Monday, December 03, 2012

Since we restructured the 7th grade, and as a result, split my small math class into 2 even smaller groups, I feel like I am up against a wall with the one class. Granted this is a resource class. Granted this is the lower of the two groups. But even those facts taken into consideration, I feel at a loss as to how to move forward.

Attendance is a huge issue. It always is. But when you are teaching 4 students instead of 25, when one or two are gone, suddenly, you are talking half the class missing out instead of a small percentage. I struggle to find the balance between waiting for them to all be there, and just moving on and getting the content covered. (ICK... did I just say content covered??)

We've been working on fractions and decimals - translating from one to the other - for over a week now. I've done everything I know to do with them to help them understand the concepts. They are still struggling though, with even the simplest (forget the more complex...) problems. The basic understanding that 1/10 and 0.1 are the same thing. The basic concept that 2.5 = 2 1/2. We have drawn pictures, learned the process, taken notes, worked on whiteboards as a group, worked independently. Started over. Started over. Started over. I am frustrated. They are tired and really don't care anymore.

Do I just move on? Or do I back up and beat that dead horse one more time?

My concern, my always concern... math sequential. They are missing soooooooooooo many concepts... so many gaps in their basic mathematical understandings....How can I justify leaving another HUGE hole?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm always scouring blogs, articles, etc. for ideas of how to make life easier for my special education students in their regular ed classes. They struggle, oh how they struggle. Even when they are motivated and want to learn and excel, the content is often difficult for them to comprehend, the course moves at a pace too quickly for their processing speed, and they simply cannot keep up.

When I read Response: Celebrating our Students' Good Writing today, I was excited about the ideas tossed around by Mary Tedrow, one of my favorite writing teacher gurus.  Her WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW idea struck me as a YES WE CAN WRITE opportunity for my kids, as well as other struggling students.

Now to pitch it to their 'regular teachers' in a package they will buy.

The idea is painfully simple:
  • Lecture for a short time (Tedrow suggests 5-9 minutes. I would go with the number of minutes per grade level - 7 minutes for 7th graders, 8 for 8th, etc..Research shows that is a fair indication of how long students should be able to sustain attention without needing a transition.)
  • Now, students write what they just learned. (WOW! Instead of trying to write while someone is talking, you LISTEN?? What a powerful thought!)
  • After allowing time to write the new information, students share with partner. (I would love to see my kids partnered with strong students who would have great note-taking skills to share.)
  • Then, come together as a whole group to clear up misconceptions, and have one more reinforcement of ideas.
It sounds a bit time consuming, but imagine... in reality, you have taught, students have had independent processing time, collaboration time, and review time, all in one quick activity.

Would it work? I can see some potential drawbacks:

  • Some students  may not be able to remember what they heard, so they will be contributing little to their partner in the pair/share time. (hmmm.... I guess it will be a learning process, and hopefully, as time goes by, and the process becomes more automatic for them, they will be able to contribute at least something. Perhaps with an adult guiding the individual sharing time, allowing the struggling student to share first?)
  • Some students may think - well, I will just get the info from my partner and write it then. (To this, I would suggest close teacher monitoring during writing time could help this.)
It comes back to the theory of intentional teaching, teaching students to learn. We expect them to TAKE NOTES, but do we ever give them strategies for learning to take notes?

This activity serves a dual purpose. 1.Writing, writing, writing - writing what you know.. 2. Intentional teaching of note-taking strategies.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The swearer and I had another.. well, make that ANOTHER... little heart to heart today. He admitted he lets the F-bomb fly just to get to go home.

Then...... he wrote his paper for language arts class. The assignment was to write about a problem you've had and how you solved it. He wrote about his swearing, and how is teacher (ME!! 'mrs goerge') is helping him with him.


Somedays it DOES pay to get out of bed and plod my way here.

Once in a while.... they remind me why I love them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

So there's this kid.....

He swears. The F-bomb. Anytime he gets frustrated.

F-bomb = suspension.

Perfect solution for him.

I am tired of him getting suspended, but not sure how to solve the problem.

Today, the wireless on his netbook wouldn't work. NO biggie, really. He had a paper due that did NOT require him to be online, but the lack of wireless was a huge stresser for him. I tried to fix it, I did. But no luck. He is not the only student I have, and certainly not the only student I have who needs attention, immediate attention, constant attention.

So... after giving it my all to fix his un-needed internet connection, I told him he would just have to turn in his netbook to be checked, and that for now, he could just type his paper. BAM! F-$%^&*(

The frustrations I have are....

    #1 I cannot just choose to ignore. That opens the door for ALL of them to swear at will.
    #2 He knows F-$%^&*( = a suspension so when something doesn't go his way, swearing gets him out of doing the task at hand.
     #3 Suspension leads to more frustration on his part. He misses classes, doesn't do the work he misses, so he gets further behind, and becomes more frustrated with school.
    #4 He comes back apologetic, contrite, and promising not to do it again. He admits his responsibility. He seems to want to be more responsible. He seems to want to try. But as soon as the road gets rocky. BAM. F-$%^&*(
 #5 With no alternative to out of school detention, the school is in a corner, with few options. The parents say all the right things, seem supportive, are always upset with the boy for his words. But nothing changes. Suspension is NOT working. WE NEED AN ALTERNATE PLAN!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Some days I feel like the keeper of the keys instead of a teacher. We are such a small school our entire middle school staff consists of only 4 full time middle school teachers. There are several other peripheral teachers who also teach high school part of the day, but the 4 of us make up the core of our staff. Today was a day where the other 3 were in a RTI meeting all morning. That seems innocent enough, shouldn't impact me. RIGHT? Wrong...

Kids who need to get into a locked classroom - knock, knock, can I borrow your keys? 
Kids who need the admin login to take an AR test - knock, knock, can you log me in?
Kids who need an adult to troubleshoot a tech issue, whether logging in their computer, wiki or some other weird issue - knock, knock, can you help me?
The printer jams - knock, knock, can you help me?

Couple all that with the kids KNOWING most of the teaching staff is gone, so they are pushing buttons with the subs, wandering the halls, testing the limits more than usual.. (OH, and it is HALLOWEEN!!)..

It's been quite the morning already at 10:25.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Girl drama. Middle School Girl DRAMA. *sigh*

It is like this chronic epidemic with no cure, no vaccine.

She said.
He said.
He told her she said.
She told me that she said that you said. I saw her do it.
I didn't do that!
You promised me to not tell anyone else!
She said.
She said.

Somedays, I just want to take the entire lot of them and lock them in a room together until they sort it all out.

Parts of it are natural. Adolescence is a time of transition, of learning who you are, learning who you relative to others, especially how you fit into the social pecking order. Toss in a few raging hormones and the drama seems inevitable.

Other parts of the process, at least to those of us on the outside, trying to keep the peace, or at the very least, trying to keep the educational process moving along while keeping the girls from clawing each other to death.

I still remember 5th grade, getting into a fight, yes, a FIGHT, with my bestie. I have no idea what we were fighting over. Something mundane, unimportant, stupid, pointless.. but at the time, worthy of a nail clawing, scratching match that left us both bloody and scarred.

As an adult, it is easy to forget the mindless anger. It is easy to poopoo their disagreements, tell them to IGNORE each other, remind them NO boy is worth losing a good friend over....

But in the end, the girl drama rages out of control. *sigh*

Thursday, October 25, 2012

OH... I try to be positive. I try to see the good in every kid. I try to be patient. I try to give the 100th 2nd chance, always.

But sometimes, some days... I really get over the top frustrated, tired, out of patience, wondering WHY I showed up for work today.

Today.. is one of those days...

From the boys flinging erasers in the hall, to the middle school girl drama, to the he said, she said tattletalers, to the "I CAN'T DO THIS. SCHOOL IS STUPID!" comments, to the constant whining, to the wanderers who won't stay in class, to the miss a day here, miss a day there, and wonder why they can't keep up, to the swearers, to the "I did it but left it at home" excusers, to the "I forgot to take my pill", to the, to the, to the....

Oh my gosh... I just want to scream REALLY??? REALLY??? SERIOUSLY??? 

