Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Cards a la Teacher Style

I used to send out between 25-50 Christmas cards/photos/letters every year. Back in the good ol' days.

And then our school started ending the 1st semester before the winter break. Finals, finishing grading, and semester grades took over and held my life hostage.

Now, I am lucky if I can pull this together for blog world on the Scribble Lite app that my grandkids love.

Year #1

Year #2 was actually drawn on my whiteboard at school.
Year #3
Year #4
Pathetic, I know. Stick figures are my forte.

My aunts are starting to hate me. 

The upside is that my grades are finished.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Just Don't

I don't care how many times they beg, don't put a countdown to break on your board. Students bounce off the walls, and now I am too impatient for break to arrive.
I never do this. This year I succumbed to the begging. I am an idiot.

You have been warned.

On the upside, there are now only five school days left until break. *sigh!

Hanging on by a thread...

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Magic Moments in the Classroom

After a slow start to this year, the last few weeks have been so much better. I like to call it classroom magic. (Magic because it just happens. I can't really plan it.)

Magic Moment #1:
Students read part of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and then searched for ten photos that showed people enjoying those rights or people denied those rights. (One student took it a bit further and showed people protesting for those rights.)
The next part of the assignment was to merge slides with a classmate. Together, they searched for a song that shared the theme of their photos and turned it into a musical slideshow.
To say that these were powerful would be an understatement. "The Sound of Silence" by Disturbed, "Imagine" by John Lennon, and Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and "We Are the World" were just some of the songs backing some pretty haunting images.
Magic. (It didn't hurt that the students were pretty proud of their work.)

Magic Moment #2:
My classes memorize "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrea for Veterans Day. We study the structure, rhythm, and rhyme of the poem, but mainly we study the significance of the poem for Veterans.  Tiny Town High has a close relationship with the military in our community and many military kids attend our school.
Anyway, the students have been practicing the poem daily. Today, I had my classes on the stage in my room for another activity. When they finished that assignment, I had them recite the poem in a darkened room with only the stage lights. There was a haunting quality to this every hour, but 7th hour gave me chills.
My small 7th hour class has nine boys and no girls. These young men gathered in a tight group and this is part of what they recited:
   "We are the dead, short days ago
          We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
             Loved and were loved, and now we lie
                In Flanders Fields.
     Take up our quarrel with the foe,
            To you from failing hands we throw
                 The torch, be yours to hold it high
                    If ye break faith with us who die
                       We shall not sleep though poppies grow
                           In Flanders Fields."

Those nine young men could have been the soldiers of the past and some will be the soldiers of the future. Those youthful faces made the poem so much more significant. I don't know about them, but I will never forget that moment.

I'd like to think that I control the magic in my classroom, but I don't. I think magic just happens, and these are the moments we teach for.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

End of the 1st Nine Weeks

We are already 1/4 of the way through the school year, but it doesn't feel that way.

For some reason, I am just starting to feel comfortable with this class. It has taken me awhile to figure out the dynamics of some of my combinations. Usually, I feel this way by week three.

If I weren't so buried in grading, I'd think the year had barely begun; but no, my inbox tells me differently. Or it would if I still had an inbox for papers.  (Google Classroom has made my classroom nearly paperless.)

The end of the nine weeks always gives me a pain in the neck-- a real pain in the neck. It comes from too much grading and too much computer work.

Throw in a rotten head cold that my students (the darlings) have shared with me, and I am tempted to pull the covers over my head and have someone wake me up late next week.

If you have any great tips for getting through the end of the nine weeks, please feel free to share. After 37 years, you'd think I would have figured it out. *sigh

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Choosing a Play

I am the All School Play director.  (Nonmusical!) Directing is fun, but I HATE choosing the play.


1. I need shows that can cast quite a few students. (Small casts are easier to find.)
2. I need an equal number of girl and guy parts. (Most HS plays are heavy toward girls.)
3. We have no counterweight system (a tragic oversight of administration when they built the new school), and building sets is a pain.
            A. If you have a show that changes scenery, everything has to be on wheels.
            B. The traditional box set is a nightmare.
4. There are quite a few shows out there that are written for big budgets.
5. In a fairly conservative community, there are quite a few shows that border on inappropriate.
6. I need a show that will bring in large audiences.

