Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just a Tad of Pepperoni Please

It seems like I spend most of the weekend grading work, uploading grades, and preparing lessons. (Because our planning has been sucked away by meetings.)

In any case, this past weekend I was grading tests and eating a low-cal pizza (you can do a lot with those little 100 calorie sandwich things and some turkey pepperoni and low-fat cheese with some sauce and seasoning.)

At the same time.

Which was probably a stupid thing to do because, of course, I dropped a glob of sauce onto one of tests.  Crap!  I wiped it up real fast, and hoped that the student wouldn't notice.  Heck most of them don't look at anything other than the grade, if that.

I totally forgot about this until today.  I'd handed the tests back towards the end of class, and as luck would have it, the Pizza test happened to belong to Shadow Boy.  Shadow Boy is a kid who, for some reason I have yet to figure out, would rather sit right next to my work station than at a lab group with other kids.  I get these kids once in a while, ones who prefer adults to their own age group.  Shadow Boy is smart, and with his trendy hair, cool clothes, and earring, is extremely popular and cool, but he still wants to sit up by me.  Go figure.  I think he likes having a grown-up to talk to.  And truth be told, he's pretty entertaining.

In any case, he holds up his test and points to the pizza stain.  "What's this?" he asks.

I was busted.  Darn it!  "I was grading papers and eating lunch at the same time and the pizza dripped on your paper.  I'm sorry.  I really tried to clean it up."

"Really?"  he asks, intrigued that we actually do normal things like eat pizza.  He then puts the paper up to his nose, sniffs, and cocks his head to the side for a minute.  Finally he says, "Papa Johns?"

"Uh, no, kind of homemade lo-cal,"  I respond.

"Cool," he says.  "Although it does smell like Papa Johns."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When the First Sound You Hear Is a Crash

You know it's not going to be a good day.

Today, The District had scheduled an online math test for all the seventh graders at all the middle schools.  The idea, I've been told, is to track how they are doing in math and try to target deficits, at risk kids, etc.  (It's something called Learning Links if you're familiar with that.)

This involved some coordination as all the other grade level teams had to roll their computer labs down to the seventh grade homeroom teachers in order to make sure that we had a computer for all 306 7th graders.  We all the instructions on how the kids were to sign in, and what their passwords were, and all that sort of fun stuff. The idea was that it would probably take about two class periods and they'd take the test during their related arts classes so it wouldn't interrupt instructional time (but it did take away our entire planning - again.)

It was suggested that we get the computers all opened, turned on, and logged into the network before homeroom ended so they'd be ready to go as soon as the bell rang and they could take their tests.  So, since my kids have used the labs before, as they walked in, I gave them their instruction sheet, with their computer number on it, and told them to get their computer, turn it on, and get logged in.  No problem.

Until I heard one of them go crashing to the floor.

Oh great.  It had been sitting on a table, someone bumped it, and crash.  After that, the screen was busted, so we were short one computer (we each had enough to cover our homerooms.)  At this point I was hoping someone would be absent (someone was).

That was just the start of the trip to hell and back.

My kids had no trouble, for the most part, logging into the network.  After all, we did that last week and for those who couldn't remember, I had their information.  It was getting to the testing site that was a bear.  It took some kids at least 45 minutes to get logged in as the site just hung there and kept asking them to refresh until they finally got something.  I had, at various times, the testing coordinator, the academic coach, The Principal, Guidance Goober (who's a tech head), and just about every other person who wasn't actually teaching a class in there.

And my class wasn't having near the problems the others were.

Mrs. Eagle's labs did not, for some reason, have the website bookmarked and set up so they could go right to it, so that was a real pain, especially because most 7th graders can't type in a URL correctly the first five times.  And then they just hung there (like mine did).

Mr. Math, Mrs. Reading, and Mrs. Language had the network crash so they lost all connection for a while.

We were supposed to be done by the end of 2nd.  We finished, for the most part, ten minutes short of 4th period (so no teaching today for 3rd).  Some kids were still working by that time and guidance came and got them and they finished by the end of 4th.

At least the Guidance Goober sent out an email asking for suggestions on how to make the process better for next time (later this spring) when we administer it again.  Perhaps not having every seventh grader in the county log in at one time?

