Monday, April 4, 2016

Dear Spring Break,

Dear Spring Break,

You came! And yet, I never thought you would. The two weeks leading up to your arrival felt like 1,000 years; I didn’t think you would come!  But once you were here, you gave me a lot to reflect on. 

It all started on March 24.  You see, Spring Break Eve can be a dreaded time in school.  It’s a test run for June 22, 2016, anticipating when the second hand will strike the “11” on the clock and the bell rings at 2:25pm.   Kids don’t want to do ANYTHING; teachers don’t want to do anything either, so it seems like the day could lead to mass chaos.  Only, you were quite the opposite.  While no, the kids didn’t want to do anything, they were still cooperative enough to read for the 30 minutes that I requested from them.  I asked each student how many post its he/she wanted – and the average was “2”.

Okay,” I thought to myself.  Students are getting into the habit of doing post its."

I decided back in January to give students 2 post its each day.  If they didn’t independently complete a post it or track their thinking, I would stop them 15-20 minutes through our reading, half way, and remind them to be jotting an idea, not a summary.  While we still have some work to do in that department, I was still impressed that when given the choice, students didn’t say “One please!” J

What I realized twenty-four days into March and upon your arrival is that kids need time to read.  I know my students – I know that the majority of my 50 kids will NOT go home and read whether I assign it or not.  That’s why I don’t assign reading and I don’t assign reading responses for homework.  Kids aren’t genuine in putting forth the time.  Reading and reading responses are more hassle than they are fun and reflectory (let’s make up a new word).

I nearly fell over during my first class.  A student who has not enjoyed reading found the right book, picked up The Outsiders earlier this month.  He picked it up underneath the desk he was sitting in.  He had nothing else to read, so he went with it for the 30 minutes of reading that day.  And yet, the next day he was reading it.  And the next day.  And by the time I knew it, he was 100 pages in.  Then he finished it, and I panicked because he enjoyed the book and I needed wanted him to read something else!

What am I going to do?!” I thought …

 I reached out to a friend, one who had experience with middle schoolers and more teaching wisdom than I have acquired, and she recommended more books by S.E. Hinton. I sent the kid to the library and he checked out another S.E. Hinton book. 

Then a week later, he finished the second book.

So, he took it upon himself to go back to the library to get a third book.  And he walked into class on Tuesday and told me he read at home. 

What?  Did I hear you correctly?

I slowly stood up to look around my classroom.  I was no longer looking at it through the lens of “Who-isn’t-reading?” But it became the lens of “Who-is-reading?”

I noticed three things:

1)   students were reading
2)   students were writing on post its
3)   students were sketching in their notebooks

also known as ...
I approached another student.  “Can I interrupt your reading?”

“Sure,” she replied with a smile across her face.

I hesitated. “What did you do last year?”

“Well, my teacher gave us ______, and we had to do _________.  I didn’t like it though; it made me feel like a third grader.  This year is better.  You give us time to read and you let us write about our reading.”

We were three weeks into the month of March and I came to realize the impact of setting a goal and staying faithful to that goal.  I had set a goal to do stop and jots, and I had set a goal to have students RECORD THEIR READING.  I didn’t care how much they hated it, but I did explain why I needed it recorded.
  •       I know how many pages you are getting through in the time that you are making for reading during class.
  •       I know how long it’s taking you to get through a book.
  •       I notice when you are into a book.
  •       I notice when you abandon a book – and how far you are into the book when you make that decision.
  •       I know your genre preference. J
I didn't want reading to just be something that they did.  Rather, I wanted it to be enjoyable.  I didn't want a reading log filled with lies.  I wanted honesty.  I wanted to know the genuineness of my classes.  With that said, I realized I had accomplished something.  I had won a battle.  Students were doing what I asked them to do – reading, stopping/jotting, and recording.  Hopefully they do grow to analyze the world a little more than just superficially.  Hopefully they transfer what they learn in the classroom and learn how to apply it to their world.  And for some, hopefully they learn that it’s not that they don’t like reading, but that they haven’t found the right book.  Who knows, maybe I’ll grow more readers like T -

“Eww! Miss Snyder, I’m turning into B [another student in the class]! I’m reading too many books! I just read a book in 3 days!  I only read 3 pages when I was in 4th grade! I don’t know what to do with my life!”

