Category Archives: Life Lessons

Preparation is Key

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the discussion we will have with the author of our book when he comes to visit us. Haven’t heard about that YET??? Click here for more details.

For Wednesday’s Bell Ringer the directions on the SMART board said:

Rick Niece will be here in exactly one week.  Write down three appropriate questions you might ask him while he is here.

Of course, many students asked if they could write more than three.

Of course, I said yes.

With this visit, I have three particular learning targets:

  1. I can prepare for and plan for a class discussion.  I can follow agreed-upon rules for class discussions.  I can ask questions to respond to others.
  2. I can use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  3. I can adapt my speech to a variety of tasks and contexts. I can demonstrate a command of formal English when appropriate.

After they had time to write their questions, I collected them all, mixed them up, and randomly read them.  I had the students evaluate each question and determine if it would be a good question or not, and explain why.

Here is a sampling of the questions from my 7th graders:

Have you ever written any other books before?
Do you go see Bernie Jones a lot?
Do you have any kids?
Was Side-Yard SuperHero your first book?
How many states have you traveled to?
Is there a movie for this book…or do you think there will be someday?
Did you enjoy going to Ohio State University?
How long did it take you to write this book?
Did you read this book to Bernie Jones?
What year did you meet Bernie?

My 8th graders had similar questions:

Are you married? 
Do you miss Duke and Fern?
Why did they make the parking lot bigger for the box factory?
Do you ever miss your hometown?
Have you ever written any other books?
How did you feel when you said all your goodbyes on the paper route?
Have you ever been back to DeGraff?
How did you feel when Joyce broke up with you?
Do you have any kids? If so, have you ever told them about Bernie?
Do you inspire others to help people and be friends with them?
Did you want to take Bernie with you?
Do you wish you still lived in DeGraff?
Is Bernie still alive? If he is, do you still talk to him?
Can I get an autograph?
Did you become a teacher like Mr. Bethel told you to?
How did you remember all of these details?
Are you still in contact with people?
Have you visited with anyone from the book?

Many of the questions we could already answer based on our reading, which students were quick to point out.

Other students answered the questions themselves.  For example, when I read, “Did you become a teacher like Mr. Bethel told you to?”  One 7th grader said, “I already know he did. I googled him!” :::::::Insert heart swell:::::::

I am so glad we did this prior to the visit.  I feel like the preparation will be well worth it and we can easily fill the time with no awkward silence.

If not, we do have a back-up question.

One of my boys wrote, “What is your favorite color?”

The whole class sort of groaned, but one excited girl piped up,”Wait! Put it in the emergency pile….in case we run out of things to ask him!”

 

“This Will Never Get Old”

We are wrapping up the book Side-Yard Superhero this week, and my heart has been filled to the brim with love for both the book and for my students.

Tomorrow we will read Ch. 21, “A Promise Finally Kept,” and I know it will be a difficult read.

I’ve read the ending of this book at least a dozen times.

I am not exaggerating.

I don’t know how or why I would read the ending of a book this many times. There are only a handful of books I have even ever read twice.

There is just something so special in these pages.

Yesterday, one of my quiet 8th grade girls came to me and whispered, “I finished the book. It was soooooo good….and I cried.” 

Today, another of my 8th grade girls, a slightly feisty one, came to me right away, “I’m gonna cry when you read Ch. 21 to us. I’m just sayin’. I finished the whole book last night and my dad was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you crying? I told him he didn’t understand how good it was.'” 

No. Words.

Just a few days ago, during a class discussion, I heard her say, “I could totally write a book like this.  I’m gonna write an automythography, too.”

Today, as we read Ch. 20 and searched for evidence that supports the theme of friendship, the feisty girl smiled and shook her head, “This will never get old.”

I hope she will read the ending of this book over and over.

I hope she never forgets the lessons she has learned or what it feels like to truly connect with and appreciate a good book.

 

Coming Soon: Big Moment in a Small Classroom

Sorry to leave you all hanging about my big news.

