Monday, June 26, 2017

Almost Halfway...

We got home from Chicago last night and I crashed. Hard. Last week I was home one and a half days out of seven. Crazy, but my only busy part of the summer. The days leading to that week found me working on my Scholastic presentation, purchasing books to give away, and then just the ordinary daily turmoil of being a mom to teens, trying to get caught up.

And now? The next forty-eight (yep, I counted them) days stretch out before me. Yes, I will still have to run kids to practices or games. Yes, I still need to figure out how to tear out some lilac bushes, how to fence in the yard for two pups, etc., etc. conferences, no vacations, no travel.

I'd be lying to say I wasn't a little bit excited about that. Or maybe a lot.

The last five summers have seen me attending at least two conferences a summer. Sometimes as many as five. I found myself rejuvenated in some ways - seeing friends inspires me. I also found myself completely exhausted when school began. I was jealous of friends who looked relaxed. I wondered what I was doing wrong. This summer I decided to flip that.

My friend Colby calls this his summer of saying no. Without knowing that, I was doing the same. No to many worthwhile conferences I wanted to go to. No to extra trips or vacations with family and/or friends when it would make my schedule too crazy. No, no, no.

You know what? It feels good.

I do have some #FOMO (fear of missing out) when looking at ILA, NerdCamp, ALA, All Write, etc. I really do love learning. But, I need some time off. I need to walk my dogs, swim laps, read books, and *maybe* write something that's in my head. Quite frankly, I need to breathe.

So, I have forty-eight days left. The end is coming closer and closer each day. I'm going to soak up this time for all its worth and then face the new school year ready to begin. I cannot wait. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Scholastic Summit 2017

And I'm back.The Scholastic Reading Summit was amazing. Seriously, if you haven't attended one, make it a goal. (Register HERE) For less than $200 (around $170, if I remember correctly), you get an optional breakfast with Mr. Schu as he shares his love of books, an opening and closing keynote (Chicago had Kwame Alexander and Kate DiCamillo), a morning and afternoon session with great teachers and authors, lunch, an afternoon snack, and a bag filled with several books and some research on reading. How awesome is that? AND there is a book fair where you can buy books. Seriously. There are four left this year, though one is sold out, I do believe. 

While preparing my presentation made me nervous leading up to the Summit, once I got there it was like coming home. The Scholastic employees rock. This is my third year going. The first year I went as an attendee. The last two years I've presented. I can say that as an attendee and as a presenter, the employees are always looking out to make sure you are well cared for. What wonderful people. 

We needed to arrive Tuesday night to go over the schedule for Wednesday. After that, it was time to catch up with amazing friends I hadn't seen since NCTE this past November. I love getting to see them, hear about the wonderful stuff they are doing in their classrooms, and talk about some books. 

Wednesday dawned early. I headed to Starbucks, then the breakfast. John Schumacher (Mr. Schu) is always fabulous. He showed all of us how he lives a life passionate about books. What a blessing he is. At the breakfast, and throughout the conference, I got to meet so many folks that read this blog, follow Choice Literacy and/or Nerdy Book Club. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your kind words.

At that point, it was time for my session. I headed to the room and the butterflies began. Funnily enough, once the room filled, the Scholastic folks that were taking care of me said it was time to begin, and the butterflies left. It was probably the most comfortable I have ever felt presenting. I had left myself a giant note near my computer to tell me when I was halfway through (45 minutes) and what slide I should be on. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was at the 45 minute mark and was going far too slow! I sped up and kept rolling, finishing my last slide at the 90 minute mark. Phew! The folks that attended were so sweet. Many came up to share something that resonated with them, made them cry, or just what they enjoyed. As a person who doesn't do this presenting gig that often, I really do appreciate that. (My presentation is HERE if you want to see it.)
After lunch I joined Donalyn Miller, Jessica Lifschitz, and Dr. Zipporah Hightower for an Independent Reading Panel. In the crowd were former colleagues that I was delighted to see and good friends that I get to catch up with at conferences. It was so much fun.

