Category Archives: School

Lessons learned

Well, Friday was my last day of school. I cannot believe I made it through this first year of teaching alive. I must admit, despite all the craziness and stress of this first school year, I can’t believe how fast it went. I feel like I just met many of my students for the first time, and now they are moving onto eighth grade and I am getting a new batch of students. It’s absolute craziness.

I also cannot believe how much I learned this year. I think I probably ended up learning more than I taught (whoops). So many people warned me that this year was going to be a learning/play-it-by-ear year, and I have to say, they were 100% right. I thought it would only be right to share what I have learned in my first year of teaching. Honestly, this is more of a reminder for myself than for any new teachers out there or anything like that, because, as I discovered the hard way, with teaching, you really just have to experience it for yourself to truly understand it. Anyway, here are some of the things the 2008-2009 school year taught me:

  1. 7th graders can be some of the funniest, most creative, wittiest, kindest, and smartest human beings on the planet. There was never a day that passed that one or more didn’t cease to amaze me in some way.
  2. 7th graders can also be the most stubborn, foul-mouthed, meanest, and laziest human beings on the planet. There was never a day that passed that at LEAST one of them didn’t test me, sass me, or make me rethink my career choice in some way.
  3. There is a HUGE difference between being an organized person and an organized teacher. The former does not translate into the latter. I am an organized person. I discovered very quickly, very early on, that I was not an organized teacher. Part of my summer is going to be spent turning into one.
  4. It is much, much, much easier to start off the year being mean than to be nice. I started off this year being too nice, and paid for it the rest of the year. I plan on starting next year being much more GRRRR in the beginning, and slowly easing off (if my students earn it).
  5. Despite what people say, 7th graders are not young adults. They are big kids. They need to be reminded to raise their hands, not to wrestle in the building, when it is an okay time to sharpen their pencils, and to put their toys (yes, toys) away during class.  You can give them responsibilities and privileges, but they have to earn them. Some of them will earn them right away. Some of them never will.
  6. It is easier to find a needle in a haystack then to get middle schoolers to read silently for 30 minutes, even when you let them choose their own reading materials!
  7. As much as you hope to change lives and make a difference, in the first year of teaching, you are literally in survival mode. I often came to school inspired by my fellow teachers and co-workers, not by the students. I am hoping this will change.

This year has been an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs in a way I did not expect way back in August. However, I can also say that, despite the breakdowns and frustrations, I am sincerely looking forward to next school year. But, I am also looking forward to summer, summer, summer . . . so I’ll start looking forward to next school year in about two months, okay?

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Cinco de Mayo

Tomorrow is May 5, or in Mexican tradition, Cinco de Mayo. While I haven’t celebrated this day since Spanish class in high school, I am finding myself excited for tomorrow to come. “Why?” you may ask. Well, it’s simple . . .

Because after tomorrow, there is one month of school left. ONE MONTH.

That’s right, from now on, when people ask me how soon until school is over, I can officially say, as of tomorrow, “Less than one month.”


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How did I do?

Alright, time to take a look at my March goals and see how well I did. Don’t hold your breaths:

My March Goals:

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes cleaning after work every day, BEFORE t.v., computer, etc., Monday-Thursday (I figure I have some leeway on Fridays). – Kind of, sort of. Some days I slacked, and some days are really good. I’m going to try to redo this one in April.
  2. Go through my clothes and donate the unwanteds to charity. –  That was a big NADA.
  3. Read at least five books (this will also benefit my March’s book blog – February’s will be posted soon). – I got three read fully and two almost finished. So I didn’t quite make it. Boo.
  4. Have a great (not just good) day at work. – No. And I don’t see this happening any time soon.
  5. Walk the dogs at least once a week. – Yeah! Finally one accomplished. We even bought Molly a new harness to make our walking easier.
  6. Cook something from scratch at least twice. – Nope.
  7. Host a dinner party. – Another nope.
  8. Get all my lesson plans for the rest of the year done (this could help number 4, as well). – Almost. I have about one week of unaccounted school time – I just need to figure out what to do that last week of school.
  9. Cut back my internet time to 30 minutes a day (yikes!) – school work doesn’t count. – Yeah, I’m not so sure about this one.
  10. Figure out a better way to organize our recyclables in the garage. – I did figure it out – just haven’t put it into place yet

Alright, 20% fully completed is not a good number, although I guess I did get a lot of partially completeds in there (but they still don’t count). I need to work a bit on this. I’m going to think of my April goals and get back to this. Let’s hope April goes better than March!

