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The Blessings of a Catch-Up Day

Yesterday, my students took a Context Clues test.  I’ve revamped my tests this year so they will resemble the format of the new reading test that Florida students will take in April.

As such, my tests take awhile to complete.  It’s often difficult to lesson plan for such days because I am never quite sure how long it will take for all of my students to finish.

Today, many students finished much earlier than I’d expected.  We’ve been working on context clues for nearly two months, and I test them on this skill every couple of weeks.

Thankfully, now that I’ve got some experience under my belt, I was able to quickly improvise.

First, I asked students to finish the 2-Column Notes graphic organizer they had begun the day before.  We are working on gathering evidence from two articles to use in an essay we will write in class.  My students need to be walked through each step very methodically, so everything takes A VERY LONG TIME to finish.

On Monday, I had modeled, and they had completed (with much assistance), one side of the graphic organizer with a one-page article.

Tuesday’s task involved reading a two-page article and completing the second side of the graphic organizer.

As usual, I’d over-planned, so most students had not finished.

It was the perfect thing for them to do while some students were still working on their tests.

The second thing I gave students to complete was their weekly Text Connections sheets.  These are, in effect, their reading logs.

I gave them the freedom to manage themselves, and I periodically walked around to make sure students knew what to do.

They assured me that they did.

This was major progress, you see, because I often feel like a traffic cop directing the ebb and flow of action in my classroom.  It can be exhausting at times.

Every single student was engaged in a task, which allowed me time to work with students who are usually off-task.

A little secret I’ve learned over the years is that this behavior is usually a sign that students are overwhelmed by the tasks laid before them.  In my students’ cases, they often do not understand the directions or need them broken down into itsy bitsy steps…like one paragraph at a time steps.

That’s what I did today.

I had to walk away a couple of times and was shocked when I turned to look at the students I’d been helping.

They were working quietly.

They completed the entire graphic organizer.

Because they’d had one-on-one help while the rest of the class was quiet and, hence, not interrupting me.

:::jumping on my soapbox:::

This is why class sizes need to be very small…especially for remedial reading classes like the ones I teach.

:::stepping off my soapbox now:::

I really had no idea how much of an impact today had until one young man, very energetic and talkative…and opinionated…told me, “Mrs. AuburnChick, today was good.  There was a good vibe today.”

There was.

I wasn’t stressed with a too-full agenda, and students actually had all of the time they needed along with an environment they could focus in.

This is something they aren’t always used to, I hate to admit.

The new standards…the new test…the STUPID teacher evaluation system (i.e. VAM)…are making teachers like myself rush through class periods, running helter-skelter to pack everything in.

I’m pretty good about breaking down tasks and taking things slowly, but I’ll admit that I am guilty of allowing my own pressures to seep out onto the kids.

My student’s reflection reminded me that it’s okay…it’s actually very important…that we have catch-up days.  I don’t need to justify them, because as the teacher, I know what’s best for my classroom.

My students’ spirits were buoyed, as was mine.

Days like that energize me.

Not Defined by a Name

One of the toughest things is saying goodbye to a student.

Today, I did just that.

This young man’s attendance was very sporadic.  When he did show up, there was a lot of the typical drama you associate with teenagers.

He and I had a bond, though, because he knew I had taught two of his siblings.  Thus, he trusted me immediately.

As a result, he spent time after class and before school, talking to me about his struggles.

The list was long.  Out of respect for his privacy, I won’t share the specifics.

We always had “real talk,” where I didn’t mince words.  He never minded, because he knew that he could count on me to not sugar-coat things.  Though I’d like to be a Pollyanna, I can’t do that disservice to children who have been hardened by life’s harshest realities.

One thing he told me during our most recent conversation was, “Mrs. AuburnChick, what do you expect?  You know my last name.”

I looked at him with an incredulous expression.

This young man had fallen into an age-old trap…the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have a feeling he was looking for sympathy.

What he got, instead, was a frank talk.

I told him that he is not defined by his name.

