Friday, January 16, 2015

Be Kind to Others

Ahhhh, a three-day weekend! I am so ready to sleep in tomorrow morning after a rather long week at school. Of course, since it's a three-day weekend, I woke up this morning feeling like someone lit a fire inside my lungs. Typical. Well, I'm not going to think about that right now. I think I'll live in denial a bit longer.

We started our day with mass first thing. During his sermon, Father Vince talked about how we need to live our lives more aware of what's happening around us. It could be something simple like the fact that the baptismal font had been moved off the altar in church (none of us noticed), or it could be something much more important like a friend who is unhappy. He said that we need to be kind to others because everyone has their own battles that we know nothing about.

So true. We teachers think about this quite often. We may never know what's going on in the lives of our students outside of the classroom; we just know that we need to make them feel safe and loved while they are with us. It's so much more important than making sure they learn their ABC's.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

People Are Weird

I went to the supermarket after work today, despite the fact that I really just wanted to go home and take a nap. I don't often go shopping on Thursdays, so I don't know if this was the regular Thursday crowd or if aliens had landed and started shopping at our local Safeway. Whatever the case may be, there were some, oh, let's say...interesting people there today. It got me thinking while I was walking up and down the aisles how many very different people there are in the world.

I mean, I can't imagine a day when I would ever consider wearing boots with yoga pants, but I found myself thinking, "But on you, honey, they totally work!"

They didn't really, but you don't want crazy people to suspect you're thinking negatively of them. Right?

When I got to the checkout line, the clerk picked up a piece of paper and said to me, "I mean, listen to my schedule..." and she proceeded to read her weekly schedule to me. Oh so many thoughts running through my mind. Did she mistake me for someone who works at Safeway? Someone she should be complaining to? Was I wearing a sign that said "Official Time Keeper"? When she finished complaining, I informed her that I was a teacher. "I work every day." I thought that would stop her complaining and get her to start ringing up my groceries.

I was wrong.

Instead, she started complaining about her sisters who are all teachers and who were just getting back to work after three weeks off, "whooping it up!" Why was she telling me all this? Why on earth did she think a total stranger would be interested in her work schedule? I would never think to do that, but for her it seemed incredibly important.

Like I said, so many very different people in the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Our Favorite Books

Today started out foggy and a bit dreary. We haven't had much dense fog around here this winter; I'd forgotten how cold it can be. Not that it's anything like a New England ice storm, but there are levels of cold. This is California. We don't really do winter, per se. We do fall, part 2.

I'm really excited about a project my students are doing right now. We're calling it the Greatest Books Project, and it's based on the Call Me Ishmael project that I first read about on the Edutopia website: Five Minute Film Festival - 10 Stories About Life-Changing Books. For the Call Me Ishmael project, people were invited to call and leave messages about books that had a lasting impact on their lives. So I decided to do something similar with my students, the Greatest Books Project.

Now, I didn't expect that my students would leave messages that are as emotional as some of the stories in the link above, but I know how much they all love to read and I thought this would be a fun way to share their favorite books. After listening to some of their messages (we're using Google Voice for this project), I'm even more impressed with this seventh grade class. Such incredibly wise young people! And so much fun to work with!

Don't tell them I said that though. :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Quick Post

The day after being out sick from school can be just plain old exhausting. You're still recovering from whatever kept you out, and you have to deal with all of the work you left for the sub. Well, here's an idea...when the teacher is sick, perhaps we should cancel their classes for the day. Are the students really learning anything when the teacher is out? And chances are that the reason the teacher is out sick is because the little germ factories we call our students forgot to leave the plague at home.

Think of the money saved on substitutes, the sanity of the teachers who wouldn't have to come up with sub plans, and even the electricity saved on an empty classroom.

Oh, who am I kidding. Most of us just go to school sick because it's just easier that way. Am I right?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sick Day 21st Century Style

I woke up this morning with a nasty migraine. It only took a few minutes to realize it was going to last all day, so I called in sick. Well, I didn't exactly "call" in...I sent a text message to our vice principal who responded via text message a few minutes later. Impersonal? Possibly. But when your head feels like it's going to explode, another person's voice in your ear might just send you over the edge.

Lesson plans are a lot of fun to write when lights cause you further pain, but it was certainly easier than going to school all day. I wrote my plans up in a Google Doc and emailed them to my sub before she even left her home. I told her that if she had any questions she could text me or have one of my students send me a message via Voxer. I love using Voxer with my seventh graders! They can send me text messages or voice messages and I can quickly respond to them. It's much faster than email for me. I've also set up a seventh grade group for us so that they can ask questions (like homework help) of the entire class. Quite often I don't need to respond at all.

