Saturday, April 28, 2007

Of Algae, S'Mores, Sunburns and Screaming 7th Graders - a Wrap up

So what did I learn from our field trip?

Quite a lot actually.

I learned that this generation of kids is not as familiar with the great outdoors as we are. I grew up in a city but I still had chances through scouting and visits to grandma's farm, to experience things like campfires and shooting stars and fishing. Many kids these days don't even get to go outside and play because there's no safe place to do so. I find this to be horribly sad.

I learned that many things we take for granted are new and different for these kids. It never occurred to me that there were kids who never had a s'more, who never sat by a campfire, who never rode a boat, or walked in the woods, or looked at a wildflower, or just sat looking at the sky at night.

I learned that I made the right decision to leave the corporate world and go into teaching because I never once got the type of satisfaction in business that I got from the look on a kid's face when he caught a crawdad in a net.

Moments that stuck in my mind:

Having a kid tell me that she's never had a s'more before and thanking us for giving her the chance to have one. (She loved it by the way).

Seventh grade girls like to play beauty shop just like we did. When I showed up in the dorm with my hair wet from having just washed it, they all wanted to comb it out and mess with it. I let them.

I had one girl tell me she couldn't remember the last time she actually ate three meals in one day. She was astonished at the amount of food she was given to eat. How sad that there are so many kids out there who consider three squares a day a rarity.

Looking out at the kids when I was telling ghost stories and watching the looks on their faces. I had them in the palm of my hand. Now if I could only do that every day in the classroom.

The look on the kid's faces when they put on their life vests and got on the boat nearly brought a tear to my eyes...their smiles were HUGE.

Watching the kids play with algae and realize that nature is fun, science is cool, and there's nothing so green as algae!

Watching one of my homeroom kids take off on the orienteering course like a gazelle let loose at the zoo. That was, by far, his favorite activity. I could give him a compass tomorrow and tell him to go find something and he'd be out the door.

So did it change the kids we took?

Yup. It did.

They seem a little more mature, a little more calm. They seemed to have found an inner strength in some respects. They take a little more pride in what they're doing.

I handed out progress reports this week and one of my homeroom kids that went on the trip needs to pull his grade up. I handed him his progress report and before I could say anything he said, "I can do a lot better than that." I agreed. "I know you can," I said. "Yeah, I know I can too," he said, and he smiled at me. He's never been that self-assured before.

Not one of them bragged about being able to go on the trip. They seemed to realize that what they received was something special but not something to use to lord it over their classmates who didn't go.

The most interesting thing is how they're relating to us, their teachers.

They don't swing by us and enter the room and then go chat with their friends. They're stopping. They're talking with us, asking us what's going on, how's the day going, what's new? They smile a lot more. I'll be doing a lesson and look up and find one of the kids from the trip looking at me, we'll lock eyes, and they'll smile. They won't look away. When class is over, kids who never once said a word are now saying "goodbye, see you tomorrow" before they leave. They're telling us about their day, about what they did at home, about a problem they're having with another kid or a class or just life in general.

One of the most amazing changes is in how some of the kids view Mr. Social Studies. He's not the warm, cuddly type of teacher - 26 years in law enforcement sort of erased any cuddliness he may have had at one time. He's a disciplinarian with high expectations and he's the teacher the kids love to hate. Later, after they've moved on to 8th grade and beyond they will sometimes come back and thank him for working them so hard and making them think, but during seventh grade most of the kids just can't stand him.

Except now the kids on the trip are bragging about how awesome he is. In my Third Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, one of the Losers made the mistake of making some sort of crack about Mr. Social Studies, which riled up some of the boys who were on our trip. They proceeded to inform everyone that Mr. Social Studies is truly awesome, that his class is cool, and if you would only pay attention you'd figure out how cool he is.


They're connecting.

The Principal has announced that her focus next year, and therefore the focus of our school, is going to be on building relationships. We did that this past weekend.

And it's created a little bit of magic for 32 kids and six grown ups.

And I'm glad we did it. So very, very glad.

Of Algae, S'Mores, Sunburns and Screaming 7th Graders, Part V

On our last morning of camp, Coach decided to forgo the early morning exercise session for the boys and instead gave them another life lesson - on how to vacuum.

One of the rules at camp was that everyone had to help clean up and that included vacuuming the dining area after each meal. The kids weren't wild about this, but most of them figured out that the quicker they got it done the quicker they could go outside and mess around. Some of the boys, however, were overhead saying that they couldn't help because they didn't know how to vacuum.

Coach took care of that. He marched the boys to the dining hall, gave them each a section of floor, did a brief run through on how to operate a vacuum, and then they each had to complete their section before they could go outside. Another life lesson learned.

Each of our three groups had one more session to do before we packed up, cleaned the dorms, and left to go home. Our group finished the second part of the Challenge Course.

Challenge Courses go by different names, and different organizations operate them, but the basic idea is to have a group of people think outside the box to solve problems as a group. One of the goals of this trip was to develop some leadership skills in our students and this course was one of the tools we used to do this.

And it worked.

The group that I was with had a variety of different kids - boys and girls of different races, different backgrounds, different academic ability, and different economic levels. The only thing they really have in common is the fact that they have the same five teachers for seventh grade. Watching this team of twelve kids work together to solve a problem was fascinating. We saw a different side of these kids and they saw a different side of each other and of themselves.

I won't go into detail on what the course activities were (it would give away some of the solutions to the problems if I did), but suffice it to say that they were fun and challenging. The best part for Mrs. Language and I was listening to them talk with each other to solve the problems. They listened, made suggestions, tossed out ideas, tried things, regrouped when needed. It was amazing. What was almost as amazing is what didn't happen.

They didn't argue. They didn't criticize. They didn't disregard anyone's idea as "stupid". They didn't give up. They didn't call names. They didn't tease.

They were wonderful.

Mrs. Language looked at me at one point and whispered, "this is what it's all about." I couldn't agree more.

The rest of the morning was spent packing, cleaning, and loading up the bus. The kids were tuckered out, and so were the adults. The ride home was significantly quieter than the ride up. In fact, from our position in the front of the bus, we could look back and see 32 heads slumped against the seats, mouths open, eyes closed.

One of our girls roused herself and saw me looking back. "Mrs. Bluebird," she yelled over the noise, "can you tell us another ghost story?"

"Maybe some other time when it isn't so loud," I hollered back. She smiled, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.

We got back to school to find several parents already waiting for us. A few thanked us for giving them a weekend off, others thanked us for giving their kids the chance to do something new. Many of the kids gave us big hugs (and a handshake to Mr. Social Studies) and told us thank you.

It was an awesome experience for all of us. And we were somewhat sad to see it end.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Where's the Common Sense When You Need it The Most?

It was Field Day today and during the volleyball tournament, Mrs. Language and I took a quick trip to the bathroom and mailboxes which are just behind guidance. We figured we'd better take the opportunity before we all headed outside and wouldn't get a chance. We'd be too busy trying to keep 425 seventh graders from losing their minds.

While we were there we noticed two of our troublemakers from last year sitting there, along with a boy that Mrs. Eagle had last year. They didn't look happy. In fact, they seemed to be squirming quite a bit in their seats. On of ours had his hands clasped tightly in his lap and seemed to be biting his lip. Fabio Boy was there and his feet were bouncing up and down.

I swung by to give the Guidance Goddess a greeting and to ask how her day was going. "Oh it's going great!" she exclaimed. "Come here and see all these referrals!" she says as she hands me one from the top and sort of backs me up around the corner into the teachers lounge. It's obvious she's trying to tell me something without the kids in the office figuring it out.

Mrs. Language comes up and we both look at the referral on the top stack. It's for one of our goofballs from last year. I look down at the incident description. "X disrupted the class due to putting Icy Hot on his genitals."

My eyes must have popped out of my head. I look over at Mrs. Language and her mouth is hanging open with one of those "What the hell?" looks on her face.

Guidance Goddess can barely contain herself. "Yup, they decided to go into the bathroom and put on some Icy Hot and by the time they got to class they were, ahem, feeling the pain."

Mrs. Language and I literally doubled up with silent laughter - the boys, after all, were right outside in the lobby. We both ended up wiping tears from our eyes. What on earth possessed them to do something so incredibly stupid???

So there they sat...

Squirming in their seats.

Tapping their feet.

And biting their lips.

Because that had to really, really, really hurt!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Of Algae, S'mores, Sunburns and Screaming 7th Graders, Part IV

I love Mrs. Language. Mrs. Language brought along her own coffee pot so we could have coffee in our room. This is a girl who knows how to do mornings.

It's six in the morning, the girls are beginning to stir and Mrs. Language and I are in our jammies imbibing in the first cuppa of the day. The fact that we both tend to look like something chewed on our hair all night, had no make-up and were in our jammies was a fact not lost on our little darlings. They were just astounded and somewhat amazed that they saw their teachers - yes! - in jammies, with no make-up, with hair sticking out everywhere.

Whatever. They looked pretty goofy too.

Mrs. Language peers out the glass doors to see what the weather is looking like outside.

"Oh my gosh," she hisses. "You have got to see this!"

I go to the door and look out to see Mr. Social Studies, hands clasped behind him like a drill sergeant, watching our sixteen boys as Coach was leading them through calisthenics. They looked like sleepy little puppets as they flopped and jumped and staggered around in the early morning mist.

You had to love it. Apparently they woke the boys up at 5:30 that morning, rousted them out of their bunks, and put them through their paces.

And all that before breakfast!

After breakfast we broke into our three groups and sent each group off to work on their day's activities. I tagged along with Mrs. Language and the group that had the highest number of our loudest kids - including three kids from My Third Period Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself (but definitely members of the Non-Loser Minority). Our first assignment that morning was the class on wilderness survival. They learned how to put together an emergency survival kit, what to do when if they get lost, and how to build a shelter. They then got to go outside to an area in the woods and actually build a shelter using branches and limbs. The girls got organized and working together built a very nice, study, and large shelter with very few openings for rain. They even pulled in a log or two to sit on as furniture, and put sunglasses on the roof to act as reflectors for search and rescue teams flying overhead.

The boys put together a circular shelter around a large tree that featured openings so they could shoot at serial killers and bears, but would also allow rain and snow to enter the shelter.

