Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kissing Frog Catchers

     Being a frog kisser is not a job for the faint-hearted.  It doesn't end for holidays or weekends or summer vacations.  Frogs pop up in your thoughts constantly.  You even dream about them.  People begin to wonder how many "kids" you have anyway?  Frogs are slimy and warty and green and sometimes their voices croak. No, it is not a job for the faint-hearted.  It is a job for people who can see past appearances and see the beauty hidden inside.
     Don't become a frog kisser if you don't like frogs.  It doesn't pay well.  Frog kissers don't get much respect. It isn't a prestigious position, and few become famous.  The only thing we have is our frogs.  Why stay if you can't stand the swamp or the flies or the frogs?
     It is hard to go into a swamp day after day and kiss frogs.  Some frogs don't want to change.  They want to be left alone in their misery.  Other frogs are eager to share and follow you around endlessly croaking.  Some frogs have forgotten who they are and believe their froggy bodies are the best they have to look forward to in life.  Sometimes frogs get lost and take their own lives.  Those are the worst times of all. 
     Frog catchers have forgotten how to be frog kissers.  Frogs don't croak or hop to annoy frog catchers.  They are just being frogs.  They don't get slimy and warty because they are lazy slobs.  They are just frogs dealing with froggy bodies.  They aren't green because they are stupid.  Green just means they are new versions of themselves.  It's pretty hard being a frog.  You don't need to remind them of their imperfections.  They catalog them every day without us catching them in our frog-catching-nets.  
     Maybe I should start kissing frog catchers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


     If anyone understands stereotypes, it is a frog.  We talked about stereotypes this week to understand the characters in The Outsiders.  I learned more about my frogs in ninety minutes than I had in ninety days of school. 
     I spent last year listening to a boy's teachers complain about everything he did and everything he did not do.  During our class discussion this week, he raised his hand and said, "Why does everybody think I am just a dumb Mexican?"  His voice shook with emotion as he looked at me for an answer.  
     Another boy told us people stereotype his mom because she dropped out of school to have him when she was thirteen.  Another shared his story of being poor and being judged because of the clothes he wears.  A girl chased out of school by racism hoping to start over in our school.  Kids jumping other kids because of the way they looked.  Being seen as too feminine in a masculine world.
     I learned a powerful lesson this week.  Stereotypes leave scars that don't heal.  It is bad enough that we do that to one another as kids.  It is deplorable when we do that to our children.  I vow to stop judging my students and listen to their stories of who they are.  Listening leads to understanding and understanding leads to love.  It is only through love that frogs become the royalty they were meant to be. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pep Talks from my Frogs

     The 7th graders are getting ready to jump into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)  Wednesday I gave the kids a pep talk to get them excited.  I talked about my dream of being a novelist and the voices in my head that always convince me that I can't do it. 
     When I came by on Friday, the kids asked me if I was going to write my novel this time.  I saw the trust in their eyes, and I also saw their fear and silent pleas to go with them in this scary risk.  I heard myself saying, "Yes," and then I had a panic attack. 
     The kids smiled and started giving me pep talks.  Hearing my words sent back to me like that was amazing.  "If I can do it, you can do it."  "Don't be a quitter."  "You will be rich and famous."  "Just start with a genre." 
     I was humbled by this lesson from my frogs.  Life lessons are more important than curriculum.  We may not reach 50,000 words or become best-selling authors, but we will be better people for our efforts.  There is much to be said for perseverance, believing in ourselves and one another, and not always taking the easy way out. 
     If you need me, I will be typing my 7,000 words I pledged to have for Friday.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guano, Rotors, and Other Things I Finally Learned

     Schema is a funny word, isn't it?  A teacher I know refuses to use the word because she doesn't believe it is actually a word.  I think she is kidding, but I'm not sure.  My kids love the word.  Maybe because it sounds so scientific or maybe because words don't scare kids as much as they scare us.
     I love teaching schema because it is so big.  We all have schema.  We all use schema.  Even little babies have schema.  It is one of the things that helps us survive in the world.  One of the greatest fears of aging is losing our memories...our sense of self...our schema.
     Once I videotaped some kids for a schema lesson.  Each kid shared a one-minute talk on a subject he or she had schema for. One girl talked about her illness and the surgeries, tests, and procedures that ruled her world.  Another boy told me about his schema for paintball strategies.  A third explained skateboarding.  It is amazing how much expertise the kids have when we ask them and then listen to what they say. 
     I love hearing the kids using the terms I teach them in class.  Today we played a game using their schema for surviving in the desert.  One boy high-fived a teammate and said, "We are so going to get that point.  You have awesome schema for this question."  After one disputed question on surviving a rattlesnake bite, one boy said, "Where did you get that answer from, Ms. Cooke?  Your schema?"  Flashbacks to middle school algebra.  :)
     I am really good at admitting all of the things I don't know.  Reading Deathwatch has me far out of my league, but it is a good thing.  It has been a great experience to read a new book from a genre I wouldn't pick for myself and admit all the things I don't understand.  The boys in my class love to share their schema.  This week they taught me guano is not a good smell to have in your water, and taking the bolt out of a gun makes you unable to load ammunition in it.  I also learned something about rotors being necessary to run your jeep as you escape.  I got lost in the explanation, but I'm sure it was brilliant.
     It's funny how the kids who struggle the most with reading are the ones who are most engaged in class and the book.  Funny, they are also the ones that are the experts on hunting and cars and survival.  By admitting I don't know and asking them to share their knowledge with me, we have a totally different feeling in class.  I am no longer the Sage on the Stage.  I am a Guide on the Side - learning along with them.  It is humbling to admit I am not an expert in everything, but it is very liberating for the kids who are never seen as experts on anything.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Literacy     This link will take you to my website where you can view or download the lessons we have done.

