Monday, December 21, 2015

Hum, Hum, Humming Along

The past few weeks I've seen an influx of sixth grade customers to Our Happy Little Portable.  This tells me that the honeymoon is over with our youngest kiddos, and they've finally worn their teachers' patience thin.  I've seen the same 5 or 6 sixth graders all year, but the past two weeks saw some new faces.

The funny thing about sixth graders is they're so flipping small compared to most seventh and eighth grade kids, and often look like little angels when they come in.  This past week I had Humming Girl, all brown braids and big eyes behind huge glasses.  This kid looked like she never made a peep and couldn't ever manage to make it out to ISS.  However, even the most angelic child can lose their mind and this one, apparently, cussed out our Mrs. Band Teacher.  (Really?  Like the sweetest lady on earth?)

In any case, as it was nearing the end of the grading period, kids who didn't have a lot of make up work often needed stuff to do.  And thankfully Mrs. Math had given me a link to a great website that had math fact coloring sheets - It's here, if you're interested. In any case, I gave Humming Girl a couple of these to work on - NO CALCULATOR - which just aggravates the hell out of the kids...and she happily sat at the desk next to my desk, solving her math facts and coloring.

And humming.

Humming Christmas Carols.

All. Day. Long.

She was rather quiet about it, so the only people who could hear her were me and a kid or two that were working up at the front table.  One of them, an 8th grade Repeat Customer, looked at her, and looked at me, eyebrows raised.

I nodded my head, letting him know I could hear her too.  "It's okay," I said quietly to him, "she's not hurting anybody."

He nodded and went back to work.

And we listened to Christmas Carols the remainder of the day and it was just kind of nice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Sometimes You Can't Say No

Our Happy Little Portable is rapidly becoming "the" place to get caught up on your work and boost your grades, especially among the 8th grade kids.

True, it usually is pretty quiet in there as my typical number of kids is about eight, but I've been as low as one and then had a lot of new additions to boost my numbers to 18.  (That is NOT fun).  Today I started out with one kid and after lunch seven more arrived.  But honestly, if the numbers are fairly low, it really is a good place to get caught up.  

And apparently the word is out.  

Fourth period arrived today and with it came Baseball Boy who is my student aide for fourth period, along with another kid I had last year.  Last year Lazy Boy was beyond lazy, but he was also rude and got into trouble almost constantly.  He ended up the year with something like 250 discipline points and was on the verge of being expelled.  But for some reason the kid liked me.  Anyhow I hadn't seen him this year, which is huge, because it means he hasn't been in trouble much (I looked.  Here we are halfway through the year and he has 15 points.  He got that much in a DAY last year.)

"Lazy Boy needs to talk to you," said Baseball Boy.

"Yeah, I want to know if I can come to ISS for the rest of the week and next week until I get my grades up," he said.  

I about fell over.  

"Really?"  I replied.  

"Yeah, I go in front of a judge in January and I need to have C grades in all my classes or I go to Juvie," says Lazy Boy.  "I really need your help.  Baseball Boy says it's quiet here and you help kids."

"Well it can be," I said.  "And other times it can be crazy."

"I promise I'll be good," he said.  

"You can only come out during your related arts," I told him.  "You need to be in your academic classes."

"So I can come out third and fourth period?" he asked.  "Oh my gosh, Mrs. Bluebird, that would be amazing.

Oh jeez.  Really.  How can I say no?  So I pulled up his grades and missing work and he does have his work cut out for him.  Sent him and Baseball Boy into the building to get work from his teachers, and then emailed The Principal, and his teachers and the guidance counselor he talks to all the time and said if it was okay with them, I'd like to keep him for his related arts and help him get his grades up.  Seemed to make everyone happy, so I put him at the work table with Baseball Boy (who's really bright and a good student) and they worked on math the rest of the period.

I may have opened a Pandora's box and now all the kids will want to be out here to "catch up", but honestly I couldn't say no.  We'll see how it goes.

And the good thing is with Baseball Boy helping him, he won't be driving me insane.


Update on Lazy Boy - every day he came in, got to work, I didn't have to get after him One Single Time.  I was having trouble believing this was the same kid I had last year that had racked up nearly 300 discipline points in seventh grade.  He got his grades up.  Not sure if they're high enough for the Judge, but he did pull them up.  We'll see how the court date goes in January.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Doing the Unexpected...and Watch Their Heads Explode

One of the things I've learned over this year is I tend to see the same 30-40 kids over and over.  Of course, once in a while we'll get a newcomer, but for the most part it's the same crew.  What this means is that after a while I get to know them fairly well.

Mouthy Girl has only been with us twice but she likes to drop by for breakfast in the morning just to chat, so I see her quite a bit.  And she's pretty much a hot mess.  Mom has gone to court to file an unruly teen petition against her and she's spent time in juvenile detention.  But she seems to like me and I rarely have any issues with her.

Until about a week ago when she was escorted to Our Happy Little Portable by Mrs. Sparrow, one of the administrators.

