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.