Thursday, September 26, 2013

Today's big news? I FIXED my speakers :D ALL BY MYSELF. Anyone who knows me knows I cannot even manage to get a DVD to play in my home DVD player 9 times out of 10. Forget anything more complex.

In history Monday, we tried to watch a short video but the sound was so terrible, the back of the room couldn't hear anything. I was devastated. I just bought new speakers!

But today, determination led me and I figured out the subwoofer wasn't plugged in! YAY! GO ME!

It might seem like a little thing to you, but to me, it is like climbing Mt Everest and not having to have my body left behind on the mountain.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tonight I blog with sadness and a little anger, and a lot of frustration.

Education today is all about the mighty test score. We test kids and test kids and test kids. But there is more to education that trying to cram as much knowledge into their minds as possible. Today's big plan - NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND - Common Core.. it is all a big hocus pocus way to tell schools what they are doing wrong.

When in reality, it isn't the academics where we are failing. Too often, we are failing to give our students the love and support and foundation they need to make good choices.
We've become so oriented towards covering as many standards as possible, pretesting, post testing and retesting, we don't have time to teach the things that really matter.

In the past year, I have had 4 former students go to prison (and no.. I don't teach in inner city, crime ridden neighbor. We have about 60 kids per grade, in a small isolated, rural midwestern town. Not exactly where you'd expect 'these things' to happen..) I've had several young girls end up pregnant before they are grown up themselves. Another two were in a terrible drunk driving car accident, lucky to be alive. Another is on long term suspension. and, and, and, and, and...

Where did we FAIL these kids? It wasn't for lack of testing or trying to teach them irrelevant stuff. It was for lack of love and the lack of  time to show them we love them, and give them the skills they need to SURVIVE in the world.

I am disenchanted, saddened and frightened that yes indeed, we ARE leaving children behind. We are failing them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Every September 11, we are all transported back to that day...

I was teaching 8th grade history - excited to be in a regular classroom, an opportunity to do my own thing, after 5 years of being in special ed, working primarily in co-taught settings. While I loved what I was doing, being the 'second' teacher usually means conforming to someone else's standards in their room. I longed for my OWN classroom, my own curriculum, my own students. And, I finally had it.

I don't remember what we were learning. I do remember the secretary walking in. She was visibly shaken and told me to turn on the TV (Back in the day we actually HAD TV's in our room and sketchy reception). She said something about planes and the Twin Towers, but none of it really made any sense until I turned on the TV.

The rest of the class was a blur. I remember one young man, a tall, burly smart kid, class president.... not the kind to panic or overreact... he grabbed my pant leg, and tugged at it as I walked by, much like a kindergartner would, asking in a trembling voice, "Should we be worried?"

It took all I could muster not to cry but I assured him we weren't in danger.

Now, 12 years later, I am back in special ed, but also teaching one section of 8th grade history. But things have changed, in the world, and in education.

Most of my day is spent pulling my students into my resource room, for math classes and for language arts. We've come full circle from isolating students with special needs, to full inclusion, to a mixture of pull-out resource room mixed with push into regular classes.

I LOVE having MY kids most of the day. This year in particular, I have MY 8th graders, that I have had since they first came to me as little scared 6th graders. I have seen them grow and mature and learn. I know their strengths, I know when to yell, I know when to encourage, I know when to hug, I know when to send them for a walk, I know when to push harder and demand more, I know when to call home, I know when to invite them to my room for lunch.

But educational 'reform' is forcing me to force them to push beyond the limits of their capabilities. I have a little girl with an IQ of 53. A boy with an IQ of 60. Both are expected to PASS the state test, just like your normal Joe Schmoo with an IQ of 100. The same curriculum has to be shoved down their throats at the same pace as everyone else.

Expecting them to learn and retain ALL of that is like expecting me to kick the winning field goal in the Super Bowl.

When it is just us, my kids and me, I can try to adapt, prod them along, drag them along, working our hardest to keep up.

But then, I see some of them in my history class and I am reminded of how difficult it is for them to maintain, to keep up, well, not even keep up, but barely not drown, when they are in regular classes.

I'm saddened. I am frustrated. I wish one of those powers that BE, would come sit with these kids one day, and see their struggle and explain to me how I am supposed to make them kick that field goal. It is not going to happen....

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Some random reflections on Week One:

  • Kids are FUNNY. Especially middle schoolers. They see the humor in the weirdest of things. If you can learn to see the world through their eyes, life is much easier to take.
  • Most kids are willing to give you, their teacher, a chance, a second chance, even a third chance.They want to be successful and please you. You just have to persevere in finding the path to that success with them, and sometimes, FOR them.
  • Some kids will learn despite being dealt a rotten hand in life. They seem to be resilient to the negativity which bombards them. Too bad we can't bottle what makes them tick to share with the others.
  • Some kids just don't want to learn, period. A variety of issues come into play - lack of sleep, too much screen time, a sense they will never be successful regardless of effort. But whatever the reason, the choice they have made impacts them as well as those around them.It becomes a triage situation where you may have to let go of some to save the others. It isn't a pretty realization. But it is inevitable and heart wrenching.
  • Never assume they know anything. To me, this is the toughest part of teaching. 
    • For example, 8th grade history is supposed to start with about the American Revolution and move along to the Civil War. Unfortunately, when students come with no concept of the geography of the globe, no understanding of what got the colonists into the Revolution, it is tough to start in the middle of the story.
    • Math is even worse. It isn't about the calculator, no calculator battle as much as it is about number sense. When a student cannot SEE that 400/4 is 100 without a calculator, teaching them how to graph a line, balance an equation, turn a real life situation INTO an equation, find perimeter/area, all become extremely difficult. 
  •  Some other teachers won't get it. They don't see the magic, and never will. Let it go. It isn't MY battle. I'm going to smile, laugh, learn and not get sucked into the negativity they generate.
  • Teaching is the BESTEST job in the world. The paperwork is overwhelming. The mundane pointless meetings are insane. But never, ever will anything top a hug from a kid you taught last year who just stopped by for a visit, a smile from the new one who finally feels like you are their "person", or a simple, "YOU'RE the best".  

