January 31, 2009

Alphabetize Me!

A few years ago I heard a phrase that irritated me.

My children came home from school with homework where they had to put things in "ABC order." Would that also be known as alphabetical order? Why can't we just call it that? At home, that is what we call it.

In my grad class, we are doing this group annotated bibliography, and I've seen several of my classmates refer to the "ABC order" we need to use. What is wrong with alphabetical order? Am I losing my mind, or is alphabetical not a real word? It's pretty self explanatory, too--even for elementary students to understand.

I hate to say it, but I think the people using it are elementary teachers. They say weird things sometimes. I learned about hot dog and hamburger folds from them, and that really helps since the kids know about those, so sometimes those weird little things help. Although...horizontal and vertical should suffice, don't you think? Plus, I can't talk about hot dogs and hamburgers at certain times of the day without evoking distracting thoughts of lunch. Oh well, the scaffolding is there. It saves time.

But ABC order? Is that really necessary?

Do people also use 123 order?

If I go to work in an office, will my boss tell me to put things in ABC order? That would be funny.

Do we secondary school teachers say weird things, too?

I mean, other than what I caught myself saying to another teacher the other day: "You can't trust him; he totally tried to jack my shit when I wasn't looking!" That was a momentary lapse of class and age, but other than that...do we use weird terms, too?

Disclaimer: I say weird, inappropriate, and incorrect things. It's true. If it irritates you, tell me and I'll probably stop doing it. That doesn't include cool slang, though. I'm not quitting my slang.

January 27, 2009


It started a few weeks ago when I sent some girls out to take some pictures, and they came back with a dozen bad pictures, including...

"Why do we have a picture of a pigeon's behind?"

"Miss! It was a really cool-looking pigeon--see the coloring? It's different from other pigeons, so I wanted to take a picture of it," they tried to explain. It looked like a nasty pigeon to me.

"Okay, I appreciate that you are looking for out-of-the-ordinary things, but why a picture of its behind?"

"Well, it was running away from us, and it was really hard to get a picture."

So, at least we know who won't be taking basketball pictures this season.

And speaking of basketball...

We had our first home game yesterday, and the Giggle Girls showed up to take pictures. I coached them on angle to look for and where to stand, but they kept backing up away from the court--and I caught them trying to take pictures of action across the gym. I should have stressed, but I didn't. Lord knows I have wasted rolls of film trying to get great shots, and with our digital cameras there is no money wasted for bad shots. But then with our crappy digital cameras, it's nearly a miracle if we can get a clear shot.

During class, we uploaded the pictures, and I projected them on the board. Sure enough, many of the pictures had 80% gym floor and some tiny, grainy people. There were some good pictures, though. Some clear action shots with players' faces--from the other team of course. That is a total Yearbook Murphy's Law, by the way.

The rest of the pictures were of butts. Butts rebounding. Butts blocking. Butts dribbling the ball away from the camera. And cheerleader butts. Now cheerleaders don't move that much. Why did the Giggle Girls shoot from behind the cheerleaders? That was poor judgment. The other photos were just bad luck. I think, anyway. When they start saying, "Oh, but #24 has such a cute butt!" I have to wonder about motives, and I want to rip my eyes out at the thought. Thank goodness for delete.

So, much to the chagrin of my hip, young staff, I decided that Honky Tonk Badonkadonk should be our new theme song.

They are hardly amused by my sense of humor--or taste in music. Maybe torture by Trace (my country crush!) will motivate them to take better pictures. If not, at least I'll be amused during yearbook. And why shouldn't it be about me? Staffs come and go, but the yearbook adviser never dies. She just gets crazier.

Shhhh! Don't tell them that some of my favorite family photos are taken from behind. Is this okay, though? Let's wait to read the comments from my mother and my brother! ;-)

January 20, 2009

Going Down a Different Road

It was a funky, crazy day, but some technology fairies came along on the weekend so we were able to stream the inauguration into our classrooms. The students were wound up and off the hook like it was Valentine's Day or something. Sheesh! The power of this Barack Obama guy. Kidding! I think my students will continue to have conversations in the next two days about the changes they anticipate in our country. In fact, it's the topic of the week for their essays. It's an exciting time, indeed!

January 19, 2009


Tomorrow begins the second semester. Let's all stop for a moment to think about how quickly the years fly by.


