Back to school, Back to school: An Update from Your Favorite 7th grade Teacher

Today was the first day of school in our ever-growing district, and I couldn’t be happier with my new set of kiddos. I’m so excited to be back to school. It is going to be a year of learning for all parties involved. Wait, did I just say I was learning too? YES! Absolutely! Things are changing in my little world, and I’m along for the ride in a great school year.
The first big announcement that I’d like to make is that I’ve been blessed with the task of teaching inclusion this year. Yes, this is absolutely a blessing. I feel like God has called me to work with all 80 children I have this year, and I can’t be more excited than I currently am to tackle this classroom with them. I am nervous, though, about reaching each and every one of them to the best of my ability. Please pray for guidance and insight into this and share your best differentiating/inclusion practices with me! It takes a village!
Secondly, I’m co-sponsering Drama Club this year! How much fun is this going to be? It is like an English teacher’s dream. I get to work with several of my sweet students from last year AND help create something beautiful out of the written word. Classic.

Lastly, I want to make sure all my readers (you are out there, right) know that I WILL be continuing the series‘ I started this summer. Unfortunately, the sun, sand, and professional development got the best of me. I have lots to share about what I learned, and you can be on the lookout for those continued series soon!

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First Common Myth: Common Core and the Uniformed Burden It Carries (Part 2)

As promised, I’m starting my series about the misunderstandings that Common Core carries around with it, and I’d like to start with one aspect of negativity about the core that I feel really strongly about.

Myth: We don’t need the Common Core State Standards, our standards were fine as they were. Now, this post doesn’t necessarily apply to many other states, but Mississippi surely could benefit from the new standards, and here is my evidence:

Source: Rethink Mississippi

Source: Rethink Mississippi

Just in one Facebook status, “Stop Common Core in Mississippi” could have improved their writing by following at least 7 standards. This speaks for itself. Also, if you look at the standards listed here, I can’t find any evil in them.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Common Core and the Uninformed Burdens it Carries (Part 1)

Source: dcslv.org

Source: dcslv.org

I once had a parent tell me that the Common Core State Standards were “actually created by Hitler” and “Obama’s most recent way to brainwash our children.” Trying to reason with this woman was like trying to put a cold, wet bathing suit back on, nearly impossible. Though I never did get to a reasonable conclusion with this woman, she did get the wheels in my brain turning. How have the standards become so hated?

I’ve read the standards- a lot. I’ve studied them alone, in groups, with college professors. I’ve attended conferences and read books about them. I can’t find hitler, the devil, or any other evil in these standards no matter how hard I’ve tried.

 

While I understand that there are pros and cons to every venture, and Americans are never going to agree one-hundred percent on the Common Core initiative, we have to draw the line somewhere, right? Misinformed conclusions are being drawn about Common Core State Standards constantly. In fact, someone probably just made a misinformed decision about the matter as I was typing that sentence.

This is the first post in a series about the Common Core State Standards and all of the baggage that they carry with them. I’m not going to try to persuade you either way about the standards in this series, but I would like to invite you to take a look at the documents with me before jumping to absurd conclusions from something you’ve read on the internet, or gossip you heard at the grocery store, or a speech you heard a self-serving politician make. Your opinion is valid and respected, but only if it is driven by logical reasoning and evidence.

Stay tuned for the first post. Feel free to comment below to request specific topics relating to Common Core. I’d love your input on the content of this series.

 

Proud Teacher: Openly Bragging

In response to Right to Brag by The Daily Post

I’ve recently completed the South Mississippi Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute. I feel like I can unashamedly brag about this because it is indeed invitational. You have to be identified as an excellent teacher of writing before the SMWP will even consider inviting you, and now I will be a teaching consultant for the SMWP and work with teachers in other schools in southern Mississippi.

One of the key principles to being a teacher of writing, is becoming comfortable in your own writing first. This is a key component of the summer institute, we did a lot of writing. I’d like to share a fictional piece that I wrote and am very proud of. Please feel free to comment for revision, praise, or other suggestions for this piece.

The Turkey Fryer

 

Our neighbors don’t believe in privacy. Year round, they leave the windows open, the front door, gaping, shielded by the glass screen door. They have no blinds, no curtains, only sheers. Their cat, his name was Tom, preferred it this way I think. I liked to watch Tom sit on the window sill, his intelligence far exceeding that of his owners.

He is a drunk, and she’s addicted to cigarettes- and something else, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Sometimes, she puts on these big, black earphones with a mysterious blinking red light and dances in the yard, like a silent disco. Wearing a faded yellow bandeau her gut spilling over the tiny denim shorts, she gets lost in her own little world and noises escape from her mouth, noises that I still can’t make sense of. And I mean she really dances, once I even saw her do the worm, while it was raining, in the mud. My bedroom window is directly adjacent to theirs, the small gap between our houses can only be a yard or so. At night, he wonders if the house is bugged, and she screams that he ruined their future.

