January 30, 2008

Big Test Around the Corner

The first wave of the testing season is upon us, and we 8th grade English teachers are doing all we can to prepare our students for the writing proficiency exam that our students will be taking next week. The results from these tests will help determine AYP, along with the scores from the CRT later this spring. A lot of pressure.

One of my friends, who is doing a long-term sub job in the ELL classroom, is stressed out about her students passing the writing test. She's been working with them for months, but this morning she needed to stop by before school to vent and rant. "I can't even get them to indent! I don't know what to do! What if they aren't ready?"

I gave her some words of encouragement: "You can't hold yourself responsible if they don't do well. You've done everything you could possibly do, and now it's on your students. Besides that, no matter how hard you work, the truth might be that they just aren't proficient yet. Some of your students came to us not even literate in their own languages. Sure, they have been here two years, but two years to to reach 8th grade level is a big stretch for some of them. Just have faith in what you have taught them and encourage them to do their best. Don't beat yourself up!"

Have faith...encourage them...My friend the ELL teacher has the weight of the world on her shoulders--as do I. My accelerated students are all expected to pass. I have faith in all of them. Well, except maybe 5-6 of them who might be in accelerated classes but are not necessarily advanced. Oh! And maybe those 2-3 loose cannons who might aim for the lowest score ever just to rebel. Oh, yeah...I don't know about them. Sigh. Okay, so the rest of them I have complete faith that they will do much more than simply meet the standard. Those kids are going to rock that test!

And life in room 500 will be a little less stressful.

January 26, 2008

I'm Dispensable Afterall

8:45 pm HappyChyck's House

"Oh, Hun! Is there a reason why there are beans in the slow cooker but it's not plugged in?"

I sighed. Was he serious? Why would it be plugged in this time of night? "Yes, there is," I answered.

"Okay, I was just checking."

That's it?

"Do you really not know why the beans are there?"

"No." He said it such a way to indicate that it doesn't really matter.

"They have to be soaked overnight first or they will take forever to cook."

"Oh." He's still quite uninterested.

"You would starve without me, wouldn't you?! Or you'd be cooking those beans for days on end--you'd be eating crunchy beans!"

"That's not true! Ha! Cuz I wouldn't be eating beans--I would be eating pizza!"

January 24, 2008

Me and My Shadow

Thanks everyone for your feedback on having a student teacher.

So far things are going well; however, it has been an awkward week. Because of the holiday and a teacher in-service day, it's only a 3-day instructional week. During two of those days, the students had an interim test (district benchmark test used for formative assessment). It really only takes a day and about 15 minutes on the second day, but we all count it was blowing two days. What an auspicious beginning to the new semester, aye?

During interim tests, we teachers use that time to catch up on life. Yea, yea, yea...we're suppose to monitor the test, but it's not high stakes like the CRT's where we have to vigilantly circle the room for hours on end, so for this test we take a few turns around the room and then work at our desks--with one eye facing out, of course! So, I clued the ST into this little ritual and then handed her the benchmarks and all my resources for Anne Frank, which is our literature unit this quarter, and told her to plan away.

Initially, I felt like such a bad mentor because I hadn't reviewed the benchmarks or planned anything yet. I knew what piece of literature I wanted to do and our team is planning a big research project that we're still tweaking. I do know that it's usually a light quarter on necessary benchmarks, but we do a lot of testing.

It actually worked out very well when I sat down with her and a calendar to plan the quarter. We marked off the holidays and testing days (and days we need to review for tests) first so we could see how many days we really had to work with. How lovely that we get to go on spring break and then come back to the last week of the quarter! You know that means that whatever we need to do this quarter needs to really be done by the time we go on break. What do we do that last week of the quarter after taking a week off? Yes, well, that IS the question, isn't it? We play that little game where we look for the benchmark that does not fit in with the others and that can be "covered" in four days.

Wasn't it a valuable experience for a new teacher to see that there is never as much time as you think? That's a constant and frustrating issue for me!

January 20, 2008

I Want to Be a Good Influence

I just found out on Friday that I'm going to have a student teacher this semester. I guess she starts Tuesday.

Anybody have any advice or tips for me? I'm looking for teachers who have mentored student teachers and also teachers who have recently student taught to give their 2 cents' worth. Oh, but you know, anyone can chime in!

I've had practicum students, but they are usually only there a few hours a few days a week.

I remember what made my mentor teacher so great, but that has been a while ago. I remember that she was there when I needed her and conveniently gone when it was time for me to do it alone. It's a delicate balance!

January 18, 2008

Another Cheater Story

The longest quarter EVER is finally over. I've been drowning in student writing since last Friday, and I swear I've read about 600 pieces of writing in the last week. I'm thinking the last 200 pieces or so were more like glances.

If only my students truly understood the power of a good lead...Those good leads keep me going!

I did catch an instance of plagiarism yesterday, though. It was a strange situation that had me irritated and befuddle. One of my little darlings turned in a wonderful project (see 3rd paragraph for the project description) where he met the requirements of the assignments--no, not just met--he produced a very insightful book of writing. Students were required to submit the 10 pieces of writing, and 4 of those pieces were evaluated critically with a rubric. He had all the required writing, plus he included some poetry he'd written. I had just written on the rubric how much I enjoyed his voice when I thumbed to the end of the book where I found 6 pages of obviously plagiarized material from a website. Cut and paste, baby!

It was so odd because he met the requirements of the assignment and even added his own touch by including some person poetry. Why tack on extra pages of crap? Was it a mistake? No, it was listed in his table of contents. The student is a renegade who enjoys pushing the limits. Was this a test for me to see if I was really going to read the whole book or just the pieces he indicated that he wanted evaluated? It had to be the latter. He's the kind of kid who likes to take me for a fool as often as he can. I'm over 30; it's what he does.

