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Updated: 2018-02-21T03:37:07.860-08:00

 



I'm Not As Senile As I Look

2013-04-07T22:44:37.932-07:00

I had the most bizarre conversation with one of my high school students on Friday.

First a little background:

He's new to my class this semester, and all I know about him is that he is off to a bad start. On the first night, he had the audacity sit with another boy and talk while I was trying to lead them through a lesson. There are only 15 students in that class! Boy, this isn't one of those overloaded classes at a day high school where one kid whispering to another in a class of 45 is more easily overlooked. Duh!

In two weeks, he's turned in one assignment and missed three days of school. When he's there, he is still more inclined to goof off.

So, he came to class on Friday, after being gone for two days and greeted me by saying, "Miss! You're on time today!"

"Uhm, yeah. I have a class before this. I'm always on time. Do you mean that I'm in the hallway between classes today?"

"No, Miss!" He smiled at me, "Sometimes you're late. Last time we had to wait outside the class for like 10 minutes."

Clearly he was confused. "No, seriously, I have a class just before this one. I'm always one time." I did not mention that I'm on time to my previous class, too, because I'm paranoid about being caught in rush hour traffic, and so I leave early enough that I'm usually on campus 30 minutes before my class starts. And then, if I'm not in my classroom when the bell rings, it literally takes me 1 minute to get there from anywhere else on campus.

This kid was adamant that I am sometimes late to class, and that recently, I made them wait outside the class for 10 minutes until I arrived.  Was he just confused? The monitor stands outside my classroom between classes. She would cover my class if I were really late, but honestly if that were to truly happen, the principal would cover my class. We're a small school. He sees everything!

"You must have mistaken me for someone else," I finally told him, trying to end this strange debate with the student.

"No, Miss--"

"Dude! What have you been smoking?" That was the problem, wasn't it? The kid had to have been high. He didn't look particularly different, but what do I know about his regular expressions and behaviors?

"No, Miss. It was you."

"Yeah, okay. Whatever."

That conversation just made me dumber.

Seriously, though. He really believed his own story!






To Meet

2013-01-30T21:52:23.520-08:00

It's kind of strange when we teachers are pulled from our classrooms to attend trainings, isn't it? In other industries, it makes sense to take from the contracted time to receive training, and as thankful as I am to not have to spend more of my personal time to receive more training, it is frustrating to be out of my classroom.

I drew the short straw among the 8th grade English teachers, and tomorrow I will be out of my classroom for a few hours for a meeting on how to have better meetings.

What?

Really?

Indeed, this is exactly what I need. I need another meeting.  I will hold out for hope that it will indeed help in making meetings more productive. I would really like to get some wasted time back.








Surviving

2012-12-16T23:12:09.680-08:00

Stupid Christmas on a Tuesday this year! I still have another week of school. I'm going to be on survival mode for sure!

It just so happens that my students are working on a survival project. The other English teacher found it, and it's basically one of those lessons where students are given a scenario where only a few people can survive, so they have to try to figure out who it should be. Age-old, right? I remember doing something like it in high school with a moon colony theme, and I am pretty sure I did something like this in my early years of teaching. Maybe with an island theme? Well, she's found one with a zombie theme, and we've made it into full-blown interdisciplinary research project with the science department.

I heard some interesting thinking and conversation earlier last week, but by Friday the kids were so wound up, I was seriously doubting the quality of presentations we will have next week. I don't know if the rain had them wound up, and if it felt like we should be going to break already. (I say that because my body clock says it's time for a break!)

Oh please, please, please, dear students, work hard in the next two days to firm up your ideas and create a compelling presentations with your arguments of who should stay to build a new civilization and who should go and probably die from a zombie virus. Please do not make me regret having a collaborative project in the days before Winter Break. Seriously. This project sets the tone for next semester.

Oh, oh, oh! Did I mention that this project is also a type of survival challenge? It's true. We've struggled with wifi issues in trying to do research. In this pilot iPad program program, we are still finding ourselves woefully short on connectivity. My students and I are pretty used to this on-going challenge, but as if we were on some sick survival show, as the end of the day on Friday, I found out that students will need to surrender their iPads for a full day sometime this week for updating.

So, dear children, here's your own survival scenario! You're given a in-depth project, which requires research, peer collaboration, and a persuasive presentation. You know there will obstacles. Oh, you got this, aye? We'll see! Here's a roadblock--You watch the Amazing Race, right?--you will need to surrender your devices either on the last day of research or the first day of your presentation. What will you do? Your grade depends on it. Go!

See what I mean?

Survival.



Time

2012-12-15T05:16:46.191-08:00

Last month I met up with some of my writing project colleagues at a special Friday session during the National Writing Project's Annual Meeting. I was sitting between two women whom I admire very much, one has survived cancer twice, and the other one was in the middle of surviving being a co-chair for our local NCTE, whose members worked so very hard to with the Annual Convention that was held her in Las Vegas. I cannot even begin to tell you how both of them inspiration both of them are as teachers as women.

The co-chair and I were commiserating over our lack of time, amount of preps, stacks of papers, number of inane correspondences we had to answer to from parents and administration, and the struggles of just taking care of our families. (Obviously, I had nothing on her this month!)

Of course, the other lady, who has some refreshing perspective on life after having faced critical illness twice--the last just a year ago--could absolutely relate, except her children are college-aged now. In the middle of our conversation, she pointed asked us, "But when do you have time to write?"

Ouch. When do I have time to write? That was like a dagger to my spleen.

I don't have time to write.

Sometimes I don't have time to read.

Sometimes I don't get enough sleep.

Two weeks ago, I was at an iPad trainer's training (like I needed to take on anything else this year), and we were talking about blogging in the classroom.

"Who blogs?" asked the trainer.

