sols_6I haven’t posted in TWT in a while, and I miss this community. I’m especially glad to be writing today, as I’m having existential angst with my writing instruction. My sophomores and juniors are so apathetic right now that I’m finding it difficult not to scream every day and pull my hair out!! Sounds drastic, right?

It does until my 2nd grader brings home her work from last week, and in the packet is a story she wrote about a girl named Alex who feels like other girls at school are bullying her because she doesn’t have the right kind of clothes. I have no clue what the assignment was, but the only feedback she had on the paper was a minuscule check mark at the top of the page. When I ask her about it, she says she just wrote something down because she “doesn’t have any stories in my head.”

After this exchange, all I want to do is cry. My high school students feel like my Lily. For so long, their voices haven’t mattered, except for a check mark that they did something. I see them just want to get an assignment finished — not write for an authentic audience or get feedback from me or share with classmates. Writing is something to hide — and to whisper in my ear or on a post-it note that they used to like to write, but now they don’t because there are “no stories in my head.”

My angst comes because the more I try to be mad at the apathetic teenagers sitting in front of me more concerned with their cell phones than my grand lesson plans, the more I see a room filled with tall Lilies….begging me to bring their stories out no matter how much they whine and complain and pretend that they have nothing worth saying.

Why can’t I just be mad?????

CS Lewis quote

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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

sols_6Being a high school teacher toughens a girl up. I’ve come to believe that without some toughness, a girl can be doomed. Teenagers treat their teachers like a girlfriend they can’t dump. First they act like you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. You think everything is going along fine: they are reading, writing when you ask, talking about their literacy. Then, it’s time for checking papers and assigning grades, and BAM!!! Where did the love go?

When it first happens — not matter how long you’ve been teaching, this always takes you by surprise! — you think it’s you. You haven’t used English words. You haven’t tapped their learning style or dominant left-brain/right-brain strategy. You gave them too much freedom….You didn’t give them enough freedom. You change their seating, their assignments, their technology. Everything is wrong, but nothing works. Even your teacher friends are helpless.

Then you get mad. The students aren’t taking you class seriously. They tried to trick you into thinking they wanted a good grade; they wanted to learn. Then you yell at them, and you realize that the only ones who are remotely listening are the ones who normally do their work. You have them in tears — they don’t know what they’ve done wrong! Then you get even madder because the “bad” ones are laughing at your tirade; one of them raises his hand and says, “Hey, ain’t you acting like one of them ar-key-types you told us about? One of them shoes?” You shake your head because even though he got the word wrong (he meant “shrew” of course), he got the idea correct.

Then, being the good teacher that you are, you go on a Google search — there has to be something some smart savant has come up with to help with the little kiddoes problems. So you get an answer that looks like this:

 

Apathy search

Yeah…that says a million sites. A MILLION!!!! Now you realize that you aren’t the only teacher dealing with students who don’t feel a connection to school — the one place you could call safe when you were little. How can that be? You immediately realize this is a dumb question because there were classmates you remember from school who didn’t want to be there and who didn’t graduate. You know the problems they dealt with and are still dealing with (you have a Facebook, for crying out loud!) for not having a good education.

While you’re thinking about your students, your kid yells at the pretend class she’s teaching to “BE QUIET, I SAID! NO, WE ARE NOT GOING TO READ OR WRITE STORIES TODAY! YOU HAVE BEEN TOO BAD AND ALL OF YOU ARE IN TIME OUT! AND NO RECESS!!”

So now you know this school-hate starts from little school where we (the teaching profession) ruin little kids and their tender feelings. We have retarded their curiosity — especially if the student is male. We don’t think they can write their own stories or read books not on their “level.” We stop teaching science and social studies in favor of test prep. They move to upper grades where their teachers are trying, but aren’t able to help them get that Kindergarten love back. And we test them ALL THE TIME. AND ALL THE TESTS ARE “IMPORTANT”!

