Turning to a New Page

rsz Roundtop,  2012 056

The school year is coming to a close, and about three weeks ago my principal asked me to teach a new class this year.  And it’s not Language Arts OR Reading OR any combination thereof.  I was shocked and amazed–and honored and appreciative.

This has been a year in which I have grown and stretched and learned as a teacher.  And now, that will continue next year as well.  I keep on telling my kids that you will have to learn ALL  of your life.

In the mean time, I am ready for summer.  I am ready to go through photographs (like the one above) and tell their stories.  This one was from October, 2012 when Tony surprised me with a trip to Round Top–which is a big antiques fair nearby.  It was all his own idea and it was a wonderful trip.

Hopefully this new page I’m turning at work will give me a little more room to breathe–but even if it doesn’t, summer vacation is on the way and the year ahead is going to be full of endings and beginnings.  I need a nice, long break before we begin.



Today is the first day of the rest of our Christmas break.  It involved teaching, napping, cooking, driving, reading, (not all simultaneously) and now writing followed by resting followed (tomorrow) by shopping.  Sunday will be more driving and then visiting my family in Louisiana.

This year has been busy and full and hard and exhausting, but we are all healthy and under one roof and blessed beyond belief.

I left all school work at school.  My desk is as unburied as it has been all year long.  There are still papers to grade–and other papers to SAY I will grade until the end of the nine weeks when I will recycle them and suffer the ensuing guilt.  But, for now, for today, I have a two week vacation staring me in the face, and I plan to enjoy every second of it.  I can say in all truth and honesty that I have EARNED it.


Chopped Poetry: The results

This is an actual letter that I sent to three administrators and the P.A.S.S. teacher (a different take on adaptive behavior programs–kids who have very specific acting out tendencies) regarding one of the most surprising results from Chopped Poetry.  This came from an 8th grade student that I teach.


I did an experimental lesson in my room last week over poetry.  It actually went pretty well, but I had to share this one with you.  The kids picked an envelope with “ingredients.”.  This student chose free verse.  In the envelope were the following items that HAD to be in their poem:

Type: Free Verse
Topic: Music
Figurative Language:  repetition, personification
As it runs through the wild
listen to him
The shriek of his roar,
his footsteps like thunder against the
When he runs
The wind whips by him with a cry.
This is Heavy Metal.
This is freedom.
by Zach Simpson (name changed)
Once I had completed the explanation and directions for the students, I went to wake  Zach up to tell him the directions.  When I shook his shoulder and said, “Zach?”  He didn’t even raise his head–he just whipped this paper out from under his face and held it aloft.  I let him finish his nap.
Zach’s “target behaviors” that he must avoid to participate in Friday Funday are being verbally and physically aggressive toward teachers and students as well as leaving the instructional area or school building without permission.  I have seen none of those behaviors, but I do spend the better part of most days silently determining when to let him sleep and when it’s time to wake up and do work.  Some days this job is more rewarding than others.   Not only did Zach get a nap this day, he also got a 100.

Chopped Poetry

So, in 8th grade Language Arts, we are talking about figurative language and how the graphical elements and word choice in poetry creates meaning and how we can use those elements to infer and draw conclusion blah, blah, blah. . . . .BLAH.  I have a FEW teenagers who are interested in the mechanics of poetry, but most of them are flying under the radar to avoid persecution by their peers.

Not only that, but my kids just got back from a week of vacation and weren’t buyin’ it.  I HAD to CONNECT.  SO, I showed them THIS little video (which you are welcome to watch should you so choose) just to get them INTERESTED. Who,  exactly, can resist the theme song to “The Fresh Prince of Bellaire?”  Seriously.  The video uses that to explain narrative poetry/ballad.  Then it uses other popular songs or videos to go over other types of poetry.  We didn’t really spend much time on sonnet, but I DID tell them that it was a good introduction to what they will see very soon in high school.