To end the day John Schu interviewed Kate DiCamillo. I had to duck out early to try and beat some of the traffic home. I hated to do that because Kate's new picture book that is coming out this October, La La La: A Story of Hope was likely part of the conversation. I just read a friend's advanced copy of this on Tuesday night and loved it. It is beautiful!

Now I'm home, surrounded by dogs, and grateful for the experience that was the Reading Summit once again. What a fabulous two days. 

PS - quick note. If you are on Twitter, check out @benandbeccalee for some fabulous pictures from the Summit. There are some that really capture the look and feel of the whole day there. Enjoy!

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/19 Summer Reading Plans

Lordy, I'm falling off the blogging wagon. It's 6/19 and this is my third blog post of the month. Oops! I haven't been doing much writing in general. I've done a lot of reading. A lot of dog-walking. Some laps have been swum. Lunches with friends. Shopping trip with my mom. Nights out with folks I haven't seen in awhile. Summer has been good. 

This week is a bit crazy, my craziest of the summer. I head up to the Scholastic Reading Summit tomorrow, the Summit is Wednesday. Then it is time to head home for a day, then a weekend trip with family. Liam has a basketball tournament today through Wednesday as well. And then? July stretches out with nada on the schedule. I am so excited about that, I can't even describe it.

At any rate, summer reading means summer #bookaday. My goal is the equivalent of one book a day for the summer, which is 81 books. Today's the 19th (and yes, I had to look that up. Love summer and loosing track of the days) which means I should be around 26 books. I'm ahead of the game right now at 41. Here's what I've read:

I've got two main goals with summer reading: read the books I haven't gotten to that are sitting on my shelves AND fill in some of my reading gaps. One of those, I found while teaching middle school this year, is romance books. Man alive, I had a large group looking for romance books. My response of, "Do you count Divergent? I mean Four..." was met with skeptical looks. I should understand, that was all I wanted to read from around 7th-11th grade, but I haven't read much since. So, I'm reading some "kissy books" as my friends Tony and Colby like to call them. Of late, I've found several great ones. Some might be too mature for my readers, or for the start of the year 7th graders, but many of them are fabulous. 

How's your summer reading going? Hope you've found some great books! And if you're coming to the Summit in Chicago, see you soon! 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Scholastic Summit Chicago - Slide OCD

Next Tuesday I will be heading up to Chicago for the Scholastic Reading Summit. Tuesday night will be for polishing up some final things and then Wednesday is presentation day. It will be at that moment that I will wish for a cloning device or Hermione Granger's Time Turner. I mean, have you seen everyone that will be there? I don't even know the schedule, but I know there will be amazing friends presenting when I am in the morning and I will wish I could see them too. I know that in the afternoon session I will have many sessions I want to attend, but only one I can get to. Such riches, but such a great problem to have.

My current problem, however, at almost a week out, is a condition that two of my friends call slide OCD. See, I created my slides for my portion of the presentation two weeks ago. Possibly I was too ahead of the game because that gave me time to think. And wonder. And decide I needed to add just one slide, and then another, and another, until I'm currently looking at 79 slides for a 90 minute presentation. Ugh.

But beyond the slide issue, and the fact that speaking in public makes me unbelievably nervous, I'm happy with my presentation. I ran through it tonight to see how much I needed to cut and I began to tear up about four times. I doubt that would happen during the presentation, but I'm just so proud of these kids. It's been three weeks since I last stood in my classroom with my students and I miss them. Don't get me wrong, I still have many days of summer left and no desire to speed it along, but I love my seventh graders. I like the people they are and the people they are becoming. I'm excited to share our journey into connecting through audience as readers, as writers, and what impact that has on my students. I can't wait to share the tools we use to make those connections. And I'm also excited to learn from the people who attend - to find out what ideas they have and apply some when I see my new group of students next fall. I'm already thinking about them and getting excited for the new adventures that await. 

