Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Surprise! Surprise! It's Test Day!

Eight days before the unit test, I pass out the study guide. Which, if you get it signed by a parent, is worth 5 extra credit points.

Eight days before the unit test, I write in big letters on my white board that our "Test will be on Tuesday, August 28th!".

Every day before the test, I have as a homework assignment to "study for your test".

Every day before the test, when I point out what our classwork is going to be that day, and what our homework is going to be that day (so my little darlings can scribble this down in their agendas), I mention that "Remember, your test will be on Tuesday, August 28th".

Every day before the test, I remind the kids before they leave to "be sure to use your study guide to prepare for your test!"

Two of my weekly parent emails have mentioned that our first test will be on Tuesday, August 28th, so they can make sure their child is prepared.

On our school grades website, I post a message (marked "urgent") that reminds students and parents that our test will be on Tuesday, August 28th.

(And those of you who are teachers know, absolutely, what's next, dontcha?)

And it never, ever fails that I will get at least one nitwit per class who walks in, stares at the board where it says "Test Today!" and looks a me with total shock and amazement and utter those words that every teacher just hates to hear...

"You mean we have a test today?"


Good gracious, just how unobservant and unaware can one person be?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why I'm So Tired I Can't See Straight

It would be nice if a teacher's work day actually ended when the contract says it does. If that were the case I wouldn't be falling asleep in my supper. Truth be told, this has just been the week from hell, in terms of after-school-things-I-must-do.

Let's see....Monday....optional science teacher gathering at Central Office, but Mrs. Eagle and I had to pass because I had to run Hubby's vehicle to the repair shop (she was my ride home). We'll be making the next few, especially in October when we get to hear about our new standards (and they're really changing).

Tuesday...go to Central Office, meet with Mrs. Standard and help edit benchmark tests. That took about two solid hours, but was worthwhile. I was just losing my brain by the time we left and was turning to jelly. Looking at tests can do that to me. Oh, yeah, I have 110 tests to grade this evening because I'm hand grading tests this year (and that's for another blog).

Wednesday...literacy meeting (all academic areas must meet), and Mrs. Eagle and I have to prep for our Thursday lab, plus go get the vehicle, and try not to forget my allergy shot again.

Thursday...Open House. Enough said.

Friday...Mrs. Eagle and I, foolishly, volunteered to work the First Dance of the School Year. Fortunately it is a right-after-school-dance which means I should be home by 5:30 or so.

I think the first chance we'll get to the gym is this weekend. Thank goodness it's a long one.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Roasting and Baking

There is a huge uproar going on around the state, and including my community, about the fact that we start school before Labor Day. This has been brought on by the fact that we have pretty much shattered just about any record ever set having to do with heat in the month of August. Thanks to one of my new blog links, Category Five (a blog put out by the folks at the National Weather Service in Nashville), it's easy to check out all the records we've broken. Or to figure out how darn miserable the weather really is just in case you haven't figured that out already.

Here's a run down...31 consecutive days over 90 degrees, 15 days at 99 and above, seven consecutive days at 100 or higher. There's a lot more, but you get my drift.

The result is Metro Nashville schools were pretty much on half days most, if not all, of last week, and some counties shut down schools altogether for Thursday and Friday. Our district stayed open and on regular hours, probably because we have a kickbutt maintenance staff and our AC was working great. In fact, it's so cold in my room, and the kids keep complaining about it. I just tell them to bring a sweater and keep it in their lockers since we really don't have any control over how hot or cold it is in our rooms, as we're in the old part of the building. After last summer when the AC didn't work until the day before school started, I'm not complaining. I'm still being thankful.

However, I don't have to get on a hot bus and ride home in the afternoon when it's 105 outside, and I also don't have to walk home in the same dreadful conditions. Many parents are, understandably, having melt-downs because their kids are suffering in the heat as the buses are not, obviously, air conditioned.

The local paper had a survey that asked "Do you think that the District should put air conditioning on school buses?" The answer was something like 68% in favor. However, I contend that if the question had been worded, "Are you willing to pay higher taxes so the District could put air conditioning on school buses?", the response would have been significantly lower.

