Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It Sucks to be Good

There are times when it sucks to be good.

Case in point...my team seems to get all the nut jobs that land in our building. Last year we voiced a bit of a concern about this. After all, there comes a time when you realize that every new kid you get has issues and you start wishing for just one - just one! - normal kid.

Well, as normal as a seventh grader can be.

And we always get the smile, and the compliment, "But you are such a strong team! You do such a great job with these kids!" Well, yeah, thanks, but can we just have a normal one now and then???

Case in point.

On Tuesday we got a new kid whom I'll call Sparky. Sparky has ISSUES. Big huge honkin' issues. We haven't seen much paperwork on him but the short story is he's in State Custody as mom just got sentenced to jail and dad, who was apparently there at the sentencing, was not allowed (or even offered) custody. According to Sparky, he's been in "about 80" schools this year so he's been bounced all over the place and I seriously doubt any learning has taken place.

On the first day he arrived he spent most of the day drawing pictures of guns and self-portraits of himself in handcuffs (quite good actually, but really disturbing).

On his second day he had a melt down in Social Studies, swore at Mr. Social Studies, pitched a fit and stormed out. This kid, by the way, has major issues with men and we all suspect he's been abused by one some time in his past. The female teachers don't have that much trouble with him, but his hackles get raised if there's a male in the picture, whether it's a teacher, a guidance counselor, or a vice principal.

On the third day he had another melt down in Social Studies, this one resulting in a discipline referral. He was sentenced to In School Suspension (ISS).

On the fourth day he gets written up for causing a disruption and throwing things around the ISS room and gets suspended.

He lasted four days.

I have no idea when or if he'll be back. Quite honestly, this kid needs some serious help that our public school system can't provide. He needs a lot of therapy. And he probably needs to be in an environment where our little monsters aren't feeding into his anger and aggravating the situation. He is, quite honestly, a bit scary.

Whatever the case is, it's absolutely tragic that kids like this are out there.

Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy

It's January Madness time!!!!

Or, for the uninitiaed, it's middle school basketball tournament time! And guess who's school is hosting it this year??? Yuppers, you got it!

This is a big deal here in our town, when all six schools battle it out over three days. It's also a huge financial windfall for the school that's hosting it because people actually come out and watch these games (and get way too excited for their own good, truth be told). The six schools rotate the hosting job so every six years the basketball program gets a real injection of cash to help keep it funded. Considering that it's not unheard of for a teacher to help buy new shoes for a player who's currently on free and reduced lunch and can't afford decent shoes, it's nice to see a bit of cash coming in to help pay for incidentals such as, well, shoes.

It is, however, a lot of work.

For example, Mrs. Eagle and I had decided to volunteer to work the first day of the tournament and, as usual, we ended up working the main door from 2:30 - 8:30 taking in admission. (For those of you who think the teacher's day ends at 3:00, keep in mind that we were both at school at 6:15 that morning and left at 8:45 that evening...it's a long flipping day - and we don't get paid extra for this, either.) There are two drawbacks to working admission, however. One is you don't get to see the game. The other is that you're sitting right by the front door and get a blast of frigid air every time someone enters or leaves the building. I'm not sure why we always end up doing admission but I suspect it's because we're both pretty anal retentive and are really good with the money - we always balance out. We also get to watch the wackos, not all of which are our students.

Last night was pretty good as far as tournaments go. We had 404 paid spectators, only about 4 of which got asked to leave the building (and one was a parent of a kid from another school). The PTO kicked butt in the hospitality room (where officials and staff get to go to eat supper) and provided a spread that blew everyone's diet all to hell. And amazingly enough, our teams both won their games. This in itself is a stunner because they were both seeded fourth. Out of six teams.

So all in all, it was a good night.

I was originally planning on staying and watching the teams play again tonight, but the bronchial infection I've been battling since the weekend changed my mind. I'm not sleeping well, I'm tired, and I really just need to get over this. So part of me feels a bit bad that I'm not there, but the rest of me (the part that's aching and tired) is glad I made the choice.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Is it a full moon or am I just losing my mind?

