Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

One thing that I've noticed as a teacher is that most parents don't exactly see eye to eye when it comes to their child's education. It seems that oftentimes one of the parents is a little more squishy about things while the other one is demanding results. You've got the parent who believes the cherub when she says she's done all her work (and doesn't bother to check) and then you've got the other parent who's demanding to see everything, checking the agenda, and is signing in to PowerSchool on an daily basis.

When they're living together - and communicating - everything usually works itself out.

However, when they aren't living together - and aren't communicating - it can be a nightmare.

This year, it seems, we have more parents who need parenting classes and family counseling than I've ever seen before. These people are not agreeing on how to raise their child and are doing their darndest to get us in the middle.

Two sets of parents come to mind - Cool Dude's parents, and Spoiled Princess's parents.

Cool Dude has one overriding goal in life and that is to be the hippest, coolest, hottest dude in the seventh grade. This kid has the hottest clothes, the trendiest hair cut, he is so cool he can freeze a six-pack of Diet Coke. He is also one of the laziest kids I've ever seen - he's absolutely perfectly capable of passing seventh grade, should he get over himself long enough to turn in work.

Cool Dude lives during the week with Cool Dad. Cool Dad does not really stress, as far as we can tell, academics. No one checks Cool Dude's agenda, no one checks to see if he's done his work, no one is harping on him to study for his tests (even though Cool Dad and Cool Mom are both getting our weekly emails and both have access to PowerSchool.) As far as I can tell Cool Dude and Cool Dad are just hanging out and chillin' all week long together. On the weekend Cool Dude goes and lives with Mom and it really hits the fan. She gets on to PowerSchool, checks his grades, sees all the missing assignments and fires off email after email to us about "What can we do to help him pass seventh grade?"

Cool Mom is a recent education graduate and has done some subbing recently for a special ed class. She has decided that Cool Dude must be special ed (after all, he's failing) and has demanded he be tested. Now keep in mind, Cool Dude has been tested - and he reads at a 12th grade level. He has Proficient and Advanced Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test Scores. He has, on multiple times, admitted to all of us (but obviously not to Cool Mom) that he's just lazy and he can do the work if he feels like it. However, we are having to jump through the hoops with progress monitoring, and data collection just to make sure all our ducks are in a row when we tell her that no, under the state and federal guidelines, your kid is not going to qualify for special ed. Last time we looked being cool and lazy was not a learning disability. (On a side note, when our special ed secretary called Cool Dad to invite him to a meeting, his comment was, "There's a problem at school?")

What I really want to tell Cool Mom is to get a change of custody so that she has Cool Dude during the week and can hammer him every night about his school work, and she can turn him over to Cool Dad and they can waste their weekends away together being, oh, cool.

We have never met Spoiled Princess Girl's mother. We have, however, met dad (many times) and Nana (although we're not sure how Nana is related, if she's a Great Aunt, a grandmother, a stranger down the block, no one has bothered to explain this to us.) Dad likes to drop in whenever he's in the mood, for impromptu meetings. Often times when we're in the middle of something like, say, teaching our classes.

The last meeting was interesting. Dad is harping on SPG about how she's not working hard enough (and waving a box of shoes at her that he's taken away and is returning to the store), Nana is saying he's too soft and She Wouldn't Have Bought Those Shoes as SPG Shouldn't Be Rewarded For What She's Supposed to Be Doing in The First Place, and we're sitting there watching the three of them squabble for what seems like hours with absolutely no result.

"Uhm, is there any way we could perhaps get SPG's mom in for a meeting?" we finally ask in the middle of the squabble.

"Oh, that woman, she won't come," Nana says. Nana crosses her arms and looks sour.

"She won't come," says Dad. "She says SPG is doing her hardest and that's all she's expected to do, and I know she can do better."

"And you know SPG is always gonna do what her mother says because it's the easy way out," says Nana.

We finally suggested perhaps SPG's Dad set up a meeting with the guidance counselor and see if SPG's mom could come and they could do some family counseling.

Which of course SPG's mom apparently refused to do.

Which leaves us...nowhere....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are We There Yet?

I worked with a delightful lady Up North who once described the last few weeks of school as one very long car ride with a bunch of kids. "They all get along pretty good at the beginning of the trip, but by the time you get to your destination, they're all sick and tired of each other and are fussing and squabbling in the back seat."

She's right. And I wish I could reach into the back seat and slap some sense into them all.

