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Middle Level Educators Pause to Reflect...

Share Two teachers reflect in very different ways on life in the middle grades in recently published books from the National Middle School Association. David Puckett provides poetic inspiration in his collected Reflections From a Teacher's Heart and Deborah Bambino offers a year of weekly diary entries in Teaching Out Loud.


Have you ever asked yourself,
"Why do they call a planning period,
A planning period?"
That precious 55 minutes each day is filled with...
Paper work,
Parent conferences,
Extra duties,
Phone calls,
Gathering work for absentees...
I suppose that is precisely why they call it a planning period.
Simply because...
There's no time left for planning...

That fitting description of one of education's biggest misnomers is one of many right-on reflections scribbled by teacher David Puckett after school lets out! Recently, the National Middle School Association published a collection of Puckett's after-the-bell-rings ruminations. Reflections From a Teacher's Heart is a collection that will bring a tear to the eyes and a smile of recognition to the faces of anyone who teaches middle grade students.

If you're a principal looking to give a truly special gift to new staff members, or if you're looking for a stocking stuffer for someone who teaches the middle grades, this book would make a truly memorable -- and often referred to -- gift!

Reflections From A Teacher's Heart Book Cover Image Puckett, a French and social studies teacher at L.T. Johnson Traditional Middle School in Jefferson County, Kentucky, tries to write one or two new pieces each week. "I started writing down my reflections about five years ago, when I realized I was learning so much from my kids," Puckett told Education World. "I don't think of it so much as poetry, but simply writing as I think... in phrases... thoughts... words. I suspect that if my work was simply rearranged on the page, it would be prose."

Puckett's "reflections" mirror a range of events and emotions that every middle level educator will recognize. In one piece, he ponders the untold impact on kids of one of the school's best counselors -- the cafeteria lady. In another he deliberates about the effects of reporting child abuse. Later, he considers that the reason some kids are labeled "special education" kids is... "Because that is precisely what they give us... A special education."

Ever stop to think about the struggling student you had ten years ago who is now earning twice your salary? Puckett did. Ever question what standardized tests are really testing? Puckett has. Ever worried that an overly concerned parent might be harming his child's self-image more than he is helping it? Ever looked at the names signed on the inside cover of a ragged textbook and wondered how those kids have fared in life? Puckett has paused and pondered those things -- and penned his perceptions. And now, thanks to the National Middle School Association, the rest of us can share in his Reflections.

A quick read of Reflections From a Teacher's Heart offers weary educators a rejuvenating dose of inspiration and a thoughtful reminder of the special-ness of middle level kids... Pause, laugh, be heartened. Order a copy today!


I knew this was going to be a hard week because my mural project was about to begin, but I was totally unprepared for the news I got first thing Monday morning. My principal made a special trip to the annex to let me know that he was a finalist in his bid for a suburban principalship... Taking a deep breath, I congratulated him in a tone that I hoped sounded sincere. After all, this was a colleague and a friend, right?

We have a great staff and we'll muddle through, but who wants to muddle? It's really bad for morale. You make all sorts of plans, hold summer practices, and then lose your team captain after the second game. Now, even if he stays, we'll be looking over our shoulders waiting for the next opening... [I]t's just a matter of time.

Teaching Out Loud Book Cover Image That was last October. The school year was off to a bumpy start. But many more challenges were still ahead for Deborah Bambino, an eighth grade science teacher/leader at Philadelphia's Central East Middle School. Those challenges are all documented in a yearlong diary that Bambino kept, a public diary that visitors to the MiddleWeb Web site were allowed to read! Now excerpts from Bambino's 1998-99 diary are available in book form, Teaching Out Loud: A Middle Grades Diary, published by the NMSA.

"Last year, as I was writing the diary, I was also reading lots of Anna Quindlen's writing, including Thinking Out Loud," Bambino told Education World. "It struck me that I was trying to teach out loud by opening my classroom experience to a broader audience. I made the connection in a diary entry and when I was asked to publish the collection I remembered the label."

Bambino shares stories of struggle and triumph as her inner city middle school works to transform teaching and learning. Among the entries, we find Bambino musing about the impact of charter schools; the need in schools for more business partnerships and community involvement; the "us and them" divide between teachers and parents; the validity of the school science fair; and the need for more time to plan and reflect.

Does Bambino recommend that other educators keep journals? "I would strongly recommend keeping a journal to any teacher who can find at least one other colleague or friend to read it," Bambino told Education World. "The writing itself has caused me to reflect and focus my thinking and my responses to a host of teaching and learning challenges."

"The feedback has been a bonus," adds Bambino. "People's questions have pushed my thinking and it's always nice to know that you're part of something which is much bigger than one classroom or school. We can become very isolated in our profession."

This school year, Bambino continues to keep her online diary for MiddleWeb. She is joined by two principals whose authentic accounts of daily life in their respective middle schools are being published on MiddleWeb's Middle School Diaries page.

Go ahead... Peek into this diary. You'll be inspired by Bambino's entries -- and challenged to think about teaching in new ways!

  • Reflections From a Teacher's Heart is written by David Puckett and published by the National Middle School Association. Single copies are $4.80 (members) and $6 (non-members). The book is available in packs of five at $20 (members) and $25 (non-members). For additional information, see the Reflections Web page.
  • Teaching Out Loud: A Middle Grades Diary is written by Deborah Bambino and published by the National Middle School Association. 160 pages. Order no. 1263. Non-members $22.00, member $17.60. For more information about either of these books, call the NMSA at 1-800-528-NMSA.
  • Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World® Editor-in-Chief
    Copyright © 1999 Education World

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