I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

What I'll Keep and What I Hope We Toss

I keep feeling the need to document my thoughts about this past year. I feel the need to make it into a HUGE learning opportunity. Sooo, not including things I normally do, such as music and a soft start at the beginning of each class...

Here's what I plan to toss, or things I hope go far, far away...

  • changing plans and schedules all year (see timeline in my blog post) ✔
  • spraying tables ✔
  • cheap toppling tray tables (kids call them ironing boards) ✔
  • individual tables facing front in rows
  • taking attendance online every class period
  • car parades for graduating students (if we're having graduations)
  • students at home and in person in each of our classes ✔
  • quarantined kids at home on Zoom (although this might be easier than them leaving for two weeks and coming back after having a "remote teacher...")  ✔
  • masks 🤞🏻

Here's what I hope to keep, or what I hope stays...

  • (Look through my self-help books for notes!!)
  • keep my physical and mental health my ONE priority
  • be fully present in each moment
  • drink a ton of water
  • three deep breaths with eyes closed when I'm upset
  • do not read work emails outside of work time (except for Sunday around dinner time)
  • one intention per week
  • listen more than I talk
  • routine
  • organized plans / easily found
  • digital absent folder
  • free lunches for students
  • virtual staff meetings
  • practice gratitude with my students
  • postcards sent to students' houses
  • small, mobile tables (instead of the big tables they took away)
  • no need for lockers - fewer disruptions and clean ups
  • me using the washroom during independent reading (if needed)
  • velcro dots on carpet
  • mood meter and / or Jamboard check in (on Mondays, especially)
  • walks around the building when it's nice - walk and talk?
  • big chunks of plan time
  • when something bugs me, do not ruminate - act - do something for myself or others
  • my shield - to protect against parent ire

What I hope to do that I didn't get to do this year...

  • Establish expectations from the start. With the FIVE changes we had this past year, we didn't have time to establish them well.
  • Try some sort of genius hour or choice research project.
  • Keep a good attitude amongst staff and online (At least I did well in front of the students!)
  • Find ways to practice compassion with my students.
  • No grade in the grade book until the end of the term. I felt like such a hypocrite this year, even if it was probably easier on me and my students by using grades.

sounds like a plan

Here are some other posts I'd like to curate here for my own refreshers... what did other educators learn? I'll be adding more as I come across them:

Writing Teacher Melanie Meehan

What teachers have done this past year.

Friday, June 11, 2021

2020-2021 Digital Scrapbook

I really didn't think I'd do much professionally this school year... 

          except TEACH MY HEART OUT!

Before I start, I want to make a timeline of what my own personal school year PHYSICALLY looked like...

  • Summer had us "all in," until suddenly we were "all remote."
  • September 1 - we started all remote. Teachers taught from the school building unless they qualified for accommodations. (September 4 - I cried like I haven't cried since going through my divorce. I thought nothing could be worse than teaching students on a screen.)
  • October 19 - my grade (7th) came for hybrid. T/Th were kids with last names A-K. W/F were kids with last names L-Z. Mondays were remote for everyone, and the schedule was different, to allow for teachers to plan for this absolute madness. I found out that there IS something worse than teaching ONLY students on a screen. Kids were sometimes in the building, and sometimes not, and we really had no clue who would be in front of us and who would be at home. Getting attendance  right each period was vital, due to contact tracing, and it took a good five minutes (after spraying tables and getting kids into Zoom)...
  • December 2 at the end of the day - teachers at OUR school (just one of two middle and nine elementaries) were sent home due to the IDPH "strongly suggesting" we close the school because of the number of cases we'd had on the second floor.
  • December 8 we could teach from the building once again; all students were remote.
  • December 15 we were back to hybrid.
  • December 18 we were back to remote. (Yes. One day before winter break.)
  • January 19 we were back to hybrid. My planning partner/friend started an FML.
  • January 21 we were "all in" (with kids still on Zoom). Of course, it happened again. "All in" is at the discretion of parents who chose this option. My NEW planning partner suddenly had to teach remotely. This was the third hardest day of my school year.
  • January 26 I wrote a "glimpse in the day of a middle school teacher" to the school board - it was the next hardest day of my school year. Oh, and the sub had a sub. And I was writing sub plans AND going into school. Who knew it could get more difficult?
  • April 26th we were "all in" (with kids still on Zoom) EVERY day of the week. No more remote Mondays. No more "all in one place at least once a week." No more 1:1 conversations with kids. No more breakout rooms. No matter what I said, did, who I wrote, who I cried to. If my voice was heard, it was not valued.

- Nada. Zip. Zilch.

- Um... all on my own, with tech teachers from my school and other teachers who'd tried it... I learned how to use a second monitor. I remember educators on Twitter saying once you use it, you can't go back, and now I know how that rings true!

- I learned how to use an external camera, a document camera, and Apple AirPlay. I learned how to make magic using my hands and by growing an extra eye somehow to see the kids, the work, the direct messages, the emails, the GChat pop ups, etc.
- I learned how to keep work at work (really for the most part), so I can decompress and process the day at home.

- #DitchSummit thanks to Matt Miller and sooooo many fabulous educators!

- I signed up for the Leading Equity Summit thanks to Sheldon L. Eakins and sooooo many fabulous presenters... but I never made it to the videos on time, due to the insurrection at the Capitol and my need to know what was happening. I made it last year, and I'll make it NEXT YEAR again, for sure.
- Doodle & Chat - 1/30/21 - the theme was "explore."
- Began (and continued until June) #UWIEquity Challenge (weekly)

- "The Year of You" one-hour workshop hosted by Jen Vincent / Story Exploratory. I wasn't brave. As soon as she said, "We're going to go into breakout rooms," I bolted. I'd be a terrible remote student.
- EdCamp Madison! One Zoom link for the entire day. Nice to be able to talk with educators going through the same things.
- Began (and still continuing) a @MoocTsl class through MIT - #TSLEquity

- EdCamp Elmbrook! Again, nice to have people who understood each other. I hosted a gratitude session for us to write letters or emails.

