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.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Celebrating My Resilience

I've gotten more proof this week that I'm a lifelong learner!

Why struggle through something if I'm not going to learn from it? I'm learning this week that I have a hard time learning a lesson WHILE I'm struggling. When I come up / out from the struggle, however, I do make time to reflect. I reflected Thursday and yesterday, and today I'm in the next phase... PLANNING.

I won't go into details about what was going on with me physically and mentally the first three days of this latest school week. I will share that it was NOT tragic. I was not hospitalized, I was not on medication, and I stuck to water, iced tea, and milk all week. I even got to bed at 8pm each night - and slept well! Compared to my normal "how-I-like-to-function," I was spiraling down. It was a three-day stint that could be due to any number of things. Since I've been working hard at not letting these stints happen, I was stuck in the mire for a bit.

Now that I'm back out (a good cleaning/purging, a change of scenery, surrounded by old friends, good books, etc...), I've decided I need a plan for the next time. What's funny / not-so-funny / eye-opening to me as I write this... I KNOW there will be a next time. This, in itself, is kind of calming for me... knowing that this is how life goes. This is how life is supposed to go - we've got to experience the "down" times in order to truly feel the "up" times.
Courtesy of Pixabay

So... Here's my first attempt at a personalized plan to get through those days (in addition to my "regular" self-care routine, which I'm fairly proud of):
  • Don't get on social media 
  • Don't read news or news emails
  • Only watch "Battle Bots" or "Modern Family" or something else that's FUN on these days
  • Read an adult book - fiction or nonfiction
  • Buy ribbon and make bookmarks
  • Use fun pens to write letters of gratitude or encouragement
  • Carve ten minutes for the Calm app
  • Stay off the roads (if possible)
  • And... of course... my favorite... get out in nature... a ton MORE.
I just finished The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, as well. A friend and colleague suggested it. WOW. The last line has me really thinking about my next move. Gratitude for all those around me, for sure. Knowing I'll have "occasional flourishes of despair" will help me, as well - because, as I was reminded this morning, I've made it through 100% of my most difficult times (which have been worse than this past week).

And I'm celebrating my resilience today by making a plan for getting back on track a bit sooner next time. (Or at least to prevent me from flying off the track...!) 👍🏻

What is your routine for getting back on track? I'd love for you to comment to help a fellow educator. ;)

Sunday, February 13, 2022

AND.... I'm back to failing.

This past week was the first week of our district moving to "Mask Recommended."

Monday was the worst day, with tall, unmasked eighth grade boys yelling to other unmasked eighth grade boys, "Put your mask on! You're killing us! It's like a shooting spree in here! Hahahahaha!" 

Third period that morning, I had a seventh grade boy in my class ask me, "Mrs. Kirr? Can you come here for a minute?" I walk over... "What's going on?" he asks. And I'm prepared with a script that was suggested to educators.

By Friday, the hubbub has died down a bit, and we realized... the disrespect has risen. It's like carte blanche now. It's as if these middle schoolers feel they can do ANYthing. Want some examples? Skip this paragraph if you don't want them. After I set up my boundary of four feet in front - where I feel safe enough to take off my mask to teach a bit better (and clearer, and quieter), and let them know I'd wear my mask when I cross over the line, and asking them to wear a mask if they cross the line... one unmasked student goes and sit at my desk chair while he drinks his water during our four-minute break. He argues - a lot - when I tell him he's got to move. Day two - The gum smacking and candy eating is clear as day now, so the garbage can has been getting a lot of use, and the kids are mad at me. The next day, we're doing grammar - kids come up with simple sentences, and then we label them on a diagram. My back is turned. I hear (very clearly - no mask?), "He spits and she swallows." I turn around calmly, the kids get quiet, and I say, "I am your TEACHER. NOT your friend." No one rats out the culprit. And I'm kind of glad. That would be a touchy email home. I've got one student who either hated me before and I never knew it, or just started this week - decides to not mask, so I can see the face. I ask a question, and all I get is a look or I'm ignored completely. I tried twice one day, then didn't talk to this student the rest of the week - I focused on those that would talk with me instead. (This student has a lot of friends and is making connections with tons of people - I'll try again next week, obviously. I didn't want to keep banging my head on that wall this week.) A physical fight broke out at our school this past week. They're THIRTEEN years old.

