Saturday, December 17, 2011

You May Daydream of SugarPlum Fairies

....or, if you're a teacher, you may daydream of the tiniest inkling of a HINT of appreciation from your students. Ever. But especially as you roll into the holidays and Christmas break. dear sweet friends, I got that on Friday. All of my trials and tribulations from the past five months were validated on Friday at school with my gremlins (and I do hope that at this point you realize I'm using that term most affectionately).

This past week was the last week before a glorious fortnight in which teachers and students alike loll around like slovenly heathens who don't have to work for a living. Or whatever it is you like to do during winter break....

Thus, I had three trying days of instruction/Midterm review on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, followed by a Thursday and Friday consisting of Midterm exam administration. Thursday was for Part 1: Reading, and Friday was reserved for Part 2: Writing.

For me, this week posed two challenges, and they were: First, what do I do for my students for Christmas, if anything? Lord knows teachers are financially challenged, but I didn't want to send them off into the holidays completely empty-handed. Second, if I get them anything, what day do I carve out 30 minutes of time to give them their presents where it would not interfere with Midterm review or actually taking the Midterm?

The easier part was choosing what to give them. I decided to make every student I teach a "paper plate award." Paper plate awards are exactly what they sound like. Paper plates, decorated by yours truly, that celebrate some quirk or talent of each individual student. They take a good little chunk of time to make, because you first have to go through all of your rosters and concoct an individualized, specific "award" for each student......and then you actually have to decorate the paper plates.

I then decided that if I hammer in Midterm review for two and a half days straight, I could reserve the end of my class period on Wednesday for paper plate award dissemination.

Now, I like to get UBER specific with my paper plate awards. None of this generic "Class Clown" or "Most Improved" or "Most Likely to Succeed" bullshit.

No. My paper plate ceremony included such prestigious awards as:

"Most Steptastic (but NO you are not at Step practice you are in ELA!) Award"
"Most Likely to try to use his charm to get out of trouble Award"
"Most Likely to make me forget I'm talking to a 14 year old because you're so mature Award"
"Most Entertaining Explanations for why he is out of his seat at any given time Award"
"Most Random Question-Asker Award"
"Breath of Fresh Air Award" (for those THANK THE LORD students who are literally "breaths of fresh air" among their rowdy classmates)
"Most Reliable Participator Award"

You get the point. I gave a short "build up" speech before I presented each award to create anticipation and let my students kind of guess who it was going to be. I don't know if it was more fun for them or for me.

When Thursday and Friday rolled around, I knew that two days straight of test taking was going to be almost more than they could bear, so I was glad I had given the awards (and given them an academic break) on Wednesday.

This is the message I displayed on my SmartBoard for students about what were acceptable post-exam behaviors and activities:


1. Read a book.
2. Work on a Double Entry Journal.
3. Work on any late or missing assignments you have for my class.

5. Write an extra-credit Parody or Double Entry Journal.
6. Do a crossword puzzle or word search (on the back table).
7. Study for another exam.
8. NOT wander around the room.
10. Daydream about sugarplum fairies and candy canes.

11. Write an explanation for why Star Wars is the greatest movie ever made.

13. Write a story about a far away fantasy land where students never have to take midterms.
14. Write an explanation for why Lord of the Rings is the greatest movie ever made.

15. OH----OR NOT TALK."

As you can see, they had plenty of options for activities to occupy their time when they finished my exam.

You may have inferred that some of these options were placed on the board in a half-joking manner. Therefore, imagine my surprise when one of my fourth block students ACTUALLY WROTE AN EXPLANATION FOR WHY STAR WARS IS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE, albeit he tweaked it slightly.

This was, hands down, the single greatest piece of student writing I have received in my teaching career to date. It was so awesome that I will now provide a picture and a complete transcription of the written piece.

