Hello, God. Welcome to My Classroom


What Should We Read Next?

cheese

Recently, I planned to begin a new novel unit with my students, which always leads to a question:

What should we read?

Many people probably think it’s not a big deal, choosing a novel. Just pick one, right? There are so many available even when you narrow it down to books appropriate for my eighth grade students. It should be simple to pick something that would interest the majority of the students. (I’m not naive enough to think I’ll ever interest all of them.)

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Every year I have to consider what my students’ lives entail. While some students might benefit from reading about someone else sharing their problems, others might feel overwhelmed having to face such personal issues in the school setting. It’s a fine line to tiptoe, wanting to take advantage of literature without causing distress for my students.

A novel that focuses on the theme of survival from abuse or neglect? Some years I can’t teach it because of the level of abuse a current student may have endured.

A teenage character whose father is an alcoholic? Maybe not a good choice.

Murder? I’ve even had to make my decision based on that.

Suicide? Always a touchy subject for this age.

In addition to the emotional issues, I have to weigh the religious, racial, and political climate of my students and their families. Will a parent feel as if I’m trying to shove my beliefs down their child’s throat if I teach a novel with Christian characters? They might though I doubt if we read something with Jewish characters anyone would think I’m trying to convert the kids to Judaism.

The factors to consider are endless. The novel I’m currently teaching was a last-minute choice based on a conversation I had with the guidance counselor. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer was not a good choice for this year, so we’re reading I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier instead.  (If someone in my class is in witness protection, there is no way for me to be aware of it, so I’m hoping it’s a safe choice.)

Obviously, trying to choose which novel to read pales in comparison to the horrifying situations in my students’ lives. I hate that I have to consider issues such as abuse and suicide. I repeatedly count my blessings and those of my whole family knowing what these young adults deal with every day. I pray they can all rise above the trauma in their lives and find success (along with a love of reading!) in my classroom and beyond.

A Week of Sadness

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 23, 2013
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This past week has been full of tragedy and sadness for our whole nation and for my community. Of course, everyone is aware of the devastating events in Boston. The explosions at the marathon shocked the world, and everyone mourns the lives lost and the future of a sport which will never be the same.

The Boston disaster hit close to home for the community where I teach. A teacher from the high school ran the marathon, and his wife teaches in the classroom next door to mine. I realize there were people all over the world trying to contact their loved ones, and it was the same for her. Although fear held her in its grip for a while, she soon was able to verify his safety. A collective sigh of relief echoed through the schools in our division as the news spread, and prayers of thanksgiving were sent heavenward.

After the Boston bombing and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas, I couldn’t help think What else is going to happen? It always happens in threes, right?

I’m not sure if there was a “three” for the rest of the world, but for the county of Mathews where I live, tragedy struck again on Saturday morning when a high school senior was killed in a car accident. It has been almost a year since that class lost another student to suicide. (see Do They Know You Love Them?)

Obviously, this loss of life affected the students deeply. That evening, prom was scheduled, and the absence of their peer hit the students hard. It’s almost impossible to reconcile flowers, fancy up-dos, tuxedoes, and gowns with the death of a friend. How do you dance with that cloud of sadness hanging so low over the dance floor? How do you laugh and enjoy your date knowing your friend will never date again? How do you look forward to graduation knowing there will be a void in the procession where each of those peers should have been walking?

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Autumn cried Saturday morning when she heard the news, trying to wrap her mind around the “why” of it all. While I know she enjoyed the prom, her heart was burdened with the loss of her friend. Looking at the pictures, her smile, hair, and gown were gorgeous, as were all the pictures I’ve viewed of others going to the event, but I know many struggled with the guilt of “going on with life” when someone they cared for was not.

In response to the sadness that is blanketing our county this afternoon as Deanna’s funeral takes place, I again ask as I did last year, do they know you love them? Do your children know? Is there any question in their minds? Do family members know how much you love them? Do your friends realize how special they are to you? Tell them. Right away.

And in memory of Deanna, please always wear your seat belt.

Grandma Louise

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 17, 2013
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Gram

Last year, my blog Why Divorce Can be a Blessing focused on how my parents’ divorce blessed me with numerous people who have supported and loved me throughout my life. One of those people was my Grandma Louise, and yesterday would’ve been her birthday so she has woven her way through many of my thoughts since yesterday morning.

Gram and Grandpa moved from Utah to live with us soon after my mom and Fred married. An addition was added to the house to accommodate their arrival. It wasn’t really an addition; it was a whole house added on which made it a duplex of sorts. They lived in the house that had existed previously, and we lived in the new part, which was attached by the garage.

