Monday, December 7, 2009

8 Days Left

Goal of the Week:

Get the grades done in advance. They need to go in by Tuesday. Also, I need to figure out which kids will be failing due to absences and make a list of them to cover myself in the event that the powers that be don't like how many kids I'm failing.

Thought of the Day: 8 days left...

And you thought I had stopped updating.

As it turns out, my adviser for graduate school beat me to the punch. I am now on a list of people for my program that are under "academic probation." That means that the *they* powers of my transition to teaching program have decided that I haven't made enough progress as a teacher and they're thinking about throwing me out. So, for the past month I've had to turn in my lesson plans by no later than 6pm on Sunday and do little projects that show I'm growing as a teacher.

For whatever reason, it's been working. I was hesitant at first, but my classrooms are now much more controllable than they were before. Also, I'm having more fun teaching.

Don't get me wrong - things aren't perfect. I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth for this one. I just want to be able to do my job and do it well. I just wish things hadn't been so stressful this year. I really do feel like a first year teacher. If every year starts out with the sort of chaos that this year did, then I'm going to hate teaching. I don't want to go through 3 to 4 months of hell just to get to the happy period the next semester.

Actually, when I think about it, my classes sucked last year until about the end of February. Once I started having a set schedule for the day and a pattern to my classes, the kids settled down. They really do like patterns and schedules. Routine, my hopes fall on thee.

Here's to hoping the next few days are cake.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Students exiting class = stampede

Goal of the week: I will set a schedule for my class.

Thought of the day: Clocks
I have removed the clock from my classroom. Actually, I did this about 2 months ago and it has done wonders for the class. I think I need to do it in all of the classes that I teach from now on. I have the times for when each class gets out posted above the area where I collect each of their work. However, the kids were stopping to pack up up to 10 minutes before class has ended. I needed to put a stop to that.

I find it's still a problem. The kids want to get out of my class as soon as possible so they can get out into the halls with their friends. There needs to be a procedure to stop this behavior causing a problem in my class. The issue is them getting ready while I'm still tyring to get some work out of them. I think I'll start giving the students 1 minute at the end of class to get ready. For my students in particular, this is an issue because they have to walk between buildings to their classes and some days it's raining/snowing.

For last period, they are always insane at the end of the day so let's see how this procedure works for them. I'll experiment on them first and see how it goes. I can have them clean up the room while they're at it. :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just keep breathing

Thought of the Day: Break couldn't have come at a greater time. I so need a break. I need it like fish need water.

Perhaps I'm a mudpuppy at this point. I just want to have my life work out.

Things that are working in my classroom:
  • Hot water kettle for oatmeal or tea.
  • Assignment calendar to record each day's work.
  • Student Star Awards
  • Calling parents at warning #2 for misbehavior... (up to 21 a night - ugh)
  • Attention grabber in the form of a Suquishy Ball that I throw around the room
  • Review Jeopardy for candy at the start of each day
  • Set procedure for getting the students' attention (5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - all eyes on me)
  • Student Behavior Cards - logging all phone calls home... and students get a call for anything they've done wrong... lots of time on the phone for me and it's all recorded for posterity.
  • Study supplies table - where everything is organized for the students. They have all spare copies of assignments going back for the unit, their work for today to be passed out, and spare paper/pencils for people that don't have any.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The joys of the teenage years

Goal of the Week:

Just make it to Thanksgiving.

Thought of the Day:

Apparently, my students don't handle labs as well as I thought. We were doing a seed lab for a bit of fun and the students haven't been doing very well with it. They all went crazy over the cheek cells lab. They were tepid about the potato lab. I thought that they would find watching seeds sprout to be something cool. Apparently, I was wrong. They were really fascinated by the seeds growing into plants, but not about the seeds sprouting under the microscope.

At least I know this for next year. I won't make this lab really long and drawn out. It makes no sense to do this when the kids are somewhat perturbed by looking at plants under the microscope.

Also, my students are really antsy this close to break. I, apparently, have enacted the Star Awards at a critical time in the year to pull my students back on task.

You just have to keep repeating to yourself: "They are 14 years old. They are 14 years old."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Return of the Star Awards

Thought of the Day: Positive Reinforcement

I've been trying to have my classes work without positive reinforcement all year. I realize now that this was a gigantically stupid idea. Most of my students don't have any form of positive reinforcement anywhere in their lives. They need it so much. They need to have a physical and visual way to "see" how well they are doing in my classes.

For students in other districts, their grades are positive reinforcement. When they do well, they will have good grades and they will get praise. Here, where most of my students have this eternal sense of "it doesn't matter - I will fail," they need some positive reinforcement. For students that don't get a lot of positivity in their lives, this is a way for them to stay happy. It has made a HUGE difference in my classes.

I have no idea what I was thinking. Apparently, I wasn't. I need to have my students get on board with what I'm trying to do before I try and do it. That is goal #1. Relevancy helps. Clear goals help. Accurate assessing of knowledge helps. However, without students being on board with what I'm trying to do, I won't get to the learning part.

I just can't believe how well my students are coming on board for a few paper stars...

Also, I started this because I had a spontaneous observation from my boss - the academic dean. That was really nerve wracking but the stars helped. Whoo hoo.

Monday, November 16, 2009

One way or another

News Flash #2

Oh, I just had a meeting with my superiors about my continued presence in our graduate program and teaching.

It didn't go very well. There was crying involved. I really, really, really loathe crying in front of people when I need to be professional. I just couldn't hold it in anymore. All of the misery about my failed sense of worth as a teacher came crashing out. I just didn't feel like I was doing a good job and my students were the ones who were suffering.

All of my superiors did a good job of politely ignoring my outburst. I think that made me feel worse and want to cry more, which is exactly what happened. I used to have such control over my emotions.

However, on a more positive note: my S.O. had surprises waiting for me when I got home. These surprises had to wait until after I had gone into the shower and cried my eyes out, but I just couldn't take any more people staring at me while I had an emotional breakdown. My S.O. apparently knew I was going to have a bad day and left me a really sweet voice mail and fixed up my office. I just had to let the air out.

Strangely, I have this sense of calmness about the whole thing now. I feel like I'm a criminal and I've been caught. There's nothing to worry about now. I don't have to worry about things getting any worse and there's a strange sense of stillness around that feeling. Either way, things will work out.

Academic Probation

News Flash:

I sent my adviser from my graduate program (transition to teaching) an email saying that I was seriously thinking about leaving my program. That means I was seriously considering coming in one day and quitting. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Things have been seriously bad lately. I feel like my classes are out of control and the students are not learning anything. OK, I felt like that last year, but there were a few students that were up to parr and they made my day. I'm missing those students now. I miss that sense of inquiry that shows in a student's eye when they are genuinely curious about something. I need that for my day to be complete.

Also, not having to fight my classes tooth and nail in order to get what I need done in the room helps, too.

So... I've got 2 weeks to pull my classroom together or I'm out of the program. I guess my email was just stating what they think of me, really. I didn't feel like I was a good teacher this semester and they seem to have the same impression. At least I'm justified in what I think. Ugh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

State of Denmark

Thought of the Day: State of Denmark

My mother called me last week right after school on Thursday. They found something wrong with her heart and she was going into surgery in 30 minutes. I didn't have enough time to get down there before she went in for surgery. She wanted to call me in case something went wrong. Apparently, they found a blockage so bad in hear heart that they were afraid of letting her leave the hospital and they rushed her over to the heart surgeon.

I left school and rushed over there. One poor student had the unfortunate luck of running into me on the way out of the building and seeing me in tears. He was unsettled by seeing that, poor thing. I just told him that my mother was sick and I needed to go see her in the hospital and I was worried. I still think he was unsettled. He did say that he "hoped she got better."

This weekend, after worrying about my mom, spending time with her in the hospital, and going to a Saturday graduate class where I mostly sat in the seat, numb to everything that was going on, I just snapped. What am I doing? I should have been with my mother. Then I got really sick. I had one of the worst migraines that I've had in the past 6 months. I was sick all of Sunday and into most of Monday morning. I probably should have gone to the hospital but I didn't want to be poked and prodded by doctors. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear for awhile. I didn't go to school yesterday. This is my 4th sick day this year so far and it's only November.

I've been putting everything on hold for this program for the past two years. I haven't spent much time with my family, I'm always running around too busy to see my friends, and when I do see people I'm so exhausted that I fall asleep. Last year, I had fun in class and I was happy to be in the program even if the costs were great. Now, my perspective has changed. Perhaps it's the drugs making me moody or the fact that I'm not teaching the same subject or grade level as last year. Perhaps it's because I'm not as fresh-faced as I was last year. Maybe I'm just trying to take my job more seriously and that's ruining what joy I got in being an unconventional teacher. All I know is that something is wrong. I think it's me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Learning via Projects"

Goal of the week: Stop the whining.

Thought of the day: "Learning via projects"

I need to get more labs in my classroom. Not only is this good experience for the students because they get to "see" what they are learning about in action but it gives them a taste of what it's like to be a real scientist.

I need to find some good resources to getting labs off the ground.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"To thine own self be true... or something like that."

