With all my focus (especially when it comes to this blog) going to my pregnancy, I really haven't taken time to write about work and some of the great moments I have experienced with my students. At the end of this school year, I will not be returning to Sunset Ridge Middle School. I am going to try this stay-at-home-mom thing out (not going to lie, I am actually VERY nervous about it, but more on that in a different post). I have been teaching for the past 6 years, and I really love what I do.
Yes, there are those crazy situations... like this week when the 7th graders decided to create water balloons from condoms, or when another student came to school intoxicated and threw up in my friend's classroom in the early hours of the day. But let's be honest, those just add to the spice that is the middle school life, and we just have to laugh about it (after we have put on our teacher faces and dealt firmly with the situation. haha).
But I want to especially remember the WOW moments. The moments when I was a small part in helping a student see their great potential and grow in ways they never thought possible. This last unit my honor's students completed brought many of those WOW moments, and I want to share the impact it has had on my kids and well as on myself.
What is TED?
Check out TED talks at ted.com. There are hundreds of posted videos on a wide range of topics.
As a class, we've watched many of the videos and analyzed various aspects of the genre. We looked at the content and how the speeches were written. We noticed how the presenters used elements of storytelling and information to instruct and captivate their audience. And we even discussed the presence of body language, voice inflections, and effective visuals/props in the videos. After all that, students chose a topic they felt was personally inspiring, and they got to work writing and practicing their own TED-type talks.
Wow Moments in the Process
It just brings joy to your heart to hear a student get excited about their topics and speeches.
I especially felt a sense of pride for those students who are naturally more reserved and nervous to present. One student who has social anxiety chose to research and present a TED speech on social anxiety. I saw her blossom! When I told students that they needed to write 1,000 words for their speech, this student came up to me and admitted that she had already written her ideas...and they were about 2,000 words! Haha. Researching a topic that was a personal difficulty helped her take control of her anxiety and conquer it. It was an amazing sight to see.
Another student came in one day and told me, "Mrs. Macey. I had my whole speech written, but I wasn't super happy with how it all flowed. Then last night I was having a sleep over with a friend and we were talking about our TED talks. Suddenly, it all clicked and I ended up rewriting my entire speech at midnight last night. I love it now!" Haha! Ok, let's just take a minute to realize how awesome this is:
TED day Successes!
And then the actual presentation day was AMAZING!
I can't lie, I had nightmares the night before, and I'm pretty sure my nerves even caused me to throw up in the morning (although, I guess I could blame that on the pregnancy).
But everything ran smoothly and my students ROCKED their presentations! Small groups of students (3-4) went to another classroom to present. I dropped by each classroom to snap some pictures and listen to parts of the presentation. Honestly, I wish I had been able to listen to them all. After they all finished, they returned to my classroom and we talked about our successes and things we learned. The big take aways were:
Finally, I was surprised to learn that a few students even volunteered to give their presentations again when it wasn't required. My friend who teaches Biology said that a few students later in the day offered to present, and she was really impressed with their preparation, especially since it was last-minute.
All in all, I left today with a full heart. It is nice to know that I am making a difference and leaving some powerful lessons as I end my career as a middle school teacher.
My Last Lecture
There was a teacher I worked with who always wrote a final message to his students every year. The message would review some of the big units and concepts they learned throughout the year and how he hoped they would be able to carry some valuable life-lessons away from his class.
I loved the idea, so last year I started doing the same thing. Here is the letter I wrote to my students this year:
Keeping interest in the classroom
The end of the school year is approaching, and sometimes I find it difficult to keep my students (and myself) still engaged and diligently working until the end. This year has been a roller coaster of emotions, but despite it all I am grateful for the opportunity to teach a new grade and add some new creative ideas to my teaching experience.
What follows are some meaningful activities and discussions I have had with my students in the last few weeks of school to keep us interested in the classroom. I have found a lot of success in these final unit plans.
I decided to end the year reading and writing memoirs. Memoirs are great because they are based on the author's own memories and experiences. Students find if fun to write about their childhood memories or moments that stand out in their lives.
With my regular Language Arts class, I had them participate in an interview project, inspired by Story Corps. This played into the memoir unit because it asked them to ask some deep and sometimes difficult questions to an adult; then, the hope was that they would be able to ask themselves similarly deep questions in order to think of a meaningful memoir to write about their own lives.
I really, really liked this assignment because it helped students branch out of their comfort zone and have meaningful conversations with their parents, grandparents, leaders, or other adults in their lives. Some students hated it (haha) because they said they felt awkward asking personal questions to their parents, but I think it was actually good for these kids because it helped them see their parents as real people with hope, dreams, failures, and successes.
Another unit I incorporated into my curriculum this year was on finding a job. My students learned how to fill out a job application, write a neat and clear resume, and effectively communicated in a job interview.
As part of the unit, my honors class did a little extra research and discussed the question: "When choosing a career, should you follow your passion or choose a more practical occupation?" Ooo, this was definitely a fun and heated debate.
