Thursday, November 30, 2006

Worth Checking Out

It's that time again! Check out this week's Carnival of Education hosted this week by A History Teacher. You always find good material at the Carnival! But bring your own popcorn!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Promises, promises

Thanksgiving holiday was wonderful. There's nothing like sitting on your butt, eating too much, spending time with Poppa Bird, and just relaxing. (Yeah, I did some paper grading and wrote some quizzes, but still...)

However, now that we're back the kids are already geared up for Christmas vacation, and their attention spans and behavior are even worse. To top it off, although it's been unusually warm here for November (more like spring and a wonderful time for a fire drill), they're calling for rain and snow later this week.

All you have to say around here is "possibility of snow" and the kids are convinced that school will be cancelled.

And that calls for more pinging throughout the classroom. Which drives us all crazy because hey, we're actually trying to teach something here!!!

And Mr. Social Studies is making sure we know, exactly, how many days until break. Bless his heart.

When Hormones Hit

It has often been said that teaching middle school is like dealing with hormones on feet. And, when it comes down to it, seventh grade is usually when it hits and hits hard. I remember telling Mr. Social Studies last year (his first year teaching after 26 years in the military) that all the good kids will get hormones for Christmas and get nuts and the bad kids will outgrow it at Christmas and turn out okay. The second week of January he assured me that I was right on the money.

Well..Faraway Girl has apparently been hit with the Hormone Hammer. Remember her? She's my very special ed kid who's mother is VERY INVOLVED, and who drives us all crazy with her constant emails. She has, if nothing else, turned her daughter into a trained parrot who can memorize test questions given a study guide, but can't begin to tell you what any of that means. Faraway Girl gets home from school and Mom sits her down and they do nothing but study and do school work, fix dinner, eat, and do more school work until time for bed. Actually, we all think mom is doing most of the work because Faraway Girl has such awful processing problems that there's times she lucky to spell her name correctly. Her daughter, who spends most of my class with the most distant look in her eyes, twirling her hair and maybe, if we're lucky, opening her book on her own, has learned that people will do things for her.

Mr. Social Studies and I were commenting several months ago that one of these days Faraway Girl is going to have it up to HERE with sitting at home all night doing more school work, and tell mom to take a flying leap. And chances are that will happen as soon as she discovers boys and socializing with her girlfriends. Her sixth grade teachers suspected the same thing but thought it probably wouldn't happen until high school.

It has happened this month. There was an IEP review meeting for Faraway Girl (which Mrs. Fish fogot to invite any of us to and you can bet that's one meeting we would have remembered) and Mrs. Faraway didn't come. Her husband, who rarely says anything in any meeting we've been to with him, came instead. He insisted that his wife was all stressed out about school, that their daughter was a terror at home, refusing to work, wouldn't obey mother, blah, blah, blah, blah....and they didn't know what to do. Apparently they're going to put her in a homework tutoring program so she can sit there for two hours and someone else can see if she'll attempt to do any work on her own.

Good luck.

Faraway Girl has discovered boys.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things I'm Thankful For

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we bloggers tend to do a lot of whining and whimpering but today is a good day to sit back and think about the things we really are thankful for. After all, if you don't, it's just another day of football, calories, and dealing with the relatives you wished lived 2,500 miles away.

1. I'm thankful that I have Mr. Bluebird in my life. He's my rock. He also puts up with my nightly "You won't freakin' believe what happened today!" stories with nary a complaint.

2. I'm thankful that Mr. Bluebird, along with Momma Bird and Poppa Bird are in good health. And that goes for me as well. I'm feeling creakier as age catches up with me, but for the most part everything's working fine.

3. I'm thankful that I work in an awesome building, with an awesome adminstration, awesome staff, and, for the most part, awesome kids. Yeah, I complain about them (and their parents) but I still look forward to going in there every day and hopefully making a difference.

4. I'm thankful that at 38 I had the guts to quit my job, go back to school, and become a teacher. I've never regretted it. Sure, I hate having to pay those student loans, but I could still be stuck in a dead-end job in an office somewhere moving paper from one box to another.

