I decided to write a blog to share my observations on life in the classroom over two decades. The blog didn't get very popular, or widely shared. I get it: I write too much. I'm too serious. My friends and colleagues - even my family members - are busy. And again: There are too many words here. So let me close with just this: If you liked any of these posts, please find one you would like to share, out in the world. If not, that's okay too. But more than anything else, please share everything you find - this post, or the many, many others circulating right now - that can perhaps help to convince those people in charge, those who are really faced with terrible and impossible choices, to end up with the only possible one. The only safe doorways right now, after all, are the ones that open into our own homes.
The last day of school is, quite simply, the best day of the year.
There's nothing else to call the last few days of school besides what it is: an honest-to-goodness, over-the-top shit show. And mostly, we are happy to wallow in it.
There's a rule of thumb that new teachers are supposed to follow. Simply put: Stay away from the teachers' lunchroom.
. . . I'm glad that, at least for those last few years, I let myself cheer, and jump up and down, and pose for pictures, and wear silly tee shirts, and that I wasn't pretending. Somehow, we had made it to this point, all of us: students and colleagues alike. A little shouting was in order.
How had it happened, I wondered? How had an acceptance become part of the fabric of our school culture? There are lots of answers. But I like to think that teaching students to be strong, and brave, and accepting of others is a real start.
There will be no eighth grade dance this year, of course, like so many other rituals and reminders of students' experiences. And that's too bad. But that was part of what I taught them too, in and around all of those lessons in reading and writing and speaking and listening: that life is far from perfect. They may not want to hear it right now, of course. And that's okay too.
This is the time of the year for counting down.
Lining up. Counting off. Running around. Back to center. Singing loudly on e bus. Getting lost and getting found.
Yet I am sure of this: Sometime in the future, there will be games played again, and crowds there to see them. Sometime in the future, schools will be filled with students who - for a while, at least - will remember what it was like to be in lockdown with their families and will be happy to be there. I can believe in anything. After all, I'm a Mets fan.
As we all know, teaching isn't just about academics. In fact, academics are the least of it sometimes. Our job is to raise good human beings - or, at the very least, to try. And as I think back over my years in teaching, I'm feeling pretty good about that.
Today, during the pandemic, with states beginning to reopen, including the beaches and parks of the Jersey Shore, there are many choices that need to be made. If we did it right, as teachers, we gave our former students the power - as adults - to make the right ones: to wear masks, to social distance, to stay away from large gatherings, to be very careful. At least, that's my choice.
Lost - and found. It's a simple simile, really: our students as small, perfectly cut diamonds, just waiting to be discovered. Each of them bright with promise we might never see, might never find; each day a waiting game, a hope that we might glimpse that flash of light, for just a moment, and - even more - help those lost souls to believe that there is something deep inside worth finding.
Early in my teaching career, I realized that I had to anticipate the trips, falls, and spills my students would no doubt be witnessing by sharing with them, on Day 1, that I was a klutz.
It's pretty safe to say that no one in education is unhappy about the cancellation of state testing due to the pandemic. However, for many years, there was something that my homeroom students looked forward to once the tests were safely back in the administrators' hands and we waited for the all clear and move to lunch: playing cards.
Last year, at just about this time, educators all across New Jersey were reluctantly preparing for our annual state testing. We had grade-level meetings, at the end of which we signed our lives away on forms that said we would protect and defend these tests with our lives. This wasn't just theoretical; in the event … Continue reading #37 – Testing, Testing . . .