Did I mention that we have almost no money?

So, what have I done so far?

*Curtain Going Up
*Our Town
*The Outsiders
*Three Musketeers
*Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride was probably the best show, but The Outsiders had the largest audience.

Where am I headed this year? No idea. And I have a couple more weeks until a decision needs to be made. Gulp!

I have seen so many play scripts that my head hurts. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Seating Arrangement #237

The title of this post is an exaggeration, but I do rearrange my desks frequently. I keep playing with arrangements and discover some that work well for some activities, and others help me separate some problem areas. (OK! The talkers!)

I am trying this for the week.
This is a huge open rectangle. I should be able to see every face from my desk. When we are using the board or the document reader, one row will have to have chairs moved to the opposite side of their desk.

Is this going to work? Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The First Days of School

We have completed the first two full weeks of school, and I am exhausted:

Seating Charts
Computer assignments
Setting up Google Classrooms
First faculty meetings
First PLC's
Last year's State Assessment results to analyze**

And my feet are killing me. (My Apple Watch thinks I am a rock star in the "Activity" app.)

If you think I'm complaining, you should know that I'm pretty sure I have the best of the sophomores in English and incredibly talented students in Drama and Forensics. I really like my classes.

Friday's footwear. My feet deserved a break.

**Analyzing meant going back to see if their grade in my English class was an indication of their success on the State Test.  Ideally, since we use Standards Based Grading, it should be an exact match. It wasn't. About 12% of the lower scoring students did not have scores that were reflected in their grades.  Another 4% of the higher scoring students scored higher on the test than would have been expected by looking at their class grade. I know there are quite a few factors that figure into this, but it serves as reminder to be very vigilant when grading.

**I also marked the areas that were our weakest overall. I will use that information in planning and teaching for this school year. 

So, how is your year going?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Goals for 2016-2017

I always encourage my sophomores to make goals for the coming school year. I remind them that every school year is a chance to change. It is true for me, too. Even after 37 years, I still have changes that need to be made and many skills that need improvement.

My two main goals for this year:

1. Every afternoon when I leave school, I will have my room ready to go for the next day.
         In the past, I have left quite a few things undone, making it necessary to arrive at school at
7:00 the next morning. I'm a morning person, and I like being in the building before students arrive, but one little disruption can throw off my prepping for the day.

         This year when I leave, I will have the date and quote for for the day on the board. Bell work
         will be posted, and I will have any materials I need for classes organized and ready to go.

2. I will brainstorm, write, and revise with my students.
          I used to do this all the time. Last year, it dawned on me that my students dreaded writing more than they have in the past. We have concentrated mainly on the writing evaluated on State Testing for the past few years.

         This year, I am going to discover ways to make writing fun again. Writing with them and all
         of us sharing writing is one step in the right direction.

Other things that need improvement: developing stronger relationships with students, creating lesson plans that require student movement out of seats, and actually using my classroom blog again.

I figure I have a maximum of eight years left. I plan to enjoy every one of them!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Daughters in Education

I think I have written before about being the 4th generation in a family of teachers. Well, that makes my daughters 5th generation educators. Both of them are now in the administrative end of education.

Daughter #1 is my assistant principal at Tiny Town High. She, along with the head principal, have implemented quite a few changes in our curriculum and even our teaching schedule. It has been interesting working with her--and I am always quite proud of the work she does. (Even when I don't agree 100%.) She does a great job of letting teachers know she appreciates the extra effort we put in. She has even added a bit of fun into our days.

Daughter #2 is leaving her elementary classroom and becoming an Instructional Coach in another elementary school in the same district. She has excellent classroom management skills that she needs to pass on. (She puts me to shame.) I know she will be working with a new discipline plan that the school has adopted. She has already been trained in the plan and used it several years in her own classroom. I am eager to hear how her year goes.

