Friday, December 17, 2010

A Big Sigh of Relief

The Team did receive a wonderful gift today from The Enforcer when he sent Very Mean Bully Boy to alternative school.

We were ecstatic.

However, not nearly as ecstatic as the  kids on the team.

Very Mean Bully Boy is incredibly smart (seriously, he could earn straight A's if he so much as tried) but is so busy being mean and hateful that he's usually failing all his classes.  The more I observe this kid (and believe me, during hall duty we're watching him like a hawk because he cannot walk down a hall without tripping, kicking, or hitting someone) the more I've come to the conclusion that his goal in life is to inflict pain and humiliation on others.  He does not come from a home with positive role models - he idolizes the uncle he is named after who happens to be in prison for first degree murder.  What he really needs is a lot of therapy to get rid of his anger, and some really positive male role models, but he's pretty much exhausted our resources.

And what bothers me the most about him is how he's a threat to the other kids.  The tipping point finally came this past week when my sub reported he'd hit a girl in class coming back from a fire drill (and I had witnesses that, for once, we willing to talk), he pushed another girl down in music class, he threatened another girl at lunch, and he hit another girl in math.  And that was a typical week for him.  He's been suspended, in ISS, you name it, but he finally hit the number (and we had an opening) and off to alternative school he'll go.  

For a while, at least, my other kids can walk to the drinking fountain without fear of getting hit or tripped, and my seventh period may actually become somewhat productive (it's hard to teach when you're trying to keep a war from breaking out between Very Mean Bully Boy and Everyone Else.)

Sad to say, but not a single kid in the building will miss him.  Hopefully someone, somewhere, can connect with this kid.  But I'm starting to wonder.

Time for a Nap

Despite the best efforts of Mother Nature, we did finally make it back to school on Wednesday.  Thank goodness.  We only have three snow days and none of us (well, except for the kids) wanted to use them all up before Christmas Break.  We did, however, have to leave an hour early on Wednesday due to an impending ice storm, but Thursday and today were pretty normal.

As normal as you can be for the last few days of school before two full weeks of freedom.

Mrs. Eagle and I (and every other teacher in the building) had to make some major adjustments to our lesson plans.  Two assignments that I'd planned to have due this week, won't be due until the week we get back in January.  That means that I'm more or less done with grades.

And man, does that have my kids freaked out.

All of a sudden it dawned on many of them that they didn't have the grades they wanted (but certainly the ones they earned) and they were running around in a panic trying to figure out how they could pull their grades up in under a day.

This just kills me.

Oh well, live and learn, I suppose.

The last half day (today) was actually one of the nicest and calmest half days we've ever had.  And, amazingly, most of my kids actually came to school.  We started off with the faculty vs. students volleyball game where the faculty, for the tenth year in the row, won.  (This just cracks me up - we're old.  We're decripit.  And we play one day a year.  And we still beat them.)

After that my kids had voted on watching The Sandlot, so we watched that, I popped popcorn, and for the most part, they were quiet and entertained.  We did have a break, courtesy of the PE department, where the kids went to the gym to run around for half and hour so teachers could have a break, and that was wonderful.

Now, time off to rest, knit, enjoy family and yes, even get together with Mrs. Eagle to work on some of our units for the remainder of the year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am Humbled

I have absolutely no clue who nominated this blog for Best Teacher Edublog 2010, but I am humbled.  Thank you.


Who'd a thunk it?

Day Off, Part Two

We are on our second snow day today.

We only get three per year, so that means we have one left.

And it's not looking good for Wednesday.

And technically, it's not even Winter!

If we go over our allotted three before break (which officially starts for teachers the moment we wave those buses goodbye at around 11:00 am on Friday morning), then we will have to use December 20th and 21st to make up the days.  No one is looking forward to that.

Those of us here in My Beloved South are experiencing some very Northern-like weather.  According to the local news, this is the coldest December since 1942.  Really.  I can believe it.  I woke up yesterday morning to find it a whopping 7 degrees outside.  I think it may have reached 20 degrees by yesterday afternoon, and it certainly wasn't warm enough to get rid of all the ice on some of our twisty rural roads (which is why we're closed again today.)  Today it was 11 degrees when I woke up.  And on Wednesday they're calling for ice, wintry mix, and freezing rain.

Oh yay.

I hope we don't have another repeat of last year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hoping Grandma is Wrong

Years ago, my Grandmother R (the one who, along with my mom, taught me to knit) once told me that you wanted to pay attention to the date of the first snowfall of the year.  She said that the date would tell you how many snow storms you would have for that season.  For example, if it snowed on the 7th of November, you would have 7 storms that year.

I seriously hope that this is one of those old wives tales that really has absolutely no basis in reality.

Our first snowfall of the season was on November 27th.  That in itself is weird because we hardly ever get snow here until January.  (Or least we haven't since I moved to My Beloved South eight years ago.)

But, according to Grandma, that means we're having 27 storms this season.

And we just had the second.  And now we're out for a snow day for tomorrow.  (I am not happy - we only get three a year and this isn't the week we really need one.  We need to save them up for those dark and gloomy days in January and February when we really need a mental health day.)

I am so hoping that this year isn't a repeat of last year when it comes to missing school.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something to Cheer About?

Mrs. Eagle and I attended the NSTA conference in Nashville last weekend and had a wonderful time, picked up some fantastic ideas (as usual) and bought some really cool stuff.

On an aside, this was held at the Opryland Hotel which in May had something like 15' of water in it from the flooding.  It just opened about two weeks prior to the conference so we were eager to see how it had been repaired.  Oh.  My.  You would NEVER know that the building had been damaged so badly.  There was absolutely no sign of it.  The place was amazing!

In any case, one of the really cool things I bought was a Dr. Seuss book, Oh Say Can You Seed?  Okay, it's actually not written or drawn by the late Dr. Seuss, but his family has authorized the use of his characters for educational publications done in the Seuss style.  This book is all about flowering plants and since we were just finishing up our unit on flowering plants, I just had to have it.  It's nice when you can find neat things that actually align with your standards.  And this book is really well done from the science standpoint.

So, back at school, we finished up our review for our on Tuesday and I had time to read this book to them.  I used the document reader so they could see all the pictures up on the screen, and took the last few minutes of class to give the kids a dose of Dr. Seuss.

It always amazes me how seventh graders will become deadly silent and completely absorbed when you read to them.  I've often wondered if I'd get the same results if I was reading cereal boxes.  They still love picture books.  And they love being read to.  So I read to them and you could have heard a pin drop.

Amazing.  I must do this more often.

However, the funniest, and most surprising response was from my sixth period class.    I read the book, finished the last page, and closed it.

And they applauded.

I am not kidding.

They applauded.

It was the weirdest thing.  And truth be told, it made us all laugh.  And they said how much they enjoyed it.

But seriously, as a teacher, when was the first (or last time) you ever got a round of applause for what we do each and every day?


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Numbers Game

Last spring we were told that our enrollment numbers were declining, and that we were losing a number of positions at The School.  The seventh grade took the biggest hit, going from three teams to two teams.  The eighth grade went to two teams, plus a mini-team (including teachers who taught one section of 7th grade "overflow" kids).  And the sixth grade stayed at three teams because sixth graders have such a hard time dealing with the change to middle school in the first place that the thought was to give them some smaller classes to ease the transition.

So, instead of about 90-100 students like I've had the past few years, I now had 120 or so.  If you've been a regular reader of this blog, you know that the numbers game this year has been a mess.   We have some awful unbalanced classes.  However, some of the side effects of only having two teams, and larger classes, weren't really expected.  I didn't realize how much more time I would spend just doing things like grading and keeping up with my gradebook (and not blogging).  Thirty extra kids doesn't seem like a lot when they're spread over five class periods.  But it was when I got home and realized that all I did was grade student work all night long that it really hit home. The other problem was that separating kids by moving their schedules around was almost impossible.  Between the special ed classes, the advanced classes, block scheduling for English/Language Arts, and who knows what else, we had real issues when it came to trying to move kids apart who have no business being together.  With three teams it was a lot easier to just relocate a kid to another team.  This year we have so many kids cross-teamed that we were joking that we wouldn't be able to have teams for Field Day as we're all one big 7th grade team.

And of course, with bigger classes, you have more behavior issues.  The noise level can be incredible at times (just having them come in from the hallway before the bell rings is amazingly loud when there's 30+ of them in one small room).  In addition, they are so crowded together that I feel like I'm on a long road trip with a bunch of kids who've been stuck in the car too long with each other.  They're crammed together, crowded, and tempers flare.  They are cranky.  The seventh grade teachers are cranky.  Mrs. Eagle and I actually asked The Principal a few weeks ago if there was some light at the end of the tunnel or would we be stuck with two teams next year.  She said she wasn't sure at this point in time.

So Mrs. Eagle and I were stunned, to say the least, when The Enforcer said he wanted to get with us (and Mr. and Mrs. Social Studies) to talk about moving kids out of our science and social studies classes into another section taught by eighth grade teachers.  Apparently, what has been going on is that every time a new kid enrolls, that kid happens to be a seventh grader.  So, gradually over the past few months, the seventh grade has been getting bigger and bigger, and the eighth grade has been getting smaller.  In fact, many of the eighth grade teachers had classes of 14-18 kids while we were looking at 28-30 kids.  So we were able to get together with Mr. Enforcer and Guidance Mom and give her a list of kids who we could move to the new section being taught by Mrs. Hummingbird (who was thrilled to get another seventh grade class as she isn't as happy teaching 8th grade content).

