Remembering the Reason

Tonight, I attended one of the school’s plays, a back-to-back showing of two one-acts. It was hilarious and silly, and as I applauded for my students and former students, it was a very serious reminder to me why I chose this career.

I need to be more aware of those reminders when they pass me by. They are so, so important.

Today was not the most fantastic day of all time. There were some pretty disheartening moments, honestly. Two of my four classes felt totally checked out of the lesson, leading to a lot of poor behavior and thus discipline, and one of my boys got suspended while already attending in-school suspension.

Then I had study hall. Two of my all-time favorite kids, both of whom are former students and currently working with special education kids in our school, asked me to wear purple for epilepsy awareness next week; one gave me a bracelet that he made for the occasion and told me, “I got you, Miss, here is your purple” so that I could represent.

These are kids I love, kids I would do anything to help. They are kids I spent a year with, who I will remember for the rest of my life.

I stayed at school after study hall, planning to grade until the play; I mainly just talked to other teachers and hung out, drinking coffee, before wandering over to the auditorium. It was wonderful. I saw former students, kids who were teeny-tiny and awkward and uncomfortable with themselves last year blossom on stage and deliver hilarious one-liners throughout the performance.

As they all lined up to bow, and I cheered and applauded with everyone, I made sure to tell a few of my former students how proud I was of them. What a cool thing it is to be able to have connections like this with kids, and see them grow into themselves. What a privilege it is – even with the stress, and the anxiety, and everything that I’m still learning how to struggle with, I had the opportunity to cheer on students that I no longer teach but still support. That’s pretty damn cool.

Weekly Review: Halfway

Monday: Before school started, I left my classroom to put in copies for later this week. Immediately, I saw a student lying on the ground. He was fine. He just wanted to lie down and stare at the sky (at 7:20am). You know. Chillin’.

Tuesday: One of my former students brought a “book of puns” that he drew. My favorite was a picture of a grandma skateboarding. The caption was Insta-Gram.

Wednesday: During my planning period, I walked across the empty campus and spotted a kid dancing to his own reflection in the window of the library. I called out to him and reminded him that it was a window, not a mirror, and that people could see him. He genuinely didn’t seem to know that.

Thursday/Friday: I’ve taken some rare time off to go to a wedding out of town, and just gotten back into town.

Weekly Review

Monday: One of my former students came by to tell me that she misses me. It’s not a funny story, or something odd, or even particularly noteworthy, but it was the highlight of my day.

Tuesday:  In my last class today, I’d just begun reading an article to my students when my door opened and my student from another class walked in the room. She had cupcakes (I have no idea why) and was coming into my classroom (who knows why she was leaving the class she should’ve been in) to give me one. They were Halloween-themed, and the whole class groaned in jealousy when I picked out a cupcake. They asked to split it. The whole cupcake, split 30 ways.

Wednesday: Today was Halloween, which is always an odd day to teach. It’s difficult to discipline when you’re dressed as a fictional character and have a box of Eggo Waffles on your desk as an accessory.

Thursday: I read a poem to one of my classes, and because I want them to be interested, I tried to read it with as much emotion as I could. One of my students reacted to that by saying, “Miss, you should be a preacher.”

Friday:  Today we had class in the library. Halfway through the day, a student asked me at the end of class, “Miss, do you let all of your classes come to the library, or are we the only ones who go?” …. Nah, just you guys.

The Conversations We Have

Year: 2

My favorite part of teaching are the conversations.

Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes, I get so caught up in the minute-by-minute monitoring of “are we going to complete this handout?” or “are we going to stay on schedule?” that I forget the conversations I have with my students are the best part of my job. So far, this week has been a reminder that I should be having more conversations.

Yesterday, I taught the essential question for Quarter 2. Every quarter, the classes follow an essential question – one big, open-ended question – that should be, hopefully, answered by the end of the quarter. This time, we’re asking the following: why is culture important? So much of my lessons yesterday were soaked up by conversations of students sharing about their cultures, asking questions about cultures with which they’re unfamiliar, wanting to know more about different holidays or traditions. It allowed for funny stories, students opening up about their personal lives, and a level of interest that carried me through each lesson.

Today, the tone was very different, even if the interest felt the same. I introduced the Holocaust and a brief understanding of World War II, so that tomorrow, when we begin reading the new class text, students will be prepared to read. This is a difficult lesson not only because of the content, but because, for many middle school students, this is the very first time they’re learning about the war or the genocide. I asked students at the start of every class to raise their hands if they’ve heard of the word ‘holocaust,’ and only about five or so raised a hand every class. It took a lot of emotional energy to be the first person to tell them what a concentration camp functioned as, or what the term Nazi truly means. Yet – despite that – at the end of every single class, a few students would hang around my desk, risking the possibility of a tardy to their next class, to ask me a few more questions about that time period.

The conversations I have with my students, especially ones like today’s and yesterday’s, are so impactful because they’re conversations about issues that matter. These conversations encourage real reflection and curiosity on the part of my students, and that is a sign that my students are growing into critically thinking young adults. Aside from the fact that it is so damn important to be a critically thinking adult, it just so impresses and inspires me to see kids like this so interested in difficult topics that matter in society. It reminds me of a something John Green said, after someone criticized his work for being too mature: “I’m tired of adults telling teenagers that they aren’t smart, that they can’t read critically, that they aren’t thoughtful.” Conversations like these in the classroom offer a safe opportunity for kids to explore difficult, complex, new ideas and issues in a way that encourages them to be more thoughtful of the world around them.

Friday Fun Reads

I love bell-work. I’m not being sarcastic. I do love bell-work. Giving students a quick, easy, low-pressure activity to focus them helps lessen my stress as a teacher quite a bit; I do also really, genuinely think it helps kids settle into the lesson and mentally shift from one idea to the other.

“Bell to bell” work, though, is different. This is a new term floating (correction: flying) around the education world right now. The idea is basically that, from the time the bell rings to start class until the time the bell rings to end class, students should be consistently working on subject-related content. I think the general idea is good: keep students engaged, keep them focused on your content, have meaningful lessons that continue for the length of the class.

That being said, screw “bell to bell” teaching in the last 20 minutes of every Friday class, because I’m going to keep reading to my kids for fun.

I started this at the beginning of this school year for the first time. I wanted to encourage my students to see reading as a form of entertainment, relaxation, comfort – I wanted them to see reading as a form of a reward, not just something they had to do. I figured that I’d offer them a choice: they could vote for me to read to them, or they could read their own library books. (Every two weeks, we go to the library, and they check out a book of their own choosing and are required to keep it with them in all classes.) Every Friday, I’d let them vote.

In an overwhelming vote, one truly surprising to me, they have voted for me to read to them. Every single Friday.

This surprised me for a few reasons. The first is that, this year, I have quite a few students who enjoy reading, and I expected them to want to read their own books. The second – the main reason – is that middle school students care about what others think of them, and I expected them to pretend it was too cool to want their teacher to read to them. I thought, regardless of how they really felt, that they would choose to read their own books, just to not have their teacher talking for a precious fifteen or twenty minutes of class.

I learned, again, the same lesson that I have learned with every new experience in teaching: they’re just kids. They want to be kids and they want to remain kids. Regardless of how they act, or what they say, or what they pretend to feel in front of their friends, there’s going to remain that kid-part of them that really enjoys someone reading out loud.

It’s not part of the curriculum. It doesn’t align to the standards. It doesn’t fit with “bell to bell” lessons. But it’s been enormously helpful in my attempt to build a classroom atmosphere that is comfortable and safe, and it’s done wonders in helping students feel comfortable with me. So I’ll keep reading.