Goal of the week: "Stop belly-aching." 'Nuff said.

Thought of the day: "To thine own self be true... or something like that."

As I sit in my room, I think about the last few weeks and what hasn't been working in my classroom. The list is a long one and I'm really not happy about it. Lately, I've been wondering why I'm even in this program if I'm such an ineffective teacher. These students have seen a lion's share of ineffective teachers and teaching practices up to this point and I don't want to be another name added to that list.

However, I remember what I did last year and how many students I got on board with the idea that school can be a meaningful thing in their life. I had students tell me that I was their favorite teacher because they actually learned things. When I see my old students today, they run up to me and tell me how happy they are to see me. Where is the disconnect?

My future in this program is not assured. My health issues have made it so that I'm exhausted even more than I was last year (as a first year teacher) and my emotions are all over the place. I've been considering leaving teaching to those that know what they're doing and going back to research, where at least I was competent at my job even if I didn't enjoy it.

I ask myself this at night (when I'm not dreaming about my classroom) - is it right to stay in a profession where you enjoy it if you're not good at it? Or should I go back to something I was good at even if I hated the tedium of it? What is my main goal here with my students? Do I want to help them receive a positive school experience and learn to trust themselves and their intelligence or do I want to push the state standards and succeed at what my bosses and overseers at my Graduate School call "closing the achievement gap?" What is the main goal?

I have had so many people tell me what I need to be doing and what I need to be focusing on that my head is spinning. Other than the nebulous "closing the achievement gap," I've been told conflicting goals from my superiors. Or rather, that how exactly to close the achievement gap is something that no one can agree on. Some say rigorous instruction and adherence to the state standards. Some say that I need to not focus as much on the standards because they're set up to fail due to there being too many of them. Others thing that getting the kids on board with their own education and realizing that it can be positive is the way to go. Then there's the belief that the students need stability in an insane world and that we need to provide them with consistent and fair rules to help them want to come to school. Which is correct, I don't know. I do know that I've been trying to do all at once and failing miserably. I think I need to go with one and just try to do this my own way.

Multitasking has never worked for me. I should try to remember that my greatest gift to my students is myself - I need to be myself because when I do that I love my job and love them.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Goal of the week: Survival.

Thought of the day: "Considering the culture where I work."

We say there is an achievement gap. The difference in standardized test scores between different racial and socio-economic demographics is pronounced. Students that are black, hispanic, or mixed don't do as well as their white counterparts. Students from low income backgrounds in urban settings don't do as well as their middle or upper class counterparts in the suburbs or rural settings. Why is this? There are many explanations and I won't go into them because that's enough for a Doctoral Thesis and not a blog entry.

However, from my time spent as an urban teacher I know one thing to be true. These kids are no different than those from the suburbs or out in the boonies. They are still kids. They love video games, they think they know it all, they get excited and jump around, they love candy, and they want to go on to do great things in this world. Also, just like their counterparts outside the city and from higher income familes, they *don't* want to go to school.

All I hear all day is "why do I need to know this," "does this really matter," "I don't want to," and "I don't care." These were the same things I heard growing up in the suburbs and in college with fairly affluent people. Kids don't want to do things that aren't fun. That's part of growing up is to realize that not everything in life is fun and if you want something that you have to work for it.

To quote the Stones: "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." I need that written 4 feet tall somewhere in my classroom. My students don't seem to understand that you aren't always given what you want immediately. In that way, they are PERFECTLY NORMAL.

However, my students know that they can not take school seriously. Why? As a teacher, I'm not allowed to fail more than 10% of my class or my bosses downtown start to look really hard at me. Kids are smart creatures. What happens when every teacher in a district is told not to fail so many students? The kids see that they can do barely anything in class, not show up repeatedly, and still pass. That's what. This is the product of 10 years of students being *SHOWN* that they can get away with murder.

There are many other reasons for the difference in success, but that's one that surprised me. I believe in eduacation. I believe in it so much it hurts. It hurts me to see a school system effectively telling the students that they can slack off.

Frankly, it only hurts the students in the long run.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is Ignorance bliss (or "if I wanted this I would have gone into the army)

Goal of the week: Noise

Get the noise level down in my room so I can think and the students can hear me.

Thought of the day: Is ignorance bliss?

I was teaching my 4th and second to last class of the day. My students we doing fairly well with the activity because it was more "hands-on." I was instructing them to the next step of what should happen for their activity and all of a sudden 3 cops burst through my classroom door.

I was a little shocked. I asked them if I could help them with something and they mumbled something that I don't recall. I saw them scanning the room. They found what they were looking for in the form of one of my students that I've been painfully working to get involved in class.

They all moved towards him like animals stalking prey - quickly and stealthily. They went up behind him and said "hands behind your back." Within seconds he was handcuffed and they put him on the floor. He did not struggle as 3 grown men held him down.

The whole class was silent. They all just watched in fear and confusion.

The police men asked my student where "it" was. He calmly responded "in my backpack" - which was on his back. They took his backpack and picked him up off the ground by his arms. I wanted to step in and tell them not to hurt them, but thought better of it because these police officers didn't look like they were in a talking mood.

After they left carrying my student, the whole class burst into bedlam. Students were loudly talking about how scared they were, how stupid the student was, and a host of other related topics.

I had no clue what was going on.

Apparently, this student had a loaded handgun in his backpack. He'd been showing it around at lunch and someone told on him.

As I walked to my desk, I saw his hat on the floor. He loves his hat and I finally got him to take it off when in the classroom without being told. Small victories. He's a nice kid but he doesn't come most of the time and when he is here he just throws the other students off track with talking. I finally found out why he doesn't attempt to do any work except when someone he is friends with is there to copy off of. He has a 2nd grade reading level. We did a literacy test two weeks ago and I looked at the data for all of my students.

I'm extremely conflicted. This kid is a smart enough kid... he's just been passed on and he can't read at a high level. There's no way he can succeed in my room because the reading level is so far beyond him. He's given up before he even started, and I frankly don't blame him. I like him but I can't help him. He can only help himself at this point and it will be a long, hard road ahead. I know there are people out there who can help him but I don't know if he knows that. I feel great concern for his welfare knowing that he is going to go through life without an education or the literacy level to really succeed. What type of options does he have in this world without being able to use the written word?

On the other hand - he brought a weapon capable of deadly force into the room. I thought about this as I picked up his hat and saved it for him. I knew he'd come back for it because he loved that hat so. One part of me was scared. What if that gun (which was loaded) had gone off? What if he didn't like me or decided I was picking on him and he wasn't going to take it anymore? What if another student saw it and started playing with it and hurt themselves, others, or me? What if what if what if?

Now, as sympathetic as I am to his life and outcome... he has no right to endanger the safety of others. No one has that right. Not in my room or anywhere. I feel so torn right now. My physical safety and the safety of those I'm responsible for were taken away. Maybe they knew it all along and didn't comprehend but I do. I do and I don't feel safe in my own classroom anymore.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm the worst teacher - ever...

Apparently, I'm a horrible teacher.

I need to focus on getting my classroom quiet. It is so loud in my room that one of my students who has migraines is not able to come into my room. This student that I just mentioned just came up to me and told me that she will not be attending class anymore because it is too loud in here for her to function.

This needs to stop. I cannot allow this to persist.

Problems in my class:
1) students do not bring their materials
2) students cannot hear me
3) students interrupt me while I'm teaching
4) students don't know what's going on in class
5) my students think they run the show and are equal to me

Where did these things come from? Apparently, I've allowed the *children* in my room to think that their edcucation is up to them and that they can make the rules for their world. That is not the case. If there's one important lesson I hope they learn from education it is this: Life is a game and you don't make the rules... you play by someone else's rules and if you don't follow them then you don't get what you want. That was what my mother told me when I was a young person and it always stayed in my mind as something that is truful.

I'm the adult in the room. I'm paid to make sure that these kids get educated. If there's a problem in the room, it's not because of my students but because I'm not being a good classroom manager.

And I am exhausted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ugh (or... I'm trying to see the silver lining and failing)

Today's update is all about the sophmore slumps - which I'm apparently right in the middle of. What are the sophmore slumps, you might say? Well, after one year of doing something I thought I had been making progress but apparently I have not. I'm past the little gains and I'm into the minutae of teaching and how difficult it can be to make big gains.

And I'm running out of energy. My health isn't any worse but the continual effort that I need to provide in order to keep up with 40 freshman in my room 5 times a day is daunting. I've been maintaining myself with just getting by. Unfortunately, that's not good enough. Not only do I need to be here giving lessons every day to help the kids learn what's on the benchmarks but I also need to step it up and get the classroom under control, help my class to run smoothly, and control these kids. Basically, I need to control these kids.

And I'm so tired. In fact, I'm getting exhausted. I don't know how long I'm going to be able to keep this up. I love teaching but I keep turning back in my mind to the fact that I seemed to have more control of my students last year than I do this year and I don't know why.

