September 21, 2012

Well, that's a relief.

I have survived the first week of teaching 7th and 8th grade English! Cue the manic celebration...

Just a few thoughts before my brain peters out from sheer exhaustion:

Trust me, I have a plan.

There was a moment on Wednesday when I finally felt the enormity of the expectations upon me, brought home by the fact that we have three weeks until our first benchmark test. I had been in this kind of hazy denial, focusing on getting through each day, one at a time. Which works...for about three days. Then the whole idea of knowing what I want my students to learn kind of becomes important. Needless to say, with five preps, 52 minute periods that fly by until I slump exhausted in my chair for last period prep, 150 new faces, a messy room and four different textbooks to familiarize myself with, I felt like I'd jumped in the deep end without a life jacket.

Or tipped over the cart.
It's a good thing that everyone at Ki-Be, especially the English department, is so helpful and understanding. Three cheers for great teachers! After a few late afternoons that melded into late evenings, my room is looking more like my room and I've got a solid plan for ALL OF NEXT WEEK FOR EACH OF MY CLASSES (I can not tell you how big that is). I've even got about 80 names memorized (it helps that I've got about a thousand Jose's and Juan's and lots of lovely names that stand out like Justice, Heaven, Hope, Rainbow, Angel and Jesus).


I've only had serious issues with one little guy so far, and I've dealt with worse in the past. Out of 150 kids, who handle change about as well as a cat handles a bath, that's not too bad. Here's an excerpt from my 'Come to Jesus' speech I gave to him (his name is changed of course):
"Listen Vincent, I taught in St. Louis for three years. That is one tough city. There is nothing you can do or say that is going to intimidate me. There isn't a word you can throw at me that I am going to take personally. I will not back down. I will not change my expectations of you. So you might as well stop being disrespectful and stop fighting me every step of the way because the only place that's going to land you is the Principal's office. I'm not Mrs. E. Get over it. I do things differently. Adjust. And if you do anything, ANYTHING, at all that I consider disrespectful, disruptive or distracting, I will send you directly to the office. Do you understand?"
He improved.
It's at times like these that I both feel very strong and shaky all at once. I despise confrontation, but boy, was this young man asking for it. The important thing is to never change my behavior, to remain consistent and reward like a mad woman when anything positive occurs. He was absent one day and the two classes (yup, that's right two) I have him in were the smoothest, loveliest classes ever. It's sad to say, but this often is the case with disruptive students. The rest of class breathes a sigh of relief and buckles down with a teacher that's giving them his/her full attention instead of focusing on the one attention seeking student. We'll see how this relationship develops- I have hope that he'll come around.

Positive is BY FAR the best way to go

Let me just say that it is amazing what I can get a student to do for just one M&M or a ticket, even when they don't know what the ticket is for. The entire atmosphere of my classes changed when I introduced positive incentives such as tickets and class points on Thursday. This idea clicks in their brains, 'What, I might actually get something immediately if I try? I'm gonna TRY!'

I can get used to the laughter.

7th and 8th graders are slightly (emphasis on slightly) more mature than 6th graders, and most of that shows up in what kind of humor they understand. I've never had so many kids laughing at my jokes. It actually shocked me so much the first time I said something intentionally funny (we shall not discuss the "draw the balls" incident) and the whole class laughed. I was so thrown off, in fact, that I kind of stammered in my next sentence and lost momentum. I tried the same joke with my next class, and boom! Laughter! They love it when I randomly speak with an accent, too. It caught them off guard at first, and now they're counting how many accents I can do. The laughter is so endearing that I'm almost tempted to try stand up comedy. But that would only happen if I could give the audience a grade and control whether they get to go to the bathroom or not (oh, the POWER!). Nah, I'll stick to my captive audience.

Fairy Tales aren't so...happily ever after after all

I love hooking interest. That's why I speak in accents and why I can completely justify Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Crazy as vital additions to any English classroom: some kids will only read when toilet humor is involved. That's also why the original version of fairy tales and Greek myths are such great stories to use in middle school (when school appropriate of course). They're gross. They're nasty. They're more complicated and sensational than the best soap opera ever was. The villains die in terrible ways- the lessons are clear- life isn't all sunshine and butterflies- and middle schoolers connect with and dig that stuff. They forget that they're reading and that it's work and that they don't like it. This is how life-long learners are born.

So, to end my first week, let me give you a student quote that made me smile:
"Disney had it all wrong. Fairy tales are grim, yo."

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