January 31, 2007

Oh Those Boys!

I have a few new boys in my night school class who are just cracking me up.

The third night of class I had to send Jose to the office because he was out of dress code. It was the day each of us teachers was asked to review the dress code with the students. Considering I teach the last periods of the day, I thought the students might be irritated that they should have to hear it again. But then, there's Jose, who had had gone to every single class, wearing a blue and white striped shirt. He can wear white or blue, but not both together.

Of course he was angry when I sent him to the office because nobody else had said anything to him, but he did not hold a grudge against me because he is desperate to pass his proficiency exam so he can graduate this year. In fact, he was hoping that I would teach him everything he needed to know in the four class periods I had him before he had to take the exam. A student who trusts so highly in my skills as a teacher! Seriously, dude. It's not like I can wave a wand and you'll pass. It will be by the skin of his teeth if he passes the exam this time, so we will be working closely all quarter so he can nail it next time the test is given later in the spring.

And Jose, you know, he has a great personality and he is funny. Not in a class clown kind of way. I already have two of those. No, he is just a light-hearted character who feels comfortable joking a little with me. That's good though. His affinity for apostrophes is already a topic for laughs. Just because a word ends in 's' doesn't mean it should have an apostrophe.

Todd is another student who has a nice sense of humor and is always smiling. He doesn't like his American name, and I wonder about the story why his parents named him that. He still has two Hispanic last names. I told him I didn't think his name was bad at all, but then what do I know? Nobody in his neighborhood has a name like that, and that's not cool.

The first time I read an essay of his, I was saying, "Come on! You have got to be kidding! This is it?" I still fight apathy on a constant basis, so initially I thought he was just trying to skate by. He had a paragraph with 3 sentences and then 4 more sentences placed separately, apparently acting alone as paragraphs. When I read it, I realized that he did not know English very well. I talked to him about some of his basic errors and asked him to continue trying to put ideas down on paper.

The next night, he could not get started on the essay. I probably humiliated him by noticing that he needs a lot of work on his language. Should I lie to him? He couldn't spell talk. Everyone is there to learn to write. No big deal. I tried to get him to brainstorm some ideas. Write down some words. Anything! I promised I could help him put those words in a paragraph if he could come up with ideas.

I came back to him little while later, and still, there's nothing on his paper. I asked him if he was having a hard time coming up with the English words for the ideas he had. He confirmed that was the problem. So I look around his table, asking if anyone spoke Spanish and was willing to give Todd a few translations if he needed them. (Why do I keep forgetting to bring a Spanish/English dictionary?) A few did speak, but they did not look interested in helping. I turned around and saw Jose. He has his own issues, but he is a nice guy, and he'll do whatever I ask of him because he needs me. I mean, I'm the coolest teacher he has.

"Jose, do you speak Spanish?" There was a 99.6% chance he speaks because some of his writing errors have to do with his language acquisition.

"No, Miss, I don't speak Spanish." And then he started laughing. Technically, laughing at me.

"You don't? Okay." I moved on to find another helper.

"Miss! Seriously!" He's laughing pretty hard now.

"Jose, do you want me to stereotype? Just because your name is Jose Martinez, I should assume you speak Spanish?"

He became sheepish. "No, Miss."

Of course, nobody had ever given him the courtesy of asking if was bilingual.

Plus, that's the kind of goofiness that endears me to my night students. As if! Actually believing an obviously Hispanic-looking kid doesn't speak English. Miss! You're so weird! (What they don't know is that it is possible.)

Todd and Jose exchanged a few words, mostly in Spanish, and Todd moved to sit next to Jose. I went over to get them situated and gave Todd a little talk about not giving up.

And then the more I talked with him, the more I realized he doesn't understand everything I say. Not even close.

"Todd, are you understanding everything I say?"
"Do I ever talk too fast and you get lost?"
"All you have to do is ask me to slow down. I forget sometimes."

Red alert! Red alert! Todd smiles and laughs all the time because he is clueless. We have a lot of work to do.

So Jose and Todd. The blind leading the blind. Sitting in the back of the classroom, in their own little writing corner joking with each other, making a new friendship while they struggle to find just the right words.

