Category: the big middle east debate

Day One Hundred Thirty-Five

Mrs. T asked if she could do anything for me since I had to preside over debates by myself yesterday, so I said she could fetch me a unicorn. I came in to work today, and…

That’s fun. 

We wrapped up debates with an amazing one about Palestinian Statehood, and I gave my closing remarks about how proud I was, and how important it is to be able to speak articulately about current issues, and how their opinions matter. I saw some smiles and head nods… I hope they took it to heart…

After that, students used the remainder of our time to do quarter reflections because the quarter is almost over. I was happy to see how many kids wrote about how developing argument writing and debate skills would transfer to other classes and to real life. That’s something we want them to understand.

I spent my prep time nagging Mr. B to buy me books because I always do that in the spring. Then Mrs. T and I got prepped for next week, and then we left town (in a SNOWSTORM). We’re in Hanover for a conference (ECET2 NH/VT). More on that tomorrow!

Day One Hundred Thirty-Four

So I’ve been teaching my APUSGOV students about the Civil Rights Movement, which is a fantastic thing to get to do. My lessons are protests, politics, and policymaking- nice and alliterative, right?- and I’ve been using a lot of primary sources. Today, for a change of tone, I invited a professional storyteller to tell stories of the era (and beyond), which was awesome. The handy thing is that his daughter is in the class and I’ve been close to their family for years. 

That was a great way to start the day.

And then there were debates!

I was nervous, at first, because I was all by my lonesome (Mrs. T had to stay home because her son has a fever), and- as I’ve written- this set of students didn’t use the prep time nearly as well as the set we had yesterday. Some arguments were brief, and one group reeeeeally struggled with rebuttal, so the lack of prep did show. But mostly? They pulled it off. And the final two debates  of the day were really fine: evenly matched, highly informative, spirited, engaging… It’s telling that the bell rang during closing statements and not a single kid moved; they waited until the debate was done, applauded, and then got up to go.

I graded everything during my prep time- while it was fresh- and then went to practice. It was a cold, windy day, so Head Coach and I just had the sprinters and jumpers do 300m repeats. We need to do more technical stuff, but it’s a good workout, and it warmed up their muscles, so it’ll do.

Day One Hundred Thirty-Three

Mrs. T and I moderated debates today, and it was awesome. Our ninth graders debated arms sales to Saudi Arabia, military and humanitarian involvement in Syria, and arming of Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS. A lot of them were nervous, at first, but they were prepared, and articulate, and able to reference SO MUCH research. Yes, it’s complicated stuff- it’s stuff that gets debated in UN meetings and congressional sessions!- but, yes, they’re capable of understanding it. 

I am super proud of them, and said as much in class. 

There were so many highlights… Rapid-fire rebuttal rounds, an ordinarily quiet girl refusing to let me call time because she was on a roll and had more questions to ask, two boys giving each other pep talks before their debates… We had one girl freeze up, sadly, but her group was very patient with her- and we appreciated their kindness. 

Also, at least three kids showed up despite being sick so that they wouldn’t miss their debates, which we don’t actually want to encourage… but, uhh, yay, dedication? 

It started pouring halfway through Block 4, so basically all sports stuff was canceled for this afternoon. Ordinarily, I’d be bummed about not having track practice, but it was actually good because Mr. L and I have a project to do for our PD class and were able to spend the afternoon working on it. 

So I’m feeling accomplished today. It was a good day.

Day One Hundred Thirty-Two

Athlete A: *says something I can’t hear*
Head Coach: Are you worried about cooties?
Athlete B: Only girls have cooties! *looks at me* I mean, uhhh…

Being a female coach of boys is generally hilarious, in case you were wondering. 

Today, in addition to being hilarious, it was cold and windy. I’m wrapped in blankets, sipping hot chocolate now. I want spring back. 

But that’s New England.

I started my day with an APUSGOV lesson about civil rights policymaking in the 1960s. My goal was to teach them the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but I ended up answering questions about a lot of other things, too (black nationalism, Vietnam, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, Reagan Republicans…) That’s the fun of a discussion-based class, though. It goes in several directions. 

I ended up rewriting my next lesson to include more detail about some of the things they asked about. I actually like the lesson better now. 

It was the last day of debate prep in World/English. Mrs. T and I have been a bit worried because this set of students struggles so much more with group work than our other set- for myriad reasons- so we tried to monitor their final preparations closely. I watched rehearsals in the hall while she helped groups polish their writing inside the Cavern of Learning.

