December 22, 2011

No Interruptions, Please!

I promised my students no homework over the winter break. This included not having any pending projects due after the break, too. However, in exchange, they had to work their little patooties off in December, and on the last day before break they submitted research-based persuasive essays.

Of course, this a wrecker on my holiday break, as I have all those papers to grade, but putting it off until we return will not make my life any easier. I had high hopes of getting those essays graded right away, but as we are nearing the end of the first week of my break, after 12 hours of grading and I'm only halfway through, I'm near my wit's end. Big shocker. Like I haven't been there a million times before...

This time, I'm finding things are a little bit different because my students have shared their papers in GoogleDocs with me. This is the first big assignment my students have completed in GoogleDocs, so there are a few bumps, but I'm so excited to use it! One of my colleagues, Mrs. E used it on a previous essay and said she ended up spending more time grading because she made so many more comments. I am finding this to be true, too, but I can type a lot faster than I can write, so it's actually easier for me to leave comments. Oh, and can we talk about how neatly the comments are arranged? It is so much better than my scrawl scrunched in the margins!

There is frustrating dark side to using GoogleDocs. I feel like such a horrible teacher even mentioning this, but as I am rushing to finish my self-imposed vacation homework, I am in no mood to have to respond to communications from my students about my comments and their grades. Quite a few students have messaged me, either though the document or in gmail, about their essays within an 30 minutes of my finishing grading.

Of course, these are the panicked students who could not follow directions or read the rubric and are shocked at their low grades. Some of them have fixed their errors (like not including bibliographies) and have asked me to look at their essays again, while others write begging, desperate messages inquiring what they could do to improve their scores. Don't get me wrong here. Last week, as I was giving feedback to students, they would come online and respond to my comments, and I thought it was a major advantage--especially for those students who never say a word to me in class but are comfortable speaking through the computer. However, this time it feels different. For one thing, this is supposed to be final draft I'm evaluating, and for another thing, technically, I'm on vacation and I do not want to go back to recheck the work that should have been completed correctly. It will suck up all my time!

Oh, I feel terrible having such feelings. I really do... In using Edmodo and GoogleDocs this year, I feel like my student have even more access to me outside school time, and there are many times that this is an advantage, but other times, I feel like I need more boundaries between my students and my personal life. It's ironic that at this point in my career I am all about leaving my classroom drama at school while I'm using digital tools that complicate that mission.

I can't help but wonder if my new love/hate relationship with GoogleDocs is also about teaching an old dog new tricks. I'm used being alone in my hours upon hours of grading. Just me and a stack of essays. In those quiet hours, I go through a range of emotions from pride to anger, making a list in my head on some next steps after I pass back essays. This is a process I am used to. Before I even started grading these essays, I knew that it probably would not be the final draft for many students, as my years of experience tell me that the first time we incorporate research into writing, it's a tough battle in writing well and without plagiarism. Perhaps those hapless students looking over my shoulder while I grade need to sweat in fear little bit, but I really don't want to ruin their Christmas vacations either. If they had turned in paper copies of their essays, their scores would been completely forgotten until I bring up the topic after the break.

My simplistic, blanket message back to students who have begged and inquired says, "After the break, everyone will have an opportunity to revise essays. You are welcome to work on the paper over the break, but I think it is better for you as a young person to enjoy this break while you can."

This old teacher, using her new tricks, still needs time to think about the plan of action. So, dear students, sshhhhh. Go back to your playing and let your teacher get some work finished so she can play soon, too.

November 29, 2011

Wits and Knowledge

I was so looking forward to these three weeks of solid instruction between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break, as the month of November is always a gigantic, fragmented mess. You would think that I would have been more prepared, but no, I've been flying by the seat of my pants. Luckily, these pants were made for flying.

What? You say it's only Tuesday? No matter. I'm going day by day. Tomorrow I'll be super prepared because this afternoon, I pulled the PowerPoint and support materials onto my desktop for easy access, as opposed to searching for it in my 20-gig drive 10 minutes before class, like I've done the last two days.

Ah, hahaha, I'm not really that bad off. I did sit down with the other English teacher during one prep last week so we could write our lesson plans, but sometimes writing them is not enough. Sometimes other preparation is necessary--like reviewing the material to see I truly remember it myself.

And that's where the winged trousers come in. I have had no time to study what I'm going to teach. How pleased I was to realize that with a PowerPoint outline (created some time in the past) and a stout cup of coffee, I was more than capable of lecturing to my students yesterday and giving guided practice today. With all the breaks and madness of the last month, it felt good to just teach. In fact, the last two days, I'd say I was in the zone.

(I hope my supervisor felt that vibe when she came in for her first (surprise!) observation yesterday!)

November 3, 2011

Not Good Enough

This morning, as I began checking off which students turned in their first novel journals, an assignment due yesterday, I started to get increasingly agitated. This was just looking at the formatting, which is not even included in the assessment, but it was included in the instructions.

So what do I do? It is inappropriate to deduct points for papers submitted in pencil rather than in ink or typed, as I requested. I also do not like deducting points because the header is incorrect, although for this assignment, the header listed book, author, and number of pages read, all of which are important. However, the other irritant, papers that did not have paragraphing, is absolutely something that could be marked down, and was actually a part of the rubric.

Rather than get my blood pressure up, I opened up my drawer, took out my REDO* stamp (a first for this year), and started stamping away.

When the students came into class, I told them how irritated I was with the quality of work handed in and rather than complaining about how impossible they were with their other teachers during lunch or starting to hate them a little, I decided to just have them redo the assignments. No, I wasn't mad. They weren't quite in trouble yet, but they also had no choice but to resubmit the assignment because until they do, it is recorded in the gradebook as an incomplete, which I count as an F grade.

They took it maturely. I saw a few light bulbs go off when I articulated why I had been expecting multiple paragraphs. (I'm starting to have doubts about their organizational abilities!) Nobody argued that they had turned in their best work, and in fact, several looked rather sheepish when I approached them with their papers saying, "Formatting aside, is this really your best work? Do you think you might want to look at the overall quality before you turn it in again?" Thank goodness not one student groaned at the thought of having to redo an assignment--that would have ignited my ire for sure. Still it surprised me that there wasn't at least one.

I have a pretty good group of students this year, but I think they are starting to lose momentum. I don't blame them for testing the waters to see how little they can get away with. It's a good lesson for all of us today. I spent most of the day returning the assignments to be redone when I could have spent time scoring the assignments--an exasperating waste of time if you look at one way. I hope that this small act sets a new concept in class: do it well or do it over.

*I had this stamp made at VistaPrint. They often offer "free" supplies and you pay the postage. A lot of teachers have blogged about creative ways to use this company. Do a search--you'll see!

October 15, 2011

Status Report

I've been much too busy playing Words with Friends in my spare two hours a day to blog. But if I were blogging more often, you'd know
  • It's kind of miserable with some of my colleagues this year. There's a lot of strife with strong personalities and inept support staff. I'm trying my best to stay out of it, but I've found myself in the middle a few times since school started. I've been in tears from frustration (rock and hard place) and once one of them made so angry that it triggered a painful headache. I guess my invisible headache was better than the violent thoughts I was having. Why can't we all just get along?
  • I'm having a great year with my 8th graders. When I get frustrated with other things, I like to keep in mind that they are a good group and I should enjoy them while I can. Most of them work hard, and they are sweet. Second semester often brings the end of the honeymoon, but so far, all the good things I had heard about this group are true.
  • My seniors take their next writing proficiency exam in two weeks. I cannot see where they have made progress. In fact, in my attempts to help them develop content, it looks like they have forgotten the knowledge on structure that they had in the beginning. I have six students in that class, and most days I want to murder them. You'd think that we'd have a great experience with such a small class, but I have some attitude problems.
  • It's unfortunate for my own children that I have spent 15 years with other people's teenagers. It is just not possible for me to be the cool mom. I thought I'd be better at this parenting pre-teens and teens thing, but I'm not. Sucks to be me.
We are nearing the end of the first quarter, and I'm neck deep in it all like I usually am. Sometimes I look out into my classroom, and I have no idea what year I'm in. Does it matter? Sometimes it seems all the same. That's depressing, right? So then I try to think of ways to make it more fun. Ways to enjoy the here and now... It's a daily thing!

