February 9

Running to Stand Still*

When I went through teacher training, it was at the elementary level (grades K-6), and learning centers were simply something we did. Most of the time, the stations were created so students could cycle through three to four learning activities over the course of a few days. Often times, the teacher was stationed with a reading group, providing some much needed one-on-one time. But at the middle school level, it is slightly more challenging because more is required of the students. In elementary classes, the most coveted station was usually some kind of game (anyone remember queueing for Oregon Trail only to have the wagon tip over and everyone drowned?). Now, games are old hat.

Students used task cards to locate prepositional phrases. The sentences based on Riverdale and The Flash were huge hits!

Several years ago, prior to our students having a one-to-one set up with computers, I had stations for six days that rotated in the middle of a writing unit. Two of the days involved revision – one with peers and one with me –  while the other four centered on grammar and vocabulary. So much planning went into a rotation such as this. I had colored folders and papers and magnets and baskets, but it worked for the most part. For some reason, I stopped running centers after a couple of years because they took so much time to organize, and using them again required being at the same place each year if I wanted to reuse them. Never happened – I’ve never been in the same place in our curriculum at the same time of the year, so reusing the centers was basically a non-starter.

But this time, I opted to take out the revision and conferencing and instead have the students focus entirely on one specific skill or unit. The stations that I created all had to do with prepositional phrases and gave the students more practice to identify and use the phrases correctly in context. It was a lot harder than I thought to come up with five distinct tasks for my students to create, but I wanted to make sure that they could complete them collaboratively and that they involved a fair amount of writing. If all they were doing was simple identification, then a worksheet would accomplish the same task. The five tasks that I included were: descriptive paragraph using prepositional phrases; analyze a passage from a novel and create new prepositional phrases; generate a list of prepositional phrases to describe a Google Doodle; figure out the prepositional phrase based on context only; and simple prepositional phrase identification using task cards. Even though my directions were crystal clear, I found that I needed to visit each group – beginning with the Google Doodle station – to make sure that everyone understood the directions. In the end, I truly felt as if I were running to stand still because I never seemed to make it any further than where I was.

One of the stations was to describe this photo and determine where it was taken using a clue in the caption

There are a lot of pros and cons for stations (or centers) in a middle school setting:


  • movement in the classroom
  • collaboration with peers
  • differentiation of materials
  • not just a worksheet
  • multiple attempts at success
  • many more opportunities to use the chosen concept in writing


  • lots of talking, which can get out of hand
  • possibility for one person to take over the group
  • need for incredibly clear directions and the need to read them (not really a con but so many of my kiddos said they didn’t understand what they needed to do and yet did not read the directions)
  • So. Much. Time – this took at least two full class days

In the end, was I glad that I used stations to teach prepositional phrases? Yes. Would I do this again? Probably, but with some modifications. Creating the stations took a lot of work because I laminated all of the task cards and papers so they could be used again next year. While I liked my students getting the opportunity to work with their peers, I know that there was the chance that several people would rely on their group members to get their answers, and this practice would not be of real benefit for them. If I did this again, I would probably restructure it so that we didn’t spend as much time on the stations.

*If you haven’t figured it out by now, I really love song lyrics. Like a lot a lot love song lyrics. I would happily debate why certain song lyrics are more resonant or why the final 43 seconds of U2’s “Gloria” might be the most perfect 43 seconds ever (watch the whole thing or skip ahead to 3:00, but trust me on this one). The title for this post is from another U2 song, and when I decided to give stations a whirl, I started humming it nonstop for a few days.

January 5

Because the Hook Brings You Back

Full disclosure: I have a thing for song lyrics, so if you are singing this song now then a) I’m so, so sorry and b) you are of a “certain” age and c) it has nothing to do with this post other than discussing hooks.

Teaching requires hooks all the time. Take a look at Matt Miller’s post about hooks if you don’t believe me (or just read it because it is good and you do believe me). Thinking back to teacher prep courses, I guess you would call this your anticipatory set, but you get in a rut sometimes and forget about the hook. Sometimes you just need to dive right in and get to work, so your warm-ups just take the place of the hook and that magic gets lost in the fray.

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to try out a new hook that I’m still on the fence about. In all honesty, I still think this might be nothing more than a shiny geegaw in the classroom; others might find it more beneficial than I do. Perhaps it is the content I teach or the way this type of technology is used, but I’m not sure. What am I talking about? Virtual reality (VR) in the classroom!

