Saturday, December 17, 2011


Yes, I know I've been slacking on this.

Honestly, I've been sick with either a cold or bronchitis or something since the middle of November.  Not sick enough to miss school, but just sick enough to not want to do anything except sleep once I got home.

Feeling better and nearly normal now and so totally looking forward to our Christmas break.

Just a few random observations...

We had three days of Government Mandated Really Big Deal Testing for our seventh graders.  Three days of constructed response writing tests.  So, for the first three periods of the day, the kids were testing and writing.  Except they finished in 20-30 minutes and then had nearly two hours to just sit there and BE SILENT.  I'm convinced that whomever comes up with these ideas for these tests has never been in a seventh grade classroom (at least not recently) and has no clue about 12 and 13-year-olds.  A big block of time, doing the same thing, for these kids is maybe twenty minutes.  Thirty max.  No standardized test should last longer than a typical classroom period.

So, the result of making these seventh graders be ABSOLUTELY SILENT AND STILL for nearly three class periods is that they lost their minds.  We had a dance that Friday and had not one, not two, not three, but FOUR fights break out.  It's rare we even get one, let alone four.  All of a sudden kids who were normally well behaved were acting like fools and teachers were writing referrals and sending kids to the office left and right.  Kids were starting fights in PE, in lunch, in the halls, you name it.  It's nuts.

We all need a break from each other.

Another result, I believe of the testing exhaustion and the upcoming holidays, is that my kids stopped working.  They just up and quit.  Homework turn in dropped to below 50% and kids who had never missed an assignment had zeroes.  In-class work - not turned in.  Project - not turned in.  All these things we're doing in class, and they aren't turning them in.  They woke up a bit this week and managed to turn in a bunch of late assignments (when some of them realized that they were pretty close to failing or dropping a few letter grades), but it was almost bizarre how the entire grade just up and stopped doing school.  Mrs. Eagle's and Mrs. Angora's kids weren't any better.

On the positive side, my homeroom still rocks.  It's bigger now - we got some new kids and I now have 27 in there so I'm nearly out of seats, but still most of them are pretty good kids and they get along with each other.  We're having a canned food drive for our Angel Tree program and they've been wanting to win the pizza party - but even more than that, they Want to Beat the Sixth Grade.  Every year a sixth grade class wins and we're trying to change that trend.  My kids claim that one particular sixth grade teach bribes her kids as well as brings in a lot on her own, but I told them we were playing fair and not going down that road.  We ended up with over 350 cans, which is huge, but I'm not sure it's enough to beat the Dreaded Sixth Grade.  We'll find out on Monday.

We have a day and a half left and then some time off.  Plans?  Sleeping, reading, knitting, spending time with hubby.  Perfect.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Break?

At The District, we get three days off for Thanksgiving break (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday).  This makes for a nice break before we wind up the end of the first semester.

On Monday of this past week, one of my students, Spacey Girl, who is really a sweet kid, but, well, a bit "out there", asked me how come we didn't get  a full week off for Thanksgiving like some other nearby districts do.

"Well," I said, "it may be because we get a week off for fall break."

"We do?" she said.  "When?"

"It was about four weeks ago," I replied, "Around the first week of October."

"Really?" she said, genuinely surprised.  "I don't remember that at all."

And I'm supposed to hope that she can remember the rock cycle by the time The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests arrive in April.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankfully, They Do Outgrow It

We had our Fall Festival this past Friday.  The Knitting Club was selling cookies and knitted necklaces and bracelets so Mrs. Eagle and I spent most of the time just supervising.  We actually had more helpers than we needed so that was nice.

What was nicer is that the High School sends over a bunch of the JROTC kids to help run a lot of the carnival-type booths like the ring toss.  We always enjoy this because we get to see how some of our kids have grown up.

What's amazing is HOW MUCH they grow up.

I had a young man come up to me in his JROTC t-shirt and give me a big hug.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

Oh.  How.  Could.  I.  Forget.  This kid was a TERROR.  He was non-academically promoted because he did nothing.  He also was a constant disruption in class and I think he made our Mrs. Reading at the time cry at least once a week.  His best friend and him were the Terror Twins and just about made us all crazy.  He was so awful that I ended up suspending him for something stupid the last week of the year when I was doing "filling in for the principal" duty.  And the worst bit was that he was smart as a whip.  You knew if he could behave and do his work that he'd be fine.

"Of course I do," I told him.  "You were awful!"

He laughed and his friend, another former student (but not the terror he ran with in 7th grade) laughed as well.

"Yeah, I had a 150 discipline points when you had me.  I was awful."

"You were a jerk," his friend said.

"So, what's life like now?" I asked them both.

"Well," said the Former Terror.  "I haven't had a discipline point since I got to High School, I'm in JROTC, and I have a 3.7 gpa."

Oh.  My. Goodness.

"Are you serious?" I asked him.  "You failed 7th grade!"

"Yeah, but I got over it.  Dumped the other Terror Twin when he got involved in drugs, and got into JROTC.  But man, I owe all of you an apology.  I was awful."

"JROTC saved us both," said his friend.  "We're both doing really well in school.  And we were both awful, so I'm sorry."

There is hope.  I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Game Club 101

So a reader (I know!  Isn't that cool!  I have more than one!) asked a question in the comments about running a game club.  This brave soul has ventured out to sponsor a club for 12 and 13 year olds.  (Let's all give her a standing ovation for this brave feat.)  She asked for suggestions...and, well, wouldn't you know it, I have a few.

Mrs. Eagle and I have been sponsoring our school's chess and board game club for something like seven years now.  (Note to people who think teachers are lazy bottom feeders who are in it just for a paycheck - we don't get paid for this.  We do it because our kids need clubs to go to.  It's the right thing for the kids.)  Over the years we've learned a few things.

One, deal with the noise.  If you can't handle noise, get earplugs.  This age group can make Monopoly sound like a combat sport.  I am not kidding.  We consider game club an hour and half of screaming mayhem and other teachers will walk in, shake their heads, and ask, "How do you do it?" and we just smile and nod.  Mainly because we really couldn't hear them anyway.  (It's so loud we tell the front office that if they have to call us, to just run on down, as we won't hear the phone anyway.)  You get 60 kids in there playing games, it's loud.

Rules for games.  Sigh.  A lot of the games the kids have never played before.  That's fine.  Just sit down, find about 3 or so kids (most games play well with 4) and play with them.  Even if it means you're figuring out the rules.  For some reason they get a huge kick out of playing a game with teacher.  Especially when they win.  (I let them.)  Once you have a few kids who know the rules, have them teach others. They'll pick up on it.  Then again, there are a lot of games they may remember from when they were "little."

Kids hate to pick up after themselves.  Too bad, if they're playing games, they're picking up.  After every meeting we do a "pieces crawl", where the kids get down on their hands and knees and find the pieces they dropped.  Because they WILL drop pieces.  It's also good to train your janitor to drop off the pieces he finds when he cleans up the room.  It's not unusual for me to come in on Tuesday mornings and find a battleship, a Scabble square, and a couple of cards on my desk.

These kids are ready to eat the furniture after school so a great way to raise money is to sell snacks.  We took about $60 a few years ago and bought Capri Sun drinks, and bags of Teddy Grahams, Cheeze-it's, and the like and we sell them for fifty cents a piece.  We do this all year long, the kids get a snack, we resupply as needed, and usually by the end of the year have enough money for a pizza party and a few new games.   We also do a hat day once a year (kids pay a dollar to wear a hat at school) and we usually clear about $200.  We really don't need much money to run this club, as long as you have funds to replace games that wear out, or buy new ones.

Games our kids like, and this may vary depending on where you live, are chess, Risk, Monopoly (we bought the electronic version a few weeks ago), Operation, Apples to Apples, Stratego, Battleship, and Phase 10.  This does change a bit from year to year.  Right now we have a lot more Risk fanatics than chess, so that's a really popular game with our crowd.

And lastly, have fun with it.  You'll meet kids in a different environment from the classroom and actually get to know them alot better.  Mrs. Eagle and I tend to scope out the sixth graders and see which ones we each want on our team - it's fun the first day of school when the kids already know you and you already know them.

Cheers!  Have fun!

Monday, November 14, 2011

How To Make Friends - By Walking a Kid to the Nurse

Early last week I walked out of the teacher lunchroom during lunch and discovered Mrs. Reading trying to console one of our girls who was sobbing up a storm.  Apparently Brooding Girl got smacked right in the nose, accidentally, by another one of our girls who apparently can't watch where she's going and carry her lunch at the same time.  My lunch was already heating up in the microwave and Mrs. Reading hadn't had a chance to buy hers so I said I'd walk Brooding Girl down to the nurse.  

Brooding Girl is quiet, and usually prefers to stay to herself.  She had a bit of a yappy phase there for a while, but one phone call to mom took care of that.  She is in our remediation class because she can be a bit slow on getting work in and doesn't necessarily study and do well on tests.  However, one of the few comments I ever got out of her was that she wants to keep her grades up so she can be in the fashion show club.  So, at least she has a goal and as long as she can stay away from the drama, she should be okay.  That being said, I really didn't know much about her because she's the quiet type that would rather just hide than engage a teacher in conversation.