It seems to our 8th graders had the traditional field trip to the local University that particular Thursday.  This is a TWO HOUR field trip, so it's not like it's a great big adventure or anything, but the kids look forward to it because it's something different and for many of them it's a huge slap in the face.  They realize that they're almost in high school and they get the "Holy Crap We Need to Start Thinking About Our Future" wake up call.  So it's not like it's an all day trip to the zoo or a museum or something.  It's TWO HOURS.

Mouthy Girl had apparently turned in her permission slip but for whatever reason, her mother called the front office and said she did not want her to go on the trip. Chances are it was mom's way of punishing Mouthy Girl for something.  Who knows?  In any case, Mouthy Girl was called in her homeroom and told to come out to ISS (she was assigned there anyway, to report after the field trip to the University) as she was no longer allowed to go on the field trip.

Apparently, instead of heading our way, she walked to the front office and demanded to talk to her mother about why she was no longer allowed to go.  One of our amazing secretaries (bless their hearts, these women See and Hear It All) called mom and what ensued was apparently a tirade on behalf of Mouthy Girl who threatened to kill her mother if she didn't get to go on the field trip.  Much yelling, cursing, and screaming ensued until Mrs. Sparrow was able to wrestle the phone away from her and haul her off to a conference room for a discussion on How We Behave When We Talk to Our Parents.

At this point I'm trying to track this kid down, she's supposed to be out with me, she hasn't shown, etc., and I finally get wind of what happened.  A few minutes later she appears with Mrs. Sparrow, slings her backpack down the aisle and stomps back to the very last station and sits.

"She's a little angry right now," Mrs. Sparrow whispers."You heard what happened?  I'm going to have to give her a few more days up here with you due to that display in the front office."

"No problem," I answer.  I'm used to kids arriving mad.  It's part of the job.

"Well good luck," she says and off she goes.

So I let Mouthy Girl sit there and fume for about fifteen minutes, and in the meantime I had my seventh graders and six grader sit up front with me so we could work on some assignments.  They kept looking over their shoulders at Mouthy Girl, wondering what she'd do next.

After a bit I went back to where she was sitting and said, "Hey, kiddo, I need you to move on up to station 5 and get your backpack unpacked."

Apparently that was NOT the thing to say.

"I'm NOT moving to station five and I'm NOT emptying my backpack and you can leave me the fuck alone!" she screamed.

At this point, most kids when they curse like that to a grown up, whether it's a parent or a teacher, are used to getting screamed back at.  Which is probably what Mouthy Girl expected considering the relationship she and her mother had.  But that wasn't my first response.

I laughed.


"Well, alrighty then," I said as I giggled and walked back to my desk where my other kids were sitting silently with their mouths hanging open.

"Aren't you going to do anything?" one of them whispered.

"Well, yeah," I said, "I'm going to write her up.  But other than that, no."

"Really?"  They all looked at each other as if I'd lost my mind.  What was this?  An adult not yelling at a kid for cursing?  What the heck was going on here?

I love watching their heads explode when I do the unexpected.

The end result?  Mouthy Girl eventually calmed down, on her own, and moved to station 5.  She unpacked her backpack, got to work on assignments and was the model student.  She did get three extra days with us for the display in the office and the f-bomb, but that wasn't a bad thing because she got caught up on her missing work.

There's a lot to be said for having a wacky sense of humor.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Because You're Nice

One of my former students, a kid I had when I taught sixth grade and again in seventh, was assigned to ISS for three days. Lazy Boy is really, really lazy.  Like so lazy he has an 18% in his science class this grading period, and we are five weeks into the period! He wasn't this bad in sixth, started failing in seventh and now is only passing one academic class, Reading Language Arts. His stated goal is to drop out of high school and play video games all day. His mom is part of the problem as she's happy if he's quiet and out of the way when he's playing video games.  Making him do work is, well, too much work.

So was sent to me as he'd been disruptive and The Enforcer said, "See if you could get hm to do work." 

I know Lazy Boy really well, again, because I taught him for two years, he's a friend of my nephew, and he's one of the kids who like to swing by my room to eat breakfast.  So I know his sneaky tricks pretty well, and decided to put him Right Smack Dab Next To Me.

His teachers sent him stacks of missing work, I sat him down, told him I expected to see that pencil moving, and let him get to work.

WHich he did. 

He sat, head down, and worked and worked and worked.  He worked so hard I took a video and mailed it to the study hall teacher and the guidance counselor as proof that he can work.  They were shocked.

So I asked hm why he was working for me.

"Because you're nice," he said.  

"How you serious?" 

"You and Mrs, Reading Language Arts are nice so I'll work for you."

"What about Mrs. Study Hall?"

"I don't like her.  She's mean because I don't do my work." 

"And you won't do the work because you don't think she's nice?"


Well, then.

Friday, October 09, 2015

I'm Ready

This was the last week before fall break.

Which means that The Principals had stacks of referrals to work and they wanted to get them done before break, obviously.

So on Wednesday, I went from two kids to 15 in the space of two hours.  They were coming in so fast that we couldn't keep up with the in-processing paperwork and I ended up having to stay late to get it done so kids could have assignments ready the next day (we hope).