Ouch. A twist of dagger, reminding that it had been stuck there for a few weeks. I used to blog. I want to blog again.

Technically, I am not any busier than I ever have been. A few years ago, while I was getting 4 hours a sleep a day while working on my master's degree, I still found a moment or two to write. I fully realize that I am actually busier than I used to be, as the work load, which does not seem to be more really is. You know, it's that little trick, where each year just one more responsibility (or stupid paperwork) is added, or another  5 students are added to each class period, which ends up being another 35 students I didn't have to grade or document last year, and the next thing you know, I'm in deeper than ever.

But when do I have time to write?

Or read other bloggers? Yes, I really enjoy that!

When?



Simple Apps Are Best

2012-09-30T16:00:30.398-07:00

I did not have my students use their iPads a lot last week. It's not like I totally gave up...but I was gung-ho on teaching my research unit, which I always believe to be something that should be reviewed at the beginning of the year, but with connectivity issues, my colleague, Mrs. E. and I decided to go ahead with the novel we would normally do about this time of year. Research will be pushed back a bit.

We had school-based testing to complete this week, and I showed the students Discovery Education's The Clone Age to scaffold for The House of the Scorpion, so we just did not break iPads out much.

I did try to use Socrative to do the pre-reading anticipation guide. I thought it would be a fun way to start some discussion when we could see a chart of everyone's responses. Of course, we had wi-fi issues, and our district's Internet, in general, was sluggish for a few days, so it was not as much fun as I thought it would be. I tried to get students to discuss a bit despite the technology fail, but everyone really wanted to try to the program to work so they could answer the questions, so many were distracted. Yeah. I caused that distraction.  Oy!

On a happier note, Mrs. E. and thought that we might be able to incorporate more vocabulary this year with the vocabulary text we have. It tends to consume so much of our class, and we don't have enough books to send home (and have them come back so we can use them for year to year), so it's tough when it takes them a whole class period--and maybe more to copy down their words to they can study--that's not even the time to work with the exercises! With the shortage of paper, it wasn't like I was going to make copies either. PLUS, I always thought that it was best to have them create notecards so they could practice at home. So, anyway, we found that Quizlet  already had the vocabulary from out text loaded. Furthermore, Quizlet had a few other games/activities that student could play, including one where the definition is presented to them, and students have to type the word. Yeah! Spelling practice, too!

Okay, so seriously. It's not that big of deal, right? Well, we had a bunch of students saying how much it helped them--they would just come up to us out of the blue to tell us, too! The proof is in the pudding. I took a little poll where I asked who used it and who thought it helped them prepare for the quiz we took on Friday. Nearly all hands shot up. After the quiz, I asked a few students who had bombed the quiz if they used Quizlet, and NOT ONE OF THEM had. Except for those fools, the students did really well on the quiz, and they were quite proud of themselves.

I know I'm hardly tapping into any higher thinking skills here, but you know, the iPad is a tool, and we found some use with it last week. Maybe it's going to be baby steps for me.



iPads Transform Learning, right?

2012-09-22T07:37:42.356-07:00

This was the longest week ever!My school was chosen for a 1:1 iPad program. This was the first week that students had them, and was it a crazy week! I was disappointed to see that the students did not receive the Gumdrop cases that they are suppose to get (lost in a typhoon somewhere?) and the lightweight silicone covers on the back offer little protection. I've been freaked out watching how some handle their iPads. Okay, just trying to ignore...When we teachers initially received our training, the district trainers, one of whom piloted a program in him classroom last year, suggested that we try for 2 days a week of usage in our classrooms. Most teachers at my school jumped right in and have been using them everyday. Some are more innovative than others, and I can honestly say that I have not used mine in much of an innovative manner. I haven't been using QR codes to send my students on an exciting adventure, and I haven't had them record movies of their vocabulary words. I'm just no fun at all.I was particularly excited on the day we were reviewing how to create interesting leads, and instead of having them copy down a day's lecture of notes, I sent them PDF files that they imported into Notability. I went over a few of the common lead types and warned them of pitfall--like how asking stupid questions as a lead is not an effective approach--but for most of the class period students were working on answering the question, "What are the qualities of a good lead." I should preface that they also brought in interesting first lines from novels, so they could steal ideas from writers, as often the same techniques can be used in fiction and expository writing.It worked out so well that I could give them materials, without maxing out my 1500-copy-a-month limit and time to do inquiry.  The students nailed in on the head with describing what makes great leads. Unfortunately 25% of them were not able to create interesting leads for their own essays, so that was a bummer that it did not sink in...I guess iPads cannot solve everything.As cool as that one day lesson was, it failed on so many levels because not all of my students were able to connect to the wi-fi to grab the materials I sent to them. EPIC FAIL. In my 2nd period class, students are typically never able to connect. In my 3rd period class, about halfway through the class students are able to connect. That was the pattern for most of the week, except on Friday when my 3rd period class, which is my biggest and rowdiest, could never connect.The wi-fi issue has concerned to us since the first day we heard that we were getting this program. We had a 1:1 laptop program with the magnet students a few years back (we've since put those on laptop carts that all teachers take turns using), so technology is not a new thing in our school. We are all too well aware of the PITA it is to use technology that will not connect to the Internet. We were assured that things would be beefed up.Well, I'd like to know, where's the beef? Although I can think on my feet when technology fails, I'm finding it so much more challenging with the iPads. With the laptops, when the wi-fi won't work with random students, I've learned to hard connect students to Ethernet ports, of which I created stations with cords for all 8 of my extra ports. I could send materials with a simple USB drive if needed. With iPads having no connectors and converters that work with these two methods, I can't even begin to troubleshoot my own problems like I have in the past.We need the stupid wi-fi to work. Honestly, I'm ready to leave the Mac Cult after this week, but I'm obviously so entrenched, there's no way out. It's only week one. Maybe things will get better. I was ready to jump into my research unit next week. I recorded some of my lectures so I could flip my classroom, and I had great activities planned to get kids researching on topics they would choose as we learned the ins an[...]



