November 30, 2010

School's Not a Buffet

Hitting the ground running today so I can save my students from themselves. I hate that duty.

When I was out of the classroom 1 1/2 weeks ago (seems so long ago), I gave some assessments. One was a chart for students to map out some cause and effects of the novel. The other was an essay relating their own lives to the essential question of the unit. Each one was given in one day and was to be collected the same day. The sub knew this, and the writing assignment even stated that it was due at the end of class. Imagine my shock when I found that some students didn't turn it in. Thus, these students have Fs on assessments. No big deal? Assessments account for 50% of their grades.

I think the sub factor played a part in this crisis, but I'm mostly blaming the students. When the sub asked for papers to be passed forward, why did they think they had the option to not follow instructions? It could have easily happened with me standing at the front of the room, collecting their work just before the bell because I wanted to give them as much time as possible.

I'm calling this the buffet mentality that my students have:

I'll do this work but not that work.
That looks yucky, so I think I'll skip it.
I took bite, but I'm just going to throw the rest away.
That work is good. Can I have extra?


Oh, and because I found two charts with the exact same answers, let me add:

Can I have some of yours?

I should just say, "Your parents are paying the same price no matter how much you 'eat.'"

I can already anticipate those who threw theirs away are going to be hungry now that the meal is over. The parents will probably wonder why their kids didn't get enough. My administrator will probably wonder how they could walk in, sit down, not be a happy little consumer. Did I not serve them?

Sure, I served the picky little ones. Apparently I'm not allowed to force-fed them, so what can I do?

Detention. You will sit there until you finish.

(That's a battle of wills to take on, thus a rotten day for me...)

November 28, 2010

My Pen Bled Out

I Hate This Gig 11/23/10

It all came crashing together during the one full week of instruction we had in November. Three assessments for the novel we recently finished and the independent book project whose due date was pushed back two weeks because of all the days off we'd had.

The grading would not have gotten out of hand if I would have been in my classroom doing those assessment days because, of course, when the students are working independently at their desks, that is also work time for me. I would have had been able to keep a handle on it. Oh sure, it's likely that I would have taken some home, but it would not have been the 26 hours I spent this weekend grading.

Excessive isn't it? Honesty, I would have blown off about half of it and graded it next week, but my midterm grades must be posted tomorrow.

I did not think it was teacherly possible to conquer such a pile in one weekend.

Once again, I have performed an educational miracle. (Oh, I don't even want to think about the accuracy of my magic in the last few hours!)

I need a do-over on my Thanksgiving weekend.

That miracle isn't happenin', is it?

So starts my countdown to Christmas--and a promise to myself for a 100% work-free holiday.

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving HappyChyck Style

I hope everyone has had a lovely Thanksgiving. I am thankful for my family, friends, and just my life in general. No complaints here. It's as simple as that.

The kids are with their maternal family this weekend, and we had no other plans, so when I woke up this morning, I seriously had no idea what was the plan for the day. In the end, we had a leisurely morning of coffee and news--if you can call it that because it was such a slow day the newscasters were playing [frozen] turkey bowling--and then we drove over the Hoover Dam Bypass. Uhm...not that exciting. It's very pretty to look at, except while one is on it, of course, and what's worse is that the sides are so high that one can see over it to the Colorado River. I suppose it's for the best, but we passengers would appreciate the scenery.

We contemplated driving an hour to Kingman, Arizona for the heck of it, but I wasn't sure what kind of Thanksgiving dinner option we'd have, so we turned around. On the way back into the city we had Holiday Edition of this Typical Dining Out Conversation:

Me: "So where do you want to eat?"
Him: "Wherever."
Me: "No, really. Any ideas?"
Him: "Nope. You decide."
Me: "I. Don't. Know. Why don't you choose?"
Him: "Whatever you want to do, hun."
Me: "Can't you make a choice about dinner for once? Does it even matter to you?"
Him: "Nope."
Long silence.
Me: "Do you want to go to a buffet or a restaurant?"
Him: "Whatever."
More silence.
Me: Well, we could go to Green Valley Ranch for a change. Or maybe Marie Callender's. They'll have a nice dinner. Oh! Claim Jumpers is open for a Thanksgiving Dinner. Any of those sound good?
And then I waited to see where we actually ended up.


In a classic Vegas move, we went to Green Valley Ranch for buffet. We waited in line for about 45 minutes for some terrible turkey. Bummer! It wasn't in the carving station (Fish and prime rib were); instead, it was in strangely uniform slices in a pan of broth. However, some of the sides, like a spaghetti squash dish, pumpkin ravioli, and a Greek salad with cranberries were delightful. My sweetie ate his fill of crab legs and shrimp. Much like a family Thanksgiving dinner, if one dish is found unpalatable, surely there are many other yummy things to eat.

This evening my sweetie and I are hanging out in our warm cozy home. More coffee. Sappy holiday movies on television. Oh! I should "turn on" the fire place. Blissfully, simply peaceful.

If you are relaxing with your computer this holiday weekend, do as I did and go back and read my Thanksgiving stories from 2006. Start here and follow the links after each one. These old stories of mine make me smile. I hope you enjoy them, too!

