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Series: Teacher Tombs (the great hoarding)

Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, Italy, 1926

A colleague who’s new to the building is, above all, hilarious. I’m so glad he’s at our school and has the experience he does. We don’t get to chat as often as I’d like, as I’m teaching six out of six classes this year, and we don’t have common planning time. We do get to share ideas via social media, so before testing, I shared this image:

Hoarding #FTW!

Those purple things are repurposed CD vinyl holders; in my cupboards, nearly a full box of various colors waited patiently for CDs/DVDs that would never be made again. Our new laptops don’t have DVD players in them, and now the staff scrambles for the external CD player. (Technology is weird that way.) During testing, we’re not allowed to hold cell phones in a shoebox with sticky notes on them, as we’ve done in years past, due to the new admin’s rules. They don’t want to be liable for any cell phones that may be lost or damaged during testing. Makes sense, and just because losing or damaging a cell phone has never happened in our building doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t. Not a ‘hill I want to die on,” so to speak. But if students didn’t put their cell phones in their lockers, they must turn them off and place them face down on the desks/tables in front of them. Seeing how students’ addiction to their phones causes them subconscious touching and turning over of phones, I needed to have a means to thwart them just a bit more, hence the plastic sleeves.

He asked me if I felt some sense of grand vindication that my teacher-hoarding had paid off!?



All year I felt like I was standing on a treasure trove of accessible and important curriculum/instructional ideas that were just out of reach, this nagging feeling that the time and year were too fragmented or…something. I could never put my finger on it. (Maybe because I have mountains of data in Google Drives, OneDrives, Dropboxes, and external hard drives.) Where did the time go? Nailing down multiple approaches to student learning is like hanging an octopus on the wall. No one agrees where it should go, and doesn’t make the room look any better.

via GIPHY Power Points from the Past….

This year because of other instructional directions I didn’t spend as much time on thesis and argumentative writing as I should have. I needed help and support: help in terms of not how to teach it, but in terms of our whole PLC working on it.

But here are some links and goodies. They are based on information that is open to the public. Use if you want, change, alter, etc., feel free. Email me with questions. Right now I just need to focus on getting through the end of the year with students and make them feel like they’re reading for high school because I can tell many do not. I’m going to listen to my instincts about that one. I know how they’re feeling now: scared, anxious, excited, and ready to move on. What is in the past will only inform the future, but the present needs my focus.

Multiple-Source Essay Writing PowerPoint

Thesis Lesson: Brooklyn CUNY

Common Core Thesis Lesson link

How to Write a Good Thesis Statement



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Metaphorically speaking…

At one point my life, I self-applied the moniker “Queen of the Metaphors.” Perhaps my crown tarnished a tad due to adjusting verbiage to suit more concrete/sequential folks, including differentiating for students who may not understand the nuances of abstract thought. In other words, I was tired of people saying they needed a translator.

Metaphorical thinking and creating are pinnacles of new thought and ideas. Our ability to communicate precisely and clearly hinges on figurative language: it is a paradox. The more abstract one wordsmiths, the more concrete and accessible an idea may be. However, many don’t feel this way. They don’t see the necessity for poetry or art. Perhaps some feel as if they “should” like it, like a kale or IPAs. Has hating on metaphors become a trend, it’s cool to hate the “A” in STEAM?

In a 2013 Scientific American article titled, “In Defense of Metaphors in Scientific Writing” by Caleb A. Scharf, 

“The problem is that while a specific metaphor might work for some people, it won’t for others. This is especially true for scientists themselves, who sometimes lack a sense of humor, or even just common sense. I once wrote about a dying star as being ‘bloated and gouty’, as its outer atmosphere inflates and blows off to interstellar space. I rather liked this. ‘Gouty’ has always made me think of Willam Hogarth, or James Gillray, and their satirical drawings in the 18th century, filled with wonderfully appalling characters. It seemed like a good way to evoke the sense of an aged and, ah-hem, rather flatulent stellar object. But no, for at least one scientist this was all wrong. Stars, they pointed out, can’t possibly be gouty because they don’t produce uric acid…”


Come on, nerds. Get it together. Be cool.

If you want to be heard, speak in the language of poetry. Tell the story. Share the parable. Observe. Look. Speak.

“If you want to communicate facts or information, then stories are a powerful vessel to do so.”

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen from Catsnake on Vimeo.

What to do with this thought? What lesson plan to package, what standard to dissect?  Not sure. Since this idea of telling stories to share information is as old as the human voice, as old as instinctual, creatureliness* for survival, perhaps my gift is to allow the evocation of ideas.

I estimate there are about 1,000 ideas in this brief director’s showreel.

Edward L Dark Director Showreel from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Allow our young writers to follow an illuminated pathway to their own stories–add points of brilliant light, and also, don’t be afraid of the shadowy parts, giving them a chance to find ways to illuminate their journeys. Whether it’s math, science, history, physical education, band, language arts…whatever the course and content…stories connect us all.


Teach poetry in another content area

Have students share three things: a song, a poem, and a piece of artwork that’s connected. When framed this way, boys and girls alike had no issue in sharing. It took off the gender factor.

Challenge their thinking. Thank goodness one of my students spoke up and questioned the title of this piece, and then we had a great teachable moment in analyzing his real message:

Her initial reaction was that she would not listen to him because of the title of the video. The rest of the class shouted out, too, once they saw it, so I asked them to wait. Based on the other video we just watched, we shouldn’t assume anything but listen.

They were glad they did.

I think I’ll share this one, next:


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Spun out.


Water bottle flipping.



Candy wrappers.

Sunflower seeds.

Little pencils.

No pencil.

No paper.

Uncharged laptop.

No charger.

Lost charger.

Little skateboards.

Little paper footballs.


My list is incomplete. There is a legion of ways kids use other objects to distract or fidget with. And no wonder. Quite frankly, a day in the life of a 6-period middle school kid and teacher is physically demanding. Imagine running for a flight eight times a day: in the morning, between every class, 30 minutes for lunch, at the end of the day, trying to take care of biological needs and process learning. It’s go-go-go all day. I completely understand why the average student senses they “need” this, how those spinners seem to help with attention, but from my anecdotal observations, they hurt more than help, if only because they distract us, the teacher, from being effective.

If you want someone to “blame” for the spinners, it’s this man, Scott McCoskery. He had very good reason to create a spinner.  From an interview on NPR:

SCOTT MCCOSKERY: I had a long career in the IT world.

MALONE: This is Scott McCoskery, and as an IT guy in Seattle, he says he spent a lot of time on conference calls and in board meetings that he didn’t really need to attend.

MCCOSKERY: During those times, I often found myself clicking a pen, opening and closing a knife or…

MALONE: A knife in a board meeting, Scott?

MCCOSKERY: A small pocket knife. It was nothing too threatening.

MALONE: All right, all right.

Well, I guess we should be glad kids don’t flick switchblades in class.

One of my favorite education bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo comes out on the side of the spinners, telling teachers to ‘chill out.’ He also confesses to only seeing two out of his 130 high school students. Let that sink in. Two. One-hundred thirty. High. School. Not twenty to thirty a day out of 130 MIDDLE SCHOOL kids. All day, every day, most teachers in my building watch students who click on games sooner than the actual assignment. Kids who reach for a spinner versus a pen or pencil. I agree, we teachers do need to choose our battles. I know kids aren’t getting enough fresh air, time to eat, time to talk and play, and often I feel more like a jailer than an educator. And the inmates will do anything to keep from going insane, and I don’t blame them.

Health Buzz: Do Fidget Spinners Help With ADHD? This article has a balanced approach to them. Just, you know, in case you want to read a balanced approach versus my diatribe.

But I’m not battling spinners only: the onslaught of cell phone use, and if it’s not that, it’s talking. And then I’m told I need to have them engage in ‘accountable talk.’ What if you were told that in chunks of 55 minutes you had to only have ‘accountable’ conversations? I can only imagine how awful book club would be if we couldn’t chat, catch up, talk about kids, food, work, and then spend some time talking about the current book. The thing is–truly–students rebel all the time against this daily structure. If they didn’t they would go nuts. They don’t want extrinsic token-economy fluff, they want time. 

As I plan out the next few weeks, I’m going to build that time in. And parents–if you’re reading this — consider instead of a spinner a little sketchbook or some books they can use when testing is over, or they have some time:

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

The Total Brain Workout by Marcel Danesi

Here’s your earworm du jour. You’re welcome.


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Staff Lounge Edition: Teacher Appreciation Week

Staff Lounge Honesty:


Teacher Appreciation Week is May 7-12: I thought it was this week and asked my students to write their favorite teacher, coach, counselor, mentor, etc. a poem last week, thinking it was this week, but…yeah. Typical. A few students immediately had someone in mind, but some didn’t, and that concerns me.

Some wanted to write about me, but the standard rule that they need to think about someone else. It was strange how many didn’t have a connection or relationship with an another adult in the building to say “thanks.”  Writing on demand is difficult, so maybe this extra week will give them the headspace to come up with someone. Maybe they just don’t know the other teachers in the building, for many reasons. We’re all kind of siloed this year, and with any luck and work that will change.

Here’s the thing: do we teachers do a good job of giving thanks to one another, especially if that colleague has been openly hostile? Do we show our colleagues the respect they deserve, even if personalities clash? Can we see beyond the petty disagreements, passive-aggressive communication, undermining behaviors for just one week to consider, “You know, I think you’re a jerk, but you are a good teacher and care about our students?”

My call to action is this: write your colleagues a letter, poem or haiku and tell them thanks — every last one. Find something good about their teaching style that helps kids. Aggressive colleagues are sometimes the best teachers. They don’t have time for small talk or niceties. I confess I have been thought of as that ‘aggressive colleague.’ It’s not my intention to scare a colleague or increase anxiety, in a colleague or myself. It is my intention to make a great environment for students, and I’ll focus on that.

Writing this post means I’ve outed myself, but heck, few people read this anyway. With deep sincerity: if you are reading this, you are an awesome teacher. Really. You have found your path to best serve students, and have the friendships you need. We all work too hard with heart, mind, and soul not to be respectful to one another.

And for the love of pencils, don’t buy them a chicken:


*Yes, keep these passive aggressive thoughts to yourself. Let the respect show only.