It is a basic truth known by most seventh grade teachers that seventh graders lose their minds completely (as oppossed to partially) over the Christmas holiday. And every year we hope that This Will Be The Year It's Different. And every year we're disappointed.

Very disappointed.

Our kids have, for the most part, turned into little psycho nutballs. I had warned Mr. Social Studies about this phenomena, how even the good kids before Christmas become raving lunatics after the holidays, and he's spent most of this week muttering, "You warned me. You were right. They are insane."

Case in point...I don't give out discipline referrals very often. I'm the type of teacher who likes to do a bit more counseling, warning, and work with a kid before I turn them over to administration. A kid that gets a referral from me has worked his way through all this, including a series of behavior notes, phone calls home, and all that warm fuzzy stuff before I've finally thrown down the glove and filled out the referral. Either that or they've done something blatantly stupid, such as fighting, in which case they get a referral and we skip the warm fuzzy stuff.

I gave more referrals in one day this week than I've given in any month previous.

My fifth period, the Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself, (which only has 23 kids) got two discipline referrals, one behavior note and four verbal warnings. These kids were absolutely beyond crazy.

This particular group of kids has a number of boys who like to throw things. Not big things that get noticed, but sneaky little things like erasers and spitballs. Little things that cause the other kids in the class to yell and scream and disrupt the class with cries of "Mrs. Bluebird, someone is throwing things!" So then you have to stop the class, try to find out who's doing it (I managed to guilt two of them into confessing this week.) and then do the stupid paperwork to send to the office. And by then they're all off task, no one is paying attention, and I'm about ready to kill them all. They are also, I might add, not getting along with each other, are fussing and demanding to get moved to different lab groups, and basically are finding wasy to annoy and frustrate everyone around them.

And they wonder why they don't get good grades.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

In one ear and out the other.

We have been studying photosynthesis and cellular respiration now for three weeks.

Every day for this period of time we have looked at, gone over, worked with and discussed the formulas, both word and chemical description, for both of these topics. They aren't hard because they happen to be opposite reactions so if you know one, you can figure out the other. We have done everything outside of tattooing this information on their foreheads.

We gave our unit test on Friday and two of the questions asked the students to write out both of these equations. Maybe about 75% even tried. Out of that group, maybe 10% got them close to correct.

I shouldn't be amazed (but I still am) how many kids looked surprised that they needed to know this. This, despite me telling them every single day that they needed to have these formulas memorized both for the unit test and even more importantly for the state assessment at the end of the year.

My favorite, however, is the kid (and there's usually at least one in each class) who will walk in on the day of the test and act completely surprised and stunned that there is a test. I suppose the fact that it's been written on the whiteboard for a week, that they should have been writing it in their agenda for a week, and that we went over the study guide and reviewed it, aren't big enough clues to the fact that there's a test.

I can only hope that they will eventually grow up, mature, and start to care about their futures.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hey, dude, she's only 12!

I really wonder about parents these days. Really, really wonder.

For example, why would you want to dress your very attractive 12 year old daughter like a hoochie mamma out cruising for tricks???

I don't know about you all, but my mother not only wouldn't have spent a cent on some of the clothes I see my students in, but would never have let me take one step outside the front door wearing some of these get ups.

We have a girl on our team who's really quite pretty. She's tall, has a very nice developed figure, but she's still only twelve. Physically she may look like she's 16, but emotionally she's still a little girl. And the clothes she wears would make your eyes pop out. Skin tight (and I mean so skin tight they look almost painful) pants, knee high boots with fur trim, slinky little tank top things (with a shrug or something to keep her shoulders covered and survive the dress code), short little skirts, you name it. She looks, well, like a slut.

We've met with the mom (about some behavior issues the Spoiled Princess has) and gently suggested to mom that she may want to tone down her daughter's wardrobe. The boys on the team do spend a lot of time oggling (especially her butt in her skin tight pants), and her clothes are going to give her a reputation even if her actions don't.

This suggestion went completely over Mom's head. A week later, they go visit family in NYC for the holidays and she goes out and buys her little girl more SlutWear. Really, really tacky SlutWear.

