Sunday, March 25, 2012

I love teaching, but...

...I'm scared. Really and truly, stomach-clenchingly scared. The atmosphere for teachers in my state, and especially in the schools facing the big budget cuts, is terrifying. In my school district, the number of teachers has been cut almost in half in the past 10 years. We are stretched to the point where things are soon going to break or snap back at us in a very painful way.

This coming school year, we are facing cuts of one million. This is a very rural school district. I don't know exact numbers, but we are under 1500 students k-12, and a staff of about 50 teachers. For next year, it is being proposed that we close both of our elementary buildings, consolidating the entire district into the middle/high school campus. There will also be a "retirement" incentive, which is being offered to everyone on staff--a staff in which the youngest teacher has been here for at least 6 years.

After these savings, we are still faced with needing to cut $400,000. And that will mean more teaching jobs cut. And that is why I am scared. Since the legislature in my state has targeted the main teacher's union, we have lost most of our rights. One of these is our tenure and seniority protection. That means any teacher can be cut.

I am not afraid because I don't do my job. I am afraid because in order to save the most money, the administration can now just choose to cut the people at the top of the pay scale. To me, that means that the longer a teacher works in a district, the LESS sense of security they will have in their job. Especially in small districts like mine.

I know that in theory, lawmakers may have thought that doing away with tenure would help to get rid of ineffective teachers. But in the economic situation the state has brought us to with their repeated cuts to education, they have created a situation in which veteran teachers, no matter what their evaluations say, have to be fearful of losing their jobs.

What I see happening is a rapid decline in teacher morale. And in a time when we need to pool our resources and collaborate to ensure student learning, what I see beginning to happen is teachers closing their doors. They are afraid to work together. They are afraid of turning on each other. They are afraid of losing their jobs. And that fear is going to undermine the work we have to do.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

13 Things...

I've been thinking a lot about what changes could be implemented in my middle school in order to help get kids to the level of College and Career Readiness required by the Common Core State Standards. We'll be working on our school improvement plan soon, and I want to help the teachers use research to get us to the best strategies that will create real learning and thinking in our building. Following is a list of recommendations I will be sharing with staff, gleaned mainly from Richard L. Allington's work What Really Matters for Struggling Readers. So many of these ideas and suggestions were also affirmed and reaffirmed through the sessions I attended at the Michigan Reading Association's Annual Conference last weekend. In future posts, perhaps I will add some commentary to some of these recommendations, but for now here they are. I'd love to hear your thoughts and I welcome your comments!

1. Make schools that are less parent-dependent.
2. Create readers who can search and sort through information, synthesize and analyze information,  
    summarize and evaluate information.
3. Create students who not only CAN read but who WANT to read.
4. Build in 90 minutes of ACTUAL reading time every day across the curriculum.
5. Stop wasting minutes. Analyze your transitions. If the day begins at 8:15, instruction begins at 8:15. If the
   day ends at 3:15, instruction ends at 3:15.
6. Develop standards, upon which all staff agrees, for expected volume of reading.
7. Build in 40-45 minutes of writing per day across the curriculum.
8. Extend amount of minutes at a time that students spend reading and writing.
9. Make sure all students have reading materials, aligned to the curriculum, at their reading level.
10. Make repeated readings an important part of all content areas.
11. Ask more higher-order thinking questions and less "known-answer" questions.
12. More and more and more classroom talk and discussion around text.
13. Think about the homework of struggling readers: a. Is it inappropriately difficult? b. Is it stultifyingly
    boring? c. Is it assigned in immense quantities?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Booksource...a Great Resource!

The focus of this post could be a couple of different topics. It could be about what a valuable professional tool twitter can be. It could be about reading comprehension. It could be about anchor charts. But what it will mainly be is a "Thank You" note.

I discovered Booksource through twitter. Through their twitter account, I have received a free messenger bag stuffed with goodies. I have received a bag decorated with two Jan Brett Christmas picture books, also full of free books. I have also received a backpack with goodies like book marks and sticky notes. Booksource also has a fantastic Classroom Organizer site. The site allows you to scan in your books, or enter the ISBNs by hand, and create an online data base of your books. You then have access to a checkout system and an organizing system. I admit that I am still in the process of getting my books all entered, but I am excited to see how it is going to work for me.

