August 30, 2010


Of course, in typical first-day of school misery, there was no air conditioning for half the morning. My room tends to be extra chilly year round, enough so that I was comfortably wearing sweaters through the last day of school, and you know I'm afraid to complain because then it might get hot.

Last week, while other teachers were roasting while putting up their bulletin boards, I was feeling cool. I love my classroom!

Why should I expect there to be no air conditioning on the first day, then?

Afterall, our school is a mere two years old.

Like that matters.

There are just too many days where the heating and cooling are wonky.

Of course, the first day of school has to be one of them.

Outside this morning it was unusually cold--in the 70s! Therefore, it was actually cooler outside than inside. Bizarre for August here!

So, I was ever so happy (right!) to make a first impression as the sweaty English teacher. Embarrassing.

Oh, how was my day other than that? Well, it had its moments...

August 29, 2010


Finally tomorrow is the day school starts!

The last week has been crazy busy with getting everything ready in my classroom, attending the back-to-school meetings, getting my own children ready to attend school, doing some writing project work, and just handling the day-to-do stuff like groceries, laundry, and bills. Frankly, I'm glad that tomorrow has finally come.

And I'm adding more to this idea that the back-to-school event is as expensive as Christmas. The preparation and hassle is just about as great as Christmas. Bet ya anything that it will just as anti-climatic, too.

I'm sure I've blogged about this before, but I really do not relish the new beginnings of the school year. Sure, it's exciting to have new opportunities to improve the things I screwed up last year. Thank you for that! I really don't like setting up the procedures in the classroom, some of which I believe are no-brainers and I should not have to hammer them in every year. The initial assessments I give seem to take so much time--especially the ones that have to be done on the computer. And, well, it takes a little time for things to start flowing smoothly. How I would love to just wake up in about three weeks and be good to go for the rest of the year!

So, here we go!

August 24, 2010

More with Less

Tomorrow is the first day back for us teachers. I've been wandering in and out for a few weeks. I had some professional development opportunities, and I have spent three mornings in my classroom getting things ready. Some years it's been torture simply trying to put some posters up and unpack my supplies. This year, it went really fast, and I'm left feeling like something's missing.

Oh, but of course, I don't have everything planned for my instruction the first few weeks, but I'm well on my way there, too. Hello? What I did last year wasn't broken! Doin' most of it again.

So far, it's smooth sailing. Wahoo for me!

There have been a few of my colleagues hanging around a bit, too, so we've done some cussing and discussing. I do not want to start the year with a bad attitude, but, of course, there's just so much drama. I suppose if I really thought about it, this happens every year.

Every year, there's some insurmountable obstacle that precludes us from being perfect teachers without much effort. Oh, what is it you say? We should have to work for our pay? Of course, I agree, but sometimes this gig doesn't even feel like a job. It feels like a season of Survivor with all the drama of Big Brother.

The theme of our strife the last few years has been, "Do more with less." It's exhausting. I was near a breakdown in my principal's office last spring when I articulated my frustration with this theme. I haven't been blaming the administration for this theme, as they are in the same position as we trickles down, ya know.

So, anyway, through the cussing and discussing, I've heard some rumors, and since they seem to be matching up among different staff members, I'd imagine they are true. We'll see what is said tomorrow by administration--and what more is added to our theme this year. I'll share my troubles when I have them all rounded up. I can tell you that I keep telling myself that there's nothing that can be thrown at me that doesn't have a solution. We teachers get so set in our ways, don't we? Sigh. It's just that sometimes getting down to Plan E ( after A, B, C, & D) is not effective at all. It's just better than having no plan at all.

August 9, 2010

Worse Than Christmas

I've decided that back to school shopping is much more costly than Christmas shopping.

This is the very best time for me to stock on supplies for my classroom, such as highlighters for editing, index cards for various activities, glue bottles because teens never learn to close them, and red pens so I can make people feel bad all year long. Of course, I also need to stock up on things that make me happy, like good pencils, post-its, and correcting fluid. Since I've been cranky with my job, I have not gone overboard on these essentials, which I've sniffed out at good sales, and of course, I'm keeping my receipts for tax purposes.

As all of you teachers and moms know, these professional needs are compounded by The School Supply List each of my children has. I only have two, and thankfully, the older they get the less they need.

My son, who will entering 4th grade needs everything except crayons. I'm going to hold as much as I can at home because within all my crankiness, I am irritated at the idea of buying my son 6 boxes of pencils that he has to share with other students who brought none. Oh, but when I say that aloud, my heart breaks, and I want to help those poor kids whose families can't afford it. Seriously, though, who can't afford some pencils? Oh, yeah, but add that to the other 20 items on the list and multiply that a few times because stereotypically, if there's one poor kid whose family who can't afford pencils, he probably has a sibling. Or two. Or three. I'm way off on a tangent here, but this List--it's tough.