At the end of last year, our tech consultants asked if I would be interested in trying out the district’s Google Expeditions set with my students in the upcoming school year. For the first year, the set – 30 Viewmaster-style VR headsets, mobile devices, wireless router, and tablet for the teacher-leader – resided in a kindergarten classroom and received tons of use. The kindergarteners “took” trips to the Arctic, outer space, and zoos. Later in the year, when a new student from China joined their class, the students familiarized themselves with their new classmate’s homeland during a VR expedition to China. Taking a PD session from the kindergarten teacher really hit home why this type of technology would be important for opening up the world to students who might lack the background knowledge. But in a writing classroom? I still was not sold.

So, back to the query about using it in my classroom. I scoured the Google Expeditions app to see if there were any connections to stories that my students might be reading or topics they were learning about in science or social studies and came up with nothing. Truly – there was virtually nothing in there for us. However, in using Google Cardboard in a previous class on emerging technologies, I remembered an app from TimeLooper, which took viewers back in time to see how the locations changed. Good news: they had an Expedition. Bad news: it was different from the Cardboard app. Even though it was different (no sound, no timey-wimey stuff), I still appreciated their attention to detail in the expedition that they had: iconic New York City landmarks. But how to tie this to writing? Think, think, think . . .

A few days prior to our expedition, a huge container showed up in my classroom. Body-sized is about the best descriptor I can think of. Several kids noticed it in my classroom. “What is that?” they would point. “Oh, that. It’s a time-travel machine.” You would be surprised how many kids just shrugged and got on with their day. Lucky for me, our tech consultants – three of our four extremely talented teachers came to spend the day with us – had the set up down to a science, so we had our headsets ready to go in a few minutes. Because the kindergarteners had worked out so many of the kinks, the students had extremely clear-cut directions about how to use the headsets: put the safety strap around your wrist; you can turn around but one part of your body must be touching the desk (hip, hand, leg); if you get dizzy, just take the viewer from your face; the leader can see your bubbles on the screen; and have fun.

We told the students very little about the expedition other than we were going to explore some locations in New York City during the past 250+ years. The first stop, Federal Hall in the late 1700s, no longer stands in New York City but served as a great jumping off point. But the next stop brought the most gasps: in the middle of the Empire State Building during its construction. Picture this. You’re on a cobble-stone street looking at George Washington, and in a split second, you are seemingly in the middle of the air, balanced on a steel girder. If you ever need to bring yourself out of a funk, try this with a group of seventh graders. Trust me when I say that their gasps and oohs did not get old that day. After the Empire State Building, we jumped ahead a few years to Rockefeller Center’s construction, then to VJ Day in the middle of Times Square when a famous kiss was captured, and then finally to 2015 and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable day in room 217.

But now what? Because so far we had a gimmick. A shiny bauble. Something to do and talk about when parents asked, “What did you do today in school?” But what we really had was a hook . . . for writing.

The next day, we spent a lot of time discussing what we knew prior to the expedition, what we learned, and what we saw. Did we fill out a KWL chart? No, but we certainly could have modified one and created it. The students came up with a lot of really interesting observations (Did you notice the woman with her head missing in the fourth location? How about the way the two buildings looked during construction? I went home and looked up that location, and you were right: Alexander Hamilton is buried down the street.) but still more questions. Sounds like a good opportunity to research some of these places, which was perfect because expository writing was the next unit for our class.

Each table was assigned a specific location, and for the next day, students individually researched their locations and compiled a list of facts. After that, they shared their information and collaborated on a master list of facts, ideas, and information. The final two days, the students worked to create a sample textbook page using a LucidPress template I created. They had to determine who did what in their groups and produce a final product that would educate someone new to the area about these five locations. When we returned from Thanksgiving break, we broke the locations down a bit further and compiled a huge list of topics inspired by the places, and anything was game if you could justify it. Revolutionary War fashion, depiction of historical figures, construction techniques, history of photography, Thanksgiving traditions, women and the war effort. Basically, if you could explain how you were inspired to look into this topic based on one of the five locations, you could research it. Sure, you could take the boring route (the history of the Empire State Building) but why not look at something more interesting (3-D representation of locations). Right now, we have completed the research and written a draft. The next step is to take the drafts and turn them into infographics, which I figure will take about a week since the hard part – the writing – is basically completed.

