Saturday, January 30, 2010

And Yet More Snow

Kinda makes one wonder if we'll even have school on Monday considering the rural county roads are an absolute mess.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Obnoxious Folder

Anyone remember Elf Boy? He's a tiny little guy in my 5th period who, from what we can tell from previous test scores and grades, is really quite capable but who turns in ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Nothing at all. He has one of the lowest grades out of all the kids in my classes. He never needs to be told to fill out the "why I didn't have my homework" slip and nine times out of ten his explanation is "lost it" or "forgot it at home". He must fill out about a dozen of these a week in between all his classes. He did get enrolled in after school tutoring and his tutoring teacher is, thankfully, snatching all his completed work as soon as it's done and putting it in my mailbox so I can disburse it to the rest of the teachers on The Team.

I've been trying to get a hold of mom for months to get a meeting set up and finally - finally! - this week she actually returned a phone call. She couldn't come in for a meeting due to her job, but she could do a teleconference. So, I set one up and we called her, put her on speakerphone and we all had a nice chat about Elf Boy and his grades.

Mom seemed very nice, and sweet, and very concerned that although she sees him "do all his homework and put it in his binder/bookbag", she doesn't have any idea why none of it gets turned in. None at all.

So, we put in a plan something that has worked well in the past - The Obnoxious Folder. The Obnoxious Folder is the brightest, garish, most eye-popping folder with pockets that we can find which is to go home with Darling Cherub every night. Cherub does homework and it all goes into the Obnoxious Folder. The parent is supposed to supervise, and in some cases staple, to make sure the work is Done and In The Folder. The parent then makes sure the folder, which is obnoxiously garish and loud, is then placed into the bookbag which is usually deep, dark and has some of the same properties as black holes. The idea is that the folder is so obnoxious it can't get lost - like all the homework has been doing for the past year. The next morning the first thing this child does after he/she arrives at school is to personally hand me the folder. I usually snatch them up during hall duty when I see them walk in from the buses, and make the kid stop, open the backpack and fish out the folder. At that point, I empty the folder, give it back to the cherub and send him and her off on their merry way.

This has worked pretty well in the past because I now have custody of the work, and it takes me a minute or so to deliver it to the teachers who assigned it. No big deal as I usually have to check in and talk to them about something anyway. If I'm short on time, I put it in the mailboxes.

Well, Elf Mom loved this idea. I had given Elf Boy a BRIGHT YELLOW folder the day before and she was going to make sure he had it EVERY NIGHT and she'd make sure he put all his finished work in it EVERY NIGHT, and that he'd hand it to me EVERY MORNING, and life would be wonderful because finally, finally, finally, Elf Boy would turn in his assignments. Elf Mom is ecstatic because this is a great idea, it's something she could do, and it will solve all her problems.

Except it's not working out that way.

Most mornings when I intercept Elf Boy in the hallway, he has his yellow folder. It is EMPTY. And those are on the mornings he remembers to bring it back to school. I asked him if his mom was watching him put his work in the folder like she said she would and he hems and haws, and finally admits that no, she's not checking on him. He can't understand why the work isn't there. (Elves again?) Like mom, he swears he's doing it.

Really now.

So Elf Mom, who promised she'd watch him put all the homework she sees him do every night into his folder...hasn't even managed to do that for one single day. Not one. Two weeks now and the only thing this folder is getting is banged up from going in and out of the backpack every day.

(Any guess on who's going to be held accountable for this kid's education? Let me clue you won't be him and it won't be his mom.)

I got with Mrs. Reading Teacher a few days ago to discuss the folder issue. Her comment? "I sort of thought about sending a stapler home to help her staple his work to the folder, but I'm not sure that would even work."

Sad to say, she's probably right.

And Yet Another Snow Day

The Great White Death was predicted to hit last night. It was first predicted to arrive around nine pm, then midnight, then after midnight, then by six am this morning. School districts all over the State, hearing the forecasts of Ice! Sleet! Freezing Rain! Snow! Snow! and more Snow! started canceling classes yesterday afternoon, including The District, which amazed many of us because The District is usually one of the very last to close.

And here I sit, after noon, with nary a flake in sight.

Why? Because this storm has wrapped itself into a donut-shape and we're right in the middle of the donut hole. So, while everyone around us is getting slammed, we're all staring at the sky wondering when we'll get our share.