It's not the pencils that bother me so much on the The List. It's the tissues, hand sanitizer, hand soap, paper towels, and sandwich bags that bother me. I'd like to supply these for my children's classrooms because I know what a cesspool those classrooms must be. I know how dirty my son gets, and I have my own classroom. I need to go sanitize just thinking about it. I'm irritated because a few years ago my principal told us that we could no longer ask our students to bring these supplies in. Originally, I thought it was a district command, but then I think it was something about how families could not afford it...Well, my own children go to a Title 1 school, and there is it always on the list. A colleague of mine, who is tighter yet more loving than I am, brought rolls of toilet paper (an idea that was used school-wide at the alternative school where I teach every night), and rationed out sanitizer. Great idea to keep the cost low, but remember back in the day when we didn't haven't to shoulder that cost? If each of my students was asked to bring in one box of tissue and a bottle of sanitizer, it would be enough for the entire team of teachers (12 of us) to use all year. That's actually less than what elementary students are asked to bring.

My daughter is entering 6th grade this year, and her School Supply List was shockingly simple: paper, a package of dividers, pencils, pens, two binders, and a student planner (they buy that at school). It was also suggested that she have a flash drive, but she already has one. Now, those binders are incredibly expensive, but from experience, I know that one gets what she pays for. Interestingly, tissues and sanitizer were not on her list, so either her principal has the same edict as mine, or the kids at her middle school are less contaminated with kid germs than the ones at my middle school.

Speaking of incredibly expensive--have you seen how much backpacks are? I think I ended up paying $60 for two. And they were on sale! I like to force my kids to use their backpacks for more than one year. This worked out well for my son, until about two months ago when his Jansport started falling apart everywhere. (Aren't those the ones that are suppose to last a lifetime?) But then I also discovered he was keeping a rock collection in his backpack. My daughter went through three backpacks this year, and she wasn't collecting rocks. I've seen backpacks advertised for $5 at various places, but I don't even stop to look. I'm pretty sure I cannot afford to keep my kids in $5 backpacks all year.

Oh! Yesterday while we at Office Max, my sweetie found a backpack--his zipper is ripping out--for only $55. Actually, that's not a bad price for a backpack/laptop bag, especially since I think they are closer to $100 at Fry's. It's just that...well, it's another $55! Last spring, I wore out my favorite tote bag, and I've been on the hunt for a new one. (Yes, I'm a real teacher. I do have dozen of tote bags from conferences, but they have neither pockets or a way to close.) In the last few weeks of school, I took to using my backpack from college. You know, the one I bought in 1990. So, do you think that my sweetie can hold out until Christmas for a new bag? Or at least next month? I hope because we're just about B-R-O-K-E.

In other words, pencil rich, but cash poor. 'Tis the Season.

August 7, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Click the X in the right hand side of the Super Poke advertisement. That's a disappointing aspect of this app!

I still have a few more weeks of vacation left, but a few weeks ago, it did occur to me that when I meet with my colleagues again, we'll have to engage in the traditional catching up ritual when we regale stories of our amazing summers. Awesome, huh? Yeah, except I work with a lot of people who lead more interesting lives than I do. People whose families live in more interesting places than mine do. People who leave the country to vacation. People who do service in the summer. People who might have travel tales to tell.

I can't wait for this scenario to be played over and over:

Nice Colleague: So, how was your summer? What did you do?

Me: Well, I visited Idaho twice and Utah once. Neither of those were vacations I'd had planned, as we had a bunch of family here in June, and we thought that would pretty well be our vacation.

Nice Colleague: Oh, well. That's nice.

Me: Actually it was nice seeing family and friends I hadn't seen in a while. What did you do?

Nice Colleague: Oh, you know, I took a cruise to the Bahamas./ I helped youth build houses in needy areas./ I went to the World Cup./ I went to Disneyland and Disney World./ Created the cure for cancer.

So, shoot me now.

I had a very nice summer vacation, actually. And I'm not finished because yesterday I woke up with a wild hair that I should call my friend in Grand Junction, Colorado to see if I could come visit for a few days. So, I'll be able to add Colorado to my list of exotic destinations.

Okay, now seriously. I have had some great times this summer, and here I will list them for my pleasure, and yours, if you like.

