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

Most Open Windows on Chrome

Without my planner, I would be flat out struggling through my day. Without Google Chrome, I’d be drifting out into the sea of difficulties. Today I’m going to share my three most open windows. This is mostly applicable to teachers — but it’s got a few helpful hints.Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.01.15 PM

  1. Teacherease.com — Teacherease.com is the system we use for attendance and enrollment. This is our third year using it and it gets better each year. It’s relatively easy to use and quite necessary for the school day. If your school is looking into another system, check it out. It’s well-organized and probably inexpensive if my school is using it.
  2. Gmail — Gmail, for obvious reasons, is so great. I’ve never been more pleased with an email/online organization system. Its ease of use and accessibility are so helpful. I have an Android, so it’s bit easier (and WAY more fun and creative looking) to use on my phone. It’s easy to switch between mail accounts because my school moved to gmail last year. If your school is not using gmail: I highly recommend it. I love the email and…
  3. Google Drive — It’s like a filing cabinet for the internet. It’s accessible from any computer and it saves Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, PDFs, jpgs… you name it. It’s so convenient for my school worksheets because I can create them ONLINE on my laptop and then immediately access them on my desktop to print. I share my Lesson Plans this way, through a shared folder with my Principal. Instead of having faculty meetings as a department, I send shareable documents that we can edit in real time for discussion later. Love, love, love Google drive.

How do you keep your online presence organized?

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.

Screenshot_2015-12-17-09-42-43

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 Paragraph AND the Essay (aka the two for one special)

First off, wow… Week 5. I’m still on week 4, lesson plan-wise. But wow. Week 5. Almost over, too! In my block classes, we are beginning our first essay. This will be year four of teaching a character analysis, and I would like to think that I have SOME of it right this time. Some of it.

We begin the entire first semester by learning the PEELS acronym for paragraph structure. I drill that in to their brains for two weeks as we analyze, cite, and summarize other texts and then write about them. For anyone who doesn’t do PEELS: I AM A SUCCESS STORY. I feel as though this explanation, along with an explanation about sufficient evidence, is absolutely brilliant. You can find more on PEELS here.

After studying Plot, Character, and Conflict (Thanks, Houghton McDougal and Pixar!), we begin reading Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” I love this short story. In the vein of a true short story, there is intensity of climax, character, and symbolism that is hard to not be impressed with. Even the kids seethe with loathing when we talk about how nasty Dee is. We get to have important conversations about heritage, responsibility, and character that I love to have (as you all know, I strive to foster ethical and moral human beings so…). And when we’re done, we make a plot diagram and come up with a statement of motivation for our main character (Dee or Mama). I made a super cool worksheet that can absolutely be used for a different story. And for your teaching pleasure: Character Traits EU. They do that in pairs and afterwards, we analyze the rubric (Again, thanks Houghton McDougal!) and prompt.

The only thing I left out when we reviewed the prompt was what TYPE of essay it was (one of those five pesky ones that even I can’t always remember…). We analyze the prompt and figured out that it would be easier to write 4 paragraphs instead of 5 and that one of the paragraphs wouldn’t even need the “standard” 8 sentences but one of them would need 10-12… Minds. Blown. I’m not saying they enjoyed it, but they got it. We wrote the intro together and then I helped them start their first paragraph on the character’s motivation. They discovered that they’d need to mention the specific actions a character made to explain the motivation so that’s how they organized that paragraph.

I am not pumped about grading 60 individual introduction paragraphs and another 60 motivation paragraphs followed by another 60 change-in-character paragraphs… but I am so proud of my kids, and I can’t wait to see them be truly successful after an edit of each paragraph and then a big, beautiful essay.

In summation (gosh, I hate that…), the way to survive the paragraph and the essay: chunks, chunks, chunks! The kids will be less overwhelmed and they’ll truly be more successful. There’s nothing wrong with writing in chunks. It teaches them order and pattern in writing, and that’s just a-okay with me!

How do you teach writing in your classroom?

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