The Life of Bon: A post that starts with 36 degrees and ends with the Common Core.

Monday, January 06, 2014

A post that starts with 36 degrees and ends with the Common Core.


Today feels like a new beginning.

Don't get me wrong.  I hate January.  Always have, always will.

But today feels clean.  Crisp.  Like we're starting over on something.

It was my first day back to school after a dreamy two weeks off.  Last night I was in a state of dead panic imagining my return.  The early mornings!  The dark!  The cold!  How can I do it again?  And then today I just did it.  I drove to school in the dark, planned my lessons, taught my lessons, graded some papers, joked with my students.  It was easy.  And I wondered, what in the world was I so worried about going back to school for?

The sun is shining, and on my way home from school it was 36 degrees.  Not a heat wave, by any means, but liveable. Enjoyable. Take-the-dog-on-a-walk-able.  I understand that in some parts of the country it is negative ten, twenty, thirty degrees today.  I will pray for you.

The best thing about January is that the days start to get longer.  I am quite the nerd when it comes to sunrises and sunsets.  I take after my dad in that way.  He was always obsessed with how much daylight we are gaining or losing.  I have a calendar printed out next to my desk that tells me exactly what time the sun rises and what time it sets and how much daylight we are gaining each day.  From here until June it's nothing but more sunshine for us, didja know?  We've already gained 15 minutes of daylight at night!  And within two weeks we will have gained 15 more.  Ain't that something?  This next week is the darkest our mornings will ever be, but give it a fortnight and we'll start gaining time in the morning too. (And wow!  I successfully used fortnight in a sentence!)  No one loves January, but who can argue with the magic of gaining daylight?

Tomorrow I will meet my student teacher.  Yep- I am harnessing the control freak in me and letting someone else take over my classes until April. (All except my AP class- that bad boy will remain mine and mine alone.)  "Letting" is a relative term, really.  My school is at a very convenient location and close to three major universities.  Consequently, we get a lot of student teachers.  It was a cold day in hell when Copper Hills saw a student teacher because we were out in no man's land, but this new school's got them filing in right and left, day and night, fall and spring.  All the other English teachers have taken their turns with the student teachers within the past year or two, so I suppose my number was up.  Student teacher me!

I have no idea how I feel about it yet.  It will be nice to have a little extra downtime, no doubt about that.  The idea of going to school and having all day to read and write and get lessons together and feel on the ball for once in my life makes me almost giddy.  But then there's the fact that I'm a control freak.  I can just see the poor girl now, getting up to teach and me following right behind her, whispering violently in her ear, "No, no no!  You're doing everything all wrong!  Take roll on this little clipboard, not out loud!  That kid is talking- shut him up!  Your instructions are totally unclear!  This is boring- liven up your lesson!"  I don't envy the woman that student teaches for a red personality like myself.  No, I do not.

Speaking of school, I have been thinking a lot lately about the common core and trying to understand the beast that it is.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  It is no secret that I have struggled with it this year, and I have tried hard to separate my own selfish classroom wants with what is really best for my students.  I think my biggest complaint is that it shows a mistrust of teachers. (But see, that's a selfish complaint.)  At the same time, I understand and appreciate the value of having teachers teach the same standards and be on the same page.  I love that the core pushes students and has such a focus on rigor.  But then where did the imagination and creativity go?  And goodness, what happens to the poor kids who can barely keep up with the curriculum now?  Do they just get weeded out completely?  It feels "survival of the fittest"-esque to me.  There is little time for exploration and discovery with the Common Core and mostly there is time for evidence analysis evidence analysis evidence.

And then there's the flexibility issue.  I am teaching three different classes this year.  Two I have taught before, but with all the implementation of the core and different books available at this school, it honestly feels like three entirely new classes.  All year I have felt slightly out of control.  Like I just don't quite have a grip on everything.  What is frustrating to me is that I know I already have really good lessons made that I could use right now in my classes.  I have excellent, original material right at my finger tips.  But instead of doing a killer job teaching that material, I am doing a horrifically crappy job teaching all new material.  My students, as a result, are suffering.  I feel like I'm cheating them.  I am not teaching them nearly as well as I taught my students last year because it's such a dang scramble every day to get my lessons ready.  And who's to say that the new lessons and standards are any better than what I already had prepared?