And most of all, I'm excited to talk books. I always bring a few books that connect to my presentation, share my love for them, and give them away to the folks that were kind enough to come spend the morning with me. After much deliberation, here are the books I'm sharing this year:



If you are in the Chicago area, there is still time to register for the Summit if you haven't. Just head over HERE. And if you aren't in the Chicago area, no problem. There might be a Summit near you. Hope to see some of you in Chicago! 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Stocking a Seventh Grade Classroom Library

New classroom, last summer.
Last year at this time I clearly remember looking around my new seventh grade classroom and feeling overwhelmed. I had just packed up my fifth grade classroom and had gone through every single book in the 3000+ collection, debating what to leave behind and what should come with me. My goal had been to sort out at least 1000 books to leave for the new teacher taking over for me in fifth grade. She was younger and I wanted to set her up for success. As my fifth graders and I sorted, I texted colleagues in middle school - should I take Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing? (no) Should I take the Amulet graphic novel series? (yes) It was hard. It wasn't a sort on reading level as much as it was on interest level of seventh graders. When my students were done, I had left over 1500 books behind.
Fifth grade library packed up.
Sitting in my new classroom I was overwhelmed by the lack of shelf space, the decision on how to organize, but also this new age group I needed to purchase books for. When I began to consider seventh grade, I thought of my son who had just finished that grade level. He was still young at times, but at other times he was a true teen. He switched between middle grade books and young adult as one might switch channels. I knew I needed a balance of both in the room.

Fast forward to the present. After spending a year in seventh grade, I am fascinated by the difference in fifth and seventh grade readers. In fifth grade kids will try to read YA at times. (Divergent, Hunger Games, etc.) I often would try and get them to wait. Once they begin reading YA, they really wouldn't go back to middle grade books. I would grieve for all of the books written so clearly for ten and eleven year olds that they were missing out on.

Seventh graders do not leave middle grade behind because they are also reading YA. In fact, not only did they shift between maturity levels easily, it was also common for a student to be finishing up a YA book one day, reading a graphic novel the next, and supplementing both with a handful of picture books. It was refreshing.

The biggest struggle I had this year was which YA books to put in the classroom. Romance? Violence? How did I decide what fit in a seventh grade classroom and what didn't? 

First, I read the book. Which I would think would be common sense, but maybe not. I needed to know the books anyway to help kids make selections, but especially in YA, I knew I needed to read them. I looked on Titlewave to see what ages the reviews indicated for the books, and I made my own assumptions of what I thought 7th graders were ready for. With two sons - one in 6th, one in 8th, I knew the age pretty well.

What I discovered this year is that kids do an excellent job self-censoring. When I would book talk a YA book, I would always say if I felt it was more mature and why. I would also give a book that it reminded me of. No one was required to read any specific book, but it helped kids to make decisions. I know even at the end of the school year a boy in one class picked a book I had in fifth grade, but was probably more of a 6th/7th grade book. There were a few story lines in it that I wasn't sure about for him. I stopped by, asked him what he thought so far, and he told me he wanted to try it, but wasn't sure if it was a good fit or not. I told him to let me know if he had questions, but he would be able to decide as he read. The next day he quietly returned it to the shelf and grabbed another book instead. He made the decision for himself. 

As a parent I'm a big believer in letting my children read whatever they are comfortable with. There are books Luke and Liam have read that have pushed the boundaries as to what's reviewed for their age level, but I would much rather them read about it, ask questions, and think things through then encounter something for the first time in real life and be thrown for a loop. We've had great discussions over the books they've read, and others they've read and not talked about with me at all, which is their right. (I'm looking at you, Downside of Being Up.
The seventh grade library at the end of the year.
As a teacher, I work really hard to put books into our classroom library with purpose. I pick books that I feel will be the perfect book for a seventh grader - but not every seventh grader. At the beginning of the year I was worried if I would know which books were a good fit for our classroom and which weren't. It turned out to be easier than I thought. If you look at our classroom library now there are books that are mature, and books that you'd find in a fourth grade classroom. There are picture books, graphic novels, novels, and nonfiction throughout the room. There are books to read when you are having a bad day and books to make you dream. Seventh graders do have one foot still in childhood and one in the world of young adult, but they don't get there in a single step. I think that the lives of a sixth grader through at least ninth grader are made up of steps over that line into adulthood and then several back into childhood, over and over again. They make that final leap when they are ready. Our libraries need to reflect that as well. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Can You Teach Resilience?

