Category: interdisciplinary fabulousness

Day One Hundred Eighty-Two

So, the other day, Mr. B emailed me to ask me if I’d be willing to be a building rep for the teacher’s union. I didn’t respond with my immediate reaction, which was, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” I took some time to think it over. Mr. B has been my mentor for years, so the fact the he was the one asking was partially why I eventually said yes. There was an election, but I was running unopposed, so it was all but official at that point. Today it’s actually official. 

That’s probably the biggest thing that happened to me today. It was the first day of final exams for the underclassmen, and I had no exams to give, so my day was pretty quiet. Exams are scheduled so that students take two each day with a half hour break in between and lunch after. Today, they took the exams for their Block 1 classes, and I don’t have any (APUSGOV was on A days- and seniors took finals last week- and my prep time was on B days).

I spent most of the morning cleaning out my classroom, except for the hour or so when I was in a team leader meeting with Mrs. C, Mrs. R, and The Vice Principal. I didn’t realize how full my file cabinets had gotten until I decided to go through them and clear the clutter. Now they’re mostly empty because everything is digital. No need for old curriculum binders, or anything like that.

I had lunch with Mr. W, Mr. F, and Mrs. T. We went out of the building for that; I’d gotten a gift certificate to a local restaurant from a student, so we spent it, and talked about the year, and relaxed… When we got back to school, Mrs. T and I graded Multi-Genre Projects with Mrs. T; we each take half of the projects, so the grading is quick, easy, and awesome. I know I keep saying the students’ work is amazing… but it really is. The level of detail on some of these projects is phenomenal.

Oh, and this one fun: one of the boys on the football team had asked for an extension on the project (he needs to pass World and English in order to keep his eligibility for fall sports, so making sure he had time to do well was great and responsible), so he had to print everything out and hand it in today. He showed up with five of his teammates in tow, and they were chanting his name the whole time he was printing pieces, and when he handed me everything they burst into applause.

Gotta love a supportive team, right?

This afternoon, I got invited to a house party by one of the many presidential campaign staffers I keep in touch with (APUSGOV networking). He’s got one of my incoming GOV students- a girl who was in World with me two years ago- interning on the campaign, which is awesome. He couldn’t say enough good things about her. Helping to run a house party is a huge thing, so it was really neat to see one of my students taking that on. I’m super proud of her.

Day One Hundred Seventy-Nine

Longtime followers will know that this was one heck of a year. Discipline issues from day one, a challenging ninth grade population, a number of students dealing with serious medical issues, students in crisis, vaping, the lockdown, the flooding, various Incidents that I can’t detail any further… We just got rocked.

So it was probably fitting that, midway through Block 2, as Mrs. T and I were conferencing with students and everything was going well, the fire alarm suddenly went off. I shrieked and jumped about a foot into the air, so… not my coolest moment. But then I pulled myself together and led my class out to the baseball field, which is our usual gathering spot. 

It was a rainy day, and my students marveled at my ability to walk across a muddy field in high heels, which I thought was funny. I was worried we’d be out there for a while, and that the weather would get worse, but the fire department gave the all-clear pretty quickly. I think it took them fifteen minutes, tops, to figure out what had triggered the alarm (some overloaded sensor or something).

We went to flex block, then to Block 4, which is when my day got really awesome. One of my special needs students came running up to me at the start of the block to hand in his final project- like, running so fast down the hall that his aide couldn’t keep up- and he was absolutely beaming. And his work is beautiful. He loves art, so he drew a picture of the ending of N.H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabul, which he absolutely loved reading. The other piece of the project was a comparative essay about Shooting Kabul and a book he’d read earlier in the year about Nelson Mandela. I loved reading about the parallels he’d found in the two stories; he noticed things I hadn’t noticed, which was so cool. 

The other cool thing was the culmination of a lot of work. We have a student who really struggles with reading and writing, and his self-confidence is so low sometimes that it makes me sad, and life is just rough, you know? Most of this semester, he’d been avoiding work- no matter what we did- so he was in danger of failing, and was ready to give up. But, instead, he did something that was really hard: he gave Mrs. T and I a chance to try and help him. For the past two weeks he’s come in after school, during study hall, during flex block to work with one or the other of us- or both of us- to make up work, and to have additional time on the current stuff. Today- two days ahead of schedule- he finished his Multi-Genre Project. 

