My Seventh-Graders Told Me This: Everything’s Gonna Be Okay

This post was originally published on medium.com.

ELA Brave and True

The future of the country is in good — albeit small — hands.

gianandrea-villa-36340 Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

Just when you think the country is spiraling out of control due to natural disasters, political upheaval, and lone wolf violence, you read some words written by twelve- and thirteen-year-olds and you realize that kids will carry us through. In short, everything’s gonna be okay.

I  just finished reading some first drafts written by my seventh-grade students. These drafts will grow into essays they will submit in a couple of weeks to an essay contest sponsored by our local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Each year has a different theme and this year’s is “America’s Gift to My Generation.”  What are these gifts, as determined by my students? Here are some my students wrote about:  freedom,  the ability to make choices, security, free speech, education, medical technology, optimism, diversity, the opportunity…

View original post 372 more words

Advertisements

Welcome to My World: Boil Order at a Middle School

Ten things that happen when the water main breaks

malvestida-magazine-295605
Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

 

  1. Over the weekend, the local water protection district issues a “boil order” and ships pallets of water bottle cases to be stacked next to the water fountains on Monday morning. In any place other than a middle school, this would be a good thing.
  2. Construction paper signs are taped to fountains and faucets warning students not to drink the water. Here… have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead.
  3. Students drink two to three times as much as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Man, water is delicious!
  4. Students make two to three times as many trips to the bathroom as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Yes, go, just go.
  5. The fun wears off, so ingenious students use pens to punch holes in the lids of full water bottles. Squirt guns! Broken pens! (Does this count as a STEM activity?)
  6. The request to leave class to get a drink no longer applies because you, dear student, have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead. Please stay in the room and drink two to three times what you normally would.
  7. Drops of water appear on desks, turning typed words into illegible gray clouds. Look! There on the desk. It’s an essay! It’s an art project!
  8. Armloads of water bottles are tossed into the trash. Many are mostly full. So much for going green.
  9. Teachers exhibit great patience when students empty those water bottles and then squeeze them repeatedly. Here’s the sound those bottles make: crinkle-crackle- crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle. If teachers calmly wait for the sound effect to end (because this has been happening all day), it just might… but usually it doesn’t. Throw it away. Now.
  10. Tuesday morning feels like it should be Friday afternoon… for the teachers, anyway. This is gonna be one L-O-N-G week.

    This post was originally published on medium.com. Follow this blog for more posts about writing and teaching. Click “like” if you enjoyed this post and share with others on social media. Thanks for reading! 

“So are you calling us stupid?!”

This post was originally published on http://www.medium.com.

ELA Brave and True

Teaching the standards takes time; so does building trust.

autumn-goodman-230241 Photo: Autumn Goodman on Unsplash

“So are you calling us stupid?!” a middle school student asked me two months into my first year of teaching. Her eyes bore straight through to my heart. It was 9:15 a.m. on a Monday during my first year of teaching in a small rural school in Missouri. Friday of that week seemed as far away as the following summer.

A sickening ache throbbed in my stomach. I clutched the lesson plans I had printed out the day before at home, and took a breath.

“No, I’m calling you careless,” I retorted.  I don’t even remember exactly what we were discussing. Probably sloppy handwriting, perpetual lateness, or a general lack of responsibility that I was amazed existed to such a degree in the vast majority of the students. Sure, some students cared. Some turned in their assignments…

View original post 448 more words

Dear Parents: The Church of Scientology wants to get inside your child’s classroom.

And they don’t need Tom Cruise to do it.

Tom_Cruise
By 롯데엔터테인먼트 | Youtube link | [CC BY 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

A year ago last fall, I scanned the first page of a glossy teacher’s guide, part of a free educator’s kit sent to me (at my request) from Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization I had discovered in an online search for some teaching materials on human rights for my classes. On that first page was a list of well-known human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and L. Ron Hubbard.

My eyes rested on that last one. I asked myself, why is the founder of the Church of Scientology included on a list of human rights leaders? Nelson Mandela and the others I could understand, but L. Ron Hubbard?

I questioned Hubbard’s name because I knew a little about the Church of Scientology. I had read “The Apostate” by Hollywood director, screenwriter and former Scientologist Paul Haggis in The New Yorker. I had read former Scientologist Amy Scobee’s Scientology: Abuse at the Top. I had also watched HBO’s documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Out of curiosity, I had even read a Scientology text from my local library that, had I been a lost soul looking for some easy — and expensive — answers, would have been convincing; however, for all its ostentatiousness and extremely happy people holding e-meters, the text felt empty and false.

