Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When the Parent is the Bully

So a bunch of us got what has to be the most vile, hateful, and vitriolic email I have ever received in eleven years at The School.

It was five single-spaced pages of threats and condemnations and was just mind-blowing. It basically was the parents demands on how we were to teach her child.   This is the sort of email you'd expect halfway through the year when a kid has been expelled and has had a long history of issues.  Not something you expect the Third Freaking Day from a kid that you haven't had a lick of trouble from.

Makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.  (Actually makes me feel sorry for the kid.)

God bless The Principal.  She called us into a meeting after school and said that we were not to have any personal one-on-one contact with this parent.  She was going to run interference.  Thank goodness.

It's one thing to deal with bullies at school, who are kids, but another dealing with a bully who's actually a parent.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Things They Didn't Warn Me About

Having never taught sixth grade before, about the only thing I really know about sixth graders is that they're shorter, for the most part, than my seventh graders.

I figured they were a little more immature, a little more sweet, and a little more nervous than the jaded bunch of seventh graders I see every year.

Are they ever different.

Since we're doing electronic attendance every period this year - sigh - the first thing we do when class starts is attendance.  And of course, since we don't know each other, this involves saying "here" and raising their hands so I can physically see them when I call their name. I do a big production out of asking them to raise their hand high - "be proud of your name!" - when I call so I can actually see it.

Seventh graders, for the most part, sort of mumble, if they answer at all, and then you're lucky to get a hand that's higher than shoulder height.  It's like they can't be bothered to put forth the effort. Half the time I have to call a name several times before I can determine that the kid, really and truly, is sitting in my room.

Sixth graders, on the other hand, are like a bunch of perky little cheerleaders - boys and girls alike - popping those hands up towards the ceiling and chirping "here!" with so much enthusiasm that I'm almost overwhelmed.  Attendance with these kids is a breeze.

However, the one thing that no one warned me about, and which really surprised me is that sixth graders apparently feel the need to hug you goodbye when you dismiss class.  I thought maybe after my very brief second period (my first bunch of sixies) that it was just that particular group of kids.  I dismissed them and about half a dozen of them, boys and girls alike, came over to give me a hug and go on their way.  Nothing intense, just little shoulder hugs and off they went.  Okay, that was weird.  But then my seventh period sixies did the same thing!

What the heck?

I mentioned this to The Principal and she started laughing.  "Oh, they do that!  You'll just have to get used to it.  They think you're their school mamma and since you teach science, they also think you're a rock star!"  (I didn't pursue that last comment...)

So, perhaps I'm liking my schedule better than I thought.  I sort of wanted my sixth grade classes closer together in the day (preferably back to back) because of lab preps and the like.  However, starting the day with sweet nice kids and ending the day with sweet nice kids, isn't a bad way to go.

I just wish it wasn't such a tongue twister.  Saying "I teach sixth, second and seventh," is a bit of a challenge.

Week One Down...

The first day and a half of school went pretty well.

I don't know why, except it's the way it's always been done, but we always have a half day on the first day of school which we spend entirely with our homeroom.  Then we have a day off for staff development and planning.  Then we have a full day with all our classes.  That day off in there is a little wonky, but we do put it to good use.  It just seems weird.

In any case, the first half day is the "here is all the paperwork your poor parents needs to fill out, sign, return" day, plus rules, policies, blah, blah, blah, blah.  It's really quite boring, not only for the kids, but for us.  As the principal says, the important thing is they feel comfortable in a home room and they know how they are getting home.  This year I only had one kid who didn't know his bus number, but Guidance solved that rather quickly.  That's pretty good.  I had one kid one year who didn't know his address, phone or bus number (he had landed here the week before from Florida.)

My homeroom kids, all 24 of them (a significant drop from the 30 I had last year) are mostly special ed and lower achieving kids.  Out of the 24 of them, I teach 4 of them science.  The rest go to inclusion science with Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Angora.  I guess because I'm teaching two grades I didn't get an inclusion class. So that's a bit weird.  I see these kids in the morning, then see them in the afternoon, and that's it.  No academic contact with them.

On Friday, the first full day, it got a little crazy.  The first three full days we spend a two hour block with our homerooms in the mornings doing training of some sort.  My homeroom is seventh grade so on Friday it was there turn to go to the gym or the theater and hear "The Talk" by the administrators.  Mr. Enforcer talks with the boys, and Mrs. Sparrow talks with the girls.  They go over discipline, dress code, cell phones, bullying, sexual harassment, etc.  On Monday we'll get our books and lockers.  On Tuesday we'll do our School Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) training.  Then on Wednesday, it's normal schedule, normal day.

So, that two hour block in the morning means about a 30 minute class for the remaining periods.  Which is barely enough to do attendance, introduce yourself, hand them the science lab rules that need to be signed and returned, and go over expectations.  We're doing electronic attendance every period this year instead of just in the morning, and that's taking a lot longer than I thought it would.  Once I know everyone's names, it should go easier.

Unfortunately, on these weird schedule days lunch just seems to throw a monkey wrench into everything.  The sixth grade went down to lunch early for a bit of an orientation (apparently there are a lot more choices for lunch in middle school which kind of overwhelms the kids).  However, going early didn't help as it took an extra 15 minutes for the kids to get through the line.  Which left me with about 5 minutes to introduce myself to my 2nd period class of sixth graders.   From that point on, everything was running quite a bit behind until about 5th period when things calmed down and the lunch was over.  Let's hope that it works out better on Monday.

So here it is, Saturday, and the building was open and quite a few of us were in there working.  Mrs. Eagle and I had some data drilling to do, plus copying, plus just catching up on stuff so we got in there early and did about 5 hours.  I don't feel so bad about missing a Saturday since it rained all morning and is hot and muggy today.  I just don't want to make a habit of it as we all need a mental break on the weekends.

