Friday, September 28, 2007

What? You Mean We Actually Get an Aide?

Our school this year is blessed, for the first time, with an aide for each team. That's nine new aides hired this year and some of us are still pinching ourselves to make sure it's real. I guess they're lucky we aren't pinching the aides just to make sure we aren't hallucinating. We used to go to these silly workshops where they would teach us "how to work with your aide" and we all used to roll our eyes and snort, "what freaking aide?" under our breath. But now, amazingly enough, we have real honest to goodness aides.

Our Aide, Mr. Title, has been around the building a few years, mainly as a long-term substitute. He's a delightful young man with INFINITE patience. You have to have infinite patience to deal with some of the characters he spends most of his day working with. He spends his day focusing on a core group of kids that have been targeted as our most at-risk. Most of these kids were non-academically promoted last year and are, yet again, struggling this year. They aren't special education, but have other issues - usually a lack of motivation and a home life that isn't the most supportive (just to be nice).

Mr. Title usually comes to my fifth period class. My fifth period class is one of my smallest, with 19 kids (I know, that's another story - our class sizes have dropped), but it's definitely my lowest. I just input grades yesterday and noticed that my highest grade for 5th period is a C. I have eleven students failing that class. In the five years I have been at The School, I have never had a class that consistently low (and the one special education student in that class is one of my top students). I am giving modified tests and quizzes to over half the kids in this class and they're still failing.

Mr. Title has, at times, shown a few cracks in his armor of Infinite Patience. For example, the Big Homework Issue. Out of the nine kids on the team that have his study skills class later in the day, only one of them turned in homework last week. The other eight laid a big ol' goose egg. Again.

Now this year, I have most of my kids turning in homework. In fact, so few of them are NOT turning in homework that both Mr. Social Studies and I actually have the time to email or call the parents of the few who consistently don't perform in this area. Homework for the seventh grade science teachers is so easy it's ridiculous. They get four assignments on Monday, chose which two they want to do, and turn them in on Friday. It gets even easier...we actually have available on the work table, in sheet protectors, the keys to the homework so that kids can check their work - and gasp! copy - if need be. (The reasoning behind this is another post I'll do soon). So, in reality, there's no reason why anyone should not be turning in homework.

Unless you're nothing but an unmotivated slug.

Mr. Title checked with me again today about whether or not his eight slugs managed to get their homework turned in from the previous week (I said I'd take partial credit). When I told him that not one had bothered, he looked like he was going to bang his head into the closest wall.

"Good gracious, your homework is so easy it's insane! How can they not be turning it in?"

Ah, the million dollar question, isn't it?

Interestingly enough, I've already taken most of these students to the support team and one thing I found in the files was that nearly all of them had family histories of drug and alcohol problems and/or parents who's highest educational level attained was either ninth or tenth grade.

A connection?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Carnival Time!

It's time once again for the ever thoughtful Education Carnival. Swing on over to Global Citizenship in a Virtual World and spend some time!

Monday, September 24, 2007

When Good Kids Go Bad...or the Tale of Pout Boy

We have a kid on our team I'll call Pout Boy. He's a good kid, from a very solid, good family with parents who care and who want the best for him. He's very capable of being a solid B student, if not better, and is usually pleasant and respectful.


Pout Boy wants to be bad. Pout Boy, within minutes of arriving at school on the first day, gravitated towards the kids on our team who are not, even in the best of times, good influences. He wants to hang out with the kids who are on the road (if they aren't there already) to careers in gang-banging. His idols are the kids who are non-academically promoted, kids who end up in alternative school, and kids who find themselves expelled.

So, he hasn't been doing homework, for anyone, isn't studying for tests, and basically is failing this grading period. He and his buddies are also tardy to classes (by quite a lot, which prompted us to have the SRO do a cruise of the boy's bathrooms to make sure they weren't up to some mischief.) All of which prompted Dad to come visit Friday (without Pout Boy's knowledge) to find out what's going on.

