Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I haven't blogged in forever, for a number of reasons, but today's history class was so good I had to share.

We are studying the War of 1812. I showed a Crash Course video about the war to begin with, which gave a great overview of the war, the reasons we got into the war and the results of the war. The kids love Crash Course videos so that was a great way to start class. Then I gave a few notes about the war. Then, we read together a play called "Rocket's Red Glare" that was in Scope magazine a while back. It was humorous, factual and the kids enjoyed being the various characters. While we were reading, one student blurted out, "I GET IT! THE ROCKET'S RED GLARE!"

 But then... this the magical part: I played the above video of the "Star-Spangled Banner". They all stood, hands on hearts and faced the flag. Not because I told them to, but because they felt the moment.

And.. I remembered why I love teaching all over again.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The end of June...

 the school year's dust has settled, for better or worse.

 It's done.

I've moved past those last few days of school when I just wanted to be DONE, when I couldn't wait for those kids to be GONE... to - gosh I MISS THEM!

So I find myself drawn to the stack of new math textbooks sitting on my home desk, that novel I want to share with students in the fall, and an urgent sense of working on school work, preparing for the fall.

Spread out before me, like birthday presents waiting to be opened.... I find myself once again sucked into school land, excited for the school year, excited to be learning along with the kids, and excited to find my way through another year of adventures.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer time = LEARNING TIME
Parents, don't just let your kids sit and vegetate all summer. Get them involved in some sneaky learning. Here are a few ideas:
 1. Check out your local library for summer reading programs. Parents of preschool and elementary parents often consider this option, but many libraries offer programs for older students and even adults. Our local library offers a series of 'tasks' for students to complete - some as easy as liking the library's page on Facebook - to earn rewards.
2. Check out your local museums, state parks, or National Wildlife Refuges. Just this week, I took my 5 year old granddaughter to Seney National Wildlife Refuge where we were thrilled to participate in Turtle Talk Tuesday  and learn all about turtles. Our adventure had her not only learn all sorts of science-y stuff, but she also got to make a fun turtle craft and release the demo turtle into one of the ponds. Most public venues offer summer programs for kids. What a great way to learn about something new!
3. Try your hand at cooking with your children. There are tons of cookbooks for kids. We really love the Candy Construction book that shows you fun creations to make from foods. Or check out a cookbook geared towards kids like Williams-Sonoma Kids in the Kitchen. Any recipe will help your child practice math skills, direction following, reading, and best of all, IT IS FUN.
4. Plant a garden. Ok, so maybe we are getting late in the season, but it is never to late to grow some salad greens or herbs. Both of these options are quick return and easy to grow, even in a small window box.
5. Volunteer together. It can be at a local food program, your church, or other organization, as or simple and unstructured as picking up trash together at your favorite playground. Teach your child that giving to others can be rewarding.

Whatever you do, do it together. Summer days fly by and before you know it, school will be back in session, the house will be quiet and clean again, and you will miss the bickering and whining ;)

Speaking of back to school, when you mind wanders to getting the kids ready for THAT great adventure, check out Personal Creations for cute personalized items like backpacks, lunchboxes and more. This company does a fantastic job of keeping your kids looking great while they are moving on with their education.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The school year will officially be over at noon tomorrow, at least for students. Staff have to be here, technically, until 3:08, and then again next Monday, for our last day of professional development. But for all intents and purposes, the school year is OVER.

Like all years, it has had its highs and lows. 

I've seen students grow up; I've seen them soar; I've seen others regress; I've been impressed with some; I've been disappointed by some. I've loved them all, through thick and thin, and I will be sad to see them go on to high school.

While I still love my job, I find myself, with every passing year, losing more and more of the feeling that my job defines me. Part of that may be personal, with grandchildren who know take much of my free time. But the bulk of that loss comes from the changes in education.. locally and nationally. 

A good friend, a former middle school teaching colleague, is considering retirement. Another former colleague, who taught in the middle school with us, came to talk to me, asking about pranking the potential retiree. Back in the good ole days, the middle school staff was a bonded unit. We laughed, we pranked, we taught, we planned fun activities to challenge students, we had competitions between classes for fun, for academics, for just because it was Friday...

We took academics seriously. We pushed kids to their outer limits. We expected them to meet our expectations, behaviorally, academically, and socially. 

But we were a family. A large rumbly family, rough around the edges, but fiercely protective of each other, and most of all, of our 'offspring'. 

The middle school was THE place to be, the place to teach, the place to learn... WE were the COOL KIDS.

Now.. we are sucked into the high school... the 6th grade hovers on the edge of elementary. None of us really belong anywhere. We just exist.

And I wonder.. how much of THAT causes the apathy among our students... our staff... the lack of respect.. the lack of motivation.. 

So much of what we do now revolves around testing and test scores.. pre-tests and post-tests... And push 'em harder, and learn 'em faster, and get 'em ready for that next leap.. that we've forgotten they are just kids. We've forgotten that school ought to be about more than scores and learning. It is about being part of something bigger and better, where together we ALL are better.

If we could go back, be a middle school again, be US again.. would that change anything??

Saturday, May 31, 2014

At the beginning of the school year, we are all like fresh eggs, just gathered from the hen's soft nest, still warm, full of nutrition and potential.

