Tag Archives: fun

Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone! Confessions of a Wanna Be…

For years I’ve thought of myself as a master teacher (that right there is what we call foreshadowing, and it usually portends some bad juju). I’m always going around dispensing teaching advice and solving the world’s education problems in two hour conversations over coffee or five hour conversations with roommates on UIL trips or in blog posts here or all over the Internet on twitter and Facebook and the Diane Ravitch blog…

So when my principal and assistant principal asked if I would be willing to take over our new AD’s 7th period senior English class with nine weeks left of school I said, “Yeah! It’ll be fun!!!!” (No really, all those !!! belong there. No, really, I said fun. With a bubbly smile and perky personality. And all the hubris of a 20-year veteran teacher–with all the answers–who’s had a blast the last 15 years teaching classrooms filled with kids who apply to take her class for the most part.)

The last time I taught English I was in my 20s. I could wear high heels and did, often…weird, weird, weird. My daughter was in early elementary school. Obviously, I’d forgotten the realities of teaching a required core subject. I longed for the days of literature circles and vocab tests and essays over real life issues.

And that hubris…well, it came back to bite me in the backside big time.

Those kids…

The worst class I ever taught was my first year. I taught all juniors except one group of freshmen. There were around 30 kids in last period, six girls, the rest boys. I had no freaking idea what I was doing and discipline was just not even on my radar. But I was also 25. And by the end of the first semester I loved that class and most of them liked me and we had a lot of fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids, so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

The second worse class I taught was a couple years later. I’d volunteered to take on the juniors in “regular” classes. Classes that were supposed to be smaller for more individual time with students who struggled. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Those classes were huge. And their real purpose was because Honors English was too tough and they wanted a second tier option so kids wouldn’t be held back by the others or bothered by discipline issues. That quickly became apparent. My friends saw my roll sheets before school started and said they’d pray for me.

I LOVED those kids (for the most part) from day one. We had fun. I was still in my 20s and discipline still wasn’t all that great. Once I sat on the floor with a poster that said I AM CRAZY on it and held it in front of me until they shut up and let me talk. One boy said, “Miss, why you got that poster?” And another answered, “Because she wants us to know she might go nuts in here.”

Actually, what I wanted was for them to think I might just throw someone out the window. Not really, but maybe if they thought it was a possibility….

A fellow teacher and I had a stalker from one of those classes that year. One of the kids ate pages from my personal copy of The Last Picture Show.

And I still had fun. I’m even Facebook friends with some of those kids (not the stalker or the book eater), so if you’re reading this, “HEY!”

Fun kind of drives my education car. If you were in the MSU education department in the early 90s, you understand that. If not, well, just accept it as a fact.

Flash forward to two weeks ago and that hubris I mentioned earlier.

Day one was awesome. I was a rockstar. (Again with the foreshadowing and bad juju)

Day two was a disaster. But they were still along for the ride.

Day three was OHMYGODYOU’VEGOTTOBEKIDDINGMEWHOARETHESEPEOPLE(SPAWNSOFSATAN)ANDWHYAMIHERESOMEONECALLWALMARTINEEDANEWJOB.

I. Cried. In. Front. Of. The. Class.

Oh, teacher with all the answers….ha! ha! ha!

Day four I looked in the mirror and told myself to get over my whiny self. Fun was not driving my car. And I was done going to them. They came to my class.

Day five one of the kids who’s in an earlier media class with me said, “Yesterday was good.” He was talking about English. I was a little surprised. And I almost got a little cocky about my awesomeness. But then day five happened. I didn’t cry, but yeah….There’s probably a youtube video out there. If there is, please don’t tell me. It won’t be the first time, though. The first time was when one of my students (one of my now Facebook friends) and his cohort in crime decided to do their project on how to get D-Hall in 60 seconds or less. It worked.

When I got home last Friday I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and maybe eat some ice cream. And Cake. And Peeps…because, you know, they have all those new flavors.

I couldn’t have a margarita or 10 because I have a no drinking when you’re super stressed policy. Those kids were not only keeping me from fun and my dream of awesome English teaching and my self-actualized reality of awesomeness, they were keeping me from tequila. This was not okay.

