Let's Change Education

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Month: February 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Oops: Morning Minutes, February 29, 2016

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Morning, all.  So, my typing skills already leave a lot to be desired, but now with my new boo-boo, they really are wanting.  Wish it were a better story, but near the end of my Sunday mountain bike ride, all the scary/sketchy stuff done, I caught a rock, and before I knew it I was over the handlebars, on the ground, with a finger…well, half a finger, where it did not belong.  My buddy tried to pull it back into place right there on the trail, but we did not succeed, so I picked up my bike, and we rode the rest of the way out–must have looked more like a tea party with my right pinkie, daintily lifted off my handlebar.  Anyway, got to the truck, drove to what was supposed to be “urgent care,” and waited nearly two-and-a-half hours for them to finally get my digit back to normal.  Really, in the end, I got lucky.  Though there is some cartilage damage, the tendons and bones are fine.  Just gonna have a fat, sore finger for a while, and a splint that does not make this particular task easy.

Of course, one of my first thoughts was my wondering how I was gonna blog with my injury, but it’s working out okay, and I don’t get off the hook for my morning minutes.  Nor am I off the hook for grading papers.  Yesterday, I made my way through a pretty good pile of essays, and while it was an adventure of sorts, it is nothing compared to the adventure my kids will have with reading my comments on their papers today.  Didn’t think it possible, but my handwriting can actually be worse.  Have fun, kiddos.  Of course, some probably won’t tell the difference.  It was already pretty bad.

Have a great Monday, all.  Happy leap day.


People Are Talking

Happy Saturday, all.  Wanted to share with any who care, that my “Is Our Grading System Fair” post on Edutopia has been quite active today,  with people both supporting and challenging my views;  I responded to  some of the challenges as tactfully as I could. In truth, I love the challenges, and I don’t take them personally.  I am just pleased that the conversation is underway.  If you are interested, here’s the link. http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/our-grading-system-fair

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Head Above Water: Morning Minutes, February 26, 2016

I’d like to begin by giving a huge shout out and thank you to Debi Hammel for sending a utensil care package to 219 yesterday.  Your generous gift will help many a kid fill their faces.  Thank you, too, for giving me the blessing and privilege of sharing experiences with four of your lovely kids.  I miss Kayla, Lex, Lorissa, and Shane.  I am excited to share more experiences with the others on the way.  Thank you, Debi.

Yesterday was a rare day in 219.  It was eerily quiet and peaceful.  It was a work day, and I was available as always, but unlike always, the kids didn’t really need me.  And while on some level that bums me out, on another level it was a much needed treat of time.  I got less behind, not caught up, but less behind, and that I believe is the life of a teacher.  It is a mad, nine-month scramble through which we constantly struggle to keep our heads above water.  Yesterday, I got to float.  I got to breathe.  But so did the kids.  As Kaila shared sixth period, “Sy, this is exactly what I needed.  I am so stressed out with all that we have to do.  Thank you.”  No, thank you, Kaila. Thank you, all.  It’s exactly what I needed, too.

Of course, it’s back to treading water today and avoiding drowning this weekend as I dive into a sea of student work, but it only makes me appreciate yesterday’s calm waters even more.  Thanks for holding me up yesterday, kiddos.


A New Hat: Morning Minutes, February 25, 2016

So, as some know, I have a few names: Syrie, Sy, SuperSy, Super Syrie, Silly Syrie, Stern Syrie, and the latest…Sy the Utensil Guy.  I’m not exactly sure how/when this began, but it is my newest hat.  Kids have learned that I have a stash of plastic utensils, and at all times of the day, they come to me seeking spoons and forks.  It generally begins with Carissa’s daily diet of mac and cheese during second period, and from there I get a number of visitors over the course of the day interested in my cheap cutlery.  At first it was only my students; then it became my students asking for their friends, and now on a semi-regular basis, it’s kids I don’t even know. But familiar or not, I fork over the forks.

