April 30, 2009

That's Gonna Hurt Later

It's been utter chaos in my neck of the woods. The foreign language classes are finishing their travel movies, which are 15-20 minute imovies based on an imaginary trip to a country that speaks the language they are learning.

As an extension, in my class the same students are creating public service announcements on some type issue in the that country. I'm not half as crazy as the foreign language teachers; my assignment is a 30-60 second imovie.

In both classes, students have had check points along the way, yet there are so many who have procrastinated, thus causing near hysteria and complete pandemonium. On the day the travel video was due, students were still needing to do voice-overs. It's quite laughable. Do you know how long it takes to convert a 15 minute movie to Quicktime? They didn't have time to do voice-overs (which requires a quiet place and should have been completed at home) and convert it in a class period.

Actually, all of the pandemonium has been across the hall. Their project was due yesterday. Part of the hysteria has been by the teachers when they only received half of the projects. It was ugly. It was assigned 4 weeks ago, and except for the week we were on spring break, students have had time to do it in class. So just imagine two irate teachers whose students have appeared to have been working ever so diligently yet have virtually nothing to turn in. Ouch.

My little contribution is due tomorrow. We haven't been working on it as long, and I anticipate I'll have some students who won't have it finished. (Wide-spread apathy has been a problem.) Their preliminary research was due last Thursday. Project proposals were due the same day. Storyboards were due Tuesday. I set up a situation that walked them through it step by step--and those weren't all the steps.

Today, I had a student Googling problems in his country. "What are some other words to use besides 'problem' or 'issue'?"

I just looked at him and said, "Yeah, those are about it," and then I walked away.

I would have been willing to help him form search queries nine days ago. I know I've walked by his desk several times, as it is near my desk, and he appeared to be on task. I guess he must have been working on the video for his other class. Only, I happen to know what he submitted to that class, so I guess he must have just been sitting there with the application open.

Oh, and he's probably one of those masters of closing windows when the teacher walks by. Whatever. Most of the kids are. If they goof off too much it bites them in the butt eventually.

For some of these students that bite's going to hurt. I've warned them that they will not be able to turn in their movies late. Laptop collection begins Monday. They won't have the opportunity to use the desktops in my classroom to make it up, either. That would mean they'd need to stay after school. I'm not staying after school.

I had two work sessions after school this week for students who needed time or help. Nobody came the first day. Twelve students came today. See? I will stay after school for students. On my terms.

In their foreign language classes the bite in the butt might hurt a lot longer. They are taking the class for high school credit. Some of them don't seem to understand how important it is now, although we teachers talk about it all the time, but when they are juniors and seniors, wishing they'd had a better start to their high school GPAs, some of them will be feeling it.

April 26, 2009

Outwitted by the Nitwits

Earlier this week Miss Teacha had a hot button topic with how to deal with excessive talking. Oh, have I dealt with that topic--and WORSE with my last period night class. There have been several out-of-control nights, many of which involved security and the principal. It is not my style to the call button every other night, so it's been a humiliating year for me. I keep waiting for the principal to shake my hand and say, "This just isn't working out anymore." Maybe I'm kind of wishing he would do that because I'm too stubborn to quit. I do a lot of reflecting on that class, but mostly I try to forget it as soon as I leave them. Sometimes it takes a hot shower and a drink.

Why haven't I written much about this craziness? I just told you. It's embarrassing, and I try to forget the misery when I walk off campus.

The class I am teaching is a proficiency English class. Ideally it should only include students who need help passing the proficiency test, particularly the writing exam, but I also have students who simply need English credit, some of whom have passed the test. (What I'm selling doesn't matter to them.) This is not my first gig at this alternative school, so I am well aware of the fact that students who love writing are few and far between at this school. So, I am charged with teaching writing to students who are neither good at writing nor do they enjoy it one bit. In fact, many of them hate it and will to great lengths to avoid it.

I've always felt that the power of my management comes from my lessons. If I lectured, did guided practice, offered worksheets, or included group activities I would not have half the problems I do. No, those activites are about 1/5 of the course time. I can't talk about writing all period, and there comes a point when guided practice comes to an end. Worksheets won't do the trick either. Students need to be writing. Perhaps I'm thinking from the wrong books, but I believe that if I have engaging topics or assignments, students are more likely to be on task, practicing writing skills.