In any case, she was crying so hard I knew she couldn't even see where we were going, so I put my arm around her and walked her to the nurse.  I kept up a running chatter with her the whole way there about when I had my nose broken in high school (well, actually it was deviated septum surgery, but I wasn't going there), and how I realized it hurt, and blah, blah, blah.  At one point she managed to choke out that she didn't want to look ugly with her makeup all over her face (she's a pretty girl) and so we talked about make-up for a bit.  Whatever it takes to get her to the nurse.  I dropped her off, and back to lunch I went.

Brooding Girl is in my Seventh Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, so I saw her later that day and noticed, thankfully, no bruising and it didn't look like her nose had swelled up much.  I asked her how she was and she had a pretty bad headache and it hurt.  Yeah, it probably was going to hurt quite a bit, I told her, but a bit of aspirin and some sleep and she'd feel better.

A few days later, during remediation class which Mrs. Reading was teaching that day, Brooding Girl came in to see if she owed me any assignments.  As luck would have it, she did, so I gave her copies of the missing work, and explained some of it.  

And then, the most amazing thing happened.

She stood there in front of my desk and just chattered away like I'd never heard her chatter.  

Truly.  This from a kid who's maybe said two words to me all year.  She stood there and told me how she'd cleaned the house for her mom the night before, because her mom was kind of depressed when her boyfriend wasn't around, and he was really nice, he was Italian, and he was teaching Brooding Girl to make espresso, and she cleaned all the rooms, and even her room, and helped her sister clean as well, and she thought she'd made mom happy, and then she made up all her missing work, except for science, and she was going to do that tonight, and gee thanks for giving me the work, and my nose doesn't hurt anymore.


Could it be, that all it took was a five minute walk to the nurse??

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You

Because I couldn't improve on perfection..and say it any better than he did.

Hat tip to Chandler at Buckhorn Road

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thank You to Our Veterans!

One thing I've always loved about The School is that we do one heckava AWESOME Veteran's Day program every year.  Over the years, various teachers have organized the event and every year it's just wonderful.  For many of us, it's one of the highlights of the year.

This fall The Principal put out the call that she needed someone to step up to the plate and volunteer to do the Veteran's Day program since the last person who had been in charge - and she did a fantastic job - had gotten married and moved to Atlanta.

And no one responded.  Which is typical because, as Mrs. Eagle often says, it's always the same people who do everything.

After the second email, however, Mrs. Eagle and I were discussing at our Friday breakfast at Waffle House that we'd really hate to see our ceremony fade away because no one wanted to do it.  As a 20 year Army Veteran, the ceremony had a special place for Mrs. Eagle.  So, we volunteered but ONLY it no one person was in charge and we did it as a committee.  We added in a few other folks to round out the committee, Wonder Aide (who helped on it the year before but no one ever knew), Mrs. Bulldog, a young adorable Army spouse and awesome SPED teacher, and Mrs. Parakeet who we added a few weeks later when we discovered, quite by accident, that she did the music at the beginning of the program.  The Principal was delighted and deposited with us a Really Big Box and a binder of Veteran's Day Stuff.

Oh. Boy.

We had a few meetings, did a lot of communicating via email, assigned tasks, and amazingly, it came together fairly well.  I must add that Wonder Aide had some really GREAT ideas, like having the sixth grade wear red, the seventh wear white and the eighth wear blue, and it looked amazing!  We had a few panics, and a few hitches (the lapel pins the student council bought for us to give to our 25 veteran faculty and staff arrived TWO HOURS after the program ended), but over more or less went together.

And today was the day.

And it was amazing.

My friend, a local city councilman and veteran, did the talk and told me, truly, that he was more nervous talking to these kids than he'd ever been doing a political stump speech!  (Middle Schoolers could be a tough crowd.)  He did great.  As a military dependent himself when he was a kid, he asked the kids in the audience to raise their hands if they had a mom or dad who was a veteran or active duty.  He told me when he saw that sea of hands (and it was nearly the whole school), that it was like a kick in the gut and he almost had trouble continuing his talk. The kids, however, loved him.

What we loved was that the kids BEHAVED.  They were just awesome, even though are rapidly outgrowing the gym and had trouble seating everyone.  The sixth grade now takes up nearly one whole side of the gym.

We had wanted to make this a more kid-driven ceremony than in the past and it worked out.  We had different kids doing the welcome, The Pledge of Allegiance (our Life Skills Classes did this), a song, and more.  It went great.

And I'm so glad it's over, but so glad we did it.

Just wait.  It will be even better next year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Reality Check

Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Reading, Mrs. Language, Mr. Social Studies, and a few eighth grade teachers and I spent this evening doing something that none of us ever want to have to do.

We were at the viewing for the father of three of our students at The School.  

Like Clever Boy's mother this past April, Father of Four was killed in Afghanistan.   

This has hit our building hard.  Father of Four had a child in each of our grades, so there's very few teachers who don't know at least one of these kids.  The youngest boy, Honor Roll Boy, is in my homeroom and is just one of those kids you can't help but love because he's so awesome.  He's pleasant, polite, cute as heck (half my girls have crushes on him), and he's smart as a whip.  It's just awful that he has to lose his father at this age and in this way.

The kids in class are all aware of why Honor Roll Boy hasn't been in school much (he did come for one day last week), but they're being really quiet about it.  None of the teachers have said anything, but these kids text and email and Facebook and who knows what else so there's not a whole lot they don't know about.  And considering how many of them are probably thinking, "there but for the grace of God goes my mom or dad", they've been very supportive of Honor Roll Boy when he's been here.  The military kids are good at closing ranks and taking care of each other.  It's one of the things I love about them.

As hard as it was, I'm glad I went.  I'm also glad I always have packets of tissues in my purse because it was necessary.  But let me tell you, it was truly dignified, truly special.  The honor guard standing watch by the casket was impressive.  All the military members that were there were impressive.  And the brief, private ceremony where the family were given gold star pins and his medals was impressive, and very touching.

We took a moment to talk to Mrs. Father of Four and told her that we'd take care of her kids for her and not to worry because That's What We Do at The School.  We love them as best we can.  She seemed very touched, and perhaps a bit surprised, to see us all there.  It was the least we could do for a family that has given so much.

God Bless you Father of Four.  We'll take care of your kids as best we can.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Lunch Date

80's Girl, my little goth darling with the black lipstick, has been bugging me for several weeks about eating lunch with her.


I find this a bit funny because the only time I've ever had a kid request something like this was a few years ago when we did lunch detention and kids stopped doing their homework on purpose so they could eat lunch in our classrooms so they could get caught up on their homework.  The draw wasn't the teacher, or the classroom, or the food, or getting caught up.  No, they were there because they liked the quiet.  Seriously.  Our cafeteria is mind-numbing loud.  320 kids in there and it's nuts.

Well anyway I decided I better bow to her demands, and told her to pick two other friends to eat with us and I'd join them in one of the booths.  A few years ago we had a fast food restaurant nearby remodel and they donated a bunch of booths for us to put in the cafeteria.  These are great for when parents come and for when kids use their reward money to have lunch with their friends in the booth.  It's not quiet, but it's still better than sitting at long tables with the rest of the kids.

Part of me is not looking forward to this because I really need my 30 minutes of peace in the middle of the day to regroup and get ready for the Seventh Period Class From The Very Depths of Hell Itself.  But then again, the other part of me is finding this to be a bit entertaining as I'll get to know these three girls quite a bit better.  It will be interesting about what they'll talk about.

At least I won't have to eat the cafeteria food.

P.S. - a day later.  I actually had a lot of fun at the lunch date.  Did get some weird looks from other kids, but my three girls were a joy.  They were envious of my chicken soup and orange (really?) but apparently it's much better fare than cafeteria food.  (I have never, in nine years at The School, eaten cafeteria food).  I learned a lot about these kids and that's something neat.

Monday, November 07, 2011

There's These Things Called Parent Conferences...

This morning, at around 7:20, which is pretty chaotic as it's homeroom time, and kids are arriving at school, going to breakfast, going to the school store and so forth, my phone rings.  My homeroom kids are a pretty good bunch and I've given a bunch of them jobs, including answering the phone so I can do things like help kids with work and watch the hall.

So, the kid that answers the phone comes to me and says, holding out the phone (I have a 25' cord on it) and says, "She wants to talk to you."  "She" being one of our secretaries up front (the Ditzy One).

"Hi there, I have Lazy Boy's mom up here and she wants to know if she can schedule a team meeting this week at 9:00 am," she says.

I've been having a lot of email conversation with Lazy Boy's mom and she is, to put it bluntly, fed up with him.  The last I talked with her, he'd been grounded until sometime in 2012, she was changing his meds, and she was at her wit's end.  I guessed that the reason she was asking for a meeting was that she got his progress report and Was Not Happy.

"Well, the only problem with that is we have to be in our rooms by 9:04 as that's when 2nd period gets out and the kids start showing up."  The Ditzy Secretary should know this as it's plastered across the front of our team calendar which should be right in front of her as she's scheduling a meeting.  

"Okay, but she drives a school bus and she can't get here until 9:00 am," says the Ditzy Secretary.

Sigh.  "I understand that, however, we Have Kids Coming to Our Room so We Can Teach Them at that time.  The only way we can have a meeting at 9:00 am is if Administration can find someone to cover our classes."

"Oh, I understand," she says.  "So what should I tell her?"

Oh.  Good.  Gracious.

