Friday, October 29, 2010

Skipping School, Seventh Grade Style

So Mrs. Aide, Mrs. Eagle and I are at breakfast this morning at the local waffle and egg establishment by The School and Mrs. Aide relates the following story.

Yesterday, after she worked the sixth grade lunch, she realized that she'd left something in her car that she needed for one of her small group reading classes.  No big deal, she called up to the front office and left the building for a moment to go out to her car.  However, she's walking to the car and she sees a kid pedaling around the parking lot on his bicycle.  He's pedaling around and around like he hasn't a care in the world.  He sees her, waves, and keeps pedaling.  In fact, he pedals up by her, says "Hi!" and then pedals off again.

And she's thinking, okay, school is in session and there's a kid - whom she recognized as being one of our students - just riding his bike around the parking lot.  Truly strange.

So, she goes inside, grabs Mrs. Sparrow and tells her that she thinks we have a kid on the loose.  "There's a kid riding his bicycle all around the parking lot," she says.

Mrs. Sparrow is incredulous.  "Seriously?  He's just out there riding around?"

"Seriously," said Mrs. Aide.  "I know he's one of ours, and he may be a seventh grader.  I just don't know his name."

So, while Mrs. Sparrow sent out our SRO to check this out, Mrs. Aide and the Guidance Goddess go through the absence list and pull up photographs of the absent seventh graders.  It didn't take long before she was able to identify him.  Not only was he listed as absent for yesterday, but he'd also been absent the day before.

Mrs. Sparrow calls Bicycle Mom and asks her if her son had been at school on Wednesday.  "Oh yes!" she answers.  "He was there."  What about Thursday?  "Oh yes, he was there too as well!," answers Bicycle Mom.  Mrs. Sparrow then informs her that although he may have gone to school on the days in question, it appears that he never made it in the building.

So Bicycle Boy was busted.  (He's one of Mrs. Eagle's kids, not one of mine.)  He earned himself three days of ISS for his little vacation from school.

But seriously, you have to wonder.  I mean if you're ditching school...why would you spend your time riding your bike around the school parking lot???

Ah, the seventh grade mind...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can Anyone Find a Parent?

We handed out report cards last Friday.  Unlike some buildings in the district who have gone all electronic, we still do the paper report card.  Seems only about 20% of our parents bother to sign on to PowerSchool so this is about the only way we can make sure they see their darling's grades.  Even then, it's a gamble that the report card will make it home, but at least they can see the staple holes in the agenda where it had originally been stapled.

Out of 125 kids, 30 of them earned an F in science, mainly because (all together now), they don't turn in work, don't study for tests.  (A good sign, however, is I have two special ed kids with B's because they do all their work.  It can be done.)

Along with the report cards we sent out a team newsletter (which probably won't be read), a full color booklet from the State about test scores and high standards and high expectations and how you need to be engaged with your child and make sure they study and do their homework, blah, blah, blah (which probably won't be read), and then a BRIGHT PINK form to use to sign up for parent conferences, which start on Thursday.  The form is pretty straighforward.  We schedule individual appointments, so it said to put the name of the teacher you wish to see by the time slot you prefer.

Any guess on how many parents sent back the parent conference form?

Better yet...any guess on how many parents sent it back filled out CORRECTLY and actually followed the directions and put in the names of the teachers they want to see at the time slot they preferred (unlike most who simply put their kid's name by a time slot, leaving us to wonder who, exactly, they want to visit with)?

How does twelve sound?

Yup.  Twelve.  125 kids, tons of F's in all subjects, and we get twelve parents who plan to visit.

Now granted, we may get a bunch of walk-ins, especially if the weather is good and not raining, but truth be told, we may just be sitting there all night with nothing to do.

And my ass is on the line if these kids don't pass the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test...and every study on earth points to parent involvement as the key factor in academic achievement.

And my parents really don't want to be bothered.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I Have Grey Hair (aside from the whole genetic thing)

Last year we had a kid who was a non-academic promote from 6th grade.  For the uninitiated, this means that he most likely failed every class but was passed on to seventh grade anyway.  For one thing, he had already been retained once, so was a year older than the other kids already.  Sock boy (he always wore basketball shorts with bright socks, flip flops and had the skinniest legs on earth) was a special education student, was on an IEP, but was perfectly capable of doing work and passing.

Except he chose not to.