Anyway. . .this morning, I had a BRAINSTORM (along with finding the video) while brushing my teeth and being late for school.  I decided to do “Chopped: Poetry.”  Have you ever seen “Chopped?”  It’s a Food Network show where four chefs compete for $10,000.  There are judges and time limits but the clincher is that there are “secret” ingredients in a basket that the chefs MUST use in their dish preparation.  Some of the challenges have included the following basket ingredients. . .

Dessert: prunes, animal crackers, cream cheese                                                            Appetizer: watermelon, canned sardines, pepper jack cheese, zucchini         Entrée: blackstrap molasses, red snapper, parsley root, dried cranberries

Tomorrow, my kids will get a “basket” (an envelope. . .) with their “secret ingredients” in it.  They HAVE to use these “ingredients” to create their poem.

Type:  Acrostic                                                                                                                                   Topic:  Music                                                                                                                          Figurative Language:  Onomatopoiea & Metaphor

Today while showing them the different forms (they had to take notes), I was explaining haiku.  This was my haiku on teens.

Teenagers are like,                                                                                                                       “Awesome, ratchet, hastag, Bruh!”                                                                                                They own the language.

My second period suggested I change it a little to this:

Teenagers be like,                                                                                                                         “Awesome, ratchet, or nah, Bruh!”                                                                                                They own they language.

I must admit to the second version being nails on a chalk board, but at least they PARTICIPATED.  We’ll see. . .

There are five types of poetry, six different topics, and ten different types of figurative language that I mixed up.   This will either be a moment of fist-pumping “YES!” or a crash and burn of “OH, THE HUMANITY!!!”  Maybe even both. . .in the same class period.  I can pretty much guarantee both in 2nd period for sure.


Friday Evening

It is Friday evening.  There are things I need to do.  Right now I am not doing them.  I am sitting a window away from my children.  Victoria is helping Thad complete an assignment that is late–which is causing his grade to dip into a letter of the alphabet that is unacceptable.  It involves copying–not his forte–not his favorite thing–and not something even worthwhile quite honestly.  Alas, it needs to be done.

What I love is that my kids are together–on my front porch.  Victoria is taking phone shots of the  page that Thad needs to copy–she is reading the words to him while he writes them down.  He has tracking issues (as in if he looks at a line of writing, then looks over at his paper to copy it down, he can’t find his place where he was before without starting at the beginning and going ALL the way back through).  It’s not so fun.  But he can’t play Minecraft until it’s done, so he’s getting it done.

Poppy is walking back and forth on the porch railing.  It has grown overcast outside.  I am already in my nightgown.  I am glad it is the weekend.

It has been a busy week, and I capped it off today by making two mothers angry because I was reprimanding their children, my students, for being rude and disrespectful.  To me.  It is not the in your face rude and disrespectful that I get a lot of–it is the silent but deadly disrespect.  Much like it’s greater know sbd counter part, it doesn’t arrive with a loud, rude noise.  It creeps up insidiously, and by the time you realize it’s attacking your space, it’s too late to get away.

Their behavior is very much like that. Their behavior stinks.   They are smart/good-looking/pretty/fashionable/fairly well-off/talented/athletic/popular students.  They are also very much convinced that they are on an equal playing field with me.  That because they are all of the above, they can and do have an equal say in what happens in my classroom–that their intelligence or social standing merits a say in whether they want to follow my rules or not. That if what they have to say is funny enough, or snarky enough, or will entertain their very small, well chosen group of friends, then it’s okay for them to sally forth. That if they don’t feel they need the particular directions or instructions I am giving, that they can get up to take care of some incredibly important task like throwing away a gum wrapper or getting hand sanitizer.  Never mind that I don’t fight the gum battle or that I bought the hand sanitizer with my own money.

Current methodology and research insists that the space in which I teach should no longer be referred to as MY classroom.  To make students buy in to what I have to say–to make them feel comfortable and welcomed and empowered with ownership, I should refer to it as OUR classroom.  They do, quite often, have a say regarding what happens there.  I am a teacher who believes in choice.  I often refer to “our class.”  I quite frequently let them choose their own seats, but I reserve the right to move them if they can’t choose wisely or behave.  I quite frequently give a choice of activity but reserve the right to assign tasks as I see fit.  I have been known to, as today, pass out Jolly Ranchers and Peppermints just because I think it might be nice for them to have a little sugar while they complete their exceptionally long, district given reading test, but I hold to the school policy of nothing but water in the room and no food in the hallways. And I find that the students who have this sbd behavior are already quite empowered enough.