So the debate is raging - we should start school after Labor Day. I have no problem with this and could care less one way or the other. When I grew up in Los Angeles, we started school towards the last two weeks of September and got out in the middle of June. Up in Ohio we started the week before Labor Day. Here, we start around the 8th of August, which means most teachers are actually starting to work in their rooms in late July. Some of the reasoning given about why we start so early is it means the high school kids don't have to study for semester exams over the winter break, seniors can get their transcripts faster, people don't like to be in school past Memorial Day and honestly, September can be pretty amazingly hot as well. The big reason, however, in my eyes is the amount of time we have to prepare for our Very Big Deal State Mandated Tests, which are in April. If they scheduled them in May, which I wish they'd do because the kids think they're done after the tests, it wouldn't be an issue. But as it is, that August start date gives us nearly 3 solid weeks of instruction before Labor Day.

So readers and fellow teachers...when do you start school? And how does your public feel about it?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crunchy, crunchy grass

I grew up in Southern California, the Land of Perpetual Drought, so I know a little about dry weather. To this day, fifteen years since I left The Golden State, I still am somewhat obsessive about wasting water. You spend a childhood having things such as "don't wash your car unless you're parked on grass", and "don't run the water while you brush your teeth", yammered at you all the time, you tend to have the habit of conservation somewhat ingrained.

However, I've never seen anything like the drought we're undergoing right now in My Beloved South. Southern California, after all, is brown most of the year. It's part of the landscape and it has its own desperate beauty. Here, however, we're used to green most of the year - green trees, green lawns, full green flowering shrubs, you name it. We're used to mowing the lawn at least once a week and sometimes complaining that we can't get it done in between rainy days and thunderstorms.

We haven't mowed our lawn in six weeks. Hubby gets out and weed wacks a bit here and there because weeds apparently can survive anything, but our mower has been used maybe three times since spring. The grass crunches. Even the crabgrass is looking stressed and I'm under the assumption that nothing can kill crabgrass (because I've tried just about everything). This is a a somewhat blurry picture of my lawn, or what's left of it. I don't have a decent digital camera so rely on my cell phone camera which is a pain to use in the sun - I can't see what I'm taking pictures of!!

I've also taken a picture looking down the street and you can tell that all the lawns are in bad shape. From the pictures you can't tell how bad the trees are faring, but it isn't pretty. Many of them are losing leaves and what leaves they have left are starting to get brown and burned looking on the edges. According to the folks at the National Weather Service we have had no rain for the month of August. None. The result of this is, according to the news, higher electric rates because most of our power comes from the TVA which is primarily hydroelectric. The rivers are down and aren't generating the amount of power we need, especially since we're breaking records left and right with triple digit temperatures for days on end.

Many cities and communities are starting to go with water restrictions. The drinking water itself is tasting really muddy and musty right now because the warm weather and slow moving river water (where most of the communities get their drinking water) is perfect for algae to bloom, so it's going gangbusters. The result is nasty. It's safe to drink but tastes pretty repulsive.

As a teacher, especially one who gets to teach about weather, this is one of those situations that I can pull into a quick 2-3 minute lesson. We don't teach weather much until later in the year (right now I'm working on matter), but when the kids are talking about how hot it is and how the water tastes icky and how people are dying in Memphis because of the heat, well, that's a teachable moment. After all, these kids are getting onto school buses at 2:15 in the afternoon when the outside temperature is at least 100 degrees...I don't want to even imagine what the temperature is inside the buses. This is some science they can relate to.

And in the meantime, I'm going to stomp around and whine and complain because all my efforts at gardening are just burning up. The begonia below is croaking despite being tenderly watered nearly every other day...but the days on end of this heat is not something this plant is obviously used to. Poor thing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

This is Not a Drill

Wednesday morning, 8:00 am, the third full day of school. I've got my kids working on a comic strip regarding science lab rules (or what would happen if you didn't follow the rules which gives the kids lots of chances to draw goofy cartoons of flaming labs, exploding test tubes and the like). We've pretty much just started our assignment when the fire alarm goes off.

I pointed at the back door and told them to start heading out, closed my front door, grabbed my keys and seating chart, and followed them out. The kids dropped their markers and followed my directions to the letter with no goofing off and no carrying on. Obviously the kids who were here last year know the drill, so to speak.

So we get out to the fence where our assigned spot is, I count all my kids, and we stand there quietly and wait. Mr. Social Studies and I discuss the fact that the administration apparently wanted to get our required monthly drill over early although we were wondering about the wisdom about doing it on a day where the temperature was predicted to hit 102 degrees.
Our assigned spot, after all, is not in the shade and it was already very warm. But heck, it shouldn't take more than a minute or two for them to give the all clear and we could head back in.

