Dear Middle Schoolers: An Open Letter on Love and Relationships

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

By Sabrina Bong – While perusing Pinterest a few days ago, I stumbled across a letter that a blogger wrote to his daughter.

In the letter, the writer details how mad he was when he was Googling something and the words “How to keep him interested” came up. He then tells his daughter EXACTLY how her future husband should treat her, and that it is never her job to “keep him interested.” (If you want to read it, check it out here. It’s amazing.)

This letter really struck a chord for me for a couple of reasons. The first is that my father has always told me the same thing: I should never have to do anything specific to “keep him interested.” The second is that I have had so many of my female students come into my office and ask me, “Mrs. Bartels, what can I do for my boyfriend to like me more?” I have had students detail the silly, or sometimes serious, things that they have done to keep a boy’s attention. And it sickens me in a way, it really does.

Inspired by the letter I found online, I decided to write one of my own to all my students, not just my girls. Here is what I want them to know:

Dear Middle School Students,

We started this middle school journey together. When you started here as quiet, shy sixth graders, I started my first job as a middle school counselor. It was a big transition for both of us! But as the year progressed, we both adjusted to our new roles and got more comfortable with each other. I would chat with many of you about school, sports, and siblings. When 7th grade started, I was excited to see all of you and how much you had changed over summer. It feels like all of you got taller! You also matured significantly; suddenly, that drama that was so important in 6th grade was “below you.” (To be honest, I am thankful for that!)

As seventh grade went on, I began to notice that many of you chose to come into my office to talk about significant others. Suddenly, I felt just like a parent. I knew that the questions you were asking and how I reacted to them would be crucial to your understanding of love and romance. I wanted to share my answers with all of you, since I think this advice is important.

Let me make one thing super clear right now about relationships: you should NEVER have to change who you essentially are to make your significant other happy. Will you someday change? Yes. (If I think about it, I became a little more patient once I got married.) But does that mean changing your values and what is important to you? No. And here’s the thing: This is not you being “stubborn” or “mean” or a word that rhymes with “witchy”. That is you being WHO YOU ARE. If spending time with your family is important to you, do not give that up. And if your significant other truly respects you for who you are, they will understand that.

Which brings me to respect. I have talked with a lot of you about respect in a relationship. Respect involves admiring someone for their abilities and talents and personality. Showing someone respect in a relationship does not mean giving in every time someone asks you to do something. If you are scared of horror movies because they always give you nightmares, “respect” does not mean forcing yourself to watch them because your significant other wants to (or your significant other forcing you to watch them or they will break up with you.) You can politely decline watching them.

If your significant other respects you enough, they will do one of two things:
1) Watch them when you are not around; or
2) Choose something else to watch with you instead. Being respectful also means that your significant other will NEVER, EVER lay a hand on you or tell you that you are worthless. Their pet names for you will not be “fatty” or “b****” or any of the other ones some of you have shared with me. If they cannot be nice and call you by your name, then you need to have a talk with them.

Now, to answer the big question that so many of you have asked me: Yes, I think you guys are a little too young to know that the person you are currently dating is going to be “the one.” You guys are still growing and changing and learning who you are. There is nothing wrong with that process. People learn this at different times. For some, knowing who you are seems to be a natural thing. For others, they may need to try on several different hats to know who they are. You’ll figure it out. Oh, and the second half of that big question that you all always ask: The answer is that you will know when the person you are with is “the one.” It’ll feel different with them than with any other person. But give yourself time to find that person. There is no need to rush: dating and getting married is not a contest. You do not get a prize for saying that you met your future partner or spouse in middle school versus your third year of college versus when you are in your 30s. Enjoy this time and be patient. Timing is everything in relationships.

Please remember that you are unique and special and so incredibly loved for who you are, and that my hope is that you will find someone someday who sees you the way I see you: as a smart, talented, inspiring person with so much to offer this world. I am so incredibly grateful for being able to go on this journey with you and have you share pieces of your lives with me, and cannot wait for the day that I can brag that you were one of my “kids.”

Remember: “There is only one you. Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered!” (Charles Swindoll)

With love,
Mrs. Bartels

Tuesday Trivia: February, 24, 2015

How much do YOU know about Marquette University and the College of Education?
Test your knowledge (and win cool prizes) every Tuesday!


In honor of February being Black History Month, let’s test your knowledge about Black history (i.e. American history)…

Who is this unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement in the picture below? Hint: She’s famous for coining the term “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”


Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 11pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.

