Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dear Hate


[Verse 1]
Dear Hate,
I saw you on the news today.
Like a shock that takes my breath away,
You fall like rain, cover us in drops of paint.
I’m afraid that we just might drown.
[Verse 2]
Dear Hate,
Well, you sure are colorblind,
Your kiss is the cruelest kind,
You could poison any mind,
Just look at mine.
Don’t know how this world keeps spinning ’round and round.
You were there in the garden like a snake in the grass.
I see you in the morning staring through the looking glass.
You whisper down through history and echo through these halls.
But I hate to tell you, love’s gonna conquer all.
[Verse 3 – Vince Gill]
Dear Hate,
You were smiling from that Selma bridge;
In Dallas, when that bullet hit, and Jackie cried;
You pulled those towers from the sky;
But even on our darkest nights, we’ll keep spinning ’round.
You were there in the garden like a snake in the grass;
I see you in the morning staring through the looking glass;
You whisper down through history and echo through these halls;
But I hate to tell you, love’s gonna conquer all.
Dear Love,
Just when I think you’ve given up,
You were there in the garden when I ran from your voice;
I hear you every morning through the chaos and the noise;
You still whisper down through history and echo through these halls;
And tell me love’s gonna conquer all,
Gonna conquer all.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Middle School Architect + Rebuilding a love of reading


(student comes in after school to return a book)

Currently, I am teaching my first year in middle school.

Eighth grade.

This is my 14th year teaching. But this is the first time where my mouth has hung open in absolute astonishment. You see, I taught elementary for so long, you take things for granted.

Like, for instance, the LOVE of just learning that comes so easily with younger students. You don't have to work so hard to "hook" them. Don't get me wrong, I've taught elementary so long, I'm not downplaying the struggling readers or the reluctant readers.

But middle school is different.

I don't think I properly understood how important middle school is. When you literally, NOT figuratively, have MOST, if not all your classes, openly and honestly, DESPISE, if not call it torture, reading, you tend to take a few steps back.

Wait, what?

First, for the record, the students are AHHHHHHMAZING! I feel as though I have found my niche. But it wasn't always that way. The first couple of weeks, I felt like this wasn't for me. I'm going to be honest. I have never seen so much apathy before in kids. Don't get me wrong, these kids are good kids. Brutally honest.

"Miss, I don't like reading. Please don't make me read."

"Miss, I haven't read a novel since the fourth grade."

"Miss, are we ACTUALLY going to read? Like a novel? Can we just do worksheets?"

At first, with over 100 students, I thought this was it. I had made a mistake. Like, I literally felt sick for awhile. Why? Because I get my enthusiasm from my students. I LOVE teaching because I love the excitement THEY feel. Introduce a new book, kids LOVE it! Read Aloud? Yes, please! Students are excited, the younger they are, they don't have the social confines of being cool yet.


So, when they got depressed that I was introducing a novel, they literally groaned, and I doubted whether I could do this. It wasn't the book. It wasn't even me. It was almost a learned behavior. "We don't read" is protocol. And this is where we, and I say WE, as teachers get it so wrong.

If you want kids to read, you MUST give them opportunities to read. IN CLASS. In elementary, it's SO INCREDIBLY easy. You have them for longer periods of time. In middle school? You have 55 minutes. So you MUST prioritize. You must give them great, inspiring, amazing books to foster thought, ideas and compassion. You give them the best. Not the left overs. You build that classroom library as if your life depended on it.

Because, people, middle school libraries are almost like cemeteries for books. At least compared to elementary schools. It's not inviting. In fact, my librarian told me these kids don't read. In front of them. She told them, "If you don't like to read, I have these short stories right here! They are great for non-readers".

I'm pretty sure my mouth hung open when she said that. But at least she was honest.

So when backed into a corner, I do what I do best. I share MY love of reading. We started Wonder. I've spent so much money on books, and book shelves, it's insane. But it's worth it. Why? Because today, they were brutally honest again.

"Miss, this is the first book since fourth grade I actually finished a whole novel. Do you have the next book?"

"Miss, do you have more books like Prisoner B-3087? You do?! Can I take this home to finish it so I can start on Monday?"

"Miss, do you mind if I take one of your books home? Can I check it out?"

We write. We respond. My bellringers are out the door. I'm using thier novels as the bell ringer/warm up of the day. We look for different things in novels. Character traits, summaries, text evidence, inferences, everything. I did a quick survey.

Out of 100 students, 12 are reading books from the school library. 2 are reading personal books from thier homes. The rest? From my classroom library.

This was our "display area" for the first six weeks.

Now, we don't have a big display on the top of our shelf anymore.

And our novel? Students are loving this story of Auggies! Especially since this year, I've included videos!