With that many kids in the room, I have to get a little tougher on them and that was a challenge for some of my more difficult customers.  The end result was one got suspended (for talking, out of her seat, turning around, refusal to work, and my personal favorite, sitting there with her pencil sticking OUT of her ear).  She was so annoying the entire portable erupted in applause when I had her escorted out to the Enforcer's office.

It takes a special kind of person to aggravate the most aggravating kids.  She did it.

There is nothing quite like a middle school classroom on the Friday before break.  And if that middle school classroom contains some of the most notorious troublemakers in the building, well.  It makes for a long day.  Especially when there is a pep rally for the high school homecoming.  And the ISS kids can't go because, well, they're in ISS (they don't seem to get that).

It was a long day.

I'm ready for a week off.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Can See You!

My ISS room is actually a portable.  And my portable is not, obviously, attached to The Building.  It's next to it, in the back, but not attached.  And this summer while working in there getting my room set up, I realized that the door did not have a peephole.  There are also no windows on the front of the portable.

What this meant was that there was absolutely no way to tell who was standing on my doorstep, knocking on my door.

I mentioned this to The Enforcer in July and he kind of shrugged me off.

"We've never had a peephole in the door.  Mrs. Angel never asked for one."

"It's a security issue," I told him.  "Anyone can drive back here, bypass the front office check in, and land on my doorstep and I have no idea who it is."

He thought about that for a second, "Jeez, you're right.  I never thought of that."

Oh. Dear. Lord.

Maybe I'm paranoid (I grew up in The Big City) but jeepers, in this day and age, not having some sort of security measure out there as simple as a peephole is just insane.

So I put in a work order for a peephole at the end of July.

I followed up in the middle of August.  Again in September.  And again a week ago.


Then last week Mrs. Sparrow brings a kid down to me and knocks on my door.

"You don't have any way to see who is out here, do you?" she says in surprise.

"Nope, I don't.  I requested a peephole in July, but as you can see..."

"Oh that's insane," she says.  "I'll expedite this.  That's just a horrible safety issue."

Today, September 30th.  Two and a half months after I requested the peephole.  Eight weeks into the school year....I finally get my peephole.

The district maintenance guy asked where I wanted it.  I pointed to a level that would work well for me.

It was installed in five minutes.

Freaking amazing.

When The Grown Ups Don't Act Like Grown Ups

Maybe it's because I come from a corporate environment where I worked for 15 years before deciding to teach.  Or maybe it's because I'm pretty obsessively organized.  Or maybe it's because I have high standards for myself (and others).  Regardless, I've come to the realization that it's not the kids who are going to drive me crazy in this's the teachers.

So today one of my 6th graders, who just spent three days with me in ISS and was released yesterday, shows up at my door.

"Miss Skinny said I need to get my work for her," she mumbles.

"The work you did in ISS?" I ask her, because with these kids you never know.  Homework?  Late work?  Work that has been stuck in the depths of a binder since fourth grade?

"Hum...I think so," she responds.  I tell her to go back to class and tell Miss Skinny that all her work has been completed and sent back to her.  And, in order for her to get back into The Building, I have to send one of my "trustworthy" (this is ISS after all) students with the swipe card to let her in.  (I don't have an aide in there all the time.)

She shows up a few minutes later, and we repeat the same scenario.  Miss Skinny wants the work that 6th grader did in ISS.  I again tell the kid to go back to class, I will email Miss Skinny and let her know that the work has been completed and turned in. I again have to have a student leave with the swipe card to let the 6th grader back into the building.

At this point, I'm annoyed.  I have kids in there that need my help doing math and social studies, and I'm having to answer the door - twice - for a kid, when all the teacher should have done was call or email.

So I pull the sixth grader's file, pull out the science assignment sheet, and see that she had simply wrote "do attached" on the assignment sheet.  This is something they have been told specifically NOT to do because if the assignments are are not listed, the kids realize they can tear off and lose some of the "attached", because there is no way to account for it.  When a teacher does this, either myself or my aide end up having to go through the assignments and itemize them on the sheet so we know what the kid is responsible for.  Miss Skinny did not do this.

I write Miss Skinny an email explaining what she had written, listing what she had sent, and informing her, nicely (I really was nice...truly) that each item had been checked off and initialed and was all put in her mailbox yesterday afternoon.

Her response?

"Oh.  I haven't checked my mailbox yet today."

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Freaking. Kidding. Me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Making a Grand Entrance

The other day I had a pretty full house of customers in our Happy Little Portable.  We ranged from six to a grand total of 15, but seemed to hover pretty steady around ten.  That's a lot of high maintenance kids in one place.

On Wednesday we had what was probably the most dramatic entrance yet to our Happy Little Portable.  I was sitting at my desk, helping one of my kids with some assignment, when I could hear someone stomp up our ramp and then a key turn in my lock (my door is always locked).  The door opened and standing there was Officer Awesome our SRO (Sheriff Reserve Officer) holding open the door for one of the maddest little seventh graders I'd ever laid eyes on.

