September 23, 2014

Intervention Time

Conversation in class on Friday:
Me: Ladies and gentlemen, let me remind you that you are NOT Madonna. Please write your first AND last name on your papers.
Student: Who is Madonna?

Can you hear my gasp through the computer?????

I honestly thought I'd NEVER see the day!

I mean, Kenny G.... Cher... okay, fine. I can see how my seventh graders maybe wouldn't know them. But MADONNA????? 

An intervention was necessary. Crucial! I told this little honors student that her homework for the weekend was go to home and listen to some Madonna. 

She was less than thrilled with her assignment and asked me why she has to listen to old people music. 

I am pleased to report that said student came back yesterday and told me she spent the whole weekend listening to Madonna with her mom as instructed. 

Me: And what did you think?
Student: I actually liked her!

Tonight's homework includes watching Madonna's music videos on YouTube so she can appreciate the great artistic expression that goes into her performances. Madge is more than just a singer, you know (I'm preaching to the choir here, I'm sure). 

If this girl learns nothing else from me before my last day on Friday, she WILL learn to appreciate and respect Madge!

And THIS is why they call me Miss Lifesaver, y'all!

September 22, 2014

Give me a V, dot the I, curl the C-T-O-R-Y

Full disclosure: It's late, and I'm ready to put away my laptop for the night. So, I'm jumping the gun a little here. Unless something goes drastically wrong in these last 2 minutes, I'm gonna go ahead and call tonight's game a W!

Da Bears played a great game agains the Jets tonight and pulled off another Win! It's always great when my boys win, but it feels extra sweet when it happens on Monday Night Football with the whole country watching!

You know what this means: another Bears Victory Freebie for you!

So, what am I sharing this week? This is a mini Storytelling unit for my language arts folks.  It's great way for elementary or middle school students to work on their presentation skills.

Each student selects their favorite picture book to read to the class. It sounds very elementary, but we kick it up a notch by analyzing the plot of the story and the characterization of the main character.

Using the information from the analysis and class mini-lessons about voice, fluency, and even nonverbal communication, students will practice telling their stories. This is a great way for them to practice speaking in front of their peers in a way that relieves them from the pressure from being judged on the content. They didn't write these stories. They just have to learn how to present them!

You could also choose to do this through audio recording rather than in-class presentations for the sake of time, but my students have LOVED presenting their stories to the class live.

Best part of all? They're Word documents, so you can modify as you like! :)

September 17, 2014

A New Gig

After work yesterday, I started my new tutoring gig with a family I met through an online tutoring list for the district I worked in last year. This is the first time anyone has ever contacted me from this list, and I honestly thought it was a waste of time to even add my name. It's kinda ironic that I get called now, after I'm no longer employed by them, but I was happy to accept the job!

I met with this 5th grade boy at the public library where he showed me all the things he's been learning in his classes, we re-did his math homework (I think we have a rushing problem here), and talked about what he likes to read. Then, because we had some extra time in our one-hour session, I introduced him to mad libs, which we did to review some parts of speech. He LOVED them!

At the end of our session, when his mom and sister came to pick him up, he asked if he could get tutoring again today. They reminded him we are meeting again Thursday, but that wasn't good enough for him.

"But we have homework every day!" he pleaded.

Too cute! I'm glad he had fun with me, and I'm confident I even taught him some new things. This little guy has personality for DAYS, and I just adore him already. 

Best part of the session, though? Two of my former students from last year happened to be in the library (which is exciting enough right there) and spotted me working at the table. They knew I was busy but couldn't resist calling my name and coming over to give me a hug and tell me how much they miss me.


Completely unrelated: The rental market in the Chicagoland area has become cutthroat! Not only have the prices increased dramatically since I last rented here ($300 increase for the exact same property in 3 years), but the houses that pop up are often rented within 24 hours. We were supposed to meet our Realtor again today, but she just texted me to tell me the house we wanted to see was rented last night. I don't know how I can compete with this market when I have a job!! I don't have a choice but to keep looking, but this quick turnaround makes me anxious!