Students want amazing new, colorful, visually appealing, books. I am SO THANKFUL that publishers are publishing classics with newer and modern covers. I am thankful that so many books have incredible covers. Why? Because that old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover" is EXACTLY why a student either picks something up or doesn't. They live in a world with technology and instantly getting what they need. Technology isn't always what they need. It's a tool to be used but it doesn't dictate everything. Yes, I may sound old-fashioned, but a real book gives students a sense of accomplishment. Literally having a book, is a visual reminder that they are accomplishing something. It's not in an app. It's not in a chat. Everyone can see that  you are reading, and when you are done, something happens intrinsically. We talked about it all the time in elementary. Well, you have NOTHING but intrinsic motivation up in the middle school.

Bottom line, I've learned that middle school students ARE just like elementary students. But you have to put some thought, time and even MORE love into it. In the end, its worth it. Students are crazy ready to share what they are reading. Middle schoolers are SO sensitive and LOVE when you think of them or a book they may enjoy. I don't think we give middle school teachers enough credit. This is so incredibly challenging, and I have nothing but respect for middle school teachers. But building a love of reading in middle school is worth it. I can honestly say I have NEVER felt so happy teaching students reading in my entire teaching career. I LOVE these kids and I LOVE what I do! (I just wish I had more money for books! Thank you Scholastic Bonus Points & Half Price books! LOL!)

A teacher just has to be willing to share the love of reading and be a true architect. Its just we are building a love of reading.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

That's What I'm Tolkien about!




Reading more and better books


This summer, I'm prepping for eighth grade ELA. I'll be heading to middle school. After buying TONS of new books for my classroom library, (I'm down to eating beans! ha!) and prepping for literature circles, there seems to be a looooooong discussion of what and how to teach reading. I've read many of the books, including but not limited to, books that share what happened in classrooms when teachers "let go of control" and "just let kids read", including the TONS of reading research.

Most teachers use their own personal stories of how they ended up hated reading and how they don't want to be *that* teacher that forces a novel, etc. (And yet, incredible teachers who LOVE Shakespeare end up getting EVERY SINGLE student in LOVE with Shakespeare still begs the question of choice)

Yes, choice is important. No one is denying that. But also the fact that alot of the students we teach today, don't know how to choose. I was an avid reader. But given my choices, my choices were limited to what I knew. Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys. Books that, given what they are, are really junk food.

Books have power. They feed our souls and fill our minds. I'm really beginning to disagree with the whole notion of "It doesn't matter what the kids read, as long as they are reading." Of course it matters! We can do so much better than that as teachers.

My story is simple. I went to public school up until second grade. I remember my mom taking us to the library, and I was reading chapter books. But in class, I was put in the lowest group because I seriously thought that's what I was supposed to do: Sound like everyone else. I remember quite vividly that everyone was such a slow reader, but since I didn't want to stick out, I made myself sound out the word cat as I read along. Not because I couldn't, but because I didn't realize that I didn't have to.

I ended up going to private school in third grade because the schools got so bad, and my older brother was getting beat up constantly in third grade on the playground. My parents worried for our safety, and took us out of the public school and put us in private schools. My world opened up. I couldn't believe that these kids read faster, asked questions, and had the same thoughts I had while reading! I found kids who read Nancy Drew too! And thanks to teachers who taught classics, I was introduced to amazing stories like Huck Finn, Jane Eyre, biographies and more. I went back to public school in junior high, only because it was getting expensive for a family of 5. But those years changed my life!

It only got more exciting in college. I found out that many of my peers knew authors I did not. When talking with them, I realized that the richer you were, the more  you were exposed to since those schools explored more literature. I didn't realize that poetry was literally life changing. And I remember being in British Literature class thinking, "Why had I never been given a chance to even know these authors?"

Now as a teacher, I realize that many of the students are growing up like me. Poor. Limited Choices. They may not have a choice of which school they go to. They may just be reading what their social circle is reading. But I can bring books that lay a deep foundation of good ideas, powerful words and memorable scenes and characters. Books with truth, goodness, and beauty. Books like The Hobbit that showcase sacrifice, friendship and loyalty. Books like The Boy on the Wooden Box that show what it was like to survive World War 2. I'm not against the "junkfood", but I want to put a plate of steak in front of my students. So while I get the whole "As long as kids are reading" mantra, I don't agree with it. At least not if I'm the teacher.

I think we can do better. This summer as I plan, I'm making decisions to promote a love of reading. A healthy balance. Taking the wisdom of teachers, with research, and everything with a grain of salt.

Here we go!


Monday, June 5, 2017

Thank you Dr. Robert Burns McDonald III


Quite possibly, the most influential teacher I've ever had.

Obituaries don't do much justice to people.

