Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

Today may have been the best birthday I have ever had.  I walked into school this morning running on four hours of sleep and exhausted.  I was anything but ready for another day.  I started to get the classroom ready for the day, wrote out the bellringer, changed the objectives and dates on the board, and in walked two girls from my 5th period class, to wish me a happy birthday and bringing me flowers and candy.

Um, have I mentioned lately that I love my job?

These kinds of things happened all day.  Immediately after the flowers arrived and my mentor teacher went to find a vase, a group of girls from 4th period came in to deliver "birthday hugs."  My 1st and 6th period classes both delivered rousing renditions of "Happy Birthday" as soon as the bell rang for their classes to start, and I received handmade cards and silly bands all day.  The 6th period gift-giver even made me a necklace out of paper clips....pretty labor-intensive if you ask me.

Here's the thing -- I really do teach the most wonderful students in the world.  It's pretty rare that you get to spend the majority of your workday laughing.  I get to do that.  I love how something funny or unexpected always happens in my class.  I love how I spend my entire day smiling.  I LOVE how teaching these students makes me want to be the very best teacher I can possibly be, because I feel like they deserve even more than that.  Getting to know my students this semester has brought so much joy and fulfillment into my life.  As I was driving home today, I couldn't help but think about how sad I'll be in December when I have to leave.  But today, I don't have to think about that.  Today, it's my birthday, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.  And tomorrow I'll get to go back and do what I love all over again.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Loving the Little Things

Friday was National Love Letter Day.  In honor of this little-known day of importance, we had all of our classes write love letters for their bellringer activity.  We received a wide variety of responses to this prompt.  I read an excellent love letter to frozen yogurt, which I totally appreciated due to my own obsession with Red Mango.  I also read a break-up love letter to homework that made me laugh out loud.  On a more serious note, I read a beautiful love letter written be a girl to a person she hasn't met yet--a letter to her hopes for her life in the future.  Somewhere in between these two extremes on the love letter spectrum, there were two love letters addressed to me.  I thought I'd share them with you.

The first letter I received was co-written by four of my 8th grade students.  It reads:

Dear Ms. Herring, 
It's National Love Letter Day, and we just wanted to tell you we love you as our teacher.  You help us with things we don't understand, and we love how you are always in a good mood, and how you are always smiling.  We love you.

I also received a letter from my 6th period gift-giver, who is referenced in an earlier post.  It says:

Dear Ms. Herring, 
Hey. What's up?  Are you having a good day?  I am.  I hope you are, too.  As soon as you said to write a love letter, I immediately thought of you.  That's not just because you said it.  It was because the word "love" makes me think of you (and Jesus).  When I think of "love," I think of things that make me smile, and you make me smile.  Plus, you're pretty.  

Have you ever heard of the book Lizard Music?  I just saw it in the bookshelf.  Judging by the back, it sounds hilarious.  

Well, I got to go.  Bye.

Reading these, and all of the kids' letters, made me smile.  What I learned was this:  It really is about the little things in life.  I read love letters on Friday to moms, dads, siblings, middle school crushes, Oreos, pets, tacos.....I could go on and on.  The common thread that tied all of these loves together was happiness.  We love the people and things in our lives that bring a smile to our faces.  I could write my National Love Letter day letter to teaching.  As cheesy as it may sound, I love what I do everyday.  It makes me smile.  It's hard to find a job that truly does fulfill you--a job that makes the early mornings and the late nights and the long days worth it.  But teaching really is worth all of that for me.  It makes me happy and, above all, the randomness of middle school never ceases to make me laugh.  I guess we'll see what funny situation this week never fails that my school week starts with something blog-worthy...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Monitor and Adjust

Out of all my classes, sixth period is not only the biggest group of kids, it is also decidedly the most lively. More interesting stories and quotes come out of this particular class than any other fifty-minute section of my day.  This entry is devoted to an excellent example of why middle school teachers MUST monitor and adjust......

I have one male student is sixth period who has decided it is appropriate to give me gifts and compliments on a daily basis.  The first day of gift-giving, he walked up to me after class with his hands outstretched and holding a red cut-out of a heart.  "Ms. Herring, I found this on the floor.  I thought you should have it."  In my head I said, Actually you spent more of my lesson today cutting this out than listening.  But I responded, "Why, thank you.  I'll take care of that."
The next day, he came in with one of those initial keychains.  "Ms.  Herring, does your name start with an 'A'?  Because I found this..."
"No, my name does not start with an 'A', but thank you so much."

