Friday, April 28, 2017

May Is All about Survival

I survived environmental camp!!!!

Three days with 93 6th graders and a handful of chaperones.  Feet up Friday never felt so good. Spring in Minnesota is so unpredictable.  Last weekend it was 70 degrees.  At camp it was 28, raining, snowing, freezing.  So cold!  There aren't enough wool socks in the world to take the chill out of you when you are that cold and wet.  The kids had a blast.  I survived.  Pretty nice place, but camping really isn't my thing.  It's all about persevering and keeping your mouth shut.  I did manage to do this from under 4 layers of clothes:

The kids were super cold after about 45 minutes of archery class (soaking wet, snow, and a gusty wind will do that), so they decided that I should try.  I hadn't touched a bow since elementary school, so I told them, "what happens at environmental camp, stays at environmental camp."  I took one shot.  The orange one.  And "bow dropped" right in front of all of them.  That's the moment I became their Literature Teaching Legend.  Boom.  They thought it was just luck, and challenged me to a second shot.  Not as close, but still better than all of them.  Double boom.  Two shots to become a hero.  My statement about the incident:

"I'd like to thank Mr. Spicer's 5th grade gym class, and the educational system that considered archery a suitable PE activity.  Without them, I would still just be the Literature Teacher.  Now I'm the Cool Literature Teacher."

Now that camp is over, it's all down hill from here.  We had a good time at camp.  Makes me wish the school year was a bit longer.  I'm going to miss these kids.  Now, we all change gears and survive the chaos that is the month of May.  One month left until summer break!


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

6th Graders Understand Irony... That's Ironic

Teaching 6th graders irony always makes me a little extra tense.  Just when you think they have got it, they demonstrate with amazing fortitude how much they don't.  I've tried different lessons and activities, but they always seem to confuse the kids more then anything else.  Yesterday I decided to just make my own activity that was simple and to the point.  It worked!  All of my classes did the activity today, and we all survived.  Woo Hoo!

I started with some awesome pictures:

Once the giggling stopped, we then started the interactive notebook activity.  Color.  Cut.  Glue.  Define.  Simple enough.  After each definition, we watched a Ted Talk video that did a great job at showing the differences between the types.  Finally, the kids came up with their own examples and explained why each was an example of the given type of irony.  Done.  Simple.  Very little confusion.

The situational example was my own addition to the conversation today.  I mean, seriously, how many times can one ballet dancer break a toe going up the stairs?  The answer is three.  As well as, several other breaks doing equally pedestrian tasks.  You are welcome, Students.  Who could have known that all of that pain 30 years ago was actually preparation for today?  Destiny.  

I put this in my TPT store as well - directions and all.  I hope people like it, because it really did work great for my kids!


Monday, April 24, 2017

#Hashtag Book Projects

It's almost May!  Less than 30 days of school and the kids are going crazy!  My students have done a substantial choice reading project almost every month since school started.  With everything going on in the next month or so, I decided to simplify.  This activity is based on a novel discussion activity I created (more on that later), that uses hashtags, that the kids LOVE.  Anything different, right?

So, I plan to keep all of these completed "projects" in a binder for next year.  Whenever someone can't find a book for their CRP, I can tell them to go look through the binder to find something that interests them.  Finding a book in the library without help is so overwhelming for many of my kids, especially the boys, that I think this will help to demystify the process.  I'm still remembering how to link everything in Blogger, so for now, I will post it in my TPT store.  Let me know if you try it!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reading Response Strategies

As our year is really winding down here, I decided to pull out some of my old faithfuls to try to keep the kids engaged.  I always need something for kids to do at the end of the year that they haven't seen before.  I used these reading response "one-pagers" when I taught readers workshop to a struggling group of kids, but have since used them for other subjects and topics.  One of my coworkers needed something for social studies earlier this year, and I pulled out a non-fiction one for her and she loved it.  Anyway, because I have since received so many requests for them, I decided to put them up in my TPT store.  Hope you all like them!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

6th Grade Lit Projects

Today was a crazy day in middle school literature!  CRP Day, choice reading project day, is always crazy.  Every month, my students read a book of their choice on their own, and complete a project about the book.  This month was a bigger project because I combined March and April into one project due to spring break, Easter break, and spring fever.  I barely had the door open and 94 kids were coming into my closet sized room to drop off their projects so they wouldn't have to carry them around all day.  Ninety-four projects falling out of every nook and cranny in the room.  This month the kids created game boards to go with their books, and they crushed it.  I mean, crushed it.

