I’m sorry you didn’t get the best version of me this year. I wasn’t the best teacher I could be. Normally I’m vibrant, goofy, and scatterbrained. But my vibrant dulled to lackluster. I lost the goof in goofy and all that was left was “why?” The scatter of my brain didn’t matter because it was scrambled. By the pandemic. By the daunting task of being expected to do everything that I normally do but with less time. By the daunting task of being expected to do everything that I normally do but teach virtually at the same time. By the daunting task of digitizing every single lesson.
I’m so sorry I was terrified of going back into the classroom because I have autoimmune diseases and am on medicine that makes me more likely to contract contagious diseases.
So I’m sorry I kept my distance. Keeping my distance goes against the very nature of my classroom during a regular year. It’s already hard work to differentiate and pull students out for small groups. It’s nearly impossible to do when I wasn’t supposed to be near you.
And to my home-based learners, a special apology goes out to you. Sometimes I had to ignore you in order to get through lessons. Sometimes you were an open tab while I worked in other tabs trying to grade or make the next day’s lesson. So I apologize from the bottom of my heart for not giving you 100 percent all of the time.
I’m so sorry that I asked so much from all of you, but you’ve got to understand that so much was asked of me, was asked of all your teachers. Some handled it better than others, and I’m still not quite sure which side I’ve landed on.
I’m so sorry that you were expected to grow when your world was turned upside down last year, and instead of making sure that you were right side up, that you were whole and nurtured, we had to pretend that it was a normal year.
I’m so sorry that I had to pretend it was a normal year.
I’m so sorry that the state decided that you still had to take end of the year tests. In a year that started late, you still had to sit through three weeks of testing. Three weeks of testing is ridiculous in a normal year, but the higher-ups were so good at pretending that everything was normal this year, that I’m not really sure why I’m so surprised that they made you take those tests. And even though it didn’t count for most students, it ended up counting for you, my eighth-graders taking a high school English class, because you had to pass the test to pass the course.
I’m so sorry for so many more things, but I’m end-of-the-year teacher tired.
I’m sorry that you didn’t get the best version of me, but I gave what I could–and that’s all that I could give.
Please forgive me.
I’m done pretending it was a normal year.
I’m done pretending, period.
But you know what’s real? You. You all were phenomenal despite it all. And I’m so very proud of you and all you accomplished throughout the year. That’s real, and that’s what matters.
Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton—published 2021—336 pages—contemporary fiction/mystery—three stars: This screams wannabe Where the Crawdads Sing and Where the Forest Meets the Stars. Dalton writes on the literary side with pretty prose in places like when describing rural New Hampshire forests but stumbles when trying to build suspense regarding the mystery surrounding a murder that Cadie, now an entomologist, helped cover up during her childhood. Cadie got away with tons of illegal crap—hello white girl privilege.
Shipped by Angie Hockman—published 2021—336 pages—romance—four stars: Henley works in marketing for a cruise company based in Seattle and is full of ambition and good ideas. When she’s up for a promotion, her no-good, woman-hating boss informs her that her nemesis Graeme, who she’s never met in the flesh because he works remotely from Michigan, is up for the position, too. Henley hates Graeme because he took all the credit for a viral video she created, but he posted. Their boss sends them on a company cruise to the Galapagos Islands as a competition to see who can come up with a new, innovative marketing campaign. Whoever wins gets the promotion. Henley’s sister, showing up on Henley’s doorstep after a bad breakup, tags along to help offer insight. When Henley figures out Graeme isn’t a conniving butthole after all, she struggles between her growing feelings for him and wanting to win the competition. I’m not going to overthink this romance review. I enjoyed reading it—hence the four. Other people will probably disagree with me. I liked the little twist at the end. I really did think the names “Henley” and “Graeme” were cringe-y, but everything else worked.
