Thursday, January 29, 2009

Big 'Ol Goose Egg

We had parent conferences tonight from 4:30 to 7:30 pm.

The conferences are open to any parent who chooses to come, plus we were encouraged to invite those parents we really need to see. Guidance had sent out failure letters a few weeks ago to 17 of our lovelies - which were supposed to be signed by a parent and returned, however, none have been - so we decided we would send a special invitation to these seventeen parents, plus a few others with kids who are borderline.

So, we reprinted the failure letters, attached an invitation asking them to come to the conference so we could figure out how to help their child, and stapled these into the kids' agendas.

Any guesses on how many parents The Team saw tonight?



Not. A. Single. Freaking. Parent.

I'm going to go bang my head against a wall.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carnival Time!

Sitting at home due to bad weather? Suffering the January blahs? Well, take a break and enjoy this week's Carnival of Education, hosted by The Reading Workshop!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Germ Factories and Sound of Ice

Monday morning found Mrs. Social Studies crawling into class, unable to hear out of her left ear, her right ear wasn't much better, and her face was tingling. We found a sub and she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a double ear infection. Before she left, she said it was weird not being able to hear anything the students were saying. In some cases, it might be considered a blessing.

Mrs. Social Studies was not alone. All three administrators are sick, with The Principal croaking her way through morning announcements as she's the only one with a voice. A whole slew of teachers were out with the flu and just about every other contagion available. And I had what I thought was perhaps strep throat (were talking pain, here) but the test came back negative and was diagnosed as a weird throat virus that's going around. Oh yippee. So it was ibuprofen, salt water gargles, cough drops, rest, and oh yeah, try not to talk.

They were calling for a Really Bad Winter Weather Event to hit our area, so we were all hoping for a snow day today. Honestly, with the number of kids sniffling and croaking in class and along with the amount of teachers that were sick as well, a snow day would have been a blessing.

Except it wasn't snow. It was ice.

When the alarm went off at 5:00, I checked the temperature (31 degrees) and looked outside. It was raining and everything was shining with a glaze of ice. The local news reported that school was closed, which was pretty much a no-brainer. Most of the counties in this part of the state closed due to ice.

Since I have trouble going back to sleep once I'm awake, I sort of lazed around a bit, watched the kitties wrestle and chase each other, and prayed we wouldn't lose power.

Mrs. Eagle called a few hours later to find out what I was doing.

"Just reading. Drinking hot liquids that make my throat feel better. You?"

"I've been up since 2:30 am," she said.

"Why on earth?" I asked her. Mrs. Eagle, like me, can be a light sleeper.

"That's when all the tree branches around the house started to snap. It sounded like shotgun blasts all night long. I kept wondering if one was going to come crashing through the roof," she said.

She had power still, which is a plus. According to the local news, there's quite a few places in the county that don't have any power and may not get any anytime soon. They are calling for more ice and snow tonight, and more power outages, so hubby and I have been collecting gear just in case - candles, the little portable generator, my Civil War reenacting cooking gear, the little BBQ, and briquettes. We figure if the power goes out and lasts more than a day or so, we can at least cook something hot to eat in the BBQ on the driveway. I used to do a lot of camping and cooking over open fires, so that skill may come in handy yet again. As long as I can make myself a hot cup of coffee, I'll be fine. Even if I have to make it in the rain and snow in my driveway.

As for school tomorrow? Who knows? We have parent teacher conferences scheduled for Thursday. Past experience points to the fact that the parents won't come out unless the weather is clear and dry. We may end up sitting there playing cards all night waiting for parents to show up.

That is if we even have school by then.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why I Have Really Grey Hair

I started going grey at 18, but I swear, the amount of grey has just exploded with this year's crop of seventh graders. I'll be solid silver by the time May hits.

Today we the last of our five benchmark days, and it was science. The kids hate benchmarks. They know they don't count towards their grades (although we put the score on PowerSchool so mom and dad could see it, should they care). They don't like that it messes up their routine. And they see it as a huge waste of time. Frankly, they really hate standardized tests of any kind.

I've been hearing the rest of the team moaning and freaking out over their scores which were just awful. It seemed they got lower as the week went by. So, when I went and scanned them this morning to see how they did, I wasn't expecting great things.

The good news? I had one proficient on the last benchmark. This time I had eight.

This is still, to me, unacceptable.

