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.
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.
The portable toilets were the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Of course, they were nice toilets, not the blue plastic ones that give everyone the creeps. These untippable beauties were parked on the corner by my house, awaiting the film crew.
We’d been contacted about a week ago asking if a film crew could use our courtyard to film a Toyota commercial. In the time it took the unit owners of our small condominium to make a decision, they’d chosen another building nearby. This is a neighborhood full of small complexes built in the 1940’s after all.
Although I’d ultimately said yes to the project, I was relieved we weren’t the chosen ones. As we discussed the prospect, I surprised myself by asking questions about liability and contracts. Where did I get the wisdom to ask these sorts of questions? The amount we’d have been paid wasn’t huge and we would have had to use back doors all day, since the front doors lead right into the area to be filmed.
And so the fancy toilets arrived Friday night. The film crew started arriving around 8 Saturday morning. People and trailers slowly filled the street that intersected mine. Lucy and I took several walks to see what was happening, though we never walked past the courtyard where the filming was being done – just too many people there.
My takeaway is this. There is a lot of standing around and waiting in the film industry. As a teacher, I know wait time is important, but it seems that is all these people did. I sometimes wonder what it is other people do at work all day. I look thorough bank and office windows and wonder, are they really busy, as they type on their computer or shuffle papers. And I think even my worst day at school is more exciting than this. I haven’t ever seriously regretted going into teaching and the older I get, the more I feel it keeps my brain sharp and my heart young.
The toilets were finally taken away Monday morning and my whole summer vacation stretched before me. Definitely no regrets.
It’s YALSA Symposium weekend…two days to talk about Young adults, books and libraries. I don’t often give up a Saturday, but this was definitely worth it.
I sat in on 4 excellent sessions, heard a number of authors speak and picked up some new books.
I am excited to go back to school on Monday and tell the kids about meeting Jack Gantos, who talked about his internal and external writing process and even referenced his neighborhood map that we used as an idea generator.
Gantos had a lot to say about books and writing. he talked about the books that “move into you like a squatter”. He also talked a lot about balance: the balance he tries to find between the internal and external story. He explained how a lot f his work is about the unevenness and self loathing that kids go through during their adolescence, when their balance is off.
He also talked about the “literary spiritualism” of community reads programs. He was the first person yesterday to mention the significance of having people of multiple generations in a room talking about a book or an idea. It came up later in other sessions, too. It was a call to be involved with a community of readers, share books and put books in the right hands.
I was exhausted by the time I got home, but it was that good exhaustion that you feel after doing something worthwhile.
Two weeks before teachers had to go back to school, the middle school humanities teachers had a 4 day writing workshop put on my TCRWP. I can honestly say that it was one of the best professional development events I have ever participated in. The middle schools have adopted the writing Units of Study and my 6th grade PLC (professional learning community) is currently implementing the first 6th grade unit. But we are left with a burning question:
WRITER’S WORKSHOP OR WRITERS’ WORKSHOP?
I was wrestling with this dilemma on day when a teacher came in and asked me that very question. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone.
What do you call it? When I say it, it makes no difference. I can see WRITER’S WORKSHOP because each kid is working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I can also see a case for WRITERS’ WORKSHOP because it is a group of writers simultaneously working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I get around it by writing WRITING WORKSHOP on the board, but saying WRITERS WORKSHOP aloud and letting kids insert the apostrophe wherever their minds want to.
So, I would love to know: what do you call it?
The YA coffee Klatch at ALA was exciting and disappointing. There were lots of cool authors I didn’t get to see. Scott Westerfeld started at the table next to mine, but never sat at mine.
Fortunately, we had several very cool people stop by, like Andrew Smith. He was promoting The Alex Crow.
Until that moment, when he sat down and started talking, I did not know that Smith was a high school teacher. Not an ex-high school teacher, like Sting used to teach high school before he became famous.. He still teaches high school in California and he is a famous author. How cool is that.
A lot of what he told us, in his 10 minutes at our table, was about teaching and the story of one boy, a Somali refugee, who was in one of his class, and how that boy’s story became the inspiration for The Alex Crow.
Smith’s last few books are not for everyone. In fact, he is part of a national “Keep YA Weird” campaign that celebrates literary experimentalism and extreme imagination in YA literature.
Publisher’s Summary: Once again blending multiple story strands that transcend time and place, Grasshopper Jungle author Andrew Smith tells the story of 15-year-old Ariel, a refugee from the Middle East who is the sole survivor of an attack on his small village. Now living with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, Ariel’s story of his summer at a boys’ camp for tech detox is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber and the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century. Oh, and there’s also a depressed bionic reincarnated crow.
It is hard to explain the book, but, Smith brings all the weird story strands together at the end in a way you weren’t expecting. It is a dark journey, but not without hope at the end.
Twice last week, people came into my room to talk to me and said something along the lines of, “Wow. You’ve already started packing up.”
Twice I had to explain that, in fact, I hadn’t. I’m just a minimalist when it comes to decorating. Maybe they said that because they know I’m leaving. Maybe it was because the room and bulletin board next to me is a riot of color and inspirational posters. I only had a few charts up, but they were charts I actually used.
Since then, I have taken down charts and begun packing boxes. I am acting, in many ways, as though this were the end of any old school year. I am packing things up slowly, ticking things off the to do list. I know I am changing schools and I am actually very excited about next year. But, I am essentially in denial. I am excited about next year, but not thinking about the end of this one.
I hate goodbyes, but I love this song. How strange, the change from major to minor. Indeed.