Category Archives: adviser

Yearbook Day

I want the yearbooks I advise to make kids happy. I hope when they look at the book they see their school and think, wow, my school is so cool! I want people who don’t go to my school to look at the book and think, wow, I wish I went to that school. And I want the book to be pretty. 

When the book comes out, I hope it looks like the process of making it was effortless.  (Hahahahaha.)

And, I’m not gonna lie, I hope people say they love the book.

All of the above is me. The kids on staff want to world to love their hard work. They want kudos too.

Which is why for years, ever since adviser Lori Oglesbee shared her yearbook day letter at a workshop, I’ve done the same.

The letter says something along the lines of: yay yearbook! Then: all the facts about distribution. Then:  to teachers, in the same way you wouldn’t criticize an athlete for a bad play or a theatre kid for a flubbed line, please do not hurt the kids by complaining about the book to them and please come see me if there are real issues that need to be addressed. 

I warn the kids to be ready. Love your work. Be proud. You did an amazing job. You took all these pages that were completely blank and turned them into this beautiful work of art. But there will be mistakes because this is a printed product produced on a deadline and you and I are human. Mistakes are part of the process. And mistakes or complaints will be a constant in your day when we release the book. Love the book anyway. And come up with some great ways to handle the minor complaints: oh man, I am so sorry! Wait. We only have 12 people on staff next year. You should fit yearbook in your schedule and we won’t have that problem! Or oh wow! Yeah. You have 100s in all your classes too, right? No? But it’s the same thing. Our mistakes are just published. Or just a simple I am so sorry meant for real. On the big things I tell the kids to bring the kid with the issue to me. 

We do respond now though. But always in a way that hopefully stays fun. Negativity is a snowball. Little things grow and grow and before you know it one person’s little problem has become an entire group’s avalanche of awful. Add in social media and you’ve got a mess sometimes. 

And all of that is so important for the kids to learn and experience. 

Thick skin is something you have to acquire through trial by fire. Once you’ve got it, it serves you well for life. 

So yesterday was yearbook day 19 for me, and it was beautiful. And it was also tough. But more than anything, it was a huge part of the learning experience. 

Yay yearbook!


The photos are from when the staff saw their book for the first time. They were so happy. That’s the moment that makes advising the best!

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A Moment Part 2 UGH

The minute you blog about an awesome day, a Rockstar Teacher Moment, a classroom v-i-c-t-o-r-y, you can guaran-darn-tee the next day will be hell.

Nah.

It started with Pizza Hut. Or maybe it started with not getting enough sleep last night and noticing a bunch of sleepy heads who wanted to be on their phones in first period. Or maybe it started with The Question (props to Crane on that one).

Rewind.

My kids were tired this morning. I was too. Plus I’m trying this whole bonding thing: enter Pizza Hut. (The whole thing was recorded so this is probably on YouTube somewhere and maybe not exactly as I remember).

So, yeah. Pizza Hut.

“Stand up, stand up, stand up!” I said grapevining across the back of the classroom where I have to stand to teach since giant monitors block their eyes from me if I stand up front.

“Nooooo.” “Ugh.” Various other complaints and the passive aggressive ignore Mrs.Lee continue playing game on computer. 

Five of 30 totally in it, standing, ready to do whatever comes next.

“Oh come on you guys! This will be fun! I promise!” Me, looking at a class of kids who want me to just keep showing a PowerPoint so they can check out while looking like they’re totally into photo composition rules.

Nah. 

“Stand up!”

The sudden dawning realization that I’m not backing off this one. Three refusals still. Whatever.

(Aside: I have no idea where this whole idea of mine came from. One minute I was bored to tears. The next, Pizza Hut.)

“Okay.  You’ve gotta do this,” show drawing a square in the air; “this,” show chicken wings; and “this,” show McDonald’s arches in the air.

Interest alights. I’m suddenly hungry.

One kid in the back, or actually now front, “Hey Miss, how is this relevant?”

The. Question.

The class looks toward me expecting I’m not sure what exactly. I mean this is J class and we’re drawing boxes, doing the chicken dance and mimicking McDonald’s arches. 

It’s a good question. How is this relevant? It’s a question I should always, always have the answer to in my classroom.

And I do. But first, “Just follow along. I promise I’ll tell you how after.”

Then, “I’m gonna do it first then y’all do it too.” 

And I start the song with motions my daughter brought home from camp one summer.

“Pizza Hut, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut.

“Join in!”

We sing. No. Three of us sing, most do the motions, the three abstainers look at us like we’re crazy.

“Faster.”

The same response.

“One last time.”

