Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rasping Along

There are times that things just work out PERFECT.

For example, my father visited last week, during the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests, and while he was here he had a bit of a relapse on the cold he had the week before.

My sore throat didn't start until the afternoon after our last test was done.  Seriously.  It is like it waited until all that garbage was over with and now it's here.  And lucky me, all my plans are done, all grades entered, I didn't bring home a single piece of school work to do (first time in MONTHS).  So, I'm going to sit here, be lazy, nap, drink lots of tea with lemon and honey and hope this doesn't get too bad.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This Time It Counts

The Volunteer State has put into action a number of education reforms over the past few years, some good, some bad, and some we're still trying to figure out.

This year, for the first time ever, the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests actually Count For a Grade.

Let me say that again in case you just bashed your head onto the keyboard in shock - This Year For The First Time Ever, The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests Actually Count for a Grade.

We're not exactly sure how this is all going to play out.  This year the score counts as 15% of the spring semester grade.  Our last test is Friday, and the last day of school is May 22, so that's not a lot of time for the tests to get processed and some scores sent back to us.  The Principal said to "be prepared for anything."  Our traditional promotion and retention meetings are pretty much out the window until the scores come because it probably will make the difference in passing and failing for some kids.  We've been asked to sort of have a list of kids "on the border" to keep an eye on should they either pass or fail once the scores have entered.

Now, we have been telling the kids this (and the parents) over and over and over all year.  No more just sitting there and bubbling in Christmas Tree designs on your form.  It counts.  No more finishing in ten minutes.  It counts.  No more napping during the test.  Because, you see, It Counts.

Amazingly enough, I still received a few parent emails from parents who either don't read the paper, listen to the news, pay attention to The School Newsletter, don't read my emails, or basically have their heads in the sand so deep that it just now dawned on them that their darling may not make it this year due to The Test.  These are, for the most part, parents I've been poking and prodding and cajoling and calling and basically trying to get them to PARENT FOR GOODNESS SAKE! but they just couldn't seem to get it together enough to make a parent meeting, sign an agenda, or return a phone call.

Really.  And now, they're worried?  They should have been worried when I made that first phone call last fall.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It. Is. Here.

We start the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Testing Extravaganza tomorrow.

Oh.  Yay.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mind Your Manners!

At The School we've always had an open door policy when it comes to parents.  If they want to come sit in class and watch their cherub, we're cool with that.  In fact, we often welcome the visit even though the cherub in question often behaves differently when there's a parent in the room.  (My favorite is when they hide out in Guidance and watch their kid's behavior through the glass windows.  It's amazing what these kids will do when they don't think a grown up is watching.)  I've had a number of parents through the years, and even The Dude From the Hood, but the numbers aren't high - maybe a couple a year at most.

In any case, we got a letter in our box the other day outlining a new "Parent Visitation Policy" that parents had to read and sign before they could go sit in a classroom.  In a nutshell it says that they are not allowed to have a cell phone out and text or make calls while they are in their child's classroom and they are in no way allowed to interrupt or interfere with instruction.

My first thought, when I read this, was "Wow, someone must have been doing just this or The Principal wouldn't have come up with this in the first place."

And that just blew my mind.  The parents I've had in my classroom, including the Dude from The Hood, were awesome.  They sat in a seat I'd pointed out for them and were quiet the whole time.  I found out later that day that apparently I was lucky.  Most of our parents, lately, haven't been so quiet.

Mr. Math informed me about one parent he had who texted the whole time she was in his room (which, of course, got the kids more interested in the fact that she had a cell phone out and was using it than what was going on in math class).   Another teacher told me about a parent who would loudly stage whisper to her kid the entire time, to the point that she had to pointedly ask her to be quiet (it didn't work).  And that was just the tip of the iceberg, apparently.

It's sad, really, that this policy has to be put in place.  It just goes to show that manners, even in My Beloved South, are going the way of the dinosaur.  I mean, really?  Texting while you're supposed to be watching your kid?  What kind of message does that send.  (Let me make it easy for you - it means that whatever you're texting about is more important than your kid - and they figure this out really quick.)  Interrupting class because you can't be quiet?  (The apple doesn't fall far, apparently.)

Again, I think a class on manners would be a wonderful thing for kids in elementary and middle school.  And sadly, we need one for the parents as well.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Give Me a Little Space Here...

My sixth period has a total of 31 kids.  Now, that may not seem all that much to some of you, but if you saw how big - rather, how little - my room is, you can see that there may be a bit of a space issue.  I have seven round tables of four, which gives us 28 seats, plus some typical student desks ("Isolation Island"), so I can, barely, cram 33 in there.  That includes every single seat in the room, including one at the PowerSchool computer, occupied. And at that, the kids are practically on top of each other and there's not a whole lot of elbow room or space between seats. (And to make it more fun, there are six special ed kids, two gifted, one with some odd emotional issues, and a lot of just low achievers.  It's a real trip.)

People often walk into my room and go "How on earth do you fit 31 kids in here?"

I'm wondering that myself.

However, what's really odd about this class of 31 is that there are three boys who have decided that they need to Sit As Close To The Teacher As Possible.  This means that there are two boys sitting at my actual desk (one in my chair, another on a stool, they rotate every day), and another sitting on another stool by my computer.