November 22, 2010

Time

As I was driving home from work tonight, I felt the fatigue deep in my bones. How many days had it been since I woke up this morning?

It felt like months.

One might think it's the nature of Mondays, yet my day had not been terribly stressful. Just busy. And long.

Betcha anything that tomorrow morning when the alarm rings, it will feel like just a few minutes had passed.

November 16, 2010

Some Love Me; Some Hate Me

Love

When I walked onto campus at night school this evening, I found one of my students from last year, Evelyn, sitting on one of the benches. I was very happy to see her, and we exchanged hugs.

"What are you doing here?" I asked her.

"I came to see you!"

"No, you didn't!" They always say that, and it's sweet, but I'm not the primary person they come to see. They just want to see everyone.

"Yes, Miss!" she exclaimed, "I've been waiting since about 4:30 p.m. They said you'd be here sometime but it was going to be a while."

She waited two hours to see me. Wow. Do I feel loved!

Evelyn was one of those students that by the end of the year, I was more like an auntie to her. She was in two of my classes, and because she didn't pass her writing proficiency exam, she was one of three of the remaining students I had in my remedial class during the 4th quarter.

I love it when the students come back to show us they are hanging in there and doing well. It was a major bright spot to my day.

Hate

I had a parent conference with one of my 8th graders today. He is on probation in the program for his grades, and during the 1st quarter he ended up with a D in my class. A few weeks into this quarter, he has an F. He has turned nothing in!

Now, as a person, I really like this kid. He is polite and he participates in discussions, but his follow-through is terrible.

I went into the conference shootin' straight with the mom and the boy. He claimed that he was not good at reading and writing, which is just fine, but I can't work with a pile of excuses. Bring me a craptastic piece of writing or stupid questions on a reading, and I can help, but bring nothing to the table and I'll bring out Queen Cranky.

The conference went pretty well. The boy was excited about the mock writing proficiency test we took today (and he was one of the last ones working because he was trying so hard ), and come to find out that he t.v. production teacher gave him some tips and a way to think about approaching writing. That's awesome that she has been able to help him make writing more relevant to his life. He is also doing very well in his Algebra class, so we looked at how he could transfer the strategies he uses to be successful in some of his other classes, including mine.

At the end, we set some goals and discussed the idea that he needed to come for help after school sometimes. Before we parted, his mother thanked me and told me that he was embarrassed around me. Embarrassed? I asked the boy if I had ever embarrassed him because although I can be a bitch strict, I didn't ever mean to embarrass him. In fact, he is not even one of my targeted fools in his class.

What she really meant was that sometimes he was too embarrassed to ask me for help. The boy confirmed that I had never done anything to embarrass him, but apparently I have a reputation that precedes me from his brother, who was never actually a student of mine, but he was such a...well...pain in the butt...that I certainly know who he is.

Poor kid. I had to explain to him that he need not be afraid. If he were to come to me for help, I'd be nice as pie. I just have no patience for excuses or laziness.
_____________
I think I'm a pretty nice teacher, but I'm not all sunshine and rainbows. More often than not, I just don't have much patience for shenigans. (Later in the year when I'm more tired I might be.) I'm not the kind of teacher that makes a great first impression. I kind of grow on the students, and even students like Evelyn have taken plenty of my wrath when they were acting like fools. The smart ones realize that in the end, I am mean because I care. My bark is worse than my bite, as they say.

November 15, 2010

Need Time

It's been a rough instructional month. We started off with two days of staff development. last week we had off Veteran's Day and the day after that, too. of course, next week we have the long Thanksgiving weekend.

In the mix my students have had a field trip, an assembly, a career day speaker, and a day for a mock writing test. While we're adding, let me put in the three days I will be out of the classroom, too. I've left quality assignments, but they are different from the ones I would have done if I were in class.

This madness is pretty common every November, but that certainly does ease the pain. I'm actually looking froward to the three full weeks of instruction I'll have between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ah bit weird?

November 14, 2010

Is iPad for Me?

ipad and my pad 8/2/10
As I wrote in my last post, I have borrowed an iPad from my writing project, and I've been looking for uses related writing and the classroom. It's left me a little disappointed at times, but I am interested in deciding if it's an investment for me. I'm going to need to get a new computer sometime in the near future. Although I can get a PC a lot less than a Mac, I will be going with the latter. But wouldn't it be nice to simply get a iPad?

Okay, so although I haven't found a lot of use for the iPad in the way I hoping to, it's not like I've left the thing sitting around unused. Are you kidding me? It's a blast to use, particularly for the general kind of web reading and surfing I do. I can comfortably sit anywhere and read my feeds, check out the gossip on Facebook, and Stumble until I start to lose brain cells. It's so much lighter than my (also borrowed) 15-inch MacBook Pro, which has a dying battery and needs to be plugged in quite a bit.

I love, love, love the touch screen interface. It just feels so...zippy! And maybe a bit like Star Trek...

