Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace on Earth, Mercy Mild...

and good will to all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I have been sick now for more than a week.  Not the push-through-it kind of sick, either.  The have-to-get-a-ride-to-and-from-school-to-work-at-all kind of sick.

I've been eating up sick days, and the most I'm able to accomplish in a day is writing lesson plans for a substitute teacher OR teaching.  Last week I went in a couple of days, and one day I was a complete mess, which the kids enjoyed, but...oy.  Not a single kid left the room without learning that day, but as for learning about the novel, eh.

The worst part is missing the kids.  I'm planning for them pretty intensively so that they continue to move forward without me, but I really hate not seeing how they are doing and being able to ready them in person.  I went back last week to absolutely glowing notes for them, which does help.

I feel my brain rotting by the DIY TV hour.  My husband is ready to kill me: I can barely do a load of laundry (my chore) without needing to lay down, I'm pretty sure I smell bad, he's been waiting on me since I got sick, and now he is sick, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Procrastination Station

It's amazing to me that I am able to rate my undesirable tasks in such a way that I finish a number of "white goldfish" (not whales) that I've been trotting about with, while never finishing the one I set out to complete.

For example, tonight I renewed a prescription online, photocopied my car title for my refinancing paperwork, and found cocktail recipes for my grandma's Christmas party next weekend.  I'm now considering whether I would rather write a test on Modernist American short stories or grade Lord of the Flies essay tests.  At school this evening, I worked on unit objectives rather than lesson planning; I made myself leave my planning materials at school so I would only have the tests to deal with, but now the interwebs are oh, so attractive, and there is still that test to write.

Where does it end?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Since Teachers Get Paid Sooooooo Much

 Mrs. Mimi brought this ridiculousness to my attention (original article).

Apparently, teacher's compensation is so out of control that districts are trying to claim a right to funds teachers earn by selling their lesson plans.  Below, I respond to comments on the article, as well as comments on Mrs. Mimi's post.

Without specifically stating it in the contract, the districts don't have a leg to stand on. 

The professor on the article upset me.  I'm still physically ill at his reaction, actually.

While some college professors split intellectual property rights with their college, it's not as if any and all work they produce becomes automatically and permanently the possession of the university.  In addition, those professors are frequently publishing the products of their work at the university, e.g. experiments and research, which is actually what they are there for--for some, teaching is something they have to do to support their research. 

If lesson plans aren't the intellectual property of teachers, then let's seriously consider work to rule.  Counting an hour of lesson planning a day (with my previous experience and curriculum I created at previous schools) along with my English teacher's paper load, I wind up with at least 10 hours of work that cannot be completed in 40 hours a week.  I'm not interested in trying to remember if I wrote a quiz at 8am, 3.20pm, or 4pm.  Let's just say it comes out in the wash.

What about the lesson plans I wrote to fill requirements in my Master's program and then used in my classroom?  Do I get no cut, since the university should get half and the district should get half?

It's important to remember that teachers are being paid to teach--the product is kids who know what we were supposed to teach, not lesson plans.  If I were being paid to produce lesson plans and not to teach, I would have far less stress in my life!  Also, I could probably teach by regurgitating whatever Houghton Mifflin the district shelled out for, and kids probably could still learn.  To me, this means that the work I decide to spend time on is mine.

Jimminy, I'm getting carried away. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Remember how my projector bulb blew?  Well, apparently the district has already purchased a whopping two new bulbs for our building and I am just too darn late to hop on that particular gravy train.  Awesome.

Also, the administration's response to complaints about room sharing, no place to prep in, etc. is to say that none of us will be able to have a room of our own at all next year.  Perfect.

A parent of a student in my honors class thought an appropriate response to "your child is currently failing because he has not turned in the last three assignments" was "he says all her friends are failing, too."  Sensible.

When a student asked me to write out her missing assignments for her for the third time and I asked her where the last list was, her response was to walk away saying, "I'm going to fail English because my teacher won't tell me what I'm missing."  Delightful.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Approaching the land of grading hell

Eight school days left of the term and approximately 110 papers to grade in that time, not including re-writes.  Here I am again, not only behind the eight-ball in terms of grading with two class sets turned in so far and three, COUNT 'EM, THREE graded.