Mining for Diamonds: Reevaluating the Value of Teachers

Diamond-2013-High-HD-WallpaperBy Peggy Wuenstel – This blog post pales in comparison  to the impact that my friend and colleague Claudia Felske has had with her powerful open letter to Scott Walker.

I salute her courage, her passion, and her skill with words. It is a time when words may matter if we join voices and join forces.  I intend to do so.

It seems every message that comes out of our state capital lately that relates to education puts me and my colleagues on the defensive. This may actually be by design. Teachers know that controlling the conversation means controlling the outcomes. We hear that the system is broken from these voices at the same time that our local schools consistently get high marks from the parents in their communities.

The latest conversation is centering on how teachers will be licensed in Wisconsin, and how anyone with a college degree should be able to be issued credentials to teach in Wisconsin schools. My first reaction was “What problem are we trying to solve here?” I have participated in multiple new staff interviews and we have had to wade through nearly 200 resumes of licensed teachers to find the best candidate.

Most of the universities that I have had relationships with have mechanisms in place whereby work experience and other preparation can be evaluated and result in the awarding of credits leading to a teaching license. The areas where shortages occur, Science, Tech, Engineering and Math (STEM) would have a difficult time luring qualified professionals away from their private sector jobs and paychecks. All that assumes that these wanna-be teachers have the same soft skills that are needed to be successful in the job. At a time when the rigor of teacher education program is increasing, with greater documentation, video portfolios and programs that often take more than the traditional four years to complete, it is a twin attack to change the steepness of this climb while offering another group a ride on the ski-lift to the top of the hill.

This got me wondering about whether teaches are born or made. The annual reading of Kohl Teacher Fellowship applications added boxcars to this train of thought. These people seem born to what they do, but they take preparation and ongoing development very seriously. They are born and made, destined and developed, meant and molded. Then the analogy factory kicked in and I came to see Teachers as Diamonds.

Teachers are born, discovered, unearthed. They start with the same basic materials as all other professionals. But they are developed into something new, something that it might have been easy to miss. Like diamonds, they are cut, polished, shaped, and honed.  What we take away is as important as what we are continually adding. The best of both are multi-faceted, reflecting the light around them. When conditions are right, and they operate in a supportive environment, one filled with light and offering a stable place to work, they can cast a differentiated rainbow spectrum in their classes. Both diamonds and teachers are the hardest, toughest substances on earth.  We come from humble beginnings, some experiencing the right conditions, warmth, time, and yes, pressure to transform into something rare and beautiful.  My selection as one of the four Wisconsin Teachers of the Year allowed me to join an amazing group of educators. It was the setting for the stone I had become, and a way to bring attention to the wonderful teachers that fill Wisconsin schools.

But not every diamond is destined for the classroom, and certainly not every college-educated person is fit for that role. Diamonds are needed for abrasives, cutting tools, and phonograph needles. They conduct electricity or insulate depending on how they are used. Industrial diamonds are those that cannot be used as gems. Large diamonds are used in tools and drilling bits like those at your dentist’s office, to cut glass, rock, and small stones. Small diamonds, also known as dust or grit, are used for cutting and polishing stone and ceramic products. They are now making their way into beauty creams and preparations. They serve many roles, but they are not, and never should be interchangeable.

The way we employ teachers and diamonds have also changed over time.  Diamond windows made from thin diamond membranes are used to cover openings in lasers, x-ray machines, and vacuum chambers. Diamond speaker domes enhance the performance of high quality speakers. They are used to deflect heat and friction.  Diamond dust covers those things we need to be very durable and able to withstand outside friction. There are times when teachers feel like they need diamond armor. We are being asked to do things and defend ourselves in ways that most of us have never dreamed of.

Most painfully, we are being told that our life’s work is nothing special, that anyone can do it, and would likely be willing to do it for less. The diamond market is in freefall.

One of the major ways that diamonds differ from teachers is in the way we as a society value them. Diamonds are among the most precious of commodities on the earth. A good teacher should be afforded the same level of respect, and tossing handfuls of cubic zirconium stones into the mix does not seem to be an effective or honorable way to increase the brilliance, fire,  and permanence that the jewel box full of Wisconsin teachers provides. Shine on!


Learning to Love the Cold: My Marquette Experience

By Maureen Cummings – This Saturday marked the 24th annual National Marquette day,  a revised and out-spirited version of Marquette’s spirit day which has been around since the 1960’s according to the National Marquette Day website.

The social media buzz working in coordination with the gold and blue décor spread around campus has made me reflective. I’ve found myself pondering what Marquette means to me, just one year into my college journey.