Because I was one of the first people signed up to use the organizer, I was asked to fill out a survey. My survey entry was placed in a drawing and I was the winner of the drawing! Now, believe me, I was very excited about all the previous prizes. But this prize was AMAZING! I had the opportunity to choose 50 books for my classroom library!

Booksource has done a great job of putting together sets of books aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. Because I am a Literacy Coach and Interventionist in my middle school, I choose to to receive 5 sets of 10 books for 6th grade science. My students have been using them to practice their reading strategies of making connections and asking questions. I think you can tell from the pictures that they love the books!
Learning all about the Hidden Worlds under a microscope lens!

Reading about Phineas Gage, who survived a metal rod through his skull!
Maybe these three will help solve the Climate Crisis one day!

Who knew you could get lost in Hidden Worlds?
Look at that smile. She must not be at the gross parts yet!

Using sticky notes to keep track of our thinking.
Oh, Rats! This is my favorite book in the bunch, even though I am terrified of rodents.

These girls are reading all about female inventors. I wonder what they might invent one day?
A post for the Slice of Life 2012 challenge!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


During March is Reading Month, our middle school holds a door decorating contest. It is my pleasure to announce the winners for this year.

TOP DOOR award goes to the 8th grade students in Mrs. K.'s Art class!
Hope you guessed that the mystery genre behind this door is FANTASY!
MOST CREATIVE/ORIGINAL award goes to Mrs. H.'s split 5th and 6th grade class!
This door incorporates many facts about the rainforest, making its genre nonfiction, informational text.
BEST IN GENRE award goes to Mrs. T.'s 5th grade homeroom!
This door's genre shouldn't be a mystery!
 ADHERENCE TO THEME award goes to the 7th graders in Mrs. P.'s language arts class!
The 7th grade class incorporated legends into our dairy inspired "Got Books?" Reading Month theme. They even added some samples of student writing!

 There was certainly some hard work and time put into making these doors into awesome showcases of genre. Way to go! Below you can also see some honorable mentions.
A fairy tale themed door from 8th graders in Mrs. R.'s math class. (Don't you love a math teacher who encourages literacy?!)
Some historical fiction represented by the 6th graders in Mrs. G.'s homeroom.
The 6th graders in Mrs. H's room took a multi-genre approach!
This is the SOLS for March 13, part of a blogging challenge inspired by Two Writing Teachers. I missed a couple days but I am back at it now!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sound Bites

It is late and I am tired. I am getting this blog post in under the wire. It was a long and fun day of learning, topped off by dinner for 12 at The Bull's Head Tavern. So rather than give you a huge play by play, how about a few sound bites before I fall asleep. I am attributing these quotes to the people who said them, but I may not be quoting verbatim. :)

~Writing is not fun. Having written in. (Leonard Pitts in his speech today, but I know he didn't say it originally.)

~We sit in the shade of trees planted by

~I have always believed that it is less important what children read, than that they read. -Leonard Pitts

~Please refuse to be blinded by your own stereotypes. Please refuse to allow your students to be blinded by them too. -Leonard Pitts

~The issue is not that we don't have the facts. It's that we don't seem to want them. It is dangerous to be stupid and a giant. -Leonard Pitts

There was so much more, but please, feel free to leave comments while I drag my tired body off to bed. :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Learning and more learning!

A bunch of my colleagues and I will be spending the weekend together for the Michigan Reading Conference. We come every year and we have the BEST time. Today there were three of us at the preconference. We learned a lot, but I think more importantly, we laughed at lot. Like when our key cards wouldn't let us out of the parking garage. Or back in.

Tomorrow seven more colleagues will join us. It will be so refreshing to be learners together and to maybe remember again what our students must sometimes feel like...lost, insignificant, but hopefully...surrounded by friends.
Slice number 9!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trying something new

This is slice number 8!
I've been thinking about creating video tutorials for teachers and students at school. This is my first one and several teachers have emailed or texted me to tell me how much they like it, so I guess I will try some more!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Today's slice is a little glimpse into the mom-side of my life. Normally I would post this to my family/personal blog (Tales from the Compound), but I didn't want to muddy the slice waters with posts on two different blogs.