Lore by Alexandra Bracken—published 2021—480 pages—YA fantasy—three stars: Orphaned after her entire immediate family is murdered,Lore is the last remaining mortal descendant of Perseus and the only person who can wield the aegis, a hidden ancient weapon that holds the secret to ending the Agon. Every seven years, the remaining descendants of the ancient Greek gods hunt new and old gods during the Agon, when the gods lose their immortality and whoever kills them becomes the new god. Lore has tried to leave her past behind her, but when a wounded Athena shows up on Lore’s New York City brownstone’s steps, Lore decides to join the hunt to avenge her family’s murder. Lore has been described as “Greek mythology meets The Hunger Games,” and I agree, but it also has notes of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and even The City We Became. It’s also just not as good as any of the previously mentioned books. Things move from one thing to the next too quickly, making the story hard to follow. It could have benefited from being told from Lore’s first-person perspective. There was little character development. I read this as an ebook, and I’ve never seen an ebook, that wasn’t self-published that is, as poorly formatted as this one. In several spots in the middle of a line, a new line was started. In other places, words should have been capitalized that weren’t. Bracken can end a chapter on a cliffhanger, though.
The Echo Wifeby Sarah Gailey—published 2021—256 pages—science fiction/thriller—four stars: Y’all. I totally forgot to write book reviews as I finished each book, starting with this read right here. Be prepared to be underwhelmed with all subsequent reviews. When Evelyn Caldwell’s clone, Martine, created by Evelyn’s ex-husband in secret to become his submissive version of his brilliant ex-wife, kills Evelyn’s ex when he tries to murder Martine and their unborn child, the two decide to make a clone of him to cover up the murder. This is so twisted and messed up. I’m a huge Gailey fan.
A Pho Love Story by Loan Le—published 2021—416 pages—YA romance—three stars: Bao’s parents own a Vietnamese restaurant, and Linh’s parents do too, directly across the street from Bao’s family restaurant. The two families hate each other in the Romeo and Juliet fashion. When Bao helps out Linh at her family’s restaurant unbeknownst to Linh’s parents on a busy night, Bao and Linh can’t help but become friends. They partner together through their school’s newspaper to review other restaurants in the area, keeping it a secret from both their families. Bao writes the articles and Linh sketches the restaurant. Bao discovers he loves writing. Linh wants to pursue art, but her parents make it loud and clear that becoming an artist isn’t a viable career option. This is a perfectly acceptable YA romance, but it was pretty boring. And about 100 pages too long. It did make me terribly hungry while reading it.
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen—published 2020—288 pages—nonfiction—four stars: Totally fascinating. All millennials would gain something by reading this book. Boomers should probably pick it up too.
The Survivors by Jane Harper—published 2020—384 pages—mystery—two stars: My least favorite read ever by an author who I’ve consistently loved. This vibes more whodunnit compared to her other books. There’s zero character development and just, ughhhhhhhhh.
Black Buckby Mateo Askaripour—published 2021—400 pages—contemporary fiction/humor—three stars: Buck is more than comfortable working at Starbucks forever, despite graduating as the valedictorian from a prestigious NYC high school. When a white start-up entrepreneur recognizes Buck’s talent, he offers Buck a job. Buck is the only Black person, and one of the other bigwigs oozes Neo-Nazi from his preppy, privileged pores and targets Buck from day one. Buck ends up saving the company from going under. Once this happens, he launches an underground society to help Black people and other racially diverse people become as successful as he is. But when white people start noticing what’s happening, they launch a white-nationalist counterattack against the group. This book had moments of greatness like these lines when Buck is discussing losing a game of pool: “This game’s fixed,” I said, after he whooped my ass. Any game where one white ball can beat the crap out of every other nonwhite ball on the table has to be rigged. But ultimately, the storyline got super bizarre, and I love an unconventional storyline, and made it really hard to connect with this book.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner—published 2021—320 pages—historical fiction—three stars: Caroline travels to London for her wedding anniversary by herself after discovering her husband has been having an affair. One afternoon she stumbles upon a gentleman who leads groups of people on excursions to find items along the banks of the Thames. Caroline finds an old apothecary bottle and unravels the mystery of the bottle while coping with her husband’s infidelity. While Caroline’s narrative is happening, the apothecary’s and a young girl’s story, set in 1791, unfolds. The apothecary, who sells poison to desperate women to help them murder men, finds herself in an unsavory situation when one of her well-to-do patrons wants a concoction to poison her husband’s lover. I didn’t feel like this was very “historical.” I didn’t really learn a lot about the time period by reading this novel. I disliked how parallel Caroline’s and the apothecary’s stories ended up being; it’s a SUPER annoyance of mine.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot—published 1939—56 pages—poetry—how can I rank something so overtly racist—zero stars: So, I’ve had this book for ages, but I’d never opened it. Poetry about cats? Why wouldn’t I love this book? Sounded right up my alley (cat, sorry, couldn’t help myself). But as I read, I was seriously disturbed by the racist language in several of the poems.
