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Life Memoirs school teaching writing

Fifth Grade Follies

It was in the fifth grade that I began writing stories. I don’t recall exactly what I wrote but I shared my work with friends, and at one time, my teacher. Any feedback they might have given me is not in my memory banks, so maybe it wasn’t that good? I don’t know. I do know that I began to consider myself a writer at that age.

That is when I discovered the book Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I must have checked it out of the school library a dozen times. I identified with little Harriet, although I didn’t consider myself a spy. She spied on people, even sneaked into their homes, to gather information to write about, until one of her schoolmates stole her notebook. It was devastating to have her innermost thoughts and feelings revealed to the world. I was very careful about what I wrote in my own notebook, and the only spying I did was on my family. But the book got me writing.

Fifth grade was still a part of J.E. Rhodes Elementary but our classes were separated from the younger grades. I changed classes for math and reading, probably, I don’t recall. My granddaughter attends J.E. Rhodes Elementary now, although not in the same building. The original building was destroyed by a tornado several years ago, so she goes to school in my old high school building. Of course, it’s all been renovated so it is unrecognizable as the old high school. I just attended her kindergarten graduation in the auditorium that I graduated in 45 years ago! How can that be? At least it’s air-conditioned now!

One memory I have that stands out is one time when we were in class sitting in desks that had been pushed together to make a large group. It was after lunch and I had been bitten by the witty bug and couldn’t keep my mouth closed in my efforts to entertain my classmates. Mrs. Pittman jumped all over me, telling me in front of the class how disappointed she was in my behavior. I’m telling you that stopped it once and for all. I was so ashamed of myself I wished I could disappear. I wish it was that easy to make kids behave today.

Fifth grade. The cusp of preteen-hood. Not quite a baby, not quite a teen, still a kid, but a big one. Next time: a visit to Neiman Marcus for an embarrassing visit with Santa.

My fifth grade school picture.
The pixie haircut grew out!

Do you have any standout memories of fifth grade? Do tell!

XOXO

Categories
Life Memoirs school teaching

Another 4th Grade Thing

I thought I had pretty much exhausted my memories of fourth grade but something came to mind the other day that I feel should be documented for my kids and grandkids if they care to read about it some day. It happened one day in my fourth grade P.E. class in the multipurpose room at J.E. Rhodes Elementary.

We girls were sitting in our assigned spaces on the gym floor when the gym teacher, or P.E. teacher as we called her, asked me to follow her into the dressing room, or locker room. Of course, any time a teacher, especially a coach, singles you out in front of everyone else, the anxiety ticks up some. For me, it ticked up a lot. I had no clue what she wanted. Was I in trouble?

“Nunn, follow me.” She always called her students by their last names. I guess that’s a common practice for coaches. At the age of nine I found it intimidating.

She stood me in front of a mirror in the quiet dressing room. At least there was no one else in there. “Look at you,” she said.

I did. I saw what I saw every day when I looked in the mirror: a pimply-faced average-sized kid on the brink of puberty.

“Your skin,” she said. “Are you washing your face every day?”

I was mortified. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted my mama. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. I’m sure my face went red as fire. I don’t remember. Or maybe it went white. Who knows?

“Yes, every morning and every night,” I managed to reply.

I don’t remember what else she said, but I do remember that she told me to ask my mother to get some Phisohex to wash my face with. She said that I was too young to have problem skin.

I know she probably meant well, but what she did was shame me. As if my skin weren’t already a source of embarrassment, she made sure I would be self-conscious about it for the rest of fourth grade, on up through high school, and in fact, for the rest of my life.

My mother bought me the Phisohex soap, had me start wearing makeup foundation, changed my diet, and tried everything she and I together could come up with. I eventually had to accept my acne, manage it as best I could, and accept the scarring it left. Perhaps my parents with their limited budget could have taken me to a dermatologist, but I’m not sure there was much that could be done about it in the early 70’s.

