Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tired puppy

I am out of energy.

How do teachers with families do it? I was at school this morning at 7:45 for a department meeting, taught from 8:30 to 3:20 with a 33 minute lunch and a 49 minute prep period, then had a BTSA meeting from 4-7 pm.

All I have is a dog. And I feel guilty for neglecting him. I don't know what the heck I'd feel about balancing a family life with my career.

And tomorrow's the end of the quarter. All of a sudden, kids who haven't been doing their homework now care. And so do their parents. How many times do I have to explain that, no, their child cannot make up the vocabulary homework from the beginning of September, because the test that was based on that vocabulary was already given 5 weeks ago? Some parents are great, and some are not. Right now I'm really seeing apples and trees. You know, all of a sudden the child cares, just like all of a sudden, the parent cares.


Don't get me started on the parent who keeps asking me for a syllabus. For her behavior disordered son who has been placed in my developmental reading class. Incorrectly I might add. But who am I? Just the classroom teacher.

This is junior high, remember? I do plan things out, but not classwork and homework assignments for the entire semester. Ugh. And yet, she just keeps asking.

I can't be witty or pithy or even sarcastic tonight. I'm just plain beat.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A "special" week

My starry-eyed student teacher joined us today. She's only here for eight weeks, and only three days a week at that. Oh, except for the two weeks she's going to take over the class between the Thanksgiving and Winter holidays.

Oh dear. She already has big dreams about how class is going to run while she's here. She doesn't understand that we have to have "common assessments" and that Mr. Principal doesn't give a shit how creative and engaging her lesson plan is if progress can't be measured with the same exact stinking tool that everyone else uses.

She'll learn.

Tomorrow I have a half day of training, so a half day of substitute teacher. Of course writing a sub plan for two classes takes just as much time as five classes. Wednesday is a minimum day, which ends up being rather pointless; the classes are all 26 minutes long, and we end up with just an extra hour and a half for in-service. This time we're supposed to be meeting with the other teachers in the district in our respective departments to "align curriculum." Should be easy since we all use the Holt textbook now. And the Holt support materials. And the Holt tests and assessments. And the Holt spelling materials. And the Holt language and sentence structure materials.

Actually Holt isn't so bad. I'm just nervous about the mentality that has finally hit our school.

Thursday it's Late Start day, which always makes the parents so happy after a minimum day, and then Friday, I'm off to San Francisco. I can't wait.

Well, I can. I have more sub plans to write.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

A week of meetings

I think I hit a new record this week:

During my prep period - a meeting with Mrs. R., a parent concerned about her daughter not liking to read. She then shot down every suggestion I had. This girl has an "A" in my Honors English class.

8:00am - before school started, a SDAIE meeting. I had to point out that the scripted program mandated by the district for my reading classes, uses absolutely no Specifically Designed Academic Instruction in English strategies, and there was no place to fit them in to the class (being that it is scripted).

3:30pm - Faculty meeting. We all had to get into groups by department, and write lesson plans for the 35 "character education" topics our school has. In an hour and a half. Total bullshit. Each week we are supposed to take one of these topics, such as "honesty" or "tolerance" and teach a 10-minute lesson on it in our homeroom. That's except for last week and this week, which was used to promote the selling of entertainment books by our students to raise money for our school.

5:15pm - meeting with Ms. Assistant Principal, and Ms. Department Chair. We have a Holt textbook training next week, but can't afford enough subs for all the English teachers. The solution is to have six teachers attend half of it in the morning and five attend in the afternoon. That way, we only have to get seven subs instead of eleven. Except...
The morning people were going to be trained for three hours, get an hour break, and then teach two classes. The afternoon people (of which I was one) were going to teach four classes, get no break, and go to three hours of training. Training that would go a half hour over our regular school day. Training that would go over the time I have my afterschool tutorial class (and for which I get paid extra to teach).
When I pointed out these discrepancies, Ms. English Chair said, "Well, you know, you can always eat your lunch during the training." and Ms. Assistant Principal asked, "Can't you get someone to cover your afterschool class?"
I left angry.

