Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Southern Spring

I am sick of bad weather.

We are coming up on the anniversary of our 1,000 year (or 500 year) flood (it depends on who's talking what year it is), and the city is asking for volunteers to fill sandbags because - SURPRISE! - we're experiencing flooding again.

Within the past week, we've had numerous tornado warnings, storm damage, awful amounts of rain, hail, you name it.  Everyone is cranky and irritated (kids and staff included) because we're spending nights in basements, closets and anywhere deemed safe while the tornadoes are popping around, dealing without power, and having to hang out with insurance adjusters as they assess damage.

Let's see...last week we sent kids home early due to power problems throughout the county.

Monday night we had rotten storms again - more power outages - and even more damage than we had last week.  School was cancelled.  (Smart call).  We only lost power at home for 8 hours and I consider myself lucky.  Some people still don't have power.   One neighbor lost a tree, another lost most of his expensive, not even a year old, vinyl fence.  Trees everywhere and power lines down.

Last night more tornadoes, more time in the basement (did not lose power - yeah!) and we delayed school for an hour, and let out today an our early due to flooding.  Some teachers didn't make it in (trees in roads, trees through house, flooding, etc.) and a lot of kids stayed home because they were predicting more tornadoes today.

Can we just have some sunshine?

But truly, I'm thanking the Good Lord that it wasn't worse.  We're alive, and unharmed, and although tired, and cranky and a bit soggy, we really got lucky.  Other folks didn't get so lucky (just look at Alabama for example).  My heart goes out to them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dodging the Raindrops

Spring in the South can be a bit tricky.

The redbuds are out, the irises are blooming, the trees are leafing out, the grass is greening, and we're all trying to get our vegetable gardens in so we can have some great big huge ripe tomatoes come Independence Day.

However, one of the drawbacks to Spring in the South is Gawd-Awful rotten weather.

We just happen to live in the part of the country where cold fronts and warm fronts tend to bump into each other which means we get a lot - A LOT - of thunderstorms and rain and the occasional tornado.  When I went house-hunting when we first moved here, Hubby wanted one thing - a full, finished basement.  The primary reason was he had somewhere to put his office and our massive book collection but the other reason was "they have too many tornadoes and we'll need some place to go."  The fact that a tornado siren is down at the end of my street was just a bonus.  

Tuesday night they were predicting some really bad weather to come our way and I was hoping it would come through before it got too late.  I can't sleep during severe weather and really didn't want to spend most of the night in the basement.  As luck would have it, I was sound asleep when the tornado siren just about knocked me out of bed at 12:50 in the morning.  Great.  Hubby and I got the feline children in their kennels and got everyone downstairs pronto (we're getting really good at this and so are the cats).  We had just turned on the television to see what was going on when the power went out.   Fortunately we have plenty of flashlights and we pretty much sat in the dark, listening to my old Y2K wind up radio until the all clear sounded.  At that point we tried to go back to sleep but still didn't have any power.  Our power came on around 4:15, so I was one of the lucky ones.

By the time I headed to school around 6:15, it was barely light enough to see that there were a lot of trees down, street signs and stop signs laying flat on the ground, and debris all over the roads.  The traffic lights were out as well, which made it a bit dicey getting to school as some people don't seem to get a clue that when there's no traffic light, every intersection is considered a four way stop.  Surprisingly, when I got to The School, we actually had power.

We were one of the lucky ones.  Apparently power was out all over the county, including at a great many of our schools.  The high school down the road from us was dark, and there probably were only a handful of functioning traffic lights throughout the entire county.  Most of the kids rolled off the buses bleary eyed.  Half the staff didn't have power.  (There were some unusual color combinations and outfits spotted among staff and students, the result of getting dressed in the dark.)  By the time school started I was thanking my lucky stars that I actually had power since it appeared I was one of the fortunate few

As luck would have it, with so many schools without power (and with not good time frame from when they'd get power), the District decided to call it a day and pick everyone up and send everyone home.  Thankfully we won't have to make this day up (we're still making up time from our snow days this winter).  The seventh grade teachers - for once - got the best of this deal as our planning is 1st and 2nd period and they sent the kids home before 3rd.  

The forecast for the upcoming week pretty much indicates thunderstorms for the next five days.  It's Easter Sunday today and it's already rained 1.7" in my yard and still coming down.    I'm starting to worry a bit as we're coming up on the anniversary of  The Flood we had last year that many people are still recovering from.

