Category: conversations about current events

Day One Hundred Sixty-One

My APUSGOV students were discussing some things this morning: the new abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia and the broader strategy of trying to challenge Roe, the influence of religion on conservatism, the Second Amendment, the militia movements out west, divorce law, online radicalization… This wasn’t a formal discussion. They were working on projects, and a couple of them started talking about Alabama, and a couple more chimed in- and I’m talking, like, throwing thoughts across the room while typing information about the NH state government- and I occasionally got asked for my two cents. And the conversation bounced from thing, to thing, to thing. It was fascinating, and it was obvious students had strong opinions, but it wasn’t contentious or ugly. If anything, they’re tired of the ugliness and extremism that tends to dominate the discourse, especially in the online spaces they occupy. 

So that was neat.

In World, I read over lots of student writing because there was a 100% turn-in rate on drafts for the first piece (expressive) in The Multi-Genre Project! That’s huge, given the struggles so many students had to meet deadlines on the last project; something has clearly clicked for them, and I made sure I took note and told them how proud I was of their work. I’m all about ending the year on a powerful, high note. 

I had a meeting during Block 5, followed by another meeting, and then I had practice! It’s the last practice before our conference championship, and we got a surprise visit from Dee, who’s up visiting his folks for the weekend. It’s always good to see him and catch up. He’s old enough now that none of the kids on the team knew him, so they treated him with a bit of awe when he started vaulting and giving advice to our vaulters. They were pretty adorable thanking him afterwards, too. 

I rue the day when he settles down in southern NH and ends up helping out a rival team…

Day One Hundred Forty-Five

I woke up today with a splitting headache. If I hadn’t been the only ninth grade teacher on my team in the building today, I definitely would have taken a sick day. But I was holding down the fort while Mr. F and Mrs. T chaperoned freshmen college visits (half the freshmen and half the teachers went today, the other half will go tomorrow), so I swallowed a few Tylenol and hoped for the best. 

I felt pretty terrible all morning, but I got through it. The students who weren’t on college visits went to their Block 1, 3, and 5 classes like normal, but during team time- Blocks 2 and 4- they were all in the Cavern of Learning with me. They continued current events research for my class, studied for upcoming math tests, and worked on The Central Asia Novel Project for Mrs. T. I was able to redirect students who got off task (with one exception- sent to the Vice Principal’s office), and had a few interesting conversations about the purpose of research and learning about what’s going on in the world. 

I finally started feeling better after lunch, which was a relief. By the time Block 5 rolled around, I was tired, but my headache had mostly gone. It’s a good thing, too, since I had to get on the bus to a track meet. 

It was cold, and windy, and a good third of the team is sick or injured- and we’re coming off two other meets in the past five days- so it definitely wasn’t a day of stellar performances. A few of Coach T’s distance kids and one of my sprinter boys did manage PRs, which is awesome, but mostly today was just about getting that competition experience that is so vital early in the season. 

Today also put my medical savvy to the test. I was KT-taping knees before the meet started, and explaining how to treat injuries like shin splits and muscle strains pretty much all afternoon, and one of my girls fell in the dash so I actually had to get the medkit out to disinfect and bandage the scrapes on her arms and knees. It’s times like that when I find myself channeling my mom (an unflappable, no-nonsense woman who worked as an ER nurse for most of my childhood), which isn’t a bad thing, but it is funny when I realize I’m doing it. 

It happens to most of us, though, I suppose. 

Day One Hundred Forty-Four

My day was really something. 

It was a review day in APUSGOV, so my students studied using various resources, tried practice exam questions, that kind of thing. And, since two of them are entering the local science fair and need more data, we also took about ten minutes to be part of their experiment on memory. Then, in World, my students and I discussed the assignment that they did last class. Then they started doing research (on current issues in East Asia) to prepare for an upcoming essay.

