A Letter About Slaying Dragons, I Mean, Middle School Myths

Dear Rising Seventh Grader,

If you’re like I was as an awkward, gangly sixth-grader-going-on-seventh-grader, your palms are sweaty, your furrowed brow indicates an ample amount of apprehension, and your brain is a buzzing New York City intersection teeming with traffic. You can take a deep breath now. Relax. Help is here. Your older siblings, friends, not-friends, and maybe even your parents have been supplying your overactive nerves with a steady stream of white lies. Luckily, I’m here to bust the top four middle school myths for you, so that you can soar to success in middle school.

  1. Middle school is a zoo.

This myth is both fact and fiction. Is middle school a zoo…literally? No. Fact: Middle school is NOT a zoo. We do not house ordinarily wild animals in cages for visitors’ enjoyment. Is it as loud as a zoo at times? Is it entertaining, crazy, unpredictable like a zoo? Absolutely. This myth is not meant to be taken literally, but if you read it as figurative language, as a metaphor (which is a comparison between two things that doesn’t use like or as) then you can extract meaning like freshly squeezed juice from a lemon. (That’s a simile, a comparison which does use like or as.) Though this place may teeter on the brink of chaos, you can always look for a bright side and a reason to make lemonade.

  1. The eighth graders will eat you alive!

Consider this your next lesson in figurative language. Myth #2 is a hyperbole, or an extreme exaggeration. This statement is not meant to be taken literally but serves to make a point. Are the eighth graders as tall and tantalizingly overbearing as skyscrapers? Sometimes. Will they shriek, show off, maniacally laugh in your presence, and call you “Sevie!” to make you feel inferior? Perhaps. However, eighth graders can also be your mentors and friends, directing you to your classroom like a GPS or perfectly passing the soccer ball to you in a pick-up game after school. They may have grown more than you, likely both in height and experience, but you should use this growth to your advantage: learn from the eighth graders.

  1. Some of the teachers live at school.

Ms. A stockpiles granola bars, crackers, and bags of fruit in her desk drawers. Mr. B’s hoodies huddle together in the corner of his class, like napping cats. Mrs. C has a bag of clothes she brings to school every day. Newsflash: these teachers, no matter how crazy your observations, do not live at school. Ms. A stashes secret snacks in her desk for students who forgot or can’t afford lunch. Mr. B hoards hoodies because some students come to school shivering in the wintertime, without a coat to hug them snug and warm. And Mrs C? She stays after school almost every day to coach students in soccer and basketball. She has to be ready. They all have to be ready. These teachers don’t live at school, but they do love their jobs so much it appears they’re living here. Try to love being here as much as your teachers do.

  1. There is a secret pool in the basement!

Let us break this Buy-One-Get-One myth. Not only do we not have a secret pool, but we also don’t have a basement. However, if your imagination is just wild enough, you might be able to write a secret pool into a story, or explore a book from its basement to roof–thoroughly, creatively. In books and in writing, you will find freakishly fantastic, deplorably absurd, exceptionally extraordinary things that reality just can’t show you. Don’t be afraid to risk everything and throw yourself into the wonderful world of fiction.

It can be difficult to differentiate between fact & fiction, between unmistakably real and indubitably myth. The two seem inextricable like peanut butter and jelly. You will struggle to separate the two, to find meaning in new words, and to define your new life in this new place. You will struggle, but you will struggle to success.

I feel confident in you now, Sevie, but first, a final fact: Middle school myths are fire-breathing dragons. (That’s a hyperbolic metaphor.) They’re scary at first, have power to breathe fire, and can scorch everything in sight, but only if you believe in them. If there’s anything you come to middle school with, besides your brain and some bravery, it should be these final words of wisdom: Don’t believe everything you hear the first time.

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From your maybe future teacher,

Ochwoman

#IWishMyStudentsKnew: I Like You.

About a month ago, an elementary school teacher asked her students to reflect on and write about the following question:

What do you wish your teacher knew about you?

The results were funny, heartbreaking, and above all: authentic. I (and my students) needed something positive to latch on to near the end of the school year before diving into our standardized test next week, so I asked them the same question.

And my god, are my students bright, brilliant, and blindingly amazing.