Will I use virtual reality in the classroom again? Probably. Do I think it’s the be all, end all? No. You really have to figure out how it will work best for you and your students; otherwise, it is nothing more than a shiny gimmick. For my kids, it was a hook to get them into their next type of writing and to allow them a choice about a topic they found interesting. Obviously, some of them chose safer topics such as straight-forward historical research, but for the ones who picked something different such as building techniques and their evolution, I doubt they would have discovered this had it not been for a trip through time to visit Federal Hall.


  1. Super engaging for your students – I don’t think I’ll ever forget some of their gasps!
  2. Introduces them to new locations or concepts
  3. Relatively easy to use (provided you don’t have a major technology fail – our district has a dedicated router that travels in the kit because Google Expeditions relies on all devices streaming at the same time)
  4. Better realism in virtual field trips


  1. Expense – I know I am privileged to work in a district that values technology
  2. Limitations for your content – I struggled to find anything that “fit” my content, which is writing
  3. Lack of sound and video – I think I was expecting the same thing as Google Cardboard, which had both; maybe the VR that you select will have that
  4. The next class – my kids were completely wiped out for their math class!
October 5

Beginning Again

Earlier this year, I made it a goal to blog on a regular basis, and I was doing really well . . . for three weeks. Last week, however, I fell off my schedule, but this week, I am getting back up and trying again. One of these weeks, I’ll get around to sharing my organizational structure, but since I’m convinced that it only makes sense to me, that post might be a long way away.

A few days ago, I started blogging with my students again. Last year was the first year in which I took the plunge to begin blogging, but it fell apart for a variety of reasons. My student teacher struggled with teaching the content, and by the time she left, I was doing so much to catch the students up that blogging was left in the rearview mirror. However, when I decided to try this again, I knew that a few things needed to change from my perspective. First and foremost, I needed a checklist for guidelines and grading so the students could see what they needed to do while they were accomplishing their tasks.

Tis a lovely shade of pink . . . I hope they can find it amongst the white pages

‘Tis a lovely shade of pink . . . I hope they can find it amongst the white pages

I came up with a quick, double-sided bookmark that I printed out on really obnoxious pink cardstock. We reviewed the content together so that the students know what I am looking for in each post, and we discussed the grading criteria. Most of the posts will be just regular, everyday kinds of writing, so a very generic 10 point grade seems appropriate. I wanted to make sure that my students knew exactly how they were being assessed, so on the back of the bookmark, I have the grading criteria: content, GUM (grammar, usage, and mechanics), and photo/image selection. Later this week, we will be adding a pocket to our IEN, and I’ll expect my students to keep their bookmarks in there along with other information we may clip and add throughout the year.

When I first decided to take the plunge on blogging, I thought we would be able to accomplish a year long project called “100 Things to Be Happy About,” but it turns out I was being too ambitious. Way, way, way too ambitious. This year, we’re scaling back a bit and shooting for “25 Things to Be Happy About.” If I was having a hard time coming up with 100 things, I’m sure that my students were struggling. Our first full-on brainstorming session is tomorrow, but today . . . today they are creating their first blog post about their goals for the 7th grade. I created my own sample for them to view because I think that they ought to have a model or an exemplary to look at. Here’s my model for them. Hopefully, through the use of exemplars, we can improve our writing this year. I have high hopes for my kiddos, and they know it. For me, that’s about half the battle.

September 14

When Tech Goes Low-Tech

Things I’d rather be doing right now: watching Worst Cooks in America – Celebrity Edition, snuggling with the dogs, finishing a book (preferably The Great Gatsby* and not A Short Guide to Action Research), sweeping and vacuuming**, or just about anything. Instead, I’m sitting here, trying to sum up why a teacher who wholeheartedly embraces all things technology decides to have her students keep an interactive English notebook (IEN). And pretty much, it all boils down to this: it just works.

