Monday, January 29, 2007

Tournament Time!

It's basketball tournament time!!!

We aren't hosting the tournament this year so a bunch of us hoofed it down to the far reaches of the district to another middle school for the first series of games tonight. It's always a fun time with fairly large crowds (this is middle school after all, not college or even high school) and a lot of excitement. We all went tonight because, quite honestly, we weren't all that sure our teams would make it past the first round. They haven't had the best year this year, although our new boys' coach has made some huge strides with the guys - no more street ball like they're used to playing. They're playing like a team.

In fact, they got lucky and the first team they played with the one with the worst record. By the third quarter they were up by nearly 30 points. At this point Coach pulled the guys aside and made some lineup changes.

He put in the sixth graders.

Now we're talking little guys. Really little guys. Little guys who have a lot of heart, but spend most of the time on the bench because they're, well, little guys and they're only sixth graders. They have the next few years to mature into better ball players. And maybe grow a foot or two.

So Coach has the team huddled together and gives them the news. The two littlest let lose with these smiles that just light up the gym. They were playing! And they played their hearts out. They each got to try a couple of baskets (missed, but who cares?) and I was impressed that the bigger/older guys made a point to feed these two the ball. They ran and blocked and jumped and had the time of their lives.

What made it even sweeter? The rival coach realized that his team wasn't going to catch up so he did the same thing. Pretty soon the floor was full of little guys having the time of their lives.

And the crowd loved it.

The After School Gum Scraping Club

Apparently the 8th graders have lost their minds and decided that the "absolutely no gum allowed" rule does not apply to them. Everything from chomping like bovines to blowing bubbles has surfaced and the 8th grade teachers decided to lay down the law and write referrals. I think the final straw had to do with Mrs. Cool and a certain gooey substance on the bottom of her shoe - not a good thing by any measure.

Mr. Enforcer is a firm believer in having punishments fit the crime. Consequently we now have the After School Gum Scraping Club.

Teams of students are given rubber gloves and putty knives and are responsible for scraping gum (and other debris) from underneath desks and chairs for an hour after school.

We have an old building. With old furniture. And years of accumulated gum and other substances. We can keep them busy for days.

It is, in the words of the kids who cleaned up my room, "truly disgusting." Apparently three of them went into one of the sixth grade rooms today and only managed, in one hour, to clean two rows of desks it was so bad.

Mr. Enforcer reports that one of the scrapers swore he'd never chew gum again. "There's gum, gummie bears and boogers under there!"

Yup, truly disgusting.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Yesterday all faculty and staff found a special message in our mail boxes. Someone (no one knows exactly who, but it had to be someone who gets to school really, really early, or left really really late the night before) had printed out a copy of a weather report showing snow a few days in the future.

Across the top was written, "Keep the Faith"...

Teachers, in case you didn't know, like snow days even more than kids do.

Monday, January 22, 2007

They Just Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Have any of you noticed that the pencils they make and sell these days are just, well, crap?

Mrs. Math first brought it to our attention a few weeks ago at lunch. "Have any of you noticed anything weird about the pencils this year?" she asked. "I don't think they're as well made as they used to be."

We all pondered that for a moment and realized that yeah, we had noticed something weird about pencils lately. For one thing, they don't sharpen well at all. The kids will try, and try, and try to get a decent sharp point on their pencil and all they get for their efforts is a useless little nub.

Look at pencil
Look at pencil
Look at pencil
Look at pencil

...and on and on until everyone's teeth are on edge and I'm about ready to just give the kid a mechanical pencil and tell him to sit down.

And it doesn't matter what type of sharpener it is. I have an electric one and a new hand crank one, and neither one of them do a good job on some of the pencils the kids have. Of course my electric one is now starting to run on its own - with no pencil or student nearby - which is causing a bit of hysteria in some of my classes. Some kids are convinced there's a ghost in the room sharpening a ghostly pencil. If that's the case, he's using crap pencils just like the kids are.

Maybe it's the wood. I've noticed that on most of the pencils that don't sharpen well the wood is definitely lighter in color, nearly white in fact, than the pencils that sharpen well. This wood is so soft that I can pretty much pick at it and tear it apart with my fingernails. In other words, the pencil is pretty much useless.

