Every Child, Every Day

I spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s kids and whether or not they are reading, what they are reading, and if they are choosing things that are right for them.

In the first 10 minutes of class, my students are busy writing in their journals and getting their independent reading books out. Every day. I spend that 10 minutes walking around making sure every child has written something and has something to read. Every day. In fact, today during first hour I wrote three passes to the media center, had four kids check out books from my library, and conferenced with two kids who were having trouble getting started.  This is pretty typical for all of my hours.

I spend a large chunk of every day focused only on other kids’ reading.

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Last night, Eddie read a whole book to me.

A REAL book, not just one of his “just right library” books that says things like, “I see a dog,” and “I see a cat” on each page.  He read me, cover to cover, one of the Elephant and Piggie books, My Friend is Sad. If you know those books, you know they rely heavily on HOW you read the book too, and Eddie rocked it out. I spent a lot of time watching him rather than looking at the pages he was reading.

I was amazed.

My baby…ok, my oldest, but still…my BABY was READING a real BOOK.

And he loved it.

He didn’t fill out a reading log afterward (although school does send home a calendar each month and if you read for 20 minutes each day–and color in the days accordingly–you get a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Not really my philosophy of creating readers, but Eddie does it for the joy of reading right now, and I am letting that just flow) or make a diorama. Instead he goes back to the cover and exclaims that the book is pretty funny and maybe the book fair will have more Elephant and Piggie books to choose from.

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Today when I pick Eddie up he will have two new books from a book order and whatever he chose at the book fair. He was still going back and forth about Skippy John Jones or Pete the Cat this morning as I hugged him goodbye, so I am eager to find out what he chose…what we will be reading together tonight.

I know he will keep the books out of his backpack and he’ll be holding them in his hand when I get to school.  I know he will smile and run when he sees me, waving the books to tell me what he bought. I know he will “take a picture walk” through them in the car to decide which one we should read first.

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Every time Eddie and I sit to read, I think about my students. How many of them were this ravenous about reading when they were in Kindergarten? How many of those kids “lost” that desire…and when did it happen?

Did those kids get a chance to read every single day like Eddie does?  Like I try to give them now?

I follow Richard Allington’s wordsEvery child, every day. This includes not just my students, but my own kids as well.

Close and Critical Reading

Because one of my district’s School Improvement Goals is literacy-based, we developed an assessment called Close and Critical Reading (CCR). I know what you’re thinking…aw jeez, another assessment.

Hear me out.

Teaching CCR skills helps students not just understand what they read better, but it helps them to intelligently talk about the features of the text, the inferences they can make, and the connections they see. Students are given a text appropriate to the content of the class they are in (we do this across the curriculum so students can build their skills in all sorts of texts, not just fiction in the English class). Then they are given four questions:

  1. What does the text say? (summarize)
  2. How does the text say it? (discuss genre, features, and language)
  3. Why does the text say it? (inference of theme, lesson, or slice of life)
  4. So what? (making connections both with self and society)

We give the test as a summative assessment four times a year (once per marking period), but we do formative assessments of these skills almost daily–at least in the English Language Arts classes.

I have been doing CCR-type lessons with my high school students for year, but now that I am a junior high teacher, I need to remember that these students need the basics before they can refine the skills.

This led me to create my very first anchor charts!
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You can see that I do not have the neatness and creativity of a seasoned anchor chart maker, but I did my best.
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and as we move on, you can tell I lost my patience with trying to write neatly…
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and instead of starting over when there were boo boos, I just fudged it.

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In order to teach these skills, we also teach active reading, but that is another post.

It’s funny because if you tell the students they are learning CCR skills, they get all groany. But if you just have them do the skills without labeling, they do it with {almost} no whining.

Couple this with all the “free” silent reading we do in class in our own books means we are building much better readers…and kids who actually like to read!

Blame the Common Core!

 

Since school has started, I have seen all the usual complaints on Facebook about the evils of the Common Core.

