Lumping it together with Humanities

When I obtained my first job as a ninth grade teacher, I signed on to teach a class called “Humanities,” which weaves together literature, social studies and writing. In theory, this seems like a great idea. After all, most history lends itself to literature. And writing? Well, you can infuse writing into anything!

I wish I could tell you that my year teaching Humanities was a success. The harsh reality was that it was a hot mess. I felt overwhelmed with content. I was the jack of all trades and the master of none.

Luckily, the school scratched Humanities the following year and replaced it with separate writing, literature and history classes. From that point forward, I was able to focus solely on my literature and writing sections. Students were gaining more meaning from texts and learning the principles of writing.

wl_humanitiesh

Recently, I learned that my current school is moving to a Humanities model for middle school students. I tried thinking of this is a positive light and came up with the following:

  • Modules that lend themselves to project-based learning are readily available for use. I’ve used these modules before and they are jam-packed with great lessons, handouts, texts, etc. This saves a lot of planning time creating lessons. However, they obviously need to be tweaked depending on each class, which can add to planning time.
  • The history portion lends itself to a lot of place-based writing opportunities. I facilitate a summer writing program where place-based writing is the focal point. I strongly believe that students take away more from experiences if they are immersed in them.

While Humanities classes offer some valuable learning opportunities, I still have concerns:

  • Where does formal writing instruction fit in? Writing is an area where my students need explicit instruction on the basics (how to write a sentence, sentence structure/variety, etc.) In a humanities curriculum, it is very difficult to teach the basics alongside everything else that comes along with “Humanities.”
  • Book choices are limited. I love choosing class novels based on student interest. However, now all of my novels have to contain a history component. This leaves little room for high-interest novels.
  • I’m not SuperTeacher. I can’t do it all – rolling three subjects into one and giving me a module with all the materials you think I need is not only demeaning my expertise, but it’s a disservice to my students.

As it stands, my cry for a separate writing course will likely not come to fruition for my current students in years to come thanks to budget woes. I have considered scrapping reading instruction for the rest of this year and only focusing on writing. I want them to be prepared for whatever next year brings and I’m willing to make difficult sacrifices.

My students struggle with writing. I can’t do it all, but I can give them what I know they need.

Do you teach a Humanities course? If so, I’d love your input!

 

Spruce up your classroom library

Last year, my classroom library was anything but a library. It consisted of one bookshelf and lots of leveled book bins. The bookshelf was always in disarray and the leveled book bins were never accurate. Students did not respect the books because, why would anyone respect a trashy space?!

As I’ve stated in a previous post, this year, I sought out to make my library an inviting place for students. A place they would never dream tossing books onto shelves hap-hazardly. Just the other day, a student noticed dust on top of my bookshelves and asked if she could clean it. I thought to myself, students are taking pride in books!

This year, my library is an organized, cozy haven for tweens. Each day, I allow three students to sit on fancy chairs during silent reading. I rotate through every student before starting over. All students should have a chance to read comfortably, so I do not use the flexible seating as a reward or incentive. Keeping track of who goes on what day has been difficult for me, so in the future, I intend to put that in the hands of students (who always remind me whose turn it is anyway!)

Book bins by genre
Book bins by genre
Cozy seating
Cozy seating

What does your classroom library look like?

 

 

 

How did I live without TpT?

TeachrsPayTeachers is perhaps the most brilliant idea ever. Until I discovered this gem, I constantly re-invented the wheel each year. I created all of my own handouts. I worked furiously from the time I arrived home from school until about 10:00pm getting lessons prepared for the next day.

Obviously, this cycle led to burn-out come November and the bulk of my paycheck going toward nightly purchases of wine (because lesson planning without wine is just absurd).

'I need five weekly lesson plan books. Not only do I tend to overplan, but I feel more comfortable with contingency plans.'

Because I value my work-life balance each more with every passing year, I end up spending a good amount of money on TpT. I also wonder how the teachers who create the items on TpT have time to do so…

When I first started using TpT, I felt like a cheater. Was I taking the easy way out, not making my own materials? Did this make me “less-than,” the fact that I just clicked “purchase” and had my next day’s lessons downloaded in an instant?

Clearly, I got over those feelings rather quickly. I also realized that while many of the items on TpT do not need to be modified, most do. So while I still spend a good portion of my time tweaking my purchases, it’s way less than the amount of time I used to spend. And that is everything.

Here are some of my favorite TpT purchases. What are yours?

1.) Peer Editing Stations and Rotations. I have tried a myriad of peer editing tools, most of which are confusing and mediocre at best. I love this station idea and I plan to use it this year.

2.) Writing No-Prep Printables. I use these as mini-lessons and then give quizzes over the skills. Since I teach reading, writing, vocabulary, etc., these practice and assess handouts correlate nicely with whatever writing piece students are working on. Also, I just love Lovin’ Lit’s TpT store – check it out!

3.) Back to School ToolKit. This download is filled with lots of great stuff. I use the classroom sign-out sheet all year and the textbook tracker is a great way to keep track of those class novels. Lots of great first week activities that the kids really get into!

Let me know your favorites in the comments!

 

Unperfect

The female group, TLC, coined the term “Unpretty” in a song with the same title in 1999. I was a senior in high school that year. The song was authentic and relatable because as a teenager, I often felt inadequate – not smart/pretty/outgoing enough. Some may say these are normal teenage emotions. But perhaps I felt (and honestly, still sometimes feel) this way because society conditioned in me that being imperfect and “unpretty” is not the status quo for girls.