But they say a flood like that comes along every 500 years....right.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I opened up my email program at school at 6:20 Monday morning to find this:

"Clever Boy's father called to let us know that his mother was killed in Afghanistan last week.  He won't be at school for a few days and would like you to collect work for him."

This sucks on so many levels.

One of the hazards of working in a building that serves a lot of military kids is that the odds will eventually catch up with you and you'll get a message like this.  That doesn't make it any easier.  And the fact that it isn't the first makes it suck even more.

So, we got together work for Clever Boy but I really don't care if he turns it in or not.  He has other things to deal with that are lot more important than a writing prompt and a set of workbook pages on states of matter.  Mr. Math actually talked with Clever Boy's Dad (who is divorced from Clever Boy's mom) and it was obvious that this has hit the family hard (despite the divorce) and that they need to deal with this before we need to worry about school.

So, the week after we finished The Very Bid Deal Government Mandated Test, I'm struck with the realization that although the government makes a big deal over the damn test, and everyone is so obsessed with the damn test, that when you really get down to it, IT ISN'T WHAT REALLY MATTERS.  (Although 50% of my evaluation of a teacher is now based on this damn test.)

What really matters is that we take care of our kids.

What really matters is that we are here when a kid loses his mom.

What really matters is that when a kid needs a shoulder to cry on, we're here.

What really matters is that when a dad is choked up about losing his ex-wife in the line of duty, we're here.

What really matters is that we are here, taking care of many of the kids that society doesn't really care about because they're poor, or have disabilities, or their parents have issues, or no one really cares about them at home.  We are here for them.

What really matters is that we try to do whatever we can to get these kids to grow up to be decent human beings with the skills to take care of themselves and have a happy life.

We just don't teach these kids about science, or social studies, or math, or reading, or whatever.

We're teaching them to be good people.  And it's a damn hard job.  And no freaking test is ever going to measure that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Testing is Over!


I am almost at a loss for words.

We are finally - finally! - finished with the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Testing.  That is the good news.

The bad news is that we have witnessed the worst - the absolute freaking worst- behavior that any of us have seen in all our years of giving TVBDGMT.    It has been an adventure.  (Or as one of my teammates said, "I feel like I'm on the roller coaster to Hell.")

We used to have a more flexible testing schedule where each building could more or less decide how they wanted to scheduled TVBDGMT within a certain time frame.  Those days are apparently long gone as now we have to give the tests on specific days.  Four specific days to be, well, specific.  Which means that we have for the past four days spent the mornings giving tests to a bunch of kids who don't really care (they have no stake in them this year although next year it will count towards a spring semester grade), and who, quite honestly, aren't used to being well-behaved and quiet for three hours straight.

I'll give them credit.  They were good during the test.  Although some of mine, truth be told, were just fed up with practicing good test taking skills.  Instead of highlighting, underlining, crossing out, checking their work, and all that, they simply bubbled in answers and put their heads down.  The were D.O.N.E.

What this means is that as soon as the tests were done and they were released to first period, all hell broke lose.  

It started right after first period when one of my girls (who is suddenly boy crazy beyond belief) got dared by two boys to pull a fire alarm.  Which she did.  She swears her t-shirt sleeve got caught on the alarm but the cameras said otherwise.  I doubt I'll see her again.

Then we tried to take them outside for an hour or so to run off steam which worked for some kids but for the others it was a complete disaster.  They spent that hour arguing, getting into each other's businesses, running their mouths and generally gearing up for some fights.  The only thing that kept them quiet in my room was because I ran a Brainpop so the room was dark, and cool (they were all whining about being hot after being outside) and they calmed down.

But not enough to stop the fights that broke on the way home.

And today wasn't much better.  It was raining and thundering all morning (I had visions of a tornado warning right in the middle of the test) so taking them outside wasn't an option.  Mrs. Eagle and I were going to do a really fun mini-lab on states of matter but quickly tossed that idea out the window as the first hallway fights began.  Three of my girls got into a tussle and all three have now been suspended for ten days and one has a heck of a shiner for her trouble.  Again, if they weren't running their mouths and into drama, I doubt any of this would have happened.

And that was just the seventh grade.  I heard that the sixth and eighth weren't much better.

So today, instead of having a fun lab, I had them open their workbooks, work on a section we didn't use this year, put on some lovely classical music and told them they were all going to be quiet, to mind their own business, and CALM DOWN.    I think they were read the riot act by just about every teacher (as well as The Principal over the loud speaker this morning after testing was finished), and we pretty much said if they didn't get it together the last five weeks weren't going to be much fun.