I think the boys play too many video games and watch way too many weird movies.

Our next assignment was the Lake Study (which was my second time around and even better this time). After lunch we did an orienteering course which was an eye opener for all of us. For some reason, maybe because these are only 7th graders, I had the impression that the orienteering course was going to be fairly easy.

I was wrong.

We all got instructions on how to use a compass, how to target your heading, find a point, and walk to it. We were then divided into teams of three kids per adult, and were each given a different colored map. The goal was to find six locations (painted coffee cans) in one hour and to punch our map with the puncher at each can.

And not get lost.

We went to the starting point, the ranger checked our headings and off we went. Up hills. Down hills. Up ridges. Down ravines. Over logs. Through thickets. Into bushes with stickers. Up more hills. Up even more hills.

I had to give my girls credit. They were troopers. We found our first two cans with little difficulty, but the third one was not being cooperative. By this time we had nearly emptied our water bottles, my bad knee (which I twisted slightly on the first day by nearly tripping over a backpack) was acting up, and my girls were starting to slow down a bit. We looked at our watches and decided we didn't have time to continue looking for the rest of the cans, so we found one of the hiking trails that would take us back to the rendezvous point and headed back.

And found the elusive third can off to our left a few paces down the trail. We must have walked by that stupid can a dozen times looking for it!

By this time it was mid-afternoon, hot, and the kids were whining about how they wanted to go swimming. However, we had the Stream Study to do, so we loaded them up in the van, and drove to a nearby stream where our guide handed us all nets and we began to look at the species of organisms that lived in this stream.

This meant taking off our shoes and socks, rolling up those pant legs, and wading into the stream. Some of the kids (and teachers, thank goodness) actually remembered to pack extra shoes that could get wet for this very reason. I'm glad I brought my shoes because the streambed was really rocky and I'm not exactly good at walking across sharp rocks.

The stream area itself was lovely with trees bending overhead with new growth on them, although many suffered horribly in our late hard frost of a few weeks ago. There were ferns and moss along the banks, and wildflowers scattered around. Pretty soon the kids were busy splashing in the water, finding crawdads and fish in their nets. It didn't take them long to get soaking wet, and they all looked like bedraggled refugees from a disaster film. They had an absolute blast, however, and were such great little scientists. We spent well over an hour working our way up and down the stream, and we had a fantastic time. Kids who hadn't really been friends before the trip were now bent over a net checking out the crawdads, rocks and plant life they'd caught.

I was certain that they'd be beat by the time we returned to camp, but they weren't. In the hour to kill before supper they went out and played basketball, picked up rocks by the lake, and tossed a football around.

After supper, as soon as it got dark, we had a campfire for them and made s'mores. They decided to cap off the evening by a game of night tag where they ran around in the semi-dark (there were parking lot lights nearby) and chased each other silly.

But they weren't worn out yet.

Some of the girls wanted me to tell them ghost stories, and we ended up (I don't remember how) in a seating area in the conference center. I've collected ghost books and ghost stories for years and even do a ghost talk on Civil War ghosts for Civil War roundtables, so I was able to pull out a lot of these stories from my memory. I started with four girls, and pretty soon I looked up and nearly all the kids were there.




I'd stop a story and they'd yell, "tell another one!" and I'd remember another one to tell them. Of course, seeing as how most of them were Civil War ghost stories I had to throw in a history lesson as well, so they may have actually learned something. I finally ran out of stories, it was late, and we all wandered back to the dorms to go to bed.

The boys were dragging their feet and were asleep within minutes.

The girls, darn them, had hit a second wind and we didn't get them settled down until nearly midnight.

One more day to go...Boo!

Carnival Time!

The weather's fine and it's time for the Education Carnival! Some great stuff here this week so be sure to check it out!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Of Algae, S'mores, Sunburns, and Screaming 7th Graders Part III

One of the things we had scheduled for the first night was a night hike, guided by two of the rangers. Some of the kids, those who were pretty much city-bred, were not wild about the idea of taking a hike, in the dark, without flashlights.

They also were having a heard time being really, really quiet.

The idea was to help them learn about how animals survive in the night. We didn't use flashlights so that they could let their eyes adjust and acquire their night vision. We whispered and listened quietly to the sounds of the forest in the night. We had them use their sense of smell to see if they could identify objects the ranger handed them.

We split the groups into boys and girls and Mrs. Language and I went with the boys who were a bit wound up. We found out later that they'd located a soda machine and were sneaking pops and energy drinks until we put a fake "out of order" sign on it.

Pretty soon, however, they were surprised at how much they could see and at how bright the moon was and how many stars there were. Our guide took us to a clearing and we played a tag game, in the dark, with one kid as the owl and the others as mice. The owl was blindfolded and the mice had to be as quiet as possible and sneak by the owl. This worked pretty well until some of the mice decided that throwing a water bottle at the owl would distract him and they could sneak by. The owl, fortunately, was fairly good natured even when the water bottle bonked him in the head.

The high point of the hike for them was getting to chew Wintergreen Lifesavers in the dark and watching them spark in each other's mouths. Talk about cool!