"Star Wars has got to be the second greatest movie ever made. With that being said, Lord of the Rings has to be the best movie in the history of movie making. Sure, Star Wars is a combination of action, adventure, and science fiction, but Lord of the Rings has all of my favorite genres-- action, adventure, fantasy, and drama. On top of that, Lord of the Rings has a way better story line than Star Wars. I would rather watch a noble quest while battling creatures than space dudes fighting for the galaxy. Also, the Jedi have got to be the biggest hypocrites in space. They are always talking about bringing peace to the galaxy while they are carrying weapons and slicing dudes arms off. The Brotherhood of the Ring at least are honorable enough to die for their land. The Jedi just send out their clones to do their dirty work for them. Just because there are unlimited amounts of them doesn't mean they don't have feelings. With all that being said, Lord of the Rings has got to be the best movie ever made."

Oh. My. God.

You sir, get an A! I don't even care that you called it the "brotherhood" instead of the "fellowship" of the ring. YOU ARE MY NEW FAVORITE STUDENT EVER.

Do I seriously get paid to be in charge of a classroom where students write me EPIC SHIT like this because they know how much I love Lord of the Rings??

And of the reasons that teaching is the best job on the planet.

As aforementioned, Friday was the last school day before break. I was fully expecting 1 or 2 notes or "Merry Christmas-es" from some of my sweetheart students. However, I was absolutely NOT expecting all of the thoughtful letters, well-wishes, and gifts I received on Friday...

Please note the TWO 2-liters of Diet Coke.....from 2 different students..... They know me too well.

My favorite thing about Friday was not that I received gifts from my students--I definitely didn't need anything tangible from them. It was the tiny bit of confirmation that everything I've been trying to accomplish or the relationships I've been trying to form with them since August have not been completely in vain. Small victories.

Another 4th block student crafted her own "award" for me. The "Dang I need a Diet Coke, Y'all!" Award..........Apparently I say that phrase entirely too often if this student thinks I deserve a personalized award for it.

There were many hugs exchanged in the hallway outside my classroom door after the end-of-day bell rang on Friday, and I daresay I will actually miss those little gremlins until January 2nd.

Do I become frustrated with, complain about, and become baffled by my 14-year-olds on a daily basis? Maybe.

Do I have the best classes in the world? Oh HELL yes.

happy holidays yall :)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A List of Positives

During one of my recent trips down the StumbleUpon rabbit hole, I came upon one of those hokey "better yourself" articles that advised readers to make a "list of positives" about their life or career. Normally, my reaction to an article of this nature would be to hit the stumble button immediately, but because I'm nearing the end of my first semester of teaching 8th grade and experiencing the mental and physical fatigue that accompanies it, I decided to give it a go.

Here is my list of positives.

1. I am out of grad school and receive an actual, real-person paycheck every two weeks.

I'm not sure when the excitement that I experience on the 15th and 30th of the month goes away, but I don't think it will be anytime soon. I now have the liberty of treating myself to things such as Tervis tumblers whenever my heart desires, unlimited supplies of Raid cans, more black shirts to accompany the 57 black shirts I already own because I'm obsessed with black shirts, Cab Sauv that's nicer than 4 dollar Fisheye, and new bath mats when mine seem gross because I'm too lazy to actually try to clean them. And the best part? Not having to justify seemingly ridiculous or unnecessary purchases to anyone! What? You think buying 6 Raid cans at a time is excessive? Doesn't matter anymore! Positive.

2. I have the most entertaining job on the planet.

As you probably know, I teach 8th grade. I know people use this phrase to describe things at an alarmingly cliche frequency, but there is literally never. a. dull. moment. when you teach 8th grade. The other day, I had a student raise his hand in the middle of a lesson on extended metaphor and ask, out of the blue, "Ms. Townes, can a person be a girl and a boy at the same time?" I could not make this shit up.

My students "open my eyes" every single day, and not in the cheesy way you're thinking. Through teaching them, I've learned that.....Yes, you do actually have to say, out loud, that it is NOT okay to make a public display of farting in class. It is NOT okay to write "Shamika has mad swagg, yo" on the Smartboard while I'm working one on one with another student. It is NOT okay to tell your teacher that if she would just get a boyfriend or a husband, she probably wouldn't be such a big fat jerk. (True stories.)

