Friday, February 16, 2018

For the Love of a Book, Week 8

We are all set for another installment of For the Love of a Book! Last week, we looked at a book series that I recommend but don't fully endorse. This week, we are going to look at a series within a broader universe. I grew up on this series and all the books within the universe and still love to read them today.

Star Wars is a universe that nearly everyone is at least familiar with. They're up to eight movies now, countless books, numerous comics, many video games, even action figures and Halloween costumes. The books of this universe, now deemed Legends, are many and have well-written plots, well-devised characters, and are just plain enjoyable.

The series pictured here to the left is the Young Jedi Knights series. It features Jacen and Jaina Solo, their friends Tenel Ka and Lowbacca, and their adventures at the Jedi Academy. These books are great for middle school students as they bring the wonder and amazement of the Star Wars franchise to a level that they can understand. There are lightsaber duels and TIE fighters and Dark Jedi galore. And these books are just a jumping off point. There are books about X-Wing pilots (shout-out to Wedge Antilles!!!), books about Han and Leia, books about Luke Skywalker and his family.

I love to re-read these books. I'm re-reading the New Jedi Order series right now. I thoroughly enjoy the stories of Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo, the adventures of Lando, Han, Leia, and Luke, the depravity of the Yuuzhan Vong, and the glories of the Force. I firmly believe that, contrary to George Lucas' designs, these books are the real story about what happened after the fall of the Empire and Episodes 7-9 (along with their corresponding novels) are the true "Legends." 

My students know what Star Wars is and they're familiar with Han, Leia, and Luke. I recommend Star Wars books to them (ones that are on their reading level, anyway) because they're compelling and timeless. They can be read over and over again with the same amount of enjoyment. Who doesn't love lightsabers and telekinesis? 

Do you enjoy Star Wars? Are you a fan of the Skywalkers? As always, what book series do you recommend to your students? Sound off in the comments below!

For now, that's a wrap!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

How To Go On...

Have you ever lost your cool at school? I don't mean lost your cool in the sense that you're yelling at your kids or cursing or anything like that. I mean have you ever broken down in front of your students and cried? 

Teaching can be stressful. There are many instances that can cause you to break down and lose it and all teachers try very hard not to let that happen in front of their students. I can count on one hand the number of times that I've cried at school. My first year, I cried after a parent conference where the great-aunt accused me of not caring about my students. I managed to hold it together in the conference but lost it pretty quickly after. My second year, I cried to my assistant principal because of a co-worker and her hateful words. 

But this year's been the worst emotionally for me. Towards the beginning, I cried during my whole planning period over a Chromebook that I'd checked out that had gone "missing" - meaning I would have to pay over $200 for it. In December, I bawled my entire drive to school thanks to a very nasty parent email about a Beta Club convention situation.

I try to hold things together. At school, I am quite possibly one of the most upbeat and positive people you could ever meet (allow me this brief moment of horn-tooting). At home, I am quite the opposite. I struggle with a lot of things. My dad is dealing with an illness that is fatal and I struggle with that. But I do my best to leave all that at home. 

This past week, it all got the best of me. A student with an attitude was the final straw on an emotional volcano. I sent him out of the room and, as I started to explain what had happened to our interim assistant principal, I started to cry and couldn't get a grip. Luckily, the AP was kind enough to watch my students while I went to the bathroom to get a grip, which I managed to do to end the period without losing it completely in front of my students.

Thankfully, I had a planning period after that and was able to get a hold on my emotions - mostly. My colleagues and team members (who are awesome) checked to make sure I was okay. I felt like I had revealed a little too much of the personal me, the sadder me, to the students. 

Students aren't supposed to see the "real" you. Teachers aren't supposed to get mad or frustrated or upset in front of the kids. We're supposed to be icebergs, unflinching and unwavering in our daily business. Unfortunately, sometimes things happen. We can't always be the consummate professional. And though it might not be ideal, sometimes the students need to see that teachers are people, too.

What do you think? Have you ever lost your cool or completely broken down on your students? If so, how'd you handle it afterwards? (Apparently, some of my students started a rumor I was getting fired. Joy of joys.) Sound off in the comments!! (And I do also apologize for the slightly depressing post today)

For now, that's a wrap! 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Focusing on the "Bad" Kids

Every classroom has them. Some classrooms have more than one of them. Those students who make you want to scream, claw your eyes out (or theirs), and even sometimes move you to tears. And not in a good way. It seems that for every good kid, there are five bad ones.

