Coffee Humor {Monday Motivation}

source: Pinterest
source: Pinterest

Here’s to you, fellow java junkies…. a little Monday Motivation/Humor to let you know you’re not alone!

Stay out of prison today. Drink up.

I’ll be right there with ya’…. You’ll recognize me. I’ll be the one with the sheepish grin and BIG eyes.

Woman with coffee and big eyes

 

Welcome back, students!  Heads-up: caffeine’s kickin’…. Open your notebooks… Let’s get this party started!   Three weeks ’til winter vacation (but who’s counting??).  

 

When Dads Walk Away…. {Slice of Life}

 

Slice of Life hosted at Two Writing Teachers. Join in and share a slice of your life.

What happens when dads walk away?

As a ‘dad-less’ daughter, I know kids are left behind to wonder why. Why did he go? Why didn’t he want me? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t he want to be around? What could I have done differently to make him stay?

Or, worse yet, kids left behind think mom pushed dad away, and surely, if mom had done things differently, then dad would’ve stayed. It’s her fault.

As a teacher, I see the fall-out, too. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes blatant. Always painful.

Last month, I asked my juniors and seniors to develop a written piece for National Day On Writing (#NDOW).  I provided three photos and asked students to choose one (or more) and write about it/them. The piece could be fiction or nonfiction, personal or not, metaphorical or literal.  As always, my kiddos did not disappoint!  Heads dropped. Pens and pencils began moving. The room was silent. The feeling, intense.

They wrote with focused purpose until the bell rang. They came back the next day and insisted we continue without interruption. We revised and edited (this was tougher to get them to do, but required).

By day three, we shared at our own comfort level. If a piece was too personal, a student did not have to share the content, but everyone had to discuss the process with his/her partners.  What an amazing three days!

Students DiscussingNDOW_Discussions2

 
During the writing process, emotions were raw for several students.

One young man, an accomplished football player and struggling student, was stuck during the first day of writing. When I asked him how I could help, he was speechless. I ventured carefully, asking which photo he chose. The dark, stormy one. I wasn’t surprised, based on his expression. Then I suggested he create a bubble map to organize his thoughts. Several students were creating their own that day:

 

Graphic Organizer

 

Tears began to fill his dark eyes. He hastily brushed them away. I backed off.

A few minutes later, when I came back around, I noticed a few words on his paper:  dad, confused, success, failure. He looked up, met my eyes, and said nothing. I quietly moved on and left him to reflect and write.

By the third day (sharing day), my student had written a brief piece and discussed the process with his partners. His content was his.  His process, he was ready to discuss … mostly.

Fast-forward a month, to this past week. 

My students have been honing their ability to identify and interpret figurative language and author’s tone in print and non-print text, and assess the impact of each on a reader/viewer.   As I worked with small groups, various students had interesting, funny, and thoughtful ideas, examples, and questions to share. Then came the group with the young writer.

As we finished our small-group discussion and began to clean up before the bell, my young football player-turned-writer said, “Mrs. Kyle, I want to show you something,” as he took out his phone. I get a kick out of this line from students, because I never know what I’m about to see! 😉

As he swiped through his phone and found what he wanted to share with me, he mentioned Will Smith, and said, “I have this video clip that you just reminded me of, when we were talking about tone.  Watch all of the emotions Will Smith goes through and how his tone changes.”  With that, he hit play. The video clip was in his SAVED YouTube list.

As we watched the clip together, leaned in over his phone at the conference table in our classroom – his back to his classmates – I could feel other students looking on, but no one interrupted. My young writer watched my face for reaction as we watched the clip together. Tears filled my eyes. I looked up and saw they filled his, too.

 

As the clip ended, he said softly, “This makes me cry every time I watch it.”

I replied quietly, “It made me cry, too. My dad left when I was very little. I always wondered why. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

He nodded and the bell rang.

Dear Teacher… {Six-Word Wednesday}

I recently shared six-word stories, one of my favorite writing forms, with my high school students, on a day we could actually breathe a little.

 Any more, these days are few and far between.  No observers.  No guests.  No testing.

 Just time to write. Creatively.

Makes me miss (even more!) the days when Reading/Writing Workshop was the foundation of my then-middle and later-high school reading classes.

After a brief intro to six-word stories that included my collection of nearly 1,000 six-word stories written by my HS students the past three years and showing the Smith Mag web site, my kiddos were ready to dive in.  I made it an optional writing activity, since it was really our Independent Reading/SSR day ~ a rarity this year, scheduled for 1st and 3rd Wednesdays, and any extra day I can build in.

Within five minutes, the basket of blank index cards was empty and students were asking for more.  I collected a little over 100 six-word stories that day!  And every day since last week, I find more six-word stories in the designated basket near my desk. 