We pretty much have been told not to make these somewhat blatant dress code violations an issue because this parent is pretty much a nut job and the last thing any of us want is another meeting with this woman. (The kid was on three teams last year and Mom was in the office nearly every other day with one complaint or another). Granted, I'm waiting for the Fury of Mom as she comes sailing in complaining that her daughter is getting sexually harrassed. It is, after all, just a matter of time (considering some of the conversations I overhear at the lockers, I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet). However, sometimes it is just best to leave things alone and hope that perhaps peer pressure might convince the Spoiled Princess that things are a tad too tight.

Either that or she's going to bend over one day to pick her books up off the floor (where she throws them when she's at her locker) and her pants are going to rip and she'll moon the entire seventh grade.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I'll take one in blue...no, make that pink, please.

I'm trying to figure out just when children became accessories.

This has sort of been bubbling around in my subconsious for a while but it came to a full boil this week when several things happened.

One, we had this student, let's call him Spin Boy (he liked to spin around which is something a tad unusual in a 13 year old, but I digress.) Spin Boy's life story reads like a really bad novel. Mom has Spin Boy, doesn't marry Dad (I'm not even sure anyone knows who Dad is, truth be told). Mom marries someone else, hence Spin Boy gets a StepDad. Mom decides that she doesn't want to be a Mom, nor a wife, and takes off, divorcing StepDad but leaving SpinBoy with him. StepDad remarries so now Spin Boy is living with StepDad, who really isn't as he's not married to SpinBoy's Mom, and StepDad's new wife. Neither of these two have any stake or biological connection to this child.

And Spin Boy can drive you insane.

He does no work. He is so desperate for attention he will do anything, and I mean anything, to get it. He will scratch until he bleeds and bleed on his desk, causing an entire class to dissolve into chaos. He will spin and spin and spin until he gets dizzy and knocks something over. He cannot/will not open his locker, insisting that he needs a key and get the teacher to do it. He gets into fights constantly. He has no anger management or coping skills. He steals food.

And none of this is remotely surprising considering that no one really wants this kid, including the woman who gave birth to him. Like an old pair of shoes, he's just been dumped into the lap of someone convenient.

Anyway. This week he crossed the line, threatened Mrs. Language and received ten days suspension. My comment to Guidance Goddess was that he better be careful or the people taking care of him may just decide that he's not worth the aggravation and either call his Mom to come get him, or turn him over to State custody.

And guess what happened? Mom got tracked down, called, and "StepMom" withdrew him from school. Apparently he will now be Mom's problem. And I sincerely doubt she's capable of dealing with this child and providing him with the kind of home and attention he needs. This kid has been so unwanted for so long I fear he's got some serious mental issues by now.

Now the 2nd reason I've decided that children are mere accessories for some people is when Mrs. Eagle and I on our Power Walk (we're trying to get 30 minutes of walking in every day) we were discussing her adult son, his fiance, and the fiance's little girl (who is an adorable, smart, wonderful 6-almost-7 year old). Mrs. Eagle was bemoaning the fact that this adorable moppet gets absolutely no attention from her parents. They watch television at night while she plays, by herself, in her room with her toys. No reading. No helping with homework. No sitting around and playing with her. On weekends, they spend a lot of time hanging out with their friends and dropping this child into the laps of whomever will watch her, usually Mrs. Eagle and her husband. So they go off, drink beer, play poker, hang out on the lake, and what this child really wants is some attention from her mother and her soon to be stepdad. Instead, she's getting what little attention she gets from the folks her mother has convinced to baby sit.

So here's the question. Why do people have children if they don't plan on raising them and spending time with them? Is it simply peer pressure? Too much booze and not a condom to be found? I remember listening to Dr. Laura shows a long time ago and how annoyed people got with her when she would tell her callers that their number one priority in life isn't themselves, it's their child. I tend to agree with her on this.

If people keep throwing their children away, what kind of future are we looking at?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Mean Girls

I can't stand mean girls.

