March 28, 2007

Those Encouraging Words on My Chest Pay Off

Recently, I told you about how the teachers at my school tried to boost morale by creating inspirational t-shirts that we wore on the testing days. The picture above is the front of the t-shirt I made. Now if you're one of the students in my class, this is probably not the sort of inspiration you are counting on. However, if you look on the back of this same shirt, you'll find Ms. HappyChyck's brand of humor, and let's face it, that brightens anyone's day!

As it turns out, students all across the campus voted my shirt as one of the best, and now I get a day off while an administrator takes my class for the day. Pretty cool!

I modified another shirt that had something already printed on it. I'm sure you've seen the "hokey pokey" t-shirts. (Are you really all that surprised that I actually own one of these?) I used scrapbooking stickers to draw a red line across "hokey pokey" and wrote the name of our state test above it. It didn't go over as well as the other t-shirt because you have to kind of "get" the t-shirt before it's modification, and even then it's just not, Oh well.

Sorry it took me so long to show you a picture, but since my dear Mac died, it just seems like everything is just not as easy as it used to be. Or I don't get around to doing computer things like uploading the 50 pictures I had on my camera...

March 27, 2007

Before the Curtain Rises

5:36 a.m.
I wake up. Did the alarm go off? I don't remember. Crap, that was 20 minutes ago, anyway.

5:38 a.m.
I don't want to get up. Do I have to really be there early? Do I need to get anything ready? How long can I stay in bed before it's really crisis time?

5:57 a.m.
I really need to get up. I don't have to be there until the bell rings, but what if there's traffic? Why isn't it Friday yet?

6:00 a.m.
Why do I have a headache already? This is wrong. I should only have a headache in the morning when I'm hung over, and I'm not. Not even close.

6:17 a.m.
Out the door.

6:35 a.m.
Arrive at school. What are we doing today?

6:38 a.m.
The first student arrives. Luckily her entourage hasn't arrived, so we make small talk. She looks at the board and asks, "Are we working on our projects today?" Kid, I just got here. That's yesterday's board. I can't even articulate to her what we will be doing today. She does not seems one bit surprised.

6:45 a.m.
After five minutes of searching the index of the text book, I find the reference pages the students need to review in class. Stupid, lame textbooks. Things shouldn't be hidden. I found the pages right away the other day. Should have written it down.

6:55 a.m.
Boards set. Several pleasantries exchanged with students, which now number in the double digits in my classroom. Shhhhhhhhhh. Keep it down.

6:56 a.m.
Head is killing me. Too early to have a headache. Maybe an energy drink? Caffeine and energy. I could use that. Tastes gross. Worth it? Head is K.I.L.L.I.N.G. me! Do I have time to visit the lounge vending machine? Can I trust the students alone in my room for a few minutes?

6:57 a.m.
Great. I have to navigate through a huge group of students hanging out and playing catch with a football. I smile at them. A few smile back. Mostly we ignore each other because we are all enjoying our own time before the bell.

6:59 a.m.
Vending machine takes my money. Rockstar or Monster? Neither one seems fitting for a teacher who thinks it might make her morning go more smoothly. I choose Rockstar. I wish I were one. I'd be sleeping in right now. My headache would be drug or alcohol induced.

7:01 a.m.
I sneak my way past the throng of students, stepping over a couple looking too cozy for such a time of day.


Holy Mother of God! I've been hit! I pivot around to a sea of frozen faces. No one moves. No one breathes. Someone is going to die. Maybe all of them.


"An apology?" I say, eyebrow raised.

More silence.

"Sorry Ms. HappyChyck."

"It's okay."

I turn around and walk off. Many, many foul thoughts crowding my head as my upper back and neck burn in pain. Surely it was an accident! If it wasn't an accident, that kid is DEAD. Nah. He wouldn't do it on purpose. His mom would kill him after I'm finished. Be brave. Don't cry. Big F word. Man that hurts. Pull. It. To-ge-ther. You're a tough chick. Your day can't get any worse. All those years taking pictures, watching games through the camera lense at the sidelines of sporting events, and you take your worst hit just walking across campus one morning. You will live. It's okay. Holy crap that kid throws hard! Is he going out for football? Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry.