The only major difference between last year and this year is the classroom composition, the subject, the stars, and my demeanor when teaching. I think that the class being made up of freshman isn't a big change. Most of my kids last year, regardless of age or class standing, were squirrel-ly and a little nuts. I just was able to control them better - which I was finally able to do through the seating chart. I need to control the seating chart in order to control the students. However, the students in my class this year have claimed that they are not able to bring their books because they are "too heavy" or too far away. I think that I'm going to have to do something about that. Another teacher in my building uses the tired and true method of having the kids write "I will remember my materials" 25 times. That will motivate the students to do what is asked of them. I need to think of a positive reward for students that bring their books all the time. That would be effective.

There are other differences this year. For one, I don't like my students as well. I really enjoyed getting to know my students last year and the rapport that I developed with them might have had something to do with the fact that they respected me as much as they did. Unfortunately, they saw me as "one of the kids" and didn't really think I was an adult. I decided this year to take the road of "adult" and I dress and act more professional than I'm inclined to be. This might have been a mistake on my part. I need to figure out what my style is for teaching and stick to it. Actually, I just need to figure out what works.

Also... different from last year is the fact that I'm not doing positive reinforcement visually. That might have everything in the world to do with my students are acting so horribly. Ugh.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Procedures I am (or... "Thank you Mr. Harry Wong")

Goal of the Week
Map out the next month of classes and come up with some activities for each idea. I want to have the whole next unit planned in advance. I will do this AT SCHOOL and not at HOME!

Thought of the Day
After some wonderful words of wisdom from another educator, I have decided that I've been attempting to do to much outside of school and it's killing me. I need to have fun in my classes and not be so focused all the time on being perfect. I *will* concentrate on the positive. Here it goes...

I've been making excellent progress with the procedures. After reading some out of "The First Days of School" by Harry Wong, I've decided that this needs, first and foremost, to be the center of my teaching. At the start of every year the kids need to know how things work.

This is the same for a job. When I first went to work as a professional researcher I had to spend 2 days reviewing the procedures of the lab. It was some of the most boring time of my life but it did let me know exactly what they wanted to me to do in the execution of my duties. I was "FOREWARNED." That is exactly what my students need.

Rather than facing each and every new situation as it comes up and the inevitable backlash of student confusion and hatred as they get a consequence that they didn't expect, then I need to let them know in advance what matters to me, how I do things, and how each and every part of the classroom works. That way, they can be informed of how things go.

I actually made a powerpoint presentation over my procedures (of course, this is one month into school) but after that it seems to have been helping. My students seem a lot calmer and they try to pull things less on me. Not every student is a little angel, but things are better.

Now, I just need to figure out what ALL of my procedures are. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Managable Goals (or... "Stop the burnout.")

-This post brought to you by a really bad day-

Everyone expects teachers to always be positive, upbeat, and helpful to all of the children that come into their lives.

Remember back when teaching was about conveying learning to pupils? I sure don't. Teachers these days are expected to be surrogate parents, nurses, and therapists for all of their students. I went into this profession because I wanted to do something that mattered. As it turns out, doing something that matters takes a lot of snuff.

I feel like a misreable git most days because I can't seem to keep up with the demands in my life.

So, in light of the last post: here are my goals... for good or ill.
  1. Do not take work home with me
  2. Plan in advance (lesson planning)
  3. Set reasonable classroom goals, and to hell with the district on this one... I can't teach everything they want me to teach
  4. Do not stay more than 1 hour after school each day... no matter what
  5. Remember that this is a JOB - granted one that I like - and that my MAIN GOAL is the health and well being of my family
  6. If all else fails - see goal #5 and learn to live with what needs to be done to make my family healthy and safe
  7. Have fun... with learning and getting to know the kids
Those are my new and improved reasonable goals. Let's see how this works.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Priorities... revaluated

I absolutely did not take my own advice. I have dropped more weight and my clothes are starting to get way too loose. Even my students have started to comment that I'm too skinny.

I just can't seem to find enough time in the day to get things done.

In fact, the act of getting up and going in for work has become painful. I don't enjoy teaching like I did last year. I've started to seriously consider the option of going back to work in research.

Why, might you ask? Because when I was a researcher I pulled the same hours but I didn't take it home with me. I suppose I should remember back to my time in the lab and realize that I was horribly miserable. I hated it. There was too much stress and everyone expected you to be perfect all the time. I was bored with the monotony and everyone there was not interesting. People were just flying by all around me and they didn't have anything going on in their lives that seemed worth a damn other than their families. That, and they didn't really have a sense of humor. I missed the crazy fun that I had in college and grad school.

That crazy fun was what drew me to teaching in the first place. I suppose that I need to focus on that and remember that I wanted crazy. I wanted to fine the Zen in the middle of an insane place. When I first started teaching I told my students that I needed a crazy life in order to be happy. I've been trying to do what each person who calls themself my boss says a teacher *needs* to be or do. I need to keep control. I need to make the immature kids that walk through my door into well-read, well-spoken, knowledgable little ladies and gentleman with manners and an understanding of how the world works so they can go out and thrive. Yeah, that ain't happening.

The kids that walk through my door are good kids. They haven't always had a great educational experience but that isn't my or their faults. I do need to teach them some basic skills but by trying to handle everything at once I will fail them. I can't do everything that the district and my professors at Grad School tell me I need to do. Why? Because it's too much, as the kids would say.

I need to set ATTAINABLE goals and try to meet them. Why? Because it's more fair on the kids? Why? Because I'm not a superhero. Why? Because I don't want to burn out. I love working with kids and helping them along but I'm new at this and I have to allow for mistakes. I'm still learning.

Why? Because when you set the bar too high, you only set yourself up to fail.

I know I'm a good teacher. I am a good teacher because I love each and every one of my students - no matter how ill behaved and unmanageable - and I can make changes in their lives by believing in them. And I do believe in each and every one of them to set manageable goals for themselves and meet them if they have the right motivation and positive feedback. I can help them with that because my students often have never had someone believe in them in their lives. I believe in them. I have to believe in myself and the fact that I'm smart enough to beat the system.

The system is broken. I can and will have to find a way around it for the sake of all the 180 little souls that are in my care for an hour a day each day. All of them are different, fun, interesting people. I need to remember that they are what comes first and not the district. I have to do what is best for them.

Repeat after me: the students are the focus, the students are the focus, the students are the focus.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When will it get better?

I gave a test out last week.

I still have students that have not made it up yet. They don't seem to know or care that a test has occurred in their class.

I suppose one way to get around this in the future is post when tests will be held much prior to when I have been telling the students about them.

I also need to think about MIDTERMS. Originally, I had wanted my students to do a project but it seems like most of them will not be involved enough in class to really get it done. Most of my kids (1 in 5) bring a book so for any bookwork they just sit there and say "can't do it - don't have the book."

I think that posting a schedule will help.

Also... sleep. I really need to get some sleep. I've been waking up at 2am for the past few days and it's making me sick. I can't teach with no sleep and I don't know how I did it all last year. Oh wait... I got sick a lot and missed 9 days of school. Grad school + first year teacher + not knowing what I teach (I taught Earth Space when I have degrees in Biology and have never taken an Earth Space Science class in my life) = no sleep for me.

Goal: Eat better and sleep. I'm dropping weight again. When will this get better?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Concentrate on the positive

What should I talk about today?

I was told by my Grad School Advisor (the new one) that I need to concentrate on positive points I can change. It's hard for my to stay positive these days. I just look at my ill-equipped classes in the Room From Hell. Or I look at the broken copier - one of two in the building - that has been out for 4 days. Or I see another standardized test where my students are removed from the room on the schedule and I found out about it 3 days prior. Or I look at the benchmarks coming up where I have to teach the students insane amounts of materials... and if they don't make the grade then my job is threatened.

I can't see the positive. My students just got the book. Most of them don't bring theirs to class. Most of them have almost no background in science. I'm supposed to teach them when most of my students have issues understanding what an atom is - and I get to teach them about hydrogen bonding between proteins. I have to teach them genetics and they don't understand what a cell is. Most of them make it a point to say that they "don't care" and will not nor will they ever do this thing called studying. The district tells me that I can't assign so many F's but the kids have to pass the benchmark.

I'm surrounded by impossible demands.

I don't know how other teachers handle all of this.

What's worse... it's hard for me to see the positive side of teaching at all right now. I don't like teaching and I'm not having fun. When does this get better?

Sorry for the depressing post, but it's how I feel right now. Sure, I'll focus on the positives. I have a job. That's a positive. I like most of my students. That's a positive. I want so much better for them. That's a positive.

That's all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Class size and my personal war with the district (or ”you can handle 30 so try 40“)

Things are starting to get a little better with the class sizes, but this is still my personal problem in life in that it's very difficult for me to be heard over 45 freshman. The one class is still insanely huge and I don't know what to do about it. I've been told by “on high” that my classroom numbers are exactly where they need to be for me to keep my job.

Granted, I do not have that many students in all of my classes – but jeeze oh Pete's – even 35 freshman is a lot to handle. This is especially true of my last period class that has the mentality of jumping beans. They literally run around the room when my back is turned to go and talk to their friends. When they see me start to turn back, they drop to the ground and try to crawl to their seats behind my desks.

It's amazing what kids are doing these days in class. I suppose I need to read “First Days of School” and work on my procedures a lot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My students make me laugh so much (or ”the day a student told me I needed a bigger butt“)

How I do love it when I get good jokes in my classroom. This was the gem from today.

Me, walking around and lecturing: Blah blah blah blah blah.
Student (not raising hand): Ms. D., you're too skinny.
Me: You think so? I get told that all the time by my family.
Student: Yeah, you need to eat more and get some weight on you.
Me: I'll get right on that.
Student (making hand gestures that look like squeezing two large grapefruits: Yeah, you need to get some... you know... curves... especially in the booty.
Me: (long pause) A-, did you just tell me to get a bigger butt?
Student: (Turning bright red as he realized what he'd just done) Uuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Test re-test test test test (or ”I secretly hope for my district’s destruction“)

A lot of school districts have this deal going where they have the kids take a test that "qualififes" them to graduate. My district is an example of this. We give the kids a test in the 10th grade that covers math and english skills they should have mastered to this point. If they don't pass it then *theoretically* they don't graduate. I was sent to babysit the kids that have passed this test and don't have to retake it since we are in the middle of "re-take week." This is the magical fun place where juniors and seniors that have not passed the test get pulled out of class during the morning to retake the test. Of course, it they don't pass this test by the end of their senior year they still graduate... so blah.

There I sat in an auditorium with 29 students. The classroom across the hall from me that had kids retaking the test had easily 40 or more students in there. That was one room in one building. There are at least 4 other rooms the same size having testing today.

I'll repeat that because it makes me ill: 29 students in their junior and senior years passed 9th grade english and math.

Remember when you actually needed to gain skills to be passed up in the educational system. Yeah, it's like that only the opposite.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why does my district LIE (or ”newspaper says our district has 20 students per classroom and I don’t find that funny“)

I came across an article that rated the schools in my city. What I found inside said article (which pulled it's info from the Department of Education) was quite alarming.

Apparently, the official stats for my district say that we have 20 students to every teacher. This is called classroom size and there are many, many, many studies out there that have all found the same thing - smaller is better. The optimal classroom size is between 23 and 27, I think. Well, I've heard tell of this mystical thing called a state law that requires that students in a lab class have no more than 28 students. This is a safety issue because I do not want to be the one legally responsible for all of my students wielding scapels while I try to control them at 54 students.

My current numbers are at something like 170 in 5 classes. For your viewing pleasure - I give you my class sizes:
Period 1 - 25 souls
Period 2 - 33 souls
Period 3 - 42 souls
Period 4 - 33 souls
Period 5 - 34 souls

Now, this wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have "THE ROOM FROM HELL." Alternatively, I've taken to calling it one of the following (and on bad days, all at once in one long stretch) "The room that time forgot," "science room circa 1954," or "land of mismatched stools." I have a room filled with those old-fashioned black benches that have broken faucets and gas outlets and a sea of stools that all look like they've been through world war 7. My students regularly spend 5 minutes of the start of class fighting over the stools and who gets the really sucky ones.

To a teacher, the ability to control the seating in the room is the key to maintaining order. I'm working with a room that takes the ability away from me.

For the first month of school I didn't have enough stools in the room to accommodate the amount of students that I had in there. I had 45 on the books for the one middle class and only 41 stools. I actually took the one stool that was behind the teacher's desk and used it because there was no other choice. I never sit down now.

I was told to "put in a form" to request more chairs the first day. Now, a month into school I finally have enough chairs because I started stealing them. I literally went around the building and snuck into rooms (yes - humming the mission impossible theme in my head) to ransack them for chairs. Yes, I'm probably causing a lot of problems for other teachers but I need the chairs.

I think I have fantasies about buying matching stools for the room so the kids stop fighting and I have enough spots for the butts sent my way. Ugh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The perfect lesson plan template (or ”what’s my major malfunction with lesson planning?“)

I went through this last year and apparently I learned nothing from my exploits. I HATE lesson planning with a firery passion. I hate it with the intensity of 10,000 suns. I think it's an insult to my intelligence and at the same time I have no idea what I'm doing. I think that I'm an idiot for not understanding it despite having met with 3 different academic advisers at my graduate school to help me to understand it. What is the problem here, brain? This is just a recipe for a class learning period, right?

This can't possibly be this hard?

Actually, it is. It most certainly is when I have to change what I do 5 times over the course of the day depending on how my students handle it. It most certainly is when I'm still having trouble coming up with content because my students are partially illiterate, some have no books, I have no access to computers, I had no access to a blackboard or dry erase boards for the first 3 weeks of school, and the copiers are almost always broken. I'm starting to hate my job because I can't think of anything fun for the kids to do with the lessons other than take notes - and they really hate that. It's also a problem because many of them come to class without a writing utensil or paper and they get angry at me for "making them get paper" all the time.

I'd really like to be able to do something interesting in my class but it helps when my classroom doesn't make me want to slit my wrists.

Today is a bad day. Here's to hoping tomorrow is better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I’m running out of energy or enthusiasm (or ”too many painkillers in one week“)

I'm probably breaking some sort of law with how many presciption painkillers I've been taking to keep myself upright during teaching. Some days I just want to stare at my students because they keep coming saying "I have such a hard life - I don't want to learn today - I hate school - I'm tired because I was up until 3am texting/myspacing/videogames."

You know what? I was up at 2 am because I have a burning pain in my abdomen that won't stop and keeps getting worse. I'm going to have to have my belly cut open for the second time this year and it takes me a month to get up and moving again whenever they do it. I'm constantly up too late trying to come up with fun ideas to make my students learn and working on my stuff for graduate school. I'm dropping weight because I'm always running around class trying to help each of my students out.

I want to hear no more comments about how hard life is out of any of my students. Perhaps I'm turing bitter, but they need to zip it around me.

I don't know about their lives and how hard they are but my life is no picnic right now. My body is falling apart and I'm just trying to keep on top of things and still lead my normal life of teaching. Of course, if I'm taking pain killers all the time then I start to hate my job and I think to myself "what am I doing here... these kids need someone who believes in them and NOT another bitter person." I joined this cause to help my students learn and succeed. I can't do that if I become another one of those horrible teachers that outwardly hate them.

I hate this. I want all the pain to stop. I need to be here for the kids and not turn caustic.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This just in - exercise in class to get attention spans up (or ”I got frustrated and started teaching them yoga and it actually worked!“)

During yet another day of notes where my students send vibes of pure hatred my way for daring to make them write, I could tell I was starting to lose the attention of the vast majority of them.

This is something that drives me nuts during most of my classes - my students talk the entire time that I'm trying to teach. They don't just talk. Some of them even shout across the class or get up to walk around and carry on a conversation. It's something that I need to break them of right quick or I'm going to bring in a squirt gun and some silly string to get it to stop.

Anyway - to get my students back on task I sat on the corner of one of the sides of my room and put my legs up into the lotus position while I lectured. It took them about 30 seconds to realize that my legs were all "bendy." I asked them how many of them could do that with their legs and we took about 5 minutes out of my class to do some basic yoga poses. I just wanted to get their blood up and running around before they all revolted and killed me.

I'll be a monkey's uncle - it worked. When they went back to writing their notes they were all sitting writing away with fresh vigor. Apparently a break now and then is justified.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I remember last year not sucking (or ”when did I start to suck?“)

Either I keep fantasizing about how well I did last year or how well behaved my classes were or I have massively begun to suck as a teacher. I seem to rememeber that last year I was able to talk and the students would settle down and start listening. I also remember that when I did the “clap once if you can hear me, clap 3 times if you can hear me” trick that the students would settle down. Now, I have to keep doing that trick upwards of 5 times and then it starts to lose it's efficacy in the classroom as the students ignore me and just go on talking.

I need to start throwing some of them out in order to keep the peace. I should just send them to the hallway for the rest of the period if I have to ask them repeatedly to be quiet. It will be massively bad the first few days but after that point it will work.

When did I become so cruel?

Monday, August 31, 2009

My list of things I cannot change (or ”brought to you by an insanely bad day“)

Things I cannot change...
  1. The ability levels of my students. Yes, some are functionally illiterate. Yes, some do not speak English. Yes, some are homeless and have never been pushed in school or have not been there most of the time. Yes, most don't have 2 parents at home telling them to do their homework (this really does help). I can't fix that. I must work with what I'm given.
  2. My administration... because they suck. Yes, they are always looking for a quick fix and never really pay attention to what needs to be done to help the students. Yes, they want only 20% of my class to fail... even if 25% don't show up. Yes, I've been told to raise my grades despite the fact that my students can't pass the end of year assessments for my subject. Yes, see before mentioned "thing I cannot change."
  3. The general inability of my school to have supplies or working equipment. 'Nuff said.
  4. My health. It sucks right now. I'm always tired and grumpy or in pain and on drugs.
  5. My students' general dissatisfaction with the fact that learning is work and not always fun and games like they've been led to believe.
Things I can change...
  1. The attitude of my students toward school insomuch that it can be positive and kind.
  2. My professional approach to problems that will always end up with me feeling like I haven't lowered myself to the level of those around me (I will remember that I'm an adult).
  3. My students' appreciation of science and biology.
  4. My students sense of academic self worth (that maybe they *can* do this).
  5. My students' hope for the future and in themselves.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughts about leaving my inner city district (or ”wracked by guilt and shame“)

I think I may be done with teaching in IPS.

