Monday, February 28, 2011

Just Can't Win With the Weather

So after the winter we've had (and I'm not sure it's all done yet), we've actually managed to go two full weeks of school without a snow day.  I know, pretty amazing, eh?  And, truth be told, it's been almost spring-like.

However, spring-like warm weather can often bring spring-like bad storms.  Nothing like a warm front and a cold front banging up against each other and producing thunderstorms and those lovely little things known as tornadoes.  We've already had the tornado sirens go off twice in the past week and it's still February.  Fortunately these have happened while we were at home, not during school, so it simply means hustling all the felines into the basement and  hunkering down until the storm passes (praying the whole time that we don't have any damage).  I must admit that the felines are not happy with these little interludes and spend most of the time in their kennels (so we don't have to chase them all over the basement during the storm) glaring at us with That Look of Complete Disdain that only cats can give.

Anyhow, all the weather sources were predicting A Really Bad Line of Storms coming through our areastarting last night and going into today.  Oh fun.  Usually that means little sleep between the storm, the sirens and the cats bouncing all over the place.  However, the sirens went off yesterday (while Mrs. Eagle and I were returning from Girls Night at the Hockey Game) and I missed that fun.  It settled down a bit and didn't get bad again until around 5:00 am this morning.

And then it just let loose.  Thunder, lightning and buckets of rain, not to mention lots and lots of wind (no tornado warnings, however, Thank Goodness.)  So I'm sitting there drinking my coffee and watching the weather as large yellow, green and orange blobs sailed through the map right over our town when the phone rang.

At 5:15 am.  What the heck?

It was, surprisingly enough, the School District.  Apparently they took a look outside, took a look at the radar and decided a two-hour delay was a good thing.  Good decision.  It was a mess,  a rainy, stormy, windy mess.  (Oh, and the temperature was 70 when I woke up, was 58 an hour later, and now is 38.)

Now, a two-hour delay means the kids have a delay but all the employees report at their normal time.  I didn't have to much trouble getting in, but a few teachers who live in some of the more rural areas, really had some issues.  The rivers in town are rising (almost as bad as last' year's 100 Year Flood, but thankfully, not quite) and it was raining so hard that the streets were having trouble draining.

But we made it through.  The good news is this counts for a full day.  The bad news is I'm hoping and praying that I get everything taught that I need to before The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests in April and I'm not feeling really confident about it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Sharpie Wars

So today I was walking around my classroom during third period (my first period of the day) when I noticed that my students looked like a bunch of dirty ragamuffins.

There were black smudges on their faces, necks, arms, hands, and just about any bit of exposed skin.  Weird.  Most of these kids are in my homeroom and I didn't recall them looking like this earlier in the day.  It wasn't until I walked around the room while the kids were working on their activity, that I found my answer.  Jock Boy, a jolly good-natured kid ever there ever was one, had an entire arm covered with writing, smudges, and who knows what.

"So what's with the tats?" I asked him, pointing to his arms.

"Oh that?  That's just Sharpie," he said.  "Cool, huh?"

"Uh, not exactly," I said.  "You know it's not allowed in the Student Code of Conduct, right?"

He looked crestfallen.  "It's not?"

"It's not," I said.  "So, let's get cleaned up tonight and not do it again, okay?"  He agreed with a smile and went on with his work.  And as I continued to walk around I realized that what at first looked like dirt was actually Sharpie smudges.  I didn't pursue it beyond the quick conversation with Jock Boy (which all the kids eavesdropped on) but continued with my class.

And then my fourth period walked in looking just as bad.  And then my fifth period, same story.  So at lunch, the time when all of the teachers on The Team get together, eat lunch,  and check in with what was up with the kids, I found out that all of us were seeing these Sharpie smudges on our students.   As Mrs. Reading said, "It's a bit hard to focus on a kid's question when there's a big black line going across their face."

After lunch Mrs. Social Studies and I pulled aside one of our kids that we could more or less trust and get the truth out of and asked her about the Sharpie smudges.

