Monday, December 28, 2009

It seems to me teachers spend a great deal of time and effort whining about how terrible a deal we've been shuffled:

  • parents who not only are not supportive of their children's education, but seem to go out of their way to be difficult and make our teaching more difficulty

  • students who are unmotivated, discipline problems, behind academically, or just downright rotten

  • adminstrators who seemingly don't have a clue what it is like to be in the classroom, who are unsupportive of our efforts

  • policy that says a bubble sheet score says more than true measures of growth

  • ever-shrinking budgets that cause us to fork over more and more of our own paycheck to keep our classrooms running smoothly

All legitimate complaints, sure, but interestingly enough, according to this latest Gallup poll, teachers score higher than other professionals in well-being.

We consistently rank ourselves as healthier, happier, and more emotionally happy, than other professionals. However, we rank our wenvironments as less satisfying than others. We don't feel like our bosses treat us as equals, we don't our work environment is "open and trusting" but 91% of us say we get to use our strengths at work.

Seems a little contradictory to me! It sounds as if we have it pretty darn good in most aspects of our jobs. I think maybe we need to take a long look at our jobs from the outside and appreciate the fact we do have it made!

We work long hours, without overtime, in circumstances often beyond our control, with students who do not fit into round bubbles. Our pay not equate with our educational opportunties if we chose to work in the private sector.

But really, our job is the best in the world. Kids make it interesting, unpredictable, and never a dull moment. We get to make a difference in their lives. What more could we ask for??

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The snowflakes are hung round the classrom with care,

The teachers are gone from the building and scarce,


Santa, all I really want is some sleep :)

When I posted my Facebook status above, I was still on the high from the exuberance of my 7th graders on the last day before Christmas break. Now, awake before 6 am on the first Saturday of our 2 week break which will fly by like a short weekend, I am more reflective on our day yesterday.

Wanting something fun, but remotely educational, and slightly purposeful for our last day, I found this cool activity on making perfectly symmetrical snowflakes from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to do with my math classes.

The rest of my day was already planned since the entire 7th grade was watching Pictures of Hollis Woods together during our 2nd hour and homeroom periods.

I copied the directions, and lots of backup just holiday coloring activities, word searches, and crossword puzzles, just in case the snowflake making was not successful.

Too often it seems we never let our middle schoolers be kids anymore. When I first started teaching here, we had so many fun things we did with them. For the holidays, each homeroom decorated their classroom door in a huge competition. We had other fun days with games, and challenges and other kid-friendly stuff. Part of the reason we have gotten away from these activities is simply too much curriculum and not enough time, but the main reason is honestly, our staff just isn't into it anymore.

But yesterday in my classroom WAS all about being a kid again with scissors and paper and tape and crayons. We had so much fun! After realizing first hour how difficult the instructions were to follow, I walked the other hours through the step by step snowflake folding process. We folded and creased, then snipped and snipped, waiting to unfold our magical creations. Paper snips flew everywhere and the room got more and more beautiful.

The premier location to get to hang your snowflake was the window, of course. The best part? To access my window, you have to stand up on the heater register, looking out the snowy window, down 2 floors to the ground below. But my little elves were NOT intimidated and soon 3 Santa hat clad kids were dancing up there, using double sided tape to fill the window with perfectly symmetrical flakes.

They laughed and they smiled and acted like 12 year olds SHOULD act, instead the more typical sullen texting adult-wannabe's who usually are in my room.

Happy Holidays, 7th graders!! See you next year!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I will admit to loving Christmas gifts from my students. Not so much the perfumes, the candles, and the mugs, as the true gifts, the ones you remember years later.

Handwritten cards are among my favorite. I save them all but some are especially touching. On the bulletin board in my bedroom hangs the envelope from one young man, who had his 'moments' in my class. The envelope is wonderful though: From: Mike To: Mrs. Goerge, AKK the world's best math teacher. What more could I have wanted for a gift??

