Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wow, can it actually be almost Christmas break already?? It seems like just yesterday I was getting my classroom ready for the school year.

Today we heard our guest speaker, an associate of Robert Marzano (I have forgotten his name.. my apologies...). While much of his stuff is good, real, and easily applicable, none of it is anything we've not all heard before. The comments were typical - ED101 all over again, I already DO this stuff, etc...

Some of the teachers I sat with, yes, I agree it was a waste of time for. However, those were the most engaged among to 150 or so in the room. The naysayers are the ones I wish he had a way to capture, the ones who think they are doing it all already, but in reality, are not reaching students effectively, with the curriculum, on a personal level, or any other way. It is not my place to make judgements, so I shall try not to... I just hear the kids talk about other teachers, other classes, and I listen to the comments those same teachers make about their jobs, the kids, and how it all fits together. And I wonder today... why would you not try to take something positive from a speaker such as this.

Even THE most amazing teacher can improve, learn, and take something away from today. I came with a renewed sense of validation for somethings I do, an impetous to re-evaluate others, and a determination to find ways to reach all learners on a daily basis.

Some ideas I take back... I need to get back on track with Math Starters each day for at least Math 4th and 5th hour and PreAlgebra. These focus students at the begining of the hour, as well as link yesterday's learning with today's. Such sound educational stuff... why have I let it go?? Time.. time.. time... It takes time to think about meaningful writing assignments each day. I MUST make the time!

I also want to think about how to have students do more reflecting on their own efforts. It seems to lend itself easily to projects, but I think perhaps each Friday I can have students truly LOOK at their efforts for the week, and how those efforts have impacted their learning, and ultimately, their grades (the bottom line for 7th graders and their parents).

I feel validated for the relationships I build with students, standing in the hall before class, greeting them by name, asking about their basketball or hockey game, their new haircut, their dog... I think that is my strong suit as a teacher - I relate well to the kids I teach, I truly LIKE them, I truly enjoy being at work. I look forward to coming to school each day.

I want to work more effectively for students to become more responsible for their own learning. I want them to become independent, more able to problem-solve on their own. I want to read the Marzano book more....

All in all.. it was tough to sit and git all day. I am NOT a good student. However, the group of us who sat together were totally on task, even if we were chatty - our conversations were entirely rooted in the speaker's ideas.

I feel confident we can bring some of his enthusiasm back to the middle school to bring about positive change!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

My thoughts today will anger some, I know. We are working without a contract and negotiations are ongoing and now in "crisis" mode. The union has decided teachers should work to rule, standing outside in the snow and cold until 7:50, walk in together, then all leave together at precisely 3:10, adhering strictly to the contract. IF you have more work to do, it is OK to come back later, or so I was told.

I get to school each morning at approximately 7 a.m. I like to be here before everyone else gets here. There is no line at the copier, there are no kids wanting to chat, there are no teachers wandering gossiping, and I can get my self ready for the day.

After school, the halls are filled with running kids, gossiping teachers, people.... and I cannot get anything done.

I also have things to do outside of school in the afternoons. I go work out somedays (not nearly enough!). I go to the credit union, post office, drug store, etc... Those are things I cannot do before school.

The union feels we are sending a message to the adminstration and school board by doing this. What message are we sending? They think we will gain public support for our plight.

I think they are wrong on both counts!! Administration and the board do not care what hours we work as long as we get our job done. The public in our small town with few paying jobs views us as whiners.

I understand that I would not have all the benefits I have without the union having worked on my behalf. I get that. However, I also GET that we are losing kids, we are losing state funding, and we cost more and more each year in our health care premiums. I think we are unreasonable when we think we can have what we always did, get a regular raise and never give up anything.

I appreciate my job. I appreciate my paycheck. I appreciate my benefits. However, I did not become a teacher thinking I was going to make gadzoockles of money. I expected to work long hours, for less than adequate compensation. I am not a martyr. I think teachers should make 10 times what they make. I think pro athletes and entertainers get paid 10 times what they should.