I am still not sure if I want to post this now, or wait until Oct. 9th – which very well may be the day after the most exciting day of my teaching career.

Oh, where do I begin?

Let me set this up for you. As I posted here about a month ago, my class is reading the book Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher by Rick Niece.

Back in the second week of school, when we were just three chapters into the book, I received an email from a coworker involved in the One Book, One Community program in our county.

Two days later, I stood on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact.  I was so nervous and so excited, but also determined.

I paced back and forth on the hot pavement. I took some deep breaths. I cleared my throat half a dozen times. I practiced what I had rehearsed I was going to say.

And then I dialed the number.

With some luck, I gained a much-needed moment to gain my composure when his wife answered, and then she promptly got Mr. Niece on the phone.

Mr. Rick Niece, the author of the book my students are reading…..On. The. Phone.

With. Me.

There I was, standing on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact, and I had a conversation with Rick Niece.

I have replayed the conversation in my mind a million times and I cannot explain all of the feelings I was feeling as he asked me questions about my class and my teaching career. He applauded me for 19 years as a special education teacher.

He asked me if I liked to write, and he shared that he preferred writing what he knew over fiction, and I told him how fiction simply eludes me. He told me about his career in education and his background with special education programs at the university level.

He told me he typically spoke with creative writing classes, but before we hung up, we had a plan in place.

Mr. Niece will be coming to visit MY students in MY classroom.

True. Story.

My Resource Room students, who are unable to read at grade level, who do not like to read…..are going to meet not only the author of this book, but a CHARACTER from this book.

Coined an “automythography,” the book is the story of Rickie’s life growing up in a small town and the friendship he had with one special boy.

My students are going to meet a man who knew every single one of the characters in this book. He knew them, he talked to them, he helped them, and he learned from them.

These “characters,” who made such an impact on his life, are now part of our daily lives.

My students may ask about shy Miss Lizzie Moore, her pumpkin bread, and the unopened letters on her table.

My students may ask about eccentric Fern Burdette and faithful Duke.(I just know one of them will!)

My students may ask to hear the tale of Frank Tully eating all those hamburgers.

My students may ask about dear, old Mary Waite or firefly-a-phobic Danny Coonzy.

My students can ask all the questions they’ve been dying to ask about Bernie Jones.

Or maybe they’ll ask about one of the characters we haven’t even met yet. We are only on Ch. 15!

Since the day I shared the initial email with my class, this story and these characters have come to life.

And soon we will finish the book. I can only imagine how that might go.

Mr. Niece’s one request was that we finish the book before he came to visit; he felt it was important.

I said I would try my best. (You know I will!)

I am beyond excited for this unexpected and unprecedented event that is going to happen in the lives of 21 students I care a great deal about.

To be able to share this experience with them, to be able to remind them every single day that we have a goal to meet, that we must finish this book,  picture these scenes, connect with these characters, and prepare for a very special guest, it brings me so much joy.

To see them reading, to hear them making connections, to know they are anticipating….

October 8th will be a big moment in a small classroom, and as a teacher, an avid reader, and a wannabe writer, it will be a day I will never forget.

I Underestimated Seventh Graders

Seventh grade is a grade I managed to avoid in my 17 years of teaching. Believe it or not, I have taught every single grade except 7th grade.

Yay me!

When I first started teaching, I thought I only wanted to teach the little ones. I taught ABC’s and counting for a few years.

Then a move back to my hometown forced me to take a job at the middle school level and I found I liked that maybe a little more than the elementary.

For 17 years, I bounced around from elementary to middle to elementary to middle to high school and back to middle school.

I thought I found my place when I was involuntarily moved to the high school. It was the most challenging and the most rewarding job I’ve probably ever had.

Then, because I clearly like change, I moved to 8th grade and thought I could easily stay there forever. I spent 5 years in 8th grade, my longest stint in teaching.

How silly was I to think that!?

