Thursday, September 24, 2009

Howdy Ma'am

I get allergy shots every Wednesday afternoon. I actually don't mind it much. I go to the on-site clinic that is part of our health insurance program (for county and school district employees) located at the neighboring high school, get my shots, knit for twenty minutes, the nurse checks my arms and I'm off. No big deal. Sometimes I run into other teachers and folks I know, so that can be fun.

Or a bit weird.

I was sitting there yesterday, knitting away on a cardigan I'm making, when I sort of notice out of the corner of my eye a young man leave one of the examining rooms (they're busy with a lot of school sport physicals right now). I don't pay much attention until I hear, "Hey, Mrs. Bluebird."

I turned around and it's the young man, all six feet two inches of him, and his mom who I don't recognize. The kid looks familiar so I know he's one of mine but I can't for the life of me put a name to the face.

(As an aside, I have an awful time with the boys when they grow up - they looks SO DIFFERENT from when I have them in seventh grade.)

"Oh gosh, I know I know you but I can't put a name to your face," I tell him, a bit embarrassed.

His mom laughs. "Oh, he's changed a lot since seventh grade," she says.

"It's Goober Boy," he informs me.

Oh. My. God.

No Way! Goober boy was a long-haired, skater dude who had the motivation of a slug. Nice kid, but a goober. (He was one of my favorites out of a class of really unique individuals.)

What was standing before was, well, a cowboy. He had on the pointy-toed boots, skinny cowboy jeans, big huge western belt with a shiny buckle, a button down shirt, and was carrying a straw hat in his hand. With short hair!

I swear, I couldn't believe the difference in this kid!!! Talk about a 180 degree change. He actually sat down for about twenty minutes (Mom took off - Goober Boy is driving his own truck now) and chatted with me. We talked about some of his classmates, who's doing what, what he's up to (doing much better in school now) and what he's thinking of doing when he graduates. It was such a nice visit, and so surprising to see how different he was now that he's about five years older.

I never, in a million years, would have predicted this change! Cowboy, no less!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ack-Ack-Ack-Part Three

You know it's going to be an interesting week when the school nurse is out sick with the flu and isn't expected back until next week.

I suppose all the coughing, hacking, and spewing finally got to her. Thank goodness she was well and healthy on Monday when we were able to get our flu shots during our planning periods. So, in the meantime, if a kid needs meds we send them to guidance (and I swear, half the school seems to be on meds) and if they're sick we send them up front to call home and get them out of the building.

One of the high schools in the district is running 25% absent so they've closed for the next two days. We're only running at about 15% absent, so we're nowhere near closing. However, last week a lot of the sixth grade was out and now a lot (more) seventh graders are out.

Starting last week we started to get emails and homework forms that read something like this:

"Sick Kid is going to be out until Someday. Could you get together his/her missing work and send it up front from Mom to pick up?"

Seventh grade has 1st and 2nd period planning so if we get one of these emails after 9:00 am, we don't have any free time (except maybe a few minutes after we've gulped down our lunch before we pick up the kids from the cafeteria) to get anything together. We have repeatedly asked the secretaries to please let the 7th grade parents know that we'll have the stuff ready by the next day because we are - surprise! - busy TEACHING and don't have time to get together five days worth of work until we're done TEACHING. And that's after school.

Does this happen? Not often enough.

So we've rushed around trying to get work together for these kids, in between TEACHING our classes, and have a kid run these packets up to the front office. Sometimes we get the stuff up there in the afternoon, and sometimes we don't.

And here's the kicker. Most of the time the parents don't bother to come pick the stuff up.

Kid you not.

We have had a least half a dozen of these kids come back to class over the past few days, all of whom had piles of work sitting up in the front office.

Mrs. Social Studies and I asked one of these kids, who strolled in today, about the work we put up in the front office.

"Um, Mom didn't come pick it up," he said. "She got busy."

I bet. Kind of like the mom who has a kid who is going hungry (no money in the lunch account) and who's too busy "playing her computer video games" to either give her kid a check or sign a free and reduced lunch request form.

Kids as accessories. I swear, that's all they are for some folks.

And in the meantime, I'm not really motivated to stop my TEACHING to get work together for some kid if all it's going to do is collect dust in the front office.

Monday, September 21, 2009

You Just Gotta Wonder

So we had a meeting with Skater Goober and his parents.