So that leaves me... still in the classroom. And frankly, I would hate what my daughters are doing. I love putting my room together, learning about my students, and dealing with the challenges. My classroom is where the fun is. I don't plan on leaving it.

I'm guessing you can figure out what we talk about when we are all together.

Oh, and I won't be at all surprised someday if they find an educator gene. I'm pretty sure it runs deep in my family.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

That Time of Year When Back-To-School Nightmares Begin

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold..."
When Back-To-School nightmares haunt my dreaming
And from few or none do anything I expect

William Shakespeare didn't know how I could make his lovely sonnet into something entirely different than he intended. Sorry, Will! Took a few liberties.

Officially, I had my first back-to-school nightmare. I have one every year. Here is a post of nightmares of the past. They are usually a bit frantic and always pretty darn funny.

This year, my principal (not to be confused with my daughter who is my assistant principal) had 30+ students enrolled in my 6th hour drama class. (There are really 23 or so.) As the hour progressed, more and more kids kept showing up. I finally had someone count, and we were over 50. To top it off, the librarian was also teaching a class that hour, and the principal had decided that we needed to share my room. She could take half, and I could take the other half-- or use the auditorium.

I woke up laughing. It was a bit like herding cats. Every plan made for the first day went straight out the window. This was the authentic me-- flying by the seat of my pants.

And once again, I sure am glad it was just a nightmare.

Of course, if I don't get busy planning for the 23 drama students, I might feel like I am herding cats...! This is just the kick in the pants I needed to start planning 2016-2017.

Yep. That time of year again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Well, July 4th is Over

Every year I get a shock on the day or two after July 4th when all the back to school lists and supplies are displayed in the stores. What???!!!! You'd think I would be used to it by now. Nope.

Don't get me wrong. I love new school supplies. And I mean LOVE. I search out pencil erasers, cool storage containers, my favorite pens and markers, colorful paper clips, and composition notebooks. (Ah...the smell of brand new notebooks and newly sharpened pencils!) After almost 55 years of buying back-to-school supplies, it never gets old.

That being said, I hate thinking that my summer is almost over every July 4th. It has come to signal the end of summer fun, when it is actually just a halfway point. Summer fun does continue, but it seems the 2nd half of summer goes too fast. I blame the darn school supplies already being in the stores. They distract my attention from fun to planning for the coming year. (Or at least they are responsible for the panic that I'm not planning. Panic really detracts from my fun.)

Does that mean I'll ignore those aisles for awhile? Heck no! I want to shop before all the good stuff is gone.

And this is the split personality that I deal with daily!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Last Day of School Activity

Beginnings and Endings are important to me. (Who am I kidding? So is every day in between.)

This year, I wanted a closing goodbye that reminded my students of our year and all that we had studied and learned.

First, they wrote a reflection writing that would not be returned to them. They were to reflect on their favorite unit or activity and why they liked it.  They did the same for their least favorite. Finally, they were to give next year's sophomores some advice on surviving the class with Mrs. E. They were honest and gave me some activities to think about changing for next year. They also made me laugh with their advice.  ("Don't tick her off, and you will be fine." "Do your work. It will bite you in the butt if you don't.") I totally forgot two other questions I included: What is the first thing you think of when you think of English class, and what is the first thing you think when you walk in this classroom? I loved reading those answers. Consider adding those to a test or a quick write.

For the rest of the hour, we played a game.

I created colored card stock "game" pieces. Each table would have a different color of the exact same game pieces. Each playing piece listed a piece of literature (novels, plays, poems, lyrics, essays, letters, articles, and short stories) that we had studied this year.

When the students walked in, they saw the desks in this order. (And yes, this is another desk arrangement.) There were four groups with five students in a group, and they had to work together.

So the game (and I use that term loosely) involved me reading a line from a piece of literature. Then students in each group would shuffle through their titles, and once they thought they had the correct piece, one person from the group would bring (run, leap, elbow others, you name it!) the piece/title to me.