So, one week is done.  So far, so good.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Mamma Bear...Hug

On Monday I participated, for the first time, in the annual Parent Night we have for sixth graders and their parents.  Basically the parents come with their kids, pick up schedules, listen to The Principal welcome them and their darlings, then go to either the gym, the theater, or the cafeteria to see a presentation by their team of teachers.  After that, they're turned loose to follow the schedule and try to locate their classrooms and meet their teachers.  This evening started a few years ago as a way to avoid having the parents follow their children around on the first day of school which apparently was an issue.  (I had no idea.  By the time a kid gets to the seventh grade, it's hard to even find a parent.)

Considering that I'm an "overflow" teacher, I'm not exactly tied to a team.  So I really felt like the fifth wheel. The Principal wanted those of us who were overflow teachers to sort of pop in and out of the team presentations.  She did inform the parents that due to the numbers, that there were going to be teachers that were not on teams teaching their children.  Hopefully the parents figured out that's who we were when we dropped in since only one of the teams was nice enough to introduce us.

Back in my room it was kind of amusing.  I only have two classes of sixth grade, so that's only 48 kids (as of today), so I wasn't swamped with parents and kids.  I spent a lot of time giving directions to classrooms because guidance had the wrong room numbers on most of the schedules.  Basically, anyone who changed classrooms last year (which was over half of us) had a wrong room number.  Big screw up.  However, it eventually worked its way out and everyone, hopefully, found their way around.

I did have a rather bizarre, but funny experience with a parent which I completely didn't expect.  She showed up in my room with a teenager with dark, dark hair and her little one.  She went on and on about how I was her favorite teacher - which would have been impossible, considering her age.  Her older daughter stepped in and mentioned that she had been my student, not her mom.  I did not recognize her at all and asked her name.  When she told me, I was surprised to say the least.  What I had in seventh grade was a quiet little blond with big round glasses.  What was in front of me was tall, skinny, with no glasses and dark hair!  Amazing how they change!  Mom, meanwhile, gushed some more, picked me up in a big bear hug and then they went on their way.

That, my friends, is a fairly positive way to start the year, don't ya think?

Saturday, August 03, 2013


This new school year is going to be very different than many of my past school years.

I have taught 7th grade for ten years - hard to believe its been that long - and this year I will still be teaching 7th grade.  But I'll have two classes of 6th graders as well.  Our enrollment is just jumping (we've added nearly 300 kids in 3 years) and there are so many 6th graders coming in that The Principal had to add an extra "overflow" teacher.  So, I'll have two 6th grade classes and three 7th grade classes.   I'm considered a 7th grade teacher (The Principal has me work with the 7th grade team at all staff things) and "just helping out" the sixth grade for the year (or two.)  I am cool with this.

I am also cool with the fact that my class sizes are a lot more manageable than last year.  I averaged 154 kids last year which comes to about 32 per class.  This year I'm up to 125 which is about 25 per class.  A huge difference.

I may decide I like 6th grade better.  Who knows?  What I do know is that the 6th grade teachers are not a tight-group like the 7th grade teachers are, so that may be interesting.  I like the way the 7th grade teachers act like a family.

The good part about all this is that after seven years I am no longer a team leader because I am no longer on any one team - I get the "overflow" kids.  Considering I was going to ask The Principal if someone else could have the pleasure of being team leader, I am more than thrilled at this.  Having less responsibility suits me fine, especially after the year I had last year with dealing with being the executrix of my Father's estate.  (That's still going on, btw, and I hope to have most of it done by December.)

I also am in a different room which is bigger than the tiny room I have had for eight years and that's a good thing.  The only real drawback I've found so far is that it is still in the older part of the building and is a little short on electrical outlets so I have 3 extension cords running along the walls which is par for the course in this part of the building.  Especially considering the geniuses who installed all the technology stuff a few years ago didn't put any of that near an outlet which makes it impossible to get power to the technology (doc reader, computer, etc.) without an extension cord.

So, it should be an interesting year.

Summer Ends with Sweet Corn

Mrs. Eagle and I took a little road trip up North last weekend, to visit a good friend of mine, to see her adorable MIL, and so I could do a little talk for a historical group up there.  The fact that people will actually pay me to drive up and talk about the Civil War is a plus - it helps pay, somewhat, for the girls' weekend.

One of the other reasons we went up there was because there is nothing - nothing! - like Ohio sweet corn.  Even the sweet corn down here in My Beloved South does not measure up and I buy from the Amish so you can bet I'm buying from people who know how to grow corn.  Northern sweet corn is just the best.

Mrs. Eagle's little adorable MIL called ahead and placed an order for us with the local grower as he tends to sell out every day and we had five bushels of sweet corn waiting for us on Monday morning.  We sort of thought it would be in those cute bushel baskets, but it was in these huge green woven bags.  Thought was probably a good thing.  We put them in big plastic bags, put some bags of ice in with them, and tossed them in the back of her CRV for the nine hour drive home.

I had ordered 5 dozen ears of corn because, after all, it's just me and Mr. Bluebird to eat it.  However, this grower, being a nice guy, throws in two extra ears for every dozen, so I ended up with 70 ears of corn.

That's a lot of corn.

I spent the better part of a day shucking it, boiling it, letting it cool, then cutting it off the cob, and then packing it into freezer bags.  (My vacuum sealer is probably one of my most useful kitchen devices.)  I ended up with 16 bags of corn which is just about the right amount.

And I saved a few just to eat with supper for the next week.  Mr. Bluebird, swooned.  I swooned.  It was awesome.

However, as much as I love sweet corn it does pretty much signal the end of summer for us.  School starts on Wednesday, August 6, and we report on Monday, August 5th.

Time to savor summer and the sweet corn.