June 14 – 1: Students who are nerds

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been working on reading through and collecting data from my students’ end of the year surveys. (With 900+ students in our school and almost every student giving me a survey, it’s been a long process).

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the survey is that I allowed the students to be anonymous if they chose, but I also had a space on there for them to put their names if they were comfortable. It’s nice when they put their names, because it helps me connect the data to a face and get to know my students just a little bit better. Other students just leave the name field blank, which is fine – I’d rather have them be honest with me than know who is filling out the survey. But most entertaining is when they fill in the name field with something other than their own name. I’ve gotten quite a few creative spellings of “anonymous” – I think “anatomyst” might be my favorite. (To be fair, it isn’t quite a 6th-grade-level spelling word). I also had a couple of students swap their names and fill it out for each other (which I only know because I noticed as they handed them in to me). My favorite so far, though, was a 6th grade student who filled it in as LeeRoy Jenkins. I’m glad to know that Internet videos from my college years are still being enjoyed by nerds who weren’t even in kindergarten when they were first posted.

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June 12 – 1, 2 & 3: Caring

So today I’ve been struggling a little bit to come up with my three good things to post, because I’ve been preoccupied with finding out that one of my students is in a really tough situation, and wishing that there was a way for me to do more to help him. But part of the point of this blog is trying to focus on the positive, so here are three good things that I have been able to come up with:

1. Despite having some really heartbreaking things going on in his life, this student has been unfailingly pleasant and responsible every time I talk to him. He seems really mature for an 8th grader, and hopefully that will help him get through things and be successful despite the challenges that he faces.

2. We have a really fantastic guidance counselor at my school. When I called him today with a question about this student, he was totally on top of things and able to fill me in on a lot of details and provide advice about the situation. In fact, every time I have a concern about students who are lucky enough to be assigned to this particular counselor, he’s already had conversations with the student and the family and is doing his best to help.

3. Having my own support system of friends and family who I can call on any time to help me sort through things that I’m facing – whether it be something that is going on in my personal life, or, as in this case, challenges that I face in my professional life.

June 11 – 2: Seeing students change

Every year, there are a few students who adopt the library. They come down whenever they can, to check out books, or just to escape from their classroom or their peers. Usually, our frequent flyers are also our top readers. But this year, one of our 7th grade special ed classes has homeroom in the library, and a group of students from that class have adopted the library – and especially connected with my assistant.

One of those students is a girl (we’ll call her K) who struggles with school. She has a hard time reading, she doesn’t understand or pick up on complex concepts very well, and she frequently gets into personality clashes with her teachers. But she’s been coming to the library every day, stopping by at lunch, and when her teachers let her, bringing her work down with her. And little by little, she’s becoming a better student. She’s making more of an effort to do her classwork, and she’s not shutting down nearly as often.

The biggest difference, though, is her attitude about reading. Earlier this year, she would tell us that she hates to read, and that she’d never read a book. But my assistant somehow found a book that connected for her (Million-Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica) and convinced her to give it a try. She read it, begrudgingly at first, and then moved on to another Mike Lupica book, and another. And today she was in the library, browsing through some of our books, and she turned to me, holding up a copy of Hummingbird Heart, and said, “This book looks pretty good. I’ll have to remember it for next year.”

And it made my day.

June 10 – 2: “Mrs. H, with all due respect next year can you not talk as much so we can get books”

My students had their last library visit to check out books about a month ago, and on that visit I gave them all a survey about what they liked and didn’t like about the library this year. I’ve been slowly working my way through them (and recording data about my students’ responses in a totally nerdy spreadsheet).

I’ve been really impressed with their responses so far – most of them seem to have taken it seriously, even my 8th graders whose lives it won’t affect directly. And some of them have had really good ideas and suggestions, or really insightful comments. The most common statement, though, is that I talk too much. And it’s not just from my students who want all of their teachers to shut up and just give them time to socialize all day long. A sizeable number of responses look something like this:

Q1: I like it when Mrs. H…

A1: “does small lessons to give extra info”

Q2: It drives me crazy when Mrs. H…

A2: “talks too long”

Or like this:

Q1: I like it when Mrs. H…

A1: “tells us about good books”

Q2: It drives me crazy when Mrs. H…

A2: “takes forever to talk and we don’t have enough time to find books”

So I’m scheming up new plans for next year – ways to figure out how to communicate my rules, expectations, and lesson info to the students without talking so much. Maybe more Prezi videos. Maybe having students do some of the talking for me. Maybe skipping some of my usual reminders if the class has met certain expectations.

Even though these surveys aren’t always positive, I’m really enjoying reading through them. I can’t wait for next year, when I get to start trying out some of my new ideas. Well, I can wait – I do want my summer, after all – but I am super excited about trying new things next year. This is one of my favorite things about being a teacher: every year, you have a chance to start fresh and to change things up as much as you want, a chance to try out new ideas and see if maybe they work better. And every year, some of the things I try are great, and others are a bust, but I get to keep learning and growing, which I love.

June 7 – 2: “But Mrs. H – this book says %*^#”

One of the most fun – but also most frustrating – things about middle schoolers is that they are in the middle. They’re somewhere between children and teenagers, and at any given moment they could be pulled more towards either side of their maturity. This is especially apparent when they come across something “racy” in a library book – a swear word, a makeout scene, a picture of human anatomy. Some of them actively seek these things out, searching for our books on illegal drugs or our health books. Some of them make a huge production out of it, proclaiming loudly how “mature” they are and making jokes to draw the attention of the class, or whispering passages loudly to their friends and giggling. But my favorites are the ones that come to me, concerned, to make sure that I know this book has a swear word, or asking if this book is allowed in middle school – looking for reassurance that they’re really old enough to be reading these things.

June 6 – 2: Free book fair

Our district runs a really fantastic program in collaboration with Scholastic where at the end of the year, they send us a book fair and allow us to choose 100 students to receive two free books to take home and keep and hopefully read over the summer. We held our free book fair today, and it was (as always) a fantastic day. This year, we targeted our students who receive free and reduced meals to receive books, because as a school we’re focusing on that population and trying to help close the achievement gap between them and our less disadvantaged students.

The kids love it. Even my super reluctant readers who tell me they never read anything, who I can’t convince to check a book out to save my life. They were browsing and chatting with people and excited about the options, and spending a lot of time and energy trying to pick out the right book – one that they would actually enjoy and might actually read. Now I just have to figure out how to convince them that their library visits are basically the same thing – a chance to get a book for free that they might really enjoy.

June 5 – 2: Enthusiasm

Today I ran into one of my 6th grade students in the hallway, and she was bursting with the news that she has already started on her summer reading (even though it doesn’t count for our summer reading program until after next week, when school is out for the summer). As part of our program, I gave the students a list of recommended books, and she had already read (and loved) two from that list, and was enjoying the start of a third.

Later, I had another student in the library with a teacher to retake her math final, and she got done very early. She has never been an enthusiastic reader, but she was pushing to go to her locker to get The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton so that she could read it in her extra time, because she was enjoying it so much. In fact, most of our 8th graders love The Outsiders – even (or perhaps especially) the ones who don’t really like to read. Which is crazy, because they read it as assigned reading – not something that students are known for loving. But this book really seems to speak to my students.

Right now, I’m a little overwhelmed at work – the end of the year is one of my least favorite times to be a school librarian, because my days are filled with hounding students to bring their books back, trying frantically to organize things for the end of the year and get things set up for next year, and generally a lot of administrative tasks and not a lot of student contact. So moments like these really make my day.