Eyes on Your Own Paper, Please

Meanwhile in Room 30…

After the 6th grade English test, two girls came up to my desk.

Girl 1: Can we talk to you?

Me: Sure.

Girl 1: We think you should know that X was cheating during the test.

Girl 2: And I’m a witness.

Girl 1: I was taught that if a boy is looking at you, he’s probably cheating.

Me: (dropping my head, trying not to laugh. I wasn’t ready for that.)

Girl 1: He made eye contact with me, and he was siting on the edge of his desk, stretching his neck trying to see my paper.

Girl 2: And I saw the whole thing, too.

Me: Did he get out of his seat?

Girl 2: No. He just kept looking back.

Girl 1: And stretching his neck. We wanted you to know so you can handle it appropriately.

Me: Thank you, ladies. I will definitely handle it appropriately.

The following is an excerpt from “What Can Be Done About Student Cheating?” By Tim Walker, neaToday, December 11, 2012 • 3:58PM

It’s not exactly breaking news that students cheat in school. Whether it’s the student who peeks at crib notes during a test or another who can’t keep his eyes from drifting over to a classmate’s paper – schools have always had to deal with cheaters on some level. But is student cheating merely a nuisance or has it become a serious problem?
NEA Today recently spoke with Dr. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success, an organization that works with schools and families to improve student well-being and engagement with learning. Challenge Success recently released a white paper about cheating in schools that delves into the reasons why student cheat, misconceptions around the issue and some successful preventive strategies.
How prevalent is student cheating?
Student cheating is very serious. According to many studies, in between 80 and 95 percent of high school students admitted to cheating at least once in the past year and 75 percent admitted to cheating four or more times. The research goes back 15 years but that’s the highest it’s ever been. In the mid-1990s, it was around 60 percent. Cheating happens in every school.

One bit of encouraging news is that the Josephson Institute of Ethics released a survey a couple of weeks ago found that students who had cheated on one exam in the past year dropped quite a bit. We might re-survey in the spring and hopefully find something similar but it could just be noise. Too soon to tell.

Who are the students who cheat?
You have the obvious example – students who are struggling and don’t understand the work. One of the big misconceptions, however, is that it is only these struggling students who cheat, when in fact studies show that high-achieving students cheat almost as much as other students.
We haven’t found that there are discernible gender differences. Many assume that boys are more likely to cheat than girls because they’re more competitive, but the research actually doesn’t support that. Cheating is also more likely as the student moves through the system so the problem is more common in middle and high school than in elementary.

What can teachers do?
There are a lot of individual strategies that teachers can take to stop cheating or catch cheating right before it happens, but we focus on a more a preventive course – creating a climate of caring in the classroom. Of course teachers care about kids, but students have to perceive it. Do you know the name of every child in your classroom? Do you know their interests, do you take the time to answer every question? If not, that’s not a climate of care and not a fertile ground for learning. We found that students who really believe they belong in the classroom and really feel teacher support are less likely to cheat.

How about parents?
Everybody has to be part of the solution. Parents can do a lot of what we ask of teachers – emphasize high standards for honesty, make it clear that cheating is unacceptable. Parents can help foster that sense of belonging in school by encouraging school activities and other ways to focus on the positive aspects of school.  Also, they should also think about changing how they talk about grades with their children – especially in the way parents compare their kids to how others do.

#iTeach #6thGradeMatters

Just Us Girls

This doesn’t happen often–in fact, never. Coach needed to leave campus for a few hours and asked me if I could cover his class. Of course, I said yes. It was an all girls’ 7th grade PE class.

As they gathered in Room 30, they immediately wanted to know what we were going to do. Writing on the board was a suggestion along with going outside. I immediately shot those down. They were acting as if they were new to me. They should have known that they were going to sit down, get out something to read or something to work on, and read/work quietly. This was after all, my planning period.

Student #1: Ms. McCraw, can we ask you some questions?

Me: About English? About what’s going to be on your final?

Student #1: No, personal.

Them: Yeah!

Me: (Absolutely not!) Okay.

They excitedly gathered around my desk, and the questions started flying.

Student #1: Are you dating anyone?

Me: No. Do you have an uncle, cousin, neighbor?

