Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lost Books, Lockers, and Lazy Seventh Graders

Middle Schoolers are a strange bunch.

When they hit sixth grade they are nearly beside themselves with joy over the fact that they actually get a real, honest to goodness locker. It's a rite of passage for them. In elementary school they kept their books (and various sundry other articles like string, tech-decks, parts of ink pens, broken crayons, and goodness always knows what else) in their desks, but when they hit middle school they grow up (in theory) and get lockers.

Of course, to hear the sixth grade teachers tell it, it takes about half a year for them to figure out how to open the darn things. I believe they may be stretching it a bit.

However, for some weird reason, we have a bunch of seventh graders this year who just don't feel the need to use their lockers and proceed to leave their books just about anywhere they drop. I find books on the floor of my room, under tables, left on counters, out in the hall, you name it. This bunch of kids, of course, rarely ever have their books in class because - surprise! - they don't remember where they left them! What's strange is these kids all have lockers that work perfectly fine. They just choose, for whatever strange reason, not to use them. Most likely they are preferring to hang in the hallway gossiping with their friends and just don't have time to fiddle around with a combination lock.

We have one kid, Lazy Locker Boy, who thinks that his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Social Studies, is the keeper of his books. And if she's not keeping his books, apparently they're residing in my room.

Think again, kiddo.

Mrs. Social Studies and I hit our limit this week when, for something like the two hundredth time, we found all of Lazy Locker Boy's books scattered in our rooms. I decided to go to the big gun and that would be Mrs. Squirrel, the administrator in charge of textbooks. Mrs. Squirrel is determined never to have the school lose a single book so when she finds out that kids aren't taking care of books, she gets really, really irate. Really. It drives her nuts that kids can toss a sixty dollar text book out in the hallway where anyone can steal it, lose it, mutilate it, and so forth.

And trust me, although Mrs. Squirrel is a nature lover and is a kind, big-hearted softie when it comes to most kids and small animals, when she's irate, she's downright scary.

I dropped off the pile of books that belonged to Lazy Locker Boy and explained the situation to Mrs. Squirrel. Her eyes blazed. She said to send Lazy Locker Boy to her and she'd give him his books after she gave him a lecture and informed him that the next time his books found their way to her office he'd earn a discipline referral.

Lazy Locker Boy slunk back to his class and seemed to get the picture. No books were found strewn through the team area yesterday.


Due to the age of our lockers, and the generally poor condition they are in, we have a number of lockers in our area that are broken and that don't close. These are not assigned to anyone (obviously, since they are not secure), and are supposed to be kept empty and clean.

Guess what I found in one of these broken lockers today?

Oh yeah...some of Lazy Locker Boy's books.

They are now sitting on the desk outside Mrs. Squirrel's office. Tomorrow should prove interesting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Finding Jeff Spicoli

I went to high school in Southern California in the late 70's. Remember the 1982 movie classic, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? That, my friends, could have easily been my high school. We actually had surfing as a physical education elective and it wasn't unusual to see stoned out surfer dudes sitting in class like the character of Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn. In fact, my best friend Diane and I were often selected (because we were smart, nice girls and weren't likely to get crushes on idiots) to help peer tutor some of these potheads in a feeble attempt to help them graduate.

So to say that I know a stoner when I see one is a pretty fair assessment.

I have had, since day one of school, Spicoli Boy sitting in a dazed stupor in my Fourth Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself. He's not a problem behavior-wise outside of the fact that there are times I feel a need to check his pulse to see that he's alive and hasn't just passed away sitting upright with his eyes half-closed. He never has a pencil. He never has paper. He never has a book, a binder, and certainly not a clue. I'm stunned, quite honestly, that he can even remember his schedule.

So imagine my surprise when I pull his records and find out that this kid is (was) as smart as a whip and actually was advanced on his Big Deal Government Mandated State Tests in the past. He did manage to pass sixth grade, although he exhibited a slide academically. This year, however, it's not a slide, but an out and out free-fall.