He did nothing.  He turned in no work.  He made no effort to do work in class, and homework, despite the fact that he got help with it, was never done, never turned in.  We had parent meeting after parent meeting with his mother, who was frustrated beyond belief with Sock Boy and couldn't make him do any work at home either.  We had him in tutoring (skipped a lot), our remediation program, in addition to his special education services.  In short, everyone was bending over backward to get this kid to work except, of course, for the kid himself.  I often told him he was responsible for at least half the grey hairs on my head.  (He thought that was hilarious, by the way.)

So, he was then non-academically promoted to the 8th grade.  (See reasons above...they didn't change any). The theory by seventh grade is that we'll promote them anyway, maybe they'll grow up and actually get on the ball, and if they don't, we'll bump them on to high school after 8th grade and they'll get all the whiz-bang services in place at the high school for struggling and at-risk students.

So today we handed out the first quarter report card, and, as usual, I'm depressed because 30 of my students have chosen to fail because (okay, all together now), they don't do work, don't study, don't try, don't care.

And then a little email popped into my in-box from an 8th grade teacher...which read:

"For those of you who had Sock Boy last year, I thought you'd like to hear this.  Sock Boy, who was a non-academic promote for both sixth and seventh grade, has earned for the first quarter....two A's, two B's and a C in his core academic classes.  So remember, never give up.  He finally matured, finally GOT IT, and he's finally if you see him make a big deal out of it.  You all had a big part in it."

Oh.  My.  God.

Mrs. Social Studies and I were stunned.  And of course, Sock Boy wanted to come by and show us that Magical Report Card.  And of course we made a HUGE deal over how proud of him we were.  I wish I could see his mother's face when she saw that report card because I've seen her in tears over the struggles with her son.  She's gonna be so relieved that he's finally on the right track.

Now, if the 30 kids that failed my class this nine weeks would only get it...I could stop worrying about the greys.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nothing Like Waiting Until the Last Minute

Today was our first day back to school after a week off for fall break.

At 5:55 am I received an email from a parent (kid is in my homeroom but has been moved into Mrs. Eagle's inclusion class).  The parent wants to let me know that Baseball Boy did not do his worksheets over break because the log in and password I gave him for the online book was wrong.  (More likely, since I cut and paste this information from the textbook website, someone wrote the information down wrong, but hey, who's being picky here.)

It is obviously my fault that he didn't bring home his book and he didn't have the correct information to access his online book.

However...the parent and Baseball Boy have had all week - ten days to be precise - to email me to get the correct information.  However, Baseball Mom waited until about an hour and a half before school started back up to inform me of my obvious error. I would bet that Baseball Boy pulled the work out of his backpack sometime late the night before.  Or more likely, mom went through the backpack and found the worksheets.

I copied Mrs. Eagle on the email, again cut and pasted the correct information for the online book, and mentioned, without being too snarky, that I wish she had emailed me sooner during the week as I would have been glad to assist her with her problem.

What a great freaking way to start the new nine weeks.

However, I did, I suppose, get the last laugh.  Mr. Eagle copied me on the email she sent to Baseball Boy's mom informing her that she didn't assign any worksheets to do over break, that those worksheets, in fact, were due PRIOR to break and she has already finalized grades.

Oh well.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

We have a student new to the school this year who is supposedly here, living with his grandparents, because his school Up North "couldn't meet his needs."  In other words, grandma and grandpa think he's brilliant.  And Brilliant Boy agrees.  (Although, truth be told, he did tell some students that he's here because his mother couldn't afford to take care of all her kids - personally, I think his mother just wanted him out of her hair.)

Brilliant Boy's grandpa spent quite a bit of time in the Guidance Office questioning the Guidance Goddess about all the zeros he had in PowerSchool and how come, since his grandson was so brilliant, that he was failing all his classes?  The Guidance Goddess, with infinite patience, explained to grandpa that if a student doesn't turn in work, or fails to put his or her name on it, then the teacher has no choice but to put in a zero.  He assured her that Brilliant Boy insisted that he has turned in everything and it all had his name on it.  She suggested a team meeting, which we had.  And, by the time we had the team meeting, Grandpa had pretty much figured out that even if Brilliant Boy was brilliant, he was a lying little mess.

It wasn't just the academic issues with Brilliant Boy, a kid who can't even turn in classwork, but it was behavior issues.  Brilliant Boy assumes that everyone wants to hear what he has to say so he says it.  Constantly.  This child cannot shut up to save his life.  In fact, he received one of my first referrals this year for talking during a test.  Of course when you call him out on the talking you get the "What me?" look of horror, the denial, the insistence that everyone else, but him, was talking.  Right.  He talks so much that the other kids really can't stand him.  He's annoying, and all they want is for him to Shut the Hell Up.  So of course, he's made it to an isolation seat in every class.