Found this one yesterday, from a student who said last week, “I can’t stop writing six-word stories in my head!”

 

Lindsey's message to all of us...
Lindsey’s message to all of us… (in 6)
Thanks, Lindsey! I promised to pass it along… 🙂   Let’s hope they’re listening.

 

p.s. ~ For Orange is the New Black fans, there’s an interesting connection between Piper Kerman’s memoir and this writing form. You can read about it [here]. Might have to do a little research …..

 

Why I Teach: Ten (Important) Reasons

  1. Students
  2. Students
  3. Students
  4. Students
  5. Students
  6. Students
  7. Students
  8. Students
  9. Students
  10. Students

 

Oftentimes, when I tell people I’m a high school teacher, I get this response (or a slight variation), “Oh, wow!  I could never do that! Teenagers these days….”

Truth is, the teenagers have been the only reason I keep coming back to the K-12 classroom.  Let’s be clear ~ some are a royal pain in the buttola:  mouthy, lazy, disrespectful, not interested in anything an adult (especially a teacher) has to say, and well, just teenagers.  Increasingly, they have no boundaries and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement… products of our changing culture/society.

If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, big brother/sister, fellow teacher, remember being a teenager, or have the ‘pleasure’ of interacting with any teenager, anywhere, then you KNOW what I’m talking about.

Interestingly, though (and many of you have probably discovered this, too)…. get them by themselves, away from their peers, and they’re generally pretty awesome monsters, ummm… kids. 😉

My response to incredulous people, “Teenagers are awesome. Give them a chance to show you who they are, and they just might surprise you.”

And to my high school students, I say, “I love working with you guys. You teach me new things every day!” … and THAT is a true statement.

So really, my title is ‘teacher,’ but the truth is, I’m Chief Learner in my classroom. Students are the reasons I teach. Check out a few real-life reasons below….  *NOTE:  Passing the reading portion of one of three standardized tests is required to meet the FL graduation requirement (FCAT, ACT, or SAT). Students in my classes are juniors or seniors who have not met that requirement yet and are working toward passing one of the three.

Notes from students, unedited ….

 

1.   From a senior who struggled all the way through my class:      “I have good news to share with you Mrs. kyle, I forgot to tell you that I got accepted to Valencia college and got the Bridges to Success Scholarship. I wanted to tell you this because you helped me with my first essay which was one of the hardest essay I had to write because it was so personal to me. Thank you for helping me and believing in me.”

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2.   From star bowler and college-bound kiddo, Justin T:      Ms.Kyle I passed FCAT!!!! Thank you 🙂

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3.   From a grieving classmate who knew I was grieving, too ~ Victoria B:     Ms.Kyle I don’t know if you have heard Brandie has passed away

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4.   From military-bound, JROTC student, Michael M:     inspection went okay. I did mess up a little though.

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5.   From star football player and college-bound student (Auburn!) Chandler C:      Mrs. Kyle I got a 21 on my reading part of ACT!!!  Thank you so much!!! I’m so excited too!!!! Tell Mr.Kyle I also said thank you so much too! I couldn’t of done it without you!! See you tomorrow!
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 6.   From always-cheerful Sherbria G, a super-neat kiddo:      Last day of school , I enjoyed you and I want to thank you because you really changed me and also I felt loved and cared for when I walked inside your class , and that made my day because it was many times I really didn’t want to be in school . Thank you so much
Selfies with students
Selfies with students

Helping Teens Handle Life. And Death.

Being a high school teacher affords me many opportunities to help teens handle life. And loss.  It is at once:  enlightening, encouraging, painful, and honest. Emotions are raw, understanding often limited, and nearly all experiences are ‘firsts.’ Sadly, some, like birth and death, become second- and third-time experiences for a few.  Being there, with a shoulder, a safe place to cry, or a place to celebrate, makes my job a special one.

This year, like many, has seen our share of experiences, but this year, we’ve lost more classmates than a typical year – to car accidents, cancer, and other tragedies.  Each is felt deeply.  Each teaches lessons.  Each helps our teens grow into the people they become.

Peyton, an old soul in her own right and typically outspoken and colorful, was dealing with our most recent loss, Brandie, a beautiful young lady killed tragically on her way home from Spring Break, just a week ago.

In Peytons’s words….

Friend's death is felt with a heavy heart
Friend’s death, felt with a heavy heart – blackout poetry provides a way to share teen’s darkest moment….
Protected happiness begins to shine through again.....
One week later: Protected happiness begins to shine through again…..

The JJ Project

“Do you know J____  (JJ)  S ______?” coach asked.

“No, should I?” I replied.

“Probably. He’s on his way to being booted from the team* permanently.”

“So, what’s the issue?”