The first group to bring me the correct title would earn two points. If another group was correct but not first, they would earn one point. Incorrect meant no points. I kept score on the whiteboard. It was easy to keep track of who was first because each group had a different color of game pieces.

Since this was a comprehensive assignment, quotes had to be pretty obvious if the stories were from the first of the year. It challenged them to remember and work together.

And oh, the racing! ( I feared for my safety a couple of times. yikes!) There was quite a bit of scrambling.  If everyone had the wrong answer, they were all given a 2nd chance.

The students were amazed at just how much we had covered in 180 days.

The prize was cans of pop or individual bags of chips for the winners, and Airhead candy for all. Sophomores are so competitive that even if prizes are pathetic, they still will kill themselves trying to win.

Finally, we ended the hour with a group photo.

I reminded them that I would always be watching for signs of them in the world.

Them: "So basically you mean you will be stalking us?"

Me:  "Well, I guess you would call it that. I call it caring about who you are and what you do with your life. Feel free to stay in touch, so I don't have to 'stalk' you!"

And with that, the class of 2018 exited Room 502. What a fun, reflective way to end a great year.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer Conferences

I am just returning from two days of conferences, with four sessions, and one earned college credit. (Everything but the college credit was free.) Professional development always refreshes me and makes me excited for another year.

The four sessions I attended were on Social Media in the Classroom, Intentions and Success Criteria, Best Practices in the Writing Process, and Feedback: Failure for Future Success. Only the Writing session was geared to Language Arts teachers. All the rest of the sessions hit all disciplines. Quite a few administrators who are instructional coaches for their schools attended the sessions, too. We were a diverse group of people in any session, and that was valuable, too.

I am always interested in Social Media and how it can be used to make me a better educator. The session reinforced some ways I use it, but also gave me quite a few new things to consider.

Intentions, Success Criteria, and Feedback were all relevant to some of the ideas I have been considering with Standards Based Grading. It was great to find out that what I have been thinking is part of several new movements. Much more on this for another day.

The Best Practices in Writing was a breath of fresh air in terms of grading feedback and writing audiences. I will save this for another day, too.

It is June 8th and a summer conference already has me excited for a new school year and many changes in my teaching style--not just for English, but for my speech and drama classes, too.

I am attending another conference next week. (When conferences are free, it is hard not to attend.) This time a colleague and I are attending together. It will be great to share ideas and figure out how to implement them on the way home.

Summer--recharge and revitalize time. So far, so good!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Turn Off The Teacher Brain, Please!

We have been out of school five days, including the weekend. On day four I pulled out next year's lesson plan book and began marking work days, professional development days, and breaks. Day four! I am pathetic.
I've written about our in-school printing business that creates invitations, cards, posters, and planners. This is year three of them creating my lesson plan book. They do great work.

Also on day four, I created a template to track student progress on grammar and writing skills next year. Still mulling over the details, but I will share it when I finish it.

Today, on day five, I began hunting short stories for a short story unit next year.  I needed something to read, and all I could find was my textbook.  (That is what I am telling myself.) I really need to hit the library for some light summer reading.

I need to turn this teacher brain off! 

I love knowing that I don't have papers to grade or lessons to plan. I love not having to be at school early. I loved driving home tonight at 8:00 and realizing that I didn't have to teach tomorrow. 

And yet... I spend "free" time working on curriculum and the logistics of teaching. 

I have to get a life. Or at least a summer life! 

(I wonder what percentage of teachers find themselves in this same summer state of teacher brain gone cRaZy???)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Harper Lee 1926-2016

I love To Kill A Mockingbird. I have been teaching it to sophomores for 34 years. And we were about 10 chapters into the book this year, when the news of Harper Lee's death reached me. I almost started crying. I'm sure my students thought I had lost it.

My initial reaction to the novel wasn't great. My dad put it on an assigned reading list when I was in 9th grade. (He was tired of me reading junk.) I checked the book out but was skeptical. I hate guns. I wasn't crazy about birds.