Temper Boy had been with us before and for the most part is a halfway decent kid, but oh gosh, don't irritate him  because he absolutely loses his mind and will pitch a fit and shut down.  It's like flipping a switch.  Apparently he'd been horrible for a substitute teacher, was escorted to The Principal's office, and she assigned him three days with me.  He. Was. Not. Happy.  The fact that he was actually escorted by Officer Awesome tells you something.  Most kids get out to our Happy Little Portable on their own.

First off, he flung a handful of little teeny tiny pieces of paper into our trashcan by the door.  I found out later that he had apparently torn his write-up into a bunch of little teeny tiny pieces and had scattered them from the building, along the sidewalk, and up the ramp to our Happy Little Portable.  It was as if he'd left a trail of breadcrumbs along the trail so he could find his way back upon his escape.  

Temper Boy then stomped to one of the empty cubicles and SLAMMED his backpack onto the floor.

I looked at Officer Awesome and he simply rolled his eyes at me.  I rolled mine back.  

At this point the dozen kids in there were Stone Cold Silent.  Because this was truly the most dramatic entrance they'd ever seen.  They all stopped working and all heads were turned to Temper Boy.

Temper Boy took his chair, which was on top of the desk in his cubicle, and SLAMMED it down on the floor, plopped into it and crossed his arms and glared at us.

I looked at Officer Awesome, who was still rolling his eyes at me and said, "I don't know about you, but I could do without the chair throwing."  He nodded.

"I DID NOT THROW MY CHAIR!!!!" screamed Temper Boy.

"Yeah, whatever," I said.  "You know the drill, empty out your backpack.  If you have a cell phone turn it off and put it in the backpack so I can hang it in the closet."
"YOU ARE NOT TAKING MY BACKPACK!!!!"  screamed Temper Boy.

"Fine.  Knock yourself out," I said.  "You are more then welcome to leave your backpack and all your belongings in the middle of the floor so anyone can reach in there and take what they want, rather than have it placed in a secure area.  Your choice."  I might add I was using a very calm voice and was speaking in a normal volume.   

Temper Boy kicked his backpack and glared at no one in particular.

The other kids were still silent and staring at Temper Boy.  Then all of a sudden one of the 8th graders said, almost under his breath but it was so quiet that we could all hear him, "Jeez, it's not THAT bad in here," 

I almost died.  I wanted to laugh so badly that it was all I could do to tell the kids the show was over and get back to work..  Which they did because, quite honestly, they were a little bit afraid of Temper boy.  They ignored him.  I ignored him.  He sat there glaring for twenty minutes until our timer went off for our restroom break where we headed into The Building.  The other kids lined up at the door, waiting to go out.  Temper Boy did not move. 

I went over to him and laid it out in pretty simple terms.  "Look these kids have been waiting for about an hour and a half to go to the bathroom, walk around a bit and get a drink.  If you refuse to go, I have to stay in here with you and that means they don't get to go because there's no grown up to keep an eye on them.  And they will all HATE you forever."

That did it.  With a huge, dramatic sigh, he decided to join the line and head on in.  And down the ramp we went, walking through the fluttering pieces of his write up blowing across the ramp and sidewalk.

And Just What the Heck is ISS Anyway?

I'm really grateful for the following comment from Lisa in Germany (Oh my gosh!)

"Dear Mrs Bluebird,

maybe this is only interesting to me because I'm not from the US, but how does your ISS system work? Who sends students for what and for how long and what do they have to do to go back? Is there a protocol for repeating offenders?"

Suffice it to say, how ISS works in my building may not be the same as any other building in my district, my state or even within the entire United it's just one example.  But I'l try to explain our system at The School.

About 5-6 years ago, we partnered with Vanderbilt University and devised something called School Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) which is a system that encourages kids to do the right thing.  We had a lot of kids out of class because they were being suspended, and a lot of disruptive kids who made it nearly impossible to teach.  We have a pretty challenging population.  In any case, we pitched our old system of discipline referrals and implemented SWPBS.  The cool thing was that it was developed specifically for our building and our population so it's tailor made.  And it has really worked.

Kids start every nine week grading period with a clean slate.  We have a behavior matrix that tells kids how to be Respectful, Responsible, and Engaged in all the areas of school - the bus, the hallway, the cafeteria, the gym, and especially in the classroom.  Every year we teach the system to the kids, and we review it again every January.  Kids who do the right thing get rewarded with a school currency which they can use in the school store, or put into a drawing for a price.  (We've given away donated tickets to paintball as well as an NFL game so far this year).  They also get a reward party at the end of the grading period.

As for the kids who don't behave.  The teacher can issue a Classroom Intervention Referral for behaviors that are unacceptable.  This also involves contact with a parent (that can be the challenging part since we get so many disconnected or bad phone numbers.)  A copy of the CIR goes to Guidance, is input into a database system and every evening we get a report on how many CIR's a kid has earned in this grading period.  If a kid does something and it will be his/her fourth CIR, that gets bumped up to Administrative Discipline Referral.  And that means it goes to an Administrator.  The Administrator calls the kid in for a session and they have the option (within guidelines from the School Board and District Code of Conduct) to hand out the consequences.  It can be a counseling and warning session, a day or two of after school detention, or In School Suspension (which is me), or even suspension.  Parent contact occurs in all these situations.  (Or attempted parent contact.  See my comment about bad phone numbers above.)