We finished our Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests last week, so that's no longer hanging on the horizon like a vulture waiting for some road kill. Although we all sort of feel like road kill at this point in time. We are having our reward party tomorrow (lucky me, I'm getting to work the pizza booth), which should be fun for the kids and tolerable for the adults. We get to wear jeans (always a happy day), and basically just shovel food and games at the kids while they run crazy and spend their reward tickets on things like cotton candy, door prizes, and hair painting.

Personally, I love the idea of getting them all hyped up on sugar, loading them on the buses and sending them home.

However, we still have five weeks of school. I am still assigning work. I am still taking grades. And some of these kids still need to bust their tails in order to pass. Yet, for some reason, some of them decided earlier this week that bringing paper, pencil, their binder, agenda or book was just Too Much Work, and they began to show up to class with nothing. They'd sit there empty handed and just look at us as if they expected us to entertain them by pulling rabbits out of a hat or something.

So, we entertained those that brought their materials to class by watching those that didn't clean out their lockers and lose locker privileges for a few days. (It worked, they now are showing up, for the most part, prepared.)

And if that isn't enough, the kids are all getting really annoyed and fussy with each other. It's spring so it must be Fight Season. Lovely. Hall duty is never as much fun as it is this time of year. This week alone we had a fight in the 8th grade hall, another in PE, another at lunch, and a few down in the sixth grade. And those are just the ones that I know about.

So the question is....are we there yet? And will we make it there in one piece?

Friday, April 09, 2010

My Calculator Rant, or My Kids Can't Do Math Without One

Next week we take our Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests. Oh yipee.

Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Hummingbird and I have taught like madwomen this year and managed, despite nearly twice as many standards as last year and those seven snow days, to actually get everything done by the time the VBDGMT showed up. We've spent the past two weeks reviewing like mad, but since our review tends to be something like a cross between a game show and a relay race, it's been fun for the kids and exhausting for us. We're pretty confident they have a fairly good grasp (as far as seventh graders with the puberty brain freeze can grasp) of most of the basic science concepts.

However, the math is going to kill us.

Part of our new standards this year include Newton's Laws of Motion and simple machines, and fun little things like acceleration, velocity, work, force and all that wonderful little physical science stuff which I find really cool. However, there's a lot of math and calculations involved, such as figuring out that work equals force times distance, and power is work divided by time, and momentum is mass times velocity. (Are your eyes glazed over yet?)

We're talking simple math here - multiplying and dividing. That's it. However, we began to notice on our quizzes, our tests, and our Benchmarks that our kids can't do math without a calculator. They can punch in numbers and solve math problems until the cows come home, but ask them to do math with a pencil and paper (and their brain) and they go into shut down mode. Heck, they're not even sure how to set up a math problem without a calculator. They would read a question, say, Power = work/time, and they'd write it out and then MULTIPLY IT. Not just a handful of kids, but huge numbers of kids. Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Hummingbird and I were shocked...and promptly ran to our math teachers.

"Do you mean to tell me," I asked Mr. Math, "that without a calculator, these kids can't do math?"

"Pretty much," he said. "Welcome to my world. They don't know their multiplication tables by heart, and they depend on a calculator for everything. They may have learned their multiplication tables in fourth grade, but then they stuck a calculator in their hands and they promptly forgot everything. And we're encouraged to have them use calculators."

Oh good gracious. They don't even remember that a line between two numbers means to divide.

Math is one of those skills that you need to use to keep up with. When I was waitressing during my first round of college, I could add huge columns of numbers in my head and calculate a tip with incredible accuracy. I used math all the time and was darn good at it. Even today, I do a lot of math in my head and I was not - WAS NOT - a strong math student. (Algebra and I were not friends - it wasn't until I discovered physics that it finally clicked. Go figure.)

So, we have the kids learn their multiplication tables, and then give them a calculator. How stupid is that?

About as stupid as the State Department of Education's Decree that No Calculators Will be Allowed on Any Test Except for Math. Period.

We tried, when this first became apparent to us earlier in the year, to see if we could get the Special Ed kids that have "use of calculator" written into their IEP's permission to use calculators. Not only was the answer NO, it was a Big Fat NO.

I have kids who, quite honestly, cannot tell you how many times 3 goes into 24, who need calculators as a life skill because 2 times 6 is a challenge. These kids will be forced, along with all my other kids, to do math problems on the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Science Test, without a calculator. Even though they use calculators every freaking day in math class. And this year, about 20% of that test will be math. (I do have a few good special ed parents who are annoyed at this and asked me what to do - I suggested that as parents the state may listen to them a bit more than they listen to us teachers. Perhaps if they complained loud and long, we'd see a change.)