I have tons of great ideas for writings and projects! In the four years that I've worked at this school, I have discovered if I think it's a great idea and that other students I've used it with have enjoyed it, my night kids will hate it. They will hate it so intensely that I can never have confidence in using it again.

(And of course, it's not all of the kids who hate it. It's majority, and it's the most obnoxious kids.)

At the beginning of the year, I had great designs to be able to use a writing and reading workshop design. I would give mini lessons and have them work on some small skills in the writing book. Students would write, I would conference and help them with their individual skills, and they would revise and edit. Rinse and repeat. I thought, and still do, that a differentiated approach to teaching them would be most beneficial.

It may not have been pure, as I gave them writing topics to choose from, and in the beginning all students had the same lessons. However, we were getting to the point where I was assigning individual students to do specific activities to help them build their skills. This is the environment we started building from the beginning, and for those students who conferred with me, it was a positive experience.

I had to abort the workshop structure to deal with classroom management:
  • I had to be constantly moving around the classroom to get students on task. While conferencing with students, I could not see everything that was going on, and many students used this to create mischief. I tried repositioning my conference location to see better, but it did not work. I could not pay attention to the student I was conferencing with.
  • I had several groups of students who had conflicts with other students/groups of students. I don't want to suggest gang warfare because not all of it was. However, it just took one joker to say something about Bloods or Serranos and it would piss someone off. Or...sometimes it would just be, "I don't like your hair, girl." Chaos would erupt.
  • There were so many behavior problems that I couldn't pinpoint 1-2 students to get rid of. In the 1st quarter there were at least 7 very loud students in a class of 26. One night in the 2nd quarter, the principal came in and asked who the worst problem was. He was going to take that student from the class. I just laughed.
  • Some students simply refused to write anything unless I was standing next to them, and then even some of those still would write nothing. Kind advice, cheerleading, and verbal brainstorming with these students eventually wears on my nerves until I wanted to scream, "Just put you damn pencil on the paper and start writing!"
  • The prevailing mentality is, "I just need the credit. What can I do to get a 60%?"
Now in the 4th quarter, I do not have the problem with conflicting groups. The most obnoxious, violent students are no longer in my class. The gang warfare mentality is gone, and some students who never talked to each other now talk to each other (sometimes too much). Right now I have 2 very loud students--both claim me as their favorite teacher although the feeling isn't mutual--but the majority of the students still do not care much about writing. They cannot manage their own behaviors, and they do not care about doing the best work they can. They do as little as they can to pass with a 60%.

How little do they have to do to earn a 60%? This is something I'm going to investigate for next year. Many of these students are pros at figuring that out. The ones who can't constantly ask stupid questions like, "How much of this do I need to do pass?" I always shrug. I really depends.

I have been more into exploring mastery of skills to earn grades, but that requires a different mentality from students than what I'm dealing with. In fact, I gave up minimum Fs of 50% after the first quarter because several students were working that system pretty well. They figured out how to do one or two big assignments to get that 60%. That's too much time on their hands to cause trouble.

I'd like to make it nearly impossible to skate by with a 60% without making it nearly impossible to pass the class. Does that make sense? Perhaps I should investigate the power of participation grades, too.

For me, it's not behavioral management that I'm most concerned about. Please believe me when I say, some of the most effective ones have been completely blown-up with this group:
Proximity? So what if the teacher hears my drama?
The glare? So what if she's looking at me?
Move seats? I'm still going to talk to my homies across the room, Miss!
Call security? (Last resort) Oh! It's getting exciting in here tonight!

I'm concerned about how to show students that it's important to be literate and it's worth their undivided attention to develop their skills. Some buy-in there would help a lot. I've worked my mind and butt off trying to engage students in interesting work. I've used just about every management tool I could think of except paddling. (It would be unwise to place anything that could be used as one in my hands at this point because I'm not sure I wouldn't go there.)

This is one of those years that I'll like some purple heart of teaching. I've brought out all of the artillery, but I'm barely surviving in the trenches.

April 19, 2009

I Had to Turn on the AC

And so it starts...

It's nearly bedtime and 80°F outside.

Last night was a sleepless night: my neck sticky with sweat, and the fan only moving the hot air around. Surely it was not hot enough that I needed to start the air conditioner.