So, it's another day off, we've used our last snow day built into the calendar, and I am going to be useful and write a test.

At least I did get to sleep in!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When Good Kids Choose Rotten Friends

We had a meeting this week with a parent that we were, in all honesty, not really looking forward to meeting. Her daughter is one of the absolutely most annoying kids I have this year. It's hard, honestly, to come up with anything nice to say about a kid who has such an unpleasant personality (and we had heard rumors that the apple didn't fall far from the tree), so we weren't exactly wanting to meet mom.

However. Mom really needed to get in to see us (I even put that in the comments section on the report card) because she has a kid who should be an A B student and who has, in nearly all her classes, a solid F. Not just a basic F, but a real bad, nearly hard to recover from F. Passing is 70%...she has a 54% average for me. We're talking 26 missing assignments last semester. Referrals for constant tardies. Backtalk. She Will Not Shut Up. Other kids complain about her constant talking, note passing, and generally annoying behavior. So, she's in an isolation seat and spends most of the class period staring at me with absolute disgust.

Mom was concerned. Mom was getting some of the same rotten behavior at home. Mom couldn't understand how a kid could go from straight A's in elementary school and land with straight F's in middle school. We even had Mr. Enforcer there explaining to mom why we put her in the enrichment class (for kids who have shown they have the ability, but for whatever reason, won't work.)

Truthfully, it came down to her best friend. Snotty Girl has chosen the absolute worst friends she could possibly find. She hangs with the low achievers, the kids in trouble all the time, the kids who do absolutely no work - her best friend hasn't passed a single class since she hit middle school. And since she wants to fit in, because being smart isn't cool or popular, she acts just as stupid and ignorant as they do.

We mentioned this to Mom and she agreed. Mom wasn't wild about her friends either. So, we took a look at her schedule and decided to break up the little duo and separate her from The Best Friend. Mom basically said, "Do whatever it takes," (which was nice to hear for a change) and we brought Snotty Girl in and broke the news to her.

She was LIVID.

She was mad at us, mad at Mr. Enforcer, and FURIOUS at her mother.

We had her schedule changed by the time her electives were over and we put her in our classes that were heavily stacked with the nicer, smarter kids. In fact, she ended up in my favorite class, my "girl class" which has only 6 boys and 15 girls. It's a great class with high achievers and just really nice kids.

Snotty Girl sulked and pouted all day, even when I put her in a group and didn't stick her back in isolation (and she hasn't made a peep). She also asked if she could have a second chance and make up a missing assignment (I told her she had one day).

Her friend? She was mad and pouted all day as well. In fact, they're both still pouting. Her friend was SHOCKED - just SHOCKED - that Snotty Girl's mother actually let THEM CHANGE HER SCHEUDLE.

I guess I'm a them.

In any case, I think we did the right thing. If nothing else it quieted these two down for a bit and Snotty Girl actually turned in some work. Amazing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Laying Down the Law

The Team decided after we returned from our Christmas break to really lay down the law on late work. We have kids (and parents) who beg and plead for us to accept late work and we did to a certain extent, often with penalties involved. However, none of the 8th grade teachers accept it, except in the cases of kids on IEP's who get extended time, so it's about time our critters start getting their work in on time so they'll be able to hit the ground running when they make it to eighth grade.

The results have been amazing.

It's been three weeks and I probably have the highest number of assignments turned in I've ever seen. Word got around really quick when we implemented this policy. A few kids whined and whimpered, but once their friends saw that we Really Truly Weren't Accepting Late Work, they got the message. Work is getting turned in. Granted, it's not always complete, but it's better than the big fat nothing we were used to seeing.

Amazingly enough, not a peep out of a parent. Usually when there's something to complain about, you from hear them.

I do have some exceptions. My special ed kids get extended time, and I've privately discussed extended time with some of my kids who I know have really bad home situations and can't get work done on time, through no fault of their own. (Kind of hard to get work done when you're living in a car.)

But on the whole, even these kids are getting their work in by the deadline.

You have high expectations and demand results and oftentimes you'll get them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Learning Cursive Can Come In Handy

One of the things I've noticed in the past few years is that quite a number of my students don't write cursive. In fact, some of them can't even read cursive. I actually started to print on the white board a few years ago because I had a number of special education kids who could not read cursive, so couldn't read anything I wrote on the board.