Every single one of us on the team has tried to reach this kid, pulling him aside to ask what's up, getting guidance to talk to him, seeing if he needs help with his locker, you name it. We have all tried getting his dad in for a meeting (parents are divorced, he lives with dad) which was singularly unsuccessful. My first call was three weeks into the school year and Spicoli Dad, who didn't sound all that focused himself, said he'd "take care of it". I've lost track of the phone calls we've made home.

Finally, Spicoli Mom made contact with guidance and after a few false starts we managed to get her in for a meeting to discuss what, if anything, we could do for this kid...after all, he did announce to Coach Math and his entire class that he was going to take the year off and just cruise because he'd get passed on anyway.

(Well, he's right, and that burns my ass like you have no idea, but that's a topic for another post.)

Our big dilemma was how to tell Spicoli Mom, without coming right out and saying "hey, your kid is stoned in class all the time," that her kid is, well, stoned in class all the time. That's a pretty serious accusation to make (without a drug test to back it up) and that could get us into some hot water.

Spicoli Mom seemed pretty together, and with it, and expressed her concern about his drop in grades, performance, and all. She was particularly interested in the fact that her ex refused to meet with us, and told us that he feels that Spicoli Boy is old enough to be responsible for his own schooling and he wasn't going to "baby-sit" him. (Great parenting skills there, eh?) She mentioned being concerned about the kids he hangs around with in the neighborhood, including an 8th grader and some high school kids, and would like to see a change in his choice of friends.

We all expressed concern about his lack of performance, pencil, paper, book, you name it, mentioned how he was "zoned", "spaced out", "not with us", in class, how he jumped when you called his name, how he didn't seem to socialize with kids on the team, just the older kids after school, and they were trouble. We mentioned that if she was concerned about his friends, "who could, perhaps, be doing things that aren't appropriate, such as experimenting with drugs and alcohol," that perhaps she and her ex may want to consider a change of school (she lives in another zone).

She nodded, expressed more concern, and said she'd see what she could do. She called me the next morning and said that Spicoli Boy cried big crocodile tears and said he always did all his work and turned it in and we all lost it and never gave him credit.


So, wanna guess who got popped, finally, for having a bit of weed on him the other day?

Think Spicoli Mom gets it now?

I'm not gambling on that one. Perhaps the judge will make it a bit more clear for her.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Of Tears and Toys and Thank Goodness We Have a Day Off

One thing about dealing with seventh graders is that you have a wide - and I mean wide - variety in maturity levels when dealing with these kids. You have kids who are interested in more adult things such as girls/boys, cars, sports, and the like, and then you have kids who are more interested in more child-oriented things like action figures, dolls, Hannah Montana, and the like.

On an aside, it always cracks me up how a girl will start the year proudly displaying her Hannah Montana school supplies (backpack, binder, notepads, etc.) and by the end of the year totally deny ever having an interested in anything so lame!

I'm still hanging out being useful in guidance and was there when the Guidance Goddess got a phone call from me from Ms. Language. Apparently one of our kids was having a melt-down in class and she wanted me to remove him and calm him down.

I grabbed my box of tissues and went to her room.

The child in question is Animation Boy. I love Animation Boy. Absolutely love this kid. He is, unfortunately, in my Fourth Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself (Fifth period has, amazing, relinquished this title this semester, most likely after having three of the biggest trouble makers withdraw from school and move out of the area). Animation Boy has Asperger's and has trouble staying on task and definitely has trouble dealing with kids his own age. He's great with adults but the kids are too snotty to realize how funny and clever he is - he loves to create computer animations and if they could see some of his stuff he'd probably be a lot more accepted. But kids are jerks to those who are different, and so Animation Boy tends to be a bit of a loaner.

When I got to Ms. Language's class, Animation Boy had his head on his desk, his eyes were puffy with tears and you could tell he was mad. I had him grab his things and we went to sit in the guidance lobby so we could talk and I could get to the bottom of whatever was bothering him. (I was lucky in that there were actually seats in guidance as it's been a wild weak with fights and all sorts of shenanigans, mainly brought on by a warm weather streak.)

Apparently Animation Boy was having a meltdown over an issue with a Bukugan toy.