I don’t get the math!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid takes test every other minute!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid has too much homework! Blame the Common Core!

I heard that cursive no longer needs to be taught! Blame the Common Core!

Teachers are given scripts to read; they aren’t teaching anymore! Blame the Common Core!

It snowed in November causing a snow day! Blame the Common Core!

Ok, maybe I didn’t hear that last one, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Lately all the ails of education are being firmly blamed on the Common Core State Standards. As a teacher, this gets tiring to hear/read.

First of all, I didn’t create the Common Core, I just follow the standards. Secondly, I am not opposed to the Common Core. In fact, I sort of like them. I have enjoyed creating projects and lessons more in the past couple years than I have in the decade before. I personally feel more freedom to just be a GOOD teacher.  Let me break it down for you:

Math is hard.

I’m not a math teacher, so it’s hard for me to explain this part to you. I wrote about the math standards last year. Now that I have a son in Kindergarten, I have been following the math standards more closely. I am pleased that not only is he meeting each standard, but I see evidence of how he is learning it through the work that comes home in his folder. The math, so far, seems like it is doing a better job teaching students what numbers mean and how math actually works rather than having them do rote memorization. I think this video explains the math better than I can.

So many tests!

I’m not sure if this is a state thing or a district thing, but I am not seeing it in my district in Michigan. When parents (and even teachers) complain that assessments are taking over their instruction time, I’m not entirely sure if they mean mandated testing (by the state, district, etc) or if they mean assessments their department has put into place.

I give assessments, but they have nothing to do with the fact that I am following common core and everything to do with it being an end of a unit (in vocab or grammar). Papers and projects also count as assessments. And technically I am assessing my students’ understanding daily whether I put it in the gradebook as an official summative assessment or not.

The only assessments that my students HAVE to take outside of my class curriculum are the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test (4 times a year) and the SMI (scholastic math inventory) Test (4 times a year). They also take the state test once a year (in April).

Too much homework!

I don’t know what to tell you here. Homework is not anywhere in the Common Core Standards. In fact, I assign almost no homework.

Homework is an implementation thing. So if you feel your child has too much, you should be talking with the teacher and/or administration.

No more cursive???

Ok, it’s true. Cursive is not included in the Common Core State Standards. But neither is Tuesdays with Morrie and I’m teaching that to my 8th graders. The Common Core are standards that every child in that grade should achieve. That doesn’t mean teachers can’t go beyond the standards. Just because cursive isn’t required in the standards, doesn’t mean teachers aren’t teaching it.

Teacher Scripts.

I’ve heard of this happening. Or at least I’ve heard of districts telling teachers what and how to teach. That is not happening in my district. In fact, I think it’s happening in districts that are panicked about the Common Core and how they can “teach to the test” given in their state.

The teachers in our district (and others across Michigan) have worked hours and hours to actually make learning more student-centered; to create project-based, inquiry-based, and authentic learning for their students.  Since adopting the Common Core in our district years ago (when it was first mentioned in the state), we have actually made more room for good teachers to do good teaching.

If you feel the teachers in your district are being told how to teach–and it’s not good teaching–speak up! No where in the Common Core does it say HOW to teach, only what standards to teach.

Snow Day in November??

This happened here because of a foot of snow. Not the fault of the common core.

Are there issues with the Common Core? Yes. They have become very political, money has ruled (the way it does everything else in this country), and it’s being implemented poorly in some areas.

However, as a teacher in the trenches of it all, dealing with matching what I do with these “new” standards, I like it. I block out much of the politics and bickering about testing and I just do what I do: teach the best I can.

I really believe that is what the majority of teachers are doing. I know my son’s Kindergarten teacher is doing a fabulous job…not because of the common core nor in spite of them, but because he is an amazing teacher.

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I am a part of the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) Common Core Cadre that works to inform and aid districts across Michigan on best practice of implementing the Common Core State Standards. I’ve also been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan on the subject.