"Tell her that we can't meet at 9:00 am unless someone from administration okays someone to cover our classes."

"Oh, okay," she says and she rings off.

A few minutes later, after the kids have gone on to their first period and I'm running around getting a lab together, I run into Mrs. Sparrow, one of the administrators who happened to have been approached by Ditzy Secretary about the situation.

"Where in the hell was this parent when we had two days of parent conferences for the past two weeks?" she hissed.  "Did she ever schedule an appointment with any of you?"

"Not that I know of," I answered, "and we had room in the schedule even before the no-shows."

"Please!  She has two days of conferences which she could have utilized, but instead she wants us to get subs to cover your classes so we can have a meeting!  That's ridiculous!"

I had to agree with her on that one.  Mr. Enforcer later told Ditzy Secretary to go ahead and call Lazy Boy's mom and tell her we could meet with her at 8:50 and that we'd have to be done by 9:00 and if that wasn't enough time, then she might have to get a sub for her bus and come on in when we could meet with her.

We'll see if she shows.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Smile Like Sunshine

Our Life Skills Class (and for those of you who aren't familiar with that term, it's the kids with mild to severe disabilities) does a lot of fund-raising throughout the year to pay for their Special Olympics team.  They do teacher luncheons, make and sell cookies, and sell flavored coffees.  

I'm a coffee drinker myself, but I usually don't drink any once I get to school.  However, a few weeks ago I got the email from the Life Skills teacher and she mentioned that the flavor that day was Almond Joy (one of my favorite candy bars).  It costs a dollar for a HUGE cup of coffee, and it's delivered to your room by a Life Skills student (or students) and one of the kids that volunteer to help in that classroom.  I figured I'd give the coffee a try (it was awesome) because it sounded good and the kids could use the money for their fund.

It's kind of fun - you call the Life Skills room, and order your coffee.  About ten minutes later a hot, steaming cup of coffee is delivered to your room.  The first time I did it, one of my homeroom kids was the helper, and my "delivery boy" was a sweet little kid in a wheel chair.  I gave them both reward money and thanked them for the coffee.  Sunshine Boy in the wheel chair lit up like I'd just given him a million dollars and waved that reward buck around with abandon. 

That made my day.

Today, another email about Almond Joy arrived, and I ordered another cup of coffee.  Another one of my kids was the helper and he came with Sunshine Boy and another kid who helped pushed Sunshine Boy's wheelchair.  I paid my real dollar for my coffee and gave all three of them a reward buck.  Again, Sunshine Boy just lit up like a Christmas tree, giggled and waved that reward buck like nobody's business.

That smile and that unadulterated joy was just awesome!  

So now, I think I'm going to be ordering flavored coffee pretty much every day they offer it.  It's worth it to see that smile from Sunshine Boy.  He truly makes my day!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It must be one of those weeks

I'm not sure if it's the transition from warm weather to cool, the fact that we have a second night of parent conferences, or if there's something in the water, but it's been one of those weeks.  And I'm not just talking about myself here.

You know it's a bad week when...

The kids are still wacked out on sugar.

 One of your kids, who wasn't feeling well during sixth period (but the nurse sent him back and said to encourage drinking more water) throws up all over the parking lot in front of the entire 7th and most of the 8th grade during a fire drill at the beginning of seventh period.    Really, the phrase "it sucks to be him" comes to mind.  I didn't think he looked all that perky sixth period when he got sent back, and obviously he wasn't feeling all that great.  Hopefully the kids will forget the whole episode, but honestly, I'm worried he may be "the kid that barfed during the fire drill in 7th grade." He's a good kid.

The kids are still wacked out on sugar.

I go to my 4:15 appointment with my allergist and I don't see him until 5:30.  Good thing I only see him once a year.  And good thing I brought my knitting.  

The kids are still wacked out on sugar.  

Two of my kids who started off the year pretty good, are now diving head first into disaster and misbehavior.  I had to toss them out with workbooks in hand (I sent them to Mr. Rooster which they HATE), as they wouldn't behave during a lab.  And I was so miffed that I got on the phone and called their parents right then and their while the kids did their lab (and I could observe - they were making pulleys with paper clips and thread.)  Nice conversations with one step dad who took care of business last night.  Very contrite little boy in class today.  They both behaved.

The kids are still wacked out on sugar. 

And tomorrow...another round of parent conferences.

By that time I'll need to be wacked out on sugar.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

So Much for Good Intentions

I really honestly was going to try to post ever single day this school year but obviously that isn't going to happen.  As my grandmother used to say, "I have too many irons in the fire."

Oh well.  Least I tried.

In any case, amazingly enough, when I returned to school on Monday, after leaving my kids with a sub, the stack of crap on my desk wasn't too horribly bad.  Even better, she didn't run out of the building screaming so that's a plus.  One of the reasons why I asked this particular sub to fill in for me is because I know she can be tough, but she also knows all the kids as she student taught for us last year.  She's fair and she's organized.  And she leaves wonderfully detailed notes about who was naughty and who was nice.

Seventh period, of course was hideous.  So hideous in fact that Mr. Math came over to tell me how hideous they were.  Sigh.  I knew that was going to be the case.  I did have to write up two other kids in other classes for their behavior, but that was almost to be expected.

Let's just say that seventh period wasn't very happy on Monday.

On another note, all the report cards went home along with a parent conference letter.  Our parent conferences are this Thursday and next Thursday.  Basically we ask parents to send the form back with the date, the times they'd prefer and the teachers they'd want to see.  Then we have to sit there and slot of the parents into our individual conference schedules.

This is a mess when you have a bunch of kids who have teachers who aren't on the same team - like a lot of the seventh graders who have an 8th grade teacher who's teaching a couple of sections of seventh. It's not been too horribly bad, however, because, sadly, we haven't received many conference requests.  I only have 11 parents signed up for tomorrow (most of them are parents I really don't need to see), and another 5 for next week.

But, on the up side, I did get a parent in here today for a meeting to meet with her, a principal, and her daughter to come up with an education plan since her daughter failed my class this nine weeks.  Mainly it's not turning in work and not studying.  We ironed out a plan out and, if they both do their end of the bargain, she should pass the rest of the year. Big if.  But hey, I'm trying.  And I think Mom may be on board as well.

And today?  Weirdly enough, the first night in weeks I don't have school work to do. Feels odd.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Digging Out...on Monday

Mrs. Eagle and I took a personal day on Friday so we could attend a two day conference in another part of the state.  

This means we left our kids alone with a sub.  

At this point I always feel sorry for the sub, but this year in particular I really feel sorry for the sub.  Our kids have been just awful for the subs.  No, I take that back.  They've been beyond awful.  

I'm not sure if it's because we've had a lot of subs or what.  Mr. Math has to go to some meetings downtown for the math department, Mrs. Grammar has little ones that either get sick or need to go for a checkup, and Mrs. Language has had to deal with sick parents and sick kids as well. We've been out a bit more than we usually are, and truth be told, than we'd like to be.  About the only people who seem to be here day in and day out are me and Mr. Rooster.  

Granted, for some reason kids think that having a sub means they can act like absolute monsters. I never could figure that out (and I subbed for two years).  They just lose their minds.  Then again, they lose their minds with just about any change in routine, like a fire drill for example.  And it doesn't help that our pool of good, quality subs has shrunk a lot since most of the good ones either got hired permanent or they are on long-term assignments.

In any case, it takes forever to get ready for a sub and forever to deal with the aftermath.  I am, however, hopeful this time.  I got a sub who student taught in P.E. last year so she knows most of the kids.  And, amazingly, they like her.  She has strong management skills and she's young and pretty so that helps.  She's one of those good subs that gets snatched up fast so I snagged her way back in August for this day.

So I'm hoping it went okay.  I do know, however, it may take me most of the week to go through the tests to be graded, homework to be checked and so forth.  And we have to deal with parent conferences this week, which is usually a bit of a scheduling balancing act.

Oh boy.  Here comes Monday.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Busting Out the Seams and Tech Hell

Back to school today after a week off for fall break.  As much as I was dreading today, because, let's face it, it's nice to sit home with my felines, and my hubby and knit and read and make jelly and work in my yard and all that fun stuff, today, well, it wasn't too bad. 

Except for Tech Hell, but we'll get to that in a bit.

What was weird, and surprising, is that we got an email today from Guidance informing us that they had enrolled 14 kids today.  FOURTEEN!  In one day.  Now, we're used to getting a boatload of kids after the Christmas holidays, but after fall break?  Nearly unheard off.  But fourteen enrolled today - and of course half of them were seventh graders - so now we're expecting 3-4 new kids for each team.  Yay!  

And all this, after The District, with all their number crunchers, predicted our enrollment going down (it's gone up by about 100) and we're rezoning next year and expecting another 100-200 kids from that.  So, will we be going back to three seventh grade teams?  The Principal told me she's almost certain we will, but it remains to be seen.  I'm not so sure these guys know how to forecast that well.

And for the Tech Hell.  (Isn't there always Tech Hell?).  We got an email over break from The Principal which was a forward from a Tech Genius, that basically said they had come in over break, did some work on the network, and while they were there, went into classrooms and fixed stuff (that we probably didn't know was broken) and that we'd have a tech guy here in the morning on Monday in case some printers didn't work, etc.