January 29, 2007


Thank you well-wishers for noticing (and notifying me) about my record of childish mood from NEA Today.

Note to self. Some people are reading this blog. You should present yourself in a better light.

Not today, though. Today I am juggling life, and it's not going well. I've always been a juggler, but sometimes I have to admit that I'm not good at it, and something has to give. Today it's yearbook deadlines snapping at my heels--and frankly I'm probably going to lose some toes over it. Grrr.

This weekend I was reflecting on my blogging business here. When I started this blog a few years ago, it was my project for the Southern Nevada Writing Project. I wanted to write more, and I wanted to figure out this business so I could use it with my students. I didn't have much focus. I floundered for about 6 months and then I finally found some great edubloggers. I don't consider myself an edublogger because I am not blogging about education very deeply. I envy those bloggers who are more critical writers. I just can't seem to gather my thoughts in enough reflection for that.

I am a teacher blogger, though. Or rather a teacher who blogs about life.

I wish I'd had an outlet like this ten years ago when I was a new teacher. I can sympathize with some of the new teacher bloggers out there. Been there, done that. Gave myself a lot of gray hair. Most weekdays I had at least 10 hours of contact time with students. Most years I had to give up my weekends to sporting events. I had three preps, drama, yearbook, newspaper, school improvement committee, professional development trainer, concession stand, and whatever else I was sucked into.

I did drag myself out to dinner or the bar with my teacher friends. Half the time I was so tired, but I desperately wanted to have some fun that didn't have anything to do with my job. No matter what, Thursday nights were our my fun nights. Consequently, Friday mornings weren't too pleasant.

In those years I also took a few fun classes when I had time, like photography (which I needed to learn for my job) and pottery. Pounding clay is a good way to relieve stress, and then throwing pots in a kick wheel erases your mind from anything other than the clay in your hands. Heaven!

I also tried to have a social life outside my drunken teacher friends by dating. Dating is for the young, by the way, not divorcees with consuming careers. Ugh. I could have told some stories.

Until a few years ago when I moved to southern Nevada, my life was my teaching and my students. Friends, fun, and finding a mate were secondary and often took a back seat. I am lucky to have my husband because he came to me in an April. It was a busy year when I had every minute of every day planned until the end of the year. I actually told him he was a nice guy but I didn't have time for him at that moment in my life. He stayed and wooed me anyway.

Now my life is more about my family and about ME. All too often, my teaching and my students take the back seat. I still try to juggle, but this juggler is getting old. My coordination isn't as good anymore. Sometimes I feel intense guilt when I don't do as well in the classroom as I should. I don't manage my time as well. I don't give enough feedback. I can't come up with innovative ways to present the content. I'm brain dead sometimes.

So these thoughts I have of my students, my family, my interests--my daily drama--this is a teacher's life. Some days I feel like a juggler in a 3rd rate circus, but no, I'm a teacher.

Teaching is not just a job. It's a lifestyle. That's my daily struggle.

January 27, 2007

On Boredom

"Boredom is the inability to connect to the reality surrounding you."

Or something like that.

I had a friend who used to say something to that effect to the troubled teens she worked with. I always thought it was so profound, and it slid off her tongue so easily whenever one would start in on how boring school was. I wish I could remember what exactly she used to say, but I think my version works pretty well.

When I came back from my duty of taking care of a sick child, the first thing on my agenda was to call the parent who left a voice mail on Monday. Her daughter failed my class for the semester, but it should not have been a shock to her, as her daughter had been failing my class most of the year, and we had talked on the phone before about her daughter's performance.

It was a long conversation, but not necessarily an unpleasant one, as we hashed out what has been tried and what hasn't in helping her daughter succeed in my class. The mother thought that perhaps her daughter needed a tutor, but she didn't really feel that was the problem. I agreed with her because despite the fact that she has done poorly in English the past two years, she does do pretty well on tests. It's not that her daughter is struggling with the content, she's struggling with the discipline of being a good student.

The mother went on to further hypothesize that perhaps her daughter was bored, as she wasn't being challenged enough. In fact, I think her daughter had said as much. Now, I've had a few above average students in my classroom over the years who have made such claims, and of course I've had hundreds of average and below average students make the same claim. When should I seriously consider a charge that my class is not challenging a student? As you've probably figured, I usually ignore cries from my allegedly bored students.

