Letting the words flow…. (modeling for students) #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is near. Novel writing is liberating and just plain ol’ fun, but it requires a shift in mindset. Many students and adults want their writing to be perfect. NaNoWriMo embraces the concept of exuberant imperfection. In order to hit word count goals and maybe, just maybe, produce something worth reading writers have to give themselves permission to make mistakes and compose absolute garbage.
My creative writing students are currently blogging daily. We’re building confidence as writers and publishers. I encourage writers to embrace the ideas that pop into their minds and roll with it. Oh, I guarantee that we will all write some pretty silly and awful stories, but that’s fine. Exuberant imperfection. Embrace it. It is so freeing.
I normally don’t publish my silly word sprint stories, but here’s one I wrote while modeling the creative writing skills and state of mind I hope my students can and will develop.

Here’s my glorious word sprint story in all its unedited glory:

“Bow season starts Thursday,” Student X declared with a smile one glorious Monday morning. He had been waiting for this day all summer and early fall. The moment when he could escape into the woods with his bow in his hand and seek out the elusive brush goats. “Man they’re good eating,” Student X could often be heard declaring as his eyes stared off dreamily into the distance.

His mind was on hunting and stayed on hunting. It was his passion and his life.
Rarely was there a day when he didn’t make mention of it in some way shape or form.
The hours and minutes ticked away slowly that week.
Monday- every moment slowly trudged past. One day closer.
Tuesday- tick, tock, tick, tock… the near constant ticking of the clocks was beginning to wear him down. Thursday felt so close yet so far away.
Wednesday. Now Wednesday was the worst. Every moment passed like an eternity. School had never felt so boring or so long or so awful. “Why can’t it just be Thursday already,” poor Student X lamented. His mind was already in the woods. He could smell the early fall air in his mind. Hear the rustling of squirrels in the trees. He could even imagine the crunching of leaves and twigs beneath his feet as he walked down the dark halls of his high school.
Wednesday was the longest day ever known to Student X. Thursday morning dawned and he grabbed his bow and hit the woods. His mother called after him, “Hey! Hey!! Don’t be late for school! Okay?!”
“Sure, Mom. I’ll see you up there in a bit,” he replied nonchalantly. He was both exhilarated and relaxed in the same moment. It was finally here. The excitement pulsed through his veins. The sounds of the woods invigorated his mind and spirit. It was a short 1/4 mile walk to his stand. He was so ready to be perched up above the woods keenly observing and listening for any deer passing through.
Maybe this year would be the year he finally bagged a big ol’ buck he thought to himself. It was about 5:45am, and X was settled in. He didn’t have to leave to go to school until around 7:45. He’d just drop his bow off at home and shoot down the road and arrive just in the nick of time.

The sun was exploding on the horizon. Birds were just beginning to sing their morning songs. That’s when X heard it.
“Holy crap, that’s gotta be a monster!” X thought to himself. He scanned the horizon looking for a tell tale pair of massive antlers. Nothing. The woods fell silent. X settled his breathing and scanned the woods once again. His eyes caught a slight movement just to the east of the tree that always stood out in his mind.
This tree had a low hanging limb with almost a 90 degree angle in it. It was strange, but it was an excellent place marker. The movement was fast.So fast that his brain couldn’t process what he was seeing. He just knew it was huge. X’s heart started to race in his chest. He could feel adrenaline flood his system. He knew he needed to calm down. If this was a monster buck he’d never aim straight shaking and hyper ventilating.
He heard a loud crush and movement to the west. Yet still he could see nothing.
He drew in a deep breath of air, held it for a few seconds and then slowly exhaled. That’s when he heard a sound so strange and alien. It was a cross between a cougar scream and a man making a coyote call. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. His heart jumped into his throat.
He saw a flash of movement west of the notch tree. It was big, really big. Then he really saw it.
Was it a man in a ghillie suit? Maybe it was just one of his classmates?
He froze as he heard a loud crash at the base of the tree stand. He look down and terror paralyzed him.
Student X was looking straight into the eyes of the strangest creatures he’d ever seen in his life.
He had run, played, and hunted in these woods dang near his entire life, and yet still he’d never come face to face with anything like this.
“Don’t be afraid,” the creature mumbled in a gravely and deep voice. The sounds echoed around X’s mind as he tried to process what he was experiencing.  X’s paralysis suddenly vaporized when the creature began mounting the ladder and heading straight towards the landing where he sat.
“Stop!” X demanded with his bow raised and aiming squarely at the creatures chest.
“You stop!” the creature retorted as he yanked the bow from X’s hand and threw it to the woods below. The bow hit the wood’s floor with a clatter and X saw red.
X said words that aren’t fit for print, but let me tell you that creature got the message loud and clear. Tears welled up in the creatures eyes. I’ll be darned if the thing didn’t spit out an apology.

