Monday, January 31, 2011

The Retrospect Project, 2: Hunter Harris's Story

For a little background on The Retrospect Project, read this.
To read the introduction to today's author and his story, go here.

Without further ado...Hunter Harris's hilarious retrospective moment, which I'd like to call...

"The Boy with the Green Hair"

"I’ll be honest—I was not the coolest kid in middle school. In seventh grade, I was 6’4”, and I weighed barely 170 pounds. Needless to say, I was already fairly noticeable. Add large-frame glasses to that equation, and you have a unique combination of nerd. As a gangly, awkward being, I desperately needed an opportunity to put forward the “correct” image that my classmates (namely the girls) could appreciate.

See that kiddo with the goofy grin? Yeah, that would be him.

I had two musical inspirations for my new look. First, boy bands were still popular, though they were starting to decline. Now, I did not personally care for them, but girls loved them. I noted that they especially appreciated the blonde band members like Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter, and Lance Bass (in hindsight, how ironic). 

Backpacks, lunchboxes, and t-shirts with various quartets dominated the hallways. The boys knew that we had to at least pretend to appreciate the boy band genre if we were going to stand as sensitive, caring guys. 
Secondly, Eminem had just released The Marshall Mathers LP. If Eminem is popular now, he was almost god-like in the early 2000s. You had 0 street cred unless you could rap “The Way I Am” or “The Real Slim Shady.” Considering I went to a middle school that had an African American population that equaled upwards of eighty percent, Eminem gave the “white boys” a chance to be cool. I reveled in the opportunity. I had white t-shirts and black, baggy jeans, but I just couldn’t yet pay proper homage. 

As a brunette, I knew that Mother Nature had not blessed me with golden locks at that age, so, like millions of people each year, I planned to bleach my hair. Unfortunately, I had a mother with enough sense to forbid me to do something so ridiculous (I eventually wore her down next year, but that’s an entirely different, ridiculous story). Without the courage to disobey her or the finances to purchase blonde hair dye, I was left with very little opportunity to improve my lot in life. “Fortunately” for me, I was a fairly resourceful kid. I remembered that my brother and I had been given sidewalk chalk the previous Christmas.

Per my logic, yellow sidewalk chalk was just a slight downgrade from peroxide. Without testing how the chalk looked in my hair, I scraped the chalk all over my scalp before strutting to the school bus. Had my bus driver not been so apathetic that he actually looked at the students that rode his bus, my expressionist journey might have ended there. Also, my family lived in a rural area, so I was the oldest student to ride the bus, thus making me automatically cool to the elementary kids. With both of these factors in my favor, I felt like a king by the time we pulled onto campus. 

To make the story a bit more concise, I’ll just say that my hair was a huge hit—just not in the way I expected. When my peers saw my hair during our pre-class congregation, they did not become instantly jealous or attracted, as I hoped. No, they laughed. Uncontrollably. Our assistant principal (thank God for small mercies), hearing the cackling of my friends, found me, and quickly escorted me to the boys’ bathroom. I knew I only had one option to save myself from detention—head dunking. Left alone to my shameful enterprise, I noticed my hair for the first time in the mirror above one of the sinks. Instead of the crisp, golden base I expected, my hair was closer to a lime-green hue. 

Instead of Eminem or Mr. Timberlake, I looked more akin to Joey Fatone. Joey was not cool; Joey was never cool. If the shame wasn’t enough, I had to go to the rest of my classes with the helmet that grows from my wet, unbrushed hair. 
I learned that day that I was better off just accepting my own nerd-dom, rather than trying to cultivate a non-organic persona. Though it was a long road, I learned to appreciate my potential, rather than prop up my deficiencies. And, years later, I found friends, even potential dates, that could appreciate the nerd in me."

