June 23, 2008

A Speck of Leadership

Last week attended the first part of our writing project's advanced institute on leadership. We're in the early stages of a year-long site inquiry because our director will be retiring next June, and it's time for us to look at our organization.

Last week I was so deeply engaged in deep thoughts about leadership that I was unable to even blog about it. It doesn't make any sense. I know. Just so much rattling around in my brain.

This week I have four more days of deep, brain-hurting thinking. I'll try better to form coherent thoughts. I am thinking a lot about who I am as a leader. Along with all the inquiry work we are doing, we have been doing a bit of personal writing, and the topics all revolve around courage and leadership. By the end of this week I'll need a piece of personal writing completed. (This is cake compared to the initial institute experience.)

I'm struggling to write on a personal level here. On a creative level. On a engaging level. Not feeling the passion.

Here are the ideas that reflective writing has forced me to recognize:
  • I'm a reluctant leader.
  • I'm not one who takes the ball and runs with it, as I like to have a game plan first.
  • I have less courage now than I did earlier in my career.
Sad, but true.

June 16, 2008

A Picture of My del.icio.us Friend--or Alter Ego

Wordle is exactly the kind of worthless entertainment I have plenty of time for this summer. There is a lot of worthless stuff out there, of course, but I still enjoy surfing Internet--or what I call Stumbling now. I stumble around. Something sparks my interest. I google for more information (there are other search engines I enjoy but none of them make handy-dandy toolbars for Firefox), and then I bookmark it in my del.icio.us account.

I could not live without my del.icio.us account. I know there are better bookmarking tools than del.icio.us, such as Diigo, but I'm the kind of person who finds herself running to catch the bandwagon after it's left the stop! (I can also save my favs in StumbleUpon, but I don't.)

The picture of my del.icio.us makes me think about a couple of things. First, I know I need to do a little cleaning. My account is simply unruly because I save everything I think I might need. The digital teacher packrat. Nice. By looking at my tags, I can see that there are things that I don't really need anymore and others need better, more specific tags. "Education" is quite broad. Could I find what I'm looking for through the 129 links? Yes, and no. Those 129 sites I have are definitely useful to me in some way--better than 129 listings from a search engine query. And what exactly do I mean with that tag? It's rather broad!

Ew. Cleaning. I'll save that for a day when I'm really bored. The more interesting thought I have about my del.icio.us account is what it says about me as a person. If a del.icio.us anthropologist came along, what might he say about me as a person? Does it paint a good picture of me? Is it an accurate picture?

Did you go look? If you look at the recent bookmarks on the left side, you've probably established one perception--or five. But when you look all of the bookmarks on the right, is the picture different, or simply more in-depth?

I have a couple of online identities because for some reason I don't want some people to know my real name. But what's in a name? I expose myself more with my words and TAGS!

June 11, 2008

Cheap Teacher Drugs: Laughter and Learn Me Good

I finally read John Pearson's (aka Mr. Teacher) book Learn Me Good. Trust me when I say that I've felt an incredible amount of guilt for not ordering the guy's book. I do love his writing style and his quirky sense of humor.

If I adore his writing so much, why wouldn't I buy his book? Truly, it's nothing personal. It's just that in the last decade I've had my fill of educators who write books about their first year experiences. These educators turned writers come galloping in ready to change the world through teaching, but then they discover that it is about the hardest job in the world. Some of them dedicate their entire lives to their students, often to the detriment of their outside relationships and personal health. Many of them quit teaching within a few years. Then they write these books that make themselves look like tragic heroes--and they make some bucks doing it. Some of them have even had movies made from their experiences.

So what's the problem with that? I'll readily admit the green-eyed monster is stalking me. The experiences that these experimental teachers write about could have been my experiences. I could have written those books. My own heroic teacher journey could be on the big screen. But no. I'm still a teacher. Now I've been teaching too long to be some tragic hero. I don't even make a good martyr. I'm just a teacher.

I'm pleased to say that John Pearson is just a teacher. With a great sense of humor. Oh, he's a witty, witty man. We all know that, of course. I'm sure that his humor is used as a coping mechanism to some extent, as it is with all sane teachers, but while reading his adventures in the classroom, I know that his humor is the way he approaches life. He's a go-with-the-flow kind of guy who knows which battles to pick.

He's not really a battle-picking guy either. I can appreciate a man who goes into teaching as a second career and learns how to work within the system. We have bureaucracy, over-testing, low student achievement, and student transiency. These are all huge issues that deserve some battles, but John simply puts his energies into the students. Yes, the other (irritating) teacher authors do the same, but I think the difference is in his attitude. He doesn't act like he's out to change the world. He also doesn't act like teaching is a stopping point on the way to something better in life. He teaches students math, and along the way he works in some lessons about character. And he teaches elementary students! People, give the man some applause. Elementary students are so wiggly. And smelly. And lots of other things I wouldn't even want to discover.

