April 28, 2006

Is It Normal? Wondering About My Students...

There are a couple of things I've been wondering about my students. Humans are interesting, but teenagers are a study of their own...

Why does M suck his thumb? When he goes out into the "real world" next year, will he still suck his thumb? Has anyone ever told him that it's a strange behavior?

Why are my girls so drawn to such dark, serious books like A Child Called It, Cut, Crank, Go Ask Alice, and Speak. Are they curious, or can they relate?

Do my 8th grade boys have any idea that next year they will be so uncool that they will not even be able to buy a girlfriend. Is it wrong of me to want to take a couple of them down a few pegs on their machismo ladder, while others I just want to warn so they won't feel so bad about themselves?

Do my night high school students really think I'm going to give them a passing grade for showing up erratically?

Why do I have to tell my middle schoolers every single day to not leave textbooks on the floor? How hard is it to put them in the baskets under the desks?

Do they really think I hate them?

April 27, 2006

Teaching In Someone Else's Shoes

I had to cover another class during my prep today, which is not uncommon at any of the schools where I've ever worked. When there is a shortage of substitutes, we teachers have to pull together and just deal. At one high school where I taught, it wasn't uncommon for me to absorb another teacher's entire class load into mine for the day because staff was so thin. So, do I mind covering for other teachers? Uhm, yea, I do. God love all the substitutes in the world because it's such a hard job.

When we cover for each other's classes we have less than five minutes to scoot our own kids out of class, dash down the hallway while trying to reset our mindset into another subject matter, and quickly figure out what is going on in the class so we can start immediately when the bell rings, lest the students take you for a fool and then proceed to make you life miserable for the next 50 minutes. Oh, this would be another example of common punting in my world.

Today I was recruited for an 8th grade math class, and I don't think these were exactly the star students of the school either. Now, I'm not judging, but when the teacher next door checks in just before class and warns me it might be challenging and offers to accept any problems into his class, you know it's not going to be a good experience.

There was an aide of some sort already in the classroom (from the university?) who looked too soft to be working in our neighborhood, and then a special ed teacher came in at the bell. He pulled me aside and told me that it was not going to be a great experience. He said it was much like the horrible class I had last year--you know, the one that nearly drove me to quit in January? Yea, that one. I looked to the soft-looking aide and he nodded his head to confirm that I'd just entered hell.

Great. And it's MATH! What do I know about math? Math made me cry when I was in school. So now I have to start class before it falls apart in the first three minutes AND put on a facade that I know and can help with their subject matter? I don't care that it's middle school math. I'm really bad at math. Deep seated fears here.

So, I marched to the front of the classroom, put on my best drill sergeant face, and gave them the assignment with a 30 second deadline to get their books and materials out. This isn't my first gig, and I know that wasn't happening for most, so I march up and down the aisles personally inviting (or badgering, whatever) students to start immediately. Yea, that doesn't make some students happy, but it's good to know right away which ones aren't going to be cooperative.

The real test came when I stopped at Troublemaker #1's desk and asked him to show me what they've been learning by doing the first few problems. The other teacher showed me in the book where it explained the problems, and in the next few minutes with Troublemaker #1, I learned enough to go around and review and reteach the concepts with the rest of the students. Thank goodness I'm kind of smart, and it was kind of easy, because while Troublemaker and I were reviewing, I was relearning something I haven't seen or needed in 20 years. But I was being all tricky about it by making it look like I was showing HIM where he needed to review.

I mean Troublemakers #1-5 bought it, and they were the ones I was selling to. A few times I had to ask the other two adults about a few things about technique or to get clarification, but for some reason, the students didn't lose faith in me or themselves. And these are the kind of kids who do exactly that.

The other teacher and the aide were pleased that the students were all on task and that we didn't have any major blow-ups. (Minor blow-ups happen frequently, and in the end that's what drives teachers to drink.) The students are lucky that they have so many adults in a class to help. I doubt they see that, though. And the school is lucky to have the regular teacher because she must run her buns off with that class.