- June 11th - our last day of this school year. I survived, and I was fortunate to be able to keep my family safe. I will learn from the scars. I was able to reach a couple of students in a couple of ways, and I enjoyed just being able to be me with the seventh graders the last few weeks.

LIFE LESSONS this school year:
  • I REALLY learned what I need to do in order to care for myself - mentally and physically. I hope I can call on these skills if/when life ever gets back to some semblance of "normal."
  • I learned how to SLOW DOWN.
  • I only have students for 80 min/day. I can only do so much. I'll simply try my best.
  • I will strive for smiles and conversations every day.

Teagan said, "That's YOU!" 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Book of Joy

This book is my latest opportunity to learn about how to have better mental health during this time of teaching in a pandemic.

My personal notes from this book are here.

What are my key take-aways?

Life is full of struggle. Make of it what you can. Do your part. Enjoy the journey by being present in each moment; experience it all fully.

Gratitude & Compassion - these will get you far.

I make a practice of #ThankfulThursdays with my students; I'm going to find a way for us to practice compassion once a week, as well! We need more compassion in this world, and it starts with us.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

I'm not giving them my best. Or... I AM giving them my best.

 *Note: This post is simply for my own documentation. It will not inspire readers. 

One of my students, Zoe, asked me what the white cubbies (that are currently on the floor) are used for. I explained that they used to be on the desk, and they used to hold our binders. When students came in the door, they grabbed their binder, then sat down. When they left, they put their binders back in the cubbies. I had just purchased this item from IKEA the February before we went into lockdown last year.

"You had that on you DESK?" Zoe asked.

"Yes. I never sat at my desk. It was the student station." I explained that the desk was for student supplies, such as markers, rubber bands, paperclips, the stapler, the hole puncher, tape, decorations for the room, envelopes, tools, bandages, needle & thread... anything a student or another teacher might need. And students could sit there. I never sat there. I moved around the room. I taught from all over the room.

"Oh," is all she replied, as it seemed to sink in.

The students in front of me - and those on my screen - don't know how I normally teach. They don't know that I hate sitting in a chair all day. They don't know that I used to have 1:1 conversations with my students each day - about their book, about their writing, about their participation, about their behavior, about how proud I am of them, about how I noticed their new shoes, etc. I'm tethered to the laptop. I feel as if I cannot leave my remote students, or I will lose them completely.

I am not the teacher I have been in the past. I'm not giving them my best. Because I cannot. It is physically impossible with the hand we've been given. I have to accept this. Some days I can; some days I'm full of anguish.

This year has been full of realizations. And I've learned so very much.

Just this April, I've realized students have had their earbuds in - during class. One of my students - who is doing fine in class - had to take out an earbud when I walked by and asked a question. I asked, "What are you listening to?" The response? "My music." I kept walking. This is not a fight I'm willing to put my energy into this school year. Students probably spent their remote time listening to their music (and many were playing games, too).

In March, I started seeing students who pulled down their mask to talk. How had I not seen this before? And then, in April, I started seeing the earbuds. How had I not seen this before? This year - I cannot see as well as I could in the past. I cannot hear as well as I could in the past. (The masks - oh, the masks!) Those not teaching don't understand this phenomenon. I do now. I know I've been blind and deaf to so much, because my mind and body can only handle so much. My brain was at capacity. I'm just now starting to be able to see and hear and DO more.

This is temporary. It's not my best teaching by far.  Yet I AM giving them my best - my best for now. Heck, we're in a pandemic. My hands have been tied for so many things. We're feeling the consequences of the rules we've been given. We're feeling the consequences of having to teach two classes each period. We're feeling the consequences of having to do two jobs at once - without any extra plan time or time with our colleagues. No wonder the kids aren't doing THEIR best. 

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from one worn out teacher who is not feeling appreciated. I keep telling myself - this IS temporary.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

How are the optimists doing?

Note: This post starts off on a dour note, but it's my intention to write this to help educators through this year. If you keep reading until the end, you may stand a bit taller in the coming weeks. This post is for US.

I heard from a teacher friend as our week ended that I am "a barometer of the school" of sorts. I took it to mean, "If Joy isn't good, what does that mean for me?" I heard whispers of this in January, as well, from another colleague. It took me about a month to recover from January's events. That's when I took the time to write about how I turned the corner - again. We had another blow to our staff this past month, as we thought we were going to continue with one thing that's been working all year, and it was suddenly pulled out from under our feet. I wonder if those that make the decisions realize that if the staff does not do well, the students feel the effects, if not directly. I wonder if they know that with each new decision, teachers need to switch up so much of what they'd planned on doing. Again. And it's no simple matter. And we worry about ALL of our students. And it changes how we teach, not for the better this year. (And PLEASE stop saying, "Our teachers are so flexible.")

So... educators around me are struggling once again, with the newest demand put upon us before this pandemic school year closes. How do I help colleagues? Some have said that it's not my job, and that's true. When I have a colleague who reaches out and says, "Joy, how are YOU holding up?" I feel I need to tell them what I'm doing to keep one arm out of the swamp that is this school year. And now that I'm documenting it one time, I can refer others to what (sometimes) works for me. At the start of this school year, I read Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and since then, I've had ONE priority: My health (mental and physical). Everything I do this year revolves around this. Taking the time to write, organize, and share this post helps me with my mental health, for sure. I truly hopes it helps readers, as well.


I listen. A few tears may collect for both of us. They need to know it's okay to share and cry.