For any of us.

But as annoyed as I am at the kids and their horrid behavior, I'm more annoyed at the People Who Make Decisions But Who Have No Idea What Goes On In A Classroom.  You spend all week with a bunch of middle schoolers, with hormones raging, and put a high-stress, high-stakes test on them and force them to be QUIET, and then watch what happens.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test

It's Testing Season.

Oh yippee.

And yes, I'm still trying to figure out why we hold tests six weeks before the end of school.  As far as the kids are concerned, they are DONE, DONE, DONE, after the VBDGMT, but goodness, we still have six weeks to keep them calm, working on something, and hopefully passing on to the next grade.  It's like herding cats. Except cats behave better (at least mine do).


We've done the massive, long, and relentless Reading and Language Arts on Tuesday.  Not bad.  No one fell asleep (in my group at least).  One of my girls thought she was going to throw up so I put her by the door (and trashcan) and told her if she thought she was going to lose it to "run like the wind" to the bathroom.  She survived.  Math was today.  Some kids didn't finish and just ended up guessing, but that's par for the course.  Tomorrow is science, and then Friday is social studies.

The kids are, doing great during the test, behavior-wise.  We did have two kids who we were worried about being disruptive in a regular classroom, and we were able to get them in a small group testing situation which works out better for all involved.

After the test, however, they have completely lost their minds.

I had to break up an "almost-fight" in my fourth period class today which resulted in a complete change of plans in terms of lessons as my kids all ended up writing witness statements about what happened so I could attach it to the discipline form.  Lucky for us, no punches were thrown, but it still was pretty disruptive and got the kids a bit upset.  I should have taken a grade on the witness statements, come to think of it.

And that was just fourth period.  Every other class was loud, disruptive, argumentative, and generally just hard to get them settled and focused.  And it wasn't just my team.  The Principals spent the whole afternoon putting out fires as the kids pretty much just exploded after testing was done and we had fights and disruptions all over the place - and we haven't had that this year with our Positive Behavior Support plan in place.

So, tomorrow, if the weather is nice, The Enforcer is going to come up with a plan that will allow us to take the kids outside to blow off some steam.  They need it.   (And yet again, another reason why I feel that middle schoolers still need recess!)  Hopefully we can wear them out to the point where they won't have the energy to cause any trouble.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Ah Spring

You have to love Spring in The South.  The daffodils...the greening of the grass...the Redbud trees and Bradford Pears in bloom.

And of course, we can't forget the tornadoes.

We had a warm weekend - actually hit 82 degrees which is pretty warm for this time of year, and a cold front was headed our way.  It was 70 when I got up this morning, and windy, so I knew we were in for a busy day in terms of weather.

And oh my, was it busy.

We got all the way through lunch without anything much than dark, ominous clouds, heavy rain and wind.

It wasn't until 5th period that The Principal came across the loud speaker, told us we were under a tornado warning, and requested that everyone get alongside the interior walls on the floor until further notice.  My fifth period is usually pretty good, so they lined up along the walls like they were told and I sat there on the floor and tried to conduct class the best I could.  We are, after all, in the midst of reviewing for The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test, and I need every second of instruction time I can get.  So, although we were all on the floor, I did manage to go through a PowerPoint on body systems, did an activity on levels of organization, and, since we hadn't handed out their review books, read to them from their review book about diffusion.  It wasn't ideal, but I still got material covered, the kids were kept quiet (sort of) and we managed to make it through the end of the tornado warning.

I may add that the Enforcer, he who is in charge of safety and security, did away with the blaring tornado warning siren.  That thing going off for twenty minutes was enough to drive anyone mad.  Not only was it noisy and aggravating, but it made it fairly impossible to hear what was going on outside (I have no windows so I can't see anything.)  Trust me, if there's a tornado coming, I seriously want to hear about it before it smacks us.

The warning ended, we wrapped up class and headed into sixth period.

Where we had another warning, ended up on the floor, and I did my "teaching from the floor" lessons yet again.

And we had another one seventh period as well.  By then I had done more teaching from my spot on the floor against the wall than I had actually standing on my feet this day. This one was a little louder outside, the lights flickered a bit, but we made it through this last warning with flying colors.

Three different periods, three different tornado warnings.

Ah spring!