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

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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 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 and second word begin with the same sound. I was at home again.

I talk a lot of 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 English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

a little bitty star.

I want to reflect a little bit on last school year. It was hard, and I doubted myself a lot. I was a first year English teacher. I tried hard to project confidence. I really did. I comforted myself in the silence of the night by rocking back and forth and repeating “I taught Spanish Literature for college credit… I taught Spanish Literature for college credit.”   I had to force myself to believe that if I can get students to read 38 works of literature in one school year and earn college credit when they really didn’t want to do all that work… I could do anything, even this.

I started last school year with a post about all the reasons I could, and would do this job. But, for all the confidence I posted last year, each day and each month proceeded to break me a little bit more. Could I really do this? Were my kids learning? Would they pass their exam? In May when we got our results, I was elated and disappointed. If I’m honest, I was mostly disappointed. Our pass rates aren’t nearly what I am used to and what I expected. However, despite that, we improved by 10% or more in every category. I was bum-fuzzled to say the least. How do the kids improve in every. single. area. and still only the same number of them pass? I knew my kids had significant gaps… but hadn’t I worked to fill them all year long? Perhaps a school year isn’t enough time to fill years of gaps…

This summer I wracked my brain. I made changes. I beat myself up.

Then, in August, we got our State Accountability Ratings back. I was shocked to learn that our campus had earned a distinction in ELA / Reading. We only have 2 English teachers in our high school. Between the upper division teacher taking on and encouraging more dual credit students, and pushing them to earn credit, and the incredible reading / writing growth in my 9th and 10th graders… this is what I saw:

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I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry. I cried. I freaked out. I jumped up and down a little.

Our campus only earned this one distinction this year. Although we are consistently considered one of the better schools in our area, the standards for this distinction are very, very high. Additionally, our campus has never, in the history of distinctions (since 2002), earned the ELA/ Reading distinction. 

This little star restored my hope and my confidence that what I am doing/ and did do works. This little star is actually a really big deal. This is the culmination of every crappy day last year, every email dealing with another parent unsure of my methods, every fight with a student, every doubt, and every kid/ parent/ colleague who occasionally thought I had fallen off my rocker.

This little star holds every student who came to school and pushed their limits in grades 9-12, every teacher/ coach/ sponsor who pushed literacy and writing techniques and encouraged kids to focus on school, and every parent who made their kid show up and buck up. This little star is the STARt of something big.

My home is Spanish, but my home away from home isn’t so bad after all. 

-CL

Posted in professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching

So, what did you DO?

This is the question everyone asks me. They all want to know what I did. Did I help someone? Did I build a house? Install a well? Teach English? Teach in a school? Well, the short answer is that I didn’t do much–but in truth, I did quite a lot. I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I visited. I learned a whole lot more. And, the only actual product I made were some lessons, along with the other teachers there on the trip. Here is what I wrote upon coming home:

It was definitely NOT a mission trip! haha! I tried my best to share that as much as possible. It was an educational trip for teachers who have worked with The Pulsera Project in the past. We learned more about the organization, the other partnerships they have, the people they work with and employ, and the culture, economic systems, history, business climate, and language nuances. Then, we took that information and collaborated on lessons that will be used in nearly 2000 schools here in the United States that participate in the project. It was a whirlwind, entirely exhausting, and completely exhilarating.

In a conversation I had after returning home, another person observed that it was nice that we made lessons that would be used in Nicaragua. I corrected him by saying that The Pulsera Project believes we are the ones who have much to learn–and that the lessons would be used here in U.S. schools. He replied by asking, “And after your trip there, do you still believe that?” I gave him a resounding YES.

What more do we need to learn?