Don't feel bad, I didn't know what a Bukugan toy was either. However, Animation Boy spent about twenty minutes with me explaining the toys, showing me the toy in question, and basically educating me on the whole Bukugan culture at The School. They are, as best I can tell, cute little balls that open up and change shape when you put them on metal. They have different energy levels and ratings and are very collectible among a certain group of my students.

I had a great time listening to this kid go on and on about something that was obviously important to him, and I did get to the root of the problem which had to do with a trade, a sale of toys, a stolen toy, a found toy, and a kid who really wanted this rare model of the toy. Animation Boy did do the right thing, realizing that the kid who bought the toy actually paid money for it, and even if Animation Boy found it, he probably shouldn't keep it, so he gave it to me to give back to the owner of the toy.

And I only went through two tissues!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have Tissues, Will Travel

There are things they don't teach you in teacher school (like how to deal with drug-sniffing dogs).

Dealing with crying kids in the throes of emotional meltdowns is one of them.

Since I'm trying to make myself useful while Mrs. Jayhawker is tending to my classes, I seem to have become a tear magnet.

On Friday, Miss Reading asked me to help with a crying student of ours, Cheer Girl, who was bawling in the corner and wanted to go home. Fine. I can deal with this. I already had Pinball Boy weep all over me earlier in the week, so this should be a piece of cake.

I pulled Cheer Girl into the waiting area of Mr. Enforcer's office, about the only quiet place we could talk, and listened while Cheer Girl sobbed out a story that went king of along the lines of "well Amanda and Stacey and this other girl, I don't remember her name - sob - and we're all friends - sob - and then there's these other girls in gym - sob - and they don't like Stacey - sob - but I don't know them - and they like Tristan and Derek and Stacey used to date Matt - sob - and they were giving us looks - sob - and then they started telling everyone - sob - that Tristan liked me, but I think he's a jerk - sob - and I'm not sure what their names are - sob - but they were telling people - sob - that I'm a slut - sob - and I don't want anyone to thing that of me - sob - and it's not true - sob - and I wanna go home!!!!"

Got that?

After about fifteen minutes of tears, I finally got her calmed down, did a little self-esteem talk, and convinced her that running and going home wasn't an option. She pulled herself together and managed to make it through the day.

And that was just the beginning.

Monday I managed to get tears out of another one of my kids when I read him the riot act about bullying and picking on another kid (who's mildly autistic). Honestly, the kid I was getting after isn't a bad kid, just a goober most of the time, but he needed to be reminded that picking on others was not going to tolerated.

Today I had to work a referral for a sixth grader who lost his mind in the lunchroom and stomped on a full container of orange juice. This isn't a really big deal, just ten points and an after school detention, but apparently my little juice stomper (who fully admitted to losing his mind and stomping on the juice container) had just come off being grounded at home and was afraid he'd go right back to being grounded. The tears flowed and flowed and flowed. Oh good gracious. I put a note on the back of the referral for mom and dad to call me with any questions, thinking that I could tell them that at least he owned up to his mistake and they might go a bit easy on him.

I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings. Regardless, I'm bringing along a big box of tissues.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Good Doggie, or The Most Interesting Things Happen When You Have a Student Teacher

Mrs. Jayhawker is flying solo this week (and doing a pretty good job of it, I might add), so I'm trying to make myself useful outside of my classroom. I've been getting a lot of team paperwork done, wrote a new benchmark quiz, and have done some one-on-one sessions with most of our kids to let them know what they need to do for the remainder of the school year to get academically promoted to eighth grade. For lack of a better place to work, I've sort of camped out in guidance, using a student laptop to work on stuff and hopefully lend a hand when needed (like the other day when Pinball Boy was having his meltdown.)

So, when Mr. Enforcer told me he'd need my help around 9 on Friday morning, I got curious.

"Something interesting going to happen?" I asked. I worked with him earlier in the year when we had a big deal disaster drill with some visiting consultants, and I knew they were coming back some time so I thought that might be it.

"Maybe," he said vaguely.

"Well, I have a student teacher so if there's anything she needs to know, I'd like to prep her," I said. I've been a sub and a student teacher and there's not much worse than being in a situation where you have no clue what to do.