It is almost 2 o'clock. I have 15 more minutes of my prep hour and then my favorite group for math class... I CAN DO THIS. I CAN DO THIS. I CAN DO THIS. I CAN DO THIS.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This year, we are experimenting with early release Wednesday's for students. The theory is giving teachers an extra hour and half a week for professional development will improve teaching and learning (i.e. test scores...).

We are in week 8 of the year. Some groups have used the time to write assessments for courses. If these are based on the curriculum, eventually, I can see these being used to provide data to drive our instruction. If they are just based on what we've always taught, well, things are changing.

I've spent my Wednesday's with other special ed personnel working on our new IEP program. Trying to overcome the many glitches we've encountered since we started using it last spring has been overwhelming, frustrating and down right ridiculous at times.

Today, we meet as a K-12 staff to listen to a presentation on the Common Core. I am hopeful it is inspiring, directional and embraced positively.

I wonder if we are gaining with our early release days? How will we determine the success of the experiment?  I do know having middle school lunch at 10:15 these days is HORRIBLE!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Week 2, Day 1 of MEAP's.

A million distractions - my kiddo's get to use a CD audio version of the test. One of the players makes this loud squeaking noise. Driving him crazy. Driving those close to him crazy.

The bells are still going for high schoolers. Grrr.... Maybe that wouldn't bother me quite so much but when the high schoolers are taking ACT/MME or anything else, for that matter, no one is allowed to so much as BREATHE near their classrooms. But here these middle schoolers sit, trying to concentrate, and the bells ring. Then, the high schoolers tromp up and down the stairs, socializing with each other, as kids will do, but every comment, every swear word, every inappropriate suggestive taunt, every every every thing is heard loud and clear in my room.

Trying to keep my crew quiet and without injuring each other once they are done is a challenge. They are like overwound little toys, just NEEDING to explode as soon as they finish the last bubble (which is no where near the allotted 40-50 minutes). So, in an effort to make my life easier, I copied some cool color pages of designs for them to do when done. Backfire... and I knew better... but they were so intent on getting to COLOR (and remember... these are 7th graders...) they hurried through their tests to grab a coloring sheet.

The floors in this old school are creaky, squeaky, squawky. All you have to do is look at the beautiful hardwood floor and a cacophony of noises start and work their way across the room. Forget it someone rocks back in their chair, slides it a bit, or heaven forbid, WALKS. Then, the noise becomes almost deafening in the silence.

Even the furnace sounds loud when we are quiet. To some people, that would not be an issue, but with ADD/ADHD kiddos, this is torture. Click, click, squeak squeak, BRIIINNGGGG, click, squeak... until they are ready to explode.

No worries. I am sure they all did well. I am excited my pay will be based on their scores.

Did I mention I put my application in at McDonald's?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Yesterday started MEAP's, Michigan's high stakes assessment. It is liken to 5 days of torture. Even good students tire of filling in bubbles and formulating written responses by the end of the testing cycle. For students who struggle with school work, these tests are frustrating and overwhelming. For students who have ADD or ADHD, or a myriad of other disabilities which impact their ability to focus and sustain focus for extended periods of time, these long stretches of testing are a complete waste of time.

Most students attack the tests with an honest intention of doing well, at least the first test, the first day. But as test after test is presented, and the minutes drag into hours, the testing goes on and on and on, they start filling in bubbles, just wanting to be done.

Once one student finishes, the pressure to be done closes in, and they all want to be done. If a teacher offers some reward time - a movie, free time, etc...- when all students are done, suddenly the pressure intensifies even more. Even the most dedicated student feels the stares and the need to be finished, and begins to rush to meet the expectations.

I am all for teacher accountability for what we teach. I am all for holding me accountable for doing everything humanly possible to see that my students learn and progress. But a test like this does little to measure that accurately.

Some students fill in bubbles at random, creating a design. Others do the ABCD method. Others just do it as quickly as possible. No matter how much we try to impress upon them the importance of doing their best, they are certain their best isn't good enough anyway, so why bother.

Some students are sick; others had a terrible start to their morning at home. Others have a family member they are worried about. But this test is not what is on the forefront of their mind today.

I just see it all as a waste of instructional time and money.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Trying to get students to make the leap from concrete to abstract is often the most difficult transition in thinking. In 7th grade, we learn to write algebraic expressions and equations. Some students make the leap seamlessly, understanding that "some number" indicates to use a variable. Others struggle, wanting the actual number to write. They push buttons on calculators, bang on their heads, try to work out the problem, when in actuality, all that is expected is for them to write an expression or equation using variables to represent the unknown parts. No matter how many times I tell them, show them, give them examples, when turned loose on their own to try the process, they insist on sticking numbers in their work instead of variables.

I wonder if this is the critical point where we go wrong in math. Is this the actual turning point where we lose them?

Even working with small numbers of students in my math classes, I find it difficult to figure out ways to meet each child where they are and take them through the learning process. It is kind of like taking 5 students to the track to run a 4 minute mile. Some of them, no matter what we do, will never make the target. If I take them over to the high jump, no matter what I do, some of them will never be successful in clearing that bar.

It isn't that they don't want to run the mile, or jump high, but for whatever reason, it is out of their ability level.

Maybe if we waited another year, they  might make the grade. Maybe not... The fish is NEVER going to climb the tree.

But the reality of my classroom is I am expected to make that fish climb that tree... make the young man who still thinks concretely, whose brain has not matured to comprehend the abstract, make him see that using a letter for an unknown number is the secret to success.

Friday, October 05, 2012

I HATE subbing on my prep hour. I know it is the 'right' thing to do, take one for the team, blah, blah, blah...

#1 I have things I NEED to do, things I want to do, and sometimes, just time to decompress from having kids all day. I NEED that hour to maintain my sanity.

#2 Lesson plans vary from good, structured and 'keep 'em busy' to non-existent.

#3 I don't always know the content and don't have time to figure it out as students are asking questions.

#4 and probably the biggest.... different teachers/different classrooms/different expectations for behaviors. While I do not believe classrooms need to be quiet for learning to occur, I do believe there needs to be some  level of peace and structure. Some classrooms run quite differently from my expectations. Trying to have students conform to MY own structure for a one hour period, is often impossible, especially on a Friday afternoon.

So here I sit.... yes, subbing on my prep, wishing I'd just said NO!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

High school algebra seems to be the turning point for many students. Either they get through it on the first try, go on the be successful and graduate on time, or, algebra becomes their downfall, with them now sophmores, in both algebra and geometry, and now destined for continued struggles, and ultimately, more often than not, missing out on graduating with their peers.

As students head to college, math success also seems to be a determining factor in ultimate success. According to Harvard Graduate School of Education, in 2001, nearly 1/3 of incoming freshmen were required to take remedial classes.

Looking at these issues from a middle school teacher's perspective, I see the middle grades as the make it or break it point. If we, in middle school, do NOT get students ready for high school algebra, are we dooming them to a life of failure?

We have to look at how to strengthen math programs at this level. We have to find ways to reach all learners, and change the course of their destinies. We have to overcome math phobias, create students who are confident and comfortable with math, and encourage them to hone their missing skills.

The process isn't easy. But it is possible. Middle school math must become the change agent in education if we want students to have the opportunity to success as they move up the ladder of education.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

You often see teacher quotes which say something like "The best part of my job is June, July, and August".  We all do have that sentiment at times, but in reality, no one goes into teaching for the summer off perk. Good teachers choose this profession because they love to share their enthusiasm for learning with students.

I always said I would retire when it was no longer fun to teach. Somedays, I wonder if that day is closer than I care to admit. In reality, it isn't the students themselves that usually make me question another year in the classroom. It is more often all the other STUFF that goes on that makes my job difficult.

All in all, so far, this year has gotten off to a GREAT start. Last year was a tough year, a tough group of kids, tough circumstances in many ways. But even with the move to the high school, I feel invigorated and positive about much of what is going on.

For starters, I have kids in my room, my own kids, my own room, for 3 hours of the day. That is the part of being a special ed teacher that is the hardest - sharing. Even in the best of co-teaching scenarios, it is not perfect, and it is never, ever, never your classroom, taught your way.

