holmes sweet holmes

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Archive for the category “Teaching”

some days i really love my job.

even in the midst of bureaucratic bullshit, and long hours of marking essays, and ridiculous-though-endearing things children do (please stop ripping the flexible plastic off of your 3-ring binder in the middle of class — with your TEETH), i just really love teaching. 

yesterday was a great day. my students made me laugh, i made them laugh, we wrote some great reflections, and to top it all off, they brought me homemade cupcakes. 


one of my favorite novels to teach is the outsiders by s. e. hinton. in the states, my students immediately related to the greasers and eventually grew in empathy for the socs; they realized that things really were rough all over, that socio-economic advantages did not mean someone’s life was perfect. its accessibility makes it a student favorite too. 

(of course, they learned about the literary aspects of the novel too: themes, mood, foreshadowing, motifs, yada yada yada.)

i’ll admit that i had preconceived expectations of how my students in egypt would react to this book. although i was confident they would all love it, i also assumed that because of their own socio-economic situations, they would not necessarily understand the greasers.

silly me. 

in the first chapter or two, that was sorta true. they asked me a million questions — “how do they live like that? why do they live like that? they are only teenagers; it’s not okay for them to act like that!” some of it was tinged with judgement, but most of it was expressed with incredulity. what’s portrayed in the book is so different from their own lives on so many levels. they simply didn’t recognize it.

by the time we were 2/3 done, one of the girls raised her hand at the start of class. they had been assigned a particularly exciting chapter as homework the night before. 

“miss, all of us love the greasers, and we feel like we are part of their group. so because [spoiler alert!] happened to the boys, we are all SO SAD. and i think it’s because the narrator is a greaser. we feel like we are inside his head, and we can relate to him. maybe if the author had used a soc as a narrator, it would be different, but we all feel like we’re greasers too.” outbursts of assent from the other girls followed. 

my boys had a similar reaction. they all loved the greasers, and they all could relate to these characters. 

this is why i love my job. this is the power of teaching literature. 

yes, my students are learning about character development, and motifs, and narrator point of view, and other fascinating literary aspects. 

but they are also learning about stereotypes and analyzing the danger of said stereotypes, how they do not leave room for individual identity. and about character motivation, and how cultural expectations can influence the choices characters (and by extension people) make. 

literature creates a space for readers to insert themselves into the story. my kids might not recognize the poor side of town in 1960s oklahoma, but they recognize misunderstandings, identity issues, loss and grief. i love this part of my job the most. (the homemade cupcakes are a close second.)

i also love my kids’ varied reactions to the book: 

one girl is so obsessed with the character of johnny that the actor who portrayed him in the ’80s movie is now the background picture on her cell phone. ralph macchio is making a comeback amongst grade 8 egyptian girls. 

another girl cried her eyes out for 30 minutes after the death of a character. in the midst of her full-body sobs, she bawled, “death is not a joke!” 

a reluctant reader, after we finished the penultimate chapter, yelled out, “no! there’s only one chapter left! i refuse to read it! this book can’t be over!” as soon as we read the last page, he turned back to the first one and started over. no joke. 

seriously. i am so lucky to do what i love. now i need to return to the report cards i’ve been working on all afternoon. 


check out this cast. their imdb searches have sky-rocketed in cairo.



My student teaching adviser once told me, “If you feel overwhelmed in May and want to resign, don’t do it. If you still want to quit in August – if the thrill of buying new office supplies and setting up your classroom isn’t enough – then you can quit.”

I still get giddy about the first day of school. This year, I was so excited I even matched my clothes to my bulletin board.

Seriously though, I love the fresh faces filled (mostly) with enthusiasm on the first day. I was more apprehensive than normal, because it’s scary-exciting to start at a new school. After completing two and a half weeks with the kiddos, I have lost most of the nervousness. Particularly because these kids are so sweet and welcoming.

I always write a letter to my students that tells them about me as a teacher and a person, and then they write one to me in return. It helps me learn more about them as well as diagnose their writing skills and their focus levels. I pulled out some of the better quotes from these kids’ letters.

They’re already trying to suck up to me.

