October 31, 2007

Joining the Crazies

At the last minute I decided to dress up and participate this lame holiday we call Halloween. I rarely go all out, but the last few years I've tried to make a sincere effort. Unfortunately, I guess my sense of humor is just too bizarre for most people.

In 2004, I dressed up as myself in 25 years. I thought it was a subtly brilliant idea, but my students didn’t even notice that I had wrinkles and gray hair, nor did they notice my insanely tacky, cheesy old-lady clothing. Perhaps it spoke more of my rudimentary theater makeup skills and my lack of current fashion sense than my students’ observation skills, but I seriously doubt it. That was the year I almost quit teaching. Ironically those students gave me real wrinkles and gray hair. (Also, very few students in my classes dressed up, so it was just another day for me to look like a fool.)

In 2005, the objective of my costume was to be unusual and comfortable. I stole an idea I read somewhere about attaching a big yellow circle to white t-shirt and putting on devil horns and a tail to become a deviled egg. (After I made it, I spotted a packaged costume with that same concept.) Very few people guessed what I was, and most of the students, once told, were still quite confused.

In 2006, with comfort and creativity still the most important idea, I donned a pink sweat suit, draped and wrapped myself in a plastic tablecloth and went to school as bubblegum—the ABC kind. My students ended up taking guesses about my costume, and their guesses were much more creative that what I actually was. Technically, I was a fat chick dressed in way too much pink. The lengths I go to humiliate myself.

So, what did I come up with this year? I almost came up with nothing, as I didn't want to spend any money--nor much time putting it together. Gotta get use out of that Hawaiian shirt I bought for a luau last summer. I know, I know. How boring. A tourist. But never fear! I tweaked it a little by adding a third eye, thus becoming a tourist from another planet.

Everyone loves a vacation in Vegas, baby!

October 30, 2007

A Great Day to Succeed!

My night school students are incredulous that they have to come to school on Halloween Night. Most of them won't come, but there are about 50 students who need to attend because tomorrow is the state proficiency writing exam.

You know the proficiency exam that determines whether students can graduate? (Okay, so they do have more than one chance to take the exam.) The same proficiency exam that determines AYP for high schools? Yea, that proficiency exam.

Night school students have to suffer because they'd rather run the streets like wild animals go trick or treating. Boo-hoo. We feel so sorry for them. Taking an important test isn't going to affect regular high schools on Halloween because the students will surely attend during the day since all the fun is at night.

Yea, and in what crazy costumes will these students be taking this exam? Will their minds be on this important test? Will they be all hyped up on Smarties?

I believe that most of us teachers try to carry on with school during these crazy holidays. Sure, maybe we deviate from the regular curriculum and do something related to the spooks within our content area, but do we plan important tests on Halloween? (Or on Valentine's Day? Or Homecoming Week? Or the day before Winter Break?) I doubt it.

The hardcore teachers don't care what holiday it is or what teen distraction there might be when they plan exams. Of course, it's up to the students to grow up and be prepared. I can respect that point of view.

When it comes to graduation rates and meeting AYP, would even the hardest, most cynical teacher still give a test?

I wonder.

So, who exactly in the state department of education thought that it would be a good idea to administer a state-wide proficiency exam on Halloween? I'm sure there are teachers and testing administrators asking this question in every single high school in the state.

October 29, 2007

Game On!

Beginning of the 2nd quarter. Lesson plans in on time. Quarter project information delivered to my students. A plan in place...for the most part.

November is going to be exasperating. We begin the month with two day of testing. During one day in the second week, our team will be out of the classroom to participate in a special event sponsored by the social studies teacher. The third week will begin on Wednesday, as we all take Veteran's Day off, and then the student get to enjoy an additional day while we teachers have an in-service day. The following week is, of course, Thanksgiving. Oh poo! I just remembered that the English department has planned a mock writing proficiency exam that week--you know because it's such a difficult week to count on students showing up anyway. Finally, at the end of the month, I'll get a full week of instruction.

So what are we doing? Writing and reading My students will be writing a book this quarter in the spirit The House on Mango Street. Basically, it will be a book of vignettes about their own lives. I tried to convince them that it wouldn't be so painful because each piece of writing will start in their writer's notebooks, which is something my students are accustomed to anyway. They just aren't used to having to polish every piece they write in their notebooks.

I'm also going to introduce writing response groups into my classroom this month. I had been spoiled the last few years because the 7th grade teacher trained them on the protocol, which she modified from our work in the Southern Nevada Writing Project, so I was able to jump right into using response groups without much modeling. The students I have this year had a different teacher last year, so I will need to establish the protocol. I'm a little rusty at it, and I am sure I'll forget some important points that I'll need to make it run more smoothly, but it will be well worth it when we get going. (I keep telling the students that, too. They are skeptical of permanent response groups.)

Although I'm not ready to present it to my students yet, I am raising the bar on their reading goals this quarter. I'm still irritated that some of them chose not to do any reading at all last quarter. (Some of them appeared to be reading, but I believe they did not follow through and actually finish anything--in 6 weeks!) I spent some time collaborating with the librarian today, and she helped me firm up some ideas on some specific reading tasks I'm going to ask my students to complete this quarter. Of course, these reading tasks aren't just reading...there will be thinking and writing, too.

Reading, thinking, and writing. That's right, students. This isn't cushy first quarter, anymore. Game on.

October 28, 2007


I'm going from persistent absence from this blog, which was so bad that my Dad called to see if I was still alive, to participating in NaBloPoMo. Frumteacher's and pissedoffteacher's comments from my last post struck a cord with me. Yes, it is therapeutic, and ranting blogging does help bring clarity to this crazy life.

I seriously contemplated NaBloPoMo last year, but didn't think I could do it, mostly because I was planning on being gone for the holiday. As it turns out my stepson came down with some infectious disease, so we had to stay home. (Those of you who followed the whole Thanksgiving trauma series know some infectious disease was to be expected. I'll link back to the series closer to the holiday.) I did make a sincere effort last November to blog more frequently, and I believe I did post 17 days. That's much better than going 17 days between posts, aye?

October 26, 2007

Back from Being Buried Alive

I understand the teachers who go missing from their blogs for weeks, but I can't understand those of you who somehow find the time to blog everyday. I know it's a discipline, but I've a few weeks where I seriously could not find the time. I thought about it a lot, though! So, here are some random ideas in HappyChyck's brain:

  • Safety Issues. I noticed in the news that there was a gang/race riot in the area where I work last night. Specifically, it was in the neighborhood where I work and drive through at night. Note to self: It might seem quiet at night, but when residents are quoted as saying that fights happen there often, they know more than you do.
  • ChChChChanges.We've had a change in administration at our school in the last month. Our wonderful principal was offered a job in the district office. You can't go around being Principal of the Year, leading a Title 1 Distinguished Award-winning school, and dragging a school up from Watch List to Meeting AYP (and High Achieving one year) without getting snatched up by district level administration. It's been a rough few weeks for us, but the district wisely hired our vice-principal to take over as principal, so we are again in safe and competent hands. Our new principal is not as beloved as our old principal, but those who don't love her are quite happy with having the devil we know at the helm. I get along quite well with the devil and am happy for her promotion. Isn't it nice to have administrators that we hold in esteem?
  • Get a Book! For the most part, my students read a lot of books. Some do it willingly, while some are forced. We use Accelerated Reader at our school, although it is more elementary geared and we 8th grade teachers don't do much with it. I use to to set reading goals for my students, and these goals are based on individual reading abilities. Meeting the AR goal counts as a test grade at the end of the quarter, and it's basically an independent project. It should be something every students can do during a quarter, yet every year I have students who do not read even one book! This quarter it I had about 20 students who chose not to read anything. Therefore, they also chose to take a 0% on a test grade. Assessments are weighted at 50% of their grades. Average a 0% into that, kiddo! Can anyone explain to me how damn hard it is to read a couple of books in a quarter--especially when it's a standing homework assignment to read 30 minutes a night?
  • What Essay, Miss? It took me two weeks to give feedback to my students on an essay. I cannot believe what a struggle it is! Sure, I only teach one English prep, but when papers are due, there are over 100 of them. It took me a few years to figure out why it has become so hard for me to process essays. At my last school I taught 2-4 preps, but I certainly did not assign essays all at the same time. So, if I had over 100 essays waiting to be graded or evaluated it was my own poor planning. Now, it's just life. Unfortunately, some of my students waited so long to get their essays back that they forgot about them. (Student mentality: I did it. It's done. Don't give it back to me.)
  • What if... While I've been buried under a mountain of essays, I've caught myself daydreaming about a different path my life might have gone down if I had made a few different choice. I was hired for my first teaching job just days before school started. I didn't want to leave Utah, but there weren't any full time jobs in hometown area, so I did apply all over the West. I also applied for some less-than-desirable jobs in my hometown area, just in case I didn't get a teaching position. The whole idea of not getting a teaching position was an fear I'd had, so minored in business information systems, thinking that if I had to I could work in an office. (The need for computer knowledge and skills was just becoming a necessity when I was in college.) I had some opportunities on that business/computer related path that came up just about the time I left Utah to take a position in rural Nevada. (By the way,CaliforniaTeacherGuy's Jewel School Town sounds suspiciously like my rural Nevada town.) One was for as a computer lab "aide" at an elementary school 3o miles away, and the other was for a computer/keyboarding instructor at the local technical college. Both were part time. Part time work does not pay the bills, especially when student loans are coming due. Although I really wanted to stay in my hometown area, I needed a full time teaching job. Of course, I made the right and only decision I had to move to Nevada, I can't help but wonder where the business/computer path would have eventually taken me. Probably not chained to a bottomless file folder of ungraded essays...
  • Mama Drama. Last weekend, I discovered that my stepchildren, who live with us, had Myspace accounts. Wow, pretty interesting considering that they don't have e-mail addresses and their computer usage is monitored and limited! The edgiest site they visit is Starfall.com--they are only 6 and 8 years old, afterall! It took a few days, but after notifying Myspace, the accounts were deleted. As it turns it, the accounts were new, and it was one of the first thing my first grader told us about when he came home from visiting his maternal family: "I got a Myspace!" (We found the spaces first, though.) Of course, the accounts were created so the kids could communicate with other family members, and that is a nice idea, but a tad ignorant. I seriously doubt our kids would fall prey to pedophilic predators on Myspace, but Myspace is an adult space. It is designed for adults and features adult things. Here I mean simply, grown-up, but we all know there are other kinds of adult things that young eyes could accidentally stumble upon--more easily there than another other place young people might go. In fact, these other kinds of adult things can be found on profiles of their own family members. Talk about poor judgment! I don't really consider myself conservative, but I feel like such a Pollyanna in trying to keep our children innocent, and well, simply children in our world.

October 17, 2007

Wasted Class Time

Forget how many hours a year are wasted waiting for students to pass their papers in.

Forget how many hours a year are wasted when kids pack up their things two minutes early.

Forget how many hours a year are wasted digging in backpacks for the assignment that should have been ready at the beginning of class.

Forget how many hours a year are wasted dealing with computer problems.

I'd like to know...

How many hours a year are wasted watching Ms. HappyChyck
--reduced to a cartoon-character of a teacher--
as she struggles to get the projector screen to stay down?

October 13, 2007

The Great Shoelace Rebellion

I heard whisperings that Friday would be No-Shoelace Day. I didn't think anything of it because there is a group of 8th graders who like to declare special dress-up days on Fridays. We've already had Greaser Day (in remembrance of a group of boys who were at our school last year) and Cowboy Day (uhm, yea) this year. It's a pretty small group of students, mostly girls, who have their little fun, and considering these little theme days must work within our dress code (solid colors, and collared shirts), an outsider probably would not even realize they were dressed differently. It mostly has to do with hair and accessories, of course.

Before school started on Friday I had dozens of students in my classroom trying to print their weekly assignments for Ms. Social Studies, and while they were in line, many of them were discussing whether they would remove their shoelaces or not. As it turns out, one of their classmates was written up for dress code violation because he had taken the shoelaces out of his shoes. Of course, this was just wrong in their eyes because there isn't any such rule about not having shoelaces. So, they were going to show those deans and not wear their shoelaces, too.

A couple of students asked to borrow safety pins on Friday morning, and it turns out they were using them to hold their shoes on after they removed their laces. Once I learned what they needed the safety pins, I reminded them that shoelaces serve a purpose. Determined to make a point, they ignored me while shuffling around with the tongues of their Chucks flopping around.

Ah, the rebellion! Cracks me up.

I decided that perhaps they didn't want to hear the reason why not having shoelaces might be a problem. God forbid that we should have to evacuate the school with these loose-shoed teens. And people, that is not a far-fetched idea. We've had fires at our school twice in the years I've been here, and just last week we had to evacuate because of a gas leak on the adjacent construction site of our new school. Oh, well. I'm an adult. I'm way over 30, and I don't know anything.

Instead, I went next door to share laughter with the 7th grade English teacher who had my group of students last year. We giggled and rolled our eyes over our goofy kids. She told me that particular group of students did have a tendency to get riled up. She admitted that had she not been a first year teacher last year, she might have been able to channel their rebellious energy into something positive. (Sounds like a challenge to me, doesn't it?)

I'm not sure if anything came of the great rebellion. I know a few students were late to class because they were detained so they could lace their shoes. I also know the student who had first endured the injustice earned himself two days of detention, but I don't know if it was related to his shoelaces.

Throughout the day I'd hear snippets of conversation related to the shoelace rebellion, but it wasn't until after lunch that I found a copy of the student handbook where I looked up the dress code. Okay, so I fell down on the job because it plainly says (in kid speak, not lawyer speak) that if students wear shoes that have laces, those laces should be laced. Of course rather than being mildly amused by their antics, I should have set them straight and enforced the code. Oops!

I do feel a little bad for my students, though. The code pertaining to shoes is black and white. There was nothing to dispute. Those shoes came with laces? Wear them! Poor kids wasted their energy on an issue where they were clearly in the wrong.

I'm sure they'll find a better cause next week.

October 11, 2007

Be Nimble

We don't use lockers at our school. I think it has to do with overcrowding issues. We check out textbooks for students to take home and leave there for the year so they don't have to pack a bunch of books around.

However, most students still have plenty of binders and notebooks that they need to carry to each class in giant Jansport backpacks. As you can imagine, it is sometimes hard to walk down the aisles in my classroom with all the backpacks. But wait! Don't forgot the laptop cases, the gym bags, and the occasional musical instrument. My students have some serious baggage.

Although, I'm constantly leaping and tripping over student stuff, I've never actually fallen down. (Knock on wood.) It used to irritate me that I can't even comfortably walk around my own classroom, but then I decided that constantly running obstacle courses (it changes each period and each day) keeps me young and spry. At least once a day I do trip and appear to nearly fall. Some students inevitably get a chuckle, but I blow it off: "As if that doesn't happen a dozen times a day!"

Today I walked into a colleague's room while the students were watching a video. It was dark, and my eyes hadn't adjusted by the time I started my way to the back of the room. I ended up doing (in my mind) a typical tiny trip where I caught myself by going into a double flip, a leap and then another trip until I came out at the end of the row. Very graceful.

Okay, for those whose eyes were adjusted to the dark, what it really looked like was Ms. HappyChyck nearly tripping over over three backpacks and a cello case before stumbling into the teacher's desk at the back of the room.

In any case, there was applause. And laughing... But applause, too!

I'm that good.

(Knock on wood, again.)

October 8, 2007

The Nerve

I just found out tonight that I won't be paid for my part-time night school teaching job until the end of next month. Now, I'm well aware of the fact that there's always a delay in these kinds of things, and we only get paid for extra duty-type things on the paycheck at the end of month, but I was certainly expecting my first payment at the end of this month.

What the cause? Apparently my position is being paid by a grant this year, and at the district level there was a screw up about the availability of those funds for me to be paid this month. The secretary was really nice--and concerned and apologetic--about it, and she apparently told the principal that she hoped we (a couple of other teachers are in the same boat) didn't quit over this. Nay, I wouldn't quit, but I'm irritated.

I was ten times irritated when I found out that the principal said, "Oh, they won't mind." Really? Is that what he thinks of us? That we wouldn't mind working for three months without seeing any pay? Perhaps he's like to do that! Now, it might be different if the principal knew me, and if he perhaps he knew I spent my extra pay on shoes or Urban Decay cosmetics. But the man doesn't know me. What if I work this extra job to pay my $3o0 electric bills? (Imagine my shock when I got my first electric bill at our new house.) What if I work to pay off student loans? What if I work so I can retire early? What if I were a single mother trying to raise her kids on one income only?

Seriously! The nerve of some people thinking that I wouldn't mind teaching for free.

(Okay, it's technically, not free at all since I will get paid eventually, but you know what I mean...)

October 6, 2007

A Good Day with Students and Will

This week I had one of those teacher moments when I was just so proud and happy that I just wanted to cry.

I took a sixty students to see Twelfth Night in a Shakespeare-in-the-schools type of program. This little field trip had been the works since last spring when I attended a Saturday seminar, which was a requirement for me to be invited to bring students to the program. Another teacher who had participated in the program in the past has helped along the way, and she helped me organize the whole thing and then also helped chaperone.

We left the school quite early in the morning so we could arrive at the theater on time even if there were problems and so that we could possible get good seats. I warned the students up front that it would be a day of hurry up and wait. You know like Disneyland. We were going to hurry up and get there, but it was likely that we'd be there 30 minutes before the performance. Afterward, we'd have to wait to be dismissed by school, and then we'd have to hurry to board the bus so we could get back in time for lunch at school.

I also did the quick lesson on theater etiquette, where I told them they better be about to vomit if they need to go to the restroom during a performance, otherwise it wasn't happening. We also went over the difference in how we appreciate actors as opposed to athletes. There was some threatening going on, but then I also appealed to their pride when I mentioned the rumors that our students are the best behaved whenever we take them out on field trips. I wouldn't know, though, as I don't like field trips.

And wouldn't you know it? My students were so patient (we ended up being there an hour early because the performance didn't start on time thanks to other schools coming in late) and they earned a prize (a poster signed by all the actors) from the program directors for displaying exemplary theater etiquette. Of course, I took only the students who wanted to go to the performance, but there were some students that I wouldn't have expected to go. The wiggliest kid I've had in five years sat behind me, and he was even able to sit somewhat still during the waiting and the performance.

While we were all waiting, seated near the front of the theater, in this beautiful open-air pavilion, I looked over all my students who were quietly visiting with each other, excited for the performance to begin, and my heart just swelled. What a perfect day to share a theater experience with a wonderful group of students!

What my students don't know is that event will likely be a memory that sticks with them for life. How do I know? I remember the cool field trips I went on when I was a student (like the Ramses II exhibit more than 20 years ago), and I certainly remember the first Shakespearean performance I ever attended (much into my adulthood for that one). Oh, I know it wasn't the first Shakespearean play for many of them, but I know it will still stick with them, as it will with me, for quite some time.

P.S. Later in the day during class, the students asked what the other chaperone and I had been laughing at during the play. Parts were very funny! We've been working with the play for weeks now, but many of my students still did not know what was going on as they were watching the play. I'm bummed that they weren't as tickled as I was, but they've been exposed. Besides, they claimed that the other teacher and I were the only ones laughing. I'm not ashamed. I need a good laugh.

October 3, 2007

Let the Crippled Kid Do It

My students had to do group dramatic presentations today for our conclusion of our study of Twelfth Night. (We're going to see a performance this week, too!) I asked that one person in each group write the names of the people in the group and information about the scene on a large note card. This was the easiest way for me to record who was in each group and take notes on the presentations without spending all my time writing their names down.

One of the cards was barely legible, so I called out and asked who made the card for the group.

"Andy did it!"

"Oh, really? That's nice. Make the kid with a broken arm do the writing! Who's doing the thinking in that group?"

That was definitely a banging-my-head-on-the-wall moment. You have to love the kid who is struggling to write with his opposite arm but is so happy to pull his own share in the group--even if it's so wrong!

This reminds me of a student I had in summer school a few years back. When it was time to clean up the room at the end of the day, he had no problem getting down on the floor to pick up little bits of paper. Some of his classmates were too cool to clean up after themselves and each other, but not this kid. Yea, that would be the kid who had no fingers on his hands crawling around picking up bits of this and that. Amazing.

I love it when students don't treat their disabled classmates differently, and I love it even more when those disabled students don't let anything get in the way of living; however, isn't there a time when it's okay to help a kid out without injuring his pride? It's an interesting relationship between kindness and acceptance.

October 2, 2007

Where Would We Be Without Jack?

I bought a new flash drive for my publications staff this week. The old one had a tendency to hold files hostage, so it had to retire. We do virtually everything electronically, and at this time, the only way we can easily move newspaper articles to the editor is through a flash drive. Of course, we use a flash drive for various other things, too. It's an important tool to our staff.

When I plugged it in to my computer the first time, I couldn't stand to see the "Untitled" icon pop up. I just had to name the flash drive.

"Hey guys! What should we name our new flash drive?"

Of course, I had a lot of blank looks at that question.

"You know, when you put it in, it pops up with a name. We need a name."

"Uh, how 'bout Publications?" Duh, Ms. HappyChyck.

"Too boring. Too obvious. That was the name of the one we used to have. You know, the one that would take your articles by never given them back. We need something fun. How about Armando?"

I really only had a handful of staff members who wanted to play along with my little game, but that's all I needed. We negotiated different names, and it in the end it was almost named Bob. That's always a funny name. In the end, we settled for the hippest character played by my adolescent heart throb, Johnny Depp. That's right, our flash drive is name for pirate Jack Sparrow.

I know you were thinking maybe Tom Hansen, Edward Scissorhands, CryBaby, or Gilbert Grape. Any of those would have been wonderful, but none of them are pirates. And pirates are cool, matey!

Since his name is Jack, he probably should be named Jack Flash. But he's not.

It took a few minutes for my students to warm up to the idea that our flash drive had a name.

One of them would ask, "Can I use the flash drive?"

And I would reply, "You have to ask for it by name."

Sigh. "Can I use Jack Sparrow?"


A few days have passed and everyone--even the serious boy who never speaks to us--asks for Jack by name.

I have to admit I have had my doubts about this little inside joke we have on the staff now. I try not to snicker though:

"Where's Jack?"
"I need to use Jack!"
"I don't know where Jack is."
"Who has Jack?"
"Maria has Jack. Go get him from her."
"Is Jack being used?"
"I'm using Jack!"