Sunday, October 30, 2005

How I Earned the Grade I Got

I got a number of emails from folks who wanted to see this handout I give my kids (and which they are required to have all year in their binder). I cannot claim credit for this - it was borrowed from a lecturer on one of my grad school tapes and I simply modified it.

How I earned the grade I got

If you can answer "yes" to all of these questions, congratulations! You did a fantastic job! If any of these are answered with a "no", then you have some work to do. The key to a better grade is in your hands! If you can change "no" to "yes" your grade will begin to improve! It is all up to YOU!

1. I turn in all assignments complete and on time.
2. I write my assignments in my agenda every day.
3. My work is neat and easy to read.
4. My journal entries are dated, numbered and written in my composition book.
5. My science section of my binder is neat and everything is in its place.
6. I put my full name, date, period and assignment page on all my assignments.
7. I come to class prepared every day with my pencil, my book, my journal, my workbook, my binder and my agenda.
8. I study a little every day so that I am well prepared for all tests and quizzes.
9. If I don't understand something, I ask questions.
10. I care about my future and take pride in always doing my best.

Now underneath this I have a copy of a newspaper clipping I got this past June out of USA Today. It's one of those little snapshot graphics on the front page and this one is titled, Earnings Soar with More Education (data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 statistics). It shows the average yearly salary of workes ages 18 and older. No high school diploma is $18,734, high school diploma is $27,915, a bachelor's degree is $51,206, and an advanced degree is $74,602.

Of course, if you're a teacher, you won't be earning that kind of money, but you get the idea!

A Merry Olde Tyme

This year we have a very active PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) which is a rather nice change. We've had great PTO leadership in the past but it was, in truth, maybe about 5 parents doing it all. This year we have enough people that they're actually out there en masse doing things for the school - landscaping, providing food packages for our hungry kids for the weekend, selling t-shirts, etc. This year they wanted to revive the Medieval Festival that apparently was done at our school years ago. It was ambitious to say the least - cakewalk, basket auction, jousting area, carnival games, face/hair painting, human chess match, and the fall dance. I'll be honest and say I was wondering how it would pan out. I knew the kids would be there (if there's a dance, they're there), but would we get enough people to make the money the PTO was hoping for?

I think they may have. I haven't heard any figures, but the place was packed.

That morning, however, we started things off with a bang. A local merchant donated a couple of sets of armor that were set up in the core and each advisory room had a class banner (kid designed and made) hanging outside the room. Mine had a chessboard, musical notes, a skateboard, a knight's helmet draped in yellow ribbon (my Army kids wanted something to represent supporting the troops), and in the middle a white hamster (for our class pet). The kids had all made coats of arms in reading class and they were hanging everywhere.

The kids and teachers were encouraged to dress up and I was astounded at how many kids did. I had knights and maidens, a couple of monks, a pirate and a few musketeers, as well as a couple of executioneers. And amazingly, although a lot of the costumes were homemade, they were awesome. Some of the boys did a great job making knight's helmets out of cardboard and silver paint. Mrs. Eagle and I, both being science teachers, dressed up as alchemists. You can do a lot with an old graduation gown and some cool drapey fabric. I did knit up a quick hat out of a velvety ribbon that looked somewhat like Dumbledore's in one of the HP movies. In any case, it was tremendous seeing the kids all entire the spirit of the thing, even the ones who I wouldn't have thought would have.

Some of my students from last year came by to show me their outfits which was really fun. One of my favorite kids, Metalhead, had a great peasant outfit, complete with a cap and looked like he walked out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Fortunately he actually knew what I was talking about.

The festival started at 5:00 and it didn't even look like the same old school. The booths were packed with kids making feather face masks, magic wands, little pendants with colored sand, getting their hair painted and their faces decorated. The jousting booth was popular where the kids paid fifty cents to wack each other with foam swords.