I blew it tonight when I cooked something in the oven. What was I thinking? I wasn't. I've become used to using the oven in the last 6 months.

My daughter's room, which gets the same hot sun beating down on it as room does, was an inferno. We brought the fan in from the garage, although it didn't do much good.

In our room, the fan has been on, still moving the hot air around in our room, for two days. Pointless.


Give it up. The heat has come back to Las Vegas.

April 18, 2009

Can't I Work By Myself?

In the grad program I'm doing, each class has two assignments that are collaborative. I hate these assignments. It's terrible for a classroom teacher who uses collaborative learning to say such things, I know. I tell my students that learning how to work with others is an important skill. At this point in my life I've been on many committees, teams, and work groups--some by choice and others by force. I know plenty about working with others.

In this online grad program in which I am paying through the nose to work my ass off, I think I can learn a lot from working with others. I adore hearing different perspectives on topics and having my own ideas challenged. What I don't adore are these Frankpapers we have to "collaborate" on each quarter. Usually the directions say we are suppose to collaborate or discuss, but what usually ends up happening is that we divide the work up and somebody puts it all together in the end. It's funny because we teachers would not want our own students doing it. Sometimes things work out fine, but other times, it's that age-old story of one or two people pulling the weight for everyone. I'm paying for this privilege?

Last week we had some drama because more collaboration needed to happen along with the cutting and pasting. Plus, some members turned in their paltry, incoherent parts and never checked in again. It's a precarious thing to change someone's work or discard it entirely. It's better to offer feedback and get them to revise, isn't it? Last week a few us found ourselves scrambling and weighing the options: redo work that was wrong or get a lower grade for not following the criteria of the assignment. Sigh. I'm loving my good grades...

Here are some things that get under my skin and I'd like to say to these people I've never met face-to-face:
  • Work should be submitted ready to go into the final paper. Don't send a table in an Excel document and expect that someone else should convert it to Word and format it to APA standards.
  • I don't care what grade you teach, you should be able to form coherent sentences and paragraphs. You should also know which words should be capitalized and where to use commas. A few errors are fine. Everyone makes them. Your overuse of capitalization and under use of punctuation screams, "I don't know basic rules!" E.B. White wrote another good book with a guy name Strunk. Check it out.
  • That source isn't going to format itself on the bibliography page. You're as bad as my lazy middle schoolers who won't take 5 minutes to look up the proper formatting.
  • Sure, you can say you did your part, but what if you did it WRONG or you DIDN'T DO ALL OF IT? Whose problem is that?
  • If someone points out a confusing point in your work, don't just say, "That's what the website said." Go back and rewrite it so it's clearer. If we don't get it, neither will the instructor. And frankly, your explanation doesn't make any sense. You fix it!
  • (Oh, and I'm glad you have found websites that are so helpful. I can rarely find anything that I would deem credible. It looks like you haven't either.)
  • If someone needs help with her part, don't just say, "You'll figure it out!" I've had it happen to me, and I've seen it happen to others--just last week, in fact. These are not people who are trying to get our of their work. These are people who NEED SOME HELP! Nice way to work as a team, people!
  • I am busier than you are. Wanna try me? Bring it. I should not have to do half of your work, too.
These online collaborative experience have not made me joyous in sharing ideas with a fine group of intellectual teachers. No, instead it has made me incredulous that there are so many stupid teachers* out there.

It hurts my teacher pride to say such things. Really. Sick to my stomach.

I think I've been spoiled by working with such wonderful, insightful people in real life at my schools. You might read posts about how the students frustrate me, how daily life in the classroom challenges me, and how educational bureaucracy binds me, but you will rarely read slanderous posts about my colleagues. It's not to save my butt. It's because I work with wonderful, hard-working, thoughtful, introspective teachers. Sure, I have conflicts with a few, but ultimately, I still respect what they do. I wouldn't trade them in.

Of course, I've also been spoiled by blogs for several years now. There are so many brilliant teachers posting a wide variety of ideas. It's such a blessing to be able to grow (and laugh) from those teachers who open up their classrooms and minds for the rest of us. You have no idea how much I've learned from my teacher blog friends. Dear bloggers, even if we aren't friends, we're colleagues on the Net, and I appreciate your intellect. Thank you. I miss wandering around the edu-hood of the blogosphere. I can't wait until I have time to visit more often. I wouldn't trade you in, either.

