Saturday, March 23, 2013

Finding Joy

Ever since this school year began I have been in a perpetual state of exhaustion. It's no secret that this has been a difficult school year for me. But despite being tired and overwhelmed 95% of the time, I'm trying really hard to find those small victories, moments of joy that I might miss if I'm  doing nothing but complaining all the time.

So here were some moments of joy from my school day yesterday:

Moment #1
6th graders turned in the book reviews they'd been working on all week and many of the students wanted to share them with the class. One student read her book review for one of my favorite books, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. After she read her review, we proceeded to have a class discussion about how we (those who have read and loved the book) wish we could have our very own J.Lo (the alien, not the singer) because he is just so adorable. Then another student attempted to explain why J.Lo's best line in the whole book, ("Can I come into the out now?") actually makes sense as he proceeded to explain why it works grammatically.

Moment #2
Due to complicated circumstances that I prefer not to spend time explaining, I lost my prep period yesterday, which normally would cause me to grumble for the rest of the day, but by the end of the period, I ended up being happier for losing my prep than if I had taken it. The short version of why I lost my prep was because I had to watch one of the 8th grade classes because they weren't able to go to their special.

I have one 8th grade class for English, but I don't see the other 8th grade class at all. The class I don't see at all is the one that I ended up watching. They were asked to bring something to work on and use that period as a study hall. Since getting my 6th graders to work independently and quietly this year is like trying to herd cats, I was pleasantly surprised when the 8th graders came in, sat down and started working on their math or social studies or other work that they had due. They were talking, but they were productive and the noise level was not detrimental to others' learning. At one point in the class period I stood up, looked around and said, "Can I just tell you how much I appreciate what you're doing right now? Everyone is working and even though you're talking, it is productive noise. I haven't been able to experience that very much this year."

At one point during the period, one of the students jokingly picked up a novel as he was perusing the books in my classroom, started to read it and said, "I'm not reading this. It has too many words in it." So I told him I have quite the selection of picture books if those were more his speed (and a cacophony of 8th grade boys proceeded to say, "Oooh! Burn!" as seems to be the 8th grade comeback of choice these days). He spent the next fifteen minutes contentedly looking through picture books when I said to him and the rest of the class, "Do you guys want me to read you a picture book?" A few said yes and gathered around the floor, but many continued their math or social studies work and the productive noise didn't transform into a hush as I had hoped. Still, I pressed on, reading both  I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen to the five students on the floor who legitimately wanted me to read them a picture book. But I soon discovered that as I continued to read, the students who were doing their work reduced their noise level and many of them even halted their own work to find out what happened to the bear and the fish's hats.

One student's astute/entertaining observations from the two books:
  • Wait Mrs. Shaum! *Spoiler alert* Did the bear eat the squirrel too? We know he ate the rabbit, but what happened to the squirrel? (I never actually thought about that. Maybe he did eat the squirrel too!)
  • Hold on! Wait! How can the hat stay on the fish? Wouldn't it just float away? (Apparently a talking fish is enough to suspend belief but the physics of a fish wearing a hat in water isn't).

After I read the two Klassen books, the student who was "burned" by my suggestion that he read some picture books wanted to read one to the class. So I gave up my chair, parked myself on the floor with the other 8th graders and listened to him read The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Hutchet Bishop. It was probably the most enjoyable class I've had all year.

Moment #3
In my homeroom yesterday, which is a class that has been a challenge to get through to this year, after finishing the last page of Wonder by RJ Palacio, one student asked, "Can we give the book a standing ovation?" And they did. 

If you've read the book, then you know why this is such a significant gesture. This was not just an appreciative response to a great book. It was also symbolic to the main character Auggie's journey throughout the story. Do I need to give them a comprehension test to see if they paid attention to the story? Nope. That moment right there told me all I need to know.


  1. I feel your pain and joy. I too am overwhelmed at work this year. My 9th graders are super needy and I feel like I am grading papers every single weekend. Sounds like you had some great reading successes this week. I love that your kids gave Wonder a standing ovation. Keep up the good work.

    1. I completely understand what you mean. I am constantly under a giant pile of papers. I can never seem to get out from under it. :(

  2. Great post. I feel like I'm drowning in administrivia this year on top of new curriculum and very challenging student behaviors. We have to gather our joys where we find them, eh? You had a unexpectedly good day when it looked, at least on paper, to be a cloudy one. Bravo!