And then there was the human chess match. Out behind the cafeteria and the In School Suspension (ISS) building was, much to my surprise, a slab of concrete with a very faded chess board painted on it from years gone by. The PTO bought the paint to have it repainted, a few teachers worked on it in the afternoons, and it was fantastic. We had run a tournament in chess club to pick the four players, and they were ready to go once they drafted 32 kids to be the pieces. We had signs made up to hang on them so they knew what piece they were. We ran two games and it was just hysterical! First off, getting middle school chess pieces to be quiet enough and still enough is a challenge. Then, because they've all seen the Harry Potter movie with Wizard Chess, they got into the whole idea that chess is the ultimate war game. Our chessmasters (and I'll brag here and say that 3 of the top 5 players in the school are on my team and one is in my advisory), would walk up to a piece and point at a player and go, "take him out", and the kids would yell and scream and just have a riot. One little girl that I have was beaming all night because she "killed the king!" and helped win the game. Most of the pieces haven't a clue how to play, but they had a lot of fun. So much so that they wanted to know when we'd do it again. I think I should thank the folks who made the Harry Potter movie with the Wizard Chess match because, honestly, it has revived interest in the game among kids.

The dance was a typical middle school dance with one big exception - they got a popular DJ from a local radio station to come down and DJ the dance and she was great. The kids were just besotted with her and the place was packed. We did have to sit a few kids down on the benches for a time out for inappropriate dancing - body slamming, touching too much, or just being lewd. They duplicate what they see on TV and some of it can be pretty raunchy.

I got home at 10:00. I'd arrived at school at 6:15 am. I was whupped, but we had a blast.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What a Difference a Day makes...

Remember a few weeks ago we had parent conferences and I basically spent the entire time trouble shooting a computer/printer problem, filing, and talking to the stray parent that wandered in looking lost?


Report cards went out on Wednesday.

Tonight we had our second parent/teacher conference night.

It was standing room only.

And for once, it was mostly parents I really needed to talk to. I'll have to remember to have a tissue box a little closer at hand because I had at least two boys in tears while I informed their parents that they were looking at grades in the 50% range (and passing is 70%). Not happy campers. Then again, preparing for a test so you don't get a 35% would be a little bit sensible, dontcha think?

I had a list of study tips to hand out to parents (they loved it) along with a sheet my kids have in their binder called "How I earned the grade I got" which is a list of ten questions they need to answer "yes" and "no" to. If they're all "yes", then they probably have an A. Simple things (for most people, but not 7th graders) like being prepared, putting your name on papers, turning in assignments, blah, blah, blah. Hum, maybe I should post it....

Seventh grade is such an awful age. I swear, you think the hormone fairy dropped off some hormones and sucked out their brain cells at the same time.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not My Boy!

We had a kid last year that drove us nuts but his mother was even worse. He's a very bright kid, but a druggie (Dad even admitted it), who did nothing, was a bully, and had to have an audience to show off for. He's had a reputation since sixth grade when he was caught red-handed in the act of drawing some incredibly accurate (and quite good from what I hear) renditions of the male reproductive organ. He's apparently fond of this subject as he was also caught in seventh grade doing the very same thing. Why he can't draw a landscape is anyone's guess, but if it is a penis or a sex act, he'll draw it. His father is a serviceman who's gone a lot and his mother is Korean.

In the Korean culture, the male child can do no wrong. Bully Boy's mother is a holy terror and is a classic example of a Korean mother who feels that her male child is absolutely perfect. Bully Boy runs the house (especially when Dad is deployed) and when he gets in trouble his mother comes down to the school and screams at everyone in very broken English. Her command of English curse words is amazing. She apparently almost went over the front counter and tried to grab our bookkeeper who was explaining that her son owed money for book damages last year. She apparently will sit in meetings with teachers and principals and scream "Not my boy!" the entire time, along with her other stock phrase, "My boy good boy! You lie! You lie!" We were lucky last year in that she didn't show for the meeting we scheduled with the parents (I think Dad made her stay home, to be honest) as Dad is actually sane and realizes that his kid is a thug and is quite upset about it.

In any case our students are allowed to have cell phones, but they have to remain in their lockers, and are not to be out or used during school hours. Bully Boy apparently was taking calls on his phone (and who on earth is calling a kid at school during school hours?). Mr. Government knew he was doing it but couldn't catch him at it.

So he got clever.

Somehow he got a hold of Bully Boy's phone number (I think some of the other kids squealed on him and gave it to him - there's no honor among thieves), and called Mrs. Goldilocks, a very lovely, sweet, young teacher who's tough as nails, and told her what was up. Mr. Government was going to call Bully Boy on the phone, and she would be there to catch him as he started messing around in his pocket (it was on vibrate).

Mr. Government called. The phone vibrated. Bully Boy reached in...and looked up only to see Mrs. Goldilocks with her hand out. "Hand it over."

Apparently the look on Bully Boy's face was priceless.

