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?