Manners: Who’s job is it anyway?

This past Sunday, after being cooped up in the house with sick kids for two days, my wife and I decided to head to Target.  I wished I would have stayed home.  I am very appalled at the manners people have today.  What ever happened to the words “excuse me”?  Obviously it is too much to ask for in today’s world.  Four different times people cut my wife or myself off on their way to their destination within the store.  My wife actually had a lady cut in front of her in the check-out line and had absolutely no remorse for doing it.  In addition, my wife described a time where she was making a left hand turn and there was a lady turning right from the opposite direction and that lady was upset because my wife was the one that made the legal turn into the closest lane and the other woman driving wanted that lane. She flipped my wife off.  Alrighty then!

Without a doubt this is a huge issue.  My colleagues and I have to constantly redirect students to walk around adults talking in the hallway instead of going between them.  Or, if they have to walk between two adults they need to be polite and say excuse me.  We also see burping and farting in our classroom like it is no big deal.  One of my colleagues has had to kick out students numerous times for their inability to “hold it”.  We constantly see kids trying to talk over each other all the time and they interrupt each other.  The reaction by students when confronted is what gets me the most.  Students act like we are blowing things out of proportion when in reality we are trying to teach them manners and to become a better citizen.

The saying “It takes a community to raise a child” is true, no doubt.  However, the picture being painted for me is becoming clearer and clearer. That picture includes me being the one who teaches children manners.  As a teacher, I have different roles and I am fine with that.  On the other hand, where is the parents when it comes to manners?  I now see why my students act the way they do from time to time.  Manners need to be taught at home.  Using excuses doesn’t set well with me either.  In a recent conversation with a parent outside of my school district, they actually told me the reason their child is so rude and disrespectful is because their child is a stubborn redhead.  Really?  I am a redhead, I have always been a redhead and I have never disrespected my elders.  I knew enough to say, “excuse me” and “sorry to interrupt”.  My own children know enough to say excuse me and they know how to cover their mouths when they cough.

If I am going to be required to teach manners, can I please have some curriculum to follow?  I am not sure how other teachers or individuals feel, but dealing with manners has become a regular part of my daily routine at school.  It is discouraging to think generations are being raised without manners.  I can only believe this is going to lead to some very disheartening events down the road with these students are disrespectful in so many facets.


Understanding and Implementing the Common Core

Michigan is one of many states who have adopted the Common Core National Standards. More and more I read both negative and positive reviews of the CCSS. I am sure the more educators, professionals, and school districts unpack them, there will continue to be the emergence of these types of reviews. It isn’t a secret schools districts will be tested over the CCSS in 2014-2015. To me, schools will not be successful if they plan on implementing and reviewing the standards the year before they are being assessed. I am utterly shocked at the number of schools who have NOT implemented or even looked at the CCSS when my PD partner and I are delivering our breakdown of the informational writing standard. A word of advice to those schools; you better start.

In addition to districts and teachers themselves, I question what is happening at the university and college level in regard to the Common Core. For the past month I have had a mid-tier student in my classroom from a university/college that I will leave nameless in my blog. Mid-tier students have to complete so many hours of observation as part of the teacher-education program. These hours are completed before they begin their student-teaching. I remember having to do the same thing during my undergrad work. Last week my mid-tier and I were having a conversation about a lesson that needed to be taught in my classroom and after establishing it would be a lesson on grammar, I asked what they knew about the CCSS. The response I received just about knocked me down. Though they knew of them, they were not being discussed in the classes they were taking. According to my mid-tier our states Grade Level Content Expectations(GLCE) and something else called the high school content expectations(HSCE) was supposed to be the focus of the students. Now, how is not discussing the Common Core preparing new teachers for the classroom? I asked my mid-tier to go back and ask their teachers about the CCSS and why they weren’t being baptized into the world of the new National Standards.

The following week I had a follow-up conversation with my mid-tier and it according to them there seems to be a lot of finger pointing going on. Education professors are saying the English professors should be covering the CCSS and English professors claim the Education professors should be covering them. It seems we have a failure to communicate people! It’s obvious to me there is a problem. What is it? It’s not being taught. My mid-tier even brought it up in a class and other students wondered too why it wasn’t be addressed with them and the professor told them they wouldn’t be covering it at all. We aren’t doing young teachers-to-be any services if they aren’t being kept up to speed about curriculum and standards. Now, I am not attending these classes my mid-tier is taking, so I don’t know the whole story. All I know is something isn’t stirring the Kool-Aid. I did have an opportunity to fill out an online survey provided by the college/university and expressed my concern pertaining to the Common Core and I did receive an email back and was told my concerns would be addressed.