5. I'm thankful we had a chance to move down South.

6. I'm thankful that my four babbies are healty and like to snuggle and purr.

7. I'm thankful for the dear friends I have, especially Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Language. Without them, it wouldn't be nearly as fun.

8. I'm thankful I live in a country where I can vote, even if it means waiting in line. (Did I mention I ran into one of my new voting friends at the market the other night?? What a hoot!)

9. I'm thankful that even though I feel like I'm talking to air 99% of the time, I do get a kid who comes back and tells me, "Hey, I actually learned something." I wish more of them did this.

10. I'm thankful for those special moments like where you see a star streak across the sky, the light that goes on in a kids' eyes when they get it, and a hug from my hubby.

And, I'm thankful that you all take the time out of your busy lives to even bother to read my rants. You all amaze me so much.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Man, my heritage is showing.

I grew up in Los Angeles. Can you tell?

You're totally like 74% California!

Ahhh... a true California Aficionado! That's just like a California Avocado but not as green. Come on over and we'll make some guacamole and chips and watch a CHP chase on the news.

How California are You?

I left there in '92, but, like, ohmigod, I haven't changed much, have I?

The Payoff

I'm not above bribing my kids.

I've had to be out of the building a lot more this year since The Principal has asked me to go to a conference and participate in a "breaking ranks" group. This means meetings and being away from my kids. I love the idea of participating in a group that's looking for ways to improve things for the kids, but at the same time I hate leaving them with a sub.

I always hope the sub survives the day.

So, I've bribed them with a day in the lab using the microscopes to look at stuff. No grade, no assignment, just having fun looking at things. It worked and the payoff day was yesterday. Since yesterday was the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, and the kids were bouncing off the walls anyway, it worked out pretty well. They weren't going to focus on anything anyway.

I had brought in a bunch of things for them to look at - sugar, salt, pepper, flour, ginger, wool yarn, tea, and thread. One kid brought in a container of muddy puddle water, and another brought in pond water. I also had some prepared slide sets with things like mosquito eggs, dusts, liver cells, human blood, and things none of the kids could pronounce.

The best part of the day, for me, was listening to them as they looked at stuff.

"Oh dude, that's your fingernail? Gross!"

"There's things swimming in the water! Ewww!"

"Bone looks like swiss cheese!"

"You want to look at earwax? You're disgusting!"

"I'm not touching that water. It has things in it."

"Cool! Look at the salt!"

"Pepper looks like dirt. I'm not eating it again."

"That's corn? You mean we eat that?"

"You just pulled out your own eyelash to look at?"

Ah, the lives of seventh graders.

The Project

I have, finally, finished grading all my kids' PowerPoint project on cells.

In some respects they were awesome. Great graphics, wonderful transitions, you name it. These kids, even Chopper Boy (whose mom never did come sit in and observe) did great.


The content stunk.

Now, truth be told, I sort of expected this. Seventh graders do not have a lot of experience doing any sort of research or writing. They also have completely different goals for an assigment than I do. I want them to learn something. They want to get it done as fast as possible so they can get a grade (and move on to something more exciting, like video games). I give them a rubric that spells everything out in detail, but they tend not to bother to look at it (which just blows my can you do something right if you don't know what you're doing, but then again...they're seventh graders). As a result, many of them don't do a good job on what should be an easy assignment.

I did have some kids who did it right. They answered the two questions (what type of cell is the organelle found in and what does the organelle do?) and they answered in their own words. They spelled everything correctly, and they wrote solid sentences.

Then I have the kids who copied directly from the book, never realizing that after having this book for four years and reading the same material, say, 20-25 times, it just might sound familiar to me. They also copied from websites, most of which I'm also very familiar, to the point that I could tell which ones they used.

My favorite, however, were the kids who copied directly from the glossary which is an absolute no-no in my world. I don't particularly like the glossary in our book and I tell the kids they need to get the definitions from the reading which is not hard as the vocabulary words are in bold purple print. If you just copy from the glossary you don't get the context. How did I know they copied from the glossary? Because, for some reason, our glossary gives the definition for the nucleus of an atom, not the nucleus of a cell. And they all wrote the definition, word for word, out of the book. The scary thing is that we've been discussing cells now for a month and it didn't occur to them that perhaps they weren't typing in the correct definition - we finished atoms two months ago.

This also tells me that they aren't bothering to study and learn their vocabulary. Heck, they aren't bothering to open a book or do much of anything academic-related once they walk out of my room.

And I'm not alone. Mrs. Eagle reports the same results. The kids also tanked on their unit and vocabulary tests on Monday despite having the sixteen vocabulary words for a month and the study guide for two weeks. We decided that the seventh grade science classes are going to make some changes.

And they aren't going to like them. In fact, they looked downright crestfallen when I told them to start expecting - gasp! - daily quizzes over content and vocabulary. At least this way we'll be able to see what, if anything, they're actually bothering to learn.

Friday, November 17, 2006


So today, while the kids are quietly pounding away at their keyboards, I'm standing at my computer verifying that projects are, indeed, being dropped into my drop box on the server (I'm having the kids turn in their projects electronically) and I see something out of the corner of my eye.

I pause. I glance to my right. Nothing. Maybe I was imagining things.

A minute or two later one of my kids lets out a "Arghghg!" and everyone freezes. "Oh my gosh, there's a mouse!" he yells.


Kids squeal. Girls pull their feet up off the floor. Three of my severe ADHD kids are, of course, out of their seats sprinting across the room to see the mouse up close. (At this point I'm feeling sorry for the mouse.)

"Get back to your seats and get back to work!" I bellow, giving my three sprinters The Look. "It's just a mouse. It's not going to hurt you." As I say this I'm hoping they haven't discussed the Black Plague in social studies recently. I send a note up to The Secretary and she dispatches a janitor with glue traps to set for our critter.


Before the janitor arrives our mouse was playing a game of hide and seek with us. He was basically running along one wall, running behind the crates the workbooks are stored on and the worktable that holds homework basket, scissors, supplies, and all sorts of goodies. Under the table are plastic boxes of vocabulary cards, and tubs with other supplies, but nothing containing food or anything that would attract a mouse. This little guy would run out and pop out by the door (which I opened in the hopes he'd see the light and flee out to the hallway), something would move and spook him, he'd run back to the other side of the table, pop out there, then head back the other direction. I lost count of how many times he popped out where I could see him. It was actually getting to be quite entertaining.

The Janitor arrived, set down two glue traps, and left. I figured by the end of the day our friend would be trapped. However, when I checked before I headed out for the weekend, nothing was there. I'm guessing that when The Janitor walked in, and started moving the tubs around he saw his chance and took off out the door.

He is, however, not alone. We are having a huge mouse problem in the building, the likes of which we've never seen before. Mrs. Eagle has caught families of mice in her room, many of them in the cupboards under the sinks in her room. The front office has spotted mice and the Large Group Instruction room, used by the PTO for a lot of things, has quite a few of them. Mr. Social Studies suspects that the new duct work they did over the summer for the new heating/AC unit that was installed may not have been properly sealed so they're coming in the building now that it's getting cold out.

I need a class cat.

How to Avoid Grading Papers

I borrowed this from one of my favorite bloggers, Happy Chyck Wonders, who apparently borrowed it from another winner, Teacher Lady.

You can only type one word. No explanations.

Yourself: driven
Your partner: brilliant
Your hair: silver
Your Mother: critical
Your Father: reliable
Your Favorite Item: books
Your dream last night: non-existent
Your Favorite Drink: Coffee
Your Dream Car: hybrid
Your Dream Home: classic
The Room You Are In: basement
Your Ex: none
Your fear: alone
Where you Want to be in Ten Years? here
Who you hung out with last night: cats
What You're Not: satisfied
Muffins: breakfast
One of Your Wish List Items: hardwood floors
Time: short
The Last Thing You Did: supper
What You Are Wearing: sweats
Your favorite weather: autumn
Your Favorite Book: Pride & Prejudice
Last thing you ate: linguini
Your Life: chaotic
Your mood: tired
Your Best Friends: loyal
What are you thinking about right now: sleep
Your car: Saturn
What are you doing at the moment: writing
Your summer: busy
Relationship status: adored
What is on your tv: Law & Order
What is the weather like: chilly
When is the last time you laughed: two-thirty

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Can We Leave No Child Behind When the Parents Are Dragging Them Down?


We have this student I'll call The Brick. As in "thick as a...". Brick is s....l....o....w. Brick reads at a 2nd, maybe 3rd grade level. Brick can't read cursive writing. Brick is as unmotivated as, well, a brick. Brick doesn't turn in work, even work done in class, doesn't study, doesn't do school.

Brick is in my Title I tutoring class as he tests in the lowest 20% of our population on his state tests. I actually have an aide in the tutoring class and she practically has to sit on top of him and prod him the entire session to get him to do anything outside of misbaving, wasting time, and whining. To say that the lights are on and no body is home is being kind.

He whines well however.

He also would spend the entire school day in the bathroom if we'd let him. His favorite thing on earth to do is to come in class 5 seconds before the bell rings and then ask to go to the bathroom. He freaks when I tell him no, whines and whimpers that he'll die if he doesn't go, that he doesn't have time to go between classes, blah, blah, blah. It never occurs to him that the other 129 kids on the team can figure out how to get to the bathroom on time, and that we're not buying his song and dance. (Fortunately he doesn't have issues like the infamous Poop Boy from last year.)

We sent Brick to support team because he's failing every class and we're all but pulling our hair out trying to find a way to get this kid to learn something. We reviewed all the files, interviewed his former teachers, modified like mad for this kid and we're still looking at a kid with a 40% average. With modifications.

We recommended to have him tested for special education. It's obvious something is wrong, but until we know what we're just throwing tactics at him and hoping something sticks.

Mrs. Fish, who's in charge of the special education department, sent four different letters home informing the parent that we feel it would be in Brick's best interest, especially as he moves into high school in a year or two (or three...) to get tested into special ed, and if he qualified, to be able to serve him better. (Hey, learning to read might be a plus!) After all, he will have to pass the state graduation tests in a few years to get a high school diploma and unless he's special education labeled, he is limited by the number of times he can take the test. Special education kids can take it a zillion times or until they pass. Without it, Brick will most likely be a high school dropout.

Mom apparently got fed up with the letters and finally responded.

She wrote a big fat "NO!" on one of them and returned it.

So there.

Looks like mom wants this one left behind, doesn't it?

Dude, I can see your drawers.

Ah, the dress code battle. Every teacher just loves to play fashion police, don't we?

That being said, it's nice when it works.

We've noticed some changes in the neighborhood the past year or so, and a few weeks ago we had one of the officers from the local anti-gang task force come in and educate us on local gangs, gang activity, how to spot gang symbols, etc. One of the things that struck home was the uniform that many gang members wear to identify themselves. We were seeing some of this on kids, especially our boys, even those as young sixth grade.

So The Principal has declared our school a safe zone, and gang free, and she's prepared to do what it takes to see that this becomes a reality. And the first battle to be waged was involving dress code, in particular sagging.

I hate sagging. Absolutely hate it. I felt like all I did my first two years was tell boys to pull up their damn pants. It looks stupid. When I see someone who's sagging my first impression is "well, there goes a moron," because what person in his right mind would wear his pants down to his crotch so he has to hold them up when he walks? I swear they look like boys who've taken a dump in their diapers.

And how come the boys' wear pants that are so loose you could fit three kids in them, but the girls wear pants so tight you're afraid they'll pop a zipper?

All parents received a letter home regarding the anti-sagging enforcement (I wish I had a copy of it handy as it was so well-written - she's a former English teacher.). We had an automatic phone call home to all parents with a message from The Principal regarding the policy. The students heard announcements every day for a week. They were told, numerous times, that any kid caught sagging was going to go to the office for an administrator to deal with them.

And the consequence was suspension.

Apparently the first two days (when ten of us were out of town at the NMSA convention) it was a bit crazy as they sent quite a number of kids home. Amazingly, only two parents complained. The next day, fewer kids went home although a few of them were the same twits from the day before.

The past week we haven't had any sent home because - gasp! - they're actually dressing better without those hideous sagging pants.

During one of the first mornings when the anti-sagging announcements were airing, one of my kids asked me what the big deal was. I thought this was interesting coming from him as he's probably the one kid in my homeroom I worry about when it comes to involvement with the wrong type of people.

"You ever hear the saying, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, must be a duck?" I ask him.

He nodded, "So what you're saying is looks like a gangbanger, walks like a gangbanger, must be a gangbanger?"


He nods. "Makes sense to me."

Nice to see that sometimes they realize we're not just acting like the fashion police because we're old fuddy-duddies.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


We have decided that this is the Year of the Meddling Parent. Actually Mrs. Language wanted to call it the Year of the Dumbass Parent, but we figured that was too generic.

Case in point.

We have a mom I'll call Helicopter Mom because she's one of those moms who hovers over her child (apparently Time Magazine did a recent story on this phenomenom). Her son, Chopper Boy, is a great kid. He's polite, he's studious, and a very good student. His mother, however, doesn't seem to think so. I have no idea where she got the idea that her child is slow, but she's said, numerous times, that he is. Maybe it's because his handwriting isn't the best, or perhaps during a phase of his life in elementary school something was difficult, but honestly, this kid is one of my better students. Of course, part of it is because he does every single homework assignment, every single opportunity for extra credit, and he studies for every test. This is because Helicopter Mom is hovering over her child making sure he's dotting his "i's" and crossing his "t's" and all but doing his work for him. He was out sick one week but she insisted bringing him to school after everyone was dismissed to sit in my room and take a make-up test so he wouldn't get too far behind. The kid looked like he needed to be in bed, but he struggled through it. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd been running a fever.

This past week Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin, and I introduced our Cell Organelle PowerPoint project. We used to have the kids make physical models of plant or animal cells with all the organelles labeled but decided against it for several reasons. One, we're sick of grading parents' work. It's obvious that many of the projects weren't done by 12 or 13-year olds, and was even more obvious when you asked a kid a question about the project and they just blinked at you. Second, we just don't have the space to sit 100 or so projects in our room. And third, with 52% of our kids on free and reduced lunch, many parents don't have the resources to buy supplies to make a project, and then you have the parents who have the money who spend $50 to make a project for their kids. It's just easier to have them do an in-class technology project - this way we know what they can do, and they're getting tech skills in the bargain.

I get an email from Helicopter Mom that she does not approve of this project. (Since when did she get approval over our assignments?) She wanted to send me an email to afford me the opportunity to "explain" myself before she took her complaints "further". She does not feel that it's fair to require the students to do a technology project since "most of your students probably don't know PowerPoint and I'm sure most of their parents don't either." Considering that 90% of my kids, by a show of hands, informed me that they know PowerPoint, I don't think this is an issue. However, since apparently her child types slow and doesn't know PowerPoint and "I don't know PowerPoint so I can't help him", she has translated this to mean "most of my students". Her email rambled on about how can I expect them to finish a project in five days, without any instruction, how it wasn't fair, how her child would fail, blah, blah, blah.

The real crux of the matter is that she can't do his project for him. And this is sending her into orbit.

I respond to her email and stated:

1. I teach the kids how to do a PowerPoint during the course of the week.
2. The science department has done projects like this in the past VERY SUCCESSFULLY and this includes special education students as well.
3. If she looked at the rubric she would realize that the only way to fail this assignment is to not turn in anything. Honestly, a kid tries and they pass. It may not be an A but they pass.
4. This is a science department decision because we want to see what the kids can do, not their parents. (I'm sure that pissed her off.)
5. Chopper Boy is bright, hard-working, and can be successful as long as no one is out there convincing him otherwise.
6. She's welcome to come in to my room any time and observe and I would be glad to teach her PowerPoint as well.

(As an aside, when I do these technology projects, by about the second day the kids are just flying along teaching each other the tips and tricks on how to use the PowerPoint program and I'm all but bored out of my mind. I've seen a complete novice on Monday turn in a 25-slide project by Friday. It isn't hard at all.)

Helicopter Mom send me a somewhat apologetic email stating that she felt somewhat reassured that I was going to help her son learn PowerPoint but it still wasn't "fair". Whatever. And she'd try to stop by and observe. (Oh whoppee).

Her kid has almost finished his project by day three. He's doing great. He'll probably get an A. And I may be wrong, but I think he's glad that he's doing something on his own without that mother of his hovering over him.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Welcome to Our World, Part Two

We had a meeting this week with the newly hired Title I Aide for the 7th grade. She had called it to meet with us and to go over the list of the kids that she's going to be working with and getting our insights on them. This is the first year our school has qualified for Title I (for those of you outside the field of education, it's because over 50% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch; in other words our poverty level is climbing) so this is a new experience for all of us.

I'm impressed with Miss Aide. She's bright, on the ball, enthusiastic, and seems to really want to make a difference. She, and the other aides, are having to create a program from the ground up which is no easy task. She's also working on her Master's in psychology which is pretty amazing if you ask me.


She states that the goal is to work with these kids on math and reading because that's where the greatest need appears to be, so she'll be pulling these kids out of the science and social studies classes for more one on one work with her.

I lock eyes with Mr. Social Studies, and it's apparent we're thinking the same thing. It's the old "screw science and social studies, they don't really matter," mentality that we put up with every year. However, the problem is they do matter. Right now all the government cares about is reading and math, but next year science is going to be added to the list followed shortly by social studies.

I look at the rest of the team and they all have this expression of "Is she nuts?" on their face. It is silent in the room.

Finally, team leader Mrs. Math opens her mouth. "I don't think that's right that the kids get pulled out of science and social studies. They never have aides in their rooms and they always get the special ed kids. We all have inclusion classes with another teacher in the room so the kids get a lot of attention as it is. If the kids need help in math and reading why don't you take them out of math and reading?"

Miss Aide looks a bit taken aback. "Oh, well, that's fine if it's okay with you. We just thought that if they were having trouble in those areas, they probably shouldn't be pulled out of those classes."

Mrs. Math shakes her head, "Honestly, getting pulled out of my class wouldn't be an issue since we work on independent basis anyway. In fact, I'd prefer it." Ms. Reading and Mrs. Language agree. They'd rather have the kids pulled from their rooms than from science and social studies.

Miss Aide looks at Mr. Social Studies and then to me. "So what you're saying is that the kids really need to be in your rooms, and not getting pulled out, right?"

We agree emphatically.

Miss Aide smiles. "Works for me. I'll make sure that any pull outs don't affect science and social studies."

I found out later from Mr. Social Studies that he went to talk to Miss Aide to find out if she'll be doing work in the classrooms in addition to pull out. Apparently she will. Word is she'll be in each of our rooms 2 days a week.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democracy in Action, or, Does Anyone Want Pizza?

Yesterday, being election day, I went to exercise my democratic right to vote. My state offers early voting, but I never could make it to early voting because I find it nearly impossible to get out of school before 5:00 pm which was when early voting closed for the day. (And who says teachers leave at 2:30? Morons.)

I got in line at 5:30 pm.

I cast my ballot at 9:15 pm.


However, I have not missed an election since I turned 18 and registered to vote and I certainly wasn't going to let 500 people get in my way. It actually turned out to be kind of amusing, really. When I got to the elementary school gym, which is my polling place, there were already about 500 people in lines snaking back and forth all through the gym. I had brought a sudoko puzzle book to work on but pretty soon it turned into more of a social event with everyone chatting about this that and the other, so I gave up on the puzzle. Someone went around offering cookies and coffee to those of us in line. People were discussing phoning out for pizza. Others were on cell phones talking to local reporters about the fact that there were only three - Three! - voting machines for a precinct that sees a new subdivision opening every month. Everytime someone finished voting, they'd throw up their hands and cheer and everyone would clap.

When I finished voting there were about 100 people still in line behind me. I heard that they finally finished around 11:00 pm.