Last night 14 acts, 28 middle school students, performed in my daughter's middle school's talent show. I am always so impressed at how fearless middle schoolers can be, how full of life and energy they are. I just love them to pieces!

So here's a video of Lili's act: a dance that she choreographed performed by Lil and two of her friends. I asked her why shy won't just dance by herself. Her answer was that she likes to choreograph dances with more than one part. Love that kid. And in the video, you can hear her big sister cheering for her and gushing about how cute she is and how well her sister can dance. Love that kid too! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revisiting the Read Aloud

Last year I borrowed a 6th grade teacher's classroom. Up until this year and lots of cuts, our 6th grade teachers ran their reading classes splitting the students by gender. I borrowed a class of girls and read them my newly acquired ARC of Nerd Girls by Alan Sitomer. To say they loved the story is an understatement. You can read all about our experience if you like. :)

This year, those 6th graders are now 7th graders and they have been asking me since school started when Nerd Girls 2 was coming out. I had to remind them that the first Nerd Girls was an ARC and that book had just recently hit the shelves. But how could I listen to their begging day after day and not do something about it?

So, knowing that the ARC of Nerd Girls 2 was out, I took to twitter to beg Alan on behalf of the girls to send us the new one. He had read our blog post and knew what big fans of his the girls are and he graciously obliged. (I wasn't supposed to tell you that because he doesn't have enough to give out too many. But really, he sent it for the girls, so I think it is ok to tell you!)

I met with the 7th grader language arts teacher to see if we could work something into the schedule so that I could read the next book to the same girls. She was happy to work with me, and it works out great since March is Reading Month! So, today I start the second book with the same awesome group of "nerd girls." Between them and me, I am not sure who is more excited.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"I hate school!"

Did that title get your attention? This is a statement I heard spoken this morning in the school office when I first arrived. Now this might be something you expect to hear in a middle school, maybe especially on a Monday morning. But today is a teacher work day. There are no kids in the building. It was not a student who made the statement. Isn't that sad?

This morning on Michigan Public Radio, there was a report about a new bill introduced in the Michigan legislature. Right now, teachers in Michigan have to obtain 6 continuing education credits every 5 years. The bill being introduced would remove this requirement. Taking college classes is what this teacher was referring to when he expressed distaste for school. I know what he meant about hating school was the scheduling, the cost, the "sit and get" of many college classes.

But we have a lot of kids who hate school. Do they hate school for some of the same reasons this teacher hates college classes? What are we doing to make school a place where students can say, "I love learning!"?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Does your school teach kids how to deal with bullies?

I don't know if this counts as a slice of life, but I've been thinking a lot lately about bullying. Bullying is never going to go away. There are always going to be people who are mean and nasty. Developing policies and programs to deal with bullying in schools is definitely a necessity. But when those programs focus on trying to make all kids be nice to each other all the time, are we just fooling ourselves?

Look at the adult models we give them. Jersey Shore? There's an island of civility.  

Survivor? I haven't watched in many seasons, but judging from some tweets I've read, in this season there is a teacher who may not be putting teachers in the best light. I don't know if you'd call it bullying, but those contestants lie and talk about each other behind their backs worse than a Mean Girls movie.

And how about Rush Limbaugh's bullying of an intelligent and well-spoken college student? I won't say what I think of him, but the fact that there are people who support and agree with his abhorrent comments should be proof enough that bullying is a part of our base nature as a species.

And you don't have to look any further than facebook to see the kind of hurtful, snarky things people will post about each other. Whether they name names or not doesn't matter...somebody knows to whom they are referring and then that somebody gets in on the game.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not saying we should put up with bullying. Nobody deserves to be teased, picked on, harassed, or otherwise singled out. And there are kids who, when educated that their behavior is hurtful, will stop. But I'm not sure enough programs are attempting to teach kids how to handle adversity.

I don't know what has changed since I was a child. I know bullying existed then...I was bullied and I will shamefully admit that I was sometimes a bully. Nobody killed themselves--well, I don't know anybody who did. Nobody brought a gun to school and shot his classmates. The bullying I experienced did not leave me with lasting damage. I sincerely hope the people I was mean to can say the same thing today.

