Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

The Speech I Didn’t Give

Tonight was our school’s 8th grade graduation. I’ve known these particular kiddos for just this one year, but with a 75 minute daily ELAR block and most of them taking my Spanish 1 class as well, I’ve gotten to know these 10 students as well as I’ve known any. I didn’t speak at tonight’s graduation, but if I had, I know just what I’d’ve said.

To my 8th graders:

Tonight’s graduation is just one of many you’ll sit through in your academic career. All of you will go on to high school graduation, and then upward and onward to other graduations, formal and informal. College graduations, certificate program graduations; graduations and commencements and milestones like driver’s ed and marriage and parenthood and student loan debt await you all. But tonight, we are here.

Tonight we are here to celebrate your commencement, your forward motion, into the next chapter of your life: high school. Any time you get ready to move on, move forward, I encourage you to take stock of what you are bringing with you. You have your suitcases packed. But what’s inside? Your K-8 education has equipped you with the basics. You can all read and write and “math”. But this year, we’ve done much more than equip you with the basics. 

I feel honored to teach in a state that values critical thinking. Our English Language Arts and Reading standards here in Texas push our students to do more than “know”. Our kids are encouraged to evaluate, synthesize, question, discern and most importantly: decide. If I’ve done my job right, I’ve created moments for you this year to take what you know, what you’ve been taught, what you’ve been given, bring it to the table and examine it closely. 

The purpose of this examination is not so that you will cast aside these building blocks of who you are, rather it is so that you will build a deeper understanding of who you are and what you believe. 

All of us here come to this place knowing what we are told. You’re families have instilled in you values since your first breath here on Earth. Many of you are religious, and most of you are already vocal about your political leanings. However, this leap from the safety of K-8 education into the world of high school is not only an exciting time; it is the beginning of your adolescence. Your “teenage-hood’ is many things: it is fun and excitement and emotion and hormone and independence all rolled up into the most awkward freshman yearbook photo you can imagine… but it is more than that. These coming years are also the beginning of the season in your life when everyone questions who you are. Others will be asking, and you’ll be a step ahead if you know more that the “what”. You need to know the “why”. 

As we’ve examined readings from all sides, and you’ve been asked to write and explain and defend and counter-argue every point this year, I’ve been trying to bring you to this one understanding: today, here and now: you need to know where you stand and why you’re there. 

You guys are lucky, though you may not always feel that way in the coming years. Although I know your middle school team, Mr. Day, Mr. Oliver, Mrs. Cranfill, and me, has given you a solid start on evaluating the information you come across in your daily life, we all know that this is a process. What we’ve started, in partnership with your families, will continue. In fact, this process never really ends. You are lucky because each of you sits here today getting to explore these ideas in the safety of family. I said that you may not always “feel” lucky, and that is because sometimes we disagree with our parents. I promise you though, every one of the people in this room tonight is on your team. Even when you disagree, I encourage you to remember that. 

Tonight I’m looking out at one of the most interesting, entertaining, talented, intelligent, resilient, genuine groups of students I have ever had the privilege of teaching. I’m honored that our school, your parents, and yes, even you, have allowed me the privilege of teaching you this year. Thank you for that. Thank you for belly laughs and inside jokes and reminders that sometimes you know more than me. Thank you for rising to every challenge we’ve set before you. Thank you for your enthusiasm for learning. Thank you for the deep friendships you have amongst yourselves. As an adult, it is truly a blessing to watch young people love each other so deeply and so thoroughly and so freely. Lastly, and most importantly, thank each of you for being uniquely YOU. There is only one “you”, and the world desperately needs what you have to offer. I say that to each of you, and I mean every word. 

As you prepare to leave this place in 7 short school days, know that the future is everything that you imagine it to be. Now, go take the world by storm. 

-CL

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Posted in Uncategorized

New Year, New Semester

The spring semester is the busiest time of year for me as a teacher. I don’t necessarily mean that I’m physically more busy, though sometimes I am. The spring is more demanding of all my cognitive and emotional resources. If you know a teacher, that person likely feels the same way. Pray for us ❤️

What I used to dread has now become my favorite part of what I do. This part of the year is like a marathon I’m running until May, and by February I’ll be enjoying a runner’s high. I’ve spent today knee deep in theory trying to put together the best of all I’ve ever done to offer it to my kids. And you know what? I’m going to have fun. If it isn’t fun, then my job is boring, and I can promise you no one can accuse me of having a boring job.

