Category Archives: Work

Little victories

Things I can put in the win column this week:

1. My sophomores did a writing and peer-editing assignment using the End-of-Course exam rubric and a form I made for them. Their essays were solid, and their critiques were even better.

2. The child I am teaching to read has gained at least two grade levels since August. I intend to double that by May.

3. My journalism students are finally getting the hang of proofreading. I awarded bonus points to three kids today for making good catches — two for content issues (an incorrect name in a cutline and two jumps that didn’t match) and one for a design issue of the sort I’ve seen veteran copy editors overlook.

4. I came up with a project today that will — if it goes according to plan — resolve a conflict with a colleague, provide some multidisciplinary collaboration, and give a student a good shot at winning a statewide journalism award and several FFA competitions next year.

I’m tired and ready to spend a little quality time with my fictional banshees this weekend, but it’s been a good week.

Emily

The kids are all right.

This is one of my fifth-graders, using inDesign — the industry standard for desktop publishing software — to lay out the next issue of our school newspaper.

The kids are all right.

BTW, that Promethean board is a godsend for design training. I can sit on the futon and coach her through each step without having to hover over her shoulder. It’s a fantastic tool.

Emily

Best. Final. Ever.

So I gave my creative-writing final this week. That class has only three students, so instead of giving a conventional final, I walked in yesterday, handed each kid a Barbie doll, and gave them their choice of three writing prompts involving a sentient Barbie.

Prompt 1: Barbie lives in a Dream House owned by a 9-year-old girl with affluent parents and a bad habit of losing small objects. Barbie has several housemates who may or may not be sentient. She has a crush on one, and another is incredibly annoying. She has access to a Corvette, Jeep, and RV. Despite her luxurious surroundings, Barbie is dissatisfied with her life and has resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. She views the 9-year-old as a destructive monster, benevolent deity, or obnoxious landlady (your choice).

Prompt 2: Barbie lives in a crude dollhouse lovingly constructed from a cardboard box by her owner, a precocious 9-year-old girl from a working-class family. Barbie is the girl’s only store-bought toy; everything else is a hand-me-down, yard-sale find, or something homemade. Despite her meager surroundings, Barbie is satisfied with her life. She and the child are each other’s only friend. Barbie wants to help the child, who is being mistreated, but is hampered by the limitations of being a plastic doll.

Prompt 3: Barbie is living rough in a city alley after falling out of a dumpster that was being emptied into a garbage truck. Once a 4-year-old girl’s favorite toy, she was separated from her owner through some tragedy and is now fending for herself. She either desperately misses the child or is grateful to be rid of her. She is in mortal danger from some threat. She has no survival skills and is learning on the fly, acquiring or creating her own shelter and other necessities in whatever way you deem appropriate for a small plastic doll.

I’m not sure this prompt would have worked with another group, but these girls are clever, caustic, and fully capable of turning Barbie’s perfect pink fantasy world into a biting commentary on modern capitalism, a dystopian hellscape, or an existential nightmare.

They’re supposed to be turning in their final drafts tomorrow. I cannot WAIT to read them. I’ve promised the girls that anybody who makes an A on the final gets to keep her Barbie, so they are MOTIVATED.

Emily

Latest project

The state of New Mexico has an elaborate rubric that it uses to evaluate teachers. It is possible to score 4 out of 5 on any given category on this rubric simply by being good at your job. The only way to score 5 out of 5 is to do what the New Mexico Public Education Department refers to as “leadership,” and what I refer to as “being insufferable.”

Basically, to hit that top level, you have to be willing to tell other people how to do their jobs.

I found a loophole as I was working on my state-mandated professional-development plan a couple of months ago, and in a moment of weakness, I acted on it: Swapping ideas with people online appears to count as a form of leadership, at least in some categories, so I said one of my goals for this year was to create a special blog just for sharing stuff I was doing in my classroom.

Yeah, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, either. I forget they make you follow up on that crap twice a year and report your progress. I remembered when my boss told me to log onto the PDP site and post my midyear update the other day.

In the interest of staying out of trouble, I spent part of this weekend setting up the new blog. There’s no content on it yet except for a header photo and an introductory post, but if you’re interesting in seeing it, you can find it at: https://foolishwandwaving.com/.

The name is a reference to the Harry Potter books and Professor Snape’s announcement that there would be “little foolish wand-waving” in his class. Alan Rickman was magnificent, but I am certain that if Snape were a real person, we would NOT get along at faculty meetings, because my teaching style is the polar opposite of his. Somehow I can’t see him decorating the potions lab with tinsel curtains and mermaid pillows or letting his kids play Vocabulary Jenga as a means of learning the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane.

Emily

Outdoor office

I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago. It’s much smaller, lighter, and sturdier than my old one, which makes it just right for using outdoors.

I really like the idea of taking my lesson plans and curriculum-writing projects outside to work on while the dogs play in the yard. I like my home office, but fresh air and sunshine are always better than sitting inside on a pretty day, and this is the time of year when we’re likely to get a few pretty days.