I'm honest. I share that this year is the toughest one I've ever had, too. That I'm also worried about our kids that are remote (and don't respond to invites to participate, emails, or even me staring into the camera calling their name). That I, too, am not able to do all I want with the in-person students who are constantly seeking our attention. That I, too, cannot control students on their games, when they get closer than the three feet the desks are at, or when they complain about the game I chose. I agree that it feels as if hardly any of my plans go well, and the lessons are not as impactful as in the past. I let them know that I, too, see that some come to school to learn, but many students this year come to school just to be around other kids. And I, too, sometimes just let them ... be. That sometimes our mask breaks are a little over the four-minute passing period time. That when I do just let them BE, some classes can't handle it - they get loud and rowdy and obnoxious and forget we're in a pandemic, and I have to backtrack. That some days I feel that nothing went well, and I failed my students.

I've also shared that I'm stricter in some instances - and I say "no" without explanation sometimes. Sometimes I let students know I'm doing something (like playing this particular song) for ME. Sometimes I sit in the hallway (in the middle of classtime) with an upset student who ends up crying and then regrouping. Sometimes I leave the class reading independently - just so I can run to the restroom. Yup. I'm not doing what I've done in the past. And I let my colleagues know that I believe it's okay. No one knows how to do this job better than us this year. We're doing the best we can with what we have. We need to take care of ourselves before we can care for the myriad students that flow in and out of our door each day.

It took me most of this school year, but I am now resigned to the fact that it's okay for me to not be the teacher I've been working so hard to become. This is due to at least these three reasons: 

  1. I'm not the same person I was pre-COVID. I realized last April that I needed to stop worrying about "my kids," because they really are NOT my kids. Some have one parent, some have two, and some even have four. It's the same now. The parent is the first in line to help our students. I only have my students for 80 minutes a day. It's not all on ME. I am NOT the parent. I canNOT do everything.
  2. Teachers have been put into circumstances they never imagined would happen. No one could prepare us for this. Changes come quickly, and we're expected to adapt just as quickly. And we step up and try our best. But... we feel it in our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. We feel it's not enough. The fact is, we're giving it ALL we've got. So it has to be enough. 
  3. We're not in control of what's been put on us. When it feels as if nothing we do or say matters, we get knocked down. Again. And again. It's like an abusive relationship. And we stay in it, because we still love the children.
So it's okay to be where we are. Dejected. Demoralized. Defeated. Knowing this, I know the small wins are all I'm going to get this school year. Once I realized this fact that it's okay to not be a great teacher, I have noticed small wins each day. Just this Friday, I had at least one (pretty big in my eyes) win in each class! I've looked harder for them, stopped to pause during them, and recognized them for what they are. I then take it a step further and thank that student or share what I noticed with the class. It's a pause in my day that helps me feel my teacher heart beating a bit once again.

I'm also learning - a lot. Learning is one of my passions, whether it be on Duolingo, practicing the banjo, or simply reading nonfiction. This means I'm doing something that makes me feel more fulfilled. The most recent bit of learning I've been doing is from the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman. At heart, I'm an optimist. I know this. Yet when I took the test in the book, the results came out as "moderately pessimistic." !! I keep reading, and I see that maybe I picked up this book for a reason. Maybe it's because right now is a "time of crisis." My score on the "hope" portion was solid, however, and the author says that's very important - that means I can learn optimism more readily. Reading further, according to the next step, I may be "moderately depressed." Depression can come and go, so he said if I felt this was wrong, to take it again in two weeks. (Um... maybe not. Two weeks from when I took it would be tomorrow, and tomorrow is our first Monday not being fully remote. It's gonna be one heck of a week.) The major cause of depression --> "the belief that your actions will be futile." This is what educators are believing / feeling.

This learning moves me forward. 

I tried out their theories of thinking... Optimistic educators would think, "This is temporary. Not permanent." (Permanence) "This is only for my job (career/passion!), not my home life." (Pervasiveness) And, "This isn't due to anything I did. It's due to others." (Personalization)  Here are my notes for the book - so far.

When I keep reading, I realize that staying pessimistic can (and probably will) make me physically sick. My immunity would be lower. When I keep thinking about my actions being futile, I go back to thinking of all I'm grateful for. One thing I'm grateful for is being able to see the "wins" in my days in the classroom with the children. As I said, I've come to accept I won't be the teacher I've been striving to be the last 26 years - so I can notice, recognize, and take the moment to pause and appreciate the small wins in each class. This has helped me KNOW that not EVERYTHING I do is futile. No. We matter. We are important to our students. And they, my friend, are why we're in this profession. Even if we think we suck as teachers (and really, I do think that right now), we still have value, and we are still making a difference in one, two, who knows how many students' minds or hearts? In a typical year, we never know who we've impacted, so in that way, this year is no different. We keep loving the students and doing the best with the situation we are in, while knowing there's no crystal ball where we can see how they're going to do in the future. 

I've been rambling a bit. Let me summarize while adding one last thing I'm trying this year:
  1. It's okay to feel how we do. It's normal during this time. You are not alone. Come talk to me; I'll listen and empathize with you. I've learned how to not bring your problems home with me (secondary traumatic stress).
  2. Do something you love - something that fulfills you - outside of school. Find a passion or hobby or two that you used to do. Something that makes you happy. (Keep your immunity up.)
  3. Know that you matter. Every year. Your love for the children is shining through, no matter how strict you are this year, no matter that you're tethered to the laptop and can't see or hear what's going on in front of you... You matter.
  4. Set one intention for yourself for the next day, week, or month (if it's working well). Multitasking is too difficult right now. What's ONE thing you can do to help yourself?
And this leads me to what I do every week - #4. I set one intention for myself. It's one thing I keep reminding myself of every time I get frustrated, stop to breathe, want to scream or cry... I didn't write them down, but I do remember thinking and using them, because they worked. Here are some that I've tried:

  • Drink water.
  • Breathe.
  • I am healthy. Those I love are healthy.
  • I have a job with insurance.
  • I am enough.
  • I am fair, and I am kind.
  • Use a quiet voice. (That way my students will listen more.)
  • Use wait time.
  • Stand up straight. (I slouch WAY too much.)
  • Don't complain.
  • Right here. Right now. Is all that matters.
  • What's good about this right now?
  • Connect with one student.
  • Soak up this moment. Notice all that is around me.
  • No social media.
  • Stop ruminating. Act. Do something for yourself.
  • What am I learning in this moment right now?
  • This is temporary. (This is mine for this coming week.)
My birthday was in January (just before my last breakdown), and my sister had heard me say, "I try one new thought a week." She bought these "mindful marks," which are temporary tattoos. I put a new one on my wrist every week. No matter the design, it reminds me of my intention. This coming week, when I look at my wrist, I will think, "This is temporary. This will end some day. See it for what it is."
No one needs to go buy these. I was able to focus on one intention a week before I received them. A ring can work. A bracelet. A Sharpie mark on the skin. A sticky note. A photo in your classroom. Your keys. You get the idea. No student has asked me about the tattoo, but teachers have. When a teacher asks, I can tell them about my intention for the week, and maybe it will help us both.

Now that you've stuck with me until this point, what's ONE thing - just ONE thing you will take away from this post? ONE thing you can bring into your week (or month, if it's working) that will help you continue? We really can only do ONE thing at a time. After I hit "publish" on this post, I'm not going to ruminate on our current situation - because I'm focusing on the fact that it's temporary. I'm going to do what's good for me right NOW, whether that be a shower, a walk, gardening, snuggling, reading, singing at the top of my lungs... And I will do that ONE thing with gusto. I will soak up every moment of it. When I get back into the classroom tomorrow, I'll do ONE thing at a time. And I'll do that one thing as best as I can under the hand we've been dealt.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Two Good Stories from My Week

Story #1

Our last day all remote, April 12, even though our MOU says our district is staying remote on Mondays... I put my laptop on my raised table, as I stand on our remote days. I am able to sing loudly, dance, and be overall more ME on Mondays, so I use the raised table. Even though I remember to plug in the document camera and the dongle to my other screen, I guess I don't plug in the charger. I only realize this when everything turns off in the middle of my sentence. I lose everyone and everything. I swear (no worries - I'm not in front of any 12-13-year-olds at the moment). I plug it in, turn it on, and the new host (we'll call him Harvey) lets me in right away. I turn on the chat and I see a peer (we'll call him Hank) type in "Do the right thing, [Harvey]." Suddenly I start observing what I didn't even think I should be observing - some fear in some children's eyes, some relief, some confusion... and another student unmutes and asks, "Mrs. Kirr, can you put my camera back on? [Harvey] turned it off." I asked the class if there was something they felt they needed to share with me. I asked for direct messages if something needs to be said, and no one said anything. Harvey had already made me the host, and so we proceeded with the lesson. The next day, I was sure to head over to Harvey and Hank and thank them for whatever they prevented. Such maturity. I'm so proud of them.

Story #2

In one class, I have one student (out of two) who is consistently a minute or two (or more) late to the Zoom. The other was on the absent list. I opened the Zoom, put it half-way over the Jamboard warm up projected on the screen, greeted the in-person students, and waited for the tone to signal this student had arrived. The phone rang - it was the office saying that the one student was trying to get on the Zoom link. I told her it's open, so we'll look for them. Then one student told me to look at the Jamboard. Looking up, the entire thing was covered by a large (virtual) sticky note. It said, "We're trying to get into the Zoom!!" I'd done it. 120+ days into the school year, I'd started the wrong Zoom link. What a great way to get your teacher to know something!! Kudos to those two (yup - the one was suddenly not absent) for their quick thinking!

I love these stories. I had to document them, while still hoping we don't have Zoom open next year.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


Today was traumatic. To my students. To me. I'm learning to recognize trauma. (Oh, what I've learned this year.) I feel the need to document it, so I needed to carve out time to write about it. Today the trauma of teaching in a pandemic (let's compound this with the others) showed up like this:

  • Wanting to cry on my way to school.
  • Wanting to cry before homeroom.
  • Two people with a six-foot long white stick/pvc pipe heading into class saying, "Don't mind me."
  • Students' worry and whispers and blurt outs about who is it? Who's going home? Who sits here next period? What if I go home? Who else will go? What if all my friends are here and I'm home? I have to tell them, "You've just witnessed part of what they call 'contact tracing,'" and that "It's part of what it means to live during a pandemic."
I wrote while the measurements were taking place - I wrote alongside my students and shared with each class.

