Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bread and Milk! We must have Bread and Milk!

While Mr. Bluebird and Poppa Bird and I have had a relatively uneventful holiday, marred only by a bit of rain, our kin in Colorado are having a heck of a time this Christmas season. While they're getting ready for the latest round of blizzards, Mr. Bluebird is out on the back deck grilling steaks. Patently unfair, don't you think?

Anyhow, last week when the first blizzard hit Denver I called my cousin, Penguin. Penguin is a year older than me and is a definite free spirit who marches to her own tune. Nothing phases her. Even a rollicking day of baby-sitting her nephews and niece doesn't send her over the edge. In fact, I'm not sure what would send her over the edge, if anything.

So I reach her on her cell phone as she's just boarded the shuttle bus at the airport that's supposed to take her to her car that's parked at Stapleton, the old airport. (She works for an airline out of Denver International Airport). Apparently, instead of having the employees drive for miles across the prairie to reach the airport, the airlines run a shuttle service. Which usually runs fairly frequently. However, with the blizzard in full battle mode, it ran a bit late.

"Oh, we just got on the shuttle to take us to our cars," she says. "It was kind of cool. We waiting there for two hours, just like penguins huddling together and taking turns being on the inside of the huddle and outside of the huddle because the wind and snow was blowing so bad." Penguin, I might add, is nuts about penguins and has been collecting them since we were knee-high. Hence, her name.

"You were waiting in the snow for two hours?"

"Oh yeah, and they say it make take us two hours to get to our cars." Penguin is not even remotely concerned or upset at this point. In fact, it sounded like the entire shuttle bus was singing Christmas Carols and partying.

I called Penguin a day or so later and she informed me that yes, it did take two hours to get to their cars, but she had parked in covered parking so it was only a matter of getting home along the snow-covered roads. Apparently this took some time as well, but she made it. She then spent the following day walking all over her neighborhood and the local park with her snowshoes and digital camera. She reported that her area received 33" of snow. In Penguin's eyes that simply means more chances to play with her snowshoes and digital camera.

Today, as the weather reports are screeching about Yet Another Blizzard, I call Penguin to see what's really going on. She is nonplussed.

"People are so silly," she says on the phone. "The lines at the gas stations are huge," she reports. "Which is kind of silly because if you have a blizzard, you aren't going driving anywhere, right?"

I agree that people really are rather silly (I do, after all, teach so I am very aware of this fact).

Penguin continues, "I ran by the market on the way home from Mother's, just to get a few things, and they're out of milk. Is that silly or what? I mean, what's with the bread and milk? Every time there's a storm people all stock up on bread and milk. I'd rather stock up on tortilla chips and salsa, if I'm going to stock up on anything."

Mr. Bluebird, Poppa Bird and I all tend to agree with Penguin on this. Why do people stock up on bread and milk? Why not lunchmeat and chips? Why not peanut butter? Why not chocolate? Me, if I'm stuck home during a blizzard, I'd probably want to make sure I had plenty of coffee, shortbread cookies, and Jack Daniels.

And some really good books to read.

So, there are two questions for my dear readers.

1. What's with the bread and milk?

2. What would you stock up on???

Rock Goddess

My nickname isn't The Rock Goddess for nothing!

Rock Star

You scored 94%!

You damn rock star. You know all the basics, and if you got any wrong, I bet it was that stupid Traveling Wilburys question.

Your friends are probably intimidated by your knowledge of classic rock and envy your impressive collection. When a classic rock song comes on the radio, you can probably identify it before the vocals kick in most of the time. You probably get good scores on the "maiden name of Clapton's mom" tests, too.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on notes

Link: The BASIC classic rock Test written by allmydays on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve, hard to believe it's already here, and I'm finally getting caught up on my blog reading, knitting, house cleaning, baking, etc.

I'm enjoying reading about Christmas traditions and plans from all my fellow bloggers, which is one way to vicariously live the holiday through other people's eyes. See, my family doesn't really have any big deal holiday traditions, for a number of reasons.

First, my father, and all my uncles, all worked for the airline industry. That meant that Christmas dinner was usually a buffet style affair where you grabbed a plate and ate whenever you could. Every one of them worked Christmas day. I don't think my Dad actually had Christmas off until he had over 25 years in, and then he always volunteered to work it so the guys with little kids (I was past college by this time) could enjoy it.

I guess the second reason we don't have a lot of traditions is that Mr. Bluebird and I both come from small families. I'm an only child, he has one (estranged, slightly wacko) sister, and a half sister who's quite a bit older. There are, outside of my cousins' kids, no children in the family. Like my family, he moved a bit as a child (including overseas) so having grandmas and grandpas around for thie holidays was a rarity.

That being said, we tend to do our own traditions which might seem strange to some people, but when you have a houseful of two or three people, you can do what you want.

Like make all day spaghetti sauce and invite your Jewish friends over for a spaghetti Christmas dinner.

My mother thought it was horrible that we didn't do a turkey that year. But really, why bother with a big bird when it's only a handful of folks and you really like Italian food?

Last year we invited all my friends and fellow teachers who had spouses deployed and who had no family in the area over. We had a blast! This just proved the point that you can chose your friends but not your relatives. If I had had some of my crazy, dysfunctional relatives over (instead of good friends) I probably would have been found behind the tree getting plowed on Jack Daniels.

Tonight we're going over to Mr. and Mrs. Littlebird's house for our monthly dinner and game night with a little foray out to look at Christmas lights. The Prodigal Daughter (their daughter who we would keep as our own) will be home from college, although Mr. Littlebird is overseas again this holiday. Tomorrow Papa Bird will drive up for Christmas dinner and most likely will stay for a few days. I'll be cooking Christmas dinner.

I'm making lasagne.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Whoo-hoo! Carnival Time!

It's time for another Carnival of Education. Wander on over to The Median Sib for another outstanding read. I highly recommend a good cup of coffee and chocolate to enhance your reading experience. It is the holidays after all.

At last...

I can sleep in.

And take a nap later on if I want to.

I can read a novel.

I can knit, knit, knit.

I can watch all the DVD's I haven't had time to watch.

I might even make some Christmas cookies.

I can hang out with Mr. Bluebird.

I love my kids, but gosh, I like having some time to myself!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Middler Schoolers, or Doughboy Discovers Sex

There are days in the life of a middle school teacher when you wonder how on earth you manage to maintain your compsure and not dissolve into fits of hysterical giggles. Especially when one of your kids says something so off the wall that you're not even sure you heard it correctly. In fact, you're hoping you didn't hear it correctly.

Today was one of those days for Mr. Social Studies.

You have to give him credit. He tries to drag our kids kicking and screaming into discussions of current events, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. In fact, it all depends on the class. Some class periods do well in this area, others don't. It all sort of depends on the make up of the kids.

Today he was having a current event discussion when one of the kids raises his hand and mentions that he thought he heard on the radio news this morning that a cure for AIDS had been discovered. Mr. Social Studies responds that he hadn't heard that, but if it is the case, that would be a very good thing. The class then gets into a discussion about AIDS, which the kids apparently have a lot of questions about. (Which shows that they don't pay any more attention in health class than they do in science.) Mr. Social Studies explains a bit about the origins of the disease, how it's an STD, how it has decimated populations in Africa, and so on.

Doughboy raises his hand. Now there's several schools of thought when Doughboy raises his hand. One is the belief that you're delighted he's apparently paying attention and wants to contribute. The other is that you're scared to death about what might come out of his mouth.

Mr. Social Studies decides to take a gamble and calls on Doughboy.

"What's an STD?" he asks.

Great. Mr. Social Studies does as clinical an explanation of STD's as he can, couching his terms in words that hopefully won't get a parent mad at him. The kid seem to get it. He moves on.

Five minutes late Doughboy's hand is up in the air again, waving frantically.

Mr. Social Studies throws caution to the wind and calls on Doughboy again.

"Does that mean you can get AIDS from jerking off?" he asks, deadly serious.

Mr. Social Studies, who is never at a loss for words, was at a loss for words. So, apparently, was the entire class. Thank goodness. The chaos this could have generated is unfathomable.

Only one half day of school left.

Thank goodness.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Christmas Store

Our Parent Teacher Organization just rocks.

They are a dedicated group of volunteers who practically live in our building and who do more good than most social services agencies manage to do. Throughout the year they run a "Food For Thought" program where kids receive a backpack with enough food to get them through the weekend. (It's amazing how many of our kids don't eat between school lunch on Friday and school breakfast on Monday.) They also are there to help out with life's emergencies, such as a pair of brand new basketball shoes being stolen from a locker that need to be replaced, a kid who needs a jacket, that sort of thing. They also have chili suppers, dances, festivals, and craft shows to raise money for our Christmas Angel program where they provide Christmas in the form of food and presents to needy families from our building. This year they're taking care of families with over a 100 children. The time and labor that goes into this is mind-boggling.

But the one thing they do that really impacts the kids, that makes the biggest impression on them, is The Christmas Store.

