Hello, God. Welcome to My Classroom


When the Network Betrays Us…

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on June 3, 2013
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

A Week of Sadness

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 23, 2013
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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?

prom16

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.

&*$%#&!!!!!

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on April 11, 2013
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“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
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Need Restoration?

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on February 25, 2013
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Piankatank Bridge is under construction. I have to cross the bridge every day on my way to and from work, so I was worried at the beginning of the school year when it was announced there would be one-way traffic over it for a very, very long time.  If I consider the situation logically, I realize I’m never sitting there for more than 3 or 4 minutes. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.

Fall-Protection-Require-Danger-Sign-S-4074

It’s a slight inconvenience, but I’ve found I’m in awe at the process. The construction workers aren’t simply repairing the roadway; they have completely eliminated one lane and are rebuilding it from scratch. It’s a little unnerving when I see one side of the bridge completely demolished while I drive across the other. How do they maintain the stability of one side while obliterating the other? If I’m in my car, my perspective doesn’t provide me with much of a view, but when I drive Mark’s truck, I sit high enough to see straight down to the river. Scary!

As I consider the bridge, I think about God’s restoration of His believers. Many people hit rock bottom, become completely destroyed, before they reach out to Him for help. He keeps part of us stable enough to cry out for His help while other parts must be rebuilt from scratch. He doesn’t just patch up our flaws; He completes a total overhaul, starting with our hearts.

He can renew anyone, no matter how deep the wounds. So many of my students need restoration. A boy searching for guidance but without a father figure. A girl who believed the words “I love you” and wants to feel clean again.  A victim who wants to die rather than face the bully who demonizes his days. All can be renewed with God’s love even when the world feels cold and lonely.

Like the bridge, it might take total demolition before restoration can begin, but God’s power makes it possible.

It’s My Party

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on December 12, 2012
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m hosting a good ol’ fashioned pity party, and I’m the guest of honor.

On Saturday, Colton had play practice in the morning, his Cub Scout troop walked in the Christmas parade and collected canned goods for the local food bank in the afternoon, and Autumn attended the Holly Ball at school that evening. On Sunday, Colton played Linus in “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas” at church.

cub scouts in parade

My calendar is brimming with activity. Not only are the weekends packed with holiday plays, parties, and other events, almost every evening there’s something planned. Yesterday, Mark called me at work and said, “Get out your calendar. We need to see when we can go shopping together.” We actually found one evening when both of us are free. And thankfully, it’s before Christmas Eve.

image

The busyness has reached insane proportions, and I love all the activity. Right now I need it because I find myself celebrating my melancholy whenever I’m still. I haven’t read a book in over a week, I’m not writing like usual, I’m unenthused in my classroom, and I don’t want to clean (not that it’s ever a complete joy), cook, bake, or grade papers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not moping around all the time. Certain moments coax me from my sullen fog. When I focus on the reason for this blessed season, my heart swells. When I watch Colton play Linus in the Christmas play at church, my smile cuts my face in two while sentimental tears overflow. When Autumn dresses up for the Holly Ball dance at school, I couldn’t be more proud of what a beautiful, young lady she’s become.

DSC05224     DSC05207

But in the quiet moments, my mind immediately thinks of Christmas day without my mom and Fred. This will be the first Christmas in quite a few years I haven’t been with them. I know they are also feeling sad. They can’t make it from St. Louis to Virginia, and we aren’t able to go there. It just won’t work this year.

Usually, I accept disappointment without wallowing in it, but I’m having a hard time right now. I think God knows that because frequently when I’m starting to drift into my sour mood, He’ll put someone in my path to make me smile.

A student who asks how my day is going. A puppy that crawls into my lap on the couch. A smile from a stranger. A post on Facebook that forces me to realize I’m too blessed to be depressed.

No, it won’t be a Christmas like the ones from recent years, but it will still be a celebration of one of the greatest days in history, that of Jesus’ birth.

So if you see me with a frown on my face or a faraway look in my eyes, don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve been doing enough of that for myself. Instead, ask me what my kids want for Christmas or how big the puppy has grown or what events are planned for the youth group at church. Those things will snap me out of my mood and help me to enjoy this glorious holiday season.

And thank you, God, for all the reminders.

Liquid Emotions are Genetic

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on November 12, 2012
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do you have liquid emotions? I most certainly do. Overwhelming sadness? I cry. Mad and indignant? The tears flow. Frustrated beyond belief? The dam opens. Laughing hysterically? Yep, even then.

There’s absolutely nothing I can do to prevent the tears. They have caused me embarrassment, frustration, and even horror, but still they flow. I’m not sure why I’m made this way, but I do know I inherited this trait honestly from my mom. During my childhood, I can recall seeing her crying in response to television commercials. I thought she was a mess, but now I’m a mess too.

Years ago, I watched Steel Magnolias and was able to relate to the comment made my Dolly Parton’s character. Truvy said, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Well, I’m not sure it’s my favorite, but it is probably one of my most frequent.