Choosing a rewarding job that cannot be completed during the duty day kinda stinks sometimes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can you hear the butterflies crying?

I was listening for that sound, because today we talked pre-Puritan English history.  I love history--my second love after literature.  In the process, I stomped a few fairytale-history butterflies: the Pilgrims and Indians didn't love each other right away.  A bunch of the Pilgrims died the first winter, even after ransacking a Native American home they found.  Thanksgiving is supposed to be in October.  John Smith and Pocahontas were never in love, and they never sang about a river bend, and she married another dude.

Friends, then I get on a roll.  One kid asks,"Why didn't anybody tell us about this stuff?!"  Mostly because the totally true story is kind of heavy and complicated for a little kid.  "Why do you know this stuff?!" Well, partially because I'm cynical and when something sounds like it is too tidy a story, I research to find the whole truth.  "Is there anything else we should know about?"  Jesus wasn't born in December.  They think it was more like August and probably in the year 6.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stretching things out a bit

Stayed late again today, calling the parents of students who are currently failing my class.  It's about a third of each class, which is appalling to me.  It's all missing work.

I know about the discussion about no credit for missing work.  I actually don't let it affect the final grade in my regular classes, and my honors kids don't get their credit for the class until they complete all their assignments--I only grade about 10 assignments a term, and the daily work that is grade actually goes through editing and polishing.  For research papers, the kids outline first--I grade it and make sure they haven't hared off down a rabbit hole, and give them suggestions and guidance in terms of organization and argument.

This year I spread out the editing over a few days, more by accident by design, and I kinda like it!  I spread out the entire assignment over more time on purpose, and changed its timing in the term, as well.  The cool thing about spreading out the editing is that I told the kids they could revise every night if they wanted, so that the next day we would be editing a draft that is already better than the first.  With the extra time available, the kids also had time to check their paper on so they could find problems with citations/quotation punctuation/uncited paraphrase, etc.  I put the responsibility on them, and made it clear that a problem by the time it's a graded draft will mean a zero they can't afford.

I also liked the lead in to editing this time.  We started with the 6+1 rubric, and we looked at a crummy writing sample, a decent writing sample, and then an excellent example from my class a few years ago.  The kids vote on scores in each of the six traits, and we discuss the why for their scores.  On the last one, we also look at how my previous student set up his citations, both in-text and works cited.

The kids then highlighted their sentence beginnings while they were reading out loud quietly to themselves so they would notice repetitive sentence patterns and, in the words of Annie Lamott, who I adore, be able to "Hear what a jerk [they] sound like" and catch any awkwardness.

The next day, they swapped papers with their critical friends and I reminded them that, again in Annie's words, they "have a sacred duty to be genuine and tender" as editors, both honest and kind.  After their skim for spelling & mechanics, they edited using the ideas I found on the UC Santa Barbara English Department site.

Finally, we talked about phrases, and using participle and gerund phrases to spice up their sentence variety.

My first set of drafts for grading are due at 11:59 tomorrow night, and I look forward to seeing what the final results are.  Then, the next set, then rewrites for the kids who wants to earn a higher grade.

Adding to the list of topics to come: the conversation with a friend-colleague after school today (what I thought I was going to write about when I started this post).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A little bit of everything

I ain't got no organization today, friends.  Sorry.

New favorite student anecdote, care of a student "struggling with behavioral norms":
Student enters colleague-friend's classroom.  He knows the student via previous year's communications.  The young person points to the room across the hall and hollers to my friend, "I'M GOING TO S*** ON THAT F***ING SUB!"
My friend, knowing that coming down on the child for swearing is only going to make her freak out on him super-angry-style but obviously needing to address the behavior, responds, without missing a beat, "[Insert student's name here], that's GROSS."
Friends, I can understand being f***ing angry.  I can even understand calling the sub crummy by using a four-letter word.  However, I have never, in my life, ever considered defecating on someone in anger (or in any other mood, for that matter).  Where on earth did the child even come in contact with this idea?  This is one time that I am glad I have NO idea where a kid is coming from.  It sounds like they're getting her some help, and my fingers are crossed that it works quickly.