I work in a district where I am privileged to have ample access to technology on a daily basis. For the past three school years, I’ve had a cart of Chromebooks in my classroom every single day. Yes – computers day in, day out. The first year, I thought I would let my students take notes on their Chromebooks, but a funny thing happened. They were bombing. Students were so concerned about where we were and taking down every single word that they were getting lost with the notes. They were missing the details in their desire to capture the whole thing. Later, when they tried to retrieve their notes, they struggled because they couldn’t remember what they called it or they didn’t save it in the right spot (file management is a skill, folks, and middle schoolers don’t always have it). We resorted to searching based on the day that it might have been created, and nine times out of ten, we gave up and I printed out the copy of my presentation. Come time for the test, the kids who took notes electronically didn’t always study because the Internet was down or their computer was broken or some other technology related malady. Honestly, if I was frustrated, I’m sure they were frustrated. And so, I started looking at other means to achieve this end.

A pile full of journals . . . they get better and better each year

A pile full of journals . . . they get better and better each year

About six years ago, I had dabbled with an English binder full of grading rubrics and sections and truly over the top mechanisms for organizing that only I fully understood. While I appreciated the complexity of my binder, it didn’t work for many seventh graders; I think it actually might have only worked for two seventh graders if I am being completely honest. If this organization thing was going to work, I needed something much, much simpler. After doing some research, I decided to dip my toe into the world of interactive notebooks. Basically, take a composition book – I prefer the old-fashioned black and white style marbled composition book – and create a working resource that they can utilize whenever they want (except for the high stakes tests that we take in the spring). If you start looking at Pinterest for interactive notebooks, which we call our IENs, you can get quickly overwhelmed. Honestly, some of these things are truly works of art, and while I would love to have my students create something that is breathtakingly beautiful, in the end, I want them to have something that is functional and meaningful.

So what do we add to our IENs? Well, first, there’s a table of contents in which everything is listed. I model everything for them so that they can see what type of effort goes into organization, so if I call something “Capitalization: Practice,” you can bet the entire class does, too. I do have several things that I will print out and have them glue into their IENs such as today’s lesson on apostrophes. The first ten or so pages are all related to “Hard and Fast Rules” for conventions. Trust me when I say that a lot of students come with a little bit of knowledge about a whole lot of subjects. If we expect them to do something right in their writing, then they had better know where to turn. Even with more and more access to technology, they still need to know where the apostrophes and commas and quotation marks go. This is my one chance to get that information to them and to get them to practice. When one student grouses that it is boring, I agree! In fact, I agree so excitedly that I’m pretty sure my students are questioning who gave this madwoman a job. Today, when we were talking about apostrophes, I joked that I wanted to call our dog, Sadie, Apostrophe instead but was worried she would be bullied by all the other non-punctuation named dogs at the dog park. When they looked at me like I had three heads, I told them I was totally joking . . . I would have called her Ellipses instead.

Want to know how to use a comma? How to capitalize a title? Check your IEN!

Want to know how to use a comma? How to capitalize a title? Check your IEN!

In a week or so, we’ll start discussing narrative writing. All of their brainstorming will go in the IEN. When we start to examine mentor texts like “Seventh Grade” by Gary Soto or “And Weep, Like Alexander” by Neil Gaiman, they’ll find golden sentences that they can “clip” and keep in their IEN. Even during our presentations, the students will be taking notes based on what they need to know. Through it all, I, too, will be keeping an IEN. In fact, I’ll keep five – one for each of my classes. As I come across something I find interesting in the presentation, I’ll copy it into my IEN. I find my favorite sentences and add them to my own golden sentence pocket. Keeping my own notebook serves two purposes: one, if a student is absent, they can come grab my notebook and copy the info on their own, and two, it starts to give them an understanding of how to take notes. When they see me taking notes, they start to pick up on the cues.

They only thing that I don’t add to my own IEN are the warm-ups. For the first few minutes of class, my students complete a warm-up. Mondays and Wednesdays are Every-day Edit days (embedded errors in a paragraph), while Tuesdays and Thursdays are writing days. Fridays? Completely different . . . and another blog post. One part of the PSSAs, our high stakes tests, deals with embedded errors, and I detest daily oral language (DOLs) because the sentences are so over the top with errors. Instead, I’ve found that Every-day Edits are usually trickier since the mistakes are more like the ones that students make. The writing days are much simpler: respond to the prompt. I’m using a selection of these prompts because they are really good, someone already took the time to create the graphic, and they are aesthetically pleasing. For the warm-ups, I might circulate around the room and check on work, take attendance, make sure that Student A returned a paper I am looking for, take a drink of water . . . you get the idea. I’m toying with giving my students the choice to complete their warm-ups on the Chromebooks, but I’m just not sure.

