I’m Moving!

Hello. Thank you for checking in here, despite my inattentiveness. I have really appreciated all of you reading this blog over the years. It has meant so much to me!

I want to tell you that I have started a new blog. It’s not about teaching, and will probably be about a lot of different things. I’m learning a lot in this new situation, so I decided a fresh blog start would be good as well. If you are interested in checking it out, it’s called Awake and Aware. It is live now and I hope you’ll stop by, at least once. I hope you’re having a good school year. Remember to support each other! It really matters.  Much love.

 

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Unwinding: An Amateur’s Guide

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When first you retire you will not know what to do. You won’t even realize that this could be an issue until it is one, so here is a smallish list of things to consider. These are the ones I am considering. Be aware that I am in no way an expert on being retired yet. These are the ideas of an amateur.

1.  Going someplace beautiful to decompress is a good idea. If it includes the ocean, all the better. The sound of the water, that fresh breeze at the water’ s edge and all that blue are truly a balm to the spirit.  You might have been running on an empty tank for a while, maybe without realizing it. It’s possible that you (or an increasingly worried family member) have found a burner left on all day or maybe a block of nice Welsh Cheddar cheese in the potholder drawer. Or maybe you found the fresh dog food in the silverware drawer. You’re not required to tell your family that you found it there, but you will know. And you might worry a little bit. They will for sure be worried, so take that into consideration when you’re deciding whether or not to tell them about it. The point is, you will definitely need some decompression time.

2.  During your decompression time, treat yourself like a delicate relative who needs special care. Eat healthy food, avoid sugar and drink lots of water. Take naps, read a novel or two, get a massage, take a walk and try to avoid Facebook for a while. It just adds to the mental overload that you’re trying to let go of. Oh, and you should probably avoid reading work emails. THEY NO LONGER APPLY TO YOU. They will just activate your inner critic and his friend, your inner gossip.

3. Make a list of the things you have to figure out now. Supplemental Health insurance, monthly bills, exactly how much money will be coming in are good things to know about. Should you shut down the Cable? If you are prone to mindlessly watching multiple episodes of Hoarders, you might consider closing it down. There are plenty of other things to do with your time. You will have a good idea of all these things, of course, but the exact numbers are what you will need now.

4. How will you spend your time? It will be tempting to tell a lot of people that you are now available, but it might be a good idea to hold off for a while.  You will be so accustomed to your time being completely committed that you can’t imagine what you’ll do with unscheduled time. It’s probably a good idea to give it a chance. You never know what will arise if given a chance. You could read a novel. Read two of them in one week! You have time now, and I bet the stack of books next to your bed is pretty big by now.  You finally have a chance to whittle it down.

5. Once you’ve rested up, go out to the garage and get rid of some stuff. The more the better. Once you’re done out there, you can start on the closets inside. The more air space you create, the lighter you will feel. How much of your stuff are your kids going to want? Really.  Not as much as you hope they will. They will eventually appreciate your having offloaded stuff, and you will enjoy the air. I am sure of this.

6. If you are a blogger, you might want to consider closing down the teaching blog, since you will no longer have anything teachery to write about. But don’t rush this. Give it time and think it through. This is in no way suggesting that you won’t have anything to write about. But it probably won’t pertain to the people who have been so loyally reading it and you don’t want to bore them.

7. The last thing I’m going to suggest is that you get some exercise. Figure out what you like and do it. You may have to try a few things before you get it down, but it’ll be worth it. I like to lift weights, and I’m excited that now I can do it in the morning, before it gets hot. Trying something new like Yoga or swimming are sounding pretty good too.

This is all I think I know about right now. As my expertise in retirement grows, I’ll keep you posted as to how all this is working out. In the meantime, rock on! It’s summer! Time to get out there and practice!