I told him that his excuse was a cop out.

I told him it was time to pull up his boot straps and step out of the muck that had become his life.

I shared with him some of my story…how I could have easily allowed myself to become someone else had I used the excuse that I was only following the path laid before me because of my name.

This young man’s family is very troubled.  His siblings have not made the best choices…a fact that is very disheartening given that I’ve taught a few of them.

I reminded him, for the umpteenth time, that he could break the cycle…that it boiled down to his choices.

He didn’t show up for class yesterday, and I started worrying.

That’s why I was so relieved when he came to see me during lunch.

He’d come to say goodbye, though, and my heart started breaking.

He’s not dropping out of school, thank heavens, but he won’t be where I can check in on him…where I can be the mama he needs in his life.

This will be hard.

I told him I’d be here if he needed anything, and I sent him away with a promise that I would pray for him.

As he left, tears rolled down my face.

I think I’ve already mentioned that it’s hard to say goodbye.

Though he’ll be out of sight, his name will forever be imprinted on my heart.


Dear Students,

Today was Monday…

Boy, was it ever.

I’ve been home from school for several hours and have had time to reflect on the day.  Now, as I find myself wrapped in my fuzzy white robe, I feel the need to share some of my thoughts.

Because I care, I meticulously plan each day’s lessons…with you in mind.

Because I don’t want to waste a moment of your time, I expect you to begin working immediately when you enter my classroom.

Because I know that you haven’t had the opportunity to travel and experience much of the world yet, I throw mini-lessons into larger strategies…to help you create background knowledge from which to draw upon when you read something later.

Because you don’t have much consistency in your life, I hold you accountable for your actions…good and bad…so you’ll see that there are people in your life you can trust to be the same day in and day out.

Because I want to enlist others in your life in my attempt to create a well-rounded individual, I will call your mama, your daddy, your auntie, and/or your grandmama…whoever is on your list…brag on you or ask for help…so you will see that you have many people on your side, cheering for your success and lifting you up when you fall.

Because I know there is more to life than football, basketball, band, dancing, or cheering, I will expect your best work…each and every time…and I will not “give” you extra points just so you can earn an A to bring up your GPA.  A future employer will care that you mix up “their” with “they’re” or don’t use complete sentences when you write.

Because I don’t believe you will grow without being stretched, I will require that you explain your thinking, analyze evidence, and re-do your work, even if you’re “pissed off at the world…” because I know that life must continue…even on the crappiest of days.

Because I know that you often cannot talk to your mama, your daddy, your auntie, or your grandmama, I will give up my planning and my lunch period to listen to you pour out your heart.  I will wipe your tears, give you a hug, and offer words of consolation without judging you…because you already feel judged by your family, peers, and even strangers.

Because we all have bad days, I will welcome you back into my classroom every day…with a fresh start…ready to lay the previous day to rest.  We all need a fresh start…because we are all in need of forgiveness.

Because I want to build a relationship that speaks of love and respect, I will cry after hard class periods, agonize over the best ways to reach you, hesitate before hitting submit on the discipline referral screen, and pray for better ways to handle differences.  I will mostly blame myself because I am the adult, even when you should be shouldering part of the blame.

Because God has given me the privilege of looking past what others see as “typical teenage behavior,” I will enter each day with whispered prayers of thankfulness and heartfelt requests for guidance when I seem to lack direction.

When it seems as though I’m not on your side, remember that I am still there…not for a paycheck (I could be making a LOT more elsewhere) and not for the “short” days and summers off.  I’m there because I answered the call…because I don’t want to let you down…because I know that it’s only November, and June will be here before we know it…along with tears of sadness because of the bonds that will be forged tightly by then.

Don’t ever doubt my words.

Just because.


Mrs. AuburnChick


Today, teachers at my school administered a progress monitoring writing assessment…one of a few that is being used to tailor writing instruction in preparation for the BIG statewide writing test in February.

Today, I watched my students take deep breaths as they prepared to receive their writing prompt packets.