One of my favorite college professors posted this article on her facebook page- very interesting reading concerning how the core got passed, how states adopted it, where the funding is coming from, what research backs it up, etc.  And then there's this video.  I know you can't believe everything you see and hear, and certainly there is another side to this argument that is not being represented, but I can't help but feel a bit disillusioned and even bitter when I see and read things like this.

I want to like the Common Core.  I do.  I want to believe that it has a lot of merit and value and that it really is better for our students.  I worry, though, that with its huge push for rigor and evidence and uniformity it is leaving so many in the dust, perhaps myself included.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the Core, especially if you are an educator or have children in school now.  (Forty five states have adopted it so almost all of you should know something about it!)  I have tried to not be too negative in this post, but have wanted to accurately express some frustrations and struggles I have had, and would love to hear your reasons for loving the Common Core.

56 comments:

  1. I have been a lurker on your blog for quite some time. lol I am intrigued by the common core as I live in Canada. I did skim the article and I also googled common core. Does the common core mean that all states are required to teach the same material to students? Before, were educators able to decide what to teach? I guess I am a bit confused as to what exactly common core means/is.

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    1. Education is still decided on a state by state basis, but 45 states have adopted the same core so yes, essentially all states have the same core. There have always been standards that teachers had to adhere to, but before they were different based on the state and they were not as rigorous or demanding. I know that is an extremely condensed version... I'm sorry!

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  2. I'm not an educator, but have a school counseling degree and friends that are teachers and I can imagine what an adjustment that might be.

    Also, I'm super excited to hear we're getting more daylight! I had no idea it would start in Jan.

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    1. Oh yah! We hit our longest day Dec. 20-23 and from then on out we're gaining! One of the few exciting things to love about January.

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  3. I teach Kindergarten so it's probably totally different, however, I think that it completely depends on how your school/county interprets common core. I really have enjoyed it being implemented at my school. Previously, we were given curriculum in each subject that we had to teach. That curriculum covered different things in each subject so it felt like my students weren't really getting a strong grasp on any one thing. Now, we have the same curriculum, but we don't have to use it as long as we are on the same page when it comes to testing and hit all the standards. Our school is now pushing units, which is giving us a lot more freedom in the classroom and even more time for creativity because they are learning about the same topic in all areas of study.

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    1. Yes I agree! My new school district implements the new core MUCH differently than my old school so it's hard to know if I struggle with the core itself or with the district's interpretation of the core. I love that it has opened up the door for more creativity for you.

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  4. I live in Chattanooga, and we hit our high for the day at 6:00 am and it was 19 degrees! We are currently at 11 degrees, and it will get down to around 4 tonight! I love winter and snow, but I don't think I could do this kind of weather on a regular basis!

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    1. wow! Chattanooga, huh? Do you know Macy from Teen Mom? Also, very embarrassing that I know that, but it is pretty much all I know about Chattanooga. And I can't believe that Tennessee got that low... it seems like you stay fairly warm. So sorry!

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  5. At the middle level, and in a non-math or English class (I teach health) I actually felt pretty validated by the common core. I had already implemented quite a bit of critical reading of non-fiction texts within my class already, and this just made me feel like a lot of what I have been doing is "right." I do feel like it is much easier for me than for my English teacher friends who are trying to teach a workshop model instead of having the whole class read a novel at a time. (They switched a couple of years ago. There are mixed feelings on that move by the English dept.)

    However, if I had not already been implementing the critical reading I would feel completely overwhelmed. My district has us go to these meetings by curriculum area every 6 weeks this year for common core inservice. There are a few teachers that are in tears at every meeting because they feel like they need to change everything all at once.

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    1. Great comment! And I agree that if you are already a good teacher most of the common core feels pretty validating, like "Wow, I totally already do that." I guess it's the structure of it and the assessments and the nonflexibility in when I teach what subjects that has been difficult for me.

