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You’re HOW old???

Me: Height doesn’t have anything to do with age. Most of you are taller than me, but I’m twice as old as all of you.
Boy 1: What? How old are you?
Me: I’m 36.
Six kids: What? No way!
Boy 2: I thought you were 29!
Me: No. I’m 36.
Boy 2: Really??? Someone told me you were 29.
Me: No. I’m really 36.
Girl: What year were you born?
Me: 1981.
Girl: Shit. Yeah, well, I guess that really is 36 years ago. The oldest I would have guessed you at is 32.
Me: Thanks, but no, I’m really 36.
Boy 1: Snap! You’re only 24 years away from being 50! That’s so old!
Me: I’m actually only 14 years away from being 50.
Boy 1: What? That’s even worse!
Boy 3: My dad just turned 36 a few days ago.
Me: Cool. Well, I guess me and your dad have something in common.
Boy 1: Oh my god! Fourteen years away from FIFTY! Don’t you hate being so old?
Me: Nope, I don’t really mind it. I’ve gotten used to it, really. Just one year at a time.
Boy 2: Yeah, that’s not too bad, being 36. It means you’re smart. You know, wise.
Girl [laughing, clearly making fun of the boys]: Yeah, Ms. H. You’re wise because you’re so old.


Maybe I need to stop using the bathroom.

A conversation for you. Overheard while I was peeing.

Girl 1: My dad totally thinks I’m a ‘ho.
Girl 2: Is it because you dress like that? [btw, tone is bewildered rather than accusatory]
Girl 1: Yeah. And I’m like, “God. There are some things you just don’t understand.”


If you check in here periodically, you’ve perhaps noticed a little change. On the top, up there where it says who I am, it now says that I teach high school. The day after school got out in June, I accepted a job at an alternative high school. I love, love, loved my old job, but it was time for a change. I feel like I was starting to get lazy at my last post, and that’s not the way I want to be. Not to say that I wasn’t doing my job or even doing a good job, just that I was starting to feel a little complacent. Things had gotten easy and I was running dry on ideas. So it was time to do something new, to get good at someone else’s job. So when this English 10 position was offered to me, I accepted gleefully.

Now that it’s the third day with kids, I’ve been asked probably a billion times what I think about the job and the school and the kids – and whether or not I like it better than where I was. Do you want to know the honest truth? I don’t like it better. But I don’t like it worse, either. I don’t feel like I can aptly compare the two jobs, actually. They’re not the same, not even a little bit. I mean, yes, I’m called “teacher” in both positions and in both positions children walk into my room and then some time later they exit my room, but that’s really where the similarities end. I’m in a high school now, for one, which comes with a whole different level of stuff that the middle school doesn’t have. For instance, I’m used to seeing kids cry in the halls in the first week of school because for the last eight years my classroom was at the end of the sixth grade hall and sixth graders get super stressed that first week of school with finding their classes, checking their lockers, and remembering their teachers’ names. I haven’t seen anyone cry yet this school year, but I have seen kids sleeping in class, sporting tattoos and multiple face piercings, and showing way too much skin to be considered “appropriately dressed” anywhere outside of a strip joint. I have a student with a two-year-old daughter and another with a baby due in February – more stuff that I never dealt with in middle school. I also taught gifted kids for the last eight years – a group of students who, largely, enjoy learning and are good with executive functions. You know, things like putting their name on their paper and getting to class before the bell rings. Already this school year I’ve wanted to tell kids “This would be so much easier if you just cooperated. It sucks because you’re making it suck!” about a million times. But I guess that’s why they’re here instead of at a traditional school, right? I mean, some of the kids “get it” and are playing along, but others are spending so much time digging in their heels that they’re putting more effort into the fight than I want them to put into the classroom task.

In short, this is an adjustment. I’ve always prided myself on my differentiation skills, but this is going to push those skills to new levels. I need to change my approach – and fast – so that I don’t lose the handful of kids who are willing to work at this point in the game. I don’t necessarily feel like things are going poorly right now, but they’re not going the way I want them to yet. I’ll get there, though. I have confidence in that. That’s why I left the safety and comfort of my last job, right? So I could have something new? I keep reminding myself of that – that I asked for things to be different; I wanted the challenge. And so, here I am.

If you know anyone who’s doing amazing things with alternative kids, please leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to start stealing things from great people who have gone before me.

