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The First Graduate

On Wednesday, high school athletes around the country put pen to paper and signed Letters of Intent.

If you’re not familiar with this event, it is when the kids who have worked their hineys off for years and years sign the dotted line and commit to play their respective sports at two and four-year colleges.

My school was incredibly blessed.

Fourteen of our guys signed letters.

Three more will be attending prep schools for the first semester and transferring to other colleges to begin their playing careers.

Seventeen young men.

Most of them from impoverished homes.

They are going to college.

With much of their schooling paid for.

Some of our boys are going as far as California.  Others are staying closer to home.

It was an event that was televised through our school’s TV system.  Nearly every class tuned in.

It sent a strong message to the underclassmen.

Work hard.

Study up.

Stay out of trouble.

For me, there was an especially touching moment that day.

A young man I blogged about a few months ago, “T,”…the one who enveloped me in a strong bear hug as I exited a guidance counselor’s office in tears over another student’s situation, signed a football letter.

He will be attending college on a full ride.

This is something that would make anyone’s jaw drop; however, it’s even more incredible when you know the rest of the story.

He will be the first person in his family to graduate from high school.

Yes.  You read that right.

High school.

He was the last person called up to sign his letter during the long ceremony.

I think the applause given to him was the loudest.

His story is inspiring.

As soon as the ceremony was over, I was the first to hug him.

He has grown to mean so much to me…always quick with a greeting every time he sees me.

Now, don’t you dare start commenting with words such as, “You touched his life.”

That, in my opinion, isn’t quite true.

HE is the one who has touched MY life…changed it…with his gentleness…his thoughtfulness…his humbleness.

The average person can turn on the television or open a newspaper and read similar stories…students rising above their circumstances to do great things.

I used to be one of those people.

The stories were so remote.  They didn’t directly affect me.

And then I started working at my school.

And now I’m in the midst of these stories…watching them unfold before my very eyes.

Tears threatened to spill over as I returned to my classroom after the signing ceremony.

I am constantly reminded what an honor it is to do what I do every day.

Teaching is an AMAZING profession.

It’s not about getting a paycheck.

It’s not about having summers off and “supposedly” going home at 3.

For me, it’s not about what I do for my students.

It’s about what they do for ME.

I am different.

Because they are a part of my life.

I am different because I get to watch as young men like “T” become the first in their families to graduate.

I Think I’m Going to Pass FCAT This Year

Last Friday, I administered a very difficult test that required students to apply inferencing skills we’d been working on for the past three or four weeks.

Inferencing is a skill that does not come easily to struggling readers because it requires them to read between the lines to discover messages that writers do not explicitly express.

Students have to use clues from the text plus what they already have in their schema (that’s background knowledge for you non-education-industry folks) to reach conclusions.

As a person who often doesn’t “get” jokes, I can certainly empathize with my students’ struggles.

Many of my students did not do well on my exam, and I worried whether I had tested them fairly.

Barb looked over my test and declared it bona-fide FCAT prep material (i.e., an excellent test).

I was hesitant to return the tests to my students, but they weren’t all that surprised about the results.

They knew it had been challenging.

There were surprises, though.

One of my students, who is classified as ELL (English Language Learner – hails from a home where another language besides English is primarily spoken), had made one of the best grades in his class.  ELL students usually have a more difficult time with reading comprehension, so success comes in much smaller steps sometimes.

You should have seen the look on his face when he saw his grade.

I do not think I could have wiped that smile off if I’d tried.

Then, he said some of the most powerful words I’ve heard from a student, “Mrs. AuburnChick, I think I’m going to pass FCAT this year.  I have the confidence to do it now.”

Did you get tears in your eyes when you read that?

I felt tears form behind my eyes when he spoke those words to me.

This young man has a lot of struggles besides academics.

He’s been in my homeroom for two years, and I cannot say that I was exactly thrilled when he walked through my door this year as a member of one of my ninety-minute classes.

His reputation preceded him, I’m afraid, and his antics in class have been, shall we say, “interesting.”

BUT, and this is a huge word, something is clicking for him.

He has asked to be moved to a seat away from everyone else so he won’t be tempted by the distractions that others cause in that room.

His test score sparked something in him.

It sparked confidence.

This is something that most struggling readers do not possess.

They are used to failing.

The state board of education has repeatedly told them that they miss the mark, so they often give up.

