October 31, 2010

Kick Off to NaBloPoMo

I thought I might give National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) a try this November, and after visiting the hosting site, it seems that November isn't the only month anymore and that people can pretty much participate any month, just as long as they commit to posting each day in a month.

Ah, well. I'm going to go ahead with November. I don't participate for the glory or to win prizes. Mostly I do it to kick myself in the rear and give myself a bit of a writing challenge. I tried it for the first time in 2007, and successfully completed the challenge. I also tried it last year, which was pretty foolhardy considering I was still working on my master's degree. I ended up posting a mere 22 times last year, but it was nice making the time to write.

Making time to write. Yes, that is what I long to do.

A few days ago my colleague, Mrs. E. and I held our first meeting for the e-zine we are starting up. I thought it would be a good idea to begin the meeting by writing to the following prompt: Why do you write?

Here's what I wrote:

When I write, it give me time to get my thoughts together. Sometimes it's a time for me to process the thoughts that go through my head, to solidify what I think, feel, and believe. Unfortunately, I don't find a lot of time to write as life is hectic and
No joke. Ironically, while I was trying to write this reflection down, two students and another teacher tracked to down in Mrs. E.'s classroom to ask me something. When the third student showed up, I had to go down to my classroom so I could give her a test that her coach was going to let her do during their study hall. Mrs. E. and I had a good chuckle over what I wrote, but I'm not sure the e-zine writers truly understood because they don't see how many gazillion times a day I'm interrupted from one train of thought to follow one that is more pressing. It's madness some days.

I'm looking forward to some time to reflect and write. I've had a lot of ideas lately, but rarely have I taken the time to sit and write. For the next month I'm looking forward to getting my thoughts straight--it feels like I might become more centered--and perhaps even develop some better blogging habits.

October 29, 2010

Reflection on a Problem Student

A post at The Desert Glows Green brought to surface a dilemma I'm having about one of my students at night school. What does one do with a student who talks, talks, talks?

Last night I had a conversation with the counselor about a student whom I have in both proficiency English and creative writing. He's been a pain in my butt most of the year, so it's been an on-going conversation between us, and it has has gone between the counselor and the student, too. One night I had enough and sent her an e-mail along the lines of, "Talk to this kid, or tomorrow there will be a homicide." It's a small school, so she grabbed him out of class that very night. The line of the conversation between them leaned heavily on the fact that he's a leader, and he's leading the wrong way--this was a slant I wanted to focus on. According to the counselor, the student wants to do well, he wants to graduate, but I just don't see that most of the time. Apparently he's so much better than he used to be. I guess I'm thankful I am working with the new and improved version.

Although he needs the help to pass his proficiencies, we are thinking about taking him out of that class because he leads too many people astray with his attitude and misbehavior. Part of me does not want to give up on him, but then he is directly affecting the development of two other students. In a class of 10, that's a pretty big deal. He goofs off, talking Spanish all the time with three other boys (one will pass his proficiency), and then when I'm on their asses to get on task, it ruins the class atmosphere, and it becomes me and against them.

Now, the rest of the class, they are able to function pretty well despite these disruptive boys. Sometimes they'll join in and laugh at a joke or something, but with such a small class, I think that's normal. The difference is, the rest of them can get back on task. The rest of them produce writing. The rest of them understand that the more they write, the more feedback I can give them, the faster they will become proficient. The rest of them are acting maturely, even to the point they tell the boys to be quiet and get on task. Two of the students in the class are also ELL students who do not speak Spanish, and they get irritated with all the Spanish speaking, too, and will often tell them to stop speaking in Spanish. These other students I adore.

While I am writing this, the obvious choice, since I have one, is to dump him from the proficiency class. Although the counselor and I would like for him to pass his proficiencies and graduate, at this point we are leaning toward the stance that if the student does not want to help himself he can go down the hallway to art, which is also an elective credit, and leave the class to those who are desperate to help themselves. He doesn't want to be in the class anyway, and if he knew we were considering it, he'd be camped out in the counselor's office until she changed his schedule.

Last night, the class was smaller than it usually is, sans the students with a bad attitude and one of his friends, with the gradebook closed out for the quarter and a five-day weekend ahead, we sat at a table ready to play word game, but instead the students asked me about how much money I made. They always want to know that, and the technical answer is that we all make different amounts because we have different levels of experience and education. It's uncomfortable, but I told them how much I make, which blew them away. However, that segued nicely into a long conversation about education and careers and how hard and long the average person has to work to make good money. Not one of the students believed that they would be able to get rich quick. They are all preparing to work hard in the next few years so they can play hard later in life. That's a refreshing perspective I don't often see in young people.

They shared with me their plans, hopes, dreams, and fears. It's moments like this I love working at the alternative high school. It's these in-between moments when I'm a different kind of teacher, and even more like a friend or wise auntie, that I really feel like I make a difference in their lives. I can push and prod them to get more education, be it a certification program or a college degree and try a career, instead of a job. They are on the brink of the rest of their lives, and they understand how important their choices are right now. Yes, they are nervous but mostly excited. Some simply need to pass their proficiency test to they can move on, while others finally see that their abilities to communicate will make a huge difference in the opportunities they have.

On my drive home, I reflected back to the conversations and questions they had, and I realized that had the problem student been there, it would not have been such a candid discussion. He would have turned everything into a joke, focusing the attention on himself. It's what he does in every situation. He needs to go. He's not at the same place the rest of the students in his class are in. They are growing up. He's not there yet.

October 21, 2010

A Day of Writing

The National Day on Writing event in my classroom went just about as expected. Of course, there were students who did not see writing for a class period as remotely fun, but what can I do about those students, mostly boys, who seriously hate English?

Well, I let them "write" comics for one thing...

