Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas break.... ahhh.... the peaceful 2 weeks between the crazy December hullabaloos, and the dark and dreary January funk, to be followed by the even more dismal February weeks of never-ending day after day after day.

Winter has set in solid and hard, with snow on the ground since the begining of November. The days are long and cold, snowy and dark, with no respite on the horizon. The first snowfall excites me and students, usually in the middle of October. We see those huge, wet, soft flakes drifting lazily by the window and our blood races thinking SLEDS, SKIS, SNOWSHOES, SNOWMOBILES.

By January, the novelty has worn off, and we see the snowflakes blurring horizontal past the window thinking, where is the sun, why is it snowing again, how long until summer.

Aside from the obvious weather challenges of driving and shoveling, these days mean as a classroom teacher, my lessons have to sparkle and shine, to make up for the lack of outdoor contentment. Students are in a midyear rut, the routines of 7th grade now keeping them complacent in their work habits. It becomes almost like starting the year anew in many ways, as I try to capture their attention.

With all that in mind, as my vacation time stretches far ahead, my thoughts are pulling back to the classroom, wondering how to make monomials and square roots and radicals, something to capture the interest of even the most reluctant of my students. How can I somehow make prealgebra magical and enticing? I need something hands on and meaninful, engaging and motivating, quick paced and easy. hmmm............... so much for vacation, eh?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

At our staff meeting this morning, our principal passed out lanyards for our new ID cards. OK, naive me thought COOL, we get ID tags like other professionals other places. I expected some people to moan and groan but I really did not anticipate the barage of unprofessionalism I saw displayed.

I think the principal might have been less naive than I- there were boxes of warm doughnuts greeting us - a long standing teasing grip between he and I about him not bringing us treats for these tortorous meetings. So the sight of doughnuts should have been my first clue, things were going to be a bit more intersting today!

As he sent the snarls of lanyards around to staff members, suddenly the yelling began. "Whose idea was this?" "Is this simply another top down way to control us?" "What purpose do these serve?" "What if we don't wear them?"

Comments from the usual suspects, yes, but instead of being made as calm comments, they were yelling, attacking, and intimidating.

The principal tried to calmly address the questions - the decision had just come about as a result of several factors. He pointed out it had been discussed at School Improvement Team Meetings, in conjunction with our trying to get a visitor welcoming center at the front door of the school, without success. We as a district are trying to crack down on who comes into the building during the school day. ID cards are just one more way to identify who should be there, and who should not be here. It all boils down to a safety issue, pure and simple.

The opposing teachers continued to berate him with accusations that this was because we have just recently settled our contract, finally after nearly 2 years of working without one. They wanted to make it a union/administration issue big time.

Finally, another teacher spoke up politely asking could we please more on to more important things and stop dwelling on trivial stuff.

He was attacked back, one teacher standing, leaning towards him threateningly telling him that a large number of teachers WERE concerned about this and HE should be quiet and let the rest of people have their say. The irony... only 3 of the probably 40 teachers there were speaking out opposed to the ID cards, and here one spoke up against them, and was shut down immediately.

The principal tried to gain control but it was hopeless. His face was defeated, he knew no matter what was said, it wouldn't matter. He tried to further explain his position, the rationale for the ID cards, but no, those in opposition were relentless.

All this comes down to professionalism in my book. Is wearing an ID card REALLY a crisis? Is it really worth attacking each other over? At what point do we step back and realize we are EMPLOYEES of the school district and certain things, certain mandates are NOT union/contract issues? Our employer has the right to tell us certain things. Our employer has the right to mandate certain things concerning procedures in this building. What makes us think we have the right to argue, challenge his authority, and certainly, attack his integrity in a public forum.

What does it say about us as a profession when we act so unprofessionally towards our adminstration and each other?

Sometimes I think we as teachers do not deserve pay at the same scale we would get out on the open market. We, too often, are just a bunch of whiny, obnoxious people, out for blood in a complete US against THEM battle. We have forgotten our purpose in this profession. We have forgotten what professionalism means or looks like. We act like uneducated blue collar radicals with hidden agendas. No wonder we aren't paid what we are worth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The door is done! My kids rallied together and made our door look great after all.

It does not have the shine and polish of some of the more "teacher created" doors but it looks like it was done 100% by 7th graders, and it was!

