Saturday, December 27, 2008

Carnival Time!

The good bowl games aren't on, you've shopped yourself out, and you're still munching on left over peanut brittle and sugar cookies - why not hoist yourself out of that easy chair and take a gander at this week's Education Carnival hosted by the Big Wonk himself!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best Gifts...Ever!

I'm always just flattered and tickled to death when a student of mine presents me with a Christmas card or even a gift. A lot of my students have families where there's more month than money so the fact that they spent anything, even a dollar for some bubble bath at the Dollar Store, really touches my heart. I love the homemade cards (complete with misspellings - I'm supposed to have a "happy and heathy Christmas" this year), and the drawings of stout reindeer and flying cats (figure that one out) make my day. Even the coffee mugs (and we teachers have more coffee mugs than a Starbucks, don't we?) are appreciated.

However, every once in a while you get a gift from a student that really lets you know that they thought about it, carefully selected it, and it was definitely a gift that was intended for you and no one else.

Freckled Boy gave me one such gift this year. I love this kid. He's in my homeroom, and sits right in front of my teacher station. He's always the first kid in every morning, and he's made it his mission to take all the chairs down every day while at the same time engaging me in some of the most interesting conversations. He asked me this morning if I'd be here for a few minutes after the students were dismissed. Apparently his mother was bringing a few presents for him to hand out and he wanted to make sure I'd get mine. I assured him I'd be here, and then promptly forgot about the conversation with the craziness that is the half day before break.

After the buses rolled and the other kids were dismissed, I was walking back to my room and he came up with a shoebox-sized box wrapped in holiday paper.

"Merry Christmas Mrs. B!" he said as he handed me my gift and dashed off to deliver another one to Mrs. Language. (I found out later that he gave her a stapler!)

I went back to my room and unwrapped my package. First, I had to take off the outside paper. Then unroll lots and lots of tissue paper. And finally got to an object about 10 inches long that was also wrapped in paper. A giant pencil? A pen? What on earth?

It was a screwdriver.

Now this may not sound like the best gift ever but you have to kind of understand the back story here. Earlier this year my handy little screwdriver (both flat head and phillips head) was stolen from my pencil cup. I loved this screwdriver and used it all the time. It tightened the screws on the hole punches so they stayed in place. It allowed me to disassemble the hand crank pencil sharpener to remove the broken pieces of colored pencil that got stuck inside. It let me fix chairs and tables which are slowly falling apart on a regular basis. There probably wasn't a day that went by that I didn't use that thing. And it was stolen and that really ticked me off. We had a rash of thefts that week, and that was just icing on the cake.

Freckled Boy was actually standing in front of me when I discovered the missing screwdriver and he'd seen how often I'd used it. So he got me a new one. Granted this one is a lot bigger (I definitely won't be working on pencil sharpeners with this one!) but the fact that he took the time to think about what I really needed and then went out and got it, really made my day.

I totally love the little curly ribbons he tied on the top. I kept them on it when I put it in my pencil cup. It's an awesome screwdriver!

Just when I didn't think it could get any better, my team came trotting around the corner with sneaky grins on their faces and a big silver bag with shiny paper sticking out of the top. What on earth???

Inside? A big huge bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream and two Bailey's glasses, and a great card thanking me for being a great team leader.

Ahhhhh. Made me want to cry. I've got a great, wonderful, fantastic team!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Popsicles Anyone?

We have our first snow day of the year today.

Well, actually it's more of an ice day since that's what's on the ground - and roads - hence the cancellation of school. It pretty much rained all day yesterday. However, when I left my house yesterday morning at 6:00 am it was 55 degrees on my front porch. When I got to school fifteen minutes later it had already dropped to 45 degrees. It continued to drop - and rain - all day long and by yesterday evening ice was starting to form.

Having spent about fifteen years up North where it snows and ices and generally is ugly from about November through March, I have some experience driving in stupid weather conditions. However, when ice is in the picture, I'm not driving anywhere. It's dangerous and it's scary and there's too many idiots with testosterone poisoning who think that because they have a four wheeled drive vehicle they can drive at high rates of speed on icy roads and nothing bad will happen to them. Wrong.

So I have a day off and I'm not terribly excited about it.

Why? Snow days are precious. We get three a year and using one right before we get off for our Christmas break is a waste of a perfectly good snow day. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Snow days are better spent in the deep dark depths of January and February and even March where we don't have many extra days off, the weather is gloomy, the kids are cranky, and it seems like forever until there's something to look forward to.

But at least I'm not out there driving on that mess!

P.S. Some of you have commented on still having school in very cold snowy weather, so I probably haven't explained how things work down here. I was stunned - stunned - the first year I was here and a snow day was called as it was barely snowing (at least in my opinion as an economic refugee from Up North). However, maybe only 20%, at most, of our kids walk to school. The rest are bused in, some from about an hour away in the rural parts of the county. There is also no such thing as a straight road here. Everything is hilly, curvy and there are more rivers, branches of rivers, creeks and whatnot to cross to get anywhere in this area. So, when it gets icy (and we get more ice than snow), it gets treacherous and no one wants to be the person responsible for a bus crash on an iced over bridge or narrow rural road. So, they cancel school.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Smaller is Better

As I've mentioned before, we have a somewhat legendary class of seventh graders this year. We've been hearing about them for the past few years, beginning with the elementary teachers who were thrilled to see them move to middle school. (Interestingly, it wasn't one group from one elementary school - all three of the schools that feed into our building had a wild group of kids.)

The sixth grade teachers last year were ecstatic when they moved on to the 7th grade. Cheering and dancing in the halls doesn't begin to describe the joy.

This year the seventh grade teachers are counting the days until the end of May.

This was, coincidentally, the same year that Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I volunteered to teach an 8th grade health class (Mrs. Robin taught 6th grade health), with a different group of kids every nine weeks. The drawback to this was that we had to cram five classes of seventh graders into four classes in order to give us the open period to teach the health class.

Most likely with any other group of kids (like the wonderful group we had last year) this would have worked out fine. With this group it was a recipe for disaster. We had our proof when we took our first benchmark.

I had one kid proficient. ONE. Uno. That was it. Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Robin fared a bit better, but overall we still had only eight kids proficient in the entire school. What makes this even worse is that in the past, we've always been tops in the county when it came to scores, and our kids have always done better than their peers, despite being a low-income building with a fairly unmotivated population.

This was completely unacceptable to us, so as soon as we saw our scores we asked The Principal to come to our data chat to figure out what was going on.

What was going on was that we were spending so much time on management issues that we had precious little left to actually teach science. Our rooms are oddly shaped and somewhat small and we had kids crammed in there with every seat filled (and then some). The kids, who had trouble getting along with each other on good days, were having real problems with each other when they were crowded into our rooms. Even The Principal commented on the different feeling our rooms had with about five to six extra kids compared to the other teachers.

So, The Principal drafted some wonderful souls (librarian and guidance counselor) to take over the health classes, and we got to move kids from each of our big classes, thereby lowering the numbers, into an fifth section of science. This started right before Thankgsiving. It gave us a chance to build a class and put kids in there that were a good mix, as well as giving us a chance to separate kids who had no business being in the same room together.

I can't believe the difference.

I told the kids right up front why were doing this ("Your benchmarks were unacceptable which tells me you aren't learning what you should be.") and told them that this was one idea we had to help solve the problem. Three kids actually came up and thanked me for moving them to the new class so they could actually learn something. How often does that happen? I was able to get some kids away from each other, and the entire class noticed. My homeroom had four boys in there who could be case studies for severe ADHD. Two of them are now in the other class and my homeroom is actually somewhat peaceful.

Now granted, these classes aren't perfect (Fifth Period still gives me hives) but it's a whole lot better. The kids even noticed. A lot of them were delighted, after a few days, when they realized they were getting a lot more individual attention from me (I can help them rather than spend all period telling them to sit down, stop throwing things, keep their hands to themselves, blah, blah, blah.) They commented on that. They commented on how faster the classes went now that we were actually able to do something because deal with idiot behaviors. They love the fact that they actually have more room at their seats. It's been a good move all around.

They've taken two tests since the change and the grades have been quite a bit better then previously. Our next benchmark isn't until January, but we're hoping we'll see an improvement there.

They were so good (except for - guess who?! - Fifth Period) that I actually tried a lab today.

And it actually worked!

Carnival Time!

Check it out over at Mamacita's page, and while you're there, bookmark it! She's awesome!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hey Dude, Where's My Doorprize?

This is the sixth year we've used our science texts so we're due for new books next year. Assuming, of course, that there's money in the budget to pay for them. We've been told that they're in the budget, but you can guess what will be the first thing cut when the cutting begins.

And of course some nitwit will write a letter to the editor bemoaning the fact that we buy new books - Outrageious! Ridiculous! Information hasn't changed any! Why do we need books! What a waste of money! (I am not kidding here - it happens every year.)

Do you have any idea what a book looks like after six years of seventh graders have slung it in and out of lockers, tossed it on the floor, flung it in backpacks, and goodness knows what else?

Still, the books we use now have held up pretty well, yet will become almost useless next year when our new standards go into place. Simply put, about half of what I currently teach will be moved to 8th grade, some will go to 6th, and a lot of the 8th grade curriculum will come down to 7th. If we don't get new books about the only idea we've come up with is to have a class set of each grade level and mix and match as we go through the year. Not ideal, but workable.