It's amazing sometimes to see the transformation in a classroom when the "bad kid" is absent. Usually, the group is quieter, the work gets done faster, and the teacher leaves with a happier outlook on life. Often, as a teacher, I wonder what my classes would be like if this kid or that kid was no longer in my classroom. I know that may not be good thoughts to have as a teacher but these kids sometimes push you to the edge. One of my students pushed me so far this past week that I broke down and cried in front of my kids and had to have the assistant principal step in while I went and got a grip - and still barely made it through the rest of the day.

So this past Friday, I made a deal with four of my "worst" kids. Students who constantly talk, drum on the desk, talk back, and just generally disregard all the class rules. Students with disrespectful attitudes out the wazoo. I made a deal with them. If they could behave all next week (a four-day week) in every class, I would bake them each 10 brownies to take home with them for the four-day weekend. They jumped at the chance. I don't think all 4 of them will make it but I'm baking the brownies just in case.

I made this deal with them during bus holding so most of the kids weren't there. But one girl was paying attention, a girl who was from another class. And she came over to me and she just said "You know, it's not fair that the good kids get nothing and the bad kids who can be good for a little bit get a lot."

That shook me and took me aback. She's right. Sometimes, the bad kids push you so far, you would do anything to get them to behave and so the good kids take a backseat. I felt bad for bribing these kids to get them to be good. I felt bad for not baking ten brownies each for the good kids (although that would be a lot of brownies). But I do enough for the good kids. I bake them brownies and cookies and offer prizes in the prize box. I try.

These days...I just need to do whatever I can to survive. If that means baking four boxes of brownies by Thursday, if that means bribing students into behaving, if that means begging my bad kids to just please be good for just one week...well...I'll do it.

What about you? What do you think about bribing bad kids? How do you make sure that the good kids get recognized too? Any tips? Advice? I'd love to hear!! Sound off in the comments!

For now...that's a wrap!

Friday, February 9, 2018

For the Love of a Book, Week 7

It's Friday, which means another installment of books that I have in my classroom library. Today, though, we're stepping out a little bit to a book series that I both love and hate. And, while I do have this book series in my classroom, I'm very judicious in who I recommend it to and I don't recommend it to everyone. I also have only the first two in the series in my room and don't plan to have the rest. So read on and I'd love to hear if you agree with me, disagree with me, or could care less. :)

This series has a wicked premise. Aliens from the planet Lorien are on Earth and they look like children. There are nine of them. Three are dead. The narrator of book 1 is Number 4. They're dying in order so...he is next. The book revolves around him figuring out who he is and dealing with his burgeoning powers. There's some romance, some fighting, and lots of cool elements. The series continues through seven books and features a compelling overarching plot that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.

It's a good series. I've read the whole series. It spawned a movie that didn't do so well but didn't really crash and burn either. There are some "spin-off" type books as well that are worth reading. I love the plot and the characters are well-developed. There are plot twists and turns that you never see coming.

So why don't I highly recommend this series? I don't highly recommend this series because, while it's targeted to middle schoolers and the reading level is touted as grades 4-6, the book is chock-full of bad language. Now, I'm not talking just a "crap" here or even the occasional "damn" but words that no middle school student should know, words like the s-word and the f-word and the a-word. Words that have no business being in a book targeted to kids as young as 12.

I'm not stupid. I know that middle school students hear these words and sadly, many of them use them. But I don't believe that books targeted at them should blatantly use these words. They're not necessary. The plot would be just as good and just as compelling without them.

No matter how good the plot is, I can never fully recommend this series to my sixers because of the language. The first two aren't as bad where the language is concerned so I keep them on the shelves. If kids read them and come to me asking for the next one, I encourage them to get it from the library but I also caution them about the language. I just wish that a series this good would have the vocabulary to match.

How about you? Does language in a book geared for children bother you? And, as always, what books do you recommend? Sound off in the comments below!

For now, that's a wrap!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Teacher of the Year - A Blessing or a Curse?

It's a big honor to be nominated as Teacher of the Year for your school. Just being nominated is almost like reaching a pinnacle in your teaching career. Actually winning is the same feeling that I imagine climbers get upon cresting the top of the highest and hardest mountain.

So when I was nominated this year for Teacher of the Year, I was definitely honored and flattered. This is just my fifth year of teaching and I'd always imagined Teachers of the Year to be in at least their second decade of teaching. I was up against two other teachers at my school who have been teaching years longer than me and are just incredibly awesome. One is even the Athletic Director at our school!