September 16, 2014

My Reactions on Test Days

As my students walked into class today, the first question I heard was, "Wait... we have a test today?"

Yes! Not only have I announced this every single day, but the date is written on the cover page of your packet for two weeks, on the board and website daily, you had a study guide due yesterday, and we spent an entire period playing a review game to prepare you for TODAY'S test!

Every single section of my test is pulled from the activities we completed in class. In fact, some of the questions have been pulled directly from the study guide. Nothing on here should be a surprise. So, I'm sure you can imagine how I feel when they tell me, "I don't get it!"  

Oh, I'm sorry! Did you miss my daily reminder about how I'm available before/after school and during my lunch/planning time to help you? Have you tried to come in for extra help even ONCE?

How about the homework? Have you been doing that? Have you even been writing it down in your planner as expected?

So... the number of parent calls I have to make to discuss these tests...

They're lucky I love them!

September 15, 2014

My Weekend and IMWAYR: Panic

The weather in Chicago turned unseasonably cold last week, and we were thrown fully into autumn, complete with hoodies, boots, and pumpkin spice coffees. I don't normally complain about such things because you all know how much I LOVE FALL, but I was a bit disappointed at the number of summer dresses I hadn't yet gotten the chance to wear to work!

Imagine our surprise, then, to wake up to a GORGEOUS day yesterday, full of blue skies and a bright, warm sun. It was the PERFECT temperature to head to the local apple orchard, so that's exactly what we did. Hello, farm fresh apple cider, apple butter & doughnuts! You are delicious!

It was the perfect way to relax together after a night in the city hanging out with my friend/cousin Bobbie and her boyfriend who invited us to their new apartment for dinner. What a great weekend!

It's Monday, which means I have another book to review for you guys. Have you read Panic by Lauren Oliver? I can't remember where I first heard of it (It's not on the list I'm currently using as my personal recommendation guide), but when I received notification that it was available on OverDrive, I jumped on it before it flew off the virtual shelf.

Panic is a legendary game played by the recent high school graduates in Carp simply because they are bored and lacking anything better to do. Players must face their deepest fears and battle each other in a high-stakes game where only the payoff promises to be greater than the risk.    

The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of Heather and Dodge, which is a writing style I personally love. It's especially important for this story though because it allows us to learn about secrets and hidden motivations for playing Panic, and we realize that, for some players, there's much more at stake than ego and a lump sum of cash.

For me, the book was just kinda...

It's along the lines of Hunger Games, which I loved, and Divergent, which I did not. Honestly, I think this is a story I would have enjoyed more had I read it because I HATED that the narrator made some of the characters sound SUPER whiny and needy. Like everything that came out of their mouths sounded like a complaint, even when it wasn't. 

I enjoyed the back story for each character more than the actual game, which I think is pretty much par for the course for me. I love good character development and reading about the relationships between those characters. And ultimately, each of the characters in this novel are forced to ask themselves exactly how desperate they are to earn $60,000.   

If you haven't done so yet, please be sure to visit yesterday's post where I've got a Bears Victory Freebie waiting for you! And don't forget to follow my Facebook Fan Page so you don't miss the next one!

Have a great Monday, friends!

September 14, 2014

Bears Victory Freebie for You!

OMG! I almost missed my first opportunity to tell you guys about a fun freebie idea I'm copying because I turned off thinking they were done. Thankfully, I'm never very good about keeping the game off when I change the channel in protest because I was able to see them pull out a WIN! 

So, what does this have to do with a giveaway, you ask? I'm taking some inspiration from my girl Erin Cobb at I'm Lovin' Lit (with her permission), and I'm going to offer a Bears Victory Freebie for the entire season!

That's right, I want all my readers to celebrate Da Bears with me! When they win, you win! And the only thing more exciting than that is when we win against the Packers! :)

For every W the Bears win this year, I will post a NEW product freebie that will last anywhere from 1-24 hours! This is a hit or miss opportunity, friends, so you'll want to make sure you're following me on FACEBOOK to get reminders in your feed about new posts!

