Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shopping on the Donors' Dime

This year The District has something new in place called the Teacher Free Store. Apparently the local Education Foundation got a bunch of donors (mainly businesses in the area) to donate school supplies and things teachers use in their classrooms so they could set up a "store" that teachers can visit four times a year. Considering that teachers spend an average of $500-$1000 a year out of their own pocket for things for their classroom and their students, I thought this was a great idea.

Personally, I don't need that much for my classroom. I've taught at a summer camp for the past few years and they were always more than happy to have me take leftover and slightly used items off their hands. Storage over the school year was an issue and the less they had to store the better. So, for most teachers, I do pretty well.

However, the kids this year are having an awful time getting basic supplies, especially binders, pencil pouches, and divider tabs. Our free and reduced lunch numbers are up and fewer and fewer people are paying school fees. So, I figured I'd go down to the free store and see if I could find a few things for my kids.

(On an aside here...if there's one thing that drives me nuts, it's people who can't take care of their kids' basic needs like food, clothes, and school supplies, yet have enough money for beer, cigarettes and lots and lots of body art. Priorities people.)

In any case, I made my appointment to go down to the store, drove down there, and spent about ten minutes picking up things for my kids. I got some binders, some pencil pouches (no dividers, alas), two sets of multiplication cards to use with our team remediation class, and a stapler. The stapler was the only thing I got for my room, as I now have 8 lab groups, not 7, so I was short one stapler.

All I had to do was write a thank you note to the donors and that was it. Painless.

So yesterday one of my kids, Tank Boy (this kid screams football player when you look at him, even though he's only 12), is digging through a bunch of folders to find his make-up work from when he missed class. I like this kid a lot. You can tell he doesn't have much support at home financially, but he's a hard worker, participates in class and has a lot of potential. I notice the folder and ask him if he needs a binder.

"Oh yes, ma'am, I do," he says.

"Wait a second," I say, and go to the cabinet where I put the goodies from the Teacher Store. "Do you need a pencil pouch too?"

"Oh yes, and tabs if you have them," he says. His eyes are getting wider and wider as I start pulling the binder and pencil pouch out of the cabinet.

"Well, I don't have tabs, but I have these," I say as I hand him plain boring binder and a pencil pouch. You would have thought, from the look on his face, that I'd given him something much more valuable.

"For me?" He says, as if he couldn't believe I was actually giving him something to keep.

"Yes, but I expect you to take care of them, stay organized, and keep your grades up," I say. (Never hurt to lay out the ground rules again!)

"Oh, I will!" Tank Boy said with a huge smile. "Thank you so much!"

Thank you, dear donors, for helping me make this kid's day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Staplers, the Handy Tool that Can Staple...Well...Anything

I hate wasting time. And some of the biggest time wasters in my day (aside from the student who wants to interrupt class to inform you that he found gum under the table and silly stuff like that), is passing out things. I hate taking time to pass out papers so I file them in students mailbox folders instead. I hate passing out lab supplies so I have one student from each group get the supplies. And I hate passing out things like scissors, staplers and glue sticks (which I use a lot) so I have them in a nice plastic shoe box with a lid on each lab table.

When I first put out the supply boxes, as we call them, I give the kids very specific instructions about what's inside, how they are to be used (honestly, these kids have to be taught not to bang on staplers), and how if any of the materials are abused or stolen, those boxes would disappear and they'd have to find their own staplers, glue sticks, scissors, and what not. And of course, they are instructed in the most important rule regarding these boxes: These Are Not Toys To Play With So Do Not Open The Box Until Told To Do So. Over and over and over again. I must say this a dozen times a class period in the first weeks of school just to pound it into their heads.

Obviously, however, some kids need a little more head pounding to get it.

I have, case in point, one young man whom we'll call Stapler Boy. Stapler Boy came to us with some baggage but he's certainly capable of following simple directions such as Do Not Open The Box Until Told To Do So. However, the temptation has been too much for him so this past Wednesday he open the box and decided to play with the stapler.

Now, staplers and seventh grade boys can be a toxic mix if the boys are smart enough to figure out that you can shoot staples at your friend by lowering the base of the stapler. (Most students are smart enough to figure out if they do anything that damn stupid the Wrath of Bluebird will come down upon them, so they don't). I tend to notice when a kid is playing with a stapler and looking as if he's wanting to turn it into an advanced pea-shooter.