The week before Christmas, gifts start trickling in. Today, one student handed me a diet mountatin dew, the fuel for my day. Another gave me a Green Bay Packer Christmas ornament, knowing I am a HUGE Packer fan. Yet another young lady handed me this round red wrapped gift, complete with a green ribbon. I unwrapped it to find a roll of duct tape! (See previous post if you don't understand the significance of this gift.)

See... it really isn't about how much money a parent spends, or the actual gift itself, as it is about the thought that went into the gift. Middle schoolers have such a great sense of humor and I love when that shows in their thinking about what to gift. Over the years, I have gotten everything imaginable: the cute, the odd, the inappropriate, the thoughtful, the handmade, the expensive.... but it touches me to realize I am appreciated for my efforts. It isn't about the cost, it's about the thought.

So, go gift a teacher something meaningful this year!

Friday, December 11, 2009

101 Reasons to Love Middle Schoolers:

1. Funny names they give each other and you
Over the years, I have been called a variety of names, some I would not care to repeat, but some are endearing, some funny, and some just odd. My favorites? Gorgeous George, Georgie, Grandma G. Part of the allure of a nickname comes from the community building aspects of the experience, the feelings of comfort among those giving the names, and the acceptance of those being called them.
Today, one of my girls got a cute new nickname : Bri - tiny. Her name is Britini, with that unusual spelling. When she wrote it on the board for a library pass, someone caught the alternative pronunciation of Bri - tiny, which is one of those names that will stick. It is cute, with no respect issues. It serves to make her feel special though, and gives students in my homeroom as sense of community that only they get to use it, kind of an inside joke syndrome.

2. Twisted sense of HUMOR
The best part of teaching middle school is their laughter at the oddest of things. Humor can be used to deflect a mouthy student, get an unmotivated one on task, or even to stop the adolescent female teary eared outburst.
When I catch a student staring into outer space instead of focusing on the task at hand, I often tease them about staring at MY beauty. I tell them how flattered I am that they find me SO breathtaking they can't HELP but stare. This gets their attention, with a smile and giggle, and refocuses their mind at the task at hand.
When a student is being particularly annoying, I often tell them to strangle themselves so I don't have to. The best actors get it, and do a fantastic job of reaching their hand around their necks, pretending to strangle themselves. Again, laughter ensues, order is restored, and back to work for all.
Other funny sayings become part of our routine. This age group loves the twisted logic of sayings like, "Silence is golden, duct tape is silver" and learn quickly to respond the the first part of the quote with the second, refocusing themselves to a quieter work tone. Another favorite of mine is, "Don't be sorry, be quiet."
The key to success is knowing your audience. Some students respond extremely well to this kind of humor, but others do not get it, and are even offended by it. You must be able to read your students, and know how to deal with each individual personality.

3. Their sense of fairness and right & wrong in everything
You will never meet a group more in tune with fairness. Dare to give another student 1 tiny extra point on a graph, or one extra day on an assignment, and you will experience wrath like no other. Even if it means they must personally suffer, they want everything, everyone treated exactly the same at all times. They are quick to point out the shortcomings of each other and themselves as well, just to make sure the balance is maintained.

4. Magic and wonder are still part of their daily routine.
Whether it is the first snowfall of the season, an ambulance shrieking past the window, or a video on knights in shining armor, they love every unique detail that passes their way. Middle schoolers still have that little kid lust for learning. They CRAVE new information, especially if you can show them how it relates to them, how it touches their world, how they can personally interact with that knowledge.
In particular, they love new tech tools. This generation has grown up making powerpoints, typing papers, and instant messaging and texting each other. But give them a new tool to explore and watch the magic dust fly! My social studies class is making mundane powerpoints on a European country. Once I showed them some new fun things like Tuxpi and even the 4 square google search page, their excitement peaked again. Just exploring in a new way gives them the added ummph they need to tackle the next part of their challenge at hand.

