“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” -T.S. Eliot

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Yes, I’m alive. It’s crazy how many people have said “you haven’t blogged in a while!” when they see me. So I’m back with an update. We have started our Poetry unit! As expected, I heard many grumbles and words like “I hate poetry. It’s so stupid and pointless.” Welllllll, I think we have started to get through to them and they are finding things they like about it which is so fun to watch.

Side note: Although I definitely DO care more about the people my students become than the scores on the tests they take, I have to say that I just finished grading their final exams on Night… Out of all three of my classes, I only had ONE student not pass (and just barely), three students got C’s, and about 60 students got B’s and about 30 students got A’s! I couldn’t be more proud of them. This wasn’t an “easy” test, either. It consisted of multiple choice, matching, defining, and short answer questions. WOOOOO! THEY’RE AMAZING!

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But anyway, back to poetry. So we started off by watching some “slam poetry” videos which is performed, spoken poetry. I feel like this really reeled them in. They saw how dedicated and emotional people are with their poems. The first poem we watched was Gina Loring’s “Somewhere There is a Poem” :

Students seemed to like this one and realized that poetry is a wonderful outlet. It sparked a great discussion about self-expression and ways to handle stress, sadness, anger, happiness, frustration, etc… Although this was probably the “least liked” poem of the bunch, most students seemed to enjoy in and a few could definitely relate.

The second poem we watched was “Dreams are Illegal in the Ghetto” by Twin Poets. This one was a little bit different because it was performed by twin brothers at the same time:

The students liked this one (although I thought they might find it confusing) because many could relate. Many students come from places where their dreams have been shot down and they have felt hopeless about ever getting out of this city to chase their dreams. I’m glad that they saw themselves through these poets and were able to make connections.

The third poem we watched was “Knock, Knock” by Daniel Beaty. This was probably the most powerful and inspiring poem for us and they even asked me to play it again (we’ve seen it five times now):

When we finished watching it, we all said “PHEEEW!” because it was such an intense experience. This was the most relatable to students because many of them said “I can really relate to that because my dad wasn’t there for me either.” It breaks my heart to hear things like that from these kids that I love so much, but I was again thankful that they could relate to this and they were pretty darn inspired.

Next, we watched “Hands” by Sarah Kay, which had a very opposite subject “Knock, Knock.” This is the one I relate to the most and it gave me an opportunity to talk to the class about the relationship that my dad and I have, which they loved hearing about:

Through this experience, I realize even more that I am so lucky to have both parents in my life and to have their immense support. Most of my students don’t even have that. They get themselves off to school, get themselves home, make their own dinner, and go to bed without ever seeing their parents. I couldn’t imagine. So they had a hard time relating to this poem, but they still enjoyed it nonetheless.

The last poem we watched is one we could all relate to. It’s by one of my favorite poets, Taylor Mali (and he’s a teacher, too!) and he’s somewhat mocking how this generation speaks. This is called, “Like, You Know?”:

This was a good way to end our discovery of slam poetry. It was light-hearted and sarcastic and had us all cracking up. I asked the students if they think I’m in the same generation as them (which they found out my age through this conversation, dang it!) and thanks to Google, we found out that we are all part of the same generation, generation “Y.” It’s weird to be so close in age to my students but also pretty fun at the same time!

Also, I was observed by my supervisor and my mentor teacher last week and it went really well! I love my mentor teacher, but he has a hard time giving compliments. But when we sat down formally with my supervisor, it all came out and made me cry. He told my supervisor “I wish you could be here every day to see the connections Caitlin has with these kids. They adore her.” and he gave me scores on my formal observation that aren’t usually given during a first observation. My supervisor observed me and told me how much she’s already seen my grow as a teacher. I’m so inspired and so thankful that both of them see the passion I have for education and for these students.

On this same day, we had a bit of a catch-up period and some of the students went to the lab with my mentor teacher and the rest stayed in the class with me. As soon as they left for the lab, I had a line of students saying “Miss Gray, read this poem I wrote last night!” (They’re writing poetry in their free time, WHAT!?) And asking me if I have any other poetry formats they can try. I was blown away. And after that, three girls came up to me and said “Miss Gray, we don’t want you to leave.” I said, “I’m not leaving yet!” And they said “But you are soon. And we want you to stay the whole year. And then teach 11th grade. And then 12th,” followed by the rest of the class saying “YEEEEAH!” …Man, I love them. It was hard to leave my middle schoolers last term, but it’s going to be even harder to leave the high schoolers this term. I will never, ever forget them. So let’s just say that this was the best teaching day I’ve had thus far. MY. HEART.