Stapler Boy looked, quite honestly, guilty as hell when I busted him the first time for playing with the stapler. But I'm still in my "I'm teaching them how to behave and understand the procedures and policies of the Land of Bluebird Mode", so I didn't get too upset, I simply told him to put it away. The second time I caught him I told him, more forcefully, to put it away again and to Do Not Open That Box Again.

The following day Stapler Boy not only was out of his seat without permission at least three times, and he decided to play with the stapler again. The rest of his lab group is having a grand time on their engineering design project (build a shelter that can withstand wind, rain and has room for 4 people), but he's busy walking around with a stapler. After the third time of telling him to Put The Stapler Away!, I yanked him into the hallway and asked him just what on earth he was doing.

"I don't know," he answered. I swear if I had a dollar for every time a seventh grade boy said that to me, I'd be wealthy beyond imagining.

I decided I had no choice but to write up Stapler Boy on one of our new PBS classroom discipline referral forms. I wrote down about the MULTIPLE warnings that Stapler Boy got, the interventions I did (counseling, alternative assignment since he wasn't helping his lab group anyway), and then gave it to stapler boy to write down his side of the story. His explanation? "I was just playing with them."

But the best part came later when Mr. Math came by after school.

"Hey did you have staplers in your room today?" he asked.

"I always have staplers in my room," I answered. "In their toolbox. Of course they aren't allowed to use them without permission, and we didn't use them today."

"Well Stapler Boy was messing with his ear this afternoon and told me he'd used a stapler to try to pierce his ear today," he said.

Oh. Good. Gracious.

This kid will be lucky if he ever does a lab again since it's apparent I can't trust him with tools of any kind. I pulled him aside the following day and told him so. The kids finished up their lab and he sat by my desk and did a worksheet packet which involved nothing more dangerous than a pencil. He wasn't happy, so perhaps he may learn something from the experience.

Mr. Math has already set up a parent meeting for next week. This should be interesting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Hearty Recommendation

One of these days I hope I climb over the mountain of paperwork and "to do" lists on my desks and actually start to feel like I have a grasp on this school year. In between the scheduling nightmare we've had for the past two weeks where our class rosters are changing nearly every single hour, to the normal beginning of the year paperwork, to trying to get seating charts that work put together, and actually trying to teach, it's been busy.

And then, of course, we had open house.

Actually I kind of like having open house rather early in the year, before the first progress reports show up. Chances are we get better turn out that way. (I still remember the year we had zero parents show up for conferences.)

We did actually have a good crowd, and since the book fair had already opened (and there are some nice science books in there for a change) there was a lot to see and do. I had two pages of sign ups for my parent email newsletter (although some parents were honest and said they don't check email that often) and Mrs. Social Studies said she had about 50 parents on her list, so that's a good number of parents actually showing up.

The best part was actually seeing some of my former students who are now in high school. Many of them come because they have younger siblings going through The School. (It amazes me how many siblings I have this year.) Others come just because they want to visit their former teachers. I had one young man (now a Junior and standing about 6'4") come up to me and give me a big huge hug right in front of four of my new parents.

"I just love you to pieces, Mrs. B," he said. "You're still the best teacher ever."

The parents are standing there, mouths hanging open. "That's a pretty hearty recommendation," one father says with a bit of a laugh.

"Heck ya," says my former student. "She's the best. She's why I'm majoring in geology when I get to college."

I love my former kids.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


One of the problems with our wacky unbalanced classes this year is that some kids that really shouldn't be together are. Poor Mrs. Social Studies was ready to pack it in, retire, and move to Arizona when she realized that not only was her 5th period (the class we take to lunch and historically, the Worst Class of the Day) her largest class at 36, but that it had every single one of our wannabe thugs in it.

One of the little darlings, Bad Attitude Boy, had already had hallway conferences with two of us, had been barked at (severely) by me, and was rapidly proving to be a real pain in the neck. In addition, we looked at his records and realized that he really should be in our inclusion math and wasn't. So, Mr. Math, Mrs. Social Studies and I sat down and reworked his schedule to put him in the proper math class and to remove him from his buddies in Mrs. Social Studies' crowded class and put him in my nearly all girl class of 21. (I figure putting him in with a bunch of rather serious-minded girls, rather than another set of class clowns, would be a new and sobering reality for him.)

Before we can do a schedule change, we have to do a parent contact to let them know we're doing a schedule change (just in case they actually care), so Mr. Math went off to do that during planning.