Not that any of my kids really pay all that much attention to what I write on the board anyway...

Some of the other seventh grade teachers have spent some time in elementary classrooms and mentioned that cursive isn't really taught as much as it was when we were in school - back in the dark ages when you were expected to sign, not print, your name, and be able to make your "T's" and "Q's" just so. (I always hated the Q's, they looked like the number two too much for my taste.)

This lack of familiarity with cursive could, potentially, cause a problem.

Like, for example, when you go to forge your mother's name on a vocabulary study log.

And you use a pencil.

And print her name not once, not twice, but three times (but if you were really motivated you should have printed it ten times to get full credit!).

And you spell it two different ways.

And it doesn't look like anything remotely like your mother's signature which we have on file.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Basking in the Heat

We have, since the first of the year, broken a record held since 1885 for the number of days where the temperature never got above freezing. (Nine, in case you're wondering.)

Not a big deal if you live in, say, Montana, but when you're in the Beloved South it's news.

So the fact that it's now in the 50's (which is above normal), is a relief to most of us who were sick and tired of cold, icy classrooms. This is more like it.

And the ingredients were all there - a Friday, temps finally in the mid-50's, and only two weeks left of the month.

Yup, it was a perfect day for the mandatory monthly fire drill!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fuzzy Expectations

We met on Wednesday afternoon with Snow Day Mom, who, thankfully, didn't have Snow Day Dad along with her. It became pretty obvious that mom is a bit relaxed on things and dad is the one with the combative personality.

It actually was a pretty interesting meeting. We had Mr. Enforcer there (we always ask for an admin to be at parent meetings if we think there may be an issue with a parent). I love having Mr. Enforcer at a meeting because he lays it all on the line and he always, always, has our back. So yesterday he looks at Snow Day Mom and asks, "So, what are your expectations for Snow Day Girl?"

Mom blinks and says, "Well, Dad would like for her to have all A's, but I'd be happy with a high D."

What on Earth? No wonder the kid is just kind of sitting there. The parents can't even agree on what they think she should do!

I always bring a copy of the study guide with me to parent meetings because my parents should be reading it. I send a copy home with every kid and on the back it has a study log that needs to be signed by the parent every night when the little cherub has studied his or her vocabulary cards. Most of my kids can't seem to pry a parent signature out of their parents or, better yet, the parents have never seen this form.

Even though I email a copy to all the parents on my email list and talk about it constantly in my weekly emails.

BTW, I borrowed this study guide format from Elementary History Teacher when she posted it on her blog a few years ago. It is awesome. UPDATE: I've had people ask for a link to Elementary History Teacher's study guide. It is found in her archives from September 2008. Go there, and you should find it. She does a much better job of explaining her study guide than I ever could.

In any case, Snow Day Mom had seen the study guide. But she admitted that she "never really remembers to get it signed", and then she asks a bombshell of a question. "Do you do other tests, or just vocabulary?"

At this point our jaws about his the floor. Why? Because there's a section on the study guide that says, "The UNIT and VOCABULARY tests (note, plural) will be given on...". It also has all the questions that students should be able to answer so they will do well on the UNIT test, the standards, the page numbers in the book the information is found on, and about a zillion other references to a UNIT test on it. It was obvious that mom sort of just skimmed the whole thing and keyed in for some reason on the vocabulary.

And then, of course, was the fact that she missed all the "UNIT test" grades on the progress reports.

"I guess I should check PowerSchool a bit more," she admitted.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Oh Yes, We Read Minds. It's in the Job Description.

I usually check my school email account about once a day. There are times that The Principal will send out a blast to let us know about something that's coming up, a parent may drop a line about a sick kid, or even a student could be emailing about a homework question. (Although, truth be told, I get more spam than anything.) Anyhow, I notice an email from Mr. Math asking about what day this week we could do a parent meeting in the afternoon after school.

I think this is a bit odd as he mentions in the email that he just got off the phone with the parent. Which is weird. Because it's Sunday. And I know he's not in The Building (we can't get in there once the alarm is set without causing quite an uproar with the local authorities), and I can't imagine that he's home on a Sunday afternoon dialing up parents to set meetings. Even though this is a parent we've been trying to get a hold of for months without any success whatsoever - no return phone calls, no email responses, no response to notes in student's agenda

When we returned after four days out of school, due to our two snow days, I found out the rest of the story.