They're part of middle school life, unfortunately, and have been even way back in the dark ages when I was in middle school. And I'm sure that one reason I can't stand mean girls is because, way back when, I was often one of their targets. (It sucks being smart, pudgy and having glasses when you're in middle school).

In any case, my Fifth Period From The Depths of Hell Itself, has a mean girl who just nearly drives me over the bend. I have have tried to be nice to her, I've gone to cheerleading events to cheer her (and the others) on, I've praised her for the few times she actually does something correct, and counseled her on how she needs to work on her behavior and academics. It has, quite honestly, gone in one ear and out the other (perhaps because there's not much in the way to stop it from flying through). She's still mean, she's still a brat, and I'm so sick and tired of seeing the back of her head and her long ponytail (I won't tell you what it looks like but it has to do with a horse) because she Can't Shut Up and has to turn around and talk to everyone around her.

Today, one of the girls in her lab group cornered me before class and said she wanted me to have a meeting with her dad to discuss all that's going on in class. Considering that this is the Fifth Period From The Depths of Hell Itself, I could only imagine what she meant, but since she's one of the few good kids who spend most of the time looking like deer in the headlights while the rest of the nutballs lose their minds, I asked her to be a bit specific. Was she upset about the boys in there? The noise level? The fact that I have to write so many of them up for behavior which interfers with teaching time? What?

She was upset because Mean Girl was picking on her and being mean. After giving her a little bit of a lecture on, "how can I stop a problem if you won't even tell me about it?" (and for goodness' sake, with this crew, I'm lucky to keep them from setting the room on fire, let alone worry about namecalling), I decided this was a good chance to do some more seating changes.

I casually did a few seating changes, including Mean Girl, and was taking roll when Mean Girl and the Quiet One she was picking on started yelling at each other, the gist of it being that Mean Girl was mad that the Quiet One had tattled and now Mean Girl was getting moved and it was All Quiet Girl's Fault! (Never mind that the reason Mean Girl got moved has everything to do with her rotten behavior.) I trotted the two of them out to the hallway, and told the rest of my critters to sit tight and keep writing in their journals. I then proceeded to run Mean Girl up one side of the flagpole and down and made her salute it. I was furious with her and told them both I was doing a confrontation contract between them and if they so much as blinked at each other I'd have them both in from of Mr. Enforcer so fast that even Mean Girl's head wouldn't be able to spin fast enough. I also informed Mean Girl that she had hit the limit - she was out of behavior notes and if I so much as saw the back of her head, her out of her seat, or acting out, she'd be explaining her behavior for Mr. Enforcer.

And then I moved her next to Poop Boy.

Klepto Boys Revisited

Just when you're about to bang your head against the desk and start screaming about moral decay, something happens to give you a moment to catch your breath.

My little Klepto Boys spent two days in In School Suspension, after, of course Deputy Dog had them wailing and sobbing with visions of jail cells dancing in their heads.

Today, one of the little Klepto Boys came up to me with a little purple gift bag.

"What's this?" I ask, honestly surprised.

"It's for you," says Klepto Boy, head down.

"Well thank you," I say as I peer in and see that there's a big bag of some sort of Willie Wonka candy. "That's awful nice of you."

I didn't have a chance to really investigate it until later and when I did I found a little envelope tucked into the bag. Inside was a card with the message, scrawled in messy pencil. "I'm really sorry for stealing your candy," and Klepto Boy's signature.

There's hope.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I said No Mayo!!!

Sometimes you gotta wonder about your kids.

Mr. Social Studies is beginning his unit on Europe. He has mentioned before that one challenge when teaching a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds geography is the fact that they have such a small frame of reference. Many haven't ever left the town they live in, let alone been to another state or country. He makes an effort to do these great PowerPoints with lots of pictures and tries to tie in a lot of current event information. Anything to broaden these kids' horizons.

This week he began his unit on Europe, and started off with the United Kingdom. He showed pictures of oil platforms in the North Sea (which fascinated them for some reason), Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Stonehendge, etc. They got into a discussion about current events and he mentioned that the U.K. is our ally in the War on Terrorism and in fact, has suffered a number of terrorist events over the years, including the recent one this past July. He then poses a question to the class: "Does anyone know what it was the terrorists bombed this past July?"