When You Go

 

IMG_1622  I don’t think anyone really realizes how all encompassing teaching is until they quit doing it. At least that is what I think. You enter this arena with hopes and ideas and a surety that you will be the teacher that makes a difference for kids. You begin collecting the things that you will use for the lessons you will devise. You collect artwork, art supplies, poetry, videos, games and writing prompts. You learn to use the newest technology for creating a classroom community and you revel in the work your students occasionally produce. You buy the latest books about teaching, written by exemplary teachers, the kind you hope to be, at least a little bit. You create Pinterest boards for everything that interests you, collecting lesson ideas for it all. Your eye is always on the lookout for things you can use in your classroom. When one year ends, you immediately begin thinking about how you can do it all again, only better, in a way that will impact more kids.

You also struggle. You weep with your kids when they are hurt, you pull back from the difficulties that arise when they just don’t get what you want them to get, and you spend hours thinking about how you can plan your lessons so that kids will grow in the direction you know they will need to grow. As each year ends and you send another group of students off to the rest of their lives, you send a little strand of yourself with them. You are always interested to hear what they’ve done with their future. You watch online as their lives unfold. They graduate from high school and maybe college, get married, have babies, sometimes go to jail or suffer other life-impacting catastrophes. And each time there is a little bit of you alongside them, remembering the tender and not so tender kid that sat before you that year, so long ago, or maybe just last week.

Each year that you teach stacks up on top of the one before it. Before long, you have hundreds of kids on the edges of your consciousness. You don’t know it, and you forget about them until something comes up and you remember. Sometimes you remember something funny one said, the glee of another when he finally got a pencil to stick in the ceiling. You remember the one that cried so often, and the one for whom you bought a sweater or a pair of shoes, or the one to whom you gave a home. And all these kids and experiences and lessons and ideas fill your space so much that you don’t have room for much of anything else. And that’s okay with you because they matter so very much, and they bring you so much joy and so much perplexity, that it nudges other things out of your way.

And then, finally, after many years of loving and thinking and worrying and collecting, it is time to retire. You won’t be going back in the fall, and you have to get rid of the stuff you’ve been saving. At first you forget that it will be of no use to your future. You are so accustomed to all the teachery stuff being of value that you think you will need to take it with you when you go. But with luck, you realize that you could give a lot of it away to other newer teachers who will find it useful, and so you do. Except for those few things that you just aren’t ready to let go of. Those you stuff into your car and take home to your garage, where they will sit and wait for you to do something with them.

You have to let go of the students, too. Your mind wanders to them so frequently, but they are no longer your concern. Someone else will be caring for them now. Your focus must turn elsewhere, to your own life and family. This is the most difficult part of all. Those young people have had a place in your head and heart for so long that it is as if they are part of who you are. They will probably remember you, and you them, but both of you have to let go now,  somehow.

If you are lucky, as I was, one day right after you retire, you speak with an old friend who sells pottery at the Farmer’s Market and without being asked he tells you that your next step is to get rid of all that stuff you brought home and more. To unload and unload so your existence is almost spartan. There, he says, is where you will find a peace and spaciousness that you’ve never imagined. And that message arrives like an arrow to your heart, and you know he’s right. It’s time to let it all go so you can find what lies beneath and within.

Heartbreak Today

Well, we’re another day down. Today my board said “2welve.” It took the kids a minute to get it, but when I told them to just read it out loud, they got it right away. So the paper chains were adjusted, lots of heartfelt messages were shared and the day began. It became a day of support for other classes’ work. The history classes had assigned something hard, so I helped them with that. And then the makeup assignments happened.  But that’s not what I want to write about.

This afternoon I attended a meeting to discuss the results of special education testing that have just been finished on one of my students. This guy came up on our radar last year when his incomprehensible writing came to our notice. A colleague and I, both ELD teachers, asked that he be tested because something was clearly not right with him. We provided copies of his writing and evidence that most of his work is copied from other students. A parent meeting was held, but nothing came of it. No testing, that is.