Apparently The Father sent Mr. Math a very irate email on Sunday demanding to know why - WHY? - he was so RUDE as to IGNORE the TWO voice mail messages his wife left on Mr. Math's phone on Thursday and Friday.

Okay, let's think about this a minute.

We had a snow day on Thursday. And another one on Friday. And hopefully this parent realized when she called around noon on both days that her child wasn't at school that day. That she should have been sitting there at home right in front of mom. Because the school was closed. Locked. Alarmed. And no big yellow bus came by and picked up her kid.

And because of the snow day, and the school being LOCKED, Mr. Math couldn't retrieve his voicemail. Which rings on a phone in his CLASSROOM, not his home.

Apparently when Mr. Math returned the call to the parent, after receiving the irate email, he mentioned that we weren't in school on the two days that the parent left a message. Her response?


Now I think I understand why this kid seems a little bit spacey.

Friday, January 08, 2010

And Yet Another

Snow Day Number Two.

Surprisingly, it was called on Thursday afternoon (which allowed many of us to stay awake and watch the BCS championship game without worrying about how little sleep we'd get on a school night). Amazing how fast the emails and text messages flew among the faculty when the call came out about a second snow day. Although not much snow was predicted, the roads off the main drags were a mess.

The terrain here is hilly and curvy with lots of dips and turns in most of the roads, even many that are within the city limits. Mr. Bluebird and I went out and ran errands yesterday, and there were some roads that were just fine, but others were littered with abandoned (and in some cases, smashed up) vehicles. Unfortunately, when it's icy and cold (and it's a whopping 18 degrees right now), this can be treacherous.

The Guidance Goddess lives in a rural part of the county, at the foot of the hill. She spent most of the day watching people attempt to climb the hill, fail, and then slide backwards. By the end of the night she'd seen four wrecks, including a beautiful new truck that appeared to have been totaled, and was getting used to the blue and red flashing lights blinking on and off at the foot of her driveway.

It is also brutally cold for this part of the country. Most of our homes are heated with electric heat and heat pumps and trust me, when it gets to about 20 degrees outside, those heat pumps just can't cut it. I'm lucky to keep it around 63-64 degrees in the house right now, so I'm thankful that I am a knitter and have lots of warm woolly things to help keep us warm. We won't hit 32 degrees until maybe Monday.

And to make it was warmer this morning in Chicago - Chicago! - than it was here.

That's just plain wrong, folks.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snow Day!

Despite the fact that we always seem to be the last district to close school for weather, the call finally went out early this morning. Thankfully the local news had The District on the scroll when I got up around 4:30 and NOT around 5:30 when I was already one shower and three cups of coffee into my morning. Of course the worst was when Mrs. Eagle and I were Already At School when they canceled. That was depressing.

However, I'm not doing the real major happy dance because this is NOT the time of year to have a snow day. We've just come back from two blissful weeks out of school and the kids have been great, and everything was going well. We were getting into the groove, and amazing, nearly all my kids - except for five - turned in their first homework assignment! Astounding! Amazing! We were onto something!

And then this.

Snow days are much more appreciated a little bit later into the grading period when we've Had It Up to Here with the kids and they're tired and cranky with cold weather and gray skies, and we all need a mental health break to snuggle up under a warm blanket and read a book that has nothing to do with education.

But hey, I'll take a snow day when I can get it. However, we only get three, and it's not looking too good for tomorrow. Hopefully this won't be one of those years where we have to make up days at the end of the year.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Stoking the Fires

Day Three of The Week With Little Heat.

I arrive, bundled up because, after all, it's only freaking ELEVEN degrees outside, and find out that the building is a tad warmer.

Okay, okay, maybe it just feels warmer after walking in from a freaking ELEVEN degrees, but I'll take my victories where I can.

But it honestly felt warmer.

And then, as I walked to my room, the smell hit me. You know that smell that a furnace gives off when you first get it lit at the beginning of the winter season? Kind of a musty burning weird smell? Well we had it. Which could of meant one of two things. One, the furnace blew up and we're about ready to burn down or two, we finally have heat in the old part of the building.

Fortunately it was the second option and we had heat. It wasn't balmy by any means, but better. Teachers and kids weren't wearing ski parkas in class, but had downgraded to hoodies and sweaters.


