Category: conversations about current events

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.

Day One Hundred Nine

We’re still feeling the reverberations of the Parkland shooting in a lot of ways. Conversations between colleagues inevitably drift towards the topics of guns, school safety, protests, etc… The Principal called a faculty meeting for tomorrow morning during what’s usually PLC time to discuss all of that (and I have no idea how that’s gonna go, so expect an update in tomorrow’s entry). The kids are all talking, too.

And there’s something else I’m noticing. 

I have a habit of telling my students that they’re going to decide the direction the world goes because they live in a powerful country and they’re part of a powerful generation (larger, louder, more interconnected, and capable of accessing more information and resources than their predecessors). Whatever they decide to do on a certain issue- even if it’s to do nothing or to avoid- will have a global impact. I acknowledge that’s a lot of pressure, and I usually get lots of wide eyes and nervous laughter.

But today, as we were discussing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, I said it would be their peers in the region who would drive any changes to the situation “because your generation is going to be a powerful generation all over the world, remember?” And I got smiles and determined nods, and even a “Yeah, we are.” I think the kids marching in Florida and beyond get the credit for that change.

Day One Hundred Eight

So my APUSGOV students decided to invite every congressional candidate running in our district to come to class. Five have said yes so far, and the first one came in this morning. My colleague, Mr. I, brought his Contemporary Issues class up to join us, which was cool because it added more perspectives to the conversation. 

And what a conversation! Well over an hour on jobs, college debt, climate change, gun control, education, feminism, intersectionality, voting rights… I always say I let my students take a conversation where ever they want to take it, and I just enjoy the journey. It was tons of fun.

The candidate and his staff were very complimentary afterwards, which was nice. 

I always bring coffee and donuts when we have a guest (least I can do when someone gets up and joins us for a 7:30 class), and I had some extras today, so I had coffee and donuts with my Reading Break students during Block 2 as well as during APUSGOV. Reading Break is the 30-minute, district-wide reading time, but it also functions like a homeroom (kids stay with the same teacher all four years, announcements happen at the end of the block, etc, etc…) My group is super chill, so it’s a relaxing part of my day.

And today was a contest day. The school community was encouraged to wear purple in support of ending the opioid epidemic, and we were told that the reading break with the highest percentage of purple-wearing people would get a prize (donuts for everyone on Friday). Mine was 100%, so I think we won. Woohoo!

My World classes went all right, but when I asked my Block 4 class to tell me anything they’d learned about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, no one raised a hand. So I called on each kid to tell me one thing, which worked and generated discussion, but I wish I knew why no one wanted to volunteer an answer. It’s not typical of that class.

I had some students come by for help- or just a quiet work space- during my prep time, so I spent it with them. Then I spent an hour after school with my department for our monthly meeting. After that, I went home for about an hour, changed into casual clothes, and went back to work to sell tickets for the girls basketball playoff game. 

I hadn’t planned on that, but the AD had somebody bail on him, and it pays $35.00, so I said I’d do it. Easy money, right? I do sometimes draw a total blank as I’m trying to make change, though, which is super embarrassing. 

Anyways, our girls won, so that’s exciting!

Day One Hundred Five

It was a somber morning at my school, as I’m sure it was at others, too. During our PLC meeting we talked about what we’d say in response to the shooting, and about how all our families- like students’ families- desperately want to hold us close every time this happens. I said (and also wrote on Twitter just a bit ago) that I feel for my mom and dad, who weren’t prepared to worry about their teacher daughter as much as their soldier son. It was good to have a bit of time to talk about that.

And then we went and faced our students. 

I had one boy in class who was really upset, which I was expecting. He expressed it by slamming everything he could (my door, a laptop, his binder, etc…) and calling it trash. I did my best to be totally calm in response, and that seemed to help deescalate him, but he did end up calling his mom to dismiss him. And, hey, if that’s what he needs, that’s what he needs. 

Meantime, class went on, as it must. 

I was trying out a new lesson using ProCon. I had students get in groups of their choosing (4 people max). Each group had to go on the site and take notes about a particular issue in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. After they did that, I regrouped them so each student in a group had notes about a different issue. They shared what they’d learned, and then I took the last five minutes of class to sum it up and link it to the next lesson, which will come after a week of vacation (stay tuned, kids…) 

I think it went well in both my classes, but it went REALLY well in my Block 3 class. They actually had bigger discussions than I’d expected them to have when they were sharing what they’d learned; they started talking about possible solutions to the issues, and voicing their own opinions about the conflict, and I just listened in gleefully. My Block 4 class wasn’t there yet, but that’s okay… Emphasis on the yet.

The best part of my day was Block 5. That’s my prep time, but today I spent it in Mr. I’s Holocaust & Genocide Studies class because he had a guest lecturer: Tom White from Keene State’s Cohen Center. And, longer ago than I care to admit, Mr. White was my AP Euro teacher. More than that, he was the best teacher I ever had.

He’s the reason I became a social studies teacher.

And, man, sitting in class while he taught was incredible. It took me back to all the mornings I spent in AP Euro- first block every other day of my senior year- and it reminded me how GOOD he is. It’s not easy to hold a class’ attention for 80 minutes, but Mr. I’s students were as spellbound and inspired by him as my classmates and I always were.