In other hard to believe or understand areas,  GLEE tonight:
    • Is anyone else disturbed by a teacher in a tighty-tee singing "Busta Move" to the children...
    • not to mention the actual move-busting with the children?
    • The mandatory reporter in me is already dialing Family Services. 
    • Where are the teachers in the hallways during all this slushy-throwing?

      Today I presented to a small group of colleagues about a new web tool we are using.  Somehow, I have never been able to get used to what awful listeners teachers are in a group setting.  I don't think I've ever been to a meeting with colleagues where people aren't whispering throughout.
      Teachers are just like kids when they are the students.  Allow me to set the scene:

      We're in the computer lab.  I'm at the SMARTBoard showing how it works and checking in with individuals as they complete the steps and get set up. In the session, I have
      • the boys in the back who aren't really listening to instructions,
      • the girl who is still stuck on step 1 when the rest of the group is finishing step 2,
      • the girl who finished the entire task in the first ten minutes and spends the remaining time checking email, then stays late because she's confused,
      • the boy who cracks jokes and distracts me,
      • the girl who wants my undivided attention the whole time,
      • the kid who decides she'll just see me after school and so wanders and bounces around,
      • the student who calls my name over and over after being asked to wait while I finish with someone else,
      • and the one who races ahead, thinking she's hot stuff, until she messes up on something I haven't explained yet and wants me to fix it for her while everyone else waits.

      Next time: Peer Editing & Being an Artist

      Sunday, October 18, 2009

      It happened, and I'm worried.

      Remember awhile ago when I started by praising Karl Fisch and ended whining about tech in my district?  I mentioned something about it being easier to purchase a soul than to get a new bulb for one's LCD (or as a friend-colleague calls it, the LSD projector).
      On Tuesday, when my 4th hour was studiously working on their American Romanticism essay test, there was a sound like a gunshot.
      My SMARTBoard went dark, friends.
      I entered the problem in our techy-no-worky-reporting-thingy.
      I have nothing but the automatic response that the concern was logged.
      When considering said situation, and the fact that all of my curriculum has been transferred to PowerPoints but I don't have a means to use them, the only action that comes to mind is keening and crying, and I just know that's not going to work.
      At least not quickly.
      And it will probably freak the kids out.

      Saturday, October 17, 2009

      kaizen, man.

      One of the ideas that has stuck with me from my masters program is the hijacked-once-Japanese-practice of Kaizen, or continual improvement.  Changes need not be big to make a difference, but they must occur over time.
      I just link-surfed from the The Thinking Chick to Presentation Zen to a post on kaizen in PowerPoint design that kept my old favorite word come back to me.  The gears are turning, turning, turning!


      Around these parts, public school teachers got Thursday and Friday off school for the professional convention.  I usually attend with a friend from college who is also a teacher.  She's at a new job this year, and when I called at 8pm Wednesday night to solidify our plans for Thursday, she was still at school, poor baby.  After another hour lying on the couch wishing for death or a least less snot stuck in my face, I called my bud back and cried uncle.  She graciously let me bow out, and the relief I felt was almost overwhelming.  Apparently I've been ignoring some memos from my psyche.

      I slept in, baked, and ran errands over the last two days and I'm starting to feel human again.  I think I'll do some writing at the library (I just started working on The Artist's Way; I'll update you later) and then do some grading when I get home.  Maybe I'll be a real girl on Monday!

      Monday, October 5, 2009

      Mav-ehlous Monday

      LURVING my job makes Mondays so much better. Today was awesome once I finally got the kids in the room, but the morning before that made me feel all crusty-cranky. Maybe it's something like LBSCBDO.

      Friday, October 2, 2009

      Language Barrier?