So that’s all pretty chill. But then I had a special ed. referral meeting during my lunch, and right after that I had to get ready for a guest speaker. And not just any guest speaker: a presidential candidate. So I set up my room, reassembled of my APUSGOV class (and other politically inclined students), and went out front to await his arrival. 

Longtime readers know that guest speakers are common in APUSGOV class, and they’re often elected officials, but primary season is a whole other thing. Presidential candidates come with staffers, and they’re followed by the press, and, even though I knew it was going to be good, it was still a bit nerve-wracking. Because… Presidential candidate. Press. In my classroom. That is not a thing that happens everywhere, you know? And this is the third one my students have met (the other two were off school grounds, but still exclusive), so it’s becoming a thing.

But it was good because my students are awesome, intelligent young people, and they asked important questions about the political process and about policy. I was really proud of them.

 Afterwards, a few of them got the news about the fire at Notre Dame and one hurriedly turned her cell phone towards me to show me a video of the blaze. We huddled around it for a moment- and there’s something about the fact that I’m the one they turn to when big things happen in the world- and tried to find as much information as we could. Then it was the end of the day, and everyone scattered to the buses, cars, sports practices…

I went to track practice- on a track, finally!- and led my sprinters into the one patch of snow on the back curve (in the shade) to kick it up and help it melt more quickly. So we all ended up with wet, muddy shoes, and it was glorious. 

Day One Hundred Thirty-Six

Today started with The Principal doing his best impression of the Hump Day Camel from the Geico commercials before saying the Pledge over the PA.

If that’s not a good way to start a day, I don’t know what is.

After that, I taught the coolest class I have ever taught. My APUSGOV students did a Socratic discussion (inspired by a presentation Mrs. T and I saw at NHCSS last fall), which is something I’ve never done before. Half of them discussed Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and the other half discussed Macolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet,” and we closed with a whole class discussion of how history has remembered both men and how they’re discussed in schools. It was incredible. There were definite discussion leaders, but everyone contributed something valuable, and they were not shy. They dug into the rhetoric of the two pieces, debated its efficacy, discussed the way in which people judge protests and judge anger. Then they went in on state of race relations around the country and in their own (mostly white) community. They talked about Rodney King, Ferguson, Charlottesville, the debate over Confederate monuments and flags, the differences in what their peers are taught about the history of racism depending on where they go to school… They made some great points about the intersection of religion and racial prejudice/racial justice, too… Overall, it was just a really impressive, insightful 80 minutes. I barely said a word; I just listened. At the end, I thanked the class and told them how proud I was of them.

My World classes were just fun. Students did an exploration into different aspects of Hindu culture, so they read about traditions surrounding birth, marriage, death, dietary customs, etc… And they had to write some reactions, compare/contrasts, that kind of thing. Of course, since it’s an A day, and my A day students have all the questions, they wanted to talk about EVERYTHING. Which was awesome. Also, one of the things they read about was naming customs, and my assignment asked them to find out the meaning of their own names, which caused so much more hilarity than I thought it would.

I went to observe Ms. D’s class at lunch (finally- I’ve been meaning to do it since I was assigned as her mentor!). She came up to my room to chat about it during Block 5. She hadn’t been up to my classroom before, so when she walked in she took a moment to admire the space (which was nice because I am rather proud of it). Then we talked about how her lesson had gone. It was such a cool, reflective lesson. I had a ton of praise for it. We got into the broader, philosophical conversation about teaching, what our styles are, how we were trained, and how there are definite ways to do teaching wrong but no one way to do it right. 

Then I went to practice, which was obviously awesome. And I’d just like to point out that this is how my sprinters keep their water bottles cold: sticking them in the gigantic, dirty snow pile beside the parking lot.

Whatever works!

Day One Hundred Thirty-Four

Hey, teacher fam, we all survived April Fools’ Day!

I was actually teaching ridiculously serious things, so there were no shenanigans. I kind of wish I’d thought of a good prank or something, but… Nah. I had to teach about extremism. 