Today, we started a documentary called “Louder than a Bomb” which follows four high school students preparing for a poetry slam competition that happens every year in Chicago. The students seem to be really into it and inspired by the fact that people their same age can write and perform such powerful poetry.

A student that I have really connected with this term through music blew me away today. We always talk about metal music, tattoos, and piercings, but today was different. I pulled him aside because he hasn’t turned in any work all term, and eventually it came out that he has a child. It’s so hard to react to something like that in a calm way. But it was a learning experience and my eyes have been opened to his life. It’s hard to imagine a 15 year old becoming a father and juggling school at the same time. We talked a lot about doing this for his daughter and for himself, and it definitely brought some tears forward. I am so thankful for this experience and for him opening up to me.

Overall, things are going so well in the classroom. I don’t have time for much else but that’s actually okay with me. I am working on completing my long and tedious work sample and I will be so relieved once I’m done. But for now, it’s massive amounts of paperwork for me! It’s cool because my students know all about my work sample and the classes I’m taking so they are constantly asking me “What part are you working on now?” I love them. One of my students also bought me HELLO KITTY STAMPS TO STAMP THEIR PAPERS WITH!

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My heart is full and I love the connections that are being made each and every day and the relationships that are growing. I wonder how I got so lucky to have these students in my life. LOOOOOOOOOOVE.

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FRIDAY, FRIDAY, gotta get down (AKA do homework, grade papers, go to work, and scream) ON FRIDAY!

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First of all, I finished watching Freaks and Geeks today before work. NOW what am I going to do with my life?! BAHHHH. (That’s the reasoning behind today’s picture, kind of like… a memorial)

Anyway, today was yet another good day, thankfully. Usually Fridays are crazy because kids are ready for the weekend. (I know I am). Today, I learned that teaching is alllllll about thinking on your feet. I told my students last class they need to have Night finished and they need to be prepared for a quiz next class. First period comes along, I have a total of 11 students in class and I usually have 37. (10 were out for state testing, all of the others caught the nasty flu). I gave students the first 20 minutes of class to finish reading if they hadn’t, or to finish their reading comprehension packet and review the previous section. I expected that a few students would finish up the last few pages and the rest were already done. As I walked around while they were reading, I noticed most were at least 20 pages away from being done. GAHHH. I thought, “How am I supposed to expect them to take this quiz if they aren’t even done?” The rule in my class is that you have to have taken and passed 3 out of 5 of the quizzes in order to even take the final exam, and my students know that. I used the analogy of a basketball player never showing up to the practices and then expecting to start in the game…not gonna happen. And another dilemma, I didn’t want to give away the ending of the book to the students who hadn’t finished it when we did our discussion. So this is what I told them: For the first time ever, we are not going to have a discussion before the quiz. If you are not done with the reading, make an attempt on the quiz. Don’t panic if you don’t know anything, you can come and retake it once you’ve finished the book. And remember that you have to take and pass at least 3 out of 5 of the quizzes to take the final, and most of you have done so. So don’t panic about this one.

I handed out the quiz and about half of them passed it. When I was in high school, and even still today, I hated when teachers would push assignments or tests back just because half of the class wasn’t prepared. So I didn’t want to do that to those who were prepared for this quiz. And I think it went as well as it could have and I’m trying to be fair by letting them come and retake it once their finished. I’m getting better at this whole “think on your feet” thing.

Yesterday, my mentor teacher gave me a book to read called Teach like a Champion. It’s basically his bible and he swears by it. He told me I need to work on not letting students “opt-out,” meaning if students don’t know the answer to my question, I can ask someone else, but I always have to go back to the original person and ask them the question again to make sure they have the answer now rather than just letting them opt-out. After reading that section in the book he gave me, I decided to try it today. I probably did it about 20 times, and every time I did it, I looked at my teacher and he was grinning. After class he smiled and said “You read the book didn’t you? Today, you’re teaching like a champion.” …DAY. MADE. For him to say something nice to me like that is HUGE. And also the first time he has ever done so. Making progress!

We had a pep rally in between my two classes and it was so much fun! My students fought over where I would sit so I decided to just stand on the side instead. There were so many fun activities and games and SO much school spirit! It’s so cool to see them take such pride in their school and get so excited about it.

