Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesday of Last Week

Wednesday of last week...

My administration hasn't gotten our state tests to us in time again. I don't know if I'll have time to grade them before I have to go out for surgery - which means I won't know if my PBL have been effective with the students' learning or not. So it goes...

Apparently, despite my saying I'm going out for surgery, putting it on the calendar, and putting in the class powerpoints, I still have students saying "wait, why won't you be here??" I find that funny at this point. I think I've evolved to a higher plane of existence, where you're so far passed stressed that things just become funny.

It seems sad to me that my two years of teaching has to end this way. I know I'll probably be back here teaching next year due to medical issues with finding another job, but still. I wanted to make a difference when I came to my district but I don't know if I really have. I hope I have but my students still don't study and I don't know if they have really retained any of the material I've tried to teach them. I hope I get better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday of Last Week

Tuesday of Last Week...

The students are supposed to have a test from the District today. On this test, the students should have questions over the material that we were supposed to have taught during the past 4 to 5 weeks. I'm really excited by this last test because I want to know how my students are doing with the new type of lessons I've been doing. Everyone in Education is excited about PBL (Project Based Learning) and I want to see if the hype is worth it. I like it because it keeps the kids busy and engaged, but I have my doubts as to if there's any improvement on their test scores of their retention.

I guess I don't really know how to get them to learn en masse. If I work with individual students, I'm better.

At any rate, we've been told that our District Benchmark tests should be printed up by tomorrow, so I quickly gave the students an activity for their projects that they're finishing. I should have set the presentations up like I did last year - things went so smoothly and I really felt like the kids were doing better with public speaking. Last year, I made a "practice run" where they informally presented to me and I provided feedback. That really helped the students do better. This year, I didn't for last term and they were catastrophic. I think havingt a deadline where the students need to have everything together before they go up and present makes them have it done and catches a few of the stragglers that always do things the "night before." I'll have to plan this better for next time.

One of my students said something hilarious today and I'm trying to remember it. The kids say so many funny things that it's hard to keep track.

Oh, here - for your viewing pleasure, my students asking me questions:
Student 1: We shouldn't have a test today, in honor of *the Day*.
Me: Why is that?
Student 1: It's 4:20.
Me: Nice try. School goes on and you learn stuff.
Student 2: Do you celebrate 4:20.
Me: Of course not. I need all my brain cells to keep up with all of you.
Student 1: Do your parents celebrate 4:20.
Me: (Pause) Possibly when they were younger.
Student 1: I want to come over to their house today!
Me: Sit down and learn something!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday of my Last Week

Monday of Last Week:

The treatment for my disease is wearing off. I can feel my body getting sicker more often now than when I was on the shots that were supposed to suppress my disease until surgery. For this reason, I'm glad that I'm going into surgery next week.

I was starting to wonder if I really needed the surgery since I hadn't felt sick in so long. I was wondering if it was all in my mind. I know that there were days last semester where I couldn't physically walk around the room and my students told me I "walked like an old woman." I recall that but it's so long ago that I felt like it must have been a bad dream. Now, I remember a bit. It's going to get painful. Even on good days, it feels like all of my various tissue and organs inside my abdomen are connected in ways that they shouldn't be and are pulling on each other in vaguely uncomfortable ways.

Tuesday of next week at 3pm is the surgery. I'll be in the hospital for a few days, and then home to recupperate.

I hope that nothing goes wrong with me getting my FMLA leave. I hope and hope and hope. I have my fingers crossed that the "Powers that Be" downtown won't misplace my paperwork or run into any other kinks.

On top of writing my masters thesis, writing my defense, finishing my coursework for my last masters class (including all assignments and final projects), getting married, organizing FMLA leave, doctors visits, lesson planning, and parent teacher conferences - I think I have gone passes stressed into a rare world called "apathy." I don't know if I can feel nervous anymore. I just want all of this to be over with.

And on top of everything, I'm still scrambling to get my students time in the computer lab so they can have some time to finish their projects.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Parent Teacher Conference Insanity

Parent Teacher Conference from InsanityLand

Parent: I don't want my student to learn about evolution.
Me: Um...
Parent: It's against our religion, unless you're learning about how it's false.
Me: Well, sir, I respect your right to religious values. I always try to teach the children to respect everybody and their right to their own beliefs.
Parent: So, can he do a project disproving evolution.
Me: No, the state says I have to teach them about evolution. However, I don't teach them that it's the only way but rather a theory. They can make up their minds on their own.
Parent: I don't know. Can he do a project disproving evolution and do one on creationism instead?
Me: No, they already did a paper explaining their beliefs on the subject of how the world was created and if they believe in evolution, creationism, or something in between last week. Now it's time that they learn about Darwin and what he actually said, since most people don't really know what his theory is about.
Parent: I'm just uncomfortable with him learning about evolution. He shouldn't hear about it.
Me: Well, in my mind, him learning about it will make his beliefs stronger. If he knows exactly what Darwin said and what proof he had for his theory, then he will be more educated about his own beliefs. He will be able to say, "I don't believe in evolution because Darwin said this and I think that's wrong because ____." People will listen to him more because he will be educated.
Parent: Well, I suppose that's alright, if it helps him disprove evolution.
Me: That's up to him. However, I do need to teach it. If he doesn't do the project, then he can't get credit for it because the state says I need to teach them about the history of biology, which starts with Darwin and his theories.
Parent: Ok, as long as it helps him to disprove evolution.
Me: (pause) Ok.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Repeat after self: I will do my best to always respect each person's beliefs and culture. I will take this into consideration when I deal with other people. I will always model respect and professionalism.
I will not let my own opinions bias me in the function of my duties as an educator.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Things that are working!