And then there's the fact that our entire plant unit, which is in our current standards and will be in our new standards, is not found in any of the books used at the middle school level. We spend about six weeks every year with the books in the lockers and pull information from all sorts of outside sources.

Our district, apparently, selects textbooks a bit differently than some as they teachers actually select them, not someone sitting in central office who doesn't live eat and breathe standards day in and day out like we do. What this means is that the various publishers come to town, rent a hotel conference room, lay out a big buffet (free food is an important component here), does a big pitch on Why Our Product Is Your Best Choice, hands out some cool door prizes (free stuff, gift cards, you name it), and of course the swag...lots and lots of free samples.

We live for free samples.

Mrs. Standards made a comment in all the workshops we taught on the new standards this summer that every single one of us should go to these events, not only so we make a good decision on what we end up with, but so we can get the free stuff. We are, after all, living in fear of not having new material for our new curriculum, but if we have enough of these freebies, we'll at least have something to work with.

So, last night Mrs. Eagle and I went downtown to The Big Fancy Hotel, mooched at the buffet, sat through the presentation, and got a huge bag of free stuff. We walked in, were pointed out the middle school table and told to take a pile of samples.

We sat down and flipped open the student book and took a look at the table of contents.

"Oh my gosh," said Mrs. Eagle. "They actually have everything we'll be teaching...even plants."

We were impressed. The book was smaller (and lighter in weight) than what we currently use. They essentially cut out everything we won't be teaching with the new standards. This is a huge improvement as our current book is big, bulky, and we don't use half of the chapters. The standards were all over the place, the section review questions were designed with Bloom's in mind, and it had all the STEM stuff we need (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics).

We also discovered that it has a companion workbook/book that is written at 2-3 grade levels below what the book is written at - instant differentiation! We loved this because it will really help the spec ed kids we teach as well as our lower readers, many of whom are completely lost when it comes to reading our book.

Technology was all over the place - pre-made PowerPoints, video quizzes, labs, you name it. Considering that we're going to have to teach some of the 8th grade content this year (squeezing in the stuff the kids will miss when the standards change) some of the free CD's and DVD's will be a big help. We'll be able to utilize some of the free stuff to teach this content, and that may give us a chance to test drive some of it.

All in all, we had a good time, got some neat stuff, and although we didn't win a door prize we were just tickled with what we did get.

Oh yeah, and the buffet rocked.

Carnival Time!!

One of my dearest blogging friends is hosting this week -Mr. Teacher over at Learn Me Good (Buy his book - it's a riot! It will make great gifts for teacher friends!) He does a fantastic take on Dickens, so check it out!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Slice 'em and Dice 'em

We had our third After School Science Lab today.

It wasn't for the faint of heart (or stomach) as we dissected frogs.

Now, dissecting frogs is not in our curriculum. In fact, the kids don't even get to dissect until they hit high school biology. However, every single year the first question we get asked is "Will we be dissecting frogs this year?" The kids are obsessed with the idea of dissecting frogs. So, when we found a tub of frogs in the lab (bought a few years ago for a science club thing and never used) Mrs. Eagle and I thought it would be a good idea to reward the kids who've come to our after school labs and let them dissect. After all, they kept asking for it.

So, this lab was by invitation only - we invited the kids who've shown enough interest to come to the previous labs - and they all knew beforehand what we'd be doing. Mrs. Eagle and I didn't want some kid coming who couldn't handle dissection and would faint and cause a lot of paperwork. It had been so long since I've dissected anything that I ended up asking Mrs. Standard, our science consulting teacher with the district, to send me some handouts.

We had the frogs, the kids, the worksheets, and all the tools.

And we had a blast.

None of these kids had ever done anything like this before, and I was amazed at how well they did. They took their time. They made careful cuts and incisions. They referred to the worksheets to identify the various objects they saw. And they really worked those frogs over, just looking at stuff.

"Hey, look, ours is female it has eggs!" yelled one pair.

"Cool! You can see the liver right there!" was another comment.

"Man, eyeballs are hard!" exclaimed another.

They loved it. One student said she was glad she did the lab because she's been thinking of being a surgeon and wanted to make sure she could deal with it. The only complaint, really, was the smell, but believe me, it was a lot better than the smell of the frogs I dealt with in High School that were preserved in pure formaldehyde.

I can't wait to hear them talking about it tomorrow!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What a Buck Will Buy

Fund raising is, unfortunately, a fact of life with our school. A lot of our funding got cut this last year, even our Title 1 funds, so we've been scrambling to figure out how to pay for things like, say, copies, incentives for the kids, and new materials.

One of our biggest fund raisers over the past few years has been our Fall Festival. Most of the schools around here have them, and they bring in a lot of money, even in our zone. They're kind of fun as they bring in the families, not just the students, so you see the parents and often times the siblings of the kids you currently teach. We also get a kids from the high school we feed into who come over to help run booths. They're mostly from the ROTC program and the Band and it's nice to see how some of our kids turned out after we've set them free from middle school.

So, Mrs. Eagle and I were wanting to come up with an easy fund-raiser for seventh grade science. We're in need of money to buy some materials to go with our new standards so we're submitting grants and doing whatever we can to get some money, realizing full well that it may take a few years before we get enough to do anything with it.

We've done hair painting int he past, but have grown bored with it. Besides, it costs money to buy the colored hair spray and you get tired of breathing in the fumes after a couple of hours. We let student council take over that booth this year. What we wanted was something that wasn't messy, that didn't cost hardly anything to do, and that appealed to the middle school mind. The middle school mind, after all, will spend money on some of the dumbest things.

We came up with the Pillow Fight booth.

All we needed were four pillows ($2.50 a piece at Walmart), some pillow cases ($1.00 a piece at Dollar General) and some football helmets (borrowed from a football coach). I had a timer, we made a sign, grabbed some chairs, roped off a ring with yarn and basically charged the kids a dollar each to beat each other with pillows for one minute.

We made over a hundred dollars.

Talk about an easy way to make money. The kids loved it, although some of them didn't think a minute was long enough until they actually did it. We probably should have sold bottled water to the combatants after they finished since most of them were panting and pretty worn out. It was pretty good entertainment, to be honest. Most of the boys just whomped away at each other, while the girls would start giggling so hard they could hardly swing a pillow. We had some sibling pairs duke it out, plus a few parents who let their kids beat at them with a pillow.

My favorite was an 8th grader who let his little brother, who may have been all of four, beat at him with a pillow. The little guy was going wap-wap-wap-wap with the pillow and every once in a while his older brother would tap him on the head with his pillow. Not often you see a kid that age being that nice to a little sibling. The little guy was beaming when he finished.

Gotta love it when you score a hit with the kids, and make money to boot!

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's All in the Fundamentals

Last night was the home opener for Middle School Basketball Season.

We played one of our cross town rivals. The school with the 8th grader who's 6'5" tall, an AB student, and an overall nice kid. He's supposedly better at baseball. Hard to believe. Of course, all he had to do all night was stand there and tip balls into the net, but still. He's the total package. Nice kid, good student, good athlete. He probably helps little old ladies with their groceries.

Coach Math, the new math teacher on The Team, is our new boys basketball coach this year. This is an added bonus. We were tickled to death to get a really good, highly thought of math teacher, but the fact that he coaches, well, that was just icing on the cake. Finding a good coach, one who can motivate the kids (and stand dealing with them for a lot more hours than most of us do), is not easy to do. The pay isn't all that great, and it makes for some really long days.

The rest of us on the team decided to make sure we all attended the game so we could support Coach Math. We also got him a card, wishing him luck with the season. He's had a bit of an adjustment coming to The School. He used to teach across town, at a school where most kids had both parents, both parents had jobs, and kids did their homework and excelled. He's used to a school where an F on a progress report means a parent phone call or email. Now he's with us, and he's figuring out that the parents of our students are, for the most part, missing in action. We sent home progress reports last week and not one of us on the team got so much as a phone call or an email. Nothing. It's a big adjustment when you're used to a lot more parental support and some higher achievers.

But if anyone can make it work, it's Coach Math.

We asked him this week at lunch what he thought of his team. "Well," he said, "they really need work on fundamentals. They play too much street ball. We may win some, we may lose some, but they'll know the real game when we're done."

It was a different team than we've ever seen play before. We're used to the kids playing street ball, with a collection of hotshots and a couple of kids who make the hotshots look even better. The hotshot kids always bothered me. For the most part they tended to be punks who only did well academically during the season, and let their true colors shine once the season was over when they did stupid stuff to get suspended and who knows what else. They had what I call the "PacMan Jones Disease" - people made excuses for their bad behavior because they were good athletes and the kids believed the were God's gift to basketball.

Coach Math put a stop to that. A kid couldn't even try out for the team if the first nine week report card wasn't satisfactory. That eliminated a bunch of the kids who thought they were superstars but weren't cutting it academically. It also eliminated a bunch of the troublemakers who caused problems for coaches in the past. Coach Math wasn't putting up with thuggish behavior. Two days after the team was announced, one of his players got a write up and was sent to ISS. Coach kicked him off the team. That really sent a message.