The next day, since gift-giving was obviously getting him nowhere, he decided to up the ante, with a little help from his fellow band geeks, of course.  Another boy who sits near our friendly, sixth period gift-giver looked up as I was helping another student and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, Ms. Herring!  Your eyes..."  I looked at him quizzically, wondering if he was going to have an appropriate explanation for this little outburst.  His response was, "Your eyes....they're grey."  My eyes, by the way, are not grey.  They're green.  However, another girl at the table chimed in to the conversation, "Yeah, Ms. Herring!  We've been trying to figure out what color your eyes are for like a week!"  At this point, I was going to attempt to steer attention back to the lesson.  But before I could do anything, my sixth period gift-giver blurted out, in his loudest voice, "I know what color they are!  They're beautiful!"  Every middle school head in the room whipped around to see how I would handle this situation.  In my mind I'm thinking, I MEAN, HOW DO I RESPOND TO THAT?! So, doing everything I could to avoid reacting, I simply said, "Well thank you," and moved to the other side of the room.  My sixth period gift-giver has faithfully kept up the compliments everyday since.  I've come to expect it on a regular basis, and my reply is always the same.  "Thank you so much."  With a smile, of course.

I'm sure this semester will yield several more stories from sixth period, but this is, by far, the best one
from any class period of the semester so far.  What I've learned from sixth period, in this particular situation, and in several other smaller ordeals, is this: Middle school teachers must ALWAYS monitor and adjust.  In life, just like in class, you never know what will get thrown at you, whether it's a gift with someone else's initial on it or an unexpected compliment.  Sometimes, you just have to laugh and go with it.  The past six months of my own life have been filled with one unexpected event after another.  I never, in a million years, would have thought I would be right where I'm at in this moment.  But I can honestly say that I've never been happier, and I wouldn't change a thing.  I went with it.  Flexibility is key in life, and it's key in the classroom.  I just have to always remember to monitor and adjust.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Don't Judge an Emotional Basketcase by its cover

So a student walked into class this last week and the first thing out of her mouth, before she even sat down, was this:

"Is this class gonna make me cry?! Because I'm already an emotional basketcase!"

In my mind, I'm thinking...Woah, girl...welcome to middle school, this is what we like to call dramatic overreaction.  The bell hasn't even rung yet and we're already talking about breakdown?  

It could probably be argued that this statement pretty much sums up the majority of middle school girls in any given time and place.  However, the way she threw her emotional state out there struck me as so honest.  I mean, I feel like an emotional basketcase sometimes.  For example, today I had about five time-consuming things to get turned into my supervisor, lesson plans to think about, LOTS of laundry and cleaning that's been building for some time now, no groceries in my house, and job applications looming.  I could go on, but it would start to get ridiculous. Just typing that list makes me hyperventilate a little bit.  These are not large or daunting tasks.  It's simply that the pile-up of mundane things in life can make anyone into an emotional basketcase.

I'm sure the things in this eighth grade girl's life might seem mundane too, if she listed them out like I just did.  But they're big things to her.  Just like my things are big things to me.  That's really all that matters when we start to feel overwhelmed by life.  It's easy to dig yourself into an even deeper hole once this happens.  So, from this dramatic outburst I gained two pieces of wisdom.  First, being an emotional basketcase happens.  Just get out of it one step at a time.  When I started to feel like there was no way I was going to finish everything, I just picked the easiest task on my to-do list, and I did it.  Then I went to the next and the next.  Blogging was somewhere in the middle of my list, so I am no longer an emotional, overwhelmed basketcase at this point.  I'm getting closer to the end of the list and much less overwhelmed.

