Friday, December 17, 2010

A Big Sigh of Relief

The Team did receive a wonderful gift today from The Enforcer when he sent Very Mean Bully Boy to alternative school.

We were ecstatic.

However, not nearly as ecstatic as the  kids on the team.

Very Mean Bully Boy is incredibly smart (seriously, he could earn straight A's if he so much as tried) but is so busy being mean and hateful that he's usually failing all his classes.  The more I observe this kid (and believe me, during hall duty we're watching him like a hawk because he cannot walk down a hall without tripping, kicking, or hitting someone) the more I've come to the conclusion that his goal in life is to inflict pain and humiliation on others.  He does not come from a home with positive role models - he idolizes the uncle he is named after who happens to be in prison for first degree murder.  What he really needs is a lot of therapy to get rid of his anger, and some really positive male role models, but he's pretty much exhausted our resources.

And what bothers me the most about him is how he's a threat to the other kids.  The tipping point finally came this past week when my sub reported he'd hit a girl in class coming back from a fire drill (and I had witnesses that, for once, we willing to talk), he pushed another girl down in music class, he threatened another girl at lunch, and he hit another girl in math.  And that was a typical week for him.  He's been suspended, in ISS, you name it, but he finally hit the number (and we had an opening) and off to alternative school he'll go.  

For a while, at least, my other kids can walk to the drinking fountain without fear of getting hit or tripped, and my seventh period may actually become somewhat productive (it's hard to teach when you're trying to keep a war from breaking out between Very Mean Bully Boy and Everyone Else.)

Sad to say, but not a single kid in the building will miss him.  Hopefully someone, somewhere, can connect with this kid.  But I'm starting to wonder.

Time for a Nap

Despite the best efforts of Mother Nature, we did finally make it back to school on Wednesday.  Thank goodness.  We only have three snow days and none of us (well, except for the kids) wanted to use them all up before Christmas Break.  We did, however, have to leave an hour early on Wednesday due to an impending ice storm, but Thursday and today were pretty normal.

As normal as you can be for the last few days of school before two full weeks of freedom.

Mrs. Eagle and I (and every other teacher in the building) had to make some major adjustments to our lesson plans.  Two assignments that I'd planned to have due this week, won't be due until the week we get back in January.  That means that I'm more or less done with grades.

And man, does that have my kids freaked out.

All of a sudden it dawned on many of them that they didn't have the grades they wanted (but certainly the ones they earned) and they were running around in a panic trying to figure out how they could pull their grades up in under a day.

This just kills me.

Oh well, live and learn, I suppose.

The last half day (today) was actually one of the nicest and calmest half days we've ever had.  And, amazingly, most of my kids actually came to school.  We started off with the faculty vs. students volleyball game where the faculty, for the tenth year in the row, won.  (This just cracks me up - we're old.  We're decripit.  And we play one day a year.  And we still beat them.)

After that my kids had voted on watching The Sandlot, so we watched that, I popped popcorn, and for the most part, they were quiet and entertained.  We did have a break, courtesy of the PE department, where the kids went to the gym to run around for half and hour so teachers could have a break, and that was wonderful.

Now, time off to rest, knit, enjoy family and yes, even get together with Mrs. Eagle to work on some of our units for the remainder of the year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am Humbled

I have absolutely no clue who nominated this blog for Best Teacher Edublog 2010, but I am humbled.  Thank you.


Who'd a thunk it?

Day Off, Part Two

We are on our second snow day today.

We only get three per year, so that means we have one left.

And it's not looking good for Wednesday.

And technically, it's not even Winter!

If we go over our allotted three before break (which officially starts for teachers the moment we wave those buses goodbye at around 11:00 am on Friday morning), then we will have to use December 20th and 21st to make up the days.  No one is looking forward to that.

