My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Middle School Madness


new class

My new classroom.

August 26, 2016

Dear Readers,

School is back in session and emotions are running high.  So far in my classroom there’s been laughter and sorrow, smiles and tears, and a whole lot of learning…and that’s only me, the teacher, not my prepubescent charges.  As always, I have so much to learn about the students I teach.

The school year started out better than I had anticipated.  In fact, it started out better than anyone had anticipated, the other teachers, the administration, even the students.  The ‘feel’ of the new school year was much lighter, much happier, and much more chill than the previous three years.  Even the students’ behavior had seemed to mellow over the summer.  The school’s ‘detention room’ had much lower numbers than in previous years, and it began to feel like our school had turned a corner, at least behaviorally.  Which made what happened this past week so upsetting.  However, I have to admit, what happened this past week is part and parcel of teaching at the middle school level.

I have a secondary-education, English degree and in my state that means that I am able to teach 7th through 12th grade English Language Arts.  I have always known that my personality and my teaching style work best with teenagers, ages 14 to 17.  I am both strict and demanding of my students.  I expect every student to reach just past where they think they can and to work just a little bit harder than they think they should.  In other words, I have high standards, for my students as well as myself.

My high standards do not end at my classroom door.  I expect students to behave like they have some sense when in the presence of adults.  I realize that middle school students can act crazy and they can be loud and obnoxious, which is why you’ll find me wearing earphones when walking the halls and/or during school assemblies.  It’s not the crazy, loud and/or obnoxious behavior that bothers me, be cause believe me, I can act crazy, loud and/or obnoxious right along with my students.  No, it’s not that.  It’s the flagrant disrespect, the bullying, and the violence that I cannot tolerate.  And that is what always pushes my buttons.

In my classroom, the rules are simple: 1. Listen and follow directions; 2. Raise your hand and receive permission before leaving your seat; 3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself; 4. Respect yourself, your classmates, and your teacher.  The consequences are equally simple: The first time a student breaks one of the class rules I give the student a warning.  The second time a student breaks a class rule, they are sent to time-out.  This may seem babyish and elementary.  However, my students all work in groups and it pains them to be isolated from their peers.  Needless to say, it is rare that I have to go to step three.  I allow my students to re-enter their group once they have sat alone for a few minutes, thought about what they have done, admitted to me which rule(s) they broke, and apologize.

My last recourse for a rule-breaker in my class is to send them to the office with a referral. Now, once they leave my classroom and head to the office to speak with the vice-principal, any further consequence is out of my hands, and the rule-breaker is out of my hair…at least for a the day.  Fast forward to this past week.

This past Wednesday was quite an eye-opener.  Not only did I have to write one referral in one of my classes, I was close to writing 8, yes, 8 referrals in one class.  I was beside myself.  Before I began yelling (yes, I do raise my voice at my little cherubs), I stepped away from the front of my class to calm down.  That is when I had a small epiphany: my students tune out anger and respond to calm.  I calmly addressed the class.

It worked!  The 8 rule-breakers were subdued with my soft, low voice and my encouraging words of wisdom…for exactly 6 minutes.  Six minutes is just enough time to lull me into a sense of false security!  It was the end of  the period and I just didn’t have the heart to write 8 referrals.  In fact, I was so hurt and disappointed that all I wanted to do was cry.  I excused my students to their next class with the threat of writing referrals for the unhappy eight as soon as school was out.

I didn’t stick around after school to fill out the paperwork, “I’ll do it in the morning,” I sighed to myself.  I do not make idle threats to my students, that just leads to students not taking my word seriously.  No, I had to follow through with the consequences.  However, I would sleep on it and go in to the office in the morning, sans emotion (I hear that is always best).

The next morning at school as I was writing the referrals, I received a call from one of the mothers of the unhappy eight.  The mother wanted to know why I was punishing her daughter, at which time I politely explained my class rules, i explained which rules her daughter broke, and what the consequences were.  The mother’s response?  “Well that doesn’t sound like my daughter.”  Sigh.  Of course not.

There was no getting through to this mother.  She kept insisting, “That doesn’t sound like my daughter!” and my insisting that it was exactly like her daughter was not going to change her mind.  Finally, she said, “Well, I’m good friends with Mr. Vice Principal, and I’m going to give him a call!”  Sigh.  Of course.

I was certainly upset with this exchange.  However, I had the whole morning to decide how I should handle the whole referral mess, the afternoon would come soon enough.

