September 30, 2006


I try to post a few things during the middle of the week, but this week has been crazy. Plenty to air, but way too busy.

Actually, I did start--and maybe finished--a post about the joys of anonymity as a teacher after I found out that one of my students is my neighbor. I don't live in the zone where I teach, but then I do teach in schools where students from all over the district may attend, so it's not a crazy idea that I might bump into one of them. Okay, it's a little crazy. We're in a big city and my student lives two doors down. That's too close for comfort! Since I formally taught in a small town where if people didn't know your business they'd make it up, I've experienced the life of a teacher from a few different ways. Anyway, I'm sure you would have enjoyed some of my small-town horror stories about my very public private life, but since I didn't save it as I was going along, I lost the post. You see, I feel asleep at the keyboard and ran the laptop battery dead--so dead I barely revived the next morning. Guess it wasn't meant to be.

Here are some ponderings and anecdotes from this week.

I took my stepchildren to the Family Literacy Night at their school this week. It was very well done with some fun activities for the families. As a secondary teacher--actually as a teacher in general--I couldn't help but gawk around the classrooms where the activities were held. It's so different in elementary school! I do have to say they those teachers really know how to utilize every single inch in their classrooms. I'm especially envious of this super cool extra tray that ran underneath and parallel to the chalk tray in one classroom. It was just loaded with fun looking books! My fun books are stuffed in a corner in the back of the room between dictionaries and grammar books. I liked my little corner until I saw that tray! And do all elementary classrooms have pets? That's something pretty foreign to me! (I'm not including the wee beasties that come to visit sometimes. Scorpions, cockroaches, mice, pigeons, and lizards are not pets. They aren't even welcome visitors.)

I had to put in an extra long day because we had The Dog and Pony Show Open House at our school. What that basically looks like is a bunch of teachers boring parents to death about the content of our course expectations (which have already been sent home, signed, and returned) for 10 minutes at a time. I had to talk pretty fast to squeeze everything in each period. I tried to charm the parents with my wit and humor while trying to impress upon them that English is no joke and I don't want their students going to high school unprepared. So, folks, that's my show: Humanistic Hardass.

Snort! As if!

What we really know about Open House nights is that we can see why students are the way they are when we meet their parents. Oh, and so the parents can judge us by the scruffiness of our shoes.

Most of my students' parents seemed to be rationale, caring, strict--and on the same page that I am. I mean, they were nodding their heads. When they speak English, that's usually a promising sign. Oh, and most of my students' parents seemed to understand what I was saying, too. Good night! Wahoo! It feels like I have allies!

We're not really suppose to talk about students, right? It is helpful to get back story from former teachers, though. So, when I asked of a student's behavior the previous year and what his parents were like I got some sort of reply like, "Oh, Dad smokes crack and Mom is crazy."

My question, which may seem stupid, so I don't ask it is: "Are you being literal?"

Guess I still have time to find out.

Yes, as a middle school teacher, I know all about drama. And I know about real drama. My students are hardly amused when I start directing them around as if I were directing a play, but then if they are going to go all soap opera on me, I'll make them perform for my entertainment. This week, though, it's not just those hormonal girls (two of which cried though class this week), it's so many, many other things. It's been nutso at my school this week, but luckily most of it doesn't affect me directly. (Oh, except I did bust a bully who is now dead in the middle of admin radar.) Geez could I tell some stories, but it's not wise in this forum. Anyway, nothing seems to shock me anymore, and the antics of the staff, students, community, and media simply exhaust me.

Numerous students were upset and distraught when I reminded them to turn in their essays typed in 12 point Times New Roman.

"But Miss! Then my essay is really short."

I've tried to explain that it doesn't really matter what size the font is because the essay is what it is.

By the end of the day Friday, I had just about enough and wasn't very kind to my students:

"If your essay seems short after you format it correctly, it is not because some voodoo magic of the computer made it shorter. It's because YOU have chosen to write a two paragraph essay, which is obviously lacking in DETAIL , and the COMPUTER has nothing to do with your lack of effort and skill."