I'm also posting our season schedule here so you know when to check in:

Since my boys managed a comeback tonight, I have our first freebie for you! This is a vocabulary connecter, which we use to get our kiddos to do some deeper thinking about our vocabulary terms. It's a simple concept to explain, but it really requires a lot of higher-order thinking.

Allow me to explain: In each pie piece, you write a vocabulary term. In each box, then, students have to write a statement that connects the two terms connected by arrows.

For example, in our current unit, these were our vocabulary terms:

In box 1 <--> 2, I could say:
Historians use both primary and secondary sources to learn about the past. These sources are different because primary sources come from the time period studied while secondary sources come after the event. 

In box 3 <--> 4, I could say:
Historians reply on artifacts like weapons and pottery to study prehistory because there is no recorded history from this time period.

I love this organizer because it forces my kiddos to think! It also is a great way for me to assess how well they REALLY know our vocabulary terms. It's extremely apparent if they don't understand a word because their connections will be very shallow. 

September 13, 2014

I Will Not Be Your Accomplice

Yesterday, I told my students that I only have two weeks left with them before their regular teacher returns. This is not a reflection of her in any way because most of them don't even know her, but they were UPSET! They whined, pouted, threatened, pleaded... you name it. And then they came up with the MOST RIDICULOUS solutions:
  1. We could get her fired so you have to stay!
  2. Someone should run her over with their car!
  3. Just tell her we don't want her!
  4. Tell her she's a bad mom if she leaves her new baby!
I kid you not, each of these suggestions came from the mouths of my students. Of course, I told them I could not condone any acts of violence or shame in the interest of protecting my job, but I did appreciate the sentiment. 

Of course, they were desperate to know where I'd be going, so I explained that I will be looking for another teaching job and subbing in the meantime. This is when I heard the most hilarious suggestion of all:

Student: We've decided we're going to LICK the floor!
Me: What? Why would you do that?
Student: So we can load ourselves up with germs and spread them to all our teachers!
Me: Why would you do that?
Student: So they get really sick, and you can sub for them!

By 8th period, this message had spread through most of my students, and one of the paras who works in my class told me she now understood why a student was randomly petting her in the hallway between class. 

My 9th period honors class (to be honest, my favorite group) was the most upset of the day. They pleaded with me to become a para again so I can work in their classroom even after their teacher returns. I explained that the district wouldn't just pay me to come hang out every day and that there has to be a need for that position. I also informed them that since they are an honors class, it is not supported, so they wouldn't keep me in that room anyway. At this, one of my students announced,

Quick! Someone start acting like a fool so the district sees they have to hire her!

Oi vey!

I have to admit, that it felt really good to know how disappointed they are that I'm leaving. I told them I was equally as sad to be leaving and that they made me feel really loved. 

September 12, 2014

Change of Plans

Have I mentioned how much I love my job?


I LOVE it!

It's the best teaching assignment I've ever had. 

Let's start with my students. When I first became a teacher, I heard it said that you never forget your first class, and while this is absolutely true, I think I've actually had more of a lasting connection with the students from my second year teaching. They are the ones who still text me, message me on Facebook, and ask to get together for lunch or coffee now and again. Of course, there are students from every year who do this, but I've remained close with more of my kids from my second year than every other year combined.

Bonding with my students is kinda my "thing." It's what makes me tick. Of course, I've connected with and grown to love many, many of my former students. What I've found, though, is that this bond isn't as quick to form as it was in my early years. I found this especially frustrating when I was working in Baton Rouge, when I didn't even like my students until Thanksgiving (yes, there were exceptions, but I'm speaking about my students as a whole). I ended up loving them to pieces and calling them my babies... my babies who made me go gray... but it took a while to get there. And I was convinced that this is just the way it was going to be for me.

Last year, when I worked as a teaching assistant, I L.O.V.E.D. my students. But I was also in a position where I got to be their helper, not their disciplinarian. I didn't have the stress that comes with dealing with the paperwork of teaching (planning, grading, IEP meetings, parent communication, etc.), which left me plenty of time to just get to know my kids. That was my favorite part about that job.