    The principal and the nurse.
    They walked in with a pole.
    THE pole.
    Six feet long.
    I want to cry.
        This means more students at home.
        This means group work for those students in all their classes - is out the window.
        This means more isolation.
        This means more worry.
        This means back to double-masking for some.
        This means it's still out there.
        This means... oh crap.
    I'm tired of all of this.
    I'm tired of getting hopeful, and then getting punched in the gut once again.
    I'm sick of the sickness... and the deaths... and the violence... and the racism... and my own feelings from day to day.
        I'm working on myself.
        I'm aware this is temporary,
            even if we're in our second year of a pandemic.
        I'm aware that I've felt this way before, and I'll feel this way again.
    Maybe this afternoon will be better.
    Every minute is a fresh start.
    I'm going to put on my good attitude now. This minute.
        Are you with me?
    Let's stay socially distanced as much as possible,
        let's not cluster together at home or in the classroom,
        let's keep our masks over our mouth and nose, and
        let's stay positive 
            about trying to stay negative 
            for COVID.
  • A colleague with their head in their hands before eating lunch.
  • After lunch, eight of my students are at home with their cameras off - instead of two.
  • A phone call during class - three more students are going home.
  • Red faces, cries of "Why me?!" and then collection of belongings.
  • "What? Aw, man!"
  • Me saying, "It's a pandemic. You are resilient," then needing to explain "resilient," using a rubber band that BROKE when I stretched it a bit! Oh, the eyes above their masks showing their shock... Great job, Joy.
  • Me, also saying, "You'll be fine. You've done this before, you can do it again. We'll get through this. You'll be home. You're good." Part of me thinking, "This is what we get for being three feet apart. Back to hybrid."
  • The rest of us walk around the school. We growl and scream. We come back in the building, and I show them where, on my Bitmoji classroom, our "stress reducers" are. I hadn't needed to show them until today. Students chose - look at the sand, the seeds growing, and the breathing videos. We practiced relaxing for ten minutes.
  • I then did a check in with my students, using the mood meter we use every Monday. Many students at home said, "annoyed," and I validated everyone's feelings.
  • One of my students started sharing, someone interrupted, I finally got back to her, and then she said, "No, I'm done sharing. May I go take a break?" I was heartbroken.
  • I got the rest of the class reading (it's ELA, you know), letting them know that reading is also a stress-reducer, should you have a good book. 
  • I waited by the door for her to come back. I waited a long time. When she got back, I had her sit on the floor in the hallway next to me. She started crying. She feels alone in most of her classes since her schedule change (months ago), she feels as if she doesn't know what anyone's talking about (I was able to understand that!), and she says she feels ignored. I listened as good as I ever have. When she stopped talking, she stopped crying. I finally said, "I see you. I hear you. You matter. And I know that the others are louder than you are. They get more of my attention. But when YOU speak, I get so excited, and I really want to hear what you say." I don't remember much else, except that she said, "I feel better now," (Bless her!!), and I told her we could sit in the hall ANY day.
Today was one more piece of trauma from this school year like no other.
Educators are taking care of the children. Like we always do. 
The lessons learned aren't all academic in nature. Like always. 

Our students are learning resilience, patience, time management, love, and that actions = consequences... I'm learning how to teach two classes at the same time, survive over a year in a pandemic, pick myself up (again and again), support colleagues better, recognize inequities, consider others' perspectives, and ride the waves of stress. It's just so difficult. I'm not comparing it to others; I'm simply sharing this one day in my career.

I'm thankful for all I still have. I'm thankful for those small, precious quality moments with my students. I'll write about those another day.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Day 394 - Random Thoughts

Such feelings this school year. 
Such a sad year for so many people.
Nurses, doctors, parents, children, minorities, those without choices...
At day 394, I'm in a slump. 
I've been here before, and I'll be here again.
I'm am a very privileged person, so I'm trying not to complain.
I'll just add some recent sights and thoughts and leave it at that today.
I'm not okay, yet I know I'll be okay.

Principals speaking up for educators.

Yes, I'm vaccinated. No, I'm still not eating inside restaurants.
Yes, I can still catch and carry the virus, or a new strain of it.

The value of teachers

The vilification of teachers

Pulled Apart

Stretched Thin - Almost Breaking

July - Our school district is going full in. I bought scrubs and got advice from my older cousin who's a surgeon. August - Nope. Our school district will begin remotely. AND... we're not changing a thing. We'll teach the new curriculum we were going to, have a time schedule just like "regular" school. AND... be sure to provide screen breaks. AND... just love the kids. September 1-4, 2020 = the hardest week of my 25+ years of teaching. How can I teach children I don't know through a screen? End of September - I'm getting into a groove. I know most of my students. I'm using the technology learned to do things I could NOT do during a typical school year. October 12 = The start of hybrid. This means these things have to be done simultaneously: Take temperatures at the door, let in remote students, make sure students at home and at school can see and hear the lesson, clean the tables each period, don't get close to the students, monitor the hallways, make sure students are six feet apart, have engaging activities for home and at school, take mask breaks while staying at least six feet apart... We were told #1 is safety. #2 is connection. #3 is instruction. Um, yeah. 'Cuz we CAN'T DO ANY MORE. Mondays remotely became my favorite day of the week, as I could check in on kids 1:1 without other students listening. Kids could send me direct messages - and I'd SEE them. December 2 in the afternoon - my middle school will be remote until December 15th. Then we'll went back to hybrid for four days before the two week winter break. Woops! Remote again until January 19th. OH! And then "all in" January 21st on. Except for the 18% at my school who are remote still. Why not change ONE MORE TIME?! Mondays will not not be remote starting the week of April 26. 

Meanwhile, my inbox is full of student emails. Even though they were just in class with me.

Throughout all this, my students... Some I cannot reach via direct message or verbally. Some are always there, asking questions and sharing stories. When some get to school and give me grief, I am much stricter than I've ever been, because I will not let them add that to my plate. All are caring and respectful most times. Overall, it's a sweet group - that really just wants to socialize. It's very tough to get instruction in, but I do hope we learn at least one lesson every period. 

Throughout all this, sprinkles of emails from parents thanking me for all I'm doing. Telling me to stay safe. I had a hard time holding back tears during parent conferences when a parent would ask me, "How are YOU doing?" Not good. But no worries - I'll still love your child. I'm still putting on my show and doing my very best. Sprinkles of students sharing with me - letting me know they know I believe they matter. Sprinkles of good notes to students, thanking them for all their contributions to class.

One parent - Remote learning is too difficult for my child.

Another parent - How are you challenging my child?

Another parent - My child needs to go to school to socialize with peers. 

Administration - Safety and connection come first. 

Parent - Why isn't my child doing more work?

BoE - Let's bring in 18-year-olds who want jobs to supervise classrooms.

Nation - Yes, we'll have standardized testing this year. (Who used last year's data to drive instruction this year? No one. And who will be at fault when scores aren't improved from last year? Educators.)