We basically picked kids who had schedules that were easy to tweak, and a couple of kids who needed a fresh start with some new kids (Brilliant Boy, being one).   We did make one request that the schedule changes not take place until today, as progress reports went out yesterday and we wanted to be able to print the progress reports up with as little drama as possible.  (In PowerSchool when a kid moves from one class to another, the grades do not go with him/her - the grade report from the old class has to be printed out and then manually entered into the new class - which can be a real pain).  No problem, guidance would see that the schedule changes go into effect on December 1st.

Except PowerSchool didn't see it that way.  So, although it said that none of this was supposed to happen until December 1, the kids had already been moved around from all our rosters on November 30th (actually around 10:00 pm on November 29th which was when Mr. Math noticed it).  Talk about a nightmare.   We had about 40 minutes to print out progress reports, and then print out individual class reports for science and social studies for the kids that moved around, and get everything all lined up so we could send the progress reports home along with a letter from The Principal explaining why the kids were being moved.  


Most of the kids that moved didn't seem all that concerned about the change.  Brilliant Boy, of course, assumed that he was being moved to advanced science and social studies (which does not exist in seventh grade) because it was being taught by and 8th grade teacher in the 8th grade hall.  Whatever.  If that's what he wants to believe, fine.

What we did notice was that today, with our new smaller classes, it was like a different world.  My sixth period which was crowded and full of a lot of high maintenance kids who needed to be in isolation seats (every one is occupied) was a lot of fun today.  The kids noticed right away that Brilliant Boy and Catalyst Boy were gone.  And they were thrilled.  They all know that these two stir up the most trouble in a classroom, and not having them around was like a breath of fresh air.  You could almost feel the relief.  They worked well, they were quiet (for them) and we all had a great time.  They were also able to spread out a bit more and not be crowded at their lab tables.  They really enjoyed that little increase in personal space.

Hopefully this trend will continue.  Especially for the next two days.  Because I'm going to be out at the NSTA conference and a sub will be in the room.

We will see.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I'm thankful for my parents and my husband, all of whom are in good health.  Thankfully Daddy Bird has recovered completely from his mini-stroke of a few months ago.

I'm thankful that I have, for the most part, really good kids this year.

I'm thankful I have a job I love, in a building I love, with a staff I love.

I'm thankful that Goth Girl came back to visit and although she took time off to have a baby (at 16), she is finishing up high school, plans to graduate, and is applying to college to study nursing.

I'm thankful that Stoopid Boy, who I have always adored, will be going to college to major in music and plans to be a youth minister.  For those of you who followed Stoopid Boy's antics over his middle school years, you'll realize that he'll make one amazing youth minister because he's "been there, done that."

I'm thankful for great friends like Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Bunny, and Mrs. Social Studies.

I'm thankful that I get lots of snuggles, headbutts, purrs, and loving from my feline children.

And I'm thankful for my readers.  You guys rock.

And that's just a start....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Was This The Week that the Seventh Grade Went Insane?

According to The Enforcer, the bottom has dropped out of the Seventh Grade.

It started on Wednesday.  

It didn't get much better on Thursday.  Mrs. Eagle had two boys get in a fight in front of school (busted up by a parent who brought the two offenders into the front office while we were at a faculty meeting).  A few more seventh graders were suspended and put into in-school-suspension as a continuation of the "pulling down the pants" incident in the locker room.  Stroll Boy got in trouble at lunch and was still raging mad by the time he landed in my room, threw his books across the room, slammed his chair into the table, pouted and refused to take his test.  I bounced him to The Enforcer's Office for that stunt.  (Need to make another call to The Hood to get The Big Dude From the Hood back down for a visit, I believe.)

Today wasn't much better.  Again, we had boys messing around throwing binders at each other (and then getting mad at each other because it's not funny when it's YOUR binder) so that got some action.  Another gets called up to the front office for a chewing out by his mother because he hasn't turned in a single assignment this year, comes back to class - mad - and slams his chair into the table, throws his books around,  pouts, sulks, refuses to take his test (does this sound familiar?) and off to Guidance he goes.  

But my favorite was the kid who decided to take off his pants in the middle of class.

Seriously.  At least I hope that's what he was doing.

To backtrack, Pants Boy is a big kid.  In fact, he could pass for a high schooler, but he's really not all that mature.  (We have a large collection of boys who just melt down and act like 8-year-olds when they get in trouble - this is one of them.)  In any case, before class he asks to go see the Guidance Dude.  I tell him that's fine, I'll put in a guidance referral and when the Guidance Dude is free, he'll call for him.  (This is an in-house program one of our more techy teachers developed for us to track guidance issues - it's wonderful.)  Pants Boy takes his test and then asks if he can go see Guidance Dude.  I explain - again - that we don't know if Guidance Dude is free, so he'll have to wait until he calls for him.  He doesn't look happy, and goes back to his seat to read his book.

Now, I have a clear view of him from where my teacher station is, and a few minutes later, after walking around the room, checking on the kids as they're taking their tests, I come back to my computer to check something, look up and see Pants Boy trying to wiggle out of his pants!

His belt is undone and hanging down, his shirt is untucked, his pants are unzipped, and his hands are moving and he's squirming a bit.  At this point, I'm hoping that all he's doing is trying to get out of his pants and he's not working on getting in some private entertainment before the bell rings!  

"What on earth are you doing?" I snap at him, loudly, and he stops and looks up

"I have shorts on!" he responds.

Shorts?  Undershorts?  Basketball shorts?  I don't care what freaking shorts he has on, YOU DO NOT TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF IN SCIENCE CLASS!

By now, the kids are all looking at him, their mouths agape, and some of them are so embarrassed that they're ducking down behind their privacy folders, rapidly working on their tests.  I go over to Pants Boy who is still sitting there with his pants all undone and hiss at him that he better get himself arranged, pull his pants up and get himself put together or I'd make things even worse for him.  

Of course that got a write-up, although it took me a few minutes to figure out how to categorize it on the Administrative Referral form.  Dress Code?  (We must wear pants to school.)  Disobedience?  Well, I never had a class rule that said "must wear pants".  I finally decided on lewd and lascivious conduct, because, after all, YOU DO NOT TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF IN SCIENCE CLASS!

I swear, I need a sign for my class room that has these four words:  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You Can't Make This Stuff Up...Really

This was one of those days that you sit back and realize that you could tell people about your day and they wouldn't believe you.

Today was the day that the seventh grade apparently decided to lose their minds.

It started at bright and early when some of the boys in the locker room decided that pulling down gym shorts (and exposing the Full Monty) was a laugh riot, until one of the victims didn't find it so funny, and a brawl ensued.  

Then there was the girl fight down in Mrs. Eagle's area.

And then we had some of Mrs. Eagle's boys harassing one of her girls, taking her books, taking these books into the boy's bathroom and laughing hysterically as they pretended to have, shall we say, carnal knowledge of the text book?

See?  People just don't believe me!  Really!  This is the brain of the seventh grader!!

My favorite, however, was one of my darlings who didn't like the fact he was getting suspended.  Let me backtrack a bit.  This kid, who we will call Dennis the Menace because he's the cutest little freckle-faced darling ever, but don't let that fool you, was a horror last year in sixth grade.  You mention his name to some of the sweetest, most patient sixth grade teachers we have and their eyes narrow and steam comes out of their ears.  He spent most of last year in alternative school, being homeschooled, back to public school, back to alternative school, off to live with relatives in another state, expelled, sent back to us, and he lands back in our building with a record that would scare the most hardened administrator.  He spent thirty days in alternative school, and arrived back with us.  I actually haven't had him in class much because he managed to get in a fight, got sent to ISS, lost his mind in ISS (standing on tables, cursing, spitwads, you name it), got suspended for two days, came back, had to finish up his time in ISS, and today was back to his old habits of causing a rukus, throwing things, etc, and he got suspended again.


This time when he was brought in to guidance so they could do the suspension paperwork, he lost it, threw his books across the office, then took off running and screaming at the top of his lungs throughout the building.


You seriously can't make this stuff up.

Oh, and I'm held responsible for their test scores...just thought I'd remind ya'll.

(And to all the folks that will post comments about why this kid is still in the classroom and not identified as emotionally disturbed...I wish I could tell you.  From what I can tell in his file, there's not a thing wrong with this kid except he just doesn't like to behave.  He can, when he wants to, be an angel.   Hard to say - and like I said, I haven't had him long enough to even get to know much about him.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thank a Veteran

As a school, we probably have one of the absolutely best Veteran's Day Assemblies I've ever seen.   Different teachers over the years have taken upon the role of putting this together, because it's something that we all value and look forward to.  When someone gets burned out there is always someone to take his or her place.  Perhaps it's because so many of our teachers and staff are veterans, or so many of our kids are military dependents, or the fact that many of us were just raised respecting veterans.   But we do it up right.

And this years assembly was the absolute best I've seen in eight years at The School.


It.  Was.  Amazing.

We had the band play.  We had the color guard from the High School Down the Road.  We honored our teachers, staff and bus drivers who are veterans.  We had the appropriate dignitaries (including some of the mucky-mucks from Downtown).  However, the most popular dignitaries were the six soldiers from our local military post (all combat veterans by now, and one walking with a cane) who recited the Soldier's Creed in unison.  Many of my homeroom kids were able to shake hands with them afterwards and were really delighted to report back that they had done so.

