Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The home stretch of the school year is upon us. 4 days this week, 2 full days next week, 3 half days and poof, it is all over.
In some ways, it has been a great school year. I've had the pleasure of getting to know some wonderful students. I've had the pleasure of having some students again in class, students I knew as 7th graders, way back when, who are now grown up, mature 10th graders. I've seen students mature over the course of the year, learning to make more appropriate choices, learning to deal with frustration and disappointment by tackling it head-on. I've seen students learn to cope with their shortcomings by applying themselves, finding strategies to overcome their weaknesses, and by learning to ask for and accept help. I've enjoyed their journey, and being a part of that progress.

Some students were students I had already known. Others were new to me. I've met some great kids, ones I will remember for their kindness to others, their charismatic personalities, their willingness to tackle challenges head-on. I've gotten to know some personally, learning of their struggles outside of school, their unique family situations. I've learned about their dreams, their hopes, their plans. I've wiped their tears, hugged them when they needed it, and high-fived their achievements. I've seen students learn to be a part of social groups, accepting friendships offered, eating in the cafeteria for the first time, walking with a friend in the hall, joking and laughing with classmates.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've dealt with students who do not want to mature, grow or learn. These are the faces that will haunt me. The unreachable's, the ones I was unable to connect with, the ones I seemed to be unable to make a difference with, academically, socially, or any other possible connection. They shut out the adults who try to help them, refusing to budge one inch towards maturity. For some, time will lead them down that path. For others, I fear the destination is set already, at the end of a path they've already charted. They will end up dropping out of school, and for many, incarceration is the destination they've set their sights on. I feel sadness for them, knowing I, or any adult here, was unable to reach them, unable to change their path, unable to find a way to make that connection that would give them another option in life.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

After yesterday's emotional outpouring of support, I want to echo the sentiments expressed about the middle school staff. We..... all of us.....WILL all work together to do what is best for kids, regardless of the location of our classrooms. We WILL make it work next year, no matter our personal feelings. I have no doubt that each and every person will reach to the limits of their personal ability to make the move as easy as possible for students.

We were told today we are supposed to put on a 'unified front' for students, make it look as if we are all in agreement. While I understand the sentiment expressed by adminstration on this issue, I am not going to lie to students and tell them I think this move is a good idea. I don't lie to my students about anything. I just don't. I think that is a bad idea and I think students see through those lies and lose respect for the adults in their lives when they lie to them on such big issues. I refuse to lie about my thoughts, opinions and feelings, especially to my students.

I think we are all entitled to our grief, our processing of the loss of our comfort zone. I think we are entitled to vent and speak, share and inform.

But at the end of the day, we do have to do whatever it takes to make it work for kids. And I will. And they will. And we will survive.

That knowledge doesn't make the packing any easier. It doesn't make the loss any less. It just falls under the heading of inevitability and resignation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I blog today with sadness, anger, resentment and disbelief. I know that budget cuts make schools and school boards make decisions that bring out a variety of emotions in teachers, students and parents. Unpopular decisions. But probably decisions that made sense to those making the decision at the time.

But this time... the decision impacts me profoundly and I am angry, I am sad, I am in denial. Our middle school is closing. We are being sucked into oblivion. Sixth grade will go to elementary and be self-contained. The good news is, the two teachers going with them are both awesome, caring, giving souls who will make this switch work for kids.

The seventh and eighth graders are being sucked over to the high school. The promise is that there will be as little mingling as possible between high schoolers and middle schoolers, but in reality, the day to day, class to class reality will be a jumble of people.

The theory is we can save $30,000 by closing off the middle school which is housed on the second floor, above the middle school. The theory is that we will just be absorbed into high school life, not causing additional costs over there. The reality is, parents and students are angry and some will pull their children to go elsewhere. If just 4 students are lost, the saving are pppffftttt... GONE. Just 4....

The high school rooms are small. They are dusty. They don't have storage space. We'll be getting the leftovers, the rooms that are now crammed with stuff, shoved there when it outlived its usefulness elsewhere.

