December 26, 2008

And Now a Rest?

The first week of break has gone by so quickly! We had a lovely Christmas--I made fajitas for dinner, for those of you who were following along. Simple and yummy and followed with my sweetie's favorite birthday cake: angel. (I think it's an amusing favorite cake for someone born on Christmas!)

We tried to go out for a walk at a park Christmas afternoon, but it started raining and blowing. So, we took a drive in the rain instead since we were out anyway.

Christmas night and this morning were busy times cleaning the house, putting away Christmas decorations, finding a place for gifts, laundry, and packing for the remainder of the break. This afternoon, we took the kids to California to spend the rest of their vacation with their maternal family, and in the morning we hit the road for northeastern Utah to visit my family.

So far, no rest for this chyck. I mean, it hasn't been as stressful as regular life, but certainly not peaceful. I only hope our drive north is clear tomorrow. The drive to California was not peaceful at all: accelerated--slam on brakes--coast--coast--coast--accelerate--accelerate--driving, getting somewhere--slam on the brakes. Over and over. I remember now why I rarely accompany them to the drop off/pick up on visitation weekends.

The funny thing is that deathly, stressful 90 mile stretch of I-15 between California and Nevada will be nothing like the open stretch of I-15 we'll drive for 380 miles through Utah. Crossing our fingers the storm that slammed the state on Christmas has completely moved its way through--or it could be a repeat of brakes and coasting from today. Otherwise, it should be pretty easy driving.

I have fresh batteries in my camera, so maybe I'll be able to get some pretty snow pictures. I'll be looking for the kind with sparking crisp snow and bright blue skies! That sounds peaceful, doesn't it?

December 22, 2008

You Need More Than Christmas Cookies

Not a lot of time for reading yet. I'm The Mom. That means I spent the weekend doing Christmas shopping. It's not that we're even buying a lot this year, but it takes time to navigate traffic on the streets and in the stores. Both Saturday and Sunday I came home simply exhausted and desiring a nap.

I'm back out on the streets today to pick up the major gifts I could not buy because I had one of the little elves by my side the whole weekend. And then to the grocery store. Ugh. The grocery store. Not just for holiday food, either. We are out of bread, eggs, milk, coffee, fruit, vegetables--just about everything--and have been for a few days. That has nothing to do with Christmas and everything to do with being The Mom who is overextended in life.

Oy, but the holiday food! What am I making for dinner?
I'd like to make something nice, but I'd like to not spend a lot of time doing it. That's my feeling toward most dinners, thus we eat a lot of soups and stews--we usually get two dinners for the effort of one. "Merry Christmas, dear family. May I present the special Christmas stew?" Uhm. Maybe not. As for the traditional meat on sale at all the markets, I like ham sandwiches, but I don't like my house to smell like pork. So actually buying any form pork requires cooking is out, out, out.

My fav market has all kinds of veggies on sale. How about a nice Christmas ratatouille? A little work intensive with all the chopping, but I have some elves who would love to help with that!

Oh! What about a Christmas meatloaf? My family likes meatloaf, but...maybe not.

Or fish! No, not lutefisk. (Thankfully, that was never a family tradition. Let the other Lutherans eat that.) Tuna steaks. Marinated with some simple soy and wasabi. It's green and red! My kids will eat wasabi, but not rare tuna. Weirdos. They do love my talapia, though. We might be on to something. Simple, but good.

I wish I had some connections to a mom who makes tamales. Christmas tamales. Yum.

What about Christmas fajitas? That would be very festive with all the reds and greens, right?

Enough procrastinating. I'll just have to stand in front of the meat case until something pops out at me like I usually do. Or, maybe that's not a good idea. That tactic often results in spaghetti without meat sauce or eggs for dinner. Something tells me that's just not going to fly.

December 19, 2008

I Can Read Books For Pleasure!

Thanks to two dear friends--one is our librarian, and the other, the 7th grade English teacher with whom I share book interests--I have three books to read over the break:
I have a few of my own at home to read, too. I have East of Eden by Steinbeck and Pillars of the Earth by Follet collecting dust by my bed, but I think I'll start off with something lighter. Normally that would be some Christmas romance--who doesn't like to find true love at Christmas time--but I suppose I've been saved by a young adult book instead.

I'm certain my spirit will be restored over the long winter break once I get some fresh literature to quench my stifled brain. I need a fix so badly I could cry.

December 17, 2008

Snow Panic

You know times are slow on the blog when I talk about the weather, but this is pretty serious!


It's a pretty big deal. It doesn't happen very often. Like once in 30 years. Maybe not that long, but maybe more than a decade, but amounts we are getting is forcing news channels to show pictures from 1978. Actually, it snowed on the west side of town earlier this week, but it's snowing on The Strip now. My work 'hood is close to Downtown, and my house isn't too far from that, and we have snow, too. Lots of it. And some rain, too. It's a mess.

And tomorrow we have a SNOW DAY!

It's kind of funny to me because I lived in northern Utah for 20 years, and I don't ever remember a snow day. I remember having to walk to school in the snow. I remember years with lots of snow. I remember slipping and falling on my bum a lot. I remember always being wet and cold. Snow days? Nope.

After I was an adult, I remember many mornings having to wake up early so I could shovel my way to the car so I could "pre-heat" it for 20 minutes before inching my way down unplowed roads to work.

I think the biggest difference is that Clark County reportedly has 12 snow plows, and half of them are on the mountain that always gets snow. With only six plows, it might be a cold day in hell before you get your street cleaned off. Although, it is kind of a cold day in hell right now.

Sadly, I am hanging with Miss A, and I wish I would have brought that large stack of essays or some yearbook stuff that we are behind on. It was coming down hard when I left the building late in the afternoon--and I had to use a plastic bag to clean two inches of snow off my car (who has a snow scraper?)--but I never thought it would lead to a day off tomorrow.

It's madness.

Guess I don't have to call in cranky after all!

Thinly Disguised "Wonderings"

  • If that kid is so smart, why does he submit his work to the "Return" box at the back on the room instead of the "Inbox" on my desk? Why does he still not know about this procedure in December?
  • Why did I not know that the in-house suspension room doesn't open until 8:00 a.m.? What about the students who have an early bird class at 7:00 a.m.? They get to attend one class and act like jerks? And since the office knows more than I do about the hours of in-house detention, why request work from me if the kid is suppose sit in my class? Thank you for your support, for making me look like a fool when I chew out a student for sitting in my class when she can't report to in-house, and for wasting my time as I prepare work for the student who won't be missing my class for in-house.
  • Why does it feel like the air conditioning is on at one point in the day and later the furnace is on full-blast? I can't figure out the pattern either. It just goes back and forth.
  • Are 50-foot ceilings really cost effective when it comes to heating?
  • Am I the only one that has figure out that my high-schoolers are so hot because they won't take off their sweatshirts (school-approved). Under the sweatshirts, they aren't wearing their collared shirts. Betcha anything. Sorry kid, I will not be opening the door or turning on the fan. Take off your sweatshirts! Can't? Tough!
  • Am I the only one who hates group activities for online classes? I can't follow the conversation in the stupid threads. Why won't the university use an application more conducive to creating online group papers like a wiki or Googledocs? I suggested using a wiki with my group last quarter, but they couldn't figure out how to use it. Sigh. I guess we all have our deficiencies because I have a hard time following multi-topic discussions with five people about multi-topic papers while keeping up with who thinks what, who is doing what, and who is revising what.
  • Am I too old to throw tantrums when I get lost and confused?
  • Can I call in "cranky" tomorrow?

December 12, 2008

The Time Has Come

That one last nerve I have is completely frayed.

Yes, I only have one. I think I have mentioned that before, but I can't find where. Trust me, though. It's true. One. I lost all the others my first three years of teaching.

Here's the teacher dilemma:

Should I put on a happy face and pretend like all loud noises, including whispering, are not going to drive me to drink, or should I warn them upfront that their normal teen behaviors might be the cause of their deaths?

In one way I'm not being true to myself, and the other way I'm just being a biotch if I mention it. It's okay to reveal your feelings as long as they are happy, right?

HappyChyck is not so happy.

I'm feeling a lot of pressure to be a nice, compassionate teacher who does not have inhumane feelings from time to time. Only, that's not how I feel right now. In fact, if you could look inside my head, you might recommend that I not spend any time with impressionable young people.

