Word of the Year- LIT

Lit

It’s the beginning of January, and that only means one thing- time to pick your word of the year.

When I first started seeing this trend, I felt like I was not being a good human. I pretty much just try to keep my head on straight most of the time, and all these people were choosing these wise and empowering words to drive their goals for the coming year. So when I chose, I couldn’t be disingenuous about it by choosing something Zen like believe, accomplish, or courage. It wouldn’t ring true to people who know me, you know?

I started thinking about this a couple of days ago when I saw the first post, and I was finally struck with inspiration today.

My word of the year is LIT.

Now hear me out before you judge! There are several reasons why this word is PERFECT for me.

All the meanings of “lit”

Let’s examine the ways this word works for me. First, lit is short for literature. I am an English teacher, so this is an obvious link to the word. It also reminds me that I have been wanting to shake up my curriculum and possibly introduce some new titles in the coming school year. I’d like to do it in the coming semester, but I’m trying to be realistic. I never want to be one of those teachers who gets so entrenched in their lesson plans that they never infuse new titles, ideas, and skills because it’s easier to keep with the status quo.

Secondly, lit is the past tense of light. Isn’t this my goal as a teacher all the time? Not just for a year? I want to light a spark in my kids. I want them to find that thing about them that makes them special. I want them to discover that school is a tool and not an enemy. So at the end of every school year, I hope I have lit the flame of discovery inside my students.

For people my age, lit also means drunk. Now, it’s not a goal of mine to be drunk, but what this does remind me of is to have some wine and move on. There isn’t anything I do daily that is so life-altering that I should let it take over my life. Have a bad day? Drink a glass of pinot noir and get on with it. Lesson didn’t go to plan? Have a nip of merlot and reassess. Meetings and data disaggregation getting you down? Grab a good petite sirah and move on.

Lastly, lit nowadays means cool. Full disclosure- I will never be considered cool. It’s actually not a goal of mine, so the idea behind this meaning of the word is to remember that I’m an adult. I’m supposed to be the voice of reason and maturity in my classroom. If my kids (students or my own children) think I’m cool, I’m doing something wrong. That being said, I will stick to my nerdy, scholarly ways to make sure that the word lit is never said by my students to describe me.

When you’re choosing your word, make sure you choose something that will fit all the aspects of your life. I would love to hear your words, even if they aren’t as out there as mine.

Happy new year!

Can you teach an 8th grader?

Can You Teach an 8th Grader

Full disclosure: My new obsession/go-to-Netflix-binge is The Great British Baking Show. There are several reasons why I think this show is utter genius.

  1. I learn something new every time I watch. Dough lamination is a thing, choux pastry is not shoe pastry, people like to use passionfruit A LOT, biscuits are cookies, and “I need to get a wiggle on” is my new favorite way to say “I need to hurry it up!”
  2. There is an entire world of baked treats that I didn’t know existed but now must try.
  3. British people do not show emotions.

This last one is the one that really fascinates me. I have seen a guy screw up a cake and toss it “in the bin”, then meet the judges and not even show one ounce of anything but a teensy bit of remorse about throwing it away. I’ve seen women let one tear roll down their cheek when they get eliminated, and then they apologize for getting “so emotional”.

Y’all.

If this show was in America, people would be shanking each other with bread knives and dropping F-bombs like they were going out of style. I, myself, am not the modicum of restraint I should be, and there were times when, if what happened on the show had happened to me, I would have burnt that tent down with a smile on my face.

I started talking about this with two of my awesome fellow teachers, and they decided that I needed to create a show called “Can You Teach an 8th Grader”. This is because they know that I’m a hot mess waiting to boil over, but somehow I keep my wits about me enough to be considered a professional when faced with the array of joys that teenagers bless us with daily. They agreed with my assessment of my behavior if I were to go on The Great British Baking Show, but they said that they knew I would never do that in my classroom.

Huh.

They’re right.

So how come I can hang with teenagers, when a large majority of the population would rather stick a hot poker in their eye, but I can’t keep it together when anything else in my life goes wrong? Where is the magic switch that doesn’t flip just because I’m in the classroom?

Is it control? Because I have lots of that. I run my classroom efficiently, with high expectations, and I think I do a pretty good job. Maybe that’s the secret. In my classroom, I am in control, whereas on the baking show, I’d be at the mercy of the judges. I’m famous for getting quiet instead of loud, which apparently scares the bejeezus out of many of my students (and my own children as well).

Kermit calm

I think that many teachers would agree that we have a magic in us that makes it possible for us to deal with many things in a way that no one else could. I wish we could actually make this a show and watch as a CEO, a senator, an actress, a police officer, a waiter or waitress, and a retail clerk (just to name a few) handle themselves in a roomful of teenagers. The game would be that they have to stay all day, go to any meeting or duty stations, actually accomplish some assignments, and not leave or scream at the kids. Otherwise they win no money.

I think we’d make money on that deal because I don’t think most people can do what we do.

Prince Calm

As many of us try to survive the last days before holiday break, I think we should all pat ourselves on the back for being the pillars of strength that we are. Give yourself some credit, and make sure you take care of yourself when you’re off so you can come back in 2019 ready to finish out the school year with a bang.

I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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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!