During third period, I did the same thing with the quiz as I did with first period but this time, I actually had a full class of 35. I don’t really know why. But this class did a lot better on the quiz and more of them came prepared. The difference between the two classes is like night and day. My first period is filled with zombies and low participation, and my third period is filled with laughter and raised hands. I always have so much fun in third period. My second period (I didn’t see them today because of block scheduling) is somewhere in between. I have a lot of honors students in second period and I feel like they’re bored, which is something I want to work on. But anyway, third period went well and everyone participated. I witnessed many students finish the book and start to cry. Lots of tissues were being passed around today, that’s for sure. Even one of my football players needed the tissue box passed to them. As hard as it was for me to see them cry, it was also an amazing experience to see my students so moved by a story. A few students even mentioned to me, “Miss Gray, this is the first book I have ACTUALLY ever read.” AHHHH! HEAVEN. I think that’s a dream for any English teacher. I’m so glad this text moved them so much. On Monday and Tuesday, we take our final exam! The real test of knowledge!

This has been a rollercoaster of a week if I ever saw one. But it ended on a good note, and that’s really all that matters. The bulk of my unit has been complete, and now it is just up to my students to demonstrate their knowledge next week through their tests and memoirs. I can’t wait! I did it! Well, WE did it. As I was walking out of the door this morning, my mentor teacher called out, “Good work today, champion teacher!” MY HEART IS FULL.

May this weekend be filled with relaxation, catching up, yoga, and more happiness.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” -Albert Einstein

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Today was a better day by about one million and one times. I have so amazing people in my life that care about me so much. Thank you to those of you who sent encouraging texts and words my way, you’ll never know how much I appreciate it.

Today, I realized how defensive my students are of me. There are still students that are hesitant to open up to me and skeptical of me, (mostly the girls) but those who have let me into their lives have really let me into their lives. One student in particular stands up for me when the room gets out of control and tells the other students, “HEY! Be quiet! Miss Gray is talking!” and the room goes silent. He comes up to me after class and says “I’m sorry we were being bad, Miss Gray. I tried.” BAAAAAAH I love them. I love their eagerness to help me. If I ever drop my pen or papers, there are a dozen students on the ground within seconds trying to pick it up. It’s moments like those and the simple “Good morning,” “Thank you” and “Have a good day Miss Gray!” moments that let me know I’m doing okay.

In our book, there is a scene where the main character gets whipped because he was caught spying on a guard and a Polish girl having sex when he wasn’t supposed to be there. I asked the class, “Why does Elie get whipped?” and a student raises his had and answers, “Because…Elie saw the guard and some Polish chick… shackin’ up.” …I lost it. And so did the rest of the class. My abs hurt after that one. I got the quizzes back that asked that same question and 90% of them said “Because he caught the guard and the Polish chick shacking up” …sigh. The student who initially said that wrote, “Because he got caught seeing the guard and the Polish girl knocking boots!” I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone under the age of 80 use that phrase. I love their personalities and their sense of humor. I know it’s a bad day when my classroom isn’t filled with laughter at least every ten minutes.

After the high school today, I decided, for the first time in grad school, that I’m not going to class. I skipped both of my classes and caught up on grading and my lesson for tomorrow (and ok, maybe I watched a couple of episodes on Freaks and Geeks)  WOO! It feels so good to take time for myself. I needed it. Tomorrow, my kids take their very last quiz on the book! I can’t believe it’s already over. They have worked so hard and have gained so much from this book. Way more than I ever expected them to. Monday and Tuesday, they take their final exam! WE GOT THIS! …but thank goodness tomorrow is Friday. Fingers crossed for another good day!

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” -Ernest Hemingway

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The little text at the top of this page reads: Teaching, Graduate School, Life. I guess this one is a combination of the first and last rather than just teaching, which has been most of my focus lately. First, I have to say that I am so appreciative of the love and support I have received over the past couple of weeks, especially, let alone through everything else. This process has been one huge test. I came into a classroom of students whom I’d never met, students that have already developed relationships amongst themselves and with the teacher, and then here I come…some random little student teacher who looks like she’s a student in high school herself. My unit got changed from To Kill a Mockingbird to Night with a one week notice when I had TKAM completely planned out. So to say the least, I went into this term with a blindfold on. So thank you to those who have had to hear about the schizophrenic, bipolar-like ups and downs that these past few weeks have brought. If one thing has remained the same, it’s my love and dedication for my students. They are the light in my life and the ones who get me through this term. Even when everything is changed around me (tests, schedules, PowerPoints, requirements, EVERYTHING POSSIBLE), they keep me going. When I am constantly being tested by those in authority (being purposefully locked out of places I need to go, teacher being a no-show, no information being left for me, no support, ya know, yadda, yadda) my students are the ones who are there with open arms. I have never been pushed this hard and no one has ever intentionally tested me, trying to make my life more difficult than it needs to be until now. I can handle just about anything as long as it’s in my control, but when I am being intentionally tested and it’s out of my control, that’s when I’ve reached my breaking point. I’m over being tested by a grown, experienced teacher. I get this little game, and I’m done playing it. Maybe this is just how life works and people do this all the time, but it’s just not fair that it’s gotten to the point where my students are confused, frustrated, and stressed, and it’s all out of my control and there is nothing I can do to help them or make it better.

