Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Plannings

I've had some comments from some regular readers (the number of which never ceases to amaze me), about the fact that we have two - count 'em - two planning periods at the school.

Yes, I know. It's wonderful.

How and why we got two planning periods is worth sharing, in the hopes that perhaps there are other enlightened administrators out there who see the benefit.

By the end of my first year at The School, Mrs. Eagle and I were getting together to make our lesson plans. It made sense, after all. We teach the same grade and subject. We have the same standards to cover. So, why should we reinvent the wheel when we could collaborate and come up with the same plans?

The only problem with this was that we didn't have the same planning period.

So, once a week we would get together and meet in the morning before school to come up with our lesson plans.

At six in the morning to be precise.

This wasn't fun. However, we did it, and pretty soon Mrs. Robin (who had little ones at that time and couldn't meet before school) started giving us some input as well, although she never could attend the planning get together. So three of us were collaborating on our lessons and activities we were doing with our kids.

Our test scores rocked. In fact, in terms of growth in student achievement, they were the best in the school. The Principal wanted to know what it was that we were doing that the others weren't. The only thing we could come up with was collaboration.

A few years later The Principal took about a dozen of us to the National Middle School Association conference which had lots and lots and lots of sessions all about collaboration. I remember sitting in with The Principal and Mrs. Eagle for one of the big keynote speakers - who talked all about collaboration - and having Mrs. Eagle lean over and whisper to both us of, "We're already doing this."

Well, we were. However, it wasn't really easy and it wasn't really convenient.

So The Principal decided that all the grade levels would have the same planning. And that we'd have not one, but two plannings. This gave us slightly shorter class periods (we went from six periods a day to seven), but it also gave the kids an extra related arts class (art, music, computers, etc.), and it gave us a chance to work with the other teachers on our team and the other teachers in our subject area. In fact, The Principal put in a requirement that teachers would plan together, just like we'd already been doing.

And our entire school's scores went up. A lot.

So we have the first planning for individual planning - this is also the period where we meet with parents. The second planning is for team meetings, data chats about benchmarks, and collaboration. We also give up one planning per week to work with our remediation students.

I don't know why or how, but this collaboration thing just works.

And I'm glad it isn't at 6:00 am anymore!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Really Bad Timing

I don't know what Mrs. Eagle and I were thinking.

We are encouraged to work at least two after school events every year. They range from dances, to basketball games, to choir concerts and the like. For some reason Mrs. Eagle and I decided to work the first back to school dance, probably because we wanted to get at least one of our events over and out of the way.

Which in itself is a bit silly because we tend to volunteer and end up working most of the dances and events anyway.

However, this was one of those weeks where we both had something to do nearly every single day after school. I had a historical society meeting, a Civil War round table meeting, a board meeting for a non profit, open house, and then, lastly the dance. Obviously we didn't check our calendars when we volunteered to work the dance.

I don't think we realized that open house was this same week. For some reason the district scheduled the middle school open house really early this year - like nearly a month early. We're just barely getting all the kids' names down (I know their names but I still can't remember what class period I have them) and now we've got parents, grandparents, siblings and who knows who else coming by the room to say hi and see what it looks like. This open house was busy. Really busy. And to top it off we had the book fair (also very early this year) and our second annual community health fair which has turned out to be hugely popular. What was amazing was we didn't just see parents of the good kids, but my team actually got to meet the mothers (and get their emails) of two of the boys that were put on our team so they'd be close by Mr. Enforcer...and because he told the moms that we don't put up with any nonsense. The moms both mentioned that and thought of it as being quite positive - their sons needed a firm hand.

Side note. One of my students who is now sophomore showed up to visit. He's HUGE. He's a grown up! We talked about how much fun it was on the camping trip and what a goofball he was in class. It was nice seeing him, but kind of weird because he's so different now. the dance arrives and we're just beat, to say the least. It's been a long week. And our kids had been keyed up about the dance all day (and man, some of those girls were dressed up!) But hey, a dance is easy work for the most part. The student council sponsors and members are actually doing most of the work (it's their fundraiser, after all) and we're just there for crowd control.

And we had a heck of a crowd.

It may have been because it was the first dance of the year, and the kids were still excited about being back with their friends. Or, as Mrs. Bunny said, it was a good way to get rid of your kid for a few hours. In any case, it was packed. Not just with sixth graders and seventh graders, but even the jaded, cool eighth graders who don't often show up at dances because, well, they're just so over that.

The gym was packed. The cafeteria where the kids spend a fortune shoving candy, soda and pizza down their gullets was packed. And those of us working the dance spent most of the evening telling speeding sixth graders To Stop Running.

What is it about sixth graders that they come to a dance to run? We should have track meets with music for these critters.

The good news is that the student council cleared two grand which will go towards our angel tree program at Christmas.

And it's the weekend.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Deju Vu All Over Again

All the seventh grade teachers have first and second period planning (which has its drawbacks). However during the first week of school it felt like we didn't have any planning time at all. We had to cover the remediation class for one of our planning periods, and had some extra meetings thrown in for some of them, so by the time Monday rolled around we were looking forward to Two Free Planning Periods To Actually Get Something Done.

And then, right after we dismissed the kids to go to their related arts classes, and Mrs. Social Studies was walking our paper attendance up to the office, the fire drill bell rang.

Oh crap!

I looked out my door and saw about a dozen kids in the hall - some on the way to The Enforcer's office, a few heading to band, and the rest were either going to the office to drop off the attendance or had just dropped the attendance off and were heading back to class. They all had that deer in the headlights look - "What the heck do I do now!" I stepped into the hall, got their attention, and waved them into my room.

"Get in here and head out the back door," I told them. "Follow him," I said pointing to one of my kids from last year. "He knows the drill."

Mrs. Social Studies joined us a few minutes later. "Boy, they didn't give the kids much time to get to class," she mentioned.

I pointed to my collection of kids. "Look what I gathered up in the hallway," I said. "Most of these kids were taking up attendance. I've got several from every grade level."

A few minutes later we heard the unmistakable whine of a siren. Some of us who were here two years ago, all looked at each other in amazement.

"Not again!"

Three fire trucks sped towards the front of the building which really had the kids intrigued. Then all the cafeteria workers were told to move their cars. One of them told me there was some smoke coming from one of the vents in the cafeteria so they called the fire department. Pretty soon Coach Grumpy came by and said he got a radio call to move all us back into the field behind the school. At that time, I started walking my strays around until they found their classes and were accounted for. The kids did great during all this. In fact, they weren't all that curious about what was going on, not like the group I had a few years ago who couldn't stop asking questions.

Mrs. Social Studies looked at me and groaned. "And just when I thought I'd finally get my entire planning time to actually accomplish something!"

But hey, at least it wasn't 102 degrees this time. And we got back inside after 45 minutes.

The cause? Apparently a belt of some kind on one of the ventilation units got caught and started smoking.

And I did, finally, get a little something accomplished during planning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Well There Goes My Reputation!

Mrs. Goldfinch is one of those people who just wear me out. I don't think she sleeps. She teaches special ed and is one of the first at school and the last to leave. She's extremely active and athletic and hikes, rock climbs, runs, and swims, and in her spare time she gardens like a fiend, scrapbooks, sews amazing Halloween costumes, and makes her own jewelry. She's astounding. She's also an absolute hoot as a person and an awesome teacher.

Mrs. Goldfinch has a room right next to mine - in fact, for some reason we have yet to ever determine, there's actually a door between our two rooms, so we can actually pass from my room into her's without going out in the hall. Why we would want to do this is beyond me, and we rarely ever use it. In fact, right now I have a huge stack of new science books in front of the door because I know it won't be used. In any case, this means that we share a pretty good chunk of wall.

Which means that often times I can hear what's going on in her room and she can hear what's going on in mine.

Yesterday she pulled me aside while we were doing hall duty with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. "You should hear what your seventh graders are saying about you," she giggled.

"Oh great," I said. "I can only imagine."

"Oh no, it's funny," she said. "I had a whole bunch of them on the first day, when they got their schedules, just scared to death that they had you. They got to hear you get after that group of kids you had last year and it scared the daylights out of them. They thought you were just the meanest teacher in the building."

"Well, considering the kids I had last year, that doesn't surprise me," I said. After all it was the Seventh Grade Class From Hades (who are now tormenting the 8th grade teachers.)

"I know! After they had your class, they came in saying that they couldn't believe how nice you were," she said. "I explained that often how a teacher acts has a lot to do with how the kids act."

She's so right. I'm sure that most of the kids last year thought we were just the meanest group of teachers around - and I'm sure they think that every year. They have that affect on people. I felt like all I did last year was scream at kids and it was all I could do to get through the day. I hated it.

Which is why we're all still stunned that we are having such an easy time of it so far. I mean, here we are, four days in and we only have one girl in ISS because she got caught kissing a boy in the hallway. Last year we had at least three up there and it was for fighting.

Today, one of Mrs. Goldfinch's kids, Lovestruck Boy (who has admitted being smitten with one of our young ladies who is, truly, cute as they come), actually told me that he thought I'd changed from last year. "You're not the same as you were last year," he said. "You're nice. I thought you were mean."

"Because I had to yell at my kids all the time, right?" I asked him.

"Yeah, you've changed."

"I haven't changed one bit, kiddo," I told him. "The difference is you. You guys are just a great bunch of kids who get along, listen, and do your job. When you do what you're supposed to, we have fun."

"Yeah, I think it will be fun this year," he said. "You're nice."


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Blah, blah, blah, blah, and blah

I am so sick of hearing myself talk.

That's one of the things I hate about the first few days of school. I feel like all I do is hand papers at kids and talk and talk and talk and talk. It's boring as all get out, but It Must Be Done.

On Friday, the first half day, we handed out and discussed all the school paperwork - fee lists, supply lists, fee waivers, free and reduced lunch forms, emergency cards, bus information, student information sheets and on and on and on.

