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Author: Mx. Sara M. Sabbagh

12th year teacher
English Language Arts
Master's Degree in Education
Secondary Education Certification
College Board Trained in AP Language and AP Literature
ESL endorsed
Wayne State University

Popcorn Walls and Thin Ledges

STORY TIME: I was twelve when we moved to France the summer between my seventh and eighth grade year.  We got a two-bedroom apartment in Lingolsheim, a small town outside Strasbourg.  The walls were that popcorn texture – and there were so many steps – I remember often accidentally scraping my arm against it. 

I don’t know what made my parents decide to move to France that summer.  We enrolled in school, learned about how French people had long lunches, and how shops were closed on Wednesdays.  I remember playing my game boy in the hospital parking lot while we waited for my dad to do his interview.  My little sister was six, and she picked up French so quickly.

I was excited to finally be with family.  I would sit in my grandmother’s living room, looking at photo albums, longing to somehow be in the pictures of my cousins hanging out and growing up together.  Now, finally, we would have that chance.  

Despite all this, my other sister pitched a fit, complained about missing friends and McDonalds, and before I knew it, we were flying back home. 

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These days, it’s not often that teachers get to choose what they teach, and in some cases, even how they teach.  

With the pandemic, we finally were able, at least, to choose our “what”, however, our hands were somewhat tied with the “how” due to the remote aspect of “remote” learning – but anyway…

When asked to recommend a short story, I jumped at the chance to share Contents of a Dead Man’s Pocket by Jack Finney with our students. 

I laid in bed Saturday night – thinking about the story – and I desperately wished I could remember when the first time I taught this story was, but I couldn’t.  On the other hand, I can tell you exactly why I love sharing this story with my story – see below.

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For this week’s check-in, students were asked to agree or disagree with the following statements:

  • Work should be the most important part of a person’s life.
  • You should trust your instincts (gut) when making decisions.
  • People should take risks in their lives. 
  • You should do whatever it takes to get ahead in your career.
  • People will do anything to survive in their careers.
  • People will do anything to survive in their relationships.
  • Survival depends more on courage than common sense.

I guess part of me likes this story, because, in light of the “new normal” brought on by this pandemic, we all have a lot of time to observe and to think about our priorities. 

Work should be the most important part of a person’s life.Disagree: 66%Agree: 34%
In the story, Tom decides to work on something for his job, instead of joining his wife at the movies.  A turn of events has him risking his life, and he realizes that no job is worth risking your life. 

I remember early in my career, a mentor teacher asked me “Do you want to live to work, or work to live?”  At the time, and still to be honest, my work was my life.  I’ve said it before, but a huge part of my identity is wrapped up in my role as a teacher. 

Two summers ago, after one of the hardest years of my teaching career, my dad told me to “Stop complaining.”  Granted, he never supported my decision to become a teacher – but he was done listening to me talk about a job he cautioned me against in the first place. 

I felt like I had been thrown in the ocean without a life jacket.  If I couldn’t talk to my parents, who could I talk to? Slowly, I began to realize that something had to change – and in that moment, I felt a shift. 

You should trust your instincts (gut) 
when making decisions.
Agree: 94%Disagree: 6%
In the story, if Tom had listened to his gut, he would have joined his wife from the start, and not risked his life on the ledge.  However, without having gone through that ordeal, Tom may never have realized what truly was important. 

I will tell you the ONLY thing you need to know here –  ALWAYS trust your gut. Period. 

People should take risks in their lives. Agree: 94%Disagree: 6%
In the story, Tom takes a BIG risk trying to rescue an important document.  In fact, he risks the most important thing a person can risk… his life.  There is this moment, in the story, when Tom is on the ledge, and he realizes, “he had made a mistake” (Finney 4) and is frozen in terror.

One of my favorite French adages is, “Qui ne risque rien, n’a rien.” which, loosely translates to He risks nothing, has nothing

You should do whatever it takes to get
ahead in your career.
Agree: 72%Disagree: 28%
In the story, Tom chooses to work from home, instead of accompanying his wife.  

Whether it’s fair or not, I feel like this is a harder reality for women, than for men.  When I hear this statement, a statement which 72% of students agreed with – the majority being female students, I can’t help but think about all the compromises women have to make in order to “get ahead” in our careers.   Here’s an article from The Atlantic outlining “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” which speaks on this reality.