So, what’s the deal?  Why the new hat now?  Well, for one, kids are hungry.  And, for better or worse, I allow them to eat in room 219.  And while some of my colleagues can’t even imagine letting kids eat during class, for me it’s a necessary no-brainer.  Let ’em eat.  Let ’em be people.  This is part of the equation.

Recently, the cafeteria announced that it would no longer provide utensils to students who were not eating school lunch.  However, for 25 cents, they could purchase a “spork.”  This is the second part of the equation.  But, I am not blaming the school; it’s simple economics in a world where funds are finite.  I get it.  It makes sense.  But it does not change the fact that kids need things.  Yes, they could–probably should–bring their own from home, but they are kids, and I have a soft spot for the little stinkers, even those I don’t know.  And so, when I can, I give them what they need: pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, books, and sometimes, when I can spare it, food.  I gave Steph a banana yesterday.  How can I ask her to give her all if all that she’s thinking about is food?  I had it. I gave it.  Simple stuff.

So, by now, I am getting used to my new hat.  Of course, my stash has drastically diminished in recent weeks, and what I thought would last me all year, will be gone in a week or so, but as I tell the kids, I am crazy rich.  I am a teacher.  They pay me stupid amounts of money.  Buying them forks is the least I can do.  #therichlife  #pocketssodeep

Happy Thursday, all.


End of the Day: Morning Minutes, February 24, 2016.

Monday I mentioned that my helping kids with their speeches  would be the most challenging and satisfying work I would do this week.  I should have also said it would be the most exhausting.  For four 55 minute periods, I strive to be completely present in scores of conversations, ranging from “I don’t know what to do my speech on” to “What if I use a simulated story about my deceased grandma’s view on our right to vote.”  And these are rarely quick-question, move-on-to-the-next-person conversations. They are make-and-hold-eye-contact, seek-to-understand, question-to-clarify, maybe-get-lucky-and-inspire-them discussions–one right after another, a constant line until the bell rings. Many even after the bell rings as kids linger wanting more.  Most of the time I make them walk and talk with me as I make the way to the staff bathroom on my 5 minute potty break, my 5 minute intermission before the next act begins.

Of course what I would like to do, what I need to do is get caught up on my grading and planning during this “student work time.”  But what I like and need take a back seat to what I love: working with kids.  So this means I am perpetually behind–sorry parents that I don’t have the latest grades in Skyward yet.  I would do it after school or in the evenings but I have others in my life with needs too, others who also deserve my being fully present.  But sadly this is a struggle, for I have yet to find the “off switch” and at the end of the day; it stays with me, ever-present in my mind, and my students don’t help.

Last night, Eva gave me homework.  “Have my topic for me tomorrow, Sy.”  After a number of conversations with miss Eva, and numerous pleas to let me off the hook, she has persisted in seeking my help to find a topic.  Of course, I did not make the decision any easier by telling the kids that they had to truly care about their topics, that they had to have “fire in their bellies.”  So, it’s partly my fault, and as it goes, last night during my college class when a group of my students are presenting, I find myself distracted with Eva’s topic, and before I know it, I am turning over the grading sheet, scribbling down some ideas for her topic. Alas, it never ends.  Never a break.  And at the end of the day, I am spent, hoping that my night of sleep is deep, for if I wake up, it begins again.  I can’t remember my last deep sleep.

But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Not sure I have a choice.  Eva gave me homework.

Happy Wednesday, all.  Thank you for your support.




Own It: Morning Minutes, February 23, 2016

“Morning, Meg.  Did you read?”

“Uh, I only read the first two chapters.  When I have a lot of homework, this class is my safety valve.”

This is not an out-of-the-ordinary conversation in 219.  With four sections of honors language arts, I serve students who are taking mostly advanced courses, which generally translates into their having a lot of homework–at times, overwhelming amounts.  That in mind–and my being flexible to perhaps a fault, I have created, as Meg suggested, an outlet of sorts in 219 for kids when the pressure’s too much.  I always accept late work–without penalty, and importantly, my reactions never go beyond disappointment seasoned with understanding when kids don’t get their work in on time. My class is important–maybe–a little bias here–the most important.  But it is not more important than any of my kids–ever.  And, in the end, that is what I teach: kids.  It just happens that in 219 I do it within the context of language arts.  So, when I make decisions, I make decisions with kids in mind first, then content.

