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

I think I know how He Feels

It’s midterms here at school! That means all of those zeroes are rising up from their sleepy graves and haunting those do-poorly students as they face report cards.

My most unfavoritest time of the year!

I love struggling students. I love to help them and encourage them. I love to see them turn things in. But you see, that’s the rub: turning things in. I would argue that 90% of my failing students fail because they don’t turn things in. Not that they would have made stellar grades on it, but at least they would have gotten points.

It’s been a rough year for a few of my students; they’ve missed quite a bit of class due to illnesses. It’s weird, though, that I never ever see this illness in my class. They just miss a lot of school. Moving on. I’ve held lunch sessions, offered make-ups, given detailed assignment sheets, given the opportunity for bonus points (that were earned, I assure you). I even offered a full class period of one-on-one help and make-ups last week because our school was “out” for Softball Finals. Did the students take the advantage of it? Yes, actually. All but one. That sick kid who is never sick, he chose to go to the game. “Oh, I’ll turn all of those papers in tomorrow.”

Skeptical teacher look, “Including that 100 point assignment that I’ve given you an extra week on?”

“Oh yeah yeah, I’ll turn it all in.”

Friday comes around: no student, no papers. Monday comes around: student, no papers.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

0.

Phew. That’s a lot of zeroes! The kid went from a passing grade to an F in 15 seconds. He was gone on Friday, as well, and when I gave him his absent work (an open notes review test) he refused to do it, “But you didn’t tell me the instructions!”

“Well, I told you it was open notes, multiple choice, and due tomorrow. If you’d even looked at the test, the instructions are right on top.”

Huffing and puffing.

Fast forward to about 15 minutes ago, soft knocks at the door. “Oh hey so… I forgot my test or lost it or something, can I have another?”

My heart has never beat so loud in my ears. I’ve never been so irate. I got him a test, and can’t wait to grade it.

I have given this student in particular time, after time, after time, after time to correct his mess, to finish his work, to do what I asked of him. But he refuses. All I get are half-hearted apologies and assignments that are failed simply because he doesn’t listen to instructions.

And as I sat down to pound all of this out on the keyboard, MAD TEACHER STATUS, I heard a soft whisper (no joke), “Really? Because… isn’t that what you do to Me? All the time? Despite my, you know, death on the cross for your sins and all of that grace I have continually poured out for you?”

Oh. Ouch.

Seriously, this kid is doing to me, an imperfect teacher, exactly what I do to Christ daily. I don’t listen. I don’t “turn stuff in.” I don’t do what I’m asked to do, I just sorta do it. And here I sit, all mad and angry at this kid, seeking justice, wanting him to do better but instead of having pity and praying for him, I am so mad I could spit.

A wise woman once told me that she told her daughter in a time of pride, “I doubt you could ever be so put upon, unless you’ve slammed that crown of thorns upon your own head and had to die for that person’s sins!” (I’m paraphrasing). And isn’t it true?! Who am I to get hurt about the injustice done when I myself am committing an injustice with FAR greater consequences? If we took the time each day to realize the grace poured on our own hearts, how much grace would we then pour out to others?

The kid comes back in about 28 minutes. Praying for grace and clarity, and for a better semester ahead.

Ready for Fall Break! Ready for Christ to break me.

MM

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