Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One in Ten

            “Emily, what are you still doing here?  The sixth grade hall was dismissed five minutes ago.  Did you leave something in my room?”

            Emily looked like a frightened fawn.  Her eyes widened and her mouth opened to say something, but nothing came out.

            On the last day of school, students are dismissed in a very regimented fashion.  Kids tend to do silly things that they normally wouldn’t do, as they walk out of school on the last day.  No one wants to deal with a student in detention the day after school is let out, so we clear the building one hall at a time.

            It was easy for me to play drill sergeant the last day because the past few weeks of school had left a sour taste in my mouth.  Many teachers can describe how they lay awake stewing over something one or two of their students did or an email one parent sent them.  It’s called “critic’s math.”  Nine people can love you, but the one person who is unhappy is all you think about.  Nine compliments plus one criticism equals one criticism.

            My assigned hall was clear and I was walking out to the front door when I ran into Emily.

            “Emily, what do you need?”

            “I . . . I just wanted to tell you thank you for everything you did for me this year before I left.”

            I stood there stunned.  My eyes began to fill up.

            “Emily, that is so sweet."  I gathered her into a big hug.  "Thank you.”  When I let go, I saw that Emily was now beaming.

            “It’s been wonderful working with you.  You have a good summer, and I’ll see you next year . . . unless I see you in the mall,” I said.

            Emily turned and walked five feet, turned around again and shyly waved, then disappeared around the corner.

            Maybe one in ten can spoil a few weeks for you, but another one in ten can put the sparkle right back into things.

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.  Proverbs 25:11

Thursday, May 24, 2012


            “Here Mrs. Jones.  Sign my yearbook.”

            Naomi slid her yearbook across the table to me, and I slid my yearbook across to her.  It was the last day of school and 200 sixth graders gathered in the locker area exchanging yearbooks during the last hour before they left.  I opened Naomi’s book and began writing.

            Dear Naomi – It has been a wonderful year getting to know you.  I am proud of all your accomplishments and look forward to seeing you next year.  Mrs. Jones

            I slid the book back to her and watched her smile as she read.

            “I did learn a lot this year.  I’m proud of me too.”

            I opened my yearbook to see what Naomi had written to me.

            Dear Mrs. Jones – Your a graet teacher Your nice and sweet and really smart.  HAGS  Naomi.


            I still have an old-fashioned flip phone and haven’t entered the world of texting. 

            “Naomi, what does this mean?”

            She took my book and wrote some more.

                        H         A          G         S
                        a                      o          u
                        v                      o          m
                        e                      d          m

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Week

            May 7 to 11 was Teacher Appreciation Week.  At my school we had lunch provided two different days, breakfast one day, and ice cream treats at the end of another day.  We got a lot of free food this week!

            This is an interesting time of year for Teacher Appreciation Week (TAW for this post).  The schoolyear is coming to the end, and theoretically everyone’s heart is filled with gratitude for all the hard work they’ve seen the teacher do throughout the year.

            But the timing of TAW is weird for middle school teachers.  We started the quarter coming off Spring Break with a marathon review for state tests (Picture kids running away screaming “Ahhhhhhh,” and teachers madly running after them with a textbook saying, “Just one more thing to remember!”).  Then we had the six days of testing (Picture teachers biting their nails to the nub and students sitting in front of computers until they’re cross-eyed).  Then (finally) we got back to the business of teaching.

            Except . . .  the weather turned wonderful and the kids were done.  Done!  We kept pouring on the lessons because, come on, there was still seven weeks of school left.  It’s not easy to drum up that second wind of energy to motivate twelve year olds when a warm sunny day beckons them and you outside.  But we pressed on.

            Last week (during TAW) I watched this conversation between the Science teacher and a student.

            “I lost my tests over chapters 6, 7, and 8, and I need copies to study for the final.”

            “You lost all three of them?”

            “Uhhhh, yeah.  Can I have another copy of them?”

            The teacher stares back for a long time, probably wondering how long before the three replacements get lost.  Then, “Sure.”  While the tests are printing out the teacher asks, “Where’s your circuit board?  I want to see how much you’ve done.”