Monday of this week something in me changed. When they walked into my room, I greeted every student the way Spanish teacher Lisa Williams taught us at inservice once. And as the kids walked in my room I saw them as people–who were stripped of a teacher they liked because he got an awesome promotion–getting ready to face the realities of a world that kind of sucks on a regular basis these days. I mean we’re on the brink of a new Cold War and there’s all this hate and it costs a freaking fortune to go to school and we’re 36+ inches behind on rain and the wealth gap is growing at astronomical rates. But these kids…they’re excited and probably a little afraid and it doesn’t really matter if they get satire or not but it does matter that they know they matter and who cares if fun drives my car and I thought teaching English would be fun?

Tuesday of this week was ok. Sort of.

Wednesday of this week was ok.

Today was ok.

Tomorrow’s going to be ok.

Will it be awesome, amazing, wonderful, terrific? Probably not. They’re seniors in their last six weeks of school with a new teacher they didn’t want.

Is that okay?

Yeah.

Will I show up in that classroom ready to teach to the very best of my ability?

Yeah.

Have I learned a bajillion and twelve lessons in the last nine days?

Oh yeah.

And all those answers….it’s easy to have them when you live in a glass house.

The newsroom is a glass house in a lot of ways. I mean we have deadlines, but we also have people who WANT TO BE THERE and usually love us.

Confession: for years my friends have said, “You have no idea,” and I’ve said “I know,” but on the inside I’ve smugly thought they were wrong. I totally knew.

Well, I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

And the truth is I will never really know and that’s okay because the not knowing is what makes us seek answers and seeking answers is what really makes us grow as teachers and for years I thought I knew, which means in a lot of ways I was stagnant, and that’s a scary bad place to be as a teacher. Whatever else happens, I’m no longer stagnant. And that’s something I can’t thank these kids for enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love or Hate…Rock or Rockstar

Oh the agony…

Okay, not really.

I’m working on the beginning of the first draft of a book. It’s a love/hate relationship.

One day I love the words. They’re gold. They are rockstar. They sing to me while I breathe life into the story.

And the next they are struggling to be anything more than rock…not pretty rock, just that plain white gravel…that stuff that flies off of trucks on the highway and smacks my windshield and scares the crap out of me and makes me want to call the “How’s My Driving?” number on the bumper sticker and tell whomever answers exactly what I think about that…

Anyway, the beginning is always like this. Okay, again, not really.

ALL OF IT IS ALWAYS LIKE THIS. Even the muse inspired stuff.

So yeah, I’m working on the beginning, and I’m trying to find the voice of the story and the characters all while working through opening plot points that make sense to the characters that begin to take form as the opening morphs into something more than words on the page.

Once I get chapter one where I want it, I can go NANO-style, fastdraft on the first draft. Until then, it’s slow going. And I’m good with that, because this is fun.

 

I’m a Guest Today!

It’s no secret I like to blog. 🙂 I’ve done guest blog posts before, but never one like this. Jodi Linton is one of my former students, and I’m SO proud of her writing success. Her debut novel releases with Entangled Suspense Summer 2014.

I’d love to see some contest entries on my guest post! Check it out here. #

Several of my Mary Beth Lee and Liz Lee titles are on sale for 99 cents until next Saturday. It’s my back-to-school sale. 🙂

Next Sunday my Mary Beth Lee books will be available at most eBook retailers.  Right now, they’re available on Amazon. Check them out here.

School’s Still Out for Summer #MyWANA #Teacher

1 of four bags of supplies I bought for the classroom this year.

1 of four bags of supplies I bought for the classroom this year.

Right now I dread next Monday. I love my job, but there’s so much freedom during the summer. I love staying up late to work and sleeping in and wearing flipflops and yoga pants and putting my hair up in a ponytail and not wearing makeup and reading tons of romance novels and listening to my grooveshark playlist for hours and deciding last minute to take an overnight trip to the casino and summer. Yeah. All of it.

By next Sunday I’ll be ready…sort of. By the next Sunday I’ll definitely be ready.

I took the first step today: School supply shopping for the classroom.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to embrace the last few days of this break.

Dead Girl Walking

Coffee Time Night Owl Writer Reporting For Duty #MyWANA

My little addiction

My little addiction

WAAAAAYYYYY back when I started writing again, my (no longer existent) local writer’s group met at Jackye Plummer’s house. I blame Jackye for my addiction and insomnia.

Jackye was an amazing writer, a fantastic hostess, a true joy and MEAN with her red pen. Nine times out of ten she’d hand a manuscript back, say “chunk the first three chapters” and then talk about what you’d done right in the book. The group would spend hours around her table trading pages of our WIPS. We loved Tuesday nights. We’d eat, drink coffee, read, comment and laugh for hours. I’m not sure what Jackye put in her coffee, but we could work for hours on it.

