Posted in Classroom environment, DIY, Timesavers, Tools

Chapter 9: A Useful Tool

When I hired in last year, I was delighted to find that two walls in my classroom were covered with big chalkboards like the ones I had in my very first classroom. I was less delighted to learn that we didn’t have any of those big chamois erasers like I remembered using 20 years ago, and the teacher-supply stores in Amarillo and Albuquerque didn’t carry them, either.

Enter my husband, who came in one day with some leftover pipe insulation — the kind that’s about as big around as a Coke can, with a split seam along one side — and asked whether I thought it would be good for anything.

I certainly did. I cut a section about a foot long, wrapped a soft car-wash rag around it, and tucked the ends into the seam. Voila! Instant chamois knockoff.

I made a pair of them and took them to school, along with some spare rags. They work really well on my chalkboards, and they’re easy to maintain: When a rag gets too dusty to use, I just swap it out for a clean one and throw the dirty one in the laundry.

This fall, we got new Promethean boards, which are basically ginormous iPads the size of a big-screen TV. My faux-chamois erasers remove fingerprints from the touchscreen on my Promethean board as effectively as they remove chalk residue from a blackboard. In fact, they’ve come in so handy that I wound up making one for each of my colleagues for Christmas. I hope they find them as useful as I have.


Posted in Classroom management, Discipline, Humor, Pranks, Shenanigans

Chapter 8: Trickery

My English IV students have, over the course of the semester, picked up a bad habit of steering every conversation in the most inappropriate possible direction. Every time they do it, I remind them that my classroom shares a wall with the superintendent’s office, and it would be most unfortunate if she overheard some of their comments.

They are unbothered. They are also hilarious, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere, and I decided to draw it in a memorable but largely painless fashion: I talked my superintendent into coming in during class and convincing them that she had heard every word that had come out of their ornery little mouths.

While I tried (and mostly failed) not to corpse, she came in and delivered a stern lecture in a tone so calm and so icy, it unsettled me a little bit — and then, instead of tipping her hand and letting the kids in on the joke, she simply walked out, like:



I pointed out that I had warned them, turned back to the board, and let them sit there for a few minutes in stricken silence while I continued reviewing for their final.

About a minute before the end of class, I told the kids I was going to let them in on a little secret. With a purely Slytherin grin, I said, “She’s never heard a single word through that wall. She just came in here to mess with you because I put her up to it.”

I wish I had video of their reactions. They couldn’t decide whether to be horrified, outraged, or delighted by my deception, so they basically did all three at once.

I reminded them that there was a moral to the story: Watch your mouth, because if your superintendent is that intimidating when she’s pretending to be mad, you probably do not want to see the real deal.

We’ll see if that works. Probably not, because seniors, but at least I tried.


Posted in ELA, Journalism, Reflection

Chapter 7: View from the Sidelines

If someone had told me, two years ago, that I could be happy sitting on the sidelines, watching other journalists work, I would have been convinced that person was hallucinating.

In between teaching gigs, I’ve spent most of the past 30 years in journalism at one level or another. I know the frustration of fruitless investigations, the tedium of crunching crime stats, and the frenetic energy of a newsroom on Election Night. I’ve pored over court records, spent holidays covering crime scenes, and done shots of peppermint schnapps to remove the stench of dead bodies from my sinuses. And I’ve found the profession wildly addictive, despite its myriad drawbacks.

Last time I taught it, I relapsed and ended up back at a newspaper less than two years later — so you can imagine my consternation last spring when my boss asked me to take over our journalism program. Continue reading “Chapter 7: View from the Sidelines”

Posted in Background, Gratuitous literary references

Chapter One: Where It Began

Once upon a time, a young woman loved books. She loved them so much that she decided to be an English teacher when she grew up. She worked hard, got a bachelor’s degree in English education, and landed a job teaching in a St. Louis County school district as soon as she graduated from college.

This district was run by the sort of Muggles who were perfectly normal, thank you very much, and preferred for their teachers to be as strict as Severus Snape, as boring as Cuthbert Binns, and as unimaginative as Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive.

There would be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in their classes — which was unfortunate, because this young woman liked foolish wand-waving and silly incantations. She had, after all, grown up exploring the Hundred Acre Wood with her beloved Winnie-the-Pooh plushie, starting wild rumpuses with Max and the Wild Things, running up and down Klickitat Street with Ramona Quimby, matching wits with Gollum, wandering to the far edge of town in search of the Once-ler’s Lerkim, and singing endless scales on the off-chance the Phantom of the Opera might hear her and draw her through the mirror and into his lair for a few voice lessons.

Her head was squarely in the clouds where it belonged, and her teaching style reflected that.

Her Muggle administrators were unimpressed, so she wound up leaving the classroom to spend the next decade chasing stories and laying out pages at various newspapers from Illinois to Oklahoma.

Then, in 2008, something downright magical happened: She got pink-slipped from the Tulsa World, took a secretarial job at a local nonprofit, and met a high-school principal who coaxed her back into the classroom, where she discovered that her gonzo approach to teaching had somehow become fashionable. Free to be as creative as she liked, she thrived, and her students did, too.

Today, she teaches high-school English and journalism at a tiny school district in rural New Mexico, where her students roll around on yoga balls and pet mermaid pillows in a classroom covered with elaborate literary-themed murals, and where her superintendent wholeheartedly endorses all manner of foolish wand-waving and silly incantations, as long as her students keep passing their OWLs and NEWTs PARCC and EOC tests.

This blog is her attempt to share some of her better ideas with other teachers.