And then there's this. More truth.

From Chanea

I learned this term doing required professional development - on my own time.

I'm tired.

I'm sad.

My voice is not being listened to. Twenty six years of experience doesn't matter. Being a National Board Certified teacher doesn't matter. Caring about my students doesn't seem to matter. (Hopefully it matters to them.) If I stop sharing my views, does that mean "they" won? I'm done fighting for now. They must know I can't keep up the fight. My resources are depleted. Even getting these random thoughts down has drained me emotionally. I need to be there for my family, and then be there tomorrow for my students.

I'm going to stay off social media, where we see parents posting how they "can add 4th grade teacher to my resume." No. No you can't. I have no clue what you're going through, and you have no clue what I'm going through. I'm going to read to gather more perspectives, and I'm going to keep my focus on your children, so that they can learn to love and be compassionate towards one another.

Let's all love one another. That means listening to one another and trying to work together. I can do that without sharing it for all to see. If you need me, you know how to find me. Reach out, and I'll do what I can. I'll be doing what I can for my 75 students in the room and at home, and when I get my energy back, I'll do what I can for the future of our nation.

If you've read this far, please check out my newest (2018) LiveBinder to help make a difference in our world: tinyurl.com/AntiracistLB 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Day 365 - Lessons Learned

My district shut down our schools at the end of the day a year ago today. We've had students in the building since October 12th (minus an outbreak shutdown), and we've been "all in" (still teaching remote students concurrently) since January 19, 2021. The teacher across the hall has as many as 24 students in class at one time (with more on Zoom).

Anyway... I started writing in my velvet-covered journal I've had since 2000 (along with this blog), and I've got a few pages dedicated to lessons I've learned during the lockdown and the year we've just been through. Some are sentences, and some are fragments. I wanted to document them on my blog, as well. Sticking to the order they were written, here they are (so far):

  • Some (most?) people are social beings.
  • I respond well to praise.
  • what "social distancing" is
  • how to host a Zoom meeting
  • how to record and upload using Zoom or QuickTime
  • Don't ask Hubby for anything for at least 20 min after his nap.
  • I'm comfortable with myself.
  • what a "skin" is in golf (5/17/20 - Live golf is on TV!)
  • Challenges are good for us. They help us grow.
  • what a friend is
  • I've got few solid friends. The rest I'm letting go.
  • It feels good to reach out.
  • I'm not a sociable person - I'm doing okay without all the contact. A few people I can let in. I can even tell them - we just disagree.
  • I love writing when I have something to write about. (Hence this blog, Shift This, and Word Shift.) The kids need space to write about something they want to write about!
  • Sometimes I can change my ways (writing in a calendar/planner in pencil).
  • how to make hot milk cake
  • You have to click on the bell in order to get a notification for YouTube accounts you subscribe to.
  • how to use WeVideo
  • how to make Instagram stories
  • to appreciate even more (how can that be?) ... like a new jar of peanut butter or a new jar of olives
  • Hubby doesn't enjoy "heavy" movies.
  • When I get into something, I really need to learn and share more. It becomes pretty all-encompassing.
  • I realized that there are so many things I love doing! (Thanks to the box challenge from Karen.)
  • I'm going back to some of the things I used to love years ago.
  • how to put GIFs on/in my texts
  • Staying positive - with helpful links - is the way to go on Twitter.
  • specific ways to be anti-racist
  • how to put my gifs of me into a slideshow
  • to be happy with who I am - as long as I'm trying my best
  • I have a confident presence on Zoom calls (so I've been told).
  • A haircut is a luxury - and can make you feel whole again.
  • I'll never go back to long hair (if I can help it).
  • I can leave spider webs alone (outside).
  • I can NOT scratch mosquito bites.
  • I enjoy simply sitting outside and observing. Just being.
  • I enjoy simply watching the birds at the backyard feeder.
  • I don't want to ride my bike to and from school if it's as stressful as the one time I rode home from school this summer. Plus, I have a vehicle I love to drive.
  • I have a few really good friends outside of Hubby.
  • A card in the mail goes a long way - for the sender and the receiver.
  • Hubby and I miss restaurants because we like to sit at the bar and chat with the bartenders and other patrons - and hot food served to us is a luxury.
  • to NOT talk politics with my parents
  • I love our sycamore tree.
  • A friend of mine feels better when I can get her laughing.
  • Everyone has their own preference for masks, set up, teaching, etc.
  • how to teach remotely - Zoom, doc camera, projecting, making connections, etc. (Remember, friends, when some of us said we'd rather take a year off than teach remotely?!?!)
  • Have ONE priority. The word was meant to be singular. Mine = my health (physical & mental) Everything else has to come after that.
  • "I did my part," quote from Hubby. I only have to worry about what I do.
  • to do what I think I should do.
  • When you open a document, wait for it to load before you start to scroll down - it will save you tons of frustration and be easier on your elbow. (It also gives you time to breathe.)
  • how to get addicted post to TikTok
  • If someone can sober up in 2020, I can continue to have a positive outlook and do what's right.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Raise up / amplify BIPOC voices.
  • Compliment others.
  • Learn something from big challenges like this has been.
  • how to play Among Us
  • Children like to be in school.
  • A walk outside is so good for my soul.
  • I need to recognize others' feelings.
  • When I next meet or talk with someone who is crabby, I'll be sorry that they're in a bad place. I recognize that bad place now - where nothing good happens. I've been there. I can stop and listen.
  • Having worry, being in pain, problems with friends... those all weigh on people. When it happens to me, they make me dis- or mis-trust. Our principal told me in September... she always assumes best intent. Assume the kids want to do good.
  • That feeling you have now? It will go away. And it will most likely come back again. And I'll have the ability to survive all the changes. I have the tools. 
  • Listening to others makes them feel good.
  • Songs I can dance to make me feel good.
  • I CAN put down the phone. I do not use up all my will power at work. There is always more.
  • I don't miss presenting; I do miss sharing my "why" for things I believe with other educators.
  • I cannot wait for others to do something for me - only I can help myself. It's up to me.
  • Taking one or two deep breaths in the classroom helps me focus on what's important.
  • It's human to not know what I'm doing, to hurt, to be happy, to FEEL. I'm going through all the feels. This is called "living."
  • It's okay if that life is hard. We can do hard things.
  • I don't have to waste time worrying what others think of me. I just have to like who I am becoming. I will always be becoming. It's a journey that continues every day.
  • I will make mistakes. I hope I learn from them.
  • I, personally, learn the most through my mistakes. Although I hope I make fewer and fewer, I will always love learning.