Dad apparently saw quite a lot and what he saw didn't make him happy. At all. So, again, without Pout Boy's knowledge, he had the Guidance Goober work with Pout Boy and requested that his schedule be changed so he has no classes with his new found friends, and we had his locker moved to another location as well. Guidance Goober did his best but Pout Boy just didn't see what the big deal was, didn't care that he was failing, and generally didn't seem to care that his parents were at their wits' ends.

Dad didn't want Pout Boy to know it was really his idea about the schedule change, and didn't say a word to him about it over the weekend. Pout Boy arrives in my homeroom, Guidance Goober calls him to his office to let him know his new schedule and all hell breaks loose. Apparently Pout Boy was rude and disrespectful to Guidance Goober, and proceeded to spend the entire day being disruptive, rude, and disrespectful to anyone and everyone. He told Guidance Mom that he thought his teachers had all conspired to mess with him and he hated us one and all.

He was, in a word, MAD. Furious. Absolutely beside himself because his schedule got changed. Now, in my five years at The School, I've seen a lot of schedule changes, for a variety of reasons, and I have never ever seen a kid make such a big nasty deal about it. Honestly, by the time he arrived back in my fourth period class (about 4 hours after he found out his schedule was changed) he was still furious. He slammed his books down, sulked, pouted, refused to work, rapped his pencil on the table loudly, refused to stop when I asked him to (he was driving his new table mate, Bird Boy - I've never seen this little fellow ever sit in a chair, he always perches - batty). The third time he refused he got a behavior note. When it still didn't stop, I made him stand in a corner where he pouted the rest of the period.

All he had to say for himself was "I don't care." Every warning was met with "I don't care." I finally told him, "Frankly, I don't care if you're mad at the world either, but you have no right to rob your classmates of a chance to review for their test because you're having an attitude issue. You're nothing but a time thief if that's how you're going to behave." What I really wanted to saw was, "Oh, grow the hell up and get over it. "

I then proceeded to email his father, which was met with another "I don't care."

We have a meeting, again, with Dad tomorrow. It should be interesting to see how that goes. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if his parents didn't pull him out and either home school him or send him to a private school, just to get him away from the types of friends he's so bound and determined to associate with.

I do have to give my Fourth Period class credit, however. They were not impressed with his antics and looked at him with these expressions of "Jeez, get over it and grow the hell up," when he was doing his sulking, pouting, and pencil rapping. If he thought he was being a big, cool, bad boy, then he failed miserably.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And just how do they manage to cross the street?

On Friday we had a quiz over compounds and elements. It's a pretty basic quiz about the eight compounds and elements that The State says my seventh graders need to know. Basically we want them to recognize them by both name and chemical symbol(s) and to tell if they're an element or a compound just by looking at them. Piece of cake.

So, before the quiz, I put a copy of it on the overhead and walked them through it by reading the directions and pointing out the different sections. In one section they give me the name of the compound or element, in another section they give me the chemical symbols along with circling E for element and C for compound, and in another section they look at five elements and compounds which aren't on the State Mandated List and tell me what they are based on just looking at them. (If it has one capital letter it's an element; two or more and it's a compound).

I figured that by going over the quiz in detail, in full color on a big screen, they wouldn't make any foolish mistakes. After all the directions are written right there on the quiz.

Boy was I wrong.

While grading these quizzes, I realized that a good 20% of my students obviously didn't pay any attention while I walked them through how to do the quiz, and even more obviously didn't read the directions either. My fifth period, the class with all the non-academic promotes and low achievers, had at least half of them that goobered it up. Big time. These were the kids who needed the extra bump the quiz could give them and instead, by not following directions, they missed 8 out of 29 points. And that's assuming they had everything else correct.

"Do you remember me standing up here and showing you the quiz on the screen?" I asked my kids after I'd handed the quizzes back and the kids were looking with horror at their grades. A few heads nodded.

"What did I talk about when I was showing you the quiz?" I asked.

One brave soul raised his hand. "You went over the directions," he said.