I was moved to 7th grade this year and I wanted to cry, “But I don’t like 7th graders!!”

For some reason, I had developed this unfair but very real fear/dislike for these awkward, hormonal preteens. I was always one to boast I had never taught 7th grade.

Well, let me say here, on the last day of my first year in 7th grade, I was wrong.

I love 7th graders.

Want to know why 7th grade trumps 8th grade?

I have seven reasons.

1. 7th graders still think you are funny. Hilarious even. 8th graders think you are lame.

2. 7th graders want to be the Teacher’s Pet and want to help you with everything. 8th graders want to be cool. (Teacher’s Pet = NOT cool)

3. 7th graders want you to like them. 8th graders couldn’t care less if you do.

4. 7th graders say “Hi” and acknowledge you in public, and then they talk about it the next day. 8th graders act like you are invisible.

5. 7th graders never forget funny moments. It could be months later and they keep an inside joke going and going and going…. “Zach Frost” was a joke that started in early winter. Even though it hasn’t snowed in months, it still comes up at least once a week.

6. 7th graders ask, “Can we have you again next year?” 8th graders rarely even say good-bye.

7. Whether it’s “officially changing your name to Fa-Delmo”, doing an Irish jig in study hall, or happily and willingly playing board games with the teacher for three periods on the last day of school, 7th graders just make me smile.

Ahh, That’s Good Stuff

Finishing a book I am going to read with my class next year and wiping a tear from my eye, I say out loud (and wake the dog), “Ah, they are going to love this!”

Getting to the most exciting part of our novel and watching their faces light up when they realize the truth about the protagonist, I say to myself (so they don’t realize they’ve been fooled into learning), “Ah, this is why I love teaching.”

Looking at the calendar and realizing there’s only seven more days of school and one more Monday, I say to myself (because I need all the encouragement I can get), “Ah, I can do this.”

Making a Summer “To Do” list and purposely including things like read, relax, lay out, ride my bike, walk the dog, I say to the dog (who is, of course, begging to go on a walk), “Ah, Summer….”

Letting my boy be semi-responsible for his diabetes-care and sending him a friend’s house for five hours on a Friday night, I say to his sister (as we shop, eat, and talk in peace) “Ah, this is nice.”

Checking my boy’s blood sugar at 5 a.m. and getting a decent number, I say to myself (so I do not wake him), “Ah, I can sleep a few more hours.”

Waking up late on a Saturday morning to bright sunlight and stretching a good stretch, I say out loud (coming up with no other way to describe my sleep), “Ah, I slept hard.”

Waiting for the Keurig to finish, pouring in my Friendly Farms Vanilla Caramel creamer from Aldi’s’, and taking that first sip of coffee, I say out loud (to no one), “Ah, that’s good stuff.”

Looking at  the sink full of dirty dishes and walking away to grab my laptop, I said “Ah, it can wait. I haven’t blogged in a while.”

 

 

 

Just Enough to Get Me Through

As I looked in my mailbox at lunch today, I saw what appeared to be a “Please call Mrs. So-and-So” memo from the secretary.

My heart sank.

What now? Who did I give detention to? What did I forget? Whose grades are not where they should be?

The year is ending in 11 days and my sights are already set on next year: Year 2 in 7th grade. I just need a fresh start. A do-over, if you will.

This year was not a stellar year for me. New grade level, new content, new co-teachers, new administration….I just never felt like I was on top of things in a fabulous ‘Super Teacher’ sort of way.

However, the conversation turned out a little differently than I expected.

“I just wanted to thank you for working with R. this year and being so patient with him and so understanding about his needs. It’s no secret he hates school, but he told me last week that he doesn’t want this year to end.”

(Hmmmmm….What 7th grade boy says that??)

His mom continued, “I asked him why and he said, ‘Because Ms. K won’t be my teacher anymore.'”

