Tag Archives: rider

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!

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.


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?


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


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.







I’m Voting Yes

I just left the community town hall meeting the board and superintendent did to give facts about the bond and to allow community comments. The meeting cemented my choice to vote yes in May.

ImageThis year for the first time I’m worried about my students’ competitive chances after they leave Rider. My students are not receiving a 21st century education. Their peers across the state have access to technology that should be common but isn’t in WFISD. It can’t be without spending a ton of money to improve our infrastructure. That ton of money doesn’t exist. The district has spent money trying to update our old buildings to work with the increasing technological needs of students and teachers, but we haven’t been able to keep up with the demand. Computers alone won’t fix this problem. Our techs work tirelessly trying to update an already antiquated system. We’ve reached the point where we can keep pouring money into the old buildings and still have the old buildings that can’t keep up or we can invest in new. In Texas investing in new means passing a bond.

I keep hearing people say we could pass a “different” bond at a later date, but the bond I’ve heard floated is one that the majority of voters have said they would in no way support. It’s too expensive. Saying no now only delays the process. It takes three years to open a school and this proposal has already been in the works for two. We can’t afford to wait.

The May 10 bond isn’t perfect, but it’s the right direction for students and teachers in WFISD. If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose students to surrounding area schools (we already do; that trend will grow), and we’re going to lose amazing younger teachers to districts that can offer higher pay and 21st century facilities.

I love the tradition in Wichita Falls schools. We can bring those traditions with us to the new campus if the bond passes. This bond is right for Wichita Falls. Change is never easy, but it is essential for growth. If we don’t pass the bond, students and teachers lose. The city loses.  I’m voting yes to bond and build.




THANKFUL #mywana

The British Museum always makes me think of Harrison Ford. Another thing to be thankful for.

The British Museum always makes me think of Harrison Ford. Another thing to be thankful for.

Things I’m excited about September edition: Survivor, cooler temperatures, the Colonial Marriage Ministry Sacred Marriage class, teaching InDesign to kids after school, watching the freshmen become Raiders, first amendment memorization, watching new editors learn to make lists, revising Sharlene book 3, more dominoes with Mom and Dad, kisses, decorating the living room of the new house, watching DD transform from a kid into a woman ready to take on the world, seeing Pam B on Wednesdays if only for a minute, remembering the freedom of an empty nest during deadlines but also remembering the newsroom is not life, orange, learning new low carb recipes that rock, CS6, gearing up for NaNo, high school football, hockey, halftime shows. Funny, when I started this, I thought the list would be small enough for a Facebook status update. Goal this year: start every day thankful.

JCamp 101

I don't have the kids' permission to post pics of them to my blog, or I'd have a pic of them working!

I don’t have the kids’ permission to post pics of them to my blog, or I’d have a pic of them working!

Yearbook camp at Rider this week has been amazing. It’s not just my kids. I invited all the area schools. Iowa Park, Hirschi and Graham have been in the room with several of my kids. So far we’ve learned more about story and photography and how to critique. Tomorrow we start design and the kids will be get busy working on actual products they can take back to their rooms for use in their yearbooks and papers. MSU Professor Bradley Wilson and two of my former students–one in training to be an adviser, one already an adviser–are there helping. It’s AMAZING. Two yearbook companies have donated supplies. Balfour brought adviser gifts and fun stuff for the kids. Walsworth gave us food yesterday and brought supplies. My rep Brian would have taught, but photo ran over on time, which was totally cool because the kids learned so much. He’s coming back Thursday to help instead.

My vision when I decided to do this camp was to improve scholastic journalism in the area and to let everyone know about TAJE, our state J organization.

The reality is so much more than I ever could’ve imagined.

Yep, I love my job. #



She did it!


Thank you, Lord.




I won’t go into the whole story. It doesn’t matter today. 


For now I’ll leave it with She Did It. ON graduated from high school. 


And now she’s headed to Vernon College. 


She’s a fighter. She rediscovered hope. 


It wouldn’t have been possible without her original counselor, Mrs. Susie Nix, Rider registrar Paula Moore, Rider counselor Jennifer Spurgers and Rider teacher Cleveland Wallerich, who connected with a hurt kid and helped her remember how much she loved school.


It wouldn’t have been possible without our small group and their prayers.


It wouldn’t have been possible without my sister, who’s reclaimed her own life in the same time.


Most of all, it wouldn’t have been possible without God, our partner every step of the way.






A Tough Lesson

I thought I understood poverty.
I was a Welfare mom. I made my way through school and got past that stage of life. I took the classes to explain how students of poverty think and feel. I’ve been to the workshops on how to help kids see past their present to try to find hope in the future.
I’ve given money and food to the homeless. I support United Way.
I’ve taught for almost two decades.
Like I said, I thought I understood poverty.
And then ON came to live with us.
The first week she smacked me across the face with the truth of poverty.
Her face and body were bruised, but that was nothing compared to her heart and soul.
That first weekend I prayed over and over for her to see we could be an escape. We could help her. I wanted to demand “STAY WITH US!” but I knew that wasn’t the answer. It had to be her decision. After three days, it was, but only with a caveat.
She told me after her first day at Rider that she’d never be like DD. Never have friends like that because she hated them. When I asked like what, she told me she didn’t want to offend me, and not to take it personally, but friends like us. “Rich people.”
I didn’t take her words personally, but they did hurt. They hurt because I saw us through her eyes.
I’m a school teacher and DH owns a lawn care service. I’ve never looked at us as rich, but she did. And by rich she meant judgmental and rude. Big eye opener.