If individuals are under the impression the CCSS are going away, they are are wrong. The time is now to start thinking and acting and that does include individuals at the college level.


Common Planning Time: Accomplishing Nothing

Judging by the title of today’s blog post, I am sure people are thinking our common planning time meetings are pointless. Let me clear the air by saying I do believe we have the capability of being productive and, at times, we do incredible work with the hour and fifteen minutes. I work with some amazing teachers and I am no way discrediting or disrespecting them.

Our middle school staff has a very unique situation in being able to have this common planning time where we can all meet at the end of the day to discuss a variety of topics from assessments to lesson plans to discipline issues with students. There are many occasions this time is used for other things. For example, individual student IEPs need to take place, we have a monthly staff meeting during this time, we have department meetings once a month, on certain days teachers need time to correct papers (yes, this includes me), and we even have vendors come in to talk about new products we might be able to use for our school and students. All of the above mentioned are valid reasons for us to miss collaboration time with just ourselves as a staff, and at times, unavoidable. Furthermore, this year has been rather tricky due to new teaching assignments for all of our staff in the middle school.

The days we do meet, we tend to (pardon the expression) bitch about the problems we are having with certain students in our class (again, I am guilty of this too). Others are grading papers while we are meeting, we constantly try to talk over each other and we take advantage of this time to do our own personal chores. What are we doing? I understand we need to vent at times and find out if others are having the same problem, but it doesn’t make the student more successful if we just complain about them. This time needs to be used more wisely.

If we don’t use this time efficiently, we are going to lose the privilege of having a common planning time in future years. Personally and professionally, I want to see this time used to plan cross curricular units and lessons. In addition, I want us to meet about how to make students more successful. We need to be pulling more students in and finding out why they are failing classes or what we can do to make them more successful. We are going to have more students slipping through the cracks if we don’t get a hold of them and help them.

Our own selfish motives constantly come into the picture and it is understandable. It has always been said it takes a community to raise a child. Yes, it does. However, it also takes a teacher, a student, and a parent to educate a child. Not just a teacher, but many teachers. If we want to build relationships with students and at the risk of losing our advisory time next year, this time could be used to help build more relationships with students.

I propose we designate at least 1 day a week to meet as an entire middle school staff. Furthermore, an agenda should be created prior to the days meeting and distributed via email or google doc to allow items to be added. Having an agenda should help to create a more organized atmosphere and keep us on track.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or saying I am not guilty of doing some of the items mentioned. I do know we are heading down the path of negative thoughts and patterns and we need to get back on track and do what is best for our students. I am open to any suggestions from other educators.


Scheduling: What Truly is Best for Students?

Ahhh, it feels good to be writing again!

As we have plunged into our 3rd marking period, my principal is trying to get a jump on next year’s schedule for the middle school.  This year our middle school is divided into seven hours.  We have the privilege of conducting a 40 minute homebase or better known as an advisory class.  Then I teach five hours of language arts between 7th and 8th grade with a planning hour that comes at the end of the day.  With the exception of homebase, each class runs approximately 55 minutes.  To paint a clearer picture, our high school is on a 90 minute block schedule.

Okay, so here is my thinking. I have been teaching at the middle school for almost 6 years.  We have always had an advisory/homebase class to start the day.  I understand the middle school concept.  My Master’s degree is in Middle Level Education.  The advisory/homebase concept is a great idea, but I haven’t seen much progress academically with students because we have an advisory class. First, 40 minutes is too long for students.  Our discussion last week was to knock down this time to possible 15 or 20 minutes.  The time taken  away from this class would be added to the other hours to extend contact time in the core academic classes.  This would create a better transition for our middle school students going into the realm of block scheduling.