However, me standing outside in the cold until 7:50 will change nothing, except make me less competent in my classroom. If I COULD work from 7:50 to 3:10 and accomplish all I need to accomplish, I would be thrilled! Please..... someone tell me how!! My coming in later will only lead to my being more stressed, less prepared, and will certainly not lessen my workload.

I am here for the kids.... I love my job.... I love my kids... and I will NOT stand out in the cold and look foolish to parents and community members to prove a point I do not believe in.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Toot, toot, tootie frooties!!!

A few students actually finished up today!! I am not sure their projects are 'A' quality, but I did make sure every little task was completed before I allowed them to turn them in. Others are getting close. Even in 5th hour, things are falling into place.

My little Derek today.... oh gosh... you know how you have that ONE who can always make you laugh without even meaning to??? THAT is Derek. He is this tiny little 7th grader. Here he sits, with one leg crossed under the other in his chair, working away. For some reason, apparent only in Derek-land, he leans down under his table, still cross-legged. The position becomes a Chinese fingertrap of sorts and there he is, a tiny voice from under the table, "help, help, I'm stuck" with his head trapped under the edge of the table. As I try to get up and head to him, the boy next to him gives the chair a swift kick which loosens the trapped child.

It was a frustrating day too though. First thing this morning, walking through the 8th grade hall, a young man has a hat on, so I ask him to take it off, and get an argument back, rude comments. I turn around and go back and force the issue, and he does remove it. Knowing him from last year, I think to myself, "It's going to be one of THOSE days. I am glad he has moved on to 8th grade and I don't have to deal with him." A few minutes later, guess who turns up in the 7th grade hall with 2 huge rubberbands looped together poised in aim? Yep!! I yell his name as I lurch to grab it before it can make its target. Another kind talk and direction to leave the 7th grade hall and move on. Again, I think,"WHEW!"

About half an hour into first hour, I have a question for the secretary so I pop next door into the office. No secretary, but there sits the miscreant from the hall episodes, detention slip in hand. I reluctantly ask why he is there and get a story about someone hitting him first but he admitted retaliation. Shaking my head, I tell him Mrs. C will be back soon.

Ten minutes later, some little devil on my shoulder tells me... "GO BACK TO THE OFFICE!"

There he is, still alone, but standing over the secretary's desk. I tell him to sit and I will be right back. Zipping back to my own class, I see they are all working diligently, surfing National Geographic sites about Antarctica. Back and forth for another 10 minutes until I give up and try all the principal myself. I finally track him down in Central Office and leave a message for him.

A few minutes later, the secretary returned, and eventually the principal showed up and gave him the slip for the young man describing the incident. I piped up, me and MY big mouth!! and told him about the 2 incidents in the hall in the morning. But for some reason, even with all those incidents before school had been in session for half an hour, the kid gets sent back to class. I knew it was wrong... I knew he would continue that routine for the day until he got suspended. I know the kid.... and sure enough, he was suspended by lunch. Set up to fail....

I know being an adminstrator is tough, I get that.. I don't ever want to sit in that seat... but when you are new at the game, you need to listen to those who know the kids, and know their patterns......

**SIGH** does every day end with a huge sigh????

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whew.... yes, I still love Tootie Frooties, but I am TIRED. Most students are working diligently with minimal help. However, there are a couple in each class who cannot/will not do anything independently. It is so incredibly frustrating when you KNOW they CAN do it alone, but they want you to tell them every single little step every single time they do it.

I have a few of those kids this year, who will ask and ask and ask... simple things like: where is the lined paper (on the bookcase above where you turn in homework...), what day is it(it is written on the board EVERY day...), what do I need for class (it is written on the board outside my door), should I write my name on my paper (DUH!!).... and on and on and on.. I know, I know.. they just want attention but it is wearing on one's very soul when other kids honestly NEED help with their work and those few suck every moment and ounce of energy out of you.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Tootie Frooties AHOY :-)
One of my favorite math projects is always Tootie Frooties. I buy those cheap off-brand Fruit Loops lookalikes cereal by the bag. Each student gets a cup full of cereal. We collect the color distribution data as a class. Then each student makes 4 graphs - a bar graph of their data and one of the class data, then a circle graph of their data and the class data. A series of guiding questions follow. The graphs all go together on a small poster. The displays are fun, colorful, and decorate my classroom.

