Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Marines

at Two Writing Teachers!
Every Memorial Day, I fasten my USMC pin to my TBDBITL Alumni shirt and head across town to the Legion post of a nearby suburb.  Horn in hand, I study the splendid uniforms of the assembled veterans and marvel at their weapons, tanks, and trucks.  When the drum major's whistle blows, I pop my shoulders back, chin up, heels together.  On days like this, our band's military precision means a little bit more.  On days like this, our usual cycle of school songs is replaced by the proud strains of the Armed Forces Medley.  And on days like this, two faces swim in my head.

One was an ornery welder from a small riverboat town in Southern Ohio.  With sandy hair and a crooked smile like Paul Hogan, he loved cars, Westerns, and having fun.  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he couldn't wait to join up. 
 Knowing his talent, the Marines offered him a position as a welder, but he didn't join the Marines to do no #$*& welding.  He wanted to fight.

Farther north, a studious engineering student also joined up.  Originally from Cleveland, this bright young man  was almost finished with his degree at Ohio State.  
Both ended up on a tiny volcanic island in the Pacific in February 1945: Iwo Jima.

Granddaddy charged the black sand beach on the first day.  A sniper, he separated from his company quickly and found himself pinned down for days.  Several days later, he saw the flag go up on Mt. Suribachi, but he couldn't tell if it was Japanese or American.  On the eighth day, a Japanese sniper bullet caught him in the spine.  If it wasn't for an unknown Marine who dragged him off the beach, my mom never would have been born.  Only 3 other men from his company made it off that island alive.  With the bullet lodged in his spine, Granddaddy spent the rest of the war in the hospital in Bethesda, learning how to use a cane to limp along.

On another part of the island, Grandpa was working with the other Marine engineers to build landing strips for American planes.  He went on to serve in Okinawa and then finished his last quarter at OSU after the war.

Unable to weld after his injury, Granddaddy became a fixture at the local VFW and Legion posts, entertaining the whole town with his card games and antics.  Everybody in town knew Snuffy.  

Continuing to serve in the USMC as a captain during the Korean War, Grandpa was so humble and kind that he often played baseball with the neighborhood boys at Camp Lejune.  One morning, he inadvertently startled them as he left the house in his captain's uniform.  Astonished, they realized that all this time, they had been playing ball with the captain!  When he moved back to Ohio, he became a renowned mechanical engineer, obtaining eight patents and traveling around the world as an expert on walking draglines.  

With a 4th Marine Division tattoo on his bicep, a concrete bulldog in the living room, and a metal eagle over the front door, Granddaddy was the quintessential "crusty old Marine".  Every other word in his drawling Appalachian accent was unfit for me to publish on this blog, and I've never met anyone more stubborn.  When he'd get riled up, my mom would just roll her eyes and say, "Once a Marine, always a Marine." 

On the other hand, you would never guess that Grandpa was also a Leatherneck.  Aside from the full-height flagpole in the yard where he hoisted and lowered the Stars and Stripes every day, Grandpa had nothing to indicate his Marine past.  His house was full of memorabilia from his trips around the world, and his patents were modestly displayed in the basement.  Always wearing a smile, he hummed constantly, often breaking spontaneously into little snippets of big band songs.

While they couldn't have had more different personalities, Iwo Jima wasn't the only thing they had in common.  They both loved me, and they were both heroes.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My sweet husband strikes again!

at Two Writing Teachers!
Last Monday was my birthday.  I was going to write this slice last Tuesday, but then my students threw me a surprise party in class, so I just HAD to write about that!

Anyway, last Monday afternoon I got home a little earlier than usual.  (It was my birthday, after all!)  Humming whatever song had just been on the radio and reminiscing about all the nice birthday wishes I had received all day at school, I shoved the door open.

Oooh!  Husband left me a birthday balloon!  (He's still home when I leave for school.)  He's so sweet!