I still had blank stares.

One student has turned in an essay which contains one single paragraph typed in such a large sized font that it actually takes up two pages. How *%&$*& stupid do they think I am?

And finally, a story from the stepparenting files...


Today we had a little family outting where we all went to get haircuts. The 5-year-old is a such a towhead. He has at times worn his hair spikey on top, but lately it's been nearly shaved when he gets haircuts. When his hair is that short he looks mean. So, today he got a good short cut, but we left some length on top to spike. He has some pretty funky cowlicks, so it's not too much work.

Would you believe that he didn't like his new spikey haircut? I was perplexed since there have been many times over the years he has liked the top spikey. What's his problem? He only likes it spikey when it's spiked with colored gel. Bless the stylist's heart, she would have done it, but we don't roll like that. Even when he told us that his mother used to put colored gel in it.

My response was, "You're too young to look like a rock star."

Yes, I've seen him when he had half blue hair. When you're a teenager with blue hair people think you might be dangerous, or in the very least one of those wayward souls who just want to express himself. When you are barely old enough to wipe your own bum and you have blue hair--and it's not Halloween--people think your parents are STUPID. I don't need that kind of label.

His father's response was, "When you're 18 and out of the house you can have colored hair."

To which the 5-year-old says, "But when I'm 18, I'm going to be a girl."

Yea, I know that just came from nowhere, but then just last night we had a talk about the fact that if you break the television open, people will not come out from the inside.

His dad says, "You're going to be a girl, huh?"

The 5-year-old grins and repeats, "Yup. I'm going to be a girl."

And I quipped, "Well, you'll have to wait until you're 18 and out of the house for that, too."

September 23, 2006

My Narrative About Teaching Narrative

Californiateacherguy challenged me to actually share my supposed stupid idea that flopped the other night. Would I be too embarrassed to share? Truthfully it is embarrassing because I can do better, but in retrospect, it wasn't that terrible of an idea. I have done a lot of thinking about my teaching writing woes in the last week, though. Geez, how dull I must be. I'm going to spend my time thinking--daydreaming--about white sand beaches instead. It might help on so many levels! ;-)

Narrative is the mode of writing this quarter for both my middle school students and my high school students. The middle schoolers' state writing exam will be a narrative essay; however, the high school students have to write two essays, where one is a narrative, on their high stakes state writing exam.

So, this mode of writing is important, but it's not that difficult. Of course, my focus is to get them to use details--show not just tell--and to use strong words. These are skills we can use with other modes, of course. I've also been trying to encourage all of them to do more than the basic 5-paragraph essay for this type of writing. You know, it's great that they all know how to do that so well because it's a good foundation, and it will likely help them pass the exam. (Basic will pass, even if it is with the lowest score.) Oh, and that's about as much space as you have to write on the exam, too. But exams aside, how about running free with the stories inside your head? Write until finish your story. Pour your heart into it, make your reader feel something.

So, we need some topics that fire up the passion, right?

Oh, but sometimes I do give the topics that stifle the passion on purpose to practice for the exam, which has a lot of those kinds of topics. (Some of the topics seem good for journals, but longer essays? Eh.)

What I meant to do the other night was not to stifle the passions. We lit it the week before with some help from Sandra Cisneros, so I wanted to keep it going. Unfortunately, we also did not have a lot of time, so I chose a topic students could address fairly easily.

Write about your favorite family____________. You fill in the blank.

The night before, we did a quick class brainstorm about favorites. This is actually an idea I had after seeing one of those interests surveys which had students list a bunch of their favorites. I specifically attached "family" to it because students do like to talk about themselves, and in my experiences about the students at this school, they are fierce about their families.

So, some of the ideas we came up with to fill in the blank included: meal, food, member, vacation, adventure, home, holiday, event, and memory.

