September 29, 2008

The Miracle on 28th Street

I don't know if this is a major error or if the district big brother has gotten nicer, but I am posting this from my desk at school!

Here's proof:
(Today is not the best day to take a picture of my classroom, but that's the semi-good side. It's actually the view from my desk, as I was using the computer cam. In this picture you see two cool things about my room: the built in cabinets and one of my new computers. Unfortunately the computer you see in the corner can't boot up because the outlets don't work...)

And my wiki is open, too! If you've been reading this blog since the beginning of time, you'll know that one summer my colleagues and I built some wikis--on campus--only to find the site blocked when school started that fall. Last year I was able to get my site unblocked for about a day. It's a major saga.

Don't get too excited. I'm still going to need to rip those YouTube videos from home. I probably shouldn't be ripping videos from there, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

So, the question is, "Will Happy Chyck be blogging from work? Will we see more from her?" It's highly unlikely.

I'm much too busy.

I'm only posting right now because it's hours after I should have left, but I've been hanging around because I need to go to a meeting at the university rather than going about 5 minutes.

I had some funny things to post last week, but I choose sleep instead. Open houses at both schools last week! Busy! When will the technology come on board when I can just send posts from my head? That would be cool, right?

September 21, 2008

Whatever Groove

Arg! Finished week 3 of my first class, and I'M SO $%$* OF WRITING PAPERS! Every stinkin' week! My sweetie says it will get easier as I get my groove.


My groove involves dropping a text book on my face every night as I try to read a few pages before going to bed and sequestering myself from my family on the weekends. The good news for the kids is that my groove is starting to look like take out for dinner every weekend, too.

It's 8:30 P.M. and I haven't written lesson plans for next week. I know what we're doing, but I don't think I have it in me to write the specific essential questions and language objectives. I'm all fogged up. With morning will come clarity. I hope.

Next week I get to read a book and write a paper--with a group. I'm rolling my eyes right now. I'll let you know how that goes. There are indicators showing that it's a disaster waiting to happen. In the back of my mind I am thinking that I should be prepared to read a book and write a paper by myself. That might be going against a constructivist approach to learning or some jargon like that.

Again. Whatever.

September 20, 2008

Because We Like to Share Misery

I had the worst professional day on Thursday.

It started as I was getting into the car and I remembered that our new school does not have wireless Internet yet. You'd think that after a month I'd remember that I can't do things like I have for the past four years. This is particularly stressful because I had planned to stream a video from United Streaming from my laptop, which would be plugged into the projector.

So, when I arrived, I tried to download the movie from my desktop, so I could save it to my flash drive, and then I could plug it into my computer...only, I couldn't get it to download. It wasn't even a very long movie. My friend came in, and she's pretty computer smart, so she tried. Then she ended up calling the computer tech person so she could go get an extra long Ethernet cable so could I hard wire my connection. That didn't work either because I couldn't configure to our system. Sigh.

Long story short, I eventually able to get things going by my second class, as I had a prep between, but I punted in the first class and the students played The Uhm Game (my version's better, but it's similiar to this one), which was probably a lot more fun than a video on Shakespeare's life and times. Not harmful, but not the most productive. I apologized to the students, but they didn't seem to care.

Because I was dealing with all of that, I didn't check my mailbox in the morning, so it later in the day when I went, I found a notification of a parent-teacher conference. In fact, I found it about 10 minutes after the conference was scheduled to start... I dashed over to the conference room, without a progress report in hand. I couldn't decide which would be worse: not showing up at all or showing up late and unprepared. I'd like to think that I chose lesser of the two evils. Super embarrassing.

I left the meeting feeling like a snake's belly--in more ways than one. Did I mention that I woke up with a cold coming on? I should have added that because throughout the whole technology fiasco, I really wanted to just to home and go to bed.

And just before the meeting, I received an e-mail from a colleague where I couldn't read the tone to know if she was asking me a sincere question or taking a shot at me. This colleague was in the meeting.

And while I was checking e-mail, I found a message to the whole staff about a certain school-wide procedure that my department had been told we were going to do one way and now we had to tell our students to do it another way. Frustrating! It's been a struggle, and now that we finally have them trained, and we have to go and tell them to do it a different way, which is the way most of them were doing it anyway. As one of my fellow English teachers said, "Now we're going look to like asses." Indeed.

