Category: conversations about current events

Day Fifty-Three

Okay, so I got my teaching mojo back today. 

I did a lesson on voting in APUSGOV: protections on voting rights, reasons for increases/decreases in turnout, demographic trends, etc… And we took a look at some of the data coming out about the midterms. That was ALL THE POLITICALLY NERDY FUN, and I got to answer some really good questions. We cracked some jokes, too; it’s a room full of unbearably clever young people, and that’s the best part. 

In World/English, it was time for students to revise the current events essays they’d worked on all week and submit them as a portfolio. As I went over the instructions, I was able to explain that this is the build-up to bigger things. This is research. note-taking, citation, and writing practice because book papers and research projects are coming. I wanted to be really clear about the purpose of the work they’re doing.

And it was great! Mrs. T and I took turns working one-on-one with students and monitoring the Cavern. We do it pretty naturally at this point; one of us will sit beside a student, the other will walk around. I ended up sitting with one boy for a good twenty minutes because he kept getting off task and distracting others. He buckled down once it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere, and I was able to praise him for catching up and getting everything done, and he looked super proud of himself. That was a breakthrough.

I had an IEP meeting during my prep time, and got called out of it to go to another IEP meeting, which… oof. It was unexpected, so when The SpEd. Director pulled me, my initial thought was, “Oh, God, what went wrong?” I was relieved that it was just her needing a regular ed. teacher.

That would be me.

Day Fifty-One

I am, in fact, very tired today. What good social studies teacher isn’t tired the day after an election, though? This is what coffee and concealer were made for…

It was amazing to go into APUSGOV first thing. I read off the NH election results-  which included some major upsets, especially down ballot- and we chatted for a bit about that, and applauded all the students who cast their first votes. Then I taught a badass lesson on campaign finance (which I took from my AP training at Camp SaintJ, so credit goes to Karen Waples). 

I put students in groups and gave each group one of the following things to research with a couple guiding questions:

  • PACs
  • 527s
  • 501c4s
  • SuperPACs
  • FECA
  • BRCA
  • Buckley v. Valeo
  • Citizens United v. FEC

They put their findings on the board (fun with multi-colored markers!), and I threw up some notes on the 1800s Railroad Cases. Then we had a discussion to connect the dots between all the info (I may have said that a PAC and a SuperPAC were like a Pokemon and its evolved form during this… Maybe). 

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I may sound like a massive nerd when I say this, but it’s so much fun to teach this lesson. It’s a complex topic, and it’s so cool when kids get it. And when adults get it! I always get observed when I teach this lesson because my colleagues want to understand the topic, too, so at least one comes in on instructional rounds. 

A few folks want to see Mrs. T and I team teach, too, so we’ll probably have visitors next week. Today we took current events essays a step further by having students revise to incorporate information from another source, and cite it properly in-text. We had to help lots of students because it’s a new skill, so it’s good there’s two of us. I did have to step out twice for 504 meetings, but they were quick. 

We both had a meeting after school because we’re mentors, and all the mentors and new teachers in the district met today to chat about how Q1 went and to go over some upcoming things. I worked with both Ms. J and Mr. T because his mentor is sick. We had a good chat, and there was chocolate. And I got to catch up with Mr. A, who loves being a classroom teacher! So cool.

Day Fifty

Today was a long day. 

I graded through Block 1, then Mrs. T and I did current events in World/English. It went well enough, and we were able to teach lots of little things about research and citation, but these B day classes are still so challenging to manage. I told Mrs. T afterwards that I haven’t felt so tenuously in control of my classroom in years.

And just when I thought they’d settled, too. Will keep working…

We had a team meeting during Block 5, and then I headed to the polls to vote. One of my former colleagues ran for state rep, so after I voted I held signs with him and some other candidates and campaign staffers. It was rainy and cold, but worth it when one of the seniors who was casting her first vote came running up, shouting, “I’M VOTING!!!!!” and giving high-fives. 

My day was made. 

I spent the evening with everyone I’d been holding signs with, watching results at a local restaurant. I’ll be tired tomorrow, but it’s all good.

Day Forty-Nine

Today I taught my APUSGOV class all about congressional elections, which was cool because a bunch of my students are actually going to vote in their first one tomorrow. I started by going over how to register same-day and showing a sample ballot, and taking questions about voting. Then went into the actual lesson on constitutional requirements to run for Congress, the primary and general process, redistricting, etc… At the end, I had them play The Redistricting Game, which is addictive, and read this Washington Post article on gerrymandering. 

Campaign finance law next class, kids…

In World/English, students wrote current events essays. They’ve done that before, but this time Mrs. T and I asked them to put in-text citations in their work. They learned how to do in-texts last week, and practiced that a bit, so most had no trouble doing them today. Mrs. T helped the ones who needed it while I kept a general eye on the Cavern. It was pretty smooth; I separated one pair of boys who kept distracting each other, but that’s nothing, really. 

