Saturday, June 28, 2014

The end of June...

 the school year's dust has settled, for better or worse.

 It's done.

I've moved past those last few days of school when I just wanted to be DONE, when I couldn't wait for those kids to be GONE... to - gosh I MISS THEM!

So I find myself drawn to the stack of new math textbooks sitting on my home desk, that novel I want to share with students in the fall, and an urgent sense of working on school work, preparing for the fall.

Spread out before me, like birthday presents waiting to be opened.... I find myself once again sucked into school land, excited for the school year, excited to be learning along with the kids, and excited to find my way through another year of adventures.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer time = LEARNING TIME
Parents, don't just let your kids sit and vegetate all summer. Get them involved in some sneaky learning. Here are a few ideas:
 1. Check out your local library for summer reading programs. Parents of preschool and elementary parents often consider this option, but many libraries offer programs for older students and even adults. Our local library offers a series of 'tasks' for students to complete - some as easy as liking the library's page on Facebook - to earn rewards.
2. Check out your local museums, state parks, or National Wildlife Refuges. Just this week, I took my 5 year old granddaughter to Seney National Wildlife Refuge where we were thrilled to participate in Turtle Talk Tuesday  and learn all about turtles. Our adventure had her not only learn all sorts of science-y stuff, but she also got to make a fun turtle craft and release the demo turtle into one of the ponds. Most public venues offer summer programs for kids. What a great way to learn about something new!
3. Try your hand at cooking with your children. There are tons of cookbooks for kids. We really love the Candy Construction book that shows you fun creations to make from foods. Or check out a cookbook geared towards kids like Williams-Sonoma Kids in the Kitchen. Any recipe will help your child practice math skills, direction following, reading, and best of all, IT IS FUN.
4. Plant a garden. Ok, so maybe we are getting late in the season, but it is never to late to grow some salad greens or herbs. Both of these options are quick return and easy to grow, even in a small window box.
5. Volunteer together. It can be at a local food program, your church, or other organization, as or simple and unstructured as picking up trash together at your favorite playground. Teach your child that giving to others can be rewarding.

Whatever you do, do it together. Summer days fly by and before you know it, school will be back in session, the house will be quiet and clean again, and you will miss the bickering and whining ;)

Speaking of back to school, when you mind wanders to getting the kids ready for THAT great adventure, check out Personal Creations for cute personalized items like backpacks, lunchboxes and more. This company does a fantastic job of keeping your kids looking great while they are moving on with their education.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The school year will officially be over at noon tomorrow, at least for students. Staff have to be here, technically, until 3:08, and then again next Monday, for our last day of professional development. But for all intents and purposes, the school year is OVER.

Like all years, it has had its highs and lows. 

I've seen students grow up; I've seen them soar; I've seen others regress; I've been impressed with some; I've been disappointed by some. I've loved them all, through thick and thin, and I will be sad to see them go on to high school.

While I still love my job, I find myself, with every passing year, losing more and more of the feeling that my job defines me. Part of that may be personal, with grandchildren who know take much of my free time. But the bulk of that loss comes from the changes in education.. locally and nationally. 

A good friend, a former middle school teaching colleague, is considering retirement. Another former colleague, who taught in the middle school with us, came to talk to me, asking about pranking the potential retiree. Back in the good ole days, the middle school staff was a bonded unit. We laughed, we pranked, we taught, we planned fun activities to challenge students, we had competitions between classes for fun, for academics, for just because it was Friday...

We took academics seriously. We pushed kids to their outer limits. We expected them to meet our expectations, behaviorally, academically, and socially. 

But we were a family. A large rumbly family, rough around the edges, but fiercely protective of each other, and most of all, of our 'offspring'. 

The middle school was THE place to be, the place to teach, the place to learn... WE were the COOL KIDS.

Now.. we are sucked into the high school... the 6th grade hovers on the edge of elementary. None of us really belong anywhere. We just exist.

And I wonder.. how much of THAT causes the apathy among our students... our staff... the lack of respect.. the lack of motivation.. 

So much of what we do now revolves around testing and test scores.. pre-tests and post-tests... And push 'em harder, and learn 'em faster, and get 'em ready for that next leap.. that we've forgotten they are just kids. We've forgotten that school ought to be about more than scores and learning. It is about being part of something bigger and better, where together we ALL are better.

