Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up

Robots or rhumba?   What are you in the mood for?
Play a song to let your students know that it's time to clean the room.
I can't wait to try this and see if I have any 8th graders who are brave enough to dance in the classroom.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Don't Stop Believin'

You've probably heard about PS 22's chorus by now.   It's a group of Staten Island fifth graders that sings under the direction of Mr. Gregg Breinberg.   Honestly, I can't believe it's taken me this long to mention them.   Every now and then I check their YouTube page for new performances.   Today I found the song that I'm sharing with you.   I don't keep up with the new country scene, so I'd never heard this Rascal Flatts tune before. Maybe you have.

No matter the song that the children sing, I hear the same message every time.   Children want to express themselves; they want to be heard.   Don't we all?   Different people choose different modes of expression and their desired audience varies.   Performing in a band or chorus allows this to happen in an efficient  and vibrant way.  You're rarely "on the bench" in chorus.   Everyone gets to play.   Sure, these are not their original song lyrics or composition, but you can tell that those words are what's written on their hearts at the moment.   Core content teachers, we can never underestimate the importance of arts education in our schools.   We need to protect that time for our children.

Here's the other lesson that we can all take away from PS 22.   One person can make a big difference.   I'm sure Mr. Breinberg would tell you about all of the people who pull together to make his program the best that is can be, but we know that good teaching depends on the person who's at the front of that room day in and day out when the camera's not rolling.

So you know what PS 22 has to say to you?   Check out their 2009 performance below.

Writing Contest: Life Lessons

Sharpen your pencils, writers!   Real Simple is awaiting your entry in their annual Life Lessons Essay Contest.   You may read the official rules here to get all of the details.   You have until September 12 to enter, so get reflective this summer.   Prizes are $3,000, $500 and $250 for first, second and third places.   This link will allow you to read the winning essays from last year to get an idea of what they have looked for in the past.

On a side note, I adore Real Simple.   Flipping through all of those gorgeous shots of clean, well-organized living is like inexpensive therapy for me.   It's like the same feeling I get from watching those house cleaning shows.   All of that sparkling fresh loveliness without having to lift a single vacuum.   I frequently tear pages from the magazine to use them as gift wrap and drawer liners.   Perhaps this magazine will also be a stress reducer for you.   Good luck with your essay!

Friday, June 22, 2012

That's so gay.

Funny Workplace Ecard: Thanks for teaching the age group the rest of the world can't handle. Your tolerance level for obnoxious insecurity is impressive.
If you've heard this before, you might be an 8th grade teacher.

If you teach middle school, and this is not a topic that you've had to address, good for you.   I've had to address it every year.   I talk about it in conjunction with my behavior expectations on day one.

Here's the short version of what I say to 8th graders.   In our classroom, we are here to learn.   It is my top priority that you feel safe and welcome here.   You do not have to believe all of the same things that I believe, and I can't control your behavior when I am not with you.   But we will not use labels for groups of people as insults.   Think about how many people are in this classroom and how many family members and friends we are connected to.   What are the odds that no one in here has a gay relative, friend, or is gay themselves?   Exactly.   I respect your personal opinions on the subject, but we are not going to do or say anything in here that is going to detract from anyone else's learning, safety or comfort.   You, no matter who you are, belong here.   We are here to learn.

Obviously, you would adjust the language and content to the age level that you are teaching, but that's what I feel is appropriate for my students.   Here's the tricky part.   Some kids don't get it.   What they take away from the discussion is that my teacher thinks it's bad to be gay, so that's why I shouldn't say it.   They have a hard time understanding that the insult is given to the named group, not to whatever they think is "so gay" at the moment.   If it takes them longer to catch on, be patient.   It's also appropriate to ask, "What's a better word for what you are really trying to say?"

Someone will slip up in the first month of school and say it.   This is not because they are trying to defy you.   It's because they've said it for so long that it's become a habit.   Address the issue, revisit your expectations and move on.   If it happens again, it's time for a talk in the hall, so you can make sure that the child understands you and that you understand why the behavior is continuing.   This will probably happen with one child per year, maybe.   I've never had to put pen to paper and create a discipline referral for students using language related to denigrating someone else's sexuality for incidents that happen with my students in my classroom.   

When you draw the line with 8th graders in a way that is rooted in fairness and compassion, they usually respond positively.   Remember how insecure you were in 8th grade?   What if you knew that your teacher was there to protect your heart whenever possible.   What could you have accomplished with your writing, your art, your friendships?   And what's better than being the kind of teacher who nurtures a sense of community and compassion at such an important stage in a child's development?   When you stand up for kindness on behalf of children, there is nothing to debate.

Here's more on the topic.   

Monday, June 18, 2012

Oooops Paint

You might be wondering if someone else's mistakes are worth writing about.   They are.    The oooops paint at Lowes is something to see, every time.   In short, you can usually pay about five bucks a gallon for unwanted colors.  
Put your brush in plastic wrap in between coats.  
Wear something you don't mind getting paint on because you can't worry about that while you work.

Before you continue reading, let me tell you that my taste in decor is questionable and a little on the tacky side.   My color palette is unsophisticated, but it makes me happy, and yours should too.

I don't have the best luck during winter, but spring brings out all of my favorite mistakes.   It's a bonus when the paint is the combination primer and color.   Also, don't worry about using exterior paint on furniture for inside your classroom.   All that means is that it can take more of a lickin'.