Of course, my approach is not above reproach, for many of my peers think I am ruining kids by being too flexible.  And though there are times when I wonder if my approach is the very best thing for kids, especially when I am dealing with the hassle of late paperwork, my gut keeps me on this particular path, pushing away any lingering doubts about the cost outweighing the benefit.  Deep down I believe that flexibility doesn’t hinder responsibility; it promotes it, for true responsibility comes when individuals have the freedom to discover the implications of their own choices.  I don’t think holding harsh late-work policies over kids’ heads teaches responsibility; I think it only forces compliance, and that is not commitment.  I want my kids to be committed.  I want them to make big-boy and big-girl choices.  And then, I want them to own their choices.  I have found that doing so creates a level of honesty that makes the experiences in 219 genuine, real.

Meg was real with me.  She owned it.  She did only read the first two chapters because those are the only two that she could reference in our discussion yesterday.  She contributed where she could, and respectfully–honestly–bowed out when she couldn’t.  She owned it.  Isn’t that responsibility?

Have a terrific Tuesday.  Thanks for listening.




Love of Labor: Morning Minutes, February 22, 2016

Morning, all.  Ready or not, Monday’s here.  Gonna be a busy week in 219.

  1. Complex Sentence Practice: distinguishing between independent and dependent clauses.
  2. Night Discussions: segments 1- 3 today, segments 4 – 6 on Friday.
  3. Essay of the Week: Last week we watched a video of a powerful speech delivered by a young lady at Lewis and Clark High School during their Diversity assembly.  The young lady shared her experience as a Muslim-American.  The kids will respond to the comments by some on YouTube that she embellished her speech.
  4. Preface for Injustice Speech: Finally, kids are putting pen to paper–well, fingers to keys–for the first major step in preparing their speeches.  Most have created a simulated situation in which they have assumed a particular persona and assigned us a specific role as an audience, so context is necessary.  For example, one young lady is addressing the wrong, the “injustice,” of photo-shopped images that are so prevalent in advertising, especially ads targeting girls and women.  She is assuming the persona of a former magazine editor who was fired for acting on her conscience and blowing the whistle, exposing the publication’s practice.  As the audience, we will be a group of young women to whom she is apologizing and calling upon to help stem the madness of this harmful societal trend. The preface will help her set the stage before she delivers her speech. This will take up the bulk of our time this week.

My favorite but most challenging part will be working with the kids on their prefaces.  Having ideas is one thing; effectively bringing those ideas to life is an entirely different thing.  But it’s a challenge I love.  We will work hard; we will be frustrated; we will grow, we will achieve.  Love it.  Can’t believe they’re actually paying me for this.


A Bigger Pond

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So, I discovered that a discussion that I posted to Edutopia is “trending.”  And while I am not exactly sure what that means, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  I was told the number of “shares” has made it a trend, and so far, it has been shared over 9,700 times.  I am excited to be reaching wider audiences, and I wanted to share it with you.  In addition, I received notification this morning that my article on growth mindset was just published by the Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (http://wsascd.org/wp-content/uploads/March-2016-CQ.pdf).  And while all this is exciting and great, it pales in comparison to the generous support that my loyal few have shown over the last two months. That, to me, matters most.  So, thank you to those who read and share my babble.  Truly, I cannot do it without you.  I am more grateful than you’ll ever know, and I’ll need even more support as I wade deeper into this.  I never have been a strong swimmer.

Heartbroken: Morning Minutes, February 19, 2016


     “Syrie!  We have to talk,” asserted Stephanie as she marched toward me, finger pointing, eyes wide.

     “What’s up, Steph?” I stammered, backpedaling as she came on, a mini drama unfolding as second period began.

     “I’m done.  I am not coming back.  This is it”

    “What happened?”