They’ve been carrying around labels such as ESE, ADD, and other three letter acronyms for years, and they feel stigmatized.

My student even said as much to me on Tuesday.  He said that he feels dumb because he is classified as ELL.  These kids are smart, and they know what IEPs and 504 plans are.  They sit in on their own meetings.

My heart went out to him, as it does to every single one of my students.  They are all precious to me, and trying to meet their individual needs causes me much angst.

Rebuilding confidence is part of every teacher’s job.

We can only pray that they do experience success so that they can say, with a sure voice, “I think I’m going to pass ___________ this year.”

Tell Me How You Really Feel

Every week, my students fill out what I call “Text Connections” sheets. They are, in essence, reading logs.

This year, my mentor had the fabulous idea of having students write QAR (Question-Answer Relationship) questions on the forms.

QAR is a question creation strategy we teach our students because research has shown that the kids who can generate questions do much better on standardized tests because they know where to locate the answers.

Anyhoo…

This past weekend, as I graded my students’ sheets, one in particular stood out to me.

Now, my students still find it amazing that I do read what they write. Despite this, one student seems to have forgotten.

Take a look at the question and answer she created (students must answer the questions they create)…

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The answer made me giggle. It definitely shows my student’s sweet nature, but it also shows that nobody should try to take something…or rather someone… who belongs to her.

I love teaching moments like this!!

Fostering Success

Whew!

What an emotional week!!!

There were highs, and there were lows.

I’ve already shared some of my lows.

I thought I’d share one of the high moments.

It began last Friday.  I’d been working on identifying main ideas and details with my students.  This is a very difficult reading skill to master.

I decided to give my students a quiz.  The plan was to review the quiz results on Monday and test them on Tuesday.

Oh my word, but my heart fell when I discovered that most of my students had bombed the quiz!!!

When I reflected over the weekend, I realized that I had not scaffolded instruction properly.

So, on Monday, I apologized to my students, and we got down to the nitty gritty.  I delayed the test until Friday, scoring four more days of instructional time.

We worked.

Hard.

I spent an entire class period helping them understand how to selectively highlight text.  Kids tend to highlight entire sentences and paragraphs.  It can be difficult to discern what’s important and what is not.

We also reviewed strategies I’d never gone over before.

On Wednesday, I separated my students into three groups.  I’d selected the four students who I knew needed the most assistance to work with at my guided reading table.

I pulled the students who had scored the highest and placed them in one corner of the room.  After explaining to my students that research shows that students score highest on exams when they peer coach one another, I asked the group in the corner of the room to select one person to work with (they couldn’t select a person from my guided reading table).

Then, I gave my students their quizzes from the previous week and asked them to determine the correct answers.

I took things one step further and asked students to write brief explanations of WHY each incorrect answer was not the right choice.  To do this, they had to go back to the text multiple times.

To sweeten the deal, I told my students that I would regrade their quizzes and adjust those grades in the computer.  My thinking was that mastery was more important than what they made “in the moment.”  They were doing work that was tied to curriculum, and explaining their answers took them from critical thinking to metacognition.  That’s where the real learning happens, folks!

While working with my small groups at my table, I discovered a very interesting thing.

They admitted that they had never read the text the first time!!!!

Oh my!

That freaked me out a bit.

Once we worked together, and they saw how integral it was to look at the text for answers, their eyes were opened.

Yesterday, I administered a second quiz to check on their progress.

My heart sang with joy when I reviewed my first class period’s results.

They had nearly doubled their scores!!!!

Oh my gosh!!!

The pattern continued as each class took their quizzes.

Before the classes took their quizzes, I pulled aside the students who had been absent on Wednesday and worked with them (while the others were reading silently).  I didn’t want them to miss the one-on-one instruction that the others had received.

I’ve gotta admit something to you.

I grew up in a time when if you didn’t get a concept, you were SOL, so to speak.

The teacher moved on, and you had to scramble to pull up your grade without fully comprehending the material you’d failed at.

Times are different, and we cannot teach that way any longer.

It’s a lot more work, and it means adjusting your lesson plans.

But oh my.

As I learned, it’s one of the BIGGEST keys to help foster success.

Our poor children give up because they never get the chance to succeed!!!

They have no confidence, and they wind up compensating by acting up in class or even dropping out of school.

This week’s teaching experience is huge for me.

I think it marks a turning point in the way I will structure my lesson plans.

I’m excited at what lies ahead for my students!