If a kid ends up in ISS with me, the stay can be anywhere from one to four days (or longer, we've just haven't had anyone past four days this year.)  Most kids seem to land in my room for 2-3 days. ISS is, for some of them, the best study hall they'll ever have because it gives them a chance to get caught up on work (most kids in ISS also have academic issues) in a quiet place with help (from me or my aide).  In order to get released they need to complete all their assignments and behave.  It's actually pretty simple.

I have had my share of repeat offenders and some of them are about to find themselves in something we call BSA, or Behavior Support Academy.  Coach Math handles this unit and whereas I'm sort of the School Momma type, he's the stern, disapproving School Dad type.  It's a totally different experience.  It's our version of alternative school; the kids wear a uniform of white shirt and tan pants, are isolated from the student population, do chores and cleanup around school (weed the flower beds, sweep the cafeteria, package and distribute donations for our food program, and more).  They also get a counseling session every afternoon after lunch. (My kids eat lunch with this group and also get in on the counseling if the numbers aren't too big - the idea is to stop the behaviors that get them in ISS and BSA.)   Kids are assigned to BSA for a 30 day period of time.  Once they complete that time, they do an exit session, and then are released back to their regular classes under a 25 point contract.  If they screw up and earn 25 discipline points, the next step is Alternative School run by the district downtown.  

So that's where it stands at The School.  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How We Do Things

So one of you asked for pictures of my room and what my schedule is.  I'm going to pass on pictures because Our Portable is due to be painted sometime in October when a local church group shows up (I used a Go Fund Me project to get money for the paint).  I'll post pictures when it's all done.  But basically it's an old portable.  I've been at The School for 14 years and it's been there as long as I have been.

As for our schedule.  Here is what a typical day looks like.

I usually go into the building and pick up any work in the ISS basket up in the front office at 6:45 because buses start unloading at 6:55 (yes, really).  Kids get off the bus, swing by and pick up their breakfast if they want it, and then come out to Our Portable.  They empty their backpacks (I label them and hang them in a closet), eat their breakfast and read or work on class work.  After announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance at 7:20, we basically work on work that has been sent out by their teachers.

Often in the morning is when I am getting new kids processed in, or logging in assignments so it can be a bit busy.  Our first break is at 8:45 when we go into the building to the 8th grade hallway and use the restrooms and water fountains.  If I have a low number of kids, we'll walk to the front office and see if there's any more work in the basket, and then head out (I like to get the kids walking as it gives them, and me, a break).  I sometimes swing by the library and have them check out a book.  After that, back to Our Portable.

My aide usually arrives at 9:30 am and this is technically when I have planning.  Basically that means I head back into the building, check the basket, check my mail, and do any printing and copying I may need to do.  I also have an 8th grade student aide who comes in and uses ISS as a study hall but also runs errands if needed.

Our second bathroom break is at 10:45.   At 11:30 another aide shows up and takes my kids and the in-house alternative school kids (we call that BSA for Behavior Support Academy) and I have lunch from 11:30 to noon.  I usually go back in the building for my lunch (I pack) and eat with a few other related arts teachers, check the box, check my mail, etc.  After lunch the kids usually go and have an hour counseling session with one of the guidance counselors (about good decisions, bad decisions, choices, etc.)  I'm not with them at this time but back in Our Portable doing paperwork.  Mainly checking to see if kids who are scheduled to be released have all their assignments completed to my satisfaction and perhaps getting paperwork on new kids who will be showing up the following day.

The kids usually get back around 1:00, my aide returns from her lunch duty, and we have another bathroom break at 1:30.  By 1:50, we start releasing kids who will be leaving us and they head back into the building to their homerooms.  The ones who are remaining continue to work, or we may have a One Minute Math drill or play with math flashcards (I'm all about improving their multiplication skills because they are dreadful).  By 2:00 we start handing out backpacks and packing up for the day, clean the room, and listen to announcements.  Bus riders are usually dismissed around 2:10, walkers and parent pick up walk with me to the front office for release around 2:30.

And that's it!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Maintenance, We Have a Problem, Part Two

In case you didn't read about it, I have a wasp problem around my portable.

My portable, which has been there since I first showed up at The School 14 years ago and I suspect was there long before then, has a wooden ramp that takes you up to the front door.  We do have a back door, with steps, but it's pretty much for emergencies only.

And under my nice wooden ramp you will find wasp nests.  So, every single time you walk on the ramp, the vibrations aggravate the wasps who then fly up to mess with whomever is walking up to my room.

This is not good.

I put in formal work requests beginning in late July, and another a few weeks ago, and then another last week.

Nothing much happened.  Occasionally a custodian would come out, spray at a wasp or two, and that was it.  It really didn't do much except aggravate the wasps even more.  It was only a matter of time before someone, hopefully not me, got stung.