First off, out of the six meetings we've had scheduled so far, only three parents have shown up. I shouldn't complain. Mrs. Eagle has had only one show up (out of six) and they're darn glad she did because they all stayed after school for an hour to talk to this parent. SG's parents seem pretty together and with it. We talk about the fact he does nothing. We talk about the fact that they uncovered, like some strange archeological site, page after page of undone homework, worksheets, notes, and the like buried deep within the recesses of his backpack. They ask him why He Does Absolutely Nothing and he mumbles "Don't know," and just sits there like the oxygen thief that he currently is even though he's capable of much more. They ask to be emailed (Dad has a Blackberry for work and can show up at school within minutes) with updates daily. In fact, the next day when Skater Goober spends an entire class period and did one freaking vocabulary card (despite the nearly constant taps on his desk, prompting, etc.) I email Dad. Dad says he and Mom are going to come down and follow him around this week, most likely on Monday.

Did they come? Nope. Not yet.

And what did Skater Goober tell me?

"Hey, Mrs. Bluebird! Guess what? I got tickets to go see Kiss!"

"Really?" I ask. They bought Kiss tickets for this kid?

"Oh, yeah, isn't that cool?" he beams. He does not, by the way, have his book or his binder with him. I doubt he has his pencil. He is not, yet again, prepared for class.

"Well, all I can say is it's a good thing you're not my kid," I tell him.

"Really? Why?" he asks. (He really is clueless.)

"Because there's no way my husband would let you out of the house, let alone buy you Kiss tickets and let you go see Kiss unless you had passing grades in all your classes."

Skater Goober looks stunned. "Really? I mean, he'd really not let me go?"


And then they wonder why the kids don't do anything.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ack-Ack-Ack Part Two

I thought today might be a bit better on the absences. After all, some of our kids are starting to come back and the number of kids listed as absent has been going down.

My homeroom had four out. That wasn't a surprise as two of them had parents who'd called for work as they'd be out until next week.

Third period, which is mostly, but not all, of my homeroom had four out (including one suspended for a girl fight which was quite the talk of the team the other day).

Fourth period - none. Looking good!

Fifth period - three. Not too shabby. It's my largest (and most unruly) class.

And then there was sixth period. The tardy bell rang. I walked in the door from hall duty and stopped. Looked over my shoulder at the hall. Empty. And then I counted.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.

Eight kids in the room. Eight.

That. Was. It.

The kids were all looking around, looking at each other, and then looking at me.

"Mrs. B," said Hard-Working Boy, "there's like nobody here."

Man, he wasn't kidding. This is my smallest class, but to have over half of them out? Good gracious. It was downright weird. was kind of fun. The kids thought so ("Hey, this is cool!"). And the fact that a few of the characters who were out are the same characters who can't sit down and be quiet, made a huge difference.

The total out for the day? Twenty.

And now Mr. Bluebird has a cold. Great.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


My classroom sounds like a tuberculosis ward.


Kids are coughing and hacking all over the place. Their eyes are glassy and bleary. They have headaches. They come in, lay their heads down, and just want to stay there all period. I've filled out so many "go to the nurse" forms that I've had to go make extra copies as I ran out.

On Monday we had 20 kids (out of 96) absent.

Tuesday we had 16.

Wednesday was 18.

Today we're back up to 20.

Some of them are starting to come back after about five days out. For some it's the flu. For others it's strep. For others, who knows? Of course they all think they've got swine flu (thank you dear media for that one) and are nearly beside themselves because it means They Are All Going to Die.

Of course, letting them know that yes, the regular flu can kill you too, isn't really a great idea. They'd probably all just crawl under their desks and prepare to die.

What's weird? Very few of the teachers have been out. Go figure. We'll probably be the last to get sick and all be sick the same week.

And to's only September.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Vocabulary War

Science vocabulary is the bane of our existence.

Mrs. Eagle and I have spent years trying to figure out ways to get our kids to learn their science vocabulary. Mrs. Hummingbird is now collaborating with us as well, and she's facing the same problems we have had for years.

In short:

If you don't know the science vocabulary we're using, then we might as well be speaking a foreign language (Klingon comes to mind).

Therefore, if you don't know what we're talking about, you're probably not going to understand anything and you'll most likely do poorly in science.

We've finally ended up with an Academic Coach that understands that the same tools you may use for vocabulary in language (Frayer models, finding synonyms, etc.) don't work particularly well for science.

Dare you to find a synonym for mitochondria, for example.

