May 28, 2008

Packin' It In

Of course, we are rushing into the end of the year. My students are having their last group discussion (literature circle style) on The House of the Scorpion tomorrow. I'm trying to squeeze their assessment projects on the book out of them on Friday although I'm not technically collecting it until Monday. Yea, Monday. The last day of school is Wednesday. You'd think I was smoking crack, aye? Why didn't I just give them a test rather than a book report-type project?

I also handed out study guides to half my classes today. The study guide, which is more like a practice packet, is 11 pages long. Uh, that would be double-sided pages, too. It's insane. Again, it appears I might be using drugs. And what's the first question the kids all want to know?

Is this for a grade?

I'm not even going to try to trick them into doing it. No, kiddos. It's not for a grade, but if you want to know if you're ready for the exam, check out the skills work in that packet! I am offering extra credit for those who bring it on the day of the exam. From past experiences I've learned that there is a whole slew of students who may or may not do the review packet, and many of them will not bring it to school on exam day. They'll claim that they were told they couldn't bring anything except a pencil. Whatever. The deans are not going to confiscate study guides at the entrance--not unless they're taped to cans of shaving cream or silly string.

While my darling students are working away, they are surrounded by a disaster zone. Every year the tearing down and packing up is ugly, but this year it's worse because I can't hide things in cabinets for the summer. This month I have sent over ten boxes of paper to the recycling bin, donated four boxes of potential craft supplies to an acquaintance whose charity summer camp is woefully underfunded this summer, and donated a carload full of things to the thrift store down the street. Oh! And lots of random bits have walked out the door with students. I think I'm about three boxes away from having my room packed and ready to move. Hooray!

A week to go...awards night tomorrow and 8th grade dance on Friday. Finals all next week. We're here! This is the end, my friend!

May 24, 2008

The Big Reveal

The yearbook is out! It's been a hectic week with all the last minute preparations and double checking to make sure everyone who paid for a book gets a book. It's kind of like Santa's Workshop--making lists and checking them twice.

The yearbook release "party" that we held was a no-fuss affair. During the last period on Friday, the students who had ordered books pick up their passes from their teachers and went to the cafeteria where they received the books. There was no charge to get in. There was also no food served or sold, and this year I ditched even having music. (That's more about the sound system available, though.)

Sure, it sounds boring, but the kids just want their books so they can pass them around to their friends to sign. I know other schools make it a big event, charge money, and hire a DJ. I'd rather the students at my school spend their money on purchasing the book, and I'd rather not spend more money than I'm likely to make on a party. The vast major of the students at my school are poor, and so is my yearbook program.

My staff did a great job putting together the book this year. Of course, we had a few issues, but they pulled into together in their strange, detached way. (I found some errors, of course. Can't wait to hear about it all week.) At the party, the students set everything up for a smooth distribution. The veteran staff members remembered how we did it last year and tweaked it a little this year. The editor and I had made a list of jobs, students chose what they'd do, I prepped them with directions once, and the rest of the time they ROCKED IT!

My yearbook rep showed up--the first time I've seen her in over a year--and I actually had time to visit with her because things went so smoothly! She doesn't come around much because she's under the impression that I have things under control. Glad she could witness an example of it.

I'm so proud of my staff! Sometimes I forget they are middle schoolers! Middle schoolers running a party! Sheesh! Middle schoolers documenting a year in words and pictures for an entire school! It's just another way they astound me as they balance between being kids and being responsible young adults.

May 21, 2008

Grading is a Pain in the Assessment

Last week, I attended a meeting about grading practices. Changes are coming, so I wanted to see what some of those changes might be. As it turns out, those teachers who were interested enough to show up seemed to form some sort of sounding board that might be making decisions about some unified grading practices. It was a very heated meeting that left my head reeling.

I have been working to hone my assessment practices in the past few years, but attaching grades to those assessments is still difficult. What this particular meeting really boiled down to was about accepting late work. Are we assessing work ethic or standards? Of course we're evaluating standards, but with the current education system, work ethic cannot be easily separated. This is a topic that several of us have been going around and around about for longer than just this year. We want to hold students accountable and get their best work out of them. But are our techniques working?