  • All of us need to continue to be educated on other cultures, languages, and economic systems/ realities.
  • All of us need to develop continued competency in Global Citizenship.
  • We need to develop an understanding of poverty and a better definition. Poverty is NOT the inability to get what we want. It is the inability to get what we need on a daily basis. Not one time. On. a. daily. basis. I guess we could start by defining “needs”.
  • We need to realize that we are not God’s gift to the developing world. We are not the solution to their problems. In fact, they have solutions. And in fact, often times, we are the problem.
  • Along those lines, we need to understand that just like someone cannot walk in and solve all the issues in our classrooms or in our marriages, we cannot walk in for a week or a month and solve all the issues in a person’s life, community, or country. These people are capable and willing, and they are often hindered by their economic or legal realities.
  • We need to be educated on responsible consumer practices. We should all know where our products are made, to the extent possible. We should be concerned that the people making our products are fairly compensated and work fair hours. We should be aware of the environmental impacts of our products and companies that produce them.
  • We need to contrast simplicity with poverty and critically examine consumerism and materialism.
  • Most of all, we need to be taught to think critically. Looking at another culture and the realities they face forces us to examine our own culture. In a global reality, we have to realize that while you and I do not directly create issues in other places, our actions are intimately tied to the system we participate in that does directly impact their realities.

One thing we shouldn’t be doing is focusing on how poor other people are so that we can revel in our own comparative richness. Humble gratitude is something we could all stand to continue developing, however focusing in on the lack of resources that other people have as a method of producing gratitude is sort of a sick twist on that (in my opinion).

I’d like to show you what I mean by this.

These two houses are right next to each other. The woman in the photo owns them both. In fact, the mud and bamboo construction was her original home, until she received a grant through the housing project at the Pulsera Project (available to the people employed by them as an employee benefit), which she used to build the brick home she is pictured with on the right. The grant has to be used for housing, but it is up to them what they do. They can improve their homes, buy land, add walls, add windows, or build a new structure. She chose to use the money to build this brick addition. I want you to notice something here. She did not tear down her mud and bamboo home. SHE ADDED TO IT. She did not tear it down. I’ll repeat myself again here: she did not tear it down.

Why not?

I’m guessing here, because although I asked her a ton of questions, it did not occur to me to ask this one at the time. But, one thought I have is that she isn’t ashamed of the house. I took the picture because I was amazed and impressed with it. I was in awe of it. She talked to our group about “re-taking” her heritage when she started weaving as a young woman, and re-taking is right! During a previous repressive government, indigenous traditions, including the style of weaving her group is renowned for, were not permitted. This home should not be the backdrop of some fifty-cents-a-day orphan commercial. This is a source of pride for her family. And I look at it now and I am amazed by the intricacies and skill it took to build.

I don’t feel sorry for her, nor do I feel sorry for a single person I met while I was there. I did not come back and hug my leather couches, though I thanked the Good Lord for air conditioning, because I’m a wimp. Rather than looking down on someone for what they don’t have, or giving others our pity, maybe what we should feel is righteous, justified anger that perfectly capable, well-educated humans don’t have access to the resources they need to implement the solutions they already have.

One of the Pulsera Project staff members related his experience owning a restaurant in Nicaragua and struggling between the “western standard of hospitality” and the Nicaraguan standard. He realized that the goal shouldn’t be to provide a western standard of hospitality, but to provide the appropriate cultural standard to their guests unapologetically. He said that when he stopped trying to fight the culture, his job got so much easier.

I believe we can all learn something from his story. We can’t fight their culture, and it isn’t our fight anyway. Our standards don’t apply, and they really shouldn’t. While we can all learn from each other, it should be just that: learning. What they do with it is up to them. And, in the end, we should be focused on helping capable people have access to the resources they need to create their own paths, not the paths we think they should follow.

So, 1200 words later: what did I do? I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I worked on some lessons designed to help students think critically about language, culture, and global citizenship.

-CL

Posted in professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching

Home, in more ways than one

I’m back from Nicaragua, and I promised to write about my trip, so here it goes. On Thursday when I got home, I posted this:

Home.
Goodness, this word has so many different meanings. I’m at home now. I’m with my family. But, I wasn’t not home before. In some ways the trip to Nicaragua was like returning home to where I really belong. Home isn’t always a space we occupy or the people we occupy it with. Sometimes it is what you do or the language you speak.
Tonight, I’m home. I’m back from a long trip away from where I desperately wanted to be, in profoundly more ways than one.