So what he ended up with was a team with no hot shot superstars, but some nice kids and some decent kids when it came to the grades. Nothing to write home about, but the raw talent was there.

The raw talent produced. They played team ball. They passed, they dribbled, they took their time, they listened to directions from the coach, they worked as a team. And, even with the Six Foot Wunderkid on the opposing team, they hung in there and the game was a close one all the way until the final buzzer.

When it was tied and went into overtime.

And for the first time in my six years at The School, the students who were there attending the game (who usually spend the games gossiping, socializing, and ingesting copious quantities of junk food and soda) were on their feet cheering and screaming and going crazy. All of the teachers in attendance looked at each other in awe. "Do you see that?" we all asked. "They've never done that before!" It was a sight to see.

And the overtime seemed to stretch forever with one team scoring and then the other, and back down the court, and another basket, and then we got fouled, and the toss was nothing but net and we, amazingly, astoundingly, won the game!

We cheered. We screamed. The boys looked stunned. Then they all jumped on each other and screamed and yelled and Coach was giving them high-fives and it was like Christmas and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.

Coach Math made those kids believe in themselves and worked some magic.

And it was just the first game.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Veterans Among Us

We had our annual Veteran's Day Ceremony this past Friday.

For some schools this may not be a big deal, but for our school, it is A Very Big Deal. In fact, this is probably the Biggest Deal Assembly we have all year.


Because over half our parents are either active duty military, reservists (who have been put on active duty) or are veterans.

Because many of our teachers, one administrator, our school nurse, a lot of our bus drivers, a handful of our cafeteria workers, and three of our janitors are veterans.

Because many of our teachers are spouses of active duty military or are the spouses of veterans. They've raised their own families, taught other's children, and did this all with their spouse overseas a huge amount of the time.

Because many of our students are going through the fourth and fifth deployment of one, and sometimes both, parents.

Because this year, for the second time, we lost a parent in combat.

Our kids know the meaning of the song Taps. It makes many of them cry unabashedly in front of their friends, forgetting, for once, to be cool. It will strike this gym full of middle schoolers into absolute, respectful, silence.

Our kids know to give a huge cheer for the Brigadier General and Korean War vet who came to speak, but saved the biggest cheer for the young Army Private who was one of our honored guests.

For our kids, veterans are woven into the fabric of their lives.

And I can't help but think how fortunate they are to have these people in their lives.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Should Have Worn a Disguise

My first teaching job was in a town of 9,000. This was back when I did the Big Deal Career Change and went back to school to become a teacher. I had a previous degree (B.S. in Business Management) and a pulse so I was hired by one of my professors, who also happened to be Superintendent of Schools, to work as a permanent substitute teacher when I wasn't in class.

I did this for three years and probably learned more about being a teacher by subbing than I ever did in a college classroom.

I also learned that with the job comes a certain lack of privacy, especially when you've probably been in every classroom in a small district and everyone under the age of 18 knows who you are. It got to the point that The Hubster and I would head east about 10 miles to the first town that wasn't in our district to do our shopping and eating out. We didn't have any privacy in the town we lived in - everyone knew what everyone did, where they ate, what they bought, who they spent time with. You couldn't work in the yard in your grubbies with your hair up on top of your head and dirt all over your face without having a visit from at least one student or parent in the neighborhood.

So, when I moved South (being an economic refugee from Up North, the Land of Taxes and No Jobs), one of the things I made certain of was that I didn't live in the same zone I taught in. I didn't want a long commute, but I also didn't want the lack of privacy I had before. Most of the time it works pretty well. I do run into kids at The Mall, and often at the Walmart near The School, but for the most part I live my life in relative obscurity which is how we like it.

And then I lost my mind this past Sunday and wanted to save some time and ended up shopping in The Zone.

Actually, my church is in The Zone, but it's a small country church and I never see students there, just the regular church goers and Mrs. Eagle and her family. So this past Sunday, after services and a quick trip to the gym, I realized I needed to get gas and go to the market. Now my usual grocery store is on the opposite side of town from where I was. It's not even that close to where I live, but I live in a part of town that's fairly new in terms of development so we don't have any markets near us. We got lucky and finally got a pizza joint this past year. We got a Walgreens a few months ago and people were ecstatic because they actually have some food items there and you don't have to drive twenty minutes to the closest market when all you need is some milk.

For a moment or two, I toyed with the idea of just going to my regular market. However, that would probably take an extra half hour and I was right near a Kroger, and one with gas pumps, and I could kill two birds with one stone so to speak. And after all, what are the chances of running into a student? It's Sunday morning, everyone is either at church, or breakfast, or somewhere else.

So, I did what I never do, and that's shop at the market in The Zone.

And ran into three students.

The parents are tickled to see me. One of the boys wasn't (he should be embarrased by the progress report that went out on Friday) but his mother made sure to come up and say hi and comment on how he should be embarrassed by his progress report. Hey, I was happy she actually saw it since many kids like to pretend they don't exist and don't show it to their folks. The other two students, both girls, giggled and smiled and commented on the fact that I was - gasp! - shopping.

Just like normal people do. Hell, I even use coupons because I'm on a budget like everyone else.

I think they believe we sleep under our desks.

It wasn't that bad, actually, although I know I'll have about a dozen kids come up to me tomorrow and comment on the fact that they heard I was at the Kroger store nearby. It could have been worse. I could have been buying liquor!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


The Team came back from Fall Break, rested, rejuvenated, and refreshed, only to notice that, one week into the new grading period, our kiddos were doing pretty much nothing. They weren't doing homework and even some of them couldn't manage to turn in in-class assignments.

My homework turn in percentage the past few years has been really high. For one, I assign it on Monday and it's due on Friday. I usually give the students a choice on which assignments they want to do (I'll list four, they do two). The homework itself is practice for what we've done in class, but if they have questions on it, I do have homework helpers that they can use during am homeroom, pm homeroom, or check out to take home - some of my special education students get the helpers stapled into their agendas or emailed home to their parents. It essentially gives the answers to the homework, so even if a kid is completely clueless, if he or she copies down the correct information, at least it was in front of them for that one time. (That idea isn't original - it came from an NMSA conference I went to a few years ago.) However, even with choices, even with four days to do the assignments, and even with the answers right there in front of them, they didn't bother to turn any work in - this is a huge change from previous years when I had nearly all my kids turning in work.

I wasn't alone. All the teachers in the seventh grade have the same problem, and even some of the eighth graders are exhibiting vast degrees of laziness. One of the eighth grade teams has implemented a homework clinic during lunch where the kids who owed work had to eat in a teacher's classroom and work on their homework at the same time. This seems to work pretty well as the kids started turning in work, rather than miss their social time, and at the same time their test scores and grades started to improve (especially in Math.)

Our Mr. Math was at another school last year that really targeted these kids who turn out to be, for the most part, our at-risk population. We took a little of what he did at his old school, a little what the 8th graders were doing, and came up with the Friday Homework Clinic.

By Monday afternoon, the teachers on my team have emailed me the names of all the kids with missing work for this grading period. I can cut and paste all this into an Excel spreadsheet (PowerSchool, our new grading program, makes this soooo easy), sort the kids by name, and have a print out of who owes what work.

On Tuesday morning I hand out to the kids a slip of paper with all their missing assignments listed. They have until Thursday afternoon to get this work made up and turned in, otherwise, they miss their first period elective class on Friday. Instead of doing art, or PE, or band, or computers, they are assigned to one of our rooms where they have to sit and work. We try to assign the kids to the teacher they need the most help with (for example if most of the work they owe is Math, Mr. Math gets them). This way they can get more individual attention. (I also make sure all my teammates have a copy of my Homework Helpers so that is available to help the kids as well).

The first week we did this, out of 120 kids, we had 88 who initially had to attend the clinic.

By Friday morning that number was down to about 68.

They were not happy. At all. However, they did turn in a lot of work. For some kids this was the first work we'd seen out of them all year. When I went home and graded papers this weekend, I couldn't believe how many students had managed to not only turn in their missing assignments, but managed to pull their grades up as well.

The Principal, by the way, absolutely loves that we're doing this. I got her blessing before we started. As she says, we have absolutely got to get these kids growing academically, and if it means having high expectations and accountability, so be it.

This week our number of kids missing assignments is 73. Of that number, about 20 of them are kids who owe one assignment and can, quite honestly, get that turned in before the Thursday deadline. That would give us about 53. That's still a high number, but better than the week before. It may take a few weeks for some of them to realize that we're serious.

At it costs us is a bit of time, and losing one planning period (we get two) to help work with these kids.

It's worth it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Tale of C-Boy

We have just finished two weeks of benchmark testing. We had Math, Reading and Language Arts one week, and then finished up with Social Studies and Science this week. The results were beyond disappointing. I know we make these tests hard, on purpose, but we've never had a seventh grade test so low.

And I mean really, really low. We have our datachat this next week, so we'll see what kind of interesting ideas come out of it.

In any case, the kids hate benchmarks, don't see the point in them, and frankly could give a rip. We keep telling them that these scores become part of their record and that any teacher in the future could pull them up and see what they've done, but that doesn't make much of an impression. After all, for these kids, the future is lunchtime.