My team does not accept late work. We've tried accepting work whenever, accepting work with a percentage penalty and a limited amount of time, and now we just don't accept it. When I accepted late work, the vast majority of the time I found that the work was not quality when it came to me. Students procrastinated and then rushed to get any kind of grade. Now students have the one opportunity to do it right. From time to time, I will give students the opportunity to redo work--particularly with assessments. (Assessments make up 50% of the grade.) But what if they don't submit it to begin with?

The next logical step might be that students will be made to do their work to quality standards! Or else...what? I am not sure. My fear is that if students know they have the opportunity to redo work that will not turn in quality work to begin with. "Oh, I'll just turn in whatever because I'll be able to make it better later." I know. I'm such a cynic, but I've been BURNED! Of course, I could make a system of incentives. Or...students could just do what is expected of them!

I'm pretty depressed about my own grading practices this week. The other teachers on my team aren't being very sympathetic, either. "So what if the students are failing? They know the expectations!" I have a slew of students failing my class because they did turn in their research papers--or that's the event that started their downfalls. I so carefully planned how I would assess the students in the process of researching and planning their papers plus how I would assess them in the final product, but in the end, if they didn't participate, I have nothing to assess. (Actually, my student teacher executed this unit, but it was all there for her.) Because I don't accept late work, there's nothing I can do. Or want to do. (And why should I accept it late when it was a month-long process?) According to a little food-for-thought article that my supervisor gave me last week, I found that my grading practices are considered toxic. Damn! What am I? A rookie? Or an old fart teacher who won't let go of broken practices? Why can't I get this right?

I spent all day filling out notices for my students who are likely to fail this quarter--some might even fail the entire semester. Yes, the whole day. Filled each class with paperwork and short conferences. A couple of my students have had some severe family and personal issues, but the rest of them have no excuses for their grades. I guess I should be thankful that they aren't begging me for extra credit or the opportunity to turn in assignments that are a month old. It's still depressing for me. Something doesn't feel right.

I'm willing to shift my perception of assessment and grading practices. I want to be fair. BUT-- I wonder if this is another one of those educational issues where the educators are taking responsibility and the learners are taking none. If I change how I do things, can the students change their attitudes, too?

May 15, 2008

The Cool Teacher

I don't know when I stopped being the cool teacher.

Okay, I haven't really ever been "the" cool teacher, but I used to have quite the following of freaks and geeks.

My cool factor--or lack thereof--has been in my face this semester with the much-hipper, young student teacher.

Whatever. I'm past that.

No, I'm not bitter. It is what it is. I adore my students. Nice kids. And to them, I am something.

I'm the nerdy teacher. That's fine. It is what it is. I embrace that.

So, since I'm the nerdy teacher, the nerdy kids flocked to my desk today when they discovered I had the new copy of Stephanie Meyer's book, The Host.

Who? You know, author of the Twilight Series!

It doesn't matter that the new book is Meyer's debut in the adult book world. It doesn't matter that it has 624 pages. It doesn't matter that it's $26.oo. Those nerdy Edward-loving students are starved for more Twilight stories and will consume anything by the author.

And I have her new book in my possession. I don't own the book. I borrowed it from another teacher. It doesn't matter, though. I have the book! I'm going to read the book!

I'm the cool teacher today.

May 11, 2008

What I Will Do During My Summer Vacation

Vegas Teacher Guy thinks I'll be relaxing all summer while he's getting a real job and going to school. (I wonder what a real job is for him? Real dull? Real easy?) The truth is that I have a fun job for June that I haven't even mentioned.

Summer School!

Oh yes, teaching English to middle schoolers, who happen to read and write at a 4th grade level, and are going to school because they are deficient in their credits is a BLAST! Wahoo! I love teaching in June! (Is it just me, or don't most teacher do summer school for the cash?)

Okay, that's the job I did have lined up a few weeks ago, but I quit it for a better job that fell into my lap.

I'm conducting a young writer's institute for students whose parents are dropping a grand for them to write and have some fun for a month--no academic credit will even be given! Can you believe it? I didn't even go looking for this job. Seriously just fell into my lap! And apparently, there is a 12-student cap! (It pays a lot better, too.)

I'm excited but super nervous. I've never done anything like this before. Teach writing for the joy of it? I'm trying to come up with a focus or a theme, so I'm thinking something along the lines of PERSPECTIVES. We can start by writing from within and moving toward some strong voice-based activities where the young writers look at the world in different ways--lenses even.