The project was a bit more detailed than just creating a game.  The objective had to be completely based on the plot and subplots, and the game board had to be intricately designed based on the settings.  Ultimately, the students had to become experts on the theme, characters, tone, dialects, and unique qualities of their story.  The did it.  It was so fun.  In a few of the classes, we even played some of the games.  Kids are so awesome.


These are just a few of the projects that I got put up in the hall.  The other 90 plus are ... well, they are everywhere.

I'm a Fruitloop in a Bowl of Cherrios

Well, if there is one thing about me that everyone who reads my blog should know, it's that I'm not your typical teacher.  Because of this, I have often felt like I just don't fit in with other educators; especially when I was teaching 1st and 2nd grade.  No worries though - I can deal.  Here are a few things about me that set me apart from the rest:

1.  I don't have a perfectly coordinated classroom.  My classroom used to be a storage closet, and it often still feels that way.  I'm more about organization than actual decor.  I'm often too practical, but my kids love my room all the same.  My room is full of kids from the moment I open the door until I lock up at night.  Go home!  I love you all, but seriously... just go home....

2.  I don't do cutesy clip art on all of my printables.  In fact, I don't do cutesy clipart anywhere.  So many people make adorable assignments and products with clips that are absolutely precious, and just as many teachers love it.  It's great if you love it.  I just can't.  I can not.  Don't judge.

3.  I love sarcasm.  Love.

True story.  I have a BFA degree in dance, and I spent 19 years of my life working solely as a dance teacher and choreographer.  I still teach and choreograph, but now it's just on the side.  I know I still have it though: my shower choreography/lesson planning is still on point.

4.  I laugh at other teachers.  I do.  I don't mean to, honestly, and it's not malicious.  I just can't help myself sometimes.  We can all be ridiculous - I've seen teachers get worked up because they think someone copied an art project they "invented."  Seriously.  I think misery calls for a good laugh.  If we can't laugh at our day to day classroom soap operas, I think we will go crazy.  Lord knows, I don't need anymore crazy.

5.  I'm not addicted to the Target Dollar Spot.  GASP!!!  I know, I know.  How can I possibly be a teacher and not be an addict?  Quite honestly, I can't afford to spend my paycheck on all of that teacher marketed gold.  I make due with what I have, and I do not believe that this addiction makes any of us better or worse teachers.  We all have our things that help us feel wonderful about our jobs.  My life is perfect with a pack of new flair pens and diet coke.  With that said, someone really should start a 12 step, dollar spot, intervention program...

6.  I believe that an example of every life lesson can be found somewhere in the world of Harry Potter.  I will just leave it at that.

Just a few things about me.  What you will see, and what you won't see.  I'm a different breed.  But I like it that way.


iTeach it All. My Re-introduction to the world of Blogging


Welcome to my new blog: iTeach it All!

After a long break from my previous blog, I decided to jump back in and start writing again.  For a couple years, I had a blog called "Just Teach It."  My posts were focused on my teaching experience in a suburban, elementary school where I taught 1st and 2nd grade.  After previously teaching Kindergarten, it was an exciting adventure to work on different challenges with my students.  I used my blog mostly as a personal, reflection piece.  I shared the activities I had been doing with my kiddos, and was able to step outside of my hectic life and really take a look at what I was doing.

As much as I loved blogging, it was through this hobby that I eventually saw that I was not where I wanted to be.  There were many things that I loved about teaching 1st and 2nd graders, but there were so many other things that were making me miserable.  I was drained of energy and desperately missing my time with my then two year old. Working at my school was emotionally exhausting.  It was a very competitive and negative environment.  I knew early in the year that the school would be collapsing at least one, if not two, 1st/2nd grade classes, and that meant I would be out of a job.  I worked to be the best teacher I could so that I might not be the one cut.  On the day I was officially let go, I was horribly sad - sad to leave the kids and sad to leave the programs that I had started; but, I was also ridiculously relieved.  No more watching over my shoulder to see if someone would throw me under the bus to move up in the school hierarchy.  No more new teacher hazing.  No more arguments between different teaching teams.  No more living in an adult version of the movie "Mean Girls."   Although I was tempted at first, I did not reapply for any of the open positions in that district.  I just moved on.