This morning I read this post when a friend linked it on Facebook. While it's over a year old, I'd guess it is still relevant. I looked at it as both a parent and a teacher. As I drove my youngest son to basketball this morning, I told him he was on his own to get to the pool and back this afternoon. It's about a mile each way, so I think he can handle it. 

He was not thrilled. 

This alone made me pause and reflect on what I've been teaching him if he thinks my summer should be spent as his Uber driver.

I digress.

Coming home I read the article linked above. Reading item three, I thought back over this school year. There are several students who I still feel like I failed. They are perfectly capable of doing the work, but cannot manage their assignments. I reminded them daily of the work they were missing in all subjects, not just mine. They managed to finish up seventh grade, but where will that land them in the future? They still cannot organize themselves. 

And I worry.

Growing up, I know things were different. I did not tell my parents about every kid who was mean to me, or even every teacher, and expect them to fix it. Life was not perfect, but you figured out how to roll with the punches. Looking over this article I can't help but remember my first year in college. I went out of state to a university in the south. I hated it. For a variety of reasons I wanted to transfer within the first seven weeks of school. I knew this was not my place. My parents requested, fairly, that I make it through the first year and transfer for my sophomore year. 


I knew I needed to transfer at the semester. This was not the place for me. So, I sold plasma to get a Greyhound bus ticket home. I called (days before email, folks) the community college in the nearby city to my hometown. I made an appointment with an advisor. I called the university in that same town. Made an appointment with that advisor. 

A few days later, unbeknownst to my parents, I took the Greyhound six hours home, met with the university advisor, asked about transferring and showed him the courses I had taken so far. He explained I could transfer in as a junior. (They didn't accept students until then.) I asked what courses I would need to be prepared. He gave me a list. 

I took a city bus across town, met with the advisor of the local community college. Gave that advisor the list of classes I needed for the next three semesters, enrolled myself for the spring semester of my freshman year, and caught the Greyhound back to the university I was currently attending. 

And I called my parents. I informed them what I had done and where I would be attending school come January. I explained that I knew I was in the wrong place and didn't want to wait another four months to keep making the same mistake. While they didn't completely understand why I had to switch schools, they supported me.

Looking back, I'm amazed at how stubborn I was at the age of 18. I'm also floored that I went to three different schools and still managed to graduate in four years. 

I can also see resilience. 

My life was pretty blessed in most respects. I never had to worry about having my needs met. My family was awesome. But what I think I really benefited from was high expectations and the lesson that you make your own life. If things weren't going the way I wanted, I was expected to fix it. This was never fully expressed, but shown by example. 

It made an impression.

I worry about the kids growing up now. I think they have more potential than anyone who has come before. Yet, I hate seeing us (me included) not holding them accountable for their own actions. Not making them figure out their own way out. I worry about so many things for these kids - social media, reliance on technology, not to mention participation ribbons and trophies. I want them to feel value in themselves because they've worked hard, not just because they show up. 

Resilience is important. I'm not sure how to teach it, beyond how my parents did, by example. Adults often say, "Kids these days...", but I don't think they are the ones creating the problem. We are, right? 

I don't know what the answers are, but I'm going to keep looking for them.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Is Here!

Memorial Day always makes me feel that summer is officially here, although I know the actual date isn't for several weeks. Many years I'm still in school when Memorial Day roles around. This year, with no snow days, we got out last Wednesday. We head back to school on August 14th, the 16th for students. I am ready to soak up all of the days at home between now and then. 

I've had several posts rolling around in my brain so I thought I'd just do a post about "summer" and hit everything at once. 

Scholastic Reading Summit
I'm excited to be a part of the Scholastic Reading Summit again this year. I will be presenting at the summit in Chicago on June 21st. I'm talking about the importance of audience for my middle school readers and writers. 

