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School’s out…there was some drama

18 Jun

Act 1

INT. Classroom – Last Day of school

Sixth graders are sitting on floor. Two girls are singing in front of room. Three teachers are huddled on one side of room. One stands alone on the other side. One of the three teachers is mouthing words to the lone teacher. She cannot understand so walks over to the group.

ME THE TEACHER: My lip-reading sucks. What’s up?

TEACHER 1: We are moving to Orange Hall.

ME THE TEACHER: What??? Are you joking?

TEACHER 2: No. Go check your email.

As Me the Teacher weaves through the mass of 6th grade bodies, Teacher 3 paces and mutters to himself.

Act 2

EXT. Later the same day on the playing field

Sixth graders are gathered on the field in various groups. Some are running. Some are signing yearbooks. A group is sitting in the grass playing with their Magic cards. A lone boy wanders, playing a harmonica.

ME THE TEACHER: The timing is bad, but there might be some perks to the move.

TEACHER 3: The locker room is bigger in Orange hall and, because we will be on the first floor, we will have direct outside access.

TEACHERS 1 & 2: I was thinking the same thing.

Act 3

INT. Classroom – Teacher’s Last Day of school

Me the Teacher is frantically packing. She is disheveled and her face is very red.

Act 4

INT. Classroom – Teacher’s Last Day of school

CUSTODIAN: Are you ready?

ME THE TEACHER: Yes. I didn’t think it was possible,  but I got it all packed up.

CUSTODIAN: This move means a lot of extra work for us.

ME THE TEACHER: I know and I am sorry, but have a great summer.

Custodian exits.

Me the Teacher does one last sweep of the classroom, turns off the lights and exits the room, closing the door behind her.

FADE OUT

 

 

 

 

How we roll

30 Apr

Once a month, my teaching partner and I sit down and formally plan out the upcoming month. We sit down together every day to talk over the day and eat second breakfast but this is our most formal of meetings.

As we sat to plan May, we realized how close the end of the year really is, so we decided to plan June as well, since it had only two weeks of school.  There was so much we still wanted to do – and we couldn’t make it fit. Outdoor School (ODS) had been moved  to June 4-7, taking out almost a week. We’d scheduled speeches for the week before ODS. We could wedge things in, but they’d start before and end, rather awkwardly, after ODS. we felt frustrated.

“What if we scrap it all?” I asked. “We could move the speeches to the last week of school and then plan backwards.” This was a radical concept for us. We always started on the first of a month and planned forward, knowing what we didn’t accomplish could spill into the next month. But there were no next months for us this time around. And so we boldly took the plunge.

And it worked. We are planned through June.

We always know our monthly plans are subject to change, but we have a roadmap in place and can face any detours because that’s how we roll.

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Pay Attention, Readers!

22 Apr

Some books are just fun to read aloud. There is a clear definition of tone when certain characters talk. There might be humor, or sarcasm. There is a theme or series of events that capture the interest of the audience.

Read aloud is one of my favorite parts of my day. I often joke that teaching is performance art, but reading out loud truly is. You will know this if you have ever listened to a poorly read audiobook.

Last week, I started reading aloud Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt and the kids and I are hooked.

The main character, Carter Jones, talks in long run-on sentences and I think the kids like seeing how long I can go without taking a breath. The Butler speaks in very proper English. I wish my English accent were better, but I get the point across. And even though everyone in the book is very white, my majority minority class is hooked because of the witty battle of wills between Carter and The Butler, but also because of the way cricket is woven throughout. Cricket in the sense of the precursor to baseball. I have kids who actually know about cricket. This might be the book I use as the first read aloud of next year.

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Publisher’s Summary: Carter Jones is astonished early one morning when he finds a real English butler, bowler hat and all, on the doorstep—one who stays to help the Jones family, which is a little bit broken.

In addition to figuring out middle school, Carter has to adjust to the unwelcome presence of this new know-it-all adult in his life and navigate the butler’s notions of decorum. And ultimately, when his burden of grief and anger from the past can no longer be ignored, Carter learns that a burden becomes lighter when it is shared.

Be quiet, we’re testing!

16 Apr

As much as I loathe standardized testing, I take it very seriously.

I post messages on the board reminding students to bring their fully charged Chromebook, but leave their phones behind. I put a box of kleenex on each table so students have no need to get up and wander to get one. I faithfully read the script everyday. I wear my serious face.

It was the fourth and final day of testing and students had just logged on. I was sitting in front of my computer, having clicked “approve” for most students and awaiting the last few who were still jumping through the log-in hoops. The room was silent as it should be. A few phones and smart watches sat in the testing box beside me. All was well – and then it happened.

A tiny squeaky little fart.

It happened at the table to my immediate right. You could see the eyes of everyone at the table grow large. They looked from one to another. A student at the adjacent table whipped their head around. The rest of the room sat in oblivious silence – a silence that hung in the air for a millisecond – until I made eye contact with a student.