8:00am - meeting for co-operating teachers. I have a new student teacher coming in Monday, about whom I know nothing, but her name. I thought the meeting was to be introduced to each other, and all that, but no. I was handed a list of my responsibilities, and a pretty green folder which was supposed to have a letter in it from the student teacher, but "we don't have all of the letters yet." This year, the second quarter student teachers will only be at school Monday through Wednesday, but will need to complete an 8-day takeover at the end. Good god. How?

8:00am - English Department meeting. We don't have any money, so we are on our own for supplies this year. Make sure your kids sell lots of those entertainment books so we can afford overhead transparencies. We have to give common assessments. Ms. English Chair suggests we all just us her rubric for all writing assignments. We then decide to perhaps ALL bring our rubrics to try and come up with a basic one for the department. She leaves out that we all already use the California State Standards Rubric for writing assignments. I try to point that out, and I am ignored.

8:30 - Late start Thursday faculty meeting. After being berated by Mr. Vice Principal for not all being in our seats at 8:30, we are given the breakdown of test scores for each individual student. We then cluster into department/grade level groups to look at the scores, and figure out what we are doing wrong... I mean, what our focus should be to improve our scores. Mrs. B, a teacher in our department has a bug up her butt the whole time we are talking. Rolling her eyes, huffing and sighing, starting to say things, but not finishing her sentences. She teaches both history and English, and is being pressured because she's not "following the English Curriculum" in a way the administration would like to see (she actually is teaching English alongside the history curriculum... in a very creative way, but that's not allowed).

4:00-7:00pm - Another fascinating BTSA meeting. One in which all the information I received at the all-day training last Tuesday was repackaged and redelivered. There was a veggie platter and bottled water though.

2:35 pm - meeting with a parent of a mainstreamed special Ed student, his case manager, and his school counselor. The father was concerned that I wasn't being sympathetic to his child's special needs. I told him that I understood, but that making farting noises, standing up and actually farting in the middle of class, and calling out curse words when he didn't like the directions given, wasn't working very well for the other 31 students in his son's class. It's an Honors class for goodness sake. This boy has Asberger's or Tourette's or something, but the parents refuse to have a diagnosis made. He's been suspended already for threatening another student's life. Love these situations.

4:00 -6:00 - meet with my BTSA participating teacher and Ms. Second year to plan out the second quarter of eighth grade English. We met at a coffee shop, so it counted as socializing too. Didn't it?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The "Team Player"

How many times do we hear that from our administration?

And what it really means is "Don't complain, even if it's unfair."

Here's the deal. There's a big push right now for common assessments in all classes. Of course, there's no extra time, or money to pay us for the extra time, to get together and create these common assessments. Well, why should we? Why reinvent the wheel for goodness sake? Holt, Rinecourt and Winston have already done it for us. And they are aligned with the State Standards! How wonderful is that? You don't have to create anything. You don't even have to think. Just do what it says according to the teacher's edition of the textbook. They've even mapped out the whole year.

Wow. Think of it. All students all across California, on the same page on the same day. Every one getting exactly the same thing. Delivered in the same way. Talk about equal access. It's fabulous.

Uh huh. Really, it is. Don't frown. Com'on, don't be a grouch. You can throw out all your own lessons. Novels? There's no time for them now. Don't worry, the HRW people have chosen a wide cross section of multi-cultural selections.

Time? Oh, I know that the state mandates about an hour and a half a week more of language arts instruction than we have here at Unnamed Junior High School, but with talented teachers like yourself, I know you can do it. What's that? You want to have a Socratic Seminar in your class? You feel it engages even the quiet students? Is it on the CAT-6? Is it on the STAR test? Well then, you'll just have to save it until after the tests in April. You can have more freedom then, after the test. A poetry portfolio? There's no standard about writing poetry. You need to get focused Ms. X. These kids need to know the difference between an elegy and an ode. That's something that can be tested. They don't need to "have fun" at school. They need to do well on the tests. I know, our API is 814, but that's not the point. We have to keep improving every year.