Student #1:  Yeah, I got you, Ms. McCraw. I’ll hook you up!

All: Laughter

Student #2: I have two brothers.

Me: Yeah, but they’re little.

Student #2: Oh, yeah.

All: Laughter

They decided they were going to take turns saying whom they liked, and they did just that. A few of them were in “relationships” with boys and were “dating.”  I noticed that several of them liked the same boy.

Me: So everyone likes XYZ?

Them: Nooooo!

Me: Well, who does XYZ like?

Student #3: Me!

Me: Oh, cool!

They continued to talk about boys, the ones they liked and the ones they didn’t like. We talked about make up (on non-school days, some of them wear as much as or more than I do), they sang, danced, and sang some more. They combed each other’s hair, and laughed at inside jokes. It was a good class for PE/English.

I told them my most embarrassing moment in high school (that’s another blog). They too thought it was embarrassing, but that didn’t stop them from laughing.

I was impressed with how they interacted with one another, and I enjoyed having them in Room 30 for PE.

Where’s the H?

Meanwhile in Room 30…

After giving instructions to my 6th grade class…

Me: Any questions?

A student raises his hand.

Me: Yes.

Student #1: Where are you from?

Dang! I forgot to say, “Any questions ABOUT THIS ASSIGNMENT?”  If you don’t say: ABOUT THIS ASSIGNMENT, you open yourself up to all kinds of questions such as, “Can I go to the restroom?” “What time is this class over?” “Do you have any kids?” “My dad wants to take you out on a date. What should I tell him?” And the list goes on.

Me: Houston.

Student #1: Oh. I thought you may have been from somewhere else because you talk funny.

Me: Oh?

Student #2: You have an accent.

Student #1: No, not really. You just pronounce some of your words funny.

Student #3: (seemingly upset) What!? Ms. McCraw don’t talk funny!

Student #1: (determined to make his point) Like in #2. You said youge. It’s huge, with an h. And you said YOUston. It’s Houston, with an H. Why don’t you pronounce the ‘h’? Where’s the ‘h’, Ms. McCraw?

Me: (smiling, a bit amused. Somebody finally caught that and pointed it out. Dog-gone kids!) Page 141, exercise 3. In addition to the directions, add diagram each sentence.

Moans and groans from the class.

S/N: There’s a whole list of words that I cannot pronounce. Don’t call me out on it, kid.

What’s Wrong With My Hair?

Let me say this: You haven’t been judged until you’ve been judged by a room full of 8th grade girls in Catholic school uniforms.

The 8th grade boys were asked to stay after morning prayer and pledge to help set up chairs for an elementary program. That left me alone with 8th grade girls.

Me: Where are the boys?

Girl 1: They’re helping set up for the elementary assembly.

Me: Oh. Well, go ahead and get out your homework so we can check.

Girls: Awe, man!

Girl 2: Can we just talk quietly until the boys come in?

Me: Excuse me?

Girl 1: Yeah! If we do work now, you’ll have just to repeat yourself when the boys come in, and you know you hate repeating yourself.

Me: (That’s true.) We’re not just chit-chatting. Get out your vocabulary workbook, and you can work in chapter 8 until the boys get here.

Girls: Awe, man!

Me: Excuse me?

Girl 1 (the ring leader): Ms. McCraw, those empire shoes you had on the other day were nice! When you putting those back in rotation?

Me: Empire shoes?

Girl 1: Yeah, the black ones with the brown strap and spikes.

Me: Oh, that’s what you call them? Empire shoes?

Girls: (laughter)

Girl 2: When are you getting lasik?

Me: Excuse me?

Girl 2: I thought you were getting lasik over the Christmas break.

Me: Why did you think that?

Girl 2: Cause while we were taking our midterms, you were looking through a lasik brochure. So I thought that was what you were spending your Christmas bonus on.

Girl 3: Ms. McCraw, I didn’t like that orange dress you wore last year. You looked like you were ready for Halloween, and it was no where near October.

Me: Excuse me? You can remember a dress I wore when you were in the 7th grade, but you can’t remember your prepositions?

Girls: (laughter)

Girl 3: I know my prepositions, Ms. McCraw! (She begins to sing the preposition song.)

