Mailing Labels Make Retakes Less Crazy

Some years ago I was either talked into or gently coerced into teaching three classes that I had zero qualifications for.

I was asked to teach French because I could count from one to twenty in French, plus I could sing Frere Jacques. Or was it because I’d told someone that my favorite sing-along song while growing up in Vietnam was Dominique by Soeur Sourire. Thank God that was only a quarterly elective class. Oui.

Then I was hired to teach AP Chemistry. But I have to tell you about that job interview.

Principal: Fawn, sorry to keep you waiting [for 45 minutes]. I know you’re here for the math position. But we already hired someone for that.

Me: You’re fucking kidding.

P: We really need someone to teach AP Chemistry.

M: What’s that?

P: You have all these science classes on your transcript.

M: My degree is in Biology. But I took a lot of math too.

P: Yes, right. So you can certainly teach AP Chemistry.

M: I want to teach math. When did you give away the math position?

P: To the guy who just interviewed. He walked right past you.

M: That asshole?

P: You’ll be perfect for the chemistry position.

M: Okay, fine. That’s it? I’m hired?

P: Yes! Welcome to our school!

Maybe I lied about what I’d said in that interview. But I swear to God the rest of it is true. I wonder how many current teachers were hired the same way I was — we looked good on paper, even if nothing matched up. I worked so hard that year just to be a couple pages ahead of the students, but clearly these bright kids deserved better.

I also taught writing. A colleague volunteered me for this elective. I did know the secret to writing, however, so I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. The secret to writing, as writers will tell you, is to write! Just write, they say, keep that hand moving.

Where am I going with this post? Right. Mailing labels. Mailing labels.

But back to writing. When I taught writing and didn’t know how, I just gave the students daily writing prompts. I didn’t even read what they wrote unless they requested me to. But I ALWAYS wrote along with them. Their prompts were my prompts. Like shameless addicts, we wrote ferociously and freely. We liked our “shitty first drafts” and rarely edited our work. We’d stop 10 to 15 minutes before class ended to share snippets of our writing aloud, if we wanted to.

Yes, the mailing labels! I had an idea to print out a full sheet of mailing labels with writing prompts on them!! When kids walked into class, they peeled off a sticker, slapped it on their journal page, and started writing. I still have a copy of the 7 pages of stickers — at 30 a page, that’s 210 prompts! I lifted most of these prompts from one of Natalie Goldberg’s books.

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Then I used the same idea when I started teaching math because I wanted kids to write in math too! So I took a lot of math writing prompts from this book. I was doing this daily which became costly, so we cut it down to just weekly writing. I hate the wasted time for kids to copy down the prompt or the question; placing the prepared sticker on their journal page saved this time.

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But, this year I found the best use for the mailing labels with SBG. School is in full swing now and there are a lot of kids coming in at lunch time for retakes. Currently, and because this is our first year with SBG, we can only manage to assign selected questions from the textbook for reassessments. I either have to tell them what the problems are when they come in or give them a piece of paper that has the problems on it, then they have to copy all this information on notebook paper: section title, page number(s), and which exercises. Without this information, I can’t correct their papers.

Now, when a kid comes in, I just ask what he/she wants to reassess on and slap the mailing label with all the info on their paper! (They have to sign up online first to let me know.) The number of labels I make is equal to the number of scores of 1s and 2s earned for that assessment.

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I think it’s brilliant. Imagine the endless possibilities.

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