The circle graphs are tough for kids. None of the math is really all that difficult but there are soooo many steps involved, for many students the process is tedious. It really is a learning process for them to remember what to do next in the sequence of steps but by the time they have the circle graphs completed, most are doing great.

Once, a student even used actual Tootie Frooties to create their bar graph. It was AWESOMELY cool.

The downside? Tootie Frooties EVERYWHERE the first day... then, the work days are always somewhat chaotic as they work at their pace, some of them on task, some of them needing constant prodding to get them to do what needs done.

Thursday is opening day of deer season and is like a holiday in the UP.. I will have a large number of kids gone. Project work days works well for this!! I wasn't thinking though, in social studies. We have a unit test Friday, which means Thursday is review day. Oh well, those kids will just HAVE to review on their own.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Yesterday we had our first parent teacher conferences of the year. It always makes for a LONG day but I really enjoy getting to meet my students' parents. As you talk to parents, you see so much of each child in mom and dad!

Several parents insisted 7th grade math must be easier than 6th grade math because their child is having such a better year this year. They are surprised when I insist the curriculum is much tougher, really the transition between arithmetic and algebra.

I try to find positive things to say about each child, and for most it is so easy. This group really is a fun group and I have enjoyed them so far, despite the occasional glitches.

I always leave conferences with a sigh of relief and a sense of self-doubt from the positive comments. I love to hear I am doing a great job, but there is always that tiny voice in the back of my head saying, "NO WAY!! YOU ARE INADEQUATE!!" So when parents say I am their child's favorite teacher, or share stories of older siblings I have had who are doing great now and they attribute that to me, or tell me how much their child is learning this year, or praises my methods or philosophies, it is humbling and rewarding. one of the many perks of being in a job I do love...

Monday, November 05, 2007

We started our next unit today, one of my favorites - data. I started with a cool activity. I had each student grab a handful of wooden blocks. We then used the number of blocks each student had to review line plots, bar graphs, as well as mean, median and mode. The entire hour had them up, moving, interacting, and hopefully, learning. Nothing we covered today was earth shattering or new, but served as a great intro to the unit.

I am concerned though, about some of the other things I would like to do. This group seems unable, unwilling, to listen, follow instructions, be respectful, etc... Today, there were blocks all over the floor, people with sticky notes on their faces, loud comments, stolen blocks, etc.. I have real concerns about giving them raisin, or frooties tooties, or Skittles to count.

I wish somehow they could see the connection between their behavior and the consequences but for some of them, it just doesn't click!

Last Friday was our first big chapter test in my regular 7th grade math classes. It was a huge shocker, like always, to them that I was not going to accept less than a 70% for their score.

I had to take the test away from 2 young men who were talking during the quiz. After contacting parents, both of them came in before school today to retake. Both were humbled. It was a wonderful experience to see that parents are supportive and concerned about their children. Both left my room this morning with 97% on their tests :-) I couldn't be happier!

I am gone AGAIN tomorrow but it was promised to me I would have a different sub. I don't blame the previous one for my kids' lack of respect, I just think it was bad fit. I am curious to see how they handle themselves tomorrow.

Of course, we are expecting our first snow storm of the year tonight - only 4-7 inches, but the first snow is always SOOOO exciting. I would love to be at school to see all the excitement tomorrow!!

Monday, October 29, 2007

I blog today with a heavy heart about teaching. My superintendent asked me to a be a part of the Michigan Mathematics Program Improvement team for our Intermediate School District. It requires me to attend 6 days of training, broken into 3 2 day sessions. Then I will be involved with delivering the same training to teachers in our district.

The training is wonderful, in depth, usable, interesting.... extraordinary PD.

However, I am gone from my classroom. The first 2 day training, Day One my sub did not show and I was covered by the elem principal, the athletic director, whichever warm body could be found for the hour all day. The next day, a retired elementary teacher was in for me. The kids loved her.

This time, when I told my students who my sub was to be, they groaned. I gave them the whole speech about I don't choose the subs and they must simply make the best of it, blah, blah...

When I was gone, I got emails and phone calls - the kids were horrible! Rude, disrespectful, walking out of class... the principal even had to come in to talk to them one day. How embarassing! But today, back in the classroom, I am even more torn. From the kids side of the story, and even the principal's story, the sub is unrealisitic in her expectations for middle schoolers. She expects them to sit and work and be quiet, entirely quiet for the entire 60 minute class period. No wonder they revolt!

I don't want to ever be gone, but unfortunately, when you assume leadership roles, sometimes you must be gone.

How do I balance all this? How do I mange to do the things I must do which take me out of the classroom, expect students to behave respectfully when I am gone, when I cannot trust the sub to treat them equally as respectfully?

Part of me wants to come down hard on the students, and I will give them my "no matter what you know what I expect speech" but at what point does it matter????

I don't know what the solution is, and maybe that is just it.. there is no solution....

I just know I will be gone again on Thursday and I am torn.....


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The kids are back!! The kids are back!! How cool is it to be a teacher and get PAID to go to school every day???

Day one, ok, technically day 1/2 is done. My classes this year are so small. It is in sharp contrast to last year. My largest is only 22 kids!! WOW!! Just the sheer lack of volume makes it seem easier already.

So far, so good. Of course, with about 24 minutes per class, it went super fast. A few tried to push the buttons but then again, without something to totally occupy them, what did I expect? I forgot to have them fill out their little first day info sheets :-( Tomorrow..

I am excited. This group seems eager to learn, eager for all life has to share with them. I am eager to be a part of their experience!

The following is something I wrote and sent home with my parent letters this year:
Prayer for My Teaching
Cossondra George

May the power of children flow through me.
May their innocence and wisdom be strong.
May their words and their actions inspire me,
Be the map that guides me along.
May their searching for truths be my reasons,
My encouragement to seek out my own.
May their questions push me to find answers,
Not cause me to impatiently groan.

May my teaching always be inspiring.
May my guidance seek out its own path.
May I strive to learn alongside them.
May I push me as much I push my students.
May I always seek out improvement
Of my way of guiding their lives.
May I never accept what is ordinary.
May I always question what’s best.

May I change as they grow alongside me,
And learn to accept them all as they come.
May my face light when they enter my classroom,
Remembering to someone they’re the one.
May our journey together be fruitful.
May teaching and learning be our habits.
May parting in June be sweet sorrow,
Be the step to what’s just beyond.
May these thoughts be my ideal as I go through the school year......

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Just a hello picture from my trip to Iowa to visit my oldest daughter where we discovered this beautiful Farmall H.
Summer is always a time of reflection for teachers, at least it is for me. This summer is offering me a new perspective. Working with teachers as a part of the National Writing Project, through the Red Cedar Writing Project (Michigan State) Top of the Mitt Satellite Summer Institute, I am looking at classrooms through a different lens. I know the whole "lens" concept is overused and becoming one of those educational buzzwords which means nothing.. but in this case, it really does.

I get to see teachers, some with just a little experience, others with much, from a variety of content areas. I see their demo lessons, I hear their thoughts on teaching and learning, I see how much variation there is in motivation and enthusiasm.

The bottom line is, adult learners are not much different than my middle schoolers. Some are in the program, sadly, for the "free" grad credits. Like one of the more motivated participants reflected, "If she is only wants the credits, that is all she is going to get."

Isn't that true of our kids as well? If all they want out of our class is "credit" or a grade, or worse yet, they do not even care about those... that will be all they get.

Our role, whether teaching adolescents or adults, is the same. We, as the educational leaders, must find ways to tap into each of our students' potentials. We must find that magic spark they need to WANT more.. so they will GET more...

Working with other teachers makes me realize how many wonderful teachers there are out there, but it also scares me to see the incompetence in some, the apathetic attitudes of others, and even worse, the total, I have to do it the same old way I have always done it attitude of others. But just like with my 7th graders, I try to focus my thoughts on those who are so terrific, doing such incredible things.... and hope they can be the change factor with the others.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

One of my favorite things all year is the end of the year evaluations I have my students fill out. It is pretty simple, mostly true/false questions. The last few though allow them to write in responses: Describe math class in one word. Describe Mrs. George in one word. Any last thoughts?

The best ones, the ones I treasure the most, are the one work descriptions of me. This year was no exception. It has been a tough year and I truly expected many responses to be negative. I have felt like the wicked witch of the west most of the time and thought the responses would reflect that.

The list was so validating: fun, helpful, peachy, energetic, leading, great, etc... but my two favorites? ecstatic and exotic!! I am not sure where either of those came from... not words I would use to describe me at all, but wow.. I feel like they had a good year despite it all.

I of course did get one negative comment. One said sitting through class was hell. S/he hates math and the class and it was torture every day. :-(

I have to let that one go... it troubles me greatly...

but the thank you's and the "I had my best math year ever" "You are my favorite teacher ever
"You made math fun"... those comments really make up for the one negative. I just wish I could somehow make it up to that student....

The year is winding down. THe last day is June 7. Next week is 7th grade camp. Tomorrow is the end of year auction. For the past marking period I have given out tickets for "good" stuff - bringing your materials to class, having homework completed, etc.. I bought tons of junk: pop, candy, treats... (I know, I know... don't lecture me please!!) and tomorrow, those tickets will be their bids on all kinds of goodies. It will be a fun day for all of us! I can hardly wait!!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Anyone who wonders why teachers burn out should have been in my classroom today. We have been working on linear equations for about a week. Just when I think they have it, it is like suddenly every 7th grader's mind turned to mush. The simplest things were the most complicated today. They could not mulitply even numbers like 3 x 0, could not plot points on a graph, add -2 + -2.... much less find the slope or the y-intercept. I was so frustrated and overwhelmed with their inability to FUNCTION I was shocked, mad, sad, confused, all at the same time.

How can something as simple as multiplication or addition, which I KNOW they know how to do, suddenly become foreign to them?


Friday, February 09, 2007

If one word was to describe this week, it would be frustrating. Given two words... extremely frustrating...

We started the week with a snow day on Monday, which I will admit was a pleasant surprise. But that seemed to set the chaotic nature for the rest of the week. This was my first week back to teaching all 3 sections of math after my student teacher was done with her first stint. She is taking a few weeks to focus on science and will then come back to teaching my classes. Her time with them was tough for me. She has many great ideas, fun ways to get the even most boring of topics (what can be worse than sorting real numbers??) across to them. Unfortunately a lot of her planning was lost on the kids. Her classroom management needs work. I think she will "get it" but in the meantime, it is so frustrating to watch her struggle to find the magic. Overall, I was terribly disappointed in my kids. I trusted them to be more respectful and attentive, simply because I know that know how to be that way. Sadly, they saw her newness and inexperience as a chance to be rude and disruptive causing her many problems she was not yet equipped to handle.

This week was a starting over with them and me. I "cracked the whip", made new seating charts, did not allow working with a partner, put on my teacher face... a tough way for me to teach, but it did rein them back in to where they were before.

All that coupled with the ongoing winter storm all week, the changes in schedule due to a variety of happenings, me being gone part of the day Wednesday..... made for a tough week.

I feel the weight of mid-marking period grades on my shoulders as I look down the list and see that 30 of the just under 80 students I have for math currently have either a D or E in math. I am sure some of that can be attributed to the student teacher... but even the section I teach had lower than usual grades. It seems a majority of the kids and their parents are simply not concerned about grades. Personally, I do hate grades, preferring to teach so they learn, not so they get a grade, but as parent, if your child were failing, wouldn't you be concerned?

I have a significant number of students who come to class daily without their book, with nothing to write with, don't complete assignments, are much more concerned with writing notes, going to the bathroom, etc... than math.