Am I Ready?

2012-08-23T19:03:54.791-07:00

Most years, I am in a panic to get everything ready for school. I have one more work day, which will be half-filled with meetings, and I could feasibly work over the weekend if needed, but honestly, I'm pretty ready to go. I have everything I need to start the first week. I even have copies made.

That's right, at this moment, I'm pretty relaxed. Am I such a pro, or am I totally deluded?

I'm pretty sure I'm deluded.



Not in Public

2012-07-19T14:42:00.090-07:00

My 11 year-old son and I went shopping for school clothes today, and when we were nearly finished we stopped to have lunch. I rarely go out with just one of the children, but I decided a little one-on-one time would be good for the kids, and for my sanity.

You see, they love each other dearly, but they fight and bicker. Oy!

One of the major activities they have been doing this summer is going to the community swimming pool, which is nice enough that it also has come slides. It's good for them to get out of the house, and I love them better when I don't have to listen to them all day long.

But, wait! Am I subjecting others to their drama?

So in casual conversation, I asked my son, "How are you and your sister doing a the pool? Do you get along, or do you fight?"

He shook his head like I was nutty and replied, "No, we get along."

"But not at home?"

He shook his head.

"Well, what the difference?" I asked him.

"That's public. We aren't going to fight in public." Again, the look that makes me think I'm crazy.

Well, isn't that bittersweet?

They know enough to act right in public, but it's absolutely okay to make my life miserable in the sanctuary of my home?

This parenting business is complicated.



Soliciting Guilt

2012-07-18T09:02:26.319-07:00

It's only mid-July, and stores are already selling school supplies. Eep! I suppose I better get to it.

At few stores last week, I was solicited to donate supplies or money at the checkout for students in need. While I think this is a wonderful idea, and a cause close to my heart, I do not want to donate. At one store, I swear the lady at the checkout gave me a funny look like, "How could you be so cruel, woman? Just buy a $1 pack of pencils to add to the box!" It might have been my guilty imagination. I don't know.

I could have said, "Oh, I just spent $30 on basic supplies for my classroom at the teachers supply store. Please don't judge. Plenty of my paycheck goes to the children." I didn't, though. Sometimes I just like to be a normal person.

Perhaps donating that pack of pencils might have curtailed the lack of pencils students will have in my classroom. Unlikely, though. Las Vegas is huge, and I was technically in Henderson, which is miles and miles from where I teach. Of course, my magnet students are bussed around from everywhere. Naw. Still unlikely.

Will I end up buying that extra pack of pencils this year for the kids?  You betcha. I'll contribute to my  own cause. You'll find extra pencils--and paper, erasers, markers, colored pencils, stickers, glue, tape, staples, notebooks, folders--in my classroom closet.

Phew. Okay. I don't have to feel guilty for not helping the kids.



No Rest for the Wicked or the Teachers

2012-06-08T22:17:49.642-07:00

Summer Break is finally here!

I think I just finished my 14th year, or maybe it was my 15th? I don't know. Time kind of blends together. Princess Diana died the week I started teaching. It was a long time ago!

Today was one of those time warp things where it really felt like just another year when I am packing up my classroom like I'm having to leave, but alas, no, I am just putting things away for the summer. Is it true that I won't have the Sunday Blues? No stacks of papers? No more endless meetings?

I wish.

Early Monday morning, I have a training on iPads in the classroom. It's kind of mandatory training, but then it's not really because my contract is finished, but since we are going to a 1:1 iPad program next year, this is the first in a few trainings. Apparently, at this training I will receive my iPad, so at least there's that--oh, and it is a paid training. Honestly, there are multiple sessions in the next few weeks for my school and others who were accepted into this special grant program, and as you can see, I picked the FIRST one after school ended. Let's get this "mandatory" training over with. Let's try to stretch out my summer, shall we?

Oh, never mind. I'm also taking three online professional development courses this month. They should be short and easy to finish. I took two of them in the last month while I was working my regular 60 hours a week, so I think I have this handled. I hope.

By June 22, I be completely ready for a break, and in fact, I'll be hittin' the road. As in the past, I take the entire month of July off from anything work-related. Just a few more weeks, and I'm going to totally take a break.

I promise.



Rites of Passage

2012-06-02T10:13:24.690-07:00

One of the units in the Spanish class that many of my students take is about rites of passage. Of course, learning about the quinceañera is rite of passage that kicks off this idea that many, many cultures go through rites of passage.

Although my students may not fully realize it, they are going through a series of passages themselves this week as they end their time in middle school. This past Wednesday, we had awards night to celebrate our top students. Friday was the semi-formal dance for 8th graders only, and on the last day of school, after we usher all 6th and 7th graders off campus, we'll celebrate 8th graders being promoted to high school in a short ceremony in the gym.

All of these occasions give students opportunities to dress in their best clothing, something that shows more style than their standard blue and gray polo shirts. With the boys in combed hair and pressed shirts and the girls in their impossibly high heels, I start to image what they might look like four years from now as they graduate high school--or sometimes I even imagine them after college in their successful careers and as caring parents to small children. I'm no fortune teller, but sometimes I feel as if I can see the people they will become. It's pretty exciting!

Some of the students do not realize what a special time this week is for them. Many had no desire to attend the dance, to wear something nice and spend time with their friends. A few are balking at having to attend the promotion ceremony, which is also optional. I'm sympathetic to their feelings on this time, as I am not the type of person who enjoys a big to-do either. Perhaps these moments are partially for loved ones to celebrate the rites of passages for our young ones. If nothing else, I do hope my students are reflecting back on their time--briefly--and looking forward to the adventures that await them.