It's a short week for me, as we had today off for the holiday and Friday is an in-service day. The thing is, shhhhh, don't tell, this is the first week I will have done any amount of direct instruction in quite some time.

Weird, huh?

My students were working in literature circles before Christmas, and I rarely addressed the whole class--I mostly circulated the room to check in on groups and *watched* them read quite a bit. Riveting. Oh, the last few days I was very ornery as I tried to force students into turning in work. Tiring, but not direct teaching. I did have a discussion/wrap-up day planned, but the snow day pushed us to rush to finish before the break.

After the break, the students worked on a little project and then did oral presentation. Afterward, the students spent two days doing some review for the semester exam, and that didn't involve me yammering on about what would be on the test. It involved them reviewing and practicing skills for the exam.

And then three days of exams. That was three days of processing grades for me!

Finally, tomorrow and the rest of the week, I teach. Only tomorrow needs to be somewhat flexible as I am going to try to stream the inaugural speech--me and a gazillion other people in the district--and then find a good recording of it for the classes afterward if needed. I say if needed because many, but not all, of the teachers are talking about trying streaming the inauguration, too. Our Internet connection has been, at times, reminiscent of dial-up days, so the whole event is just up in the air!

In a lot of ways it feels so authentic, though. Each day when I walk into the classroom, I know that things might not go as planned. At least tomorrow I know I have a problem to solve right away, and if I can't do it, I have a firm Plan B. Usually, Plan B is by the seat of my pants!

January 13, 2009

Learning Distractions

I don't know why I went on and one about my embarrassing moment today--you know the kid who took the power nap in my class while I was helping his classmates, and while I was being observed.

Things could be worse and weirder.

Last night one of my high school girls, one who is a mommy to a two-year old, was all in a tizzy because something happened over the weekend, and she had to take the morning-after pill. She actually had the pill in her possession, but she needed to talk to a couple of girls in the class about a few things. I guess she had questions.

You know how teen girls are...always in a crisis about something and needing to talk to their girlfriends right in the middle of your class. Pretty typical. But this is a new one to me, though.

No, I don't know the details. I just know she was stressed out. I mean, had I known anything about the morning-after pill, I would have been in the loop, but I probably know the least of any of the girls in my class.

Even after she consulted some of the girls, and calmed down a little, she was hardly the model student the rest of the night. What? Did I expect that she would really be able to focus on the class? That's ridiculous. Who could in that situation?

Wild Ride

Hallelujah, it's 71 degrees outside, and the heaters are cranked up in our classrooms. Oy!

It's so hot and stuffy. Not sweater weather, for sure.

The Internet connections have been sporadic, which wrecks lesson plans and completion of the yearbook. Irritating.

The kids are crazy.

Apparently 23 of them needed explicit instructions reminding them to putting their names on their projects. I guess I'm going to have to start adding that directive to the instructions.

I have so many papers to grade because it's the end of the quarter. I have a long prep tomorrow because we are on an exam schedule where classes last 90 minutes. Just when I think I am getting through one pile, I find another something else I have to do. Will this semester ever end?

Just so you know...I might be losing my mind.

My supervisor finished my last visitation for evaluation today. It was a humdinger. I had planned on a short review of some exam points, and then the students were going to continue working on some online exercises to prepare for the exam. While they were doing that, I planned on doing several different things at my desk, but that obviously didn't happen. The class where the evaluation occurred cannot truly be trusted to stay on task. And did I mention the students have been crazy?

I thought things were going really well. I was clearing off some of the boogers from my desk, that is, wrapping up things before the end of the quarter with some students, monitoring what students were doing, and answering questions. It was kind of chaotic for a while! At one point I looked over and saw one of my lovelies SLEEPING! Two desks in front of my supervisor!

That moment just defines everything, doesn't it?

Apparently it was more than a moment. Let's call it a power nap.

And I thought the defining moment was going to be from the day before when the supervisor observed--and I did not--Cosa Una, my aptly nicknamed 7th grade yearbook boy, chewing on the biggest wad of gum you've ever seen. We have a serious school-wide ban on gum that even includes the teachers. It's a pretty big deal. It's not that I don't think gum isn't a menace to our beautiful, new campus, it's just that when we have a gazillion pages due and a hitch at every turn, he could have been chewing tobacco, and I wouldn't have noticed. Please don't judge.

