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Surviving Parent-Teacher Conferences

The time has come…

We are less than a month away from Parent-Teacher Conference Day, and I’m not a fan. Conferencing with parents any other day is usually fine, but Conference Day is exhausting. It’s an under-caffeinated marathon of jilted ex-spouses, helicopter and bulldozer moms, and parents who want their every action validated. It’s speed dating without the benefit of alcohol. In an attempt to make Conference Day more productive, I put together three tips to make those meetings a success. Read about it here on the Richmond Moms Blog.

Parent-Teacher Conference

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Censorship and Other Bad Words

I recently read an article from Lehigh University’s First Amendment Site regarding book censorship. Written in 2009 by a journalism student, the article chronicles a brief history of censorship and book banning. One quote struck me: “The most effective antidote to the poison of mindless orthodoxy is ready access to a broad sweep of ideas and philosophies. There is no danger from such exposure. The danger is mind control.” That was the 1978 decision of Judge Joseph L. Tauro of Massachusetts in Right to Read Defense Committee v. School Committee of the City of Chelsea.

Thinking about a few amazing works of literature that have been banned over the centuries, including To Kill a Mockingbird (racism), Call of the Wild (banned and burned in Nazi Germany), Ulysses (obscenity), Of Mice and Men (profanity), Fahrenheit 451 (uses God’s name in vain), The Giver (drugs and suicide), The Color Purple (people have sex), and even Dahl’s The Witches (move over J.K. Rowling because Roald Dahl was inspiring wizardry first)…parents, legislators, and school board committee members love to stoke the literacy funeral pyres when students read anything besides censored textbooks or that one book that begins with the line, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Why is this relevant now? In my county in Virginia, where I live and teach, there is a mother who homeschooled her child. Then she sent that precious snowflake to public school and became very concerned over the county’s suggested summer reading lists for secondary students. Last month, that mother took her complaints to our county’s weekly newspaper, who published her story. In that article, this mother threw words around like “pornographic,” “vile,” and “trash” to describe the books Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. Yet has this mother ever read the books herself? No. What concerned me most was her bragging that four titles on the 2015 summer reading list for one county high school were removed after she contacted the school’s administration. Why administrators cave to the whims, rants, and aggressive nature of bulldozer parents is beyond me…it not only undermines teachers, but also feeds into the mind control that Judge Tauro warned against. By allowing one parent to dictate the summer reading list for an entire school of 1500 students, she came back for round two this summer with an even bigger chip on her shoulder. In the case of fundamentalist mother versus administrators without backbone, mother wins.

As if the original story wasn’t infuriating enough, the following week The Chesterfield Observer published a follow-up article that included an interview with our State Senator, Amanda Chase. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not care for Mrs. Chase, nor did I vote for her. I consider myself politically moderate (despite the fact I’m wearing my “Feelin’ the Bern” t-shirt as I write this), but I am wary of politicians aligned with the inflammatory and fear-mongering tea party. Mrs. Chase defeated our previous out-of-touch senator in the primary and there was barely a contest in the Republican stronghold of District 11 in the general election. She won with 64% of the vote. Our Virginia General Assembly notoriously passes what I call “Do-Gooder” laws, and Amanda Chase is one of those do-gooders. A family friend described the problems of our General Assembly this way: there are too many do-gooders and not enough lawyers. However, I am grateful that our Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, vetoed two bills in particular while in office so far–one requiring public schools to notify parents before using sexually explicit books in school, and he twice vetoed a “Tebow Bill” that would open public school sports to homeschooled children. So that tangent aside, in the June 29th article, Mrs. Chase calls for firing certain librarians, stating, “If librarians are not recommending books that line up with Chesterfield County Public Schools’ core values, they should be dismissed.” When the Observer presented the idea that parents should help their children pick out books, Chase says parents are too busy.

What. The. [Censored].

Dear fellow parents and Mrs. Chase… I do not claim to be a perfect parent, or even a patient one. I swear in front of my children, and the f-word flows pretty freely in these parts. I listen to SiriusXM’s Backspin in my minivan while shuttling my children around town. I know you mean well, I really do. “Save the children!” It’s a noble thought, but my children and many like them do not need saving. Granted, my kids are young and autism keeps them blissfully innocent and unaware of many of life’s harsh realities, but they know there is profanity and obscenity in this world. Nonetheless, my kids mind their manners, follow directions, and do not hit, bite, or swear. And here is an outrageous idea…I am not too busy to be a parent. I know what they watch on YouTube, I know what book characters they like, and I take time to help them choose books and activities. I even talk to their teachers about their interests and ask for suggestions for books and games. If and when the time comes that I am not comfortable with them reading, hearing, or viewing something, then I will make that call. Please, please stop telling us how to parent. Any middle- or high-school kid wanting to read Eleanor and Park will find that book tamer than what she hears in your average school hallway, bus, or locker room. Bad habits are not curated at the public library. Instead of sheltering kids from controversial things and hiding from reality, we need to teach them how to cope with adversity, make good choices, consider other viewpoints and experiences, and learn from good and bad consequences. If my senator Amanda Chase wants to protect my kids in a meaningful way, she can introduce a bill that will erase the age cap from the autism insurance mandate rather than call for the dismissal of public school librarians who foster curiosity, imagination, and creativity in young adults. To these micromanaging legislators and the parents who seek to impose their will on all of us, don’t you have anything better to do? Maybe you should read a book.