We started to giggle. I tried to maintain my serious testing face, but the harder I tried the greater I failed. Before too long, I was laughing harder than any one – a silent body shaking laugh I was trying to control because this was a serious testing day. I closed my eyes. I squeezed them tight in an effort to get myself under control. I scooted my chair back so I would look at the floor when I finally opened my eyes.

Gradually, my laughter ebbed. Once more I was in control, a serious test proctor.

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SBAC Math

9 Apr

Even though I was administering the ELA test, yesterday’s first session of state testing was all about Math for me.

Six sets of headphones. Until a student pulled one set out of the bag and the headphone jack fell off. 6-1=5. Five sets of headphones.

I teach at a more affluent school than I used to. At my old elementary school, we tested in a lab and each computer had its own headset. We wiped them down between tests.

My current school – a middle school – most kids have earbuds and everyone has a Chromebook, so we test in our rooms and kids are supposed to bring their own earbuds. Of course they didn’t. They’re middle schoolers and it was a Monday! Hence, my SBAC Math test.

Five sets of headphones + 8 students with hands up needing to borrow a pair = lots of juggling and wiping of earbuds for me.

I hope they all remember their headphones the rest of the week.

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What to wear

27 Aug

I can’t say that I’ve spent the whole weekend thinking about what to wear today, the first day of school. I can say that I have given it more than just a passing thought. I was planning on wearing a skirt, but it looks as though I will have tp participate in a game at the “Welcome 6th graders” assembly. Although there is little chance I will fall @$$ over teakettle and expose myself, I believe it is better to be safe than sorry.

A teacher’s first day outfit needs to send a couple of messages:

  • I am professional
  • I know my stuff
  • I am fun
  • I care about you

I am sure there are students out there, getting ready for their first day of school thinking thoughts similar to mine. There are some who have given it no thought at all. There also others whose mother will make the decision for them.

First day of school clothing gets me thinking about Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. This is the book I snorted over at the TCRWP institute two weeks ago.

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Willow, the main character, makes a poor choice about her first day outfit, although she uses flawless logic to come to her decision. To her mother’s credit, although she knows Willow’s choice is a poor one, she lets her wear it.

Another book that gets me thinking about back-to-school is All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. Imogene’s descriptions of her teachers on the first day made me crack up.

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Happy first day to students and colleagues starting today, to those who have already started, and to those who have yet to start.

The Timmins Hex

21 Aug

On the second last day of school, I learned I would teach 7th grade this year.

On the last day of school, my Mom died.

It has been a  summer of coming to terms with a lot of change.

In mid August, I met with my new teaching partner to get up to speed on what happens in 7th grade reading, writing, and social studies.

Last week, I attended a TCRWP homegrown institute last week and met with the 7th grade team. I accepted the print copy of the reading unit that was handed out at registrations, the one district has decided 7th grade will pilot this year. Just one more step towards making 7th grade a reality,  I thought.  As the week rolled along, I sat with my 6th grade teaching partner during class, but met with my new 7th grade colleagues when we met as a grade level.

I knew that the admins at my school had applied for additional funding (APU) that would allow me to stay in 6th grade. My 6th grade teaching partner had spotted the assistant superintendent in charge of middle schools on Monday and had politely but fiercely, advocated for the APU. For her, it meant not only losing her teaching partner, it meant she would go from a 120 minute Humanities block to 80 minutes. She was justifiably fired up. He told her he would go to war for us and that the decision about that funding would be made on the last day of the TCRWP Institute.

The night before our TCRWP institute ended, I had a little conversation with Mom. She was a very competitive Yahtzee player and, as an opponent shook the Yahtzee dice, she would make a “TSSSS” sound with her teeth to curse them. We affectionately referred to it as “The Timmins Hex”.

Mom grew up poor in Timmins, the mining town in Northern Ontario she ran away from when she was 15 because she knew what her life would be like if she stayed. She wanted more. Timmins holds a sort of mythic place in the minds of her children and grandchildren. The Timmins Hex was part joke, part family tradition. And yet, the night before that additional staffing decision was made, I had a little conversation with my Mom asking her to invoke The Timmins Hex.

I checked messages all day, distracting me from some of what we were doing. I was torn between being a realist – knowing that there were needier schools that were probably also asking for additional staffing – and being an optimist. I ran errands on the way home disappointed I hadn’t heard anything.

The message light on my home phone was blinking as I walked through the door. After walking Lucy (who really has to go when I get home) I listened to the message and called my principal back. Despite my sincere belief that the decision-makers would say “No”, they said “Yes”. I was staying in 6th grade after all that.

A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could imagine  ghost Mom, floating around the table in that meeting room, putting The Timmins Hex on those decision makers, helping me out one last time, her last Yahtzee.

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