      I love kids. I love it when they say ridiculous things. I love it when they don't realize they are acting like complete goofballs. I love it when we act like complete goofballs together. I love it when they leave my class and act like goofballs to other people because of what we discussed in class. I love hearing about kids being complete goofballs in other classes, whether I have met the kid or not.

      Exhibit A:
      • Today we were discussing prepositional phrases in Honors English 10. This leads to if you answer the phone like this: "Who do you want to talk to?," how should you ask if, say, a college recruiter is calling? and what's the problem with saying "Do you want to come with?" This leads to a discussion of dialect, which leads to a discussion on code-switching: Why do Minnesotans measure distance in minutes? What do you call a carbonated, flavored beverage like Pepsi? Where do you keep clean dishes? How do you pronounce "root"? "Bag"? Do you talk to me in the same manner you talk to your friends? Of course, it also includes my most striking example of dialect (in German): In High German, when you ask where someone is, you say "Verstehen Sie?" but in Swabisch, a Southern dialect, you would say "Verstosch?" This leads to a little birdwalk into German pronunciation. The kids think German sounds a little harsh, I say English does too, English is a Germanic language, etc., etc., including not ever saying "ick" when you are pronouncing the German word "ich."
      • Fast-forward to after school. Delightful-bouncy-girl-with-lots-of-stress-at-home, who was in my class last year, pops in and says, "Were you teaching people how to say 'I love you' in German today?" We talked about pronouncing "ich liebe dich," yes. "Well, Nice-smart-hardworking-boy-who-is-in-your-class-now came up to me and said 'ich liebe dich,' and it was pretty weird."
      Exhibit B:
      • When a student asked what my plans were this weekend, I said I plan on sleeping in. The Danish exchange student in the class looked concerned. "You will do what this weekend?" Sleep in. "And what means this?" To sleep later than usual. "Oh, Denmark, this means to die. When someone sleeps in, they have died in the night."
      Exhibit C:
      • A friend of mine teaches ELL, and the kids have work time for other classwork at the end of each hour. Our new French exchange student, who doesn't speak English well enough to take American Lit right now, is currently in my friend's class. When they wrapped up their daily lesson, the exchange student went up to stare at the map of the US. When my friend redirected him to his homework, the student pointed at the map and said, "Ze map." You need to sit down and work on your homework. "I learn." No, you don't. You're just staring. Take your seat. "Ze map!" Sit down please. "Ze cities!" Find your seat please. "Ze map!"
      It's the goofiness of days like today that keep me smiling when my fourth hour hoots for two straight minutes.

      Who am I kidding?

      They were hooting because I started it.

      Saturday, September 26, 2009

      Knock on wood (great beginning)

      I started the year feeling confident enough, but not prepared.

      Every June I swear to myself that I will set aside time everyday to work on curriculum and plan (I go through the same thought cycle every Friday on a smaller scale). Every mid-August, I start thinking something along the lines of frickfrickfrickfrickfrick, where did the summer go? I should have been working a little every day and now I'll have to work a lot everyday and I'll still never be ready. Frickfrickfrickfrickfrickfrickfrick.

      I put in the 12 hour days during workshop week to get my room under control and left for the long weekend knowing at least I could put the kids in there without shame. I carried my planning materials back and forth over the long weekend, never looking at them once. Sigh.

      The later start to our school day has been glorious for me. I'm actually conscious and prepared (mostly) when my second hour walks in (I have first hour prep). However, the later end to the day has been kicking my rear. With only half an hour of the duty day after school, I haven't been managing to get my planning for the next day done and answering emails, etc., etc. before quittin' time. I don't have any fantasy that I will always, or even frequently, be able to leave on time, but it would be nice to be working shorter than ten hour days and have more than three conscious hours at home before bed time.

      Anywho, for the first time in my five-year-and-counting teaching career, I'm loving my job. I quit a committee that was alternately stressing me out and filling me with ridonkulous amounts of rage, which has been a huge load off. I'm planning for my eleventh grade Am Lit class without muttering under my breath about how much I hate early American literature--and actually liking what we're doing. My tenth graders are working with abstract ideas and analyzing them. I like the kids and I think I've finally found my stride; I'm not letting curriculum slip to build relationships, and I think we're really building a community.