One of my favorite stuffed animals was holding the balloon.  Thumper has a note!  I thought back to this winter, when Husband set up my stuffed moose Evergreen with a note to cheer me up after school. Giggling, I bent closer.
"Oh boy, Jennifer!  It's your Birthday!!!
Before you do anything else, could you take me to watch some Star Trek?"
What did he do?  Maybe he made me a video?  I scurried off to the family room, where the Blu-ray player is.  After scanning the room for a moment, I found another friend on the couch, with another note!
"Happy Birthday Jennifer!  My feet are sore from all this marching.
Could you take me to get my feet massaged?"
OH BOY, OH BOY!  It's a SCAVENGER HUNT!!!  I practically ran to the living room.  Sure enough, Figment was sitting on my foot massager with another note!
"Can you imagine?  It's your birthday!  Could you take me to watch some birds at the bird feeder?"
The bird feeder?  I scurried to the kitchen, hoping I didn't actually have to go outside.  This one was tougher, but I eventually spotted Flopsy on a kitchen chair, facing the window to the backyard.
"Go Bucks!  Happy Birthday!  Could you take me to listen to some wake-up music?"
I nearly fell up the stairs in my hurry to get to my iPod dock.  (Since I hate mornings, Husband made me a special "Wake-up" playlist with happy music and got me the dock so I can listen to it while I get ready in the mornings.)  My stuffed version of Boo, "The World's Cutest Dog," was happily waiting to greet me with another clue.
"Happy BOOfday! I'm sleepy 'cause I like to sleep a lot! Could you take me to bed?"
Scampering around the corner, I suddenly saw the rest of my favorite stuffed animals waiting to greet me.   Aww, they have my birthday card!  I wonder if I should open it now?
Is it obvious that we love bunnies, turtles, and Wall-E?
Well, Thumper's note at the beginning DID say I should do this before I did anything else.  I guess it's ok to open the card!  I reached for the card... and suddenly noticed that a new addition to the gaggle of animals!  I hadn't even seen him at first!
Itty-bitty Boo in a sweatsuit!!!
Little Boo is now sitting on my desk at school, reminding me of how my sweet husband always knows exactly how to make me happy!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What do ELLs appreciate?

For Teacher Appreciation Week, I wanted my ELL students to thank our whole staff for their hard work and support.  Last year, the ELL teacher I co-taught one class with at my spring middle school had students write thank-you statements to their teachers, which he then put on the school video announcements.  When he was presenting the assignment to his students, he asked them to consider the best ways their teachers supported them in their other classes.  Thus, it was more than just a nice thank-you gesture: it was a reflective exercise for students and an opportunity to remind teachers how they can best support ELLs.

I always love chances to get feedback from my students, and I really wanted to know what THEY appreciate about their teachers.  By thanking their teachers, my students would have to reflect on WHY they like certain teachers and what teaching strategies help them learn successfully in their different classes.  And if we really shared their messages with the teachers, like we did last year with the video announcements, it would be a truly authentic task, which I believe is so crucial to student learning.

With all these goals in mind, I decided to create a Padlet wall so my students could all add their thoughts to a public display simultaneously.  I knew that my students have always enjoyed using Padlet and other similar web tools to collaborate and share ideas in real-time, and it would be easy to send the link to the staff when the wall was complete.  However, I didn't anticipate how excited my students would be to thank their teachers.  Many students wrote note after note listing activities they enjoy and thanking specific teachers for the special things they do.  They mentioned ELL-specific strategies like teaching vocabulary, speaking more clearly, alternate explanations, and extra time.  They remembered special projects, class activities, and ways that teachers made class fun.  Most of all, they wrote about teachers being kind and showing they care by smiling, attending after-school events, helping them through tough times, and making class fun.

Please take a few minutes to read their thoughts! (Or visit the full page, since the formatting seems to be a little goofy on the embedded version!)

When I saw the honesty and truth in their thoughts, I couldn't wait to send the link out to the staff!  After I did, several teachers stopped by to say how much they enjoyed reading the students' notes. I even got a few emails from teachers that demonstrate how meaningful my students' words were to them:

(from a history teacher)

(from a reading & credit recovery teacher)

During class today, I showed the emails to my students. They were so proud and happy that their messages really touched their teachers' hearts.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Birthday surprises!

at Two Writing Teachers!
Yesterday morning on the way to school, I spent most of the drive wondering if anybody would remember that it was my birthday.  Yes, the secretary sends out a list of staff birthdays each month, but since I usually glance at them and promptly forget, I figured other people probably do the same.

I shouldn't have worried!

First, I walked up to my classroom to find birthday decorations outside my door!  I thought they were from my fellow ELL teacher (with whom I share the room), but she claimed they were already there when she got to school.
must have been from my secret pal!
Another handmade sign adorned the front chalkboard, and TWO bright presents (one from my secret pal and one from my ELL colleague) stood cheerily on my desk.  While I love presents, I think I loved the signs and balloons even more, because they let everyone know it was my birthday.  All day long, students and staff members greeted me with "Happy Birthday!"  However, the biggest surprise was still to come.

This morning, several of my students were acting a little silly and secretive.  Chart paper in hand, claiming they were "working on a project" (while refusing to offer more details), they asked to visit other teachers, begged me to let them pull individual students out in the hallway for a few minutes at a time, and huddled around something in the hallway between classes.  Were they making something for Teacher Appreciation Day, perhaps?  Not wanting to ruin what was obviously some kind of surprise for someone, I tried not to get too nosy.

By the time lunch ended, I had forgotten all about it... until I got back to my classroom.  As soon as I walked in and set my lunch box on my desk, my colleague dragged me back out. "We have to go to the office," she claimed, but I saw a few of my girls forming a busy hive in the corner front of the room.  Sure enough, the principal who supposedly needed us was nowhere to be found when we arrived at the office.

Under any other circumstances, I would have panicked at being in the hallway when the bell rang, imagining chaos in my classroom, but by now I knew what was going on.  As we approached the room, one of my girls came running out to catch me.
"Can I talk to you, alone?"
Stifling a grin, I tried to put on a concerned face.  "Of course!  What's wrong?"
"Well, I just have a lot of problems, and I um, I have a C in your class and I was wondering what I can do, and..."  Her words tripped over themselves and turned into giggles.
"You're not a very good actress!"

After a couple minutes of checking her phone obsessively, she finally let me walk back toward the classroom.  The blinds by the door were closed, and the lights were obviously off.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!"  The wavering glow of candles from a bright pink cake lit up my students' faces in the center of the room.  Behind them, on the chalkboard, hung a huge banner made out of chart paper:

Amidst a sea of cellphones taking pictures, I took a deep breath, made the obligatory wish, and blew out the candles.  When I opened my eyes again, I realized that some of my students from other periods were even there!  "Your teachers know you guys are here, right?"
"Yeah, you just have to give us a pass back to class."

"LA MORDIDA!  LA MORDIDA!" My Mexican students started chanting and holding the cake up to my face.  I tried to protest: "I don't know guys, at school? Besides, the cake is so pretty!"  However, I couldn't resist their pleading faces.  Cautiously bringing my mouth down toward the corner of the cake, I opened wide and took a bite. To the gleeful giggles of the rest of the class, the boy holding the cake tipped the tray up to make sure my nose and face got decorated with plenty of icing.

"Let's take a class picture!"
"Come read the poster!"
"I want a picture with you!"
"Put on the song!  Put on the song!"  (They had even tricked me into writing down my favorite song, under the pretense of a survey for history class.)
"Now just me and Mrs. M!"
"You should have told us on Friday that Monday was your birthday!  We would've had this done yesterday!"

so sweet!
And finally, with mouths full of cake and pop: "So what are we going to do today?"