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Some of you are friends on Facebook but others aren't.. but I thought I would post HERE my status updates from the first three days:

Day one, check! Actually a pretty good day overall. I'm beat, it guess that's to be expected after herding middle schoolers around all day Bring on day two!

Day two:

~Got some fantastic writing assignments turned in
~broke up a fight
~realized most of my history class has no idea where North America is on a map
~Got told I was BEST teacher ever and favorite teacher ever at least 20 times
~ wore my shirt inside out half the day
~ realized how much my 8th graders have grown up since I first met them when they started 6th grader
All in a day's work in middle school. Yes, I my job.

Day 3:
~Language arts kids set their own class goal to write 10 lines in 10 minutes, and they MET it
~Still can't figure out how to view kids' grade in stupid new grade program (Anyone else using Illuminate? I MISS PowerSchool!)
~Got robbed at the pig race. Penelope soooo should have beaten Oinkers but Tim Whitehouse cheated.)
~Had my group of 7th graders boast about how learning ALGEBRA is FUN
~Came into my 8th grade math class to EVERY student working on their Math Starter without being prompted
~Realized I needed a can of Febreeze in both classrooms - thanks to middle school boys and their prolific gaseousness
~I remembered why I usually wear a HIGHER cut tank top under this particular shirt
~Got peanut butter fudge from Farmer's Market on way home to reward myself for surviving another day

All in all, just another day in middle school. Yes, I still love my job
Some days, you just have to remind yourself to breathe. The week seems to be zooming at the speed of light at the same time it is dragging like watching paint dry.

We're off to a great start overall... many success stories in that column. But in the other column, I have to learn to breathe.

Guided study is opposite band this year. This means that special ed students have to make a choice. So one of my young men chose band. I don't blame him. Band is fun. You get to make noise, be a little wild, express yourself. Guided study is work time, pure and simple WORK TIME.

But he's been out of Guided Study and in band one day and he's already behind and missing one assignment that I know of... and we are in Day Three of school. Yeah, I am sure he will survive successfully without that hour of Mom At School hounding him to get his work done.

Today the tardies started too. First hour, one girl came about 10 minutes late. Granted, that time of the day, it is a parenting issue, not a student issue, to a certain extent. But then, same girl, tardy to fourth hour. She came and checked in and had some crisis elsewhere to deal with. Despite me asking her to take care of it another time, she left anyway.

The first days of school are about teaching a routine, a schedule, a pattern of expectations. It seems like herding cats to try to create those routines with students, especially special ed students with organizational issues. But we do it, over and over, over and over, over and over, until we get it figured out. I was soooooooooooo impressed that on Day Two, once my 8th graders had their math books and notebooks, when I came in the door at the final bell, they were all working on their Math Starter, just like they learned last year. It was such a relief to know they learned and remembered.

So now we learn how to have language arts class. I've cotaught language arts, but never had my OWN LA class. Together we will create our learning path. I'm trying to show them they ARE writers and readers.. and even more important, THINKERS. These are kids who are too often content to sit in the back of the regular classroom and  coast their way through, either copying, just not doing, mostly just biding their time until the bell rings. But I want this year to be different. I want them to realize they are capable! I am trying to hook them into writing with some art type projects about themselves, ideas I've borrowed from others. So far, it's been a fantastic start with them writing more and longer than I thought possible. Of course, we need to learn to work on quality, not just quantity, but for now, I am tickled pink :D

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

First two days down... my feet hurt. My back hurts. My head hurts. Did I mention my feet hurt??

All in all, a good two days. The first one went by so quickly I didn't have time to breathe, with new kids and new to middle school kids, all lost, confused, trying their best not to look lost and confused. 

Day two.. the honeymoon is waning already, with our first fight breaking out. The attacker... what a sweet kid. You will remember him from last year - he was my swearer. Well, he was determined this was going to be a GREAT year for him. I was so proud. He did our language arts assignment today, FANTASTICALLY SUPER TERRIFIC. Wrote a page and half of amazing stuff. I was SHOCKED and proud, as was he ;) We talked about how good things were going and how this was to be HIS YEAR.

I don't know what happened. I just know some kid popped in my room screaming, "THERE'S A FIGHT!" and two seconds later I was pulling two kids apart, and trying to calm the crowd in the hall, sending one down the stairs to the north, and escorting the still screaming other one down the south stairs. .... That was mine. **sigh**

And tomorrow, we try again. Determined and resolved.