How to Keep Seniors in High School Engaged on Their Very Last Friday of English Class Ever

The noise of desk legs scraping the floor as they moved into a circle filled my room today, the last Friday I would share Room 110 with the seniors in English 12.

“Here’s your final quiz,” I said, as I passed a two-sided paper out to students. It didn’t count for anything, but they didn’t know that.

Some students rolled their eyes while others sighed loudly to convey their displeasure, but after 25 years, I have learned to tune it out. (Ohmygosh, this is the end of my 25th year! Where did the time go?)

The quiz included questions about the last five Heisman award winners, the World Series champs, American Idol winners, and Nobel Peace Prize recipients.  Students always grumbled and stumbled through the answers, usually trying not to look at each other’s papers and asking, “Is this really for points?”

Just when I started to sense real frustration, I told them to turn the paper over and complete the other side. Name a few teachers who aided your journey through school, people who have made you feel appreciated or who have taught you something worthwhile, friends who have helped you through a difficult time. I never heard a peep while they answered these questions.

The lesson? Award winners of yesterday are quickly forgotten, but those who made a difference in your life are not. It was a great way to end the year, one last terrific discussion to remind students who was important in their lives right before they graduated.

“Okay, now choose a person from any category that you’d like to tell us a little something about. Who wants to go first?” I asked.

One by one, students went around the circle, sharing the people who had impacted their lives, sometimes offering brief reasons or stories.

When it was Gaven’s turn, he tilted his head to the side, looked at me, and read, “A hero whose story has inspired you? I said you.”

“Me?” I asked him.

“Yes, you,” he answered.

I have been keeping my students in the loop this year while writing my book, because 1) I can’t help it, that’s just who I am, and 2) writing, editing, revising, and publishing the book are all real-life English skills at work. But now I knew that sharing my story might have been doing even more than I had hoped. I was touched.

“Wow. Thank you,” I said.

We finished the activity with them writing 10-minute thank-you letters to someone of their choosing, and my wonderful son, who I had commandeered into joining us, happened to write his to me.

I was still fighting back tears from reading it as the bell rang and those seniors shuffled with their backpacks out the door, their last Friday’s English class finally over.

End notes: What a great activity—and I’m willing to share. Email me at aimeeross14@gmail.com if you’re interested. Also, how far back have I been doing this activity? I’m curious. If you remember doing it with me in class, or with Mr. Dunlap, who started it, let me know!

The Ricky Martin Mystery: Solved

The morning routine—before school—includes a lot of opening.

open the door to the garage, where I immediately push the garage door button to open it, step down two steps, open the outside fridge to grab a couple bottles of cold water for the day, open the back car door to deposit my school bags, close it, and open the driver’s door to—wait a minute.

Something is different today.

Just outside the garage, the driveway concrete is marked with what looks like the chalked outline of a murdered man. Homicide…here? It takes mere seconds for the crime scene’s photograph my brain has created to register.

Aimee, calm down, I think. It’s just Ricky Martin.

His life-sized cardboard stand-up (for which I paid close to $80) is lying face down. It’s a wonder Jackson didn’t back over him this morning when he left for work. And thank God he didn’t!

RM

How did he get here? And who might have brought him? I wonder.

Someone had to have gotten into my classroom. Someone with a key that could open the always-locked door.

A senior prank, I bet. Why those little tricksters, I think, marching over to grab Ricky so that I can move him inside to my office where he will be safe.

“You can just stay home from school for the rest of the year,” I tell him, not really up for chasing Ricky all over the school district’s rural countryside, as graduating seniors decide how many times they want to carry out this chicanery (vocab word #10, by the way), because maybe, just maybe, they had ‘inside’ help.

And so, I go to school and wait, lips tight, eyes and ears wide open. I will catch the hooligans, I will, I say to myself.

After I get settled into my Ricky Martin-less classroom that morning, I notice the back window levers are up—the window could have been pulled open from the outside.  But I thought I checked it before I left! Oh no. What if I didn’t?

 So I rule out my colleagues, and let the principal know of my dereliction of duty. If it can happen to me, it can happen to others. Even after twenty-five years.

