Saturday, January 3, 2015

A singular focus -or- What it feels like to go back to teaching

The magical red bucket.

It all started with a red bucket. The very one pictured above.

That's the bucket I took with me to an interview for a teaching job in June last year. I was told to be prepared to present a lesson that I had developed, taught and assessed. I wracked my brain for the most memorable lesson I had used as an English teacher. I even gathered up photos of my old classroom with students reading and interacting and even some samples of old student work. I walked in to that interview confident with that red bucket tucked under my arm!

I got the job.  The boys and I took off for Alaska within weeks of the good news to join Aquaman who was already fishing.

I began reading what my future students had been assigned for the summer. Here's proof - me with the book on board a seiner with Aquaman.

Damn boring, if you want to know the truth.

That was pretty much the last time I came up for air.

In July, I went to a teaching conference. In August, I began planning lessons. I walked into a classroom that looked like this:

And turned it into this:

Yes, the door involves Hello Kitty. 

And a Hello Kitty calendar. I may have a problem.

The lesson I had in that red bucket at my interview is what started off the year.

Since then, I've been buried in literature and professional development and benchmarks. Learning an entirely new pedagogy. Memorizing 150 student names and getting to know them. Grading 150 student essays. Then 150 more student essays. Then hundreds more poems. Uploading and emailing and calling parents. Twelve hour days were standard. If I got in and out under 10 hours, I felt giddy.

At times, delightful reading.
At other times, mind numbing.

There has been no time for my own writing. I've been writing curriculum. I've been writing poetry and essays to use as exemplar models for my students. No personal essays. No blogging.

It is all consuming.

Did I mention the reading? Besides curriculum guides and lesson plans and articles about teaching literature, I also read (or re-read) whatever novels I had to teach. Here's what was on deck this fall:

7th grade:
1) The Giver by Lois Lowry
2) The Maze Runner by James Dashner
3) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
4) The Pearl by John Steinbeck

8th grade:
1) Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
2) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
3) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
4) When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
5) Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

For the student book club that I sponsor:
1) Doll Bones by Holly Black
2) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
3) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
4) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Additional Research and Reading:
1) In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning by Nancie Atwell
2) The Essential Criticism of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men edited by Michael J. Meyer
3) Classics in the Classroom by Carol Jago
4) With Rigor For All: Teaching the Classics to Contemporary Students by Carol Jago
5) Papers Papers Papers: An English Teacher's Survival Guide by Carol Jago
6) Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons by Nancie Atwell
7) Lessons that Change Writers by Nancie Atwell

I'm sure there's more reading that I've forgotten I did.

Did I mention the bulletin boards? That's my favorite part!

Students add quotes from books - a sort of recommendation wall. 
Such a great quote.
August/September. You can't go wrong with Whitman.

October-scary stuff!
November-books teachers are thankful for.
One of my all time favorite books.

Here's why.

December. What'd you expect? I mean really.

I also celebrated a birthday in there, went on a field trip with 100 8th graders, chaperoned a dance, and gave in to student requests to be the faculty sponsor for a student-led book club.

She who wears the crown must be obeyed. Right?
This was the bus ride there.
Notice there isn't one on the way back. 

Did you know you text requests to the DJ now? Fancy!

I have made myself take a break these last two weeks. That means that I only read two books that were related to school and only emailed a handful of times to confirm my new teaching schedule for the spring that will involve a new syllabus, eleven more novels that I must pick for 30+ additional students I will have, and to welcome a new teacher that I will collaborate with.

You know the most surprising part of all?

I am loving being back in the classroom. I missed it. I was gone from it for three years.

Kids can be real bad. Real, read bad. But they can also be real sweet. Real, real sweet. They give you things. Things they think you'll like. So if they see one Hello Kitty item on your desk, get ready. For things like this:

First gift from a student this year. And it was from a boy!
Boys secretly love Hello Kitty.

Did you know there was Hello Kitty canvas art?

Hello Kitty as an Elf. No better combination.

And they'll make you things. Like this:

Just because. 

Our Of Mice and Men book cover - student rendition.

Favorite student quote from The Outsiders.

And they'll do annoying things like take a selfie of you and themselves with your phone while you're busy with another student.

And you'll marvel at how they can be so frustrating and so smart and so clueless and so wonderful all at the same time.

I think they might actually be learning something with me. So I'll just keep swimming - trying to keep my head above water. Maybe I'll eventually be able to do more than tread water. Maybe I'll learn a few new strokes and be able to look around at the shore by the time June rolls around again.

But until then? You won't be hearing much from me. Which was really the whole point to this post - to let you know why I'm M.I.A. on this here blog. It's for something I care a lot about. And it's all part of a big plan Aquaman and I hatched many years ago so that I would have the summers off with the boys and we could all go to Alaska and join him while he fished for the summer. It might actually be happening, that plan. Fingers crossed.

1 comment:

  1. Your classroom looks amazing! I would have loved to have been your student when I was younger!