But the kicker was the kids themselves.

Over the past month or so some of our English teachers in both 7th and 8th grade have been working on a patriotism unit.   Considering how many of our kids have family members who have served overseas, or are currently serving, and the fact that we have two who have lost a close family member to combat (father and uncle), this is a really emotional subject for our kids.  One of the things that the kids brought up was that many of their peers didn't stand and honor the flag the way they thought they should during our morning Pledge of Allegiance.

That has now changed.  Because our kids asked everyone who they stood for when they stood for the Flag.

As part of the ceremony, the thirty plus kids from the 8th grade advanced English class came down from the stands with American flags and one by one they came across the stage with their flag.  And each one stopped, and spoke into the microphone.

"I stand for my grandfather."

"I stand for my uncle."

"I stand for my brother."

"I stand for my sister."

"I stand for my mom."

"I stand for my step-dad."

"I stand for my dad."

And the last kid for each grouping would add, "If you have a grandfather/father/mom, etc. who served in the military please stand with me and remain standing."

It didn't take long before the entire gym was on their feet.

And then the local Marine Corps representative played Taps.

There wasn't a dry eye in the house.  And that includes the kids.  

The kids are still talking about what an awesome assembly it was.  And parents who came have emailed expressing how moved and astonished they were at the assembly.  And today, when we said the Pledge, I looked around my room and noticed that they were standing straighter, they were focused on the Flag, and they were a bit louder when it came to the pledge.

The Principal, however, topped it off with her email. "The policy makers probably don't realize that we can't test or make a standard about some of the things we teach our kids.  Today, we've taught them alot about respect, and honor, and patriotism.  And that's what makes them good citizens.  And no one can measure that on a bubble test.  Keep that in mind when you're feeling pressured about standards and testing and high stakes.  You all teach them so much more than what's on your curriculum.  You teach them how to be good people."

Thank you to all my veteran readers.  God Bless.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Priceless or Pathetic?

120 Students

69 F grades on Friday's Progress Reports.

Number of parent calls, emails, or conferences?



On an aside, we've had the past two Thursday evenings set aside for parent conferences.  My team had quite a few openings in our schedule.  We did get a few walk in's - including a mom who passed the school on the way home from work, saw the marquee, and pulled in, thank goodness, as we were going to call her to set up a meeting anyway.  However, it never was busy.


Why do I care more about these kids' future than their parents do?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Putting the Hood to Work for You

I have a student in one of my classes we'll call a Stroll Boy.  Stroll Boy never moves faster than a stroll, and that pretty much plays out in all aspects of his life.  He's famous for doing nothing.  At all.  He's turned in maybe 2 assignments (classwork) this grading period.  He fails every test.  He won't bring his book, a pencil, a binder, a work ethic.  If you pull his records you'll find that he's being raised by grandparents and biological parents are non-existent in this kid's life.   His grandparents are feeding him, giving him a place to live, but don't seem to be all that interested in seeing that he's a success academically.  They probably are overwhelmed at having to deal with a 13-year-old when they'd rather be retired.

So, Stroll Boy is mad at me because I took his locker away - again - because he won't bring his book to class.  (This is a pretty much standard practice in the seventh grade - no book, no locker.)  He's also mad at me because I have higher expectations for him than he has and doesn't want to hear the cold hard truth that he's not going to be playing in the NFL if he doesn't make the grades to play on his high school team in a year or two.    Last I looked, he's not such a phenom that the scouts are already lining up to sign him.  In fact, considering his work ethic and lack of speed, I doubt he'll even make it to the high school team.

His method of "punishing" me, is to be tardy to class.  Now, we're not talking tardy by a second or two.  We're talking a kid who comes in, puts his books on his desk, and then "goes to the bathroom", and shows up five or more minutes late to class.  He just strolls in, ambles to his seat, and spends the rest of the period trying to look somewhat busy (without moving too much or making much of an effort).  I actually find this kind of funny because all I do is write up a classroom referral for a tardy, tell him to get his pencil out (usually doesn't have one) and off we go with class.  If he thinks he's punishing me, he's far off target.  Rather, he's just showing me how sad and lost he is.  This kid has been through every intervention program we have at school for at risk kids and he's one we just haven't been able to reach.

Anyhow, after the second tardy in a row, I managed, amazingly, to contact his grandparents and told them about the tardy issue, the missing book issue, and how I was worried about how he was probably not going to pass science if he didn't turn on the jets here shortly.  I got a very non committal "Okay," from both, and tried to get them to schedule an appointment for a conference with no luck.  (At this time I was lucky to even get to speak to someone considering our lack of success in the past).  I figured, well, I made parent contact, they know what's going on, and we'll just keep doing the referrals and he'll end up in detention or something.  No big deal.

So imagine my surprise when I get an email from one of the front office secretaries telling me that Stroll Boy's grandparents had sent down his uncle and he'd like to sort of spy on him and see how he's behaving in class.   No Problem!  I love it when I get parent/uncle/significant adult observers.  I email back that that would be great, and to let her know what time to send him down.

Classes change and Stroll Boy walks in, drops his books, and takes off.  I'm doing hall duty and don't see The Uncle, but figure he's found a place to observe (most likely guidance where they can watch all the cameras).  The kids run to class, the bell rings, and I start class.

No Stroll Boy.

He walks in five minutes later.

And three minutes behind him there's a knock on the door.  The Uncle.  (Who saw that Stroll Boy was late, I found out later.)

I open the door and there stands The Uncle...and this guy is HUGE.  He's nicely dressed, his braids are pulled back, but he's HUGE.  I introduce myself, he introduces himself and I wave him over to a spare chair which happens to be by the lab group that Stroll Boy is in.  And then I wonder if the chair will support him. Because he's almost twice as tall as most of my students and quite a bit heftier.

Stroll Boy's jaw drops and he looks like a deer in the headlights.  He obviously wasn't expecting his Uncle, especially his Big Huge Uncle from the Hood (as we often call the neighborhood The School is in because, well, that's what everyone calls it).  It was amazing  (and really kind of funny) what a model student he was during this period...he had his pencil, he snapped to whenever I gave directions, he participated, he did a great job.  He looked like a candidate for National Jr. Honor Society.

And then I noticed something.

This is my sixth period class, my largest class, and a class with a lot of unruly kids (every isolation seat is occupied) who have a lot of issues with self-control.  They are loud, they tend to talk all the time, and they aren't the most academically inspired kids I've ever seen.

But on this day they were perfect.

Absolutely perfect.  They didn't talk out.  They raised their hands.  They were polite.  They participated.  And we had a great time.

And then I realized why.  Sitting in the corner of the room, was a Big Huge Dude from the Hood.  A Real Big Dude from the Hood.  And they weren't about to do anything out of line with the Dude from the Hood sitting Right Over There.

After class I talked with the Uncle from the Hood and had a nice conversation with him.  He knows his nephew needs to get motivated and with the program, and he says he's going to work on that.  Good for him. I hope he does.  But in the meantime I invited him to sit in my class whenever he wanted.  Seriously.  I'd take a Big Huge Dude from the Hood in my corner any day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Skipping School, Seventh Grade Style

So Mrs. Aide, Mrs. Eagle and I are at breakfast this morning at the local waffle and egg establishment by The School and Mrs. Aide relates the following story.

Yesterday, after she worked the sixth grade lunch, she realized that she'd left something in her car that she needed for one of her small group reading classes.  No big deal, she called up to the front office and left the building for a moment to go out to her car.  However, she's walking to the car and she sees a kid pedaling around the parking lot on his bicycle.  He's pedaling around and around like he hasn't a care in the world.  He sees her, waves, and keeps pedaling.  In fact, he pedals up by her, says "Hi!" and then pedals off again.

And she's thinking, okay, school is in session and there's a kid - whom she recognized as being one of our students - just riding his bike around the parking lot.  Truly strange.

So, she goes inside, grabs Mrs. Sparrow and tells her that she thinks we have a kid on the loose.  "There's a kid riding his bicycle all around the parking lot," she says.

Mrs. Sparrow is incredulous.  "Seriously?  He's just out there riding around?"

"Seriously," said Mrs. Aide.  "I know he's one of ours, and he may be a seventh grader.  I just don't know his name."

So, while Mrs. Sparrow sent out our SRO to check this out, Mrs. Aide and the Guidance Goddess go through the absence list and pull up photographs of the absent seventh graders.  It didn't take long before she was able to identify him.  Not only was he listed as absent for yesterday, but he'd also been absent the day before.

Mrs. Sparrow calls Bicycle Mom and asks her if her son had been at school on Wednesday.  "Oh yes!" she answers.  "He was there."  What about Thursday?  "Oh yes, he was there too as well!," answers Bicycle Mom.  Mrs. Sparrow then informs her that although he may have gone to school on the days in question, it appears that he never made it in the building.

So Bicycle Boy was busted.  (He's one of Mrs. Eagle's kids, not one of mine.)  He earned himself three days of ISS for his little vacation from school.

But seriously, you have to wonder.  I mean if you're ditching school...why would you spend your time riding your bike around the school parking lot???

Ah, the seventh grade mind...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can Anyone Find a Parent?

We handed out report cards last Friday.  Unlike some buildings in the district who have gone all electronic, we still do the paper report card.  Seems only about 20% of our parents bother to sign on to PowerSchool so this is about the only way we can make sure they see their darling's grades.  Even then, it's a gamble that the report card will make it home, but at least they can see the staple holes in the agenda where it had originally been stapled.

Out of 125 kids, 30 of them earned an F in science, mainly because (all together now), they don't turn in work, don't study for tests.  (A good sign, however, is I have two special ed kids with B's because they do all their work.  It can be done.)

Along with the report cards we sent out a team newsletter (which probably won't be read), a full color booklet from the State about test scores and high standards and high expectations and how you need to be engaged with your child and make sure they study and do their homework, blah, blah, blah (which probably won't be read), and then a BRIGHT PINK form to use to sign up for parent conferences, which start on Thursday.  The form is pretty straighforward.  We schedule individual appointments, so it said to put the name of the teacher you wish to see by the time slot you prefer.

Any guess on how many parents sent back the parent conference form?

Better yet...any guess on how many parents sent it back filled out CORRECTLY and actually followed the directions and put in the names of the teachers they want to see at the time slot they preferred (unlike most who simply put their kid's name by a time slot, leaving us to wonder who, exactly, they want to visit with)?

How does twelve sound?

Yup.  Twelve.  125 kids, tons of F's in all subjects, and we get twelve parents who plan to visit.

Now granted, we may get a bunch of walk-ins, especially if the weather is good and not raining, but truth be told, we may just be sitting there all night with nothing to do.

And my ass is on the line if these kids don't pass the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test...and every study on earth points to parent involvement as the key factor in academic achievement.

And my parents really don't want to be bothered.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I Have Grey Hair (aside from the whole genetic thing)

Last year we had a kid who was a non-academic promote from 6th grade.  For the uninitiated, this means that he most likely failed every class but was passed on to seventh grade anyway.  For one thing, he had already been retained once, so was a year older than the other kids already.  Sock boy (he always wore basketball shorts with bright socks, flip flops and had the skinniest legs on earth) was a special education student, was on an IEP, but was perfectly capable of doing work and passing.

Except he chose not to.

He did nothing.  He turned in no work.  He made no effort to do work in class, and homework, despite the fact that he got help with it, was never done, never turned in.  We had parent meeting after parent meeting with his mother, who was frustrated beyond belief with Sock Boy and couldn't make him do any work at home either.  We had him in tutoring (skipped a lot), our remediation program, in addition to his special education services.  In short, everyone was bending over backward to get this kid to work except, of course, for the kid himself.  I often told him he was responsible for at least half the grey hairs on my head.  (He thought that was hilarious, by the way.)

So, he was then non-academically promoted to the 8th grade.  (See reasons above...they didn't change any). The theory by seventh grade is that we'll promote them anyway, maybe they'll grow up and actually get on the ball, and if they don't, we'll bump them on to high school after 8th grade and they'll get all the whiz-bang services in place at the high school for struggling and at-risk students.

So today we handed out the first quarter report card, and, as usual, I'm depressed because 30 of my students have chosen to fail because (okay, all together now), they don't do work, don't study, don't try, don't care.

And then a little email popped into my in-box from an 8th grade teacher...which read:

"For those of you who had Sock Boy last year, I thought you'd like to hear this.  Sock Boy, who was a non-academic promote for both sixth and seventh grade, has earned for the first quarter....two A's, two B's and a C in his core academic classes.  So remember, never give up.  He finally matured, finally GOT IT, and he's finally if you see him make a big deal out of it.  You all had a big part in it."

Oh.  My.  God.

Mrs. Social Studies and I were stunned.  And of course, Sock Boy wanted to come by and show us that Magical Report Card.  And of course we made a HUGE deal over how proud of him we were.  I wish I could see his mother's face when she saw that report card because I've seen her in tears over the struggles with her son.  She's gonna be so relieved that he's finally on the right track.

Now, if the 30 kids that failed my class this nine weeks would only get it...I could stop worrying about the greys.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nothing Like Waiting Until the Last Minute

Today was our first day back to school after a week off for fall break.

At 5:55 am I received an email from a parent (kid is in my homeroom but has been moved into Mrs. Eagle's inclusion class).  The parent wants to let me know that Baseball Boy did not do his worksheets over break because the log in and password I gave him for the online book was wrong.  (More likely, since I cut and paste this information from the textbook website, someone wrote the information down wrong, but hey, who's being picky here.)

It is obviously my fault that he didn't bring home his book and he didn't have the correct information to access his online book.

However...the parent and Baseball Boy have had all week - ten days to be precise - to email me to get the correct information.  However, Baseball Mom waited until about an hour and a half before school started back up to inform me of my obvious error. I would bet that Baseball Boy pulled the work out of his backpack sometime late the night before.  Or more likely, mom went through the backpack and found the worksheets.

I copied Mrs. Eagle on the email, again cut and pasted the correct information for the online book, and mentioned, without being too snarky, that I wish she had emailed me sooner during the week as I would have been glad to assist her with her problem.

What a great freaking way to start the new nine weeks.

However, I did, I suppose, get the last laugh.  Mr. Eagle copied me on the email she sent to Baseball Boy's mom informing her that she didn't assign any worksheets to do over break, that those worksheets, in fact, were due PRIOR to break and she has already finalized grades.

Oh well.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

We have a student new to the school this year who is supposedly here, living with his grandparents, because his school Up North "couldn't meet his needs."  In other words, grandma and grandpa think he's brilliant.  And Brilliant Boy agrees.  (Although, truth be told, he did tell some students that he's here because his mother couldn't afford to take care of all her kids - personally, I think his mother just wanted him out of her hair.)

Brilliant Boy's grandpa spent quite a bit of time in the Guidance Office questioning the Guidance Goddess about all the zeros he had in PowerSchool and how come, since his grandson was so brilliant, that he was failing all his classes?  The Guidance Goddess, with infinite patience, explained to grandpa that if a student doesn't turn in work, or fails to put his or her name on it, then the teacher has no choice but to put in a zero.  He assured her that Brilliant Boy insisted that he has turned in everything and it all had his name on it.  She suggested a team meeting, which we had.  And, by the time we had the team meeting, Grandpa had pretty much figured out that even if Brilliant Boy was brilliant, he was a lying little mess.

It wasn't just the academic issues with Brilliant Boy, a kid who can't even turn in classwork, but it was behavior issues.  Brilliant Boy assumes that everyone wants to hear what he has to say so he says it.  Constantly.  This child cannot shut up to save his life.  In fact, he received one of my first referrals this year for talking during a test.  Of course when you call him out on the talking you get the "What me?" look of horror, the denial, the insistence that everyone else, but him, was talking.  Right.  He talks so much that the other kids really can't stand him.  He's annoying, and all they want is for him to Shut the Hell Up.  So of course, he's made it to an isolation seat in every class.

So we're in the parent meeting, and Grandpa asks that Brilliant Boy get called out of PE to attend, and he lets slip a little blurb about "How the teachers say you're talking all the time, and isn't that why you didn't have any friends at your other school?"  Brilliant Boy squirms and admits that yes, the other kids hated him because his mouth got him in trouble all the time.  Great.  A repeat offender.

So fast forward a couple of weeks later and Brilliant Boy and a few kids have a bit of an argument at lunch, and he ends up cursing the lunch monitor and using a couple of F-bombs in the process and manages to get himself three days suspension.  (I'm sure grandpa enjoyed that).   Of course he comes back and spends the entire homeroom period in the morning bragging to all the kids about how he got suspended and isn't he cool, and life is just great, all he did was play videogames.  The other kids glare at him and Mrs. Reading tells him to pipe down.

Well, it just so happened that the day that Brilliant Boy came back was the day of our SWPBS reward party. Kids who did not get an administrative referral during the past nine weeks got to spend their related arts period having a party - they got to run around outside, toss footballs, play games, eat hot dogs and popcorn, scream, and just have a great time.  This was a really big deal and the kids were pumped about it.  So, Mrs. Reading, Brilliant Boy's homeroom teacher, reads off the list of kids who can't go, including Brilliant Boy, and says that as soon as they check in with their 1st period teacher, they need to head to the "holding room" with their science and geography books as they had an assignment to do.

Except Brilliant Boy didn't do this.  He managed, sneaky little brat, to sneak into the party and had a grand time, while the rest of the kids who had referrals sat in a room and did a science outline (I gave them extra credit for it).

To say that these kids were incensed was to put it mildly.  They were LIVID.  He KNEW he wasn't supposed to be at the party - for goodness sake, he was just back from being SUSPENDED for three days! By lunch time all the kids on the team knew that Brilliant Boy had attended the party and they were fit to be tied.  It was not FAIR!   Mrs. Social Studies had to pull a few kids aside to tell them to let it go, the principal knew about it, it would be taken care of, and the last thing they needed to do was to get in a fight or something because they were all upset.  Not a kid on the team would talk to him and many of them were turning their backs on him.  He definitely didn't make any friends with this stunt.

I had to go to a team leader meeting later that day and mentioned to Mr. Enforcer that I thought it was amazing that Brilliant Boy managed to make it out of school today without the snot getting beat out of him for his stunt.  (I might add that not only were the kids furious at him, but his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Reading was madder than I'd ever seen her.)   The Enforcer agreed and said he'd take care of it.  He did.  He'll have two days of In School Suspension when we get back from break.

But I seriously doubt that our kids are going to be very forgiving.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Time to Recuperate

Fall Break has finally arrived.  And I finally had a chance to get a good night's sleep and managed twelve hours.  Can you say that we're exhausted?  Pretty much so.  Don't know exactly what it is, but everyone at The School has commented on the fact that we all feel physically and emotionally like we usually do in May, at the end of the year.   I have my suspicions on the cause - more and more paperwork coming down from The State and the District (aka more BS we have to do other than teaching), more testing of the kids (aka time out of my calendar that I could use to teach), bigger class sizes, even less parent involved (every year it gets worse), and goodness knows what else.

We are tired.  And it's only October.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Funny Things They Say

My great-grandfather had snow white hair.  My grandmother and her siblings all inherited this trait and also had snow white hair.  My mother?  You guessed it...snow white hair.  And of course, I inherited this same trait.  I started finding white hairs in my early twenties, colored my hair for years, and few years ago when the dye wouldn't stick (seriously, it was a waste of money and time) gave up and just let nature have her way.  We don't get gray, we get white or silver, so it really isn't as bad as it sounds.  (Think of country star Emmylou Harris and you get an idea as to the color).

So anyhow, I'm walking around the room today during one of my larger and more challenging classes, keeping an eye on things and helping kids now and then with their cell coloring and labeling sheets.  One of my girls, who really isn't much of a talker, raises her hand so I head over to her table to see what she needs.

"Can I ask you a question?" my Quiet Girl says.

"Of course," I tell her, thinking we're going to have a conversation about nuclei, or mitochondrion or something.

"Do you color your hair?"  she asks.  The other kids at the table are all silent, staring at me with wide eyes.

I laughed.  "No, actually I don't.  I used to a while ago, but I just gave up on it a few years ago," I say.

"Well," she says very seriously.  "You really wear it well."  The rest of her tablemates are nodding in agreement.

"Well thank you," I told her.  "That's a really wonderful thing to say."

I had to laugh.  That was just the funniest phrase to come out of a seventh grader's mouth that I've heard in a long time.  It sounded like something someone of my generation would say, not a twelve year old!  And honestly, it was pretty sweet.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Name Game

There are times that the typical seventh grader just absolutely blows my mind.  Seriously.  You would think after nearly a decade of spending most of my waking life with twelve and thirteen-year-olds (also known as the kids most of you would avoid like the plague) I would be used to some of their idiosyncrasies.  But nooooooo.  Life isn't that easy.  They consistently do things that absolutely make me want to beat my head against my desk.

For example, the apparent inability to put one's name on one's work.

This just absolutely drives me crazy. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why they consistently forget to put their name on their work.  I mean we're talking about an incredibly self-centered generation of kids who will write their name on their jeans, their shoes, their binders, their lunch bag, their lockers, the bathroom stalls, everything But On Their Freaking Assignments.  On those, their leave a big white vacant spot where their name should be.

This is a skill they learn in Kindergarten, folks.  The First Thing You Do When You Get Out Your Paper Is To Put Your Name On Your Work.  So for eight years my little darlings have been taught to always put your name on your work, and still - STILL! - they forget.  This past weekend I graded packets of vocabulary cards and I had fourteen kids who did not put their name anywhere on their cards.  That's somewhere along the lines of ten percent of my students.  Fourteen kids who merrily managed to do their vocab cards, even do some extra credit drawings on them, but they forgot their names.

Good gracious.

I have tried just about everything I can think of to solve this problem.  I remind them every time we do anything to Put Your Name On Your Work.  I go around and check to see if they have Put Their Name on Their Work.  I have a sign by the turn in basket that reminds them to Put Your Name On Your Work.  I also have torn up and tossed in front of their startled little faces, work that is turned in without a name.  (I'll admit, that's kind of fun, especially if I'm feeling theatrical.)  But still, They Forget To Put Their Name on Their Work.

I am astounded - astounded! - that these kids are alert enough to look both ways before their cross the street.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Believing in Miracles

I teach by a very large military installation and consequently, a lot of my students have a connection to the military, as do a lot of my co-workers.  It's just a fact of life here.  I've had many parents deployed (multiple times), I've had kids move in and move out due to changes in duty station, and I've even had one very cool Dad meet the team via a conference call from Iraq last year to discuss his daughter's performance (not good, Dad was not happy).  Many of my fellow teachers and staff are veterans and many have spouses who are also veterans or even active duty.  One of our Partners in Education is a unit on the local military post.  We are, in fact, a community where what most people read in the paper impacts a lot of us personally.

So, it is a blessing to realize that The School hasn't been touched more frequently by the kind of tragedy that happens when you're in a military town.  We have had two parents killed in action over the past ten years.  That's bad enough.  However, looking at the many connections we have, the fact that we've only had two has been just sheer luck.  The fact that none of our co-workers has lost a spouse is also somewhat astounding.   So, while the past two months have been dreadful on the military community here with a large number of young men and women losing their lives in Afghanistan, we've all been saying our prayers that our little school family will remain safe.

Our number, however, was up.

We had a faculty meeting a few weeks ago, with the Superintendent from The District coming by to talk to us about goals and visions and all that, and The Principal had to break the news to us that the husband of one of our Aides (who was out on maternity leave) had stepped on an IED and was in really, really, bad shape.  So bad, they weren't sure he was even going to make it long enough to get to Germany for better medical care.  Talk about getting whapped upside the head with some absolutely dreadful, horrible news.  Our Dear Aide has resigned so she can focus on her husband, but as far as we're concerned, they're still part of our School Family.  He has lost one leg completely, another below the knee, has damaged pelvic bones, damaged elbow and hand.  However, from what we've heard, no internal injuries.  He made it alive to Germany, then to Walter Reed, and he is there with his wife at his side.

And we prayed.  This is a pretty solidly Christian group of faculty and staff (after all, we are in The South) and we believe in prayer.  So we prayed.

And a miracle happened.  He woke up this morning, for the first time, and spoke, and his wife was at his side.

And so, at times when I'm feeling whiny about my lot in life, how the kids won't listen, and the paperwork is burying me, and I just feel like retiring and going to work at Home Depot, I realize how lucky I am that I am in fairly good health, my Daddy is recovering, my husband is fine, and all in all, it's a pretty good life.  And I'm glad, and humbled that there are men and women like Sgt. V who give their all for our way of life.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yet Another Reason Why Getting Older is the Pits

I know, I know, I'm not posting at the usual rate which should be several times a week.  I think the additional 30+ kids I have this year are really adding up to a lot more time grading and paperwork, plus the whole scheduling nightmare which really hasn't abated, and then there's the outside stuff that's been getting in the way.  And truth be told, this blog hasn't been much of a priority.

My Dad on the other hand, has been.

Daddy Bird is 75, lives about 3 1/2 hours away, is very independent and acts like a man quite a bit younger.  We're talking a guy who gardens, mows, works on his house, walks three miles a day, is very active in his church.  Definitely not a guy who sits and watches TV all day.

In any case, he got a bad cold after a family reunion thing in Las Vegas, got a bit of a respiratory infection/flu after that, then had trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, and then on Saturday I talked to him and he mentioned that he'd fallen and hit his head earlier that morning.  If that wasn't enough to worry me, he was slurring his words.  My first thought was he'd had a stroke or something and I finally convinced him to get some help.  He did call a friend, who called 911, and we spent four days in a the regional stroke center at a very nice hospital about an hour from where he lives.  He's in a rehab facility right now, and I'm heading out on Saturday morning to take him back to his home.

We were lucky.  This was a warning.  He didn't have a full blown stroke, and in fact, they can't find evidence of one, but they were stroke-like symptoms.  He has an enlarged heart, and is borderline diabetic (that part just amazes me because he eats healthier than most folks, myself included).  His speech is nearly normal, and although he still has weakness in one side, and totters a bit when he walks, it's getting better every day.  He's just going to have to make a few lifestyle changes, and we're seeing a cardiologist to get that issue straightened out.   Fortunately, between me and his long-term lady friend (who is awesome and came up from her home in Florida to help out) he's had someone with him during this ordeal.  His spirits are great (he just wants to get home and putter in his yard), and I think we'll be fine with some adjustments.

So, I was out for two days, and three out of my five classes were hell on earth for the sub.  Great.  They were not happy with The Talk I gave them, and I'm still annoyed with them.  Unfortunately the sub didn't single out any kids by name so I can't slap a referral on them.  I hate that.  I want to know who the jerks were.

So that's what I've been doing.  I really did miss my kids when I was gone.  They do give me something to worry about and think about.  But honestly, spending time with Daddy was pretty cool too, even if it wasn't under the best of circumstances.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Do We Feel Like It's May?

This has been a rough start to the school year.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but nearly everyone is walking around asking why we all feel worn out and exhausted like we do at the end of the school year.  Good gracious, we've just started and we're  dead tired.  

Maybe it's the overload of paperwork that we have at the beginning of every year...and the fact that, for the 7th grade teachers at least, we're looking about about 30 more kids a year than we had last year.  It doesn't seem like it would make that much difference but it does.  (We have the same number of seventh grade students this year, but we're down to two teams...and overall, we went down 7 teachers).  Maybe it's because we're still waiting to hear about our new standards and how the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests went and rumors out there indicate it wasn't very good (State-wide, I might add).  And then there's the general student apathy which is nearly as bad as the parent apathy.  Who knows?  All I know is that it's been a rough start.