Several hands go up and one student answers, "They bombed subways."

Mr. Social Studies nods in agreement and is about ready to continue the discussion when he sees a hand frantically waving in the air. It is Pink Girl, a rather bright girl prone to incredible bouts of note-writing and gossip. She rarely raises her hands, being a blurter, so Mr. Social Studies is pleased to see she's following the rules for once and calls on her.

"I'm afraid I don't get it," she says in all sincerity. "Did the terrorists not like the food?"

It took Mr. Social Studies and the class a beat or two before anyone realized that she was thinking of Subway, the sandwich shop, and not subways, the thing you ride underground.

Pink Girl was beyond pink when she realized her mistake. Fortunately, she's the type of kid who can laugh at herself and she, Mr. Social Studies, and the entire class had a good time over her little lapse of brain power.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Back in the Groove

The kids came back to school today. I managed to survive and actually didn't even start thinking about a nice glass of merlot until I got home.

Maybe I'm getting mellower with age or they weren't as bad as usual. Then again, most of them were half asleep which may account for the lack of major issues. Mrs. Langage, who often fills in for administration, was asked if she could work the huge stack of referrals that had rolled in before we left for break (remember the bottle rockets?) while the permanent sub filled in for her. The fact that at least 5 of my students were out of my classroom in In School Suspension may account for the smoothness of the day.

Apparently they worked the referrals I wrote for my little gang of thieves, and Mr. Enforcer, who had called them his office, wasn't satisfied with their level of contriteness and sent them to Deputy Dog who proceeded to scare the daylights out of them. Apparently all three were sobbing their eyes out, fearing that they'd be in handcuffs and hauled in front of a judge before the end of the day. As it was they earned 2 days in ISS.

We had three new kids roll in today, all transfers from Mrs. Eagle's team. Her team, truth be told, has the absolute kids from hell this year. They decided to remove six of them and put them on other teams in the hopes that the remaining critters would calm down and that these six would straightened up and by not being around the people who seem to encourage their bad behavior. We didn't, thank the Lord, get the worst of the bunch. In fact, out of the three, I think we got the best of the bunch. Then again, Mrs. Squirrel had called them all into her office first thing this morning when they found out they were getting a team change and apparently read them the riot acts of all riot acts. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that one.

One of these kids, as a matter of fact, has a huge amount of potential if he can overcome the fact that his mother is a crack addict. (I kid you not). He's pretty much raising himself while Mom bounces the two of them from one boyfriend's apartment to another. He's been in a lot of schools and is close to being neglected, but of course, not bad enough for mom to lose custody. His grandmother apparently called and cried to Mrs. Eagle about the situation right before Christmas (he does spend some time at her house, thank goodness). In any case, he was absolutely wonderful for me sixth period. He was polite, he raised his hand, he answered questions. He's a walker so we had a chance to talk for a bit after the bus riders were dismissed. He told me he thought he'd like it on our team and that he thought I explained things really well. "I think it's going to be good for me to be with new kids," he said.

This type of kid is why I do this. He's worth all the aggravation...let's just hope that he stays as well mannered and focused as he was today.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Goodbye Freedom!

Alas, tomorrow we head back to school. Granted, it's a teacher work day (which means no kids) which I guess is a nice way of easing us back into the groove. As usualy, I'm dreading it.

I've enjoyed sleeping in and taking naps.

I've enjoyed reading what I want to read and not what I have to read (did NOTHING towards grad school assignments and could care less).

I've enjoyed finally getting my guest room finished remodeled/decorated. Well almost...need to get some screws to hang a lamp but other than that it's good to go.

I've enjoyed actually spending time with Mr. Bluebird.

I've enjoyed knitting on a baby blanket I need to get done as a gift, despite the fact that I ripped it out and started over on it at least once.

In short, I've enjoyed doing what I damn well please. It's nice for a change.