“I look forward in each year at Hayah, but this year is amazing because we have some brilliant teacher bright as a light bulb one of those teacher’s is Ms. Katie.”

“I want to say WELCOME! I have a feeling you are going to be great teacher!”

“I’m excited to take Language Arts with you, Ms. Katie. And I’m positive that you’ll be an amazing teacher, and you’ll always push me to be the best in everything.”

“I really like teachers who teach right and since the first day I knew you were my teacher I felt relief.”

“I am hoping for a great year, by the way I hope your patient with me, I’m not the brightest student, but maybe with you I’ll be the brightest of ALL” (accompanied by a lovely drawing of a shining lightbulb)

“Welcome to our Hayah family! You will love it here although 99% of the time we are misbehaving, but there is something in us that makes teachers love us, sense of humor maybe.”

“Did I tell you I love your hair ;)” (This one is especially funny, because my SPCS 8th graders and I had a running joke that I never did my hair. This is the only student who wrote it, but I heard glowing compliments on my hair all day long.)

We bonded over our love of reading – mostly.

“I hope we have a wonderful two years together. And may the odds be EVER in your favor (I just had to say it!)”

In response to what she’s hoping to learn this year: “I am hoping to love reading because it benefits us.”

“Like you, I like to read. I like to call my book collection my ‘library’ because I have over 200!”

“And also if we have to read a novel it would be great if we watched the book’s movie, because movies are the new books.”

Some made me laugh…

“I had a cat who died last year, I still weep at night.”

“I am excited to be with you & I wish you can make me one of the best in Larts, please try to control me before any penalties.”

“Egypt is very crowded and dirty but it is filled with activity.”

…and others impressed me.

“I prefer to sit up front to stay attentive, but if someone needs it more than me, I can sit towards the back.”

“The idea of death makes me stumble.” This one made me catch my breath. It is so unexpected and beautiful.

I am looking forward to a year with these kiddos. I am teaching two 7th grade classes and two 8th grade classes. They are split by sex, so that will be a new challenge. My group of 8th grade boys is definitely the hardest set, and I’ve already assigned the entire class detention (but don’t worry — I gave them the chance to earn their break time back without detention. About half of them could do it.). I know that eventually, soon, I will love teaching this group of boys. I just need to teach and reteach what I expect until they do it. My 8th grade girls, on the other hand, are already amazing learners. I can’t wait to get my 8th grade boys there too.

That being said, I feel like this will be a difficult year for me. I am used to teaching a very different student body, and I thrive on the challenge of attempting to bridge the gaps that exist both in their academic performances and in their ability to trust adults, while simultaneously teaching traits like grit and resilience and self-control. I know how to teach so my students will (usually) learn in spite of stressful things like domestic abuse, gang pressure, poverty and detached parenting. Now I have a student body who can mostly perform at or above grade-level; who not only have stability, but also drivers and iPads and vacations in Switzerland. It’s a whole different ballgame.

I am not naive enough to believe that my new students live stress-free lives. To the contrary, I have already seen stressors creep up. I’m just not equipped to deal with them yet. The tricks I have stuffed up my sleeve are not nearly as effective here. This extra challenge is keeping me on my toes, which is all I can ask for as an educator — to constantly grow and be pushed to improve.

It’s scary and thrilling and crucial to be outside of my comfort zone. I feel a heightened awareness of myself and my surroundings, causing some pretty intense introspection. This is exactly why I am teaching and living in Egypt. I have been asked hundreds of times if I miss home. I miss people, but so far, that’s all. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be; there is a deep settling in my bones, a feeling that I have arrived.

**Don’t open till September 2012**

On the last day of school, my 7th graders wrote themselves a letter to read on the first day of 8th grade. I told them to focus on advice that will help them transition into 8th grade. I decided to do the same for myself, since September would bring newness to me as well. 

Today is not quite the first day of school (that’s on Tuesday), but today is the Meet and Greet with parents and students. It’s sort of the same thing. Here’s my “letter” that I rushed out in the middle of assisting my students back in June.

“1. Remember all the love you feel for SPCS.

