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 :)