"Okay, so how come half of you still didn't manage to follow them?" I asked.

Blank stares.

It was so bad that Mr. Title, the aide that's in my room 5th period looking out for those non-academic promotes and low achievers, created one of those little quizzes that have about 15 questions (general information stuff), but if you actually freaking read the directions (what a novel concept) the last line of the directions reads, "skip numbers 1 through 15 and sign your name at the bottom".

He gave this quiz to the study skills class that the Title Aides teach, later that day.

One kid actually followed the directions. Out of about 18.


These kids are so unaware, so unobservant, so in a fog, that I wonder how they get to school every day, how they manage to find their way home, and how they manage to cross the street without being hit by a car.

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Lose a Locker in 24 Hours, or Less!

Those of us on The Team keep shaking our heads and marveling over how good our kids are this year compared to previous years. It's a bit odd in a way, but I don't think you'll catch any of us complaining. It's just a completely different set of kids with a lot better behavior for the most part. Those sixth grade teachers obviously kicked some butt with this group last year and trained them well.

However, that doesn't mean we don't have our share of knuckleheads who just can't seem to get with the program. These are the few kids who think that they're just too cool to follow the rules, too cool to do work, too cool to do anything they're supposed to.

Like bring their freaking book to class.

At first we thought it was just a few of them being forgetful (which is a common state of unawareness with seventh graders) but during our discussions at lunch we noticed a fairly common pattern. These weren't kids who were forgetting to bring their books, these were kids choosing not to bring their books. Instead, they decided to spend their four minutes between classes socializing and hanging out at the drinking fountain rather than going to their locker.

Contrary Boy, when asked where his book was for the umpteenth time, informed me that he just didn't have time to get his book. I then pointed out to him that as a kid who played football, he was certainly capable of carrying more than one book at a time. That apparently never crossed his mind. The fact that our kids don't have to walk very far to get from class to class (we're all right there in a cluster, in fact, Mr. Social Studies and I have doors separated by a mere 12") tells us that they're just goofing off.

So, we laid down the law the other day. Lockers, we said, are a privilege, not a right and if they continue to choose to leave their books in their locker then they'd lose the use of their locker. Three "forgotten" books equals three days without a locker. We're basically borrowing this trick from the 8th grade playbook - they post locker eviction notices, empty the lockers, and secure them with zip ties for continual infractions of the student code of conduct (among other things). It's quite a sight to walk down the 8th grade hall and see the brightly colored eviction notices and zip ties up and down the hallway.

We announced the policy yesterday. Today we already had 3 kids who had lost their locker privileges. And guess what? They include Contrary Boy and two of his pals.

What a surprise.

They're gonna be mad on Monday!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Carnival Time!

The midway is open over at Elementary History Teacher's Place - go check it out! And while you're at it, bookmark her blog - it's a keeper!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today We Talked of Heroes

In remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, I introduced my students to one of my heroes. I'd like to introduce him to you as well.

His name is Rick Rescorla.

He saved over 2,5000 lives on that day. In fact, he's often been called the Man Who Predicted 9/11. As the security expert for Morgan Stanley, he realized the vulnerability of the WTC, and he worked to make sure that everyone would get out alive should a terrorist attack occur. He drilled all the employees about safety procedures, practiced, and worked to make sure everyone knew what to do. And then, when it actually happened, he went back in to make sure that there were no stragglers.

He defined the words bravery and sacrifice.

A number of years ago one of my absolute favorite books military history books was written by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, titled We Were Soldiers Once and Young. This book tells the story of the 7th Cavalry and the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965. It is, in my opinion, one of the most gut-wrenching stories out of that era. On the cover of that book is a picture of a lean and haggard soldier. That soldier was Rick Rescorla. As a platoon leader, he was definitely one of the best.

As I told my kinds, I don't know if I have the strength to do what Rick Rescorla did in his life, and hopefully I'll never have to find out. But I did want them to meet him and sometimes, realize that life is bigger than we are.

And amazingly enough, you could have heard a pin drop.