All year long, starting the day after Christmas, these ladies hit the sales. They are zealous at buying things at 75% or more off. The items themselves aren't junk, but actually are pretty nice - jewelry, perfume, stuffed animals, candles, and more. They will stockpile these items and in the week before we leave for the Christmas break they will take our large group instruction room (a room we use for everything from luncheons to multi-class labs) and turn it into The Christmas Store. The items are attractively displayed on tables, there's a cash register, they have holiday music playing, candy canes to snack on, in truth, it looks nicer than most mall stores.

And everything in there is priced from $1 to $5.

Quite simply, they are providing our students with a chance to buy presents for their parents, friends, family, and yes, even teachers, at a price they can afford, and without having to have a parent help them do it. This little bit of independence is something these kids love. It may sound stupid to a grown up (especially if you're like me and you're avoiding malls and shopping centers like the plague) but to be eleven and to be able to take $2 and buy your mom a present all by yourself is a big thing.

The Christmas Store is open all day long and the kids are very good about politely asking if they can leave class to go. I usually let them, as we're winding the semester down this week and there's really nothing that they absolutely can't miss (now that my last test is over). What's fun, for me, is when they return. They usually aren't gone long thanks to Mrs. Math who took them all over for a few minutes on the day the store opened to check it out so they knew what was there. When they return they have these HUGE smiles on their faces and they're carrying brightly colored Christmas gift bags full of goodies nestled in tissue paper (I love the fact that they don't even have to wrap the gifts - they're ready to go!).

The other day I saw the tiniest little sixth grader dragging four huge bags down the hall with a smile that could of lit up the Las Vegas strip.

Interestingly enough, from the conversations I hear, the kids aren't in there buying things for themselves, but are really buying things for others. I hear things like, "Oh man, did you see those candles in there? My mom would love those!" or "My sister is going to love that stuffed bear I got!" It's reassuring to know that most of them have the right idea.

The Christmas Store has been so popular this year that two of the PTO ladies took a road trip and some cash and hit some more sales to restock as they'd nearly sold everything out. They've extended the hours through Monday, our last full day of school.

The kids are ecstatic. And they're discovering something some of us tend to forget. It truly is more fun to give than to receive!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Catching Us At Our Best.

Mrs. Eagle and I have joined a gym. Actually, Mrs. Eagle already belonged to this gym, but found that she wasn't going very often. It's boring when you go by yourself. So, I went down and joined the other day. Our goal is to go 3-4 days a week. We figure this is one way to get out of the building at a halfway decent time, and we need the exercise. Walking was fun, but we weren't as committed to it this year as we were last year, and besides, I wanted to get some weight training in.

So Wednesday we go and hit the gym. We did about 25 minutes on the bikes, then decided to do some weight training (which I really enjoy although by the time we were finished I was wondering if I'd be able to use my arms the following day). Mrs. Eagle, an Army veteran, knows her way around a gym, and it's almost like having a personal trainer.

We were taking turns doing crunches which is probably one of the most unattractive things a 44-year old chubby woman can do. I finished my set, get up to let Mrs. Eagle have her turn and look up across the gym and see Rodeo Girl and her mother standing at the front counter of the gym.

Oh great.

Too late, they've spotted me and are waving frantically. I wave back and smile, trying to forget that I'm sweating, my hair is a mess, and I'm beet red in the face. On the way out I do the polite thing and chit chat a bit with the two of them, wondering all the time how this was going to play out at school.

So this morning I'm standing in my room talking with one of my kids during locker time and I hear Rodeo Girl practically screaming at the top of her lungs, "Guess what? I saw Mrs. Bluebird at the gym last night working out and lifting weights and everything!"

Oh boy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

And just what, exactly, is normal?

We have a number of student teachers in the building this semester and it's not unusual for one of them to ask me if they can come sit in on a class and do an observation. No problem for me as I'm pretty used to having people in my room. One year my classroom was right by the front office and I swore The Principal used my classroom as a tour stop. I tend to get people wanting to observe because I'm one of the few teachers who has my students seated at tables in groups and I use a lot of hand's on activities.

In any case, I had one of the student teachers this week during my Fourth Period Class which is actually one of my better ones. Interestingly enough it's packed with special education kids but for once they really aren't, for the most part, behavior problems. They tend to work hard even if they don't do well academically, they really try and that counts for a lot with me.

I do have one kid in there who's really....well....odd. Doughboy has one of the roundest faces I've ever seen and he's a bit chubby and very pale. He's really different. He talks really fast, and low, so most of the time no one can understand him. I'm always having to slow him down and repeat things until I get the gist of what he's saying. He drives nearly everyone he sits by nuts because he has conversations with himself or with anyone who'll listen. He's not loud, but it does get old after a while.

Anyhow. I get the kids started on the activity for the day and swing back by the student teacher to see if she has any questions. She does.

"Hum, that kid over there," she says nodding her head toward Doughboy. "He has two pairs of glasses on."

I don't even bother to look because for the past two weeks Doughboy has started wearing two pairs of glasses, one placed on top of the other. I asked him about it and he said it helped him to see better. I sugested he asked his mom to take him to get his prescription checked and he said no, he liked wearing the two pair of glasses just fine.

"Oh," I said, "That's just Doughboy."

"Is that normal?" she asks.

I pause for a minute before I answer. "For Doughboy, yes, it's normal. For any other kid, probably not."

When that little voice in your head escapes...

Mrs. Language related this story to me and it's just too good not to share.

I have a kid in my homeroom I call Boston Boy. This kid has never ever lived or traveled North of the Mason Dixon Line but he sounds like he's straight from South Boston. I have a friend, Trish Murphy, from Southy and Boston Boy could be kin to her based on accent alone. We've never met Dad, but Mom is pure Southern so goodness knows where he picked it up.

Anyhow, Boston Boy is pretty bright, a hard rock music lover, and a kid without a lot of patience. Mrs. Language is doing a class discussion the other day (I believe they were working on descriptive writing) where she would show the kids pictures and she'd call on them to describe it as vividly as they could.

As she's doing this, she's standing near Boston Boys desk and he's sort of leaning forward with his elbow on his desk, and his head propped in his hand. She calls on a student in class to give her description of the picture and she realizes that Boston Boy is mumbling something.

"Oh man, just shut the hell up," she hears him mumble.

The student finishes, and another student is called and begins going over his description.

"Jeez, you're just so damn stupid," she hears Boston Boy mumble.

By this point Mrs. Language decides she needs to put a stop to Boston Boy's mumbling even though it appears no one but she can hear it.

"Boston," she hisses at him. "Watch your mouth!"

She relates that at this point Boston Boy spins around to look at her, his mouth hanging open and his eyes all but popping out of his head. "You heard me?" he asks.

"Of course I heard you," she says. "You're lucky the other kids didnt."

"But I didn't know I was saying anything out loud!" he whispers back at her. "I thought I was just talking in my head."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

And I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached...

Just when we thought that Mrs. Faraway had given up, I find myself the recipient of one of her emails this morning.

Oh yippe.

Not only are her emails ripe with typographical errors (we particularly enjoy her use of "studing" for "studying") but she types in ALL FREAKING CAPS LIKE SHE'S YELLING. Having tried to walk this woman through our school website over the telephone I'm fairly certain she isn't yelling, but happens to be completely clueless about her breach of email etiquette.

Anyhow, I'm giving a benchmark test today, which is boring beyond belief, and I see her email pop up. She wants to know when I'm handing back the study guides for our next unit test because she needs to work with her daughter on memorizing them word for word so she can parrot the answers back and not have a clue what any of it is about. She claims that her daughter turned it in on Friday.

Well, that's pretty interesting because I didn't collect the study guides, and when I went through the homework that was turned into the homework basket, there were no study guides in there. From anyone. I informed Mrs. Faraway of such and told her that I would have an additional study guide ready for her daughter when she came to class, even though my usual practice is if a kid loses a study guide (or anything else for that matter), they better find a friend and change for the copier. However, since her daughter is on an IEP, I do make exceptions (and how) for her.

Mrs. Faraway responds that she appreciated that I would give her daughter a new study guide, but she would really like the old one (which was completed) and that she has no reason not to believe her daughter so apparently, I've lost her study guide. After all, her daughter insisted that she turned it in. What other possibility could it be? I had to have lost it.

At this point I'm shaking my head over the fact that I have yet another parent who believes everything that comes out of the mouth of a seventh grader. If there's one thing that a seventh grader is good at, it is obfuscating the truth. Or, if you prefer, lying.

When Faraway Girl comes in to class, I call her over and hand her another study guide.

"You need to take this home and make sure your mother sees this," I tell her.

She gives me one of her patented blank looks. There are times that I swear I can hear the wind whistling between her ears. Loudly.

"But I have one already," she says.

"Really. Well, your mother says you don't."

"But I do," she insists again. "And it's filled out." At this point she goes to her binder, opens it up, and lo and behold, there's her perfectly completed study guide!

"Well an extra one wouldn't kill either one of you," I say. "Just in case it gets misplaced." She gives me a look like she's completely baffled (which she probably was) and puts the new one in her binder.

I email her mother and let her know I gave her daughter a new study guide. However, interestingly enough, her daughter insisted that she didn't need a study guide because she still had one in her binder, which she did, in fact, produce. I suggested that perhaps her mother might, just maybe, have my class confused with another one?

