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, August 26, 2023

A Glimpse...

...into my first full week at the start of my 29th year...
  • A girl in the hallway helped another student in the hallway get to her class.
  • A new student said "gracias" to me when I was able to use some Spanish to help her with her locker combination. (We've since talked a teeny bit more - C'mon, Duolingo - get me to conversational level!) She did chuckle when I muttered, "Algun dia..."
  • Student to another student: "There's no proof that anyone walked on the moon." My thoughts: Oh no. Not again.
  • One student walked across the room. Another took her Hokki stool. She complained. I said it was hers - she was sitting on it a minute ago. She said to the student who took it, "What am I supposed to do, glue it to my butt?" 
  • When I called on one student, he replied, "Arf." This happened three times in one class. It hasn't happened again after that (yet).
  • We have very few Black students. One of mine was sharing favorite breakfast foods, and then added, "...and of course, watermelon." As the other students said, "That's a stereotype," I took a deep breath. Then they all looked to see how I'd respond. I said, "I have to stop class right here. I do not think ___ meant any harm towards anyone here, but that type of stereotyping is not allowed in this class. I don't want anyone to say anything that could make another student feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any way." He quickly apologized, and we moved on.
  • This same student needed a book because they forgot theirs at home. They went to my nonfiction books and found Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's autobiography. They asked me who the author was. I said, "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." I loved the look of surprise - and pride - on their face.
  • I stand by my door during passing periods. A student who (I'll just say it) hated me last year walked past me in the hallway, shouting, "ELA is the worst class ever!" I had been smiling at the time, so I forced myself to laugh (trying to put it off as if I hadn't heard him and was laughing at something someone else in the hallway said). As I was forcing a laugh, a real laugh came, because the first one was contagious and I just thought it was a crazy situation that I was pretending to laugh - all around, middle school is a crazy situation anyway.
  • One teacher put cold Diet Cokes on other teachers' desks in the morning with a note about having a "good day."
  • On "Book-Trailer Tuesday," I heard from one student, "Wait... books have trailers?" In another class, a different student said, "We've had book trailers since second grade."
  • One student was choosing which notebook to keep out for this quarter. He quietly used the "Eeenie meenie miney moe" rhyme. I encouraged him to find a new way to choose next time, as that rhyme has racist origins.
  • Two students (with lots of energy) channeled their energy into sharing their silly and creative quick writes (choice writing in 5 min) with the class.
  • We started talking about the behavior system for the school year, and as students started asking questions (EX: What if someone ...), I let them know I don't play the "What If" game.
  • I'm still giving out a balloon for birthdays. The birthday girl blew hers up while I was reading two chapters from Ghost Boys for our First-Chapter Friday, and as she was very quietly and appropriately playing with it, it popped. After the shock, students looked to me. "Balloons pop sometimes," is all I said, and I kept reading (and they let me).
  • A quiet student shared with me, "I liked that first chapter."
  • A student is reading aloud one of our writing prompts: "You have just finished your first full week of 7th grade..." The rest of the class claps!
  • During plan time, my co-planner friend was adding speech bubbles to photos of kids reading that she's putting into our slideshow for the next day... she's got this wicked laugh because she knows the students will laugh and will like seeing them.
  • EIGHT students shared their writing today in front of the entire class.
  • One student took out headphones and said, "I still have them from last year." I replied, "That's great you took care of them." A (normally) quiet student added, "Until they break, they're still useful."
  • Student: "My brother says you're really nice."  Me: "How would he know? I never had him as a student." Student: "Well he's not wrong." 
Lots of "wins."
Lots of laughter.
Lots of stories.
I love the little snippets in my day. This is my way of saving them.

And... this pretty thing was on our butterfly bush a few times this week:

Thursday, August 24, 2023


The first week of school - prep, meetings, set up, and kids coming in - is a TON of work. I tried not to work at home this past week, so I stayed a teeny bit later at work. Of course, I get there an hour or more early, but I love being at work in the mornings -- there's so much promise, and I feel invigorated and ready to work.

This past week was not a lot different from previous years... there were some scheduling glitches that we've never seen before, but even if they don't get worked out, the kids will survive. There were new students who don't speak English, there were new-to-our-school students that weren't on the "new student" list, and I have a student who was missing for the first two days who was suddenly off my homeroom list. Communication hasn't been the best since COVID, but we make do with what happens.

What's different at the start of this year is the expectations I put on myself and how I respond to them. 

The less I talk, the more I learn - about myself and about others. I learned a bit about myself this week. In my teacher role, I expect a LOT from myself. These expectations are ones I put on myself - they're not anyone else's doing. I've only got myself to blame for how busy I may be. When I did what my administration expected of me, it truly wasn't a lot. I had to find some documents that were in various places (pre-COVID everything was provided in a folder for us - but again, so many changes happened, and we were always updating them anyway), I had to ask about a couple of things, but what the administration expected of me was pretty minimal. It was all the things that I expected of myself that were myriad. Truly, they are countless. 

Here are a handful of instances that made me pause this past week...
  • I expect myself to shake everyone's hand as they enter, and ask them their name. It always caused congestion and confusion. This year, I simply said "good morning" or "hello" or "welcome," and started learning their names once class had begun. 
  • I expect to have all my students' names memorized the third day (or so). This week, I gave myself until this first full week is finished. (Today - Thursday, Day 6 - I got them all right!)
  • I expect to have all my decorations up and all my supplies out. This year, I just did one bulletin board (that we'll add to as the year goes on) and I only took out the supplies we'd need the first day.
  • I expect to share all procedures the first few days. This year, I'm sharing them as they're needed. Students don't need to know them all yet.
  • I expect to send an email home to parents every month, and even though that's still my expectation (it used to be every week pre-COVID đŸ˜³), I'm not going to tell them it's going to be monthly, just in case I don't make time for it.
I did ADD an expectation. In my Google calendar, I have after-school meetings in red ("tomato" as Google calls it). Red to me means "Oooh. This is important." This year, I also put our days OFF in red. Those are just as important. Now the color red won't just mean MORE work.

I know I'll run into more work that I have actually given myself, and I look forward to reflecting and noticing whether this work needs to be completed right now, or if I don't get around to it, if it needs to be done at all.

Here's the bulletin board I'm excited about this year...

I'm going to have the kids vote on the lessons that work best for them and then highlight the ones that "wins" with a different shape behind it (courtesy of a friend at work).