The Highs (& Lows) of the Holidays in Secondary

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Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Blessed Kwanzaa! It’s the holiday season, a very strange time for most teachers. In elementary, I’m guessing they are making craft ornaments for parents to treasure and learning numbers by gluing cotton balls on Santa’s beard. I’ll bet there’s a lot of glitter happening right now. I mean A LOT. And probably a ton of holiday-themed clothing.

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In secondary? Not so much.

We are a more dark and twisty bunch (hence the fact that I’m a secondary teacher), and we are more concerned with peeling teenagers off the wall that just got their first gift from their boyfriend or girlfriend. Or the girls have started drama because Sally got everyone a gift EXCEPT Allie (because they are fighting). Or Billy got Susie a teddy bear, but isn’t he talking to Jane?

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Whatever they are thinking about, it’s most likely not our classes. And we have no crafts or glitter to distract them. We just have curriculum. And learning. And testing. And data.

Aren’t we a jolly bunch?

Then there are the pictures I see of colleagues in elementary with the MOUNTAIN of gifts from their little treasures. Is that a Coach purse? A $50 gift card to Starbucks? Stationery from Harrod’s?

I’m kidding. Sort of.

As a middle/high school teacher, we don’t get gifts from all our kids because our kids have 6-10 teachers and coaches. If you buy them even a $5 gift card, that’s $30-$50. That’s pricey! My favorite gifts are the small things: a card, a bag of homemade cookies (which I might eat, depending on the kid), a candy cane, or maybe my favorite drink from Starbucks. Anything that makes me know they (or their parents) went out of their way to get me something is a good thing in my book.

My Colleagues Chime In-

One of my 8th grade teammates had this to say:

“‘My child has always done well in X subject before…’ (Yeah, cuz they got to color pictures and use crazy glue… oh yeah, they weren’t strange hormonal monsters then either. 😉

Also, my favorite gift is always a personal note from a student.  I completely understand why we don’t get much and why some parents at least try to get us that $5 gift card or mug.  But I’d rather have a heartfelt note from a student than any of that.  Even the snarky ones I’ve gotten over the years, I still go back & read because I know they were being snarky with me because they felt comfortable and enjoyed having me as a teacher.”
A fellow ELA teacher sent me this gem:
“I alternate between the land of Snarkia and Schmaltzylvania at this time of year.  I think one of our highs is the fact that it’s particularly special when a student does bring us a gift in middle school.  We have a moment of connection, and for some of our students, a moment of great portent when they muster their courage to sidle up to us as inconspicuously as possible, and thrust a small token of appreciation into our hand.   They are acutely vulnerable and hope their humble offering is as significant to us as their offerings of glittery pom-pom-and-popsicle-stick reindeer ornaments were to their primary teachers.  So, I’ll happily raise one of my seventeen “World’s Best Teacher” mugs to the fact that we don’t have to wear a poncho to withstand the onslaught of glue and glitter, and give a toast to the students who take a social risk to show kindness to a teacher. Now that’s a gift!”

So, the takeaway is this: Secondary teachers, be excited that you too don’t have to wear a poncho to avoid glitter and glue. Be proud of that coffee mug and those Hershey’s kisses. Even better, remember why you chose to teach secondary in the first place- no wiping noses, tying shoes, or lining up. You also don’t have to eat lunch with them.

Those are the gifts that keep on giving, right?

 

 

 

Down for the Count

Teacher down

Getting older sucks. Notice I didn’t say old, just older. We’re not quite there yet.

Everything takes longer to recover from, and at times you feel like you might literally be falling apart. For example, I hurt my back on the Monday of Thanksgiving break. No, I wasn’t moving furniture, bench pressing an elephant, or climbing a rock feature. I picked up some firewood. Yep, firewood. Not a big stack. No. Just 4 or 5 small pieces. This seemingly simple task put me on the couch for the rest of break, and it keeps rearing its ugly head and reminding me that it’s not yet healed.

Want to turn around in the car seat so you can back out of the driveway? NOPE! Want to shave your legs? I don’t think so! Drying your hair with a blow dryer? Not this week!

Ugh.

Over the past weekend I was able to travel to Buffalo, New York, for my husband’s company Christmas party (I know, I’m fancy). I was so excited because I’ve never been to New York, and I knew I’d get to see snow and Niagara Falls. The trip was okay (I got sick on Saturday), but the return flight did me in. My back had been getting better, but I was stuck in the middle seat on a completely full 3 hour flight. So the past two days, instead of getting better, my back is getting worse.

Great.

I started thinking about what a baby I am and how I could just make it get better so I’d stop whining. Apparently there is no quick fix for this, and I’m stuck with it until it heals. This means I can’t move the desks around in my room for semester exams. I also can’t walk normally down the hallway. Kids keep asking what’s wrong, and I just tell them I’m old because it’s easier than trying to explain.

Like I said, I’m going to try to stop whining and suck it up. I think I’ll go take some Advil and get an ice pack from the nurse.

 

Bulletin Board Bonanza

Bulletin Board Bonanza

Using Your Space

If you are lucky enough to have bulletin board space, make sure you are using it! There are so many teachers I know that wish they had more. In this post, I’m going to show you different ways to use your boards, but also give you some hacks to create boards where none have previously existed. 🙂

Hacking Your Walls

I used to be in a portable, which we all know isn’t ideal, and I had to come up with creative ways to display student work and announcements since wall space was at a premium. At first I used inexpensive framed bulletin boards that I attached to the walls with small nails (shhhhh, don’t tell on me!), but the frames didn’t hold up very well. The good things is that you can fit the boards without the frames right up together to create a larger space. Then add some border and you can’t tell that it’s not a school-provided board!

School-wide Participation

During Say Hello Week this year, the student council decide they wanted a “Take What You Need” board. It was a hit! The kids said they would take a couple every day, and some of them still have them hanging in their lockers. I love that this board was something all the students felt included in.

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Highlighting Your Content

I love putting up a preview of the literature we are about to read. It gets the kids asking questions, and it gives them some background knowledge to build off of when we actually start the unit. Here are the two I have up right now:

The freshmen are reading one of five Gothic novels (student choice), and the 8th graders are reading To Kill a Mockingbird (obviously).

Student Organizations

I am one of the student council sponsors this year, and we have started doing door decorating contests for advisories, and students can now nominate a teacher for Teacher of the Month. This is a great way to advertise and post these events so the students remember to participate. Our fundraiser was selling Boo-Grams, and we wanted to make sure the students knew about that as well. All in all, this board has been a great tool, and I love it when I see students stopped in front of it to see what’s going on at our school.

Lesson Interaction

One of my favorite boards to do is my “Bricking Up Fortunato” board when we read “Cask of Amontillado”. Even better, it was up during Halloween! I got this idea on the 2ndary ELA Facebook board, and I couldn’t wait to try it. It was a resounding success! The kids had to choose one quote from the reading that did one of three things: 1) revealed character, 2) provoked a decision, 3) prompted further conversation. Then they wrote this quote on a brick.

Sending a Message

One of my favorite bulletin boards of all time asked the students to “Meet the person responsible for your grade”:

Famous Bulletin Board

This little baby actually went viral over the summer. I got the inspiration from another post on Pinterest, and I knew it fit my snarky personality and my high expectations for my students. I had this up last year, and it was great because I had moved up with my students, so I was having them for the 2nd or 3rd year. Because of this, they already knew that I was just being sarcastic, but not mean. I changed it this year because I didn’t have that relationship already developed, and I didn’t want the sarcasm to come across in the wrong way. I decided to incorporate the Ravenclaw theme that runs through the rest of my room:

Wit Bulletin Board

Tips for a Great Board

My secret weapon is my projector. I use it for everything from lettering to silhouettes to drawings. I’m not the best artist, but I’m great at tracing. Like I always tell my students, “Play to your strengths”. You can Google images to trace and use Word or PowerPoint to type your titles in whatever font you think is cute, then tape some butcher paper to the board, project that image on to it, and get to tracing!

Also, there are so many things you can use to cover them. Wrapping paper, plastic tablecloths, fabric, and butcher paper are the ones I usually use. The wooden slats on the To Kill a Mockingbird board are plastic tablecloth, and I think it turned out well. I had never used it before, but it worked okay, you just can’t stretch it while you’re stapling it up.

For the edges, borders are the obvious choice, but I have also used garland, boas, and lights (or a combination of these).

I’d love to see your bulletin boards, and let us know if you have any tried and true tips for making your boards amazing!

 

 

Funky- but not in a good way

The Struggle is real

The calendar gods have played an evil trick on all of us. They made Thanksgiving early, so we have 4 weeks between breaks instead of three.

What?! That must be why I’m in this funk.

Seriously, this seems to be a teacher-wide, school-wide, state-wide, country-wide crisis. The after-Thanksgiving funk.