Just a thought.

Fall break can't come soon enough.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Planning? What Planning?

We are supposed to get two periods (47 minutes each) of planning so we have a chance to collaborate with our grade level counterparts as well as meet with parents, and meet with the team.  (I try to limit team meetings because we're all so busy).  

But truth be told, this year, the planning has taken a back seat.  There's science department meetings, language arts/reading meetings, math meetings, 504 meetings, IEP meetings, and so forth, and so on. We also give up at least one planning per week to teach a remediation class for our at-risk kids.  So, the time we actually have to accomplish anything (like, oh planning for the upcoming week) is gradually dwindling.

This week is a case in point.

Today, we had a s-team refresher meeting during our first planning period and a parent meeting during the second. 

Tomorrow we give up all our planning to administer a baseline math skills test to all seventh graders.

Wednesday Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Angora and I have 47 minutes together to plan for the next week.  Following that, a follow up meeting with a parent.

Thursday, an open planning (so far) and another parent meeting.

Friday, remediation class (for me) guessed it, another meeting.

Any wonder that we're still at The School at 5:30 running copies, and getting labs together, and getting ISS work together?  It's because we can't get anything done during our planning.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Rooster Next Door

I have a new neighbor, Mr. Bantam Rooster.

It all started because instead of the predicted 300 or so sixth graders in the school, we have a whopping 356.  Which meant that the sixth grade class sizes were just massive.  So massive, in fact, that The District actually saw this as a problem and decided we could hire another teacher.  However, at this time in the school year we don't get to actually hire the teacher we want.  Rather, The District takes a "qualified" teacher from a building that has lower numbers than expected and transfers him or her to the building where another teacher is needed.

So we got a social studies teacher from a high school across town who has a masters degree in history.  But has a license that states that he's only qualified to teach 7th through 12th grade (and has never taught middle school from what I've heard).  And probably, would rather die than teach middle school if he's like most folks.

This for a sixth grade social studies position.

So The Principal had to juggle around a whole bunch of teachers in order to get this new teacher to fit into the system where he's qualified to teach.  So instead of just disrupting the sixth graders, who are getting a new social studies teacher, we have to disrupt the seventh graders and the eighth graders as well.  Mr. Bantam Rooster has been teaching seventh and eighth grade social studies, so he came to my seventh grade team.  My social studies teacher, Mrs. Social Studies (who has never taught sixth grade) is now the new sixth grade social studies teacher.  And Mr. Came From High School is now the seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher.

Mrs. Social Studies and I are not happy.  My whole team is not happy.  We've been a good, successful unit for three years now, and Mrs. Social Studies and I made a good pair with our classroom doors right next to each other.  But now she's in sixth grade (and she's also teaching a unit of sixth grade health which we find hysterical as she's a smoker) and she's miserable.  We have, however, indicated that if the seventh grade goes back up to three teams next year (and if these 356 sixth graders stay, we'll have to), We Want Her Back.  Fortunately, The Principal agrees with me.  She'd rather not have moved everyone around like she had to, but Mr. Bantam Rooster, who has taught sixth grade, is more trouble down there than he's worth.

And he's going to make my entire team crazy.  (Apparently there's a bet in guidance about which one of us will snap first.  I thought for sure I'd be the one in the lead, but apparently not.)

I think he's a good teacher.  He is retired military and a nice guy, but he's just....a pest.  He needs constant reassurance about what he's doing.  All the time.  He's constantly in my room all the time asking questions (usually the same one over and over.) And I'm starting to feel like the biggest bossypants witch in the world because I'm having to tell him "this is how we do it here."  We sign our homeroom agendas (because it's the right thing to do).  We let the kids go to their lockers between seventh period and afternoon homeroom (he didn't let them go until after bus riders were dismissed which caused some to nearly miss the buss.)    He's having fits because he's not used to kids not turning in homework (eighth graders turn in more homework than seventh graders because they've grown up a bit), and he's calling something like 50 parents a night.  And I'm telling him, "seventh graders are different, it's been a while since you've been around them."