The days of spreading out kids into groups to work on projects will be over. The days of hanging projects in the halls and on classroom walls for display will be over. The days of middle school kid getting another few years to be middle schoolers will be over. Suddenly, they will become little high schoolers, hearing the words tossed carelessly aside by high schoolers, the swear words, the sexual comments... The middle schoolers will be exposed to the public displays of affection exhibited by our high schoolers, blatant and flaunted. The middle schoolers will grow up quickly, sucked into the high school world. Our middle school girls will become prey for high school boys.

I am angry that budgets make us forget what is best for kids. I am angry that I have to pack my things, sort, get rid of, downsize years of teaching supplies, resources, stuff.... to fit into a classroom much smaller with no storage space. I am angry we are expected to do all this with a smile and a suck-it-up attitude. It always seems as if the middle school gets the short end of the stick here. It has been that way the entire 17 years I've been here. We were the ones to lose a principal, our counselor, our everything. We have to take whatever leftover hours are available in the schedule.

And now..... we've lost our building.... we're done. We are no longer middle school. We don't exist.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Life always comes down to choices. Students often don't grasp that concept. They don't always see the choices they have. And even if they see those choices, they don't always have a firm grasp of the consequences that result from the choices they make.

I think that is why teachers and adminstrators MUST be consistent with discipline. The consequences we hand out establish a pattern of responsibility on our part to help them as they learn to see their choices with more clarity.

While circumstances sometimes dictate we deal with different students differently, we have to exercise extreme caution to come across as fair and consistent. Otherwise, we create a situation where students perceive inequities, and those perceptions can lead to much more complicated issues down the road.

Just as our students have choices, so do we as the adults in the situation. If we focus on efforts on helping our students learn to make appropriate choices, focus more on remediation of skills instead of punishment, we can guide them along their path of improvement.

Negative consequences have their place. Without negative consequences, we all would tend to slide along pushing the envelope as far as possible. Even with negative consequences, don't we tend to do that? Do you ever drive over the speed limit hedging your bets as to how far you can push it without getting stopped? Do you coast past the stop sign thinking because no one is coming, it doesn't matter? What chaos would there be if there were no rule or consequences for us as adults? Would society cease to exist or would we all maintain a balance, unspoken, but conducive to peacefulness?

ALL students need consequences, clear cut, consistent consequences. Even negative ones. Without any negative consequences, the behaviors continue or escalate. Students need that deterrent, just as we as adults need a check to keep up honest.

When we neglect to set and enforce consequences, we are setting students up for a huge reality check as adults. In the real world, students will discover consequences DO exist. Realistically, shouldn't we be preparing them for that inevitability now?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warm spring days bring complaints of students of why don't we have air conditioning, it's too hot, can we turn on the fan and open the window?

I just have to laugh. Having grown up in Mississippi in the .....well.... forever ago.. when air conditioning wasn't even standard in homes, much less in schools, I find their complaints almost comical. Granted, when outside temps rise even above 80, our classrooms soar to 90+, but even then, it is nothing compared to the sweltering days I remember sitting in a classroom in August, hot, humid, Mississippi August, sweating, sitting in a puddle of sweat under your butt, your clothes stuck to you like a second skin. But never once daring, considering, contemplating complaining to the teacher or anyone else about your miserableness.

Are we raising a generation of whiners? A generation of those unable to endure duress of any kind?

These kid don't understand deprivation of no soft drinks on a daily basis, only enjoying that special treat on someone's birthday or another worthwhile holiday. They stroll into school with a cold one from McDonald's or a huge Monster drink in hand every day.

They don't understand the concept of eating the meal served in the cafeteria - the one and only option of lunch - homemade meatloaf, or beef stew, served up with fluffy biscuits or cornbread, or maybe mystery meat, disguised under gravy, shepherd's pie baked crispy on top. They whine when the person ahead of them took the last slice of stuffed crust pizza, leaving them with a choice of just pepperoni pizza, nachoes, or heaven forbid, today's selection of pork chops.

This generation heads home texting friends on their phone, walks in the door chatting on Skype on their iPad, joins friends online to play a video game, all while being bombarded by music pounding their brains from their earbuds. They don't understand coming home to chores, waiting for that rerun of The Brady Bunch that came on at 4:30, followed by helping mom make dinner.

