Saturday, February 20, 2016

Momma of the Year

I had a student assigned to Our Happy Little Portable this week for two days.  She didn't appear on the first day so I marked her absent and sent out my attendance to let everyone know (who bothers to even read my emails) who was supposed to be with me and who was absent.  Within five minutes of sending that out I had one phone call from Coach Fear who said he saw her get off the bus, and another from a social studies teacher who saw her walk down the hall towards the eighth grade wing.

Ten minutes later she was escorted to Our Happy Little Portable by Mrs. Sparrow who later called her back in to work her referral and added an additional two days.  Miss Drama was apparently trying to stir up a fight with another eighth grade girl and decided she hadn't learned her lesson the first time (which is why she ended up with me in the first place).

Mrs. Sparrow called and said that Drama's Momma had expressed the desire to talk to Miss Drama and would most likely swing by after lunch if it was okay with me.  Heck, I don't care.  Our Happy Little Portable has an open door policy and I'm delighted if parents of my inmates students want to come out and visit.

So after lunch I get a call from the front office telling me that Drama Momma had appeared and could she please talk with her daughter?  I, again, said no problem, and she said she'd just drive around back to where our building was and would be there in a bit.  A few minutes later there is a knock on the door and this small, elegantly dressed and very professional looking woman is on my deck.

I told her that I didn't have any privacy for her to speak to her daughter out in Our Happy Little Portable, so if it was okay with her (and it was a halfway nice day), they could simple step out on my deck and have their conversation there.  Drama Momma said that would be "delightful" and so Miss Drama, who is about twice the size of her mother, trudged out onto the deck.

The door closed.

And then the yelling began.

My first thought was "that little woman can certainly give her daughter what for!"...while my second thought was that I better turn up the music so that the kids couldn't hear exactly what she was saying.  Every kid in Our Happy Little Portable was looking up from their work, eyes riveted on the door.  You could almost see the thought bubbles above their head with "Thank God that's not my mom!" written in them.

This went on for fifteen minutes.

During that time I got an email from a teacher asking if I could send a kid in to pick up an assignment.  I informed him that I really didn't want to open our door at this time since there was quite a mother daughter moment on our deck, but I would be sending a kid in as soon as the drama ended.

Finally, there was a knock at the door.  I opened it, Miss Drama trudged back in and went to her seat (madder than a wet hen, truth be told) and Drama Momma reached out, shook my hand, told me how nice it was to meet me and then left.

We were all sort of stunned.  That tiny, little, polite woman was the one that just ripped her daughter up one side and down the other?  Man, what a woman!

Unfortunately, her daughter isn't too bright.  Two hours later when the buses were loading, and I let my kids out to get on their buses, Miss Drama YET AGAIN, tried to start a fight with another girl.

She has been suspended.  I'm sure she's having a wonderful, delightful time at home with her Momma.  I can only imagine the dinner table conversations.

And the best part?  Miss Drama wasn't even attempting to fight the right girl...she's in the middle of a big girl drama and got the wires crossed and was after the wrong person.

Big face slap on that one.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

We Told You So

If you've been one of the two readers of this blog you probably are well aware of the fact that I think this national obsession with testing kids is harmful and I am not a fan.  At all.  The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests have become the focus of education.  Schools are judged on it, teachers are judged on it, and our kids are judged on it.  Sure some testing is necessary, but in My District we seem to test all the freaking time.

Anyway, a few years ago, our State decided to do away with our old format of testing which we did in late April and early May and go with a two part test - a writing test in February and then a more traditional multiple choice sort of test in April and May. (So, you see what you have here?  More testing.)  The kicker was that this was all going to be online.

Really.  The brilliant idea was to test all the kids in the State through the same website on the same day at the same time, more or less.  Now I'm lucky in that my District actually doesn't do too bad when it comes to technology, but for some of our rural districts, this, obviously was an issue.  So millions and millions and millions of tax dollars have been spent to upgrade school technology throughout the state so we could all be ready and able to take The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests online.   Even my district, as ahead of the curve as we were, was going to have to do the testing in stages because we do not have a 1:1 ratio of computers to kids.  My building opted for four days of testing for the sixth graders, then the following week would be seventh, and the week after that, eighth.

Yes, folks, that's three weeks of testing.

We have spent the past two years getting ready for this.  Our tech people have busted their tails to make sure our technology is working.  Our teachers have practiced and practiced and practiced with the kids so they are familiar with the program.  Our kids, many of whom only see computers at school and who are much more familiar with phones and tablets as technology, have practiced and practiced.  I put kids on the computer quite a bit out in my Happy Little Portable, simply to practice their typing skills...because...if they can't type well on this timed test, it will impact their scores (or, as my mother asked, "Is it a test of typing or a test of knowledge?")  If we counted all the hours we put in to practicing for this online test, it would boggle the mind.

