Monday, September 01, 2014

So It's All About the Relationships

We're always being told at The School, that good teaching is about building relationships with kids.  That's one thing I can't argue about (and oh, I can argue about a lot of stuff lately.)

Some of the best relationships I have with kids have spilled over into their young adult-hood.  The Daughter We Never Had (TDWNH) is a case in point.  She has never lost touch with me, we hired her as a house and pet-sitter, she also cleans my house (I feel I'm helping pay for nursing school that way), she texts or calls me almost daily and generally Mr. Bluebird and I love her as if she were our own.

However.

I'm not sure The Powers That Be consider "building relationships with students" to include going out to the local firing range and firing pistols and shotguns with one of your former students.

Oh but gosh, we had a blast!  And she was tickled, as she put it, "To finally get the two of you out of the house for some fun!"

I love that girl.

The Offspring

It has happened.

I have been invited to a baby shower for two of my students (who married each other).

I hate baby showers.  I particularly hate baby showers for kids I had when they were 12.  It means we're all getting older.

Sigh.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Obsession with Throwing

Our team is at the point where we're about ready to ban erasers.

Because erasers, you see, are wonderful projectiles. Especially when they're torn up into smaller pieces.  And our book fair, which ended yesterday, sold a ton of erasers which are now being systematically dissembled and launched across our classrooms.

I rarely write kids up, but one thing that will cause a write up faster than their heads can spin around is throwing things.  We had a girl today smacked in the eye with an eraser and that's exactly why the throwing is a big deal with me.

So, I basically informed them that if they so much as even made a throwing motion, regardless of whether or not they actually threw anything, I. Would. Write. Them. Up.  No questions asked.

It's not a democracy in my room.  It's a benevolent dictatorship, and they better figure that out.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

28 Bells...

We have a new schedule this year...for a number of reasons.

We've gone from 7 periods to 6, mainly because The State says that we can no longer have a reading teacher and an ELA teacher, but one person doing both.  So, we also went from 5 people on a team to 4.  The good news is that it means we have classes that are nearly an hour long.  We have been 47 minutes long for the past five years (and our test scores sucked compared to when we had hour long classes but admin apparently didn't see the connection...)

And then we solved the nightmare that is lunch, mainly trying to feed over 300 kids in 30 minutes.  And if you're a seventh grader this year, 373 kids in 30 minutes.

Basically, starting with sixth grade, each team goes in 15 minute intervals.  Now, this does mean that we interrupt my fourth period, but let me tell you, there is a world of difference when there are only, say, 100 kids walking to lunch as opposed to 300 kids.  In some cases, my class, depending on the timing, may be the only class moving to or from lunch and they are in line and silent.  No jumping up and smacking the ceiling, no yelling, no out of line, they are doing it right.  And the only thing I can figure is because there's only 25 of them at the moment, and no distractions from other classes.

It's been amazing.  Lunch is quiet, everyone gets fed, it is wonderful.

However.  It also means that every grade level is on a slightly different schedule and we have 28 different bells that ring all day long.

All. Day. Long.

I have our schedule printed in huge font hanging behind my desk because even I have trouble remembering what time we do what.  So when a bell goes off, and the kids look at me, I end up saying, "Not us," and moving on.  I also had to put a timer on my iPad to remind me when I had only 5 minutes left (and to remind me to take the kids to lunch.)  Even then, it's a bit wonky and I'm hoping pretty soon we start ignoring the bells that aren't ours.

If they could only do a different tone for the different grade levels, it would be so much easier.

P.S. Someone asked the question about couldn't teachers get the kids to lunch without bells?  Well, interestingly enough the only time a bell doesn't go off is for the different lunch periods.  The bells are going off for class changes between periods, and then tardy bells.  So, for example, a bell will go off for the sixth grade to end 1st and go to 2nd period; then four minutes later a 2nd period bell will go off for 6th grade.  Then an 8th grade bell will go off, etc.  Due to these funky lunches, the class periods do not line up equally at the same time for each grade.

I know, we don't get it either.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Hate You But I Can't Stay Away...

Last year I had a seventh grader we'll call Auburn Boy (because he is obsessed with Auburn University). Auburn Boy started off the year really rough.  He didn't do any work, would saunter in whenever he felt like it (which meant that he was pretty soon visiting with administrators due to tardies), and generally was a little turd.

The second nine weeks, after much prodding on my part and a stint or two in ISS for tardies, he decided getting to class on time and doing his work was not going to kill him.  He was in my little class of 16, and loved to talk and could be a royal pain, but I really liked the kid.  For one, he was funny.  He also seemed to need a lot of attention, especially in January when Mom had twins and suddenly he was the oldest, by quite a bit, and had four brothers and sisters below him - the newborns, a 3 year old and a Kindergartener.  He was starved for attention (although he wouldn't admit it) and he would do everything he could to engage me in a conversation regardless of the time or circumstances.

However, a conversation with Auburn Boy could be a challenging experience.  He got mad easily, would pout, stomp his feet, throw up his hands and act like a frustrated and annoyed teenager.  A typical conversation would go like this:

"Hey kiddo, get your homework out now, we're going over it."
"Jeez, lay off, I'm getting it out now...stop being so darn pushy."

But here's what's weird.  I couldn't get rid of the kid.  He acted like he hated me most of the time, but he wouldn't go away.   I didn't have him until sixth period, but he'd come by in the morning, claiming he needed a pencil.  Then he'd come by a little later with another excuse (usually another pencil although when he sensed I was getting annoyed with the pencil bit, he'd ask for paper.)  He'd show up sixth period for class, and then after seventh, he'd show up for afternoon homeroom.

Except he wasn't in my homeroom.  He was in Mr. Dobbie's (as in Dobbie Gills...long story) room.  But Mr. Dobbie kept letting him come over, and after a while he just came on his own and I'd send Mr. Dobbie an email letting him know he was there.  Auburn Boy and his mom and I got to be quite good friends as he'd text her (from my phone) about staying after for a club or something and she'd answer back.  He became somewhat as permanent in my room as some of the furniture.

So today is our third full day with our kids and I'm there doing my thing sixth period when I look up and there is Auburn Boy, now an 8th grader, standing in my doorway with a pass around his neck (which meant he had permission so there).

First words out of my mouth?  "Do you need a pencil?"

He smiled.  "No, just thought I'd come by."  My seventh graders are quiet and looking over at him.  It is, after all, a real 8th grader.

"Really," I said. "Are you sure?"

"Yup,"....I walked over and we proceeded to have a conversation, but he never would say (or admit) why he was there.  He just wanted to be there I guess.  I told him he could stay and sit in the back and watch, and he said no, he just wanted to check in.

And then he left.

I had a friend tell me once that being horrible, for some kids, is a way of letting you know they love you.  Maybe they're right, because Auburn Boy and I had our share of battles last year.  But he just kept coming back.  And now, it looks like he's still coming back.

And I'm really happy about that.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

And Bam! We're back!

Yeah, yeah, yeah...I've neglected you.

Sorry.

But last year, well, it just sucked.  Between dealing some more with my Dad's estate (finally, finally, finally finished that up a week ago), and the absolute amazing amount of stupid crap that is rolling down our way from the Federal Department of Education, the State Department of Education, to the District, to The School, and so forth...well, last year was the first year I thought "Maybe I should just say the hell with it, quit, and go get an office job somewhere."

Really.

It Was That Bad.

Our District and Our State are just OBSESSED with test scores.  And sorry, but I didn't go back to school at 38 to become a teacher so that I could administer Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests to kids.

That Is NOT Why I Do This.  At All. Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests are a two hour block on one day out of one year in a kid's life.  It should not define the kid and it shouldn't define the teacher.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.  And It Pisses Me Off.

My kids are not a data point.  They should not be defined by one test score.  Hell, I don't think they should be defined by any collection of tests scores.  But that is exactly what is happening.  (And if there are any parents out there reading this, wake up!  Because NOTHING will change until the parents get pissed off and start complaining...teachers and our opinions are not respected in this current political climate.)

So, that, in a nutshell, is why I didn't post much last year, this summer, and so on.  I was just so angry, disillusioned, and pissed off.

And then Stoopid Boy found me again.  I posted earlier this spring about Stoopid Boy and his best friend Skater Squirt who both tracked me down and who I was able to reconnect with now that they're both adults (gosh, 21 years of age! ACK, I feel old!)  My husband and I actually got to spend quite a bit of time with them over the summer, especially Stoopid Boy.

It turns out that during his Junior year in High School, Stoopid Boy's parents purchased a house Right Up The Street from me.  Which means for, oh, about 5 years he's been driving past my house several times a day and never knew it.  So, whenever he's in the area to see his folks, he drops by.  He invited me to come see him play in the band at his church, and Mr. Bluebird and I enjoyed the church and the people so much, we have started to attend regularly.  And I have become very good friends with his mother, to the point that Mrs. Eagle and I have spent some nice summer afternoons hanging around, doing lunch and sitting by her pool.  (It is nice to have a friend with a pool.)  Skater Squirt has been very, very busy with work, but we have managed to have him over a few times as well.   Mr. Bluebird commented the other day that it's like we suddenly had two nice young men as sons without the aggravation of having to raise them.

And I was venting the other day about how depressed I was to be starting school again, how they have taken the joy out of teaching, and how I just didn't have it in me, and Stoopid Boy looked at me and said, "But you loved on me and I turned out okay.  Those kids need you to love on them."

And he was right.

So tomorrow, when they show up for the first full day of school, I'm going to remember that my job is to love on them.

And screw the test scores.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Middle School Street Party

Two weeks ago we spent four very long days taking the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests.  This is, sadly, very high stakes, so we do what we can to motivate the kids to help them focus and do their best.

Including a flash mob dance with the teachers during an assembly.  That, surprisingly enough, went off better than we thought and the kids went INSANE when they figured out what was going on.  We had one teacher choreograph the dance (very basic, very simple) and we practiced in the mornings in her room, a few times after school, and some people just watched a video.  The only time we actually did it with all of us together was during the assembly.  Amazing we did it and word didn't leak out to the kids.

The other thing we've done the past few years is allow the kids to earn testing "money" which they can then spend at a big party after we're done.  They get a "dollar" for being on time, for using all the testing time (no putting your head down and sleeping/drooling), and they get another one for checking their work, underlining, highlighting, etc.  They can then use the "dollars" to buy things like pizza, hot dogs, drinks, cotton candy, popcorn, and then visit booths where they can get their nails done, hair sprayed a vibrant color, a temporary tattoo, and more.

The party this year was probably the best ever, and it had a lot to do with the weather and location.  We moved it completely outside this year with seven inflatables (I was on inflatable duty which was amusing), football, basketball, a food zone, and a DJ and dance area.  By the time you get nearly 1100 kids out there, you have the DJ blasting music, kids dancing, playing games, running around and screaming, it looked like a block party for middle schoolers.  And the weather?  Absolutely amazingly perfect.

The kids were awesome.  No fights, just fun.  Imagine that.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

All Grown Up and I'm So Proud...or The Return of Stoopid Boy

I've been teaching at The School long enough that some of my earlier kids are now legal adults, some with kids of their own.

To tell you the truth that really kind of freaks me out.

Some of my kids have kept in touch with me through the years, including one who my husband and I pretty much consider to be our own - she house sits for us, cleans my house for me (I figure I'm helping pay for nursing school that way), and comes over to borrow books for her classes from our library of history books. She's doing great, and I couldn't be happier or more proud if she was my own.  I often hear how some of her classmates are doing which is great because her class was special.  That group of kids had some of my favorites.  Not the best kids, but my favorites.

Including Stoopid Boy.

Stoopid Boy was, without a doubt, one of my favorite kids ever.  His best friend, one of the Skater Squirts was another one of my favorites.  So when Skater Squirt found me through a post I'd made on The Nursing Student's Facebook page, I didn't hesitate to strike up a conversation to see how he and Stoopid Boy were doing.  These kids were just the kind of kids that never left your heart.

And the fact that Skater Squirt posted that I was his very favorite teacher - ever - well, that just knocked it out of the park.

These two did not have the best seventh grade years - Stoopid Boy, in particular, had one of the worst seventh grade experiences on record, including a stint in Alternative School.  He wasn't a bad kid, he just made bad decisions and had an uncanny ability to get caught all the time.  But he had a good heart, and some of us could see that despite the attitude and behavior.  Skater Squirt wasn't a trouble maker, but he was definitely a kid who wasn't all that interested in academics, but was more into music and being outside, and doing things.  (I was the teacher who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix.)

After a few months of chatting on line, these two young men (because they're now both 21!) came over and had dinner with Mr. Bluebird and I the other evening.  I cannot begin to share what a blessing it was to have these two mature, interesting, funny, and delightful young men spend time with us.

The best part?  They are fine.  They are doing well.  They seem happy and together and grounded and just everything I would have hoped they would be.  They survived middle school and became productive adults.

This is one proud momma Bluebird.  And I'm glad they're back in my life.  They are truly gentlemen.