Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Think Those People Lied....

I think people lied when they told me that this year would be easier.  Last year, everyone kept saying things like, "Next year will be a breeze!"  or "You feel overwhelmed this year, but next year will be so worth it!" or "Just wait 'til you have all this planning done, and you can pull it out of you filing cabinet and copy it."  Lies.  That's all I can say.  I think that maybe this is because last year I was too naive to realize I should be more overwhelmed.  Or maybe it's because I realize now that I thought last year was great, but I could have made it so much better.  Either way, I know that Common Core State Standards have increased my working week hours considerably since the year started.  And I haven't pulled one thing out of my filing cabinet.  Dangit.

Now, I am not complaining, I promise.  I know that you read that first paragraph and thought, "get over yourself, girl.  Life's tough, work's hard, just quit complaining and get down to business."  I agree 100%.  I came home Monday evening from work feeling very sorry for myself.  In my "poor me" state, I was totally prepared to mourn my sorrows in a blog post, but I stopped myself.  I realized that I needed a couple of days of perspective before I blogged about our new curriculum and my new year.  Trust me, had I written this on Monday, I would have lost all two of my avid readers.

Anyway, what this week of perspective-taking made me realize is that, yes, I'm coming home tired at night, but I'm also coming home more excited about what my students are achieving.  I shared my plan for our first research essay in a team meeting this week, and someone on my team commented about what high standards I was setting for all my students, whether they be regular ed. or Pre-AP.  I thought about that and realized that not only do I set the bar high for my kids, but I set the bar high for myself, too.  This year wouldn't be harder  than last year if I didn't think I could outdo today what I did or taught yesterday.

My favorite quote of all time is a Margaret Thatcher quote that says, "Well-behaved women never made history."  We all have to break a few rules to get to the root of where we want to be, but there's also a great Thatcher quote that I found a lot of comfort in this week: "What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose."  I know, without a doubt, that I am passionate about what I do.  Even if I get tired, and even if I have a frustrating day, I have never woken up and not wanted to go to work.  Seeing the light bulb go off in my students' minds gives me a sense of purpose and excitement.  I absolutely adore those moments of cognition. 

I'm not changing my mind.  Everyone did lie when they said this year would be soooooo much easier.  However, I am apologizing publicly for even taking one moment to feel sorry for myself.  What I've done before is not enough.  I can only hope that what I will grow to do will be better, not easier. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wisdom from the Middle: People are Like Vending Machines, and Other Exciti...

Wisdom from the Middle: People are Like Vending Machines, and Other Exciti...: Last week my classes began reading  The Diary of Anne Frank .  Technically, Anne's diary is a nonfiction narrative, not a novel, but it's ou...

People are Like Vending Machines, and Other Exciting Analogies

Last week my classes began reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  Technically, Anne's diary is a nonfiction narrative, not a novel, but it's our first extended text of the year.  When I read the book this summer, I began thinking about what I wanted to focus on and how I wanted to teach the book. There's really no exciting plot line since it's just the musing of a 13-year-old girl.  However, I was struck with the character development that takes place over the course of the text. Anne goes from being an egocentric, childish young adolescent to a thoughtful, strong-willed young woman whose musings have guided thousands of readers to embrace cultural tolerance.  Having said all that, I decided that I would briefly breeze through comprehension each day and focus heavily on analyzing Anne's growth as a character and the qualities that make her relatable to my students.

In an effort to guide my students through a character analysis this week, I used a model that I learned in a grad school class last year called Synectics.  It's basically an extended comparison model.  The purpose of the Synectic is to pull students as far away from the original concept as possible before finally bringing them back to that original concept.  Thus, by the end of the lesson they are comparing the original concept, Anne Frank, to something that they never, ever would have compared her to on their own.  It's a serious exercise in critical and creative thinking, and it forces kids to struggle to find answers, which I think is an important skill, especially for kids who are used to always having the right answers.

I did this lesson with three classes, and they each found their way to three different final comparisons.  One class ended up discussing how Anne Frank is like a mechanical pencil.  Another group analyzed how Anne Frank is like a copier.  By far, the most interesting (and difficult) final comparison was explored by my 8th period class; Anne Frank is like a vending machine.

