Saturday, July 5, 2014

End of Year Books

On the second to last day of school this year I decided to read to my students. It was the last day that I saw all of them and I wanted to leave them with some words of wisdom. I decided to read two books to them.

"Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr Seuss 
"The Big Orange Splot" by Daniel Pinkwater

This is just a classic in general-- I paused for the deeper parts of the book and afterwards we talked about High School. I took them through the phases of high school. 

Freshman Year: You will spend with most of your friends from middle school and you will meet new people from the other middle schools at your high school. 
Sophomore Year: This is the year people become more solidified in their activities and driver's license cause them to become more independent as well. This is the year people begin to make decisions about what they will be doing on the weekends. 
Junior Year: This is the year that everyone is really into their sports and become more entrenched in their activities.
Senior Year: The Unity Year. Everyone begins to feel nostalgic and everyone hangs out with everyone again because everyone is ready to get out of high school. 

I tell them that it is important to enjoy the ride because it all goes by too quickly! Get involved! Find your passion! 

This book is my favorite that I read to my students.  

Basically the story goes like this:

Mr. Plumbean gets a big orange splot on the top of his house. He ends up overhauling the house and redecorating it. When the people on his street see it they kind of freak out because they live on a "neat street". They send a neighbor over to talk to Mr. Plumbean and Mr. Plumbean tells the neighbor "My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams". They spend the night talking about their hopes and childhood dreams and the next day the neighbors house looks like a ship because he had always loved to sail.  Pretty soon the entire street ends up changing their homes and they become known for being a "unique" street. 

I tell my students that the point is: uniqueness sends. When you are yourself-- you encourage others to be themselves as well. You should never seek to be a person that others try to impress. You should strive to be a person that makes other people feel like they can be themselves around. 

I then tell them that was something I strive for in my classroom. I explain to them my classroom philosophy. The year comes full circle and they recognize the "method to my madness". I will forever cherish the conversations I had with my students on this last day and I hope they do as well :-)

Happy Teaching!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Last Days of Middle School...

So every year I have an incredibly hard time saying goodbye to my kiddos. Each year I find myself meeting the end of the school year with a certain amount of nostalgia and sadness. This year is absolutely going to kick me in the emotional rear. I've now known some of my students for three years as they were in my "Mock UN" club my first year teaching (which was also the first year my school opened) and I have looked forward to having them now for three years. 

So last year I sent a personalized email to each class (I have my classes separated by email). I told the parents a little bit about the character of each class and why they were special to me. This year I did that the day before the last day. The students came on the last day and were happily telling me about how their parents told them about our class and how special it was. It went a long way in terms of my students coming to terms with the end of the year

I also made books for the kids to write in which were beautiful and sweet.  Titles "Advice for future 8th Grade Students", "Memories", and "Notes to Ms. Puckett". I had them out the last week of school and students could fill them in at their leisure. 

Sometimes kids have things to say that you never knew. 
This one brought me to tears:
"Hey Puckett! this year I've been through so much more bad than good. I've struggled a lot and I basically felt like I had no one. but you being the best teacher would honestly make me smile everyday. I don't talk much in your class but I still felt like I was a part of something. your high fives every day and your crazy jokes are the best. Thank you for believing in me when no one else did. Thank you for teaching me that being different was perfectly okay. Thank you for everything that you do and keep teaching because students love you! I love you and you really are one of the best teachers ever. I'm gonna miss you a lot. Stay Crazy (:" 

Sometimes we forget the impact we can have. Sometimes we can forget that every child during this time walks a different and unique path that is sometimes paved with internal struggle. I can honestly say I enjoyed teaching this girl greatly, but this note made me realize how much closer attention I need to be paying.

These last days are precious... don't waste them watching movies and taking down your classroom. Enjoy your precious time with them.

I read books to my kids on the last day but that my friends... is another blogpost entirely. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reaching a New Generation of Learners

One of my biggest pet peeves at meetings is when people begin talking about "this generation of learners" and how "difficult" they are to reach. 

The truth is students are a product of what they have been surrounded with and though, as with any generation, they have their flaws-- it is important to know that your generation had its flaws as well and I'm sure teachers were saying the same thing then. 

Wikipedia defines Generation Y as anyone born from the early-late eighties to the 2000's, which would mean I am currently in the "same generation" as my students. I'd like to briefly address the problems people have with the current generation: laziness, distractors, apathy, self-obsession, entitlement, and so many more. Though I feel like teachers have been saying this... for fifty years. 

So lets look at some good things of this generation:

1) They are willing to try new technology if you introduce it to them. I am a big fan of finding apps my students can use and asking them to download it. I tell my students all the time that as long as you tell someone an app is addictive-- no one will think anything of it (so don't worry about it being nerdy). 

One of my favorites is "Geomaster" we ask that our students learn the location of the states and this app for the iPhone/iPad/iPod is amazing! My students can time how quickly they name the states then post it on a poster in my classroom. My students come in with stories about how their families play on the apps together and race each other. How great is that???


2) They have more resources for success at their fingertips than any other generation before. They can have information at their fingertips at a moments notice and if you cater assignments to that and encourage them to seek that out that information they will do amazing things! 

Below is an example of what kids can do with information. Before every exam my eighth graders use some form of this document as a review. They use their current knowledge and the knowledge they can acquire at their fingertips to: list what they know (for the Know section), prove using historical evidence (for the Understand section) and analyze with a four to six sentence paragraph or a diagram of some kind (for the Do section). My students turn in pages of incredibly hard work and they are coming to know and understand information MUCH better.  

3) This is a generation of readers. You still have your token "I hate reading" kids but reading has honestly never been cooler than it is now. The Millenials have been a part of a Young Adult Publishing FRENZY since the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. I remember watching the Young Adult section at my local Barnes and Noble go from one book shelf, to an entire row, and last I checked the front and back of a row and then some in the Young Readers section. 

This generation has created Fandoms unlike the world has ever seen. From Harry Potter, came Twilight, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Divergent and so many more to count. There are online forums of fanfiction with Harry Potter lending 670K stories which is 455K more than the second most stories written for Twilight. Superfandoms like these create passionate students who understand what it means to be a hero and seek adventure. Making references to these fandoms will help your students interact with your content in new and interesting ways.

4) They still respond to high expectations-- WITH PURPOSE. I tell my students that I will do everything I can to help them succeed. I tell them that expect I expect a lot of them because I think they are intelligent. I tell them that if my class was simple, they wouldn't try, and it would be an insult to their intelligence. 

5) They are still kids. They may be different than past generations but they are still just kids. They still desire to be loved. They still desire that you listen and care, they still want you to laugh with them, and they still want to learn from you.

People like to use "Kids Today" as an excuse as to why their students aren't achieving or why kids "can't" learn. Don't be a part of the negativity and the problem, be a part of improving education, be a part of the solution but most importantly:

Don't get caught up in saying "Kids Today" because yesterday someone was saying the same thing about you.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making it through the "Holiday Slump"

that time of year again...

The school year tends to ebb and flow. There is the excitement and optimism leading into that first test. The joy or maybe disappointment in the results (you'll do even better next time)! Then the first grading period ends and you begin to see your weaknesses and where your students struggle. The second grading period you have the energy to tackle your classroom-- you are going to do it better. 

However the third six weeks strikes and life gets slightly more exhausting. You hit a slump of sorts. You are exhausted. It seems like nothing you do will get you caught up on the sleep you are missing and the work you have to do. The students are stir crazy and their minds are on the holidays. 

Then you hit the November/December slump. That time when kids are kind of in school but their minds are other places. This is the time when our patience is tried the most and the students need it the most. 

Tips for Making it Through: 

1. Stay away from negativity.
This is the time of year when kids are at their stir craziest/laziest. Complaining about it won't change it. Try to come up with ways to encourage and empower your students! Use this as a challenge! 

2.  Try to encourage kids to get their make up done earlier rather than later. 
A lot of students are gone in the days leading to Christmas Break and Thanksgiving break. Many teachers use this as a point to complain about-- don't, it won't change the situation. Offer opportunities for students to get their work done early and encourage them to be responsible about it. 

3. Create memorable moments for your kids.
As this is the end of their first semester with you there is a chance that you may not have some of them next semester. Use this time with purpose-- on those last days, give them things of VALUE to do. 

4. Don't resign yourself to a Movie day. 
The further into my career I get the less purpose/more frustration I feel with movie days. I could be playing content games with my students or reviewing them and testing them to see what they know and what they don't know. Kids like the stimulation-- especially when everybody else is giving them movie days. 

5. Find AT LEAST one thing to look forward to with every class. 
As the kids get stir crazy they likewise begin to get a little too comfortable in the classroom and thereby pushing/crossing boundaries within the classroom. Take this time to find ways to enjoy/love them.

6. On your break-- TAKE A BREAK.
Thanksgiving break can be overwhelming for people. Family comes in, shopping looms, holiday decorations demand to be put up. We can get busy with it and the week passes by before it seems like we've had any time off at all. Take at least an hour or two out of your day to "decompress". In my mind "decompress" means to sit down with a book and get inside my head for an hour. Be quiet let your brain settle.

7. Enjoy your job.
Take time out of your day to soak in your blessings. The VIPS that bring treats, the co-workers that make an extra effort to give back to the staff, sweet things students say, and the teachers you work with that make your job doable. 

I hope this is helpful! Happy teaching! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Why My Students Are Hilarious. Part I

I'm a superfan. My students know that from day one. We talk about it. We joke about it. We fangirl about it. We obsess about it. My students buy into my fandoms and these are the results of the marriage of our nerdiness!

I love the clarification of the "real answer" here.

"This is the Jedi who protects the empire from bad grades"
"These are  not the grades you are looking for"
"Screen Name: realornotreal"
This girl was in a group that made a Hunger Games themed Social Studies Review Game!

I have one class period that we sing... a lot. 

I play this to them when we learn about Jamestown. From that point on as we review Jamestown...

I sing "In 1607, we sailed the open sea, for Glory, God, and Gold, and the--"

I cue them to sing back "Virginia Company!

When we teach about the joint-stock company, I explain to them "A nugget for my Winnie, and another one for me-- and all the rest will go to the--" 

They sing back "Virginia Company!" it helps them understand the concept of investors making a profit if Jamestown makes a profit. 

My fourth period is considering auditioning for the talent show with this song. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tips for a First Year Teacher... from a survivor

I'm going to preface this with the stats of my first year teaching. 

Challenge: I opened a brand new school that we weren't allowed to move into until the Friday before school started on Monday. 

Challenge: I was on a 2 2/3 membered team. 

Team Member 1:  Taught six classes (like me) Pregnant and due in October
Team Member 2: Only taught two 8th Grade Classes and four 7th Grade classes 
but there was a 7th grade teacher who went on Maternity leave in November
Team Member 3: Had two classes of GT kids and was going through chemotherapy. 
Me: First Year Teacher with 173 students and a year of subbing under my belt.

Challenge: First year of the STAAR Test for 8th Grade US History which asks questions at a higher level than the AP test (No joke I had an AP US History teacher tell me that)

I was in survival mode from October on. I worked until seven MOST nights and felt like I was constantly treading water. However through that-- I think was some of the most career impacting work I've done.

1) I started YouTube Videos to help my kids outside of class.
2) I started a Mock UN Club at my school (Model UN but only for my District)
3) Created "Harry Potter" Review Day
4) Gained respect of my colleagues as a first year teacher who hung tough
5) Watched a class transform from nearly uncontrollable to the class I laughed so hard I cried almost every day

Being a first year teacher is HARD. I get it. 

That being said...

1. Dress sternly. 

This seems weird because most teachers gear towards brightly colored clothing. But this can make you look like an easy target. That first week or two, dress in clothes that make you look very "take charge" after that-- it's all the fun colored clothing you can handle!

2. Find your "Scary Teacher Voice".

I hate to say "Mean Teacher Voice" because I don't feel like my voice is really mean, but it does scare kids. I don't write kids up really and quite frankly I have a VERY long fuse but there are somethings you just don't do. I use it when I tell students about my desk. I speak VERY sternly and my face reflects the sound of my voice. 

3. Assert your boundaries. 

Don't let students go behind your desk. As a young teacher you want to be very laisse faire. You want to not care that they sit in your chair etc. but when you let them sit at your chair, you give them a sense of control over you in your classroom. 

My first year I wasn't very good about this and my kids ended up pulling graded papers off my desk, stealing candy from my cabinet, and taking writing utensils off my desk. 

This year: No such problems. I had a pretty crazy group. While my kids will come to my desk to talk to me and see no problem with that-- they recognize there are BOUNDARIES. 

Also, don't buy into the kids gossip. You are young and the will want to talk to you about things that go beyond your scope. Don't talk about your love life and don't fret over theirs.

4. If you feel overwhelmed ask for help.

My first year I wanted SO BADLY to prove myself. For more reasons than one I felt like I had something to prove. It wasn't until I was staying at school until seven every night and working at home until ten that I realized I couldn't do it all. I talked to my DI and asked if she could help. She called in a few favors and offered to cover a class for me so I could get caught up. Your administration is there to support you if you need it! Utilize them!

5. Don't worry if you don't "fit in" right away.

In a new situation you always want to feel like you fit in. For reasons I can't describe I felt SO AWKWARD my first year teaching. Lunch seemed weird and forced and things I said at lunch seemed to land flat. I say I'm weird but honestly I'm usually a social butterfly so this was REALLY hard for me. 

However, I made one REALLY good friend. She was a fourth year teacher and a ROCKSTAR. Her then fiance (now husband) told her while we were moving into the school that she should be friends with me after I made a quip about how he should definitely let her buy a Zebra Rug. She was all I needed and she inspired me to push myself harder.  

The next year things got a lot more comfortable. People got shuffled some but with those who remained there was a sense of camaraderie. We were survivors of opening our school. I made sure to welcome those who were new to our floor and team because I remembered what if felt like to be so uncomfortable.

Be kind. People respect kindness even if they feel it is unwarranted. Smile at people and be willing to share. 

6. Be the light.

When you get on a team it can be pretty clear what kind of team you are stepping into within those first moments of planning. The most dangerous trap to fall into is the negativity trap. If you hear/see this-- don't feed into it! Be the light! Be the light of positivity on everything. It makes negative people feel uncomfortable and they will stop complaining around you-- you don't need that.

7. Find a way to love every child.

There are going to be kids that are hard to love. Know those are the kids that need you to understand them the most. Try to expose the good in them whenever possible. 

I had a student this year whose favorite line at the beginning of the year was saying (in a joking way) "You just hate me". I called him up to talk to me. I told him I loved my job and I loved all my students and for him to claim that I could "hate" a student was hurtful to both me and my character. It ceased to be an issue. In fact he was a kid who put on the best show when I had observers come to the room. He shook their hand, would explain any rule I asked, and would evil-eye any student who made me look like a less than "perfect" teacher. He was protective of me and yet was still prone to outbursts of blatant disrespect. I continued to work with him all year and he has one of the greatest hearts in the world, but struggled dealing with the emotional ups and downs that come with being a teen. 

Find the good in your students and constantly seek to see it in them and remind them that it is there!

8. Find ways to enjoy your job and make lessons your own. 

I created Harry Potter day in a time that I was DESPERATE to do something fun and creative. I wanted something that would excite my kids about learning and it REALLY did. They LOVED it. It is now a staple of every semester in my classroom.

I wanted to have fun with my students so I founded our Mock UN club because it sounded interesting to me! It was the BEST thing I did with my first year teaching.

9. Don't let people belittle you because you are a first year teacher.

My first year it drove me NUTS that people would claim my energy and enthusiasm came from being a "first year teacher". They would say that was the reason I was doing all the things I did. "I wish I was a first year teacher and had that energy" or "It must be  nice to be a first year teacher". Little did they know that energy is something that pulses off of me in waves. 

On the flip side, I had teachers say my lack of experience meant I knew "nothing". 

You are a teacher. Everything outside of that will be reflected in the success of your students. 

10. Build relationships with these kids. They will FOREVER be in your memory as your first babies. 

My first group I will never forget. I will never forget those moments. The ones that pushed me and molded me as a teacher. They set me up for greatness and will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

I remember each class fondly for their own unique quirks. :-)

1st Period: Clever and Sneaky (They convinced a sub birds were flying at the window as a student from the middle of the classroom through erasers at the window-- the sub's note said the kids were helpful)
Advisory: HILARIOUS and LOUD. We played a lot of Phase 10-- I loved this group
3rd Period: HUGE class. Thirty Three kids by the end of the year. They were a quiet group that worked hard. One student would walk in after the weekend and shout "Did you watch Harry Potter Weekend?!?!?"
4th Period: Individuality ran rampant in this class. They wanted to be sure I knew their opinions.
5th Period: My students who LOVED books. I talked about books with them often and saw almost half the class at "The Hunger Games" midnight premiere when I went with my friends. 
6th Period: Laughed until I cried almost every day
7th Period: Off
8th Period: Supremely Awkward but hilarious class. They loved to make things uncomfortable. 

UPDATE: Last year I had two teachers go out on maternity leave (one in the Fall and one in the Spring). This year (knock on wood) will be the first year no one on my team goes on maternity leave! 

Any other suggestions or advice for first year teachers?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Origins: Blog Title

This blog title came from a blurb I wrote about my teaching philosophy for my district.  

My students helped me come up with the title :-)

My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.”—The Big Orange Splot. 

When you walk into my classroom, it is easy to see that it’s a little different: Harry Potter Legos line the book cases, stuffed tigers lounge about, there’s a book case of my favorite books, and daily themed music playing from my iPod.

In my classroom, I start the year off telling my students that I’m a “different” kind of teacher. They won’t necessarily “get” me at first, but I will grow on them. I feel it’s an important lesson—don’t write someone off just because you don’t understand them right away. Although students are wary at first, eventually my students embrace my quirks. They embrace my odd sense of humor, and even come to find me funny in a way that only people who know me can. 

More importantly though, my students then embrace the memory tricks, raps, and analogies to my favorite fandoms (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Hunger Games). Any time I bring up Harry Potter my kids start laughing at/with me.

I find my students start to embrace their own quirks. They wear them proudly. Our classroom becomes a place where it is okay to be different. In fact it’s always okay to be a little weird because there is no way you will be weirder than Ms. Puckett. One of my students who is generally wary of people who are different told me this year that I was “weird in a cool way.” Students recognize being different and owning it is a good thing. 

Middle school is a tough place to be different, but in our classroom we wear our differences proudly.

Happy Teaching!