At least she said thank you. But I'm still annoyed that she was convinced I'd lost the stupid thing in the first place.

Friday, December 01, 2006

And what do you do for fun??!

We were having a discussion in my Fifth Period class the other day about cell processes, including endocytosis. Knowing that my kids are pretty much obsessed with video games I told them that endocytosis, where a cell engulfs a large particle and brings it into the cell, is a lot like Pacman.

This leads to a conversation about how exocytosis (where the cell expells a large particle) is a lot like another character from another video game, one which I wasn't familiar with. I start asking them about this when one of my kids asks, "Don't you know anything about video games?"

"Well, no, I don't really. We don't have any at home." My only familiarity with video games is from the games we used to play in the student union way back when I was in college the first time. That's how I knew about Pacman. And Tetris. But I've never owned a gaming system.

There are gasps of disbelief.

"You don't have any video games? No PS2, nothing like that?" a few of them cry. They are stunned. How on earth can someone function without video games?

"Nope. Not one." I'm kind of enjoying the astonished looks on their faces.

"But what do you do for fun?" one of them finally asks.

"Oh, I read a lot. Mr. Bluebird and I have lots and lots of books and we read a lot. We also watch a lot of DVD's. And we play games, you know, like chess and Risk."

They find this incredibly odd.

One of my kids, Pig Pen, who is very messy but very, very bright, says, "You know, it's a good thing you and Mr. Bluebird don't have any kids, because it would be really mean to have them grow up without a video game system."

Amazing what these kids consider to be necessary for happiness, isn't it?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Worth Checking Out

It's that time again! Check out this week's Carnival of Education hosted this week by A History Teacher. You always find good material at the Carnival! But bring your own popcorn!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Promises, promises

Thanksgiving holiday was wonderful. There's nothing like sitting on your butt, eating too much, spending time with Poppa Bird, and just relaxing. (Yeah, I did some paper grading and wrote some quizzes, but still...)

However, now that we're back the kids are already geared up for Christmas vacation, and their attention spans and behavior are even worse. To top it off, although it's been unusually warm here for November (more like spring and a wonderful time for a fire drill), they're calling for rain and snow later this week.

All you have to say around here is "possibility of snow" and the kids are convinced that school will be cancelled.

And that calls for more pinging throughout the classroom. Which drives us all crazy because hey, we're actually trying to teach something here!!!

And Mr. Social Studies is making sure we know, exactly, how many days until break. Bless his heart.

When Hormones Hit

It has often been said that teaching middle school is like dealing with hormones on feet. And, when it comes down to it, seventh grade is usually when it hits and hits hard. I remember telling Mr. Social Studies last year (his first year teaching after 26 years in the military) that all the good kids will get hormones for Christmas and get nuts and the bad kids will outgrow it at Christmas and turn out okay. The second week of January he assured me that I was right on the money.

Well..Faraway Girl has apparently been hit with the Hormone Hammer. Remember her? She's my very special ed kid who's mother is VERY INVOLVED, and who drives us all crazy with her constant emails. She has, if nothing else, turned her daughter into a trained parrot who can memorize test questions given a study guide, but can't begin to tell you what any of that means. Faraway Girl gets home from school and Mom sits her down and they do nothing but study and do school work, fix dinner, eat, and do more school work until time for bed. Actually, we all think mom is doing most of the work because Faraway Girl has such awful processing problems that there's times she lucky to spell her name correctly. Her daughter, who spends most of my class with the most distant look in her eyes, twirling her hair and maybe, if we're lucky, opening her book on her own, has learned that people will do things for her.

Mr. Social Studies and I were commenting several months ago that one of these days Faraway Girl is going to have it up to HERE with sitting at home all night doing more school work, and tell mom to take a flying leap. And chances are that will happen as soon as she discovers boys and socializing with her girlfriends. Her sixth grade teachers suspected the same thing but thought it probably wouldn't happen until high school.

It has happened this month. There was an IEP review meeting for Faraway Girl (which Mrs. Fish fogot to invite any of us to and you can bet that's one meeting we would have remembered) and Mrs. Faraway didn't come. Her husband, who rarely says anything in any meeting we've been to with him, came instead. He insisted that his wife was all stressed out about school, that their daughter was a terror at home, refusing to work, wouldn't obey mother, blah, blah, blah, blah....and they didn't know what to do. Apparently they're going to put her in a homework tutoring program so she can sit there for two hours and someone else can see if she'll attempt to do any work on her own.

Good luck.

Faraway Girl has discovered boys.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things I'm Thankful For

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we bloggers tend to do a lot of whining and whimpering but today is a good day to sit back and think about the things we really are thankful for. After all, if you don't, it's just another day of football, calories, and dealing with the relatives you wished lived 2,500 miles away.

1. I'm thankful that I have Mr. Bluebird in my life. He's my rock. He also puts up with my nightly "You won't freakin' believe what happened today!" stories with nary a complaint.

2. I'm thankful that Mr. Bluebird, along with Momma Bird and Poppa Bird are in good health. And that goes for me as well. I'm feeling creakier as age catches up with me, but for the most part everything's working fine.

3. I'm thankful that I work in an awesome building, with an awesome adminstration, awesome staff, and, for the most part, awesome kids. Yeah, I complain about them (and their parents) but I still look forward to going in there every day and hopefully making a difference.

4. I'm thankful that at 38 I had the guts to quit my job, go back to school, and become a teacher. I've never regretted it. Sure, I hate having to pay those student loans, but I could still be stuck in a dead-end job in an office somewhere moving paper from one box to another.

5. I'm thankful we had a chance to move down South.

6. I'm thankful that my four babbies are healty and like to snuggle and purr.

7. I'm thankful for the dear friends I have, especially Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Language. Without them, it wouldn't be nearly as fun.

8. I'm thankful I live in a country where I can vote, even if it means waiting in line. (Did I mention I ran into one of my new voting friends at the market the other night?? What a hoot!)

9. I'm thankful that even though I feel like I'm talking to air 99% of the time, I do get a kid who comes back and tells me, "Hey, I actually learned something." I wish more of them did this.

10. I'm thankful for those special moments like where you see a star streak across the sky, the light that goes on in a kids' eyes when they get it, and a hug from my hubby.

And, I'm thankful that you all take the time out of your busy lives to even bother to read my rants. You all amaze me so much.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Man, my heritage is showing.

I grew up in Los Angeles. Can you tell?

You're totally like 74% California!

Ahhh... a true California Aficionado! That's just like a California Avocado but not as green. Come on over and we'll make some guacamole and chips and watch a CHP chase on the news.

How California are You?

I left there in '92, but, like, ohmigod, I haven't changed much, have I?

The Payoff

I'm not above bribing my kids.

I've had to be out of the building a lot more this year since The Principal has asked me to go to a conference and participate in a "breaking ranks" group. This means meetings and being away from my kids. I love the idea of participating in a group that's looking for ways to improve things for the kids, but at the same time I hate leaving them with a sub.

I always hope the sub survives the day.

So, I've bribed them with a day in the lab using the microscopes to look at stuff. No grade, no assignment, just having fun looking at things. It worked and the payoff day was yesterday. Since yesterday was the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, and the kids were bouncing off the walls anyway, it worked out pretty well. They weren't going to focus on anything anyway.

I had brought in a bunch of things for them to look at - sugar, salt, pepper, flour, ginger, wool yarn, tea, and thread. One kid brought in a container of muddy puddle water, and another brought in pond water. I also had some prepared slide sets with things like mosquito eggs, dusts, liver cells, human blood, and things none of the kids could pronounce.

The best part of the day, for me, was listening to them as they looked at stuff.

"Oh dude, that's your fingernail? Gross!"

"There's things swimming in the water! Ewww!"

"Bone looks like swiss cheese!"

"You want to look at earwax? You're disgusting!"

"I'm not touching that water. It has things in it."

"Cool! Look at the salt!"

"Pepper looks like dirt. I'm not eating it again."

"That's corn? You mean we eat that?"

"You just pulled out your own eyelash to look at?"

Ah, the lives of seventh graders.

The Project

I have, finally, finished grading all my kids' PowerPoint project on cells.

In some respects they were awesome. Great graphics, wonderful transitions, you name it. These kids, even Chopper Boy (whose mom never did come sit in and observe) did great.


The content stunk.

Now, truth be told, I sort of expected this. Seventh graders do not have a lot of experience doing any sort of research or writing. They also have completely different goals for an assigment than I do. I want them to learn something. They want to get it done as fast as possible so they can get a grade (and move on to something more exciting, like video games). I give them a rubric that spells everything out in detail, but they tend not to bother to look at it (which just blows my can you do something right if you don't know what you're doing, but then again...they're seventh graders). As a result, many of them don't do a good job on what should be an easy assignment.

I did have some kids who did it right. They answered the two questions (what type of cell is the organelle found in and what does the organelle do?) and they answered in their own words. They spelled everything correctly, and they wrote solid sentences.

Then I have the kids who copied directly from the book, never realizing that after having this book for four years and reading the same material, say, 20-25 times, it just might sound familiar to me. They also copied from websites, most of which I'm also very familiar, to the point that I could tell which ones they used.