Oh, and a little funny for you.

Before I closed my door yesterday afternoon, I randomly took a look at the sign-in sheet that students must complete when they are tardy to class.

I think you’ll get a chuckle, as I did, when you read the gentleman’s reason…

Yes, folks, apparently he thinks that Gummies are also integral to fostering success.

😀

You Did That

Boy, am I a bad blogger lately!

Last night, I ran into a friend of mine, a first-year principal who started a blog a few months ago, and she apologized for not having responded to a comment I’d made.  She also told me that she was going to subscribe to my blog.  I assured her that she hadn’t missed much as my blogging has been haphazard of late.

The reason why I haven’t blogged much is that this has been a very busy time for me.

I had the first of two observations, so I had a lot of thinking, planning, and more thinking (maybe I should say “overthinking”) to do.

All went well, I am happy to say.  I’ll be blogging about that tomorrow.

What I wanted to share was some new lingo I learned this week.

When you work with teenagers, you get to keep up with the latest and greatest in everything…music, movies, clothing, and lingo.

You already know that I took advantage of Black Friday sales to pick up new clothes.

I was eager to show off the new threads at school, so I wore a pair of my skinny jeans, paired with a blingy customized t-shirt I had made.  I wore a pair of Skechers that I’ve had for a while.

Well, let me tell you that while the kids liked the new look, they HATED the shoes.

The boys who entered first period were not shy about dogging them.

The girls were more polite, telling me, “Well, I wouldn’t wear them, but if you like them, then that’s all that matters.”

Yeah.  Right.

One of my girls in my 6th period class told me, “I’m surprised that you are wearing those.  You usually have on cute shoes.”

Gee.  Thanks.

Another girl went so far as to look me up and down and say, “You did that.  But the shoes.  No.”

I’d never heard that phrase before…”You did that” except in strictly literal terms…so I had to ask her what she meant…if it was a good or a bad thing.

She repeated the statement, “You did that.”

Ok.

Sure.

“But is it good or bad?” I repeated.

“It’s good,” she said, “Except for the shoes.”

Ok.  Gotcha.

On Thursday, I wore a sparkly red shirt and new pants.  I also had on a cute pair of grey plaid flats I’d bought at Old Navy.

I wasn’t sure about pairing up the shoes with the rest of the outfit, but I’d gone for it.

The kids ooohed and ahhhhed at my outfit.

My 6th period student…the one mentioned above…said, “You did that.”

I had to smile.

I’d done good.

Friday, I wore a school soccer sweatshirt, a different pair of new skinny jeans, and a different pair of white lace up sneakers.

I was very nervous given the response to my shoes a few days before.

My worries were not necessary.  My little girl gave me the validation I needed when she declared, “You did that” again.

I laughingly told her that I’d be blogging about her comment.

It’s always good to know what they kids mean when they say something.

Actually, maybe it’s not always good.

heehee

In Her Own Time

Wow…what a weekend!

As you know, one of my town’s young ladies, Madison, was involved in a car accident on Friday evening.

As of this writing, her condition has changed very little, and the prognosis is still very grim.

I visited her family in the hospital yesterday…spending a few hours there.

Her parents are holding up as well as one can expect given the tragic circumstances.

There have been a few chuckles, despite the intense heartbreak.

Madison’s mom walked into the waiting area and announced that Madison came into this world two weeks late, and it wouldn’t surprise her if she held on a couple of extra weeks before departing.

I’ve also heard stories about how Madison was always late to everything, so it’s no surprise to those who know her best that her timing now isn’t any different.

The waiting is so hard, and the painful moments more intense than any I have ever witnessed.

The cries of anguish that I’ve seen and heard are heartbreaking.

Sigh.

I watched as Madison’s parents comforted one another in a corner of the waiting room.  I pulled my eyes away in an attempt to respect their privacy.  I cannot imagine having to live out their darkest hours in front of so many people…such raw emotions.

These are incredible people, though…so generous to share Madison with all of us.

Last night, my church held a service for the youth group…a time for them to honor Madison by sharing their favorite memories of her…a time for praying for her and her family…a time for comforting one another.

Like the previous night’s prayer vigil at the school’s gymnasium, the Gospel was preached by one of my church’s youth pastors.

It was INCREDIBLE!

I sat and watched as a room full of students sat in rapt attention as the Gospel of Jesus Christ was presented.

Three youngsters gave their hearts to Jesus during this time.

