The Last Day Before School

It’s hot, y’all.

I drive to school and green grass is everywhere I look — a seasonal anomaly, as it has been a relatively cool summer. Not in the basement. After a series of unfortunate events here at Bethel, ending in the absence of AC here in the basement.

But all is not lost!

I am so excited for this school year to start. I’m ready to see my kids, to teach them, and to grow as a teacher. I’ve been blogging for two whole years now about the ups and downs of teaching, but I must say: I love it. I’m finally to the point where most of my energy is not in writing my curriculum but in assessing where students are at. I’m so ready for my IEP list. I’m ready for grading essays. I’m ready for intense group projects. I’m ready for routine.

Now I just got in an argument with my husband the other day about routine and how we should be spontaneous — however, there’s something pretty calming in knowing exactly what I plan on doing the next day. Summer break is great, but so is structure!

As I head into this year, I hope to blog more and start posting more of my lessons and templates as well as focus on being SIMPLE. This last year was a marathon of crazy. By Christmas break, I was ready for summer break to be here already. With wedding planning, a long distance relationship, and moving: life was crazy. As things start to settle down, I’m praying that I fill my plate with meaningful things — a considerably less amount of meaningful things. I’m hailing back to my RA days where our favorite buzzword, other than community, was intentionality.

It means more Jesus time. More community. More relationship building. More focus on the things I’ve already got started, and doing them well! It does not mean that I sign up to be the assistant STUCO leader, or sign up for sports games every week, or try to save the world.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

As you head into the school year, or your kids head into it, or you’re simply wrapping up your Monday, keep it simple. Do what you do well, and always for the glory of God.

MM

How to Organize Your Life (or at least pretend to)

So with school ending, house-moving, and wedding-planning: my life is a hot mess.

binder coverI’ve gone through several types of planners (in just the last year, but ssh it’s not a problem, I can stop whenever I want). There was the small Moleskine with the weekly dates on one side and a full note page on the other. There was the full 9×12 weekly planner with HUGE monthly pages; three days on one side, four on the other (I wrote out all of my assignments in that one). There was the tiny cute ones with the elaborate pages and cute little folders. The teeny tiny one I could fit in my pocket. I recently found a landscape version of a normal planner, which I use for planning assignments. I’ve had them all!

After perusing several options online, purchasing a few templates from Etsy, I’ve finally settled on one:

my own.

That’s right. I’ve created my own planner! Isn’t it precious? I’m currently obsessed with the teal binders at Target and J+M. Precious.

binder inside

I’ve gone through three different versions of my daily pages. What I really needed from my planner was the ability to make long to-do lists, have a list of meetings, keep track of my Bible study, AND have a place where I can write special event type things. I couldn’t do all of those things in my tiny cute planner because what happened was just a mass of post-its, big and small, all over the pages until the pages were almost unnecessary! So, I came up with this (after much trial and error).

What I have is a HUGE to-do list, with priority classification and a box to check off (because who doesn’t love checking off boxes?!).

I also have a small section with meetings — whether it’s calling someone, meeting them, or taking something somewhere: I have it here! There’s a very designated area for the time and the meeting.

I also have this little box which is free to be used for WHATEVER. Packing lists. Grocery lists. Books to read. Etc. It’s cute! (Don’t you love that washi tape?)

to do listAnd then finally, I have the box for Bible Study. J and I are currently reading chronologically through the Bible this year. I use my bible.com app to keep track, but sometimes I just want to reference it real quick (and, you know, use a pen to mark it off!). So here, I write down about two weeks in advance what I’m supposed to be reading. It’ll also be helpful when I start other studies this summer/fall (Women’s Bible study, College Girls’ Bible study, spiritual development, etc).

calendarNow, those to-do lists are all fine and dandy, but I still need a big calendar to keep track of big events. I purchased this one on Etsy* and had it printed at DemCo on cardstock (so many prepositions). However, I’m quickly regretting it. It’s terribly cute! However, in a normal planner, which is smaller, a double sided calendar is a must. In a larger planner, such as this one, of my own creation, it’s hard to write on because of the big cute pocket in front which keeps post-its and markers. So, next year (or quite possibly very soon), I’m going to find a one sided calendar.

