The motivation of responsibility

Ah there it is, one of the things I found while searching how to fight apathy was to give students responsibility. I know in the past it’s worked with students I have.

My second year teaching I had a student that I routinely had to speak to about her talking when she was supposed to be listening or working who complained she couldn’t read my handwriting on the agenda/homework on the board each week. So I showed her where my plan book was and said “Ok, you can write it.” Sure enough each day she came in, got her things together, then came to pick up my plan book and wrote the agenda/homework on the board. After that I had to speak to her much less in class about her behavior.

There are fewer responsibilities I can assign in a middle school classroom but this week is Red Ribbon week and we’re having a door decorating contest in our building. Several of my academic focus students, think homeroom, wanted to work on the door. One of those is a student who rarely if ever gets work done on time. This is a student who has gotten to experience lots of Mrs. Davis’ nagging to get said work done. Yesterday the student asked if during English class they could work on the door. I told them that when they finished the essay that is due today they could work on the door. The essay was done when the student arrived at class. I looked it over and it was done well too. Such is the motivation of having responsibility. Now to find another responsibility for that student and a few others.


Apathy: a Teacher’s bane

One of the things that I have the most trouble dealing with as a teacher is student apathy and unfortunately it seems to be high in my students this year. From discussions with other teachers it seems to be an issue across the board and not just in my class. For some reason this particular group of students seems to care less about their education and learning than any, that any of us have had in years.

Now bearing in mind that we have many students who have a really tough home life, it still seems abnormally high. I understand that my students dealing with lack of food or clothing or housing will not care as much about school as those who have all of their basic needs met. I’m familiar with Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. I know kids who are dealing with the illness or loss of a parent or grandparent will also often not care as much about school.

However what I’m seeing is students who may not have all these things but school is their haven, their safe place, where they are fed, and we make sure they are clean and clothed and they concentrate and do their absolute best on their school work, and even if their best isn’t great they’re trying.

Then we have the kiddos who do have all of their physical needs met at home, maybe it’s emotional they’re lacking. Maybe their apathy and lack of effort at school is a cry for help, so I try to connect with them. I try to build relationships, which is a whole other post. And yet there are still kids that don’t seem to care, no matter how much we care about them or how they do, they don’t seem to care.

I’ve been doing some research, that’s my thing according to the Kolbe index I took years ago. The first site I found listed some things I can do.

  1. Give students duties and responsibilities – I have done this in the past though not yet this year. I’m not sure this is appropriate for the students I’m most struggling with, but I can try so now I need to make a list of responsibilities or duties students could take over in my class.
  2. Take students seriously and celebrate successes – if you as a teacher don’t do this already I don’t want to work with you
  3. Teach what’s relevant – well I have a curriculum and I do my best to make it relevant to the students and to “real life” I try to always give them examples of why these things are important to know, sometimes that still isn’t enough. And let’s be honest, sometimes I don’t succeed in making it relevant.
  4. Be positive and a model of good behavior – I’m probably one of the most positive people I know, the glass is always half empty, in the past I’ve found that then when I do make a negative statement about students effort it has more effect, but not this year
  5. Be consistent and fair – again if this is not you as a teacher I don’t want to work with you
  6. Allow students to have a voice – I’m not sure what exactly this means here, but I try to allow my students some freedom of choice in their seating, in their choice of writing topics, and yet again there are those that this does nothing for
  7. Listen to your students – one more time if you don’t do this I don’t want to teach with you
  8. Accept the fact that you can’t connect with every student – nope sorry this one I just can’t do, I’m going to keep trying, that’s why I searched for this information in the first place

Another site gave me four things to try:

  • Make sure work is purposeful – Well yeah, otherwise what’s the point? I don’t want to do work that isn’t purposeful.
  • Make work more collaborative – I can do this but the problem comes when I don’t let students collaborate with the people they choose because no work gets done in those groups
  • Offer choices about how or what students learn – We do have our students complete an all year project, the I-Search paper. They pick the topic, they do research and interviews, and they write a paper. It’s all their choice. Other than that I let students choose their own reading books, and some of their journals are student choice, though not all as there are certain topics I want to cover.
  • Make sure learning is fun – I do my best

All in all, while I’m going to keep looking for resources, I think the idea for me is to just keep trying. Keep trying to find the one thing that will spark those apathetic students, keep trying to connect to them, keep trying to help them connect to their work, keep trying to help them see why learning is important to their lives. Just keep trying, yes now Dory is singing in my head but it’s a tune worth remembering.