I think I may have said something like, “Awwww…..I just love him!” I told his mom that I knew he’d do great next year in 8th grade and that he’d be in good hands. Truly, he gained a lot of confidence this year and really matured. I couldn’t be happier with his new and improved attitude and effort.

That was ALL she wanted to tell me.

I hung up with a smile on my face and a warm, happy heart.

And I skipped out of the office to face the rest of the day.

This whole year I felt like I hadn’t done enough.

Was I giving enough, teaching enough, learning enough, helping my kids grow enough??????

Right at a time when I really needed to hear it, when eleven days feels like ten too many, one simple phone call was exactly that – enough.

Teacher Appreciation Week has passed. End of the year gifts are nice and all. But trust me, in times like these, such a simple gesture means a lot.

Searching for the Connection

While we were doing Literature Circles in my inclusion class, I really started thinking about comprehension, reading strategies, metacognition, and connecting with the text. Not to toot my own horn, but I think one of my strengths has always been helping kids make connections with what they read.

However, it seems that for a while now the focus of my class has veered away from these much needed reading strategies and focused more only on citing evidence to answer constructed response questions.

Sometimes I think if I say the words “Find evidence from the text to support your response,” I might throw up.

If they aren’t understanding and connecting with the text, how are they going to be able to come up with a solid response with the right evidence?

When I step back and look at the big picture, I start to feel confusion, conflict, and a little bit of chaos in my mind.  Eighteen years of ideas, strategies, tricks, and educational jargon is swirling around in my head and I can’t figure out what to do and how to do it.

What is more important? What needs to happen first? What do my specific kids need? How do I get there?

I feel like I have temporarily lost sight of my beliefs and my philosophy.

Or is there a possibility my philosophy doesn’t work in today’s educational world?

I know I have strong opinions as an intervention specialist. I know that have my own beliefs about how kids learn best. I know that I have some great teaching strategies that work.  I know I have a lot of ground to make up with my students who are still reading far below grade level and state-expectations.

I just can’t find a way to put it all together.

I cannot make the connection.

I am searching for a connection between all that I know and all that I have and all that I read and all that I want to do and all that my kids need to understand to make it in the life that is planned for them.

So yesterday, when my 1st period class started and two of my girls started asking me tough questions about a young man in our town who just received a life-saving heart transplant, I had to veer away from my plans.

They had shown the news story on our morning announcements and once this small side-conversation started, my whole class joined in:

What if he didn’t get a heart?

How much did they have to pay for the heart?

What happened to the person who donated the heart?

How do they take his old heart out and put a new one in? 

Do you have to die to donate your organs?

Was he awake when he got his heart?

What was wrong with his heart? 

Do you have to donate your organs?

 How do doctors learn this stuff?

How did they find out?

Was he scared?

Could they put a new heart in my grandpa and make him alive again?

Is this a good example of being resilient?

If this is a happy thing, why do I feel so sad?

These are tough questions. Some of them may sound silly, but we all know there are no dumb questions.  They trust me and they wanted to know the truth. I answered truthfully when I could. I admitted when I couldn’t.  We stopped our conversation for 20 minutes to take the quiz I had promised them.

After that, I gave them the time they needed on the iPads and my computer to search for the answers and learn more. They found numerous newspaper articles about this boy. They found a website set up for people to donate towards his medical expenses. They found a place they could send him a message. They found video clips with interviews with his friends. They found his Twitter account, which held the most important and life-changing words this boy has probably ever tweeted: “This lady just came in. My hearts here.”

My own heart was filling with love for my students who just wanted to understand. My head was filling with ideas of the things I could teach them if only I had the time. Think of the skills I could incorporate into something they were so interested in and that so perfectly fit into the two themes we have focused on this entire year:

How can conflict change us?

Being resilient in tough times –  Do you have what it takes?

I do not know this young man who has made an impression on my students and my community. As I bounced around to different buildings in district, I somehow missed meeting him, teaching him, and knowing him.

We still have 7 weeks of school left, but this situation and this classroom moment felt like the culmination of the school year and the connection that I’ve been desperately searching for.

