Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Break?

At The District, we get three days off for Thanksgiving break (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday).  This makes for a nice break before we wind up the end of the first semester.

On Monday of this past week, one of my students, Spacey Girl, who is really a sweet kid, but, well, a bit "out there", asked me how come we didn't get  a full week off for Thanksgiving like some other nearby districts do.

"Well," I said, "it may be because we get a week off for fall break."

"We do?" she said.  "When?"

"It was about four weeks ago," I replied, "Around the first week of October."

"Really?" she said, genuinely surprised.  "I don't remember that at all."

And I'm supposed to hope that she can remember the rock cycle by the time The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests arrive in April.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankfully, They Do Outgrow It

We had our Fall Festival this past Friday.  The Knitting Club was selling cookies and knitted necklaces and bracelets so Mrs. Eagle and I spent most of the time just supervising.  We actually had more helpers than we needed so that was nice.

What was nicer is that the High School sends over a bunch of the JROTC kids to help run a lot of the carnival-type booths like the ring toss.  We always enjoy this because we get to see how some of our kids have grown up.

What's amazing is HOW MUCH they grow up.

I had a young man come up to me in his JROTC t-shirt and give me a big hug.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

Oh.  How.  Could.  I.  Forget.  This kid was a TERROR.  He was non-academically promoted because he did nothing.  He also was a constant disruption in class and I think he made our Mrs. Reading at the time cry at least once a week.  His best friend and him were the Terror Twins and just about made us all crazy.  He was so awful that I ended up suspending him for something stupid the last week of the year when I was doing "filling in for the principal" duty.  And the worst bit was that he was smart as a whip.  You knew if he could behave and do his work that he'd be fine.

"Of course I do," I told him.  "You were awful!"

He laughed and his friend, another former student (but not the terror he ran with in 7th grade) laughed as well.

"Yeah, I had a 150 discipline points when you had me.  I was awful."

"You were a jerk," his friend said.

"So, what's life like now?" I asked them both.

"Well," said the Former Terror.  "I haven't had a discipline point since I got to High School, I'm in JROTC, and I have a 3.7 gpa."

Oh.  My. Goodness.

"Are you serious?" I asked him.  "You failed 7th grade!"

"Yeah, but I got over it.  Dumped the other Terror Twin when he got involved in drugs, and got into JROTC.  But man, I owe all of you an apology.  I was awful."

"JROTC saved us both," said his friend.  "We're both doing really well in school.  And we were both awful, so I'm sorry."

There is hope.  I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Game Club 101

So a reader (I know!  Isn't that cool!  I have more than one!) asked a question in the comments about running a game club.  This brave soul has ventured out to sponsor a club for 12 and 13 year olds.  (Let's all give her a standing ovation for this brave feat.)  She asked for suggestions...and, well, wouldn't you know it, I have a few.

Mrs. Eagle and I have been sponsoring our school's chess and board game club for something like seven years now.  (Note to people who think teachers are lazy bottom feeders who are in it just for a paycheck - we don't get paid for this.  We do it because our kids need clubs to go to.  It's the right thing for the kids.)  Over the years we've learned a few things.

One, deal with the noise.  If you can't handle noise, get earplugs.  This age group can make Monopoly sound like a combat sport.  I am not kidding.  We consider game club an hour and half of screaming mayhem and other teachers will walk in, shake their heads, and ask, "How do you do it?" and we just smile and nod.  Mainly because we really couldn't hear them anyway.  (It's so loud we tell the front office that if they have to call us, to just run on down, as we won't hear the phone anyway.)  You get 60 kids in there playing games, it's loud.

Rules for games.  Sigh.  A lot of the games the kids have never played before.  That's fine.  Just sit down, find about 3 or so kids (most games play well with 4) and play with them.  Even if it means you're figuring out the rules.  For some reason they get a huge kick out of playing a game with teacher.  Especially when they win.  (I let them.)  Once you have a few kids who know the rules, have them teach others. They'll pick up on it.  Then again, there are a lot of games they may remember from when they were "little."

Kids hate to pick up after themselves.  Too bad, if they're playing games, they're picking up.  After every meeting we do a "pieces crawl", where the kids get down on their hands and knees and find the pieces they dropped.  Because they WILL drop pieces.  It's also good to train your janitor to drop off the pieces he finds when he cleans up the room.  It's not unusual for me to come in on Tuesday mornings and find a battleship, a Scabble square, and a couple of cards on my desk.

These kids are ready to eat the furniture after school so a great way to raise money is to sell snacks.  We took about $60 a few years ago and bought Capri Sun drinks, and bags of Teddy Grahams, Cheeze-it's, and the like and we sell them for fifty cents a piece.  We do this all year long, the kids get a snack, we resupply as needed, and usually by the end of the year have enough money for a pizza party and a few new games.   We also do a hat day once a year (kids pay a dollar to wear a hat at school) and we usually clear about $200.  We really don't need much money to run this club, as long as you have funds to replace games that wear out, or buy new ones.

Games our kids like, and this may vary depending on where you live, are chess, Risk, Monopoly (we bought the electronic version a few weeks ago), Operation, Apples to Apples, Stratego, Battleship, and Phase 10.  This does change a bit from year to year.  Right now we have a lot more Risk fanatics than chess, so that's a really popular game with our crowd.

And lastly, have fun with it.  You'll meet kids in a different environment from the classroom and actually get to know them alot better.  Mrs. Eagle and I tend to scope out the sixth graders and see which ones we each want on our team - it's fun the first day of school when the kids already know you and you already know them.

Cheers!  Have fun!

Monday, November 14, 2011

How To Make Friends - By Walking a Kid to the Nurse

Early last week I walked out of the teacher lunchroom during lunch and discovered Mrs. Reading trying to console one of our girls who was sobbing up a storm.  Apparently Brooding Girl got smacked right in the nose, accidentally, by another one of our girls who apparently can't watch where she's going and carry her lunch at the same time.  My lunch was already heating up in the microwave and Mrs. Reading hadn't had a chance to buy hers so I said I'd walk Brooding Girl down to the nurse.  

Brooding Girl is quiet, and usually prefers to stay to herself.  She had a bit of a yappy phase there for a while, but one phone call to mom took care of that.  She is in our remediation class because she can be a bit slow on getting work in and doesn't necessarily study and do well on tests.  However, one of the few comments I ever got out of her was that she wants to keep her grades up so she can be in the fashion show club.  So, at least she has a goal and as long as she can stay away from the drama, she should be okay.  That being said, I really didn't know much about her because she's the quiet type that would rather just hide than engage a teacher in conversation.

In any case, she was crying so hard I knew she couldn't even see where we were going, so I put my arm around her and walked her to the nurse.  I kept up a running chatter with her the whole way there about when I had my nose broken in high school (well, actually it was deviated septum surgery, but I wasn't going there), and how I realized it hurt, and blah, blah, blah.  At one point she managed to choke out that she didn't want to look ugly with her makeup all over her face (she's a pretty girl) and so we talked about make-up for a bit.  Whatever it takes to get her to the nurse.  I dropped her off, and back to lunch I went.

Brooding Girl is in my Seventh Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, so I saw her later that day and noticed, thankfully, no bruising and it didn't look like her nose had swelled up much.  I asked her how she was and she had a pretty bad headache and it hurt.  Yeah, it probably was going to hurt quite a bit, I told her, but a bit of aspirin and some sleep and she'd feel better.

A few days later, during remediation class which Mrs. Reading was teaching that day, Brooding Girl came in to see if she owed me any assignments.  As luck would have it, she did, so I gave her copies of the missing work, and explained some of it.  

And then, the most amazing thing happened.

She stood there in front of my desk and just chattered away like I'd never heard her chatter.  

Truly.  This from a kid who's maybe said two words to me all year.  She stood there and told me how she'd cleaned the house for her mom the night before, because her mom was kind of depressed when her boyfriend wasn't around, and he was really nice, he was Italian, and he was teaching Brooding Girl to make espresso, and she cleaned all the rooms, and even her room, and helped her sister clean as well, and she thought she'd made mom happy, and then she made up all her missing work, except for science, and she was going to do that tonight, and gee thanks for giving me the work, and my nose doesn't hurt anymore.