Kids and Brutal Honesty

We all know that little kids can be and usually are brutally honest. They speak their minds without stopping to think what the consequences might be. This has naturally led to many an embarrassed parent; it also has resulted in many a bitten lip by nearby adults be they teachers, family members, or merely someone who happens to overhear what was said.

When does this go away? When is it that kids stop speaking so freely? I see people who seem to have no filter all over the internet. I know some adults who still have little to no filter and it seems that they’re friends love that. So why is it some people have a finely honed filter, some have little to none, and others lose theirs in the heat of the moment? At what point do we start thinking about what we say and what effect that might have on others?

It’s not in eighth grade I can tell you that much. Well at least not the eighth graders I have this year. The first journal I had my students complete this year was: What is one thing (or more) that I should know about you as a person or as a student? Why is it important for me to know this?

I was curious as to just what answers I’d get. I got some that I expected things like I hate English, I hate to read, I’m not a good writer. Then I got answers that had me in shock and some in tears. I got to a point while reading and grading them that I had to quit. I had to take a break.

Kids telling me they might not get homework done because they have to help take care of siblings, nieces or nephews, they are in multiple sports or dance. The sheer number of kids I have that have lost a parent or sibling, or grandparent that was raising them just hurts my heart. Several of the kids have someone in their life fighting cancer or some other disease. At least two shared with me that their mom’s just don’t care, one specifically said ‘mom cares more about drugs than me’, yes that lead to more tears. Another told me mom came home from work one day and just quit taking care of the student and their brother, finally the state sent them to live with their dad, and while things are better as someone cares they’re living in basically one room.

They’re so willing to share. I think that’s what leads some of them to use school projects as therapy. Still it always leaves me wondering when does this stop? Do high school kids share the same way with their teachers? I can’t claim that it’s anything I do, those journals were assigned in the first week of school. I barely knew the kids. We were just starting on our relationship building. So when does it end?

Students surprising themselves

Last time I mentioned my students completing their Insight Projects. As they get them done they have to present to the class. It will come as no shock that this causes a great deal of angst in many students. I can’t blame them I can teach to students all day long, or talk in small groups of adults, but ask me to do a presentation to a large group of adults and I’m a mess and not a hot mess just a mess. My stomach will fill with butterflies, I’ll begin to shake, as will my voice, I have to fight myself to make eye contact. It’s not good. I still do it because I’m supposed to and because I wholeheartedly believe it’s good to face your fears (hence why I forced myself to try out the Superman ride at Six Flags, ugh falling from heights eeekkk).


For any student that is worried or suffers stage fright I have some tips I share: look over people’s heads, pick one person you trust and speak just to them, practice practice practice, and always remember this is not a life or death situation.


I had one student who just at the mere mention of presenting began to shake. I promised the student that I would stand with them and help. The student stood next to the SMART board. I stood between them and the class. As the student spoke I patted their back, and whispered words of encouragement, repeated anything that was spoken too quietly for the class to hear, by the last two slides the student had stopped shaking, though they still stood a bit stooped over but spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.


When I pointed this out to the student, hands went up to cheeks as the jaw dropped, and eyes just lit up. This kiddo was so excited that they had done it, they had made the presentation and they had gotten to a point where they really didn’t need me. Those are moments that make a teacher’s day, week, year!


I just love it when my kids surprise themselves!


Please oh please, before you submit your grades at 3 o’clock, so my score will be better and when my parents come for conferences or look my grades up online they won’t be so mad at me. Please oh please!!!

Here’s the assignment I was missing.

I have three done, here they are can you get them graded on time?

When do you have to submit grades again?

Can I bring it to you after school?

Teacher’s reminder to post your grades by 3 o’clock.

Ugh gotta get this graded.

Double check, did I miss anyone’s scores? Did I get them all entered correctly?

Wait here’s another assignment, where did that come from?


Ok, I’m pretty sure I’m done, just one last double check.

