So Long, Farewell!

This summer, as I did the What-To-Chuck Walk around my classroom, my eyes kept returning to an entire bookshelf filled with giant Merriam-Webster Dictionaries.

We’re not talking five or six of them.  We’re talking an entire class set.  The collection was one of those inherited things that another teacher offered to me, and I was too much of a naive, young, greedy teacher to turn them down.  They were still in near-perfect condition, each with a $22.99 sticker stuck to the front cover.



So I began the analysis: Do my students use them? Was in because of accessibility issues?  Could I put them anywhere else?  What else could I put there?  Would something else on that shelf serve the students better?

Then I remembered one of my students from the last school year: Ellie.  I think it was during our work on books for the Young Authors’ Conference.  I remember her words and actions specifically.  She was working at her table, located near the wall of computers in my room.  She must have still been drafting or editing.  Nearby, students were typing their drafts on GoogleDocs, preparing to copy and paste into StoryJumper for publication.

Ellie came across a difficult word to spell.  She asked her neighbors, to no avail.  Then she flipped on her lightbulb and exclaimed aloud, “Let’s look it up on GoogleDocs!”  Within seconds she was leaning over a friend’s keyboard, typing her best guess and waiting for for “The Red Squiggly Line.”  With a flash of the line and a quick right click, she had her correct spelling and was back to writing.

Meanwhile, four pieces of dust fell atop the dictionaries on the bookshelf.

So during that reflection, I had my answer.  I loaded up the dictionaries on a chair with wheels and scooted my way to the storage book room.  It was tough to stack perfectly good dictionaries (and their price tags!) on a dark shelf in the corner of the book room, knowing well that they would remain their until the end of time.  But alas, it is a different time.  Ellie, and all of my students, have coping mechanisms to assist them.  [Rest assure, I’m about to right-click on my spelling of “mechanisims” instead of heading to my bookshelf for a dictionary.]

Thanks for leading the way, Ellie!

Think, boys. Think!

Remember that line from “The Music Man“?

And remember the dark day when I yelled at my students for being too creative?

It came back to bite me.

After state testing finishes, all teachers, regardless of if we should or not, feel a weight off their shoulders.  Some teachers even remark, “Now I can start teaching!”

During the fifth grade intervention time, my awesome team of coworkers decided to spend the last few fragmented (assemblies, field trips, traditions…oh my!) weeks of school doing book groups.  We left the structure open – allowing each of us to choose a novel and a group of students based on our hearts – not data.  Gasp.

I had a group of hybrid ability-levels and interests.  I chose Jerry Spinelli’s, “Maniac Magee.”  If you’re not familiar with the story, it involves a runaway boy who deals with death, racial tension, and family.  It’s a great one-of-the-first-coming-of-age-books kids should read.

Long story, short: as we read the book each day, we discussed some of the more mature, underlying themes in the story.  One major issue, race, kept coming up.  With one African American student in my group, it was a very significant issue that needed dissected.  At one point in the story, we had a few “heavy hitter” racial-based paragraphs – the kind that put a lump in the teacher’s throat as he’s trying to read aloud.  When I finished the chapter for the day, the room was silent.  With ten or so minutes left during the intervention period, I asked the students to take out a sheet of paper and gave these instructions:

“Wow, that was some heavy stuff!  Why don’t you take a few minutes and write a reflection of how these paragraphs made you feel?”  Just a general reflection on the end of the chapter will be fine.”

I walked toward my desk.

“Huh?”  “What?”  “What are we supposed to write about?” “What do you mean?”

The questions erupted from the previously shell-shocked group.

As all good teachers do when students ask clarifying questions, I repeated the instructions, verbatim, only louder.

The students must have sensed the frustration in my voice and began to [attempt to] work.  I collected the papers at the end of the time, paper clipped them, and stuck them in my take-home bag to read that night.

As I sat down to read them that evening, I was excited to see how the chapter had impacted the students.  I was excited to hear from their hearts.  I was excited to see them freely write about their emotions, their depths, their values.  And here’s what I got:

“The main idea of this chapter was mainly about…”

“I know that this chapter was mainly about Maniac because in the story it said…”

“The chapter is mainly about Maniac.  I know this because…”

“The theme of the chapter is about feelings.”

“Maniac Magee is the main character in the story.  I know this because…”

For the second time that day, I got a lump in my throat.  I had failed my students.  They didn’t reflect.  They didn’t think.  They didn’t feel.  They performed.  And it was disgusting.

It was a bad day, make no mistake.  But hopefully, through the lesson that they taught me that morning, I can change how I teach – maybe even change why I teach – and provide for my future students what it is that I want them to receive: passion.

Educational Leadership Booklist

My professor for my current Master’s class, Dan Major, a retired middle school principal, shared with us some texts from his professional library.  I respect a list put together by a man who has led decades of educators and students.  I included Amazon links.

Carey, Chris. bookshelf1.jpg. 10/12/1999. Pics4Learning. 20 Jun 2010 <>

Carey, Chris. bookshelf1.jpg. 10/12/1999. Pics4Learning. 20 Jun 2010

The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player by John Maxwell

Attitude 101 by John Maxwell

Relationships 101 by John Maxwell

The Heart of a Leader by Ken Blanchard

Finding Your Leadership Style by Jeffery Glanz

20 Biggest Mistakes Principals Make and How to Avoid Them by Marilyn Grady

What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker

Survival Skills for the Principalship by John Blaydes

The Principal as Instructional Leader by Sally Zepeda

The Emerging Principalship by Linda Skria

Leading Learning Communities: Principals Should Know and Be Able To Do by the National Association of Elementary Principals

School Leadership that Works by Robert Marzano

Change Leadership by Tony Wagner (This one was highly recommended!)

10 Traits of Highly Effective Principals by Elaine McEwan-Adkins

So what titles would YOU recommend?

Sometimes they just want to be kids…

Last year, I was trying desperately to avoid the all-too-common Day Before Christmas Break Christmas Puzzle Worksheet Day in my seventh grade social studies, English, and reading classes.

I had been working with my English and reading students to use context clues to identify unknown words for the past several weeks and the afternoon before the last day, I came up with my idea!

Borrowing my school’s new video camera, I headed home to put this together:

Along with the video, each student group had a packet of the lyrics to the poem (which we watched twice) with several words (nestled, coursers, peddler, droll, etc.) underlined.  On a separate paper, the students had to come up with their own definitions or synonyms of the words.

Want to know the craziest thing?  THEY LOVED IT! Make no mistake…there was plenty of giggling at this glimpse into their teacher’s personal world (“Nice PJs, Mr. Malany!”  “Is that your house?!”).  I’ll take it.  They loved being read to!  They loved expression.  They loved getting to feel like they were seven or eight instead of the social pressures that come with having to appear twelve or thirteen (going on sixteen)!  They wanted to watch it over and over.

It made me feel a little guilty for not making it even more dramatic (Read: It took like six different takes for me to start the camera, read without messing up, stop the camera, then watch the footage only to see that the darn auto-focus was freaking out with the lights on the tree).  Be the time I was had an acceptable video, I was done adding much expression!

Nothing revolutionary here.  Just a reminder that kids like being kids from time to time.  I showed the video again this year to my students (of course, they thought I made it especially for them) and they still loved it.  Read to kids.  Parents, teachers, all those who get the chance: read to kids.  They might not get it anywhere else.