That would have been the perfect time to just leave early, but I had a stack of papers I needed to grade so I could get promised progress reports out on Friday. And let's not forget the faculty meeting after school, too. Bleah.

I made it home--albeit late--without dying in a fiery crash. After all, my driving has nothing to do with my professional life.

Crossing my fingers that the last part of my teaching day would go well, I went to night school, and even arrived early. While I was waiting in the teachers' lounge, I reached into my bag to get something and discovered that a can of soda (caffeine I would desperately need later) had been punctured. What punctured it? My cell phone? My camera? The plastic tip of a mechanical pencil? Some evil demon stalking me?

Some of the books in my bag received a little damage, but the brunt of the damage went to the feedback forms I had for my day school students on the speeches they had given this week. I would never accept such messy papers, and there's no way I'm giving messy papers either. What's worse is that on some of the papers I had used a felt tip pen, so the paper was just a blur of red and Diet Coke. What do I say to those kids? Without notes, I certainly don't remember how they did! Grrr.

My classes went okay, except for 6th hour. I have a student who is giving me problems, and I keep trying to work with him, but he keeps acting like he's doing nothing wrong. His cool-guy act is not helping be a better reader or writer at all. I moved him to a table where he would be away from his situation so everyone could focus better, but he couldn't get comfortable because he's a big guy, and the table was rather low. So, I moved Goldilocks to the teacher desk, and I moved everything out of his way and turned off the computer.

On Friday, I found out that was about the dumbest thing I could have done because he wrote on the computer screen. (It was apparently about an inch, written in ink, but we don't know what it looked like because the day teacher rubbed it off before taking a photo.) I know better than to let students use teacher computers, but I didn't think he'd get in trouble sitting at the desk with my aide sitting across from him and me in a direct line of sight. How wrong I was. (My aide is 16 going on 35, and she has no tolerance for the students who show up to school and just think they can goof off and graduate. She even took the opportunity to lecture him.)

Oh, and by the way, having a student write on a computer screen is a new one for me. Add that to my book of Stupid Things Kids Might Do.

Since the day school teachers at the school think that all things "night school" are straight up thug, including the teachers, my attempt to deal with this student, who really needs a boot up his rear, but I'm trying to deal with one on one, has set off another battle between the day school and night school teachers--don't think that this incident is just between the me, the student, the other teacher and the administrators at both schools. Oh no. Every teacher at both schools knows about this. Although the building has always been used for a dual school, we night teachers are interlopers. Or maybe even worse.

Okay, let's add them up. That's FIVE ways Happy Chyck can look like an unprofessional dolt. All wrapped up into one day. I hope that was my allotment for the rest of the year. Seriously. I took bitter pill after bitter pill all day long, and even into Friday, as I faced all of these issues head on, admitting my culpability each time. I certainly didn't lead by example. I hope I was able to screw up by example.

September 12, 2008

Thank You for Your Input

One of my student's parents left a comment with her signature on my course expectations this week. She took offense to my usage of the word insubordination. Uhm. Okay. I have to admit that I was rather strong with my word choice when I wrote that students who did not turn in work would be considered insubordinate. I went on to explain in the expectations that insubordination is the student's failure to follow the teacher's directions.

Again, maybe a stretch, but it truly seems that students who don't turn in their work are indeed rebelling against authority. Sometimes it looks like laziness; however, laziness does not seem to be a big issue for some parents. "Oh, my student is just lazy." You've heard that, right? Like it's an illness that should be excused. Give the kid a 504 Plan! So, I'm going for a bigger punch.

To me, what 90% of the not-turning-in-work issue boils down to is that the students feel like they can do whatever they want--despite what they have been told to do by the school authority who is charged with teaching them to learn each day. Call it educational jargon, but that's insubordination.

Many of my students start their work and never finish because they get distracted by...who knows changes minute to minute. But we all have those students for whom we can physically place a pencil in their hands and a paper in front of them, and they will do every except the learning task asked of them.

And what happens to students who are doing everything except what they're asked to do, that is, students who are off task? They often become behavioral problems. Who wants to be the parent of a behavioral problem who is disrupting class? Even better, who wants their students in classes where the behavioral problems are causing their students' learning to be interrupted?

Frankly, these insubordinate students who won't do their work aren't helping themselves on the Big Mandated Tests either. It's pretty hard to grow and learn without doing the practice prescribed by the teacher. Judge us not, parents, when your child's school does not meet AYP and you wonder if the school is providing a quality education. We have difficulty enough getting the students to mind us and do their work.