Besides catching up on blogs I enjoy, Stumbling, and Facebook lurking, I also enjoy playing with my pictures in Flickr and Picnik quite a bit, and I'm trying to get back into being a better blogger again. However, blogging is not a joy on the iPad, especially without an external keyboard. Perhaps if I weren't so verbose... In Blogger, it's especially frustrating, but I recently figured out that I have to switch to HTML blogging if I want it to work. So, I guess it might be something I could handle. I still prefer typing on my laptop, though. Having to use the HTML tab just isn't as user-friendly. I could guarantee you that if I were using the HTML right now, there would be no hyper links in this post. And that's not even fancy! I'm too lazy to type the code--OH! And plus, I haven't figured out how to paste a URL from another window yet (Uhm, where's the C and V?), so being able to work around with 7 windows open, looking up and pasting information is not as easy. Blogging from Blogger...eh.

Viewing Flickr is beautiful because the quality of the screen on the iPad is amazing. Of course, it can be used as a digital picture frame, and many people use it to read ebooks, so of course, Flickr would be expected to be fun. However, not only do I like to upload my pictures, I also like to tweak with them a bit with Picnik. Unfortunately, it uses Flash. iPad doesn't do Flash. That's really too bad because I could really get into uses the touch screen to edit my photos. I would love to make photography more tactile again! This Flash issue has been ongoing for iPod and iPad, so this argument is fairly common against the products. I didn't see where it affected me too much outside of using Picnik except when I was Stumbling. It's just a shame that such a cool device doesn't do it all like I would expect.

Because I'm using a borrowed iPad, I think I am more cognizant of the cost of using the iPad than serious Apple lovers might be. You see, the more I use the iPad, the more I see that I really need to purchase apps and accessories for it to be the perfect tablet for me. Thus, the iPad probably works best as a personal device. (This is a point that probably goes better on yesterday's post.) But it is driving home the point of how much this thing could cost. Now, the iPad I'm using does not have a 3G plan with it. My friends who have an iPad pay for the service; I think it's around $30/month. Not bad, but it is really worth it?

The cost of using the iPad was driven home this weekend as I prepared to take it on a trip.
I'm going to the National Writing Project Annual Meeting this week. I attended a few years ago, and as a good technie person (it's my focus at our writing project's site), I lugged my laptop with me. As nice as it was a few times, it was just too heavy and bulky. I didn't take so many notes that I couldn't just write them down in a notebook. I decided that it didn't matter that I was the tech liaison now, there was no way I was taking my computer.

Oh, but I have the iPad now! Sweet! I do have a wireless/bluetooth keyboard that I don't use very often. (I should because the project paid $69.00 for it.) It's a little funky because if the keyboard and iPad are both flat on a table, the iPad's screen is hard to see. If I'm balancing things on my lap, it's even more awkward. My friend has a keyboard dock that makes more sense for the same price. I haven't decided if I'm taking the keyboard. The real issue is that if I am to take note--do any type of word processing--I need an app to do so. I suppose Pages is the way to go, but it is $10. If I were serious about tools that produce work, I might investigate using iWork instead for a whopping $79. Ha ha!

Since I'm not really wanting to spend a lot of my own money, and I like the budget way, I thought, "Hey! I bet there will be wi-fi available! I could just use Googledocs!" Am I brilliant or what? Can you believe that such a slick made-for-the-web machine does not work with Googledocs? Insane! Apparently it has something to do with Safari. The consensus out there is that iPad is indeed not compatible with Googledocs, yet people are begging for it to be. I've seen a few people who have a it-kind-of-works work around, some of which use another app, costing around $10.

I like technology that just works. I don't want to have to figure out a way to get it to work. I have needs. They are not unusual. They should be met. How are it is that, technology developers?

You know...I've been around the Internet boards a lot reading how people are figuring out how to get things to work with iPad. Oh, there's a tweak here or an app there. Can't get information onto or off the iPad because there are no USB ports, CD drives, or connectors? You know you can can what you need from iTunes, or maybe you should visit the Apple store for some more accessories.

And this is where I started to get pretty disillusioned about iPad...maybe even iPhone and iPod, too. The base price is pretty stiff, and then one has to keep putting more and more money into it.

If I had $500, I'd get the low-priced iPad just for the fun of surfing the 'net. I would not be willing to pay for the top of the line model for $829 because for between $1,000-1,300, I could have a (smaller) MacBook, and I know for sure that a MacBook could serve my needs--as it's been doing for the last 7 years with minimal frustration.

November 13, 2010

iPad Ponderings

I borrowed an iPad from the writing project a few months back with the goal of figuring out how to use it...you know...with writing instruction. I've done some searching around, and to just have ONE iPad in a classroom, just like only one computer would be frustrating. I like the portability of it, and I suppose the novelty of it would fascinate many students. But I don't know... I'm not even sure I want to buy my own. I'm completely torn.

So, some things I've been thinking about. Perhaps somebody has new insight to add?

iPads Would Rock in the Classroom
  • Small and easily stored
  • Touch-pad is intuitive and user-friendly
  • They are touted as being a good e-book readers
  • Great for web-based learning tools
iPads Would Kind of Suck in the Classroom
  • No usb port to import/store information, so it might be an issue with multiple users
  • Easily stolen
  • It comes with virtually nothing and apps cost extra money. How would that work with a classroom set?
  • Typing anything of length on it is a pain unless you have a keyboard, which costs more.
  • If a school does not have wireless Internet (and I visited one in my district last week), it would not be half as fun.
As much fun as I've had on the iPad, I've run across some frustrations. I'll save that for a post tomorrow. For now...iPad users and technology peeps, what do you think? What role does iPad have in the classroom?