We had one fellow in my homeroom, who's really quite bright but working on being a completely clueless knucklehead because "It's cool!", who got a bit carried away with being lazy and instead of reading and taking his tests, decided to code all the answers with the letter C. He then proceeded to tell all his classmates who promptly dimed him out and told us. Of course, by then, he'd already taken three tests.

When Mrs. Social Studies saw that he had bubbled in all C's on his test, she went nuts. She yanked him out into the hall and gave him a piece of her mind. The Principal found out and gave him a piece of her mind as well. And, for good measure, Mrs. Squirrel, one of our AP's, did the same. And then it was decided that he'd end up taking his tests again. (We caught him at this by the time the Science test rolled around - Mrs. Squirrel came into my room and gave him a good long stare that dropped them temperature in the room about 30 degrees and scared not only C-Boy, but everyone else in the room as well.)

So, C-Boy, who thought he was being clever, ended up having to miss some of his elective classes and make up the tests again. He was not happy. The other kids all found out and got the message that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to goober up on a benchmark.

On Thursday, we're doing our review for our unit test, which is a PowerPoint with sample test questions, followed by the answers so the kids get immediate feedback and we can discuss the question. I always warn the little goobers that memorizing the letters and the order of the answers is pointless because I scramble them and they aren't in the same order as the test. This is met with a groan of dissapointment from those who were looking for an easy way out. However, the kids tend to like this review and it helps them see where they need to focus.

Anyway...we do a test question, and the multiple choice answer happens to be the one that goes with the letter "C".

Red-Headed Boy in the back raises his hand and when I call on him says, "Hey, I bet C-Boy got that one right!" and the class all cracks up, even C-Boy.


Every single time we get an answer with the letter "C", the kids start making snarky comments about C-Boy. He's pretty amused with the attention the first few times, but as the class period winds down, and his classmates keep teasing him, he's starts to get a bit disgruntled. By the time the period was over, he was pretty fed up with the teasing. He didn't say anything smart back (which was actually one of the smartest things he's done in a while), but definitely wasn't laughing.

The funny thing is, we, as teachers, could go on and on with this kid about what a stupid stunt he pulled on his benchmarks, and it would go in one ear and out the other. However, once his peers start picking on him about it, it hits home.

Bet he doesn't do that again. But you can also bet that I'm checking his answer sheets carefully.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Harumph. It's Halloween

Whomever decided it was a good idea to give our students candy during their 1st and 2nd period related arts classes deserves to be strung up by their toes.

Bouncing off the walls doesn't begin to describe it.

If you're going to give the little cherubs candy, give it to them 5 minutes before they leave so they can bounce off their own walls and drive their parents to drink.

Reason Number One why I hate Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Speed Conferencing

I just got home from parent teacher conference night.

I'm whupped. It's a long day - thirteen hours for me, since I show up at 6:30am and left at 7:30 pm. The PTO, bless their hearts, did feed us a nice BBQ supper, with all the trimmings - potato salad, baked beans, mac and cheese, and plenty of veggies and desserts. This is The South, after all, where we consider mac and cheese to be a vegetable.

In any case, parent teacher conference night is sort of like speed dating. We sent out a form with the reports cards on Friday, where all the parent had to do was circle the name of the teacher or teachers on the child's team and send it back. Once we got them all in by the cut-off time of Tuesday, we scheduled the parents in to see us in 10 minute blocks. So it goes something like this...

Meet with Mr. Math for ten minutes.


On to Miss Reading for ten minutes.


Down the hall to Ms. Language for ten more minutes.


Around the corner to Mrs. Social Studies for ten minutes!


And lastly, next door to Mrs., Bluebird for ten minutes!



We had more forms turned in than we had time slots so we sort of had to pick and choose, and we chose the ones from parents we really needed to talk to. The others got a nice note reminding them that they can simply call the office to make an appointment any day during our planning.

Pinball Boy's mother, obviously, was scheduled in first. We needed to talk to her, and badly! He's still bouncing off the walls, and this week he and I are focusing on him staying in his seat when it is appropriate - he gets to move around my room a lot more than the other kids as he's passing out papers, turning the lights on and off, answering the door, and so forth, but he still needs to learn that there's a time to be up and around and a time to sit down. Mom seems frazzled (there are 4 more, after all) and she did say that she was trying to find a new doctor as their old doctor retired. She realizes there's a problem, so we can only hope that she will work with us to fix it.

Most of my students are going through the typical seventh grader DUH phase - they don't do work, don't study, can't seem to get it together and are in a perpetual fog. Every year we get parents who wonder what happened to that adorable little sixth grader who never caused a fuss and now is moody and doing badly in school.

We call it getting hit with the hormone hammer.

In any case, I did have a couple of cool moments, both dealing with two of my special ed kids. I got lucky this year because my special ed kids are awesome. They nearly all have incredible work ethics, they try hard, they're polite, sweet, and never a behavior problem. This is a huge change from years gone by. One of them, Big-Eyed Boy, loves science and is my top student in my Fifth Period Class From the Depths of Hell Itself.

Okay, tangent coming here...I may have to rename this class. I put in a new discipline program last week (Thanks to Leesepea), and they have straightened up like nobody's business. Of course, a lot of them have been absent lately, but they still are turning it around.

Anyhow, Big-Eyed Boy may be special ed, but this is one smart kid. He just has trouble processing, but once he gets it, he gets it. His benchmark rocked. He's wonderful. Mom was nearly in tears.

"Would you mind if I got my husband on the phone and you could tell him this? He'll never believe me."

No problem there. She calls up hubby and I tell him what I told her. Great job, hard worker, good benchmark, I'd take a classroom full of him if I could. Dad is going, "Really?" and I'm saying, 'Yup, he's going places if he stays this focused."

Mom thanks me. And thanks me again. And can hardly get out of the room. But really, I should be thanking her because that kid is a ray of sunshine in my life.

Sweet Boy's Mom and Dad show up. Sweet Boy is home studying for his science test. I told mom last time I saw her that I was going to do something different for this test. Sweet Boy reads, at best, at a second grade level. He has not been able to pass a modified test, even though it's read to him. However, I know, from listening to him, that he knows the stuff. So we're going to do an oral test. I'm going to get with him and talk about science. And hopefully this will help his grade, and his self-confidence. Mom and Dad are just delighted that I'm willing to try this. They can't believe how lucky they are that Sweet Boy is on a great team (and honestly, all our teams in the 7th grade are pretty darn good). They are so pleased to see that he's doing better and focusing a lot more.

Parents like that make it worth while.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What's that Crazy Noise in My Brain?

So I made it back from Fall Break in one piece, surviving the Great Colorado Yarn Tour (where Mom, Aunt, and Cousin Penguin and I hit 5 yarn shops in 3 days, which is pretty good for a crazy bunch of knitters), helping Aunt move irrigation pipe and feed calves, yukking it up with Cousin Penguin (made me feel 20 again), and generally having a great fantastic wonderful time.

And on Sunday, hubster and I topped it off by adopting another rescue cat, a 4-month old kitten we named Red Jackson. We had to put our beloved Morgan to sleep in late September (cancer finally caught up with her) and we decided to add another to our family. However. You know how cats sleep something like 18 hours a day? This one does not.

So, I'm not getting a great deal of sleep, and we're doing benchmarks all this week and next, and we had a dance today after school and it's just nuts.

Which is why I didn't completely freak out when, yesterday, this weird noise was lurking around my 6th period class. It was one of those sounds that you aren't really quite sure you're hearing...a very high pitched squeal or whine that would fade in and out, and then you'd think it was gone and then it would be back.

At first, I wasn't even sure I was hearing right. After all, you get 28 7th graders in a room and you hear all sorts of weird noises. Then I was wondering if maybe someone had a cell phone and it was making a noise. Then one of the kids mentioned that they were hearing this really strange noise.

"You too?" I asked. Most of the kids on that side of the room nodded. The rest looked perplexed. "I think it might be coming from outside," one of them volunteered.

So, I pop my head out the door and discover nothing but scattered rain clouds and an empty courtyard. Nothing there. I then check my sound system and fiddle with the buttons thinking some kid had been messing with it or something. The sound seemed to stop for a while and then it came back.


I couldn't figure it out and the sound was somewhat intermittent, so I decided to plow right on ahead and get through our foldable notes on body systems. I figured I could check around later after the room was empty and see if I could figure it out.

About three minutes before class ends, however, one of my students, Curly Haired Girl, frantically starts waving her hand in the air.

"I know what the sound is!" she said, her face beaming as if she's solved some great riddle - which she had.

"You do?" I ask, and all the kids turn and look. How on earth could this quiet, unassuming girl figured out the Mystery of the Squealing Noise?

"Yes!" she giggled. "It's my hearing aides! This means they need to get serviced!"

At that point I lost it along with Curly Haired Girl and the rest of the class. Who would have thought? Curly Haired Girl is hearing impaired but you'd hardly know - you never see her hearing aides (all that curly hair), and she doesn't seem to be any different from any other kid. In fact, she pays attention better than most, so you don't even remember that she has an IEP.

We all enjoyed a good giggle, she promised she'd tell mom about the noise, and we ended the day on a high note. Isn't it cool when kids like Curly Haired Girl have no problem being different? And the kids in her class don't find it weird at all?