But you know, a strange thing happened. I rather enjoyed my experience in class, and felt like I'd helped a few students by the end of the class period. As much as I dreaded it, it was nice to hang out in another subject matter with the students for a while.

April 23, 2006

Books by Women Writers Meme

As I was stumbling around the Blogosphere, I found this fun meme at A Sort of Notebook, and thought I'd give it a try.

Just BOLD those you’ve read, ITALICIZE the ones you’ve been meaning to read and ??? the ones you have never heard of. (And you know I have to make other comments.)

Alcott, Louisa May–Little Women
Allende, Isabel–The House of Spirits
Angelou, Maya–I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Atwood, Margaret–Cat’s Eye (I've read others by her)
Austen, Jane–Emma
Bambara, Toni Cade–Salt Eaters
Barnes, Djuna–Nightwood ??
de Beauvoir, Simone–The Second Sex
Blume, Judy–Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (My fav author when I was a preteen)
Burnett, Frances–The Secret Garden
Bronte, Charlotte–Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily–Wuthering Heights
Buck, Pearl S.–The Good Earth

Byatt, A.S.–Possession
Cather, Willa–My Antonia (I love her!)
Christie, Agatha–Murder on the Orient Express
Cisneros, Sandra–The House on Mango Street
Clinton, Hillary Rodham–Living History
Cooper, Anna Julia–A Voice From the South ??
Danticat, Edwidge–Breath, Eyes, Memory (wish she'd write more)
Davis, Angela–Women, Culture, and Politics
Desai, Anita–Clear Light of Day
Dickinson, Emily–Collected Poems (Since I've read a lot of her poems and consider her one of my favorites, I'm marking this one!)
Duncan, Lois–I Know What You Did Last Summer (A fav author as a teen. Sadly this is the only book where thought the movie was better.)
DuMaurier, Daphne–Rebecca
Eliot, George–Middlemarch
Emecheta, Buchi–Second Class Citizen ??
Erdrich, Louise–Tracks
Esquivel, Laura–Like Water for Chocolate (more than once, too)
Flagg, Fannie–Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
Friedan, Betty–The Feminine Mystique (I've read at it)
Frank, Anne–Diary of a Young Girl
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins–The Yellow Wallpaper
Gordimer, Nadine–July’s People ??
Grafton, Sue–S is for Silence
Hamilton, Edith–Mythology
Highsmith, Patricia–The Talented Mr. Ripley
Hooks, Bell–Bone Black ??
Hurston, Zora Neale–Dust Tracks on the Road (Read others by her.)
Jacobs, Harriet–Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl ??
Jackson, Helen Hunt–Ramona
Jackson, Shirley–The Haunting of Hill House (Read short stories by her)
Jong, Erica–Fear of Flying
Keene, Carolyn–The Nancy Drew Mysteries (My mom turned me on to this when I was a kid!)
Kidd, Sue Monk–The Secret Life of Bees
Kincaid, Jamaica–Lucy ??
Kingsolver, Barbara–The Poisonwood Bible (I LOVE this author and told sssoooooo many people to read her when she was first published, but this book does not appeal to me. I know if I could just get started...)
Kingston, Maxine Hong–The Woman Warrior
Larsen, Nella–Passing ??
L’Engle, Madeleine–A Wrinkle in Time
Le Guin, Ursula K.–The Left Hand of Darkness
Lee, Harper–To Kill a Mockingbird
Lessing, Doris–The Golden Notebook
Lively, Penelope–Moon Tiger ??
Lorde, Audre–The Cancer Journals ??
Martin, Ann M.–The Babysitters Club Series (I'd rather not, thanks. Ten years ago it kept some young girls hooked on reading, though.)
McCullers, Carson–The Member of the Wedding
McMillan, Terry–Disappearing Acts
Markandaya, Kamala–Nectar in a Sieve
Marshall, Paule–Brown Girl, Brownstones ??
Mitchell, Margaret–Gone with the Wind
Montgomery, Lucy–Anne of Green Gables
Morgan, Joan–When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost ??
Morrison, Toni–Song of Solomon
Murasaki, Lady Shikibu–The Tale of Genji
Munro, Alice–Lives of Girls and Women
Murdoch, Iris–Severed Head ??
Naylor, Gloria–Mama Day ??
Niffenegger, Audrey–The Time Traveller’s Wife ??
Oates, Joyce Carol–We Were the Mulvaneys (Read others by her.)
O’Connor, Flannery–A Good Man is Hard to Find
Piercy, Marge–Woman on the Edge of Time ??
Picoult, Jodi–My Sister’s Keeper
Plath, Sylvia–The Bell Jar
Porter, Katharine Anne–Ship of Fools
Proulx, E. Annie–The Shipping News
Rand, Ayn–The Fountainhead
(Actually listened to it on a long road trip two summers ago. I wondered why I waited for so long.)
Ray, Rachel–365: No Repeats (A cookbook? I love Rachel Ray, but why not Mollie Katzen then?)
Rhys, Jean–Wide Sargasso Sea
Robinson, Marilynne–Housekeeping ??
Rocha, Sharon–For Laci ??
Sebold, Alice–The Lovely Bones (I've picked this up so many times...would it be good?)
Shelley, Mary–Frankenstein
Smith, Betty–A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Smith, Zadie–White Teeth
Spark, Muriel–The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ??
Spyri, Johanna–Heidi
Strout, Elizabeth–Amy and Isabelle ??
Steel, Danielle–The House
Tan, Amy–The Joy Luck Club
Tannen, Deborah–You’re Wearing That (Read some of her others on communication. She rocks!)
Ulrich, Laurel–A Midwife’s Tale ??
Urquhart, Jane–Away ??
Walker, Alice–The Temple of My Familiar (Read others by her.)
Welty, Eudora–One Writer’s Beginnings ??
Wharton, Edith–Age of Innocence (Loved her as a teen.)
Wilder, Laura Ingalls–Little House in the Big Woods (Loved this when I was a little girl.)
Wollstonecraft, Mary–A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Woolf, Virginia–A Room of One’s Own