During the second half of the double block, we asked students to look up more information about their current event, take notes on it, and cite the source. That familiarized them with our research note-taking process, which they’ll need soon. Next class, they’ll revise their essays, add the new info, and practice citing multiple sources in-text. This can be intimidating to students who struggle with informational writing because it’s a step or several beyond the basics, so the trick is to be a constant source of calm, encouragement, and positivity. 

That’s the trick with most things.

Day Thirty-Nine

So here’s some modern teaching fun: a campaign staffer for a congressional candidate I’ve been tryyyyying to get as a guest speaker for APUSGOV called me around 1:45. He told me his candidate is free come to the school at 10:40, which is… not during my class. So I said no. But then I realized it’s during flex time! So I said yes! I texted my APUSGOV students on Remind, and told I was going on the adaptive scheduling program and adding them to my roster unless they texted back and told me not to. By 2:00 it was done. 

I am a wizard, y’all. And technology is cool.

APUSGOV was fun today: we talked current events (IMF treaty, Jamal Khashoggi, midterm elections), and then students continued work on projects. Watching kids do group projects on Google apps- which they edit simultaneously- is great.

Mrs. T and I split our time in World/English between setting up an electronic portfolio (her), and studying the colonization of Africa and its long-term impacts (me). We also tag-teamed two IEP meetings that were scheduled during our class time. One of us went down to the meeting while the other watched over the Cavern of Learning, then we switched. 

Have I mentioned how good team teaching can be?

I graded papers and did the aforementioned wizardry during my prep time, and graded some more after school. Then I got to go do errands, go home, change clothes, wolf down dinner, and return to school to host a candidates forum for state house candidates. Turnout was a smidge low, but otherwise it was great. A few of my APUSGOV girls came to be timekeepers, and got some face time with all the candidates. 

Phew!

Day Twenty-Two

I got to wear my Real Madrid jersey today because it’s Sports Day. Cue tons banter with students who are Barcelona fans…

My APUSGOV class had their first unit test today, so it was very quiet (except for the coughing and sneezing because eeeeeeveryone, including me, has the September cold). My World classes were not at all quiet, but in the good way. We were discussing current issues in Latin America, and it sparked so much participation. 

I started by talking about the crisis of undocumented minors at the border; citing stats on the uptick of young people fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala; explaining what it means to seek asylum. So then we had a question: why is it happening? 

I’m giving the long, connect-the-dots, see-the-whole-board answer to that, so I went all the way back to the end of colonial rule. The homework due today took them from there through the Cold War, so I recapped that- and, man, some kids have an unexpected amount of additional info about the Cold War to contribute, which is so awesome! Then I presented info about the emergence of the drug cartels into the Cold War-fueled instability of the 1970s and 1980s. I talked my way up to the early 2000s, answering lots of questions as I went. I think the fear of asking questions is starting to fade because students are seeing how much more interesting they make the class when we’re having a discussion. And once a few quiet students find their voices, others tend follow, and I love that.

They’re continuing to look into that early 2000s period further for homework; half my students have an article on what happened in Brazil, the other half have one on what happened in Mexico. We’ll connect the remaining dots next class…

Day Fourteen

So I had a meeting with Mrs. T, Ms. N, and The SpEd Director during last block today. It devolved into a philosophical conversation about having classes labeled as being “college prep,” but having students whose work is modified so significantly that it isn’t college prepatory work anymore. Somehow, The SpEd Director got the idea that I didn’t want to make those modifications, which… Noooooo. No, no, no, no. Definitely not my thinking on that. I want kids to learn, so I want to meet them where they are. That’s my job.

I just don’t know what to do about that “college prep” label sometimes. 

Mrs. T cleared up that misunderstanding, and then everything was all good. But, I have to say, it stung that The SpEd Director misunderstood- that she thought it was at all possible I’d ever think that way. It stung a lot, really. I’m not having a great week outside of work, so I’m probably a little overwrought, but yeah… I went back to my desk, modified my next unit, and sent my work to Ms. N and Mrs. T for feedback. 

Because I’m good at this, damnit, and I want to do it. 

Anyways. 

The rest of the day was great. My APUSGOV class crushed a vocab quiz and then tackled the Constitution. I split the class into three groups. One had to find evidence that it’s a visionary document, one find evidence that it’s an elitist document, and one had to find evidence that it’s a pragmatic document full of compromises (spoilers: it’s all three). The ensuing discussion was good fun. 

Then there was a lockdown drill…

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That wasn’t fun, but it had to be done.