Sometimes they surprise me.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall Break!

One nine week grading period done, three to go.

I need this break. I'm heading out to Colorado to meet up with Mother and visit the old Homeplace, shop for yarn, knit, walk, and relax.

Where I'm going, there is no wifi, so I'm leaving the computer. Heck, I'll be lucky to get a good cell phone signal.

See you when I get back!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

When Reality Smacks You Upside the Head

Friday will be the last day of our first nine-week grading period.

(It will also be the last day before our week-long fall break and those of us teaching seventh grade this year are nearly besides ourselves with glee, but I digress.)

This is the time of the grading period where we'll see some of the little cherubs who have done absolutely freaking nothing but suck in oxygen all quarter become a bit concerned.

One girl in my notorious Fifth Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, Softball Girl, who has a a whopping 50% in my class, came up to me on Tuesday with a printout from our PowerSchool grade program. Someone (Mom perhaps?) had gone over all the missing assignments with a highlighter. (On an aside, one reason I like this program is that when you give a kid a zero for an assignment, you can also code it as missing if it wasn't turned in.) There were about 15 missing assignments. "Can I make these up?" she asked. Normally I don't accept late work, but hey if she wants to spend all night making up fifteen assignments, I'll give her partial credit.

"Sure," I said. "Do you have them all written down in your agenda?"

She nods her head in the affirmative.

"Then go for it," I say. Any bets on if I'll see any of it.

Anyone? Someone?

They have been crawling out of the woodwork, asking for extra credit, wanting to turn in late work, wondering if there was a way to turn that 43% into a passing 70% (ah, no, there really isn't).

This absolutely slays me. Every three weeks we send out progress reports. Kids have their own PowerSchool passwords and can get on line and monitor their own progress daily if they so desire. If they don't have internet at home, I'll print out a progress report (and my new favorite report, the missing assignment report - that scares them a bit when they see it all listed there in black and white). In short, there's no way on this earth they don't realize that they're digging, digging, digging a hole. They're just busy finding ways to stay off task.

Until, of course, it finally dawns on them (after hearing us go on and on and on and on about it) that Report Cards Are Coming Out Soon and I'm Going to Get Grounded!

The good news is that, usually, a lot of these kids wake up from their seventh grade beginning of the year coma and actually kick it up a notch.

Usually. With this group, however, I'm not placing any bets.

I'm just hoping they mature a bit over fall break.

Yeah, right...

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Mothers

Tiny Tim's mom is at it again.

If you recall, this is one of my mothers who does her son's work, questions every thing we do, and really, really, needs to get out more. We suspect all she does is chain smoke her cigarettes, play on the internet, wait for her public assistance, and email people just to complain about life. She is not a happy woman to be blunt about it. What's sad is she has a neat kid who's learned that he doesn't need to do a thing as his mom will do it for him. He won't ask a single question in class, and instead waits to go home, tells his mom his question, she fires off a snotty email along the lines of "why didn't you help Tiny Tim with this", and we're once again blind-sided.


She'd left me alone for a few weeks as she was busy tormenting the other teachers on the team (it's almost as if she decides which teacher she's going to pick on each week). However, I made the fatal mistake of having the kids clean out their binders and took a binder grade last week.

Let me explain a bit about the is a district-wide mandate that the students in middle school follow a program called GPA (Greater Potential for Achievement) which is modeled, somewhat, on the AVID programs our high schools offer. Each kid has a binder that is organized for each subject, and each subject has three sections - homework, classwork and notes, and returned work. We helped the kids set up their binders, and explained (over and over and over) how they work. We also explained (over and over and over) that they needed to keep all their returned work in the - surprise! - returned work section of their binders until we clean them out.

So, since we are starting in on biology, and it's near the end of the grading period, I had the kids clean out their classwork (except for foldables) and their returned work sections. I had them turn in their Unit 2 test which I'd graded and returned. After all, if the kids are keeping up with their binders, they should have this test. Pretty simple, really, and most kids (including my bunch in ISS) had this in their binders.

Tiny Tim did not have his. Therefore I got hate mail. Vicious, nasty, ugly hate mail.

She thinks the binders are STUPID. She doesn 't agree with them and therefore refuses to use them they way they are to be used. Her son shouldn't have to do what everyone else does. She cleans out his binder every night and throws every thing away because it's STUPID that we have to keep any returned work. She never kept any work from when she was in college (this surprised me because if you meet her, she talks and acts like she barely got out of high school) because it was STUPID to do so. How dare I didn't tell her when I was going to do a binder clean up and how dare I not tell her what I was going to collect, and how dare I not email her every single detail of every single decision I make each and every day. And while she was at it, she didn't agree with our Very Big Deal State Mandated Test and NCLB either. (Like I have any control over that).

I didn't respond. I simply sent it to The Principal.

The Principal ended up in a 45 minute phone conversation with Mean Nasty Mom who proceeded to berate her for every little thing she could think of, including the lunch menu and the color of the floor tiles. The Principal basically told her that instead of always looking at the negative, perhaps she should celebrate the fact that her son has the best team of teachers in the seventh grade and that he's doing well.

And that probably went over like a lead balloon.

So while The Principal is wasting her time listening to this woman vent, her phone calls are going to voicemail. After she gets rid of Mean Nasty Mom, she starts to go through them which, by all accounts is usually a depressing experience because it's usually nothing but people complaining about one thing or another.

And then she gets the call from Sweet Boy's Mom.

"Mrs. Principal, I know the only reason anyone ever calls you is to complain so I thought I'd call and tell you what a fantastic job Mrs. Bluebird and her team is doing to help Sweet Boy this year. I can't believe how they're willing to go the extra mile for him, are helping him so much with some one on one tutoring, and how they always have his best interests at heart."


Funny. One Team of Teachers. Two Moms. Two completely different viewpoints.

Maybe it's how you look at the world - you can hate everything and always see the negative, or you can believe in always seeing the positive.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Time for the Education Carnival!

I don't know about ya'll, but if your week has been like mine, it's time to take some R&R and visit this week's Carnival of Education hosted by Creating Lifelong Learners - hop on over for some Fall Fun!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The First Seventh Grade After School Science Lab

For those of you who cruise regularly through my rants, raves and whines, you've obviously realized that this year's crop of seventh graders is - to put it mildly - a challenge.

Actually they're a freaking nightmare, but I'm trying to put a Pollyanna spin on it.

Anyway, the three of us who teach seventh grade science (and yes, we are the Queens of Collaboration), just couldn't put up with the bad behaviors anymore and have had to eliminate labs and go to demonstrations in our classrooms. Thus, the birth of the Seventh Grade After School Science Lab.

This Wednesday was our first meeting and it was - can you believe it! - a pretty amazing success.

We handed out about 60 permission slips (we only had space for 32 and that was pushing it) and had 16 kids get them signed and in by the deadline. On that day only 13 showed, and it was wonderful. Two teachers, thirteen kids, one great big awesome lab. (Mrs. Robin isn't able to do the labs with us yet as her hubby is deployed and she has two kids of her own to deal with.)

We are finishing up our unit on elements, compounds and mixtures and we decided to have them work with a mixture called a colloid. Colloids are mixtures where the particles are so small that they don't settle out.

Like butter, for example.

Yup, we had them making butter. It's really a pretty fun lab that we haven't done for a few years due to time constraints. It's pretty easy. You get some little plastic containers that are somewhat clear (Gladware works well), some marbles, and some cream. Basically, you fill the container with cream, plop in a marble, and give to a kid to shake. They had to shake their cream for ten minutes, stopping every minute to observe any changes in their mixture, and to make notations on their lab sheet.

(BTW, if you ever plan to do this do NOT ever use baby jars. Marbles can crash through a baby jar to create a mess like you wouldn't believe, not to mention glass everywhere!)

The changes the cream goes through is pretty cool if you're a kid and haven't ever made whipped cream with a mixer (these kids think whipped cream comes in a can or a plastic container in the freezer section of the grocery store). When it finally turns to butter it happens in a flash and all of a sudden you have a sloshing milky liquid and a yellow blob of butter in the container. The kids were a hoot - shaking their jars, and hopping up and down and trying to get their butter made the fastest.

The hardest part for them was the part of the lab where they had to let it sit for ten minutes and make more observations (the clear liquid settles out and the butter gets a bit firmer). After that we gave them crackers and they ate their butter and crackers.

They were ecstatic. They loved the big lab. They loved the fact that they got a lot of attention as there were only 13 of them in there. They cleaned up without complaint (and did a good job of it too). They filled out their lab sheets in detail and never once whined. No one asked if it was for a grade, which surprised me as these kids usually won't lift a pencil without asking if they get credit for it. They even worked together on a puzzler that we had to kill the last few minutes of class since we weren't too sure how long they'd take.

We walked them out to the parent pick up area, with their little containers of butter (if they hadn't already snarfed it all down), and they couldn't wait to show their parents what they'd made in science lab. A lot of the parents took the time to roll down the car windows and thank us for doing the lab, and off they went.

Mrs. Eagle looked at me and said, "This was the most fun I've had in a long time."

She's right. It was a lot of fun. It was nice to do a lab with kids who wanted to be there and who listened.