The crowd at the back has joined the abstainers, but the ones along for the ride are laughing. And then it’s over and most collapse to their seats like I’d asked them to start marathon practice or something.

And then I explain the relevance. 

“It’s fun. And groups that are silly together bond.”

They groan and tell me I’m wrong. 

But they’re never going to forget Pizza Hut, KFC or McDonald’s, I bet. And maybe they’ll remember photo composition too.

The rest of the story, and my real moment of almost failure (not the song and silliness, surprise!):

One of the kids I look at as a leader was an abstainer. I kept her after and said, “Ya know, I really need you to participate. When you don’t, others won’t.”

And she reminded me she has extreme back problems and neck problems and they had flared up today. 

I knew about those issues, but I forgot.

And then I justified: “next time just shout it out so the kids know WHY you’re sitting.” instead of “oh my gosh! I forgot.”

Ugh.

Bright side: yearbook loved it. And they did Maw-Hu-Saw-Sin today.

Tomorrow is Chicken Butt. The perfect journalism movie.

Because staffs that have fun together and are silly together are stronger. It’s relevant.

The newsroom

There’s this picture.

I kind of forgot about it. It’s been on the blog already, and it’s on my Facebook. It’s a photo of my Rider newsroom boxes all packed up sitting in my old house’s office.

Somehow that photo ended up on my timeline today.

Not gonna lie. Seeing that photo was a punch to the gut.

I just finished Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. She talked about grieving for SNL when she left.

I totally understand what she means.

Teaching at Rider was one of the best experiences of my life. Living in that house was too. 

I chose to leave that, and I don’t regret the decision.

But this semester has been one of grieving what I left behind while building something new. It’s the perfect definition of bittersweet.

Interestingly enough I picked up my first CTHS newsroom t-shirt today. The two moments are kind of symbolic of the whole semester so far. 

I’m in a new place and I love it. I wouldn’t trade the years at the old place for anything. ❤️

Senior Pictures

Did you get your senior picture taken? Did you make your senior appointment? Don’t forget the senior deadline. Get your picture done. According to my records you have not had your senior picture taken. Hey guys, help me out. Here’s a list of seniors not pictured. Can you tell the kids in your classes to get their pictures made? Okay, Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take your last minute senior pictures. 

Hello. This is Mary Beth Lee. According to my records your senior has not yet had their photo taken for the yearbook. Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take all last minute senior photos. This is the LAST chance for your senior to be photographed for the yearbook.

Notes (168 of them last year) delivered in class the week before final chance photos. Appointments required. Appointments made. 

Library set up. Pictures taken. 

Yearbook day: I’m not in the senior section!! Did you get your picture taken? Well, I did, in January. I called you, sent you notes, made your teachers harass you, the counselors called you down AND I made announcements the entire time Lifetiuch was here for last chance photos in OCTOBER. You’re right. You’re not in the senior section.
My introduction to my new school came courtesy of senior pictures. EM-S ISD uses a company called Glamour Craft, and they were on campus this week taking senior pictures. My new admin wanted me in the building just in case I was needed. I wasn’t, and that’s probably a good thing.

Monday was tough. I started unpacking my boxes and setting up shop in the new digs. It doesn’t feel like home yet. Brian and I stayed at the Venetian once. It was the swankiest place I’ve ever been. We had a butler and a doorbell. But we were still happy when we got home to the old house. That’s what Monday felt like. My new school is like the Venetian. But I have to find a way to make IT home.

I grew up in black and gold. I chose to swap the black with purple.

When I finished unpacking Monday, I sat at the computer and said What the heck have you done, Mary Beth?

After a few tears, I shook the bad feelings off and reminded myself I always hate school before the kids get there. Then I made a list of things I needed, because lists make me happy.

A bookcase was at the top of the list. Walmart to the rescue. $15.96 for a Mainstay 3-shelf bookcase. Sign me up.

People who know me understand the hilarity that was about to ensue. When it comes to mechanical issues, I’m pretty sure I have a learning disability. The book case instructions were photos. No words. YouTube took care of that. Two videos later (random guy:awesome, Target, your video is foreign language to people like me who don’t speak assembly required!), I tackled the project. 

Step 1: go find a screw driver because I left my years of tool collecting in the old newsroom.

Step 2: arrange everything and make sure the pictures match.

Step 3: use the hammer

Steps 5-9: suck it up and get over being afraid of doing it wrong. Do the work.

Step 10: unpack the books and put them in alpha order in the new shelf.

And with those books, a whole lot of joy.

Because words are my business and books are my first friends and sharing books with my students makes me so happy. 

