School Starts in Less than a Month?!

[Author’s Note: When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was be a writer. I still do. But every time before I begin writing, I let out this big sigh. I see the blank paper/Word Doc/blog page and sigh. Oh, how am I going to mess up this blank page today? What do my words even matter, anyway? Who even cares? These are words I’m sure you all have fought with as some point, whether with writing or speaking to children or students. You’ve heard them, they’ve been planted by the Evil One. I say all of this for a few reasons, 1. I am NEVER writing about school or life to say that I’ve figured it out. Instead, I’m writing because I struggle so much with my classroom and life that I’m sure someone else does, too. You ain’t alone, homie. And 2. I’m writing because I see Christ in my classroom on the daily (yes, even in summer… Teachers’ brains do not turn off for a second). We should all strive to be like David, the man after God’s own heart, who saw God working and knew of how He worked in the past and he NEVER ceased to tell of God’s works, of who God was/is/and will always be. Just like the secular anti-terrorist saying, “See something, say something,” we, too, as Christians are continually faced with God’s goodness and His workings: we should see Him everywhere! Yet how often do we speak out and tell of His mighty works? I am as much to blame as the rest, but today is a good day to start, no?]

[Don’t worry, the sermon isn’t over yet.]

Dear teachers and parents and students, school starts soon! It’s so close I can taste it. Walmart has the school supplies out. I already have a list. I’m drooling over planners and pencils and the old bookshelves I have revamped in my classroom. I love school, I really do, but I dread its coming.

I dread the whining and the trouble we will soon face as another semester begins. I dread the ugly. I dread the trials. I dread it. I know it’s coming, and that’s probably why it’s so difficult for me. Anticipation gets me. Every. Single. Time. Anxiety creeps in and before I know it, I’m having nightmares about classroom management and skipping class on accident. But, once I’m in it and I’ve prayed my little heart to peace, I am fine. God is good and He takes care of me and my class, but I’m so anxious to begin this year! There are many trials ahead for my school, my kids, and my department. There is going to be a whole lot of ugly.

Ugly looks like many things. It is attitude, lack of support, frustration, stress, overwhelming priorities… the list goes on. However, for me, ugly most commonly looks like a 15 year old. (Any parent and teacher who has one knows what I’m talking about.) I see 120 uglies a day. I see attitude, rolling eyes, promiscuity and lack of self-respect, lack of discipline, disrespect of authority, apathy… I SEE MYSELF, YOU GUYS. I SEE MYSELF. And it’s ugly.

Phew. Now, I see myself and that’s what drags me down. How can I help them, how can I live the Word, when I myself know that I’m just as ugly? Again, words from the Evil One. But today, with the help of the Spirit, Paul, and Ann Voskamp, I see something else.

I am ugly. And so are you. I deserve a great deal of punishment, and so do you. We are surrounded by ugly. BUT, God. God provided salvation for us through Christ, a beautiful embodiment of God. “For in [Christ] all fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 ESV. As His children, once we are saved God does not see us in our ugliness (PTL, literally), but now instead He sees Christ. Christ is beautiful! Christ covers over the sin, takes it away, and shows Himself to God on our behalf. WOW. When I read this, I am amped up. I am ready. I start to get cocky. I am this great thing, now that God sees Christ! I am His beloved, now that God sees Christ! Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds me that I am Christ’s workmanship, not a creation of my own design, not innate beauty. If I boast, I boast in Christ! If I am ugly and now made beautiful, it isn’t me… it’s Christ. Brothers and sisters, we will see ugly today. We may even see it right now while we are trying to read this. As teachers, remember that we are ugly. Remember that we are probably just as bad as the kids we’re tired of, of the ugly we are faced with every day. Remember that, and then remember Christ. Remember the grace, the mercy, the blood, the gift of Christ.