I had to sit beside him for the better part of an hour to keep him on track instead of on his phone or talking to his friends… and I had to prompt him to keep going, and reassure him the his work was good so he wouldn’t just delete it all… and I also had to be unobtrusive enough that my presence wouldn’t make shut down out of anger… And, boy, did it pay off. He finished a project that he’d been convinced he wasn’t capable of finishing. He smiled. He’s going to make it.

Block 5 was a blur of the music of triumph, and then I had to go to the last faculty meeting of the year. Fittingly, one of the topics for discussion was what we thought our successes were. 

Day One Hundred Seventy-Eight

The whole building smelled like cigarette smoke this morning, but no one knows why. We all opened windows and turned on fans (which we’d have done anyhow because today’s the first hot day we’ve had all spring) to get the smell to dissipate, and then we just went on with our work. I had Block 1 free because APUSGOV is over, so I was just answering emails and stuff… until I got interrupted by a bunch of sophomore boys tromping down the hallway singing “Breaking Free” from High School Musical

No one knows why that happened either. Buuuut it’s the last week of classes, the end of a wacky year, so it’s probably fitting. 

Anyways…

It was another day of Multi-Genre Project conferencing for Mrs. T and I. We each read and discussed six or seven projects during the double block, all of which were pretty excellent. I had a particularly great conversation with one boy about how to add detail to a narrative he was writing about corruption in professional sports; I made one suggestion, and his eyes lit up, and he rattled off a bunch more things he could do to improve a particular scene. It’s great when it clicks like that.

If students weren’t conferencing with us, they were working on their revisions. And if they finished and turned in final drafts, then they started preparing for their final exams. Towards the end of Block 4, a handful of students who were done with everything started talking about training for their various sports, so I jumped in and answered a few questions about what my sprint training had been like in college. The really cool thing, though, was that a student who missed a lot of school this year for health reasons- so he’s really still navigating the social stuff, figuring out where he fits in- dragged his chair over after a few minutes of listening to the rest of us and joined the conversation. That made my day. 

Day One Hundred Seventy-Seven

So last night one of the third floor science labs flooded, and the ceiling collapsed in the middle of the Cavern of Learning. The thing is, though, if I hadn’t been told about it, I never would have known. By some miracle, none of the desks, laptop carts, etc…got damaged, and the custodial crew worked all night to clean up the debris, and put in new lights and ceiling tiles. I’m pretty impressed with the work they put in to make sure everything was fine by the time the first bell rang.

I spent the morning checking things off my to-do list: cleaning my desk and cabinets, updating bus lists for Project Grad, sending emails, and so on. Then in World/English, Mrs. T and I both started doing formal Multi-Genre Project conferences, which went pretty well. Over the years, I’ve gotten way better at explaining what I’m doing while I’m editing, in particular, so that students will know how to do better in the future. This year they’ve all been really excited to talk about their work and make it as perfect as possible.

I did have the one kid who just looked the other way the whole time I was reading his work, and I so get that. I was that kid, too. So I made all my edits and revision suggestions in silence, and afterwards we talked about everything.

It’s all about finding what works.

The prep room where we usually eat was occupied at lunch time, and it was a gorgeous day, so Mrs. T, Mrs. R, and I all went and ate outside. That was delightful- as was the end of the year party at Mr. R’s house, which I just came home from! Good food, good people, relief that summer is almost here… 

It’s a good day!

Day One Hundred Seventy-Six

I was a little out of sorts this morning. Like, I just felt a bit stressed and short-tempered, and I don’t know exactly why. But then one of my APUSGOV students, who missed the last day of class, came by to turn in his final project and chat for a bit, and there was no way I could stay in a bad mood then. 

And, after that, the Cavern of Learning came back! Mrs. T and I opened the wall between our classrooms to do conferences with students about their Multi-Genre Projects. Between the two of us, we can conference with every student in two or three days, which leaves us time to do a second conference with anyone who wants one. Also, one or the other of us will always have spare time to answer questions and offer help to students who aren’t conferencing. So it works out super well.