Peer Review - Where the students are editing each other's work and giving feedback.

This actually went well! Of course, I'm writing this halfway through my day and my afternoon classes are a bit more on the "squirrely" side, but it is progress. I've been trying so many new things in my classroom lately that it's nice to have one of them finally work.

Also, I'm having one volunteer teach the Guided Notes for the day. That means that one of my students gets to get up in front of the class, go through the notes, hand out the Stars when people answer right, and basically practice public speaking. This is a major win. I think I'd like to use this more.

Now, if I didn't come up with both of these because I'm not doing well healthwise. I guess necessity is the mother of invention.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Geeking Out


Due to some bad news with my finances (that I'm sure will resolve itself today), I was up almost the whole night. I slept well the night before, but this got me to thinking.

So many of my posts seem to comment on my general lack of sleep. I wonder if there's a pattern to it. I should make a chart and figure out how many hours of sleep I get through the night. I used to do this when I was in graduate school, version 1.0. During my first stint in graduate school, I found that there was a wave-like pattern to how many hours of sleep I got during the week. Sunday to Monday was always bad, as was Thursday to Friday. Over the weekend, my sleep was around 7 to 8 hours, which is a lot for me.

I wonder if the same pattern has persisted. Also, I'm a major geek for having this thought.

What's worse than being all geeked out and thinking this: "Geeze - I wonder how I could turn this into a class project?"

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teaching makes my head hurt

Something disturbing keeps happening in my classes.

When I'm using the teacher "Project Like Crazy" - get their attenion - voice, I can feel the larger blood vessels in my head start to throb. This happens about 2 to 5 seconds after I use the Projection Voice (tm) to get my students' attention in class.

It has me a little perturbed because it's occasionally accomplanied by dizziness.

Or it could just be a sign that I'm exhausted, worried about my health, and have had more migraines lately. Still, I wonder if other teachers have odd symptoms like this from teaching.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Transitional Coach

Transitional Coach Meeting after school

I had my final observation and meeting with my transitional coach today. To review, my T.C. was a lady appointed by my graduate school and transition to teaching program (tm) to help get my teaching up to par with their standards. Her job was to help me meet their expectations while I was struggling with my new teaching environment.

She watched me teach during my last period. She stayed after school to talk to me about my progress and her final assessment of my teaching practices. It went very well. She said I had developed and that she was confident in my teaching practices.

She also said that I should look into teaching a the collegiate level. She said that my style of teaching, the types of projects that I wanted to teach about, and that my wit and sarcasm would lend itself well to a 2 year or 4 year college. I think I agree with her. I'd love to give that a try and see how it works out. That, and it would be a lot less work. I'm going to give it some thought over the next few months and see if it's something that I want to look into later.

Overall, I'm just happy that I did well with my 2 advisers up to the end. There was some worry there for awhile that I was not doing well enough to get past them. We shall see.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

20 Days Left

21 days of teaching left before the surgery. On April 26th, I'm going to update one last time before I go to the hospital for abdominal surgery. I should be hospitalized for 2 days and then I'll be on bed-rest for some time before I'm up and able to walk around again. Yes, I'm nervous. Yes, I'm worried about my teaching in the mean time - because it's hard to concentrate with my body as it is right now. The pain isn't quite as bad as it was before the shots, but on the other hand I'm worried about more than I was last time.

As things are drawing to a close before the surgery, I want to focus on things that I have found entertaining about my life as a teacher this year. Before the surgery, I expect things to go fairly smoothly as I have the time to prepare for the upcoming missing time and the kids will all be caught up for their ECAs (end of course assessments) for the state.

Life is a funny thing. Being ill has put aspects of my teaching into perspective and made me worry about fewer things at school - though on the other hand I worry about different things.

First goal - get the thesis done and everything ready to go for graduating before I need to be on bedrest for a month or so. That, in and of itself, is nerve-wracking. However, I have great hope. Only 5 more weeks of working insane hours and getting everything caught up before I have quite a bit of time to myself. Everything will go alright. In this, I put my hope.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Insomnia is not my friend

This post is brought to you by insomnia. Insomnia is like the color purple: deep and full with an embrace that is almost if not quite in actuality comforting. For people that have had trouble sleeping in their lives, they know what I mean. When you are truly exhausted and can't sleep it's one of the worst feelings in the world. When this happens repeatedly on an almost weekly basis for your entire life you begin to look at sleep in an entirely different manner. It's something elusive that you can almost feel slipping through your fingers as the night progresses.