I am thrilled with the results and the teamwork that made it happen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The poor guy.... he was at school to prepare to be a substitute teaching, having recently gotten his teaching degree, but not having secured his first position yet. Our school tries to have newly hired subs "shadow" for a day, spending a few minute in each teacher's classroom to get a feel for protocols.

The poor guy.... I wonder if he will EVER set foot in a school again?

Mike, I remember him in middle school, a quiet kid, a nice kid, the kind who did what was expected of them, didn't cause problems, just kind of blended into the woodwork.

The poor guy.... he wanted to sub in high school, not middle school. But they sent him to my 7th grade class. The day we were decorating our door for Christmas. The most chaotic half hour of the entire year. He looked terrified. He looked like he wanted to run, fast and far.

The poor guy.... of the 21 kids in my homeroom, exactly 6 were in their seats reading or working. The rest were like little Energizer bunnies on speed who had been locked into tiny cages for days and suddenly set free. Fifteen voices all talking to me at once, "Where do we get more paper?" ,"Can I use ALL the glitter?", "TAPE, TAPE, WE NEED TAPE NOW!" , "SHUT UP!", "NO YOU SHUT UP!", "can you draw a horse?", "show me again how to make snowflakes", "give me that marker!", and, and, and.... then add in the half a dozen kids who came from other homerooms needing help with their math assignment, and the fifteen still yelling at me, each other, and no one in particular, as they drew horses and trees, snowflakes and hills, sprinkling glitter and paper scraps like a blizzard in their wake.

Mike.... the poor guy.... he looked like a trapped animal desperate to escape. and the girls, trying to impress him because he is gorgeous, and young. My little 12 and 13 year old 7th graders trying to get his attention being silly and goofyas only adolescent girls can.

The poor guy... I wonder if he will ever be back?

But our door is almost done, and it looks pretty good! I don't think we will win the contest, but our door looks like 7th graders made it with lots of heart and laughter and noise!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dashing off to class
With book tucked in my hand
To my seat I go
Laughing all the way
Numbers make me smile
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
Learning math today

Oh, jingle bells, math is swell
We love to do our work
Fractions, decimals, variables
they make us shout with joy
HEY! Jingle bells, math is swell
I can’t wait for class.
Oh, what fun it is to learn
to do new math each day.

A day or two ago
I thought that I was dumb
I just could not do math
But Mrs. George that meanie
Made me understand
She cut me not a bit of slack
We learned it all somehow
And now we’re smartified

Oh, jingle bells, math is swell
We love to do our work
Fractions, decimals, variables
they make us shout with joy
HEY! Jingle bells, math is swell
I can’t wait for class.
Oh, what fun it is to learn
to do new math each day.
Jingle bells, math is swell
Math class all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to learn
To do new math each day

Jingle bells, math is swell
I can’t wait for class
Oh, what fun it is to learn
To do new math each day

Friday, December 05, 2008

Today's math lesson is one of my favorite all year. Most of it is really a quick review of Measures of Central Tendency: mean, mode, and median, but I love the kids being so up and engaged and THINKING about how to work as a group to solve problems. I wish I could come up with more ways to create these scenarios in class.

It was interesting 4th hour especially. I invited the special ed teacher to bring his 10 students to join us. Those kids have never had me in class, so joining us for such a rambunctious experiment had to be overwhelming and intimidating. However, overall, it went well. I am not sure "all" of them got "all" of the lesson, but hopefully a little debriefing will cement the top ideas for the ones still struggling.

Another interesting thing today..... HH, at the very beginning of 4th hour, catches me in the hall, after having had me first hour for social studies, and 2nd hour for math, and then having had time during seminar to come talk to me. He was in a panic. Apparently, HH had checked his grades and seen that his math grade has fallen back into the failing zone. He actually thought I was going to STOP EVERYTHING else RIGHT THEN AND THERE and give him some extra credit (I do not give extra credit ever) or let him redo a quiz or SOMETHING because suddenly now he cares about his grade. Why the sudden concern? He will be ineligible to play basketball again! Well, unfortunately for him, Mrs. George doesn't work that way. I told him I didn't have time to even discuss it with him because I had a class to teach, and walked into my room, closing my door behind me, leaving him standing there, mouth agape.

Before you think me callous and uncaring, HH has already sat the bench much of basketball season because he is constantly failing one or more classes, sometimes my classes, sometimes others. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand, or want to understand, that the way to playing basketball is working hard in class EVERY day, not just when his grade fails below that magical 60%.