And we're already planning our next one.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Little Janie Appleseed

Take a look, dear friends, at my new toy.

No, it's not a torture device to use on my Fifth Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself...although it did cross my mind. It's a super duper all in one apple peeler, corer, slicer do-dad.

This is one of the reasons why I needed this little gadget.

You can't quite tell in the picture, but this is my little apple tree. The same tree that was knocked down in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The same tree that maybe, in a good year, has produced a bucket or two of apples. The same tree that last year, after the April where it went from 80 degrees to 18, didn't produce a single apple having had all its blossoms freeze off. The same tree that survived a 22" deficit in rainfall last year and wasn't watered due to water restrictions.

This tree is, this year, going absolutely freaking crazy. We're talking apples beyond apples beyond apples. And no, I have no idea what variety of apples they are as the tree came with the house. I do know that they are tasty and sweet and make killer apple sauce. All organic and no sugar added, thank you very much.

Here are four of my buckets of apples. I've had at least seven, and there's still a lot more apples on that little tree. So, since I tend to be frugal (hey, free apples!) and I sort of think of canning as one giant science lab in my kitchen, I'm making apple sauce.

Lots and lots of apple sauce.

A week ago, I hand peeled, cored, and cut up a bucket of apples and made four quarts of apple sauce.

I thought my right hand was going to cripple up and never work correctly again. This was not, obviously, going to work. So, I found out that one of my favorite stores, Linens and Things, sold apple peelers. Cool! So I went over after church to get one.

And they were sold out.

But there were 16 coming on the truck on Tuesday. Apparently I am not the only one with a very productive apple tree this year. I asked the very helpful lady to hold one for me and went back on Tuesday (when I was sicker than a dog with the crud which turned out to be an ear infection), and got my new toy.

It is a joy.

It does everything but tap dance. A quick turn of the handle and I've got a perfectly cored, peeled, and sliced apple. Wonderful!

My father, the original gadget head, who was visiting for a few days, thought it was pretty cool. In fact, he thought it was so cool, he went and bought one. Not because he cans, but because he figures he'd make the doctor happier by eating more fruit because, hey, it's fun to jab it on the spikey thing, turn the handle and watch the peel curl off and the slices come off the end all perfectly even.

And he even took a bucket of apples with him.

And four quarts of apple sauce.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I think I've broken some sort of record.

First, a cold ten days into school.

Now, a full blown ear infection, along with heavy congestion, lots of coughing and general misery.

We're barely six weeks in and I've been sick twice. This one is a kicker, however. It started Saturday afternoon with what I thought was one of my rare asthma attacks. I'd had wicked bad allergies all day, which isn't surprising as fall is always bad for me. However, by Sunday morning it was a steady cough. I haven't missed school, but I've pretty much come home, did supper, and hit the bed.

Only to cough nearly all night long.

Fortunately, one of the benefits we have as employees of the school district (county employees get it too) is on-site health care. It's free, if you're part of the insurance plan, and although there are no walk in's it isn't difficult to get an appointment at one of the six clinics across the school system. The one closest to me is right up the road at the high school we feed into. I have a standing Wednesday appointment to get my allergy shots, so today I went in, looked pathetic and walked out with prescriptions for plugged up heads, cough, and the ear infection.

I just want to feel better.

So, I'm going to bed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Birth of the After School Seventh Grade Science Club

We tried.

Over the past five weeks Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I have forged ahead with our lessons on matter, which included a number of relatively easy labs which, in the past, have been hugely popular with our students. We've explored solids, liquids and gases with our popular "popcorn lab" where we use popcorn and Crisco to mimic the three states of matter. We've done our Layered Liquids lab on density involving colored water, syrup and oil. We've even done our Oobleck lab which has often resulted in parents requesting the recipe and students recreating it at home in their family kitchen just for fun.

It has been a disaster each and every time with this particular group of kids.

They cannot, will not, behave for a lab. They will not listen. They will not stay in their seats. They will not complete and turn in their lab reports, leaving them strewn across tables and the floor. And the noise level is unbelievable. This group still does not get the concept of using "lab voices".

And no amount of card punching, phone calls, time outs, and whatnot works. They just don't get it and they don't care.

The final straw for us this week was the Oobleck lab. For some reason they thought it would be fun to throw Oobleck at each other. Fortunately, Oobleck is simply cornstarch and water and can easily be washed out of clothes...however, my room (and Mrs. Robin's room and Mrs. Eagles room) and even the hallways outside our rooms looked like a powder bomb had gone off.

"This is insane," said Mrs. Eagle later that afternoon. "I have never, in eight years, had kids behave this badly during a lab. Never."

We both nodded and agreed and Mrs. Robin commented that she was starting to count the thirteen years she had before retirement.

So we've bagged the labs. We just can't trust that this group of kids can behave in a safe manner in a lab. They're so noisy that if we had an accident or an emergency, they wouldn't hear any instructions. And the thought of allowing these kids near a $200 microscope is just plain scary. They don't take care of equipment, and think nothing if something breaks.

This was not an easy decision. We have, over the past five years, tried to incoporate as many labs into our instruction as we can, and we've seen the pay off in rising scores and kids who are turned on by science. It's been tough, as our class time has been cut from 55 minutes to 45 minutes, and getting some of our labs done in this amount of time requires a lot of focus. And let's not even talk about budget issues.

But until this group, as a group, develops the maturity and the ability to behave appropriately in a lab setting, they're going to be getting demonstrations.

And yet...we weren't happy with that. Because we still have a few kids who actually care, who are actually put out with their peers who act like fools, and who are dying to do some real science.

So, with the blessing of The Principal (who's been cruising through our classrooms a lot this week and has seen for herself what behavior nightmares we're dealing with), we're starting an after school science lab club for the kids who actually care.

Basically the idea is that we'll put aside an afternoon of our time every other week or so, and allow kids to sign up to stay after school to do labs that apply to our current content. In order to do so, they have to get a permission slip signed by a parent, which will be due several days prior to the lab. We'll also have a cut off as to the number of kids that can attend as we want to keep the number managable. (We're starting to think a lot of our problems stem from the fact that our class sizes have jumped about 8 kids per class this year.) This will allow us to buy only the amount of materials we need for the labs, thus saving money.

And the best part is we'll have more time (however much we need), and we'll use the big lab, not our classrooms, to do the labs in.

Honestly, I'm hoping we won't have to do this for too long. The hope is that the kids who will be coming will talk up to the other kids about how much fun they're having and hopefully they'll figure out that once they grow up and behave, we'll do labs again in our rooms.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yes, Mom, You Didn't Get an A


Another helicopter mother. One who doesn't work, and apparently has nothing better to do than sit and email us all day long. She seems to pick at least one of us a week to torment, then calls guidance and complains about us in long drawn out phone calls.

Her son, however, is a delight. He's a small boy, who is absent a lot due to asthma (which probably wouldn't be so severe if Mom wasn't a chain smoker). He's smart as a whip, even with his absences. But his mother is still doing his homework.

And boy, does she get pissed when she doesn't get a perfect score.

Her son, Tiny Tim Boy, got a 10 out of 20 on his vocabulary cards because they were incomplete. He also got a 7 out of 10 as his homework was incomplete as well. I suspected, based on the fact that his vocabulary cards were typed and glued onto index cards, and the fact that his written homework looked nothing like his writing, that Mom did it. His math teacher from last year informed me earlier that she tended to do that. Which is weird as this kid doesn't need her help.

So, I get an email...why did he only get 7 out of 10?

And another email...why did he only get 10 out of 20? She remembered counting his cards, rubber banding them together, and making sure they were in his binder. (And why wasn't he doing this?)

And another email...why did I take half off when all that was missing on his vocabulary cards was the picture? And how can I expect the kids to draw pictures of science words?

And yet another dare I fail a kid with a 50% when they don't draw pictures. If that was the way I was going to grade, why bother to do the work at all? Drawing pictures is stupid.

And so forth and so on.

So, I emailed The Principal, and let her know that I hadn't responded, but I told her what I wanted to say. She replied, "go ahead, and you might want to add that a 50% is easier to recover from than a zero for an incomplete."

And then those magic words "I've got your back. Make sure you copy me so she knows that I'm in the loop."

I love my Principal.

So...I responded with my points...

1. Usually once a student earns an incomplete, they start doing their work correctly.
2. A 50% is easier to recover from. I suppose I could give a zero, but that's a bit harsh.
3. There's this intrinsic thing about doing a good job. I would think having pride in your work and doing it right is more important than a 20 point assignment.
4. The purpose of the vocabulary cards, which may, at most, equal 100 points out of about a 1000 each grading period, is not so much as to get the 20 point grade, but to use as a study tool so the child earns 100% on a vocabulary test.
5. Many of our standards have the word "recognize" in them and emphasize the importance of pictures. Besides, people learn new language by visual associations. Many kids get quite creative when it comes to pictures to help them learn vocabulary.

I hit send this afternoon, copying The Principal.

Haven't heard from her and frankly, don't care.

Because if she wants to go to the principal and change teams because I'm not "fair", the Principal is going to tell her that all three seventh grade science teachers have the same assignments and grade the same no matter how well SHE does on her work, she's going to get the same grade.

