Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Sugar Is Sometimes Evil

The kids were insane today.

I suspect that many of them had located the parental stash of candy to be given out tonight to the trick or treaters and decided no one would notice if they took, oh, say, half the candy and ingested it prior to school.

To say they were crawling the walls is putting it mildly.

And then, of course, it was Hat Day so for a mere dollar they got to buy a sticker that allowed them to wear a hat in school today. This is, by far, one of the easiest and most successful fund-raisers our student council ever came up with. Amazing what middle schoolers will pay for.

Of course I wore my witch's hat. However, since it has cell organelles all over it and actually is a model of a cell, it matched my standards perfectly.

So there.

The team decided, after recalling the bags and bags of candy our kids brought in last year to snack on, that we would institute a candy ban in classes starting tomorrow. Simply put, you bring in Halloween candy and we'll take it. The kids thought we were being mean. Do you think I care?

But honestly, after the year one of our students spent all night eating Halloween candy, forgot to take his meds (which probably wouldn't have worked judged by the amount of candy he scarfed down), and then proceeded to try to crawl on top of a 6 foot cabinet in one of the classrooms....we weren't going down that road again. I can still see this little character exclaiming to an assistant principal, who caught our little cherub pinging off the walls coming back from lunch, "I had pockets of candy. Pockets and pockets of candy!!! I ate pockets of candy all night long!!!"

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Good Sub is Gold

I love it when I get a good sub.

I had a fantastic sub on Thursday. Absolutely fantastic. That woman's phone number is going in my file and I'm going to have her again (although for this next week my absence is already assigned to someone else...darn it.)

I subbed and permanent subbed for 3 years while I was going back to school to get my teaching license and then for the year and a half after I graduated and couldn't find a permanent position (they were, in fact, eliminating positions Up North which is why I ended up back in My Beloved South). It can be a completely thankless job. It can be a grind. It can drive you nuts.

There were days when I'd walk into a room and not only didn't have lesson plans, but didn't even have a roster for the classes I was supposed to teach. There were days when I ended up in the emotionally disturbed unit and wondered if I'd leave there emotionally disturbed myself. Days when I bored myself silly watching kids take an AP Calculus test. And the day when one kid stuck his finger down his throat to throw up on his desk - on purpose - because he thought it was funny to freak out his classmates and the sub. (He was horribly disappointed that I didn't freak out at him and told me "it worked with the other ones.")

So before I have a planned absence and have a sub in the room, I give my kids The Lecture. I basically tell them that I've subbed before, it's a difficult, thankless job that doesn't pay well at all, and that I Will Take It Personally if they give the sub any trouble and they will Feel My Wrath. I inform them that a sub is a guest in our room and they should treat him or her as a guest.

And then I pray.

I tend to leave incredibly detailed notes for my subs (which they seem to like) and I really like, in fact, need to have some notes left to let me know who was bad, who was good, and if everything went okay. The last few subs I've had didn't leave any notes, or left a brief "all went well" comment which I seriously doubt, since I know these kids.

My sub on Thursday left me FANTASTIC notes. Her notes were so good I could actually visualize what went on in my room when I was gone. And nothing she wrote surprised me. In other words, The Usual Suspects, performed in their usual manner. Spoiled Princess Girl apparently wouldn't shut up, Brat Boy wouldn't shut up and had to be moved, the Red-Headed Blob did nothing, so forth and so on. So I wrote out eight behavior notes and pulled The Usual Suspects aside and gave them my I'm So Very Disappointed In You And I Can't Believe You'd Insult Me and Your School By Behaving Like This talk.

Mrs. Math asked me later if I got a "I'm sorry," out of any of them, and was surprised that I actually did (for most of them). In fact, I had nearly half of them with tears welling up during our talk.

"How do you do that?" she asks. "They never act sorry when I get after them."

And I tell her what it was like to grow up in Southern California and to go to a school with a bunch of different types of kids, including a number of Jewish kids who had Typical Jewish Mothers who were masters, absolute masters, of using guilt to manage their kids. I learned from these moms how to lay on guilt thick as peanut butter. I don't use it often, but man, when I do...it works!

Now, we'll just have to see if it sticks and they can be good next week when I'm out.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tiny Little Things

Yesterday I took my classes to the science lab for their first chance to use the microscopes. This is, usually, one of the days they completely, totally, live for. Give a seventh grader the chance to play with something as cool as a microscope and they're in heaven. Heck, give them a chance to leave the classroom and go somewhere else - like The Lab - and they're just besides themselves with excitement.