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The best way to be a great student no matter what the standards is to be a great reader!  Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for the children’s book Stand Up!

Five Books You (& your teen) Need to Read NOW!

I’ve been doing Reader’s Workshop with my 8th and 9th graders for almost 11 weeks now, and I have noticed that there are certain books I simply can’t keep on my shelves. There is constantly a wait list for these books.

Sometimes I start the craze by doing a book talk that gets the kids interested.

Sometimes they start their own craze–someone reads the book and tells a friend, and he tells a friend, and so on and so forth.  That is my favorite. In fact I was standing outside my classroom door in between classes today when I heard one of my students yell down the hall to another one of my students, “DUDE!  You checked out MY book!  I was going to get it today and you BEAT ME TO IT!  You better read fast!”

I don’t think I noticed anything else that happened today. That one interaction made me so happy.

Anyway, I thought I would share with you the Top 5 books (or series)* that I probably won’t see on my shelves again until I take inventory this summer.

Winger by Andrew Smith

I read this book on the recommendation of my friend, The Preacher’s Wife. She almost had no words for how it affected her.  The book is about a kid named Ryan Dean who everyone calls Winger due to his position on the school rugby team. He is a 14-year old junior at a very prestigious private school, that his parents put him in after he couldn’t stay out of trouble back home. On top of being young and ridiculously smart, Ryan Dean is also in love with his best friend, Annie, a fellow junior (but who is 17). His dorm-mate is the biggest bully on the rugby team and he is constantly fighting the label “kid”. This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but will tear you apart and leave you changed. One caveat: it has some pretty raunchy language, but it flows so well with the book, to me it’s forgivable.

The Selection (series) by Kiera Cass

I have not read this series, but I haven’t been able to keep it in my classroom since I got it. I have the first two books in the trilogy plus a special stories book that just came out in paperback. The girls in my classes check in daily to see if I have gotten the third book!  I have a lot of girls who love The Princess Diaries series, and once they finish that they want something similar. This series has some of the same aspects, but is more of a challenging read.

The reviews I read say the trilogy is like The Hunger Games meets The Bachelorette. Thirty-five girls are “selected” to vie for the crown. The main character, America Singer, is bummed to be selected because that means she is now a caste above the boy she loves, but in the process of competition she meets a prince. So there’s romance and royalty and back-stabbing.

The teenage girls love it.

The Maze Runner (series) by James Dashner

Again, I haven’t read this one, but holy cow kids love it. Boys AND girls fight to get their hands on this series. I have all four books now: The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure, and most recently added, the prequel to the series, The Kill Order. 

Apparently it’s everything I am not a fan of in books and the masses LOVE it. Most of the kids who pick it up have already worked through The Hunger Games series AND The Divergent Series and are looking for something new.  According to the student I asked today, it’s about a guy who can only remember his name. He has no other memories and all the people around him are guys and the only way out is through this maze that no one has yet made it out of. A girl shows up and says they have to run or die.  The student wouldn’t tell me more other than, “just read the book, Mrs. S. That is what you tell us!”

Fricking kids actually listening to what I say.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The girls in my classes pretty much keep my “death & dying section” completely empty. As I type this there are zero books on that shelf.  This is another book I haven’t read yet. Not because I don’t want to, but because my students really want it, so I am just waiting until either summer, or when I can check it out of the library over a break (or maternity leave).

The book is about a kid named Clay who gets a package from a classmate (and crush), Hannah, who committed suicide. Inside the package are cassette tapes where Hannah narratives 13 reasons why she killed herself, one of them being Clay.  He has to listen to find out why.

From that alone I can see why my students want to read it. I mean shoot, want to read it.

Why Soccer Matters by Pele

I use this one as an example, but really any soccer books fly off my shelves. I have so many soccer fans. I also have a book by Dr. J that my basketball players keep rotating among themselves. Students who claim to not be readers, tend to get interested in non-fiction about people and sports and activities they love. This is one section of my classroom library I am really trying to beef up. Even though these are not my first choice of book, many of my students gravitate toward these.