That bookcase changed everything as far as attitude goes. 

I’ve taken a huge leap and change is crazy scary, but I’m still me, and my new kids will be my kids just like my old kids are still my kids. And this year is going to be hard, so hard, but hard isn’t bad. 

I’ll always bleed black and gold. But adding a little purple to the mix is a good thing. 


*I’m missing so many books. I think I lost a box somewhere. 

*putting old staff photos up on the shelf helped.

*a screw lock or something like that fell off the case. I threw it away because the case seemed fine without it. I hope the case is still standing when I make it back to the newsroom next week.

*standing there and letting fear stop you from moving forward is always the wrong answer.

#YearbookForever

When my first principal called and asked me to take over yearbook, I said no. In my mind, I said a whole lot more than no. Newspaper was part of my soul. I’d grown up revering Walter Cronkite and reading newspapers. I fell in love with journalistic writing in high school when my adviser Mrs. Gillespie introduced me to the wonderful world of UIL and then taught me how to win.

We toured TRN and the people working at paste up with the light boards and glue and tape were so happy. And the smell of ink and paper…ahhhh. Heaven. And the reporters with their cubicles and frenetic pace. And the editor and his big office with the giant conference table for planning the issues. Yes. This was perfection. I’d found my purpose.

But yearbook? No. Just no. It was a bunch of debutantes and cheerleaders and preppy boys. No, thank you. (Former students, stick with me here. There’s a moral to this story.)

The excuse I gave was not so disparaging. I just started my MA, so I wouldn’t have time. No, thank you.

But that principal didn’t take no for an answer. He told me to call a crosstown J adviser I knew from student teaching who advised both programs and who had finished her MA advising both. I called Linda Fain, and she told me I’d be crazy not to do both because teaching English was waaaayyyy more difficult than advising yearbook.

So, cheerleader, debutantes and preppy boys all, I took on the job of yearbook adviser. It took less than a day for me to realize stereotypes suck for a reason. Because yes, yearbook was filled with all those types of kids. Just like newspaper, it was filled with all types of kids period. AND cheerleaders, debutantes and preppy boys were the same kind of wonderful as all the other types of kids out there.

By this time I had three years of newspaper kids, so the program was finally mine. I knew nothing about yearbook, though. I mean NOTHING. I only had one of my high school yearbooks (now one of my biggest regrets). I never thought yearbook was important. I mean it was pretty and all, but it was filled with all the “popular, preppy, pretty” kids so who cared? (Again, stereotypes suck. Man, I had a chip on my shoulder I didn’t even know existed back then.)

My first group of editors taught me the truth about yearbook. Yes, the yearbook is filled with photos of kids who carry the school’s spirit. If they go to everything, they’re in the book more. AND they should be.  BUT the yearbook is so much more. It’s a writing, art and creativity laboratory where kids take the school and transform everything that’s awesome about it into a book format so that those memories last forever. It’s about making an archivable product that people open and say, Holy Cow! This is the best school ever. I want to go there! It’s about telling those stories that last forever in the best way possible: through words, photos or design. It’s about giving the invisible a voice, if they want it, and showing how even though we’re all different, we’re still all Raiders (insert whatever mascot if you’re reading this and not part of Raider Nation). It’s a stereotype breaker, a demanding product that requires hours of time, complete collaboration and thinking outside the box or else it gets redundant, and you don’t want that. It’s on the job training, summer training, fall training and constantly working to get better and better and better. It’s OHMYGOD nerve-wracking because what if people don’t like it?!? It’s a place to learn the thick skin needed when you have the courage to publish your work because GUARANTEED someone WON’T like it. It’s fun and amazing and hard and, dear Jesus, it’s expensive. BUT it’s also so, so priceless.

And it’s a lot like newspaper. Different, but the same.

And I love it.

That chip on my shoulder was smashed to pieces when I took on the yearbook, and I’m a better teacher because of it.

I thought yearbook was fluff. I’ve learned it’s life. It’s the school. It’s forever.

I’m so, so blessed.

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18 yearbooks advised this year. 21 newspapers. #Awesome

A Failed Experiment

child's storyWhen I stand up at the front of my intro class and tell them they’re not getting regular grades on their writing, they look worried. When I show them the revision system, they freak out a little more.

If I put a grade on a kid’s paper, they’re done. But I don’t put grades on the papers. I use check plus, meets all objectives; check, meets most objectives needs correction; check minus, needs revision; X, needs tutorial session because there’s a complete disconnect with what’s supposed to happen and what happened.

Students must revise until they reach a check plus.

I usually end up with a lot of As in my intro class because of the system. They do until they do it right.

