July 30, 2009

Making Five Points

Melissa over at The Scholastic Scribe had a fun meme the other day that she invited all her readers to participate in. I could use a kick in the rear for some topics, so I begged her to give me some inspiration.

The Process
  • She gave me 5 random well-thought out words for me to reflect upon.
  • It is my job to say something profound about these topics. Some of them are tricky, so profound is probably not going to happen on all the topics.
  • If any of my three readers would like to participate in this meme, please comment and I'll swing by your blog and leave you with 5 words.
The Product

Middle School
I've written about crazy middle school life several times over the years. I think I'm better suited to teaching high school, but I like the school, program, and level of students I teach at my middle school, so I've stayed there for far longer than I thought I would--or could!

I think the hardest thing about teaching 8th grade is that the students are at such varied developmental levels. Some of them are so mature that I forget how young they are, while some are so immature, I can't believe they've even made it to 8th grade! Immaturity isn't always a bad thing, though. I think it's hard growing up in today's world, so if some of them are able to maintain some innocence, I'd like to encourage that! What's tough about teaching this age is trying to keep it real with them without scaring or scarring them!

I think the best stories come from daily life, so I think a review of some crazy times would be most entertaining.
Middle school is the biggest mind trip for everyone involved, but I'm starting to catch onto their humor:

Read is my drug. If I don't get my frequent doses--in an written or electronic form, I start to get twitchy, itchy, and cranky.

Some low-grade read get me by from day to day, but at least twice a month, I have to have a fix of some entertaining fiction. A few times a year, when I have more time, I try to overdose on books, thinking it might get me through when reading time is scarce, but it really doesn't.

This summer I've have tried to overdose a few times, but I've only had hit after hit of low-grade read. It sucks. That low-grade leaves no residue of euphoria that the good stuff does.

At any time, if you'd like to see my latest brain candy, just check out my Shelfari bookcase to the left. And if you want to read something more inspiring about reading, avoid any posts about my quest to earn my masters in reading, and instead, check out this more entertaining post about books from 2006.

Miss Teacha was very anxious to hear about my unconnected vacation in July. It was a bit unnerving knowing that I would be at least four days without Internet, and there was also a possibility I would not have cell phone service either.

Initially, I was a little stressed out because I started a class on the day I left for vacation, but I was able to contact the instructor where I basically said, "Sorry I'll be out of contact for several days. Going to visit Grandma. It is what it is." I didn't end up having any penalties to my grade because I was able to catch up when I came out of the woods. Whew!

I was also a bit nervous thinking that because I spend so much time connected that I might find myself going through withdrawls. How humiliating it would be if I were addicted to the Internet! How stupid would I be if I broke out in cold sweats if my Blackberry had no bars. I might be a dork, but I didn't want to be a Super Dork.

Guess what? No Internet! No cell phone service! We didn't even have a land line in our motel. Not that there aren't landlines in town...just none at the Pierce Motel.

It was peaceful.
(And not as bad as it looks.)
I liked it a lot.

As big as a pain in the arse yearbook is, it has also opened doors for me over the years.

Way back when I was still in college, hoping to graduate and get a job in my hometown, I discovered a way to get my foot in the door. I knew the yearbook adviser (who also taught English) at the junior high, and she agreed to let me come in a few times a week to observe and volunteer so I could learn a little about yearbook. This was a brilliant idea because my friend was going to be moving at the end of the year. A job opening!

Perfect idea, except that after the yearbook teacher left, the district didn't refill her position. I still don't know how that was justified, as class sizes were already upward of 40, but what could I do?

I was hired for my first teaching position in the middle of August, five days before school started. I always felt like I barely landed the position, which was hardly a cherry job to begin with, but I was desperate. I don't know for sure, but I think the principal hired me because I said I'd do anything. And since my resume showed me to be quite the jack-of-all-trades, I found myself teaching high school English and publications. Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing.

I did a pretty good job, but did I mention, it's a pain in the arse?