All my kiddos this year, I know from past years, either having had them, which is the case with most of them, or at least, they know me, I knew their names, and we didn't have that initial honeymoon adjustment period to deal with.

Another great part is teaching math. I have 8 kids for 7th grade math. Most of them have a tough wall built, certain they can't do math, certain no matter what they will fail. But brick by brick I am trying to tear down those walls, show them success, teach them independence and offer them a chance at passing high school algebra when they get there.

The discipline issues have been minimum, though existent. But again, I keep plodding along, making parent phone calls, cheering tiny successes, and finding ways to create positive relationships with students and parents to make the year smooth.

I am still frustrated that my paycheck shows a huge downward trend from last year. I am still frustrated that the state and federal government thinks every child can and will fit their perfect mold of learning. I am still frustrated that much of my time is spent on filling out busywork paperwork instead of actually helping kids. I am still frustrated that some parents teach their child that the school is out to get them, and accept failure as an option. I am still frustrated that some teachers refuse to change and grow and be role models for students.

But all in all, when the last chair is upside down on the tables, the last grade recorded, I realize I still have the best job in the world. and for that, I am thankful....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The new room is taking shape and I am starting to focus on the more important aspects of the upcoming school year, instead of simply worrying about the physical aspects of where I will be.

One of the best parts of being a special ed teacher is that I get to have the same kiddos more than one year. One of the worst parts of being a special ed teacher is that I get to have the same kiddos more than one year. 

This fall, I am looking forward to having many of the same faces again. Not only will I get to see them again, but the group of 6th graders I had last year, I will have for math this year as 7th graders. I LOVE teaching 7th grade math and with this group, we will have tons of fun. I can already picture the trips outside, the experiments, the group projects and the excitement. I know they struggle in their own ways with math, with school, with learning, but I also know that each one of them comes to me with unique strengths and a willingness to work hard when they feel valued. My goal and mission will be to set the stage for that success from day one.

It is always a balance between making class so easy it is not challenging and students become bored, and making the work so difficult they become overwhelmed and give up completely. Add to those challenges the curriculum mandated by powers beyond me... and the balance becomes a teetering tottering hopeless mess. 

I am thinking about  how to best structure the learning - do I want to use interactive notebooks? These are not students who will willingly take homework home.... so I need a plan that allows maximum use of class time. Will notebooks help that? I am imagining many partner/group activities to meet their excessive social needs. How can I best utilize their netbooks to help me individualize their needs?

Mindboggling.. and exciting... and racing here faster than I care to think!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I'm at the point in packing my classroom where everything is just a mess. I've gotten over the hurdle of getting started, and the easy stuff is in boxes, stolen milkcrates (shhh... don't tell...), and just in piles. The cupboards are empty. A gazillion loads of stuff I will want  back have been hauled to the dumpsters. All that is left to pack are the weird odds and ends that won't fit into a box, I still need, or I simply can't decide whether to toss or keep.

My room is sad. The walls echo every little noise. Every year, the last days are sad, knowing the kids are leaving for the summer. But this year, it is even sadder, knowing this is the last time, THE LAST TIME, I will ever, EVER, EVER, teach in this classroom. THIS CLASSROOM. THE classroom I always wanted. The classsroom I waited for years to get a chance at. It isn't bigger than the others, just a normal size classroom. It does have a sink, and yes, a window, but it is just a basic classroom.

Why then was it special to me?? It is in the middle of the middle school. Pure and simple. My room is on the front of the building, with the middle window. The middle school was always THE best place to be, and I was in the middle of the middle. It just didn't get any better than that.

Last year, I gave it up for a year, moving into an interior room, giving a new teacher a shot at the perfect room. He didn't feel the magic in those walls though. And as I moved back in... I swore I'd never leave it again. And now... I am not only leaving it, I am abandoning it, letting it go, never to see kids again.

How sad will these walls feel when everything is removed, and fall comes, and no kids come back. I picture the sadness in the walls, their loneliness sagging them, dragging them down.... as they hear the laughter and the voices from below, realizing no kids are coming back here, ever again.

I know it is just a place. I know that the middle school can live on if WE make it work. I know that.

But the letting go is hard. The moving and leaving behind this place is hard. We spend so many hours here, year round, because this is our home in many ways. Our classrooms become an extension of who we are, what we value, what we want to share with students. Moving to different rooms, in a different building, where things smell differently, where things fit differently, where things sound differently..... It will be a long time before there becomes home.

and I am sad....

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

One of my duties as special ed teacher is to read tests to students. In theory, these are students who are labeled and have that as an accomodation in their IEP. In reality, most teachers encourage any struggling students to have their tests read to them, hoping that little perk will give them a boost to make success more likely or possible.

Some students use the bonus of having the test read, even asking me to repeat, slow down, clarify questions. Others, they just take up a chair, maybe filling in bubbles, maybe not. Nodding off halfway through the exam. Not bothering to even attempt the essay questions.

I struggle with the motivation, and lack thereof, of students. At high school level, just the motivation of passing the class, earning credit, and eventually, the diploma, should be a motivator to at least give the exam an honest attempt.

The faces of some students show the defeat as they walk in the door though. They've done so little for so long, not developed study skills to allow them to be successful, given up on themselves and the school, and know failure is in their future.

I like to think deep down they DO care, they do want to succeed. I like to think we've failed them more than they've failed themselves. I like to think there is hope on their horizon.

Of the nine students I read a world history test to this morning, maybe 3 of them gave it an honest shot. One was sure he did well because he studied for an entire HOUR this morning right before the test. Another wrote and wrote and wrote, on every essay question, pouring her knowledge onto the paper fervently. The last of the 3 who looked like they really gave it a shot, at least attempted every question.

The other six.... one slept through most of the test, not even bothering to write his name on the paper. Another finished quickly and insisted she had to go somewhere, and became beligerent when I wouldn't let her leave to wander halls. Another finished quickly, attempting none of the essay questions and sat gazing into outerspace the remainder of the time. Two girls were more interested in writing notes than the test. I took a cell phone away from a student texting during the exam.

Where have we failed them? Where can we un-fail them? How can we make them care?

Friday, June 01, 2012

We've spent a lot of time this year organizing a plan to implement PBIS in the middle and high school next year. In theory, I love the idea of positive rewards for students who are doing what they need to do. I love catching kids being good. I don't think we do that nearly often enough.

On the other hand, I think we need strong, consistent consquences in place for behaviors which are inappropriate. I feel right now as if it's a shot in the dark as to the consequences which will be enforced. For a given action, some students get hammered with a suspension or a lunch detention. For the exact same infraction, another students walks away with nothing more than a scolding of 'don't do that again'. Adolencents crave consistency, insist on fairness, and expect swift and equitable punishment for classmates. They don't understand when their world exhibits inconsistencies. They want to push the limits then, trying to figure out the system. They want to test the boundaries, or lack thereof.

Teaching special ed, I do see some exceptions to the hard and fast rules. However, those exceptions need to be consistent as well. We are not doing anyone any favors by exempting them completely from the norms of our society. When they grow up and become members of the REAL WORLD, no one will care what their label it, what their disability is, or be willing to give them a free pass because of those.

I'm disheartened to see the path we've taken as a society, and as a local district, allowing the students to run rampant, wandering the halls, using profanity, disregarding the dress code, spouting disrespect towards each other and adults, not as exceptions, but as the norm. Back in the good old days, kids were kids, adults were adults, respect was respect, not just expected but enforced. Now we've gone so far the other way on the pendulum, kids think they can say and do anything, with no consequences, except to try to get an adult who does try to enforce the rules in trouble for doing their job.

We have to find a middle ground. I don't want to go back to the 'children should be seen and not heard' days, but I sure would like to see us transition back to where there is a clear distinction of authority and hierarchy in schools. Empowering students is one thing, disempowering teachers is another. Surely we can give students the rights they deserve, while still, preserving the integrity of a school that maintains a certain standard of behavior.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The home stretch of the school year is upon us. 4 days this week, 2 full days next week, 3 half days and poof, it is all over.
In some ways, it has been a great school year. I've had the pleasure of getting to know some wonderful students. I've had the pleasure of having some students again in class, students I knew as 7th graders, way back when, who are now grown up, mature 10th graders. I've seen students mature over the course of the year, learning to make more appropriate choices, learning to deal with frustration and disappointment by tackling it head-on. I've seen students learn to cope with their shortcomings by applying themselves, finding strategies to overcome their weaknesses, and by learning to ask for and accept help. I've enjoyed their journey, and being a part of that progress.

Some students were students I had already known. Others were new to me. I've met some great kids, ones I will remember for their kindness to others, their charismatic personalities, their willingness to tackle challenges head-on. I've gotten to know some personally, learning of their struggles outside of school, their unique family situations. I've learned about their dreams, their hopes, their plans. I've wiped their tears, hugged them when they needed it, and high-fived their achievements. I've seen students learn to be a part of social groups, accepting friendships offered, eating in the cafeteria for the first time, walking with a friend in the hall, joking and laughing with classmates.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've dealt with students who do not want to mature, grow or learn. These are the faces that will haunt me. The unreachable's, the ones I was unable to connect with, the ones I seemed to be unable to make a difference with, academically, socially, or any other possible connection. They shut out the adults who try to help them, refusing to budge one inch towards maturity. For some, time will lead them down that path. For others, I fear the destination is set already, at the end of a path they've already charted. They will end up dropping out of school, and for many, incarceration is the destination they've set their sights on. I feel sadness for them, knowing I, or any adult here, was unable to reach them, unable to change their path, unable to find a way to make that connection that would give them another option in life.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

After yesterday's emotional outpouring of support, I want to echo the sentiments expressed about the middle school staff. We..... all of us.....WILL all work together to do what is best for kids, regardless of the location of our classrooms. We WILL make it work next year, no matter our personal feelings. I have no doubt that each and every person will reach to the limits of their personal ability to make the move as easy as possible for students.

We were told today we are supposed to put on a 'unified front' for students, make it look as if we are all in agreement. While I understand the sentiment expressed by adminstration on this issue, I am not going to lie to students and tell them I think this move is a good idea. I don't lie to my students about anything. I just don't. I think that is a bad idea and I think students see through those lies and lose respect for the adults in their lives when they lie to them on such big issues. I refuse to lie about my thoughts, opinions and feelings, especially to my students.

I think we are all entitled to our grief, our processing of the loss of our comfort zone. I think we are entitled to vent and speak, share and inform.

But at the end of the day, we do have to do whatever it takes to make it work for kids. And I will. And they will. And we will survive.

That knowledge doesn't make the packing any easier. It doesn't make the loss any less. It just falls under the heading of inevitability and resignation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I blog today with sadness, anger, resentment and disbelief. I know that budget cuts make schools and school boards make decisions that bring out a variety of emotions in teachers, students and parents. Unpopular decisions. But probably decisions that made sense to those making the decision at the time.

But this time... the decision impacts me profoundly and I am angry, I am sad, I am in denial. Our middle school is closing. We are being sucked into oblivion. Sixth grade will go to elementary and be self-contained. The good news is, the two teachers going with them are both awesome, caring, giving souls who will make this switch work for kids.

The seventh and eighth graders are being sucked over to the high school. The promise is that there will be as little mingling as possible between high schoolers and middle schoolers, but in reality, the day to day, class to class reality will be a jumble of people.

The theory is we can save $30,000 by closing off the middle school which is housed on the second floor, above the middle school. The theory is that we will just be absorbed into high school life, not causing additional costs over there. The reality is, parents and students are angry and some will pull their children to go elsewhere. If just 4 students are lost, the saving are pppffftttt... GONE. Just 4....

The high school rooms are small. They are dusty. They don't have storage space. We'll be getting the leftovers, the rooms that are now crammed with stuff, shoved there when it outlived its usefulness elsewhere.

The days of spreading out kids into groups to work on projects will be over. The days of hanging projects in the halls and on classroom walls for display will be over. The days of middle school kid getting another few years to be middle schoolers will be over. Suddenly, they will become little high schoolers, hearing the words tossed carelessly aside by high schoolers, the swear words, the sexual comments... The middle schoolers will be exposed to the public displays of affection exhibited by our high schoolers, blatant and flaunted. The middle schoolers will grow up quickly, sucked into the high school world. Our middle school girls will become prey for high school boys.

I am angry that budgets make us forget what is best for kids. I am angry that I have to pack my things, sort, get rid of, downsize years of teaching supplies, resources, stuff.... to fit into a classroom much smaller with no storage space. I am angry we are expected to do all this with a smile and a suck-it-up attitude. It always seems as if the middle school gets the short end of the stick here. It has been that way the entire 17 years I've been here. We were the ones to lose a principal, our counselor, our everything. We have to take whatever leftover hours are available in the schedule.

And now..... we've lost our building.... we're done. We are no longer middle school. We don't exist.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Life always comes down to choices. Students often don't grasp that concept. They don't always see the choices they have. And even if they see those choices, they don't always have a firm grasp of the consequences that result from the choices they make.

I think that is why teachers and adminstrators MUST be consistent with discipline. The consequences we hand out establish a pattern of responsibility on our part to help them as they learn to see their choices with more clarity.

While circumstances sometimes dictate we deal with different students differently, we have to exercise extreme caution to come across as fair and consistent. Otherwise, we create a situation where students perceive inequities, and those perceptions can lead to much more complicated issues down the road.

Just as our students have choices, so do we as the adults in the situation. If we focus on efforts on helping our students learn to make appropriate choices, focus more on remediation of skills instead of punishment, we can guide them along their path of improvement.

Negative consequences have their place. Without negative consequences, we all would tend to slide along pushing the envelope as far as possible. Even with negative consequences, don't we tend to do that? Do you ever drive over the speed limit hedging your bets as to how far you can push it without getting stopped? Do you coast past the stop sign thinking because no one is coming, it doesn't matter? What chaos would there be if there were no rule or consequences for us as adults? Would society cease to exist or would we all maintain a balance, unspoken, but conducive to peacefulness?

ALL students need consequences, clear cut, consistent consequences. Even negative ones. Without any negative consequences, the behaviors continue or escalate. Students need that deterrent, just as we as adults need a check to keep up honest.

When we neglect to set and enforce consequences, we are setting students up for a huge reality check as adults. In the real world, students will discover consequences DO exist. Realistically, shouldn't we be preparing them for that inevitability now?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warm spring days bring complaints of students of why don't we have air conditioning, it's too hot, can we turn on the fan and open the window?

I just have to laugh. Having grown up in Mississippi in the .....well.... forever ago.. when air conditioning wasn't even standard in homes, much less in schools, I find their complaints almost comical. Granted, when outside temps rise even above 80, our classrooms soar to 90+, but even then, it is nothing compared to the sweltering days I remember sitting in a classroom in August, hot, humid, Mississippi August, sweating, sitting in a puddle of sweat under your butt, your clothes stuck to you like a second skin. But never once daring, considering, contemplating complaining to the teacher or anyone else about your miserableness.

Are we raising a generation of whiners? A generation of those unable to endure duress of any kind?

These kid don't understand deprivation of no soft drinks on a daily basis, only enjoying that special treat on someone's birthday or another worthwhile holiday. They stroll into school with a cold one from McDonald's or a huge Monster drink in hand every day.

They don't understand the concept of eating the meal served in the cafeteria - the one and only option of lunch - homemade meatloaf, or beef stew, served up with fluffy biscuits or cornbread, or maybe mystery meat, disguised under gravy, shepherd's pie baked crispy on top. They whine when the person ahead of them took the last slice of stuffed crust pizza, leaving them with a choice of just pepperoni pizza, nachoes, or heaven forbid, today's selection of pork chops.

This generation heads home texting friends on their phone, walks in the door chatting on Skype on their iPad, joins friends online to play a video game, all while being bombarded by music pounding their brains from their earbuds. They don't understand coming home to chores, waiting for that rerun of The Brady Bunch that came on at 4:30, followed by helping mom make dinner.

Does it mattter? Are things better now? Are they worse? I'm not sure... but I sure know we've empowered kids to complain about conditions, and look for solutions! Maybe they will discover ways to right the wrongs created by our generation? Maybe they will find ways to endure the unthinkable and pave the way for future generations to live in comparable comfort.

