Monday, October 24, 2011

Parent Conferences!

I survived my very first experience with Parent/Teacher Conferences tonight.  Between the hours of 1:00 and 7:00 pm today, I met several of my students' parents and discussed progress.  I was a little nervous leading into this day, although I loved every, sacred minute that I got to sleep in this morning.  I had almost forgotten how rested one can feel when they don't have to wake up until 7:30.....anyway, I digress.

In my mind, I had this terrible feeling about conferences.  I just knew that some parent would come in my room ready to devour me/pick on me/belittle me since I am a first-year teacher and, therefore, new to this whole thing and a terribly easy target.  I could not have been more wrong about how the day went.  Far from being negative, it was a very positive experience.  There were some parents I wished I could've met, just to get some at-home support for some kiddos, but all-in-all it was a great day.  I even had a student, in front of her mother, say "I just want to thank you, Ms. Herring, for helping me understand English.  I never got it until now."  I smiled so big.

There were several moments like this, with kids and parents:
"We were nervous about seventh grade English, but this is his favorite class."
"I don't know what you've done to him, but he can't put down books these days.  He's always hated to read."
"I hear about your class everyday.  She must really like it."

After all the fretting I have done this semester about whether or not I'm doing this teaching thing right, it was so rewarding to hear parents be excited that their kids were excited about English.  More than anything, I loved hearing parents talk about how often they saw their students reading a book.  If I can give any one thing to my students to take with them out of my class this year, I want it to be a love of reading.

If there was one, wonderful conference all day, it was with a grandmother of one of my sixth graders.  This student was convinced he was "bad at English" from Day One.  He even told me so every, single day, in front of the entire class. "I hate English," "Writing sucks," and "I don't even know why I'm in here" were a few of my favorite Whinese phrases in this kid's vocabulary.  I was determined to convince this student that he actually was good at English, but I seemed to be failing terribly at this goal.  Then, two weeks ago I happened to mention in class that I was running a 5K that weekend.  His face lit up.  "Ms. Herring!  I run too!! I'm running in that!"  From that moment on, his attitude about English made a 180.  His grandmother told me today that he has, in fact, never liked English.  He does, however, like this English, because I run too.  I told her I would run a marathon if it meant he would keep liking English.

This conversation made me realize that I can't make prepositional phrases fun for everyone, but I can show an interest in my students as people and not just as students.  I did run that 5K, and I was not fast.  But my student came in Monday, told me he looked up my time online (which his grandmother confirmed), and told me he hoped we ran in the same race again.  It's the sweet, small things that make my day, but the same is true for my students too.  I didn't do anything special; it just happened to be enough. If I can continue doing enough this year, then I'd say that's a good start to my life in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Accentuate the Positive

The week and a half since I last blogged has been nothing short of a whirlwind.  Yesterday, I was late for our 6th grade Literacy meeting (for the second week in a row), and amidst my apology I told my literacy specialist, "I'm sorry, the past two weeks have felt like one really, really long day."  And they have.  It has been a hodge podge of pacing guides, grading, teaching, grading, answering millions of questions, grading, and trying to have some semblance of a social life in between.  

I will say, my birthday week threw me off my groove, in terms of school.  I paid dearly for all that time I spent with friends and family when I had a stack of about 500 papers to grade the next week--talk about a near meltdown.  I got it all done though, just in time to turn in grades and start all over.  My students are now learning to write narratives in 6th grade and informative essays (3 point papers) in 7th grade, which means my grading hours have gotten MUCH longer this past week.  In addition, my grad school class is attempting to hijack my life until Christmas.  All of our assignments for the course are due in the second half of the semester, starting now.  Merry Christmas to me.  

Despite all of this venting, I have to say that I LOVE my job more and more all the time.  It is desperately frustrating when smart kids get bad grades because they don't turn in their work, and teaching middle school can drive you crazy if you focus on the fluent "Whinese" speakers all day long. Instead of focusing on those things, I have been trying to do my best to focus on all the good things that have been happening lately.  

Example--one of my 6th graders, who has told me all year long that he is "bad at English," showed me seven different examples of prepositional phrases today AND told me he was starting to get better at English.  Yay! Success!   Another student in 7th grade wrote an almost perfect 3 point paper about S.E. Hinton and The Outsiders last week.  It was so wonderful to read a paper without ever picking up a grading pen.  