At about the time that I'm starting to think that it's taking longer than usual we start hearing the ever so faint sound of a siren. And the siren got louder. And louder. And pretty soon everyone is looking towards the front of the school, mouths agape, as a fire truck comes barreling into the front parking lot and disappears from view.

Holy crap. This isn't a drill!

The kids are immediately full of questions:

"Is the school burning down?"

"Are we going to get to go home?"

"Will we get lunch if it burns down?"

"Are we going to get to go home?"

"What's going on?"

"Are we going to get to go home?"

And so forth and so on. I guess it never occurred to them that we teachers don't communicate telepathically so therefore aren't privy to every little thing that's going on.

After about fifteen minutes, with no relief in sight, Mr. Social Studies and I decide we have to do something about the lack of shade. Assigned spot be damned, we're moving them to the shade because the temperature was rapidly rising. Fortunately shade wasn't too far away, and we were already situated there when Mrs. Squirrel, one of our Assistant Principals, came by to suggest we move. (Apparently the folks on Mrs. Eagle's side of the building had no shade whatsoever and The Principal called the City Recreation Department and asked them to come open up the Recreation center across the parking lot from The school.)

We stood out there for the rest of First Period, for all of Second Period, and part of Third Period.

Or for about an hour and a half.

Let me tell you, if you want to get to know your kids, standing outside for a fire drill for over an hour gives you lots of opportunities for conversation. Talk about a bonding experience.

In any case, what apparently happened was that a gas leak triggered an automatic fire alarm. The leak was repaired and we were all allowed into the building to finish the day. Of course, trying to get the kids to focus after their big adventure was a bit of a challenge.

Interesting way to start the year, dontcha think?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

They're Starting to Freak Me Out

We have two full days of school under our belts.

And truth be told, this group of kids is starting to freak me out. Big time.

Because they're being so very, very good.


Case in point. Every year the first thing all my kids are taught to do when they walk in my room is to look at the schedule on the board, and then get out their agenda and fill it out, copying the information I have on the board. Every stinking year, every single class period, every single day, I have had to walk into my room and tell the kids to "please get out your agendas and fill them out." Some kids have had to have a personal invitation to do this.

So today as I walk into my room from watching the hallway, before the first period bell even rings, I get ready to make my daily announcement only to realize That Every Single Kid Already Had His or Her Agenda Out...and was filling it in. Correctly.

Okay. This is an aberration. Has to be.

Except it happened second period, it happened third period, it happened all day.

It gets better.

Students are supposed to take their agendas home every night and have their parents check and sign them. So today, during our MOST period (it's a twenty-two minute block of time after 3rd period where we work with the kids on organizational skills, study skills, check agendas, etc.) I'm checking my kids' agendas and every parent but one had signed off on the agenda. The kid who's parent hadn't signed was profuse in apologizing because his dad forgot to do it even though he left it out for him.

Oh. My. Gosh. Even the parents are following directions. Usually I'm lucky if 50% of my parents bother to sign the agendas. This was, well, freaky. Wonderful, but kind of unsettling.

I'm guessing that a lot of the credit goes to our sixth grade teachers who have, obviously, taught both parents and children the importance of using the agenda. Bless their hearts. They did a fantastic job.

But then again, could this just be a really good crop of kids? Or am I going to regret saying this in a week or so when their true colors show?

Because if they really are this good, this is going to be an incredible year.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Whew! It's Finally Done!

The first day of school arrived and went without any major crises and accompanying disaster. This, in itself, was amazing. The air conditioning worked, the phones worked, and the computers worked. Granted, the transportation website that we use to locate kids' bus numbers crashed, but other than that, it appeared to go pretty well.

And considering that it was 102 degrees outside, that's a good thing.

Every year I'm one of the teachers that volunteers to go out to the buses, get on the bus with marker in hand and write down bus numbers on the hands of the middle schoolers. (We do this because you'll ask a middle schooler what bus they get on to go home and they'll tell you "the one that stopped at my house"...with 30 buses lined up behind the school at dismissal, it's a little tough to figure out which one that is.) We started doing this at 7:00 am and the buses were already sweltering. Some of the buses were just crammed with kids, and they had to have been just about fed up with the heat. I can only imagine how the buses were later when they took the kids home.

Our guidance department did some unique scheduling this year so one team wouldn't end up with all the troublemakers, lower kids, smart kids, etc. The idea was to balance it all out a bit more. I can't tell if it worked or not yet, but I did notice that I didn't have too many kids who stood out with that "I'm going to be the thorn in your side this year" look. There definitely were a few, but not an overwhelming number.