I did step out for twenty minutes to do instructional rounds in Mr. F’s geometry class. Got to do some SOHCAHTOA, which I actually do know how to do. Woohoo! And it was neat to see my students in a different setting.

Day One Hundred Thirty

It was very serious in APUSGOV this morning because they had an on-demand essay to write on Letter from a Birmingham Jail. And it was serious, at first, in World/English because Mrs. T and I laid down the law about excessive sign-outs and wandering, like we did yesterday. I thought we’d get more push-back, but it didn’t happen, and we actually had a good, productive class. 

It did have tough moments. In one debate group, one student- who is very smart and focused- deleted another’s contributions because he didn’t think it was “good enough,” then didn’t understand why she wouldn’t keep working. There were tears. Mrs. T and I had to mediate that one. But then all four group members reached an accord and started working really well together.

Later, we stopped debate prep to show Taylor Mali’s “Totally Like Whatever” because Mrs.T was wearing a t-shirt with a quote from one of his poems on it, and we realized that one was good to play before students started rehearsing.

And then I helped a bunch of students with an early April Fool’s Day joke. We snuck up on Mr. F with an air horn. So ninja. Another of them stole his stapler and plans to cover it in jello.

He got me back by sneaking up on me with his coaching whistle, though. 

We think we need a scoreboard. 

At practice, Coach T and I continued our “Fun Friday” tradition by hiding Easter eggs in the (muddy) woods around the track. I’m talking something like a hundred eggs. It was awesome. 

Now I’m going to clean off the mud on my face and hands, make myself presentable, and go to Good Friday service!

Day One Hundred Twenty-Nine

The custodians did something weird to the second floor hallways when they cleaned last night, so the floors were super slippery today. 

At first, I thought I was just having issues because my shoes are kind of worn out, but once kids started arriving they remarked on it, too. It made getting from place to place a bit more of an adventure than usual. 

And debate prep was more of an adventure, too! We had all the opposing groups swap research notes- doing a little oppo- which generated a flurry of new work and revision. They were validating sources, planning objections, developing new lines of inquiry… It was so good, and Mrs. T and I both remarked on how well these groups are figuring out how to collaborate and be successful. Not all groups of students given a hard task do without substantial guidance.  

Meantime, Mrs. T and I were making an effort to curb excessing sign-outs from our Cavern of Learning by removing all but one of our hall passes (each teacher usually has two) so there’d be no more group wandering, which becomes a school-wide issue every spring. There was a little annoyance, but kids understood what was up; the frequent wanderers in this set of students owned it, got to work, and will do better in the future without us forcing them to. It probably won’t go so well tomorrow. 

We’ll see.

Track practice was a solid sprint ladder workout, which the team informed me was mean (four sets of 180-150-100-50 sprints with a walk back recovery). They were happy when they were able to do it and finish strong, though. 

Day One Hundred Twenty-Eight

Today was long because I had to do CPR/First Aid certification after practice. All coaches are required to have it, even lowly assistants, and mine just expired. It’s generally good to have anyhow.

The day began with APUSGOV. I have a habit of reading poetry in that class because everyone should have more poetry in life, and there’s a poem for every occasion. Today I read Langston Hughes’ Kids Who Die, which is so very powerful and prophetic. Then we resumed our study of the Civil Rights Movement with a recap of the efforts to desegregate Birmingham, which they’d all read about, and we read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

If you’ve never read it, or haven’t read it in a while, click that link and then come back to me. I’ll wait.

It’s an extraordinary piece of writing, and every time I read it I find some new piece that catches my attention. My class read it aloud- we each took a page- because I think it’s valuable to hear it and discuss it. There was a silence after the last line as they took it in. One boy broke it with, “Now that’s some letter.”

Sure is. 

And imagine what it’s like reading it with these kids who have all become activists- long ago or recently- and have walked out, marched, spoken to crowds, written to the papers. One was called out by name in a letter to the editor this morning. There is a spotlight on their political participation right now- as there is on young people nationwide- and things are big for them right now. Watching them take that letter in… Chills. 

I don’t think many lessons will be as powerful as that one- it’s the timing- and World definitely wasn’t. There are a handful of students who just haven’t been taking debate prep seriously; it’s frustrated their peers, and Mrs. T and I. We’ve been warning those kids, and revoking privileges like sitting in the hall, etc… but some still aren’t putting in the effort they need to, and they’re getting petulant. We’re working on it, though. We’ll get them turned around.