But it's still freaking cold outside. And they're calling for snow.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Polar Expedition

This morning when I left...11 degrees.

Never got higher than 24 degrees.

The School? Still chilly, but better than yesterday. I was prepared (hand knit wool socks, short sleeved shirt, jacket over that, and mittens and gloves if needed). My room was better than yesterday but still not up to the tropical zone that we've become used to. (I could do with it being a little cooler, personally.) The kids whined and complained about how cold it was so I reminded them that it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to bring a sweatshirt or something to wear in class.

Mrs. Eagle's team area, however, was still polar. When we walked our classes down to lunch we saw some of Mrs. Eagle's kids round the corner. They were all bundled up, collars zipped tight, gloves and mittens on, and some even had scarves wrapped around their heads.


Apparently there were maintenance guys working down in the basement all day trying to fix the lack of heat problem. As of 3:00 this afternoon still no heat.

Any guesses on tomorrow?

Oh yeah, and they're calling for snow late tomorrow night.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Excuse Me, But Is The Freezer in Room 30?

For those of you who pay attention to things like weather (I am an admitted Weather Channel fan as well as a fan of the National Weather Service) most of the country has been under a real deep freeze since the weekend.

My Beloved South is no exception. It was 11 degrees on Saturday morning, 10 on Sunday, and today back up to 11. We haven't been higher than the mid 20's since the weekend, and it doesn't look like we'll be hitting freezing at 32 degrees until next week sometime.

Now for those of you who live Up North and are laughing hysterically over these balmy temperatures, please note that I was living in Ohio in 1994 (if I remember correctly) when we had the Coldest Day in Ohio History. I don't remember what the temperature was because I was knocked over when I saw on the news that morning that we had a wind chill of -71 degrees. Yes, that is MINUS 71 degrees. I kid you not. Needless to say the car didn't start that day.


Seeing as how cold it has been I mentioned to the Hubby yesterday that I hoped that someone was going in and turning the heat on in The Building because it was going to be really, really cold in there when we showed up on Monday morning if they didn't. The District had turned off all the heat in all the facilities (cost savings, dontcha know it?) and as luck would have it, we ended up with the coldest temperatures of the season.

Believing in being well-prepared, I wore multiple layers, wool socks, heavy down jacket (dug out of the "haven't worn since we moved to the South closet"), wool mittens, and was prepared for a rather chilly building. Thank goodness I did this.

The newer part of the building where the eighth grade classrooms are, for the most part, was just fine. The older part of the building, where the seventh grade and sixth grade classes are, was cold. My room was one of the warmest (and I usually hate it because it's so hot in there most mornings) and even then I was wearing my jacket most of the day. The rooms we did our workshops in were all chilly.

But nothing prepared me for Mrs. Eagle's team area.

It was so cold in their area that you could feel the cold air blast you in the face as you turned the corner. So cold, in fact, that if you didn't know any better you would have thought all the teachers had their outside doors propped open. They didn't. It was just amazingly cold. Mrs. Eagle was so cold she couldn't work in her room (even with her outside gear on) and she ended up in my room most of the day. It felt like a walk in restaurant freezer. I'm surprised her fish tank didn't have ice floating in it.

A work order was issued and somehow someone is supposed to come fix whatever is going on with the heat system that it no longer is working like it should (and it was replaced only a few years ago so it should work).

Any guesses on whether or not it will be working when the kids arrive tomorrow?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

It's Been Fun

Two blissful weeks with no responsibilities other than the normal around the house stuff, things like feeding the Hubby and the Catkids and generally making sure we have clean clothes to wear.

We go back to school Monday and the kids show up on Tuesday. Monday is an in-service of some kind and a nice way that The District has of easing us back into a routine before the screaming hordes arrive the following day. It does lower the stress somewhat.

So what have I done?

Knit. Sleep. Read. Repeat.

Actually I finished something that has taken me three - that's THREE - years to complete, a really neat lace scarf that my mother provided me the yarn, pattern, and eventually, the needles to complete. This thing was a challenge. I restarted it at least a dozen times, gave up at least once until Addi created lace needles in the called for size seven and mom found them at her local yarn shop, and after a zillion lifelines and rips, rips, and more rips, I finally got into the rhythm of the thing and finished it.

And now I want to make one for myself.


But at least I accomplished something.