Well that happened yesterday.  I had two girls get stung walking up the ramp.  One got stung twice.  And of course, what ensues was near hysteria on the part of my kids.  (Yesterday was busy, we had eight customers.)  They absolutely refused to walk down that ramp.  No way, no how.  They were not going near any stinging insect.

Part of me doesn't blame them.  The other part of me, however, is constantly amazed at how freaked out kids, especially some of these boys, are over bugs.  Honestly, the squealing, squirming and hysterical flapping does not help, but they can't seem to get over that.  I'd hate to take most of these kids on a camping trip.  Proof, once again, that kids don't spend enough time outside, dealing with nature.

But I digress.

In any case, Coach Cool, who is the guy who does most of the discipline issues (and is a good friend from way back) was walking down the hall when I brought the kids in for a restroom break (after much hysterics about walking down the ramp.)  I basically unloaded on him about the stings and trips to the nurse, and how it needed to be taken care of NOW before someone with allergies got bit.

Five minutes later, the Lead Custodian is out there SATURATING the ramp with spray and informing me that yes, he'd crawled under the ramp and spotted the nests (FINALLY!) and he informed the Central Office Bug Get Rid of Guy (we have a guy who does nothing but kill bugs throughout the district...really) that he needed to get out here NOW and get rid of these wasps.

So today...was better.  Only a few.  Not near the cloud of wasps we used to get.  But we'll see.  I want to make sure none of them show up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Fashion Sense

My mom has great fashion sense.  She always looks so put together, so well done, so perfect.  I did not inherit this ability.  I pretty much stick to basics (I swear my wardrobe is so black, navy and white it's ridiculous).  And honestly, if I could, I'd wear jeans or capris and sweatshirts forever.

So when I'm walking through the building today, in khakis, tennis shoes, and a pinkish-red top (really a glorified t-shirt with a lace neckline) and a teeny tiny (and I mean really little) sixth grader I have never seen before stops and says, "I really like that color on you," I was a little stunned.

"Oh really?  Thank you," I said.

"You have fantastic fashion sense," she says, as she turns a corner.

I about died laughing.  That was the last thing I ever expected to hear from a kid, especially a tiny little one who looks like her fashion sense might be from the movie Frozen.

Cracked me up.

There Won't Be Any Kids, They Said. It Will be Quiet, They Said

Before school started I was trying to get my ducks in a row and get my ISS room organized, my procedures down, schedules created, and so on.  And when I asked the Enforcer to go over my proposed student schedule his comment was, "Yeah, I'll get to it.  You won't have any kids for a couple of weeks anyway."

Yeah.  Right.

Since Day One, when our little Dress Code Violator showed's been steady.  Granted, there are days there's only one kid in there, but now we're up to three and it's just going to keep growing from here.  

So that schedule I wanted approved?  I just went with it and did what I wanted.  So far no one has complained so I'm going with it.

The Principal said, "take it and make it yours," so that's what I'm doing.

So there.  If they don't like it, oh well.

Oh and Dress Code Violator?  She's baaaaccckkk....

Friday, August 14, 2015

And Visitor Number One Is....

A seventh grade girl who didn't believe in dress codes.  Or more to the point, it was her birthday, dammit, and she wanted to wear what she wanted to wear.  Even though what she wore might have gotten her arrested if she was walking a street in the wrong part of town.

It was that bad.

And it was two hours into the first full day of school.  So much for not getting anyone for at least a week.

Not a good impression to make on your teachers, kiddo.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Maintenance, We Have a Problem

The first half day of school has come and gone and so's been calm.  Really calm.  The kind of calm where you keep waiting for something to happen because it's just going so damn well.  All the kids had schedules, most of the kids knew their bus numbers although it took them some time to find them, and no one had a melt-down.  It was scary.

Seeing as I didn't have any students - yet - in my little world of ISS, I helped out in Guidance.  I was supposed to be there to help print schedules, look up bus numbers, and that sort of thing.  However, after about two hours of nothing, because no one needed my help, I wandered back out to my portable to work on stuff out there.  (I actually am working although I have no students right now, basically going through all the procedures for how ISS runs and streamlining the process.)

And then I found a really glaring problem with my portable.

I have a wasp problem.

A few weeks ago Baseball Boy was working in my room, helping me get it organized and unpacked.  His little brother was at the Sixth Grade Jump Start and Mom brought Baseball Boy along so he could help me out.  Thank goodness, because he saved me about four hours of labor.  We listened to the Cubs baseball game and worked and had a great time.

Until we discovered a wasp flying around. 

Seriously, I'm not afraid of them, and neither is Baseball Boy, but it was a bit annoying until we managed to smack him with a rolled up magazine.  And then I didn't really think much of it until school started.  And then I realized that I was seeing wasps every single time I was walking up the ramp to my portable.

Every single time.  And often more than one.  

This was not good.  

So I did a work order for maintenance to come out and spray/check for wasps.  I think they're living under the wooden ramp, because that seems to be where I see them the most.  

Until they fly into the portable.

I really, really don't need a kid out there who's already on edge because he/she has been assigned to In School Suspension to have a major freak out meltdown when wasps start buzzing around.