When I have a reluctant reader, the first thing I ask is “what do you like to do?” If they are into a sport or a hobby, I direct them to my nonfiction section. It seems that if I can get them hooked there, they are likely to ask for more books.  What is interesting is that nonfiction tends to be more challenging to read than a lot of the fiction I have, yet my reluctant and non-readers would rather read (and be seen with) a book about a soccer champ, than something else.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any suggestions based on these? What are your teens reading?

*I could include in here The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie in this, but I already posted about those and how you need to read them.

My students are HUNGRY for new books! If you are feeling generous, we are always taking donations. Here is a list of student-requested titles.

Living the Reader’s Workshop

Friday I missed school to attend–and present–at the MCTE (Michigan Council of Teachers of English) annual conference in Lansing.

I haven’t been to the conference in years, but this year I was invited to create a presentation proposal with two professors from a local private college about using Reader’s Workshop. Our proposal was accepted and before I knew it, I was on the schedule and registered as a presenter.

The presentation went really well.

My part was first and concentrated on using the Reader’s Workshop with 8th and 9th graders. I also gave my perspective as someone who is very new (only 9 weeks of experience) and what successes and challenges I am seeing so far.

This is where I wish my dumb blog would allow me to add pictures.  In just nine weeks I had an enormous reaction to Reader’s Workshop.

On the day that I was out presenting, I had my students fill out a personal reflection sheet about how it’s been going. Almost unanimously, students agreed that the time we read in class is important and they wish we could do it more often. With the exception of only 5 or less students, everyone said the wish we could read LONGER than 20 minutes and more OFTEN than 3 times a week.

I wholeheartedly agree!

Kids also asked for more books. More from series that I already have, more biographies and memoirs of athletes, more titles like (fill in the blank), more, more, MORE!

Do you know how fantastic it is to hear kids who ten weeks ago claimed, “I don’t really like to read. It’s not my thing,” ask for MORE BOOKS??? It’s amazing!

Kids are also recommending books to each other and telling their parents about their books. At parent teacher conferences tonight I lost track  of how many parents said, “S/he said the other night s/he was going to go read. I couldn’t believe it!” This made me smile SO DANG BIG! And it backed up my claim that if you don’t think you like to read, you haven’t found the right book yet.

The presentation on Friday also gave me ideas of what else to slowly add. One presenter had a good chart for having the kids fill out each day what book they are reading and what page they are on. It’s more organized than my pieces of notebook paper I have been passing around and losing. Oops. I’m hoping that this will be better for data collection.

The other presenter had a cool quote analysis sheet I am going to do with students once a week where they choose a quote from their book to talk about what it means and what connections they can make to it.  This is also a good jumping point for some discussion and takes us beyond mere summarizing–our focus in the first quarter.

I do still have some challenges. Finding something that will get EVERY kid reading is still a struggle. There are a couple kids in each class that are either “book hoppers”–they “read” from a different book every time we have silent reading which really means they are not reading anything at all. Or they are “Media Center Denizens”–every time we are going to read they need to go look for a book in the media center because I just don’t have what they want in my classroom.

I also have a hard time with time. I have full novels I have to read each quarter with my classes as well as grammar, vocabulary, and writing that is mandatory. Being able to fully commit to the Reader’s Workshop model has been almost impossible, but I think I’m working it the best I can.

Next week I am going to share with you some of the books my students love best in case you are looking for gift ideas for the 13-15 year olds in your life!

If you are feeling like giving to students this season, you can find my Amazon Wish List for my Classroom Library here. We are ALWAYS taking donations (and the titles there are all student-generated).

Launching the Reader’s Workshop

Last school year I had a vision: I wanted every one of my seniors to read a book.  I wanted them to have choice. I wanted a classroom library. I wanted to incorporate a reader’s workshop into my curriculum.