Now, this schedule is not permanent yet.  A lot of discussion took place about preserving the homebase/advisory class.  Arguments for this time revolves around building relationships with middle school students. I know this time is great for talking with students and getting to know them.  It also serves as a way to give students an adult they can go to if they ever have issues. Our principal did a great job of carving out what we should be doing with the time we have for homebase/advisory.  I am still not convinced this time is valuable.  With the Common Core Standards in place at our school, students are going to have to work harder and teachers are going to need more student contact time to help students better understand what their expectations are. So, my suggestion is to just get rid of our homebase/advisory class and add even more time to the core academic classes.  Now the question remains, how are we going to build relationships with students?  As busy as we are outside of our teacher role, we should attend sporting events that our students participate in.  My colleague and I have started a writing club once a week during lunch.  To me, this is a perfect opportunity to build relationships with students.  Perhaps a math club could be formed too.  Relationships could also be formed on an everyday basis with longer academic classes.  Not to mention, if student from a 55 minute class to a 65 minute class, they are going to have a smoother transition into a 90 minute block schedule.

Scheduling issues are typically at the forefront of many discussions in schools. My take is for us to put our personal wants and needs aside and do what is best for the students.  I am sure we don’t have the perfect model and I am sure middle school concept advocates will frown on our schedule.  What I know is I want our students to be successful and I am willing to try something different from what we have been doing.


Bringing Twitter into the Classroom: A Low Budget Approach

It is no secret that I teach at a rural school that has a very restricted budget when it comes to technology.  Believe me when I say there have been many of us fighting for upgrades, new computers, wireless, smartboards, document cameras, etc.  Last week I took a different approach to introducing my students to Twitter. Now, I have thrown a lot at both my 7th and 8th graders when it comes to Technology.  My students have learned about Google Docs, Glogster, Celly, our Wiki Page, and Edmodo.  I will admit, I have taken all of them completely by storm.  My 7th graders think it is crazy that I like technology so much.  Anyways, I didn’t want to quickly shove one more piece of technology down my students throats.  So, what I did is I introduced my students to Twitter.  Before we talked about Twitter I had my students do the following for their writing into the day:

Write a message to someone you know using 144 characters or less.  It must make sense and you can’t use text lingo.

Needless to say when the students shared, they had some really interesting posts.  One student wrote: “I am writing a 144 character message. I am doing this because my teacher is asking us to” After the students were done doing this I cleared my white board and drew the word TWITTER on the board.  I then proceeded in having a class discussion about what Twitter actually is and what is its purpose.  All of my classes were similar in their responses.  Here are the common ones they came up with.

  1. A type of social network w/similar qualities like Facebook.
  2. A way to tell people what you are doing at any given point.
  3. It’s free
  4. You can follow people and people can follow you
  5. It is symbolized by a little blue bird
  6. You tweet

I felt my students did an awesome job with this particular part of the lesson.    Next, I asked my students why companies, businesses, or colleges might use Twitter.  I gave subway, and Jimmy Johns as an example.  Students gave multiple answers, but bottom line, they came up with promoting a product and getting people to buy their product.  I responded by saying “Yes, however, why Twitter?”  This part stumped students.  It took a lot of prompting but I did get a few students talk about the idea that it was free and we then discussed the cost of advertising.

After our discussion, I asked students to go back and either write another personal “paper tweet” or write a “paper tweet” from a company or business perspective.  The students did great.  I wish I had pictures of the work they did.  The next time I do this lesson I will take pictures and have students write on a sticky note to put on a poster.  Anyways, I finished the lesson by telling the students they could sign up for a Twitter account and I showed them what the home page looked like on I did not want my students to feel overwhelmed by having them sign-up for one more digital tool that required a password and username they would probably just forget.  I wanted them to feel less pressure and allow them to view it for themselves and play with this valuable digital tool.  I encouraged my students to follow me, but I told them I would not follow them in return just because of student/teacher relationship boundaries.  I want to follow-up further with my students and see if any of them have creating twitter accounts and find out who or what they are following. I think you could take this lesson and put your twists on it, but I thought it was valuable to teach to my students, especially because there are a lot of social media websites out there they need to learn about.