So, what the heck do I do? How often do you have a student who cheats and meets criteria outside of the cheating bit? It's a new one for me. I consulted my supervisor, who lucky for the kid, is new to our school and didn't know him, and she suggested that I accept the work but notify his parents.

When I called the student over today, he first claimed that he wrote it, but he backed down quite quickly when I asked him if he wrote for the website from where I found his writing. Come to find out, he thought he didn't have enough pieces of writing, so in desperation he plagiarized. (And don't tell me he didn't think I wouldn't notice since it was tucked away in the back.)

Of course, when this happens, I am so angry and exasperated with the student I'd just as soon feed them to a dragon than talk to them. I bit the bullet and had a pretty good heart-to-heart with this kid about how he actually had a great project but he ruined it by tacking on the other stuff.

I didn't think he would take my words to heart, but I suggested that, although he is a rebel, he might consider that other people's opinions about him do matter. There might be a time in his life when it's important for him to know that people trust him and can take him at his word.

The dagger to the heart--spoken honestly--is when I say, "I can forgive you, but won't forget. I'll have a hard time trusting you after this."

If they flinch when I deliver the coup de grace, I know there's a mature human underneath that teenager. There's hope.

If only my students knew the power of integrity...and starting their writing with a good lead...

Wouldn't my life be easy?

January 10, 2008

Early Rewards

A few years ago I implemented an Early Rewards system in my class, where I sometimes offer extra credit to students who turn in their work early. I save this special incentive for projects and papers, and it appeals to a wide range of students. I originally came up with it to encourage those hopeless students who are thinking about blowing off a major assignment, but I also thought my super motivated students might enjoy a challenge, too. (The extra credit amount is generally enough to raise their overall grade by 1%, which is not major.)

Last year I wrote about the quality of work I generally receive from the students who turn in their work early, compared to students who turned in their work late. Generally, the quality of the work is better with projects submitted early, while those procrastinators who took more time turned in poor quality, often incomplete work.

Tomorrow my students will turned in their quarter-long writing projects, which was a book of their personal essays thanks to House on Mango Street as inspiration. Today 30% of my students turned their books in early! That is truly impressive!

On first glance, I have wide variety of quality-looking books. Some students bought nice folders and placed their pages in plastic sleeves, while others actually had their books spiral bound. Not all students think to do something like that (or have money for it), so there are some functional covers made of construction paper. I've made it a point to tell the latter students who were nervous with their covers after seeing some of the fancy ones that it was the writing inside that really made it special. I'm drawn to a pretty package, but I know some of my students couldn't pretty up a project if their lives depended on it. However, they can put their hearts into and make it neat. There's no shame in that.

Also due tomorrow is an comparison essay related to a book they've read this quarter. It was assigned in December, but I told the students if they would be sure to have the book read by the time we returned from break, I would review techniques on writing a compare/contrast essay with them and give them time to work in class. Although I didn't offer an early reward for the essay, I had 10% of my students submit their essays early, too.

I find myself constantly irritated with my students-who-don't. This year has been once of the worst, too. Today, I am so proud of my students-who-do for pushing themselves to succeed rather than allowing themselves to procrastinate. I'd like to think they've tasted the true reward of my early reward system. While their classmates pull all-nighters, those motivated students will be getting a good night's sleep. Maybe they had a little free time to do what teens do this evening, too. Perhaps the time management skills they've used that enabled them to finish early will become a life-long habits. What a satisfying habit that would be!

January 6, 2008

Vacation Remorse Starts Here

Okay, so I had to think about school eventually. Tomorrow morning is going to be painful. I should probably go in early so I can remember what exactly this teaching gig entails.

I hope I didn't leave a big to-do list for myself.

This is last week of the quarter. Just what kind of miracles do people expect me to perform after two weeks of vacation? If the answer is none, then this won't be the week I am observed.

The plan for this week is flexible. What do the students need from me to finish up their writing and reading projects? Let's call that a workshop model, shall we?

Department meeting on Monday.

Faculty meeting on Friday.

Projects up to my neck in the forecast this weekend.

Isn't there some yearbook deadline coming, too?

This afternoon would be a good time for a nice nap of denial.

January 3, 2008

Getting a Life

I have not been thinking about school during my break.

That's incredible progress for me.

There's always been that needling voice in the back of my head about things I needed to prepare for my classroom, both short term and long term. Even if I am not sitting down and planning on paper, I'm always thinking, reflecting, and planning in my mind.

I don't know if it's the fact that I've been teaching for so long, or the fact that I have a family to absorb all my extra time and energy, but I simply do not spend as much time thinking about teaching when I am out of my classroom. Oh, yes, sometimes I regret not being 110% prepared for my students, and I run out of hours in the day to finish work, so I have to put in some painful hours.

Sometimes I feel a little guilt because I am no longer living the lifestyle of an obsessed teacher who is making a difference with her students--the kind of dramatic differences people write books about. Like the average teacher, my impact on students is more subtle.

Mostly, though, I don't feel guilt. I feel joy. And peace.

January 1, 2008

Reality Check 010108

Happy New Year to everyone!

I just messaged a old friend I've reconnected with on MySpace. I thought it might be witty to wish that her 2008 be better than 1988 was.

And now I feel old.

Okay, I know I shouldn't. We thought that in 1988 that we were in the prime of our lives, but I think my friend would agree that we were wrong!

The prime is the here and now whatever year it might be.