October 1, 2011

What Happens in Game Club

It all started when one of my students approached me on the first day of school about coming on Fridays to play Axis and Allies, as the teacher who hosted it for them last year is no longer at our school. I stay late on Fridays anyway, so I agreed.

Within a few days, I read about Mrs. Bluebird's Board Game Club and then thought of my own failed Scrabble Club from last year. I had a few students who showed up, but it conflicted with Leadership and Debate, which are more serious clubs, so my poor club fizzled away.

I spoke with Mrs. E.--we do everything together--and decided that it might be fun to just do a basic game club. I mean, if I there were going to be 3-4 boys playing a game, why not invite more to people come play games? No harm in trying, and Friday is a great day since there are few clubs and spending an hour playing games sounded like a great way to end the week. Kind of like a kid happy hour!

I had six Scrabble boards. The Leadership adviser had a box of miscellaneous games, such as mancala, checkers, and chess. My social studies colleague had more inexpensive checker/chess boards with pieces, and a 7th grade math teacher had three Clue games (still in plastic!) that some anonymous person dropped off in his room a few years back.

And so Game Club was born.

When Mrs. E. and I were talking about it at lunch, one of our colleagues said that it sounded like a great idea. We could feature a different game each week and teach them how to play it. As brilliant as that idea was, it wasn't what I had in mind, and that wasn't what the kids had in mind, either! On the first day we had 35 students show up, and it was sheer madness! We also had several teachers stop by to play for a little while. It was all I could do to get the students to sign in before they were grabbing games and rushing to tables to sit and play.

The first week was overwhelming because I did not know there would be so many kids crammed into my classroom, and there were some students (who happened to be mine) messing around and going in and out. Most of those students have not come back after I railed them about goofing off in the hallways, where they cannot be after school. "You're either in or you're out!" At our school, students are either in a club or outside the gate. The campus isn't open for wandering. The air conditioning was a little wonky and I wondered if I could require deodorant for kids coming to the club, but we survived. Mrs. E. and I played a few games, too. She learned how to play cribbage from another teacher.

After a few weeks, we have our groove going. The kids rush in, grab boards, and start playing. They clean up after themselves after each game, and some of them even double check to make sure all the pieces are back in boxes. We remind the rest of them. (That does not mean I don't have three Scrabble tiles and a miniature lead pipe that go in one of the games...) We allow snacks but warn them that if they leave their trash behind, that will be the end of that. Students need to stay the whole time and not a minute longer, especially if they are riding the late bus, but we also have learned that a good third of the students can only stay 30 minutes because they have to pick up their siblings from the elementary school across the street.

Mrs. E. and I cannot figure out if the kids know each other, or if they are just mixing it up with whoever wants to play. (We decided it would be lame of us to ask.) Sometimes we sit and play, but usually if someone wants a partner, we try to find someone else to play with them. We spend a lot of time making sure nobody is left out. The kids are really good to each other, and if someone wants to get up from the Clue game, which requires more attention span than most of them have, to play Uno with a lonely kid, nobody cares. I compelled three of my 8th grade boys to let an younger, awkward girl to be the banker in their Monopoly because that's all she wanted to do, and they didn't even blink an eye. Love those kids!

We've contemplated moving our club to the library where there are more tables (space, oxygen, air conditioning), and if we get over 40, which I think we hit yesterday, we might just need to do that, but for now, Mrs. E. and I are just giddy that we have such a large group of students from all grades who just want to hang out after school and be kids.

Oh, and you know what's crazy? The boy who wanted to come play Axis and Allies decided to go Tennis Club on Fridays instead!

September 28, 2011

Why It Was Due Last Tuesday

I feel a little bad about that stack of process journals that still have not been graded after a week.

A little bad is about it, and as I lamented to my colleagues yesterday during lunch--a lunch where I was doing work--they assured me that it was okay.

These particular journals were submitted late. Granted, they were submitted only one day late, as that is the maximum I will accept, and late work gets graded last, but a week is a long time.

I'm sure there will soon be e-mails, "Why is this showing as missing? Johnny turned it in!" and then what do I have to say except my stack of excuses?

--All of the students who turned it in on time received it back the very same day. I just had to read it and give a completion grade for their reflections.
--During class for the remainder of last week, I spent my time going from student to student giving them feedback on their writing while they read their novels.
--We were in the library one day last week, and although, I could have done some grading I did not want to lug their journals around campus, and more importantly, I have decided that this year, when we have library days, I plan to read with the students, so I can be a good model.
--My preps were taken up with STUFF. I can't remember exactly, but at least half the time was taken up with collaborative planning, and the rest included running around talking to people about pressing issues and getting materials ready for upcoming lessons.
--Although my contracted time technically ends with the bell, I did stay after every night until 4:00 pm. Two of those nights were for clubs I co-advise. the other day was more of the STUFF I was doing during my prep.
--It's mostly futile for me to take work home on weekdays because I have my own children to deal with at home. Last week I spent time bustin' my own middle schooler's chops for having a couple of missing assignments in her classes.
--In the evenings, I teach two classes, so doing any kind of homework for the teacher just does not happen. Sure, sometimes, I take it, but my students are needy, and they have their own assignments that need to be graded.
--On the weekend, I did five hours of grading and two hours of planning. Do some simple math about how much of a weekend I get. Again, I did not want to lug those process journals around. I already had a bin of work to carry out on Friday night, and taking those journals would have meant two trips to my car. Call me lazy, but it's just not worth it the hassle of exertion of the 100 degree heat, the long walk and obstacles of locked doors whe trying to get back onto the building for the second trip at 4:00 pm on a Friday.
--It's to bad that I have been out of my classroom for two days this week, but I am afforded sick days for doctor appointments. I have 130 days accrued. Obviously, it's not like I make it a habit to be gone. The other day is for school business. I was invited by the principal. I think it's excused, don't you?

So many excuses for myself. I know they aren't good enough. But you see, I am a busy teacher who is plagued with too much work. Sometimes I plan things for a reason. You know, like due dates.

September 24, 2011

Because I Said So

Sometimes students have the strangest ideas about writing rules. Oh yeah, it doesn't help that a lot of English rules are more suggestions. It makes writing just so much fun to teach!

Last week, the conversation about because came up with my desperate-to-pass-their-writing-exit-exam seniors.

"Miss, is it true that you can't start a sentence with because?"

I sighed. This is not the first time I've ever had this conversation with my hapless high schoolers.

"Nope. It's not true. That's something your elementary teachers told you so you wouldn't try to write sentences with because and then screw them up. You see, it's really easy to write a fragment when you start with because, but if you are careful, using it can create a good sentence."

Now, I don't know if it's really elementary teachers who perpetuate this idea, but someone is doing it. I understand that the teacher is probably trying to save them from themselves. Oh boy, do I understand that!

Once I show the students on the board how because can go bad fast, and how to fix it, they understood. I suspect that a few years back they might not have understood, but they get it now.

But it's during times like these when I wonder if I ever send students down the wrong path when I'm just trying to help.

September 23, 2011

Effin Part 2

A few days after confiscating bracelets from Marcos, which I took to the Dean's office just in case Marcos's mother wanted to pick them up, I was cruising the aisles of my classroom looking over student work, when I spotted a bright red bracelet with the letters STFU.

What is with these students?

These aren't even my hard-core high schoolers. This are my middle school students. It's the first month of school. They usually stay innocent until at least Valentine's Day. (Or so I like to believe.)

