Hello, God. Welcome to My Classroom


When the Network Betrays Us…

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on June 3, 2013
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No internet? The network is down? How am I going to print the worksheets I spent hours creating last night for today’s lesson? How will I give the online assessment I planned? What in the world will I do with my students for 90 minutes? How am I going to keep them engaged?

Some days, progress comes to a screeching halt. As a language arts teacher, I have to take step back, pull open the file cabinet, and switch gears. Technology is an amazing tool, but it can’t become the only tool used when teaching because it doesn’t always work. When the panic begins to rise in my throat because I’ve lost my connection, here are a few things I turn to for help:

1) Picture books for narrative writing.  I have a collection of picture books I keep in my classroom now that my own children have grown beyond that age. My favorites are the “Carl” books by Alexandra Day. I usually put students in groups of 3 or 4 and give each group one picture book. As a team, they must “read” the book and write the story that goes along with the pictures. It’s always interesting to listen as they share their interpretations of the pictures and elaborate on them as they write their version of the story.

2) Engage in some team competition. Postpone the lesson planned for the day and have a little friendly rivalry in the classroom. Two of my favorite go-to games are Lingo Bingo and Horrible Homonyms. The kids enjoy them, even while practicing skills they will see on the state tests. Having a Jeopardy game saved can also provide a great review day when the internet isn’t cooperating. This can be used with literary terms, concepts from a recent novel unit, or any other information you want to review.

3) Act up! One great thing about a language arts classroom, there are always plenty of books around. Sometimes I divide my students into small groups and give each one a short story or a folktale. They have to read the story, decide who will play each part, and then act it out for the class. With little preparation and practice time available, the performances can sometimes be quite entertaining.

4) Round-robin writing using pictures. My students love this activity and always beg for time at the end of class to share what has been written. I usually divide students into groups of 4 and give each student in the group a picture from a magazine (I keep a folder full of them in my file cabinet and reuse them every year). Each student begins writing the story of what is happening in his or her picture. After 5 minutes, I tell them to pass their picture and story clockwise. Each student then reads the beginning of the story he or she receives and continues writing it until time is called to pass it on again. Usually the students strive to write the most outlandish stories they can, and the results are normally hilarious.

5) Get out the marker boards. You remember them, right? Mine are simply plain white paper that I laminated. Hand one to a student or a small group of students with an Expo marker and they are immediately more engaged in the examples or questions I’m presenting. Even though my laptop won’t connect to the printer, it will still connect to the projector in my room. Instead of having my students circle the correct letter on worksheets I created, I can project each item on the whiteboard or Smartboard and have them answer on the marker boards. I benefit from instant feedback plus I won’t have a big pile of papers to grade at the end of the day.

Technology certainly makes our lives easier when it works, but don’t let it ruin your day when it doesn’t. Be creative and innovative. Your students will probably enjoy switching gears for a day.

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.

&*$%#&!!!!!

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.

Recipe for an 8th Grade Writer

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on March 2, 2013
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photo (3)

Ingredients:

1 unit on sentence structure, end punctuation, and comma usage (This is not optional. They do not remember from previous years. Ditto for all ingredients.)

1 unit on verb tense, subject verb agreement, pronoun antecedent agreement, plurals and possessives, homophones, and double negatives

1 unit on capitalization and spelling

1 unit on narrowing and focusing on topic

1 unit on elaboration and details as main idea support

1 unit on effective introductions and conclusions

1 unit on sentence variety, point of view, tone, and voice

1 unit on purpose and audience

1 unit on organizational structures

1 unit on advanced vocabulary and figurative language usage

Steps:

1) Mix ingredients one at a time into a slouching, uninterested, unmotivated 14-year-old student.

2) Add additional amounts of any of the above ingredients as needed for desired outcome.

3) Pray. A lot.

Wake Up!

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on December 17, 2012
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sleeping

“Please pick your head up off the desk and pay attention.”

“You need to get more sleep at night.”

“Wake up!”

These words can be heard in classroom on almost a daily basis. The teens struggle to focus, suppress yawns, and fight to keep their eyes open. Students are tired. Many are tired all the time. Why don’t they get some sleep?

Some are student athletes and claim to stay up late finishing homework after games or practices. Others babysit or do other jobs after school. But I know the teachers on my 8th grade team don’t assign that much homework. So are the kids simply staying up late staring at the television or engrossed in video games? Do they sit on their beds until the wee hours texting friends?