I’ve been checking drafts, so I’ve seen students’ work coming together these past few weeks, but Mrs. T was finishing up Romeo and Juliet, so she’s coming to the party late. She’s loving how lengthy and detailed a lot of these projects are; students are really showing the progress they’ve made in research and writing. And, as I’ve said many times, what’s better than that at the end the year? We’re both super happy.

It’s a gorgeous day, so we went on a “walking meeting” during our prep time: two laps around the building. As we walked, we went over our plans for tomorrow, since she has to leave for part of the day, and discussed the students who’re behind on their work. On the second lap, we saw one of our students on the basketball court with Ms. N- taking a movement break- and when he saw us, he challenged us to play, too.

So did I go shoot hoops in a dress and high heels? Of course, I did.

Day One Hundred Seventy-Two

I told my APUSGOV students that I’d caught their senioritis because I was draaaaagging this morning. It’s a casual Friday, so I was wearing jeans and a top from the Gap, and I didn’t put my make-up on, and my hair was totally just up in a bun. I decided to put on some jewelry to make myself look more presentable. That’s my trick. 

I let my students have the block to finish their final projects, so it was pretty chill. A handful of them came in just for my class, which is funny since it’s over before 9:00AM, and I think I should feel honored? Maybe? 

In World, I checked off students’ final Multi-Genre pieces (graphic pieces) and had them begin editing their work themselves, peer editing, and- if they were ready- conferencing with me. Afterwards, Mrs. T and I had a meeting of the minds to discuss who’s ahead and who’s behind since she’ll be wrapping up Romeo and Juliet next week and we’ll be opening the wall between our classrooms for conferences and revisions. It’ll be so fun to be back together again. 

During Block 5, she and I went to meet with The Vice Principal, who wanted some information about some of our students, but apparently some Incidents happened so we had to wait until the end of the block. We had a good discussion eventually, though, about the things that seem to impede student success the most (poor reading skills, truancy, and/or parents who don’t hold their children accountable for anything). And when I got back to my classroom afterwards, I found cake on my desk, courtesy of Mr. F, who’d gotten it out of the prep room. So that was pretty great!

I puttered in my room for a bit, ate cake, and then walked out into a beautiful afternoon! TGIF!

Day One Hundred Twenty-Three

“Oh my God, Miss M, there’s actually a person who talks faster and knows more than you do!” -one of my APUSGOV students 

That person is Tom White from the Cohen Center at Keene State College. He’s been a guest in my colleagues’ classes in past years, but this morning he was a guest in mine, which was really special because- as longtime readers know- he was one of my high school teachers. Basically, all the things I do well as a teacher are things I learned because I was his student. I get all my style from him. 

It means the world to me that he said he was proud of me today.

His presentation was for my APUSGOV class. He spoke about systemic racism in the U.S. and the connection between Jim Crow and Nazi race laws, which had my students captivated. It’s history no one’s taught them before- or, at least, not in such depth. And he connected dots between historical events, ideological movements, pop culture, and policy in a way that was really eye-opening. Students had A LOT to say afterwards (besides the comment above, heh), and stayed after the bell to thank him for coming, shake his hand, and stuff.

His presentation ended at WWII, which is where I’ll pick up next class on the way to teaching about the Civil Rights Movement. I’m super excited to do it because now I have so much to reference, and link back to, and ahhhhhh! It’s just going to be awesome.

Learning is awesome.

It was awesome in World/English today, too, as we did our final A day debates (on U.S. involvement in Yemen and Syria). The debate on Yemen was probably the best debate we had; both sides were so prepared for it, and their rebuttal rounds were AMAZING. I’m really proud of all of our students, though, and I think this was just what we all needed; a big success on a difficult thing. 

Debates wrapped up just before the end of Block 2. All the freshmen spent flex time in the auditorium to get information from the school counselors about how to select their courses for next year. Meantime, I spent it with some of my upperclassmen, going over the last APUSGOV unit test; one of the girls actually retook it during Block 5 and aced it, which I’m thrilled about (and so is she). In her case- and in many others- it’s just a matter of slowing down a bit, and reading the questions with a bit more care. That’s tough, of course, when a student is nervous about the time frame, but it can make a huge difference. I reminded this student that she’d finished well before the bell, so she had the time to slow down; hopefully, she remembers it for next time!