So we're in the parent meeting, and Grandpa asks that Brilliant Boy get called out of PE to attend, and he lets slip a little blurb about "How the teachers say you're talking all the time, and isn't that why you didn't have any friends at your other school?"  Brilliant Boy squirms and admits that yes, the other kids hated him because his mouth got him in trouble all the time.  Great.  A repeat offender.

So fast forward a couple of weeks later and Brilliant Boy and a few kids have a bit of an argument at lunch, and he ends up cursing the lunch monitor and using a couple of F-bombs in the process and manages to get himself three days suspension.  (I'm sure grandpa enjoyed that).   Of course he comes back and spends the entire homeroom period in the morning bragging to all the kids about how he got suspended and isn't he cool, and life is just great, all he did was play videogames.  The other kids glare at him and Mrs. Reading tells him to pipe down.

Well, it just so happened that the day that Brilliant Boy came back was the day of our SWPBS reward party. Kids who did not get an administrative referral during the past nine weeks got to spend their related arts period having a party - they got to run around outside, toss footballs, play games, eat hot dogs and popcorn, scream, and just have a great time.  This was a really big deal and the kids were pumped about it.  So, Mrs. Reading, Brilliant Boy's homeroom teacher, reads off the list of kids who can't go, including Brilliant Boy, and says that as soon as they check in with their 1st period teacher, they need to head to the "holding room" with their science and geography books as they had an assignment to do.

Except Brilliant Boy didn't do this.  He managed, sneaky little brat, to sneak into the party and had a grand time, while the rest of the kids who had referrals sat in a room and did a science outline (I gave them extra credit for it).

To say that these kids were incensed was to put it mildly.  They were LIVID.  He KNEW he wasn't supposed to be at the party - for goodness sake, he was just back from being SUSPENDED for three days! By lunch time all the kids on the team knew that Brilliant Boy had attended the party and they were fit to be tied.  It was not FAIR!   Mrs. Social Studies had to pull a few kids aside to tell them to let it go, the principal knew about it, it would be taken care of, and the last thing they needed to do was to get in a fight or something because they were all upset.  Not a kid on the team would talk to him and many of them were turning their backs on him.  He definitely didn't make any friends with this stunt.

I had to go to a team leader meeting later that day and mentioned to Mr. Enforcer that I thought it was amazing that Brilliant Boy managed to make it out of school today without the snot getting beat out of him for his stunt.  (I might add that not only were the kids furious at him, but his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Reading was madder than I'd ever seen her.)   The Enforcer agreed and said he'd take care of it.  He did.  He'll have two days of In School Suspension when we get back from break.

But I seriously doubt that our kids are going to be very forgiving.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Time to Recuperate

Fall Break has finally arrived.  And I finally had a chance to get a good night's sleep and managed twelve hours.  Can you say that we're exhausted?  Pretty much so.  Don't know exactly what it is, but everyone at The School has commented on the fact that we all feel physically and emotionally like we usually do in May, at the end of the year.   I have my suspicions on the cause - more and more paperwork coming down from The State and the District (aka more BS we have to do other than teaching), more testing of the kids (aka time out of my calendar that I could use to teach), bigger class sizes, even less parent involved (every year it gets worse), and goodness knows what else.

We are tired.  And it's only October.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Funny Things They Say

My great-grandfather had snow white hair.  My grandmother and her siblings all inherited this trait and also had snow white hair.  My mother?  You guessed it...snow white hair.  And of course, I inherited this same trait.  I started finding white hairs in my early twenties, colored my hair for years, and few years ago when the dye wouldn't stick (seriously, it was a waste of money and time) gave up and just let nature have her way.  We don't get gray, we get white or silver, so it really isn't as bad as it sounds.  (Think of country star Emmylou Harris and you get an idea as to the color).

So anyhow, I'm walking around the room today during one of my larger and more challenging classes, keeping an eye on things and helping kids now and then with their cell coloring and labeling sheets.  One of my girls, who really isn't much of a talker, raises her hand so I head over to her table to see what she needs.

"Can I ask you a question?" my Quiet Girl says.

"Of course," I tell her, thinking we're going to have a conversation about nuclei, or mitochondrion or something.

"Do you color your hair?"  she asks.  The other kids at the table are all silent, staring at me with wide eyes.

I laughed.  "No, actually I don't.  I used to a while ago, but I just gave up on it a few years ago," I say.

"Well," she says very seriously.  "You really wear it well."  The rest of her tablemates are nodding in agreement.