With that in mind, I’ve been surfing Pinterest and poring over hardware-store websites in search of furniture of the right size, stability, and durability to use in an outdoor office.

Most of the ready-made stuff I found was either too light to withstand New Mexico winds, too top-heavy to withstand regular assaults by a blind rat terrier and a clumsy shepherd puppy, too finicky to sit up straight on uneven ground, or too expensive to meet with Ron’s approval. And none of it seemed to fit my style or go well with anything else in my yard.

As I was winterizing the pond and trying to figure out what to do with the cinderblocks I’d been using to support the now-obsolete clarifier and gravity-fed external filtration system, inspiration struck.

Monitor-riser mode. If I want to work on a deeper surface with the laptop keyboard lower, I just move that top paver down.

Twenty minutes’ worth of elbow grease and a few flat pavers yielded a dog-proof, windproof, mid-century-inspired, faux-Brutalist desk and stool with a top that easily converts into a monitor riser if I feel like bringing out a keyboard and mouse.

Ignore the color variations. Some of the blocks were wet because I’d hosed dirt and cobwebs off of them.

I rummaged around in the carport shed and found a couple of bungee cords just the right length to anchor an outdoor pillow (purchased on sale for $3.50 at the dollar store) to the pavers on the seat.

Bungee cords anchor the cushion to the seat.

I test-drove it while blogging the day I built it, and it works just about right. If I end up using it a lot, I might see if I can rustle up some breeze blocks somewhere and expand it into a bigger and more ornate desk with some built-in storage, but for now, it’ll work just fine for typing up lesson plans and posting blog entries on sunny afternoons when it’s just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how much desk work I need to do.

Emily

Classroom reveal, Part 2

I forgot to do this earlier, but here’s the updated classroom reveal, featuring my tissue-paper truffula forest and IKEA leaf canopy, along with a few flourishes I’m pretty sure weren’t there when I did the first reveal.

A few details:

The inflatable chair lasted about two weeks before it developed a leak. Disappointing, but I didn’t expect much for $5.

I can HIGHLY recommend the mermaid pillows, which have a soothing effect on kids and adults alike.

When we read <em>Beowulf</em>, my seniors thought it would be hilarious to have a plushie of Grendel’s arm hanging above our door like the entrance to Heorot, so of course I made them one.

The truffula trees were time-consuming but very easy; I’ll post a tutorial later if anybody wants one.

The bulletin board on the desk is made from old ceiling tiles.

The big leaf is a baby-bed canopy I picked up for $15 at IKEA. The balloon lamp is another IKEA find — $6, IIRC.

The lights on the “Pride and Joy” board are battery-powered fairy lights that came with little clothespins attached. I use them to display student work, school pictures, etc.

The shoe organizer is a cellphone parking lot. I stuck a power strip to the underside of the chalk tray next to it and plugged in chargers with extra-long cords to give kids an incentive to surrender their devices without a fuss.

The file pockets hold copies of the week’s Common Core objectives. I’ll share how I use them in a future post.

Not pictured: my beloved wax warmer, which makes my room smell like a cinnamon roll, thanks to dollar-store wax melts.

I wanted my room to feel like the children’s section at Barnes and Noble. It ended up being better. Elementary kids come in and hang out after school just because they like it. Colleagues wander in occasionally when they’re tense and need to unwind. Meetings are less stressful when I host them. I suspect part of the magic is that it allows people a safe space to be childLIKE, so they don’t feel the need to be childISH.

Emily

Anniversary celebration

Today was the anniversary of my first day at my current teaching gig.

My kids didn’t know it. I forgot to tell them. But they helped me celebrate anyway.

I had an observation today. Because we’re a tiny district with only one administrator, our superintendent does one of our two mandatory observations every year, but in the interest of fairness, she brings in an outside evaluator to do the other.

Knowing our outside evaluator would be observing English IV today, I decided to let the kids teach. The class developed a rubric for grading the discussion leaders and another rubric for grading themselves on their class participation. We’re reading John Gardner’s Grendel, and the kids are REALLY getting into the part of the book in which Grendel encounters a dragon with some decidedly nihilistic views. The kids LOVE dragon symbolism and spent the hour connecting the dragon’s words to other books they’ve read, movies they’ve watched, mythology they’ve studied, and discussions we’ve had earlier in the semester. I participated, but only a little, and only when the conversation had gotten so interesting that my English-major soul simply couldn’t resist joining the fun.

I won’t know how I did on my evaluation until I meet with our guest on Thursday, but I think it bodes very well that she asked the kids a few questions, which they answered beautifully — including a couple of questions about their objectives for the lesson and how they’d know when they’d achieved them, which is the kind of question evaluators generally ask teachers during a post-observation debriefing. (They were a little baffled, as she hadn’t asked any questions like that in their other classes. I assured them that was a good sign: They taught like grownups, so she treated them like grownups.)

I don’t know how many points I scored. I don’t really care. My kids were awesome, they knew they were awesome, and somebody besides me got to see them being awesome.

That’s a pretty great way to celebrate an anniversary.

Emily