Sunday, September 28, 2014


The author as a 7th grader.
Methinks the self-pity was appropriate. 
I was your text book under-achiever back in middle school. I scored well on achievement tests, particularly for reading and writing, but my grades hovered in the C range. My only As were in chorus. Had there had been courses in teen angst, self pity, and general malaise with suicidal tendencies, I would have garnered a place on the honor roll for sure, but science, math, social studies? Not so much. I was not built, then or now, to sit at a desk and absorb information and then spit it back out again, and I was certainly not built to complete fill-in-the-blank worksheets. If memory serves correctly, my teachers chalked up my issues with homework completion and lack of focus to my being LAZY. If they had looked a bit closer they might have seen that, along with my being a text book under-achiever I was also a text book child of an alcoholic, and homework was the last thing on my to-do list. But to be fair memory may not serve correctly -- after all, it's been nearly 30 years.

Every year I have a certain number of kids who I can point to and say, "Yep - this kid's just like me." I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but honestly, the bright kids who suck at school are my favorites, because I can relate to them so well. There's also a place in my heart for the kids who are bright in non-academic ways, the kids who can build a computer or know about crop rotation or can tell you anything you want to know about every kind of fish in the Saco River. And since those are my favorite kids - the slackers and let's call them the "hands-on" kids - I have been thinking a lot over the years about the myriad ways I am letting them down.

When I say "I", I don't just mean I. I also mean the structure of Saco Middle School, the way we "do" school. Ever since I watched this video and this video of creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, I have been questioning, worrying, and trying to figure out how to create change within my little 55 minute block of ELA. It seems bananas to me that after all we've learned about education and the way kids learn we are still sectioning off our day in 55 minute chunks of "sit and git." I've become an avid reader of the website and have tried to incorporate the ideas of Project Based Learning, again within my little 55 minute block. And I've looked for opportunities to share my ideas with colleagues and my principal. I even wrote up this proposal and this idea to try and get my message out there.

And guess what? It worked. My principal and I met last week and she and I are putting together a committee to try and re-think the way teams/scheduling/Alt Ed are done at SMS. I'm super excited about the possibilities...and super nervous that all my teacher friends are going to hate my guts. Change is hard, you know?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lucy Calkins, huh?

Our District bought me a very thoughtful gift this summer - a boxed writing curriculum written by the one and only Lucy Calkins! Actually it was written by two women named Kate and Katy, but they wrote it with Lucy's blessing. I was asked to pilot their writing program this year, and I agreed because I am a good do bee.

I wanted so badly not to like it. I am a creator of curriculum! Lesson planning is one of the few areas of my life where I get to truly create something new and exciting, and I resented being handed a boxed module and told, "Here zombie teacher -- do this." Today we started off with the first lesson, and I'll admit, it's pretty good. Kate and Katy know their stuff. I especially like how they take kids step by step through the process of discovering the themes in a story. It's also helping me to push myself as a teacher, and I do love a good push.

Here's the trouble though. Because I am piloting this thing, I am supposed to do the program with complete fidelity, and I'm just not a fidelitous kind of gal. I like to tweak. I like to be flexible and open. If we find a spider's egg during show and tell, I want to scrap the curriculum and write poems about the miracle of life while we watch those spiderlings fly away (if you have no idea what I'm referencing, you obviously never had a child ask to read Show and Tell Bunnies every. blessed. day. for six months). If a Great Big Question pops up, I want to be able to ponder and discuss and dissect with my kids, not look at the clock and say, "Sorry, no time for inquisitiveness. Get back to your essay writing."

For now, I am going to give Kate and Katy my best effort, as well as the benefit of the doubt. If something comes up I suppose I will just add a day to my calendar. We may still be writing The Thematic Essay in May, but at least it will still feel like our classroom.

The Middle School Life

If you had told me when I was 13 that I would end up in 8th grade as my career, I would have laughed in your face, then kicked you in the shin. I loathed middle school and could not wait to get the hell out of there. I hated the kids, despised the teachers, and mostly ignored the curriculum, though when forced to do it I hated that too. Anyway, I was headed to London to play Ophelia with the RSC, thank you very much.

Guess what? The RSC was not interested, and I now live in Saco, Maine and go to Saco Middle School every day with a smile on my face. Those teachers I despised? I am one of them. Those kids I hated? They haven't changed much, except their braces are purple and they have iPhones, and I love them now. As for the curriculum, I may still want to ignore it sometimes but I'm generally eager to jump in and make it work.

This blog is a place for me to share my passion for teaching and learning, to reflect on my practice, and to share some of my favorite blogs and resources. I hope you enjoy reading!