It’s been years since I participated in those Tuesday night critiques, but I still drink coffee when I’m working. I’ve tried NOT drinking coffee, but the words don’t seem to work without it.

Problem? I usually write at night. I don’t know why, but for some reason my creative brain kicks into gear around 10 p.m. If I could write all night, I would. But unless it’s summer, I have the day job to consider. The last thing in the world my students need is a sleepless Mrs. Lee reporting for duty. 🙂

I’m finishing up my late night coffee, remembering Jackye and saying a silent thank you to her as I write this post.

What about you? Coffee at night? Creative brain on night owl hours? Someone who made a huge impact on your life and art?

I’d love to hear your stories.#

 

I Refused to Miss School Today No Matter What. Here’s Why

Best class ever. Here’s why:

  1. Prerequisite: 1st Amendment understanding

Nuclear war left world devastated. Group left makes up Goodist society where the world is always Good. No violence. No poverty. No divorce. Supressive rules: censored music, censored education. Goodist Judges who speak for the people and serve for life once elected. No marriage until 25, but must live with parents until then and train for a true career so when they turn 25, they can have a good life, therefore no money problems, which is a leading cause of divorce. No open religious beliefs since religion is a huge cause of conflict; however, personal beliefs in your own home are perfectly fine. Those who don’t follow the rules or don’t want to try are sent to the nuclear wasteland. Outcasts must sit alone. The Goodists don’t let the Outcasts form a community at the beginning of the game for fear the Outcasts would try to overthrow them and their bubble. Point of project: convince those undecided to join a side. Outcasts also trying to convince Goodists to become Outcast. Goodists trying to convince undecides to join them, but they will not allow those Outcast to join them. (AT NO TIME IN THE SESSION CAN THE MODERATOR interfere with how this plays out. You MUST be like Jeff Probst. You can ask questions, but you can’t make things happen. )

THIS SESSION (end of 2012 semester Jan. 9-11)

1.  Most of class is Goodist. 3 judges chosen, they sit in front and face forward. Only judges speak for Goodists unless a judge sees a silent Goodist with their hand raised requesting the opportunity to speak.  One Outcast. About 10 undecided.

2. An absentee joins Outcasts. 2 against rest of class.

3. Debate begins by undecideds questioning the Goodists judges or the Outcasts. Only judges speak for the Goodists unless a judge calls on a Goodist society member. At any time, the Goodist judges can call for a 60-second Goodist discussion before answering a question. When that happens Goodists meet, discuss and come up with an answer, then judge responds. Outcasts can not talk to each other at all at first. They are solitary.

4. After twenty minutes of debate a Goodist who’s been reprimanded for speaking without judges’ consent three times is kicked out of Goodist community. Goodists cheer. These judges are great at letting their people talk, so they are liked.

5. Goodist judge and undercover operative of Outcasts operating as undecided gets in kerfuffle with Goodist judge over whether a Goodist teenager committing a crime would be Outcast. She says if that’s her child she will be leave with him. Half of Goodists leave. Undecided explains she’s really Outcast.

6. The original Outcast asks Goodist judges if he can have his own group and sign a peace treaty. Goodist judges agree. EVERY Outcast joins with original in new group even though he’s not given them the laws of his new society. End of Day 1

Day 2. Moderator starts by reminding groups where we were at end of day 1 and telling Outcasts we’re going to give them a chance to change their minds about the new society since they all joined without having a clue as to what they were joining. She tells original Outcast to take two minutes to come up with the laws of his society.  (AGAIN, moderator must let student draw his own conclusions. Do Not Get Involved)

7. Moderator takes the eight remaining Goodists to the hall to come up with treaty points while Outcast leader explains new law. Five minutes later Goodists come in to discover three girls left Outcasts and are solitary. Before the new leader speaks his group other than about five on the outside huddle and do a “Go Team!” chant then “1-2-3 break hand clap thing.”) New Outcasts are caller Murica and they are based on the USA and first amendment. One of remaining two undecideds joins Murica society. No one else changes sides.

8. Now President of Murica, his vice president and the three Goodists judges meet to go over peace accord. While they are signing the treaty, one of the three solitary Outcasts asks permission to speak to Murica President and Goodist judges. She requests that the three solitary outcasts be allowed to join together. President says yes. Judges say only if the three girls are willing to move far away so they won’t be a threat to the Goodists or the new Murica society.