Those of us here in My Beloved South are experiencing some very Northern-like weather.  According to the local news, this is the coldest December since 1942.  Really.  I can believe it.  I woke up yesterday morning to find it a whopping 7 degrees outside.  I think it may have reached 20 degrees by yesterday afternoon, and it certainly wasn't warm enough to get rid of all the ice on some of our twisty rural roads (which is why we're closed again today.)  Today it was 11 degrees when I woke up.  And on Wednesday they're calling for ice, wintry mix, and freezing rain.

Oh yay.

I hope we don't have another repeat of last year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hoping Grandma is Wrong

Years ago, my Grandmother R (the one who, along with my mom, taught me to knit) once told me that you wanted to pay attention to the date of the first snowfall of the year.  She said that the date would tell you how many snow storms you would have for that season.  For example, if it snowed on the 7th of November, you would have 7 storms that year.

I seriously hope that this is one of those old wives tales that really has absolutely no basis in reality.

Our first snowfall of the season was on November 27th.  That in itself is weird because we hardly ever get snow here until January.  (Or least we haven't since I moved to My Beloved South eight years ago.)

But, according to Grandma, that means we're having 27 storms this season.

And we just had the second.  And now we're out for a snow day for tomorrow.  (I am not happy - we only get three a year and this isn't the week we really need one.  We need to save them up for those dark and gloomy days in January and February when we really need a mental health day.)

I am so hoping that this year isn't a repeat of last year when it comes to missing school.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something to Cheer About?

Mrs. Eagle and I attended the NSTA conference in Nashville last weekend and had a wonderful time, picked up some fantastic ideas (as usual) and bought some really cool stuff.

On an aside, this was held at the Opryland Hotel which in May had something like 15' of water in it from the flooding.  It just opened about two weeks prior to the conference so we were eager to see how it had been repaired.  Oh.  My.  You would NEVER know that the building had been damaged so badly.  There was absolutely no sign of it.  The place was amazing!

In any case, one of the really cool things I bought was a Dr. Seuss book, Oh Say Can You Seed?  Okay, it's actually not written or drawn by the late Dr. Seuss, but his family has authorized the use of his characters for educational publications done in the Seuss style.  This book is all about flowering plants and since we were just finishing up our unit on flowering plants, I just had to have it.  It's nice when you can find neat things that actually align with your standards.  And this book is really well done from the science standpoint.

So, back at school, we finished up our review for our on Tuesday and I had time to read this book to them.  I used the document reader so they could see all the pictures up on the screen, and took the last few minutes of class to give the kids a dose of Dr. Seuss.

It always amazes me how seventh graders will become deadly silent and completely absorbed when you read to them.  I've often wondered if I'd get the same results if I was reading cereal boxes.  They still love picture books.  And they love being read to.  So I read to them and you could have heard a pin drop.

Amazing.  I must do this more often.

However, the funniest, and most surprising response was from my sixth period class.    I read the book, finished the last page, and closed it.

And they applauded.

I am not kidding.

They applauded.

It was the weirdest thing.  And truth be told, it made us all laugh.  And they said how much they enjoyed it.

But seriously, as a teacher, when was the first (or last time) you ever got a round of applause for what we do each and every day?


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Numbers Game

Last spring we were told that our enrollment numbers were declining, and that we were losing a number of positions at The School.  The seventh grade took the biggest hit, going from three teams to two teams.  The eighth grade went to two teams, plus a mini-team (including teachers who taught one section of 7th grade "overflow" kids).  And the sixth grade stayed at three teams because sixth graders have such a hard time dealing with the change to middle school in the first place that the thought was to give them some smaller classes to ease the transition.

