Genuinely Helping the Humans in Our Classrooms to Grow: Part 2

I'm getting ready to return to school on Monday. I have a lot to write about last semester, but first I'm going to venture further into the question:  how do we help the kids who feel unreachable, the ones who seem driven to cause chaos, pain, and suffering to everyone around them?  For me, this has been a week of learning about the toughest kids we have and it started in an unlikely place:  with witch doctors.

I'm often reading four books at any given time:  one adult novel beside my bed, one adult novel on my iPad for reading on the treadmill (in the snowy winter); one book to listen to in the car; and one YA novel as a classroom modeling book.  My in-the-car book is usually nonfiction, sometimes biography (I listened to Michelle Obama's Becoming recently); sometimes self-help and motivation (like Good to Great by Jim Collins); sometimes something historical like The Boys in the Boatby Daniel James Brown.  And sometimes, a book for no known reason crosses my path an…

In a World of Colonization, #MeToo and Racial Profiling, What Does Helping Really Mean As a Teacher?

[Guess what?  I actually wrote this post a whole year ago.  Then life got messy and I started questioning everything about myself as a teacher, and well, like a kid who thinks the paper they just wrote might be terrible, I just abandoned it.  But tonight, on New Year's Day evening, I opened it up and have decided it's time to share.  I did split it into two posts because it was really long, so the next one will come soon.  Maybe if I can send these out into the Universe, I'll be ready to write again.  Fingers crossed.]

As I let the dog outside this morning I noticed that it is still snowing.  It started on Friday about noon and it's now Sunday morning.  I don't know the official total but I do know that my fifty-pound dog is now wading in the snow.  He's too tired to leap around like he did yesterday.  I'm guessing we're close to 20".

At about 11:00 yesterday I rallied my three children (age 15, 14, and one month shy of 13) to don their snow gear …

Project LIT Battle: A Day with Tiffany Jackson

Our V.I.P. Party with author Tiffany Jackson was coming to an end.  Empty lemonade cups, red paper plates littered with cookie crumbs, and crumpled polka dot napkins lay forgotten on the bright blue, green, yellow and red table cloths. The room had settled into a quiet hum as Tiffany talked and laughed with small groups of kids, signed copies of Allegedly and Monday's Not Coming, and posed for photos.

One of my freshmen boys sauntered over, flipping back his carefully-combed brown hair.  "I didn't actually know book parties could be fun," he said.

The day had exceeded my expectations.  After some behavior problems in an assembly earlier in the week and a last minute change of students announcers, I held my breath as Tiffany took the stage in our Performing Arts Center.  But two sentences in, Tiffany Jackson had the whole audience under her spell. She introduced herself and went on to describe the research she did for Allegedly, all the interviews, and the eighteen draf…

The Human in Here

Good Morning Everyone!

Today begins week #3 of the school year for us.  The crisp new portfolios are personalized and showing early signs of wear.  Books on the shelves breathe a little easier as kids have claimed their first reads.  And a new group of teens lounges on carpets, in chairs, draped across the floor reading.

This is the first year of teaching for me that one of the humans I live with is now the same age as the humans I teach.  My son has reached 9th grade (although not at the same school) and as I look at the faces in my class this year, I can't help but see him there.  My daughters, in 7th and 8th grade, are not far behind.

This also means I can't help but see the lives at home all my students are leading as well.  I see the sports practice, time with friends, amount of food consumed on what seems like an hourly basis.  I see the hunts for lost cleats, the struggles with homework, the draw of the phone.

And I also see all those parents.  All the hours spent in t…

Where Are Your Students in That Beautiful Lesson You Just Planned?

Good Sunday Morning Everyone!

Today I'm going to invite you to take a look at how you're choosing to work hard this summer.  I mean, come on, I know you're a good teacher who wants to use summertime to improve. But before you jump into a flurry of unit planning for the upcoming year, I encourage you to pause and reflect on what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what impact it might have on your classroom next year.

First, let's jump back to my English education class at the University of Missouri.  I vividly remember reading Nancie Atwell's suggestion in her book In the Middle that I leave the bulletin boards in my classroom empty at the beginning of the year, so that when the students arrived they could decorate them. Now, up until that moment, Nancie Atwell had been a god to me.  I hung on her every word and embraced reading and writing workshop wholeheartedly.  Student choice in books?  Yes!  Student choice in writing?  Yes! Students decorate the ro…

A Word about Kids Labeled "Struggling Readers" Part 2

My garden is stunning right now. This year my lilies are overflowing with blooms, and because our mama groundhog has apparently moved on, we have actual flowers.

Each plant is a mix of blooms and various stages of buds, some ready to burst open any moment, and others that are still green and growing. I’m not worried about any of them; I’m enjoying watching them bloom at just the right time.

These plants remind me of students: some are early bloomers, some are in the middle, and others will mature a bit later. Like the flowers outside my window, I want to nurture and value every single one. Instead of assuming slower blooming flowers are broken, I assume they’re just fine and will open with a little more time.

This series is focusing on that last category: the late bloomers, the ones who have not had success in school. There are so many reasons our students get labeled struggling, so instead of letting the label dominate what happens in our classes, we can choose to be a posit…

A Word about Kids Labeled "Struggling Readers" Part 1

I teach those kids labeled “struggling readers.”

So do you.

My class was set up as an intervention, a remediation, a fix-it for students who have fallen behind, fallen off, or fallen out of favor, I’ve learned. It’s convenient to think we’re fixing problems, catching them up, helping them succeed.

It’s a nice game we play when we set up interventions.

I do not, however, see my classroom the way others might. I do not see a workshop for the broken, a repair shop where I take apart, analyze, diagnose, mend and put back together; a place where I patch and plaster, covering cracks and flaws and shining them up until they’re ready to be sent back to the world, sewn up, fixed, healed and good as new.

Instead I see my classroom as a haven, a safe oasis, a place where being you is the best thing this world could ever have. I see my job as cracking open, leading out, uncovering the lost humans who were buried under the avalanche of other people’s massively broken expectations. I see my r…