I really don't think I could have topped that story. And what a fantastic "moral." Do you have a story to share? If so, email it to Ms. P at

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Retrospect Project: Hunter Harris

Tomorrow, I'll post the second installment of The Retrospect Project. This one is particularly hilarious. I read this witty gem to my students last week, and these were some of their questions and comments for the author, Hunter Harris:

1) "Is he an adult now?"
2) "I felt like he has been where I am now."
3) "Is he married?"
4) "I like his word choice. I especially liked the big words I didn't understand.
5) "I like how he knows he's a nerd."

Interview with Hunter to whet your appetite:

Ms.P: Describe an everyday outfit for you at the time of the story.
Hunter: I was a JNCO jeans fan. Being abnormally tall, my pants weren't as baggy as some of my peers. In fact, they actually fit properly, much to my chagrin. 
Ms. P: Who was your middle school celebrity obsession?
Hunter: Even though she was a little bit ahead of my time, I crushed Lisa Loeb pretty hard. Oh, I also remember being in love with every member of 3LW at some point or another.

Ms.P: What was your dream job at the time?
Hunter: I wanted to go to Harvard and become a chemist. I distinctly remember telling my parents that I didn't want to go to Harvard during one of my pubescent blowups. Geez, I was such a vindictive dweeb.

Ms. P: Sum up your middle school experience in one word.
Hunter: Well-intended.

Baby Hunter says, "Read Best in Class tomorrow. I will not let you down."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Teachers: Cat Hoarders or Villains?

Today's assignment: Students were to freewrite for half a page on any topic, as long as they included their spelling words. 

Freewriting may sound like a bit of a cop-out on my part, but you have no idea how much they beg me to do this. They love being able to write in any mode on any topic, and of course the results always surprise me. 

Like today's featured piece. The student CLAIMS that her piece is purely fiction, but I have my...ahem...doubts.  Decide for yourself....

"The leisure time people have is mostly there (sic) sacred time to do what they want. As I sit in class, I wonder what my crazy teacher does in her free time. I receive papers from her. I see her everyday and eat lunch with her. I picture her in a library or a house filled with cats. 

She could be a thief or a villain. But that’s impossible because she flinches when a pencil hits the ground. I look to the ceiling imagining what she would do -

 read books, write books, talk to her mom, call her seemingly limited amount of friends. As I review the options waving in my head, I realize I might just have had too many protein bars this morning for breakfast. My teacher roams the room taking up the test, and I just drop the subject. I guess I will never know what she does."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Damn Good Sentence Contest, Part 2

I debuted the Damn Good Sentence Contest on Monday. It's a bit of a competition where you vote for your favorite one of my students' sentences in the comment section OR on facebook.

Sentences that make you say "Then What?!"
1) I walked out of the room feeling confident that today was going to be easy, but if that was true, then turtles hunt bears with ray guns.

2) Two fatal gunshots rang out.
3) Right before I opened my mouth for disapproval, his furious, hungry scissors ate away at my hair like a parasite.

4) Uncertain, I started to creep forward, but with all my best efforts I still couldn’t help from snapping a few dried up twigs. 
5) I would rather give The Count the wrong number of the day. I’d rather be lactose intolerant and try the gallon milk challenge than be by this kid. I would rather watch Glee. I’d rather clean a gas station bathroom. I would rather staple my eyes shut and run around busy streets.

Pick your favorite. I know mine.

Just a thought.

In Mississippi, the average daily cost per inmate for 2010 was $39.56. Multiply that by 365 days, and that equals $14,439.40 for one year.

Mississippi's average yearly cost per student? $7,890.00.

I went to college.

Believe it or not. Want proof?

I was recently interviewed about Best in Class on my alumni association's blog. Read the interview here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Damn Good Sentence Contest, Part 1

If you are reading this entry, consider yourself a judge. 

A judge in the "Damn Good Sentence" contest. It starts today, ends on Saturday, and will come in 3 waves. All sentences were pulled from my students' personal narratives. 

Today is the Most Cleverly Descriptive Contest. Wednesday will be the Most Suspenseful Contest. Friday will be the Most Quietly Brilliant Contest.