Only time will tell......

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Somedays..... somedays it seems everything falls into place at school. Others it seems you can't win for losing. Today was a cell phone battle. A girl texting while I was reading aloud to the class. A nice girl. A girl I like a lot. A girl who had engaged in battle with me before but we always manage to find our middle happy ground. A girl who needs to listen to the story being read aloud, not one who can successfully multi-task.

She was texting, smiling, obviously disengaged with the storyline and engrossed with her private conversation. I quietly got her attention and mouthed. "put your phone away"... which she did for about 30 seconds. I was almost done reading the selection so I ignored her. When I finished, I walked over to her and again told her to put the phone away. She immediately started to argue and shoved the phone down into her bra.

Now... I had to make a decision to let it go, or force the issue. No right answer unfortunately. Had I walked away, she'd have pulled it immediately back out, back to her conversation. I told her to come with me, and took her to office to get phone with another adult present considering the location of the phone. She was angry and upset, but I reminded her school policy says no phones/texting. I also pointed out if she'd just have put it away to begin with, we wouldn't be in this situation. School policy says the phone stays in office until end of day - about 10 more minutes. You'd have thought I asked her to leave her leg in the office 10 minutes!

Back in the day... we didn't have to fight the cell phone battle. I'm pro-technology but I see so many students distracted by the constant barage of communication they are unable to disengage themselves from the social channels, to join the rest of the school community in learning. Some students CAN multi-task, Skyping with a friend and working at the same time. Others simply are not able to do that, but think they can.

So the day ended on a sour note, for her and for me. Some days you just can't win.....

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I had the pleasure of listening to a man from Michigan Institute for Aviation Technology speak to high school juniors this morning. What a great opportunity for our kids to see some of the great paying options for careers that do NOT require a 4 year college degree!

I think we do a really good job of telling college bound students how, what, when, where, to get them on the path to their future. Unfortunately, all students are NOT college bound. I see those kids get lost in the shuffle, thinking because college is not for them, they have no other opportunities or options.

If a kid can go to an 8 month long program, spend about 10 grand, and get a job paying 5o grand a year, why wouldn't we encourage them to explore that route?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Part of writing an IEP involves interviewing a student about their future plans, what they want to do after high school, what their plans for additional education are, what they want to do in their free time, where they want to live, etc... It is usually an insightful conversation with students, at least those who will open up and share their dreams with you.

I've learned about kids who want to open their own cake decorating business someday, one who wants to open his own landscaping company, cutting lawns, plowing snow, etc... I've talked to kids who want to go into the military, wanting to travel, see the world, who do not feel realistically they are cut out for college, or ones who think the military is their financial ticket to further education down the road. Rarely, do I get a student who has no dreams, no idea what they want.

Today's interview was the opposite. He plans to live in his mom and dad's house, or one exactly like theirs. He wants a 'decent' job, but one where his boss" will tell him every day step by step what to do". He said he, "doesn't want to have to think, just do as I'm told."

As I typed the answers, I was saddened to think of the limits this young man is putting upon himself, the box he is building. And I wondered.... is there a way to help him out of that box, a way to help him see his potential, and the limitless possibilities his future holds?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Kids rise to the occasion, every time. Once again, my faith in my students has been bolstered by a crisis. Last Wednesday, our house burned down. It was sad, tragic, overwhelming, devastating, and simply unfathomable.

Coming back to school yesterday was tough. I knew there'd be questions and questions and questions. What I wasn't prepared for was the outpouring of love and hugs and hugs and hugs.. from kids I know and love, from kids I don't know... They didn't pry. They didn't ask questions that were inappropriate. They simply hugged me, told me they loved me and they were sorry. Several made cards or posters. One girl collected a coffee can full of pennies for me. One offered me some of his chickens since most of mine perished in the fire.

Kids rise to the occasion. What a comfort to have them during this time....

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring fever... The days are bright and sunny making the kids wired and crazy. Even though we have 7 more weeks of school, they are ready to shut down and race down the home stretch to summer.

One girl told me today that she isn't doing anything else the rest of the year because it's almost over anyway. When I reminded her there are still 7 weeks to go, she just poopooed me and pouted.

Somehow, we will make it through the last weeks, with our sanity..... I hope.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Last night.. somehow, we ended up watching Las Vegas Jailhouse. I couldn't help but parallel the attitudes and lack of respect for officers displayed by many of the incoming inmates with the attitudes and lack of respect for teachers many students exhibit. I wondered if we spent more time and effort at younger ages teaching respect for authority would we have fewer incarcerated adults.

I know that the people portrayed on the show are in that facility because they did something wrong. I realize that fact alone separates them from students in a public school.

However, I also know if we as educators, had the same powers to separate mouthy, disrespectful, uncooperative students from the rest of the population, afforded those officers, we would have fewer problems. If when a student refuses to comply with the smallest request, such as get out a book and writing utensil, if then, we could remove them from the classroom until they became compliant, I wonder if more of them would choose to be a student?

I was amazed and impressed by the patience and respect shown by officers towards disrespectful inmates despite the rude and often violent outbursts they were enduring. I was sympathetic towards their efforts to de-escalate situations before they got out of control.

Are our students inmates? NO! Of course not... but I couldn't help be see some of the similarities we see in our hard core cases with their insistence on being right, on getting the last word in every discussion, and their refusal to comply with the smallest, simplest requests.

Do I want all my students to be compliant little robots, all marching along perfect and quiet? In reality, no...

But I do wonder if we tried harder in schools to create students/citizens who follow the rules and respect authority, if we could reduce the number of eventual incarcerations. If schools had the authority to demand compliance from students, to enforce consequences for not following the rules, would we nip the process in the bud before the mold for these people is made?

It was an interesting half hour of TV, giving me much to think about. I like to think by caring about students, by consistently and fairly enforcing expectations I can mold all students who walk through my classroom doors to become better people. In reality, I often see the opposite in a few of them, and worry about where they will end up someday. I've had my share of students over the years end up in jail or prison, and when I hear of this, I look back to their days in middle school and wonder how we would have stopped that train before it got so far off track.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Today was our last McREL training for the year. This multi-session training has been supposed to teach us best practices for integrating technology. Overall, I've been disappointed with the things they've shown us, having used many of them for years - things like a delicious account for bookmarks, twitter, google docs, LinkedIn, etc.... Other sites they touted looked great but required a fee for use, or had a 30/60 day free trial period. A whole other set of apps were specifically for iPads or iPods, even though our entire ISD which was the target audience for the PD sessions just got netbooks for all students 7-12, NO iPads on the horizon. The presenter showed us how to use Word - insert tables, cut & paste pictures, track changes, etc... All things most teachers can and do use already. It was a canned, one size fits all approach which was itself anything BUT best practice.

I suffered through the first sessions, gleaning bits and pieces of useful stuff but nothing earth shattering, but overall, the trainings were OK, despite the redundancy of the material to things I had already learned.

But today... OH GOOD GRIEF... today was BRUTAL (the word used by my principal), torture, unbearable.... useless....

The other sessions we met in other locations with other schools and at least had a presenter present. Today, I suppose in an effort to save money, the program was a webinar. Not a well-done webinar. We basically saw the view you get when you take a screenshot of your computer - you know.. that minimizer, not quite right view... with lots of dead air time, no way to engage in the conversation - she kept talking about a way to give our input, but I'll be darned if any of us could figure out how! We couldn't individually see the webinar on our screens, instead, it was projected on the screen in the cafeteria, which meant we couldn't read MOST of what was on the screen.

Others at other locations - was she maybe presenting live somewhere to a real audience??- were able to interact with her. But we were like the black sheep, just there, listening, not a real part of the process. And one by one, we all tuned out, and found other ways to engage ourselves. How sad for all the money spent on that with our budget the way it is.... what a brutal shame.
Funniest website ever:

The 25 Funniest Analogies (collected by high school English teachers)

I SOOOOOO want to teach English now!!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Tutors, especially peer to peer tutors, can be a great thing for struggling students. Having someone your own age, or even just a few years older, explain the concepts for students can often be a motivator for success. Near age tutors often bring to the table a unique perspective on how to help students grasp difficult material.