They better come fix this problem fast.  In the meantime, I bought a fly swatter.


Monday, August 03, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Last year I had a student, Baseball Boy, who one day, in the middle of class and out of the blue asked me, "Mrs. Bluebird, do you like paintball?"

And oddly enough, one of my Chosens is an obsessive paintball player so I do know quite a lot about the sport - I even have my own mask and I've played a tiny bit.  So my answer was, "Well, yeah, I do."

And that was it.  I was suddenly the Best Teacher in The World, and then when Baseball Boy discovered that I am also a huge Chicago Cubs fan, I became "Aunt Bluebird".  In fact, he told all the other kids that I was really his aunt (and they believed him).  Over the course of the school year, I got to know Baseball Boy's parents and entire family pretty well.  I got invited to his little brother's birthday party at the paintball field, I ended up watching three of the kids while mom and dad took the other one on a "date" one evening, and I spent a lot of my summer watching Baseball Boy play ball.  So, I guess I really did become Aunt Bluebird in some respects.

Baseball Boy's parents, every year, allow each of their four kids to have an adventure with just mom and dad.  They're really good about making sure each of their four kids gets individual attention and time, and they're lucky that they have both sets of grandparents close by to watch the other kids when they do this.  Baseball Boy wanted to see the Chicago Cubs play ball, and they ended up buying a family four-pack of tickets (which was quite a deal) and told him he could invite a friend to go with them to Atlanta where the Cubs were playing the Braves

I was the friend he invited.

So bright and early one Sunday morning the four of us left for the five hour drive to Atlanta, of which Baseball Boy did not stop talking except for one half hour nap.  We checked into our hotel, got to the stadium and had the best time.  It was so much fun seeing Baseball Boy witness his first Major League Baseball Game (and the Cubs won which was even better).  We stayed overnight, ate at a really cool diner on the way home, stopped at Cabella's, and got home Monday afternoon.  It was a great road trip and the four of us had the most wonderful time.

Now, I asked Baseball Boy about what he was going to tell his friends.  I mean, really?  You take your old teacher on a road trip to see the Cubs?  And his response was priceless.  He shrugged.  "I really don't care what they think."

Bless this kid.  As I told his Mom, it's really nice to have someone else to talk baseball with (Mr. Bluebird is not a fan).  My dad was a huge Cubs fan and I grew up going to California Angels games when we lived out there.  So, I've missed that since Daddy passed away.  Honestly, baseball is more fun when you can share it with someone.

And when you get to share a kid's first Major League Baseball game?  Well, that's a memory that's priceless.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

On Losing One You Love

Every time about this year, as we get back into our classrooms and start getting ready for the new school year, people start asking me, "Well, how was your summer?"

And usually I don't have a problem answering.

This year, however, I'm a bit stumped.  It was, for the most part, a pretty good summer.  I only had about five days of in-service training since I'm no longer teaching science, so I had a lot more free time than I've had since STEM was implemented a number of years ago.  I got to spend a lot of time with my hubby, which is always good.  Mrs. Eagle and I did some quick day trips and had some fun doing girl stuff.  And I got to spend quite a bit of time with some of my grown up former students who consider Hubs and I to be family.  So that was all good.  

However.  One Really Bad Horrible Thing happened this summer and I am still reeling from it.

My Red Headed Fireball passed away in late June and it has truly broken my heart.  He called me Momma, and we both cried when he moved away to another Southern State in February.  His Uncle was being deployed, his Aunt had just had a baby, and she wanted to be by family.  Fireball was going to be coming back here for high school and was looking forward to it.  I gave him my number and told him if he needed anything to contact me and I'd see what I could do.  He never called, so I assumed all was well.

And then, in June, he apparently took his own life.   

We go through state-mandated suicide training every single year, but in the 13 years I've been teaching both of my students who committed suicide did it during the summer.  It's like they know we aren't around to stop them.  And I've wondered if there was anything any of us could have done.  There's that little thread of guilt that makes me wonder if I did enough to help him.  Did he know how much he was loved?  

It wasn't until a number of us from The School attended a balloon release in his memory that I had a little bit of closure.  The parent organizing it, whom I did not know, asked if I was in attendance.  I answered and then he said that he'd spent a lot of time with the family during the past week and my name came up.  A lot.  Apparently Fireball talked a lot about me, and how much I helped him and loved him, and he shared a lot of stories about some of the silly things we'd done in class with his family.  

That made me feel better.  At least he knew I loved him.  And that was something.

So this past week, when I was unpacking my boxes to set up my new classroom, I found a letter he wrote and left on my desk last year.  It was so touching that I had it framed and it sat on a bookshelf behind my desk the remainder of the year.  I never thought how much more I would value that letter today, now that he is gone.  It is on my desk.  It will be staying there.

Bless you Fireball.  You have no idea how much I miss you.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

On Doing What I Do Best

One of the things I have truly missed the past few years is the ability to work with and mentor kids on a more individual basis.  I had that chance in the past when testing and data wasn't the focus like it is today.  And damn, I was freaking good at it.