In APUSGOV, I gave a lecture about civil rights policy-making that occurred after what’s traditionally marked as the “Civil Rights Movement” (AKA after 1968), and then turned my students’ attention to the backlash against said policy-making (because that continued after 1968, too, of course). I focused particularly on the recent uptick in hate crimes in the US and around the world. I showed an excerpt of Frontline/ProPublica’s Documenting Hate, which was eye-opening, sobering, and heavy… I knew it would be, so left about twenty-five minutes of time afterwards for conversation. I discussed online radicalization in a fair amount of detail because my students had questions about how white supremacist groups (and other groups, too, because extremism always looks the same) were recruiting members. That it happens in spaces they frequent- like social media sites- is understandably chilling. 

In World, my students and I discussed Pakistan. Last class, I’d ended with the point that the war in Afghanistan is Pakistan’s war, too, but before I got into that today I went over their homework, which was to research anything about Pakistani culture. I wanted them to know something about it separate from the war, so that they’d see its vibrancy and understand what was being threatened by extremism. We talked about family traditions, food, holidays, weddings, sports, agriculture… Then I showed some pictures from my various Pakistani teacher friends (I have several because I assisted in a summer institute for teachers from Pakistan while I was in grad school), all of whom live in very different regions of the country. From that, my students were able to see a real contrast between the tribal areas and the more developed regions in the east. In both my classes, students guessed that extremist groups settled in the tribal areas and began their recruiting there, spreading eastward.

I showed a quick video on exactly that, and the Pakistani army’s effort’s to fight back. It showed the extremists’ recruitment of young boys- poor orphans, mainly- and their training, which- like the film I showed in APUSGOV- is eye-opening, sobering, and heavy… Students had lots to say about that, especially knowing what they did about Pakistani culture- knowing what these boys were being deprived of, as one girl put it. I was thrilled someone made that connection in our discussion.

One of the other things that the video mentioned repeatedly was that, prior to the War On Terror, the tribal region had been pretty autonomous and the army’s presence had been minimal. Again, in both classes, students asked why the army was concentrated in the east rather than the west, which gave me the perfect lead-in to their homework: a reading on the history of India and Pakistan. I love when I can end a lesson in a “To be continued…” kind of a fashion. It makes it clear that the homework isn’t busy work. It’s the next piece of the puzzle, and knowing that makes it engaging for students. So, not surprisingly, most of them finished it before class ended. 

Awesome thing? During Block 2, as I was taking attendance, I heard Mr. F saying something about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to his algebra class. He said he couldn’t remember what the bombs were called, so- without missing a beat- I opened the door between our rooms, told him their names, and went back to taking attendance. BOOM. I AM A WIZARD!

Other awesome thing? I was observed during my Block 4 class. That’s my most thoughtful, insightful, full of questions class. And they were on fire. BOOM AGAIN!

So things were awesome, and a lot of learning happened, but extremism is a desperately serious topic, and- as a teacher- it can be a lot to shake off, especially if it’s the subject of every single class in a day. How did I shake it off? I went to track practice in blustery, 35-degree weather and ran around with my sprinters. I got windburn on my face, and mud all over my shoes, and had an absolute ball. 

Day One Hundred Thirty-Three

So, the one classroom that got flooded when the pipe burst yesterday is still unusable, but everything else is all good. We had quick class meetings this morning so The Vice Principal could go over some new protocols for evacuation situations (everything is a learning experience, folks!) and take questions from students, and then we went on with the day. 

Have I mentioned that the reason The Vice Principal and the other admins have been handling things lately is because The Principal is on vacation? He’s retiring this year, so he took his remaining personal days and went somewhere (Good for him, I say). The new principal was just been announced, and I’ve already Googled him, and gotten news from some of the upperclassmen who know him (because he’s local and has kids of varying ages). I just hope he thinks I’m funny.

