The Heartbreak of Hurricane Harvey

Today is Sunday, September 3rd, the day before Labor Day, what should have been the weekend between the first and second week of school. I should be spending my afternoon looking through student data sheets to get an idea of what my students like to read, what their hobbies are, and what sports they play. I should be finalizing my lesson plans for the four-day week to come, lesson plans that should be digging deep into the heart of the fiction-centered first grading cycle curriculum.

But none of that is the case.

Instead, Hurricane Harvey happened.

I have not yet met my 2017-2018 students. School didn’t start last week. School won’t start this week. If all goes according to plan, I will finally meet my students next Monday, the 11th. I don’t know them yet, but they are already in my heart. The local newspaper reports that Hurricane Harvey has deeply affected more than 5,000 students in the district. 5,000 students whose homes are damaged, if not gone.

Our district actually got off relatively lucky. Our campuses didn’t sustain any major damage. None of our students will need to be relocated to other campuses in the district, as is happening in so many schools around us. And I am grateful for that.

None of our students are on the still-growing list of lives lost in the storm. But I’m only just starting in this district this year. The last three years, I worked in a different district, one that was hit much harder by Harvey. One of my former students is on that list. One sweet girl, who brought me a box of Shipley’s donuts on the last day of school as an apology for always being late to my first period preAP English I class. She wrote “Please “do-nut” mark me tardy!” in pen across the top of the box and signed it with her name and a heart. She didn’t deserve to have her life cut so short by this horrible storm.

Overwhelming trauma will be felt throughout the community for weeks, months, years to come. Rebuilding will not be easy and it will not be fast. It will be years before southeast Texas is the same again.

But I can’t think about years from now. In a week, my classroom will be filled with 8th graders. 8th graders who would normally enter my classroom maybe concerned about what supplies they need or how much homework I’ll give, but will now be entering wondering about where they’ll live or where their friends will live. Even students spared from losing everything will have friends and family deeply affected by this storm.

Normally my first day of school I will tell them my strict expectations about assigned seats and cell phones. I tell them about growing up in Ohio where it snows. I tell them about all of the animals I have.

This first day of school will be different. And I don’t know what to tell them.

#summer

*cough* Ahem. *coughcough*

Man, it’s a bit dusty over here.

My poor neglected blog appears to have collected a couple of cobwebs and dustmites, and I have a list in my phone’s notepad of a half dozen blog topics sitting as lonely ideas waiting to join Internet permanency.

So far this summer, I’ve completed two more masters classes in which I crafted a full presentation on why Schoology is awesome and learned about and administered the Ekwall-Shanker Reading Inventory to two students, attended the ISTE 2017 conference in San Antonio, spent a couple days enjoying the Guadalupe River in Gruene, Texas with my husband, and played roughly 1.3 million hours of the Sims 4.

Ok, not 1.3 million, but the game did give me a notification this week that I’ve played 100 total hours. The game called this an accomplishment, but it felt a little like it was shaming me. “You have work to do! You have a blog to write! Lessons to plan for next year! Books to read! Another class to get ready for! And here you are playing the Sims. Shame!” it seemed to say.

But, no! No, Sims 4. You are wrong! I am not ashamed of my 100 hours of Sims playing time since I installed it on this computer in May. I’m not ashamed that my Sims family is now working on the fourth generation. I deserve that playing time. All teachers deserve to spend time in the summer doing what they want to do, what they enjoy, what makes them happy. We sacrifice so much of our personal lives during the school year, some more or less than others, for the sake of our students. After school hours grading, lunches spent shoveling in a salad while reworking the flopped parts of the day’s lesson for the afternoon classes, even late nights trying to sleep but worrying about that one students having so many problems at home. Like the meme I keep seeing on Facebook says, teachers don’t get summers off, we just collect our overtime. And let’s be honest here, most of us still do quite a lot of actual work during the summer to get ready for the next year.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook “I have a carefully crafted reward system that involves to-do lists and The Sims. #gradstudentproblems.” I found this system to be incredibly effective. Both of my classes thankfully provided a calendar of due dates and assignments for the duration of the month, making it easy for me to create lists of what I needed to get done for both classes each day. If I completed my list for the day, I could play the Sims. If I didn’t, no Sims. I mean, hey, we all use positive reinforcement on our students, why not use it on ourselves?