I recently read an article on this subject by Daniel Willingham. Basically, Willingham says teens who do not get enough sleep will suffer negative consequences. These include problems with memory, mood, attention span, and academic performance. I see these problems all the time, and the negative effects include poor grades, discipline consequences, disrespect, and the inability to get along with peers.

Willingham explains that when adults are tired, they “listen” to the internal clues their bodies give telling them to get some shut-eye. Teens, for some reason, are less likely to “hear” those clues and claim they aren’t sleepy. When given the choice, they choose to continue playing their video games, listening to music, or watching television because their bodies fail to relay the message that they need to sleep.

The optimum amount of sleep for a teen is nine hours and less than eight is insufficient. I’m positive very few of my students get that much. No wonder they have such a hard time staying awake.

Parents need to set boundaries. As kids get older, we want to give them more freedom, but we have to remember we’re still their parents. They aren’t ready to be completely self-sufficient. If they were, kids would move out on their own at 13. Isn’t that a scary thought? There are a lot of decisions we wouldn’t let our teenagers make for themselves without some input or advice from us. If we as parents are concerned about our children’s education and future, we have to realize their bodies aren’t equipped to make the best choice in this area of their lives.

They may scream “I hate you!” when you cut off their computers, turn off the television, or put parental controls on their phones to stop texting late at night, but don’t worry. Once they are old enough to understand, they will be smarter and much more rested, and I’m certain they will appreciate the boundaries you set which prove you love them.

God designed us to be parents and guide our children throughout their lives, not just until they reach the teen years. Don’t be afraid to be a parent instead of a friend. Kids can find friends everywhere they go. Parents are harder to come by.

Something’s Wrong With This Picture

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on November 2, 2012
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Do you ever take a step back and wonder about a situation in your life?

I have today off school because of a yearly festival in the county where I teach. Autumn and Colton have Monday and Tuesday off school for a teacher workday and Election Day.

Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with this picture.

I am not the poster child for how to become a teacher. After graduating from college ten years after I graduated from high school, I spent nine years in one career before deciding I wanted to teach.

At that time I was 38, pregnant with our second child, and figured if I could give birth at that age, I could change careers as well.

I had an English degree, but not one in education. Because I had been out of school for so many years, I decided to take the Praxis exam to see what it was like. I knew I’d fail but thought it would give me a good idea of what I was facing for my new goal. So at eight months pregnant, I waddled into the testing center and took the exam.

I passed. I could hardly believe it.

That led me to make another decision. Did I really need to have my education credits to begin teaching? I knew some teachers were hired on provisional licenses. I might as well try, right?

I only applied in the county where I live, Mathews, and the next county over, Middlesex. Middlesex hired me, and I’ve always been so grateful for their confidence in me. Over the next couple of years, I taught, took classes to get my permanent license, and have never regretted my decision to change careers.

As far as teaching in a different school division than where my kids attend school, I have always enjoyed being able to be a parent in one and a teacher in the other. It could cause conflicts to be both. I certainly know a lot of teachers who successfully wear both hats in the same school division, but I’ve liked having them split.

It’s only on occasions like today and next week when I question it. With Mark’s job and now with Autumn driving and working, the logistics of where Colton will go each day after school causes some extra stress and even some begging at times. But I have wonderful family and friends who are always willing to help. And I have administration at my school who understands sometimes family comes first.

Today, I wish my kids were home with me, but I have the chance to go to Colton’s fall party at his school, which I rarely get to do. I didn’t tell him I was going to show up, so I hope he’ll be surprised.

There are always blessings in any situation. I simply have to be willing to look.

Do You Like to Win?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on September 26, 2012
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I do! Thanks to Lisa at Deep and Wonderful Thoughts, I have won the One Lovely Blog Award. You should check out Lisa’s blog, a collection of illustrations on parenting, spirituality, and life. It’s inspiring and thought-provoking, and I’m so appreciative that she recognized me.

According to the rules of this award, I’m supposed to 1) recognize the one who nominated me (see above), 2) tell seven things about myself, and 3) nominate fifteen other bloggers. Here I go…

Seven things about me:

1. I have 2 kids, Autumn and Colton, and a new puppy, Rico.
2. My husband, Mark, is the sheriff of our rural county of Mathews, Virginia, which is a little slice of heaven on the Chesapeake Bay.
3. I teach 8th grade language arts and love to watch as a student begins to believe in him or herself.
4. My happy place is on the beach with a book in my hands.
5. I’m in intense training to learn how to say “no” to committees, roles, responsibilities, and anything else that takes up the little bit of time I have left at the end of the day.
6. My biggest regret in life is living far, far away from my family. I’m still a Missouri girl at heart.
7. The weirdest thing I eat is probably bacon and peanut butter sandwiches (which partially explains my love/hate relationship with my “dreadmill”).