That first week we just wanted her to focus on finding a way to get back in school.
Her old counselor someone I’d talked to in the past, was willing to do whatever we needed to get her on my campus.
We thought she’d be there for a few weeks tops before moving to the alternative campus to graduate early and move on with life in a safe way, whatever that entailed.
When her transcripts came in, the Rider counselor told me the grades were impressive. Despite constant truancies and moves, she was an A-B student.
It shocked me. How could an A-B student be a drop out? How can that happen?
Another shocker. In my world, kids with good grades stay in school and go to college. In hers, grades were no big deal. In hers, college wasn’t an option. In hers, the life plan was written and it was going in a direction where grades made ZERO difference.
An educator I respect says First, Do Not Deprive of Hope.
Until then I didn’t understand what exactly that meant.
When educators (including ME) say “I’ve got to hold these kids accountable or they’ll never learn” about kids like ON, we’re missing the point. They don’t care. We can’t make them care. Our world, our gradebooks, our lessons, DON’T MATTER. Their hope for something different is gone. Our “accountability” statements are the equivalent of the two minute showers we get every once in a while in the midst of this god awful drought.

It’s been months now. ON reclaimed her hope. In large part because of the amazing teachers on my campus. One, Cleveland Wallerich, reached out to ON almost immediately.  He never treated her like a child of poverty, a child with no hope. That’s probably important. He made her feel like every other kid in the class. Those first weeks when she was quiet and sick and bruised, not sure she was even going to stay with us, he didn’t let her become invisible even though that’s what she seemed to want. He treated her like a normal person. He spoke to her every morning when we walked through the door. He teased her about me. He established a connection and made her laugh. That didn’t happen all that often at first. Today she laughs a lot. Today, she’s different, but the same. A child with hope. A child who’s survived.

We bought ON’s graduation announcements and cap & gown this month. She took the SAT. Once ON reclaimed her hope, everything changed. She wants to go to college. She’s graduating from a traditional high school. She has a job. She has friends who have plans for life after high school. She hasn’t been sick in months. The bruises on her face and body are gone. I know the ones on the heart and soul still exist, but they’re healing…BECAUSE of hope AND prayer. We prayed a lot, our small group prayed with us and reached out to ON, including her in everything we did this summer. AND ON’s old school counselor called this month to check on her. When she heard about ON’s new life plan, she was overjoyed. I told her we’d definitely send her a graduation announcement.

I talked to an older teacher at a conference last week. He told me about his experiences with poverty as a child. He said it still hurts to remember how he was treated. His voice cracked with the 50-yr-old memories. He was different because he was poor, and his peers never let him forget it. BUT he made it. He broke the cycle. ON will too. And as she does, I’m going to be paying attention as a teacher and an aunt.

Poverty destroys. It sucks away hope. Schools can do the same if we’re not careful.


New years.

Fresh, shiny clean new beginnings.

I love the day before the big day.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new year with new expectations, new students, a new classroom.

I hope to be a better teacher. To remember to turn to God daily instead of trying to rely on myself alone. To do what I can do and not stress myself out over those things I can’t.

To write.

To leave the job behind when I lock the door at the end of the day.


To encourage story in the classroom in a time when story is suddenly frowned upon.

To teach my kids to be better leaders.

To be a better leader.

To wear cute clothes. 🙂

To laugh.

To not be so serious.

To help my students be more organized upfront and hopefully that will translate to better deadlines!

To enlist parent help early on.

To keep my toenails painted, sometimes in funky colors.

To read great books and share them with my kids.

To sleep enough.

To exercise enough.

To eat healthy.

To remember dance parties make everything better. And so does chocolate.

To not take things personally.

To get out of the classroom because my fellow RHS teachers are awesome.

To stop by the office and say hello every day because my admins and secretaries are awesome, too!

To celebrate my successes and my students’ successes!

To foster creativity!

To remember I have a life outside the classroom.

That’s it for now. It’s a pretty big list.


Today was even better!

Best yearbook distribution ever! Had a blast. Proud of my kids!

I Hope I’m Still Feeling This Way Tomorrow!

I love my job. I love my kids. I think teenagers are the most creative beings in the universe.
When the kids first said they wanted to do a black light/maze distribution, my immediate reaction was…WHAT the heck?! Followed quickly by No. But the long-time adviser in me remembered the kids are in charge…in this. This is their book, and they know what they want. So, instead of what I was thinking, I said, “you figure out a way to make it work…” I was thinking there was no way they would do it. Too much work. End of the year. No way.
I. Was. Wrong. It took until the very last minute today, but they did it. We had a black light maze distribution night for seniors. And tomorrow, we’ll have a black light maze distribution day for the rest of the school. If the seniors are any indication, the kids will LOVE it. The maze fits, because it keeps kids moving, and the theme is Perpetual Motion. The black lights work because the cover is a marbl-y white and gold, and it looks cool.
And one of the ad girls brought white balloons that look cool under the light, too.
I’m so proud of my kids. They’ve done an awesome job. I can’t wait for tomorrow!