“Major attitude problem.”

“Does he have (college-level) potential?”

“Has been a walk-on since his freshman year.”

Yikes.

“Send him to my classroom Wednesday.”

And so it began:  The JJ Project, a process to help a young man find his way back to a place he belongs and to a future he desperately needs.

He had no idea what he was in for, who this teacher-lady was, or why he was even there, but words of encouragement from teammates helped him understand:

“Trust her, dude. She’s good people. You can trust her. She won’t lie to you. She won’t sugar-coat things either.” (Awesome young men! Offered to help me stage an Intervention Meeting.)

Thank you, JJ, for trusting me to be a part of your journey…..

 

*Footnote: ‘The team’ is a state-championship-winning high school football team whose coach instills and demands humility, unwavering commitment, and dedication to God and team, in that order as best as I can tell.  Many of the team’s players are students in my class. JJ is not. We were a collision of fate and good fortune on a recent February day.

If Only I Knew

Death. A dreadful event.

“Why did it happen?” they asked yesterday.

If only I knew.

Navigating daily twists and turns with teens broadens my perspective, tickles my funny bone, sharpens details often overlooked in a chaotic adult world, but in the never-ending ‘tragedies’ teens create, death – a real tragedy – brings pause. And confusion.

“Why did it happen?” they ask.

And in that brief pause, the air heavy with sorrow, I have no answers for these young people who’ve come to expect reasonable reasons and enlightened explanations.

If only I knew ….  is all I can muster.

Death. A dreadful event.

R.I.P.  Axel and Cameron.

Education Nation: Can Anyone Hear Us? Does it Matter?

In a country whose education system has continued to erode for more years than most would like to acknowledge, we’re once again having dialogue about the issues:  poor student performance, lack of money, ‘bad’ teachers, poor parenting, crumbling buildings, outdated instructional methods …. the list goes on and on.

But is the Education Nation discussion leading anywhere?

Who’s listening?

Who’s willing to change how we ‘do’ school?

Who’s willing to admit that change is necessary, painful, and ultimately the one thing that can save us from self-imposed illiteracy?

As a 16+ year educator, I feel a bit frustrated listening to the conversations, seeing the highlights on the evening news, reading the updates on Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve said since I began teaching, “We need to do things differently.  What we’re doing isn’t working for students ~ all students, many students.”  Yet while some fellow educators would nod their heads in agreement, they’d just go back to what they were doing, others would scowl at me and say something like, “Things are fine. This is the way we’ve always done it,” and still others would say, “We can’t do anything about it.  It’s those kids and their parents!”

But now that people with $money$ say, “It’s time to make a difference, it’s time to do something different,” a few more people are listening.

Is giving $100 million dollars to one school district in a country plagued with a sour economy and ailing school systems the answer?  What message does that send to other districts?

Is a program like Race to the Top fueling competition and creative thinking or providing an incentive for districts to acquiesce to rules and regulations they would not otherwise follow? Is that ultimately helpful or harmful? How do we know?

I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions. I’m simply asking. I’m simply wondering.

What happened to the voice of the teacher?  The one in the classroom with the students?  The one who says, “Hey! We need to do things differently!”

Can one person make a difference?

Can one voice be heard?

I’d really like to make a difference.

I’d really like to be heard.

I’d like to put my years of classroom experience and success as a teacher to good use as a freelance educator, an educator not bogged down by unions or contracts, by what other people think is right for me to be doing, by a schedule that says I must be in a certain place between certain hours because someone needs to see me working, or by the penalties that come from working with others who require supervision to motivate them to get things done.

No, instead I want the latitude to share my enthusiasm and experience, talk about (and model) best practices, visit classrooms across our nation, and support fellow teachers in an effort to create active, engaging, purposeful learning environments for all students and all teachers.

I want to ask questions.

I want to listen to new ideas.

I want to pass those ideas on to others.

I want to be a catalyst for change.


Learning should be  meaningful, purposeful, engaging, data-driven, and fun. We can’t improve what we can’t measure and when we laugh, we remember.   Anything short of these criteria is unacceptable.

But why does it seem so difficult to do this?  What ARE the problems?

We know there are many.  We must address each. We must be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations. We must be willing to make difficult decisions.

Like firing an entire staff and starting over.

Like documenting and addressing poorly performing teachers.

Like asking the tough questions.

And being willing to listen and act upon the answers.

Now.

I believe it’s an important step that Mr. Brian Williams, Bill and Melinda Gates,  and the entire team have  taken, but I also believe that more voices from the classroom, the place we educators love to be, need to be heard. I believe more voices from the classroom need to speak up.

Today.

Can anyone hear us?

Are YOU, fellow educators, willing to speak up, be heard, and make a difference?