My parents had bought this small three bedroom house when they first married, an investment in their futures. Back then, I was told this had been a nice neighborhood. My parents were fairly tolerant, though, and since the house was big enough for the four of us- myself, my sister, and my parents, they decided not to sell. Not in this market.

“Get the damn turkey out before you burn the house down, sister.” Sometimes he called her sister, and I wondered what that meant. I mean, surely they weren’t incestuous or something. It wasn’t even a muted statement, I could hear it clearly from the comfort of my bed and over Vampire Weekend playing on the stereo I had begged for for Christmas last year. I turned it off.

Thanksgiving would be smaller this year, Mom had said. Dad was going to fry a turkey at the house for the four of us. I imagined him with the $49 turkey fryer we got on sale at the local “dig store,” wearing his obnoxious orange baseball cap and a George Foreman apron, waving at the neighbors with a canned beer in his hand- oblivious.

The only detail of Dad’s attire that I had missed was his black Crocks and above the ankle white socks. Dear God, I thought. Regardless, he didn’t like it when I stayed in my room for too long. “What were you doing in there, Mary?” He would say. “Cooking meth.” I always replied, and his chuckle always had a slight hint of worry.

The worst part about frying a turkey was that it had to be done outside, and all the neighbors could see us. Dad with his cliché outfit, and me outside standing near him. I looked great of course, in an oversized sweater and skinny jeans, but that was beside the point. I measured the peanut oil while Dad finished making all the connections.

The neighbor lady was outside smoking a cigarette, and she waved her hand and mumbled something incoherent in our direction. Dad politely raised his hand in acknowledgement with his cheesy smile and lowered something metal into the fryer, pointing for me to pour in the oil.

“Dad,” I nudged his elbow, “She’s coming over here.”

She was wearing a very tight, very low cut, and very sheer top with nothing underneath to cover her body parts. Tom was following her.

“Fryin a bird?” She pointed toward the metal tube that sat on the concrete driveway in our yard.

My dad nodded, trying not to look too closely at her. I couldn’t help but stare, her greasy blonde hair, the dirt under her fingernails, the boxers that peeked out of her blue jeans.

“We got us a bird in the oven, too.” She said. Awkwardly waiting for some kind of response. My dad, awkwardly engaged in conversation with a neighbor he knew so well, but yet had never met. I watched her mouth move and her snaggly teeth disgusted me.

And sometime during that conversation is when it happened, that Tom became interested in the peanut oil. Neither my Dad or the neighbor were watching him, but Tom began to experiment, placing his paw on the edge of the bowl and stretching his head toward the enticing smell, and he peered for quite some time into the pot of boiling water. It never occurred to me that he might actually do it, but suddenly, Tom pounced from his still, safe resting spot on the concrete and into the boiling grease. He didn’t pull himself out like a person pulls out of a pool, it was like he was ejected from the pot by a strong force of will. I don’t know if he was bald, or if his hair was just greased to his skin, but a slimmer looking Tom bolted over the property line in an instant before he fell over, dead.

I was frozen, heart racing, horrified. The neighbor lady ran screeching after the cat, a moment too late, screeching “bubba” the whole way there. My dad robotically poured out the oil, rinsed the pot, and began to heat more peanut oil. I got to go back to my room.

 

Not For Your Beach Bag: 5 Summer Reading Books for Professional Development

Source: smh.com

Source: smh.com

During the summer, a lot of us teachers really want to enjoy the beach, our children, do some gardening and other activities that are absolutely fun and necessary. However, I find it equally important to continue my professional journey during my free-time. I like to use my summer to have a lot of fun, but also to grow myself professionally. And I don’t find this notion of continuing to work during the summer ridiculous for teachers, after all, we are pretty much kicked out of the school, but we’re still getting paid.

This summer, I may have gone a bit overboard, as I just finished the South Mississippi Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, and I’m signed up for several other professional development workshops. Regardless, I’ve compiled a list of professional reading for myself, and I’m sharing them with you in case you’re looking for a small way to stay connected to your classroom over the long and lonely months of summer.

1. Inside Out: Strategies for Teaching Writing

I actually just finished reading Inside Out for the second time in my professional career. It was the textbook in my composition for teachers class at the University of Southern Mississippi when I was still working toward my degree. I re-read it recently as one of the books for study at the South Mississippi Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, both times I truly enjoyed the book.