After a couple of months of waiting and watching him, testing was declined because his grades were all C or B. Again we said that he had those grades because he is a really competent copier and he chooses smart kids to copy. Again and again we were denied.  This year he was placed in my ELD class, and one day I sat down to speak with him privately. I asked him to tell me about reading. He told me quietly that he can’t  read, that he just copies. He said tests are hard for him because he can’t really copy in them.  Again I went to the school psych and asked for a meeting with his parents with the goal of having him tested for Special Education services.  By the time this meeting was called, it was April of 8th grade. We originally asked for a meeting in September of 7th grade. We have asked intermittently that he be tested ever since, until this meeting in April finally occurred. This time they agreed to test him, because he admitted in the meeting to being unable to read.

Unsurprisingly, he showed significant problems with short and longterm memory, something that causes severe learning problems. He will begin high school in Special Day Classes.  I think they will work well with him.  The thing that makes me sick and sad about this is that he has lost two years of opportunity for receiving the help he needs. He is a nice boy, a very good student, and we have failed him.

As a teacher of English Learners, it is so frustrating to not be listened to, over and over again. I rarely suggest testing for a student, but when I do it is because something other than language is going on. On every occasion but one ( and I know there is something odd going on with that one), I have been right and the student has gone straight to Special Education classes. I say this not to say “Neener,neener, I told you so.” I say it because as a person who has worked with English Learners exclusively for 25 years, I do know some things about them. It is my job to know. The same goes for any teacher of English Language Development. We know our students and we can tell the difference between a student who has language learning issues and one who has something else in the way. Again, it is our job to notice.

So when our instinct is ignored and our students are left without the help they really need, it hurts. This boy who could have been helped all through middle school now must start high school so far behind. It’s not right and it’s not fair.

I may instigate a conversation about this before I leave in a week or so.  For the students who will be coming, those who my colleagues will notice needing something extra. We as ELD teachers deserve to be treated as trustworthy, intelligent, educated professionals who have something of value to add to the conversation. I understand that the testing takes a long time, but we don’t request it because we don’t want the students in our classes. We ask because we can see that a student needs something more, that they are not thriving in their current educational placement. We are all here for the same reason. We just have different vantage points, all of which should be honored.

Whew. Rant over, I think. Deep breath. You are retiring in eleven days…

Paper Chains and Nail Polish

Paper Chain CountdownI have fourteen days left of a 25 year career. My feelings grow more and more mixed as the final day draws nearer. On one level, I’m so ready, looking forward to doing whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, to not wake up at 4:45 every morning and hop in the car by 6:00 to drive 55 miles. I’m looking forward to no grading papers, no lesson planning, no getting up in front of a herd of eighth graders and having to grab and hold their attention for two hours. Oh, and maybe even teaching them something they don’t already know, although they’re pretty sure that I don’t know anything that they don’t already know.

Most students seem to believe that everything I provide for them to do is just something to write their name on and hand in, assuming they will get full credit for whatever it is, finished or not, never mind the quality of thought or effort they put forth. They can’t seem to let go of the idea that as long as they hand something in they should be fine. Today I received seven identical reflection papers, all done very poorly. They didn’t even choose a competent student to copy from!

In the last two days three students who have played around all quarter and handed in little work, none of it done with any level of care, approached me to say that they needed an “A” in my class if they are to promote. Even today they had to interrupt their fun to come and ask for that “A.” One girl had to finish polishing her nails before she could come and request her “A.”  I told them that just wasn’t possible because they hadn’t chosen that outcome for themselves, either with their behavior as students, the quality of work they did turn in, or the limited quantity of work they bothered to do.

On one hand I felt like somehow making the A possible, by giving them extra make-up work or having them redo some poorly done assignments. I like the girls, and don’t want to see them fail. I’m leaving after all, why not give a gift? But on the other hand, and this is the one that is going to prevail, I feel that for me to ignore their level of effort and their behavior and just give them the grade they want is to devalue the same grade that has been honestly earned by other students. It would not be fair to any of them, actually. They will be going to high school in the fall and this type of grade gifting won’t happen there.

