teaching tip tuesday: keep your students discussing

teaching tip discussionToday was one of those days. No, my students weren’t bouncing off the walls in anticipation of winter break; they were completely silent.

I hate it when this happens. I hate being the awkward voice in the room, pulling teeth for a raised hand. I haven’t been teaching long enough to feel completely comfortable with silence like some of my colleagues. I can’t sit and wait for hours, (minutes, really), for a student to put their hand in the air.

In my 8th grade honors class we’ve been discussing the way an author uses tone. Yes, I know, exciting stuff. My students thought the same thing. Last week we took notes, did some practice activities together, and this week we are putting our knowledge to use by reading a couple short stories & comparing the tone in each story by writing a comparison paper. Again, I know, real exciting stuff!

I tried to make this more interesting by picking two stories that have some humor. I picked an African folk tale & a story about a bear taking a rabbit hostage and demanding a ransom for his return. The second story is my favorite because there’s a big mix up between the words ransom and handsome & the rabbit’s family keeps insisting for the bear to stop demanding their son is handsome……. pause… I’ll wait while you catch your breath from your giggle fit. (As lame as this sounds, these stories are actually in the 8th grade literature textbook & they are actually at grade level).

So, today, we read the African folk tale out loud together. After we finished I asked if anybody had a guess as to what the story’s tone would be considered.


This is bizarre for my honors group. They are a chatty bunch that LOVES to hear themselves talk. But I literally looked out at my classroom of middle schoolers and felt like I was staring at a bunch of statues. I had 27 blank faces, with droopy eyes, and absolutely no electric buzz of energy in the room. Great…

I waited for a couple minutes, asked the question again, and once again, heard nothing but the rattle of the jack hammer down the hallway, (remember, my school is a construction zone). So, I did what I do best and yelled, “stand up!” (& got a loud groan from my 27 adolescents).

Teaching Tip #2: Keep your students discussing

My Honors students had me as a teacher last year, so they are used to this activity. How it works:

1. Tell all students to stand up.

2. Ask the question that is up for discussion. In my case, What was the tone of our story, Brer Rabbit, Brer Lion?

3. If a student knows the answer they can sit down – you are allowed to call on any of these students, & they must proudly say the answer to the discussion question and provide evidence which proves their answer. If a student does not know the answer, they are left standing, must find a student sitting nearby, and ask a question about the topic for discussion. The question MAY NOT be “What is the answer?” The question CAN be, “Where can I look in the story to help find the tone?”

4. As the teacher, I give about a minute or so after starting this activity, and then I call on three or four different people at random to tell me the answer. This ALWAYS leads to students speaking up and adding to the thoughts of the students that shared.

I usually repeat this process a couple more times with all my discussion questions. (Where can we find example phrases that prove the tone of our story? What example language could we consider exaggerative? Humorous? How does the author use imagery to develop his tone? Etc…) My 8th graders pretend that they hate this activity, but by the end of the discussion, I have students voicing their opinions loud and clear and majority of hands in the air; it basically wakes them up, shakes them out of their lazy, sleepy attitudes, & creates an environment of learning. I also like this activity because it gets kids out of their desks.

Students need movement, people.

Try it out! Make your rules and adaptions. I’m off to enjoy a burger with my grandma – peace out.

when your heart hurts… you write.

Today I have to write. I have to get rid of the pit in my stomach.

This morning I was called into a meeting with my 7th grade teaching team. We discussed a 7th grade student. But before we get into that, let me give you some background:

It was the first day of school. I was getting ready for my first ‘regular’ Reading section, (as opposed to my remedial classes and honors section I teach), and I ALWAYS have students come into the classroom and write a response to the question I project on my SMARTboard. On the first day I have students tell me about an exciting thing they did over the summer & play the game two truths & one lie. This game involves them to write two factual statements about themselves and one lie, and then they quiz classmates to guess which is the lie out of the three sentences. I encourage students to be creative; to write down statements about themselves that other students may not know, so it makes it harder to guess correctly. We always have fun playing this game the first day.

As students were working on their sentences, I walk around the room and make comments about anything interesting I see. It’s a good way for me to start up conversations and get to know some of my students right away. I was walking through the front row of desk when I see the following written:

1. I was adopted this summer

2. I like the color red

3. I finally have two parents that love me

Obviously, these facts caused me to stop and meet the little boy who had written this about himself. I pointed to his sheet of notebook paper and said, “Oh my goodness, how exciting!” and was shown a smile with big pearly whites that stretched across an entire little face. M*(we’ll call him M for privacy’s sake), looked at me with his million dollar smile and said, “it’s the best.”