Another tool that comes in quite handy when I'm out sick is Edmodo. I added a few assignments for both seventh and eighth grade in Edmodo early this morning and scheduled them to show up during class time. All my sub needs to do is say, "There's an assignment in Edmodo," and the kids know exactly what to do.

After school today, my phone started buzzing off the table as my students were sending questions to our seventh grade group via Voxer. A few of them I had to chime in on (due dates, and the like), but for the most part, they answered each other's questions. I monitored their conversations from my couch where the cat and I spent the day watching shows on Netflix. I remember the days when a sick day meant sheer boredom due to daytime television. Even that's a thing of the past.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Imagine That

Where do ideas come from? Divine inspiration? Years of study? Pure luck? How did J.K. Rowling come up with the idea for those wonderful Harry Potter books? Were these ideas always with her, or did a switch suddenly turn on one day and whisper "Hogwarts" to her? Is it possible that there's an imagination gene and you're either born with it or you're not? Or are we all born with infinite imaginations but just lose the ability to use it over the years of our childhood?

I'm going to assume it's the last response. But if we lost the ability at some point, that should mean that we can regain it. Right?

I used to draw when I was growing up. I drew a lot...and I was good. Really good. Time stopped mattering when I had a pencil in my hand. I imagine that's what it's like for creative people. I don't remember ever thinking I didn't have time to draw anymore or that I should stop drawing altogether. But, at some point, I did. I never picked up a pencil again. Why? I don't remember.

Every once in a while, I think to myself, "I should start drawing again. I always loved it." But something keeps me from trying. Lack of time? Or, and this is more likely, lack of faith in myself. Perhaps in this year of #Courage, I should bring out my sketchbook, grab a few pencils, and just get started!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ah Saturday

Not much worthy of note happened today. Well, unless you play for or are a fan of the New England Patriots. We won!! I was so happy when the game finally ended. I don't think I took a single deep breath during the entire game.

I had planned on sleeping in this morning then doing a little bit of grading followed by a lot of lying on the couch under my New England Patriots blanket reading a good book. The hitch in that plan came when I discovered that I'd left my laptop's power cord at school. Drat!! I hate when that happens. Fortunately, however, I live close enough to school that it wouldn't take very long to go get my power cord. I just needed to decide whether or not I really needed to. I mean, I was just so comfy and warm in my apartment. Is grading really all that important? Couldn't I just ignore my work for the weekend and relax instead? Isn't that what normal people do?


So I walked to school to get my power cord. Hey, at least I didn't drive...I should get some credit for that, right?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Grammar Humor

Fridays can be long days in middle school. Long, LONG days. Especially the Friday after Christmas vacation. So I thought I'd try out a new grammar game with my seventh graders today. I'm sure some people (like McBro) might be questioning the placing of the words "grammar" and "game" right next to each other, but it works. At least in my classroom it does.

The adjectives/adverbs game involves students using up to five adjectives to describe the noun in a simple sentence so that their team can guess the noun. If they guess correctly, then their teammate can use up to five adverbs to describe the verb, hoping that the team will again guess correctly. This was not an easy game, but it did prove to be rather entertaining.

The first pair of students was up in front of their team trying to come up with adjectives to describe "band." One of the adjectives they chose was "noisy." This led one of the boys to say, "Miss McMillan." I turned calmly to him and said, "What?"

"Miss McMillan is noisy."

WHAT?!? I asked.

"See," he replied.

Hilarious. Just hilarious.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Just Another Day

Middle schoolers can be endlessly entertaining. I know they can be maddening at times, and I'm sure they can drive their parents crazy, but if you just let them be and allow yourself to listen to them from time to time, you will thoroughly enjoy them. I promise. I've been on enough long bus rides with 36 screaming seventh graders to know this is true.

Of course, it could just be that after all these years as a middle school teacher, I've finally cracked. But let's not go there...yet.

Let's take today for example. One of the boys called me over to his desk, I assumed, to ask a grammar question as that was what we were working on at the time.

I was wrong.

"Miss McMillan, do you have a cousin named Phillip?"

It took a moment for my brain to process the fact that this question had nothing to do with adverbs, and then...

Um, wait...what?

"Have you ever heard of the show 'Duck Dynasty'?"

Is this some new game middle schoolers have invented? Keep the teacher spinning from one weird question to the next?

Yes, I've heard of it.

"There's a Phillip McMillan on Duck Dynasty."

Oh, really?

"Yeah. He's crazy!" that why you thought he was related to me?!"

A great deal of sputtering occurred as the last part of our conversation sank in for him. I just walked away.

One of the boys in my class likes to sing random songs throughout the day. I mean really random songs. Today's playlist included, "Viva Las Vegas," "A Whole New World," and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."

