Thursday, February 27, 2014

Methods to Avoiding Tough Situations

*Update at the bottom

I made girls cry yesterday.

I made them cry in both happiness and sadness.


Well, I coach JV softball (just add another thing to what I do under the title "Teacher") and we had to make our cuts yesterday. Some girls cried with joy and some cried with sadness.

You know how crappy that makes you feel?

If you don't, let me explain to you. The ratio of how crappy it was to how many glasses of wine I needed was 1:3.

Meaning, for every girl I had to cut, I wanted to have three glasses of wine.

Granted, I didn't end up drinking 15 glasses of wine but I really wanted to.

The worst part? One of the girls is a student of mine.

So I'm basically sitting here panicking because I'll have to face her in two periods and I'm trying to figure out ways not to.

  1. Method 1: Climb out the window
    • Pros: I will avoid seeing the student. 
    • Cons: I will most likely break something since I teach on the second story
  2. Method 2: Call in sick with a sudden and rare virus
    • Pros: I will avoid seeing the student
    • Cons: I will have to take sick leave and then not be able to lead my team in practice
  3. Method 3: Pretend she is invisible
    • Pros: I will avoid having to talk to her about it if she wants to
    • Cons: I will look like even a bigger jerk then when I cut her
  4. Method 4: Have the front office call her down for some made up reason
    • Pros: I will avoid seeing the student
    • Cons: I will not only embarrass the poor student but I will also look like a crazy person to my administration
  5. Method 5: Acting like an adult and dealing with the situation of her possibly wanting to talk about it or being angry at me like teenagers tend to do
    • Pros: I act like an adult
    • Cons: I have to deal with the situation

Crap. I have to go with method 5. 

I hate being an adult sometimes


Update: So I took the adult method and it paid off. I was able to face the student and she even asked for help. Yay! She didn't hold it against me!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just What I Needed

After a very bad day of wondering if my students would EVER actually see what I'm doing for them, I decided to go back through my old Facebook statuses to see if I ever talked about how appreciative my students were of me. I was not disappointed.

All of these posts were from the end of my second year of teaching. I had a group of sophomores that I had taught for two years in a row and the majority of these comments are from them.

June 4, 2013
"Wait! You're not teaching juniors? But you're supposed to be my English teacher for life!" ~sophomore I've had for two years

June 5, 2013
I informed my sophomore boys not to scare the new English teachers away next year when they have them. Their response:

"We're going to scare away every single English teacher until you're the only one left to teach us."

I'm not sure if I should be flattered or terrified for their junior teachers......

June 5, 2013
"I want to sincerely say thank you so much for all you have done. I know I am not the easiest student to control or the most obedient student, however you have taken time out of your days to help me. Thank you for having for much patience with me even though I know you want to throw me out the window at times. You've made these two years a little easier by helping me out and I appreciate the time spent greatly. THANK YOU!" ~card from my sophomore student

I guess I did something right.

June 11, 2013
I'm sitting here almost tearing up at what my students wrote in my year book. They didn't just sign their names, they wrote half pages and pages to me. Some highlights:

"You have taught me so much: how to write, how to break down literature, and how to notice the vile, inappropriate things Shakespeare put in his plays."

"Oh, and if you get married, please invite me to the wedding."

"You're super hip. Which is cool because most teachers have osteoporosis" (yes....he spelled it right.)

"You literally made me laugh every day and when you were gone for like 2 weeks or a month for your knee surgery I almost died"

"I don't think another teacher could have put up with me for so long." (a sophomore I had two years)

"It has been a blast and you have been one of the reason I've survived high school so far."

"It is teachers like you that make students want to learn and have fun"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lessons from Feeny: Education Beyond Books

On Friday, the USA lost to Canada.

I was not happy about the outcome.

However, I decided to let my seniors watch the game. I know, we have missed a lot of days for snow and I know, we have a lot to cover since they are seniors and they will be graduating soon.

There were 3 minutes left in the game when the period after me started. Two of my seniors asked me if they could stay and get a pass. I agreed because, well, I wanted to watch in hopes that the US would come back and at least tie it (I did tell them that if it was tied I wasn't going to let them stay for that).

Yesterday, the teacher to one of the seniors that stayed came up to talk to me and informed me that he had a quiz during last period and they were not happy that I allowed them to be late because they missed critical time to take the quiz.

I asked if they tried to use it as an excuse for more time and the answer was no. So I, like an idiot, said "then what is the problem?"

The answer was something along the lines of that we can't allow students to get away with this, education is super important, that they need to learn responsibility, etc.