All I could respond with was a smile. I had to walk away from M because I was afraid I was going to loose it, right there in the middle of my first day of the 2014 school year. The amount of pure happiness in this boy’s smile, a smile because he had finally been adopted, tugged on my heart strings. I was reminded how many little lives out there that need a home, little ones that crave two parents to set rules, make them a hot meal, and tuck them into bed.

I cried on my way home thinking of how much of a difference I could make in a child’s life. I told Tony the story and we both decided that adoption is definitely an option for us as parents. We want to be a part of something as amazing as giving our love to child that needs it.

Well, back to today.

Last year, M had been taken in by a teacher of the previous school year and his wife. They live in the community I teach in, but he teaches in a different town – where M originally went to school. They have three kids in addition to M, and all of us teachers thought they had the biggest hearts for taking in a child and making him a part of their family. I completely get why his teacher wanted to give M a family; he’s the sweetest boy, with the most charming smile, and charismatic personality. I have had the pleasure of teaching him, and he’s been an absolute joy to have in my classroom.

This morning we were told that the adoption had not yet been finalized and may not be, that M may be back in a foster home as soon as December 23. M has tendencies that make him angry & completely shut down. At home, something as simple as too much homework or getting stuck on a math problem can trigger behaviors. These behaviors are causing stress and putting strains on their relationships at home. He is hard to handle at times. His parents are also thinking they may not have been ready to deal with the behaviors and tendencies. In school, we don’t see any of these tendencies or negative behaviors, so we will do what we can to help ensure these triggers don’t happen at home.

I had to leave the meeting early.

I started to tear up when his case manager was telling us that two days before Christmas he could be removed from the home. He could be removed from the family he excitedly told me he was finally a part of, and would be put back into foster care.

I walked back to my room, walked to my desk, and sat down in my swivel chair. I put my head in my hands at my desk and I cried. Honestly, I don’t know why I got so emotional at that moment. Maybe it’s because I have developed such a great relationship with this student in my classroom? Maybe it’s because for a moment, I thought to myself, ‘He could be a part of my family. We could do it’ ..But in reality I know we are not ready to commit to something as enormous as being adoptive parents?

But just for a second, just a second, I saw M and Tony playing catch with football in the backyard – as M would ask me every time there was a home middle school football if I would be coming to “watch him catch touchdowns.” For a second I saw M sitting at family dinners with my parents and sisters. For a second, I thought to myself, I would never give up on him, I would make him feel loved no matter the mistakes he might make. I would give him a home to call his own forever. For a second, I saw the possibility of changing a life, not just as a teacher, but as a parent.

Thank god I have a husband who has a heart of gold. Tony listened to me, talked it through, wiped away my tears, and responded with, “Well Kaylee, now we know. We know adoption is something that means a lot to us. Something we could do.”

Today was a day that I am reminded being a teacher is both the worst and best profession. It reminded me of my compassion for my students, but it also reminded me that I will see things, heartbreaking things, that will leave me with a pit in my stomach. However, I have learned from today, and from M. I have learned in my classroom I can treat each of these students as my own. I can show each of them the type of empathy I feel at this moment.

I’m going to sleep tonight, hoping and praying, that M will remain in his home. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he will come bounding into my classroom after winter break and show me his new Jordan’s, (what he desperately wants for Christmas).  But as Tony reminded me, there’s many children out there who aren’t even in his position, and tonight I will also hope and pray for them.


saturday anxieties & projects

I finally feel caught up with life. My grade book is updated, my plans and lesson are set for next week, (testing on a class novel and it’s the week leading into Winter break, ’nuff said), my house is somewhat clean, and I have most of my Christmas shopping done.

Yesterday morning I got up, did a little cleaning, played with Ace, and then was laying on the couch around noon. Tony was pretty pumped to watch some college football & I had every intention of laying on the couch, maybe reading a book, and taking a nap. We had celebrated a birthday the night previous and had another birthday celebration planned for the evening, and we both mentioned how nice it was that we had both days over the weekend to relax.

Wellllll, I WISH I could just lay around do the things I had wanted to do with my Saturday afternoon. However, my high levels of anxiety prevent any such thing. I have been told in the past to consider taking something for my anxieties, but why? I feel like everybody has them, obviously they act on different levels, and one can learn to cope. That is just what I have learned to do; cope. Mostly, I just keep busy.

My diagnosis rocked my system. I had stresses and anxiety before I was diagnosed with cancer, but when I was told those words, something changed. My wires were crossed and were put back together in a different way. I don’t know if I’ll ever function as I did, but like I said, I’ve learned to cope.