My stock answer for students who claim boredom is that if they can do the prescribed work, then we'll talk. What do I do to challenge the students? I hate to give extra work to students who excel in class because sometimes it seems like punishment to them. Most students appreciate a choice in the matter. Some students enjoy exploring topics in which they are curious, while others simply enjoy time to read or write. Am I necessarily challenging them? It depends on the students and their needs. Sometimes I give guidance, while other times I give them space to challenge themselves.

My top student this year, one of the few who could claim he is bored but doesn't, works diligently in class, always thinking thoroughly through the work. Sometimes he asks me about grammar concepts that we don't yet discuss in the 8th grade. Could it be that this student loves language so much that he is studying grammar on his own time? No. Grammar isn't one of his interests, but he takes the time to immerse himself in his studies. On rare occasions when he has some extra time, I might find him not immersed in studying English, but in checking the stock market on his laptop. He braces himself for a reprimand because he knows he's technically off task, but when I stop and ask about the assignment, which he shows me, and then I ask about what's going on in the market, he knows it's my approval for him to carry on with his personal quest for knowledge.

Do I give credence to students (and the parents who support them) who cry boredom? Not so much. I do continue to try to engage my students in the content matter and offer extension of knowledge or freedom to explore for those who desire more.

Boredom? I say it's a personal problem. Deal with it.

January 23, 2007

Ditchin' School

Having a child home sick has earned me a little vacation this week. I rarely take time off from school, and can tell you each day I've missed in the last few years. Most of them have been for adminstrative purposes, with a couple of family emergencies and a funeral. So to find myself gone for 3 days in a row is just odd.

And the thought of my students starting the new semester without my words of inspiration...Wow. The new priorities of my life...

Now you'd think with that much time I'd get some major reading or goofing off done, right? Or even some blogging. Or extra house cleaning. Yea...right. I spent time planning lessons and doing work for my online class, both of which seemed to take more time than necessary.

Oh yes! Today, I had the priviledge of doing a little math session on estimation and number patterns for my second grader. Seemed like it might be easy, but how wrong I was. Thank goodness we made it through the math work.

Finally, tomorrow I plan on reading a good book.

Thursday we're both going back to reality. After this little break for me, it's going to be a harsh reality, too.

January 20, 2007

Two-Faced Teens Adjusting to Life

One of the essay topics my students were given as part of their final exam asked them to compare and contrast how differently they act with their friends and families. They all have similar themes running through their essays, and that is that they love their families, but they feel more free when they are with their friends.

They all recognize that they have two sides of their personalities: the calm, obedient sides for their parents and the loud, crazy sides for their friends. What is remarkable to me is that every single one of these students accepted that these differences were simply different sides of their personalities. It's just the way life is. There was only slight remorse that they couldn't truly show their complete natural selves to their friends and families equally. When I was a teenager, I distinctly remember not feeling like I could truly be the whole me with my friends and family, too. I don't think I was so accepting of my feelings and situations, though.

In the big picture, their abilities morph their personalities to adapt to different situations is a pretty important life skill. How many of us act exactly the same around everyone? I know I have about ten different personalities that I'd like to streamline into just one, but until I commit to being completely eccentric, I cannot really be of just one mind and personality.

It warmed my heart to see how much they respect and love their families. Even the students I know who are having conflicts with their parents wrote of their love and appreciation for their families. The unwritten thing that I learned about my students is that many of them feel an incredible amount of pressure from their parents. They have to get good grades. They have to do their chores. They have to remain calm and obedient. They have to keep their sad feelings hidden. They hide their teen angst.

The road through teenagerhood is rough, but my students are handling the bumpiness and keeping to the path pretty well. Their essays tugged at my heart strings in the name of pride and empathy.

Out of Touch in a Long Week

It seems like I've been MIA lately. Where is the time going?

We finished up the semester this week, and although I have until Monday to get my grades uploaded, I was able to leave the 1st semester behind me at 2:30 p.m. yesterday. Wahoo!

