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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Be Your Best

The humidity had broken. It was 60 degrees, sunny, and the moon was still out on my morning walk. Watching a plane leave O'Hare - against the blue of the sky and alongside the sun, I thought back to the days without a plane in the sky. Thoughts of the last children's book about 9/11 I'm reading this summer (Eleven by Tom Rogers) came to me, and I wanted to get back home to finish it today. As I rounded the corner, I noticed the backpacks. Oh, my! School has started for District 214, and students of all shapes and sizes were walking to Elk Grove High School. I slowed my pace so I wouldn't pass them up, knowing that I was probably more of a happy camper than they were. I wondered about their day ahead. Their youth, their fears, their friends, their classes... I even took a picture and put it on my Instagram account, wondering how my own previous students would spend their first day in high school.

The kids veered off into the parking lot behind the school while I walked further along the sidewalk bordering the school. Minivans and SUVs were in line to drop off their children in the front of the school. Where were the buses? Do they come earlier? Traffic was horrendous, and I wondered if they'd let me cross to the other side. I did get across safely, and then continued to walk the sidewalk on the opposite side of the front of the school. I noted to myself to never go East on Elk Grove Blvd on a weekday morning! Cars were backed up, then many made u-turns to get back on the main road. More cars started appearing from side streets - high school kids with their licenses and "new" cars with their loud mufflers. I wondered if this was the way of the mornings to come, or if there was any other system. I had to cross a small road that led into the side of the school lot. The next car in line (looked to me to be a high school student, but I'm no good with ages - it could have been a brand new teacher) let me go, and I waved a thanks.

I crossed, heard the revving of yet another engine and then BOOM! I found my hand covering my mouth in surprise as I turned and saw the car that had let me pass had hit another one in this intersection leading into the school. Ugh. Cue stomach drop. Since I didn't see the accident, I didn't cross to the other side to help - there were already many in line who had seen what had happened, and I would be a hinderance.

As I continued my walk, questions bombarded my brain...
  • How will those drivers' days go as a result of this?
  • What will this do to their attitude at school (as a student? as a teacher?)?
  • How will this affect their families?
  • Do they have insurance?
  • Who was at fault?
  • Will they be without transportation for a bit?
  • How long will it take them to get through the paperwork and into school?
  • Will the staff scold them when they walk in?
  • Will they remember their schedule or locker combination? (I STILL have these dreams!)
  • Will their teacher give them "the look" when they appear well after the first bell?
  • What will the other drivers' (now waiting for a clear path out of traffic) days be like from here on out?
  • Will they be late for important meetings?
  • What will this do to their attitude at their jobs?
  • What will the parents say to the kids when they got home?
  • Who will judge all those affected as a result of their attitude this morning?
  • What other repercussions will come of this one incident?
Too many questions to list.
No answers. Just speculation.

I looked around and tried to soak up this last Monday of my summer. I saw a bicyclist, and even a unicyclist heading to EGHS. I saw a few more stragglers walking. Turning the corner towards home, traffic just kept coming. I wondered, as my husband and I often do, "Where are all these people heading?" They all have a so many stories. I wonder what has already happened to them this morning that will affect their day ahead?

If you're getting ready for the year to start, or you're in your first, second, third week already, or even if you're "down under" and have been teaching for a few months in this school year already, you've got lots of plans. You've got so many stories to share. Your head is full of ideas. You've had many things happen TO you, and have reacted in many different ways. There is one thing we need to make sure we do in school. Every day. For the kids, and for the adults just the same. No matter what our own day is like.

Just be your best.

It's all we can do. We cannot always know when an accident has happened in the morning. We cannot always know when a beloved pet has died. We cannot always know when a child has written a note that explains why he doesn't want to live another day. We CAN - be our best. For everyone we encounter.

How do we do this? I have three ideas, knowing I'll fail at these throughout the year, but I'll keep coming back to them as reminders, and I'll keep practicing. It's all I can do.

Suspend judgment.
Ask, "How can I help?"
Let others know they matter.

What will you do today - and tomorrow - to be your best? Please comment. In this crazy world, we all need all the help we can get, and we are better together.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Recording Booth

All too often we want students to record in class. How can this be done without asking them to work in the (busy) hallway not under supervision? It's time to make a recording booth for INSIDE the classroom! My husband is the man in my life who can make (and fix) ANYthing. Thank you, Bob, for helping make this small dream come true for our 7th graders!


  • 5 pieces of acoustic tile, 12 inches square (I found 6 pieces for $16.99 on ebay.)
  • Thick cardboard (Bob has ours saved in the attic from the washing machine back in 2014.)
  • Box cutter
  • Packing Tape


  • Design it so it's 12 inches tall and deep, and 16 inches wide, with the front (12 x 16) open. (Easier said than done, I know. Bob is the expert I go to.)
  • Cut, bend, and tape.
  • Stuff in acoustic tile.
  • Place an iPad in it.
  • Begin recording!

Voila! Half an hour's work in the living room on a Saturday! As Ryan O'Donnell pointed out to me in a tweet, it will reduce ambient noise, provide personal space, and give a sense of professionalism.  I'm excited that the scholars in room 239 will be able to use this recording booth for book talks, reflections, movie making, and more!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Does AdSense Make Sense?

When ads began appearing at the bottom of posts of educators I respect, I got turned off.

When ads began appearing on posts of educators who had just recently begun blogging, I was put off even more.

When teachers ask me to retweet their request for Donors Choose, I have to decline. It's one of my unwritten personal policies for how I use Twitter.

I'm not in it for the income. I'm in it for the outcome.
These are the thoughts running through my mind this morning. I have not promoted anything on Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, or my blog that I have not read, questioned, or supported. I do not put requests on Donors Choose for my own students, as my district is fairly affluent and I do not want to take away from those who are struggling. I have donated to Donors Choose, and been rewarded knowing that I could help in small ways. These are all personal preferences everyone has to consider in their careers - whatever background we come from or circumstance we're in currently.

So seeing the ads on other blogs, although they turned me off, the message of the educator posting their thoughts was more important to me. I could overlook the ads. I have no clue why they added advertisements (that this world already has so much of) to their posts, but I realize it's a personal preference. Yes, they may lose some readers, but they didn't lose me. I know how to skip over the distraction. I've often wondered if AdSense would ever make sense to me.

Then it came to me today - I've learned how to skip over the distraction pretty well! How many of us who use tech daily have learned this skill?

It also came to me - I don't need the money that might come from having ads, but I could use it to help OTHERS. What if...

So I've decided. I, too, will add to the list of myriad educators who are adding advertisements to their posts. I am going to do this for GOOD. I resolve to donate any earnings generated (I have no clue how little or large they will be) from AdSense back into education. I will use any funds earned to help teachers on Donors Choose, to donate to schools themselves, or other causes for education that I believe in. Perhaps I can use the funds to help classroom libraries grow, or to give backpacks to those without, or to support children with no access to technology at home.

UPDATE: January 1, 2018
I'm done with AdSense. It did NOT make sense for me. After a year and a half, supposedly I'd only generated $8.48 cents. They won't send money until it's over $100. No harm was done, but there were no benefits for those in need, either.