endlessly creating

teaching, books, projects, & other things i love


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Classroom Organization

I’m trying to post more often, so here’s a round-up of some of the things I do to stay organized and provide my students with the resources they need for success!

 Handouts

My desk gets messy sooo fast. Combine that with my students’ tendency to lose things, and we go through a ton of handouts! If I keep extra copies on my desk I end up buried in paper, but if I file them away somewhere I have to stop class to dig them out when students show up without their materials. Here’s how I keep my current papers easily accessible during a unit:

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They’re tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk, along with my schedule and other helpful things!

Yeah, I know, this is probably a no-brainer. I actually found those folders in a random cabinet and figured I might as well use them! Once I’ve handed out copies of a story I just drop the extras in the envelope and put a sticky-note tab on them so I can quickly identify what I”m looking for later.

Color-Coding

I don’t know how I would keep all my classes straight without color-coding. My schedule, file cabinet, turn-in trays, and these boxes with students’ reading folders are all divided by color.

Well, they used to be color-coded. We rearranged the 7th grade classes part-way through the year.

Well, they used to be color-coded. We rearranged the 7th grade classes part-way through the year. Shoulda taken the pictures before the boxes got all beat up!

I even use matching highlighters to identify students on my overdue library book list and when I leave sub plans. Yeah, I’m a little crazy.

Mentor Texts

Even with my lovely hanging organizers and the kids (theoretically) using the file cabinet to keep track of handouts, I like to keep the mentor texts for a current unit out in the open so students can reference them when they’re working on classwork:

These copies include annotations we went over during class to help students identify text features.

These copies include annotations we went over during class to help students identify text features.

During writer’s workshop kids will sometimes come up to the wall to double-check an example text! It’s also a nice way to display what we’ve been working on in case an administrator comes by :)


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Lizzie Bennet Diaries & Slut-Shaming

I am a giant Pride & Prejudice nerd. I grew up watching the Colin Firth miniseries with my mom, and since then I’ve seen almost every movie version in existence (most of them multiple times), I wrote my English thesis about it in undergrad, and I wear this scarf on a weekly basis. I own a Pride & Prejudice game that I’ve never played because I don’t know anyone who knows the story well enough to stand a chance against me. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I could fangirl forever about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I’m going to show some restraint and just focus on what I”m thinking about today.

For those who don’t watch LBD, it’s a YouTube adaptation of Pride & Prejudice told primarily through Elizabeth Bennet’s video blog. The modernization most relevant to this post is the Lydia/Wickham storyline, where the scandal has been translated from elopement to a sex tape. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic change that captures the magnitude of Lydia’s actions and their effect on her reputation and family, but it’s brought up some ugliness among the mostly lovely fanbase.

When lbd!Lydia first started spending time with Wickham, some people started attacking her, basically saying “how could she not know?” The thing is, how could she? In the book, and in the series, he’s a charming guy. The only reason we as viewers know he’s bad news is because we’ve read the book. But Lydia hasn’t read the book. She’s FROM it. It’s absurd to expect her to know as much as we do, and worse, it’s victim-blaming. It’s supposed to be obvious to us that George is manipulating her, but it’s not obvious to her, which only made it worse when the sex tape surfaced and the slut-shaming started. One minute George was an abusive, manipulative jerk (and we knew it all along! we’re smarter than her!), the next we were blaming Lydia for what he did. Lydia addresses these negative reactions starting about 4 minutes in:

The sad thing is, the writers saw this coming. This episode would’ve been filmed at least a few weeks before the sex tape was released and the fans started reacting. What’s ironic to me, and sad, is that we’ll gleefully accept Lizzie’s initial misjudgment of Darcy, but suddenly when Lydia is the misguided one, she’s a stupid whorey slut. And I love that she used that phrase, quoting Lizzie from all the way back in Episode 2, because it drives the point home so dramatically.

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What. you. say. matters. I’d like to believe that the people saying hateful things thought they were somehow “adding to the story.” That’s the fun of this format of story-telling, and other times it’s been positive and innocent, like when people posted words of encouragement on Jane’s sad Pinterest pictures. I truly hope that none of the people slut-shaming Lydia would ever consider treating a real person that way.