After we returned to the camp, we gave them a snack and tried to get them quieted down for bed. It was past ten, they'd been up, most of them, since six, and we were hoping to get them settled down and to sleep. After all, the grown ups were pretty tired as well.

The girls settled down fairly quickly (amazing) but the boys were another story.

They paid for it the following day however. Unbeknown to them, Coach had brought his megaphone. Morning was going to come very early for them.

Of Algae, S'mores, Sunburns, and Screaming 7th Graders Part II

One thing we all have learned in working with seventh graders is that you really can't afford to give them much, if any, down time. Down time means they get in trouble, or have the potential to get in trouble. The goal is to wear them out so they're awake enough to participate, but tired enough to not cause any mischief.

We succeeded in this goal.

After unpacking we met for a brief orientation, split the kids into three groups (their teams for the weekend) and started in on our first activity. I went with on group on the Lake Study which was something I was interested in anyway, since I happen to be a Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) facilitator and since this was sort of science oriented. Of course the kids were, at first, less than enthused about a Lake Study. After all, how fun could this be?

Pretty darn fun, they found out.

We took a huge net and dragged a portion of the lake to find out what types of organisms we would find. This involved a few kids holding one end of the net on shore, while our guide went out into the lake (gotta love those waterproof coveralls) and swung the net around and back to shore. All the kids had to help pull it ashore and then we went through the contents which consisted of an amazing amount of algae (unusual, according to our guide).

The kids loved the algae. We had to sort through it to find fish, then chuck what we didn't need back into the water. The kids took to this like you wouldn't believe. Kids I never thought would even touch the stuff are elbow deep in algae, marveling at its bright green color, its texture, how it dries on their skin, and how funny it smells. One girl was so impressed with algae that she still hasn't stopped talking about it. Nearly all the kids mentioned that they'd never touched algae before.

We found quite a few smaller fish which we put into buckets of water and the kids got to touch and handle before we freed them back into the lake. This was new for them as well.

We then all got into life vests and went out into the middle of the lake on a pontoon boat and took some water samples. We tested for nitrates, ph, phosphates, clarity, and dissolved oxygen. We took Secchi Disks and used those as well to see how far down into the lake we could see.

The best part? Our guide gave each of them a chance to drive the boat. At this point I asked them how many of them had ever been on a boat before. Two hands went up. I then asked how many of them had driven a boat before. No hands went up. The looks on their faces was just priceless as they steered the boat around the lake. After we returned to the dock and headed up for dinner I asked my group if the Lake Study was as boring as they thought it was going to be.

"No!" they shouted. To a kid, they all wanted to go again. I had to remind them that they had five other activities to do this weekend. That seemed to placate them but they all agreed that nothing could be as cool as the Lake Study.

They were wrong.

But What If They See Red?!

We have seventh grade field day scheduled for this Friday (weather permitting). As per tradition, each of the three seventh grade teams wears either red, white or blue to indicate which team they are on. Events include volleyball, kickball, tug of war, and quite a few others which serves to keep our kids busy the entire day. On my white board is message regarding the events as well as a reminder to wear a red shirt on Friday.

Today, while I'm introducing and discussing our final Severe Weather Project, Doughboy raises his hand. Now, regular readers of this blog know that any teacher who calls on Doughboy is taking a gamble because we never, ever, know what will come out of Doughboy's mouth. Foolish me, I forgot this, and called on Doughboy.

"Why do we have to wear red?" he asks. I stop going over the assignment and explain about the red shirts on field day. Now with almost any other kid I would have been a bit annoyed that we were straying far off topic, but we've learned that Doughboy just lives in a bit of an alternate reality. My answer, however, seems to satisfy him so we get back to the weather.

Doughboy, however, raises his hand again and I, like an idiot, call on him.

"What about the bulls?" he asks.

"The bulls?" I ask. I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. The rest of the kids in class have all perked up and are listening intently.

"The bulls! They like red! Will we be safe from the bulls?" Doughboy queries. He's obviously concerned and just a tad upset. It dawns on me that he's talking about bull, as in big cow with horns.

"Doughboy have you ever seen any bulls here at school?"

"No, but we have lots of farms around here and I don't think we should wear red because of the bulls!"

At this point the entire class is choking back laughter. They never out and out laugh when it comes to Doughboy because they're used to his questions. They just sort of cover their faces and try be as quiet as they can. I tend to respect them for this tiny bit of kindness.

I decided it was pointless to try to explain to Doughboy that our school is in an older part of town, surrounded by subdivisions and shopping centers and the closest farm is quite a bit away. I simply reassured him that we would make sure that all the bulls were taken away and that he would be quite safe from them during field day. That seemed to placate him.

For now.

I may have to come up with some magical charm for him to wear to keep the bulls away. After all, this is a kid who wears a magical lanyard (with frogs on it) and a special key to keep the dead people out of his gym locker. (The Principal came up with the magic lanyard idea.)

Still, as messed up as this poor child is, he does touch your heart. According to Mrs. Language, he volunteered to read his journal today (a rare event) and answered the question "what are you looking forward to about going into the 8th grade?"

His response was that he didn't want to go to eighth grade. He wanted to stay with us in seventh grade because for the first time, he had teachers that loved him.