 

teachers-kit
What Are Human Rights? educator’s kit

With all the media attention focused on the Church of Scientology, it’s easy to conclude Hubbard’s “church” is no religion at all, but rather a dangerous money-making cult that uses Tom Cruise and other celebrities, its 501(c)(3) status, and hyperbole to convince its followers that it’s a major force for good in the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

But that day last fall at school, I was in a hurry to get my classroom put together, so I cast from my mind Hubbard’s name on that list of human rights notables. I looked through the rest of the educator’s kit: lesson plans, a set of thirty professionally-photographed human rights posters, a class set of booklets that explain each of the thirty rights, plus a well-produced DVD that discusses the Cyrus Cylinder, Natural Law, the American and French Revolutions and other global watershed moments in human rights. I filed the DVD away, laminated the posters and hung them on a wall of my classroom, and then shelved the booklets, which would be used later when my eighth-grade students would start connecting the literature we read to human rights.

Then over the next few months, I watched “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” the actress’ documentary series on A&E. Alongside consultant and former Scientologist Mike Rinder, Remini exposes The Church of Scientology’s abuses, violence, and inhumane practices through interviews with former “parishioners” now disconnected from the group.

During one episode of Remini’s series, I learned about the many front organizations the Church of Scientology uses to gain credibility. And that was my lightbulb moment: Youth for Human Rights International must be one of those front organizations, I thought. That’s why Hubbard’s name was on that list. A few minutes of online searching confirmed my suspicion.

Indeed, the Church of Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind YHRI. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org, and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally by the Church of Scientology to advance human rights.

On Scientology.org, you’ll also find lots of United Nations name-dropping. Clearly, it enhances the cult’s image to rub shoulders with the UN, but it baffles me why the United Nations would align itself with the Church of Scientology. Here’s a link on the UN’s website to its annual International Human Rights Summit held last August at its New York City headquarters. According to the article, student attendees spent day three of the summit at the Church of Scientology Harlem Community Center, which is right next door to the Harlem Main Church. The UN summit was co-organized by the permanent UN missions in Cambodia and Panama and YHRI, which has been a co-sponsor of the summit since its inception fourteen years ago.

 

730664
Photo from United Nations News & Media

Based on the alliance with the UN, many people likely assume YHRI is a reputable, forthright group worthy to publicize in public school classrooms. Heck, that’s what I assumed.

However, there are several human rights that the Church of Scientology violates, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field of human rights. I’m not an expert on the Church of Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on the cult, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities. For now, here are three that I’m aware of: 1) the cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed; 2) the cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize the Church of Scientology, and 3) the documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s Ecclesiastical Leader, and other higher-ups.

To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools — even though that inroad, human rights, may be innocuous and noble — it’s unacceptable and dangerous.

So, parents and teachers, please know that if you or your child’s teacher discusses human rights, do not consult Youth for Human Rights International or United for Human Rights because if you do, you will actually be consulting the Church of Scientology.

There are reputable organizations out there ready to provide teachers with classroom-ready, cult-free materials. I’ll discuss some alternatives in an upcoming post.


Thanks for reading! If you found this enlightening, click “like” so others will find it. And if you leave a comment, that would be awesome. Follow this blog to catch my next post.

Thanks, Kohl’s, for selling this shirt.

It’s nice to see clothing like this instead of that snarky shirt I wrote about recently.

shirt
Now that’s more like it… a shirt about kindness.

 

In August, Kohl’s mailed a back-to-school catalog with a shirt on the cover displaying the words, “Shhhh! Nobody Cares!” I wrote about it in “Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Shirt.”  I believe that snarky messages like this only send negativity into the world… and can be especially hurtful in a school setting.  I’m a middle school teacher and I know several kids who don’t need to read that their lives are unimportant.

Kohl’s tweeted to me a week or two after I published that blog post. Here’s their tweet: “Thanks for this feedback, Marilyn. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our buyers here at Kohl’s for review and future considerations.”

So when I found this “Throw kindness like confetti” shirt on a pre-Halloween mailer about a week ago, I was gratified. Yes, I know this mailer wasn’t in response to my blog post. I’m sure this flyer and the merchandise within it were all “put to bed” weeks or months ago. However, it’s nice to know that Kohl’s is aware that positive messages make the world a better place.

Ten questions for Kohl’s about this shirt

Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.

tshirt
This is the cover of a back-to-school Kohl’s catalog I received in yesterday’s mail.

 

  1. Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean. 
  2. Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
  3. Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
  4. Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.  
  5. Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
  6. Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
  7. You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
  8. Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
  9. Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
  10. Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.

 

 

If this post made you think, regardless of how you feel about rude t-shirts, click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more or check out my teaching blog, www.elabraveandtrue.com.  Thanks for reading!

Teachers, Do You Have a Business Card?

“What’s your contact info?” asked my new friend, whom I had just met at a PD event this summer. Wishing I had a business card to give her, I resorted to digging into my purse for a pen. Then I tore the corner of a sheet of paper from a spiral notebook in my folder and wrote my name, school, and email address on it. I handed it to her, asking aloud, “Why don’t I have business cards?” She smiled. She didn’t have one either.