Our students have access to their Aeries portals, so they check their grades a few times a day at this time of year. If their grade slips even a fraction they are on me like flies on something nasty. “I handed that in and it says it’s missing,” they say accusingly. To which I respond in a really calm voice, “Oh really? Well just show it to me and I’ll make sure you get your points.” They quietly slink, away and start frantically digging through their backpacks.  Sometimes they even find the missing work.  Anyway, I won’t miss all this.

But I will miss their goofy antics, their earnest effort once in a while, their wanting to know about high school and other things in their future. I’ll miss laughing with them, holding them close when they cry, earnestly telling them what they need to know before they get to high school. I’ll miss them helping me choose a fidget spinner to buy for a friend my age who wanted one and their genuine enjoyment of the video I made of him receiving it. It’s been a good year, all in all. No big behavior issues, and overall a happy bunch of kids. Lucky me!

A couple of weeks ago some students made paper chains to hang from the curtain rod, one link for every day left of school. Every few links they wrote something nice, like “You can do more than you think you can,” or “Make today count!” So when we remove links from the chains we read the sentiments out loud. Everyone listens carefully, and it’s a nice way to start the day. Except, as you can see, there are way more than 12 links left on those chains, so clearly life has gotten in the way of the chains. We’ll catch up tomorrow. At this point, we still have tomorrows. Twelve of them.

 

Safety Pins and, well, safety.

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I have found great comfort in the company of migrant birds in the past three weeks.

Ever since the election I’ve been wearing a safety pin to school. You probably know that this signifies my position as an ally and safe haven for those who need it. It felt a little silly as our school feels like such a safe place, but it made me feel better to do that little thing. I found an article on Facebook that told the history of wearing a safety pin, dating back to the second World War when the Dutch wore them covertly as a sign to others that they were an ally. One of my classes did a close read of it. I had set a little jar of safety pins on the table in the front of the room, without saying a word about it. As soon as the first boy finished reading, he got up and quietly opened the jar and took out a pin. Soon most of the students followed suit. Even then I thought it was a nice gesture, but really. My students are the ones more likely to need an ally, but still. It made me happy that they did that.

Then the other day a Caucasian boy came in at lunch and sat with me for a couple of minutes to look at his grades. The two Muslim girls who go to our school were in there, and one of them said, “He’s mean!” I disagreed with her, and it seemed like light  banter. After he left she said, “He just said, ‘you guys are going to blow us up.'” My heart sank. The next morning when I saw him, I pulled him aside and asked if indeed he’d said that. He laughed and said, “Yeah, I was just messing around with her.” So I told him that it wasn’t a joke. Not to me and certainly not to her. It was a hurtful thing to say. He got very quiet and said,”I didn’t know. I’ll apologize.” And he did. She came in with a big smile the next day and asked if I’d told him what she’d said. I told her I did, and she said he’d apologized. Whew. I was relieved about that.  They seem to be friends, and I think he did mean it as joking banter. But now he knows why it wasn’t a joke.

Fast forward two days later. The second Muslim girl, H.,  came to me during class, crying. She said,”Y. called me Malala. This is the fourth time. I ignored it before.” I was shocked that this had hurt been happening in my classroom without my realizing it. I had a few minutes until the end of class, and in that time I thought about who Malala is, and thought I should talk to H. about it, to see who she thinks she is. During the morning break I asked her what she knew about Malala. She only knew that she is a girl from Pakistan, like her. I told her more about her, and told her that to be compared to Malala is actually a compliment, even if the speaker didn’t know it. I told her that I think she is very  courageous. She comes to school every day, wearing a Hijab, knowing it sets her aside from everyone else. She wears it with dignity and doesn’t back down. I told her I respect her a great deal for being brave enough to be just who she is, no matter what. I also told her I had a book that Malala wrote, and I wondered if she had enough English to read it. She found it right away and looked it over. She said she could read it and asked to borrow it. Then she went home for the rest of the day, still shaken, I’m sure.