November 12, 2010

Planning

How often do you create new lessons and units?

A few years before I moved to Las Vegas, I started to get into a groove where I didn't create any new lessons--that I remember anyway. I used the same texts. I taught the same things. I don't necessarily think I was stagnant because it was during the time my district was embracing standards-based teaching and curriculum aligned in a big way. It was just before NCLB took over our classrooms.

After I moved in 2004 and started teaching middle school in Clark County where we have each quarter mapped out with districts tests approximately every quarter, you'd think I would have definitely teach the same thing over and over, but I haven't.

I try to follow the quarter benchmarks, but sometimes I kind of wiggle around them because I also teach in an IBMYP school. The constant conflict I have in teaching a program that has a different structure (and values) than the district where I teach is confusing and frustrating.
When I first started teaching in the program, I had no idea what I was doing and what an IB lesson even looked like. As I've learned more about the program, I've shaped my lessons differently. Oh! And sometimes I do get new novels and resources, so I don't have to use the same resources. While, I do have a few units I do every year, I even tweak the lessons within the unit to better match IBMYP and district benchmark needs.

Creating new units and lesson is exciting for me--except when I need to have them done ASAP, and then I long to drag out the old stuff. But even my old stuff isn't always tired. Lately, I've brought things out of retirement that have turned out to be pretty fresh. Kind of like the fashion of my youth that is creeping back. Plus, sometimes I tweak the same old stuff just a bit so that it's not so tired, but it's not certainly not new. Essentially, I don't create that many new units and lessons.

I'm not as passionate about teaching as I used to be. Oh, I still like my job--probably more than I did in the early years--but I am more into working smarter these days because I relish my personal time. I'm interested in being able to leave work at work.

I'm not judging, dear readers, how much do you reuse and how much is new each year?

November 11, 2010

Television Catch-Up

It seems like I'm always trying to catch up something. At home, it's usually cleaning or bill-paying. At work, it's usually grading or lesson planning. Wait! Haven't I blogged about being behind in life before? Ah, I have. Unfortunately, the honesty of that post a year ago reveals a much more realistic and tragic reality of just behind I always am.

A year ago? Hmm...I wonder if there is some sort of pattern where in November I get backlogged. Might merit some investigation.

This morning I drove the kids to Baker, California, the drop off point, so the grandparents could take them for the weekend. My sweetie was working all day, and I had nothing pressing to do--that I wanted to think about anyway.

So, I spent my day catching up on my favorite televisions shows that I've recorded. Pretty important stuff to catch up, right?

I don't think I've ever really talked about the television I watch. I'd like to be more intellectual than I actually am and not watch as much television as I do, but I am who I am. There are times I've been a major "reality show" junkie, but lately I've only been interested in cooking shows, like Top Chef, Chopped, Hell's Kitchen, etc., and if I don't see every episode, it doesn't really matter.

The power of the record button on the satellite remote became a part of my life only about 6 months ago. Because I work at night, I usually miss the television shows I'd like to watch, and the strange thing is that now that I record, it seems like I actually watch less television because I just watch the shows I want and spend less time mindlessly surfing for something worthwhile after prime time.

I'm not very behind on the shows I enjoy, but I had quite a stack today because some of my favorites come on earlier in the week.

Here is the line up of my afternoon marathon:

  1. Glee--I usually watch this with my daughter, and we did start it yesterday, but I was multitasking and didn't catch everything. Sometimes I don't like some of the episodes because the story lines are mighty weak, but "Never Been Kissed" storyline was pretty powerful on different levels.
  2. The Millionaire Matchmaker--I love Patti, but this season in New York is making me wonder about her "high success rate." I haven't seen any happy endings this season. This show makes me thankful that I found my wonderful husband. (No, he's not a millionaire, though.)
  3. The Sons of Anarchy--I cannot explain why I love this show so much. It's a pretty complex story that just keeps me hooked. Plus, it's pretty bad-ass. It comes on the same night as Glee, and I used to try to watch both after work, but it's just too messed up! There's something about the volume of the show or the channel, so I sometimes feel like I'm missing part of what is being said--and now that they are in Ireland, it's worse! Today I watched it with the closed-captioning on. It helped a lot.
  4. Criminal Minds--I just started watching this show in the last year. What can I say? I love crime dramas, and this one is particularly sick, twisted, and brilliant. I wish A&E would stop repeating the episodes over and over and show me some I haven't seen. I just can't get enough. Just when I think I have a favorite character, I learn more about a different character. Love them all!
  5. Desperate Housewives--Has this show been on forever or what? I thought around the the 4th or 5th season, it was dying, and my interest waned, but we're in the 7th season, and I'm hanging in there. I am not particularly fond Vanessa L. Williams as part of the cast. She's too fresh from being mean to Betty.
  6. Melissa and Joey--I don't think this show will be around long, but I've always enjoyed Melissa Joan Hart. It's a cute show with a storyline about an alternative family situation. It does amuse me to see actors who used to be teen stars cast in family shows as parents now.
  7. No Ordinary Family--I'm crossing my fingers that this show stays on for a while because there aren't very many family shows like this on the regular network channels. Who doesn't love super heroes? As we all know, the best ones are flawed, and then you mixed in a regular messed up family whose struggling to keep their lives balanced, and it's just a great show!
In the queue I also have The Walking Dead, which I haven't started watching yet and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which is a show that has been around too long so sometimes it's good and other times it's not.