The night we did the brainstorming, students didn't balk at all. It was the last few minutes of the class where we'd done a bunch of mechanics work, so they were quite happy to talk about themselves and be allowed to blurt out ideas.

But the next night when they actually had to choose a topic and begin writing? That's when about a third of them began with the balking business. I tried to help them come up with topics, and many of the students struggled with the wording, as they really wanted to make the topic a thesis statement. I encouraged them to use synonyms for "favorite" if it fit better and reminded them it was a topic and not necessarily a sentence they must include in their writing. For those who adamantly proclaimed they didn't have family, I told them they could write about "friend" related things. It's irritating when I am bending and helping, and the students insist they have nothing to write about.

It was during those frustrating moments when I realized that the topic wasn't all that inspiring anyway. Furthermore, by the time students get to high school, they've probably pretty much tapped out many of the no-brainer narrative topics, including those about their families. If they aren't tired of the basic topics, I certainly am. Family, dreams, best moments, worst moments, learning lessons, coming of age, places you've been, people you've known, and blah, blah, blah.

Maybe I'm the one that's bored, but my students are difficult. Anyway, Houston, we have a problem. Bleah.

Okay, so a few things on the upside of narrative writing: I did have some students who were really inspired. One student was excited to write about a home he'd lived in another city. My ELL student wanted to write about his sister who has always been there for him and plodded away the night trying to find just the right words. Another student struggled with the idea that she wanted to write about her grandfather, but a lot of it was really also about his ranch in Mexico, so we discussed how perhaps the two could be connected.

My middle schoolers are experiencing narrative writing in a much different way. I see them every day, as opposed to two nights a week, and we have a literature text. They have been reading different types of narratives, and they have been writing in their writer's notebooks on related topics. Next week they will write a narrative on the topic of their choice. It will be a struggle for many, but they do have several brainstorms or beginnings to choose from. Or they should. I took a peek at their notebooks last week, and there are many who have NOTHING to work with for next week. One of my students told me that my class was so much fun. He's obviously not your typical English-hating kid because we've just been doing a lot of reading and writing--nothing fancy. But it pumped me up a little. They have been given many opportunities to think and play with words this week. For a few, that is fun.

Although I am more pleased with my technique with my middle schoolers, I will probably be feeling the same frustrations trying to pull some narratives of family, dreams, best moments, worst moments, learning, coming of age, places you've been, people you've known, and blah-blah-blah from them, too.
I think my plan for my high school students is better this week. We're going to write about rituals. Check back later this week if it sounds interesting.

September 22, 2006

Fun With Dirty Words

The story we used in class today included the word rubbers several times. I wasn't sure how my students would react, so I decided to deal with it if it came up. In my first class, it was the very first questions students had, "Miss, what are rubbers?" I believe they realized that it didn't fit in the context of the story, and of course you know it was the boy in the back who was just dying to see what I'd do or say.

So, what a nice vocabulary moment when I explained to my desert children that rubbers was another term for galoshes. (That drew blank stares.) I further explained that in places where it often rains or snows, people use these kind of boots over their shoes to keep them dry. These boots are made of rubber, thus some call them simply, rubbers. I told them I'm not entirely sure that that term is still popular today, afterall, I am a desert teacher.

I asked my students if I needed to clarify that term up front with the other classes. They agreed that it would be a good idea.

How fun: "Hey students, before we start the story, so you don't become confused, I need to tell you about a word that that is used differently than you've heard before. Today we are talking about rubbers."

It wasn't too embarrassing afterall. I just acted like it was really no big deal--which it isn't if you're not in middle school.

It went better than the impromptu lesson on the "different connotations of our vocabulary word groping" that I had to give during a game of vocabulary picture review that went so wrong last week. Not one person in the class thought the picture on the board looked like a person groping for another's arm. Not even me. Oh wait, that's not true. The sweet girl who drew the picture thought it did. (Thank you vocabulary book publisher! Thank you for giving us words with double meanings. Thank you.)

