write a poem of their own. I gave them total creative license in writing it (no form/length requirements), but they had to turn in a paragraph along with it in which they analyze their own poem for theme, structure, literary devices, tone, and diction. We've been working on these things all year, so this was kind of a big assessment of their skills. 

Their poems (and analyses!) were awesome. We did a gallery walk last Friday and the look of pride on their faces-- for their own poems as well as their classmates-- totally melted my grinchy little heart that has been twisted up in finals, emails, and other end-of-the-year tomfoolery.

As kind of a way to show my appreciation for how hard they worked, I took one line from each of their poems per class and arranged it into a class poem, which I'm going to give it to them after their final exam as a Christmas present because it is free. Yay!

Then I arranged another mega poem using lines from 24 students in various classes instead of just one. The entire thing is written by my students-- these come from poems about their families, friends, themselves... one was even from a poem about cheese! All I did was arrange the lines and add punctuation and line breaks in some cases.

Here it is!

A New Story

I guess we are like seasons.
I learned that in a way that is known as “the hard way.”
Ask the scars for yourself.
They speak to everyone.

Everyone comes and goes
In and out of your life
Just like the door that’s never locked
Every alley filled with darkness
And no matter what, always against the odds.
It’s like getting dipped in pain.
Black is the universe,
Blank, like the spot next to me
That moment where you feel alone in your soul.

But then
A shout echoes through the darkness,
And a hand takes up yours,
Pulls your weapons away.
You rode a white horse into my life,
You were the person that taught me I’m worth something,
You lifted me up into the light,
Ripping all the bad pages from my heart,
And handing me a new pen to start writing a new story
Under the beautiful sky.

In my book you will never be forgotten.

You filled it with flowers. 

Isn't that sweet? I hope this made you feel a little better than Christmas traffic does.

You fill my story with flowers.



Why I Hate Going to My Students' Games

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Each year, I get a little better at understanding what it means to support my students. My first year, I had no clue. I thought that to be a good teacher I would just need to be like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds; that if I handed out candy bars and told my students that they matter, they would instantly cooperate and do whatever I ask.

(No offense, Hollywood, but that’s a ton of crap.)

Now that I have the teaching thing more under control, I’m able to support my students as people. I look forward to their concerts for choir, orchestra, and band. I love seeing the artwork they create. I’m always psyched for the night of the talent show and the school plays. But sports games are another story.

You see, I work in a district whose neighborhoods represent a variety of income brackets. Some schools in the district are a part of one of the country’s wealthiest zip codes. Other schools, Title I schools like mine, are in a different part of town and have a high percentage of students labeled at-risk and on free or reduced lunch. When my school’s sports teams play against schools similar to ours, it’s usually fine. But sometimes when we play the more wealthy schools, it’s difficult for me to be there on the sidelines.

A few weeks ago, some of my students on the boys’ basketball team asked if I would come to their game that evening. I told them I would, then asked who they were playing.

“Woodridge!” they told me. “We’re going to beat them this year, Miss!”

My heart sank.

Woodridge Middle School (which is not actually the school’s name), is the wealthiest school in the district. They consistently have the highest test scores, the greatest amount of parent involvement and financial support, and easily the best sports teams. I can count the number of times I have seen or heard of our teams beating theirs on one hand.

“I’ll be there!” I told them. I gave them a thumbs-up.

After they left, I let out a sigh. My boys were so excited, and I’d already told them I would go. I did want to support them and let them know how much I value them and their interests, but I already dreaded going. I knew what would await me.

I knew I would see the look on my students’ faces as they stole glances at the other team warming up. They would see their brand-new shoes. Their effortless lay-ups from years of playing in community leagues, their camaraderie from knowing each other since kindergarten because they don’t move as much as the families at my school do.

I knew I would see the Woodridge side of the bleachers full—parents, grandparents, siblings, and students who were able to have their parents drop them back off at school just to see the game. I would look at our side of the bleachers and see about half as many people there. I would know that one of our players’ mom works the night shift and will never see a game. I would know that less than half of our players would ever have both parents there cheering them on.

I knew I would hear the parents of the other team grumbling—sometimes quietly, sometimes belligerently-- about my students’ fouls, their lack of sportsmanship, and I would know that they are right, and I would wish that these parents could understand that these kids aren't bad or scary but are learning.

I knew I would hear one particularly loud Woodridge parent yell something like, “What are you doing, ref? Are you just going to let number 55 stomp all over our boys?” and I would see number 55, my student, and he would hear it, and I would see his face tense up with a rage that know runs much deeper than this basketball game and I would see him miss all his free throws after that.

I knew I would watch Woodridge take the lead by ten points, then twenty, then fifty. Then I would see the Woodridge coach call a time-out, and in the huddle all his players would smile suddenly, and I would know that the coach had just told his players that they have to stop scoring.

Then after that I knew I would see a Woodridge player make a lay-up, and his point guard would shout, “Hey, coach said we’re not supposed to score!” and the other player would shout back, “What am I supposed to do, just give it to them?”, and I would see the look on my players’ faces as this exchange would happen.

Then I knew I would go up to my students after the game. I would say, “Hey, you did great!” and they would hang their heads and mumble something, and they would all look like their spirits had been punctured, and I would get a lump in my throat because I would know how much this game meant to them, and they would know that I was saying what I was saying to make them feel better.

I knew these things because it always happens. Every year, year after year, every game when we play teams like this. 

And I hate watching it. When I go to games where we play Woodridge or schools similar to them, I distract myself from what’s going on around me by being obnoxiously upbeat to the point where I often annoy myself. I bring posters. I yell things about sports that don’t make any sense (i.e. “GET THIS REBOUND, WOLVERINES!” when it’s about to be the first shot of a set of two free throws.)  I do this in the hope that their crazy, screaming teacher will, by comparison, make losing feel just a little less embarrassing.

I should be clear that I’m not trying to say I hate going to games because of Woodridge, or that this is Woodridge’s fault. They are not bad people—the coaches, the parents, the players. In fact, I went to a school like Woodridge and I very much value my education and childhood there. I don’t hate Woodridge. And I don’t hate the fact that my students lose.

I hate poverty.

I hate the systems in place that are keeping down neighborhoods like the one where I teach.

I hate that my students have less of a chance—at everything—because of circumstances they can’t help.

I hate how their sports games remind me of all of this.

And most of all, I hate that I don’t know what to do about it except to keep teaching in my little classroom, to keep hoping things get better, to keep showing up, and to keep being loud.

We actually beat Woodridge in that game a few weeks ago. It was a nailbiter—I’m pretty sure it took a couple of years off my life—but we came out on top. My boys were true sportsmen, in every sense of the word. When I talked to them after the game, they didn’t say anything negative about the other team, or the Woodridge fans being vocal at the refs (and on some occasions, at them), or even about winning. In fact, they could barely say anything because of how huge their smiles were. The second I got into my car in the parking lot, I put my head in my hands and cried.

It felt like I’d just had a small taste of the world I dream of.