Posted on


Harry Harlow Behavioral psychology

For the first time, ever, I was out for three days with a knee issue. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, except there has been a lot of change going on, and the students feel it. And it was the three days before a long weekend break (traditionally, this has been mid-winter break, but was cut short to two days –dang those cuts!)

Here’s what happened:

I was working the graveyard shift on my zombie watch, when, from out of no where, attack! The ghoul got the better of me….(this time, you undead living, or living undead, or whatever oxymoron-ic beast you are! Not getting my brains today!) And because students don’t like it when their beloved teacher is in pain, (cue hot tears streaming down face at the beginning of my fabulous lesson on annotating text), and the doctor ordered me to rest, so be it. (Zombie bites respond well to hefty doses of antibiotics and heat, just in case you were wondering what the treatment regime is for a zombie bite. I know you were going to ask, so now you don’t have to. You’re welcome.)

The epiphanic question: What must my new vice principal and principal think of me? Do they think I’m some slacker who just takes off whenever she feels like it? We are all still getting to know each other, and because of the sheer amount of whirlwinds, dust devils, flare ups, zephyrs, and typhoon changes going on (testing, scheduling, testing, more testing, scheduling, scheduling, etc.), there hasn’t been a lot of “getting to know you time…getting to know all about you..”

I have had four principals in five years. I have had three vice principals. We have had a few discipline/security officers come and go. None of the comings/goings are for negative reasons, in fact, they have been for good, positive, progressive growth reasons: promotions, higher supervisory roles, etc.

And in this time of transition, in an attempt to establish my cred, I inadvertently ended up sounding like a broken record : We did that. We have that. We created that. Rinse. Repeat. It’s not that the new admin cares or doesn’t care, but they understandably have their vision of the future, too.

I guess I just wish this: we all know how critical it is for us to bond with our students. They need to know they are safe with us, free to be themselves, make mistakes, and be human. It takes time and a bit of heart-worn-on-sleeve for good measure (I said heart, zombie, not brains!).

A colleague bravely said in a department meeting that she was already on survivor mode, and it’s only February. We pay attention to her: she is the consumate professional, with unflagging spirit.  If we’re hanging on to cloth and wire monkey moms, that can’t be good for any of us. I feel the deep desire to take a cleansing, healing breath for us all. And hear some real heartbeats.

Posted on

What the doctor ordered: Play

I have had this hunch for some time: middle school should be run like summer camp, and now I have a very smart scientist who might back me up. Watch this TED talk about important work of  ‘play.” So while we’re testing, testing, testing our young charges, are we really putting on cat “smelling” collars on rats? Are we allowing this to happen to us adults? What are we doing in the name of “rigor” versus in the name of transformative, creative, growth of intelligence?

The day, (work, school, family, friends, creative time, etc.) is so much more enjoyable, and so much more learning happens, when we mentally play. Students take this activity by hostage: they doodle, they pass notes (yes, still) or use the technology given them to do anything but what’s in front of them. I’m not suggesting we serve brain candy instead of mental broccoli, I am suggesting that we have more hands-on, more projects, more time to enjoy the moment. “Life becomes infused….with…transformational kinds of play” — Stuart Brown

At the end of this presentation, I mentally checked out because the questioner/questions kind of missed the point. If you’ve been a human, and have ever felt that something was missing, lacking, or dull – you know exactly what Stuart Brown is saying: play, and all its manifestations, is who we are. Toy with that idea for awhile.

Posted on

Fatal law.

We are the hero of our own story.
Mary McCarthy

Sometimes I seriously wonder what I am thinking. In our Journey of the Hero unit, I ask students to do a free write on their own ‘fatal flaws.’ Really? What fatal flaws could a 13 to 14 year old have? But boy, do I get a range. Everything from taking that epic skateboarding ramp a bit off, to the time when they betrayed a friend. The range is parallel to choices and life experiences they’ve had: in other words, happy kids=innocent mistakes; add a little more grit to their worlds=more emotion.

I’m not trying to dig out their hearts, I promise. They don’t have to share a thing, and may choose not to write. In terms of the writers’ workshop, this was not the prompt to launch the protocols, that’s for sure.

But keeping my sense of humor, I got an email from a student asking a clarifying question:

“What is the Fatal Laws assignment?”

Sounds about right.

Posted on



My projector hasn’t worked well since I inherited this classroom. The irony of being ‘cutting edge’ with technology is that by the time the rest of a district gets the installation of the latest and greatest, the first-served’s technology is dated and tired. I’m not complaining, though; it’s just an observation. I have put in no less than five requests with our IT department. Earnest, young, geeky men (yes, it’s usually men), come into the room, look it over, observe the purple glow emanating on my screen, (my students think I design pink SmartNotebook lessons–!), and tell me it’s not working.

Yes, I know. (Did I wear my “I’m with Luddite” T-shirt today?)

The last young man to survey the issue (I think it needs to be replaced, but in lieu of that, at least a new bulb and some fresh cables), was rendered helpless by the sheer volume of STUFF I have. It may as well been a 30′ bramble wall, waiting to slice the young hero with its prickly thorns and cleaving vines. The sleeping beauty of wall plugs and jacks lay just beyond his reach over the thick curriculum notebooks, writing instructional materials, professional journals and books, and assessment booklets.

I am not a hoarder. I have no issues with trashing/recycling. Re-using, not so much. But having had to create curriculum from scratch, it occurred to me how loathe I am to chuck it. I have a file cabinet full, baskets, buckets, portable file cases, drawers – every storage space is used. What will I really be giving up if it just goes away? Am I afraid to lose my touch, my hold, with my own professional development, knowledge, and accomplishments?

Well, time to get up, get it clean, throw it out, and recycle what I can. Give myself permission to teach a lesson twice, three times, etc.; I guess the key is in the reflection and flexibility with students. I have never had the same entrenched year – and I don’t see that ever happening.

Bored? No. Inundated? Yes.