My prayer [thanks to Ann Voskamp today; they’re her words not mine], is to “daily love the unlovely into loveliness.” Just as God looks at me through Christ, may I look at others in the same way. God answers prayer, people. He does. Every time I pray for patience, He gives me six million ways to prove my patience. So I know that I am not praying this prayer for an easy life; I know this year will be hard. I know that God will give me plenty of ugly to love into loveliness. Before we even start this year, I pray that we are encouraged by these words. I pray that we see ourselves for who we really are: Children saved by God’s grace. I pray that we see our children through God’s eyes, as though they are covered by Christ. As though they are just as wretched as we are, but so lovely in God’s eyes.

I am going to mess that up, I’ll tell you right now. But, if you hold me accountable and I hold you accountable and we are praying for one another and God is on our side… anything is possible (even the run-on sentence that I just wrote, yay grammar…).

T-minus 24 days. With Christ, we can do it.

MM

I mean, what even is a curriculum map anyway? Heh heh… But seriously?

Year three is about to be IN DA BOOKS PEOPLE. They told me that my first year of teaching would be the crappiest year of my life. They weren’t wrong. They said that year two would be more about implementing good classroom management skills learned from what went wrong the first year and still tweaking my curriculum. They weren’t wrong. And then year three came. I’ll tell you, I have still been tweaking my lessons (something I hope I never stop doing, there is ALWAYS room for improvement), but I’ve felt so good about this year! I have covered, albeit at a very quick pace, nearly EVERYTHING these kids may need to know before taking their test and going on to English III. Proud teacher fist pump! I’ve got lessons, I’ve got videos, I’ve got interactive and meaningful group projects. I’ve got essays, I’ve got academic vocab. I’ve got bellringers. I’ve got it!

But that uh, that curriculum map… Yeah, I know what that is (I don’t know what that is). I’ve never seen one. My school doesn’t have one. I just know what the words curriculum and map mean. That’s it. So, since I’m about to be the only person in the department with more than one year’s experience in a high school classroom, I thought I’d try my hand on it. From what I think I’m told, curriculum maps are a great way to collaborate with other teachers in your discipline and out. So I made this Curriculum Mapping English II. You tell me, is that a curriculum map or did I just get a little crazy with the colors in Excel? It’s only for my Fall Block classes. I do a modified version for my all year classes because strangely enough we have INFINITELY MORE TIME ON OUR HANDS than block classes do. *coughIhateblockclassescough*

It doesn’t have the standards on it, as you can plainly see. I have a copy of the standards and I have highlighted in different colors the different standard0520151009s that I use in each unit. I just haven’t written them out on the lesson plans. I think I may make a map with the standards on it, just so I know I’m hitting all the bases. I have, however, stolen this great idea from HERE. That on the right is what it looks like in my classroom. I bought mini clothes pins to clip on to the standards we are covering each day. Is it tedious? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. It’s worth it because I need a daily reminder of what exactly our aim is, and if the kids ever wonder how it applies to the test: ta-da! It’s on the back board! Yes, that long list is the WRITING SKILLS I am supposed to COMPLETELY cover in ONE YEAR. Guys. It’s so much.

That board is my pride and joy, or will be when we come back next year. As you can see, I have pinned one of my unit charts to the board, as a reminder of what skills we are focusing on. I also made a list of English I and II academic vocabulary that I hope to implement so much more this next year. I’ll post those buzz words, along with some other key words, for each unit on the board as a clear reminder.

I’m meeting with the English I teacher and the English IV teacher over the summer, and hopefully I will come up with even more to implement this next year. I feel solid for the first time in a long time that I’m on the right track. What new things are you implementing into your classroom?

Happy summer, teachers!

MM

Poetry, Poetry, Poetry!

Two of my favorite things are poetry and Poetry Out Loud. However, I missed the deadline to sign up my school for the POL competition this year… They moved the date, and it was at the beginning of this semester… It’s a stressful time of year, but there are no excuses. I just missed the deadline.

Moving on.

Only one of my students (who is now a junior, and is also a student I have had since his 8th grade year) was really interested in the competition. So when my ineptitudes caught up with me, I told him of my discretion and then a light bulb went off. Eureka! I told him that I would arrange a day for him to come during 3rd hour to recite his poems as practice, since they’d be the only class that would be analyzing poetry at the time.

