a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Saved by a Tattoo

I have this tattoo on my arm that says “inspire.”  It is my own little mantra.  Today, it saved my students’ sanity as well as my own.

It’s almost time for our state testing.  So, my students were practicing completing a graphic organizer to aid them in writing an extended response to a text (part of the standardized reading test).  This was an assignment that they started yesterday with a guest teacher, but many did not complete.  I had given them additional time to finish up today.  I was sure to preface their work by reiterating this was practice; I wanted them to ask for help when they were stuck.  I even promised not to lecture them about whether they had tried to find an answer by returning to their notes instead of asking me first. 

Not a single 8th grader asked a question. 

Some students were completely finished and had moved on to other work, but most just sat and looked around the room, as if they were waiting for some unidentified flying object to beam them up, up, and away from this brutal assignment. 

Now, I was out sick yesterday (my first sick day in years—it takes a lot for me to miss a day), so my resistance was down and frustration quickly set in.  The bell rang for break time (language arts is a double block in our school). 

I stepped into the hall.  I wanted to run away.  I knew I couldn’t walk back in and face the class.  I wanted to berate them for sitting around like bumps on pickles and letting life pass them by.  I wanted to scream that the extended response to reading is the one aspect of our state testing that actually measures a worthwhile skill in a meaningful manner, and they were trying to ignore it as if that would make it go away. 

Then, I looked down and saw it—inspire. 

Although I always rationally know venting does nothing to work towards a solution, I sometimes need to be reminded. 

When the bell rang, I headed back into the room—this time with my mantra in mind.  I had them open their literature textbooks to “The Gettysburg Address,” and I made it sound really intimidating and difficult.  Then, I told them I thought they were sitting there not doing their graphic organizer because I think some of them believe they CAN’T do it—they can’t make meaning of text well enough to answer an extended response question.   I told them it wasn’t true—they CAN do it.  And then I made them prove it to themselves by guiding them through reading “The Gettysburg Address” independently, applying active reading strategies, and ultimately making meaning of it. 

And guess what?  They did!


  1. Makes me want to go out and get a tatoo! Seriously, kudos to you for not giving up and getting the kids to do it!

  2. Bumps on pickles! What a great line. Too bad your students aren't all tatooed with the same word!

  3. It's really sad that a teacher can make or break a class for someone...I strongly dislike my current english class, and even my AWESOME english teacher last year never lived up to you. I miss you, Ms. Rush. :)

  4. Bethany! You have no idea how memories of your class fuel me to keep putting my heart into teaching day after day. Sadly, the high school teachers have their hands tied in ways that we are just beginning to experience at the middle school level. Keep writing for you (especially on your blog, so I can read it) and stop by for new books any time!