And I had to close the door and ban him from my room when Mrs. Eagle, and Mrs. Angora and I had planning because we only have 1st period on Wednesday's to get together what with all the parent meetings we're having.  That time is GOLD.

And the kids are completely freaked out and terrified of him.  He has, well, a reputation as a screamer.  And a mean, tough teacher.  But then there are high school kids who love him.

The Principal told me not to worry about being bossy.  And to do what I have to to get him to toe the line with our policies and procedures.  Which is fine, but just one more damn thing to deal with.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

When Technology Can Rear its Ugly Head...

The District Technology Department had guys running around the building the other day changing IP addresses on printers (during classes of course).  The idea being that we're dividing our network into two - one side for the kids to use and one side for the teachers to use.

The good news is that this means we won't be blocked by the filters any time we want to play a YouTube video about photosynthesis.  So no more monkeying around trying to download and save a video so I can use it in class - yeah! There's some other good news involved, but honestly, I was so tickled about the YouTube thing that I really didn't care.

I'm not sure what the printers had to do with this, but the idea was that as soon as the kids opened up the labtops in the mobile labs and signed on, it would automatically direct to the printer and the new IP address.

Except it didn't work.

During the day we're finishing up a writing prompt.

Which means no one could print their paper.

Which meant they had to save it to their desktop and then either email it to me via epals (which most of them don't know how to use) or send it to me via Edmodo (which we all practiced on Monday.)

Except most of them didn't bother to write down what their Edmodo usernames and passwords were.

Which made for a very chaotic day.

Maybe I should just have them write the darn things out in pencil.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ever Have One of Those Days...

where you are so tired you can't hardly keep your head up off your desk?

Yeah, me too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Of Sticks and String

Last spring I got the wild idea that Mrs. Eagle and I would sponsor a knitting club at The School.

I've been knitting ever since my grandmother and mom taught me when I was young.  (That's what the women in my family do - we knit.  I have knitting aunts, knitting cousins and now even a younger generation of smaller cousins.)  Mrs. Eagle doesn't knit - yet - although I gave her a book, needles and a bunch of yarn to keep her busy when Mr. Eagle had his accident and spent 39 days in the hospital a few years ago.  We have a fairly active knitting community here in town, with a great local yarn shop, and many of us are involved with the online knitting community, Ravlery.  In any case, it's gaining popularity with a lot of younger people and I thought, "why not?" and so we got permission from The Principal and the Knitting Club was born.

The drawback was that we knew most of the members wouldn't know how to knit, but since I taught a handful of kids at summer camp, and had a really nice document reader that can video my hands so the kids can see what I'm doing on a Big Freaking Screen, I figured it was doable.

I also figured about, oh, a dozen kids would sign up.  In fact, when word got out that we were doing a knitting club the comments were sort of along the lines of "Really?  Knitting?" with that look of disbelief on the speakers face.

We have 31 members.

And that's when I decided to remove the club applications from the ledge outside of guidance so no more would join.  Six is easy, twelve, doable, but 31?

Oh good gracious.

The first meeting we had 28 show up, including four boys.  We taught them to finger knit because one thing I've learned is that although these kids can do amazing things with their thumbs (texting and video games help), they really don't have complete fine motor skills.  By the end of the meeting, they were all making long chains of knitted yarn which they turned into headbands, belts, and whatnot.   When we told them that we couldn't meet next week because of an early dismissal, they asked if we could meet on Thursday instead of our regular Friday.

Seriously.  We had 26 show up on Thursday.  Including the four boys.

I taught them to cast on and they did so well that I went ahead and taught the knit stitch to them.  Granted, some are frustrated and need some more work, but for the most part they are getting it.  In fact, they're getting it much faster than I expected.

What's amazing both Mrs. Eagle and myself, is that they are all being so well-mannered and patient and quiet when we're giving them instructions.  (Mrs. Eagle is learning along with them and they find that particularly amusing.)  They are just a dream group of kids.  They raise their hands, they are patient when I have to work my way around the room to get to them, they are just wonderful.  It's an interesting mix of kids, truth be told.

They are now swinging by with their knitting problems and questions after school, or during homeroom to ask for help.  I love that.

