Monday, August 03, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Last year I had a student, Baseball Boy, who one day, in the middle of class and out of the blue asked me, "Mrs. Bluebird, do you like paintball?"

And oddly enough, one of my Chosens is an obsessive paintball player so I do know quite a lot about the sport - I even have my own mask and I've played a tiny bit.  So my answer was, "Well, yeah, I do."

And that was it.  I was suddenly the Best Teacher in The World, and then when Baseball Boy discovered that I am also a huge Chicago Cubs fan, I became "Aunt Bluebird".  In fact, he told all the other kids that I was really his aunt (and they believed him).  Over the course of the school year, I got to know Baseball Boy's parents and entire family pretty well.  I got invited to his little brother's birthday party at the paintball field, I ended up watching three of the kids while mom and dad took the other one on a "date" one evening, and I spent a lot of my summer watching Baseball Boy play ball.  So, I guess I really did become Aunt Bluebird in some respects.

Baseball Boy's parents, every year, allow each of their four kids to have an adventure with just mom and dad.  They're really good about making sure each of their four kids gets individual attention and time, and they're lucky that they have both sets of grandparents close by to watch the other kids when they do this.  Baseball Boy wanted to see the Chicago Cubs play ball, and they ended up buying a family four-pack of tickets (which was quite a deal) and told him he could invite a friend to go with them to Atlanta where the Cubs were playing the Braves

I was the friend he invited.

So bright and early one Sunday morning the four of us left for the five hour drive to Atlanta, of which Baseball Boy did not stop talking except for one half hour nap.  We checked into our hotel, got to the stadium and had the best time.  It was so much fun seeing Baseball Boy witness his first Major League Baseball Game (and the Cubs won which was even better).  We stayed overnight, ate at a really cool diner on the way home, stopped at Cabella's, and got home Monday afternoon.  It was a great road trip and the four of us had the most wonderful time.

Now, I asked Baseball Boy about what he was going to tell his friends.  I mean, really?  You take your old teacher on a road trip to see the Cubs?  And his response was priceless.  He shrugged.  "I really don't care what they think."

Bless this kid.  As I told his Mom, it's really nice to have someone else to talk baseball with (Mr. Bluebird is not a fan).  My dad was a huge Cubs fan and I grew up going to California Angels games when we lived out there.  So, I've missed that since Daddy passed away.  Honestly, baseball is more fun when you can share it with someone.

And when you get to share a kid's first Major League Baseball game?  Well, that's a memory that's priceless.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

On Losing One You Love

Every time about this year, as we get back into our classrooms and start getting ready for the new school year, people start asking me, "Well, how was your summer?"

And usually I don't have a problem answering.

This year, however, I'm a bit stumped.  It was, for the most part, a pretty good summer.  I only had about five days of in-service training since I'm no longer teaching science, so I had a lot more free time than I've had since STEM was implemented a number of years ago.  I got to spend a lot of time with my hubby, which is always good.  Mrs. Eagle and I did some quick day trips and had some fun doing girl stuff.  And I got to spend quite a bit of time with some of my grown up former students who consider Hubs and I to be family.  So that was all good.  

However.  One Really Bad Horrible Thing happened this summer and I am still reeling from it.

My Red Headed Fireball passed away in late June and it has truly broken my heart.  He called me Momma, and we both cried when he moved away to another Southern State in February.  His Uncle was being deployed, his Aunt had just had a baby, and she wanted to be by family.  Fireball was going to be coming back here for high school and was looking forward to it.  I gave him my number and told him if he needed anything to contact me and I'd see what I could do.  He never called, so I assumed all was well.

And then, in June, he apparently took his own life.   

We go through state-mandated suicide training every single year, but in the 13 years I've been teaching both of my students who committed suicide did it during the summer.  It's like they know we aren't around to stop them.  And I've wondered if there was anything any of us could have done.  There's that little thread of guilt that makes me wonder if I did enough to help him.  Did he know how much he was loved?  

It wasn't until a number of us from The School attended a balloon release in his memory that I had a little bit of closure.  The parent organizing it, whom I did not know, asked if I was in attendance.  I answered and then he said that he'd spent a lot of time with the family during the past week and my name came up.  A lot.  Apparently Fireball talked a lot about me, and how much I helped him and loved him, and he shared a lot of stories about some of the silly things we'd done in class with his family.  

That made me feel better.  At least he knew I loved him.  And that was something.

So this past week, when I was unpacking my boxes to set up my new classroom, I found a letter he wrote and left on my desk last year.  It was so touching that I had it framed and it sat on a bookshelf behind my desk the remainder of the year.  I never thought how much more I would value that letter today, now that he is gone.  It is on my desk.  It will be staying there.

