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.