Category Archives: Writing

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Holiday Break

I have had great trouble making the time to write.  I am only writing now to “workcrastinate.”  I should be grading essays, but writing is more fun than grading.  Go figure.

I had to make time to share a question a student had for our class last week: “Is Thanksgiving break and Christmas break at the same time this year?”

I was proud of myself for not responding in a sarcastic manner, which is one of my goals this year.  Then, I realized, the student was not asking that strange of a question.  She may be very in tune with a politician’s work schedule.

I can see her getting elected one day.

As for me, I am thankful that this Thanksgiving I will have the opportunity to grade many essays.

 

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Filed under Education, Humor, Lessons from students, Writing

Attack of the Shrimp – Having Fun with Narratives

I have taught the personal narrative and narrative for twenty-six years, and I have used this model story for about twenty years.  This is one of the weeks the students will be working on story telling.  We will revisit this assignment and others like it, since revising is part of the writing process.  Of course, this is the seventh revision of my story. 

Both prompts I am using involve humor and food for three reasons.  First, I want the kids to be able to laugh at themselves a little, before anyone else can laugh at them.  We all make mistakes or have embarrassing moments.  Second, food allows the writer to create sensory details to appeal to smell and taste, as well as sight, sound, and touch.  Third, a similar prompt has appeared on previous super-secret tests; therefore, after 26 years, I seem to be teaching toward the test. 

 Since this blog is about the freshmen experience, it is only fitting that I share from my freshman year as a teacher. 

It was a cool October day during my first year of teaching.  After a long day of “learning them kids real good”, I arrived home a hungry, tired teacher.  I threw my briefcase on the couch of my one bedroom apartment, and I entered my closet-sized kitchen.  I was a man on a mission to fry some shrimp.

frying pan

frying pan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a cheap guy first year teacher with a salary of $16,500, I did not own a fryer.  Instead, I used oil in a frying pan.  Did I mention I was hungry?  I decided to put the burner on high, and I put a lid on it.  After all, water boils faster with a lid on, right?

While that was heating up, I relaxed in my brown, beat-up-hand-me-down-duct-taped recliner and watched my favorite

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series.

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cartoon of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I also decided to read the evening newspaper.

Suddenly, I heard a metallic “pop,” like a fork hitting the floor.  I also saw a flash of light as if the paparazzi followed me home and began snapping pictures.  I hate when they do this. Immediately, I saw and smelled smoke.  Of course, I was also blasted out of my seat by the smoke alarm blaring its loud, obnoxious, panic-inducing “BEEEEP!!!”

A residential smoke detector is the most famil...

A residential smoke detector is the most familiar piece of nuclear technology for some people (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I leapt out of my seat, threw the newspaper down, stepped on it, and ran into the kitchen.  The oil was on fire!!  The lid was hanging precariously on the edge with flames shooting five feet into the air.  I thought to myself, “Oh feces!”  I knew I had to act quickly; I was worried about the safety of my neighbors: 80 year-old women.  I began to imagine them falling down the three flights of stairs, bouncing off each other, their walkers, and the steps until reaching the bottom in a crumpled heap of bone, blood, and bodies.

My first action was to knock that panic-inducing smoke alarm off of the ceiling. I simply could not think with the incessant beeping in my ears.  Next, I decided to put the lid back on the pan to smother the fire.  However, I was going to have to reach over the flames to grab the lid.  Not wanting to get burned, I quickly thought of a backup plan: I would put the flaming pan and lid in the sink and douse the oil fire with water.  OK, I forgot that oil and water do not mix.  Luckily for me, I was a bachelor and always kept dirty dishes in the sink.  There just wasn’t room for the burning pan.

Standing at the sink holding a pan that had flames scorching the ceiling, I realized I needed to think a little faster.  Suddenly, a college flashback lit up in my mind.  Phil, a smoker across the hall, threw a lit cigarette into his trash can.  To extinguish it, he carried it into the shower and turned on the water.  Viola!  No more fire.  Yes, I was still forgetting oil and water do not mix.

As I turned the corner from the kitchen to the bathroom, a mere two feet, the coordination that prevents me from playing basketball or even walking and chewing gum at the same time, shined through.   I ran into the wall.  The lid fell to the ground.  Boiling oil landed on my hand and the carpet.  The carpet melted instantly.  My hand turned red and blistered simultaneously.  I exclaimed vulgarities that would have made my mother proud, which is probably why I was rewarded with a nasty, putrid, and worse than a two-day-old-dead-skunk-on-the-side-of-the-road stench, as the smell of my burnt flesh wafted into my nose.

I  jumped over the pan lid with the flames shooting three feet into the air, and I threw the pan, which still held some burning oil, into the bathtub.  I remember thinking to myself when I watched the flames swirl down the drain, “This looks like a volcano toilet!”  Then, I remembered the burning pan lid.  I jumped over the flames again and went to the kitchen sink to get some wet towels.  I wrapped one towel around my hand to try to ease the pain and keep the swelling down.  I used the other towel to grab the pan lid.  For some mysterious reason, I thought the best way to get rid of this burning lid was to walk across the newspaper, crinkle, crinkle, crunch, that was strewn across the living room floor and place it on my wooden balcony.

As I did this, the fire burnt itself out.  I left the balcony door open to allow the smoke and stench of burnt hand and melted carpet escape.  I also checked on my neighbors.  They had heard nothing.  Turns out they were all deaf.  A younger neighbor, about sixty-years-old, took me to the emergency room.  For a month after, I visited the doctor every other day in order to have the dead skin picked off and get a new bandage wrapped around my hand.

Since that fateful October day, I have placed a fire extinguisher under the sink, and I have learned how to use it!

"Learn to use it NOW-Carbon Dioxide Hand ...

“Learn to use it NOW-Carbon Dioxide Hand Fire Extingusher” – NARA – 514853 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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September 23, 2013 · 4:39 pm

The Authentic Audience – Blogging

I am thinking Kidblog.com is working.  Currently, I do not have high expectations as far as writing skills are concerned.  I did not have the students write rough drafts.  I wanted them to write and post quickly.  Their peers did comment on the need for remediation in some areas, but this is not the forum I am using to evaluate writing skills.  (It will be later.)  For now, I am using it as one way to discuss literature, and the comments have been good.  They do have room for improvement, but without any modeling, the kids have done a good job.

Of course, I do have some students who are extremely anxious about sharing their thoughts with others.  In talking with the parents I have learned this is not shyness.  It is anxiety.  For now, I have allowed theses two kids to write their responses on notebook paper.  I hope to have them give me an alias.  As long as I know it, I can give them credit for commenting on other’s blogs.

As all of our computers are tied up with testing for the next two weeks, I will have the students complete one blog on their own.  By the end of the nine weeks, they will pick one response to revise and I will use a rubric I developed to evaluate their writing skills.

I have a good feeling about this.

Students' Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty o...

Students’ Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty of Informatics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  What I wish we had at school.

English: Students working in the Statistics Ma...

English: Students working in the Statistics Machine Room of the London School of Economics in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) What we currently have.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Another Sunday… Continued

I slept on my dilemma:  to have students share laptops, or to have students write on paper.  I decided to let the classes share.  It worked out well.  The students were able to help one another create their blogs.  Of course, they have to finish the work for homework, and I gave them two days to complete the assignment.

Interestingly, I had students complete a survey that asked them if they would be completing the blog at home or the public library.  Out of 150 students, only three have said they would need the public library.  Our students have the resources at home that we cannot provide at school.  This is good news!  As for the three without computers or Internet access, I can work with them at school.  I can find one computer during their lunch period or study hall.

I wondered if blogging would work, but I already had one student ask if she could write more posts than the required ones!  Since I am trying to avoid sarcasm, I refrained from saying, “No!  There will be no extra writing and no fun!”

Another teacher is trying the same blogging site and we are collaborating on what is working and what needs improvement.  I will keep you posted on what we learn.  If you have any experiences, ideas, or questions, I would love to hear from you.  Thanks!

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Another Sunday; Another Change in Plans

Students of Saint Mary's Hall

Students of Saint Mary’s Hall (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

I always begin lesson planning on Thursday, so I can stay focused on my goals.  I have been planning to try Kidblog.org to have my students use the tools of the 21st century to analyze and write about literature.  The blog also allows them to respond to other student’s opinions also; however, they cannot merely say, “I concur.”  I expect students to support their opinions with facts from the reading selection.  It’s Sunday and I am ready to go…

Except I checked the English department’s laptops and we are down to 21.  Five of my six classes have more than 21 students.  I am left with the dilemma: how do I have students create a blog when they don’t have a computer?

I think I will go back to the 20th century and have them write on notebook paper, then share their analysis with a partner who will write a response.  I can cover the same standards in the curriculum.  I have reserved the good computer lab for the first open day, Jan. 6, so I can introduce the blog then.  But, it is late.  Perhaps I will have a different idea in the morning.

 

 

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Lesson Plans, Writing

Dear Dad

Here is another “creative” writer from one of my classes.  Writing from two different points of view is a talent.  

Dear Dad,

There are so many things I’ve wanted to tell you. For starters, I wanted to thank you for tucking me in, reading me stories, and always telling me goodnight when I was younger. I miss it ever so much. Even though you’re not here anymore, I know you’re still watching over me and helping me through every step in life. I would have also liked to thank you for helping me with basketball; you were always the first one to jump off the couch and come shoot with me. Another plus is that you were 6’7, so your genes kind of helped me out. There are just too many things to thank you for, but I should probably start on my questions for you.

I have way too many questions for you, so I’ll see if I can narrow it down to just the important ones. I’ll start with an easy one, do you miss me? I miss you! I haven’t seen you for almost three months. My next question is what is the weather like up there? No, this isn’t a tall joke, because, trust me, I’ve gotten plenty of those. Another question would be, have you met Him? If you have, is He really as great as everyone says He is? I just don’t understand how He is so great if He takes people’s loved ones. I’m hoping you can explain this to me. My final question is, how are you doing up there? Are you better than you were when you were here? Oh, and don’t worry, I’m taking great care of Mom, Shane, and Hannah. Shane just started travel baseball, I have basketball, and Hannah has soccer, so Mom has been as busy as a bee lately. Even though Shane’s team sucks, it’s good to see him following in your footsteps. Did you know we might move this summer? We’re still staying in Pickerington, just a new house. Oh yeah, and I have a boyfriend now! His name is Jeff. You would have liked him. Maybe one day, I’ll take him out to London to meet you. If you’re wondering about Hannah, she’s still into all her soccer and is trying to get recruited somewhere. It’s weird seeing her getting ready to go to college next year. There has been so much change in such little time.

This letter is getting somewhat lengthy, so I’ll try to wrap it up here soon. I just have a little more to say, and it’s the hard stuff.. apologies. I’m sorry for not cleaning my room when you asked, or not doing the dishes when you need them done. Back then, they all seemed like endless tasks, but now I would do them each 100 times just to see you again. I’m also sorry for not appreciating everything you did for me. Most importantly, I’m sorry for thinking you were just being lazy when you didn’t go to work for a whole week before you were diagnosed. Everything looked fine, but I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover, because sometimes it’s better than expected.. but sometimes it’s a lot worse.

Well, I think that’s about it for now. I can’t wait until you write back! I would love to see your answers to all of my extensive questions. Thanks for always being there for me!

Love and Miss You!

Dear H-,

Thanks for writing me! You’ve become pretty good at writing, hopefully Mr. W. gives you an A. By the way, you don’t have to thank me for anything. I enjoy watching over you. It’s been a fun to see you grow up day by day. My favorite part is seeing you improve at basketball. Before, I couldn’t go to very many of your games, but now I’m sitting right there on the bench. I come to all of your games, no matter if it’s soccer or basketball. I guess it’s time I should answer some questions now.

How could you even wonder if I miss you? Of course I do! I miss the whole family. It’s not easy being away from everyone for three whole months, but it’s nice seeing Great Grandma, Great Aunt Kelly, and everyone else who passed before me. Oh, and child why are you worried about the weather up here? That should be the least of your worries! To answer your next question, no, I haven’t met Him. He also does not take people’s loved ones, He gives people their loved ones; He gave me you, your mother, your sister, and your brother. Every life is like a lease from God, then, when the lease is up, He calls them back to their true home. Even though I haven’t had the honor of meeting Him, you should never question His power. Now for your final question, I am doing great. I’m a lot better now than I was three months ago. Even though I miss everyone, it’s much better for me to be up here. I’m glad everyone is back to their normal schedule. Now about your little boyfriend, I don’t know him very well, but he seems like a good kid. Hopefully I get to meet him sometime. You also need to stop picking on Shane about how bad his baseball team is. They may be 0-8, but he’s only ten, he has plenty of time to grow into it. It’s also good to see Hannah preparing to go off to college. She’ll do great things as an adult. However, change is a good thing. It was time for our family to have a little change in our family. If you think about it, it’s only made us closer.

Now since you now I don’t like writing, I’ll try to finish up. Your apologies mean a lot, but who cares if you messed up a few times, that only makes you human. Going through life is like riding a roller coaster, you may have some ups and downs, but when you go down, it only gives you momentum to go right back up. Learning how to accept your mistakes is a big part of growing up. It did, however, hurt my feelings at the time, but I’ve moved on and left it behind. And so should you.

I think I’m going to have to leave off here; my hand is starting to hurt so much I might just have to write with my toes. Have a great day and good luck in the rest of your tournaments. Tell the family I said hi!

Love,

Your Father

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My Best Friend, Captain America

I finished the year with three weeks of creative writing, which was one week too long.  Freshmen ran out of creativity the third week or they just wanted to be out of school.  Next year, I am incorporating creative writing every week.  I am hoping it will be a way to differentiate instruction, as I can work with each student on his/her strengths and weaknesses.  

I had many great pieces turned in, and I wanted to share one stellar short story.  The author shares a typical freshmen experience: dating and relationships.  

I hope you enjoy it.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Hey, Abbie!”

I turn and spot Cody, my best guy friend, coming towards me. I wave him over as I slam my locker shut

“Hi.” I greet him with a smile as we begin to walk to the lunchroom. “How was first period?

“Same as usual. Mr. Hall practically sleeps through every lesson, and when he does teach, he drones on in the same monotone voice.” Cody shakes his head, then begins to mimic Mr. Hall.

“ ‘Now class, today we are going to go to sleep… I mean, go deep into American history. If I fall asleep, make sure you wake me up if the principal stops by.’ “ I burst into laughter, unable to keep a straight face at the sluggish, lethargic look on Cody’s face. He always makes me laugh, no matter how hard I try.

“At least you don’t have to be in Ms. Simpson’s class. We had another sub today.

“Another one? Jeez, Abbie,” Cody said with disbelief in his brown eyes, “don’t you guys have a new sub almost every week?”

“It seems that way, doesn’t it? She’s always out for being sick, having meetings… You name it, she’s probably used that excuse.” We chat on for little while, enjoying the break we have between classes. Then, we begin to talk about our plans for tonight.

“What do you have going on, Cody?” I ask.

“Some of the guys are thinking about playing some basketball down at the park. You could come if you want.” he tells me with a grin. “We can always use some more cheerleaders.” I toss my dark hair.

“Very funny. Do I look like a cheerleader to you?” I imitate some of the brighter, more enthusiastic cheerleaders at school. Cody laughs at my impersonation, clapping as I end my act.

“In all seriousness, as much as I’d love to come and watch you dominate the court without even trying,” I tease him, earning a bashful smile from Cody, “my dad told me he had a surprise to show me at supper.”

“A surprise? Weird. Your dad isn’t really the kind of guy to hand out presents.” Cody has a rough relationship with my dad, on account of an unfortunate incident with a basketball rocketing towards my dad’s head. I’ve tried over and over to smooth everything over, but Dad has never really gotten over it. He still calls Cody “that boy” whenever Cody comes over to play basketball or do homework, and Cody just called him “sir” or “Mr. Banks”. They had a mutual understanding with each other; as long as they ignored each other, no tensions arise. I shrug, curious myself.

“I don’t know. He just told me to be home this evening. Who knows what he has planned? If whatever it is doesn’t happen, I’ll try to go over to the park though.” This brings a smile to Cody’s face. For some reason, it makes me blush. What’s going on with me? I never get like this around Cody, but nowadays it’s been happening often. I shake my head, clearing my emotions, and get up from our table

“I have to go take a Spanish test. Talk to you later.” I wave and walk off.

As soon as I get home, I go up to my room, turn on my Carrie Underwood CD, and sit down to my homework. I do this every day, and it never gets old. After a few minutes, my dad walks in.

“Hi sweetheart, how’d your day go?” He says this calmly and matter-of-factly, but I stare at him like he has multiple heads. He never asks how my day was. Sweetheart is a foreign term to me. He hardly ever looks up from his laptop when he’s home, except to ask “why are you wearing that?” or “is that boy here again?”  I narrow my blue eyes, suspicious of his intentions.

“Is there something going on?” I ask carefully, not wishing to offend him, but still skeptical about what is coming.

“Well, honey,” I raise my eyebrows at “honey”, now certain I’m not going to like what’s coming next, “tonight, I’ve taken the liberty of inviting a coworker from the office to come with us to a movie.” I look blankly at my dad, uncertain of what this has to do with me. He straightens his shoulders proudly, and beams at me.

“John, the man who’s coming, has a son about your age who is also going to the movie with us. He’s a very popular, very smart young man, and his family is of excellent standing, and so I thought that…” but I interrupt him with an outburst of my own.

“You set me up on a date!?” I glare at him, shock and now anger surging through my body. “How could you, Dad? I don’t even know him. I’ve never even been on a date. I’m staying home from a basketball game for a blind date?”

Dad folds his arms, leaning against my  door frame with a look of superiority.

“Well, Abigail, I simply thought that since you are, after all, growing up, and you’ll soon be looking for someone adequate to spend your life with, I’d steer you in the appropriate direction.” My jaw drops, and I just stare at Dad, unable to comprehend what I was hearing. He continues, growing more confident at my silence and using the you-know-I’m-right voice.

“You’ll soon be noticing boys, and it’s time you were adult about making the smart choice about who to place your affections on. From what I’ve seen, you only spend time with that boy. Therefore, you need some more possibilities.” My face burns bright red as I stand and glower at my father.

“Cody is one of my best friends, and regardless of what you think of him, you have no right to set me up with someone I don’t even know. And besides, marriage isn’t about “making the smart choice” or “finding someone adequate”. It’s about finding the person who’s just right for you, who God made you to be with. Who understands you, and loves you.” He rolls his eyes at my mention of God, then just looks at me and says,

“Please put on that dress on the bed that your mother laid out for you. You’re going to this thing whether you like it or not.” My mind begins to reel desperately, searching for a way out. Then, I have an idea.

“Wait. Dad, how about a compromise?” He cocks his head for a moment, then nods.

“I’m listening.”

“How about I go tonight, with no complaints, and in return, you let me bring one friend. Just to maybe lessen the pressure of being ‘on a date’.” I try to put this in words that will make my father say yes, for I already have a plan, and know exactly who I want to come. Dad looks past me for a second, thinking, and then finally, he nods.

“Very well.”

“You promise, Dad? No backing out, no matter who it is.”

“Okay, I promise. Now, who is it?” I firm my jaw, and smile nervously at him.

“You remember Cody, don’t you?” My father narrows his eyes instantly, then opens his mouth to refuse me, but I quickly interject.

“That’s who I want to bring tonight, Dad. He’s my best guy friend, and he’s the one I’d be most comfortable with. You promised, remember.” I walk over to him, and gently push the door closed. “I’ll be down in time to go!” I sing out. Inwardly, I’m cringing at telling Cody what’s going on, because I know exactly what he’s going to say.

“Your dad did what?!”

I wince as I hear the astonishment in Cody’s voice over the phone. I’d called him immediately after Dad had told me about tonight, and now I was about to tell Cody my plan. First, however, I’d had to tell him what Dad had done.

“I can’t believe he set you up on a date.” Cody is obviously pretty annoyed at my dad, and I can’t help but feel kind of good at how indignant he is on my behalf. Where are these feelings coming from?

“I know! I’ve never even met this kid. He could be a creep for all I know.” I shift uncomfortably; now’s the time to ask him if he’ll help me. “I did get him to compromise on one thing. I told him I’d go willingly-”

“Willingly? You want to go?”

“Just wait a second. I wasn’t finished. I told him I’d go willingly with no complaint if he let me bring a friend so it was less ‘date-like’. And he said yes.” I take a deep breath, knowing Cody’s waiting for the relevance of my deal. “I told him I wanted you to come.” I hear Cody’s sharp intake of breath, and then silence. After a second, he says,

“You want me to come? Why?”

“You’re one of my best friends; it’ll be way more comfortable for me to have you to talk to so I’m not just sitting in awkward silence with a guy I just met. And, I had an idea. If you’re there, maybe you can distract him. You know, talk to him about video games, guns, I don’t know, guy stuff. We can all be together, and it’ll be fine.” I know it’s going to take some serious begging to get Cody to agree. “I know you’ll miss your basketball game, Cody, and I’m really sorry, but can you please do this? I really need your help. For me, please?” I wait for a response. After what seems like forever, he finally answers begrudgingly,

“I’ll do it. For you. But just so you know, Abbie, you owe me big time.” I laugh, a wave of relief coming over me now that I know I don’t have to go alone.

“Thanks, Cody. You’re the best. This means a lot to me. I can’t do it without you. I’ll meet you at the theater at 5:30pm.” I hung up, thinking, well, this is going to be fun.

            Later on, we meet Cody at the theater and wait for John and his son outside. As I walk up to Cody, his eyes slide past me, then refocus on me when I wave. His eyes widen, and his mouth drops open. I look at him questioningly, nervous about how I look, and say,

“What’s wrong? Do I look that bad?” My mother had made me clean up and put on a blue dress with matching shoes and a short jean jacket. She’d curled my long, dark hair and even made me wear some simple makeup that made my blue eyes sparkle a little bit more. I certainly looked different, that was for certain. He shakes his head, still in some sort of stupor.

“Abbie…you look… amazing.” I blush, annoyed by how much his compliment pleases me. He seems to realize what he just said, and looks down sheepishly, obviously embarrassed. He looks pretty good too, in a simple dark blue T-shirt and dark jeans. His hair still looks like he just got out of bed, but in a good way.

“My thoughts exactly.” Cody stiffens, and I turn around to see a guy about my age, tall and athletic, with slicked back blonde hair, baby blue eyes, and an arrogant look about him. He holds out his hand, looking me up and down in the process.

“You must be Abigail Banks, my date.” I cringe at the word “date”. “My name is Lance Quinn, your dad’s coworker’s son. It’s very nice to meet you.” I take his hand, trying to keep my composure.

“It’s… nice to meet you, too, Lance. You can call me Abbie.” I withdraw my hand, and turn to Cody. “Lance, this is-”

“I’m Cody Wyatt. Abbie’s friend.” Cody reaches past me and grasps Lance’s hand, shaking it rigidly. The two boys seem to stare each other down, as if issuing a challenge. I clear my throat, and that seems to break the spell.

“Lance, I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Cody to hang out with us and our parents while we have fun.” I try hard to stress all of the parts that makes this not a date, but I don’t think Lance is getting the message. He just smiles, and says,

“Well, Cody, I’m glad you could come and be with us as Abbie and I get to know each other.” He takes my hand and pulls me towards the theater. I attempt to withdraw my hand and look back at Cody. He looks almost angry, and I send him a pleading look, mouthing HELP!  He smiles quickly and follows, almost seeming pleased at my desperation.

As we all go into the theater, Lance immediately sits down in a big, open row, patting the seat beside him for me. I look over my dad, and he all but orders me to the seat with his eyes. I roll my eyes, and painstakingly sit down next to Lance. My dad makes a move to sit next to me, but Cody swiftly comes over and sits beside me. He smiles smugly at my dad, who is obviously not pleased but doesn’t make a fuss about it. I smile over at Cody.

“Thanks. You don’t know how much I appreciate all of this. Especially that,” I say half-joking, half seriously. He shrugs, and leans over to whisper to me.

“I wouldn’t leave you alone with Chance if you paid me.” I fight to hide my smile.

“It’s Lance, Cody.”

“My bad,” he says sarcastically, blinking his eyes innocently. “I’d hate to offend poor Lance.” Cody emphasizes his name. I snorted, and Lance looks over. He narrows his eyes at Cody, then smiles arrogantly at me.

“Abigail, have you seen this movie we’re about to watch, The Avengers, before?”

“Yeah. I’ve seen Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, too.  They were pretty awesome.”

“How about you, Brody?” Lance asks, making Cody scowl. Why do guys feel like they’re one-upping each other by messing up each other’s names? Lame. “Have you seen the movie?”

“It’s Cody, and yeah, I’ve seen it.” He glared at Lance for a moment, then smirked triumphantly. “Abbie and I went with some friends last week.” Lance glowered, making me wonder about the two boys. What’s wrong with them? I don’t understand why they’re getting so ticked off with each other. Part of me wishes they’d stop acting like little boys, but the other part of me thinks I know why. I blush as I think about what the reason is. But that’s ridiculous. I barely know Lance, and Cody and I are just friends. Right?

Shaking my head, I tune back in to the conversation. Cody is trying to steer the conversation towards the topics I suggested before, but Lance just keeps directing his attention to me. Frustrated, Cody asks Lance who his favorite Avenger is.

“I think Iron Man is my favorite,” Lance says. “He’s a genius, and can, like, shoot out energy with his hands. Also, he has a pretty hot girlfriend. I’m still in the market for the last one.” He winks at me, and I blush, looking away, half embarrassed, half disgusted by his comment. Cody looks sincerely over at Lance, and says,

“You know, it doesn’t surprise me you like Iron Man. You remind me a lot of him. Especially through personality.” I hide my face from Lance, and look over at Cody, struggling not to laugh. He’s referring how arrogant and self-confident Iron Man is, and I can’t help but think he has a point. Lance looks over at him and asks,

”Who’s your favorite character, Cody? Maybe the monster, Hulk?” Cody responds,

“I like Captain America.”

“Why is that? Is he all the things you wish you were?” I glare at Lance, my dislike towards him growing.

“Out of bounds,” I warn him. “Be civil.”

“My apologies. Why do you like Captain America?” Lance asked condescendingly. Cody stares at him for a moment, then looks away and responds.

“I like Captain America because he’s just a regular guy, who isn’t popular, or really anyone special, and still has the qualities that make him the superhero he is before he even changes physically.” He looks back at me, staring into my eyes. “Also, he falls in love with a girl who seems way out of his league, and somehow, she falls in love with him, too.” He flits his gaze to Lance for a moment, then back to me with his unflinching gaze. “Even when the girl could have had Howard Stark, the rich and handsome genius.” Lance scoffs, but I can’t tear my eyes away from Cody’s penetrating expression. Is he trying to tell me that he feels like Cap? Does he care for someone? Does he maybe care for… me?

Lance speaks up, breaking the intensity of the moment.

“Who was your favorite character, Abigail? I’d like the girl’s perspective on which guy you’d prefer.” I widen my eyes slightly, unsure of why he just asked me that. I open my mouth to speak, but my dad calls over from behind us,

“Kids, the movie is starting. Be quiet.”

As the movie starts, I think about this situation. My feelings are definitely certain concerning how they feel about Lance. He is stuck up, arrogant, and looking for a pretty face. Not my kind of guy. But I’m all confused about how I feel about Cody. I think about all that’s happened this night, and I wonder if it’s possible that Cody cares about me, and if I return his feelings. I think about him often, and we always have a great time together. He understands me like almost no one else, and always cares about what I have to say. He can always make me laugh, and is always willing to pray with me when I’m feeling blue or have some big decision to make. He’s even kind of handsome, with his dark brown eyes, messed up brown hair, strong frame, and crazy smile like he just played a prank on me.

As I watch the movie, I see Lance shift, looking like he’s about to stretch. At first, I don’t think anything of it.  Then, after a second, I realize what an idiot I am. He’s doing “the move”! I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I thought this kind of stuff only happened on corny TV shows! Panicked, I search for a way out of this increasingly awkward situation. I glance over at Cody, and see that he noticed Lance’s arm making it’s way down from its arc. His brow furrows, and he flashes his eyes towards me. I stare back, panic in my eyes, and again, mouth HELP! He makes a small nodding gesture, looks back at the movie, and, just as Lance is about to lay his arm across my shoulders, casually slips his arm around me. I dart my eyes to my left, and see Lance instantly recoil, anger and embarrassment in his countenance. He turns back to the movie, clearly furious.

My heart starts pounding, and I look to Cody, knowing my face must be bright red, and murmur,

“Thanks.” He smiles bashfully, and tightens his hold a little. I lean back some, actually enjoying the feeling of being so near to him. Bringing me back to my original dilemma. Do I care for Cody? I’m starting to think I do.

When the movie ends, I stand up and stretch, thinking, finally. I’d enjoyed it, especially the end, but Lance had been determined to split me and Cody up. He’d gotten up four times to “take care of something”, which forced us to stand and allow him to pass by. Each time we sat back down, I saw Lance glance back to see if Cody’s arm was still around me. Cody always stared right back, flashed a smirk at him, and returned his arm to its original position. I’m sure my dad is loved  that! I mean, if looks could kill… I guess I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I like Cody or not.

As we all walk into the lobby, and my parents say goodbye to John, Lance comes up behind Cody and I and asks,”Could I talk to you for a second? Outside?” I nod, glance at Cody, and walk outside with Lance. As soon, as we get outside and walk a little ways, Lance turns, grips my shoulders, and exclaims,

“What was that?!”

“Excuse me?” I say, trying to pull away from his grasp, and failing. “What do you mean? I thought the movie was pretty good. I mean, Loki was kind of a creep, but-”

“No! I’m talking about Brody!”

“Cody!”

“Whatever! You are my date. This was supposed to be the night I finally got a girlfriend and stopped getting hounded by my parents to find someone acceptable, who’s pretty enough, smart enough, and just… perfect!” He narrowed his eyes at me, and I get kind of nervous.

“Look, Lance, I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s perfect for you, but I don’t think I’m her.” I stared hard at him, trying to make him understand. His eyes were so filled with anger, and then indignation after my next words. “I think I’m meant for… someone else.”

“Who? Cody?! What does he have that I don’t?” His face twists, and I glare at him, still trying to pull away from his grasp.

“He cares about me; for what’s inside of me, not the outside. He’s kind, gentle, and makes me laugh.” The words fly into my mind, as I think about how I’ve never appreciated Cody as much as I do now, comparing him to this angry boy. “Now, let go of me!” He tightens his hold as I strain to get away once more. This time, however, I kick him in the shin hard. He grunts, but still holds on. I’m about to scream for help, when suddenly, a fist slams into Lance’s face. He stumbles back, letting go of me in the process. Someone pushes me behind him, and I realize it’s Cody. He glares furiously at Lance, and says forcefully,

“Never touch her again! Get out of here!” Lance, moaning as he presses a hand to his eye, turns and runs into the parking lot. Cody then turns to me, the anger and fury leaving his eyes and becoming concern.

“Are you okay?” I nod, and he points toward the direction of my neighborhood. “Let’s get you home.” We begin to walk.

“Where are my parents?”

“They already went home. When you didn’t come back, they assumed you went out with Lance for ice cream or something. Your dad and Lance’s dad seemed awfully pleased.” He sounds kind of bitter. Almost jealous.

“Why didn’t you go home?” He looks at me, kind of sheepish.

“I didn’t trust Lance. And I didn’t think you would have ever gone with him for ice cream. So, I waited until your parents left, and then went outside to see if I could find you. Then,” and I see him tense up, and hear the anger in his voice.” I saw Lance gripping your arms. At first, I didn’t know if, well, you know. You were… In the middle of something.” I blush. As if. Gross. He continues,”So, I just kind of stood still, waiting to see if you needed help. When you kicked him, I decided to step in.” He walks a little quicker, still tense, and tells me, quietly but with an edge to his voice,”If he ever bothers you again, let me know.” I think about the look of fury he wore when he confronted Lance, the way he pushed me behind him possessively. And then, I stop, turn to him, and kiss him on the cheek.

“Thank you.” His eyes go big, and his face turns bright red. He stares at me, searching my gaze.

“For what?” he barely whispers. I smile softly up at him.

“For watching out for me. For… caring.” He looks down, and then, as we turn the corner, we join hands as we walk.

After a couple more minutes of walking, we reach my house. I turn towards him, smile, and whisper,

“Do you remember at the theatre, when Lance asked me who my character was?” Cody nodded, still looking at me. I take a deep breath, and whisper,”I think if I could pick, I’d pick Captain America.” Then I turn and walk into my house. As soon as I get inside, I close the door and peek through the peephole. I see Cody standing there, silent, and then watch a beaming smile spread across his face. He turns around, jumps off the porch, and yells,

“YES!” I stifle a laugh, and run up the stairs. What I had been dreading all day since I found out I’d have to go through it had just become the best date ever. I’ll have to deal with my father tomorrow, but I know certain that no matter what he says, I’ll never go on a date with Lance again. Not after I’ve realized how I feel about Cody.

I begin to smile. This just proves what I told my dad. The perfect one for me is someone who cares about the real me, makes me laugh, and believes what I believe. Someone who truly completes me, who still has his faults, but accepts me despite mine. And, after tonight, I’m excited to see if I’ve possibly found all of this in my best friend.

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Filed under Education, Lessons from students, Writing

It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Change Is Good; Learning Is Good

Recently one of our assistant principals observed my teaching.

I remember my first observation.  I worked hard on my delivery of the pre-reading notes.  I use to think it was important for students to see how much I knew about an author or poet.  After all, I did have the book with all of the answers.

Actually, I did not get a teacher’s annotated edition until I was in my 6th year of teaching, and this forced me to think and be creative on my own.  It was a true blessing.  But, I digress.

       

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     After my mini-lecture, I read the poem to the class.  It was Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death:

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labour, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries; but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.

Then I began to ask questions.  Are there any words you do not know?  What figurative language do you see?  What do you think the theme is?  Etc.

I would pause and wait for answers.  I would repeat or rephrase what the students said.   I would write notes on the board.  I was leading the lesson.  And, I received a great evaluation.

I try not to be the sage on the stage anymore.  I wonder how many of my students that day remember the poem?  While I read the poem, what were they thinking about?  While I asked a question and one student answered it, what were the other students doing?

I have to lead at times.  I know grammar rules better than most of the kids.  However, I do not have to explain what reading selections mean.  If I taught this poem today, I would do it differently.  I would have the students write a journal about what they want to do before they die; they would create a bucket list.  I would have the students get a partner and read the poem to one another.  Next, they would answer questions similar to the ones I asked that day long ago.  After they were finished, we would bring the class together, and I would let the students lead the discussion to see if their analysis of the poem was similar or different.  The final evaluation would be an analysis of a different poem.

I am curious to receive the feedback from our assistant principal.  He observed my warm-up activity of having students copy three vocabulary words and writing a creative sentence with figurative language as the context clue.  While the students do this, I take attendance and talk to students who were absent.

Next, the students used our laptops to write their short stories.  My classroom became a buzz of activity as students shared ideas, read each other’s stories, and asked me questions.  It never became too loud, nor was it silent.  I do wonder what my first principal would have thought of this. I ended with an exit ticket of self-evaluation:  If you had more time, what would you have done differently?  Of course, the students had the next day to continue their writing.

Now to grade those stories…

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Filed under Education, Learning, Lesson Plans, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations, Writing