      In tenth grade English, I've been talking a lot about manners. I told the kids that it doesn't matter if they're nice or not: if they pretend to have manners, they will make life more pleasant for everyone. They greet me when I come in, which I LURV, and the other day I told them that I'm working on actually listening and responding thoughtfully (rather than automatically) when people ask how I am. Later that day, a friend-colleague popped her head in and all the kids greeted her after I introduced her. She was a little startled, and responded, "Why, good morning! How are you?" On cue, with no prompting from me, all 35 16-year-olds responded, "Fine, thank you. How are you?" It was totally glorious!

      Sunday, August 30, 2009

      Karl Fisch, I Think I Love You

      Karl Fischer just set up a pretty awesome system for his student's 1:1 netbooks. I was briefly put off by his warning about the post length, but it was worth the read.

      What excites me most about what Karl has done is that he shared it all, and he got most of what he did from someone else, Jim Klein, who is all about the sharing.

      I love the idea of collaboration on this level.

      I am also excited about all the freeware Karl was able to incorporate. I think this is a sign of change (I know I'm planning on sitting down with some people tomorrow to see what we can do with this for our students)--I think many districts and their students are held back because all the things they need cost a fortune.

      Districts spend mints implementing technology that is out of date by the time it's rolled out, outsiders are paid to come in and train teachers how to use tools they don't all have, and there's no money for updates or upkeep.

      In my building, teachers are being refused projectors because there isn't money for the expensive PoleVault systems to go with them, and not using projectors they have because there is no money to buy replacement bulbs when the originals burn out.

      Karl and Jim's examples show that this cycle can be turned into a trail blazing forward into the future.


      There's been a fair amount of radio silence from me in the last three months. I had big plans for this summer, but I'm not sure where it went! We moved and added a puppy to our household and I spent a total of 3 weeks in AP training, coaching training, and/or district training and planning meetings. Once upon a time, I was a very regular blogger (different handle, different purpose), and I thought I would keep it up here. I haven't.

      I would like to use this as a place for reflection and community, but now isn't the time. We'll see if I get there.

      Thursday, July 9, 2009

      Pollack's Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time, Chpt. 2

      Last Friday, I stayed up late to read all of Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time by Jane E. Pollock (I know, my social life is totally worthy of envy). The basic tenets of the approach look like this:

      1. Choose clear and specific goals, called “targets” or “benchmarks.”
      2. Plan instruction specifically to address your targets.
      3. Target assessment using a variety of methods.
      4. Record and report feedback that is directly tied to targets.
      The first step (described in Chapter 2) is one I’m very familiar with. The backward design gospel according to Wiggins and McTighe demands that before any other planning takes place, the teacher needs to decide on the specific standards that will be addressed, and then filter those standards into understandings and skills that should be communicated to students. Similarly, Pollock notes that it is important to “Descriminat[e] between declarative and procedural knowledge” (28, 35-36). I found her explanation of a total curriculum document that includes a “philosophy document, course description document, standards for the subject area, grade level benchmarks…and specific content, unit titles or projects, unit plans with resources, [and] unit/project planned with lessons and assignments,” as well as ways for teachers to work together (with time lines, even—insert Snagglepuss voice here) on these documents, really helpful because they are concrete (Pollack 37-42).

      Between each chapter and the next is a vignette from a teacher who is living the gospel according to Pollock. While less helpful than the chapters in terms of “how-to,” each account shows the different levels of finding the grail of improved student learning.

      Wednesday, July 8, 2009

      Still, in America?

      Field's post about the Valley Club kicking a group of kids out of their pool makes me ill. According to the report by the Philly NBC affiliate,
      The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club....The next day the club told the camp director that the camp's membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded.

      Guess what color the kids' skin is.

      My white kids say they don't know why people make such a big deal about racism; they don't think it exists anymore. While complaining about "those people" playing the race card. Well, kids:

      "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club," John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.
      I pray that this guy just made a bad diction choice, but somehow, I don't think so. I'm working on my email to the club.

