Friday, September 26, 2008

"I'm feeling like a bookworm!"

This week at Open House for the school, one of my co-teachers introduced herself to the parents by saying that she has two teenagers, so she understands what they are going through. I then introduced myself, and I got a chuckle from the audience when I started with the obvious: "You may all find this hard to believe, but I do not have any teenagers." (The parents got a kick out of this because they always comment on how young I look.) Anyway, a dad in the audience raised his hand and said, "Do you want mine??" and another interjected, "Yes you have 120 of them to deal with!!"

Yes, it's true...I do have 120 teenagers to deal with every single day. With that said, I hope you'll understand why my blog may be mostly devoted to them. Young mothers usually write about their own kids; I will be writing about my students.

I love them. They make me smile; they make me frustrated. I spend every day trying to teach them how to be good writers, good readers, and good people. Have I mentioned I love it?

This past week in class, we had "Summer Reading Week." This is when the students get into small groups and discuss the required books they read over the summer. They have 15 options of books (each English teacher picks one), and they have to read two...then they get to discuss those books with students in their class who also read them. It's a pretty cool little program, and I enjoy hearing teenagers debating about their books.

Well...I always like to "spice things up" and make class as exciting as possible, so I decided I would get a couple hundred gummy worms for "Summer Reading Week," and as they were discussing in their book groups, I walked around and said, "Would you like a bookworm?" or "Are you turning into bookworms over here?" and offered them a sour, tasty treat. It's amazing how teenagers GRIN at stuff like that. (With the exception of one kid who thought it was "too babyish," and I told him he was a "fun sucker.")

Anyway, the next day, I only had a couple of gummy worms left, and they were sitting in a container on my desk. As the kids were working, a boy named Carl--who is one of those class clowns who never does any homework and yet is rather endearing despite his total slackerness--suddenly spied the left over worms and announced, "Wow! I'm feeling like a bookworm today!" It was so random and unexpected, especially coming from him, that the whole class fell silent for a moment--and then burst into laughter.

Poor Carl, though, I didn't give him the last couple of gummy worms. (Mostly because I could tell he hadn't actually read either of the books he claims to have read this summer...)

Speaking of bookworms...

Books I read this summer:

Lovely Bones, My Sister's Keeper, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, Briar Rose, Black and White, Every Student Can Succeed, Kite Runner, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Into the Wild, Looking for Alaska

Books I am dying to read (but probably won't have time to until next summer):

A Thousand Splendid Sons, My Name is Asher Lev, The Road, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Glass Castle, The Poisonwood Bible, Speak, Tuesdays with Morrie, King Dork, Think for a Change, The Life of Pi, Princess Academy, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Any other suggestions?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Shooting Star...

Driving to school on Wednesday, I saw a shooting star. You don't see that every, I made a wish that the rest of the week would be better than the first couple of days (which were hectic and overwhelming). Apparently, my wish came true! I came home last night feeling like I was on a "high" after a fulfilling first full week of school. It seems like I have some great students, and I am excited to get to know them better and hopefully make a difference in their lives. That is the coolest part of my profession...I really have the opportunity to reach out to all sorts of kids and make them feel special. Whenever I feel like I am making a difference to my students, I love my job. Unfortunately, more often than not, it's hard to tell whether or not I am making a difference--so often, the kids seem bored, or they won't do their work, or I am exhausted and annoyed. It is my goal this year to try to love my job every day and focus on all the good I see in my students.

Here are some of the "highlight" moments from my week:

-One of the bulletin boards in my classroom is devoted to reading. In addition to some cute Mary Englebreit posters, I have a list of all the books I read this summer, as well as all the books I'd like to read. At the bottom of the bulletin board there is a sign: "If you have any book suggestions, please let me know!" Well, in my three years of teaching, a student has never approached me to recommend a book. For the most part teenagers are too cool to read, let alone to recommend books to their teachers. This week, one of my sweet, dorky boys came up to me after class to recommend two Gary Paulsen books. He said, "I saw the note on the bulletin board, so I thought I'd let you know." I don't know why, but it totally made my week. It's so easy to forget how many good kids there are in this world. He is new to the school, and it seems like he feels out of place--but I am excited to read his books and talk to him about them--hopefully to help him feel comfortable and loved.

-Along the same lines, I had another surprising "reading" moment this week when one of my 12th graders approached me and told me that she read 96 novels this summer. WHAT??!!! She read more than one a day! I was proud of reading 11 books this summer--and she put me to shame. She is a really spunky, fun girl who speaks her mind in class and stays after school to talk to me about what she's been reading. Students like her make my job FUN.

-The best moment of my week was when I was approached by one of my former students who asked me to write him a letter of recommendation for college. When I told him "Of course!" he broke into a huge smile and told me that I was one of the only teachers who had ever believed in him and made him feel smart. (He is one of my special education students who has always struggled with reading and writing.) He told me that because he felt comfortable in my classroom, he was willing to raise his hand and contribute his ideas to discussion, and he was willing to come and get extra help on his papers after school, which really helped his abilities improve. He went on to say, "Mrs. Nielson, I want to go to college. My mom and my dad didn't, and my mom thinks that I should work for a few years first or just go to ECC, but I want to go to a four-year university and get a real degree and make something of my life." I was so proud of him. All of the long days teaching and the long nights planning, all of the hours spent grading essays and preparing lessons that the students don't even seem to enjoy...all of the stress, frustration, even anger that I sometimes feel in this is all so worth it when I hear a student say that he learned something from me.

I love my job!

My Ry

"Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are -- chaff and grain together -- certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away." George Eliot

I saw this quote today, and I loved it.  It expresses perfectly how I feel about my closest friends and family members. And of course, someone that I immediately thought of was Ryan.

Earlier this week, I was super stressed out about school. I am convinced that teaching is one of the busiest, most demanding professions in the world--if you do it right. I had been staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning planning lessons and assignments--and then getting up at 5 a.m. to get ready, commute to work, and be ready for the kids at 7:15. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. One evening on my way to some meetings at church, I called Ryan. I was ranting and raving, venting and whining, and, as usual, he listened patiently and told me he loved me.

When I came home from the meetings, ready to face another long night, I walked into a spotless house. He had done all the dishes, swept, picked up, done the laundry--everything looked perfect. After giving him the biggest hug ever, I asked him why he had done that for me. He said, "Well, when I talked to you on the phone, it sounded like your life feels pretty out of control right now. So, I figured that if everything else is a mess, the least I can do is make sure our house is really clean. I thought it might make you feel better."

Ryan is my quiet, thoughtful, amazing friend. When I talk to him, he hears what I am saying--and perhaps what I am not saying--and he does all he can to help. He doesn't just listen and then forget.

"Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort" of having Ryan in my life.