A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)by Brigid Kemmerer—published 2021—408 pages—YA fantasy—three stars: I didn’t have high hopes for the ending of this series so I wasn’t disappointed when the ending was lackluster. Thirty percent of it is fluff, and the ending, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, was. So. Freaking. Rushed. And Rhen. Rhen. Rhen. Rhen. But, ugh, I can’t give you any spoilers, but Lilith could have been dealt with in so many other ways. Harper was pretty much ignored towards the book’s end. Isn’t this supposed to be a trilogy? Kemmerer left it wideeeeeeeee open for a spin-off or a prequel or another book or 15.
(I also reread Romeo and Juliet this month for the zillionth time.)
unnamed and not revised and barely coherent ten-minute poem
if i hang fire for the unexpected
does that trigger me predictable?
or a misfire rejected?
or AKA a gunslinger
with an AK-47?
that's how I'd spend my seven minutes in heaven
lingering and fingering this weapon
of mass destruction
does that trigger me predictable
because Colt 45s are my cult, my principles?
while i hang fire for the unexpected.
the morning hues state fair cotton candy blue and pink and stops me and my Vans in my tracks makes me blink hard and think how can the world be so painfully pretty
i riffle through my rusty locker at school while staring at the brunette with the sharp Cara Delevingne eyebrows and cheekbones who sparkles glossy cool versus me, a murky cesspool and i wonder what it's like to be so painfully pretty
i skip English class and beeline to the bathroom because iambic pentameter and two star-crossed lovers would only weight sighs to my gloom and we both know they die anyway in the tomb i just can't stomach poetry that painfully pretty
i size myself up in the cracked mirror wiping away the tears, i fall in and disappear
Some classroom snapshots that demonstrate why I love and hate teaching middle schoolers, who I refer to with equal parts affection and exasperation as goofbuckets:
Goofbucket #1: If I have a red-headed baby can I just throw it out the window? [Having temporarily forgotten that he sits next to a blatantly ginger (sweet sweet sweet) girl.]
Ginger-Haired-Shoulder-Partner Goofbucket: [Shoots him with an eat-poo-and-die look that I thought she was incapable of making.]
Me: There’s a word for that: defenestrate. And no. And I’m pretty sure you just hurt Ginger-Haired-Shoulder-Partner Goofbucket’s feelings.
Goofbucket #2: Hand sanitizer low-key tastes good.
*****In my school district, students have to wear uniforms. And. It’s. A. Battle. Every. Single. Day. To. Get. Middle. Schoolers. To. Follow. The. Policy. (Do I agree with public school uniform policy? No. But I enforce it because it’s part of my job.)
We always have a few who try to get away with not wearing uniform shirts by just wearing a school-approved sweatshirt or hoodie instead with whatever t-shirt underneath.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, one of my students rolled into first block wearing a black hoodie, which they’re not allowed to wear. *****
Me: [Stopping him at the door.] Hey, you know you can’t wear black hoodies in the classroom. I’m just going to need you to take it off.
Goofbucket #3: I can’t.
Me: Why not?
Goofbucket #3: I don’t have a shirt on.
Me: [Startled.] You don’t have on any shirt underneath your hoodie????
Goofbucket #3: No, ma’am.
Me: [Aghast.] Who wears a hoodie without wearing ANY shirt underneath it?????
Goofbucket #3: [Hangs head in shame.]
Me: Go downstairs and get a shirt from ISSP.
[Goofbucket #3 comes back 15 minutes later wearing a very wrinkly school-approved anorak that’s a tad too small. His midriff is visible when he raises his arms slightly.]
Me: What are you wearing????
Goofbucket #3: Coach was out of uniform shirts so he sent me to the locker room to find something to wear. All I could find was this jacket.
Me: So you just took some random jacket????
[Both of us hang our heads in defeat.]
(Sidebar: A few years ago, a similar situation transpired, but it was with a girl, and she couldn’t take her sweatshirt off because she wasn’t wearing a bra. Like, I get you girl, #freethetatas all the way, and whew, you’re brave, but you can’t do that here!!!)
