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The Paper Mountain

15 Mar

I buried myself. It was unintentional, but it was all my fault. One assignment was a longterm project to be done at home. The other was the final project for our information unit, the teen activism book my 6th graders produced, much delayed after 10 snow days this year. And I collected their writer’s notebooks. I was swamped with paper,stressed and worried about getting the work back in a timely manner. Two classes of 30 x all this work due at the same time. Are you feeling my pain?


Today, though, I finished grading the information books and I feel like I have summited  a mountain. Or maybe crawled out from under one. Maybe, really, I can just see the summit from where I am. Bu this feels like significant progress.

The science teacher on my team has kids turn in everything electronically, but I don’t really find that a good process for me. I was feeling a little behind then times, until a colleague shared this article about the value of hard copies. Vindication.

I still have a bunch of papers to grade, but I am feeling less burdened. If I may mix my metaphors a bit, I might say there is a light at the end of the tunnel I just crawled out of.

Tools of the trade

11 Mar

When I was in teachers college, they told me I would build a toolbox over time. They talked about management and engagement strategies I could add. They talked about books and songs and stories. They never said I needed to add real tools.

For years, I kept an allen wrench in my desk for those occasions when a student’s desk suddenly collapsed on one side, a leg giving out. I had jewelers tools to replace the screws that fell out of glasses and reattached arms.  My 4th graders thought I was a rockstar.

In my new school, my repair work is more mundane. I replaced the latch I’d torn off  the only locking cabinet the day I forgot my keys.

Yesterday, I tackled an annoying problem that has been growing: failing laminate.


I looked in my teacher toolkit and found just the right tools


The repair was made in about five minutes. It will sit over the weekend and, when I return to school on Monday, I will remove the tape.

Mission accomplished.

One of the good ones

26 Sep

Today, we begin the 4th week of school. That means my students and I have been together 19 school days. It seems like more. I mean that in a good way, that it seems as though we’ve known each other more than 19 days. The first day of school feels a long time ago. And yet, the last day is so far in the future it is unimaginable.

In John David Anderson’s Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, a trio of sixth grade boys skip school to spend one last day with their teacher who has been hospitalized with cancer.


Publisher’s Summary: Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.

Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Ms Bixby is, what the boys call, “one of the good ones”. She makes a difference in a way I think we all wanted to when we decided to join the profession. She inspires and brings things out in these boys that feel real. I am not ashamed to admit that I simultaneously laughed and cried as Steve, begins to sing

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.

I’m thinking that this one might be a read aloud. It will certainly be the subject of a book talk soon.


Grade 6, Year 2

13 Sep


It’s my second year teaching 6th grade in Oregon’s largest middle school. What a difference a year makes.

Last year, I had no idea what I was teaching.

Fortunately, I had an excellent teaching partner who held my hand through the whole year. She had taught 6th grade for years and knew which end was up. I felt completely topsy-turvy for the first couple of months. Everything and everyone was new. Slowly, my knowledge grew, and, with it, my confidence.

I started this year feeling more self-assured. I knew people. I knew what I was teaching and how things worked. I knew what I was doing.

Unfortunately, my teaching partner received some bad news and had to leave town for a family emergency. She will miss at least the first two weeks of school and so, the shoe is now on the other foot. I get to be the expert, guiding her sub through the first few weeks of school, explaining units and clarifying procedures.

Although it is helping my teaching partner and her sub, it is helping me, too. Although I was a little anxious at first, knowing I bore an extra burden helping the room next door get off to a good start, I now feel even more confident than I had in late August.

When I left my old school, I was something of an institution there. I now think that I could be come that here. And that is saying a lot.



I asked for it

11 Mar


On Monday, I gave the students in my Humanities class time for a free write. One or two groaned, but most cheered. I teach the gifted and they are always complaining that they never get to write their own stuff.

I wandered the room, helping a few kids get started then went to sit and write myself. I wanted to try writing a Villanelle poem. They appear simple but are actually quite tricky. I got lost in what I was doing, but the kids were writing away quietly. I had a writing time frame in mind and as the deadline approached, I put my writing away and wandered the room. There was lots of what you’d expect from gifted 6th graders.

And then there was THAT ONE.

He’d spent the whole time writing, but it was what he wrote that caught my eye. The title at the top of his page was Why I Hate Humanities.  Gut punch. I tried to read more, but couldn’t. Fortunately, as a veteran teacher, I have developed some stealthy spy skills. While the kids were working on their Mesopotamia group project, I snuck over to his seat and took a peek. His biggest complaint was that Humanities was 2 hours long and that it was “even more boring than Math”. He also did not enjoy the group project we were working on. Okay. Nothing about me personally. He’d gone on to write a second personal essay entitled Why I Hate Enrichment. Enrichment is a required reading class for everyone and part of the elective cycle. I didn’t get a chance to read that one, but I saw the student adding to that page later on. Apparently he hates it more than my class because he was onto a second page. Ouch.

I didn’t take it personally. Like most teachers, I work hard, teach my heart out, and strive to become better at my profession. I know a lot of kids love my class, but I am not so naive that I think they all do. So, I will keep on doing what I’m doing and keep on learning. I don’t suppose I will ever see Why I Love Humanities  in that boy’s writer’s notebook, but I will teach as though I might.

The Quiz

10 Mar


Privacy folders were up and I passed out the quiz. Pencils were poised awaiting the signal that they could begin.

“Go!” I called.

The sound of papers being flipped was followed by the scratch of pencils. Then giggles. A few kids stopped writing and appeared to be finished.

Before too long, I saw a hand go up and student said, “I am on number 8.”

More giggles. Some groans and then everyone was finished.

Yes, we tricked them. All four of the teachers on my team gave THAT quiz: the one about reading directions. We’d all recently had kids get test questions wrong because they didn’t read directions, so we thought we’d teach them lesson. My class had a good discussion about the importance of reading and listening to ALL directions and, though this could have been boring it wasn’t . The were especially impressed at how the four teachers had conspired against them.

I think we rose in their estimation today.




I survived BTSN

25 Sep


Back to school night is over! It was a full house and reactions were positive, even though I’m sure I looked a fool talking super fast and sweating like a roasting pig. Parents were nodding while I was talking and laughing at the appropriate place.  Many came up to me afterwards to tell me how much their child loved me already.

I don’t say that to toot my own horn. I have been teaching my heart out these last few weeks and then I send them of to another class. It is tougher to build rapport with students in middle school because we see them for such a short time. I guess that is one of many wonderful perks of being the writing teacher: I can get to know my kids through their writing even if we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.

I had a moment yesterday during class that almost brought me to tears. I shared this with some parents who  lingered after my presentation to talk. I told them that their son almost made me cry yesterday. They looked shocked and I chuckled. I told them that the kids were working hard, trying to write 4 different leads to the “seed idea” they’d chosen to take to publication. I looked up for a moment and saw their son, standing at the poster we’d made during our mini-lesson, really analyzing what it said. Then he turned, went back to his seat, and continued writing. I almost wept. It was a small moment, but it let me know that the kids were hearing what I was saying and our posters weren’t just decorative.

It was a good way to end a long night.


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