Category Archives: middle school
At the staff meeting this morning, the principal told us that we would be on a half-day schedule.”It’s homecoming day at the high school,” she said, “and I’ve gotten permission for our students to be at the parade.”
All of my lesson plans for a full-day schedule suddenly went by the wayside.
This was the first time that most of us had heard of the principal’s plan and we were not happy about having to rearrange our schedules on such short notice.
“I’m sorry,” said the principal, “but by the time I got back to the building yesterday afternoon from the administrators meeting, most of you were gone.”
“Well, that’s nice,” I muttered to another teacher after the meeting ended, “but she could have sent out an e-mail Thursday, warning us that we might be on a half-day schedule today.”
I was not looking forward to riding on the school bus and then standing in the blazing sun for over an hour. Neither were many of my colleagues.
But after lunch, we did what we were told, boarded the buses and headed over to the high school. Shortly after our middle school students arrived, buses bearing the elementary students pulled into the parking lot.
As the K-12 students lined up along the road in front of the high school, a siren shrieked and the parade began.
It wasn’t much as parades go: no marching band, no majorettes, no football players in uniform flexing their muscles. Only a fire truck, a handful of floats and a car with a couple of security guards tossing candy to the kids.
Despite the paucity of floats and the lack of lively marching music, I was suddenly transported back to my own childhood when parades were magical events and wondrous things could happen. Once, in Hugoton, Kansas, I got within a yard or so of Buddy Heaton’s bucking buffalo, when the wild-eyed beast charged from the street onto the sidewalk where I was standing with several of my classmates. Buddy had a hard time reining in the snorting, slobbering critter. What a thrill!
My rancor toward the principal began to melt away. Sure, she should have given us at least 24 hours’ notice about a possible half-day schedule, but why hold a grudge on this gorgeous, autumn day?
I pulled my camera out of my pocket and began to take pictures: little kids clapping excitedly as the bright red fire engine rumbled by; middle-schoolers scrambling for candy thrown from passing floats; three of my former students, now in high school, hiding their faces from the camera’s lens, as though they were celebrities and I were an annoying paparazzo.
Surrounded by hundreds of excited students, I found myself silently thanking the principal for her unexpected gift. (I’ll thank her in person when I see her Monday morning.)
Who wants to be cooped up indoors on a Friday afternoon when the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky? What better excuse to get outdoors than to see a homecoming parade?
Getting the Job Done
Thanks to a rather generous grant, our school started out the year with brand-new lockers. In the morning, we escort students to their bright red lockers so that they can deposit their jackets and backpacks and get out their books, pencils and other supplies for the day. In the afternoon, we escort students back to their lockers to reclaim their backpacks and jackets. (The no-backpacks-in-class policy keeps contraband out of the classrooms.)
This afternoon, two seventh-grade girls were struggling with their lockers long after the hallway had emptied of other students. I offered to help. (Sometimes the kids get in a hurry and don’t enter their combinations just right, so the locker won’t open.)
Usually I manage to open a seemingly recalcitrant locker on the first try, but after three attempts on R-Girl’s locker, I was baffled.
“Wait!” she exclaimed. “What’s the number?”
She peered at the locker number and discovered that she had been trying to open the wrong locker. When she entered the combination on the correct locker, the door swung open immediately.
Meanwhile, A-Girl was still unable to open her locker. When she double checked the locker number, she discovered that she, too, had been trying to open someone else’s locker.
Both R-Girl and A-Girl made an important discovery this afternoon: If you use the right tools (in this case, your brain and fingers) in the right place (your locker, not someone else’s), and in the right way (enter the numbers correctly), you get the job done.
Or, to put it negatively: If you have a job to do and use the wrong tool, you’ll never get the results you hope for.
Thanks, girls, for teaching this teacher an important lesson about getting things done quickly and effectively.
Feeding Teachers’ Souls
We escort our students to the buses at the end of every day. As we herded the sixth-graders down the long hallway this afternoon, I felt a pat on my back.
“You’re my buddy!” exclaimed T-Boy.
“Impossible!” I said. (T-Boy isn’t even in any of my classes. We simply speak to each other in the hall.)
“No, really!” he protested.
“I bet somebody paid you ten bucks to say that,” I said.
“Then it was a hundred. Don’t you think so?” I said, turning to Ms. K for corroboration.
“Empty your pockets,” I said to T-Boy. “Let’s see.”
“I think we should split that hundred dollars,” Ms. K said.
“No, really, I don’t have any money and nobody paid me,” T-Boy said.
We could tell that T-Boy was enjoying our playful banter, because he was smiling all the way to the bus.
These are the moments that feed teachers’ souls.
Summer School: Day 12
J-Boy lost his spot in our classroom today, along with his chance to promote to seventh grade. He’s turned in very little work over the last two weeks, and he’s often been out of his seat wandering around the classroom, despite repeated warnings not to do so.
Still, Co-Teacher and I have been reluctant to dismiss him from summer school. He’s a smart and likeable (but lazy) kid, who often makes poor choices—and today he made one poor choice too many.
