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.

August 10, 2008

Worst Job Meme: Rubber-Gloved and Ready

Have you seen the meme going around about worst jobs? Mister Teacher, who once (literally) delivered phone books, tagged me to share. I haven't read one teacher who has written about a teaching gig, although I bet we've all had a nightmarish teaching job. Interesting isn't it? I'd say that my worst job had to have been my first year in Las Vegas teaching 8th grade. I was ready to take a job at Burger King again, and that stint of working at Burger King for a bigot wasn't one of my happiest jobs.

In the spirit of embracing teaching as the career I love, which I do, and laughing at the other jobs I've had to endure, I'll skip over that awful year that almost made me quit teaching.

Let's rewind back to the joyful summer of 1989. I had just graduated from high school, and I planned to work and go off to college for the spring of 1990. I had taken a full load college classes concurrently during my senior year, so I had a jump start on credit. I just didn't have much of a jump start on money. The company my dad worked for, Colorado Interstate Gas, had a program for college bound students of its employees. Not so much a program as an opportunity to work as an oilfield laborer. Pretty exciting since it paid $5.50 an hour. Big wages, I know, but it was about $2.00 more than my girlfriends were making as chamber maids at the local hotels. Of course, they didn't have to wear steel-toed boots and hard hats, and they didn't have to swing sledge hammers in the desert in 100 degree temperatures..

Oh, but wait. Wrong memory. That wasn't the worst job. The worst job I ever had was the one I took for a month while I was waiting to turn 18 (July birthday) so I could work that grunt job. I took a part time job cleaning restrooms at a camp ground. And my mother was my boss. I guess she had personal experience with my qualifications!

(What kind of life lessons were my parents trying to get me to learn with their job connections? Geez!)

The campground was one of those found at the edge of a tourist town, like a KOA, so the campground had all the full hook-ups, miniature golf, a swimming pool, and bathrooms with showers. It was kind of old though, and some of the bathrooms were just icky with age. It's been so long ago, I couldn't really give all the disgusting details if I wanted to, which I don't think anyone wants me to do. Just think of the restrooms at your local Wal-Mart, add some public showers, and you've got the picture. I remember that people don't always drop their bathroom trash in trash bins, some people shed incredible amounts of hair in the shower, and practicing bathroom chemistry while combining cleaners can be thrilling and deadly.

Nobody died, though. Sometimes I wanted to. Man that was a gross job!

Okay, now who would we like to hear from? I am not sure who has done this and who hasn't--I know I've read quite a few, so forgive me for double tagging--so I'm calling on Vegas Art Guy, Melissa B., Lindsay, Pat, and StrangeNewTeacher.

August 7, 2008

Danger: Rain!

There have been threats of rain for last week. Maybe there's been rain somewhere in southern Nevada, but not at my house. When I say threats, I am being literal, too. When it rains in the summer, it's called monsoon season. And monsoon season means flash flooding in the desert. And that means that one of those banners from the weather service constantly runs across the television screen with news of watches and warnings in the afternoon and evenings when any clouds come around. I don't think I'm exaggerating either. We don't get clouds much in the summer. Not much any time, actually.

Oh! Here it is! Rain!

And an urgent interjection on the television from the local news. It's an intense cloud cell that has apparently dropped an inch of rain already. I didn't need a news flash for that.

As my best friend, Miss D, says, "It's raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock!" I kind of wish I'd never heard her say that because now whenever the rain beats down in the severe storms we have, that's the thought (and image) that comes to my mind.

I should heed the flash flood warning because when it stops raining, I'll have a swimming pool-- in my garage. Nothing I can do about that so I'll just soak up the sights and sounds for the next few minutes.

August 3, 2008

Students Who Think in the Summer

At the end of the school year, I worked on forming an online book club for students in our program. We are one of those awful schools that gives out reading lists, and the 8th graders are asked to write a response to book they read! Homework over the summer, baby! The effort to form this club didn't work out as well as I had hoped, and I had very few interested students sign up to join. It's quite sad how few. Very sad. At a humiliating level. I hope this does not mean my students had no plans to read this summer. No worries, though. After school starts, and my influence on the students is stronger, I'll try again.

The program we are using is Shelfari, which is where the bookshelf you see on the left comes from. (I have a teen-friendly account that I use with my students. If I had juniors or seniors, I probably wouldn't bother censoring, but middle schoolers...) I like to think of it as the MySpace for book lovers. So when I had so embarrassingly few students sign up, I didn't worry about it because even if our little book group isn't lively, those few students who did sign up would have a blast using Shelfari.

There are two students who have started some wonderful discussion in the group. One of the discussions was about favorite book characters. They had some interesting insights on character traits and motivations, but mostly it was personal connections to the characters. I do not mean to downplay this at all--without personal connections, why read a fictional book? Bleah.

The discussions that impressed me--and made me think--were about reading preferences in tenses and perspectives. I love the fact that they are thinking about perspectives, which lend to ideas on author motivation and speculation on how some books might be different if told form a different perspective. The discussion went on further in discussing whether we prefer to write in first or third person and the advantages and limitations of each. Oh! It was such a wonderful discussion! And no, I didn't start it!

The discussion about perspective was by far more impressive than the one about tenses, but I was intrigued by the idea because I've never thought about my preferences in tenses, as it seems to me that the majority of books I've read are in past tense. To further the discussion on tense, we also talked about which tense we preferred to write in. We all agreed that present tense can be awkward. (I like to write it in sometimes, but I usually mess it up so badly that I comes off sounding like someone who doesn't know much about English.)

The two students who are coming up with these discussions may or may not be in my class next year. I'm no longer the only accelerated 8th grade English teacher, but as my good fortune would have it, both of these students will be on the publications staff. I can see why their teachers recommended them! I feel so blessed already!