     I love 7th graders.  I love their energy and excitement for life.  One of the highlights of my week is getting to go upstairs to the 7th grade hall and do a literacy lesson three days a week.
     Now literacy can be a boring subject and 7th graders don't have a huge attention span, so my goal is to make the lessons as fun, engaging, and memorable as I can.  I love the challenge!
     One of my favorite lessons this year was on choosing a good book.  The lesson itself wasn't that exciting, but my fellow frog kissers made it memorable for all of us.  Each of the teachers chose a book or two or three that they loved.  Now, most of these teachers don't teach language arts.  They teach science, math, history, and special education; but they all shared books they loved with the kids.  Imagine how fun it was for the kids to hear about Bob Dylan from their English teacher, Goosegirl - the book that made their history teacher love to read again, and Toxin - the CSI type book their science teacher loves to read...and these teachers were just three of eleven teachers who shared books that week.  It was an amazing experience for all of us. 
     Another favorite lesson was teaching the kids about using the OREO method of writing to write persuasive paragraphs.  I brought an OREO for each one of the kids.  While teaching them how to add paragraphs to their essays, I told them Mr. E liked his essays "triple-stuffed OREO style."  Mr E. grabbed three cookies, stuffed them all in his mouth, and smiled at the kids with a mouth triple-stuffed with OREOS.  You have never seen kids more excited to write!
     This week brought us to schema.  We shared Far Side cartoons to gain schema and used Laffy Taffys to share schema jokes.  I tossed a bag of Laffy Taffys to Ms. W thinking it was a closed bag.  It wasn't.  Laffy Taffys went flying in an arc across the pod and the bag hit Ms. W in the face.  She was so gracious and laughed good naturedly with the kids.  It brought a whole new schema for "epic-fail" in my mind.   
     It is amazing what a group of frog kissers can do for those wonderfully loved frogs.  

Tuesdays with Tiffany   This link will take you to my website where you can download or view the actual lessons.
     As a teacher, I have always been pressed for time.  There are so many things to cover in such a limited time before standardized tests begin.  Now that I am teaching reading, I do not have a standardized test to prepare for or a core curriculum that I will never finish by the end of the year.  I have been given the gift of time.  180 days to spark a love of reading in my frogs. 
     Most of my frogs are on a second to fourth grade reading level, even though they are eighth graders.  Some are lower than that and a few are nearly on grade level.  Most of my frogs share a dislike for reading and school.  Many were laughed at when they read aloud in class, some struggled to learn English and are just barely learning how to read in this foreign language, while others face learning disabilities that make the words move around the page.  Almost all of my frogs find reading "boring" and "stupid."
     Luckily, this frog kisser knows that reading affects their futures in ways they cannot yet imagine.  My first job is showing them that reading matters to them even though they don't know it yet.
     After reading the book Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher, I decided to chose one day a week to focus on why reading is important.  Each reason must have true life value and not just a "Mrs. Cooke" reason.  I chose Tuesdays...Tuesdays with Tiffany because one of my favorite books is Tuesdays with Morrie.   Tuesday has become one of my favorite days of the week because reading matters, even when you are a frog.

Kissing My Frogs

One of my favorite poems is by an anonymous writer who must have loved kids as much as I do.  It is called "Frog Kissing."  I fell in love with this poem the moment I read it.  It reminded me of my students and I instantly became a frog kisser.  This blog holds all of my stories, lessons, laughs, and tears with my frogs.  If you are a fellow frog kisser, you are welcome here.

Frog Kissing

Ever feel like a frog?  Frogs feel slow, low, ugly, puffy, drooped, pooped.

The frog feeling comes when you want to be bright but feel dumb, when you want to share but are selfish, when you want to be thankful but feel resentment, when you want to be great but are small, when you want to care but are indifferent.

Once upon a time there was a frog.  But he wasn’t really a frog.  He was a prince who looked and felt like a frog.  A wicked witch had cast a spell on him.  Only the kiss of a beautiful maiden could save him.  But since when do cute chicks kiss frogs?  So there he sat, unkissed prince in frog form.  But miracles happen.  One day a beautiful maiden grabbed him up, and gave him a big smack.  Crash!  Boom!  Zap!  There he sat, a handsome prince.  And you know the rest.  They lived happily ever after.

So, what is the task of schools?

To kiss frogs, of course!