Which is weird because a few weeks ago a Tech Genius spent all day coming into each and every classroom (never during planning, ALWAYS when you didn't want them) changing all the IP addresses on our printers.

So, today, I'm all happy camper because my printer is working.  Until third period.  When it stops.  

So Mr. Math comes over (and he's even more annoyed than most of us because he's way smarter than the Tech Geniuses) and he fixes my IP address on my printer.  Yea!  Printer works.  

Until I come back from lunch and it's apparent that someone came in during lunch and restarted my computer.  So now my printer doesn't work. (I was lucky.  Only my computer was restarted - Mr. Math had all his equipment turned off which means 10 minutes of class time trying to get everything back up and running.)  Keep in mind, we have to turn in grade verifications at the end of the day so I kind of like need my printer to work.  

We get an email from one of the secretaries up front informing us that the Tech Genius told us that all our problems would be solved if we restarted our computers.  WRONG.  In inform her that my computer was working fine until SOMEONE restarted it and now it didn't work.  She said that they'd add my room to the list.  

Finally, Guidance Goober comes in and fixes it himself after I basically went over and asked them how on earth I was suppose to submit my grades if I couldn't even print them?

When did Tech Genius show up?  After bus riders were dismissed.  I told him thanks, but I had it taken care of.  He looked relieved.

So, my question still is...what was the point of all this?  I think the IP address on my printer has been changed five times in the past month and for what reason?  None that anyone can truly tell me.  My guess is that this is a way for the tech department to justify their continued existence even though, from what I've been told, they cause more problems than they solve.

Just ask the Guidance Department.  They were still there at 4:30 when I left today because they couldn't get the new schedules to print for tomorrow...what a mess.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Nine Weeks Down

And only three more nine weeks to go.

But now, it's Fall Break!


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Looking' Good for Picture Day

Ah picture day.

Talk about a school ritual.  It's always a fun day to do hall duty because the kids are, in the words of a former student and courtesy of Mrs. Cardinal, "all P-Diddied Out".  There are always a few kids you aren't quite sure you recognize, even though they've sat in front of you for nine weeks, because they finally have their hair out of their faces and their clothes are actually clean, pressed, and they don't look like they rolled out of bed and onto the bus.

Of course there are still a few, including Happy Boy, who are sadly in need of a comb, but for the most part, it's an improvement.

This is also the time of year where The Principal, kindly "encourages" all the staff to make sure we get our picture taken - or else.  Many of us dread this ritual (I do) but one advantage of first period planning is you can get the stupid thing over with.

And 80's Girl was happy today.  Not only did she get a new tube of black lipstick ("And not even a Halloween brand but one I can buy all year long!") but she wore a new dress.  It was of a fabric that shifted purple and green depending on how you looked at it.  It definitely wasn't silk on this kid's budget, but it was definitely different.  It had fashion code no-no spaghetti straps which she covered with a ratty red zippered sweatshirt, which I am sure was removed for the picture.  It was tight across the bodice, and down to just about the knees, where it flared out into a whole bunch of gathers of fabric.

And she made the whole thing the night before.

I'd asked if she'd followed a pattern and she admitted she "sorta did", but that she'd modified it somewhat.

I'm telling you, this kid may be odd, but she's got style.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When CoverGirl Just Won't Do

I have a student this year that reminds me of a much younger and goofier (and less responsible me).  We're talking  MUCH younger.  She's missed her era.  This child should have been in college with me (the first time) in the '80's.

First off, after growing up in Los Angeles, and spending quite a few years helping hubby with a business in the music industry, there's not a lot that I find to be all that weird.  Which may be why some of the stranger kids sort of gravitate towards me.  In any case, 80's Girl manages to pull off looking weird and turns it into a fashion statement that - for whatever reason - usually works.  (Let's be honest, most middle schoolers tend to look a little dorky through no fault of their own since biology is against them at this point in life.)  I know some of the teachers are put off by the abundance of black in her wardrobe, the fishnet gloves, the pink and bright blue extensions in her dark dyed hair, but she cracks me up.  She's smart as hell and a sweet kid.

And the fact that she wears a Rocky Horror Picture Show t-shirt - and knows what the Rocky Horror Picture Show is - has totally endeared herself to me.  We had a discussion about the movie and I asked her if she'd seen it live (no, that's one of her dreams) and when I told her I had (1979, Cove Theater, Hermosa Beach, California, thankyouverymuch), I became The Coolest Teacher Ever.

Cracks me up.

In any case, the past few weeks she's taken to wearing black lipstick which, well, actually kind of works with her.  You know how most of these Gothy, Punky kids always dress in black and pout and sulk?  Well, not this one.  She's got her black lipstick on and she's all smiles.  In fact, she's all smiles most of the time.  (Even though, truth be told, the lipstick tends to get a bit, well, smeary, and it's often on her teeth giving her a bit of a pirate look, but hey, she carries it off.)

In any case, on the way back from lunch she sidles up to me and says, "I'm sad."

I look at her and she's looking a bit frazzled.  For one thing, it's obvious she's had lunch because most of the black lipstick is gone except for a dark ring around her lips.  (This look she does not carry off.)

"Why, what happened?" I asked her.

"I've lost my black lipstick," she says, her eyes downcast.

"Oh," I say, "you did?  Did you check your pockets?  Your purse?"

"I've looked everywhere," she says.  "And I can't afford any right now.  Not until mom and dad get paid and I get my allowance."

"Well, hopefully that will be soon," I say.  I meant it.  She looked odd without the black lipstick.  I kind of got used to it.

"I do too!" she said.  "Picture day is Wednesday!"

And of course, plain red lipstick just won't do. Although some of my 1940's colors would totally work on this girl.  Perhaps I'll give her some tips on red.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just a Tad of Pepperoni Please

It seems like I spend most of the weekend grading work, uploading grades, and preparing lessons. (Because our planning has been sucked away by meetings.)

In any case, this past weekend I was grading tests and eating a low-cal pizza (you can do a lot with those little 100 calorie sandwich things and some turkey pepperoni and low-fat cheese with some sauce and seasoning.)

At the same time.

Which was probably a stupid thing to do because, of course, I dropped a glob of sauce onto one of tests.  Crap!  I wiped it up real fast, and hoped that the student wouldn't notice.  Heck most of them don't look at anything other than the grade, if that.

I totally forgot about this until today.  I'd handed the tests back towards the end of class, and as luck would have it, the Pizza test happened to belong to Shadow Boy.  Shadow Boy is a kid who, for some reason I have yet to figure out, would rather sit right next to my work station than at a lab group with other kids.  I get these kids once in a while, ones who prefer adults to their own age group.  Shadow Boy is smart, and with his trendy hair, cool clothes, and earring, is extremely popular and cool, but he still wants to sit up by me.  Go figure.  I think he likes having a grown-up to talk to.  And truth be told, he's pretty entertaining.

In any case, he holds up his test and points to the pizza stain.  "What's this?" he asks.

I was busted.  Darn it!  "I was grading papers and eating lunch at the same time and the pizza dripped on your paper.  I'm sorry.  I really tried to clean it up."

"Really?"  he asks, intrigued that we actually do normal things like eat pizza.  He then puts the paper up to his nose, sniffs, and cocks his head to the side for a minute.  Finally he says, "Papa Johns?"

"Uh, no, kind of homemade lo-cal,"  I respond.

"Cool," he says.  "Although it does smell like Papa Johns."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When the First Sound You Hear Is a Crash

You know it's not going to be a good day.

Today, The District had scheduled an online math test for all the seventh graders at all the middle schools.  The idea, I've been told, is to track how they are doing in math and try to target deficits, at risk kids, etc.  (It's something called Learning Links if you're familiar with that.)

This involved some coordination as all the other grade level teams had to roll their computer labs down to the seventh grade homeroom teachers in order to make sure that we had a computer for all 306 7th graders.  We all the instructions on how the kids were to sign in, and what their passwords were, and all that sort of fun stuff. The idea was that it would probably take about two class periods and they'd take the test during their related arts classes so it wouldn't interrupt instructional time (but it did take away our entire planning - again.)

It was suggested that we get the computers all opened, turned on, and logged into the network before homeroom ended so they'd be ready to go as soon as the bell rang and they could take their tests.  So, since my kids have used the labs before, as they walked in, I gave them their instruction sheet, with their computer number on it, and told them to get their computer, turn it on, and get logged in.  No problem.

Until I heard one of them go crashing to the floor.

Oh great.  It had been sitting on a table, someone bumped it, and crash.  After that, the screen was busted, so we were short one computer (we each had enough to cover our homerooms.)  At this point I was hoping someone would be absent (someone was).

That was just the start of the trip to hell and back.

My kids had no trouble, for the most part, logging into the network.  After all, we did that last week and for those who couldn't remember, I had their information.  It was getting to the testing site that was a bear.  It took some kids at least 45 minutes to get logged in as the site just hung there and kept asking them to refresh until they finally got something.  I had, at various times, the testing coordinator, the academic coach, The Principal, Guidance Goober (who's a tech head), and just about every other person who wasn't actually teaching a class in there.

And my class wasn't having near the problems the others were.

Mrs. Eagle's labs did not, for some reason, have the website bookmarked and set up so they could go right to it, so that was a real pain, especially because most 7th graders can't type in a URL correctly the first five times.  And then they just hung there (like mine did).