I know it’s just a piece of paper, but every other profession utilizes business cards, so why don’t educators have them?

As a non-traditional educator, I didn’t start teaching until age 45. At my various jobs prior to that, my employers always provided me with a business card, whether my title was account executive or designer. In addition, when I wrote freelance, I never considered not having an ample supply of cards. At this point in my life, it feels unprofessional to hold the title of professional certified educator, but not hold the business card in my wallet to prove it.

It seems that I would  benefit from a business card for all kinds of situations, including PD conferences, visits with parents, or discussions with anyone in the business community.

What’s your opinion? Take a minute to comment on any or all of these questions, and I’ll update you soon on what I learn.

  1. Do you have a business card?
  2. If so, did you procure it yourself or did your district provide it?
  3. If you procured your own card, which printing company did you use and how much did you spend?
  4. How has your business card benefitted you?

 

 

Active Shooter Training Day

“Now. Students. Go to your next class.”

Upon hearing those words, we teachers looked at each other, grinning at the awkwardness of the situation we suddenly found ourselves in: active shooter training.  Some of us whispered and tried to figure out which classroom would be nearest whenever we heard the “gunshots.” Some of us milled around in the hall, pretending to gossip with our “middle school” friends. Others were clearly anxious about what was to unfold in the coming moments, biting their lips and peering down the hall to the law enforcement officers who would be the “shooters” in just a moment.

Then the gunshots. One pop, then a pause, then three more. I shoved and scrambled to the health classroom. I felt someone nudging against my back, pushing me quickly into the room. It was a kindergarten teacher who taught in our district’s other building. I didn’t know her well; that would change.

We entered the room and pulled the door shut, clanking it hard against its metal frame. We ensured the door was locked and then looked for something to shove against it. The trainer had told us to do this even if the door opened out into the hallway, which it did. We maneuvered a 3- by 6-foot table up against the door. We had also been told to barricade with anything we could get our hands on. So we grabbed two standard-issue chairs, navy blue plastic and steel, and stacked them on top of the table. We clumsily tied a length of rope, which had been supplied in the room, around the hinge mechanism at the top of the door. This would supposedly make it difficult for the intruder to pull open. I looked toward the window, knowing that it could be an option. My co-worker spied a large swath of ripped paper on the counter, ran to the vacant teacher’s desk for a piece of Scotch tape, and taped it to the door’s large window. In the rush, she missed an edge, and it drooped down in the upper right-hand corner. “Can he see in through that?” she asked aloud, but there was no time to retrieve more tape.

The officer beat his fists against the door of the room across the hall. “Let me in. I’m here to kill yooouu!” he screamed. He tugged at the door handle then kicked the door violently. “Open up!”

We dove under the table and cowered.  The shooter’s footsteps approached. My partner and I both reached for the door handle and strained to pull hard. I closed my eyes tight and waited. He was here. He breathed heavily and banged on the door. We pulled harder. Then he yanked on the handle. “Gonna die!!!” he screamed. I stopped breathing, pressed my eyes closed, and buried my face in my co-worker’s shoulder, knowing it would soon be over, reminding myself it was only a drill.

The course was taught by a company that specializes in training people who work at schools, workplaces, churches, and malls with the knowledge and tools they need should they ever be faced with an active shooter. This company trains not only employees and staff, but also law enforcement officers and security guards. That morning in the school cafeteria, my teacher-friends and I had sat alongside many other men and women, in both uniforms and in civilian clothes. Some attendees were from local police departments, and some were from as far away as Oklahoma. Over the course of the morning, the officer had shown a Powerpoint presentation embedded with videos and charts to teach us about the history of school violence in the United States, common one- and multi-shooter scenarios that might arise, and approaches that are critical when the unthinkable happens. We listened. A few of us took notes. Many asked questions.

As the morning lecture wrapped up, an uncertainty arose in the back of my mind.  How would I react in a real situation? Would I know what to do? Would I keep my head and act quickly to get my students to safety? It’s easy to talk about it. It’s also easy to watch actors demonstrate effective procedures on a Smartboard screen, but in the hallways of a crowded school, how would I perform? And that’s what made the afternoon session so valuable.

The threat of school violence is a reality for educators. Thankfully, school districts do provide training that allows educators to be prepared and cope with the anxiety or worry that may arise.  Even though I think about school violence, I don’t dwell on it because the training and the drills we conduct during the school year have imbued me with self-confidence. Please know that it’s a wary sense of self-confidence, though. It was terrifying to hear those footsteps approaching the classroom door. However, confronting that terror and equipping myself with knowledge and experience in shooter scenarios enables me to continue doing the job for which I am trained and serving the students to whom I am dedicated.