  • In June, my eldest step-daughter and her family came for a week-long visit. It was a pretty big deal because there was a grandchild in the house for the first time! And she is just cute, cute, cute! They live in Tennessee, so we don't get to see them often. My mother-in-law came at the same time, and I was so thankful to have such a large home (we just bought in November) to accommodate everyone so comfortably. Although I was nervous to be in a house full of people who are not my blood relatives, we had a blast!
  • We traveled to Kimberly, ID, which is a suburb of Twin Falls--like Twin is even big enough to have a suburb--to visit my best friend at her parent's house on the 4th of July. My friend's brother had a big barbecue, and although I was so cold all day, we had a lovely day just hanging outside. The best part was watching my son run wild with other little boys all day. Feed the horses, play kickball, have a water gun fight, walk on barrels. It was a boy's dream day.
  • My childhood best friend came to Las Vegas for a conference, and we had a nice afternoon shopping and catching up. I saw her a few weeks later when I was in Utah, which is where she lives. We usually celebrate our birthdays together, but I didn't have much time, we spent another nice afternoon making plans for our birthday next year. We are moving into another decade. It will be a big deal.
  • My mom and I took a road trip to see my grandma in northern Idaho. Mom lives in northern Utah, about 7 hours from me , and it was about 13 hours from her house to my grandmother's house. I had road shakes--you know when your body vibrates for a few hours after a long drive--several times in two weeks. Throughout Nevada, most of Utah, and southern Idaho, the scenery is pretty much the same. Desert and sky.
  • When we first hit the pine trees, we pulled over so I could take a picture for my 365 project. TREES! I didn't get a good picture, but I could have stood there all day smelling the trees. Love the smell!
  • On the way we stayed at this little motel along the Salmon River and we saw deer right outside our window! There was a patio behind the hotel, so we sat outside and drank beer, watched deer, and listened to the river. It's hard to find such peace where I live! It was a great evening to share with my mom.
  • Grandma lives with Aunt Diana, and yet another aunt, Barb, came to visit, so we girls had a dandy old time catching up! One night we broke out the camera and were taking goofy pictures. We tried to take a self portrait of ourselves, but without a tripod and five of us in the group, we found it challenging. I think the best one was the one we took of our feet. It was certainly the easiest one to take!
  • I also spent some time with my brother and his family when Mom and I came back from Idaho. I was impressed with his yard and the "green" way they live. My sister-in-law works at a greenhouse in the summer, and she gave me a tour of her work. I know nothing about plants, so I am just in awe of her!
  • While in Utah, I ran into an old high school friend, Ali, who lives in the Netherlands. We are the type of friends who, unfortunately, lose touch for years, but when we reconnect, it's like we had never been apart. When I saw her, she had just arrived, and I was just leaving, but as it turns out, she was going to be meeting family in Las Vegas! Happy dances! She came over one afternoon, and we drank tea and caught up on too many years. I was so sad to see her go, but that afternoon brightened my whole week. (You know, I've had a standing invitation to go to the Netherlands for 15 years. Maybe I should go!)
I'm sure there are other little things that I'll forget. I've actually had a pretty busy summer visiting friends and family. Nothing too exciting or exotic, and for the most part, I've visited places I've been before, and those places are small, slow-paced towns. Some of my young, adventure colleagues may not understand it, but I've had exactly the kind of summer I've wanted and needed!

August 5, 2010

On Having Hope

I started reading a few new books on instructional practices, and I've been flipping through some of the older ones on my shelves. I'm feeling a little more optimistic that I know what I'm doing.

Well, actually, maybe I don't know everything, according to my self assessment on how to teach literature according to Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements. However, reading this book made me realize that I have a lot of tools (I've done a lot of things suggested in the book), my goals for the students are right on track, and with a little tweaking here and there, I can easily pump up my instruction. Oh! And maybe I can make reading more interesting to the students, too.

Please, let me hold on to my dreams about students enjoying reading and writing.

Sometimes it's frustrating for me when I don't have all the answers. I've been teaching long enough that I should not have to work so hard at helping the students learn. In my last post, the parts that make it hard seem to be forces at work against me. Now that makes me sound all paranoid, like there's a conspiracy theory out there sabotaging teachers in their quest to educate the world's children. Crazy, isn't it?

So besides being cranky, now I'm paranoid. I'm well on my way to being an eccentric teacher! (That's a long-range goal.)

But in all seriousness, when I start reflecting on myself as a teacher with ideas, strategies and pedagogy from other educators, it actually makes me feel more hopeful about who I am as a teacher and what I can do to foster learning in the environment of my classroom. Oh, there I go again being verbose, but these are some key ideas.
  • Who am I? I read a lot about what other teachers have done, but I can only go with my own strengths and experiences. I cannot exactly copy what another teachers does. There's room for stretching and tweaking, but the more I know myself as a teacher, the better I can hone my skills. (And protect my weak underbelly!)
  • How do I foster learning? Don't we spend the majority of our time designing lessons and units? This is the heart of what we do. How do I get the knowledge into the students? How do I engage them? How do I get them to think? This is the area where I have so many tools in my toolbox, and although many of the tools work regardless of how old they are, some of them are like a cheap new can opener that won't cut the lid no matter what. Oh, and this changes from year to year depending on students. I suppose an important bullet point might be to know your students. If you don't believe students make a different, I can refer you to numerous posts about how my alternative high school students like to destroy every good idea I have ever had.
  • How is the environment of my classroom going to enhance learning? I would say that most teachers spend an inordinate amount of time planning how their classroom looks before the students arrive. It's a pretty big deal because how the furniture is arranged and where the pencil sharpener is sets up important structures that show students how learning will take place. (Only teachers are nodding their heads right now. Non-teachers are likely thinking, "What does it matter where the pencil sharpener is?") In the first few weeks, teachers work even harder setting a tone with the students, too. How do we treat each other? How many shenanigans can students get away with? How much will they be expected to be responsible for their own learning, that is, will they be able to just sit and get or will they be required to think and speak?
Whoa. I was just talking about reflecting about who I am and where we're going, and the next thing you know, I'm knee-deep in getting ready for the year.