If you’re considering creating an interactive notebook, you don’t have to start from scratch. Do a simple search on Pinterest for them. Consult the teachers in your building (there are four of us doing this now). Look on Teachers Pay Teachers; I’ve found that Erin Cobb’s work is fantastic and really easy to adapt to your own devices. No one said that you had to reinvent the wheel. But if you do, you might as well have a very lovely resource to guide you. That’s pretty much all I am trying to do with my IENs: giving my kiddos a constant resource to make them better writers.

A special thank you to Beverly for posting this Edutopia article on Facebook; she had no idea that my blog post tonight was going to be about my IENs and why I am using them.

*Yes, I’ve never read The Great Gatsby, but I am in the middle of it . . . just don’t tell my husband. I’d like to surprise him when I begin to intelligently drop Gatsby quotes into conversation. 
** It’s sad when vacuuming is one of the things that you would rather be doing, but then again, you’ve never seen the dog hair on my couch. 
September 7

Trying Something Different . . . Finally

For the past nine years – whoa! nearly a decade – I’ve started my year off with an activity that I used to love. To be honest, I’ve loved it since before it was my activity. The first three years I was at my school, I taught on a different team, so when I found out I was switching teams, my first thought was, “Yes! We get to do those really cool word thingys the kids hang in the hall,” only to find out that my reading partner wasn’t planning on doing them. She did, however, give me her information as well as the example that she made. “You can do it if you want,” she said, and so it became mine.

Truly, I loved the Word Splash. It was a simple concept: make a list of the things you liked, disliked, and knew to be popular. Then, take those words and creatively add them around your name on half a poster board and color code them. It took us about five days or so, and they looked amazing in the hallway . . . for about the first six weeks. After that? They just started to look sad. Last year, I left them up all year, partially because I forgot about them but partially because we stopped producing “big projects” as we started moving to a digital format. It’s rather challenging to figure out a way to get a blog post or a movie on our hanging rails (but trust me when I say that I am working on that, too).

Creating a List

So this year, I said sayonara to the Word Splash* and hola to Our Prints Are Everywhere** I can’t take credit for the lesson in any real sense of the matter since I purchased it from Musings from the Middle School on Teachers Pay Teachers. There are tons and tons of fingerprint images floating around out there on Pinterest, and I was 99% sure that I wanted to do it last year. I even toyed with having the students take their own fingerprints, which I would blow up, but once I tried that on myself, I quickly abandoned the idea. Plus, going home and saying, “Our English teacher took our fingerprints today!” might not have the type of optics that a teacher is looking for. This year, however, I decided to forge forward, using fingerprint clipart that I found thanks to Google. The best part about choosing clipart? The lines are thick and broad and the students didn’t have to trace the whorls before they started adding their information.

We started by making a list of things that we like and qualities – positive and negative – that we possess. After about ten minutes of brainstorming (because this was the start of our “lessons on brainstorming,” tbh), we color coded a few by indicating if they were something that had multiples like silly words (I like silly words like kerfuffle, malarkey, sacapuntas, poppycock, balderdash, and hogwash), but we also color coded the “important-est” words in our list such as our loved ones. And, yes, I’m completely aware that important-est isn’t a word . . . that’s why it’s in quotation marks, silly.

My Fingerprint

And then? Then the real fun began. Adding the words to the actual fingerprint was a good bit of psychoanalysis if you ask me. Where’s the logical place to start? Is there a logical place to start? Do you work top to bottom? Is it ok to start in the middle? Can I just add a word here and there? Whoa! After a few more questions along these lines plus establishing that if you insist on writing itsy-bitsy you just might have to add way more than you thought, we settled in for the day . . . and the next day . . . and the next day. Turns out that writing about yourself can be exhausting but quite fulfilling. I had a few kiddos shut down after they added their list (and, yes, their fingerprints looked like perhaps part had been worn away by acid), but we figured out how to add to what they had. A few started to get incredibly creative with their word placement and size. But the vast majority really stuck with the exercise and created something lovely and meaningful.