I'll also have a few book giveaways throughout including a copy of Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I'm thrilled that the publisher agreed to send me a copy to give one lucky attendee. My copy has been passed student to student and it was one that I felt like I must talk about this summer. If you are in the area, I highly recommend you come. It is a great conference! 

Summer #bookaday
I read a lot during the school year, but the summer is another level. I do read some books for adults, but most of the books are geared at my students. First, I love these books too. Second, this is where I can soak up recommendations for next year. My goal is always a book a day. While that seems high, that includes picture books, graphic novels, novels, etc. So far we've had five days of summer and I've read fifteen books. From my count, we have 80 days of summer, so I still have quite a way to go. I share many of the books I'm reading on Instagram. Many of my students follow me there. Whether or not they read what I read, it is a daily reminder that I am reading and hope they are too. Here's what I've read so far...

Summer Responsibilities

I share this here because people always ask me about it - how do I get my boys to read all summer? I don't share this to say that what we do is the "right" way, it just works for us. To understand this, you might need to know that I will avoid confrontation at all costs. I like peace, I don't want to nag, I don't want to argue. So, for the past seven years my boys have a daily list that has to be done each day. Once that's done, they can park themselves in front of video games for the rest of the day and I won't argue. Their "jobs" are variations of this:
  • Read 30 minutes
  • Some type of exercise (at this age, and due to their sports, they run 2+ miles each day except Sundays)
  • Something to help the house - water plants, sweep, etc.
  • Ensure their room is not a disaster and the first floor of the house is picked up of their stuff.
When they were younger, the list was very specific. Now, it is vague. They know what it is. When they were younger the list had to be done before they played any video games. Now it is done before lunch. We will officially begin tomorrow, the first few days of summer were just to relax, as was mine. But because this is the expectation, they've already begun exercising. Liam finished Harry Potter #5, Luke has flown through a stack of graphic novels. Since this has been the rule forever, they just know. (The cleaning part does require more reminders at times...) 

It works for us.

And I shared our high school reading assignment on Facebook today and many friends asked me about it. I actually love our high school assignment - there are lists to choose from, but really they just ask the kids to read two books over the summer. Two books. Our middle school doesn't have a formal assignment, but I shared with my seventh graders the HS website. They were all shocked to see that they had read so many books off of the recommended lists already. I hope my students will remember this and read this summer. They will be so much farther ahead come fall if they do. 

And that's our summer - a conference, reading, relaxing, and spending time together. I purposefully scheduled a summer with very little that I had to do this year. My boys have crazy schedules of practices and events, but my schedule has Scholastic and a weekend away with my family, otherwise I am home. You know what? It might be the thing I am looking forward to the most this year. Rest, relax, and recharge. I hope you get the time to do that too. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

And that's a wrap...

Wednesday finished up my 21st year in teaching, 19th in public schools, 17th in my district, and 1st year in middle school. To say I love the middle school students would be a colossal understatement. I love their humor, their honesty, their vulnerability. These kids are real, and you better be too or they will have no time for you.

As I have in the past at fifth grade, I asked my students to make a poster of how many books they read this year in middle school. We talked about how many of them knew the amount they read was higher, but hadn't kept up on their running list. We talked about how there is no comparison of their numbers with their peers because some kids count picture books, some don't. Some students read exclusively loooooooong novels, others fly through graphic novels. The one thing I wanted them to reflect on was their life as a reader for this year in seventh grade. All three classes, and every student, felt they had grown a lot in the past year and their reflections they turned in would support that. 

So, here they are, my beautiful seventh grade group, now eighth graders. These seventy-two kids read 2925 books this year. I'm on day two of summer and I already miss them. I love that I will get to see them next year in the building. I can't wait to see what they accomplish next. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Need Advice - One Book, One School

Reaching out to friends that have more experience than me. Yesterday was our last day of school for the year. Of course, that means I started thinking about next year. I went home yesterday and saw the trailer for Wonder.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I still remember reading this book. The class that just became Juniors yesterday in our district were in my fifth grade class. I did a Donor's Choose project at the end of the school year so that we could read it together and they could have their own copies. I knew then that this book was special and could inspire children everywhere. I was right.