People will do anything to survive in their careers.Agree: 65%Disagree: 35%
In the story, the fact that Tom was willing to risk his life going on that ledge in order to grab an important paper – is a testament to how being so single-minded in prioritizing work over everything else – can truly be dangerous.
People will do anything to survive 
in their relationships.
Agree: 57%Disagree: 43%
No evidence in the story to support this statement – which, ironically, supports the point I am trying to make about how we prioritize work over relationships.
Survival depends more on courage 
than common sense.
Disagree: 54%Agree: 46%
In the story, SURVIVAL takes on several faces. In the beginning, survival is all about Tom staying at home and doing work so that he can get ahead. In the middle, survival is all about Tom making it back inside after risking his life to grab an important paper for work. In the end, survival is all about Tom prioritizing what really is important. When it comes to survival – context matters. 

We are all surviving something – and when you’re in that mode, you do what you can – and that takes courage.  In fact, I would argue that “common sense” – as it is being used here, is a bit patronizing.  

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This is the last short story we are sharing with our students before the school year ends.  

The MESSAGE I want students to take away from this is that, when it matters (AND IT ALWAYS MATTERS), there are more important things in life than work.  

That summer, twenty-six years ago, my parents made a choice.  Often, when we are younger, all we can do is trust that the people who are responsible for us are making the right choices. Even if it’s as simple as choosing which story to share. Because, I have a feeling, that twenty-six years from now, this will be the moment that they remember – maybe not the story – but hopefully, the message. 

With that having been said, now is the perfect time to re-prioritize what is important to you.  Don’t wait until you’re on a ledge to figure out what truly matters. 

“Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear”

Well folks – we’re halfway there. After this week, there are only FOUR weeks remaining of the remote learning, and then, just like that – the school year is over. Below I will share results from the survey sent out earlier this week. nearly 80% of my students provided their feedback – THANK YOU!

EVALUATE THE STORY SELECTIONS SO FAR: 90% of students were satisfied, 61% even appreciative of the short stories selected for our remote learning plan. Some students expressed concern about the length and/or rigor of the stories selected.

  • Short Story Selection – Week One – 3 pages
  • Short Story Selection – Week Two- 1 page
  • Short Story Selection – Week Three- 3 pages
  • Short Story Selection – Week Four- 4 pages

One student expressed concern about losing their reading stamina, rightfully so. Ultimately – in order to not lose any gains we’ve made, I strongly recommend, if possible, students be reading at least 30 minutes to an hour every day (beyond what you do for school).

EVALUATE THE WORK: 83% of students were satisfied with the types of questions asked and the stamina required. The remaining 17% believe that the work is more demanding than we were actually in school.

MY RECOMMENDATION: On each assignment is a suggest Work Breakdown Schedule (see below). If you are struggling with the work load, I strongly encourage you break down the work – doing a little bit every day. I understand, for some students, that won’t work for the schedule they have created for themselves. For example, one student does the work for 1st and 2nd hour on Monday, 3rd and 4th hour on Tuesday, 5th and 6th hour on Wednesday. With this schedule, I can totally see where waiting to do all the assigned work in a single shift can be overwhelming.

Sunday/MondayRead the Story & Check In 
TuesdayPart One Questions
WednesdayPart Two Questions
ThursdayPart Three Questions
FridayTurn in by 10am
Breakdown Schedule for The Work

PREFERRED METHOD OF CHECKING-IN : So – in the survey I included every option I have been offering students since Google Hangout/Meet was nixed. Apparently Tommy and I are the only ones who liked FlipGrid – so I’m going to walk away from that one. The top two responses were Google Classroom (55%) and Survey (60%) – and given the fact that almost 80% of my students checked-in this week – I think I am going to stick with those two avenues. That is to say – if Remind, Instagram, and/or Gmail work better for you – we’ll figure it out.

CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK: As always, I asked for constructive feedback. Here are some gems:

  • “You’re doing the best you can, and it’s really helpful. Now it’s on the students to be responsible for what to do.”
  • “Your class has actually been the most enjoyable one in terms of how engaged I am. I really have been enjoying the stories, so I would just say keep up the amazing work!”
  • “I think everything you have given us has been very similar to when we were in class. I like the way you are doing things.”
  • “NO improvement needed – I like how you are always in contact with us and helping us with our work.”
  • “I think everything is just challenging enough to help with our learning.”
  • “You have been very helpful throughout this whole process, and all of your assignments have included detailed instructions, which really helps!”

To the students who commented “easier passages”, “shorter and faster” assignment, OR “less work” – Don’t let laziness ROB you of the chance to build a strong academic foundation. 

Grades Can Hinder Learning. What Should Professors Use Instead ...

ABOUT GRADES: Never mind that I already clarified ALL these concerns in this blog post, here it is again.