This year, instead of having the hallways adorned with our Word Splashes that were carefully color coded, now the walls in my classroom will reflect the unique spirit that my kids bring to the table. I have some who love the outdoors. A few who might perish if they lost WiFi. Still others who had a list of ten items and had to deal with Dr. Greenwood, DDS, to finish the first day. But I also had at least ten who completed their penciling and moved on to the ink pens (and quite a few in period 6 and 7 who got to use my beloved pens, all of which I got back, thank you very much). And tomorrow? Tomorrow 85% of them will be completed and added to the back wall in my room. The other 15% will have to take an oath of a most serious nature to bring their fingerprint back uncrumpled, unfolded, and unharmed . . . because, quite frankly, they are masterpieces to behold. Kind of like all of us.

* Honestly, I probably said sayonara the year before and just did them because I always did. 

** Perfectly aware I’m using a different language than before. Is that a mixed metaphor? 

August 30

There’s a Reason for Rules

The start of the school year means listening to a whole laundry list of rules and dispensing with an even longer list of rules. You need to do XYZ before you copy anything. Take out the next four things for a fire drill. Be sure you check your mailbox twice a day, every day. Rules . . . I get it. We need them, but we don’t always enjoy hearing them or, to be honest, giving them.

Our kids look at us with glazed eyes after they’ve heard the same rule for the cafeteria that they, in all likelihood, have heard since kindergarten. Come in. Wash your hands. Head to your table. Wait for the monitors to call on you to go get your lunch. Eat your food. Wait until you are told to throw away your trash. When you hear your table called for dismissal, head out the back door. All too often, the rules start to sound daunting and overbearing when in reality they are simply common sense: treat the cafeteria like a restaurant where you enjoy eating, and everything will work out fine. One of my coworkers put it to the kids the best: rules are there to make things run smoothly for the other 1,000 people in the building.

And yet, teachers hear all too often that we are being too harsh, that schools are more like prisons these days. Trust me, they aren’t. But the rules sometimes seem oppressive, especially if you are coming off of three months of some carefree living. Remember – the rules are there to make things run smoothly for the other 1,000 people in the building. Honestly, I would say that just about all of the students on our team follow the rules because they have common sense, which might seem a little odd for seventh graders. Sure, we have our days when it is more difficult to walk that straight and narrow path (I’m looking at you, Full Moon!), but everything being equal, students follow the rules. The ones that they seem to have difficulty with are the more nebulous ones like dress code. Even that, I completely get it! Leggings are more comfortable than dress pants, but if you can’t wear them, you can’t wear them. Sorry. It’s truly nothing personal . . . it’s just a simple rule.

This year, I’m trying out 20% Time with my students. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It started when Google gave its employees 20% of their time to work on projects that interested them personally. Thanks to 20% Time, you have Gmail! Do I think my kids will create the next Gmail? Possibly, but I doubt it. Do I think that they will find a problem and try to find a workable solution? Oh, absolutely! After all, there have got to be some rules out there that they think need changing. Wish us luck!


June 10

Making Sense of Cents

“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod! Mrs. Greenwood – I’m going to make $15 and hour at this job. That’s good money, right?”

A few years back – probably more than a few years, truth be told – our district started incorporating career exploration into the curriculum, and for some reason, it was shunted to the English teachers because, you know, writing. “You can research careers! Have the kids create an essay!” enthused just about anyone who would talk about it. Reading an essay about being a marine biologist is challenging on the best days. Now expand that by ten kids, and you get the idea. The essays themselves became repetitive quickly, and quite frankly, I found them very unforgiving from a student’s point of view. What started off as giving the students a chance to explore careers had turned into yet another process essay, and all parties were frustrated. Three years ago, things started to change.

My kiddos had no concept of taxes or expenses or anything that comes with “adulting,” so we shifted our focus away from reading about careers and their job duties (hilarious word for middle schoolers, btw) to the nuts and bolts of the job: would you make a living wage and could you be happy doing it? The evolution of this has taken many twists and turns – and it’s always a work in progress – but I’m happy with where we’re headed.

Basically, I used to walk around the room with my phone and do some quick calculations on the calculator. First of all, they had no concept of what an hourly wage meant in the big picture, so we would chat about how many hours they wanted to work. It usually ranged between 25 and 35, but they would often listen to reason and went with 40. Next, taxes – no one had heard about taxes, or at least they feigned ignorance. That was the easy part. Subtracting out all the “luxuries” like housing and food and utilities became cumbersome after the first three or four kids, so I decided to streamline things and created a spreadsheet that they could edit and make decisions about based on their chosen careers.

paper strips with career names printed on them sitting on a yellow folder

“You get to pick . . . you know, put your hand in here and pick.”