Anyway, my professional explanation of rubbers went pretty well until the last class period of the day. I forgot to prepare the students for this new term prior to beginning the story, and unfortunately, they reacted exactly how I was afraid they might. So, when I gave my little explanation, it only made them laugh harder.

And for some reason, it made me pause in embarrassment. Oh, yes! At that moment, I could see inside their adolescent minds. My explanation and pantomine of these rubber overshoes brought to mind a picture of a man putting a giant prophylactic over his shoes.

That's a hard image to get past, isn't it?

Thank goodness my students aren't sophisticated enough to stumble over raincoat and hat, too. That probably would have driven me under my desk.

I just keep telling myself that a lesser teacher would have chosen a different story just to avoid these exciting moments.

September 19, 2006

Death by Ennui...

is how I'm slowly killing my students.

Poor kids. Maybe their teacher can find some inspiration soon.

I gave my night students the dumbest writing topic tonight. I was barely a mile from the school, on my way home, when the revelation hit me that I need some more engaging ideas for them or we will not make it through the quarter, let alone the rest of the year.

Things are only slightly better with my other classes.

This isn't a rookie issue.

It's definately an issue that experienced, near burned-out teachers experience.

Is there some sort of pill I can take to bring back some creativity to my craft?

September 17, 2006

Where Were You?

Since it was my sweetie's graduation, his mother came to visit. When she comes, we have to do all the little tourist things around town. Last summer I had the privilege of seeing the Liberace Museum with her, and this year we visited The Elvis-a-rama Museum.

I was a lot more excited about Elvis than Liberace, but the museum had a lot of weird stuff like receipts of services Elvis had received and things--like clothes--Elvis had given to people, but they had donated back to the museum. (Mostly some crazy looking shirts--none of his rhinestoned outfits.) But keep in mind that this is a privately owned, off-strip museum that I don't even think is in a great neighborhood. And it's called Elvis-a-arama for cryin' out loud! In some ways it was kind of a sad collection of things people kept of a famous person. Just because he was famous...

Apparently it's closing next month, though, so just as well I saw it while I still could. And parts were kind of neat. Oh, and everything in the gift shop was being clearanced, so guess what my family is getting for Christmas?

But the weirdest time-warp thing happened to me...

There was this HUGE, cool mural of all the events the The King's life, and I told my mother-in-law that I had enjoyed that part. She then asked me, "How old were you in 1955?" I guess that was about the time Elvis started his career.

Let's old was I in 1955?

"Well, you told me you remember Elvis when you were in high school, and since I am married to your youngest son who is ten years my senior, how old do you think I was?"

Once, many years ago, one of my "older" friends asked me if I remembered where I was the day JFK was assassinated. I thought that was about the funniest thing since I was still years from being born. It's okay, though, because I guess I kind of have an old soul.

But clear back to 1955? Puleeeeeeeze!

Commencements Make Me Cry

I know it seems like a strange time of year to write about commencements, but I attended a very important one Friday night: my husband's!

I'm so proud of him for finally achieving this important goal. No, I did not marry a young guy who is just now graduating. I married someone nearly 10 years older, who after spending most of his early life in the military, wanted to start a second career in the technology field. He was already pretty talented with computers and had a few years work experience, but what he really needed was some formal schooling. Already, doors are beginning to open.

A state politician who is running for governor appeared as the guest speaker, but three students, the director, and a dean also spoke during the commencement. All of them commended the graduates and their families for the long struggle, and of course, spoke of the many paths of choice ahead. There was just so much hope for the future all in the air that it's hard not to feel the optimism cursing through you, as if you could somehow inhale it into your system.

It just gets me all choked up.

Anyway, I'm very happy for my sweetie. It's a pretty major undertaking to go back to school when you're in your 40's--especially when you have obligations to your family that you still need to fulfill. It has been a hard road, but now that it's behind us, it seemed like hardly any trouble at all. You're never to old to get more education, and you're never too old to reach for your dreams.

