Yard sales taketh away and giveth
Good for building a classroom library on the cheap, though
I’ve been looking forward to our neighborhood yard sale for… years. Canceled last year for a lack of sellers, this year we had plenty, just few buyers. I spent weeks culling the household, compiling an eccentric list of ephemera worthy of a new home, quarantine-inspired exercise equipment and home office goods, etc. We had a good stand! And I don’t want to brag, but we made nearly $23 in sales. Which is to say, $22.
I wasn’t keen on selling books, what with the Little Free Library next door. But we had a lot of cookbooks, and the Awesome Wife went with a price of $1. That’s what I expect from books at yard sales, and that’s what I typically hunt for. Yard sales are full of kids books at bargain prices. I love finding middle schoolers selling books they’ve outgrown. I’m always in sixth grade, I can take those off your hands.
My first year of teaching, my predecessor cleaned out the classroom library, leaving me bereft. I eventually built it up between school buys, donations, my materials budget, and of course yard sales. I can turn in receipts for epic hauls at Goodwill (kids paperbacks are $.50!) but yard sale purchases are my own. I’ve now amassed one of the larger classroom libraries in the district, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Some kids are intimidated by the amount of choice, and plenty of great books are untouched by sixth grade hands in a decade. Shopping at yard sales and Goodwill also means I’m light on books published since 2020.
But I can’t stop. And we probably should have accepted our fate and gone as buyers to the rival neighborhood yard sale 10m away. Last year we saw the acting mayor there! I can’t imagine our own yard sale ever going much better, so I suppose I’m retired from all that. I prefer being a buyer anyway.
And another thing
My subscribers have long included teachers in my building and beyond, but I’ve managed to avoid having actual sixth graders as readers. And that persists, although now I have a seventh grade subscriber. Kids are transfixed by my (rarely updated) Youtube channel, and apparently I added the link. So the wall has been broken, but my follower is a gem, so I’ll live. Hello to K if you actually ended up reading this! Come see how the sausage is made.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
I continue to refer things to this department. I have expanded to declare certain issues as Tomorrow Problems. Great methods for avoiding and delaying accountability! And Vee has as a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
I’ve been feeling a renewed appreciation for Nirvana’s first album. Nevermind is of course great, but it’s highly produced, whereas Bleach sounds like it was recorded in the garage from its demi-genre. That lightly distorted guitar, that sharp bass, Kurt’s voice. And the songs! “About a Girl” is a jam session favorite, and I once even played it for sixth graders. Fun fact: I nearly fainted when I discovered the original “Love Buzz,” by Shocking Blue. (Same album that has the original “Venus.”) I like all that followed from Nirvana, but as is true with so many bands, their first remains their best.
My Back Pages
When I was finishing graduate school, my program demanded I write a “Philosophy of Education,” ostensibly to show off in interviews. It’s unclear whether anyone my interviewers read this. From May, 2011 as I neared graduation:
Middle school creates thinkers. While teaching content is undoubtedly important, most crucial is that students learn how to think in these years. The goal of middle school teaching should be to give students the skill set and academic tools to support them through the more demanding and content-driven environment of high school. As an ELA teacher, my specific goal is to teach reading and writing skills and strategies, to foster an appreciation for the written word, and to build the analytical and evaluative skills that create great readers and writers.
Sounds great! And reeks of the blind good intentions someone who hasn’t done it. My first day of school, I had 18 kids to wrangle and entertain for hours, then a bunch more expecting to be taught. As much as I studied and prepared, nothing could prepare me for facing a room full of kids demanding, What do we do now? I’m always looking for the most “transferable skills,” but I don’t always have the luxury of admiring the big picture. Graduate school was much more that, as it should be.
I believe in creating a community of learners from the first day of school. Through team-building games and exercises, students learn to work cooperatively and take ownership of their learning. By establishing classroom routines from the outset and reinforcing them on a daily basis for the entire year, the teacher provides the expectations and structure that form the foundation of effective classroom management.
This tracks. We play games lots, and I prioritize team-building ones. All-Hit Moonball is a classic; kids like whacking a beach ball, I like forcing them to get everyone involved by making success dependent on all kids hitting the ball before it hits the ground. Everybody wins. And my routines are regularized to the point that if I’m ever out, kids can run class and everybody knows what to do.
Yelling as a management technique is not just ineffective but counterproductive. When a teacher yells, all the student hears is, “I’m being yelled at.” And once an adversarial relationship has been established, teaching becomes a form of combat. While a teacher is not the students’ friend, being an enemy is a poor choice.
Of course! But some relationships become adversarial no matter what you do. Some kids just want to fight. Sometimes not becoming the enemy is easier said than done.
Building rapport and relationships with students throughout the school can translate directly into effective time in the classroom. Students want to be respected and treated fairly, and a teacher should demonstrate these feelings on a daily basis. It is essential for a teacher to be fair, but fair does not mean equal. All students are different and should be treated based on who they are and what they can do. This spans from classroom management to curriculum design and assessment, the latter incorporating differentiation when possible.
This was my plan heading into teaching and it’s where I still live. Hallways banter encapsulates a lot of what I like about teaching middle school.
Students learn best from each other and should do most of the talking. Rather than information flowing from teacher to student, students should converse with each other as much as possible. As one of my favorite Lesley professors used to say, the teacher should be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. An inquiry-based approach helps foster this dynamic and encourages developing the critical thinking skills we aim to provide in the middle grades.
I still use that guide on the side line, and I still strive for it. I remember drawing maps of T→S, S→ T, S→S, and student interaction remains a cornerstone. It’s striking how much of my philosophy was impressive in 2011, de rigeur in 2023. Speaks well of what they were teaching us.
Understanding and appreciating adolescent behavior can only help a teacher — middle schools are noisy because they’re full of middle schoolers. The noise and chaos must not get out of hand, but teachers are wise to acknowledge that middle schoolers need to move around, have short attention spans, and vary wildly from day to day. The curriculum and structure should be adjusted accordingly, breaking up the class with at least three portions and movement whenever possible.
Yup yup yup. Although it was hard to anticipate how hormones and puberty would affect behavior, to say nothing of warm weather and southern relatives out of school a month earlier. The end of the year is always tough. But I know we can do it! And even if we struggle, the last day is still the last day. There’s much to be said for having a finite job.
How’d I do on typos this week? I’ve been challenged by the Awesome Wife to have less, and I’ve been trying to proof more. But I also want to go to sleep. Enjoy!