Monday, October 10, 2005

a question

How is it that my students can notice if I painted my toenails, but still don't know the difference between an adverb and an adjective?

I can't even count any more

So, the teachers went back to school on the 23rd of August, and the kidlets came back on the 29th. I'm trying not to count weekends or holidays, so I think today is day 29. But I said that Friday was day 29.

Whatever, it's the beginning of the seventh week of school.

The students were supposed to bring in their rough drafts today. They're writing narrative essays, and these are to be autobiographical. We've been pre-writing and outlining for a week.
First period, CA and KB don't have their essays. We peer edit these rough drafts, and those kids who don't have their papers really get behind.

"But my mom can do it."

"Yes, but she already went to eighth grade now, didn't she?"

I spent three hours at school yesterday, Sunday, to get the peer editing worksheets done. You know, "highlight all the sensory words used" and "underline all the transitions." "Put a box around the statement that tells why the event was significant to the writer."

I feel strongly about peer editing. It's not peer grading, I make that very clear, it's peer editing. Students helping each other become better writers. We always find other's mistakes better than we find our own. Students get to pick their partners, and it's low risk. There's no competition in it, yet everyone wins. Everyone that is, except the kids that don't bring their rough drafts.

Five more in third period and another five in fifth period don't have their essays.
"I left it in my printer."
"I forgot."
"My mother made me go to bed."
"I was in Bakersfield all weekend and couldn't get to it."

That last one was my favorite. It was assigned on Wednesday, and I gave them the weekend as a gift. I really wanted them to bring it in Friday. But still, out of 91 students in English 8H, twelve didn't do their work. That's not a good ratio.

I don't know what to do to make these kids figure this out. It's not a little 5-point homework assignment; this essay is worth 100 points when they are all finished with it.

So, today, the rest of the students were editing each other's papers. Tonight, they are to go home and make corrections for a second draft. Tomorrow, they will have a much shorter basic proofreading/polishing form with which to help each other. It's the grammar/punctuation/spelling/did you indent your paragraphs properly? form. Then, Wednesday, the final draft.

The kids that didn't get their rough drafts done on time are in a pickle. They'll have to have their mom or dad or someone proofread it at home (for which they earn no credit), and then go right into the second draft. Oi.

Any bets on how many papers are missing tomorrow?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Day 29

I love Fridays.

I used to get lots of work done on Friday afternoons. The kids make themselves scarce much more quickly than during the rest of the week, and most teachers cut out as soon as they can. My room is quiet, I can get work done, and the copy machine in the office is available (no student teacher making 60 stapled packets of nine, two-sided papers).

However, ever since I got a dog, I feel guilty staying at work much later than 5:00. Sure, I could run home and bring him back with me; sometimes I do that on the weekends. No, if I go home, I really don't want to go back to school.

Progress reports got home yesterday, and I had five emails and four phone messages today. They won't be the last. I teach three "Honors" level classes, which really just means the students in that level have parents that make them do their work. What else it means is that I have some overbearing parents to deal with much of the time.

"Dear Ms. X,
I'd like to know why you left the academic grade area on CJ's progress report blank. Is that normal?"

Well sir, yes it is. This is a mid-quarter, progress report. I only send them home if a student is doing poorly, or has citizenship problems. Which, if you didn't notice, your son has. Why does he continually interrupt others? Why does he keep speaking, just more loudly, when it's clearly another student's turn? It's as if he doesn't realize, that when I'm leaning over and helping someone with his or her work, I am focusing on that particular student. He will constantly repeat himself, "Ms. X, I have a question. Ms. X? Ms. X, I need your help. Ms. X? Ms. X?"

Has he never learned to wait his turn at home? Do you and the Mrs. answer his every request?