September 12, 2006

Desensitized in Nevada

One of my yearbook students thought we could do this whole casino and glamour theme for our yearbook. You know, because we're in Las Vegas and all. It was all I could do not to fall on the floor laughing.

Hey kids! Would you believe that there is no way in the paved hell down the Strip that we could promote gambling in our school?

I know it might seem strange since without gambling, who knows where we'd all be. I know it puts food on your table and takes food from mine, but noooooooooooooo, we cannot do a whole glitzy casino themed yearbook.

Although...we wouldn't have to think to hard to get some catchy titles going:

Makin' the Marker--8th Grade
Eye in the Sky--student life
Whales Rule!--student council
Dark Days--life outside of school
Sports Book Wins and Woes--sports
Rat Pack Comes Back--music
Confessions from the Pole--cheer and dance team
Bluffin' the Dealers--academics
Pit Bosses--administration

Uhm, yea. Let's NOT EVEN GO THERE!

If you need help getting the joke, check out these sites here, here, and here.

September 7, 2006

Stupid People Thursday

6:50 am: I hear a knock at my classroom door. So, I drop what I'm doing to walk across the room, where I find students standing outside.

Though the window I see a student, so I motion and say, "Turn the knob."
Then we have this inane dialogue about her concern that the door was locked, yet she didn't try it. And I complained about having to stop what I was doing to open an unlocked door, whereas the student replied that technically I didn't open the door. Well, of course not. I am a teacher. I just taught her to open the door herself. And these are my advanced kids.

7:00 am--1:15 pm: "Students, there is a place to put your name on the paper: please do so." Then I have to personally remind at least 10 students every class period to write his/her name on the paper.

12:55 pm: Four computer screens suddenly go black. "Miss! The computers died."

Calmly I say, "Well, one of you unplugged something. Check where your feet are."

Blank stares.

"Look. Under. The. Table. To. See. What. You. Unplugged."

3:00 pm Outside the kids' school, a parent pulls up to the curb in his tricked-out truck and waits for his children with his music blasting. Booming. Jarring my intestines. Whatever. The entire back seat of the truck was packed with sub-woofer speakers. The booming from his music could be heard--and felt--on campus, and my guess is probably in the classrooms.

3:08 pm Because people are double parked in the small neighborhood street in front of the school, I am blocked in, trapped in the car for 10 minutes--that's 10 minutes I could have been at my own house enjoying air conditioning, a cool drink, and the Dr. Phil Show.

9:45 pm Whose children are outside playing? Isn't it a school night? Even if you homeschool, isn't 10:00 pm a little late to let your children play outside, in the dark?

September 5, 2006

Slogging Along

These early days of the school year seem to move so slowly as we gear up for the real excitement. Students get used to sitting in my classroom, and I try to learn their names and personality quirks. It just seems to take FOREVER!

Today has been particularly long, and why I'm still awake, I cannot explain.

I endured a full day of no air conditioning in my classroom. The majority of the teachers and their students endured the same. I don't know how hot it was today, but it was no cooler than 100 degrees for sure. Some teachers were conducting class outside in the shady areas because it was slightly cooler outside and there was a little breeze. Crossing my fingers and toes that tomorrow it is nice and cool when I walk in the door. Just in case it's not, I'll be dressing down.

Needless to say, I didn't accomplish much work during my prep times as I was seeking pockets of campus with air conditioning.

Tonight I met with my night school students for the first time. It is a huge class, and try as I did to scare a few of them away, they didn't budge. It's not like I wouldn't love to teach them all, but what I find is that the numbers tend to thin as students just quit showing up until they are dropped. It's exhausting trying to track all these in-and-out students, and there have been times when one night I would have a group of students, but then the next night there would be a different mix of students--like the students tag-teamed taking days off. I'm not teach a drop-in program, yo!