*****I’m not quite sure how we arrived at this conversation, but this transpired during my advisory.*****
Me: Teaching is like performing, and y’all are my audience.
Confused Goofbucket: We’re your audience?
Me: Yeah, and if this were back in Shakespeare’s day and I were performing on stage at the Globe Theater and the audience didn’t like my performance, what would the audience have thrown at me? You should be far enough into your Shakespeare WebQuest to answer that.
Goofbucket #5: BEER!!!!!!!
[The whole room gets silent.]
Me: [Deadpans.] Wrong answer. Also, you better believe that I’m telling your mother you said that.
Goofbucket #5: [Cowers in fear.]
Me: [Behind a hardened stare, delights in his fright. Takes a silent curtain call.]
*****In the middle of class, I watched a student, Goofbucket #1 who’ve you already met, drink water through his mask. (I honestly think he forgot he was wearing one.)*****
Me: [Stops going over intro to Romeo and Juliet slides.] Did you just drink water through your mask?
Goofbucket #1: [Puts the water bottle down and closes his eyes because he knows the class will never let him live it down. Starts laughing.] Yes.
Me: When’s the last time you washed your mask????? [Asks because obviously 8th graders are gross and some of them wear the same mask every single day.]
Goofbucket #1: Yesterday.
Me: Thank god. [Finds my own mask getting wet from the laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying tears.]
*****I watched the wet circle on his mask slowly dry the rest of the block.*****
These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights #1) by Chloe Gong—published 2020—YAL fantasy/retellings—three stars: I have a love/hate relationship with retellings. I have an even stronger love/hate relationship with Romeo and Juliet. So a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Shanghai during the 1920s sounded torturous. Perfect! There’s even a water monster! And gangs! And Cabaret! A beautifully written first chapter starts the book, and Gong weaves in some of the play’s original motifs like day vs. night and birds. However, I couldn’t handle the fluff between the first chapter’s end and the book’s last twenty-two percent.
Enjoy the View (Moose Springs, Alaska #3) by Sarah Morgenthaler—published 2021—romance—four stars: Have I read the first two books in this series? No. But the cover and the blurb begged me to read it. The beginning confused me, but the storyline drew me in. River, a Hollywood actress who’s looking to make the switch to behind the camera, is on the side of a road hauling a suitcase of rocks on the outskirts of Moose Springs, Alaska, attempting to shoot footage for her documentary when Easton—gargantuan, bearded, and man-bunned—pulls over to offer her help. Furious that her shot is ruined, she enlists him to hold a pizza box sign that will deter other good samaritans from ruining footage. Sparks fly between the two. When the Alaskan Tourism board sidelines her documentary because she can’t get any filming permits signed because Moose Springs hates tourists, she takes her chances and her documentary outside the city limits and up a mountain, with a gargantuan, bearded, and man-bunned Easton as her guide. I had too much fun reading this. Easton and River’s banter was cute. A marmot thinks Easton is its soul mate and follows them up Mount Veil. Once my Libby queue dwindles, I’ll read the series’ first two books.
The Push by Ashley Audrain—published 2021—thriller—five stars: I never would have guessed that my first five-star 2021 read would be a thriller—but holy shit. The Push. Is. Sooooooooooo. Damn. Good. After giving birth to Violet, Blythe is unsettled by her little girl. Violet screams when in Blythe’s arms, and the baby’s father can only comfort the infant. As Violet grows, Blythe has an even harder time connecting with her precocious child, especially once she witnesses a tiny Violet do something maliciously unthinkable. While Blythe’s story unfolds, the story of her own mother and grandmother, both unmotherly women, is told. You will question Blythe’s sanity and capability as a mother. You will cry. At first glance, the novel doesn’t look well written. The sentences are short, but it’s for effect. It even says in the narrative: Before. After. After felt curt, my sentences abrupt and sharp, like every paragraph could hurt someone. There was so much anger on the page, but I didn’t know what else to do with it. This gave me We Need to Talk About Kevin vibes. READ THIS BOOK!