You've got to understand something about my teaching career. It was hard. Sometimes prejudice would come from your own people. I remember my advisor, a latina, telling me I couldn't survive my first year of college. It was shocking. Not because she doubted me, but because I thought, "What if she's right?"

Well, God will send you exactly what you need and who you need. Dr. McDonald and his wife are such a gift! He believed in us. I don't think there was a teacher who believed in us like he did. He made us believe we could not only teach, but be the BEST and encouraged us every step of the way. I remember starting his class, and feeling so incredibly dumb. It was science. I HATED science! I sucked in science all my high school years. (I took Pre-AP chemistry, so I was usually with the geniuses anyway) I remember he dropped off boxes at each group. I started going through the WHOLE box in anticipation, showing my sister, "Hey, what's this for? Hey! Look at this!!!" and the whole class stating, "You aren't supposed to touch anything!" Dr. McDonald had walked out and when he walked in, everyone ratted me out. It was embarrassing! LOL And you know what he said? He told the class, "As teachers, you will say things, like "Don't touch". But actually, you will have someone like Christina, who will touch, get EXCITED, and there's your HOOK! Let them touch! Don't get mad at your kids! Let them explore!" And with that, was my first lesson in loving science and realizing that the smallest acts of love will have the BIGGEST impact on your students. That lesson impacted my whole teaching. I felt so small and then he made me feel like I was SUPPOSED to do it wrong! I made a choice that day. I wanted my students to feel how Dr. McDonald made me feel. And then he introduced us to his wife and I couldn't believe there was another person like him!!!!! So loving and so knowledgeable and so incredibly humble. They were SUPER RICH in knowledge and they gave it away freely. I'm pretty sure if they were billionaires, they'd be giving out $100 bills everywhere, because their generosity with their time and knowledge knew no bounds. I mean, I LOVE science and sharing it with my students! I started Family Science Night because he showed us and taught us and took us to people who put on AMAZING Family Science nights.

you know that saying, "They won't remember what you taught, only how you made them feel." It's actually true for normal people. But for extraordinary people, the greats of the world, you'll remember what they taught AND you'll remember how they made you feel. The only reason I know, is because I was taught by on of the greatest people God put on this earth. I remember what he taught and how he made me feel. I only hope to be as amazing as he was.

God Bless you Dr. McDonald. Thank you.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, And let the perpetual light shine upon them.
And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Robert Burns McDonald III, 67, passed away at his home on the Lamar Peninsula on May 29, 2017 with his wife and daughter at his side. Robert was born in El Campo, Texas on February 9, 1950, the only child of Velma Jo Joiner McDonald and Robert Burns McDonald, Jr. After graduating from Gregory-Portland H.S. in 1968, he attended Stephen F. Austin State University where he fell in love with his wife of 45 years, JoAnn Montes, and completed his B.S. in elementary education. Robert went on to earn an M.S. in curriculum and instruction from Corpus Christi University and a Ph.D. in science education from the University of Texas at Austin.
Robert taught at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels in the Texas public schools for 14 years, exciting students about science and the world around them. He happily taught much of that time in Ingleside ISD. He spent the last 15 years of his career teaching at the university level at California State University-Long Beach, Southwest Texas State University, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He inspired many preservice and in-service teachers to teach science with gusto, helping them connect their students’ real world experiences with the “big ideas” in science. Dr. McDonald presented workshops for science educators at the regional, state, national, and international levels, and has published numerous articles in journals of teacher education.
Robert was extremely proud to be a native Texan and enjoyed learning and talking about the many generations of his family who were born and raised in Texas. He loved the beauty and diversity of Texas and spent as much time as he could camping, fishing, and exploring the forests of East Texas and the rivers, bays, and estuaries of Texas coast. One of his greatest pleasures in life was teaching his grandchildren to fish in the waters around the Rockport/Fulton area.
R.B. was an adventurous soul and a life-long learner. He earned a black belt in Taekwondo, raced sailboats across the Gulf of Mexico from Corpus Christi to Vera Cruz, and built a geodesic dome where he spent the final year of his life. For many years he was an avid runner and cyclist. Robert loved to watch all Texas Longhorn sports and burnt orange was his favorite color.
He is survived by his mother, Velma Jo Joiner McDonald, his wife, JoAnn, and daughter, Amber Star McDonald Donihoo, one granddaughter, Alexandra Elise Donihoo, and a grandson, Robert Aidan Donihoo. He is also survived by his brother-in-law, Gary (Charlotte) Montes, Sr., two nephews, and a niece of Nacogdoches, TX and two cousin/siblings, Penny Sue Benner Payne and Pat Benner. Survivors also include his Aunts Irene, Leotha, Billie, and Margie, as well as several cousins.
A private family memorial is planned for a future date. Those wishing to remember Robert should donate in his name to their favorite charity or scholarship.

Thursday, April 6, 2017