Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

For me, it's not about the cookout, or the day off, or hanging by the lake.

It's about remembering.

I live in a military town so the War on Terror is a daily reality for us.  We've lost a lot of soldiers in our community this year, and those loses have reached out and touched all of us.  And this year, it's even more poignant for me as the person I am remembering the most is one I never met - but I had her son in my fourth period class.

It's tough having a student who loses a parent under your watch.  It's even harder when it's in the line of duty.

I've worried about Clever Boy a lot today.  He doesn't have school to distract him and keep him busy and he lives in a really rural part of our community so it's not like he can just walk next door and find someone to hang out with.   I hope he's finding something to keep him busy (he does love to read) and that he and his Dad can, finally, hopefully, find some common ground and do some Dad and Son things.  But I still worry.

God Bless Clever Boy and his Mom.  Rest in Peace Sgt.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Packing Up to Pack it In

So the last day of school for the kids was on Tuesday the 24th.

The last day for teachers, due to the fact that the kids were forgiven the ungodly number of snow days we had this year but the teachers were not, is Tuesday the 31st.

Which means we have had a lot of time to kill.  Our days usually consisted of about 3 hours of in-services, meetings, workshops or whatever.  Then lunch on our own.  Then the rest of the afternoon was spent packing up our rooms, working with other teachers, and trying to keep from becoming completely bored before we could leave at 2:30.  The 8th grade teachers - every one of which had to change rooms - really needed the time.

Just in case some of you were wondering, the 8th grade teachers had to change rooms for a variety of reasons.  One, since our district is pushing a big huge STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative into the 8th grade this next year, they finally saw the light and realized that science teachers probably need to be in the rooms with running water and sinks, since the social studies teachers who were in those rooms weren't using the running water and sinks.  (No, I still do not have running water and a sink and it will be a cold day in hell before any of us in the old part of the building ever get those, even if we are teaching science.)  The other reason is that we will again have a number of 8th grade teachers who will be picking up two7th grade classes next year, and it makes sense to have these teachers on the end of the 8th grade hallway that's closest to the7th graders.  Last year we had 7th graders running all over the building (and consequently being late all over the time) because their teacher was way down on the end of the 8th grade hallway.  So, truly, it all works out.  Or it should.

Maybe because the admins solicited topics for the in-services, they actually were, for the most part, pretty interesting.  We did a review of our first year of SWPBS (school wide positive behavior support) implementation which was interesting.  Our discipline referrals are way, way, way down this year, but of course the grade with the most problems is 7th.  Let's face it, they just lose their minds that year, regardless of all the positive reinforcement you give them.  As Mr. Enforcer said, it's amazing the amount of stupid boy stuff that he sees out of the seventh graders.  (Sort of like the kid who smuggled his friend onto the school bus in a duffle bag since he didn't have a permission slip from the principal to ride another bus.  Gotta wonder about that one.)

We also had a great in service on what kind of information you can find in a cumulative file.  The Principal is planning on giving us two days of in-service credit at the beginning of the year to work on the files of our 20% of kids who are considered most at risk so we can come up with some interventions - great idea, if you ask me. As luck would have it, my whole team knew exactly what file the Principal was using as soon as it went up on the document reader - even though the names had been blacked out - because it's one we worked with most of the year.  Truly, this poor kid has one of the worst life stories I've ever heard and you could have heard a pin drop as The Principal went through his file and highlighted things that popped out at her that we needed to look at.  Mother had him at 17, father deceased, did okay on state tests until the 5th grade, removed from the home twice, mother has a drug problem and was charged with abuse and neglect, not to mention the fact that she'd lock her kids in their bedrooms while she turned tricks for drug money, she'd lock them in the car, live-in boyfriend was on the lam for some sort of felony conviction, and it went on and on.  (Is there any surprise here that this kid does not do well in school?)

And of course Mrs. Eagle and I spent a lot of time going through our files (and dumping a lot of stuff), going through our unit binders (and dumping and adding stuff) and generally coming up with some ideas for next year.  Although STEM is going to be hit hard and heavy in 8th grade, we're being "encouraged" to attempt more of it on our own next year as well (no big deal as we did a lot of that this year anyway).