As the unhappy eight entered my classroom, I realized they were happy and smiling.  The mess from the day before was long forgotten.  What had broken my heart wasn’t even a  blip on their radar.  Oddly enough, this made me smile.  The were 11 and 12 year old kids and they had been acting like 11 and 12 year old kids!  It was then that I had a little bit bigger epiphany: they are only 11 and 12 year old kids!

The class began with light and airy conversation between me and the (now) happy eight.  I was certainly in a much better mood, as were they.  As we all came to an understanding, the student whose mother had called me that morning raised her hand and asked with a smile on her face, “Miss, did my mother give you a hard time on the phone?”

I smiled back, a genuine smile and said, “No, she just kept telling me, ‘That doesn’t sound like my daughter.'”

My student chuckled, “Yeah, she doesn’t know how I act at school.”

Of course not.

Peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

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PARCC It Here


May 16, 2016

Dear Readers,

It’s test time again across this great nation of ours and apparently I’m not allowed to discuss our state mandated, high stakes test. In fact, neither are my students. Seriously?  Seriously. As I was reading my students the scripted test instructions, I had to re-read the sentence warning students to not even talk about the test. I’m familiar with instructions about not talking during the test. But heaven help me! We can’t even talk about the test? Huh?

Apparently, in this corporate takeover, data driven, standardized reform-y thing we call school, teachers are having both hands tied behind their backs.     We won’t see the results of the tests until next school year, and now the students can’t even talk to us, their teachers, about the questions they had to answer. 

This is a really big deal. Teachers across the nation are being threatened by the almighty PARRC for writing about, thus revealing, how inept and inaccurate their test for 4th grade students is. I strongly urge you to read the following ‘copy and paste’ and pass along the information you deem worthy. Thank you. 

Peace, ~v. 

https://gatorbonbc.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/parcc-can-go-scratch-please-re-post-on-your-blog-share-widely/

PARCC Can Go Scratch! Please Re-Post on your Blog. Share Widely.

Posted on May 15, 2016 by GatorBonBC

The PARCC Test: Exposed
The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.
I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask — whom are we protecting?
There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.
The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate
In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.
A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]
The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9–12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6–8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?
So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.
Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1
Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”
However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school — a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]
The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.
It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”
In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)
ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.
Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)
Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.
Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)
So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.
We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system — such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.
In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.


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Seeking the Truth


May 1, 2016

Dear Readers,

So often during the Middle School Years, kids are seeking acceptance, self worth, and yes, even their own identities. It is helpful for teachers to remember this when confronted with raging parents, marionette administrators, or the un-truth tellers themselves. It is also helpful to remember that truth is subjective and its extraction, a dance. 

“She won’t teach my daughter!”

I was sitting across from my student, Marta** and her mother, who was raging. 

“Marta said you refused to teach her!  She said you even used those words, ‘I refuse to teach you!’  How unprofessional!  I don’t care if you don’t like her or she makes you mad!  My daughter deaserves her education and you can’t refuse to teach her! She was sooo upset last night, and I wanna know…”

I’m stalling for time here, allowing Mom to blow off some steam. I’m trying to pinpoint in my memory just exactly when I refused to teach Marta…ahh, yes. I had told Marta the previous day that I refused to teach her; but, that’s not the whole truth. As soon as I pinpointed the incident, I came back to the present and Mom was still accusing me of things untoward. I love righteous indignation. And both Marta and her mom had such self-satisfied smiles showing.   I almost hated to see them fade. 

“Excuse me,” I said to Mom. Then I turned my full attention to Marta. “Marta,” I asked, “What is the bathroom policy in my classroom?”

Before she could answer, Mom interrupts, “What does that have to do with anything?”

In my haste to get to the whole truth, I ignore the question and turn once again to Marta, “Marta, would you please tell your mother the bathroom policy for my classroom?”

“Yeah, well, we raise our hand and ask if we can go to the bathroom.”

“Okay. And then what?”

“If you say yes, then we sign out and go!” she says with pride at being able to answer such simple questions. 

“And how often do I say ‘Yes, you can go?'”

“Almost all the time,” Marta answers.  She turns to Mom, “Ms. Kunzmann always lets us go to the bathroom!” She’s picking up steam now, “And we hafta sign all the way out. The date, our first and last name, and the time we leave and the time we come back”

“That’s right. And what happens if you forget to sign all the way out?”

“We can’t go to the bathroom anymore?” she answers with some doubt. 