In my block class we are running out of time. I’ve had to cut out my two big poems, which we usually spend a week on and then write a paper over. Our unit is over poetry, theme, and symbol. I find it best to combine these units because poetry is easy to analyze for both symbol and theme. We finished sonnets on Friday and yesterday continued with two blank-verse poems, “The Arrow and the Song” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Fairy-tale Logic” by AE Stalling. These are my POL student’s poems. He struggled with them last year at regionals, so this would be a perfect chance for him to recite them and get immediate feedback.

Yesterday I made copies of the poems that looked like this. I utilize all of the things we’ve been discussing for the past week on one, nice and neat little paper. We review imagery, symbolism, poetic devices, and tone. I use Tracee Orman’s Poetic Devices sheet, available with her “Roar” packet. (which I already used last week)

For the both the poems, it took a day and a half (a little over 2 hours) to analyze both of the poems and detail their meaning. You guys: they did all of the analyzing by themselves. I’ve never been so proud in my life. Granted, these poems are very straight forward, but just the same, I got amazing discussion and such deep, poetic themes from them. Very proud. I really enjoyed doing this together because it really got kids to understand the use of tones/moods within poetry. Not only were they analyzing the poem for it, but they get a chance to try and look for how it is HEARD in recitation. Light bulbs galore, if ya know what I mean.

My POL student came in today for his recitation and he did such an amazing job. My 3rd hour was so precise in interpretation and discussion afterwards. They gave great advice and discussed whether or not the reciter used appropriate tones in his recitation.

Teacher tears all over the place.

POL recommends classroom competitions, but I never have time. If you are participating in POL, please take the time! It’s good for the kids and it’s good for those who wish to recite. So proud of my kids!

How do you do poetry in your class?

MM

Why I Didn’t Go to the Oklahoma Rally for Education

First of all, I wasn’t given the day off of school to go, as so many of my peers were. That’s fine; if a district chose to give teachers the freedom to stand up to the injustices we are being served as public educators, by all means! Go! Be merry! Yell a little for me! However, testing approaches, and let’s be honest: making substitute plans is WAY harder than just staying and teaching.

Therefore, I was at school all day today. We began Julius Caesar, we continued on in Romeo and Juliet, and we even analyzed poetry (and they did it all by themselves which was amazing). I continued to teach for one reason and one reason only:

my kids.

I know many critics who will criticize teachers who took the day off and school districts that had no school. I know many critics who will look down on teachers and administrations such as myself and mine for staying at school. “Aren’t you just doing what they want you to do, but with no benefit for yourself? They don’t have to change if you’re willing to keep working for nothing!” My kids even asked me, “Mrs. Mac, if we’re so important, why didn’t you go?”

And again I’ll answer: it’s because of you.

I knew coming into this job that it is thankless, it is under-paid, and the hours are well, let’s put it nicely, deplorable at best. I didn’t decide to teach because I wanted to be famous. I didn’t decide to teach because I get so much freaking support from the government and from parents. I didn’t decide to do it because every day the kids smell like roses and give me perfect answers. I did it because I was led to do it. It is my calling. I love literature. I love that literature lets us “know that we are not alone” (Vonnegut). I love kids because they’re sad, and silly, and crazy, and dumb, and sweet, and mean, and ugly, and driven, and lazy, and for every other reason that Christ loves me.

That being said… I am mad. I am discouraged. I am ashamed. I am hopeful. I am upset. We. Need. Change. But it doesn’t start and stop with salary, or testing, or whether or not I can conveniently pay my union dues. It starts at the heart of all of those problems.

I wouldn’t need to be paid more if kids felt like they had a buy-in, if parents supported me at home.

I wouldn’t need to be worried about testing if kids if the previous reason was true.

I wouldn’t need to pay my stupid union dues (which I am only paying in case I get sued by some crazy) if the following two reasons were true.