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(Image source: http://quoteaddicts.com)

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Life Lately

After an insanely busy winter, I am back on the blog wagon… I suppose it’s time for a catch up.

Thing 2 continued his journey down the neurology rabbit hole. Last fall, we sought a second opinion on suspected absence seizures, and proceeded with an EEG, head MRI (revealing a Chiari malformation restricting the flow of cerebral spinal fluid), then a follow-up MRI on his spine to evaluate for any tears or syrinx. The spinal MRI was clear, and the neurosurgeon suggested repeating the scans yearly. Our coinsurance for the spinal MRI was $2,200, so I doubt yearly repeats are financially feasible, unless by some miracle Thing 2 qualifies for Medicaid. So far our county Department of Social Services has refused to screen Thing 2 for waiver services. Outright refused, which I am pretty sure is illegal. Typical Virginia. Meanwhile, Thing 2 has been pushing on his cheeks and acting like his face is in pain. Our pediatrician noticed his 6-year molars (the first permanent molars we get) were erupting. We gave him Advil, and that seemed to help. At the dentist last week, Thing 2 was amazingly cooperative, and it must have been divine intervention. Our dentist found an abscess in a baby molar, which must be horribly painful. That is why he’s pushing on his cheek, and that tooth will be pulled next week. This is the point I find myself frustrated and furious with autism and the lack of communication that goes with it. Thing 2 was unable to tell us he was in pain, and that is not acceptable. And unfair. Hopefully his mood will improve once that tooth is pulled, because no one in this family is allowed to take a knee! This month Thing 2 also returns to the neurologist and gets registered for Kindergarten.

Thing 1, on the other hand, is doing incredibly well–in school and ABA sessions. Thing 1 is in second grade, and by Christmas mastered Kindergarten and first grade sight words. His behavior therapist is working on generalizing that skill, meaning recognizing and reading those sight words in formats other than a flashcard. I left my school laptop at home one morning and came home during my planning block to pick it up. I walked in on an ABA session, and Thing 1 was reading. READING. I didn’t want to leave. Besides going into a general education second grade classroom for literacy circles, starting in January he was included in general education math, too. I love it when the stars finally align and Thing 1 makes such huge strides… Sometimes it is difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but hard work always pays off. Thing 1 has been working his butt off.

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Thing 3 is mere days away from his second birthday. He was completely delightful and easygoing until he hit 18 months. That’s when he decided to jump start the Terrible Two’s. The kid is so stubborn! He wants to do everything himself, his way, on his own time. He is also not saying a single word, and every time he stands on his toes or walks in some repetitive pattern around the room, I feel a lump my stomach. I had to make the call yet again and ask for an autism evaluation, which will be another two months away. On that note, I am donating our brains to science. We have not seen a geneticist since Thing 1 was diagnosed in 2010, but there must be something behind the way our genes are mixing and mingling to produce potentially three kids on the spectrum. Hopefully by joining the Autism BrainNet, our noggins can help solve the mystery for other families. Besides, it’s not like any of us will need our brains when we’re six feet under.

I’m almost halfway done with the national board certification process. I submitted Component 2–a portfolio showcasing how I teach writing and differentiate instruction. I had to analyze three writing assignments for that component, and it made me grateful to not be a Language Arts teacher. Oy…the writing! I take a test (multiple-choice and short answer) in June, and then I’ll pick up the process again this fall with two more components to submit. I’m also ready to kick this group of seventh graders to the curb. Despite the lethal mix of laziness, immaturity, and psycho parents this year, I still love my job most days…until Pi Day comes around, and I take one in the face.

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It’s all for a good cause.

The house is in shambles since my husband demolished our master bathroom. It will look amazing when finished, but in the meantime, there’s a bathtub and two toilets hanging out in the garage, sawdust scattered, and a shop-vac by my bedside.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, right?

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Back-to-School Pinspiration

When the school year wrapped up in June, I felt pretty burned out. I was also over my classroom set up and needed to change things–new posters, new room arrangement, and a new view. This summer, I looked to Pinterest for inspiration to revamp my procedures come September. Here is what I’m digging into.

I love some well-placed snark and sarcasm.  Check out Meme Hall and Bathroom Passes and Using Memes to Connect with Students. Every time I use a meme, students actually read its message!

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My class rolls for the 2015-16 school year look mighty brutal. The table I use for supplies like pencils (because middle-schoolers NEVER have a freaking pencil), glue sticks, scissors, and paper will have to be commandeered as a student desk. I went to IKEA with some teacher friends this week and bought a Dignitet curtain wire, Riktig clips, and Bygel containers. I’m going to mount the sucker under my whiteboard for easy access to supplies and for hanging awesome work and/or papers missing names. There are so many IKEA hacks on Pinterest, and homeschool resources have amazing ideas for maximizing space and staying organized.