Bless you Fireball.  You have no idea how much I miss you.



Thursday, June 04, 2015

On Doing What I Do Best

One of the things I have truly missed the past few years is the ability to work with and mentor kids on a more individual basis.  I had that chance in the past when testing and data wasn't the focus like it is today.  And damn, I was freaking good at it.

Case in point...Mr. Bluebird and I don't have biological children.  Never happened for us.  But the groups of kids I taught nine and ten years ago were amazing.  And in that group were some really fantastic kids.  Long time readers may remember Stoopid Boy, Skater Squirt and the Nursing Student, who I mentioned last year.  Two other kids round out that bunch, Paintball Warrior and Farmer Jim.  (I didn't teach Paintball Warrior, but he was roommates with Stoopid Boy and Skater Squirt and was one of Mrs. Eagle's kids.  Stoopid Boy introduced us and the next thing I knew, he was part of my clan.)  These five kids, The Chosens, are my children.  They call, they text, they visit, they come over for Thanksgiving breakfast, they celebrate birthdays, they call with girlfriend issues, job issues, just issues, we talk, we laugh, we go to church, we sometimes even cry.  Hubby and I may not be real Mom and Dad, but we're pretty close.  We love, love, love these young adults.

And it kind of bothered me that I haven't had the chance to really connect with kids on this kind of level since then, with a few exceptions.  A number of us have talked about this lack of connection and for many of us, it's an unfortunate side effect of the pressure we are on to produce test scores and to show continual growth and to test, test, test.  Dang, we're producing some real great test-takers, but at what cost?

So a few weeks ago, The Principal asked me if I would be willing to leave 7th grade science and to take over the In School Suspension position because Mrs. Angel was, finally, retiring.  As The Principal put it, "I want you to use your tough love, school momma charm on these kids."  She also mentioned the fact that since I make such strong connections to kids, "to the point that they are at your house having dinner ten years later", that I would be perfect for the job.

I thought about ten seconds and said YES!

Now for some people, the thought of being in charge of In School Suspension sounds like you get to spend all day with the "bad" kids.  But truth be told, most of the time, these are the kids I do best with.  These are kids who maybe had a lot of tardies, maybe talked back, had a cell phone out, and so forth.  They've made some stupid choices and need a soft, but stern, place to land to get back on their feet and stay out of trouble.  They need someone to spend some one-on-one time with them to get their heads screwed back on straight.

And honestly, these are my people.  I will be spending the next year, doing what I do best...working with kids.

I am, for the first time in a long time, looking forward to next year.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Musings on Change, Purposes, and Why We Do It

So this wasn't a really good year for me, so I've been quiet.  For all two of you that read this, thanks for understanding.  I'm just not really happy with how education has changed in the past 13 years I've been teaching, and hit critical mass in January.  Then, for the first time, I really, seriously thought that if I could find a way to quit, or retire early, I would.

And it had nothing to do with the kids (who were a handful).

It had everything to do with The System.

I did not, DID NOT, get into this profession to teach kids to take a test.  I don't talk much about my faith on here, but I was called to be a teacher.  I was working in the corporate environment and went back to school (at 38) to teach because it was what I was called, or meant to do.  It wasn't for the money, it wasn't for the summers off (insert laughter here because we all know that's a lie), it wasn't for any other reason than to help kids, love on kids, make a difference in their lives.

And every year The System has made it harder and harder to do what I know is best for my kids.

We went from a one paragraph hand written lesson plan to a daily two-page typed lesson plan that was more of a script than a plan.  We were told to have our lessons done so that a sub could step right in and take over in case we weren't at school.  Many of us at The School shook our heads and realized right then and there that we weren't teachers, we were script-readers.

Our District, and The School, are obsessed with data.  Everything is tied to data.  And we had meetings after meeting after meeting to discuss testing data, behavior data, data, data, data.  We were ranked, as teachers, based on how our kids did on Benchmark tests.  (And this, after we were assured 8 years ago when Benchmarks came in that they "would never be used to rank or evaluate teachers".)  What those rankings tell us is that kids in high poverty buildings (like mine) don't do as well as kids in low poverty buildings (like the teachers at the top of the list).  But we can't say that.  Because The Administration considers that an excuse.  Even though professional statisticians will tell you that standardized testing is basically a measurement of poverty.  And we were told to differentiate all the time, but then were told to give each kid the same test.  Add in directives from above that are even more conflicting, and all you have is disillusion and confusion.

And I think this is insane.

And I missed working with kids, getting to know kids, because all we do is test, test, test, and analyze analyze and analyze and we've lost track of the fact that these are kids, not test scores.

So I was burned out, annoyed, unhappy and desperate to find a way out of a system I hate.  Not to mention that I was putting in 12-14 hour days, weekends, and my life was nothing but grading, lessons and grading and lessons.  But I have 13 years in, and I can't afford to walk away just yet.

And since my dad died two and a half years ago, my priorities have changed. Spending time with people I love is more important than any job.  That's it.  I'm really not willing to give up that time anymore.  When one of my "kids" wants me to come watch him play paintball, or baseball, I want to say yes, and not worry that I have 100 quizzes to grade.  And when my husband wants to watch a movie and snuggle, I want to be able to do that and not worry about the plans that needed to be made.

And then I got offered the most incredible position at The School.

But I have to run, so I'll fill ya'll in later.  Time to spend with my big kids.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

To Snow or Not to Snow

For as long as I've been at The District, we have had a total of 3 inclement weather days.  What's amusing about this is that every single district around us geographically have anywhere from 5-10 inclement weather days.  It's a little disingenuous to think that we live in a pocket where it doesn't snow, flood, ice or generally get stupid weather-wise, but that's the way it goes.  Whenever The Powers In Charge are asked about it, we get some mumbo jumbo about how the teachers voted on it, it has to do with in-service hours, blah, blah...problem is NO ONE I've ever spoken to remembers ever voting on something like this so it's probably a good idea to bring it up again since it must have happened so long ago...if it happened at all.

So, for the past few years, when we've had some wicked winter weather and went over by, oh, nine or ten days (really), we've had to lose holidays and then the Dreaded Add On An Extra Thirty Minutes To The Day routine, which everyone - parents, kids, teachers - just HATES.   Adding an extra five minutes to my class periods really doesn't amount to much in the long run, and the parents absolutely hated how it messed up schedules.  Finally enough parents complained and went to the School Board and they grudgingly gave the KIDS five inclement weather days and the teachers still get three.  Which means if we go over, we'll end up at the end of the year sitting in in-services re-arranging our classrooms, or something that requires us to be in the building for 7.5 hours to make up the time.

So...that being said, it's November.  And it's been freaking cold - especially for November.  And they're predicting ice and snow over night.

So, now that we have 5 days, any bets on the fact that we may be using one of them up waaaaay before we usually do?

Waiting to see...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yeah, I'm neglecting ya'll

But I'll try to be better.

In the meantime, the best kid comment of the day from one of my homeroom darlings who actually has parents who came to conferences.

"My mom and dad really liked you.  They said you were the type of person they'd like to hang out with and have a beer with."

Well.  That's a good sign, I suppose.  I hope they're paying.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spirit Week - Or "Do You Have One of Those Machines?"

So last week was Spirit Week.  This is new for the school, part of our SWPBS program, and was implemented to coincide with our High School's homecoming.  Why not?  These kids will belong to this high school in a short while, so might as well get them used to it.  What surprised me was how much they got into it, especially since this was new.

It also gave teachers a chance to dress in jeans and other casual wear for an entire week.

Monday was school colors day which was a huge hit (red, white and blue).  Tuesday was Twinsie Tuesday and kids, and staff, dressed alike.  Loved the kids who dressed like The Enforcer, complete with coffee mug.  (Mrs. Eagle and I dressed alike).  Wednesday was Nerd Day, and again was really popular (lots of bow ties and pigtails).  Thursday was Throwback Thursday and that was HUGE.

I, in particular, was looking forward to Throwback Thursday so I could relive my punk rock days.  Since I happen to have a 1979 promo t-shirt for The Clash, black jeans, black Keds, lots of rock pins from the punk era, I went back to my favorite musical era.  I even found some pink hair chalk and turned my hair pink which the kids loved.  My favorite part of the outfit however, were my props  - actual vinyl records from my collection by The Clash, the Ramones, and The Sex Pistols.

I took a few minutes to show the kids my records because, at 12-13 years of age, these kids definitely aren't that familiar with them.  Many had heard of them, but hadn't really seen up close (defined as "allowed to touch" a real one).  However, the best comment of the day came from one guy in my homeroom who asked, "Do you have one of those machines that you play it on?"

It took me a minute to realize he was asking if I had a record player, or turntable.  Which I do.  At home.  But I never thought of it as a "machine to play a record on"...

And Friday was Green and Gold day and The High School won, for like the first time in a decade, their Homecoming game!