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  6. I LOOOOOVED having a student teacher. But she was pretty much awesome. Her tests were different than mine, and yeah her lectures weren't as good as mine (I guess I had a little more experience or something. . . ) but I got super lucky. And I got to spend a lot of time blogging. I don't know if I feel bad about that or not :)

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    1. I am hoping to have the same experience. I feel myself going in to burn out mode so I am looking forward to a little bit of down time :)

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  7. Overall, it's not that much of a change in the elementary level. 90% of the common core matches to old Utah core for 5th grade. I actually really love the math common core, because you teach fewer topics, but you get to go way deeper. The new standardized test we're taking at the end of the year is NOT GREAT though.

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    1. wow! I'm amazed (and totally jealous!) at how little change there is for you. I'll be interested to hear your take on the end of year testing once you are done. And congrats on your upcoming baby! :)

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  8. I'm a former teacher. My boyfriend is a teacher, and my daughter is dyslexic. Its hard for me to get on board with common core, because imagination and creativity is what she excels at. Rigor not so much. She struggles to read at grade level, she retakes almost all of her tests but she thinks outside of the box extremely well. I worry that Common Core is creating unnecessary failure for so many.

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    1. Thank you so much for this comment! A great perspective to hear.

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  9. Since this is my first year teaching, I have nothing to compare the common core to. Which in a way, is fantastic. But then I hear all the bad things about it and I get worried. Am I cheating my students of things they would have had before? I don't know. But so far, I think what's been happening in my classroom is great. So I don't know what to think!

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    1. As a first year teacher I think you are lucky. I would have LOVED it my first year because it would have helped me understand what I was supposed to do so much better. Now that I already have figured out my lessons I don't want to change them all to adhere to the core.

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  10. No thoughts on common core… I'm an attorney so I'm pretty far removed from the classroom. But, I can get on board with more daylight. I work on the 22nd floor of a building in downtown Little Rock and it is super nice to not look out upon a pitch black city at 5pm anymore. Those days were terrible.

    Here's to surviving January!

    -Kate
    www.theflorkens.com

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    1. Hello, fellow Arkansan! I grew up in Bryant but now live in Bentonville. Just wanted to say hi since I saw someone else from here. :)

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    2. Love this comment! I think we can all get on board with more daylight! :)

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  11. I really have mixed feelings about the Common Core. On the one hand, I do feel the way it's worded makes it seem like it'd be easier to connect different activities to it and I love the focus it has on writing across the disciplines! But, although I like the idea of everyone meeting a bar and the whole nation being on the same page, I feel it's like communism--good on paper, but will never work in reality.

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    1. Yes, the wording is TERRIBLE. So confusing! The focus on writing is a definite plus! I don't know how I feel about the "whole nation" being on the same page. Do I really have to break my back to make sure that what I'm teaching is the same thing that some kid in Miami is learning? I guess it just feels so big... why do they all have to learn the same thing?

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  12. I don't know anything about Common Core, but I can remember a period in the 90s when my state (and possibly others) adopted the idea of "open-space" classrooms wholeheartedly. A new school was built, which I went to. It was basically one big room with these rolling walls that you could adjust. It was a NIGHTMARE. First of all, the teachers kept teaching like there were real walls, so the whole "promoting movement" thing never really happened. (Also, looking back, I can totally understand why the teachers resisted the change...if all the kids were moving freely, it would be impossible to actually teach!). What still galls me is that no one considered the NOISE. No real walls, so I am sitting in my class listening to three other teachers teach different lessons. How did no one realize that would be a problem in addition to my own teacher. Um, no. I am so glad they eventually did away with that.

    In the same vein, does anyone remember "New Math"? It was supposed to help up compete with the Russians but entire generations of kids don't know basis arithmetic but understand Boolean algebra. I'm sure that comes in handy!

    Also: whole language vs, phonics. At one point not that long away, people thought it made sense to not teach kids how to sound out words but instead, how to see the word and understand its meaning.

    I guess my point is, it seems like every decade or so everyone gets all crazy about some new awesome teaching method which gets instituted with not enough research and ends up screwing our children out of a decent education.