With that said, I struggle with the pervasive attitude of some students and parents that getting a tutor will solve all their academic struggles. A tutor won't help a student who is doing nothing in class, by choice. A tutor cannot take the place of time set aside at home to do homework, read, work on projects,etc... A tutor should be someone who helps with specific skills or problems, helping that student over the rough places.

Too often students who are failing, when asked about their game plan, or how a teacher can help them, just give the pat answer, "I'm getting a tutor." I spoke with one young high schooler recently who is failing all his classes, and tried to get some insight into how I could help assist him. His answer, "I'm moving in with my dad this summer and there's tutors there." OK, great.... but right now, you sit in class with your hoodie up, listening to youtube videos, even during classes where there are two teachers begging to help you. A tutor won't fix that. A tutor won't make up for all the missed hours of instruction you've intentionally chosen to avoid.

Another young man, who passed only one class on his recent report card, when asked what he needed help with to be successful, said, "No worries, I'm getting a tutor." When I asked about his English class, in which I am a co-teacher, he said he doesn't do the work because his computer is broken often. I suggested paper and pencil. He said he doesnt' have either. I pointed out where he could get those. Then he said he doesn't understand what to do. I said I'd be happy to help him. To this he said, "Nah, I still won't understand. I'm just getting a tutor," as if a tutor is magically going to make it all perfectly clear.

Again, I am not anti-tutor at all. I've seen some students experience great success working with tutors, but ALL of those successes were students who were already taking advantage of the opportunities for help that were presented to them. They came prepared to class, they asked questions, they participated and tried to the best of their abilities. They just needed a little extra oomph of help to make it through.

Students who are not making an effort on their own, at all, are not going to magically 'cured' by a tutor. A tutor cannot fix all their problems until they themselves accept some responsibility for their own success.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

I'm a minion.

I admit it.

Minions willingly do the bidding of others.

I'm a minion.


Am I a good minion?

Getting to be less and less 'good' as the years tick by.

Another teacher and I were talking the other day and we came to the conclusion that we are getting old. When we first started teaching, we were go-to girls. "Sure, I'll do that!" "That sounds like fun!" But as time has gone by, while we've continued to say yes, even if not as often, but we've become more disgruntled about the process, and the feelings that maybe our eagerness to say yes should be rewarded with a bit more appreciation and acknowledgement.

I think as young teachers, we come in excited and determined to do 'what's best for kids' and are willing to overlook the unpaid part of tasks shoveled down the pike to the minions. But as time goes by, you still are willing to tackle projects that snag your interest, but the reality that that willingness to say yes tends to bite you in the butt becomes apparent. The unappreciation and expectation that you will just automatically step up and take care of things takes its toll on your enthusiasm.

Minion-hood becomes a burden.

Is there a way to make the burden lighter???
  • true acknowledgement of effort is free - an honest thank you for all your hard work goes a long way
  • little perks, monetary(OK, maybe unrealistic in today's educational financial crisis) or otherwise.... a box of doughnuts at a staff meeting or pizza in the lounge on Friday can soothe a lot of ruffled feathers..... an extra comp hour or 2 for extra effort.... just some little bone tossed your way can make all the difference
  • a say in how things are done- not just on the surface "what do you think"but an honest to goodness chance to initiate and mantain change within the school

In the good old days, new teachers were being hired regularly so the minion supply was constantly being replenished, but these days, when layoffs are more common than new hires, the new minons aren't coming to replace the burnt out ones. What's going to happen when all the minions give up the fight??

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

We've all been there. One more meeting. One more agenda to waste our time. One more bore who monopolizes the conversation with their negative comments and tales of woe.

I am thrilled to report that today's meeting was NOT that meeting. I started the week after spring break with meetings Monday and Tuesday morning. Yesterday's was a bust because the new IEP program we are using is apparently not going to be operational until NEXT WEEK. Thanks for letting us know THAT before our meeting. hmmm... yeah... welll... let's just move on from THAT wasted morning.

After yesterday's fiasco, I was skeptical about today's math department meeting. Sometimes, these are productive, but often times, it turns into a argument about who isn't teaching what where and why don't these darn kids just do their homework and blah blah blah blah blah.. and we leave, or *I* leave, feeling disgruntled and downtrodden, wondering why I even bother to show up.

The morning started with our K-12 monthly staff meeting, which I won't go into, but sitting next to a middle school math teacher, found out, she had forgotten the meeting (no criticism... the only reason I remembered was I saw my day off on the sub calendar when I logged in to see who yesterday's sub was...) But she found out that not only had she forgotten, she did not have a sub. I left the staff meeting and headed to the meeting room, where there was no one. Hmmm... Another teacher caught me and said he'd forgotten as well. (we must have spring break minds still...) but he was off to write lesson plans and would be right back. So there I sat alone... wondering if anyone else was joining me. Finally, they all straggled in, from their various locations. The people leading the meeting, from the ISD, got there, and we got underway, analyzing data, looking at kids, trends, scores, how we've changed over time in different areas. We had some honest conversations about curriculum, and where we need to change how we do things.

Frankly, I don't care if some people were just giving lip service to the process. I have no idea if they are on board or not, and as bad as it sounds, I don't care. I just appreciate the positive outlook and discussion points made. Too often, the negative Nelly at the table makes the folks who are willing to look critically at practices and make changes are stifled by the constant barage of negativity and despair. If you can't be a part of the change process, at least don't hamper it.

Today, I left the meeting feeling like we have a long way to go to be where we OUGHT to be for our kids and their math education, but I left feeling as if change is possible, and change is likely. What a refreshing feeling :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Record breaking temperatures. The last week before spring break. Adolescent hormones.

'nuff said???

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Things to do before I retire....

Maybe it's because I'm having a tough year... maybe it's because I am getting old ( or have gotten old...).... but retirement has suddenly zipped onto my horizon. I always said I couldn't imagine retiring, I was going to teach for forever, or at least until it was no longer fun. I honestly couldn't imagine my life without my job. Thanks to a variety of reasons, I am rethinking those statements and considering my options. I even went to the state retirement website to look at the calculator for benefits! I couldn't log in because I don't have a user name and password, but I started the process. Will I do it soon? probably not.... but for the first time in my career, I am considering my options.

As I consider the reality of retiring, I am thinking of all the things I want to accomplish before I actually leave. What footprint do I want to leave behind at Tahquamenon Area Schools? What do I want to be remembered for here?

  • a lifelong learner, an embracer of new knowledge- I want my students to remember me as someone who learned alongside them, someone who was enthusiastic about what we were learning and was willing to learn new ideas with them. I want to be remembered as someone who embraced new ideas, tackled the tough tasks thrown at them, and was willing to admit when I was wrong and learn from those wiser than me.
  • a positive attitude - It is easy to get sucked into the 'woe-is-me' cesspool so I hope that overall, I am remembered as someone who stayed clear of the turmoils that impact education, at least in my classroom, and did not let those negative thoughts and attitudes impact teaching and learning in my day-to-day existence. I want my students to remember me as someone who greeted them at the door with a smile and a positive outlook and sent them on their way with a sense of accomplishment and purpose, a feeling they can go on to do great things.
  • caring and generous - I became a teacher because I enjoyed working with kids, and as time went by, I discovered a particular alliance with middle schoolers. I hope to have imparted this sense of self on my students, so they know that always, I did care about them, not just as students, but as unique individuals, with their own strengths, shortcomings, and interests, giving them unconditional love and support along their journey.
  • the ability to change and think on my feet - Life seldom falls into neat, tidy little plan books. I hope my students remember me as someone who went with the flow, embraced the teachable moments, and didn't get rattled when things went off course. I hope they learned how to let the things that don't matter fall by the wayside, and always focus on the goal at the end, the big picture, instead of letting all the little piddly irritations get them down.