Later I kept Y. after class. When I’d first asked her about it, she’d said, “I didn’t say anything, I don’t even talk to her. Why would I say that?” I asked another student who had been there and he corroborated H.’s story. “She said Malala.” So I told Y. that her friend had verified what she’d said. This time she agreed that she’d said it but denied meaning it to be to H. She said she was just saying the sounds. As she sat next to her. Right. I talked about how many mean things have been said over the last few months about all sorts of people. Mexicans, Muslims, Veterans and women and people with disabilities. I told her that as a Mexican woman she was not any safer from these things than a Muslim woman, or I as a older woman. I told her that we must all stand together, to commit to caring for one another, and that we can’t afford to divide ourselves as she had done. She quietly said she would apologize.

It hasn’t happened yet, and I’m waiting until it does. She says she doesn’t know what to say, so I gave her the words. Her English is still new, but she knows those words. If she can’t bring herself to apologize, then I will take further action that she will like less. So far all of the response to bad behavior has  been handled in a quiet and loving way. But the fact remains that something hurtful was said and a lie was offered in response to it and it hasn’t been rectified in any way. That will stand in my mind until the appropriate response has been made. On Monday. No more waiting.

As I write about this, looking at the big picture of what is going on in our country, my actions seem so insignificant. Honestly, for a while I changed this post to “Private” because it seemed like such small event, really. But it wasn’t small in my classroom world and that is the only place I can reach out and have an impact. I believe we have to begin where we are. Being an ally isn’t for the weak at heart. It’s so deep and complex, and one must not compromise if one is to truly stand up for others. As I see it, no matter the apparent insignificance, the messiness, the difficulty of stepping up sometimes, we really have no other choice.

Who comes up with this stuff?

It’s Benchmark season at my school! On October 4th a memorandum came down from on high telling us that Benchmarks are status quo this year. That is, we are to give the same ones we did last year. We had been wondering about that, as we’d heard not a word about it until that day. So we made plans to give them, and some teachers got right on it.

Then on October 11th a second memo came, from the same lofty source. This one said that we are to give the Study Sync Unit I Assessment to all students. Two teachers at our school have been piloting Study Sync, but the rest of us and our students have not even laid eyes on it. And we are to assess our students on the first unit of that curriculum. And to have it done by the 21st.  Tomorrow.  As you might guess, some teachers had already given the previously ordered benchmark, so they will be giving two standardized tests within two weeks.

I tried to give it today. I couldn’t lay my hands on a Chromebook cart because another teacher was still using it for the second day of her benchmark, and I couldn’t get the keyboards for my iPads because they too were in use. So I got the students going on the iPads (Once they got logged in, which was something of a feat since I am not familiar with the Illuminate site, having always used Smarter Balance for the i8th grade benchmarks and for the year end exam). I figured they could do the Multiple Choice test today and the Performance Task, which requires an essay, Monday. (Yes, after the 21st.)

Remember I teach ELD? Okay. The first story in the test is a Jack London story. In the first paragraph alone I found eight words that my students would have never seen before. (“Reiterate?”  “Mittened hand?” It’s not cold enough for mittens here.) The students are to choose a main idea of the story and then base other answers on their first answer. Once they have slogged through this long and complex story. And these were my advanced students! I haven’t even started with the second year English learners.

All I can think is there must be some really advanced eighth graders out there somewhere. They definitely aren’t in my classroom! The stated reason for giving this particular test is that in order to use the scores of it for redesignating English Learners it must be a test that all students have taken so the comparison is fair. This is one of those circular crazy things. Like in order to be redesignated, the student must score proficient or above on the SBAC or the benchmark. But very few of our native English learners score proficient on those tests, so how is making the English Learners score above the native speakers fair?

I’m stymied by it all.  About ten years ago I spent two years at the district office, and while I was there, I realized how quickly I lost touch with the kids and the classroom. I also realized how much harder the teachers were working than I was. I think maybe people who hold positions on high need to spend a week or a month in a classroom every year or two, just to keep in touch with our clientele. I think the decisions they made would probably be a little different, maybe a little more student-centered than those we currently live with.