By June, we are like burnt fried eggs, beyond anything anyone would want to eat.

ALL OF US.. students, teachers, everyone....

Friday, May 30, 2014

I had an absolute meltdown this morning.. in class... I am so beyond frustrated with the behaviors of my students I am at the end of my rope. I know we are at the end of the year and they are ready to be done, and some of the behaviors are to be expected.

But on the other hand, we've come so far together. They've grown up dramatically, or so I thought.

Guided Study class starts the day, an hour for special ed kids to get extra help on assignments, or just a quiet time and place to work. They are ALL failing AT LEAST 2 classes, with tons of assignments due, overdue, exams to study for, projects to finish, etc... But all they can do is giggle, chat, complain - about everything from A-Z - one day this week it was how stupid the dress code is when I sent 2 girls to office for ripped jeans - one of which had been called out on EXACT same pair of pants by principal LAST week. But instead of taking care of the problem, it became a HUGE argument/heated discussion about how stupid the dress code is, how this school is going downhill, how they are ALL going to Community School (alternative high school) next year. The more I tried to refocus them, they more obnoxious they became - to me, to each other, to the entire school. Another day, it was simply a refusal to work - I gave them study guides for their history exam, but they didn't want to use them - refused to look for their notes, get a book, etc.. Another day, it was a battle over getting their math assignment that SHOULD have been homework, but none of them take work home, but they wouldn't find it so we could even try to tackle it. Another day one girl insisted she had to type her science notes, only for me to find her playing a video game online instead.

The saddest part isn't the defiance, or the disrespect... it is that THEY have given up on themselves. They know they are failing. They know there is no hope. They know that by in large, they aren't going to get a high school diploma. The one girl announced today that she's just going to get one of those "FREE CHECKS like my mom does - $1800 a month - so I can stay home and not do nothing." She went on to brag she "don't know why nobody ever wants no job. That's just crazy! Stay home, do what you want and the FREE CHECK comes in the mail on the 3rd of every month."

and she's right.... why would they want to show up, do their work, struggle, try hard.... get a diploma -  which they ALL could do if they actually tried.... when FREE money comes in the mail for doing nothing.

But don't worry, I will keep showing up, doing my work, struggling, trying hard.. for them and the ones who will follow them.. so that FREE money will land in their mailboxes for generations to come. Heaven forbid we try to change the system, break the cycle, and teach responsibility. Do I sound angry and disgruntled? Maybe I am...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gather 4 data points to prove my worth, my effectiveness....

Let's examine my possibilities:
-MEAP tests that students took last October, which tested them on content from the previous year
-GLAD tests which are supposedly aligned to grade level standards but even the program itself shows that 14 of the 44 questions on the 8th grade GLAD are actually testing high school standards
- pre & post tests in class
-EXPLORE test (kinda like a ACT for middle school kids) that predicts college and career readiness - wait.. Many of my kids won't even get a diploma from high school, and even if they manage to do that, are certainly not college bound. At least half of them have no intention of even getting a job some day. Their grand plan for life is to live off the system one way or the other.
-STAR reading -which in theory would be great but when kids score higher on this test, their AR point goals get raised, so why would anyone WANT to score higher on it?
-whatever else I can pull out of my hat

For students, none of these tests hold any level of accountability. If a student has parents who are grade motivated, the pre & post tests do hold some accountability on their parts, but otherwise, students don't understand or see correlation between their scores on these tests and ANYTHING in their real lives.

As students took the GLAD today, they finished 44 math questions - long, hard word problems - in less than 10 minutes. GOOD kids, kids who usually CARE. But kids who look at that computer screen and see too many words, too much work, and feel defeated before they even start. They know their score on the test won't keep them from going to high school. It won't mean repeating a grade. It won't mean summer school or remedial work to bring them up to speed. It just means they are done with one more test.

So here I sit.. trying to compile data to prove my worth as a teacher. Trying to figure out a way to make the dismal test scores look less bleak. Trying to find a way to make it look as if my kids have made progress. Trying to make THEM look good on paper so I look good on paper.

In reality, I KNOW that they have grown, and learned, and made progress. I KNOW without a doubt they are leaving with more skills than they came to me with. Some of those skills, in theory, should be able to be measured. But so many more of those skills could never be measured with a click and click and click test.

The skills that should be able to be measured? well.. I could make a million excuses why they won't meet their benchmarks - they are reading at a 2nd grade level in 8th grade... they don't know even their multiplication tables, much less how to balance an equation.... they don't want to do any work independently, preferring, insisting even, on being hand fed answer by answer, step by step... they have been beaten down for so many years they have lost any and all confidence in themselves so every step forward we slide 10 back.

But in the end, does any of it matter? No matter how well I teach, no matter how hard I work, no matter how many hours and how much of my heart I pour into them, all that matters in the end is some number on a piece of paper.

No one will know how far they've come - no one will see the girl who now volunteers to read aloud, even though she struggles with most of the words.
No one will see the boy who aces every math test in class, but is too overwhelmed and anxious to give that same effort when it really matters.
No one will see the girl who missed 50 days of school this year.
No one will see the girl who comes to school hungry most days.
No one will see the bruises hidden under his sleeves.
No one will see anything but a useless test score.