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.