Today, I watched students gasp as they heard the packets hit their tables.

Today, I saw some students get down to business as they immediately began reading the texts they would be responding to.

Today, I watched other students begin to shut down, overwhelmed by the task ahead of them.

Today, I watched a young man who struggles daily with self control grab his hair with both hands in a sign of frustration.

Today, I heard his refusal to do the assignment, unable to fathom the thought of comprehending a prompt he didn’t understand and text he had no interest in.

Today, I coaxed that child to give it a go with gentle words that promised he just had to try.

Today, I looked across the room from my perch and nodded approval and assurance to the same young man.

Today, I sat up in surprise as I observed that young man begin to write.

Today, I watched a different young man, sitting at his “island” sink lower and lower in his seat, also overwhelmed by the packet on the desk in front of him.

Today, I heard his refusal and saw him shake his head in rebellion.

Today, I gently urged him to not let the system beat him.

Today, I watched him gingerly turn a page, start to read, but stop midway through the first page.

Today, I slid my chair over and told this young man that I had bragged on him in front of another class because he had shared a poignant idea in his own class.

Today, I told that young man that I believed in him…that he WAS smart…that it was okay to let others see what I had witnessed so far this year.

Today, I watched him begin and stop a second time in aggravation.

Today, I dug down deep and told the young man to pretend he was reading a rival high school’s basketball playbook…to search for the secret reasons why this school has such a phenomenal team…knowing that the way to this young man’s heart was through his favorite sport.

Today, I watched this man plow through endless words, pick up his own pencil, and add his own thoughts to his own paper.

Today, I was inspired by my precious students…young men and women who have to work ten times harder than most kids…to rise above what they thought themselves capable.

Today, I was reminded what a true honor it is to watch young minds truly stretch and grow.

Today was a good day.

The Test

Dear Students,

You are going to be given a test.  Please ensure that you understand the following:

  • It will be a three-part test.
  • I will grade the first two parts, and they will total up to 50% of your final score.
  • Someone in Tallahassee will score the third part of your test.
  • I will have no input, so whatever observations I make won’t really matter in the end.
  • You can do all of the supporting work during class…fill out the proper paperwork…document everything…but that probably won’t matter in the end either.
  • To arrive at your overall, final rating, your score will be plugged into a formula that is similar to the one you see below:
  • Have no fear.  This will be a reading test, not a math test, so it’s really not necessary that you actually understand the formula that will be used to determine your grade.
  • Just so you know, your grade for the third portion of the test…the portion that will be graded by someone else…will be tabulated according to predictions.  Yes, that’s right.  Predictions.  Three years’ worth.  So, it’s really important that you don’t do anything to upset the predicted outcome.
  • Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the evening before, don’t have any emotional upsets that morning (heaven forbid that you are teenagers), and eat a good breakfast before the test.  The formula doesn’t factor in such lapses.
  • A word of caution:  Even if you do well, you still might not make the amount of improvement the formula states you’re supposed to make, so it might be possible that you could actually pass the test but still have to re-do it later.  Hey!  I’ve told you I don’t do math.  It’s not even my formula.  Blame someone else for this.
  • Make sure you do well this year because if something goes wrong, and you don’t do well, this year’s score will affect next year’s rating, no matter how you do on that test.
  • This is the part where you should laugh a little.  Laughing beats screaming.  Or crying.  You’ll just get a headache from crying, and that could mess up your test results.
  • You can protest this assignment.  We do, after all, live in a democracy.  Don’t expect, though, that anyone will listen.  In the end, you’re not a person with a face.  You are a number.  Computer models don’t see faces and feelings…only data.
  • Oh, and if you have any questions, feel free to request a FAQ, ripe full of information that you have my blessing to try to disseminate.  If you figure out how to understand it, patent the cipher.  You’ll be financially set for life.  I’ll even give you bonus points.  Of course, the bonus points would have to be added to to portion of the test that I get to grade, so your overall rating still wouldn’t be affected.
  • One final word.  Don’t complain.  You’ve been told, from Day 1, that you’re at school to prepare to become college and career ready.  Well, welcome to the real world.  This test will prepare you for a career in education, should you decide to go that route.

Remember that though I am giving you this “real talk,” I do love you with all of my heart.


Mrs. AuburnChick

Fancy Frills Knit Scarf

I’ve been a busy knitter of late.  My new lesson-planning routine is working out well and allowing me much-needed down time.

A project I completed last weekend was the Fancy Frills Knit Scarf, a free pattern found here.

I have absolutely fallen in love with Red Heart’s Boutique line…notched laces and fabrics you can knit or crochet with.

It only required a couple of hours of knitting time to finish this gorgeous scarf…

Here’s a close-up of the lace…

I’d like to sell the ruffle scarves I’ve been making lately.  The fabric and lace scarves are priced at $20, and my original ruffle scarves (except for the Auburn one, which isn’t for sale) are $15.  All of the money from my scarves will be tithed at church as part of our 2020 project.

My church gave out $20 to each person who attended a service a few weeks ago.  During this service, goals were laid out as part of our church’s vision for the next five years.  The goal with giving the money was to have us use our talents to multiply the money and return it, along with whatever is earned.  I had immediately thought of my knitting as being a talent I could use.

Until they sell, I’m having fun dressing up my outfits…

Other scarves for sale…


The fabric used in the scarf above.

Leopard Print Ruffles Scarf – $20

A close-up of the above scarf

$15 scarf

Let me know if you’re interested!  I can do Paypal.  Shipping will be paid by the buyer.  🙂

Twas the Night Before VAM…

Twas the night before VAM,
And all through the school,
Every teacher was working
Against this dumb tool.

They wanted to sleep but could not settle in
Instead they partook of a tonic and gin.
Some “brainiac,” you see, had decided one day
It’d be great to let test scores affect teacher pay.

When out in the district, there arose such a clamor
Educators were ticked; they raised a banner.
How dare politicians who earn way too much money
Try to take ours away…hey, that’s not even funny!

Have you no scruples, do you not understand
That you’re running off teachers by leaps and bounds.
You’re taking our planning, we attend endless meetings.
Our students’ attendance is often fleeting.

You test kids to death,
They cry out in pain
By the time April comes,
They’re beyond strained.

We need a new driver,
Someone who knows
What it’s like to teach children
Whose reading won’t flow.

Walk a mile in our shoes; let’s see how you do
Teaching standards that change every year or two.
Let’s measure your children against those who don’t struggle
And with those who have parents with whom they can snuggle.

You will beg, you will plead, but your efforts will fail.
No one will care; the VAM will prevail.
Only then will you see why teachers can’t sleep
On this Night Before VAM when worries are steep.

AuburnChick’s Got Spirit, Yes She Does

I knit up a quick little project this week, inspired by yarn I saw and bought at Joann’s last weekend.

I’m calling this my Auburn Team Spirit Hat.  The pattern is free and available here.

It was a super-quick knit, worked up over the course of two evenings.  I could have finished it in one setting, but I started too late on Sunday to finish that same night.

The yarn is Red Heart…definitely not my favorite…but I nixed my dislike of it because I’m a total fangirl of my favorite team.

In Case You Wonder – Part 2

This was me…today…Day 53 of this school year…

My arms were full as I carried my teacher bag, filled to the brim with lesson planning books, and a big surprise for Ms. J, the student I introduced you to yesterday…

First period…my planning…came and went, as did my second/third period block.

Finally, fourth period began, and J walked into my classroom.

I had a present for her, but I wanted to wait a few minutes longer.

She had bellwork to complete…stuff that actually counted for a numerical grade.

I knew if I sprung my surprise on her, she’d be completely distracted.

It was all I could do to refrain from reaching behind my desk to grab the books pictured above.

Bellwork was finished…then fluency.

And then…

I casually walked over to J’s seat and sat the boxed set in front of her.

She raised her head, and a huge smile appeared on her face.

She squealed in delight…much to the curiosity of her classmates.

“OMG, OMG,” she said.  “I can’t believe it!”

She carefully took each book out, lovingly running her hands over all six of them in turn.

She commented that the covers had changed.

Another student asked what the series was about, and though she tried to put it into words, she wound up just saying, “I will cry when I read these.  I can’t explain it.  You’ll just have to read them.”

When she opened the first book, ready to begin diving in, she exclaimed at the poster that was inside.

She doesn’t know this, but I think I’m going to give her the poster.  I really have no connection to it, except that it would remind me of her long after she has departed my room for the last time.

As I later reflected on her reaction, I realized that she never said “thank you.”

I know, though, from her reactions, that she’s extremely grateful…that my gift touched her heart in a way that makes words insufficient and, quite honestly, unnecessary.

In case you wonder why I spend hard-earned money on my students, J’s tale should speak for itself.

To watch a love affair develop between a student and a book is worth every penny spent.

In Case You Wonder

In case you wonder why I don’t mind dropping $40 on a set of books like the following…

It’s because of teenagers like Ms. “J.”

J came into my classroom with a chip on her shoulder.

She didn’t know why she was placed in Intensive Reading.

She’d never been in Intensive Reading before and claimed she was a very accomplished reader.

She was angry, so things didn’t start off well.

She distanced herself from me, lashed out rudely every time I asked her to do something, and caused numerous problems.

I stood my ground, held her accountable for her actions, and welcomed her back into my room with a clean slate every single day.

The ironic thing was that despite the problems we were having, we had something in common…

Our love for reading.

This girl would not…in fact refused to…keep her nose out of my books.

She read when she was supposed to, and she read when she wasn’t.

My classroom has over 1,000 books in it.  I’m pretty sure of that.

It’s a book lover’s haven.

As she started sharing her reactions about the books she was reading…most of the ones I’d read this past summer…a camaraderie developed.

I welcomed her anger at character’s decisions.

I gave her kleenex when she got sad over terrible things that were happening to other characters.

I recommended more books to her and found, to my delight (and to her surprise) that she actually trusted my choices.

I’m not sure when it happened, but gradually, our relationship changed.

It started the day she told me she had experienced a similar bad thing that had happened to a character.

She later shared more details about her life.

One day, as she was doing the grammar bellwork I’d posted on the board, she said, “We never did anything like this last year.  I actually learned something.”

I think it was her seal of approval on my teaching methods…something I value highly.

Last week, my eyes filled with tears when she excitedly approached me…report card in hand.

Her grades were good.  Really good.  And she wanted to tell ME.

She explained that last year, she’d made bad choices, and her grades had suffered.

She told me that over the summer, she had decided to change.

Her goal, she declared, was to make all A’s in my class.

She’s got a tough road ahead of her because the second and third nine weeks kick my students in the rear.

She’ll rise to the challenge, though.  She’s a girl who’s lived a tough life.  Already.


Today, my level of respect for this young woman rose exponentially when she told me that she takes care of her mother.

I joked that she probably gives her a hard time, and she very softly and sincerely said that no, she doesn’t.  She explained that her mother had heart surgery this past summer (or will be having it next summer…I couldn’t understand her properly), so she has to do everything for her mom.

She went on to say that she’s tired every day because she stays up late taking care of her mom…cooking…etc.

What a different perspective I have now.

This child who does, sometimes, try to sleep…a big no-no in my room…is so busy taking care of someone who is supposed to be the caregiver for her…that she’s going to school sleep-deprived…and maintaining amazing grades.

So, if you wonder why I spend over a thousand dollars a year on books, this is why.

Because of things like this…

She left me a note on my new whiteboard.  I didn’t take a picture of it before I left, but the words are imprinted on my heart…

I love you.

Written by a young woman who fought me so hard just ten weeks ago.

In the middle of so many education woes, I was reminded, yet again, why I do what I do…why I carry on…why my VAM doesn’t matter.

For girls like J.

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