What I also love is that the local yarn shop and its customers have donated FOUR HUGE BAGS of yarn and GOBS OF NEEDLES to the club.  We're talking a lot of stuff here.  All donated.  All for my kids.  We are overwhelmed.

This week we're going to work on the knit stitch some more and get some practice.  But soon, I can see us tackling a scarf project.  We're thinking scarves in school colors.  Won't that look awesome in the yearbook picture?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Making the Minimum Effort

We had a test today.  (Which means this will be short as I need to get grading.)

A nice little mix of multiple choice, labeling, and constructed response which is pretty much a word for what we called an "essay question" back in the dark ages when I was in middle school.

To prepare my darlings for this, we spent part of the period reviewing how to write a good answer to a science question, how to restate the question, how to have a good topic sentence, how to use vocabulary words correctly, blah, blah, blah.  They are expected to write a paragraph, and were given a choice of two out of three questions to answer.

Which makes me wonder...when did one sentence become a paragraph?

But you have to give them credit..instead of LISTENING and READING THE DIRECTIONS where it said they only had to answer TWO out of the THREE questions...they answered all three.  With one sentence for each questions.

So unacceptable.  And they'll be so unhappy when I make them redo it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Voice of Doom

I was busy doing a Brainpop with my seventh period today when The Enforcer's voice comes across the speaker system.

"Excuse the interruption.  Will the following seventh graders please bring their agenda and come to the theater immediately.  The list is long, so please be patient."

And then he started reading names.

And more names.

And even more names.

I had paused the Brainpop when he first came over the speaker, and by the time he'd finished, half my class was gone.  I could hear kids leaving Mrs. Social Studies' class, and kids in the hallway asking, "Do you know what this is about?"  and "Are we in trouble?"

I decided to take a quick peek at my email to see if anything was there, and lo and behold I found an email from The Principal.  Apparently nearly half (HALF!  HALF!) of our seventh graders did not have an updated immunization record indicating that they had the required booster shots.  The State passed a law last year that basically said that seventh graders had to prove that they had their updated shots or they would be suspended from school until the records have been forwarded to the school.

Now, this isn't news.  All sixth graders got a letter from The Principal about this with their report cards last spring.  All new enrolling seventh graders get a letter about this requirement as well.  It's been on the news.  The Principal has done EdConnect calls.   It's been on the school marquee. Every pediatrician and health department in the state knows about this law and has the forms to provide their patients with the necessary paperwork.

And still, nearly half of the seventh grade hasn't provided the paperwork.

They have until Thursday.  It should be interesting to see how many manage to provide the paperwork.  And how many don't.

But what's kind of sad, really, is that many of our kids probably haven't had their booster shots, for whatever reason.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Hitting It Out of the Park

One of the advantages of going to conferences like the ones put on by NSTA, is that you find (or find again) some great ideas for lessons and activities.  Years ago, when I was doing a lot of my student teaching, I was familiar with AIMS activities, which I thought were pretty awesome.  At the last conference Mrs. Eagle and I went to, the AIMS folks had a booth and I feel in love with their activities and lessons all over again.  I particularly like their downloadable E-activities which are awesome.

In any case, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Angora and I decided that we really need to do a lot more activities (and we're being encouraged to do so anyway because of STEM which is heading our way next year), so when I found a great activity on their website called Finding Faults With Food, I immediately downloaded it.  We'd been looking for a good activity that would help our kids understand tectonic plates and this one looked perfect.

You can't go wrong with cookies, frosting and graham crackers.  Truly.

It took a bit of time to buy all the materials, bag everything up and get it ready, but it was worth every minute of it.  The kids LOVED it.  Absolutely freaking loved it.  They were drawing, labeling, working with the cookies (tectonic plates) and the frosting (asthenosphere)...and of course, I wouldn't let them actually eat anything until I'd approved their work and they were completely done - all pictures labeled, with arrows, and their reflections.  (Amazing how the reward of chocolate frosting will encourage kids to work.)

It's not often that kids will actually come up to you on the way out of the classroom and tell you what an awesome lab it was, how much they love your science class, and what a cool teacher you are.  (Apparently the secret to being a cool teacher is chocolate frosting and cookies.)