Thank goodness I had a prep the last hour so I could grade my tests because I heard there was a near riot with only one working scantron machine in the teacher's lounge after the school day ended. I don't know the details, but I'm imagining a long line of 60 angry teachers and some not-so-proper language. The scantron machines go largely unused except during midterms and finals, so the fact they they would dare breakdown when we need them the most is pretty typical scenario in a teacher's life, isn't it?

On the student front, just in case I haven't mentioned it before, I am so glad to move on to the next semester. I have quite a few students who'd dug themselves a pretty good hole, and I'm so happy to be done with their drama. And wouldn't it be nice for them to start with a clean slate again?

On the homefront, I can't even tell you what's been going on, but it's been hectic. The kids are visiting their mother's family this weekend, so we enjoyed a nice quite brunch out. My sweetie started asking me all these questions about my trip to northern Nevada last weekend. Could it really be? It's taken us all week to catch up on the news? How sad!

I started two online classes this week, but I haven't really done much course work, so I need to get it together this weekend. Uhm, that would include a game plan for the duration of the class because I can already see how I don't have time for everything. That's pretty typical for a teacher's life, too.

January 15, 2007

Road Trip!

I took advantage of the long weekend and took a trip to northern Nevada to visit my best friend, who has recently moved to a new community. It was a lovely time that made me just miss having her around more than ever, but it was super cold. And by super cold, I mean below freezing the whole time, and in the negative double digits yesterday morning.

The freezing temperatures caused a major driving irritation. The roads were clear, but there was enough moisture than when a truck passed me going the opposite direction, it splattered my windshield with a fine spray of mud. No problem, right? Just wipe that off with a little windshield fluid. That does work quite well when one's fluid isn't FROZEN.

A few times I pulled over to wash my windshield with handfuls of snow. Innovative, aye? Then I remembered that my daughter had a bottled of flavored water, which worked fairly well and only left a little ice.

After a little over 100 miles of driving with my nature-made mud tinting, I finally made it to a gas station where I bought a gallon of all-weather windshield fluid.

And then I didn't need it for the rest of the trip.


The kids were thrilled with the snow and couldn't wait to touch it everytime we had to get out of the car. When we arrived at my friend's house, they just couldn't wait to play in her front yard, which hadn't been touched by anything. They made snow angels all around and then spent the rest of their play time throwing snow at each other.

The next day some friends brought their kids and sleds over to slide down a large hill behind my friend's house. It was not the first time my kids had seen snow, but it was the first time they ever went sledding. I thought the youngest one would wear himself out, as he is slow light-weight that he'd just fly clear to the bottom. He'd run back up and do it again, over and over. A few times I saw him go off the path and floss his teeth with the brush, but it didn't affect him at all.

He hasn't stopped talking about sledding since. It's so much fun seeing kids do something for the first time.

January 11, 2007

Will My Love for Complex Sentences Be Contagious?

I've spent the last week teaching my students about clauses and sentences structures. Not so riveting, aye? It's one of my favorite things to teach. No. Seriously. It's exciting to me.

Years ago I came to terms with how I should teach these concepts in a logical manner, which isn't how the text presents it. In fact, the way I like to teach clauses and sentences doesn't match the the district's benchmarks, either. I have to teach punctuation in the 1st quarter, but sentence types don't come along until the second quarter. There are several rules, particularly with commas, that specifically relate to clauses. Is it any shock that in the first quarter there were some punctuation rules that the students didn't fully understand? Frustrating.

Knowing that this is a problem, shouldn't I just teach these clause and sentence concepts while I'm teaching punctuation? If I weren't under serious time constraints all the time, and if the students weren't tested on the benchmarks at the district level each quarter, it would be easier for me to do it MY WAY!

I've spent years perfecting MY WAY, by the way.

I tell my students that we learn these concepts so that we might be able to write more sophisticated sentences. Trust me, it works: my students want to sound smart, and they are college-bound. Furthermore, learning about clauses and their functions in sentences can help us figure out where to place punctuation within our sentences. Placing commas "where we take a breath" is not the best rule to use, but for some it's the only idea they have about where to place commas. And semicolons? What the heck are we suppose to do with those?

I'm honest with my students, and I try to make this boring topic relevant to them. I voice my frustrations with our language in front of them, and I help them come to terms with how they can manipulate our crazy English rules to work to their advantages. My students totally benefit from the experiences and errors of other students who've come before. I KNOW what will make them cry and gnash their teeth, so I warn them of the pitfalls.

I wish I could say that my students love learning about clauses and sentences as much as I enjoy teaching about them, but that's really too much to ask. They will love being able to fix their own punctuation errors--and be able to tell me why those errors need fixed. It will take time, but they'll also embrace their new-found abilities to break free from the simple sentence cycle. That's something I'll certainly embrace, too!

January 9, 2007

The Most Popular Teacher

On Friday, in an effort to cover my ass, I sent out a stack for unsat notices. Technically, I didn't have to send out as many as I did because I reported the majority of those students as making unsatisfactory progress at the mid-term. I really only have to tell the parents once that their students are in danger of failing before I actually give the failing grade.

I was expecting my e-mail or voice-mail to be full yesterday, but that didn't happen until later in the today. Now parents want to talk to me, set up conferences with me--actually see me live in the flesh rather than e-mail some concerns. Time is ticking. The quarter ends next week, and we only have a few more days of classes before we go into final exams.

Included in the mix are parents two of the three students who ended up with a negative grade of their projects.

I hate to admit that I'm a little uneasy to meet with a few of these parents. Most parents I've met with or spoken to this year have not been crazy or demanding. We are in the 11th hour, though. We're talking about students who are are failing. It's likely we are also talking about students who'd like to continue on to a magnet high school next year, but with the grades they're getting, probably have little chance of doing so.

I have confidence in my own abilities, but I just have so many students who aren't doing well this year. It makes me take pause for a few moments. Where is their motivation? What can I do? Who is going to place blame on me?

However, I happen to know that this is the same group of students who did not do well last year, and there were parent/teacher meetings every day for months. I also happen to know that my expectations are the same as they were last year, and I had no problems. I also know that I am teaching students in a magnet program, and that should mean something. Finally, I also know that our counselor ROCKS and from some crazy situations this year, I have first-hand knowledge that the adminstration supports me and the other teachers on my team.

So, it is was what it. I'm the most popular teacher this week. I will get to sit face to face with some parents, pointing out their students' poor grades--information that they can see for themselves--and explain that there really isn't anything that can be done at this point. So sorry the students let us all down...

January 4, 2007

A Puzzle Piece to Happychyck IRL

The Reflective Teacher tagged me for a meme for which I have to come up with five things about me. Didn't I just do a meme where I revealed all kinds of things about myself? Oh, but they were all weird things about me. So here are some basic things about me:

I'm a morning person. This is not to say that I like to get up in the morning, but once I get moving I can be very productive. I'm disappointed if I am assigned a 1st or 2nd hour prep because although it's good to have so much energy for planning, I'd rather have it for the students. Oh, and I don't drink coffee in the morning, so it's not caffiene that powers me up!

I like my Whoppers with cheese, no onions, and cut in half. What's suprising is that I'll eat Whoppers at all after I worked as a shift manager at a Burger King for a while in college.

I have had my stints of being a vegetarian. It wasn't because I love animals so much but because of the horror stories I read of the meat industry. And I suppose for health reasons, too. The nice thing about that time in my life is that I learned how to eat/cook without meat, and now we do eat meatless meals a few times a week.

I've worn my hair in a bob, for many years. It often varies in length, color, and styling. Once in 2003, my hairdresser thought bangs would be a nice change. Uh, for about a month I enjoyed it, and then I cursed for the next three while they grew back. I wear my hair parted on the right side to cover the gray hair that is sprouting on the left side.

I'm all about function over fashion when it comes to my professional clothing. Sure, I try to be somewhat fashionable, but anymore I pretty much wear a solid color of slacks and a solid color shirt or sweater. The teacher across the hall teases me because I usually match someone in the hallway. The way I see it, I'm not the only teacher in that hallway who has a simple dress code for school. What do I wear on the weekends? Well...I do have quite a few tie-dye t-shirts.

If you'd like to participate in this meme, jump right on the bandwagon!

January 3, 2007

Do You Know How to Eat Chocolate?

One of my students gave me a box of chocolates today. She seemed a little reluctant: "Well, Happy New Year, but I think these chocolates taste HORRIBLE. Adults seem to like them, though."

Is this one of those "Ew! This is gross! Here, taste it!" scenarios? No, it's a box of dark chocolates.

I'm not a chocolate snob. I'll take it any way I can get it, but I do have to admit that sometimes I'm not desperate enough to eat a a good ole American chocolate bar found at any convenient store. It's never as good as I think it should be, and then I've just wasted my calories, fat, and life on something that wasn't satisfying.

Needless to say, I'm not at all disappointed with this "horrible" box of chocolates. Of course, I had to learn how to eat the chocolate correctly. I can't believe I am so low-brow that I needed instructions on how to eat chocolate, but just in case any of you need enlightenment, here are the exact directions that came with my chocolates:

    1. Warm up the chocolate in your hand without unwrapping it; cold chocolate cannot express itself.
    2. Unwrap the chocolate and observe it carefully; it must have no spots or imperfections and its color must be all alike. With it's shininess it is a pleasure for the eyes as well.
    3. Hold the dark chocolate square between your fingers and smell it; the dark chocolate squares intense fragrance is the second gift your senses will enjoy.
    4. The ritual wants that you keep the square at the center of the tongue, intact, while encountering the palate until the dark chocolate square melts, slowly.
    5. The chocolate becomes supple, while the wide variety of flavors expands itself. In silence the sensations will redouble theirselves: you will savor the strength first, then the variations, finally the persistent aftertaste.
    6. Now that it's almost all gone, you will be able to tell what a real pleasure it all was.
    7. At this point you can start all over again. Enjoy the dark chocolate squares!

I have to admit that the the Dominican Republic Chocolate with 80% Cocoa Solids is a little stout for me, but you know, when it comes to chocolate, and say even beer, training your palate to enjoy bitter stoutness certainly isn't torture.

January 2, 2007

Grinding Away

"Good morning! Happy New Year! Let's start by taking out your planners and noting some important upcoming dates. If you haven't written this down already, we have no school on January 15. That's important. It's Martin Luther King Day. Remember? Okay. The next day will be somewhat normal, but don't forget that there will be a community service log check that day. I don't know who is checking it, or how many hours you should have. I'm just passing on the message. Oh! Mr. Math Teacher is the sucker teacher in charge on that? Excellent. Two of you You all know what's going on.

The end of the quarter is drawing near, and in fact, you will be taking final exams January 17-19. Mark that on your planners. Yes, it's true. We are on minimum day schedule, but you DO have long hard-ass, brain-frying exams each morning. That extra time each day is for you to study and for me to grade your exams on the commons stairwell. And then, also mark this on your calendars, the first week of February we will be taking the writing exam. What writing exam? You know the one that proves to everyone how smart you are,and if you don't do well, our chances of meeting AYP this year will be all your fault.

Shall we get started then? Excellent!"

It wasn't so bad today. Pretty typical.

My laptop, which I needed to use with my LCD projector was not cooperating with me. During one class it completely shut down from exhaustion despite the fact it was charged and plugged in. During another class, it refused to connect to the website we were using. Bleah. Whatever. The students could just listen to me describe the features they could see for themselves.

Kind of.

I had been battling a cold, complete with scratchy, hoarse throat during most of the break. I thought I'd kicked it, but then after having to actually talk to people, I regressed. My voice gave out on me, too. I had my audio enhancement on, which was pleasant when I forgot to cover it when I had to cough or clear my raspy throat.

Luckily, my students and I are pretty good at going with the flow. If everything were perfect, how much fun would my class be?

January 1, 2007

This Is Going to Be Your Year!

May peace break into your house and may thieves come to steal your debts.

May the pockets of your jeans become a magnet for $100 bills.

May love stick to your face like Vaseline and may laughter assault your lips!

May your clothes smell of success like smoking tires and may happiness slap you across the face and may your tears be that of joy.

May the problems you had, forget your home address!

May 2007 be the best year of your life!

My auntie sent this sentiment to me via e-mail. It's too bad that success has to smell like smoking tires, but I sure could go for some money-attracting jeans! Could they make me look thinner also?