If we could go back, be a middle school again, be US again.. would that change anything??

Saturday, May 31, 2014

At the beginning of the school year, we are all like fresh eggs, just gathered from the hen's soft nest, still warm, full of nutrition and potential.

By June, we are like burnt fried eggs, beyond anything anyone would want to eat.

ALL OF US.. students, teachers, everyone....

Friday, May 30, 2014

I had an absolute meltdown this morning.. in class... I am so beyond frustrated with the behaviors of my students I am at the end of my rope. I know we are at the end of the year and they are ready to be done, and some of the behaviors are to be expected.

But on the other hand, we've come so far together. They've grown up dramatically, or so I thought.

Guided Study class starts the day, an hour for special ed kids to get extra help on assignments, or just a quiet time and place to work. They are ALL failing AT LEAST 2 classes, with tons of assignments due, overdue, exams to study for, projects to finish, etc... But all they can do is giggle, chat, complain - about everything from A-Z - one day this week it was how stupid the dress code is when I sent 2 girls to office for ripped jeans - one of which had been called out on EXACT same pair of pants by principal LAST week. But instead of taking care of the problem, it became a HUGE argument/heated discussion about how stupid the dress code is, how this school is going downhill, how they are ALL going to Community School (alternative high school) next year. The more I tried to refocus them, they more obnoxious they became - to me, to each other, to the entire school. Another day, it was simply a refusal to work - I gave them study guides for their history exam, but they didn't want to use them - refused to look for their notes, get a book, etc.. Another day, it was a battle over getting their math assignment that SHOULD have been homework, but none of them take work home, but they wouldn't find it so we could even try to tackle it. Another day one girl insisted she had to type her science notes, only for me to find her playing a video game online instead.

The saddest part isn't the defiance, or the disrespect... it is that THEY have given up on themselves. They know they are failing. They know there is no hope. They know that by in large, they aren't going to get a high school diploma. The one girl announced today that she's just going to get one of those "FREE CHECKS like my mom does - $1800 a month - so I can stay home and not do nothing." She went on to brag she "don't know why nobody ever wants no job. That's just crazy! Stay home, do what you want and the FREE CHECK comes in the mail on the 3rd of every month."

and she's right.... why would they want to show up, do their work, struggle, try hard.... get a diploma -  which they ALL could do if they actually tried.... when FREE money comes in the mail for doing nothing.

But don't worry, I will keep showing up, doing my work, struggling, trying hard.. for them and the ones who will follow them.. so that FREE money will land in their mailboxes for generations to come. Heaven forbid we try to change the system, break the cycle, and teach responsibility. Do I sound angry and disgruntled? Maybe I am...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gather 4 data points to prove my worth, my effectiveness....

Let's examine my possibilities:
-MEAP tests that students took last October, which tested them on content from the previous year
-GLAD tests which are supposedly aligned to grade level standards but even the program itself shows that 14 of the 44 questions on the 8th grade GLAD are actually testing high school standards
- pre & post tests in class
-EXPLORE test (kinda like a ACT for middle school kids) that predicts college and career readiness - wait.. Many of my kids won't even get a diploma from high school, and even if they manage to do that, are certainly not college bound. At least half of them have no intention of even getting a job some day. Their grand plan for life is to live off the system one way or the other.
-STAR reading -which in theory would be great but when kids score higher on this test, their AR point goals get raised, so why would anyone WANT to score higher on it?
-whatever else I can pull out of my hat

For students, none of these tests hold any level of accountability. If a student has parents who are grade motivated, the pre & post tests do hold some accountability on their parts, but otherwise, students don't understand or see correlation between their scores on these tests and ANYTHING in their real lives.

As students took the GLAD today, they finished 44 math questions - long, hard word problems - in less than 10 minutes. GOOD kids, kids who usually CARE. But kids who look at that computer screen and see too many words, too much work, and feel defeated before they even start. They know their score on the test won't keep them from going to high school. It won't mean repeating a grade. It won't mean summer school or remedial work to bring them up to speed. It just means they are done with one more test.

So here I sit.. trying to compile data to prove my worth as a teacher. Trying to figure out a way to make the dismal test scores look less bleak. Trying to find a way to make it look as if my kids have made progress. Trying to make THEM look good on paper so I look good on paper.