You might recommend I take a few days off to adjust my attitude before someone gets hurt.

But would you recommend I do it now or wait a mere five more days?

Let's talk differentiation for a minute. Not all learners learn at the same pace. They are all unique.

Teachers are unique, too. Not all teachers can hold out a few more days for a much deserved break.

Makes sense to me.

December 8, 2008

Yearbook Ponderings

We are in too deep to be thinking about such inane things, but to my fellow yearbook advisors, what do you call your individual pictures? When I first learned this gig we called them mug shots, but I notices in the last few years, the term used is portrait pictures.

I prefer mug shots--sounds cooler and fewer syllables when you are barking out orders, ya know? It takes the newbies some time to catch on, but it makes it even more confusing for all of us when the company and its web-based program uses the term portrait.

Do I have to use the new jargon? I like the old jargon. Sure, I bent a little when I labeled all the mug shot pages as portrait pages on the ladder.

But then I thought...

...maybe we need to give a few years to see if these subjects of these pictures are more portrait-worthy or more mug shot-worthy. Just a thought.

December 5, 2008

Jose 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6?

Dear Jose,

You know you are one of my favorite students, but it is necessary for you to label your paper with not only your first name, but also your last name and the period number. Apparently Jose was a very popular name the year you were born, so I have six students with the same name this year--and three of them are in the same class with you! Perhaps you've noticed that I alway call your name with your last initial, too? It's not because it sounds cool--although it does sound a little cool and edgy--it's so I don't bother the other Joses when I'm really calling on you.

Yes, I know you make your Js in special stylized way that the other Joses don't do, but they also have special, cool ways to write their names, and well, it's not that I wouldn't know yours over theirs because, like I said, you are totally my favorite student. I'm old and I'm kind of busy, so I get confused about stuff. So, help me out, Jose, and give me a little more information when you turn in your papers. Just so I don't get confused. You know us teachers...

Thank you! You rock!

Your favorite teacher,

Ms. HappyChyck

December 4, 2008

A Little Slow on the Uptake

Progress grades have been posted on the board for three days.

The students have been working in their groups and independently for 30 minutes during class today.

It's time to transition into a test review where I need to direct the whole class.

Students, why is this the trigger that makes several of you rush up to ask questions about assignments you thought you turned in?

DO take it personally that I'm irritated and cannot give you even 30 seconds of my attention.

November 27, 2008

Saying My Peace

My last class of the day happens to be the last period of the day at the alternative high school where I work part-time at night--and for those of you who have read this blog for a whole know that the last class of my day is over 12 hours after my first class of the day. In my experience, last period classes at any school are always a little more rambunctious than other classes, and my last class is no different. In fact, they are off-the-hook. Let's throw in some expletives there, too. Just not off-the-hook. Worse.

I don't talk about it much here, although it makes for some good stories. I'm rather embarrassed that I have such a slippery handle on these kids, and I try to forget about it as soon as I leave the building.

On Wednesday night the students simply had to finish the rough draft a piece of writing I assigned on Tuesday night. For some it would be a stretch, and for others, they would be finished early in the class period, but for most it would be just the right amount of time. Typical classroom, right? I hate to have time wasted, so I would normally have a sponge activity for students, but on Wednesday I did not bother.

I know I set myself up for a riot or something. You know, the whole idle hands being the devil's playground thing. Amazingly, though, the students were calm and quietly entertained themselves in the last hour before our long holiday weekend.

And I was able to casually joke and talk with a few of them that normally do not give me the time of day.

One of the boys who is new to my class this quarter said that my class is the only class they ever have to do work in. I didn't believe him, so he corrected himself, "Well, we have to do book work, and take notes, but that's easy!"

"I told you that sometimes this class is hard."

"Miss! It's too hard!"

"Because you have to think?"

Several of them agreed that thinking was just too tough.

I was feeling bold enough at that point, because we were all being civil to each other, to remind them how patient I have been with them.

Another student, who also came in during the second quarter agreed: "Ya'll are tough on her!"

You know it, girl! They make me want to cry when I leave here sometimes.

Feeling even bolder, I continued, "You know, a lesser teacher would have quit already." I know a better teacher would not have my troubles, but that's not my point here.

Several of the students agreed. There was a moment of silence as they reflected for a few seconds on that. I hope they weren't plotting was to get rid of me because a revolving door of teachers would be much more entertaining, but I hope they saw a different side of me. I'm not the fool teacher they think I am. I'm the patient teacher who isn't going to let their antics keep her from helping them learn.

I might be making more of this small moment in time than it is really worth. Next week I'll be back to contemplating how peaceful my life would be without them, but for now I'd like to think that we experienced a turn in the road together. Maybe not a turn. Maybe a curve. Or even a smooth patch of road instead of the bumpy one on which we travel together. Anything to keep us going.

November 25, 2008

Dusting Off Our Shelfari

A student actually approached me about the side-tracked conversation on the side because he couldn't figure out what he was suppose to say since the board lit up with Twilight talk. Oh yeah! That reminded me that I needed to talk to the one class that contained the main culprits of the hijacking.

"You know, class, this was suppose to be a conversation about the environment. If I wanted you to talk about books, I would have posted something about books. Don't get me wrong. I really appreciate how you love to talk about books, but I was hoping to, you know, expand your horizons a bit. Let's talk about the environment!"

And then I little bell dinged in my head.

"Besides, we have a place we can talk about books. Online. At Shelfari."

As pure luck would have it, one of the two students who actually joined the online book club this summer was in the class to confirm that such a place actually exists. We are months into school, and I failed to mention this very special online place. Duh!

Technology has been on the back burner of my mind this year because my students still don't have their laptops, and I've been doing the best I can as our technology bits are slowly being installed. (I'm stilled blessed with technology, I know Mrs. T would be mad if I didn't say otherwise.) Shelfari was pretty much erased from my mind when I came back this year and found that this site, which was recommended by our educational computer specialist, is now blocked in the district. It's now officially classified as a social networking site. Isn't that the story of my life? My wiki is now open, and this blog is, too, but should I happen to want to use something for educational purposes, I will surely find it blocked.

Who cares, though? If students want to talk about books, we have a place we can meet on our free time. In just that one class, I had eight students who wanted to join the group, and I am sure they will recruit a few friends. Students talking about books online. It's going to be wild and crazy!

Now maybe we can talk about the environment on the side, too.

November 24, 2008

What Would Carlisle Do?

My students are trying having a side conversation about the environment. How this works is that they are reading a series of articles related to the environment in this online reading program we have. It's half homework activity and half sponge activity in the next couple of weeks.

In the back of the classroom we are having a modified Chalk Talk, which is technique to have a silent conversation, usually used as a more immediate activity. (I learned about it through Critical Friends Group training, but check out this link, too.) We're taking this idea to use for a longer period of time, and I don't have an free white board at this time, so unfortunately, we are going a less green route. Oh yes, I've already been called out on it. I've posted a large piece of butcher paper and some sticky notes so students can comment on the following question:

How can we benefit from all the environment has to offer without destroying it in the process?
I put it up on Wednesday before I left, and this morning when I walked into my room, the first thing I noticed was that it was covered in sticky notes! That is so cool! My students dug into it!

But then I started reading it.

It seems that the board was hijacked by some Twilight fanatics. Or the haters. I can't decide which. I heard through the grapevine that one of the fanatics wrote, "Let's go to Forks, Washington to plant trees!" And then the war started.

It wasn't about how Forks, Washington, probably didn't need trees. You know, I hear it used to be nicknamed the Logging Capital of the World, but I seriously doubt it has been overlogged to the point we should be concerned. No, the conversation just turned to completely inane things related to Twilight.

Cripes. Vampire-loving desert rats!

So now the board is hijacked. The serious comments are buried. And I'm outta sticky notes.

I know many might say, "If they love talking about Twilight so much, why not let them talk about books on a Chalk Talk?" I thought about it, but they talk about books all the time--and Twilight is the main topic of debate constantly. I was just looking for a fun way to expand their horizons.

So, we need to regroup.

Oh, and should I also tell them they are sucking up my enjoyment of the Twilight books with their fanatic behaviors?