2. Remember to keep an open mind.

3. Remember to try new things.

4. Remember to always have a dusty classroom.

5. Remember to be easy breezy.

6. Remember that when dreams come true, it’s normal to find a new one.”

Pretty right on, huh?

The End of an Era

Three years doesn’t seem like a long time, but when I’ve only been teaching for four, it is.  I said goodbye to my SPCS family over a week ago now, but it still hasn’t completely sunk in.

On the last day with kids, my amazing co-workers threw a surprise assembly for me.  “We Are Family” was playing as I walked through the door.  I was given a chair and a box of Kleenex.

My friend and partner-in-crime, Jenny Reiling, started by thanking me for my service to school and showing off a brightly colored binder (assembled by my friend, the talented Amy Hamm) filled with notes of well wishes from staff and students, along with pictures to remind me of this place I love so much.

Notes that I will save forever

Our awesome (foolish?) remake of Sir Mixalot’s “I Like Big Butts” into “I Like Big Books”

Then a few brave souls read their notes to the whole assembly.  That box of Kleenex was SO necessary.  It was getting dusty in the gym.  Goll.

Thank goodness my students were funny too.  My tears were interrupted by belly laughs.  They ended with the 7th grade choir class singing “Lean on Me,” thanking me for all of the times they’ve leaned on me over the last three years.  It was perfect.

I spent my prep time that day pouring over this binder, simultaneously laughing, crying, and surging with love.  I looked at it an additional three times that night.

I can’t choose any favorites, because they all make me feel like the luckiest teacher in the world.  There are amazing pictures of my students, but you’ll need to come see those in person.  Sorry – no student pictures on the blog.  Student words, on the other hand, are perfect!

A few themes exist throughout the binder: 

Remember when I said half of my students intentionally call me “Mom?”  Here’s the proof:


Mamma Holmes

“And I call you Mom, because I love you like a mom.”

“You are the bomb, and my other MOM.”

I decided last summer that I loved owls.  It was no secret to my kids:



My kids make me laugh:

“Look I indented”

Yes it is.

My kids are so sweet and amazing:

“You taught me how to write a letter, how to be a good girl, how to love reading, and how to succeed in life.” Well, I think my job here is done.

This kid is my Mockingjay.

I love that they all support me following my dreams.

**P.S. I selected student writings were I could easily avoid the name, or ones that were easy to read once I took a picture.  There are no favorites. 🙂

**P.P.S. My kids don’t always love me.  They were just feeling sentimental the last couple of weeks of school. 😉


If you ever need a pick me up, all you need to do is tell a group of middle school students that you are moving to another country.  Seriously.  The amount of cards, hugs, shared tears, confessions of love, requests for pictures, and THANK YOUs (from kids, parents and staff) are overwhelming.  Somehow I need to remember all of this when I’m feeling low.  This binder is the best way for me to bid adieu

SPCS, I less than sign three you. 😉

Kids Say The Darnedest Things

My last post was fairly emotional, and I have an intensely emotional post brewing (I’m saying more goodbyes, which I always suck at).  So I decided to add a little humor in between. 

My first year teaching, I worked with an awesome team of strong teachers.  I learned more about teaching from them in one year than I did in 4 years of college. At the end of year, my dear friend Sarah gave us all a list of extremely funny quotes that students said throughout the year. 

I wanted to carry on the tradition at my new school, but I never remembered until April, and by then, I couldn’t remember what kids had said.  This year, I was finally successful!  I handed out the list of funnies to my team on Friday, and my abs still hurt from laughing so hard.

I’ve selected a few gems that require very little context of the situation or the kid.  Enjoy!