The kids are great (thought they need a lot of help), the lower administration usually is out to help the kids and the teachers, and there is definitely a need of good, experienced, and fair teachers in this area. However, the upper administration makes teaching so difficult that it's almost not worth the fight.

Examples of ways that my life is a living hell of bureaucracy:
  1. I have a classroom monitor from downtown sent in to examine if I have the correct amount of posters and that they are all up to date - also... a whole meeting where an hour of my life was spent chastising the teachers for the incorrect use of take (type and style) on said posters. That's just inane.
  2. Having to do ATTENDANCE twice each day for each class and emailing the list of students who I have never seen. Um... there's no way to do this other than creating an excel spreadsheet and copying the attendance online to it each day. There goes a half hour of my day.
  3. I'm not not only supposed to monitor the hallway each and every passing period (I, apparently, don't get to pee all day) but I now have to - during class - poke my head out and make sure the bathrooms don't have students doing graffiti.
  4. I'm being professional observed to see if I'm monitoring which students are in dress code and which are not. I get in trouble if any student has the following: sagging pants, any electronic device (iPod, cell phone, portable gaming system), hooded sweat shirts, sweat shirts, non-dress code colors, and head coverings. I get in trouble should any students be in these things.
Now, the meetings that I have with my Academic Dean each day aren't bad. However, nothing really gets accomplished there other than him updating us on what's happening on the world of our school. That usually translates to personal development where people are brought in to show us slideshows and then one month later we have to provide a list of professional goals. Now, if I did that to my students nothing would get done. You need to remind people of deadlines - especially when they have a lot going on in their lives like many teachers do.

It's not like we aren't spending all of our time grading, creating lessons, tutoring students, doing attendance, and all of that.

Of course. We just sit on our butts during class and do nothing. Whee.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The nice teacher next to me (or ”Praise the Lord - one who doesn’t make me want to stab myself in the eye“)

I had another headache today – though it wasn't a true migraine but rather just a bad headache. The nice gentleman that teaches architecture next to me was walking in the hall and looked intoo my room. He's adopted the habit of looking into my class to make sure that I'm OK during and that the students haven't eaten me yet.

He saw me on the floor because I was exhausted. I was leaning against the wall in a little ball because my head hurt and I had 3 more periods to teach yet. It was exhausting. He kindly poked his head in and checked on me. It was nice of him to do so.

He's one of the few teachers in the building that doesn't make me want to stab myself in the eye when they talk. Teachers are some of the most bitter people that I've ever had the misfortune to meet in my life.

Friday, August 21, 2009

In communicato (or "schools are supposed to informt he teachers' of what's up!")

Today was an extremely irritating day in my teaching life. There’s a huge football game downtown in the venue where our Superbowl winning team plays. Apparently, our football team from the School of Legion are playing there tonight. Now, I’m all for fun and games to get the students excited about school spirit but it’s just odd. Apparently, all of the students that are leaving for the game are going during last period. Also, the teachers have supposedly been told that they need to not give the students any homework over the weekend. However, I was not informed about this in advance so I gave the students a quiz that day. I am so frustrated with the communication issues that I constantly see in schools. If a business were to function thsi way then it’d go under. I guess that’s why our public schools are in peril.

Also, I’d like to know who the person in charge was to decided that our students should leave school during the day to attend something not academic. This is a total waste of our students time and for students that are so close to not meeting the academic standards of a high school diploma then that’s really an issue.

For those teachers like me that didn’t get the memo that we weren’t supposed to assign homework then the students are in trouble. The buses that leave to attend the game will not permit the students on them to have backpacks or anything else larger than a handbag. All backpacks and books must be left in lockers. The buses will not be coming back to the school, either. The students have to leave their things in their lockers until Monday morning. It is not very good for students to not only loose class time but have to leave their things on campus for two days. The buildings will be locked and the students will not be able to get their things even if they wanted to!

Actually, I’m just really annoyed that my schedule was disrupted. There’s an OCD part of me that hates it when one of my classes is off. If I teach something in one of my classes then I like to teach it in all of my classes or I’m out of sorts all day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remember when life wasn't nuts? (or "I work in Bedlam")

Today was the first day that I’ve had to have my mother and step-father come to drive me home. As a person who suffers from migraines, occasionally in class I get sick and am unable to perform my function as a classroom teacher. This would constitute a medical emergency on my part because I physically can’t keep performing my job.

Today’s fiasco was started by the overhead projector and cornell notes. In case I hadn’t mentioned it before, my room is severely ill-equiped for the education of children. There’s no dry erase board, no usable chalk board, and no overhead projector of any sort (dry erase or for a computer). Actually, there is an overhead projector for a computer but it is currently broken and I have nothing to get it to work with. It’s a system that looks like it’s about 20 years old which is fairly interesting since I didn’t think they had overhead projectors then. Also, the whole apparatus is locked and I can’t figure out how to get into it.

So I solved this problem by using my liberated projector that was I got last year from the collection of materials that was going to be auctioned by our school district. Last year, with about 2 hours notice, I was informed that downtown was going to get rid of a bunch of materials that were not requested by teachers or were old technology. This is absolutely absurd because so many classrooms are in need and could use materials, old or not.

This year, my room is one such example of a classroom in need. The room has nothing usable and I can’t even rearrange the desks to suit my needs. The students are all in desks that look like they’re from a lab circa 1953. I’m so frustrated with screaming my notes to my students and having to repeat myself every 20 seconds that I brought in my projector and set it up with the rickety old screen at the side of my students’ desks. Yes, at the side. All of the students have to swivel their heads 90 degrees to see the screen. Those behind the giant cement pole in the middle of my room don’t have a clear view and have to physically pull their stools out to attempt to see the notes. Let me tell you, this really increases student achievement right there. Some days I feel like I’m being tested by God in this room. if I can teach here and grab their attention, then I suppose I can teach anywhere. OK, there are probably classrooms that are worse, but I don’t care to to think about them.

At any rate, I had to stand in front of the projector with my laptop all day to bring the slides up for notes. The reason why we are doing so many notes in class is because two of my five classes do not have books. That is pleasant. For the rest of the classes, they have a middle school text for a high school Biology class. I’m not amused. So, I stand with my little laptop in front of an extremely bright projector all day. This made little miss teacher have a migraine in 7 hours.

It would not have been so bad if I had been able to leave right after school. Unfortunately, we had our monthly small school meeting. My school is so large that the different buildings are all small schools that have their own programing and slant on education. While it’s true that I love my boss and think the staff at my small school is very nice and attentive, I really could have done with out a meeting on that particular day. I managed to drive home without throwing up but it was a close call. My significant other was not pleased at my state when I literally fell through the door of our home.

Another average day in Bedlam.

Friday, August 14, 2009


After an exhausting week I have learned some things about my new school. I have learned that not just one but two fights can break out in the same classroom in one day. I have learned that it takes time after the summer to develop the muscles that are required to stand for 9 hours a day again. I have learned that without those muscles that I want to cut off my feet and boil them until there’s only bone left. I have learned that I miss my old students and I wish I could see their smiling faces in my room again. So many of them became like an extended family for me during the day. They were my daytime children... or more like my nieces and nephews because I wasn’t able to really discipline them like a parent. I couldn’t hug them like a parent - though I wanted to when they were sad or did really well. I know I probably got too close to them and I hope to do better this year with maintaining my professional distance, but they were such cool and funny people with interesting lives. During the course of this week, I have learned most of all that I am really out of practice but it comes back like riding a bike. I was afraid over the past few weeks that I would not remember how to teach and I’d be terrible.
Also, just for a daily moment of humor - my mother and step-father came to my school to bring me the skeleton that I liberated from my last school. My step-father took the time to clean him and fix him for me and my mother put a tie and baseball cap on him. They got stopped at the gate when they were bringing me my skeleton and the poor guard on duty didn’t know what to do with the two people bringing what appeared to be a dead body seat-belted in their car into my classroom. My mother forgot to mention to said guard that the skeleton was a replica and not real.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Exhaustion... (or... should I go back to research?)

