nerdlutiont555I’m struggling again to create a literature unit plan for my high school students. We MUST read The Great Gatsby. I WANT my students to read The Great Gatsby. But they will take too much time, I won’t be able to incorporate writing or test-prep, and they will just tell me that they don’t understand this book. How do I know these things? Because this is how they roll!

I’ve worked all day trying to figure out strategies they can use to read and understand this book. I’m drawing/sketching, using Notice & Note language, and writing in the margins of the book. I’m learning more about the book — this  is only the 2nd time I’ve taught the book — but this process is so labor intensive that I really don’t think my 17 y/olds will persist with me. And if we have to read this whole thing out loud, they will DEFINITELY bolt!

So, I’m stuck. Everything is so slow with this group, and I don’t feel like I’m being very structured in my lessons. Stopping the whining now and getting back to reading and notetaking…

Wish me luck

#nerdlution #2


I’ve been trying to help my sophomores think about the monthly Slicing project coming up in a couple of weeks. And, as luck would have it (I’d call it serendipitous — that’s my favorite word!), Spongebob was on the TV. That silly cartoon makes me so happy. He was singing this song:

I loved it!!  I told LilyBelle that I wanted to be more like Spongebob — and just like that, I had a writing topic! Lily and I kept talking about Spongebob after the song was over. She wanted to name who in the family would be which character. This is how it turned out…

Me: I’m Spongebob because I like to be happy and get other people in good moods.

Lily: Who am I? I know — I’m Gary ’cause you still have to feed me. Meow!

Me: Sounds good. Now Daddy is…

Lily: SQUIDWARD — he’s grumpy a lot

Me: (Yep, but don’t tell Kev!!) Okay…we have to work on getting him out of that, though. Jake can be Sandy because he’s gone off to college and is trying to learn new things.

Lily: And he never comes home! What about Aunt Paula?

Me: Oh, that’s easy. She’s Patrick because she is goofy and blonde and follows me around all the time (Shh…don’t tell my sister!)

Lily: And TBone (my brother-in-law) can be Mr. Crabbes because he’s cheap!


I busted out laughing!!! Anyway, when I got to school and shared this with my students, they first looked at me like I was weird. But then, when I told them they had to be on the lookout for writing topics even in the strangest of places, they seemed to get it. They called out different things they could write about that they hadn’t before: a little brother who’s obsessed with eating spaghetti; how to make a basketball goal every time; hazards of football; and shading techniques in art.

It was the best day ever!!

My lovely co-workers brought several days worth of dinners over yesterday. It was one of those unspeakably nice things that people do for each other, but is so hard to ever repay — so it just makes me feel worse. So when I went to school today for a visit, I had to decide if I was going to spend the time crying and “talking cancer” or focus on my students. Weirdly, I was able to do both.

I had a list of kids I wanted to talk to…and a list of teachers, haha…I think the teachers won, though….but when some kids got wind that I was at school, my group grew a little! 😉

The plan with them was for me to make a Facebook fan page so they could stay in touch — and, most importantly, tell me what they are reading. I’m wondering why I’m still trying to fight that battle since I’m not there; however, I was pleasantly pleased that many of them had picked up the reading bug with me last semester, so they could share books they were reading. I took them the twelve books I’ve read since January and most of them got checked out (with the librarian). We decided to make a “date” to try to see The Hunger Games movie together in a few weeks, so that will be fun.

Like I said the other day, I know this visit was much more for me than for them; but they needed to see me and know I am okay. My colleagues needed to see that, too. So, I’m putting this on the Great Day list!

So, I’m totally missing my classroom. I look at the YA books I’ve read since I’ve been out, and they look so lonely….just waiting for someone to read them. Last year, I wrote a post questioning if it was time to move out of teaching. There was a job at Lowes Corporate office here in North Carolina for a Collection Librarian. I called around asking about the job and was all ready to interview, but then decided against it. Maybe I felt guilty, I don’t know. But since I’ve been out of the classroom since December, I’ve learned something about myself: I’m a freaking teacher!

Yep, yep, yep…there’s no point denying it. I’m a glutton for punishment. I think what people who don’t teach don’t understand (or maybe they do, and that’s why they don’t teach!) is that teaching is hard. HARD! Emotionally and psychologically and all the other “nallys” haha…I’m so drained when my students leave at 3:00, most days it’s too much trouble to think about walking to the car! And being around teenagers for 6-7 hours a day 180 days a year is no picnic. Hell, I think that’s why their parents send them to school in the first place — they don’t want to deal with them either!! haha..

