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The Pensive Sloth posted some funny resolutions recently, and they’ve circulated ’round the social media-es like crazy. Between those tongue-in-cheek somewhat passive aggressive resolutions and John Spencer’s valiant efforts to make sure I, yes me, it’s about me, little ol’me…doesn’t get burnt out, I decided to make my own professional resolutions.

In 2016, I resolve to:

1. Continue to take risks, even if it means being rejected. 

Recently I applied to the PSED position as a teacher/blogger voice, and no, didn’t make the cut. The e-mail is privacy protected, but I don’t think it would harm to say they had ‘other candidates that more suited their needs.” Dang. Now that makes me think two things:

*I would love to see what the other bloggers are doing: with some digging, I found the link of the ones who made the cut – congratulations to them all!

*What am I doing wrong? (And, what am I doing right?)

Being rejected hurts, and I seem to take it on the glass chin sometimes. Maybe it’s because my husband is currently looking for another position, (and in his field he is always job hunting), he must received scores of rejections every time he has to hit the pavement. We as a couple do our best to analyze the situation, make pragmatic course adjustments, and carry on. And, honestly, we take turns at who gets to feel in the dumps. But I need to take a page from his playbook and thicken my skin. Which leads me to my next resolution:

2. Keep striving for professional excellence: if I am at the point in my career where I’m starting to feel restless, ambitious, and needing a challenge, then I am not going to be falsely modest. It’s okay to want to grow.

3. Package my good lessons/units into shared items, and get them on TpT.

4. Don’t take myself so seriously.


negative people

5. Shield self from dart-throwers, nay-sayers, trolls, goblins, negative Nancy’s, poo-poo heads, frowny-faces, mean people, sour grapes, bushwhackers and shenanigans.


6. Remind students there is no such thing as extra credit. Or as Yoda would say, Credit there is not extra.

7. Write for myself more. Make a writing plan. Map out writing territories. And be jealous and guarded of my time.

8. Less grading, more feedback.

9. Keep rocking. Keep rolling.


10. And be grateful as a matter of course, every day.

Happy New Year to one and all – wishing us all health, the ability to think on our feet, kindness, and laughter!





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Purple Unicorns II: Time Bandits and the Case of the Great Umbrage

Here's to your resolutions!
Here’s to your resolutions!

TL:DR ‘be happy in your time management’

Apologies to John Spencer, but dang, he does give me good ideas. He recently sent this great post about how to work a 40 hour week. I have included his words here, verbatim.

Before you hunker down and start reading, I want to point out the first tip, and how it stopped me in my tracks. John has great ideas, and has proven himself to be creative and innovative.

But I can’t get past #1: 1. Use prep time for real prep. Don’t use that time to go to the staff lounge. Spend that time filling out rubrics, planning lessons, and getting your class ready for teaching.

What irritates me about this is the assumption that at any point in time I’m  making a choice about how I use my 55 minutes of prep time, and I can’t imagine that any of my colleagues are allowed the same luxury. I feel like this is one of those Glamour magazine ‘how to please your spouse’ tips that makes no sense to anyone who lives in reality. But that’s my knee-jerk reaction: after I take a deep breath, count to ten, and allow myself to think –‘What’s really being said here?” Perhaps it’s just a simple tip to use the time that’s intended for the purpose of the intention: if it’s prep time, do prep.

Okay– fair enough.

At my school, often there is class coverage. This year’s been different because we have new administration, and people actually want to come to work. To be fair, in the past many staff members have had serious medical issues, and the guest teacher shortage was at crisis levels. This year, I’m expected to attend a team meeting once a week, and oftentimes during my prep I’m running around to the copy room or trying to make sure my two preps are done in one. This year also my projector sported major issues, and just before break the IT department fixed it. That is three months of spotty technology I was dealing with during my prep time.

And like I said, I have two classes this year, well, three, because Humanities is both English/Language Arts and Social Studies, and Computer Skills I elective, so yes, three preps in one. That allows for about 15 minutes per “prep.” For me, it’s setting up the learning targets, success criteria, making sure the room is clean, free of trash, technology is working, I use the restroom (my last chance of the day, and I have morning prep), and reply to student, parent, or administrative e-mails. I don’t go to the staff lounge, in the morning or at lunch –it’s a toxic place, inhabited by a troll, and I’ve learned not to step hoof over that bridge. (I believe that will change as the culture changes at my school, because the admin staff does not broker any nonsense from mean people. But until the troll(s) find their goats elsewhere, I’m steering clear.