The freshmen returned for Block 4, and we moved on to some prep for the next unit. We moved the tables to that we had three stations. Students sitting at the first one did vocab games with me, students sitting at the second one worked independently on their homework, and students at the third one got information from Mrs. T about book choices for the Central Asia Novel Project. We switched stations ever fifteen minutes, and used the remaining time to sign off on course selection sheets. It worked out really well.

Like I said, I had a student in during Block 5. While she crushed her test retake, Mrs. T and I entered debate grades and did a bit of planning. At one point, Mr. F came in to open our windows because it was an unseasonable 60 degrees outside, which was absolutely delightful to experience once the day ended. It’s a good way to go into the weekend.

Day One Hundred Twenty-Two

This morning I was late to work because there was a skunk in the yard. One of my downstairs neighbors got sprayed while trying to shoo it away, and all kinds of chaos ensued, so I just stayed in my apartment and avoided it. That meant leaving five minutes after I was supposed to be in a PLC meeting, but my colleagues got a kick out of my explanation when I did arrive.

Mrs. T and I spent Block 1 preparing for our B day debates, which were all pretty good. Palestinian statehood, the proposed withdrawal of US troops from Syria, and US involvement in the war in Yemen were all on the table today. I think the debate about Yemen was my favorite because both sides had done such good research, and afterwards I got to discuss the resolution the Senate voted on yesterday. When ninth graders realize they’re debating the same things as Congress? It’s a powerful confidence boost.

They also asked if we could keep following the resolution through the legislative process, and, obviously, the answer to that was yes. 

I love that they asked. 

During Block 5, Mr. F, Mrs. T, and I had a quick meeting to discuss some news we’d been emailed regarding one of our students. Then we went to check our mail, and found that there was a therapy dog (and its human) in the hallway to surprise students. It was a basset hound, you guys; its ears touched the floor, and it was adorable! Basically everyone reacted like it was the worst thing in the world when I said I can’t pet dogs because I’m allergic to them. 

It is, in fact, THE WORST.

But I’m glad the dog was there for everyone else. It has been, as I’ve said before, a very hard year. I do think it’s looking up, though…

Day One Hundred Twenty-One

Mrs. T wasn’t in her room when I arrived this morning, and usually she gets there before me, so I was mildly panicking that she was still out sick. We were starting debates today, and I did NOT want to have to moderate on my own because she’s way better at it than I am, but I got the Cavern all set up and resolved to make the best of it. Mrs. T came in just before the first bell, and I burst out with, “Oh, thank God you’re here!” 

My APUSGOV students, who were arriving for class, thought that was funny. They took a test this morning, and as I was grading it I realized I messed up during test review. See, because tests are cumulative, I went over the things from previous units and assumed students would review the key concepts from the current unit, too; I should have been clearer about that, though, because students definitely devoted all their study time to the things I explicitly went over. So that’s on me, and I’m going to apologize and curve the test scores because I figure that’s only fair. Plus, retakes are always allowed, so anyone who wants to do that can.

I do try to teach in a way that prevents damage from being permanent.

As for the debates, they were awesome. We only did one in each block because we took time before starting to allow groups to converse and rehearse, and to reiterate rules, instructions, etc…  There was a terrific match-up in the debate over Palestinian Statehood during Block Two. The members of both teams were nervous, so they got off to a rough start, but then they settled in. One team definitely pulled ahead in the rebuttal round with a great line of questioning about Israeli settlements, but both turned in solid efforts. I was pleased with the amount of research they’d done.

The debate during Block Four was about whether or not the U.S. should increase the number of refugees it admits per year, and one team came in ready to absolutely crush. They had pages of research notes, well-written and rehearsed speeches, tons of rebuttal questions… The opposing team hadn’t ever gelled, and they kind of panicked when they saw how prepared their opponents were. They realized they had to rally, so they worked through lunch with Mrs. T (we didn’t start Block 4 debates before lunch because that’s only twenty minutes, and we didn’t want to pause a debate midway through to go eat). They managed a respectable performance, so I was proud of them. Hopefully, they learned a few lessons about responsibility and communication, too. 

