Sunday, February 26, 2012

A First Impression of Mrs. G

Reading and writing are so important, and I know that without the ability to do both life is much harder.  However, while reading and responding to The Freedom Writer's Diary, I found a student's response so moving it made the whole world stop. My head was spinning, and I was reminded why I even became a teacher in the first place. The desire to teach was sparked when I was just a sad little first grader, struggling to survive heartbreak and tragedy. My father was killed in a train collision that year, and my heart was broken and fear had entered my world. I had an amazing first grade teacher, Mrs. Frederick, who got me through that horrible year of my life.  (I will publish the story of Mrs. Frederick this week as well so be looking for it!)

So, this past week the students were reading about first impressions and the ideas we get in mind about a person. We were discussing the first impressions we get as children versus the impressions we build as prejudice enters our world.  The discussion was powerful to say the least.  Then, I had them each choose a teacher they have had or currently have and write what they thought of that teacher to begin with and write if their opinion changed as they got to know them. The information was eye-opening, funny at times, and intriguing.

It was not until I got to the last journal entry,  and found this from a student I am always praying for. A student who has dealt with so much pain, rejection, loss and fear in life I cannot even fathom the life he has had.  I was moved to tears once again, and I sat unmoving at my desk. I was torn on whether I should share the thoughts of my student or not. However, I do know this, someone out there may get some strength from this writing. Maybe a parent will read this and know how important loving your child unconditionally actually is. Or maybe there is a teacher out there just needing encouragement or a renewed sense of purpose during the last part of the school year.

Therefore,  I have removed any placing information, and anything that includes personal details about the student. I am typing the response as it was written, spelling and all.

Mrs. Gardner - My third hour teacher when I first came her to this school. She had a sertan glow to her, that I could relate to. Then she came to shake my hand, Right away I thought she got tougt good manners when she was young. An I figured out it was her first year at this school too. Right away I knew she was good people. My impretion know is that she wasn't just a good person. She was that one in a million that cares about people for no reuson. I can tell shes a great hearted person and is a great mom. I wish that I had her as a mom growing up. I wouldnt be this messed up know. 

God be with these kids who face a life of hardship, and bless them with someone who cares for them. Someone who cares for them regardless of their mistakes, and loves them for the person they are not who they were. Love them for who they are and not what society hopes they will become. Give them someone who can help them see how special they truly are. Please Lord bless the kids who are hurting today.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Darkness Has Invaded...Bleep

The darkness has begun to invade.  You can see it everywhere in Alaska right now, especially in the schools. I have felt sluggish, tired, and impatient lately. After the last class of the day left my room, I put my head down on my desk and wanted to weep like a two-year-old child. It was a tough day, and I am feeling the effects of a day dealing with other individuals who are lacking vitamins supplied by the sun.

 It seems odd to those who have not experienced it, but a Vitamin D deficiency is a true "sickness" in Alaska.  There are many articles and studies showing the importance of sunshine as a nutrition source for our bodies.  Therapists, even prescribe Christmas lights as a way to help improve the mood of their patients. All throughout the city streets colorfully lit houses start popping up in October. At first I thought it was just because people wanted to get ahead of the snow soon to be covering their roofs. However, now I know it is also the only "splash of light" in the lives of those dealing with the tough Alaskan winter. Therefore, as I sat at my desk, biting back tears, I realize I am not just stressed and exhausted because I am a busy mom of three kids, but the dark winter days are draining my will power, my energy, my patience, and my brain.  

I began to reflect on the attitudes of my students today. From the very beginning of the day there was disrespectful behavior and it seems as though the only color shining through the fog was their horrible language. There was not just the occasional slip of a "naughty word" today, but actual belligerent swearing. The F-Bomb was dropped enough times to annihilate the English language entirely.