All the teachers in around me in our hallway are leaving the country for summer break. Compared to them, my summer, well, blows! That's just not where I am in life (young, carefree) so I'll garner my renewable energy from some young enthusiastic writers!

May 9, 2008

Time Warp

Just floating in time and space. Real time? Reality? Get a watch? Get a calendar? Whatever.

  • We have 18 days of school left. By this time of year, I'm often stressed out about how I'll fit it all in. This year I just do not feel like the end is near.
  • We will receive our check-out list on Monday. Is it really time? Check-out is going to be horrible this year because we're moving. I already have 20 boxes of textbooks piled up in my room. I have a long way to go... It would really help if my students would return their textbooks, too. But, nooooo! They'll have to wait until I spend hours of my time filling out fine slips before they will take me seriously.
  • Just as it has in the past, my brain will probably be a jumble of insanity by this time next week. Once I start thinking about all of it...oh boy.
  • The yearbooks have arrived a week earlier than I expected. The release party isn't planned until May 23rd. I don't know if I should move up the date--or if I can since the calendar is pretty full. In our area, students don't tend to buy the books until they see them, so I could use more time to sell the books. Regardless, I'm not ready for the yearbooks to be here. We don't even do a complicated release party, but it still takes a few days to get things pulled together.
  • Today was the travel expo where our students showed off their travel videos, which was a foreign language project with cross curricular connections with math and English. Last year, it was a nice but tiring day. This year I saw only a few videos, and then I spent the rest of the time prepare or serving food. The foreign language teachers could learn from the geography teacher who told kids not to bring anything to her food-related event that required heating. Crockpots okay. Teacher running back and forth between microwaves in teacher lounges and ovens in decrepit, unused kitchen classrooms is not okay. (The geography teacher and I talked a kid out of his shirt so we could use it as a pot holder. He had layers on. He was willing. I know. It was still weird.) It might have been more okay if I had snagged a pupusa before they ran out. I left the building not even knowing which way was up...let alone what day it was. And was it me, or did I really smell like a hot dog?
  • Oh yes! It's two days away from Mother's Day, and I don't know what either of our mothers is getting. (Yea, it really is on me to do this.) Our moms are fine with whatever we pick--and they haven't complained if it shows up late. It's a huge cop-out for children who don't live near their mothers, isn't it? It's okay. I'll pay the price for my lack of ingenuity and planning this year.
  • Last night my dad called to tell me that he and Mom are making an impromptu trip to see us this weekend. I'm so excited! (Still can't think of a gift, though!) The plan was for them to leave late Saturday morning after Mom was finished with work, and arrive in the evening. It's about a 8-hour drive. It sounded suspicious to me. They are weird (Nervous? Excited?) travelers who tend to leave before the rooster crows. Tonight there was a message that they would be leaving much earlier tomorrow--probably 4:00 A.M. I called to check that they hadn't left already. They are tricky like that--surprising people by showing up HOURS--almost a day--early. The story Dad gave me this time is that they were planning on leaving around 2:30 A.M. That puts them here around the time I'd be thinking about cleaning the house in the morning. OY!
  • It's only 9:00 P.M., but it feels much later. I barely remember when Friday nights didn't end so early like this. Exhaustion. Fogginess. Confused reflection. Incomprehension of time.

May 5, 2008

The Stuffed Dog Knows the Truth

During Reading Week our school had Stuffed Animal Day. (We didn't follow the official theme of reading week, in case you're wondering how that fits in.) When I saw the signs around the school, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Seriously! This is middle school! My 8th graders are going to be in high school very soon!

I'm not going to say that I don't dabble in cuteness from time to time. After all, my students did bring in Warm Fuzzies at the beginning of the year. So, in every nook and cranny we have pictures and physical representations of Warm Fuzzies, and in the beginning of the year we used them as reminders on how to treat each other in the classroom. Okay. I know. Pretty icky sweet. But Stuffed Animal Day? Sheesh!

A few students brought stuffed animals, and so did the Student Teacher. She brought in this big, floppy, soft dog...and she hasn't taken it home yet. It's not exactly an oversight, either. Someone is constantly holding onto that dog! I guess there's a big need for hugs in my classroom these days. I'm wondering if I should invest in some cuddly stuffed animals for my room next year.