I’m not saying the government is absolved from its problems and discrepancies, and I’m not saying that it’s any ONE PERSON’S FAULT. I’m not even saying that these problems can be fixed! What I am saying is that there is a lot of finger pointing. There are MANY problems. Perhaps the presence of my peers on the Hill today is going to make a big impact on this year’s legislation. Perhaps my presence could have been helpful today. What I do know for certain is that my daily presence with these stinky, silly, smart kids IS making a difference. So what if I don’t have all the books I need? So what if we don’t have laptops/computer access? So what if we’re a little behind because we spent so much time on a problem they couldn’t work out?

Teachers make a difference every. single. day. In their classrooms. Doing life with their kids. We don’t just teach standards (which are arbitrary at best). We don’t just teach math and science and English. We teach kindness, patience, humanity, love. We teach kids that there are people who can be counted on. We teach them how to be those people. And we don’t do that because this job pays well, or because we might be famous, or because we get so much darn appreciation that we don’t know what to do with it… We do it because we love our kids; we love our jobs.

We may be taken advantage of by the government, by students, by parents, by the media, by the world. But at the end of the day, good educators don’t do it for their approval. They do it because it’s the right thing to do.

That is my daily testimony, and I hope that today’s rally proves that, in some small way, that’s all good educators want. We want to be supported. We don’t want to ALWAYS be the bad guy. Because if being “bad” means making kids do the RIGHT thing, I never wanna be right.

God bless teachers, God bless students, and God bless you for making it through this entire rant…

MM

Stolen Material!

98% of what I do in the classroom is stolen material. Yeah, yeah, I preach at my kids all day long about stealing other people’s work. And here I am. Stealing other people’s work. So I thought I would cite two of my favorite heists!

Tracee Orman is a wonderful lady. If I can, I hope to meet her some day. She is working with Common Core standards and implementing them in SUCH creative and colorful ways! She has so many resources for interactive notebooks (a project I undertook last year, but haven’t quite perfected it or used it since…). I just used her “Roar” lesson which is absolutely brilliant. I started out my poetry unit using it as a way to get kids involved. They loved it. I frequently use her organizers. I just used one TWICE this week as we evaluated arguments in my traditional classes. They’re generic enough to work with anything you an imagine. I combine them with my PASS skill worksheets. Anyone who hates on me for using Common Core aligned worksheets needs to take a chill pill. The goal is the same: educate chirren. Seriously though, just check out her Pinterest and her Teacher-Pay-Teachers store. Brilliant.

Danielle Knight is also another very creative teacher. I just started stealing from her (and by steal, I mean pay for stuff from her…). She has such great ideas for flip books! I’m going to use her Lord of the Flies flip book this May, when I go through it with my traditional classes. It’ll be a quick way to keep all the info together. She has many other flip books and some good bundles for teaching individual ideas and lessons.

These ladies help me out so much in the classroom. What fun things have you “stolen” from other teachers?

MM

Appositively Difficult.

See what I did there?

I’ve been teaching appositives for a whole year now. They’re really quite simple; it’s just a noun that is used to describe another noun. I am Mandi, but I am a teacher, a jogger, Justin’s wife, etc. So in a sentence, when I want to give more details about myself, without rambling on, I would say something like, “Mandi, an English teacher, likes to read books.” There’s also punctuation mixed in with these tricksy beasts. Did I have to include the information about Mandi being an English teacher? No. But by doing so, I gave the reader a better image of who Mandi is. Because the information was unnecessary, I “blocked it off” with commas (because it’s a nonrestrictive appositive describing Mandi).

Phew. Now that that’s over, let’s talk about how to teach these little buggers. Teaching appositives sucks. There, I said it. We only spend about two days on them, and we use them in our Unit 2 writing assignment (an autobiographical narrative that includes dialogue). I’m under a time crunch with my block class (January-May), as it is almost spring break, and I still haven’t gotten to poetry. I digress… Last semester, while teaching appositives for the FOURTH time (they say having the same class all day is easy, and it is, the fourth time you teach the lesson), I had a brilliant opener for these stupid nouns. I always preface lessons with why kids need to learn appositives. On their End of Instruction Exams, they will be asked grammatical questions that will focus on where commas go. They will never ask a child to identify an appositive, but they may ask them to put commas around something that is an appositive. Kids won’t know how to do that if they don’t first know the rules. (If they’d just use the term appositive, I think kids would do better, but what do I know. I’m just a teacher).