Anyways…

I spent Block 1 grading all the papers I didn’t grade yesterday, and finished just in time to hand them back in World. It was another day of teaching about Afghanistan. I got great questions about the Taliban in my Block 2 class, so I fielded those (and the follow-ups), and then we talked about the US invasion and the current situation. A few students did a really good compare and contrast of the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan and rebuilding efforts in Japan and Germany after WWII. I love that they were able to bring in the content from previous social studies classes and apply it to what they’re learning now. That was so great.

And my Block 4 class was decent. I wish I could say something better than that, but it’s still such a hard class. The misbehavior was kept to a minimum, I was able to teach my lesson without interruption, I had time at the end of class to help a couple kids make up work that they owed, and… that’s as good as it gets, at the moment. I haven’t figured out what I can do differently to make it better, and that’s both saddening and frustrating, but I’m still going to keep trying.

I went back to grading papers Block 5, rewrote my next set of APUSGOV notes to condense them a little bit, and washed my whiteboards because they were getting a little bit gross. While I was doing that, a couple girls from my Block 2 class stopped by just to wish me a happy weekend, which definitely made me smile. 

After that, I went to practice, which was fun because we were doing 30m time trials. On the boys team, we have some rookies with serious speed, which I’m delighted about. Now, if only the snow would melt…

Day One Hundred Thirty-Two

Readers of this blog and/or my Twitter feed have probably noticed that this is a truly ridiculous year that my school district is enduring. Today made it even more ridiculous.

It started out all right. I was relieved to find my classroom in good shape when I arrived, and to see that most of my students had worked diligently on their assignments in my absence. I took a few minutes to get my life in order, then went to meet with my department and look at job applications (because Mr. T is leaving, which is a huge bummer). Here’s the thing about my department, though: we’re all young, clever, and unbelievably salty. Any time we’re all in one room, it’s hilarious. Any time we’re all in one room attempting to do something serious, it’s even more hilarious. But we will get it done because that’s the other thing about us: we pride ourselves on having our act together. 

I went from that meeting right to APUSGOV, so I went from having fun to doing some serious teaching (but also having fun because I love that class). Today’s lesson was all about the Mississippi Summer Project, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. I showed an excerpt from PBS’ Freedom Summer, which really got my students talking because none of them had learned about that part of history before. None of them knew about the murders, or any of the other crimes that rocked the country that summer, so they had lots of questions and comments. We talked for a while, and I closed class by reading Langston Hughes’ Kids Who Die. My students don’t have nearly enough poetry in their lives, and I thought that particular poem was fitting for the lesson. 

One of my students stayed after the bell to give me a pennant from the college she’s going to attend (I hang my seniors’ college pennants in my classroom, which is a custom I stole from Tom White), which was so cool.. She also gave me a really sweet thank you card and a gift certificate to my favorite coffee shop because I’d written her a recommendation. I wasn’t expecting it, and it totally made my day. 

World was also awesome because my A day classes have developed incredible class cultures, and the students are so eager to ask and/or answer questions, and that makes it fun for all of us. We discussed the current war in Afghanistan, watched some video footage of counterinsurgency efforts in different provinces (because I wanted to show that progress is uneven, and see if they could get at why that is), theorized about the future if the US withdraws its troops… In both my classes, a student pointed out that would probably impact neighboring countries, which gave me a perfect segue into the next thing I planned on teaching: the impact on the war on Pakistan. Their homework is to do some research on Pakistani culture, and next class we’ll examine what’s happened since the war in Afghanistan began, and what may happen in the future. 

My Block 4 class goes the latest lunch in the schedule (12:30), and I didn’t bring a snack today, so I was wicked hungry. Thankfully, the culinary class always has an amazing soup and salad bar (in addition to a sit-down restaurant that’s open to the public… they know us teachers don’t have time to sit down), so I went and got myself some food. I’d just gotten back to my classroom when The Vice Principal came on the loudspeakers and announced that a water pipe had burst, and everyone had to evacuate to the gym. 