Tears rolled down my face as I considered that Madison’s accident may have been the catalyst for three more souls joining the family of God.

After the service, I watched as Madison’s friends wrote messages on posters…words that will one day bring comfort to her family…

It’s difficult to watch these youngsters grieve.

As we know, though, grief is a part of life, although it kind of stinks to have to grieve over someone so young.

What amazed me as I watched these students after the service was the way they comforted one another.

I watched as a group of five gentlemen gathered into a huddle, put their arms around each other, and prayed.

In fact, my jaw dropped.

I wanted to pull out my phone and snap a photo (blogger that I am), but I didn’t.

For two reasons.

1)  My battery was almost dead, and

2)  Despite the public venue, it was one of those private moments that a photo would have intruded upon.

Still, the image is burned into my mind.

As the minutes ticked by, I watched as these kids’ tears turned to laughs and, in true teenager fashion, they left…many of them smiling.

That is what Madison would have preferred because, as I’ve already mentioned before, she is a child with a quick smile and a hearty laugh.

As so we left…returning to our homes to continue praying for this young life that has touched so many…waiting for the Lord to do His thing…smiling to ourselves at the distinct possibility that Madison is choosing her own time to meet Him…probably using this time to plan her grand entrance into Heaven…true Madison style.

Oh, and before I forget, I want to share this song, which someone in town wrote and recorded in honor of Madison.  He wrote it after reading a newspaper article about her accident.

This song bespeaks of how one life can touch another…especially a life as vibrant as Madison’s.

Choices

Rooster and the Mr. took a trip to Auburn on Friday.

The reason?

A college tour.

My youngest child is getting ready to begin the application process.

Sigh.

He visited the University of South Florida (USF) a couple of weeks ago…

He loved it.  The amenities that he saw and heard about were incredibly tempting.

Then, he visited Auburn.

He’s no stranger to this, the loveliest village on the plain…

Both choices have pros and cons.

Rooster would be able to attend USF with several of his current classmates from Podunk High School.  Thus, he would immediately have a group of friends to fit in with.

Another advantage of selecting USF is that it isn’t too far from Southeastern, where Chicky attends college, so we could visit both children with each drive down.

A third advantage of selecting USF is that the college accepts Bright Futures, which is a scholarship program for Florida high school students who have earned certain GPAs and volunteered a certain number of hours.

Auburn, on the other hand, is a part of family tradition.  Grand Pooba and Coupon Queen attended Auburn way back in the 1800’s…errr…mid 1900’s…heehee.

I heard a story that, while on the tour with Rooster and the Mr., Grand Pooba shared first-hand knowledge of a story that the guide was sharing.  Yes, he taught that guide a thing or two.

The Mr. and his brother, Super D, attended Auburn as well…with both earning their degrees in early 90’s.

We’ve attended Auburn football games since before the kids were twinkles in my eyes.

Although Rooster would have to pay out-of-state tuition, because of his high ACT score, he would be eligible for a lot of scholarship money.  He also likes some of the living accommodations…a lot.

Please pray for Rooster as he works his way through his applications.  Ultimately, I want him to follow God’s will, wherever that may lead him.

Trust

I know that yesterday I blogged about my fourth week of teaching, but I just had to share a sweet teaching story with you.

First, the background.

The first few days of school, I had a student in one of my classes that was quite the cut-up.  Actually, that class had three cut-ups, and their antics were quite a problem.

Finally, around the third or fourth day, I asked one of the guys, “D,” to stay after class.

He was about to face a reckoning.

Well, I think that the Lord got a hold of my vocal cords and took over that conversation.  Rather than coming down hard on this student, I took a gentle approach.

I began by telling the student what a great personality he had.  I explained that kids loved him because of his fun personality.  However, that personality was getting him into trouble in my class.

He nodded in understanding.

I then went on to explain that he could make a good choice by channeling that energy and personality into something positive.  I told him that he was a natural leader, and that the other students would imitate his behavior…good or bad.

Then, I told him about Barack Obama, who got elected based on his charismatic personality and not his experience.  I explained to D that he had the same kind of potential within himself.

The last thing I told D was that I believed in him.  I told him not to listen to other people who said otherwise.  I repeated, several times, the mantra that I believed in him.

Well, he signed my behavior log with a statement about what we had discussed, and I gave him a pass to his next class.