Now the phone is up in the front office and his mother is going to have to come and retrieve it. That should be worth the price of admission.

But the question remains. There were three missed calls on the phone. Who on earth is calling this kid during school hours? My theory? His drug supplier.

I think a locker search is in order...


My friend and fellow teacher Mrs. Cool just cracks me up. She's one of those gals with a quick wit and a great sense of humor. Then again, if you teach 8th grade you pretty much need both of these characteristics to keep sane.

I've been after Mrs. Cool to give up the cigarettes for ages, but she's just started grad school and just got divorced (after twenty years of marriage) so her stress level is a bit high. In any case, we have an approved smoking place for the teachers where the kids and the public can't see them, outside behind the cafeteria.

It's been really warm, unseasonably warm, and Mrs. Cool was taking one of her "checking the weather" breaks this week when a door slams open and a child comes out at a dead run, turns a corner and heads away from the building.

Sixth grader on the loose!!!

Mrs. Cool said it was sad that her first thought wasn't, "Hey, there's a sixth grader on the loose!" but was, "Oh crap, they got me with a cigarette."

In any case, she stubs out her smoke and runs back in the building, picks up the phone, calls the front office to let them know there's a kid on the run. Turns out is was a sixth grader who was apparently supposed to be getting suspended for some reason or another. When the SRO finally caught up with him he claimed he was trying to get to the local shopping center to "pick up some things." Why a sixth grader would need to go shopping to prepare for a suspension is anybody's guess.

Apparently this is the third escape that Mrs. Cool has helped catch this year. Our sixth graders are apparently quite the slippery bunch!

14 freakin' percent!

I'm a bit annoyed at my kids.

We had a unit vocabulary test and unit test this week. We have worked on this unit for three weeks. We have done labs. We have discussed. We have taken quizzes (which were the unit test broken into three parts). We have had a study guide with all the test answers for three weeks.

And barely 30% passed the freakin' test.

The topper was that I had at least two kids get a whoppin' 14% on this test. One of them was a kid I had last year so this is the second time he's gone through this whole unit and he still only gets 14%!! Hell, you'd be better off playing Vegas and just guessing and the odds are you'd get at least 25%. But not my kids. Oh no....they get scores much lower...Why?

Because they just don't care.

They don't care enough to study at least 5 minutes a day. They don't care enough to even look at their study guide - which has the answers for goodness' sake! They don't care enough to put any effort whatsoever into doing a good job.

They're more interested in the opposite sex, video games (which I'm beginning to think are the curese and bane of our society), talking on the phone, and skateboards. The last thing they care about is their education.

And you know what's sad? I don't think their parents care either.

We gave out report cards Wednesday. I had kids, quite a few, who didn't pass this nine week grading period. I was waiting for the phone calls and emails from the parents to hit on Thursday, or at the least, on Friday.

Not a peep. Nothing.

The sound of the silence was deafening.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Poverty Piece

I mentioned in a previous post about the in-service thing we had on poverty, and a reader asked if I learned anything new. Well, the answer is sorta yes. See, I was one of the presenters.

It all started last year when The Principal sent out an email for those teachers interested in a research based project to find ways to work with and help our at risk student population. Mrs. Eagle and I fired back answers saying, "sign me up". One thing that came up during one of our research meetings was that the district was going to be hosting a workshop put on by aha! Process Inc, an organization started by Dr. Ruby Payne. Dr. Payne married a man from poverty and has made it her life's work to research, write and educate people on poverty issues.

Let's just say that was probably one of the very best seminars I've ever attended. I learned a lot. A whole hell of a lot. And it actually has changed, in some ways, how I teach and what kind of assignments I give. The key is that I understand my kids more and can find ways to show them to get out of the generational poverty, get off their butts, and realize they can escape it through education and hard work. As they hear me say all the time "You're momma isn't gonna take care of you forever and believe me, the taxpayers won't either."

Some things I found interesting...

Kids in poverty don't do homework. They often have no place quiet to work, they aren't always sure where they're gonna be sleeping, or if they're eating, no one is available to help them with work, and it's just not a priority in their lives.

Kids (and adults) in generational poverty have a circular way of thinking while middle class people have a more linear - organized - way of thinking. It's easier for middle class kids to organize, plan, and get things done. People in poverty tend to react, and have trouble planning beyond the next minute. They're pretty good at emergencies, however.

Women in poverty often stay in abusive and dangerous situations because the boyfriend-of-the-month is the rent payment. The BOTM will beat the snot out of the kid, but she won't leave as she needs a place to stay. However, relationships are everything with people from poverty (middle class like things) so to protect the relationship with the child, she'll come storming down to the school raising holy hell for no reason whatsoever but to prove to the kid that she still loves him/her.

There's a whole lot out there on the subject...tons of stuff. And a lot of it makes sense, and it has made me see my kids a little differently. What's sad is that so much of how poverty and lack of education affects a child plays heavily in the first five years of life. In other words, before we even get the kid into school. And it's all uphill from there.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Only two....

This week is almost a pointless week because we only have two days of school. It's like, why bother? The kids are on hypermode coming off a five day break, and it would have been easier to just give them two more days and be done with it. As it is, I'm doing fun labs this week because there's no point trying to teach new content. They just aren't with it enough.

As for those of us who teach...We did get Columbus day off (whooo-hooo - let's do yard work all day long and still not get caught up). Tuesday and Wednesday were Teacher In Service day which is a nice way of saying "you're stuck in workshops and meetings all day when all you really want is time to work in your room." Why we rarely get a chance to just have time to work in our room (and goodness knows my room and I could use some work) is beyond me. But we sat through sessions on poverty and education, on the job safety and accident prevention, 6+1 Literacy model, Focus Group, blah, blah, blah.

Update on some previously mentioned characters.

Angry Boy II had a meltdown of some sort in the cafeteria at lunch, was charged by the SRO with disorderly conduct, and assigned to 30 days of alternative school. What this child really needs is mental health care, especially with his anger management problems. This kid is a ticking time bomb. What's even worse is he's completely, totally noncommunicative when he's upset...which is most of the time. No one is even sure what, exactly, set him off since he won't speak when he's mad. He's perfected the art of staring through people, especially adults, when he's mad.

PoopBoy apparently showed up with a doctor's note that said he suffers from "involuntary defectation." Whatever. I haven't heard this from an administrator, nor have I seen this note, so I'm not sure of the validity. Basically what it means is if he manages to do his little stunt, we can't discipline him because it's a medical problem. However, I think we can insist that the parent come get him, but we'll see. As it is, when he does let loose, he's completely disrupting class, not to mention being a health hazard, so I'm sure we'll have to come up with some plan. What, I don't know at this point. I'm sure the parent is a bit annoyed right now as DCS was called. The kid, BTW, has a whopping 50% in my class because he does nothing but whine, complain, interrupt class in a bid to get attention with stuff that is completely irrelevant and unrelated, and yabbers at anything that stands still long enough to be talked at. He's one screwed up kid, and having seen the parents, I'm not even remotely surprised. I still think there's some abuse in the family somewhere...

Tomorrow is Friday!!! yeah!

Friday, October 07, 2005

It Stinks to High Heaven

You know, one of the many reasons why I chose to teach middle school (outside of the fact that I'm just nuts) is that you don't have to deal with the messy side of childhood. No wetting pants, no barfing (usually), no lice, no boogers on the desk. Seventh graders have pretty much outgrown this and although they can be disgusting, it's not as disgusting as a bunch of pre-school rug rats with a bathroom problem.

And then we got PoopBoy.

PoopBoy apparently earned a reputation last year as having the unique talent of being able to poop, in his pants, on a dare. The kids, being snotty little sixth graders, just thought this was hysterical and would dare PoopBoy to do his little stunt, which got PoopBoy sent to the office, the nurse's office, and then home.

Now, to be honest, PoopBoy isn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he's not special ed, he's not a life skills kid, he's not autistic. (To be honest, he's lazy and is used to people calling him stupid). According to his father (who's a real treat, I assure you), this child has no medical problem for his bowel issue, and is perfectly normal. Don't know about you all, but if my kid was shitting on himself in middle school I'd have his butt in to see every specialist and mental health professional I could get my hands on.

PoopBoy was fine up until this last week and all of a sudden has started to poop regularly in his pants. You know when this happens because the smell makes my cat's litter boxes seem like a basket of blooming roses. It will knock you flat. It can clear a classroom. It can cause teachers from other parts of the building to ask, "What is that awful smell coming from your team area?" It is beyond disgusting. It is why I spent fifteen bucks buying super high powered hot oil air fresheners for my classroom.

PoopBoy will, when confronted in the hall, admit that he pooped in his pants, and while admitting this, will not show the least bit of remorse or embarrassment. He will then sit in guidance (on a stack of paper towels) while the Guidance Goddess sprays Lysol throughout the room, and wait for his father to show up to take him home. His father, by the way, will then spend half an hour yelling at every person he sees that his son his normal, that the school screwed him up, and there's not a damn thing wrong with his kid, and it's all our fault he shits on himself.

Except now the father won't come down. He simply sent his kid to school with a change of clothes and a packet of baby wipes. We are talking about a thirteen year old here.

So the other day PoopBoy walks in my room, stinking of shit to high heaven, and I immediately usher him into the hallway after my kids start making gagging noises and hideous faces of disgust. PoopBoy, for once, claims he didn't poop. He also claims he actually wiped his ass and cleaned himself off. However, the smell says otherwise. Off he goes to get his baby wipes and his change of clothes. Before he goes he whimpers and whines (which is kind of freaky considering that he's a big kid, too) about how nobody likes him and everyone says he stinks all the time.

Well, duh, I don't think most kids are rushing out to be best buds with a kid that smells like a diaper and probably should be wearing one.

We've told Mr. Enforcer that this has got to stop. He's disrupting at least one class a day and lets, face it, he's a BioHazard. If, as his father says, there's no medical reason why this is happening, then there's a mental one. And with a father like this kid has got, I wouldn't be suprised that there's a lot more than mental issues involved.

And if his father is so damn smart, as he's claimed to all who will listen, then I think he should just homeshool the little cherub and he can shit all he wants.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lucky Seven

Tonight was parent/teacher conference night.

Basically the district sets aside a couple of evenings a year, from 4:30 - 7:30, and the parents can drop in and have conferences with their kiddos' teachers. Nice set up. The past two years I've had a lot of parents drop by, and granted, most of them are the parents of A students (any wonder why with involved parents like that), but occassionally you'll get a parent you really need to see.

This year we had seven parents.

Out of 125 kids.

Three were parents of perfect children. Two were parents of kids who could use some help. Two were parents of nutballs and I was glad to see them.

Still, how horribly, horribly sad, and telling, that out of 125 kids, seven had their parents show up. Are baseball playoffs more important that their children?

Apparently so.

The Color of Correction

Interestingly enough I've received quite a few emails asking me what color of pen I use to correct and grade papers. Apparently it's considered politically incorrect to now use red as it can hurt a child's self-esteem as it's considered negative.


My mother had mentioned this at one time and I pretty much laughed it off. I've never taught anywhere where anyone told me what color to grade with and I've taken a course where anyone told me what color I grade with. And quite honestly, most of my students are too busy thinking about skateboarding, sex, movies, sex, girls/boys, sex, lunch, sex, music downloads, and sex, that I doubt they even read, much less notice, what color I've written in.

That being said, I grade in whatever damn color I can reach first. I've graded in red, blue, pink, purple and green (I tend to like green; it's my second favorite color). I've graded in highlighter pens too, which are a lot of fun. Sharpies are cool in terms of color (the lime green is fun) but they bleed through the paper so I tend not to use them.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Buried in paper

I absolutely hate it when the end of a grading period rolls around because I feel like a chicken running around with my head cut off.

Things start to pile up, especially grading. I had to grade a unit test, journals, a water cycle/carbon cycle poster, as well as Friday homework. Multiply all that by 125 kids (and substract a few for the kids who do absoutely nothing) and it's a full weekend. And boring. Grading is boring, boring, boring.

The one thing I absolutely hate to grade are journals. Our district believes in "writing across the curriculum" and kids write in every class with the exception of math. I do a number of writing assignments throughout the year, including a research paper and a website, but the journal is the one thing that I do all year long and despise with every fiber of my being.

Honestly, it can't be easier. Write three sentences (every other class wants five) answering some question about what we're doing, a science article in the news, or a reflection. It couldn't be easier, especially because I often recycle section review questions out of our science book. I give the kids about 8 minutes in class to do this and we work, and work, and work on how to restate the question so that the reader can actually figure out what the kids are writing about.

But I still can't get some of them to do this, let alone turn in a composition book with 8 flipping journal entries in it. They can't/won't write a complete sentence that makes sense. They have time to do this in class but prefer to goof off and spend the week before journals are do scrambling to figure out what the questions are so they can answer them.

I admire English teachers. I don't know how they can read and grade all those papers. I'd be a drunk before I could ever manage that.