Little did they both know that they had just embarked and given birth to an amazing friendship.
After the tension passed they both started getting to know one another.
They both had a passion for hunting. X had to cut their meeting short and head off to school, but that day was the first of many that X and Larry the Yeti spend in the woods sharing good laughs and hunting time on X’s trusty tree stand.


The Soundtrack of my Classroom

There are moments when I feel like I’m employing guerrilla war tactics with my students.
All is fair in love and learning. I’m a sneaky person when it comes to the subtle techniques I use everyday when the students and I are in trenches.

My favorite guerrilla teacher tactic is music.

Music is almost always on in my classroom. Pandora is my best friend.
We listen to two genres of music- music with words and music without words. Very cerebral classifications, no?
Music without words is for reading. I can’t focus on what I’m reading if the music has lyrics, but I also have trouble focusing on my reading with shuffling feet or other ambient noises that occur when you have 20+ individuals quietly reading. A ticking clock is one of the worse sounds in the world in my opinion, so music is a must.

My favorite stations for monitored independent reading time are classical. My go to station is Fryderyk Chopin Radio.

I’m sure you follow my reasoning here, Classical Music is where it’s at for reading. I’ve had students request Kenny G, but I just can’t take it. My apologies Kenny G.

So when do we listen to music with words? Writing is my favorite time to listen to music with words. Currently my class is working on their blogs (as am I) and we’re listening to Jackson 5 radio. Let me tell you, Jackson 5 Radio is a gift from the writing gods. The words are flowing from us like a fast moving stream of creativity.We’re all dancing a bit in our seats, and, I won’t lie, more than a few of us are singing along or doing our best lip sync,
We may or may not have just had a discussion about forming a show choir. I’m totally down…for the record.

pandora screencap

Music is one of my favorite teaching secret weapons. It can be the calming melodies of Chopin drifting through the classroom calming minds and helping students focus, but at times the role of music shifts. Music can energize students and amp up their productivity.

Closing thoughts:
Music=the ultimate mood setting device for the classroom
Hit play dudes.

Student Blogging Adventure

My students are blogging everyday, and I’ve decided to join the fun.

Today’s prompt courtesy of Dailypost.wordpress.com :

If you could fast forward to a specific date in the future, when would it be?

Oh man TIME! I’m pretty sure I don’t want to fast forward or rewind. At the risk of sounding like a new age zen green smoothie drinking type…I just want to treasure right now. I want appreciate the present. I want to apply the lessons from the past, and look forward to many happy tomorrows.

I don’t want to spend my time wishing for something better or waiting for life to happen.

I think I’d take the “slow motion” option most days though.

I’m curious to see how my perspective on the future differs from my students. Aren’t you? Check out their blogs.


Merit Pay: My hard work doesn’t PAY off as an educator

I’m on my 7th year as a teacher and my 14th as a Mom. Time is something I ponder quite often nowadays. I can feel the time I have with my own children passing too quickly. I think about Lily starting high school next year, and it hits my feels a bit. 

It’s all too easy to lose yourself to teaching. Any given year teachers teach, love, and mentor 20-100+ students. The emotional labor is real, and it’s needed. Students aren’t robots; they deserve teachers that invest in them as human beings. 

I love teaching. I think teaching is fun. I’ve had moments when school politics have pushed me to the brink, but ultimately my love of teaching was strong enough draw me back to the classroom. 

So the context for this post, I’m a mom, my kids are growing up too fast, I love teaching, but I’m pondering the value of my time. 

Well, it’s contract signing time. As I’m signing my contract for this year, I can feel my thoughts whizzing around my head, and the discontent sink into the pit of my stomach. 

  • 6 years teaching experience 
  • Great test scores 
  • Great classroom management skills
  • Innovative teacher
  • Highly effective on evaluations 

I don’t like tooting my own horn, but I’m a great teacher. I care, work hard, and make a difference. 

Guess what I’m getting paid?
The state minimum teacher salary – $33,900

Here’s the kicker guys, my hard work doesn’t PAY off as an educator.  
I can pour my heart and soul into teaching and, in most districts, earn the same salary as an awful teacher. That bothers me. 

I could LITERALLY be the best teacher in the world and have the same salary as the LEAST competent teacher in the world. A system that operates without rewarding hard work just might have problems attracting hard working, bright individuals, right? 

The work hasn’t worn me down. I like what I do, but I am sick of my compensation not being linked to my performance.  I don’t mean just test scores either, but heck I’d even take that! 

I want to be in a profession that rewards hard work, intelligence, critical thinking, and all of the soft skills that an effective teacher must possess to be effective. I’ll be fair and say analyze student data and throw that in the mix too. 

My time is valuable, my skills are valuable, and it’s time that effective educators are rewarded for the value they bring to the classroom and communities.  Maybe, just maybe, that will help attract and retain the motivated and intelligent individuals that our youth deserve. 

