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Many consider Steve Jobs a master presenter. His signature black turtleneck and jeans, and projection of an easy, creative style stir thousands to listen to what he has to say. And buy what he has to sell.

The end of unit presentations were due today: there is usually a pattern of how students respond. There is a percentage, unfortunately usually small, who is prepared, finished, completed, and projects are turned in before the due date.


However, many are not as on top of the projects, although each assignment was carefully scaffolded, reviewed, and class time given for completion, etc. Many are even unpleasantly suprised and say, with dismay, “What presentation?!” For some, there may be a crisis at home, illness, not a lot of structure, or a sense of being overwhelmed because of all that is due at the end of a semester.

But, mostly I think about myself. And I have found that:

I am not Steve Jobs. Not even close.

My “product” is not as flashy, pingy, boingy, colorful, wow-ee, zam bang boom as an i-Pod, i-Pad, i-Phone: a school day is more of an i-Ignore, i-Forgot, or an i-Invisible.

It’s just stodgy, old learning, discussing, and creating. BOR-Rrrrring!

Well, perhaps not. The presentations I did see completed today were amazingly thought-provoking, deep, and they all really tried to find as many sources of media to answer their “burning questions.”

So, Mr. Jobs, you may lead the masses in entertainment and apps. But I’m changing the world too, and so are my students. Can you make an app for that?

Postscript: And let’s not forget the lost files, lost e-mails, lost uploads, and lost saves.



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Death By LatteI am sensing a disturbance in the force.


What are typical behaviors in the spring–nervousness, anxiety, an atmosphere of expectation and bedlam, we are experiencing here and now: my 8th grade students act like it’s spring. It’s not. Now, granted we are having one of the warmest winters in years. And everyone is jumping up out of their holes like Whack-A-Moles.

But what is making me grumpy is they are actually resentful and disgruntled when I try to keep the lid on them, using the mallet of my brilliant teaching to hit them over the head and get them to learn, LEARN! WHAM! NOW!

But they are not cooperating.

They are challenging, cantankerous, contrary, edgy, and larcenous. Yes, I have noticed all year they, in general, behave like little magpies and steal whatever they think is “shiny, pretty.” When I opened a drawer and found an empty highlighter packet, with all three highlighters taken and nothing left but the over-produced packaging, I felt more than a “tsk tsk.” I paid for those highlighters, and yet someone felt that the lines between what’s mine and theirs were fuzzy.

I am not happy.

But I don’t want to play martyr either. This is one of those days when I realize that I need to stop and reflect myself. What made me lose my temper? Apparently asking them to work quietly a  few times on their final projects (due tomorrow) was not a reasonable request. But they’re not able to tell me what IS a reasonable request. They are only 14 after all. I must put myself in their shoes and figure out what I would consider reasonable. Hmmmm….

The larceny doesn’t stop with my highlighters. (And it’s not just about highlighters; that’s just the latest example.) There was a Red Bull incident. Let’s not go into details. But it’s not good.

And when I tried to explain to a particular demographic of students why drinking highly caffeinated/sugary drinks is not healthy for a young growing human, I get flak.

And I’m tired of flak.

But…deeeeeeeeeep breath…….in…….out…………out……let me set my Iced Venti Americano with cream and shots over ice down, and think about this: middle school students are very much like toddlers that can get their own juice. All I can do at this point is try to keep my own blood pressure down.

And maybe choose water next time instead.

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I read another blog named “Musings from a Not so Master Teacher” by a teacher named John Spencer. His audience, I believe, is primarily other teachers, so students, many of you may not be interested.

However, consider this: remember what I said yesterday about “filters?” That sometimes you need to get out of your past, and especially your present, and think a little bit into the future, and filter news and information that might benefit or harm yours? (Your future, that is.) Well, this is one of those times, but I’ll do some filtering for you, and give you the big chunks.

He recently wrote a post on competition, using the allegory of a parent talking to a child. (Remember: allegory-when characters/animals/objects represent something larger or other than themselves.) The parent says to the child that the child will receive food, clothing, etc. if they are competitive and earn it. It was just an essay, an opinion, a viewpoint. Mr. Spencer wasn’t suggesting that parents actually withhold food and love from their children. Another teacher wrote lengthy, multiple responses to this post, named Empowered Teacher. I like Empowered Teacher’s blog, too, because this masked-avenger also writes about issues and considerations that affect education. And as you know, dear children, education is a big deal to me.

Of course, I had to weigh in my opinion too. To me, competition isn’t bad or good, it exists, and I believe the most important question is we examine who is making the rules of the game, and then judge to see if the game is worth playing.

That led me to a nighttime conversation in my own mind last night, as I was drifting off: What is my relationship with competition?

Here are a few thoughts:

  • In 9th grade, I tried out for the cheer-leading squad. I practiced for weeks, was able to jump, dance, do the splits, whatever I needed to do. I rocked it. On try-out day, a friend of mine, short, blond, and perky, twisted her ankle and was unable to compete. She got a slot on the squad; I didn’t. Did it have to do with the fact that I was tall, (I wasn’t heavy then,  just tall), had a brown hair, and wore an ugly outfit? Or did the judges (mix of teachers and coaches) know this girl, and liked her, and didn’t know me, and wanted her on the squad? I will never know. Was it fair? No. Was it funny? No, not at the time. What did I learn? That sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, practice, work, study, etc., someone will still get the object that you desired. I think that perhaps not making the cheer-leading squad was one of the best things that happened to me, because it made me feel more confident and independent in high school. I had to learn to navigate the other 3,000+ personalities on my own, and find my own place and style.
  • Competing with myself: I have always been a hard, creative worker. I love to produce creative projects: writing, paintings, drawings, whatever. I have always been pleased when my hard work “pays off.” The pay-offs come in many forms, though, from getting a job that I wanted, to just feeling internally happy. But here’s the thing: There are many jobs I haven’t gotten. I even was fired once from a waitressing job in Colorado because supposedly I didn’t clean the salad area. This was devastating at the time, because I was living in Boulder, Colorado, and there are thousands of college kids there (University of Colorado). Jobs were scarce. Because another waitress decided she didn’t like me (Why? Have no idea, but another waitress told me) I lost that very rare and much needed job. I had never been fired in my life. My hard work, intelligence and loyalty had always paid off before, so why not now? I ended up finding a job delivering pizzas. My friend/roommate made fun of me because I had to wear brown polyester.

A few weeks ago, while getting my lunch, a few boys had had a tussle, and there was blood spilled. All I saw was two kids who were tired, upset, and hurt. Whatever they had been fighting about must have seemed really important at the moment, so much so  it didn’t stop with words, but physical pain. What were they competing for? Turf? Honor? Milk money?

People who have suffered from a natural disaster usually must compete for basic survival: food,water, shelter. It’s not “looting” when it’s “survival.”

People who come from cold, harsh families have to compete for their parents’ love.

People who are waiting in the grocery store lines are competing for time–heaven forbid if the person in front of them has one too many items in the express line or writes a check. We’re on a fast track! Hurray! Get out of my way!!!

Here’s what I want you to walk away with: the world is competitive. And many times, the rules are not shown or given to you. You have to figure it out. Many times you will do your best, you will be loyal, you will work hard, and someone else will get the job, the girl, or the guy, the house, the place in line in front of you, or the last scoop of tater tots. That doesn’t mean you should ever give up. Do what you love, learn as much as you can, and no one will ever be able to take that from you.


Or, I’m taking my ball and going home.

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No excuses book blogs…

Illustration from The Seattle Times
Illustration from The Seattle Times

Please don’t ever say to me you can’t find SOMETHING to read. After we’ve exhausted the possibilities in my classroom library, and in the school’s library, you may want to check out these blogs. In reality, you should be checking them out anyway to keep up with new titles, authors you love, new authors, new genres, etc.:

Featured book blog:

Glancing over a few of the reviews on this blog, I had the feeling that here is someone who really reads the books, and enjoys YA (young adult) literature (that would be you, kids).

One of my other favorite book blogs is: Dog Ear, which goes under the URL:

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Where are we going, and how are we going to get there?


Sometimes the toughest part of my job is deciding what to teach next. It’s a matter of  balancing what you need, what you will think is interesting (so you’ll stay motivated), and having personal enjoyment out of my day, too. I know that’s selfish of me, but trust me, if I’m happy, we’re all happy.

Many of you asked what our next unit was going to be. Let me tell you that question both enchanted and terrified me. How awesome it is that you want to know! How horrible it might be if I don’t come up with something really amazing, entertaining, and captivating! (Cue Mrs. L screaming and laughing hysterically at the same time…)

Mrs. L can be a crazy lady sometimes.
Mrs. L can be a crazy lady sometimes.

So, I am still struggling with “less is more.” (That is a paradox. We will be reviewing figurative language and its importance next week, and adding some new figurative language terms to your knowledge bag.)

Less is more means if we focus closely on one thing at a time, we get more out of it in the long run. So, in theory, spending a few weeks on the Journey of the Hero helps us go deeper with our understanding, and we can take that learning with us for the rest of our lives.

Let me just say a few things about that unit: there were huge successes, and one big failure. The failure, an “epic fail,” if you will, was that many of you did not even read one book for the unit. Your spotty attendance, lack of interest, or struggling with reading, all got in your, and my, way. Remember, the first and most important rule in my class is to never read something because I tell you to. You must identify your purpose for reading, think about the big questions, and read. It’s just that simple. Your purpose for reading during this past Journey of the Hero/Transformation of the Hero unit was to witness a character going through changes, making choices, and changing from the beginning of the story to the end.

You may need to make some brave changes yourself.

The huge successes were that many of you totally, absolutely, got it, and proved it in your essays. (Which I will finish grading once I’m done blogging — a girl’s got to have her priorities, you know.)

Your writing was spectacular. I know I pushed: I left some of the thinking/questions open-ended, more vague, but you really stepped up and demonstrated that you can think for yourself, you can feel uncomfortable and still take a risk. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The student behaviors that you should value are asking questions, demanding to know why, and not accepting anything less than my best effort, or yours.

So, for this next unit, and units from now on, you will be given more time to read in class. I don’t know why I keep having to learn that lesson repeatedly, but I do. Now, many of you not only read one book, you read several. But for me, it’s not the quantity that matters but the understanding you take away. (Although the more you read, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the better you learn how to learn…huh?)

Insert Knowledge Here.
Insert Knowledge Here.

Here’s a preview of what’s next:

*Figurative Language: understanding the powerful uses of figurative language in your reading and writing is one of the best tools you can master. Figurative language is the language of poets, thinkers, artists, and communicators of all stripes and polka-dots: it includes metaphors, similes, euphemisms, paradoxes, alliterations, personification, idioms, cliches, analogies, allegories, oxymoron and my all-time comic book favorite, onomatopoeia:


*Context Clues: Context clues are specifically about understanding and widening your vocabulary. Here’s the idea: You know words. But you need to know more. If you know more, your ability to read faster and understand more of what you read increases:

 An average American three-year-old has mastered about 1,000 words. By the time he reaches adulthood, this average American will have known between 30,000 and 60,000 words.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why is reading so important, anyway?”
That’s a good question.
Why don’t you list that as one of your:
*BURNING QUESTIONS! Yes, I have devoted about two weeks to developing your independent reading lives, possibly three weeks. We’ll see how it goes. Once you know how to develop your own reading lists and do the projects independently, you will be released to read on your own.
You may have too many resources to choose from, and our goals will be to narrow down the lists, be focused, read, read, read, and talk/write about what we’re reading.
Oh, and add “listen” to the list, too. You will be listening, looking, and using your other senses to take in information about the world around you; this is all about you: making sense of your world, for your life.
*Mythology, legends, fables, folklore, and fairy tales: We’re going to get started on that, too. When? Not sure. It bugs me to start new units in the middle of a semester, but you know what? We are not bound by the arbitrary rules of time and space! We can decide our own pace, our own course, and have freedom of choice! Hooray!
Here’s what you need to start packing: Finish your Burning Questions Resource Log sheet. Start scoping out different blogs, websites, podcasts, and book sites for a list of what you might want to read. Think about what you’re curious about, things you just want to know, and let those questions be our guide.
See you soon!
For a list of classic literature to help you gain greater vocabulary and background knowledge, check out this list:
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