I first had students write for 3 minutes on their initial opinion. After that, we took a vote. In almost all of my classes, the unanimous opinion was that people should follow their passion. Well, to start the ball rolling, I showed them a video by Mike Rowe where he clearly argues the point that practicality should be the guiding principle in choosing a career (see the assignment button above for access to all the videos). We took notes and discussed some of his main points. The next day, students were able to do even more research on both sides of the argument. As they watched videos, listened to podcasts, and read articles, they talked with other students at their tables on what they were learning and what they did or did not agree with. It was awesome to hear students consider their own experience as well as the experiences from their parents and grandparents as they tried to make sense of what they learned in the research.
The final day we had a debate. I assigned certain students to defend the "Passion" side and others to defend the "Practical" side. They used their notes and the discussions from the previous days to argue their point. At the end of it all, we did a final quickwrite where students wrote about their opinion now after the research and discussion. Most students now felt that there needed to be a healthy balance of practical and passion in a job. It was interesting to see how their opinions had developed through the mini unit.
Finally, I merged what we had discussed with personal memoir with the pointers on how to persuade a possible employer in a job resume/interview to have the students write college admissions essays. I think my students were pretty shocked to find out that a college admissions essay was very different than the "essays" they are accustomed to seeing and writing.
We first discussed what kind of purpose and audience this type of essay would need to fit, and that helped us also figure out an appropriate tone for the stories we chose. (Basically, I wanted to make sure that students were not just choosing a story for the purpose of making their 9th grade peers laugh; that would not fulfill the purpose or audience that is truly meant to be targeted in a college admissions essay). We looked up commonly used questions for the essay prompt, and then students were able to start brainstorming and drafting their essay.
Students enjoyed this final assignment. It was a way for them to write memoir-type stories in a meaningful and structured way. I loved reading these and seeing a small part of their lives that shape their personalities. I read stories about dance recitals and football teams, the sadness of divorce and the joys of family vacations, role models and important life-lesson moments. It was really insightful and helped me love my students even more.
So next week is our official last week of school and (let's be honest) it will be filled with memory book writing, trips to Lagoon, and cleaning up the classroom. I am grateful for this year to have taught 9th grade. I have learned a lot and have grown closer to my students as we have struggled together.
To end it all, I think this school year can be summed up in this adorable cup I received from a student: "Eat, Sleep, Teach, Repeat". Haha. Sometimes it felt like I was just going through the motions, but I hope my students were able to pull valuable lessons from our discussions.
Well, I didn't want to announce it until it was official, but now it is so......
Next year I will be the new 9th grade honors English teacher at SRMS!!!!
I am really excited ... and really nervous. It is flattering that the current 9th grade honors teacher personally suggested that I take his spot. That in and of itself is quite a compliment. After thinking about it and discussing it with Andrew and other trusted family and friends, I decided to accept the offer. It will definitely be a change, but I think I'm ready for a change.
8th grade has been wonderful these past 3 years. I feel like I have been a positive influence on the 8th grade Language Arts team, and they have definitely taught me as well. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to grow close to some amazing educators and friends because of this job. Now in 9th grade, I will be able to extend my circle of friends at Sunset Ridge Middle School even more.
One of the big factors that helped me choose to accept the 9th grade position was the prospect of having new creative opportunities in mapping out my curriculum for next year. This will definitely help me keep sane during the summer months while Andrew still has to work and study. I am excited to try and implement new teaching strategies and more rigorous material to challenge these honors students.
By far, the best reaction I've seen about this announcement has been from my own students. I know that many of them were sad to find out that the current honors teacher would be leaving for an administrative position at a different middle school. However, when they heard that I might be taking his spot, their reactions were so positive and full of excitement. It really made me feel good to know that they enjoy learning from me. What a blessing these students have been in my life.
* PS: If you know of any honors Language Arts teachers who are generous with their curriculum maps, rubrics, essays and assignments, book units, and any other ideas, please send me their contact information. I will be desperately taking resources from every website, teacher, and friend I know throughout the summer. Thanks! :)
May 2-8: Boxcar Simulation
This week was a busy one, and it included one of my favorite teaching moments of the year: the boxcar simulation during our Holocaust unit.
At school I have officially ended all my state and district testing, so I can go back to actually TEACHING! Yay. We are in the middle of reading a historical fiction book based on the Holocaust (it's called The Devil's Arithmetic). During our reading, I have activities, simulations, and discussions planned to enhance my students understanding and appreciation of what people experienced during the Holocaust. This week I did a boxcar simulation and recruited the help of my vice principal. My students were thoroughly confused/angry/scared as both I and the vice principal spoke harshly to them, took away their phones and electronics, forced them to move quickly into a line, and marched them into a small, darkened room. While squished in there, I took out a flashlight and read a section of our book that described the trip on the boxcar. Afterwards, we walked quietly back to the classroom and students were able to write about their feelings and reactions to this simulation. The discussion that emanates from this activity is always so powerful.
While I am enjoying this unit, I can't deny that I am SOOO excited for school to be out. Only 19 more days of work and then I'm free for the summer! :)
Andrew and Maichael
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