I know that middle school completion is not that big of a deal. Seriously, what does completing middle school get a young person? Not much. A ticket to high school? Uhm...wahoo? Oh, for most of my students, their success in middle school has opened opportunities to better high schools, but ultimately, finishing middle school is really not that big of a deal in the scope of life.

If we're talking about the scope of life, the long road, the journeys, the quests, why celebrate the little successes along the way? Why not embrace the celebrations?

I know some of my students balk at the idea of this week being a rite of passage for them, while others are too well aware, and maybe a little more freaked out or emotional than usual. Whatever it is to them, I hope they will accept the handshakes and hugs and just enjoy the moment.





Stupid Memorial Day

2012-05-28T20:49:15.827-07:00

I love and hate Memorial Day.

First of all, let me say that I am so grateful for servicemen that this holiday celebrates. My feelings for this holiday have nothing to do with its true purpose.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, right? Warm weather, barbecues, sun, and fun. As a teacher, summer is even more than that. Summer means no work less work. Wahoo!

Only...wait...I still have two weeks of work until my definition of summer begins.

Every year, it's the same story. I am so thankful when Memorial Day rolls around because it has been a long time since Spring Break, and I am just tired. It is always a blissful weekend of relaxation. This Memorial Day, I had absolutely no papers to grade, and no lesson planning to do. I read 2 books, hung out with my family, and also had time for some friends, too. Ah...life has been good!

As I was sitting on the patio this evening, after a delicious beer butt chicken dinner, I lamented to a friend that my mind and body are already of summer break, but I still have 9 days of work. Nine days of final projects, reviews, final exams, packing up my classroom for summer storage, cleaning up a year's worth of memories and learning, and worst of all, 8 of those nine days include restless students whose mind and bodies have told them it's time for summer, too.

Stupid Memorial Day. Such a damn tease for what life can be like if I can endure just a few more days.



New Adventures?

2012-05-28T20:20:36.700-07:00

It was almost a week ago that I chided myself for not writing more often. I decided that because there are so many changes coming my way that this would be a good time to pick up the old blog again. Do people even blog still, or do I really need to do something more cutting edge? I see in my feeds that some of my old friends are still writing away, so that is a good sign!Next year, there will be exciting changes at my school. Some good...some bad...all potential for new adventures I've told myself.Our school was chosen to do a 1:1 iPad program. Very cool, right? We used to have a 1:1 laptop program in our magnet program, but my entire school is not magnet, so it was a little different. This is school-wide. I've had mixed feelings about this all along, and a few years ago, I struggled with its use in the classroom and decided that since it was a such a personal device, it was hard to use just one in the classroom. I have tried it a few times with my low-level ELL high school students, but it is difficult to find apps that are appropriate to their maturity. My trepidation this time relates back to my experiences with our 1:1 laptop program, when in reflection, I realized that we have to be careful that we are not using technology to novelty's sake but as a tool to help students learn. For example, students are often so obsessed with the product of their project--like how cool it looks--that they skimp on the content and quality. Or, what about administrators hound us to use certain programs that are not more effective than what I have to offer as a teacher? I know how to deal with the students, but the administrators are trickier for sure! I have already been exploring, and I have district training this summer, so the adventure has already begun!I made it through one year of Common Core Standards. It was pretty "exciting" last fall when it was dumped out our laps, along with a new district website where we were mandated to do our lesson planning. I kind of blew it off, as we have gone through several years of new and revised standards, and in the end I was always teaching English. My administrator claimed that these new standards would help us align more to IB standards. Since I have been complaining for years how complicated it is to align IB ideals with testing mania standards, I really wanted to believe her. So how did it all work out? I still do not understand the hype, but it has been easier working with these standards than some that have come before.I'm still excited about IB. Although, I've been teaching in an IB program for years, it is a complicated program to use in a public school obsessed with testing. Some years I really tried, but I was ill-prepared and floundering alone. This year we had a theme coordinator who was out of her classroom for half the day to assist us, and we really focused on assessments. I was one of the few in my department--and maybe across the school--who was using IB assessment, but then after I attended specific training on it last spring, it really had to walk the walk. Between that at CCSS, things have been pretty rigorous in my classroom, and that is the way I like it! I'm looking forward to refining next year. I drink the IB kool-aid. Might as well enjoy it.We are losing so many teachers next year, and I'm so bummed. We are slated to lose 7 positions at our school, but half of those were unfilled from last year anyway. No, I'm losing dear friends, and it will change the dynamics the 8th grade and of our school. In the 8th grade, we are losing our algebra teacher of 5 years (leaving education entirely...) and our department chair, the one of who had a way with the way-ward pre-algebra students and who had been at our school longer than anyone, passed away sudden[...]



One Obstacle Down

2012-02-18T11:02:00.560-08:00

Last week was a big week on campus, as the 8th graders took their state writing exams. I bumped into a 7th grade reading teacher in the office, and she told me that one of our 8th grades said that she could now check that off her 8th grade checklist. That's right--it is a kind of rite of passage!

For years the 8th grade exam was a narrative or descriptive writing that students had two English class periods to complete. Last year, we were all thrown into chaos it was changed to resemble the high school exam, which is two prompts to be written in one testing session--and one of the prompts would most assuredly be some type of expository writing. I nearly wore myself out trying to get students ready. The rest of the department joined in with focusing less on narrative and more on expository, along with increasing stamina. Two essays in one sitting is brutal!

This year, along with the Common Core hysteria, we 8th grade teachers found ourself slammed with yet another new format to the state writing exam: one "task" to be written online. To make matters worse, the state did not release any practice prompts or exemplars. In fact, this year is a pilot year for this test, and it does not count toward our AYP, but that is something that we do not mention to our students. Sure, it may not count on any official paper work, but there will still be plenty of people looking at our scores, so it's really business as usual as far as I'm concerned.

With a lack of direction from the state, except for character count (2,000 maximum), and potential modes of writing to be tested (narrative, expository, and argumentative), I did the opposite of worry. I just taught good writing the best way I know how. In fact, I didn't even worry about the exam until the few weeks before, particularly when I realized just how short 2,000 really is. My goodness, in this case, if I taught only to the test, my students would be horrible writers!

Most of the students appeared to do pretty well on the exam. Because it was done on the computer, I was more clearly able to see their writing as I was walking around monitoring the test. I hated that part! Anyway, I harped on a few points, and I observed most of them no making the critical errors I warned them about, so I am actually pretty anxious to get their scores back, which won't be for months, so see if they did as well as I think they did.

For now, it's back to teaching. Only now we have the state reading exam coming up, so it's time for me to abandon my regular teaching for teaching for the test. I can't wait finished with that next obstacle!



Technology Transforms My Classroom

2012-05-26T05:06:11.421-07:00

Although I am interested in using technology in the classroom, I know that I am way beyond the true visionaries. Even still...I keep plugging along.At the beginning of the year I started using Edmodo, which is kind of like a school Facebook, with my classes. Unlike other platforms I have tried, like my district's teacher webpage system, I have been faithful in posting my daily assignment to Edmodo. In the evenings, when I am night school, I log on to check to see if anybody has any questions. What I find is that usually if the students post a question to the class, someone will usually answer it. I like that sense of community very much!I also like that I can upload documents for students to view on their own. In an age when funds are tight and I am limited to the number of copies I can make, anything that I can upload for students to view digitally is a plus for me. How many papers do we teachers give students to put in their folders for later reference, such as help sheets or project instructions? These are the type of things that are great to upload because I just want student to have them.Of course, with Edmodo available, I have high expectations of students. If they have questions about things, they should ask me or the class for clarification. If they are absent, they can check Edmodo for information. If they lose information about a long-term assignment, they can retrieve that information from Edmodo.Edmodo also gives students the ability to turn in assignments. I've only used this feature a few times, but I like it very much because it keeps things organized, and Edmodo has updated its features so teachers can make comments right on students' documents. Pretty slick stuff!Just before Edmodo came out with the feature that allows teachers to give feedback to students directly on their documents, I started using GoogleDocs with my students. Now, honestly, had Edmodo rolled out their feedback feature sooner, I would have never started with GoogleDocs, but since I did, and I didn't want to use a program just once, I stuck with GoogleDocs.Now, GoogleDocs in the classroom is awesome! I have collected three major assignments since December, all of which required me to give students heavy feedback. (We're doing research, and it is always challenging getting middle schoolers to do things correctly.) It's a little bit confusing because students can be revising even after the assignment is due, and it's sometimes hard for me to keep track--even with the obvious date stamp. The other English teacher decided that with GoogleDocs she gives a lot more feedback, and I'd have to say that I agree. It's a little weird, though, to have students on at the same time while I am giving feedback. Just last week, while students were working on a different assignment, I was giving feedback on science research projects, and two students, sitting in two different classes, were obviously off-task and making changes to the feedback I was giving them. It was a bit of a trip! Awesome, though!The downside of GoogleDocs has to do with management issues. I have instructed my students to label their assignments in such a way that, if they would do it correctly, I can easily move their assignments into designated folders. Of course, it's a pain in my rear when 10 students title their essays, "Persuasive Essay" with no name or period. Sure, it shows the name of the recipient, but because we are not yet a Google school, and many of my students did not take my advice on creating an account with a profession name, I have contacts named like LVSis94, CreamPuffDaddy, IM2QT4U. When I am trying to digitally sort 100's of papers, I don't really want to have to stop and figure out whi[...]



No Interruptions, Please!

2012-05-26T05:08:17.073-07:00

I promised my students no homework over the winter break. This included not having any pending projects due after the break, too. However, in exchange, they had to work their little patooties off in December, and on the last day before break they submitted research-based persuasive essays.Of course, this a wrecker on my holiday break, as I have all those papers to grade, but putting it off until we return will not make my life any easier. I had high hopes of getting those essays graded right away, but as we are nearing the end of the first week of my break, after 12 hours of grading and I'm only halfway through, I'm near my wit's end. Big shocker. Like I haven't been there a million times before...This time, I'm finding things are a little bit different because my students have shared their papers in GoogleDocs with me. This is the first big assignment my students have completed in GoogleDocs, so there are a few bumps, but I'm so excited to use it! One of my colleagues, Mrs. E used it on a previous essay and said she ended up spending more time grading because she made so many more comments. I am finding this to be true, too, but I can type a lot faster than I can write, so it's actually easier for me to leave comments. Oh, and can we talk about how neatly the comments are arranged? It is so much better than my scrawl scrunched in the margins!There is frustrating dark side to using GoogleDocs. I feel like such a horrible teacher even mentioning this, but as I am rushing to finish my self-imposed vacation homework, I am in no mood to have to respond to communications from my students about my comments and their grades. Quite a few students have messaged me, either though the document or in gmail, about their essays within an 30 minutes of my finishing grading.Of course, these are the panicked students who could not follow directions or read the rubric and are shocked at their low grades. Some of them have fixed their errors (like not including bibliographies) and have asked me to look at their essays again, while others write begging, desperate messages inquiring what they could do to improve their scores. Don't get me wrong here. Last week, as I was giving feedback to students, they would come online and respond to my comments, and I thought it was a major advantage--especially for those students who never say a word to me in class but are comfortable speaking through the computer. However, this time it feels different. For one thing, this is supposed to be final draft I'm evaluating, and for another thing, technically, I'm on vacation and I do not want to go back to recheck the work that should have been completed correctly. It will suck up all my time! Oh, I feel terrible having such feelings. I really do... In using Edmodo and GoogleDocs this year, I feel like my student have even more access to me outside school time, and there are many times that this is an advantage, but other times, I feel like I need more boundaries between my students and my personal life. It's ironic that at this point in my career I am all about leaving my classroom drama at school while I'm using digital tools that complicate that mission.I can't help but wonder if my new love/hate relationship with GoogleDocs is also about teaching an old dog new tricks. I'm used being alone in my hours upon hours of grading. Just me and a stack of essays. In those quiet hours, I go through a range of emotions from pride to anger, making a list in my head on some next steps after I pass back essays. This is a process I am used to. Before I even started grading these essays, I knew that it probably would not be the final draft for many students,[...]