These collaborative groups, though? Thank goodness I trade them in every 8 weeks.

*I should admit that many of them are awesome, and I enjoy them, but I've been exposed to an inordinate amount of fools.

April 14, 2009

What I Did on My Spring Break: This and That

It thought maybe I'd post a few more times over break. I ran out of things to say, which is funny because I always think of things to write while I'm in the shower or driving down the road. Quite inconvenient.

I had a lovely, low-key break:

(Hey! Where didn't the bullets go in Blogger?)

Procrastinated writing a paper, which ruined two days instead of one.

Calculated how much I've written since I started my master's program in August. The total came to 3,539 pages of pedagogical drivel. Felt sick for a day after that realization.

Did some honey-do chores around the house. Mostly things that were bugging me. Obvious chores left undone.

Woke up naturally every day.

Cooked some good food for dinner a few times. (Yummy pizza: eggplant spread, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions)

Read 4 books. I thought I'd read more, but I didn't.


Had lunch with some work friends. (It became a downer, though, because we started talking about work too much.)

Watched Australia with a friend who has been to Australia. We had a nice visit after the movie, too. Nice to just chill and catch up the news.

Met up with relatives I hadn't seen in years and was sad when it was over. Wish they lived closer!

Went to a low-budget Vegas comedy club. You don't have to go to a big-name comedian to have a good laugh.

Convinced my sweetie to play hooky one day. It felt like an extra Saturday. So much fun. More convinced than ever we need to plan a vacation for just us.

Sweetie and I decided to trade in old (3 years) flip phones for new technology (Blackberry Storm). He has wanted a PDA for quite some time. I held him off for nearly 2 years. I don't need it, but they were BOGO.

Made iced tea for the first time this season.

Went to the beauty shop to deal with gray hair. Wanted to go blonder. Darker looks nicer. In the end I went both lighter and darker with some funky streaks.

Did lots of nothing important.

April 5, 2009

Going Nowhere

"What are you doing for spring break?"


Blissfully nothing! Sadly nothing... Nothing.

My sweetie says, "Just get in the car and go somewhere."

I used to be so independent that I'd just take off and leave without him. But it's not like how I go to movies alone. I don't feel like going anywhere alone. Besides, my car left me stranded on the freeway last week, and although it's fixed, I don't fully trust it yet. It has to prove itself again.

I know my sweetie has vacation time that he could take. "Why don't you take a few days off and we'll go somewhere together." The kids are with their maternal family. It's just us. Let's escape.

"I could. Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know," I tell him. "Let's just get in the car and drive somewhere."


"It doesn't matter. Just pick a direction. Get in the car. Go. Just go."

"Okay, but where?"

Sigh. He doesn't get it.

Maybe he has a point. It might be nice to have a destination so we are sure that there is something to do--or a place to stay.

But does it matter? Let's cross a border. Find ourselves in Arizona just because Arizona is awesome. The California border is less than an hour away. Let's cross it and drive until we hit water. Water! That's always good.

My sweetie's never had much spontaneity, but I did...once upon a time. Where did it go?

April 3, 2009


I am in the middle of the longest hour of my life. Perhaps I'm being dramatic, but it is one of THE longest hours of the year.

The last hour before Spring Break.

Twenty more minutes with my sweet 5th hour, and then 30 minutes with THE dreaded 6th hour--you know, the ones who make me want to drink but we are so endeared to each other they want to start a gang. They've even given me a moniker. Oh, how I want to skip them tonight. The best I can hope for is that they've decided to skip me tonight. Please, please, please. I won't even mark you absent because I can't get into the attendance system tonight anyway...

If only I can survive those last 30 minutes. They just have to finish up some writing they started this week.

"Miss! It's the day before spring break! We shouldn't have to do work!"
"But Miss! It's spring break!"
"Miss! It's Friday!"
"We'll do our work over the break. We promise."

I wish I were born yesterday. And so do they.

There will be conversations about parties and being tore up and sleep and smoking bud and more parties and being tore up and sleep and smoking bud--and maybe worse. Lalalala. Don't want to hear it.

"Students! Finish up your work. We won't want this hanging over us when we get back. We're moving on." Please shut up and make the 30 minutes fly by. Please.

Please let it go by fast.