I started in April and with the help of you and a grant from The Book Love Foundation, I have been able to increase my library from a measly 104 books to almost 600 books with more on the way. I have an online check-out system for students that has every title in it. I have labeled every book with my name and stamped it with a “property of Sluiter Nation” stamp. I’ve sorted each book into a category so students can “shop” by interest (fantasy, sci-fi, sports, life in high school, etc) when they are looking for something to read.

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We started school with a week of procedures and figuring out where our starting point was. Students took their first SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test of the year. I had them record these scores.

We talked about goals and increasing SRI scores and reading stamina. I gave them a tour of my classroom library and its categories.  I did book talks of some of my favorite things to read that are available to them in the classroom library.

And this week, I turned my 134 eighth and ninth graders loose to check out books.

It was exhilarating.

Each hour, students crowded the back of my room searching for the book that they wouldn’t hate. Some searching for a particular author or series.

I kept track of requests for authors, titles, and subjects that I didn’t have. I started wait lists for books that were checked out early in the day, but had lots of requests.

By the end of book check out day, I had six pages of book check outs that I had to enter into my book check out program on my computer.  It was the best kind of overwhelm.

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Today (Tuesday) students calculated their reading rate: how many pages they could read per hour (by counting how many pages we could comfortably read in 10 minutes and multiplying by 6). When the 10 minutes were up, many students were complaining that they wanted to read longer because they had just gotten into their books.

My usually chatty junior high classes were silently immersed in books. Almost every student. I only had to take three kids aside out of 134 and discuss being respectful to our sacred reading time. Three.

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We have a long road ahead, but this week was the start. Kids are reading. All the books I’ve lovingly collected and organized are out there.

I really can’t wait to get a groove, learn what works and what doesn’t, and see kids discover reading. Some kids are doubtful and I can tell who will be my “project kids”; but some…oh…some.  They are on fire about this.

That is what keeps me fired up too.

Back to School Supply Crazy

It’s back to school time, yo.

Some of you are doing the Snoopy dance because it means your kids will be leaving the nest for another academic year instead of spending the better part of their day making you a referee to all their shenanigans.

Some of you are twisting your hands in knots and holding back (or not) tears as your little ladies and gents start school for the first time.

If you are like me your sort of doing all of the above. I am THRILLED to go back to work and our regularly scheduled programming of daycare/work days that give my boys the much-needed structure and stimulus they require to get through their day without ripping each other’s faces off.  On the other hand, I am starting the year in a new building teaching a new grade, and my Eddie Bear will be starting Kindergarten all day, every day. Changes are ahead for us, that is for sure.

Because Eddie is a school of choice kid and no longer in daycare, we have to bring him and pick him up from school.  That means Cortney will have to drop him off over an hour before school starts so he can do the before school program, and I’ll have to leave my school in a super timely manner to make the 35-minute commute to pick him up when school lets out.

Gone are my days of staying after school for hours. Instead, I will be picking up a Kindergartener, getting him started on his homework, getting dinner started, and unpacking and repacking a lunch box.

School starts for students around here the day after Labor Day (Sept 2), but I have to report back next week already.  Of course, since I am setting up a whole new classroom and teaching all new curricula, I have been in lots already.

SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

I know I am not the only teacher who has been in school early either. If I throw it out on Facebook that I am “going in”, many of my teacher friends will join the rally call that they too are in the trenches already. Getting ready for those kiddos.

And of course, since Eddie is going into Kindergarten, we got the supply list email. Actually, the kids don’t need to bring in anything individually; his teacher just sent us a list of donation items.  And you better believe I will be checking some things off his list for him even though I have my own classroom to buy for.

I’ve read countless articles in the past week about how much we teachers put into our classrooms out of pocket, and nodded along to each one. Many of you know that I am building a classroom library for my students (my wish list is here), and I have put in a lot of my own money to that scouring the scholastic book sales, church book sales, library sales, etc.

See those shelves? That is where my classroom library will live!