No, really, I thought I had it in the bag when the supervisor came by a month ago and one of the Joses so eloquently explained how literature circles worked and what his group was doing. I was so proud. (I love the Joses!) There were 33 students working in differentiated groups, discussing literature! Major engagement!

Some days I'm on top of my game, and then other days I wonder, even 12 years later, if this is the right job for me. But that's how this gig is. Just one big roller coaster ride.

Man, I want off this ride!

January 10, 2009

Another Story from the Incredulous Files

As I mentioned in my last post, my students had to read a biography and do a presentation this week. It was actually one of the book tasks I assigned on the first day of the quarter, but a few weeks ago I changed the format of the project related to the reading assignment because the original one involved using computers. My students barely received their laptops this week. I had to punt, you know.

So, the students had known about the reading-of-the-book part since the last week of October, and they learned about the format change mid-December. Right after the students finished their first book task in early December, I took them to them library, where most students, who hadn't already checked out a biography, consulted the librarian and me for advice. Furthermore, part of the presentation included a poster, and I gave students the first three days after the break to work in class to get their presentations ready. (Pretty smart way to deal with coming back from a long break, aye? Give 'em a project!)

Imagine my surprise when one of the darlings went up to give her presentation and started with, "I didn't actually read a book, but..."

Wait a minute? What? "What do you mean you didn't read a book?"

"Well, I couldn't check out any books from the library because I had overdue books."

Must have been very overdue books for the librarian not to let her check out. What about finding a book her local library?

"But you've prepared a presentation? How did you do that?"

"I went online and got a bunch of stuff," she answered. Can you feel my head just about to explode right now?

"This wasn't a research paper! This is basically a book report. You had to read a book!"

"So, I can't do it?"

"You're seriously going to stand up there--wait a minute," I decided I needed to chew her ass out in private, "out in the hall way, NOW!"

In the hallway, it's all I can do not to tear her silly head off and do it quietly--you know the whole class was silent within as they tried to listen, with the class informant running commentary on what he's seeing through the door window.

I did not have the patience to stand in the hallway, wheedling a confession and self-realization out of her. She emphasized she couldn't check out a book. That is the dumbest excuse ever! If Guy Montag can get his hands on a book, she should have no problem. Hell, she could have stolen one if she had to.

I am a compassionate teacher, but not on the day a long-term project is due. Did she come and talk to me about her problem? No.

"So, you were actually going to go up in front of the class, with what looks like a nice poster in hand, and make me look like the bad teacher when I won't let you give a presentation even when it looks like you worked so hard?" I asked her.

"I guess," she answered.

You know there would be two camps--the students who felt sorry for her because they wouldn't see the big picture that she needed to read a book and the students who knew exactly what was going on and would be irritated if she were able to get credit for reading Wikipedia. (Don't kid yourselves. You know Wikipedia was involved.) Yes, the students are evaluated on the presentation, but it started with reading a book. Oy!

"Essentially you're telling me that you couldn't do the assignment, so you just made up your own?"

"I guess," she answered. She probably didn't think of it like that. But she might have. She is the sister to another student who liked to challenge my sanity.

It's maddening.

These are the times that times that try a teacher's soul. Sanity. Patience. Whatever. Grr.

(No teenagers were actually harmed in this story.)

January 9, 2009

Bad Beginnings

Pretend you're in a middle school state of mind and step down into the gutter. Not waaaaaay down into the gutter. Just enough.

My students were asked to read a biography or autobiography and give a speech this week. The one thing I noticed about many of the students is that they don't know how to begin a speech. I know we've been over this, and it's not lost on ALL of the students. Some of them have phenomenal, interesting beginnings.

But the others...

"I did my project on..." Past tense? Aren't you giving the presentation right now?

"I did mine on..." Your what?

The very best is when they start off with, "I did..."

As in...

"I did Martin Luther King, Jr."
"I did John F. Kennedy."
"I did Stephen Hawking."
"I did Ronald Reagan."
"I did Adolf Hitler."

Really? Ew! Work on your beginnings! Or people might get the wrong idea.

January 7, 2009


You've heard about my last period class at night school, right? Those kids are a riot! Or like they to cause riots, or something like that. They totally sucked me into distraction tonight. Sometimes they simply just will not work, and when The Master Distractor is there, he likes to try to get me to talk about life and such so they will not have to work. I don't know what I was thinking. I just pulled up a desk and started telling them stories.