All that to say, this is still a work in progress. But I’m glad with what’s happening. With all that’s going on, it’s important for me to be and feel organized. (now if only I could focus my time on my to-do list and not on this blog-post…)

If you’d like a copy of the to-do list (not that it’s that fancy), please let me know. I’m happy to share!

MK

How to Teach English II Good, and Stuff

*deep breath*

My students have been testing the last week or so (for English II and various other classes), so I’ve had quite a lot of time on my hands. After taking down all of the unnecessary and outdated wall-hangings, organizing my files, and taking out the recycling I finally sat down and worked on my curriculum.

I have textbooks, resources, and a handful of random workbooks from which to glean my curriculum. I DO NOT have time to teach the whole literature book. I just don’t. So I have had to find ways to teach the key elements in as little time as possible. Besides literature, I also need to implement more grammar and vocabulary. Part of the 10th grade norm is to write a research paper, which I never seem to have time for. That’s they key here: all of those things take time!

This year, I tried to teach Lord of the Flies to my block class for all of the concepts. Do not do that. The kids don’t get as much grammar, writing instruction, and vocabulary AND they get bored with the book. It’s bad. Unfortunately, I see it’s disadvantage in less-than-satisfactory kids’ test scores. Where normally I might be able to catch those fall-behind kids, I totally didn’t this semester. That’s another blog.

So after beating my heIMG_5661ad against the literal and proverbial desk, I finally sat down after cleaning and made a true, grammar and vocab filled, concept rich curriculum which I have neatly fit into a block class schedule (just one semester, 1.25 hours a day). I have plenty of writing. I hit all of the key concepts. And I even get to include a research paper AND Julius Caesar!

Ah. The relief! The unadulterated freedom and peace!

It’s ended up being a 6 unit curriculum, with 1-2 added book projects (to be completed outside of class).

Introduction: sentence structure, MLA format, and Main Idea and Details

Unit 1: Plot, Conflict & Character

Unit 2: POV and Genre

Unit 3: Poetry

Unit 4: Non-Fiction

Unit 5: Argument and Persuasion

Unit 6: Julius Caesar

Lord of the Flies and  Huckleberry Finn are staple Sophomore English texts, so I’m going to make them required outside-of-school readings with book reports (which is slightly different than my Accelerated English II assignments, which are indepth readings of Secret Life of Bees, Anthem, and Things Fall Apart).

They said by the third year, teaching would become a lot more second-nature. And they weren’t kidding! So excited to finally have a complete curriculum. So much of teaching is trial and error, seeing works and what doesn’t, seeing what kids need to be taught and what they just need to review… It’s safe to say that my job is new EVERY time I enter the classroom. And that’s a-okay with me.

MK

(soon to be MM)

Why We Should Teach Grammar

I hope I ruffle quite a few feathers today. I hope people become upset. I hope people take a moment to think about what we are teaching our children.

As an English teacher, of course I support teaching grammar in language arts. As a future mother, I support teaching grammar in language arts. As an English speaking citizen of the United States of America, who hopes to work closely with all kinds of people — no matter age, race, background, or livelihood — I support teaching grammar in language arts.

Here’s why!

Grammar includes sentence structure, parts of speech, different types of phrases, punctuation, and spelling. Yes, spelling.

While many things about our language have changed through time, and are continuing to change, I am a prescriptivist with descriptivist tendencies. English is a fluid language, adding words daily, changing the ability of an adverb to be in a certain place by simply popularizing the new way in a TV show (thanks, “Star Trek”). However, there are rules; and there are a lot of them. There are rules that need to be followed.

I was recently teaching my kids principal parts of verbs and the difference between the singular helping verb has and the plural helping verb had. The principle parts of verbs, while accompanied by rules, are sometimes broken. Rarely, but sometimes they are broken! With the helping verb has, I would never, ever say “I has a question;” however, I is singular and so is has! I breaks the rules. So does you.