I go on Twitter to see if I can learn anything that helps. Instead, I see book banning. I see certain trending items, head to it for a second, and see something totally unrelated - an instruction guide on how to perform oral sex?! Seriously? Ban the tech, parents. Read the books with the kids. I see that Russia is close to invading Ukraine. I see there were fights that broke out at a local high school on Monday - due to masks being optional. In that same thread, I read about kids pulling masks off other kids' faces. I do see a kind tweet from our superintendent. Then I log off.

The kids are not good. Their parents are not good. The educators and administrators are not good. I feel we are all failing right now. And I, personally, was struggling a ton LAST February. 

I'm not quitting my job any time soon. I can't, financially. I do know the latest I'm going to retire, however.


Articles I've read lately that show a sign of the times:

Why Teachers Are Dropping Out“The pandemic is exacerbating teachers’ feelings of being silenced,” Dunn says. “They feel like they have no voice in what happens in their classrooms and no say over policy implementation, even in a public health crisis.”

And... add attacks on SEL lessons:

Thursday, February 3, 2022

"Every teacher I know feels like they're failing."

This line in an article in the Chicago Sun Times got to me.

So I decided to do something about it. I wanted to change the narrative in my own mind. I decided to look for where I feel I'm doing WELL at school. I suggest you try it next. Here's what I noticed in just one day...

  • Each morning, I get a song ready for the start of each class. Students can suggest songs, and if not, I'll share an upbeat song I love. When the song ends (sometimes after the bell), that's when we start class.
  • I have a beautiful plant I brought from home. Sometimes students absentmindedly touch the leaves.
  • I share what books I've just read, books I'm currently reading, and books I've just finished. Of course kids can read them.
  • I walk around the room in the morning, erasing pencil marks on the tables.
  • I put notes on the board wishing teams good luck for their games, matches, and activities such as the Spelling Bee.
  • I make small cards and hand them out to kids for special reasons (Spelling Bee, taking a big role when we read a script, being vulnerable when sharing writing...)
  • In homeroom, we share motivational videos or videos the students want to see.
  • My students can hang their work anywhere in the room, as long as it doesn't interfere with our view (of the screen, clock, etc.)
  • I greet each student by name at the door each class period.
  • The sign outside the room is not about me - it says, "Mrs. J. Kirr's Readers & Writers."
  • I try ideas I see on social media. This quarter, I tried "daily dedications." It's still a work in progress.
  • I post student writing for other students to read (if they choose) during independent reading time. I also post a way to provide feedback.
  • I post quotes I love from books I've loved.
  • I have a gazillion books (or so) I've shopped for and scrounged for.
  • I have a station where students can use staples, scratch and full paper, colored pencils, crayons, rulers, scissors, post-it notes, erasers, calculators...
  • I have a bag of feminine hygiene products the girls know about.
  • I get attendance right 99% of our days (after looking at three different tabs on the spreadsheet).
  • I check out books from my own library if the students need a book (like recently when our book club books still weren't in).
  • I read (and take notes or share summaries of) most of the books the students read for book clubs.
  • Let's face it. I read a TON of children's literature... and teaching books, too.
  • I have a sign out sheet instead of using passes. How can I not try to trust the students to make decisions on their own? If I notice their name is on the list a ton in one week, we have a discussion.
  • I write when the kids are writing.
  • I share my writing.
  • I do everything I'm asking students to do. I try the writing lessons ahead of time, so I know (and can share) where students might have trouble.
  • I take photos of our class and share in monthly email updates home to parents.
  • I take the notes I want my students to take.
  • I ask a question of the day to get the kids talking. It's a mix of "would you rather," open-ended, and multiple choice questions.
  • Our room is open between classes... I love the game my 8/9 block plays ("Tips"?) that gets kids from other classes coming in to play. As soon as the bell rings, my students put the ball away.
  • I make ribbon/magnet bookmarks for my students.
  • On Mondays, I set up a glasses-cleaning station ("Buena Vista Avenue") in the hallway.
  • I practice my Spanish on Duolingo every day (ask me about my streak! I know it will be above the 780 it is today!), so I can (someday) talk in some of my students' first language.
  • I give my students pencils when they need one.
  • We have a weekly "Thankful Thursday" time where we share our gratitude.
  • I tell my students "I love you."
  • I try to talk to my students about life outside of school - should they be willing.
  • I'm myself around my students. I'm vulnerable. I'm silly. I'm upset. I'm celebrating. I'm ME.
  • I smile under the mask.
  • I make TikToks and use SnapChat filters. They want me to add a neck tattoo to this one...

I'm a good teacher. So are you.