My students and I are always in this dance where I think they should grow up, but they aren't ready. Then I think they should chill out and just be kids, but they are pushing past me to grow up too fast. My suspicions are that these struggles we have about whether they are kids are not are probably internal struggles they have within themselves on a pretty regular basis.

May 2, 2008

A Meme Break: Scandal and Friday Chaos

I've been tagged by Mister Teacher and Mrs.T. I guess inquiring minds want to know!

Here are the rules:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

Got it? Let's rock this thing.

1) What was I doing 10 years ago? Oy! Do you people think I keep a diary or something? I thought I might look in a yearbook from 10 years ago to get some clues. I can only guess that 10 years ago I might have been chaperoning prom, spending the weekend working on sets for an upcoming play, stressing about the dang yearbook, or slogging through some other simply riveting work-related action. I probably didn't have a social life, as it was in the early years of my career.

The dirty truth is that around this time 10 years ago I had dreams that my husband was going to die. The power of the subconscious mind! Our four-year marriage was on its last leg as he went back to Utah to find work, with hopes of convincing me to move back there, too. I would have been happy for him, but I never planned to move back.

His mother discovered a brain tumor and died within a month, and as it turns out, he never came back to Nevada except for the quick trip in August to move his stuff. I know Mrs. T would love to hear the tale of a woman who could leave her husband as he's mourning the sudden death of his mother. That wasn't the last time I kicked a man when he was down, but it was probably the worst! I'm not proud. It was just one of those things that had to happen for my survival. It would have been less brutal had he not been the very last person in the world to finally realize that our marriage was over.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):
Since it's evening, I'll tell things I did today. It was a rough day because I was at the Magnet Schools conference all week and came back just in time to have to show up for Friday.

1. I conducted my own classes for the first time in 2 months. (Can I just say that it was brutal after being out of the building for so many days?)

2. I covered another class during my 1st hour prep--it is Friday, after all! I had my choice among four classes, and I chose the Spanish class because I know the students in there. I immediately texted the teacher with a nasty message because we both did 6 hours of flying from Tennessee yesterday afternoon, yet I came to work today.

3. I did not finish reading and responding to all my e-mail, but I did try! Actually, I need to take notes on several e-mails that went to the whole staff on information I missed like the fact we're having an attendance audit in a few weeks and the proper procedure on packing for the big move.

4. I spent two hours giving disrespectful students the stink eye at the poetry slam this afternoon. The acoustics are so awful and our sound system is barely functional, so any talking in the audience is not only disrespectful, but just plain ANNOYING. The slam was a huge success, though! Boy do we have some passionate poets!

5. I learned how to spin cotton candy today after I was coerced into helping the student council adviser with some last minute preparations for our school carnival tomorrow. I commented to the students how exciting it was that I was learning something new! The man who owns the machine said I could come work for him, but I think he was just being a sweet old man! (If you don't know, making cotton candy is a messy job! My arms were just covered in pink fur!)

3) Snacks I enjoy: Cheetos, apples, and chocolate.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
I would travel, shop, and live the general life of luxury. After that became boring, I would become a philanthropist to make myself feel more useful.

5) Three of my bad habits: Aw! I want to remain perfect in everyone's eyes! I suppose that's hard after reading my trip down memory lane above, huh? Who am I kidding? I'm so chock full o' flaws! Okay, then...

1. I bite and pick my nails.

2. My toenails, too--not bite them. Just pick. So, sandal season sucks for me, but I just had a pedicure and they look nice, so I'm trying to find a new nervous habit.

3. I fall asleep on the couch while watching television too many nights a week.

6) 5 places I have lived:

1. Las Vegas, NV
2. Hawthorne, NV
3. Vernal, UT
4. Lewiston, ID
5. Orofino, ID

7) 5 jobs I have had:

1. Secondary English teacher (of course)
2. bookseller at an independent bookstore
3. assistant manager at Burger King
4. oilfield laborer
5. counter help at a donut shop

8) 6 peeps I wanna know more about:

1. Laura, who has been working hard all spring.
2. My hometown homie, The Vegas Art Guy
3. Ms. Cupcake, who comes around a lot and appears to be up for a fun meme from time to time
4. Have you met A Strange New Teacher? I'd like to know more!
5. OKP @ Line 46, who has sharp wit
6. YOU, if you haven't already!