The Beginning of a New Year

I’m sorry for the long hiatus. Summer came and posting materials left for vacations to California, or Colorado, or India, or Greece, or other fantastically amazing vacations. I, on the other hand, hung out in the dark in my apartment and unceremoniously dumped all thoughts of teaching out of my mind. While I consider myself an extrovert, by the time that May showed up I was heartily sick of any person who was not trapped on a computer screen or inside the TV. It was a beautifully restful week. Then it was off to teach at VBS, lead missions trips, house sit, and move. I have promised myself that I will not move again, or at least not until I have a boyfriend or a husband to help me carry all my boxes of books and teaching supplies.

Popportunity for you.

True or False: The year began like any other year.

Your answer should be “False”

Our school building was in the middle of a modernization that gutted half of the existing school and added eight new classrooms.  As the only room with an exterior door, my room found itself lost in the middle of a construction zone.  The day before the day before school started, the new part of the building was facing the challenge of no roof or windows.  We ended up starting on time, but it has taken about two weeks for everything to calm down and settle back into the “ordinary” routine.   (Having AC being a part of that routine)

All that to say, all my story materials are back safe from their many vacations, I’m teaching them all again, and already the year is a hundred times better than last.




We were talking about redox reactions today in seventh grade. The students tend to have a difficult time with the difference between the thing that is oxidized and reduced and the oxidizing and reducing agents. It’s all very complicated and tricky and if you don’t remember redox reactions from your high school chemistry class, shame on you and go ask a teacher! 🙂

We abbreviate the reducing agent as “red. agent.” And of course, because it is the compound that is giving electrons away, I started calling it the communist. The kids think it is funny and if it helps them remember, so be it.

English: A communist star

English: A communist star (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I explained this to one of my classes and the kids all laughed a little until one of them shouts out: “Hey, he’s not a communist! He’s just giving electrons. That’s being nice! That’s not being a communist!”

The rest of the class shouted back about how it’s just for fun, we’re calling it a communist because it’s the RED agent, but he stuck to his assertion that just because the compound gives electrons away does NOT make it a communist.

So new lesson:  Don’t bring up anything political, no matter how benign, with seventh graders.

A Very Merry Birthday

Note to self: students remember everything you tell them.

In the first week of school, one of my seventh graders came up after school to talk to me. She wanted to get to know me a little better, and so she came equipped with a number of questions:
“Where did you go to school?”
“What is your favorite color?”
“What is your favorite food?”
“What is your favorite TV show.”
“When is your birthday.”
I answered all her questions and thought nothing more about it.

A few months later, in the middle of class, she announces “Ms. C, did you know your birthday is the day after Ms. H’s?”
The lecture fizzled as I turned to ask “How did you know when my birthday was?!”
Another student pipes up: “Oh, Ms. C! I googled you!”
My face turned bright red (tomato red is a pretty good estimate) as I tried to process the fact that my students were… googling me?
The kids started laughing at me, so I started laughing, and they kept laughing, so I couldn’t stop laughing until finally I ran for the door to my classroom.
I stood outside the door, trying to compose myself when my boss happened to walk by and see me standing there, shaking with laughter.
“Um, Ms. C? Why are you standing outside of your classroom?”
“I was being disruptive!”

House on Mango Street – Teacher Edition

One of my co-workers, who has incidentally also been my first-year-teacher buddy (Ms. Gwendolyn), taught “The House on Mango Street” to her group of seventh grade English students. One vignette seemed particularly poignant – “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark.” This has sparked a whole series of spin-offs that aptly describe this first year. Someday, maybe, we’ll write a book with all of these as our chapter titles:

“Teachers who wake up tired in the dark”
“Teachers who grade in the dark”
“Teachers who flop over on the floor and cry in the dark”
“Teachers who drive to work tired in the dark”
“Teachers who sit on the floor and grade”
“Teachers who watch 24 and grade”
“Teachers who drink beer and grade”
“Teachers who go book shopping instead of grade”
“Teachers who make coffee and talk about grading”
“Teachers who drink coffee in the dark”
“Teachers who plan and drink coffee in the dark”

The list of possible “Teachers who….” goes on and on. That one title sums up all of this year. Or rather, it sums up the darker points of this year. Like getting to work before 6 am. Or grading for hours before coming to horrible realization that you put the wrong total for all 200 tests. Or discovering that the students are really not ready for the material you had planned for them. I think, though, that the year will end with a different “Teachers who….”

“Teachers who discover they can teach”
“Teachers who love their job”
“Teachers who see their students flourish”
“Teachers who are proud of their students, regardless of personal cost”

I think this is how I’ll remember this first year. Not as the sleepless, dark mornings when everything looked bleak, but the sunny afternoons when things looked up, when the kids got it, when they realized I was on their team, when they discovered that they trusted that I would make things right, when I discovered I might have a chance to make it through the year (sanity intact) and be happy and excited for the next year.

“Teachers who look forward to teaching”


I am apparently a little bit of a celebrity among some of my students. I walked into the seventh grade lunch room in order to find a student who had asked for some extra help understanding a new concept. When I walked into the lunch room one table of my students turned around, saw me, and screamed at the top of their seventh grade lungs “MS. C!!!!!!!!!” They leapt up, grabbed hands, and danced, laughing and shrieking, in a circle around me for a good thirty seconds before the lunch monitor came to shoo them all back to their seats.

Not that I’m complaining about the ring-around-the-teacher moment, but when half the students are within two feet of me (I like to have and arms-length personal space, ridiculous, I know, I teach middle schoolers!) and they have all grown a good six inches and so are as tall as I am, it is a little disconcerting.  Now I sneak into the lunch room like a ninja and sneak back out…. most of the time they don’t notice I was there until I’m gone.

Blue Valentine

Valentine’s Day is sort of a pathetic holiday. I mean, it’s wonderful if you have someone special in your life. Otherwise it takes the fact that you are too busy teaching, grading, cleaning, sleeping, commuting, comforting, cajoling, planning, and yelling to actually go do something interesting with free evenings and rubs it in your face. And if Hallmark doesn’t remind you enough about how pathetic your life seems, the students do a pretty good job of it too:

“Happy Single Awareness Day, Ms. C!”
“You’re 13. Why are you celebrating being alone?”
“Oh…. I don’t know….”

“Happy Forever Alone Day, Ms. C!”
“Oh, not for you, for us. I’m sure you’ll find a guy someday!”

Of course, retribution is sweet. We talked about what who St. Valentine REALLY was, and how the Romans tortured him and then beheaded him.

Building Bridges

One of the most fantastic things about teaching middle schoolers, especially seventh graders, is watching their sense of humor develop. Suddenly they understand sarcasm and the importance of listening to a person’s tone and inflection. Life becomes so much more entertaining.

For instance, when the students come up with silly questions, or questions with obvious answers:
“Ms. C, do we have a test today?!” *note that test dates are posted on the white board for everyone to see at lest five days previously
“Well, you have a test today.”
“I DO?!”
“Mmhmm, just you, no one else.”
“Wha-! Oh, hahaha, thanks Ms. C.”

It’s even funnier when they just don’t understand:
“Ms. C! I’m so sad! You’re not calling on me and I know the answer!”
“Yeah, it is sad.”
“Ms. C! I’m going to CRY!”
“Well, cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.”
The rest of the class howled with laughter while the student looked at me with a confused look.
“Ms. C, I… I don’t get it…..”
Try explaining something like that to a class of seventh graders.