Insomnia is more like a dessert. No matter how much you crave water in a dessert and no matter how hard you search for it you are not the controlling factor in whether or not you find it. Sleep is my water. I can look and do all the right things, and sometimes I just don't have it's oasis of comfort.

Can you tell it's been a bad week?

One of my major triggers for insomnia is stress. I know - what could a person in their last year of a transitional teaching program have to be stressed about? Masters degree classes to finish on time? Thesis? Teaching portfolio (of which all of the transitional people in my program were supposed to divine how to do without assistance until 3 months before it was due)? Upcoming nuptials? Bad health? Possibility of impending joblessness?

All of this and what's really bothering me is that my students aren't learning. I guess that's where the true insanity of teaching comes in. I've been up since 2 am (it's now 4) and I have to get up and get going in a little over an hour. I've been tossing and turning and trying to do everything to relax myself into some sleep and it's not going to happen.

My students are just not getting the material. Of course, it would take them actually wanting to - and there's the rub. Some of the students, a rare few, are getting it. They are understanding and having fun with the projects that I've been giving them in class. This comprises, however, only about 2% of my total students. The rest don't want to work, don't bring their books, don't bring a pencil or paper, don't review what we've learned in class, don't study, and really expect to get good grades this way.

That's what has me up late tonight and many other nights. I'm expected to change these students. If I have more than 20% of my class fail then the administration *will* hand down one of those messages that says "why are you not doing your job right?" I've gotten them before and my response was to change the grading scale to save my skin. Now, I'm not so sure. Most students are not working despite everything I try. Why should I pass them to save my job? If I have to do that, is it a job I want to save? Or is it something I'm doing or not doing in my class that's causing so many of my students to fail or not be invested in their learning? Because when I call home, which is frequently, most of the parents are passionate about their son or daughters future and want them to succeed and do well in school. I have to figure out what's going on with this and why so many of my students are not even trying.

I have to find out. Is it me? Is it something else? Am I contributing to their failure? I don't know if I can stand that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


What works and what doesn't - Passes.

Many of my students want passes. They want to go talk to another teacher about something, to go to the bathroom, to go get some water, to go to a vending machine, to go talk to an administrator, to go "take a break" in the hallway, or to go to their lockers.

They interrupt me during class to ask for passes. They beg for passes. They get mad at me when they don't get passes and harass me over them - sometimes for the whole class.

In example:
Student: Can I go to the bathroom?
Teacher: That's what a passing period is for.
Student: I didn't have to go then! I can't wait until the next one!
Teacher: Tough. You got a 5 minute break every hour - which is more than any job will give you - and I give you the first 3 minutes of class to go if you need to.
Student: But I can't wait. I'll pee on your floor.
Teacher: (Ignores student)
Student: Can I go?
Student: (1 minute later) Can I go? Why can't I?
Student: (2 minutes later) I have a question. Can I go to the bathroom? Why are you ignoring me? Why can't I go? It's not fair that you get to tell me when to pee and when not to pee? That ain't right! No one should be able to tell me that I can't go to the bathroom!
(This continues every few minutes for the whole class - sometimes mumbling and sometimes not.)

My solution - Emergency passes! Each student gets 3 passes to use whenever they wish during the whole semester. I don't ask why they need them - the can use them for whatever. When you're done, then the answer will be no. Unless you are bleeding on my floor, the answer is no after that. It worked like a charm last year and the students need clear boundaries.

I have a cardbox on my desk for 3x5 notecards. They are alphabetized and each student gets their name one the front. On the back goes the date that they used each pass. After they use the 3rd one, no more. I like this system because it's easy and once the kids know how to use it, they ask for their pass and go get it themselves and put it back for me when they're done. No frills, and easy to use. Love it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Books in a classroom

This post is brought to you by books.

How do you teach a class without literature of any kind? I'm supposed to impart knowledge and have my students learn something worth learning in my class. Actually, I'm supposed to have them learn quite a lot worth learning. I'm supposed to get them all ready for college, even if they don't want to go, and I'm supposed to make sure that they have the tools that they need to succeed in college, even if they don't want to go.

And I'm supposed to do this all without a book. Why? The students don't bring their books. I've decided that I'm ok with that. It tells me who wants to learn and who does not. It tells me how many don't care enough to pass the class.

Comments I recieve when I ask students where their book is:
Teacher: Where's your book?
Student 1: In my locker.
Teacher: Go get it!
Student 1: I can't. I forgot the combination.
Teacher: Where's your book?
Student 2: In A's locker.
Teacher: Why can't you go get it?
Student 2: A's not here.
Teacher: Where's your book?
Student 3: I lost it months ago.
Teacher: Where's your book?
Student 4: It's too heavy to carry to class.
Teacher: What do you mean it's too heavy?
Student 4: My locker's all the way over in such-in-such building and I not going to carry that heavy book that far! I'd be late?
(This is a student coming in late)

As an avid bookworm and studious person, this hurts me. I have 4 students out of 180 that bring their book to class. At the start of the semester, I had some of the students leave their books in class so I could have a few copies to use. This was a huge mistake, as these got stolen, drawn in, glued, and ripped up. Now, the students that left theirs in my room are angry with me because they have to replace them. As sorry as I feel for them, they left them in the room so they wouldn't have to carry them to class or remember them.