I knew that I did not want to leave teaching altogether, but also I knew that I did not want to repeat the same drama in a different school.  An assistant principal friend of mine trusted me enough to offer me a job teaching in an area completely out of my wheelhouse: a position as an urban high school, reading intervention teacher.  I took the job.  And fell in love.  I worked so hard to build a successful reading program, and by my second year was made department chair and PLC lead.  I had wanted to keep the blog going through a new lens, but I was 100% devoted to doing the best I could in my new world.  Blogging had to go.  Soon I was not only teaching reading intervention, but I was tasked with  developing a study skills and reading strategies class.  I also began teaching dance electives, which allowed me to continue teaching my first love to a whole new population.  Of course there were some issues and lots of drama, but even with the problems, I was so much happier than I had been in suburbia.  I thought I had found my new home, even though it was far from perfect.  And then, three years after starting my high school teacher journey and during a budget crisis, my principal called me in to say that based on our reading scores and the current state of the budget, our school would be cutting all reading classes.  As my principal tried to joke a bit and make me feel better, he said, "you did so well you taught yourself out of a job."

Not the type of story you want to blog about.  I was devastated.  Completely disheartened.

I was then placed by my district at an extremely struggling school.  In my new position, I would be teaching the same courses I did before, but to a difficult population of high schoolers, as well as sixth grade ELA.  I was not excited to go there, but it was a job.  I was miserable.  My safety was threatened on a daily basis.  I had things thrown at me, kicked at me, and things said to me that would make a sailor blush.  My family was worried about my safety, and my health was failing.  Our administrators were deplorable.  You see, this is a school that had not been making AYP.  The reading proficiency scores that year were 14%.  Fourteen.  The school's admin were doing whatever necessary to sneak things by the district, even if it meant flat out lying.  The disservice that school did to our students was despicable.  I made reports to both the union and district; but no one wanted to take on the problems.  The fear of being black-balled was too strong.  I resigned in February for the following year, thinking I may not teach again.  I was burnt out and had completely lost my faith in public education.

Then, in May, something unexpected happened.  The principal from my daughter's school called me and told me that there was an opening at their school that I might be interested in, and invited me to come interview.   By the first week of June I was hired as the new sixth grade ELA and 8th grade reading/writing intervention teacher at a highly regarded, Catholic school.  Within in a few months I went from giving up my teaching aspirations, to being completely swept up in the excitement of new possibilities.

The changes this job has brought to my life have been immeasurable.  Not only do I love teaching again, but my creativity has been reignited.  I feel so energized and inspired!  I had begun to believe I would never find a school where teachers were not only kind to each other, but also supported each other in every endeavor.  This school set me straight.  It truly feels like everyone is working together.  The kindness is inspiring.  I've been there for 9 months now, and I have yet to hear a gripe from anyone.  Anyone.  Unbelievable.  I woke up today and felt like I was ready to write again.  I NEED to write again.

This blog re-introduction is my way of sharing the joy I have found in my new school.  I hope that I can not only share my reborn positivity and creativity, but connect with other teachers and share experiences.  My new blog title, "iTeach it All," is really symbolic of how I ended up where I am today.  From Kindergarten, to 1st and 2nd grades, to urban high school reading intervention, dance, and study skills, and now a middle school English and literature teacher at a private school, I often feel as though these experiences together have brought me to a place where I not only can "teach it all," but that I DO teach it all.

When I started "Just Teach It," I was so excited to share and see my views counter go up every day.  When, I finally revisited and ultimately removed that blog a few weeks ago, I had over 35,000 new views.  Not bad for a blog that has been quiet for almost 5 years.  As much as I enjoyed that feeling of sharing my adventures with the world back then, I am no longer drawn to share with the whole world.  I will share with anyone who wants to hear my journey and share my renewed spirit for teaching.  Even if that is just a few friends.  I love to write and I love to write about my teaching experiences.  That's all that matters today.