Faye, Farawayby Helen Fisher—published 2021—time travel—four stars: One day Faye, married to an aspiring vicar and the mother of two beautiful girls, steps into an old box, a relic from her past, in her attic to avoid broken glass, and she crash lands in the seventies at her childhood home. Getting the chance to see her mother again, who died mysteriously when Faye was 8, is a balm to Faye’s soul, but the time travel, which she feels like she can’t discuss with her husband, creates a rift in her marriage. Ultimately, Faye has to decide if she’s going to travel back one last time to save her mother or to leave the past behind to repair her marriage. Ohhhhh this book. I loved it so much, but I hated how Faye talked directly to the reader like she was trying to make the reader believe in her story. I believed her. The choice for the time travel portal to be a Space Hopper box was overkill in its blatant symbolism, too. But, damn—that ending had me misty-eyed.
The Ex Talkby Rachel Lynn Solomon—published 2021—romance—three stars: As an NPR freak, I loved that this book was set at a public radio station, but the storyline is meh. The radio station is floundering and needs a fresh show. That’s where Shay, a self-conscious-about-her-radio-voice producer, and Dominic, a hot-shot newbie who talks about his masters from Northwestern constantly, come in. Their snarky, hate-filled rapport inspires a show called The Ex Talk. As co-hosts, Dominic and Shay pretend to have dated each other (throwing journalistic integrity out the window into the Puget Sound) and explore the ins and outs of dating. I guess it’s a fresh take on fake-enships that run rampant in romances, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting read.
The Projectby Courtney Summers—published 2021—YAL thriller—four stars: Is there another YAL thriller writer out there better than Courtney Summers? Summers, once again, writes a solid thriller. Cults? Mystery? Unlikeable characters? Cringe-y storylines? The Project has them all.
Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon—published 2021—romance—three stars: Why do I keep reading romances???? Both love interests meet at a conference in Vegas and have a steamy fling. Fast forward, and the boy’s company moves into an office next to the girl’s company’s office. She’s trying to launch an app called Make Up, and he has a newly successful app called Break Up. She accuses him of stealing her business idea, and, gah. You know what happens next. They make up, then they break up, then they make up.
From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout—published 2020—new adult fantasy—four stars: Real talk. Yes, this is a four. No, I will not be reading the next book in the series. I’m over fluffy, drawn-out, commercial fantasy juggernauts. The Maiden, Poppy, is the Chosen One. Secluded and veiled, she must wait until the day she can Ascend to save her people. Throw in a secretive, sexy personal guard and vampires and, BAM, you get new adult fantasy dynamite.
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith—published 2021—contemporary fiction—three stars: The title describes how I feel about the novel after I finished reading it, which is disappointing because it’s peppered with great writing. But the dialogue broke me. As did pumpkin overabundance. As did the whole there’s a therapist-who-rescues-a guy-from-jumping-off-a-bridge-and-then-lies-to-him-about-actually-being-a-therapist-and-then-brings-him-into-her-house-for-the-whole-weekend concept… HE COULD HAVE BEEN A SERIAL KILLER!!!!!!
You Have a Match by Emma Lord—published 2021—contemporary YAL—three stars: Abby gets her DNA tested through an Ancestry-like company as an act of solidarity with her best friend Leo, who is adopted and looking for clues about his birth parents. While Leo’s results are a wash, Abby discovers she has a sister. Her sister, Savvy, reaches out to her, and they try to unravel the mystery of their parents together while they spend time together at summer camp. Lord can write a damn cute story, but this was just too much. Leo and Savvy have known each other forever from attending the same summer camp. And Leo just so happens to be Abby’s best friend? In the book, it says Abby and Savvy’s story sounds like a Disney Channel movie, and it does—or at least a modern-day,Instagram-heavy The Parent Trap. And Savvy’s parents used to be best friends with Abby’s parents, which is THE mystery to be unlocked, but still… And without giving anything away, things were tooooooooo tied together at the end, and Lord, just like she did in Tweet Cute, wrote an unnecessary sugary-sweet epilogue, #deathtoYALepilogues. At least from reading this novel, I can add “Finsta” and “spon con” to my vernacular.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah—published 2021—historical fiction—three stars: I almost DNF’d this book at the 20 percent finished mark, but I kept reading because my bestie in Milwaukee said it had redeeming qualities. She also gave it three stars. The book is set during the Great Depression amidst the Dust Bowl, and Elsa Martinelli. Cannot. Catch. A. Freaking. Break. Sheltered, Elsa longs to go to college and feel pretty. When she breaks her family’s rules, she ends up pregnant and has to marry a man whom she desperately loves, but he doesn’t love her. She moves in with his family and raises their children. When times get even worse, the dust forces Elsa to leave Texas and head to California to save her family. Where do I start? Hannah’s writing style with this was mainstream, melodramatic, lackluster. A drunk Italian husband? Hello, trope. A fiery daughter who resents a mother who bends over backward for her family? Hello, trope. A thin blonde woman who thinks herself ugly and unlovable? Hello, what? (This was one of Milwaukee bestie’s criticisms.) Hannah harps on the drama here to exploit hardship after hardship. I had this same issue with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Despite all this, it’s bingeable; otherwise, I would have ranked it two stars.