My policy on this subject has gotten a little bit more jaded this year. I need books to teach - I don't always go exactly along with them but I need some sort of tool to help these kids understand other than listening to me talk. Actually, they don't like that either.

I'm just failing. I'm not good at motivating people to learn. I'm good at explaining information that is complicated to people that are ready to listen and learn.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The inmates are running the asylum

This is the reality of the situation:

Most of my students read at least 2 to 4 years behind their grade level. Most write like a student in grade school who is learning to read. Most can't spell words that are two syllables or more. Some can't spell the days of the week. Most think they are going to college. Some have a current GPA above a 2.0. All think a D is a passing grade. None that I've ever talked to say that know how to study. Most say they never are assigned or do homework of any kind. Most are absent from class between 5 and 15 times in a *semester.*

That means that out of 180 school days, they miss, on average, about 10 to 30.

I don't believe that other teachers don't assign homework, because I know many teachers.

Some days I just walk around and think to myself that I've walked into some alternative world or universe. In this strange, sometimes poignant and sometimes horrible, place I have had the misfortune to realize that the education system where I'm in is injured to the point of dying. We can't kick all of the students out that are causing problems in class because of all the laws and rules governing how much money a school gets from the government. We keep them for the money. The kids have realized that they aren't getting punished for punishable offenses and the administration doesn't keep their word. Therefore, the inmates are running the asylum. It's all upside down.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I need to be more positive in my posts. Today is a day where I fail in that regard.

I'm sick.

On April 26th, I'm going to have abdominal surgery. I had surgery of the summer, but it was a quick procedure called a laproscopic surgery. They didn't have to cut me open very much. This time will be much more "invasive," as the doctors put it. I need two surgeons and a hospital stay.

On some level, I think I'm happy about this. I get to not attend the last month of school - which was my favorite time last year. The last month of school is when all of the students that don't want to be in school don't show up because the weather is nice. The only kids you have left in the classroom are those who have parents that discipline their children or those who are there to get an education. They are usually all fun and well-behaved. It says a lot about how much I've enjoyed my teaching this year that I would be happy not to be a teacher for the last month of school. I'm ashamed of myself. Terribly, horribly ashamed.

And yet, I still don't want to go. If there was a way I could stop teaching now and still get my Master's degree, I'd do it. I'd go without the pay. This job makes me feel like a failure every day.

I've always been a law-abiding person. I try to do the right thing. I wanted to become a teacher because I'd had such excellent teachers over the years and I wanted to pass that on to the next generation. My teachers helped me be the person that I am. The inspired me and pushed me to do better and be better. I'm trying to do that in my students and failing. I'm not inspiring anyone and the majority of my students seem to not even hear what I say, no matter how I try to get it to them. I'm not doing my job. I'm not achieving my goals. I'm failing. That knowledge makes me feel like I'm running sandpaper all over my skin every day that I teacher. I'm failing. It's not just that I'm failing my students but I'm failing the next generation as a role model and myself for not passing on the good I've been given. Failfailfailfail.

Or perhaps I'm just very anxious about the surgery. I don't know anymore. I just know that I don't feel well emotionally and summer can't come fast enough - even if I have to get cut open to have it arrive faster.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What I wish kids would say

I'm playing hookie tomorrow from school. I have an appointment with a surgeon for a medical issue that I've been battling all year. I'll update on Wednesday about my medical news.

I've been playing hookie a lot this year. I'm almost out of sick days. Apparently, I don't look good when I teach because my students have stared saying things like "oh, do you have another one of those headaches that you get?" Or "you look like you're really tired or in pain."

I love that kids have a magical ability to tell the truth all the time. I hate that they mirror in me that I'm tired, pained, and dragging.

I wish they'd say "man, this class was fun and I learned a lot." Or "my teacher inspired me to do better." My favorite would be "I learned something in this class that will help me the rest of my life." I got a few of those last year. This year, not so much.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Teaching on 4 hours of sleep is never good...

Nothing is ever enough.

These are the lists of things that I need to work on, (according to my superiors at my Transition to Teaching Program): Classroom Management, Student Engagement in the Lesson, Creating Inquiry in the Classroom, Creating Effective Procedures in my Classroom, Creating a Culture of High Expectations, more projects, more labs, Better Hooks at the start of a lesson to capture the students' emotionally, better closing at the end of a lesson to focus on the main idea before they leave, more differentiation, and more Positive Reinforcement.

According to my administration, I need to work on proximity. That means I need to be more present in my classroom and see everything that's going on. My administrator said that I could be better in some areas, but as a second year teacher he didn't expect me to be much better than OK or just getting good at something.

My students don't bring their books. They don't come with a pencil nor paper. They lose their work and expect to be given credit for it, since they promise me that they brought it to class last week. They don't do homework and don't study.

Ok, not all of them but still.

In what world do students think they should be able to pass a class without having to lift a finger? I'm so irritated.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interavive Notebooks - Take 2

Research Update
Just to see how it would work out and because I had the spare time, I decided to do a second round of Interactive Notebooks with my students. So far, the results have been fairly similar to the first round though with a few less bumps and bruises along the way.

All in all, I think the experiment was a success in one way. These things are a really great way for me to assess who has been doing the work and getting. Before, I could never tell if the students were copying from each other or not. I knew that a lot of them were not really doing the work to the level where they understood it, or even recalled it.

With the Interactive Notebooks, we do two activities every day. These activities are great because I usually structure it that the first activity is something that introduces the material and the second one is where the students get to explore the concept creatively and more in depth. This is not something that is easy to copy or fake.

When the Interactive Notebooks are turned in, I can quickly peruse them and see which students have just done the first activity and given up on the second activity - which says to me that they didn't really understand it and were just copying from the book or another student.

All in all, a success.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Academic Probation - Version 2.0

Professional Update

In my transition to teaching program, I've apparently made some sort of "Bad Child" list. I now have two observers from my graduate program coming to watch me teach. The new observer seems very nice and our first meeting gave me a positive outlook on working with her.

However, I'm wary. My experience in this program so far has been one of ups and downs. Lately, there's been more downs that ups. What with the threat of getting expelled in the program in November for not having control of my classes and the added observer coming to watch me now, I can't help but worry.

The new observer was called a Transitional Coach by my superiors in my Transition to Teaching program two weeks ago when they said that I should seriously consider working with her for my benefit. I wonder if I ever had the opportunity to say no. At any rate, when this new observer came to see me last week and observe my classroom and teaching style, she called herself an "Intervention Coach." That, to me, has a very different meaning.

Le sigh. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing anything right at all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Another Grumpy Teaching Day

I couldn't sleep well last night. Therefore, today I am extremely out of sorts and very grumpy.

The kids are doing a review and make-up work day today. I haven't given them the usual 2 assignments to do but instead we're taking the time to have them catch up on some of their work for the week and review some concepts.

Yes, I'm aware that this the a weak way out of the fact that I'm tired and don't really want to teach today. Yes, sometimes this happens. I guess I'm mortal.

Also, really, really grumpy and headache-y. One of my students today told me to go to the doctor about all of "those headaches you get." I had to laugh at that one. Even my students are picking up on it. Ugh.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grumpy Teaching Days

I should not attempt to teach when extremely grumpy.

My S.O. just left to go out of town for a long weekend. This really should not affect my teaching as much as it is. I can't seem to concentrate today and I feel like I'm down in the dumps. I know that I'll be going home to an empty house and that there's nothing to take my mind off of the incessant litany of things that I need to be doing for my teaching/masters degree class/thesis/professional responsibilities...

When you're a teacher, it seems like there's no off button. I can't go home and turn my brain off so I can think about other things - like my life. I need the distraction or I start to go batty.

Either that or I'm just lonely and mopey. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interactive Notebooks: Day 10

Interactive Notebooks: Day 10

I had the kids start the day with review and another creative activity today. It hasn't gone very well. I'm starting to wonder if my idea for interactive notebooks isn't really working.

My original hypothesis was that by keeping all of their materials together and forcing the students to look back at them by building on skills progressively in the notebooks that the students would - through creativity and repetition - retain the material better.

However, there was a serious flaw in my plan. Some of my students are not invested enough in the notebooks to do the activities. There is a lack of desire to do the little creative projects that I think up.

Also, there is a lot of confusion because my students don't review the material or do homework. This can hurt a lot when you need to remember a lot of complicated materials. The kids need to practice or they will not remember the material. However, they don't. Most of my students tell me that they haven't done homework in years - and they are in the 9th grade!

I don't know. I think I was perhaps a little overly optimistic about my students' desire to get good grades/learn/or otherwise be invested in school.

I'm glad it's a Friday.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interactive Notebooks: Day 9

Interactive Notebooks: Day 9

Things are starting to get better. And by better, I mean that my students are getting more familiarized with the pattern of the Interactive Notebooks (I.N.).

The trick is to make sure that the creative activities where the students go into more depth with the material are not above the students' heads. That was where I was running into trouble in the beginning. I was writing the creative activities so that I would have fun with them and forgetting that the average 14 to 15 year old doesn't learn at the same pace as someone that has a Master's degree in Biology does. Whoops.

I need to keep things simple and reinforce the material in a creative way instead of just focusing on projects that I think are awesome. I'm sure I'll get to awesome, but not right away. I need to give myself time to get into the swing of feeling out how well my students have absorbed the material before I give them complicated, higher-thinking tasks.

Also, I need to stop using the book quite so much for introducing materials and instead for reinforcing it. My students this year have a lot of trouble with understanding the book due to it's literacy level being too high for them. I need to focus on the big picture at first and then differentiate into more complicated minutiae.

In the words of my students' vernacular: "it's all good."

Thoughts from today: Consistency is next to godliness. Seriously. If I consistently use a set of rules then I don't have to fight my students anymore. I just hold up my hand and signal to the phone. A student walks over there and calls because they know the procedure. Oh, how I love it!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Interactive Notebooks Day 8

Interactive Notebooks: Day 8

I'm having a lot of trouble getting the students to figure out what "does" and "doesn't" go in the Interactive Notebooks. They seem to think that some things are "too big" to fit in there and therefore should be done on a separate piece of paper. I think that's one thing about this project that is difficult for them to understand since previously I had them do their work on whatever paper they chose and then turn it in. Now, I have format requirements that they need to accomodate. It's a difficult transition.

Also, being sick yesterday threw off the rhythm.

Speaking of being sick... I went to the doctor today on my lunch break since my pain was worse than it had been in a number of months. This would not normally be relevant except for the fact that my doctor has been giving me a treatment for my disease that should have supposedly lessened the pain or reduced my symptoms somewhat. This is not good news. When I went to my doctor, I found out some bad news.

I'm going to need surgery in the next few months. I was hoping to push this off until the summer or (better yet) to never, but the luck isn't with me right now.

I hope that I can get the research done and written up before I have to have the surgery or I'm going to be screwed on getting my degree.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interactive Notebooks: Day 7

Interactive Notebooks: Day 7

Observations from students today included:
  • Trouble understanding what should and should not go in the notebook
  • Arguements over books
  • Lack of desire to do the work
  • Literacy issues with reading the book and finding the answers to questions (though at least these kids were working)
  • A small percentage of kids that like to keep organized didn't like my format and argued with me to keep using their own (which wouldn't be an issue if I'd started this at the beginning of school)

All in all, there is a lot of thinking about these notebooks that I need to do. Essentially, I'm forcing my students to turn in their work to me in a format that I like. There is nothing wrong with that, because frequently in life they will have to format things in a way that doesn't suit them. This is especially true if they attend any form of higher education.

However, I ask the question of myself - what is this doing for them? I need to survey them at the end and find out if any of them use the Interactive Notebooks for studying and if they find them helpful at all. I'm going to quiz the students and let them use their Interactive Notebooks, but I find myself asking what that will really show? A quiz is supposed to be a small form of an assessment where I determine who is having trouble and if I need to re-teach any material. If they are using their Interactive Notebooks to take the quiz, then I'm testing their reading abilities and not their knowledge. I'm so frustrated.

In short... I think I've brought up more questions than answers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Interactive Notebooks: Day 6

Interactive Notebooks: Day 6

The kids were squirrelly today.

That's teacher-talk for "almost but not quite out of control." I had glue poured on people, students up out of their seats constantly, shouting across the room. Basically, another day where I had to make an insane amount of phone calls after school. Yay. And, this is where it gets good, this was the one day out of the past 2 weeks where my college adviser comes in to watch me teach. She stayed for 2 periods to see that I was, in fact, teaching well. I can actually feel the egg on my face.

Today's interactive notebook activities included thinking a bit too abstractly for my students. They are still having difficultly because they lack the background knowledge and I'm trying to do creative activities. I need to modify the activities that we do to reinforce the basics or this whole plan is going to be shot.

However, these are excellent ways to assess the students. When they don't understand a given topic, it's so easy to see that because they don't fill out the creative activity. Interesting point to be made. I could use these as a form of assessment on my students' comprehension.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Interactive Notebooks: Day 5

Interactive Notebooks: Day 5

I told my students that I was collecting the notebooks today to grade them. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity while they all rushed to get done a whole week's worth of work instead of working on the activity for today. I think that in the future I'm going to say that there will be one check per week but it will be random. That will save me a lot of fuss and trouble.

Also, it doesn't really help me to have my students not paying attention to me because they're worried about their grade for the previous stuff. Whether they realize it or not, I'm more worried about working with them on *today's* materials so that they can ask me for help or remediation when I'm *there* and can help them.

So far, I'm not too impressed with the Interactive Notebook's ability to help my students retain material because they're not invested in them. However, as an assessment tool - they're stellar. I can grade them in about 1 minute and the students can easily see exactly what they are missing. They're fantastic in that regard!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Interactive Notebooks Day 4

Interactive Notebooks Day 4

The kids are not getting the concepts this time around. I'm having trouble (still) getting them to understand and retain transcription and translation. Grades are coming out soon and I'm a little worried.

I delayed a day longer to try and reteach the material, but now I'm moving on to other things I need to cover before the kids take their district-required tests to see if they've learned what the district says they're supposed to learn by this point in the school year. Yippie. -_-

On the upside - this method of teaching is making it really easy for me to tell when a student is missing work. They ask me their grade, and I say "Open your notebook and show me all of the finished activities for the past 4 days." They say "oh crap!" and I say... "yeah, get those done."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Teacher, research your pupils, Part I

Update: Using my students as research subjects...

As a caveat of my Transition to Teaching (TM) program, I need to go to graduate school and get my Master's in Education before 2 years is up. For people that don't have an education degree that go into teaching, the state is vary wary. Apparently, it was brought up that without a degree in education that these career professionals could be doing horrible damage to the kiddies without realizing.

Now, I've always been a fan of learning. I've always loved school. That's part of the reason why I went into teaching to begin with. Also, I really hated research. Talk about boring and monotonous. (This is where I hear the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times," floating through my head.)

My love of education stopped at graduate school, Education Degree Version.

Suffice it to say that I'm not impressed with the learning going on in these classes. My latest rant is that of the quality of their research. It's called "Action Research." The action, apparently, is to test an idea without controls and relevant statistics.

High horse time: I was a cancer researcher in my former life. It pains me on an almost physical level to write a graduate thesis about my "research" without controls or statistics guiding the way. I've been been great at statistics, but programs are built for people like me that get mixed up on when to use a T test versus ANOVA versus a regression analysis. Yay for computers to think for me!

I'm just sayin'. Um... how can you ever say that what you proved was because of your hypothesis and not just a random pattern?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Medical Emergency

Special Update: Medical Emergency

One of my students last period had an accident and had to be taken to the Emergency Room. I have no idea what happened, as my back was turned to him for half a minute, but as I was quieting my last class of the day to get ready for announcements I saw them all back up quickly and fearfully like they'd seen a mouse.

I turned around expecting a mouse, and say one of the students on the floor. As I was opening my mouth to say his name, he opened his mouth and started spitting up blood. Lots of blood. And 2 teeth.

I quickly helped him up and got him to a chair with some paper towels to catch the blood falling out of his mouth. He covered my floor with spatters of spit blood for 3 feet. There was so much blood that it was coagulating in big clumps as it sat there.

I shooed the students out of the room and into the hallway, ran and got the nurse that teaches next door, and then tried to comfort my student. I had trouble with that. What do you say when one of your students has 2 of his teeth - root and all - laying in a puddle of blood on the floor? Really, "they can put them back in," sounds lame and "it's going to be OK," sounds trite.

I just settled for hugging him and telling him that his family would be with him soon and that he was going to see a doctor that would make it ok.

When the school nurse got there with gauze and other medical supplies, I backed up and let her do her thing. Medically trained, I am not thought I have an interest in the subject. Trying to be useful, I got the cops (who were coming in the door) the students emergency contacts and updated everyone on what I knew, though it was precious little.

However, I did send one of the cops for some milk. I said that we needed to get his teeth into milk as soon as possible so they could put them back in for him at the hospital. The cops went running to the cafeteria and came back with the milk in 5 minutes. Until then, we wrapped the teeth in wet paper towel. Once the teeth were in the milk, the EMTs arrived from the ambulance waiting outside. I wrote the exact time his teeth had come out on the carten of milk in permanent marker and made sure to show the EMTs the information so they could show the doctor.

Of the two EMTs, the taller man looked at me with a smile and said "I thought that was an old-wives tale, but OK." I seriously could have punched him. In the face. Hard.

I almost started crying when my administrator said that he had to go with my student to the hospital and not me. I wanted to stay with him and make sure he was safe until his family came to his side. He knows me. I could have comforted him when he was the most scared. He doesn't know the Academic Dean of our Magnet that well. He knows me and trusts me.

In the end, I told him that he would be OK and that the EMTs would make sure everything would be alright (which I doubted but kept to myself). Once he'd left, I had 3 students come walking in for after-school tutoring and stop at the sight of all the blood. I think he lost a little less than a pint on my floor, desks, stools, and walls.

I told them to wait in the office until I made the room sterile. They nodded vigorously and left with very wide eyes.

The school nurse, bless her, stayed and helped me clean up the blood. I went to get a gallon of bleach that I keep in the back room and mixed it up for at 70%. My science training came in handy, as I had to memorize how to clean up bio hazard spills as a researcher that handled blood. 70% bleach for at least 30 seconds, then wipe with alcohol after the bleach has dried. It took us almost an hour to get the blood up off the floor.

I was a bit in shock myself, as I just started laughing in the middle of cleaning. It was, apparently, infectious as the nurse started laughing to. I told her that cleaning up blood was "not in my plans for a Tuesday afternoon."

Update: 9PM

I called the boys legal guardian. He lives with his aunt. She told me that they were able to put his teeth back in at the ER. She also told me, which did make me cry, that it was because of me and my quick thinking that they were able to save his teeth. If they hadn't been put in the milk, he would have lost them because it took so long to get him into the ER. The root of the tooth would have died.

He's OK. I didn't realize how scared I was until I talked to his aunt. I apologized to her for not having more information on what happened, but told her everything I'd seen. I told her that tomorrow, I would talk to my students and find out what happened and update her after school. So help me, if anyone hurt that child I will yell at them with an inch of their life. Of course, I'm upset so I probably should calm down first. Never discipline children when angry. Ever. I learned that growing up.

Though, I now understand my mother saying to her children: "If you're OK at the end of this, I'm going to kill you."

Interactive Notebook Research, Day 2

Interactive Notebooks
The students were having trouble today. I think I need to go back and re-teach them the basics of Genetics because so many of them are not getting it. This is going to set me back but I'd rather have them understand the basics well then shallowly understand very little.

Today's activities involved vocabulary matching. Note for next time, if you're going to ask students that never study to match vocabulary words to the correct step in turning DNA in protein, make sure to review the meanings first. Or better yet, have them copy the definitions from the back of the book into their notebook BEFORE the activity. That was my major issue today. The kids kept looking at me with confused looks because they didn't remember what the vocabulary words mean that we worked on last week.

Le sigh.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be better. I'm going to have them work on mini-essays where they summarize the two steps (transcription and translation) and then draw what's happening. Then they're going to underline all the vocab words in the mini-essay. Hopefully, that will make them review and use the material. I hope. Short of making them repeat the words over and over until I force them to memorize them, I don't know what to do to help them get the basics. Understanding is easy. However, they lose their understanding if they don't memorize the basic stuff like vocabulary.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Interactive Notebooks: Day 1

Interactive Notebooks: Day 1

I started my graduate research today. I'm studying student retention of concepts. My hypothesis is that if the students take notes in an interactive, creative way that approaches the material from a different way than just seeking to comprehend it that they will remember it better. It should be interesting to see.

I pretested the students on their knowledge of genetics last week. It was a short 3 question test, so it just gave me an idea of how much they understood before we went into the unit on transcription and translation.

Today, I gave the students a questionnaire about how often they took notes in class. We shall see how this works.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Speechless moments

I have no words.

One of my students, C., today was sitting and playing a hand-held game. I asked him if he had his work done and ready to turn in. He didn't look up but told me he left his folder at home.

Except that he has no home. He lives in a group home. I found this out earlier in the week when he got 2 warnings in one day for barking in class (14 year-olds are silly and crazy). Instead of a parent on the other end of the phone, I got a very crisp-voiced professional woman assuring me that his misbavior would be dealt with.

Today, in the middle of class, one of my other students asked me how old I am. I answered and they all laughed and said I looked younger. I laughed and said I got that a lot. C looked up shyly from his game and told me that his mother died when she was 42, 2 years ago.

I had nothing that I could say. It was too painful and I didn't want to draw attention to him. I just put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze. He looked me in the eyes for a second and withdrew to go back to his game. I walked away to answer another question. This took all of 2 seconds but it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Somtimes, this job is harder than people think and for reasons impossible to explain without crying.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Compare to last year

Note to readers: I'm not upset with life. Really.

I think my New Year's Resolution should be to blog every day and not just when I'm so angry or upset that I indulge in BlogRant (tm).

Also... I'm so much better that I was last year at this time. Case in point: we'll compare where I was last year and where I am now. Some positivity is well deserved and might help me to put things in perspective.

Last Year
  • Struggling with how to organize my lessons
  • Didn't know how to lesson plan
  • Completely made it up as I went along (no planning in advance)
  • Reactive discipline instead of preventative procedures
  • Was trying to be students' friend instead of Instructor (big issue last year)
  • Didn't know how to grade in a timely/effective manner
  • Had trouble keeping track of grades
  • Never called home
  • Periodically had "free days" due to lack of planning
  • Still having problems with how to effective keep track of grades
  • Still having issues grading quickly and and getting stuff back to the students
  • Struggling with classroom management... but SO much better
This is where I have a conversation with my brain. I tell it to shut up and that I am making progress, albeit slowly. Hey, as I tell my students all the time: "Never give up."

As Doctor Heal Thyself, so I need to listen to myself more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What is a teacher to do...

Just when I think I've got control of a situation... it all comes crashing down.

All of the teachers in my building have been told that the students that fail their classes were going to be removed and put into study halls. This was supposedly supposed to give them some time to work on the state standards that they hadn't gotten in their classes. I think it was also to remove the students that were not performing at their ability.

However, this was not done. In fact, with the new students entering my class, my rosters got larger. Combine this with the fact that the students that were failing math and english *did* get removed from those classes and their schedules had to re rearranged. My classes are going nuts.

There are some days where I wonder at the administration. I know that last year that if I have more than 20% of my students failing that we have to justify their grades to the administration and face an inquisition. The administration says their goal is to have 95% of students pass their state standardized tests. I understand their goal, but keeping kids in the same classes even after they have failed isn't helping anyone.

I don't know what the solution is but this certainly isn't it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Well, this is an upper to start the year...

It's a new school year. The air should be filled with hope and promise of new things yet to accomplish. I should be looking forward to all of the young minds that I'm going to open this year.

I'm not.

Depression creeps into my mind everytime I think about my teaching abilities, my goals, the school culture that I teach in, and what I'm accomplishing. I suppose it's no different for the students that I teach.

Some days I'm just overwhelmed with how little I can accomplish. Between a lack of supplies, confusion over what's going on, being told one thing and having to do another, intimidation from the administration to scare the teachers into line, lack of respect from students, and unrealistic goals for the students from the administration... I don't know.

I think I'm getting burned out. Actually, I think I'm about toast. I don't look forward to going to work anymore. I don't really like my day. I need to fix that or I'm going not be here next year.

On the other hand... 2 years in an inner city school is an accomplishment. However, I look at it in terms of what I've done to help my students... and academically I don't know if it's much. I helped them feel better about themselves but that's not technically a teacher's job.

I feel useless.