I doubt I have room for other shows (The Closer and Southland will come back in a few months to fill in my schedule even more), but what is everyone out there watching?

Blocked

I already blew the whole NaBloMoPo thing. I had my laptop open last night, and I just went blank. Well, I guess that's how one might explain it. I dozed off, and when I woke up the screen was empty and it was nearing midnight. Time for sleep! Er, uh, the kind that includes cozy quilts and fluffy pillows...

This is a not a big deal. Exhaustion and sleep rule over all! So, onwa

November 9, 2010

Smells Like an Idea

The students in my creative writing class are writing some letters to send to Marines overseas. They were excited and up to the challenge, but it is difficult writing letters to people--soldiers--they don't know.

I was helping one of my students, Sam, come up with things he could write about when another girl walked up to the table and started sniffing the girl sitting next to Sam. Seriously! These kids are weird sometimes. Their behavior started really getting irritating when they started sniffing Sam while I was still talking to him.

"Girls! Could you please stop sniffing each other?"

"But, miss!" Andrea said, "She smells really good. I think. Someone does. Wait! Or is it you?" And then she sniffed me.

I had applied fresh perfume before going to work, so it made sense that it was me.

"Oh! It is you! What kind of perfume is that?"

"Er..." I had been on a long quest (like years) for perfume that I liked, and I finally found one this spring that I like, but it's embarrassing to admit, "It's called Circus Fantasy...by Britney Spears."

That's right, folks, my favorite perfume is by Britney Spears. Actually, I think it's an Elizabeth Arden product, but that's not the name on the package. It's stupid Britney Spears.

We joked about how nice the perfume was and how it didn't smell as skanky as one might expect, and then Sam had a great idea for his letter: "I'm going to write, 'My teacher smells like Britney Spears!'"

Glad I could provide some inspiration.

November 8, 2010

What's the Point?

One of the students in my high school proficiency class, a ELL student from Iraq, began questioning the point of the writing exam he will be taking next week. I have a few students who complain, but this particular student usually has a positive attitude.

"This test does not prove anything. What's the point?" he said.

Blah, blah, blah. When they start talking about the hoops they have to jump through, I stop listening. It's the same old stuff.

All the same, I like the kid. It disappointed me that he was wasting time.

"You know what? Welcome to life. There will be a lot of things that seem pointless that you will have to do."

Does that make me a cynic or a realist? I don't know. I work in a system where there is a lot that doesn't make sense. I live in a world where sweatin' the stupid small stuff can suck the joy out of life.

But then...aren't there times when perhaps I've given into complacency simply because it's easier?

Sometimes I wish the kids knew when it was time to question life and when it was time to just suck it up and move on.

Sometimes I wish I knew, too.

November 7, 2010

The Uncool Mom

It's not that the slumber party was at all terrible. Overall, I'd say it was a huge success. I just hate having so many invaders in my home, and after the incident with the girl drama within the first two hours, I was on edge waiting for more drama to surface. I mean, 12 year-old girls cannot help but bring drama. How I remember from my own youth!

My friend, Heidi, was my saving grace. She texted me early yesterday afternoon asking when the party was. I had considered asking her to come hang out, as I knew she would be home alone for the weekend, but I thought she wouldn't possibly be that bored. Of course, being the lover of children that she is, and the overall fun spirit, (and she brought wine), she was the perfect person to have over while the girls were off doing whatever.

Seriously, I am not even sure what the girls were doing half the night. Well, I mean, I do know, but it boggles my mind how they could play Just Dance 2 on the Wii for six hours. We compelled them to come downstairs for food a few times, but seriously, were they really locked up in the family room dancing that long without food?

Oh, yeah, they did have the giant tub of toxic cheese zombie snacks that my daughter convinced me to get against my better judgment. It was the allowed food upstairs, along with water (Remember, I have issues with sticky messes, and at home this means that children under 18 cannot leave the kitchen to eat or drink. A rule that makes sense to me but befuddles most people I know.) But when there was other tasty food and sweet drinks downstairs, the draw of the Wii was more compelling.

Or it could be that we adults were downstairs. Even sweet Heidi did not impress them much. (Although she did weasel a confession from one girl that she did not like the Silly Bandz as much as the other bracelets everyone is wearing because rumors were going around that they were made our of old condoms. Ah! Thanks for the laugh, kid!) And if you asked our students, they would wholeheartedly agree that she is the nicest and coolest of all of us. (She's not pushover, though.) One of the girls in attendance, whose mother is a friend from work, was excited to see her and ran up to her right away for hugs, but the rest girls who did not know her could not be convinced of her level of coolness at all.

Anyway, back to the adults are uncool thought...I had the feeling that we were unwelcome, and I gave them space and reprimanded my sweetie for harassing them, although it really is his job as dad to freak them all out. Two incidents really drove the point home that we were not welcome in their little world, which, incidentally was a world located in my inviting home.

