School Starts in *deep breath* 24 Days

img_20170714_175939.jpgSchool does indeed begin in less than one month. This year I have a new school, a new classroom, and new coworkers. Five years ago, I was sitting at my parent’s home in Kansas, just a few weeks away from moving out for good. I had a copy of a 2008 McDougal Littell (no, that company does NOT exist anymore) Literature Teacher’s Edition, a grammar handbook, a copy of Lord of the Flies and Huckleberry Finn, and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with any of it. I remember frequently sitting down and thinking, “Yes, I will do some lesson planning right now.” And then my brain completely went blank. What am I doing?! Do I even KNOW how to be a teacher? What is a lesson plan?! How do I teach kids? These are standards but uh… how do I teach them?! (Note: these are normal thoughts that any fresh-out-of-college punk has at his or her first job… I was qualified to do my job.)

My first days of teaching were spent flying by the seat of my pants and also pulling things out of my butt (what an idiom, kids!). Actually, my entire first semester was spent in that fashion. I had zero dollars, zero Bloom’s levels, and absolutely zero experience. But alas, it as not always that way. This year, as I start my SIXTH year (only about 40 more to go, thanks rule of 90!), here are a few things that are WAY easier (and better and cuter and just generally more put-together) than first-year-Ms. K could EVER have pulled off!

1. LESSON AND CURRICULUM PLANNING

In college, I took at least three classes that involved the writing of lesson plans. Each class suggested different ways of approaching them: always include Blooms! (but no one ever told me what that was), always have an objective!, keep it organized, always include the most specific skills, don’t ever include the skills, and my absolute favorite: “just do whatever makes you comfortable.”

As a new teacher, nothing makes you comfortable. During my first few days of professional development, a coworker gave me what appeared to be a printed excel spreadsheet with no words on it and said, “maybe we can use this for the department?” USE IT?! This isn’t some twisted Sudoku!

A template isn’t the half of it. There needs to be a plan. But when you’ve never met these kids, you’ve never had to make a yearly plan and pace it all correctly (because even though you taught for two straight weeks in student teaching, you still don’t know how long an expository essay will take to write and edit [you also probably don’t know what the difference is between informative and expository essays yet, but that’s not relative… yet]). So I had a fill-in-the-blank lesson plan, but no idea what lessons to put on it. Thankfully, I had the TE of the textbook and EVERY TEXTBOOK RESOURCE THAT MONEY CAN BUY (except the grammar, vocabulary, and test keys…). I lucked out.

I eventually ditched most of the textbook, but kept the bare-bones organization. All that to say, I only knew what kind of lessons to write until I had taught them. This year, as I head into not one but TWO new grades, 7th and 8th, I just sat down with the textbook and the other resources I have available and did a semi-specific overview plan for BOTH SEMESTERS. I’m ready to sit down and type lesson plans with dates on them, and even ad BLOOMS if I feel really spunky!

Like wounds, time heals lesson plans. When you’re a new teacher, they don’t tell you that. They expect you to have it all together. I’m here to tell you: that is impossible. But it won’t always be that way. (Note: there is too much and too little autonomy in the classroom. It would be of greater service to new-teachers from college and new-teachers to districts if there was some uniformity of some kid. It’s just helpful…)

2. Supplies

You have a teaching job, you have an apartment/house, you have a car to get you there, you have money that you’ve budgeted to live off of but… you also need a second income to start up your classroom. There are folders, post-its, notebooks, binders, pencils, pens, highlighters, index cards, turn-in baskets, decorations… You really should just have brought a sleeping bag to your classroom and spent your rent money on supplies, you’ll be living there for the first year anyway. It’s FREAKING EXPENSIVE.

I am not complaining about how much I spend on my classroom. I love spending money on my classroom! I love making it look cute and cozy and innovative! I love having cool markers and enough post-its to use on EVERY peer-editing project! But, when you’re fresh-off-the-student-teaching-boat, you don’t have any money for that stuff (one cube of post-its is like $7!!!!!!!!!!). So you make due with your stapler and hole-punch from home and that one set of markers you bought during junior year because you just really needed to color something. It works. But every extra dollar you have, you spend it on classroom supplies for your kids.

You are very poor.

Very, very poor.

When you’re starting at a new classroom 5 years later, you already bought all that crap! I still have so many boxes in my garage that need to be taken to my new classroom… I have markers. Glue sticks. Red pens. I was so lucky to remember to put post-its on a materials list one year, and I’m still working through those! I was also so lucky to have a WONDERFUL cooperating teacher who was in the same district as me when she retired. Thanks to her I have all the hole-stickers, notebook paper reams, notebooks, and highlighters my little heart could ever want.

3. Decorating

None of #2 stops me from buying so many more cute decorations for my new classroom because I’m graduating from the bachelorette-Goodwill-classroom to the “I’m an adult and I can match colors!” classroom.

When I first started, I had just enough money to not buy a cool frame for my paper degree, so it just sat open on a cardboard box behind my desk. I found some poster-board in a cabinet, and I used the college-magic-markers to make a chart about helping verbs. My room was butter-yellow — on three and an eighth walls (you read that correctly). I had one bookshelf (that was okay because I had like three sets of Melody Carlson books from high school and an outdated Sound and Sense).

But it became cool. Even when I could afford to get a few new shelves and some cool decorations and some meaningful charts, most of my decorations consisted of student art and funny drawings they gave me. After getting over being the new teacher, I demanded my room be painted and they actually did it (don’t ask the first year, just don’t).