Now: I realize I needed to take a deep breath, stow my umbrage: most of the things that are considered duties for prep time I do ahead of time, when I can focus, without interruptions, and there’s a bathroom nearby, so yes, usually at home. Prep time is not meant for actual prep–it’s meant to get my head in the game, as it were. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to use prep time for its original intention, but maybe that’s John’s point: when trying to clear the time clutter of a teacher’s day, be intentional, and do what’s best for you.

In the meantime, here are some other tips he provides, as well as Angela Watson’s post. Let me be clear: in no way am I a martyr or ‘service to others’ kind of personality. That is not my style. But I am very conscious of how I spend my time, and go by the rule if it’s not giving me some kind of satisfaction or joy, then let it go. By following that simple rule I’ve learned I don’t need to clean all the time, and I’m not a perfectionist. Heck, don’t believe me? Ask my husband how many times I’ve gone to the grocery store this year. The other factor to consider is at what stage the teacher is in — now my sons are older, more independent, and that alone is freeing and joyful. Sure, do I miss toddler kisses and big sloppy hugs? The secret is big 18-year-olds still hug their moms, and 21-year-olds still inspire with grand conversations. I don’t come home tired anymore, and I look at the first year teachers who are so exhausted in, and this is a harsh truth, there is a certain amount of dues that must be paid before any educator learns how to do the work/life balance. It sucks, it’s painful, and the best way is to get through it.

Well, there, I just sucked ten minutes out of your life with this post.

Five years ago, I made a crazy New Year’s Resolution. I decided I would do less. I was exhausted as a teacher. I spent hours late into the night grading papers only to arrive the next morning fueled by fatigue and a heavy dose of caffeine. I was running on fumes, inching closer than ever to burnout.

See, I wanted to prove to teachers that I was a great teacher. I heard about “those teachers” who showed up right before contract time and left right when it ended. “Those teachers” were the burnouts. They were the babysitters. They were the ones just phoning it in. See, I believed I had to be a martyr to be an effective teacher.

Then things changed.

I made the New Year’s resolution to stick to a 40 hour a week schedule. I began showing up at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 4:00 p.m. I no longer felt stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

See, I knew that I loved being a teacher, but I also loved being a dad and a husband. I loved writing books. I loved blogging. I loved reading. I loved playing catch with my kids in the backyard or building pillow forts in the living room without worrying about the massive pile of papers stacking up.

How It’s Possible

1. Use prep time for real prep. Don’t use that time to go to the staff lounge. Spend that time filling out rubrics, planning lessons, and getting your class ready for teaching.
2. Deal with discipline issues relationally. It’s amazing how much time you save by not writing referrals and detentions. If a student acts up in class, simply talk about it in the moment. It’s a relational, conversational approach that works — but also one that means less time chasing kids down and managing a system. If you need to document the discipline, create a simple Google Form and submit it in the moment.
3. Grade less but assess more. Encourage students to do self-assessments. Choose fewer assignments to grade. Spend less time filling out your grade book. Teaching isn’t supposed to be a data entry position.
4. Assess during class. If you’re walking around seeing how students are doing, you might as well use that time to add comments to student blogs or pull kids aside for one-on-one conferencing.
5. Cut out the fluff. I never decorated my class. I left that to the students. Something as small as that can make a huge difference in terms of time.
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Purple Unicorns: The Paradox of Diversity

A Purple Unicorn is the magical creature that does it all, in any situation…

 January 4 update: “How Tapping Into a Youth’s Identity Can Excite Interest In Learning.

Ah, Winter Break…a time to catch up on media and mischief, and perhaps…have too much time to think. My dangerous questions are: “Are some learning and engagement strategies inherently biased? Do they try too hard to be inclusive and diverse, or do they not try hard enough? Where are we on this pendulum, anyway?” The question arose when I read this article from NPR by Joe Palca, ‘Hip-hop Vocal: The Lexicon Is In the Lyrics.” What struck me was Austin Martin’s insight about his time spent in school:

Although he’s in an Ivy League college now, Martin says that he struggled in school. He was smart, but he says the things he was really intellectually curious about weren’t valued in the classroom.