I already knew it before, but as science goes, this experiment fully proved, validated, legitimized the hypothesis.

Let me state it again, as now, it is Fact:

My students are bright, brilliant, and blindingly Amazing.

I will share now the most touching experience of my morning, while I asked my students to answer what #IWishMyTeacherKnew.

This is Laura’s response.

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I sat for a moment at my desk, feeling her response.

Then, I went over to Laura and told her I wanted to teach her something.

I. We placed our right hand to our hearts, pinkies up.

Like. Middle finger and thumb together, we pulled an invisible thread outward from our hearts.

You. We pointed to one another.

“I like you, Lauren. Now you can share that with people, so they know you like them too.” I smiled. She began to cry.

“May I hug you?” I asked her.

We hugged, and out of her mouth she whispered two words:

“Thank you.”

For anyone who doesn’t know, teaching cannot be summed up by standardized tests, nor can it be summed up by standards taught and assessed. Teaching is a collection of memorable moments when communities collide, brains connect, and hearts become one.

Teaching is not glorious. It is often messy, thankless, and downright difficult.

But if humans, so diverse in age, race, socioeconomic status, music preferences, slang, cultural values, and learning styles can come together to learn, love, and remember together, well then,

If there’s one thing #IWishMyStudentsKnew, it’s this:

Teaching is worth every goddamn moment. Every. Last. One.

And I will always, always be here to to remind you, I like you.

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Love,

Ochwoman

Hands by Sarah Kay (Day 15)

One of my favorite poets of all time is Sarah Kay. She opened up the world of poetry for me AND my students, so to her I am eternally grateful. Following is a link to a recording of me performing Sarah Kay’s poem “Hands.”

Click here to hear!

This poem was recorded using Adobe Voice, a free app for Apple products. I highly recommend using it for a variety of projects in K-12 schools as it’s very easy to use!

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today’s poem is spoken aloud, featuring my favorite poet, Sarah Kay. Feel free to send me your poems, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

How Much Time? (Day 14)

How much time
Has passed
As I stare Past the window
Looking for you,
For you?

How much time
Has passed
When I finally come to,
Not looking for you
But for me?

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today’s poem is two stanzas, focusing mostly on repetition to reveal a revelation. Feel free to send me your poems, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

Tree (Day 13)

The tree, she is
All dressed up
With nowhere to go
So
She shed her leaves
Before she crawls to bed to sleep,
Not to awake for days on end.
She awakes
With a hangover,
Naked without Nature’s makeup,
Looking like Death herself.
Slowly,
Like a caterpillar
Parting the curtains
To the cocoon of butterflyhood,
The tree bats her bare lashes
In the wind,
Adorns them with her best,
And braves the world
Dressed up once more
For Days on end.

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today was beautiful weather, with magnolias blooming, buds just forming, and green finally coloring the branches above. Nature is lovely; write about it and I may feature your poem on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

10 Tips: How to Make it in High School

Zits, drama, skipping, SAT’s, boyfriends, girlfriends, are we friends? As a 25-year-old reflecting back on high school, I struggle to remember my struggles of a decade ago, but these are the things I remember.
I sometimes have students from previous years email me with friendly hello-how-are-you’s, but today, I received a special email from a student who is nervous that 8th grade is almost over. Why? Next year, she’ll be in high school, and she knows that’s a whole other animal. She asked me for some advice to help alleviate her worries, so I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 tips for how to make high school the best experience possible for students like me…and you!
1. Keep track of assignments by using an agenda or a free app like Google Keep to help you stay on track with your busy schedule
2. Prioritize your studying! Studying doesn’t mean looking everything over from beginning to end, but looking over what you need to practice most first.
3. Make friends. Keep friends. Make new friends. They’ll keep you stress-free in and out of school.
4. Join a club for something you’re passionate about or want to try. Not only will it look great for college, but you’ll make friends in the process!
5. As much as possible, don’t procrastinate.
6. When you procrastinate, you should inevitably learn to speed read, write legibly while the bus is moving, and know how to ask friends for help. (Note: I said for help, not for their homework to copy. Copying = plagiarism = serious consequences)
7. Get to know your teachers, counselors, and principals. Yes, it’s scary that they’re adults, but they may be just the people you need someday!
8. When an awesome opportunity arises, take it, even if you’re scared or have stage fright or have to hold your breath to do it.
9. Start exploring what you’re passionate about NOW: Who do you want to be when you grow up? Not what do you want to be. Once you know who you’d like to be, you can figure out what careers might fit you.
10. Lastly, always, always take a deep breath, smile, and laugh it off.
Middle school, high school, and life can be terrifying, but not if you have all the right tips, tools, and most of all friends. Happy living!