And then you find that little folded up piece of notebook paper on your desk.

Every year we send out an introductory post card to all our homeroom kids.  Every year.  The key is getting it done while you still can honestly say something good about the kids and haven't been around them long enough to really get truly annoyed.  It's just one more thing we do at the beginning of the year, and considering I've never got one bit of feedback on these cards in the past, oh, six years, you sometimes wonder why in the hell we bother?  I mean really...we're talking about parents who hang up on us.

So this is what I found, dropped on my desk by one of my homeroom kids, Very Nice Boy, on his way out the door the other day

"Dear Mrs. Bluebird,

Thank you for saying that about me and I have something to tell you.  You are a great teacher that wants youre students to exceed and have fun at the same time.  Also you are fun and kind and you are my favorite teacher of all time.  Sincerely, Quiet Boy.

P.S.  I really appreciate that what you said about me."

I wish I could remember what I said about him - probably something along the lines about what a nice kid he was (he really is) and how much I enjoy having him in class (I really do).

Notes like that make it a bit more tolerable...

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Charming Class of Malcontents

My Seventh Period Class from the Very Depths of Hell Itself, is the sort of class that makes teachers count the years until retirement.

I kid you not, in a sea of otherwise fairly nice classes (and including two class that are just an absolute joy to teach), this group of kids stick out like a sore thumb.   They are absolutely amazingly miserable to be around.  Surprisingly, it's my smallest class, it is, by far, my worst behaved.

I have at least five girls in this class Who Cannot Shut The Hell Up.  Some of them will literally talk to a wall, given a wall to talk to.  They are Dramatic.  They are attention-seeking.  They are a royal pain in the ass.  I have at least three boys who are the type that like to mess with other people and other people's things.  I could spend all period dealing with "he touched my binder" and "he took my pencil" issues with this group, but I refuse to play that game with them.  I have two little Thugs in Training who walk around like a couple of roosters sticking their chests out and trying to out-bully each other to see who's going to be the baddest boy in the henhouse (news to them, I'm the head chicken in this yard so they better just stop squawking and sit the hell down).   And then, of course, I have a handful of kids who really care, who really try, and who just hate the class because of the idiots that are in there ruining everything for them.

And it dawned on me about a week ago, that these kids all hate each other.  Absolutely can't stand each other.  It's like a cross-country trip with a van full of kids who are ready to smack the snot out of each other by the time we reach our destination.

So, after multiple seating chart changes moving kids, here, there and yonder, I finally gave up on my dream of perfect lab groups of four and started spreading these kids out.  I figured since they hated each other, they'd be better off with more personal space. On Friday, I was simply planning to move Roster Boy 1 to his own little table (since I have such big classes this year, I have a small lab table as well as 5 isolation seats so I can accommodate everyone in the bigger classes) for the express purpose "of giving you a space where people won't pester you."  (I actually moved him because I was a afraid he and Roster Boy 2 were going to come to blows and the further apart I had them, the better life would be.)  As soon as he happily moved over to his table, five hands went up in the air.

"Can I move to a seat by myself?" asked one of the kids frantically waving his hand.

"Seriously?" I asked.  I mean most seventh graders just love to be able to sit in groups, but, again, this is a unique class.

"Yes, pullleeeeze," he whimpered.

"Okay, head over there," I said and pointed to one of the isolation seats and moved his post-it name on the seating chart.

After that it was like I'd opened the flood gates.  Within five minutes all the isolation seats were taken and most of the big tables were down to two kids, or three at the most.  Amazing.

And today?  They were awesome.  They were quiet.  They stayed in their seats, followed directions and did their work.

I was stunned.  I gave them each a Reward Dollar (part of our PBS thing) and told them to mark on the back that it was for being respectful to their classmates by being quiet and doing what they were told.  It was like a different planet in there today.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Day to Remember Hereos

I was student teaching up North when I heard about the planes hitting the Twin Towers. I knew then that life as we knew it wouldn't be the same.

We learned a lot about what a true hero was that day. And one of mine is Rick Rescorla.  If you don't know his story, take a moment to learn about what a amazing man he was.  He saved the lives of 2,700 people nine years ago today.   An astounding feat by an astounding man.

God bless him.

And may God bless all those we lost that day and all those left behind.

When Opening a Locker is a Major Accomplishment

The lockers in my part of The Building are OLD. Not just OLD, but DIRT OLD and could be, in fact, older than I am (which is pretty amazing). I believe some of them are original to the building (1964 era) and some were moved over from another building that was even older, so you can imagine what we're dealing with here.

Old cranky lockers that can give a kid fits.

However, I'm used to this. I'm used to the kids having to deal with sticky lockers and knobs that don't want to turn and handles that actually snap off.

What I'm not used to is kids who can't, after six weeks of school, remember their locker combination from one day to the next.


I have two boys in my homeroom who never, ever, remember their combinations. Ever. I'm at the point where I'm tired of looking it up for them and figure if they can't remember three little numbers (and which direction to turn the knob, yet another issue with these kids) then they don't need a locker and can just carry their books around all day. That may sound like a chore, but since they only have three textbooks this year (reading and LA are using class sets), that's not as bad as it sounds.

I thought it was just my kids who were having trouble, but found out from some of the other seventh grade teachers that they were seeing the same thing. Mr. Math has one kid who asks for his combination every morning and Mr. Math doesn't even have to look it up - he's told it to the kid so many times that he has it memorized. Apparently we have a whole group of kids this year who can't memorize a three letter combination.

Which got me to thinking...are we raising a generation of kids who can't memorize sets of numbers because we're all running around with cell phones where all we have to do is touch a screen or hit a pre-programmed key and the phone automatically dials? I have kids honestly tell me that they don't know their parents phone numbers when I'm filling out a phone pass (which makes the secretaries up front nuts as they have to then look up the number since the kid doesn't know it).

I know these kids can memorize some things - I've seen them memorize rap lyrics, dance steps, and football plays. So you think, as much as they love having those lockers, they could at least memorize three little numbers.

But apparently not.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Surviving Centers

I think I just survived two days of centers.

Mrs. Eagle and I had the great idea this summer that we would occasionally do centers instead of a unit test so that we could give the kids more hands' on experiences and also a different way of assessment. Mrs. Mallard, one of the most creative and amazing science teachers we know (she teaches 8th graders), is a big fan of centers and we saw the great results she got with them, so we thought we'd try them. I know a lot of teachers, in particular elementary, do centers, but it's not something we've done much of in seventh grade science.

So, we came up with four center activities dealing with our rock and mineral unit. We had a mineral identification center where they could identify a variety of minerals using streak plates, among other things. We also had a center dealing with the rock cycle that included labeling and diagramming. Another dealt with the three rock types and involved drawing a comic strip. The last one was a puzzle dealing with minerals and their uses in our daily lives. Pretty simple stuff and stuff that could be done, with a bit of focus, in two class periods.

One thing we learned from this is that large classes, small rooms, and center activities can be a challenge simply from a space and mobility perspective. The smaller classes seemed to be able to get on task a bit quicker, while the larger classes seemed to have trouble just navigating around the room without stopping and interacting with other kids. However, once they finally got going, they didn't do too bad.

Mrs. Eagle and I haven't graded the center packets yet, which is something we're going to do this weekend, however from what I've seen, they range from kids who barely did one activity to kids that rocked and did all four and did them well.

The big problem with most of these kids is they have absolutely no concept of time management (despite a giant timer on the screen, thanks to my Kagan Timer Tools software), and they are highly social and can waste an entire class period talking about cheer-leading and other important things. I ran laps around the room trying to get kids focused and helping them stay on track. It worked with some, but not with others.

Many of these kids seem to think that if they turn in anything, even if it's poorly done or incomplete, that they deserve a good grade. I think many of them will be surprised when they get their packets back and see that we actually expect some sort of effort and quality work out of them. Hopefully it will wake a few of them up.

And just think, progress reports come out next week.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Shopping Spree

Historically, the class of kids we take to lunch is the Absolute Worst Class of the Day. Part of it stems, I am sure, from the fact that we're moving them from one point to another - always a reason for behavior issues. Then again, we're also bringing them back from a thirty minute block where they've been talking, socializing, and generally creating some sort of mild mayhem in the lunch room.

When I first started at The School, my fifth period was actually broken into two parts. I'd start the class and teach a bit, we'd stop, go to lunch, then I'd bring the kids back and we'd finish up our class. This was hell on Earth. Trying to get the kids focused on what we were doing for the last twenty minutes of class was a challenge, to put it mildly. It's a bit better now as the kids come in, sit down and get quiet, we line them up, walk them down, and then when we get back we start class. Still, trying to get them calmed down has always been a bit difficult.

And for some reason, nearly every year, the kids they put in my lunch class are the kids that aren't all that academically oriented or well-behaved to start with. Were talking the low achievers, the low readers, the kids who live in the principal's office. A few years ago, three of the kids in my lunch class were responsible for 50% of The Team's discipline referrals. Every day when I go to pick up my kids from the cafeteria, I'd have one of the lunchroom aides stop me to tell me what crazy little bits of misbehavior my darlings did on that particular day.

