Overheard in the 8th Grade

I don’t have to lurk. 8th graders forget there’s an adult nearby if their attention is on something else. I just have to show up, listen. Write it down. I haven’t changed a word. Enjoy!

Key — if there are two speakers, one will be in bold lettering. Also, names are changed for privacy.

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  1. My head hurts. WHY? I ran into a door. But I did cut down a tree with a Sawzall.

2. I have to go back and read which of the commandments I’ve broken. What? Which commandments could you possibly have broken? Probably all the ones that begin with “thou shalt not…except the ones that could put me in prison. Not those.”

3. I knew it was wrong but there was no one there to tell me not to do it. So you didn’t jump? Oh, no, I did. Of course I did.

4. Does anyone want to do a peer interview? No? Welp, I guess I’ll just chew this pencil. All by myself.

5. Charlie, you don’t have to be the way you are.

6. I should do a song reading. It’s like poetry reading but pretending it’s real.

7. I wish I was Stephen Hawking. Why? He can write with his eyes. He’s basically a super hero.

8. I hate math. I love math. I hate math more than you love it.

9. Jenny, what is going on with you? What do you mean? Your socks match. It’s like you’re a fashion queen now.

10. Part of me is just done with all this adulting.

11. I figured it out! Hey, I’m a god!

12. I keep forgetting Swedish Fish. They stick in your teeth. You’d think I could remember them.

13. How many pages is this story? 12 pages. So. Many. Pages.

14. The only pants I’ve ever boughten (sic) that actually fit are from Canada. Canada has all the skinny people.

15. If I take geometry (next year) can I, like, drop it and take something easier?

16. Have you noticed we can’t do half the things our president does? Like, why are we even following rules?

 

 

Goliath, 2017

In some ways 2017 felt scary and unruly: chaotic, confusing, overwhelming, sad, appalling. Social media had its way with me for awhile there, making everything appear as treacherous water I was exhausted treading in. If I let myself travel down the narrowed, fixed view of the world offered me from outside, I was convinced we were all going under.

But.

Many things in 2017 felt important and impactful: inspirational, breathtaking, funny, purposeful, good. My little family, my community, the school in which I work, the people I interact with every day – they were kind, helpful, thoughtful fellow travelers. And when I focus on them, my life seems downright charmed.

Every year is like this. We get to the end of one, and we have the absolute luxury of judging it as generally good or bad, do we not? When I look back at 2017, I’m fairly certain I’ll remember it as the year I took up my slingshot and took aim.

I’m a relatively well-read, well-informed person. Never in my life have I felt as powerless as I have this year over things that are bigger than me. Fine. Politics. I’m talking 95% about politics. This year, I’ve debated and argued with people I’ve known for years, I’ve written letters and emails, I’ve made phone calls and I’ve taken a tone with politicians I voted for and previously believed in. This year, I’ve understood as I never have before, that though I have a voice, I have no real say. This overwhelmed me for awhile, and then it spurred me on.

I can read and learn about big goings-on in DC and the world, and then visit a neighbor in the nursing home, bring her a cookie and talk for a bit. I shovel out my kid’s car so when he needs to leave he can do so easily. I snuggle up on the couch with my daughter and read side by side, our favorites. I let a stranger go in front of me in line at Hannaford when the lines are half way down the aisles. I listen to people when they speak to me, especially my students – our galvanized youth – that I spend my days with. They are listening back, and they’re paying full attention.

So 2017 can go now. He’s not a visitor with an open invitation to return. Yet because of him, I can’t help but know: there’s no authentic freedom without fight, no authentic joy without sorrow, no authentic knowing without questions, and no authentic truth without falsehood rearing it’s ugly, ugly head. This year’s complexities are going to bring about some needed growth. And it will be authentic and long-lasting.

Yes, 2017 it was so much bigger than I am: a goliath. But as everyone knows, you should never underestimate David.

 

 

There’s a Hole in my Bucket

 To write about the good stuff in teaching is to cursorily skim over the difficulties of my job, and to write only the difficulties is to put my thoughts out there as what might be considered whining. I go in circles wondering whether I really want to entertain comments about how easy I’ve got it. Or how hard.  Both of which are right. And wrong.

My day to day life in 8th grade is Henry and Liza and the hole in his bucket.Do you remember this from Sesame Street?

There’s a hole in Henry’s bucket, so Liza tells him to fix it with a stick. He gets the stick. He goes back to Liza to tell her the stick is too big. She tells him to cut it. With what? A hatchet! But the hatchet, he finds, is too dull. Whatever shall he do? Sharpen it! With what? A stone. Alas, the stone is too dry. Then wet it, she tells him. With what shall he wet it, he asks? Water, she tells him. With what shall he carry the water? He needs to know. A bucket, she answers.

But there’s a hole in his bucket.

Round and round.

In case you’re wondering which character I am in this scenario, the answer is both — on different days at different timesAs a child I remember loving Henry, his aw shucks manner and earnest questions. But as an adult I tend to sway toward understanding Liza and her impatient, under-the-breath frustrations bubbling to the surface. Forgive me, I never wanted to be Liza, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.

Case in point: a student I’ll call Student came to class this week on “Project Day,” an entire period I gave to kids for working on reading response projects. Two weeks prior to this day we went over the actual assignment in depth, they got the assignment sheets in writing and on Google classroom, we talked about preparing ahead to bring necessary physical materials, they wrote it down in their planners, we wrote it on the board, they were encouraged to ask any clarifying questions. I reminded them daily about said “Project Day”.

Student showed up on Thursday, having no materials to work, and no reading book with him. It went a little something like this:

H: Mrs. Hamlin, I don’t have my stuff for project day. 

Me: That’s too bad, that makes it hard to do your work. How did you miss this information? We talked about daily for the past two weeks – we talked about all upcoming calendar days. We wrote it down…

H: I wasn’t here Tuesday.

Me: Were you here every other day?

H: Yes, but I didn’t have your class every day.

Me: Did you think to come see what you had missed? Did you check in Google Classroom? Did you check the WIP? Did you check the board?

H: Sorry, no.

Me: Okay. We did talk about this a couple of weeks ago when you got the assignment sheet (where the dates are also highlighted for you.) Do you remember that?

H: Yeah, I lost that sheet, sorry.

Me: Next time, you can find it on Google Classroom. You also wrote this date down in your planner. Can I see that?

H: (Looks at planner): Oh, yeah. It says “L.A. Project Day!” But I had no idea what that meant.

Me: Okay. What do you need to progress forward today?

H: I need stuff for my project. Which I don’t have. 

Finis.

People, this is daily. It’s an exercise in the most astoundingly asinine, ingratiating ridiculousness. On this day I had this conversation 8 times – that’s an average of 2 times PER CLASS.  And I have variants of this conversation all the time. With different students. About different assignments. Because of differing reasons. In varying degrees of lose-my-mindedness. Sigh.

The thing is: Liza loves Henry. You can see it in the beginning as she rocks in her chair while Henry gets to work. As the work increases and Henry just can’t seem to accomplish anything, she loses patience, yes, but never the love. She just wants him to figure it out, dammit. She wants him to get his ever loving self together already. God love him.

It’s December in public school ya’ll. Can you feel it?