My rant may not justify my strong choice of words for students who won't/don't turn in their work. I'm wondering if others sometimes use words that don't quite fit right for the purpose. For example, why would my choice of words in this instance offend someone?

September 10, 2008

I Might Be Going a Little Crazy

I'm frustrated with the students who won't talk.

I'm frustrated with the students who talk too much.

I'm frustrated with the students who won't ask questions when they are confused.

I'm frustrated with the students who can't do any single task without asking 20 questions.

Why can't those students figure out what I want?

Acting Out in Writing Class

Last weekend, I started (and never finished) a post about how much I like my night school. People ask me how in the world I can make it through the day by going there and teaching two periods a night with everything else in life. Well, I have a whole list of reasons, including I like the kids.

Only, sometimes I don't like the kids. Like last night. And it wasn't so much that I didn't like the kids as it was that I didn't like the kids who were acting out because the task I was asking them to do was hard.

The first class I have has 8 students enrolled, and only 6 of them ever show up. The small class forces each one to participate rather than sit in the back of the class, hoping to ignored. I try to make them feel at ease and joke with them, but they will not talk to me. Seriously, even if pointedly ask one of them a question, all I get is some vague mumbling. I know a few of them are shy, but not all. One of the boys I had in class last year, and when he actually came to class, he talked A LOT! There is another girl who will talk to me a little, but her baby is due in any minute. She's my best hope of showing the rest of them that communicating with the teacher isn't so bad.

The last class I have has 20 students, which is a typical sized class. I know that is small class by most standards, but I seem to have some supreme talkers and clowns in that class. Okay, it's actually normal situation for that school. The students like me, so they don't maliciously disrupt--I've had years like that--but they're just blowing off whatever doesn't entertain them.

So, I blew my top with them last night. Third week in and I am already frustrated. A few days ago I was super cool. Patient. With these kids, I have to talk rough, keep it real. I reprimanded them for falling about so quickly and accused them of acting out because they felt a little stupid for not knowing what to do, how to fix their weak sentences. That is just no way to tackle a problem! I had given them different strategies for improving their sentences, but in revising, nothing is cut and dried. I can't tell them if it's right or wrong, I can only tell them if something is better, and that's something they know when they rework it enough, too.

Writing is hard and frustrating. I told them how I feel that pain a few times a week as I write here on my blog. I explained that I discover errors I've made days after my writing goes out to the public to read, and how sometimes my sentences sound like a 3rd grader wrote them. Of course, I choose to write because I enjoy it--even if it is hard.

I know it was harsh for calling them out on their actions. That's the knowledge we as teachers keep to ourselves sometimes. Students act out a lot to cover up their insecurities. We deal with it accordingly. Like I said, sometimes I have to talk rough with my students. That's how they receive messages. That's how they know I'm being real. It shows I care. It's crazy.

In the quad and in the parking lot. a few of them sheepishly approached me:

"Miss, are you going to be mad at us tomorrow?"
"Are you going to try hard tomorrow?"
"I was trying."
"You were were goofing around with those around you."
"No, I wasn't."
Insert Teacher-Eyebrow look here.
"Really? That's not what I saw."
"Uhmmmm. Okay. I'll try."


"Miss, I'll see you tomorrow. I'll be better. I promise."
"I need for you to be a leader in class."
"Miss, I'm a leader?"
"Yes, you are. Use it for good, not evil. You're one of the best students."
"Really, Miss? I'll try."

I hope so. That's all I'm asking for...

September 6, 2008

When Things Work

We have certain benchmarks that we need to meet each quarter, and often we don't quite address those benchmarks until the quarter when they should be assessed. There are benchmarks that are addressed all year long, but public speaking isn't one of them. Public speaking is a little standard slated for 4th quarter.

Skills in public speaking are what a few teachers on my team were crying for last year. Not so unlike the need for researching skills, which are also assessed later in the year. But public speaking skills I can deal with the second week of school when I don't have any textbooks or the ability to make photocopies. A short week on public speaking is something I can pull out of my you-know-where without any preparation.

Last Friday, student brought in objects that were important to them for a short speech. Okay, call it Show and Tell. Whatever. We also used it for a writing assignment. It was lovely. And, I had a quick look at what kind of speakers I might be dealing with this year. Most of them weren't bad. Each class debriefed with an analysis of the good and poor speaking traits they saw, and most picked out the same things I did. I love how my students can reflect on their abilities! In any case, they had a good base knowledge, so they just needed some booster tips.

For years I've been lecturing the finer points of speech delivery, preceded by a short talk on how to overcome the fear of public speaking, all based out of Brent C. Oberg's Speechcraft. It's a few days of lecture, and I am by no means a great lecturer, but I brought out my best performance with stories of my own speech failures, like the time I failed miserably at policy debate match and found myself a puddle of tears in the bathroom at the Alta Novice Debate Tournament. But did that stop me? No way! I demonstrated how gestures can work for or against you, and we had a lively discussion on how mispronouncing words, although it could be a regional dialect, which is technically no reason to judge since we accept diversity, will irritate some people so much that they stop listening to what they say. (People! Pronounce the name of our state the way we Nevadans do, or we'll think you're an idiot!)

Throughout the year, when my students give speeches I'll evaluate their delivery on eye contact, gestures, charisma, and voice. The state standard for speaking also has a component for analyzing the effectiveness of public speakers, so of course they'll evaluate each other and themselves along the way. For last week, though, after they observed me, someone who is admittedly a flawed public speaker, I planned for them to watch some professional public speakers and analyze their delivery styles.

And wouldn't you know it? Just in time for the Democratic and Republic National Conventions. This is the perfect time for me to integrate current events into my classroom and have it miraculously fit with the standards. (It's language arts, I can make anything fit, but you know what I mean!)

Oh, wait. Public speaking standards are not the ones I should be worrying about this quarter, right? Tough. It works. And it works well.

I made it an explicit point to tell students to put their--or their parents'--political opinions aside and simply observe the delivery skills each speaker had and how it might have enhanced their messages.

But I cannot help but smile when my little Republicans and Democrats argue with each other in the hallway after class. That's the good stuff.

September 4, 2008

Getting Smarter

At the end of my last post, I was hoping for an easy year. I've finally taken the plunge to get my master's. I know it might be weird for some to think that I don't have it already since I've been teaching so long. Before I came to Las Vegas, the only people I knew who had advanced degrees were the administrators, and frankly, it wasn't easy for one to earn a master's in the tiny, isolated area where I lived. There were always the summers, right? Well, yes. I chose to travel during those years. After all, most days I was in contact with students 12 hours a day. Summers were for family and friends!

We moved to Las Vegas a few years ago so my husband could go back to school. The plan has always been that as soon as we made it through that, it was my turn. He graduated two years ago this month, but it still wasn't quite the right time for me to go back. Now's the time.

So, if I'm not around as much, or if my posts are incoherent, you know it's because I'm working 65 hours a week and taking classes.

Oh wait! That's what we teachers do. Never mind.

September 3, 2008

Hanging On

Slowly but surely, I'm putting things up on the walls in my classroom. I have an aide on loan from the office/library since neither of those places are finished and they have an excess of student with nothing to do. Last week it took him three days to put paper up on two bulletin boards, but I am thankful that I have him to help out. Wrestling with paper, staplers, and boarder might have been easier with my help, but last week my preps were used up meeting with colleagues. Today I didn't have any meetings, and we made much progress sprucing up my classroom. It almost looks welcoming. I feel happier. My smiley faces are up!

I'm still working on putting things in my desk--other than those three pens and white board markers. I have some sticky notepads now. Has anyone seen my thumbtacks? Today, I finally decided to staple the calendar to the wall. That gives me three more weeks until I have to flip to the next month, right?

Where does the time go during my preps? I'm trying to figure it out. I'm not getting any papers sorted, and I haven't done any of my planning at my desk. Last week, I met with various colleagues during my preps--and a few of them I felt like I was acting as a mentor although I have floundered in setting up some new practices in my own classroom this year. Ironic, aye? I'm complex like that. I can help you figure out something for your classroom, but I'll still be stumped about some things in my own. Guess I'm not such an old teacher after all. Also, in these early parts of the year, much time is spent setting up attendance and grade book programs, managing student paperwork, finalizing course expectation sheets--getting ducks in a row. Of course, in our madness of opening a new building, we are a few days behind deadlines on everything.

Oh! Is it me, or am I simply slower at doing everything? Don't I usually type up lesson plans in about 30 minutes? It took me 3 hours last weekend! It seems I'm also out of mental shape.

It's coming together, though. I'm feeling a little more peaceful. That's good. I need smooth sailing in my classroom this year. Please, please, please.