 

Will October Ever End?

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Some days start out glorious, and go downhill from there.  Others stay pretty great.

We’re in the interminable time of year. That time from Labor Day to Veterans day when the hits just keep on coming, day after day without respite. As much as I like my students and my classroom, I’m getting tired! CELDT testing finally ended this week, which will be a relief. I was working without a prep period for the past several weeks, making sure all 233 English learners in our school got tested, and it’s taken its toll on my energy levels. I bet you were looking forward to hearing me complain, weren’t you? Well that’s it for now.

The first quarter is over already – how did that happen so fast? I wonder if we have enough routine to keep us organized, or have I completely undermined it with all my testing distraction? I think I haven’t done myself any favors in that regard but the beauty of a new quarter is we can start again. Fresh routines, nothing big to detract from them, until the next quarter ends and it’s vacation time. I always think vacation season starts on Veteran’s day and continues through February. All those president’s holidays and yeah. I’m getting head of myself here.

Last week I found some little “student books” of Daily Oral Language (DOL) prompts in a cupboard in my office. I’ve never seen these little guys before. I think they are pretty old. The paper isn’t yellow, but the concept of them is kind of old I think. DOLs are a grammar lesson program that I used when I first started teaching. I would put two sentences that had grammar errors in them up on the overhead. The students had to correct them and we’d talk about the errors. I thought it was a good way to give a daily shot of grammar without putting undue focus on it. Eventually, though, the DOL’s fell by the wayside.

I think that a highly trusted colleague thought they were not focused enough, and I could never really understand the other ones that she preferred, and so, feeling unsure of the rightness of what I was doing, I just quit doing them for a time. Then I think I read that someone thought it was a bad idea to put something that is wrong up before our students. That it would teach them wrong things. Then I went to the middle school where they were using some heinous grammar program put out by our textbook publisher and I gave up completely. I haven’t taught much grammar in recent years because it seems so futile. And boring. (TRUE CONFESSION)

I teach a little bit of it, okay? But really, I’m not going to try to teach some arcane grammar points that I don’t understand myself to seventh or eighth graders. I’m not. The thing is, I don’t understand a lot of grammar because I don’t care about it and I’m old and have had a successful career without it. I still remember my college professor who said that grammar is kind of like Trigonometry. It’s great if you like it, but not all that necessary if you don’t.

But now I have found a bunch of little student DOL books. They are so cute that I’m considering using them. I wonder if that is a bad idea, to use them because they’re cute. An archaic idea.  This guy thinks they are a really bad idea. I wonder if I care. I explain everything so thoroughly, that surely they won’t miss what is right and what is wrong. What do you think about this? Are you a grammar buff who likes to spread the word? Do you agree or disagree with the idea of student correcting grammatical errors in a sentence?  Is an exercise like daily sentence correction just a waste of class time?  I could use a little feedback on this while I’m making my decision. I think I know the answer…but they are so darn cute!

See you soon.

Letting Go

 

img_1378In nine months I’ll retire from the work I’ve done for the past 25 years. Lately I’ve been wondering, how does one walk away from so many years of the thing that nourished you, that fed your brain and your creativity and your heart?

I look at the kids running around the middle school campus and I know they will move on to high school and their faces will fade from my memory, as mine will fade from theirs. And even though this is true, at this time, in this moment, I matter to them and they matter to me. We pass in the halls and say “Hey!” and we feel noticed. We feel that we matter to someone.

I know that I – any one of us, really – am replaceable, and that other teachers will fill the hearts of the kids to come, as well as the hearts of those that leave and go to high school. That autistic boy who everyone thinks never utters a word? He spends his lunch hours in my room talking and telling me all about his life and his family and his dreams, such as they are. He brings videos of his mom and his dog and his bedroom. I matter to him, and he to me. But whether I am there next year or not, he will move on to high school, and he will find someone else to fill that role of listener.