In reality, I KNOW that they have grown, and learned, and made progress. I KNOW without a doubt they are leaving with more skills than they came to me with. Some of those skills, in theory, should be able to be measured. But so many more of those skills could never be measured with a click and click and click test.

The skills that should be able to be measured? well.. I could make a million excuses why they won't meet their benchmarks - they are reading at a 2nd grade level in 8th grade... they don't know even their multiplication tables, much less how to balance an equation.... they don't want to do any work independently, preferring, insisting even, on being hand fed answer by answer, step by step... they have been beaten down for so many years they have lost any and all confidence in themselves so every step forward we slide 10 back.

But in the end, does any of it matter? No matter how well I teach, no matter how hard I work, no matter how many hours and how much of my heart I pour into them, all that matters in the end is some number on a piece of paper.

No one will know how far they've come - no one will see the girl who now volunteers to read aloud, even though she struggles with most of the words.
No one will see the boy who aces every math test in class, but is too overwhelmed and anxious to give that same effort when it really matters.
No one will see the girl who missed 50 days of school this year.
No one will see the girl who comes to school hungry most days.
No one will see the bruises hidden under his sleeves.
No one will see anything but a useless test score.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Why I hate cell phones in the classroom..............
Dad texts daughter to tell her her cat died.
REALLY??? SERIOUSLY???????????
#1 Don't you think that could wait until school is over?
#2 Don't you think you daughter is supposed to be learning during language arts class?
#3 SERIOUSLY???? Now I have a crying 13 year old, who now has the entire class distracted because YOU, her FATHER, decided the news her cat died couldn't wait 3 hours until she got home.

I can't believe that education has taken such a back burner to EVERYTHING else for too many students. They, their parents, they don't value education. The students 'show up' but other than that, school is just not a priority. School is where they have to spend time each day, but forget them doing anything outside the school day, even read a book. When they are absent, and they are absent A LOT, they never would even consider making up the work.

Some of the burden falls on the school, the teachers, the system. We need to find ways to reach and teach every child. But reality check - we can't when the rest of the world is against us.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The countdown to summer calendar says 26 days left. 26 days to finish teaching these 8th graders everything they  need to know to be successful in high school..... I have had them for 3 years. Ups, downs, good days, bad days, just days... laughs, and tears... yelling and laughing.........

What do they really really need to be successful in high school, to earn that oh so important diploma?
It isn't about balancing equations, or infinitives and gerunds, or the Union generals of the Civil War... in the scheme of life, NONE of that really matters.

The things that DO matter?
~knowing someone cares enough about them to set limits and enforce them
~knowing they care about someone enough to challenge their limits with the confidence that person will still love them no matter what
~knowing that they and they alone are in control of their choices, the implicated consequences. and how those choices impact their success or failure

Those three things matter much more than anything book "learnin'" I could ever try to pour into their brains...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It seems more days than not, I feel like a failure. It seems too often I focus on what's going wrong, instead of believing things are going right. But the past few days have given me some pats on the back that were need.

Today is a half day for parent teacher conferences. As always, I wrote the shortened schedule on the board, along with the day's plan. One student asked, "WHAT TIME DO WE GET OUT??"

Another answered,"It's on the board. Mrs. George ALWAYS has everything we need to know written up there!"

Wow.. I write it every day, but sometimes, I wonder if they ever read it, notice, or care. A little positive affirmation goes a long way. I need to remember that with my students, always looking for ways to show them I do notice their efforts, their progress, their things they do right, all the time. I have to remember that for them, those positive affirmations I give may be the only ones they get in their lives, the only ones they get all day at school, and be more intentional in my affirmations for them.

Another pat on the back came from a different student who saw the employee of the month on the school's home webpage. She asked how to make ME employee of the month. The link on the website didn't work, and honestly, she probably wouldn't have completed the form anyway. She struggles to write and is very self-conscious of her mistakes. But her asking, and the others chiming in to agree with her, were worth more than any award from the district could ever be. I just need to know sometimes that they know I CARE.

But now.. it's parent teacher conference time, time to brag them up if anyone actually shows up!

Monday, February 24, 2014

I don't believe in giving up on kids. I really honestly, down in my deepest of deeps, don't believe in giving up. But sometimes, I feel like I am backed against a wall, and am simply trapped, with nowhere left to go with some of them at times.