9. Treaty signed, but before that one of the Goodist judges tells new president she thinks the three girls really want to assassinate him and take over Murica. President asks judges if he could please have armed  secret service agents to protect him. Judges say yes. Three Murica citizens are chosen to serve as new president’s protection. President tells one agent to go kill as many of the new group as possible; however, while the treaty was in the process of being signed, 1 of the girls in the new unnamed group was silently going to the outer areas of Murica and asking individuals to join her group.1st one she asks is the undercover Outcast who posed as an undecided. The group tells her if she doesn’t join them, they’ll “kill” her instead of letting her return to her group. (At this point they call me over and ask if that would be permissible. I decide yes and tell girl if that’s the case, she will need to sit next to the wall and not say anything. Since her leader and the judges are signing peace accords, no one really notices this conversation taking place. At this time new group also tells me they’re really a violent group set on overthrowing the Goodists because they want the bubble of non-nuclear wasteland world the Goodists have created. They just want to make sure that’s okay. It is. It’s THEIR game.) Girl chooses to join new group. New group sends girl over to Murica to start recruiting for their society.  Every individual who wasn’t part of the original huddle does so. The ones in the huddle do not. (interesting.) The girl originally recruited was actually one of the huddle leaders. (also interesting.) The new people in the group sit a little apart from the original third group except two people. One: the original recruit who chose not to die and a best friend of one of the girls.

10. While peace treaty being signed Goodists left at home sit silently watching and listening. They’ve never been given a voice, so they don’t try to use it now. Muricans from huddle keep talking to each other about what they want to make Murica and throwing out comments they hope President can hear. Three secret service agents pretend to have guns and keep pointing them at new group, but they say nothing about how some of their people are moving over there. Suddenly as the President and judges are signing the treaty, one of the new recruits (best friend) runs across the room and assassinates the most vocal of the Goodist judges.

11. CHAOS ensues. Kids are loud and confused and the everyone backs away from the judge except the other judges. The judge says “You can’t do that” then looks at me for confirmation.
Game over and we go back to a circle to discuss what’s happened over the course of the last two days and how the same thing happens all over the world. We discuss Utopias, WW2, 1984, The Hunger Games, dystopian literature in general. Tomorrow we’ll break it down even further and talk about WHY THIS MATTERS.

Every year this exercise AMAZES me. I’m stunned by how it plays out. It’s an RPG, so the students have to control the outcome. If the adviser tries to, it destroy the learning outcome. Don’t do it. Let the first amendment work. It will.

You do have to facilitate. Since it’s a debate and an RPG. You have to be in control of the classroom at all times. You can’t be too strict because you have to let things happen. Make sure the debate goes on for at least a day so you have plenty of discussion points. If for some reason the debate stalls say you’re taking off your moderator hat and become an undecided and ask questions that will lead to conflicted answers. If you empower the students, they will start taking part in the discussion. In all the years I’ve done this (almost two decades) only two classes ever didn’t make this work. One year every kid in the class went to the Outcast side.  (AWESOME year, by the way.) When that happened I let them lead the discussion on why. It turned into point/counter point. The usual second and third days were spent studying first amendment cases and high school students and how they affected kids in my school district.  The second year it didn’t work, I messed up. I did it at the end of my first set of first amendment lessons, so about three weeks into the semester. The students didn’t have enough confidence in their voice in my classroom yet, so they were afraid to debate each other and afraid to question me if I threw out those “devil’s advocate” type scenarios. Wait to do this until the end of the third six weeks and it should be fun.

I loved this week. Once again, the first amendment wins and once again my students leave the classroom with a lesson they’ll never forget.

It’s kind of like tricking them into working HARD without them realizing it. 🙂 Sneaky teacher. Yeah, that’s me.

*This lesson started as a lesson from the Freedom of Information in Texas organization. It was a freedom of religion exercise about the Church of Goodism. The kids never got into it like that, so I changed it. Turning it into a dystopia and making the religious element one of several points makes this a lot of fun.

Plans for Spring Break

Almost every time I visit DD at Starbucks these perfect supermodel impersonator German or Italian mothers with several small children who look like they jumped off the pages of an Osh Kosh b’Gosh ad are in line with friends. For some reason I think that image stuck in my brain when I said my niece and nephew could spend the night one day this week.

MAN, kids are hard work! I have no idea how the above mentioned women look like a million bucks while raising children.
By the time Ella and Alan left, I was worn out. It’s going to take 48 hours to recover from a 24-hour visit.
But you know what? We had a blast. And all those Spring Break plans that didn’t happen because I chose Auntie Time instead? I’m cool with that.