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I also found these Valbekant sticky notes at IKEA. They only cost $0.49 for a three-pack. These would be awesome to use with an activity center like Tabletop Twitter, having students respond to quotes or primary sources.

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Since our students are issued Chromebooks, I also keep an eye on technology resources. Here are a few pins I’m interested in incorporating into my classroom:

Movie Poster Template — Because it’s just cool.

Playing History — So many games, so little time.

SMS Generator — Students create fictional text messages between historical figures.

Tagxedo — These word clouds look incredible!

Tools for Your Paperless Classroom and Google Tech Tools — I already use a few of these apps, but there’s always more to explore. I am going to survey my seventh graders at the beginning of the year to find out what educational/project apps they like using, what they hate, and why.

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Teacher work week officially starts on Monday, but I went to school today to set up my classroom. I bought this Ullgump rug at IKEA to add texture to my room.  I put it under my desk, and all I could think the rest of the day was… “It really ties the room together.”  Thanks, Lebowski.

(Image sources: Pinterest)

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Classroom Bracketology

In the same breath that I complained about snow days disrupting my World War II unit, I ditched my just-finish-the-damn-SOL plans to bring some bracketology to seventh grade.  I was inspired by “Teach with Tournaments,” which I saw in my Pinterest feed a few times, and March Madness.  I’m writing this blog post while watching Wisconsin take on Duke… Come on, Badgers!  Definitely check out Josh Hoekstra’s website and video clip.  This guy makes money telling teachers how to complete brackets.  Seriously.  Either he is a genius, or we’re that stupid.

Anyway…

I did some research on unsung heroes of World War II, trying to find names I (and my students) never heard before.  I found heroes from various walks of life, including soldiers, spies, pilots, Americans, Soviets, Brits, and those who publicly opposed the Nazi party in Nazi-controlled lands.  Names on our brackets included the big guns like Churchill, FDR, Eisenhower, Patton, Schindler, Von Stauffenberg, and Zaytsev; as well as lesser-known players like Mildred Manning (Army nurse/POW), Noor Inayat Khan (spy), Maximilian Kolbe and Chiune Sugihara (both tried to save Jews from concentration camps), and many others.

I pre-filled brackets for each class and printed names on strips of paper.  Each student drew a name.  They had 25 minutes to research that person and find out what he/she did during WWII that was heroic, then create a 60-second pitch to win over their classmates (and, more importantly, me) to advance to the next round.  It was interesting to see a student draw a name and look completely disappointed with their assignment.  Maybe he couldn’t pronounce the name on the sheet, or she didn’t want to speak in front of the class, but every kid fired up a Chromebook and feverishly wrote down facts.  Good facts, too.

The debates were fun.  Many kids spoke in first person, starting with “I am the greatest hero because…”  I put 60 seconds on the timer–kids dubbed it the “shot clock.”  When less-popular names advanced past the big guns, they were bracket-busters.  The phrase, “He’s a real bad astronaut,” was spoken multiple times as students advocated their advance.  Get it?  Get it?  They’re so clever.  One kid compared his soldier to Chuck Norris.  “He could just pick up a handful of bullets, throw them at the Japanese, and kill hundreds of enemy soldiers.”  A little Chuck Norris meets Hot Shots Part Deux…I was very entertained.

It took an entire block to get through the research phase and first round.  We finished the second/third rounds after reviewing for the test.  The championship round was done after the test.  They were epic.  The kids were so into the debates, and in the end, realized it was a tough decision because every person on the bracket did something extraordinary.  There was cheering, gasps, upsets, and tough losses.  Those lessons go beyond March Madness.

And now Wisconsin is up 31-29.  One half and one minutes to go…

Brackets

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WWII Meets Twitter

I teach seventh-grade U.S. history, and World War II is one unit students look forward to all year.  Because of snow days, I had to revise the unit, including cutting a project on FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech and shortening a couple classwork activities.  On one snow day, I brainstormed ideas on how to get my kids to interact with battles chronologically, while also understanding the meat of those events.

Hello, Twitter.

So I came up with this activity…Imagine Twitter existed during World War II.  I put instructions together on the fly, but it was a good start:

Imagine you are a journalist reporting during the 1930s and 1940s. Unlike those old-school reporters, you have access to Twitter. Report live from the battlefields in 140 characters or less to keep Americans informed on this war!  Choose any 8 of the following events to cover.

  • Blitzkrieg of Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, and France
  • Battle of Britain
  • Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • D-Day
  • Italian Invasion of Ethiopia
  • Japanese Invasion of Manchuria
  • Lend-Lease Act Signed
  • Battle of Midway
  • Pearl Harbor Attacked
  • Battle of Stalingrad

Put your events in chronological order and write a tweet for each one using the textbook, Internet, and primary source readers to gather information. Tweets are 140 characters max, including hashtags, and should provide meaningful information and a date. (Example: Don’t forget to study vocabulary for your SS quiz. #myteacherisawesome)

Students could use World War II and Winston Churchill primary readers from Teacher Created Materials, our textbook, and the Internet to find information for their tweets.

I picked the top 4-5 out of each class and put them on little cards to decorate the bulletin board.

WWII Twitter

WWII Twitter

WWII Twitter

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