We have been studying linear equations/functions in math for a while, a LONG while. We have spent over a week on some lessons. That, I expect. I know with my crew, we will never be able to move as quickly as a regular math class would move. But today, after covering the same topics for days upon days. After exploring the ideas multiple ways. After teaching, reteaching, reviewing, using individualized computer instruction, I gave a quiz over the material. One girl scored a 100%. woohoo!!! AND ... She has been absent a TON lately. But the next highest score was a 67, followed by the remainder being 0's or less than 20%'s. Seriously???? How is it possible at this point they still cannot find slope given 2 points?? They 'learned' it as 7th graders, we reviewed it this year, for several days, we applied it to a variety of situations, the formula was still on the board... and yet, they 'can't' find slope??? Find an x and y intercept?? I may as well have asked them to do cartwheels, except I think they'd be more likely to accomplish that.

I struggle with the interruptions, the lack of caring on their part, the lack of personal responsibility, the refusal to do anything independently, the tardies to class(no, not 10 seconds late, but 10 minutes late..), the suspension days, the 20 minute bathroom breaks in the middle of class, the being more interested in tying your shoes than participating in the lesson, the inability to even bring a pencil to class...

I struggle when I try to talk to them about having a job someday and being told they never plan to work. Instead, they plan to be on 'welfare'.

I struggle when a student tells me they feel sorry for ME because I HAVE to go to work everyday. They plan on just staying home like their parents do.

I struggle when I assign 5 problems to do outside of class, over a week long time period, and they do not complete them.

I struggle with the idea that THEIR test scores determine MY worth as a teacher, when I am giving THEM 110% and they are giving me maybe, MAYBE 10%.

I've been at this gig a long time, and I love the kids, most of them, most of the time.

But it seems with every passing year, students care less and less about school and learning. They do not see the value in education. They never plan to use education in their future.

I try to show them the relevance of what we are learning. I try to make it fun. I try to show them I care. I do all the things that SHOULD work.

But for some of them, nothing seems to....
And they go home, and play their video games, and snapchat, and instagram, and watch TV, and I lie awake and wonder why.. and how.. and if...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Seriously... you want to evaluate (not judge.. because that is something entirely different, right??) me and my teaching on test scores. Fine, dandy, makes about as much sense as most things we do in education today.

So... end of semester one this week. Testing.. lots and lots of testing. 

Sign up computer lab to do testing in, because even though students have school issued netbooks, they forget them, they aren't charged, they have so much junk downloaded on them that the computers run SLOWLY.

Great.. at least in here, things will run smoothly. Or not...

The adjoining room is where the computer techs come each week to fix broken netbooks. There IS a door which separates the two rooms, but the noise level of everything they say and do is much the same as if they were standing front and center in this room. To their credit, they do lower their voices when I go and ask them. But the banging of them moving around, the pulling of tape off a roll, the other constant noises, are distracting to say the least.

I keep tabs on students. One is on #25 of 45 questions about 45 minutes into class. I start formulating a plan for him to finish the test. But alas, he has also noticed the time crunch and miraculously finishes the last 20 questions in under 5 minutes. I am certain he did well on THOSE questions. 

The others plod along each hour, with interruptions to go to the bathroom - students who never ask to go to the bathroom - but it must be the pressure of the testing situations and suddenly they MUST go, NOW. Pencils break, and of course, there is no sharpener in the room so they have to go down the hall to sharpen. People walk by the door. One student finishes and because he refused to bring a book to read when he was done, now he is a constant thorn in everyone's side making irritating noises and movements. 

I can't wait to give the LONG language arts test to my special ed kids 4th hour.. that should be a GREAT experience. 22 pages, 22 long pages,  of reading selections and questions. Why torture them? They know, and I know, and everyone else knows, they read well below grade level. Why do we need another torturous test to show that? 

And of course, the absent students... they will have to miss a day of classroom instruction to make up their tests, to prove once again that they are stupid, and not worthy, and below grade level, making them another day behind, causing them to fall further behind and into even more abysmal failure.

Yes, test more, test more, test more. Evaluate my worth on their tests, please. Don't let me teach. Don't let me encourage. Don't let me individualize. Just test them, and prove again and again they are lagging behind. But don't give me the resources or the opportunity to meet them where they are, coax them to where they could be, but instead, just keep expecting them to fit the round hole you've created for them to be shoved into. 

and wonder why so many talented teachers give up.. and move on to other careers....