7:02 a.m.
I Crack open the drink. Looks like a tall boy. Wish it were a tall boy. I. Am. In. Pain. Yuck. Energy drinks are gross. Why don't I drink coffee in the morning?

7:05 a.m.
Bell rings. I take a deep breath. Man, I want to crawl under my desk.

"Good morning class!"

March 22, 2007

Just Another Quarter Gone By

Nine weeks ago I wrote about how glad I was to finish the semester. The end of the 3rd quarter is here, and I am glad to be finished with it, too. This whole year has felt like a wild ride on a treadmill. It's been an incredibly frustrating year, and although much blame must be placed on my apathetic students, I can't help do some finger-pointing right back at myself. There are all these things I know I could do better, but I just get so overwhelmed and cannot do everything. I can't stand another depressing post, so how 'bout I focus on the things I'm trying to do to improve my teaching?
  • I read as much as I can from edublogs. Wish I could comment more, but sometimes I'm just doing drive-by readings to get a little fix. Food for thought. It really helps!
  • I took two online classes in February. One of them was on using the Internet for research. I learned so much and attempted to take much of my newfound knowledge straight into my classroom. I hate teaching research, so anything new was bound to beneficial. My students were quite interested in learning how to be smarter researchers and wished they had known some of the information I passed on to them sooner.
  • I'm going to an IB conference in Texas this summer, and hopefully I can get a better understanding of what I should be doing within the program. (BTW, several of us were hoping to go to one here in Las Vegas this summer, but it's the wrong training for what we need. Our second choice was to go to one in October, but the district won't pay for substitutes. They don't mind us taking 5 days out of our summer break, though.) I think I'm doing pretty well with it, but since I've never been officially trained, I might find I know very little! In any case, I'm definately looking forward to getting some inspiration!
  • I joined our school's newly-formed assessment team. It's more about formative assessments than summative ones, which is a good topic to become more acquainted with. I feel pretty low after the meetings--mostly discussions at this point--because I know plenty about assessments that I don't use regularly like I should. I feel like better techniques in this area would be the magic pill to heal what ails some of my classes. I know I'm delusional, as it might more like a nice vitamin rather than a miracle pill, but I'll take that!

Lately, I've been having many thoughts of other jobs I could do. Yup. I'm that frustrated and annoyed, but this meager list reminds me that I am not giving up yet. I'm still interested. I'm still in the game.

March 17, 2007

Are Y'all Enjoying Spring?

I'm just wondering if anyone is enjoying spring. I seemed to have missed it.

Two weeks ago it was it was 56 degrees with a nasty, chilly wind. (Don't laugh. Trust me, it was cold.) I clearly remember because I jumped down my stepdaughter's throat when I picked up her up from the after school program where I found her playing outside with a short-sleeved shirt on and no coat. The only reason she'd been allowed to wear that t-shirt was because it was some sort of special reading week thing. Otherwise, she would have worn a sweater. Yes, I distinctly remember that day I never did warm up because it was so cold, and here were my children playing outside with no coats. (She'd also been out of school one day because she came back from her mother's family sick with a cold because she'd been playing outside without a coat.)

So, I went on a rant about wearing coats and using one's brains, and then the next day coats were simply unneccesary. Okay, it may not have been the very next day, but pretty darn close. I know that I've been dying of the heat all week long, uncomfortable in short-sleeves and slacks. The air-conditioner has been on at my house all week! Air-conditioning!

It was 92 degrees today!

Do we not have spring here in Las Vegas? Isn't it a season? Don't seasons last more than a few days? How am I to survive the sweltering summer if I don't get to enjoy spring first? Come on! I live for the mid-70's!

Stay tuned for for next week when I travel to northern Nevada where the lows are in the 30's and the highs in the 50's. I won't be happy then either.

March 15, 2007

Stop Reading My Shirt and Finish Your Test

Last week I made quick mention about our school's efforts to promote enthusiasm for our state-mandated test. We've had posters, we had a pep rally, and to top off all the excitement, we teachers had a t-shirt contest. Some happy little spirited teacher came up with the challenge and a meager prize and presented it via e-mail the day before the test started. "Hey everyone! Make up the best test-related shirt and wear it to support our kids!"

I read the e-mail a day late (since I ditched school to goof off with my brother who was in town), so I didn't know about it until I arrived at school and saw a few teachers with some fun t-shirts on. It was a little slow that first day, but by the second day of testing, the enthusiasm and creativity were insane. The students couldn't wait to see what crazy, witty things we would print on a t-shirt just to support their testing! You'd be surprised what we teachers can do with a $5 t-shirt and some inkjet T-shirt transfers. The students thought we bought our t-shirts somewhere! By the end of the 2nd day of testing, students were coming up with slogans--many of them twists of well-known advertising campaigns from big companies--that they wanted to see.

They weren't the only ones excited by our t-shirt support. Our principal shared pictures of our shirts at a regional administrators' meeting, while she herself was wearing a nicely done t-shirt that said, "My school was rated high-achieving last year, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" on the front and "I have the smartest students in the district" on the back. Apparently everyone was so amazed that they wanted to know where they could buy t-shirts like ours. She couldn't quite get the point across that our t-shirts were all homemade craft projects!

I have to admit that all this hype for the test has me laughing my patooty off because it's just so ridiculous. But on the other hand, why shouldn't we celebrate our students demonstrating their knowledge for everyone to see? As crazy as all of this has been, all the teachers say that they have seen a difference in attitude for the students while they were taking the test this year. Our students take a lot of tests, and by the time they finally get to the big one that counts for our AYP, they are burned out. It's hard to make them understand how important these tests are because they are really high stakes for us teachers and our school, not the students. It matters not for those 8th grades who are moving on.

I wonder though, if perhaps our attitudes in treating this big test as an event to celebrate has boosted morale and confidence in our students. I suppose we will see when the results come in the fall if our scores go up. We might be able to attribute some of our success--although hardly data driven--to our positive and unusual approaches.

*Update: See my super cool shirt!

March 11, 2007

Hella Funny Trick

Dude, you know what would be like so hella funny? What if I like took the lid off a jar of like, you know, that pizza sauce. But then I put it on, only like, not really. And like this total mom comes along and like grabs it off the shelf and it like PPSHHHHHHHHHHHHHH all over the place. Yea! That would be so cool! And she'd be like, "What the--?" and she'd be holding on to this lid, but the jar would be like shattered all over the floor! Like glass! And red stuff like dripping. And she'd be like one of those moms who like doesn't like her kids to like be messy, and she is always making them like wash their hands and stuff. Yeah, she would be like the perfect person! That would be so freakin' cool man!

No! Wait! What would be even better if she like somehow got the jar into her like, you know, cart without the jar going all PPSHSSSSSSSSSSSSSSShhhhhhhhhhhh all over the floor. Yeah. And then she gets to the like, you know, checkout. And it's like a really busy day and there are like, all these people waiting in line. But like, you know, it's this mom's turn next and she's putting her stuff like on that thing that like moves to that check-out person. Yeah, it would be so much friggin' more awesome if she picked up the sauce and then it went PPSHHHHHHHHHH. Like all over the place. There's be sauce all over her like stuff, like her bread and carrots. Oh! And her shoes would be like, splattered, and she'd be standing there going, "What the flip?" with this like pizza sauce dripping down her arm. Only she'd probably really cuss, but like only in her head 'cuz she's like one of those mom types who tries to like act like everything is all cool.

Oh man! That would be so freakin' funny! All the people in line would be like looking at her like she is some sort of an idiot for breaking this jar, only she is standing there looking all confused because she was just like taking it out of the cart when it went PPPPSHHHHHHHHH all over the like magazines and stuff! And everyone is checking their shoes and giving her dirty looks. But nobody wants to be like in that line anymore because there's all this like sauce all over the place and it kind of looks like blood, so everyone gives her this like really dirty look and goes to different like, checkers, even though they've been like, standing there forever. Man, they'd be really pissed and they'd be like, pissed, at this mom. And this mom is standing there, like covered in red stuff, and she's trying to tell the checker that there's like, this mess, but the checker is like, ignoring her. And this like mom is trying to tell everyone that the jar just like came open but like nobody believes her.

Yea, that would be like so freakin' funny!

March 9, 2007

March 9

I found this scrawled in a notebook when I was cleaning out a drawer today. It is dated March 9, but there is no year. Judging from the other pieces of writing in the book, it was written 5-7 years ago when I was teaching high school freshmen and sophomores.

So today at 1:43 I quit. Too exhausted by the day to day shit. I just decided I didn't want to do this anymore. Too weak to want to try anymore. Perhaps I'm moody and I give up too easily. It is, afterall, one of my brightest classes, but when I can't get them to do anything... Well, I guess they won. The rest of the day w/o doing anything. What a dream. Damn. Now I'm kicking myself because I gave up too easily. I am not cut out for this job. I just don't want to be so tired so young.

Boy, how some things never change. Did I really give up that day? I hope not. I still get frustrated and tired, but I usually get ornery before I give up. That's never pretty, though, and I don't feel right when it happens.

I'm having frustrating time this week--an many times throughout this year--because I have so many students failing. I do have quite a few students who are in over their heads in my classes, but that only accounts for a few who might not be doing well. The rest of them...well...they just don't turn in their work. They're lazy. They blow off projects and major papers. They seem unconcerned about their grades. It's quite unusual for magnet students, I think. I post grades, and rather than everyone rushing into the class to check their grades, only a few do. I can only hope they are rushing to check the online posting of their grades instead (it lists grades from all their classes) when I'm not looking because it seriously appears apathy is king this year.

It's not just me. This apathy is evident throughout our team. We've been battling it all year long, and it seems to just get worse as the year goes on. The math teacher seems to be keeping stats in his head about how performance grades are this year compared to last year. He has about 5x the students failing this year. Most of the year, I've felt that more students are failing my class than in any other classes. I swear it's like 10x the students I had failing last year. Maybe more. I think I can count on one hand how many students earned F's last year. In a couple of classes, I have to use my feet to count the number of F's--in just one class!

We are all frustrated, but I think I'm the only one who is professionally troubled. (Woe is me, the poor lonely teacher who feels alone in the world.) Is it something I'm doing in my classroom? Am I too strict? Not strict enough? Is my delivery difficult to understand? Is the class structured enough? Is it confusing to them that we have more than one thing going on at a time? Why won't they do their daily reading? Can they not hear me? Am I nagging them too much? Do I not nag them enough? Why should "nag" even be part of my vocabulary? It's what I feel like? Should I be calling more parents? Where can I find the time to call parents? Oh my gosh! I need to send some notifications home, but I am up to my eyeballs in plowing through the essays that the students who care gave me to the feedback I promised them.

It all weighs on me very heavily.

One of my friends, who happens to teach half my students, tells me that I'm doing plenty for those students--maybe something other teachers have not. What is that? I'm giving them the opportunity to fail. Yeah. As if that makes me feel better...

There are many of us, including our counselor, who feels that failure is an option for students. I can't decide if the accelerated students in our program have been coddled, or if they are pushing the boundaries and want to see how much they can get away with. With this group, it's probably both of those things and a dozen other reasons.

Honestly, I don't even think that we are digging in deeply enough to the content either. Last year at this time, we were in a much different place that I am not sure I can visit with these students. I think they are bright enough, but sometimes that isn't enough. And I don't care how smart you have been your whole life, there comes a time that if you don't continue to develop your skills, you just aren't so smart anymore. Am I the only one who sees this?

I don't know. Frustated. Burned out. Tired. It's the same day. Just a different year.

March 8, 2007

I'm Fired Up--You Fired Up?

Our big state-mandated test that will determine whether our school is adequate enough is next week. On Monday, we are having a pep rally for the test. When I heard that, I nearly fell off my chair laughing! Earlier this year, we had student-made banners all around the school asking students if they were ready for the big test (a different one) and posters with practice test questions. We are trying so hard to get the hype up!

I just about fell out of my chair again when I did a quick search only to find that other schools do pep rallies, too!

March 7, 2007

Students: Analogies :: HappyChyck : Chocolate

Can you believe it? My students can't wait to do analogy practice! Last year my students didn't really like analogies much because they were hard, but this year's students became quite excited when I told them we'd be working with analogies a little bit each day for a while. "Oh! Those are fun!"

Of course, I started off the first day by sending them to a website that had a quiz and I gave extra credit to students who earned perfect scores...a little competition works wonders!

We don't do competitions everyday, but they still have a list of quizzes they can practice on their own when they have extra time. Oh the joy when I see them anxiously finish their work so they can go play with words!

March 3, 2007

Those Students Need Glasses

In celebration of Read Across America, I wore my t-shirt that says, "Got Books?" to school. I would wear it all the time, but we don't dress down much at my school, so it was the first time my students had seen it.

"Miss! What does your shirt say?"

I opened my cardigan so they could read it better.

They started laughing at me because they thought it said something different. Geez! I hate those kids! They are so mean! Instead of crawling under my desk, I decided to just put myself on display even further for the laughs. The best defense mechanism there is, right?

"Just wait until you see the back," I said, turning around to show them.

It says, "I do!" Riotous laughs all around.

I did have dozens of students throughout the day exclaim that my shirt was cool and they wanted one. I love those kids.

March 1, 2007

Digging My Way Out

I've been going through one of those periods of time where I have a gazillion things to do, and sleep or breathing isn't one of them. How is that different than normal, right? I've been through these phase so many'd think I'd be less grumpy as I go through them. (I was in a crazy busy two-month block when I met my husband. I actually told him I didn't have time for him. At least he knew what he was getting into.)

This crisis in time can be contributed to the fact that I took two online classes. I finished up this week, and did a great job, but it has sucked every ounce of time. I've been days behind in grading papers, and frankly, I haven't been having much fun. I've been kind of neglectful of my family, too. Uhm, yea. Their dad had to make dinner the other night as I rushed to finish my paper. Very scary.

Yearbook is weighing me down to the max right now. I'm behind and in over my head. It's largely my fault, but then I am dealing middle schoolers, and their ideas and my ideas don't always mix. Not to mention they are developing skills...uhm...yea. Thank goodness for digital photography now or we'd be broke paying for all bad pictures they take. Honestly, putting together a good yearbook takes creativity, talent, and motivation. Some years I have it and some I don't. Sounds like a personal problem, doesn't it? I mean my staff, of course, but sometimes I can't even think of how to grow those traits in them. This year I have very creative kids, but only half are motivated, and then only half of those have any talent. Actually, it's a good staff year, come to think of it.

Here's the funny thing: my yearbook rep left a voice message asking me to give her a call because she knows of a high school in need of a yearbook advisor. A few days ago she was e-mailing me because I'm behind on deadline. In a friendly way, though. Just asking if I need help, which I don't unless she can stretch the day a few hours. All I can say is if she thought of me, all of us yearbook advisors must be hanging by a camera strap most of the time! I'm catching up, though. My supervisor approved 30 pages today so I can send them in and then are we are rockin' and rollin'!

And speaking of rock and roll, I have a continuous stream of company in the next few weeks. Can't complain about that, but you know I'm never going to get any papers graded--and I'm collecting research papers tomorrow.