Mrs. Duck, Mrs. Eagle and I all had similar scores. Mrs. Eagle and I have never had scores this low in the three years we've been doing benchmarks. Ever. (Mrs. Duck is new to our school so she doesn't have any scores to compare.)

So I had a bit of a Come To Jesus meeting with these kids, especially since they couldn't wait to get their scores. They were sure they did fantastic.

I hated to burst their bubble, but burst it I did.

It was an interesting conversation. I laid it all there for them. Told them their scores were the lowest I've seen - and I knew they could do better (especially my advanced kids). Told them what they did well on (Mitosis) and what was weak (Cell organelles - this killed them as we spent weeks on this). Told them that last year the seventh grade overall had a 90% homework turn in percentage. This year? We're at 50%. I reminded them that they're only a year and a half away from high school - where there's no second chances, no late work, no passing unless you earn it.

They were pretty honest. They admitted to never studying their vocabulary words, not doing homework, not trying their best. They admitted, for the most part, that they don't like failure, but weren't motivated enough to really do much about it.

So I asked them what motivated them, what would get them to turn on the jets and start performing at the level I know they can.

The answer? There wasn't one. They couldn't really come up with anything that motivated them.

I find this tragic. And frustrating beyond belief.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Year of the Coma

Team leaders (such as moi) got an email from Guidance Goober with a link to PDF files of all the failure letters that The School sent out this week. If a student is failing two or more classes, a letter went home explaining the possibility of retention (which will rarely happen), summer school, non-academic promotions and so forth. The letters are to be signed and returned to the homeroom teachers, so that we know that the parents actually saw the letter and Junior didn't get home and destroy the mail before the parents came home.

Out of 103 letters that went out, any guesses on how many belonged to seventh graders?

Ah, come on...just know you want to.

How about 52?

Yup. Fifty-freakin'-two.

Mrs. Eagle's team had the winning number of 22. My team had 17 and the balance belonged to Mrs. Bunny's team.

Are we surprised? No.

Disappointed. Of course.

Seventh graders, as a rule, seem to go into a coma during the school year. From the recent brain studies I've seen on adolescent brains, there's actually hard science to back this up. It's called puberty, to be blunt. The body is putting so much energy into growth and hormones and all that makes this age group so annoying, and the brain pretty much flat lines for about, say, nine months to a year. We're lucky they don't actually lose cognitive skills. I'm surprised most of them are alert enough to cross the street without getting hit by a car.

If I had a dollar for every kid that failed my class as a seventh grader, then moved on to 8th grade and passed with A's and B's and then ended up - yes! - in honors science classes in high school, I could perhaps buy myself a nice new pair of Danskos. It's depressing.

That's seventh grade - the Year of the Coma.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Carnival Time!

BRRRR! It's cold out there, so hope on over to this week's Education Carnival at Education Examiner! Check it out - lots of good stuff there!

A Classic Question

From a phone message left for Mrs. Strawberry, the social studies teacher on Mrs. Eagle's team, after report cards went home on Tuesday:

"Hum, this is ________. I was just calling to see if you were the one who whited out my daughter's grades on her report card, or if she did it. Thanks!"

When Mrs. Strawberry called this mom back (after picking herself up off the floor from her laughing spasm) Mom explained that she pretty much knew who whited out not only this nine week's grades, but the grades from the last nine weeks, and the comments as well. She just wanted confirmation.

Hey, at least she got a phone call. No one on my team did.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What a Little Bit of Relevance Will Do...

As I've mentioned before, our standards are changing next year. One of the grades getting worked over the most - SURPRISE! - is seventh grade science. We're losing about half our curriculum (matter and weather) to 6th and 8th grade, and we're inheriting new curriculum (DNA, genetics, geology, simple machines) from the 8th grade.


So, since the current 7th graders will get about nine weeks of matter - again - next year, and will miss DNA, genetics, geology, and simple machines, we're trying to cram some of this stuff in where we can so they don't hit high school without having been exposed to this stuff. (Of course they currently hit high school having forgotten nearly everything they learned in middle school so in some cases, it's a moot point.)

Since we're wrapping up the cell cycle, it was decided that this would be a good time to do a brief unit on DNA and genetics. Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Duck have never taught this curriculum and it's been 8 years since I have, so we are, shall I say, a bit rusty.

Our book is void of any information on DNA outside of the fact that it's in a cell, so we've had to come up with ways to present this information to our kids. Fortunately, Mrs. Eagle and I went to a publisher's dog and pony show in December and got a whole bunch of free goodies that we're sort of test driving with this group of kids. (I'll be honest, I'm liking these materials.)