As a teacher, I learned something else too.  Don't judge an emotional basketcase by its cover.  While my things are small things that snowballed into one big thing, some kids have one BIG thing.  and it's eating them from the inside out.  I still don't know exactly why this girl was an emotional basketcase on this particular day, but I respect that maybe her thing is a big thing, like divorce or the loss of a best friend.  I don't want my class to make anyone cry, but I do want it to be a place where kids feel like they can work it out.  One step at a time.  Sometimes that's all it takes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Disconnect to Reconnect

Since we're continuing to work on personal narrative in 7th and 8th grade pre-AP English, I've had the opportunity to get to know a lot about the kids in my classes this past week.  One exercise we did in class involved students sharing the things they like, or love, or can't live without.  An 8th grade boy got up to share, and this was his first comment:

"Without electronics, I don't know where I'd be--probably curled up in a corner somewhere."

Of course we all laughed at this.  The kids laughed, I died laughing, and my mentor teacher just shook her head and smiled.  But, I mean, if we really think about it, we are all addicted to electronics.  I can honestly admit that I don't know where I'd be without my iPhone.  I use my GPS and maps constantly to aid in my sometimes dicey sense of direction; I constantly check and update Facebook and Twitter, and, let's be real, I'm sitting here typing out into the nothingness of the electronic world right now for all (or no one) to see.  As a society we love to broadcast ourselves, and we love to be constantly connected.

But what happens when we choose these forms of connectedness?  I think we lose a sense of true human interaction when it's so easy to communicate without speaking.  We can text or send Facebook messages all day long, but how does that affect our capacity to sit down and have meaningful conversation?  My poor, sweet 14-year-old sister had to have her text messaging taken away, because she couldn't have a sit-down conversation for longer than five minutes without checking her phone, and I'm sure she's not the only 14-year-old to have this problem.  I teach about 125 more of them everyday now.

So the wisdom of the week is this: Sometimes, you have to disconnect to reconnect.  My goal this week is to disconnect myself.  Give my Facebook and iPhone and everything else a little break and have a meaningful conversation with someone each day.  Like a real, live face-to-face conversation.  I'm pretty sure I can do long as I can find someone else who can disconnect long enough to join me...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

An Eye for an Eye...middle school style

So my Classroom Management class definitely paid off on Friday.  Not because I had a middle school rebellion in my classroom that I had to subdue, but because it helped me to hear one of the funniest things I've heard come out of a kid's mouth in a long time.  In Classroom Management, one of the most important things I learned was "teach from the feet, not from the seat."  It's great advice.  When you walk the classroom constantly, kids are more on alert that you're nearby, and they're less likely to act out or talk while they're supposed to be working.  So I was walking around the room at the beginning of class while all the students were getting settled, and I overhear this conversation.....

7th grade boy #1: This morning, my little sister's kitten bit me--so I bit it back.
7th grade boy #2: Dude, you did what?!!
7th grade girl: Oh my god, did you hurt the kitten?!
7th grade boy #1: I mean, it bit me first.  So I just bit it back.  Then I brushed my teeth--A LOT.

First of all, this story is completely true.  I know, it may be difficult to believe, but this actually happened.  It took a lot of self-control on my part not to fall apart laughing when I heard this conversation take place.  I can only hope that more ridiculous quotes like this come out of this semester.  Anyway, it was hilarious at the time, but later in the day I started to really think about this little conversation.  What kind of wisdom, you might ask, can come out of this?  It struck me yesterday that what this student was describing is just an extremely strange example of the type of retribution we see taking place in middle schools, high schools, workplaces, and everywhere else everyday.  An eye for an eye...a bite for a bite?  I can see the connection.

However, that's not the wisdom in "7th grade boy #1's" statement.  The wisdom is this: You can give back to others what they dish out to you, but it's definitely going to leave a bad taste in your mouth.  While biting a kitten is weird, it made me think--how many times have I made a biting comment or judgement, only to find myself to be the one more hurt in the final outcome?  People will always be willing to dish out negativity.  It's a harsh reality of life.  I see it everyday between the students, just as I see it everyday among my friends, or in an overheard conversation in a restaurant or in any number of places.  When we're hurt, why is our first instinct to get even?  And what would happen if we all did what our mother's suggested and "killed 'em with kindness?"

That's my goal for the week.  I don't want a bad taste in my mouth.  It's unfortunate when people take the time out of their busy lives to bring others down or hurt them.  But it happens.  My challenge for myself, and for anyone else, is to rise above the "bite for a bite" mentality.  Be unflinchingly positive when faced with negativity.  It can only make you stronger.  And you won't have to worry about that bad taste in your mouth.