Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why I Left

I left the Junior High. At times I feel like I ran back to the comfort of the first home I knew at this district; the upper elementary school. But why would I run when last year was one of the most rewarding I've had teaching? Why run when I had carved out a nice little niche for myself? I didn't run, nor did I bolt, but I did leave without thinking everything through. 

I don't regret leaving 8th grade English for 5th grade. I missed the innocence and the sweetness of littler kids. I missed parental involvement. I missed the deeper connections and opportunity to work more intimately with my students. But I had forgotten how deeply involved you have to be to teach elementary. I forgot how little time you actually have to plan and prep. I forgot how much I would miss the tribe I was part of at the Junior High. 

Last year was rewarding but exhausting. I was sick a lot. The pain of RA was constant and I contracted two infections. I mentored a new teacher and helped two more settle into the department. They were all amazing! I was the co-operating teacher for a wonderful teacher-candidate and that was a lot of work, but so rewarding. I was team leader, department head, and a member of the leadership team. I was co-sponsor of a service club. At any moment I felt I had more balls in the air than I could handle. 

Then... there was the state writing test. We found out in November we would probably receive a prompt for argument, a form our students had not been exposed to yet. We worked hard to teach these kids something brand new and they worked so hard to learn. When I received my student samples back after the test, I was so proud of them! I felt most had done everything I'd asked of them.

Then... the scores came out and they were lower than I imagined. They were the lowest scores ever. My shining starts were "limited knowledge" and papers that did not make sense were "satisfactory". I felt I had been slugged deep, hard into my stomach. I didn't want to face the kids. I couldn't imagine how I would handle having those scores attached to my name for an entire year. 

So I left...  But, I learned over the summer the scores statewide were poor. Teachers connected by social media shared thoughts and theories. We were at a loss. We thought we had done all we could. I wasn't alone in that gut-punch. A few days ago the state Superintendent announced the scores would not be factored into the Schools' grade ratings. I'm pleased, but I still feel I did not do enough and failed those kids. 

Like 8th grade, 5th grade is a high-stakes year as far as testing goes. I'm not worried. I'll be responsible for writing and reading scores and I will do all I can, just like I always have, to get my kids proficient. It is what it is. 

What is different this fall, as I dive into 5th grade reading and social studies, is that I feel more deeply attached to my curriculum and these children. I feel like I am home, truly home. My welcome back was sweet and humbling.

And then there are the kids. Fifth graders surprise me every day with their sweetness and desire to please. They are so funny! And when I ask them to place their exit tickets on the door they line them up in order, nice lines, with nothing out of place. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Missing "Home" and a Poem

It's been just 48 hours since I shut the door to my classroom and officially checked out for the summer. I've been back once (To get some information for a student for next year's high school PreAp English class.)

I miss it already...

For some strange reason my classroom has always felt like an extension of myself. I feel like a little piece of my soul resides there and I'm not quite complete when I'm away. Is that a bad thing?

It might be...

Maybe it just means I put so much of "me" into that space and the teaching that goes on in there, that some of that energy remains. I'm not implying that I cannot enjoy summer, oh I can! I just miss my classroom, students, and colleagues over these weeks, months of separation.

Even though I'm "done" for the year, I'm working on the fall out over the 8th grade writing tests. I cannot go into details, but it wasn't pretty and my district is not alone.

I wrote quite a few poems during testing this year. Here's what I wrote during the writing test:

War of Words
I am watching, trying so very hard
   not to glance at the words flowing
      from the pencils of these 14 year old
        warriors, whose weapons are lead-tipped,
           orange-yellow, tipped with a bubble
              gum pink bullet.
Emily furiously places her soldiers,
   organizes them into rows, sentences,
     squads, units, and paragraphs.
I’ve taught her how to battle –
   I hope she wins this war of words.
Oh, how I want to know if Baylee remembers
       how to write a thesis statement!
Will Kegan remember transitions?
Will Parker punctuate and
Rebecca revise?
I’m used to taking their words to my
   heart and breathing in their language.
But these words are not for me today
      and I am jealous.
I hope the generals are pleased.

Joan Hagy
February 26, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Testing Madness

Well, it's April again. Time to cram, close the library, cheer on the kids and cheer up each other. *sigh*

For hours our kids test, and for hours we teachers do nothing but watch them test. We're not supposed to do anything but monitor. 

During one test last year I got to the point I could not do nothing for one minute longer. So, I wrote a poem. The next day I wrote another. This year I'll continue with my rebellious ways and write more. 