I almost said "But next year, in college, he would have chosen the same thing."

I kept my mouth closed because that would just have sparked more debate that was useless.

Despite the snow, despite the amount of work I have to cover for my seniors before they are done at the end of May, I stand by my decision.

I am a huge hockey fan. My seniors and I routinely have debates about which NHL player is better. We have honestly have had heated debates where I made them actually use facts and debate format for the whole Crosby/Ovi debate. I have also done this for basketball with Jordan/Lebron. I'm not short of making sports part of the learning process.

However, I am aware there was no educational value to this game. But it was a huge game for anyone who likes hockey and the Olympics.

It was as I was trying to figure out the best way to phrase this that I remembered a Boy Meets World episode in the first season where Corey doesn't do well on his test because his dad woke him up to watch a no hitter that was being aired on the west coast. Feeny originally gets angry like this other teacher did because education is important.

As the episode goes on, he realizes that, when he was a child, he wasn't allowed to listen to FDR's speech that declared the war over because he had a test the next day. He doesn't remember what was supposed to be on the test but he does remember not hearing that speech because it was such a special event. It is when this happens that he tells Corey

"You see Mr. Matthews, education is not about obscure facts and little test scores. Education is about the overall affects of years of slow absorption. Concepts, philosophies, approaches to problem solving. The whole process is so grand and all-encompassing that it really can't be threatened by the occasional late-night no-hitter."

Yeah, education is important. But it isn't all about the books. It is everything. Slow absorption. As long as I don't interrupt class for every little thing, what damage have I really done? The student took responsibility of missing the first few minutes of class and didn't ask for more time. They knew they had made a choice and they knew the consequences of doing so. As a teacher, I try over and over again to get my students to take responsibility for their actions and choices and this student did. Even though it may not have been from the books, this student did learn something and I'm proud of them for that. You don't have to prove you learned something by taking a quiz.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up If I Tried

Today was a long day after being off Thursday and Friday. I felt frazzled most of the day and felt like I didn't get anything accomplished. So I was in desperate need of a laugh which caused me to go hunting through my Facebook.

Over the course of my three years of teaching, I have plenty of crazy student comments that I have collected on my own personal Facebook that I decided to compile some of them for your viewing pleasure. These are all from this year of teaching. I have soooo many more but that would require time to Facebook stalk myself. 

I promise you, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. These are all actual things that happened with my students.

August 28, 2013
Animal Farm was a summer reading book

"Bring Animal Farm to class tomorrow. You'll need it" ~Me
"Wait. We needed to read that book? I thought we just had to do the assignment!" ~students

This is teaching day number 1.

And this is why I'll eventually have a permanent dent in my desk from my head.

September 19, 2013
Upon my seniors discovering that I have written up 8 students for cheating this week via the method of copying and pasting:

"Our generation is doomed!" ~Student 1

"Damnit America! We can't even cheat right anymore! Our country is going downhill!" ~Student 2

September 24, 2013
The assignment: Using your knowledge of 1960's America, what might Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches be an allegorical reference to?

The answer that I have gotten from enough students to be worried about the future of America:


Somehow the Civil Rights movement was a movement to end slavery.

I'm going to go cry now.

October 22, 2013

"Gilgamesh is told to chill out."

Literary analysis from a sophomore right there.

November 5, 2013
In reference to finding out my mom would be the long term sub for a math teacher

"Your mom can't be a math teacher" ~ freshmen
"Why not? I promise you she is" ~ me
"She is too nice to be a math teacher! What is she teaching, sunshine math?" ~ freshmen

November 13, 2013
Moment of feeling old: Freshmen phone goes off in class with the ring tone of "WAAAAZZZZZZUP!" The kids all laugh and I take the phone. At the end of class, the kids were asking where that was from.

None of them knew.

I was shocked. Then I realized none of them were ALIVE when that commercial came out.


December 13, 2013
I was notified that my "swag level" has increased to an insanely high level due to having colored staples.

Get on my level people.

January 10, 2014
"Does this story about the Nigerians take place in Africa or a different country?" ~sophomore

I just banged my head on my desk. Multiple times.

January 24, 2014
Putting students in group for a debate and I group together five boys that I know that didn't read.

"This group isn't fair!" ~student 1
"Well, you know she did it because she knows we didn't read" ~Student 2

To student 2 "There is hope for you." ~me

February 3, 2014
Today I told a student to stop being a fool and pretending that he knew something when he clearly wasn't listening.

He informed me to grab a pair of gloves to see if it would fit and that he promised it wouldn't.