So, it's been productive, and unrushed, but we're all about at the end of finding things to keep us busy.  So one more day, which includes our end of the year lunch, and then we're free.

Except I have a science lab in-service on June 1st.  Maybe I can sleep in on the 2nd...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

So Long, Farewell!

Today was the last half day of school!

It's fair to say that the seventh grade teachers were probably more excited than the kids.  I'm not sure why we even have a half day as the day, truly, serves no purpose.  We managed to get the report cards printed and issued yesterday (in the hopes that the little darlings would stay home), but they came anyway.  Pretty much the day is spent showing a movie, letting them run around in the gym for a while (the weather has been awful), and hoping they don't annoy the daylights out of us on this last day.

Fortunately for me, all the kids in my home room (with one glaring exception) that gave me hives were gone today - either in alternative school, suspended (for fighting the day before), in school suspension or they didn't come.  That made for a pleasant day - one of the most pleasant we've ever had.  I put on a movie, but most of the kids chose to go through the game club games and spent the morning playing Apples to Apples and Monopoly.  Nicely.  Without causing a fuss.

It was actually quite pleasant.  Which goes to show that when they want to be, they can be well mannered and a lot of fun.

So, we sent them on their way, most to 8th grade, others to other states (we have quite a few of our military kids moving out of the area now that their military parent is back from Afghanistan), and some to who knows where.  But we waved the buses goodbye (my favorite tradition), and wished them all a wonderful summer.

The bittersweet moment for Mrs. Social Studies and I was saying goodbye to two of our boys from last year. These two young men are kids that I would not hesitate to give a home to should they need one.  They are polite, well-mannered, and just delightful.  (They also happen to be best friends practically joined at the hip.)  Neither one was a star student in 7th grade (one is a sped kid) but they flourished in 8th grade.  And they never let a day go by that they didn't stop and give each of us a hug.  I kid you not - they'd be walking down the hall with all their basketball buddies and they'd stop, come visit us (making their friends wait) and off they'd go.  Their friends quickly figured out that this was something they were going to do regardless of how much they teased them, and the teasing ceased and pretty soon these kids were coming by to say hi even though we never had them as students.

I love these two.  And I know they'll be okay.  We had a talk with them a bit today about high school, and what they hoped to accomplish - they have managed to stay clear of the gangs and drugs that so many of our kids fall prey to, and that's a blessing.  (They ascribe this to good role models and the fact that "it's not something Jesus would approve of or do.")  They know they'll be fine because they have people that love and support them, both at home and in school.

I'm looking forward to their graduation in four years.

So to T and T, I love you both, God bless, and I'll miss my daily hug from the two of you.  I'd be glad to call either one of you my son.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Girl Drama - A Theory Behind the Madness?

As you know doubt have read over my past few posts, we've just had an amazing amount of girl drama this year.  We are not alone.  The eighth grade as well as the sixth grade report mass amounts of girl drama as well.  It's almost as if a damn has broke and we're just flooded with girls gossiping, arguing, threatening, fighting and just generally acting like a bunch of horrid little brats.

It really takes the fun out of everything, truth be told.  But there's always hope.  We did have one nice day this week when our main instigator was absent and all the girls were, surprisingly, well mannered and actually kind of nice.  But she came back the next day to stir the pot and life was hell again.

So, I'm on the telephone the other night talking to my cousin who lives in Colorado.  We call about every other week or so and chat and catch up on what's going on and all that sort of thing.  Like me, she doesn't have any kids of her own, but she's the favorite aunt for her sister's three children so she does have some kid experience.  I began to tell her about all the girl drama we were having and she commiserated.  And then she said something that had never, ever occurred to me.

"Did you ever wonder if all this increase in girl drama is a result of too much reality TV?  I mean after all, that's all it is, a bunch of grown women running around fighting with each other and acting horrible."

Oh.  My.  Gosh.  I think she may be on to something here.  I have NEVER watched a reality television show.  EVER.  (They hold absolutely not interest for me.  None at all.  I teach middle school, why would I want to subject myself to the same bad behavior but this time in adults?)   Although I've never seen one of these shows, I've seen enough advertisements for them to realize that they seem to have a bunch of grown ups acting like children.  Badly behaved children.

It's often been said that kids model what they see.  Well, if all our kids are doing is watching sitcoms where people are rude to each other and reality television where they fight and argue with each other all the time, is it any wonder they act like this themselves?

Counting the and a half to go.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Cursed Class...Part Two

The 8th graders finally - FINALLY - got in their field day.

Granted, it rained most of yesterday so it was (of course) canceled.  Today it was dry, but cold (at least for this time of year).  I don't think the temperature ever reached above 55 and it was cloudy and windy.  But by golly, they got field day in.

So that was the good news.

The bad news is that on field days for the other two grades, we're more or less trapped with our kids all day with no planning or breaks.  So, during first and second period when they usually go to their elective classes such as PE, art, band, and the like, they stay with their homerooms (because the PE, art, and band teachers are all out running field day).  Usually what we end up doing is giving them some fun time - a movie or something easy like that because, after all, these are their fun elective periods.

Today, however, guidance wanted us to give them an on-line career inventory survey to help them do career planning with them as they get into 8th grade and high school.  The good part was that it was all done on line.

The bad part was that it was all done on line.

The Guidance Goober saw to it that we all had the computer labs delivered to our rooms, as well as an individualized instruction sheet for each kid that gave them all the user name, password, and other information (including birthdays as some didn't know their own birthdays last year!) that they needed.

All they had to do was follow the directions and everything would be fine.

Let me say that again. All.  They.  Had.  To.  Do.  Was.  Follow.  The.  Directions.

You know where this is going, don't you?  Just last week we did a Periodic Table of Elements project that involved FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS and many of them were amazed that I'd hand it back to them and tell them to "read number six again and follow the directions."  They assured me they had followed all the directions, but it one glance I could tell if they had or hadn't.  They just want to jump in, and not do anything so borrrrrring as reading directions.

So.  Today they had to go to a website, set up a user account, and answer 60 easy questions about what they liked and did not like to do.  Easy, right?

I had three - three! - kids who took over 45 minutes to set up their user account because they couldn't (wouldn't?) follow the directions on their sheet which told them EXACTLY how to set up their user account and what their user account was called.

I am not kidding here.  Between the account issues with my kids, and then having to listen to them whine about pages loading slowly  - "good gracious, there are 300 seventh graders logging in all at once, give it time!"- it was a solid two periods of aggravation.  I think Mrs. Social Studies next door was ready to toss at least one kid and computer outside and slam the door behind him.

It was definitely a day that called for chocolate.

Counting the minutes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Cursed Class

Last year's seventh graders got a raw deal towards the end of last school year.

For those keeping track, last May was The Flood.  Something like 13" of rain fell in one weekend and most of middle Tennessee looked like a lake.  We ended up missing a week of school due to flooding, and we still have businesses that are just now reopening after last year's disaster.

As a result of The Flood, we ended up canceling a lot of events.  We canceled the school play.  We canceled a band concert.  We even canceled our weekend camping trip to the local recreation area.  (Now that, I might add, wasn't solely because of The Flood.  A lot of it had to do with the fact that The Flood caused every snake in the entire region to hike on up to dry land to places they've never been before.  The camping area was overrun with them.  The thought of seventh graders + camping + snakes = chaos didn't appeal to any of us.)

And of course, this was the group of kids who never got in field day due to tornadoes.

So can you guess what's happening to them this year?  Anyone?

Yup, you got it.

Friday was supposed to be field day for the 8th grade.  It rained.  It was cancelled.

It has rained all weekend.

Tomorrow it's going to be in the 50's (cold for this time of year) and raining.

We may run out of school before we run out of bad weather.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Girl Drama

I hate middle school girl drama.