See those shelves? That is where my classroom library will live!

I also buy almost everything that goes to my students in school supplies. I work in an at-risk district and we can’t really require kids to buy anything for school. Many of them can’t afford what they do need. So I supply almost everything for my students. Our district gives us $100 per teacher. That can get used up on poster board and expo markers really quickly. And I need each of my students to have something to journal in. And post-it’s for close reading.  And tissues so we don’t spread germs all over creation. And many other things.

So I signed up for Adopt A Classroom (adoptaclassroom.org). If you search for Katie Sluiter in Michigan, you will find my class. Or you can search for a teacher in your state or district and donate funds that they can use to purchase items for their classroom.

I had a few friends ask me for specific needs. Things that I purchase every single year.  For that I made yet another Amazon wishlist.

My husband likes the list too because it helps to see what we need to budget for over the course of the year. I also look at it for when I have to place my classroom order with school and try to prioritize what I NEED versus what I can get by without.

Every year is a juggling act, ya know?

See? It's coming along!

See? It’s coming along!

But even with that (and a lot because of some huge generosity from friends), I will be making a big donation to Eddie’s teacher too. For one, Mr. F is a teacher and I understand the plight, but more importantly, he has MY CHILD this year.  And if I am willing to shell out hundreds for other people’s kids, I sure as heck am going to do it for my own!

I know I am preaching to the choir when I tell you how important it is to support teachers and those supply lists that come home. And if they don’t come home, bless a teacher with a gift card to Staples or Target or  Amazon or Barnes and Noble for books. If you don’t have kids, consider anonymously giving at a local school or finding someone on Adopt a Classroom.

an identity change

In December of 2000, I walked into a ninth grade English classroom to meet some of the students I would have the privilege of student teaching after Christmas break.

Since that moment I have been a high school teacher.

Oh, I have taught lots of subjects: English 9, Honors English 10, English 11, Honors English 11, English 12, Mass Media, Drama, Speech, Humanities, Applied Writing, Study Skills, Spanish 1, and Spanish 2.

I have been in two different high school buildings in the same district and even traveled to teach 9th graders when they were moved to the junior high.

I went through the combining of the two high schools.

I was an adviser for Student Council, headed the 11th grade state testing, was senior class adviser, and ran the Students of the Month program.

I have chaperoned proms and homecomings and swirl dances. I have been to countless sports games, band and choir concerts, and theater productions.

I’ve spoken at award ceremonies and been given awards by students.

I’ve been to 13 graduations, helped with the ceremony in at least half of those, and gone to numerous graduation open houses.

I’ve hugged and cried with students as they succeed or fail.

I am a high school teacher.

Actually, I was a high school teacher.

For thirteen years.

teacher

 

As of last week, I am now a middle school teacher.

I got the email/call from my principal and from central office that an ELA position (and three other high school positions, actually)  had to be eliminated at the high school due to budget cuts, but because of retirements and resignations, there were not going to be any job losses, but people would have to be shuffled around.  I was chosen to be one of those people.

This summer I will pack up my classroom that I have only been in for two years (because of the high schools combining, I moved to the high school building two years ago) and move to the junior high.

This fall I will be an 8th grade ELA teacher (unless the schedule changes, which it might. I could be teaching anything from 7-9 ELA or Spanish. But the chances are zero that I will stay at the high school).

I went through a lot of emotions last week. The strongest were rage and sadness.  I was also confused.  I don’t think I reacted as well as I could have and I said a lot of things without thinking them through.  As with many things, I reacted strongly and quickly. It didn’t help that I was already staring down at the hole that is depression. This pushed me into the hole.

But after a week of talking things through with Cortney and one of my most trusted professional friends, I have come to the conclusion that I am not mad that I am going to teach 8th grade ELA. I am not unhappy about working at the Junior High.  Our district is amazing. Working in any of our buildings means a chance to influence and help kids.

No, I am grieving a change in my identity.

After 13 years, I am no longer a high school teacher. That is what is hardest about all this.