HH thinks he is the ONLY student his teachers are responsible for. He thinks it is ok to waste time in class day after day, fail test after test, but that in spite of those efforts on his part, we should find a way to make him pass.

Today, we had a little exit quiz which should have been super easy, and for most students, was. Students had to simply define mean, mode, median, and answer one question comparing a stem and leaf plot to a line plot. HH scored a 25% on his. These are concepts students have had in previous years, and concepts we discussed at great length during the activity today. However, HH spent the class period causing disruptions, touching other people as they walked by, playing with the blocks he was using for our experiment, etc... I was not surprised by his score, but he was when he saw the impact it had on his grade.

HH popped back into my room during my prep, interrupting my conversation with another teacher, asking me if I was going to be there after school because, "we have to do something about my grade". When I told him that I do not stay late on Friday's, he sulked away.

He wouldn't have done any better retaking the quiz without some further instruction on my part, or some studying on his, and even if it seems somewhat cruel on my part, I think he NEEDS to sit the bench during tomorrow's basketball game.

Not only is his math grade in dire straits, his language arts grade is at 45%. Once I grade his European powerpoint he has been avoiding working on for the past week, most likely his social studies grade will fall into the red zone as well. However, during work time, he is not concerned about that, preferring to talk, bother others, and avoid researching his country.

It is so frustrating to try to help students like HH see that he CAN do the work. He simply must CHOOSE to do it consistently instead of when it suddenly becomes important to HIM.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Today was one of those RED LETTER days that seem so rare. I was not at school yesterday so I anticipated the worst, coming back from having a sub. Fortunately, I had Jack, one of my favorites as subs go. He is a retired science teacher who gets along well with middle schoolers. He has a sense of humor, is just strict enough the keep them from destroying the classroom, but lenient enough to tolerate most of my untolerables.

D.R. was back from his latest suspension, which meant he would most likely have a good day, glad to be back in his element. The work I left was fairly easy - read a social studies section together and complete the easy/boring worksheet that accompanies the book & complete a worksheet packet in math class on histograms, which we had spent Monday learning about together. I knew my kids knew how to do the work, but the practice wouldn't hurt them, and was something sub-proof.

When I walked in this morning, looking across my classroom, WOW... things weren't too bad. Laptops unplugged here and there, a couple of pencils on the floor, but the chairs were picked up, there was NOT garbage and junk everywhere as had been the past couple of times I was gone. I was relieved! The baskets were full of completed assignments even!

Social studies class started - they KNEW their European bodies of water they are to be tested on Friday. Then, they got to work on their powerpoint projects they are working on. EVEN DR! It took some help from me, granted, but he worked, and was even excited about some of the research he is doing on Romania, wanting to include some of the things he found about Dracula in his presentation. At the end of the hour, I patted him on the back and told him how very much I appreciated his hard work and encouraged him to "Let's make it 2 more hours!" to which he grinned and laughed.

AND HE DID!!! Math class, he worked! I was soooo impressed.

We did a "hands-on lab" from the textbook, which while not hands-on in my book, was pretty cool. A table gave us the statistics of how many tornadoes each state averages per year. We took those stats, as a group, and made a line plot, using the state abbreviations instead of X's. Then, we worked to divide these into logical intervals and then, students colored US maps to show the trends in tornadoes. Not a difficult assignment, but one that took some thinking. They enjoyed the coloring part, and joked about doing social studies in math class. EVEN D.R.!!

During homeroom, D.R. listened while I read! Then, he read silently. Even during seminar time, he busied himself on something.

The rest of the day was uneventful, though the kids were LOUD. There is a huge snowstorm predicted, and predicatably, the dropping barometic pressure means middle schoolers are rambunctious. However, they were all working and on task so other than the noise level driving me bonckers, it really didn't matter.

I left school tired, but feeling like WOW, we accomplished A LOT, ALL DAY!

One sad note... K.C.... the little girl from earlier with the embarassingly sexually explicit note.... is suspended again.. she had cigarettes at school AGAIN, this time selling them. I wish I could somehow get her to come around. Since I had a cruel heart to heart talk with her, she has done remarkably well academically in my classes. She has become my star student in both social studies and math class. But her frequent suspensions make it difficult for her to keep up when she is there. I don't know what to do....