Wits and Knowledge

2011-11-29T22:25:37.748-08:00

I was so looking forward to these three weeks of solid instruction between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break, as the month of November is always a gigantic, fragmented mess. You would think that I would have been more prepared, but no, I've been flying by the seat of my pants. Luckily, these pants were made for flying.

What? You say it's only Tuesday? No matter. I'm going day by day. Tomorrow I'll be super prepared because this afternoon, I pulled the PowerPoint and support materials onto my desktop for easy access, as opposed to searching for it in my 20-gig drive 10 minutes before class, like I've done the last two days.

Ah, hahaha, I'm not really that bad off. I did sit down with the other English teacher during one prep last week so we could write our lesson plans, but sometimes writing them is not enough. Sometimes other preparation is necessary--like reviewing the material to see I truly remember it myself.

And that's where the winged trousers come in. I have had no time to study what I'm going to teach. How pleased I was to realize that with a PowerPoint outline (created some time in the past) and a stout cup of coffee, I was more than capable of lecturing to my students yesterday and giving guided practice today. With all the breaks and madness of the last month, it felt good to just teach. In fact, the last two days, I'd say I was in the zone.

(I hope my supervisor felt that vibe when she came in for her first (surprise!) observation yesterday!)



Not Good Enough

2011-11-06T16:01:00.974-08:00

This morning, as I began checking off which students turned in their first novel journals, an assignment due yesterday, I started to get increasingly agitated. This was just looking at the formatting, which is not even included in the assessment, but it was included in the instructions.

So what do I do? It is inappropriate to deduct points for papers submitted in pencil rather than in ink or typed, as I requested. I also do not like deducting points because the header is incorrect, although for this assignment, the header listed book, author, and number of pages read, all of which are important. However, the other irritant, papers that did not have paragraphing, is absolutely something that could be marked down, and was actually a part of the rubric.

Rather than get my blood pressure up, I opened up my drawer, (image) took out my REDO* stamp (a first for this year), and started stamping away.

When the students came into class, I told them how irritated I was with the quality of work handed in and rather than complaining about how impossible they were with their other teachers during lunch or starting to hate them a little, I decided to just have them redo the assignments. No, I wasn't mad. They weren't quite in trouble yet, but they also had no choice but to resubmit the assignment because until they do, it is recorded in the gradebook as an incomplete, which I count as an F grade.

They took it maturely. I saw a few light bulbs go off when I articulated why I had been expecting multiple paragraphs. (I'm starting to have doubts about their organizational abilities!) Nobody argued that they had turned in their best work, and in fact, several looked rather sheepish when I approached them with their papers saying, "Formatting aside, is this really your best work? Do you think you might want to look at the overall quality before you turn it in again?" Thank goodness not one student groaned at the thought of having to redo an assignment--that would have ignited my ire for sure. Still it surprised me that there wasn't at least one.

I have a pretty good group of students this year, but I think they are starting to lose momentum. I don't blame them for testing the waters to see how little they can get away with. It's a good lesson for all of us today. I spent most of the day returning the assignments to be redone when I could have spent time scoring the assignments--an exasperating waste of time if you look at one way. I hope that this small act sets a new concept in class: do it well or do it over.

*I had this stamp made at VistaPrint. They often offer "free" supplies and you pay the postage. A lot of teachers have blogged about creative ways to use this company. Do a search--you'll see!



Status Report

2011-10-20T15:39:53.855-07:00

I've been much too busy playing Words with Friends in my spare two hours a day to blog. But if I were blogging more often, you'd know
  • It's kind of miserable with some of my colleagues this year. There's a lot of strife with strong personalities and inept support staff. I'm trying my best to stay out of it, but I've found myself in the middle a few times since school started. I've been in tears from frustration (rock and hard place) and once one of them made so angry that it triggered a painful headache. I guess my invisible headache was better than the violent thoughts I was having. Why can't we all just get along?
  • I'm having a great year with my 8th graders. When I get frustrated with other things, I like to keep in mind that they are a good group and I should enjoy them while I can. Most of them work hard, and they are sweet. Second semester often brings the end of the honeymoon, but so far, all the good things I had heard about this group are true.
  • My seniors take their next writing proficiency exam in two weeks. I cannot see where they have made progress. In fact, in my attempts to help them develop content, it looks like they have forgotten the knowledge on structure that they had in the beginning. I have six students in that class, and most days I want to murder them. You'd think that we'd have a great experience with such a small class, but I have some attitude problems.
  • It's unfortunate for my own children that I have spent 15 years with other people's teenagers. It is just not possible for me to be the cool mom. I thought I'd be better at this parenting pre-teens and teens thing, but I'm not. Sucks to be me.
We are nearing the end of the first quarter, and I'm neck deep in it all like I usually am. Sometimes I look out into my classroom, and I have no idea what year I'm in. Does it matter? Sometimes it seems all the same. That's depressing, right? So then I try to think of ways to make it more fun. Ways to enjoy the here and now... It's a daily thing!