      Physical Address: 22 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006

      Mailing Address: P.O. Box 134, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006

      Club Phone Number: 215-947-0700

      Club E-mail:

      Wednesday, June 24, 2009

      From Good to Outstanding Project

      Analysis on Good to Outstanding from Tom at Bionic Teaching:
      • the lesson is filmed and observed by a master teacher
      • they post the raw class footage
      • people can then offer suggestions etc. online
      • the input from the master teacher and online suggestions is analyzed
      • expert feedback is given
      • the lesson is retaught
      • a compiled version showing before, expert mentoring and the after lesson is posted
      Like, whoa. I really don't know if I'm brave enough for this. Why is feedback so scary? I've been working on my gut reaction, but it's hard when some peers and administrators don't know the differences between constructive feedback and plain old criticism. is kind of wigging me out with its scope--so much to see!

      I think I am procrastinating on AP work because my brain is very tired. Starting Twilight at bedtime last night was a poor idea, and I'm a little embarrassed to be reading it. One of my classmates says not to worry because the pages must be a drug in that series.

      Monday, June 22, 2009

      Back to Class

      Today was the first day of a 4 day institute on AP Language and Composition. I had to be late because of an appointment, which I hate, but I think I'm catching up.

      One of the things my little hoarder heart loves is getting free books. Bless the publishers who sent them! I know they're doing it for self-serving purposes, but I don't care. If I'm feeling ambitious, I may blog about the books we were gifted. I don't know when I'll be allowed near our book budget again, but a girl can dream!

      Homework for tonight is Hephzibah Roskelly's "New Worlds in Old Texts" from our AP English Language Special Focus: Reading and Writing Analytically booklet. I think I'll try to blog on my homework each night so I'm doing my own professional development, since last year I never even picked up the books I bought for school summer reading. I also threw down with Dana at HuffEnglish: we're each going to write three units this summer at the UbD wiki.

      Friday, June 19, 2009

      This Is So Deep I Can't Dig In Yet

      Dina posted these gleanings from the Finnish Education Standards:

      The need and desire of students for life-long learning must be reinforced.
      Cooperation, interaction and communication skills must be developed by means of different forms of collaborative learning.
      Upper secondary schools must develop students’ abilities to recognize and deal with ethical issues involving communities and individuals.
      Education must help students recognize their personal uniqueness.
      Education must stimulate students to engage in artistic activities, to participate in artistic and cultural life, and to adopt lifestyles that promote health and well-being.

      Students will be capable of facing the challenges presented by the changing world in a flexible manner, be familiar with means of influence, and possess the will and courage to take action.

      An upper secondary school community must create prerequisites for experiencing inclusion, reciprocal support and justice. These are important sources of joy in life.

      Human beings must learn how to adapt to the conditions of nature and the limits set by global sustainability.

      Upper secondary schools must reinforce students’ positive cultural identity and knowledge of cultures.

      Technology is based on knowledge of the laws of nature.

      Students will observe and critically analyze the relationship between the world as described by media, and reality.

      They're so conclusive and inclusive and amazing...this is what American education needs. Where is the leadership to make this happen? I don't even know where to go with this. It feels so big and so important. I feel like I'm blowing circuits just thinking about it. I'm going to send it on to my congressional representatives, but beyond that, I just don't know what comes next.

      Monday, May 11, 2009


      Realized this morning that yes, indeed, I should have done some grading over the weekend. My kids are happy they got an extra day to work on their papers, though.

      For the first time, I am only accepting papers on, and I'm eager to compare the amount of time it takes me to do the job paperlessly to the time it usually takes me to do it.

      Sunday, May 10, 2009

      Like, Whoa.

      This past week was absolutely nuts at school, and I decided that the two days doing district work during my prep and then until after five pm early in the week were not a sufficient weight on my time and mental, health, so we also started some major movement in the house-buying arena. I had this silly idea that this week wouldn't be so heavy, but then I realized that conferences are Thursday and I need to spend my time after school tomorrow calling the parents of students who want to play chicken with my "you don't turn in all the work, you don't earn a credit" rule. The seniors are really risk takers in this game. I hope none of them get clipped by a bumper because they're just a little too slow.