Perhaps the ??'s are the beginnings of a summer reading list?

Read more about the reader in me here.

April 22, 2006

What WOULDN'T Bore You?

My students have been reading a comtemporary collection of short stories. Besides the Prentice Hall text, we don't have many other texts for the students. The stories are varied and really give the students a multicultural perspective (which is something I'm suppose to do), but I also believe most of them are pretty well written--engaging.

Of course, my students think otherwise.

On the first day we were to read the book (after we'd spent a day doing some scaffolding work), I had to deliver a mild ass chewing to a class because they started with the whining before we even started reading. I tried to make light of their undo criticism (we hadn't even cracked the book), but it didn't help. Finally, I raised my voice and said, "This isn't some random crap I picked out for you to read; we wouldn't be reading it if it were. I think many of you may relate to some of these stories, and with the others you might learn some new things. If you don't want to read this, keep it to yourself and stop poisoning the class with your negative attitudes. And if you'd like me to talk in a nicer tone with you, I suggest you put your attitudes away right now."

Dead silence.

Excellent! Shall we begin?

(Yes, I actually said "crap.")

Some students still critiqued the story at the end, although they were asked to make personal connections and discuss the theme. I spent a long day reminding students that they could have their opinions, but the assignment didn't include giving that information. Don't think I was being a ornery teacher. They also were inclined to simply summarize the stories, but that wasn't the kind of thinking we were doing either.

(And you know the admin can get off my ass about how the students' scores are in critical thinking. I'm like the critical thinking dentist with all the pulling I do to get them to do more than simply recall facts.)