The answers to all my questions and all my doubts lie right here in my heart.

 

A Frosty Friday Five

Round 2 of the freezing temps….Enough already!!

Despite still being sick, it was a good, short week.

My Friday Five goes something like this:

1. Reading a book with my class on the iPads = Amazing! Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

2. Laughing so hard at dinner the other night and Diet Coke coming out of Ian’s nose! (Did I mention we were in a restaurant!?) = Laughter IS the best medicine!

3. Dee qualifying for the District Spelling Bee and making the Power of the Pen Team! = Proud momma here!

4. Super cuddly puppy in a turtleneck! = Say Cheese!

20140124-164148.jpg

Blue Sporting a Blue Turtleneck!

5. This video I shared with Ian and Dee last night at dinner = I think their Valentine’s gifts are going to have a “Jelly Bean” theme this year!

 

Happy Friday!

Everyone Deserves to be Heard

I recently told you about the novel,Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  My class started reading it at the beginning of the nine weeks and we are already on Chapter 8.  I was originally going to do this book as just a read aloud when time permitted, but it has already evolved into something wonderful.  It is probably going to take most of the nine weeks, but I have designed a unit that I think will be worth every minute.

My thematic foundation: Everyone deserves to be heard.

We will focus on the these questions as we read, write, and practice good speaking and listening skills:

  • In what ways are individuals excluded?
  • How does it feel to be excluded?
  • How can we make everyone feel included?
  • How can you effectively express yourself?
  • How can we show respect for people who have different ideas?

To tie in non-fiction and media, I am going to introduce them to Carly Fleischmann, an amazing young woman with autism.

Both nonverbal, Melody (the protagonist) and Carly sharing some very similar characteristics, experiences, and abilities.  Their differences will make a great compare and contrast activity, as well.

I am so excited how this unit has come together so naturally.  I try so hard to find topics, novels, and activities that are meaningful to my students.

I bought the iBook on my classroom iPads, and while I only have the 6 iPads for 10 students, I am able to pair some of them up and their response has been great.

Reading a full length novel in an eBook format is new to all of them and they are very anxious to read each day.  I have gone from reading to them, to them primarily reading on their own – even reading ahead at times.  The ability to highlight, search, bookmark, and adjust the text size and font appeals to them.

For some of my very low readers, I highlight a small chunk of text, give them a brief overview, and ask them to read. After a few quick questions to check comprehension, I highlight another portion, focusing on the main events of the chapter, and repeat the process.

But honestly, I think the topic is key.  We’ve had some very serious discussions about Melody. They’ve asked me flat-out if Melody’s classroom, “H-5,” is the same as our class – which it isn’t, but they see the differences in each student and recognize the struggles and emotions the characters face. They are making connections on how it feels to be included and excluded.

Although Melody is a fictional character, she is as real to them as anything.  I can tell, after only 8 chapters, they feel a connection to her and care about her as a character.  I plan on waiting awhile to introduce Carly’s story, so that they can continue to form their own images and opinion in their minds.

To read more about Carly:

 

Friday Five

I only had three days of school this week. I was sick on Monday, and Tuesday was a “Cold Day.” It was still a LONG week.

I was able to get through this week with some inspiration and kind words and gestures.

Here are five things that made my week.

1. A quote I read on Facebook that made me be patient and make better use of my time…

“If we believe this is a waiting period,

we will act like this is a waiting period.”

2. Something I saw on Pinterest  that calmed me down when I began to panic and worry…

WORRYING-IS-LIKE-PRAYING-FOR-WHAT-YOU-DON-T-WANT-Framed-Quote-306

What a concept!

3. A gift from a student…

owls

Five fuzzy owl stickers

4. Walking away from the board after presenting a new way to do something we’ve been struggling with and having a student whisper, “Thank you!”

5. A video someone posted on Facebook which makes me think twice before picking up my phone.

Happy Friday, Friends and Followers!

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