I started this post yesterday but ran short on time, got busy with something else, and forgot to finish it last night. When I opened this morning and read my list so far, the first thing I noticed was there was nothing content related in my list. Does that mean I don't want to leave my students with more subject matter knowledge than they came with? NO! Not at all, I just think there are more important messages I want to stay with them. If they forget where Madagascar is, they can look it up online. If they forget how to find the area of an octagon, I sure google will help them. But I think there are more important things I can teach them than just the hard dry facts... things that will last them a lifetime, beyond algebra, beyond world history, beyond writing a memoir.... things that will help them embrace the challenges they are certain to find along life's path. THAT'S what I hope they remember.... THAT'S the legacy I hope I am leaving in my wake as I think about retirement.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Another long and frustrating day, which seems to be the norm lately.....

2nd hour geometry leaves me overwhelmed. The multitude of steps to remember to solve the problems, with their ever increasing complexities, are simply too much for many students to remember. When you are still struggling with the basics, the trig functions themselves, basic algebra, understanding/remembering a triangle's angles add to 180 degrees, etc.... Trying to use the apothem and perimeter to find the area of a hexagon is simply too much to tackle. But the reality is, these kids MUST master it, and master it by the end of the marking period, the end of the course, whatever. It is a constant uphill race of information slamming into them, day after day and I feel inadequate to help them, as the hill grows ever steeper and the pace quickens.

3rd hour - For the most part, we've finally found our groove and the work gets done. I can manage to keep zipping from student to student, prodding, pointing and keeping them going. I can keep them on task and working towards their goals for the day in most cases. Of course, there are always exceptions... the one girl who is worried about her upcoming hearing for probation, and the court ordered community service she will be doing. The other young man who got in trouble at home so is now grinding his pencil to a stub into his table.The one who won't/can't open his book to the correct page without constant supervision. The other one who is several assignments behind in several classes for a variety of reasons, but is suddenly wanting to get caught up so needs everything RIGHT NOW. The one who needs help with systems of equations but struggles to balance a 1 step equation. The one who is mad because he lost his computer privileges. The one who brings nothing to class and refuses to go get anything. The one who is researching Alaska for a project on the Iditarod, but thinks she can simply google the questions and find the answer, so that is what she does - and writes whatever pops up in google on the first link as her answer. The one who needs help with every single worksheet question of his history assignment. The one who left early because he was throwing up. AND, AND, AND..... our groove we've found in Guided Study is more like a razor blade riddled rut. But we're making it....

4th hour - Compass Learning for math should be easy. But again, one issue after another crops up. Either students click, click, click.. as fast as they can through a lesson, take that darned quiz at the end and are done... or they refuse to wear headphones, refuse to even try... or they spend the hour belching and farting, trying to be irritating as possible to those around them. I would honestly rather TEACH them math than do it on Compass. It is such a waste of time. Maybe when a motivated high school student is using Compass for credit recovery, and has some vested interest in their own success, maybe it can function as an alternative math program. But for this group, it is largely a waste of time. The only advantage I see is students are at their own level, instead of me trying to meet them in the middle somewhere and having them all floundering. I know that Compass is an individualized program but unless students are individually motivated for success, the chances of success with it are nil.

I'm just tired of the games, tired of the no accountability on the part of students, parents, anyone but me, for their success. I am one person. ONE PERSON. I cannot make them learn. I cannot make them want to learn. I cannot make them come to school. When they are here, I can try to help them, try to encourage them, try to find ways to individually spark their interest in learning. But my magic wand is out of fairy dust, long out of fairy dust.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Met Life Survey of the American Teacher was recently released with the graph to the left included in the report. The report is full of interesting information but this graph spoke volumes to me personally. 2008 was probably the peak for me as far as job satisfaction, as well. It has plummeted since then for a variety of reasons.

My biggest source of personal frustration with my own situation comes from budget cuts which have eliminated our middle school progam. For years, our middle school was top notch, with top notch teachers who did wonderful things for kids. Then, due to budget cuts, we started getting whacked apart. We lost our principal. Now there is a K-6 principal and and 7-12 principal, who both run back and forth between buildings, but neither of whom spend the majority of their day with middle schoolers. This impacts behavior, discipline, instruction, curriculum, and most of all, morale. We lost programs that made middle school students feel safe, secure and valued. We went from a community setting where we were a family, where we supported each other, where kids felt a sense of belonging, where test scores were the highest in the district (That IS what school is all about after all, isn't it??).

Now our test scores are in the toilet, kids are out of control, content is sketchy at best, teachers are tired and frustrated, feeling unsupported in their efforts, and no longer does middle school seem like "It's Great to be in the Middle" which was our old motto and way of life.

We are take some of the blame for sure. When our last principal left, the last middle school principal... he left us with a story about each person holding onto their stick, reluctant to put it on the fire, and as a result, everyone froze to death because the first went out. I honestly think we all DID give up our sticks, tossing them onto the fire, trying to keep us all warm, trying to maintain what we all valued. But eventually, we all ran out of wood, and the fire died, and so have our spirits.

I spend more time running, chasing, trying to deal with ridiculous issues than I do teaching. I spend time trying to make kids care - kids that don't care - kids that have missed 30+ days of school, kids that are suspended for poor choices, kids that know they will always fail, kids who spend a large portion of their day in the hall or office kicked out of classes. I am not educating them. I am herding them. I deal with threats, accusations, bullying, insubordination, lying, etc... much more than I do with actual academics.

Do I still make a difference in the lives of students? Sometimes, I think I do. Other times, I am not so sure. I feel like I am so out of touch with their realities, I am forging my own new reality instead, for me and for them.

Another teacher commented that we've all become just a check off on their sheet that says all the boxes are filled in. It isn't even just special ed bean counting anymore that feels that way, it's across the board. We're just names to fill spots, no big picture in mind of how it should all fit together to best meet the needs of students.

Does it all come down to budget issues? I'm not sold on that excuse. I think we just make decisions that make it easy for adults, not really concerned with how those decisions impact our students. We put teachers in spots to fill the schedule, instead of looking at our kids and where their needs truly are. Schedules are complicated, no doubt, but creating a good schedule that works IS possible.

Will teacher satisfaction continue to decline? I think so, unless things change. It is easy to focus on our own school, our own situation, but I find it sad and telling that the issues exist across the board. We need to reclaim our schools, reclaim education, reclaim our students' futures. The question is, who is leading the revolution??

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The 'move' has been almost as treacherous as I imagined in many ways. In other ways, I guess we've survived. But tomorrow, we get to pack up and go back HOME and we will all be relieved.

Day one - one of my students got so stressed out, he ended up going home before lunch. Another was so tense he walked out of every class all day, upset about something not going the way it should go. Others were on edge, snapping at me, other kiddos, over nothing, anything, everything.

Between first and second hour today, I ran into a middle schooler on 2nd floor of the high school looking for Spanish class. "WHERE IS MR. WHITEHOUSE'S CLASS NOW?" she yelled. I pointed her up to third floor. She responded, "WHY IS HE UP THERE? HE WAS RIGHT HERE YESTERDAY!" I laughed and shooed her upstairs where he had been all along.

Lunch time, the one normal time of their day that hasn't changed, still was a bit weird it seems. Yesterday, I scooted through the lunch line but was snagged by several girls who needed to vent. I sat with them while they ate. This morning, another girl who'd seen me there yesterday, begged me to come eat with her today. I agreed to meet her at lunch. Unfortunately, she got in trouble before lunch and had to eat in solitare in detention. I promised her tomorrow....

The internet in the room I am sharing in the hodgepodge schedule works sporadically so Compass math was a nightmare. But thanks to our great tech person, we today had ethernet cords. What a HOOT! I don't think the kids ever realized you can get online like that. We huddled around the hub all attached, with them AMAZED at how fast their connection suddenly was with a cable linking them instead of air :)

So there... we are going to make it ... I think! We only have to survive the morning. A science assembly in the afternoon and then moving HOME :) YAAAYYYY!!!!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Stupid decisions abound in education.... no debate there. We try something new, it works, it doesn't work, whatever.. we move on. The next 'great' idea, we hop on board that train and on to the next station we journey.

But once in a while, an idea so stupid comes along that I am just speechless that we try it.

