A Thankful List, From a Lady and a Huntsman

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

 Family and friends top the list, per usual. But here’s the rest of my “thankful” list:

-DEVOLSON IS OVER!!! Fill the goblets! Bring out the pheasant! Strike the lyre and play a merry tune on the lute! The Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October and November is but a dark and distant memory! (Can you tell I miss Game of Thrones?) 

-My student teacher. I can’t talk about her too long or I’ll start crying. But she’s an angel. Here is what 90% of our conversations look like:

Me: I’m a terrible human. I’m a mess. I’M THE WORST!
Her: No you’re not! Here, do you want a cookie?
Me: Yes. (with crumbs flying out of my mouth) Do you know where I put the vocab quizzes?
Her: Oh, I graded them and recorded the grades in your binder for you when you weren’t looking. And then I filed them in their student folders. 
Me: Are you sure you want to marry your fiancé and not me?
Her: Yes.

She’ll come around one day.

-Carbs. Have you made it to my Pinterest board for DEVOLSON food? I think I’m going to rename it “Highway to Diabetes,” or maybe “Elastic Pants Are My Soul Mate, #blessed.” I made these ham and cheese sliders for our faculty Thanksgiving potluck and my principal loved it so much he started crying, right there in the teacher’s lounge in front of everyone.

Just kidding. But everyone loved them..

Speaking of carbs, a few years ago I started making leftover Thanksgiving grilled cheese sandwiches that I would highly recommend. Layer one piece of buttered sourdough bread (or something sturdy), Havarti cheese, leftover turkey, another piece of cheese, stuffing (spread thin-like), cranberry sauce, your other piece of bread. Grill on low so the cheese has plenty of time to melt and your butter crisps up like it was born to do. It’ll change you.

-Moving up with last year's students. My students came to me last year fresh out of 6th grade, super behind where they needed to be, and definitely unfamiliar with working hard. Yesterday as I was grading their analysis essays on Anne Frank, I realized how far they have come. I found myself writing things like, “Wow—great point. I never thought of it that way,” and “Nice justification here” and “Holy cow! This is college-level thinking!” Ramon, one of my nuggets whose very first essay for me in 7th grade probably contained a total of four correctly-spelled words, turned in an essay that probably contained a total of four misspelled words. I know sharing this probably sounds conceited and/or braggy, but I don’t really care, because they’ve worked really, really hard, and I’ve worked really, really hard, and in teaching, especially at a Title I school, you just really have to savor and remember moments like I had yesterday during grading. 

-Frozen meals. Between this year’s DEVOLSON and being in grad school full time, it’s a wonder I’ve even remembered to eat things. Frozen meals have been a total lifesaver this semester. My favorites: anything Amy’s brand, the meatloaf and mashed potato Lean Cuisines, and, if you’re feeling particularly naughty, Beecher’s in Seattle makes this frozen macaroni and cheese that may just make your face fall off from dairy splendor.

-This pencil sharpener. Some of you held my hand this summer as I made the important decision on which pencil sharpener to get (thank you), and I don’t regret this one at all. Christopher, also known as X-Acto Teacher Pro, is a fine gentleman and we love him very much.

-Workshop teaching method. Oh, man. This has changed my life. It requires very careful and specific procedures being in place, but is so totally worth it. “Here are your assignments for the next three days. Work at your own pace. I’ll be checking in on you.” It’s. The. Best.

-Dogs. I want to adopt an adult dog over Christmas break and name him/her after a character from literature. What do you think? (Note: this is actually a cry for help. I need a reasonable, logical person to talk me out of it and tell me they are expensive and I don’t have enough time for one.)

-This poem. The past few months have been pretty brutal for me, not as a teacher, but as a lady and a human*. I came across this poem in my reading for grad school, and I think it has saved my life in a small but important way. If you’ve found yourself in a rut, or a valley, or a pit full of snakes, or whatever you want to call it, or even if things are great and beautiful and perfect for you (yay!), I hope this poem is something for you to hold onto.

(Something onto which you may hold? Grammar is so stupid sometimes.)

-You turkeys. I love hearing from you—your crazy stories, your notes of encouragement and solidarity, your reassurance that I’m not as much of a freak as I think (and occasionally the one person who’s like, “Whoah, you are a freak,” and I’m thankful for you, too, because you make me laugh out loud). This year in particularly I’m just very thankful to know you and feel heard. So thank you, and go buy yourself a milkshake for being so awesome.

An overflowing cornucopia of love,


Besides family and friends, what are you thankful for? Tell me right now. Pretty please. Also share your recipes with me.

*later I reread this phrase and thought I'd said that I was a lady and a hunstman and it made me cackle.

Starting School Later: Hater or Advocator?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guess what? National Geographic emailed and asked if I wanted to join their team as an explorer!

Just kidding about that last part. But they really did email and asked what my thoughts are on the possibility of legislation being passed for schools to start later in the day. Have you heard the buzz about this issue? Basically, school-age kids aren’t getting the amount of sleep they need, which creates a whole slew of problems for them. There’s been a ton of research that supports the benefits of secondary schools starting later in the day, like 8:30-9:00-ish, yet very few (less than 1%) of school districts have actually made the switch.

If you had asked me during my first year of teaching how I feel about school starting later in the day because students are sleepy, I think I would have laughed out loud scoffingly, like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and said something like, “Well maybe if the students went to bed earlier they wouldn’t be so tired!”

(I was cranky about 97% of the time during my first year.)

But now, with a few years under my belt, my answer is a little different.

