Monday, December 20, 2010

Poaching Snails

As a teacher, I receive boatload of Christmas presents from my students; however, each one is memorable in its own way. Perhaps because of it's practicality - dry erase markers, gallons of hand sanitizer, copy paper. Seriously, we teachers love this stuff. Perhaps because of its comedic value - anti-wrinkle cream (I'm 24, people.), deodorant, a bottle opener - yesall actual gifts this year.

Oftentimes, the stand-out gifts make me wonder how my students describe me to their parents.

"Well, mom, my English teacher is an aging alcoholic with a body odor problem and an affinity for germ-killing substances."


My favorite gifts, oftentimes, are handmade by the students.  For instance, Mr. Potato Head wrote me a children's book for Christmas. It was entertaining, which was no surprise given his previous writing. So gather round, readers. It's STORY TIME!

The Lonely Cheetah by Mr. Potato Head

Story time's over as soon as it began kiddos, but feel free to continue the discussion of today's book for extra credit.

Possible discussion questions:
1) What text-to-self connections can you draw from The Lonely Cheetah?
2) Do you think The Lonely Cheetah is an allegory? If not, is it because you can't remember can an allegory is?
3) Do you think the cheetah's position as an outcast allowed him to live outside society's norms? If so, do you think that's why he perceived the poacher's flavor to be bacon-y? Elaborate.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Eleven Wikis Leaking

Today was the last day of class before Christmas break. If you're not affiliated with the public school system, you might not be aware that schools must serve lunch every school day. So, although our only matter of business was taking the 4th period exam, we couldn't run the buses until 12:15, three hours after that was already over.

Most students are checked out, but there are a few who stay to ride the bus. It's been theorized by some teachers that many of these students are left behind intentionally by their mothers who just need three.more.hours.PLEASE of peace and quiet before the 2-week Christmas break. Regardless, downtime in a middle school classroom is simply unacceptable. It can and has led to all sorts of cockamamy high jinks that normally end in broken bones and threats of lawsuits...for the teacher.

Thus, I scrambled to find ways to fill the dead time. 

Eventually, we decided to write our own version of the 12 days of Christmas that reflected back over the main events of 2010.

First, we brainstormed all the possibilities, like any good class:

....which resulted in some interesting submissions, like:

After paring down our list to the bare necessities*, we settled on our top 12. I hope you enjoy!

On the 12th day of Christmas, 2010 gave to me...
11 Wikis Leaking
10 Saints a' Leaping
9 Chileans Mining
8 Jobs a Losing
7 Earths a Quaking
6 Brakes a Failing
5 BODY SCANS!!!! (strip searches)
4 Ipad Apps
3 Bed Bugs
And an oil spill caused by BP!

Don't let the bed bugs bite,
Ms. P

*Now you have The Jungle Book in your head.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You Come and Go

Me: (noting the punctuation in a sentence) "Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma..."

Student: (singing aloud) "chaMEleon!"

How he knew "Karma Chameleon" when he was born, ohhhhhh, FOURTEEN years after it was released...we'll never know.

In related news, one of his classmates kept referring to a certain genre of music as "classy" rock. Bless it. 

A woman without conviction,
Ms. P

The Kid Without Clean Paper

Middle schoolers are generally predictable in their unpredictability. Here's what I mean. You figure out their quirks and patterns by this time in the school year. A newcomer might find it odd that a student in my 5th period communicates primarily in various bird-like squawks and whistles; however, it would take me completely by surprise if I heard Birdboy carry on a conversation comprised of full sentences and absent of squeaks.

Birdboy, however, is not today's topic of discussion. He's predictable in his unpredictability. 

Occasionally, a student comes along who is impossible to peg. Refuses to be pigeon-holed. Would drive the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit to drink.

Meet Exhibit B: We'll call him Mr. Potato Head. His only topics of interest are very specific cartoon characters and very specific foods. Sponge Bob. Oscar the Grouch. Potatoes. Green Beans. It was muffins today. He was the author of the first Get This Kid a Book Deal. Genius right?

But then there's the side that turns this in...

Directions: Write a more descriptive synonym or phrase to improve the word choice in the journal entry.

(on a potato-fixated day, obviously)

Today's persuasive letter is my favorite surprise from Mr. Potato Head thus far, though.

It reads:

Dear Paper Makers,
      My teachers tell me to get a clean sheet of paper, but you only sell them with lines! It says loose-leaf paper, but copy paper is clean! You need to clean off these lines! NOW! (Pleas) (sic).
                                                                         The Kid Without Clean Paper, Mr. Potato Head

I guess it's true what they say. There is a fine line between genius and insanity.

Walking the line,
Ms. P

Monday, December 13, 2010

Leftovers, Part II

(Student-written similes in italics)


On the way through the cafeteria's back doors, I spied a calendar menu. Faced with the endless, wretched possibilities, I was as nervous as a pre-shaven sheep. Saying a silent prayer, “Please not chili. Please not tetrazzini. Please not beef tips,” I scanned the month looking for the date.