It’s not moving buildings or teaching a different class.  I’ve done those things before with no problem.

It’s not working with new staff or a new department. I’ve done that too.

Being a high school teacher was who I was. It was part of my identity. In the blink of an eye, my identity has been changed.  And because of that I am grieving.

I know everything will work out and that my  new position will be fine. I look forward to the people I get to work with in my “new” department, and the administration at the Junior High is awesome. It will be fine.

But it’s still hard, ya know?

I loved my seniors this past year. They rekindled my love of teaching. Perhaps that is exactly what I needed before this new adventure.  I thought that the great year meant that I was finally in the place I needed to be. But maybe it was preparing me for the place I needed to be.

seniors14It will be fine…great even.

In time.

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For all who donated books, fear not! They will come with me while I build my library at the Junior High. Some may be stored due to being too adult for 13 year olds, but I am still planning to do Reading Workshop with my 8th graders. In fact, I added some more age-appropriate titles to my Class Library Wish List if you are still thinking of donating.  Thank you all for your support. You are my village.

 

love for the book love

I had this dream and I told the internet about it.

It exploded.

I don’t even know how to put my feelings into words this time.

The books piled up before our eyes. I would carry in bags every day for about a week and half, and my students would say, “MORE?”

Yes. More.

“But they don’t even know us,” they said to me.

I know.

“Do they even know you?”

Many do. Some don’t.

“Why?”

Because reading is important.  Because YOU reading is important.

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My classroom library went from 104 books to over 400 books in less than a month. All I did was make a wish list. All I did was say, “hey, I want to put books in my students’ hands.”

And they started coming in.

I also applied to the Book Love Foundation for their yearly Classroom Library Grant. Each year they gift class libraries to ten chosen applicants. Part of the application was to have letters of recommendation. Two of my students stepped up to write for me.  The words they said about me made me cry.

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Everything Ms. Sluiter does she does to help better her students’ education.

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Mrs. Sluiter puts everything she has into her job, and I would love to see her get something that she would be absolutely grateful to receive.

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Cortney said to me this past week, “did you ever imagine your little blog would bring such opportunities and good?”

No. Not in my wildest dreams. I signed up for a Blogger blog on July 7 of 2007 with the intent to post pictures and some updates for my family and friends. Never did I dream that someday Sluiter Nation would truly reach nations. Would provide for my students. Would connect me with some of the best friends I have ever had.

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I have a stack of all the notes that came with all the books. They are in a box in my classroom so I can share them with the students. I will be posting them around the library once I have shelves in place.

I wish I could send thank you notes to everyone who contributed so far, but Amazon doesn’t give me your return address. So I hope this humble blog post will do.

Thank you…

Brian and Adrienne J
Alexandra B
Rachelle F
John H
Lori B
Jennifer W
Julia L-R
Gigi R
Amber W
Joanne M
Kelsey P
Emily E
Brittany V
Wendy M
Dawn
Kathleen B
Christine
Jill D
Leslie K
Gretchen V
Rachel M
Sarah T
Tonya W
Arneyba H
Amanda B
Mary B
Erin M
Jennie G
Elaine A
Debi G
Greta F
Roxane B
Tracy M
Anonymous People
And to anyone I missed because my mind has been all over the place this past month.

I promise to keep you all updated on the building of the library shelves and introducing the library to my new students next year.

I promise to keep this library sparkly and clean and organized.

I promise to put these books in the hands of teenagers.

I promise to always remember where they came from.

Thank you.

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*************

If you would still like to donate via my Wish List, I am currently most in need of “boy” books. You can also send gently used books too! Email me at sluiternation@gmail.com for the address to ship them.

Experience is the Best Teacher

For the past several years, one of my favorite colleagues, a Spanish teacher I have worked with when I started in our district eleven years ago, has been bringing a group of students from the Spanish 4 (and sometimes Spanish 3) classes on a trip to Chicago.  While I have taught Spanish on and off for the all of those years, this year was the first year that the stars aligned and I was actually able to go on the trip with her as a chaperone.