My favorite, however, were the kids who copied directly from the glossary which is an absolute no-no in my world. I don't particularly like the glossary in our book and I tell the kids they need to get the definitions from the reading which is not hard as the vocabulary words are in bold purple print. If you just copy from the glossary you don't get the context. How did I know they copied from the glossary? Because, for some reason, our glossary gives the definition for the nucleus of an atom, not the nucleus of a cell. And they all wrote the definition, word for word, out of the book. The scary thing is that we've been discussing cells now for a month and it didn't occur to them that perhaps they weren't typing in the correct definition - we finished atoms two months ago.

This also tells me that they aren't bothering to study and learn their vocabulary. Heck, they aren't bothering to open a book or do much of anything academic-related once they walk out of my room.

And I'm not alone. Mrs. Eagle reports the same results. The kids also tanked on their unit and vocabulary tests on Monday despite having the sixteen vocabulary words for a month and the study guide for two weeks. We decided that the seventh grade science classes are going to make some changes.

And they aren't going to like them. In fact, they looked downright crestfallen when I told them to start expecting - gasp! - daily quizzes over content and vocabulary. At least this way we'll be able to see what, if anything, they're actually bothering to learn.

Friday, November 17, 2006


So today, while the kids are quietly pounding away at their keyboards, I'm standing at my computer verifying that projects are, indeed, being dropped into my drop box on the server (I'm having the kids turn in their projects electronically) and I see something out of the corner of my eye.

I pause. I glance to my right. Nothing. Maybe I was imagining things.

A minute or two later one of my kids lets out a "Arghghg!" and everyone freezes. "Oh my gosh, there's a mouse!" he yells.


Kids squeal. Girls pull their feet up off the floor. Three of my severe ADHD kids are, of course, out of their seats sprinting across the room to see the mouse up close. (At this point I'm feeling sorry for the mouse.)

"Get back to your seats and get back to work!" I bellow, giving my three sprinters The Look. "It's just a mouse. It's not going to hurt you." As I say this I'm hoping they haven't discussed the Black Plague in social studies recently. I send a note up to The Secretary and she dispatches a janitor with glue traps to set for our critter.


Before the janitor arrives our mouse was playing a game of hide and seek with us. He was basically running along one wall, running behind the crates the workbooks are stored on and the worktable that holds homework basket, scissors, supplies, and all sorts of goodies. Under the table are plastic boxes of vocabulary cards, and tubs with other supplies, but nothing containing food or anything that would attract a mouse. This little guy would run out and pop out by the door (which I opened in the hopes he'd see the light and flee out to the hallway), something would move and spook him, he'd run back to the other side of the table, pop out there, then head back the other direction. I lost count of how many times he popped out where I could see him. It was actually getting to be quite entertaining.

The Janitor arrived, set down two glue traps, and left. I figured by the end of the day our friend would be trapped. However, when I checked before I headed out for the weekend, nothing was there. I'm guessing that when The Janitor walked in, and started moving the tubs around he saw his chance and took off out the door.

He is, however, not alone. We are having a huge mouse problem in the building, the likes of which we've never seen before. Mrs. Eagle has caught families of mice in her room, many of them in the cupboards under the sinks in her room. The front office has spotted mice and the Large Group Instruction room, used by the PTO for a lot of things, has quite a few of them. Mr. Social Studies suspects that the new duct work they did over the summer for the new heating/AC unit that was installed may not have been properly sealed so they're coming in the building now that it's getting cold out.

I need a class cat.

How to Avoid Grading Papers

I borrowed this from one of my favorite bloggers, Happy Chyck Wonders, who apparently borrowed it from another winner, Teacher Lady.

You can only type one word. No explanations.

Yourself: driven
Your partner: brilliant
Your hair: silver
Your Mother: critical
Your Father: reliable
Your Favorite Item: books
Your dream last night: non-existent
Your Favorite Drink: Coffee
Your Dream Car: hybrid
Your Dream Home: classic
The Room You Are In: basement
Your Ex: none
Your fear: alone
Where you Want to be in Ten Years? here
Who you hung out with last night: cats
What You're Not: satisfied
Muffins: breakfast
One of Your Wish List Items: hardwood floors
Time: short
The Last Thing You Did: supper
What You Are Wearing: sweats
Your favorite weather: autumn
Your Favorite Book: Pride & Prejudice
Last thing you ate: linguini
Your Life: chaotic
Your mood: tired
Your Best Friends: loyal
What are you thinking about right now: sleep
Your car: Saturn
What are you doing at the moment: writing
Your summer: busy
Relationship status: adored
What is on your tv: Law & Order
What is the weather like: chilly
When is the last time you laughed: two-thirty

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Can We Leave No Child Behind When the Parents Are Dragging Them Down?


We have this student I'll call The Brick. As in "thick as a...". Brick is s....l....o....w. Brick reads at a 2nd, maybe 3rd grade level. Brick can't read cursive writing. Brick is as unmotivated as, well, a brick. Brick doesn't turn in work, even work done in class, doesn't study, doesn't do school.

Brick is in my Title I tutoring class as he tests in the lowest 20% of our population on his state tests. I actually have an aide in the tutoring class and she practically has to sit on top of him and prod him the entire session to get him to do anything outside of misbaving, wasting time, and whining. To say that the lights are on and no body is home is being kind.

He whines well however.

He also would spend the entire school day in the bathroom if we'd let him. His favorite thing on earth to do is to come in class 5 seconds before the bell rings and then ask to go to the bathroom. He freaks when I tell him no, whines and whimpers that he'll die if he doesn't go, that he doesn't have time to go between classes, blah, blah, blah. It never occurs to him that the other 129 kids on the team can figure out how to get to the bathroom on time, and that we're not buying his song and dance. (Fortunately he doesn't have issues like the infamous Poop Boy from last year.)

We sent Brick to support team because he's failing every class and we're all but pulling our hair out trying to find a way to get this kid to learn something. We reviewed all the files, interviewed his former teachers, modified like mad for this kid and we're still looking at a kid with a 40% average. With modifications.

We recommended to have him tested for special education. It's obvious something is wrong, but until we know what we're just throwing tactics at him and hoping something sticks.

Mrs. Fish, who's in charge of the special education department, sent four different letters home informing the parent that we feel it would be in Brick's best interest, especially as he moves into high school in a year or two (or three...) to get tested into special ed, and if he qualified, to be able to serve him better. (Hey, learning to read might be a plus!) After all, he will have to pass the state graduation tests in a few years to get a high school diploma and unless he's special education labeled, he is limited by the number of times he can take the test. Special education kids can take it a zillion times or until they pass. Without it, Brick will most likely be a high school dropout.

Mom apparently got fed up with the letters and finally responded.

She wrote a big fat "NO!" on one of them and returned it.

So there.

Looks like mom wants this one left behind, doesn't it?

Dude, I can see your drawers.

Ah, the dress code battle. Every teacher just loves to play fashion police, don't we?

That being said, it's nice when it works.

We've noticed some changes in the neighborhood the past year or so, and a few weeks ago we had one of the officers from the local anti-gang task force come in and educate us on local gangs, gang activity, how to spot gang symbols, etc. One of the things that struck home was the uniform that many gang members wear to identify themselves. We were seeing some of this on kids, especially our boys, even those as young sixth grade.

So The Principal has declared our school a safe zone, and gang free, and she's prepared to do what it takes to see that this becomes a reality. And the first battle to be waged was involving dress code, in particular sagging.

I hate sagging. Absolutely hate it. I felt like all I did my first two years was tell boys to pull up their damn pants. It looks stupid. When I see someone who's sagging my first impression is "well, there goes a moron," because what person in his right mind would wear his pants down to his crotch so he has to hold them up when he walks? I swear they look like boys who've taken a dump in their diapers.

And how come the boys' wear pants that are so loose you could fit three kids in them, but the girls wear pants so tight you're afraid they'll pop a zipper?

All parents received a letter home regarding the anti-sagging enforcement (I wish I had a copy of it handy as it was so well-written - she's a former English teacher.). We had an automatic phone call home to all parents with a message from The Principal regarding the policy. The students heard announcements every day for a week. They were told, numerous times, that any kid caught sagging was going to go to the office for an administrator to deal with them.

And the consequence was suspension.

Apparently the first two days (when ten of us were out of town at the NMSA convention) it was a bit crazy as they sent quite a number of kids home. Amazingly, only two parents complained. The next day, fewer kids went home although a few of them were the same twits from the day before.

The past week we haven't had any sent home because - gasp! - they're actually dressing better without those hideous sagging pants.

During one of the first mornings when the anti-sagging announcements were airing, one of my kids asked me what the big deal was. I thought this was interesting coming from him as he's probably the one kid in my homeroom I worry about when it comes to involvement with the wrong type of people.

"You ever hear the saying, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, must be a duck?" I ask him.

He nodded, "So what you're saying is looks like a gangbanger, walks like a gangbanger, must be a gangbanger?"


He nods. "Makes sense to me."