5. Middle Schoolers LOVE to share their joy with you.
Sometimes it is a new shirt or shoes; other times they got a puppy or horse or a baby brother or sister; it might even be that amazing touch screen phone or iPod. Whatever it is, they LOVE to show their 'things' to you, explaining all the details in great detail. It is their way of sharing their world with you, bringing a personal touch to their school world.
Nothing makes a middle schooler happier than to see you in the bleachers at their basketball game, or cheering from the fence at a track meet. They know you are there for THEM, and they LOVE that special attention.

OK, not 101, but 5 that make my day, every day!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Today starts one of my favorite math projects of the year, the infamous Tootie Fruite Project. Each student gets a scoop of the cereal (which costs me about $10 for 70 students). Then then data collection begins. Students total their own cereal, how many of each color. The ensuing debates about how to count partial pieces are always interesting. This morning, we had the most unusual cereal piece ever though: it was 2 toned. The student decided eating it was his best option :)
Once individual totals are counted, then we must compile class data. Whew... this always tries MY patience the most, with students who can't speak loudly (inevitably the LOUDEST kid in the hallway can't speak above a whisper to say "12")
Then students settle in to work, creating bar graphs and circle graphs of their individual as well as class data. The projects are colorful, fun and a light activity I try to do the last week before Christmas break. It meets a Michigan Grade Level Content Expectation, D.RE. 07.01 Read and interpret data using circle graphs.
Final projects are displayed as posters, which liven up my normally dull classroom.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

There's nothing quite the like the forecast of a winter storm to get middle schoolers excited. (OK, middle school teachers as well!) Living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula makes winter travel interesting to say the least. We average about 200 inches of snow per year. Snow days, though, are few and far between. Our bus drivers are known for their ability to make it through the worst conditions, down back winding unplowed roads picking up children before daybreak and delivering them back safely long after the sun has gone down. If we had a snowday every time we got several inches of snow, we'd truly be a year-round school.

There is a long standing middle school superstititon that if students wear their pajamas inside out the night before the storm is forecast, there will be a snow day. I don't know how accurate this is, probably right up there with walking under a ladder causing bad luck and finding a penny head up bringing good luck, but who knows!

  • All day, I have been prepping my students of the rest of the week's schedule in the event of one or two days off.

    Map quiz is STILL on Friday, no matter what, yes, even if I have to come to your houses to give to you individually :)

    State graph for math class is due the first day back in
    Yes, I will adjust the due date for PowerPoints.

With tonight and tomorrow's forecast predicting 2 feet + of snow, I know **I** will be sleeping with MY jammies inside out! If you wouldn't mind doing the same... who knows!!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sometimes I am organized, and know exactly what I am going to do in class, and follow that protocol carefully. Other times, I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants, as suddenly ideas pop into my mind as the lesson unfolds.

Such was today in social studies. We are reading, YES, reading... Chapter 5 Section 1 from our books on the history of Europe. bahhumbug.... yes, that was about the enthusiasm generated from my students. I was sticking to my guns, pushing forward despite the snoring noises emitting from various locations. We just needed to get through a few pages of the chronological events that formed Europe and for the life of me, there really is no quicker way to breeze over all those years than with this reading from our textbook.

Sanity seeped in at some point, thankfully, and I suddenly remembered this cool video clip from United Streaming we watched once on Life in Medieval Times. I quickly opened it and showed the 22 minutes of knights and castles and serfs. How COOL! The impromptu writing assignment of what would you like and dislike had you lived in that time period was even better! Students wrote and wrote about how great life could be, and how terrible it likely was. I felt redeemed for my meager start to the hour.

Planning is great, but more often, plans should be just guides, with time allotted for the spontaneous and the different.... to wake the sleeping troops and recharge their batteries.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Substitute teachers, school secretaries and bus drivers are the most underappreciated and underpaid people on the planet. I have not had the terrifying last 2 position in my life, so I can only imagine how difficult they must actually be. I do know when our secretary is out of the office and somehow, I manage to walk in at that exact moment, it is HORRIFYING. All those kids, all those parents, the phone, the disasters.... how can she juggle it all ALL DAY every day. I am trembling before my 90 second tour of duty is over!