Currently, I’m reading Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin with my students. This is the fourth year I’ve read it in class after reading it once for pleasure and once to make sure it was appropriate for my students. Altogether, I’ve probably read it at least a dozen times. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels, and I recommend it highly. One of the characters, Uncle Willee, cries freely. His emotions are definitely liquid, and for one abused little boy, Unc’s tears are the first time he’s ever seen a grown man cry. That boy has trouble accepting Unc’s tears as a positive thing when his own make him feel like a weakling.

Yesterday, Colton stayed with friends while I went ice skating with the high school students from the youth group. At one point, he misbehaved by being unkind to his friend, and he cried when reprimanded. To some people this seems absurd, but to those of us with liquid emotions, it is very familiar.

At the dinner table as he and I discussed what had happened and what his consequences would be, his eyes flooded again. When I asked why he was crying, his chin quivered. “Because I hurt my friend.”

Cynics would say he’s merely upset because of the consequences. I would also be skeptical except I’ve seen the same young boy tear up and try to hide his emotions many times. When watching a movie that touches his heart, usually because an animal gets badly hurt or is treated cruelly, he just can’t help himself.

I’m sure it’s difficult for him to reconcile his tears with his need to feel like a “man”. I want him to be brave and strong, but I also admire his kind-hearted response to life. I’m not sure how to foster one of those traits without compromising the other.

What I am certain of, whether good or bad, is he gets his liquid emotions from me.

Negativity Will Get You Nowhere.

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on November 7, 2012
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As I posted yesterday, I truly believe that God is in control and He can use anyone to further His kingdom.

I have stayed out of political conversations for the most part over the last year. Students frequently ask who I’m voting for, but I’ve learned it’s not a smart move to reveal my choice. That being said, I feel the need this morning to share my feelings about one aspect of the election.

I’ve been stunned and saddened by the negativity during the campaign. Not that negativity is anything new in politics. I remember in 1972 being on the playground at elementary school and hearing a boy yell, “Nixon, Nixon is our man. Throw McGovern in the trash can.” Such eloquence certainly trickled down from an adult to this vocal second grader, and he felt the need to share with the rest of us. I don’t remember his name, but I can still see the ruthless triumph in his eyes and the wicked smile on his face.

With that in mind, I felt the need to discuss the election results with Colton this morning. Not only so he would be up-to-date with what’s going on, but so he would be prepared for any of his third-grade peers who felt the need to be mouthy in support of their (ummm…their parents’) own camp or with antagonism toward their opposition.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to send kids off to school without having to prepare them for adversity?

Nothing has changed since my playground days. Now my peers are a little older than second grade, but many still spew hate to try to get their point across. Instead of on the swing set, it’s now carried out on Facebook, Twitter, and any other avenue at their disposal.

The interesting thing to me is how many Christians are involved in this ugliness. Have we forgotten WWJD? What would Jesus do in this situation? I’m positive he would not be spouting revenge and hate.

The United States has fewer Christians now than ever before. If someone who claims to be Christian truly wants more people to vote Christian values, wouldn’t it make sense to leave the negativity to the politicians and focus on spreading Christian love? Serving others and growing His kingdom seems to me to be the logical strategy for creating change in our world.

The last time the U.S. had a surge in church attendance was after the attacks on September 11th.  Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you turn to God and cry out for help.

I certainly don’t know the future or what God has planned, but a lot of people think our country is going to be destroyed in the next four years.

I’m not sure, but maybe it’s just going to hit rock bottom.

How Many Times Do I Have to Say…

Posted in A Class Act by Linden Barrick on October 20, 2012
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As you may know, we have a new puppy in our house. Over the month or so we’ve had Rico, he’s grown into a much bigger puppy. His newfound ability to drag himself up onto the furniture delights him, and he can demolish a large rawhide in a day or so. Sweet natured with droopy questioning eyes, he has stolen our hearts. We adore him, but…

He has to be told “no”. A lot.

He doesn’t always come when we call.

He steals socks from the laundry pile.

He still has an occasional accident in the house.

He bites when he gets excited and wants to play.

I told my mom on the phone that I’m sure he’s like any other youngster. He’ll need to be reminded approximately 8,000 times before he understands the rules. I’m guessing we’ve made it to number 2,136. So very close…

How many moms and dads have said the phrase, “How many times do I have to tell you to (fill in the blank)?”  It seems to easily slide through my lips both at home with the kids and at school with my students. Why can’t they listen so I don’t have to keep repeating myself?

As usual, when I start wondering why others don’t act the way I want, God taps me on the shoulder and says, “Do you think you’re better than them?

No, I don’t. Kids and puppies aren’t the only ones who need to hear how to act over and over again. God frequently has to remind me to be patient, unselfish, and understanding. And even when I listen, it sure is easy to slide back in the opposite direction.

Thankfully, God is patient with me and gently reminds me again. And again.

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: