November 30, 2007

Crossing the Finish Line

NaBloPoMo wasn't as bad as I thought would be, but I am glad it's over. Some nights I could not think of anything to say as my drowsy head bobbed over the keyboard. I think I have fewer readers than I did when I started at the beginning of the month, and I've thought about giving up this blog several times over the last month. Oh! And the whole issue about finding errors after I've posted just about every day nearly drove me nutty.

As a writing teacher, I am proud of myself for taking the time to write every single day. The more I push myself to come up with something to write, the more I can relate to my students as writers. I started this blog in 2005 as a personal project for the Southern Nevada Writing Project Summer Institute, and before that summer, I hadn't written anything on a consistent basis in more than 5 years. I might have produced a piece of original writing about twice a year. (Uhm, can I count the Northwest Accreditation document?) It was so painful for me to produce writing to share on a daily basis that summer. However, just like I tell my students, writing takes time and practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. As long as I keep writing everyday or even a few times a week, I feel more honest in how and what I teach my students about writing.

November 29, 2007

Crabbyturkey Snippypants

The title? That's my Grinch name according to a link a friend sent to me. I think it was rather fitting of my mood this morning. And I'm not talking about Grinch and the holiday season. I'm talking about Grinch as a lifestyle.

Yesterday I sent notices home to parents that their students were either failing or on the verge of failing. E-mail in my box, a parent visit this morning, and a note from a parent all before the first class started. It was the note that set me off. It was quite cordial but if you read between the lines it went something like this:

My perfect child cannot possibly be getting a D in your class. She does not understand how to use programs on the computer, nor does she know how to turn in assignments. You have neglected her and now she is failing. Please teach her how to use the computer and the programs.

I'm completely broken-hearted that I've done such a terrible job. For two months that poor child has been lost! It seems to be a selective lost because sometimes she is able to figure out how to use that bewildering piece of technology in front of her as she does have some assignments in.


You know I couldn't let that slide. Teenagers for breakfast anyone?

November 28, 2007

Don't Pick on My Book

According to one of my students, we are behind in our class because his friend, who is in another school in another part of the city, is studying Edgar Allen Poe right now. We aren't studying Poe right now, as we are studying The House on Mango Street by Cisneros.

I guess my student has seen a curriculum guide that I have not that actually details what work of literature should be taught at what point in the year. Ha! As far as I know, it doesn't exist. I explained to the student that I don't have to teach specific works. I have to teach specific skills.

Oh. Completely dejected he is.

What's the point of The House on Mango Street? This is the question I get from the boy who would rather read Poe.

What would be the point in reading Poe? That is the question I would like to ask him. Unfortunately, that would begin a pointless debate with a discontent, precocious 8th grader.

Feels like a dig to me. Poke the teacher. See if she bites.

After years of having to defend the literature we read in class, I'm afraid that I might enter each unit with insincere passion. No matter how much I love the work, I know my love will be constantly tested by that group of students who just cannot be pleased. Realistically, I suppose it is difficult to expect that every piece of literature should be loved by every student.

It's just that...well...

This student criticism of literature I love to teach is like relationship baggage that I carry around from book to book and year to year. I can't share all of my joy because I've been hurt in the past.

I blame it on To Kill a Mockingbird. I joyfully read and taught that book every year for seven years, often sharing my first time experiences of reading TKM when I was in 9th grade with my students. For every single one of those seven years, teaching that book was a long, painful fight with too many students. In the end, yes, I did have students who proclaimed it the best book they had ever read. Those were beautiful moments. And right behind the enlightened group, the rowdy, culturally inept would moan and complain in an attempt to destroy everything good and true in TKM.

Why be so cruel to destroy one's love for a book? Mean kids. It hurts. It really does.

Cisneros? Poe? Lee? Shakespeare? Seuss? What's the point in reading any work of literature. I'd rather not say. The work will defend itself if only given the opportunity.

November 27, 2007

Did I Really Have to Tell You That?

This quarter I am asking my students to stretch their independent reading interests by reading about real people who are different from them. The first book task requires that students read a biography or an autobiography. In addition, the book has to be within the student's reading level, it must have chapters and not be a graphic biography. (Nothing against graphic biographies here, but the book report is going to be created in Comic Life, so it would have been odd.)

Although we have a wonderful library and a librarian who is a magician in matching kid to book, I did tell my students that they could find a book at the public library. Of course, they should show me the book. The vast majority of the time, I have nothing to say about a book a students chooses, so it's a formality that I don't make a big deal about.

Needy Nelly had been telling me for a few days that she picked out a book, but she wasn't sure if it was okay. So, today she brought in her book, a lovely coffee table book about Fernando Botero. Sure, it had a lot of pictures, but it also had chapters, and there was as much text in her book as most books her classmates had in theirs. Unfortunately, the book was written entirely in Spanish.

Nelly did not understand why she couldn't use the book for her assignment.


Did I really need to make that part of the criteria? Students, since this is an English class, be sure your read books in English. Your bilingual abilities are indeed impressive, but for this course we will be practicing skills in just one language, and that will be ENGLISH.

November 26, 2007

Looking Inside

Have you seen BODIES the Exhibition? I've been spending a little time looking at the information website this evening because my students are going to see it next week.

BODIES has been in here in Las Vegas for quite some time, yet I've not had a burning desire to see it. However, I am sure I will be simply fascinated, as I hope my students are, too. Looking forward to exciting adventure next week!

November 25, 2007

You Were Always On My Mind

Thankfully it's nearly dinnertime instead of midnight as I finish my plans for the week. It's the first full week of instruction I've had in a long time, and my students are juggling a few different things right now.

I didn't think I had much planning to do today, but then the deeper I dove into my lesson planning, more things kept popping up on my mental to-do list. Sunday, or not, that's such a teacher thing, isn't it? Even if my in-box is cleared, copies made, and lessons planned, in the back of my mind I can't help but think of what I can do to plan up coming units. I don't think my mind is ever totally free of on-going list. Nope, not even in the summer. I'm much better at blocking it out when I want to enjoy life, but that list is always lurking.

Teaching is the only career I've ever had, so I wonder if people in other careers also have the ever-lurking to-do list. I also wonder what it would be like to a completely checked off to-do list.

November 24, 2007

Got USB?

My sweetie took me to Fry's, his favorite place in the world, to buy an inexpensive flash drive to replace the rascal Jack. Unfortunately the 1 GB drive for $7.99 was sold out, but we found another bargain-priced one. Yeah for us!

Before making the final decision, we stopped to ask one of the department consultants (so nicely dressed in his shirt and tie) if the drive was compatible with Macs. The packaging didn't say, but I have a drive by the same manufacturer, so I was confident it would work. My sweetie, who is mystified by Macs and remembers the one time I bought a drive that did not work with my computer, wanted to be 100% sure.

The consultant didn't know, but he did study the information on the container to find the same absence of information we did.

Finally he said, "Does it your Mac have USB?"

Evidently, Macs are mystifying to him, too.

"Yes," I answered.

"Then, it will work," he said.

Keep in mind, I am not the computer nerd here. My sweetie is the nerd. The consultants at Fry's are usually nerdier that he is.

As we were walking away, I said to my sweetie, "Does my computer have USB? Seriously! Don't all computers have USB?"

Of course it might be rather ignorant of me to believe so, but I haven't met a computer that didn't have USB--or rather I've never met one that didn't have a port or two when I needed one. Even my antiquated Micron that sitting in the garage has USB.


November 23, 2007

Half Price Makes Me Happiest

My sweetie and I were among those crazy people who went shopping before dawn today.

While waiting in various lines today, I did wonder if it was worth my time to save some money. Afterall, we weren't looking for big-ticket items, and we could be pretty flexible in what to get the kids. Nobody is just dying to get any particular thing. Thank goodness! (Besides, I do understand that the kids will finally decide on something they want just a few days before Christmas, but by then it will be too late for Santa to do anything...) So, was it truly necessary for me to do things like stand out in the cold for 30 minutes so I could shop for 10 minutes and then stand in line for 45 minutes to pay for some toys and games?

Now that the day is over, I can say that is was worth my time, but in most cases I don't feel like I really found some great deals. Mostly I feel like I paid what some items were worth, which is about 50% of their retail prices. I'm not sure if that's because of my ideas toward the quality of products or if I'm so bargain obsessed that it pains me to pay full price for anything!

November 22, 2007

I'm Thankful For...

  • My harmonious family
  • A stable life
  • A rewarding livelihood
  • Supportive friends
  • Freedom to read, learn, and grow
  • A cozy home

November 21, 2007

Back from the Dead: Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

Here we are on Thanksgiving Eve! I'm spending my evening on the couch just hanging out with my sweetie. No cares in the world! The kids are with their grandparents for the holiday, so it is quiet, and I have no obligations. My sweetie and I are playing this little game to see who is finally going to give in and turn on the furnace for the first time. (It's down to 56º outside right now, and for us that is close enough to freezing!)

We have no big plans tomorrow. When we get hungry enough, we'll make a decision about which buffet we should go to, or maybe well just go up the road to the old-fashioned neighborhood diner. Who knows? Maybe turkey won't sound good, and I'll go ahead and make some steamy cabbage soup.

Blasphemy. I know.

(However, it would be acceptable if I were to "Save a turkey! Eat tamales!" as my students suggested today, right?)

It's time to review my history of Thanksgivings, which I wrote about in a special Thanksgivings Past series last year. I present them in the random order in which they were triggered in my head in a kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion.


It all started with a picture that my stepson brought home. Something about that turkey wearing a pot leaf triggered a memory about a melancholy Thanksgiving I spent with a friend of mine.

Thinking about that day triggered a memory of the year that I hosted my first Thanksgiving, but The Moms had difficulty relinquishing control.

Although my Thanksgivings have been pretty awful, I did stop to think about a particularly pleasant time when my parents and brother came to visit me here in Nevada.

Last year I did discuss the idea of having my own traditions, and the next post in the series tells about some lovely times I have spent in rural Idaho with an adopted family, but then the post takes a bittersweet turn as I reflected on the pains of motherhood, which as a new full-time stepmom, were very fresh struggles for me last year.

I finished off the pity party with my very first terrible Thanksgiving. You know the one where I met some very nice firemen and wished I could have met a nice locksmith, too.

Happy Thanksgiving--Present!

November 20, 2007

Cold As a Frozen Turkey Butt

Would you stand outside in the frigid winter air for an hour on a Saturday morning for the chance to win a turkey? Would you do it for five Saturdays in a row? Would you keep up the ritual for decades? My mother would.

Every year between the middle of November to the middle of December, my hometown hosted Turkey Drawings. On Saturday mornings, people would gather in a parking lot where they would receive a ticket upon entrance and wait, hope, and pray that their number would be called to receive a free turkey.

The odds seemed pretty good with 25 free turkeys each week only about 300 people lined up to possibly win. Not impossible odds at all, right? Sure. There was hope.

There was no income requirement to participate. You didn't need an invitation. If you didn't mind turning into a human Popsicle, you could come. My mother didn't mind, so we went. Bundled in multiple layers of clothing, we knew better than to complain. The best we could hope for was that Mom would win early and we could leave.

When my brother and I were old enough to stay home alone, we were also old enough to possibly pass for 16 years of age, which was the minimum age requirement to get a ticket at the entry, so we still had to go to the Turkey Drawing. I know the lies of omission about our ages was just wrong, but we're talking FREE TURKEY! How happy Dad would be we we won a turkey! Oh Tiny Tim, what if there were no Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? We need a free turkey! It tastes so much better!

In retrospect, it was such a thrill to win a turkey that I wonder if turkeys were expensive in the 70's and 80's.

You know when you find yourself in a miserable, yet temporary situation how you psyche yourself out by thinking, "This will be over soon. It's only an hour. That's nothing. Think pleasant thoughts. Don't think about your frostbitten toes. Your scarf has not just frozen to your face. You can do this"? (Okay, maybe without the frostbite part?) Well, I mastered the skills of tolerating misery as a kid while waiting for my mom to win a free turkey on frigid Saturday mornings in northeastern Utah. Endurance, man! Move around a lot. Stand still. Huddle in with the crowd like a bunch of penguins. Nothing changes. It was still 20 degrees.

And on especially cold days do you think we stayed home? No! Other people might stay home (wimps!), so there'd be a better chance of winning! Turkey Drawings are not for the weak.

Did my mother ever win a turkey? I think she must have at some point over the years, but I cannot remember that miraculous day at all. That memory never thawed.

November 19, 2007

Planning Writing Takes More Than a Few Bubbles

Today my students, with every student in our school, participated in a mock proficiency writing exam. Writing is a big focus for us this year, and we are attacking from many sides--from the creative to the serious. Proficiency exams, which figure into our AYP, is of course, the super serious!

I spent quite a bit of time for each class modeling how to brainstorm and plan an essay as we went through the process of the exam. I used the generic topic I gave them, which asked the students to write about a person they remember--you know that basic special person character sketch here. I used a different example each class period so the students could see how much of a struggle it can be even for me to come up with things to say. (The thrill of impromptu in the classroom!) I encouraged them to come up with concrete examples (aka nitty gritty details) and not just vague labels. I pointed out weak areas in my own thinking, suggesting places where I needed to do a little more thinking before actually writing.

Why would I bother to take the time for brainstorming at this point in the year? I've noticed in my students' writing notebooks that their brainstorms are a few bubbles with words--enough to pacify me, I'd imagine. I don't even care how students brainstorm, I just want them to do it, but they obviously do not understand the power and necessity of it. Many of them have mastered the art of writing nothing interesting for several pages. They can do so much better!

After brainstorming for ideas, I tried to make the point that those splatterings of ideas didn't just automatically form themselves into an essay. So, kiddos, you have ideas, but where are you going to put them in your essays? What do the magic bubbles tell you? They followed me while I shaped a working thesis and built the body of my essay based on my bubbles. In some classes, students helped me cross out things I shouldn't include in my essay or helped me reshape my thesis to fit the actual information I had. By the time we were finished, in most cases I still needed to do a little more thinking to firm up my ideas, but I had a pretty solid plan of where my essay was going.

Guess how long each of my planning sessions lasted? A whopping 10 minutes! I know, it seems like a terrible waste of 10 minutes to do all this thinking, doesn't it?

My board was a terrible mess of words, crosses, lines, and bubbles. A stranger would not have been able to decipher my mess, but luckily that mess was for ME to plan my writing. Some of my stubborn students were still irritated that I was "making" them take so much time to plan their essays. These are the wise children who know more than I do. Afterall, they are teenagers and I am over 30. On the other hand, I saw quite a few light bulbs go off today on why brainstorming is important and HOW it actually helps one plan an essay.

I'm crossing my fingers that today is the beginning of some deeper writing and thinking for my students. They've been writing on the surface with vague details lately, so I'm hoping that if they take time to think and plan before draft that revision won't seem so daunting either.

November 18, 2007

Sunday Randomness

Bleah...NaBloPoMo...Just write something so I can go to bed....

**I'm glad NASCAR is over for the season, although the sound of racing cars lulls me to sleep now. (I used to think that my sweetie didn't watch sports on the weekend. Ha! The honeymoon is over. Five years later...)

**We were almost side-swipped today by someone who was text messaging and driving. Idiot. Makes me want to murder.

**We made a Sunday trip to Frys. It was much more pleasant than it normally is, and the place was oddly quiet. A new mall has just opened next door to Frys, so I plan on going separate ways on future trips. Sweetie, you spend all the time in the world looking at random bits of computer parts; I'll be shopping for shoes.

**The boy child is getting sick. Is he going to ruin my Thanksgiving plans this year, too? My plans this year include 3 days of kid-free peace. I have him pretty herbed, drugged, and Vicks-rubbed up to scare away whatever is trying to take hold of him. He has merely one day to ward it off. If he's too sick to go visit his beloved grandmother, my life will be miserable on more than one level.

**My grade book is caught up except for about an hour's worth of writer's notebook checking in the morning. Sigh of relief.

**Passing out progress reports tomorrow. Bracing for attitudes. There are serious consequences for blowing off homework for a few weeks--duh!

**Crossing my fingers that this SCHOOL week FLIES by! Vacation should go at a snail's pace, though.

November 17, 2007

It's Getting Harder to Ignore Christmas

Oh how fondly I remember those days when I gathered little gifts for family and friends throughout the year so when the Christmas shopping season came (after Thanksgiving), I wouldn't be stressed out trying to find thoughtful gifts in a sea of a bunch of crap that we buy people that they don't really want. I've totally blown it this year...

I've spent a few hours tonight searching on-line for cool gifts that are also inexpensive. Overstock. com has not been my friend tonight. Not that I'm totally cheap, but there's something in my brain that doesn't like to buy something unless it's on sale, and even at that, it has to be a total bargain. Hey, it's not a harmful obsession! And I know shopping on-line is not always a deal, but I'm also thinking about family members (that would be all of them) who live far away. I hate waiting in line at the post office or wherever, so let's just ship something straight from a source, right?

What's worse than not finding any deals is not finding anything good. I'm pretty much stumped for what to get everyone. Even the kids! Or perhaps, especially the kids! Let's see, the little one can never have too many Legos and the older one likes anything girly. I'll figure it out.

I don't know, at this point, it's looking like everyone is getting baked goodies and gifts I can make out of family photos. (Flickr, here I come!) All the family members say they are celebrating a simple Christmas this year...that's good because I know we are!

November 16, 2007

New Explorations

I'm letting go.

No more focusing my frustrations and jealousy on not being to explore web2.0 technologies like many edubloggers are. Dear readers, you've only heard a bit of my irritation.

If I stumble upon a cool tool that can enhance my instruction, I'll use it. I won't get too bummed out that it's apparently too dangerous for my students to be unleashed into the scary online world.

Today, I walked out of my administrator's office with a book on multicultural education. Read between the lines--I didn't walk into that office looking for it. A parting gift, aye?

I started reading Beyond Heroes and Holidays, and I've already learned some interesting ideas. I could use some improvement in multicultural education anyway (you know it's harder for us clueless white people), so this could be my new passion, my new bandwagon.

I don't want to stop learning and growing.

No--there's no danger that I'll run out of things to learn as an educator.

I just need a new hobby.

November 15, 2007

Spinning My Wheels

If you'll recall, I was so gung-ho about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work this quarter, but I admitted it might be frustrated this month with all the interruptions and alternative plans. I tried hard to be patient and go with the flow, but I'm so tired of it all.

Oh, I'm also tired of my students being disconnected, too. They don't know what's going on from day to day, and they are forgetting even the basic things I had set up in class before this chaos.

I have to submit progress reports when we come back from Thanksgiving, and technically I should have about half of my grades for the quarter in at the time that the report is made. Funny, isn't it?

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I am looking forward to the uninterrupted four weeks of instruction between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

November 14, 2007

Jack is Such a Jerk

Perhaps it was a bad idea to name our flash drive Jack Sparrow. Those pirates, you know.

Last month, he ate our newspaper for breakfast the day we were to take it to press. He left behind something that looked like a file, but it could not be opened.

Now Jack has gone missing with another nearly-finished paper. He just jumped ship--that is, out of the editor's backpack and has wandered off somewhere. He took no hostages--or other flash drives--that were in the backpack.

You know, we were going name the drive Bob. I bet Bob would have been more cooperative.

November 13, 2007

Sex, Candy Necklaces, and Stuff I Already Know

I try to stay positive about professional development days. I've been on the delivering end (to hostile audiences), and I figure that there is always something new I can learn so I try hard to make these days worth my time. Today, however, was more about trying my patience...

I had three choices of seminars this morning: Skillstutor training, learn about classroom uses for ComicLife, and create your own website that is hosted by the district. I've been using Skillstutor for years, so I don't want or need more training, I had training on ComicLife this summer (not too tough), and I already have a district-hosted website. What to do? I chose the district website because although I have one, I don't use it much. Yes, it is easy, yet it is limited. I'm still bitter that I spent many hours working on a class wiki, and now the district has blocked wikispaces, so I begrudgingly worked on making the district hosted website work for me. Only it really doesn't.

Later in the morning, we spent an hour working in groups trying to identify proof that we use best practices in our classrooms. I'm a little unsure what that section of our in-service was about. It might be a precursor to other trainings, or maybe it was a collaborative session for us to provide documentation for district hoops we needed to jump through. I'm confused by the short session on such a meaty subject.

The highlight of my day was the online course I had to take on sexual harassment. That was a series of lessons and quizzes I had to pass and provide proof for my administrator that I'd done it. Oh brother! Every year we've had to watch some video and sign a paper saying we understand why we should not try to have sex with our students. This year it's been taken to a new level with an online course! I do appreciate that the administration set aside time for us to do this on their time, instead of our own time, as it did take about an hour.

After that demeaning experience (you know, for those of us who are jeebed out about the mere thought of relations with our students) other teachers had time to collaborate with their departments or work in their rooms. My department had yet another training for a new differentiated reading program we are using: We were promised that we'd learn some new things, yet in the 90 minutes of training, I learned about 10 minutes' worth of new information.

Although my day was nearly over after that, I wasn't finished with having my time wasted by promises of new knowledge as I had to attend the longest two hours of training at my night school. We spent the first hour reviewing rules of the school. And for much of that review, the principal spoke to us through a bullhorn. There were about 40 of us in a small cafeteria. Yes, the room had poor acoustics, but I could not understand most of what he was saying through the bullhorn. I think perhaps bullhorns are for short statements and not lectures. Sure, it was irritating, so I just sat there eating my candy necklace he gave us. Bullhorn. Candy necklace. Bizarre.

(As a side note, the last principal used to bring in dinner from the Olive Garden for us. This principal had cheesecake, carrot sticks, and Cheetos--with a gift of candy necklaces for us. Uhm...)

The second hour I went into some training about how to set up my gradebook and upload the grades to Edline. Again, I already knew what to do, and I had already set up my gradebook. I was promised some swift tricks for making my life easier in using EasyGradePro, and yet again, I was sorely disappointed.

What I could have used is some tips in using Plato, which is a program I was asked to use with my students this year and have had to figure out on my own. (I'm just one of a few teachers slated to use it the program.) Because I have so much experience (in case you haven't figured it out) using web-based programs, it wasn't too tough, but it feels like I'm missing something because it isn't very user friendly, and it seems kind of lame. However, as you might have guessed, if I ever get the training I've been promised it probably won't offer any more insight for me.

This whole rant and reflection has made me realize how insanely jealous (instead of simply jealous) I am of teachers, schools, and districts who are exploring web2.0 ideas. I'm longing for more--something engaging and progressive--and I'm just bored.

November 12, 2007

Thinking About Veterans from All Wars

What I've said before:
My Favorite Veteran is my husband.
RIP Kenny, a brave young man who grew up and died fighting for our country.

November 11, 2007

Checking In

Little David grew up!

They always grow up. I know that. It's just so much fun to see them when they finally do grow into themselves.

David wasn't really one of my former students. In fact, he actually dodged having me as an English teacher his freshman year when some staffing changes didn't give me every single freshman who attended out school like I had for the previous 5 years.

Instead, he was one of my actors who was so obsessed with theater that I let him join my drama club when he still in 8th grade. He had some connections that helped, as both his mother and grandmother worked for the district. Oh, and it also helped that in a small town where athletics ruled, I wasn't about to turn down one of the few souls who wanted to be on stage.

When I moved to the city, David was bummed out that I wouldn't be there to direct anymore. What would happen to the drama program without the Drama Mama? According to David, his worst fears came true, and the program crashed and burned without anybody to lead it. In fact, he ended up trying to put together some shows on his own with less than a handful of other interest thespians. How I can relate to trying to make something out of nothing on stage with little community support.

The nice thing about being 18 and living in a small town is that you can leave. David moved to Vegas this fall to attend the university, and of course, major in theater. I wasn't there through the rest of his high school days, but I can only imagine how anxious he must have been to leave and find a place to practice his passion.

It's taken months for David and me to meet for coffee. Right before he arrived in the city, he e-mailed me, telling me he was moving here. We've talked on the phone a few times, never finding the right time to go, although the little coffee shop dive where we finally did end up meeting at was less than 10 minutes away for either one of us.

All grown up with stories of our old small town, travels he's made in the last few years, and tales that only come from a college freshman. Eager enthusiasm that only comes from a a young man whose just taken a new path in his life. It was nice seeing how David has turned out, even if he's not finished yet.

November 10, 2007

Blogging Frustrations of an English Teacher

Yes, I proofread my posts. I look at them in the Preview window, too. Unfortunately just about every day I find stupid little errors: misspelled words, missing words, and things that just don't sound quite right.

Embarrassing and frustrating.

I know it's human, but it's not English teacher.


November 9, 2007

One of Those Days

Trying to squeeze two days worth of teaching in one day--period after period although it felt like a train wreck...

subbing for another teacher during one prep...

working through lunch...

eating brownie bites and Pepsi in lieu of breakfast and lunch (and then feeling dizzy and spacey from messing up my blood sugar)...

a parent meeting during my second prep with cheater boy's mom...

not getting a chance to go to the restroom for 7 hours...

dealing with my child who is driving his teacher to drink (and me, too)...

going to the grocery store so the other child can make dinner for her first time...

spending an hour making a pizza for dinner...

--in shoes that became uncomfortable around noon.

November 8, 2007

Square Pegs

In order to create writer response groups, I asked students to write down the names of two classmates they would like to work with. I also said that they could write down any students with whom they have conflicts. And I mean severe conflicts. Not that you don't like the person because his shoes are ugly or he has different friends, or something equally lame.

I believe that students should have to learn to work with people they don't like, but I've also discovered that when sharing writing, students are more comfortable if they have at least one person in their groups that they know and trust.

Oh, and life is miserable on writing response days when there are mortal enemies working in the same group week after week. Some battles aren't worth fighting. And when I say fighting...there has been near bloodshed in the past.

I've had some insight into my classes after asking them to give me personal grouping options. I've found quite a few students who are happy with whatever group they are in, and most students do not have conflicts with others. I love that!

What I did find interesting is that the students who irritate me to no end also irritate their classmates. Cheater kid? Several students do not want to work with him. Chatty Cathy is the least popular student in one of my classes. The way she goes on and on, you'd think she had a lot of friends. Flakey Fred, who I think is probably pretty smart but walks around with his head in the clouds, is apparently not an ideal group mate.

It actually makes me sad to think that these academically inept students are also lacking social skills. Life must be tough for them. Are they misunderstood, or do they just need to grow up? I hope we all have the patience to figure that out.

November 7, 2007

The Best International Buffet in Town

(Is it me, or am I talking about food a lot lately?)

You know there are plenty of buffets in town, but today the social studies teacher hosted a huge cultural presentation and feast in the gym. Think 130 students, each one with a dish from his cultural. Homemade (in most cases), authentic, international cuisine. For a limited time, there was no better buffet anywhere in Vegas!

The students' presentations, which included country of origin of the food, a time line of the ingredients, the recipe with accompanying pictures, and some reflections on the importance of food in culture, were pretty well done. In fact, I found myself choosing my foods based on the presentations I saw. Of course, I was very interested in a traditional bread from Ethiopia, but I also saw a good presentation on beef jerky, too.

In the past, I've been excited about homemade tamales, but they weren't very good this year. Instead, my new obsession was for pupusas. It's been years since I had pupusas--and curtido. Yum! There was another cheese pocket kind of thing there, which I believe was Filipino, but I can't remember what it was called. In fact, it may have been the year of the pocket food because I had some good empanadas, too.

I skipped the ceviche, the barbecue rolls, and the potato salad in favor of chili colorado, some delicious but suspicious-looking rice pudding, and basically whatever food students forced me into trying: "Ms. HappyChyck, try mine!" (Needless to say, I don't need to eat for the rest of the week now.)

It's exciting to learn about and try so many different foods. I try to seem more worldly to my students, but you know, it's only been in the last decade or so that I've explored different foods, and that has happened largely though people I've known, the Food Network, and a little bit from traveling. I truly believe most students whose native foods I consider exotic or interesting would probably be just as intrigued by some of the foods I make although they seem quite basic to me. (Hey! What kind of potluck doesn't have any Jello?)

Some of the students didn't quite get the question they had to answer on their projects/presentations about the importance of food in a culture. Why not add questions about what happens when cultures come together? (Other than fusion cuisine.) I certainly hope our students had a little more insight into those concepts after today.

November 6, 2007

Will the Police Department Hire Me?

Why do they mess with me?

I busted a kid for cheating in less than 5 minutes today. He tried to pass off an assignment another student submitted last week as his own assignment. (I wasn't really taking it late. The student claimed that the original empty document he sent to me electronically was a mistake, so I gave him the chance to produce the assignment immediately.)

I bet all the kids are wondering how I immediately knew that the assignment he submitted wasn't his work. It was a graphic organizer created in Inspiration, so it could possibly look similar to his classmates.

Here are some clues Detective HappyChyck gathered:
  • Student approached me at the beginning of the class and asked what the missing assignment on his grade was. We spent 2 days in class working on it last week. How could he not know what it was?
  • After the student learned from his classmates what the assignment was, he was convinced that he did the assignment. Oh, really?
  • I check my electronic in-box, which jogged my memory. He had turned in an empty document. Common kid ploy. They hope that I'll just check off the list off assignments by looking at their names in the file names and not actually open and check the assignment. Is it possible he was trying to dupe me, or was it a technical error?
  • I told the student if he could show me the completed assignment on his computer, I'd accept it. He said he threw it away. If you ever look at these kids' computers, they look much like their backpacks. Funny how when they need an assignment, they've just cleaned and thrown things out. Up until that moment they are teenage pack rats.
  • A few minutes later the student tells me he's found the file on his computer. He brings it to me to look at, and he says, "Here it is. See, here's my name." He is talking about his name labeled on the inside of the document. Thanks for showing me that you put your name on your paper, kid. That's not weird at all.
  • The assignment is very well done. I'd even say it's an A paper. The kid is not an A student. We're talking lacking ability here. I accepted the assignment from the student, but I looked up the assignments from his nearby friends. None of them turned in the assignment.
  • Not many people earned a solid A on the assignment. I looked up the students who had a perfect score on the assignment. The girl who sat one row over and two seats back had a perfect score. Bingo.
Their heads are probably still spinning. Did you see how fast I discovered your cheating ways, children? Still wanna mess with me? I guess it's time for me to tell the story of the time I benched (or rather their actions landed them on the bench) half the baseball team because they were a bunch of cheaters.

November 5, 2007

The Other Shoe Ready to Drop?

My team had been contemplating having a no-late-work policy for most of last year, so when the school came up with a no-late-homework policy, we had confirmation that we should take the plunge. (The subtle difference between the school policy and our team's policy is we aren't taking any late work--including classwork.)

The 7th grade team took the plunge, too, but I think they've backed down on their policy and have started accepting late work with a penalty, which is what we've done in the past. I think accepting late work with with a penalty is a nice compromise to not wanting to accept late work, but the ideal is that students turn in their work and that we teachers don't have to chase them down or beg them for it. Yea, especially students who are bussed from all over the county to attend a magnet program.

I don't know for sure, but I think they was a little pressure from administration for the 7th grade team to back down on their no late-work policy. And it's not like students don't have any chances to turn in late work because the whole 7th grade team was using Oops Passes, as is half of the 8th grade team, where students can turn in an assignment one day late with no penalty. I think most teachers give out about 3-4 passes a quarter. Whoa! That's a lot of chances to forget your work. You know students who miss assignments more than that in a quarter have serious attitude or work ethic issues.

I also felt a little of that pressure from admin at our last team meeting. The principal indicated that there are studies that go against what we're doing and that isn't it better to evaluate student understanding of the content than their abilities to meet deadlines? That is an excellent point that I can agree with; however, if students do not turn in work, I have nothing to evaluate. She could also see my point, and at the time, a few weeks ago, I boasted that I have far more students turning in work this year with our strict policy than I did last year with our graduated reduction of credit policy.

And then...the second quarter started. I have more students failing than passing because they didn't turn in all three assignments last week. Due to testing, last week was a light week in my classroom. This is so bad...

According to the other teachers on my team, the students flaked out in all their classes last week. We're all shifting into a higher gear this quarter and our students are running low on fuel and ambition. We're on the fast track to disaster.

November 4, 2007

Pep Talk

Rarely a Sunday goes by without me having to do some work for the upcoming week. Sometimes it is a full day's work, while other times a few hour's worth that I ended up dragging into a whole day thing because I am the Queen of Procrastination!

Today should be pretty light as I need to write and submit my lesson plans and finish creating a few handouts. It will take a few hours tops. Realistically...

And then I can read a book or take a nap, right?

Oh no! I have this other thing I've been procrastinating on all week. Well, not exactly procrastinating...I thought I'd have time to do it in my classroom while my students were testing this week, but somehow other things demanded my attention. I think More Important Things is an evil step cousin to Procrastination.

Anyway, I have to pretend I know something about the program in which I teach and write up some things for some magnet award application. You and I are both wondering how I was duped into this...

It's because I'm so nice. So competent. I play well with others. Or something...something, indeed!

Bite the bullet, HappyChyck.

Pour another cup of coffee.

Get it done so you can read or nap today.

November 3, 2007

Hotdish is All That!

I asked my stepdaughter what she'd like for her birthday dinner this weekend.

She thought for a bit before answering, "That macaroni, hamburger, and tomato dish."

I couldn't believe it. "You want hotdish for your birthday dinner?"

She grinned and nodded her head vigorously.

"Of all the things you can choose, you seriously want hotdish?"


Oh, boy.

I grew up eating hotdish several times a week. When my mom went to work, I made hotdish several times a week. My parents might disagree with how frequently we ate it, but it seemed like we ate it all the time.