And here I am, four weeks into a new position in a new school, and I already ADORE my students. Yes, you read about one who gives me headaches (whom I've now taken to bribing with a piece of gum each day for behaving in class... and it's worked like a charm), but I genuinely like my students. Thinking about leaving them at the end of this leave is already breaking my heart. I feel like they're my kids, and I don't want to give them back!

Not only are my students amazing, but my coworkers have been so wonderful as well. I've never worked with such a genuinely nice and welcoming staff. Since day one, I feel like I've been fully embraced as a teacher, not just a substitute. I was invited to join a group of coworkers who eat lunch together in the art room each day at least 5 times by multiple people until I finally tagged along (instead of working through lunch), and I feel like I've been part of the group forever. I like them as people and as coworkers. They make coming to work enjoyable!

I feel supported by my administration. I like that they cut to the chase in our staff meetings instead of filling time with pointless activities and rhetoric. When I seek their advice about student concerns, they respond with immediate reaction and reiterate their confidence in my decisions as the classroom teacher instead of micro-managing, as I've experienced in the past. 

And... even though I never imagined I would say this, I'm LOVING teaching social studies. I never envisioned myself as anything but an ELA teacher, but I have to admit that this has been an awesome experience. It's an entirely different world. Not just because I have twice the number of students but because of the content. It's so much easier to teach content that doesn't rely so much on previous knowledge. And I enjoy teaching a subject that's objective. Either you know it, or you don't; there's no middle ground subjectivity, making it complex to assess. And even though I have twice as many papers to grade, I'm grading them less often... with far less writing!

For all these reasons, I'm sure you can imagine why I was torn apart to learn last night that the classroom teacher I'm subbing for is coming back a whole MONTH early from her maternity leave. Something about the district changing policy and not allowing her to use her sick days. Whatever. 

I'm not mad at her because I totally understand not being able to go for so many weeks without pay, but I'm kinda pissed a the district, if I'm honest, because I SIGNED A CONTRACT, which states I have SIX more weeks of work. How, then, is it right for them to come back and tell me I'm done in two weeks?!  

I have bills to pay too. I crunched a lot of numbers when I was offered this job to see where it would leave me. Now, this leave me with significantly less money even if I find day-to-day jobs every single day simply because it will be at the regular sub pay instead of long-term pay. Had I known I would only get 4 weeks of long-term pay (because my first two weeks were at the regular pay per district policy), I may not have taken this job. 

I'm not happy.

And I don't want to tell my kiddos. I'm going to miss them terribly.

My principal was enthusiastic in her response when I emailed last night about getting a letter of recommendation from her. Her daughter is in my class this year, so this gives me hope that she's hearing good things. And hopefully will help me secure more work for myself.

I knew this day would come. I just thought I had much more time.

September 11, 2014

A New Perspective on this Day

For the first time in my nine years teaching, I plan to spend my entire day talking only of the events on 9/11. In my current role as a history teacher (a job I'm LOVING, by the way), I feel it's my duty to teach my students about the events of this historic day, but I have to admit that I'm a bit anxious (I'm typing this during my first period study hall) about how I will hold up throughout the day. 

Like most of us who lived through that terrifying morning, I can still recall almost every detail as if it just happened yesterday. It's still very emotional for me. I know it's going to be hard to walk them through the interactive memorial timeline as planned six times. To hear the voices, see the images, and watch the videos time after time, when I can still vividly recall them in my own mind... it will be tough. 

But I know it's important.

My seventh graders were either newborns or still in their mother's wombs on this day in 2001. I have one student who celebrates this as her day of birth. And several more who know it as a measure of their upcoming birthdays. These innocent twelve year-old students have very little understanding of how this day has impacted all of our lives moving forward. 

Today will be a day that I clear up their misconceptions (some I heard about yesterday when we completed a document analysis using a news article written about a survivor's experience as shared on September 12, 2001) and inform them of the truth. Today will be a day that I pass on a piece of history that has impacted me in ways even I probably will never fully understand.  

