Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Today my students asked me what it meant to "fall through the cracks" in response to a video about our school that was recently posted in YouTube. (I will have to do a post about the video and my school because it is really good, but that will have to come another day.) I said, "Well, it is like fall to the bottom of society. To keep someone from falling through the cracks you ensure that they have an ability to rise to the top like Ben Carson. Even though he was from a bad neighborhood, because his mother pushed him and ensured that he got a good education, he was able to become a very famous surgeon; and you got to read his autobiography."

One student quickly replied, "We just need to keep kids away from crack!"

"Yes, in order to keep kids from slipping through the metaphorical cracks, we do need to keep them away from literal crack." They are very quick to catch on.

We are going on a field trip!

As a teacher, field trips are one of the things I get to look forward to, and recently, I have had field trips on the brain. Last Friday, my wonderful husband and I took the eighth graders down to Waco, Texas, to visit the campus of Baylor University and hopefully inspire some young minds to set their sights high. This week I completed a digital storybook (photo album) of the Class 8 trip to Washington DC back in November. And tomorrow, bright and very early, I will depart with the seventh graders on our annual Texas History Trip. While field trips are always fun and an opportunity to get out of the classroom and actually see some important places and things should never passed up, there is a side to field trips that only a teacher can understand. For example,

1. Constantly counting heads to make sure everyone is accounted for. Every group has at least one wanderer that causes much latent stress which goes unnoticed until I return home. It always takes me a little while to get out of the headcount mode.

2. The feeling of herding cats. Admittedly, I am a rather fast walker, but just about every kid I have ever taught is a member of Slow Walkers Anonymous. I am constantly prodding the crew along from one place to the next. It gets very old very fast.

3. Dealing with kids who are "museumed-out." No matter how exciting the content or how excited the kid is, there comes a point on every field trip when the students' brains reach their maximum capacity of absorption. The symptoms of being museumed-out are either total apathy in the form of lethargy or hyperactivity. They either sit down and fall asleep or start playing chase in the museum. Unfortunately, I have seen both.

Attention spans beginning to wane

Literally asleep in the Natural History Museum, Washington DC

4. The gift shop. For many children, all learning is lost as soon as they spot the gift shop. Good teachers set strict time limits on gift shops and will not allow their students to enter these commercial establishments without first seeing at least 85%-90% of the museum. By the end of a field trip, I am gift-shopped-out and become nauseous at the sight of overpriced souvenirs, and my students are museumed-out and grow faint at the thought of another artifact or piece of artwork.

On the up side, I am looking forward to this field trip. It is always a fun one. And the kids are really looking forward to it which always helps. One boy said today, "I have been looking forward to this since I was like in the fourth grade!" I desperately hope it lives up to his expectations. I know that I will come back with lots of funny stories and great pictures.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Revolution

Each year, it seems the class will be drawn to one specific time period in American history, and we all get really into it. Past classes have been fascinated by the Cold War, or the 1920s, or the Civil War, but this year is was the Revolution. This class absolutely loved reading Johnny Tremain (a classic) and became so emotionally invested in the time period and plight of the colonists that I began to see colonial and Revolutionary paraphernalia popping up even outside of history class. Students were bringing me books found in the public library and at home about Revolutionary war heroes or life in the colonies. As a teacher there are few things more satisfying than seeing your students grab on to an idea or time period, take a real personal interest, and run with it. Throughout the year, I will ask questions about the founding fathers as bonuses on quizzes or tests (even in math--the kids actually like when I do that, but they hat when I give algebra problems has bonuses in history), and I am proud to say that 75% of the class gets them correct even though we haven't talked about them directly in months.

One of the unusual places that the Revolutionary War showed up this year was on the playground. The kids devised a game in the short 10 minutes that they have outside where they would take sides and fight their own Revolutionary War on the swing set and the hills. It always amazed me that they could come out the next day and remember exactly where they left off in the game, and the war would resume at the precise place they left off; and yet, they have trouble remembering a quiz/test that is written in three places and is mentioned at least four times a day.

In this particular game, the girls were the Patriots and the boys were the British. Their ammunition? Why, acorns of course. They were very excited to enlighten me as to the historical accuracy and significance of their new pastime. As soon as they announced that the boys were the redcoats, one seventh grader chimed in, "Yeah, and I'm the only Mexican in the English army!"

And another: "And Josh is General Ho" (instead of General Howe).

Close enough. It is the thought that counts. Their rich imaginations even at 13 and 14 bring so much joy.

Pictured above: the eighth grade in Williamsburg in November living colonially and loving it

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Boxed Lunch

Our school has recently started providing a government lunch program. Every once in a while, the kids are served boxed lunches. These lunches usually consist of a sandwich (always partially frozen), a piece of fruit (bruised), either apple juice or artificially flavored applesauce, and a plastic-wrapped dessert. Whenever the bad news arrives that they are having boxed lunches, there is a communal cry of grief and chagrin that arises from the disappointed masses. Whenever this happens, it is hard for me to keep from smiling. It is not that I like to see my students miserable, it is just that it takes so little to make them miserable.

Yesterday, the eighth graders helped greet guests at a fundraising luncheon for the school. (As a side note: they are wonderful ambassadors. They are friendly, polite, and very smart. People are always impressed by their poise and maturity. I am proud to stand next to them and take the credit of being their teacher.) When we arrived, they saw boxed lunches at each place in the banquet hall. Filled with distress and concern, they came to me and asked, "Mrs. Freeman, the guests are not getting boxed lunches are they?"

"Yes, they are getting boxed lunches."

"They are not the same boxed lunches we get are they?"

After assuring them that these were different boxed lunches from a restaurant or catering service, one student piped up with a great idea for fundraising:

"They should serve the same boxed lunches we get; they'd give money so fast."

Very Insightful.

One-Liners (almost)

Here are a few of the humorous things that have been said in my classroom over the past several weeks.

After a presentation on Ida B. Wells (who attended Fisk University).
Student A: "She attended Frisky University?"

About an upcoming history quiz
Student B (who coincidentally is African American): "What is on the quiz, Mrs. Freeman?"
Me: "The quiz covers the Gilded Age reformers we have gone over in class like Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. DuBois."
Student B: "Oh, it's about black people. I'll be fine."

In Class
Me (to student): "Did you write down these notes?"
Student C: "No."
Me: "Then why don't you get started and copy them down into your spiral?"
Student C: "Psych. I wrote them down already."
Me: Raising the white flag in my head

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Antonia

In February, I read Willa Cather's My Antonia. I saw the title come up randomly several times over the course of a few weeks, and in an effort to expand my knowledge and understanding of American literature, I was inspired to pick it up. The book was fabulous.

Willa Cather came from a family of immigrants who moved to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The Cather's first lived in Virginia then moved out to the frontier of Nebraska where Willa Cather grew up and eventually graduated from the University of Nebraska. My Antonia tells the story of a young boy who moves from Virginia to Nebraska to live with his grandparents after the death of his parents. On the way, he meets an immigrant family from Czechoslovakia and quickly befriends their daughter Antonia. All the characters in the book are fascinating snapshots of Americana, but the most interesting was the land. In Cather's novel, the frontier has a life and personality of its own--everything from the owls and rattlesnakes to the crops and trees to the tawny, undulating hills. As was the case for many families forging a life in the west, they were as much shaped by the land as the people in their lives. The characters explore the harsh and difficult life on the farm as well as the hardships, conveniences, and culture of life in town.

If you have ever spent time in the Midwest, you will love the dead-on descriptions in My Antonia. But I will warn you, much like life in Nebraska, the pace of the book rolls along like the seasons (slowly) and is punctuated by a few adventurous incidents. The painting above by Andrew Wyeth (my new favorite artist) that I found in the National Art Gallery perfectly captures the tone and mood of My Antonia: ordinary and simple but the barrenness of the landscape only intensifies the beautiful things in it.

Highlights: These were some of my favorite parts of the book.
- When Jim Burden first arrives in Nebraska and describes the landscape as utter nothingness: "Not a country at all, but the material of which countries are made."
- All of the times when Cather uses prairies animals to explain or describe people
- When Jim talks about visiting the trees as if they were friends. "Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons. It must have been the scarcity of detail in that tawny landscape that made detail so precious."
- The story of the two Russians and the wolves at the wedding--so intense! I loved this passage so much that I read it to my students. They got really into it.
- The scenes surrounding the death of Antonia's father; they were very moving.
- The heroic scene where Jim kills the rattlesnake
- The description of the barrenness of winter and how Jim begins to crave color in the months of brown and grey.