Mr. Math, Mrs. Reading, and Mrs. Language had the network crash so they lost all connection for a while.

We were supposed to be done by the end of 2nd.  We finished, for the most part, ten minutes short of 4th period (so no teaching today for 3rd).  Some kids were still working by that time and guidance came and got them and they finished by the end of 4th.

At least the Guidance Goober sent out an email asking for suggestions on how to make the process better for next time (later this spring) when we administer it again.  Perhaps not having every seventh grader in the county log in at one time?

Just a thought.

Fall break can't come soon enough.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Planning? What Planning?

We are supposed to get two periods (47 minutes each) of planning so we have a chance to collaborate with our grade level counterparts as well as meet with parents, and meet with the team.  (I try to limit team meetings because we're all so busy).  

But truth be told, this year, the planning has taken a back seat.  There's science department meetings, language arts/reading meetings, math meetings, 504 meetings, IEP meetings, and so forth, and so on. We also give up at least one planning per week to teach a remediation class for our at-risk kids.  So, the time we actually have to accomplish anything (like, oh planning for the upcoming week) is gradually dwindling.

This week is a case in point.

Today, we had a s-team refresher meeting during our first planning period and a parent meeting during the second. 

Tomorrow we give up all our planning to administer a baseline math skills test to all seventh graders.

Wednesday Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Angora and I have 47 minutes together to plan for the next week.  Following that, a follow up meeting with a parent.

Thursday, an open planning (so far) and another parent meeting.

Friday, remediation class (for me) guessed it, another meeting.

Any wonder that we're still at The School at 5:30 running copies, and getting labs together, and getting ISS work together?  It's because we can't get anything done during our planning.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Rooster Next Door

I have a new neighbor, Mr. Bantam Rooster.

It all started because instead of the predicted 300 or so sixth graders in the school, we have a whopping 356.  Which meant that the sixth grade class sizes were just massive.  So massive, in fact, that The District actually saw this as a problem and decided we could hire another teacher.  However, at this time in the school year we don't get to actually hire the teacher we want.  Rather, The District takes a "qualified" teacher from a building that has lower numbers than expected and transfers him or her to the building where another teacher is needed.

So we got a social studies teacher from a high school across town who has a masters degree in history.  But has a license that states that he's only qualified to teach 7th through 12th grade (and has never taught middle school from what I've heard).  And probably, would rather die than teach middle school if he's like most folks.

This for a sixth grade social studies position.

So The Principal had to juggle around a whole bunch of teachers in order to get this new teacher to fit into the system where he's qualified to teach.  So instead of just disrupting the sixth graders, who are getting a new social studies teacher, we have to disrupt the seventh graders and the eighth graders as well.  Mr. Bantam Rooster has been teaching seventh and eighth grade social studies, so he came to my seventh grade team.  My social studies teacher, Mrs. Social Studies (who has never taught sixth grade) is now the new sixth grade social studies teacher.  And Mr. Came From High School is now the seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher.

Mrs. Social Studies and I are not happy.  My whole team is not happy.  We've been a good, successful unit for three years now, and Mrs. Social Studies and I made a good pair with our classroom doors right next to each other.  But now she's in sixth grade (and she's also teaching a unit of sixth grade health which we find hysterical as she's a smoker) and she's miserable.  We have, however, indicated that if the seventh grade goes back up to three teams next year (and if these 356 sixth graders stay, we'll have to), We Want Her Back.  Fortunately, The Principal agrees with me.  She'd rather not have moved everyone around like she had to, but Mr. Bantam Rooster, who has taught sixth grade, is more trouble down there than he's worth.

And he's going to make my entire team crazy.  (Apparently there's a bet in guidance about which one of us will snap first.  I thought for sure I'd be the one in the lead, but apparently not.)

I think he's a good teacher.  He is retired military and a nice guy, but he's just....a pest.  He needs constant reassurance about what he's doing.  All the time.  He's constantly in my room all the time asking questions (usually the same one over and over.) And I'm starting to feel like the biggest bossypants witch in the world because I'm having to tell him "this is how we do it here."  We sign our homeroom agendas (because it's the right thing to do).  We let the kids go to their lockers between seventh period and afternoon homeroom (he didn't let them go until after bus riders were dismissed which caused some to nearly miss the buss.)    He's having fits because he's not used to kids not turning in homework (eighth graders turn in more homework than seventh graders because they've grown up a bit), and he's calling something like 50 parents a night.  And I'm telling him, "seventh graders are different, it's been a while since you've been around them."

And I had to close the door and ban him from my room when Mrs. Eagle, and Mrs. Angora and I had planning because we only have 1st period on Wednesday's to get together what with all the parent meetings we're having.  That time is GOLD.

And the kids are completely freaked out and terrified of him.  He has, well, a reputation as a screamer.  And a mean, tough teacher.  But then there are high school kids who love him.

The Principal told me not to worry about being bossy.  And to do what I have to to get him to toe the line with our policies and procedures.  Which is fine, but just one more damn thing to deal with.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

When Technology Can Rear its Ugly Head...

The District Technology Department had guys running around the building the other day changing IP addresses on printers (during classes of course).  The idea being that we're dividing our network into two - one side for the kids to use and one side for the teachers to use.

The good news is that this means we won't be blocked by the filters any time we want to play a YouTube video about photosynthesis.  So no more monkeying around trying to download and save a video so I can use it in class - yeah! There's some other good news involved, but honestly, I was so tickled about the YouTube thing that I really didn't care.

I'm not sure what the printers had to do with this, but the idea was that as soon as the kids opened up the labtops in the mobile labs and signed on, it would automatically direct to the printer and the new IP address.

Except it didn't work.

During the day we're finishing up a writing prompt.

Which means no one could print their paper.

Which meant they had to save it to their desktop and then either email it to me via epals (which most of them don't know how to use) or send it to me via Edmodo (which we all practiced on Monday.)

Except most of them didn't bother to write down what their Edmodo usernames and passwords were.

Which made for a very chaotic day.

Maybe I should just have them write the darn things out in pencil.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ever Have One of Those Days...

where you are so tired you can't hardly keep your head up off your desk?

Yeah, me too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Of Sticks and String

Last spring I got the wild idea that Mrs. Eagle and I would sponsor a knitting club at The School.

I've been knitting ever since my grandmother and mom taught me when I was young.  (That's what the women in my family do - we knit.  I have knitting aunts, knitting cousins and now even a younger generation of smaller cousins.)  Mrs. Eagle doesn't knit - yet - although I gave her a book, needles and a bunch of yarn to keep her busy when Mr. Eagle had his accident and spent 39 days in the hospital a few years ago.  We have a fairly active knitting community here in town, with a great local yarn shop, and many of us are involved with the online knitting community, Ravlery.  In any case, it's gaining popularity with a lot of younger people and I thought, "why not?" and so we got permission from The Principal and the Knitting Club was born.

The drawback was that we knew most of the members wouldn't know how to knit, but since I taught a handful of kids at summer camp, and had a really nice document reader that can video my hands so the kids can see what I'm doing on a Big Freaking Screen, I figured it was doable.

I also figured about, oh, a dozen kids would sign up.  In fact, when word got out that we were doing a knitting club the comments were sort of along the lines of "Really?  Knitting?" with that look of disbelief on the speakers face.

We have 31 members.

And that's when I decided to remove the club applications from the ledge outside of guidance so no more would join.  Six is easy, twelve, doable, but 31?

Oh good gracious.

The first meeting we had 28 show up, including four boys.  We taught them to finger knit because one thing I've learned is that although these kids can do amazing things with their thumbs (texting and video games help), they really don't have complete fine motor skills.  By the end of the meeting, they were all making long chains of knitted yarn which they turned into headbands, belts, and whatnot.   When we told them that we couldn't meet next week because of an early dismissal, they asked if we could meet on Thursday instead of our regular Friday.

Seriously.  We had 26 show up on Thursday.  Including the four boys.

I taught them to cast on and they did so well that I went ahead and taught the knit stitch to them.  Granted, some are frustrated and need some more work, but for the most part they are getting it.  In fact, they're getting it much faster than I expected.

What's amazing both Mrs. Eagle and myself, is that they are all being so well-mannered and patient and quiet when we're giving them instructions.  (Mrs. Eagle is learning along with them and they find that particularly amusing.)  They are just a dream group of kids.  They raise their hands, they are patient when I have to work my way around the room to get to them, they are just wonderful.  It's an interesting mix of kids, truth be told.

They are now swinging by with their knitting problems and questions after school, or during homeroom to ask for help.  I love that.

What I also love is that the local yarn shop and its customers have donated FOUR HUGE BAGS of yarn and GOBS OF NEEDLES to the club.  We're talking a lot of stuff here.  All donated.  All for my kids.  We are overwhelmed.

This week we're going to work on the knit stitch some more and get some practice.  But soon, I can see us tackling a scarf project.  We're thinking scarves in school colors.  Won't that look awesome in the yearbook picture?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Making the Minimum Effort

We had a test today.  (Which means this will be short as I need to get grading.)

A nice little mix of multiple choice, labeling, and constructed response which is pretty much a word for what we called an "essay question" back in the dark ages when I was in middle school.

To prepare my darlings for this, we spent part of the period reviewing how to write a good answer to a science question, how to restate the question, how to have a good topic sentence, how to use vocabulary words correctly, blah, blah, blah.  They are expected to write a paragraph, and were given a choice of two out of three questions to answer.