Dodging Digital Difficulties: Implementing Digital Tools in Rural Schools

Is there anyone else out there who get the feeling from time to time that people are either reading your thoughts or they are on the same wave lengths as you when it comes to specific topics.  I have been freaked out twice by this in one day and though it can be a little spooky, I feel like I am making connections with people and it feels great!  This is how I felt when I found this great video on what it is like to teach teaching in rural America, that was tweeted by my national writing project colleague from West Virginia April Estep. You can follow her at @MsEstep on twitter.

I am not going to lie here folks, I know funding is an issue and every school district could use more money.  On the other hand, throwing money at the situation doesn’t always fix the perplexing problems we have in our rural schools.  And yes, I do teach at a rural school! With that being said, I know there are many rural schools that face technology issues in their district and each district can be very limited when it comes to students being able to access technology.  Believe me, I am guilty of crying and whining and wanting to kick my feet in frustration because I don’t have access to working computers or my students can’t use computers on a regular basis. Realistically, I strongly believe we waste more time complaining when we can find ways to improvise the use of technology.

First, I urge you to open up the use of cell phones in your classroom or your district.  My district is going to re-write the policy it has on cell phones just so students can use them in class.  I currently use Celly in class and Wiffiti has been suggested as a great tool to use too.  Second, I would like to suggest using something like Grammar Girl in your classroom.  There are multiple podcast for free available on many grammar issues.  My students love the fact they don’t have to always listen to me preaching about grammar.  Most audio sessions or lessons are no longer than 6-8 minutes.

Finally, as one last suggestion I would like to offer up the idea of students doing a paper blog.  Blogging on a computer can be challenging for teachers and educators that don’t have technology readily available to them.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t teach students what a blog is and why people write them. Give students an opportunity to create a “paper blog”  This is a lesson I plan on sharing with my students on January 30th and then they will create their “paper blog” on February 1st.  There are many different ways to approach this lesson.  You can check out some paper blog activities on

So, channel that valuable energy for positive use and be creative in your classroom to help our 21st century learners.  Other simple ideas could be to allow students to bring in their Kindles and Nooks and designate some time to let them read.  Allow students to have their iPod or iTouch in class to use for a day.  Calculators on cell phones are also ways we can get around budget constraints for our students.

Although my suggestions may not fix the bigger problem, there are still other avenues to explore for implementing a digital world into our classroom.  My school isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  However, I have hard-working colleagues who are willing to put in the extra time to find grants and figure out what it is going to take to make our school more 21st century friendly.


Texting in Class: The Pros and Cons of Celly

Since last year I have been trying to find a way to implement the use of cell phones into my classroom, a journey well worth taking.  More and more students today are using cell phones.  The humorous thing is, they don’t always use them to talk on.  Students love texting.  Last year as I began to slowly introduce cell phones into my classroom, I was missing a very valuable component, which was assessment.

This past summer I found a website called Celly.  Celly is a collaborative space where the teacher creates a “cell” and students sign up via their cell phone number and the teacher invites them to a cell. 

This year I use Celly once a week with my students.  It has the assessment piece that was missing for me and my students last year.  Now I can see the cell and read what the students have written.  As with any digital tool, there can be speed bumps.  Although there are pros and cons to Celly, I believe it to be a valuable tool to use for the 21st century classroom.


  1. Easy set-up.  It literally takes minutes to set-up
  2. Easy to use.  Students love Celly day and are always asking when we will be doing it again.
  3. Teachers can asses student writing in a more formative manner or be summative as well.
  4. Privacy.  Teachers do not need to exchange cell phone numbers with students.  Students can simply type them in at a computer and a teacher can approve their request to join a cell.
  5. Cell Options.  Teachers can have a curated chat where everything must be approved before being posted or they can have an open chat where everyone can respond to each other.


A typical cell with student responses


  1. Not all students have cell phones.  Being in a rural school, I have students who do not own a cell phone.  I have those students respond on my classroom wiki space in the discussion section.
  2. Students still like to use text lingo. In my classroom, I set the standard where students can’t use text lingo in my classroom.  I preach practicing formal writing.
  3. A plethora of text messages gets sent to student’s phones. If a teacher opens the cell, all posts from every student will go to all member’s phones.  If you don’t have unlimited texting on your phone, this can be a problem.
  4. Cell phone policy in Schools. If your district has a cell phone policy, you may run into a road block with your administrators.  The most important thing a teacher can do is show the student is getting assessed on their writing.