When we did our datachat for our last Benchmark, the kids did really well. Except for the standards that were math-based. They, bluntly, sucked. Badly. Why? They lack the basic math skills to do basic problems. And it's not just my kids, but apparently it's an issue across the entire district. And I'd guess, across the state, and most likely the country.

So, when Mrs. Eagle and I went and judged the science fair at the local elementary school a few months ago, and we found out that they'd spent some grant money buying calculators for their 2nd and 3rd graders, we pretty much told them to send them back and get a refund. They were appalled when we told them the issues that we were having with the lack of basic math skills. Again, if you don't use a skill, like doing math with a pencil, paper and your brain, you aren't going to be good at it.

Which is why our team remediation class has been doing multiplication practice, just like they did in fourth grade, several times a week (and grading those is frightening, they're so awful.) Hopefully, this practice will help a few of them.

However, I'm still incensed, that my kids are going to be, in a way, penalized because they don't have the ability to do math without a calculator. And at the same time, we stick a calculator in their hands and encourage them to use it. It makes no sense to me that they can use one for the math part of the test, but not the science part which also has math.

The politics of testing just irritates the bloody hell out of me.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Oh Yeah, I Am Alive

Sorry for the lapse in posting for a while. Didn't mean to run out on ya'll like that.

First we had our guest post April Fool's thing going, thanks to Mr. Teacher. (That Mr. Teacher, he's so silly!)

And then hubby and I went out of town for a weekend to do some Civil War battlefield touring in Georgia before spring completely sprung (you can't see earthworks much past late April due to the plant life!)

And of course Hubby's computer died and he's been using mine until we got a new one and got it set up.

So, I've been out of pocket for a bit.

And, what with dealing with the final review before our Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test next week, it's been a bit crazy.

And of course, there's always Nurse Groupie.

If this kid spent the energy she currently uses scheming for ways to visit the nurse or call home, on her school work, she'd be on the honor roll.

She survived one day without a visit to the nurse or a call to home after we implemented the plan where Mrs. Sparrow, our Assistant Principal, had to approve any such visits or calls home.

The second day she asked each of us to go to the nurse to get "personal girl things", which didn't work because we simply told her to sit down and Mrs. Sparrow would come deal with her. Which she did.

The next day she simply took herself to the nurse between classes to get her "personal girl things," and while she was there to get a baby aspirin (for who knows what.) The nurse, who usually doesn't do anything without a form filled out by a teacher, asked who gave her permission to be there, and she informed the nurse that Mr. Math did, and since she had a hallpass lanyard around her neck, the Nurse went ahead and took care of her. Only problem was she didn't ask permission, and the hallpass lanyard was really her house key on a similar colored lanyard.

Mr. Math was livid, Mrs. Sparrow even more so, and NG ended up in in-school suspension for a day. Mrs. Sparrow also called mom and informed her that it was not the school (or taxpayer's) responsibility to provide her with "personal girl things". Apparently Nurse Groupie's reasoning is that her purse is too little to carry such things so she simply wants to get them from the nurse (every class period, or every 47 minutes or so).

So today we get an email from Mom. Nurse Groupie has contacts. She also has drops with her, but mom says she's not to leave class to put the drops in. She also has some more allergies (and a new doctor appointment to get different meds) but she has a little tube of Vicks that she can rub on her nose as she's not to leave class. However, if a contact falls out, we should send her to the nurse to help her put it in as Mom doesn't want the contact lost. In other words, unless a contact comes out, She Is Not To Leave Class According to Mom.

Guess who's popping her contacts out and then wanting to go to the nurse/bathroom to put them back in every period?

Guess who now has to go to Guidance when her contact "falls" out and has to put them in under adult supervision and is then escorted promptly to class?

Yup, Nurse Groupie.

I wish, while Mom was at the doctor figuring out new allergy meds, she'd get the kid a psych eval to try to figure out this obsession with getting out of class to see the nurse, or to call home and go home. It's not like it's any particular class (it's all of them, even electives), or a kid bothering her, or a teacher she doesn't like, or whatever. Part of me is thinking she doesn't want to grow up and simply wants her mother to baby her and to let her stay home and watch television and do nothing. I don't know.

But man, she's wearing on our last nerve.