Which makes me wonder...when did one sentence become a paragraph?

But you have to give them credit..instead of LISTENING and READING THE DIRECTIONS where it said they only had to answer TWO out of the THREE questions...they answered all three.  With one sentence for each questions.

So unacceptable.  And they'll be so unhappy when I make them redo it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Voice of Doom

I was busy doing a Brainpop with my seventh period today when The Enforcer's voice comes across the speaker system.

"Excuse the interruption.  Will the following seventh graders please bring their agenda and come to the theater immediately.  The list is long, so please be patient."

And then he started reading names.

And more names.

And even more names.

I had paused the Brainpop when he first came over the speaker, and by the time he'd finished, half my class was gone.  I could hear kids leaving Mrs. Social Studies' class, and kids in the hallway asking, "Do you know what this is about?"  and "Are we in trouble?"

I decided to take a quick peek at my email to see if anything was there, and lo and behold I found an email from The Principal.  Apparently nearly half (HALF!  HALF!) of our seventh graders did not have an updated immunization record indicating that they had the required booster shots.  The State passed a law last year that basically said that seventh graders had to prove that they had their updated shots or they would be suspended from school until the records have been forwarded to the school.

Now, this isn't news.  All sixth graders got a letter from The Principal about this with their report cards last spring.  All new enrolling seventh graders get a letter about this requirement as well.  It's been on the news.  The Principal has done EdConnect calls.   It's been on the school marquee. Every pediatrician and health department in the state knows about this law and has the forms to provide their patients with the necessary paperwork.

And still, nearly half of the seventh grade hasn't provided the paperwork.

They have until Thursday.  It should be interesting to see how many manage to provide the paperwork.  And how many don't.

But what's kind of sad, really, is that many of our kids probably haven't had their booster shots, for whatever reason.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Hitting It Out of the Park

One of the advantages of going to conferences like the ones put on by NSTA, is that you find (or find again) some great ideas for lessons and activities.  Years ago, when I was doing a lot of my student teaching, I was familiar with AIMS activities, which I thought were pretty awesome.  At the last conference Mrs. Eagle and I went to, the AIMS folks had a booth and I feel in love with their activities and lessons all over again.  I particularly like their downloadable E-activities which are awesome.

In any case, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Angora and I decided that we really need to do a lot more activities (and we're being encouraged to do so anyway because of STEM which is heading our way next year), so when I found a great activity on their website called Finding Faults With Food, I immediately downloaded it.  We'd been looking for a good activity that would help our kids understand tectonic plates and this one looked perfect.

You can't go wrong with cookies, frosting and graham crackers.  Truly.

It took a bit of time to buy all the materials, bag everything up and get it ready, but it was worth every minute of it.  The kids LOVED it.  Absolutely freaking loved it.  They were drawing, labeling, working with the cookies (tectonic plates) and the frosting (asthenosphere)...and of course, I wouldn't let them actually eat anything until I'd approved their work and they were completely done - all pictures labeled, with arrows, and their reflections.  (Amazing how the reward of chocolate frosting will encourage kids to work.)

It's not often that kids will actually come up to you on the way out of the classroom and tell you what an awesome lab it was, how much they love your science class, and what a cool teacher you are.  (Apparently the secret to being a cool teacher is chocolate frosting and cookies.)

Of course, they haven't had one of my tests...yet.

But still, today was awesome.  Even for the Seventh Grade Class From the Very Depths of Hell, which wasn't going to do the lab today because of their DREADFUL behavior yesterday (and truth be told, all month long).  I tortured them a bit by doing the lab myself up on the document reader and making them drawing the pictures based on what I did.  Nothing like a big blog of chocolate frosting up on the huge screen to get the point across that they weren't having any fun.  The fact that every kid in the team told them what fun it was helped a lot.  They were silent.  They were also mad at their classmates, and at least 3 asked if they could change schedules to go into a different class.  I gradually gave out supplies to the lab groups, starting with the quietest ones until eventually they all had the chance to do the lab.  And they were quiet.  And they worked.  And they did a fantastic job.

Which goes to show that THEY CAN DO IT...if they chose to.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hello Little Birdie!

We had a parent meeting today with a parent and her son, who is not only failing, but failing miserably because he turns in absolutely no work whatsoever.  None.  Nada.  Even classwork.  I called Stubborn Boy's mom about two weeks ago because it was really apparent that he was on a fast track to nowhere.  She said she was going to set up a meeting and about a week later she did.

But of course, she never showed up.

We called her up and she said she'd forgot about the meeting she scheduled, but we managed to get her to come in today and have our little meeting.  She said that Stubborn Boy makes his own choices and his choice is to do nothing as he'll just get passed on like he always has been.  This kid went to something like eight different elementary schools, and is on his second middle school.  We also found, when his records finally showed up, that his sixth grade teachers last year were planning on retaining him in 6th grade, but our admin decision was to move him to seventh and see how he did.  So we brought in Stubborn Boy to the meeting and he blamed - surprise! surprise! - all his problems on another student (who, truth be told, is annoying beyond belief).  His claim was that this other student was picking on him, and making him mad, and keeping him from doing his work.

Really?  Even in the classes they didn't have together?

Apparently so.  At least according to Stubborn Boy.  So, we put together a plan where mom wrote down what she's going to do (holding my breath here), we wrote down what we were going to do to help him, and Stubborn Boy wrote down what he was going to do (make up his 24 missing assignments to start.)  We also made note to separate Stubborn Boy from his tormentor and keep them apart as much as possible.

Which I did.  Stubborn Boy is on one side of the room, with his back to Pest Boy, and Pest Boy is on the other side of the room.  They are as far apart as two kids can be.

Which is why I was a bit surprised when Stubborn Boy decided to turn around, right in the middle of class, and flip Pest Boy "the bird", right in front of me and everybody.

What the ????

Both boys earned a trip out to the hallway with me where we had a bit of a discussion about what had transpired.  Stubborn Boy said Pest Boy was picking on him, and Pest Boy claimed, typically, "that I was just teasing, I was being funny."

"Really?" I asked him.  "Did you see Stubborn Boy laughing any?  Did he find that funny?"

Long, long pause while Pest Boy processed this.  ""

"No kidding.  He didn't find it funny."  Jeez!

So both boys earned my first discipline forms for the year.  What a shock.  They're in the Seventh Period Class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself.  Although Stubborn Boy is moving.  After today, I don't even want them in the same classroom.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Could It Truly Be....Fall?

We start school in early August, so it's not unusual to have several really hot days or weeks before things start to cool down.

This doesn't mean we like it any, however.

By August, I'm tired of the heat and humidity.  This year was particularly bad as we had an unusually warm June, so it seems like we've been hot and humid for eons.  What with football season starting, and kids and teachers getting into the routine of school, it's about time we have some cooler weather.  Football when it's 95 out is just wrong on so many levels.

In fact, last week we get an email from The District that informs us that "due to the expected heat index of over 100 degrees, all outside school activities will be cancelled."  No problem for me since I wasn't doing an outside activity, but it does give you an idea as to how hot it was last week.  (And, I might add, this is the first time I recall getting an email like this - in nine years at The School.)

Today, however, is a new day.  And it's 65 degrees.  And breezy.  And overcast.  And my rain gauge at 2.4" of rain in it so my yard now is trending towards green, not brown.  The AC is off, the windows are open, the cats are happy.

And the forecast?  70's and 80's...we're trending towards Fall!

Working, working, working

I actually took Saturday and Sunday off for a quick trip with Hubby to Atlanta to photograph some Civil War battlefield sites for a presentation he does.  Which means that all the papers and projects I need to grade are sitting here...waiting to be graded.

So, aside from laundry, I'm spending today grading work.

My mom asks me how come I have so much grading this year.  It's not that we're giving out more work, because we aren't.  It has to do, yet again, with more kids.  That, combined with the fact that nearly every planning period lately has been taken up with either a evaluation meeting, a 504 meeting, a parent meeting, or whatnot.  There's barely enough time to get labs and activities set up, let alone any grading.

So, I bring the grading home.  At least that means I can multi-task.  Laundry - grade - play with cats - laundry - grade - play with cats...and if I'm lucky, I'll get it all done and have some time to knit or read, too things, I'm way behind in.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

You Mean We Had to Do the Work?

On Tuesday I taught the kids how to do a guided outline, which is a good tool for kids to use to help with their content area reading.  I modeled how to do it, we did part of it as a class, and then they worked with their groups.  No problem.

Then I said the words that apparently were spoken in a language foreign to twelve-year-olds:  "We will go over this and grade it on Friday so if you haven't finished, it's homework."

On Wednesday and Thursday I had written on the board that homework was to finish their guided outline as it was due on Friday.

I also said multiple times that the guided outline was homework and due on Friday.  Any guess what I heard from some of my kids when I asked them to get out their guided outlines on Friday?

"You mean we had to finish it?'


Thursday, September 01, 2011

This is Not a Drill...we think.

Right towards the very end of sixth period (yes, one of the classes from hell), The Principal got on the intercom and announced we were going into lockdown.  So, we locked our doors, covered the windows, got the kids away from the doors, got them quiet and sat down to see what was going on.  I wasn't sure if this is a drill or not because we usually (but not always) get a head's up for drills, and because it was so close to a class change.  And then again, The School is across the street from a bank and it seems like there's a bank robbery about once a week or so these days.  It could be real...