What I love the most about Inside Out is that it is not a list of lessons to implement in your classroom. It is a guide to creating effective strategies in your classroom. Don’t get me wrong, the authors produce tons of ideas that you can borrow and implement in your classroom, but there is a lot of room left for your strategic thought about what your classroom needs. I would recommend this book for anyone in any subject or grade band, but it is a staple for a Language Arts teacher.

I’ll be posting an in-depth review of this book soon, so if you are interested in learning more about it, stay tuned.

2. Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator

I started reading this book last week for a book study that is being offered in my district. So far, I’m enjoying the content, and the book is a super easy read. I particularly recommend this book for summer reading because the book is all about increasing student engagement and grasping their attention from the start.

Again, this book isn’t about handing out pre-made materials to implement in your classroom. Rather, it is a motivational book written by a successful educator, and it will definitely make you think critically about your classroom strategies.

I will also be posting a full in-depth review of this book later this summer, stay tuned!

3. The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher

It is really hard to be an educator without having heard about Harry Wong‘s best selling book The First Days of School. Especially if you are a new teacher, or a teacher looking to improve classroom management strategies, or just a teacher who hasn’t read the book; then The First Days of School is a must read.

Harry Wong is incredibly inspiring and effective in laying out specific musts for gaining control of your classroom from day one. His insights are accurate and effective and best of all, they are based off of actual experience. All of us should reflect on our experience as a teacher, even veterans. Harry Wong’s book is a powerful tool to push that reflection in the right direction.

4. Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High Quality Units

If you are interested in developing your strategies for lesson plans, unit plans, and overall student learning then this book is definitely one to consider. Most undergraduate programs teach backward design, but reading it from these authors offers a whole new, in-depth, and focused understanding of the concept. It is also a great book to read during the summer because you can implement the ideas before you’ve begun to develop your units for the next school year.

5. The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child

If you’ve never heard of Ron Clark, then I invite you to do a little youtube search and listen to him talk for just a moment. He is an incredibly inspiring educator who has absolutely earned his right in the field. If you haven’t ever heard of Ron Clark, then you might just be thinking that 55 rules is ridiculously excessive, but give him a shot.

I had the pleasure of hearing Ron Clark speak last August just before school started, and his words truly changed the attitude of our school for the better. Later in the school year, many of our teacher traveled to visit Ron Clark’s academy, and their testimonies show that his rules truly work to make his students more successful. My colleagues described students who actively engage in intellectual conversations, looking you straight in the eye, and remembering your name later in the day. It might seem excessive, but his rules are certainly worth giving a read.

Teacher Inquiry: Self Preservation

This year was my first full year of teaching, and I couldn’t have felt more prepared to teach these youngsters all things fabulous than I did on the first day of school. I had received the absolute best training, read and studied all the best and newest research, and been mentored by the most fabulous teachers during my student teaching. And for the first few months, everything went great for me, I felt like I was doing an acceptable job. That’s not to say that there weren’t bumps in the road because there WERE bumps, but overall I felt like my kids were really getting what I was teaching them.

Then, it was time to write an argument essay, and by golly was I prepared. I had mentor texts, I had highlighters, I had standards typed up, and I was ready to go! Passionately I presented my kids with all of the materials I had so carefully planned. Surely these materials would help them write arguments with ease! Boy was I wrong. The kids were confused, mouthy, and downright ridiculous. It was the first moment this year that I thought “wow, what am I doing wrong?” The year had many more similar ups and downs, sometimes things went great and sometimes they spiraled out of control so fast I didn’t know what had hit me.

Because of this year’s experience, I’ve begun looking at a lot of research on the idea of teacher inquiry as a regular practice in classrooms around the U.S. Nancy Fichtman Dana, Belinda G. Gimbert, and Diane Yendol Silva define teacher inquiry best in their article “Teacher Inquiry as Professional Development for the 21st Century in the United States.” They say “the idea of inquiry embodies how teachers make explicit and probe their wanderings, reframe and modify their questions and enlighten their perceptions and sense-making of their classroom practice.” Teachers can and should be in charge of their own professional development- it’s how we grow.

The author’s of this article point out that for a long time educational decisions have been made based off of research conducted by people immersed in a world that is far from the classroom. But, when teachers live a life of inquiry, when they ask questions about problems that occur in their classrooms, they move education forward in a way that is specific to the real problems of education. We shouldn’t blindly follow the strategies handed to us by university scholars, so removed from the classroom. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen respectfully to what they have to say, but that there should be a balance between teachers as professional problem solvers and university scholars as educational researchers.

This next year, I’m going to live the life of the inquirer. I will ask questions and face classroom problems head on. I do not need strategies, or a textbook, or any sort of instruction manual beyond exploring the needs of my students and catering my research to those needs.

Will you join me in living the life of inquiry?