I realize that as a female I was once myself a middle school girl, and although my memories of that era are long ago and quite foggy (probably by choice, middle school is a miserable time), I'm sure I had my share of drama as well.  That doesn't mean I have to like it.  Especially when it's causing so many issues in our classrooms this week.

Remember how good they were for field day?  Well it was a one-time thing, I'm afraid.  Since then we've had fights pop up all over the place, good kids doing the most outrageously stupid things (shooting straightened staples out of click pencils comes to mind), and just general mayhem.

And of course we've had the girl drama.

You gotta like boys.  They get annoyed at someone, they'll duke it out, then shake hands and be best buds afterwards.  It's forgotten.  They move on.  Girls on the other hand will stir the pot over and over and over and over, making threats, telling tales, dragging in other girls and pretty soon you have a team in an uproar.  And Mrs. Eagle's team in an uproar because we're getting "cross-team pollination" between our girls.  Apparently the trash talking starts in their elective classes, where the teams are merged together, then spills over.

It's enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

It got particularly bad on Friday.  Mrs. Social Studies and I had a number of girls request to talk to a guidance counselor about "issues" they were having with other girls.  Unfortunately, guidance was buried in end of the year crap, we were one counselor short, and they had to deal with fall out of actual fights. As far as guidance and the admins were concerned (they'd been mediating all sorts of girl drama that day among other things), if they couldn't get along, and caused trouble, it was a big time write up and it wouldn't be pretty.  So, the girls didn't get called in, and Mrs. Social Studies and I decided to take things in our own hands.  We actually ended up moving kids between our classrooms to separate some of the girls, but felt we needed to take more action.

We yanked a few out in the hallway for some candid discussion, took names, got different sides of the stories, and realized that we had Had It Up To Here with the disruption and the drama.  This is your typical girl drama story:

"Well Girl A is mad at me because she said I stole her boyfriend, but I didn't, he's just a creep, and she told Girl B and Girl B told Girl C and now Girl C and Girl D along with Girl A and Girl B are threatening to jump me and I can't go in your class because Girl A and Girl D are there."

That's just the tip of the iceberg.  Seriously.

By the way, Mrs. Social Studies and I have rooms that are next to each other and have doors that are separated by a mere 14".  When we take kids out in the hall for a chat, and close the doors, it's amazing how well behaved the kids in the rooms are (we can see them through the glass).  Why?  They're desperately trying to hear the conversation.  Cracks me up every time.

So, we called Mr. Math, who has an inclusion teacher during sixth period, and asked if he'd watch our rooms while we went around to the other team classrooms and basically laid it on the line.  We have six days of school left and by golly, they weren't going to make it a living hell for the teachers and other students.  Two of our team classes had subs (who were probably a bit surprised to see the two of us at the door, asking for a minute with the kids), but they seemed really happy to turn the room over to us for a few minutes.  The girls were warned (and so were the boys, we told them the same deal held for them although they've been a lot better behaved than the girls - however, Monday is another day) and as far as everyone is concerned, that was a final warning.

Let's hope it works.  But I'm not placing any bets on it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Field Day? Without a Hitch? Really?

All the seventh grade teachers had been dreading Field Day this year.  After all, our kids have been absolutely wild since we finished The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Testing.  We had a really nice day during testing week, took them outside to blow off steam, and ended up breaking up fights left and right.  (The upside to that was some of our biggest pains in the rear ended up getting suspended for about ten days which was a nice break for everyone.)

So, to say that we were NOT looking forward to Field Day was an understatement.

And now that it's all said and done (on a lovely day in the low 70's with NO TORNADOES), it turned out to be one of the Best. Field. Days. Ever.


These kids, who prior to field day were doing everything in their power to cause drama and stir up fights were actually well behaved.  We had Mrs. Reading's substitute (Mrs. Reading had a baby a few weeks ago) stay inside in a "holding room" where trouble-makers got sent and they could spend the rest of the day reading or doing piles of worksheets.  She had only four customers and these were kids who got sent to her by The Enforcer after doing something stupid at breakfast.