Apparently the kids, on the way back from the gym and their other electives, were having "Sharpie wars," in the hallway.  Basically they were taking Sharpies and drawing lines on each other as the mass of seventh grade humanity made it back to the core part of The School (where there is more supervision and they can't do anything that stupid without getting caught.)

Oh.  Good.  Gracious.

I'm used to Seventh Grade Stupid Stuff, but jeepers, it's only February!  This kind of stupid stuff really shouldn't show up until after spring break!  If this is a sign of the spring to come, it's going to be a long, long time until school is out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Making a Splash

This was only the second full five-day week we've had since December 6th.

And it seemed like a really long week.  The kids are out of it and not motivated to do any work at all.  I almost feel like I'm back in the first weeks of school where we have to go over everything again and remind them how to "do school", since it's been so long since we've actually had any kind of routine.

But Mrs. Eagle and I have found a new way to de-stress after school.  We go to The Pool.

Our City Fathers, in all their wisdom, pissed off nearly the entire city by deciding to convert the community pool across from our school into a year-round aquatic center with the addition of an inflatable domed cover.   You should have seen the nasty letters to the editor in the local paper about "how dare they put that aquatic center over in that part of town" (meaning the part where the poor folks live).  That whole ruckus really annoyed most of us who work at The School because they were talking about Our Kids.  Yeah, we know the Neighborhood isn't the best, and our kids are nearly all on free and reduced lunch, and yeah, we have gang problems and all sorts of issues, but is that any reason to deny them a covered pool because hey, we pay taxes over here in the 'Hood too!

So there.

So, they spent a couple of months working on the pool (because it snowed every other freaking day for the past two months) and it finally opened up a couple of weeks ago to much fan-fare and some really amazingly cold water.  (It apparently takes a long time for a really big 500 meter pool to heat up.)  And the Guidance Goober who is on a health kick (but who inhales peanut M&M's like no body's business and single-handedly keeps all the local coffee vendors in business) walked across the parking lot and asked if he could make a deal with the pool management.  See, we had all these teachers Just Across The Parking Lot, and it would be really nice if they'd let us go together and buy family passes instead of making us all spend the big bucks and get the individual passes.

And the pool people said, "No problem!" and about ten of us are now "family" and have a much cheaper pool pass.  We're actually considering getting t-shirts made up that read "The School Swim Club" or something equally stupid.

So, Mrs. Eagle and I have been going over to The Pool nearly every day after school.  They offer water aerobics classes for $2 and we've done a few of those, plus we sometimes just go over to swim laps.  But the best part is just the way that floating in the water makes some of the tension just ease away.  (By the way, water aerobics is one heck of a work out - but it sure doesn't bother my knee like regular aerobics used to do.)  I haven't been swimming since my own years in middle school so it's been quite a change of routine.

Every day there seems to be more and more people coming in to enjoy the pool and this week we've started to see some of our kids come in after school.  

Which is interesting.

Because the kids almost seem embarrassed to see - GASP! - Their Teachers at the pool.  It's a good thing that both Mrs. Eagle and I have reached the age where We Just Don't Care, and so neither one of us really gives a flip that the kids are seeing us in a swimsuit (which covers everything because we are of a certain age and our shape is well, round).  Mrs. Sped next door to me, who is a fitness freak and a regular swimmer made the comment that she thinks it's good that the kids do see us at the pool engaging in healthy fitness activities.  She has a point.

So it's nice to see the kids coming over and using the pool.  It's a great way for them to get some exercise (and they aren't sitting in front of a video game console).  They swim, they splash, they jump off the diving board, and they're having a great time.  They're not running the streets, they aren't causing trouble, and they are having fun.

Really, isn't that what exercise should be about?

Hello...and Goodbye

The Guidance Diva the other day made a very astute comment..."They can throw billions of dollars at schools for education but it won't do a bit of good until they fix what's going on out there."  "Out There," being the neighborhood, the culture where education isn't respected or desired, the culture where working isn't a goal because drawing a welfare check pays better, a culture invested with drugs, gangs, abuse, and alcoholism.  A culture where parents aren't being parents.

