Tag Archives: Middle School

Thanks-vember 15: That’s so…

15 Nov

Today, I was thinking about words. Specifically, words that hurt. Words that make people feel like they are less than human. Words that have somehow become a part of “normal” speech. Words like “gay” and “retarded” – when they are used as synonyms for “bad,” “dumb,” “stupid,” etc…

The school culture at my middle school placement is such that these words are not used (at least not in my hearing). Kids are still kids, but these particular kids have been in school together, more or less, since kindergarten. Bullying is not a big problem at our school. All the kids are “different” in one way or another, and no one seems to be singled out.

I know it’s not like that at all schools. I know we are in a nice little bubble of respect, where students and teachers can mostly coexist happily. But I want it to be like that at all schools, no matter what the socioeconomic status of students, no matter what their neighborhood, no matter what their background. It’s not that way now, but maybe it could be. If we treat our students with respect, and expect them to act respectfully towards us and towards each other, isn’t that a huge step in the right direction?

Today, I am thankful for all the people in the world working towards ending hatred, ending bullying, and ending the idea that the word “gay” is a synonym for “stupid” or worse. I’m thankful for people who make things like this:

And for musicians like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who create songs like this one:


Macklemore is really popular with my 7th graders, and really popular with my friends. It’s awesome to see someone with a lot of influence with such a positive message.  Words are powerful, and I think we need to make sure we are teaching our students to use the right ones.


Thanks-Vember 10 – Teachers who make a difference

10 Nov

In my entire schooling history, I have been lucky to have some really amazing teachers. Yes I had a few that were not great, unfortunately, but the ones that stand out had great positive impact on my life – and pushed me towards the idea of becoming a teacher myself.

In middle school, my Language Arts and Social Studies teachers taught with such enthusiasm and joy, it infected us students. We became joyful learners. We were given freedom and control of our own learning. I sometimes see my old classmates, and we still discuss the work we did in middle school. People wrote skits, performed songs. A stage was set up on a regular basis in our classroom. On more than one occasion, entire bands (drum kit, guitar amps, microphones, monitors, speakers, etc…) were set up on that stage, and songs were played about The Ramayana, The Odyssey, and The Declaration of Independence. We were treated with respect and understanding – something that can be difficult to do with 6th-8th graders.

I also began performing in middle school. I learned to play the bass guitar and the french horn, and joined the drama club. I discovered that even though I was a shy, quiet, nerdy girl in the classroom, I didn’t have to be that onstage. In 8th grade, supported by my teachers and classmates, I won our school’s annual Lip Sync. It was a big deal in Middle School, and even though a long time has passed, people still recognize me from that moment. It was my taste of fame, and I immediately wanted more. I never would have done it if my teachers hadn’t provided me with the opportunity to discover what it felt like to perform.

In high school, as many people do, I struggled to fit in. I didn’t go to the high school that my middle school fed into. Instead, encouraged by one of my friends, I enrolled in the school that my neighborhood was supposed to feed into. I wasn’t sure who I was, in this group of new people. With the help of my English teacher I discovered I was a writer and a reader, even more than I had realized. With the help of the band director I discovered I was part of a family of crazy band members – and an actual musician. When I joined the drama class, I directed shows. I organized fundraisers. I became a performer, once again. I was asked to be a Teachers Assistant my senior year, and ended up teaching most of the beginning drama class. Except for the day two football players picked me up and held me in the air for the whole class, it went well. I loved it. I loved drama and I loved teaching, and I had the realization that these two things could go hand in hand.

All these teachers have one thing in common – they gave me a voice, and listened to me. They handed me the reins to my own education and let me drive – with a little guidance. In To Teach, Bill Ayers says: “Teachers must be experts and generalists, psychologists and cops, rabbis and priests, judges and gurus, and, paradoxically, students of our students.” (p 17) I know what I learned from my teachers – I wonder what they learned from me.

Thanks-vember 8

8 Nov

I’m sleepy, so this is short, but I’ve got a double-thanks for you all.

1) I’m thankful for my Dyad partner, and the students we work with. I taught a 2-period block humanities class today, on Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. It went really well, especially for my first time teaching a lesson on my own. Hooray! (I’m also thankful for my mentor teacher helping me plan, and for Sherman Alexie who wrote such an amazing book.)

2) I’m thankful for all the theatre in Seattle. I met my lovely man-friend in a show. I met most of my Seattle friends through theatre. And tonight we saw a free show, with many amazing actors, and blood, and gore, and Shakespeare. (Or at least, probably Shakespeare.) Greenstage, famous for their summer “Shakespeare in the Park” shows, also puts on what they call a “Hard Bard” show every year – Shakespeare (or one of his contemporaries), made ridiculously, over-the-top gory. There is a splash zone. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s amazing. This year’s Hard Bard show is Cardenio, which, even in it’s original form, is fairly over the top and messed up. If you’re into awesome, graphic, gory theatre, I highly recommend seeing the show.

Middle School, and a missing part of history

20 Oct

Guys, I love teaching in middle school so much.

Yesterday, my Dyad partner and I team-taught a 45 minute lesson in 7th grade humanities.

The students read and thoughtfully discussed four articles about the use of Native American imagery in sports mascots, as an introduction to their Native American Culture unit, which includes reading Sherman Alexie’s amazing young adult book, Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (if you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. Alexie is a local author, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He writes mostly about life as a Native American in the modern world – his writing is amazingly powerful.)
Our lesson, which was suggested by our co-teacher, was thrown together at the last minute – on Wednesday she realized that our class was a day ahead of schedule, so asked us if we wanted to teach on Thursday. Considering we had about 12 hours to plan, I think our lesson went extremely well.