So this year, after eight years of absolutely dreading the lunch class, I have an absolutely awesome fifth period class to take to lunch. We're talking kids that line up and get quiet without having to be told a dozen times to do so. And then when they walk to lunch they stay in line and stay quiet. And when I pick them up, they walk back in a quiet line, a fact that still astounds me. The lunchroom aides can't tell me enough how nice and sweet and well-behaved they are. In fact, I haven't had a single kid in one of the "time-out" seats along the front wall of the cafeteria (I've had kids there all year in the past).

So, the other day I emailed The Principals and told them what a wonderful class I had and asked if it were possible to have them open the School Store the last twenty minutes of class so I could take them shopping. Currently the School Store is only open in the mornings before classes start and in the afternoons after buses roll, so aside from special appointments for entire classes (like I asked for) the kids don't get a whole lot of opportunity to shop. Mrs. Sparrow agreed to open it up and I told my kids the day before so they'd be prepared and bring their School Bucks to spend.

So, instead of going over our workbook assignment in class we went shopping. What a blast! I had to help Mrs. Sparrow a bit with the actual selling aspect, but that was a lot of fun. We sold a lot of candy, chips, and drinks, but also some stuffed animals, a fuzzy blanket, and some other big tickets items. The kids were excited, and loved the fact that it was their own "private" shopping time and they didn't have to share the room with 30 other kids.

I love the fact that my Admins have something like this I can use to reward my kids. And I hope my Fifth Period tells all their friends so I can do this with all my other classes when they start behaving as well as Fifth Period.

Friday, September 03, 2010

It's Not Size, It's Guts

So yesterday one of our boys, Big Boy, came into homeroom crying his eyes out because he'd been punched in the face by another kid on the team. He's in Mr. Math's homeroom so he hustled him across the hall to Guidance so we could figure out what happened. Apparently some sort of altercation happened outside the cafeteria on the way from breakfast to the homerooms before school started.

Now Big Boy, as far as I know, doesn't have a beef with anyone. He's not a great student by any means, but definitely not a trouble maker. He has the motivation of a slug and moves just as fast. He's just one of those kids you notice more because of his size and the fact that you put a lot of zeros in the columns across from his name.

It took a while to figure out what had happened and who the culprit was. At first we only had initials so Mrs. Social Studies and I took my gradebook, as we were doing hall duty, and went through the names to see who we had with those initials. We came up with two, one an honor student with impeccable manners who wouldn't dream of punching another kid, and the other a little guy about 80 pounds soaking wet who is about a quarter of Big Boy's size (and who could best be described as a "fart in a skillet"). Nah, couldn't be either one of those two, we figured.

We figured wrong.

It was Tiny Tyke. Amazing. I'm not sure how he even managed to reach up high enough to smack Big Boy in the face, but Tiny Tyke was apparently the little villain who took on a kid four times his size. Why? I have no idea. But it is a bit amazing how fearless this little guy apparently is.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

It's Not Black Friday But It's Darn Close

Part of our School Wide Positive Behavior Support program involves rewarding the kids with a "School Buck", for doing the right thing and being "responsible", "respectful" and "engaged". When we hand out a School Buck we have to be specific about what they are getting it for. For example, we had a video today and I handed out Bucks to kids who were actively watching the video (engaged) and taking notes. My mom said she thought it was as if were bribing the kids to be good, but I see it more like teaching them basic economics - you do your job and you get paid. And it's amazing how the kids react when they get them. I've handed out Bucks for kids who've helped others with their lockers, picked up trash from the floor in the classroom, and kids who come in and get to work even before the bell rings.

The kids can use these School Bucks to buy supplies in their classrooms - boring stuff like pencils, erasers, pencil grips, and highlighters. The highlighters have been a huge hit in my room, and I must sell a pencil or two every class period. The cafeteria even got into the program and is selling slushies at lunch so the kids can have a treat now and then.

And this week we had the opening of The School Store.

The faculty got a tour of the store last week, and I've got to be honest, it's impressive. It's in one of the older classrooms right by the front office, and has great displays of stuff a typical middle school kid would like - everything from boring school supplies like sheet protectors and trapper keepers to posters to silly bracelets, stuffed animals, pillows for the stylish bedroom, t-shirts, snacks, and soda pop. It is all arranged attractively, and behind counters which are staffed by administrators, folks from guidance, and teacher volunteers. The store is open in the morning during homeroom, and after the kids are dismissed in the afternoon. We can also make appointments to take our classes there, as long as we call and they can get someone to help staff it. We each got two special blue hall passes so we can give these to kids in the morning and they can go shopping.

And boy, can these kids shop!

The demand for these two hall passes in the morning is amazing. Today I had four of my homeroom kids standing with me during hall duty, waiting for their classmates to come back with the Store Pass.

"Hurry!" they screamed, as they saw a classmate come around the corner with the pass and a handful of purchases. Goofy Boy came up to us and tiny little Helpful Girl just about took his head off as she grabbed for the pass, removed it from his neck, put it on and dashed off to the store.

"Man, I thought she was going to take me with her," he said with a smile as he showed off his bottle of Coca Cola. I couldn't have agreed more. And she wasn't the only one who was waiting impatiently for that Blue Pass.

The number of kids walking briskly by my hall duty station, wearing the Blue Pass, and heading to the store was pretty large - but then again, if you consider that each homeroom teacher received two, that's a pretty big number of kids. Big enough, in fact, that they had to turn away kids yesterday morning as it was too crowded.

I decided to check out the store yesterday afternoon to see how it was going, so after the kids were dismissed I headed over.

Oh. My. Gosh.

The room was packed with kids standing three and four deep to buy a soda, a snack, a poster, anything they could get their hands on. They were waving their School Bucks around so that it looked like the trading floor of the Stock Exchange on a really busy day. That, and a bit of Black Friday mixed in for good measure. It was insane!

But man, it's nice to see these kids enjoying the rewards that they've earned.

On an aside, I'm enjoying hearing their talk about their School Bucks. There was a big conversation in my seventh period about which kid on the team they thought had the most School Bucks. Most kids by now have at least a few (if they haven't already spent them all - some of them spend them as fast as they get them), but a few of them are hanging on to their Bucks to buy one of the big tickets items (MP3 players for example) at the store. It so happens that one of the kids who save up their Bucks is in my seventh period.

Mean Girl didn't have a pencil, and was whining because I wouldn't just give her one.

"Well buy one," I suggested to her, "that's what your School Bucks are for."

"Well, I don't have any," she whined. I'm not surprised. This is a kid who even wrote on her student information form that she was "mean sometimes," who's nose is in everyone's business, who's perpetually sour-faced, and bothering other kids. She also won't do a lick of work, and considering her behavior most of the time, I'm hard pressed to find something to give her a Buck for.

"Well, maybe if you did some of the things like you're supposed to, like being responsible, being respectful, and being engaged, you'd earn a few," I said.

At about this time, Quiet Boy who sits at her table (I figured he was the one person in that class who could ignore her as he doesn't talk to anyone,) reaches into his pocket and pulls out a ziplock bag that is CRAMMED FULL with School Bucks. This kid is rolling in the dough! Absolutely rolling in it! Even my eyes pop out when I see the stash that he's earned, but then again, it isn't surprising. He's a hard worker and a super nice kid.

By this time the whole class has spied his roll of cash and they are staring in awe. He slowly opens the bag, peels off a Buck, then another, and asks if he could buy two pencils. Mean Girl's mouth is about ready to touch the top of her shoelaces by this time. I take his Bucks, and hand him two newly sharpened pencils. He inspects the points, lays one down by his books and then hands Mean Girl the other pencil!

Mean Girl is stunned.

And of course I had to prompt her to thank her benefactor.

And as for Quiet Boy? I gave him another Buck for being nice and buying his most unpleasant table mate a pencil.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shopping on the Donors' Dime

This year The District has something new in place called the Teacher Free Store. Apparently the local Education Foundation got a bunch of donors (mainly businesses in the area) to donate school supplies and things teachers use in their classrooms so they could set up a "store" that teachers can visit four times a year. Considering that teachers spend an average of $500-$1000 a year out of their own pocket for things for their classroom and their students, I thought this was a great idea.

Personally, I don't need that much for my classroom. I've taught at a summer camp for the past few years and they were always more than happy to have me take leftover and slightly used items off their hands. Storage over the school year was an issue and the less they had to store the better. So, for most teachers, I do pretty well.

However, the kids this year are having an awful time getting basic supplies, especially binders, pencil pouches, and divider tabs. Our free and reduced lunch numbers are up and fewer and fewer people are paying school fees. So, I figured I'd go down to the free store and see if I could find a few things for my kids.

(On an aside here...if there's one thing that drives me nuts, it's people who can't take care of their kids' basic needs like food, clothes, and school supplies, yet have enough money for beer, cigarettes and lots and lots of body art. Priorities people.)

In any case, I made my appointment to go down to the store, drove down there, and spent about ten minutes picking up things for my kids. I got some binders, some pencil pouches (no dividers, alas), two sets of multiplication cards to use with our team remediation class, and a stapler. The stapler was the only thing I got for my room, as I now have 8 lab groups, not 7, so I was short one stapler.

All I had to do was write a thank you note to the donors and that was it. Painless.

So yesterday one of my kids, Tank Boy (this kid screams football player when you look at him, even though he's only 12), is digging through a bunch of folders to find his make-up work from when he missed class. I like this kid a lot. You can tell he doesn't have much support at home financially, but he's a hard worker, participates in class and has a lot of potential. I notice the folder and ask him if he needs a binder.

