Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas break.... ahhh.... the peaceful 2 weeks between the crazy December hullabaloos, and the dark and dreary January funk, to be followed by the even more dismal February weeks of never-ending day after day after day.

Winter has set in solid and hard, with snow on the ground since the begining of November. The days are long and cold, snowy and dark, with no respite on the horizon. The first snowfall excites me and students, usually in the middle of October. We see those huge, wet, soft flakes drifting lazily by the window and our blood races thinking SLEDS, SKIS, SNOWSHOES, SNOWMOBILES.

By January, the novelty has worn off, and we see the snowflakes blurring horizontal past the window thinking, where is the sun, why is it snowing again, how long until summer.

Aside from the obvious weather challenges of driving and shoveling, these days mean as a classroom teacher, my lessons have to sparkle and shine, to make up for the lack of outdoor contentment. Students are in a midyear rut, the routines of 7th grade now keeping them complacent in their work habits. It becomes almost like starting the year anew in many ways, as I try to capture their attention.

With all that in mind, as my vacation time stretches far ahead, my thoughts are pulling back to the classroom, wondering how to make monomials and square roots and radicals, something to capture the interest of even the most reluctant of my students. How can I somehow make prealgebra magical and enticing? I need something hands on and meaninful, engaging and motivating, quick paced and easy. hmmm............... so much for vacation, eh?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

At our staff meeting this morning, our principal passed out lanyards for our new ID cards. OK, naive me thought COOL, we get ID tags like other professionals other places. I expected some people to moan and groan but I really did not anticipate the barage of unprofessionalism I saw displayed.

I think the principal might have been less naive than I- there were boxes of warm doughnuts greeting us - a long standing teasing grip between he and I about him not bringing us treats for these tortorous meetings. So the sight of doughnuts should have been my first clue, things were going to be a bit more intersting today!

As he sent the snarls of lanyards around to staff members, suddenly the yelling began. "Whose idea was this?" "Is this simply another top down way to control us?" "What purpose do these serve?" "What if we don't wear them?"

Comments from the usual suspects, yes, but instead of being made as calm comments, they were yelling, attacking, and intimidating.

The principal tried to calmly address the questions - the decision had just come about as a result of several factors. He pointed out it had been discussed at School Improvement Team Meetings, in conjunction with our trying to get a visitor welcoming center at the front door of the school, without success. We as a district are trying to crack down on who comes into the building during the school day. ID cards are just one more way to identify who should be there, and who should not be here. It all boils down to a safety issue, pure and simple.

The opposing teachers continued to berate him with accusations that this was because we have just recently settled our contract, finally after nearly 2 years of working without one. They wanted to make it a union/administration issue big time.

Finally, another teacher spoke up politely asking could we please more on to more important things and stop dwelling on trivial stuff.

He was attacked back, one teacher standing, leaning towards him threateningly telling him that a large number of teachers WERE concerned about this and HE should be quiet and let the rest of people have their say. The irony... only 3 of the probably 40 teachers there were speaking out opposed to the ID cards, and here one spoke up against them, and was shut down immediately.

The principal tried to gain control but it was hopeless. His face was defeated, he knew no matter what was said, it wouldn't matter. He tried to further explain his position, the rationale for the ID cards, but no, those in opposition were relentless.

All this comes down to professionalism in my book. Is wearing an ID card REALLY a crisis? Is it really worth attacking each other over? At what point do we step back and realize we are EMPLOYEES of the school district and certain things, certain mandates are NOT union/contract issues? Our employer has the right to tell us certain things. Our employer has the right to mandate certain things concerning procedures in this building. What makes us think we have the right to argue, challenge his authority, and certainly, attack his integrity in a public forum.

What does it say about us as a profession when we act so unprofessionally towards our adminstration and each other?

Sometimes I think we as teachers do not deserve pay at the same scale we would get out on the open market. We, too often, are just a bunch of whiny, obnoxious people, out for blood in a complete US against THEM battle. We have forgotten our purpose in this profession. We have forgotten what professionalism means or looks like. We act like uneducated blue collar radicals with hidden agendas. No wonder we aren't paid what we are worth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The door is done! My kids rallied together and made our door look great after all.

It does not have the shine and polish of some of the more "teacher created" doors but it looks like it was done 100% by 7th graders, and it was!

I am thrilled with the results and the teamwork that made it happen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The poor guy.... he was at school to prepare to be a substitute teaching, having recently gotten his teaching degree, but not having secured his first position yet. Our school tries to have newly hired subs "shadow" for a day, spending a few minute in each teacher's classroom to get a feel for protocols.

The poor guy.... I wonder if he will EVER set foot in a school again?

Mike, I remember him in middle school, a quiet kid, a nice kid, the kind who did what was expected of them, didn't cause problems, just kind of blended into the woodwork.

The poor guy.... he wanted to sub in high school, not middle school. But they sent him to my 7th grade class. The day we were decorating our door for Christmas. The most chaotic half hour of the entire year. He looked terrified. He looked like he wanted to run, fast and far.

The poor guy.... of the 21 kids in my homeroom, exactly 6 were in their seats reading or working. The rest were like little Energizer bunnies on speed who had been locked into tiny cages for days and suddenly set free. Fifteen voices all talking to me at once, "Where do we get more paper?" ,"Can I use ALL the glitter?", "TAPE, TAPE, WE NEED TAPE NOW!" , "SHUT UP!", "NO YOU SHUT UP!", "can you draw a horse?", "show me again how to make snowflakes", "give me that marker!", and, and, and.... then add in the half a dozen kids who came from other homerooms needing help with their math assignment, and the fifteen still yelling at me, each other, and no one in particular, as they drew horses and trees, snowflakes and hills, sprinkling glitter and paper scraps like a blizzard in their wake.

Mike.... the poor guy.... he looked like a trapped animal desperate to escape. and the girls, trying to impress him because he is gorgeous, and young. My little 12 and 13 year old 7th graders trying to get his attention being silly and goofyas only adolescent girls can.

The poor guy... I wonder if he will ever be back?

But our door is almost done, and it looks pretty good! I don't think we will win the contest, but our door looks like 7th graders made it with lots of heart and laughter and noise!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dashing off to class
With book tucked in my hand
To my seat I go
Laughing all the way
Numbers make me smile
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
Learning math today

Oh, jingle bells, math is swell
We love to do our work
Fractions, decimals, variables
they make us shout with joy
HEY! Jingle bells, math is swell
I can’t wait for class.
Oh, what fun it is to learn
to do new math each day.

A day or two ago
I thought that I was dumb
I just could not do math
But Mrs. George that meanie
Made me understand
She cut me not a bit of slack
We learned it all somehow
And now we’re smartified

Oh, jingle bells, math is swell
We love to do our work
Fractions, decimals, variables
they make us shout with joy
HEY! Jingle bells, math is swell
I can’t wait for class.
Oh, what fun it is to learn
to do new math each day.
Jingle bells, math is swell
Math class all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to learn
To do new math each day

Jingle bells, math is swell
I can’t wait for class
Oh, what fun it is to learn
To do new math each day

Friday, December 05, 2008

Today's math lesson is one of my favorite all year. Most of it is really a quick review of Measures of Central Tendency: mean, mode, and median, but I love the kids being so up and engaged and THINKING about how to work as a group to solve problems. I wish I could come up with more ways to create these scenarios in class.

It was interesting 4th hour especially. I invited the special ed teacher to bring his 10 students to join us. Those kids have never had me in class, so joining us for such a rambunctious experiment had to be overwhelming and intimidating. However, overall, it went well. I am not sure "all" of them got "all" of the lesson, but hopefully a little debriefing will cement the top ideas for the ones still struggling.

Another interesting thing today..... HH, at the very beginning of 4th hour, catches me in the hall, after having had me first hour for social studies, and 2nd hour for math, and then having had time during seminar to come talk to me. He was in a panic. Apparently, HH had checked his grades and seen that his math grade has fallen back into the failing zone. He actually thought I was going to STOP EVERYTHING else RIGHT THEN AND THERE and give him some extra credit (I do not give extra credit ever) or let him redo a quiz or SOMETHING because suddenly now he cares about his grade. Why the sudden concern? He will be ineligible to play basketball again! Well, unfortunately for him, Mrs. George doesn't work that way. I told him I didn't have time to even discuss it with him because I had a class to teach, and walked into my room, closing my door behind me, leaving him standing there, mouth agape.

Before you think me callous and uncaring, HH has already sat the bench much of basketball season because he is constantly failing one or more classes, sometimes my classes, sometimes others. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand, or want to understand, that the way to playing basketball is working hard in class EVERY day, not just when his grade fails below that magical 60%.

HH thinks he is the ONLY student his teachers are responsible for. He thinks it is ok to waste time in class day after day, fail test after test, but that in spite of those efforts on his part, we should find a way to make him pass.