I took my lunch with me and ate it in the bleachers.

Everything was all right, at first; the admins explained to the kids what was going on, and told everyone to sit tight until they had some more information. Of course, some kids immediately texted their parents to come pick them up, so a wave of dismissals started. Then, when it became obvious that things weren’t going to be fixed before the end of the day, The Superintendent made the decision to dismiss school entirely as soon as possible. As soon as that was announced, there was chaos; kids immediately got up and tried to leave, and it took several minutes to get everyone settled so The Vice Principal could explain how dismissal would work. 

She told everyone that it was not possible to get back to the classrooms at that time because the fire department was still determining if it was safe (water in the ceilings + electrical wires + gas lines = you get the idea), so they either had to wait or leave their stuff behind. Of course, not everyone listened. I was in the hall outside the gym (because some of our students have service dogs, and I’m allergic, and being in the gym with them was making my eyes itch), and I and several of my colleagues ended up having to stand shoulder to shoulder to physically block the hallway while The CTC Director and The SpEd Director reiterated to students that it wasn’t safe to go back to the classrooms. I’m louder than either of them, so I shouted the info when it was apparent not all students were hearing it. 

Gotta love having Teacher Voice.

The students were frustrated, of course, but most of them understood that we weren’t keeping them from getting their stuff just for the heck of it. Some students, though, really couldn’t cope (for lots of reasons, I’m sure, because stress affects us all differently). They shouted, and swore at us, and a couple even started crying, which I felt terribly about. I wish I could’ve told them that it was only going to be about twenty minutes of waiting, but we didn’t know that at the time. Thankfully, the nurses were there to escort criers to their office- which was in the clear zone- and give them a quiet space to calm down. 

Anyways… It was only about twenty minutes, and then everyone was able to grab their things, head out to their cars or to the buses, and go. My classroom is fine- no water!- but about half the ceiling panels are out and my tables are everywhere, so… I guess I’ll deal with that in the morning if we have school.

The SRO caught me as I was leaving to thank me for “holding the line,” and we both had a laugh about how scary and intimidating I obviously was (The SRO is a good half a foot taller than I am- and a heck of a lot stronger- and so are most of our students). I joked with him, too, about the year he’s having because it’s been ridiculous for all of us, but it’s been wicked ridiculous for him. He agreed that he’s basically a disaster magnet. 

So… That was my day. Definitely did not predict the ending!

Day One Hundred Fifteen

It’s wintery and cold, I’m nowhere near New Orleans, and my French (to my Quebecois grandmother’s utter dismay) is totally rubbish. That didn’t stop me from wearing gold, green, and purple and shouting about Mardi Gras this morning. I’m Catholic, so it is a thing I observe, and my glee about it amused my students.

APUSGOV started with a bit more Court Madness. One of the matches was between two really nervous students, and they both had to take a moment to calm themselves down before starting- and again during their arguments- but they didn’t give up. I was so proud of them for how well they did, and how encouraging their classmates were of them. It was an uplifting way to start the day. We finished class with a bit of The West Wing– ”Six Meetings Before Lunch,” and a discussion of one of the episode’s themes: race relations in America. It’s a preview for some of the lessons in the upcoming unit.

If you’re thinking I’m going a bit slowly through the Court Madness stuff, and dragging out the transition into next unit, you’re right; it’s because it’s the winter sports post-season, so I routinely have 6-10 students absent (skiers), and I’d rather not have that many kids playing catch-up when I can just relax the pace a bit instead. It’s March, and it’s been a rough year, so I figure everyone could use the break. I’ve explained my logic to my students, so they’re aware of my thought processes and have been assured that I still know when the AP exam is and can prepare them in plenty of time.

And they’re not the only ones doing debates; the ninth graders are getting into some now, too! Mrs. T and I re-opened the wall between our classrooms for The Big Middle East Debate. We let students choose their own groups this year, which we hadn’t done in the past, but I think it’s going to work out well. I still assigned the topics and the affirmatives/negatives at random after explaining that it’s a skill to be able to argue a point based off of research, not necessarily one’s personal feelings on an issue. 