Last semester I added a new component to the system. I required the students to use Google Drive to create documents and turn them in. It seemed like a no-brianer. Moving to paperless was a responsible decision, students wouldn’t lose their work, we met in a computer lab so technology wasn’t a problem. Yay Google Drive.

Enter the real world of constant connection. Two big things happened. One, students were easily distracted by the Internet. That’s relatively easy to address, but it required constant supervision. If that were the only problem, I wouldn’t be revamping for this year.

The biggest problem I found was kids did not respond to Google edit comments the way they do to written comments. I thought they would love edit comments. No more worrying about my handwriting because the comments were typed. No more forgetting to address an issue because the issue is clearly marked on the paper.

What I found was students did not respond the same to edits on screen as they did to edits they can touch. They did not respond to my words as something I clearly took time to work on. Even when I added notes to the bottom of the page and did individual conferencing after each writing assignment, the process felt cold.

In the end, last semester’s intro class did not perform to the level of past classes, and I worked a LOT harder.

I’m going to use Google Drive again this semester. But instead of having them turn the story in there, I’m going to have them print the story and I’ll comment the old fashioned way. I’ll still have them share their stories with me while they’re in the creative stage, though, because I can see the work in progress. The class will help come up with consequences for Internet distraction.

I thought about throwing Google Drive out for the intro class, but I don’t think that’s the right answer. It didn’t work, but instead of tossing it, I’m adjusting the system. Students NEED to understand Drive. It’s part of the world we live in today. They NEED to know how to work on the computer without getting distracted (Shoot, I NEED to learn this!).

We’ll see how it works. 🙂

It’s going to be a GREAT year!

Dear Educators

time-thiefDo what’s right by your students but protect your time. Burnout runs rampant in this business because what we do is a calling. But we deserve and need lives outside the classroom. School is a job and people will take what you give. If you have a great administrator, and thank God I do (best ever, retiring, I want to cry), they’ll tell you or at least hint that you’re doing too much. That doesn’t always happen, though. So you need to tell yourself.

Remember you are a professional. And you deserve to be compensated for your time. That doesn’t mean you won’t work hours before and after school for free. It doesn’t mean you won’t spend money on your classroom and for your kids. But don’t go broke for your school. Not monetarily, physically or emotionally. And choose those free hours. Don’t let them be chosen for you.

Educate yourself, study best practices, don’t drink the Kool-Aid just because someone presents it as the Next Best Thing. Trust your gut. Practice your craft. Have fun. Teach the topic, not the test. It won’t be easy, but you owe it to your kids.

Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your kids. Fight for your fellow teachers.

If there’s a problem, talk to the person who can fix it instead of getting caught up in a perpetual gripe session with people who sympathize but can’t really do anything about it. If you’re afraid to talk to that person, get over the fear. If you can’t, remember you choose to stay. You control you.

And since you do, since you must, always remember,

Protect Your Time.

You can’t get it back. ❤

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I’ve been going through my blog tagging entries. This is what I wish I could tell myself. It isn’t original. I can’t tell you how many educators said these things to me on bus trips to UIL Meets, in district meetings, at Leadership Cohort, in offices, in the teacher’s lounge. The people who told me this were absolutely right. Looking back with regret for the time you missed with people you love sucks. You don’t want to go there. Promise.

 

 

Surround Yourself With Positivity

someonesmilesAt the NTRWA (North Texas Romance Writers) meeting last weekend the speaker reminded us about how important it is to surround yourself with positivity. She talked about how allowing dark presences in our lives can actually affect how we respond.

I’m a FIRM believer in that.

Two years ago I spent most of the school year focused on being positive only. I worked to keep my Facebook posts positive, I blogged about positive issues here, I wrote daily affirmations, I put motivations quotes up around my writing space and my classroom. It made a huge difference in my day and how I responded to kids at work.

I’m going to rededicate myself to the goal of surrounding myself with light and positivity. It’s easy to say in the middle of July. I’m going to focus on my affirmations, though, and when the school year starts, if I start to go negative, I hope my blog followers and friends will say, “HEY, hold up. Where’s your light?”

That doesn’t mean I’ll bury my head in the sand on politics or the war on education. It does mean I’m checking out of the spin zone. My emotions have been in constant turmoil for months because of the spin. I’ll focus on facts, fact finding and helping make positive change. I’ve already unfollowed most of my news feeds. I’ll be sticking to PBS NewsHour and print news for the most part.