Maybe she'd be better off if her kid did his own work?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Premier Paper Passer

One of the things I hate to waste time doing is passing out papers to my students. With only a 45 minute class period, I try to eliminate as much "fluff" as I can from my day. Passing out papers just didn't seem to me to be really productive, although it is necessary.

To solve the problem of returning work to the kids, I set up a mailbox system. I have a big plastic file box, and there's a folder in there for each kid, organized alphabetically by class period. I give the kids four minutes at the beginning of each period to fill out their agenda, turn in work, and check their mailboxes. Actually, I tell them that they have four minutes, but they really have three. That's pretty much all they need. That saves me the hassle of calling out a kid's name, and waiting for him or her to get out of his or her seat, walk to me, and then return...or me having to scamper all over the room handing out work. I've tried having students return work, but that's just a big fat mess because half of them can't read the writing on the paper, they don't know everyone's name, and then there's the issue of confidentiality. Honestly, they all know who the goobers are who don't do well, but they don't need to have it validated.

Okay, so that solved the returned work problem. Now there's the problem with passing stuff out that we need to use during class.

Back when I had desks in rows, and not tables, I could easily walk across the front of the room and hand papers to the first kid in the row and they'd pass it back to the students behind them. Easy. However, I now have seven tables, plus the isolation island seats, and it's definitely not as easy to do.

And I believe that having a kid pass out papers is ideal because it gets the squirmy ones up and moving. It's no secret that I tend to have the hyper kids pass out papers. They're also usually the first to practically leap out of their seats when I ask for a volunteer. In any case, I go through a big deal every year teaching them how to do pass out papers. They are not to hand each individual person a paper (this can take freaking forever), but instead, count out four papers, and put it in the middle of the table, and then the kids at the table grab what they need. It works great if you have a kid who can do this without taking forever to count out the four pieces of paper.

So, last week we had the kids return to afternoon homeroom, the fifteen minute period at the end of the day when our homeroom kids return and we're supposed to check and sign agendas, send them to their lockers and - you guessed it - pass out the Very Important Papers that need to go home. I had a ton of papers to pass out - team newsletter, principal newsletter, and three pieces of paper having to do with our fundraiser.

I started off with two volunteers, Pinball Boy and Sweetheart Girl, and off they went. Pinball boy was back at my desk within thirty seconds.

"Next!" he barked, his hand out. I handed him the next stack.

Thirty seconds later he was back again.

"Next!" he barked, his hand out again. I handed him the next stack.

By this time I looked up and watched what was going on. Sweetheart Girl was doing a wonderful job of going to table to table and passing out the papers, but Pinball Boy had her beat in the speed department. He was flying. I don't think he actually stopped at the tables, he simply tossed the papers at them as he flew by. Papers were everywhere. Kids' hands were in the air grabbing at the papers as they fluttered down like multicolored leaves. They'd catch the papers, and staple them in their agendas, and then he was back with the next batch. It was a sight to behold.

He covered the entire room four times by the time Sweetheart Girl was finished...and she went pretty fast herself.

I have never, in my life, seen such a fantastic job of paper passing. This kid is a marvel. If there was a way I could bottle up his energy and sell it, I'd make a fortune.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Open House....

Rooms cleaned. Floors swept. Student work posted. Email sign up sheets laid out. Smiles ready

It's Open House night!

And I even wore a skirt and blouse.


We had a huge crowd, which is strange because it began pouring rain around 5:00 pm when the doors opened. Usually, if it rains no one comes out. We even had a health fair in the gym with vendors of health-related services set up at tables giving out free blood pressure tests, visitor passes to local gyms, and more.

I saw a lot of parents, which is nice. I saw a lot of former students which I enjoy as well, including a few that are seniors now which freaks me out. When did we get older? One is already being scouted by the Yankees and the Diamond Backs and I hope he makes it to the Show. That would be beyond cool. Another invited me to the first band concert over at the high school and marveled at my silver hair. I was blonde a few years ago when I had them.

Again, when did we start getting old?

Thank goodness I have them around to make me feel young...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Carnival Time!

It's Kiddie Carnival Time, according to our host this week at Lead from the Start! Check it out! (It beats getting your room together for Open House!)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Southern Tradition

I grew up in Pac Ten country, lived a dozen years in Big Ten country, and I can assure that there is nothing - nothing - like football in My Beloved South.

The high school football season kicked off last night and as we drove by the closest high school near our house my husband and father commented on the absolute and total lack of parking. The crowds are so big that people are parking in ditches, driveways, streets, and anywhere else you can squeeze a vehicle, even if it means walking a good hike to even get to the stadium. The stadiums are packed and it's often standing room only. The evening news spends a good ten minutes or more reporting on high school football on Friday nights, and today's sports page is thick with high school reporting.

But it's still nothing compared to SEC football.

Hubster, the military historian, born in Chicago but raised in Georgia, Texas and Arkansas (Daddy was in the poultry business), has often commented that Southerners play football as a way of getting revenge over losing the War Between the States. And truth be told, they're damn good at it.

When I lived Up North and would make the long trek down to see Daddy when he lived in Hotlanta, I would see car after car after car after car heading south with flags flying - UT, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina - to the game of the week. Many folks have season tickets and even with the price of gas think nothing of driving (or, in the case of UT, boating) to the games every weekend.

It is a passion here.

And truth be told, the game, as we play it down here, is awesome. It's a different style, although, what with some of the former southern coaches moving on to teach outside the SEC, I think we may see that migrate to other parts of the country.

And today, it begins.


Go Dawgs!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Carnival Time!

Okay, it's a three day weekend, so celebrate Labor Day - and all the hard labor you put into your jobs all year - by spending some time over at Sharp Brains for this week's carnival!

Not feeling the love

We've finished three weeks of school.

We've taken our first unit tests. (Horrid)

We've sent out our first progress reports. (Pathetic)

And as Mrs. Bunny commented to me the other day, "I'm not feeling the love with this group." Mrs. Eagle and I both nodded our heads in agreement.

This group of seventh graders is a tough bunch. And that's being nice.

We kind of had a feeling that this wasn't going to be an easy year. After all, the sixth grade teachers last year spent most of their time looking frazzled and stressed and were eagerly planning their summer breaks in October. We also spent a lot of time watching these kids in the hallway (their hallway behavior was atrocious) and we all prayed that they'd mature and grow up over the summer. The majority of our discipline referrals last year were from the sixth grade and the time I spent doing admin while my student teacher was around convinced me that this bunch had a real problem with self control.

And they haven't changed.

For the first year ever, the team had to implement a locker schedule because these kids can't manage to go to their lockers without messing around, hitting each other, smashing fingers in their lockers (assuming they get them opened) and generally fussing and fighting.

The first fight at lunch happened this week...during seventh grade lunch.

Most of us had to do seating charts for our lunch tables within the second day of school because these kids can't sit and behave during lunch. We had to implement lunch detention (bless Coach Math for volunteering to do this duty) for kids that can't behave at lunch and in the classroom. This is another first.

I have had to take each class out in the hall at least once (third period has done this three times) to teach them how to walk into a classroom, get quiet, sit down, and get their agendas opened, because they come into the classrooms screaming at the top of their lungs and don't stop even when the bell rings. I have never had to do this before.

In School Suspension, which hasn't been busy at all, has had a few customers and, you guessed it, the majority of them are seventh graders. This week three of them were from my team alone. And these weren't minor offenses like having a cell phone. They were for cursing at a cafeteria lady during breakfast...showing off naked pictures of a girl from Mrs. Eagle's team on a cell phone...slapping a kid in the back of the head at lunch, knocking over his milk, then kicking him while he was at his locker later that day.

I've spent time watching video of kids bullying each other...calling parents about kids getting caught during their test with a study guide out on their table....emailing the Enforcer about witnessing a kid slamming another kid upside the head and then having the bully look me square in the eye and sneer, "What are you going to do, call my mom again?"

My Fifth Period From the Very Depths of Hell Itself...can't stay in their seats, can't get quiet, refuses to turn in work, throws things, and generally manages to waste enough time every day that they basically end up losing about ten minutes a day of instruction. I feel awful for the kids in that class that actually care because they're being exposed to a bunch of malcontents who don't care...and when you call their parents you get comments like, "Well, I can't make him do anything at home so what the hell do you expect me to do?"

That's if you even get a parent on the line.

On the plus side - and that's because I have to find the silver lining somewhere - Pinball Boy is still doing great for me. I have a few kids asking for extra help to bring their grades up and we may come up with a homework clinic since tutoring was canceled this year due to budget cuts. Some of my parents are great about emailing me with questions, letting me know their kid is absent, wanting to volunteer. My squishy toys are very popular and the kids that use them are calming down somewhat.

But it's still going to be a hell of a year.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thankyew, Thankyewverymuch

As I sit here, head full of snot and with scratchy throat, I've discovered two of my blogging compatriots have seen fit to bestow upon me a blog award. Now, I love awards, especially those that are glittery and sparkly, so this is very cool. The guilty parties are Mr. Teacher (who I am going to adopt and pass off as my very smart and articulate son, especially as he's written the most hilarious book on earth and you all should buy it), and Melissa, the Scholastic Scribe (who's a Jane Austen fan and that puts her at the top of my list without even breaking a sweat.) Thanks you two...