I had no idea if I would see a difference.  I’d had this type of discussion with several of my students last year, and they had not hit their marks.

I didn’t have to wait long to see results.

After school, I spoke with Ms. “J,” who teaches math across the hall from me.  D is in her class.  She immediately asked, “What did you say to D?  He was a completely different child today.  He asked to sit in the back of the room and did all of his work quietly.  He told me that he had spoken to you.”

Oh my.

He had listened.

Better yet, he had taken my words to heart.

Folks, three weeks later, I have not had a single issue with this student.  He comes in, follows procedures, contributes politely to classroom discussions, and then leaves.

He’s making good choices…choices I knew he could make if he just believed in himself.

But this story gets better.

A little over a week ago, I had to administer an untimed, computer-based diagnostic test.  During the test, D asked if he could go look for his brother, who had first lunch, so he could get money for his own lunch, which would be immediately after my class.

I gave him the okay.  As he began to walk out my door, I quietly whispered, “I’m letting you go because I trust that you won’t be wandering around aimlessly.  Trust.  It’s something that you and I have built since the beginning of school.”

Well, this guy came back a little while later and resumed his test.

After he finished, I approached him and quietly asked how things were going.  He told me that he had been working hard on his behavior.

He paused then and lowered his eyes, telling me that he had been slipping in Ms. J’s class.

Then he said something that floored me.

He said that he owed her an apology.

My mouth dropped to the floor.

I explained that she would forgive him because we’re all humans and prone to make mistakes.

But this story gets even better.

Fast forward to early last week.  We were discussing characters, and for the bellwork that day, I had asked students to list three strengths and three weaknesses that they possess.

Then, we did a Think-Pair-Share exercise (my first…and before my mentor modeled it for me later in the week).  After students shared their answers with their partners, I went around the room, asking students to share at least one thing they had shared with their own partners.

When I got to D, he explained that one of his weaknesses was trusting people.

Can I just tell you that I paused in that moment.  I had tears in my eyes.

This young man who had been working so hard in my class has trust issues, and yet he made himself very vulnerable in that moment by allowing us to have that glimpse into his soul.

It was obvious that he trusts me.  I don’t know that he would have shared such personal information if he didn’t.

Folks, teaching is not about the big paycheck (yeah right).  It’s not about having summers off (ha, ha, ha).

It’s about unforgettable moments like the ones I’ve shared above.

Teaching is about impacting young lives…to the point where kids begin making better decisions…thus affecting the rest of their lives in very positive ways.

I’m learning that my students need daily reminders that they are special.  It doesn’t take much.  Quietly spoken, sincere affirmations such as “Good job” or “Thank You” can do more for children than long, eloquent speeches.

I think, in a way, this experience with D is helping me with my own trust issues.  I didn’t think I could teach reading.  I didn’t think I was ready.

God knew otherwise, and all He asked me to do was to trust Him.

I think that my experience with D is God’s affirmation that I’m following His plan and doing a good job.  In a way, I feel God’s pat on my shoulder telling me “Thank you” for obeying and trusting.

I guess lessons in trust aren’t just for teenagers, eh?

It’s Band Season!

There’s nothing that says high school football season like a band marching in at the beginning of a game…

This is my third year of being a band mom, but I still get chills when I watch the pageantry…

I am so impressed by the kids’ dedication to their craft as well as the band director’s commitment to the music and his students…

I don’t quite know what I’ll do next year when I’m no longer an “official” band mom.  Guess I’ll have to soak up as much of the fun this year, while I can!

One-Sided Phone Conversations

Last night’s phone conversation with Chicky went something like this:

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

“What’s up?”

“Just got home from the game.  I’m waiting for the shower.”

“Ok.  How was the game?”

“We won, 3-0.”

“Yes, I heard the first half wasn’t good.”

“No, we were a little lazy.”

“I heard that you hustled.  Did you have an assist?”

[insert a brief description of a possible assist]

“How’s your week looking?”

“Fine.  We leave on Thursday for games next weekend.”

“Good.”

“The shower’s free.  I’ve gotta go.”

“Ok. I love you.”

“Bye.”

That was it.

This is fairly typical.

I often wonder when the conversations will change…when they will become two-sided…a little about her and a little about me.

Call this selfish or indulgent if you want, but it would be nice to have this almost-adult child of mine express an interest in my life.

Sigh.

Hormonal?

Perhaps.

Still, the desire lingers on.

Maybe one day…

 

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