“Yes,” I answer.  “But only for the next week. And is there anything else your mom should know about my bathroom policy?”

“Ummmm, I dunno.”

“Okay,” I prompt her. “What about the part when you’re in the bathroom and I’m still instructing the class?”

“Oh yeah,” Marta remembers. “And you won’t repeat anything when we get back.”

“That’s right,” I exclaim and I address Mom. “You see, some of my students take advantage of my seemingly loose bathroom policy. In fact, some of my students leave class every day to go to the bathroom. Some days there is a steady stream of students from my classroom to the bathroom and back. Because of this, I have repeatedly told my students that I will not repeat whatever they miss while in the bathroom. It is each student’s responsibility to ask a peer for any information they might have missed.”

I could see Marta squirming uncomfortably as I addressed her mom, because now the whole truth will be revealed. 

“The other day when Marta came back from the bathroom, I had finished my instruction and the students were working on their assignment. Marta sees this and asks me what she is supposed to be doing. I told her to ask one of her peers, she knows the rules. At this point, Marta becomes quite upset at me for not telling her the assignment. Right, Marta?” And I look right at her. But she won’t look at me. 

I go on to explain that I had added up the amount of time Marta had been out of my classroom in the past two weeks: 32 minutes. If I have just three students from each of my four classes go to the bathroom every day, and believe me, I have far more, I would be repeating every. single lesson, every, single day. I refuse. 

Finally, I am explaining to Marta’s mom that what I had said to Marta was, “I cannot repeat my lesson over and over again for those individuals who use the restroom during my class. Heck, just Marta alone would have me repeating 32 minutes worth of instruction every two weeks!  So yes, I did tell Marta that I refuse to teach her while she is in the bathroom. I don’t think that is unreasonable.”

Crickets. 

Middle school students are still trying to figure out who they are and what path they should take. Unfortunately, this middle-school-soul-searching often requires dramatics (theirs, not mine). “I refuse to teach you!” is certainly more dramatic than, “I refuse to teach you while you are in the bathroom.”  And, “I refuse to teach you!” is a much better attention-grabber. While, “I refuse to teach you while you are in the bathroom,” is, well, sensible; something middle school students rarely have an occasion to practice. 

And that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

Peace, ~v.

**Names have been changed


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My Kids vs. Bebe’s Kids


April 24, 2016

Dear Readers,

At the end of every school year I’ve been teaching, I’ve run into the same problem: my kids vs. bebe’s kids.  I think a little background is in order before I continue my post.

Bebe’s Kids (pronounced bay-bay) was a 1992 movie based on a stand-up routine by the late American comedian, Robin Harris.  Bebe’s kids, the expression, has worked its way into the vernacular of urban America.  Bebe’s kids is a term used to describe young children who are rowdy and/or misbehaving, who seemingly have no home training.  Used in a sentence:  The students hurling spit wads in the hallway are bebe’s kids.

Lest you get the wrong idea, bebe’s kids are not delinquents, they are not the young juveniles committing crimes.  They are also not the well-mannered, polite students that most parents believe their children to be.  No, bebe’s kids are somewhere in-between.  Bebe’s kids are middle-school students.

At the start of every school year, I spend a great deal of time turning 100 or so bebe’s kids, into my kids.  Bebe’s kids put their feet up on classroom chairs and desks, and they hardly ever say “Please,” or “Thank you,”, unless it’s to their advantage.  Bebe’s kids almost always answer, “Yeah?”, or the always annoying, “What?” when addressing adults.  And they pick their nose, they burp, they fart, and they sneeze loudly in public.  Bebe’s kids have a hard time understanding why 12 year-olds do not have the same privileges as their teachers, “That’s not fair!  How come I can’t _________ (fill in the blank).”

Nine months later and some of my kids still have trouble keeping their hands and feet to themselves.  To be honest, I get lax at times and can be seen propping my feet up on my desk…but mostly not in front of my students.  Most of my kids remember to say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” and are not nearly as rude as they were nine months ago.  Most, not all, but most, have stopped picking their noses in class, and I only occasionally hear one of my kids burp and/or fart during class.  Bodily noises ceased being funny for most of my kids on about the second month we were together; they were never funny to me.

As for my kids whining about how life is unfair and they should have the same privileges as I have at school, well, let’s just say they more or less suck it up during class.  Oh, most still think they are equal to me.  They are just better at hiding their entitlement while in my presence.  For the most part, my kids have begun to show signs of maturing.  Of course, it’s what I expect from them.  That’s not to say there are still a few bumps in the classroom.  The following was a true exchange:

“Why are you late?” I ask one of my kids as she hurries through the door, long after the tardy bell has rung.

“Whaaat?”

“Oh, this is going to be good,” I muse to myself.  “Why are you late?” I repeat.

“Oh, because I was walking over here and when I got right around the corner, I was with my friend, So-and-so, and she saw me, do you want me to go get her?  And I was right over there and I was coming to class and you guys saw me right?  And I knew the bell was going to ring, and the bell rang, and I was walking over here, and…I fell.”

True exchange, dear Readers, she fell.  Of course I wasn’t done with her.  “So, um, you fell, right?”

“Yeah, I mean yes, I fell.”

“Are you alright?!” I ask in mock concern.

“Yes.”

“Do you need to see the nurse?”

“Uh, no, I already saw her.”

“Oh, you did?  She let you see her without a pass?  That was certainly generous of her.”

“Yeah, well she wasn’t busy.”

“How  lucky for you.  And surely she had you sign in and sign out, right?”

“Uh, no, she just gave me an ice pack and I left.”

“And where is the ice pack?”

“Oh, I threw it away before I got here.”

“Of course.  So let me recap:  You were on your way to my class with your friend, you fell, you went to the nurse, she didn’t sign you in, she gave you an ice pack, sent you on your way, and never signed you out, you threw the ice pack away before you got to class, and that is why you are late.  Do I have that right?”

“Yeah, I mean, yes.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to change any of the details in your story?  Now would be a good time to tell me why you were really late.”

“Gawd!  That is why I’m late!  You don’t hafta believe me!  Just ask my friend, So-and-so, she’ll tell you.  I should go get her.”

“No, that’s quite alright.”

With a self-satisfied smile, my student sits down, believing for all the world that she just got away with putting one past me…until she sees me pick up the phone in my room.

“Hello Ms. Nurse, this is Ms. Kunzmann.  I’m calling to check on one of my students who fell earlier and said she had stopped by your office to get an ice pack.  Her name is (blank) and she was just there.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Kunzmann, I never treated that student today.”

“Oh, I must be mistaken.  My apologies Ms. Nurse.  Sorry to have bothered you.”

And that was the end of it.  My student had a rueful, smile on her shamed face (at least she had the good grace to be embarrassed), and we got on with the business of 7th grade language arts.  Later during class, my student apologized to me, and I accepted.

I don’t expect my students to be perfect.  Heck, I’m not perfect, and I let my kids see my flaws.  I just want my kids to be accountable for their words and their actions.  It takes more of my time to ensure that they are held accountable in my classroom, than to just let them think they got away with some untoward word and/or deed.  It also takes a heck of a lot of repetition; they usually don’t get the lesson the first time.  But in the end, it’s worth it.

So, nine months into the ten month school year, and I am happy with the progress each and every one of my kids’ has shown.  Their teachers next year won’t have too much breaking in to do.  Now, if I can just do something about the other 500 students not under my charge.  Those bebe’s kids will just have to wait until next year.

Peace, ~v.

 

 

 


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If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say


May 15, 2015

Dear Readers,

I had nothing nice to write these past five months, so I kept it to myself.  The world has enough unkind words karmically seeking counterparts.  I wanted to balance the not nice words with some nice.  And this post is filled with enough nice words to fill an entire classroom of 7th grade students. 

My first, full year teaching 7th grade language arts is drawing to a close and I want to acknowledge one of my classes.  I have to admit that I have spent the better part of the school year complaining to my sister about this student or that student.  I thought it might be refreshing if she, and you, dear Readers, were to hear about the good students, not just the bad and the…well, you know the rest.  

I credit my last period class for creating such a good vibe prior to my life changing accident last year, that I wanted to, no, I had to come back to teach.  Believe me, I was periously close to never teaching again.  However, my last hour class was the perfect storm.  These are the students who reminded me why I teach.  

I would like to introduce you to Az (sorry Az, didn’t feel comfortable using your real name)    This young man has got the world by the tail and he is going places.  He is a leader among his peers and I am honored to have been his teacher.

Next is his sometime sidekick, Cj.  You will find Cj among the ballers.  He is smart and athletic and one of the most dedicated I’ve seen come through here.

My trusty first assistant Mg is as adorable as the day is long.  She is a hella good creative writer and I look for her to publish some of her fiction in the future.  

Mg’s first assistant is Bi.  Well, not really an assistant, but they are thick as thieves.  Bi is almost as smart as she thinks she is (jk, Bi, you know I love you).  I admire Bi’s willingness to ask questions, even though her peers may poke fun at her.  She is the one I pick to most likely go to a top university.

Jr was my second semester assistant.  I wasn’t sure if his, um,bathroom habit was for real, or just a ploy to get out of my class.  Maybe I made him nervous.  Nevertheless, he holds a very special place in my heart because he was never embarrassed to ask me to sit with him at lunch.  Kv was also at that same lunch table.  Although, Kv didn’t spend as much time at our (listen to me, “our”) lunch table as he should have.  Let’s just say that detention sometimes includes lunch.

Now for my silent but deadly crew: Ax, Le, Mo, and Yz.  “Still waters run deep,” comes to mind when I think of these four students.  Ax is one of the bitchingest (is that a word?) artists I have seen at such a young age.  Too bad I never warranted a drawing (LoL).  Ax draws because he has to draw.  For him, drawing is life.  He is art.  Le is too sweet for his own good at times.  I fear that someday, somewhere, some you-know-what will break his heart and I will have to go find her.  Seriously though, Le has a heart as big as anyone I know.  

Mo. is my kindred spirit.  He is like me, an outsider, not wanting to go in, but not wanting to stay on the fringe.  I pray that he finds the peace he is seeking.  Hell, I pray I find the peace I am seeking.

Yz could stand to have a bit more confidence.  She is smarter than she gives herself credit for.  The same is true for Gi.  These two young ladies are just the two to lead the next generation of strong, smart, beautiful Latina women.

Now we come to one of the beauties: Jo.  Jo too often sells herself short (no pun intended).  Yes, she is short, but, she doesn’t see the beauty that I see.  The quality that Jo has that I most admire is her loyalty.  I would love to have such a friend.

Ar is one of the cutest, most energetic young ladies in the school.  She is a lady with a bit of a rebellious streak.  She hardly lets it slip, but it gives her an edge.  I would love to see her roller-skate!

Tl warms my heart because he will always be a kid inside.  On his birthday, he came to class wearing an Olaf backpack!  For a 7th grade student to walk into class with this backpack was, to me, the sweetest thing I could have seen.  I hope he always keeps his little boy outlook on life.  

Of all these students, I admire Er the most.  I can never understand nor imagine speaking two languages.  Er can.  In fact, Er can speak, read and write in English better than most native English speakers.  He may be quiet, but I predict that he will make a great big roar when he is released into the real world.

De is one of the quirkiest white-boys ever.  However, as he tells me, “But, I’m black on the inside!”  Great kid with a great smile.  I owe you a book, De; I hope you are around next year to receive it.

Finally, I will never forget Eb, Je, and Mg.  These three, assistant Mg, beautiful Eb, and funny Je are the epitome of why I came back to teach after my accident.  The day of my accident, these three were the perfect trio with the perfectly executed lesson.  Theirs were the three faces that went before my eyes shortly before I wound my way up the mountain stretch on my way to, well, you know.  Knowing there are students out there like these three made my coming back to teach worthwhile.  Three seemingly different students, from three different backgrounds, with different friends and interests came together that afternoon and opened themselves up to learning.

These are the reasons I teach, dear Readers; these are the reasons I teach.  Peace, ~v.