Oh, but that description makes the book sound so boring. It's not. Oh, no! It's hi-lar-i-ous! It is so ridiculous at times that I am not truly sure what is fact or fiction. That's life in the classroom, though, isn't it? Some days I can't wait until each period is over so I can meet with my colleagues in the hallway during passing time. We exchange quick stories of madness: "You know that kid who calls himself Bob the Worm? He's wearing a bullet-proof vest today." Some days I live for those stories. Anything to break the stress of teaching. That's what I like about Learn Me Good. His odd, witty stories re energize the tired, frustrated teacher soul without making us feel like we need to start changing the world today.

For that, I'll not be bitter when he becomes a billionaire from selling the movie rights to his book. So, help him make his way to an early retirement and buy his book. I'm buying two.

June 7, 2008

8th Grade Wisdom

As part of the final exam, I always ask the 8th graders to write a letter for in the incoming 6th graders. Their advice is a nice mix of humorous and profound.

On dress code...

Don’t break the dress code. I know nobody likes it, but we can’t do anything. The only thing you will get is in trouble, and you don’t want to start middle school as a dress code violator. -Peter

Yea, there's nothing worse than a dress code violator--unless you're in one of those girl gangs that are always giving the deans trouble.

On Backpacks...

Please! Remember, don’t have one of those roller backpacks because 8th graders just laugh, laugh, and trip. -Kysha

Don’t get a backpack with wheels on it because it looks stupid. -Apolonio

Students will be able to use lockers at our new school, so I'm also hoping the 6th graders won't feel so compelled to have those lame backpacks.

On Teachers...

There are many great teachers here that know what they are talking about. You should get to know your teachers. If you feel like they aren’t listening, just remember that they have many other students. -Gabi

The teachers care. Don’t let them fool you. They don’t want to see any student fail. They also care about your reputation. They don’t want you to be known as something your not. Just treat them with respect, and you will get some back. -Angela

Wow! Here are some students who have figured out the aliens species known as teachers.

On Classroom Behavior...

It’s okay to be funny, but it’s not cool to be stupid. There is a small line between funny and stupidity. Make sure you don’t cross it. -Mario

Mario was king of walking that line! He was one of the brightest students, but he didn't always perform like it.

On Grades...

Teachers will give you tons of work through the school year. The work they give you is pretty easy. To finish the assignments you just need to think hard. -Nathan

I have always struggled with my grades until I found out that all you need is to turn in all work and pay attention. -Karla

Turn in your work, pay attention, and think hard. It's so easy.

On Your Social Life...

Avoid the drama. -Chelsea

Doesn't that pretty much sum it up?

Just Some Good Advice From the Best...

These two students were leaders in the school and each earned many awards on Awards Night. They also happened to be my favorite students--great personalities with intellect and extreme motivation. Both of them were part of the smiling morning crowd waiting for me each morning. Great kids to start the day with!

In sixth grade it is vital to have good grades, a well mannered attitude, and a personal striving for success in mind. If you think you have all of that, then put it to work and let the teachers know that are you not just “a part of the crowd.” -Daniel

Be yourself. Plain and simple. Don’t change who you are. You yourself are unique, and nothing should ever be done to change that. Learn to express who you are, and love the person you have become! -Nicole

June 6, 2008

Up in the Air

I found out late Thursday afternoon that my summer job has fallen through. Apparently, no students signed up to do the writer's institute! Sure! The summer I'd like to work to make a little extra $$, I actually get hired for two jobs and then end up with NONE.

This morning I started plotting what else I might do with my summer, but it's not coming together very well. There were some years when I had my whole summer planned by April! Times were much easier then--only my schedule to work around!

I'm going to be able to participate in an advanced institute with the Southern Nevada Writing Project now that I won't be conducting a young writer's institute for them. Our site is working on a year-long site inquiry to help us prepare a future for the project when our director retires next year. I haven't been very active with the project in the last few years, but I've resolved to be more active, so this change in plan is going to work out, too.

Other than a differentiated instruction conference in July, that's all the academic stuff I have planned. There's plenty of time to schedule in a trip home (with or without kids?), a visit from my mother-in-law, two short visits from my best friend, and plenty of goofing-off time. It will all come together in the end. And if it doesn't? It's only summer.

June 4, 2008

Idle Hands and Restless Teachers

The kids are gone. My grades are in. My classroom is packed. Tomorrow I just have to check off about 15 things on my scavenger hunt check-out form. You know, like submitting my P.E. inventory. Ha! That's seriously on the form. The big things I need to do still are to finish and turn in my grade/attendance book, verify my final grades with the registrar (I'm 19th in line to see her! Wahoo!), have my administrator check off my room (It's a big mystery when exactly she'll be stopping by.), and turn in my keys! Don't you worry, dear readers. I have 7 hours to do it. Why do they torture us so?

At my last school, those of us who didn't work Safe Grad night (usually ended in the wee hours of the morning) were the only ones who had to report to school at the regular time on the last day. The rest of us would roll in around noon--just in time to turn in our keys. Then we'd meet at a local restaurant for a free lunch. We didn't have Teacher Appreciation Day back then. We'd get Mexican food and some relaxed laughs before we parted for the summer.

Teacher who were required to report to work passed out report cards and took fines from the students who wandered in. Oh! That would be in between squirt gun fights in the hallway. It was rather shocking to me that first year. Sometimes teachers can be so immature!

I've never seen teachers have squirt gun fights at my current school, which is odd considering we have open-air hallways and it's hotter than hell here. I have seen other shenanigans, such as stealing the janitor's cart and driving it across campus. Sheesh! Those boys!

It has me thinking, though...What kind of fun could we have tomorrow?

June 2, 2008

Sucker Written on My Forehead

I took my gradebook and keys into my night school this afternoon. I asked them what the plan was for the students and if it would be best for me to come in and finish the class. The principal and secretary (you know, the kind that has been there longer than anyone else and actually runs the school) were grateful at the suggestion. It seems they didn't have a clear plan about the students. The whole issue was actually a 3-day battle wagered last week, and frankly, both of them looked a little worn down. End of the year, and district drama. Eegads! The tentative plan seemed to be whatever grades I submitted would be the grades the students would receive and someone--like one of them-- would cover the class the next two days. (Or maybe they'll get a sub. They asked if I was registered as a sub in the district. It's different funding, I'd imagine.) I agreed to one day. They're on their own for other.

So, I went tonight and tried to squeeze some work out of the students. Oh yes, I did collect some poor quality work, but most of my students simply needed the time I told them they'd have to complete the work tonight. Celia, the senior who was concerned about not graduating last week didn't come to class. As if! When the secretary came down to my classroom to have me do the check-out paperwork, I told her that Celia wasn't in class. So, the secretary called the counselor, and the counselor called Celia, and Celia came in about 15 minutes later. I didn't tell her that I was working free for her cause, but I reminded her that she apparently needed the credit to graduate.

Two of the girls whom I've had all year were surprised to see me because they'd heard there was no more money to pay me and I wouldn't be coming in. I told them that was partially true and explained to them why I came in. They immediately started working, and didn't lift they fingers from pencils or keyboards until the end of class. On the other hand, there were three other students who heard this conversation and then did nothing during the class to help their causes--and their causes needed desperate attention!

A classic case of leading the horse to water...

I feel a little better about the situation than I did a few days ago. The students were given the time originally allotted to finish their lessons. We skipped the final, but it honestly it doesn't affect their grades drastically. I completed my grade/attendance book. I was able to wish the students a happy summer.

The principal was appreciative, and promised if they can figure out a way to compensate me, it will be done. I know. I'm not holding my breath, though. Education in Nevada is taking a major financial hit, and I'll be lucky to have a position there next year. (He told me I will. I'm not sure what joy that might bring.) He also stopped by my classroom to check on me tonight, and he told my students they were very lucky to have me as a teacher. I feel like a hero or something.

Maybe just a good person. It' s nice to feel like one of those sometimes.

June 1, 2008

Cut Short

I received an e-mail from the principal at my night school telling me that there is no more grant money to pay me for the last week of school. Circumstances beyond his control. Sorry for the inconvenience. Bring your keys and grade book in.

If you'll recall, it took me nine weeks for my first paycheck to come after I started teaching last fall. (It was because of the grant and the way it was paid out.) I'm not really surprised, but it's still weird. (Pfff! Depending on a grant to get paid sucks.)

What a teacher I am! My first thought went to my students.

Is the class canceled for the last week? My students are expecting to come in and finish up their online lessons on Monday. What about Celia? She came in last week saying the principal told her to talk to me about how she can pass the class after being absent too many times--there's a diploma on the line. I know Celia has what's coming to her for not coming to class, but she is expecting one more day in class to work.

If the class isn't canceled, will the principal conduct class? I wasn't asked to provide lesson plans, so what's the plan? The first night will be a last ditch effort for those who are still working on lessons, and some need those two hours to save their butts. The second night is the final. The final is worth 10% of their grades. I wasn't asked to provide that either. I haven't made it yet, but should I feel obligated? The final was going to be an essay, but I haven't finalized the topic choices yet. Not too complicated, but still not done...

When I first read the e-mail, I instantly thought that I would volunteer to go in and conduct class on Monday so I could create closure. I could take care of it all--collect work and do a mini final--in the two hours. I'm not very good at closure, but if the class is suddenly canceled--and I don't know if that's the plan--that's just weird. It's rather unprofessional, too.

Oh no! Technically, I can't wrap up my business in two hours on one night. I'll have papers to evaluate and grades to enter into the system. It doesn't take a lot of time because it's only for 20 students, but that work happens on my own time, and in the past, I usually need to make a special trip to the school to enter my grades. I don't mind doing it because it's my job. We do a lot that doesn't take place during school hours.

But work for free? I don't have this part-time job because I love students so much. Sure, I do enjoy teaching the students at this alternative high school--it's a nice departure from my magnet middle schoolers, but I have this job for the extra money it brings to my family. No, I wasn't asked to work for free this last week. In fact, the e-mail had a matter-of-fact, you've- been-terminated tone to it. So why should I worry? Print off my grade book. Turn in my keys. The year is over for me.

It just doesn't feel right.