April 2019 Today, school has opened up again after spring break. Of course, nothing at all has changed in terms of the place from which teachers are meeting with students and creating virtual lessons. It's possible that, over this past week, some educators were feeling productive enough to better organize that environment. After all, when … Continue reading # 36 – A Place to Call Home
Just about a year ago, on the half day preceding spring break, my students came together outside, chalk in hand, to celebrate it all: spring, break, and - yes - poetry. , , , I'm reminded of this in April of 2020, during the present coronavirus pandemic,.as I pass sidewalk scenes in my neighborhood on walks and through photographs I've viewed on social media.
https://videopress.com/v/3cmyWMjj?preloadContent=metadata April Fool’s Prank 2019: Cell phones going off inside students’ lockers. Not bad. There’s a video of the students’ 2019 prank, but it’s not available at my subscription level. Imagine, instead, walking down the hall and hearing the sound of beeps and buzzes from the cellphones inside the lockers of many, many students. As … Continue reading #34 – April Fool’s Day
My car was often - too often - the last one standing in the parking lot at the end of the day.
. . . tell me when you use the last tissue. Or when you notice the tissue box is empty - even if you don't need a tissue yet or may never need one all year. . . . stop using your sleeve. . . . or snorting the stuff back into your nostrils. The sights and sounds are making me just a little bit sick.
Games project, 2019. There is nothing quite like the magic that happens in a middle-school language arts classroom when the word "project" finds its way out of a teacher's mouth. Whatever learning has been taking place, or not, can finally be used - or not - in creating some creative representation of that particular unit … Continue reading #30 – Project Time
I'm wearing pink today - I can't help it. More than 20 years of Valentine's Day in schools is pretty ingrained in me. I've done all sorts of activities in the classroom over the years - the best being the start of a sonnet-writing unit many years ago - until the curriculum was so overloaded … Continue reading #29 – V Day
This is an area that caused me all sorts of sadness through my years of teaching. For no matter how much I and my fellow educators tried to instill in our students the good vibes of giving in order to care for others - whether through donations of money, items, or time - the collections we held every couple of months always seemed less important, and emptier, than they should have been.
There they sit in the hallway, side by side, the first two chairs placed in the precious silence before parent-teacher conferences begin. Meanwhile, inside our rooms, we are eating a quick lunch or snack, checking our mail, checking in on children or parents,* arranging the conference spaces we have created, and doing a myriad other … Continue reading #26 – Parent-Teacher
It is the rare individual who happily goes back to the life of early wakeups and daily activities after a long weekend, not to mention a long break. But it feels much worse in education. On January 2nd, when teachers, feeling this way, are faced with students, feeling this way, the results are not pretty. … Continue reading #25: Back
A very long time ago, I received a little bag of something I’d never seen before as a holiday gift. They looked like raisin clusters, but these were covered in white chocolate instead. Some information came with them, I believe - something about being a family recipe called Polar Bears. I tucked them away until … Continue reading #24 – Polar Bears
Over the years, I taught this lesson - creating a timeline of events and emotions in preparation for writing a literary essay - many, many different ways. I've made a change in plans - in this case, how I am putting my blog out there. But this isn't surprising for anyone who teaches, because there … Continue reading #23 – Change in Plans
Chicken egg drop soup - 1/13/19 There's something indescribably wonderful about snow days - at least, for anyone who belongs to a school. (I realize that parents who have to get to work no matter what are often less than thrilled.) And children and staff alike have slept with their clothes inside out in hopes … Continue reading #22 – Snow Day?
Every year, around Thanksgiving, I tried to get my students thinking about giving thanks, as many teachers - especially ELA teachers - often do. In many cases in my suburban school district, it is an easy sell, and usually, it is "family and friends" that are most often cited as the objects for this thankfulness. … Continue reading #21 – Thankful?
Every year at about this time, our NJEA cards arrive in the mail. Those of us who teach in this state know that NJEA stands for New Jersey Education Association; however, no matter what state you’re in, if you are an employee of a public school, I hope you have an association - a union … Continue reading #15 – Look for the Union Label
During the 2018-2019 school year, I began to collect photographs from my perspective as a teacher during my last year before retiring, trying to capture this unique world while I was still deeply, daily, in it. I took at least one, and sometimes several, photographs each day, focusing on what I saw as I went … Continue reading Overview