My students and I have been working on argumentative texts, and I swore on Facebook not too long ago that I would ensure my students would never forget how to evaluate an argument and a source.
So I turned to Google while lesson planning and discovered the CRAAP method for examining sources. All you have to do is ask yourself is this source CRAAP to analyze for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose–and voila, the children remember how to evaluate a source! And they get to say CRAAP in the classroom, so it makes them feel like they can cuss but actually aren’t! Students love that cusp of danger feeling!
And my teacher soul radiated warm fuzzies every time I heard them say CRAAP while discussing texts about failure.
CRAAP never sounded so good! CRAAP was magic! They were learning! They would know forever how to evaluate a resource!
While my students did test corrections yesterday, I examined exit tickets that analyzed if a failure fluff piece from Medium.com was a compelling argument.
What did my students do in their formal writing???
Used the word CRAAP–EVERYWHERE.
I audibly groaned everytime I came across a sentence that said “this source isn’t CRAAP.”
Not only did they come up with incorrect answers (sigh, only like five kids said the source and the argument itself was crappy), they actually thought saying CRAAP in their writing was a brilliant idea!!!
After having done a badass job of teaching how to evaluate sources and arguments using articles about failure, I WAS AND AM THE FAILURE AND IT MADE ME FEEL CRAPPY.
Crap. Crap. Crap. Extra Crap.
What if they do that on their benchmark???? Or god forbid the LEAP test????
How do I get the CRAAP out of them?
Well, that sounded terrible, but you know what I mean!
Looks like they’re in for a crappy Tuesday because they’re going to be rewriting those exit tickets.
(Sidebar: When I looked at these same exit tickets, so many students kept referring to the author by his first name. I asked my fourth block why–because they fully know to use the author’s last name. Their response? His last name was too hard to spell so it was easier to use his first name.)
Now that I’m an in-person and at-home synchronous teaching master–HA–I forget to start my Google Meet at third block about half the time and occasionally talk while my microphone is on mute–I need help mastering ALL THE STUDENT CHEATING THAT IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME BECAUSE THEY ARE ALWAYS ON THEIR DEVICES.
I miss paper. And pencils. And pens. And THINKING instead of Google searching and regurgitating whatever Spark Notes is telling them about symbolism in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
I’m starting to wish that Google was never invented.
I’m so frustrated because some students’ grades are complete shams. Their grades aren’t reflective of their knowledge and ability. The grades are reflective of cheating and getting away with it.
It seems like all my digital resources have been compromised.
All of the answers to CommonLit assessments are readily available to students on Quizlet.
The state curriculum that we’re using is web-based. Want to guess how secure it is? Not very. Our unit test answers are plastered all over the internet.
I can’t lock a Google Form anymore because my 8th graders don’t have Chromebooks.
I gave the kids To Kill a Mockingbirdbefore Christmas break to read on their own and a banana-ton of questions to answer as a test grade. It’s due in two weeks. Guess what some kids are doing? Googling the answers instead of reading the book. (In hindsight, this was a terrible assignment to give them.)
And now that I’m teaching at home virtual learners who are, for the most part, unsupervised while they’re at home all day, cheating is even more of an issue. And I could be mistaken, but I think some of my in-person learners are staying home on days when they have lots of tests and logging in virtually to class so they can cheat more easily.
And while we do have Impero as monitoring software, it’s only on school devices. Some of my students use two different devices, one for the Google Meet, and one for classwork, which is fine, but I can’t see what they’re doing on the other device. This also becomes problematic when I do give locked tests through Illuminate. (Also no lesson planning or grading gets done when the students are testing anymore because I have to watch what they’re doing like a hawk.)