After transferring from a school in the heart of Tennessee to the artic tundra wind tunnel that is Milwaukee I definitely had my moment of, “What have I done?”

It took less than a month for me to realize that my rash decision to choose Marquette as the escape from my less-than-perfect first choice college turned out to haphazardly be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The legends of the brutal winters were enough to deter me from looking into this school back when I was in high school, but this week on my walks to class in “feels like” negative twenty six degree weather I distracted myself from the numbness of my face by listing off all I didn’t realize I was looking for- until I found it here at Marquette.

Founded in an urban setting and on Jesuit ideals, Marquette’s mission and values align with ones of my own. I can’t ignore how much I appreciate going to a school with an entire major city at my finger tips, or a university that holds so much school spirit that is not completely dependent on the record of our basketball team, rather it’s developed through a study body who genuinely has pride for the school we attend.

Of course these aspects build up the atmosphere to something special, but the true reason it took less than a month for me to find my home here was the community. I’ve found Marquette to be a diverse set of minds with likeminded hearts. From service work to the classroom and beyond into the classrooms of several different schools throughout Milwaukee, I have seen the way that this education is already giving me the tools to go where my heart has always wanted.

January of last year I felt my college days were destined to be an obligatory march to a degree, but at least this time I’ll be closer to home. By February, I was realizing my college years would hold new lessons each day, and perhaps these days could already be going by too fast.

This was nearly a tectonic shift in my own ideologies, and this thought led me to one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I feel the same way about my education. The two most important school days were not when I learned to read or count, but the day I started to value my education, and the day I found out why. I was raised to value my education so that happened early on, and I thought I knew why but that wasn’t until much later.

I understood the value of my education when I arrived at Marquette and spent my first semester learning that it had so much less to do with what information my brain can absorb and so much more to do with what I was capable of doing with that.

I could rant and rave about Marquette, as I have done, but it’s less about this school and more about higher education as a whole. The self-expansion that college allows for and the opportunity to find a school or community within that which meets the individual needs of a student’s personal and academic goals is a truly unique facet of higher education.

Every student that will one day enter my classroom will see my Marquette pennant on the wall; however, I’m not hoping to send them all off here one day. I do hope to share with my students why I decided to value my education. More importantly, I hope to bring my students to value their own.

Conversations about going off to school seem to always be about the fundamentally important things- GPA, scholarships, majors offered, geographic location, but they need not end there- and they need not wait to start in high school. I have so many positive things to say about the school I went to prior to my time at Marquette, but the person I wanted to become was not where I was going there. Teachers and students need to be having these conversations about our now classrooms- and our future ones. It’s time to ask students how they want to value their education and who they want to their education to help them become, and it’s always time to tell students why we value ours and to show them who it helped us become.

Adversity at Its Finest: Freedom Writers

Tenth Anniversary Edition CoverBy Amanda Szramiak – “She never wants to be congratulated of held responsible for the great things that came out of Room 203 at Wilson High School, but she must be,” explains Zlata Filipovic in The Freedom Writers Diary foreword (xii).

The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction compilation of work from Ms. Gruwell’s Room 203 at Wilson High School. The book consists of a compilation of diary entries from Ms. Gruwell and her class discussing almost everything and everything.

Ms. Gruwell began her teaching career at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California in the fall of 1994 (1). Because the students had legitimate fears in their lives, Ms. Gruwell created an honor code, which keeps the students’ identities anonymous (140). After her first encounter with her freshman in Room 203, Ms. Gruwell decided to “make tolerance the core of my curriculum,” and (although I know the story) I tipped my hat off to her.

To say Ms. Gruwell faced adversity is an undeniable understatement.

One student explained, “ I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s the one who’s going to change us”(6). Ironically, Ms. Gruwell did more than simply change her students. Ms. Gruwell offered something to the students that they have never had: hope. One diary entry explains an extraordinary personal identification he shares with a character in one of the books they are reading. Diary 12 explains, “Like Rufus, I turned my life around”(28).

Ms. Gruwell used relatable books to show the students that they are not alone in facing challenges, and they capable of so much more than they believe.

Because Ms. Gruwell was able to connect schoolwork to her students’ daily lives, the students began to trust their teacher, but more importantly they began to believe in themselves. Diary 24 describes a devastating eviction that no one, especially a child, should ever have to go through (52). Despite the unfortunate circumstances of this student’s life, he writes, “I walk in the room and I feel as though all the problems in my life are not important anymore. I am home”(54). As an aspiring teacher, creating a safe environment for my students is of the utmost importance to me.