A few years ago I rescued some wooden bookcases from local thrift stores and sanded, cleaned, primed and repainted them in cool greens and blues during a Mad Men marathon.   Well, those bookcases were gone before the tornado touched down.   Our school used to host a countywide auction of unwanted school furniture, and I think my sweet shelves got mixed up in that situation while it was in the hall and the janitors waxed the classroom floor.   Dang.   Well, it really doesn't matter anyway.

But I can show you a picture of the rocking chair I just rehabilitated.   If I put it in the classroom, I'll probably have 10 broken toes by the end of the week, but it's the same five dollar color that I'm going to use for a tiny game table I found.   I just need to wait for another humidity-free painting day.   Now that I work a half a mile behind a Lowes, I think my paint collection is about to expand.

Furniture with spindles, rockers, stretchers and splats means patience. You have to move quickly and keep an eye out for drips and paint build up before it dries.   Let it dry between coats.   I painted this chair right side up first and upside down second.   That will let you see any places you missed.   I turned it right side up for a final check at the end.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Junk Drawer

I will say this for the tornado.   There's a lot less junk in my junk drawer.   It still needed my attention though.

At the end of this year, we had roughly four work days in our classroom.   Those kind of days are just what I need to help me wrap up and look forward.   I can revisit and rearrange my files.   I can make a "must have" list.   I can climb on furniture and dust.   I can listen to blues on Pandora.   I can tackle my desk drawers.

One side drawer is for confidential student information and reports.   One is for printer paper and the gardening gloves I use to open my windows until I remember a can of WD-40.  One was for office supplies, but that drawer is the official junk drawer now.

Since I use that skinny top drawer the most, I decided it needed some love.   In addition to what you see here, the top drawer is where I stash important forms that need to be read, signed and returned pronto.

All sorts of tricks will make a drawer work for you.   I bought this flatware organizer at a local Asian market in 1970s cafeteria tray green.   You can see a couple of other wooden boxes that I've picked up at a thrift store.   Some folks even slice off the bottom inches of cereal boxes to use as containers.   You can also use one of those rubber shelf liners to keep your materials from rolling around once they're in place.

I'm not done yet, but it's a start!

Rerun: Chuck Close

I have already professed my love for artist Chuck Close, but I feel the need to mention it again because he has a new book for you to enjoy.   Earlier I went on and on about Chuck Close, Up Close, but it's out of print and will therefore require an unreasonable chunk of change that you perhaps have earmarked for groceries or something else extravagant.

Well, Chuck Close: Face Book is $14 on Amazon and full of gridded gorgeousness.   Since it's a bargain compared to its out of print brother, you could spend some money on art supplies for your classroom...or for yourself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paperback Hoarders

When your school library is chock full of selections, and teachers do not have a check-out limit, you don't really need to stock a classroom library.   Page also allows children with fines to borrow leveled books, since those are purchased with grade level funds.   Basically, there's no excuse for being without a something to read.

But...if you have piles and piles of paperbacks, why not turn them into a cache of reading material for your classroom?   There's probably a store near you that allows you to do just that.   Familiarize yourself with the business first.   There might be a minimal fee for considering the books for trade.   This is a fee that you pay even if some of your books are turned away.   Determine how much credit that you get based on the book's cover price and the store's posted policy.   Is that credit limited to the same genre?   For example, say your grandmother donates all of her Harlequin Romance novels to you.   Will you only be able to choose books of the same genre?   Not exactly what you had in mind for your classroom, is it?

Once you've decided to gather up gently used paperbacks, tell your friends and family.   Maybe they want to donate a portion of their hoard to your cause.   If people have given books to your classroom that are not popular with your grade level, turn them in and switch them out.   They'll understand.

I just cleaned the shelves of all of the good young adult literature in a certain Newport News shop, so you may want to try another spot for now.

Or is it time for you to power up with some books that have nothing to do with your classroom?  There's nothing wrong with that.

One more thing before I go, what's with that kid that has library fines all year long?   I mean, you take your students every two weeks just so that doesn't happen, right?   Psssst...if your library doesn't allow kids with fines to take a book home with them, I'd be willing to bet that kid does not want to read.   Don't let cash stand in the way of quite-possibly-the-best-book-ever.   Make a plan to block all of his/her attempts to avoid reading early.   Build in some success with the most irresistible books you know.  

Friday, June 8, 2012


Sunflowers in Toano.

Yeehaw!   It's summer around these parts.   Are you tending a garden?   So far ours has been generous with dill, sage, basil and onions.   We also have a transplanted fig tree that's getting its bearings and some new potted lavender to cheer up the view from the back door.   The hydrangea and gardenia I planted a few years ago are finally looking like they're at home.   Forsythia is spreading like wildfire, and that pesky blackberry root living under the front porch that always finds a way back is sending forth new growth.   The tomato plants are releasing their unique hot, green, spicy scent and the pepper plants are trying to keep up.

Even if you're not digging in the dirt, Mr. Rogers will tell you that "it's good to grow things in the garden of your mind."   I know it's vacation time for many of you, but I'll bet you're already thinking about turning over some of last year's soil and improving the harvest for next season.   This song will make you feel good about all of that and about the joy of helping others grow ideas of their own.