And where they hang up on the teacher who is trying to call them about their kid.  (Yup, happened again today).

In any case, it never ceases to amaze me how people don't seem to have a clue about the types of kids we see every day and how amazingly screwed up their lives are, mainly due to the grown ups in their lives who aren't acting like grown ups.

Case in point.

We got a new kid this week (part of the seventh grade infestation) who came from outside our county.  Seemed like a nice kid (although we had to have a conversation about sagging).  Didn't say anything, got to work, said "Yes, Ma'am" and all that.  No problems with him at all.

The second day he was here, Mr. Enforcer strolled into Mrs. Reading's class and asked to have him pointed out.  Apparently some of his records were catching up with him, and Mr. Enforcer wanted to be able to recognize this kid should his name cross his desk.

This is not a good sign.

The next morning New Kid was absent from my homeroom.  Mrs. Reading came in after the kids went to their elective classes and told me that The Principal had ran into her in the hallway and mentioned that the New Kid wasn't going to be coming back.  Apparently more of his records had arrived the day before and The Enforcer brought them to The Principal's attention.

And what they saw apparently scared the living daylights out of both of them.  As The Principal put it, "It made me sick to read."

Again, not a good sign.

So he's gone.  No one is really saying much, but he was a kid in foster care.  The Principal took one look at his file and realized that this kid had emotional issues and problems too big (and too scary) to keep him in school with our student population.  She called the foster parents (who had no clue about any of this apparently which is just wrong) and informed them that due to his issues that she was going to get him placed in a nearby school that serves severely emotionally disturbed students.  I hope she succeeds in this and that he gets the counseling and care he needs.

But really it all comes down to this.  The kid is twelve.  Twelve!  And his life is already so screwed up by the grown ups in his life that he's considered a threat to the normal school population.  He has been, according to The Enforcer, "completely let down on every level by every grown up in his life."

I wish people who had no business or desire to be parents just stopped breeding.

The Seventh Grade Infestation

This past fall, due to declining enrollment, the seventh grade went from three full teams to two teams, and then some eighth grade teachers picked up a seventh grade class to help lower the class sizes.  The eighth grade had two full teams and a "mini-team", and the sixth grade had three full teams.

Except by November it was apparent that there were eighth grade teachers with class sizes in the teens while we in seventh grade were trying to maintain some semblance of control over class sizes in the 30's.   Fortunately our Admins saw that this wasn't good, so the eighth grade teachers teaching one seventh grade class, were upped to teaching two of them (along with three eighth grade classes).

And the numbers of seventh graders just keeps climbing.  

We got an email from the Guidance Goddess early this week informing us that not two, not three, not four, but seven seventh graders were going to be enrolling and she'd appreciate it if we could let her know what classes we'd like to put them in.  At this point, with special ed considerations and block scheduling for reading and language arts, it is nearly impossible to have a good schedule.  Regardless of what we do, the big classes keep getting bigger.  I pretty much said I didn't care where they put them as long as they weren't in my homeroom or third period.

Can you guess where two of them ended up?  My homeroom and third period.  


Both seventh grade teams are nearly out of lockers to give to the new kids, so I asked Mr. Enforcer if we were still going to have two seventh grade teams, was there a possibility of moving some of the school's unused lockers down into the seventh grade area.  He said he didn't know what we were doing for staffing next year, but he'd definitely consider it.  

We now have more seventh graders than we had last year (and five fewer teachers).  We have more seventh graders than eighth graders, and are five kids below the number of sixth graders.  The seventh grade teachers are cranky.  Seventh grade is a bad year for most kids - absolutely perfectly normal wonderful kids become dysfunctional goobers in seventh grade (and then, usually, outgrow it by eighth grade).  It is The Year From Hell.  Seventh graders have the most failures, the most discipline referrals, the most problems.  So we're putting them in cramped classes with other kids who are losing their minds due to hormonal overload.  I swear it's like a long car trip with a van-load of kids who can't get along.