Nice to see that sometimes they realize we're not just acting like the fashion police because we're old fuddy-duddies.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


We have decided that this is the Year of the Meddling Parent. Actually Mrs. Language wanted to call it the Year of the Dumbass Parent, but we figured that was too generic.

Case in point.

We have a mom I'll call Helicopter Mom because she's one of those moms who hovers over her child (apparently Time Magazine did a recent story on this phenomenom). Her son, Chopper Boy, is a great kid. He's polite, he's studious, and a very good student. His mother, however, doesn't seem to think so. I have no idea where she got the idea that her child is slow, but she's said, numerous times, that he is. Maybe it's because his handwriting isn't the best, or perhaps during a phase of his life in elementary school something was difficult, but honestly, this kid is one of my better students. Of course, part of it is because he does every single homework assignment, every single opportunity for extra credit, and he studies for every test. This is because Helicopter Mom is hovering over her child making sure he's dotting his "i's" and crossing his "t's" and all but doing his work for him. He was out sick one week but she insisted bringing him to school after everyone was dismissed to sit in my room and take a make-up test so he wouldn't get too far behind. The kid looked like he needed to be in bed, but he struggled through it. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd been running a fever.

This past week Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin, and I introduced our Cell Organelle PowerPoint project. We used to have the kids make physical models of plant or animal cells with all the organelles labeled but decided against it for several reasons. One, we're sick of grading parents' work. It's obvious that many of the projects weren't done by 12 or 13-year olds, and was even more obvious when you asked a kid a question about the project and they just blinked at you. Second, we just don't have the space to sit 100 or so projects in our room. And third, with 52% of our kids on free and reduced lunch, many parents don't have the resources to buy supplies to make a project, and then you have the parents who have the money who spend $50 to make a project for their kids. It's just easier to have them do an in-class technology project - this way we know what they can do, and they're getting tech skills in the bargain.

I get an email from Helicopter Mom that she does not approve of this project. (Since when did she get approval over our assignments?) She wanted to send me an email to afford me the opportunity to "explain" myself before she took her complaints "further". She does not feel that it's fair to require the students to do a technology project since "most of your students probably don't know PowerPoint and I'm sure most of their parents don't either." Considering that 90% of my kids, by a show of hands, informed me that they know PowerPoint, I don't think this is an issue. However, since apparently her child types slow and doesn't know PowerPoint and "I don't know PowerPoint so I can't help him", she has translated this to mean "most of my students". Her email rambled on about how can I expect them to finish a project in five days, without any instruction, how it wasn't fair, how her child would fail, blah, blah, blah.

The real crux of the matter is that she can't do his project for him. And this is sending her into orbit.

I respond to her email and stated:

1. I teach the kids how to do a PowerPoint during the course of the week.
2. The science department has done projects like this in the past VERY SUCCESSFULLY and this includes special education students as well.
3. If she looked at the rubric she would realize that the only way to fail this assignment is to not turn in anything. Honestly, a kid tries and they pass. It may not be an A but they pass.
4. This is a science department decision because we want to see what the kids can do, not their parents. (I'm sure that pissed her off.)
5. Chopper Boy is bright, hard-working, and can be successful as long as no one is out there convincing him otherwise.
6. She's welcome to come in to my room any time and observe and I would be glad to teach her PowerPoint as well.

(As an aside, when I do these technology projects, by about the second day the kids are just flying along teaching each other the tips and tricks on how to use the PowerPoint program and I'm all but bored out of my mind. I've seen a complete novice on Monday turn in a 25-slide project by Friday. It isn't hard at all.)

Helicopter Mom send me a somewhat apologetic email stating that she felt somewhat reassured that I was going to help her son learn PowerPoint but it still wasn't "fair". Whatever. And she'd try to stop by and observe. (Oh whoppee).

Her kid has almost finished his project by day three. He's doing great. He'll probably get an A. And I may be wrong, but I think he's glad that he's doing something on his own without that mother of his hovering over him.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Welcome to Our World, Part Two

We had a meeting this week with the newly hired Title I Aide for the 7th grade. She had called it to meet with us and to go over the list of the kids that she's going to be working with and getting our insights on them. This is the first year our school has qualified for Title I (for those of you outside the field of education, it's because over 50% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch; in other words our poverty level is climbing) so this is a new experience for all of us.

I'm impressed with Miss Aide. She's bright, on the ball, enthusiastic, and seems to really want to make a difference. She, and the other aides, are having to create a program from the ground up which is no easy task. She's also working on her Master's in psychology which is pretty amazing if you ask me.


She states that the goal is to work with these kids on math and reading because that's where the greatest need appears to be, so she'll be pulling these kids out of the science and social studies classes for more one on one work with her.

I lock eyes with Mr. Social Studies, and it's apparent we're thinking the same thing. It's the old "screw science and social studies, they don't really matter," mentality that we put up with every year. However, the problem is they do matter. Right now all the government cares about is reading and math, but next year science is going to be added to the list followed shortly by social studies.

I look at the rest of the team and they all have this expression of "Is she nuts?" on their face. It is silent in the room.

Finally, team leader Mrs. Math opens her mouth. "I don't think that's right that the kids get pulled out of science and social studies. They never have aides in their rooms and they always get the special ed kids. We all have inclusion classes with another teacher in the room so the kids get a lot of attention as it is. If the kids need help in math and reading why don't you take them out of math and reading?"

Miss Aide looks a bit taken aback. "Oh, well, that's fine if it's okay with you. We just thought that if they were having trouble in those areas, they probably shouldn't be pulled out of those classes."

Mrs. Math shakes her head, "Honestly, getting pulled out of my class wouldn't be an issue since we work on independent basis anyway. In fact, I'd prefer it." Ms. Reading and Mrs. Language agree. They'd rather have the kids pulled from their rooms than from science and social studies.

Miss Aide looks at Mr. Social Studies and then to me. "So what you're saying is that the kids really need to be in your rooms, and not getting pulled out, right?"

We agree emphatically.

Miss Aide smiles. "Works for me. I'll make sure that any pull outs don't affect science and social studies."

I found out later from Mr. Social Studies that he went to talk to Miss Aide to find out if she'll be doing work in the classrooms in addition to pull out. Apparently she will. Word is she'll be in each of our rooms 2 days a week.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democracy in Action, or, Does Anyone Want Pizza?

Yesterday, being election day, I went to exercise my democratic right to vote. My state offers early voting, but I never could make it to early voting because I find it nearly impossible to get out of school before 5:00 pm which was when early voting closed for the day. (And who says teachers leave at 2:30? Morons.)

I got in line at 5:30 pm.

I cast my ballot at 9:15 pm.


However, I have not missed an election since I turned 18 and registered to vote and I certainly wasn't going to let 500 people get in my way. It actually turned out to be kind of amusing, really. When I got to the elementary school gym, which is my polling place, there were already about 500 people in lines snaking back and forth all through the gym. I had brought a sudoko puzzle book to work on but pretty soon it turned into more of a social event with everyone chatting about this that and the other, so I gave up on the puzzle. Someone went around offering cookies and coffee to those of us in line. People were discussing phoning out for pizza. Others were on cell phones talking to local reporters about the fact that there were only three - Three! - voting machines for a precinct that sees a new subdivision opening every month. Everytime someone finished voting, they'd throw up their hands and cheer and everyone would clap.

When I finished voting there were about 100 people still in line behind me. I heard that they finally finished around 11:00 pm.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Sugar Is Sometimes Evil

The kids were insane today.

I suspect that many of them had located the parental stash of candy to be given out tonight to the trick or treaters and decided no one would notice if they took, oh, say, half the candy and ingested it prior to school.

To say they were crawling the walls is putting it mildly.

And then, of course, it was Hat Day so for a mere dollar they got to buy a sticker that allowed them to wear a hat in school today. This is, by far, one of the easiest and most successful fund-raisers our student council ever came up with. Amazing what middle schoolers will pay for.

Of course I wore my witch's hat. However, since it has cell organelles all over it and actually is a model of a cell, it matched my standards perfectly.

So there.

The team decided, after recalling the bags and bags of candy our kids brought in last year to snack on, that we would institute a candy ban in classes starting tomorrow. Simply put, you bring in Halloween candy and we'll take it. The kids thought we were being mean. Do you think I care?

But honestly, after the year one of our students spent all night eating Halloween candy, forgot to take his meds (which probably wouldn't have worked judged by the amount of candy he scarfed down), and then proceeded to try to crawl on top of a 6 foot cabinet in one of the classrooms....we weren't going down that road again. I can still see this little character exclaiming to an assistant principal, who caught our little cherub pinging off the walls coming back from lunch, "I had pockets of candy. Pockets and pockets of candy!!! I ate pockets of candy all night long!!!"

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Good Sub is Gold

I love it when I get a good sub.

I had a fantastic sub on Thursday. Absolutely fantastic. That woman's phone number is going in my file and I'm going to have her again (although for this next week my absence is already assigned to someone else...darn it.)

I subbed and permanent subbed for 3 years while I was going back to school to get my teaching license and then for the year and a half after I graduated and couldn't find a permanent position (they were, in fact, eliminating positions Up North which is why I ended up back in My Beloved South). It can be a completely thankless job. It can be a grind. It can drive you nuts.