Here’s to Spring.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching, Uncategorized

Mistakes vs. Choices

During a free write, I wrote this on the board.

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After I call time, I always share my writing and encourage anyone who wants to to share all or part of their writing. This time, I asked them to correct my work. They had a LOT to say. 

After taking a few suggestions, I posed this question:

Did I make mistakes? Or did I make choices?

There was a short, but spirited debate before I changed the question:

What was my purpose, and was it effective?

Clearly, I was trying to sound frantic. I intended to entertain my middle school students. And believe me, if you’d heard the dramatic reading I did of this piece, you would have been entertained, too, for sure! (They thought I had lost my mind!)

Eventually, they determined that I had made choices. This is when I introduced the term “craft”.

Author’s craft is all the choices we make when we create something.

So, I asked them:

What is on your paper: author’s craft, or author’s accident?

Circle one thing you chose to write, one choice you made on purpose because you knew it was good.

It was one of my favorite lessons so far this year.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching, Uncategorized

They Sing of Rain

We are studying poetry right now in my ELAR classes. Usually, I have my students write whatever genre we are reading, that way, I can give them effective mentor texts and strategies. Today, I taught a strategy called “free association” to help my students generate topics and ideas for a new poem in their individual collections.

Anytime they write, I write. Today, I came up with this:

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Posted in Uncategorized

Will you adopt me?

This question has been haunting me all day. For some reason I had the occasion to tell (an edited version of) this story to my first period class at my previous school one morning. Then, I was again reminded of it as I talked with a student who sometimes calls me mom. Again, the question reared its head even while I watched TV with my husband this evening.

Will you adopt me?

She grew up in the islands off of the Bahamas. But what you don’t see on the cruise paths are the houses she grew up in and the men who paid her mom’s drug money so they could be with her, even as young as age seven–prostituted out for her mother’s drug money.

Their version of Child Protective Services eventually caught on. They sent her to the U.S. to live with her dad. He was a garbage man. Things were better. One day he didn’t come home from work; he’d been crushed in a work-related incident.

Her aunt lived in the U.S. as well. She was the only family left. But her aunt didn’t want her, and resented her, and they fought. They fought so much that her aunt turned her over to the state.

Enter foster care. Enter “high needs” placement. Enter a girl with such trauma that her problems and attitude were honestly understandable. Enter my classroom.

I’ve got a way with certain kids that other people have already given up on, or don’t understand, or don’t want to deal with. I’m not a kid whisperer, and not every kid “comes around”. But this young lady, she was one of the ones I was able to reach, even if for a short time.

I remember this moment so vividly. It happened in slow motion. I don’t remember what happened before it, or after it, but everything during this moment was so…. clear. I was teaching something. It was near the end of the school year. She looked at me and spoke up.

“Mrs. W., will you adopt me?”

The world stood still. I pictured a future where she was loved, and safe, and part of my family. I pictured us fighting. And driving to counseling. And hating each other with furious love. I shook myself back to reality, and I knew that I couldn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t drag her back to my 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house and give her an air mattress while we crammed a fifth person into our home with a mom, a dad, two kids, two dogs, and now her, too. God, I wanted to. I clearly still want to. I went home that night and begged my husband, even though I knew in my heart that it couldn’t happen.

I tell this story partly because I’ll never forget it and partly because she isn’t the only kid I’ve loved this deeply. I love them all this way. I don’t want to take them all home, of course. But some of them break my heart. Some of them make me want to take them home and give them all the things they tell me in their journals that they don’t have.

Sometimes I think about how I can’t save the world. I’m just one person. And other times, I realize that I can save the world one kid, one class, one word or note or listening ear at a time.

I had a chemistry teacher that said:

We are all either infinitely significant or infinitely insignificant. You decide.

I’m deciding. 

-CL

Posted in Spanish relapses, teaching

mija.