After I traded schools, I swore off yearbook. And that lasted one year. The yearbook adviser bugged me for half the year to take over yearbook the next year, but I refused. When she left at the end of June to teach at another school, I reconsidered my options. She had a better schedule than I did--even with yearbook. So, I went to the office and told the administrators that I'd like to be considered for her position. I was pretty lucky that they didn't laugh me out of the office because I'd had such a horrible year that I nearly quit teaching--in the middle of the year. I ate humble pie, acknowledged my utter failure, tried to convince them I had once been a good teacher and I thought I could be again, and then...I reminded them that I had 7 years of experience as yearbook adviser.

And here I am. Middle school yearbook is a cakewalk. Trying to publish middle school newspaper that isn't lame is another story...

Marge Simpson
I don't know much about Marge Simpson. Or any of the Simpsons.

Somehow I was off the planet when the Simpsons became popular, and then I just never watched the show. There's a time in my life, in my early 20's when I didn't have a television, and when I did, I could only pick up PBS, there was no rock station in my hometown (I missed the Nirvana era!), I was working, going to school, playing D & D and being a drama groupie in my free time, and in the middle of that, I became culturally inept in a lot of areas.

Melissa might have thought I was a Simpsons fan because of my banner, which I am super tired of now. Sometimes I collect avatars to use in ComicLife. Fun, huh?

Phew! So there are my five subjects, essentially five mini-posts for me. Let me know if you want to play along!

Thanks, Melissa, for getting my brain going!

July 29, 2009

Independent Learning Woes

Last month I complained about how suddenly now that school is out, the course work in my grad classes asks me to use students to practice some strategies. I've been able to muddle my way through and have been lucky enough that my children have been home when I needed them so I don't have to practice on the neighbor kids, as the syllabus in one of my courses suggested I try.

I'm in the weeds this week, though.

I'm suppose to give an informal reading inventory (IRI) to a student of any age and my kids are at their grandma's until Sunday.

I have a close friend and colleague who has a son, but he's only 4, and he can't read.

Another friend has school-aged children, but I asked her for help on finding students to practice on for summer school (she was the coordinator for the program) and she said offered up any of the poor kids for me to practice on and then added, "I just used to fudge those kinds of assignments." Thanks for making me feel dorky for actually trying to do an assignment. She's also a stepmom, so her kids are in and out about as much as mine this summer, too.

I decided to call parents of my daughter's close friend to see if I could use their daughter, but the phone is out of service. This does not surprise me because they have been constantly slammed with hardship for the last 7 months (loss of jobs and new baby with multiple medical problems), and they are probably at that point where a phone is a luxury. They are living in a big apartment complex, but I don't know which apartment, so I can't pop over there. Now that I know their phone's disconnected, I'm worried about them, too.

Gee thinking about how their day must be going makes my little problem sounds lame.

It's my problem, nonetheless. I wonder if I could use my husband as a guinea pig...

Oh! And another stress about this assignment is this whole IRI. So never return to this blog if you like because I'm such a bad teacher that I don't give IRIs. Not exactly, anyway. I do use a few different assessments from the reading programs our school uses, but I don't think they are as complete as this inventory I need to do. So, the truth is, I'm not positive what this IRI looks like. Honestly, I think there are a lot of secondary teachers who don't know either.

The assignment demands that I administer one and write up what happened and what I recommend for instruction for the student. It doesn't come with the resources to give this test, though. It says that I can ask teachers at my school or find one online. This is bullshit. I've spent my whole teacher life trying to find resources online. I can do it, but do you know what would be useful in this program where I'm trying to be a better teacher--and paying a bunch of money to a private university while doing it? Give me the resource. If it's so important, why not give me the one to use. If I find one on the Internet, how will I know if it's a good one? You know, in my own classroom, sometimes I give my students the websites when I am more concerned with them learning the information than I am researching the information. It saves everyone time and confusion about what they should be finding. I'm way past middle school level, but I personally think it's a great strategy in this information-overloaded world.