Nifty thing: my evaluator, Ms. C, came in to observe during that debate. She was just in during APUSGOV the other day, but she happened to be walking by while the “ready to crush” team was practicing in the hall, so she asked if she could come in today, too. Obviously, I said yes. I want people to see what these ninth graders can do with topics that are complex and challenging, and know just how high we can set the bar. They will clear it if we support them and give them a chance.

I spent the first part of Block 5 in a meeting with my NEASC group, finalizing our report for the reaccreditation process. Then I spent the second part of the block in a parent meeting of the awesome variety. Mrs. T and I got some really lovely compliments for the work we did for a particular student. It’s our job, of course, but it’s awesome when parents tell us we’re doing it well.

The meeting ended shortly after the afternoon bell. I had to be back this evening for winter sports awards, so I left at the end of the meeting to go home, relax, have a coffee… The awards ceremony was good fun. The Head Coach and I gave out major awards, varsity letters, certificates, etc… Then our athletes surprised us with gifts. Look at what I got!

The card cracked me up. I’m totally hanging it on the cork board by my desk. And, yes, that water bottle is full of candy. My athletes know me so well…

Lots of learning and lots of joy today. 

Day One Hundred Twenty

So today could have been a disaster: Mrs. T was out sick, I had to change some questions on my APUSGOV test about ten minutes before the test review was supposed to take place, and I had meetings all afternoon… Everything went pretty well, though, so yay! Disaster avoided!

I was worried about World/English because B days are rowdy, and the debate prep has been challenging for many of the groups, and it’s not easy for one person to manage. Mrs. T did request a sub, though, and luckily it was one of the good ones; he was actually able to answer some questions and redirect off-task students, so it wasn’t all on me to do it. And students’ behavior was unusually good. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the last day of debate prep and students knew they had to buckle down, or because the lighter evenings have them energized, or who knows what, but I was happy about it. 

Both of my most challenging students had really awesome days because I kept suggesting small tasks they could do to help their groups. We always tell students to break their work into small tasks, focus on one thing at a time, and take breaks in between tasks as needed, but not all students know how to do that for themselves. They will have to learn how in the future, but for now? I’m totally willing to help. Yeah, I still had to keep telling one of them to go back to his seat and finish the task he’d been given, but he didn’t shout at me when I did it, and he did get back to work, so it’s progress.

During flex time, one debate group met in my room to practice giving their arguments out loud. I was holding an APUSGOV test review session (after hastily revising the test because I decided it should have more questions about checks and balances) at the same time, and made an exception to allow the ninth graders in. So they were there along with fifteen wicked smart seniors, which I think was both slightly intimidating and slightly inspiring. I caught them pausing every so often to listen to us discuss different concepts that will be on the test. 

Also, my phone rang when I was mid-review because another presidential campaign staffer saw my invite and wants to bring their candidate to class. Lesson, as always: it can’t hurt to ask. 

What else? Meetings! The team had a meeting with a parent during Block 5. I was worried it was going to be rough because basically everyone- the parent, the student, all of us teachers- has been feeling frustrated. But it was really positive and helpful, and I think it’s going to make a huge difference for the student. One funny/awkward moment: I was taking minutes, and my computer froze while Mr. F was talking, so I asked him to stop. I should have said “wait” instead of “stop” because he thought I was asking him to stop talking entirely! I clarified quickly, but I felt SO bad!

After that meeting, we had a faculty meeting, which started with a most excellent surprise: free tacos!

The Principal figured he’d interject something unexpected and awesome because, as I’ve said repeatedly, it’s been a rough year. He went on to say that there will be some trauma counselors here next week to talk to staff, and there will be (and have been) some to talk to students, too. Plus, the admins are planning a school spirit/morale-building fun day for sometime this spring (The Principal did add a dry, “Yes, there will be a spring” because there still are several feet of snow on the ground). They took suggestions for fun day activities during the meeting. These were mine:

  • ultimate frisbee
  • laser tag 
  • lip sync competition
  • t-shirt decorating

My cacophonous friends, who were sitting with me, echoed my suggestions and added a few more. After the meeting ended, we walked out into warm and sunny weather, and were reminded that, as The Principal said, there will, in fact, be a spring.