But if we’re going to believe John Green when he talks about “the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species,” we can’t just accept the excuse that it’s not real. It doesn’t matter that Lydia is fictional. It doesn’t matter that Lizzie said it first. It matters that you are victimizing someone who is already a victim. You are slut-shaming someone who is not a slut. Watching this episode with some friends today, we talked about how we weren’t thrilled that Lizzie said “you don’t deserve this” as opposed to “nobody deserves this”, but from a story perspective I’m glad she did, because it shows how she’s changed. I think December Lizzie would have blamed Lydia for what happened, and I’m so thankful February Lizzie didn’t. It happens in the book, too – in the midst of dealing with the elopement Elizabeth says to her aunt, “Perhaps I am not doing her justice.”

It was so satisfying to see Lydia lash out at the slut-shaming from the fandom, and to see Lizzie look us in the eye and tell us it’s wrong. I’m hoping the writers will end strong with this story arc and drive the message home. It’s a powerful testament to what the novel is really about – perception and judgment and learning to overcome first impressions.

…This was going to be a quick reflection and somehow it turned into an essay. But like Darcy, sometimes I just find it easier to write things down :)


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Little Victories

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. For awhile I’ll be thinking “yeah, I’m totally rockin’ this!” or at least “okay, not bad for my first year”, but then I’ll see what someone else is doing or my students will bomb a benchmark test, and I kinda fall to pieces. “I’ve taught them NOTHING! I shouldn’t even BE a teacher!” And, of course, these meltdowns don’t do me any good because I waste so much time stressing out that I don’t have time to, you know, improve. I have my freak-out, scramble to plan for the upcoming week, and pretty much continue feeling awesome/decent/mediocre until the next realization of my own inadequacies. I think one thing that has stopped me from really upping my game has been the sense that there is so much to change, and it’s an overwhelming feat to fix everything all at once. But then last week, I finally had the realization I probably should’ve had a long time ago:

I don’t have to fix everything all at once.

Are there things I do well as a teacher? Yes. Are there things I could do better? Of course. Are there things I’m not even doing yet, even though I really should? Absolutely. My problem has been that I think, “Okay, so I need to figure out a way to work more grammar and vocab into the curriculum, AND I have to make sure I’m addressing every point on every IEP, AND I need to make tutoring more effective, AND I need to conference with students more often, AND my current homework policy isn’t working, AND AND AND…” then eventually I just think “well, there’s no time to figure all of that out now,” and I don’t figure out any of it. This time was different because I just randomly chose a few things which wouldn’t require a lot of prep work and told myself to do a better job than I’ve been doing. Here are a few things that made me proud of myself and my students last week:

Conferencing: I struggle to spend one-on-one time working with students, even in the classes that behave well enough that management doesn’t prevent it. I tend to think that if I can’t sit right there and work through every concern, it’s not enough (sensing a pattern yet?). This time, I just briefly checked in with every student as they were starting an assignment. Do you have a topic? Do you know where to find information? Do you have a plan to move forward? Good. Next student. It was really very easy, and I was able to spend more time with the kids who really needed it, without ignoring the ones who were on track. Perfect!

Tolerance: It’s so important to me to create a safe environment, but I don’t always feel like I’m effective at calling students out for saying things they shouldn’t. I think I usually come off as too harsh, so the kids think they’re “in trouble” rather than “intolerant.” I made more of an effort last week to calmly, but firmly, make my students aware that certain forms of thinking are not acceptable. Here’s a conversation from when a girl took a larger stack of books to put away than a boy:

Student: Haha, she’s manlier than you are!
Me: Really? Do you have to be a man to be strong?
Students: Uh… no.
Student: Miss, it’s okay, you’re strong!
Me: That doesn’t matter. I’m just saying, being manly doesn’t really have anything to do with how many books you carry.
Students: OHHHHHH!

Yeah, they still tend to react as if someone got burned by some clever quip I said. I would much rather they realize that I just want them to think about the words they’re using and why, but it’s a step. I do have one student who now self-corrects every time she starts to describe something as “retarded”, so I am seeing some progress!