Now, I'm supposed to add a picture of this little award, but blogger is being stupid and it won't let me add any pictures at all - even adorable ones of my adorable cats being adorable.

So I'm miffed.

However, I'm supposed to share the love, but I'm still so wacked out on Nyquil I can't maybe later.

Anyhow...I'm flattered.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Eleven days of school.

I already have my first cold.



Carnival Time!

Ding! Ding! Ding! The Carnival is up over at Bellringers! Check it out!!

As always, good stuff to get you inspired, help you laugh, and make you think.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hey Brother Can You Spare Some Copies?

I teach in a Title 1 school which means that over 50% of our student population is on free and reduced lunch. I think last year we were at 54% and I'm guessing this year it will be even higher. What this means is that we have a lot of Federal money sent our way to help our at-risk population.

Over the past three years this money has helped pay for things that have benefited our students. Hiring aides to work with our at-risk kids has been one of our expenditures that have seen real results. Another one has been the Reading 180 program that has moved kids up 2-3 grade levels in reading within a year. These have been the major expenditures.

Some of the minor expenditures were something as simple as extra copies. Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I got permission to go over our allotted copy budget to make individual copies of our tests. Now this may not seem like a real important thing to spend money on, but one of the things we really focused on last year was teaching kids good test-taking skills, and to make our tests more like the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests. This was something that Mrs. Standard, our Science Consulting Teacher from The District, had wanted us to do as it allowed kids to mark up the tests, cross out obviously wrong answers, make notes on the edges, highlight things and so forth and so on. Granted, it took longer to grade as I graded it by hand but it gave me a better idea of their thinking, and allowed the kid to see where the mistakes were. A bubble sheet doesn't quite do it. And, since we only get 3,000 copies a month, we got permission to use Title money to supplement our copies.

And we had the highest test scores in the school, so maybe there was something to it. I don't know.

So last week we get an email from The Principal, who had a meeting with her boss, and the long and short of it is that the Feds have decreased a lot of the funding to this program, and money we were expecting isn't coming. In fact, everything is frozen. Not just Title 1 stuff, but everything.

Frozen freaking solid.

So, when Mrs. Eagle and I wanted to give our health class kids a "fun food Friday", where we taught them how to make easy healthy snacks, we found out we had to pay for it ourselves. Which we did. (And weirdly, not one of them whined or complained about eating carrots, red peppers, celery and zucchini as a snack.)


The bulk of our science labs where we use up a lot of consumables are at the beginning of the year, according to our pacing guide. And until something shakes loose, we may just have to pay for the supplies ourselves.

And don't even ask about copies. The way things are going now, we'll be lucky to get 2,000 a month this year.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Pinball Wizard

Teachers can spot the kids that are going to be a challenge within seconds of them entering our classroom. It's like radar. Sometimes it's really obvious (swinging from the light fixtures is often a big clue) and sometimes it's something as subtle as how they make eye contact.

With Pinball Boy's case, it was the fact that he appeared to be physically incapable of sitting still for more than five seconds and his mouth was in constant motion. I've only had one other kid this hyperactive, and he was a kid who'd come out of a meth house in a neighboring county and had more issues than ADHD to deal with.

When I got the information sheet back from his parents, I noticed several things. One, he'd failed math and science last year. Not good. That means he has to pass these subjects this year in order to be academically promoted. Second, he was diagnosed with ADHD. And third, he was not on any medications. On the positive side, he had two parents in the home, they appeared to have jobs, and even had email. That's good.

On Monday, our newly minted teacher Miss Language, had a rough day with Pinball Boy. He'd pulled an attitude on her when she told him to get out his punch card as he couldn't sit down and be quiet (we're working on a reward system using punch cards - I'll explain in another post one of these days). She came to me asking for advice on what to do with him.

I decided to do some research, so I pulled his discipline file (no surprise there that he had one), and his academic records. One thing I discovered is that he has the potential to do well academically. His problem, obviously, is that he can't focus. The other thing I discovered was that he had 245 (!!!!) discipline points last year, was in alternative school for 30 days, came back, and was expelled in April.


However, I wanted a bigger picture so I went to talk with the Guidance Goddess because she knows everything. I discovered that biological dad was remarried and living in another city, biological mom was remarried and there was a step dad at home. I also discovered that he was the oldest of five boys, all one right after the other - there's one in 6th grade, one in 5th, another in 4th, and the littlest is in 3rd. Mom has a fairly good job managing a local restaurant, but that also means long hours. And if all the boys are anything like Pinball Boy, they're probably pinging off the walls competing for attention.

What this kid needed was a lot of attention, and some strategies to help him focus. He needed "Mommy Time."

So, he got moved, on Tuesday, to the seat right next to my teacher station - my "right hand man" seat. Since he's in my homeroom class and the isolation seats are full, (not because kids need it, but because I'm out of lab tables) Pinball Boy didn't see this as a negative. He was thrilled to become my "right hand man". (I might add that he's kind of small, has braces, a huge smile, and glasses which he often forgets.) He is now in charge of my light switches which need to go on and off during the class as I'm using the document reader or my LCD projector. He is the first to get asked to hand out things and to collect things. Anything to give him a chance to get up and move a little bit.

And then I gave him the squishy ball. I asked him what he wanted to do this year and he said he wanted to pass all his classes and stay out of trouble. I told him that I knew he really was a good kid, and that I wanted to really help him with that so I was going to try some tricks that may seem a little strange - like holding a squishy ball in his hands and squeezing it during class to help him focus. He said he'd try it.

It worked like a charm. This child, who'd had write up after write up after write up for disruptive behavior, was my model student last week. He'd come in, ask for "Squishy", and sit at his seat and fiddle with the ball, but at the same time, he'd take notes, he'd jump up and turn the lights on and off when asked, and he was quiet. It was amazing. I see this group of kids three times a day - homeroom, 3rd period science class, and for fifteen minutes at the end of the day to check agendas, announcements, hand out papers, and all that. Every time he came into the room, he asked for Squishy and sat down and did what needed to be done.

On Thursday I called and left a message on his mom's voice mail, primarily to introduce myself, but also to brag on what a great job he was doing. I wanted her to know that I knew he had issues but I was going to see what I could do to work around them.

On Friday, as the kids were being dismissed to the buses, Pinball Boy ran back and gave me a big hug.

"My momma said you called and it scared me at first, " he said, "But then she said it was a good call and I've never had a good call before."

"Well kiddo, you earned it," I told him.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I?" he beamed. "I love you!" he said and then he was gone.

Dang. It don't get much better than that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What should I do with all this free time?

Nothing frosts my cookies more than hearing some nitwit going on about all the free time teachers have. I need to avoid reading the comments section in the on-line version of our local newspaper because it seems to be a cesspool of nothing but ignorant whiners who do nothing but aggravate my already frazzled nerves.

My favorite this week was someone who was whining about what a great gig teachers have because "they only work nine months out of the year while everyone else works twelve."

This twit obviously didn't do well in math because the last I looked, getting out the end of May, and starting the first of August, leaves June and July and I can assure you that that is TWO months, not three. And a lot of that is filled with in-service workshops and other things that we do to maintain our licenses along with finding ways to teach the offspring of the above-mentioned whiners. These people who complain about how teachers have summers off would be the same folks who would have a nuclear poop if anyone even suggested year-round school. The irony is amazing. Their kids need summers off, but teachers should not have summers off.

I love this kind of logic.

The other one that gets me is how people insist that our job is so easy because we get off at 2:30 and have all afternoon and evening to sit around and eat bon-bons and get pedicures. I wish.

Here's what this week looked like:

Monday - arrive at 6:15 am, leave at 5:15 pm. It was the first full day so I don't have too much paperwork to go over. Did spend about an hour checking off returned paperwork (the two pounds of "mandatory" paperwork we foist on kids the first day of school) for my homeroom.

Tuesday - arrive at 6:15 am, leave at 5:00 pm. Go to the market, buy groceries, go home and sling hot dogs and tomato soup at hubster for supper (good thing he actually likes this kind of meal). Spend two hours going over returned science lab rules, make parent phone calls, and set up file folders.

Wednesday - arrive at 6:15 am, leave at 4:45 pm. Run more errands (shoe repair, bank, etc.). Sling pizza at hubster for supper. Spend two hours grading health class papers and four classes of science class safety worksheets. Make some parent phone calls. Fall asleep on sofa.

Thursday - arrive at 6:15 am, leave at 4:00 only because I have allergy shot appointment at 4:30. Get home around 5:30, make quick supper for myself, as hubster won't be home until after 7:00, then make parent phone calls for two hours. Heat hubster up some soup and give him a salad for supper.

Friday - arrive at 6:30 am (after breakfast at Waffle House with Mrs. Eagle), and leave at 5:30 pm. Did not take any work home because the School is open tomorrow morning and I'm going in to work then anyway. Why lug it back and forth?

Saturday - arrive at 9:00 am and leave at 2:00 pm. Finish grading all turned in papers, file them away, set up assignments on new grading program, input grades, work on parent emails, get copies ready for the week, work with Mrs. Eagle on health unit, and then go home. Take no work home because I need to have a weekend.

Take a nap.

If I wasn't on a diet I guess I should be eating my bon-bons, eh?