The way I make it is with ground beef cooked with chopped onions and green peppers, added to cooked macaroni and mixed with tomato soup and mushroom soup. And lots of garlic powder! Sometimes I add a vegetable to the mixture, but other times the vegetable is served on the side. I always preferred making the creamy kind of hotdish with the soup added, but many times I had to make it with stewed tomatoes instead of the canned soup. I didn't like the runny tomato in my hotdish. Too soupy.

I'm sure that all that hotdish cookin' shaped the kind of cook I became. I know many people bake their hotdish, but once I mix all the ingredients in a saucepan, I don't know why we just can't eat it. Simplicity is best. You can bake the leftovers in the oven tomorrow night if you really want some crunchy macaroni from the oven.

As my Minnesotan co-worker reminded me just last week, there are many kinds of hotdish. Honestly, I'm no expert on hotdish. I just know we ate it all the time when I was a kid. (I know I mentioned that already. It's important.) I also know that it was boring. So, I was forever adding things to it, thus each time I made hotdish, it was technically different from the time before. You see, hotdish lends itself very well as a leftover dish. Leftover roast beef? Throw it in! Leftover green beans that aren't enough for another full meal? Throw it in! Spaghettie sauce? Barbecue sauce? Yum! Before Iron Chef became cool, I was making meals out of whatever the feature ingredient (aka leftovers in my house) might be. I am proud of how I can make something out of nothing! I call myself creative and resourceful.

I actually stopped making hotdish years ago. In my early 20's when I was single, and then later in my first marriage, I tried to make hotdish, but I could only make a big pot of it, as I was programmed to make it for a family plus have some for leftovers. And, for some reason, it didn't taste the same.

A few weeks ago, my sweetie said, "You know what sounds good? Macaroni, hamburger, and tomatoes. Do you know how to make that?"

You know I've been cooking for my sweetie for 5 years, and he asked if I knew how to make hotdish. Seriously! Of course I know how to make it! It's part of my heritage! Not to mention that it's hardly a difficult dinner to make.

The first time I introduced hotdish to my family, I made it chunky with onions, green pepper, and stewed tomatoes, and I used whole wheat macaroni. I know it was more than he wanted, but that's the way I roll! My sweetie and the kids ate it up like it was gourmet fare. Unbelievable! I have to admit it was pretty good, though. Come to find out, the kids really miss eating ground beef. (They get ground beef if they eat a hamburger outside the house. Most of the time when I make dishes that require hamburger, such as burritos, I use fake meat.) It's the simple things in life, though, isn't it?

My sweetie isn't 100% pleased with my hotdish because the way his mother made it was much runnier with stewed tomatoes. Although, I don't have the aversion I once had to stewed tomatoes and I load my hotdish with them now (Bring on the lycopene, baby!), it's not runny enough for him. I've tried to explain to him that his mother, like mine probably used homemade stewed tomatoes, and it was a little juicier than what we buy in the store.

So, just that easily, hotdish is quickly working its way back into my life. I'm the one who plans meals now, and I have to admit, it is a versatile, inexpensive, filling meal. Once again I am making it all the time--or so it seems. It's such a natural thing for me to make that I can't believe I stopped making it for so long.

I wonder how long until hotdish loses its magical appeal, and the kids are begging me not to make it, rather than requesting it as a special meal. I have a few other forgotten foods from my childhood I should unearth. I haven't made pigs in a blanket in a long time...

November 2, 2007

According to the Circular Ads...

It's time to buy Christmas trees, lighted lawn decorations, and toys for under the tree.

I'm not quite in the mood--how about you?

November 1, 2007

When Grumpy Men Soften Up

As soon as dinner was over tonight, my sweetie jumped up to make a phone call. Strange. He's not really a chatty kind of guy.

Until lately.

On October 23, he became a grandpa. (Yea, I know that makes me a step grandma. Whatever.) When he first heard the news he was going become a grandpa back in June, he didn't want to talk about it. It wasn't necessarily a stress-free, joyful event because his oldest daughter has had a bumpy ride into adulthood. Has she grown up enough to have a baby--even if she is in her mid-2o's? I know part of it was about worry about her, but part of it was also his vanity.

The last couple of months he's been on the phone checking on his daughter, who lives in Tennessee, more than he has talked to her in a long time. In the weeks before she was due, he called just about every day. When she passed her due date, he didn't want to admit it, but he was worried about her. And after she finally gave birth, she had a hard time of it (had to be induced and then ended up delivering cesarean), so she didn't sound so great each time he talked to her. Of course, this made him worry even more. Awwww!

Listen in on his side phone conversation and tell me this isn't so sweet:

"You sound better."
"How's the munchkin?"
"Is she sleeping now?"
"So, who does she look like?"
"She has brown hair?"
"Do you have pictures yet?"
"Did you get the crib set up?"
"So...when should I come visit? Do you have a place for me to stay if I come out?"
"Well, I'm glad you're sounding a lot better."
"Stay in touch."
"Love you. Bye."

I tease him about how much he just can't wait to get a picture of his cute little granddaughter for his wallet so he can show everyone.

He pretends like this isn't a big deal, but it is.

It's a whole new game. He's a grandpa now!