Wednesday, September 13, 2017


When I was young, no one admitted to being a nerd. You did not broadcast that you loved reading the "Little House on the Prairie" series so much that you had imaginary conversations with Laura Ingalls. Only your fellow geeky friends knew that you spent your weekends dedicated to "Dungeons and Dragons." You kept quiet your FORTRAN programming expertise or your quest to earn scouting badges.  At all costs, you tried to blend in with the other junior high kids:  wearing Jordache jeans, feathering your hair, watching "Mork and Mindy" and listening to Duran Duran.  For back in the 1980s, being a nerd labelled you as a social outcast.  As evidence, consider this handsome devil from the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds."  Trust me, NO ONE was striving to be this guy:

Fortunately, we nerds in the 21st century live in a resurgence of a nerd culture. We form posses and celebrate our passions.  I now embrace my nerdiness with all the gumption I can muster.  In fact, one of my all-time favorite revelations occurred last year when a clever student noticed that my name could easily be modified from Joyner to JoyNERD.  How did I miss this?  One mere consonant can transform my last name to a Nerd of Joy?!?  Heart. Be. Still.  However, think of what disastrous consequences that nickname could have conjured in the less-enlighted 20th-century social hiearchy of my junior high.

Current neanderthals who still negatively label should consider John Green's words. If it's too long for you to read, let me summarize it:   who could fault someone for finding joy?

So, my dear students of the Class of 2018, I invite you to find and nurture your inner nerd.  Don't be afraid to let your freak flag fly.

Do you still play with Legos?
Do you have passionate opinions about font choices?
Are you obsessed with cooking?
Does it make you INSANE when someone doesn't know the difference between Marvel and D.C.?
Can you recite lines - nay, entire scenes - from The Office?
Do you know the score of every NBA Championship final?  the batting averages of the Chicago Cubs players?  the ranking of the top tennis players?
Are you an anime aficionado? a K-pop fan?
Are you in the quest for the perfect slime recipe?
Do you know the color of light saber of each Star Wars character?
Do you spend your birthday money on Cosplay?
Do you love to plan trips, real or imaginary, with complete itineraries?
Does your heart beat faster when you see books on medieval weaponry?
Do you critique movies and create your own films?
Are you already working on your first novel?
Do you know if Dragon Ball Z came before or after Dragon Ball Super?
Do you sketch fashion design?
Do you know more than Mr. Carris about the Civil War?
Do you dream of being accepted to Hogwarts?
Are you over-the-top obsessed with your favorite Youtuber?
Do you know the difference between an ollie, an FS dark flip,a kick flip, and a 50-50 grind?
Is organization and design your passion?
Do you regularly watch C-SPAN?
Do you choreograph your own dance moves?
Do you recognize makes of cars by their bumpers?
Are you a collector of baseball cards?  Pokemon?  Watches? Model trains? Athletic shoes?
Do you imagine yourself playing at Carnegie Hall when you practice the violin?
Do you specialize in 1980s metal bands?
Can you design entire Minecraft worlds in your sleep?
Do you have multiple Pinterest boards devoted to Broadway musicals?
Would you rather be painting than reading this post right now?

If you don't have a passion - something to love, love, love - I am sorry.  I hope that you will not be afraid to find joy in simple places and in complex ideas and to share that joy with others.

It's important not just for you - and not just for the Nerd Culture. It's important because we need passionate people - not apathetic people and not a "meh" citizenship. Passionate people - that's right, nerdy people - create change.

Don't be afraid to be a super fan of something that is not cool in your social clique.  Applaud people around you who fail to conform.  Allow your own nerdiness to evolve and change and grow.  Embrace the diversity of the nerds around you. Ask yourself what we can do to create and maintain a culture where people are empowered to be their very best selves to create our very best world.  Nerds of Room 205 unite!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Teacher Thanks

Image result for quotes about loving your job

It's Teacher Appreciation Week.
And here's why I appreciate being a teacher.

My students are fabulous people. True, not all of them willingly read and write. Admittedly, a few don't even want to be at school, period. However, each student this year can bring a genuine smile to my face and in my heart. How do I love thee, Class of 2017? Let me count the ways ...

You are funny - no, hilarious. Your sarcastic wit is without equal. Your jokes? Laugh out loud. Your puns are out of this word (see what I did there?).You make connections. You sing. You unfailingly turn nearly every object in your hand into a basketball. You are sheepish when you don't have your homework. You ask for more book recommendations.You smile. You try. You are vulnerable. You are brave. You have a crush, but you still try to focus. You are curious. You love romance.  Your blog breaks my heart.  Your blog inspires me.  Your blog is beautiful. Your blog cracks me up. You face struggles with a smile.  You ask for help. You find vocabulary words wherever you look. You include others. You're a competitor. You aren't afraid to share your opinions. You want to do well. You want to make your parents happy. You fix my technology problems. You recommend good books. You get lost in your book. You cry at the sad parts. You share pencils. You bring pencils. You smile understandingly when I am pondering whether or not to tear my hair out. You plug in your Chromebook. You discuss philosophical conundrums.You are always hungry. You are amusingly mistaken in your foolish belief that any school is superior to The University of Michigan. You love your cat. You're going to be famous. You're going to be elected. I'm going to read your book. You are a stellar student. You are optimistic. You do not cheat. You have a passion. You stand strong no matter what life has thrown at your young life thus far. You will change the world.

