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.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Learning Dilemma

I'm working with a student when she appears at my side and asks...

"Mrs. Kirr, do you have pencil lead?"

"Middle drawer of the student station."

I continue working with a student on an activity, when she returns...

"There are three pieces left. Can I have them all?"

"Do you need all three? What about other students?"

"They don't need them. If they did, they would've taken them."

"What about my next class? Or tomorrow's classes?"

"Can I have them all?"

"You have to make that decision."

"I hate you, Mrs. Kirr."


One aspect of having a student station in lieu of a teacher desk is that students have to manage the supplies. I've run out of tape, often times after a student takes the tape to their own desk and "decorates" their pencil. We make do without tape for a bit after that. Sometimes students help peers regulate how much of the supplies they need. I've also gained a few pairs of scissors along the way.

My students are 11, 12, and 13 years old. Their frontal lobes, the part of the brain they use to they make decisions, won't be fully developed until they're 22 years old (or even later). They need the practice making these types of decisions. I'm glad the student station provides a teeny bit of this practice.

I've told this story a couple of times, and have been asked each time, "Did she take all three?"
I have no clue.
I don't need to know.
I love that she had the internal struggle.
I'm okay that she "hated" me at that point in her life.
I hope she learned something as a result.
And really - I can afford to run out of pencil lead.


  1. This is so real and refreshing! How do you keep the "I hate you" from rocking you? I know they can't all love you, yet after 8 yrs, this people pleaser still has issues with it!
    I seriously love this story though and thank you again for inspiring my own student center!

    1. Jen, when she said those words, even though she was quiet, some of the other students heard, and looked up and gasped. I looked at them and said, "She's got a tough decision to make. I can't make it for her."
      A couple of days later, she and I were talking about something else, and I said, "You're not acting as if you still hate me."
      She said, "I said, 'I don't like you.'"
      I replied, "I heard 'hate.'"
      Five minutes later she came by and said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
      I know from one day to the next their emotions get the best of them. We start fresh with clean plates each day, so it didn't get to me too much. I love the lesson she learned. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing more Joy! I'm usually good with the clean plate. It is the day of that gets to me. I still need to work on building a stronger shell!! I just get so invested that my emotions are atvthe forefront.

  3. Natural consequences. I love it. It’s possible she won’t hate you forever. In fact, it’s quite possible she may look back and remember what you did for her. Whether she does or not, it’s a skill they need to start learning and practicing.

  4. So grateful you took the time to share this story with us, Joy! The community you are able to develop in your classroom is a testimony to your deliberate, caring leadership--and the way you value your students as unique individuals with things to contribute.