Today, we had a little exit quiz which should have been super easy, and for most students, was. Students had to simply define mean, mode, median, and answer one question comparing a stem and leaf plot to a line plot. HH scored a 25% on his. These are concepts students have had in previous years, and concepts we discussed at great length during the activity today. However, HH spent the class period causing disruptions, touching other people as they walked by, playing with the blocks he was using for our experiment, etc... I was not surprised by his score, but he was when he saw the impact it had on his grade.

HH popped back into my room during my prep, interrupting my conversation with another teacher, asking me if I was going to be there after school because, "we have to do something about my grade". When I told him that I do not stay late on Friday's, he sulked away.

He wouldn't have done any better retaking the quiz without some further instruction on my part, or some studying on his, and even if it seems somewhat cruel on my part, I think he NEEDS to sit the bench during tomorrow's basketball game.

Not only is his math grade in dire straits, his language arts grade is at 45%. Once I grade his European powerpoint he has been avoiding working on for the past week, most likely his social studies grade will fall into the red zone as well. However, during work time, he is not concerned about that, preferring to talk, bother others, and avoid researching his country.

It is so frustrating to try to help students like HH see that he CAN do the work. He simply must CHOOSE to do it consistently instead of when it suddenly becomes important to HIM.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Today was one of those RED LETTER days that seem so rare. I was not at school yesterday so I anticipated the worst, coming back from having a sub. Fortunately, I had Jack, one of my favorites as subs go. He is a retired science teacher who gets along well with middle schoolers. He has a sense of humor, is just strict enough the keep them from destroying the classroom, but lenient enough to tolerate most of my untolerables.

D.R. was back from his latest suspension, which meant he would most likely have a good day, glad to be back in his element. The work I left was fairly easy - read a social studies section together and complete the easy/boring worksheet that accompanies the book & complete a worksheet packet in math class on histograms, which we had spent Monday learning about together. I knew my kids knew how to do the work, but the practice wouldn't hurt them, and was something sub-proof.

When I walked in this morning, looking across my classroom, WOW... things weren't too bad. Laptops unplugged here and there, a couple of pencils on the floor, but the chairs were picked up, there was NOT garbage and junk everywhere as had been the past couple of times I was gone. I was relieved! The baskets were full of completed assignments even!

Social studies class started - they KNEW their European bodies of water they are to be tested on Friday. Then, they got to work on their powerpoint projects they are working on. EVEN DR! It took some help from me, granted, but he worked, and was even excited about some of the research he is doing on Romania, wanting to include some of the things he found about Dracula in his presentation. At the end of the hour, I patted him on the back and told him how very much I appreciated his hard work and encouraged him to "Let's make it 2 more hours!" to which he grinned and laughed.

AND HE DID!!! Math class, he worked! I was soooo impressed.

We did a "hands-on lab" from the textbook, which while not hands-on in my book, was pretty cool. A table gave us the statistics of how many tornadoes each state averages per year. We took those stats, as a group, and made a line plot, using the state abbreviations instead of X's. Then, we worked to divide these into logical intervals and then, students colored US maps to show the trends in tornadoes. Not a difficult assignment, but one that took some thinking. They enjoyed the coloring part, and joked about doing social studies in math class. EVEN D.R.!!

During homeroom, D.R. listened while I read! Then, he read silently. Even during seminar time, he busied himself on something.

The rest of the day was uneventful, though the kids were LOUD. There is a huge snowstorm predicted, and predicatably, the dropping barometic pressure means middle schoolers are rambunctious. However, they were all working and on task so other than the noise level driving me bonckers, it really didn't matter.

I left school tired, but feeling like WOW, we accomplished A LOT, ALL DAY!

One sad note... K.C.... the little girl from earlier with the embarassingly sexually explicit note.... is suspended again.. she had cigarettes at school AGAIN, this time selling them. I wish I could somehow get her to come around. Since I had a cruel heart to heart talk with her, she has done remarkably well academically in my classes. She has become my star student in both social studies and math class. But her frequent suspensions make it difficult for her to keep up when she is there. I don't know what to do....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

With 3 1/2 weeks left until Christmas break, I am trying to organize my brain around some active, fun, engaging GLCE driven math lessons to keep my kids on track. Part of the difficulty lies with the planned absences this time of year. So many parents schedule extended vacations around the holidays. While I believe in the value of travel, family time, and the premise that learning occurs naturally outside the classroom, these trips make lesson planning more complicated.

Many of the hands on things in my bag of tricks have no written work to substitute for absent students. Sure, I could in theory dig out some worksheets from our text to hand them, but does that truly replicate?

So..... I am going to plan forgetting students will be gone, knowing some will miss out.

This short Thanksgiving week is easy. We are going to draw Cartesian cartoons. My students always need practice graphing, for some reason. I don't see what they struggle so much with what appears to be a simple concept. However, thanks to my supervising teacher when I was student teaching oh so many years ago, I purchased 2 books of Cartesian cartoons - with only only positive coordinates and the other with points in all four quadrants. I also got a super simple one for those struggling students - this one has letters and numbers with direction to color squares different colors. It is cute but not challenging for most 7th graders. I want to require all students to complete the most difficult one but as usual, I wonder if I am setting myself up for a disaster. If time permitted, I would have them each do 2, or complete one and create one. Can you imagine how creative some of their own would be?

After turkey holiday time is done, we will head into our data unit. I have a great hands-on lesson to review mean, median, mode, as well as quartiles. I invited our special ed teacher to bring his kids in for the data stuff so things are going to be exciting 4th hour. This is my GREAT class though so I am not worried to much other than space. Suddenly I will have 32 kids instead of 21, but there will be an additional teacher. My only concern with them joining us is one student who has Asperger's Syndrome and does not adjust well to large, loud groups, or change.

In the past, I have used the tiny snack boxes of raisins to teach box & whisker plots ( you know.. those funny graphs you see **everywhere** ... OK, the only place I have ever seen the is a textbook and the MEAP). The raisins work great though. We create a double box and whisker comparing our estimates of how many raisins are in the box with our actual #'s. We also create a double stem and leaf plot with our data. While raisins are not students' favorite snack, it makes a relatively dull lesson more exciting.

Then we move on to circle graphs. When I was first teaching, I bought snack bags of M&M's but now that I am older and wiser with the funds I spend in my classroom, I use Tootie Frootie cereal, which works just as well. Those big bags are cheap and a paper cup of cereal is perfect for circle graph data. I have students create a small poster of their own individual data displayed in both a circle and bar graph, as well the class data. Great lesson for not just graphs, and why each is better for certain circumstances, but also, we hit relative and cumulative frequency, as well as translating those into fractions, decimals and percents. And at the end, I have all those cool posters to hang on the walls, which students LOVE.

SO back to lesson planning..... I think I will start out with a little book work to prep them first so their prior knowledge is activated. With the promise of cool food activities on the horizon, the book work will set them up perfectly.

Social studies: Monday we start their presentation project on Europe. I took the social studies GLCE's and sorted through what they needed to know, and created this. I hope it works OK. I have concerns about a couple of my students who do very little work. I struggle with the constant question of allowing students to choose their own partners, or assigning them. I hate sticking a good student with someone who will not do their share of the work.

I wish I had some cool idea for something other than a powerpoint - but here I am into powerpointless land again. This mode of presentation does lend itself well to this project but I would love to introduce students to a cool new tool. Alas, I don't have one in my back pocket so ..... and I do not want the time to be caught up in teaching how to use the tool either. That reminds me, though, I need to create a sample for them to critique! (YIKES!)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I was gone Monday morning for a math department meeting and then all day Tuesday to the ISD for a math curriculum team meeting. I had the same sub both days, a very nice retired teacher from our district.

Unfortunately, it was mass chaos while she was there. Some of it, my kids knew better, but other things, were entirely within her control.

She allowed students to take attendance. I am all for giving students responsibility, but we are told over and over again that our attendance book is a legal binding document. Mine was inaccurate as only 7th graders can be expected to make it!

My prealgebra 4th hour class did not even get to go over their homework from the day before to get a chance for questions to be answered because she was too busy talking about hurricanes. Both of my prealgebra classes on their assignment she gave them answers to problems. She didn't work through problems with them, she just simply gave them answers. Several students last hour were so upset they actually starred those problems on their papers with a note.

The classroom was a mess, a disaster area, with garbage, papers, rulers, colored pencils, etc.. all over. This, I scolded my classes for. They know better than to leave our room that way.

The social studies assignment was fairly simple - directions in the teacher's addition said to have students label countries in Europe with name, and then divide them into regions - north, south, east and west according to the clues given in the chapter. She told them to just label countries and color them. A total waste of time.... No higher order thinking at all.

Several students did NOTHING while I was gone. Granted they are the ones who do little when I am there, but at least I try to get them to work. She was excited they had written names on their papers.

I am frustrated with our substitute teacher situation. I have complained and complained but it does no good.

My district expects me to attend these meetings, which are planned months in advance, but instead of securing competent subs, I get the bottom of the barrel. This means the days I am gone are a total waste of educational time. I feel like telling the kids to just not show up when I am going to be gone.

The worst part is when the kids themselves complain. I have no answer for them. How can I defend her actions? Should I?

And, today I have no voice.... laryngitis has set in and all I can do it squeak. As usual, the kids were great, rising to the occasion for the most part. I did have a few issues but none that weren't with the usual suspects. They will have to wait for another post!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Mighty Dragon of Chaos
When you are inherently unorganized, life’s simplest tasks can be ove
rwhelming. That describes me exactly. I am one of those people, left to her own devices, would simply suffocate under the piles of stuff that accumulate around me. Fortunately, I am not ashamed to admit this personality flaw and am in constant search of tricks to lasso the mighty dragon of chaos.

Over the years, I have collected ideas from every teacher I have met. While some work well for them and not for me, I have managed to piece together enough tools to keep my classroom running somewhat smoothly most of the time.

Below are my top ten stolen organization secrets:

1. Have specific places for students to turn in work – I use plastic stackable baskets, with bold clear labels for each hour. This stops students from tossing a paper onto my desk and being sucked into the black hole, never to be seen again.

2. Have a designated place for students to collect their work from when they are absent. The last thing I do each day before leaving school is take care of absent work. I look at my attendance book and for each student gone each hour, I put exactly what we did that day with any homework and handouts in a basket marked with the hour and ABSENT WORK. This puts the primary responsibility on the student, and makes my life easier without the question of “What did I miss yesterday?” being easy to answer.

3. Have a NO NAME folder. Unless you teach in Lake Woebegone, your students will on occasion, turn in work without a name. Later when they note a missing assignment, you can now simply point, “Did you check the No Name folder?”

4. Use online grading programming - if your district does not use something like PowerSchool, fight to get it. This makes for fewer parent phone calls, fewer students questioning about their grades, fewer writing lists of missing assignments, and best of all, no last minute panic at report card time. But do not get behind on grading - you expect students to turn work in on time. Have the courtesy to assess and return promptly as well. I find myself much more accountable when grades are posted for parents to view.

5. Write the day's lesson on the board. This solves the perpetual “What are we doing today?” question as well as focuses you and your students on the task at hand. Also, write notes on board - reminders for week, etc... so kids learn to look there. Help them learn to be responsible and plan ahead.

6. Have a board in hall outside classroom where you write what students need for class each hour. This method of reminding them what to bring each day helps teach middle schoolers to be organized. Students can be overwhelmed with so many classes and different teachers and thinking in 4 minutes can be tough.

7. Expect students to come to class prepared - I do not allow them to go get calculators, pencil, etc... I loan pencils, paper, textbooks, etc...they are all in designated area of classroom. I do not loan calculators, but "If you wanted it you would have brought it to class" usually sets the tone. Time in the hall is wasted time and I simply do not allow them to go get forgotten things.

8. Keep seating charts on a podium or other easily accessible location so you can take attendance in a split second as students are completing the class starter for day - something written on board to get their minds into gear for today's class - as you take attendance -ours is required to be online within first 10 minutes of class so I do it immediately when the bell rings. Seating charts also are invaluable to a substitute teacher. Mine also serves as a roster for fire drills or other trips out of the classroom since I have no grade book as such.

9. Use email for parent contacts whenever possible – This saves time and makes it easy to keep paper trail. Parents appreciate the ease of contact. Talk to parents early on - establish a positive relationship before there are problems. Send them a positive email about something you notice about a student. Those positives are like money in the bank when you do encounter a discipline problem later in the year.

10.Let go of the things that don’t really matter. My first years in the classroom I spent hours organizing my class library. When students returned books, I had to put the checkout cards back in and shelve the books back in their appropriate location. Finally, a couple of years ago, I decided enough of that! Now students know my books are NOT organized. If they want a book, they will have to dig for it. It is almost like a treasure hunt. Books in order may matter to you, but for me, those are hours better spent on other things. Examine your own classroom for those little things you can let go.

My classroom is not neat and tidy and shiny like some. It has that homey, lived-in, loved look. The tables are never quite in perfect straight lines, the computer cords are twisted and tangled, and my teacher desk looks like a recycling center exploded on it. But my students and I spend our time together engaged in learning, and for the most part, things run smoothly. With a little help from my stolen ideas, I bet yours could be the same!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I admit it... I am a bad person, a bad teacher.... My least favorite student is suspended for 3 days, and that makes me ecstatic. He got into trouble after school, being disrespectful to a paraprofessional, arguing about something. I cannot be accused of picking on him. This incident in no way had anything to do with me.

When he is gone, things run so much more smoothly, though today, his buddy did get into a bit of trouble. It seems he is having trouble in band and instead of dealing with the teacher personally, he is running his mouth in the hall, and even in class, being disrespectful towards her. Not only is this unacceptable, the attitude is carrying over into class. Today, I saw him throw a piece of something across the room. My usual punishment for such an offense is to show up at lunch and clean before going down to cafeteria. Of course, this young man balked at giving up his lunch time, and tried to convince me to let him come to my room instead of band. I first said no and then thought, hmmm.. perfect teachable moment.

He showed up right on time and started picking up all those million tiny scraps on my floor. He did ask for a broom and I said no way.... then, I started talking to him about band and his attitude towards the band teacher, and how disrespectful he had been towards her earlier. He told me his side of the story, in great detail. We talked about possible solutions. He decided to write her a letter outlining how he feels, how he feels about being treated unfairly in her class, and what his proposed solution to the problems is. He left with a smile on his face. My floor is clean.

Will he follow through and really write to her? I don't know. I will touch base with him tomorrow and ask him. I hope he does, and I hope she reads it with an open heart and mind.

He really is a good kid, with a tough life, and I like him a lot. I want him to realize that. I hope today helps that relationship grow.

Monday, November 10, 2008

First snow delay this morning! Wow, totally unexpected. But of course, the kids are all wired now. It certainly makes for an interesting start to the day and week!

Last week ended with parent teacher conferences Thursday. I saw 36 parents of the 67 students I teach. Not a bad turnout. I think now with PowerSchool, and parents having constant access to their child's grades, we see fewer inherently. That is unfortunate because there are so many other things I would like to talk to parents about other than grades.

Typically, most of the parents I want to talk to, don't show up. However, this year, I did get to have some great conversations with several parents. It is wonderful how supportive and concerned most parents are about their children and their education.

I have to admit I love conferences, even though the sitting there all day is tiring. I love hearing comments that this is the first year a student has done well in math, or that I am a large part of the reason their child is having a great 7th grade year. It is reaffirming that all the time and effort I put forth is appreciated.

I love talking to parents about how great their kids are. I love sharing stories of their sense of humor, kind deeds for others, as well as academics successes. Parents love their child unconditionally, but the reassurance that someone else feels the same can be so comforting. I had one mom tell me her child has never felt smart before this year. He has always thought he was dumb, treated as such by teachers. That breaks my heart.... he is an amazing kid. He has a huge attendance problem, is frequently tardy to school, does not always make up his work... but those are parenting issues. When he is here, he is engaged, on task, very knowledgeable about a variety of topics, and wants to do well. I love having him in class. I shudder to think that teachers have damaged children this way, year after year...

But then.. there are those students I do not connect with, I know. We cannot all reach all of them, despite our best of intentions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another day... another DR story. First hour, social studies kids had 3 tasks: #1, finish their end of section questions from social studies book they started yesterday #2, make flashcards for the vocabulary words in the chapter, and THEN, they could go online and complete the review games posted there.

Everyone was busy, working on their tasks, except DR, who had immediately turned on a computer, headed to play games. I went over and reminded him he needed to complete the bookwork and vocab cards first and walked away, helping other students with their work. Most were working productively, intent on finishing the less engaging tasks, trying to get to the more lucrative online games. Those not quite as productive, I prodded, reminded, helped, getting them moving on whichever task they needed to work on.

As I circled back by DR, there he is sitting, computer off, social studies book in front of him, closed, playing with a plastic tiny skateboard. I took the skateboard and reminded him to get going on his questions. I moved on, knowing he doesn't deal well with confrontation.

Eventually, he did open his book and try to get started, causing a huge ruckus in the process, having neither paper nor writing utensil. But fortunately for him and me both, other students intervened and provided those for him. (They are also available in the classroom but going and getting them quietly was apparently too complicated for DR!)

After completing a couple of questions, he decided to turn back on the computer, Again, I reminded him he needed to complete the other tasks FIRST. But that set him off and he simply quit working. Luckily, it was near the end of the hour by now, so I let it go.

Next hour, he comes back. I need a break from DR. Three hours in a row is TOO MUCH for both of us.

First, we correct yesterday's assignment, which he doesn't have so he spends the time writing with his red pen on the toy skateboard I had returned to him. We review the skills we are working on - multiplying fractions, especially the icky mixed numbers into improper fractions, and vice versa, and simplifying fractions. Lots of students are struggling in this group so instead of moving on, I give them more practice problems. As a group, they are relieved. They know they just don't GET IT yet.

DR has now spent the first 20 minutes or so of class playing with his toy, making noises and faces at others, throwing little pieces of paper, etc.... Will work time be better?

Of course not... 10 minutes into work time, everyone is busy, except DR and those he is sucking into his black hole of oblivion. I break... I write up the office referral and send him out. I write, "No point in being in class. Refuses to work. Disruptive. Interferring with learning of others." and with a sigh, tell him to leave. With great finesse, he manages to touch base with all his buds as he gathers his belongings and finally leaves.

A collective **sigh** can be felt in the room. Even his buds settle in and work, and work, and work. One of them came to me after class and thanked me, shyly, for giving them more of the same problems to practice, telling me he is trying but still "kinda lost." We talk... mostly me... I tell him what a great kid he is (and he really IS!) smart, good lucking, likeable... but how I really LIKE him more when DR is not in class. We talk about choices and not getting sucked in and he smiles, and says with a shy smile, "I know Mrs. G, I KNOW!" He walks out the door and turns back around, yelling, "THANKS MRS. G!" and I want to cry.

DR is suspended the rest of today and all day tomorrow, Halloween, which is a HUGE blessing. No DR all day tomorrow when all the kids will be WIRED, AND he will not be able to come to the Fun Night tomorrow night.

I feel guilty for wanting him gone, I feel guilty for enjoying 3rd hour without him. I touch base with the young lady who wrote the note yesterday to him. She is apologetic and tells me how she wants more from life than she knows she is going to get like this. She seems sincere, genuine and soooo terribly young. I want to hug her, but don't. She seems so cautious and wounded somehow, and I know her life has been tough. But I feel like she and I finally are connecting, at least a bit.

Last hour, I share my bag of "boo" goodies left on my door with my class. The empty bag is really cute and one girl asks for it. I tell her sure and hand it over. Later, after school, at the drugstore, she is there also and smiles a HUGE smile and says, "THANKS FOR THE BAG MRS. GEORGE!" making the day seem so perfect and worthwhile, even after the DR trauma.

He will be back Monday. Will anything change? No... I know that. And, I hate knowing that. I hate feeling like I have already given up on DR, and it is only October. But I have to focus on the ones who DO care, who want to learn, and find a way to keep him from pulling them into the dark hole with him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's great to be back at school this week, though physically, it has been tough. The kids missed me and I missed being there and with them.

However, the joy is overshadowed by DR. He is my thorn this year. I have tried and tried with this young man, but somehow, the shell cannot be broken through, at least not by me. He has had a tough life, granted. He & his sister live with his grandparents, who admittedly are not thrilled to be raising a second family. DR has been in trouble with the law on more than one occasion. The last time was for breaking & entering and larceny.

All that really doesn't matter to me, except he is making consistently bad choices in my classes. I have the young man 1st, 2nd and 3rd hours. He is often late to class, seldom has even a pencil, and comes in with a flair. He is much more interested in the females of the group than academics. In math class in particular, unless I am hawk-eyeing him constantly, he is throwing something, usually erasers broken into tiny pieces, passing notes, making crude comments, or otherwise causing grief to others around him.

Today was the clincher for me. He and a young lady were passing a note. I have taken a lot of notes away from students over the years, some innocent, some cute, some hilarious, some sexual in nature. However, this note was the crudest, most disgusting sexual reference I could even image. The young lady was suggesting doing something to the young man I would never even consider consider considering doing. I was appalled, embarassed, speechless. I am no prude, at all, and little embarasses me. I love a funny (Ok, even crude, and inappropriate) joke as much as the raunchy construction worker or sailor. But this note was over the top disgusting. And she is 12 years old.... and there was even a plan for where and when and how...

I referred them to the principal who gave them lunch detention, TOGETHER.

What now????

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One of my favorite pasttimes has been riding my 4 wheeler, ever since the first day I jumped on it, several years ago. I didn't want one. My husband did. When he bought his, he insisted on getting me one as well, despite my protests. It wasn't long before I was begging to trade in my cheap little 2 wheel drive for a faster, more powerful Bombardier 400 Outlander. It was a match made in heaven. I loved the speed, the freedom, the thrill. Every chance I got to ride, I did. Until 2 weeks ago.

My husband and I were up at our cabin, working all day burning the pile of leftover building materials, cleaning out the pole barn, just enjoying the fall day and being outside together. We had gotten both ATV's out of the pole barn to be able to get to other stuff, but were not planning on riding. He promised we would go for a long ride the next day and we had our trip all planned. One last ride before snow fall.

When time came to put the machines away, as usually happened, when I jumped on mine, it just didn't want to go inside, so I let it lead the way down the winding forest road our cabin sits on, no helmet, just enjoying the wind in my hair, taking in the golden leaves slowly floating down, the smell of autumn heavy in the air. I was only going about 20 mph, putting along, enjoying being there, alive, free. Suddenly this HUGE mid puddle appeared. Knowing my machine would spray mud all over me, I jerked the handlebars sharply to miss the puddle. Too late... somehow, as I was sucked into the muck, and came up the opposite side, I hit a small hump of dirt. The sensation of flying through the air will haunt my dreams for a lifetime. The ATV landed upside down with me nearby in the middle of the road.

It could have been worse. Several broken ribs, bruises from the handlebar from my chin across my face to my eye. Bruises and aches all over. But I am alive and thankful.

THe worst part has been being away from school for 2 weeks. I miss the kids. I know they are OK, but I also am egocentric enough to think no one can teach them 7th grade math as well as I can. When I am gone for a day or 2, I can leave busy work, something to occupy them, but no real NEW learning for them.

THis extended absence has made me have to turn over the teaching to the substitutes. As I sit here this morning grading papers, I am in tears at the low scores, the lack of understanding, the obvious misunderstandings being developed.

It is not the sub's fault. She is wonderful. She taught elementary school for years and is just terrific, but when is the last time she balanced an algebraic equation or thought about irrational numbers?

I can't wait until Monday when I can go back to school. I miss the kids, I miss teaching. I know I will still be in pain. I can't bend over, or sit in one position for long, or even breathe deeply, but I have to be there. I have to be with my kids!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What an up and down week.... Wednesday I was so frustrated with a couple of clowns in my 2nd hour, I lost it and yelled at them all. Most of the group is wonderful, kids who struggle in math, but are trying desperately to "get it" and do well. However, there are also a few in there who are the hard core, trouble makers, including the ringleader who has already been suspended for 3 times this school year (and we are in the 4th week of school).

While the few are trying hard to do anything but math, it makes it tough to help those who do care. I see them dragging along more and more with them each day.

I have gotten 2 new students in there as well, both of whom come with baggage all their own. But Thursday, we had a little chat, I gave a new seating chart which spread out the worst of the crew as far from each other as possible, which seems to help some. Unfortunately, for the worst 2, just being in the same room together seems to be enough to cause grief.

Friday was test day in all my math classes. 2nd hour, general math, took a mid-chapter test. Some did extremely well, others, the point seemed to be get done as soon as possible. Next week is the end of the marking period and 2 students are failing the class. Another is hanging in with a D-. To be fair, one of the failing grades is a new student, but she has made no effort since coming here about a week ago, already being suspended for having stolen cigarettes at school. I probably will mark her card as too new to give a grade.

The one young man with an E is the one who is a chronic suspension, but honestly, even if he were here all the time, I am not sure his grade would dramatically change. He spends so much time bothering others, and so little actually working. I have tried to help him. I have called home. I have offered to help after or before school. I have tried to help him during seminar. But he just doesn't care.

My other 2 math classes are pre-algebra. I was supposed to have one higher group and then a kind of middle ground group, having divided the kids by placement test scores. However, it has been kind of a flipflop between groups. My 4th hour is amazing! One student in there has a C and all the rest are A's and B's with an overall class average of 89%. And.. they are trying desperately as a group to get that up to an A. They are excited about math, they work hard, they are hilarious, they are energetic and a strong reminder of why I love 7th graders.

My last hour pre-algebra group is an odd one. About half the class is the made of the "cool kids" , the popular girls who rule the roost. The remainder is made of an odd assortment of cool kid wanna be's, several who are just great kids, one girl who tries so hard to be a hard core troubled child sometimes but is truly just a sweetheart, a boy a recently referred for special ed testing after trying to work individually with him and discovering he struggles greatly getting the info from his brain to paper. There 5 C's in this group, with an overall average of 86%, which is great, but just seems ironic in light of the initial placement test scores. There are a lot of hard working kids in this group but there are also some who work hard because of pressure at home.

In the last group, there is one girl who is struggling big time. She got a 40% on her test the first time through, but stayed after to rework some problems. I had to leave so she didn't quite get done with the redo, and I didn't have time to sit and work with her but will try to make time Monday. I think she is in over her head even in pre-algebra but I wonder if moving her would be a good idea. The language arts teacher is seeing her struggle as well, and wants to call a parent meeting so I am thinking about my recommendations for her.

I can't believe how quickly the year is flying by. It seems like we just started last week.

MEAP's are coming up and that will blow 4 full days of instruction right out of the water. I can't believe the horrible rotating schedule we will torture kids with in the name of testing. The last day, I will have the same group 4 hours in a row, with no test to give. I would love to do something exciting and innovating, but in my mind, most of those things also involved group work, noisy things, and other classes WILL be testing so we must be quiet. What can I do with 26 7th graders for 4 hours that is engaging, fun, educational, AND quiet?

Teaching has its ups and downs and it seems for every Wednesday where things seemed so bad in my 2nd hour, there is a victory day like Friday where I was so pleased with their tests. I like to see their satisfaction when they hand me the test and you can SEE they KNOW they did well, and are happy with themselves.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The first marking period is winding down, and overall, students are doing well. I feel, more than ever before, my grades truly reflect learning, at least in math.

With homework/classwork only 10% of the final grade, the quizzes/tests really do make a huge impact on that final grade. I have more kids asking for redo's, more really asking questions, working through the assignments, and I truly think, LEARNING.

I am trying to give more frequent quizzes. My goal was once a week, and at the middle of week 4, we took quiz 3 in prealgebra today, and will take quiz 3 in math later this week, so we are a bit off schedule but that simply can't always be helped.

It seems my regular math class is always behind for some reason. Today it was the science field trip that put us yet another day behind. Such is life in teaching.

I wish I could find a way to model my social studies class grades more on assessments and less on daily work, but I seldom give "tests" in that class. We do so much together, more discussions, more writing about what we've done, which I guess could be summative assessments, but somehow they seem so ambigious in nature I am reluctant to call them that.

Math is black and white, either you get it or you don't. Social studies is so much more gray to me. It is about people and places and ideas. I can test on map skills or locations, facts and figures, but so much of what we do just doesn't lend itself to that format. I must focus and work on doing that more often.

Our new social studies texts were ordered today, finally. Maybe once I am using a book more, I will find it easier to test from the written materials? I don't like teaching social studies from a text but I find meeting the GLCE's for 7th grade difficult. Partly, I think I don't have the background in the material, but also I find the expectations overwhelming and impossible to cover adequately. I am hoping the text will guide me somewhat.

Overall, it's been a great start to school, and I do not feel that sense of loss I do some years when I long for "last year's kids". I am enjoying these for the moment!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Last night was our first Fun Night of the year, sponsored by my 7th grade. It did not go off as smoothly as I would have liked, but I know that is because of our own lack of preparation with the kids.

We had students sign up to work in the concession, 20 minute shifts with 3 kids working at a time. Some would have done this last year as 6th graders. It really is not complicated - pop, baked goods, and last night we had hot dogs and chips, which I handled.

The problem? First off, some of the kids have NO customer service finesse at all. One of the first crew kept yelling when someone walked up, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" They gave out cups filled halfway with soda, didn't wash their hands or wear gloves.

However, those things were easily overcome. The biggest thing was showing up for their 20 minute time slot and actually staying and working the entire time. Not one single group showed up in its entirety, less than 10 minutes late for their shift. Of course, the group there from the earlier shift wanted to leave the second the clock said their shift was over.

I had one little girl want to leave her 20 minutes early because she was too tired. When she did get to leave, she raced immediately to the dance floor.

Others were ecstatic because, "THIS IS MY FAVORITE SONG! CAN I PLEEEEEASE GO DANCE JUST THIS ONE SONG?" and of course, looked devastasted when I refused their request.

One child actually suggested we should have 10 minute shifts!!

The workers were for the most part, not the popular kids, but the 'uncool' kids of the group, those peripheral students. I was upset that the "cool" kids were not a part of the work crew, and will make sure next time THEY are the ones filling the work schedule.

The proceeds of these is a big part of how we fund 7th grade camp, so it should be a group responsibility to make sure things come off without a hitch. THere will be other Fun Nights sponsored by the other grades where our 7th graders do not have to work and help out, but this one is THEIR responsibility.

Even cleanup was a battle. One of the 4 workers on the schedule for cleanup showed up. I sent her to find the others, but they never came back, so alas, most of the cleanup fell to me, another teacher, her daughter, and a couple of parents. As I was hauling bags of garbage out, taking leftover junk up the stairs trip after trip, I realized how unjust the evening was.

Monday... class meeting about working and responsibility!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Yesterday was our first Math Curriculum Review Team meeting at our Intermediate School District. We work on aligning lessons, units, and resources to the Grade Level Content Expectations.

This past summer when I was working there, I got into a kind of a tiff with another teacher about grades - I insisted they should not reflect things like late assignments, participation, etc... redo's should be not only encouraged but required, and those new scores should replace the old ones, not be averaged with original scores.

This other teacher was very insistent that I was wrong and would not even listen to what I had to say. I defended my position strongly but it was like talking to a wall.

That was June. Yesterday... she came up to me and told me she wanted to thank me for challenging her! She has since thought more about our conversation, done some research, participated in some Balanced Assessment training, and is rethinking her teaching and grading/assessing practices. She said she hates to think of all the students she has "scarred" over the years with her methods!

How humbling to be a part of someone's growth!! I hugged her and told her how exciting it was that she is now reflecting and reconsidering her methods!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

As we head into the second half of the first 6 week marking period, I feel a sense of calm and accomplishment. It is hard to explain, but I think it all comes down to the tracked math classes this year.

I have 2 pre-algebra classes which are both doing well, and moving right along. But I only have 1 "just" 7th grade math class. Those are the kids who were ear marked as struggling math students. We are doing so great, I can't believe it. Without the pressure to keep up with the "top" kids, I feel like we can stop, slow down, take more time to work on concepts, and really make sure they are getting it. We are almost on track with other years, so in all truth, we are not moving slower than usual, but it feels like so much less pressure to stay on track. I feel more relaxed and less stressed, which equates to higher achievement in my students.

Social studies is fun, completely. We are still working on population concepts, and the students seems so intelligent and knowledgeable about every topic we've discussed. Tomorrow we start watching Human Footprint and I can't wait to discuss the DVD with them. I know they will be enlightening and enlightened.

Union issues at school continue to plague the peace and quiet but I continue to teach and love my kids, regardless of the turmoil around me. It seems more and more teachers are choosing that route, and that makes me happy. I know we have many staff who are not only competent but truly care about kids and learning.

In other news to note, SNOW next week!! THe science teacher has planned this little outing for all of us - going to Dollarville Dam/flooding to do some water samples. And... of course, it is supposed to SNOW!! teehee... isn't that just par for the course??

Our first Fun Night is scheduled for Friday. It should be a good one - the first of the year, the weather is still nice out, and the kids are excited. I too am looking forward to it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

2 weeks down already. It's been a busy 2 weeks, with picture day, too many staff meetings, a math department meeting, a social studies department meeting, school improvement team meeting, and kickoff assembly for the parent group's big fund raiser. Whew... add in trying to get kids into MY classroom routine... let's just say: I hope the next week is a bit calmer - OH WAIT, it's homecoming week!

All that aside, it really seems like the school year is off to a great start. The kids are getting into the routine of reading the board to know what to bring to class, what day it is, what we are doing in class, etc... I am always amazed that most teachers do NOT expect students to read and follow posted instructions. I do not understand why you would want to tell them everything! It is sooo much simpler for me to do things my way.

I use a lot of positive reinforcements, OK, bribery, the first few weeks to get the routines in place. Your homework is in the basket where it belongs? A box of Nerds is yours! You remembered your AR book for math class? A roll of Smarties for you! I know all the anti-candy reasoning, and the anti-bribery thoughts... so please, spare me the criticism. It works. A few will never get into the routine, but most catch on much faster when the rewards are tangible. It only takes a few times and then I wean them off.

Our first quiz is tomorrow, knowing that Monday is NOT the best choice for a quiz, but with all the miscellaneous stuff going on last week, we got a bit off track. I am trying to quiz each Friday this year, following the Marzano logic that testing frequently promotes learning. I have always quizzed sporadically in the past, and want to give regular planned assessments of this kind a try. My problem is, I find myself frequently taking longer to get through material than I initially plan. Occasionally, we are ahead of schedule. But it just seems my plans are penciled in, not inked, so my Friday quiz may often be a Thursday or Monday quiz instead!

Social studies has been a lot of fun. I am using materials I got from Population Connection this summer and am loving the interactive discussions sparked from the activities. Students seem to be enjoying it as well. The World Population Video in particular, sparked a lot of rich conversation. I want to show it again, using it as a springboard for a conversation about the various eras of history. The book that came along with the video has a great description of them I think will be great to use.

Behavior has been very good. I had one young man suspended for skipping his 6th hour class but otherwise, none have been in any major trouble so far. I do have one who has tardies accumulating, and several with attendance issues. I wish parents would just realize how tough these habits make success.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday... finally... the first week is always the toughest, simply because we are in the training part of the school year, trying to get students into the routine, learning where, when, how. It is amazing how quickly I learn so much about each individual from the seemingly innocent actions.

One thing that struck me particularly odd was the stacks of math notebooks after school yesterday. My kids all have a math notebook, which is stored on a rolling cart by the classroom door. On their way in and out, they grab or toss notebooks there for storage. My math classes are tracked this year, 1 high, 1 low and then a middle group. The notebooks for the low group were tossed haphazardly in a random this way/that way arrangement on their shelf. THe middle group was neater, some in a stack, the rest tossed whichever way. The high group... all perfectly stacked, going same way, in one neat stack. Wow... hard to imagine we could predict intelligent by organizational skills?

Overall, this bunch seems like a good crew. So far, even the "trouble-makers" from last year are not causing too much havoc. I am loving the sense of humor of several of them, and am impressed with their intelligence and willingness to answer questions, take risks and be wrong. Those are such important to success skills, more so than any "book learning" they can come in with.

I shared a powerpoint of goofy slides today, taken from a couple of those emails you always get in your inbox and never know what to do with: one of optical illusions, and another of food carved into weird things. They absolutely had a blast with both of them! The discussions were the best!

Monday, August 25, 2008

One of my favorite 'teacher' books has always been What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker. As I prepare for another school year, I am revisting Whitaker's advice.

1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs that determine the quality of a school. I want to be one of those teachers who DOES make a difference, not only in the future of my students, but in the success of my school. I want to be a beacon to all of professionalism and dedication to our profession. This means I have to dedicate myself to always thinking before I speak, but be willing and determined to speak when need be. I have to not allow the negativism of others invade my personal space, mentally or physically.

2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses. I do not believe the adage - Don't smile until Christmas. However, I must make certain I am firm and consistent, not allowing my emotions to cloud my judgement in dealing with difficult students. I need to work on not losing my composure when frustrated, and never giving up on a student.

3. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have on goal: to keep that behavior from happening again. This does not mean the same consequence for each student. Instead it means I must know what makes each of my students act out in circumstances and prepare for those disruptions, and then follow through with the appropriate consequence for that child, whatever it may be. It might be having the child call a parent, it might mean staying after school with me, or coming in at lunch time to wash tables. I have to make the punishment fit the crime and be a detriment to further indiscretions.

4. Great teacher have high expectations for students but even higher expectations for themselves. I must make certain I am always the epitome of professionalism in front of my students. It is easy to lax into bad habits - checking email during down time in class, allowing students time to chat when we could have filled those moments with something constructive, or not being completely organized and prepared for class. I have to make sure I not only expect my students be with me 110% during the time they are with me, but that I am also giving 100% to them the entire class period.

5. Great teachers know who is the variable in the classroom: they are! Good teachers consistently strive to improve, and they focus on something they can control -their own performance. I must make certain I am always focusing on the curriculum, and working to hone how I help students master that content. By reading professional materials, and digesting those materials with care, I can continue to become a better teacher. I need to always be a lifelong learner in pedagogy, questioning my methods, trying new ways, experiementing, but most importantly, reflecting on what I do, thinking through the good and bad.

6. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classroom and their schools. They treat every person with respect. In particular, they understand the power of praise. I love my job but just loving it is not enough. I must always convey that love to my students, their parents, and my colleagues. I must work to engage those teachers around me who do not love what they are doing, and find ways to praise their efforts, to encourage them to 'step it up a notch' when interacting with students. If I can be a beacon of positive light, perhaps it will be contagious. My attitude means everything.

7. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don't matter and share a positive attitude. There are so many things out of my control - our contract, the lack of money, our shared adminstration, parents who are not supportive, students from less than ideal homes - but there are so many other things I can find to be happy about. I have to put aside the things that ought to stay outside the classroom, and leave them there. I have to share positive things with other teachers, creating a positive climate in our building.

8. Great teachers work hard to keep their relationships in good repair - to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage. I must learn to always assume good intentions, from everyone, even when the contrary seems more likely. I have to work with people I may not like, or may not agree with their methods, but by keeping in mind they are trying their best with what they have, I will keep a positive working relationship with them. I will try harder to befriend those struggling, those unhappy with the current climate at school, and try to help them focus on the positives of our job. I will not avoid people just because I find it easier not to deal with them. I will reach out to those around me in an effort to be more positive.

9. Great teachers have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and the ability to respond to inappropriate behavior without escalating the situation. 7th graders by nature want to attract attention to themselves, so I must learn to find ways to capitalize on those "clowns" and help them channel their behaviors appropriately. I must react with speed but caution to intervene, preferably with humor, to de-escalate situations.

10. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. If things don't work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust their plans accordingly. Always plan, plan and plan again. But more importantly, reflect on what I have done, making certain to learn from my mistakes and figure out what worked and what didn't. I must constantly be re-evaluating my own practices.

11. Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great teachers ask themselves one central question: What will the best people think? I must make sure not to let a few inappropriate students keep me from doing the engaging fun things the more responsible students deserve. I must always treat the better students in my classroom with equal time and effort as those disruptive, who inherently demand more of my time and attention.

12. Great teachers continually ask themselves who is most comfortable and who is least comfortable with each decision they make. They treat everyone as if they were good. I must make sure each day is a clean slate, for every student. I must never let my anger at yesterday's actions cloud my judgements in dealing with students. I must always remember that they are just children and not intentional in their actions, oftentimes. I must remember that all students are looking to me for how to treat each other. I must find worth and value in each and every child, every day in my classroom.

13. Great teachers keep standardized testing in perspective; they center on the real issue of student learning. It is easy to focus too much on what students must learn for the MEAP. It is easy to forget that school is more than academics. Students learn much more from real life experiences than books, anytime. Testing is important, but my true teaching purpose is to help students become independent learners, and find confidence in their abilities.

14. Great teacher care about their students. They understand that behaviors and beliefs are tied to emotions, and they understand the power of emotion to jump-start change. I have to keep in mind that my students are not intentionally trying to make my life miserable when they act out - it is often their age, or their frustration at not knowing how to do what we are doing - that causes them to act out. I must work to be patient, and understanding, and make sure they understand that I will always care about them, and always give them one more one more chance. I will never give up on them. I will always trust them to make their best efforts.

Whitaker makes sense. Every time I read it... I must always strive to meet his 14 expectations, make them my inner drive to be the best teacher I can be.
Lesson Planning
Start the Year on a Strong Footing
I will admit it, I love sitting in my classroom writing lesson plans. I love the potential as I write down the ideal possibilities of what I want to accomplish with students.
I dug out last year's lesson plan book to use as a guide, wishing I would have written notes about what I did, what I wanted to do differently this year, what worked wonderfully, etc.. but alas, I am left with the cobwebs scattered in my head to remember.
The mandalas we made in social studies, I know were great. Students put them on their notebooks and I enjoyed them all year long. But I am really wondering if the 3 days of class time it took to finish those masterpieces was worth it? It is not a direct social studies linked lesson, to be perfectly honest. But does everything we do have to be??? Is it worthwhile to have students think about their own values, find ways to represent those values visually, and verbalize their meanings to their peers? Isn't that as important as learning about Ancient Rome or medieval times?
Math classes are so much easier for planning, so much more concrete in their direction. I know what they must know when they leave me, I know the order in which they need to learn it for them to be successful in the progression of learning. Black and white, 1,2,3,4... it all makes such more logical sense.
Is it OK that social studies represents a challenge for me? I often feel as if that one hour of the day is the wing zone, where I simply fly by the seat of my pants, trying to meet the state's standards, make it interesting and relevant, but never quite meeting the mark in my objectives.

NOVA/Science Now has an interesting video clip about something called Mirror Neurons that suggests people are strongly influenced by what they see, actually as much as if they themselves do the action they are seeing another do.

What implications does this have for teaching?

I can certainly use this to argue the need to surround one's self with positive people. If all I see are negative images, people frowning, complaining, and simply not enjoying their life/job, that will likely influence me myself to become more negative.

In a classroom, modeling behaviors I want my students to emulate, or having students model for each other, can have a dramatic impact on those less successful students. When they watch me or another student performing, for example, a problem solving strategy, they will internalize those process skills, and make them their own, as if they had already performed the skills.

Seems rather simplistic, but the possibilities are really mind boggling!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Looking back over my summer, it's been a busy one, no doubt. However, I did find time to learn some new techie cool tools. My favs? twitter and plurk, 2 amazing ways to connect and learn. Conversations on both are rich with shared info, teaching tips, websites, and just general chatter about education.

I have also played around with some other web 2.0 tools, like crappygraphs. I love the instant graphs, that can be anything from serious to frivolous. But certainly, these graphs will be engaging to my 7th graders!

I discovered a wonderful podcast at Teach with Video that gives practical suggestions for using tech tools in your classroom, as well as examples of great student podcasts and other tech projects by kids.

Want to print a HUGE poster of a picture? Try Block Posters. This site breaks your pic into 18 pieces so you can print on your printer and put together into a poster. Very cool...

All these make me wish I had time to just play with cool stuff all the time! or at the very least, I wish I taught a tech class to share all these with kids!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summer's end is upon us. The teachers are starting to haunt the hallowed halls, the stores of full of bargains and long dressing room lines. The air of renewal hangs heavy with the worst offenders from last year promising parents and themselves a new start.
My room is not completely ready - a few posters are waiting to be stickied up, the lesson plans for first week need to be polished a bit, website updated, etc... but the tasks are underway, and I feel that sense of urgency for the kids to come back.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I was excited to find out I can finally get back into my classroom after the custodial staff have waved their magic wands and made the room all clean and new again. The wax on the hall floor is dry so it is OFFICIAL.

This week I have been spending a little while there each day. I always have the best of intentions of really tackling the putting back together process and getting done in a day or two and just being done. It never works that way though.

First comes the moving of furniture, rearranging, trying to find that perfect setup to start the school year. I would love to move it regularly but the laptops I have dictate that once my tables are set, they pretty much have to stay where they are to maintain power sources and room for all the cords. So getting it perfect is crucial. Last year, my classes were small with no more than 20 students per hour. This year, I can count on 28+ so my configuration has changed. But that is a time consuming project. I must move the tables, and then, let then sit for a while to decide if it is the right fit. I look, I ponder, I sit, I walk, I stand, I ponder, I sit, I stand, I scoot between chairs, I ponder, I try to imagine every possible scenario and problem. Then, one day, I know it. The tables and chairs are where they belong.

Then comes the dragging out of stuff, all that stuff I crammed into drawers and cupboards last June as I packed up my classroom. Inevitably, I find the most interesting items. Today's big find was a set of snapshots taken 6-7 years ago when I still taught 8th grade. That year I had an elective class. I think it was public speaking? For part of the class, my students went down to the elementary and read to little kids, I believe kindergarteners. I found the pictures of them all!! How cute... how adorable... Those 8th graders are long gone, graduated, grown up and off to college or the armed forces. But the little kids!! Those were my 7th graders from last year. **tears** They looked so sweet and innocent sitting there staring up at those 8th grade faces reading them their favorite books. Perched on chairs, sitting on the floor in the hall leaned against lockers, their little faces the same as when I had them in 7th grade, only younger, and sweeter, and much more innocent.

What will I find tomorrow when I am digging?? I can't wait to see...

Monday, July 21, 2008

When I recently commented on another blog(TJ on a Journey), someone commented back accusing my classroom, at least the curriculum, of being coercive. This first riled me a bit. But after thinking about what it means to be coercive, I was intrigued by the thought.

Googling coercive, I found this definition:Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.

Given that definition, my classroom IS indeed coercive. I compell, or attempt to compell, my students to act in certain ways by forms of pressure. I do not use threats, (OK, maybe on occasion I threaten to call home, or to keep a student after class, or make them wash desks if they write on them.... ) and I never use force, but there is a certain degree of intimidation involved in a classroom setting.

Is that necessarily a bad thing?

When we become adults, life itself is coercive by nature. Everything we do, we do as a result of coersion in one form or another. I obey the speed limit because I am coerced with the threat of a speeding ticket and my car insurance going up. I go to work each day and do what my boss coerces me to do because if I don't, I won't keep my job, I will lose my paycheck and therefore lose all the things that paycheck buys, like food, shelter, clothing and entertainment. I eat healthier choices and exercise more because my doctor's stern lecture coerces me to think carefully about the alternatives.

The role of school is inherently to prepare students for adulthood by giving them the skills they need to be successful in life. Some of those skills are academic, such as math, science, and written language. Others are more ambiguous, like learning to get along with others by follow societal rules like being on time, prepared and cooperative.

My curriculum is also coercive. While I often complain about the guidelines set forth by the State of Michigan as limiting what I can and must teach students, I also know that without those grade level content expectations, students would be left to the whims of individual teachers as to what they were taught in classrooms. Even now, it is apparent which elementary class students were in based on their math skills. If there were no guidelines to follow, I can only imagine the discrepancy among skill sets of my students.

I understand the school of thought that thinks students should be free to explore and learn what they are interested in. However, I think that is unreasonable given our current education system. Employers, as well as institutes of higher learning, has expectations that a student who graduates from high school will have certain base of common knowlege, regardless of where that student attended school. Some may argue this is out of date with today's easy constant access to information, and the rapid change of technology and its impact on society in general. I say let's simply change that common base of knowledge to incorporate these new skill sets, but keep a general assumption that all students at certain points in their education will be comparable in what they have in their repertoire.

It seems only fair to me to keep my classroom coercive. I want my students to leave my classroom with the most possible gained from our time together. I want them to learn, to grow, and to leave wanting to learn and grow even more. If that takes a little arm twisting on my part on occasion, then so be it!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summers are always busy it seems, but this summer I took on the additional task of tutoring a young lady who will be going into 7th grade next fall. I do not usually tutor for a lot of reasons: I don't have time, I feel uncomfortable charging parents for my time, and I always feel like the time is not worthwhile. However, since this young lady will be coming into my grade, and needs help in math, I thought maybe it would be different.

M. works hard, very hard, every single time we are together - twice a week for 45 minutes each. I see her trying. I know she wants to do the work. I know she wants to please me. But for some reason, M. has a true learning disability in math.

With a background in math as well as learning disabilities, I am more than qualified to help her overcome this struggle, on paper, but in reality, I am struggling alongside her. To be sure, we are making strides in the right direction. However, it is a 3 step forward, 2 step back process.

The thing I would like most to help M. gain this summer is number sense. Even at 12 years old, she doesn't intuitively know that given 7, you need 3 more to make 10. She must count on her fingers to add up from 8 to 12. She can count by 2's, but not by 3's or even 4's. We have drilled and worked and played games and tried various strategies to help, but some days, the numbers are there, and others, they are not.

Today, we stopped trying to work on fractions because the finding a common denominator was just too tedious. I had her write columns of mulitples of numbers on the board. 2's were great. Then on to 4's. M. could not grasp that she could simply count 2 more, and 2 more, to get the next in the sequence. Often, her next choice to write was an odd number. We tried 9's, which we have worked on since Day 1. She knows the finger trick, and she knows that the first number, the digit in the 10's place, must be 1 less than whatever we are multipying 9 by. She knows that the digits in the answer must add to 9. She knows those tricks. She can tell them to me, faithfully. But when asked to write: 9, 18, 27, 36, ..... she is lost. There is no connection there.

I feel like a fraud, a total incompetent. I can't help her the way she needs to be helped. I can keep coaching her, giving her some self confidence. I can teach her more tricks. Help her draw pictures to attack word problems. Encourage her to use the calculator to solve problems. Help her strategize as to how to eliminate choices in multiple choice questions. But, I can't FIX her.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A recent conversation on Twitter with Robert Talbot about technology and what it means to be a truly competent user of technology, sparked my thinking about this topic. It all goes back to Marc Prensky's Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants article from 2001. According to Prensky, today's students are born into a digitally rich world and therefore will always be ahead of those born prior to the explosion of information and availability of tech toys and tools.

Is this truly the case though? Is simply using technology for socialization online making today's youth tech competent? Or instead, does this perpetuate the myth of the disconnect between digital natives and immigrants? Is it possible to be of the OLDER generation and be technologically competent? Is it possible to be a young person today and be technologically incompetent?

Part of the problem with this discussion is the definition of technology. Does being able to text to one's friends, acquire new ring tones, play Wii, seamlessly find wireless signals, and play online games make a 13 year technologically competent?

Does some of the problem stem from the want of using technology? If a student in class needs to practice integer operations at a online review site, many of them balk - "I don't get it!" "How do I make it work?" " It says my popup blocker is on." They are unable to figure out this simple process assigned to them. However, give them time to play online games of their choice, and suddenly, not only can they play them, they can get around the filter installed at school to the games that are blocked, they can message friends using IM programs that are blocked, all while they are listening to YouTube videos, that are also blocked. So then, why can't they "play" a review quiz such as the ones at which are a million times simpler than the other things they are able to achieve.

Prensky says, "Today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors."

He goes on to quote Dr. Bruce D. Perry, "thinking patterns have changed. "

Interesting to think about. Do students truly think differently today? I remember sitting reading and studying with The Eagles blaring from my 45's on my record player, with my mother complaining I couldn't possibly be learning anything with all that noise going. But, I was.

So back to the intial question: What does it mean to be technologically competent in today's world? To me, a simple answer would be: able to manipulate technology to meet your needs, in any situation. It means figuring out how to use that new iPhone, hooking up your new Wii, and chatting with friends on MSN or Facebook, sure.

Beyond that, it means using technology to find answers, manipulate data, and find creative ways to share with others.

Technology is the way to work with people far from your own geographic location, whether to learn in your own career, or about things which interest you outside the world of work.

Technology is the answer to all the questions you have, whether it is where is the best place to go to college if I want a degree in chemical engineering or how do I decide what is the best treatment for my latest diagnosis.

Technology expands your horizons beyond what previous generations were able to even imagine. However, technology also limits our ability to communicate face to face when we become so locked into a virtual world we do not talk to those in the same room. It also opens up dangers and possibilities for exploitation beyond the confines we once felt the safety net of.

Only by teaching students to use technology competently on all these arenas are we preparing them for the real world.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Our high school MME scores came out recently. 27% of the students were proficient in math. If that number alone is not enough to make a person cringe, I looked back at their 8th grade scores. Since the 8th grade test is given in the fall, it reflects their learning in 7th grade, and is the late test score until MME in the spring of their 11th grade year. When this group was in 8th grade, 60% were proficient in math. Not a great percentage, but over twice as much as when they reached 11th grade. Given the fact that some of your lower students have dropped out of school, gone to the alternative school, or simply moved by their 11th grade year, coupled with the fact this test is more important to students than when they are in middle school, logic would say if anything, the proficiency level should rise, not fall.

What is happening? Why are we doing so poorly in the high school math area? And, even more importantly, what do we do about it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yesterday I attended the first Michigan Joint Education Conference. The conference itself was good. The presenters had useful, interesting, relevant information to share and I brought back much I can take to my classroom and implement this fall. The exhibitors were all there, with tons of freebies and information. The box lunch was pretty typical.

What struck me most about the experience though was the location. Holt High School opened its doors to the groups sponsoring the event. Never before has the divide between the have's and have not's in education been so apparent to me. A map of the facility (complex seems a more appropriate word!) gives little evidence of the lush atmosphere of this building. From the widescreen TV's mounted on the wall along the cafeteria/commons area, to the SmartBoards in each classroom, no detail was ignored when this building was built. It is simply amazing. Wide halls with beautiful lockers siding the carpeted floors, which are set up in small nook-like areas, surround courtyards full of perennials lining stone paths winding by picnic tables. Bathrooms are small, but spaced frequently. Everything is new and clean and shiny though the building has been there for several years.

Sitting in the classrooms for sessions, I was first struck by how much storage space was there for supplies. The window wall had counter height cupboards, with others above beside the huge windows, most of which looked over the courtyards areas. Another closet area was in front, with some other area in the corner. Each room's SmartBoard was projected onto by the ceiling projector. On the teacher desk's were document readers and a desktop computer and a phone that looked more complex than my laptop.

My own classroom is tiny in comparison to these rooms, and since I teach in the middle school, my room is nearly twice the size of most of our high school classrooms, which were built a century ago. Instead of listening to the presenters, I find myself configuring my classes in here, moving desks around into communities of learners, instead of locked into the one possible configuration that supports the needs in my own room. I fantasize about the huge whiteboards, the birds at the feeder I would hang outside those windows, the hummingbirds darting to sip nectar from their feeders.

This building is set in what no doubt was a farm field, now devastated by urban sprawl, evident by the beautiful subdivisions of homes surrounding the old one room brick schoolhouse on the corner, a reminder of days forgotten.

On the way out of the building, I noticed a room marked "Staff Lounge" and could not resist popping my head in. TWO new refrigerators, TWO new microwaves, TWO complete ranges, an entire wall of cupboards with counter space for many to work, lots of tables beckoned me in. Three custodial staff sat there on break, eager to talk and brag about their building. They told me another lounge was upstairs, and that this building houses 1700 students grades 10-12, with the 9th graders (900 of them) housed across the road in their own building.

My own school seems dingy and dirty and just simply poor in comparison, like we are the wicked step-children banished to the old, leftover, used up education.

I know that education is more than a building. I know that kids learn from teachers who care, not because a room is shiny and new. But how would my students feel if they can see this building and compare it to our small, crowded, old digs?

Why is it acceptable for some districts to have it all while others are struggling to keep their doors open? Why is it acceptable for my students to learn while a bucket collects the water dripping from the leak in the roof while Holt students watch big screens as they eat lunch? Does it bother anyone besides ME?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The last day, the last day, the last day.. how many ways can that echo in my head?

One young lady gave me the sweetest card with a heartfelt note written inside. The one line that will echo always in my head: "You blow me away with how much you care, and respect the students." You always wonder, as a teacher, how you come across to your students. Do they KNOW you care? Do they KNOW you only demand the best because you see the potential in them? Do they KNOW you love them even when they are acting like hooligans and you want to throttle them? Her words make me think that maybe, just maybe, yes, they do KNOW.

Also echoing in my head are the words from my own mouth at one of the terrors I had this year. Pat was always into something he ought not have been, never quite on task, a dirty, unkept boy, that I just never really liked, though I tried hard to mask those feelings. As we left the auditorium walking through the high school halls, I had warned them to be quiet, walk softly, make not even a whisper so we did not disturb any of the high school classes taking exams. They were doing so well, or so I thought, until Pat reached over and nipple pinched another boy. I was furious, furious beyond what the situation and action dictated so I marched him into the cafeteria, our destination, and pointed him to the wall in a chair where I told him he would remain the next 2 and half hours left in our half day schedule. No hint of kindness or compassion in my voice. Just anger, disgust and intolerance. Pat sat. Not a word. He watched the activity the others were doing with silent resignation. The hour passed. My conscience tugged at my mind. Finally, I walked over and started to speak. Pat immediately perked up, before I could speak, apologizing for his actions, telling me he was sorry and he understood why I was angry. He took the wind out of my righteous sails as I told him what I had come to say, he could participate in the next activity after all. He actually acted as if he didnt think he deserved that honor, so I tried to explain how I was simply out of patience and had overreacted. He was wonderful in the gym the rest of the day, shooting baskets, smiling, laughing... as my angry words echoed in my head.

"He called my mom a slut," echoes in my head also. Poor Bry. Dustin throwing those hateful words at her must have been like a slap in the face. No consequences to pass out at school, I still made a phone call to his mother to tell her of his words. She promised to ground him indefinitely. I hope she follows through. The hatefulness of intentionally trying to hurt another is beyond me. The cruelness echoes in my head.

The sharp resounding bark of my dog at near midnight last night echoes in my head as well. I had stayed up to nearly 11, way past my usual bedtime on a school night to see the Wings win the Stanley Cup and was not really quite asleep. Scout burst out of her bed cursing dog barks at the window, piercing the night, making my heart leap into my throat wondering was it just a racoon that had startled her or was it something more serious.

I flicked on the outside light to see toilet paper streaming from everything in my front yard. I bit shaken, I grabbed my robe and slippers and led Scout, still growling, to the front door. We went out onto the step and surveyed the scene. Toilet paper on everything from the mailbox by the road, to the split rail fence, the pear trees, the shrubs, the bird feeder, and everything in between. My car was painted with white letters: HAHA & Happy Last Day of School & We luv u & U R a awesome teacher.

And suddenly, echoing in my head were Ian's words of several days this week: "Have you ever pranked anyone?" "what's the best prank anyone's done to you?" "do you get mad when people do pranks?" and the last odd question from him, just this morning, "what kind of car do you drive to school every day?" Then I started laughing, realizing this kid has NO future as a criminal. Scout and I went back to bed, she still shaken, sleeping on top of me the rest of the night.

When I saw Ian in the hal this morning, I laughed and pointed my finger at him, saying "you got me!"

Ian, being not the career criminal type, answers, "What? I didnt do anything? I didn't even have a ride to your house!"

His buddy gave him away with the laughter to THAT response!

More echoes are there as well, but for now.... those are keeping the tears and laughter flowing.