Of course, I’m home now. Being away from my boys for 8 days was difficult, especially with a busy schedule and limited access to internet. I missed them so much. I missed how my sons crawl into bed with us every night. I missed how my husband and I banter and discuss the details of our day. I missed how my pups only listen to me and no one else.

But, being away also brought me home in ways I can’t ignore. This last year has taken me on a long journey away from things that are essential to who I am. I never imagined an entire year where Spanish was not a part of my daily life. I never imagined feeling like an island. I never imagined I’d long so much for professional relationships and space to collaborate. I never imagined that after a year away from home, I’d get to go back by going away.

I went on this trip with amazing professional educators and Pulsera Project staff members who were dedicated to their values and ethics. An idea that came up over and over was the idea of “doing it right”. I felt like a starving bear at a buffet. I loved that my ideas were challenged and changed and valued. I loved learning and growing. I loved the validation that comes from dialogue. I loved being home for a little while.

-CL

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Here’s us at our best. Photo Credit: Chris Howell

I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.

Posted in classroom management, English escapades, teaching

Teaching is 1 part instruction and 3 parts making your students think you are weird.

I spend a lot of time here on the instruction in my classroom, but the reality is that teaching is mostly about relationships. The truth is that kids decide if they want to learn from their teachers. My job is to invest in them in such a way that they come in and are willing to hear me out and do what I ask of them. If I can do that, I’ll be able to facilitate learning experiences. If I can do that, they’ll be able to learn something about themselves. If I can do that, they’ll be empowered. One of the ways that I invest in my kids is by being human. (Un)Fortunately for them, I’m an odd human.

So, today, one of my students made critical mistake. He asked the age-old question: “Mrs. W., why don’t you have a clock in your classroom?”

Poor kid. I very loudly began to proclaim an honest but dramatized response.

Me: I don’t have a clock because I don’t like time.

S: You don’t like time?

Me: What you don’t realize is that time is a social construct created by society to imprison us within the confines of the clock.

S: **incredulous look**

Me: That anxiety you feel when you can’t tell how long we have left in class? That is your addiction to the imprisonment you’ve been brought up to admire, creeping up to wrap you in its grasp once again.

Ss: **more incredulous looks**

Me: You know why I don’t have a clock? I like to teach. I like to teach without a constant reminder that “society” has decided I only have 45 minutes to instill a love of knowledge in my students and fill the gaps created by years of education you missed while you were staring at the clock, wondering when the bell would ring and your enslaved selves would be obliged to move to the next required learning experience. I like the freedom I feel when I teach despite the bell. In spite of it. It is the same freedom that scares you when you search my walls and don’t find your familiar oppressor there, reigning you in once again.

Ss: **a sudden look of epiphany**

S1: OK, then.

S2: Hmm. Maybe that is why this class always passes so quickly?

Me: Remind me why you guys aren’t working again?

S: Heh. **returns to work**

So, here’s to Thursday, folks.

-CL

 

Posted in professional development, teaching

Gravity

I don’t think I ever understood the term “righteous anger” until I became a teacher. I didn’t understand how anger could be good, or productive, until I sat in my classroom and got angry.

I wasn’t angry at my kids. I’ve learned to stop blaming them. They are KIDS. I got angry at systems. Systems that failed them. Systems that didn’t work. Broken systems.

What I’ve come to realize is that many schools/ communities/ organizations/ lawmakers/ etc. do not understand the gravity of education. We (I use “we” here because I catch myself forgetting, often) cannot comprehend the weight of what we do.

I’ve just returned from a couple days at the TCEA Conference/ Convention in Austin, TX, and I left with a feeling that reminded me of how I felt during graduate school.

I was simultaneously elated at my new learning and furious with the injustices my new learning exposed.

The weight I feel is so intense. The only word left to describe it is: Gravity.

-CL

Image By WikiDiego91 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons