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Shine a light…


One of my favorite colleagues had this great idea. It’s all hers. I asked her if I could post it, but didn’t ask permission to share her name. Let’s just call her “Abazening Person” for now. The idea was to ask the staff (after two weeks’ of testing, more days of testing, and yeah…we’re tired) about their silly and serious advice for new teachers and/or teachers new to our school.

But you know why she is one of my favorite people? The person who can listen, hold their own, be gentle, strong, and wise is rare. I hope I have reciprocated the love and friendship because I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have I hold dear.

She asked the staff to write on slips of paper she provided, organized, etc., one silly and one serious piece of advice. What a great activity for the staff, and something to try with students, too! This is the list she compiled from the hand-written notes:

Thanks for sharing, everyone!

If you have anything to add for our 2017-2018 New to MC/New to Teaching “Words of Wisdom” as the year finishes up, please let me know. J

  • New to MC:
  • Jump in with both feet. There is no “halfway” at MC.
  • You have to be mentally tough to work here. Do something for yourself on the weekends.
  • Grab a $0.25 cup of coffee in the Work Room to start your day! Start a fresh pot and its free. 😉
  • Buy & wear a fit-bit.
  • Be the change you want to see…and LEAD that change.
  • Learn to juggle. You will make all the right friends.
  • Spread LOVE <3
  • Get to know the teachers. Building relationships is a big deal here.
  • P* gives the best hugs.*
  • A turkey dinner is served Thanksgiving week. Consider eating with kids in the lunchroom.
  • Don’t park under the lampposts unless you want a plethora of bird droppings!
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh with the kids!
  • First lunch is the BEST! 😉
  • Read the daily/weekly bulletins!
  • Avoid parking near the portables, unless you LIKE walking through large puddles on a rainy day.
  • Feel free to collect “floor pencils”. Even if they have bite marks, your kids will need them. J
  • Admin. feeds us well; if it’s a meeting or celebratory day, there is food…somewhere!
  • The staff bathroom in the C Building near the art room has a lock that works selectively. Use with caution. 😉
  • Leave the windows closed. The HVAC works better.
  • Participate in staff activities as often as possible. Parties, dancing, contests, movies; bonding time is never wasted time.
  • The parking lot floods. Bring boots!
  • Be nice to Mr. Gordon Dorsey(head custodian). He can be a huge help!
  • Be prepared for schedule changes. Make extra packets for new students.
  • Search for coffee around the building. It’s there…you just gotta find it!
  • If you see something that needs to be done, just do it.
  • The alarm will go off if you enter C Building before 6am…but you won’t hear it or know it until they come looking for you.
  • Find a teaching partner if you want to start/run a club.
  • First come, first served in the side parking lot along the field and C building.
  • La Huerta is awesome!
  • Never piss off the office staff. 😉
  • Spiders or flys in the classroom may derail your lesson for up to 15 minutes.
  • When cleaning out lockers, kids will trash books. Be on the lookout!
  • Enjoy the company of staff; great group!
  • Keep letting your light shine and you will glow for others to see.
  • New to Teaching:
  • Growth mindset is a must in this building.
  • Students – “What you put into your education determines your success in learning.”
  • Senior staff is very supportive. Talk to them for assistance and advice.
  • Always get their names right…or work hard on it. They care and it matters.
  • Be flexible with student students, schedules, etc.
  • Take the time in September to really get to know your students. The payoff for the rest of the year is immeasurable!
  • But the Mama Stortini’s special gift card in September.
  • Stand by the door. Don’t allow students to stand by the door before the bell rings. They love to slip out.
  • The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.
  • Rather than focus on the problem, try to be part of the solution.
  • Document everything.
  • Talk to our Student Success Team about options for discipline. Don’t always go for punishment. Discipline is about teaching.
  • Remember that our students are someone’s baby. Honor that bond and don’t judge.
  • Get ready to hear the “F” word. 😉
  • Get a second opinion…or three. Different perspectives help you to come up with your own, authentic “way”.
  • Don’t be shy about saying “no food or drinks” in the classroom.
  • Make sure students know you care about them. You can get them to do almost anything if they believe that you believe.
  • There are a lot of ELL(English Language Learners). Strategies to help them will be necessary to know.
  • Call home. Then try again. Our parents care…they just aren’t easy to reach all the time.
  • Do not be a “friend”. Be an adult with clear expectations. It’s what they need!
  • Learning can be good fun if you make it.
  • Teach students not to laugh at disrespectful/disruptive behavior. This will be super helpful.
  • Don’t be afraid of technology. It makes things easier.
  • Work on setting your classroom systems into place at the start of the year. Do it well and you will reap the rewards
  • Don’t take students’ negative attitudes personally. Stay calm!
  • Rule your classroom with an iron fist.
  • Actually TALK to your students, one to one. It goes a long way.
  • Make sure students know they are not allowed to have their laptops out without permission.
  • Don’t listen to or ask for advice from the crazy ones. 😉
  • It can be easy to become involved with everything so remember to schedule time for yourself.
  • Say everything like you mean it!
  • Don’t take the negative things kids say personally. It never really is personal.
  • Be a storyteller. Our kids like to know your life.
  • Collaborate and be open-minded in your PLC. It is all in the best interest of our students.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
You may not be able to guess the ones I contributed, and it doesn’t matter: what matters is we all said and felt a big collective hug toward each other and our students. She opens her heart and home and welcomes one and all, and if we all learned how to be a little more open, everything would just be…abazing. 🙂
*One of our admin, and it’s true.
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Little Miss Hollywood

The Teaching Sisters of the Rock Star

Ann Beatty recently penned a brilliant article for The Atlantic, “Hollywood’s Reductive Narratives About School.” Not only does she make a case against most popular teacher movies, but articulates what I’ve been trying to say for a long time. Over the years, students occasionally, with moony eyes and hope, ask me if I “love” Freedom Writers, and seem kind of hurt when I say no–but then come to some deeper understanding of when I tell them why. The “great White savior-teacher-lady” is bullocks, basically. But Beatty says it better. She writes: “Bulman argues these films are popular because they bolster the middle-class fantasy that holds individuals accountable for low-income students’ successes or failures, while conveniently absolving viewers of any responsibility to lobby for system-wide change.”

It is Hollywood, and it is a fantasy.

This fantasy resides in the same room as bootstrap baloney and the grit myths. The [white] middle class, usually young teacher, (so much ageism in Freedom Writers….so…..much….) comes to the school, loses her relationship with her husband, looks great in sweater sets, gets a paternal nod of Fatherly Approval from Daddy, and carries on, changes the world, and enlightens one and all. The thing is–her students possessed abilities and THEIR OWN STORIES the entire time. Somewhere along the way, they were taught to read, make letters, write, sing their ABCs, etc. I wonder if these narratives seep into our culture to the point where students can’t see past their own experiences, either, making short-cut assumptions about their teachers, no matter their race, gender or age.

The dangers of the ‘rockstar’ teacher or group include the shallow dismissal and incorrect thin-slicing of a group or individual personalities and dynamics. As in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story,” (which Beatty alludes to in her essay as well), the danger lies in accepting one’s perspective as the only perspective, and everyone else is getting it wrong.

Stop: it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not a competition. It’s not a ‘celebration’ when there are winners and losers. It’s a celebration when it’s a celebration, and everyone is invited to the table.

Beatty distinguishes between pity and empathy: pity leaves us all diminished and weakened. Pity is the beast that lower the bar, doesn’t maintain high expectations, or gives a pass when too tired to keep pushing. Empathy, however, should work reciprocally: we and our students come to better understandings of one another’s, and our goals align. (Easier said than done, clearly.)

“Pity means I tell students who I think they are; empathy means I ask them, again and again, to tell me who they are. Such a shift resets a power imbalance. Classrooms where teachers and students actively work against the narratives and misconceptions that batter them are places where real learning happens.”

What Beatty comes to, and where I came to a long time ago, was that students are so much more than a Hollywood narrative, and so are we. When we work together and stop putting each other in ‘rockstar’ or competitive situations, zero-sum games, when we don’t reduce one another as colleagues or reduce our students to simple numbers, we see a much bigger and more beautiful picture, a bigger life, one larger than any Hollywood truncated narrative. As the next few weeks fall into summer, what final messages will I, in some cases desperately, in other cases seamlessly, instill in my students?

Well, as friends read Beatty’s post on social media, many agreed with the list of damaging teacher films. But everyone still likes “Bad Teacher.” Okay, I’ll let that one slide.

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Series: Teacher Tombs (the great purging)

Many teachers around the country are out for their unpaid, too-short summer break. We’re not. Due to snow days and very cautious safety folks, we’ll be in until the 27th of June.

And yes: we have half-day that day.

Now, assuming you’ll be back next year, and in these days that’s a mighty big ‘if’ for many educators, what do you purge, prioritize, or plan for? How do you manage your ideas for the next year?

Elena Aquilar posted: How to Make Planning for Next Year Fun

Cult reposted Caitlyn Tucker’s fantastic suggestions. Click link.

Since my last post about the things I hoard, I’ve given a lot of thought to the methods of my madness. Yes, there may be hoarding, for sure, but like the Great Repurposing of Vinyl CD Covers of ’17, hoarding isn’t all bad. It is the art of finding potential in an object. However, going on my 12th year of teaching, it’s time. Some things just don’t fit anymore or can be amended to suit. (I am never getting back in that wedding dress: it did its job, but no need to unbox that baby.)

Here are some tips to how I manage the “next year idea bucket list:”

  • Cute, functional and sturdy journals and good writing pens handy.
    • The trick? Make a “date” with your notebooks and clean and out and highlight key thoughts.
  • I use Evernote and am starting to use Things.
    • The trick? Go through and use consistently.
  • Reorganize digital files: just like when you’re going through your closet, do the same for files. It is time-consuming, but sketch out a plan of attack:
    • Writing
      • Sub-folders per lesson
        • Folder for Grammar, Punctuation, etc.
    • Student Samples
      • Sub-folders per lesson
    • Reading articles/pdfs
      • Sub-folders for genres
      • Sub-folder for graphic organizers like the What It Says document
    • PowerPoints and other media for flipped learning
    • Tried-and-True:
      • Annotation Lessons
      • Argumentative Unit
      • Burning Questions Unit
      • Journey of the Hero Unit
      • Salem Witch Trial Unit
      • Horror/Fear Factor Unit
      • Zombie Unit (needs work)
    • Listening/Speaking ideas
    • Engagement Ideas/Ice Breakers
    • General forms, contacts, etc.
    • District curriculum information
    • Teacher Evaluation information
  • Create a year map: highlight some pitfalls or plan for times of fatigue. Things always look a little weird in January, so put a random event on a calendar to brighten your day.
  • Organize a list of links and ideas from things saved on social media or bookmarked for later.

But one thing — one very important thing — I suggest to all of my colleagues and administrators, please read this:

Knowing where we’ve come from helps us avoid future disasters. Teachers tend to be organized, creative geniuses. Right? Yes! We are the original “makers” in our “spaces.” Keeping track of hundreds of souls is not for the weak. And like the lady said, “Let those teachers go home!”

Almost there.



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Love this idea from Cult (and am jealous of her cute little hair flippy-do)! To my ELA local peeps–if you have ideas about books we can share with a middle level/YA book club, I think we should do some home-grown discussions. One of our issues is the…


So…how about we take some time, meet over appetizers and beverages, and figure out just what do we have, what digital resources we have, how to get audio books, etc. for our students? Our best brains work better together, and mapping out what our students need and want (even if they don’t know it yet) would be invaluable. Consider yourself tagged!


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Best laid plans.

We broke rain records this year, no small feat considering the Seattle area maintains a well-deserved reputation of one of the soggiest places around. Drizzles, downpours, drenching or dollops–no matter the size of the drop, it’s wet. Personally, my older son and I share the love of the gray, goopy clouds. Whenever I think of our rain, inevitably Tom Robbins’ thoughts on rain come to mind. (Some works of fiction stain a lifetime.)

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”
Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Imagine the first clear, bright May day. A day after two days’ of testing. More days of testing to come. A moment in time–brief and elusive, but there. When we went outside for zombie tag, students felt so free they asked me to go outside again. Knowing I had hit on a currency I could use to all of our advantages, sure. In years past, we’ve gone outside for a Writing ‘rally,’ or as dubbed this year, a Walk’N’Write.

Here’s how it is supposed to work:

Students grab their composition notebooks, something to write with, a writing prompt slip (printed out and cut into strips). The ground rules are laid out clearly on the board, and repeated:

  1. Do not in any way cause any disruption. I don’t want to see my name in an email, hear from other staff members, see a passive-aggressive post on Facebook, be mentioned in ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. Some student asked in disbelief if other teachers put other teachers “on blast” — yes, sadly. They do.
  2. Stay within earshot: I must be able to see you in the courtyard or the small field at all times.
  3. Try the prompts. Move after around ten minutes.
  4. They were allowed to take their cell phones if they wanted to take photo notes.
  5. Be prepared for an exit ticket (writing a reflection or expanding on an idea).

And, by golly, the majority of students did exactly all of these. They knew that the reason they were going outside was because they were so awesome during the zombie unit, and they earned trust to go outside again. 

Here’s how it worked:

During the first class, one student found some chalk, and one drew a penis on the ground. I don’t know who it was, and I didn’t have anything to clean it up or didn’t think quick enough to grab a cup of water and wash it away. I saw it at the end of the time outside. Middle school students draw graffiti, and genitalia is one of their common art forms. Like cave paintings of beasts and hunts, their choice of symbolism and pictographs trend toward the representation of middle school angst and Maslow’s lowest levels of the hierarchy. Watch ‘Superbad’ if you don’t believe me.

The second misstep was in not confiscating the chalk. From what I saw, there was a small piece of it, I didn’t know where it came from, and moved on. I wish I had thrown it away because other students found it and drew more…things. Pentagrams. Hearts. Butterflies. Initials. And yes, from what admin told me, more genitals. I received an email rightly advising me to make sure students did not do this in the future. But I am still not clear whose students drew all of the drawings.

So now I’m left with the unenviable task of telling my students what happened and consequences. That they have to keep themselves in check, or we can’t go outside again. Some of my fourth-period students waved in other teachers’ classrooms, and when I reminded them that that was a disruption, one argumentative young man justified it by saying the other student waved first.


However, there was far more positive than not. Students wrote. The noticed details, the trash, the good, ugly, and emotions tied with their surroundings. They struggled and grappled with worldly metaphors. Many saw the courtyard with new eyes. They looked up from their phones or used them to take pictures for later writing. They enjoyed the sun on their faces and breathed fresh air. It gave them one of the most important strategies for creativity: look up.




…look up.


PS If you look closely at the picture, there is a big white square of chalk. Someone drew over the drawing. They had better things to draw.