Geography Lesson

Me: Endless Steppe takes place in Siberia, which is a region in northern Russia.
Girl: I thought Siberia was in Africa.
Me: Nope.
Boy: You’re thinking of Serbia.
Me: That’s not in Africa either.
Boy: It’s not?
Me: I think you’re thinking of Somalia.
Other Boy: But that’s in Asia.
Me: No. No, it’s not.

Wet and Wild

As I walked in to third period this morning after break, a boy says, “Hey, why is there a bag of nail polish on my desk?”

I glanced down and, sure enough, there was a bag of nail polish on his desk. I told him I didn’t know, and picked up the bag and put it in my classroom lost and found.

Then another boy asks, “Why does it all say Wet and Wild?”

“That’s the brand,” a girl responds.

“Hey,” says another boy, “there’s a club called Wet and Wild. In Las Vegas. I’m serious. It’s closed now, but it used to be there.”

Sometimes, you just don’t want details.

I received an email from a parent today that felt a little out of left field. But I took it all (mostly) in stride because it’s obvious that this dad is upset with his son’s grade and, probably, his son’s lack of answers for said grade. This all started a few weeks ago when Dad first emailed me asking, basically, “Why does my son have such a low grade in your class?” [Please read note below.] I told Dad it was because Son was missing work, so, over the following two weeks, this kid turned in all sorts of assignments, current and past-due. His grade came up a bit, but still isn’t passing (mostly due to still-missing assignments) and Dad is frustrated. I get it. It’s because I get it that I was able to overlook his mean email and all (most) of the accusations within it.

The one thing in his email that I take direct offense to, however, was this: “I understand that you […] don’t allow too many opportunities for a new sixth grader to make mistakes.”

What?!? Has this parent talked to me about my class? Had he attended the open house last spring? Or conferences this fall? Does he have any idea what my aims are in this class?

Because if he had, he would know that I try really, really hard to let the kids struggle, and to even, from time to time, fail! I want things to be difficult, to challenge them! It’s the “zone of proximal development” and all that. But then, when I’ve figured out how far to push them, I step back and watch. Sometimes, I need to quickly step in again and push a little more. Sometimes, I need to reverse, support, guide and soften. And if it goes awry, as it sometimes does, and a mistake is made, I help students learn from those mistakes. They’re allowed to redo assignments. I’m constantly available in my room for help or questions and encourage kids to email me from home when they need something. I provide everything on my class website – every assignment, every set of directions – so that kids have help and answers on their own when I’m not directly available so that they can help themselves when they’re struggling. I take late work – without taking off points for it being late. I send home progress reports with suggestions for parents on how to best help their child address their particular needs.

All this because I know that mistakes can be good and effective teaching tools. All this because I believe in allowing students to learn and grow in ways that arise organically and from each child’s own path. When kids make mistakes in sixth grade, they learn how to avoid mistakes and how to fix mistakes later on. When kids make mistakes in sixth grade, the grades that reflect those mistakes don’t show up on transcripts sent in with college applications. When kids make mistakes in sixth grade, their parents are more willing to help them “fix” things because they don’t yet see their children as someone who should be self-sufficient and “know better.”

So, parents, you may be mad at me. You may think I’m a horrible teacher or believe your kid when she says I didn’t explain something or take his side when he says I’m unapproachable. You may disagree with something I’ve said or a way I’ve done something or a text I’ve asked your child to read. You may be frustrated with me for not responding quickly enough or for giving too much homework. But never say I don’t allow opportunities for mistakes.


Whenever I hear that question from a parent and their child has an F in my class, I know the answer without even looking at my grade book: because your kid has missing work. In fact, the more the missing work, the lower the grade. And because the equation seems so simple, I am always – always – surprised to hear that question in the first place.

GT kids come from GT parents

I love working with GT kids, but it’s often the joke with the school admin and counselors that in teaching GT kids, you also have to deal with the GT parents. Sometimes, that can be a real…hassle. But so often, it’s something closer to wonderful. Like, it’s wonderful to receive emails like this one:

Hello Ms. 

I am [girl]’s mom and I want to wish you a great school year.
Please feel free to contact us at this e-mail address or at home ###-####. We are here to support you and set [girl] up for success.

[Girl] is our oldest and we are learning about the middle school process.  Our objective for [girl] this year is to continue to enhance the quality of her reading, analysis and comprehension skills and also to learn how to integrate the benefits of reading in her communication and writings.

I am looking forward to collaborating with you this year!