Our vocabulary is somewhat technical. It's specialized. It's not something you can easily work with. It is what it is and quite honestly, it comes down to using the words and studying the words until they are embedded in that long term memory.

Of course, playing video games is a lot more fun than doing vocabulary work.

We have the kids do crosswords (they hate these, they'd rather do word search which requires no thought). We have a word wall. We have vocabulary games. We have vocabulary cards or foldables , (word on one side, definition on the other, extra credit for a picture) where a kid gets a freaking point if all they do is write the word on a card. They are supposed to use these to study and learn their words. We even spend a few minutes a day doing vocabulary games which involve a great many Jilly Rancher candies.

And this year we have the vocabulary study log. We are trying, despite their best efforts to avoid it, to get parents involved in their child's learning. We have a study log where the parent signs every night after their child has studied his or her vocabulary flash cards or foldables for five minutes. It isn't worth a whole lot in terms of points, but it is an easy way to boost a grade.

And it's astounding how few of these we get turned in.

It is, however, improving. We had our second unit test on Friday, which is also the day the study log and the vocabulary cards are due. I saw a pretty huge uptick in the number of cards that were completed and turned in as well as the number of logs turned in. Amazingly enough, they had much better grades on this test than they did on the previous one.

Do ya think there's a connection? Huh? Do ya?

Now lets see if the shovelers can figure this out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Just me talking...

I was interviewed this summer by a nice young man, Alex J. Mann, about this crazy profession we're in. If you're interested, check it out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Shovel Ready

You know, there are times I just have to laugh when I read yet another article about how savvy, and wired, and technologically advanced this generation of kids are. Yeah, so they can text faster than I can knit (and that's pretty darn fast) but there are times they just don't have a clue about the power of technology.

Case in point.

I send out a weekly email to my parents letting them know what we're doing in the upcoming week, what the homework is, what's due, any special projects or assignments, and any generic school news they need to know. I've done this for about three years now and the response has been universally positive. Parents love having this little email in their arsenal because seventh graders lie just aren't the most honest creatures on this planet.

In short, if I had a dollar for every parent that told me that "X tells me that you never assign homework," I'd be bailing out the government.

So I get an email yesterday from the mother of one of my laziest students. Skater Goober was non-academically promoted as he apparently did nothing in sixth grade, and is again doing nothing in seventh grade. What's truly astounding is that if he put as much effort into doing his work, as he does in trying to avoid it, he would probably be a good student. In any case, SG's mom tells me that she noticed that my weekly email indicated that 24 vocabulary cards for this unit were due on Friday and when she asked SG about it he said that he didn't have to do the cards because he just wrote them in his science journal. She wanted to know if this was true.

Oh definitely NOT true. So NOT true. I wrote her back and explained what, exactly, was due and asked, by the way, asked if she'd seen the vocabulary study log that SG was supposed to give her every night to sign after he'd studied his vocabulary words. Any bets on whether or not she's seen this log?

Yeah, that's what I thought too.

Later in the evening I get another email from SG's Mom. She apologizes for bothering me and wanted to check on something once again. It seems that she READ MY EMAIL to her soon and now he'd changed his story and said, oh, yeah, he did do the vocabulary cards but he'd already turned them in. Again, was this true?

You know the answer to this don't you?

Again...definitely NOT true. NOT, NOT, NOT. The whole idea behind the vocabulary cards was to use them to STUDY the words every night so when the test rolls around (which is tomorrow, by the way, any guess on how well my stellar students will do?) they know the words inside and out and can actually PASS THE TEST. It is the ONE thing I do not accept early. Not only did SG NOT EVEN ATTEMPT TO TURN THEM IN EARLY, if he had, I WOULD HAVE GIVEN THEM BACK.

So here's what cracks me up. Skater Goober obviously KNOWS that mom and I are communicating because she's reading him the emails. She's telling him that she's going to check with me and HE STILL LIES. He puts forth so much effort in his attempts to avoid work, that he actually starts digging himself a deep, deep hole that he's going to be hard pressed to climb out of. And here this "technology-savy" kid sits, not realizing the full potential of parent and teacher email communications.

You're busted, goober!

I think I'm going to take one of my extra yard shovels in to school one day. These kids are digging some amazing holes and probably could use the help.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In One Ear and Out The Other

The School District didn't give us the head's up on the Very Important Speech By The President until late Friday - most likely because they were trying to figure out how to handle the parents who wanted their kids to opt out. An ed-connect phone call went out to the parents to let them know that kids could show up with a note from the folks if they didn't want them to watch it. We simply had to send them to another classroom with some seat work to keep them busy.