Yes, I know we all shower regularly…it’s not that kind of funk.

It’s a general malaise that makes us feel like everything requires too much effort, and something is just off. Our to do list is too long, and our motivation is kaput. It’s happening in the ELA department, as well as every other department (except fine arts because they make a party out of everything- so jealous).

Everyone seems to feel like something is wrong, but they can’t put their finger on what it is. Which means that we have no idea how to fix it. I know there is some clever acronym for this time of year, but I can never remember what it is. Just the fact that there is a clever acronym should signal that this is a real affliction. We should be able to get doctor’s notes for it.

In my case, one contributing factor is that I hurt my back over the Thanksgiving break. This means that I didn’t get any of my pre-Christmas cleaning done. It also means I haven’t wrapped anything yet (yes, I’m that person), my house isn’t decorated, and the lights aren’t put up. The tree, however, is up and decorated, so I’m going to put that in the win column. As for everything that didn’t get done? Yeah, it’s staying undone. Why? Cuz the funk, that’s why.

Aside from the general teacher malaise, the students are actually being really great (thank the Lord), so I have no complaints there. My students came back from break in a good mood, and they have been working really well. I probably just jinxed the crap out of myself by writing that, but it is the truth.

All I know is I’m ready for two weeks off, but I know coming back from that might not be any easier than shaking off the last break. If you have any tried-and-true pick me ups, I’d love for you to share them. I’m sure we could all use the info!

Why would anybody want to be a teacher?

Hmmm...

Why would anybody want to be a teacher? Let alone a middle/high school teacher? Aren’t those kids awful? I couldn’t do it! Teenagers are so disrespectful nowadays! They’re so entitled! How can you stand it? Especially when you know you’ll never make any money? NO WAY!

If you’ve been a teacher for more than five minutes, I’m sure you’ve heard some version of this rant, whether from a friend, family member, or even a stranger who wanted to give you their two cents about your chosen profession. I have asked myself some of these very same questions in moments of crisis or despair.

Here’s the truth:

Yes, I am crazy. Yes, I think I can change the world. Yes, I enjoy being around kids (most of the time). Yes, I knew I wouldn’t ever get rich doing this job. Yes, sometimes I cry in the parking lot. Yes, teenagers can be disrespectful, and entitled, and mean (so can most people by the way).

Yes, I’m still a teacher.

I went to Texas A&M, and we have a saying- “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” That is a spot-on way to describe teachers vs non-teachers.

If you’ve never seen a kid’s eyes light up because they finally understood something they had been struggling to learn, you can’t fathom what that’s like. You’ve never had a kid cry and hug you and thank you because they finally passed their state assessment for the first time, ever, so you can’t imagine what kind of payment that is to a teacher’s heart. If you’ve never realized that the disruptive kid is just acting out because he doesn’t recognize what love and caring is, then you would just see the disrespect and entitlement.

For me, the joy of teaching is truly the kids. I have NEVER wanted to leave a job, or cried in a parking lot because of the kids. It’s always been the administration or parents or colleagues or too many meetings or unrealistic expectations that have caused that. I think true teachers realize that, no matter what the jerk principal or jerk parent or jerk colleague does, the kids still need us. Even if it’s the kid being the jerk, it’s usually because they need us the most.

Don’t get me wrong, I can argue with you all day about how stupid it is that people who play a game or act make 57 times more than we do. I’d like to see any one of them come and sub in a classroom, then realize how much they will be getting paid, and watch how fast they walk out. This job isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, your heart will take the biggest beating! You have to be called, and I think that’s why teachers put up with so much other nonsense and keep fighting the good fight. It’s in our DNA.

So here they are, the top three reasons why, after 20 years, I’m still a teacher:

  1. It’s great for my ADD. I’m all about fresh starts. If you want a fresh start every year, heck, every day, this is the gig for you. When a lesson falls flat, I get to try again. When a particular group of students is tough, I get a new group the next year. Had a bad day? You get to do something different tomorrow.
  2. Teenagers are HILARIOUS. I cannot tell you how many times the wit and humor that comes out of these kids has knocked me flat.
  3. The reward isn’t monetary. It’s all about the FEELS. 🙂 The smile on a kid’s face when they get it. The discovery of the love for reading when they find the right book. The excitement when they learn something, and they thought we were just “messing around”. (Sometimes you have to sneak the learning in!)

Those are my top three. I’m sure others have different reasons, so share them in the comments!