We had an assembly in the auditorium Thursday. Our policy when we take just 7th graders there is to seat them in every other seat. Partly, for their comfort.. but it is a discipline issue as well. We have WAY fewer issues to deal with this way. However, one girl spoke up and asked couldnt they VOTE to see if they wanted to sit that way or not. Really? Give me a break... School, life, work.... rules are there for a reason.. everything/every place is NOT a democracy. You don't always get a say!

Add in the crack down on the dress code. Girls with their chests bursting forth. Guys with their boxers hanging out... we have decided as a staff to make a concerted effort to change it. I told one young man to pull his pants up - I didn't want to see his boxes. His response? Why were you looking anyway? Thank goodness when I called home, his father, mother and step mom were all totally supportive.. agreeing his comments were disrepective. He came to school today with a new subdued attitude. I wish it were always so easy to nip those things in the bud.Too often when we call parents, we get the same attitude as the students have.

I am glad it's Friday... very glad... Monday will be a new week... I know I still love them all, love my job..... I am just frustrated.... **sigh**

Saturday, January 06, 2007

We are back in school for one week after Christmas break, a short week at that, only 4 days, but I feel like it was a month long week! My student teacher came for the first day Tuesday. She is only with me 2 hours of the day and of course, only observed this week, but the pressure of having her there really forces me to think through and always play my A game.

Giving up control of the class is proving to be more complex than I had anticipated. Reading her plans for starting to teach Monday, I am amazed at her thoroughness, the things she has planned, thought through, gleaned from being with the kids for 4 short days. Her plans are so thorough, so complex, compared to the things I do daily. I know it because it is all new to her, and she must teach and reteach the content in her mind before standing in front of them, but I am amazed at how much more work she must put into planning at this stage in her career than I put in a this point in mine. I can't wait to watch her teach next week!

From the moment she walked into the classroom, first last spring in a random observation, to yesterday, she acts like a true middle school teacher. When one of my boys came to class yesterday with enough makeup to go on stage, she simply commented, "Wow.. don't you look pretty!" with just the perfect amount of sarcasm, and slight grin, much like what I myself would have said. Her comments to kids as she walks around during work time are amazing, "That looks great, could you maybe think about this answer a bit more?" "What's going on over here gang? THink maybe you could settle down and be a bit more productive?" "If this is completed when you come to class tomorrow, you will have to answer to ME!"so comfortable, so natural, so teacher-like!!

It was a tough few days in some ways - there are so many absent kids, on extended vacations. Many coming back from being gone before break for a long time. The end of the marking period approaching, makeup work pouring in. My EI girl had a meltdown yesterday. New seating charts in all classes. A pretty typical week in 7th grade... but she took it all in stride, seeming totally unshook by anything that came down the hall.

I can't wait until next week... I know she will teach me tons!

On other fronts... in math class this week, we learned how to make box and whisker plots. It is so frustrating when students ASSUME they won't be able to do a new task. Lauren, one of my better students, said, "We did these last year and I SUCKED at them......." her voice trailing off into a kind a wavery panic tone. "Trust me Lauren... trust me.. these are easy. I will teach you! Trust me..." my own voice a bit wavery, I fear. But Lauren smiled that 7th grade smile, and said, "I do Mrs. George, I trust you!"

We did the 2 lessons from the text, the first on finding the mean, the upper and lower quartile, and outliers, and the second on constructing box and whiskers. Then we measured the heights of students, put those into an Excel document to sort, and made a box and whisker plot for the entire class, one for the boys, and one for the girls. Finally students are analyzing those 3 for some comparisons and contrasts.

All in all it was a great lesson... but I am always so shocked at the things they cannot easily do - like use a 25 foot measuring tape without it hitting the ground half a dozen times, type a column of numbers into Excel independently, and remember how to find the mean of a set of numbers after doing it 100 times.

ON the other hand, listening to their conversations as they work are amazing! "Wow... did you realize 50% of the girls are taller than 75% of the boys!" "What would these look like if we did them again in high school? Do you think we will ever be as tall as the girls?" "I didnt realize what a huge range of heights we had in our class!" "Look how many more girls than guys are in here! NO wonder our class mean is higher than 4th hours."

Math, learning, time on task.... **SIGH** sometimes, it does all come together :-)