BUT I MISS THEM SOOOOOOO MUCH!! OMG….something is so wrong with me, right? I woke up with this incredible idea today. I made a list of about 13 students (one because that’s my favorite number, but two, because I couldn’t not put certain people on my list). These are kids who would love my lonely books and kids I need to check on. Plus I just miss them and want to make sure they are okay. I mean, I know they are okay without me —I’m not okay without them!  <<sniff, sniff>> My plan is to let them see my books and choose one to read if they want to, give them a Hunger Games bookmark, plan to see the HG movie together (at a time that is NOT opening weekend), and see if they want me to set up a Facebook page for what we are all reading. I guess that if I was a really good teacher, and really did miss them, that I would have kept my class blog & Twitter account up-to-date…however, being treated for cancer is not the most fun thing in the world, and for the longest time, I couldn’t even use the computer for very long periods of time. (I know…excuses, excuses…).

So…that’s my plan. If nothing else, I’ll feel better. And anyone who knows me knows it’s ALL about me in the end! haha…


p.s. I’m linking to a YouTube channel about the Common Core by the people who bring it to us. I think this is scary, people. Since I’m using my time off as an inquiry period for lesson plans using CCSS, I’ve been doing some reading about the origins and the people behind it — and it terrifies me. If you only watch the one video, that should be enough to scare you, too. The fact that these people really do not want questioners/thinkers in school — only questions about the text organizational strategies — is so antithetical to American democracy, it reminds me of 1941 Russia! (Sorry, I’m in the middle of a great book called Between Shades of Gray).

And it’s not like Ruth’s YA inquiry about texts from a few summers ago. It’s like “don’t have an opinion, yours doesn’t count anyway. Just the text, ma’am, just the text.” I’m not that kind of reader, and I don’t know many students who are either. The very first thing they tell me when they don’t read a book is “I don’t like ….(the character/situation/etc).” Surprisingly, it’s nothing about the organizational techniques the author uses–even when sometimes that IS a problem.

I’m interested in what you think if you watch any of this.

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but teaching is hard. It’s not hard like I suppose brain surgery probably is — like if you get it wrong then someone’s head could explode or result in death. It’s probably not hard like saving people from a burning building, or even designing and building bridges or buildings. The difference in teaching and those other professions, to me, is simple: the number of potential bodies in one spot for a specified amount of time with no way out!!

Here’s what I’m saying, as succinctly as possible: I worry for the future. Now, I’m only basing my hyperbole on the population of teenagers in one rural high school. But  even with that small number, I weep for the future.

And every time  I think those thoughts — you know, the ones where the only thing that could possibly save us all IS a zombie apocalypse? — I have a meeting with a parent who’s crying over his/her teen because there’s no words to get across to said-teen that the world is not a nice place at the moment, and the ONLY advantage one MIGHT have is going to be a high school diploma — which may or may not be a tangible the teen has bought into.

My classes this semester are 10 to 1 boys over girls. Something happened to the water supply, or something, because there are NO girls in this particular cohort. And, just like all good little boys, they distrust ALL authority figures, but especially the ones who can wear a dress (without getting laughed at). Needless to say, my year has been challenging on a different level than I’ve had since beginning my career in alternative schools. They actually wanted to argue with me over using the word “ain’t” when they write! I have NEVER had anyone argue over that! Here’s the typical conversation:

Me: When you write a formal paper — or something for a grade, please do not write the word “ain’t” — It’s not standard English, and I want people who read your writing to know that you know your topic.

(Typical) Students: But “ain’t” is in the dictionary.

Me: Yes, I know. And Shakespeare was one of the first writers to use it. However, it is a word that has come to mean a person is lazy or ignorant. When you write, it’s important to sound as smart as possible, so your reader will believe you. Appearances matter — especially when you might not meet the person/people who read your writing.

(Typical) Students: Okay.

See how simple that was? Seriously, that’s usually the extent of the exchange. We may have already done the lesson where we cut out pics from magazines that show formal  and informal items; then list formal and informal words (ex: going to vs. gonna). And I may have already talked about code-switching — or you talk differently to different people in your life, therefore, you’ll need to consider your audience when you write.

But this year’s group is having NONE of that typical stuff. They suspect EVERYTHING I tell them. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G!! It is oh, so annoying, that I think I might actually lose some weight because I’ve had to start running in hopes of not committing a felony! haha….I was so frustrated yesterday that I could barely contain my trailer-trash thoughts of cussing the little kids out. Thank God the lunch bell rang! 😉

Then, today, I had an epiphany. They are teenagers. They are Holden Caulfields all, begging the world to right itself and not be so scary. They hear from their parents that times are hard and jobs scarce. They hear the news (or see a headline on Facebook), and know that something is not right with the world. This group of teens have NEVER known America to NOT be in a war. Can you imagine? And these are the thoughts I had just on the drive to school this morning. Then I met with a father whose son is failing miserably, all four of his classes, and who is sent out for behavior every single day (cumulatively). And this poor man — who is literally poor, not just figuratively — sat across from me and begged me to not give up on his kid. “He’s a good boy, ma’am. I wish you could have known him before now. He’s funny, he tries to make me feel better about not being able to find a job, and I love him. Please, help me keep him in school.” Yes, sir, I said…I’ll do what I can.

