Mood and Tone. (And is it always this hard?)

Not sure how he does it, but the author of The Great Handshake executed another perfect essay that captured my past week: and although technically it’s October, I must thank #loveteach for her DEVOLSON genius.

Tom Rademacher’s perennial touchstone post is almost a yearly tradition for me:

My Name Is Tom. I’ve Been a Teacher for 10 Years and I Still Get My Ass Kicked Nearly Every Day.

My name is Tom. I’m a teacher and I get my ass kicked nearly every day. I get too angry, too disappointed. I have to learn to wear my urgency a little further from the surface. Also, my class is probably too boring still and I can’t seem to talk for more than thirty seconds without getting interrupted. Some nights I struggle getting to sleep or staying asleep because I’m worrying about that one kid, or that one class, or what next or what better. I’ve started my 10th year in the classroom, and it won’t be easy.

It will, on balance, be worth it.

And no joke: this was me yesterday, Saturday. About to give up. But I can’t. I’m the stable income earner and provider of all things health insurance for three others. Jason from the Handshake arrived just in time with his words:

Some hard-working and committed teachers will give up in the next few weeks. They might stick it out for the rest of the year or the rest of the semester or, unfortunately, the rest of their lives. But they will make the decision that even if they work really hard they can’t be the kind of teacher they want to be.

We need to identify these people who are pouring all of their lives in to the classroom and do what we can to give them the tools to succeed this year. We have to find ways to help them believe that they can be successful with a little less than 90 hours a week.

So friends, please forgive us for being assholes.

Systems, please help us be successful.

Everybody else, try to help teachers with reasonable and time-saving expectations in September so that we can do this all year.

I’m sure that the admin and colleagues are there for students, too– but if the balance is all student voice (which may include half-truths, misperceptions, and trauma) the systems in place to support them are unsustainable. As we take care and practice to get to know students, the adults in the building need to build care and practice into getting to know one another.

The rest of this post isn’t about toxic heuristics: it’s about some things I’ve tried that are new, and yes, hard.

Mood and tone are the salt and pepper, cup and coffee, worm and apple of literary terms for me. An encounter a few years ago when a colleague repeated the definition to me without any analogy or example left me a little scarred. And scared.

But like anything, when I have to teach something and it feels wobbly, I dig in and dig in deep.

The expectation and mandate of the district is to assess mood and tone in relation to Inside Out and Back Again along with this companion piece, The Forgotten Ship: A Daring Rescue.

Here is my process: (students have been listening to the novel and following along for about three weeks, give or take). These steps were not all on the same day, but over about two days’ time:

  1. Prep students for mood and tone
  2. Show my video (see below)
  3. Take working definition notes
  4. Play The Forgotten Ship narrative and show the image on the screen
  5. I stood with a big piece of butcher paper and took big notes
  6. Have students stand around the table in a group and walked them through my thinking process (with dramatic flair, naturally)

7. I captured keywords and tone words first and then walked back to mood.

Did they get it?


First period did. When they answered the question about ‘conveyed mood’ since we worked out how the ‘bees’ conveyed the mood as a co-constructed conversation, yes.

Sixth period? Not so much. In fact, the assessment was an abject failure on all parties.

Asking them to listen to the ten-minute piece with a piece of text, too? Impossible.

Stand next to me while we construct meaning? A mutiny.

The few students who wanted to do well who rarely speak. There is one girl in class I have not heard say one single word. But she does strong work.

Sixth period and I continue to struggle. It’s not all them, and it’s not all me.

The back and forth shared-disruptors work as a team of raptors to get the class off task.


And “off task” connotes a congenial, mischievous tone. But–no. This is fairly aggressive and practiced argumentative defiance, and informs me that there are some hearts that have been broken, some promises not kept, and dismissive teachers in the past.

If you know a teacher, just, you know, be kind to him or her. If you have a child in school right now just understand that many things teachers are required to do to keep their jobs are district and state mandates. Be cool, ya know? Let’s try to strike a tone that is mellow and a mood that is warm.


My Youtube Channel (click on link)

PS And my plan is to push and promote Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.