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I’ve got a spring in my step


I’m feeling pretty good lately. Yesterday, the PSSAs ended and spring officially began. The countdown to the end of the year has officially begun. Days are longer (and a little bit warmer), Easter break is a mere two and a half weeks away, and next week ends our third marking period (which means only 9 more weeks of school to go!). Yes, life is feeling better.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am still stressed. My students are going to get spring fever soon (if they don’t have it already), and any sense of productiveness or urgency that the PSSAs lended is out the window. My team teachers warned me of the “Last Nine Weeks” as this ominous time where nothing gets done and the students are even lazier than normal (great). I am sure I am going to get a lot of “can we watch a movie today?” or “can we play a game today?” or “do we HAVE to do something today?” – I’ll probably get those questions every day. And I still want to TEACH them – I’m planning on starting the big Greek Mythology Unit on Monday (which is going to take us a month) and I still want them to read and I still want them to write and I still want them to THINK because they seem not to do a lot of that outside of school.

And yet, the stresses of all that are underlined by the fact that summer is almost here. Almost here! Anyone who knows me knows I live for summer. Yes, I love the fall and Bloomsburg Fair week, and I love the holidays, but during both of those times, underneath it all, I am longing for summer. I can’t help it – warm weather, boating, swimming, no school  . . . how can you not love it? (unless you’re my husband who hates hot weather because he likes to be cold . . . but even he is looking forward to summer this year). Knowing that summer is only an arm’s length away makes all the stresses above that much tolerable. In January/February, it is like you’re stuck in this thick, black fog where the only thing you can see is the day ahead of you. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel; in fact, the only thing you’re moving towards are the state-mandated tests. In that fact it’s dark and depressing, and you feel as though you’ll never get out of it. Yet, now that the fog has lifted and it is bright and sunny (which it is right now, in fact), everything feels that much better, even if it’s not. I feel optimistic. I feel hopeful. (I kind of feel like campaign Barack Obama).

However, and I just told this to my husband yesterday,  I also think part of my optimism is that I am not resisting teaching middle school. In fact, I think I kind of like it. Yes, I do feel stressed out about it a lot, but a lot of that is because of our crazy schedule and the lack of walls/doors in our classrooms (did I ever mention that before? – we have no real walls or doors in most of the classrooms – noise carries. It sucks) and the stress of being a first-year teacher. While there are some high school openings coming up this summer that I could apply for, part of me is hesitating now. I can do a lot of cool things with middle schoolers. I have a lot of freedom with my curriculum. If I moved schools or taught high school, I am pretty sure that freedom would go out the window. Now, I don’t think that Milton is necessarily the right school for me – in fact, I’m leaning in the other direction on that one – but I’m willing to give it another shot or two.

So, with warm, sunny weekend ahead of me, and summer just down the road, it is easy, I think, to see why I have a spring in my step. And I must admit, I have been dragging my feet for so long lately, that it feels really good.

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I’d rather be bit by a vampire than read Twilight

While we’re on the subject of books . . .

When I was in seventh grade, I was on a writing spree. I wrote two large (150+ pages of looseleaf note paper, front and back) “books” that were the accomplishment of that year. Those books focused on my friends and I and our “meetings” with certain celebrities – more specifically, the Backstreet Boys (I was a little obsessed). While not well-written by any means, I realize now that if I had stuck with it, I could have had had an award winning Young Adult book series, because my books were undoubtedly 100 times more well written than a little popular book series known as the Twilight series. In fact, if you had changed my character’s love affair with the lead singer of BSB to a vampire and set it in western U.S., you would have probably Twilight, only better.

Now, perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “Well, of course you don’t like the Twilight books. You were an English major and all English majors are book snobs and cannot see past their Dickinson and Shakespeare and Wordsworth.” To which I would reply, that yes, in a former life, I was an English major, but now I am a seventh grade language arts teacher, which means that none of those writers exist in my professional life at all. In fact, in the past six months, I spend more time talking about myspace and the Jonas Brothers and Judy Blume than I ever do of any “weighty” author. In addition, anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of popular, Young Adult literature series: Harry Potter, Eragon, Lemony Snicket, His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass). I would in no way consider myself a book snob in that regards because I truly love reading that genre of books.

So, when a friend recommended the Twilight books to me, and another acquaintance mentioned how she liked them MORE than Harry Potter (heresy!), and when more and more of my students started reading them, I decided I needed to give them a go. Luckily, I borrowed the book from one of my students and did not spend any money on the book, because it would be the first time I could truly say I regretted spending money on a book in my life. I cannot even describe my disappointment and frustration at this book. I cannot believe that this book is a New York Times Best seller and critically acclaimed and – this is the clincher – still being published!