I wonder what exactly does that mean, “weren’t valued in the classroom?” I’m not questioning his memory –far from it–what I am wondering is how do we know, as students, when we’re not being valued? Was there a direct put-down to his love of music and sports, did a teacher disparage him somehow? Was his pedagogical experience so bland and dry it left no quarter for personal passions? And that made me think, did I ever have a chance to express personal interests in school? Okay, yes, I analyzed “Money” by Pink Floyd in English class, but I certainly wasn’t hanging with the AP crowd. What place do our personal passions play with our knowledge building, and are we using ‘diversity’ as a new brush to paint everything in one color, yet again? If the majority of students are from a range of diverse backgrounds, does that then make everyone homogenous?

His reflection about himself as a teenage student says:

“I knew every last thing there was to know about hip-hop and basketball,” he says. He could tell you incredibly detailed facts about rappers and NBA players.

Perhaps most of us could think of things we loved as teenagers, but our teachers certainly didn’t have the time or inclination to broach us about those passions. Were they supposed to? Well, sure, sometimes perhaps…to that end, Martin created a program that encompasses rap and vocabulary building:

The program is called Rhymes with Reason. He’s using rap lyrics to teach vocabulary, in the hope that some will connect more to popular music than they do to static words on a page.

This undergrad isn’t the first to think of using hip-hop in the classroom to engage students. The Hip-Hop Education Center, founded by New York University professor Martha Diaz, lists hundreds of programs that use hip-hop culture as a teaching tool.

And yes, I agree with the thesis of the piece, “So why not tap into that enthusiasm to help kids like him, who might be turned off by traditional schoolwork?” Yes, why not indeed–trying to find what will engage students is our educational nirvana. But ‘tapping in’ should not mean assuming all kids like the same things (like kids from ‘diverse’ schools all like basketball and rap: we need to do some code-switching here).

But who’s to say what traditional is, anyway? How are we currently defining multi-cultural, diverse, inclusive and engaging texts?

One way I spend my time is to look at new titles, and fortunately so does the district. This year they purchased The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which is a considered a Verse genre, meaning, it’s  poetic/rap structure. Aside from taking the time to study Russian Formalism and consider that structure makes the meaning, it’s a great book rich with textual context, discussion opportunities, etc. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit with my content areas this year, and this summer I researched other multi-cultural books. And, unfortunately again, there may not be any funds to add some great historical fiction pieces to my curriculum.

So, yeah, there’s that. And I don’t think Donor’s Choose can save me this time.

I wonder though, because my school is one of the most diverse in the district, do people assume that every kid loves basketball and hip-hop, ascribing some generalization that…and this is where it gets scary…leads to micro-aggressive bias? Because that’s not the case. There are kids who love One Direction, Justin Bieber, and kids who love soccer, or football, or gaming, or Manga, or Haka dancing or dubstep, Anime, Minecraft, and inclusive not only in the color of their skins or nationalities, embrace things that are purely, sparkly, what being an American teenager is now. They like stuff, not necessarily racial identities. Or rather, including their racial identities as part of their growth into individuals. But they do like stuff: cell phones know no boundaries or backgrounds. There are boys who stare at their computer screens for hours looking at shoes, and girls who read Tumblr and follow feminist discussions. And two things they all have in common: they want the best education their teachers can offer, and build their knowledge and agency, and they want relevancy. The shadowy side is teenagers still bully each other over the most superficial of behaviors, with terrible consequences, which is why I would love to know more about how Martin felt or knew he wasn’t being valued (did a teacher bully or mock him?).

On another note: While I don’t agree with this article, it may shock some to find out that anytime one group feels defined by another there will be push-back. (This article has plenty of push-back.) I’m linking it with some hesitation, but it is in the discomfort of defining personal identity that may be a the kernel of the diversity truth.

And as far as teacher reactions, consider our own backgrounds, too. From an article by Pat Burke Guild, “Diversity, Learning Style, and Culture” (Johns Hopkins School of Education), the writer states:

Teachers know that students learn in different ways; the experience in the classroom confirms this every day. In addition, well-accepted theories and extensive research illustrate and document learning differences. Most educators can talk about learning differences, whether by the name of learning styles, cognitive styles, psychological type, or multiple intelligences. Learners bring their own individual approach, talents and interests to the learning situation.

Growing up, the only edgy writer I was exposed to was Judy Blume. I had to seek and find other writers on my own. There wasn’t enough discussion and exposure to writers with multiple perspectives and voices, not in the least. Heck, I came from the dark ages when folks still believed Columbus was a hero. And this is an ‘and’ not a ‘but’ — and, I am spending my life making up for lost time, but still loving Judy Blume’s role in my life, too.

Back to my curriculum issue: I wish I could have students compare the narratives between Octavian Nothing and Sophia’s War. In Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution, Avi brushes by the plight of slaves in joining the British forces, but that’s not the theme of the book. In Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson never mentions little Boston white girls whose brothers are sent to prison ships. But that also its not its job. However, it’s our jobs as educators to be knowledge and present the sides as best as we can, and have students make connections. What would I tell my students from India or Russia? They may not be represented in those stories at all–but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading. Diversity is not niche adaptation, but variety and knowledge strength.

So why ‘the paradox of diversity?’ Because it seems the more educators try to be diverse the more it becomes cookie-cutter. There is no perfect purple unicorn that answers everyone’s diverse backgrounds, and that’s for the best. Keep your eyes and mind open, don’t be embarrassed about your own journey and background, and read everything.

Just in time link:

How Kwame Alexander Gets Teens Reading and Writing Poetry



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Watch your tone.

"Hot dog!"
“Hot dog!”

Don’tcha ever get tired reading about things?

Yes, again, I am offering, post-holidays, an idea that is a holiday themed movie, and yet, confining ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to the short days before winter break seems unfair. The film itself is replete with themes for all of us to ponder, each of us with a take-away based on our own perspectives. For me, the revised Cinefamily trailer for the film is, at its core, my film. Exposing too much of my personal life right now: this has been tough year for my family, and though loathe to say “I want time to speed up, or for this year to be over” because wishing away time seems to be the most grievous of sins. But yes, my family is looking forward and praying for some closure and solid answers about some big issues. I am feeling George right now, not Mary. Some of my close friends know what’s going on, and how the cost of the stress I’ve experienced this year has affected at least one professional relationship, someone who misunderstood my sorrow with their own ego. All I can do is absolve myself, and learn something, and move on.

And ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ may be my perfect movie.

We all have those “perfect movies” that resonate with us over our lifetimes, and we learn something about ourselves depending on the moment of viewing. As a young woman, thought it was sappy but sweet. As a young bride, saw the power of love and family. Growing older, saw how disappointment and stashed dreams affect us. Now? As much as I love the magical ending, I am a pragmatist, and see the value in getting my own wings. And I see George as someone who is deeply unhappy, but finds more power in the light of his life than the darkness, and benefits from a well-timed angel.

Slate Magazine penned this piece on a revised trailer, and it’s a golden opportunity to compare the original trailer with the updated one; as far as lesson structure is concerned, I am not sure if it would be better to show students the entire movie first, and have them sift out themes, or watch the two trailers and write their ideas about what the movie might say. As far as focusing on mood/tone, comparing the two trailers would be sufficient.

It’s A Wonderful Life (trailer) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

The original 1946 movie trailer:

I’m not watching this film this year: it’s good to let favorite films take a break, and revisit at other junctures. And I’ll keep in my heart that things always work out.

The standards:





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Myth of the Month Club: Krampus

Brom's Krampus
Brom’s Krampus

Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas, the traditional European winter gift-bringer who rewards good children each year on December 6. The kindly old Saint leaves the task of punishing bad children to a hell-bound counterpart known by many names across the continent — Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf, and Krampus. Usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black, or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them, in baskets, to a fiery place below.


Just when you thought stuff couldn’t get any weirder: ‘t round out the week before Winter Break, prevent the need to scrape kids off the ceiling, and harmlessly, innocently, integrate some technology skills I created this prompt:

There are a lot of strange and wonderful ways to celebrate in December around the world. Now’s it’s time for you to come up with your own! This is a group project contest for the best, new, weirdest plausible holiday!”

And they were off! They were given a list of items they might include:

  • Food served
  • Special clothes or costumes
  • Mascot or Character
  • Tradition/ritual
  • Activities

And while none came up with a variation on Festivus, we did have a “Wishing Day” and a “Squidmas.” The students worked with Power Point on-line through their Office 365 software, and had a ball. They only had one block class to consider, create, and design their presentations.  They were all winners in my book! This proved to be a great way to introduce Power Point on line, collaborative creativity, and a low-risk activity that was accessible and funny. The ones who didn’t quite get it at first were those who thought this was a simple regurgitation of researched holidays: once they saw others with their original ideas it helped to model. The truth is, as much as a teacher can model something, middle school students look to their peers to see what else is happening in a creative crunch.