This week our high school juniors will take the ACT/MME tests Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, those scores are important for them as they apply to colleges, and they are important to us as a school district because funding and teacher evaluations are now so closely linked to test scores. Wwwwoooohhhhooooo....

SO NOW, someone has decided we will disrupt the ENTIRE middle school to allow the test takes to test in the middle school instead of on 3rd floor of the high school as has been done in the past. (forget that we don't afford the same concern for any other level of test takers in our district... ) So for the upcoming 3 days, middle school teachers will be shuffled to various rooms in the high school, scattered from 1st to 2nd to 3rd floor. We will haul students and their locker contents over there last hour today. Oh wait, there aren't enough lockers to accomodate all of them so some of their stuff will be stored in a classroom. And for the next 3 days, students will mingle with high schoolers between classes, trying to remember their new scheduled class locations. Teachers will try to haul everything we need to our new classrooms, some of which are being shared by staff with staggering schedules, trying to make sure we have everything we need to help our students be successful these next 3 days.

Let's not forget that middle schoolers by nature like routine, fairness, things that make sense and are logical. Let's not forget that we have many kiddos with ADD, ADHD, OCD, and other anxiety issues. Let's not forget that even a 'normal' middle schooler has days they forget which locker is theirs, or who their 3rd hour teacher is.

Today will be spent touring the high school, learning where rooms are, moving their stuff to their new locker, which they may or may not get, which they will be sharing with another student... trying to cram books, winter coats and boots, all into a locker too small for one, much less for two. The next 3 days will be chaos with us and the high school on different lunch schedules, tramping back and forth annoying each other. Many teachers are abandoning routine lessons in favor of movies or other "keep them busy" activities. Then we will move back. A week of instruction lost for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

I hope for the juniors it is a great experience. Test scores will be higher than ever before and college scholarship offers will flood the local post office. In the meantime, these poor middle schoolers are stressed beyond stress. And the teachers aren't much better....

Thursday, March 01, 2012

It's been a crazy crazy CRAZY past week. I have been out of my classroom for 5 days in a row. Last Thursday I was at Project PRIME training, a math program to help teachers with the transition to the Common Core. Great stuff. I am totally geeked about the rest of the program.

Friday.. just an allergist appointment scheduled long ago..

Monday - School Improvement Team meeting, in house, looking at data, looking at where we need to head as we try to realign curriculum, trying to make decisions as we start the shift to the Common Core.

Tuesday - morning PBIS session working on our ODR forms for discipline referrals and our matrix of expectations. Then we left at noon headed to the Common Core Institute in Detroit.

One of the most difficult parts of living in the UP is how far it is to anywhere. Driving 6 hours to a conference just seems ridiculous. But that's the way it is. I won't go into all the excitement we had, though it would make an interesting post.. maybe another time.

The conference was Wednesday. The one obvious component was it was not put on by the State Dept of Ed but by a for-profit organization out of Illinois. They were trying to sell us their packaged program.

Lots of information, lots of good information... lots of overwhelming information.

The most interesting thing to me was the approach they suggest to make the shift to a curriculum driven by the Common Core rather than our current one which is supposed to be aligned with our state standards. Any other time I've done curriculum alignment, we've taken what we do now, and tried to see how it fits with the new game plan.

According to this model, no.. we need to start with the Common Core Standards and work backwards, plugging in things we have that fit, rather than the other way around, trying to make them fit.

What a concept... WHAT A CONCEPT. Honestly, how often have we gone about it the other way around, stretching to make our favorite lessons, the tried and true we already do, fit the direction we need to be going.

NO, we need to analyze what we SHOULD be doing and work backwards. We need to critically think about how to meet those new standards, their rigor, their depth of understanding of the material. If we have somethings in place that work, great. But we have to realize that we may be digging for new things, recreating/redesigning what we already use, because chances are, we are not going to be able to just slide those lessons into the new plan.

I am overwhelmed considering the magnitude of the task ahead of us, but I am also geeked at the possibilities of this blank slate we have been given to restructure our teaching to best meet the needs of our students.

Did I drink the Kool-Aid?? for their canned for purchase program, no, not at all. There are many resources online available for free for us to use to snag, adapt, use to fit our needs.

Did I drink the Kool-Aid for the Common Core Standards themselves?? Big time.. I am excited to be a part of this movement to increase student engagement and learning. I'm terrified of the process and the impending doom of trying to get everyone on board. I am terrified to think of the massive changes we need to make and the fact that the success or failure of our efforts will have an impact on my paycheck. But I know the direction we are headed, to a more individualized approach to learning, to a more in-depth level of understanding of concepts, to a more engaging educational experience for students, is the right direction to head.

Will it be easy? No. Rarely is something worthwhile easy.

Will it take twists and turns along the way? Probably. But it will be a learning paradigm shift for educators as well as students. Drink the Kool-Aid with me!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Being a special education teacher means my teaching role is different from a regular ed teacher. I've done both roles, and I know the pitfalls of both. I know that in this position, I have fewer students, fewer assignments to create and assess, and fewer parents to deal with. I know that to a regular ed teacher, looking at that huge stack of papers to correct over the weekend, my handful of students looks easy.

But let me tell you what it's like.... Every single one of "my" kids thinks I am theirs, singley, wholey and without fail. They think when they need help, are having some crisis, real or perceived, I should be THERE, NOW. My relationship with those kids is different from a typical teacher/student relationship on many levels. I am there go-to rescue person, their safety net when things are falling apart, the person they feel they can be honest and open with, the person who will go to bat for them in any class or situation. I am the one person they feel comfortable venting to, taking out their frustrations and angers on, the shoulder they want to cry on.
When a regular ed teacher has those same students in class, they may sit, quietly, complacently, pretending to work, trying hard to look like everyone else, even when they are overwhelmed. They just want to fit in. Or on the other end of the spectrum....They may be the opposite, loud, obnoxious, disruptive, trying to play the part of the class clown instead of being a 'dummy'. Either way, they don't want the 'normal' kids to realize they themselves aren't 'normal'.

But when they come to my room, it is a group of special ed labeled kids all together. One of the biggest arguments against resource room programs points out the tendency of these situations to bring out the worst in these students. They feed off each others' problems, exemplify and exaggerate their own worst traits, and just create a haven of mismatches, all thrown together, fighting for attention, wanting to just be themselves for awhile.

Just today, my third hour guided study period, a group of 11 kids, all with their own unique set of issues, was a whirlwind of chaos and confusion. One didn't want to do the assignment he needed tomplete for science, a simple look up vocab words in the glossary assignment. Another was upset at me, himself, the rest of the world because he didn't have a netbook because he intentionally destroyed his last week and needed it to do an assignment, so he kept walking out, slamming the door behind him. Then, another was mad at his sister because she took his iPod so he was in BIG TIME refusal to do anything mode. Four were trying to complete their science fair posters, but have no idea individually how to do it - no idea what a hypothesis is, variables, etc.... -demanding my constant help, even though they have not really completed a true science project to create their posters from, they all expected me to figure out how to write their hypothesis, make their graphs, etc... Another was working on a science worksheet and needed help finding answers. In the meantime, the one with the science vocab to do, is usually allowed to play games on iPad for 20 minutes but he'd taken it home over the weekend and left it, so he was upset about not having it to use. Another needed a computer to print a paper for a class, as if I am to just wave my hands and create one. Another needed to go to the library but mostly just wanted to wander. The poster kids have markers and glue and are creating major messes of paper and stickiness everywhere. And thank goodness, one was absent.... but it was still a typical hour of chaos and some productiveness, but where I felt like I was juggling bowling balls or flaming torches. trying to keep them all sort of on task, without injuring each other.

Every parent, every student, thinks THEY, THEIR child, is the most important one. I get that. I totally get that. But keep in mind, I have 16 students on my case load, another dozen or so special needs students I touch base with over the course of the day in various cotaught classes, as well as the regular ed kids in those classes who turn to me for help and support. I cannot babysit one student all day. I cannot always be there for every little crisis and event. The best I CAN do is help your child learn to be independent on their own, learn to be responsible for their own decisions and actions. I will do everything I can to help your child be successful. I will. I promise you that. But.... I am one person. Ultimately, you and your child must take some of the load on your shoulders as well.