Secondly, for the third time in my life, well for the third time in two months rather, I have heard the words “I don’t want to hold you back from your dreams” in a way that I am being pushed away from them or they are pushing themselves from me. This is something I will never understand. NOTHING will ever stand in the way of school or teaching and when someone takes it upon themselves and blames themselves for “holding me back,” it breaks me, and again is something that is out of my control. I’m seeing a pattern here. I need to tell every single person that I meet from now on that no matter what they do or say, they aren’t holding me back or taking me away from my dreams unless I tell them they are. If someone was holding me back from  my dreams in one way or another, they would know about it and they would no longer be in my life. When others assume my feelings or my priorities, it angers me. I try so hard to be honest in life and to be transparent with those around me, but when others put feelings that they “think I should have,” on me, my head feels like it is placed in a blender. Trust me, nothing and nobody will ever take me away from teaching and school and if they were, they wouldn’t be in my life. If anything, anyone who is in my life is helping to get me to where I want to go. Pushing me away because they “don’t want to hold me back” is actually holding me back and taking up space in my head that could be devoted to my dreams. So that’s that. Normally, I wouldn’t rant about something so small, but this small phrase has been said to me for the third time recently, that I don’t know what else to do but tell it like it is. So please, no more pushing yourself out of my life because you “don’t want to hold me back.” It’s frankly a cop-out. I can handle myself and my own dreams and goals, others don’t need to worry about that.

Have you ever heard of “the compliment sandwich?” Well, it’s where someone says something nice about you, then gives you criticism, then ends it with another compliment. Probably so you don’t feel so bad. It kind of cushions the blow. Well, I don’t want to end today’s thoughts on a negative note, and I hope I don’t come off as a Negative Nancy, but I had to express my frustrations through words. Better than with my fists, right? Just kidding…kinda. So there is so much I am thankful for and so much I am lucky to have. I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clean water to drink, and even electricity. As an added bonus, I have the most amazing family, the most supportive and understanding friends, and quirky, full-of-life students. What more could I ask for? Even with having a part time job, going to school full time, student teaching, commuting, attempting to get sleep, and piles of homework and grading, I am still so happy. I determine my own happiness. I always have, and I always will. Everyone has their frustrations and I guess writing is my way of expressing them (obvi, this is a blog). Thank you everyone, again, for all of your constant love and support during this learning-filled, crazy, trying time in my life. Without you, I couldn’t do it.

ERMAHGERD, BLERRGING.

Is it really Monday already? I feel like that was the shortest weekend in history. I definitely wasn’t ready to go back this morning, but that’s life I suppose. I had a pretty average day, the kids were extra zombie-like this morning though. This week shouldn’t be nearly as crazy as last week; the kids are finishing up Night and working on their memoirs. Because of proficiency grading, ( http://gettingsmart.com/cms/blog/2012/11/what-proficiency-based-grading-means-for-your-student/ ) students are not able to work on things at home, so I had to schedule three days of lab time in order for them to type up and work on their memoirs. This alongside the quizzes, time to read and discuss the text in class, and studying for the comprehensive final leaves little time for extra activities, which means less planning for me! I am in the midst of writing my work sample which by the end, it will be about 80-90 pages. WOOO! This work sample includes lesson plans, lesson reflections, student work, and an assortment of other large amounts of paperwork. I’m thankful that I am doing my unit early in the term so that I have until mid-March to complete my work sample. And then I’m back to my sixth graders! I miss them already. It’s a whole different planet. I miss their high energy and excitement for learning. I love my tenth graders because I can joke around with them and have more intellectual conversations with them, but I do miss my sixth graders. So yeah, pretty uneventful Monday. Maybe it’s just the calm before the storm…

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And the Craziest Week of my Life is Complete!

WAAAAAAAAAH, I don’t even know where to begin. This week has been so crazy, and so busy, and filled with so many ups and downs. As always, the ups outweigh the downs. Monday and Tuesday were both rough, but the past three days have been pretty darn great. I am getting to know my students more and more each and every day and they are respecting me, opening up to me, and asking me to open up to them. I have been staying up until 1am every night in preparation for the next day. It’s so crazy to think hours and hours of preparation results in a 67 minute class period. I have come to realize that teaching is one of the most time-consuming and difficult professions in the world. It takes someone who is willing to put in countless amounts of extra hours in order to be completely prepared and give students what they deserve. Also, “co-teaching” is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Having to run everything by someone else and having them critique and change each and every assignment, PowerPoint, and quiz is definitely a frustrating reality of this profession.