Today, I will share with them the audio recordings, videos, flight manifests, and pictures of artifacts found at the scene. And then I will share with them my own 9/11 story, which they've been asking about for two weeks now. 

I hope to walk away from today feeling like I've truly taught my students a lesson they'll never forget. Because then it will be worth all the emotion I feel.

September 9, 2014

Denial of Services

I have a student in one of my classes this year who is labeled ED. ED students are not supposed to be at my school (my district has an established program for these students at another junior high), which means this student's mother has denied services. Unfortunate doesn't even begin to describe this situation. And I don't mean for this student; I'm talking about her peers.

I understand that parents have the right to accept or deny all special education services, but I don't agree that they SHOULD have this right. When you have qualified professionals telling you that your child needs and can benefit from special services, I don't think it should be optional. 

If a doctor told you your kid needed surgery (and for the sake of my example, let's say this is a free surgery so we can compare apples to apples), you'd probably listen, right? I mean, of course, you have the option to not follow through, but you probably would move forward with the surgery because it's in the best interest of your child. If not, it could be seen as child endangerment, right? 

So, my question is, why does this same mentality not hold true for education?

Instead, I have a student who is not only apathetic about her own education but also doesn't care if she's disrupting the learning of her peers. So, that's what she does. All day long. 

I'm not sure why, but my experience has been that these are the students who run the building. For some reason, the rules don't seem to apply to them. Every student in my district gets 10 hall passes per quarter; this student gets 3 per day. That's 15 per week! As you can imagine, she has figured out how to use these passes to get out of any non-preferred activity. 

Yesterday, I hit my limit. My para was out for the day, so I was on my own in a class of 30, including 8 special education students. Very needy special education services. I cannot and will not spend my entire day catering to the needs of one student despite the rest, so I gave her the following options:
  1. Take out your packet and participate in our learning without distracting your peers.
  2. Go to the office (along with a note explaining her work refusal and disruptive behaviors).
She chose the office, and I have to admit, I was relieved. Yes, it meant more paperwork for me in the end, but my class was free to learn. 

It's been so long since I've worked in a school where I even had the option to send a kid out of class for constant disruptions. Part of me was holding my breath, waiting for her to return, but she never came back.

I hope that she has learned that I will not tolerate her shenanigans in my classroom (OMG I feel like an 80 year-old woman saying that), and I will give her every opportunity to prove that today will be a better day.

But I have to be an advocate for the rest of my students. The ones whose parents aren't privy to the fact that their children's learning will be negatively impacted by one child. And I will fight for their right to learn in peace. 

And I will pray that my para comes to school today!

September 8, 2014


Just a really quick post today to share a new book I read last week called I Funny: A Middle School Story by James Patterson.

Despite losing his entire family in a tragic accident, finding himself bound to a wheelchair, and being forced to move to a new home where he lives with his aunt, uncle, and his evil cousin who never passes up an opportunity to bully him, Jamie Grimm remains committed to laughter. He takes a lot of pride in telling jokes and making others laugh. In fact, Jamie is determined to become The Planet's Funniest Kid Comic, a competition in New York City that Uncle Frankie has suggested for his nephew.

Jamie wants to win, but his biggest fear is pity. He wants people to like him because he has a phenomenal sense of humor, not because they feel sorry for him. He spends his days working on his material until it's near perfection, but will he ever learn to be honest about his circumstances?

This was a fun story that I recommend to anyone looking for a light-hearted read. It was perfect to listen to on my commute to and from school last week!

September 4, 2014

Interactive Learning: Using Memes in the Classroom

True story: Yesterday, one of my students left a pile of ELA work on my small group table (I can't wait to ask him why it wasn't in a FOLDER on the third week of school). As I was digging through the papers to find one with a name (eh hem... problem #2), I saw a plot diagram that looked VERY familiar. Sure enough, it was from Erin Cobb's Interactive Reading Notebook. I wanted to yell, "She's my friend!" because it felt very much like I was holding celebrity swag, and I wanted to brag to the world that I knew her "way back when"... you know... before she became the TPT sensation that we all know and love today!  