Sigh, finally, now to relax for a day until conferences. EEK

Written for The Daily Post Prompt: Urgent

School projects as therapy

My students are currently completing their poetry unit by doing the Insight Project, NO not Project Insight a la Captain America: Winter Soldier, yes I know my geek is showing but I’m good with that. Anyway, for this project students picked a song, specifically they were looking for lyrics. They then analyze the lyrics for elements of poetry: rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor, symbol, personification, refrain/repetition, allusion, imagery, theme, and response to theme.

It’s the last two that are the kicker, the students identifying the theme of the song and making a personal response to it. I’ve had several students who picked songs that may not have had a lot of elements of poetry but that instead had a great deal of meaning to the student. Two students picked songs that lead to them discussing the loss of someone in their family, one was near tears when they finished. Another student spoke of a time that a neighbor purposely hurt his dog. Yet another student shared how they connected to a song about being alone because at one point they had no friends.

My students seem to be using this project not only to review their elements of poetry as therapy. Working through personal issues while they do their assignment.

This should really come as no surprise to me. I have a close friend who used our term paper junior year to help work through a deep seated issue. It was hard to watch knowing the issue that my friend was dealing with but at the time I had no idea just how hard it might be for the teacher watching. My friend let the teacher know ahead of time that this was an issue that was very personal and after the presentation on the term paper that they  might need to leave the room and could I come too. My friend made it through presentation (I was SO proud) and then pretty much bolted from the room. All it took was a quick look at the teacher who nodded to me and I followed. As awful as it was, I think it really did help my friend start to heal and was one of the bright spots for me in an English class that I really didn’t enjoy with a teacher I really didn’t like, odd for me and English classes/teachers.

Now I’m on the other side, watching my students work through their rough spots, their traumas, their lives through school work and I just want to hug each and every one and let them know someone is there for them.

Yep finally had one break down into tears couldn’t even finish the presentation. Knew it had to happen at some point. Have the kiddo a hug as did several classmates which really made me tear up, then the student came back later in the day to apologize for bringing the class down. I love my kids!

Teaching students to argue

Yes, you read that right. I’m teaching my students to argue, or rather I’m teaching my students to argue well.

I don’t know what English teachers concentrate on in writing in their eighth grade classes, but in my district we concentrate on argument writing. Students will write three argument essays throughout the year as well as several journals that are argument/persuasive oriented. Yeah parents might not be so fond of me at the end of the year 😉

We started the year watching Louder than a Bomb, a great movie about the annual slam poetry contest in Chicago, centering on four students. By the way, if you’ve never seen the documentary I HIGHLY recommend it, or at least watch the videos on the page linked above.

After students watch the movie, they pick the poet they feel is the best and write an argument essay on that topic. This particular essay is a writing sample, giving me the basis for what  I need to instruct them in to create effective well supported arguments.

Reading the essays there are kids that I think “I’m glad I’m not their parent, this kid is good at supporting their arguments” and others I wonder if they’ve ever won an argument in their life.

Still it gives me a great starting point, next up they get to argue who is most responsible for ummm hold up SPOILER ALERT, they will be watching Dead Poets Society so if you’ve never seen it you may want to skip this next part. They will be writing an argument essay to argue which of the characters is most responsible for Neil’s death.

I’m looking forward to it because we’ll be referencing The Outsiders that they read and watched last year in 7th grade. We’ll discuss who was responsible for Bob’s death and give specific details, they just might get a model essay on that topic, of course that means I need to write it first, um yeah, guess I should get to work.

I can’t wait to see their argument skills improve as we talk about supporting their reasons with evidence, specific details, persuasive/argumentative language. Even more more interesting and more FUN will be the discussions we have afterwards, when they share their opinion with the class and we get into a lively debate. I know the Outsiders debate was always one of my favorite classes to facilitate and participate in. The debate my Challenge class had on DPS had me just as excited. Kids so sure of their opinion and that someone else was wrong they were talking over each other. I love that excitement. I love stopping them and reminding them that everyone has their own opinion and everyone has the right to express that opinion, not that you have to agree with them but you should listen and try to listen with an open mind. Listen for ideas you hadn’t thought of, ideas that might just change your mind, or maybe confirm your current opinion. These are the days that I just LOVE and in the past so have my students so I hope this group loves it too.