I was setting at my desk putting the final touches on a lab when Mr. Math comes in.

"Can I borrow your phone?" he asks. "Something weird keeps happening every time I try to call Bad Attitude Boy's parents and I want to make sure it's not my phone."

Let me step back a minute and mention our issue with the phones. Last spring Someone Somewhere Who Has Authority decreed that all phones would be removed from our desks and mounted on the wall by the door of each classroom. Apparently many phones were getting knocked off desks and we were spending a fortune replacing them. No one asked the teachers if this was convenient (it isn't) or if it made sense, they just up and came and took our phones and put them by the door. Since many of our classrooms have doors right next to each other, it's a real treat trying to figure out who's phone is ringing when you are doing hall duty. The other annoying part is that if you want to talk to a parent with your computer in front of you (so you can read the information in PowerSchool) you have to unhook your computer from the teacher station goodies (document reader, LCD projector, etc.) and carry it over there and find a place to put it so you can read from it. I've seen teachers sitting on the floor by their door with their computers in their lap, talking on the phone because not everyone has a table to put by the door! I have my teacher station somewhat close by so I went and bought a 25' phone handset cord so I can see my computer and talk on the phone.

But anyway...back to Mr. Math's phone problem. I wasn't surprised, at all, by Mr. Math's question because yet another issue with the phones being moved is that, for some weird reason, they don't work all that well now. I was having an awful time with static, and voices cutting in and out (until, amazingly, I spent my own money on my 25' phone cord), so I figured Mr. Math was having a similar problem.

"Go ahead and use it all you want," I said.

"If you don't mind, I want to put it on speaker phone so you can hear it in case it does it again," he said. No problem. He pressed the button, dialed away, and the phone rang twice then picked up.

"Hi there, this is Mr. Math from The School and I'd like to..." he said and then we heard a very loud and audible CLICK.

"See, it did it again!" he said.

"That's not the phone," I told him. "That's someone hanging up on you!"

"That's what I thought," he said. "It happens as soon as I mention that I'm from The School! I can actually hear breathing on the line, and then they hang up!"

Amazing. So much for all that parent involvement that we keep hearing the politicians bark about. Good thing we weren't calling to tell The NonParent that the little darling had been, oh, hit by a car or something.

Mr. Math did go to Mrs. Sparrow, one of our admins, and she said to document the three hang-ups and change the schedule.

So there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Someone Please Explain...

...why, when I have classes of 17 and 19, that I keep getting new kids scheduled into my class of (now) 33.

Just wondering.....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Random Musings...

It's 9:00 pm in my Beloved South, it's still 85 degrees outside on my front porch and the heat index says it feels like 93 degrees. This is wrong on a lot of levels, the main one being that we're in school now so dadgummit, it should at least feel like fall.

I did see one tree today covered in yellow leaves. I don't know if it's because it thinks it is fall, or that it's so hot it just gave up.

Another heat advisory for tomorrow and Thank the Lord and Our Awesome Janitors that we Have Air Conditioning!!

We spent the first two hours of the past two days teaching the kids expectations and behaviors as part of our SWPBS. Fortunately the lessons were already done for us, we just had to roll them out. It went pretty well, although we really didn't need two hours...oh well, live and learn. Did a carousel activity where they wrote down expectations for behavior in seven main zones of the school (classroom, hallways, cafeteria, bus, etc.) which was interesting. It got them moving and talking (which they love) so that, and the class discussion as a wrap up, worked well. Today was skits on behaviors where they got to show how to do things the wrong way (hilarious) and the right way (not so funny but we still learned some stuff).

I'm having fun swooping down like some avenging angel of happiness and handing out PBS money for good deeds and behavior spotted - like the kid who picked up the milk carton off the cafeteria floor on her own accord - and looking at the kids' faces when they get their money. We're supposed to be very specific when we give them their money - "I really appreciate how you were responsible and took the initiative to keep our cafeteria clean," for example - and it kind of blows their mind when you say it that way. That part, at least, is fun.

Another random thought - having PowerSchool schedule the kids was not a really good idea. One kid went up to Mrs. LovelyLanguage and mentioned that it seemed a bit weird that he actually had three Language Reading classes, and didn't have any math classes. Sure enough he had been scheduled into her regular reading/language block of two classes and then had been scheduled again into the gifted reading/language block class, with, of course, no room for math. We got that fixed, he now has has a block of gifted reading/language, and advanced math.