Now, the movie is coming out in the fall. From what I've seen, I think it looks amazing. So.... I began dreaming. 

I've never participated in a one book, one school program, but if there was a book made for that, it would be Wonder. The potential I can see for this book being read by almost 400 students and teachers in our middle school this fall, for kicking off the year with the message of #choosekind, well, I think it would be amazing. 

Where you come in is that I have no idea how people do this. If you have any experience, please either weigh in below or contact me. What I'm wondering is: 

How do you get 400 copies of a book? 
Did you have kids purchase them?
Did the school?
Did you do a fundraiser? Donors Choose or what?
What else did you do beyond reading the book together. 

My mind is whirling, but I'm grateful to mull this over as I relax at home this summer. Yay for some time off and thanks for any advice. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

There are authors that are an integral part of our classroom. Laurel Snyder was one such author in my fifth grade classroom, and now my seventh grade classroom as well. One student described her writing as honest. To my middle school students, that's important. This year I was conferring with one child about Laurel's Bigger Than a Bread Box. They were describing why they loved it so and then paused, flipped back to the beginning, pointed to a scene where the main character, Rebecca, must get in a car with her mom and brother. They are leaving her father who stands outside the car, crying, begging them not to go. My student pointed at that scene, tapped it, and whispered, "She gets it." 

Laurel's writing wraps tendrils of stories around my students as they read, not letting go once they are done. Her books speak to their hearts and souls in a way that they absolutely treasure. Her new book, Orphan Island, is one that does just that. I brought the advanced copy in this past November and so many children have read it since then that it is literally falling apart. 

Here we have a remote island where a group of nine children live on their own. I was obsessed with the Swiss Family Robinson as a kid and this book spoke to those memories perfectly. These nine children aren't sure how they came to live on the island, they only know that everything is perfect there. They are fed, there are structures built for living by those who came before. Every need is taken care of and it's a happy life - you only have to abide by one rule. Once a year a canoe arrives with a young child in it. That child will come to live on the island and the oldest member of the island will leave in the same canoe. They aren't sure where the canoe takes them, only that it is time to go. The next oldest child will become the Elder on the island, teaching the new child how to adapt until it is there turn to leave. This is the rule and this is how life is. Until it's Jinny's year.

Orphan Island opens with the arrival of the canoe. Deen, Jinny's best friend and the current elder, must leave in it. Ess, the new member and Jinny's responsibility for the year, gets out and Deen gets in, although Jinny begs him to stay. With her best friend gone, Jinny is lost for much of the year, trying to figure out how to raise a child and deal with her own morning of growing up herself. It isn't until her canoe arrives that Jinny's internal struggle becomes apparent not only to herself, but the other kids on the island. 

I've been mulling over why my students have connected so deeply to this book this year. I think it's because many of my seventh graders find themselves exactly where Jinny is - one foot is left in childhood, the other stepping squarely into there teenage years and beyond. Seventh graders are ready to play with toys one moment, and craft the perfect photo for social media the next. They are in a state of constant conflux, living in two worlds and figuring out where they belong. They know it's time to move forward, but they often look back to their younger years, longing for a time when everything felt safe, known.

Orphan Island will be released on May 30th of this year. If you haven't read it yet, remedy this immediately. I will be purchasing replacement copies for my classroom because I have a feeling that next year's seventh graders will see themselves in Jinny too. This book is one we will treasure for years to come.

Schedule for Blog Tour

May 15: LibLaura5

May 20: Book Monsters

Sunday, May 21, 2017

And Just Like That, It's Over

No, not the school year, yet. Wednesday is our final day of school. Yesterday our middle school track season came to a close. I think if I was a teacher of middle school students, but not a parent of two of them, I might not understand the implications of this. Sports are just sports, right? Over the years I've heard many teachers, and parents, comment that they think student athletes get too much attention, sports has too much emphasis in our schools, etc.