Photo shared by friend Andi Kornowski, linked to Positive Energy+

Sunday, March 7, 2021

My Reasons...

(I found this post in my drafts from October 3, 2021... I wanted to publish it as is. It's a glimpse into what I was going through while still full-time remote teaching. If you don't understand it, that's okay. I write first for ME.) 

The children are my reasons.

Through all the strife educators are feeling right now - the ones who teach almost every hour of the day, especially, there are stars in the sky. There are beams of light streaming down. These moments are what keep me heading back into the school building and teaching from one corner of the room on three monitors.

Here are some things I've heard or read in the Zoom chat recently that make me so grateful for the moment I'm in:

"Aren't we going to do the Jamboard attendance?"

"Can I show you?"

"Can I say something?"

"But what if..."

"I don't think so."


"My mom says you're a good singer, Mrs. Kirr."

"I can't get in." And shortly afterwards... "Same." "Same." "Samesies."

"Can you play Gaston from Disney?"

And more of what I've heard voiced aloud... 

"Can I go get it now?"

"But what if..."

"I left my charger at my mom's. I'm at 8%, and I'm using a phone charger, and it says it will not charge if the Chromebook is on. Oh, there it goes. It's charging."

When discussing the "would you rather" Jamboard question:

     Student 1 - "If you're a wizard, you don't have the responsibility of being a superhero."

     Student 2 - "But if you're a superhero, you get to help a lot of people."

They're starting to use their voices. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Turning the Corner... Again

The negatives of this school year seem to flood me sometimes. I almost drown. Something always seems to pull me back up - a week - or maybe two - later. I've turned yet another corner on this school year journey, and I wanted to share some ideas that have helped me. Each time I need to get out of the quagmire, I find something different that helps me resurface.

Gratitude - I am one of the most privileged people I know. I have a job, insurance, a roof over my head, heat, working faucets, money to pay my bills, food in the fridge and pantry, clothes, a bed, a working vehicle, health, multiple masks, and lots of love. Sometimes when I feel I've hit "bottom," I realize it's not anywhere near "bottom." There are so very many people who are not in my situation. So many people have had their lives upended by this pandemic. Just last week, I heard one of our custodians chatting with someone, and she called this pandemic (for those at our school, at least) an "inconvenience." Yes. Teaching in a pandemic is a real sucker of an inconvenience. When I refocus like this, I am able to see all I have, and it gives me strength to head back into that school building one more time the next day. As long as I can keep myself masked and six feet from students and staff, I can continue on this path.

Less Social Media - I've cut down on Facebook (checking maybe once a week), Instagram & TikTok (once every three days or so), Twitter (mostly in the AM only), and solo games on my phone (the daily challenge only). This has helped me decrease worry, aggravation, envy, and thinking I have nothing "good" to post - because I don't feel the need to post. With less time for everything, cutting down this time on media has helped me remember why I got on these platforms to begin with. If I want to check in on a family member, sure, I can check Facebook, or I can actually call them. If I want to check in with students, I'll go through the updates on Instagram and TikTok. If I want to learn and share that learning, I'll check Twitter. What's also helped me is not checking what's "trending." When I catch my news in the morning, I'll get information on what's important, not what's "trending." Not playing so many games on my phone has helped me have more time for my family, for reading, and for sitting and relaxing. It's also helped me not be bombarded by advertisements. 

Reading - I'm reading so much more. Nonfiction, biographies, books my nephew suggests, books my students suggest, books I've wanted to read... I turn off my tech by 8pm, and I open a book. I get in a solid hour of reading (if I don't fall asleep on the couch), and it helps my mind relax before heading to bed.

Breathing - I'm learning to close my eyes and take deep breaths. Even in front of my students. Taking that time helps me realize that so much of this life is "small stuff," and we're not meant to sweat the small stuff. In that moment, I know I am healthy, safe, and so blessed to be able to take breaths. Sometimes I step outside alone (even in the cold) and breathe in... then out. When I'm out exercising, sometimes I simply stop... to breathe. When the sun is out, I face the sun and remember I'm just a speck in this vast world, and I can only do my best. 

Time - Once I realize what day of the week it is, I also check the date. The days just keep moving. They won't stop for me or for you. There is only so much time in a day - just like every other year. I do what I can, and I make sure I spend more time with my family than I do with work when I am home. I am in the moment at home, because the moments are fleeting. I am practicing being more in the moment at work, listening more than speaking. Soaking in all the funny things the kids share, the vulnerability, and the lessons we're all learning.

Some mantras I've used this year...

  • Connect with the kids.
  • Right here, right now - it's what matters.
  • Shake it off.
  • I am grateful to have a job - with benefits!
  • I am healthy. Those I love are healthy.
  • Breathe.
  • I am enough.
  • I am doing the best I can.
  • I am fair, and I am kind.
  • Try to not complain - listen, instead.
  • Let it go.
  • I am learning so much.
What is helping you turn the corner when you get bogged down this year?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Nudge to Have Difficult Conversations

 ...with your students.