How could you not love this goofy little guy?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Of Algae, S'mores, Sunburns, and Screaming 7th Graders Part I

Our goal, when we came up with this wild idea of a "wilderness weekend", was to provide our students, many of them from broken and/or low income homes, with opportunities to do things they've never had the chance to do before. It was a lot of work putting it together, and Mrs. Language, bless her heart, did the bulk of it and did a fantastic job with it. We had the full support of The Principal because she believes that anything we do that is child-centered, that will help our kids, is a good thing.

Still, many people, including us, thought we might be just a little bit crazy.

And at 10:30 on Friday morning, in a bus full of screaming 7th graders, we thought they just may be right.

We weren't due to check in to the camp until around 3:00 pm, so we had time to do a tour of an 1850's homestead nearby. We broke the kids into two groups and toured the farm, which was a fairly new experience for many of them. Big revelation for them was that there wasn't any indoor plumbing, and hence no bathroom. The lesson that at 13, most of them would already know how to run their own household or farm was a big eye-opener for them as well. Many of them thought that the oxen were pretty impressive because they were so big and the sheep were also high on the popularity list.

We had brought along sack lunches which we ate there in a picnic area along side a little creek.
Lunch was gobbled down and pretty soon half the kids were wading through the creek while the other half had put together a football game using an apple as a ball. I've spent most of the year looking at these kids in a classroom so it was a real change to see them outside playing. First thing that occurred to me was how much energy these kids had to burn. It was almost exhausting just watching them yell and run and scream and jump.

We made it to camp on time, checked in at the desk, got the keys to the dorms and prepared to move everyone in. The kids were waiting, bags and sleeping bags on the ground, bouncing around, eager to get going. We gave the all clear to move into the dorms and the stampede down the hill to the dorms was a sight to see. I found out later that they were running to be the first to get a top bunk. It probably took them sixty seconds to get everything moved in. Bags flew, sleeping bags unrolled, kids screamed and giggled and laughed!

Funny, but at my age, I would have been running to get a bottom bunk!

It's late now, and I'm still not recovered, so I'll sign off. More to come!

A Small Victory for the Non-Losers

If you recall, my Third Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, has sort of divided itself into two camps, the so-called Losers (the kids who constantly are causing trouble) and the Non-Losers (the ones who actually are trying to learn). Recently the Non-Losers got fed up and began asking me if there was anyway I could arrange to have the Non-Losers expelled, transferred, and so forth. One particular target was Cast Boy, probably the most annoying oxygen-thief in the room.

They gained a small victory today.

Towards the very end of class, I was showing a few pictures of our camping trip when one of the kids, Toeless Boy, recognized the conference center in the pictures.

"Hey, that's from my church camp!" he said. No one responded so Toeless Boy, who thrives on any type of attention, even negative, decided to say it again. After all, this is a kid who was born without one big toe, wears sandals (the only boy on the team who does) and then complains that the kids are picking on him because he only has one big toe. No one responds, so for the third time he proclaims that it looks like his church camp.

"Oh shut up!" yells Cast Boy.

One of the things that I don't tolerate is kids telling each other to shut up. So I got after Cast Boy about it.

And Cast Boy wanted to argue.

And argue some more.

And I warned him that it wasn't open for discussion and he needed to watch his mouth and be quiet.

So he argued that point as well.

So I wrote him a referral which he absolutely refused to sign.

By this point I'm secretly smiling inside because this could be worth maybe a day in ISS. That's a day without this rude, obnoxious twerp ruining it for everyone. I walked it over to the Enforcer, reminded him of my special Third Period Rules, and he said he'd handle it. In the meantime, Mrs. Language reported that many of these same kids entered her 4th period class all a-twitter because I'd written Cast Boy up. They were discussing the fact that maybe he'd get in trouble and would be out of class for a while.

The Enforcer granted their wish. Cast Boy is in ISS for a week.

The other kids will be ecstatic.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Of Algae, S'mores, Sunburns, and Screaming 7th Graders

This past fall our team got the bright idea that it would be really great if we could take our kids to a local national forest area for a camping weekend. Actually, it's not camping with tents (there's dorms and showers and even food service) but it's in the woods, by a lake, and it offers some great educational opportunities. Due to space, and finances, we couldn't take the entire team (and truth be told, there were a few kids we didn't want to be out in the woods with), so we had to narrow it down to 32 kids - sixteen boys and sixteen girls. We had them write an essay about why they should go and were looking for leadership ability, kids who may not be the top students but who had shown some growth and maturity, and kids who could use a weekend with some positive role models. In short, kids we were hoping would turn out to be leaders in the 8th grade.

Many people thought we were crazy. At times, we agreed. But we'd made the commitment, the plans were made, the kids were hyped up.

This was the weekend.

We left at 10:00 am on Friday and returned at 2:00 pm on Sunday.

For the mathematically challenged, that is 52 hours - straight - with 32 seventh graders.

I am exhausted.

More to I am going to bed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Children Are Not Accessories, or a Tale of Some Real SAP's.

Children are not accessories.

That seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?