I'm super irritated at this, but on the other hand, I think I have a guardian angel looking over me. When I bought the textbook for this class through Amazon, I noticed that in the "People who-bought-this-book-also-bought-this-book" section there was a book on reading inventories. It wasn't required for my class, but it must have been required in someone's class at some other university. It looked like a great comprehensive tool for me to assess reading levels from K-12. I don't worry so much about my accelerated middle schoolers, but I struggle with resources for my remedial high school students. Not a lot of reading resources past the primary levels, you know. So thank you, guardian angel, for directing me to this 500-page resource I thought I might use someday. Come to find out, it's sooner than later!

But with whom do I use it?


I'm I too old for imaginary friends?

July 28, 2009

Back to Nesting Woes

My silence might indicate that things are pretty dull around here, but actually, since we came back from vacation, my sweetie has been on a mission to buy a house. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one I know who doesn’t own her own home, and I regret not buying one when I first started teaching. I didn’t think I could afford it, but in retrospect, I probably could have gotten a nice little home for myself for $40,000, which would have a been a good start on equity to get into another house along the line. Things might have been tight, but after moving to Las Vegas we found out what tight meant when our wage didn’t change much, but our housing costs increased $600 a month.

I’m not entirely convinced that owning and selling a small home in rural Nevada would have helped me buy one in Las Vegas, as we moved here during the housing boom. Now that the housing market has crashed, people like us can now get in on bank-owned house deals for $100,000 less than homes were going for just a few years ago. Apparently, the market is great for middle-classers like us who can finally afford homes without making any deals with the devil. Sweet!

I’m not sure if these house prices are a deal or not, as when I first moved to Nevada in 13 years ago, Las Vegas had notoriously low housing (and living) costs, and a lot of teachers I knew moved south to teach here. By the time I moved here, housing prices were ridiculously high, so it’s hard to tell what is realistic for this area. I just know what’s realistic for me, and until now, renting nice apartments and homes has been a much better deal. I've had no regrets about our living arrangements in the last five years, but I am more than happy to move on to a space of my own!

Of course, finding a home that is suitable for us is complicated. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of homes to choose from; it’s that there are so many factors to consider. I went through this a few years ago when we were trying to find a larger home to rent.
  • Schools.Finding a 9-month school is no longer important to me. It would be nice, but it narrows things a lot. Plus, schools can be rezoned and have changes in schedules because of enrollment--in those neighborhoods and across the district. One of our kids is only in elementary school for one more year, and the other for 3 more years.
  • More on Schools. I'm trying to decide how important meeting AYP is for a school. In many of the areas where we'd like to live, the schools have not met AYP. Sometimes by one factor, and sometimes up to five factors. Our school doesn't always meet AYP, but that doesn't mean that teachers aren't bustin' their buns teaching students.
  • Commuting distance is a consideration. My sweetie doesn't care about his commute, but it would be nice if mine were close to where we live so I could pick up the kids from school. Last year, they spent a lot of time in the after school program because I'm overloaded with work and grad school, but it doesn't always have to be that way.
  • Time to trust our kids? Most elementary schools I know of do not have bus service (there are a lot of elementary schools!), so picking up our kids is necessary, but if we chose a house within walking distance where they did not have to cross a busy street (like where we live now), we would consider letting our kids be latch-key kids, which would save us a TON of money each month. (Think car or student loan payment amount!) This idea about starting to leave our kids home alone a little bit has been a child-rearing conversation this summer.
  • Older or newer? Older homes have such character, but some that we have looked at will require some work in the next few years, such as new windows and bathrooms. We don't mind that idea, but if a new home doesn't require all of that, then why would we want an older home? I have been concerned about the quality of some of the newer homes that were built in the housing boom, too.
  • Yard space. We do not plan on a grass yard, except perhaps astro turf, but we would like at least a good-sized patio. Older homes have space, but new homes are so close to each other that you can stand between two houses and touch both. Claustrophobia!
  • Space inside. We are at odds about the allocation of space. I don't mind smaller bedrooms, and I don't need a giant master bedroom (walk-in closets, yes!) which all the newer houses have, but I do want large living spaces. My sweetie would like the bedrooms to be larger so our kids have lots of personal space. I think this is a good idea, too, but not to sacrifice common living spaces, where I spend all of my waking time.
  • A functional kitchen. I haven't seen any kitchen that are amazing, but none of them have been bad by any means. I do not want a galley kitchen. I have tolerated some bad kitchens over the years, so I can put up with a lot, but I do not think I should have to. (Did I ever tell you about the house that had the washer next to the sink and the dryer next to the fridge? That was bizarre!)
  • Vibes. This plays an important part, but I can't explain how. Let me zip that requirement to the broker: "House must have a good vibe." Crazy, I know. But in the end, when there are a lot of houses that would pretty well meet our needs, it comes down to vibe.
I've moved every 2-3 years in the last 20 years. The reasons for moving were all logical, such as leaving the area or needing a larger space because my family grew. One thing I know from moving so much is that I can make a home anywhere. "Where I am is home," is what I say. Now that I can choose something permanent, I need to remember my philosophy on what a home is, but can you blame me for not wanting some perfection?

July 25, 2009

Have You Heard the Cicadas?

The first time I heard the song of the cicadas, I was so moved I wrote a poem about it.

I still feel the same about those crazy insects.

July 24, 2009

Teacher Planning in the Summer: My Compromise

I met up with one of my friends at the mall few days ago. During lunch she told me that she was freaking out because she does not know what she's doing next year. I know she's freaking out. She's been freaking out since before school ended because she's moving from 7th grade English to 8th grade English. I don't blame her because there is a major shift of focus between the two grades at our school, but I also know that along with the other 8th grade English teacher, the three of us can totally rock 8th grade together. (Plus, she's an awesome, competent teacher!)

We need to do some work, though. This work needs to be done before school starts. I can do a lot to alleviate her fears, but she's also bringing new ideas to the table, as is the other 8th grade teacher, who is also a dynamic teacher at her 3rd year (I believe this is a pivotal year for most teachers), so I'm prepared to change things up, too. And that takes time. Lots of it.

So, have I spent the summer working? Nope! In June, I had opportunities for paid professional development, where colleagues at my school conducted sessions of things we wanted and needed to know. It wasn't too intense...about 24 hours over the course of 3 weeks. There were some ideas I should have taken to develop further, but I was on the downhill slide and I knew during July, I planned to to nothing school-related.

Doing nothing school-related for an entire month? Some of you might think that was an amazing feat, while others would consider that a mighty short summer. For me, it's a compromise of how much time I feel I should be planning, and the reality of how much time I will actually spend. Rather than beating myself up for not spending time, I set up time when I wouldn't even fool myself into thinking I might work: July.

I surrendered so completely to July that I hardly even remembered my job. That meant that wherever I went, I DIDN'T think of ways that whatever I encountered could be used in my classroom. This is huge. Very different from my earlier days of teaching.

(Okay, so I've hit some school supply sales, but it's not just for the classroom, it's for my own children, and I can't pass up super-cheap. Money is a different issue.)

On August 1, it's time to transition into planning mode. And by saying transition, I know that I won't be able to hit it full force. I'll procrastinate. I'll suddenly find things around the house I need to do. There are plenty of movies I still haven't seen. It won't be 40 hours of work.

So, as my friend is stressing out, anxious to get to work, I told her I would be happy to sit down and plan and seriously knock around ideas on August 1. I'm not just happy to do it, I'm looking forward to it, but not until August 1. I'd be lying if I said we didn't talk a little shop, but it was surface talk--and most of it concerned whether the clothes we were trying on would be comfortable and fashionable in the classroom. Pretty serious stuff there!

One more week to go. I'm dreading having to go back, but I'm so thoroughly relaxed from leaving my profession in my book bag behind the couch for a month that I think it will be even a bit refreshing to work again.

July 17, 2009

Air for Brains

You know those kids who sit in your class and don't seem to have a thought in their pretty little heads?

That's how I feel this summer.

Relaxed? Blissed out? Disconnected?

Whatever it is...that's me.