My opener involves markers and the back side of the appositive worksheet-packet that I hand out. I love using markers, and as we all know, I love annotating texts. It gets the kids visually engaged as we flesh things out. I start by having them write their name very large at the top of their paper. Then, they choose three nouns that describe them, along with three adjectives. It’s difficult for kids to wrap their heads around the fact that NOUNS describe things just as much as adjectives.

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Then we put it all together in a sentence, lingering on the fact that I COULD replace their name with their noun, but it gives more info if I don’t AND I could get rid of the noun, but it gives more info if I don’t! “And that is an appositive.” Minds blow. Markers drop. Foggy eyes become clear. It’s really quite amazing.

0310150946cThat’s my “secret.” I use the McDougal Littell Language Network 10 worksheets (it’s three pages long and meant for practice after the book exercises, which I never use) for practice because they have the definition and just enough “find the appositive” and “practice with the appositives” to be helpful. We will use our own appositives in writing tomorrow, when we will begin learning how to write dialogue for an “autobiographical narrative” (a very, very short story about ourselves).

Good luck with grammar! It can be so hard to teach these days, but so fulfilling when it sticks!

MM

Midterms.

I haven’t written since last semester at this very moment. I suppose, just as the sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west, some things never change.

After some good, grading-filled snow days, I am now facing the doom that is midterm grade postings. I have several dozen missing assignments, many voices clamoring to be heard as they all cry out in one, unified voice, “what assignments am I missing?”

Now. Is. Not. The. Time.

Today I gave students a 200 point assignment (which was easy as pie, I’m not an ogre). It was given in effort to pick up some missing points. As I told a good friend of mine last night, “If I assign this, the kids who are passing will continue to do well on it and pass. Those who are not, will not give a hoot. They will continue to have poor grades and I’ll be stuck grading their assignment!”

Rant over. I did give the assignment, and lo and behold! Mama put the coins on my eyes because I cannot believe I was right! (hyperbole for you; you’re welcome) As the old, misconstrued saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make it right.” I have preached since day one that I will do my utmost: I will grade papers, I will assign meaningful assignments, I will show up on time and look like an adult, I will give respect even when disrespected. I. Will. Do. My. Part. But I cannot, I repeat, CANNOT make up grades. I cannot pull numbers out of my butt. I cannot hold your hand and make your pencil write. I can only do MY best. What little I ask in return is THEIR best.

I see many teachers walk these halls and shrug their shoulders when kids slack off. I get it. It’s as frustrating as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. I know it is! BUT (ah, the existential but), I take my job seriously, and I take my kids’ future seriously. While we all may never sit and extrapolate the joys and hardships of a literary novel for the rest of our lives, I do find that English work and language arts are useful for a myriad of things. A few notable ones being communication, not looking like a boob when communicating with smart people, effective arguments in daily living, and written expression (a tool we all use, way more than we realize).

This is why I get mad when my 1st hour has a combined average of 67%. This is why I am furious when kids sleep in my class. This is why I am angrily tapping out this article.

You can care about a horse, lead him to water, but he doesn’t have to drink. And that’s okay. Well, it’s okay for me. Not for them. I won’t quit leading them there, I won’t quit stopping by the trough. They will quit. And they will tug on the lead. And they will kick and punch and sleep. He doesn’t have to drink. He doesn’t have to respond. I do what I do because I know I need to do it, because 75% of my horses drink. Even if just 1% drank, I would continue to do it (but I would also seriously evaluate a. my kids and their abilities and b. my own abilities! I mean 1% is really sad… it’s something, but it’s also sad!).

We’re heading into Spring Break, and I’m praying that love of education blossoms in their hearts like the lilies in my front yard.

Welcome to Mrs. Mac’s classroom, we’ve got spirit; yes we do!

MM