As far as the room goes, well I may be old-fashioned, but the room is mine.   I am held responsible for what is said, taught, and allowed to go on in it.  I set the tone and the rules.  I can put it to a vote or have dominion.  I try to pick my battles.  I say nothing at all about electronics in the hallways (where they aren’t supposed to be) or gum (old school) or cursing in the hallways (too prevalent to determine who actually said it in a sea of children) or dress code violations as they pass by (because nothing is, for the most part, done when I send them to have it taken care of), I house enough supplies in my room to run a Wal-Mart because expecting them to procure their own only causes unnecessary delay, but for all that I put up with on a daily basis, rude and disrespectful behavior to me or anyone else–acting as though someone’s time and abilities are nothing–that I take issue with.    Lots of slack is cut.  Second chances are given frequently.  But expectations are clear.  Not only that, but I really feel like the 90% who do what they are told get just as sick of the silent but deadly behavior as I do.

The sun just broke through the clouds.  Victoria and Thad are still on the porch.  Thad is laughing so hard at something she said or did or showed him that he can barely breathe.  Time to start the weekend and leave the dust of the school week behind.  Until next Monday.  🙂

Nature or Nurture or Just Good Taste in Movies?

Thad had a boat load of homework to complete tonight.  I mean a ton.  A lot.  A monumental amount.  Because he tends to get sidetracked at times. . .like when he was three and Tony lowered him behind the couch by his ankles to retrieve his Batmobile.  Thad exclaimed, “I got it!  I got it!”  And when Tony pulled him back up, in Thad’s little (dirty) hand was a small, black, retractable measuring tape.  Ahem.

The Batmobile IS black after all.  And Thad had been wondering where his measuring tape had gotten off to.

Even tonight as he was using the dictionary, he kept finding new words that he wanted to read the definitions for because the words sounded cool. This  is a WONDERFUL attribute that I want to foster in my offspring, but NOT at 8:00 on a school night when there are several more things to complete.  After me fussing at encouraging him to just find the word he NEEDED (already) to my relief he exclaimed, “Okay.  I am SO GLAD I found it!!!”

Silly me.  I thought he meant the actual word for which he was searching.  Alas, it was a picture of a metronome which reminded Thad (who relayed it to me at that exact moment) that we could either buy a cheap metronome from somewhere for a couple of bucks, or get a REAL one for $20, or get a $5 app for his Nintendo 3ds that you can customize.  He needs one to practice for band. He’s gunning for the app.  Because it’s customizable and all.

By the way, he had no homework for band.  We were doing Language Arts.

So.  Thad was answering questions from a reading passage.  Below is a paragraph from said passage.  It is an actual photograph of the actual paragraph on the actual page of the actual passage.

Actual photograph of actual paragraph of actual passage.

Actual photograph of actual paragraph of actual page of actual passage.

Thad, however, had made an addition.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I tried not to laugh–really I did.  I am supposed to be the voice of reason.   But he was SO EARNEST and SO SINCERE and SO PROUD when he looked at me with his big, blue eyes and said, “Mom.  I HAD to.  I just HAD to.”

Really. What intelligent Star Wars aficionado of a middle school boy could RESIST such an opportunity? There was a big 'ole empty space there and everything--just WAITING to be filled with what was OBVIOUSLY missing from the passage.

Really. What intelligent Star Wars aficionado of a middle school boy could RESIST such an opportunity? There was a big ‘ole empty space there and everything–just WAITING to be filled with what was OBVIOUSLY missing from the passage.

I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed. And when I had the chance, I showed it to his Daddy and laughed some more.

Oh, how I needed to spend that time with my boy.