My sweetie grilled up some chicken on skewers, and because we have more chairs for outside and it was a beautiful evening, we set lawn chairs outside. I thought they might like to chill outside for awhile, but after quickly eating, they went back inside, and locked the patio door, leaving us outside. Perhaps it was a joke, but still...we adults did not react too much: Heidi and I were working on wine and shrimp, talking about her trip to Africa for the World Cup this past summer, and my sweetie was still slaving over a hot grill. We were enjoying the evening. Before they shut the door, we'd also been enjoy some Taylor Swift on the player, but we were denied that joy, too.

We did ask them unlock the door and leave the screen open so we could enjoy the music and get some air into the house, too. (Finally, it's the time of year where we can have the doors open!) When the girls were outside, we had tried to engage them in a little conversation, as people in polite society might, but perhaps they took it as their own grilling session.

Not long after we had to get on them after the 2nd time they locked the door, not because we wanted in, but because we wanted the door open, they wandered back up stairs to return to the game.

After Heidi and I picked up the kitchen a bit, I decided I should go take some pictures of them playing upstairs. You know, some memories for the scrapbooks? I was going to use some sneaky yearbook adviser technique, and quietly turn the knob to see if I could catch them unaware. It's not that I thought they weren't playing Wii, I mean I could hear them, but the door was LOCKED. Locked?! The door didn't even need to be closed. We adults were hanging in a different part of the house. Paranoid, much, girls?

I knocked on the door, and one of the girls, whom we adults had already pegged for being the mean girl of the group, opened the door with a "What?"

How lucky that child was that she lived! I didn't say anything. I remained silent for a moment and gave her the stink eye. I felt Heidi stiffen behind me. In our world, the world where we've been through hundreds of these little twits, we deal with disrespect stealthy. It's different though. This is my home. But you know, the classroom is my turf. I rule it. My home? Still my turf.

The girl back-pedaled a little, and I think my daughter helped her, and as we entered the room I said, "We have left you alone most of the night, haven't we? There is no reason to lock the door. If something happens in here, and I have to break down the door to get to you because you've locked it, there will be hell to pay."

My daughter knows it's true. She didn't know what the hell would be, but I am pretty good at thinking of good ones. That she does know.

And then Heidi and I took up our places on the couch for the next 20 minutes until we got bored watching them.

I could have stayed all night. Hahahahaha! But after we heard all the good songs we could stand, and after I saw a techno version of "Satisfaction," I definitely had to bail. Ick. I thought I was being the cool mom by leaving them alone, and when we were in their presence, Heidi and I tried again to relate to them a bit. Nope. Uncool to the max.

I'm much better at this in the classroom. There are kids who constantly want my attention. Many of them are interested in my stories. At home, I guess I'm just destined to a piriah to all the teenagers who cross my threshold for the next decade.

It sucks being over 30.

November 6, 2010

Fading into the Night

Planning for the undead sleepover today has nearly made me one of the living dead.

There were many times when I thought to myself, "This is why I haven't thrown a birthday party in a few years."

November 5, 2010

Coffee Talk

Instantly 11/5/10

Sometimes the best part of my day is when I get to school 20 minutes early so I can catch up on the news and have 7am conversations with my friend and colleague, Heidi. We have been tea drinking buddies over the years, and we have amassed quite a collection of teas.

However, lately both of us have been craving coffee, which is something I only drink at leisure on the weekends. Strong. With flavored creamer. It's a beautiful thing. A lot of people need coffee in the morning to function. I am finding it simply pleasure to cherish.

November 4, 2010

Sort It Out

A vocabulary activity I've used with my students a few times is the word sort. I'm not sure if I'm suppose to credit this activity to a specific source or not. I've seen it in a few different places.

The way I've used it is with vocabulary words that my students have. They generate their own cards with words, so there is very little prep time for me as a teacher, and the activities yield high-quality learning. Simple is best--my kind of activity!

I always give students one or two closed sorts, that is, specific categories in which they should sort their words. A particularly interesting one I have used prompting my middle schoolers, asks them to sort words that applied/described certain characters. Another basic one is when I ask students to divide the words into positive and negative words. Oh, holy connotation! That gets some discussion going. Tonight in my creative writing class, the words "audacious" and "willful" started some heated debates. Fighting over words! I love it!

I think it's particularly engaging to have students create their own categories (open sorting), too. My middle schoolers needed some suggestions in the beginning when we first started using sorts, and I had to guide them away from boring sorting. I have used opening sorting differently with my creative writing students, as I usually have them write stories or poems with their words, so I have them group their words into smaller groups of words that would sensibly be used in short poem or paragraph.

What I like about sorting is that students get to work collaboratively, talking about words. They refer back to definitions, debating how words should be sorted and start to see relationships with words. I've never seen students interact so vigorously as they do with this activity.

November 3, 2010

Lost

I am often the type of person who happily rides in a rut. Sometimes change is a hassle, and sometimes change is scary, while usually I just think that what is not broken should not be fixed.

For years, I had been using Haloscan for my comments. There was a time that Blogger had a terrible, weak commenting system. I was happy with Haloscan, and I didn't even pay attention when Blogger upgraded their commenting system. Then, and I am not positive of this, they sold out to JS-Kit. I didn't really notice much until Echo took it over.

Dah Dah DUM!

Echo really messed me up because I had reinstall things, which is not a strength for me. The messaging system was suppose to be so much better. Instead, I found that it was a little funky. I think it made it more difficult for people who weren't members to comment. Like my dad. Even worse, on my blog, one had to click on the comment twice to get the box to pop up. To top that, sometimes the comment would post to Blogger's commenting system, and other times it would post to Echo. The two would not meet up, so sometimes there were comments in Blogger that I could see for a split seconds and never again.

After visiting some friends' sites, I saw how the commenting system in Blogger looked, and I decided it would make me happy. So, with a little fear and trepidation, I switched over. It was my understanding that my comments would come with me. Of course, just my luck, they did not. The commenting from the past year or so transferred, but the other four years of interaction with my blogging buddies are GONE, GONE, GONE.

I tried not to let it get to me, but when I look back through my archives, I know there are conversations that are lost, and it makes me sad. It's like my poor blog's soul has some holes in it.

November 2, 2010

A Refresher

Tomorrow begins quarter two, and students have had five days off in a row. I've just spent the last two days in professional development. Thankfully, they weren't too rigorous, and we've had a bit of time to talk and do some planning, too.

Yesterday, we had a presenter from the district professional development talking to us about vocabulary instruction. For me, it just seems like there's never enough time to build vocabulary, especially to the depth in which we want students to understand concept. Come to think of it, I can't say I've left with any particular strategy that I'm dying to use. I know it seems strange, but in English, we necessarily have as much content vocabulary as I would imagine the social students or science classes do. So many of our words come from our literature, and if we aren't studying a piece of literature, I still want students to learn new words, so then we're back to the vocabulary books. You know, they didn't kill me.

In the afternoon, on our own as a staff, we looked at our p-scores from the state exam, and collaborated with some of our p-values. I don't even know how to explain p-values, and our math-minded vice principal claims we use the term incorrectly in our district. Essentially, we looked for areas of growth and areas we should improve upon and tried to come up with ideas on causes and solutions.

The people at my table, English, foreign language, and geography teachers, focused on how we could be critical thinking on expository texts, particular in areas where students need to make inferences and predictions. I think we made some progress after hypothesizing that our students live within their small worlds and have a hard time making connections to things outside their small worlds. This is especially true of our ELL students, but it is also true of all teenagers, no? Okay, maybe I exaggerate--just a bit, though. We came to the conclusion that we need to offer as much scaffolding and extension to our expository texts and current events as we do with our literary texts. We also decided that this is an area where students might be excited to share what they know as much as we might share what we know, and that means sometimes we need more talk!

Today, the same presenter came back and talked to us about Depth of Knowledge. We've had DOK before, presented by one of our own teachers who came back to the classroom after leaving the regional PD cadre. The thing about DOK that I hate is that I don't need another acronym about how I need to get my students to think more deeply. Nonetheless, I feel that this is an area of my instruction--whatever I call it--where I try to be purposeful in trying to get more bang for my buck. I became cognizant of just how I do try to ramp things up when I had a student teacher a few years ago, and I was constantly asking her what she wanted students to learn and how she could get more critical thinking from them. Oh, I humbly admit that am not perfect, but this is an area where I am giving it my all.

Okay, onward with the rest of the semester. I have a couple of fresh ideas that I'm ready to try. As much as I am irritated by PD days (and I'm on the committee and was a key organizer for the one we had last month), it's nice when we have time to get some new tools together, especially when we have time to talk with each other.

November 1, 2010

What Pushes Us to the End?

**I didn't mean to post such a long post for my first NaBloPoMo, but this is an important entry about what might drive a teacher to take his own life, a question that will be on the minds of teachers in my city this week.**
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An off-handed comment from my administrator is on my mind tonight. I don't even remember how we got there, but I suppose we were talking about how some of our students are in serious crisis these days and how that affects their performance in school. Same old story, but in the last few years, it's been a more critical story.

Without revealing any details whatsoever, my principal revealed to me that there were several teachers also in crisis on our campus. I wasn't at all surprised.

The Vegas Art Guy
has posted about a teacher who committed suicide on campus today. I'm instantly sick--heart-broken and near tears--at the thought, but in so many ways, I'm not surprised. I could see the same thing happening at my own school, and I don't even know why the teacher at his school might have been distraught enough to take his own life.

It's not that I could point fingers at certain teachers and say, "Watch out for that one!" I'm not really even saying that anyone would commit suicide at my school. It's just that I can see that there are too many stressors in teachers' lives right now.

Times are tough in Las Vegas. The economy is tight, and people have lost homes and jobs. I can think of a few teachers who have lost homes in the past few years. I can't imagine what that might be like to lose a simple security like a roof over one's head. I have two close friends who are over $100,000 upside-down in their homes and have sought help with no results. It's likely they will let their homes go, going bankrupt in the process. One is near retirement, so her security is no longer solid. I can think of a handful of teachers whose husbands have lost their jobs, too. Construction and tourist-related jobs have been plentiful in the past decade, but now there's nothing. Being in "the union," is pretty meaningless as there are simply no jobs.

It's not just Las Vegas. Our whole state is in financial crisis, and that directly affects the funding in our schools. In the last two years, we teachers have been living in fear of budget cuts. We've been threatened with pay cuts and furlough days. Staffing has been cut, but for the most part, we haven't lost too many teachers thanks to attrition, but we have certainly lost positions and programs. At my school, our use of materials has been seriously scrutinized. There's this constant feeling of being choked. That's what it feel like to me, anyway.

Essentially, we are constantly being asked to do more with less, and like puppets, we dance on command.

Our principal told us today that we should expect next year to be even worse. She's said that the last two years, and she has lied neither time.

With NCLB and The Race to the Top--and whatever other catch phrase out there--we are certainly being pushed to do whatever it takes to make our students perform. Interventions, differentiation, focus on bubble kids. Make. It. Happen.

The pressure is high, and administrations from the school level up to district levels scrutinize our scores. If you are a poor math teacher, good luck with those requirements to...well...I don't know what they have to do, but there's more paper work and mandatory teaching procedures that have to be documented. (I hear about it from the math teachers around me, but I don't want their extra work load to rub off on me, so I try to stay clear.) Math scores are low everywhere, and the public knows it since district quarter assessment scores are published in the newspaper. Published in the newspaper, from pre-algebra on up. I remember the first time that happened. It was not pretty. It caused a lot of panic, and it made it look like a lot of hard-working teachers weren't doing their jobs. It's so demoralizing.

The job alone is stressful with the performance emphasis, which is fine. We all want our students to do well. I mean it, too. Even the grumpiest teachers want their students to be successful. When it comes to performance, what we teachers are finding, and I know this is a prevailing issue everywhere, is that students do not necessarily want to achieve as badly as we want them to. Some of them are downright stubborn in resisting our the quest to get some damned knowledge in their gullets. Oh, boy, does it seem like force-feeding some days.

I've been one of those teachers who has been at her wit's end in dealing with students, and I know I have some colleagues who also have their issues. I deal mostly with apathy, but some of my colleagues have serious behavior problems (much like the one from my night school), and multiples of those problems in a class. A colleague whom I consider a friend has had to completely redesign her curriculum because her students simply cannot handle any kind of interactive work. It's a shame that her students will not get the quality education she was prepared to give them if they'd just let her.

Our 8th grade class is particularly difficult this year. Usually we just have to stand out in the halls, and our presence keeps things flowing, but this year, we have to actually get into the mix to move things along. Our students have been some fights, but not really in our hallway (unless you count the one that happened in a classroom while there was a substitute in the classroom next to mine), and I think our constant vigilance can be thanked for that. Our students are lose cannons this year. They are immature. They are mostly too goofy with no common sense, with a few violent ones mixed in. There are some days, and some mixes of kids in classrooms that prevent teachers from doing their jobs well. Or doing the job at all. It's easy for us to blame the kids--especially when they deserve it--but you know, our administrators still put the responsibility back on us when we are ill-prepared to do crowd control in riot conditions. They don't teach us that in college.

Dear readers, I know everyone has his/her stories of unmanageable students who make our jobs a living hell. I've been there. Some of my dear colleagues have to go there each and everyday.

On top of all the financial and professional woes, I know we also have staff members who have gravely ill family members. One of my colleagues has a teenage son who has been battling cancer for two years. Through multiple surgeries and treatments, she's tried to stay strong. We've had a handful of our staff members lose family members, some lost parents to old age, and while other lost siblings to suicide and illness.

Sick family members don't hold a candle to the health problems some of our teachers have had. One of my friends was months worrying about the lumps in her breast, while several of my female friends have had a myriad of female problems, one of which required 8 weeks of recovery. I know we also have people with heart conditions, and diabetes plagues a few other teachers. A little over a year ago, we lost one of our own teachers to a cancerous brain tumor, a battle he bravely fought in front of our very eyes.

So, when my principal dropped the bomb that some of our teachers are just as much in crisis as some of our students, I didn't even bat an eye. Some of my dear colleagues are dealing with multiple personal and professional issues. Life can be hard sometimes, and this job can be hard.

I am deeply saddened that one of our own district teachers took his own life. He could have very easily have been dealing with some of the issues that teachers in my own school have been dealing with in the past few years. It's too bad that he ended his life so violently.

We always focus on how our students are doing, but I wonder if anybody really cares how the teachers are doing. Many of us teachers are bad at even paying attention to our own physical and mental health stressors. We give, give, give. Others take, take, take. But we also feel pain and frustration. Some of us get the end of our ropes with no safety net underneath.

It all makes us human. How do we cope with our lives? We don't need to be tragic heroes. We just need to be okay.

Dear friends, please take care of yourself first. Reach out to friends and family when things get tough.

And watch out for each other. That teacher at his/her rope might climb up the next day, but does it hurt to take a moment to listen? Perhaps an intervention or advice is needed, or perhaps just another sane human being to vent to can help.

Some of my mantras might help you or your colleagues who get stressed out:

1. That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Embrace the strife of life. It makes us interesting.

2. Things can't get any worse, right?

3. It's just a job.