Ms. Gruwell’s resilience, towards both her students and fellow teachers, encourages me as a future educator. I want my students to know that I am undoubtedly invested in their well being, inside and outside of the classroom.

Diary 97 describes, “The Freedom Writers filled this huge hole I had by giving me a safe place where I always knew someone cared”(189). Although I may not have the profound, lifesaving impact on all my students the way she did, I hope to be as strong of a teacher as she was.

Spring 1997 is when the students begin the new writing project, which eventually becomes this book. Ms. Gruwell’s entry explains Zlata is the inspiration for this compilation, and the honor code for anonymity is created (140). After meeting the inspiring characters from the books that they read and traveling to promote their diary filled masterpiece, the Freedom Writers became seniors. Ms. Gruwell’s main goal for the fall 1997 semester was “to get the Freedom Writers thinking about their future”(192). She utilized her resources and created a seminar in which graduate students served as mentors to ALL of the Freedom Writers (193). Ms. Gruwell’s consistent efforts to motivate her students to do more are admirable. I firmly believe it is easier to believe in yourself when you have a support system, and Ms. Gruwell and the Freedom Writers had one of the best.

When I am a teacher, I want to encourage my students to pursue their dreams to the fullest extent. I hope to evoke a sense of community that supports my students’ in all their endeavors. I plan to reference The Freedom Writers Diary whenever I am faced with adversity or when I am second-guessing my teaching abilities. I can only hope to be half the teacher Ms. Gruwell was to the “underachieving” class at Wilson High School during those four years.

Seven Ordinary Things that Serve as Extraordinary Reminders


By Aubrey Murtha – When I came up with the idea for this blog, I vowed to limit it to things that are education-related (because, if you are a regular reader of my material, you may know that I have a history of failing to honor the fact that this is a blog about education). I apologize for that, I really do!

I have since vowed to myself that I will make it my personal goal to limit my blog posts to topics pertaining to formal education, educational politics, and my personal teaching experiences…starting tomorrow.

For now, though, consider my writing to once again be a post about learning outside of the classroom.

Today, I made a list of a few seemingly ordinary things that often carry with them important reminders.  I am asking you to consider my thoughts, and next time you’re having a rough day and mom serves you watermelon on a summer afternoon, remember the significance of that piece of fruit (See #4).

Seven Ordinary Things that Serve as Extraordinary Reminders:

  • A Sunshiny Wake-up Call: 
    Sometimes, I wake up in mid-February, peer out my window in Schroeder Hall, and mistakenly think to myself that it must be warm since that sun is just a-blazing.  Yes, I obtusely neglect to note the snow on the ground and the hordes of miserable students grimacing in the blustery wind.  I love waking up to the sun.  Waking up to the sun coming through my shades reminds me that every day is a beautiful day to fall in love.  No kidding, at the beginning of the year, I would wake up, throw open the curtains, and scream, “Oh, isn’t it just a beautiful day to fall in love!”  Needless to say, that got old for my roommate.
  • The Small Town Feel: 
    Because I cannot think of a real way to sum up my idea of small town life, I’m just going to call that “local festival, neighborhood bar and grill, high school football game” sensation the small town feels.  Although I am from Milwaukee, whenever I go up to northern Wisconsin and stop in JJ’s Bait Shop or attend an outdoor Sunday mass, I’m reminded why I appreciate the tiny, tight knit communities of the Midwest.  There is something gorgeous about knowing your neighbor’s life story, about the relationship between a man and his land, about a county fair and a prize-winning pig.  It’s the stuff of country music.  The small town feels remind me that there is true and tangible beauty in simplicity.
  • Unexpected Successes: 
    You’ve probably written a paper last minute and handed it in regardless.  Maybe you really embarrassed yourself at the beginning of your date with a campus cutie.  Perhaps you read the spice bottle wrong and threw a teaspoon of cumin (not cinnamon!) into your morning oatmeal.  We all make mistakes.  However, sometimes, on very rare occasions, we receive an A on that paper, the boy gives us a kiss at the end of the night anyway, and we realize that cumin opens up a whole new mind-blowing can of amazing when we mix it with our Quaker Oats.  The last example is probably not true, but you get my point.  When my failures turn into my own unexpected successes, I am reminded that it is okay to occasionally take calculated risks, embrace embarrassment, and loosen up.    
  • Summertime Foods:
    I’m talking about the foodstuffs you’d snag at the ball park or maybe cook up for a sunshiny afternoon at the lake.  Think “Fourth of July.”  Grilled hot dogs, s’mores, watermelon (those big slices with the green rind still on), potato chips, pasta salad, and maybe two scoops of melty strawberry ice cream to top it all off.  This—yes—this, and the beautiful people that usually accompany a meal like this speak to my soul.  Summertime food reminds me that sometimes cheap can be oh-so-delicious.  Fancy is fun on occasion, but paper plates and Solo cups on a gingham-draped picnic table are just enough for me.
  • “Front Porch Philosophy”:
    You know those lazy evenings when you are hanging out with friends or family and suddenly a casual conversation about your aunt’s expensive bottle of Napa Valley wine turns into a profoundly stirring reflection on the significance of transubstantiation in the Roman Catholic tradition?  No? You’ve never had that experience?  Okay, well your brother probably doesn’t have a minor in theology from Notre Dame. But still, you can relate.  Unanticipated spiritual, intellectual, theological, or philosophical debates can be not only entertaining, but also thoroughly enlightening.  We learn some of our most important life lessons out on the patio, by the campfire, or sitting on that wrap around porch.  “Front porch philosophy” reminds me that learning is continuous, intellect is not reserved for classroom use, and deep discussions can be real avenues for bonding.
  • A Flag Flying High:
    My appreciation for the American flag extends far beyond any feeling of sentimentality.  Most people bleed red, but I would not be surprised if one day mine also came out white and blue.  Although I am not ignorant to the many faults of our country and the irremovable stains of sin that have left their mark on our history, and I believe that we have a lot to learn from other countries, I am truly the biggest fan of this melting pot of ideas, thoughts, theologies, customs and cuisines that we call home—The United States of America.  The American flag will always remind me of the military women and men who sacrifice their lives for the sake of mine, my inalienable freedoms, and what a real blessing it is for me to call myself a citizen of this great place. 
  • A Moving Church Hymn:
    Ordinary as it may be, a good church song can sometimes make me tear up right in front of everyone in the pew next to me.  Interestingly, I often hear songs at mass with lyrics that specifically address a personal struggle that I or a friend might be battling.  Call it fate or sweet serendipity or if you are like me, call it God.   A throaty gospel rendition of “Amazing Grace” or an acapella “Ave Maria” is sometimes all I need to get through my week until next Sunday.  A moving church hymn reminds me that there is more to this crazy life than the here and now, motivates me to keep the faith, and moves me to pray. 

I hope my reflections inspire you to make a personal list of your own daily reminders.  There is so very much that we can learn from the seemingly mundane.

The Hardships of Student Teaching

Student-sleepingBy Shannon Bentley – I remember how I was in my education classes, and people who were beginning their student teaching experience the next semester would tell us about the pain that they would suffer from going through the process.

One girl happily stated that she would always have her “drink” afterwards in order to keep herself motivated. I thought it was a joke and I didn’t believe that student teaching would be that hard. I mean – I believed that everyone in the college of education was a motivated individual who wanted to improve the achievement gap and help those succeed who were falling behind.

Boy I was wrong.

During my first week of student teaching, I thought that my teacher would ease me in to the classes in order to help me get to know the students and get my foot in the door to know their strengths and weaknesses. However, I was thrown in the arena with a blindfold on. She told me to create my own syllabus, formulate my own rules, create my lessons according to what I saw fit, and I fell completely apart. I felt like I didn’t know what to teach – and the worst part – how to teach it! Student teaching wasn’t about my usual moments where I had my occasional mini lessons that I would conduct during my field experiences. I have taken full control of a popular teacher’s classroom, and her students made me their enemy.

I have gotten the silent treatment from students, where if I asked the students a question – they would peer their eyes at me like a deer caught in the headlights – I thought that they didn’t understand me. Students would ignore me when I asked them about their work – I feel like I got caught in a battlefield, and I was losing. Fortunately, I have the support of my cooperating teacher and my co-teachers to help me through the struggles and the pain. But – if you are doing student teaching in the next fall semester, here are some tips to keep in mind when you begin.

  1. Prepare early! The more you prepare the better the structure of your classroom will be. Even if your co-op teacher eases you in to the classroom, it’s still best to know ahead of time how you want the classroom to run.
  1. If students shun you – don’t take it personally! Students between the ages of 14-18 years of age are learning how to mature and find out who they are as a person.

These two tips should do the trick! Being prepared and understanding how children grow are the only ways to survive student teaching. Everyone’s experience will not be horrible, and I am beginning to see more changes in my classrooms as the weeks go along. But – understand you have many people around you who are rooting for you to become something great – which is an inspiring teacher.

Wish me the best of luck the next couple of weeks.

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