Tell someone you know how grateful you are for the work they do #reflectiveteacher

I’m climbing back onto the blogging wagon today. I’ve been neglecting the Attitude of Gratitude Challenge, but we’ll just pick things up for today’s prompt.
It’s my first year as a high school teacher in a new school district. It’s been great. Students often ask me if I miss the school where I was before. I usually say that I miss my former students and my work BFFs.

I especially miss two teachers. I wish we could still be in the teaching trenches together.
So I’m going to tell two people how grateful I am for them.
Dean Goss and Debbie Duncan

Dean thank you for being an awesome and supportive teammate.
Dean was not only my colleague but also my child’s teacher. I knew he was an awesome teacher BEFORE he had my own child, Lily, in class . He challenged her and cares about her. Lily moved schools as well and on a very regular basis she’ll STILL say how much she misses him. She misses how he teaches and how he cared and interacted with her on a daily basis.
Amazing teachers impact kids. You are one of those.

Debbie Duncan
Hands down is amazing special education teacher. Thank you for being a great resource for me and just being so stinking good at what you do!

I knew I was working with some great educators then and I appreciate them even more now.

I miss you guys. Thank you for being great teammates and all around good people. I appreciate you both!

5 Things I am grateful to have learned during my teaching career #reflectiveteacher

I am beyond grateful to have learned about LoTi and the HEAT framework.

I love it so much it is taking all five spots for today’s reflective post.
Seriously, it’s pretty amazing.
I would marry it if I could.
Hands down…my favorite teacher-y thing.
It’s helped shaped me into the teacher I am today.

I love you HEAT Rubric.



Taking time for myself #reflectiveteacher

What do you do to take time out for yourself?

I honestly used to try to do too much. It wasn’t that I was afraid to say no, but I just wanted to help or make a difference for my school as a teacher and a district patron.
Time is a very precious commodity and through trail and error I feel like I’m developing better ways to budget my time.

There are a few chunks of everyday that I take some “me time.”
I have a nice commute, so after I drop the kids off at school I have a solid 15 minutes of travel time to my school. I actually enjoy the drive. The scenery is pretty swell and I sing along to the songs on the radio with reckless abandon.
Once I arrive, I’m pretty fortunate and have a first hour planning period. Before I even attempt any work I, thanks to my glorious tea kettle, have a nice cup of tea.

That’s what I’m doing right now. Listening to Chopin, having a hot cup of tea, and writing for a bit.

It’s a great way to start my workday.
Most weekdays get pretty busy, but I tend to close out everyday with a bubble bath.
There’s no shame. I take my morning and evening time for me. I haven’t always, but I do now and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon.

An item for which I am grateful #reflectiveteacher


YOU THE REAL MVP. Thank you for keeping me going. I couldn’t do it without you.

Your biggest fan,

(Yes, I just wrote a thank you letter to my tea kettle…it is just that awesome.)

The most important “lesson” I hope to teach my students #reflectiveteacher

Day 11 Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge

What is the most important “lesson” I hope to teach my students?
Unlike many of the previous prompts, my answer to this question came to mind immediately and clearly.
Hard work!
I hope to teach my students that work ethic and grit count for a whole lot more than academic intelligence in the real world.

While I appreciate bright students, what I really love is a hard worker.

(This post took me hours to complete! I typed here and there in between ball games, working on science fair projects, and loads of laundry BUT I persevered. Now I shall express my gratitude for my pillow and warm bed.)

Being grateful for humor #reflectiveteacher

I feel that my years in a middle school classroom have blessed me with plenty of fodder for this reflective post on humor.
I’ve learned to be very careful and precise with my diction.
Behind the surface of every mundane conversation is the possibility for innuendo and hilarity WHEN you work with young adults.

I wish I could think of a moment when humor and epic learning collided with grand results, but generally humorous situations tend to pop up in unscripted and informal situations.

Once upon a time I had a class of around 30 6th grade boys.
They were a hoot, and I had them in the morning after their athletic hour.
One ordinary day we were discussing breakfast foods. I’m not entirely sure how we arrived on that topic, but food is a popular subject in schools.
I don’t know why or how biscuits specifically came up, BUT I said this simple statement, “I like honey on my biscuits.” As soon as the words left my lips one young man was laughing.
“Mrs. Barnes! You like to put honey on your WHAT!?!?”
I couldn’t help but laugh with them as I asserted, “I was talking about LITERAL biscuits not what they were thinking!” Rest assured, I made a mental note to myself that morning to add biscuits to the list of words to use with caution.
Biscuits became a running inside joke with that crazy group of kids. Their final home basketball game of their 8th grade year I brought them some homemade biscuits and you guessed it HONEY for breakfast.