In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield says most people complain to the wrong people. They complain to people who can’t fix the problem, which is really just an exercise in frustrated futility. Kind of like trying to fight a war on Facebook. Canfield is so right. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been a room and one person says something negative and another chimes in and then I chime in and before you know it, this little thing that really was No Big Deal has turned into a GIANT PROBLEM. That leads to crazy stress and hurt feelings and all sorts of emotional fallout. So, I’m checking out of that, too.

During my school year of positivity, I tried meditating at lunch and it was a HUGE success. I might try that again, although, I have to say I LOVE eating lunch with history teachers in the upstairs lounge. They have the most fascinating conversations. And it’s good to see grown ups. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. (I bet a history teacher could tell me the origins of that phrase! Or Google…nah. I’m not looking it up.)

I’m ending this post with this goal. My goal this year is to surround myself with positivity, to focus on the light, to use my energy for good. I hope you’ll hold me to it! Especially in August…when it gets tough to follow through and December and March. Yearbook advisers and anyone who has ever worked on their yearbook will understand. 🙂

****For the next 90 days The Guardian books, Dead Girl Walking and An Angel Earns Her Wings are available to check out for free to Amazon Prime members. Angel Eyes will join them on July 20. I hope you’ll look at them, read the blurbs, see if you’re interested. And if you read and like the books, I’d appreciate it if you’d write a short review on Amazon letting other readers know about them. As an indie author, word of mouth is how people learn about my books. Several of the ad sites require a set number of reviews before they’ll let you advertise.

Thanks so much!!

–Mary Beth @marybethleeybnp

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Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 by Mary Beth Lee releases July 20. Sharlene Gallagher is back. YAY!

 

 

Where Do You See Yourself in Six Months?

question-63916_640I asked a friend that question yesterday. It’s an important question.
A question I ask myself regularly. I don’t want to tread through the water of life. I want to live intentionally, with a purpose. I want to hold on to my dreams and to work to achieve them.
I used to sell Mary Kay, and I remember listening to this National Sales Director on a tape. She said every day she went to work she was surrounded by friends who said, “I’m so tired,” “I’m so tired,” “I’m so tired.” And one day she said, “Well, I’m not.”
She was hugely successful at that job and went on to be hugely successful with Mary Kay.
I love those stories. I love that successful people have so many traits in common. Living intentionally is one of them. Having a goal is another. Surrounding yourself with people you want to be like is another.
The thing about success: I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Successful people like to share their success stories.
That’s a lesson I did with my seniors this year. I don’t know how many of them actually followed through with the end of the lesson, but I had them make a five-year plan and then I told them to find someone who was where they wanted to be and ask them how they got there.
Success isn’t a secret.
It’s also not one size fits all.
Knowing the answer to the question where do you see yourself in six months (1 year, five years…) helps measure success.
I don’t sell Mary Kay any more, but the lessons I learned listening to the success tapes have been invaluable to my life.
Do you have a plan? A vision? An answer to the question?
I highly recommend the book The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read.
Can you answer the question where do you see yourself in six months (1 year, five years?)
I can.
And I’m going to live intentionally to reach those goals.

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legs 1600by2400smallAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 releases July 20!

Proud Day Memory

College graduationThis is the one picture I have of college graduation in 1993. DH took it. I was sick as a dog, but at the time I thought I had a little headache. Turned out a tiny bit more that that. My one and only experience with strep that I can remember, and I’d put it up there with swine flu. (If you’ve followed this blog, you know I got that experience in 2009. Ugh.)

That little girl in my arms and the man taking the photo were the two biggest reasons I have degrees today.  The little girl was my daily inspiration to go to school, do the work and get done. ❤

Family reunionThe man taking the photo was my biggest cheerleader, motivator, calm in the storm ROCK.

(This is us in May this year. 21 years after my first MSU graduation. 15 after my second.)

It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.

If you’re struggling right now with school or a career path, find a rock and an inspiration. If you don’t have one, use the comments here and let me be your rock. It’s easy to not go. School is expensive. It’s HARD. It seems so pointless to take classes like Zoology and Botany and College Algebra when what you want to do is teach journalism. But that degree is as much about persistence as it is about learning the content. And if school isn’t your path, that’s okay, too. But only if you have a path, a plan, a goal to a successful life. Research shows college graduates earn more over a lifetime, but college is definitely not the only answer. Find someone who successfully does what you want to do and ask the how to get there. People are incredibly helpful, but you’ve got to ask.

If you want to know about advising student media or writing, I can answer questions. I know there are others out there willing to help.

Whatever you do, don’t choose to let life live you. YOU LIVE LIFE. If you don’t know the difference, feel free to ask. I’ll explain. 🙂

*****

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Angel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3–Out July 20!!!!