I have also learned (well it was solidified, at least) that when you walk into that classroom, you need to be 110% THERE. Not just present with your actual body, but 110% of your mind as well. This leads me back to my favorite quote from Jim Elliot, and the background on my phone to serve as my daily reminder, “Where ever you are, be all there.” I’ve never heard truer words. On Tuesday, I went to class with my head elsewhere. I don’t know where it was, but it wasn’t fully with my students, and it showed. I was disengaged and my students weren’t grasping the material because of it. My mentor teacher could tell I was having an off day, but still gave me a lot of negative feedback. I didn’t dare say this aloud, but I left school that day asking myself “Am I really supposed to be a teacher?” I felt like I had failed them and I failed myself. On Wednesday, I made it my number one priority to focus myself and give my students 110%. That simple thought did it. Telling myself I needed to focus and be present, both with my mind and body, was what it took. I was on top of everything, I had the classroom under control, and my students were engaged and grasping it, acing their quiz. I realized it’s 75% me, 25% my students. If I’m not “there” with them, they’re not “there” with me. From this point forward, I’m focusing on being 110% present for my students. I need to leave anything that’s on my mind in the morning at the front office when I sign in for the day. And so far, that mantra has been golden for the past three days.

Yesterday, Thursday, I was observed by my supervisor through the grad program. My supervisor is the first person I met when I came to Southern Oregon University 3 years ago and someone who means a lot to me. She was my professor for many English classes in undergrad and I look up to her so much as a teacher. Thankfully, everything went really well while I was being observed. The kids were angels (!!!) and everything went smoothly and was rather uneventful. Afterwards she said everything went great and it is so cool to see how I’ve grown into a teacher after all these years. I was so nervous about it, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about at all. PHEW. Also on Thursday, I did what I call an “exit ticket” which is a little slip of paper that will get them out of class at the end of the day if they answer a prompt question on it. The prompt was, “I am thankful for…” and they were asked to write 3 things they are thankful for. OH. MY. GOD. This was probably my most brilliant idea thus far. It was so amazing and inspiring to see what they wrote. Their answers ranged from access to food and water, family and friends, the right to an education, the gift of having inspiring teachers, to the foster care system that gave this student a second chance. When I went home that night, I read each one and teared up. The things my students have to deal with are beyond me. I loved that they recognized the things they are thankful for and are lucky to have. Some students even tied their answers back to our book on concentration camps by writing things like “I am thankful for my freedom and a roof over my head.” (THIS IS A TEACHER’S DREAM COME TRUE!)

Today, my mentor teacher was out at a meeting all day so it was THE MISS GRAY SHOW all day. Sometimes, it’s a lot of pressure to have my teacher there with me all the time so it was nice to run the class alone today. I felt like I was better able to be myself. The kids like to laugh at my mistakes and that’s what today was about. I gave out the assignment on memoirs and told them if they were all caught up on everything, they could start drafting their memoirs. The book we are reading right now is a memoir and they know what consists of a memoir (a story of a particular significant time in one’s life) so they were surprisingly eager to get started. I am having them get their topic approved by me first and from what I’ve seen, these are going to be so great and eye-opening. I cannot wait to read the final products! I surprised my students with canceling their daily quiz and you would have though I was the dang Queen of England for doing so. My eardrums almost burst form the amount of excitement that filled the room. I instead gave them the period to breathe, catch up on work they missed and catch up on the reading. They have worked so hard all week and done so well that I felt like they deserved a break and they were so appreciative of that. Gosh, do I love them.

They are doing so well. 90% of them are acing every quiz and so engaged in the book. I’m so proud of them and all their hard work.

HAPPINESS

Side note, I walked past a couple of my students’ math class today, who are fellow metalheads and can’t believe I listen to metal, and they both saw me through the window and made a heart symbol with their hands and smiled. MY HEART. It made my day.

Another side note, I am loving my crock pot and I just made vegetarian chili in it. YUMMMMM.

VEGETARIAN CHILI

I am so ready for the weekend and I am thankful for a week filled with so many learning experiences. Next week, we will finish Night and rap up our memoirs, then we move onto poetry! But for now, this weekend I will focus on relaxing, planning, wine, yoga, good friends, and catching up on all the things that slipped through the week’s cracks.