A friend of mine used to say "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative," and that couldn't be more necessary in my everyday life.  Crazy things happen.  Lessons get scratched or modified or just plain won't work.  Kids act like they've never heard of rules before.  Those things happen, but our days cannot be defined by those small annoyances when there are so many fantastic little victories to celebrate.  So tomorrow, I will celebrate.  I will be unflinchingly positive, and I will refuse to let those crazy things get in the way.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Inspiration to be Better

Steve Jobs passed away last week.  I would have blogged sooner, but my life got taken over by a barrage of papers needing to be graded and lessons needing to be planned, etc., etc.

Anyway, now is as good a time as any to pay homage to a man who has, through his innovation and technology, kept my life running for the past ten years, at least.  I got my first computer in the 8th grade, and it was an Apple iMac that looked like this:
Old school, right?   To this day, I will never forget driving to the Apple store in Memphis to pick it out.  I was so excited! I also still have one of the original iPods.  You know, the one that felt like a brick in your hand and had a simple, black and white display.  You should've seen my face when Santa brought that to my house.  When I graduated from high school, I got a Macbook Pro that is still faithfully serving its purpose today.  I've replaced the hard drive, the battery, and the internal charging whatever-you-call-it (I'm no computer genius, here), and added more memory, but it's still getting the job done almost seven years later.  I'm currently typing this blog entry on the Macbook Air my parents gave me when I graduated college, and I'm checking my fantasy football score on my iPhone, which I don't think I could live without.  

Steve Jobs, you changed our world.  You have been a part of every educational milestone in my life thus far, and you keep me organized everyday.  But beyond all of that, you left the world with a calling, an inspiration.  Your life and accomplishments taught us to defy the odds.  Be bigger and better than anyone expects.  Be the big surprise.  In the days since Jobs died, I've read several quotes of his, but this is, by far, my favorite: 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

I want to live by these words.  There's something to be said for paving your own way, and I want to see where it takes me. So thank you, Steve Jobs.  Thank you for changing our world, and thank you for making me want to change it, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Small, Sweet Moments

Well, I missed a blog post.  I make a sincere effort to make the time to blog/decompress once a week, but, as we say in middle school, Life happens.  And lots of life has happened in the past two weeks.  Here's a short recap....
  • Last week was my Birthday Week.  Yes, I said Birthday Week, NOT BirthDay.  That's how we do it around here.  I might add that it was the BEST birthday I've ever had.  Whoever decided all the "fun" birthdays were over after 21 told a big, ole lie.  
  • I started teaching novels in sixth and seventh grade.  I love to read, but I despise forcing kids to read on a schedule.  It's stressful for me. It's stressful for them.  More on that later...however, we are reading two fantastic books.  If you have never read Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, you need to pick up a copy ASAP!  And who can hate on S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders?  Talk about a middle school classic!

  • Finally, I received news that we are changing our writing test to get ready for the Benchmark/Common Core next year.  It will now take a week instead of one day.  Let me just throw my calendar out of the window now.  But, seriously, I'm trying to stay positive.  Promise!
I meant to blog last week about Birthday Week, stuff that happened at school, etc., but I decided to live a little life instead of writing about it.  It was a fantastic week of school and celebrating with friends and family.  Plus, I got to use my birthday as classroom management leverage with my students!!  All I had to say was, "You wouldn't want to step out of line and ruin birthday week...." It was perfection.

Anyway, now that I've recapped, there is one event in the past two weeks that stands out to me as the biggest and best small, sweet moment of my "teacher life."  I blogged at the beginning of the year about getting past the scowl. For this to make complete sense, you might want to look back at it for background.  I essentially told a story about a student who, after a couple weeks of being shut off and shut down, finally smiled at me for the first time.  Made. My. Day.

Well, my birthday was last Thursday, and my students were sweet as can be.  They sang me Happy Birthday every class period and were on their best behavior.  Great day, but my best school birthday present came on Monday.  I was taking my sixth graders to the library to check out books.  This particular girl, the one who I thought hated me from Day One, asked if she could please go to her locker.  She forgot something.  I said sure, but meet us in the library quickly, thinking that she had forgotten her library book that needed to be returned.  Five minutes later, everyone had been released to find a book, and I was walking around helping students when she walked up to me and slipped a pair of earrings in my hand.

"Happy Birthday, Ms. Herring.  I remembered that you said you liked mine, so I got you some."

It really is the sweet, small moments in life.  The first week of school, when this student had a rough week and a few dress code violations, I just happened to tell her I liked her earrings as I was calling roll. She remembered.  I remembered.  I could've cried right then and there as she handed me those earrings with a smile.  Teachers really do leave footprints on hearts.  Sure, we're there to educate the mind, and with testing, testing, and more testing breathing down our necks, it can be easy to forget that we educate the heart, too.  I will be wearing my new earrings to work tomorrow as I teach.  Thank God my students continue to teach me lessons everyday, too.