Girls: (laughter)

Me: Cool! Now, let’s test!

Girls: (No one’s laughing now.)

Girl 4: So, when are you getting lasik? At least wear your contacts more often, if not every day, cause those glasses. (Shaking  her head in disapproval.)

Girls: (laughter)

Me: Excuse me? I’ve worn glasses since I was in the 4th grade, and if I plan on seeing, I’d better have them on.

Girl 4: Yeah, but THOSE glasses?

Girls: (laughter)

Me: (Why am I entertaining this?) Vocabulary workbook, unit 8, now!

Girls: Awe, man! (Reluctantly opening their workbooks.)

Girl 3: You don’t need  lasik. We love THOSE glasses!

Girls: Yeah! (laughter)

Girl 1: Yeah, Ms. McCraw, just wear your contacts.

Girl 5: Yeah, but you still have to wear reading glasses, and you’re always loosing them. You be like, “Where my glasses?” and they be on top of your head. There’s a pair on the bookshelf now that’s been there all year.

Girls: (laughter)

Me: (Looking at the bookshelf. Oh, that’s where those are! I’ve been looking for those all year. Laughing on the inside.) WORKBOOKS! CHAPTER 8!

Girl 6: (laughing) My mama be doing that, too! She be in a panic trying to find her glasses, and they be on top of her head.

Me: (Where’d she come from? She never talks. I think that’s the first thing she said to me in 3 years. Laughing on the inside.)

Girl 5: Remember that time you left your glasses in the teachers’ restroom. You were like, “Hold on, I’ll be right back. Gotta get my glasses out the restroom.” When you left, we were cracking up. I was like, “I don’t know what she was sitting there reading, but I hope it wasn’t my book report.”

Girls: (laughter)

Girl 2: Forget the glasses. What’s going on with your hair?

Girls: Yeah!

Me: Excuse me?

Just then, the boys came through the door. I hadn’t been that happy to see 8th grade boys since I was in the 8th grade myself.

Boy 1: What’s so funny?

Me: Get out your homework right now and exchange papers. We! Are! Checking!

Girls: Aw, man!

Girl 1: The boys always messing up our fun!

Me: (Fun? Who’s having fun? Not me.) Remember that! Whenever you’re having fun with your friends, there’s always some boy lurking around ready to throw a monkey wrench into your fun and mess things up for you.

Girls: (laughter)

Girl 1: Wait! Was that symbolism? I think you just went to another place, Ms. McCraw.

Girls: (laughter)

Me: (Ignoring the question. It might have been symbolism, I’m off my game right now. All I know is that I’ve made a lesson plan, and this isn’t on it.) We’re 15 minutes behind schedule. That means I’ll see you for 15 minutes of your lunch time.

Girl 3: It’s only been about 5 minutes, Ms. McCraw. Seven at the most!

Boys: (looking around, lost)

Girl 3: (laughing) Ms. McCraw, you know goodness well you’re not missing your lunch time. That’s when you and Mrs. X take ya’ll selfies.

Girls: (laughter)

Girl 1: Just give us some extra sentences to diagram for homework and call it even.

Girl 2: I wish the boys would come late to class everyday. We were having fun!

Boys: (looking around, lost)

Student 2: This is my favorite class! It’s so stress-free!

Girl 6: (laughing) It’s alright.

Me: (Wait! That’s the second time in 3 years that she’s said something. Two times in one day. Sister girl is on a role. I’m not sure, but I think she just threw some shade. Laughing on the inside.)

Boys: (looking around, lost)

Me: You have three seconds to get that paper to your neighbor. Number one!

Them: (laughing, passing homework to neighbor)

Note to self: Make this class stressful!

Side note: They got me self-conscious about my hair. What’s wrong with my hair? LOL


We Don’t Do That

IMG_8744 (1)
What I Wore: Dress: Macy’s Shoes: Steinmart

So, I’m walking down the elementary hall and I see a 4th grader (my future soror) standing outside her classroom with her hand on the window just dancing around, having a good time.

Me: May I ask why you’re standing here?

Her: Because the teacher told me to get out of her classroom because she thought I was talking.

Me: Where you talking?

