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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

What Went Well

I could complain about my year (more / again), yet that won't help anyone. 

So... here's what went well this past school year for me (and hopefully for my students):

Student Relationships:

Going to students' games/meets when coaches shared the schedules, and volunteering for the students vs. staff dodgeball event.

Having my plant in class - sad that some students (in MAY!) thought it was fake, but I think it was good for them to see life, growth, and caring for it. (Her name was Amy, and she's a beautiful Wandering Jew.)

Some classroom roles / jobs worked really well. Tech support, secretary (next year calling this one an assistant), randomizer...

Book club groups - I'm getting better at these! The book choices were still good, too!

Not taking things personally. A quick story: a student who is abrasive to his teachers and his peers was in the hall with a friend who asked me, "Who do I give the field trip money to?" When I answered, "The office," this abrasive student added, "She's not worth it." So I sneered / snickered (feeling all kinds of things) and added, "I'm not worth your $12," and I laughed and walked away as they laughed and did the same. I laughed, covering up the diss, but I felt it. Then I thought... Wait. This kid puts down all his friends - even his "good" friends (that never checked on him when he was gone for three days... does he have good friends?)... He's treating me like he would a friend. It's really not personal. It's just all gut, and no brain when they respond the way they do to you and their friends.

Not responding - only repeating myself - so as not to get into a power struggle.

During the difficult moments... knowing there will be better moments, and knowing the difficult moments will come again... Normalizing them was a calming force for me. Also knowing there is an end in sight, and each day we all get a fresh start.

Seeking out time to spend with respectful students during my toughest class.

Small notes to students throughout the year. Recognizing accomplishments and small bits of gratitude.

Small "good news" notes to parents throughout the year. Most were received warmly.

Time Management:

Kept most work at work. Sometimes I would give feedback on their writing during independent reading time - I was reading, so I didn't feel guilty about it - and sometimes I would do quick things at home on a Saturday morning, but that was really it. 

Monthly updates / small newsletters home (instead of every two weeks - prior to the pandemic it was every week). Our team does a weekly blurb, so this worked out really well! Parents still appreciate seeing their child in the videos I sent home, too. Oooh! One more for this one - I only used videos, not photos, so I didn't have to add and trim any music, either. I only recorded the kids when everyone was in class, too, so I didn't have to worry about leaving anyone out.

Choosing outfits for the week... This is a habit leftover from teaching in the pandemic. Back then I had scrubs I'd rotate out; this year I just chose five outfits for the week ahead on Sunday night. I chose them based on the shoes I'd wear - better for my feet and not making that decision in the morning was better for my mind.

When asked to prepare a presentation for the staff, I asked for time during the school day, because it wasn't going to get done before or after school or during my lunch or plan time. Fortunately, it was granted to four of us during IAR testing time. My co-homeroom teacher this year is in my homeroom daily, so she took care of the testing once I got it started. That was a win.

Changing My Thinking:

I didn't get any migraines this year that were strong enough to keep me home. I credit this to...

Quiet time. Just 3-5 minutes. Alone. Mostly outside. Almost every day, especially the last two months.

Being aware that I can't fix other people's problems... ask questions instead. Listen.

Noticing negative thoughts - mostly about what I can't control - and then being able to switch them to only thinking about the present. Why complain at lunch about the rude children in my last class? It does nobody any good, and it brings my blood to a boil, until eventually they're all I'm thinking of. I tried harder to not allow them to take up my thinking space. I should be able to control this. I didn't do this all the time, but I did it way more than I have in past years. It's a process, and I'll be practicing it for a long time.

Same goes for when I got home - let Hubby know some instances, and then don't talk about it (or think about it) more. Cliff notes version, for sure.

No work email outside work hours.

Limits on games on my phone / grouped games into a label on my phone called "Nothing else to do?"

Technology off by 8pm. Time to read... if I can stay up until 9pm....

Thursday, June 8, 2023

2022 - 2023 Digital Scrapbook

Year 28 is finished. I'm still learning.

So... my PD has really gone down... I only presented at my own school, and I only went to one conference... and that's okay. I was focused on enjoying each moment - or getting through the tough moments without getting migraines. This is a list of specific times outside the normal school day I either learned something or tried to help teach something.


- Fell off my bike. (Still have evidence of this event as I write this.) Then my planning partner / friend had to go on leave until December for a much much larger issue. I learned even more about how everyone has something they're struggling with that many people know nothing about.


Played in the staff vs. students games of dodgeball for charity. Now I can say I have an old sports injury - the middle finger on my left hand. With 30 seconds left in the last game. Yes, I'm getting old.


Facilitated a book study for my district on Angela Watson's Fewer Things Better. I got positive feedback from it! I may do this again.


- Got to attend the Chicago Auto Show for free thanks to a student who has a dad who "works there." It tuns out he's the Marketing Director for the entire show!! We were even able to jump the line to ride the Bronco around a track. I decided to take off Valentine's Day for this. :)

- Attended a conference - "Practical Strategies for Improving Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative, and Challenging Students," and loved it!


Presented (with three organized and energizing peers) "Behavior Conference Take-Aways" to our school staff in the courtyard of our school - it was one of our first gorgeous days outside. The administration asked us to present - and then they provided us TIME to prepare the presentation (without having to write sub plans). 


- I read more books this year about how to improve my mental health, and I realized I only had ONE semi-migraine this school year, and it didn't keep me from going to school. So somewhere along the line this year I learned how to take better care of myself. Breathe deeply when pausing to react to circumstances, be present in the current moment to notice (and respond to - if you can) the good, and don't carry the weight of five students' behaviors with you after those 80 minutes you are harassed or belittled by them.


  • "Bet" means "yup."
  • Those tiny babies are still around the school - along with the magnetic balls.
  • When kids destroy - or steal - my decorations or other things (that I have for them to use or enjoy), I now take down the rest and lock everything else away.
  • Seventh graders know WAY more about stuff I might not still know than I ever did when I was twelve or thirteen. And it's not from books...
  • Sometimes when some children talk certain ways to me I get upset... but then I realize they talk like that to their friends, too, so it's nothing personal - just rude behavior.
  • They like chess again. I bought four games with my own money to help after our state testing. Now some students play when they're done with their regular work.
  • Next year, I'm not going to have all privileges (being able to use the cushions or Hokki stools or my supplies, etc...) accessible at the start of the year. Each class will earn them.
  • Some students still will only work with who they knew through COVID. I'm going to have many mixed groupings next year to facilitate more cooperation, kindness, and empathy.
Some items I've found on the floor the last couple of weeks.