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.