Books, Benches, and Babes

Books, Benches, and Babes

The blistering Texas sun beat down on the playground like an unrelenting drum. The clear June sky subtly reminded everyone that school was almost out.


I paced my usual recess duty path. I heard the usual arguing from the four-square game; I heard the the usual giggles from packs of girls, and I heard the usual clomping footsteps from all the runners. But then I saw something not that usual.

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I’m Not Interested in My Students’ Happiness

Sure, I want my students to be happy people. I absolutely want them to enjoy happiness in their lives. I don't have a heart of stone. But, I am much more interested in their learning.

I had to have a heart-to-heart with a group of kids who were becoming increasingly disrespectful and whiny. Most people who work with me know I am sort of Zen, hippy, California incense with my classroom environment. I try to keep things calm and low-key. I put as much autonomy and responsibility on the students as I can. But I certainly have limits. Especially when allotted freedoms encroach on the learning of others.

This group of kids had body slammed those limits one too many times. Things needed to change. During our private conversation, many students seemed genuinely shocked. Stuttered gasps of “You don't care about our happiness?” abounded. I had to explain that I didn't care about their happiness as much as I cared about their learning.

Of course I wanted them to be be happy. At school, however, I wanted them to learn more than be happy. I had to reiterate that this school business is hard work. It's not always rainbows and lollipops. Well, sometimes it's rainbows. Never lollipops with our new nutritional guidelines though.

I’m the responsible adult

The simple fact is that I'm the responsible adult in the room. I know what's best for my students in many situations. I know Tony can't sit next to Kevin 90% 99% of the time. I know Tina doesn't need to share every single thought that pops into her head every time she raises her hand. I know that Kendra can wait five more minutes to use the restroom.

I'm not mean about it. Just firm. Some of them are starting to come around. Who knows? With a little more time, a few may actually see the benefits and be happy about it.

My Big Fat Secret For Teaching Writing

“Don’t know what you are doing, but my daughter went from not liking writing to it being her favorite subject this year!”

A parent left this comment on my class Facebook page last week. I shared it the other day on Twitter. It’s important to share victories and successes. It gives me confidence and encouragement to move forward when I read about others doing well.

I got several replies filled with encouragement and good cheer. A few Twitter peeps wanted to know what my secret is. I sort of half-heartedly answered a few and moved on with my day. But, it got me thinking. Do I really do have some sort of secret for teaching writing?

So I thought for bit, and I came back to my original half-hearted response. Only it didn’t seem so half-hearted anymore. Do you want to know my big, fat secret for teaching kids to write better? My secret is…

I just really love it. In a word, passion.

It sounds simple, and I guess it is. But it’s also true. I just really, really love teaching kids to write better.

I’m drawn to stories and words. I relish the opportunities to write. I love the craft of it; the creativity that drives it. It’s an escape. It’s more than an escape. It’s an escape that you get to create in any way you want.

Writing is therapy. Writing is a release. Writing is a way to cope and a way to make sense of our world.

I try to share that passion with my young writers each day. Whether we are writing in our journals, blogging, or doing some sort of creative writing, I give them as much enthusiasm as I can muster.

I wish I had 7 Keys to Make Kids LOVE Writing! or 10 Easy Steps to Be An AWESOME Writing Teacher! to share. But I don’t. It’s just me. A tall guy with a fuzzy beard, thick glasses and a heart for kids.

I simply let my passion for writing spill all over the place and hope my students get soaked.

A Palpable Closure

A Palpable Closure

Rituals are important. I need more of them.

The last days of school are pouring over with emotions. Joy pervades the perpetual ten-year-old in me. I see that glint of summer in my students' eyes. I have it too. 

I stifle the feelings of regret. The idealistic teacher in me is forever wishing I did more. Failures stick out more right now than successes. Anxiety creeps in here and there as I think about my to-do list. There's so many things to do before I leave for summer break. Then, of course, there is the sadness.

I love my students. It's always a little hard to see them go. We've shared our lives together for nine months. I don't do well with change. I know some students don't either. I feel their pain. It's a big deal to unhook and shift into summertime. This is where rituals come in.

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On Appreciations, Writing, and Scratchy Noises


Appreciation is a deeply powerful word to me. Appreciate is the mature Dr. Pepper to thank you’s bland Mr. Pibb. No, restaurant waiter guy, Mr. Pibb is not okay.

Teachers are being appreciated all over the country this week. It’s a fun time to be a teacher. I got a few packs of gum, some pens for the class, gift cards to Half Price Books, and more Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups than I know what to do with. Like I said, it’s a fun time and it's nice to get some thank yous.

However, the things that truly make me feel appreciated don’t come in orange and yellow wrappers. They are the notes and cards that students write to me. The Reese's are gone in a few days, but these words stay with me forever.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Mr.Stortz has been teaching us about this technique called the clicking noise, or the scratchy noise if you are writing on paper. The technique implies just to start going. Start pressing keys and just get into your work. This was a very helpful technique for me because I use to just sit there thinking about what I was going to say word for word in my head, but never writing it. My brain would say “That’s Stupid.” or “That doesn’t make sense.” But he has taught us to not listen to that voice. Just put your pen on the paper or your fingers on the keys and let the words flow out.

Mr.Stortz to me is more than just a writing teacher. He is my friend, someone I can trust, someone I can believe, and that is really important to me. The reason is I get in trouble a lot. So I need a teacher that can put those troubles aside and worry about school and not how I got sent to the principal’s office. I appreciate that he wants the best for me and pushes me to do my best, and has taught me that when I do my best it all pays off.

I was so happy to figure out that Mr.Stortz was my teacher. And then I figured out what I was really getting. Not only a teacher who teaches to the art of language, but one who teaches life skills. It is very uncommon to get a teacher who teaches both sides of life. And I am truly blessed to have a teacher like Mr.Stortz. If you have a teacher like Mr.Stortz, then you know what I’m feeling. I am extremely thankful for him. And I bet you are thankful if you have been blessed with such a teacher like me.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I read this. Appreciation. This will keep me going for a long time.