     “I read it.  I read it all,” she charged.  “And I am living on only two hours of sleep right now.  First The Book Thief and now this!  I am done.  Not coming back.”

     “Couldn’t put it down, huh?” I responded.

     “No, I knew I could only endure it once, so I finished it in one sitting because I wasn’t gonna be able to go back to it.” she fired, stepping closer.  But retreat was no longer possible as I was backed against the whiteboard, eyes searching, seeking help from the rest of my students as Steph’s passion poured out onto the floor of 219.

Of course, as always, the scene was better if one was there, and it’s even better if one knows Stephanie.  She is truly a diamond among gems, a soul that elevates all of us to greater heights.  I am just sorry that I broke her heart.  I am even more sorry that I am gonna break it some more, for there are more sad stories to come. It’s the Holocaust.

The day before, I had assigned the memoir Night by Elie Wiesel.  This is after our watching The Book Thief as an introduction to our Holocaust unit.  It is a short book, only 115 pages, but it carries an immeasurable impact as it takes one through mankind’s darkest hour, relating the nightmare that Elie lived during World War 2.  Truly, it grabs hold and does not let go–ever.  And even though I gave the kids a reading schedule that covered two-and-a-half weeks, suspecting that some would certainly finish the slim volume sooner, I did not expect that any would finish it the night I assigned it. Steph finished it. And obviously it had an impact. I am sorry that our kids have to face such terrible truths from the past, but I know the more terrible truth of not knowing or forgetting.  Elie wrote the book so the world would not forget, hoping if they read it, they could not forget.  Those who read it do not forget.  And as tragic and traumatic as Stephanie’s experience was, sadder stories still will play out over the next two weeks, for some kids won’t read it.  Yep, despite all that I will attempt to do to motivate them and inspire them, despite Steph’s dramatic infomercial, some kids will not find the motivation to read it, and that, to me, is the real tragedy–my broken heart.  Sorry, Steph, that I had to break yours.

Happy Friday, all.  If you have not read Night, you need to.  We cannot forget.

Keepin’ it Real: Morning Minutes, February 18, 2016

Love my kids. Truly. It is they who make my day, the reasons I do what I do.  But sometimes I do not like their behavior, and the little stinkers make me grumpy.  Yesterday, 6th period, I got a little grumpy in response to some inconsiderate behavior during a film, and in a rare scene in 219, I let that grumpiness–more aptly annoyance–bubble to the surface, and I assumed a different role: Stern Syrie.  The kids are used to Simple Syrie, Super Syrie, and even Silly Syrie, but I think some were taken a little aback when Stern Syrie appeared on the stage.  To be sure, it is not a role I relish, but it is one I keep in wait and willingly play when the occasion calls.

Yesterday, he made a cameo appearance, a surprise guest whose part changed the narrative of the day, and while it was only a minor part, a brief appearance, it certainly affected the general mood of the class, which was not only unfortunate but also necessary.  Unfortunate because a couple of kids left less than happy with me at the end of the day.  Necessary because  it was a reminder to the kids that their behavior matters and that though there are times when I do want us to be peer-like partners in our learning experiences, there are times when I have to be the adult in the room and set things straight.  Fortunately, such times are quite rare in 219, and my kids’ behavior is stellar the other ninety-nine percent of the time.

Of course, I like to believe that is no accident.  I work very hard to create that culture through the relationships that I develop with my kids.  But I also believe that relationships have to be real, which means–and I tell my kids this early on in the year–that there will be times when I am unhappy with them and times when they are unhappy with me, the mark of any important relationship in our lives.  Yesterday was one of those times.  And it won’t be the last, and that’s okay. Experience has blessed me with the wisdom of knowing that relationships are investments, and if we make enough deposits, the few withdrawals we have to make won’t drain the account.  Today,  the show will go on in 219 and Stern Syrie will not have to make an appearance any time soon, maybe even the rest of the year.  And that’s great because Super Syrie doesn’t readily share the stage.

Have a great Thursday, all.


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