Today was the first day I had all of my classes, not just my homeroom. Today it was all the stuff about science class - the parent letter, the science lab rules, the Science expectations sheet (how I run my class, basically), class do's and don'ts, and our first study guide. Of course I had to go through each thing and explain it, but show them around them room and on and on and on. Here is how we do homework, here is what the new workbooks look like, here's where you find my vocabulary podcats.


By seventh period I was pretty darn sick of hearing my own voice, my throat hurt and I'm sure the kids were wondering when those stupid buses were going to show up so they could go home.

And my feet hurt. No surprise there, they always hurt the first week or so until I get used to standing all day.

Tomorrow will be better...I don't do all the talking.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's So Good, Something's Bound to Go Wrong...

Today was, at last, the first half day of school.

(As an aside, don't ask me why we have a half day on Friday, give the kids Monday off, and actually start school with a full schedule on Tuesday. I have no idea why. It's weird. But It Is How We Do Things.)

And something really weird happened.

Nothing went wrong.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but I remember first days when the entire network crashed, the phones crashed with it, and not only couldn't we call anyone, we couldn't print schedules, enroll kids, or even look up anything. A new kid would enroll and guidance would just go park him or her in a nearby classroom for the day until the system went back up. It was ugly. We've had days where many kids had no schedules or crazy schedules with, say, three math classes. We've had days where kids had no clue where the buses were and the bus drivers didn't know where to park.

And then we had last year when The Team decided, after the first half day, that everything we'd heard about those kids was True and we were in for a helluva year.

This year was so smooth we kept waiting for something to happen. The seventh graders were excited to be back, so much so that they cheered for The Principal, Mr. Enforcer, and Mrs. Sparrow, our new Assistant Principal. The Principal looked over at us with surprise and commented on that never happening before. The fact that these kids cheered for Mr. Enforcer, the guy who does a lot of the discipline referrals, was pretty amazing. And then they actually got quiet, listened for their names to be called, and waited quietly outside the theater (with the PE teachers supervising) for us to finish calling our homerooms so we could collect our cherubs and go to class.

They sat, they listened, the did their tasks, they were nice, they were polite, it was, well, a shock. We all gathered together after the kids were dismissed and kind of stood around stunned.

"Is it me, or were these kids just a lot better than what we had last year?" asked Coach Math.

"They're better," Mrs. Social Studies said. "I could tell within the first hour that this was a better bunch. It's weird."

I guess The Team is just used to our Seventh Grade Class From Hades acting like a bunch of hooligans and having nice, respectful kids in class is truly something we haven't been used to in the past year.

It was, truly, a really nice, easy, comfortable day.

Of course, the eighth grade teachers didn't have such a nice day. Apparently our fervent hope that our group from last year would grow up and mature and develop some people skills did not come to pass. Mrs. Angora, a fantastic 8th grade science teacher, came up to me before we went into our afternoon session.

"Oh. My. God." she said.

"Uh, let me guess...they didn't mature," I responded.

"Not even close," she said. "They were awful. Just awful."

And she got the best of the bunch. I truly feel sorry for our 8th grade teachers this year.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Counting down to the first half day.

Which is Friday.

Which seems way too early, but that's how it goes. Other districts in the area actually started last week.

So, for the past week or so, I've been to two in-services, unpacked and set up my room, met with Mrs. Eagle and Ms. Hummingbird and actually planned our lessons for our first science unit, met with Mrs. Bunny and Mrs. Eagle to plan some things for seventh grade, met with the team, and just more stuff.

It will be a different year this year. First off, the Seventh Grade Class from Hades is now the Eighth Grade Class We Hope Grew Up Over the Summer. Our rosters showed up in PowerSchool today so I had quite a few 8th grade teachers dropping by to get some insight on their kids (especially in terms of putting together lab groups - some kids don't need to be with each other). The good news is that my long email last spring to guidance about kids who needed to be separated worked because many of my more memorable kids (Sassy Girl comes to mind) are no longer with their fellow friends and trouble makers. Mr. Owl will have his hands full with some of his kids, but he got a great bunch for his Physical Science class.

My team is much smaller this year - only 93 kids as of today. So last year's nuclear meltdown when I had 37 kids in my homeroom didn't happen. I have only 23 and that's my largest number. Our seventh grade numbers are down a bit, so we lost a position, and only have four teachers - Mrs. Social Studies, Mr. Math, and Mrs. English (Mrs. English will be teaching reading/language arts blocks which is something they are trying in 7th grade this year). The Principal got approval to get a split Language Arts/Reading position that will teach one block in 7th grade, and the other in 8th grade - his/her room will be in our team area so we'll see quite a few 8th graders in our area, which should be interesting. She doesn't know when the position will be filled, so we've been told to expect a sub for the first week or so.

We had a cookout today to celebrate our Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test Scores which were amazing. We basically kicked butt over nearly all the other middle schools in the county (including two "rich" schools) and all this with a free and reduced lunch population now at 60%, not a whole lot of parental support, and kids that were, to be nice, a handful.

Tomorrow, more meetings, and I need more time to get posters hung up, and some copies made before the cherubs arrive on Friday morning.

Here we go!