We voted - I voted for myself, not gonna lie - and then the news arrived. I had won. I had won! Me, a 5th year teacher, had won Teacher of the Year. I was so excited. I was pumped. My peers and colleagues thought I had the right ju-ju to be Teacher of the Year. Even though I felt like I was being stretched in too many directions this year to do everything to the best of my ability, I was still honored and excited to have won Teacher of the Year.

Then my rocket ship of elation came crashing down when I realized that there was work involved in being Teacher of the Year. I had to write a ten page application to be District Teacher of the Year - something that I not only did not necessarily want but definitely do not deserve as my teaching career has only just started. As a procrastinator, I finished my application with very little time to spare and sent it off.

Being elected Teacher of the Year is definitely a super awesome honor but it also came with additional work and some extra stress. Hopefully, there's not much more to do as Teacher of the Year because I'm certainly stretched too thin this year. I'm definitely blessed to be Teacher of the Year for my school but also just a little bit cursed.

Any of you feel stretched too thin sometimes? Underwhelmed by honors because of the extra work? Please sound off in the comments if so.

For now...that's a wrap!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Bullying Extends Beyond the Classroom

Bullying is always a hot topic in the classroom - at least, it is in the sixth grade. I often find myself imploring my students to resist bullying and to resist being the person standing alongside the bully, doing nothing. 

I often get the response of "I'm just being funny!" and I have to patiently explain to them that while they may legitimately think they are being funny, the person on the receiving end of their teasing does not enjoy it. Sometimes, I get on my soapbox and spend time laying out to the students exactly what the repercussions of bullying can be. 

It's hard for a lot of my students to wrap their brains around the effects their words and actions can have on someone. To them, they're just making jokes with their friends or whispering behind someone's back. To them, they're just doing what it takes to fit in or be popular. They're still young and they often don't "get" what can happen. And, being in the sixth grade, I don't want to get too graphic or explicit with them - they're still somewhat innocent. 

So instead, I tell them about how it really feels to be bullied. I tell them what it was like for me to be bullied in middle school, teased for what I chose to wear and for my hairstyle. I try to let them see a "real" person who was bullied and explain to them how it really feels to be on the other end of the bullying.

My goal in trying to counter bullying in the sixth grade? To bring up a generation who understands what impact bullying can have and will strive to be nicer to people. I want to impact a group of kids who won't tease someone or make snide comments because it's the "cool" thing to do. I've seen adults who are bullies and I've been the victim of snide comments and harassment as an adult. It's not fun as a child to be on the receiving end of bullying and it's not fun as an adult either. 

To that end, I will continue to try and empower the next generation to be nicer and kinder. Maybe it will work. I hope it will work. Because can you imagine a world without bullies? 

That's a world I want to live in.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Substitute Love

It's hard to get excited for a field trip or a personal day when you think of all the plans you have to leave for a sub. Not only does a good teacher leave enough plans for the sub to get through the period but a good teacher also leaves extra plans in case the class gets done early. Nothing is worse for a sub than random chaos at the end of class because the work left didn't take the whole class period.

I know this better than anyone because I used to sub before I became a teacher. And I hated it. I always packed extra worksheets, Mad Libs, copies of Encyclopedia Brown, and a hundred other random things in case the plans left by the teacher didn't last the whole period. Being a substitute is hard work and so, on this side of it, I always leave way more than I think the sub will need. 

But there's one more thing that's important to remember as you're planning for a sub to take over your classroom for a day, two days, a week, etc. You're going to have to return to the classroom and handle anything that went wrong in your absence. I always love it when I return from an absence to a detailed report of the day from the sub. I hate to return to notes like "7th period lived up to its reputation and was off the chain." (No lie, I've actually had that left on a post-it note from a sub). How am I supposed to punish individual students when the notes left are just "Class was unruly and disruptive" and "Students were hard to keep on task"? When I get these notes, I just give the whole class a talking-to and hope they don't do it again.

In an effort to make it easier for the sub to leave detailed notes on their day, I've created a Substitute Feedback Form (available for free on my TeachersPayTeachers store and linked for you below). It was used to great effect last week when I was at the Beta Convention. I was left detailed notes by the sub, which were much more helpful when dealing with misbehaving students upon my return. I highly recommend leaving this form out for your sub when you're gone - they're much more likely to leave you feedback on their day! 

The promised link:

How do you plan for a sub? Do you overplan? Pop in a video? Do you have any good tips for getting feedback from a sub? I'd love to hear them! Sound off in the comments!

For now...that's a wrap!