Three chapters into the book I was so confused. Scout sounds like a boy's name. Jem sounds like a girl's name. The kids called their dad Atticus, and calling a dad anything but dad was a foreign concept to me. I turned the book back into the library after those three chapters and didn't pick it up again for about 10 years.

This time, it was instant love. I love the fact that the story is told by a child, and those sordid events are seen through the innocent eyes of children.

I love the fact that the kids recapture childhood memories of making up games and having adventures. (It took me about 5 years of reading/teaching this book 6 hours a day to figure out that the kids even watched a neighbor pee off the porch. Duh!)

I love the parallel plot lines and the incredible way Lee pulled both of them together in the end.

Most of all I love that To Kill A Mockingbird was part of a great shift of thinking in the USA. We will never know how much of a role the book played in the Civil Rights movement and the changing views of our country, but never underestimate the influence a novel has had in the hands of students all across this country for the last 50 years.

Scout said, "There's just one kind of folks--folks."

And her brother Jem replied, "If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?"  

 A good question...and one we are still trying to answer today.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Couple of New Seating Arrangements

I still love experimenting with seating arrangements. My students always find it a challenge to find their seats. Those gender colored sticky note seating charts are a lifesaver! The seating charts are in page protectors and can usually be found on my podium. (A seating chart for three different classes can be changed in under five minutes.)

I've blogged about seating arrangements here, and you can see my seating charts here.

Here are a couple of new seating arrangements. I used this one for Speed Dating--actually Speed Meeting. (Valuable when students have to share information with a classmate. They can move quickly to change chairs and partners.)
The students loved this arrangement for a fun, quick-moving activity. (Most days they would be far too chatty for this to work.)

Now, I am experimenting with this V shaped arrangement.
You can see my podium on wheels where the seating charts are located. I'm using this during a novel study. I can use my rolling chair to roll up and down the rows of desks to check dialectical journals. And I love that I can still see every face.

I like changing the desk arrangements. Different activities call for different arrangements. Upon seeing a new arrangement, students expect to be doing something different. Switching it up is good for them and for me.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

One Word New Year

I love the New Year. I've always enjoyed looking back at the events of the past year, and imagining what the year ahead holds. A few years back, I tried to find a way to share this reflection with my students.
I've written about this first-day-back-after-winter-break assignment here. This year I shared Google and Facebook's video reviews of the year. We discussed some happenings that were missing from each, hypothesized as to why, and then I turned them loose on the top portion of this activity.

Midway through talking class, I stopped them and showed them a video- "One Word That Will Change Your Life." It is appropriate for our public high school. (I'm sure there are videos that have a religious slant that private school teachers could share.)

We talked about New Year's Resolutions and how much easier it would be to choose one word to focus on for the year. Then they completed the 2016 portion of the assignment.

The next day when they came to class, I handed them a strip of colored construction paper and had them write the word they had chosen for their focus. I collected the words, taped them onto black construction paper, laminated the whole thing, and mounted the words over my classroom door.

Now, every day when they leave my room, they see their focus word. One student said, "I'm so glad that these are in our own handwriting. It reminds me that my word is for me."

One day/evening is not enough time for them to think about this, so next year, I might initiate thinking about the focus word before we break for vacation.

This was just a little tweak on my favorite way to start 2nd semester.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Teachers Can't Get Sick

My last post was about the day before Winter break. I was sick with a doozy of a cold: fever, chills, and a sore throat so bad I couldn't swallow. I missed the first day of finals. Who does that? I made it for the second day and spent most of that weekend recovering

I felt better during the rest of this vacation time, just battling a stuffy nose. (Wish I had stock in Kleenex.) We did quite a bit of celebrating with family, and we had a good time.

As of yesterday, the cold symptoms are back in the way of a nagging, rattling cough and laryngitis. I went to school on Friday and outlined lessons, posted the assignments for the week, arranged the desks, and made sure things were in order.

I am not going to miss tomorrow. There has to be a way to teach with no voice. (Project a document I can type on for instructions? A lot of gesturing?)

Fortunately, I have great classes. Teaching speech without speaking might be interesting, but I can make this work.