The articles we had the students read were a mix of local pieces about a recent recommendation by the Washington State Board of Education for schools to do away with Native American Mascots, opinion pieces about the use of Native American Mascots, and a piece from 2005 about the NCAA’s ban on “hostile or offensive” mascots and nicknames. If you’re interested, you can check them out:

Native American Mascots Challenged in Washington

Lose the Indian Mascots

NCAA American Indian Mascot Ban

Time to Rethink Native American Imagery
The discussion went really well – these 7th graders had some really great things to say. However, one student made a comment that surprised me: “When we think of racism, we think of slavery and how horrible that was – but nothing bad like that really happened to Native Americans so we don’t automatically think of racism being against them.”

I had to have him clarify his statement because I was confused – by 7th grade, students haven’t learned about The Trail Of Tears? About forcing Native children to attend boarding school to erase their “Indian-ness?” About the Indian Removal Act? Apparently not – and come to think of it, I’m not sure I knew about those things by 7th grade, either. The history of the systematic destruction of the native peoples of North America is missing from our education system. Why? Because we are embarrassed? Because it makes us look bad? Because it opposes the view of early America as a vast open wilderness, waiting for Americans to make it what it is today?

I was struck with the horrible thought that our lesson, though well planned and interesting, was actually irrelevant because these students were lacking the background to understand all the issues. If that is the case, where do we start? When do we start? How do we start?

Screen Time

15 Oct

Last week’s post brought up some interesting discussion, both in blog-land and in class. My professor summed it up like this:

Talking about “too much technology” in schools is similar to talking about “too much paper in schools.” It’s a medium to use: a tool, not a subject.

If technology is used positively and in a well-managed way, then yes, it can be a great tool for teaching and learning. However, there is a large difference between passively staring at a screen and learning from a tool. This New York Times article from last fall discusses the “app gap” – the different types of screen time high- and low-income children are getting. The gist of it is, children from higher-income families spend time playing educational apps, while children from low-income families watch television.

So what does this mean? It means that some children – higher income children – are going to be prepared for a world where information is at their fingertips. A world where someone can go on a hike, discover an interesting plant, take a picture of it and immediately have information about the plant. A world where their curiosity can be sated instantaneously. Other children – low income children – are going to be prepared to be entertained and receive information passively (if at all). They will lack curiosity and the desire to learn new things.

Additionally, in my opinion, it means that children are spending far too much time in front of screens – nearly 2 hours a day watching TV or something similar, and less than a half hour a day reading or being read to. Even if children are watching “educational” television, they are sitting passively and not interacting. They might learn something, but only what the educational show is teaching – their curiosity isn’t piqued, their minds aren’t expanding, and they aren’t using the tools available to us in our modern technological world.

We have all this technology – and it’s obvious children are going to spend time with it, so the question is: What can we do with these awesome new learning tools?

A Study in Contrast

5 Oct

This was the first week of my Middle School placement, and I am struck by so many contrasting ideas and realities, I’m not really sure where my head is. Yes, I went from third grade to middle school; from 8-year-olds to 14-year-olds, but there is so much more to it than that. I went from a low-income school to a private school with tuition higher than mine. I went from a school where not all families have enough food, to one where each student has his or her own laptop.

The kind of teaching done at this private school is remarkable: teachers work together to create their curriculum, to suit the needs of the school and their students. Since private school are exempt from our state testing, the teachers are not teaching to a test, but instead teaching for content and understanding. Is this a better method of schooling? I am not sure yet, but I am forming opinions. The teachers not only have freedom from tests, they also have the resources available to do things like purchase several different class sets of textbooks, and draw their lessons from many different curricula.

Additionally, as I mentioned above, each student in their upper division (middle school) has their own laptop. I came from an elementary school with a set of 5-year old laptops per three classrooms. Students are mostly unfamiliar with technology beyond video games, and the idea of taking a computerized test is daunting for many of them. But, is it really better to have our children tied to technology? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time for school-aged children. Should that limit include “educational” programs and homework?

I’m currently reading two books – Independence Days by Sharon Astyk and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. They are both about the importance of living our lives closer to nature. Sharon Astyk focuses on our food sources, and specifically in Independence Days, about storing and preserving local food so we rely less on the global industrial food complex, which she argues is unsustainable and too reliant on fossil fuels. (Her blog is a great read if you’re interested.) Richard Louv is the inspiration for the “No Child Left Inside” movement, who argues that children today suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder,” meaning they are disconnected from nature, instead focused on television, video games, and computers. He argues that this rise in technological addiction is directly linked to the rise in childhood obesity, depression, and attention disorders.

Both of these authors have my mind whirring and wheeling. I am having an extremely difficult time finding a balance between my belief that we need to live closer to nature, and my belief that children need access to current technologies in order to succeed in today’s world. If you can’t type or operate a computer, you will not get a job today – and what will it be like 10 years from now? However, the more we focus on technology, the less we seem to focus on the world around us.

Two years ago, I listened to this short segment on my local NPR station about an Outdoor-Only Kindergarten on Vashon Island, WA. It still sticks with me. It rains on Vashon, a lot, and yet these students don’t spend any time indoors. They are experiencing the world instead of reading about it. They are learning to interact with natural occurrences such as rain, mud puddles, and giant banana slugs.

Is there a happy medium between our increasingly tech-hungry world and living close to nature?

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