Could it be, that all it took was a five minute walk to the nurse??

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You

Because I couldn't improve on perfection..and say it any better than he did.

Hat tip to Chandler at Buckhorn Road

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thank You to Our Veterans!

One thing I've always loved about The School is that we do one heckava AWESOME Veteran's Day program every year.  Over the years, various teachers have organized the event and every year it's just wonderful.  For many of us, it's one of the highlights of the year.

This fall The Principal put out the call that she needed someone to step up to the plate and volunteer to do the Veteran's Day program since the last person who had been in charge - and she did a fantastic job - had gotten married and moved to Atlanta.

And no one responded.  Which is typical because, as Mrs. Eagle often says, it's always the same people who do everything.

After the second email, however, Mrs. Eagle and I were discussing at our Friday breakfast at Waffle House that we'd really hate to see our ceremony fade away because no one wanted to do it.  As a 20 year Army Veteran, the ceremony had a special place for Mrs. Eagle.  So, we volunteered but ONLY it no one person was in charge and we did it as a committee.  We added in a few other folks to round out the committee, Wonder Aide (who helped on it the year before but no one ever knew), Mrs. Bulldog, a young adorable Army spouse and awesome SPED teacher, and Mrs. Parakeet who we added a few weeks later when we discovered, quite by accident, that she did the music at the beginning of the program.  The Principal was delighted and deposited with us a Really Big Box and a binder of Veteran's Day Stuff.

Oh. Boy.

We had a few meetings, did a lot of communicating via email, assigned tasks, and amazingly, it came together fairly well.  I must add that Wonder Aide had some really GREAT ideas, like having the sixth grade wear red, the seventh wear white and the eighth wear blue, and it looked amazing!  We had a few panics, and a few hitches (the lapel pins the student council bought for us to give to our 25 veteran faculty and staff arrived TWO HOURS after the program ended), but over more or less went together.

And today was the day.

And it was amazing.

My friend, a local city councilman and veteran, did the talk and told me, truly, that he was more nervous talking to these kids than he'd ever been doing a political stump speech!  (Middle Schoolers could be a tough crowd.)  He did great.  As a military dependent himself when he was a kid, he asked the kids in the audience to raise their hands if they had a mom or dad who was a veteran or active duty.  He told me when he saw that sea of hands (and it was nearly the whole school), that it was like a kick in the gut and he almost had trouble continuing his talk. The kids, however, loved him.

What we loved was that the kids BEHAVED.  They were just awesome, even though are rapidly outgrowing the gym and had trouble seating everyone.  The sixth grade now takes up nearly one whole side of the gym.

We had wanted to make this a more kid-driven ceremony than in the past and it worked out.  We had different kids doing the welcome, The Pledge of Allegiance (our Life Skills Classes did this), a song, and more.  It went great.

And I'm so glad it's over, but so glad we did it.

Just wait.  It will be even better next year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Reality Check

Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Reading, Mrs. Language, Mr. Social Studies, and a few eighth grade teachers and I spent this evening doing something that none of us ever want to have to do.

We were at the viewing for the father of three of our students at The School.  

Like Clever Boy's mother this past April, Father of Four was killed in Afghanistan.   

This has hit our building hard.  Father of Four had a child in each of our grades, so there's very few teachers who don't know at least one of these kids.  The youngest boy, Honor Roll Boy, is in my homeroom and is just one of those kids you can't help but love because he's so awesome.  He's pleasant, polite, cute as heck (half my girls have crushes on him), and he's smart as a whip.  It's just awful that he has to lose his father at this age and in this way.

The kids in class are all aware of why Honor Roll Boy hasn't been in school much (he did come for one day last week), but they're being really quiet about it.  None of the teachers have said anything, but these kids text and email and Facebook and who knows what else so there's not a whole lot they don't know about.  And considering how many of them are probably thinking, "there but for the grace of God goes my mom or dad", they've been very supportive of Honor Roll Boy when he's been here.  The military kids are good at closing ranks and taking care of each other.  It's one of the things I love about them.

As hard as it was, I'm glad I went.  I'm also glad I always have packets of tissues in my purse because it was necessary.  But let me tell you, it was truly dignified, truly special.  The honor guard standing watch by the casket was impressive.  All the military members that were there were impressive.  And the brief, private ceremony where the family were given gold star pins and his medals was impressive, and very touching.

We took a moment to talk to Mrs. Father of Four and told her that we'd take care of her kids for her and not to worry because That's What We Do at The School.  We love them as best we can.  She seemed very touched, and perhaps a bit surprised, to see us all there.  It was the least we could do for a family that has given so much.

God Bless you Father of Four.  We'll take care of your kids as best we can.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Lunch Date

80's Girl, my little goth darling with the black lipstick, has been bugging me for several weeks about eating lunch with her.


I find this a bit funny because the only time I've ever had a kid request something like this was a few years ago when we did lunch detention and kids stopped doing their homework on purpose so they could eat lunch in our classrooms so they could get caught up on their homework.  The draw wasn't the teacher, or the classroom, or the food, or getting caught up.  No, they were there because they liked the quiet.  Seriously.  Our cafeteria is mind-numbing loud.  320 kids in there and it's nuts.

Well anyway I decided I better bow to her demands, and told her to pick two other friends to eat with us and I'd join them in one of the booths.  A few years ago we had a fast food restaurant nearby remodel and they donated a bunch of booths for us to put in the cafeteria.  These are great for when parents come and for when kids use their reward money to have lunch with their friends in the booth.  It's not quiet, but it's still better than sitting at long tables with the rest of the kids.

Part of me is not looking forward to this because I really need my 30 minutes of peace in the middle of the day to regroup and get ready for the Seventh Period Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself.  But then again, the other part of me is finding this to be a bit entertaining as I'll get to know these three girls quite a bit better.  It will be interesting about what they'll talk about.

At least I won't have to eat the cafeteria food.

P.S. - a day later.  I actually had a lot of fun at the lunch date.  Did get some weird looks from other kids, but my three girls were a joy.  They were envious of my chicken soup and orange (really?) but apparently it's much better fare than cafeteria food.  (I have never, in nine years at The School, eaten cafeteria food).  I learned a lot about these kids and that's something neat.

Monday, November 07, 2011

There's These Things Called Parent Conferences...

This morning, at around 7:20, which is pretty chaotic as it's homeroom time, and kids are arriving at school, going to breakfast, going to the school store and so forth, my phone rings.  My homeroom kids are a pretty good bunch and I've given a bunch of them jobs, including answering the phone so I can do things like help kids with work and watch the hall.

So, the kid that answers the phone comes to me and says, holding out the phone (I have a 25' cord on it) and says, "She wants to talk to you."  "She" being one of our secretaries up front (the Ditzy One).

"Hi there, I have Lazy Boy's mom up here and she wants to know if she can schedule a team meeting this week at 9:00 am," she says.

I've been having a lot of email conversation with Lazy Boy's mom and she is, to put it bluntly, fed up with him.  The last I talked with her, he'd been grounded until sometime in 2012, she was changing his meds, and she was at her wit's end.  I guessed that the reason she was asking for a meeting was that she got his progress report and Was Not Happy.

"Well, the only problem with that is we have to be in our rooms by 9:04 as that's when 2nd period gets out and the kids start showing up."  The Ditzy Secretary should know this as it's plastered across the front of our team calendar which should be right in front of her as she's scheduling a meeting.  

"Okay, but she drives a school bus and she can't get here until 9:00 am," says the Ditzy Secretary.

Sigh.  "I understand that, however, we Have Kids Coming to Our Room so We Can Teach Them at that time.  The only way we can have a meeting at 9:00 am is if Administration can find someone to cover our classes."

"Oh, I understand," she says.  "So what should I tell her?"

Oh.  Good.  Gracious.

"Tell her that we can't meet at 9:00 am unless someone from administration okays someone to cover our classes."

"Oh, okay," she says and she rings off.

A few minutes later, after the kids have gone on to their first period and I'm running around getting a lab together, I run into Mrs. Sparrow, one of the administrators who happened to have been approached by Ditzy Secretary about the situation.

"Where in the hell was this parent when we had two days of parent conferences for the past two weeks?" she hissed.  "Did she ever schedule an appointment with any of you?"

"Not that I know of," I answered, "and we had room in the schedule even before the no-shows."

"Please!  She has two days of conferences which she could have utilized, but instead she wants us to get subs to cover your classes so we can have a meeting!  That's ridiculous!"

I had to agree with her on that one.  Mr. Enforcer later told Ditzy Secretary to go ahead and call Lazy Boy's mom and tell her we could meet with her at 8:50 and that we'd have to be done by 9:00 and if that wasn't enough time, then she might have to get a sub for her bus and come on in when we could meet with her.

We'll see if she shows.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Smile Like Sunshine

Our Life Skills Class (and for those of you who aren't familiar with that term, it's the kids with mild to severe disabilities) does a lot of fund-raising throughout the year to pay for their Special Olympics team.  They do teacher luncheons, make and sell cookies, and sell flavored coffees.  

I'm a coffee drinker myself, but I usually don't drink any once I get to school.  However, a few weeks ago I got the email from the Life Skills teacher and she mentioned that the flavor that day was Almond Joy (one of my favorite candy bars).  It costs a dollar for a HUGE cup of coffee, and it's delivered to your room by a Life Skills student (or students) and one of the kids that volunteer to help in that classroom.  I figured I'd give the coffee a try (it was awesome) because it sounded good and the kids could use the money for their fund.

It's kind of fun - you call the Life Skills room, and order your coffee.  About ten minutes later a hot, steaming cup of coffee is delivered to your room.  The first time I did it, one of my homeroom kids was the helper, and my "delivery boy" was a sweet little kid in a wheel chair.  I gave them both reward money and thanked them for the coffee.  Sunshine Boy in the wheel chair lit up like I'd just given him a million dollars and waved that reward buck around with abandon. 

That made my day.

Today, another email about Almond Joy arrived, and I ordered another cup of coffee.  Another one of my kids was the helper and he came with Sunshine Boy and another kid who helped pushed Sunshine Boy's wheelchair.  I paid my real dollar for my coffee and gave all three of them a reward buck.  Again, Sunshine Boy just lit up like a Christmas tree, giggled and waved that reward buck like nobody's business.

That smile and that unadulterated joy was just awesome!  

So now, I think I'm going to be ordering flavored coffee pretty much every day they offer it.  It's worth it to see that smile from Sunshine Boy.  He truly makes my day!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It must be one of those weeks

I'm not sure if it's the transition from warm weather to cool, the fact that we have a second night of parent conferences, or if there's something in the water, but it's been one of those weeks.  And I'm not just talking about myself here.

You know it's a bad week when...

The kids are still wacked out on sugar.

 One of your kids, who wasn't feeling well during sixth period (but the nurse sent him back and said to encourage drinking more water) throws up all over the parking lot in front of the entire 7th and most of the 8th grade during a fire drill at the beginning of seventh period.    Really, the phrase "it sucks to be him" comes to mind.  I didn't think he looked all that perky sixth period when he got sent back, and obviously he wasn't feeling all that great.  Hopefully the kids will forget the whole episode, but honestly, I'm worried he may be "the kid that barfed during the fire drill in 7th grade." He's a good kid.

The kids are still wacked out on sugar.

I go to my 4:15 appointment with my allergist and I don't see him until 5:30.  Good thing I only see him once a year.  And good thing I brought my knitting.  

The kids are still wacked out on sugar.  

Two of my kids who started off the year pretty good, are now diving head first into disaster and misbehavior.  I had to toss them out with workbooks in hand (I sent them to Mr. Rooster which they HATE), as they wouldn't behave during a lab.  And I was so miffed that I got on the phone and called their parents right then and their while the kids did their lab (and I could observe - they were making pulleys with paper clips and thread.)  Nice conversations with one step dad who took care of business last night.  Very contrite little boy in class today.  They both behaved.

The kids are still wacked out on sugar. 

And tomorrow...another round of parent conferences.

By that time I'll need to be wacked out on sugar.