Just do it.

I love to write. It’s not that hard for me. I am able to fire off 500 words in nothing flat. So how come I’m not blogging? I have all manner of stories and thoughts and things practically running laps in my brain. Hmmm. . .that will be something to ponder later.

Tonight, I read Stephanie’s blog post. She is kind of doing a post a day type thing–and she really IS doing it. I love it. I always know whatever is there, I will be happy that it is waiting for me to read.

So. . .here goes. My daughter is getting entirely TOO lovely.
I know this happens, and I embrace it. . .but seriously.

On another note, Thad is growing too, but he still does stuff
like playing “The 1812 Overture.”
On his teeth.
With a comb.
Also seriously.

Tomorrow I get my very first student teacher ever. I have fixed her a spot to land and a little basket of goodies, and I hope she’s ready for the likes of me. She will not see an immaculate classroom that stays neat all day or is even neat when I leave it, nor will she see a refined educator, but she will see REAL teaching–the good, the bad, and the junior high. Her name is Wendy. And since I found out (last Friday) that she was coming, I have thought back to the lovely soul that mentored me; Mrs. Ballard.

She was 42 and pregnant with her first baby. (It just struck me that I am 43–thankfully not pregnant, but marveling at how she did it.) She also had gestational diabetes and had to watch what she ate. I mainly remember her eating tuna sandwiches and carrots when what she wanted was a package of Nutty Bars and a big glass of milk. I also remember her eating a lot of Tums. (A proclivity that I shared with my own pregnancies–the Tums–not the tuna.) Because of the change in her diet, she had actually LOST weight during her pregnancy, and her maternity jeans had gotten too big, so she wore regular jeans with a rubber band through the button hole, looped around the button. I was amazed at this trick and appalled that I did not know about it sooner. She was sweet and dear and kind and PATIENT above all else. She went into pre-term labor three weeks before I graduated. The School district in Searcy played a little fast and loose with my up-coming certification and just let me act as the sub for the remainder of the year. That amounted to three weeks without pay and two weeks with.

I will never forget the day I took the kids on a field trip to somewhere that was more than an hour away. At one point, I looked around the bus and realized that besides the driver, I was the only adult on it. And I was really just a kid atop an adult shaped step-stool at the time. It scared me half to death. What kind of IDIOTS turned me loose with their children and allowed me to take them somewhere in a motor vehicle? I very nearly had a panic attack right then and there. . .but I couldn’t, because I was THE ONLY ADULT ON THE BUS!!!! Frightening.


I went to see Mrs. Ballard one night after her baby was born. It was spring. She and her husband lived out in the country, and he had just tilled their garden to begin planting for the summer. The dirt was rich and black–fragrant, slightly damp and loamy–the dirt of my childhood. I couldn’t resist. I didn’t even ask permission. I pulled off my socks and shoes and went running through their freshly turned up garden in my bare feet. They stood and laughed at this crazy woman-child.

And then, I went in to see the baby for the first time. A beautiful little girl. She was tiny. I marveled at her too.

Mrs. Ballard had a BIG basket of goodies for me full of awards and post-its and colored Sharpie markers and stickers and an EZ-Grader that I have to this day. (It says “Miss Watts” on one side and “Mrs. Langley” on the other. I also used the pretty Sharpies to draw balloons all over it.) In her sweet generosity, she gave me the stipend (pittance more like it) that she received for having had me in her classroom as an additional student. She said she thought I had earned it more than she had. That is SO not true. Obviously, I will never forget her. She’s been on my mind.

A very PATIENT advising teacher, a very tiny baby, and a very young, IN LOVE WITH TONY LANGLEY, “Ignorance is Bliss” me. With dirty feet from running through a newly tilled garden.

Not long after–still young–still IN LOVE–still ignorant, but not blissfully so anymore. *Sigh.* My first class of kids. I am taller than them, but that is about it. I remember EVERY ONE of their names.

Prayers for Wendy as she begins her Adventures in Jr. High, and prayers for me as I do something new yet again. The learning? It never ends.