The fifteen blogs I nominate are:

1. Elaine Baldwin at One Another Living. Elaine’s posts always push me to be a better person. I keep reading, hoping it works!

2. Judy at Connecting Dots to God. Her blog is a beautiful exploration of the connection between God and humans, heaven and earth.

3. Lisa Buffaloe shares informational book reviews along with uplifting spiritual contemplation which blesses me greatly.

4. Connie Almony at Living the Body of Christ. Connie provides interesting thoughts and helpful information on a variety of topics, such as adoption, God’s glory, military missions, and learning disabilities.

5. Ivon Prefontaine at Teacher as Transformer: Education, Leadership, Life, and Transformation. I know he’s been nominated recently by others, but I had to give him a mention. His blog is a wonderful collection of poetry, beautiful photography, and inspirational thoughts.

6. Paula Mowery is a writer and Christian who motivates me to work harder in both aspects of my life.

7. Marney McNall at The Volunteer Fringe. I’m not sure how Marney finds the time to blog because she tirelessly pursues every opportunity to serve others…but I’m glad she does blog because it blesses and encourages me every time I read her posts.

8. Elly at Philanthropy, a fashion company opened in June of 2007 with the belief that a business built around charitable works and grounded in Christ could make a difference in the world.

9. Pat Dyer at Ramblings of a Crowded Mind. Pat has provided support, advice, and encouragement in my writing journey. Her blog provides additional writing inspiration and awesome book reviews.

10. Melissa Finnegan at 5020genesis Exchanging Darkness for Light. Melissa offers exceptional, entertaining book reviews along with spiritual insights.

11. Eileen Rife at The Write Stuff. As the site states, it provides musings on live, love, and good books. What a great combination!

12. Lesley Carter at Bucket List Publications. Lesley allows me to travel the world through her outstanding images and adventures she shares.

13. Mique at Thirty Handmade Days. Mique provides great mom advice, recipes, and fun ideas. Her blog makes me smile!

14. Teaching in High Heels. Even though at 5’10” I rarely wear heels, I still love the imaginative teaching ideas in this colorful, creative blog.

15. April at Mama Loves Food. She features great recipes without making me feel guilty for allowing my kids to eat food that’s not completely raw, gluten-free, steroid-free, organic and/or any other label that makes it healthy. Yes, we could and should eat healthier, but it’s nice to find a site that doesn’t make my guilt meter spike.

Thanks again, Lisa. This has been fun!

Is Your Grass Green?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on September 21, 2012
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I can’t wait to get to the high school. The ultimate “grass is always greener” scenario for my middle school students.

Yes, being in 8th grade can be tough. The kids are old enough to think they know it all but too young to be allowed the freedoms they think they deserve.

Usually I ask them what will be different there once they get there. I get a variety of answers. They’ll have more freedom. They won’t have dumb rules to follow. They won’t have to deal with drama. They’ll be happy.

If only it was that simple. Instead of accepting the current circumstances, taking advantage of the opportunities in their present life, the kids think moving to a different school will eliminate conflict and issues.

But do they realize their peers will be moving with them? Their study habits will tag along? And their attitudes – usually their worst enemies – are part of the high school package?

Do you know adults who have the same misconceptions?

If I could only get a new job.

If I could marry someone special.

If I could divorce my spouse.

If I could live in a bigger house.

If I had more friends.

If I drove a fancier car.

If my children weren’t little devils.

“If” is such a prison. It can suck you into the depths of delusion. It will shift your focus from what you have to everything you lack. And that sort of vision can warp your whole outlook and foster envy and discontent.

Achieving a level of success or accumulating “things” will not solve problems. They merely create their own set of problems, and if you don’t know how to deal with problems in one situation, you won’t in another.

Consider your present surroundings. Examine your life. Is it worth some gratitude? Take a moment today to count your blessings. I promise life will be much sweeter when you do.

Have You Ever Felt Abandoned?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on September 18, 2012
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Our new puppy is the sweetest little thing, but he can sure make me feel guilty. When we put him in the crate at bedtime or when we leave for school and work in the morning, he yelps and howls like we’re abandoning him forever. If someone walks out of the door, even if there are still other family members inside, he sits at the door and whines with sadness.