I'm with Guidance Goddess...I want a sign on the marquee that says "Seventh Grade is Closed."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another Snow Day and a Wonderful Tool

We haven't been back to school since we dismissed early on Monday.  That storm came in and dumped 3.5" of heavy white stuff.  The roads were a mess (as usual) and although they were much better by Tuesday, the National Weather Service was forecasting another round of winter weather starting Wednesday morning, so they canceled school for Wednesday as well.  It started snowing at my house around 10:00 am, and finished around 8:00 pm after dumping another 4" of the white stuff.  Again, the roads were a disaster.  To make it even more fun, the nighttime temperature dropped to -6 - and this in an area where our average temperature is 50 degrees! So today, Thursday is another snow day and who knows what Friday will bring?  Hard to say.

So, we've really lost two weeks of instruction already and I've been getting a bit stir crazy.

However.  Thanks to a Tech Geek at our district I have been test driving a new tool to use to keep my kids in the learning game even while they're home for a snow day. A few weeks ago the Tech Geek was out in our building working with some teachers and I asked her if there was anything she knew of that I could use to connect with my kids during a snow day - a social networking type site, a chat site, whatever.

She recommended Edmodo.

I'm going to sound like a commercial here, so apologies ahead of time, but this application just rocks!  It's a social networking site that is teacher directed.  I signed up, gave my kids the code to sign up for my class, and so far I have about 50 kids signed up and a number of parents as well (parents can get a code to monitor their child which is a fantastic idea!) It looks a lot like Facebook, but the one thing is the kids can't talk with each other, they can only talk to the group as a whole or to the teacher.

I have posted extra credit, I've linked to Brainpops, I've put in missing work for absent kids, and I even posted a video lesson this morning (my first video!).  The kids who are absent absolutely love it, and they actually are turning in work (that's a huge problem for us - kids who are absent tend not to make up their work).  I can send direct messages to kids ("while we are out on a snow day, please finish your writing prompt.") and to individual classes and to the group as a whole as well as to parents.

If you haven't had a chance to check out Edmodo, take a minute and do so.  I can assure you that this will definitely be something I start at the beginning of the year next year.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Snow! Snow! Snow! or Why Bus Drivers Deserve Our Thanks and Respect

So the National Weather Service called for rain starting last night, turning to snow around noon today, and an accumulation of maybe 1-3 inches.

And they sorta got it just a bit wrong.

It was raining and 36 degrees when I got to The School this morning.  We went through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, no word of early dismissal which was a bit worrisome since Mrs. Social Studies had peeked out her back door and noticed that it had already turned to snow.  (We have no windows in our part of the building).  Halfway through 4th period The Principal came over the loud speaker and told us all to stop what we were doing and check our email.  Apparently we were going to dismiss two hours early, and we had a slight adjustment to the lunch schedule.  By the time we walked the kids down to the cafeteria, and past the bank of glass doors that go into the gym area, we could see that it was not only snowing, but snowing hard and everything was just covered.  This didn't look good.

We got the kids fed, went back to class and taught until around 12:10 when all the buses showed up and we dismissed the kids.  The good news is I got 3 periods taught.  The bad news is that it was a mess when the buses left.

I stayed behind, as part of the snow crew, for a while along with Mrs. Eagle.  We were supposed to be going to another middle school to see how their pilot STEM program was being implemented tomorrow, and worked on the sub plans for that only to get an email RIGHT AS WE FINISHED THE PLANS, telling us that the visit was canceled.  As I told Mrs. Eagle, if we didn't do the plans, we'd be going.  If we did them, we knew they'd cancel.  Oh well.