I did learn what an enormous impact a teacher can have on a student. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten over that traumatic day in the dressing room. Did she have the right to do what she did? I suppose she thought she did. Do I wish she had approached the matter with more sensitivity, perhaps contacted my parents first? Absolutely.

But I accepted what she said, swallowed my shame and mortification, and returned to the gym to do jumping jacks, run, or play dodgeball, or whatever she had planned for that day. As if nothing had happened. . .

I must add a postscript. I grew up and became a contributing member of society. I taught school for thirty years, raised two children into responsible, caring, and giving adults, taught Sunday School classes, wrote two novels and many articles and blog posts, and am now tutoring kids in English, writing, and math. I didn’t let that incident, which was earth-shattering at the time, ruin my life. It is what it is, and I’m a firm believer that God uses life events to shape us into what He wants us to become. What about you? What hardship has helped make you into who you are?

Blessings to you!

XOXO

Fourth grade me. The acne hadn’t shown up yet.
Categories
teaching

My Connection to Patrick Mahomes

I’m sure almost everyone who has been following the Kansas City Chiefs football team would like to say they have a connection to Patrick Mahomes, NFL’s best quarterback ever, according to some.  I really do, though.  I taught in the same schools his father Pat attended. 

After my son was born in 1984 I did substitute teaching part-time so I could be home with him more.  I did a long-term subbing job for an 8th grade English teacher and Pat was in that class. I didn’t really develop any relationships with my students back then since I thought I had to be very strict to maintain classroom discipline.  A couple of years later I resumed teaching in the high school where Pat excelled at sports.

A little while later I taught 11th grade English and Pat’s sister and Patrick’s aunt Tinesha was one of my students. She was excellent at basketball, volleyball, and track as I recall.  

So there you have it.  It’s not much, but enough for me to be rooting for my “grand-student” Patrick Mahomes II as he leads his team in the 2020 Super Bowl.  I’d never even been much of a football fan until he started playing for the Chiefs.  I missed his rookie year and his years at Texas Tech but I heard about him often on the local news. I hope he wins.

Go Chiefs!

XOXO


Categories
teaching

How to Succeed as a New Teacher

I was a new teacher once.  Fresh out of college, heart and mind full of dreams and good intentions, unjaded by the educational system, confident in my leaders, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed.
Then reality hit.  And boy, did it hit.  These were the days before TTAS, STAAR, and EXCETs.  I managed to survive my first few weeks; heck, even my first few years and emerge as a pretty good teacher, according to my evaluations and feedback from my former students.
Maybe you can benefit from some of the things I learned, whether you are a brand new teacher, a teacher in a new school district, or just trying to have a fresh start.
 First, guard your joy at being in the classroom.  Don’t let naysayers and doomsdayers spread their gloom.  Focus on the positives.  You may need to remind yourself of this daily, but do it anyway.
 Along the same lines, don’t listen to what others may say about the students you are getting.  I’ve had teachers in the past ask to see my class roster so they can comment on a few of my students.  This is more difficult now with everything being online, but occasionally you may have someone ask you if you will have “so and so” in your class, and then proceed to tell you what a troublemaker/lazy bum/etc. he or she is.  Refuse to form opinions about students (or other personnel, for that matter) until you have met them yourself.  Many times I have found the problem with that student and teacher lies in the teacher’s attitude, not the student’s.
 Observe and absorb all you can from the teachers and staff but be very slow in offering up your own opinion.  This will allow you to get a feel for the school climate and how the teachers/staff interact with each other and with students.  Don’t be too quick to choose friends.  Allow time to get to know others so you can make smart choices about who to spend your time with.
Avoid gossip.  Even if you don’t contribute, listening makes you a willing participant and aligns you with the person saying unkind things.  You don’t need that kind of reputation.   Give everyone the benefit of the doubt until you know them better.
Dress conservatively until you are familiar with what is accepted attire on your campus.  Some campuses are less formal than others, but you don’t want to start out too casual.  You’ll also carry more authority in your classroom if you are dressed better at first.  Dress like the professional you are.  If you expect others to treat you like a professional, dress and act like one, especially if you are young.  You need to establish boundaries with your students, especially high school students.  Save the capri pants and slide sandals for later.
Along those same lines, speak like a professional.  Leave the slang and desire to be “cool” at the door.  You’re there to teach and be a role model.
Make your classroom a happy place to be.  Decorate with bright colors and include personal items (not too valuable!) so that students can relate to you as a real person as well as their teacher.  I liked to post motivational posters around my room (you can order online or visit a teacher supply store such as Mardel’s), and I included a table lamp, knick-knacks, and framed photos around my desk.  The table lamp came in handy when the lights had to go out for slides or film clips.  Students liked seeing pictures of my family as well.  Don’t let your room be referred to as “cell block 101” like one teacher I worked with!
 Establish your rules and procedures the first day of school and keep practicing and reinforcing them until they become habits for your students.  I strongly recommend The First Days of School:  How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong.  You can order it here.  Dr. Wong provides proven strategies for classroom management and discipline.  Also don’t be afraid to ask experienced teachers what works for them.
Prepare your first week of lessons.  Make a cheat sheet, especially for your first day, so you don’t forget anything or get anything out of sequence.  Get a good night’s sleep if you can, eat breakfast if you can, and walk into your first day with all the confidence of a superhero.  You’ve got this!
What about you experienced teachers out there?  Is there anything you would add?
Please post your comments!  We’d love to hear from you!
XOXO
Categories
Life teaching