And though it’s not mentioned specifically on the list, let me tell you that there was also strawberry milk. Lots and lots of strawberry milk. The silver lining? Today was Friday and not Wednesday...Mexican Pizza day.
Once in the kitchen, I relayed my sad tale to the cafeteria workers. They, who truly understand how revolting middle school lunch leftovers can be, offered moral support and latex gloves. One of the few men among their ranks showed me the way to the dumpster and grabbed a milk crate. 

Now, this is the part of the story where I REALLY wish I had personal pictures to illustrate. However, as you know, my phone was somewhere in the depths of the dumpster, so you’ll just have to know that the next part went a little bit like this:

And my view was a little bit like this:

And afterwards, I looked a little bit like this:

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Before my hands were covered in flecks of chewed corn and mayonnaise, I decided to introduce myself to the kind stranger with the milk crate.
Me: You really don’t have to do this. My name is Ms. P.
Him: It’s no problem! 
Me: What’s your name? I’d like to bring you brownies to thank you on Monday.
Him: They call me BeBop.
Me: (Thinking to myself) Well if I wasn’t going to write this story up for my blog before, your name just sealed the deal, sir.

BeBop faithfully passed each black bag down to me below, and I dove in past melted sherbert, defrosted pear halves, Thursday night’s leftovers, and slobbery chicken sandwiches in search of the elusive Kroger bag.
Bag 1. Bag 2. Bag 3. Bag 4. Nothing.
Finally, at the bottom of Bag 5 was....

I spied it, red light blinking and smeared with a thick, unidentifiable substance. I slowly removed it from the filth, as carefully as a zookeeper handling an ostrich’s egg. Wiping it on my oversized t-shirt, I felt for the power button. Miraculously, it lit up! In fact, it had received both text messages and emails at some point in its journey from my classroom to the trash bag.
After a thorough bath in hand sanitizer, it is now in working order. In fact, one would never know of its sordid past, except for a faint hint of strawberry milk. The Epic is proving to be as loyal as a California King, I tell you.
Considering writing a love letter to BeBop AND Samsung,
Ms. P

Homework Assignment:
What material possession, if any, would drive you to dumpster dive?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Leftovers, Part 1

Remember when I guaranteed more student similes here? Some of those promised treasures are sprinkled throughout this entry and the next in italics.

Until now, my entries have focused mainly on student blunders - misspellings, grammatical errors, and whatnot. And if I didn’t believe in the old, “You reap what you sow,” principle before, I certainly do now. Because, folks, yesterday I blundered big time.  Perhaps it was karma. Perhaps it’s because the end of the semester has me as distracted as a dog catching a scent in the wind. Who knows? Yet in the interest of full disclosure and in providing you with a little entertainment, I’ll share my humdinger. This particular goof had an immediate consequence, just like any classroom management plan worth it’s salt.

A bit of backstory: Until about 2 months ago, I was the proud owner of a GoPhone. Nothing fancy for this public servant. Having a $25 phone bill and only being able to check Facebook the old-fashioned way made me feel like I was part some elite, ascetic club - choosing to deny myself the pleasures of multiple apps and endless portable procrastination. Then, I met the Samsung Epic. Living up to it’s name, it has Swype texting, a touchscreen, a slide-out keyboard, and all the apps a girl could desire. I bought in and, in turn, joined the more populated, hedonistic club of smartphone users. From day one, I was glued to my Epic like a newborn baby to its mom. 

Which is why, on Friday, it accompanied me to the cafeteria for lunch. Fast forward half an hour. I sat in my red, teacher’s chair traipsing through the midterm review, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was missing my Epic. I flashed back to carelessly tossing my Kroger bag of leftovers into one of the 3 industrial-sized trashcans in the cafeteria.  

Horrified, I recalled that I had carried the Epic to lunch in that very same bag and had never removed it. My shoulders dropped like the rain after a long drought, defeated. 

I instructed my students to attempt the next 5 questions on the study guide and shot across the hall to the neighboring social studies’ teacher’s room. He and the other coaches have a deal with the cafeteria ladies that they will take the trash to the dumpsters after each lunch period if they are provided with all the food growing boys could ever need. 
Me: “Coach P! I think I threw my phone away!
Chuckles flew out of him like milk out of a cow.

Me: It’s NOT funny! It’s new, and I’m on a teacher’s salary, and OF ALL THE MONTHS, I just bought all these Christmas presents!

Clearly realizing the seriousness of the situation, his laughter slowed, and he wiped the tears of joy from his eyes.