      Saturday, May 2, 2009

      Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdnes of Apes asks
      Have you evah?... thought that if one more kid who doesn't pay attention while you're teaching and who writes down nothing you say asks you what they can do to raise their grade the day after grades are due, you are going to snatch hanks of hair from your head?
      Actually, Ms. C., I want to snatch hanks of hair from their head. Someday, they may have to put me into one of those jackets without hand-holes.

      Friday, May 1, 2009

      Bud the teacher got my juices flowing again with this beautiful photo.

      My brother
      My hope
      My fear

      Little pain
      In my

      Heart every
      Time I think
      Of him

      something stupid,
      tearing through
      the abandoned
      lot on the way

      home to read
      his new book.

      Creative Commons License photo credit: carf

      Five weeks left to go and

      I feel like I'm still recovering from the speech season. With the showcase, State, the banquet and all the related drama, it's like it never ended, even though the last competition was over a month ago. I'm dealing with the ramifications of a thankless job that truly saps me. This season this year was not a good one on a lot of levels. The kids didn't do as well as they should have, and the kids' attitudes were poor. The seniors, in particular, showed lack of commitment as well as lack of respect for the team and the coaches.

      I have spent a fair amount of time with my co-head trying to figure out the difference this year. What did we do differently? Were we too focused on expectations? Did we not include enough fun? Did we let the drama director push us around too much in the interest of keeping the peace? We can't put our finger on it, and that's at least as depressing as the crumminess itself.

      Friday, March 20, 2009

      The "end" is in sight.

      There were a lot of things that were great about today.
      • The kids did an awesome job setting up for the tournament; we finished up much earlier this year than last.
      • After set up was done, we hit a local eatery and found colleagues there still enjoying congenial beverages. Excellent conversations were had and some good catching up was done with folks from other departments.
      • We found the elusive draw envelopes.
      • Only one student from second hour failed to turn in his research paper on time.
      There was also some crap.
      • I inadvertently hurt a friend's feelings. Thankfully, she was brave enough to tell me about it.
      • A student who I've been struggling to keep on track had a spell today and I'm at my wit's end about the situation.
      • It's past my bedtime, I can't sleep, and I have a very early morning tomorrow.

      Tuesday, March 17, 2009

      Survival of the survivalists?

      I can't even pretend to say it's survival of the fittest right now. I've been at school until 5 so far this week. Yesterday, it was silliness and speechifying.

      Today it was more calls to parents whose students are failing my class. My eleventh graders are not even really trying to swim. Three sets of guardians I can't reach: full voice mail boxes, never home, not at work.

      A few of the stragglers are getting their acts together, but there are two who probably won't make it. One seems to be struggling with the idea of making up work from absences, and the other seems to have lost the will to do anything. She's told her counselor she's not depressed, but she only finishes work when I'm literally sitting three feet away reminding her to keep her head up and do her work. To catch up, she would need to stay after school daily so I can do the reminding routine, but she won't. Her parents are at their wits end, and so am I.

      Tuesday, March 10, 2009

      A Chance to Change the World?

      A friend of mine from college help put Ruby's Bequest together, and I think it seems cool, even though I don't really understand it.

      Since I don't quite get it, I'm stealing ARGNet's explanation:

      The Institute for the Future once again opens a window into tomorrow’s world, this time letting us peer into 2010 where in the town of Deepwell a woman’s mysterious will has the townsfolk in an uproar. On December 7, 2009, the citizens of Deepwell learned that a woman named Ruby Wood left a “substantial” sum of money to their town, but with one condition - that the townspeople learn to take better care of each other. Who is Ruby Wood? No one in the town seems to know. The town will learn more when the last will and testament of Ruby Wood is opened on March 9, 2010.