When we first started this, I allowed the kids to choose their own careers, but since everyone wanted to be either a video game developer, professional athlete, or singer, I stopped and told them they were going to pick. Semantics is everything in the middle school setting, and picking meant putting your hand into the lovely container and picking a piece of paper. Part of this is to maintain some level of sanity, but I really wanted them to be exposed to a variety of careers. Never heard of a resource management specialist? Awesome . . . go do some exploration!

The spreadsheets now come based on the level of degree that you would need: none, two-year or specialty school, four-year bachelor’s degree, or advanced professional. Within that range, I have formulated the spreadsheets to take out percentages for taxes, housing, health insurance, savings, utilities, car payments (including insurance and gas), and student loans. The only thing I leave optional is the food budget. The students choose what they want for food. Some quickly realize that they might be on the Raman noodle every night budget, and some decide that eating out once or twice a week might be in their cards. Usually, I have three or four kids per class that are in the red before they even get to their food budget, and when that happens, I tell them they can come to my house for a spaghetti dinner once a week. If in seven or eight years, young adults start turning up on my doorstep looking for some of my “fantastic” sauce (hint: it’s store bought), I’ll know that they were at least paying attention a little bit.

This year, I experimented with a Fast Forward, by introducing down payments for homes and saving for vacations. In previous years, we never factored in the money that you would need to furnish a home, what to budget for clothing, or how much money a pet would cost, so that was also included this year. All in all, I would love to develop this further by coming up with ways for students to assess what happens when life throws you a curve ball or two, but I’m still trying to figure it all out. We normally create infographics about the career and what you can expect, but I opted to spend more time on the financial side of their jobs. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to continue heading down this path since I think my kids get more out of it.

Suggestions going forward? I’d love to hear if you have tried something like this in the past with your classes.

May 9

June 6 Is My September 4

It’s hard to believe that there are 14 total student days left in the school year. If you want to do advanced math and take out the “fun” days like our field trip and our carnival day plus the half day, that’s really only 11.5 days with students. Add to that an additional two days for professional development, and you have a grand total of 16 days . . . but really it’s those 11.5 days that count the most. Because in that time span, I plan on completing a major multimedia project, doing a bit of career research, writing at least one multi-paragraph response, give my kids a little reality check through a spreadsheet since I hear, “Mrs. Greenwood, I am going to make $15 an hour in the career! I’m going to be rich,” more times than I can count. Oh, and try to reinforce some apostrophe and terminal punctuation.

In 11.5 days. Why? I’m still not sure, but truly, it can be done, so why not?

But come June 6, I’m no longer a teacher in a classroom since I will fondly be in what others enjoy calling “Summer Vacation.” Me? I just like to call it “Recouped Time That Was Spent Grading Essays and Projects on Weekends,” or RTTWSGEPW for short (still working on the acronym; give me time!). Truly, I am grateful for summer vacation because without it, I would have burned out after the first three years. It’s hard being an English teacher when you are spending nearly every weekend grading some kind of writing. And if you slack off, as I am wont to do, you pay for it when you try to pick it up. “I can grade three class sets of essays today,” I’ll say, “Let me just check Instagram for a bit.” So, yes, summer vacation amounts to nothing more than a few weekend days here and there and transplanted into the months of June, July, and August.

Pens usually get me through the day . . . but sometimes, it takes more than that to get rid of the stress

Pens usually get me through the day . . . but sometimes, it takes more than that to get rid of the stress

This summer will be slightly different for me since I’m taking several graduate classes online, which is something that I have put off for too long. When I first started looking at programs, I assumed it would take two years, but when I really started crunching the numbers, I came up with the crazy notion that I could do it in one. Crazy, right? Problem is, it gets a little weirder. June 3 is technically my first day of summer vacation. The last time I was on a summer vacation this early was as a high school student in Ohio. Snow days are pretty much common place for us in Pennsylvania. Heck, one winter, I went 14 days without seeing my students due to a horrific snowstorm coupled with a technology conference. But this school year, we had one snow day total. One. Uno. Single. It’s enough to make a woman who doesn’t really believe in stress start to download meditation apps by the bucketload.