"Stephanie, you need to take that bracelet off." It was rather ironic that she had such a bracelet. I'm pretty sure I'll be screaming the words of that acronym to her--in my head--by the time the year is over.

"But, Miss--" she tried to look innocent.

"Save it. I know what it means." As she slipped it off her wrist, I gave her the low-down, "Take it home, and never bring it back. If I ever see it again, it will be mine."

How smart would she be?

The next day, I was heating up my lunch in the workroom, and I glanced into the Spanish classroom. There was Stephanie with her red bracelet on. I walked into the room (the teacher is a close friend, so it's okay), straight to Stephanie with my hand out.

"Give me your bracelet. I told you yesterday not to ever wear it again."

"But, at least it doesn't actually say the words."

I stood with my hand out. Eyebrows raised: Stink Eye activated.

Blah, blah, blah. She gave me some lip before surrendering it.

"Can I get it back?"

"You mother can. From the Dean."

I took it directly to the office. The way she was acting, I thought her mother might actually pick it up.

As I handed it to the dean, labeled with the student's name, I said, "This is the third inappropriate bracelet I've confiscated in the last week."

The dean looked confused.

"You know what this means, right?"

Blank look.

Not censoring for him, I said, "It stands for Shut the Fuck Up.'"

He recoiled a little when I said it.

Exactly my point.

(Sorry, Dad. Sometimes you have to tell it straight.)

September 21, 2011

Effin Part 1

Marcos raised his hand to ask me a question, but I was too distracted from the words that I thought I saw on his silicone bracelets to pay attention. I squinted at him, trying to focus on what he was saying and while looking at the lettering on his bracelets.

Surely. No. It couldn't be.

"Marcos, just come here," I motioned him over to me. He asked his question. I answered. I was too distracted by my own agenda.

I pointed to his bracelets, "What were you thinking? You can't wear those! Take them off. I should take them, but you may put them in your pocket. If I ever see them again, I will take them and cut them into tiny little pieces."

You see, he had two thick silicone bracelets that said, "F*ck You." (censored for my dad)

He was irritated at having to take them off, but he shrugged off my reaction like it was no big deal. That ratcheted my irritation.

"It is so disrespectful! You raise your hand, and what's the message you're sending to me from your jewelry? What did I ever do to you? You know, I saw a woman with a shirt that said that once, and I instantly wanted to punch her. I'm a peace-loving teacher, but her t-shirt provoked me. Why do you want that reaction from people? It's not at all funny. Nor is it charming."

Several of his classmates were staring at him like he was an idiot.

I wanted to tell that disrespectful little boy to F-off himself.

He (and I) was lucky the bell rang for the next class.

I had my doubts about how I handled it. I probably should not have told him how I wanted to punch someone who had delivered the same passive aggressive message to me before. Mostly, I was pretty sure I should have simply taken the bracelets. It's just that I hate taking student possessions.

Two period later, I spotted him in French class with the bracelets on. He had the better sense to turn the words inward, but I did tell him if I ever saw them again, I would take them. So I did.

September 17, 2011


Dear parent, thank you for quoting me from open house night when I said it was best to contact me about things before they become a problem. Of course you are concerned about one of your son's assignment that wasn't turned in. Of course, I uploaded that fact 12 days ago.

What I meant when said that statement is that students need to come to me immediately if they are struggling with an assignment, not weeks later. This situation is not quite what I was talking about, but it's okay. I am happy to hear from you.

I'll certainly check into it.

Perhaps there's an error and the assignment was turned in. Perhaps I missed putting the grade in the computer. I hate it when papers stick together. Perhaps it didn't have a name on it. Did you know I've already collected five assignments with no names already this year? Yes, perhaps it's an error.

I should mention--or maybe it's not worth it--that your son did not talk to me about this problem? Also, he did not see me grading the assignment. Is that something you might want to check into? No I don't have a witness to my testimony...but that's the point. There were no witnesses when I graded the assignment in question.

How many themes I could visit with this story.

I always say, "It's the little things in life..." Usually I'm speaking of the simple joys of life and how I adore them, but there's a dark side to everything, right? Sorting through the many small untruths I encounter from the under-20 crowd on a daily basis is exhausting. It's takes a lot of simple joys to beat down the bitterness and paranoia that result in the barrage of lies I get weekly. What did I ever do to deserve this?

August 29, 2011

It Could Have Been Better

The strangest thing happened this morning. Somehow, I set my clock an hour ahead. It's a completely different function from setting the alarm. How that happened, I don't know. I was minutes from walking out the door when I noticed that the time on my phone was an hour earlier than I thought it was, so I check all three of the clocks downstairs, my computer, and the television guide, and sure enough, the one clock that was wrong was the alarm clock.

My poor husband! He was already in the shower when he could have gotten another hour in!

I took the opportunity to have a leisurely cup on coffee. Perhaps that was the best thing I could have done for myself--especially considering I was tackling one of the hardest days of the 180 on reduced sleep.
Arriving at school, we all found an inferno. Not literally. That's so not funny considering our history with fire. No, what I'm talking about is no air conditioning. Big shock. Unlike last year, when the same thing happened, it was 115º outside. Thank goodness I'm not a armpit sweater, but unfortunately my head and face get just drenched. Drippy. Disgusting. Embarrassing. So much for the extra time I took I my make-up. And my hair. My colleagues blew off their hairdos for ponytails. Too bad I cut mine too short for a ponytail but long enough to make me hot. Waaaaaah!

I take a 32 oz. bottle of water to work with me, and usually it's a struggle to drink it all. Today, I had to pace myself, lest should have to get water out of the bathroom sink, which for once was HOT. I could have easily finished that bottle by 9:00 am.

I felt some cool air blowing just before lunch. Not much though. I bailed as soon as the bell rang.

I wore cute, yet comfortable shoes that were not new. After a few hours I was crippled with, well, not even blisters. It just tore the skin off my heels and little toes. I'm just not used to wearing shoes. It doesn't matter that in May they were the most comfortable shoes I owned. I don't know how I'll make it through the week. This isn't the first year I've suffered from shoes on the first day, but I thought I was okay with old shoes.

During 3rd period, one of my students who had me for publications last year said, "Why don't you just take your shoes off like you usually do?"

Well, I usually only get that comfortable with my publications class.

But today...I apologized to my 5th hour class and took my shoes off. I explained I wasn't used to wearing shoes. I also apologized for my lack of voice because I was not used to talking. And finally, I apologized for my haggard appearance, as I wasn't used to the heat.

So much for first impressions. I really liked my 5th hour class, though. Except for two boys who had to be reminded that it's rude to talk while I'm talking, they made a great impression on me, and I think it's going to be a good year with them.

August 28, 2011

The Curtain is About to Rise

Twenty-four hours from this early morning 6:15 a.m., if I'm not at least in my car driving down the road, it will be a rough start to the school year.

Am I ready? Eh...I have today. I hope. My children came back last night after a three-week stay at their grandparent's house. It kind of depends on how needy they are, but before they left we did the mad dash to get ready for school. There might a few things on their lists that I didn't get, but at this point, it would be something for the classroom and not them personally, and it can wait. My main mommy priority is feeding them, as without them here, my husband and I scrimped along with whatever food was in the house, with mini grocery store trips to supplement. So, with the pressing need of lesson plans to finish, I've need to plan a grocery trip. Man, it's back to the same old life. Bleah. It's Sunday morning, I just want to sit with a cup of coffee and watch the news. I miss you, summer vacation!

At least my classroom is ready. I set up the boards before I left on Friday. I might need to adjust the desks a little bit because they are a bit too close to the front where I'll be standing for the first few days. I don't need any materials for the first few days, so no slaving over a hot copier for me today. In fact, unlike some of my colleagues, I won't even be setting foot inside the school today. It's open if we need it (we don't have access to the school on weekends), but, no thank you! Yeah for me.