  • Grades cannot be “figured out” until the end of the semester. 
  • What you see on Student Connect is meaningless – a 4 in engagement and participation means you “checked-in” and “completed the assignment” 
  • The grade you see in Student Connect reflects your learning PRIOR to March 13th 

PER Principal MARTIN (as outlined in the DISTRICT CONTINUED LEARNING PLAN):

For each class, if a student participates in the learning, he/she will receive credit.  

The following will apply:

A: Students who do the following will earn the grade of A recorded:

  • Engage in at least 75% of the remote lessons and check-ins.
  • Submit and earn a passing grade on at least 75% of the assignments.

G: Students who do the following will earn the grade of G which awards credit:

  • Engage in 60-74% of the remote lessons and check-ins.
  • Submit and earn a passing grade on at least 60-74% of the assignments.

N: Students who do the following will earn the grade of N which is no credit given:

  • Engage in less than 60%  of the remote lessons and check-ins.
  • Submit and earn a passing grade on less than 60% of the assignments.
Game Plan • Central Bearden
Game Plan

For the majority of students, you can still earn credit if you complete the remaining assignments. I don’t know what your game plan is, but I would take care of THIS week’s work, and stay on top of the remaining weeks. If you have the time/inclination to go back and complete any assignments from April 20th forward – I will take it into consideration.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Copying, cheating, plagiarism – whatever you want to call it – is a CONSTANT struggle. Students always try to justify WHY they cheat. I’ve been told, repeatedly, “Copying is not cheating, unless it’s on a test.” – but even then they cheat. I asked students, “What can I do to help students understand the importance of doing your their own work?” and I got 95 responses. Below are a few:

  • “I have no clue. It kinda seems that the ones who care already appreciate the importance, and the ones who don’t won’t listen to you.”
  • “It’s not up to the teachers to make the kids do their work; if someone really cares about their education they will turn in the work.”
  • THE CLASSIC: “Explain that it is not helping them and that they are only hurting themselves.”
  • MY FAVORITE: “I like to use this example I made: Surgeons don’t ask their friends or the internet to do the surgery for them.”

I am aware that at times I can come across as preachy, “extra”, and self-righteous – but here’s the thing – I CARE. The world is not fair, and we all don’t have the same foundation to build upon. Accountability and integrity are ideals you should fight to have – and you shouldn’t let anybody compromise them. Do the work. Do it yourself. Do it to the best of your ability. That’s all ANYBODY can ask or expect from you. But forget about them, you should expect it of yourself.

Thanks for reading. – SMS

LA 4 – Remote Learning (W8)

Read the questions on the assignment posted in Google Classroom first, and then read/listen to the essay Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell. Links to the story and the audio can be found in the assignment. Remember, it is suggested that you spend 30 minutes/day in each content area. DUE: Friday, May 11th @ 10am

My Very First Teacher

For today’s Teacher Appreciation Week post, I wanted to take a moment to THANK my very first teacher, my Mom.  Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there – your job is THE most important job out there! I appreciate you!

Mom is My First Teacher Quote SVG Cut (Graphic) by TheLucky ...
Mom is my first teacher.

I don’t know much about who my Mom was before she met my dad and had me.  Born in a small village in France, she was the oldest of seven – and the first girl.  Her mom would cut her hair boy-short, and she would tan really darkly in the summer.  I know she met my dad at a hospital when she was in nursing school – and that they had a whirlwind courtship before leaving France to come to The States.  I was born shortly after, and my Mom, in her accented English, said, “She’s blue.” when the doctor’s revealed me fresh from the womb (CW: I was born premature with the cord wrapped around my neck.)  The story continues with my dad saying that my little butt would fit in the palm of his hand, and that, when I was a little bit older, but still a baby, they would chew up pieces of steak and feed me (like a bird).  

My first word in French was “lumière” – which means light – and I can just picture my Mom, pointing at the light, and saying the word in French – with baby Sara waving her fist and staring at her with big, brown eyes. My Mom’s love for me was so fierce, it was practically tangible. My Mom would always share that becoming a mother was the best thing she ever did in life – and you could tell she meant it with every fiber of her being. 

As an adult, I can easily attribute the aspects of my personality and character that I got from my Mom.  It’s daunting to consider, but I am my Mom’s legacy – and I want to make her proud, more than anything in the world. 

My Mom and I
2019

Caution: Flying Chalk

When I asked my sister who I should dedicate my next Teacher Appreciation blog post to, she said, “Mr. Schusterbauer, of course.” So, here it goes…  

My memories of high school and college are vague, obscured by a filter of depression I still haven’t quite managed to shake off. Looking back, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact reason why I imprinted on my high school English teacher.  Maybe I was desperately seeking a father-figure.  Maybe I needed someone who would “let” me love reading and writing. 