This is a good thing. A very good thing.

I did notice that it seems as if nearly every sixth grader who was a member of the chess and board game club last year is now on my team. This means I seem to have a number of classes that have a relatively high proportion of, well, nerds. Face it, a lot of the kids in the club are a bit on the dorky side, which is one of the things I like about them. Mrs. Eagle said she didn't recognize any of the kids from the club last year so apparently they really are in my classes and not hers. In the meantime she says she has more siblings than ever before.

We did have a few minor problems, most of them having to deal with kids who didn't know their bus number, who didn't (apparently) follow directions to hold out their hand so we could write their bus number of it, didn't know their address, and didn't know their phone number. I'm amazed they made it to class. I'm assuming they made it home since we didn't get any hysterical parent calls reporting a missing kid.

It remains to be seen how this year is going to turn out. In the meantime, I'm ready to get it going. It's nice to be back in the routine again.

Although getting up at 4:45 in the morning still sucks.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Whoo-hoo! Carnival Time!

Mike in Texas just rocks. Want proof? Check out this week's Education Carnival!!!

Loop de Loop

Every year we are instructed to unplug and pack away all of our technology goodies. We can take our computers home over the summer (all teachers have laptops) which is handy if you're doing some in-service work over break. However, everything else, including phones, hubs, printers, document readers, etc. are safely tucked away. Being the slightly paranoid type, and not trusting my memory after a summer of heat and wine spritzers, I obsessively label everything I unplug so it's simply a matter of putting all the pieces together when I return.

However, a few years ago someone in the building in an attempt to get all of his or her technology hooked up, managed to create a loopback. This loopback basically shut down our entire phone and computer system for two days until the techy people from District located it and fixed it.

Not having phones and computers on the first day of school is, as you can imagine, a nightmare. Guidance was having new kids enrolling all day and basically was just putting them in rooms to have a place to hold them until they could get the computer problem fixed and schedule them.

So, one of the Powers That Be at District declared that no one was to hook up any technology. Instead, they would be sending techy people in to each building to get us all set up. No problem because we teachers have a lot of other things to do to get ready and having someone set up all our technology sounded like a great idea.

Except they didn't show up until yesterday afternoon.

In the meantime, we're all having meltdowns because we need to print out and copy things like team rules, parent letters, and all the massive amount of paperwork we hand out to our darlings on the first day. And when they showed up they weren't the techy people from District. Instead they were college kids hired as temps from the local University.

So what do you think happened?

Yup, you got it. They created a loopback.


So this morning, while The Principal covered her ears and went "La, la, la, la", the Guidance Goober, who's also our techno dweeb, told us to just hook our stuff up if we knew what we were doing, and help those that didn't. So I got up and running, and got Mrs. Math up and running, and everyone was good to go.

At least the techy college kids did come by to see if I needed any help. Poor things, they tried, but trying to figure out our network is like eating spaghetti with a spoon!

Monday, August 06, 2007

As ready as I'm gonna be

I think I'm ready.

Well, sorta. I still need to make a zillion photocopies of the "first day of school and here's all your paperwork" stuff, but other than that, I think I'm ready.

I've got the word wall up, my posters up, file cabinet cleaned up and organized (we're talking two trash bags full of stuff I tossed), my rolling cabinets organized and cleaned out, tablecloths put out, student center organized, books on shelves, and so forth. I went to Office Depot, bought a new electric pencil sharpener (which will hopefully outlast the year), as well as colored paper for foldables and some Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. I've had it with crap pencils.

The School did give us these hard plastic monstrosities with felt on the bottom that we're supposed to put on the bottom of our chair legs so the new tile doesn't get destroyed. I did about eight chairs and decided it wasn't worth it. Putting these suckers on was hard (and included the use of a hammer), and besides, they won't fit on most of my chairs. So, I sat home and cut X's in a bunch of tennis balls and put those on the other chairs. (I knew we were supposed to get tile one of these days so the Guidance Goddess, who happens to be a tennis coach, saved some of her older tennis balls for me.) I still have nine chairs without felt or tennis balls so I'll probably pick up a can or two here and there until they're all covered.