I'm not sure what prompted this or brought it on.  Two of them Are Pains In the Neck (usually) who probably should be close to the teacher anyway.  The other just likes to be up there for some reason.  A few months ago, Bouncy Boy (a little thing wound up like a top with ADHD like you wouldn't believe) asked if he could sit at my desk.  I was at the point where I was willing to try ANYTHING to get him quiet, and to focus, and to get him away from some other low-achievers in the room, so I said that he could as long as he behaved.

He behaved. He did his work.  He handed me things I needed for instruction.  He was an angel.  I don't know if sitting up there has anything to do with it, but he's doing much better now.

Another one decided that he really, really wanted to help me run the computer when I do Brainpop and PowerPoints, and he really, really wanted to sit on my teacher stool (kind of like a barstool, a bit taller than a chair).  Well, it worked for Bouncy Boy so I gave it a try.  Same results.  He's doing better.

And then the third one, who's usually a pretty good kid wanted to sit on the stool by Bouncy Boy.  I was a little hesitant at first, but I said they could as long as they behaved, and they would have to switch back and forth and share the chair and stool, which they've done.  He's doing better now.

So, I'm a bit out of my comfort zone here as I've got one kid on one side of me, and two on the other.  I also tend to walk around the room a lot so now I'm having to squeeze by them every time I move from my document reader out to circulate around the classroom (which they don't seem to mind, we've got a routine down now.)   It must look incredibly odd to see these three kids working at my desk and teacher station, but honestly, as long as I get results out of them, I'm happy.

What has me wondering...why is it so important for these three to be so close to the teacher?  Are they that starved for attention and affection at home that this is the only way they get any?  I know some of them have rather, shall we say, testy relationships with their parents.  (Honestly, find me a parent of a seventh grade boy who isn't frustrated and exasperated...)  But really...does make me wonder.  Are we just raising a generation of kids starved for human contact and attention?

In the meantime, while I ponder these great things, I'll just learn to deal with feeling a little cramped and confined and appreciate that these three young men are finally doing better in science.  Even if it's something as silly as sitting at my desk that's doing it.

Whatever it takes...

Monday, April 02, 2012

When We're Doing a Lesson on Disruption and Disobedience, it's Not a Good Idea to be Disruptive or Disobedient

Really now.

After a week off for Spring Break (spent doing yard work, napping, taxes, napping, reading, napping, knitting and napping), we were back at it today.  We're at the point in the year where it's one big long countdown until the end of the year.  And the fact that it feels like the end of the year - with record-breaking temperatures in the 80's - doesn't help.

So The Principal had the idea, and it's really a good one, to go over and review with our kids the SWPBS expectations and see what we were doing and what needed to be improved upon.  She admitted we probably should have done this right after Christmas, but it sort of got dropped due to a whole number of things (namely, her surgery and a lot of flu, plus the fact that the new teacher evaluation system means you can't find an administrator with a search warrant as they're doing classroom observations every waking hour of the day.)

The lesson and activity were actually quite good, and quite interesting - I think it's important for the kids to see where we are doing well and where we aren't, and to brainstorm and discuss why.  However, doing this for 60 straight minutes was not a good idea.  It's hard to keep 7th graders involved in anything for more than about 20 minutes without having to mix things up.  The hour would perhaps have been better spent broken into three 20 minute blocks rather than one straight hour.


The data shows that the biggest number of discipline referrals, about 50% of our total, come from disruption and disobedience.  (One of the things I liked about this was we discussed what disruptions and disobedience mean when it comes to academics - the kids, some of them, figured out that this hurts everyone's learning when someone is disruptive or disobedient.).

Interestingly, when the seventh grade teachers were at lunch, we all commented on three things than ran through our homerooms this morning while we spent the hour teaching about How Bad Disruptions and Disobedience Are to All of Us.

First, when asked for an example of a disruption, nearly every class had at least several kids who called out - by name! - at least one little pill in each class that is, well, truthfully, a disruptive pain in the neck.  In my homeroom it's Arrogant Boy who thinks He's All It And A Bag of Chips, but who's really starting to annoy the bloody hell out of everyone.  He, however, thinks he's cute and adorable and doesn't see that everyone is starting to get annoyed with him.  At all.  He's completely clueless and thinks we're all just "picking on him".  Right.

Second, in every class there was at least one kid who asked, "why are we taking time to learn this?" and as luck would have it, there was always one little knucklehead doing something he/she wasn't supposed to be doing, and all we had to do was point and say, "Well, see knucklehead over there if you want any further explanations as to why we're doing this."  Oh.  They got that.

Third, the kids were wild.  Absolutely awful.  Here we are, trying to go over the plan, talk about expectations, blah, blah, blah, and they were doing exactly everything we said not to!  To be fair, it wasn't all of them, just a few.  I moved three of mine to isolation seats, and pulled them aside after the others left and asked them why they were moved. (One, of course, was Arrogant Boy.)

"Uh, because we were disruptive and disobedient?" said Arrogant Girl (a good friend of Arrogant Boy - what a pair.)

"Good answer," I said, "What do you think your parents are going to say when I tell them about you being disruptive and disobedient during a lesson on - surprise! - disruptions and disobedience?"

"They're going to be mad," said Arrogant Boy.  He's right his mother was NOT happy.  In fact, none of these parents were happy and all three apologized for their progeny's behavior.

It's going to be a long 34 1/2 days.  Really long.