I couldn't disagree more.

No, sports are not the pinnacle of one's life. As I've told my boys often, school is their priority. I've also told them that life is long and that how you do on a sports team - at any age - won't be your greatest achievement. That being said, my boys have gained immeasurable gifts from the teams they've been on.

Three years ago Luke joined the track team as a sixth grader. Sixth graders compete for seventh grade spots, so he really only got the chance to throw discus and shot at our home meets. Last year he decided to begin running as well. We were surprised to see that he was good at it and he headed to State to run the 400. He did well and got 13th, if memory serves. This year he switched to the 800 and still made it back to State. While he didn't get in the top 8 spots, which was his goal, he got 12th and shaved almost 4 seconds off his time - 2:10.8. I reminded him that to be 12th in our state as a runner is huge. He nodded.

When we got home I noticed that he was a bit quieter than usual. Asking if he was bummed that he didn't place where he wanted he commented it was more that the season - and middle school track - was over. It was my turn to nod, and step away before the tears came on.

Middle school has come to a close for Luke all too quickly. These three years have absolutely flown by. As he made that comment, memories flashed through my mind - some involving school, yes, but more involving moments outside of school. I could picture his baby face in 6th grade when he joined track, his first school sport. The basketball team in 7th grade. His crazy coach that had as much energy as one of the kids. Their exuberance in making it all to way to State that year. The time he would spend after track practice was long over with his throwing coach, working on getting the shot put to fly just a bit farther. Running through the fields on Cross Country this year. Standing and shaking the hands of the kids behind him as he won sectionals. And now, his last day as a middle school athlete is done.

By the time he and his brother are finished with high school in our town, I'm sure I will have racked up countless hours spent as a spectator for them - in sports, band, and more. But the lessons they have gained from their teammates, coaches, opponents, and learning their own drive is something that cannot be measured. Yes, sports are important - all extracurricular events are. They help kids discover who they truly are. They teach them life lessons. They help form unbreakable bonds. I will morn for a moment the times that have already passed, but I can't wait to see what the future has in store for my boys. I will also remember when my students come in from a loss, or at the end of the season, the weight of that on their hearts and, I hope, treat them with the kindness my boys have had many times over.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Learning from my Middle School Students

Facebook has a feature that I both love and hate. The "On this Day" app reminds you of what you've posted in the previous years on the same date. Through it I'm reminded of just how quickly time has gone, how much my boys have grown. At the same time, I love it. Memories stay fresh. And sometimes, like today, I see a blog post I've written and shared and it all comes flooding back.

Last year on this day I wrote THIS post. One year later I can look back with a wry smile. I'm six days away from making it through my first year of middle school. There are parts of that post that were right on the money, and other parts I completely missed.

See, while people thought I might be wrong, I do miss my homeroom. I have a homeroom, of course, at seventh grade. I do love those kids. I get to have them a bit more each day than the others (4 minutes). There are days that we don't switch. They always cheer and we plan out our time. That being said, it is not the same as elementary school. There were days in elementary school where we'd only have one special. Those days could drive you to madness - if you needed a break, you rarely got it. But I loved the unhurried nature of those days. Rereading that post from last year I almost laughed out loud. Thirty extra minutes? I had time to read with the kids? Now, I'd have to steal the time to confer, because I'm always out of it. I'd have a million balls in the air, just trying to keep it all moving before the next bell. So yeah, the leasiurely pace of a homeroom at the end of the year when routines are established. I miss that.

Where I was wrong, however, was that relationships can be just as strong, if not stronger. These kids are two years older. They've experienced more. They've had friends betray them, sometimes family as well. Some have had their first heartache. They are genuine. They don't put up with BS. If you are fake, they know. But they also can see what is true. I tend to call my students "hon", or say "I love you guys" a lot. I didn't realize that I did that as much until I moved to middle school. I briefly wondered if I should change, but struggled to do so. Now, I think it's good I didn't. In talking to a few students the other day one mentioned that they felt like their heart rate slowed down in our classroom. She's having a rough year and I asked why she thought that was. Her head briefly touched my shoulder and she whispered, "I'm safe. It is like home." 