First, let me be clear: I am a morning person. Through and through. At sleepovers growing up, I was always the kid who woke up before everyone else and either went to town on my friend’s bookshelf or crept into the kitchen and chatted awkwardly with the hostess’s parents. So, of all the things that are difficult about the teaching life, I’ve never really minded the waking up early part. In fact, I get to school about two hours early because I am way more productive in the mornings than I am after school. If I ran the world and everyone were exactly like me, schools would start at 6:15 so we could be out by 2:15.

But, luckily for you/everyone, I don’t run the world* and not everyone is exactly like me. I teach at a Title I middle school, where many of my students are at or below poverty level. Teaching has changed my life for about a kajillion reasons, but one of them is the way I handle kids falling asleep in my class. I don’t punish them anymore. Instead, I listen. “Hey, I noticed you were pretty sleepy today,” I’ll ask them later, privately. “Everything okay?” Sometimes it’s just a one-time thing—they just couldn’t fall asleep, or lost track of time watching YouTube the night before. But more often than not, it’s due to one of the following reasons:
  •  Some of my students don’t always have someone around to make sure they go to bed early. Sometimes it’s because the people who take care of them work night shifts or are elsewhere during the week. But even for the kids who do have someone making sure they go to bed at a certain time, kids having personal access to cell phones, TVs and video games makes it difficult for any parent to monitor how much sleep their child is getting.
  • Many of my students live an environment where it’s difficult for them to get to sleep or stay asleep.  Some of them have family members who encourage them to stay awake or are too noisy, playing music or having guests over into the wee hours of the morning in small apartments where the rooms are close together and the walls are thin. Others may have noisy neighbors right next door, or live in a neighborhood where emergency sirens on their street are nearly a nightly thing. Also, I have way too many students who are responsible for the care of their younger siblings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a student tell me that the dark circles under their eyes are because their little brother or sister had a stomach virus the night before. 
  • Some of my students are having trouble sleeping because of stuff they have to deal with during the day. Bullying, domestic violence, unstable family situations, abuse, neglect, hunger, homelessness. This is just a short list.
 I know that every teacher’s free time is precious, whether they have a family or not. I know that having another hour taken away from our evenings would be felt very keenly by all of us. But what if we didn’t have to look at it that way? What if having better-rested kids would actually make our jobs easier? What if starting later would cut down on failure rates, absenteeism, and other things that are so widespread at schools like mine, and are actually part of the reason that we have so much work outside of school hours? So, while I’m not totally psyched at the idea of not being able to beat rush hour traffic anymore, I am also aware that there’s more to this issue than me. Even though starting early might work for me, it’s clearly not working for my students. And I don’t get up and go to work every day so that I can learn to write an expository essay or so that I can tell the difference between there, they’re, and their. If they’re not getting enough sleep and there’s a way for us to fix it, we owe it to them and their success to try. (See what I did there?)

For more information on this issue from people way smarter than I am who don’t compare themselves to Disney villains, check out Sleepless in America, a TV special on the National Geographic Channel premiering Sunday, November 30th at 8 PM Eastern time. And here’s a short clip about the education part of it for you to take a gander.

What’s your take on all this? Holler at me.



*I mean, really, it would fall apart in about twelve seconds.

Things I Said Out Loud Today: DEVOLSON Edition

Friday, November 14, 2014

This past spring I wrote a post about the crazy stuff I found myself saying out loud. Then this week I realized that, due to the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November, I am running completely on empty, both patience-wise and motivation-wise, which has led to some pretty questionable content coming out of my mouth. It has also led to sentence you just read that contained far too many clauses.

Here are some things I said out loud today.

“I wish explosive diarrhea upon you.” After a student hid underneath a table and grabbed my ankle.

“Did someone take my gloves on accident? Joke’s on you; they smell like dead hamsters.” They were my running gloves. And by running I mean jogging. And by jogging I mean it looks like I’m casually cross-country skiing but with no poles.

“Can I see a head nod from everyone to indicate, ‘Yes, Ms. Teach, I understand that you did not intentionally show us that advertisement?'” I was showing a YouTube video that had to do with what I was teaching, and apparently the version I looked up yesterday was different from today’s, which had an incredibly age-inappropriate advertisement preceding it. Hooray.

“Please stop losing your minds.” A good minute and a half after said advertisement was shown.

“Oh, it’s your birthday? On the count of three, everyone creepily whisper ‘Happy birthday’ to Melinda.” Have you ever done this with your class before? It’s way quieter and way more hilarious than singing.

“Eliud, you’re not allowed to talk in time out.” Keep in mind I teach 8th grade.

“You did your packet in hot pink pen? Who do you think you are, Kim Kardashian?” I don’t know why I chose this celebrity—I have no knowledge of her ever having written in hot pink pen. Also, I KEEP A PENCIL CUP ON MY TABLE. 

“Bye, don’t participate in any stupid or reckless behavior.” I say this to my classes as I dismiss them every Friday.

“I love throwing away other people’s trash! It’s my favorite!” I think I read somewhere that middle school teachers in particular should avoid using sarcasm with their students. Oops.

“Whoever organized the binders without being asked shall feast in Valhalla! I’ve been thinking about Vikings a lot lately.

“Because the government.” In response to, “Miss, why do we have so many more kids in our class this year?"

“Oh, look! You’re tardy.” Then I laughed way harder than necessary.

“Well, could you see that singing ‘You got a fast car’ repeatedly was upsetting him?” Just another day of middle school conflict mediation.

"I can't." After school, out loud, alone in my classroom, upon considering and immediately rejecting the idea of changing my bulletin board.

Come on, Thanksgiving. Mama needs you.