What Happens in Game Club

2011-10-04T06:40:09.402-07:00

It all started when one of my students approached me on the first day of school about coming on Fridays to play Axis and Allies, as the teacher who hosted it for them last year is no longer at our school. I stay late on Fridays anyway, so I agreed.Within a few days, I read about Mrs. Bluebird's Board Game Club and then thought of my own failed Scrabble Club from last year. I had a few students who showed up, but it conflicted with Leadership and Debate, which are more serious clubs, so my poor club fizzled away.I spoke with Mrs. E.--we do everything together--and decided that it might be fun to just do a basic game club. I mean, if I there were going to be 3-4 boys playing a game, why not invite more to people come play games? No harm in trying, and Friday is a great day since there are few clubs and spending an hour playing games sounded like a great way to end the week. Kind of like a kid happy hour!I had six Scrabble boards. The Leadership adviser had a box of miscellaneous games, such as mancala, checkers, and chess. My social studies colleague had more inexpensive checker/chess boards with pieces, and a 7th grade math teacher had three Clue games (still in plastic!) that some anonymous person dropped off in his room a few years back.And so Game Club was born.When Mrs. E. and I were talking about it at lunch, one of our colleagues said that it sounded like a great idea. We could feature a different game each week and teach them how to play it. As brilliant as that idea was, it wasn't what I had in mind, and that wasn't what the kids had in mind, either! On the first day we had 35 students show up, and it was sheer madness! We also had several teachers stop by to play for a little while. It was all I could do to get the students to sign in before they were grabbing games and rushing to tables to sit and play.The first week was overwhelming because I did not know there would be so many kids crammed into my classroom, and there were some students (who happened to be mine) messing around and going in and out. Most of those students have not come back after I railed them about goofing off in the hallways, where they cannot be after school. "You're either in or you're out!" At our school, students are either in a club or outside the gate. The campus isn't open for wandering. The air conditioning was a little wonky and I wondered if I could require deodorant for kids coming to the club, but we survived. Mrs. E. and I played a few games, too. She learned how to play cribbage from another teacher.After a few weeks, we have our groove going. The kids rush in, grab boards, and start playing. They clean up after themselves after each game, and some of them even double check to make sure all the pieces are back in boxes. We remind the rest of them. (That does not mean I don't have three Scrabble tiles and a miniature lead pipe that go in one of the games...) We allow snacks but warn them that if they leave their trash behind, that will be the end of that. Students need to stay the whole time and not a minute longer, especially if they are riding the late bus, but we also have learned that a good third of the students can only stay 30 minutes because they have to pick up their siblings from the elementary school across the street.Mrs. E. and I cannot figure out if the kids know each other, or if they are just mixing it up with whoever wants to play. (We decided it would be lame of us to ask.) Sometimes we sit and play, but usually if someone wants a partner, we try to find someone else to play with them. We spend a lot[...]



Why It Was Due Last Tuesday

2012-02-18T10:18:21.662-08:00

I feel a little bad about that stack of process journals that still have not been graded after a week.

A little bad is about it, and as I lamented to my colleagues yesterday during lunch--a lunch where I was doing work--they assured me that it was okay.

These particular journals were submitted late. Granted, they were submitted only one day late, as that is the maximum I will accept, and late work gets graded last, but a week is a long time.

I'm sure there will soon be e-mails, "Why is this showing as missing? Johnny turned it in!" and then what do I have to say except my stack of excuses?

--All of the students who turned it in on time received it back the very same day. I just had to read it and give a completion grade for their reflections.
--During class for the remainder of last week, I spent my time going from student to student giving them feedback on their writing while they read their novels.
--We were in the library one day last week, and although, I could have done some grading I did not want to lug their journals around campus, and more importantly, I have decided that this year, when we have library days, I plan to read with the students, so I can be a good model.
--My preps were taken up with STUFF. I can't remember exactly, but at least half the time was taken up with collaborative planning, and the rest included running around talking to people about pressing issues and getting materials ready for upcoming lessons.
--Although my contracted time technically ends with the bell, I did stay after every night until 4:00 pm. Two of those nights were for clubs I co-advise. the other day was more of the STUFF I was doing during my prep.
--It's mostly futile for me to take work home on weekdays because I have my own children to deal with at home. Last week I spent time bustin' my own middle schooler's chops for having a couple of missing assignments in her classes.
--In the evenings, I teach two classes, so doing any kind of homework for the teacher just does not happen. Sure, sometimes, I take it, but my students are needy, and they have their own assignments that need to be graded.
--On the weekend, I did five hours of grading and two hours of planning. Do some simple math about how much of a weekend I get. Again, I did not want to lug those process journals around. I already had a bin of work to carry out on Friday night, and taking those journals would have meant two trips to my car. Call me lazy, but it's just not worth it the hassle of exertion of the 100 degree heat, the long walk and obstacles of locked doors whe trying to get back onto the building for the second trip at 4:00 pm on a Friday.
--It's to bad that I have been out of my classroom for two days this week, but I am afforded sick days for doctor appointments. I have 130 days accrued. Obviously, it's not like I make it a habit to be gone. The other day is for school business. I was invited by the principal. I think it's excused, don't you?

So many excuses for myself. I know they aren't good enough. But you see, I am a busy teacher who is plagued with too much work. Sometimes I plan things for a reason. You know, like due dates.



Because I Said So

2011-10-04T06:38:44.796-07:00

Sometimes students have the strangest ideas about writing rules. Oh yeah, it doesn't help that a lot of English rules are more suggestions. It makes writing just so much fun to teach!