For more information on this true hero, go here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The New Schedule - a Sample

I've had a number of people ask for the details on our new schedule this year, so here goes.

7:05 - 7:30 - Homeroom/Breakfast
7:30 - 8:15 - First Period Academic Class
8:19 - 9:04 - Second Period Academic Class
9:08 - 9:53 - Third Period Academic Class
9:53 - 10:17 - GPA = Binders, study tips, etc.
10:17 - 10:47 - Lunch
10:53 - 11:38 - Fourth Period Academic Class
11:42 - 12:27 - Fifth Period Academic Class
12:31 - 1:16 - Kids go to related arts, teachers have personal planning time
1:20 - 2:05 - Kids go to second related arts, teachers have team and subject planning

Keep in mind, this is the 7th grade version of the schedule. Sixth and 8th grade are pretty much the same except they have GPA/Lunch and their planning times at different times than we do. Other than that, it's pretty much the same thing.

Some positives:

  • No split lunch - that was hell on earth
  • We have large blocks of time to work with other teachers
  • We don't lose our planning due to parent meetings
  • We have time to work with kids on their binders, hand out paperwork, check homework, read, whatever with our GPA kids.
  • Kids get more related arts and physical education
  • We can have data chats about our benchmark tests without having to arrange for one teacher to have a sub - it used to be that two of a grade level team was on one schedule and the other was on a different one. We never used to all have planning at the same time.
  • Shorter class periods.
So that's it in a nutshell. Hope this makes sense!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ah, The Novelty of It All

During third period this morning I was going over the study guide for our upcoming test when a hand goes up. It's Waif Boy, one of the tinier kids on my team. (We seem to have cornered the market on twelve-year-olds that look like they are eight.)

"Mrs Bluebird," he asks after I call on him, "Is it raining?"

I listen for a moment and realize that yes, Waif Boy is right. "It sure sounds like it," I say and continue on with the study guide review.

We do a few more questions and I realize that the kids aren't really paying attention. They're too busy listening to the rain. It's a sound we haven't heard for a good long while, as evidenced by the extreme drought we've had since winter. In fact, we're well below half the normal rainfall for the year. Since my room is windowless, the kids couldn't see the rain, but they were turning their heads towards the back door where the sound was coming from.

"Okay," I say. "Let's stop for a minute. We can't go outside right now, but I'm going to open the back door so we can see the rain for a bit." I walk over and push the door open to a heavy gray sky, a steady rain, and water rushing off the roof of The School.

The kids all lean towards the door and let out a collective, "Ooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh."

I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Carnival Time!

Take a break from grading those papers and zip on over to the Education Carnival, hosted by his Very Wonkness, the EduWonk....

It's worth the visit!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Excuse Me While I Catch My Breath...

We've had a huge change at The School this year with an implementation of a new schedule.

There were several reasons behind the change. To start with, the State has implemented a requirement that all middle school students receive 90 minutes of physical activity a week. This means that more kids need to be taking gym, but at the same time we didn't want them to lose out on their arts, computers, and other classes that are necessary as well. In addition, those of us who've slogged it out trying to do the GPA (Greater Potential for Achievement) binders without time dedicated to it were really hoping we'd get a modified study hall or advisory so we could work with the kids on their binders, study skills and what not. Trust me, if you don't work daily with middle school kids on organizational skills, they just aren't going to get organized.

So The Principal, Guidance Goober, and a few others went to a conference on scheduling and came up with a really kick-butt schedule. We moved from six periods a day to seven, with no split lunch, and 25 minutes of organizational and skills training. We also ended up with a personal planning time and a team/department planning time every day.

Split lunch, by the way, was this creation from the depths of hell where you taught about 20-25 minutes of your fourth period class, then went to lunch, only to have them return to finish up the remaining 30 minutes or so of class. This meant labs were interrupted, tests were interrupted, and you lost time just getting the little ninnies back on track. We despised it.

