Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hack. Cough. Blech.

So it appears that just about our entire state has the flu, strep, cold, or a stomach virus.  You know those flu maps they do on The Weather Channel?  Well, we're right smack in the middle of it.

And if that doesn't tell you something, the fact that 15 districts around us were closed part of last week due to illness should.

Notice I said "districts around us"?  We aren't closed.

That's not to say we haven't been hit and hit hard.  Although my building hasn't been hit hard with student absences, we have had a lot of faculty and staff down for the count.  From teachers, to bus drivers, to administrators, to guidance, we're hacking and coughing, and generally dropping like flies.  I was sick last week myself, but not bad enough to take a day off.  And since we're pretty much short of substitute teachers, even if I did take off, they'd most likely just shut down ISS and let the kids serve the time when I return.  It's that bad.

Some of the other buildings not only have a lot of sick staff, but the kids are out too.  Classes with ten kids are being supervised by custodians and cafeteria workers because there's no one left.  Buses are being driven by mechanics and anyone they can find.  We've had trouble with all our buses even showing up to pick up kids in the afternoon because they're so short drivers.

But we are still open.  Why?  Because we haven't - district-wide - hit the magic number of 17% absent.  Some schools may have 30% while others have 5%.  Whatever.  It's not working out to be 17% throughout the entire district.

So we are open.  Without subs.  Without bus drivers.

And we are all praying for a snow day. Or two.  Or three.

But instead it's so warm my damn tulips are already popping up.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

When They Have All Lost Their Minds, Or Why I Hate Collaborative Planning

Our District believes in collaboration.  It believes in collaboration so much, in fact, that it sets aside money to pay for substitute teachers so that teachers can have an entire day to plan together.  What this means is that each subject area - math, science, reading language arts, and social studies - gets a day to plan while someone else watches their kids.

It also means that the kids lose their ever loving minds and I get really, really busy.  Because, for whatever reason, middle schoolers cannot handle being with a substitute teacher.  It's the time that even the good kids act stupid and the trouble makers make even more trouble.  What makes it worse is that we have a pretty serious shortage of good, quality substitute teachers who can handle middle school kids.  Heck, we can't find permanent teachers to fill open positions (anyone want to teach 7th grade science?  Anyone?).  All the good subs are offered full-time positions, which leaves, for the most part a rather inept pool of people without the skills they need to survive these kids.  We do have some exceptions, like Mr. Brown, the most amazing sub ever who is retired military And Who Takes No Crap From Anyone.  The kids fear him, but they also respect him, and he's a dream.  Teachers fight over who gets him.  This guy is like the most popular girl in school, and is booked months out.  But he's a rare exception.

What this means is that I can tell, by looking at how many subs are in the building, that my room will start filling up and filling up fast.  This week was a record for us in Our Happy Little Portable.  Monday we had a whopping three (yay!), Tuesday went to 13, then Wednesday, and Thursday we had 16, then Friday we had 10.  I pretty much  max out at 16 because I run out of seats to put kids, so 16 is the most I can take.

My ideal number is 6-8 kids.  That way I can get to know them, work with them, and help them.  The sort of things I like to do.  Anything over that and I feel like all I do is process incoming work (four subjects times the number of kids) and outgoing work, and hopefully making sure they behave.  In other words, I have to turn into a paper-processing bitch.

This week was something else.

We got banned from the 8th grade hallway bathrooms due to vandalism.  It appears that one of the kids I had for two days (we're pretty sure we know who it is) was jumping up and damaging the ceiling tiles in the bathroom.  So now, we have to walk to the other side of the building and use the ones by the cafeteria, which is not very fun when it's cold and rainy out as it's a much longer walk.

Two of the kids got suspended because they lied and said they were bus riders (I have no way of knowing who is and who isn't outside of asking) and then went in the building and were roaming the halls and got busted.

Another kid got an extra day for having a laser pointer.

A sixth grader scraped paint off his cubicle and will be coming in tomorrow during his PE and Computer class to sand and paint, as per his mother's request.  As she said, "Make him work, and make him work hard."

A girl got removed and suspended because she didn't like the fact that she had to sit in her seat and be quiet, and began banging on her desk with her fists and screaming, "I wanna call my Momma!  I wanna call my Momma!"  She's gone for a few days.

And another kid, who got suspended the last time he was out with me for slapping a kid across the face as we came back from the restroom, managed to shove and push a kid THREE TIMES HIS SIZE, and got removed and suspended, when we only had an hour left in the day.  Of course, again, this was on the way back from the rest rooms, and he picked on a kid who was big, but too darn nice to retaliate.

I was ready for the weekend.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Minion Goes on the Run

Life has been interesting with The Minion.  

He is still coming to my room 1st period to do his work (when I can get him to do it), he's irritable, grumpy, and gets suspended now and then for stealing  and for skipping class.  When I try to get him to work, and he's not in the mood, he growls at me.  He also has reverted back to some really bad habits he had when he's younger (let's just say he has bathroom issues).  We thought he had finally grown out of some of that but alas, no.  His classmates hate him because he's weird and he smells and truly, he's not very nice. At all. (It's really sad.)

So last week, when the Bottomless Pit was sent inside to get some work, he came back and reported that "that little weird kid from first period is wandering around outside."  Uh-oh.  That's not good.  Just then the aide that comes and watches my kids for about 30 minutes so I can go use the restroom, make copies, and get a break came in and informed me that she'd seen The Minion when she came out and sent him back into the building.  (I'm in a portable in the parking lot - to get to my room, you have to leave the building and walk out there.)

Since I was going in on my break anyway, I went on in to guidance and reported this to guidance.  We did some detective work, looked at some of the video (we have cameras all over the place). And discovered that The Minion had left his 3rd period class, gone out the door he usually goes out to come to my portable, and just kept walking.  He most likely would have kept walking if The Bottomless Pit and my aide hadn't caught him.  He's figured out that no adult supervises his walk out to my room so he took advantage of it. So, I ended up writing a referral for him for being out of area, and left it with the Guidance Goddess.

Half an hour later I get a call from Coach Cool.  "Is the Minion out there with you?" he asked.

"Oh heck no, he hates me, I'm the last person he would be with," I informed him.

"Well if you see him, let me know," he said.

What ensued next was an hour of admin sending out emails telling everyone to be on the lookout for this kid, and me getting asked about a dozen times if I'd seen him.  The local authorities got involved and the search for this kid was on.  About that time, our SRO showed up at his house and asked mom if she'd seen him and she calmly responded that he was home.

What?  She didn't think it even remotely weird that her kid showed up at home in the middle of the day?  And didn't think to call?

Apparently once the aide had sent him back into the building, he went to the nurse and then left the nurse and went out the exit near her.  And started walking home.  In the middle of the street.  A former student of mine (nicest kid and nicest family ever) was driving to the high school and spotted The Minion in the middle of the street, recognized him from church and, as he told his mom, "got a bad feeling about it", and turned around, picked him up and took him home.  He was worried he'd be hit by a car, or picked up by a predator, or something.

So the Minion was safe, which was good.  However, he's also in a world of trouble.  Mom was told to bring him to school the following day and stay for a meeting.  She didn't.  She put him on the bus and sent him on his way.  She didn't get off the hook that easily as he ended up getting suspended for a few days and she had to come get him anyway.

Not sure what the ultimate decision is going to be regarding The Minion, but I doubt I'll see much of him in the future.  For one, most kids that leave school end up going to alternative school and assigned a boatload of points because it's such a dangerous thing to do.  Secondly, I think everyone has decided that it's probably not a good idea to have a kid with a history of leaving and wandering around coming out to my portable every day where he has two opportunities to bolt.

We shall see.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Taking One for the Team

So the Bottomless Pit arrived in Our Happy Little Portable Yesterday like a tornado.

"Mrs. Bluebird!," he bellowed.  "I forgot my meds today!  Can I call my mom?"

Oh hell yes.  Call her.  Now.

So he called mom (14 and he still calls her Mommy, loved that).  Unfortunately Mom couldn't leave work to bring him his meds but she did give him quite an earful about making sure he wakes up on time and takes his meds because he does nothing but get in trouble without them.

Which is true.

I'm not a huge fan of meds for kids.  Truly I think a lot of kids would be better served with a lower carb diet, more exercise and more sleep, but there are some kids, like the Bottomless Pit, that really, really need their meds.  Without them, the Bottomless Pit is nearly crawling the walls.

I was amazed he had made it to fourth period without someone losing their minds over his behavior, especially as we had so many substitute teachers in the building.   So when the Bottomless Pit asked if he could stay in my room the rest of the day so he could get some work done without getting in trouble, I thought a minute, counted heads (I had two absent and only six there) and figured why not?

Called his teachers, sent him in for work, and then proceeded to try not to lose my mind dealing with him and the ping ponging he did for the remainder of the day.  But, let's be honest.  Better him in with me annoying only a few people, rather than driving a classroom of over 30 insane.

The Bottomless Pit without meds is a constant running stream of conversation regarding anything that enters his mind.  And I mean anything.  I heard his opinions on squirrels, why he doesn't like his language arts teacher, the benefits of chocolate milk over strawberry, why some girls annoy him, how he doesn't like mom's boyfriend, and any number of things.

My head was spinning.

I managed to make it through the day without losing my patience (although I came close).  I got a hug as he left for the day and he promised - "cross my heart and hope to die" - he would have his meds the following day.

He did.  Bless his little heart.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Giving a Kid a Chance

The few weeks before Christmas break was really, really busy in Our Happy Little Portable.  Kids were getting the crazies, teachers were frazzled and I was going from an average of six kids a day to sixteen.  My administrators are pretty amazing and are more than happy to suspend a kid who can't make it in my room.  I have a lot of patience, and do what I can do keep a kid in school, but there are times I have to just pick up the phone and have a kid removed and consequently suspended. 

The Bottomless Pit was one of them.  So, when I get a phone call informing me that the Bottomless Pit was going to be with me for a day, I was curious as to how this would all play out.  He could come in with a chip on his shoulder which would make for a very unpleasant day.  Or not.  It all depended on his attitude.

So, the Bottomless Pit arrived, with three failing grades, and was the only kid I had that day (it's usually pretty slow at the beginning of a grading period).  I told him we were going to focus on his grades and get them back up,  So, instead of parking him in a cubicle, I had him sitting right next to me and we got to work.

But what we really did was talk.  The kid spilled his guts and talked about how he had such a bad sixth and seventh grade year, how badly he missed his dad who passed away last year, how much he adored his little brother, and how his mom worked all the time.  He talked about how he has trouble focusing when he's not on his meds, how he knows he can do better, how he wants to play sports in high school, how he'd like to look at the military as a career, and how he has trouble not being a class clown. 

But what really got me was he said something I rarely, if ever, hear from a kid.  "It's totally my responsibility why I get in trouble."

Wow!  I get so tired of hearing from kids - and adults - how nothing is every their fault, how they are never responsible, and here was a fourteen year old who clearly owned up to screwing up.

So I decided to give this kid a chance.  He asked if he could stay in ISS for the rest of the week, because it was quiet, and he got help, and he liked to be there with me.  That's not an option.  But one option was to take him out of art class and assign him to me for that period as my Aide.  After all, I could use one.  But more importantly, we should be able to get his grades where they  need to be so we can send him off to high school a little bit better prepared.  And hopefully I can work with him a bit more on making better decisions.  He's obviously receptive.

So he's now my Aide and he couldn't be happier.  He's getting his work done, for the most part, although I still have to push and prod a bit.  And we're working on some goals.

As for his name?  Kid is constantly hungry.  Not because there isn't food at home (there is - mom may work a lot but she provides for her kids).  He's hungry because he's 14 and growing like a weed.   He told me he'd already grown three inches since the beginning of the year.  It's a wonder he doesn't eat the furniture.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Oh Hey, We're Back

So Christmas break is over and we're back in school. Had a nice time visiting Mother Bird in Colorado where we managed a White Christmas, and enjoyed some quality time with Hubby.

But now we're back.

And truth be told, it's kind of boring.

Our kids start over with referrals whenever we begin a new grading period.  Which  means I'm usually not too busy until the second week or so after a new period has started.  Usually.  This time it seems to be a little too quiet.

So quiet I'm waiting for the onslaught.

Oh, I've had a kid.  Or two.  All of them familiar faces which brings new meaning to the phrase "learn from our mistakes" because these kids just aren't getting it.

But for the most part it means I've been able to get caught up on things like filing, updating my sub book, watching a whole bunch of Khan Academy videos to brush up on my 8th grade math, updating the school wiki, and clean the room.

I'm thinking, however, that this honeymoon period is going to be over very shortly.  Like tomorrow.

We shall see.

Friday, December 16, 2016

When Technology Is Your Friend

So this year, amazingly, I got nine student laptops to use in my Happy Little Portable.   This was shocking because the three desk top computers I had in there last year were more or less "illegal" to our technology department.  I was told not to expect any technology out there (we aren't a "priority") and one of the tech geeks is a good friend of mine on Facebook and he took pity on me.  He went to the computer graveyard, scrounged up three desktops, fixed them up and installed them.

And then during the summer they were removed and I figured I was screwed.  And just when the District was pushing "digital blended learning" and wanting teachers to use Google classroom, and Nearpod, and we were going to all on-line testing in the four academic areas through our own district website.  But the District decided to go all-in and processed, over the summer, 30,000 student and teacher laptops.

I figured since I wasn't supposed to have had those three in the first place, I wasn't getting any new laptops to replace them.  I was wrong.  I was originally assigned three, and then remarkably, we ended up with an additional lab, and I got six more.  Considering how much testing and classwork is now done on line, this was awesome.  (I suspect the powers that be saw me sending out emails requesting paper assignments because I didn't have enough computers. Whatever.)

However.  When you have that many student laptops, it's a bit of a challenge to monitor where the kids are on-line.  They can't all sit by me, and I can't see their screens across the room.  So that was a bit of a dilemma.

Until one of the other ISS teachers at another middle school told us about some software that lets him monitor the kids' laptops from his desk.  I put in a tech request and within two hours was up and running.  (It's called NetSupport, in case you're interested).  The only thing I had to give up was one of the student computers that's now my monitoring station.  I figured that was a small price to pay.

This. Is. Awesome.

I can sit at my desk and view all eight computer screens, see where the kids are at, take over their computers if they are having trouble, lock them out of the computer, making their screen go black, send them meand generally make them nuts because I Am Watching Their Every Move.

Honestly, I use this more to help kids who are having trouble accessing websites. Say what you will about this "tech generation" but their typing skills suck.  Nine times out of ten, they can't get to a website because they misspelled the URL.

But every once in a while I'll get a kid in there who hasn't quite figured out that I Am Watching, and it's fun to make his head explode.  Especially when he's out with us for a tech violation.

I've had the same 8th grader twice this past month, both for tech violations.  The first he was researching to see what size his penis should be (I kid you not).  The second was for being on YouTube and watching music videos and not doing his assignment.  So when Tech Violator decided to go shopping for shoes when he was supposed to be writing an essay in Google Classroom, I decided to blow his mind.

I turned his screen black.

And sat back and watched the fun.

"Hey, what's going on?" he said.  He tapped at the screen.  He tapped at the escape key.  He picked it up and looked under the computer.

"Tech Violator," I said from my desk, to get his attention.

"Yes, Ma'am?" he said.

"Stop shopping for shoes," I said.

"What?"  Panic stricken face.  "What do you mean?"

"She can see everything you're doing on that computer," one of the other kids said.   "She turned your screen black because she saw something you weren't supposed to be doing."

"She can do that?" Tech Violator asked.

At this point, I turned his screen back on and send a message.  "Stay off shopping websites and type your essay," I wrote.

It dinged in on his screen and he read it.  He looked around at me, and then looked at the other kid.

"That's scary," he said.

"Yup," said the other kid.  "So you better not be looking up sizes anymore."