There were days when I'd walk into a room and not only didn't have lesson plans, but didn't even have a roster for the classes I was supposed to teach. There were days when I ended up in the emotionally disturbed unit and wondered if I'd leave there emotionally disturbed myself. Days when I bored myself silly watching kids take an AP Calculus test. And the day when one kid stuck his finger down his throat to throw up on his desk - on purpose - because he thought it was funny to freak out his classmates and the sub. (He was horribly disappointed that I didn't freak out at him and told me "it worked with the other ones.")

So before I have a planned absence and have a sub in the room, I give my kids The Lecture. I basically tell them that I've subbed before, it's a difficult, thankless job that doesn't pay well at all, and that I Will Take It Personally if they give the sub any trouble and they will Feel My Wrath. I inform them that a sub is a guest in our room and they should treat him or her as a guest.

And then I pray.

I tend to leave incredibly detailed notes for my subs (which they seem to like) and I really like, in fact, need to have some notes left to let me know who was bad, who was good, and if everything went okay. The last few subs I've had didn't leave any notes, or left a brief "all went well" comment which I seriously doubt, since I know these kids.

My sub on Thursday left me FANTASTIC notes. Her notes were so good I could actually visualize what went on in my room when I was gone. And nothing she wrote surprised me. In other words, The Usual Suspects, performed in their usual manner. Spoiled Princess Girl apparently wouldn't shut up, Brat Boy wouldn't shut up and had to be moved, the Red-Headed Blob did nothing, so forth and so on. So I wrote out eight behavior notes and pulled The Usual Suspects aside and gave them my I'm So Very Disappointed In You And I Can't Believe You'd Insult Me and Your School By Behaving Like This talk.

Mrs. Math asked me later if I got a "I'm sorry," out of any of them, and was surprised that I actually did (for most of them). In fact, I had nearly half of them with tears welling up during our talk.

"How do you do that?" she asks. "They never act sorry when I get after them."

And I tell her what it was like to grow up in Southern California and to go to a school with a bunch of different types of kids, including a number of Jewish kids who had Typical Jewish Mothers who were masters, absolute masters, of using guilt to manage their kids. I learned from these moms how to lay on guilt thick as peanut butter. I don't use it often, but man, when I works!

Now, we'll just have to see if it sticks and they can be good next week when I'm out.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tiny Little Things

Yesterday I took my classes to the science lab for their first chance to use the microscopes. This is, usually, one of the days they completely, totally, live for. Give a seventh grader the chance to play with something as cool as a microscope and they're in heaven. Heck, give them a chance to leave the classroom and go somewhere else - like The Lab - and they're just besides themselves with excitement.

Which also means that their behavior can be less than stellar.

Which means that I also have to scare the daylights out of them before we even get to the lab so they won't do anything stupid like pull the cord to the emergency shower that's in there in case of a chemical accident or spill. Which is required by law although the most dangerous chemical in there probably isn't any more dangerous than food coloring.

However, this group, even my third period, was really good. They were spellbound (and quiet) watching me make a slide of an onion skin in the cool overhead mirror that is above the demonstration table. That is nearly as cool as watching it move when I hit the button on the wall. There are times when I think they'd be interested in watching mini-blinds move up and down.

However...the appeared to do a fairly decent job of using the microscopes. Nothing broke (a plus). Oh yeah, we had the usual "I can't see anything!" screams from kids who don't bother to try to focus the silly things, or ones who forget to turn on the light source, or (my personal favorite) the ones who don't plug the microscope in.

The true test will be tomorrow...when they turn in their lab reports...which includes a requirement to write a paragraph on how they would explain to a 3rd grade class how to use a microscope. That, I am sure, will be interesting.

However, since I had to be out of class today for a meeting downtown, and will be out for two days next week for the NMSA conference, I'm going to be needing some Bribery Activities. And earning a free day in the lab to use a microscope to look at other things (besides an onion skin) is one sure ticket to guaranteeing good behavior out of my kids.

Although I wish they'd stop trying to look at snot.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What a Difference a Diagnosis Makes.

We have a student on our team this year who I'll call Chef Boy. Chef Boy came to us from Up North, and honestly, that's about all we knew of him. He doesn't hardly talk, even with the other kids. His student information sheet basically said he was living with his mother and an aunt and that the only thing he liked about school was lunch (which 90% of the kids always say anyway). His grades were mind-numbingly bad. We had him on the list to send him to support team to see about getting him tested for special ed. On the evaluation form that the special education coordinator sent me I resonded that I really couldn't evaluate him properly as I never got any work out of him and he would hardly speak when I asked him anything - I was even modifying tests and work for him with no success. This kid was shut down tight. He was also absent a lot and would often come to school with an upset stomach, go to the nurse (and throw up a few times while there), and then get dismissed home.

And then, 8 weeks into the 9 week grading period, his records from Up North caught up with him, and lo and beyond, he's already identified as special education. In fact, he's also diagnosed as bi-polar.

Now it's starting to make sense.

We had the IEP meeting with his mother the other day and it was a revelation. Apparently Chef Boy has been living with his father for two years but is now back with mom, mainly because dad wasn't managing his education and health properly. Chef Boy is actually reading below where he was when she sent him to live with dad. So in two years he actually regressed.


We also found out that Chef Boy loves to cook and wants to be a chef. One of the side-effects of his bi-polar diagnosis is when he's confused or lost he gets depressed and will shut down completely. He will not ask questions, nor will he even speak when he's like this. This probably explains the mostly sullen silent child we have had in our rooms since August. His doctors also suspect that his frequent stomach troubles are probably related to stress and anxiety.

We made the decision to change his schedule and put him into the special education reading and language arts classes. This had the other benefit of putting him out of my second period class (which isn't one of my best) and into my fourth period class (which is my best class with the hardest workers, and interestingly enough, the highest number of special education students). Mom also indicated that she finally got him back on some medication for his bi-polar diagnosis and we should start seeing a change in him soon.

Now I'm not a big fan of medicating kids. I honestly think that most of the kids I see who are "diagnosed" as ADHD are simply normal kids who need more sleep and a better diet without all the carbs and sugar, plus a little more parenting. However, there are kids I've had who undergo dramatic changes, usually for the better, when they get on medication; most of these are kids who have other issues, usually severe emotional problems.

This week Chef Boy was a different child. A completely different child. He has walked in every day and has actually engaged me in a conversation. Yesterday he brought in his library book (The Betty Crocker Cookbook - our librarian has a lot of cookbooks and I'm always surprised at how many kids actually like to read these) and pointed out some recipes he was going to try this weekend. He had even written down four on his bookmark along with the page numbers. This from a kid who often sat with his hands in his lap and who wouldn't write his name on his paper without multiple promptings. He noticed one of his lab partners had left her notes on the table and he grabbed them and asked me to get them back to her as she'd already left. He was at the fall festival last night and was playing games and having a ball. He stopped me several times to show me his prizes. He also went to the lab to have his tests read to him yesterday and his score is double what his previous high score was!

I hope this continues. If it does, Chef Boy is going to have a very successful year.

Friday, October 20, 2006

At last! Success!

At the Fall Festival Mrs. Eagle and I ran into a student that I had last year and that we both tutored in the after school program. Big Hearted Boy is one of the nicest kids you'll ever meet, a boy who loves football and his Christian Faith, but who wasn't the best of students. He is probably the most honest child I've ever had the pleasure of teaching.

In any case, he stopped us to chat and since report cards came out today we asked him how his first report card for 8th grade was. He was a pretty solid C-D-F student last year, and we worked and worked with him to get his reading levels up, so he'd be sucessful in other classes (like social studies and science which are impacted so much by reading skills).

"I have it right here with me, if you want to see it," says Big Hearted Boy as he reaches into his pocket.

He pulls out a report card and we see nothing but A's and B's and only one C. We are ecstatic! We know these teachers and believe me, the work isn't any easier in eighth grade with the teachers he has. It's obvious that he's started working and putting forth the effort.

"This is outstanding!", we exclaim. "This is just wonderful!"

"Well, it's really thanks to you. You taught me to believe in myself last year," he says. "Once I realized I could do anything I set my mind too, it got easier."

That made our week, if not our month, and perhaps, our year. And the hug we each got from Big Hearted Boy was just icing on the cake.

Nothing a bubble bath and some wine won't cure.

It's late at night and I'm sitting here trying to wind down from a long, long day. Actually I'm amazed that I'm not ready to collapse in bed from sheer exhaustion since that's pretty much how I've felt all this week. (Momma Bird had a cold when she got back to California so I'm wondering if I'm fighting a bit of the blahs myself.)

However, it was Fall Festival and Dance night at school and like always, Mrs. Eagle and I volunteered to work the event. You know there is always a group of people in the building that seem to be the ones that volunteer for amost everything and Mrs. Eagle and I are among that bunch. I suppose the fact that we don't have our own kids to go home and worry about, and the fact that our hubbies are the kind that understand that the kids we teach are pretty important to us, helps. However, sometimes I wonder if we aren't a little bit nuts for doing all we do.