One of my favorite song writers and bloggers wrote about it best in his own blog. You can read it here:

I was considering reading the second book after I finished the first one, to see if it got any better, but I have decided that my time would be better spend reading GOOD books. While I am sometimes critical of popular, contemporary fiction (i.e. The Lovely Bones, The DaVinci Code), I have never been so shocked at the popularity of such a badly written book (and its sequels). As a person, I feel as though I should be protesting this book in the streets. The catch 22 is, however, that it is getting my students to read, which is always a goal of mine, so,unfortunately, I have to live with seeing twenty copies of the book trailing through my classroom every day, and numerous posters and pictures of the movie being plastered on folders and daily agendas and binders right before my very eyes. I wonder if I can convince these kids to read any Wordsworth?

However, I do realize now why my seventh graders like the books so much. It is because it is written exactly like a seventh grader would write a book!


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Melting in December

I had my first melt down at school on Friday.

A fight that had apparently been brewing all day came to a head in my classroom Friday afternoon. I had not even started class yet; it was only about two or three minutes into class. I had just finished giving a paper to a student , who was near the back of the room, and in the ten steps it took me to get to the front of the room, this same student thrusted himself at another one and began punching him. The attacked student then turned around and pushed the student to the back of the room, towards my computer, and against the wall where he then pummeled him to the floor. I yelled for a student to get another Mr. Edinger next door, because, for a moment, I thought I was not going to be able to separate them. Luckily, the second student got off the first one and I promptly escorted them to the office, explaining to the assistant principal what happened.

By the time I got back to my room (only a short distance from the office), I was emotionally drained. I very curtly told the class they needed to be in their seats and reading. By this time, Mr. Edinger had come into my room and asked me if I was all right. His question triggered something in me, I don’t know what, and I could feel the tears welling up. I said no and asked if he could cover for me, then ran to the library conference room and lost it. I absolutely lost it. I had what I think could be my first panic attack. I have absolutely no idea why I lost it the way I did, but I spent the rest of the afternoon (over an hour and half) in the conference room, trying to pull myself together. Luckily, I have a great administration who by this time knew what was going on and had gotten coverage for my last two classes. Also luckily was that I had some good co-workers who came to comfort me. As long as I didn’t try to talk, I was fine, but as soon as I tried to say anything about what had happened, I lost my breath and couldn’t speak.

Even typing this now, I feel like I am going to cry. I do not know why I broke down the way I did. In this middle school, fights have become a way of life, unfortunately. Kids are constantly pushing and punching one another, either jokingly or in a not so friendly demeanor. I later found out that the reason for the fight was because the first kid thought the other one was laughing at him in math class, thus calling the second kid a name, and in my class the second kid to retaliate by pushing the kid’s pencil box off the desk. Now, I guess it must be understood that the first student has Asbergers, so he is constantly afraid that kids are laughing at him, and getting his pencil box pushed down is a BIG deal to him – it’s the nature of his disorder. Even so, the fact that I was hyperventilating over some name-calling and a pushed-over pencil box makes me feel very, very out of control.

I honestly hope I do not have a day like Friday ever again. I feel as though I hit my first-year teacher low. Talking with the assistant principal after school, she assured me that things get easier after this first year. The guidance counselor reassured me yesterday that this whole year is a learning experience. Yet, often I feel like a failure. And I hate feeling like a failure. It is why I hated my clarinet so much – because I was not that good at it. I have never struggled with something as much as I have this first year of teaching. And yet, if this is was I’m supposed to do . . . if this is my true calling . . . then WHY am I struggling so much? Why am I so stressed out all the time? Why do I dread the weeks so much and countdown so much to the weekends? Why is it only December and I can’t wait until June?

After the incident on Friday, I talked to my principal so he could let me know what the boys had told him and the course of action that was taken. During this conversation, he assured me that I was doing a great job in my lesson planning, and how hard the first year of teaching is, and how he hopes that I don’t get discouraged with teaching because of this difficult first year. I shook my head and told him that I wasn’t, but inside, part of me was screaming “TOO LATE! THIS IS TOO HARD! JUST LET ME OUT!” While most times I do not feel this strongly, I can honestly say at this point that I am not necessarily enjoying my job. I’m not even close to saying that I love my job. I would just hope to like it by the end of the year. And I feel like a failure for saying it, and I hate saying it, but it’s true. I have never been so stressed out in my life. And it absolutely sucks.