So yesterday was The Very First Day of the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test.

Our sixth graders went to their testing locations (because we had to spread them around the building so they wouldn't all hit the same part of the network.)  They opened their laptops.  They signed in.  They began their test.

And within thirty minutes the entire thing blew up.

The servers at the State level just couldn't handle it.  The kids got error messages.  Emails flew back and forth and finally the District got the word from the State level to just Stop The Testing.

Late last night word went out that we will no longer be doing on-line testing this year.  The Commissioner of Education no longer has faith in the outside vendor hired to do the job (and you don't want to know what it cost, truly.)  The finger pointing has begun.  We will be receiving paper and pencil tests - exactly with the same content as the online, but instead of typing, the kids will be writing by hand - sometime this month.  The State will let us know.

Two years ago this month I sat in a meeting at the Capitol with a number of legislators the week after a statewide online writing test was launched for the Eighth Grade Only and it blew up.  That news didn't hit the media.  When we mentioned it to the legislators They Had Not Heard a Thing.  The whole thing seemed to have been hushed up.  And we told them right then and there that the technology wasn't there to do this thing on a statewide scale.  And they didn't listen.

So.  I told you so.

And you know what makes me the angriest?  That we have wasted so much time on this stupid online test and our kids are learning to absolutely hate school.

It's the kids I feel sorry for.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Middle School Bartender

One of the few talents I do have in this world is that I am apparently a good listener.  I say apparently because I'm also quite the talker, and those are usually mutually exclusive.  Yet for some reason I always get kids (and now, young adults) who like to talk to me, tell me their problems, vent their frustrations, and sometimes spill their guts.

There is not a day that goes by that I'm not listening to some kid's story about life's injustices, the mean girls in school, the basketball play that went awry, or the fact that mom got arrested again.  I hear it all.  So much so that the Guidance Goddess once remarked that I'm like the middle school bartender...the kids sidle up to my desk and spell their guts.

I'm just not handing out drinks.  Although sometimes I may need to go home and have one of my own.

Today was no exception.

My Happy Little Portable is in the parking lot next to the end of the 8th grade hallway so I get anywhere from half a dozen to about ten eighth graders who drop by in the morning to eat breakfast and talk.  One of my regulars is Sparkle Girl who I had last year (and I thought hated my guts like her older brother did about nine years ago).  This family has issues - no dad in the picture, mom has major health problems and can't work, and is hearing impaired so communication is with the older brother who is more or less acting like the parent for Sparkle and her adorable little brother who is in sixth grade.  Sparkle has potential.  Lots of potential.  What she doesn't have is food.  She mentioned, off hand while eating her free breakfast, that they had run out of food in the house last night so all she'd get to eat was what she was getting at school.

And this isn't the first time I've heard this.  I had arranged a few months ago for her and the little brother to get on our FUEL free food bag program, but the bags don't go out until Fridays and I wasn't sure when the EBT card would arrive for these kids and who would actually be able to go shopping with it, especially if older brother was away working.  So, I made some calls and got an extra food bag sent home.  It's not much, but it's something.

Then Guidance calls and asks if one of my kids from last year, Waif Girl, could spend the day.  Waif was having a BAD day due to social media bullying, which is really just the tip of the ice berg with her.  Mom hasn't paid the bills in a while so the power and water has been shut off, mom is staying with some "friends", and Waif has been staying with a friend and his mom for a few weeks.  Mom isn't being really good at checking in with Waif, so it sounds like she's been more or less dumped and abandoned.  Waif wanted to be out with me, away from most of the other kids, and after collecting her assignments came out and spilled her guts and did her work.  Again, another kid with an amazing amount of potential but the grown ups in her life aren't acting like grown ups.

Then my phone starts to buzz and it's Skater Squirt, who is now 23, complaining about his boss (who is really the winner of the lucky sperm award and wouldn't have a business if it wasn't for daddy's money).  Skater Squirt texts me about his frustrations on a job he was working on today (having to wait on a contractor, the order was messed up, the boss measured wrong again, etc.) I text back during my planning and convince him that the world isn't going to end, and maybe it's time to revisit that application for the fire department he was talking about.

And then, when I wasn't acting like a therapist, I was trying to get kids to do their work, dealing with 8th grade math issues (I hate 8th grade math), and trying not to lose my patience with a kid who wanted to get suspended in the worst way.

So I'm the Middle School bartender....come tell me your story.