I'll admit.  I was nervous for them.  How on Earth would these kids be able to explain to me the ways that Anne Frank was like a vending machine?!  Did they even have vending machines in 1943?  We finished the lesson, and I sent them home to think about how they would explain their final comparison the next day in class.  Today, I was astounded and impressed by their connections:

Anne Frank is like a vending machine because she is full of both good and bad things.  Some things (qualities) we like about her and some we don't like.  Sometimes she's happy (good things inside) and sometimes she's angry (bad things).

Anne Frank is like a vending machine because she gets shaken up and pushed around, like when you push the vending machine around to try to get what you want.  That's how the other people in the Annex push Anne around.

Anne Frank is like a vending machine because sometimes people push her buttons, and a vending machine has buttons that you push, too.  Mrs.  Van Daan pushes Anne's buttons and makes her angry a lot.  

Anne can be both sweet and salty with her moods the way a vending machine has both sweet and salty things inside.

Have I mentioned how awesome my students are this year?  I was truly impressed by their thinking and their willingness to jump out of their comfort zone and go for it.  As I read through their answers tonight while grading, I came to the conclusion that maybe we're all a little bit like vending machines.  We're all full of thoughts, ideas, stressors, and other "stuff" that can be either good or bad for us.  Sometimes we get shaken up over something that didn't go our way, or we feel pushed around by someone in our personal or professional life.  I know I'll be the first to admit that I have both sweet and salty moods, and it is best not to be around for the salty ones.  I think the biggest way we're like vending machines is that we get out what we put in.  If we take the time to fill ourselves up with positivity, good thoughts, choices, and actions, then we'll get out of ourselves a more productive, happy life.  So this week, my wisdom from the middle is that I am, indeed, like a vending machine, and I'll only get out of myself the product of my input.  I better make sure it's for the best.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reasons 7th grade is Awesome

Oh, Labor Day weekend...there is something about a Monday off work that lulls me into a false sense of security.  Last night, I had completely convinced myself that I was all ready for this short week.  Alas, at 11 p.m., one of the teachers on my team emailed me her part of our discussion questions, which reminded me that I, too, has discussion questions to write.  Oops....

Fortunately, the questions were written and all was well today at the middle school.  One thing I've noticed about this particular group of students is their willingness to please.  I tried from Day One to build a rapport with all of my students.  I truly do believe that a mutual respect goes a long way, but I have been both impressed and amazed by how promptly this group of kids, whether low or high achieving, has turned in their assignments and prepared for class.  I mentioned this to my principal last week, and her response was "well maybe they want to impress you..."

Maybe they do want to impress me.  Maybe they just have very involved parents.  Or maybe I'm just getting to a place where I have enough guts to back up my classroom policies.  Last year, I had a homework policy, but I also was a big softy when it came to late work.  I would rather a kid turn something in a month late and learn something than never turn it in at all.  I guess I'll never know the reason why these kids are so awesome, but I sure hope they keep it up all year.  It's making my school life so wonderfully pleasant right now.

In addition to their excellent on-time-homework-record, this group of students also possesses a stellar collective sense of humor.  Today, in an effort to quietly hand back papers during 8th period, I asked the students to come get their papers "silent Ninja style," which meant that they were required to be both stealthy and silent.  I am not lying when I tell you that those boys were sneaking behind chairs and silently karate-chopping their way to the front of the room.  One student even did a forward roll out of his chair to get his paper, and I didn't even care because it was absolutely silent.  Silent Ninja paper hand-out was the most quiet I had in my classroom all day.  I think this is a perfect example of why I adore 7th grade.  There's still a sense of wonder in learning and a desire to be silly and play and be a child.  At the same time, they want the respect that comes with growing up.  They don't want to be babied, and that's important for me, the girl who professes to be neither a shoe-tier or a hand holder.  So I guess there's really no "wisdom from the middle"in this entry.  There is only a renewed realization that I am so very blessed to have this job and to feel perfect for my purpose.  There is no better realization to stumble upon anew each day.