Earlier last week I sort of started regretting that I agreed to go on the Spanish trip when I realized I would have to set my alarm for 4:30am. I am of the belief that anything before 5am is still “night time” and just thinking about being tired was enough to set my anxiety all the way up to eleven.

After seeing the itinerary, however, I started to get excited for the trip.

We were set to depart at 6:30am from the school parking lot for our three-ish hour trip to Chicago.

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After boarding the charter bus, I almost immediately regretted not bringing a pillow and blanket for the trip. I also wished I had some coffee. Other than that the ride was a breeze. The twenty-one teenagers slept almost the whole time.

Our first stop in Chicago was a Latin Dance studio. Our appointment was for 9:30am, and some of the kids had to really work to wake up after their bus nap. Once our instructor, Charles, started class there was no time to be tired!

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After our lesson we bused over to the Magnificent Mile for lunch and shopping.  Man, teenagers are awesome. You hand them their lunch money and say “meet back at the bus at 1:30pm,” and then that’s it.  Gabby and I headed to the Rain Forest Cafe because she had giftcard credits to spend and we indulged in a really yummy lunch and then shopping in the gift shop. We wandered back to the Mile just in time for it to start raining, so I bought and overpriced pocket umbrella from Walgreens and we met the kids back at the bus.

It took us just over an hour to get to our hotel where we checked in and all changed our clothes so we could head to the Fiesta at Sea that was hosted for all the groups on the Spirit of Chicago at Navy Pier.

The fiesta was a blast. As the ship toured the the bay, we ate from a buffet of Mexican food, took in a live dance show that included Flamenco and Salsa, and took to the dance floor ourselves with the moves we learned that morning.

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At the end of the evening, there was the annual dance contest. Gabby told me that our school ALWAYS wins the contest, but I was so nervous for our kids!  One of our couples made it to the final four (the judging was by the dance school instructors and some of the other staff of the tour group we were with). The final four were judged partly by the judges, but also by audience cheers. We, by far, had the smallest group there.

But we. are. loud.

And we are full of school spirit, and we shouted and chanted and cheered so loudly we blew everyone else out of the water (pun intended).  We totally won.

After the excitement of the fiesta, we went up the observation deck of the John Hancock building.

By the time we got back to our hotel it was almost midnight, local time. Everyone was exhausted.

The next day was the culture part of the trip. We arrived in the Pilsen neighborhood where the National Museum of Mexican Art is and where we had a walking tour of the murals in the neighborhood.

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The walking tour and the Art Museum were some of my favorite parts of the trip. Had I been alone, I could have spent hours looking at all the art and reading about each exhibit.

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After all the art, we boarded the bus and headed to Little Village, the Little Mexico of Chicago.  There we would have a couple hours for lunch and shopping and exploring.

This was the place we felt the students really needed to explore on their own, so Gabby was quick to tell them they could not eat with us.  She wanted them to use their Spanish and explore the area.

We ate at Mi Tierra and then hit up the panaderia (bakery) for some special treats.

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Our last stop before heading out of the city for home was Millennium Park so the kids could see some sculptures and artwork that is famously “Chicago”. They took some pictures, but really everyone was so tired they just lounged on the grass.

It was time to go home.

On the bus ride I reflected on what a wonderful opportunity this weekend was for our students, and how proud of them I am. There was very minimal whining, even when I knew their feet and legs must be sore from all the walking and they had to be exhausted.

When I saw hyper teenagers from other groups falling into the stereotype of everything that drives people bonkers about teenagers, I looked at our students who carried themselves so well the entire trip.

They were respectful and responsible.

They were appreciative and polite.

And they were so much fun to hang out with.

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Experience really is the best teacher, isn’t it?

If you would like to see all of my photos from the trip–along with commentary on the murals and other artwork–check out the album I made on Flickr.

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