Like I said...random.

So I decided to add my own version of random to the mix. I grabbed my iPod, plugged it into the classroom speakers, and...

"Let it go, let it go...!"

Wow, the wildly different reactions was rather intense. There was loud singing, even louder begging ("No, Miss McMillan, just NO!"), and even one young man who stuck tissues in his ears.

Just another day in middle school.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Where Are My Books?

I made it through the third day back...barely. But I'm starting to go through reading withdrawals! I spent a majority of my Christmas vacation with Kindle in hand and loved every minute of it. Now that I'm back at school, there just hasn't been time for reading. I don't even try to read once I get eyes just refuse to stay open long enough to read one or two paragraphs.

I'm really looking forward to Saturday when I'll be able to spend some quality time with one of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult. Well, at least I'll be spending time reading one of her books, Sing You Home. And that's what will get me through the next two days of work, looking forward to reading.

I can't remember a time when I didn't know how to read, and I don't remember actually learning how to read. When I think of my early childhood exposure to books, I think of my dad. I remember him reading us stories and putting up with my correcting him as he read. I also remember trips to the library with dad when I got to take home as many books as I wanted. Happy memories!

Both of my parents are big readers, and I know that's where I get my love of reading. So, thank you, mom and dad, for introducing me to great adventures, magical tales, and story after story about what it is to be human.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Day two back at school after Christmas vacation. The calendar says it's Tuesday, but it still feels like Monday. Actually it feels worse than Monday. I was so tired today that I felt like I might fall asleep in the middle of a lesson. Trust me, falling asleep in front of a bunch of middle schoolers is not a good idea.

After writing about my one-word goal (In One Word) I decided to have my seventh graders come up with their own #OneWord goals for 2015 and I'm so glad I did. They were writing them down on paper so we can hang them on the classroom wall, and I was wandering around the classroom talking to some of them about their choices. Listening to them explain their choices was definitely the best part of my day. 

One boy chose "seriously" as his word and, thinking he might not be taking the assignment "seriously," I asked him to explain his choice. "Well, I just really need to start taking things more seriously." That really is the perfect word for him to choose, so I said "Great choice," and walked on. 

Another one of the boys chose "remember" as his one-word goal. I asked him why he chose that word and he said, "Because I need to remember that every person is God's creation and I need to treat them that way." Yup, he's a pretty awesome young man.

Some of the other words my students chose were: joy, confidence, optimistic, active, practice, and love. I should probably have them each blog about their choice so I can read all of their stories. These are some truly wise kids I have this year!

Monday, January 5, 2015

And We're Back

As I predicted in yesterday's post, it was only a matter of minutes before we were back in the swing of things, barely even remembering that we were just getting back from eighteen days off. It was great to see my students and all of my co-workers today, but I wouldn't have argued if someone would have said, "Oh, let's take one more day of vacation." Just one more day to lounge around in comfy clothes, lying on the couch beneath a nice warm blanket and an even warmer cat, reading the day away.

But life doesn't generally stop for just one more day; it keeps us moving forward. And tomorrow always arrives whether we're ready for it or not.

Not. Definitely not.

Today was a very long day, as I knew it would be. But I had more than enough planned for my students, plenty to keep them busy. Or at least awake. I even decided to pull out one of my favorite activities to keep them engaged on our first day back. Text never fails. [If you want to read more about this activity, you can read my posts here: Txt Ptry and More Txt Ptry.]

After explaining to my students that they would be translating one of the poems I gave them into text lingo, there was a raucous roar of approval. The excitement was built and I sent them on their way to work with their partners. While wandering around the classroom, I heard one of my students say, "This is the best assignment EVER!"

Yup...using text lingo in class always gets their approval.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Am I Ready?

It's the last day of Christmas break and I don't think I've taken a breath all day long. I'm sure every teacher can identify with the last day of vacation stress that I've been feeling today. Trying to get lesson plans written, making sure laundry and ironing are done, sending out reminder messages to students and parents, trying to finish the grading I promised myself I would do the first two days of break, and writing up lists, lists, lists.

Are there any other professions out there that don't allow for enjoying that last day or two of vacation? I mean, I know that most people will bemoan the fact that they have to return to work, but do they actually start working before they go back to work? No? Just teachers?

At this moment I'm trying to remind myself that the second school starts tomorrow morning, it will feel like we never even left. We'll settle right back into our routine within minutes because that's what our students need us to do. But, at this moment, I am also chastising myself for not going into the classroom last week to clean and organize and make sure everything was ready for students.