Here’s what I do remember: 

As a teacher, I sometimes try to see myself in my students.  Truth be told, my perception of high school Sara is probably quite different from that of my teachers, friends, classmates, and family. I don’t remember standing out, but my little sister, who visited me one day, said it was like walking in the hallways with a celebrity – all smiles and hugs.  

I do remember being a bit of a goody-two shoes.  I would walk into Mr. Schusterbauer’s class, wondering what outrageous “Fight the man!” thing he would say next.  Of course, as a high school girl in the nineties, the idea of “fighting the man” was completely lost on me.  I couldn’t even stand up to my parents.  Retrospectively, I wish I was more “woke” to appreciate what Mr. Schusterbauer was trying to accomplish.

Even though I can’t remember a specific example, I do remember Mr. Schusterbauer asking us questions that pushed boundaries and emboldened us to really think.  I remember wanting to make him proud – I would take so many notes, and listen quite earnestly. 

As I write this, I realize that I am no Mr. Schusterbauer – and that makes me kind of sad. 

But then, I remember the thing I am most grateful for learning in Mr. Schusterbauer’s class…. Never apologize. Amidst the flying chalk to emphasize a point (or, more likely, to get our attention), Mr. Schusterbauer, for all his brashness and rebellion, never apologized for being exactly who he is.   

Not everyone was a fan – and he would remind us that not everyone needed to be.  He was unapologetically human and real – and would talk to us like we were people, not kids.  He didn’t care about grades, and he encouraged us to advocate for ourselves. (I guess, maybe I am a little bit like Mr. Schusterbauer, after all.)

Years later, when I was teaching in Kansas – Mr. Schusterbauer accepted my friend request on Facebook, and for a little while, we were able to stay in touch.  In 2009, he retired from teaching, after teaching 30 years at Mercy High School in Farmington.  I was home for the summer and was able to attend the ceremony. He graciously welcomed us to his retirement party at Dick O’Dowd’s in Birmingham, where he occasionally would serve as a bartender/host on warm, summer evenings.  He deleted his Facebook account leading up to the 2012 presidential election – and has kept a low-profile ever since.  

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom he shared with me, proving that a teacher’s influence never ends: 

  •  “Hard to be anyone of principle and keep quiet.”
  • “Because there is no point in fighting for things that do not matter.”
  • “Right now, all he needs is to have someone to listen to. You.”
  • “It is a choice. And it is a choice that will affect your entire life, trust me on this.” 

One of the last things he shared with me was this, “Knowing you has given me cause to be optimistic about the future. What good fortune for your kids to have you as a teacher.”  It is I, Mr. Schusterbauer, who is the lucky one – to have had you as my teacher, my friend. 

Here is the feature in Mercy’s Newsprint on Mr. Schusterbauer shortly before his retirement.

Lessons from The Giver

As I often tell my students, in life, you will encounter people that you may not necessarily get along with, and you have to adapt accordingly. For today’s Teacher Appreciation Week post, I’d like to share a lesson I learned during my first year of teaching in Kansas.

My partner teacher was a flighty, creative soul who felt passionately that it was her responsibility to teach Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak to our eighth grade girls, which left me with the entire 8th grade boys’ population for the duration of a novel unit.  

As I mentioned earlier, it was my first year teaching.  My partner teacher and I were not exactly … compatible.  I honestly felt like she threw me in the deep-end of the pool and shrugged her shoulders.  That “Sink or Swim” experience was an eye-opener for me. (And, I’m not going to lie – it did impact how I felt about “mentor” teachers.) 

I distinctly remember standing in the book room… feeling overwhelmed and completely alone. I was instructed to pick a book to teach the boys – and it had to be a book that wasn’t taught by any other teacher, and it had to be a book that we had enough copies of… and don’t forget to choose wisely, because “middle school boys are reluctant readers.” 

Simple, right?

I ended up finding copies of The Giver by Lois Lowry and I almost cried from relief.  There weren’t enough copies, but I made it work. 

Amazon.com: The Giver (9780385732550): Lowry, Lois: Books
Book Cover for The Giver by Lois Lowry

 Ultimately the weeks we devoted to The Giver taught me many things I still incorporate in my craft today – and I am grateful to the students for helping me through one of the most challenging times of my first year teaching. 

An Honorary Turkey

For today’s Teacher Appreciation Week post, I’d like to share the top ten lessons I learned during my student teaching semester, under the tutelage of the esteemed Mrs. Joyce Spletzer, my cooperating teacher from Walled Lake Western High School in 2008.

Mrs. Spletzer and I on my last day of Student Teaching in 2008.

Lesson Ten: Celebrate the same birthday every year. A running gag, Mrs. Spletzer celebrated the anniversary of her 29th birthday, every year. Everyone had fun with the joke.

Lesson Nine: Call your students “Turkeys.” Mrs. Spletzer would call her kiddos “turkeys” and they would get her turkey paraphernalia which would decorate her classroom.

Lesson Eight: Chalkboards are the worst! When I first started student teaching, my handwriting was comically large. We would still write lecture notes on the chalkboard, and I would have to go back and erase in order to have access to more space to write. Mrs. Spletzer advised me to adjust my handwriting. While I managed to do better by the end of the semester, I am thankful for the advent of white boards, projectors, and Google Slides.

Lesson Seven: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Mrs. Spletzer had this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above her chalkboard – and it was a great reminder for both the students and myself. I consider this the ultimate growth mindset quote.

Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm – pokharnatalks

Lesson Six: “Good Morning Class!” Mrs. Spletzer would begin every class period with this salutation and it has been one of my favorite traditions which I have adopted from her. I appreciate all my students who continue to indulge me in returning this greeting at the start of every class.

Lesson Five: The Importance of Vocabulary – This was one of my favorite routines in Mrs. Spletzer’s class. Every week, students would be responsible for ten new vocabulary words. As it stands, I do my best to seize every opportunity to share new vocabulary words with my students! I take pride in being a logophile (word nerd).

Lesson Four: Share Shakespeare with your students. Mrs. Spletzer’s adoration for the Bard is unparalleled. I’m so bummed that I did not get a chance to share Julius Caesar or Hamlet with my students this year.

William Shakespeare quote: I love thee, I love thee with a love ...
Quote by Shakespeare

Lesson Three: If you’re not into what you’re teaching, your students won’t be either. I remember during one of my lesson for Oedipus Rex, Mrs. Spletzer shared that I looked bored – and as a result, my students were disengaged. So, during one of the scenes later in the week, I fake fainted. That sure got my students’ attention. Mrs. Spletzer told me that she had never felt as proud than in that moment. I later found this quote by author Gail Godwin that I feel like sums up teaching, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.” Based on my twelve years of experience, I have found this to be more than true.

Lesson Two: Be willing to learn, adapt, and change. Her tough love opened my eyes to a lot of misconceptions and fallacies I had been harboring (which were negatively impacting my effectiveness as a teacher).

Lesson One: Enjoy your students. Mrs. Spletzer was a formidable teacher – her no nonsense “we’ve got work to do” approach to learning made her classroom THE place to be. At the same time, you could tell she took absolute delight in her students – and that teaching was more than a job – it was a passion.

I learned more in one semester of student teaching with Mrs. Spletzer, than I did in the entirety of my teacher preparation courses; and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to have been one of her honorary turkeys.

Mardel on Twitter: "A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes ...

Teacher Appreciation Week

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this year, I will be sending a thank you note to one of my college professors, Dr. Michael Rex, at Wayne State University.

My Amazon Wish List In case You want to show your gratitude

Letter Template here.

After I crushed my father’s dream of me going into pharmacy, I worked quickly to earn my credits towards an English degree (my passion). I took the course English Literature After 1700 first, thinking that it would be a better fit for me based on the kind of books I had experienced with. I was wrong. I was miserable – it was a big lecture hall with a professor who spoke in a dry, monotone voice. With great trepidation, I signed up for English Literature before 1700.

From the start, I could tell that Dr. Michael Rex was unlike any professor I had ever had before. With his wild, flaming red hair, tinted glasses, flamboyant style, and his fingers studded with rings – I was equal parts skeptical and eager to see how I would be learning about Beowulf and early British literature from my new teacher. To say that I was blown away, would be a wild understatement. In the midst of all my angst centered around my father’s disappointment and the uncertainty surrounding my future, I found solace in Dr. Rex’s classes. I was so enamored, that I voluntarily signed up for a Shakespeare class, simply because it was taught by this brilliant teacher (I had a terrible experience with Shakespeare in high school – so, this was a BIG deal). One of my favorite essays I ever wrote in college was for his class, and it analyzed the portrayal of women in Shakespearean plays. When that semester concluded, I looked, in vain, for another course taught by Dr. Rex – but alas, there were none. Years later, I took my sister to sit in on a class taught by Dr. Rex. To this day, my sister and I quote his witticism with zeal.

Thanks for Reading. – SMS

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