So, instead of about 90-100 students like I've had the past few years, I now had 120 or so.  If you've been a regular reader of this blog, you know that the numbers game this year has been a mess.   We have some awful unbalanced classes.  However, some of the side effects of only having two teams, and larger classes, weren't really expected.  I didn't realize how much more time I would spend just doing things like grading and keeping up with my gradebook (and not blogging).  Thirty extra kids doesn't seem like a lot when they're spread over five class periods.  But it was when I got home and realized that all I did was grade student work all night long that it really hit home. The other problem was that separating kids by moving their schedules around was almost impossible.  Between the special ed classes, the advanced classes, block scheduling for English/Language Arts, and who knows what else, we had real issues when it came to trying to move kids apart who have no business being together.  With three teams it was a lot easier to just relocate a kid to another team.  This year we have so many kids cross-teamed that we were joking that we wouldn't be able to have teams for Field Day as we're all one big 7th grade team.

And of course, with bigger classes, you have more behavior issues.  The noise level can be incredible at times (just having them come in from the hallway before the bell rings is amazingly loud when there's 30+ of them in one small room).  In addition, they are so crowded together that I feel like I'm on a long road trip with a bunch of kids who've been stuck in the car too long with each other.  They're crammed together, crowded, and tempers flare.  They are cranky.  The seventh grade teachers are cranky.  Mrs. Eagle and I actually asked The Principal a few weeks ago if there was some light at the end of the tunnel or would we be stuck with two teams next year.  She said she wasn't sure at this point in time.

So Mrs. Eagle and I were stunned, to say the least, when The Enforcer said he wanted to get with us (and Mr. and Mrs. Social Studies) to talk about moving kids out of our science and social studies classes into another section taught by eighth grade teachers.  Apparently, what has been going on is that every time a new kid enrolls, that kid happens to be a seventh grader.  So, gradually over the past few months, the seventh grade has been getting bigger and bigger, and the eighth grade has been getting smaller.  In fact, many of the eighth grade teachers had classes of 14-18 kids while we were looking at 28-30 kids.  So we were able to get together with Mr. Enforcer and Guidance Mom and give her a list of kids who we could move to the new section being taught by Mrs. Hummingbird (who was thrilled to get another seventh grade class as she isn't as happy teaching 8th grade content).

We basically picked kids who had schedules that were easy to tweak, and a couple of kids who needed a fresh start with some new kids (Brilliant Boy, being one).   We did make one request that the schedule changes not take place until today, as progress reports went out yesterday and we wanted to be able to print the progress reports up with as little drama as possible.  (In PowerSchool when a kid moves from one class to another, the grades do not go with him/her - the grade report from the old class has to be printed out and then manually entered into the new class - which can be a real pain).  No problem, guidance would see that the schedule changes go into effect on December 1st.

Except PowerSchool didn't see it that way.  So, although it said that none of this was supposed to happen until December 1, the kids had already been moved around from all our rosters on November 30th (actually around 10:00 pm on November 29th which was when Mr. Math noticed it).  Talk about a nightmare.   We had about 40 minutes to print out progress reports, and then print out individual class reports for science and social studies for the kids that moved around, and get everything all lined up so we could send the progress reports home along with a letter from The Principal explaining why the kids were being moved.  


Most of the kids that moved didn't seem all that concerned about the change.  Brilliant Boy, of course, assumed that he was being moved to advanced science and social studies (which does not exist in seventh grade) because it was being taught by and 8th grade teacher in the 8th grade hall.  Whatever.  If that's what he wants to believe, fine.

What we did notice was that today, with our new smaller classes, it was like a different world.  My sixth period which was crowded and full of a lot of high maintenance kids who needed to be in isolation seats (every one is occupied) was a lot of fun today.  The kids noticed right away that Brilliant Boy and Catalyst Boy were gone.  And they were thrilled.  They all know that these two stir up the most trouble in a classroom, and not having them around was like a breath of fresh air.  You could almost feel the relief.  They worked well, they were quiet (for them) and we all had a great time.  They were also able to spread out a bit more and not be crowded at their lab tables.  They really enjoyed that little increase in personal space.

Hopefully this trend will continue.  Especially for the next two days.  Because I'm going to be out at the NSTA conference and a sub will be in the room.

We will see.