Okay, so that was all on the inside. I am known at school as someone who has good "parent-communication skills." That means I'm talented at sucking it up, and giving the most polite reply at all times. I may be exploding at times, but I'm polite.

I did remind Mr. CJ's dad that I post the grades on line every week; so he is able to view them at any time he would like.

Every year, our principal gives us more required things to do. He calls them the "Unnamed School Agreements" and touts them at all times. What he always leaves out is that no one at our school ever agreed to them. He decided what they would be, talked to us about it, acted like he listened, and then adopted them as gospel.

This year it was requiring all teachers to post grades on line. Last year, it was to make our emails accessible to all parents. Neither one of these is a bad idea, nor does either take a huge amount of time, but he was the only one who "agreed" to them.

Email. It's convenient, but can be very impersonal. There's no human voice and intonations to hear what the other person is saying. I've been ordered to do several things by email (ex: "Ms. X, Notify me immediately if CZ's grade is anything but a straight A. CZ's Mom").

Really, no salutation, no closing, just the order. As if I really have time to notify her that her son has an A- instead of an A. It's as if I'm a huge corporation, and people use their "business writing skills" to write to me.

Another parent, last year, would email me 2-3 times a week and ask me to email her son's work to her. He wasn't sick or absent, he just never did his work. This was an Honor's class, remember? He would actually refuse to do work in class with everyone else. I never could prove it, but I was sure his mother was doing it for him at home. Now, I realize she was trying to help him, but a 14-year old boy needs to start taking some responsibility for himself.

And there's the problem. These kids are 13-14 years old. They aren't old enough to make responsible choices all the time. They are old enough to make them some of the time.

I don't have an answer. I'm not a parent, just a teacher. Yes, these students are with me all day, but at the end of nine months, I give them back. Most I never see again. How do I know when to hold them up, chase them around with their work until they do it, or when to let them flounder, and figure it out on their own?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

day 26

So, this idea of posting every day was quite the pipe dream... but at least I can write once in a while.

I missed my second day of class today; I had to go to an all-day BTSA training. See, I'm a "support provider" teacher, and I can't just give advice, I have to be trained to give advice. This was the second seven-hour training in two weeks. I can choose to go to afterschool trainings, Saturday trainings, or release day trainings. None are great choices. I would like to have a life after school, I really don't want to give up Saturdays, and having a sub is always more work than it's usually worth. I have not had a sick day in the last two years; because our sub list is so small, and it's usually easier to just come in and teach than try to set things up for someone else.

So, BTSA. A friend of mine calls it "Shitsa" because she hates it so much. It's required now in California for new teachers; they can't get their clear credentials until they have completed the two year program. I lucked out; BTSA existed on a much smaller scale when I was a new teacher, and our district didn't participate in it. I was thrown in to the water of the classroom, and I didn't sink.

Not that I was a strong swimmer most days, but I figured it out.

Anyway, a first or second year teacher is just trying to keep his or her head above water, and now they've added another hoop for each to jump through. My "participating teacher" as she's called, has to meet with me at least once a week, has assignments to complete, has her own trainings to attend six times this year, and attends a monthly BTSA meeting with me as well. I have to do observations of her classroom teaching, and she has two days in which she is to be observing other teachers.

In theory, the idea of a mentor teacher is a good one. In practice, it's full of forms and papers that must be filled out and signed. We are supposed to have a choice whether or not we want to participate in the program as "support providers," but when asked in front of the new teacher, during a department meeting, and told "you are the only one who can do it," and are reminded that she has to complete this program to get her clear credential, well, what are you supposed to do? Say no?

I will get $1100 for doing this. For the year. I worked it out with the hours involved; it's about $15 an hour. It eats up so much time.

Add to this the time spent as the reading co-ordinator, and my after-school tutorial program, and the Diversity Committee I'm on... When do I lesson plan?

I don't teach at the university, so why do I feel so compelled to take on all these other responsibilities?

Grr... I just want to teach.