My kids at first were, typically, acting like they didn't have a clue how to be quiet and listen until I mentioned that THIS MAY BE REAL and then some of them bought a clue and got quiet.  All in all they didn't do too bad, and my two really severe ping pong ADHD kids even managed not to lose it for the time we had to stay quiet.

That being said, I was way luckier than Mr. Math.  Mr. Math had Happy Boy in the room.  

Happy Boy did not deal with the lockdown well.  If you recall, Happy Boy has one volume - LOUD - and the fact that it was a lockdown didn't help any.

"IS IT FOR REAL MR. MATH?  IS IT FOR REAL?  IS IT FOR REAL?" he kept asking Mr. Math.  Like me, he suspected it might be real and was desperate to quiet Happy Boy down.  Happy Boy wasn't having any of it.

"IS IT FOR REAL MR. MATH?  IS IT?  IS IT?"  he kept yelling.

Mr. Math at this point is trying, desperately to get him quiet.  "It might be, I don't know.  But you HAVE TO BE QUIET because we don't want anyone to even think there is anyone in this room."

"BUT IS IT REAL?  IS IT REAL?" Happy Boy wanted to know.  

At this point I think Happy Boy's classmates were wondering about how much trouble they'd get into if they'd just opened the door and shoved him out in the hall (to be picked up by marauding bands of bank robbers, hostage takers and even some skitters.)  Mr. Math was beginning to wonder about how much trouble he'd get into if he'd just clamped his hand over his mouth and got him to quiet down that way.  

Finally one of the other kids put a stop to it, "Will you just shut the hell up and listen to Mr. Math?!" he yelled.  The fact that this was a Normally Very Quiet Kid, shocked not only Mr. Math and the other kids, but actually managed to get Happy Boy's attention.  Mr. Math was so shocked he didn't even write him up for using profanity.  (He probably wanted to give him a medal.)  Finally Happy Boy got the message and got quiet and was silent for the rest of the drill.

Which was what it really was, we finally found out.

But just you watch.  We'll have another bank robbery in town next week and knowing my luck, Happy Boy will be in my room.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Is It About 6th and 7th Period?

It's not unusual to have a class, or classes, From the Very Depths of Hell Itself.  In years past, my third has won that title, plus a seventh, and then a few others in between.  And usually, when you have a class From the Very Depths of Hell Itself, that same group of kids, due to all the weird scheduling things we have going on, tend to travel together so all the other teachers on your team have other class periods From The Very Depths of Hell Itself.  Mine might be third, Mrs. Social Studies may have hers fourth, Mrs. Reading has hers fifth and so on.

But something really weird is happening this year.  Nearly every teacher you talk to, and it doesn't matter the grade level, has the same two horrible classes every single day - sixth and seventh period.

They are, truly, classes From the Very Depths of Hell Itself.  Mine are Horrid.  What makes them even more horrid is that my fifth period is AMAZINGLY AWESOME.  They are the perfect class.  They are the class that makes it fun to be in the classroom.  And then...then...sixth period walks in and it all goes to hell.  And seventh period is even worse.

Which makes one wonder...what in the world are they putting in their lunch?  

I mean, these kids are awful in terms of behavior (and of course, it reflects in their grades).  They just can't be quiet, pay attention, follow directions, you name it.  (And then my third, fourth, and fifth, all do these things and do them well for the most part.)  But after lunch?  Good gracious.

Mrs. Eagle has it so bad that her seventh period is about ready to make her throw in the towel when it comes to labs and just make them do workbooks.

Well, actually it's worse than that.  We were sitting around at lunch the other day talking about the show Falling Skies.  And in that show, the Second Massachusetts is based in a high school.  We got us to talking about how long we could hold out against the skitters and the mechs at our school with what we have in our science lab, and so forth.  (Okay, we have weird conversations at lunch.  You spend all day with 12-year-olds and you'd have weird conversations as well.)  Mrs. Eagle said it wouldn't be a problem.  Why?

"I'd just give them my entire seventh period to harness and then they'd just leave us the hell alone."

They are that bad.

But sad to say, the aliens would probably give that group back.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Now, That's Some Thinkin'

I met Bus Boy last Spring during my stint working as an admin when the discipline referrals were starting to overwhelm the office, threatening to bury the Guidance Diva under mounds of paper.  It's also known as the season When the Kids Went Freaking Insane After the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests.

Anyway.  I recognized Bus Boy's last name - it's a bit unusual - because I had his brother.  We only had a few weeks of school left so we had a little heart to heart about behaving on the bus and helping him to realize he had just a Few More Days to deal with the bus, and he Could Do It!  So, it was a bit funny when I looked at my rosters and I realized that Bus Boy was going to be in my home room this year.  I actually liked the kid.

And truth be told, I still like him.  He's personable and funny (a lot more animated than his older, very serious, brother), and a pretty good student.  However, on his student information sheet, he answered the question "What do you like the least about school," with "My bus driver and riding the bus!"

So, he still hates the bus.  Go figure.

In any case, most of our after school clubs are starting to meet this week, and yesterday he stayed after they dismissed bus riders so he could attend game club.  He also handed me an application for knitting club which will be meeting on Fridays.   (He is the sixth boy in knitting club so far.)

"Bus Boy," I asked him, "just curious.  Why'd you join the knitting club?"

"Oh, my friend is in it," he said, "And I already know how to crochet, so I figured I'd give knitting a try."

I'll be honest, this just about cracked me up, and I chalked it up as one of the more entertaining comments I'd heard this past week.  And, truth be told, it is a pretty fair reason why a kid would want to stay for knitting club (especially since he's a boy.)

But then today I noticed he was staying late again.

"So Bus Boy," I asked him "what club are you staying after for today?"

"Oh, newspaper club," he said.  "I think that sounds like fun and I have a digital camera to take pictures."

And then it dawned on me that this kid has really gotten it figured out.  He hates the bus.  He hates the bus driver.  Solution?  Join clubs that meet every single day of the week so he never has to ride the bus home and his brother or parents have to come pick him up.


I can't wait to see what club he's going to be attending tomorrow.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Roll of the Dice

Today was the first day of The School's Chess and Board Game Club.

Mrs. Eagle and I have been sponsoring this club for, I think, something like seven years now and we usually get around 20-25 kids every year.  Sometimes when the fashion show club gets rolling (student council puts on an amazing fashion show every year for a fundraiser) we lose kids who are models, or doing the lighting, or something.  Or soccer or baseball season or something starts up.  But in any case, we can usually count on about 20 kids.

We had 45 today.


So many that we had to split them up into two rooms - I kept half, and Mrs. Eagle took the other half (fortunately we both have tables in our rooms rather than desks.)  So from 2:30 to 4:00 we had screaming, yelling, laughing chaos in not one room, but two.


Oh, and by the way, (and this is for all those folks who think teachers roll out of school at 2:30), we don't get paid for this.  We just do it because it's a cool thing to do for the kids, many of whom have no one to play games with them at home.

Knitting club starts after labor day.  So far I have 20 kids signed up (was thinking we'd get lucky to get 12).  Including 5 boys.


Our kids are digging the clubs this year.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Something of Value

Every once in a while I am reminded that you really don't need to watch soap operas if you spend most of your time in a middle school.

Thursday my fifth period kids are coming in to the room to put their things down and get ready for our walk down to lunch.  I'm getting ready to put up my agenda PowerPoint (a scrolling PowerPoint that gives the kids instructions and lets them know what we're doing) and I do a quick check of my email and see one from Mr. Math.  It reads, "If anyone finds a rather large stack of SWPBS money, beware!  I just had a bunch stolen from my desk and they didn't have my name on them yet."

Oh great.  However, I look up from the email and my eye falls on one of my kids in the back of the room who is standing there counting out his HUGE MASSIVE WAD of reward money.  The stack is so huge he has a massive binder clip on it that he's using as a money clip. Amazing.  Especially since this isn't the type of kid that's such an angel he's going to be earning that much money in the three weeks school has been in session.

We drop the kids off at lunch and then the team along with Mrs. Eagle are having our lunch and I mention that Sneaky Boy was in the back of the room counting out his cash and he may be the one we're looking for.  Mr. Math mentions that he had a number of sixth grade teachers email Sneaky Boy's name as well since he apparently did the same thing last year.  At this point Mrs. Language adds that she saw Sneaky Boy counting out a HUGE MASSIVE WAD of cash in her class as well, and in fact, he used five dollars of it to buy a chance to sit in her teacher chair for the period.

(Okay, some explanation - we're trying to have things for the kids to buy that don't cost us things in addition to the real items in our store.  So, kids can buy an opportunity to read the morning announcements, a ticket to sit in the teacher's chair, lunch in the library, and so on.)

Mrs. Reading then adds that Sneaky Boy was also seen in her class counting out a HUGE MASSIVE WAD of cash in her room and he also paid to sit in her chair for the period.  She suggests going back to her room to see what was on the back of the money he used to pay for this privilege, so she went back, and went to Mrs. Language's room as well, and brought back the ten dollars that Sneaky Boy spent with them that morning.