The reaction from most of the teachers was "How in the hell am I supposed to hit all my standards before the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test if they keep interrupting my teaching time?" Many of us, myself included, teach bell to bell and didn't get enough notice (our plans were already done and submitted) to change our lesson plans to accommodate The Speech. Crap. Fortunately I was able to cram most of my lesson in, but with a little less discussion, and the kids didn't get too far behind. Hopefully.

I read The Speech the day before and the first thing that crossed my mind was "Whomever wrote this has no clue about the attention span of kids younger than high school."

No clue at all.

I could not, even on a good day, imagine any elementary kids sitting still for that long of a speech. Hell, even my seventh graders were going to be hard pressed to sit still that long.

Keep in mind that I've often believed that unless it has death, destruction or explosions, most seventh graders could care less. This is why they love tornado, earthquake, hurricane and volcano videos and can watch them ALL DAY LONG. However, someone just talking at them BORES THEM TO TEARS.

Their first big concern today was lunch. They had heard that the speech was going to be at 11:00 am and those that have figured out our bell schedule (honestly some never do) figured out that that was during lunch. So, of course, the rumor flew that they were not going to get to eat lunch. AT ALL.

Oh good gracious. They were in an absolute panic during homeroom until they finally stopped whining long enough to hear me tell them that they would have lunch at THE NORMAL TIME and would watch the speech on videotape later in the day.

Jeez people.

That was about the most interest the kids showed all day towards The Speech. They were more interested in the fact that we were having thunderstorms all day ("Do you think we'll have a tornado?? Uh, do you?") than the fact that The President was going to tell them the Very Same Things Mom and Dad and All The Teachers Tell Us OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

The fidgeted. They stared at the ceiling. They yawned. One wanted to go to the bathroom. Two had their heads bob a bit until I tapped them on the shoulder to wake them up. Most simply looked bored.

Just another grown up telling us what to do...

They could have cared less.

And considering that the class that watched this, my sixth period, has NO ONE passing as of right now, it was a tad ironic.

Another thing to note...last year we saw Obama t-shirts all over the place. The kids wore them to school all the time. I haven't seen a single one this year. Not one.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sweet but Lazy

I know, I know, I know that the first progress report every year is just downright awful. It takes new seventh graders a bit of time to adjust to seventh grade, to remember how to "do school" and to get with the program.

I know that.

I realize that.

I doesn't mean that I like it.

And true to form, dear readers, these kids walked home last Friday with some DREADFUL progress reports. And our first unit test wasn't even on it. If anything, their grades are worse this week than they were on Friday.

I don't think a single kid in my sixth period is passing.


These kids, while they are heads and shoulders above last year's group of future felons in terms of behavior, just don't do work. Or if they do it, they won't turn it in. And if it gets turned in it's just absolute crap.

Mrs. Bunny, who teaches reading, along with a few other seventh grade teachers came up with an observation, based on the quality of the work that we were getting, that these kids apparently got "effort" grades in the past for turning in anything. She noticed this when she started getting worksheets with the names of classmates listed as answers. These kids were simply filling in blanks with anything and turning it in.

And expecting a grade.

I took about ten minutes yesterday and had a discussion with each of my classes about this. They admitted that they were used to getting "effort" grades from most (not all) of their teachers last year. They admitted to just filling in blanks with nonsense.

I informed them that we didn't operate like that in seventh grade.

They were crestfallen.

I walked them through their workbook pages (which are written at a 5th grade level, mind you) and had them highlight key words and actually take time to READ the questions before they answered. They weren't reading the questions, taking the time to interpret what was being asked. Oh no...they were simply grabbing phrases out of the reading and plugging it in to get the Damn Workbook Packet Done So We Can Play Videogames, or whatever the hell they do all day when they aren't in school.

And of course I had quite a few kids come up, all aflutter, asking just How On Earth Can I Have an F in Science?

"Hum, let's see...maybe it's because you have seven missing assignments?"

This just blows them away. It's like it never DAWNS on them that this
has any BEARING on their grade.


Oh, and out of the 99 progress reports I sent out, mostly with failing grades, I've had two - count 'em two - parents bother to contact me about the grades.

Amazing again.