"We may have some visitors and we may do a lockdown," he said. "Here's a print out of the procedure so she has it handy."

I thanked him, went in to see her (the kids were at their related arts) and gave her the lowdown, or what I knew so far. If she was lucky, it would happen at nine when all she had in the room were the kids that were supposed to show up for homework clinic.

I was on my way to Mr. Enforcer's Office when I heard him come over the intercom with the lockdown message. Kids were snatched into classrooms, doors went closed, and I hustled up to the front office to see a whole slew of law enforcement vehicles out front and a lot of officers in the lobby - with dogs!

Hey, it's a great day for a locker search!

It's no secret that drugs are a huge problem in schools, even elementary schools, sad to say, and even in schools in "good" communities. I taught in a nice rural area up North and we had a huge drug problem in that community (which always kind of made me shake my head when I'd hear parents yabber about how they moved to the country to escape the big city problems.) I've seen rich kids involved, and poor kids, and there's really no common denominator outside of the fact that they made some poor choices in life and were obviously missing something somewhere. We had regular sweeps, and managed to limit a lot of the drug problem at school because the kids knew that there could be a sweep at any time. True, they took the trade off-campus, but it did put a dent in the on-campus problems.

However, in the six years I've been at The School, we've never had a drug sweep. The first superintendent I served under absolutely refused to do so as he feared it would give the public the wrong idea. Honestly, I'd love it if they did the sweeps every quarter so the kids knew, like the ones up North, that bringing the stuff to school was a risk. Sadly, however, we've seen a big spike in drug trafficking in our area, including some rather large drug busts (one of which happened on parent conference day and made me wonder if perhaps some of my parents were a bit preoccupied with being arrested..) Our current superintendent decided it would be a good idea to sweep all the high schools and middle schools and see what they could find.

Mr. Enforcer gave me a bag of locker key masters and told me to go with one of the officers and sweep the sixth grade area. I ended up with an officer from a neighboring county who had a very sweet yellow lab who was prancing around and bubbling with excitement. It was obvious that this dog loved her job. We went through the sixth grade area, checked all the lockers, and the bathrooms, and came up clean. That was good.

"So," I asked the officer as we headed back to the main part of the building, "what would your dog do if she did smell something in a locker?"

"Oh, she'd sit down in front of it, like those dogs there," he said as we rounded the corner and spied two dogs sitting down in front of some lockers right outside my classroom.

Oh dear.

I knew who these lockers belonged to, and it wasn't even a surprise that the dogs got a hit on those lockers. One of the kids is the child of parents who deal in drugs (a well-known fact in the area) and has often been named as a source in the building although we've never been able to catch him with anything. The other is a kid who I've suspected was a user simply because of his demeanor most of the time. The officers searched these lockers, and came up empty for any illegal substances.

The only other hits were apparently quite a few down in the eighth grade wing, but again, a search was conducted and nothing was found. The officer I was with said that they often take the dogs to elementary schools and let the kids pet them and often the dog will indicate the presence of drugs on one of the children - they are so sensitive to the scent they will pick it up on clothing that a kid wears in a home where the parents are users. Considering the two lockers that were checked by my room, this didn't surprise me at all.

All in all it took an hour to sweep the building (and it was their second of the day) and then they were off to another school. Once the kids were released from lockdown and sent off to their classes the rumor mill began, so the teachers were instructed to let them know that they were put in lockdown to keep them out of the way, there was no danger, and this was a county-wide search and not a target at the school.

But you knew the rumor mill was going to go into high gear right away. Mrs. Language and Miss Reading asked me to come into their classes and talk to the kids about it ("Because you were in on the whole thing...") and I basically said that I wasn't telling them anything about what I saw, and if any of them heard from someone else whose locker was searched then they should consider it nothing but a lie and idle gossip because no students were out there and none of them have a clue what they are talking about. It didn't stop the kids from speculating (and amazingly, can you guess what names kept coming up? The kids who did have their lockers searched).