Overall, I have had very few technical issues with Celly. Celly has a great help cell and they are quick to respond. I encourage teachers to set solid guidelines when using Celly.  A parent letter home would be beneficial.  If you are a secondary teacher such as myself, try it with one class first, and then when you get the hang of it, start using it in all of your classes.  Celly is a 21st century tool that can help students write and communicate.


Why is Collaboration Almost Non-Existent?

Monday I had another wonderful opportunity to conduct professional development at Central Michigan University on Informative writing as suggested by the Common Core Curriculum. I was very impressed how the conference was set-up and the number of people from all over the state of Michigan that attended. There were even administrators present.

As my writing project partner and I were giving our presentation we had several questions surrounding informative writing and the Common Core. We discussed with our audience about the unique opportunity we have as educators when it comes to the Common Core. What we were echoing from our director Troy Hicks is how we, as teachers and school districts, can decide how to assess students based on the Common Core. If teachers don’t look closely at the Common Core and make these type of decisions, they could be made for us from the powers up on high. The biggest idea we preached was collaboration with colleagues about creating units and assessments and implementing 21st century tools such as Google docs, cell phones, Glogster, etc. and making sure those assessments and tools that teachers choose to use tie back into the standards.

One question we had was from a teacher who virtually was on an island by herself in high school. She taught language arts for grades 9-12. She wanted to know how she was going to be able to collaborate with other colleagues when she was the the only high school L.A. teacher. Other teachers talked about how they didn’t gave any collaboration time at her school and she wanted to know how to get that time. We even had a principal say he was going to go back to his school and figure out how to develop time for his teachers to collaborate on the Common Core.

To answer the 9-12 teacher’s question along with the other teachers, we simply encouraged her to collaborate with the middle school staff and the elementary staff within her district. We even told her to email or call other teachers in surrounding districts.

What I have been absolutely amazed by all week is how many districts were not collaborating. And not just on the Common Core either, in general it was appearing teachers weren’t collaborating on much at all? Why is this? After talking with teachers this past Monday, I feel spoiled about how much time is available to me and my staff to meet. Not only do we have common planning time in my middle school, but we also have something called “early release” district wide. This is where once a month we meet as departments and discuss what is going on in our classrooms, textbook selection, teaching strategies, etc. Most of the time it is just building wide, but on occasion we meet district wide K-12. Recently our principal implemented meeting times in different areas such as literacy and transition. These meetings are also conducted once a month. Again, I feel more fortunate then most districts because it appears they aren’t getting the same opportunities.

Even if you aren’t in a district where you should be collaborating, the bottom line is you need to be, especially when it comes to the Common Core. Schools will be required to start assessing students in 2014 and if these conversations are not taking place, it is going to be more difficult to implement the Common Core Standards.

What can you do? If you are a teacher, start by talking to your administrator and your colleagues. Discuss a time you can all discuss the CC. Yes, this may mean you have to sacrifice time after school, particularly if you don’t have a common planning time. Second, attend professional development on the national standards. Educate yourself and become the “expert” your school district may need. Finally, email, call, or Skype with teachers and professionals in other districts to help you get off on the right foot. After all, teachers teaching teachers is powerful and everyone involved can benefit. For the most part, we are all in this together and we need to be willing to work together. It is exciting to think of all of the creative and amazing assessments that can come out of the the new standards laid before us!


What About the Bored Students?

Happy Tuesday everyone!  I hope everyone’s week is off to a killer start. I taught a lesson today with adjective clauses with my 7th graders today and it went well.  I hope their homework reflects how well they did on their classwork.

Besides teaching my students to be sentence gurus, I have been struggling with the idea of reaching the students who are essentially “bored” in my classroom.  It’s the students that need to be challenged more, but you just can’t seem to find time to reach them because you are too busy trying to help the students who are barely treading water in your classes.  Recently I met with a student who truly feels they aren’t being challenged enough in my class.  I am not one to get defensive, nor should any other teacher.  In my eleven years of teaching, I have learned a little something about the profession and myself as an educator.  Regardless, I proceeded to sit down and discuss with the student what they could do to make themselves better.  First, we looked at doing an independent study of sorts where the student could look at the Common Core Standards and we could decide together what would be a challenging way for them to meet the criteria in the standard that we discussed.  Next, we looked at doing additional problems when it came to completing an assignment.  For example, if an assignment is about identifying adjective clauses, the student could do an enrichment worksheet instead of a normal practice worksheet.  Furthermore, I discussed with the student doing  projects that involved using technology like creating a digital story about a book they read or creating another glog, or perhaps using a website such as