I was standing in line at the school cafeteria the other day. There was a student in front of me. The cafeteria server was asking the young girl to choose an option. From behind the serving line, I hear a familiar mantra: “this or that, mija”. Mija. Four years of elementary school lunches came rushing back with such force that I was nearly swept away with the flood.

There was a whole line of sweet women who knew me by name and took special care to make sure I had food on my plate. As I stopped for steak fingers, just before sliding her spatula away, she would whisper, “mija”. The next woman, presumably someone’s mother, too, would scoop a vegetable and repeat the word. “Mija”. I’d get mashed potatoes, and a roll, and then slide my tray and pass the last lady my lunch card. Mija. Mija. Mija. I remember the day that I worked up the courage to ask what it meant. And I remember the warm feeling of family that overcame me when the lady replied, “daughter”. This elementary school had a population of 97% Hispanic students. 1% Caucasian. For years, I had been one of the few people in the line who didn’t know the word, but had instead felt it.

Years later, I learned Spanish. In the family unit, we learned “hija”. I was confused, and lost, and I remember saying, “No.” I brought up the word. My teacher was kind enough to explain that mi hija shortened to mija because the first word ends with the same sound that the next word begins with, so they combine. I was at home again.

I talk a lot about the women who have mothered me in the absence of my own mother, but these women are different. My mother was alive and well during these years. My mom even subbed at my school. She spoke Spanish and knew these women. One of them was our neighbor across the street. These women represent motherhood in a different way, in the way that all of us do when we work at a school. Whether we whisper “mija” to a student while we guide her through the lunch line or we speak life or encouragement or correction to a child as we guide him through learning, these are the weighty tasks of a motherhood of sorts. And kids remember it. And it matters.

Posted in teaching, Uncategorized

Tag lines

This made my day today. Our superintendent gave us each our salary statements in Manila envelopes. Each envelope had a label. Each label has a tag line. She thought of a tag line for each teacher/ employee.

We have a small district. I’d guess we sit right at 20 employees total in the entire school DISTRICT. It is small and sweet. We are each well known one to another.

I have worked in small schools and districts before. I have attended tiny schools as a student. This is different. Very different. I can’t emphasize that enough.

-CL

Posted in classroom management, English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching

First day of school

I started a new teaching job. This year I’m teaching English, Spanish, and Theatre Arts at a small school. I’m mostly teaching 5th-8th grade, though I do have a specials rotation with 3rd abs 4th grade.

Every year I start my classes out basically the same way: students fill out info and goals sheets as bell work while I do first day attendance and housekeeping. Next, I do a basic introduction presentation and go over my syllabus. If there is time, we do the name game, and class promptly ends. Seven years. ~1000 kids.

This time, I did something different. Year 8 began with stations. I said hello, we made name tents, and off they went to 5 different stations. (1) student info and goal setting, #goals, (2) syllabus puzzle (using block posters) and syllabus quiz, (3) book tasting from my classroom library, (4) a reading survey, and (5) write a letter to yourself.

Doing something different has already changed everything about my class. I was able to teach my expectations by showing my students instead of telling them. They were able to experience my procedures for grouping and moving around the room. And, I got to see how and with whom they interact. It was a success.

-CL

Posted in Uncategorized

Writing

Last year, I attended some life changing writing trainings second semester. I get to start this year with all of that learning in mind. The best thing I learned is that I need to write when the students write. I’ve been doing that. We started our writing notebook with quick lists this week.

You can find awesome writing resources at bulbapp.com/shonarose2

-CL

Posted in Uncategorized

Teacher Rules

Teacher rules:

1.) you can turn ANYTHING into a game of Mexican Sweat.

2.) anything can be an excuse for students to get up and move

3.) anything can become an activity for fostering on topic small group talk.

4.) not everything has to be what it seems. Maybe instead of answering questions, kids are guessing questions based on their classmates answers.

5.) anything can be anything. Teachers decide if they are going to make it awesome or awful.

6.) extra work required: 2 min to cut out strips. Did it during passing period. #WorthIt

7.) the question on my head is a low level Q. But not all of them were. Low level Qs build confidence and provide cognitive breaks when kids have been working their brains hard. There is a reason I’m wearing this one and a student is wearing a question the length of a paragraph 👌🏼

-CL