After about an hour we went up to check and see what the bus status was.  The whole idea behind us staying was in case a bus had to return or a kid didn't get picked up.  By then, it was a complete and total mess outside.  One of our teachers who lives in the county west of us decided that trying to get home was not a good idea, and had made arrangements to stay with another teacher who lives within walking distance.  She had called her daughter and they were reporting school buses sliding off the roads and people having to get 4-wheel drive vehicles out to the buses to get the kids off and home.  Not a pretty picture.  The Principal was on the phone trying to figure out if all our buses had made it safe and couldn't get a decent answer.  It didn't sound good.

She finally put her phone down and told those of us who didn't live within a few blocks to get home before it got even worse, and to text when we were home safely.  You didn't have to tell me twice.  By the time Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Social Studies and I walked out to our cars, I had at least 3" of snow on mine and you couldn't hardly see the baseball fields behind the school.  It was wet, slushy, and coming down thick.

My 12 minute drive home took about three times as long, but for once people weren't being morons.  They were going slower, not tailgating (that drives me nuts) and I didn't see any wrecks on my way home.  That, however, was around 2:00 pm.  Since then we've had report of buses sliding off the road, some elementary schools just told the parents to come get their kids, and nothing but a huge big mess.  The local on-line paper reported that parents were swamping the district office with calls because the buses were late.   Another local news source is reporting over 80 wrecks.

I feel for these bus drivers.  It's not an easy job on a good day, but then having to deal with slushy slick roads, and poor visibility...they deserve a lot of credit for getting our kids home safe.  And I bet they won't get a cent of overtime for this.

And we're out for tomorrow.  The 1-3" is now looking like 4-8".  I'm beginning to think we may actually go to school again in March since there's another storm scheduled for Wednesday.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

All I Ask is For a Little Effort


We finally - finally - had five whole days in a row this week and weren't interrupted by weather, holidays, or zombies running in the streets.  It felt wonderful to get back into the flow of things and to finally get our genetics unit covered.

I finished grading all the tests on Thursday evening and entered the grades in PowerSchool.  I was hoping that I'd see some good results because, firstly, we've been covering this unit for over a month although it has been interrupted a lot.  Secondly, the classes that are test-driving the notebooks were allowed to use their notebooks during the test and the other classes could use their notes.

The results were, in a word, ugly.

Many students completely bombed the vocabulary test because they absolutely refuse to learn the words we use in science.  Genetics has a lot of key words that if you don't know what they mean, you won't be able to answer the test questions.  Homozygous, heterozygous, genotype, phenotype, allele, and so on.  We went over, and over, and over these words and did project after project using these words, but when it came down to their test, they absolutely croaked.  What made it worse, is that in order to answer the Punnett Sqaure questions, they had to know the difference between these words or they'd just mess it up beyond belief.  What annoyed me even more is even with all the time we spend going over how to answer a test question (underline key words being one huge strategy), only ONE STUDENT even did that when it came to the Punnett Square word problems.  So, not only did they not know the vocabulary (after nearly six weeks) but they didn't even bother to underline the important features of the questions.

They just failed miserably.  And half the test we did in class, so all they had to do was pull out their notes and simply copy them.  Very few kids had their notes out for their test, and even some of the notebook kids never once opened their notebooks.

So they tanked.

On an aside, for those of you who were wondering, Wiggly Boy did a bit better.  He didn't pass, but he didn't fail nearly as bad as some of the others.  And he was the one who prompted a discussion we had about personal responsibility on Friday when he told the class, "Well, I didn't bother to study at all so it was my fault I failed."

As I told them, I can't follow them home and make sure they do their homework.  I can't follow them home to make sure they study.  That's their parents' job.  And if their parents aren't doing their job, then they're just going to have to sit back and realize that they have the tools at their disposal to be successful if they only had the personal responsibility to use them.  It is up to them.  If they think they're worth success, then that's what they need to work for.  I believe every one of them can be successful, but they're going to have to start working towards that goal.

We have a much shorter unit (and hopefully no more snow days) so we'll see if they do any better this time.  Some of them, perhaps, have learned that using your notes, when Mrs. Bluebird says you can, is not a waste of time.

But I truly am at my wits' end on what it takes to get these kids - and their parents - to care as much about their learning as I do.