We decided, however, after finishing our lessons for the week, and getting the homework put together, and grading our tests that we really needed a decent sit-down dinner before the festival, so we dashed off to Ruby Tuesday's and treated ourselves. Thank goodness we did.
Because when we got back we were on our feet for the next five hours (I can't believe it really was that long, but it was.)

Which probably explains why I hurt from the knees down. And I'm a walker, believe it or not. (And a wannabe-trying-to-be-a-runner since my cousin is actually going to be running her first marathon this month and she's not that much younger than I am!)

The festival was a lot of fun - they had booths all over the core of the school. It ranged from pudding-eating contest, to cake-walk, to temporary tattoo, to ring-toss, to a jousting ring where the kids could wack each other with foam rubber swords. The comment Mrs. Eagle made when she saw the ring toss where the kids could toss rings and win a 2 liter bottle of soda pop was, "just what they need, more sugar." They also had little craft booths where they could make neclaces, feather fans, colored sand in bottles things, and all sorts of stuff. The Technology Club was taking digital pictures (with a suit of armor as a prop). We had the Jr. ROTC club from the high school we feed into over and they were working booths as well (including, of all people, Meltdown Boy from a few years ago). And making me feel really old as some of those kids had been mine a mere two years ago and now they looked so grown up. We had a lot of parents there, former students, younger brothers and sisters and all sorts of folks from the local community. Considering the community we serve (low-income, to say the least) it was nice to see these folks out there supporting their school. They even had a live auction (which did well) and a silent auction (which did well too, but I lost out on the John Deere basket which would have been a great gift for my Poppa Bird.)

And then there was the dance. Oh gosh, there's nothing like a middle school dance. I swear someone should videotape these things and use them as a psychology experiment. If I had a dollar for every time I told a kid to STOP RUNNING AND SLOW DOWN, I'd be rich. We also had to tell a bunch of the kids, as usual, to stop being so blatantly sexual in their dancing (never fails, they look like they're auditioning for a pole dance job at the local strip joint). The amazing thing was that, due to the festival (cotton candy, soda pop, brownies, etc). they were so hyped up on sugar that they were literally bouncing off the walls, the floor, the bleachers, you name it. And they're going home tonight so they can drive their parents nuts.

The kids in my school like to dance to an interesting mix of music. Of course we have the hip-hop stuff (which I personally can't stand), then country, latin, one token AC/DC song, then the Macarena, the Electric Slide, and...last but not least....the Chicken Dance. The fact that these kids all know how to dance to all of this just cracks me up. Since my muscial tastes run to hard/class/progressive rock, I was dying for a bit of Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin or Van Halen. To no avail.

Goober Boy was there and I'm beginning to think that he's hoping one day I'll forget that he isn't mine and take him home with me. I wouldn't mind, really, because I adore this kid, but I wonder what his parents would say. Of course, the fact that he's just one of six, perhaps no one would notice that he was gone. He'd have his fun, circulate through the dance, then swing by to chat. Of course I had to give him heck over his less than stellar report card.

So, by 9:30 the kids were all gone (thank goodness) and we headed home. I'm going to sleep in tomorrow...maybe to 6:00 am.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Aide? What Aide?

Yesterday about eight of us were out of the building to attend a workshop downtown on inclusion. Inclusion, for those of you who aren't in the field of educating the future, is basically dealing with special education kids in a regular education classroom. Those of us who went, including Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Cool, were all science and social studies teachers. We're the teachers who have, historically, had these kids dumped (my phrase, but that's my opinion) into our classrooms with little or no support. The traditional "inclusion classroom" (reading, math, language arts) usually has a special education teacher or an aide in there to assist those students who need a little more help.

We've never had an aide grace our doorway. Not once.

(For more on this subject see Welcome to Our World)

I was kind of interested in seeing what, exactly, they were going to talk to us about. After all, most of us have been modifying and working with these kids for a while, and many of us have done a pretty good job of working with our special education department on creating IEP's, modified work, modified tests, etc. And amazingly enough, in our building, we're doing something right because these kids are hitting their goals and showing growth.

Apparently the focus on the day was on how to work with your aide and things your aide can do to help you help these children.

What freaking aide?

Apparently, with the new Title I money we're getting this year (nothing like hitting that 50% free and reduced lunch mark), they're going to be able to hire three aides, one per grade level.

So Mrs. Eagle and I do the math. We get one aide for the entire seventh grade. I teach 5 classes of science, Mrs. Eagle teaches five classes of science, and Mrs. Robin teaches two. That's twelve science classes. Double that and you get the number of science and social studies classes. That's 24 classes.

Assuming that this aide is going to work just with these kids in science and social studies, she's going to have be hitting twenty-four classes a day - physically impossible. So, what it comes down to, is we may have her for one period a week.

Big Freaking Deal.

I'd get more coverage if I simply asked the PTO to toss some parent volunteers my way.

The other fun moment of the day was watching our district science consulting teacher, Mrs. Standard, who is consumed by standards, choke her way through a claim that we need to figure out what the "essential" standards were and focus on having these kids do well on these. In other words, what do these special needs kids need to survive life. Considering that Mrs. Standard considers every single one of our standards to be the most important thing in the world, it was amazing watching her spit that out. I had heard from Mrs. Squirrel that it had taken an incredible amount of convincing to sway Mrs. Standards to that opinion. I'm not sure she's buying it however, and is just going along with the flow for the moment.


And the kids didn't drive the sub screaming from the building.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Another new vice

I love, love, love The Guidance Goddess. She is unfailingly cheerful. She is always helpful. She has an incredible sense of humor (which really is necessary considering the craziness she sees day in and day out). And the fact that she's a complete diva doesn't hurt.

She has, however, introduced me to a new vice.

It is Hershey's COFFEE flavored chocolate kisses.

Oh. My. God.

We were talking the other day about nothing in particular (I think it had to do with the fact that I needed a break after my break and could use a strong jolt of coffee), when I mentioned that my favorite candy, chocolate covered espresso beans, would be the perfect antidote to my afternoon.

The Guidance Goddess squealed and said, "Oh yes, they are the Best! But I've found something just as good, if not better." She then whips open her desk drawer (where the good stuff is kept) and hands me a coffee flavored chocolate kiss.

I swooned.

I am never going to lose weight.

And it's all her fault.

And did I mention that I adore her?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday Insomnia

How many of you fellow teachers out there have trouble sleeping on Sunday nights? I nearly always do, but it seems to be worse on the tail end of a break or summer vacation. The brain has trouble shutting down, I keep worrying about stupid stuff ("Did I make those copies or forget before I left on Friday?") and then of course the fact that I luxuriated by sleeping in (if you call getting up at 7:00 sleeping in) on Sunday morning doesn't help.

So, of course, I woke up at 3:30 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. Granted, I get up at 4:45 anyway, but still...3:30 was not fun.

So I went in early and of course, Mrs. Eagle was there already. She sleeps even less than I do. It's a wonder we don't all topple over from sleep deprivation.

Overall, it wasn't such a bad day just back from break. The kids weren't completely out of control and truth be told, they seemed a little sleepy which is always a plus. I'd almost rather have them drowsy than bouncing off the walls. We're starting a new unit on living things and we're moving at a pretty fast clip, so it kept them on their toes. We're behind where we need to be so Mrs. Robin, Mrs. Eagle and I are trying to play catch up. Whoppeee. Welcome to warp speed science.

On a funny, but hopeful note...I made a comment to my fifth period class to the effect of, "someday when one of you wins the Nobel Prize for science, just remember that seventh grade science teacher you had who made you work and thank her," when one of my kids, actually one of my top students says, in all seriousness, "I will."

I can't wait for Nobel Boy to win. Because if anyone has what it takes to do it, he will.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Over Already?

Fall Break is almost over.


I have totally enjoyed having a fall break. I don't care if it means we go a little longer in May (but don't quote me that when May arrives). It's refreshing to have a week off in the middle of my absolute favorite season of the year to refresh and recharge. After all, we start the first week in August and have our first nine weeks under our belts. Hard to believe that we're already that far along.

Momma Bird came in from California for a week and, along with Mr. Bluebird, the three of us had a little mini-vacation in the North Carolina mountains. Wonderful. I can't wait to go back. We ate too much, spent too much, and didn't get enough sleep, but it was still fun.

I do, however, have a bunch of posters to grade which I'm avoiding (can you tell?) Now that Momma Bird has winged her way home I think I'll sit down with a glass of Merlot and wade my way through them. That may make it bearable.

In the meantime, I've actually updated my blog roll on the right of this page. Please take a moment and visit some of these new folks as they're definitely worth a minute of your time. Some highlights:

Civil War Memory - The reflections of a High School History teacher and Civil War Historian.
Elementary History Teacher - A must read for history fans and anyone who admires those who teach the littler ones.
Adventures in Teaching - An English teacher at a Community College (and amazingly enough her students don’t sound any better than my middle schoolers)
A Historically -A lover of history…what else?
Anonymous Teacher Blog - A second year teacher at a public high school…bless her heart.
Are We Doing Anything Today? - One of the best blog titles out there! And she's right, there's always that one kid who walks into your room and asks this very question!
But Wait, There’s More - A fellow middle school science teacher…and a real hoot.
Evolving Education - Mr. R. a HS science and math teacher in NC...a great read.
I Thought A Think - Mr. Rain, a First Grade Teacher, bless his heart.
What It’s Like on the Inside -The Science Goddess, and she's a wonderful writer.
The Reflective Teacher - Not only is this blogger witty, she has a lot of great information out there for teachers in general.