Except...I still have lesson plans to write. I can tell you that they aren't so different from last year, but now we have this Curriculum Engine thing where I have to post my lesson plans. So, no just changing the date from last year's for me today. I'm sure there will be some cutting and pasting, though. And digging through the new Core Standards to find the ones that match.

The first order of the day in my English classes it address the question, "What is English?" (From Jeffrey Golub's book.) I have been asking this on the first day of class since the beginning of time. (Okay, maybe not that long. It's only my 15th year.) And look, we can get started right away on using some standards!

SL.8.1 - Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Is everybody happy now? Haha! Letting my slip show. Sorry. Perhaps later I'll blog later about how teaching with the new Core Standards has transformed my life after all.

Things are a little more dicey with my publications class. It's really big this year, with half of them--super dynamic and energetic kids--returning from last year. I spent the first week team-building with them, and toward the end of last year, I was seeing that we needed a refresher on working as a team. We did a lot of group projects and planning, so it wasn't like we didn't revisit the team concept after the first week, but... Maybe it was more like we were a family who needed a vacation from each other! I'm changing so many things about the coursework this year, but honestly, I haven't worked out the kinks on a few things. That's what I'm really nervous about.

And then with my high school students, I usually get them writing first thing, especially my proficiency students because we still start filling in their gaps on Tuesday. The nice thing about those prof kids, is that they are anxious to get help to pass their proficiencies, as many of them hope to graduate after the first semester. However, as writers, their confidence is low, so I have to build them up on what they can do, too. My creative writing students will be much the same. Unlike students in creative writing classes at other schools, my students don't necessarily like writing. They need a credit. However, I noticed that there is another section of English taught at the same time, so many I will have more students who enjoy writing. My classes are typically really small, and students have to share so much of themselves with each other, so community building is really important in these classes, too! Ugh. So much to think about!

I don't know why I worry and ponder about the first week. As mentioned, I have a pretty good system down that I use year after year, but I really hate the first few weeks. A good start is critical for a successful year. Any missteps, and it's miserable repairing the "damage." Again, I ready to get past these few weeks and get into the groove.

August 27, 2011

How Little It Takes

As many of you know, I teach at a full time at a middle school during the day, and in the evening, I teach two classes at an alternative high school. I teach the accelerated (what we call advanced, guess) during the day, and at night as, you might imagine in an alternative setting, my students are at a much lower skill level. In fact, one of the classes I teach is writing/reading proficiency, which is specifically for students who have not passed the the state proficiency exam or have been deemed in need of to help to pass. Sadly, my 8th graders are often better writers than my 12th graders. I blog about my high school students more often because the highs and lows are so extreme. Because of that, I probably experience more intrinsic rewards. (To balance out how much they drive me to drink.)

Last night, we met for the first and only time we will during the year. It was a two-hour meeting where the principal reviewed the most important rules and procedures for the school. With this, he also provided pep talks and professional development for our success at the school. He finished early, so we could pick up our keys and get ready for Monday. Most of us left with 30 minutes to left of the allotted two hours. How can this be? In an less than two hours, we did what has taken me three contracted days (plus two more on my dime) at my full time job.

Of course, my principal rides on the coat tails of others. All of us teach at other district schools during the day (it's a requirement of the job), where we all have had plenty of training on how using our grades, preparing our students for testing and life beyond high school, and all the other stuff.

The interesting part is that the principal never says, "Oh, you have heard this all at your other school." He doesn't labor over test scores with us. He doesn't remind us to use the standards. (What else would we use?) He just wants us to come in each night and use our best practices to teach our students. "Remediate the whole class if you have to! They don't know it. They missed it somewhere. Just teach them!" Of course, we are trying to get our students to graduate, with hopes of sending them to post secondary school or training, but he doesn't beating us with it. Furthermore, his pep talk on how to be effective in our classrooms has a ring of, "You all know how to do this, but here's a reminder to get ya going." I feel respected as a teacher. He has faith in our abilities. Although, we don't get a formal evaluation from him each year, he knows our abilities because he comes into our classrooms everyday. Every. Day. No joke. He knows what's going on. If he didn't like it, he would tell us. If it was terrible enough, he would say, "This isn't working out," and we'd be on our way out the door. We all know it's the truth. It's happened. Am I threatened with the ease of which we could be fired? Nope.

It's not that my daytime principal does not have faith in our abilities. She does. She even told us in her back-to-school spiel, and I believe that she believes in us. However, sometimes actions speak louder than words, and the hoops I am compelled to jump through--the trainings on the latest buzz words, the newest programs that will make the students learn, the documentation, the test analysis, and all the rest--belittle me. (Many of these hoops from the higher ups.) I appreciate how we are always trying to make learning better for our students, but when will I ever be good enough? Am I doing anything right?

Comparing my two schools is certainly like comparing apples and oranges. My middle school has 1400+ students, while my high school has 100-200, depending on the quarter and how many concurrent students attend. (There are students who only go there, which are the ones I usually have so late at night, and then there are others who have a regular day school and just come for a few classes.) During the day, we have five administrators and three counselors to assist with student troubles, while at night we have one principal and one counselor. At night, I hardly know my colleagues, and I do not have to plan and meet with them on a weekly basis. It's just me, in a classroom, usually populated with fewer than 20 students, helping students learn, often with individualized instruction that is difficult for me to manage with my 30+ middle schoolers. Things are really just too different to ponder, but I sometimes I just can't help it.

For years, I have marveled at how little it takes for me to do my job at the alternative high school. I walk into the school, minutes before class starts, tag-team the teacher who uses the classroom before I do, drop my bag, get out my materials, write the agenda on the board, and start teaching. It takes about three minutes--if I have it to spare. Sometimes, I just have to start teaching. I have no paid prep time, and when the students walk out the door at the end of the day, I'm right behind them, racing them out of the parking lot onto the dark streets. A lot goes on during my two hours (I'll perhaps paint a picture another day) of teaching there, but give me a classroom full of student, some paper and pencils, and we're ready go to. A whiteboard and marker help, but I could do it without.

That experience, night after night, drives home that teaching students does not have to be so complicated. Think about it. How little do you need to teach?

August 25, 2011

So the Insomnia Starts

I have to start getting up in the during the 5 o'clock hour now--depending on how tired I am and how quickly I can get ready--but for some crazy reason, this morning I was wide awake around 3:00 a.m. Maybe it's because I went to bed around 9:00 p.m., or maybe it's because even with the A/C blasting, it's still too hot (91° outside right now), or maybe it's because I have too many things on my mind that seeped through my sweet dreams.

Yesterday was our first day back as teachers. We had our state-of-the-school address by the principal, accompanied by other important information from other administrators. The principal's spiel inspired confidence in me while encouraging me to kick it in the rear to do better--especially after discussions of our tests scores. Things are changing now that we are going to the Growth Model. No more targeting Bubble Kids, although our numbers show that by targeting that population, even the hopeless cases were helped. I'm glad to be done with that craziness, but who knows what new madness awaits.

Oh, I know! Common Core Standards are here to save the day. I'm not sure how much that will change my life, although we've been told that these more rigorous standards are more aligned to the IB objectives, so I've been told my life will be a bit easier on that front. Trying to balance IB requirements with our district/state requirements nearly drives me mad some years.

In another, short meeting with my department and the administrators, emphasis on the core standards, which are all completely ready to roll for Language Arts, whereas other subject areas are transitioning more slowly, was made, but yet another change (read last year's drama here) to the 8th grade writing exam was not. Apparently it's all going online! And it isn't going to count for AYP this year. Uh...A test just for fun? This keep that rumor tapped down, aye? I suppose the lack of hype over this new change isn't because we are all exhausted from last year's change (that's just me?) but because there is virtually no information about this new test. Yet. It's okay, I can punt. So, ya'll just let me know what you want me to do, and I'll get that done! Oy!