I’m not even sure how to end this post. I wanted to end it in some poetic, thought-provoking way, but I am so tired and have so much grading to do right now, that I realize I should just let it go as it is. So until next time . . .

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Manic Mondays

Every Sunday night, I get a familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I sit on the couch, either watching  television or reading or grading, the same old nervousness creeps into my body as Monday inches closer and closer. Even as early as Sunday mornings, I am dreading the 5:45 a.m. wake-up call the next day that will pull me out of the warmth of my bed and into the grips of my students.

I am not sure why this trepidation has set in. While Mondays have never been my favorite day of the week, I have never really dreaded them either. And I don’t know if I necessarily DREAD Mondays, now either. In all honesty, they are not much different from any other day of the week (well, except the lovely Friday). Usually Mondays are spent with a bit more review than other days, and the glazed look in my students’ (and some teachers) eyes is a bit more pervasive. However, compared to any other day, the routine is the same, the periods are the same, and my energy spent is the same.

I’m trying to get to the point where I look forward to the start of the week. I am trying to get to the point where I feel really excited about going to school. However, some days I am so stressed out that I cannot help but long for Fridays and dread Mondays. I hope that this calms down after this first year or so, because it really stinks not wanting to go to your job every week. And that’s not why I got into teaching; in fact, it’s the very opposite. I want to teach because I like it – most parts – and I know that some day I could love it. But it’s taking me longer to get there than I would have hoped.

So when your alarm goes off tomorrow morning, and the sky is still as black as night, and you curse under your breath and say, “I can’t believe it’s Monday already,” know that I will be right there with you. And for now, I guess we just need to be grateful that Mondays only come around once a week.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to seventh graders.

Answer: it doesn’t.

I am big on respect. You give it, you get it, it’s as simple as that. Well, almost that simple. You have to earn it, more than others, depending on who you are. As a student, you need to give respect to a teacher. As a teacher, I will respect my students, but they also have to earn that respect as well. I am not going to give my students privileges if they do not earn those privileges. As a teacher, I will do my best to earn my students’ respect, but I also think respect comes with the job. At the beginning of the year, I even termed my rules “Respect Contract,” where students sign their name to a pledge that they will respect me and one another by following the rules.

My students, however, do not have this concept down. They do not respect each other, and some of them do not respect me. Oh, there are some who I have no problems with. They listen, they do what they are told, and I do not hesitate to let them have certain privileges. There are some who just blatantly disrespect me and other students, which I am working on. And there are some who swear they respect me, and consequently others, but their actions say otherwise.

As a middle school teacher, I am struggling with this concept of respect. How do I teach emotional, hormone-charged students, who often live in their own little world, to be respectful of one another? That if someone is annoying you, you do not scream “SHUT UPPPPPP!” at them, or if someone pushes your books off your desk, you do not push their books off their desks, or if someone calls you a name, you do not proceed to call them a WORSE one? I spent almost an entire period today explaining this to a class, in which they proceeded to argue with me about how I don’t understand how annoying it is. I replied that what is annoying is stopping my class every five minutes to tell them to not yell at one another, that responding in the way they do is even more distracting than the original perpetrator. To which, they reply, “But Mrs. Higgins, you don’t get it!”

They’re right: maybe I don’t get it. I don’t get how you can be so wrapped up in your own little world that you don’t understand that you CHOOSE to respond to others, that no one MAKES you push their books off or talk back or yell back or be generally rude. I don’t get how I can take ten minutes of my precious class time to explain to the class how we treat one another and what is not acceptable, and then ten minutes later a student goes and does the EXACT thing I tell them not to. I don’t understand how students can think it is perfectly fine to be chatting while I am teaching, but then as soon as another student does it, it is tattle-tale worthy.

This post makes me sound like I am not understanding or compassionate to my students. I am, I really am. I listen to their complaints and their gripes; I try to be sympathetic to their needs (and sometimes even wants). But I also know that there are days when these studens will have to deal with someone they don’t necessarily get along with, whether at school, in sports, or in the workplace one day. They will also realize that they cannot yell at one another, they cannot put up hissy fits, and they cannot whine and complain until they get their way. I am trying to teach them about respect, because I know that in the end it will benefit them greatly. It is a lesson that needs to be taught.

But, my God, is it a hard lesson to teach.

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Care for a slice of cutie pie?

