Monday, June 24, 2013

Slice of Life June 25, 2013

The Tuesday Slice of Life is hosted by Stacy and Ruth on their blog Two Writing Teachers.  Here's my weekly Slice.

How can next school year be starting already?  I just finished this one!

While the students’ last day of school was over two weeks ago, I just finished my school year this morning, when I turned in my final reports. Rather than grades, teachers at my school write a report for each student detailing their growth as a student and as a person.  I wrote almost 40,000 words the past two weeks and since each child is so different and did such different projects, it wasn’t a “cut-and-paste, change the name and pronouns” type of assignment.  It’s painfully slow going for me some years and this was a tough one.  I’m not much for sitting at my desk, or a coffee shop, typing for hours on end and it was a real marathon for me to get it done.  I guess that was fitting since so many things this school year seemed to take more time and energy than they should have.

My wife is teaching a summer camp so I’m the principal parent of our almost three-year-old daughter this week.  Clara drew on the white board as I made my final copies and collated the piles to be put on the office desk.  Then it was off to the playground, a pretzel at the mall, lunch and finally a nap.  Yay for summer and being a dad with time…sort of.

It's Monday!  What are you reading?

It was a busy week as I finished end of year reports so I only have a couple of books to review.

To Shield the Queen by Fiona Buckley.  This is a historical fiction mystery novel, set in the times of Elizabeth I's.  Ursula is a recently widowed young woman with few means but she ends up as one of the queen's ladies in waiting.  She is bright, curious and has a skill for observing interactions between people and finding out what they are up to.  Ursula is also willing to do almost anything to make sure her young daughter is taken care of and that her Queen and England stay safe.  The mystery has several twists and it is a very enjoyable read.

An interesting aspect is that most of the events are based on actual events.  The tension between the Anglican and Catholic Churches is palpable and an important part of the story.  I wish I had read it earlier so I could suggest it to a student of mine who was studying Religions Around the World, this spring.  It's not a young adult book but there are no passages that would make me worry about letting a middle school age student read it.

The Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes is a wonderful picture book I've been reading with my daughter lately.  As a worker pastes up posters about a real circus, a child at a bus stop sees a sidewalk circus as activities and people on the street "perform."  Construction workers on steel beams become tight rope walkers, dogs become lions and boys on skateboards become clowns.  It creative, well illustrated and a joy to read with a young one who loves a good picture walk.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Slice of Life June 18, 2013: Traveling with Students

This post is an introduction of myself and a few thoughts on traveling with middle school students.

Introduction: After nine years as a science teacher in a rural high school, I have taught the past six years as a middle school teacher in a K-8 independent school.  My school focuses on learning through independent projects and curriculum and experiential education.  Students and teachers work together on learning goals and how to take "the next step" as students and people.  I am privileged to take the twenty-three students in my class on two extended overnights a year, usually five-to-seven days in the fall and a ten-day trip in the spring.

Traveling with Students!
By now I know that look.  A mixture of surprise, annoyance, horror and exasperation crosses the faces of adults as they do a mental count of the number of middle-schoolers following in my wake.  Whether we’re walking down the sidewalk, entering a restaurant or boarding an airplane, adults show their bias and preconceived notions towards teenagers with as little subtlety as teens themselves show in their worst moments.  Eye rolls, whispered remarks that are easily overheard, or a gathering of their belonging as if they expect one of my students to suddenly accost them and take their laptops or purses.  Parents of the students I take on trips often tell me, “You’re a brave man,” like I was some sort of saint.  Going through security at the airport with twenty-plus middle schoolers, a woman asked what I had done to deserve this horrible fate?  I replied, “Obviously something good.  These are great kids.”  I’m no saint and the reality is, teenagers are wonderful and fun to travel with.

Yosemite National Park
While it is politically incorrect to judge a person by their race, gender, or religion, most adults have no issue blanketing all teens together by their worst stereotypical traits.  In fact, adults tend to treat teens as a subcategory of human.  Homo imbecilius perhaps.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Since it’s summertime, I have some time to do some reading!  Yay.  Here’s what’s on my bedside table right now.

Currently reading: A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.  This is book my wife and I are reading aloud.  I’m also reading it because so many of my students have loved this book.  It’s going slowly but we are enjoying it very much before one of us falls asleep while the other reads.  It’s a great young adult book about a young girl who sees colors and shapes associated with sounds.  Each letter and word also has it’s own color.  This makes for some real challenges for her in school, especially with math and languages since the colors don’t match up the way she’s used to.  While this condition is the basis for the story, other themes explored include friendship, budding relationships, death of a family member, and stepping out into the world.  I can already tell this would be a good book group book.

Just starting: Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People by Ed Roseman.  I started the harmonica in January because I thought it’d be fun and it travels easily.  My hope is to play it on trips with my class around campfires and such.  I’ve decided I need to know a little more about music and several people recommended this book in the harmonica forums I frequent, even though it’s not harmonica specific.  While I’ve only read the start, it’s written in a casual style and encourages experimenting with music and skipping what’s not relevant to the reader.  I have had several students study songwriting or music over the years and knowing a little more as their teacher will be helpful.  Also, it looks like it may be a good reference for them.

Just starting: To Shield the Queen by Fiona Buckley.  Saw my Dad yesterday for Father’s Day and he recommended it.  He and his wife are enjoying the series.  I plan to start it tonight.  While it may be a little old for my middle school students, I have many who love the time period and if it’s good, this may be a piece of historical fiction they can read.

Reading a three to five times a week: The House on Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne.  My daughter is almost three and while we read several different books during the week before nap and bedtime, she keeps coming back to this one.  She loves the stories of the various animals and how they relate to one another.  She will often lie on the floor and listen, getting up each time I turn the page to look at the pictures.

Just finished: Black List by Brad Thor.  This was a fun “airplane book,” great for starting my relaxing summer reading.  Not a lot of content or deep thoughts, but an exciting thriller and fast read for people who enjoy reading about Special Ops.  This book follows former US Special Ops characters as they work for a private business to save the United States from terrorism threats.  This book does investigate privacy and just how much information can be gleaned about each person, by his or her phone records, Internet searches, and even utility bills.  Beyond a young adult book, but it may be interesting for students of mine studying privacy or special forces in the military.