Have you ever felt this way before? Abandoned and alone? Or even abandoned when you’re still surrounded by others? So many experiences in life can cause those feelings – death, divorce, illness, conflict, gossip, job loss. It’s easy to dwell on those feelings and forget about everything else life offers, just like the puppy forgets there are other people in the room and a floor strewn with toys and chew bones.

Many of my students understand what it’s like to feel rejected. It breaks my heart when I overhear conversations about walking to the corner gas station to buy dinner because no one is home or seeing them come to school in filthy clothes because no one does the laundry. So many of these young adults struggle to become confident, responsible individuals, but they don’t have good role models to follow.

I’m sure it’s difficult to look at their environments and pick out any blessings. Being abandoned by those who should be taking care of them makes it hard to see a bright future. Of course the neglect invades their education. The feelings of hopelessness make it difficult to believe school can make a difference. That’s one of the greatest challenges the education system faces – teaching a student to believe and have hope in the future.

Last week at work, an email announced a leader in our district is leaving in December for an assignment in another school division. Ouch. The sense of abandonment immediately twisted my gut. My initial reaction doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the way it happened.

Logically, I understand and even applaud his decision because I know it will benefit his family, and it’s refreshing for a man so dedicated to work to make choices based on the needs of his wife and children. Yes, that’s my logical viewpoint, but emotionally, I feel deserted. He has been a blessing to our district, and his announcement seemed to dim the future. I’m certain someone will replace him who is capable and will also lead our schools well, but it’s difficult to let go of something that has proven so positive. I’m extremely sorry to see him go.

Sometimes life gets so grim, it’s easy to just want to give up. Have you ever convinced yourself that God abandoned you or someone else? When times get tough, sometimes we cry out to God because He doesn’t seem to be present, but if you believe in Him, you know He is there.

Sometimes, like the puppy, we’re just too focused on those who abandon us to see the One who is remains right by our side at all times.

How do you refocus on the positive when you feel abandoned? Please share your story in a comment.

How Do You Make Connections?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on September 11, 2012
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Are you connected? How many people will you connect with today? In the “good ol’ days” connecting meant you had someone’s phone number and you actually heard their voice when you called. Or you used “snail mail” and sent a card or letter. Nowadays in addition to phone numbers, you probably have email contacts, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, blog followers, and any number of additional networks to keep in contact with others.

I blog, – both here and for my school district – post, tweet, email, text, call, and teach, so I’m probably in contact with hundreds of people every day. But do I make a connection? Sometimes I think I do, but other times, not so much. Is anything I say touching peoples’ lives? Do I cause anyone to smile, frown, cry, or take action?

I always strive to build relationships with my students at the beginning of the year. It’s easy with some, but others are a little more of a struggle. Usually if there’s conflict, it’s because my expectations are fairly rigorous, and I have very low tolerance for laziness. Inferior work is fine if it’s the best a student can produce. My job is to make what they produce better, but they have to do their part.

Last week, the first week of school, I could already identify a few students who might test my patience a bit. A few hostile glances and rude remarks uttered under their breath keyed me into the potential conflicts. (I’m quick like that…those signals clued me right in!)

I decided after the weekend, we needed a fresh start. I walked up the hall with one boy, acknowledging that we’d started off on rocky ground. Last week, I had shown anger when he wouldn’t quit talking and get to work. He showed annoyance when I tried to get him to focus. My ire escalated when he was rude and disrespectful. His irritation erupted when I made him move to a different seat.

As we walked together yesterday, I told him I didn’t want our year to be filled with animosity. It would be nice if we could work toward the common goal of him having a successful year in 8th grade. I stopped outside the doors to the media center, but he opened the door and began entering while I was still speaking to him. I asked him to please shut the door until our conversation was over. He rolled his eyes, kept his hand in the partially closed door, and refused to look at me. Talk about feeling my blood boil.

Our discussion apparently wasn’t working, so I bluntly asked, “Do you want to have a year filled with conflict in my class?” He shrugged, sauntered and swaggered around for a few seconds, then looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t really care.”

So much for making a connection. I guess this one is going to take a lot more effort. That’s alright though. I told all my students at the beginning of the year if I’m hard on them, it means I care. Once I leave them alone, that’s when they need to worry because it means I’ve given up on them.

What they don’t understand is I don’t give up on any of them; I’ll keep pushing and I pray they’ll quit pushing back and begin moving forward at some point.

I guess this might be how God feels about us. He wants to make a connection with us, but sometimes we aren’t interested. He’s not going to give up on us, and He’s certainly not going away. Making a connection with Him should surpass anything else we can achieve. We just have to do our part.

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