And poor Mrs. LovelyLanguage, a veteran of 3rd grade teaching, had her past come up and haunt her when a seventh grader pulled the ultimate elementary experience - he threw up. On his desk, his agenda, his work, and, unfortunately, on her. He went home sick, she cleaned up best she could, and life went on.

My class of 36 is down to 32. I'm hoping it gets to 30, or better yet, 28. It's a noisy bunch with a lot of high maintenance kids in there.

My 4th period is scaring me. Seriously. Yesterday I had them all of 30 minutes and did the fastest introduction to my class I've ever done. Today I walk into the room from hall duty expecting complete chaos (this is another class of 32) and you could have heard a pin drop. I am not kidding. Each and every one of them had his or her agenda out, was rapidly filling it out, they weren't talking, they were seated, it was, well, kind of unnerving. I have had classes for an entire YEAR who could not (chose not to) get out their agenda and fill it out every day like they were supposed to. Jolly Ranchers all around for this bunch.

Why am I so freaking tired? I miss my naps.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Let's Try Something New

Mrs. Eagle and I have always been the type of teachers who are willing to try something new to see if it works with our kids in our classrooms. Foldable notes? We'll try 'em (love them). Cornell notes? We'll give them a whirl (hated them, kids hated them, we don't do them.) Brainpop videos and quizzes? Sure, bring them on (use them a lot!)

So, when nearly a year ago, Admin said they were considering putting together a program (with the help of a prestigious nearby University and members of the staff) to help with our discipline issues, we were all for it. Goodness knows we have more and more at-risk kids walking our halls every year, many of whom have absolutely no support at home. We needed to find a way to keep them in class and learning, rather than constantly getting into trouble and being out the door.

So, it's been nearly a year that our school has been working on this program, and they rolled it out to the faculty (for the most part) last spring right before we left for the summer. Today was an in-service day and we had workshops on how to train our kids on this (gotta love lessons already done up for you), as well as how to reward them and how to do our new discipline referral process.

Gotta be honest...I'm impressed.

Tomorrow and Wednesday we have a two hour block in the morning where we'll be working with our homeroom kids on the program. Lessons are already prepared, posters up on the wall, we're ready to go. From the conversations I've been hearing in the halls, pretty much the entire faculty (and definitely all the admin) are willing to give this a real chance. Good gracious, they even trained the cafeteria people and the bus drivers on the program, so that's saying something!

So, we'll see how it goes. I'll keep ya'll posted.

And in the meantime, let's just hope my class of 36 magically shrinks.

Friday, August 06, 2010

1 down, 179 to go...

So today was the first (half) day of school.

And, considering some of the first days we've had in the past, this wasn't too bad. Really. (In case you're wondering about one of the less than stellar first days, click here.)

The buses were all unloaded quickly, the sixth graders made their way to the gym, the seventh graders made their way to the theater, and the 8th graders (who should, for the most part, know their way around) looked up their homerooms which were posted, and went to their class. In fact, the buses all unloaded so fast that we had to wait nearly 15 minutes to start calling out our kids because the walkers and parent drop off kids hadn't all shown up yet.

We did have attendance lists and rosters. We also had - surprise! - emergency cards which we weren't expecting until Tuesday. Out of 29 kids in my homeroom, 25 showed up, which isn't too bad. However, I still have some really unbalanced classes - 27, 31, 19, 35, and 18. The Administrators all walked around to welcome the kids and The Principal mentioned that she really noticed the unbalanced class sizes and was going to see if Guidance could fix it before Tuesday (I hope...) Apparently this is what happens when you let a computer system do your schedules for you. Still, with block english/language arts, special ed, advanced classes, and all that, sometimes it's hard to get the class sizes balanced. We shall see.

The kids were really pretty good - chatty to start with, but on the whole not bad. It's always so dreadfully boring the first day or so as you spend most of the time handing out paperwork, going over stuff like supply lists (exciting stuff), and forms that need to be signed, returned, blah, blah, blah. Like I tell the kids, it's boring to me too. We did finally get through all that, had the five of us on the team circulate and introduce ourselves, and then I had the kids do a few "getting to know you" activities because it amazes me that they can sit in a class with a kid for a year and not know his or her name! They liked that activity because it was noisy, involved moving around the room, and they could talk, talk, talk.