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    1. FANTASTIC point! I think you are right. I have only been teaching four years and already I feel a bit jaded with all the programs they roll out and "new and improved" way to teach kids. It almost seems like we just need to keep it simple- not that we shouldn't be teaching rigor but that we should have just a basic framework and trust teachers to figure out how to fill in the gaps. Of course, some love all the structure. I guess it's just different strokes for different folks.

      That no walls classroom idea sounds NUTS. I can't believe anyone ever went for that.

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  13. Okay, this question comes at a perfect time. I just read this WONDERFUL book called "The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way." It doesn't directly relate to your question about the Core, but it does raise a TON of questions about how to be a successful country in terms of education and what we're really teaching our students. It's thought provoking but also self-affacing for where the US ranks in terms of other countries. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it as an educator. Just something to read in your leisure (hah) time!

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    1. I will have to read that book for sure! It sounds fascinating! And once my student teacher takes over I should hopefully have more leisure time... I would love to read it!

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  14. As a student, I'm really not loving the Common Core right now. Yes, it's more analysis and all that jazz, but it's a TON more work. I feel like it's really hard on teachers too, with all the extra planning and trying to fit in assignments!
    I hope it gets warmer for you!

    xo, Hima
    Hima Hearts

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    1. Love this from the perspective of a student! I often wonder if students even notice the change in the teaching they are receiving or if it's just all the same to them.

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  15. Thank you for your prayers. I am in that part of the country that had a high of 3 degrees today. School got cancelled because it was just too cold for it to be safe for the kids. I have been lucky as for as educators go. I'm a first year teacher so CCSS is all I've really had to deal with. I'm only a little familiar with the ELA standards since I teach math, but I like the flexibility they lend to the math classroom. I can actually ask my kids to READ something besides their textbook! Not to mention it really lends itself to problem-based learning and constructivist teaching methods. Neither of which I'm very good at yet, but am a HUGE advocate for in the math classroom.

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    1. Wow! Cancelled school because of cold- not even snow- that's nuts! Love the perspective that you gave from in the math classroom- how great they are encouraging students to read in the math classroom!

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  16. As a mom with 4 kids in elementary school (3 being in an accelerated or "gifted and talented" program") I dislike Common Core. I feel like it is extremely limiting to students that grasp concepts quickly and should be moving on. I feel like it holds them back. I don't know, it just frustrates me that the government is taking over everything. But that's a different subject entirely ;)

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    1. Wow such an interesting perspective! I never thought about it from this point of view- thank you for sharing! And I agree- government is too involved in too much!

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  17. I am not a teacher and I live in England so your mention of Common Core is my first experience of it - you seem like a pretty awesome and engaging teacher though so I'm sure your kids are doing great (sorry, that's not very helpful). As for more daylight, bring it on! Your post inspired me to search the sunrise/sunset times for my part of the world, so I can also track how much more daylight I'm enjoying, from my warm, artificially lit office :) x

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    1. I bet you're already gaining a couple of minutes in the morning and at night... England has more time to make up! And I would love to know how they do education in England... are teachers given standards and restrictions? Are your schools considered fairly prestigious?

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  18. I think common core is another check on teachers and makes it impossible to bring any creativity into the classroom. I'm a former kindergarten and first grade teacher (I stay at home now with my three kids). I loved teaching those grades because I loved the age group and felt I could be very creative with my lessons and not stress about state testing. I really feel for all those early childhood teachers who are getting this stuff crammed down their throats. To teach a child to read can be such a magical experience and I've heard from my friends and former colleagues how Common Core just drains all the magic. It makes me very sad. My graduate program taught me to teach by meeting kids where they are in their learning journey and providing them with learning experiences that can raise them up to where they need to be. Those poor children who enter school already behind have no chance. They will never be able to catch up. They will never have a chance. Bonnie, I emailed that article to you written by the former teacher. Thanks so much for replying!

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    1. So interesting to hear the perspective from someone who teaches the younger grades. Thank you so much for this!

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  19. I had a student teacher in the fall. I am a major control freak, so it was really, really hard to turn everything over to her...for many different reasons.