An unintended consequence of this whole thing? It got the kids so worked up that many of them started going to guidance and telling on kids they knew who had, in their possession, illegal substances. (Obviously, we didn't search the kids, they were in the classrooms.) By the end of the day we had expelled three for possession, sale, and use of prescription drugs. Raiding Mom and Dad's medicine cabinet has become big business for some of these kids (wonder how many of them are selling their own ADHD meds?) This is obviously a step up from a few years ago when my students were busy stealing over the counter cold medicine out of the bathroom cabinet and trying to get high off of that.

Just another one of those days that they don't prepare you for in teacher school...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Pinball Bounces Out

I did not have a good day today. Pinball Boy has found himself, despite my best efforts to work with him, headed towards alternative school.

I hate it when kids I adore end up going to alternative school. (Long time readers (all two of you) may remember Stoopid Boy.) It breaks my heart. However, there comes a time when it's out of my hands and, as Mr. Enforcer said, "I've got to think about the other 24 kids in the class."

We had been, I thought, making headway. Mom finally got him on some medication so the hyperactivity was under control (no more crawling on the floor and leaping through the hallways which was huge). His grades were improving. He was staying out of trouble - finally. However, January came and something happened. Instead of being the sweet, loving kid we knew, he was getting smart, surly, and argumentative. He stopped trying in school, and he told us all that the meds were out at home and he didn't know when Mom was going to get more. He was talking back and generally finding trouble anywhere he could.

This week he not only missed after school detention (which is an automatic suspension for one day) but gave two different substitute teachers fits when Miss Reading was out with the flu. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I was in guidance working on some grade stuff (I'm having to stay out of my room a bit so Mrs. Jayhawker, my student teacher, can teach without the kids thinking she's not in charge) when Mr. Enforcer came looking for me.

"I need your help with a hysterical kid," he said, with a pained look on his face.

"One of mine?" I asked.

"It's Pinball Boy. He's going to alternative school and he's having a melt down."

"So you want me to play mommy?" I asked.


Oh good gracious. Pinball Boy was a shaking, quivering, crying, sobbing mess. It took us quite a while to get him calmed down. He begged and begged and begged for just one more chance (honestly, he's a likable kid so he's been given a lot of chances, more than most, already). I ended up spending nearly an hour with him, getting him calmed down, talking with him about the pros of alternative school (the kids usually see a huge improvement in grades so he'll pass for the year), and how if he's really, really, really good they might send him back early (hey, it's happened).

What I really wanted to know was what happened last month that caused him to cease being the kid I knew and loved and turned him into a snotty little brat who didn't care about anything. And I finally - finally - got it out of him, in amongst the tears and the wails.

"My step dad got put in jail in January and mom works all the time and I never see her and I have to take care of all the little kids and I don't see my real dad enough!"

Oh crap.

Carnival Time!

Steve Spangler is our host this week, and it's another good one! Be sure to spend some time at his Educational Science Fair!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lemonade time...

The Bus Driver over at Tales of a Schoolbus Driver has bestowed upon me the “Lemonade” Award and it gave me some much needed blog love. Goodness knows, after the past two weeks I need a bit of love! Now I get to bestow it upon others!

Here are the rules:

1. You must link back to the person you received the award from.

2. You have to nominate 10 bloggers who are deserving of this award!

So, without further adieu, I hereby bestow The Lemonade Award upon:

1. Mrs. Cornelius over at A Shrewdness of Apes because she is a master at sarcasm and is one of the wittiest writers I've ever read. Her post a few years ago that was an open letter to idiot parents (something about using the UPS store as an address), was classic.

2. Cupcake over at A Truth Universally Acknowledged because she's an Austen fan (duh) as well and her descriptions of her geniuses leave me in stitches.

3. Chanman over at Buckhorn Road for reminding me, yet again, why I'm glad I don't live in California anymore.

4. Vegas Art Guy at The Desert Glows Green because I'm astounded at how much energy this guy has - does he ever sleep?

5. Elementary History Teacher over at History is Elementary because I totally borrowed her study guide idea (and it's rocking!) and because I can learn more reading her blog than I ever thought possible.

6. Happy Chyck over at Happy Chyck Wonders because I get depressed if she doesn't post much. She's just wonderful. And she edits yearbooks. Bless her.