So, in a way, those 100 hours of Sims playing time just shows how many things I actually did get done in June.

Even if writing a blog post wasn’t one of them.

(Posts about ISTE, my classes, and other topics of actual substance coming soon!)

Text Me, Maybe

If there’s one thing that my students can all do well, it’s texting. Yeah, sure they do all kinds of things on their ever-present smart phones. Most of them use Snapchat (I don’t even want to know how many of their stories I accidentally made an appearance). Some use Twitter or Instagram. But they ALL text. (On the other hand, one thing that none of them can do well is discreetly text in class, but that’s a different post.) After fighting them all year, I decided it’s about time to put that skill to good use. Continue reading

Get Into My Flippin’ Classroom!

Who actually needs a teacher to deliver instruction when you’ve got the internet? All of this technology could surely replace teachers. We’re really just babysitters anyway, right?

Ha! No.

(Seriously, Betsy DeVos, if you’re reading this. No. Teachers are the backbone of education. Get it together.)

One textbook or article or video from this semester mentioned a phrase that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Should teachers be the “Sage at the Stage” or the “Guide by the Side”?

Sage at the Stage

The generally accepted method of delivering instruction is that the teacher has all of the knowledge and it is their job to dump all of the information into the children’s heads. I’ve seen plenty of cartoons, both political and otherwise, depicting this idea through numerous metaphors. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many instances where this is the case. However, I think it’s safe to say that the overall feeling of education is shifting toward…

Guide at the Side

When my grandma was trying to text on her new phone, she kept saying “Don’t do it for me! Show me how so I’ll know!” Now she also asked “So when I want to put a space, I push the spacebar?” but that’s beside the point. My grandma is a smart woman. Students, from preschool to social security, generally need to DO in order to LEARN. This is why patience is such an important quality in a teacher. How often have you heard “Oh, never mind, I’ll just do it myself!” or “If you want it done right, do it yourself!”? Teachers need the patience to watch students make mistakes and figure them out for themselves.

This is the idea of Guide at the Side. Continue reading

I’ll come up with a witty title later…

There’s something exhilarating, and somehow relaxing at the same time, about sitting at the keyboard with a blank blog post open in front of me, something silly in place of a final title, words slowly making their way across the blankness to form a new post. I have missed this.

So, why haven’t I been here the last couple of weeks?

I have been feeling the end of the school year drag hardcore since April 1st. The day my classroom countdown hit 60 days – just 2 more months until summer – my internal motivation and energy crashed harder than the stock market after Brexit. Of course, two months is far from being finished, and still left me one whole month of my graduate classes to complete. No matter how tired I am, there’s no giving up just yet. Continue reading

Existentially STAAR-Crossed

Welcome to STAAR Season 2017! For those of us teaching courses with EOCs (end-of-course exams administered by the state), this is the most stress-filled, anxiety-ridden, headache-inducing time of year, and that’s not just my allergies speaking (hello, Spring!).

A little background for any readers not in or from Texas: STAAR stands for State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. High schoolers take English I, English II, Biology, Algebra I, and US History. They must pass all five tests in order to graduate, and they can retest every time it’s offered (December, March, and in the summer) until they pass it. Every state has their own version of the STAAR test, and as with everything else in education, those tests are constantly changing. Even the STAAR made a significant change this year, removing the short answer response (SAR) questions from the test (which is a whole debate in itself!). Continue reading

I’m Still Here!

Hello loyal followers and passersby! It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve last posted. Spring Break was amazing, even the getting stuck a couple extra days in Ohio when that lovely winter storm got our flights canceled, and I’ve been working hard to get myself caught back up on work and life – graduate classes, STAAR prep (T-minus 3 school days until the test!), a suddenly non-functioning washing machine, etc etc etc…

I promise to post something wonderfully entertaining, informative, and hilarious before the week is over, but for now, in case anyone is interested, I’ve updated my About Me page to include some information about my personal life, in additional to my educational life (including pictures!).