Apparently a lot of people haven't quite figured this out. I've had this discussion before, on this blog, and with others in the field of education, but there are times I feel like we need to shout this from the highest mountain top, or perhaps take an ad out during a showing of Survivor or American Idol, because, apparently, that's all some parents are interested in these days.

Children are not accessories.

They are not something you have because everyone else has one, or because your parents are pressuring you into giving them a grandkid, or because you think it will save a relationship, or because you want something to call your own, or because you think it will give you a weapon to wield over someone, or because you were too damn stupid to say no when you were drunk one night and you weren't thinking clearly. They aren't something you can dump on others to raise while you cavort and carry on, pursue a career, or get yourself together. They aren't something you can hide away, neglect, or ignore. They are work, they require time and patience, and if you aren't going to provide them with this, you are going to be in for a world of misery, heartache, and anger.

We have a student I'll call Neglected Boy. Neglected Boy is actually a charming kid, with a big smile, and an outgoing personality. He apparently was a bit of a handful last year, and was non-academically promoted to the seventh grade. He is definitely capable of being successful.

If someone cared enough to see that he was, that is.

See, Neglected Boy has a father who has a successful job and who travels a lot on business and is rarely home. His mother also has a job that takes her away, often overnight and for extended periods of time as well. This family is not hurting financially. At the beginning of the year there was a nanny who signed some of the paperwork that we sent home to be signed for a parent. In short, the parents aren't home. A thirteen-year old and a five year old younger brother are, essentially, raising themselves.

Earlier in the fall we began to notice things - Neglected Boy would often wear the same clothes for days in a row, and in fact, many of his clothes were ill-fitting, torn, and too small. We sent him to guidance to get some clothes from our donation closet. Neglected Boy would also
come to school in need of a bath and a haircut. He would also occasionally ask us to borrow money for lunch as his parents forgot to give him any to put into his account. His behavior could be good, often times was not, and he never, ever did any school work. If he brought a pencil, we considered it a good day. He has, all year, failed all five academic classes. He was s-teamed and the gist of it was that he was a good kid, capable, but who was getting no support at home.

It was apparent to us that this was a kid crying out for attention, and one who wasn't getting it at home. Mr. Social Studies tried numerous times to call home. He left messages, none of which were returned. I did the same. We sent home letters. We never got a response. We never could get them to provide us with a parent email so we could at least communicate that way.

One day Mr. Social Studies knocked on my door, said he'd watch my class because Neglected Boy was being dismissed so someone must be in the front office to pick him up. The idea was that I'd try to set up a parent meeting at that time. I went up, met Mr. Neglected Boy, introduced myself and tried to set up a meeting.

"I'm too busy to come by," he said.

"You do realize that he's in danger of failing again this year, don't you?" I asked him.

He stared at the ceiling, obviously bored with this conversation. "Yeah, whatever, I just don't have the time," he said again - in front of his son, who was kicking at the tiles, and looking at the floor.

"Can you set up an appointment when you return from your business trip?" I asked. "Any time or day would work."

"Yeah, maybe. I'll call when I get back," he said as he turned to go to the door. Needless to say, he never called.

Mrs. Language did get him on the phone a few months later, when she was filling in as an administrator and working on a suspension for Neglected Boy who had done something stupid (I can't even remember what) and he was less than excited to be talking with her. "Look, he said, "I don't care about meeting with you because I don't care about his academics. That's not my problem." Mrs. Language decided that this father was a perfect example of a SAP - a Stupid Assed Parent. We all agreed.

One day Neglected Boy actually started talking a bit about his home life with Mr. Social Studies and Mrs. Math and we put a few more facts together and realized that the nanny was gone and there was no adult home with Neglected Boy and his little brother. We made a DCS call, they responded (promptly, which surprised us), and they had the same problems we had trying to get into contact with an adult. Neglected Boy was assigned a caseworker, and his mother went nuts, and set up a meeting with the Guidance Goober....and never showed.

Today, at lunch, Neglected Boy walked by The Enforcer and the Enforcer's radar went up. He smelled alcohol. Deputy Smooth and The Enforcer pulled Neglected Boy aside, and he admitted to drinking. He had a water bottle in his locker but it wasn't full of water. Rumor has it he confessed to not only having the alcohol, but also some pot in his locker as well. I'm not sure what the outcome will be on this, but he's gone for the rest of the school year.

This is a kid who has been crying out for attention all year. We have tried, and tried, and tried to get the parents to talk to us, to show that they care, to realize that they have a great kid here, but one who needs guidance, attention, love and support - and they shut us out. They are not interested. I have seen people lavish more attention and care on their pets than these people spend on their child. All of us have tried to counsel this child, to make him realize that he would have to make the decisions to change his life, but we couldn't follow him home, make sure he had a hot meal, or got to bed on time, or did his homework, or even had a hug.

So now these parents have a kid with an alcohol problem, a kid who's failed all his classes - again-, and a kid who's going to be up in front of a judge for, at the minimum, a citation for having alcohol in school. If something doesn't happen, and fast, this is a kid who's looking at a lifetime of misery, and all of it, in my opinion, is the result of being nothing more than an accessory for the people who brought him into this world.

And I can't begin to tell you how angry this makes me.

By Golly, It's Carnival Time!