The debates all relate to the things I spent the last few weeks teaching about in World, so students are coming in with some background knowledge and will now be diving deeper:

  • Should the US keep troops in Syria?
  • Should the US continue to assist the Saudi coalition in the war in Yemen?
  • Should the Palestinians have their own country?
  • Should the US increase the number of refugees it grants asylum to each year?

Mrs. T and I were both pleased with the research we saw the various groups compiling during the double block. It’s definitely solid work. I think she was especially glad to see it because she just wrapped up argument writing, and a lot of students did not conduct research as well as they could have- mostly, they used their time inefficiently- so maybe they learned from the mistakes they made with that.

My department had a meeting this afternoon, and much of it was spent discussing what an awful year of Very Bad Things it’s been. But I think we’re all hanging in there, and moving forward… And spring is coming… And maybe we’re going to end on a positive note.

Day One Hundred Fourteen

There was a two-hour delay this morning because it was wintery mixing. My floor buddies and I got cake for breakfast because Mrs. T brought cake in for Mr. V’s birthday, which was yesterday. Classes were shortened to an hour, so I had juuuust enough time in World for my lesson (students wrote current events essays and watched 4.1 Miles). I spent less time discussing everything with the students, but these are my quieter classes anyhow, so that worked out just fine. 

During Block 5, the teachers in the ninth grade house had a quick meeting to plan for Eighth Grade Open House. Mr. F was clicking his pen against his laptop during the meeting, so I threatened to throw my shoes at him (this after I teased him in front of his geometry class for writing down the wrong month on a spreadsheet… “But it’s numbers, Mr. F! You’re supposed to know those!”). My whole table started giggling about it.

The Vice Principal just rolled her eyes.

Adminstrators who tolerate my antics are awesome. We’re going to get a new principal next year, and my biggest fear is he or she won’t think I’m funny. That would be so upsetting!

Day One Hundred Thirteen

Mr. F and I were in the hallway before the first bell because we like to greet students when they come in. Mr. F gives high-fives to everyone who passes, and today they were “It’s Friday!” high-fives because it’s been a long, hard week. Mr. J, one of our school counselors, pulled a face as he walked by us and said, “It’s so sad!” Bewildered, we asked why, and- with a completely straight face!- he answered, “Because we’ll have to go two whole days without school now!” 

Well played, Mr. J. Well played.

We did some Court Madness quarter-finals today in APUSGOV; I could only do three out of four because a student was absent, but that’s fine. Seniors have scholarship requests due by Monday, and some of them are frantic, so I gave them the last twenty minutes to fill out their applications, ask me (or other teachers) nicely for recs, or do any other work they might have. 

I’m told I’m the chillest AP teacher ever. And also “da best!” 

It doesn’t take much, apparently, heh.

In World, my students started class by writing current events essays. The last time they did those, I noticed lots of citation errors, so I did a quick review of when and how to do in-texts, which seemed to help a lot of students (from what I saw in glancing over their work). After they’d all turned their essays in, we discussed what they’d written about- everything from the Jonas Brothers, to flying cars, to tensions between India and Pakistan- and then I shifted our focus back to a current event we’d been discussing: the refugee crisis. I showed 4.1 Miles because it’s short, and compelling, and a little bit shocking, too; afterwards, I encouraged students to ask any questions or make any comments they had. Unsurprisingly, they had A LOT to say, and I’m feeling good about the learning that took place.

During Block 5 I did a bunch of grading, then went to the local book store with Mrs. T to pick up an English department book order; there were five heavy boxes of books, including forty (ten copies of four new titles) for our Central Asia Novel Project (formerly the Afghanistan Novel Project… new books = broader settings). Now my shelves are totally full, and it’s awesome.

So, like I said, long, hard week. But it ended pretty well.