Seriously.  We didn't have to send a single kid in for getting into trouble.  Not.  One.  The Enforcer told me he kept checking the holding room to see how many kids were stacked in there and he was astounded to see that the only kids in there were the ones he'd put in.

What's kind of funny is that after we practically had to threaten kids to sign up for events, we ended up having kids begging to participate (once they saw how fun it was).  We had some new events this year and they were a lot of fun, for both the kids participating and those watching (and some of them were a lot harder than we expected).

So it went off without a hitch.  Which is almost scary considering this group.  We kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and it never did.

But never fear...we may have had a wonderful field day on Friday, but on Monday they were back to their old tricks and they celebrated by having a knock down drag out fight between a couple of our boys in between 2nd and 3rd period.

Counting the days...just counting the days.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Field Day Fiasco

Field Day for the Seventh grade is this Friday.

As long as it doesn't flood, hail, storm, snow, whatever.  Heavens, last year we spent most of field day in a hallway while tornado warning after tornado warning was issued.  Such fun.  So we shall see if the weather holds and we do indeed have field day. (We have a frost warning tonight, of all things.  In May.)

In any case, many of the Seventh Grade teachers have said all along this year that this bunch of kids really, really don't like each other and really, really don't have any team or school spirit.  They are a cantankerous group.  I've often said that individually, most of the kids are pretty good kids, but put them in groups (or classrooms) and you fell like you're on mile 1,999 of a 2,000 mile car trip with six kids who can't stand each other and who've fought the whole way.

It's been that kind of year.

So on Monday I had The Team talk to their homerooms and get kids signed up for Field Day events.  The idea was that I'd take all the names, do a spread sheet in Excel and then make sure that each kid got to do at least one of the events they wanted to do.  (It actually works out pretty well this way.)  Our kids responded pretty well and we ended up fielding pretty full teams for all the events, including some of the new ones the kids were unfamiliar with.  (For the record, everyone wants volleyball, kickball and tug-of-war).  

Mrs. Eagle's team, however, had a different response.  They pulled all the kids together during seventh period on Tuesday and they couldn't get kids to sign up for anything, even the three most popular events.  They were rude, the didn't want to participate, they wouldn't listen, they didn't care.  According to Mrs. Eagle, all they want to do on field day is run around and talk with their friends.  Participating in the actual events wasn't on their agenda.

So, she went and talked with Coach Cool, who pretty much organizes the whole thing, and told him that we might have a problem.  (The fact that we only have two seventh grade teams this year is making it even more difficult, especially since so many of our kids are cross-teamed.  There's not a lot of team identity or spirit like their used to be.)  Mrs. Eagle pretty much said that unless something dramatic happened, they'd probably end up forfeiting all the events because she couldn't get kids to sign up.

So, The Principal, who we also talked to, suggested that on Field Day, Mrs. Eagle's team dismisses the few kids that did sign up to go to the gym and begin the volleyball tournament, whole the teachers keep the rest of the kids back in class and put them to work on something.  She figured that after about an hour of seat work they may actually want to sign up for kickball.

Coach Cool decided to announce that little gem to the PE classes and lo and behold, we had kids crawling out of the woodwork wanting to sign up for events.  I needed only a few kids to fill a few empty spots, and managed to get those filled without any effort.  Mrs. Eagle said kids were practically running to her room to volunteer to sign up.

So I guess, when the alternative is sitting in a classroom doing worksheets all day, or getting out in the sun and maybe actually participating in a little game of tug-of-war, being outside wins.


Monday, May 02, 2011

The Longest Month

I don't know if it's because we lost all our mental health days holidays (due to going over our snow day limit), or if the kids are just more annoying this year, or what, but this is turning out to be the longest 16 1/2 days of my life.

I am not alone.

There probably isn't a staff member on board who isn't just dragging into the building every morning, hoping to make it through the day.  Of course, the nearly constant thunderstorms and tornado sirens aren't doing us any good when it comes to getting a good night's sleep.  But still, we're just dragging.

And even coffee isn't helping.