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

 

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

They’re just little kids.

This semester has been a tough one for me. I’ve never been at the same job (except lifeguarding, but does that really count?) for more than three years. So when I started this year, among many other struggles, I knew that the sheer amount of time I’d spent doing this job would take a toll on me.

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I hate rows. But I love a quiet classroom.

Veteran teachers are probably laughing at me right now. My own mother is probably shaking her head saying, “Try 25 years with YOU and then tell me what struggles you have!” I know: 4 years is not that long. It’s a blink. It’s a gust of wind. It’s nothing. But, to a blossoming new teacher, it’s quite a bit of time.

Perhaps I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy, but since day one I’ve been tired. I’m tired of these kids’ attitudes. I’m tired of the bull-crap I have to swim to, just to take a teensy tiny breath of fresh learning for one single second. I’m tired of having to keep these kids’ attention for 1 minute at a time. I’m tired of them not listening. I’m tired. Not the best attitude, I know. But in a field where people is the game, it can be draining!

I’ve gotten so mad at my kids, all in the name of desiring them to grow up and pay attention. I’ve made little impact on my students, relationally. I forgot why I started. Yep, I said it. And during this final, it’s all boiling down to the end results… and I see all of my mistakes. The kid I don’t know. The time we wasted. The work we didn’t get done. The frustration of them STILL NOT KNOWING WHAT EXCEL MEANS EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE USED IT FOR THE LAST 15 WEEKS.

But they’re quiet right now, taking their finals. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any whining, they’re all just working pretty hard. I see their faces, their looks of concentration, their quick glances up at me, their puffy, sleepy faces. They’re just kids. Just little, sleepy, hopefully, hormonal, confused, happy, mad, bullied, bully, hurt, tired kids. Aren’t we all? We have no idea what we’re doing here, no idea what our next step is, no idea who we are sometimes… We’re just kids, in some ways. We’re all just kids in search of someone who understands us, who loves us, who nurtures us, who pushes us to do our best — even when we fight it.

They say that you don’t understand Christmas until you watch your own child experience it all anew. Same with teaching: you don’t understand it unless you see them as kids. Kids who need a hug, kids who need Jesus just as much as I do.

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ZipGrade for Android is so easy! Just create a quiz key, print off the pdf, and voila! The initial download includes 100 free scans! You can pay for one year of unlimited scans for $7. Well worth it!

In brighter news, I used ZipGrade this morning to grade my finals. My principal introduced us to it a few weeks ago. Usually I try to do a more in-depth final that isn’t all multiple choice, but since he was pushing ZipGrade so much, I figured I would do it. I included a paragraph portion, because hey it’s English… Y’all, I finished grading 30 finals in 15 minutes. Not even lying. It’s available for Apple and Android and even has a Cloud you can register for so that you can edit things online. I give it 5 out of 5 pencils.

Merry Christmas, Teachers and Parents and Students and Kids.

MM

 

 

How to Survive the School Newspaper

It was the spring of 2013. I was completing my first year of teaching when the counselor came barging into one of my classes to ask if I wanted to teach Newspaper. Sure, I said. It’ll be fun, I said.

I had no computers, three or four “published” newspaper/newsletters/crossword puzzles that were handed out that year, a meager amount of college journalism from community college, a few free-lance articles in university, a mom who studied journalism in HS and Mizzou for a few years, and absolutely no idea how to proceed. But that’s education, I guess…

Needless to say, I’ve muddled my way through the last three years; I’ve made many mistakes both
grammatical and ethically. I’ve had many kiddos run through my room with eagerness to put out good news and eagerness to be insanely annoying. I’ve taken the newspaper from being a rag-tag bunch of pointless articles and a lunch menu to actual news and good sports coverage. We are still printing on 11x17in ledger paper, but we have three columns and a mast-head so… that’s something. Two years ago I bought a book called The News0819151450paper Adviser’s Survival Guide off of Amazon (way before my student Prime account expired). I looked at it a bit. Copied a few lessons for when I was absent. But let’s be honest: I never really cracked into it… As a new teacher, I didn’t really have a lot of time to dive into creating a new curriculum for an elective — because as we all know, electives have as much enthusiasm and support as a marching band with no instruments.

But let me tell you… it’s a great book. If you are an advisor, read it. And then read it again. It’s more geared toward big newspapers that are actually published on news-paper, but it gives a lot of good tips on how to organize your staff and the articles you produce. It’s brilliant. I myself have learned a lot as I’m going back and teaching good news writing practices. I think this will be our best year yet, simply because we are all on the same page. Get it, same page?! Ha!

If you’re thinking of starting a school newspaper, do it. It’s a fun elective when you have kids who care! I do it with two school computers and my laptop and 16 of the coolest kids I know.

What helps you with your school newspaper?

MM

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

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