7. Mrs. T. over at La Cucheria because she's another one I miss when she doesn't post much, she's funny, and I've found a lot of other good blogs through her recommendations.

8. Mr. Teacher over at Learn Me Good because his book rocks (buy it!) and because he's brave enough to teach 3rd grade, bless his little Darth Vader heart.

9. Princess Lionhead over at Princess Lionhead's Den because she's actually one of the few bloggers I've worked with in real life - she's a good friend and I miss her!

10. Secrets of a Middle School Secretary - she hasn't posted for a while, but when she does she reminds me of how much of the craziness the school secretaries keep at bay so we can do our jobs.

You are all wonderful!

Monday, February 02, 2009


I have a student teacher, Mrs. Jayhawker (she's from Kansas) who is doing fantastic. I met her for the first time last year when she did an observation with Mrs. Eagle, and I was tickled to find out she'd do the first part of her student teaching with me. She's a Mom, has two middle school kids of her own, has subbed and has a lot more maturity and with-it-ness than some of the twenty-sometimes that come through my room during observations.

And she busted some cheaters.

We had our unit test on Friday, so I had Mrs. Jayhawker take them home and grade them over the weekend, while I took home the writing prompts and graded those. I figured the experience would be good for her. I got an email over the weekend telling me she suspected four girls (who all sit at the same table)of cheating as they all had identical answers (word for word) on their essay questions. In addition, two of the girls, who rarely pass a test on a good day, not only passed, but got A's!

This morning she showed me the tests and it was pretty obvious that there was some cheating involved. The same answers, the same misspellings, and my favorite, a couple of "floating" letters on the edge of the test where it looked as if someone asked for an answer, and another one of the girls had written it down for them.

Oh boy.

The worst thing is that these are good kids. Three of them were invited on our camping field trip for this spring (and have paid the nonrefundable deposit). Two of them should be regulars on the A/B honor roll. One is a basketball player whose mother manages the cafeteria.

To say I was disappointed (and let's be honest, a bit pissed off) was an understatement. Mrs. Social Studies and Ms. Language both looked at the tests and were just as upset as I was. So, we pulled the girls into my room before they went off to first period and see if they would come clean.

I started off asking them if they ever noticed the big "Make Good Choices" slide I have on my daily PowerPoint agenda. That's my mantra with these kids. I then asked them if any of them wanted to talk about the fact that they may not have made a good choice on Friday.

Silence. Serious, scared faces.

Mrs. Language gave them her mean face. Mrs. Social Studies shook her head in disgust. Mrs. Jayhawker took notes (I'm sure this was her "critical incident" she had to write about this week). The girls sat there.

We talked about how disappointed we were, how it was obvious something unusual had happened, how we were dismayed that they felt they had to stoop to cheating, how it takes at least two to cheat - one to copy and the other to let the copying happen.

Silence. Tears starting to flow for two of them.

I read the paragraph in the code of conduct that basically said I could write a discipline referral and they'd probably get detention or ISS or something. I opted, however, not to do that. Instead, I gave them lunch detention, they were having their seats changed, and they were taking the test again this afternoon.

And then Mrs. Language casually mentioned that we may not be able to take them camping as they've violated our trust. As a team we'd have to discuss it.

Silence and more tears.

I sent them on to their classes and Mrs. Social Studies said she was sure she could get one of the girls to confess. She did. She informed her that all four of them were engaged in the cheating.

When they showed up for lunch detention, they were a quiet, sober bunch. Part of the lunch detention ritual is that students have to write and sign a statement about why they were in detention and what they could do next time to stay out of detention. All of them admitted to the cheating and said they'd never do it again. They apologized. They groveled. It was obvious that the threat of getting kicked out of the camping trip made an impression.

During detention the basketball coach came in, saw her player's statement, shook her head and walked away in disgust. Player girl put her head down on her desk - in the meantime, her mother had emailed me back and said she'd support anything we wanted to do in terms of punishment, but did want us to know that she's grounded - no tv, cell phone, computer, etc. for an indefinite period of time.

They took their retakes sixth period. The results were as expected...one passed (the one the cheated off of) and the others bombed.