Pirating through stormy waters

Pumped for the beginning of school from my recent read of Dave Burgess’s “Teach Like a Pirate,” I made my plans for the first few days of school. I tweaked here and there and borrowed an idea (thanks Garnet Hillman for the chenille stems idea).

Most of the pirating plans I wanted to put into action involved my freshman English class, as my journalism classes are constantly in project-based-learning mode and are thoroughly engaged.

I waited in the hallway until the bell rang then entered the classroom with an enthusiastic “Good Afternoon!” I got a few returned to me and would have gone on to explain the procedure for the daily enthusiastic greeting, but was interrupted by an intercom announcement. After taking attendance, during which I engaged each in a brief exchange of welcome, I passed out index cards for some information and the chenille stems (pipe cleaners to us old folks), allowing them to choose colors. Most wanted more than one, and I had plenty, so I made another circuit or two around the room as I explained that they were to create something that symbolized themselves. We talked about their creations as they made them – some projects were taken seriously, some were goofy, some were collaborative efforts as they made parts that went together. Only one or two didn’t seem to know what to do. This exercise told me a lot about my new students. Introductions were less stressful, I think, than they might have been without the creativity. I talked about myself and what we’d do in class. I saw intake of breath and eyes light up when I mentioned blogging. It was a good first day.

That night, I prepped for a plane crash and 10 survivors on an uncharted island. This would be a great lesson the kids would enjoy.

But tragic events in my small city a few days prior snuck their ugliness into the safety of our school.

You see, I live in Duncan, Oklahoma. If it sounds familiar, that could be because we’ve been in the news the last few days. Last Friday, as we teachers were finishing up our day of professional development (I gave some great sessions on teachers using Twitter for their own professional development), three teen boys did the unthinkable. The media has used the best words to draw in its reading audiences – “thrill kill,” “they were bored.” The details are in the news and I don’t want to go through them here. Three juveniles chose a victim and shot and killed him for no reason. Within hours, the boys’ names were pretty well known, though they hadn’t been released officially. What really made me sick is that I know two of them.

The weekend was hard, but Monday we were getting ready for school, and Tuesday was a fantastic first day at the high school by all accounts.

But Tuesday night, our superintendent had posted a statement on the school website and had appeared on the local news to say that the police had gotten some threats about the high school so the school and police were working together to heighten security – additional security officers, locked buildings and a closed campus. Concerned parents could keep their children home if they felt they needed to, with no repercussions.

My plans to introduce the First Amendment to my introduction to journalism class faltered as I looked into the faces of eight of my 19 students.

What’s a good pirate to do? Adjust the sails for winds coming from a different direction, right?

I pulled out my party edition of Apples to Apples. I set Pandora to the relaxing sounds of Jack Johnson and for the next 45 minutes or so we expanded our vocabulary, learned about some people and events in history and we laughed instead of worrying.

Next up, my newspaper class. Four out of 10. Same Apples to Apples, but we switched to Classic Rock. I learned that two of my staffers really know their classic rock bands and song titles. Personalities emerged that I didn’t know were there. They saw some of mine.

By the next class, hardly anyone was there, so we began borrowing bored students from other classes, and that’s how the rest of the day went. Snider’s class became the place to be. We played, laughed and listened to music. And no one ever showed up to make good on any threat.

Two people told me I was their favorite teacher. Just wait until I make them act out sentences with participial phrases. Arrghh.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

One Response to Pirating through stormy waters

  1. Mrs. Lee says:

    I’ve worried about y’all. I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for you and your students. Take care!
    I’m stealing the pipe cleaners idea. 🙂

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