Of course, they haven't had one of my tests...yet.

But still, today was awesome.  Even for the Seventh Grade Class From the Very Depths of Hell, which wasn't going to do the lab today because of their DREADFUL behavior yesterday (and truth be told, all month long).  I tortured them a bit by doing the lab myself up on the document reader and making them drawing the pictures based on what I did.  Nothing like a big blog of chocolate frosting up on the huge screen to get the point across that they weren't having any fun.  The fact that every kid in the team told them what fun it was helped a lot.  They were silent.  They were also mad at their classmates, and at least 3 asked if they could change schedules to go into a different class.  I gradually gave out supplies to the lab groups, starting with the quietest ones until eventually they all had the chance to do the lab.  And they were quiet.  And they worked.  And they did a fantastic job.

Which goes to show that THEY CAN DO IT...if they chose to.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hello Little Birdie!

We had a parent meeting today with a parent and her son, who is not only failing, but failing miserably because he turns in absolutely no work whatsoever.  None.  Nada.  Even classwork.  I called Stubborn Boy's mom about two weeks ago because it was really apparent that he was on a fast track to nowhere.  She said she was going to set up a meeting and about a week later she did.

But of course, she never showed up.

We called her up and she said she'd forgot about the meeting she scheduled, but we managed to get her to come in today and have our little meeting.  She said that Stubborn Boy makes his own choices and his choice is to do nothing as he'll just get passed on like he always has been.  This kid went to something like eight different elementary schools, and is on his second middle school.  We also found, when his records finally showed up, that his sixth grade teachers last year were planning on retaining him in 6th grade, but our admin decision was to move him to seventh and see how he did.  So we brought in Stubborn Boy to the meeting and he blamed - surprise! surprise! - all his problems on another student (who, truth be told, is annoying beyond belief).  His claim was that this other student was picking on him, and making him mad, and keeping him from doing his work.

Really?  Even in the classes they didn't have together?

Apparently so.  At least according to Stubborn Boy.  So, we put together a plan where mom wrote down what she's going to do (holding my breath here), we wrote down what we were going to do to help him, and Stubborn Boy wrote down what he was going to do (make up his 24 missing assignments to start.)  We also made note to separate Stubborn Boy from his tormentor and keep them apart as much as possible.

Which I did.  Stubborn Boy is on one side of the room, with his back to Pest Boy, and Pest Boy is on the other side of the room.  They are as far apart as two kids can be.

Which is why I was a bit surprised when Stubborn Boy decided to turn around, right in the middle of class, and flip Pest Boy "the bird", right in front of me and everybody.

What the ????

Both boys earned a trip out to the hallway with me where we had a bit of a discussion about what had transpired.  Stubborn Boy said Pest Boy was picking on him, and Pest Boy claimed, typically, "that I was just teasing, I was being funny."

"Really?" I asked him.  "Did you see Stubborn Boy laughing any?  Did he find that funny?"

Long, long pause while Pest Boy processed this.  ""

"No kidding.  He didn't find it funny."  Jeez!

So both boys earned my first discipline forms for the year.  What a shock.  They're in the Seventh Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself.  Although Stubborn Boy is moving.  After today, I don't even want them in the same classroom.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Could It Truly Be....Fall?

We start school in early August, so it's not unusual to have several really hot days or weeks before things start to cool down.

This doesn't mean we like it any, however.

By August, I'm tired of the heat and humidity.  This year was particularly bad as we had an unusually warm June, so it seems like we've been hot and humid for eons.  What with football season starting, and kids and teachers getting into the routine of school, it's about time we have some cooler weather.  Football when it's 95 out is just wrong on so many levels.

In fact, last week we get an email from The District that informs us that "due to the expected heat index of over 100 degrees, all outside school activities will be cancelled."  No problem for me since I wasn't doing an outside activity, but it does give you an idea as to how hot it was last week.  (And, I might add, this is the first time I recall getting an email like this - in nine years at The School.)

Today, however, is a new day.  And it's 65 degrees.  And breezy.  And overcast.  And my rain gauge at 2.4" of rain in it so my yard now is trending towards green, not brown.  The AC is off, the windows are open, the cats are happy.