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Love,

Ochwoman

At the Speed of Life (Sneak Peek! Day 12)

It starts slow
As I take my first breath
And I open my eyes
For the very first time.
I see my first sight:
A light–unbearably bright.
I blink, and my mind makes a link.
The first face that I see is
My mother; a mile-wide smile
Frames her already familiar face.
Another smile swoops into view:
Father with ruffled hair…
And when I’m three,
I start to barrage them with questions
A never-ending interrogation
About words, life, creation…
Caterpillars. Like,
How come you have a caterpillar on your face, Daddy?
How come I have a belly button?
Where do babies come from?
How come? How come? HOW COME?
Then I turn five
And I’m so alive,
Running around
Making sound after sound:
Burp, screech, plop, beep.
Isn’t that neat?
[fart noise]
Oh, it sounded like a motorcycle! Do it again!
Okay, Grandma. I’ll do it again!
[fart noise]
Seven. Lucky seven swings around.
My brother and I can be found
Still [fart noise] ing, of course.
In fact, we’ve been crowned,
And my sister and I sell smoothies, promising,
Lose at least ten pounds!
Have energy for days!
And I do. I run right through
8, 9, 10, 11, 12;
I run cross country and take the course record.
13.
I have to order off the adult menu.
I have to order off the adult menu?!
But I’m still a kid!
I still have kickin’, screamin’ tantrums,
And I like chicken tenders!
This renders me speechless.

For a second.

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today’s poem is actually incomplete: It is a draft, a beginning, of a spoken word poem I’ll reveal later this month. I’m still working out bits and pieces, practicing aloud, and rehearsing it before I’m ready to share a video of me performing it here. Stay tuned! Feel free to send me suggestions or share your own spoken word poems, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

Homeless, Honey (Day 11)

My mother gave me eight dollars.
Eight dollars to buy lunch, she said.
She said I look lost.
I look lost because I am lost; I am alone, without a home.
Without a home, I guess I am homeless, wandering around a strange world.
A strange world can only be so friendly
To a wandering, wondering girl like me.
A wandering, wondering girl like me would never tell her mother she is homeless.
Tell her mother she is homeless! The librarian says.
The librarian says this to my friend John because I fall asleep
Every night in the study room that she is stationed in, and she watches me.
She watches me today, as I pull a crumpled five, three ones, & a clump of lint out of my pocket.
Out of my pocket comes the only home I know, and I cling to it.
I cling to it for now, knowing this eight dollars will at least buy me lunch.
At least buy me lunch? I’d asked my mother before leaving home, and so
My mother gave me eight dollars.

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today’s poem features a free verse poem, which plays on the idea of repetition. The end of one line starts the next. Feel free to send me free verse poems or playful repetition pieces you write, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

My Heartstrings (Day 10)

My Heartstrings

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. Today’s poem features a haiku, which are traditionally written about nature. Many have challenged this notion, however, choosing to write about life, love, refrigerators…I’ve decided to deem to day a #FeelTheLove Friday. I left this haiku note for my fiance this morning in place of a simple “I’ll miss you.” Feel free to send me any haikus you write, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!

FACEBOOK (Day 9)

FACEBOOK

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Love,

Ochwoman

April is National Poetry Month! For the month, I’ll be posting an original poem each day. I dug back into my memories today, pulling part life experience, part fiction to define a feeling we all feel, even if we don’t have a word for it in our language. Today’s poem features Newspaper Blackout Poetry, a movement started by Austin Kleon. Feel free to link to any blackout poems you’ve created, and I may feature them on my blog!

Join the #PoemADay challenge on Twitter!