Now, as a staff we have discussed a few different strategies to address the other students who are not being challenged.  We discussed an inquiry based research project where they could choose any topic in their advisory class in the morning and conduct research and then report back the findings by producing a poster, paper, or some other piece.  The piece could even be technology based.  In addition, the inquiry based project, we were looking at doing a Science Olympiad type approach where we give the students topics and they can choose to construct or express themselves in a way that reflected the topic.  The students could even do it in small group settings.  So, as we have tossed around these ideas, we are quickly approaching the end of our second marking period and the only extension we have offered is to the one student.  I give credit to this middle schooler for stepping up to the plate and asking to be challenged.  However, there are more students out there who are just afraid to ask.

I am going to take the bull by the horns and I am going to not only provide my middle school boy’s a writing club, but I am going to set aside another day to do it for the young ladies too.  I am also going to take a student survey and find out what the students want to help guide me in a direction on where to go. 

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking my colleagues, because they are great, but I think we spend way to much time thinking about how we can help the students who are failing, then the students who need to excel. Just look at some or legislation that has been passed.  Does “No Child Left Behind” sound familiar?  How about “Higher Achievement for all Children”? This doesn’t mean every child will go to College.  Higher achievement is going to be different for every child. Just some things for my readers and anyone else to chew one.


Motivation: For Teachers

The last few days of break have been very cumbersome for me. I have felt weighted down, not very energetic, and somewhat irritable.  Nevertheless, I knew the alarm would go off at 5:50a.m. this morning and I would have to be ready for my students. A very perplexing issue that has risen to the top of my thoughts over the past few days is the term motivation.  Yes, I truly believe as educators, we come back from Christmas break re-energized and ready to teach our students to the best of our abilities. 

 On the other hand, I know as a teacher in the great state of Michigan, we pray for snow days too.  Or at least I know I will be wanting a snow day. Why?  In my school district we don’t have another break until the start of our Spring break which is April 2.  Now, I know some school districts have a mid-winter break in February to try to break things up, but I do not.  So, I had to ask myself the last few days, what is going to keep me motivated to get me through this long stretch.  Because to be honest, mother nature doesn’t look to be on my side.

The first idea that came to mind was professional development.  This is a great time of year to be a part of some sort of professional development that your district or local university may be hosting.  I might suggest finding some professional development on the Common Core Standards.  I recently enrolled into a professional development book club about the Common Core and Project Based Learning.  I am looking forward to attending.  In addition, I am helping our Writing Project Sit with professional development about informational writing and the Common Core.  Needless to say, there should be plenty of opportunities for any educator out there to imerse themselves in PD.  I find PD does two things for me.  First, it obviously gives you a break from your students and your classroom where the stress can mount quickly.  We all need adult interaction once in a while.  Second, I always get that refreshing feeling that we all need. I become armed with strategies to use in my classroom and it almost feels like a coach has given me a pep talk.  Once again, I am ready to go!

Besides professional development, I encourage anyone to write.  Writing has helped me so much since being part of the National Writing Project. Troy Hicks, our site director, was intense and challenged us all.  I am the writer today and the teacher I am today because of him and the National Writing Project.  Writing is a great outlet to express your feeling and your ideas.  In addition, it makes you feel better when you are done getting your thoughts down on paper.  Writing can take the form of a poem, journal, song, etc.  I even encourage you to enter a writing contest.  There are plenty of them out there. is a great website that hosts plenty of writing contests. 

If professional development and writing don’t sound the most appealing, I encourage you to start a book club with friends or colleagues with a New York Time’s bestseller, or any other book that may be of interest.  If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea or might be too time consuming.  Befriend a colleague and go out for a nice dinner and perhaps vent to each other about the challenges you face in your classroom. 

Whatever avenue you choose to take to keep yourself motivated and doing your best as a teacher in your classroom, I know this time of year can be challenging.  Lean on each other professionally to help!