End rambly semi-coherent rant.
Do y’all have any teacher hacks to help prevent cheating, especially during testing, in this digital classroom era? This teacher needs help!
Here are some of the things I already do:
Their cameras must be on and their faces must be fully visible. Most of the time, my rule is eyebrows and up, but this doesn’t work during testing. No blurred backgrounds are allowed either.
I make all students push their sleeves up and show me their wrists to see if they have smart watches on. If they’re wearing one, I make the kids at home stand up and go put their watches on the other side of the room and the kids at school put their watches in their backpacks. (I personally don’t think kids should wear smart watches at school, period.)
I make the kids at home show me their phones and have them put their phones on the other side of the room too. I don’t think this actually works. Lots of them tell me that their phones are already in another room. Yeah right.
I make them have their microphones on the whole time they’re testing.
Tests have to be taken on the school-issued device.
I give tests in a locked browser if at all possible. I wish I could lock students into a Google Form or CommonLit. UGHHH.
I stalk them on Impero when I give them unsecure assessments.
Is it terrible that I delight in their looks of misery when they realize I’ve thwarted most of their reliable cheating methods? Give me more ideas so I can get my schadenfreude on!
But in all seriousness, I can’t believe that parents of in-person learners aren’t making more of a stink about how easy it is for at-home learners to cheat and ultimately get better grades.
Is there anything that parents and students hate more than grades not being fair?
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: And Other Questions About Dead Bodies by Caitlin Doughty–published 2020–nonfiction/science–four stars: Ummmmm, well, that was equal parts fascinating and horrifying. Did I need to know any of this dead body trivia? Nope! But now I’m as full of corpse facts as a cadaver is full of funky smells. Also, my mind is still reeling from now knowing that in Germany and Belgium graves are rented and that instead of eating eyeballs cats would more likely eat their dead owner’s noses or lips. I’m never looking at my already evil cat the same way again. From now on, I’ll be smearing orange essential oil (you know, because cats hate oranges) all over my body daily–in case I die an untimely death alone in my own home–in an attempt to repel my cat from feasting on my carcass.
A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir–published 2018–YAL fantasy–four stars: I put off reading the third installment of this series because I was terrified it would disappoint me. IT DIDN’T! Now I finally understand the choice to have the Blood Shrike as a narrator, which I disliked in book two. And hello unpredictable plot twist!! Since the Nightbringer is brought in as a narrator in the last chapter, does that mean he’s going to have his own chapters in book four? Also, Elias–Is. Making. My. Darn. Heart. Hurt. I have so many questions.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson–published 2020–YAL mystery–four stars: Seventeen-year-old Enchanted wants to be a music star, and when uber-famous musician Korey Fields wants to take her under his wing to groom her, she convinces her parents to allow her to go on tour with him. The book begins with Korey’s murder and flashes back to Chanty’s story of being caught in his predatory snare. Did Chanty do it? I rounded up my rating for Grown. The plot is compelling and hits relevant criticisms of our racist, sexist society. There’s an R. Kelly/Jeffrey Epstein vibe to Korey, and Jessica is totally a more vengeful Ghislaine Maxwell. Parts are hard to swallow because of the ick factor, but it doesn’t get explicit. My main issue with this book and why it’s not a flat-out four is because I found it dialogue heavy with light narration. The dialogue felt cheesy too.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria–published 2020–romance–three stars: Jasmine, an up and coming Latinx soap opera star, lands a lead on Carmen in Charge, a telenovela on a big-name streaming service. When the actor originally slated to be her love interest falls through, he is replaced by Ashton Suárez, a dashing telenovela staple. After their meet-cute where Ashton spills coffee all over Jasmine on day one on set, Jasmine can’t deny that he’s unbelievably sexy and more than a little aloof. But before she knows it, their chemistry on screen and off has her “Leading Lady” plan all in a tailspin. I liked that this wasn’t first-person alternating chapters between Ashton and Jasmine. A third-person narrator slips in and out of both their minds throughout the narrative. I liked that this was different from any other romance I’ve read. A romance novel set on a Telenovela with a wide range of Latinx characters? Heck yeah! And it’s so steamy in places that I had to turn the fan on. It’s a fun read, but it lacks real substance and quality writing.