I never thought I could say this, but seventh graders can be darn cute some time. I am always telling Jason about my students and saying, “oh, so-and-so . . . he is so cute!” Because, really, they are. They say the funniest things, they still have a childness to them that high schoolers don’t, and some of them are just so darn cute I could pinch their cheeks.

For example, I have one student who, whenever he doesn’t like something, says “Weak!” But he has this adorable little voice and this shoulder length hair that doesn’t match up, so him saying this just adds to his adorableness. He is also a bit emo and loves 70s and 80s rock, and in combination with the above, you just can’t beat that.

Another example of cuteness is a girl in the same class. Now, this class often gets me frustrated, and I have to use my strict Mrs. Higgins persona way too often for my taste with them. However, one day I was in a great mood for some reason, so I said to the class at the start, “I’m in a good mood, so let’s keep it that way!” This girl then goes, “Mrs. Higgins, you look pretty today!” to which I responded, “Makayla, are you just trying to keep me in a good mood?” About fifteen minutes later, they were getting on my nerves, so I said to them, “My good mood is going down,”  to which Makayla replied, “But you still look pretty!”

There are many, many days when I think I am not cut out for seventh grade. Then there are days when I think I could not give up these middle schoolers ever. Jason told me, “if you ever end up teaching high school, you’ll never be able to call your kids cute, because that would just be weird.” And it’s true. I can’t really call high schoolers “cute.” Not in the same, little-kid way that I can seventh graders. Middle school is a strange age: some days I cannot handle their immaturity, other days they impress me with their good behavior, and some days I savor their youth because it means we can play fun games that wouldn’t fly with older students.

I have always said that middle school is a challenging time: everyone is trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. But I got to admit, the same can be said for the teachers. I am also trying to figure out who I am as a middle school teacher and where I fit in with the students and my co-workers. I guess you could say I have more in common with my pre-teens than I thought before.

And they’re just so gosh-darn cute!

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It has been a while since I have posted, almost two weeks to be exact. I have started a lot of posts in my head, but have never been able to sit down and type. Part of the reason is because my laptop officially died (I knew it was coming), so J and I have to share a computer, and part of the reason is because I am so tired, I have no motivation for writing. Or, I feel like I am only going to be negative, so I avoid writing to come across as whiny or inconsiderate or – worse – a bad teacher.

A student today asked me what I wanted to be a teacher. To my dismay, I could not give him a straight answer. I finally joked that I really wanted to be a three ring leader in the circus, and teaching was the next closest thing (to which another student replied, “can you go to college to be in the circus?”). In all seriousness, though, my Facebook status the other week was something to the tune of “I am not sure I am cut out for this teaching thing.” I think I scared a few future teachers with that. One girl that I know who is a senior English secondary-education major at SU told me her status scared her. And I didn’t mean for it to scare anyone, especially not anyone who is looking to become a teacher. I responded to her that I have good days and bad days, and the day I had made that my status was a bad day. Unfortunately, I vented my frustration via a public forum, so it was easily misinterpreted.

It is true, I have good days and bad days. There are days when I feel like, “okay, this isn’t so bad, I can do this,” and days when I think, “how am I going to get through the rest of the week, let alone 30 more years?” But in actuality, I have good days and bad days, but no REALLY good days or REALLY bad days. Most days are lukewarm – a little bit better than yesterday, or a little bit worse, but all in all, rather tepid. I’m not burning, I’m not freezing, I’m just going along, getting through each day, looking forward to one more day closer to the weekend.

I don’t like this lukewarm feeling. Honestly, what good is it to be lukewarm? It makes horrible bath water, disgusting drinking water, and is all in all, a rather useless temperature. But that is how I feel about teaching right now. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it . . . I’m just getting through it, one day at a time. But I wish that something would happen – a day would turn to ice, where I just cannot wait to get home, or I burn myself with something exciting and fiery. I want there to be a day where I break down screaming or crying, cursing myself for choosing this profession, or a day where I scream “YES! YES! YES! THIS is what I have been waiting for!” But neither of these days have come. True, I have had some moments where I have been on the verge of tears or a mini-breakdown, or days where I come home and tell J all through dinner the funny stuff that happened with my students that day. But all in all, each day is like every other, fading into the next, an endless sea of lukewarm, gray water.

We are almost through the first nine weeks, which means I have a quarter of the way through the school year (and my first year of teaching). I am praying that between now and June, something happens that lets me know whether or not this is truly what I should be doing. Am I cut out for this teaching thing? Sure I am. I can handle it. I can deal with it. But I want to do more than just deal with it . . . I want it to be what I was made for.

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