Oh! But the good news on the testing front is that we are suppose to do our state testing in May! It's about damn time that we got on board with giving students a full school year to learn before we test them.

On the more immediate reason for insomnia...there's just so much to prepare in the next few days. Many colleagues have work time today and tomorrow, but I will be peddling my yearbooks in the cafeteria to students picking up their schedules for the next two days. It's an extremely important time for sales, as I aim to sell at least half of what I plan to order. The last two years I've only sold a quarter of my projected order at the beginning of the year, but miraculously, when the books came in, and I sold out. It's a nerve-wracking year hoping we'll sell them. Only a few students buy in the middle of the year. I'm handing out fliers for online ordering, a Josten's service I'm going to encourage this fall, but I'm at odds about whether more people will buy because they can use a credit card, or if more people will put off ordering this week and then simply forget to order at all.

It's funny how these yearbook worries crowd my mind when I have more important things to worry about--like getting lessons and documents ready for the students on Monday!

I miss my summer already. Only two days into the new year. How pathetic am I?

August 24, 2011

Mantra for First Day Back for Teachers

I will keep a positive attitude.
I will be a professional at all times.
I will open myself up to learn new things.
I will open myself up to learn old things differently.
Still keeping positive attitude.
I will use my bits of free time wisely.
I will try to have faith that change is a good thing.
I will grin and bear it when it starts to get deep.
I will try to be the HappyChyck I always want to be.

August 17, 2011

Not Ready Yet

We can pick up our keys and access our classrooms tomorrow. I've already been on campus three times in the last week for meetings and professional development (all paid), but tomorrow is the day I can finally get into my classroom to put my boards up.

I am happy to tell my colleagues who will be waiting in line, "I won't be picking mine up until Monday. I'm taking one last vacation."

Honestly, I'd rather not even work in my classroom (unpaid) until I have to come back, but the work days are so busy, I know if I don't put in a little time, I will regret it.

I haven't always felt the need to not work until my contracted time, but the longer I teach, the more I don't feel like I need to the time for days of classroom arrangement. (It will come together eventually, right?) There's that...and well, since education is so unsupported by the government and "the public" these days, I don't see why I should care about working past my expectations.

Ouch. I feel uncomfortable saying that. Of course, I always work behind my contracted time. Every. Single. Day. Including weekends. There's work to be done that requires more than my contracted hours. What can I do?

Well, I suppose I can take back my time any opportunity I can.

Off my soap box, I'm headin' out of town to see my family. I could really use a break from the reality. You know, the reality that my summer is OVER. That reality check can take a few days off. I can't wait for some visitin' and porch sittin'.

August 15, 2011

It's Rollin'

It started with an IB meeting last Wednesday. Informative. I tried not to be grumpy, but I am not so sure I succeeded.

Then I bought borders for my bulletin boards. You know summer is over when it's time to get the border. One of them has flames. Flames! That sets the tone.

My official teaching schedules have shown up in the mail. Teaching the same stuff. For the first time in years, I don't have 1st hour prep, but other than that, all the same.

I've spent the last two days buzzin' around the Internet looking for new ideas and resources. My head is spinning.

I'm going to some paid professional development this week. Tomorrow starts off with an hour of Web 2.0. I have no idea what we can talk about Web 2.0 in a mere hour, but I'm going in anyway. The session afterward is on Google Docs, which I have come to adore.

School starts in two weeks. I officially go back in 9 more days.

Where did the time go?

August 12, 2011

The Locker Game

Poor Mrs. Bluebird, whose school started this week, has blogged about her school's locker woes. Besides dealing with the anxiety of nervous students who cannot figure out how to open locks, the the teachers at Mrs. Bluebird's school also have to deal with lockers are too old and tired to cooperate with students.

Locker Drama! The crazy things we teachers have to deal with besides teaching...

At our old school, we did not have enough lockers for students, so they had to carry everything with them. That situation was fraught with its own drama. At our new school, we have new lockers, but to prevent shenanigans in overcrowded, narrow hallways, students can only visit them before school, before and after lunch, and after school. Our locker drama is keeping kids out of them during the other passing periods.

The rule about staying out of lockers is serious, but many students believe that rules are made to be broken. In fact, for many of them, getting away with breaking the rules everyone else has to follow is a fun game.

The Locker Game

Remove or place an item in the locker without getting caught.

Game Play:
Obviously, you need a reason for accessing your locker. It does not matter if it's real or critical. Just know your purpose.

If you get caught while the locker is open, the teacher may or may not let you get the thing you were trying to get, depending on teacher and mood. Whatever the outcome, try again next time.

Point Values:

+1 Access locker without getting caught for a forgotten textbook or assignment.

+3 Access locker without getting caught for the textbook or assignment you intentionally "forgot."

+1 Access locker to take or put away your jacket.
+1 if jacket is not dress code

+1 Access locker to put away textbooks you don't want to carry.

+2 Access locker to retrieve or put away gym clothes.
+1 if the clothes are not in a bag
+2 if the clothes are dirty/smelly

+1 Caught accessing locker but get off with a warning and mission completed.
+ 2 if you really didn't need to get in your locker
+ 1 if you told a story that wasn't exactly true

+4 Caught accessing locker, close it, and walk away while teacher is reprimanding you.

-1 Caught accessing locker before the door is open.

-2 Caught accessing locker but have to close it before completing mission.
-3 if the item is in your hand, but you have to put it back.

Strategies for Winning:

Set your combination so you just have to turn to the last number on the dial. Because the lock will automatically open when you reach that last number, this will save a lot of time, but do not let others see you setting up your lock for the quick open because they can quickly open your locker, too.

Although physically dangerous, open your locker when the hall is most crowded. The teachers cannot get to you.

Get 3-5 of your friends to gather around you to hide the opening. Make it quick, though. Groups of students standing around draw attention.

Make sure the item is ready to be grabbed. You do not have time to search your backpack for your "forgotten" textbook. Leave it on top.

If you are putting something in your locker, shove it in forcefully, pushing your whole arm into the back of the locker. If even a backpack strap falls out while you are closing your locker, you may not be be able to open it again. Jammed locker? You lose.

Game play ends June 6, 2012.

The winner gets to be the coolest person in school.

August 11, 2011

Why Is Feeding Them So Challenging?

Yesterday my husband asked me if we were going to let the kids buy school lunch this year. About three years ago, we started packing lunches because I kept hearing stories that concerned me about the amount and quality of food their were getting. One of my children had the latest lunch and didn't always get the entree she wanted or enough of the sides because they would run out. At that time, my children also had to go to the before-school childcare program, so I bought school breakfast, too, and that usually consisted of a chocolate muffin and chocolate milk. What a great way to start the day! PLUS, I decided I could come up with healthier choices for less money. I'm quite the bargain shopper.

Packing lunches worked well in elementary school, that is, the kids were happy. Students with bag lunches go straight into the cafeteria and may begin eating. Our lunches are not elaborate by any means. Usually it's a sandwich, fruit and/or vegetable, and a treat, such as my homemade jello, a bag of Sun Chips, or a granola bar. However, last year, when my daughter went into middle school, apparently I wrecked her cool quotient by making her pack a lunch. She claimed that she was one of three students in the 6th grade, probably of 300 students, who brought a lunch. (I was surprised because a lot more students at my school pack a lunch--especially those who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch.) I know somebody is thinking of calling child services right now because of the abuse I've caused the child. I relented in getting her a cell phone this year. You can use hers.

It's been enough drama that I considered letting the kids buy school lunch, although I believe in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, too, so as I was telling my husband, "No way!" I was also looking up information on school lunch on the district's website.