Practice was shortened by team pictures, but I got to show our rookie sprinters how to do starting blocks. I like teaching skills like that, and I think I’m good at it. Hopefully, I am. 

I had just enough time afterwards to grab a coffee and a sandwich before CPR class, so that was good. And class was as fun as it could be. Mr. F was there, and he and I have serious banter, so we amused the rest of the students.

We do what we can.

Day One Hundred Twenty-Seven

I woke up today and wondered how it was only Tuesday, which seemed to be a common sentiment amongst students and staff. So it’s not surprising that it was a bit of a rocky day. I think there was a fight in the halls, but I totally missed that, and generally tempers seemed short.

Things were fine in the Cavern of Learning, though. Actually, they were super productive, too. Mrs. T and I got our steps in (I don’t actually track them, but you know what I mean) going from group to group to answer questions and look over various things. 

There were moments of silliness, of course, but everyone needs those. And right now our students have 160 minutes (with a five-minute break and a half-hour lunch break) to work on debate prep, which is serious and difficult. Gotta have laughter in there, too, you know? As long as it’s got an on-off switch, it’s all good.

We had a team meeting Block 5, but it was short, so I got to do a bit of grading afterwards. Then I had a club meeting with the student activists who want to continue the post-Parkland, post-March work; I’m the adult who will sign forms and backs of checks, but it’s their show. 

And then I had practice, and- cue the music of triumph- we actually got on the track! 

There’s about 200m clear of snow, which is plenty for a sprint workout. I have all the emotions about being on a track in early spring: how it looks, how it feels under my feet, how it smells like mud and grass… I associate it with so many memories. It made me so happy to be out there. 

We race (away) in two weeks!

Day One Hundred Twenty-Six

You all know that my APUSGOV class has eaten cake every time the government has shut down or passed a CR. Today, in response to the budget passing, they ate carrot cake. I’ll let you figure out the logic. It’s fun.

We also had a guest speaker today. One of our substitute teachers was a freedom rider, so the kids asked if he would come tell his story. That was extremely cool. And we had a few minutes afterwards to chat about the AP exam. I got a request for more FRQ practice, so I spent all my prep time planning for that. I’ll make it happen. 

I spent World, admittedly, thinking about those APUSGOV plans. Luckily, Mrs. T was running the lesson- explaining how to construct debate pieces- so my distraction didn’t really show. I supervised the room while she worked with particular groups, and I fielded various content-related questions as needed. 

After school, I had a couple students come in to ask me about course selection for next year, so I was late to my PD class. The professor was, thankfully, understanding. Three hours of school leadership, CBE, and a challenge to quote Aristotle in my next assignment (CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!!) later, I headed home. 

Best thing? It was still light outside!

Day One Hundred Twenty-Five

Disruptions to the routine tend to make freshmen squirrely, which isn’t an insult; they make me squirrely, too. As this week was full of them, today was like this:

Suuuuuch a Friday.

Mrs. T and I managed to hang onto control in our Cavern of Learning, but only just. There was so much energy, so many random outbursts of laughter, and debate prep petered out about fifteen minutes before it should have. But there was enough learning happening that we’re satisfied. I mean, they’re looking at the same things congresspeople, senators, diplomats, generals, and so on have to look at. It’s all HARD. 

But if they don’t start trying while they’re squirrels, they’ll never learn how to be statesmen, so I’m proud of their efforts.

I spent Block 5 doing my own learning with a few of my colleagues. The consultant who did the teacher workshop yesterday was available for small group sessions today, so we signed up for one. It clarified a lot for me. It made my head hurt, too, but it was good. 

And then I went to track practice. We’re five days in, so I’m really starting to make sprinters out of our rookies. And I realized today that I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve watched so many kids sprint that I can tell a lot about their athletic history from it.  Like, I looked at one boy and said, “You’re a soccer player,” which surprised him enough. Then I said, “You’re a defensive mid,” and he looked at me like I was a wizard. 

Which I am. 

I was also trained by a German ex-footballer (my college track coach), which helps.

After the workout, Coach T and I took everyone trekking into the hills behind our track to go sledding. We divided the kids into two teams, and gave each a sled. One kid would run up the hill, sled down, pass the sled to the next kid in line (or just crash into them… that happened a lot). The lead kept changing hands, so everyone was cheering and hollering. Gotta love a week that ends in high spirits.