As I’ve learned to cope, I KNOW I drive Tony nuts. I always want a project to do or talk about all the things I want to do to our home, or whatever else that comes to mind! Poor guy! Seriously.. I am sure he tunes me out half the time, because I know I talk a lot of gibberish. Which brings me to the project I started yesterday …..

Entry Before and AfterI had bought a gallon of paint this summer, in hopes to start painting our entry way. The builder paint color, (as mentioned in these other posts), is not a color I wanted in my house. It doesn’t wipe clean, it instead wipes away, and doesn’t have much character. It’s hard to match to color schemes – it has an ugly pink undertones – so we needed a change. It is a BIG project, I also want this color to go into our living room and kitchen – but I figured if I took it one wall at a time, it would be much more manageable.

I plugged in my music – “Wobble” Pandora – and got to it. I actually find painting pretty enjoyable, especially if the right tunes are playing. I got a couple eye rolls from Tony in the next room watching football, apparently I was singing randomly out loud. Oops. DSC_0086

I completed two entry walls in about three hours. I cleaned up my mess, went downstairs, and ran three miles on the treadmill.

I think it’s safe to say, it was a productive Saturday! :)


on tuesdays, i give teaching tips

826746db3f9dafe155e7230fc33d650fI want to start something new on Tuesdays.

My profession as a teacher isn’t just a job for me; it is one of my passions. I think of myself as extremely lucky. When I get to work in the morning, I am so happy. Yes, there are mornings where I need some caffeine before I want one of my students to talk to me, in fear of saying something sarcastic and snotty for no reason, (I am not a morning person). But, overall, I get excited to go to work every single morning. I love what I do.

I want my blog to also reflect my life passions. I am on a journey of finding a new path. I want more out of life at the present time; I don’t want to have my sight sets on the next scan or pout when I don’t get answers about becoming a mother, I want to be happy with where I am. Teaching and enjoying moments in my classroom is definitely a step towards the right direction.

So, on Tuesdays, I will give teaching tips :)

Today’s Tip: look beyond the student at the desk in your classroom. 

Recently, I was frustrated with a student in my Reading class. He treated school as his social event for the day, didn’t care about homework, test scores, or succeeding. He is a bright student, who has a lot of potential of growing academically and doing big things in his future, but he didn’t seem to care about any of that.

I found myself replying with short answers to his questions in class, even if they were about what I did over the weekend, because in my mind, why should I take the time to help him with a homework assignment when he won’t finish it or care how he does on it? I had labeled him as a ‘problem student’ and no matter my efforts, I wasn’t going to change who he was or make him understand how capable he really is.

One afternoon we had finished our lesson and activity in class early, and we had five extra minutes at the end of the hour to visit. I was asking the class if they had any plans for the weekend, and this young man’s hand went up right away, and he was wildly waving it around so I would notice and call on him, (“I will call on students who are sitting with their hands nicely in the air”). Eventually I made my way around the room and called on him to share. He informed the class that he was going to Chicago for a funeral because his favorite grandpa had died.

Why did he so badly want to share such a sad story? 

I replied that my grandmother had passed away last spring and that I knew how he felt. I also shared that it helps me to write and think about her sometimes, to remind myself how lucky I was to have a grandma like her. He nodded his head in response and looked like he got teary eyed.

He was gone the next couple days, but when he returned, before class started, I asked him how he was feeling and how the weekend went. He told me it was really sad and that he didn’t know how things were ever going to go back to the way they were. I explained things will be different, that they won’t be exactly the same, but if he ever needed to talk, I would be here to listen, because I have been very sad & in his position.

The next day, he came with his homework done (!!!) and informed me that him and his dad started talking about his grandpa the night before and while they were talking, he had gotten out his homework and his dad had helped him with it because his grandpa used to do the same thing for his dad. I praised him and told him how proud I was that he was able to get his homework done while going through such a tough time.

As began the small chats daily we would have that continued, and led to conversation after conversation between this student and myself. He started coming to class with his homework complete, (“Great job! You are doing so well in here! It is so great for me to see you working so hard”), and participating in class discussions – not just raising his hand to say a snide remark about the discussion topic, and continued to engage in conversation with me daily, (his desk is right next to mine).

One day, while walking around the room during work time, I stuck a post-it note on his desk that said – “I’m so proud of the way you have worked in Reading class. You are such a smart young man, & your grade is finally showing it! Keep making me proud! Keep up your hard work!