“We’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

Reshma Saujani, an education activist, gave a TED talk where she made some salient points, including the aformentioned quote.

Then Saujani hit me with another point -“most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure;they’re taught to smile pretty. play it safe. get all A’s. Boys on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and just jump off. Head first. And by the time they’re adults…they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it.”

In today’s society, it seems that many girls are socialized to believe that perfection will reap them rewards, while risks are scary and should be avoided whenever possible.

I should know – I was (am?) one of those girls. How many times have I smiled pretty instead of standing up for myself when a strange man shouts obscene cat-calls in my direction? Play it safe, look the other way.

Despite my desire to be perfect, I will say that I consider myself rather brave. After college I moved from Ohio to North Carolina on my own. I did not know a single soul in North Carolina, but it seemed like a good idea. And it was.

But I bet you there are other women who have similar stories of taking risks. However, these are not the stories being broadcast on magazines while I wait in the check-out line at the nearest grocery store. Headlines such as “How to get your exact dream job” and “The easiest 5 lbs. you ever lost” brainwash girls into thinking perfection is key. Sure, your dream job exists, but you’ll likely have to work a few non-dreamy jobs before you get there. And you’ll likely have to take risks. Because oftentimes, jobs can be comfortable and offer a sense of stability.

How, as an educator, can I instill risk-taking in my female students when the image flawless girls is everywhere? How can girls become comfortable with imperfection?

The Fear of Failure

Yesterday, I posted this article to my Facebook page. Interestingly, it claims that parents have the responsibility to teach their children that failure is okay.

A child of parents who never sugar-coated anything, the notion of learning from your mistakes makes perfect sense to me. However, as an educator, I often see students who are terrified of failing. Getting an answer incorrect causes anxiety and heaven-forbid they try something where they will fail the first go-around.

Do not give up, words on blackboard

The fact is, failing is a natural part of life. As a teacher, it is my job to prepare students for the many failures they were encounter. This doesn’t mean I purposely give failing marks; rather, I try to foster resilience in students. I get them to reflect on their mistakes. What can they do better the next time? What did they learn from their failed attempts?

I was lucky – when I failed as a child, my parents saw it as a learning opportunity. They didn’t blame the teacher, coach or other students. My failure was mine alone. I had to persevere.

I think back to my days of running high school cross-country. I was not as fast as I wanted to be. I sometimes came in dead last. Instead of telling me that running wasn’t for me or blaming my failure on weather, poor biomechanics or a myriad of other factors, my dad asked me how I was going to get better. When I decided I wasn’t going to wear a watch during races (which curbed my anxiety about mile split times), he supported me. I still remember my first race without a watch. It was torture, running through the cornfields of the Midwest, dripping with sweat, feeling like I was going to place dead-last. But my father’s booming voice cheering me on and my teammates who echoed his sentiments gave me strength.

In the end, I ran a Personal Best that day. I still came in near the end of the pack, but did I fail? No. In my mind, I had reached my goal, a goal put into motion because of previous failures. I learned mental toughness, strength and resilience, which would help me later in life when faced with jobs, relationship and finances.

The fear of failure is real. Parents are afraid of failing their children and children believe that failing is not an option. Failure is unpleasant. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s in failure that we find strength.

Mean girls…do they really mean it?

This week, a 16-year-old female visited the restroom at her school and emerged in a body bag.

Mean girl bullying is nothing new and it happens to anyone and everyone. I was bullied in junior high and every time Facebook suggests that I “friend” the girl who tormented me some 20 years ago, I laugh. However, twenty years ago, I was doing anything but laughing.

Girl grudges run deep. I know this because: 1.) I am a girl; 2.) As a teacher, I witness it every day.

While adolescence sparks many hormones and emotions, some adults forget that middle and high school students often react with their emotions without thinking about the consequences. Girl problems with adolescent students may appear trivial to adults, but to the students, these issues are MAJOR. All too many times I see school personnel brush off bullying among girls, claiming girls are just “catty” by nature, or figuring they will eventually “figure things out.”

I’m not a certified counselor, but I spend a good majority of my day speaking with my female students about their girl drama. Most of the time, they bring it to me. They may ask to have their seat moved or ask advice on how to deal with a situation. Sometimes, they whip our their phones and show me the malicious cyber-bullying that affects them or their friends on a personal level.

While I’m happy these girls are asking for help, I’m sure I only hear about a tiny fraction of the bullying that actually occurs throughout the day. Additionally, I feel helpless when it comes to dealing with these issues. Did I say the right thing or offer the best advice? What more could I have done?

Mean girls and bullying exist in schools, but what is being done to combat it before it gets to the level that it did in Delaware?

Many schools lack counselors, who have the training and time to offer advice, peer mediation, social groups and much more. Thus, teachers are the next best resource for students who have peer issues. However, some students may not even feel comfortable taking their problems to a teacher. Then what? Students live in fear of even going to the bathroom at school?

Sure, some victims of bullying will seek help. But who is offering counseling to the mean girls? What is their motivation for acting out in such a malicious way?

School should not be a frightening place for students. However, for many it is just that. When I was bullied many moons ago, I could leave school and forget about it for a few hours. However, today’s social media ensures that bullying can occur 24/7. There is no offline.

While bullying is not likely to cease, schools need to step up their game when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with students. Support systems need to be in place for both students and teachers who oftentimes run short of knowledge and time when it comes to dealing with the emotional needs of adolescents.

So, do mean girls really mean it? Or is it a cry for help in a system that if failing them?