The principal sometimes comes in, and they easily suck him into storytelling--but then the principal has some great stories that could or could not be true. He's had some incredible things happen in his life, so the fabricated bits are rather hard to identify.

My life...not that interesting.

But they wanted to hear about my husband--some were under the impression I didn't have a family, despite the fact that many others knew for sure. They wanted to know how we met, how he proposed, and what our wedding was like. I have a few details I play up, like him falling in love at first site with me, and how I was wearing bunny ears that day. (It was the day before Easter!) My wedding is disappointing, as it was small ceremony at a Reno chapel on the Truckee River, but one of my former students, who was walking her dog, came along just as we finished our vows. "Hi! What's new in your life? I just got married. If you and your rottweiler had come along a few minutes earlier, you could have been a guest!"

They also want to know what I was like when I was a teenager. I was a big geek in high school, and I'll admit it. I do have a couple of stories of racism and prejudice I can break out when needed. They can't believe it happens to white people from Utah.

And who doesn't like to hear about some of the crazy, mean students I've had over the years. They like to hear about the ones who were worse than they are. They are actually incredulous at times. Actually, my former students aren't crazier than my current students. My current students can't see that their own behavior is disrepectful.

And they always want to know why I don't have any kids of my own. "Miss! You should have a baby! It doesn't hurt that much." Do they think the pain of childbirth is my primary reason? Uhm. Okay. And, then the girls started sharing stories of childbirth, while the boys listened, pale-faced and quiet. The pregnant girl (6 weeks along) didn't look much better, but she was very curious about what to expect. So, yeah, quite a few of them learned something tonight.

Many of my students aren't motivated in English at all--even to earn a lousy credit. And many more simply only want to exert the effort to get the credit--with a D's worth of work. I have a handful who enjoy the class and want to learn more. I might be able to get a few more students to see the fun side of learning if I could ever convince then that we could have storytelling every single day through writing.

We all have our stories to tell--and I know for a fact that their stories are more riveting than mine. I know some of their stories. They make me laugh. They make me cry. Some of them even haunt me long after the students are gone. I have some ideas bouncing around in my head right now. Awesome, inspiring ideas. It's just that...I'm beaten down. I've had a lot of great ideas. You don't even want to see the destruction they have caused to my bag of ideas. But that's just another story to tell.

January 4, 2009

The Sunday Nights I Hate Being a Teacher

The buzz in the teacher neighborhood of the blogosphere is that our breaks are over! It had to happen.

I had so many papers to grade over the break, and I've barely made a dent. The night is still young, though, and since I came back from Utah two days ago, my insomnia has reinstated itself.

Even if I do get through this insanely riveting stack of essays, which isn't the only thing I have to grade, but they need to be returned to students on Monday, I won't have time to write lesson plans.

With or without lesson plans, I do have a good idea of what the students will be doing tomorrow, but it is a plan that banks on the idea that students are prepared with some work they were continuously told to bring in the weeks prior to the break. It's a bit crazy, isn't it? Here I am, without papers graded, and I am expecting that they should be ready to work on Monday. I must be on drugs. I wish.

In my defense, it would have been completely possible for my students to be prepared with the work they need tomorrow without having to work over the break, as they were given ample warning and time. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible for me to complete my required work within the time given me--that is the story of an English teacher's life! The longer I teach, the more I believe that homework is for students--not me!

Perhaps a bit unrealistic for some teachers, right? Others will agree that we teachers should leave work at work, though. These Others never take work home. I've been trying that life, and needing my home time for my grad work has pretty well forced me into not doing school work at home, but I don't quite have it mastered. I get a little behind. That's how I ended up with 40lbs of papers to evaluate over the break.

So what? I'm behind in life! But this week is going to be hell.

End of the quarter.

Semester exam hasn't been written yet.

Yearbook deadline. Stay tuned for a yearbook tantrum later this week.

Two scheduled parent meetings. Whatever good that will do for this semester.

Two days of project preparation. Two days of project presentation. It could go either way.

Textbooks are supposed to be checked out, but the last I checked they hadn't been labeled yet, and I don't have time to do it.

A practicum teacher will be arriving sometime. This week? Next week? I dunno.

...And my grad classes start up again this week. That means I WILL have a paper due this Sunday. Please let Amazon and UPS have competent people who will honor the guarantee that my book will be here on Tuesday. Please.

So, if you never hear from me again, you'll know that this was the week back from break that finally killed me. It is bound to happen some year.