Afterwards, my World students crushed a vocab quiz, too, which was delightful since it’s their first one. Then we had an epic discussion about radicalization and extremism (carrying over from last class), the teaching of prejudice, biases and stereotypes, and how our sources of information shape our perceptions. It was good in my Block 2 class. It was AMAZING in my Block 4 class; so many students had so much to say. 

Oh, and it was picture day, and I looked good. That’s a win.

I ended the day at the stadium this evening, watching the football team pick up a huuuuge victory. It was a blast.

Day Twelve

The bell schedule is just different enough this year that I occasionally forget when classes end (let us note, I had an unchanged schedule for twelve years). This morning I had my APUSGOV class do some practice FRQs, and I was marking the time remaining incorrectly for about ten minutes. Buuuut I caught myself and apologized, and we got on with it. I just wanted to give them a taste of what the exam is like, so it’s low stakes work.

While they were writing, I redid my entire World lesson because I abruptly decided to adjust the sequence of the next few classes. So my students started by revising the current events essays they drafted last class, which I had initially planned to do next class. Then I added a bit of vocabulary practice (there’s a quiz next class). Then, since we’re on the topic of current events, I got on the topic of extremism because it’s come up in conversation a few times this week, and I have a great activity on the things that make countries vulnerable to extremist influences. Students have to examine the emergence of five different extremist groups and figure out what they have in common. So they did that today, some took it home to finish. We’ll chat next class about how extremist groups target individuals. 

I’ve always done that lesson later in the year, but I figured why not do it now. As I said, the topic has come up. And I do tell people that extremism looks the same all over the world, so it’s a point I can keep coming back to as we study its manifestations this year. We’ll see how that works out.

I spent my prep time planning, grading…. and emailing the staffers for three winning candidates and one incumbent to get them to come to my APUSGOV class. Because last year’s biggest lesson was that it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Two already said yes. Just gotta work out dates.

Day One Hundred Nineteen

There are several upcoming disruptions to the school schedule (assemblies, SAT testing, an early release day, etc…) so I spent the better part of my prep time staring at my plan book and trying to get it all straight in my head. I think I managed it, but we’ll see. 

Mrs. T started class today in the Cavern of Learning with the weekly grammar lessons she does to build up our students’ writing skills. I’ve been taking all of our combined time for the past several days- and I’m glad she let me, but it’s exhausting, so it was nice to split the time a bit today. 

When I did take over the teaching, it was to discuss what’s currently happening in Syria, which students had read about for homework. I wanted to be sure they understood the progression of the war, and how it became so multifaceted. Then I had them take a closer look those facets, and all the forces and proxies involved, and really examine what a tangled web it is.  They assessed the strength of various alliances, discussed the dangers of allies with differing interests (ie- Turkey and the US) finding themselves on opposite sides of a battlefield, and so on. Seeing the whole board helped them understand why restoring peace to Syria is so difficult. 

Then I told them I was going to make it even more difficult. 

I introduced the war in Yemen, which involves many of the same actors and therefore influences the regional dynamics. We read a quick overview of what’s happening there, then started watching a video a teacher buddy of mine made to compile media coverage about the war. We’ll finish that next class and talk about the implications.

Day One Hundred Seventeen

While basically every other school district in New England canceled today because of the storm, mine stayed open. So I went to work and taught ninth graders about the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Boom.

We did have an early release, which was the right call since it didn’t start snowing until 11AM, and we totally rocked and rolled with the time we had. It was all me again in the Cavern of Learning because Mrs. T let me have her time, which was super helpful for me because this stuff is A LOT. Plus, it gave her time to grade recently-submitted argument essays, so it’s a double win.

I started the lesson by recapping what they’d learned in previous classes about ISIS’ origins, rise to prominence, and takeover of land. I went on a bit of a tangent about what it was like to watch on the news as the cities and towns my brother had spent time in during his deployment were destroyed. I told my students that we and our friends had frequently debated what the US should do in response- and there was a whole national debate, too- and it got heated. Then I reminded them that I’m always asking them what they think the country should do in certain situations, to which they nodded emphatically (because I seriously ask that all the time). I explained that I do it because, at some point, we all have to decide where we stand. I had to during the war and afterwards because it was my country, my family, my life… 

It’s theirs, too. That’s the point.

Anyways. After I was sure everyone had a solid understanding of our past lessons, I had them find out what happened during last year’s fight to retake land from ISIS. They watched a video about the Mosul offensive, read about the Raqqa offensive, discussed the whole situation with me. Aaaand once they’d done that I dropped this on them: “Hey, if ISIS was largely defeated months ago, why’s the UN saying the war in Syria is worse now than ever?”

Cue the bell. 

Find out for homework, kids. We’ll talk about it next class.