Read and enjoy. Me, I'm grading papers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is it Fall Break yet?

For the first time in the history of our district we're getting a week long fall break.

Many of us were a bit skeptical about this. For one thing it means starting school a bit earlier than most of us would like (for example the very first part of August). And by the first part of October none of us thought we'd really need the break. The burn-out hasn't set in. However, as we wrap up the first nine weeks of school, some of us are beginning to think it's not that bad of an idea.

Because, truth be told, the kids are beginning to wear us down.

In short, the honeymoon is over.

I'm looking at the grades for my first nine weeks and I can't believe the number of kids who are failing. And I'm not talking failing by a few points. I'm talking failing by a huge margin. Huge massivenormous amounts. Simply put, they aren't studying, they aren't passing tests, and they don't care. I have 16 failing in my third period class (which is rapidly on the way to earning the sobriquet of Third Period Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself...although they are no where near the infamous Fifth Period from last year).

It drives me nuts that I care more than they do. Or more than some of their parents do.

Granted, we've had more parent meetings than ever in the history of the team. We're averaging 3 or more a week. But some of them, quite honestly, are nothing but empty promises and moans of "I don't know what to do!!!" from parents who are controlled by the 12-year olds in their homes.

So, after handing out EIGHT behavior notes in Fifth Period because They Couldn't Stop Talking to Save Their Lives...I'm ready for a break.

Even if it means that Momma Bird is coming from California to spend the week.

And there won't be anything relaxing about that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Case of Adolescent Alzheimers

Today was benchmark testing day for those of us in the science department. Benchmark testing is something our district has been implementing over the past several years as a way to assess and monitor how well our students are mastering the required standards. It's a fairly good predictor of how well they'll do on our Big State Mandated Test in the spring. The idea is that we'll see which students need help in what standards and then we'll do remediation with them. The problem is we rarely, if ever, have time to actually do the remediation, outside of the ten days that are penciled into our pacing guide prior to the Big State Mandated Test. But that's a story for another rant.

Anyhow. I walk into the teacher lunch room today and Mrs. Eagle sees me and this huge grin breaks across her face. "Have I got a story for you!" she says.

This morning when we went to pick up our copies of the tests (test security and all that), they were all stacked up in piles and labeled which was nice as we didn't have to count them out. Counting out 135 tests can be a drag. All the science teachers did testing today, so there were piles of sixth grade tests, seventh grade tests, eighth grade tests, and some physical science (advanced eighth grade) tests as well.

Which might explain how Mrs. Eagle ended up with four physical science tests in her pile by mistake.

All her kids sit in rows during testing and she simply counted out the number of tests for each row and the kids passed them back. Consequently she didn't realize that there were some physical science tests in her pile until some ten minutes into the test when she does a walk through the room and spots a page that just doesn't look right. And then another. And another. And finally another.

Here's the amazing thing. The kids didn't say a word. Not one of them noticed "Eighth Grade Physical Science Benchmark #1" emblazoned across the top. None of them noticed that the entire front page was chock-full of formulas for things like velocity, acceleration and the like - things we've NEVER talked about in seventh grade this year. And yet they just started to take the test!

Which makes us wonder...are they so lost on a daily basis that nothing looks familiar? Are they just that clueless that they figured it was just a chapter they blew off and didn't pay attention to? Or are they, as Mrs. Algebra said, suffering from Adolescent Alzheimers???

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tracking Down the Elusive Parent

Have I mentioned that we have some of the wackiest parents - ever - this year?

They are so bad, and so off the wall unpredictable, that even Mr. Social Studies (who's the King of Calling Parents) was saying that there's a number of parents whom he's never calling again. They are just that freaky. (I, however, win the prize for the Wackiest Parent Phone Call of The Year for the parent who answered the phone, said "hold on," put the phone down and proceeded to scream and curse AT THE VERY TOP OF HER LUNGS to someone in the room with her for about two minutes before picking up the phone and then breaking down in hysterical sobs about how she was a Katrina survivor and she had post-tramautic stress syndrome, and she just couldn't deal with anything. And to think that all I wanted to do was introduce myself.)

I digress.

In any case, I've been trying to track down Mr. Ga-Ga for about three weeks since his daughter, Ga-Ga Girl, has hit new lows in her ability to not only take tests (she actually scored a zero on an eight word vocabulary test, and she had the words for over a week; I don't think she's scored over a 40% on anything else) but to actually do anything more than stare at boys, write notes about boys, giggle about boys and generally obsess about boys. She has a whopping 37% in my class and 70% is passing. Too bad we don't study boys. She'd be on the honor roll.

I've emailed the email address on the emergency card requesting a meeting with the team. I've called and left three messages requesting the same thing. I've never heard a single response.

Until today.

Today, Ga-Ga Girl turns in a signed progress report (with that whopping 37% plastered across the bottom) along with a note from her Dad indicating a concern with his daughter's grades and a desire for a conference.

So, on the positive side, at least he's communicating. On the negative, what the heck happened to all the emails (which never bounced back) and the phone messages? Sigh. So I scrawl a note back to Mr. Ga-Ga telling him I would try to contact him later that day to set up a meeting and if, by chance, we don't connect, he can call the office and the Secretaries can set up the meeting. Later this afternoon I called and left a message - yet again.

And then I got really, really lucky.

After school today, I'm up at the copier when I see Ga-Ga Girl rushing back to her locker.

"Don't forget to give your dad my message," I yell at her as she zips by.

"Oh, he's outside waiting for me," she says. "I won't forget."

He's outside, is he?

Copies done, I head up to the office, grab the team calendar from one of The Secretaries, and follow Ga-Ga Girl out to the car where her father is waiting for her (along with an entire collection of what must be more Ga-Ga siblings- all girls).

"Hi there," I say as he rolls down his window. "I'm Mrs. Bluebird. I've left some messages about setting up a team meeting."

"Oh yes," he says, "I just got one today. I'm glad to be able to talk to you."

"How about we schedule it right now?" I say. In two seconds I've got him nailed down to Friday afternoon and he's asking about what I think the problem is (Hum, no studying, no work, writing notes, obsessing about boys, shall we go on?). He's obviously upset, shaking his head, and giving his daughter, who's slunk down in the back seat, That Look. I get his email address again (it's the one I've been using..go figure why he's not getting them unless his daughter has figured out how to get into his email account and is deleting them - not unheard of), and he's off.

Now, we'll see if he shows up on Friday.

But hey, at least I got the meeting set up!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

And just where would I be on a Saturday morning?

It's middle school football season again.

All of which means that Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Drama and myself will be at nearly every game. A couple of other teachers make appearances now and then, but we're the ones that are there at nearly every game.

Which apparently freaks some people out.

This morning, after a night full of really nasty thunderstorms, rain, and tornado sirens, I made it to the game. It was damp, and grey, but still warm, and the few folks in the stands were trying to stay as dry as they could considering there wasn't a dry spot to be found. (This is where my stadium seat comes in handy.) Mrs. Eagle hadn't arrived yet, so I was sitting there, chatting with one of my moms from last year, when one of my current moms, The Queen Mother, came walking by, looking for a place to sit. Now The Queen Mother is a PTA mom with a daughter that redefines the word spoiled. As The Principal has often said, "The Queen Mother never has anything nice to say about anybody, but she's a great volunteer so we'll just suck it up and smile." Her daughter, Spoiled Princess Girl, can be trying but so far she hasn't driven me off the edge. Yet.

The Queen Mother sees me, and her mouth drops open. "What are you doing here?" she asks.
I can't tell if she's surprised or pissed off or what.

"Oh, I come to all the kids' games, " I say.

"You do?" she asks. She seems very surprised. After all, why on earth would a teacher take her free Saturday morning and spend time watching the very same kids she spends all week with play football and cheer?

Why indeed?

"Oh yeah, I try not to miss any, if possible. I like to support the players and the cheerleaders," I say. The Queen Mother, who apparently doesn't know anyone else there outside of her daughter who's cheering, sits down next to me and proceeds to chat. This surprises me. And she was actually quite nice (and stayed far away from the fact that her very smart daughter is lazy and is only getting a C in my class) which surprised me even more.

She kept getting interrupted, however, by the JV boys (who had just finished their game) who kept coming by to say hello (and to show me how muddy they were). And then the cheerleaders who came by to say hello (and complain about how muddy they were). And then some of my former parents who came by to say hello, including Stoner Boy's mom who wanted to tell me how much she appreciated me keeping in touch with her son and how much it meant to him.

And then Mrs. Eagle arrived, and Mrs. Drama arrived, and I was saved from further conversation with The Queen Mother who wandered off to get a bottle of water for her daughter, after bidding me farewell.

I'm not sure, but I think I just surprised The Queen Mother.

Which could prove to be a very interesting thing.