Her: I was asking somebody for a pencil.

Me: So you WERE talking. You came to school today, didn’t have your supplies, and then proceeded to do just what the teacher told you not to do. Let me tell you something. (I walked straight into her personal space and said): I know my future soror is NOT in trouble with her teacher over some foolishness. WE–Alpha Kappa Alpha women–don’t do that. WE know how to behave in the classroom. WE sit up straight in our seats and pay attention at all times. WE are always respectful to our teachers.  While those other students are in the class, learning new things and getting their work done, you’re standing out here with your hand on the window. Do you know what you look like? I can’t even say it.

Let me tell you something else, lil lady, whenever your teacher decides to let you back inside of HER classroom, you’d better put your bottom in a seat and close your mouth. When she asks a question, your hand needs to be the first in the air ready to answer it. When she gives an assignment, you’d better get it done completely and to the best of our ability. You do hear me? (I didn’t give her a chance to answer–it was a rhetorical question.)

And let me tell you something else. If your behavior doesn’t improve, you need to start thinking about another sorority to join because you won’t be joining mine. You’d better find one that doesn’t care about bad behavior and bad attitudes.

Then I turned and walked away. I heard a faint, “Yes, ma’am,” but I didn’t look back or acknowledge it. She’s a fourth grader. She doesn’t know that I’m not in charge of who becomes a member of the sorority. All she needs to know right now, is that I want her to do better than she did yesterday.





I Wish You Would!

What I Wore: Dress: Macy's Shoes: Off Broadway Shoes
What I Wore:
Dress: Macy’s
Shoes: Off Broadway Shoes

Meanwhile in Room 30, one of my classes has become rather mean spirited towards one another. If a student gives a wrong answer, they laugh. If a student mispronounces a word, they laugh. If someone drops their pencil bag, they laugh. Anything that happens, they laugh. Well today someone went to the board and put up the wrong answer. What did they do?  Yep, they laughed.

I had to use my teacher voice on them today. I went on for 10 minutes telling them that nothing was funny, no one is doing stand up comedy in this classroom, and we are all here to learn. I had to remind them that no one knows everything, and we need to patient with one another and encourage each other.

I also went on to say that if I laughed every time one of them made a mistake, I would laugh from the time they walked in to the time they walked out. Before it was over, I had banned laughing in my classroom. Yes, I banned laughing. I sure did.

There was complete silence and straight faces. All eyes were on me and then out of nowhere it happened. Wait for t, wait for it…I pooted.

And then I dared anybody to laugh.


The Anatomy of a Sentence

Let me begin by saying that I love Facebook. While I am part of a “closed group” for educators, I never post. I read and I “LIKE,” but I never post–until recently.

When I made my first post to the group’s page, I didn’t realize how people really felt about diagramming sentences.


Truthfully, I made that post because I liked the way I looked–that day. Since I was standing in front of the chalkboard, I added the caption: How many of you remember diagramming sentences? As you can see, that post got 1,871 likes and 327 comments (and counting?)

The comments ranged from people who loved it, did it, and teach it to those people who hate it, never did it, and don’t teach it. Personally, I love diagramming! It’s fun! Diagramming is a part of my classroom activities. Every day, we diagram sentences. I know, understand, and believe in the power of the diagram.

Education is always changing. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much. Sometimes the way things were done in the 70s can still be beneficial today. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Diagramming was one of those things.

Kitty Burns Florey asked, “Diagramming sentences: what, after all, is it good for?” “What does diagramming sentences teach us besides how to diagram sentences?”

It’s a bunch of lines–too many lines. Adjectives and adverbs on slanted lines, gerunds on stair steps. But that’s it! Every word in your sentence has a function, a job to do, and the diagram helps students understand that job and its importance to the sentence.

When you teach grammar to middle school students, you need every tool to help them succeed. The diagram is my tool.  The diagram helps me to teach grammar. By diagramming a sentence, my students can identify every word in a sentence–whether it’s a simple sentence, compound, complex, etc. If you are an English teacher and you don’t diagram, try it. You may like it. You may even see improvement in students’ grammar and writing.

Happy diagramming,




I’m a Nerd

The other day I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when a student came up and said this:

Student: Ms. McCraw, I’m a nerd.