And the forecast?  70's and 80's...we're trending towards Fall!

Working, working, working

I actually took Saturday and Sunday off for a quick trip with Hubby to Atlanta to photograph some Civil War battlefield sites for a presentation he does.  Which means that all the papers and projects I need to grade are sitting here...waiting to be graded.

So, aside from laundry, I'm spending today grading work.

My mom asks me how come I have so much grading this year.  It's not that we're giving out more work, because we aren't.  It has to do, yet again, with more kids.  That, combined with the fact that nearly every planning period lately has been taken up with either a evaluation meeting, a 504 meeting, a parent meeting, or whatnot.  There's barely enough time to get labs and activities set up, let alone any grading.

So, I bring the grading home.  At least that means I can multi-task.  Laundry - grade - play with cats - laundry - grade - play with cats...and if I'm lucky, I'll get it all done and have some time to knit or read, too things, I'm way behind in.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

You Mean We Had to Do the Work?

On Tuesday I taught the kids how to do a guided outline, which is a good tool for kids to use to help with their content area reading.  I modeled how to do it, we did part of it as a class, and then they worked with their groups.  No problem.

Then I said the words that apparently were spoken in a language foreign to twelve-year-olds:  "We will go over this and grade it on Friday so if you haven't finished, it's homework."

On Wednesday and Thursday I had written on the board that homework was to finish their guided outline as it was due on Friday.

I also said multiple times that the guided outline was homework and due on Friday.  Any guess what I heard from some of my kids when I asked them to get out their guided outlines on Friday?

"You mean we had to finish it?'


Thursday, September 01, 2011

This is Not a Drill...we think.

Right towards the very end of sixth period (yes, one of the classes from hell), The Principal got on the intercom and announced we were going into lockdown.  So, we locked our doors, covered the windows, got the kids away from the doors, got them quiet and sat down to see what was going on.  I wasn't sure if this is a drill or not because we usually (but not always) get a head's up for drills, and because it was so close to a class change.  And then again, The School is across the street from a bank and it seems like there's a bank robbery about once a week or so these days.  It could be real...

My kids at first were, typically, acting like they didn't have a clue how to be quiet and listen until I mentioned that THIS MAY BE REAL and then some of them bought a clue and got quiet.  All in all they didn't do too bad, and my two really severe ping pong ADHD kids even managed not to lose it for the time we had to stay quiet.

That being said, I was way luckier than Mr. Math.  Mr. Math had Happy Boy in the room.  

Happy Boy did not deal with the lockdown well.  If you recall, Happy Boy has one volume - LOUD - and the fact that it was a lockdown didn't help any.

"IS IT FOR REAL MR. MATH?  IS IT FOR REAL?  IS IT FOR REAL?" he kept asking Mr. Math.  Like me, he suspected it might be real and was desperate to quiet Happy Boy down.  Happy Boy wasn't having any of it.

"IS IT FOR REAL MR. MATH?  IS IT?  IS IT?"  he kept yelling.

Mr. Math at this point is trying, desperately to get him quiet.  "It might be, I don't know.  But you HAVE TO BE QUIET because we don't want anyone to even think there is anyone in this room."

"BUT IS IT REAL?  IS IT REAL?" Happy Boy wanted to know.  

At this point I think Happy Boy's classmates were wondering about how much trouble they'd get into if they'd just opened the door and shoved him out in the hall (to be picked up by marauding bands of bank robbers, hostage takers and even some skitters.)  Mr. Math was beginning to wonder about how much trouble he'd get into if he'd just clamped his hand over his mouth and got him to quiet down that way.  

Finally one of the other kids put a stop to it, "Will you just shut the hell up and listen to Mr. Math?!" he yelled.  The fact that this was a Normally Very Quiet Kid, shocked not only Mr. Math and the other kids, but actually managed to get Happy Boy's attention.  Mr. Math was so shocked he didn't even write him up for using profanity.  (He probably wanted to give him a medal.)  Finally Happy Boy got the message and got quiet and was silent for the rest of the drill.

Which was what it really was, we finally found out.

But just you watch.  We'll have another bank robbery in town next week and knowing my luck, Happy Boy will be in my room.