We could move on even further into the “i before e, except after c” rule that is only followed by about 30 words in the English language.

We have rules for how words work, but not every word follows every rule all of the time. However, we would not know the difference if we didn’t first know the rule itself.

Now let’s pause and think how this affects our kids — because it does. While I may never, in common conversation, analyze a sentence and find the predicate noun or the appositive phrase, and I may never be quizzed on what an independent clause looks like or whether or not I should use a semi-colon or start a new sentence. However, I am expected to speak and write like an intelligible human being. I am expected, not merely as an English teacher, but as a professional. Over half of our lives are spent communicating, either with our loved ones or with authorities, with new people and old acquaintances, with commoners and VIPS. We cannot call ourselves good communicators until we have mastered our given language of communication.

My creative writing professor, Dr. Myers, told me that he did not want to see any of our poetry or short stories until we had mastered and understood the proper ways to write both genres. He said we had no ability to add to the culture unless we understood the culture. I was a little hurt by his words, but since then I have analyzed my pre-CW class poetry with post-CW poetry and let me tell you… It’s a world of difference. Since then I have played with form and broken some rules, but I was not allowed to do so, and I could not effectively do so, until I had mastered the forms, the rules, the guidelines.

The same is true for our children and students: we cannot let them play with conversational speech until they understand how it’s purest form is to be written and spoken. We cannot let them say, “Well, it doesn’t matter; that’s just how I do it.” We cannot let them throw out the rules because they seem archaic, because mainstream ignorance has changed them and deemed them out-of-fashion. I myself throw in a perf (perfect) and totes (totally) now and then. I myself may type “c u latr” in a text (that’s a lie, but you get the point) but understand that in a formal essay, an email to my boss, or a work application: THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

We must know the rules before we can break them. We must understand how to write and communicate formally before we endeavor to do so informally. The same is true with friendship, is it not? When I met my Sophomore roommate, I wouldn’t have dreamed of calling her names for fun or “letting my hair down” — I wanted her to like me, to see me as intelligent and adult-ish. As time wore on in that Taylor suite, we became familiar and thus the names started being called, the hair started to be let down. From formal to informal. From picking up our dirty clothes to forgetting how to clean our room, we started formally and ended informally. The same is true for writing and communicating: we cannot break the rules until they know what the rules are.

Now, spelling. I have heard many elementary teachers protest spelling by saying it is unimportant in light of the fact that we have spell check; it’s too stressful on kids to learn vocabulary or have spelling tests. Try typing in colonel when you don’t know how to spell it. “cernal?” “cornel?” “cernel?” Sorry. No dice. How about the difference between saying there instead of their. Both are spelled correctly. Spell check won’t catch that. Spelling exists for a reason. Without consistency of spelling, our language would fall apart. We wouldn’t be able to communicate. Webster figured this out and thus we have the dictionary! Without consistency of spelling, the language wouldn’t exist.

I know many ignorant people who would say “Well, this is how I do it so who cares?” This kind of thinking, this blatant disregard for the rules is a creeping weed that will soon destroy a whole green, beautiful lawn.  Say y’all. Say ain’t. Speak in ebonics or deep southern drawl: I don’t care. What I do care about is that we acknowledge, understand, and can aptly apply the rules when necessary.

I am not trying to exclude certain ethnicities, cultural differences, or people groups. I am not trying to stand on my Puritanical soap-box of English teacher-y-ness. I am, however, trying to save my language. I am, however, dying to create competent, intelligent students who can effectively communicate.

If we cease to communicate, we cease to exist. If we must use the rules on the road, if we must use the grammar rules in foreign language classes, then I implore this generation of teachers, students, citizens, parents, kids, math-majors, and English-majors alike that if we do not follow the rules of our given language, we will soon become relics in a tomb where no one will be able to make sense of us.