The smile that spread across face made me teary eyed. I could still get emotional thinking about it. He taped it on the inside of his planner & I often catch him looking at it, smiling.

Again, my teaching tip for today – look beyond the student at the desk in your classroom. 

I did not think I would ever be a teacher that ‘gave up,’ but it is a lot easier said than done at times. I was able to build a relationship and connect with a student that had F’s in almost every class. Now, in Reading class, he is earning a B-, (the rest of his classes still need some work).

I was asked by my team what I am doing with this student that’s working, and all I could respond with was, “I started talking with him about some real life problems. We connected and related by going through something similar; everything else fell into place.” 


a week in the life..

Where has the time gone? Thanksgiving has come and gone & now Christmas is quickly approaching. Between holiday parties, a couple family birthdays, and all other events to celebrate, 2015 is going to knocking on our door shortly.

A week in the life is needed during the month December. Things move too fast. So here goes…

Last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Tony & I went to Chicago for the weekend. It was the first time we went on a vacation just the two of us. I was looking forward to every second of it. We have traveled together in the past, but it’s never been alone. We’ve taken a lot of trips with family – which is always fun, as well – but as husband and wife we need to spend this time together and enjoy every new experience.

I had been battling, (and I’m still trying to fight it off), some sort of virus/sickness the week before we left. I had stayed home from work on Wednesday and had to miss Thanksgiving because I was still running a temperature. I was really concerned that our trip wasn’t going to be as fun as we planned, but it was amazing. We explored the city, ate some good food, and were in bed early. In my opinion, it was the perfect trip. We window shopped on Michigan Avenue during black Friday – what a crazy experience! – sipped on cocktails in hotel lobbies, & had great conversation.

I will always remember this trip. We didn’t do anything crazy, but it was our first trip together. As cheesy as it sounds, I fell in love all over again.

ChicagoOn Sunday morning, I had to head to the airport, while Tony had to heard to work, (he had a trade show in Chicago Sunday – Thursday, hence why we went for the weekend), and it was hard to say goodbye for both of us. It has also been the longest week ever waiting for him to come home. Ace and I are both excited to see him!

On Sunday I was able to get some cleaning done & spend some quality time with Ace. We watched some chick flicks, obviously, and went to bed early to get ready for the week.

Throughout this week, I have done the usual; work, home, play with Ace, sleep, repeat. On Monday night, I pulled out our Christmas decor and did some decorating. I never want to go over the top with my Christmas decor, but I want it to feel festive when people come into our home. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – yes, like the lyrics to the song :)

Ace wasn’t much help putting up decorations. He sniffed and investigated EVERYTHING. I was constantly walking around saying “leave it!”

DSC_0011One of the hardest things about pulling out my Christmas decorations was the fact that my grandma had either made or given me most of it. The sled that Ace is munching on in this picture, is a sled with a letter D on it, (for our last name). My grandma and grandpa made this for Tony and I to celebrate our first Christmas being married. Along with this sled, we have their fake Christmas tree, because they had wanted something smaller, and she made me a beautiful gold, decorative plate, to display with greenery and glittery pine cones she had glued on to the front. I had another good cry. This Christmas will be lovely, but something will definitely be missing without her. Again, it hurts my heart, so I can’t think about her.

DSC_0041I put up our tree and other various bits and pieces of Christmas spirit. I am waiting for Tony to come home to put the finished touches on the tree. It is something we always do together.

Tuesday night came with a visit from my parents. I made my dad and I pulled chicken sandwiches and tator tots. We talked about the happenings in our lives and watched the Gopher basketball game. My mom joined us and helped me put together some greenery for our front step. I take for granted the fact that my parents live so close. They are able to pop over and keep me company quite often, especially when Tony is out of town for work. I am extremely lucky that I have the relationship I have my parents. They are the two best support systems I could have ever been given.

Wednesday night my best girlfriend, Katie, came over for some cider drinks and girl talk. We have been DSC_0075close since 9th grade, and again, I’m lucky that her and her husband moved in right down the street. We don’t take advantage of the fact that we live this close as often as we should; but the times we do, it’s the best. We are able to sit and talk for hours. She gets me, inside and out.

Tonight, Thursday night, (and the night Tony comes home!), Ace and I ran some laps outside, did some cleaning, ate our last meal of junk food, (popcorn), and we are currently relaxing watching Home Alone 2.

Tomorrow, I took a half day off of work, Tony will be home all day, and we are starting a new tradition of going Christmas shopping for the entire afternoon. I can’t wait to spend some time with him, buying gifts for the people we love <3

Cheers! Here’s to tomorrow being Friday!