In this, I am not alone. A Washington Post article focused on the findings of a survey of over 30,000 teachers by the American Federation of Teachers, and the results were quite simply nothing new if you are a teacher. At least 70% said that they “felt their work was stressful,” and nearly 80% felt either “physically or mentally exhausted” at the end of a workday. Honestly, I’d like to meet the 30% who said they weren’t stressed. Perhaps they hold the answers to a lot of our questions!

So this summer, in and amongst the five grad classes I’m taking, I’ll be giving my house a great big old purge (think Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman), watching Pushing Daisies for the sixth or seventh time (because I can), knitting my husband a sweater based on the Dude’s cowichin in The Big Lebowski (he’s stuck with me for 25+ years; I owe him that much), running in the morning (because it beats running in the afternoon), and catching up on some reading (YA, adult, nonfiction . . . bring it). Why? Because the alternative is to go completely psycho, and nobody has time for that.

October 26

Excitement Abounds . . . We’re Starting Today

Earlier today, I congratulated my first period class for being blog pioneers. They toiled with me as we learned a few things about creating student blogs. I give them a lot of credit for being able to roll with the punches. Sure we had a few missteps along the way, but overall, they were awesome. A huge shout-out to Adria, Ajani, Emily, Essence, Ethan, Gabe, and Jayden for bringing their “A game” to class today! I’ll update our widgets so that their blogs are listed on the side.

My students are my superheros! Thanks for joining me on this journey, kiddos!

My students are my superheros! Thanks for joining me on this journey, kiddos!

October 18

Model, Model, Model

Part of being a teacher is modeling what you want your students to do. Want them to push in their chairs? Push in yours when you leave. Want them to use appropriate grammar in their writing? Don’t take short cuts when responding to emails or any of their writing. Want them to love the Steelers? Well . . . I’m working on that.

In Iceland, shortly before I bought my red woolen slippers

In Iceland, shortly before I bought my red woolen slippers

One of the categories I wanted to focus on this year was happiness partially because I think it is an easy jumping off point but also because it is something that I constantly find myself working on in my own life. I wasn’t entirely sure that happiness was the word that I am looking for, but it’s the word that I settled on. Perhaps gratitude is a better choice, but the idea of gratitude seems harder for seventh graders to internalize. Happiness? We’ve got this! Instead of attempting a huge, unimaginably large number, I settled on 100 for our first year because I know that we can each come up with 100 Things to Be Happy About. Here are my first five:

  1. Woolen Slippers – It’s early autumn here in Pennsylvania, and the chill in the air has permeated my house. Thankfully, I bought a lovely pair of felted wool slippers in Iceland, and truly, I begin looking forward to their warm embrace from the moment I step out the door for work. My pair is red since I have a “thing” for red footwear, and they are positively delightful in every aspect.
  2. Music – I’m not terribly picky when it comes to music. Most genres are pleasing to me, and I’m always on the hunt for new tunes. Some will quickly be added to my running playlist, which doubles as my grading playlist, and very  rarely do I ever find songs that I don’t enjoy. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge country music fan, but I am starting to come around. Sadly, my dancing leaves a lot to be desired. That, however, doesn’t stop me from doing it.
  3. Lists – Fun fact: I am an obsessive list maker. I love lists of any kind. Top ten lists. Best/Worst lists. To Do lists. You name a list, I probably love it. My favorite notebook has a list of all my favorite things plastered all over it. Even this list is something that I enjoy working on.
  4. New Mascara – Whenever I buy a new tube of mascara, the first time that I pull the wand out is a thing of beauty. It isn’t clumpy. It doesn’t have any imperfections. There isn’t a single thing wrong with it. But the second time that I pull the wand out, all of the magic is over. That first time, though, makes me really quite happy.
  5. Early Morning Runs – As a morning runner, there is something breathtaking about the Poconos in the morning. When the sun is coming up and it is beginning to shine through the leaves, I am reminded why I love this area. Even if the day is chilly or rainy or just plain blah, mornings in the Poconos are special. Usually, the boro is still quiet and cars are few and far between. If you throw in some good friends or some good tunes, it’s the start of a beautiful day.

As my students begin their own 100 Things list, I look forward to seeing what they come up with. Chances are there will be some similarities. I sincerely doubt that homework will crop up on any of our lists, but I’m positive that we will have many items in common.