So tomorrow we go in for the beginning of two days of meetings, and hopefully time where the team can meet and go over things. We have some changes this year. Ms. Reading has transferred to a new middle school here in town so we'll have a new Miss Reading. I've met her and she seems very bubbly and gung-ho. My original Mrs. Language, one of my dearest friends, has been moved to another team and appointed team leader. The Principal realized she needed to get someone over on that team (which will have 3 new people on it this year) with the right attitude and a heart for the kids, and she chose Mrs. Language. We're not happy about it, as our team was rock solid, but we understand the reasons behind the move. So, we have a new Mrs. Language who, like our new Miss Reading, is bubby and gung-ho and fairly young. The original Mrs. Language has a new name, along with a new team. I'll be calling her Mrs. Bunny, so hopefully we won't all get confused.

Oh boy!

Oh good gracious, it's hot.

The first day of school is August 9th.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 102 degrees.

Oh boy.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mint Juleps, anyone?

According to my super duper little weather gizmo thingie-bob that Daddy Bird gave me for Christmas a few years ago, it is 102 degrees Fahrenheit on my front porch. This, by the way, is in the shade.

Can you guess what the forecast is for the first day of school? Yup, 98 degrees. Isn't that lovely?

But it could be least this year we have air conditioning. For those of you who've been reading for a while, you may remember that last year the new air conditioning system didn't work until the first day of school. Of course, there's always the chance it will break by the 9th, isn't there?


The building was open this morning (we have a lot of new teachers who are going through the major "oh my gosh I need more time to get my room put together" drama) so Mrs. Eagle and I got in early and went through our file cabinets and managed to fill, between us, four big trash bags. We kept copies of a lot of stuff, but basically tossed a lot of old tests and things we don't use or that aren't on our standards anymore. It was pretty easy work, it was air conditioned, and we got a lot done.

And then we left at noon, walked outside, and about fainted.

I went home, and aside from a quick foray with Mr. Bluebird to our local Amish veggie stand (that's only open on Saturdays) where I got a great little watermelon for $2 and hubby bought his favorite chocolate chip cookies, we've hunkered down and are staying inside.

To make it even worse, it's still dry. Very dry. So dry that even crabgrass, which can survive anything, is dying. My yard is crunchy. The entire state has been declared an agricultural emergency due to the drought. We had a slight shower a few days ago, but that's about it.
The corn is haggard and brown, the soybeans are looking puny, and my flowers and veggies are only alive because we'll go out after dark and water.

I'm ready for a cold front. In the meantime, it's time for cold adult beverages.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The dangers of too much HGTV

I adore watching HGTV. I just love it. I'm not particularly dedicated to a certain show, although I really like House Hunters, Generation Renovation, and Landscapers' Challenge. I can simply flip to that channel and pretty much find something interesting the watch.

The problem is they make it look so darn easy.

My husband and I found this out about four years ago when we went to Daddy Bird's for Christmas. Daddy Bird was coming down with a cold and went to bed early; there wasn't a whole lot to watch on television outside of a marathon of some sort on HGTV, so we watched that. And went home and painted the stairwell and parts of the "bunker" (our word for the finished basement which houses most of our book collection as well as main computer).

So you would think we'd know better.

However, Daddy Bird was up visiting and when Daddy Bird visits we like to get home improvement and repair projects finished. It's either that or he spends too much time watching NASCAR and baseball, and he gets restless and bored. He's good at home repair, and I learn a lot from him which is why I'm really good at fixing toilets and sinks and stuff like that. It was so freaking hot and humid that we decided that anything that needed doing was going to be done inside where there was air conditioning.

I had this idea this past winter that I wanted to redecorate the guest bathroom. I had a red and white vision with blue accents and accessories. I wanted red walls, with white beadboard on one wall. I'd seen pictures of similar styles in Southern Living (the guidebook for all things decorating down here in My Beloved South), and I figured it would look okay. So I bought the paint when it was on sale in January.

That's right. Seven months ago.

We figured this would be a good project that would take, at most, a day.

Again, you would think we'd know better.

It took three hours just to get the bathroom ready to be painted. We had to caulk in places, then sand, and then apply painter's tape. And then we had to put two good coats of paint on. Then we had to cut the beadboard and chair rail. And then we had to glue it on, but ended up nailing it because our wall curves just enough to make the ends refuse to stick well. And then we had to caulk some more. And then we removed the tape, and had to fix places where it took off the paint (ARGH). And then we had to put the cupboard back in and hang up the new medicine cabinet.

But it looks great. It's not finished...I'm going to have to apply a special primer and then paint the vanity cabinet since I'm on a budget and really can't afford a new one right now, plus eventually I'm going to replace the faucets and the floor.

Any guesses on how long it's going to take me to tile that floor???