I thanked him for the O.J. reference. The rest of the class didn't know who that was.

Not sure if I should be impressed my one student knew the case or sad the rest of my class didn't.

February 7, 2014
I have an out of work response set up on my email and I told all my students I may not be able to respond as quickly as normal. A student emailed me yesterday. He just sent another saying "You were able to send an email saying you were in Baltimore but not one to answer my question. Why is that? I really need an answer."

Note: the question they are asking me is if they need to write in complete sentences for an assignment. Not only have I said it in class multiple times, it is also on the directions. 

I worry sometimes....

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Odyssey Resources

It is a Sunday morning and I was doing some lesson planning which requires searching waaaaaay too much. Then I realized that I hadn't posted some resources in a while so to take a break from the pain of going through multiple Google Searches, I'm sharing some resources I have for The Odyssey.

Hopefully this makes your search a little easier.

If you want to see the other resources I have available, you can go here. My resource pages are works in progress so check back frequently for updates. 


Here is a cute picture for your time.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lessons from Feeny: You're Your Own Enemy

We recently got a lot of snow so we yet again had snow days and yet again I decided to binge watch on Boys Meets World which means I am getting more lessons on teaching from Feeny.

In the 5th season, there is an episode titled "The Eskimo." The premise of the episode is that Feeny gets very annoyed that Shawn is doing nothing his senior year because "he has learned it all," Corey won't stop trying to take care of him, and Topanga won't stop butting into the boys' lives. He gives them all their own assignments: Shawn must get Super Bowl tickets, Topanga must butt out of the boys' lives, and Corey is to make sure they all succeed. If they don't complete these assignments, they will fail. This proves to be a nearly impossible task.

Shawn almost is able to get the tickets by standing out in the cold but is beaten by an Eskimo. They assume the message is that "as long as we try we will be fine." So they go back to Feeny with this message and he asks where the Super Bowl tickets are. The gang becomes frustrated and try to figure out what Feeny is actually trying to teach them. Shawn realizes that at every point in his life, there has been "an Eskimo" in his way and he has always given into the fact that his hardship will win. He is determined to prove Feeny wrong and says he is going to San Diego (they are in Philly) to get the tickets. Corey tries to stop him because it is crazy but Shawn tells him to get out of the way and Corey does. 

Corey and Topanga report back to Feeny that they failed because Shawn went even though they said for him not to. Feeny smiles and tells them 

"Shawn isn't going to go to college and succeed because you want him to. He has to want to and believe that he can. And the only way he can do that is on his own." ~Feeny
"Then why did you want me to help him?" ~ Corey
"You need to know that you won't always be able to" ~Feeny
"Yeah, pretty soon we're all going to have to do stuff on our own without someone's help. Right Mr. Feeny? I think I know why you're going to keep giving us assignments until our last day with you." ~Topanga
"You're butting in Ms. Lawrence." ~ Feeny
"So fail me. That's life." ~Topanga
"But you won't be perfect anymore" ~Feeny
"No one should be perfect. Besides, you learn from failure." ~Topanga

Feeny shows the group that although you love your friends, what is stopping you from truly growing is yourself. Topanga is frightened about not being perfect and this desire for perfection causes her to never learn since she never makes mistakes. Corey learns that he is preventing his best friend from growing by trying to take care of him and Shawn learns that he is the only one standing in his way.

This is a lesson that is very difficult for high school students to learn. They are constantly hounded by their parents that they aren't perfect so they strive for it to the point where that is all they know. This prevents them from ever actually learning a lesson because the idea of failure is so frightening to them that they refuse to take any risks. They are the students that get super upset when they don't get an "A" on their paper. They are so upset that they get angry instead of learning from it. They don't come to ask me how to get the "A" they just complain that it was too hard and give up. Which then moves them into the second group of students. 

If they don't strive for perfection, they do the opposite and say "well, I will never achieve anything because I'm not good" so they become their own worst enemy. Many times I've talked to a student that was failing and they say "I"m just not good at English." I have to look at them and say "How do you know when you don't try?" They shrug and say "I have never been good so why try?"

How do you as a teacher fight this? The years of perfection or the years of being told they are not good? Sadly, there does not seem to be one single good way of doing this because Mr. Feeny is correct; they can only learn that on their own. The best you can do is keep pushing them and believing in them which is a difficult balance. You need to not accept the excuses but you need to tell them "you can do. I know you can." One day, it will click with them. Sometimes it will take two years of pushing them, like one of my students that I taught two years in a row, or sometimes it will only take a few short months. Either way, once they can see that they can do it, they will forever believe it. You just can't give up on them.