November 17, 2008

Ducks in a Row for a Change

I'm so excited! This is the first full week that my students have had to learn without any interruptions in a month. Days off, magnet high school presentations, career day, and school-wide health walk have made things a wee bit fragmented. That's a wee bit of an understatement, but that's what November is all about. Lots of spinning wheels.

I have everything planned out for the next three weeks, and we're just off to a great start this week! Tomorrow the students will start studying The House on Mango Street using a literature circles approach. I will simply devastated if it doesn't go well because I've discovered that I adore literature circles after I used it with House of the Scorpion last spring. (What is it with houses?) Students have to interact with the text, discuss with each other, and have no choice but to be engaged with the text since they are part of a small group where each person has an essential role each week. Maximum engagement, I'm telling ya! I have everything set up for them, so tomorrow it is a matter of introducing the essential questions and their roles and responsibilities. They're bright little book worms. They'll get it.

So my students will be off and going for a decent pace for the first time since quarter two started. That's them, though. I'm taking off to go San Antonio for the latter part of the week!

The news is...if I've set it up well enough, they won't need me, anyway. Wahoo!

I mean, Yee Haw!

November 9, 2008

Always with the Unexpected Outcomes in Education

During my yearbook class on Friday, during which time is my friend Jamie's lunch, we stood in the back of my classroom crying and gnashing our teeth about the goofy shirts we had to wear.

"It's awful! I'm so fat. It doesn't fit. I look stupid!"

"I know! If I button my all the way, I can't breath."

"Are you going to the picture?"

"I don't know. Will anyone notice?"


"Who picked these shirts, anyway?"

"Probably our beloved supervisor. She is so out to get us this year!"

"They look like bowling shirts!"

"Yes they do!"

"Hey--we should go bowling."

"Yeah, we should!"

"What are you doing this weekend?"

"Nothing. We should totally go bowling."

So we went bowling last night.

And it was fun.

November 7, 2008

Needing a Tailor

Teachers are also diverse. They come in all ages, experiences, colors...and shapes.

My shape is mostly round (maybe even pear), so when we teachers were requested to send in our shirt sizes so we could get staff shirts, I was terribly afraid. Not just a little afraid. No. Filled with raging dread. I'm not the kind of person who can just buy shirts off the rack.

Will the shirts be in men's or women's cut? That makes a difference—usually a full size. Someone sent out an inquiry about that, plus someone also asked what kind of shirts they would be because there is a difference in polo shirts and button-down shirts. We received no reply.

I sent in my size and actually went with the smaller of the two sizes I generally wear because on that particular day I decided I'd rather have a shirt tighter around my hips than super baggy on my top. The last few polo shirts we purchased were cut pretty large.

This morning we found our new shirts in our boxes—just in time for us to don them for a staff photo after school. They look like the black shirt here, only with our school's logo embroidered on it. And I thought we were getting polo shirts. Everyone thought we were getting polo shirts!

I know, I should have been super-excited to join the biggest bowling team in the district, but I took one look at that shirt—women's-sized with a fitted waist—and knew it wasn't going to fit my hips. Plus, I'm short-bodied, and finding button-down shirts that don't gap right at my breasts is nearly impossible. (If you come look in my closet, it is true that I have 4-5 classic button downs, but I've had them forever, and use them for special occasions because they were hard to find and they fit so well.)

Now, if I can make it to school without having any depressing clothing issues, I sure don't want to create any before the first bell rings:

"Happy Friday, HappyChyck! Here's your shirt that will not button around your hips and gaps at the breasts. We'll see you after school for a staff picture!"

I wanna go home!

As the day went on, I found I was not the only woman who had issues with our new shirts. Now, I can certainly lose weight to help the hips issues—no, not before 2:30 p.m., but some of my lovely colleagues cannot help, ahem, their generous top proportions. Here we are, such strong women who encourage our girls to love themselves no matter what, whispering in the back of classrooms and in the hallways, "Did you get your shirt? Does it fit? Mine doesn't fit. Ohmygod! It looks terrible! I have to get my picture taken in this? No way in hell!"

Hell came right after school as we filed into the gynasium for our pictures, hoping we wouldn't be in the first row, trying to position ourselves behind the skinny girls, trying to hide our ill-fitting shirts. In the big picture, nobody is going to notice those of us with tight shirts. It will be a sea of 100 faces wearing black. But you know every photo has a story...

I can't finish this without saying—

The men all looked really good in their shirts. I noticed—even if I'm married I can still see—that several of the guys looked particularly handsome in their shirts.

Hate them.

November 4, 2008

Complexity of Diversity

I love it when someone talks about the "diverse" population at my school. Technically, each and every student is unique, so we certainly do have a diverse population in those terms, but when we talk about ethnicity, 70% of the students are Hispanic. Is that really diverse?

October 30, 2008

Seeing My Peeps

Wahoo! The long-waited girls' weekend in Reno is finally here. Or it will be tomorrow. I still have to teach my classes tonight and do laundry, so I'm not exactly sure why I'm celebrating already. I suppose because it's close enough, and whatever torture my night school students have in store for me just does not matter. I'm leaaaaaaaaaaaaaving on a jet plane tomorrow morning.

Once upon a time between marriages, which I like to call The Days When I Was Single, there were a lot of girls' weekends. Sure, I dated on and off during those times, but I always had my super cool, fun friends--my sisters in a hard place to teach where none of us had family nearby. And we spent an awful lot of time drinking and shooting pool. Sounds kind of low-brow, I know. I miss it though. I miss Thursday night pool practice, Friday-night's-let's-meet-after-the-football-game-'cuz-I need-a-drink-to-take-the-edge-off-the-week, and Saturday's all-afternoon-pool-league competitions at the American Legion Hall.

Boy those were the wild days. Okay, not really. American Legion? Come on people! We hung out with an older crowd, but it was sure fun. My girlfriends and I have all moved on from that small town where we once worked together and where the best entertainment was shooting pool with old veterans and their wives. I know in some ways we are glad we're gone, but there's that part of us that misses that slower pace of life.

We're meeting up in Reno tomorrow, which we used to consider the Big City. Already we're wondering what we'll do for fun. It's too bad we can't all meet back in our old stomping grounds, but something tells me it wouldn't be the same anyway. In fact, I think it might be a little depressing, as some of our old friends have moved or passed away.

It doesn't matter what we do. We know that from years of just hanging out.

And I'm ready for a weekend of just hanging out with people who know me.

And if there's drink, that's okay, too.

October 26, 2008

Singing the Sunday Blues...Again

Countdown to Monday...

Last weekend I stayed up so late that I met Monday without saying goodbye to Sunday. Not really a great idea.

It's going to be painful tomorrow, isn't it?

I still have a stack of essays to grade--and quarter 1 grades are due Tuesday afternoon. The only saving grace is that the essays are each only a page long, as it was a practice proficiency test. Thank goodness for that. It took me forever and a pint of vodka to make it through their narrative essays this quarter. These kids did not learn their verbosity from me. (They could have if they read this blog, but trust me...they entered my classroom just full of it this year.)

I might have another saving grace in that my students will be in the theater listening to presentations from magnet high schools all day tomorrow. Is it terribly rude for me to not listen and just grade papers? Well, the kiddos should listening to the presenters and not watching me--and they might want me to get their grades updated, right?

Oh! And they better be watching the presentations and not acting out in ways that would actually require me to manage their behavior. Oh no! They better not!

Tomorrow during first hour we will be staging a practice fire drill because the last few have not gone very well. New school. New escape plans. Narrower passageways. I'm not balking at this, as we know my best and brightest blew the last fire drill--and yes, at the last faculty meeting one of the administrators did mention there were about a dozen students without their teacher. My "friends" laughed and pointed at me. So, practice would be wonderful. Don't worry, though. I won't be looking like a fool tomorrow because this practice fire drill is scheduled to happen during my prep!

Too bad for me I really needed to use that prep to slave over a hot copy machine--if I beat the math teacher to it.

And...I was out of my classroom on Friday, so who knows what I'll walk into in the morning. My only fear is the fear of the unknown. There is no unknown like kind you meet on that Monday morning after calling in for a substitute on the previous Friday.


Monday is going to hurt.

October 21, 2008


My yearbook editor follows me into the work room, "Miss, you're a mom, right?"

"Uhm, yeah."

She stands right in front of me, "Do you think I have a fever?"

"Geez! I'm not that kind of mom!" Really. Ask my stepkids. Any kind of sickness receives Airborne and a command to go to bed early to sleep it off.

"Could you just feel my forehead?"

I sigh and test her forehead, "I don't know if you have a fever! Seriously! I didn't actually give birth. I don't have those kinds of skills."

"But, Miss!"

I sigh, "Fine!" I touch her forehead, and then mine, and then hers again. "I don't know! Maybe it's a little warm. Do you want to just go to the nurse?"

"Yea, maybe that's what I should do."

"You think?" I bet the nurse has a thermometer! But if she's a mom, maybe she just uses her hand.

October 18, 2008

The Good and The Bad News

The good news is that I own and have already read two of the three texts I need for my next class. Maybe the class will be a little easier than the one I just took where the focus was on early childhood literacy. (What do you mean there's a difference between phonics and phonemics? So what?)

The bad news is that I can't find these books anywhere. I was looking for both of them about a month ago, and I thought I might stumble upon them somewhere, but I haven't. Bummer.

Murphy's Law: Now that I've placed the order through Amazon, they will miraculously appear.

October 16, 2008


My students are taking a practice writing proficiency exam for two days this week. Perfect time for me to evaluate some essays.

Or goof off.

I think I have some form of teacher ADD.

What would that be called?

I don’t know. Ya’ll can ponder that one.

Maybe NADO. Need a Day Off.

Did I mention they are taking a practice writing exam? WRITING! I must be should be smokin’ crack to ask them to do more writing when I have enough already to insulate my house. I don’t care how many rubrics I have that are suppose to make grading so much easier—that’s 240 pieces of writing.

And my poor newspaper staff members wonder why I’d rather poke myself in the eye than read their articles: “Give it to the editor!” By the time he edits and they revise, I might want read it.

Okay. I'll get to work now. As soon as I find just the perfect pen for this task...

October 14, 2008

Why It's a Good Idea to Practice Fire Drill Procedures Even If It's a Waste of Time

Boy, I am just having a great year. I know I'm a bit overextended, with working five nights at the alternative high rather than two and working on my master degree, so there are areas where I am not going to be a model teacher this year. That's just the way it's going to be. I'm fine with it. But there are some no-brainers that I should be able to just set life on cruise control and survive.

So what did I screw up now?

I lost 10 students today during a fire drill. Or they got lost. Something like that.

I actually knew we were going to have a drill, so I told the students to follow me when the time came. I told them we had to go down the stairs, out the main entrance where we would walk down the sidewalk across the front of the school, and then we would need to cross the street.

I kept looking back until we made it out the gate because then it wasn't as crowded on the sidewalk. When we made it to the designated area, I found 10 of my best and brightest were nowhere to be found.

In some ways it's not a big deal. In other ways a very big deal. After all, we have had fires at my school before--a small one during school hours and the mother-of-all during the summer that we missed. The big one is what earned us a new school. Last year we were evacuated because of a gas leak, too.

Anyway. Losing kids. It was a little embarrassing.

When a hall monitor came by to release us back into the building, she told me a group of my students where further down the road. Good to know.

When the dean came by to ask if I had all of my students accounted for...well...double embarrassing. I've never had an administrator come around and record of losses during a fire drill.

I'll probably get a nasty gram about it later. Oh well.

When I met up with my lost students, I chewed them an extra hole: "Congratulation! You all burned up in a fired! What happened to the part where you follow me?"

We all know that it's hard to follow the teacher when she's 5'3", but really, follow the person in front of you who is following the person in front of him, and so on and so forth, until you get to the person who is following ME!


Last month, my 5th period class was able to figure it out, but not my 2nd hour class. Nope.

I even had on a bright orange sweater. I should have been easy to see. A sea of blue and white shirts and then ORANGE! Come on people! The person in the ORANGE sweater is the person to follow!

When I was done being irritated with them for making me look so bad--I'll even admit that's why I was so irritated--they defended themselves by saying that at least they all stayed together in one group.

Good point.

It's not all bad if you can figure out what to do when you lose your teacher during a fire drill.

October 13, 2008

Why It's a Good Idea to Have a Copy of the Master Calendar

Ever the professional teacher, I usually end up screwing up something important every quarter. Something important like addressing all the benchmarks. Yeah. Something always falls off the radar.

I'm in pretty good shape this quarter, except I thought the quarter ended one week later than it really does. Oops! I'm so glad I figured that out before it was too late. You know like before assigning a project to be due after grades have to be in or something goofy like that.

With my, ahem, ever-present professionalism, I'm keeping my eye on November. Last year I had barely two weeks of regular instructional time, and this year isn't looking much better.

I don't want to complain, though. I could use four days off in November. In fact, I could sure use four days off in October.

October 1, 2008

A Cultural Break

Today the other 8th grade IB teacher and I took a small group of students to see Romeo and Juliet at a special Shakespeare-in-the-schools type of event. Last year, I was nervous because it was the first year I had participated in the program, but it was such an amazing morning hanging out with some enthusiastic students, well, I'd say it was maybe even a high point of my year--maybe even in the top 10 of my career. (Many of my most memorable experience in teaching and in life have been theater-related...)

And how was it this year? It was just as much fun. It was a beautiful morning at the amphitheater, and our students were model theater attendees. (I didn't even give my "On pain of death" speech to motivate them either!) Of course, with no worries about comfort or students who might embarrass me, enjoying a superb troupe presenting Shakespeare just makes for a great morning. The other teacher admitted that she was feeling a little itchy about needing to be out of the classroom, and this little trip rejuvenated her. I know what she means! It was a relief to be out of our stuffy, content-thick rooms. Although I am hardly a fan of field trips, this is definitely an event I will look forward to every year.

September 29, 2008

The Miracle on 28th Street

I don't know if this is a major error or if the district big brother has gotten nicer, but I am posting this from my desk at school!

Here's proof:
(Today is not the best day to take a picture of my classroom, but that's the semi-good side. It's actually the view from my desk, as I was using the computer cam. In this picture you see two cool things about my room: the built in cabinets and one of my new computers. Unfortunately the computer you see in the corner can't boot up because the outlets don't work...)

And my wiki is open, too! If you've been reading this blog since the beginning of time, you'll know that one summer my colleagues and I built some wikis--on campus--only to find the site blocked when school started that fall. Last year I was able to get my site unblocked for about a day. It's a major saga.

Don't get too excited. I'm still going to need to rip those YouTube videos from home. I probably shouldn't be ripping videos from there, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

So, the question is, "Will Happy Chyck be blogging from work? Will we see more from her?" It's highly unlikely.

I'm much too busy.

I'm only posting right now because it's hours after I should have left, but I've been hanging around because I need to go to a meeting at the university rather than going about 5 minutes.

I had some funny things to post last week, but I choose sleep instead. Open houses at both schools last week! Busy! When will the technology come on board when I can just send posts from my head? That would be cool, right?

September 21, 2008

Whatever Groove

Arg! Finished week 3 of my first class, and I'M SO $%$* OF WRITING PAPERS! Every stinkin' week! My sweetie says it will get easier as I get my groove.


My groove involves dropping a text book on my face every night as I try to read a few pages before going to bed and sequestering myself from my family on the weekends. The good news for the kids is that my groove is starting to look like take out for dinner every weekend, too.

It's 8:30 P.M. and I haven't written lesson plans for next week. I know what we're doing, but I don't think I have it in me to write the specific essential questions and language objectives. I'm all fogged up. With morning will come clarity. I hope.

Next week I get to read a book and write a paper--with a group. I'm rolling my eyes right now. I'll let you know how that goes. There are indicators showing that it's a disaster waiting to happen. In the back of my mind I am thinking that I should be prepared to read a book and write a paper by myself. That might be going against a constructivist approach to learning or some jargon like that.

Again. Whatever.

September 20, 2008

Because We Like to Share Misery

I had the worst professional day on Thursday.

It started as I was getting into the car and I remembered that our new school does not have wireless Internet yet. You'd think that after a month I'd remember that I can't do things like I have for the past four years. This is particularly stressful because I had planned to stream a video from United Streaming from my laptop, which would be plugged into the projector.

So, when I arrived, I tried to download the movie from my desktop, so I could save it to my flash drive, and then I could plug it into my computer...only, I couldn't get it to download. It wasn't even a very long movie. My friend came in, and she's pretty computer smart, so she tried. Then she ended up calling the computer tech person so she could go get an extra long Ethernet cable so could I hard wire my connection. That didn't work either because I couldn't configure to our system. Sigh.

Long story short, I eventually able to get things going by my second class, as I had a prep between, but I punted in the first class and the students played The Uhm Game (my version's better, but it's similiar to this one), which was probably a lot more fun than a video on Shakespeare's life and times. Not harmful, but not the most productive. I apologized to the students, but they didn't seem to care.

Because I was dealing with all of that, I didn't check my mailbox in the morning, so it later in the day when I went, I found a notification of a parent-teacher conference. In fact, I found it about 10 minutes after the conference was scheduled to start... I dashed over to the conference room, without a progress report in hand. I couldn't decide which would be worse: not showing up at all or showing up late and unprepared. I'd like to think that I chose lesser of the two evils. Super embarrassing.

I left the meeting feeling like a snake's belly--in more ways than one. Did I mention that I woke up with a cold coming on? I should have added that because throughout the whole technology fiasco, I really wanted to just to home and go to bed.

And just before the meeting, I received an e-mail from a colleague where I couldn't read the tone to know if she was asking me a sincere question or taking a shot at me. This colleague was in the meeting.

And while I was checking e-mail, I found a message to the whole staff about a certain school-wide procedure that my department had been told we were going to do one way and now we had to tell our students to do it another way. Frustrating! It's been a struggle, and now that we finally have them trained, and we have to go and tell them to do it a different way, which is the way most of them were doing it anyway. As one of my fellow English teachers said, "Now we're going look to like asses." Indeed.

That would have been the perfect time to just leave early, but I had a stack of papers I needed to grade so I could get promised progress reports out on Friday. And let's not forget the faculty meeting after school, too. Bleah.

I made it home--albeit late--without dying in a fiery crash. After all, my driving has nothing to do with my professional life.

Crossing my fingers that the last part of my teaching day would go well, I went to night school, and even arrived early. While I was waiting in the teachers' lounge, I reached into my bag to get something and discovered that a can of soda (caffeine I would desperately need later) had been punctured. What punctured it? My cell phone? My camera? The plastic tip of a mechanical pencil? Some evil demon stalking me?

Some of the books in my bag received a little damage, but the brunt of the damage went to the feedback forms I had for my day school students on the speeches they had given this week. I would never accept such messy papers, and there's no way I'm giving messy papers either. What's worse is that on some of the papers I had used a felt tip pen, so the paper was just a blur of red and Diet Coke. What do I say to those kids? Without notes, I certainly don't remember how they did! Grrr.

My classes went okay, except for 6th hour. I have a student who is giving me problems, and I keep trying to work with him, but he keeps acting like he's doing nothing wrong. His cool-guy act is not helping be a better reader or writer at all. I moved him to a table where he would be away from his situation so everyone could focus better, but he couldn't get comfortable because he's a big guy, and the table was rather low. So, I moved Goldilocks to the teacher desk, and I moved everything out of his way and turned off the computer.

On Friday, I found out that was about the dumbest thing I could have done because he wrote on the computer screen. (It was apparently about an inch, written in ink, but we don't know what it looked like because the day teacher rubbed it off before taking a photo.) I know better than to let students use teacher computers, but I didn't think he'd get in trouble sitting at the desk with my aide sitting across from him and me in a direct line of sight. How wrong I was. (My aide is 16 going on 35, and she has no tolerance for the students who show up to school and just think they can goof off and graduate. She even took the opportunity to lecture him.)

Oh, and by the way, having a student write on a computer screen is a new one for me. Add that to my book of Stupid Things Kids Might Do.

Since the day school teachers at the school think that all things "night school" are straight up thug, including the teachers, my attempt to deal with this student, who really needs a boot up his rear, but I'm trying to deal with one on one, has set off another battle between the day school and night school teachers--don't think that this incident is just between the me, the student, the other teacher and the administrators at both schools. Oh no. Every teacher at both schools knows about this. Although the building has always been used for a dual school, we night teachers are interlopers. Or maybe even worse.

Okay, let's add them up. That's FIVE ways Happy Chyck can look like an unprofessional dolt. All wrapped up into one day. I hope that was my allotment for the rest of the year. Seriously. I took bitter pill after bitter pill all day long, and even into Friday, as I faced all of these issues head on, admitting my culpability each time. I certainly didn't lead by example. I hope I was able to screw up by example.

September 12, 2008

Thank You for Your Input

One of my student's parents left a comment with her signature on my course expectations this week. She took offense to my usage of the word insubordination. Uhm. Okay. I have to admit that I was rather strong with my word choice when I wrote that students who did not turn in work would be considered insubordinate. I went on to explain in the expectations that insubordination is the student's failure to follow the teacher's directions.

Again, maybe a stretch, but it truly seems that students who don't turn in their work are indeed rebelling against authority. Sometimes it looks like laziness; however, laziness does not seem to be a big issue for some parents. "Oh, my student is just lazy." You've heard that, right? Like it's an illness that should be excused. Give the kid a 504 Plan! So, I'm going for a bigger punch.

To me, what 90% of the not-turning-in-work issue boils down to is that the students feel like they can do whatever they want--despite what they have been told to do by the school authority who is charged with teaching them to learn each day. Call it educational jargon, but that's insubordination.

Many of my students start their work and never finish because they get distracted by...who knows changes minute to minute. But we all have those students for whom we can physically place a pencil in their hands and a paper in front of them, and they will do every except the learning task asked of them.

And what happens to students who are doing everything except what they're asked to do, that is, students who are off task? They often become behavioral problems. Who wants to be the parent of a behavioral problem who is disrupting class? Even better, who wants their students in classes where the behavioral problems are causing their students' learning to be interrupted?

Frankly, these insubordinate students who won't do their work aren't helping themselves on the Big Mandated Tests either. It's pretty hard to grow and learn without doing the practice prescribed by the teacher. Judge us not, parents, when your child's school does not meet AYP and you wonder if the school is providing a quality education. We have difficulty enough getting the students to mind us and do their work.

My rant may not justify my strong choice of words for students who won't/don't turn in their work. I'm wondering if others sometimes use words that don't quite fit right for the purpose. For example, why would my choice of words in this instance offend someone?

September 10, 2008

I Might Be Going a Little Crazy

I'm frustrated with the students who won't talk.

I'm frustrated with the students who talk too much.

I'm frustrated with the students who won't ask questions when they are confused.

I'm frustrated with the students who can't do any single task without asking 20 questions.

Why can't those students figure out what I want?

Acting Out in Writing Class

Last weekend, I started (and never finished) a post about how much I like my night school. People ask me how in the world I can make it through the day by going there and teaching two periods a night with everything else in life. Well, I have a whole list of reasons, including I like the kids.

Only, sometimes I don't like the kids. Like last night. And it wasn't so much that I didn't like the kids as it was that I didn't like the kids who were acting out because the task I was asking them to do was hard.

The first class I have has 8 students enrolled, and only 6 of them ever show up. The small class forces each one to participate rather than sit in the back of the class, hoping to ignored. I try to make them feel at ease and joke with them, but they will not talk to me. Seriously, even if pointedly ask one of them a question, all I get is some vague mumbling. I know a few of them are shy, but not all. One of the boys I had in class last year, and when he actually came to class, he talked A LOT! There is another girl who will talk to me a little, but her baby is due in any minute. She's my best hope of showing the rest of them that communicating with the teacher isn't so bad.

The last class I have has 20 students, which is a typical sized class. I know that is small class by most standards, but I seem to have some supreme talkers and clowns in that class. Okay, it's actually normal situation for that school. The students like me, so they don't maliciously disrupt--I've had years like that--but they're just blowing off whatever doesn't entertain them.

So, I blew my top with them last night. Third week in and I am already frustrated. A few days ago I was super cool. Patient. With these kids, I have to talk rough, keep it real. I reprimanded them for falling about so quickly and accused them of acting out because they felt a little stupid for not knowing what to do, how to fix their weak sentences. That is just no way to tackle a problem! I had given them different strategies for improving their sentences, but in revising, nothing is cut and dried. I can't tell them if it's right or wrong, I can only tell them if something is better, and that's something they know when they rework it enough, too.

Writing is hard and frustrating. I told them how I feel that pain a few times a week as I write here on my blog. I explained that I discover errors I've made days after my writing goes out to the public to read, and how sometimes my sentences sound like a 3rd grader wrote them. Of course, I choose to write because I enjoy it--even if it is hard.

I know it was harsh for calling them out on their actions. That's the knowledge we as teachers keep to ourselves sometimes. Students act out a lot to cover up their insecurities. We deal with it accordingly. Like I said, sometimes I have to talk rough with my students. That's how they receive messages. That's how they know I'm being real. It shows I care. It's crazy.

In the quad and in the parking lot. a few of them sheepishly approached me:

"Miss, are you going to be mad at us tomorrow?"
"Are you going to try hard tomorrow?"
"I was trying."
"You were were goofing around with those around you."
"No, I wasn't."
Insert Teacher-Eyebrow look here.
"Really? That's not what I saw."
"Uhmmmm. Okay. I'll try."


"Miss, I'll see you tomorrow. I'll be better. I promise."
"I need for you to be a leader in class."
"Miss, I'm a leader?"
"Yes, you are. Use it for good, not evil. You're one of the best students."
"Really, Miss? I'll try."

I hope so. That's all I'm asking for...

September 6, 2008

When Things Work

We have certain benchmarks that we need to meet each quarter, and often we don't quite address those benchmarks until the quarter when they should be assessed. There are benchmarks that are addressed all year long, but public speaking isn't one of them. Public speaking is a little standard slated for 4th quarter.

Skills in public speaking are what a few teachers on my team were crying for last year. Not so unlike the need for researching skills, which are also assessed later in the year. But public speaking skills I can deal with the second week of school when I don't have any textbooks or the ability to make photocopies. A short week on public speaking is something I can pull out of my you-know-where without any preparation.

Last Friday, student brought in objects that were important to them for a short speech. Okay, call it Show and Tell. Whatever. We also used it for a writing assignment. It was lovely. And, I had a quick look at what kind of speakers I might be dealing with this year. Most of them weren't bad. Each class debriefed with an analysis of the good and poor speaking traits they saw, and most picked out the same things I did. I love how my students can reflect on their abilities! In any case, they had a good base knowledge, so they just needed some booster tips.

For years I've been lecturing the finer points of speech delivery, preceded by a short talk on how to overcome the fear of public speaking, all based out of Brent C. Oberg's Speechcraft. It's a few days of lecture, and I am by no means a great lecturer, but I brought out my best performance with stories of my own speech failures, like the time I failed miserably at policy debate match and found myself a puddle of tears in the bathroom at the Alta Novice Debate Tournament. But did that stop me? No way! I demonstrated how gestures can work for or against you, and we had a lively discussion on how mispronouncing words, although it could be a regional dialect, which is technically no reason to judge since we accept diversity, will irritate some people so much that they stop listening to what they say. (People! Pronounce the name of our state the way we Nevadans do, or we'll think you're an idiot!)

Throughout the year, when my students give speeches I'll evaluate their delivery on eye contact, gestures, charisma, and voice. The state standard for speaking also has a component for analyzing the effectiveness of public speakers, so of course they'll evaluate each other and themselves along the way. For last week, though, after they observed me, someone who is admittedly a flawed public speaker, I planned for them to watch some professional public speakers and analyze their delivery styles.

And wouldn't you know it? Just in time for the Democratic and Republic National Conventions. This is the perfect time for me to integrate current events into my classroom and have it miraculously fit with the standards. (It's language arts, I can make anything fit, but you know what I mean!)

Oh, wait. Public speaking standards are not the ones I should be worrying about this quarter, right? Tough. It works. And it works well.

I made it an explicit point to tell students to put their--or their parents'--political opinions aside and simply observe the delivery skills each speaker had and how it might have enhanced their messages.

But I cannot help but smile when my little Republicans and Democrats argue with each other in the hallway after class. That's the good stuff.

September 4, 2008

Getting Smarter

At the end of my last post, I was hoping for an easy year. I've finally taken the plunge to get my master's. I know it might be weird for some to think that I don't have it already since I've been teaching so long. Before I came to Las Vegas, the only people I knew who had advanced degrees were the administrators, and frankly, it wasn't easy for one to earn a master's in the tiny, isolated area where I lived. There were always the summers, right? Well, yes. I chose to travel during those years. After all, most days I was in contact with students 12 hours a day. Summers were for family and friends!

We moved to Las Vegas a few years ago so my husband could go back to school. The plan has always been that as soon as we made it through that, it was my turn. He graduated two years ago this month, but it still wasn't quite the right time for me to go back. Now's the time.

So, if I'm not around as much, or if my posts are incoherent, you know it's because I'm working 65 hours a week and taking classes.

Oh wait! That's what we teachers do. Never mind.

September 3, 2008

Hanging On

Slowly but surely, I'm putting things up on the walls in my classroom. I have an aide on loan from the office/library since neither of those places are finished and they have an excess of student with nothing to do. Last week it took him three days to put paper up on two bulletin boards, but I am thankful that I have him to help out. Wrestling with paper, staplers, and boarder might have been easier with my help, but last week my preps were used up meeting with colleagues. Today I didn't have any meetings, and we made much progress sprucing up my classroom. It almost looks welcoming. I feel happier. My smiley faces are up!

I'm still working on putting things in my desk--other than those three pens and white board markers. I have some sticky notepads now. Has anyone seen my thumbtacks? Today, I finally decided to staple the calendar to the wall. That gives me three more weeks until I have to flip to the next month, right?

Where does the time go during my preps? I'm trying to figure it out. I'm not getting any papers sorted, and I haven't done any of my planning at my desk. Last week, I met with various colleagues during my preps--and a few of them I felt like I was acting as a mentor although I have floundered in setting up some new practices in my own classroom this year. Ironic, aye? I'm complex like that. I can help you figure out something for your classroom, but I'll still be stumped about some things in my own. Guess I'm not such an old teacher after all. Also, in these early parts of the year, much time is spent setting up attendance and grade book programs, managing student paperwork, finalizing course expectation sheets--getting ducks in a row. Of course, in our madness of opening a new building, we are a few days behind deadlines on everything.

Oh! Is it me, or am I simply slower at doing everything? Don't I usually type up lesson plans in about 30 minutes? It took me 3 hours last weekend! It seems I'm also out of mental shape.

It's coming together, though. I'm feeling a little more peaceful. That's good. I need smooth sailing in my classroom this year. Please, please, please.

August 31, 2008

I Will Survive!

We made it through the first week of school. The whole week was surreal.

I received my keys Saturday morning, but I didn't get into my classroom until hours later because I was too busy selling pre-orders for yearbook. I opted to not spend any time in my classroom because I was hot and tired from sitting outside all morning, and I really needed to go buy shoes for the first day of school. (Yes, I know it's insane to buy shoes two days before the first day of school, but I was desperate!)

My sweetie helped me move some things from our garage into my classroom Sunday morning. With school starting on Monday, there wasn't much I could really do except have some place for the students to sit and something for them to do. It was a depressing morning, and it was all I could do not to cry. The room is so crowded with furniture--tables instead of desks--that there is no flexibility. Trying to get things to fit in a logical manner was like solving some sort of puzzle. Other things that depressed me:
  • My door would not shut.
  • Three of my computers have damage already.
  • My teacher desk must go where the jacks are, and it is in an inconvenient, awkward place.
  • My classroom echoes. The decorative features in the classroom are actually necessary sound tiles. (Yes, I'll be getting some. Someday.)
  • I could not get everything perfectly in place because the workers were still hanging bulletin boards and white boards, so I was trying to keep the furniture from being against the walls until they finished.
I was happy to finally see the students on Monday morning, and things went fairly smoothly. Above all else, we teachers conducted class like we always do. Except without any technology. Although some areas of the campus are not completed, classes were tucked here and there where they might fit, and we began the year. We are all extraordinary teachers who roll with the punches. Everyone deserves kudos for that!

I had some issues finding a restroom a few times on Monday. There is one in the office connected to my room, but it has no toilet seat on it yet. (The only faculty restroom in my wing is this restroom--and it's unisex. It can only be reached by walking through a teacher's classroom--mine and three other teachers. Weird, huh? I think it was originally designed to be a special ed restroom, as there's a shower there, too. Even with an elevator, it's not convenient to have our special ed students in wheel chairs upstairs!) I did find the faculty dining room with a lovely restroom. Slim on paper towels and no trash cans. Later in the day, this same restroom flooded, so it was closed. Frustrating. Lucky for me, the student restrooms are brand new and not too icky yet.

The flooding in the restroom actually happened before we had an afternoon deluge. About ten minutes after school ended, we were slammed with a severe storm. Workers were scrambling to move the wrapped pallets of things that were in the open quad--probably things from the main office which is still under construction, and we teachers hovered by the doors just watching it pour--and unfortunately, some teachers started setting out boxes and cans to catch the drips in the leaky hallways... Those would be the hallways that should not be leaking, as you might have guessed.

It took three days for our computers to be connected to the server. We use e-mail as a main form of communication, and in a time when things are all new--and many things still under construction, it was hard not having information. One night I spent an hour catching up on correspondence and news! Unfortunately, whatever updates I read at home, I'd often forget by the next day. I think it's something about being out-or-context. Or too tired to care.

All week long, I didn't even have anything on the bulletin boards. One of my English peeps came into my room and commented how it didn't look like my room at all. The truth is, none of us had anything on our walls until at least Wednesday, with the majority of us getting around to hanging a few things on Friday. In my desk I had 3 pens, 4 white board markers, and a tin of Altoids. My desk is usually interesting and well-stocked from day one! I didn't even have a stapler! By midday Tuesday I had a pencil sharpener, tissues, hand sanitizer, and my Mickey Mouse tape dispenser for students to use--and we finally had some trash cans in our rooms, too. I felt like I was squatting in someone else's classroom!

My classroom connects from the back (the office/faculty restroom) to the two Language B (foreign language) teachers, who happen to be my best friends at the school, but my hallway partners, the ones with whom I monitor the halls between each period, are MATH teachers. And sometimes they talk about math. I miss my English peeps. They are nearby, but not near enough to share woes and gossip in 5 minutes snippets every 50 minutes. I feel like an outcast. Oh! Except that 2 of the 3 teachers are close to my age, so I don't feel like the old one in the area anymore.

I should be writing about the students the first week of school. So far, they are nice kids. Oh! And we had a some great activities this week. It's just been a bizarre week, and I still don't feel like school has really started. That's not good.

August 26, 2008

The Impossible Mission

I had my high school students, who are taking my class because they need some extra help to pass the proficiency exams, write an essay for me tonight. Of course there would be some challenges. There are always challenges, but I can't help but be shocked at how bad at writing some of them are.

You know, like the student who only used one period throughout the entire piece of writing. I hate to call it an essay when it was technically a run-on sentence. A deluxe run-on sentence.

What about the student who couldn't spell because? Sadly, it was the most sophisticated word in the whole essay, and it was used frequently. With the wrong spelling. It was consistently spelled the same way, but still wrong...

The majority of them wrote functional essays. Stinkin' functional, bare bones essays that are safe and uninteresting. Oh, I'm crossing my fingers that the writers of those essays aren't too set in their ways. Often those students are perfectly happy with their skeletons and can't see the point of breathing life into their stiff words.

In these beginning days, I am so unsure of myself. Can I truly help these students? Where do I begin? What are my first steps to encourage growth?

It's a new year. So it goes. Trying to create writers, one student at a time.

August 25, 2008

You Have a Lot More Stamina Than I Do...

The title is what the math teacher next door to me said when I told him that I still had two more classes to teach at night when the day was over at our school.

Stamina was the word in my head as I was unloading the dishwasher, making dinner, and helping with homework this afternoon. I wanted to rest on the coach instead.

Stamina was the word in my head as I was standing before my last class of the day, and there were three boys in the back were proving to be a tough sell.

Stamina was the word in my head tonight as I stopped at the store on the way from work to buy cold medicine for my sweetie who never gets sick. Of all the long days to need a nursemaid.

Stamina was the word in my head as walked in the door in the hour of nine and went straight to making lunches for tomorrow. I did not dare stop.

Stamina will be the word in my head as I drag my tired feet up the stairs and into bed.

I hope my stamina holds up.

August 23, 2008

Not Even Close to Ready

I finally received my classroom keys this morning.

Don't get excited for me thinking I had all day today to work in my classroom because I spent the morning selling yearbooks. Don't feel sad for me because I NEED to get as many yearbook orders as I can at the beginning of the year because after this it's highly unlikely I'll sell many books until it comes in May. Fellow advisers, I know you are surprised to hear this, but apparently this a common trend in Las Vegas. Yes, I spend the year stressing out, wondering if I'll sell all the books when they come--and wondering if one of these years Jostens will refuse to print my books until I send more money. (Please, Jostens! Don't! I love you! I'll get the money! I promise!)

Students were able to come on campus to pick up their schedules yesterday afternoon and this morning. Unfortunately they were unable to tour the campus (it was closed to us teachers yesterday, too) and to purchase the required supplies, such as agendas and P.E. clothing. In fact, we workers were stationed just inside the school gate for the distribution. Caution tape kept everyone out of the rest of our campus: we could look, but we could not touch!

This change of plan happened at the last minute--and for a few moments after I found out we were simply handing out schedules and not selling anything, I almost had a nervous breakdown. I'm not exaggerating. Tears came forth. I couldn't breathe. I wanted to vomit. Not being able to pre-sell yearbooks would have been misery for my program. A year of double worry for me. Thankfully, when admin said nothing would be sold, they weren't talking about me. In fact, they had a cash box ready for me because I've done a good job stressing the importance of selling books during this time each year.

I'd like to give a shout out to my vice principal, principal, the administrative assistant, and the accountant at my school. Ladies--thank you for all your help! You rock!

Okay, now speaking of yearbook, which is only ONE class in my schedule...because of this ONE class in my schedule, the principal ordered a publications classroom for me, which means there's a certain package of things that will go in my room. (It was probably necessary if I expected to get a new camera and scanner.) She even moved my classroom to an place where I would have a shared storage room just in case my staff needed some private space to store materials. (What happens in yearbook stays in yearbook!) I appreciate her thinking about about my staff! As it happens, this type of classroom comes with tables rather than desks. Big tables. I'm okay with tables, but my classroom is sooooooooo small. Actually, I think if I had 30 desks instead of 20 tables, I would not be in any better shape. All the tables are pushed together, but I am afraid when I pull them out and place chairs with them, there will be no space to move.

I know you might be thinking that the math doesn't add up. My rosters currently have 30 students in each class, except publications, which has 20 students. The tables could seat 4 students, but their workspaces would be rather short--there'd be notebook bumping. That makes for short tempers. The tables are meant for 2 students. So, technically I need 15 tables. Excellent.

Oh, but with this publications package comes 10 computers. Oh! They are so pretty! I am so thankful! I don't know if they are exactly this Mac, but they look like it. So that's where the other 5 tables go. And you KNOW that they MUST go on the wall where all the jacks are. So, 20 tables. Yeah.

I was in my classroom long enough to eyeball the situation, but tomorrow I'll take my sweetie and a measuring tape, and we'll spend a few hours trying to create a functional classroom with a roomful of furniture and the confinements of logistics. How can I get my desk as far away from the door as possible considering the jacks dictate where it goes? Will 5 tables even fit across the wall where the 10 computers will be housed? Where in the world will that big wardrobe go? How much room do I really need between the white board and the tables?

Sigh. I'll be so happy to get to Monday so we can finally start. Enough inconvenience and not being ready. Going into my "finished" room for the first time was not as much fun as I thought it would be. Just bring on the kids. Let's go!

Back to School Numbers Meme

I spotted this meme at Ms Teacher. It appears to have originated at Where's the Sun.

Completed in Reference to (Self or Child): Self

1. Number of years teaching or your eldest child has been in school (k through college) ? 11 years

2. Amount approximately spent on Back to School Items so far including clothes? less than $60

3. Number of Days until school starts in your area (+ or - if it’s started)? +1 day

4. Approximate distance school is from your house? According to Googlemaps, 4.3 miles

5. Amount of time it will take you or your child to get to school from your house by car or bus? 7-12 minutes

6. The actual or approximate number of students in the class(es) you teach or your oldest child’s class? Not sure yet...160-180 students

7. The number of classes in your grade or your oldest child’s grade level? 33 teachers for 8th graders (I think...there are some teachers who teach multiple levels)

8. The price to buy a full student lunch at school? $2.00--3.00

9. Number of schools in your district? 347

10. Early dismissal days already built into the calendar? 6 for semester exams

11. Price paid for the most expensive back to school item so far? $9.95 for a planner

12. Time school day ends? 2:11 PM

If you'd like to do the meme, please feel free!

August 21, 2008

Well, It's a Beginning

Our first day back was a little...uh...weird.

The campus is still under construction, so we were confined to one wing, and within that wing we had access to the auditorium, half a classroom, where a few tables and chairs were set up for breakfast, and the restrooms. The auditorium is what I call a small theater, and it seats about 100 people. It's actually a nice meeting place.

After a continental breakfast where we had a chance catch up with each other, we settled into the auditorium for orientation. It started with an inspirational video, 212: The Extra Degree. If it's true that teachers act like the students they teach, don't show this movie on the first day of school to a bunch of wound-up middle schoolers. We fell all apart, and when the movie was over we were reprimanded for our behavior. I didn't talk. I'm a good kid, but I couldn't see the words on the television screen from where I was sitting, so I took the time to look for some friends I hadn't talked to yet and count the number of people who had new hairstyles. Perhaps there were other people who were acting out because they couldn't read it, too. It's pretty common, right?

Oh, but that's nothing against the video. I think most of you will like it. Link to watch it!

After we had our attitudes in check, are fearless principal outlined all the great things we've done. Our scores were up last year, and we are ranked high in the district in exiting students out of ELL services. Or however they put it. The high schools that we feed into are also ranked well on this list, and she believes that is also evidence of what's happening in our school. She also talked about some of the ideas that administrators at the district level are pushing, and many of these things are already in place in our school.

She recited this:

We the unwilling
Led by the unknowing
Are doing the impossible
for the ungrateful.
We have done so much
for so long with so little
that we are now fully
qualified to do anything
with nothing!
That's the truth! Oh, and by the way, there is no money. The special grant two-year grant we secured last year that funded teacher trainings and field trips opportunities for all students had to be given back to the state to fund teachers' raises. Ouch. When you put it that way. I still don't know why we're getting our raises when education budgets have been slashed because of our state's financial woes. If I'm not mistaken, it was negotiated before these anyone knew that our state leaders can't balance a budget--I believe maybe even a year or more ago. Maybe it was a legality issue? Maybe they wanted to play nice with the teachers whose classrooms were going to be overloaded because we can't hire anymore teachers. I don't know. I DO know that the public will bash us every time the topic comes up. Sure there's no money to put textbooks into classrooms, but the teachers got their 4% raises. We get blamed for everything.

Thank you for listening to that rant, but now back to the regularly scheduled rant:

The rest of the morning was a quick overview of important things to know.

What's new at our school:
  • advisory period
  • bathrooms in every hallway (you have no idea the issues we had...)
  • PTSA and Dads of Good Students (D.O.G.S.)
  • a student health program called Project HOPE
What's no longer at our school:
  • one-way hallways
  • Gear-Up anything (goodbye after school programs and a lot of in-class tutors--and more money!)
  • Friday faculty meetings (YES!)
  • nearly unlimited paper supplies
Non-negotiable expectations:
  • teaching to the curriculum (no-brainer!)
  • submitting lesson plans each week (Some people didn't!?!?!)
  • professional dress and grooming (they really don't like denim at all)
  • no cell phone usage during class (another no-brainer!)
  • no gum zone for everyone (have to be careful what I eat for lunch...)
  • upload grades each week
  • take daily attendance (Warning that we might be audited this year!)
  • conserve energy
It's pretty typical stuff, right? The last thing we talked about before lunch was homework detention procedures and our stricter dress code. These are also new things, so people were getting restless and having side conversations while others asked clarifying questions. It was horrible. Again with acting like unruly teenagers. I couldn't wait to escape for lunch.

And even lunch was weird. Of all the places to eat, about 30 of us ended up at the same sandwich shop. And it looked like a a cafeteria with each clique sitting in separate areas. Some people at my table even made snide comments about people at other tables.

The afternoon was TORTURE with giant Vegas flashing lights. The district requires that we watch of all these informative videos and sign off that we've seen them. In the past we might watch one or two, and then at various time of the year we'd watch a few more. Our administrators crammed them all into one afternoon. All seven (7) of them! I do not begrudge our admin. Rather than spread them out over the course of three days, they wanted us to get everything at once, so when we are finally released to get into our rooms we can do so.

By far the most horrifying video, which was about 4 X 4 when projected onto the wall, was about aversive interventions. I know for sure now that when dealing with children of special needs, I cannot
  • call them names like idiot or retard.
  • lock them in a room alone.
  • hit them or pull their hair.
  • administer electric shock.
My question: "What about the regular ed. students?"


Why was the video horrifying? There's a reason we have to watch these warning videos. Someone, somewhere has done it.

Throughout the video portion of our day, the fire alarm kept going off.

And when we departed for the day. The fire alarm was going off. We escaped quickly.

For the rest of the week, we are working remotely, unless we have a specific meeting on campus. "Stay out of the way of the workers so they can finish our school."

August 19, 2008

One Word Before It Begins

I have to agree with Melissa at Scholastic Scribe about taking time to play before we are on contract time. She still has several days, but I only have a few hours before my summer fun is over.

Here's a mindless meme that does not require me to form coherent thoughts. Perfect.

Simply answer each prompt with
only one word.

Some claim that one word is harder than it looks, but if I can limit my answers, anyone can do this!

1. Where is your cell phone? purse
2. Where is your significant other? work
3. Your hair color? auburn
4. Your mother? thoughtful
5. Your father? knowledgeable
6. Your favorite thing? gloss
8. Your dream/goal? peace
9. The room you’re in? main
10. Your hobby? coupons
11. Your fear? unknown
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? wherever
13. Where were you last night? Sammy's
14. What you’re not? invincible
15. One of your wish-list items? house
16. Where you grew up? Utah
17. The last thing you did? application
18. What are you wearing? lounge
19. Your TV? small
20. Your pet? none
21. Your computer? overworked
22. Your mood? anxious
23. Missing someone? family
24. Your car? functional
25. Something you’re not wearing? makeup
26. Favorite store? books
27. Your summer? varied
28. Love someone? sweetie
29. Your favorite color? purple
30. When is the last time you laughed? morning
31. Last time you cried? movie
32. Who do you want to tag? anyone

Yes! Anyone! If you are still enjoying your summer, take the time to waste a little time!

August 17, 2008

The Return of Sunday Blues

It might be a little early since I still have a week until I meet with the students and two more days until I am under contract, but tonight I have the Sunday Blues. You know, the blue that are followed by Manic Mondays? Those.

I'm pretty sure that a year ago I was wishing I had done a little more planning during the summer, too. I thought about things. I did a conference. I had some inspiration working with some awesome colleagues. Nothing on paper, though. Well, no. There is a notebook with ideas. Crossing my fingers any of it makes sense.

Part of me doesn't want to get too excited planning structures and procedures, which I would like to overhaul a bit. Our school has this "new attitude" with our new school, but I'm not sure what will entail. I'm sure that means we'll be introduced to things we'll need to do during orientation. We always are. Whether those new ideas stick is always an interesting thing to see!

I heard from a reliable source that there is a possibility we won't get keys to our rooms until the day before school starts. Next Sunday! If that's the case, I'll be making sure desks are clean and arranged, and that's about the extent of preparation. I brought my personal books home and a few things I thought I'd need for the summer program I didn't do, but the rest of my classroom materials are boxed up, waiting somewhere in storage. If we don't have clearance to go into our rooms until the day before, it's highly unlikely our boxes will be there until later in the week.

We were led to believe that the opening would be tight and that we should not count on having anything at the start of school--just in case. Well, it looks like we are at that case.

I should be excited to start the year with new traditions and a new awesome school, but right now I have more dread than anything. Change is hard. Change with strife is torture. I'm just holding on.