I've decided I will post them here. What better place?

From last year:

Testing Madness
(Thank you Robert Frost)
By Joan Hagy
Allie plays with her hair
  Separating the strands
   As she reads
Twists and pulls
 Brow furrowed
  Eyes never leaving
   The monitor.

Daniel yawns
Paul fidgets
Is Athena asleep?

I scan
I scan
I scan

Austin, who is pure energy
  Every. Single. Day.
    Cannot keep still.

Back-to-back in the
 Crowded lab-
  Personal space is
Bubbles have burst.

Mouse dance
Mouse song
The hum of computers
A cough
A sniffle, a deep breath
A sigh, a crack of a knuckle.

Show us what you know.
Show us we’re not wasting our time.

In my classroom
 Your eyes are bright
  Your words come quickly
Your pencils are instruments of
   mass construction, creation,

But in here-
 With the hums, the yawns,
   The pulled hair and
     The dancing mice-
In here-
  Tested beyond oblivion
In here, you wither.

But wait-
 Remember – remember we
   Have miles to go – remember?
We have time to construct, create,
  And imagine.

Are you ready?
You come too.

Teaching isn't for wimps or thieves!

I'm a little bummed that a teacher "stole" my website name and put it on an ebook.

I did the same thing a year ago, except I used my own blog name, but I didn't sell the book. I just made it for my own bookshelf.

I'm positive if I was actually going to publish something, I would make sure I was original and research titles.

So, if you google "Teaching Isn't For Wimps" and find a book, it isn't mine.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why I won't sit down and speak with Oklahoma State Superintendent Barresi

The campaign for re-election has begun and our state superintendent is visiting our school on Thursday. She's meeting with my team for 45 minutes, but I won't be there. I will be on my way to the Oklahoma Fall Art Institute with no regrets. 

When I found out that my team would meet with her, I thought I'd go ahead and delay my trip by a few hours and see if she could explain a few things to us regarding the pathetic accountability methods she had instituted. I felt she had some explaining to do and I might as well be there. 

Of course, my colleagues and I have been discussing and wondering what to ask her. We're told the questions would basically be screened and she doesn't have to answer what she chooses not to address. Hmmm....

Today I decided it wasn't worth my time. Today I was reminded that we might just be a campaign prop... "See how much Janet Barresi cares about the teachers." Today I thought about how much she loves vouchers, charter schools, and testing, testing, testing. Nope, not worth my time. 

Friday, October 18, 2013


I've thought a lot about whether blogging was something I really wanted to continue doing. I have decided it's important. As a teacher, I need to connect and hopefully inspire.

I was inspired today by Jason Stephenson. His blog, Room 149, is definitely worth a visit. I love it when I find teachers who are right where I am in classroom management and teaching style. They always show me ways to teach better, manage better, and understand these incredible creatures known as 8th graders.

This year, so far, has been crammed with growth and change. I feel like I am teaching at a new school. We have two new new administrators and a slew of new teachers. The new principals are open and honest, they challenge us and are 100% committed to our kids and positive change at our schools. The new teachers are fresh and incredibly motivated to learn and grow.

I am mentoring two teachers this year; one a first year and the other a student. It's humbling and awe inspiring to watch them blossom and inspire these kids. I am reminded each and every day how difficult this job is as I watch them navigate the complexities of a teaching career. They are both head-shakingly amazing.

This is the cover I remember.
We are finishing up "The Outsiders" in room C-3 and the students absolutely adore the novel. Who doesn't? I must have read that book 20 to 30 times during my teen years. 

I hadn't picked it up since high school and the first sentence, "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkenss of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul
Newman and a ride home." drew me back into a world I had loved and lived a long time ago. 

So, I've missed you. What have you been up to lately?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

April is the Cruelest Month

Tomorrow is the first day of April. In T. S. Eliot's poem, The Wasteland, he declares "April is the cruelest month". In public education, no month is a wasteland, except for April. 

In April, dynamic instruction grinds to halt and workbooks are hauled out that teach to the tests. Libraries close their doors to administer tests. Academically challenged students, who were fully included into regular classrooms, are removed to be tested. A pall lingers in the hallways, resignation settles over the classrooms, and we are fully immersed in "State Testing" mode.

My students really get it. They see the futility. The strugglers know the test pigeon-holes them. The average and above average students know they are simply losing time, wasting minutes and hours reviewing and waiting...