The door to the health room held fast. My co-worker and I had secured it well enough. The “shooter” slammed his hand down hard on the handle, gave up, and stomped on down the hall to try the next door. We heard him yelling and tugging again. He finally ended the drill to speak in the calm, authoritative voice of a law enforcement officer.

“Good job, team. Good drill. Now. Let’s do it again.”

I’m losing my mind. Thanks, Google.

magnifier-389908_1280Everyday in my middle school language arts class, we open the hour by doing a warm-up activity that consists of some quick grammar exercises and cursive writing. On the Smartboard, I post an inspirational quote for the students to copy onto their paper in cursive. The name of the speaker of the quote also appears on the screen and one day recently a student asked me, “Who was William James anyway?”

Since we do this activity daily, we copy many quotes and sometimes, to be honest, they can come from some fairly obscure people from all walks of life, living and dead. I told the student I had looked up the name on my phone earlier, but I had since then forgotten what I had learned. It hadn’t been the first time that some Googled information had escaped me, so I rolled my eyes, and reached for my phone to look it up again.

After letting my students know that many consider William James the father of American psychology, I told my students, “I’m tired of forgetting things that I look up on the Internet.” And then, as my captive listeners quietly continued honing their cursive, I attempted to theorize aloud (it’s my classroom, after all) the reason why I couldn’t remember who William James was.

And here’s what I came up with: because there was no true search to discover his identity. In fewer than sixty seconds, I was able to Google the name and then, thanks to two or three websites or documents, gain a brief cursory knowledge of the psychologist.

Then I relayed to my students that today’s learning “process” is so vastly different from how it was before the Internet. I followed that by telling them in my best “back-in-the-day” voice, that finding the answer to the question used to involve a visit to my bookcase where I would hope to find an entry in an encyclopedia. If no luck there, then it would necessitate a visit to the library, a 15-minute drive away. Once there, I would again hope to find the answer somewhere within those walls . . .  in the stacks, the card catalog, or maybe the computerized system known as ERIC, which didn’t really provide answers so much as places to find answers. I even recounted to my students the time I phoned the Atlanta,  Georgia Police Department to locate up-to-date burglary statistics for an article about home security systems I was writing for a glossy Atlanta lifestyle magazine.

In other words, I attempted to show my students that before the Internet there was an actual, honest-to-goodness search involved when one needed to learn. Digging. Page-turning. Jotting. Re-reading. Checking. Now that was a search. Today, all that investigative, thrill-of-the-hunt searching is a thing of the past. As a result, I now surmise that the information I learned was retained because real effort and time (not to mention gasoline) were spent in those searches back then.

So what, my students ask? If you forget, you can just look it up again.

“True,” I reply.  After all, why remember anything when there’s nothing at stake in forgetting?

In middle school research, pictures are winning

FullSizeRender (11) In the game of middle school student research, pictures are winning and words are losing. I have noticed increasingly that students, when they are researching a topic for a writing assignment, spend a lot of time not reading articles. Many spend their time looking at pictures. Or watching videos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed students scrolling down full screens of thumbprint images. Here’s a typical conversation we would have as I walked around the room and noticed students doing their research with Google Images.

Me: “What are you doing?”

Student: “I’m doing my research.”

Me: “What are you trying to find out?”

Student: “What grey squirrels look like.”

Me: “So why don’t you google grey squirrels?”

Student: “I did.”

Me: “But google it in web search and find articles.”

Student: “But I googled it here instead and now I’m just looking at the pictures to find out what they look like.”

And that got me thinking, because the student had a point. I think. It made me wonder whether perusing images could be more authentic research than reading. So I had a debate with myselves: my old school/gut and my new media self.

Old school/gut self: No, reading is better.

New media self: But couldn’t the result of reading simply be ingesting and recording what someone else has written about what grey squirrels look like?

Old school/gut self: Yes, true, but don’t forget that in looking at all these images, you are just looking at what someone else has decided for whatever reason is a grey squirrel.What if some of them you’re looking at aren’t actually grey squirrels? How do you know they’re grey squirrels?

New media self: Well, in an article, how do we know the author actually knew what he was writing about?

Old school self: That’s why we choose authoritative sources. “National Geographic,” for example, instead of answers.com. 

Authoritative sources. There’s really the issue. It seems kids don’t know how to locate authoritative sources. Looking at images is easier. And then they get stuck. Scrolling endlessly through mind-numbing screenfuls of tiny images.

True, an exhausting variety of visual information, whether it’s the printed word, the image, or the video, simply comes with the Internet territory. So why not use it all to benefit our research? Perhaps.

The thing is this: I’m just afraid students will take the path of least resistance and over-rely on images for the bulk of their research every time they need to do research.

Your thoughts? Am I over-reacting or noticing a troublesome trend?