While I was secretly considering school lunches, he brought up the argument about the news item that was all over the television a few days ago about how unsafe home lunches are because they are not kept at the proper temperature. When I saw that "news," I was more irritated than concerned. It felt like propaganda bull. Why does the government really want me to stop trying to feed my own kids? My husband did raise a good point because halfway through the year, my son admitted to never putting an icepack in his lunch, and he always ate meat sandwiches. (Neither of my kids likes peanut butter. Brats.) He missed zero days of school from food poisoning. In fact, he missed zero days from sickness. Period.

So, as my husband and I were debating whether a warm sandwich ever killed any of us, and I was hoping my kids, who are vacationing at their grandmother's house, have not been watching the news, I found the district's school lunch website and discovered that it would cost my son $1.75 a day for lunch, and for my daughter it would cost $3.00! Three dollars? That seems like a lot, but the sample menus and restaurant comparisons make it seem quite reasonable, don't they? True. It's difficult to eat out for only $3.00. You can ask my husband. He has no choice but to eat out, and he struggles to do it on the cheap. Honestly, though, even for the price, the food choices are not healthier and more filling that we can do at home. When did chicken nuggets and pizza become staples? Maybe I'm putting the turkey/ham/tuna/peanut butter sandwich on a pedestal, but you know, it's fed people in my family for generations. Right, Dad?

Here's me shooting down school lunch again:

Chicken Nugget Meal (example)
5 pc. Chicken Nuggets
I'm not a fan...even before Jamie Oliver's demonstration. At my house the "nugget" part of the chicken is thrown away.
Crispy Tater Tots
Everything comes in plastic. They are not crispy. All six of them.
Baby Carrots w/ Ranch
Eh. Not bad. Most baby carrots, are not the sweet, young ones, but we eat them at our house, too.
The kids prefer dressing, but they usually pack veggies sans dip.
Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies
We sometimes have cookies treats. Homemade is best...
8 oz. 1% Milk
I know for a fact, my kids will always select chocolate milk. It's not just a treat like when I was a kid. It's available all the time.

The chicken nugget meal is listed under the elementary meal, but I would bet that the secondary meal would be essential the same on chicken nugget days.

CCSD Secondary Menu
Low-Fat Cheese Pizza Slice
This is apparently an option every day. (Not the only one, though.) Although, it was a major selling point for my daughter to get school lunch, she did admit that everyone was tired of pizza by Christmas. Too bad it doesn't have meat or veggies on it.
Tossed Green Salad w/ Dressing

At my school, I've seen these few leaves of lettuce "tossed" in the trash each day. It looked more like garnish than a side of salad.
Fresh Whole Orange
Maybe it's my bias, but it's been a long time since I have had a good fresh orange in Nevada. My kids love them, but there are only a few months during the year when we can get any that they will actually eat. I'm betting these are much the same. More often than not, I see apples on the school lunches more than oranges, but they come already cut and packaged. Strange, no? They taste weird.
Whole Fruit Cherry Turnover
Wow! That's a great spin, isn't it? You get a whole turnover or a whole cherry? Just wondering.
8 oz. 1% Milk
Again, mine would choose chocolate every time. It's suppose to have like 30 grams of sugar. For that much sugar, I could probably pack something more filling and satisfying. Or given them a soda. They would love that treat.

I have to admit that just the description and the spin on price seems reasonable enough. Well, for my elementary-aged student it does. Three dollars is too much for food that comes frozen and is simply reheated. (Check out Mrs. Q's pictures. Our lunches look much like those.)

It's more than that, though. It's quality of food. Am I the only one who sees that?

What further surprised and irritated me is when I decided to do a search on bag lunch vs. school lunch, I initially found so much more support for school lunch--from both parents and school/government agencies. Last year, my students did a project where they hypothetically designed a school for a village in a third world country that did not already have in a school. I was surprised by the number of students who felt it was necessary to include a cafeteria. That's when a question popped into my head, "When did it become expected that schools much also feed the children?" I know we are not the only country that has school lunch, and I am not knowledgeable enough to know how many countries subsidize lunches for their students, but I really would like to know when parents gave up that responsibility?

I hate to do the back in the day thing, but seriously, when I was a kid, sure I remember eating school lunch, and it was probably a better deal for my mother (I had to start packing in secondary school, so perhaps it wasn't always a better deal), but I also remember getting a tray full of food that was prepared on site. I won't claim it was all healthy. We had butter. Stuff was sometimes fried, but usually it was baked. Lots of casseroles. We had canned food, but in those days, we didn't have "fresh" produce (out of season) all year long. Honestly, it often resembled what I ate for dinner at home, except my mother never made homemade dinner rolls.

If I had been a mother back then, I would have thought it was a blessing to feed my kids all that food for the money. As a mother now, and I am blessed to be able to afford to feed my kids well (I know so many families struggle), however, I think I can do better than the school district. Why is there so much guilt for that?

Yes, I will try to offer a balanced meal. Thanks for mentioning it, Government Guidelines.

Yes, I could offer something junky from time to time, Dear Daughter, but I cannot afford that junk food and neither can your health.

Yes, I will continue to threaten my son with peanut butter if he doesn't pack his meat sandwiches with an ice pack (and a frozen bottle of water for extra assurance), Media Hype. He'll live.

Thanks for letting me try to feed my own family.

July 21, 2011

Ugh. Homework. What's is Worth?

Darren over at Right on the Left Coast is discussing LA Unified's new homework policy. In the original policy, which has recently been canceled anyway, homework would count for only 10% of the grade. My administrator would support the idea that we teachers cannot control what happens at home and students have varying levels of support at home. Darren supports this idea, too, but he correctly predicted that policy would make it more difficult for students to earn good grades. Placing value on homework is more than a numbers game.

Over the years, as I try to fairly assess my students and attach a grade to what they do, I've struggled with what this homework business is all about and what it is worth. (A few months ago, I anguished over how to squeeze the blasted work out of students.)

In the past, I counted homework as 10-15%, and assignments that were considered homework are assignments completed totally at home, such as independent reading. If an assignment was started in class but needed to be completed at home, it was considered classwork (formative assessment), which was 35-40%. Assessments (summative) counted for 50%.

Sometimes I just couldn't get that 10% = homework to make sense, though. Throughout the year, students had projects and major reading and writing assignments that require more time at home than in class to finish. In fact, many independent reading projects were done completely at home. Technically, that's homework. However, those were worth a lot more than 10%, and often they were considered an assessment in the end. I always had to be explicit with students that just because it is being completed at home, it was worth a lot. I'm not sure if they were even paying attention to the weights of the class, but some students had to be reminded that doing assigned work at home is very important.

Ultimately, I have had difficulty justifying assignments that were worth a mere 10% of a student's grade. Sometimes we would go weeks without an assignment that was technically considered "homework." Everything required of them was very important! Even when students were asked to do small tasks that might not add up to be worth much in time and points, the completion of those tasks was usually integral in the students being able to participate in classroom activities and move forward in learning. Is it really necessary give points to every little step along the learning continuum? In the big picture of assessment, I say no, but students are used to being rewarded often for their work.

When my students struggle--in my class and in others--it usually comes down to this concept of homework. My colleagues and I use homework as a means for students to practice and extend their knowledge or prep for upcoming classes. In my class, that means that students should have rough draft writings completed so they can receive feedback for revision and have time to practice in class. In algebra class, that means students should practice the newly assigned concepts so they may apply them to the next lesson. In geography, that means students should read the textbook and add to the notes/concepts that were discussed or will be discussed in class. This is not busy work.

When students do not do their homework, no matter what the value of the grade it is worth, they are not taking responsibility for their learning, and that translates into a lack of performance extends throughout the rest of their work. So when we tell parents, "Your student needs to do his/her homework," it's a pretty big deal.