Now I can afford to buy all the neon pink, and I can actually have green plants because I’m not in the basement anymore!!! But the student work… that’s what will be missing from my walls for awhile. Those are always the best decorations.

4. PoAfP

Plans of Action for Parents. Everyone thinks they are prepared for this. We just became adults, it’ll be okay. Wrong. Plans of Action for Parents is a continual education. When you’re new and green, you’re simultaneously full of pride and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Talking to, working with, and let’s be honest, DEALING WITH parents is very tricky.

I have no sage advice, I just know that going into a new school and a new grade(s) is going to be such an easier transition than the first time I started teaching. I will still get the, “Where’s the teacher? Oh my gawd you’re the teacher!? You look 16! You’re just so young!” But with my ageless beauty, I have brains, brawn, and BOATLOADS of experience. Come at me, mom and dad. I’m completely qualified, my mom even says so.

5. EXPERIENCE

As we wade through the semesters, so very busy with paperwork, IEPs, tough conversations, tough kids, and all the wonderful and crazy things that come with being a teacher… we gain experience. Experience is not a cure-all, but by-golly it sure helps.

I’m nervous to transition to a new school with new kids and new coworkers. I constantly ask my husband, “do you think those middle schoolers will even LIKE me?!” But let’s be real: if you’re in this thing for the long haul, because you love the kids and what you do, you’ll gain experience, and experience will shine on your face like a saintly crown (at least, I’m really, really hoping that it does. I mean, WILL they like me?!!?!?!)

I started a TPT: Mrs. Mac in the Middle. Check me out and PLEASE leave feedback! I’ll be adding lots more as time goes on!

MM

 

The Rejection of “Lord of the Flies”

Parents always ask me why I teach Lord of the Flies. They hated the book in middle or high school, they still have nightmares about it. Specifically, Christian parents ask me NOT to teach it. Injustice has hit close to home, and so I would like to explain why I teach Lord of the Flies to your children. I am not supposed to teach right and wrong in class, because that would mean I would have to speak of Jesus. But you and I don’t want to live in a world of hate and violence and moral obscurity, so I sneak Him in, even still.
 
When I teach Lord of the Flies, kids get mad. They are upset by the violence, they are upset by the bullying, by the symbolism, by the transference from innocence to experience. They acknowledge that man, when left to his own heart and devices, turns to evil. Just turn on the news, look at your twitter feeds, listen to the conversations at school: we are all hurting and we are hurting one another. We (as a culture) are subject to the Lord of the Flies.
 
“BUT GOD.”
 
And that’s when the seeds of His Gospel sprout. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with students post-read who have made the connection between our lost souls and the saving power of Jesus Christ. We alone cannot change this world. We alone cannot change the fact that men’s hearts worship the Lord of the Flies; they’re fooled by him, they’re scared of him, they are devoted to him.
 
We can’t live on this island without Christ. We cannot change the injustice without Christ. So I keep teaching Lord of the Flies because the truth of God can be revealed however He pleases. In this hour, we so desperately need the truth of God to be revealed.
MM

Why I Cannot Teach REAL Lifeskills to Today’s Kids

speaker-podium-mic-mdI am an English teacher. I teach good reading and inference skills and quality writing skills. Some would say, and with good reason, that I am teaching to a test. I do teach specific standards because my students are tested at the end of the year by a state-mandated measure of accountability. However, my ultimate goal is to teach “real-world” communication skills so kids can be adults, so they can make inferences about tone in others’ communication, so they can write coherent emails and documents for their employers, so they can express themselves succinctly and without fear. But, I’m just not sure that today’s world will let me teach those skills anymore. It’s not that they don’t want me to, it’s that they act so antithetical to them.

In my first hour, we started a unit on Argument and Persuasion. Most of my classes are subjected to long, grueling hours of research and paper writing. I gave my first hour the option to pick topics and debate their topics as groups. This is my more real world, vocational class. They are smart and fun and creative, but they need a bit more of a push to work hard. We started with debates last week. I gave them topics about school and each group presented their topics, then the other groups were given a chance to ask questions and play “Devil’s advocate.” They did so well. They were concise and funny and serious and I loved it.

Today, after a draft for teams and some planning yesterday, we began our debates. I’ve never seen kids with faces so red and angry. My captains were less than leader-y and my groups were falling apart at the seams. Yes, I set up the discussion with rules. Yes, I made them stick to the rules. But suddenly, everything became personal. Everything was nit-picky and rude and well let’s be honest… it reminded me of this:

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=36768760

How can I be expected to teach kids good debating skills when the potential future leaders of our nation can’t even keep their heads on straight? How can we expect the kids themselves to remember the rules if no one else is?! I know we are human and that it is difficult not to get so upset. But if the HIGHEST LEVEL OF LEADERSHIP cannot hold their crap together, how can I teach hormonal 15 year olds to keep theirs together?!

In a world that DEMANDS life-skills, that demands the skills to take a position and support it with all your might, I find that I cannot teach my students these skills. In room 8, there are rules and a moderator who still has some power. In room 8, these kids still have some sense of respect for authority and leadership, but that is quickly dwindling. Kids are what they see, they are their leaders. They really are. If we have any desire to make the next generation great, we must be great ourselves. We must stick to the rules we say we enforce. We must learn how to respect one another.

If they get to adulthood and cannot figure out how to communicate without getting butthurt or yelling at the opposition, don’t come crying to me. I tried. Public school tried. It’s the rest of the world that failed them.

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