That is why we should teach grammar in schools, K-12. I cannot wait to have children so I can teach them how cool and confusing this language is. And I cannot wait until they discover its nuances, its puns, its figurative language, its idioms. I cannot wait until they discover that there is an apostrophe with their name when they are speaking of their own items; that dependent clauses are joined to independent clauses with commas, thus giving clarity to a sentence; that when there are other commas in a sentence, we must then use semi-colons to separate the different parts.

If our land is beautiful and we must respect it, so should we do to our language. If our people and cultures are beautiful and we must respect them, so should we do to our language.

We must teach grammar. We must.

How Rubrics Saved My Life

If we are being honest, Jesus saved my life. But the use of rubrics in my classroom has been a huge blessing.

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I teach English II, which is an End of Instruction tested subject in the State of Oklahoma. I have a lot of material to cover and a limited amount of time in which to do it. With the implementation of Common Core, I make it a priority that writing be a part of the curriculum as much as possible. But, in the world of an English teacher, more writing, which equals more learning and hands-on-experience, also means more grading.

Blech.

This year, I took the basics from the state writing rubric and only included what a score of 4 would earn. I average the five components together (on a scale from 4-1, like the state test) and that’s the grade I give the student (all of my essays are out of 100%).

I have had these English II Writing Rubricsmade up for awhile, but I never really used them. I have specialized rubrics that I use for other essays, but for general writing — I was lost. In one of my classes, I’m guinea-pigging the use of Interactive Notebooks. While students have a very organized notebook, I have a hard time grading their writing from the notebook! I’m currently halfway through grading the essays from my 3rd hour with these rubrics. There’s space to write notes and I highlight the areas students need the most work.

It’s going so fast, having this guide, and it’ll be a really quick and easy way for me to organize and post their grades.

In short, the use of the rubric has saved my jam-packed weekend from being “bleh I have to grade essays.” Instead it’s more of, “now I can hangout with my boyfriend and not have a worry on my mind!” Thanks, rubrics!

Ms. K

Arguing the Inarguable

Blah Blah Blah is usually how students interpret an argument. Even better: most students believe that an argument involves a problem where the arguer is mad at someone and is taking out their angst on that person. With the implementation of Common Core, there is a need to explain that arguing is simply making a claim and supporting it. We use it all the time, from our first Interpretive Essay to our last assignment of building a Knight’s resume.

In my 1st and 4th hour, we have begun a 4-5 week unit on Argument and Persuasion. In the Unit we will peruse the joy of persuasion as we read Sagan’s “On Nuclear Disarmament” and two articles about animal rights and animal testing. The articles are meant to encourage discussion and expand students’ minds in these controversial areas. At the end of the unit, we will research for an editorial.

Last week I had the privilege of being observed by my principal (observation 3 of 4 of the 2013-2014 school year). I don’t pull out the dog-and-pony show when he comes because (with the exception of a few low-key days) every day is a crazy-fun day (not just my words). On this particular day, I planned for him to see a type of lesson I’d never done before. We had already introduced the concepts of an argument the day before, taking notes from the textbook and coming up with examples from media on different types of persuasion, but on the day of my observation we were going to concretely put those ideas into practice.

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I love copy paper and markers.We folded a piece of copy paper into thirds so we’d have a pretty good outline for our graphic aid. I stole the aid from my textbook (And should have done so AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER) to help explain and identify the Claim and Support (also helpful when teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details). We took markers and outlined our roof and pillars. You’ll notice that the roof is marked as the “claim” and then we have two supporting reasons and a counterargument.

The claim, for this exercise, had to be a simple sentence presenting a the existence of something that doesn’t actually exist. For instance, one boy claimed that Bigfoot is real, another that snow was just angels’ dandruff. One girl claimed that running was actually bad for your health. A bright young man claimed that there are no other countries besides America, it’s all a Hollywood facade.

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For each claim, the students had to give two reasons why the claim was true. They could only use ONE testimonial, the others had to be “facts” (made up details from scientists, experts, the news, etc). The counterargument had to be different than the reasons they had previously given. Each supporting detail had to be explain in at least five sentences.

