When English goes to Math: Slice of Life 7/31 #SOL20

“Amanda! Just the person I wanted to see! I have a story you’re going to love.” Mr. W pops into the English office on his prep. We are both pedagogy nerds, and we love the Applied classes we regularly teach. Mr. W teaches math and I teach English, so we often have many of the same students. We like to swap stories and have even managed to create a couple of lessons that overlapped, much to the shock/horror/delight of our students. I’m grinning before he even starts talking.

“So, you have O, right?”

I nod. I have O and four other students for the second semester in a row.

“So, this week has been nothing but trying to get him to pay attention.” Oh, yes, how well I know this. “It’s been his ipod, phone whatever. All week long.”

I am still nodding when Mr. W delivers the twist. “But yesterday, I look up, and what is he doing? He’s reading. I couldn’t believe it. There he is with Harry Potter under his desk. I couldn’t get him to stop. He read for most of the class.”

I wince. “Sorry?” Then I pause, “Actually, sorry not sorry…”

Mr. W gets it. He grins and his eyes twinkle. “But wait! Then, at the end of class, he comes up to me and says, ‘Sorry I wasn’t paying attention, sir, but I’m reading Harry Potter and it’s the first book I’ve ever read without pictures and it’s really good.’ And what could I say? So I agreed. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.”

I am speechless.

Mr W pauses, letting me take this all in, then says, “But to get you back, next week I’m sending him to English with math worksheets…”

I have to laugh, “You can’t fool me. I know you don’t do worksheets.”

He chuckles, “Drat! You know me too well!” Then he leaves the office, and I sit, quietly stunned.

How lucky I am. How lucky to have a colleague who also loves these students, who knows the value of reading, who takes the time to tell me this story, even though he could have seen this as a disruption

How lucky I am that I get to teach so many of these students for a second semester. Having them all year is a real treat for me. I love how we can move past the routines of the classroom and start to reach for deeper learning. They trust me more: they’re more willing to try a new form of writing, knowing that I’m there to support not judge; they’re more willing to let themselves try a new book. I am so lucky to watch this unfold.

I know that reading is really tough for some of my students; the words on the page just don’t quite come together in their minds for various reasons. Daily independent reading is a hard sell. It takes us weeks (months, for some of them) to fall into the rhythm of regular reading. I have to be extremely consistent and firm. I have to really believe that they need to start where they are and that, for some of my students – grade 10 students – that means spending a semester reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet and Bone. These are all good books, and I’ve read the research about reading & graphic novels & developing readers, but I will admit to moments where I wonder if they will*ever* move forward.

And here we are. O is reading Harry Potter in math class. His mother told me that she went out and bought him the whole series. And J has finished his first chapter book and started The Ranger’s Apprentice series; his mom bought him the series, too. And V is on book 5 of Percy Jackson. M has a favourite author (Jason Reynolds!!).

And me? I’m just going to spend this Saturday morning basking in the feeling that I work in a school where we – students and teachers alike – celebrate our work and our success. What could be better than that?

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8am and a funeral awaits

It’s 8am. I should be on my way to work. Instead, I am sitting here, uncomfortable in my black dress and sheer nylons. At least I’m still wearing my slippers, but I can see a sliver of black heels lurking around the corner in the front hallway. I’ve blown my hair dry and put on my make-up. I’ve already taken my final sip of tea. It’s time to go, but I don’t want to leave.

When I walk out of this cozy house, away from the comfortable chair and the mercifully impersonal computer screen, I’m not heading to the school. My students won’t greet me with comments on my haircut (so much shorter!) or my fancy clothes (why are you so dressed up?). I’m going to a funeral.

This one is hard. I suppose all funerals all. I don’t even know the deceased, but I do know his daughter. His funny, loud, thoughtful, expressive, loving, wonderful daughter. She is not my student; she is my colleague. She is great in the classroom. She has some sort of crazy ability to see into the very heart of her students – especially the ones who have made themselves almost invisible to others – and she challenges them all to rise and rise to the very top of their abilities. Students don’t all love her, but those who do love her fiercely, unconditionally. And before she went on leave, she was mad at me.

There’s not much I can do about her anger. The cause is so transient as to be irrelevant. I know that the anger will pass, that I am only a convenient target for frustrations that were so widely scattered that she could barely keep them all in sight. But she was really mad. And I was trying to be patient.

I am not always patient.

And now her father has died. This wonderful woman is in pain. I do not want to add to her pain. I want her to know that, even though she is mad at me and even though I am not always patient, I will continue to support her and even to love her.

I hope that the heels and the sheer tights and the black dress and the new haircut speak loudly of love because I’m not sure that I will have the words.