A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4) by Sabaa Tahir–published 2020–YAL fantasy–three stars: A disappointing end to the series. I’d like to chalk up my disinterest to being preoccupied, but the storyline had major gaps, particularly at the beginning. The cliffhangers were anticlimactic and pedestrian. When POVs switched, I couldn’t keep track of who was telling the story–because Laia, Helene, and Elias all read like the same character by the end. And the characters who were killed off? I didn’t even cry. And I should have, but they were obvious choices. I hated the last few chapters because things felt too perfectly wrapped up. After reading, I get the uneasy feeling that Tahir is planning to write a prequel featuring Keris’s story, even though all the Commandant’s loose ends were tied up.
How to Be an Antiracistby Ibram X. Kendi–published 2019–nonfiction/race–four stars: A fascinating argument. I liked how Kendi examined his own ideas about race and explained how his own thinking had been wrong.
People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd–published 2021–thriller–three stars: And my first published in 2021 read features…wait for it…an influencer who has a stalker! Didn’t I read four different variations of this book last year? Except this time, it’s set in England and features an Insta-mum and her has-been novelist husband…
The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski–published 2007–fantasy–two stars: Can a girl Witcher wrong? I started with the book that should have appeared chronologically first, but ughhhh. It’s a whole bunch of long-ass short stories, so every time one would end, I felt like I needed to read a different book. The stories were confusing. This was originally published in the 90s in Polish. I don’t feel like it aged well. It’s pretty heavy on let’s-kill-lady-monsters in the first few stories. Is it any good on Netflix?
Magic Lessons (Practical Magic, #0.1) by Alice Hoffman–published 2020–historical fiction/fantasy–four stars: Can we just appoint Alice Hoffman witch laureate already? That’s a thing right? Get ready to find out how the Owens’s family curse began.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas–published 2020–YAL LGBT fantasy–three stars: Fifteen-year-old Latinx Yadriel, trans and gay, lives in a cemetery and can see ghosts. His father, head of the brujos, refuses to let Yads join their magical ranks because his father doesn’t think that the brujo’s magic will extend to Yadriel. When Yadriel’s cousin Miguel goes missing, Yadriel takes matters into his own hands and performs the rite of passage ceremony anyway with the help of his cousin Maritza. While searching for clues for Miguel, Yadriel summons another ghost Julian, a recently deceased boy of his own age who’s hyper and inquisitive, and promises Julian to help find out who murdered him. I wanted to love this book, but I anticipated the major twists.
Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida–published 2021–romantic comedy–four stars: Apparently cracked screens are the new book jacket rage?Mia wakes up in a hospital bed with amnesia, but she’s donning a fantastic designer dress, so she figures she’s a big deal. Using Instagram and her boyfriend’s (who she hasn’t met yet and isn’t sure she trusts) housesitter as a guide, Mia sashays (bumbles?) her way into unlocking her true identity. In order to completely enjoy this book, disband your sense of reality. Its premise is pretty far out there, but I found it funny and lighthearted. It reminded me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, total guilty pleasure reads.
Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women #1) by Evie Dunmore–published 2019 historical romance–four stars: A COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE GENERIC BAND-AID TO SLAP OVER THE GAPING WOUND LEFT AFTER BINGEING AND FINISHING NAME BRAND BRIDGERTON.
Concrete Rose(The Hate U Give #0) by Angie Thomas–published 2021–YAL–four stars: Once 17-year-old Maverick (Starr’s daddy from The Hate U Give) finds out that he has a son, he struggles between cleaning up his act or continuing to deal drugs. I love that this is written from Mav’s first-person perspective. Overall, it’s not as well done as THUG–enough with cheesy dialogue in YAL already–but it’s still a great book.
1984 by George Orwell: I read about 130 pages. It was boring. It was narration heavy, and I couldn’t figure out if Orwell hated women or loved them.
How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century by Erik Olin Wright: I quit this one after 50 pages or so. I wasn’t expecting a history lesson about communism.
(P.S. WordPress and I are fighting today. I apologize that some cover art is bigger than others and that Concrete Rose is left aligned. It won’t let me left align the other pictures now either. Hmmmmppphhh. There’s some glitch that’s preventing me from fixing these unsightly things.)