  • “You know what would make this even better?  Being BUCK NAKED!” – Student while standing in front of a box fan
  • “I really want to touch your necklace right now, but I remember that thing you said about not sexually harassing people.” – Student to a teacher
  • “Ms. R wants to know if you want to go O-U-T-S-I-D-E since you lose your G-Y-M time tomorrow.” – Ms. S.  “Tell her O-K-A-Y.” – Me.  “Wait – you talking in code now?” – A student listening to our conversation
  • “If texting plus facebook equals textbook, can it be considered studying?”
  • “What do the MCAs stand for?  Minnesota Child Abuse?”
  • “You know why I have trust issues?  Raisins in cookies.  I always think they are chocolate chips!”
  • “When I get merried and have a baby it is so beautiful.” – A kid in his letter from his future self
  • Running into class after bringing out recycling: “Ms. Holmes, Ms. Holmes! Let’s play a game!  Let’s play a game called Who Saw Something Epic this morning!  I saw a rooster.”
  • “We need to get an elderly patch for Girl Scouts, so we helped walk Ms. R to her car.”
  • “I like black people food, like fried chicken.” – Student.   “Honey, that sounds racist when you say it that way.” – Teacher.  “What?  I’m not being racist.  I like white people food too, like pasta.” – Student
  • While looking at my wedding picture: “You’re pretty, Ms. Holmes.  I mean, not today, but in this picture.”
  • “Ms. Holmes, are you a vegan? No, of course not, you’re eating M&Ms all the time.”
  • And one of my all time favorites: “Baby C. has a window’s peak.” – Student A.  “No, no, no, it’s a receiving hair line.” – Student B.

Gosh, I love my job.

Dusty Rooms

It has been an emotional week. 

Friday was the last day for the 8th graders, and it was incredibly tough.  My teaching partner-in-crime, Jenny Reiling, cries tears of joy at the drop of a hat, and she always blames it on the dusty rooms.  Well, Friday was insanely dusty for all involved. 

The 8th graders and I created the most awesome photo collage you have ever seen to give her.

All of the students wrote a message to her:

“You are so squirrelly”

“I will never have another teacher like you”

“You are the best”

and other equally joyful-tear inducing messages.  Then I took a picture of them holding their sign, and put them all together in a frame.  As we presented it to her, she and I both lost it.  That was at 8:45 in the morning.  I don’t think I stopped crying until noon.

Tonight, we officially said goodbye to all of these students as they graduated.  It is particularly difficult for me because I have taught most of these students since they were teeny tiny 6th graders, and I’ve watched them transform into young people.  These are some of the hardest goodbyes.

Goll, it’s getting dusty in my dining room too.

So, without getting too emotional: I adore these children.  I admire how hard they work and how resilient they are.  I believe that wonderful things are in store for them.  I can’t wait to see how they change the world.

SPCS class of 2012, you are ready for the challenges that await.  Meet them with your heads held high!  Continue to make me proud.

I leave SPCS for at least two years on Friday.  Soon I will move on to blogging about Egypt and the preparations, but for now I am living in the present, saying goodbye to my school. I’m anticipating many more dusty rooms before the week is over. 

We Are Family

Today I told my students that we are heading off to Egypt.

The responses ranged from, “Why are you leaving us?” to “Why did you choose Egypt?!?” to “Why can’t I come with you?!?!?”

Any time a major change happens, a part of me is ready to embrace whatever is to come.  Equally, a part of me slides on the rose-colored glasses and waxes nostalgic, aching to stay where I am.  I’m currently sitting in the midst of the latter. All I can think about is how much my students make me laugh, the many ways they have instigated growth and change within me, and the pure and unadulterated joy I feel when I am with them.  I can’t seem to remember the frustration or annoyance or plain old exhaustion. 

So it was appropriate this morning, when I told my ASAP (advisory) students the news, a kid said, “Let’s have a moment of silence to remember all of the good times we’ve had together.”  So we did.  And it was good.

Then we had a group hug, and the boys started singing, “We Are Family.”

We are a family.  We trust each other, we drive each other nuts, and we have fun together.  Most of the students have been mine for 3 years, which is one of the most consistent relationships some of them have.  I used to think it was funny when students accidentally called me “Mom.”  Now half of my students intentionally call me “Mom.”  Another student asked if she could be the god-student to my future baby.  (I think she’d be the first god-student in the history of the world.)  We are family. 

And the best part of family is feeling supported.  Another student said today, “Well, the good news is you are following your dream, right?”  Right you are.

I’ll end tonight with a little inspiration from Sister Sledge: “High hopes we have for the future, and our goal’s in sight.”  The part of me ready to embrace the change agrees whole-heartedly.  The part of me aching to stay right here, right now agrees too.

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