Thank you for a tremendous year, dear students. Fortunately, I will not miss a single one of you next year ...




Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Pumpkin Pie and Sara (#betterlatethannever)

This was supposed to be my November post.  But here it is, April 4th, and I still have not written a blog of thanksgiving even though my teaching life doth overflow with blessings.  Six months ago, I promised to write about the gift of Sara. So, without further ado...

Sara is talking to her mom.  Please note that I am old enough to be her mom.

For countless years, the daunting task of hardware, software, teacher assistance, and student support was handled by the gargantuan Mr. Baig. With bulging muscles and bulging intelligence, he handled everything from the simple "Help! I'm pathetic and can't figure out why my DVD won't play" to the extreme [insert techno-gobbledygook here]. Through tumultuous change and revolving administration, Faisal has been an anchor of stability and sanity to help steady this veteran teacher amidst the tsunami of technological advances in the world of learning. Amazingly, he accomplished this all as a department of one. And then, last year, our superintendent doubled his department by hiring a technology coach. It was the delightful Sara Molnar.

(If you wish to have a soundtrack to acompany this blog, click below for "Sara" by Jefferson Starship.
The video makes me laugh, although it  could be argued it shows a metaphoric change from tumbleweeds to technology.  English teachers see symbols everywhere. Our Sara of 2017 does not have 1980s feathery blonde hair as seen here.  She did, however, teach me how to insert a video into a blog. And I'm pretty sure she also has some cute hats.)

Although I have not seen Ms. Molnar's actual job description, it's clear that its subpoints must include line items such as help Mrs. Joyner feel less like an idiot when she doesn't know a GIF from a JPEG and listen to Mrs. Joyner describe the features of an unknown app she needs for an assignment...and then magically find it, learn it, and teach it to her students. Seriously, Sara is one of my geeky dreams come true.  As the sole eighth-grade LA teacher, I too feel like my "department" has doubled.  Ms. Molnar has rocked the 8th-grade world of reading and writing through her encouragement, instruction, modeling, and support.  And, not only is she a great instructor to me, she is also a a great instructor to my dear students.  She "gets" teenagers, and she treats them with respect, compassion, and humor. (And did I mention she went to the University of Michigan?)

When Thanksgiving rolls around this year, and I enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie, I will be sure to remember to give thanks for Sara and Faisal, my tech team blessing.  #inspire67

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Nerd-cation

Back in 2014, when I was discussing an upcoming trip with a group of English teachers, one of my snarkier students smiled and said, "Have fun on your nerd-cation!"  And although I had never heard the term before, Adrian nailed it.  "Nerd-cation" perfectly describes my annual pilgrimage to the Illinois Reading Conference.

Allow me to share this slice of utopia with you.  Imagine, if you will, an arena filled with:
boxes and boxes of crisp copies of the latest and greatest YA novels

AND tables adorned with glossy professional development books

AND vendors peddling t-shirts bedazzled with reading puns

AND booths laden with free goodies for you and your students (and daughters!)

AND meet-and-greet sections to fawn over (and take selfies with) your fav authors!

Jordan' will be there!

And Joan, too!
And Laurie!

Imagine days where you can :

listen to Barbara of Anderson's Bookstore tempt you with the best titles of the past year

AND learn from professors, colleagues, authors, and researchers in six (or more!) teaching sessions each day

AND gawk at your professional nerd-crushes  (OMG - was that Jefferey Wilhelm? Kelly Gallagher? Kylene Beers? Christopher Lehman????)

AND enjoy meals in the company of beloved authors

AND stay in a hotel (without your children) and keep the reading light burning well past midnight (Seriously. It's insane.)

AND drink coffee & chat & laugh about books & teaching & students & life with some of the best people in the whole wide world!
Two of my favorite people ever oxo

All of these idyllic moments are brought to you courtesy of the Illinois Reading Council. Fortunately (?), the host location is Peoria, Illinois. This locale helps to keep all our excitement in check. Nonetheless, we geeky teachers all get pretty psyched to attend ... in three days!  Yes, it's nearly time for my dreamy three-day nerd-cation to commence. Heart be still. 
Here she is!  Once a student, now a colleague. oxo
But wait: there's more! At last year's conference, I had the great good fortune of running into a former (dazzlingly intelligent! boundlessly creative! effusively compassionate!) student, who is now a fellow teacher (How amazing it is when the best and brightest join our profession!)  Our encounter blossomed into a blogging adventure with our students, and - as a result - we will be presenting at one of the teaching sessions at the conference.  And that's not all. Sara is coming, too!   And if you want to know who Sara is - you'll just have to wait until my next post.  

Nerd-cation, here we come!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Something New is Brewing

This summer I helped my friend Stephanie set up for the first day of kindergarten registration.  In three hours, we used glitter, a hot glue gun, a paper cutter, a rainbow of construction paper, labels, twirly straws, ribbon, and stickers.  Since my decorating skills are limited to affixing posters to walls with magnets, my awe of the artistic work that she does to make kindergarten special bubbled over. Phew!  I thought. I'm glad eighth-grade teachers don't do this stuff. 

Enter my friend Crys. The best way I can describe her would be Einstein meets Macgyver Meets Nordstrom. She is a genius who can solve nearly any problem, and she does so with style and aplomb. In July, she decided to have a Harry Potter-themed classroom. It's so magical. So darling.And she teaches 7th gradeHmmm. I thought. That's middle school. Do I *gasp* need a theme?

This thought caused some anxiety because I have been teaching for over twenty years, and I have never have had a theme.  My Illinois certificate reads grades 6-12, which I believe - in fact - makes me professionally unqualified to hang construction paper on a bulletin board.  If you have ever visited my classroom and had been forced to guess a potential theme, the closest correct guess would be something along the lines of "Book Hoaders Anonymous." Nevertheless, I decided to get my decorating game on for the Class of 2017.

Thanks to some binging on Pinterest (and help from the aforementioned superwoman Crys), my classroom theme is a coffeehouse.  And by coffeehouse -- I mean sort-of-a-coffeehouse.  As in, there's no actual coffee nor a hipster barista brewing up a delicious Pumpkin Spice Latte for me.  However, attempts have been made.  There's an awning outside my window and some nearly-matching curtains have been hung (with magnets) (and tied back with binder clips).  I have a cute chalkboard easel and a ginormous butcher- paper coffee cup exploding with books on my wall.  To be clear: my 10-year old painfully- honest daughter gave it a mediocre review.

However, the best component of my theme is definitely not the decorations - nor my caffeine addiction.  My favorite part of this theme is that I absolutely adore goofy wordplay, as in:

We read a latte!  
Expresso yourself!
Try these grande authors!  
The Daily Grind
Have a "Brew"-tiful Day!

Furthermore, as it turns out, I'm a little late to the educational coffeehouse party. Some educators have even started a movement called #starbucksmyroom. Fortunately, I have long been a proponent of choice and comfort, and so this coffeehouse philosophy and my new attempt at style easily converged. Without intention, my theme became educationally ground(s)breaking.

My students have been challenged to name our cafe of reading and writing. Right now, it is "Starbooks Cafe" but I expect they can come up with something more clever.

Hope you will stop by Room 205 for a cuppa minutes and enjoy the new decor! oxo

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leap Year 2016

For most of my life, I can not say that I have been particularly interested in Leap Year.  Don't tell Mrs. Maldonado, but I don't even really remember why we have it - something about the Earth and its rotations and the seasons and the calendar.  I don't know -  it's not something I spend much time pondering.

Since 2004, however, my notice of February 29th increased dramatically.  In an era of parents who (indulgently) (and ridiculously) recognize not only birthdays but also half-birthdays, my daughter's August 29th birthday gives her a once-every-four-years half-birthday.  It's fun. I can make her half a cake and give her just a half glass of milk.  I'm trying to think of some annoying "half" gift that I can give her.  She's 12 which is a fun age for corny half-jokes.

Strange to think that she'll be 16 the next time this day rolls around.  She'll be driving and (maybe) too cool for Mom's silly half-birthday humor.  And my little one will be an 8th-grader - egads. And my 8th-grader students  ... you'll be preparing to graduate from high school and looking forward to colleges and careers.  That's crazy.  We have a lot to learn before you graduate from here.  I guess that's my cue to stop blogging and start lesson planning.

 Enjoy your Leap Year 2016,  my students!  I hope you enjoy a day off from school whilst your teachers "leap" into more learning at our Teacher Institute Day.  Looking forward to your Leap Year Blogging!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year!


My sweet young students will not recognize this iconic Fisher Price toy from my childhood.  Unlike the chunky figurines designed today, these fabulous tiny people could fit on the tips of your fingers - and apparently, if you chewed on the toy long enough, their heads could fit in your windpipe as well.  Deemed a choking hazard, these little cuties were discontinued in 1990, and now can only be found on eBay, at garage sales, and in grandparents' basements.

Here's the new version of the Fisher Price Little Friends.  You can see significant improvements have been made.  For starters, they have arms and legs.  It is also one piece of plastic designed to thwart toddlers' constant desire to shove everything down their throats.   Sadly, the figures have also expanded from fairly generic designs (that require imagination) to the ubiquitous Disney princesses, Marvel Superheroes, and career-oriented Little Friends. Despite these (mostly) positive changes, my heart swells with nostalgia over the older, armless, legless, and hazardous version.

So while I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions, I do like the idea of crafting my character into a better version of myself.  Like the Fisher Price toys, I want to remember the wonders of my past, yet still be intentional about making changes that will improve my impact on the world around me.