Last week, the conversation about because came up with my desperate-to-pass-their-writing-exit-exam seniors.

"Miss, is it true that you can't start a sentence with because?"

I sighed. This is not the first time I've ever had this conversation with my hapless high schoolers.

"Nope. It's not true. That's something your elementary teachers told you so you wouldn't try to write sentences with because and then screw them up. You see, it's really easy to write a fragment when you start with because, but if you are careful, using it can create a good sentence."

Now, I don't know if it's really elementary teachers who perpetuate this idea, but someone is doing it. I understand that the teacher is probably trying to save them from themselves. Oh boy, do I understand that!

Once I show the students on the board how because can go bad fast, and how to fix it, they understood. I suspect that a few years back they might not have understood, but they get it now.

But it's during times like these when I wonder if I ever send students down the wrong path when I'm just trying to help.



Effin Part 2

2011-09-24T06:43:59.956-07:00

A few days after confiscating bracelets from Marcos, which I took to the Dean's office just in case Marcos's mother wanted to pick them up, I was cruising the aisles of my classroom looking over student work, when I spotted a bright red bracelet with the letters STFU.

What is with these students?

These aren't even my hard-core high schoolers. This are my middle school students. It's the first month of school. They usually stay innocent until at least Valentine's Day. (Or so I like to believe.)

"Stephanie, you need to take that bracelet off." It was rather ironic that she had such a bracelet. I'm pretty sure I'll be screaming the words of that acronym to her--in my head--by the time the year is over.

"But, Miss--" she tried to look innocent.

"Save it. I know what it means." As she slipped it off her wrist, I gave her the low-down, "Take it home, and never bring it back. If I ever see it again, it will be mine."

How smart would she be?

The next day, I was heating up my lunch in the workroom, and I glanced into the Spanish classroom. There was Stephanie with her red bracelet on. I walked into the room (the teacher is a close friend, so it's okay), straight to Stephanie with my hand out.

"Give me your bracelet. I told you yesterday not to ever wear it again."

"But, at least it doesn't actually say the words."

I stood with my hand out. Eyebrows raised: Stink Eye activated.

Blah, blah, blah. She gave me some lip before surrendering it.

"Can I get it back?"

"You mother can. From the Dean."

I took it directly to the office. The way she was acting, I thought her mother might actually pick it up.

As I handed it to the dean, labeled with the student's name, I said, "This is the third inappropriate bracelet I've confiscated in the last week."

The dean looked confused.

"You know what this means, right?"

Blank look.

Not censoring for him, I said, "It stands for Shut the Fuck Up.'"

He recoiled a little when I said it.

Exactly my point.

(Sorry, Dad. Sometimes you have to tell it straight.)



Effin Part 1

2011-09-24T06:43:59.957-07:00

Marcos raised his hand to ask me a question, but I was too distracted from the words that I thought I saw on his silicone bracelets to pay attention. I squinted at him, trying to focus on what he was saying and while looking at the lettering on his bracelets.

Surely. No. It couldn't be.

"Marcos, just come here," I motioned him over to me. He asked his question. I answered. I was too distracted by my own agenda.

I pointed to his bracelets, "What were you thinking? You can't wear those! Take them off. I should take them, but you may put them in your pocket. If I ever see them again, I will take them and cut them into tiny little pieces."

You see, he had two thick silicone bracelets that said, "F*ck You." (censored for my dad)

He was irritated at having to take them off, but he shrugged off my reaction like it was no big deal. That ratcheted my irritation.

"It is so disrespectful! You raise your hand, and what's the message you're sending to me from your jewelry? What did I ever do to you? You know, I saw a woman with a shirt that said that once, and I instantly wanted to punch her. I'm a peace-loving teacher, but her t-shirt provoked me. Why do you want that reaction from people? It's not at all funny. Nor is it charming."

Several of his classmates were staring at him like he was an idiot.

I wanted to tell that disrespectful little boy to F-off himself.

He (and I) was lucky the bell rang for the next class.

I had my doubts about how I handled it. I probably should not have told him how I wanted to punch someone who had delivered the same passive aggressive message to me before. Mostly, I was pretty sure I should have simply taken the bracelets. It's just that I hate taking student possessions.

Two period later, I spotted him in French class with the bracelets on. He had the better sense to turn the words inward, but I did tell him if I ever saw them again, I would take them. So I did.



Slanted

2011-09-23T21:08:41.845-07:00

Dear parent, thank you for quoting me from open house night when I said it was best to contact me about things before they become a problem. Of course you are concerned about one of your son's assignment that wasn't turned in. Of course, I uploaded that fact 12 days ago.

What I meant when said that statement is that students need to come to me immediately if they are struggling with an assignment, not weeks later. This situation is not quite what I was talking about, but it's okay. I am happy to hear from you.

I'll certainly check into it.

Perhaps there's an error and the assignment was turned in. Perhaps I missed putting the grade in the computer. I hate it when papers stick together. Perhaps it didn't have a name on it. Did you know I've already collected five assignments with no names already this year? Yes, perhaps it's an error.

I should mention--or maybe it's not worth it--that your son did not talk to me about this problem? Also, he did not see me grading the assignment. Is that something you might want to check into? No I don't have a witness to my testimony...but that's the point. There were no witnesses when I graded the assignment in question.

How many themes I could visit with this story.

I always say, "It's the little things in life..." Usually I'm speaking of the simple joys of life and how I adore them, but there's a dark side to everything, right? Sorting through the many small untruths I encounter from the under-20 crowd on a daily basis is exhausting. It's takes a lot of simple joys to beat down the bitterness and paranoia that result in the barrage of lies I get weekly. What did I ever do to deserve this?