The past few days we've done Brainpops as introductions, and then moved on to some PowerPoints that we adapted from the sample materials. Since it's a lot of material to cover (and not much time due to benchmark testing - don't get me started) we are doing guided notes so the kids get the information down, and it's accurate.

I'll be honest. I love genetics. It's cool stuff. And it doesn't really get much more relevant for a kid than they realize how and why they ended up looking like they do, and how they go their nose from mom and their eye color from dad, and so on. It's neat. And you can talk about cool things like mutations (a good time to bring out the story of the Scottish Fold cats), and how diseases are passed on and just really cool stuff like careers and genetic engineering and, well, it's fun. Even if all you're doing is showing a PowerPoint and the kids are taking notes.

So here we are, the end of seventh period, and we've blasted through our notes and the bell has rung and two of my critters, Huggy Girl and Shy Boy come up to my desk.

"Shy Boy and I have decided that we'd rather stay in your class all day and learn about genetics than go to any of our other classes," said Huggy Girl. Shy Boy nods in agreement.

"Really?" I say. This is a surprise because these kids are not, not, not, A students - they're C, maybe, if they try, so this is something.

"Yeah, this was totally fun," says Huggy Girl. "We can't wait until tomorrow." More nods from Shy Boy.

Wow. I was stunned.

How often do you get a review like that?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Here, there and everywhere?

Bully Boy, we think, is gone.

Bully Boy, of course, was in my Fifth Period From the Very Depths of Hell itself, and he was a piece of work. He could slam a kid into a locker right in front of three teachers and an administrator than deny that he ever did such a thing. It didn't matter that there were witnesses (and often times video)of his stunts, he never did anything wrong, it was everyone else's fault, and the world was picking on him. He threw things constantly and spent a great deal of time up in ISS. The ISS Teacher, who has the patience of a Saint and loves these kids like no other, could hardly stand him. He was rude, mean, had no work ethic, and basically was going no where but down-hill fast.

Of course, if you knew his story, it all made sense.

Bully Boy, when he showed up in August, wasn't even living with a biological family member. He was living with his mother's best friend who also happened to be his godmother. This woman, bless her heart, was trying to do the right thing for a kid who probably never appreciated a single thing she did for him - buying him a television, games, nice clothes, and keeping a roof over his head and food in his belly. His parents both have serious drug habits and spend a lot of time in and out of jail. Any money they may have go towards drugs so there's times Bully Boy went hungry when he was living with a parent. His dad, according to godmother, is a bully himself and most likely abusive. His lying and bullying are most likely survival techniques he's learned living in the conditions he's lived in.

He had, in short, been bounced from relative to relative and now to a family friend all his life.

He wasn't in school on Tuesday and when I sent out an email to my parent contacts with the new study guide, I got an email back from his godmother's mother (who works for the district and would print out the emails and give to her daughter who didn't have email), asking me to take her off the email list as Bully Boy was no longer living with her daughter.

Hum. Interesting. I didn't pursue it for a few days because for all I knew, Bully Boy was still in our zone. However, today, curiosity got the best of me and I emailed godmother's mother back and asked if she knew what was going on as we hadn't heard anyone and Bully Boy was a no show.

Oh boy, did I get an earful. Apparently her daughter had to take a job in another part of the state and decided she couldn't take him with her. Part of her decision was she was probably just worn down with the effort of trying to help him pass 7th grade, and the other was the parents decided they wanted him back (they are both apparently out of jail). In the three weeks since we left for break, Bully Boy has lived with his father, then moved in with his mother, then lived with a grandmother, and now is back with his mother in another city nearby.

She hasn't bothered to even try to enroll him in school as no one has called to get his records.

As godmother's mother said, "I've known this family for years and they are nothing but a nightmare."

No kidding.

So right now, who knows where this kid really is, who he's really living with, and how long it will last.

Any bets on whether he'll graduate from high school? Or even make it to high school?

And whose fault will that be??? It should be the parents' but we all know that the government will blame the teachers, the schools, the administrators.

I feel like the government's scapegoat.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

All I Want is a Good Night's Sleep

I never seem to get enough sleep. This isn't anything new. There's just never enough hours in the day to do all the things I need - and want - to do. There's school, but after that, there's the gym, the errands that need to be run (allergy shots, the market, trips to the post office, the chiropractor, etc), then on home for supper which I make, we eat, and I clean up. Then laundry, checking email (and hopefully blogging) and grading papers and cleaning house and on and on and on. If I'm lucky I can get some reading in and some knitting as well.

