My school does something pretty cool – every day we have “Intervention/Enrichment” time.  It’s a 30-minute “class” where students go to an elective or to a core class that they’re struggling in to get targeted help.  When the administration approached me about teaching an enrichment class, I threw out several ideas.  The one they were most excited about was a mock trial course. 

Since I teach 8th grade all day, they thought it might be nice for me to get to know some of the 7th graders.  So every morning for 30 minutes, I hang out with 15 7th graders and we plan out trials.  For the past week, we’ve been mapping out the case of Bear v. Gold E. Locks.  As they were drafting questions today, I glanced on one young man’s paper.  For his cross examination of Papa Bear, he asked, “Have you ever considered switching to light porridge?”

It made me laugh.

Today was especially fun in Civics because we’re talking about the Declaration of Independence.  Because they’ve been taught about the Declaration in both 5th and 7th grades, I get to go a little more in-depth and a little more whaky.  After showing the classic Schoolhouse Rock video, I found this nifty little rap about the document that I showed.  They requested to watch it over and over again, and I’m told that it was “swag”.  Unfortunately as we were summarizing the document, I asked a simple question.  “Who were the colonists declaring independence from?”  One well-meaning student quickly yelled out (in all seriousness):




happy birthday

For all of their ups and downs, there is nothing better than a hallway full of 8th graders erupting into a chorus of “Happy Birthday”.


Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I love 8th graders.  Sometimes I have to turn away to hide my amusement during class, other times I just laugh with and/or at them.

Today was no different.  We began our unit on the founding documents of American government.  I use a chart called OPVL (Origin, Purpose, Value, Limitations) to help students understand primary and secondary sources.  While introducing and modeling this chart to one class, a student raised his hand and asked, “What does the ‘O’ stand for again? Orgi?”  He had no clue what he was saying, even when the rest of the class erupted in laughter. 

Bless their hearts.

“cause you a black male”

We use silent lunch at our school as a consequence for poor behavior.  Philosophically, I am still waivering on the merits of this type of system.  Professionally, I have learned to rely on it as a motivator for students who need to sit up, shut up, and work. 

Today I assigned silent lunch to two of my young men in 3rd block.  It was convenient – since that’s our lunch period, I just dropped them off on my way.  The teacher who oversees silent lunch is untouchable; think Madea, but better.  As I was leaving, one of the boys said to me, “But Mrs. Russ, why are we in here?”  To which the silent lunch warden responded:

“Cause you a black male, that’s why.  Now sit down and shut your mouth.”

I smiled and shook my head as I left, because I knew what they were doing without having to look back- they were sitting down and shutting their mouths.  I also knew that I could never, ever get away with saying anything like that. 

I have been reminded countless times over the past four years that I am a young, white female.  I cannot do anything about this.  But it is useful to know that, even in 2011, there is a collective history that I do not share with my students.  The silent lunch warden does, and she speaks to them differently than I do. 

There were many days when, before I knew myself as an educator, this angered me.  Now I am grateful that I can rely on the strengths of my colleagues, and proud that I have my own history and attitude to bring to the classroom that my students appreciate and respect.

but what about weed?

Each year, I am forced to act shocked about and interested in the ongoing debate over legalizing marijuana.  I hear the same arguments every year:

“Nobody ever got high and killed someone, but people get drunk and kill others all the time.”

“Marijuana is actually good for you.”

“It’s legal in most other countries.”

Today I was pleasantly surprised to be in the midst of the debate over marijuana and field this question:

“But what about weed?”

In case you were wondering, there is a difference (on “the street”) between the two, though I would never be so bold as to attempt to recount it here.  Plus I’m pretty sure the Feds are reading.

Today was especially long (longer than the usual 10-hour day) because we hosted Back-to-School night for parents.  It gives families an opportunity to come, meet the teachers, walk through the schedule, and sign up for conferences if necessary.  It was mildly productive, but I did have two eventful visits. 

First there were Daron’s parents.  He transfered into my class last week, and on a block schedule that means I’ve seen him about 2 1/2 days.  I didn’t even know that his name is pronounced darON, not DAREon.  Woops.

Then another student of mine stopped by with her mom and younger brother.  They were the last of the night for me, so we informally chatted about the course and I discovered that the mother holds a degree in history.  We began discussing various topics related to history and Civics.  In the context of the Bill of Rights and equal rights, she then revealed to me that she has a partner and they have a civil union together. For some reason I became very excited about this, and I’m afraid I came off a little too eager.  She might even think I was trying to hit on her. 

Tomorrow’s class with her daughter should be interesting.

you want me to do what?

Today I lost track of the number of times someone said to me, “You just have to teach to the test.” 

After just five years in education, I’ve seen a lot of changes.  When I began teaching, we were being trained in things like assessment writing, project building, and curriculum design.  Now we’re being told how to implement someone else’s lesson plans, how to fill in someone else’s paperwork, and how to teach to someone else’s test.  Most days I feel like a factory worker, assembling the next big doodad that someone else far far away created. 

What about my ability and need to create?  What about the fact that I know my students?  And why are we paying people (good money) to write curriculum if we’re “just teaching to a test” that isn’t based on any curriculum at all? 

What will our students learn?  Who decides what they learn?  How will they learn?  And what is my role in that as a teacher?  I thought after 5 years I would have solidified all of this, but each year I find that more gets taken away from me.  It’s a terrible feeling. 

Other phrases I wrestled with today were as follows:

“We have a test today?”

“She get that from her mama.”

“I’ll just call you ‘white girl’.”


there is no santa clause

When someone asks, “how was your day?”, a wide range of experiences pass through my mind.  There are only a few worth sharing.

Sometimes I feel like “that girl” who breaks the news that there is no Santa Clause.  I spend so much time lauding the merits of democracy – rights, freedoms, voting, consent.  And then I get questions like the one Shermane asked me today:

“Mrs. Russ, what about convicted felons?  I mean, I know sometimes they can’t vote when they’re in jail, but what about when they get out?  Can they vote or run for office?”

I told him what a great question that was, and that it depends on the state.  I explained that some states don’t let felons vote in prison, but other states don’t let felons vote even after they’ve done their time.  And that means they can’t run for office either.

His eyes fell, as if I had delivered really disappointing but expected news.  “Oh.  I don’t want you to think bad of me or nothin, but I have several family members who have felonies on their records, so I was just wondering.”I told him that I understood, and that I get that question a lot.  On his way out, he asked if I could send a progress note to his dad.