I am totally exhausted. I keep trying to think of wonderful and exciting activities for the kids to get involved with the first few days of school but I really can’t manage to think of anything. I know that I should have thought of this long before the start of school and been lesson planning like a demon to get ahead but I got out of the practice of being diligent. Actually, lesson planning has never bee my greatest skill as a teacher. Yes, I am able to come up with great lessons when I feel like it - but that’s usually not more than a few days in advance of the day that I’m planning on executing them.
Why am I exhausted, you say? Well, it all has something to do with the fact that I’m extremely nervous at having a bunch of new kids on my roster. It’s insane for me to think that I have 200 new names, personalities, and background stories to learn. I’m trying my best to be optimistic about it, but frankly I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have much for classroom discipline right now because they don’t know me or have any investment in my teaching so they don’t care.
Wow, I guess this is now the “other” teachers feel. The teachers to whom I am referring are the ones that I pass in the hall that throw busy work at the students day in and day out. They are the teachers that give out crossword puzzles and worksheets photocopied from a book that doesn’t really apply to what they’re teaching. I know each of them has his or her reasons, but it must be horrible to have classroom discipline when the kids don’t know or respect you. I can’t imagine.
Right now I hate my job because the kids don’t respect me yet. I groan at the thought of getting up and going in for another 10 hours. That was not the case last year at the School of Apathy. Granted, I was exhausted from my teaching load, trying to get everything done on time, and my graduate classes, but I liked being around the students and found it energizing. I hope I can get some of that back and soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Welcome Back...?

The students have all come back. By “all,” I mean those that were registered and ready to go for classes. I’m missing quite a few students and I’ve been advised by other teachers in my transition to teaching program that it would be best not to start teaching material until next week. The theory behind that one is that the students will not be caught up and in their correct classes for some time.
However, the chaos of the first few days of classes is NOTHING compared to where I used to work, which will forever after this point be called “School of Apathy.” I have termed it that because the majority of the teachers and administration there were filled with such an overwhelming aura of apathy that I had to limit contact with them lest it infect me, too. The first few days of classes there resulted in such massive pandemonium that I’m frankly surprised that some students made it to class. My first two days of teaching were as a substitute there and I just stood in the hallways and directed the hoards of students that were wandering around the halls lost, confused, or having social hour. It was amazing.
Here, there are not that many students out in the hallways and those students that come late to class generally show up within the first 3 minutes of class starting. I don’t know if it’s the new method that I have to get them on task when they start but it’s amazing to me that the difference between two schools can be so vast. My old school, during the first days of class, had people just wandering around everywhere and taking advantage of the large proportion of bodies in the hallway to skip class. Nothing ever happened to them. At my new school, which I have termed “School of Legion” because of the amount of students there, the kids get thrown out of the hall by our Academic Dean - who thus far seems to be an excellent boss.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Welcome Back and get a kick in the face...

Hello to my adoring public... (insert maniacal laughter here)

Everybody's favorite slightly insane science teacher is back on the warpath... my goal this year is the same as last year - to get some kiddies learn-ed. I'm sure that I'm probably failing in that respect but I know that the students and I are ready and able. Or at least I am. Or at least I'm here.

Some background info for those that are interested: Over the summer I got diagnosed with endometriosis. What's that, you say? It certainly isn't a walk in the park. I'm really irritated because it's going to be interferring with my teaching which is a GIANT no-no in my book. I have to have surgery in the next year to get my body parts back to playing nice with each other. This will be a major surgery and if done during the year then it will cut into my teaching time. I *hate* having subs in my room. The kids walk all over them and everything gets turned into a giant mess. I really don't like being out for a month or so. I'm hoping that I can swing it so that I'll have the surgery as close to the end of the year as possible so it doesn't cut into my teaching schedule. You know what's also a giant bummer with all of this - I'm theoretically finishing my master's degree right at the same time so the surgery couldn't be during a worse part of my life.

This has been impacting my mood for the past month so I've been slightly distracted.

At any rate - here we go. Get your padded rooms and strap jackets ready... it's time for another school year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finals - what worked and didn't.

Goal of the Week: Plan curriculum for next year, yo.

Thought of the Day: Finals - what worked and didn't.

I've started thinking back on last year in preparation for this next year. So far, I've been thinking about what did work so I can repeat it and what didn't work so I can never look back. Hear's what I think of the most recent finals past!

Here's my idea of a great way to test student knowledge with students that do not study: posters! OK, many people may not like this because it sounds too infantile but it is SERIOUSLY what I had to do in Grad school.

I think that the students should be able to pick any of the topics that we covered this semester and research it in more depth to create a poster and present it to the class.

They need to learn to create projects on time, neatly, to follow directions to the letter, public speaking (even or especially through fear), independent research, and creativity (for designing and creating their own poster). These are real-life skills that they need to practice.

However, after having the finals week schedule on the board, in bright red marker, for two weeks AND giving them in-class time to work on their posters students are obviously still not ready. In fact - many students are blowing this off. I need to take measures against that next time by showing examples of sucky work and what it gets you.

On a positive note, having different parts due on different days worked so much better than last semester's "due all on one day" approach. Also, going over the rubric with the students helped them know what to do tremendously. I'm now a convert of rubrics and going over them with the students. I toyed around with having the students have one "practice-presentation" to show them how to do better the next day and it was a disaster. The students kept asking me why they were doing the presentation twice and which one was "real." Great idea with horrible execution.

What makes sense to me doesn't always make sense to others. I need to get in more presenting practice but this wasn't the way to do it.

All in all - the ones that are doing the work are mostly doing much better than last time. I credit it totally to them knowing the expectations in advance.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The true last day of school....

Thought of the day: The true last day of school....

Today was the official last day of school. The kids aren't here but the all of the teachers have to show up. They did this at the end of last semester as well. I already had my grades done so I took the very last day last semester to clean my room, read a book, and catch up on my comics online. All in all, it was a very slow and relatively unengaging day.

This semester I decided to try something different. I invited my favorite students from this year for a mini-party. Since I was no longer their teacher, I figured that I was allowed to have favorites. That was my logic, anyway.

This had some disasterous results and I intend to never do it again. First of all, my students had the logic of "well, if you're no longer our teacher then it's ok to talk to you as if you were our age." All of the respect that I had garnered throughout the year was lost. That's a cultural difference, I suppose. I know that I still talk to my teachers with the upmost respect just because it's hard for me to think of them as really people and not prepetually *my teachers.*

Second, it was a logistical nightmare to get the kids to agree to what they wanted to each and to order food to the school. I wanted to do Chinese food to have something different for them, but that was horrible. I don't know how many places I must have went through before I gave up. I ended up ordering pizza - and it was fun to have the workers in the office call over the intercom to tell me that my pizza had arrived. That made me chuckle.

At the end of the day, I decided that I like the idea of having a small party with food at the end of the year for my students that really had made an impresson on me but for the sake of safety (and having my students realize that I can't treat them as friends even if school is over) I will do it at the end of the school year but before school is out.

As always, through the ups and downs I still don't regret changing professions. I love my work, though it is difficult, time-consuming, and an ethical quandary.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Everything seemed right.

Goal of the week: SURVIVAL in the CRAZY...

Thought of the day: Everything seemed right.

Mass pandemonium. That is all that can be said about today. I had my mother come in to make the kids smile. They do love her so. I had kids stay in my class all day and watch movies. Only about 10 or so students showed up for any of my classes.

I was planning on showering the kids with cookies and brownies that I had made for them while they finished the movies that we started yesterday. I grossly overshot the amount of cookies that I would need since most of my students were not in attendance.

Things that I have taken away from today: most of the teachers done come in. They have taken a personal day. This sends a message to the students that the day is not important. Also, I'd like to comment on how many of my students stayed after school to help me take stuff out of my room. The former teacher that I replaced also showed up. He walked into my class during the day and without a word to me started unloading things that were his. I had no problem with him removing his things, but he was disrupting me with my students which did irritate me. He finally said hello and a few other things to me, but still. He came in with 3 other people to help him unload his stuff. That was odd. I guess he told other teachers that the stuff in his room was fair game because I had another teacher just walk in while I was with my students and start pulling the maps off the walls.

When all was said and done, my mother and I had an interesting day. I will take the memory of the kids staying after school to talk to me and help me pack up my room in my heart for a long time. I didn't cry today. I made it through without crying. Actually, I was happy to see the kids move on to better things. It seemed right. Everything seemed right. Finally.

This was not what I expected...

Goal of the week: Survive the last week of school! I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry.

Thought of the day: This was not what I expected...

So, in all of the ins and outs that have happened this year, the last day of school was something of a surprise - just like everything else on this journey. I expected at least a touch of likeness to my average day teaching with the exception that there would be no more days for that year.

Oh, was I wrong.

For starters, most of the teachers were not there. They took the day off and had subs in. Most of the subs were not taking attendance... so think mass pandemonium. There were kids in the halls, kids just explored classes that they thought were interesting, kids leaving whenever they felt like it. The inmates were running the asylum.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just say no to apathy.

Goal of the week: It's the last week of school. I think that I'm completely exhausted and in danger of being mentally burned out if I don't take better care of myself. My goal this week should be to just chill and try and make it through.

And to think that I used to look forward to finals week when I was in high school. I liked the studying and the organizing that was done at the end of the semester. It really helped me to pull everything together. I wish I could get that back again or just impart it to my students. They are so apathetic about the entire process.

Thought of the day: Just say no to apathy.

1. In most of my classes my attendance (out of 29 to 31) is between 6 and 9. I expect last period to have under 5, since that's how many of my students showed up yesterday.

2. The students have taken their finals - though some still have trouble with the idea of a due date. I don't understand how so many of my students can be sick on a finals week. What is going on with that?

3. Most of my students don't study. This is a huge problem. They just don't care nor see the point in being educated. They think it's an annoyance that the teachers, administration, and government just think up to complicate their lives.

4. The longer I teach here, the greater the degree of burnout. It has to do with the more order that I impart in my classroom. The order is necessary because it helps me to get through my days at a teacher and not get sick, but the kids fight against it because it makes them have to work more.

5. I really need to do a Year-End-Review. I've come a long way as a teacher and I need to think about that. I think I should do that on Monday when I'm here for records close-out day. There were things that I did in class that I swore I'd never do - like lie to students, make-up grades, allow some students out of the rules and not others, throw out a test that I created and gave students, have movies in class on more than one occasion (espeically ones that weren't at all related to my subject), and ignoring students.

6. I'm worried that I may have been infected with the APATHY that is rampant around this building. It's like it's in the air and the amount of time you are exposed to the building increases your risk of becoming completely and totally apathetic. You start to not care about how your classes are doing or if you are teaching well. You start to get tired and walk around the room less. You just get so tired. I think, actually, it's not the apathy in the building that's getting to me but rather that I'm just tired. Each day when I come in I've just gotten used to the excuses, the lack of work, the constant complaining. It takes an emotional toll on you to be positive, caring, and open-minded despite so many lies, so much lack of effort, so much unabashed disrespect for education.

7. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood for no reason. I used to feel such pleasure at just seeing my students and seeing them in the room - but it's not enough anymore. I want to see them excel. They are wasting their minds and it hurts me. Perhaps this is the way that I can keep my distance next year. It's absolutely imperative that I do not get as attached to my students as I did this year because it interferes with my ability to teach them well. I need to keep my eye on the ball and remember that they are my students. My job is to educate them - with respect and fairness, but first and foremost to educate them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finals are no longer fun but the kids are learning.

Goal of the week: Survival. I really need a nap.

Thought of the day: Finals are no longer fun but the kids are learning.

My finals last semester were horrible. I had so many students come to be inside and outside of class to finish their finals. They changed the number and content of their group members up until the day of the presentation. It was funny, but a horrible mess and the actual presentations didn't contain any information that was credible. Other than being amused, it was worthless.

I'm really, really annoyed by the students that MISSED my final and then are mad at me that I'm having them retake it (which I shouldn't at all) after school. Because I didn't set up a procedure for my students prior to the final for how this would be handled, then I won't dock them for it. After all, I didn't say which people who missed the final would be able to take it and which would not. However, for next year I have a plan.

Well before the final - students will be warned that missing the day of the final is not an option. If they miss the day of the final, then they need to have a parent/guardian sign one of my permission slips allowing them to take the final late.

As for projects - if the due date has been posted for any day that the students have been in class then they knew when it was and they have to take it. For projects, the due date that was posted is the due date. If the students miss it then they miss it, unless they get one of my permission slips and have their parent/guardian to sign it.

Being an effective teacher is difficult. It certainly does take all of the fun out of the process, but in the end having the students learn is worth more than a couple of laughs. That, and when I'm dead and gone I want the students to respect me for being an educator and not for making them laugh. One is definitely more important than the other.

The kids this year treat me like I'm one of them - unless I start acting like a "teacher." When I do that, I walk into school and pretend that I'm a Nun at a Catholic School. It helps me get into character. I need to be caring but tough on them. I need to be proper and obey all of the rules. I need to do all of these things and constantly be on top of everything. It's a tough job and I'm still getting the hang of it.

Maybe I'll get the hang of it before I hang myself in frustration. Some days I'm more optimistic than others...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Finals - Day Two

Goal of the Week: Survival!!!

Thought of the Day: Would the students with their work done please stand up?

Let's re-cap.

Friday of last week I gave my students time in class to work on their projects and ask me questions. Then we had a long weekend during which the students could finish their work. They were warned to have the presentations ready to go on Tuesday at the start of class because we were doing practice presentations. Ok... that sums it up.

Today, of the students I have that showed up there are FAR too many with no work done. I told them to do their practice presentation from memory so they could get credit on it. That cheered some of them up into doing the practice presentation.

I'm worried about how tomorrow will go. Some of my students are already done. Many look like they have not even started yet and will throw something together tonight. All have the potential in the to do better. I have such bright students. I just wish they had the confidence and drive to do what it takes to excel. Hopefully, I can push them that way. :)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day - No School!

Memorial Day - No School!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finals - Day One

Goal of the Week: In a word - survival.

Thought of the Day:

I'd really like to say that I'm making a difference by eliminating illiteracy and fostering critical thinking skills in the youth of today - but it's just not true. I'm so exhausted I hurt down to my teeth.

The worst part about this is that I feel more pathetic about my performance than I feel exhausted and sick. I want to do so many things in class but my brain's creativity and my body's abilities do not match. I just want to sleep the minute the kids leave until they come back in again. I don't even want to waste the time to drive home - just let me curl up on something flat and pass out cruel world!

This is not overly dramatic. I'm done. I've worked in FDA labs under deadlines and super-high pressure, researched an entire masters degree in a month, been through Grad school, read the entire literary works of 5 authors (published and unpublished) in 2 months, and have consistently bitten off more than I could chew and chewed it my enitre life.

I have met my match and more.

I give up. M'aidez. White flag. I'm out.

For all teachers, professors, TA's, and other educators out there: I salute you. You are the few, the proud, the chronically overworked and underpaid, the thankless, and the knights of educational virtue. We fight a constant battle against a tireless foe - ignorance.

True ignorance is " lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned or uninformed; unaware." It is not stupidity, as most people seem to assume. Rather, it is the state of never having been exposed to knowlege that would make you aware of your environment or navigate better in the world around you. It is the mortal enemy of those brave (or insane) knights of education and champions of thinking.

When I think I can't take another minute of excuses, tardy students, ill-prepared students, cheating, chronic failing, obvious disrespect for education, and general antipathy for discipline and achievement then I remember this: it's not about me. It's about the next generation and more to come. Humanity has made the gains that it has only through building upon the collective knowlegde of those who came before. To not be exposed to that collective knowlegde - regardless of whether it is absorbed or not - is a sin beyond measure.

Who knows which students may be listening and decide to make the next great addition to humanities' collective knowledge? Who knows which students in my class may walk away more aware of the beauty and mystery in this world? Who knows how many students might remember something important in a time of need?

Teachers make a difference only by striving constantly, through pain, sleelessness, exhaustion, and resistance to fight ignorance. What type of warrior would I be if I only fought when it was easy?

There are two paths in this world: one is easy and one is difficult. Only one is right. You guess which.

Over and out.
- S.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Exhaustion sets in...

Goal of the week: I was doing so week at getting organized until I realized that I'd been concentrating on getting my procedures back in place so hard that I let my binder with all of my lesson plans in it fall to the wayside again. I always let me lesson plans slip. I have no idea why I do that.

Thought of the day: Exhaustion sets in...

I think it's time to admit that this job is a lot harder than I have been willing to give myself credit for. I think that because I do the same thing basically all day long that it's really not that hard. I tell myself that it can't be exhausting because I'm just walking around and talking to kids all day. How hard can that really be, right?

I think that I don't really give myself credit for the fact that I teach 8 hours a day. I start before school and teach after school. I teach on my lunch break. I don't stop or take breaks. I use my prep time to run around like crazy and prep for the next day. I let the kids into my room during every single one of my breaks to try and raise their achievement and help them every chance I can. Their schedules are so nutty that it's what you need to do to help them out. Most of my students work after school so you can't always help them then.

I stay after school to grade and organize when I finally get a few minutes to myself once all of the craziness is done. Sometimes, that doesn't start until after 4 when school is out at 2:30. I love my job but I guess I just don't really add up how exhausting it can be.

When I go more than a month without a break I feel like my body is made of lead and I want to die. The weekends don't get here soon enough and I don't have enough energy for my students. That is a cardinal sin in my book. I need to be in tip top shape for my students at all times or else what am I doing here.

This last week in the prep week before finals. Then finals are here. After that, we have Memorial day off and Tuesday through Friday is finals week. Then we're done. For the summer. I can already here Alice Cooper in my hear crooning "Schools out for summer!" It always made me so sad when school was out before. Now, I'm sure I'll be depressed and sad but all I can feel right now is numb. Nix that because all I feel numb but painfully hopeful that I might get rid of this headache that I've had for the past week because I can't seem to get enough sleep.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My heart cries for my students.

Goal of the week: Getting organized. How's that going for me? I need to make a list of the classroom procedures that I use in my room and how effective they have been for me this year. Some procedures have been horrible and I have discontinued them. Some have been great and I've permanently adopted them. Some, I really need to work on because they are great but I need to be consistent with them no matter how difficult it is!

Thought of the day: My heart cries for my students.

I'm absolutely horrified right now because of the test day and test corrections. My students, no average, scored about 25 to 28 out of 50 on yesterday's test.

In fact... when I handed back the graded test today most of the students were unable to figure out their percentage on the test. There continued to be unable to do so even when I told them that each test question was worth two percentage points, or that you take your score and multiply by two. I demonstrated on the board but this math is beyond a lot of them.

I now have headache. Or a heartache to be more precise. My heart hurts for them. So many of them don't understand how serious it is that they are missing the vital skills that they need.

I can't teach quickly enough to make up for the skills that they lack. There's just no way that I can give them all the skills that they need. Most of my students don't have the literacy skills to read a textbook written at the 9th grade level. They ask me what words like "critical" and "atmospheric" mean.

It's not that they're unintelligent. Quite far from it. My students are bright, just ignorant in the truest definition. They just don't have an education and it makes them seem like less than what they are. I just want to cry from the sin of it. They are such wonderful people and they could be so much more with an education. They have so much potential and they're wasting it.

I don't know how to make this clearer to them. They all want the easy way out and there is no easy way out. Not for life and not for an education. This much I have learned in my first year teaching in this rare and forgotten place on Earth. These students have been taught to take the easy way out by everyone around them so much that it's scary.

No one at all in their lives or around them has shown them what hard work means. Or what determination is. Or how to devote yourself to becoming better and evolving to perfection. Or to DISCIPLINE. Someone needs to show them. Someone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I made a student cry.

Goal of the week: Organize. I'm working on it. Yesterday was bad but today will be better.

Thought of the day: I made a student cry.

Yesterday, while my students were reviewing for the test, I got to talking with a student who I refer to in my mind as "the gentleman gangbanger." He's super intelligent and one of those kids that gets into a *bunch* of trouble but is just a wonderful person. I love his company.

He started talking to me about his life. I don't know why the kids do this and it always astounds me that they open up to me about such personal things. I'm so afraid that I will do something to ruin or abuse this wonderful gift of trust that they are giving me.

This poor kid. His life has been filled with pain and death. He was holding strong and was not letting anyone, including me, see how much pain was beneath the surface. He was using that trick that men (yes, older men) use when they are in great pain and they turn their faces 3/4ths away so you can't see how much they are holding onto their faces so they don't lose control. The secret is in how much they are holding onto their faces. Poor baby. It broke my heart and I wanted to cry. Almost everyone in his life has died. Most of his family except his father and brother are dead. Car accident took most of them. His mother was first some time ago. His year it was his girlfriend and his cousin.

He turned away and just said "it makes me wonder sometimes why so many bad things happen. I just have to think if I'm a bad person because these things keep happening to me." Then he stopped talking and looked down.

I needed to say something. I just paused and thought because it needed to be right. It needed to be right. He needed the right thing to make it better.

I told him: "For what it's worth, D----, I know it's not much, but every day when you walk in here I smile. I smile because I love having you in my class. You are a wonderful person and you make me laugh because I think you're great, even when you're exhausted and you just come in and pass out (because that is kinda funny)."
"I know sometimes it's hard. But trust me - sometimes in life the most horrible things happen to the nicest people and you are one of the nicest people. I think you're great. You always make me smile and laugh and I look forward to having you in my class whenever you're here."

Then I got distracted by another student coming up and asking a question and a disruption on the other side of the room. It was 2 minutes before I could look around for D--- again. He wasn't in his seat and I got panicked. I looked around and was worried that I'd said the wrong thing and upset him to where he'd left the room. You have to be careful with students that are in crisis because you don't know what will upset them.

When I looked over, he was over in the back of the room by the trashcan with his back to the room. He was rubbing his eyes very covertly. He stayed back there for a few minutes.

I didn't say anything to him the rest of class and let him have his space. I think he needed it. He is a very strong kid and he needs to maintain that image.

I like that one. I like that one immensely. Please, please, please, whoever is up there and listening, please, please, please... protect that one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My students don't study...

Goal of the week: Getting organized. Whoohoo. I'm working on this bit by bit.

Thought of the day: My students don't study...

My students just walked in for a test that they were warned about yesterday and the day before (and that we went over together) and said "it's ok - I guess I won't take it now... I'll take it later."

I'm stunned. Actually, I'm angry.

Actually, I'm mad at myself.

People treat you the way that you want to be treated. I've taught my students that I can be treated this way. I've taught them that education is worthless and that it's something that you can put off and disrespect. I've taught them that by offering them these opportunities.

And this is something that I will change next year.

I don't believe in changing things halfway though the year or semester unless it's an emergency. This is not an emergency because it's an established procedure. It's not really hurting them.


I think one good thing has come out of this. One of my students just told me "Ms. D., I think this is the hardest test you've ever given us. Usually I don't need to study and I can just take the test and know everything." I'm challenging them more but not to the point where it's difficult. It's a good balance.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Goal of the week: Getting organized again! How's that going... I think it's going fairly well... actually.

Thought of the day: Apparently, my "just talking" method doesn't work any more.

I used to do this at the beginning of the year. Actually, I used to do this all the time when I started teaching. It doesn't really work for my classes anymore. It sooooooo doesn't work. It so doesn't work so much. SOOOOOOOOOOOO doesn't work.

In teacher-y speak, we call this the "Socratic" method of teaching. It's where you just have a discussion in class. I used to love this method, but if you don't do it in class for awhile then the kids really get out of practice.

I love this method and it's a shame that I've gotten out of practice. I loved it in high school when I had a teacher that used to do it on Friday's. In my Geography class and Psychology class in high school (who were both taught by the same teacher - good old Mr. McMillian) on Friday's it was current event day. We had to come in with a newspaper article to discuss in class. Everyone had to take a turn talking about it for credit. It usually sparked some form of debate and we could bring in anything to talk about. The teacher was an interesting person because his ENTIRE room was wallpapered in the covers form time magazine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Did I do the wrong thing getting too close?

Goal of the week: Getting back on a schedule.
Now that graduate courses are over for me until mid-June, I can afford some time until school is out to get myself back into my procedures as a teacher. That way, I have good teacher habits that I can remember to start myself off right next year. Yippie!

Thought of the day: Did I do the wrong thing getting too close?

Ok, that's sort of my thing in teaching. I get close to them over time and that's how I maintain control in my room. I don't order, I ask. I don't yell, I say "please." I do everything with respect and they respect me. However, I often wonder if I've gotten too close. Have I lost my professionalism? Do the students see me negatively when I hug them when I see them crying in the halls after school? Is that bad? When I ask about their families is that bad? Am I setting myself up for failure by getting to close to them? I wonder about these things.

I guess I'll have to learn in time. I don't want to be a push-over.

I don't want my students to know too much about my lifel. It makes things complicated.

I don't want my closeness to them to interfere with my job.

Suckage. I want to be a good educator but I want to make sure they're all ok as well. It's not a good thing. However, you can't be both a therapist and a teacher. The two just don't mix.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I think I'm being sexually harassed by a girl.

Goal of the week: Back to basics - getting myself back on a schedule. How's that going for me? I think it's going well. I seem to be going back to my old habits of planning my lessons and adding some new ones of a lesson planning binder (hardcopy with examples like how I did for my D.O.T., because I really liked how it was sitting all there nice and ready to show the students if they needed an example later).

Thought of the day: I think I'm being sexually harassed by a girl.

I really need to control what I say to children.

Case in point. One of my *female* students today told me I looked like a pornstar.

This was, apparently, a complement. I found this out when I responded aghast and in anger that a 15 year old girl called me a woman that took money for sex in front of 16 year old boys. She was shocked and didn't understand why I was upset.

"But Ms. D, it's a complement! Why you be so upset??"

I tried to tell her that were I was raised, that wasn't a complement. In fact, it was an insult to be called a porn star, but she didn't get it. She was just so shocked that anyone wouldn't be happy to be called a porn star.

That was yesterday. Today, she called me a "hott teacher, with my back a leaned back and my chest thrust out." I was leaning back in a chair before class started. In a suit. Ok. I'm a little nervous now. I've never been sexually harassed by a girl.

I was so angry that I told her that is she said anything sexual again that I'd send her to the dean for inappropiate comments. She was quiet for 5 minutes and withdrawn. Now I'm worried that I've done something wrong. I just can't shake that she was making me uncomfortable. Now I'm worried about her and I'm worried that I said the wrong thing. Talk about lose - lose. :(

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts on nightschool...

Goal of the week: Back to basics - getting back on a schedule. Oh, how I'm so happy to have the free time just to be a teacher and not a teacher/student/sleepdeprivedfreak. I can just get some lessons done and catch up on doing normal things like eating and sleeping!!!

Thought of the day: Thoughts on nightschool...

You know, the D.O.T., for all of it's hellish annoyance, really helped me to be a better teacher. It was this long paper where I had to justify everything that I did during a week of my teaching in one of my classes. I also had to pick out two of my students and follow them through the lessons and show how what I was doing was helping them. There were guided essays where I talked about specifically what I was doing that was helping the whole class and the two students that improved their education.

Just going through and thinking about it with these guided questions really helped me to think about the process of education and what it means. I can now plan a unit and specific lessons much better (I feel) and I could before. I think I was fumbling a bit with the concept before and it's a lot more streamlined now.

My graduate program is doing it's job, although it's a bit scary in the transitions. I guess that happens when you work and go to nightschool. Hehe.