Why does it seem there are more kids these days who can't handle adversity? We had a boy in my district two years ago who committed suicide. There were some kids who were bullies to him...but he had friends too, and a girl friend. And he was not the only one targeted by this particular group of bullies. Why was he not able to ignore the bullies? Why was he not able to listen to the supportive advice of his friends? What made him decide to take his own life when others were able to turn away from the same bullies?

Again, please don't think I am condoning bullying behavior. The way this particular small group of boys in my district bullied their classmates was wrong. All the adults knew it and tried to stop it. But the adults only have so much influence and when kids are out of reach of the adults, they are going to do what they want. Kids can't be policed all the time and teachers can't monitor every exchange between students.

In the most recent school shooting in Ohio, some kids who knew him say the shooter was an outcast and that he was bullied. Other kids report that he was not bullied. First he said his victims were random. But the lastest I've heard is that one of the victims was dating the shooter's former girlfriend. Whatever his reasoning, what made him feel he had no other recourse than to take a gun into his school and use it on his peers?

How do we help kids deal with bad things that happen to them or bad feelings that they have? How do we make kids feel/understand/realize that what other people think or say about them doesn't matter? How do we teach them to find the people who will lift them up, not tear them down? Because there are always going to be people out there who want to see them get hurt or who won't care how they feel. And we need to help them deal with that.

Has your school implemented an anti-bullying policy or plan that has a component to address helping victims of bullying cope with their situation? If so, please share some details in the comments.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Getting Old!

I am NOT old. I won't tell you my age, but I have two teenage daughters, been married almost 20 years, and I was no child bride. But I don't feel old. Some days, I still feel like I am just a kid playing house. But things have been happening lately that bring my age crashing in. Like the fact that I can no longer wear contacts. Or the fact that it takes half the time to gain 10 pounds and three times the time to lose it.

But worst of all by far is the fact that my scalp has become very sensitive. To the point that I can no longer color my hair. Unfortunately, I seem to have inherited my father's genetic trait of going grey early. Sometimes I feel like the tinsel of our last Christmas tree ended up on my head.

But I can put it out of my mind. For a while. Until some precocious middle school darling reminds me. Like Faith did yesterday....

I work with three girls two times per week to help their spelling skills. But sometimes I am late getting to my room for them if I am out meeting with teachers. Usually they are good about just waiting for me. But apparently yesterday they felt they had waited long enough and they went out looking for me. When I found them headed back to the room, they had the principal with them. We had a laugh about teaching them the college rule of waiting 10 minutes and then Mrs. C. kept me in the hall while the girls went in the room.

She had to tell me about the conversation the girls were having as they looked for me, making predictions about where I might be. And Faith said, "Maybe she's somewhere coloring her grey hair!"

Anyone know of a hair color that is good for a very sensitive scalp? :-)

This post is #3 in the Slice Of Life Story challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Celebrating President's Day...a week or so later!

During the weeks of Valentines and President's Days, the kids asked for themed Reader's Theaters. Yesterday they finally got the chance to perform their presidential readings for the camera. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spirometer Update....I wish!

I thought today I might do a quick running record to see how Holly's fluency is progressing. In case you need a reminder or haven't read my last post, she is my 6th grader for whom I bought a spirometer. I am hoping that strengthening her breathing will help her oral reading fluency.

While her ORF has increased a bit, I was disappointed it wasn't more. But then I pulled out my calendar and realized that since she got it on February 8, we have had eleven days of school!! We have had at least one snow day a week for over a month...our 8th snow day occurring just yesterday.

These snow days are wreaking havoc on my program. Days we are in school, I am trying to finish up things we started what seems weeks ago. This is the second warmest winter on record, according to our local meteorologist. I hope the summer isn't the hottest on record because I think we will still be in school in July making these days up.

So, I'm giving the spirometer more time. I have seen some changes...Holly speaks with more volume. And I don't know if it is the increased attention but her confidence is through the roof. She's becoming very extroverted and it is so much fun to see the changes!