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A New School Year is a Fresh Start




Each school year I introduce myself with a handshake for each one of my new-to-middle-school- and-absolutely-terrified-about-it sixth grade English students. As I shake their hand, I ask them to give me their name and tell me something about themselves. All too often, I get things after their name like, “I have ADHD”, “I get in trouble a lot”, “I’m absent a lot”, “I’m not good at English”, “I don’t like school”, “I don’t try very much”, or any of the other negative labels that students hear throughout their school careers. How sad is that?


My usual response is something like, “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know we were introducing ourselves that way today. Let me start over. Hello, my name is Ms. Withers and I am a type A personality with ADD.” This usually gets me a smile, maybe even a small giggle. Then I make them try the introduction again only saying something positive this time. My hope is that maybe they will see the beginning of a new year at a new school for what it is - a fresh start.  Parents, please have your student leave their negative labels at home. Teachers, get to know the student, not the file.


Have a great year everybody!


Hell's Friday is Actually Hell's Monday in My School


I am a 6th grade English teacher at a Title One, Free Lunch, Boys and Girls Club is right around the corner middle school. My students come from hard working families trying to live paycheck to paycheck. Most of my peers at other schools talk about how hard Fridays are. In other words, they can be Hell’s Fridays and not in a good way. At my school, however, it is Mondays which tend to be hell. It took me a bit to figure out why this is.


In our population, the weekend is not always helpful to a student’s education. We, their teachers, have no idea how the weekend went. Was there enough food? If there was food, how nutritious was it? Did our students get enough sleep over the weekend, especially on Sunday night? Was there enough family time, attention paid, and love given to them? When the answer to one or more of these questions is no, we see the results on Monday at school. It gives new meaning to The Bangles song, “Manic Monday.”


In order to combat a student’s weekend, I come in extra early on Monday mornings. I have found that the more organized I can be, and the more structure I can provide, it helps my students find their calm. I find that if I’m frantic in any way, it makes our Monday so much worse. I don’t know how their weekend went, and I can’t control it. What I can control is how their week goes. So, bring it on Hell’s Monday!

I never thought about the Heimlich. Until Today.


Adrenaline is a really weird thing, not just for strength, but for dragging things from the depths of your long term memory to the surface. I had no idea I even knew how to do the Heimlich Maneuver until the teacher from across the hall burst into my second period classroom and blurted, “Do you know the Heimlich?” I automatically followed her across the hall.

I entered her classroom to see a large sixth grade boy standing at the front of the room, eyes wide, drool running over his blue gray lips. His teacher hurried to the phone, and I ran to stand behind the boy. Somehow I knew exactly what needed to happen.

I found the soft spot where the ribs come together and shoved my left fist into it. I placed my right hand over my fist, planted my feet, and thrust with all my might a few times. I could hear the boy attempting to breath, but he was unsuccessful.

“Bend over!” I yelled. Perhaps it was divine intervention, or just more adrenaline power, but somehow I believed having him bend a little at the waist may give me more leverage over the sixth grader who was close to my own weight and height. Two or three more thrusts with all the strength I could muster, and I heard a deep rattle. Then my boy took a deep breath.

“Can you breathe?” his teacher asked. He nodded. I hadn’t noticed that she had come back to the front of the room. Nor did I notice until then the thirty students who sat quietly, obviously shocked, in their desks.

“Thank god,” I muttered as I let go. I put my hands on my knees and took a couple deep breaths of my own. The door was open, and outside in the hall, was one of my students. I was not surprised to see him. He vibrates with hyperactive energy and chases me around my classroom on a normal day. There was no way he could miss something like this. Seeing him reminded me that I had a class full of students across the hall.

It was just a few steps across the hall, but by the time I hit my doorway, I was a shaky, dizzy mess. My students, except the one, had stayed in their desks. All eyes were on me, and they looked worried. I said, “I need to go gather myself. I’ll be right back.”

While I was in the bathroom washing my hands and deciding whether I was going to throw up or not, my hallway watcher must have filled the class in on what had occurred. I entered my classroom to applause.

So the moral of this story is that everyone needs to learn the Heimlich because you just never know if you’ll need it. I am very thankful to whomever taught it to me. On a lighter note, I am also thankful I didn’t use any profanity in front of students. Usually in stressful situations, I blurt out all the family words and then some. And, although I did have the shakes for an hour afterward, I am glad I didn’t throw up because that’s the worst.   

Learn the Heimlich Maneuver from the Mayo Clinic here:


Three Things I Learned While Writing 'Hey, Get a Job!'



During the process of researching and teaching teens about how to get and keep a job, I learned three things which drove me to write Hey, Get a Job!

  1. There are not many resources out there for teens seeking their first work experience.  You can find tons of stuff on employment for college graduates, adults seeking career changes, and even senior citizens wishing to return to the workforce.  But teens?  Not so much. 
  2. Kids like to say they know everything about getting and keeping a job, but in actuality, they don’t know anything.  The first time I assigned students to fill out a job application I received grumbles and those often-heard words, “This is stupid, I already know how to do this.”  I did not teach the application, I didn’t even provide tips, hints, or don’ts.  What I got was a mass of applications that were unacceptable.  Teens didn’t know how to properly write their address, education history became yes or no questions (YES, I want to attend college), strengths and skills prodded lists of things like the amount of weight one could bench press or the grade on an exam, and my personal favorite, the references they listed were their best friends.  Do teens know how to get and keep a job like they say they do?  Nope.
  3. Adults often mistake a teen’s reluctance to get a job as laziness when it is actually that they are scared.  All kids like money, and believe it or not, the vast majority of my students wanted to earn their own money.  The problem for many of them, however, was that they were intimidated by the adult world of work.  We treat them like kids, we feed them, clothe them, make them do a few chores around the house, and then it seems to them that one day we say, “It’s time to grow up, find a job opening, apply, interview, act mature enough not to get fired, and manage the money you make.”   It’s a change that many teens don’t believe they’re ready for and therefore resist.

My hope with Hey, Get a Job! is that it gives kids the comprehensive information they need to have the confidence to make a smooth transition from kids to young adults.  In our society, one of the most important rites of passage from child to adult is the first job.  How can we expect teens to successfully navigate growing up if we don’t provide the necessary tools?  Hey, Get a Job! is, in my biased opinion, a great tool for teens and their parents.

Related Blogs:

Can You Make Your Kid Get a Job?

Happiness Takes Balls, I Mean, Courage