It was a joy to see students get excited over some of the prompts I had and then want to share with me and their classmates later on. I noticed, just at a glance, that many of my students are quite good at writing short stories and even have a handle on how to write dialogue.

The biggest ah-a moment I had throughout the day was that I have to figure out a way to foster such enthusiasm for expository writing. I'm feeling a lot of pressure this year because the 8th grade writing exam for the state suddenly mirrors the high school exam, and I am just not sure how ready the students will be. They've had a pretty steady diet of narrative writing in their lives, and that is no longer the focus of the assessment.

Maybe it wasn't really that big of an ah-a moment. I suspected that they enjoyed creative, personal writing and were much more successful in that mode of writing. I saw proof of it.

On a side note, I did write along with my students all day. Each period I tried a different prompt, and some periods I wrote some crapstastic stuff. I think it's pretty typical of a writer's life!

October 20, 2010

Dear Deaf Family,

Although you may not have been physically able to hear the middle school choir concert very well tonight, it is still good concert etiquette to not talk during the performance. In a gymnasium packed like sardines, your exuberant sign language is just as distracting as if you'd been talking aloud.

Oh, and by the way, don't assume that people don't know your language.

Next time turn up your hearing aides and enjoy the misery like the rest of us.

I hope I don't See you at the Christmas concert,


October 19, 2010

Get Write!

I'm so excited to celebrate the National Day on Writing tomorrow. We have spent so much time working on expository writing, and I know the students miss writing more creatively, so tomorrow I've promised them that they can write whatever they want. My hard-core nerdy writers are so excited--they've been talking about what they might spend their time writing. The rest of the students have been reticent, as any type of writing is the same torture regardless of a special occasion. Oh well, normal stuff there.

We're going old school for prompts tomorrow. I have a bunch of picture prompts, that is, pictures cut out of magazines and mounted to construction paper, from which students can seek inspirations. I also have a bunch of prompts from The Writer's Book of Matches for students to randomly pick. (My creative writing students love the ideas from this book!)

I will be disappointed with anything less than holy inspiration and excitement throughout the day.

Did I mention that I'm going to spend the day writing with students, too?

Sheesh! When does that ever happen? Can't wait!

October 11, 2010

Bring Your Brain to School, Okay?

Today we reviewed compare/contrast essays today because for their monthly reading project, students have to write an essay comparing an aspect of their books to something else. I gave students several thing that they could compare, but I still had a couple of students ask if they could compare things other than what I was offering. Although some of them had good ideas, such as comparing two characters in the book, I asked them to stick to the seven possible comparisons I offered.

One student asked if he could do a different comparison that was not as brilliant:

"Could I compare the paperback to the hardback?"

I took a deep breath before I made my snide remark. I looked toward the back of the room where there was a parent volunteer and bit my tongue from delivering the thoughts that instantly popped into my head: "No, you #?#*$ idiot!"

Instead, I smiled at the student and said, "No, let's just stick to the options I've given you. But, do you think you would have much to compare between the paperback and hardback?"

Behind the student, his classmates rolling their eyes.

He answered, "Well, I guess not."

"And why is that?" I asked.

He looked a little stumped.

"Because it's the same book, right?" I prompted.

A light bulb went off above his head, "Oh yeah!"

(Face palm by teacher.)

October 5, 2010

Coincidence Comes Crashing to Weirdness

As a matter of coincidence, two of my high school students ran into each other at a local hospital this weekend.

Do you realize how many hospitals we have and how big they are?

The reason they were both there?

Both of the young men are became proud papas.

No joke.

When I found out, I made them show me pictures of their new babies. I think it's important to be supported of these young parents.

One baby looked cute. One baby looked angry.

Then the boys started talking about the birthing process their baby mamas went through with another, female, student who has given birth.

Sometimes life in my classroom is so weird.

October 1, 2010

You Know You Need a Day Off When...

This morning, I met with the other accelerated English teacher, Mrs. E., to plan for next week. The students are reading The Secret Life of Bees, and it will probably take us forever at the rate we are going. We debated over how many chapters we could feasible ask the student to read next week, and we decided to hold our schedule tight. I distinctly remember Mrs. E saying, "We cannot push back reading chapters 6-7 into the following week or it will be Thanksgiving before we're done!" Okay, so we decided that students could indeed read those two chapters by the end of Friday. The following week we planned to do a writing assignment that would take us a few days from the book, so that was why we really wanted to get a good chunk out of the book before we put it down for a few days.

After we finished planning, we talked about the staff development day we have coming up next Friday. Both of us are on the professional development committee, and since our first meeting was just a few days ago, and our first PD day is in a week, and during this PD we teachers will be conducting our own trainings, we are kind of scrambling to get things in place. I was unable to find some information that was integral for our plans, so we talked about what we could do and then we decided to try to call a meeting today.

As crazy as it was, I e-mailed everyone with the information I could find with some suggestions and asked if anyone could meet today after school for a bit. Super crazy is really the idea considering it was noon before I could get it out. (You know those days when it takes four hours to construct an e-mail?) Miracle of all miracles--there were four out of six of who did show up after school, so we spent a little under an hour getting things shaped up better.

About 20 minutes after the meeting broke up, I was setting my boards for Monday, writing the homework due dates for the week, when it hit me what idiots Mrs. E. and I were.

Our time spent debating whether to go on with our novel and how to juggle our classrooms to make it happen was all pretty pointless because there is no school for students on Friday--staff development day! DUH! I've forgotten about staff development days before and planned for students to be there, but this is serious silliness considering I'm part of the planning committee for the day!

And to think how I get so irritated with my students don't make connections to the things they learn. Well, I'm not in much better shape. I cannot even make connections of things I'm creating. I think it's pretty evident that I have a one-track mind. Or I'm going crazy. You choose.