The students were busy working on an assignment when, for some reason known only to him, J-Boy crumpled a sheet of paper and threw it at one of the other boys, striking him in the face—in full view of Co-Teacher. The victim yelled—and so did Co-Teacher.
“That’s it! Pack your things! You’re going home!” Co-Teacher shot out of her seat and marched J-Boy to the office.
At day’s end, as we escorted the students to the buses, I said to Co-Teacher, “I kind of hate to see J-Boy go.”
“So do I,” she said.
However, unless Co-Teacher has a change of heart and intercedes for him at tomorrow’s teachers meeting, J-Boy’s fate is sealed: He’ll be in sixth grade again next year.
Retention isn’t the end of J-boy’s life, of course, and something good might come out of his having to repeat sixth grade. Yet I can’t help but wonder what else we could have done to ensure J-Boy’s success in summer school and his promotion to seventh grade.
Six-Word Saturday: Sudden Death
A Matter of Safety
“You know that student you asked me about this morning?” Ms. J said, as she stuck her head through my door after the last bell Thursday. “Her family has experienced a terrible tragedy. Her father was killed.”
“Oh, that’s horrible!” I said. “Killed. As in murdered?”
“Yes,” Ms. J said.
I couldn’t imagine who would do such a thing, but Ms. J had no more information. The only thing I knew for certain was that 12-year-old N-Girl had been plunged into grief and that somehow she would have to come to terms with her father’s sudden and unexpected death.
Late this afternoon, I learned from the school counselor that an arrest had been made: N-Girl’s older (by one year) brother had been charged with his father’s murder.
I teach in a school in a low-income area. Alcoholism, drug abuse and gang activity are rampant. Many of my students know the painful facts about domestic violence—not by reading statistics, but by watching their drunken father beat their mother and then turn on his children. Murder is not uncommon. Last year one of my students was both relieved and horrified when the body of her older sister, who had been missing for two years, was finally discovered. The sister was a homicide victim.
I think I now understand why so many of my students have signed up for summer school, even though they are not failing and are in no danger of being retained. They may not do well in school, they may even profess to dislike school, but they know they can count on their teachers to provide a consistent daily routine in contrast to the chaos of their unpredictable home lives. For these kids, school is the safest place in the community—and they want as much of it as they can get.
The academic year ends Tuesday, and I’m sure N-Girl won’t be with us for the last-day-of school festivities. But I won’t be surprised if she shows up for summer school the day after Memorial Day.
It’s a matter of safety.
Kick in the Pants or Second Chance?
F-Boy is a handful. He bounces off the walls of my classroom and can’t seem to control his mouth. He’s always chattering—and most of the words that tumble from his mouth are of the four-letter variety. He’s been suspended for inappropriate classroom behavior more than once this year.
Today we were playing a word game that used plastic tokens. After we finished playing and the tokens and cards were put away, F-Boy walked over to my desk with a handful of tokens that he had secreted away. He opened his hand, revealing a half-dozen little red disks.
“Please give them to me,” I said.
“No,” he said.
“Please give them to me,” I said again.
F-Boy stubbornly held on to the tokens.
“If you don’t hand them over to me right now,” I said, “I’ll call security.”
“Fine, be that way, butthead,” he said, as he put the tokens on my desk.
I said nothing, but sat down immediately and began filling out a referral form. F-Boy, still standing beside my desk, saw his name on the form.
“I’m sorry,” he pleaded.
“So am I,” I said. “You crossed the line. You don’t talk to me that way.”
“I said I was sorry.”
I kept filling out the form as F-Boy walked back to his desk, muttering, “I said I was sorry.”
He seemed at least semi-remorseful, so I decided to take a chance.
“F-Boy, step outside,” I said. We walked into the hall. “What you said was completely out of line. I should send you to the office. No student should ever speak to a teacher or any adult like that.”
“It just slipped out.”
“Precisely! It just slipped out—but you didn’t have to let it slip out. You are in control of your mouth. You have the power to keep things like that from slipping out.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“I’m trying to believe you. In the meantime, this is what I know: If I send you to the office, you’re going to be suspended again. You were suspended just a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to see that happen. You need to be here, not sitting at home, so here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to hold on to that referral. If you can make it through the rest of the period without shooting off your mouth, I’ll tear it up. But if you say anything out of line, I’m sending you to the office. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” mumbled F-Boy.
We walked back into the classroom, and he was almost a model student for the rest of the period.
Sometimes a kid needs a figurative kick in the pants—and sometimes he needs a second chance.
Surviving Middle School
Ms. M., the teacher in the classroom next to mine has, by her own admission, a quirky sense of humor. Recently she took a personal day to go to the funeral of a friend who had died after a long illness.
“How’s everything?” the principal asked Ms. M, when she returned to school the day after the funeral.
“Well, my friend’s still dead, if that’s what you mean,” Ms. M said.
It takes a weird sense of humor to survive—and thrive—in middle school.