I followed that path through the garage countless times. Gram and I spent an enormous amount of time together. She loved soap operas, and I would hide out at her house during the afternoons watching with her. It was scandalously fun, and sometimes it was a great way to avoid chores. The bowls of orange slices sitting around – the sugar-coated, chewy candy that sticks in your teeth, not the healthy fruit – lured me in as well.

family

I’ll always remember Gram for her marigolds. She planted them in the flowerbeds lining her front porch and fertilized them with horse manure from the barn. They were the tallest marigolds I’ve ever seen. That manure was powerful fertilizer!

When I got my driver’s license, Gram and I would escape on adventures to the mall or to Mexican restaurants occasionally. She was one of my best friends during my teen years, and I’ll always treasure the time I spent with her.

Gram and Autumn

One of my best memories includes Gram, Nonnie, and Grandmother (Fred’s mom, my mom’s mom, and my dad’s mom) going to a KC Royal’s baseball game with me. Grandmother was a die-hard Royals fan who spent most of her summer evenings in front of the television watching her beloved team. Nonnie and Gram enjoyed going to the game for the social time, and Gram always liked having a cold beer and a hot dog at the park. I went to numerous Royals games during my childhood, but that game was probably the most entertaining ever.

Happy Birthday, Gram! I miss you and love you!

&*$%#&!!!!!

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 11, 2013
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“I wnt to say sorry for what had happen in 4th block and people said that I had called u a name but I said this stupid sh** because I had to get off Google because (name deleted) wuz laughing at some of the pictures which made me start to laugh so you told me to get off I just wanted to say sorry”

Please excuse the atrocious grammar and spelling in the above message. (As a side note, this student recently took his Virginia state standardized writing test. The scary thing is he isn’t one I am worried about failing the test. It’s a perfect example of how horribly students write when using technology outside of school. Maybe the focus for a future blog…)

I found the message in my Facebook inbox one evening. (No, I am not friends with students on Facebook…another blog focus.) That day while in the computer lab, I told students when they completed the assigned test they could continue working on a PowerPoint they began earlier in the week as long as they remained silent while others completed the assessment.

When I heard giggles and whispers from one area of the lab, I approached two boys noticing one continued to work on the day’s test while the other had finished and was searching for images to use in his PowerPoint. Unfortunately, the images distracted the other student and the disruption resulted.

I bent down and told the student he would have to close the web browser until the other student finished because it was causing a distraction. I gave no further consequences. I simply said he needed to stop.

As I straightened to walk away, I heard an obscenity, verified by the gasps and the looks of horror on the faces of the other students. I couldn’t believe “stupid b*&%h” had come from that student’s mouth. Normally, he is a quiet boy who rarely engages in conversation unless he’s in his group of buddies. He answers in class when called on, had always been polite to me, and in his group of peers, I considered him one of the nicest and best behaved.

Dumbfounded, I called the office and had him removed from the lab. I didn’t have any referral forms with me, so he was going to have to sit in the office or the ISS room until I could write him up. The incident happened in last block, and by the time I got the referral to the office, buses had already left with the students. No matter. I knew administration would address it the following day.

When I saw the message on Facebook, I believed it immediately. He is simply one of those students who doesn’t cause my suspicions to flare and seems inherently honest. Cursing from him had been surprising enough. The extreme disrespect in what I thought I had heard was nearly unbelievable, so his message gave me a sense of relief. I feared I had read his personality and character wrong all year.

I didn’t respond online but planned to meet with him the following morning. One of the questions I asked when we met was, “Why did you use symbols in the word when you typed it in the Facebook message?” He said it wouldn’t be right to type it out. Obviously, my next question was, “Why is it okay to say it in my classroom but not to type it in a message?”

Don’t get me wrong. I realize words sometimes slip out in the heat of the moment. Typing takes more thought and is intentional in comparison. Whether spoken or written, it takes determination and effort to control our words, but they are powerful weapons and can cause a lot of damage if not controlled.

When I dismissed the student to return to class after our meeting, I prayed he would think twice before letting loose his tongue in the future instead of simply serving his consequences and forgetting the incident. I believe he will, which makes me extremely happy and hopeful. Teaching language arts (or any subject) isn’t simply sharing content knowledge. Sometimes as teachers, we also have the privilege of sharing life lessons as well.

No Words Necessary…

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 7, 2013
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