Tag Archives: pedagogy

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.


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.


The Best Advice #SOL15

25 Mar


Thanks to Jen’s slice this morning that inspired today’s slice.

Over the years I’ve receive and given my share of teaching advice. But in the first few years of my career, I got the two best pieces of advice all new teachers should know.

The first came from my cohort leader while I was in teacher’s college at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. It was 1987 and she was a retired teacher who had a second career working in the Education program. She was a tyrant in some ways and some of the things she said would probably get her into some hot water now . “Ladies, don’t try out a new hairdo or pair of heels for your interview!” Probably good advice for anyone, not just the ladies.

The important piece of advice she gave us all was this: When you pass a fountain, take a drink. When you pass the restroom, use it. Nowadays, with water bottles becoming a lifestyle, the first piece of her advice is out of date. But the second part is still relevant, especially since everyone carries a water bottle all the time. I still heed her advice.

The second came from Ken Bell, the VP at A.R. Kauffman, the first school I taught at. He told me that, whenever you walk through the halls, you should carry some papers in your hand. People will think you are on a mission and are less likely to interrupt and keep you from doing whatever it is you are on your way to do. I laughed at the time, but he told me to remember it. Clearly, I have because it is true. Try it if you don’t believe me.

Neither of these pieces of advice had any direct impact on the kids I teach, but they allowed me to become a much better teacher.

Favorite Names #SOL15

18 Mar


A week or so ago, my brother-in-law reminded me of a student I once taught, named Henry Heppenheimer. The details about him are sketchy in my brain, but his name is not. i have a collection of student names that I like and his is one of my faves.

Another favorite I’ve collected is Oupasong Sisombath, or Oupie, as we called her. How can you not LOVE a kids name Oupie?! She was in grade two and had a brother named Monivong, but that wasn’t as fun to say. They were refugees from Cambodia at the first school I taught at. That’s where I started to learn about refugee kids. Aside from my 3 years in Medellin, Colombia, where I taught the very wealthy, my career has been at mostly  low-income schools, with a lot of immigrant families.

This year, I have three kids in my class from Nepal. And one from Afghanistan.

One of my favorite name stories is from a few years ago. I taught a boy named Nermin. His parents were Bosnian and fled the Balkan war in the 1990’s for Germany, where Nermin was born. When I had him in 4th grade, his mother was pregnant. When he came back to school after his brother was born. Nermin was shaking his head. All he said was, “They named him Ermin!”

There are host of names that teachers collect. Angel, a 4th grader from my first years of teaching, was the first kid to call me the B-word.  There is the “Names I’d Never Name my Kid” list, based on naughty or difficult children we’ve taught. She was the first on that list for me.

I wonder, what names do you remember?

A work in progress: A Slice of Life Story

30 Sep


They warned me they might show up, but when my principal and her supervisor came to my class to do an observation, I couldn’t help wishing they’d gone elsewhere.

My kids this year have good hearts, but they are stream of consciousness impulsive puppies. Some of them are a lot of work, which is why we have 2 classrooms of 22 instead of 3 classrooms of 29. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve come a long way in the 4 weeks I’ve had them, but a few of them still have a long road ahead.

We were sitting in a circle during reading differentiation time when they came to observe. I have about 15 kids in my group, all of whom are reading at grade level. We were about to begin reading Number the Stars and I was surprised, but pleased, to find to no one had read it before. I was giving them background information about the book. One boy chimed in about the fact that his ancestry was Lakota and how their land had been stolen and turned into Mount Rushmore.  I joke with people that the  kids in my class put their hand up and say “I have a connection” but it is often a very tenuous connection. Here was living proof.

As we looked at the description of Annemarie and Ellen, trying to build a picture of the two girls, we were discussing the words stocky and lanky. We had come to some conclusion about the words and I mentioned that one of the most impulsive boys in the group was lanky and he stood up and mimed a slam dunk. Another boy had to be asked to remove himself from the group until he could participate positively. He did rejoin the group on his own later and did a better job.

Needless to say, I was sweating while my principal and her supervisor  were there. I wonder if they laughed, because there were some really funny things said, too. After they left, the kids wondered why they were there and what they were doing. I told them the truth: they had a new online tool to use for observations and wanted to practice. The funny thing was, the kids thought they were the objects of the observation, which of course they were, but they didn’t see ( or had no idea) that it was a performance observation of a teacher.

It might not have been my best teaching ever, but they got to observe a  slice of my teaching life, warts and all.

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