In my classroom, the students know I have three very strict rules; Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Yourself. Using foul language violates number one, dents number two, and covers up number three. This is a discussion we have had from day one. Therefore, the consequence for swearing in my classroom is ten push-ups. This disciplinarian action usually occurs once or twice a day. However, today after one class period of students, I was considering signing up for courses to earn my P.E. endorsement because the amount of swearing would require heavy calisthenics or circuit training.

The disrespect was rampant, and the number of kids puffing up their chests or "preparing" to fist fight in class was spreading like wild fire. I stood listening to students berating each other, refusing to sit next to each other, and complaining they had to work. Imagine that; the English teacher forcing students to write and reflect on their reading assignment. I am positively evil for creating lessons for students to work on in small groups for a productive group project.  I was surprised to see that they all finished their work with all the grumbling, grimacing, and griping. (Alliteration thrown in for effect) However,  some students opted to work alone, others huddled in groups of two and most scowled throughout the entire period.

So, after spending the day watching all of these behaviors, I realized I too was feeling grouchy, irritable, and know I could have handled things a lot better had I been more patient. Where did my usual stockpile of calm disappear to I ask myself? It must have been sucked up by the sun and is hiding below the mountains. Good news is there is sunshine around the corner, we are gaining 5 minutes a day of daylight. Therefore, in a month we will be enjoying 12 hours of daylight. Yet, I have to get these kids and myself through until that point.

Tomorrow we are going outside to brave the Alaskan chill, snow, and ice. We are going to take one lap around the parking lot, and when we get back inside we will use that as our journal topic. I do not care if the responses are all negative and the kids' teeth are chattering. They will have some exposure to the sunlight, and maybe, just maybe some kindness will be awakened and warm them from the inside. If not, well...I wonder if it is illegal to spike drinks with Vitamin D pills?...
                                                     DAYLIGHT IN THE WINTER
                                           OH PRETTY SUNSHINE, HOW I MISS YOU!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!  If you want to see emotional imbalance come to a high school on Valentine's day. WOW! The tears were almost as prevalent as the flowers, chocoloates and the number of mini-skirts in the building today.

The first email at 7:00 a.m. was from the head of security asking for some extra back-up in the hallways this morning. There seemed to be a small breach in the dress code as all the girls were "dressing to impress." The number of girls lining up for dress code infractions looked like a line for a Twilight movie at midnight.  There were skirts of all shapes, colors, and styles. However, they had one thing in common, their length, or lack thereof.  There were some that, literally, looked as though the young lady had forgotten to put anything on her bottom half at all.  The best comment I overheard as all these fashion divas marched past my room to the office was; "You are just saying it's too short because you are jealous you can't make YOUR clothes look this good."  This was told to a very burly security guard and HE just threw his head back and laughed. I could not imagine the conversation they were about to have in the office. I am glad I was not part of that conversation because I was laughing uncontrollably.

The day continued to be filled with colorful surprises. Each hour a student had to leave to "compose" him or herself over lost love. There were also the lovey dovey kids in class who tried to sit closer, touch longer, and send text messages to their sweeties instead of read.  By the end of the day I could tell most of the student body was on a sugar high, as the kids ran, laughed and fidgeted uncontrollably in their chairs and halls. The heart shaped boxes filled up trashcans, there was an endless array of candy wrappers scattered around the halls, and the whole school smelled of floral arrangements. The tissues of the broken hearted or those who did not receive flowers, candy or hearts were left amongst the ribbons, glitter, and toils of the day.

The most intriguing part of the day was when the Polynesian group came into my room to give me a Poly-gram from someone annonymous. The poly-gram is a singing telegram sent by someone else in the school.  The performance by this talented group of students was absolutely beautiful. I was so impressed I had to track them down later to record them singing. ( SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR THIS VIDEO)  Their voices were in perfect harmony, and the ukelele is such a soothing instrument. I loved how they beat boxed or used colored pencils to drum out a rhythm. I was thoroughly impressed, and wish the person who sent me such a great valentine's day surprise would have signed their telegram.