In the seemingly never-ending flurry of testing, grading, and managing, it's nice to go hang out at the carnival for a few hours. Be sure to sit down and check out this week's edition, hosted by DY/DAN. I'm sure you'll find something interesting and downright entertaining!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Excuse me while I rearrange my paper clips.

Two days down, two days to go of the Very Big Deal State Mandated Tests.

There truly is nothing more boring than three hours of watching kids take a test. Honestly. I'd almost rather watch paint dry. After all, paint does change colors as it dries. These kids just look more cranky as time goes by.

For some of our kids, namely the ones diagnosed with ADHD, it's absolute torture to have to sit still and quiet for the time it takes to administer these tests. You can almost see their skin crawl as they wiggle and squirm and try to be as quiet as they can without losing their minds. I wonder if it's something like watching a drug addict go through withdrawals. I suspect it is.

At least I can walk around, hand out a tissue here and there, pass out a newly sharpened pencil, and check my email once in a while. But still, jeez, there's only so much you can do and still keep on eye on these critters.

So by the time first period actually rolled around and we were through with the test, I was ready to get out of the classroom.

Consequently, I did an outside activity where the kids had to be water molecules and move through 9 stations - clouds, plants, rivers, groundwater, etc. - which got us all outside, got them running, and actually worked as a review for their science portion of the test tomorrow. Even the kids who normally don't do much except suck in air were participating, but hey, we were outside, we had a chance to run off some pent-up energy, and it didn't bother anyone. It was a nice change of pace.

Mr. Enforcer came by while we were running around in the courtyard area behind my room and shook his head. "Okay, what are they doing?" he asked.

"They're water molecules moving through the water cycle," I say as several kids squeal, roll the dice at their station, write down their destination, and trot off to the next station. "Or, to be more specific, I'm trying to burn off their extra energy so they don't drive us crazy all week."

"Good move," he said.

I'll say. On Thursday Mrs. Eagle and I are taking them out with frisbees. Our lesson plan states that we'll be preparing them for 8th grade science by introducing them to velocity and motion.

Yeah, whatever. As long as they're burning off energy, I'll find a way to justify it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Off With Their Heads!

My Third Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself is beginning come apart at the seams.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

If you recall, my Third Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself has a set of special rules. It also has a very interesting group of kids who seem to attract trouble like magnets. If a kid is a behavior problem, has been non-academically promoted, is "visiting" from the emotionally disturbed unit, has a probation officer, or just ingests too much sugar and caffeine on a regular basis, that kid is probably in this class. Like I said before, I feel sorry for the other half of the class who actually care about learning and are getting fed up with the antics of the "losers" (their word, not mine) that continually cause the entire class to get into trouble.

This group of kids, the non-Losers so to speak, are starting to get absolutely, totally, irrevocably pissed off at the Losers. They are ready to revolt.

On Wednesday the class was beyond horrible. I was attempting to do a cell review bingo game using kidney beans as bingo markers and they completely lost control. They couldn't handle the fact that they had something in their hands that could be easily thrown, so throw them they did. (This despite the very precise verbal instructions about what would happen if they did this, the discussion about maturity, about how they were almost 8th graders, blah, blah, blah) I had to shut the game down and turn them lose on seatwork review worksheets before I lost my mind. (The remaining classes didn't get the bingo marker kidney beans...they had to use pieces of paper which don't sail through the air as well.)

The non-Losers weren't happy as they were having fun with the game and were eager for a chance to win a Jolly Rancher. They pouted and scowled and stared daggers at the Losers.

Thursday was a bit better as I basically laid down the law, again, very quietly and firmly which completely freaks them out. They were able to handle, barely, an activity involving pipe cleaners and beads and making models of compounds.

Today, a Friday, and a day with a school dance (recipe for disaster) they were out of control again. I had, however, planned two lessons...just in case they couldn't handle the activity I wanted to do with them. I began the period with a lesson on how to take The Very Big Deal State Mandated Tests which begin next week. These kids have never been taught test-taking skills such as how to highlight key words, cross out obviously wrong answers, and so on. The idea was to reward the classes that did well by giving them a chance to do some drawing and coloring (actually I had each table draw and label a poster of a plant or animal cell - from memory - to see if they could remember all they needed to for the The Very Big Deal State Mandated Tests. ) However, for classes that couldn't control themselves there were more than enough questions in the sample test packet to keep them busy all period.

The Losers from The Third Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself couldn't even keep quiet, still, and focused enough to do the highlight test packet activity so - surprise! - they didn't get to do the posters.

The Non-Losers were MAD.

"Mrs. Bluebird!" they wailed, "Can't you kick them all out of the class?"

"Can't you have their schedule changed?"

"We hate them, they ruin it for everybody!"

"Class was fun when they were gone!"

One boy, the infamous Cast Boy (the only thing he's done good all year was clock Rude Boy with his cast), who's in the middle of Every Incident that Causes a Problem, was a particular target.

"It's all your fault, Cast Boy! If you could control yourself we wouldn't get stuck doing stupid stuff all the time!"

Interesting enough, two of Cast Boys little buddies are now distancing themselves from him because they are, in the words of Wide Eyed Boy, "sick and tired of trying to be good and having him ruin it all the time."