Which brings me to another thing these kids have taught me. They are brave. I stand in awe of what they are up against, yet they face it with such dignity, such grace. No book prepared me for talking to kids about depression, sexuality identity, coming out, transitioning, parents making poor choices, drug use, and more. At first I was worried, what if I said the wrong thing? I don't have all the answers. Gradually I realized that my students don't really need the answers, they just wanted to know that I was there. That I still loved them, even when they didn't love themselves. They needed help figuring out where to look for help - which we figured out together. Their parents needed to know that an adult at school loved and supported their kids as much as they did. I've watched my students and been reminded of newborn giraffes - taking unsure steps, figuring out how to move forward, then doing so with ever gaining confidence. They have made me so proud. Watching the kids at my school support each other through these stages of growth, however,  has made my heart soar.

As I've said before, and will say again, middle school kids get a bad rap. Because it is such a volatile time, they can be short tempered. They certainly have more on their minds than school and sometimes you have to just acknowledge that and remember what you were like at that age. Because if you respect them, if you treat them as equals, they have so much to teach us. I really think they might be the best of us all. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Force for Good...

Grandma on the left, GG on the right.
If I have my dates correct, today marks the fifth anniversary of my great aunt GG's passing. Today I thought about my great aunt as well as my grandma. The two of them were so close, you rarely saw one without the other. It has been almost fourteen years since I saw my grandma, five since I saw GG, but I can still remember their voices. I remember the grip of their hands on mine. I can recall their love a good story and a great pair of Birkenstocks. If you needed to know the gossip going around their small town, you could head to their auction building on Sundays and someone there would fill you in. In the years before social media, that's where you found out what was what. That being said, I also never heard them tear anyone down. I never saw them be unkind to another. They owned their mistakes, just as their owned their success. They were believers in hard work, the importance of family, and doing the right thing.

They were a force for good in their community.

This week I've wondered what is to be gained from social media. That's saying a lot, coming from me. I have been a fan of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for years. (Snapchat's allure alludes me, although I do have an account.) By giving everyone a voice, we've devalued our words to some extent. Words are powerful. Our message is powerful. What we put out there into the world creates a perception about who we are. I don't think of myself as a luddite, but I'm beginning to wonder if it was better when I didn't know what everyone thought. When I didn't have to watch people tear apart someone, or something, without the whole story. When I didn't see vitriol spewed forth as it was equal to the truth. 

Before anyone worries, none of this negativity has been directed at me, I'm just sitting alongside many, watching it pour forth in my community, in my state, in my country, and wondering where my place is.

I've tried so hard in the years that I've lived my life online to be what I think my grandmother and GG would be proud of - to be a force for good. There is, of course, the negative side of teaching, of living in a small community, of being a parent to two boys, and on and on and on. I could choose to share that. I could tear others apart when they do something I don't approve of. I could run to Facebook and Twitter when I see something I think of as wrong, but I'm not sure where that will get me except in a world where I only look for the negative, where I see myself as the judge and the jury of what is right and what is wrong. I choose not to dwell in that world. 

Instead, I will continue to find joy in the everyday. I will recognize that most of us are trying our best. That we all can screw up, apologize, and work to do better. That we all would be happier if we just look for the small moments of good. 

Today my students were beautiful. They shared their books, writing, and lives with me. I'm honored to be there for that. We talked about the importance of read aloud in middle school. Today parents sent me sweet words about how I impacted their teen this year. They thanked me, but I should thank them. They too are choosing to lift others up instead of tearing down. I see that and I celebrate it.

I tell my boys constantly that what they send out into the world comes back to them. They can choose to be a force for good, to be a positive person, to make a difference through kindness. I hope they follow that advice. It worked for my grandma and GG. And, when I remember to turn away from the stream of negativity, it works for me.
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