Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Choose to Be Bothered

At BLC15, Jennie Magiera forced me, once again, to think of my peers in my own "school box."

She shared the Moonshot Thinking video to get us inspired. I've seen this particular video at least three times already, but I hadn't really dug into the words her students picked out of the video -



This soaked in... Most people I'm connected to on Twitter would think about their community or think globally. Heck, one of Jennie's peers and her students were bothered by the media's view of their part of Chicago, and they created this video (which really needs to go viral) to bring more positive awareness to their community! Me - I'm still pretty sadly self-centered. My brain still thinks of my own school situation, which, by the way, is really a dream. I have three 80-minute classes, a huge classroom library, room to breathe and try new things, support from my administration, air conditioning once they turn it on, good families, nice kids, fine pay... I only have "First-World Problems," at best. My life is beautiful, with my soulmate, happy & healthy parents, a sister and her family I need to get to know again, two working vehicles, a mortgage payment I can handle...

LIFE IS GOOD.

I do not often think globally, and that is my downfall. I have, however helped out close to home, volunteering to pack food, and creating care packages for the homeless. I try and do good on a day-to-day basis, in my own little circle. My circle isn't wide, like some other stellar human beings. Most of the sessions at BLC had me thinking of my own classroom. I now see "Choose to be bothered," and I think of daily team meetings with teachers.

Teachers, overall, have very tough days, mixed in with very good ones. Home and work contribute to our attitude, of course. On those tough days, our words and tone can change in a negative way, reflecting our stress and frustration. Since reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston, I've been more aware of every word that comes out of my mouth, especially at school. I know this - it is not up to me to patrol other teachers. Everyone is struggling in his or her life somehow, and I am not going to be bossy or a nag and tell people that what they're saying is "wrong." It bothers me when I hear complaints about students, and yet I'm sure even their parents are frustrated with these same children at home at times. I am, by nature an optimist (thank you, Mom & Dad, for the name), and I am aware not everyone else is.

However, I'm going to CHOOSE to be bothered now. It's time. I was an itinerant teacher for seven years, and then reading specialist for the next seven, and I didn't know what teams actually did during "team time." I know now that they are focused on the students - who is struggling, what are we doing about it, and how can we improve? I've been on a team since 2009, and I've seen the dynamics of having one teacher from each discipline in the same room, talking about the same students. You know how it goes - we end up talking more about the children that need more of our help than the ones that are the "model students." I've seen how other teachers can be dragged down by one negative comment that spirals. This is not healthy. It's not healthy for the team to think of their students in a negative light. It's not healthy for me to bite my tongue and suppress my anguish at hearing these things. For two years in a row now, I've had one student (two different students) tell me, "Mrs. Kirr, you're the only teacher that likes me." Even the kids feel the negative vibe, which I feel needs to stop.

More plans for this next school year...


  • Listen. Smile. Share the bright spots. Ask questions - "What was your favorite part of....?" "What did you get out of that last meeting?" "Where can we go from here?" "How can we make this better?" "What do we know about this child that can help us help him or her?" "How can we find out what truly motivates this child?"
  • Ask, "What's best for this child?" Remind teachers that these children are most likely someone else's entire world.
  • If there is one person in particular that is more negative than the others, I'm going to do what I have a very hard time doing. I'm going to be even nicer to that person. I'm not going to hide and pretend it isn't happening. I'm going to choose to be bothered, and try to connect in other ways so that I am better able to understand his or her frustrations. I'm going to try to communicate better, such as I alluded to three blog posts ago.


Sometimes I think not having my own children really has made me "adopt" these children that come into my life each year. Isn't that part of teaching, however? What are we doing this for? Why are we teaching? I find that, more and more, the children are teaching ME more than I'm teaching them. They ask questions all the time - I will try to do the same, especially during times when teachers are simply complaining, and not offering solutions. It's what all educators should strive to do... to make our schools better environments in which to learn.

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