On the second day, one of my more dramatic students came up to me and said, "Miss, the book is boring. EeeeeeeeeeeeeeVERYBODY thinks so." Did they elect him spokesperson? I picked certain stories that they could relate to for the first few readings because some of the stories are a little confusing and long. Great! They don't even like the ones I thought they'd like the best.

This is what another student said about a story about a young person's struggle with blatant racism, a topic of which they usually have much to say: "It would have been better if there had been a car crash or something."

I should have known that not everyone is interested in the stories of the struggles of growing up and becoming an American. Yea, because their stories aren't our stories. Or are they? The vast majority of them can make personal connections to the story and the theme and have expressed their thoughts well.

There are students who will admit they are enjoying the stories. The majority just say, "Eh." Score! That's better than "Ew!" Unfortunately, the ones who say, "Ew!" have the loudest voices in the class.

This isn't the first time I've had complaints about content being boring. It's just been a while. And now, with technology, I've have had a new method of complaint:

I noticed that this morning on my myspace page someone has written on my fridge, "The Book Were rEadIng is boRING."

Great, a cool new way for students to tell me they're bored.

April 20, 2006

My Classroom Essentials

I was thinking about this topic today as I was making out a list of these essentials that I needed to pick up for my classroom over the weekend. Some of them are things for my own healthy survival (disinfecting items) while others are for my own comfort after a long day when I'm still working in my classroom (like comfy slippers.) This is actually a beginning of the year list--and I have given some of these suggestions to new teachers--but unfortunately I need to stock some things for the last month of school. The thing is that I'm at a point in the year that I won't want to spend another dime of my money for anything work-related, even if it is for my own personal comfort.

If I worked a different job, I'd probably still have these things in my desk...but would I buy hand sanitizer by the case?

April 7, 2006

Yo! Punt!

This has nothing to do with football. It's about the game of education.

Suckas! That's what I say to all of you who spend hours writing the perfect lesson plans. Well, unless you work at a school where nothing ever goes wrong...well then... I am the sucka!

While I'm photocopying the vocabulary quiz at 6:30 am, I advertantly copy wrong parts. Half of the quiz is for last week's words. I don't discover this error until halfway through 1st hour. Do I cancel the quiz, although we are getting ready for spring break? They wish! Nope.

I punt.

At my night school class I plan an activity that requires that students have their assignment from the previous class. Half of the previous night's students don't show up. Eight students who weren't even at the last two classes show up. Twelve students know what's going on. Eight students barely even know what class they are in. (No wonder these students can't hack a regular school.) Do I storm out of the room and say, "This shit is f---ed up? I quit!" No. I sigh and grunt.

And I punt.

For some unexplained reason a fire drill lasts 25 minutes. Tick tock. We're waiting on the field. The students in one class miss most of the lesson. Not to mention they are all wound up. Do I go ahead and set a real fire because I'm so irritated? No.

I punt.

A field trip leaves 3 out of 4 classes half full. The other class only had two students absent. I didn't figure this into my lesson plans. It's two days before spring break. Do I blow off everything for the day? I wish.

Instead, I Punt.

The connector from the LCD projector to the computer does not fit my students' laptops (although it fits mine...go figure.) and we are ready to begin several days of Powerpoint and imovie presentations. In fact, eight students are staring at me wondering why I'm so technologically inept on the day they are ready to present. Do I fall to the floor and throw a tantrum? No.

I punt.

I am ready to get rid of the class from hell. Five more minutes. Then the school goes into lockdown for 90 minutes. Do I try to slit my own wrists with a paper clip? No.

I punt.

Sometimes I think that being a good teacher is really about being able to punt. All day. Everyday. Without tears or bloodshed. It's all about problem solving. Sure, I have to solve the great problem of how to help my students learn content in the way that they will understand. That's the big picture. The rest is every little thing I have to troubleshoot to keep the day running smoothly. Sometimes I just want curl up under my desk and have the breakdown I deserve, but I don't. Instead...

I punt...
because I'm a teacher.