Is this where the argument about how not all students have the same support at home comes in? Not all parents are home to give help on homework. Some students have to care for their siblings after school. Some students have too many extracurricular activities. Maybe we should not even have homework, right? Hmmm. Maybe. Maybe some some students want to do well and require more time. Maybe those students have no problem with working at home. Maybe the students need time to process their learning, and that time is not afforded during the school day. Perhaps we could lengthen the school day! Yeah, that will happen. comes back to the responsibility issue. Students must take responsibility for their learning. There are wonder students who do this innately, but usually do need all the support they can get from school and home, especially in the early years as they are forming habits. Yes, some students live in heart-breaking circumstances that make it difficult for them to find the support at home. That problem cannot be fixed with a certain percentage of a grade being attributed to homework when homework is part of a learning process.

Oh! Some might say that perhaps homework should not be part of the learning process. No, it's not crazy. I mean, where are we going with the concept of placing a mere 10% of a grade on homework? We could have a big debate on that alone. But think about it. What are your goals for students? Does homework enhance student learning? Is homework that important?

I know in my classroom, homework will not go away. A specific grade for it might, though. I will continually strive to make homework valuable for my students, for without it, they just cannot progress as quickly as they are capable of doing. Now, if I could drive this point home with my upcoming students...

July 17, 2011

A Working Summer

This is one of the posts where I explain where I've been all summer. I would also like to reflect upon where my summer has gone! Wow! Time is just flying by!

For the first month of this summer, I was busy with the writing project. I had the privilege to be a facilitator at the invitational summer institute, but at the very last minute, we lost some participants, so I wasn't really needed that much. In fact, I didn't have my own writing response group to facilitate. Basically, I was there as there to do tech stuff, and at times that kept me pretty busy as I took pictures, and archived the summer on our website.

For part of time, I was also hanging out with the youth writing camps, which were housed in two different locations. We have this cool program where students come to writing camp (grades 1-12) that writing project teachers consultants conduct, but last year we added a component where teachers earn college credit by participating in team teaching in the writing camp. While I was in and out taking pictures, I was also taking some video from students and teachers and the experience. The work everyone was doing was so amazing! The teachers were having a blast. The students were having a blast. All this excitement over writing! Now, that I have film and photos, I'm charged with creating some promos about summer camp. I'm a little nervous to put it all together, as I'm not a whiz with making videos--especially using video clips as opposed to just photos--but there's always room to learn, right?

As exhausted as I am from not having truly had a month off from work, yet, I was refreshing to work with writing project stuff this summer. There are always positive people learning, sharing, and writing new things. I was so done with everyone and everything and the end of the year. Who could have known that spending another month of working and talking writing would be refreshing? I only hoped...and thankfully, it did the trick. I am almost ready (no work until August) to strike up some enthusiasm to plan for next year!

(I'm really bummed that I only completed one piece of writing during the institute, and it was at the beginning.)

July 10, 2011

Reflections on Zombies

According to a series of Internet surveys, I have only 60% chance of surviving a zombie apocalypse. It was pretty consistent across the board. (Try a few surveys here, here, and here. There are dozens of them.) A mere 60%. I’m pretty impressed with those numbers considering I know nothing about how to survive zombie-ridden world, but then on the other hand if I can to go up against a rabid pack of zombies, I’d really want my percentages to be much better—more like a 100%. It’s my life we’re talking about here. But we are talking about zombies not the swine flu. Just how likely is it that zombies might attack me? Actually,  I’m not sure. 
Have you noticed our culture’s current obsession with zombies? For a long time, vampires were the monster de jour because somehow they were sexy and romantic. What other way could we women get a true (and literal) renaissance man and the hope of eternal life? Chilvary’s not dead! Any vampire I’ve met in pop culture, revels in eternal youth and beauty. Swoon! So what if I can’t die? Oh, the tragedy of enjoying everything life has to offer! Who cares that I would have to drink blood? Squirt some chocolate in it or mix it with some vodka. I guarantee it will taste better than that psyllium and lemon juice “health” tonic I drank this morning. Vampires and their lifestyle sound enticing, so I can understand how people could become fascinated with vampires, but zombies? Ugh. They have no glamour.
A charming zombie is a dead zombie. I mean really dead, incapacitated, and decapitated. This brand of undead has no class. Stinking, rotting flesh falling off their bones…grossly misshapen bodies drag across the ground… and apparently, zombies have one thought: “Brains!” Now, I don’t know enough about zombies to know if this is an exaggeration, but it is evident that zombies do not possess high-level brain functions as they simply wander around mumbling and groaning. Poor hygiene, decaying complexion, and a one-track mind--how can the public be so obsessed with this monster? 

It’s sad how the public mood has changed in its fascination with the undead. With an interest in vampire fantasies, people were often hopeful and optimistic. I know that not all vampires are like Lestat and Edward, but at least with a vampire lifestyle, according to popular fiction, one can function almost normally as a human being. I’ve been waiting for stories told from a zombie’s point of view, but that unlikely to happen. Zombies don’t think; they react. They attack and eat with no control, often infecting those they attack. This is where their popularity troubles me. With even one zombie comes a whole apocalypse. Why is our culture obsessed with a monster that will annihilate the human race? Are people wondering if the end is near? 

I’ve enjoyed good vampires stories for two decades, and in recent years, it has become such a popular genre that the market has been saturated with a glut of paranormal fiction. Never once in those years did I entertain the thought that vampires might exist. Not even when I’ve seen young people imitating the vampiric life, including the whole blood drinking thing, did I ever fear for my ephemeral life. Come on! Vampires? Wipe off your pasty makeup, pop out those fangs, and get a job! 

But zombies…as ridiculous as they sound, I have half a mind to believe that they could exist. As a culture, we are halfway there. Our attention span is limited to the equivalent of 140 characters of digital drivel, as we bump our way through society, stopping only to refuel with anything that comes with fries. Perhaps it is extreme to think that we are so disconnected we might as well be zombies. However, in all seriousness, if our world did become overrun with zombies, I wonder how long it would take for anybody to notice. 

Besides killing ourselves with mind-numbing “culture,” what we should worry about is biological warfare. Let’s consider government conspiracies and mad scientists who could create viruses that will spread like wildfire, killing the human race as we know it. You see, some of the popular zombie fiction is based on the premise that a zombie apocalypse begins after a terrible virus is released. Brain-hungry walking dead sound bit far-fetched, but evil men creating biological weapons of mass destruction are much more plausible. If you believe that biological weapons are also too fantastical to reality, consider these common diseases that could make one act like a zombie: 

  • Rabies. People infected with rabies, which comes from an animal bite, often exhibit strange and violent behavior. They might have paralysis and could become mentally impaired to the point of irrationality. Images of violent, crazy people foaming at the mouth coming to mind?
  • Sleeping Sickness. Induced by the attack of a parasite that goes right to the brain, the carrier gradually becomes less coherent as the parasite eats away at the brain. No brain function would certainly make one zombie-like.
  • Necrosis. Premature dying cell tissue can certainly provide the look of a rotting zombie. It spreads and can cause limbs to die long before the brain does. Stinking gangrene, anyone?
  • Leprosy. A highly contagious, often slowly developing skin condition that can deteriorate to necrosis and deformation, it is the epitome of what people might consider a zombie looks like. It’s been decades since anyone has seen leprosy, but often people who had it were treated as if they were already dead.
Of course, none of these afflictions alone makes a zombie, but what if a mad scientist mixed together a concoction of these diseases—or something even worse that we don’t even know about that includes cannibalism? Welcome to my dead man’s party! 

Perhaps you think you’re safe as long as no mad scientist comes up with a way to reanimate the dead? Think again and read some zombie fiction. These living dead don’t have to brought back to life. A nice coma would do if you really want your average zombie to have that classic element of surprise when you find that something you thought was dead really isn’t. Simply a degradation of human function would probably freak me out enough. One day my spouse is hugging and kissing me, and the next day he wants to get close so he can feed on my juicy flesh and delicious brains. “Holy Living Dead! When did my sweetie become a zombie? This wasn’t in the vows! RUN!” 

The real question is whether I believe enough that zombies could exist and if I should be prepared for an attack. Considering I’m an overweight, 40 year-old woman living in an urban area with only a 60% chance of surviving a zombie apocalypse, it’s quite unlikely that I’m going to take up an interest in machetes and shotguns. “I used to enjoy cooking and crafts in my free time, but now spend my time honing my commando survival skills. Wanna see my guns? A zombie apocalypse will come, you know.” How crazy does that sound? I think I’ll try to keep the possibilities tucked into my nightmares for now and hope that zombie popularity isn’t an omen.

June 16, 2011

Getting Started on Google Earth

**This is a repost of something I wrote for a NING group that is no longer as easily accessible as it used to be.**

Google Earth is a program that has a plethora of uses in the classroom. As Google Earth has been around for over five years, many people, educators included, have written about the many applications Google Earth has. If you are curious about the different things you can see and do with Google Earth, you could easily spend the rest of your summer surfing the 'net discovering cool things. This post mentions just a few to get you started.

What are some reasons to use Google Earth in the classroom?

  • To help students visualize information--both current and historical
  • To engage and excite students
  • To use up-to-date real-world data
  • To provide cross-curricular learning opportunities
  • To help connect students to global ideas and cultures
  • To enable students communicate research, data, and stories in meaningful ways
Google Earth is a rich program that can be used where students each have their own computers as well as in one-computer classrooms. It can be used to stimulate ideas and conversation in teacher-led discussions, but it is also easy enough for students to use collaboratively or individually to explore or create their own projects.

Getting Started

It's FREE to download Google Earth, and it only takes a few minutes. Once you open the program, a window pops up to offer tips on how to use Google Earth. Those pop-up tips can be handy, and they can also be disabled if you find them irritating.

Don't forget to return to the main site from which you downloaded Google Earth. On the left bar are several links that can provide assistance for users of all experience levels. The Product Tour is actually a series of mini tours about different aspects of the program. These tours are short--no more than 2 minutes, but some as short as 30 seconds. If you need more help than that, the Community link takes you directly to a discussion forum that will likely have answers. If you don't have the patience for a forum, try the user's guide.

From the user's guide site, on the left side bar you can find a link to "Build Earth Skills." Although this sounds like a link specially designed for extraterrestrials, it's actually Google Earth: Learn, self-guided, in-depth tutorial on how to use the program's various tools. You can't just click around on the subjects: you have to start from the beginning. There are tasks to complete and quizzes to take before moving on to next levels. Too bad we can't earn some PD credits from it!

Google Earth in the Classroom

Once you dig around in Google Earth for a little while, you will probably start to think of ways you can you it in your classroom. How can it enhance an old tried-and-true unit? Does it build a bridge between your class and a colleagues for cross curricular lessons? Does it spark an idea for an inquiry-based project?

Here are a few websites that can help get your creative juices flowing with Google Earth. (Or you can just "borrow" ideas from others--that's why they post them!)

  • Twenty-Five Interesting Ways to Use Google Earth in the Classroom is a slide show by Mark Warner that can get you started with some ideas. (Check out Warner's other "Interesting Ways" slide shows.)
  • Google Earth Lessons is a great go-to guide for everything Google Earth for teachers, as it has links to current developments, lessons, and how-to guides. The lessons organized by type, such as teacher-ed and student-led rather than grade level.
  • Google Earth Across the Curriculum does not have a wide array of lessons, but it is a good, basic starting point for teachers wanting to explore how Google Earth can be used outside social studies classrooms.
  • Apple Learning Interchange's goals is to give students leverage with Google Earth in such a way they they call it "A Joystick to Learning." Navigate from the right menu to find enough ideas and links to keep you busy for a few days.
  • Free Technology for Teachers is a resource blog on many uses of technology in the classroom, including Google Earth. This may not be as robust as some of the previous sources, but it is casual site to poke around in.
  • Google Lit Trips is an especially interesting site for language arts teachers. How often do we try to bring a bit of a book's culture into the classroom so students can connect better? This site has some of those resources created already for books ranging from k-12+ levels. It also offers help on how to create some of those resources in your own classroom.
  • And just for my SNWP friends, check out Tom Barrett's journey in using Google Earth as a storytelling tool in his classroom. Scroll to the bottom of the post to link to and read the other entries in the series.
Each of these links can certainly provide hours and hours of study on using Google Earth in your own classroom, but these few resources are just the tip of what's available. Once you start digging around, you'll find there's a lot to learn about our world through Google.

Now go take on the world!

(And when you're finished you can start on Mars, too!)

June 10, 2011

Summers are for Reading

I'm such a nerd. One of the things I am looking forward to this summer is having the time to read. It doesn't take much to bliss me out!

Throughout the house, I have quite a few book I have purchased over the years, but for one reason or another have not gotten around to reading them. Some of the books take a little more concentration than I can spare, so I often read quick, brain candy.

I don't have as much time as I did last summer, when I read 30 books, but I bet I can do half that!

Over at Shelfari, I have my to-read list. Chime in on any you think I should read right away. I might be adding to the list in the next few days because there's a donated box of reads kickin' around her somewhere, too.

June 8, 2011

I'm Sorry I Asked

The final question on the 8th grade final exam is actually an essay where students brainstorm the units or activities they liked and disliked. Afterward, they select one thing that should be changed or aborted next year. It is up to them to persuade me to change or modify the activity or unit. It can be so powerful to get feedback from students, but this is the second year in a row where I wish I hadn't even asked.

I'll think I'll post some of them here in a few days, but I'd say 85% of the reflections were simply whiny. It's too hard. It was boring. Everyone did a bad job on it. It was stupid. It's really too bad that some of my students couldn't be more articulate because my colleagues and I do take the feedback into consideration when we plan for next year. Instead, at this point, I have a poor opinion of my students' poor opinion of me and my class.

Next year, I definitely need to help my students develop their persuasive skills so they don't sound like lazy, bratty teenagers when somebody asked for their critical opinions.

June 5, 2011

The Final Act

Glancing up at the clock, I see that it is exactly 12 hours until my class starts in the morning. In the morning, it will be the last week of school. Finally. My mood is better just thinking about it.

At my school, the last week is rather anti-climatic. We have one full day of classes, and then the next three days are minimum days where students come in and take exams for two classes each day. I still have to show up the day after that whatever until I can take my keys and check out papers to the office.

It is not a week full of field days and fun. Students may not bring backpacks to school, and they are searched at the gates each morning. No stink bombs, Sharpies, and shaving cream for the kiddos! They may bring pencil and paper. Please bring a pencil; you are taking a test today.

After the last class, we escort our students to the quad and herd them outside the gates. Yes the message is very much, "Get the hell outta here!" I mean, uhm, "Go home and enjoy your afternoon while your teachers spend the afternoon grading your exams."

It's always amused me because I hear of other schools who have a week of fun, and my school is all about academics. Plus, we take every measure to avoid shenanigans that will result in the school being trashed the last week of school.

I've often felt sad for my 8th graders. Although in the week prior, we do have an awards ceremony (not everyone is invited, though) and the fancy 8th grade dance, their final moments in middle school are almost hostile.

Last year, the administration decided to hold a short promotion exercise after school on the last day. I think such ceremonies have been frowned upon a bit because there are people who think that 8th grade is as much education as one needs; however, it's a pretty big deal to be leaving middle school and moving onto high school, so why not celebrate?

Representatives from all of our classes formed the promotion committee where students decided on songs, colors, and guest speakers from the student body and faculty. The students walk in front of the stage where their names are called along with their future high schools. I love that part. It's not the end for them; it's the beginning!

That's more like it! A celebration for the students, by the students. That leaves much more lasting memories.