By this time Mr. Math has called The Enforcer and filled him in on our suspicions because we do take this pretty seriously at the school - this is the currency our kids use for a lot of rewards and shopping and it really does have value with them.  (Which, The Principal reminds us, is a good thing.)

I turns out that Sneaky Boy had forged all ten of the dollars he'd used to buy his chair-sitting that day.  He'd written most of our names on several of them (he spelled Mr. Math's name wrong!) and the reasons he gave for receiving the money was pretty funny.  On one where he'd forged my name he wrote it was for "saying yes mame" and another one from Mrs. Social Studies was for "telling the truth".  You can imagine how much fun we had with that.

By this time Mrs. Reading has the rather frightening thought that perhaps, while he was sitting in the teacher's chair in her class, he may have gotten in her desk and taken her supply of money as well.  So back she went to her room only to discover - you know where this is going, right? - that her reward money was all stolen out of her desk.

Mr. Enforcer comes down to the lunch room, snaps up Sneaky Boy, gets a hold of his wad of cash and asks us to sort it all out.  Most of it didn't have a teacher name or signature on it and the rest were mostly forged teacher names.  We have a policy that a reward buck has to have either a teacher's initials or name written in ink, or a stamp (I use a signature stamp) on them to be valid.  So, when you see one that's entirely filled out by a kid (and that's pretty apparent, especially when they can't spell our names correctly), then it's safe to say we may have a problem.

Well, truthfully, Sneaky Boy had the problem.  And he earned himself five days in ISS.

What's funny is that all this transpired in the span of about 15 minutes at lunch.  And it probably wouldn't have transpired if Sneak Boy wasn't so blatant in the counting of his cash.    I hope he enjoys all the workbook packets he's getting instead of labs!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Please, Let it NOT be so.

I feel like I'm coming down with a cold.

There's something just WRONG about a cold when it's 96 degrees outside.  Colds are for when it's nasty out and you want to curl up under a warm blanket with a cat and a book or too.

And having one the first month of school sucks some more.

Off to bed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Better Late Than Never, I Suppose

We have a policy at The District to keep track of kids who are no-shows.  These are kids who were enrolled last year, didn't indicate that they were moving, but who don't show up for school.  If, after ten days, they haven't shown up, we drop them off the rolls and figure they've moved on.

So, since the ten day period was up on Friday, I spent the weekend putting together my nice, new gradebook with all the nice new names of all my nice new kids.

In ink, of course.  Colored ink.

So, this morning one of our kids walks this girl over to me and says she's new and she needs a locker.  No problem, I have a few lockers left to hand out.  I ask her name and it occurs to me that she's one of the kids we just dropped off the rolls on Friday.

"Hum, you're not new here, are you?"  I asked her.

"Oh no, I went here last year," she said.

"I'm asking because we dropped you off the roll as we thought you weren't coming," I told her.  (I found out later from Guidance Diva that they had to go through the whole enrollment process with her in PowerSchool.)

"Oh, yeah, we were on vacation," she said.


I guess we know where the priorities are in this family.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's a Numbers Game

When I first started at The School nine years ago (Wow, has it really been nine years?), the average size of each grade level class was around 300-320.  Maybe.  My first year we had two full seventh grade teams, and then a mini-team, to accommodate all the seventh graders.  As our numbers have gone up and down, we've morphed to three full teams, down to our current incarnation of two teams with a whole bunch of kids (144 on my team at last count) but with some eighth grade teachers picking up the extras and teaching a couple of classes of seventh graders.

They have Very Smart People at The District who spend a lot of time staring at maps and real estate projections and all sorts of things to figure out just where, exactly, all these new kids we get every year (about 600-800 a year the past ten years) are going to go to school, and where we need to build new schools.  And then this year they announced a new zoning plan to take affect next year to even out the buildings so we don't have one school with empty classrooms and another crowded with portables.

A few years ago when they eliminated the third seventh grade team and started having the eighth grade teachers help out with the seventh graders, Mrs. Eagle and I sort of shrugged and said, "whatever", but thought that it wouldn't last too long because all of our feeder schools have portables all over the place.  They were FULL.  We sort of figured this would be one of those little population dips in the road, and eventually the numbers would be back up again.

And from what the Guidance Diva tells me, this could be the year that the bubble has moved to middle school.  As of Friday, after we dropped all the no-shows off our rolls and added in all the new kids who registered the past two weeks, the sixth grade has a total of 356 students.  That's the biggest class she has ever seen and she's been at The School way longer than I have.  The sixth grade teachers, who are used to slightly smaller class sizes than seventh and eighth, are besides themselves.  They are putting out requests for student desks as they have rapidly run out of room and furniture.

And they just keep on coming.

Very few seventh or eighth graders have registered this fall, but there have been hordes of sixth graders.  And if they stick around a few years, that means they'll be a whole bunch of seventh graders next year.  And that's not factoring in the 100 or so new kids we'll get with the new zoning.

So.  What does that mean for us next year?  Three full seventh grade teams?  Huge class sizes?  More eighth grade teachers teaching seventh grade?

Who knows?  I do know we won't find out - most likely - until May.  If we're lucky.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Longest Day Ever

Open House tonight!

I still find it weird that we hold Open House barely two weeks into the year when I'm still trying to learn all my kids' names.  But hey, at least I can recognize them!

Had a good turn out, everyone seemed happy (and a number already got my first parent email last week so it's good to know it's working).

The best part?  Seeing my former kids come back and visit.  There is one family that I've taught all three of their kids - a daughter who's a senior (and who I totally adore), a son who is a sophomore, and a daughter in eighth grade.  This family doesn't have much financially, but they are good, solid people.  They all showed up to visit and say hello.  I got very close to the oldest when mom asked for my help with her when she was going through a rough patch in middle school.  It's nice to know that parents realize you can love their kids to and trust us to help them when they need it.  Glad to say that so far, the kids are doing fine.  I'm hoping that they'll be able to earn some scholarship money for college as they are all quite bright.  I love that this family cared enough to stop by and visit.

Some of these kids and families never leave your memory or your heart.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two Down, Two to Go

Whoo-hoo!!!  My first two observations of the year are done and off my plate!  My next two aren't until January so I have some time to actually catch my breath.

The lab we did today went well, the kids were great, and even later in the day (when I wasn't being observed) my two classes that make me insane (sixth and seventh) managed to behave.  In other words, I didn't have to kick anyone out and give them an alternate assignment (the dreaded workbook packet) for acting like an idiot during a lab. Maybe they'll get the picture.

The lab was a "mining for minerals" lab that we picked up at the NSTA conference last year.  It involved birdseed, tiny seed beads (gold, silver, blue for copper and white for reclamation).  The kids have to sift through (in other words mine) the birdseed to collect their minerals (the black sunflower seeds are iron along with the glass beads).  Then some math to determine how much money they made (or lost due to reclamation costs).  Had a blast and the kids were QUIET.  They were so busy digging through the seeds, especially in my fifth period, that you could have heard a pin drop.  They didn't want to stop!

Love it when a plan comes together.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Glue + Scissors + Seventh Graders = Chaos

I think I'm losing my mind.

Last year, Mrs. Eagle and I piloted science notebooks in a few of our classes to see how they went.  Well, they went great so we're going full speed ahead with our science notebooks for all our classes this year.

The problem is, apparently cutting and gluing (correctly) is a bit beyond some of my kids this year.

I have never - never - seen such a disaster in the making.  These kids, despite me modeling it over and over and over on the document reader, can't seem to cut and glue things into their notebook without making a disaster out of it.  I had foldable flaps glued in upside down, inside pockets glued all the way shut rather than on two sides only, notebook tabs cut in half and glued upside down, you name it.  It's been, shall we say, a challenge.

And then when you get my seventh period (which, I'm starting to think is the class that all the rather "interesting" and quite low kids got stuck into), you get an absolute nightmare. When Happy Boy is the star student in the class, you've got issues.

Obviously, the million times I say, "look at the screen and watch what I do!" is going in one ear and out the other.

And then of course you get the goober who decides to see what happens when you pour glue in the palm of your hand.

(What happens is Mrs. Bluebird pulls you into the hall and explains to you that we do not act like four-year-olds in seventh grade, and that we use the glue for our notebooks, not for decorating our hands, and if you ever do anything like that again, I'm calling your mother.  THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING. )

Oh good gracious.

Monday, August 15, 2011

We're Just in the Dark Here

I'm trying to remember back to a first few weeks of school where we didn't have something dramatic happen.  Trouble is, I can't seem to find a memory that fits that criteria.

Today was no exception.

This morning, probably about 15 minutes after the kids left homeroom and went to first period, all the power went out in The School.  I was actually in the hallway on my way to the front office when it all went dark.  (Fortunately, since we have first and second period planning, we didn't have any kids.)  The power went off, the emergency lights went on and gave off enough light to somewhat figure out where you were going, and all was quiet.

Seriously quiet.

What was weird, is that in the nine years I've been at The School, this is the first time we've had the power go out and I DIDN'T hear a large yell from the student population.  Usually when the power goes out you can hear the kids yell.  You'd think they'd be used to power going out considering the number of severe storms we get here, but no, every time the power went out, there was an uproar.

Except for today.  There wasn't a peep - even out of the sixth grade.  You'd walk by classrooms and you'd hear teachers teaching (sans all our technology) and the kids listening, and just everyone carrying on as normal.

Wow.  Amazing.