In order to accomplish this seven period schedule, we went from a 55 minute class period down to a 45 minute class period. This means that Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I, when we have our meeting every Thursday to do our plans - yes, we finally have actual time blocked out and set aside to collaborate! - are sitting there asking each other, "so, how are we going to cut out ten minutes every day?" We're cutting out some things (no more journals, we're adding writing into our tests and no more day long test reviews which didn't help anyway), and speeding up other things. The end result is that so far, we feel like we're on warp speed getting through the day. Amazingly enough, after three weeks we haven't slipped too far off the pacing guide, so I guess we're getting it done.

Honestly, I love this schedule...I just wished it allowed me time to breathe!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Duck! It's the Helicopter Mother!

I know I haven't been posting much, but it's quite simply because it's the week from Hades. I've had something to do every single night after school and it's all I can do to get it done before I crawl into bed, exhausted.

For example, Open House was on Thursday.

We get an amazing number of families in the building on Open House days. Not only do we see our current student and his or her parent or parents, but we'll often see all the brothers and sisters tagging along as well. Our big goal is to smile, introduce ourselves, and have the kids show their parents their rooms, lockers, etc. Mr. Social Studies and I both have PowerPoints scrolling on our screens letting parents know about our classes, along with music playing, and an email sign up list.

One thing we do try to do is to not get trapped in a room with a parent who wants to talk grades (not a good thing when half the neighborhood is wandering through), so we tend to stand in the hall area outside our rooms. Mrs. Math, Miss Reading and Mrs. Language even had a table set up outside their room area. Mr. Social Studies and I didn't do the table thing, but instead simply stood in the hallway which gave us a chance to see who was going where and keep an eye on our rooms as well.

And that's when our number one Helicopter Mother from last year came by, along with her husband (whom we never met), and her two sons, Chopper Boy who we had last year and one who's in sixth grade. Mr. Social Studies saw her heading towards us and whispered "Look out," under his breath at me.

See, this mother had some definite problems with both of us at different times last year. She didn't like the fact that I had assigned a PowerPoint project for the students because she didn't know PowerPoint and couldn't prepare her son for the project. She even threatened to take her "case to the principal" if I couldn't "justify" the technology project I was assigning. Mr. Social Studies incurred her wrath when he told the kids that if they handed in anything on a piece of notebook paper that had been torn out of their binders that it would be counted as a zero - part of our big GPA program is that kids keep EVERYTHING in their binders and tearing out paper is a big no-no. She proceeded to not only complain to the principal about him, but showed up with a case of reinforcements. I still have over a dozen packages of reinforcements in my desk drawer from her gift.

So we were a little surprised when she showed up in our hallway with a big huge smile on her face.

"Oh, I wanted so much to come by and see you two," she gushed at us. "I wanted to know if parents are allowed to request teachers, because our son will be a seventh grader next year and I want him to be on your team."

Mr. Social Studies looked dumbfounded and didn't say a word. I think he was in shock. It takes me a minute or two to come to my senses and then I mumbled something to the effect that I think parents can request teachers but there's no guarantee they'll get their request. I'm sure I sounded like a complete moron. Good gracious, did we want this mother as a parent yet again?

"We're just so pleased with all the work you did with Chopper Boy. We got his Big Deal State Mandated Test Scores last week and he scored off the charts in science and social studies and we know it's just because of the fantastic job you two did with him last year."

"Uh, thanks," both Mr. Social Studies and I manage to mumble. Were we talking to the same mother we had last year?

"I just really like your philosophy on education and your values and I want my other son to have the same great teachers Chopper Boy had."

"Well, check with guidance next year and they'll let you put in a request," I mutter again, still completely astounded by this apparent change of heart.

"Will do!" she says. "Thanks again so much!" She walks away with her family, heading to the 8th grade hall to inspect Chopper Boys current crop of teachers. I feared for them.

"Well," says Mr. Social Studies. "That was a surprise."

"No kidding," I respond. "Especially considering how mad she got at both of us last year."

"Looks like we'll have another steady supply of reinforcements next year."