"Well thank you," I told her.  "That's a really wonderful thing to say."

I had to laugh.  That was just the funniest phrase to come out of a seventh grader's mouth that I've heard in a long time.  It sounded like something someone of my generation would say, not a twelve year old!  And honestly, it was pretty sweet.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Name Game

There are times that the typical seventh grader just absolutely blows my mind.  Seriously.  You would think after nearly a decade of spending most of my waking life with twelve and thirteen-year-olds (also known as the kids most of you would avoid like the plague) I would be used to some of their idiosyncrasies.  But nooooooo.  Life isn't that easy.  They consistently do things that absolutely make me want to beat my head against my desk.

For example, the apparent inability to put one's name on one's work.

This just absolutely drives me crazy. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why they consistently forget to put their name on their work.  I mean we're talking about an incredibly self-centered generation of kids who will write their name on their jeans, their shoes, their binders, their lunch bag, their lockers, the bathroom stalls, everything But On Their Freaking Assignments.  On those, their leave a big white vacant spot where their name should be.

This is a skill they learn in Kindergarten, folks.  The First Thing You Do When You Get Out Your Paper Is To Put Your Name On Your Work.  So for eight years my little darlings have been taught to always put your name on your work, and still - STILL! - they forget.  This past weekend I graded packets of vocabulary cards and I had fourteen kids who did not put their name anywhere on their cards.  That's somewhere along the lines of ten percent of my students.  Fourteen kids who merrily managed to do their vocab cards, even do some extra credit drawings on them, but they forgot their names.

Good gracious.

I have tried just about everything I can think of to solve this problem.  I remind them every time we do anything to Put Your Name On Your Work.  I go around and check to see if they have Put Their Name on Their Work.  I have a sign by the turn in basket that reminds them to Put Your Name On Your Work.  I also have torn up and tossed in front of their startled little faces, work that is turned in without a name.  (I'll admit, that's kind of fun, especially if I'm feeling theatrical.)  But still, They Forget To Put Their Name on Their Work.

I am astounded - astounded! - that these kids are alert enough to look both ways before their cross the street.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Believing in Miracles

I teach by a very large military installation and consequently, a lot of my students have a connection to the military, as do a lot of my co-workers.  It's just a fact of life here.  I've had many parents deployed (multiple times), I've had kids move in and move out due to changes in duty station, and I've even had one very cool Dad meet the team via a conference call from Iraq last year to discuss his daughter's performance (not good, Dad was not happy).  Many of my fellow teachers and staff are veterans and many have spouses who are also veterans or even active duty.  One of our Partners in Education is a unit on the local military post.  We are, in fact, a community where what most people read in the paper impacts a lot of us personally.

So, it is a blessing to realize that The School hasn't been touched more frequently by the kind of tragedy that happens when you're in a military town.  We have had two parents killed in action over the past ten years.  That's bad enough.  However, looking at the many connections we have, the fact that we've only had two has been just sheer luck.  The fact that none of our co-workers has lost a spouse is also somewhat astounding.   So, while the past two months have been dreadful on the military community here with a large number of young men and women losing their lives in Afghanistan, we've all been saying our prayers that our little school family will remain safe.

Our number, however, was up.

We had a faculty meeting a few weeks ago, with the Superintendent from The District coming by to talk to us about goals and visions and all that, and The Principal had to break the news to us that the husband of one of our Aides (who was out on maternity leave) had stepped on an IED and was in really, really, bad shape.  So bad, they weren't sure he was even going to make it long enough to get to Germany for better medical care.  Talk about getting whapped upside the head with some absolutely dreadful, horrible news.  Our Dear Aide has resigned so she can focus on her husband, but as far as we're concerned, they're still part of our School Family.  He has lost one leg completely, another below the knee, has damaged pelvic bones, damaged elbow and hand.  However, from what we've heard, no internal injuries.  He made it alive to Germany, then to Walter Reed, and he is there with his wife at his side.

And we prayed.  This is a pretty solidly Christian group of faculty and staff (after all, we are in The South) and we believe in prayer.  So we prayed.

And a miracle happened.  He woke up this morning, for the first time, and spoke, and his wife was at his side.

And so, at times when I'm feeling whiny about my lot in life, how the kids won't listen, and the paperwork is burying me, and I just feel like retiring and going to work at Home Depot, I realize how lucky I am that I am in fairly good health, my Daddy is recovering, my husband is fine, and all in all, it's a pretty good life.  And I'm glad, and humbled that there are men and women like Sgt. V who give their all for our way of life.