We fill a short space in time for these kids, at a period of their lives that is sacred. The passage from childhood to adolescence is so fraught with pain and excitement, uncertainty and jubilation. At one moment they are running around like little kids, and in the next they are asking big questions about what will happen next. How they will get to where they want to go? And in all the chaos and noise, I feel needed. We are in this thing together, for better or worse.

And as I look at them and listen to them, and push them forward to their futures I wonder who or what will fill the void in me when I go? It feels like I must begin to let go, one thing at a time, so that there aren’t so many things to drop in June. if I lighten my load a stone at a time will it hurt less in the end? Will I be able to drop my empty sack in June and walk away into the next phase of my life?

How does one let go and stay completely immersed at the same time? How will I know what to let go of and what to carry forward? Will I just know? Will I not look back regretfully, thinking I shouldn’t have let go of THAT yet?  Can I really walk away from all this beauty?  As I savor every day of this year, and I say “Well, there went my last September!” or “I’m doing my last round of CELDT testing!” a small place in me mourns a little bit the finality of it all.

The things I can’t or won’t let go of begin and end with my students. I will love and respect and banter with them until we part in June. I will push for their future success in life, making my best effort to arm them with a love of books, an ability and willingness to write and communicate sincerely and with logic, if not eloquence.  I will share with them all I have to give, until that last day.  And then, somehow, I will walk away as well.

Savoring Every Day

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Here it is, my classroom, all ready for my last group of students. I’ll be retiring in June, so this year is so precious. Before school started I hung curtains on my windows. They are made of a soft cotton fabric I bought in Mexico years ago on a trip with my mom, which is such a sweet memory for me. They are a huge improvement over the funky bent-up mini-blinds that hang behind them. Notice the plants and the Lava lamp! What you can’t see in this picture is the essential oils diffuser that sweetens the air and the pretty little lamp that looks like intertwined flowers. The feeling in the room is calm and homey. We’ve been in school for two weeks and so far we’re in love! The kids are as rowdy as any eighth graders ever, but sweet and so cooperative. These are just a great group of kids, but also I honestly think the ambiance of the room is softening the attitudes and actions of its inhabitants at least a little bit.

Before school started I got rid of so much clutter. Like any teacher, I have saved so many great ideas and materials for just the right project, and this summer I decided that if I hadn’t used them by now I wasn’t going to. I filled a couple of huge garbage cans, and put a bookcase outside my door filled with stuff and a “Discard/ Free” sign on it. I saw parents pass by and pick up things they liked, and the (dear, long-suffering) custodians took care of the rest. There is air in the corners of the room!

On the far wall, you can just barely see the words, “6 Things.” This is an assignment my students did twice last year that I learned about in Kelly Gallagher’s Common Core book. It is a spinoff of the ESPN Meme “6 Things You Should Know.” It was a great assignment which required the students to write about something they knew about and format it in a very specific way. They thought it would be hard because of the formatting but it turned out to be much easier than they expected, which was kind of empowering for them. On the wall right now are 6 Things papers they wrote for this year’s 8th graders. “6 Things You Should Know About 8th Grade.”

I decided that this year we will write into the day, every day. It is so easy to not write enough with these guys, and this year I am dedicated to writing with them every day. So far it’s pretty great – I offer a point or two if they read aloud, and they are going for it! We are doing the New York Times’ feature, “What’s Going On In This Picture?” On Monday they post a photo, which we look at and write about and talk about. Then on Friday they add to the photo a paragraph that tells what is actually going on in the photo.  On Monday they write what they see and on Friday they react to whatever is going on. We did this for the first time last week and it was great. It gives them something concrete to write about other than their feelings or hopes and dreams, a subject which is fairly difficult to write about at this age. Not that I never have them write about their feelings, but other things tend to generate a little more writing. I’m teaching them the concept of writing without stopping for five or six minutes as well. I hope that once they get the hang of writing as a regular thing we can begin to go deeper.

I’m savoring every day with these, my last groups of students. I hope you’ll join me as I work  and write through this, my 25th and last year of teaching.