It actually takes until fifth period that day for the case to begin to crack. As students arrive for English class, one fine young man in particular, a guy who loves to fish more than doing his homework, asks me, “Hey, where’d Ricky Martin go?”

“I don’t know, S—-, why don’t you tell me. No one’s noticed until now,” I say.

And he grins. “Well you can’t help but notice, Ms. Ross. You just look around the room, and boom. No Ricky.”

He knows something, my detective senses say.

But for almost another 24 hours, I get no leads. And when I return to school the next morning, I find out that another beloved teacher has also been pranked…and in the same way. Window levers put down, but not before the culprits open the window and pull the blinds, making it look as if it’s closed.

What happened in her room, you ask? Chairs and tables stacked to the ceiling, and this time, the shenanigangsters—too proud—are talking.

Talking so much, they turn themselves in to me while bragging. It was S—- after all!

S—- and his buddy, M—-! And their story is hysterical.

They set the windows up during the day, so no one—me—would notice. That night, S—- drove to and parked behind the district’s bus garage, while M—- ran down past the football field, past the field house, past the baseball field, past the softball field, and past the practice soccer field to my room, where he climbed in through the window, grabbed Ricky and ran all the way back. Only to find that Ricky was just big enough to almost NOT fit in the car…but they couldn’t bend him up and ruin him—they knew.

So they let Ricky semi-hang out of the car, his face resting in between the two of them, as they drove to my house for his release. Hah—can you imagine that car ride?

But here’s the best part of the story, at least to me. The part that tells me that this senior prank was different. That this senior prank was done in complete fun with thoughtfulness for me and planning undertaken to make sure no Rickys were harmed during the process.

You see, the two pranksters had checked the weather before stealing and leaving Ricky outside in my driveway all night!!! Now how bout that?! They didn’t want to risk turning him into a soggy, rain-drenched piece of cardboard, because they knew how much he means to me.

And that, dear readers, is the reason I not only love teaching teenagers, but the reason I also let them into my lives to know things about me (like my forever crush on Ricky).

“So did ya turn them in?” someone asked.

“Were you upset and just so furious?” someone else asked.

“Did you cry?” even more people asked.

No, no, and no. Those boys were just livin la vida loca, you know, the best way to live.

But also because teaching is about relationships. And because they got me good. Real good.

But mostly because—look out, boys—Karma and I go waaaaaaaaaay back. Wink, wink.

 

 

 

The Prom King and Glinda, the Good Witch

It’s only right that someone who fancies herself a fairy tale princess should make sure that everyone knows

  1. That my handsome son was prom royalty last evening and
  2. That his gorgeous date Katie’s dress looks SO MUCH like my favorite-movie-of-all-time’s good witch and her dress!!!

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What a couple–I just had to share!

The Evolution of “Permanent Marker”

downloadWell, I’m finding out that writing a book is a lot like choosing a major in college.

If memory serves, when I attended freshmen orientation at THE O.S.U. way back when, I was told that the typical college student changes her major between 4-5 times. Proudly, I can tell you that I didn’t change mine even once—I went in as an education major, and I graduated as a teacher—yay me!

THE BOOK, however, is now going into its third evolution, and I’m sure that by the time it’s all said and done, we will have hit the 4-5 mark. Speaking of marks, the book now has a new title, Permanent Marker. I’m very proud of this title, as I came up with it myself about three years ago while putting together an essay for an anthology on Scars, which was edited then by my editor now. The title serves so many purposes for the book and its story, as it should, and I can’t wait to see how this may affect/change/mold the writing itself. I don’t know why it never came to mind in the first place as a title; my editor threw it out there to the publisher, who loved it, thus, it was born! The publisher is currently working on the “packaging” of THE BOOK, as it must go into a June 2017 catalog of Spring 2018 releases–isn’t that crazy? I wonder what it will look like.

Unfortunately, the fairy tale of Aimee as Cinderella just wasn’t working out write, pun intended, nor was the fairy tale patterning—it threw off the tone and voice of the writing, which I worried might happen. No matter how dark the tale told/or allusion made in my writing, the fairy tale angle came off as lighthearted and glib, making the seriousness of the story and what happened to me fade. Ricky Martin will be staying in the book, however, because Ricky is as much a part of my classroom as my desks and books are. Yay! (I also hope to get Ricky to write a blurb for my book—now wouldn’t that be seriously wild?!)