Why I’m Happy School is Starting Again

Ah, back-to-school time.  That season of the year when store shelves are brimming with shiny new pens, markers, notebooks, and lunch boxes, and clothing racks are stuffed with fashions for going back to school.  Parents groan because of the expense of equipping the kids with everything required for the new school year–but those shoes fit in May!  Kids groan because their summer is too short, and the reminders start in July with back-to-school sales–can’t they at least wait until August?  Teachers groan because their summer is too short–wait, I need more time off!
 
The rest of the world–civilians as I used to call them–gives a sigh of relief that life will finally settle into a familiar routine of the kids being off the streets, out of the shopping centers, and in the schools for at least eight hours a day.  Sorry, teachers, I feel your pain.  After all, I was one for 30 years myself.
That is the number one reason I’m happy that school is starting. . .
1.  I’m retired!  I don’t have to worry about endless staff development meetings when I would rather be in my classroom preparing for the first day of school.  I don’t have to spend money buying extra school supplies for the students in my classes who won’t have them.  I don’t have to wonder when I’ll find the time to prepare my lessons, grade papers, schedule meetings, call parents, and worry about ARDs, LEPs, IEPs, STARR, ADA, AEIS, RTI, TEKS, TELPAS, STEM, BS, and CRAZY!
2.  Fall is around the corner.  Sayonara, summer, with your 100-degree temperatures (I shouldn’t complain–we’ve only had one day of those so far this year!). . .bring on those dead leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, boots, and sweaters!
 
3.  I can go to the store during the day and every aisle won’t be filled with parents and children getting in the way. . .IF I go before 3:00 p.m.
4.  I won’t have to compete for doctor and dental appointments with teachers and students.  I’ll be able to get an appointment for whenever I need it. . .maybe.
5.  Those school facilities I pay enormous taxes on will again be in use.  (How many times did I hear this when I was teaching?  Ugh.)
6.  Tax-free weekend happens in August (at least here in Texas), and you don’t have to be a teacher or student to buy clothes or supplies minus the sales tax.  But it’s crowded.

7.   Back-to-school shopping means a sneak peak at the new fall fashions. 
8.  After the back-to-school season comes Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, the good, better, and best parts of the whole year.
Those are the reasons I am glad school is starting back up again.  I’ve always been happy to see school start, ever since I was old enough to start getting new clothes and school supplies.   I guess I have teaching in my blood.
What about you?  Is back-to-school a good thing for you?