So, I found myself thinking afterwards that school is all about what we (teachers) are “selling” — and right now, at least to the teens I’m with every day, I seem to be selling snake oil, and they are having none of it. And I’m going to be okay with that. They ought to be questioning — I just need to show them how to question effectively, not disrespectfully, like in a I’m-never-going-to-believe-you way, but in a genuine I-want-to-know way. They ought to be able to be creative (for some reason, most of the students are loving the creative writing we’re doing right now); they ought to be able to work together in groups and help each other out.

I’m not peddling snake oil. The product I’m selling is a future that without a diploma, might be much more difficult than without. But I have to lighten up about “kids these days” because they are getting that from every place they come in contact with. There was a time when they liked learning and wanted to show their parents and teachers and whoever would listen what they could do NOW (“Did you see me…..?). And somewhere, we stopped listening — and they stopped trying it our way. Maybe that’s just growing up and not being the center of the universe, but I find that I don’t like it much. I need to do better.

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they know everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls. they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior,and dress.” (Peter the Hermit, 1274 <a leader of the first Crusade in the Middle Ages>– as quoted in Carol Jago’s Rigor for All, 2nd ed.)

Sometimes, when I pay attention, Spongebob doesn’t lower my IQ…I can get a writing assignment out of it. For your perusal, please watch the following episode titled, “Procrastination” — I’m showing this on the 2nd or 3rd day of school…and have students take some notes about what they notice about Spongebob’s writing habits, both helpful  and not-helpful…

My students are blogging. I’m the first class in my county to institute it; however, at least one of my colleagues has started with her class, too, and there’s a possibility of at least one other one starting soon. I’m totally psyched, because my students seem excited. They’re sharing their lives; they’re reading and commenting on each other’s posts; and they are NOT shy in wanting to learn everything I can teach them about adding media to their writing. So, my post tonight is in honor of them–all 80 fifteen- & sixteen-year-olds who have followed me into the blogosphere…

13 Blogging Lessons I’ve Learned from My Students

1) Anytime is a good time to blog (Mrs. McCabe doesn’t mind getting email day & night telling her we’ve added a comment to her blog!)

2) It doesn’t matter what Mrs. McCabe has planned — if she gets the laptops, we’re BLOGGING ALL PERIOD!!

3) There’s a YouTube video for EVERY post– EVERY SINGLE ONE! (See #6–Haha!!)

4) There’s just something about writing about the mundane things going on in life–as long as my friends can read about it and comment on it.

5) Everything I write must have at least one of the following: fishing, the rodeo, a pasture, 4-wheeling, country music, &/or church.

6) When Mrs. McCabe assigns me a “paper” writing task, my mind is ALWAYS blank; however, I have had NO PROBLEM coming up with a topic for my blog entries!

7) I think I remember you telling us that we were getting a grade for these things, but….I might actually do this project for free!

8 ) Grammar…yeah, yeah….Capitalization…yeah, yeah…Quit nagging us, Mrs. McCabe. You KNOW what I meant even if I didn’t use those good writing skills you thought you were teaching us!

9) And by the way…ALL my posts are grammatically perfect. I don’t have to edit. 

10) The computer won’t let me add anyone to a blogroll–Oh, the address is wrong? That was a colon? Sorry, I thought all I had to do was type the person’s name, and it would magically appear. It worked for Harry, Ron, and Hermoine!

11) The greatest compliment I can get on my blog is if the LilyBell sends me a Voki!!

12) Life would just be grand if all we had to do was read and blog. Can we just do that, Mrs. McCabe??

13) Hey, Mrs. McCabe…did you know that blogging is like one of those things I might have to do when I go to college or get a job? Did you know my mom reads my blog, and she loves it? Did you know that even though I think school is boring and keeps me from sleeping, that I’d come to school just for your class so I can blog?

Yes, Houston, I know. I’m thinking there’s NOT a problem! (Okay, well except for not being able to get through the literature I really wanted us to read this semester! Is it bad that I’m letting them direct their own learning a little bit?). It’s not perfect, and I’ve had to fuss and nag some students to get with the program, but I’m calling this month successful anyway!