So, mostly what I do is make it very clear how work intensive it us. Luckily I had several students from last year who could confirm that although there is a lot of work that it is pretty tough to fail unless you just stop coming or refuse to do any work. And considering that the class doesn't even start until 8:00pm, those students who sit and do nothing eventually just stop showing up. See how that works? Show up and learn something--and earn some credits. Give and stop coming--try to get your credits in another class. It's all about how determination.

Last year I did have an oddity of a student. He came every single night but would not do any work. If I sat with him and gave him undivided attention, he might do half. (He did have an IEP and language acquisition problems, so I went the extra mile to accomodate him.) He ended up failing two quarters and I asked to have him removed since he was just wasting his time. It's too bad for him because I did have a lot of patience. What I didn't have was a little student cooperation.

Based on tonight's class, I think I have a couple who won't make it, and a couple who are going to push my buttons all the time. I had them write a letter to me, and I was pleased with the quantity of writing they did. At least they aren't afraid to put the pencil to the paper. I'll look at the quality later this week and plan for them. Half the class needs help passing the state writing proficiency, while the other half has already passed it. Isn't that just a typical classroom variety?

A few students became very excited when I told them I was actually going to read their letters because I would help them with whatever their issues happened to be. Most of it is whole class instruction, but I usually do have time to work one-on-one with students. One girl in particular told me she wants to know more about pronouns. Uhm, huh? So I asked her if she just wanted to know how to identify them, and she said that was part of it. She has just always been confused by them. Now, I know indefinite pronouns can be troublesome, but I am curious as to what exactly her issues are. Sometimes students get hung up on problems they had in elementary school...I mean, when it comes to learning the parts of speech at the high school level, particulary in a writing class, it's all about the application.

So, I'm off to first class starts at 7:00 am. Wouldn't that be something if I were sleep deprived and sweating like crazy when I greet them? Let's hope not. We have more slow-mo work of getting this year cranked into action.

September 4, 2006

Life Notes from the Director

I'm trying to find this file I made last year for my night class. I can't find it yet, but I came across these director's notes from a few years ago. You didn't know I directed plays, too? Well, I don't anymore. That was one of my jobs at my last school. "Coaching" drama was usually frustrating, but on the night of the performances I would get all sentimental. Now, I'm no Robert Fulgum--although we did put on All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten one year--I think these are rather profound words of wisdom.


HappyChyck's Director’s Notes from
That High School’s production of
Neil Simon’s Fools

This year we have a lot of new talent. It seems like there is just not enough time to prepare these students for everything they will experience in their first performance. Tonight these notes are for the cast members more than for the audience because the more I think about it, the more being in drama provides many life lessons. There are some lessons, however, that everyone can enjoy:
  1. “Cheat!” In theater that actually means to face forward so people can see you. Don’t turn your back on the audience. I can see where this might be confusing to the students who also have me in English class when I say, “Don’t cheat!” That’s a different lesson book, though.
  2. “Project!” Speak up so people can hear you.
  3. “Be on time!” Well, we are still working on that. Maybe if I make them run laps like the basketball coaches do…
  4. “Put plastic down before you begin painting the sets.” “Don’t wear your good clothes when painting.” Parents, I swear I keep telling your students the latter one.
  5. “Guys, do not wear white socks with dress shoes.” If you are asking, “Why?” right now, I roll my eyes at you, too.
  6. “Do your best and have fun.” That one alone is important to remember every day.

The biggest life lessons that will be learned by our young actors tonight during the performance cannot be articulated. It has nothing to do with the storyline of the play. It has to do with having—or not having—theater in your blood. Here’s a big secret for you, the audience. While you watch, earth-moving things are happening to the actors. We don’t always see the effects right away, so don’t look too hard. Don’t worry, as audience members you are simply expected to just sit back and be entertained…relax and laugh…If you learn some profound life lesson from tonight’s experience, that’s okay, too.