      In order to get a little outside help and advice on caring, the citizens of Deepwell have launched a website called Ruby’s Bequest, along with a town blog, Deep Into Deepwell, where citizens can discuss the bequest and other town interests. Accusations of being “the town that doesn’t care right” and the tragic death of an elderly citizen have upset many of the townspeople and sparked a debate about caring.

      Monday, March 9, 2009

      So, the Cellphone Issue

      I'm feeling stuck on this one. On one hand, if I see another kid texting under their desk, I might just chuck the gosh darn thing out the firckin'-frackin' window. On the other, I see Scott's point, and Vicki's, too.

      Kids are carrying around wicked-awesome technology all the time; there's no way they're going to leave them at home, and if they have them with them, they're going to use them, unless we all go the way of Spokane's schools. Why not let them use their phones like game show clickers, or planners, or itty-bitty web surfers?

      I'll tell you why I'm not.
      1. I feel like it's one more thing for me to figure out and take time out of my curriculum schedule to teach
      2. There is a have and have-not issue in my school. I don't see this as a huge deal: in fact, I think folks who are scared of cell phones in the classroom are using it as an excuse. I do know some of our kids don't have them, though, and I'm not going to make things tougher for kids who can't afford them, or whose parents actually keep them unplugged for some potion of the day.
      3. This is the biggest one: I don't think I can keep it under control. I don't want kids having their phones stolen off their desks, and I can't keep my eye on all of them, all the time to keep them on task. I know Dan would think it was probably my fault, but I'm afraid that my "with-it-ness" starts to decrease in inverse proportion to the number of kids in my class over 34. I'm exhausted.

      Monday, March 2, 2009

      March Already?

      This quarter is flying by. I can't believe we only have four weeks left until spring break and the end of the term.

      Honors has been a wild ride, made more so by my absences, planned (IB curriculum writing) and un (I've had a sinus infection for going on four weeks now, and the meds I just finished haven't helped). We started speeches only a day late last week, but since I had been out when their outlines were due, it still feels completely out of whack.

      I'm reaching the end of my rope with my 11th graders. Some of their skills are so low. The curriculum is super literature heavy, but their writing needs a ton of work. I feel pressured to get through everything--I have to get through Huck Finn, and we haven't even finished Romanticism. Today I returned their comparison essays--Thoreau vs. Decl./Ind. or the Speech at the Virginia Convention--with only a letter grade, then posted a list of the problems I found and asked them to assess their own essays and then do a re-write. We'll see how it turns out--the rewrites are due on Wednesday.

      Thursday, January 1, 2009

      The first half of 2008-09

      Inspired by Dana's post reflecting on the year so far, I thought it was time to throw down.

      Like everyone else, I had a busy year. Last year was my first year as co-head coach of our school speech team. The season, which included sending one of the kidlets I have coached for the last two years to State, coincided with the last semester of my Master's degree. At the same time, I was planning my August wedding and worrying about continuing contract in my third year at my school.

      As my husband and I learn how to live together, I am amazed by how little free time I found this fall. I graduated in May, and speech is just starting to build up, so I don't know why I was still at school until after four more than once a week when the sun was still up at that time. Amazingly, I've felt more in tune with kids than ever before, but less interested in planning and curriculum.

      I dove back in right around Thanksgiving, with a little toe-twiddle-in-the-water-idea about Lord of the Flies. A friend was telling me about the IB approach to lit, which has the kids reading on their own with set deadlines and guiding discussion themselves. I didn't keep my fingers out of the discussion pot as much as I would like (I've been thinking about the word facilitator as opposed to teacher), but it was pretty wicked awesome all the same.

      I decided to really commit to the Folger Shakespeare Set Free method for the first time with Macbeth, and it's a lot more interesting than slogging through day by day, but the foot draggers aren't getting what we don't examine in class. We'll see how the last week goes. Then I set them loose with A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of my favorite units.

      This month I'm going to IB training, which I find both thrilling and terrifying, since it sounds like more interesting teaching (facilitating, as above), but also like more work than I can even conceive. Also, I may wind up writing an AP curriculum in the next few weeks, since we're losing one of our two AP teachers next year.

      Hmm. Much change afoot.