Friday, February 7, 2014

No Two Children Are the Same - Unless They Are in the Classroom.

I am currently chaperoning a field trip for Model U.N. Since the kids are in session about 90% of the day, I have taken the time to gradeish (def. - getting distracted by TV or the internet while papers are in front of you occasionally being marked).

Needless to say, I have watched A LOT of HGTV and Food Network.

One commercial keeps popping up for Sylvan Learning Center. No matter what kid they choose to use, the story is always the same: the kid is disinterested in school, he goes to Sylvan, and *bam* he becomes interested in school.

After hearing/seeing the commercial so many times, I decided to start actually listening to what they say. The tag line is "Learning should be personal."

They follow a four step program of "Assess - Plan - Teach - Apply" in order to make children actually excited about learning.

There is nothing wrong with this approach. Actually, I love this approach. Asses your student's needs, plan the a lesson best for them, teach the lesson, and then have them apply it so that they can prove they fully understand it. This model assumes no two students are the same which is great!

So why can't we apply it in schools?

Why do schools assume every child is the same? Why do they think that everyone can take the same exact test to prove they know this knowledge? Why must we assume that every child can prove they learned the information the best by taking a test? Why do we assume children all learn the same?

Just because it was the way you learned, doesn't mean it is the way your child learns. Maybe the fact that places like Sylvan exist is not a good thing but a bad thing. We see many disinterested children and automatically assume something is wrong with them since they don't seem to excel in the system that has been virtually unchanged in decades. What if the problem isn't the children but the system? What if the reason they are so disinterested is because the system is failing them?

Why is it, that my grandparents can tell me stories about high school, specifically how they were taught and asked to prove they know the information, and they sound like I could have told them about my high school days?

My generation is different from my grandparents. My students are slowly starting to become less like my generation and more like their own. So why does education assume that each of these generations, with completely different learning styles and lifestyles, can all learn the same way?

Shouldn't we actually take the message of Sylvan and apply it to how we actually teach children? Wouldn't that benefit them for the future and the progression of the world in general?

The answer is yes, we should be changing education and stop forgetting what we did in the past and focus upon what we are going to do in the future. In 100 years from now, hell, in 50 years from now, the world will be a completely different place yet, education will still pretend it is 1973.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Your Child is Doing Fine, I Promise.

It has been a very very difficult week. Normally, I enjoy teaching but this week multiple factors made it very difficult to enjoy it.

The biggest one was due to parent, teacher, student conferences on Thursday. I had many parents concerned about their freshmen child because they were not doing "well" with a "B." I was able to calm these parents down because I reassured them that their child has shown improvement in their organization, study skills, self-activity, etc. and that their child will be able to live up to their full potential. They are just currently struggling to figure it out.

Besides the fact that these parents want perfection from their child when they may not in fact be able to achieve it, I was fine until one conference that was extremely difficult.

It was a mother of a freshmen. Both of them came in and I figured it would be like the conferences above. However the mother decided to berate me in front of her son claiming I didn't know how to teach writing and that I didn't know basic English. The reason she knew better was because she went to a top tier university and graduated with a degree in English.

What got me was not the lack of respect from the mother, it was that she was doing this all in front of her son. Her son was sitting in the desk head down and trying to appear as small as he could. He was clearly embarrassed and only talked when I engaged him. The student even admitted that he had made a mistake on his paper and that he hadn't listened to what I told him to do (which I assured him was okay as long as he learned from it). This did not stop the mother from going on and on about how I didn't know what I was doing but she did.

What pissed me off was that the conference became more about the parent trying to validate their existence than what we could do to help her son in my class specifically with writing.

Her son was so embarrassed that he came up and apologized to me in class on Friday, completely worried that I was going to assume that he shared the same view as him mom in regards to what she had said. I assured him this was not true.

Now, I know I am not a parent but as a teacher this makes me very angry. This parent made the conference about her and completely ignored her son and his needs. She feels like she is a wiz in English and the fact that someone tells her otherwise makes her angry. She completely ignored the fact that her son is not a natural writer and that he needs to develop her skills. She completely ignored him and his wishes. It was obvious her son did not feel the same way she did but she completely ignored him and did what would validate her.

I was proud her son got a "C" on his paper because he improved from his first. He worked hard on it. Could have he worked harder and done better? Yes but he is 14. He is figuring it out. Why can't you feel the same?

Stop worrying about your ego and focus on your son's needs.