            “Uhhhh.  Yeah.  I think it’s done.

            “Go get it.”

            The student walks back with a board covered with red paper.

            “I thought your board was done.”

            “Uhhhh.  Yeah.  Well, it’s not quite done.”

            “It’s not even started.”

            “Uhhhh.  Yeah.  I haven’t printed off my pictures yet.”

            “Have you found them on the internet?”

            “Uhhhhh.  Yeah.  I have them.”

            They both walk over to a computer.  The student logs on, scrolls through numerous documents, opening and closing folders.

            “Where are your pictures?  Did you save them in a folder?”

            “Uhhhhh.  Yeah.  I, uhhhh, I haven’t saved them yet, but I know what I want.”

            “Have you chosen a topic?”

            “Uhhhhh.  Yeah.  I have a topic.”

            “What is it?”

            “Uhhhhh.  Yeah.  Uhhhh.  Uhhhhh.”

            It’s just too painful to watch any longer.  I walked away.

            During TAW I read a blog by John Piper about feeling fragile

            There are mornings when I wake up feeling fragile. Vulnerable. It’s often vague. No single threat. No one weakness. Just an amorphous sense that something is going to go wrong and I will be responsible.

            That pretty much sums up how middle school teachers feel this time of the year.  The free food during TAW is what gets us to work.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stones and Pounds and Minutes and Seconds

            “In England they have a measure of weight called a stone.  One stone is equal to fourteen pounds.”

            I turned around and wrote on the board:

1 stone = 14 pounds

            “Two stone equals 28 pounds, and three stone is 42 pounds.  How many pounds are ten stone?”

            On the board I added:

1 stone = 14 pounds                10 stone = ? pounds

            Two sweet faces looked back at me blankly.

            “Come on guys.  You can do this.  One stone is 14 pounds.  Ten stone is how many pounds?”

            Two blank faces continued to stare back at me.  Then Caitlyn began squinting her eyes and looked up at the ceiling.  She always did that when she wanted me to know that she was thinking really hard.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  In How-To-Be-A-Teacher School, they teach you to give students time to think.

            After 45 seconds I went to the board and wrote 14 + 14 + 14 + 14 + 14 + 14 + 14 + 14 + 14 + 14.

            “Now you could add all these up, but is there a faster way to add multiple numbers?”

            Caitlyn’s mouth dropped open and she gasped.  “Oh!  I know.  You multiply it by. . .”  She stopped a moment and began counting the 14’s.  Naomi noticed Caitlyn counting, so she began counting too.

            “There’s ten of them!” Caitlyn said.  “You multiply by ten.”

            “140!” Naomi interrupted.  “The answer’s 140.”

            “Good job guys,” I said walking over to finish the board.

1 stone = 14 pounds                10 stone = 140 pounds

            “Let’s try the next problem.  Alice can run one kilometer in 603 seconds.  About how many minutes is that?”

            Both faces went blank again.

            “When I say about, that’s a hint.  What should you do when you hear about?”

            “You should round the number,” Caitlyn said.

            “600!” Naomi interrupted again.  “You round to 600!”

            “Good job,” I congratulated them.  “Now, how many minutes is 600 seconds?”

            Caitlyn began squinting again.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  After about 30 seconds I went over to the board.       

            “How many seconds are in one minute?”

            “60!” Naomi shouted.

            On the board I wrote:

1 stone = 14 pounds                10 stone = 140 pounds

1 minute = 60 seconds            ? minutes = 600 seconds

            I turned and looked expectantly at the girls.  Caitlyn had given up squinting and just looked back sadly.

            “Guys, look at the problem above,” I said, sweeping my hand across the stone/pounds problem.  “This is a big hint about how to solve this new problem.”

            I continued to wait when suddenly Naomi jumped up.

            “Stones!” she shouted.

            Seriously?  “No.  We’re talking about seconds and minutes,” I explained patiently.

            Naomi continued to study the board. 

            “140!”  she shouted, jumping clear out of her seat.

            If you ever go by my room and see me slowly knocking my head on the wall, I want you to know I really, really was trying.