Of course, I'm also thinking about my students. I'm sure they're feeling just like me tonight, dreading that morning wake-up call. Would they be surprised to discover that teachers don't always look forward to returning to work? That we would be just fine with one more day of vacation?

I think we need to ease back into school tomorrow. In fact, I think the Monday after Christmas break should always be a comfy clothes day, perhaps even a pajama day. Let's all show up in sweats or pajamas or, here in California, shorts and a tshirt. And slippers! Warm, comfy slippers! I'm sure that will make all of us feel much better. Don't you?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Day Three

It's day three of my self-imposed #Write365 challenge, and I'm already starting to wonder if I'll be able to find something every day to write about. I mean, how many posts can I write that complain about grading or lesson planning? Those are daily issues, but I don't want to continuously focus on the negative.

Should I assign myself writing prompts like the ones some teachers give to their students? Should I simply write about any random thoughts that pop into my mind during the day? (I work with middle life is filled with random thoughts.) Or should this be one long therapy session where I try to figure out all the things that are wrong with my life. (Oh geez, no one will want to read that!)

Sidenote: As I'm writing this, I'm also watching the NFL playoffs and I'd like to make a request to all commentators out there. I can guarantee that many of my middle schoolers are watching the games this weekend. As their grammar teacher, could you please use proper grammar while speaking? You may not know this, but many of my students hang on practically every word you say. And sometimes they come into class on Mondays and make fun of some of the grammatical errors you made over the weekend.

Okay, never mind. I rather enjoy that.

I took this picture of a robin while I was at my mom and dad's for Christmas. He kept staring at me, probably wondering what that strange thing attached to my face was. He sure jumped every time the shutter clicked.

It amused me.

Then again...I'm easily amused.

Friday, January 2, 2015

In One Word

I've looked at this photograph many times in the years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, and it never fails to move me. I am often moved by stories of courage in part because I feel that it is something I do not possess in abundance. Now, this does not mean that I am a coward. Not at all. What I believe it means is that there are areas of my life that could be improved if only I weren't inhibited by fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of embarrassment. 

In the last few days I've noticed a few people in my PLN making references to the hashtag #OneWord. The more I read other people's blog posts, the more I became intrigued with the idea. Essentially, rather than writing a long list of New Year's Resolutions (which never work anyway), you choose one word to focus on throughout the year. A nice explanation of the idea can be found here: Don't Make a Resolution, Find a Word

I spent some time thinking about what my word should be for this year, but there wasn't any real decision that needed to be made. I knew, in my heart, that my word for 2015 has to be COURAGE. 

In preparing to write this post, I looked up some quotes on COURAGE. The one that really sticks with me comes from The Greatest:
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
~Muhammad Ali
And that's what it all comes down to for me: being brave enough to take the risks that will help me to move forward and have the life that I've always wanted. I'm not talking about mindless, death-defying, somebody better buy me a casket, risks. No, I'm referring to those seemingly small, but oh so incredibly important risks:
  • Saying "no" when it's really uncomfortable, but saying "yes" might cost you a piece of your heart.
  • Saying "yes" when my comfort zone is screaming "no."
  • Telling my comfort zone goodbye...or at least "see you shorter time increments."
  • Speaking up for what is right when everyone else is looking at their feet.
  • Doing what is best for excuses.

Now that I have my #OneWord, I need to find something to remind me of it every day. Something for my desk at school or a necklace perhaps. I'll know it when I see it.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Write 365

Once Upon A Time...I began this blog with the hope that it would not only push me to write more, but that it would also help me to refocus my thoughts toward a more positive attitude. Well, it's been a few years since I last wrote anything here, but I'm feeling the need to start again.

And that's the beautiful thing about life, isn't it? There's always time to start anew, we just need to find the desire and the willingness. I woke up this morning feeling that desire to be a writer again...the willingness, well, I'll just need to work on that.

In the past, I've participated in the 365 Photo Challenge and, as an amateur photographer, I truly enjoyed it. Some days were more challenging than others to find something worthy of that #365Photo, but I kept at it and thoroughly enjoyed it. This year, I'm setting a different challenge for myself. The title of this blog post probably gave it away, but my goal is to write at least one blog post every day of this year. Some of them may be fairly short...

"Working on report cards."

"Bad fish, bad fish!"

"This is Karen's mother. Please excuse her from writing a blog post today. Her brain is dead."

...but I will write something!

When I was growing up, I dreamed of becoming an author. The problem was I rarely seemed to actually write anything worthy of publishing. Or even sharing with the cat, for that matter. There's this line from an old Billy Crystal movie that has stayed in my head since I first saw Throw Momma From the Train:

"A writer writes. Always!"

So that is my goal. To write. Every day.

If you would like to join me, I'll be using the hashtag #write365 on Twitter.