One of them, who was in World with me two years ago, told me she could tell I’d learned how to teach from him, which is the best compliment I’ve ever gotten. I’m not as good as he is, but I aspire to be that good. And so much of what I do as a teacher is me mimicking him… even more than I’m generally aware, I think.

It was awesome to see him, and to walk him to the doors of MY school- where I am because of him- after the bell. And awesome, too, to end a somber day with joy.

Day One Hundred Two

Man, today was big. 

It’s a Monday with APUSGOV, which meant I got treated to their typically fiesty current events presentations. And, since we had a government shutdown…ish… between last class and this one, we had cupcakes (because they’re cake…ish). And the two kids who went to the Lincoln Dinner on Saturday shared what that was like with their classmates. They’re born storytellers, so that was fun.

Oh, and we geeked out over the Olympics hard. My students are all multi-sport athletes, they ski and snowboard for fun (and/or competitively), they go to a school that boasts multiple Olympians amongst its alumni. So it’s not surprising that they love it, is what I’m saying. Chris Mazdzer, the Shib Sibs, and ALL THE SNOWBOARDERS are big favorites, and I’m sure there will be more by next class, too. 

My freshmen wrote current events essays, and then we started tackling the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict with a bit of history. They have to read and annotate an article for homework so that we can dig into the current issues next class. They have almost no background knowledge, so that’s got to come first.

I graded up a storm during my prep time because I had a PD course on CBE after school. I dashed out of that at 5:30- half an hour early, with the instructor’s permission- to make it to a 6:00 political event with one of the candidates for congress. Some of my APUSGOV students were there, which was fun, and so many of the things we discuss in class came up, so I was a happy, happy teacher. Real world relevance, folks. BOOM. 

Day Ninety-Six

I spent part of the afternoon texting my APUSGOV students about #thememo, FISA, and other associated things via Remind since I know they want that info.

My morning was spent teaching them about the judicial branch and the way the Supreme Court works. It was a pretty traditional lecture-discussion type of lesson, albeit heavy on the discussion because that’s how we roll. Mrs. H was on rounds, so she caught most of the lesson, and told me later that she was glad my students asked so many questions because she wanted the same answers. 

That’s a win.

I ultimately brought my lecture from current facts about the Court all the way back to Fed. 78, which I asked them questions about because they’d read it for homework. My quietest student had all the answers, which was awesome and had me internally cuing music of triumph, because she almost never puts her hand up. The rest of my students are really bold, and flashy about their intelligence, and I know that can be intimidating. She gets along with everyone else and will chat with them about non-academic things, but offering them her analysis of A. Ham was a whoooooole other thing.

So I was proud of her.

And that’s a win, too.

I wrapped class by taking the Fed. 78 view of the judiciary and throwing Marbury v. Madison at it. I laid out the facts of the case, the questions before the Court, and the political pickle they posed. And when my students asked how the Court ruled, I said, “You’ll find out next class.” 

Cue the bell.

World was super low key by comparison. It’s the same stations lesson that yesterday’s classes did, so I was mostly supervising, and offering help as needed. And I actually think it went better today because a bunch of my students said they really liked it. I mean, they got to draw, and make jewelry (a perennial favorite), and study pictures, and read poetry- and what’s not to like about that, right?

I rewrote my lessons for next week during my prep time. I had some things I realized I could consolidate, or just do differently, and that will free up more time for me later in the unit to explain current events. 

I need all the time I can get for that!

Day Eighty-Two

I don’t know what happened, but this morning when I went to teach APUSGOV, my brain basically stopped knowing words. 

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It was a bad day for that to happen because, rather than giving my students all of class to work on the pizza project, I took about 45 minutes to give a quiz and lead a discussion about some things that have been in the news (POTUS’ physical, section 4 of the 25th Amendment, Cliven Bundy, the DOJ and states that legalized marijuana). 

I mixed up “appropriation bill” and “authorization bill” before the quiz, which… ugh. I corrected myself, but still. I’m annoyed by my mistake. And afterwards, as we chatted about the current state of affairs, I kept saying “judiciary” when I meant DOJ, and having to correct myself… and yet I managed a tongue-twisting “no precedent for the President’s decision” just fine. 

Meh. 

I also had to say “I don’t know” a lot because they kept asking hypotheticals that put us in uncharted constitutional territory. So there’s no way I could know (I did put some guesses out there when I could, but one of the boys posed a question I just had nothing for), but I still hate not knowing. Mr. F and Mr. S gave me crap about it when I told them how class had gone- like, “YOU didn’t know something?!” And that’s the thing: I have such a reputation for being a know-it-all, and being flashy about it. I show off constantly. 

It’s such a different situation in this class, though. I like the challenge, but I’m also a little rueful. Grr. 

In other news, Mrs. T was back, so life in the Cavern of Learning was much smoother and less exhausting. Thankfully, my brain had rediscovered words by Block 3, too. Our students got a lot of good work done; we even had some who were ready to conference, so they’re about a class and a half ahead of schedule. 

I went on instructional rounds during Block 5, and observed the beginning of Mr. W’s Spanish I class. Then I went to do some prep for midterms. This is when Mr. F and Mr. S were teasing me about not knowing stuff- we all ended up in the staff room together- and they also agreed that my APUSGOV midterm is beast.

As it should be.