You have 3 votes. One in each category. Use them wisely, and leave them in the comment section. Voting will be closed on Saturday evening. 


1) My elbow. It looked like an antelope freshly punctured by a lioness.
2) “Go, go, go!” my coach said, wagging his hand like a dog’s tail.
3) I watched as the drops of blood were pulled and stretched into bands in the dirty tub water.
4) She had snipped and snipped so much until she made two gigantic triangles that looked like the pyramids of Giza. Apparently she had been studying geometry, because she not only made those triangles but also a square on one sideburn and a circle on the other.
5) We were heading to the door like a train about to run off the tracks, except there was no Superman there to help us.
6) There were low branches that hung thin curtains of leaves over the rushing water and the silent rocks that held many secrets. Squirrels tangoed through the trees in rhythm.
7) It was a dust bunny with golden glitter eyes - from St. Patrick’s Day when we were covered with it by leprechauns during nap time - and one shiny staple for a mouth.
8) My brother’s long, brown hair flopped around like a bloodhound’s ears when it finds a rabbit.

Vote or die,
Ms. P

Friday, January 21, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

Today, my students got to be celebrity writers as part of the publishing party for our personal narratives. I got the idea to interview them from here.

Here is the interview sheet that I created. 

(Teachers, if you want this, I will email you a pdf version of it for free.)

When I planned this lesson, the main goal was for them to began to identify as writers. But, as always, they surprised me. As I reviewed the responses, I realized that I was gobbling up their "advice to young writers on writing." It was so enlightening. This is what I love so much about middle schoolers. Just when you think they aren't listening, they will shock you with their insight. 

"19 Bits of Advice for Writers"
By: Ms. P's 7th Graders

1) ”Just write. Don’t let people tell you that you will never be a writer, you’re too young, or you’re way too undetailed (sic). You can do anything.”

2) ”Just think of something exciting or something that you’re into and just write what you can and remember to write something that makes you want to keep writing.”

3) ”Never give up on writing, and writing won’t give up on you.”

4) ”Just write about anything on your mind. Don’t worry if it is ‘crappy’.”

5) ”Never give in - just write down what comes to mind. Then if you’ve found something you like, go on that.”

6) ”Be an inspiration.”

7) "Always write about something you remember very well.”

8) "When you write, you should put emotion in it because if you are writing about that subject you have a reason you’re writing about it, so put emotion in it.”

9) ”When you have an idea, don’t wait before you write it. Write it down somewhere before you forget all the details.”

10) ”When you like writing, keep writing. It helps you bring out your thoughts.”

11) “Writing helps you please your emotions. Writing helps you bring out your inner feelings.”

12) ”In your life, you may think there’s nothing to write about. All you need to do is think about that little things that matter to you. You are the author. You are the only one the story has to please.”

13) ”You first piece will not be your best. Don’t give up.”

14) ”Write what your heart speaks.”

15) ”Be yourself. Don’t try and be a different person when writing. If you’re a nerd, be a nerd! If you’re shy, be shy! If you’re enthusiastic, be enthusiastic.”

16) ”No matter what people may think, write.”

17) ”Don’t be afraid to write just the truth.”

18) ”I once read in a book to ‘catch fireflies.’ Write down everything you think of, even if it’s stupid. Then making it yours is fun.”

19) ”If you feel it needs to be on paper, then put it there. No matter what anyone thinks.”

Taking notes from these guys,
Ms. P

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Write from Your Full-Sized Aortic Pump

"Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word."
Stephen King

Remember when we talked about thesauri? Well, I promised you the rest of the story, so here we go.

In the past when I've introduced my students to the thesaurus, I always follow it up by showing this clip from Friends. (Minus those first few seconds, of course.) 

If you're so much in love with my blog that you hate to stray to Youtube (sarcasm), let me give you a quick synopsis. Joey is writing a letter of recommendation to an adoption agency for Monica and Chandler. Worried that he won't be taken seriously because of his...ahem...lack of intellect, Ross introduces him to a thesaurus. 