Which also means that their behavior can be less than stellar.

Which means that I also have to scare the daylights out of them before we even get to the lab so they won't do anything stupid like pull the cord to the emergency shower that's in there in case of a chemical accident or spill. Which is required by law although the most dangerous chemical in there probably isn't any more dangerous than food coloring.

However, this group, even my third period, was really good. They were spellbound (and quiet) watching me make a slide of an onion skin in the cool overhead mirror that is above the demonstration table. That is nearly as cool as watching it move when I hit the button on the wall. There are times when I think they'd be interested in watching mini-blinds move up and down.

However...the appeared to do a fairly decent job of using the microscopes. Nothing broke (a plus). Oh yeah, we had the usual "I can't see anything!" screams from kids who don't bother to try to focus the silly things, or ones who forget to turn on the light source, or (my personal favorite) the ones who don't plug the microscope in.

The true test will be tomorrow...when they turn in their lab reports...which includes a requirement to write a paragraph on how they would explain to a 3rd grade class how to use a microscope. That, I am sure, will be interesting.

However, since I had to be out of class today for a meeting downtown, and will be out for two days next week for the NMSA conference, I'm going to be needing some Bribery Activities. And earning a free day in the lab to use a microscope to look at other things (besides an onion skin) is one sure ticket to guaranteeing good behavior out of my kids.

Although I wish they'd stop trying to look at snot.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What a Difference a Diagnosis Makes.

We have a student on our team this year who I'll call Chef Boy. Chef Boy came to us from Up North, and honestly, that's about all we knew of him. He doesn't hardly talk, even with the other kids. His student information sheet basically said he was living with his mother and an aunt and that the only thing he liked about school was lunch (which 90% of the kids always say anyway). His grades were mind-numbingly bad. We had him on the list to send him to support team to see about getting him tested for special ed. On the evaluation form that the special education coordinator sent me I resonded that I really couldn't evaluate him properly as I never got any work out of him and he would hardly speak when I asked him anything - I was even modifying tests and work for him with no success. This kid was shut down tight. He was also absent a lot and would often come to school with an upset stomach, go to the nurse (and throw up a few times while there), and then get dismissed home.

And then, 8 weeks into the 9 week grading period, his records from Up North caught up with him, and lo and beyond, he's already identified as special education. In fact, he's also diagnosed as bi-polar.

Now it's starting to make sense.

We had the IEP meeting with his mother the other day and it was a revelation. Apparently Chef Boy has been living with his father for two years but is now back with mom, mainly because dad wasn't managing his education and health properly. Chef Boy is actually reading below where he was when she sent him to live with dad. So in two years he actually regressed.


We also found out that Chef Boy loves to cook and wants to be a chef. One of the side-effects of his bi-polar diagnosis is when he's confused or lost he gets depressed and will shut down completely. He will not ask questions, nor will he even speak when he's like this. This probably explains the mostly sullen silent child we have had in our rooms since August. His doctors also suspect that his frequent stomach troubles are probably related to stress and anxiety.

We made the decision to change his schedule and put him into the special education reading and language arts classes. This had the other benefit of putting him out of my second period class (which isn't one of my best) and into my fourth period class (which is my best class with the hardest workers, and interestingly enough, the highest number of special education students). Mom also indicated that she finally got him back on some medication for his bi-polar diagnosis and we should start seeing a change in him soon.

Now I'm not a big fan of medicating kids. I honestly think that most of the kids I see who are "diagnosed" as ADHD are simply normal kids who need more sleep and a better diet without all the carbs and sugar, plus a little more parenting. However, there are kids I've had who undergo dramatic changes, usually for the better, when they get on medication; most of these are kids who have other issues, usually severe emotional problems.

This week Chef Boy was a different child. A completely different child. He has walked in every day and has actually engaged me in a conversation. Yesterday he brought in his library book (The Betty Crocker Cookbook - our librarian has a lot of cookbooks and I'm always surprised at how many kids actually like to read these) and pointed out some recipes he was going to try this weekend. He had even written down four on his bookmark along with the page numbers. This from a kid who often sat with his hands in his lap and who wouldn't write his name on his paper without multiple promptings. He noticed one of his lab partners had left her notes on the table and he grabbed them and asked me to get them back to her as she'd already left. He was at the fall festival last night and was playing games and having a ball. He stopped me several times to show me his prizes. He also went to the lab to have his tests read to him yesterday and his score is double what his previous high score was!

I hope this continues. If it does, Chef Boy is going to have a very successful year.

Friday, October 20, 2006

At last! Success!

At the Fall Festival Mrs. Eagle and I ran into a student that I had last year and that we both tutored in the after school program. Big Hearted Boy is one of the nicest kids you'll ever meet, a boy who loves football and his Christian Faith, but who wasn't the best of students. He is probably the most honest child I've ever had the pleasure of teaching.

In any case, he stopped us to chat and since report cards came out today we asked him how his first report card for 8th grade was. He was a pretty solid C-D-F student last year, and we worked and worked with him to get his reading levels up, so he'd be sucessful in other classes (like social studies and science which are impacted so much by reading skills).

"I have it right here with me, if you want to see it," says Big Hearted Boy as he reaches into his pocket.

He pulls out a report card and we see nothing but A's and B's and only one C. We are ecstatic! We know these teachers and believe me, the work isn't any easier in eighth grade with the teachers he has. It's obvious that he's started working and putting forth the effort.

"This is outstanding!", we exclaim. "This is just wonderful!"

"Well, it's really thanks to you. You taught me to believe in myself last year," he says. "Once I realized I could do anything I set my mind too, it got easier."

That made our week, if not our month, and perhaps, our year. And the hug we each got from Big Hearted Boy was just icing on the cake.

Nothing a bubble bath and some wine won't cure.

It's late at night and I'm sitting here trying to wind down from a long, long day. Actually I'm amazed that I'm not ready to collapse in bed from sheer exhaustion since that's pretty much how I've felt all this week. (Momma Bird had a cold when she got back to California so I'm wondering if I'm fighting a bit of the blahs myself.)

However, it was Fall Festival and Dance night at school and like always, Mrs. Eagle and I volunteered to work the event. You know there is always a group of people in the building that seem to be the ones that volunteer for amost everything and Mrs. Eagle and I are among that bunch. I suppose the fact that we don't have our own kids to go home and worry about, and the fact that our hubbies are the kind that understand that the kids we teach are pretty important to us, helps. However, sometimes I wonder if we aren't a little bit nuts for doing all we do.

We decided, however, after finishing our lessons for the week, and getting the homework put together, and grading our tests that we really needed a decent sit-down dinner before the festival, so we dashed off to Ruby Tuesday's and treated ourselves. Thank goodness we did.
Because when we got back we were on our feet for the next five hours (I can't believe it really was that long, but it was.)

Which probably explains why I hurt from the knees down. And I'm a walker, believe it or not. (And a wannabe-trying-to-be-a-runner since my cousin is actually going to be running her first marathon this month and she's not that much younger than I am!)

The festival was a lot of fun - they had booths all over the core of the school. It ranged from pudding-eating contest, to cake-walk, to temporary tattoo, to ring-toss, to a jousting ring where the kids could wack each other with foam rubber swords. The comment Mrs. Eagle made when she saw the ring toss where the kids could toss rings and win a 2 liter bottle of soda pop was, "just what they need, more sugar." They also had little craft booths where they could make neclaces, feather fans, colored sand in bottles things, and all sorts of stuff. The Technology Club was taking digital pictures (with a suit of armor as a prop). We had the Jr. ROTC club from the high school we feed into over and they were working booths as well (including, of all people, Meltdown Boy from a few years ago). And making me feel really old as some of those kids had been mine a mere two years ago and now they looked so grown up. We had a lot of parents there, former students, younger brothers and sisters and all sorts of folks from the local community. Considering the community we serve (low-income, to say the least) it was nice to see these folks out there supporting their school. They even had a live auction (which did well) and a silent auction (which did well too, but I lost out on the John Deere basket which would have been a great gift for my Poppa Bird.)

And then there was the dance. Oh gosh, there's nothing like a middle school dance. I swear someone should videotape these things and use them as a psychology experiment. If I had a dollar for every time I told a kid to STOP RUNNING AND SLOW DOWN, I'd be rich. We also had to tell a bunch of the kids, as usual, to stop being so blatantly sexual in their dancing (never fails, they look like they're auditioning for a pole dance job at the local strip joint). The amazing thing was that, due to the festival (cotton candy, soda pop, brownies, etc). they were so hyped up on sugar that they were literally bouncing off the walls, the floor, the bleachers, you name it. And they're going home tonight so they can drive their parents nuts.

The kids in my school like to dance to an interesting mix of music. Of course we have the hip-hop stuff (which I personally can't stand), then country, latin, one token AC/DC song, then the Macarena, the Electric Slide, and...last but not least....the Chicken Dance. The fact that these kids all know how to dance to all of this just cracks me up. Since my muscial tastes run to hard/class/progressive rock, I was dying for a bit of Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin or Van Halen. To no avail.

Goober Boy was there and I'm beginning to think that he's hoping one day I'll forget that he isn't mine and take him home with me. I wouldn't mind, really, because I adore this kid, but I wonder what his parents would say. Of course, the fact that he's just one of six, perhaps no one would notice that he was gone. He'd have his fun, circulate through the dance, then swing by to chat. Of course I had to give him heck over his less than stellar report card.

So, by 9:30 the kids were all gone (thank goodness) and we headed home. I'm going to sleep in tomorrow...maybe to 6:00 am.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Aide? What Aide?

Yesterday about eight of us were out of the building to attend a workshop downtown on inclusion. Inclusion, for those of you who aren't in the field of educating the future, is basically dealing with special education kids in a regular education classroom. Those of us who went, including Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Cool, were all science and social studies teachers. We're the teachers who have, historically, had these kids dumped (my phrase, but that's my opinion) into our classrooms with little or no support. The traditional "inclusion classroom" (reading, math, language arts) usually has a special education teacher or an aide in there to assist those students who need a little more help.

We've never had an aide grace our doorway. Not once.

(For more on this subject see Welcome to Our World)

I was kind of interested in seeing what, exactly, they were going to talk to us about. After all, most of us have been modifying and working with these kids for a while, and many of us have done a pretty good job of working with our special education department on creating IEP's, modified work, modified tests, etc. And amazingly enough, in our building, we're doing something right because these kids are hitting their goals and showing growth.

Apparently the focus on the day was on how to work with your aide and things your aide can do to help you help these children.

What freaking aide?

Apparently, with the new Title I money we're getting this year (nothing like hitting that 50% free and reduced lunch mark), they're going to be able to hire three aides, one per grade level.

So Mrs. Eagle and I do the math. We get one aide for the entire seventh grade. I teach 5 classes of science, Mrs. Eagle teaches five classes of science, and Mrs. Robin teaches two. That's twelve science classes. Double that and you get the number of science and social studies classes. That's 24 classes.

Assuming that this aide is going to work just with these kids in science and social studies, she's going to have be hitting twenty-four classes a day - physically impossible. So, what it comes down to, is we may have her for one period a week.

Big Freaking Deal.

I'd get more coverage if I simply asked the PTO to toss some parent volunteers my way.

The other fun moment of the day was watching our district science consulting teacher, Mrs. Standard, who is consumed by standards, choke her way through a claim that we need to figure out what the "essential" standards were and focus on having these kids do well on these. In other words, what do these special needs kids need to survive life. Considering that Mrs. Standard considers every single one of our standards to be the most important thing in the world, it was amazing watching her spit that out. I had heard from Mrs. Squirrel that it had taken an incredible amount of convincing to sway Mrs. Standards to that opinion. I'm not sure she's buying it however, and is just going along with the flow for the moment.


And the kids didn't drive the sub screaming from the building.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Another new vice

I love, love, love The Guidance Goddess. She is unfailingly cheerful. She is always helpful. She has an incredible sense of humor (which really is necessary considering the craziness she sees day in and day out). And the fact that she's a complete diva doesn't hurt.

She has, however, introduced me to a new vice.

It is Hershey's COFFEE flavored chocolate kisses.

Oh. My. God.

We were talking the other day about nothing in particular (I think it had to do with the fact that I needed a break after my break and could use a strong jolt of coffee), when I mentioned that my favorite candy, chocolate covered espresso beans, would be the perfect antidote to my afternoon.

The Guidance Goddess squealed and said, "Oh yes, they are the Best! But I've found something just as good, if not better." She then whips open her desk drawer (where the good stuff is kept) and hands me a coffee flavored chocolate kiss.

I swooned.

I am never going to lose weight.

And it's all her fault.

And did I mention that I adore her?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday Insomnia

How many of you fellow teachers out there have trouble sleeping on Sunday nights? I nearly always do, but it seems to be worse on the tail end of a break or summer vacation. The brain has trouble shutting down, I keep worrying about stupid stuff ("Did I make those copies or forget before I left on Friday?") and then of course the fact that I luxuriated by sleeping in (if you call getting up at 7:00 sleeping in) on Sunday morning doesn't help.

So, of course, I woke up at 3:30 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. Granted, I get up at 4:45 anyway, but still...3:30 was not fun.

So I went in early and of course, Mrs. Eagle was there already. She sleeps even less than I do. It's a wonder we don't all topple over from sleep deprivation.

Overall, it wasn't such a bad day just back from break. The kids weren't completely out of control and truth be told, they seemed a little sleepy which is always a plus. I'd almost rather have them drowsy than bouncing off the walls. We're starting a new unit on living things and we're moving at a pretty fast clip, so it kept them on their toes. We're behind where we need to be so Mrs. Robin, Mrs. Eagle and I are trying to play catch up. Whoppeee. Welcome to warp speed science.

On a funny, but hopeful note...I made a comment to my fifth period class to the effect of, "someday when one of you wins the Nobel Prize for science, just remember that seventh grade science teacher you had who made you work and thank her," when one of my kids, actually one of my top students says, in all seriousness, "I will."

I can't wait for Nobel Boy to win. Because if anyone has what it takes to do it, he will.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Over Already?

Fall Break is almost over.


I have totally enjoyed having a fall break. I don't care if it means we go a little longer in May (but don't quote me that when May arrives). It's refreshing to have a week off in the middle of my absolute favorite season of the year to refresh and recharge. After all, we start the first week in August and have our first nine weeks under our belts. Hard to believe that we're already that far along.

Momma Bird came in from California for a week and, along with Mr. Bluebird, the three of us had a little mini-vacation in the North Carolina mountains. Wonderful. I can't wait to go back. We ate too much, spent too much, and didn't get enough sleep, but it was still fun.

I do, however, have a bunch of posters to grade which I'm avoiding (can you tell?) Now that Momma Bird has winged her way home I think I'll sit down with a glass of Merlot and wade my way through them. That may make it bearable.

In the meantime, I've actually updated my blog roll on the right of this page. Please take a moment and visit some of these new folks as they're definitely worth a minute of your time. Some highlights:

Civil War Memory - The reflections of a High School History teacher and Civil War Historian.
Elementary History Teacher - A must read for history fans and anyone who admires those who teach the littler ones.
Adventures in Teaching - An English teacher at a Community College (and amazingly enough her students don’t sound any better than my middle schoolers)
A Historically -A lover of history…what else?
Anonymous Teacher Blog - A second year teacher at a public high school…bless her heart.
Are We Doing Anything Today? - One of the best blog titles out there! And she's right, there's always that one kid who walks into your room and asks this very question!
But Wait, There’s More - A fellow middle school science teacher…and a real hoot.
Evolving Education - Mr. R. a HS science and math teacher in NC...a great read.
I Thought A Think - Mr. Rain, a First Grade Teacher, bless his heart.
What It’s Like on the Inside -The Science Goddess, and she's a wonderful writer.
The Reflective Teacher - Not only is this blogger witty, she has a lot of great information out there for teachers in general.

Read and enjoy. Me, I'm grading papers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is it Fall Break yet?

For the first time in the history of our district we're getting a week long fall break.

Many of us were a bit skeptical about this. For one thing it means starting school a bit earlier than most of us would like (for example the very first part of August). And by the first part of October none of us thought we'd really need the break. The burn-out hasn't set in. However, as we wrap up the first nine weeks of school, some of us are beginning to think it's not that bad of an idea.

Because, truth be told, the kids are beginning to wear us down.

In short, the honeymoon is over.

I'm looking at the grades for my first nine weeks and I can't believe the number of kids who are failing. And I'm not talking failing by a few points. I'm talking failing by a huge margin. Huge massivenormous amounts. Simply put, they aren't studying, they aren't passing tests, and they don't care. I have 16 failing in my third period class (which is rapidly on the way to earning the sobriquet of Third Period Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself...although they are no where near the infamous Fifth Period from last year).

It drives me nuts that I care more than they do. Or more than some of their parents do.

Granted, we've had more parent meetings than ever in the history of the team. We're averaging 3 or more a week. But some of them, quite honestly, are nothing but empty promises and moans of "I don't know what to do!!!" from parents who are controlled by the 12-year olds in their homes.

So, after handing out EIGHT behavior notes in Fifth Period because They Couldn't Stop Talking to Save Their Lives...I'm ready for a break.

Even if it means that Momma Bird is coming from California to spend the week.

And there won't be anything relaxing about that.