One thing I noticed...out of 25 kids that showed up, 23 ride the bus. That's huge. It will make going to lockers at the end of the day a bit of a challenge because I always let bus riders go first...and now that's most of the class. Hum...

Monday it's in-service on our new School Wide Positive Behavior Support program (more on that soon). Tuesday it's back to reality with a full day, a full schedule, and a whole bunch of kids.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Down to the Wire

So tomorrow is the first day of school.   Actually it's a half day, but who's quibbling?

And no, I do not know why we go a half day on a Friday, have a teacher in-service on Monday and the kids finally show up for a full day on Tuesday.  It doesn't make sense to me either.

Anyhow, I'm not sure if it's because this is my eighth first day of school, or because I finally got a bit more organized, or if I got started earlier, but I had my room set up and ready to go about three days ago.  I got the bulk of it done Friday of last week, but started going in every morning this week (to get back on the getting up at o-dark-thirty routine) which enabled me to get a lot more done.  No last minute copying, no last minute poster-hanging (I hate that part), no last minute anything.  So it's a bit weird because everything is ready to go.

Except we have no homeroom rosters.


I sarcastically suggested we line the kids up in the theater like you did as a kid when you chose teams on the playground and pick the kids we want in our homeroom. (Actually, now that I think of it, I kind of like that idea.)

I love our guidance department. They are rock stars. They are some of my best friends. So, it's not really fair that they get blamed for the whole scheduling problem issue because truly, it isn't their fault. It's technology. We use PowerSchool (which I usually love for the most part) but they did some changes over the summer and for some reason it has not been cooperating. At all.

First problem is that we've gone from three seventh grade teams to two seventh grade teams. Our numbers are down this year (which is weird because they are building apartments and subdivisions all over our zone but alas, no middle school kids. Perhaps they're all elementary.) And the eighth grade has gone from three full teams to two teams plus a "mini-team". Some of the eighth grade teachers are going to be teaching one class of seventh graders to reduce the class sizes. So, since Mrs. Eagle's team is closer to the eighth grade hall than my team is, her team should be getting about 30 or so more kids than my team (and these kids will be the ones that have one eighth grade teacher). Confused?

So, for some reason that no one can figure out, PowerSchool wants to schedule all new seventh graders onto my team. And from what the Guidance Goddess said, yesterday and today was Scheduling Hell as parents and kids were lined three deep trying to register for school.

And then there's the issue of balanced class sizes. Although we currently don't have homerooms, we can see some of the kids that are in our other classes. My class sizes are quite a bit bigger - for the most part - than last year. Let's see, 3rd period has 29, 4th period has 23, 5th period has 22, 6th period has 37 and 7th period has 17. (Yesterday 6th period had 42).

All of this will probably change by tomorrow. I can cram about 34 kids in my room, with 7 lab groups of 4, one lab group of 2, and 4 flying solo seats. It should be interesting to see how many show up, and how it all shakes out.

Oh boy!!!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Oh, It's Just Me Frying an Egg on the Sidewalk

It's nearly 5:00 pm and the temperature on my shaded front porch is 99.3 degrees Fahrenheit.   (Hey, I'm a science teacher, so of course I'm going to tell you whether I'm talking Celsius or Fahrenheit!)  The heat index is supposedly 111 degrees.  Just about 50 miles north of here the heat index is supposedly 122 degrees.

And school starts on Friday.

Some school districts in the region are delaying opening school since they apparently don't have functioning air conditioning systems.  We, however, do have functioning air conditioning (cross my fingers) so we're going to go ahead and start.  I feel bad for the kids who ride the bus because they are definitely not air conditioned.   All outside activities are canceled, which is smart.  Actually I've been at The School the past few days and it's been rather comfortable.  So, if nothing breaks, we're good to go on Friday.

Still, there's some concern about the fact that we start school so early in August - the hottest month of the year.  (And there are some districts who start in late July!)  Some argue that we could save money by not having to air condition schools as they'd be unoccupied by students.  Others argue that we've taken away kids' summers, so much so that there's a political action group here called Save Our Summers who would like to see statewide legislation requiring that school cannot start prior to Labor Day. 

Personally, it really doesn't matter much to me when we start school.  In fact, I wouldn't even mind year-round school.  As long as I have enough time to teach content prior to The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests, I'm happy.

But it got me to wondering...readers, when do you start school?  Any of you teach/attend a year-round school?  What do ya'll think???

In the meantime, I may just go cook supper out on the sidewalk.  You know, save some electricity.