This teaching gig is hard work, and it takes a lot more of behind-the-scenes planning than many might think it would. Whether you are a newbie or a veteran, as especially if you are in that 3-5 year range when things are really coming together for you in the classroom, take time to dig around in your books and files, seek out other bloggers (search their archives, too!), and have some conversations with colleagues. Afterward, Take some time to reflect. You don't have to have all the answers. In fact, the questions are probably more interesting.

Now, this is important--don't let that reflection get you down, like it did me earlier this week. Let that reflection give you power and hope that although you know more than enough to be a good teacher that there is still room for growth for you, too. Stretch yourself, just as you ask your students to do all the time, and tweak or add a few new things this year. I know that I'm not giving up hope on teaching until there is nothing else for me to learn. Or until I get my 30 years in.

August 3, 2010

Doubts, Irritations, and General Pissiness

I miss being a wide-eyed optimist.

I'm being the kind of cranky teacher I always wanted to avoid, and sadly, it really didn't take me as many years as it should have.

Yesterday I had lunch with the other accelerated English 8 teacher. Our plan was just to ease into things, start thinking about what we'd like to do, and maybe take some notes on a to-do list. Of course, after we spent half the lunch catching up, we started talking about what we'd like to do differently this year. That is, we put a microscope on our weaknesses, and it didn't take too long before I started feeling like I can't do anything right.

But then, of course, why would we talk about the things that work? We have so many other kinks to work out. Too many kinks to work out. I'm no newbie, so what's with all the kinks?
  • There are just too many things to teach, and not enough time. Although English is pretty flexible, as there are a lot of ways to approach teaching the skills through speaking, reading, and writing, English class is like five different subject. I just named three. Let's toss in research. Okay, that only makes four. There's always grammar and vocabulary, but apparently, they falls under writing, and those areas vaguely mentioned in the standards now. However, without those foundations...
  • The pressure for students to achieve on tests is unrelenting. I feel that when I teach what I am suppose to, the students will leave with what they need. I believe that I could structure my classroom in such a manner that I could probably get to the things I need to, but with testing pressures, I have to teach in a certain way, placing emphasis heavily on one or two areas. Oh, and the tests are in February and March. I wish we'd test in May. Give me a whole year.
  • In the program in which I teach, there are some conflicts with the ideals--students centered, project-based, technology-rich, multicultural, well-rounded learner--and the testing mania. I am held accountable for both, and sometimes I cannot get it to work smoothly. It's taken me a few years to fully realize this, and last spring when our program was under review, these conflicts came to a head. I thought it was the big elephant in my head, but it turns out, he was right there in the room for all to "see." I don't know if anything can be done about these conflicts in ideals. It's just the way it is.
Just the way it is. Boy I get tired of doing with what we have. No, wait. Not just doing with what we have. This year we are bracing for the worst amount of us doing with what we have, which is more students and fewer resources.
  • Finally, and this one gets my blood boiling, has to do with students' performances and expectations. Some of the things we are working on improving are things that students simply did not do last year. Like reading logs and projects. And along with that conversation, we return to what we do if students don't turn in work. Take it? Take it with penalty? Give academic detention? So much of what I need to tweak in my classroom has to do with me making it difficult for students to blow-off or cheat on assignments; it has to do with me thinking of ways to keep them from academically hurting themselves. (Last year I saw the worst apathy, and we've heard it might be bad this year, too.) Sure, I can accept that sometimes I do things in my classroom that may not be best practices. Perhaps sometimes I'm wrong. However, there are many times when I do know what I am doing--I have plenty of experience and training--and the whims of teenagers screw it up. They have too much power, and they use it in the wrong ways.

I'm so full of self-loathing right now that I shouldn't post this. Do I hate my job? Do I hate the students? No, neither. I'm pretty cynical, though. I wish I had my rose-colored glasses because I'm pretty pissed off at the system and feeling stubborn and cranky toward the students I haven't even met yet.