Does it mattter? Are things better now? Are they worse? I'm not sure... but I sure know we've empowered kids to complain about conditions, and look for solutions! Maybe they will discover ways to right the wrongs created by our generation? Maybe they will find ways to endure the unthinkable and pave the way for future generations to live in comparable comfort.

Only time will tell......

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Somedays..... somedays it seems everything falls into place at school. Others it seems you can't win for losing. Today was a cell phone battle. A girl texting while I was reading aloud to the class. A nice girl. A girl I like a lot. A girl who had engaged in battle with me before but we always manage to find our middle happy ground. A girl who needs to listen to the story being read aloud, not one who can successfully multi-task.

She was texting, smiling, obviously disengaged with the storyline and engrossed with her private conversation. I quietly got her attention and mouthed. "put your phone away"... which she did for about 30 seconds. I was almost done reading the selection so I ignored her. When I finished, I walked over to her and again told her to put the phone away. She immediately started to argue and shoved the phone down into her bra.

Now... I had to make a decision to let it go, or force the issue. No right answer unfortunately. Had I walked away, she'd have pulled it immediately back out, back to her conversation. I told her to come with me, and took her to office to get phone with another adult present considering the location of the phone. She was angry and upset, but I reminded her school policy says no phones/texting. I also pointed out if she'd just have put it away to begin with, we wouldn't be in this situation. School policy says the phone stays in office until end of day - about 10 more minutes. You'd have thought I asked her to leave her leg in the office 10 minutes!

Back in the day... we didn't have to fight the cell phone battle. I'm pro-technology but I see so many students distracted by the constant barage of communication they are unable to disengage themselves from the social channels, to join the rest of the school community in learning. Some students CAN multi-task, Skyping with a friend and working at the same time. Others simply are not able to do that, but think they can.

So the day ended on a sour note, for her and for me. Some days you just can't win.....

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I had the pleasure of listening to a man from Michigan Institute for Aviation Technology speak to high school juniors this morning. What a great opportunity for our kids to see some of the great paying options for careers that do NOT require a 4 year college degree!

I think we do a really good job of telling college bound students how, what, when, where, to get them on the path to their future. Unfortunately, all students are NOT college bound. I see those kids get lost in the shuffle, thinking because college is not for them, they have no other opportunities or options.

If a kid can go to an 8 month long program, spend about 10 grand, and get a job paying 5o grand a year, why wouldn't we encourage them to explore that route?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Part of writing an IEP involves interviewing a student about their future plans, what they want to do after high school, what their plans for additional education are, what they want to do in their free time, where they want to live, etc... It is usually an insightful conversation with students, at least those who will open up and share their dreams with you.

I've learned about kids who want to open their own cake decorating business someday, one who wants to open his own landscaping company, cutting lawns, plowing snow, etc... I've talked to kids who want to go into the military, wanting to travel, see the world, who do not feel realistically they are cut out for college, or ones who think the military is their financial ticket to further education down the road. Rarely, do I get a student who has no dreams, no idea what they want.

Today's interview was the opposite. He plans to live in his mom and dad's house, or one exactly like theirs. He wants a 'decent' job, but one where his boss" will tell him every day step by step what to do". He said he, "doesn't want to have to think, just do as I'm told."

As I typed the answers, I was saddened to think of the limits this young man is putting upon himself, the box he is building. And I wondered.... is there a way to help him out of that box, a way to help him see his potential, and the limitless possibilities his future holds?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Kids rise to the occasion, every time. Once again, my faith in my students has been bolstered by a crisis. Last Wednesday, our house burned down. It was sad, tragic, overwhelming, devastating, and simply unfathomable.

Coming back to school yesterday was tough. I knew there'd be questions and questions and questions. What I wasn't prepared for was the outpouring of love and hugs and hugs and hugs.. from kids I know and love, from kids I don't know... They didn't pry. They didn't ask questions that were inappropriate. They simply hugged me, told me they loved me and they were sorry. Several made cards or posters. One girl collected a coffee can full of pennies for me. One offered me some of his chickens since most of mine perished in the fire.

Kids rise to the occasion. What a comfort to have them during this time....