I'm guessing that the pencils with the lighter wood, the ones that split and won't sharpen well are probably cheaper than the better made pencils. And since a lot of my students get free and reduced lunch you can bet that mom is buying them the absolute cheapest pencils she can buy in order to save money.

A pencil is a simple thing, but an absolutely vital thing for a student to have. And a pencil that won't sharpen is just useless.

I may just have to spend a bunch of my BEP money next year buying really good, reliable pencils.

And just what is the world coming to when you can't even rely on a damn pencil?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I had the wonderful experience of being ambushed by a parent today during my homeroom.

Mrs. Faraway apparently told the front office that she needed to go with her daughter to get something out of her locker. The front office, being short one secretary and dealing with a late bus, didn't think anything of it, poor dears. The locker wasn't the deal...she wanted to argue with me about a few things.

First off, she didn't like the fact that she didn't know what, exactly, we did in my class every day - this despite a weekly email that all my parents get that outline what, exactly, we're doing in class every day. This despite a posting on my website about what, exactly, we're doing in class. This despite my weekly and sometimes daily uploads to that let the parents know what, exactly, we're doing in my class.

This is apparently not good enough. In addition, her daughter apparently cannot fill out her agenda with her classwork and homework to let her mother know what she did every day.
Keep in mind this is the girl that has a look on her face as if she's a million miles away and truly doesn't seem to be connected with much of anything that's going on. Mrs. Faraway said that I should know that her daughter has these problems and that if I were a good teacher I would take the time to type out everything I write on the board, especially my classwork and assignments, and hand it to her daughter daily so that it can be stapled in her agenda and sent home.

I am aware that her daughter has these problems, I've read the IEP after all, but no where in there does it say that I have to fill out her agenda for her. Considering that is probably one of the very few things that she actually has to do in my class that involve writing, and doing something on her own, I don't think it's too much to ask that she actually does write in her agenda. After all, she gets a study guide, she gets a copy of all notes, she gets modified tests read to her, she gets copies of all the stuff the other kids write on their foldables so she can simply cut it and glue it on her foldable. In short, she's spoon fed more than any other kid in the school. In the other classes, where there is an inclusion teacher, Mommy expects that teacher to open her book, write in her agenda, and basically babysit her. And it's all because Mommy is a bully who wants us to do everything for her, and at the same time expresses the belief that Faraway Girl can grow and become independent.

Her mother is also incensed that I have the kids trade and grade workbooks, and that some "other child" graded her daughter's workbook (which was, by the way, removed from my room without permission - I don't like them to leave the room because they don't always come back). I think what really upset her is that the workbook was full of X's because, in two days of group work, her daughter actually completed 7 of 28 questions. And this is work that she had help with. In her words, "It's the teacher's responsibility to grade the papers, and you have no business letting children do it for you."

I guess I'm just a meanie who's abusing free labor...and here it is I thought I was using it as a good review tool and a way to grade 130 workbooks in ten minutes...Granted it takes me several hours to then review them and enter them in the gradebook, something Mrs. Faraway didn't want to hear.

The kick was all of this is happening in front of my homeroom class, in front of her daughter, and the kids are standing there with their mouths open. Mr. Social Studies was, thankfully, lurking outside the door in case it got really ugly and he heard most of it. I did point out that Faraway Girl could probably get more done if she quit socializing (she has, after all, discovered boys) and Mommy responded that "I've taken care of that." Really? Last I looked Faraway Girl was busy gawking at the blonde across the room and talking to her lab partner when she should have been FILLING OUT HER FREAKING AGENDA.

I finally drew the line in the sand, told her she really should take her complaints up to the office and schedule a meeting. She said she'd do that, and she left.

I feel sorry for Faraway Girl because this horror of a mother never, ever lets her do anything on her own. She has her so used to people doing things for her that she's lost the skills, if she ever had them, to even open her agenda, fill it out, or complete a worksheet.

I dashed off an email to The Principal letting her know about the ambush, and to give her a heads up.

Her response? A huge apology and the words that we all live to hear..."I've got your back."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On over-involved parents, special treatment, and bratty kids

As I've mentioned before, we have a very active parent-teacher organization at our school. They do fantastic things for the kids, the teachers, and the community overall. We have parent volunteers in our building every day, and some of the mothers (it's rarely a father, which is a shame) are at school all day long, usually in our large group instruction room where they set up the holiday stores, prepare the care baskets at Christmas, do staff luncheons, etc. I'm not sure what they're doing in there all day, but apparently they don't have jobs or anything to do at home because they're here.

And they're causing problems.

Most of the mothers are fantastic, do their thing, let us do ours, and never meddle. In fact, we had the daughter of the PTO president last year and it was wonderful - she never questioned anything we did and never expected or demanded special treatment for her daughter. However, this year we have three mothers who think they run our classrooms and the school. And since all three of their children are spoiled brats who tend to have behavior issues, it's causing some major problems, not only for us, but for The Principal who's about ready to beat her head (or someone else's) against a wall.

Case in point. These three children, Spoiled Princess Girl (who's mother actually teaches at another school so isn't a volunteer, but meddles via email), Brat Boy, and Snarly Boy never, ever eat in the cafeteria with the other students. Instead, they go to the large group instruction room where Mrs. Brat boy and Mrs. Snarly Boy will have lunch, usually a hot meal from Ruby Tuesday, O'Charley's or somewhere like that, ready for them. Our school has always had a policy that parents can come and join their children for lunch (and many do), but most of them will actually eat in the cafeteria, maybe bring a pizza, and will invite their child's friends to join in. Not this clique. See, they're special. And it's even better when the mother that's been tasked with getting lunch is late, because then the kids have lunch late, and they go back to get it...late. There have been many times we've caught these three kids goofing off, unsupervised, in the LGI room, the administration has told the parents that they can't do that, but they ignore them and do it anyway.

And then they upped the ante. Over the past few months, instead of bringing lunch every day, they decide to check the kids out and take them out for lunch. Now, we only have a half hour for lunch, and these parents aren't about to go through a drive-through (interestingly, both Mr. Brat Boy and Mr. Snarly Boy own their own businesses so there's a bit more money available than most of our kids have in their lives). Instead, they take them out for a sit-down lunch which takes at least an hour, maybe more. This means that they miss the last half of fourth period with Mrs. Reading and Mr. Social Studies, and part of my class which is fifth period. (And yes, you can bet we're keeping track of these absences and late arrivals to class.)

Any idea on what kind of message this is sending to the kids?

It's interesting to hear the comments from the other kids regarding these special lunch arrangements. They are collectively referred to as "the PTO kids", and are considered popular although they are definitely not well-liked. The kids will openly say that they think the school has different rules for the PTO kids than they do for everyone else which drives the teachers on my team just absolutely nuts.

So it was wonderful when The Principal, after about the 20th conversation with these mothers, (who basically are ignoring her) told us she'd back us 100% on any behavior or discipline issues we had with these kids. Just be sure to document, document, document.

And it's turning out into all out war, especially between Mrs. Brat Boy and the World. In her words, he's just a being a boy, he's not a behavior issue, and it's just because we don't understand him. Uhm, let's see, he never turns in his work, won't open up his book (if he brings it), won't fill out his agenda, won't bring a pencil, and, because he's relatively smart, passes, barely with a D because he can test well. He also sits in isolation in most classes because he either won't shut up or he's picking on another kid. He's been earning a few stints in ISS for disrespect towards teachers, skipping class, and a few other stunts. His mother refuses to sign any of the discipline referrals because she doesn't "agree" with them. I've actually had several conversations with Mr. Brat Boy who's told me bluntly that he completely disagrees with his wife's ideas on discipline, and implied that the boys (there's a younger one as well) are causing a riff between the two of them.


Surly Boy isn't much better. He's unpleasant towards any adult in authority. He "lost" his agenda in October, and after about the third time of me asking his mother to please get him one, she told me that he had money to buy one for over a month. The next day I had him buy one and now he conveniently leaves it at home. He also refuses to have a binder because "it's stupid". Well, gee, it may be stupid, but according to the Director of Schools, it's required. Mrs. Snarly Boy came to my class last week to drop off Snarly Boy's books (which he leaves on the kitchen table several times a week) and I asked her to schedule a meeting with the team to talk about Snarly Boy's behavior, grades, and so forth. She vented to me that he's rude to her as well, she doesn't know what to do, blah, blah, blah (maybe not baby him by bringing him his books every day he leaves them and make him face the consequences?) She said she'd make sure to schedule a meeting because she could use our help. (It has yet to be scheduled.)