And I don't even have my own kids, or it would be worse.

One of my students today said he was doing a survey of what video game system each of his teachers owned and wanted to know which one I had.

"None," I said. "We don't have one."

The whole class gasped in shock. What? Someone without a video game system?

"Really? Not one?"

"Not one," I replied.

"What do you do?" he asked again. The kids all looked at me, wide-eyed. Really? What does one do without video games?

"Oh, I run errands. I cook dinner. I do laundry, I play with my cats, I talk with my husband, I read (this brought some looks of sheer horror to some of their faces), I watch movies, or the news, or History Channel, I knit, I do all sorts of things."

And as I said this, I realized that if I didn't have so darn much to do, it would, just maybe, be possible to get something like eight hours' sleep at night. A video game system would just cut into precious sleep time.

And I need my sleep time.

It seems that most of The Team, as well as most of the other Seventh Grade Teachers are suffering from sleep deprivation this week. Part of it is coming back off two glorious weeks where we could, for the most part, sleep all we want. I celebrated by taking naps on the couch with a warm cat or two for company. It was delightful. However, now we're back here at school, with most of us getting up at 5:00 am or so, and our minds are now fully engaged with all the drama and pathos that is Middle School.

Which is why, we discovered, most of us are waking up in the middle of the night and find that we can't go back to sleep.

For the past three nights I've awakened around 2:30 or 3:00 am and found that I can't go back to sleep. My mind just won't shut off. I try not to think of anything outside of pleasant sleepy thoughts, but my mind drifts off to thinking about an upcoming lesson, how we're going to handle our homework slackers this semester, things I need to do for a team meeting, and on and on.

And I'm still awake when the alarm goes off.


When is spring break?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What are they feeding these kids?

The chickadees rolled back in today. It was pretty typical. They were excited and gabby - after all they hadn't seen each other for two whole weeks - and about six of them couldn't remember their locker combinations. Nothing out of the ordinary with that chain of events.


Am I the only one who is astounded - just astounded - that you can actually notice a growth spurt in a kid in a two week time period???

Honestly, Pinball Boy is now my height! He wasn't my height on the last day of school before break, but today I could stand there and look him in the eye. It freaked me out so bad, I called Mrs. Social Studies over (she, like me, is not exactly tall).

"Is it me, or has Pinball Boy grown?" I asked her as Pinball Boy stood there and giggled and smiled, loving the attention.

She looked him up and down, and her eyes widened. "Oh my gosh, he is taller! What on earth did your momma feed you during break!?"

Pinball grinned and giggled some more and said she fed him lots of good stuff.

Well, it's working. That kid took a leap in height, and he wasn't the only one. Another of my homeroom kids, who was a frail tiny thing two weeks ago, had to have added on an inch, as well as some weight, during break. Amazing.

Of course I added to my frame as well, but it was all in my butt and my stomach. Such is life. It's back to Weight Watchers and the gym.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Easing into the New Year

Alas, it is over.

No more sleeping in. No more sitting in my jammies doing sudoko puzzles until noon. Not much college football left to watch (I swear, Daddy Bird and I watched just about every bowl game there was). No more afternoon movies with Hubster.

Yup, it's back to school.

We went back today. The kids, however, did not. I happen to love this. It gives us a day to kind of ease back into the routine (getting up at 5:00 am takes some getting used to again) and we get some good in-service time in.

Tomorrow, the chickadees come back to roost. Hopefully Santa gave them some work ethic and motivation for Christmas, but more likely he just hit them over the head with the hormone hammer. We'll see. It could be a pleasant surprise.

The good news is two of our worst-behaved and lowest achieving students withdrew on the Thursday before break. One, to a pre-adoptive foster home which is something this girl needed. She had the most useless foster parents I've ever encountered (wouldn't return calls, answer emails, basically were non-involved with this kids' academic and behavior problems) and she needed to be somewhere where someone might actually give a rip about her. The other was a young man who was living with his aunt and since he didn't bother to put forth any effort he was failing all his classes and was spending way too much time in ISS for back talk and generally being a pill. His father decided enough was enough and off he went to live with him in...North Dakota. Talk about a culture shock. I hope he has a warm coat because he's going to need it.

As for me, I need a nap.