Today, Erin is hosting Thursday Throwdown, where we share our strategies for making learning more interactive for our students. My contribution to this party is quite simple, but it has really been effective this year. 

I start each day with a bellringer question to review previous learning and set the stage for the new day. It's essential for me because I use this time to take attendance and chat with students about absent/late work while my class works silently on recording the bellringer in their packets. 

I have this somewhat annoying "thing" where I MUST make things pretty. Every handout I create must include an image or border of some sort. My bellringer is no exception. It's just too boring to throw up a plain powerpoint slide with nothing but a question. 

My solution? Throw in a meme. Yes, a random meme. Sometimes, I use them to make a specific point about something like this:

Other times, it's just something I find funny and want to share like this:

I have to say, since I started doing this, I've noticed that my students are MUCH more eager to get to my classroom and look at that bellringer. I find that I don't have to remind them to get started because they WANT to look at my powerpoint each day. 

It really is a simple way to share a little bit of my personality with my students without distracting from class time. And I'm all for anything that gets my kids working as soon as that bell rings!

September 1, 2014

Currently & IMWAYR

Today's post is going to be PACKED, so I'm going to go ahead and get started by linking up with Farley's Currently:

Listening - One of the benefits of my 45-60 minute commute is that I've been listening to a bunch of books in the car. In the past two weeks, I've finished the following two books:
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) - This novel did not disappoint me in any way. When journalist Camille Preaker is assigned a double murder case in her home town, she is less than enthusiastic to return to her roots where she has to spend time with her estranged mother and a dark yet charismatic half-sister she barely knows. The more she unravels about the murders, the more she finds herself identifying the the victims. She's forced to "unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past" in order to get story she was assigned. 
  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham - This was a much lighter book, even though the topic at hand is death. Seventeen year old Tessa has decided to stop fighting her Leukemia and has accepted the fact that her life will end shortly. Before she goes, though, she has decided that she wants to make sure she gets to live! This includes crossing some big items off her bucket list, including sex, drugs, and breaking as many laws as possible. She gets more than she bargained for, though, when she ends up falling in love with a boy and realizes it's much harder to face death when you have something worth living for. If you enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, this would be a good read for you! 
Loving - Three Days of sleeping in! This should be the standard! I'm still of the opinion that a 5 day work week is unnecessary and vote we make the switch to 4!

Thinking - About the great time I had at our family BBQ this weekend! Our second cousin, Bill, whom we met a few years back, invited us to his first annual BBQ on Saturday, and I went with my sister and Joel. The predicted storms held off and made for a PERFECT afternoon watching the kids (and big kids) play in the bouncy house and on a bouncy water slide.

We also got to meet several other extended family members, some who shared with us some fascinating stories about our family. My favorite is about my great-uncle Jim. He was a priest working as a missionary in Peru when was completely taken by a nun named Jean. Ultimately, they both resigned their positions so they could marry, which I think is a fabulously rebellious story! The new part of the story to me was that Jean was featured on the cover of Time Magazine back in the 60s (when she was still a nun), and I am determined to find it! How cool!

Wanting - To find our new house! Joel and I have been searching for our own place. We weighed the options and are leaning toward renting a house versus an apartment, mostly because no apartment will give us enough space to get rid of our storage unit. We found the PERFECT place last week, which was listed the day prior, but by the time the realtor called me back, they already had an application. We've got a few other options we want to see, but this is a stressful choice... especially because we don't know where we'll be working long-term. My first priority is to be close to the expressway for this reason, but of course, those homes are little more pricey. Ah!

Needing - To start grading my history tests... 200 takes a while! I brought home three classes worth over the weekend and have not yet pulled them out of my bag!

Trips - Italy, Hawaii, South Africa. This was an easy list for me. I've always wanted to do a European tour, but Italy is my number one destination. There's just so much history there, and I know I'd love the food! :) Hawaii is for obvious reasons... beaches, luaus, fruity frozen adult beverages... yes please! And South Africa has always been on my bucket list. I REALLY want to do a safari!

Also linking up with: