Tag Archives: 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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Betty Blamer

This year I am teaching Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.  It was a recommendation from some colleagues.  So far, responses have varied, which is always the case.  Some students like teacher picked books and some students hate anything a teacher assigns. Nevertheless, I am learning from the book.

Cover of "7 Habits of Highly Effective Te...

Cover of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

One of the points Covey makes is to avoid acting like a victim.  This week I realized I have the epitome of victim in my front row.  Betty (not her real name) has the habit of a defective teen.  If I say, “Pass forward your homework,” she blurts out, “My brother stole my homework!”  If I say, “Take out your vocabulary words,” she exclaims, “Someone stole my paper!”  Occasionally, she takes the initiative and does not wait for me to say anything.  She just declares loud enough for the room next door to hear, “Someone stole my pencil!”

Interestingly enough, she found her vocabulary words in her notebook and her pencil had rolled off of her desk onto the floor.  She never did find her homework.  Perhaps a brother did steal it.  Perhaps the dog ate it.  Perhaps she never did it.  I do wonder why her first thought is about someone stealing her things.

Based on my experiences and Covey’s book, I may have an answer.  First of all, Betty’s behavior shows she wants attention.  She calls out to make sure we all know she is here:  “Hello!  I am here and I can sound mean and tough!  Don’t mess with me!”

Next, she does not like to accept responsibility for her actions.  She prefers to blame others.   Her behavior suggests several possibilities.  She may consider it a sign of weakness to accept responsibility.  She may have learned at home that it is always someone else’s fault.  Or, she may have been punished severely for mistakes, and her fear caused her to create the habit of saying someone stole something.  Or, she could be a thief.  She assumes people steal her things because she steals.

Now, I have to deal with her behavior.  First, I listened to her and showed her that I understood she was struggling to find her materials.  Then, I addressed her behavior in a nonthreatening manner.  I could have been THAT teacher who gives a detention immediately for her outburst.  I chose to first talk to her about her loudness and disruption.  I spent a few minutes quietly asking her closed ended questions:

“Did you have to be so loud?”

“Did you find your item?”

“Do you place your work in your notebook?”

“Did you know I have extra pencils on my desk if you ever need one?”

I ask YES / NO questions to get her to think and prevent her from continuing to blame others.  Then, I discussed with her other ways to handle situations of missing things.  In addition, she and I reread the section of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens where Covey discusses victimitus.  Next, I explained what the specific consequences would be for continuing the outbursts and false accusations of thievery: detention.

I finish up with double-checking to make sure she knows other ways to handle similar situations and that she knows the consequences of not changing her behavior.

How would you deal with Betty Blamer?

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Cover of "7 Habits of Highly Effective Te...

Cover of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Habits.  While teaching The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, I am reminded about my habits.  Last year at this time I was writing in this blog everyday.  Three days before Christmas I had to stop writing because of a detached retina.  Once I regained my sight, I had already changed my habits.  I was only writing a few times a week.

The start of this school year has been busy.   I have postponed what I enjoy doing, writing.   I am venturing out and teaching a couple of new books, and the school is inundating me with information on formative assessments.  Neither of these are bad.  In fact, I am learning and adjusting my sails in the winds of change.  However, I, like our entire English department, has increased our student load.   I have 18 more students this year, which is a small class.  Keeping up with the grading has been a challenge.

School, two aging parents with medical issues who live 3 hours away, and my own children and their activities have made me change my routine.  These are all things I have limited control over, though.

I am in control of when I collect assignments.

I am in control of arranging to take care of my parents with my siblings.

I am in control of letting my wife continue to arrange for carpools, so I have more free time.

And, I am in control of making the time to write.  Making the time to write this short blog has lifted my spirits.  I know it is not a witty or  profound post, but the process of making my writing a priority again has rejuvenated the muses within me.  Changing Habits.  It begins with me.

What habit do you want to create?  How do you get back to doing what you enjoy?

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I Would Prefer Not To

Day three of our Ohio Graduation Test presented the hardest job I have ever had to do in a very long time.

It all began when one of the OGT leaders called me into the maximum security testing processing center.  I tried to hide my trepidation.  I gave the armed guards and their growling German Shepherds, Trixie and Cupcake, the I’m-cool-so-there-is-no-need-to-shoot-or-bite-me nod.  Then, I placed my eyeball on the retinal scanner and my hand on the fingerprint scanner.   A few beeps later and the door slid open as if I was entering the bridge of the Enterprise.  I was glad I didn’t wear my red shirt.

“Mr. W., we need you to be a scribe,” said Mr. P.

“I would prefer not to,” I thought to myself.   I kept it to myself for two reasons.  First, I wasn’t sure he would know the reference to Bartleby the Scrivener

Photo of Herman Melville

Photo of Herman Melville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Herman Melville.  Second, I was pretty sure one of the dogs would have attacked my milk-bone underwear if I refused.  Instead, I responded with a smile, “Sure.  What happened?”

It seems that a young lady broke several fingers on her right hand, or dare I say, her write hand.  It seems that softballs are not really that soft.  This injury would prevent her from writing her essays and extended responses on the tests.

It doesn’t sound too difficult.  However, I am used to conferencing with students. I ask them questions about their word choice, organizational patterns, sentence structure, and supporting details.  The student would tell me when to indent, when to capitalize, and what punctuation to use. I could not ask her anything or help her.  I just wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote until my fingers became locked into a claw-like shape.  I wrote so much that I had to have my wife fill out a workman’s comp form.  I am still having trouble holding my toothbrush.  Of course, a plus to this is my bad breath keeps kids from asking me for help.

Luckily, the student is smart and takes Advanced Placement classes.  She did not make many mistakes as she dictated her essays and responses.  I did not have to write any run-on sentences or illogical supporting details.  She knew her purpose and created good answers, I think.   I never really saw the questions or prompts.

Now, I have more respect and understanding of what the kids endure each day. And this young lady has to adjust the way she will take notes and learn for the next six weeks.  Her teachers will work with her and find different ways for her to demonstrate learning and understanding of material.   Do you have some ideas on creative ways to help a student who can’t write in class?  I would like to share them with my peers at school.


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It’s great to be back!

A stereotypical caricature of a pirate.

A very strange thing happened to me at school on the last day before the winter break.  My retina became detached.  I wish I could say it was due to an old sports injury, like an elbow to the face in basketball, a hard hit as I threw the winning touchdown pass in the championship game, or an errant pitch during a little league game.  However, most who know me would scoff at the fabrication.

See, (get it – I used an eye reference as a transition) even though I am helping coach my third grader’s basketball team, I just learned that if a foul is committed when the player is taking a shot, then he gets to go to the foul line.  For forty years I had I not been able to figure out why players sometimes only got to pass the ball in and why they sometimes got to shoot a foul shot.  I thought it was some sort of mathematical equation.  However, with football I know the rules.  I know the strategy.  When I played, I knew what I was supposed to do as an offensive lineman.  However, knowledge is not always THEE answer.  Ability would have been beneficial.  Meanwhile, in baseball, I held the record for being hit by pitches.  Nonetheless, I can’t say this caused my detached retina.  I was never hit in the head and little kids don’t throw that hard.

Well, back to the true cause of the injury.  It just happens.  It is hereditary.  I get to blame Mom or Dad.

On the last day of school before the holiday break, I was having trouble seeing out of my right eye.  The lower part was black and I could not see short people, which is my entire family.  I was having trouble reading, but I did not let that deter me from visiting Wikipedia to try to self diagnose my problem.  As an educator, I do not fully accept Wikipedia as a valid source, but it is a good starting point for research.  This philosophy was validated as I read that I could be suffering from a detached retina or hemorrhoids.  Further research confirmed it was an eye problem.  I called the optometrist and he told me to come in right away.  Next thing I know I am met with serious faces from all and they give me more tests than a student has during exam week.  Needless to say, I failed.

Since I failed, I had to go to remediation.  So, off I traveled to a retina specialist. More tests.  More failures.  Then, some good news.  If I would have waited until after Christmas to come in, I would be blind in the right eye.  Apparently there is a small window for surgery to work.

After a successful surgery, I feel disappointed because I only get to wear an eye patch for one day.  I was looking forward to being a pirate for a couple of weeks.  I was practicing all of my pirate jokes like: “What is a pirate’s favorite subject in school?  ARRRT!”  ARRG, twas not meant to be matey!”  Instead, I spent the next two weeks with a gas bubble on my eye preventing me from seeing out of it.  I also had to lie on my face or right side all of the time.  And, no reading or writing.  I am an English teacher!  I live to read and write!  I swear, If I wasn’t prone to seasickness, I would have run off to become a pirate.

After the gas bubble dissolved,  I no longer had to keep my face down; however, reading and writing was still too difficult. I had to be off work for three more weeks.  After two days, my wife was begging me to go back to work.  My absence makes her heart grow fonder.   You should hear about the parties she throws when my summer vacation ends.

Although my right eye is a little blurry, and it will always be this way, I can return to work.  I may have to make a few changes, like have the kids type papers in size 14, or write bigger on the board, so I can read it from the front of the room.

I decided to change my blog a little.  I really missed the students and want to try to focus on my memories from the classroom over the last twenty three years.  Also, I am going to publish on Mondays and Thursdays instead of every day.  I need the extra time to remember anecdotes.

I would also like to thank those who sent “get well wishes.”


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Where to Begin?

” I don’t know where to start,” Joe, the master procrastinator in my first period class, sighs.  Thus, my day begins.

Actually, it started many days ago when I came up with the idea for this short writing assignment.  Students were given a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird to read, and they would rewrite this part of the story from another character’s point of view.  Students were to retell the major points from one of the witnesses in the trial of Tom Robinson.

My first response to Joe is, “Start with the details of the reading selection.  Make a list of what you know.  Next, ask yourself what thoughts would this character have?  Then, free write for five minutes.  After the brainstorming, organize your thoughts and ideas.  Divide the process into chunks or small steps, ignore the others in the class, focus on your thoughts, take time to review and revise, and you will end with a good final product.”

Alas, if only I could help myself as easily, as I have had trouble writing lately.  To help me get started, I researched procrastination.  I found that about 20% of us procrastinate and there are over 600 published books on the subject.  Of course, I haven’t made the time to read any of them.  I just skimmed articles and blogs.

I did learn a few things; my problems are described in any psychology 101 class:

  1. I am afraid of failing, so I wait and use the excuse, “I would have done a better job, but I did not have enough time.”  (Notice, I do not take responsibility on how I managed or mismanaged my time.)
  2. I do not develop an achievable goal for each day.  Instead I say, “ Today, I am going to write a book.”  Instead, I should say, “Today I am going to write for 15 minutes.   A person can do any task for 15 minutes.  Fifteen minutes is plausible, manageable, and doable.  I can always write for longer.  I need to break the larger goal into smaller goals.
  3. I don’t pay myself first.  Well, I do when it comes to my paycheck.  I put money aside for retirement, rainy days, and vacations.  However, I do not always place my tasks before the tasks of others.  I could use to be a little more selfish, at least for 15 or more minutes a day.  One way I can do this is to schedule my time to write and to do it when I most creative, which is in the morning or afternoon.  I like to revise my work in the evening.

Wow!  I did it.  A little research or background knowledge, a little creativity, and a short list!  I am back on track!

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Redo Two

After contemplating whether to have students redo a writing assignment and discussing the idea with an intervention specialist I work with, I decided a redo was necessary.  Thus, I am changing my lesson plans for the rest of the week.  Being a teacher requires flexibility like a gymnast.  It also has to be a trait in most occupations because daily “routines” hardly exist: technology fails, people get sick; bosses want the work – yesterday.

I am going to give the paragraphs back to the students and have them highlight similarities with a model paragraph I wrote.  Then, I am going to give them a new topic over today’s reading assignment.  In addition, I will share two possible topic sentences and four vague supporting ideas.  The students will have to pick two supporting ideas, present them as specific supporting details with one example being a passage from the novel and the other being a paraphrased example.  This will help them next week when they write their essays, and the body paragraphs look exactly like this assignment.

With this redo, I hope the students realize the importance of using valid and specific examples, understand the expectations better, and create thoughtful, insightful, and well-written paragraphs.

Sometimes, we all have to try, try again; unless you are skydiving.

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Getting there is half of the fun!

This week three of the classes I teach are writing an essay on the themes of Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.   Every time students write an essay, some have trouble with getting started or figuring out how to get from introduction to conclusion.  I can relate…

Last Friday I was driving my son, a friend and her son, and a third little boy to a soccer tournament in Cincinnati.   Like a student who has trouble picking a topic, I  had a little trouble getting started.  I thought I was ready, but I had some last-minute distractions (a.k.a. other children).  Luckily, I was only a few minutes behind schedule as I drove the rounds to pick up passengers.

Once we were on the road in the mini-van / soccer express, the boys settled in to playing video games on their DSs.  We adults chatted about football, soccer, and school.  The ride was going smoothly, like watching a freshman transform thoughts into a composition.  We did hit a little traffic and had to slow down, like the student who pauses to gather his thoughts.  Nonetheless, persistence and patience paid off and soon we were buzzing right along.  Then, we hit a heavy downpour which forced us to slow down, like the students  trying to find the  best supporting examples from the novel.

Occasionally, I see the kid who reads his essay and feels like regurgitating.  My friend’s son, Brent apparently felt the same way.  As we were cruising along in the passing lane at the posted speed limit, of course, one of the other boys yelled, “Brent puked!”  Before I could slow down and pull over, I heard him wretch again.  I came to a stop on the side of the interstate, and his mother and I started to try to clean up the mess.  Unfortunately, Brent’s cleansing of his stomach happened a few years after I got rid of baby wipes, rags, and any cleaning materials from the mini-van.

Brent’s mom, a nurse, handled everything with the grace and compassion of Florence Nightingale.  In the classroom I can calm the nervous writer, but she was in her element and kept the boys (and me) from freaking out.

Of course, one of the state’s finest highway patrolman pulls up with lights flashing.  He gets out of the car, and we can’t help but laugh and wonder if puking along the interstate is a crime.  We tell him what happened, and he understands because he has three kids of his own.

I should have left it at that, but I had to say, “Oh we aren’t married and all of the kids aren’t ours.”  Brent’s mom laughed and the patrolman looked at me as if I had a white van with no windows.  Luckily she responded, “We are on our way to a soccer tournament.”

As his back up arrived, the patrolman laughed and gave us directions to a clean gas station where we could clean up Brent and the mini-van.  I should have asked if a canine unit was available to eat the “evidence”.  After all, my dogs tend to eat their vomit.

I hope my students do not see me as a highway patrolman, and I hope they learn that writing is a process that has traffic, rain, and puke along the way.  After all, life has the same problems.

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