The last straw was this week when Mrs. Snarly Boy and Mrs. Brat Boy came to get their kids at lunch because they had to go on vacation to Gatlinburg. Mrs. Reading asked if Snarly Boy could wait just ten minutes as he had a test to take. No, she said, it was impossible to wait ten minutes. They had to go now. Mrs. Brat Boy, again, pulled her precious child out of ISS to reward him with a visit to Gatlinburg.

The Principal was livid.

Next week should be interesting.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Carnival Time!

Wow! Talk about overachievers! Our host, I Thought I Think, already has the Carnival of Education up and available for viewing this week!

I haven't had a chance to check them all out, but I highly recommend you look at Persephone's Box and learn about kids who staple their pants to their legs and the interesting "portals to another dimension". I about fell out of my chair I was laughing so hard!


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ah, the sound of binder rings in the morning

We went back to school this past Thursday (nothing like easing everyone in with a very short week), and the kids were actually pretty well behaved. I've noticed for the past few years that Santa does something really weird over the holidays - it's as if he gives all my good kids the crazies (aka hormones) and they become nuts, and then the kids that were nuts before get something (a dose of maturity?) and they do a lot better. Interestingly enough, I didn't see any big changes in the kids, outside of some new clothes and a lot of haircuts, but time will tell.

We celebrated the New Year by cleaning out the science portion of our binders.

Binder are a Very Big Thing in our district. And getting to clean out the binders is a Very Big Thing to our students.

The binders, and the fact that Every Single Seventh Grader in the entire district is required to carry one , is an outgrowth of a program called AVID (Advancement through Individal Determination), which has been very successful in our high schools. (For more information on Avid, go here). In our high schools, AVID is actually a designated class that helps kids with organizational skills and study skills in the hopes to move these middle-of-the road kids into a higher achievement level. It's a really successful program and I've had a number of former students credit it for turning them around. Many AVID students end up going to college, something many of them may not have even considered before they entered the program.

So, a few years ago, The District decided to take some of the AVID concepts and implement them into the middle schools, with seventh grade being the focus. Our team piloted the program last year and now everyone's doing it. We did have the AVID teachers from the local high schools come down and show us what they do, and then we modified it based on the reality of seventh graders (and what we discovered last year). Face it, there are some things they are just not developmentally ready for.

The big feature of the program is The Binder. Every kid has a binder which holds EVERYTHING. No more "I left my Science folder in my locker." These binders go with the kids everywhere. There is a section for each subject, and subsections within each subject - class notes & handouts, graded & returned work, and homework. Everything is filed on top, so in theory, if a kid finished his homework, opens his binder and puts it on the very top of the science/homework section, there should be no problem locating the homework to turn it in the following day. The binder also contains paper, their agenda, a pencil pouch which holds pencils and highlighters, and class and team rules, information, etc. The agenda itself has to be filled out in a specifc way with a line for Classwork (what we did that day), and another one for Homework, which are then highlighted with different colored highlighters. Notes are taken in the Cornell Note format although those of us in the Science Department tend to use our foldable notes instead as it works better for our content (and that's another post and another day).

In short, there's a huge emphasis on organization with this program. And, truth be told, it has a lot of merit but it's been incredibly difficult to work with the kids on their binders when we don't have a dedicated class for it like the high schools do. All of which may be one of the reasons why we go to a dedicated advisory next year, but I digress.

Cleaning out their binders (which, by the way, is something the high school kids apparently never get to do) is something our kids love to do. There's something about throwing away old test and notes and homework that gives them satisfaction. I feel the same way about going through my closet and getting rid of things I never wear. I did, however, have them staple all their foldable notes together and turn them in. I file these away and then hand them back out when we review for Our Very Big Government Mandated Test. They clicked those binder rings open and closed, shuffled their papers, sorted them out, stapled and turned in.

So, I got to wondering...any of you out there use the AVID program? Comments?