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ACT Out


March 4, 2015 Dear Readers, I recognize academic burnout when I see it.  Most, if not all of us, have had it a time or two in our lifetime.  I mean, let’s face it, from about the age of 4 or 5, upwards toward 18, we have an excess of compulsory school days in this country.  So yeah, at one time or another, even I, lover of school and all things academic, have had academic burnout.  It is what caused me to dropout of college after only 1 year.  However, by that time, I had been going to school for 14 years.  The thought of continuing another 2 was simply too much for me to take.  I recognize academic burnout. Unfortunately, I am seeing this phenomenon in my students.  “Ho-hum,” some of you might sigh, “it happens to the best of us.”  And indubitably, I would agree.  However, signs of academic burnout in 12 and 13 year-olds used to be few and far between, it was the exception, not the rule. When academic burnout hit me, at age 19, I emptied out my brain of anything and everything remotely school-y, I dropped out of the college scene, and I began working as a cashier at a convenience store.  Now granted, it was certainly not the academic accolades I had always dreamt of receiving, but I worked hard, I began raising my family, and I was a contributing member of society.  And truly, what more could society expect from this college drop-out? Eventually, and by eventually I mean 14 years later, I returned to school, earned a Secondary Education/English B.A, graduated with honors, and became the teacher I knew I was always meant to be. But that was me.  That was 19, 20 year-old me.  What path is there for a 12, 13 year-old academic burnout? Even as I say it, it sounds ludicrous, “12, 13 year-old academic burnout!”  But I’ve seen it; am seeing it.  And it breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart not because they will have an adverse effect on society, although chances are…  No, it breaks my heart because the joy of learning has all been sucked out of education and out of my students’ lives, if in fact, it was ever there to begin with. My students cannot recall a time in their education when they weren’t being tested to death.  And that, dear Readers, breaks my heart. This past Tuesday marked the 21st instructional day my students have given up to testing.  Wait, scratch that; the 21st instructional day that has been stolen from my students.  Of the mere 51 school days so far this year, my students have slogged through 8 Common Formative Assessments (CFAs), 8 re-take CFAs, 4 days of Galileo Summative Assessments, and now, the ACT Explore.  The 16 CFAs to gauge how well they grasped the content of the individual standards, the 4 days of Galileo to gauge how well they grasped the content of the individual standards, and the ACT as a pre-cursor as to how well they should expect to do on their college entrance exam!  Seriously?  Seriously. As I walked up and down the rows of 8th graders, I wanted them to act out, act up, act indignant, act insulted, act like they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore.  Admittedly, all they could do was act lethargic.  And sadly, that was no act.  21 of my students’ 51 school days have been eaten up with testing.  A full 41% of their time under my tutelage has been snatched away because of testing.  Almost every other day.  Testing. Today, and I’m no social scientist here, but today’s junior high school students are exhibiting signs of academic burnout so frequently as to be considered normal.  Is this what we, as a nation, are striving for?  Is this the goal of our education communities?  Is this how academia as we know it will end, not with a bang, but with a whimper?  Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so.  Peace, ~v.


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The Role Models


It is unclear to me how I maintain a "Bully Free Classroom."

It is unclear to me how I maintain a “Bully Free Classroom.”

September 4, 2014

Dear Readers,

I sat down last night to write my latest blog post, wrote it, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it. Something just didn’t feel right. I saved the post and went to bed.

The post I wrote yesterday, but couldn’t seem to post, was about bullies and their bullying behavior. In all my years as a teacher, I have never had such a problem with bullies. Since the start of the school year, I have had more than my fair share of encounters.  It didn’t dawn on me that I was experiencing an unusually high volume of bullying in my classroom, until last week at parent/teacher conferences.

No less than five (5) of my students’ parents brought up the subject of bullying.  Each wanted to know what is being done about students being bullied, teased, threatened and mocked.  These parents conveyed to me that it was their son and/or daughter that were the victims, and had been for at least 2 years!  I was appalled, dear Readers.  I was unwilling to believe that this behavior had not been otherwise stymied by the administration and the faculty, at large.  I was unwilling to believe that, dear Readers, until today.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  And the good people at my school were doing absolutely nothing about the bullying problem, at least as far as I could tell.  Thus, the evil has been allowed to triumph.  As a matter of fact, not only has the evil been allowed to triumph, it has been allowed to thrive.  How does that happen, dear Readers?  Evil is allowed to thrive when the people in charge, the people that lead the charge, the role models, they are themselves, the bullies! 

In the past 24 hours, I have been bullied by three of my fellow educators.  In the past 24 hours, I have been bullied by three of my fellow educators in front of my students.  Well, no wonder some of my students are such bullies; that is what the adults around them are modeling.  No me.  Each time I was confronted and the bullying commenced, I stood up for myself and said, “We can have this conversation away from the students.”  In which the bully replied, “Never mind,” yet kept on trying to intimidate me.  And I do know that it had an effect on my students, because inevitably after each incident, my students began teasing me for allowing another teacher to speak to me in such a way as to be bullied.  Sigh.

See my dilemma, dear Readers?  I cannot allow this behavior to continue, whether it be my students or the faculty.  And now it’s a race against the clock.  Now, dear Readers, time is of the essence.  I fear I must find a solution, quickly, because today, I stumbled upon one of my being bullied boys.  You know what he was doing?  Yes, that’s right, he was aggressively bullying another student.  (please pray for) Peace, ~v.