I HAVE been a substitute teacher though so when I am gone, I try to assure that their day will be as peaceful as possible. I leave detailed sub plans, almost minute by minute, with always a contingency plan in case something goes awry, which often it does. Computers don't work, kids refuse to cooperate, paper airplanes materialize.....

Having someone in your room when you are gone that you trust, know and respect makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes, it is the luck of the draw, and you get that kindly old retiree who means well, but has not a clue how to deal with middle schoolers so when you return to your room, spitwads adorn the ceiling, the whiteboards are full of caricatures, and the lesson was not even assigned. Other times, you get the young, gorgeous fresh out of college chick who again, means well, but doesn't understand that subbing means a frowny face MAY be appropriate, and saying, "NO" definitely is.

Personally, I love our new system that allows us to choose our favorite 5 subs electronically, giving them first preference for our scheduled dates. How COOL!!! Today, I had a planned day off, and got my top choice of subs. She is a regular, who only subs on Mondays and Friday because she teaches adult ed Tuesday through Friday. This gives her that extra umph needed to align middle school attitudes to accomplish the tasks in front of them. She has a great sense of humor, is intelligent and honest. I know she will not create more chaos than she can handle. It made my day off one of pleasure rather than one of intrepidness. I didn't even feel the need to race to school to read her notes this afternoon! I KNOW things went well :)

Hats off to all the subs out there... you are ALL appreciated but to the really GREAT subs, were it up to me, I would pay you 10 times what you make now, and you would still be underpaid!!

(special smugs to Barb!!)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

New Year's Resolutions
Striving for excellence and improvement is a constant uphill battle in all pursuits. Ahead of the dawning of the new year, I want to start contemplating my resolutions for the upcoming year. What are my goals for improving my own teaching, and ultimately the learning of students in my classroom and beyond?
Before I even consider my own classroom, I want to explore more opportunities to share with other teachers, helping them perfect the craft of teaching. It isn't about being better at something than others are, it is about the collective power of sharing and growing together that makes this goal such an important one. Teachers too often teach and learn in isolation, when we need to be constantly exploring how to collaborate and grow together. As we grow as collective learners, we will be better equipped to guide as students in similar pursuits.
In my own classroom, I resolve to strive to teach "like first snow falling" (Taylor Mali) every day, every lesson. Unless I am geeked about the lesson, how do I expect students to get fired up and excited about what they are learning? I need to rejuvenate my own enthusiasm for learning and teaching, finding those key components that made me excited about these topics.
With my students, I must seek out their strengths as if each child were MY child, seeing blindly beyond their faults, to the inner glow, and capitalize on this, making each child feel unique and capable and extraordinary. For some children, this task will be difficult, almost monumental for me, but I must resolve to make this a priority.
I resolve to focus more on the learning, and less on the grades, more on the growth, and less on missing the mark of perfection. By learning more about formative assessment, and actually implementing this learning into my teaching, I can help students become a part of their own growth process, taking individual responsibility for growth and achievement.
Parents are a critical part of school success so I resolve to involve them more and more and more, impressing upon them the integral role of home and school, supporting them in supporting my teaching and school in general. Reaching out to parents of struggling students, giving them tools to support their child, encouraging and praising their efforts, will empower both of us to empower that child to experience success.
On a larger scale, I resolve to be active in the larger scale of education reform, helping the voices of teachers be heard in Washington, forcing policy makers to hear our reasons and our concerns. I will reach beyond the local, into the national arena, speaking loudly myself, supporting others' voices, and make those decision makers realize the crisis in education today is real and must be addressed.
I resolve for 2010 to be a better year in education, in my classroom, in my building, in my district and more importantly, across this nation. I resolve to make a difference.