"Oh yes, ma'am, I do," he says.

"Wait a second," I say, and go to the cabinet where I put the goodies from the Teacher Store. "Do you need a pencil pouch too?"

"Oh yes, and tabs if you have them," he says. His eyes are getting wider and wider as I start pulling the binder and pencil pouch out of the cabinet.

"Well, I don't have tabs, but I have these," I say as I hand him plain boring binder and a pencil pouch. You would have thought, from the look on his face, that I'd given him something much more valuable.

"For me?" He says, as if he couldn't believe I was actually giving him something to keep.

"Yes, but I expect you to take care of them, stay organized, and keep your grades up," I say. (Never hurt to lay out the ground rules again!)

"Oh, I will!" Tank Boy said with a huge smile. "Thank you so much!"

Thank you, dear donors, for helping me make this kid's day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Staplers, the Handy Tool that Can Staple...Well...Anything

I hate wasting time. And some of the biggest time wasters in my day (aside from the student who wants to interrupt class to inform you that he found gum under the table and silly stuff like that), is passing out things. I hate taking time to pass out papers so I file them in students mailbox folders instead. I hate passing out lab supplies so I have one student from each group get the supplies. And I hate passing out things like scissors, staplers and glue sticks (which I use a lot) so I have them in a nice plastic shoe box with a lid on each lab table.

When I first put out the supply boxes, as we call them, I give the kids very specific instructions about what's inside, how they are to be used (honestly, these kids have to be taught not to bang on staplers), and how if any of the materials are abused or stolen, those boxes would disappear and they'd have to find their own staplers, glue sticks, scissors, and what not. And of course, they are instructed in the most important rule regarding these boxes: These Are Not Toys To Play With So Do Not Open The Box Until Told To Do So. Over and over and over again. I must say this a dozen times a class period in the first weeks of school just to pound it into their heads.

Obviously, however, some kids need a little more head pounding to get it.

I have, case in point, one young man whom we'll call Stapler Boy. Stapler Boy came to us with some baggage but he's certainly capable of following simple directions such as Do Not Open The Box Until Told To Do So. However, the temptation has been too much for him so this past Wednesday he open the box and decided to play with the stapler.

Now, staplers and seventh grade boys can be a toxic mix if the boys are smart enough to figure out that you can shoot staples at your friend by lowering the base of the stapler. (Most students are smart enough to figure out if they do anything that damn stupid the Wrath of Bluebird will come down upon them, so they don't). I tend to notice when a kid is playing with a stapler and looking as if he's wanting to turn it into an advanced pea-shooter.

Stapler Boy looked, quite honestly, guilty as hell when I busted him the first time for playing with the stapler. But I'm still in my "I'm teaching them how to behave and understand the procedures and policies of the Land of Bluebird Mode", so I didn't get too upset, I simply told him to put it away. The second time I caught him I told him, more forcefully, to put it away again and to Do Not Open That Box Again.

The following day Stapler Boy not only was out of his seat without permission at least three times, and he decided to play with the stapler again. The rest of his lab group is having a grand time on their engineering design project (build a shelter that can withstand wind, rain and has room for 4 people), but he's busy walking around with a stapler. After the third time of telling him to Put The Stapler Away!, I yanked him into the hallway and asked him just what on earth he was doing.

"I don't know," he answered. I swear if I had a dollar for every time a seventh grade boy said that to me, I'd be wealthy beyond imagining.

I decided I had no choice but to write up Stapler Boy on one of our new PBS classroom discipline referral forms. I wrote down about the MULTIPLE warnings that Stapler Boy got, the interventions I did (counseling, alternative assignment since he wasn't helping his lab group anyway), and then gave it to stapler boy to write down his side of the story. His explanation? "I was just playing with them."

But the best part came later when Mr. Math came by after school.

"Hey did you have staplers in your room today?" he asked.

"I always have staplers in my room," I answered. "In their toolbox. Of course they aren't allowed to use them without permission, and we didn't use them today."

"Well Stapler Boy was messing with his ear this afternoon and told me he'd used a stapler to try to pierce his ear today," he said.

Oh. Good. Gracious.

This kid will be lucky if he ever does a lab again since it's apparent I can't trust him with tools of any kind. I pulled him aside the following day and told him so. The kids finished up their lab and he sat by my desk and did a worksheet packet which involved nothing more dangerous than a pencil. He wasn't happy, so perhaps he may learn something from the experience.

Mr. Math has already set up a parent meeting for next week. This should be interesting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Hearty Recommendation

One of these days I hope I climb over the mountain of paperwork and "to do" lists on my desks and actually start to feel like I have a grasp on this school year. In between the scheduling nightmare we've had for the past two weeks where our class rosters are changing nearly every single hour, to the normal beginning of the year paperwork, to trying to get seating charts that work put together, and actually trying to teach, it's been busy.

And then, of course, we had open house.

Actually I kind of like having open house rather early in the year, before the first progress reports show up. Chances are we get better turn out that way. (I still remember the year we had zero parents show up for conferences.)

We did actually have a good crowd, and since the book fair had already opened (and there are some nice science books in there for a change) there was a lot to see and do. I had two pages of sign ups for my parent email newsletter (although some parents were honest and said they don't check email that often) and Mrs. Social Studies said she had about 50 parents on her list, so that's a good number of parents actually showing up.

The best part was actually seeing some of my former students who are now in high school. Many of them come because they have younger siblings going through The School. (It amazes me how many siblings I have this year.) Others come just because they want to visit their former teachers. I had one young man (now a Junior and standing about 6'4") come up to me and give me a big huge hug right in front of four of my new parents.

"I just love you to pieces, Mrs. B," he said. "You're still the best teacher ever."

The parents are standing there, mouths hanging open. "That's a pretty hearty recommendation," one father says with a bit of a laugh.

"Heck ya," says my former student. "She's the best. She's why I'm majoring in geology when I get to college."

I love my former kids.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


One of the problems with our wacky unbalanced classes this year is that some kids that really shouldn't be together are. Poor Mrs. Social Studies was ready to pack it in, retire, and move to Arizona when she realized that not only was her 5th period (the class we take to lunch and historically, the Worst Class of the Day) her largest class at 36, but that it had every single one of our wannabe thugs in it.

One of the little darlings, Bad Attitude Boy, had already had hallway conferences with two of us, had been barked at (severely) by me, and was rapidly proving to be a real pain in the neck. In addition, we looked at his records and realized that he really should be in our inclusion math and wasn't. So, Mr. Math, Mrs. Social Studies and I sat down and reworked his schedule to put him in the proper math class and to remove him from his buddies in Mrs. Social Studies' crowded class and put him in my nearly all girl class of 21. (I figure putting him in with a bunch of rather serious-minded girls, rather than another set of class clowns, would be a new and sobering reality for him.)

Before we can do a schedule change, we have to do a parent contact to let them know we're doing a schedule change (just in case they actually care), so Mr. Math went off to do that during planning.

I was setting at my desk putting the final touches on a lab when Mr. Math comes in.

"Can I borrow your phone?" he asks. "Something weird keeps happening every time I try to call Bad Attitude Boy's parents and I want to make sure it's not my phone."

Let me step back a minute and mention our issue with the phones. Last spring Someone Somewhere Who Has Authority decreed that all phones would be removed from our desks and mounted on the wall by the door of each classroom. Apparently many phones were getting knocked off desks and we were spending a fortune replacing them. No one asked the teachers if this was convenient (it isn't) or if it made sense, they just up and came and took our phones and put them by the door. Since many of our classrooms have doors right next to each other, it's a real treat trying to figure out who's phone is ringing when you are doing hall duty. The other annoying part is that if you want to talk to a parent with your computer in front of you (so you can read the information in PowerSchool) you have to unhook your computer from the teacher station goodies (document reader, LCD projector, etc.) and carry it over there and find a place to put it so you can read from it. I've seen teachers sitting on the floor by their door with their computers in their lap, talking on the phone because not everyone has a table to put by the door! I have my teacher station somewhat close by so I went and bought a 25' phone handset cord so I can see my computer and talk on the phone.

But anyway...back to Mr. Math's phone problem. I wasn't surprised, at all, by Mr. Math's question because yet another issue with the phones being moved is that, for some weird reason, they don't work all that well now. I was having an awful time with static, and voices cutting in and out (until, amazingly, I spent my own money on my 25' phone cord), so I figured Mr. Math was having a similar problem.

"Go ahead and use it all you want," I said.

"If you don't mind, I want to put it on speaker phone so you can hear it in case it does it again," he said. No problem. He pressed the button, dialed away, and the phone rang twice then picked up.

"Hi there, this is Mr. Math from The School and I'd like to..." he said and then we heard a very loud and audible CLICK.

"See, it did it again!" he said.

"That's not the phone," I told him. "That's someone hanging up on you!"

"That's what I thought," he said. "It happens as soon as I mention that I'm from The School! I can actually hear breathing on the line, and then they hang up!"

Amazing. So much for all that parent involvement that we keep hearing the politicians bark about. Good thing we weren't calling to tell The NonParent that the little darling had been, oh, hit by a car or something.

Mr. Math did go to Mrs. Sparrow, one of our admins, and she said to document the three hang-ups and change the schedule.

So there.