Case in point...Mr. Bluebird and I don't have biological children.  Never happened for us.  But the groups of kids I taught nine and ten years ago were amazing.  And in that group were some really fantastic kids.  Long time readers may remember Stoopid Boy, Skater Squirt and the Nursing Student, who I mentioned last year.  Two other kids round out that bunch, Paintball Warrior and Farmer Jim.  (I didn't teach Paintball Warrior, but he was roommates with Stoopid Boy and Skater Squirt and was one of Mrs. Eagle's kids.  Stoopid Boy introduced us and the next thing I knew, he was part of my clan.)  These five kids, The Chosens, are my children.  They call, they text, they visit, they come over for Thanksgiving breakfast, they celebrate birthdays, they call with girlfriend issues, job issues, just issues, we talk, we laugh, we go to church, we sometimes even cry.  Hubby and I may not be real Mom and Dad, but we're pretty close.  We love, love, love these young adults.

And it kind of bothered me that I haven't had the chance to really connect with kids on this kind of level since then, with a few exceptions.  A number of us have talked about this lack of connection and for many of us, it's an unfortunate side effect of the pressure we are on to produce test scores and to show continual growth and to test, test, test.  Dang, we're producing some real great test-takers, but at what cost?

So a few weeks ago, The Principal asked me if I would be willing to leave 7th grade science and to take over the In School Suspension position because Mrs. Angel was, finally, retiring.  As The Principal put it, "I want you to use your tough love, school momma charm on these kids."  She also mentioned the fact that since I make such strong connections to kids, "to the point that they are at your house having dinner ten years later", that I would be perfect for the job.

I thought about ten seconds and said YES!

Now for some people, the thought of being in charge of In School Suspension sounds like you get to spend all day with the "bad" kids.  But truth be told, most of the time, these are the kids I do best with.  These are kids who maybe had a lot of tardies, maybe talked back, had a cell phone out, and so forth.  They've made some stupid choices and need a soft, but stern, place to land to get back on their feet and stay out of trouble.  They need someone to spend some one-on-one time with them to get their heads screwed back on straight.

And honestly, these are my people.  I will be spending the next year, doing what I do best...working with kids.

I am, for the first time in a long time, looking forward to next year.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Musings on Change, Purposes, and Why We Do It

So this wasn't a really good year for me, so I've been quiet.  For all two of you that read this, thanks for understanding.  I'm just not really happy with how education has changed in the past 13 years I've been teaching, and hit critical mass in January.  Then, for the first time, I really, seriously thought that if I could find a way to quit, or retire early, I would.

And it had nothing to do with the kids (who were a handful).

It had everything to do with The System.

I did not, DID NOT, get into this profession to teach kids to take a test.  I don't talk much about my faith on here, but I was called to be a teacher.  I was working in the corporate environment and went back to school (at 38) to teach because it was what I was called, or meant to do.  It wasn't for the money, it wasn't for the summers off (insert laughter here because we all know that's a lie), it wasn't for any other reason than to help kids, love on kids, make a difference in their lives.

And every year The System has made it harder and harder to do what I know is best for my kids.

We went from a one paragraph hand written lesson plan to a daily two-page typed lesson plan that was more of a script than a plan.  We were told to have our lessons done so that a sub could step right in and take over in case we weren't at school.  Many of us at The School shook our heads and realized right then and there that we weren't teachers, we were script-readers.

Our District, and The School, are obsessed with data.  Everything is tied to data.  And we had meetings after meeting after meeting to discuss testing data, behavior data, data, data, data.  We were ranked, as teachers, based on how our kids did on Benchmark tests.  (And this, after we were assured 8 years ago when Benchmarks came in that they "would never be used to rank or evaluate teachers".)  What those rankings tell us is that kids in high poverty buildings (like mine) don't do as well as kids in low poverty buildings (like the teachers at the top of the list).  But we can't say that.  Because The Administration considers that an excuse.  Even though professional statisticians will tell you that standardized testing is basically a measurement of poverty.  And we were told to differentiate all the time, but then were told to give each kid the same test.  Add in directives from above that are even more conflicting, and all you have is disillusion and confusion.

And I think this is insane.

And I missed working with kids, getting to know kids, because all we do is test, test, test, and analyze analyze and analyze and we've lost track of the fact that these are kids, not test scores.

So I was burned out, annoyed, unhappy and desperate to find a way out of a system I hate.  Not to mention that I was putting in 12-14 hour days, weekends, and my life was nothing but grading, lessons and grading and lessons.  But I have 13 years in, and I can't afford to walk away just yet.

And since my dad died two and a half years ago, my priorities have changed. Spending time with people I love is more important than any job.  That's it.  I'm really not willing to give up that time anymore.  When one of my "kids" wants me to come watch him play paintball, or baseball, I want to say yes, and not worry that I have 100 quizzes to grade.  And when my husband wants to watch a movie and snuggle, I want to be able to do that and not worry about the plans that needed to be made.

And then I got offered the most incredible position at The School.

But I have to run, so I'll fill ya'll in later.  Time to spend with my big kids.