So yes, my job provides me never-ending entertainment in the form of 8th grade drama, baggage, academic confusion, and general unexpected events. All 6 of the teachers on my team were grateful we made it through 4th block on Friday after our hallway looked like a scene straight out of Mean Girls at class-change between 3rd and 4th block, complete with verbal threats, weave-pulling, attempts at physical attacks, and shying just short of a circle of students screaming "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!"

As a coworker often says..."8th graders....A work in progress." Positive.

3. I have an enormous, quirky, awesome family.

I know everyone says that their family is the best. We are all incredibly biased towards our own kin. I have the good fortune of having an immediate family of 7, plus 2 wonderful sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews they've spawned, and a wide array of unique extended family members. As a collective group, we are inappropriate, politically incorrect, brazen, blunt, and crude. I realize those don't exactly sound like positive attributes, but I maintain that they absolutely are. We're like the Greek side of the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. You know, the awesome, drunken side? Our family increases in number even more when you factor in that we creepily treat our three goldendoodles like humans. Oh, and the dogs enjoy getting drunk as well. Positive.

4. I can drink wine and watch How I Met Your Mother and Criminal Minds way more often than is socially acceptable.

Hypothetical situation: My kids acted insane that school day. Because of that, I left school at 3:45pm, went home, poured a glass of Merlot (at 3:45pm), and engaged in a 6 hour marathon of DVR-ed How I Met Your Mother episodes.
Is this something that I should proudly admit in this internet forum? Probably not.

Are these activities that I can feel free to participate in and not feel guilty about because I pay my own rent and have my own job and don't have a paper due for grad school and I will lose my sanity if I don't partake in? Yes. Positive.

5. I have the opportunity to be a staunch advocate for nerds.

This one probably sounds weird. It stems from the fact that, again, I teach 8th graders. Therefore, I unfortunately witness firsthand the evil that is bred in a middle school environment; namely, bullying. I preach to my students the benefits and general awesomeness that comes with knowing and loving stories such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. My students make fun of me for this daily, and that is just fine. I own it and I love it.

What I don't own and love? Students making fun of each other. For any reason at all. I was never an active member of the super popular crowd in middle and high school, and I liked it that way. I did not like those groups of people when I WENT to school with them, and it is truly a beautiful thing to not have to tolerate that kind of behavior in teaching them. I tell my students outright that that kind of disgusting behavior is intolerable in my classroom, and work very hard to be constantly vigilant of it, and when I can, put a stop to it. Positive.

6. I can cheer myself up by hanging out with people of the canine variety whenever I want.

Please note that I said "people" of the canine variety. That's right....dogs. Can we all agree to the general consensus that dogs are freaking awesome? They are natural anti-depressants in furry, tail-wagging, unnaturally-always-happy form.

I get my regular dose of canine-endorphines in 1 of 2 ways. The first way....I drive the 1.5 hours up to Steve and Suz's house in Greenville, where I am ecstatically greeted by Dixie, Ginger, and of course, my freak of nature Stella. The second way.....I make a 10 minute drive from my apartment to a little place called Pets, Inc, off highway 20 in Lexington. There, I can take potential adoptees on walks and almost go home with 6 different new pets on any given day. Positive.

How can anyone be upset with the world when they look at a face like this?

Not this girl!

I realize this blog is a bit of a departure from my usual style, but with Christmas coming and all that sappy BS, It's somewhat refreshing to sit here and think about the awesome in my life.

I'm going to try and keep this positive attitude up as my students file in for 1st block in about 10 hours, but we'll see what they have in store for me instead. My guess is that it will involve random hatred for me and my subject matter, massive life-ending drama with a best friend, and hair weave-scattering across my classroom floor.

The positive? Two more weeks until Christmas break. :)

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