Coach P: Watch my class.
Then, he left the room and pushed through the exit door at the end of our hall, headed for the dumpster. Five minutes later, he returned without my phone and coated in unidentifiable substances from the elbows down. I was as disappointed as a farmer whose cows had been struck by lightning. That’s when we put together the following timetable. 
11:58 - Lunch ended and students went out to courtyard with teachers on duty.
12:00 - He took the trash out to the dumpster.
12:05 - I threw my bag away in the fresh bags in the cafeteria trashcans.
12:06 - I escorted my kids back to class.
12:15 - I realized my fatal error and leapt into action.
12:18 - While Coach P was searching through the 7th grade’s leftovers, the 8th grade coach threw the 8th grade’s trash (including MY bag) in the dumpster.
Therefore, MY phone was not in the bags Coach P searched through, but was in one of the three bags Coach S, the 8th grade coach, had just deposited. Perfect! (I like to think that we weren’t wasting class time, merely modeling critical thinking skills for our students.)
Realizing that I would be pushing it to beg Coach P to return to the dumpster, I informed him that I would ask another teacher to watch my class and go search myself. Armed with nothing more than fierce determination and an oversized t-shirt to wear over my work clothes, I throttled myself towards the cafeteria. At that point, I truly wished that I would have had the foresight to put “Inflatable Hazmat Suit” on last year’s Christmas list for times such as this. Hindsight is truly 20/20, dear readers.


Jealous of that guy in the green gloves,
Ms. P

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Get This Kid a Book Deal, 1

Occasionally, one of my students writes a sentence that is so clever, witty, or just darn ingenious that I am jealous that I didn't think of it first. The reader and teacher in me is thrilled and beaming; meanwhile, my inner-writer (who happens to be a self-centered, cotton-headed ninnymuggins) throws a mini pity party because a 12 year old beat me to the punch! Look, I'm not proud of it, but it is what it is.

My wise mother once advised me, "The greatest compliment to a teacher is when the student surpasses her." Or maybe I read that on a bathroom stall in the teachers' lounge. Either way, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that mommas and bathroom stalls don't lie.

Which brings me to my point. Today is the first installment of what I hope to be a regular feature here at Best in Class - "Get This Kid a Book Deal!" - where I'll share some student writing that slapped my adult self around and put her in her place.

A couple months ago, I had my kids write about a goat, sheep, or a chicken for a journal entry in class. One student wrote about a fictitious trip to a butcher's shop. This is the concluding sentence of his rough draft:
  “I had been planning on being a vegetarian, but when I went to pick up sausage from the butcher shop, my vegetarian dream was chopped up and packaged into a Styrofoam tray.”

This is the stuff New York Times' bestsellers are made of, people. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Right Reverend Redneck

I teach writing. It has it’s ups and downs. Pro: Their humorous moments as authors, both intended and not. Con: Grading 154 student essays several times in one semester, especially in this season of Bieber Fever. Trust.

However, in the midst of love letters to Mr. JB thinly veiled as the assigned narrative essay, I occasionally stumble upon a gem worth all my efforts. Such was the case when I assigned “An Informative Essay in the Classifying Voice.” (Just makes you want to whip out a pen and start scribbling away, doesn’t it!) 
Here’s another life lesson: You can make middle schoolers want to write anything, including the aforementioned essay, if you introduce it with a mentor text* that’s about boogers. 

(Sorry, Mom!) But that’s another story for another day.
Anyway, the following piece was born out of that assignment:

And if, “they love sports as much as Paula Deen loves her deep fryer,” left you hankering for more middle school similes, don’t you worry your pretty little head. They are coming your way very soon. Stay tuned!
Daughter of a Preacher Man,
Ms. P
*mentor text: teacher jargon for a piece of writing you introduce to students that they are supposed to model or mimic. Don’t say I never taught you anything! 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Six degrees of Kevin Baconce

I’ve learned a lot about my dialect while teaching. For instance, I once dictated a sentence to my 7th graders that included the word “literally”. I got back all sorts of bloggy fodder. Leaderally. Leeterully. Leeduruhlly. Reinventing the wheel, I tell you. But today, one student took the cake.
During our class spelling bee, I asked each student to fold a clean sheet of paper “hotdog style” and write his guess for each word in one column. Then, he was to write the correct spelling the remaining column.
I called out…..
n. pl. va·can·cies 
1. The condition of being vacant or unoccupied.
2. An empty or unoccupied space.
3. A position, office, or place of accommodation that is unfilled or unoccupied.
4. Emptiness of mind; inanity.
And I received…..

In his defense, it was first period, and he is the child who often bums a granola bar off me. Furthermore, he’s known to go to great lengths to convince his classmates to bring socks to donate to the homeless after a donut party was offered to the class with the largest contribution. Perhaps he was hungry?

One strategy I often teach them in class is – If you can’t go over it, go around it. If you know spelling isn’t your strong suit, there are always synonyms for those tricky words. 
So a note to Mister Baconce: If you ever own a hotel, sweet spelling-challenged dear, may I suggest you avoid a Vacancy sign altogether? Perhaps, you might look into “Empty Beds,” “More Cockroaches than Clients,” or “We’re Desperate,” signs. GO AROUND IT.
Ms. P

Monday, December 6, 2010

Heaven, help us.

My Directions: Fill in the blank with an appropriate HELPING VERB (as in: is, was, should have been).

1) I ___________ laughing at Chris Rock.

Student answer:
"I up in the house laughing at Chris Rock."

It's so good I almost want to crochet it on a pillow for my house. 

I will defend myself by mentioning that this was part of a PRE-test - meaning that I can not be considered responsible for this answer in any way, shape, or form.

Clearly the best teacher ever,
Ms. P