When it comes to words, my students think like Joey. Bigger is better. Because everyone wants to sound smart, right? Unfortunately when you let a 7th grader loose with a wealth of strange, unwieldy synonyms, their writing can become a bit of a communication nightmare. 

For some reason, I never got around to the "Bless His Heart, but Don't be a Joey" lesson this year. However, a few recent student sentences have convinced me that it's time to bring it back. 

This is where you come in. Can you figure out what their pre-thesaurus sentences must have been?

REAL student writing:

1) "We convened subordinate to the towering bark fortress."

2) "This holiday, we indulged in some beautification novelty trimming."

3) "I unfurled my protection system from the precipitation."

4) And one of my personal favorites, from the reading fair today:

"These three children used to be so blithe, it was hard to explicate."

When I happen across one of these sentences in student writing, I gently pull them aside and quote Chandler's advice to Joey:

 "You don't need a thesaurus. Just write from here (motions towards heart) - your full-sized, aortic pump."

Armed with a thesaurus,
Ms. P

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thank God for Mississippi, part 2

"Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid."
Albert Einstein

Answers to these questions:
Did you get all 3 right? You are ADVANCED in 7th grade Language Arts in the state of MS.
Did you get 2 right? You are PROFICIENT in 7th grade Language Arts in the state of MS.
Did you get 1 right? You have a MINIMAL understanding of 7th grade Language Arts.
Did you get 0 right? You have a BASIC understanding of 7th grade Language Arts.

So, here are the problems.

1) Our tests are flawed.
And it's not just Mississippi. See some ridiculously bad test items here. Think about it. The statistics that are being used against us (For example - 47% of 7th graders are not "proficient" in reading and writing.) are based on whether or not our still-cognitively-developing students can parse questions like these. 

Questions that grown, college-educated adults have difficulty understanding. Is it possible that our schools are being measured with a broken ruler? Is the test just plain unfair? 

2) Every state takes a different test.

Don't believe me? Believe wiki. :)

How can we possibly compare scores from dozens of different tests as if they are the same one?

All the educational rankings that you read now are distorted. No scientist or researcher would trust data from an experiment with this many confounding factors. As educational researchers, we need to "control" our data by eliminating these extraneous factors. Only then can we see the TRUE state of America's education system. Flawed statistics will yield flawed solutions.

If we're going to be a data-driven education system, at least let it be valid data.

Now, what is the solution?
1) Solution 1: Common core standards. 
Now in non-teacher jargon - all states teaching the same things in the same grade year. Right now, every state has a different list of standards. that means if someone moves from Mississippi to New York, he isn't necessarily on the same page in school.

If we adopt a common core, we can all participate in the second solution.

2) Solution 2: A national test taken by all 50 states
If we are all taking the same test, then we can really see where each stands. Also, if every state is paying for this test, then hopefully its questions will be held to a higher level of accountability. We can then expect them to be written more clearly. Thus, the scores will be more accurate. 

Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but maybe then a reading test will actually judge a student's ability to read, not her ability to take a standardized test.

How can you help?

1) Educate yourself.
            A) Explore online:
                 -Fair Test
                 -The Huffington Post
                 -The Daily Riff
                 -The Innovative Educator's "We Would Prefer not to Take your Tests"
            B) Read a book:
                 -Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade
                 -Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us
                 -Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It
                 -The Death and Life of the Great American School System

2) Educate your circle.
         Once you learn a little bit, open your mouth and don't stop talking. In the current culture of education reform, the voice of the teacher is under-respected. The voice of YOU, the concerned citizen, is king. So, please, speak. 

If you're hankering for the Mississippi Department of Education's contact information after struggling with these questions, I'd be more than happy to provide it. Tell them Ms. P sent you. And if you're waiting for the punchline of this normally-amusing blog, look in the mirror, Mississippi. This post is more of a dark comedy.

ADVANCED but only because I have access to the answers,
Ms. P