Pick Up That Pencil!


“New Year, New You!” Signs of resolutions litter Facebook, and conversations with fellow teachers circle around how quickly vacation sped by.

For the first time in over 12 years, I didn’t correct any papers over Winter Break.

Instead, I spent the vacation with my boys, trying to live in the moment. Still, my thoughts often returned to school- especially on those rare moments when the house was filled with the quiet promise of two sleeping boys.

As I considered this year’s group of kids, I thought about their weaknesses, and what is at the root of all of their struggles. As a teacher, I want to work to help kids with more than just the curriculum outlined by the common core; I want to help them grow as learners.

Unfortunately, most of the kids I’m teaching this year “just aren’t that into” completing work. (Incase you missed it, only about 40% of them completed their summer reading.) They’re happy to sit back, watch movies, be read to, and even to talk deeply about ideas. They “just” don’t want to complete any activity that seems like it might require a big effort.

I realized that what this year’s group of kids lack is tenacity. Once again, I reminded myself that in the age of the smartphone, kids don’t understand the value of education. They figure that everything a person could ever need to know can be learned from a phone. (The many reasons why this is wrong have been discussed at length in my classroom, but the middle schoolers never really seem to believe me… Sigh.)

Honestly, what they need is a chance to develop their tenacity. A chance to build stamina as writers, and to grow their belief in themselves.

This is the second day that we’re working on building up to writing for 10 minutes at a time. As our literacy coach encouraged me to do, I’m writing while the kids write. Because I’m committed to growing as a writer, too.

I hear her words of encouragement echo in my mind during the first block, and I dared to glance up from typing to look around the room of 18 kids. Four of them haven’t written a word. It had been seven minutes.

My frustration mounted. I recounted all of the things that I had done as a teacher to inspire and prepare them for the task.

As the day continued, I still had a kid or two in each class who just didn’t pick up their pencils. Unsurprisingly, these kids are failing 7th Grade English.

At first, I was aggravated that 16% of the kids weren’t doing their homework. Then, at break, I felt the icy wind whipping my face and my toes began to go numb in my impractical pointy heels.

I realized that 84% completion is the highest rate that I’ve had on an assignment all year.

Instead of focusing on those kids who just don’t care, I decided that I would look around the room and appreciate the 84% of the kids who are doing all that they can to learn.

New Year, New You… I refuse to get stuck in the negative. I’m going to teach those kids who want to learn.



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