And just when you know all is lost and you start writing about your frustrations, maybe your kid sees you writing and does this:

Lily writesAnd you think that maybe you’re doing something right after all.

 

sols_6My students are reading the infamous NY Times restaurant review of Guy Frieri’s new place. The best part? The dude reviews the restaurant using only questions — and TONS of hyperbolic phrases!! I’m having my students review a product using similar techniques. So, I thought I’d try it out today as practice for my lesson with classes on Thursday.

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Do NOT Check With Your Physician First

Weight-loss gurus, do you talk to each other? Do you ever laugh at how your words impact the fatties in your community? Do you imagine them getting their only exercise running around from store to store to buy the latest “new thing” you’ve endorsed? Is there a back room somewhere that you gather in? When you’re there, do you generate a list of ways to confuse the masses? Seriously, how many times a week should we eat bread? Or drink red wine? Oh, now I can’t have bananas? Really…you’re going to change your minds again?

Do you realize how expensive eating healthy is? Or how much it costs to join a decent gym? And, if a client is in need of some one-on-one assistance, can the price please be higher than a week at Walt Disney World? How many times a week should we exercise now? Can it be only twenty minutes? NO? How about thirty? You don’t care now, as long as we do something? Are you kidding me?

When was the last time you actually ate what you suggested in you newest book? Did it taste like the paste you ate in first grade? Or the crunchy, bug-filled dirt you licked on a double-dog-dare when you were ten? Are you trying to get back at your mother for making you sit at the table until you cleaned your plate? How else should we interpret the tasteless stew of slimy salmon that you insist will raise our metabolisms?

Is anyone else confused?

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Here’s what I’ve learned from this ten minute exercise: Writing only questions is HARD!! I’m not sure I have a clear structure either. And I definitely need a second draft because my questions lack the hyperbole that I so love in the Times’ piece. I can see that I did just a smidge when talking about paste and dirt, though. This is good for my students to know because they think I can get it right the first time (even though I tell them daily that I don’t).

I think this is why writing “beside them,” as Penny Kittle would say, is so important. And I’m hearing Katie Wood Ray tell me to use this piece — just this little bit– to create the writing lessons that my students need to know:

  • Writers question everything
  • But sometimes the questions don’t come easy
  • Writers draft and reread and revise and reread and draft some more
  • Writers look to their mentors and model things they like or want to try
  • Writers use different techniques to show disapproval (important in this piece because the reviewer REALLY didn’t like that restaurant

I’m sure I can find some other mini-lessons from this piece, but these get me thinking. Anyone have other ideas?

 

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!!

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…

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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 read a couple of days ago on Twitter that Robert Sherman died this week. Who’s Robert Sherman, you may ask? Well, apparently, he was just the musical genius behind most of the Disney movies I love! (Here’s the link to the LA Times story: Robert Sherman obituary). One of the movies he worked on was Mary Poppins — a movie I could watch, restart, rinse & repeat a million times! — the story which brings me MUCH joy! He and his brother also wrote the music & songs for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — another that I am absolutely obsessed with.

But the song I’m reminded of this morning is “It’s a Small World” — it’s used in a ride at Disney World. The lyrics sort of repeat “It’s a small world after all….there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all” — sung in all sorts of different languages. Thank God for YouTube…here’s a video:

I think I was like 8 the first of two times I went to Disney World — and I remember loving this ride. All the little characters looked to happy and safe and harmonious. These adjectives weren’t really ever used to describe the family I grew up in, unfortunately. But, like all the other Disney products, goodness always came out on top — a theme that gave me hope.

Often over the years, it’s occurred to me that many of the kids I work with have these same issues — like a physical and/or emotional safety problem. I hope that, even though I’m just their teacher, I’ve shown them a little light. That maybe if they see that they have more things in common with others than not, that they can reach out and find some positiveness they long for. If I can lead by example and give them hope for a better future, then I think I’ve done my job –either that, or when I spaz out and sing these songs to them in class, they at least laughed a little and found some joy! 😉