Me: (blank stare) Okay, and I take it you’re okay with being a nerd.

Student: Yes ma’am, I’m cool. And you know what else?

Me: (blank stare) No.

Student: My friends are nerds, too.

Me: Do they know?

Student: Yes, ma’am. They know.

Me: (actually laughed out loud)

I can’t make this stuff up, y’all. I can.


Where’s My Demerit?

Meanwhile, in room 30…

Student: (comes up to my desk & whispers) Ms. McCraw, I did the wrong assignment.

Me: (whispering) What assignment did you do?

Student: Well, you know how we were supposed to write 5 sentences about our favorite place to visit then underline and identify the nouns?

Me: Yes, I know.

Students: I didn’t write about my favorite place to visit. I just wrote five random sentences.

Me: Well, did you underline and identify the nouns?

Student: Yes, ma’am.

The students proceed to read their sentences aloud identifying each noun as proper or common, concrete or abstract, and collective or compound.

Me: Very good class, put a 100 on your paper.

Student: (comes up to my desk & whispers) Ms. McCraw, what do I put on my paper?

Me: (whispering) What?

Student: Remember, I did the wrong assignment.

Me: Did you underline and identify the nouns in the sentences you wrote?

Student: Yes, ma’am.

Me: Then put a 100 on your paper.

At the end of the class, the student comes back to my desk.

Student: (whispering) Should I just wait here for my demerit?

Me: (no longer whispering) WHAT?

Student: Remember, I did the wrong assignment.

Me: (blank stare) Here. Take this demerit, fill it out, and bring it back to me signed by your parent.

I’m still waiting on that demerit.

Side note: If Ms. McCraw is passing out 100s, take one and move along.



You’re Welcome!

About 10 years ago, I had a student to come to a school dance where I was working the front door. We greeted one anther with the usual pleasantries, then he went on to tell me that because of me, he was making A’s in English, and he just wanted to say, “Thank you.” I was pleased to hear it. No one had ever came back to say, “Thank you, Ms. McCraw.” Needless to say, he got in the dance for free that day.

As you know I teach 6-8 grade English in a Catholic school in Spring, Tx (a suburb outside of Houston, Tx). This year I’ve had a record number of former students (9th graders) come back to say, “Thank you, Mrs. McCraw. It’s because of what you taught me in English that I am sailing through the 9th grade.”

A few weeks ago, we had Meet the Teacher night. We have several students who just graduated but have younger siblings at the school, so when their parents came to Meet the Teacher night, our former students came to. They had on their new school uniforms, and they looked so nice! I was only used to seeing them in our school uniform, so they looked so different to me in something other than blue and khaki.

They were all so excited, which made me excited. They went on about how they miss the school and the teachers and how everything they are doing in 9th grade English, they’ve already done in 8th grade English. A few of them said that they are the only ones in their class who know how to diagram sentences. Some said that when the teacher asked them to list as many prepositions as they could, they started singing the preposition song and was able to list them all. (Don’t thank me for that one, thank YouTube.) A few even said that they’ve already had to turn in an essay where they passed with flying colors. I got “thank yous” all night from former students and their parents. I’m not sure what they expected from 9th grade, I mean grammar is grammar, right? Diagramming is diagramming. Book reports are book reports. Maybe. Maybe not.

Each teacher is of course different, and each teacher brings to the classroom a certain “swag” if you will. I teach grammar. Everyday, I. Teach. Grammar. In Room 30, we write sentences, we diagram sentences. We study punctuation and types of sentences. We write book reports, we write essays. Everyday we practice our skills.

I am very proud of my students (former and current). I was glad to hear that they were confident in their new class and well prepared. To my former students, “You’re welcome!”

It may be another 10 years before someone else says, “Thank you, Ms. McCraw.” I’ll wait.

Happy teaching,


What I Wore: T-Shirt: Target Skirt: Versona Accessories Shoes: Off Broadway Shoes Necklace: Charming Charlie's Bracelet: Sam Moon
What I Wore:
T-Shirt: Target
Skirt: Versona Accessories
Shoes: Off Broadway Shoes
Necklace: Charming Charlie’s
Bracelet: Sam Moon