I finally got them settled down and working - with threats of severe repercussions if they so much as breathed a word at anyone - but the Non-Losers were still obviously very mad and the Losers were, for once, starting to look a bit uncomfortable.

For probably the first time in their lives, their peers didn't find them funny, or amusing, or even remotely cool.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Slow down this growing up stuff, okay?

Nearly four years ago, on the very first day of school at my first permanent, full-time teaching job, a fresh-faced seventh grader in my homeroom stuck out her hand and introduced herself.

"Hi, I'm Talky Girl and I talk alot! But I'm really nice!"

And she was. And she did talk a lot. But she made that first year a little bit more bearable. It was a rough year for me personally (moving 600 miles to start a new career, the passing of my mother-in-law, being separated from Hubby while he dealt with his mother's estate and selling our house, plus my mother nearly losing her home in the San Diego fires, to name just a few of the bumps in my road.) I was doing my best to keep my head above water and kids like Talky Girl made it a little easier. She was a good kid, an average student, but a kid ready with a laugh and a hug. She once told me that she spent more time with me than she did with her own mom and would sometimes slip and call me mom. She'd realize her mistake and just giggle and giggle.

I have her sister this year and she's a delightful child as well. She's very quiet compared to her older sister (perhaps she hasn't ever been able to get a word in edgewise). She's rarely absent so I was a bit surprised today when she wasn't in school.

"Oh, she's out today because her sister was having her baby last night," the kids informed me.

"Really?" I said, thinking it must be another sister.

I found out later that day that it wasn't an older sister. It was Talky Girl. She's barely fifteen and is finishing up her sophomore year at The High School.

I can't tell you how this saddens me. I last saw Talky Girl this fall (and she must have already been pregnant at the time) and she was just raving about how much fun high school was and how she loved being on the color guard team and she was doing really good with her grades.

And now she has a baby.

And she doesn't even have a driver's license.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Anyone have any explosives handy?

Six weeks to go.

Or, as the optimists put it, only 28 days - with kids. The days without kids don't really count.

The kids came back, whining and moaning about how bored they'd been over the break. The weather started off fantastic, and then we ended up with what they call a Dogwood Winter. Temps dropping to 17 degrees overnight, even a bit of snow there towards the end of the week. So the kids apparently spent most of the break freezing and whining about how cold it was and stayed inside the house playing video games.

I guess very few of them thought of taking advantage of the time to read a book.

Mr. Bluebird and I spent the last few days of break working on landscape projects - in the freezing cold - which I suppose is better than working on them when it's in the 90's and humid. Fortunately we didn't go nuts and plant anything (just laying brick, digging, and all the hard work before you plant things). What we already have - the crepe myrtles, the hostas, the fall mums, the tulips, the hibiscus, lilac, butterfly bush, and even the ireses - all got hit hard by the deep freeze.

I also think the kids' brains got hit by the deep freeze.

We're still reviewing for the Big Deal State Mandated Test which will be next week. We try to make the review as fun and as interesting as we can - lots of mini-labs, hands on activities, discussions, and so forth. It usually works out pretty well, the kids like it, and it's effective.

On Monday morning I felt like I was teaching a bunch of zombies.

They sat there. They didn't raise their hands. They didn't blink. They just starred blankly ahead of them. I finally got so frustrated with my first period I simply stopped, told them to stand up, and made them flap their arms and jump up and down to get the blood flowing.

Of course they all thought I'd lost my mind.

And truth be told, I thought I might just have. Finally by fourth period the kids perked up a bit and actually began to show some life and weren't some little oxygen thieves sucking the energy out the room. Thank goodness. I thought I was going to have to start doing magic tricks or setting off explosions to get them to wake up.

I need to stock up on Diet Coke and Mentos.

28 days....

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hey, let's go to the Carnival!

It's Spring! What better time to go to the Carnival of Education??? Drop on by and catch up on some of the best edu-blogging're bound to find something of interest!

Spring Break, Southern Style

Spring Break in the South is like nothing on earth.

Mr. Bluebird needed to do some photography for a lecture he does on the Tullahoma Campaign during the Civil War so we decided to do a roadtrip to southern Middle Tennessee. This would give us a chance to spend some time together, get some work done for him, and have a fun day.


First off, the weather was fantastic. Stunning blue skies, big fluffy white clouds, and temperatures in the 80's with no humidity. We couldn't have asked for better. (And since a cold front is due to come through with forecast temps in the 40's and 50's for later this week, I'm glad we went.)

Once we got past Nashville, we got off the interstate and hit the country roads all through the area. Driving on the backroads of Tennessee is truly the way to see it. We saw a variety of farms with lovely green fields, horses, cattle, and alpacas enjoying the day. We stopped at little country chapels and looked at the cemeteries with tombstones dating back to 1790. We marveled at the way the creek bottoms down in this part of the country are solid limestone. We enjoyed the way people had their yards blooming with azaleas, tulips, daffodils and the first irises I've seen this season. We snooped through antique shops. It was such a lovely day, with such lovely sites to see, that my knitting never came out.

It was perfection.

And once again we looked at each other and mentioned how darn glad we are that we've moved here.