The class chuckled.  I replied, “Idk T.. maybe pick up another book like the last two you picked up after you cried the same story when your 5 book series ended?” ;)

Middle schoolers … What am I going to do with them? J

Monday, March 14, 2016

Struggling to Blog

This past school year I have had the privilege to teach 8th grade reading and writing - English Language Arts.  But I not only changed grade levels, moving from 3rd to 8th, I also changed school districts.

Teaching 8th grade has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced, and I know I am the better for it.  There have been some rough days where I wondered, 
“Am I really going to make it through this?”  
How many days until June?” 
But when I look at the calendar, I see the reflection of how much stronger, how much wiser, how much more patient I am.  I see the progress of how far I’ve come. How many mornings I’ve woken up with the anxiety of what the day would bring, what kind of shenanigans would happen, and even worse - the success I could have. 

The last few months of teaching 8th grade and the lack of finding resources has led me to think that I need to come back to my blog.  I had abandoned it because I wasn’t passionate about it.  I started a blog for all the wrong reasons: 
  • because it seemed like what I was supposed to do.  
  • because other teachers had blogs, other teachers made connections, other teachers were so happy – it seemed – with roses and rainbows and pots of gold and little leprechauns dancing around the screen.  
That’s what my eyes and my mind were seeing.  I felt like I wasn’t living up to that.  I was tired.  I was tired of not being surrounded by the teachers I was reading about on computer screens.  If teachers were blogging, then surely I just needed to find a new school where I would certainly find teachers who wanted to blog and create and try new things in their classrooms. Right? Of course those teachers were out there, they just weren’t in the one school that I was in. . . 

So I got tired.  I had mentally exhausted myself.  I didn’t love my blog. I was jealous of what others had.  I wanted it for myself but it wasn’t being handed to me, as if I deserved it on a silver platter brought to me by Shemar Moore (Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds) [insert emoji heart eyes face] ;)  I even paid for a blog design thinking that would inspire me to blog more.  

[Anybody familiar with Psalm 23:5? “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” ? … yea, I’m my own worst enemy.]

Even after spending all that money, I haven’t blogged much.

Then I began researching how it was going for others in middle school.  I was having such a hard time adjusting that I felt like I was doing something wrong.  But I wasn’t coming up with what I wanted.  I wasn’t finding the support I thought I was looking for.  Eventually, after a few weeks of searching, I had an epiphany – there isn’t much from middle school teachers because it just doesn’t exist.  Here I am, looking for support for middle school when I needed to step up and voice what I could on the subject.  If there’s something I’ve learned from taking Lucy’s (Calkins) classes, it’s this: 
you have something worth sharing with the teaching community.  
I need to be writing.  And so, today, my imaginary goal/wish list that exists in the confines of my brain needs to be relayed to one of the flair pens chillin’ in my agenda and become a reality.  I’ve been mentally telling myself that I should aim to blog once a week; that’s manageable.  Yet, it wasn’t happening.  I wasn’t making it a priority.  There were times when I had the mental fortitude and motivation to blog, yet actually sitting down, typing, and actually – hold on, I might choke – publish such thinking, such words, might kill me.  Or so I thought.

Which has brought me to this post.  This post is a start of a reflection on all the things I think about during Lucy’s fieldwork class.  How inspired I am to write and actually think through my thoughts, organize them to be ready to share my knowledge with the greater education community.  I have something worth sharing.   Doesn’t matter if anyone listens.  It will fall on the ears of those who need to read it.  I need to be faithful, though, to what I want.  [Side note: now accepting any and all applicants for keeping me accountable.  Being my fairy blogmother.]