In other news with THE BOOK—now wait a second. I’m going to start using its title.  In other Permanent Marker news, the order/structure-of-the-book monster has reared its ugly head again, causing me to revise toward a more non-linear chronological story line. So far, for what I’ve done, I like it. But as I’ve already found out, just because I like it doesn’t mean that it’s right for MY story.

Have I mentioned lately how difficult it is to write a book, by the way? And how gratifying, fun, challenging, and curiously delighting it is, too?

I love it. And I’m excited. And sometimes, when I’m feeling really good about it, I think about all the other things I want to write about afterward….

Take 2!

They say the third time is the charm, right? Well, let’s hope so, because after completing my original manuscript back in May of 2014, and the revised edition (#1) in March of 2017, it looks like THE BOOK is going back to the drawing board for another major revision (#2).

All verdicts are in and 1) the fairy tale/Cinderella angle just wasn’t “right” for the story, 2) the tone didn’t stay unified throughout, 3) there were too many Aimees telling the story–I know, too many Aimees…Jackson’s worst nightmare, right?–again, part of the tone/voice issue and 4) well, the other three are really enough.

So where does this leave me, you ask? Interestingly enough, the original manuscript from three years ago has gotten the most kudos, so I do believe I’m going to be taking it and tweaking it a bit. I should have listened to Josette to begin with, because she was right. (You can tell me “I told ya so” now.)

I also must revise away all of the fairy tale business that started to consume me and this book. This means that Revising Cinderella, or Cinderella, Revised are no longer working titles, so there’s also that to figure out. (You’d think the title was the easiest part, right? Nope.)

And all of this is okay, it really is, but phew. I’ve got a lot of work to do, and just when

  • the weather is breaking for good and I need to lose my winter weight
  • spring is springing all over the place and I want to work in my gardens
  • Connor is turning 18 and getting ready to graduate so I need to plan a party
  • Natalie just bought her first home which needs TLC from anyone who can help
  • and as if all that weren’t enough, we still need to move my Dad, who is taking everyone to Indians games left and right with the season passes we got him for his 80th birthday, back to Loudonville!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Breathe, Aimee, breathe,” Jackson tells me. (All the time it seems!)

But thank goodness for his reminders, because he’s right. And let me count the ways. Because 1) I’m writing the book–yay!–I’ve always wanted to and 2) Life is good. And fun. And busy. And fragile. And you can only live it once. And it can also be lost so quickly.

So. Take 2. I will make this time count.

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Jackson at an Indians game last summer with my brother, dad, and kids. Isn’t he dreamy?

13 Things to Do When You’re Waiting for Your Book to Come Back from the Editor and You Don’t Have Any Papers to Grade, Either…YET

  1. Catch up on a few movies, especially those nominated for Oscars


uncle tom's cabin2. Finish a book you were trying to read for school when your own book became more important

3. Do some solid lesson planning for your last nine weeks’ unit on reading and writing Creative Non-Fiction (does poetry count?), to ensure that students will—hopefully—be active participants

4. Start another book you found last weekend at Barnes and Noble that sounded fascinating (and so far, so good!).scandalous women

5. DON’T blog. Whatever you do. Give those readers a much-needed Aimee break.

6. Maybe clean the oven—since you’ve been meaning to for more than a year now—ick.

7. Give yourself a pedicure for spring.

Toes

8. Cook dinner for your hubby a few times to make up for every night during the past five months that he’s cooked for you. He’s the best. (Thank you, Jackson!)

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9. Hold your kitty cat while having coffee one Sunday morning Cam

10. Spend way too much time pondering whether it’s time to let your hair go gray (thanks for the genes, Dad!), pouring over photo after photo of blonde/gray hair—should you finally grow those roots out? (But you’re still young!)

11.  Go see your favorite high school student-performers in the spring musical, The Little Mermaid. 

12. Consider planning a trip to Vegas to see Ricky Martin, errrr, I mean, for Jackson’s 40th birthday. RM

13. Think about what you might want to write next. Next? Like after THE BOOK next? Yes, Aimee. Next.

Hmmmmmm. I don’t know about that last one. Phew. We’ll see.