    Also, Common Core...I teach 4th grade in Georgia. I'm okay with the standards, but I'm not okay with the choice being taken away. My state gives us units and lessons for both math and reading, including the books to read. It's a recommendation, but many counties are requiring their teachers to use everything from the state. Teachers don't get any say so in what they teach and how they teach for both math and ELA. There are actually some good resources that I incorporate with other plans, but I do not like the idea of teaching from a script, essentially.

    I could go on and on, but I'll stop now.

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    1. Yes! I agree- my biggest struggle is the choice that I feel like is taken from me. We are not nearly what your school district is- I still get to choose my books but I don't get to choose my assessments are when I teach what units. I am a freedom junkie so any restrictions feel so limiting to me.

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  20. I feel like as a mother I am woefully ignorant about this subject. Glad you brought it to my attention though, something I'll definitely be researching.

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    1. How old are your kids? Depending on when they get to school it might already be on its way out if it's anything like most educational programs :)

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  21. I teach online, so Core affects me differently then most teachers (as I am not able to change my curriculum much, core or not), but we implemented it this year in August. I have to say, it has some major changes (I teach math). I am quickly finding out that there are going to at least be a couple of years in gaps for the students, especially the lower level students. Core, definitely involves higher thinking and the ability to not just come up with an answer but then to apply that answer. In the long run, I think it will be great for the level of education, but for right now, it is going to be difficult. The other positive, is that many states have adapted the Core and hopefully this will help with the US as a nation having stronger education (some may argue it won't). Trying to stay positive, since it is what I'm required to do (if I want to teach anyway).

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    1. Great attitude to have! I am sure it is affecting math teachers much differently and I am impressed by your positive attitude. Most math teachers I know seem to be struggling with the changes.

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  22. The main thing is just not to correct your student teacher in front of the kids.

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    1. Love this piece of advice. Thank you!

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  23. i am just starting my student teaching and byu kind of shoved the core down our throats. we had to incorporate the core into every lesson plan we turned in. i didnt necessarily hate it then, but now i have activities that i want to do with my students and i cant find a standard to go with it. i agree with brooke that i am not excited about these standardized SAGE tests. our department is already stressing over it and trying to find time to actually implement it into our lessons. so i am indifferent to the core. i like it at times and at other times i dont.

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    1. I am terrified of the SAGE tests! I feel like they are this great unknown that we really have no idea how to prepare for. Have you heard any information about what the SAGE will actually entail? We've heard nothing. Where are you doing your student teaching at?

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  24. Here's the thing about the Common Core as it was implemented so far in NY - it's not all that different from the expectations of the school I went to as a child. I work with schools though and there's a lot of push back because teachers feel that they're being told how to teach (not really, there are suggestions, but no one is being told HOW, they're being told more closely WHAT). It was rolled out incredibly poorly here and then in a moment of brilliance, they tied it to evaluations of teaching staff in NY so there's even more push back.

    Personally, looking at the standards, I think they're pretty attainable for a lot of the students. If you want to see what NY is doing, you can check out engageny.org

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    1. I totally understand the push back. I think as a group, us teachers are complainers and I wonder if there is anything that could be implemented in schools that teachers wouldn't complain about, so maybe I just need to give it time and then I'll understand it's really not too different from what I've already been doing.

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  25. Hopefully your student teacher will be a pleasant surprise like January! I also noticed we've been gaining daylight I walked home not in the dark for once, it's heaven. :)

    http://guesswhathollie.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Yea! Here's to gaining daylight! And I bet in the UK you gain it at a faster rate because you have more to gain back!

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  26. I kind of feel like we are twins separated at birth. I felt the same way going back to school, but was pleasantly surprised as I looked around and thought "Ok. Ok. 2014. Ok." As far as common core goes - I'm just glad I'm not an English or Math teacher, although eventually (maybe even next year!) I will have an end of level test for History and we'll be held more accountable for Common Core standards I guess. When are we gonna catch a break as teachers? Sometimes I feel like no one actually understands what happens in a classroom but us.

    http://www.danicaholdaway.com/

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  27. I'm jealous! It seems like the history teachers are given so much freedom! I guess that's what I should have been teaching if I wanted autonomy in my classroom!

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