There was also a fellow teacher whose husband came in with his singing quartet and seranaded her in front of the entire front office. It was the cutest and sweetest act of love I viewed all day. This was especially sweet as this was the same way he had proposed to his lovely wife 17 years ago. It was a great day to watch young and old smiling and enjoying the spoils of a day spent focusing on love.

I enjoyed seeing pure joy in the eyes of the girls carting roses, and the laughter of the girls and guys alike hunched around lockers celebrating friends and true love. Although, the teenage mind on sugar and love can be a little crazy it is also sweet to see such unadulterated joy and hope. Maybe we adults can learn a little from these hormone driven individuals. 

Some loving lessons I think apply after watching the teenagers today:
1. Love a little more, deeper, and without holding back.
2. Just giving something small to someone you care for can make a big difference.
3. Share your whole heart, and sometimes it takes a leap of faith even if you risk getting hurt. 
4. Do something nice ANONYMOUSLY because a little mystery is always fun.
5. You can buy yourself chocolates if you don't get any and LOVE WHO YOU ARE! 


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Stapler is Not a Weapon!

Some days I laugh, some days I cry, and some days I wonder what in the world is going on through the minds of these kids. I am sure we all feel the same way when it comes to the mind of a teenager. We see some of their risky behaviors and shake our heads. However, if we are being honest, we all  know we have had some behaviors unbecoming of a human being at that age as well. Today, I was reminded why I want to go back to high school, and shake the shoulders of the teenager I used to be.

Attention seeking behaviors are present in every single class. There are positive behaviors like raising a hand, or making eye contact. However, there are also the negative behaviors that make the day "colorful" to say the least. Some of this "colorful" behavior can be quite frustrating at times, but some times it is extremely difficult not to laugh. Laughing at the negative attention seeking behaviors will only cause the student to feel empowered, and this can cause him or her to continue this type of unpleasant action. Therefore, as a teacher it is important to really reward those positive behaviors, and try to squash the negative with lack of attention, discipline, or guidance.  I believe each individual in my room is deserving of attention, but I try to find ways to give that praise and one on one contact these teenagers crave (whether they admit it or not). Therefore, each day I shake the hand of each student, look them in the eye and tell them hello or ask about their day. It only takes a few minutes while they are doing their "bell work / journaling," and allows me to show the kids I care, love and respect them.

However, today was one of those days when the handshake was not enough to soothe the psyche of a few students, and I had one of those "out of body experiences." I felt like I was looking down on myself as I promptly turned to two students trying to staple each other, and said in a very calm, cool, and collected manner; "Boys, please put the stapler down. The stapler is not a weapon, and not a toy. No, I am afraid it is not a war zone, we are clear of all I.E.D.'s and we do not have to duck for cover. So, you need to stop trying to staple each other, and get back to work."

Now, this may not seem very interesting or hilarious to anybody else, but for a minute close your eyes and see yourself in this situation.  As I was listening to myself say these words in my soft voice, I realized I sounded like my fourth grade teacher. I was not even surprised at the occurrence, and really did not see it as a big deal. I did have to send them separately to the restroom to wash their arms with soap and water, as they had actually accomplished to land three staples a piece in eachother's arms.  As I continued class as normal, the students were more focused, and the stapler was no longer an issue. I made sure to praise their hard work during discussions, and talked to each of the "stapler boys" about their thoughts on the story we read a few times.   I wonder how many times in my career as a student did I cause the teacher to shake his or her head and sigh in exasperation at my negative attention seeking behaviors.

All I know is that "stapler war," is a new one for me. I cannot believe that they did not even flinch while they ripped the implanted foreign metal teeth out of their arms. I just kept envisioning when my first year of teaching I had stapled the palm of my hand as I tried putting up a bulletin board. It brought tears to my eyes. I guess I am just not a testosterone driven boy with an ego, but to each his own I suppose.