It took them awhile to begin; making up a topic and claiming its existence proved a bigger challenge than they expected. But the results were phenomenal. I prefaced the lesson by explaining that we would use this model to do an editorial later in the unit, but for today they would just have to make something up. They were engaged, they understood what a claim and counterargument were, and what they came up with truly was genius.

In the spirit of Common Core, I put learning into their hands. I taught them the structure of an argument, the importance of “real facts” to back up a claim, and the joy of being creative.

It was a good lesson and a good day.

MK

 

The Importance of Being Earnest

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my career is the importance of being earnest. Being earnest includes passion for my craft, love for my students, and patience in ALL things.

Being earnest is difficult.

Under my belt sits one and a half years of teaching. That’s three semesters of whining, crying, punch-dancing, and door slamming. And then there’s my students’ behavior! I would be lying if I said I haven’t wanted to quit — at least 8 times in the last 6 months. HOWEVER, I have not yielded. I have not given up. I have remained in musty room 8 with the crappy ProBoard, the stained carpet, and the mismatched desks.

My, how that sounds so dire, so hopeless. But I will be the first to say: all is not lost. As the semesters have passed, the breaks seem to get shorter and the kids seem to pay less attention and sometimes… on my darkest days… the fire that started my teaching career seems to fizzle and burn out. I experienced this at the end of my first semester, over a year ago. I had some very ornery boys in one class, I’d lost complete control in my last hour, I had messed up the grading, I had a long list of to-don’ts. I left for Christmas break in a proverbial fetal position, ready for a BREAK from the chaos that had become my life.

What I experienced over that break was overwhelming. I slept. I didn’t grade anything. I wasn’t talking for hours on end. I wasn’t having to send kids to the office. I had a break. A real life break. It turns out that the fire did not burn out, it had only dimmed. What God did to my fire over break was kindle it and make it burn a smidge brighter. I headed into the second semester with fresh eyes and a vigor for the subject, which I had never felt before. I had new students and a new heart. I would be lying if I said there weren’t struggles — because there were. But I had a heart for what I was doing; I loved it. And so things got better.

Fast forward through an amazing and much needed summer to the beginning of the 2013 Fall Semester. I was ready and willing and had a new teacher on my team. Within the first two weeks, I got too comfortable and I let a lot slide. My pacing was off. I was sick of the EOI prep. I was upset at the legislation put in place by people who didn’t know my struggle. I was upset with kids who didn’t give a flying fart in space about their grades. I was upset because parents wouldn’t support me in my decisions I made and the natural consequences that had descended upon their children. I was so ready for Christmas Break that I could feel it the MOMENT the first bell rung after Thanksgiving Break.

I desperately searched for the rest and peace that I’d felt last Christmas break, that peace that helped me ease into the second semester.

Empty. Dry. Nothing.

Monday came around and with it came a slew of problems: kids who wouldn’t work, a new mandate for teacher evaluation, an impending head-cold, the list went on. I sprinted through the day prepping for two new classes, making to-do lists the length of the Nile, running around to print my grade verification sheets… As the day closed, three things happened:

1. I realized just how much my administration cares about education and about me as a teacher. Thus, I felt appreciated and a little hopeful.

2. 90% of my kids passed their EOI and over 95% had a C or better (most with A’s or B’s). They’d earned those grades.

3. I love what I do.

At the end of the day, after teaching sentence structure and starting fresh with new students, I remembered that I’m here for a reason: I love teaching literature and writing. My philosophy is that my discipline is crucial to civilization. Literature, what is written and then read, connects us to each other. Writing, which is used for expression, also connects us to each other. The skills I teach in this class are so important in “real life.” Fifty percent of the grade is essentially following instructions, the other 50% is basically just learning how to interpret the world around us and then explain it to each other.

I have quite a few kids this semester that I know are struggling. But I will diligent and forward and we will succeed.

The importance of being earnest is that we can’t succeed without it. Not even a little bit.

MK