To my white friends, peers, PLN, administrators and parents reading this, I believe we should have provided a space for our students to ask questions and share concerns the day after our nation's Capitol building - and all those inside - was attacked. 

It was an insurrection. What happened did not just happen out of thin air. Many of my seventh graders know that the Capitol building was protected with armed guards during a BLM protest, and they did not see any during this "March for Trump." They saw photos and videos. They shared many on social media. True. We are not their parents. Some parents had discussions with their children and some did not. If their parents did not have the discussions with them, are they supposed to make sense of this by themselves? What if more questions arose overnight, and yet they were not able to process them with someone?

If you did not feel you needed to provide space for our students to discuss what happened, we disagree. I am very well aware you have a lot of things going on - I'm going through them WITH you. Wednesday night, I was thinking about all my students, especially my black students - present, past, and future. Yes, this year (as we should every year, I suppose) we need to put our own mental health first. I hear that. I understand that. It actually HELPED my mental health to provide room for discussions the day after. And it's not too late.

If you feel you were not comfortable enough to do so, I'd like to nudge you - strongly. I am not an expert - by any means! - yet I feel as if I was able to facilitate a useful discussion with students who wanted the chance to participate and learn from one another. Here I will simply list resources that have helped me hold these conversations (which are all on this LiveBinder). Just try these four for starters:

As for my own discussions led, since my seventh graders are all remote this week, I started with two Jamboard questions (a platform my students are familiar with): What do you KNOW about what happened yesterday? What do you WANT to know? We were going to begin class with independent reading, so I told students they could either stay in the main room for the discussion, or if they'd already discussed it with an adult and didn't want to participate, they could read independently for this time in another breakout room. After students moved, we started by looking at their answers on Jamboard. When I saw a thought or opinion, I moved that sticky note off to the side. I let students know we'd only focus on the facts, clarify misconceptions by looking at various sources if we needed, and then I'd try to answer their questions. I warned against using words to represent one group (such as Republicans or Democrats), and told them I'd try to facilitate and guide their discussion. I had a time limit (20 min), and their statements and questions led the way. The reason this helped my mental health? I was able to teach a bit (they didn't know what was supposed to be happening in the Capitol building that day, we looked up terms they'd heard, we discussed finding our news from many reliable sources instead of one sole source, and we discussed how easy it is to create fake accounts and hide behind anonymity), some of my quieter students shared openly and privately, myriad questions were asked and answered by peers, they took turns, and I found out they have faith in the election process. We ended each discussion with hope - that this event leads to positive changes.

If I were to try to have a discussion in the next week, I'd find a way relate my content to what happened. I'd allow for student questions - verbal, in the chat, via small slips of paper students put in a hat. I'd let the conversation roll out from there. When students bring up what they've heard or seen, ask, "Why do you think this is? What evidence have you collected? What sources did you use? What do you think about that? Why do you think this?" The list goes on. When students ask questions, ask their peers the same question. We don't have to have all the answers. Our students need to know that, too. If we don't provide space for our students to inquire, what are we teaching them?

If you provided space for your students to have discussions, I'd love your help for me and other educators for the future. Please tag me on Twitter or add your own ideas in the comments below.

During this year especially, when safety and connections come before instruction, I believe we should be helping students learn. What message will our students receive from us? What will they remember of our content from this school year? Events of 2020 and 2021 are learning opportunities that our students won't forget - with or without our guidance. After my first class had their discussion, I received this direct message:

As an aside... this is Day 302 of my IL village staying safe due to a pandemic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Best Books of 2020

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2020 like I have the past six years. I read a bit for myself, along with many books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy or books they recommended for me.

     2019 Favorites
     2018 Favorites
     2017 Favorites
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 81 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here. Another note: One of my goals again this year was to read many more books by authors who are not white.

Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
     Such a sweet story of innocence, humility, and effort. My Name Is Tani… and I Believe in Miracles was one I will purchase and share with my students. I also believe I'll be rereading Between the World and Me.

Graphic Novel
     I only read two this year. Guts is relatable to my seventh graders on so many levels.

Historical Fiction
     It was another good year for historical fiction for me. I'd recommend Saving Savannah by Bolden, Death Coming Up the Hill by Crowe, and Show Me a Sign by LeZotte for my own seventh graders, for sure.

"How to"
     One for my students and me: This Book Is Anti-Racist Here are my notes for this book
And one for educators (and any other adult, really): Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less    I wrote about that one here.

     One of my six nonfiction books this year... and I read it twice: So You Want to Talk about Race    My notes from this one are here

     I loved listening to the teacher in this audio book. I'd have to take notes as I drove. Once I got over the fact that it was a sequel of sorts, I could just focus on the lessons. The Courage to Be Happy: The Japanese Phenomenon that Shows You that True Contentment Is In Your Power

Realistic Fiction
     Always so many. So Done by Paula Chase, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kelly Jones and Gilly Segal,  SLAY by Brittney Morris, Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes, This Side of Home by Renee Watson, and my adult favorite was The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

     New for me was a bit of romance this year. Two more mature reads I enjoyed: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (adult), and Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (YA).

    I only read four (and that's good for me!), so I'll share them all, as I think they all have different audiences... How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trohy by Crystal Allen is for 7th grade on up, Bear Town by Fredrik Backman and Painting the Black by Carl Deuker are both for high school on up, and Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt is for middle schoolers who understand the witty references.

My reading gap this year? I only read two new science fiction books (the rest were re-reads for our scifi unit), and even though I tried a couple of short story collections, I abandoned them due to their mature content. I'll look for a couple more graphic novels next year and also a couple more mysteries.

What awesome books should I put on my list? Please share your favorites in the comments below!

For the quotes I love, check out this slideshow that I update with each quote that touches my heart or soul: