Friday, October 30, 2009

Up By Ten

We had our first of two parent teacher conference nights last night.

The weather was forecasting possible rain showers, so we weren't really counting on a lot of folks.

We've had little to know reaction to our report cards that went out last week, so we weren't really counting on a lot of folks.

And the last time we held conferences, my team made school history by being the first team to score a perfect zero in parent attendance.

So, we weren't really counting on a lot of folks.

Conferences ran from 4:30 to 7:00 and amazingly, I saw ten parents. Even better? These were the parents I really wanted and needed to see for the most part. All in all, it went pretty good.

Mrs. Eagle, however, had a total of six. Mrs. Hummingbird had four. And there were a few who had even less. I guess the days of parents two to six deep waiting to get into the room to see you are gone.

But overall, after last year, I'm pleased as punch.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is it Me or Does it Echo In Here?

For the past two years, The District has utilized an on-line gradebook system called PowerSchool. I love it. I can update grades at home, run reports on missing work, progress reports, and probably reports I haven't thought of yet. Parents can check grades any time of the night or day, see that work is missing, and can even get grade updates emailed to them. Students hate it because parents can keep a really close eye on what they are, or more precisely, what they are not doing.

District surveys show that about 89% of our parents have access to email and a computer. I send out a weekly email to about 85% of my parents, so despite being one of the poorer buildings in the district, our numbers aren't too bad. Last year to save paper, they put the Code of Conduct and Student Handbook on line and parents had to sign a form saying that yes, they reviewed it with their kid or no, they needed a hard copy. This year I had one kid in my homeroom request a hard copy. So everything sounds hunky dory and all our parents are utilizing PowerSchool.

Except they aren't. I can go on-line and see the last time a parent or a student accessed PowerSchool and you would be amazed how many of them either haven't ever logged in, or how many logged in in August and never came back. Getting a password is not a challenge - they've been sent home at least twice, there is a table staffed by guidance at nearly every school event (except sporting events) where people can get their passwords. And I'm not the only teacher who sends out a weekly email that mentions checking grades in PowerSchool and to "contact Guidance Goddess at blah blah blah to get your password if you need it." Every single parent meeting we have we mention PowerSchool and if we get that blank look, we walk the parent down to Guidance, get their user name and password, and hopefully they can figure it out from there. All it takes is a little effort.

Last year The District decided that enough parents were on PowerSchool and that we would cease sending home paper Progress Reports. The Principal nixed that idea and said we'd keep sending them on paper because "it's the right thing to do", and since we had a feeling based on our numbers that PowerSchool wasn't being utilized like it should be. Considering the number of parents that went "What's PowerSchool?" when asked, we figured that we'd better do the paper thing.

This year we find out, courtesy of a front page story in the newspaper, that The District is moving to online report cards and will not be sending home paper report cards for the first grading period. Wonderful idea about moving to the 21st century, saving paper, going green, blah, blah, blah, blah...and parents that don't have access can request a paper report card, blah, blah, blah...

The Principal, again, said we'd send home a paper report card because "it's the right thing to do."

On Friday, there is an update to the news story - apparently the District folks did a survey of PowerSchool usage (probably prompted by the deluge of phone calls they received from people that wanted their passwords) and discovered that only 20% of the families in the District have ever logged on to PowerSchool.

Let me repeat that...20%. That's it. 89% supposedly have access to a computer but only 20% have made the effort to check their child's grades.

That silence you hear is the sound of parent involvement, or, more precisely, the lack thereof.

My team sent home 97 report cards. I had 47 students fail science for this nine weeks. To date, I have not heard a peep. No email, no call requesting a conference, nothing.

It's like they don't even care.

And we wonder why the kids don't care either.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reason Number 324 Why It's a Really Good Idea to Review Materials

One of the standards that we kept when The State revamped the middle school standards, was body systems. Our old book had very little on this subject so we were pretty tickled to see that the new book actually had a lot more information on the different systems.

And in some cases, too much information. Like the full color, gloriously accurate illustration of the male reproductive system. The book publisher, however, apparently realized that the pictures in the teacher edition (which is what we get to preview before during the Book Publishers Dog and Pony Show) were a bit too graphic. The student edition of the book has nothing but white space where the pictures (both male and female) used to be.

Now before everyone crawls all over me about how important reproductive knowledge is, and how we're censoring books and all that, please rest assured that we do teach this but in a less "graphic" way (and I might add that our standards don't even specify what body systems to teach, but rather that kids "understand how they are interrelated.") These kids have all gone through the birds and bees talks in lower grades, and in their health classes, although in each situation permission slips were sent home so parents could approve or disapprove. Quite honestly, I have no desire to teach the whole birds and bees thing with a bunch of immature seventh graders, especially considering that some of them may already know more than I do, while others are still playing with Barbies and are as naive as they come.

And I think parents should be teaching this to their children, rather than me, but I digress.

Today my kids were taking their social studies benchmark test and I'm keeping one eye on them (which is like watching paint dry) while I'm looking ahead to try to see what kind of materials we can use for our upcoming unit. Our workbook is wonderful, so I'm flipping through it when all of a sudden, I see The Picture. I'm sure my eyes just about popped out of my head, because that was the last thing I expected to see. They removed the picture from the textbook, but kept it in the workbook.

Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Hummingbird came by for planning after the test and I showed them the page. They were astounded as well. Mrs. Hummingbird, who has seventh grader on my team was particularly astounded. "Oh gracious, there's no way I'd want my kid looking at that without permission."

"I can't believe they haven't found that," said Mrs. Eagle. "We would have heard the uproar and giggles if they had."

"Now what?" I asked. "Think we should show it to The Principal?"

"Oh yeah," said Mrs. Eagle. "She could use the giggle."

Suffice it to say, The Principal about fell out of her seat, and echoed Mrs. Hummingbird's opinion that she didn't want her daughter to see that picture, and Academic Coach (who has a seventh grade boy) said the same thing. Mrs. Sparrow, who is in charge of textbooks, and used to teach science, went white and said, "Oh good gracious, that would be highly uncomfortable to use in a classroom."

"Oh my word," said The Principal, "the kids would lose their minds if they saw that, and we'd have parents storming the office."

I think it was the parent response that had us the most concerned.

So, after the dance this afternoon, we spent a few minutes tearing this section out of the workbooks. Thank goodness that we keep workbooks in the classroom (if we let them leave the room they'd disappear in the black holes that are backpacks and lockers). It took all of fifteen minutes for us to get the pages torn out. They'll work well in my compost bin!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Gnomes, I Tell You...Or Maybe Elves

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth.

Actually it was Fall Break (YIPPPEEE!)which was wonderful, but then coming back is just, well, a bit of a let down. See, I had to finalize grades for report cards which go out on Friday. And, out of 97 kids, 50 passed.

Yes, nearly 50% failed science. Amazing. However, I'm not alone. All the other 7th grade teachers had similar results. These kids just won't turn in work. If it's anything that leaves the room - homework, class work that isn't finished, a model, a project, anything - it will not be turned in.

I had one student, Elf Boy, who's a small kid, really sweet, and according to his records, is smart as a whip. But he's failing every single stinking class because he won't turn in work. His mother, whom I've emailed, called, you name it, is kind of vague about things like getting him into an after school tutoring program ("Well, uh, I don't know, maybe it would help," and comments like, "Oh, I only check my email about once a month, or so.") In any case, Mrs. Band is having fits because he's a good band kid and parents claim that they're going to pull him out of band if he doesn't bring his grades up.

As an aside, I don't believe that for a minute. They won't do a thing to help bring his grades up - meet with teachers, check grades on PowerSchool, check agendas - so I'm guessing this is some idle threat. So far, that's exactly what it is. No parent down in guidance demanding that Elf Boy quit band. In fact, what we're hearing is a giant bit of nothing. Parents aren't telling Mrs. Band this, Elf Boy is telling Mrs. Band that parents are telling him this. It's just bizarre.

In any case, I've spent a few of my free planning periods trying to get Elf Boy caught up on some of the larger assignments, which he finally did, but it wasn't enough to earn him anywhere close to passing. I did get to talk to him a few times about what happens to all the work that he claims to have done, but never turned in.

"I honestly do all of my work," he said to me. "But it disappears."

"Do you put it in your binder in the homework sections?" I ask him as we have the kids set up on a program similar to AVID where The Binder Holds All.

"No, not everything. A lot of it like my cell model I put on my dresser before I go to bed."

"And it's not there in the morning?" I ask him.

"No, every morning when I wake up everything I've put there is gone." His big round eyes are looking at me with dead seriousness at this point.

"Gone?" I ask.

"Gone," he confirms. "Every day."

"Without fail?"

He nods his head.

"So who's taking it?" I ask him as the stares at me. I'm thinking I'm going to hear a story now about Evil Sibling who's destroying his life by stealing all his work.

"I think it's gnomes," he says.

He is serious.

"Or maybe elves," he responds. "I'm not quite sure which."

"Have you considered an Orc?" I ask, the Sarcastic Bird taking flight.

"No, I don't think it's an Orc," he answers. "I'm thinking it's elves."

Oh. Good. Gracious.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Glowing Reviews.

I'm a bit of a weather junkie.

So, this morning I dutifully watched the local news and verified that today was going to be a bit warmer with a small possibility of scattered showers.

Note the small possibility part...

We noticed at lunch that it was raining and pretty dark out. Not raining hard, but it was definitely gloomy outside.


During sixth period we had almost made it to the end of the class when the thunder began rumbling and we could hear the wind blowing pretty hard and the rain was crashing down on the roof. One of my kids came from an errand to the office and mentioned that it was pouring sheets out there.

And then the power went out.

Oh wonderful.

Luckily my emergency light was working and my laptop switched to battery. No internet, no phone, but at least we could play a game of candy vocabulary while we waited for the lights to come on.

And waited.

And waited.

We went through several rounds of candy vocabulary and the kids were getting restless. I dug through my desk and found my glow-in-the-dark fluorescent chalk and my flashlight that has a blacklight setting. No batteries. Dang it! I dug around, found some batteries, loaded it up and joy of joys, it worked! Next, I grabbed some of our free poster paper (from a local publishing company that donates scraps to us) and found some that was pretty dark in color.

"Hey, look at this," I told my kids (thankfully this is my smallest class so it's no big deal to have them circle around a table and watch me demonstrate something.)

I gave a kid the blacklight, and grabbed one of the chalk pieces and started drawing a cell. As soon as the orange chalk hit the paper it was illuminated by the blacklight.

"Ohhhhhhhh," said the kids in unison. "That's cool!"

I proceeded to draw a cell and had the kids tell me what organelles I was drawing. "That's a mitochondrion!", they'd yell. "Oh, look, a chloroplast!"

A great way to review, even in the dark, eh?

I think we were almost disappointed when the lights came on ten minutes before the end of the school day!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Blinded By the Light

You've just got to wonder about 7th grade boys.

My fourth period class is, well, interesting. It's a small class, but there are at least three kids in there that Do Not Get Along With Anyone. At All. That annoy and drive everyone nuts. These three have their own tables and work on their own, while the rest of my class does group work.

And they're perfectly content working on their own because they don't like the other kids any more than they like them.

The rest of the kids are also getting very good at correcting all the other kids in class. Including, Fog Boy.

Fog Boy is in a perpetual fog. He's a nice kid, but he's also at risk as he does nothing and hears absolutely nothing you say. At all. It's so bad that he'll raise his hand to ask a question about something I just said and his classmates will all roll their eyes and yell, "She just said that!" This happens all period. His hearing has been tested and it's perfectly fine. It's just that he's too busy fiddling with papers, playing with the zipper on his pencil pouch and basically just checked out to lunch and running about five minutes late. Today his table partner did a fantastic job of prompting him with "Pay attention!", "Look, here on the paper!" and other prompts that I usually do but she's taken it upon herself to do them as he's driving her crazy with his perpetual fog.

It's so bad that I give the class directions by starting off with his name, "Okay Fog Boy, and the rest of you, open your book to page 53," and the like. He giggles and thinks it's funny, but at least it gets his attention for about three seconds.

So today we're going over the guided outline we started yesterday (these kids have a huge problem reading content so we're working on teaching them how to outline their reading), and Fog Boy raises his hand and I call on him.

"I can't see what's going on," he says.

"That's because you stared at the light!" screams the whole class back at him.

"He what?" I ask them.

Drama Boy, who really is in drama, but acts more mature than most of his classmates, answered for them. "While you were out in the hall watching the kids, that fool stood and stared at the light in the projector for like five minutes."

Oh good gracious.

"You stood and stared at the LCD projector light?" I ask.

Fog Boy giggles. "Yeah," he answers. "My eyes are burning."

The rest of the class by now is rolling their eyes, tossing up their hands and just grousing over the foolishness of Fog Boy yet again.

"Why on earth would you do that?" I ask him. Although I'm not sure I really want to know.

"I don't know," he answers.

So, I filled out a nurse form for him and sent him on his way but only after writing specifically what he did so that the nurse would know that it was a very poor decision on his part. The other kids were insisting that any behavior that stupid would generate a write up and the nurse was sure to do it. (We have a new nurse this year - she's not warm and fuzzy like our last one and these kids are nearly scared of her.)

After Fog Boy left the rest of the class sighed and settled down. I paused for a moment and asked them, "Is it me, or is he like this all the time?"

"All the time!" they chorused. "And he was like this in sixth grade too!"

And he's driving them just about as crazy as he's driving me.