Monday, January 01, 2007

I'm just a sheet cake sort of gal

As a science teacher, I'm used to doing labs that don't necessarily work out perfectly. That's part of the game, and actually ends up being a good thing because it leads to good discussions with the kids about why something didn't go as planned. I think they learn more that way.

However, as a cook, I'm not used to failures. Especially big grand failures. But oh, I had a humdinger of a failure for New Year's.

When we go over to the Littlebird's, I often bring dessert. Not that I'm any great baker, I actually like cooking main dishes more, but because it's easier to bring a dessert than, say, a pot roast. And I like to do desserts because there's usually a recipe I'd like to try, and it gives me a good excuse.

Iin the November, 2006 issue of Southern Living magazine, they had this recipe for a banana cake. Mr. Bluebird loves banana pudding and banana bread and this looked like a fun recipe to try. The picture was gorgeous - a triple layered cake with chunks of banana and gooey white frosting between the layers, all topped by more snowy white gooey frosting.

The batter was easy, the baking went fine, I made my three round cake layers, cooled them, whipped up the butter cream frosting, cut the banana slices, tossed them in lemon juice, drained them, got out my grandma's depression glass cake plate, and began to assemble my cake.

And this is where it all went wrong.

I put the first layer on the cake plate, added the 1/2 cup of frosting (just like the recipe said), topped that with a layer of 1/4" banana slices (just like the recipe said), frosted another layer and inverted it (just like the recipe said), and repeated (just like the recipe said). In other words, I did everything exactly like the recipe said to do it.

By the time I'd stacked my three layers and was ready to do the overall frosting I realized that we had a problem.

The banana slices didn't want to stay put in between the layers.

At all.

They were migrating from in between the layers to the edge, then creeping down the sides. I'd push in a banana piece, and another one would squirt out on the opposite side of the cake. The cake itself was starting to lean precariously. I secured it with some bamboo skewers. The motion was too great and the cake simly kept moving, taking the skewers with it. By this time the cake, which should have had lovely, smooth sides, looked like it had warts as the bananas were popping out and sliding down the sides, and creeping across the cake plate.

This was not going to work.

And I didn't have time to run to the market and make something else.

So I improvised.

I took a deep square glass baking dish, picked up the cake and sliding bananas off my lovely cake plate, dumped it in the dish and basically threw the remaining frosting and bananas on top. It looked like a rather odd shaped mountain with boulders sticking out all over the place. If I'd been clever, and not just annoyed, I would have rigged up a ski lift with toothpicks and thread.

I took what I was now calling "Banana Mash Cake" (because it was sort of just mashed there in the dish) to the Littlebird's and told them the entire story. Between the deer and the baking disaster, it wasn't my day, but it turned out okay in the end. The cake tasted great (and was best served with a large spoon) and hopefully the car repairs won't be too expensive.

But I don't think I'm ever going to try a layer cake again.

2006 Out with a Crash!

Mr. Bluebird and I went over to our friends' the Littlebirds for New Years. We spend a lot of holidays with the Littlebrids, probably because none of us have any family locally. (Poppa Bluebird already went home, about three hours away, after spending most of Christmas week with us). In any case, these evenings tend to be a whole lot of fun. We eat, we play board games (Scattegories and Scene It were the two we played last night), and we just have a lot of laughs and a grand time.

Of course Mr. Bluebird and I had to start the evening out by hitting a deer in my precious Saturn.

We were driving along a rather busy road, heading to the Littlebird's, when a deer just appeared out of nowhere. Mr. Bluebird braked, we bumped the deer, and we pulled over and stopped to check the damage. The hood was dented and the bumber, which is fiberglass was cracked. Nothing else appeared to be wrong - lights were fine, the car ran fine, in fact it wasn't as bad as it could be.

Like the time Mr. Bluebird hit a deer and the airbags deployed and the insurance company totalled his van...

The best we can determine that deer had come charging out from between two houses and just ran in front of us. Considering the traffic on that street, it's amazing more cars didn't get involved when we had to hit the brakes.

So, we got to the Littlebird's, I called the police to do a police report (my insurance company likes police reports), and called the insurance company.

What a way to end 2006!