Monday, January 16, 2006

But I don't wanna!

This is it. The moment of truth. I have to go in to the classroom today, even though it's a holiday, and finish grading those $%#$@#! papers. Every year it gets worse. I try to streamline it, but end up procrastinating until the end. I also have to call home and let annoying boy's mother know that he is going to flunk this semester. I've been letting her know all along that he's missing work, but she doesn't seem to have followed through with him.

This is disappointing. He shouldn't be flunking. He's just simply refused to do either one of the bigger writing assignments we've done.

Hey NCLB, how do you suggest we approach students like this?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I know it's a drag, but please...

Friday I had a substitute. I was at a Writer's Project Renewal. I hate being out of my room; I conceitedly feel as if no learning or work can be done while I'm gone. I'm going to be gone again, on Wednesday, because Mom's having oral surgery, and it's going to take four hours. I need to take her there, and be ready to take her home and play nursemaid to her. I love my mom, but I'm not looking foreward to it.

Now, I've heard horror stories from subs who talk about teachers who leave no lesson plans. Horror stories of rotten children who appear to be the spawn of Satan. Horror stories of all kinds. I've never subbed, but I feel for the subs. Walking into a room cold, particularly a room of hormones in sneakers, which is what my eighth graders are most of the time, can't be fun.

However. You don't have to sub. Most people don't. We have only two subs this year we can count on. Most of the time, we are subbing for each other, because our district doesn't see fit to pay as much as the other two districts in our area. I've also been told that although there's money for in-services and teacher training, we can't get enough subs to cover teachers who want to attend. How lame is that?

What I'm saying is, I know how hard it is, even if I am not a substitute teacher.

But. We are in this together, Mr. and Ms. Substitute. We have to work together. What follows is what I do for you when you are present in my absence, then a list of what I'd like back from you. If you think, dear substitute, or any other dear reader, I've left something out, please feel free to add it in.

Here goes:
I will leave you clean and clear seating charts on clipboards. I will leave them in a centrally located area, and tell you where that area is. I will also leave overhead transparencies on the top of the seating charts, so you can easily mark students who are absent, or acting up, without trying to figure out names to write down.

I will leave you a detailed lesson plan, all handouts marked with post-its, and any other information you will need in a letter left on my desk.

I will leave an overhead transparency on the projector, with an agenda of the day's activities for you to show the students.

I will list the names of students who tend to act up, and also the names of students who you can ask for help.

I will have asked the "helper" students in advance to assist you.

I will leave clear instructions about how students should turn in homework, and whether or not they may use the hall pass to "go to the bathroom" etc.

I will always thank you.

Okay, Your turn:

Please do not bring your guitar and play for the students instead of following the lesson plan. None of them have contacts in the music industry.

If I've asked you to play a tape-recorded version of The Pearl, for the students to follow along to in their own reading books, I don't mind if you stop the tape for a moment now and then to clarify something. However, please make sure that in 45 minutes, you've gotten past the first page.

Don't yell at the students. Yes, they can be rude, but that shouldn't be a surprise. I mean, they are 13 you know.

Don't come in with a cold and threaten them with "Be good or else I'll breathe on you."

If they students are watching a movie, please don't hand out pencil cap erasers. I'm still finding bits of them around the room, 13 weeks later.

Try and notice if erasers, crayons, playdoh or what not are being thrown around the room. Stop it if you see it.

Please don't leave me a note, like my sub did Friday, "periods 1-4 were great. A number of kids in period 5 were talkative and disruptive, all period." If you don't tell me their names, or at least mark them on the seating chart, I can't do anything about it. Should I punish the whole class?

Please don't ignore my notes or rules. If you're worried about being a "cool sub" you're still too young to be doing this.

Have I left anything out?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Left out of the Clique

So, how come everyone seems to be linked over there at The Education Wonks except me? What do I need to do to become one of the popular kids?

(I'm regressing back to junior high, when Cathy Brown made fun of me and threw my books out the bus window.)

A good day

So, my recharged batteries worked today. I didn't get angry, or have to raise my voice at all. I've been reading Conscious Classroom Management by Rick Smith. As a BTSA support provider, I get all the books the new teacher gets. I took this one home and set it on the floor in the bathroom.

Too much information? Sorry. I live alone, and have those secret single person habits.

Anyway, I've been reading through it, and although it's written for new teachers, it's never too late for this old dog to learn a new trick or two.

Discipline in my classroom has always been a bit loose, to say the least. I am usually comfortable with it, but when I have a group, like this year's third period class, my "personal style" doesn't work too well.

Let's see, out of 32 students, 22 are boys. That's highly unusual in an eighth grade English class, but I have to deal. In addition, I have five particular boys whose goal in life is to get me off task. They attempt this (more often than not successfully), by asking me slightly-related-but-irrelevant-to-the-task-at-hand questions, arguing with a statement I've made, or by making comments to others in the class. They often also need to go to the bathroom, to sharpen their pencil, a sheet of paper, or to tell me that Lucy is chewing gum.

They drive me nuts.

So, after reading Mr. Smith's book, I've instituted some changes as of the new year. Number one is, No Arguing With The Ref. It means I will not accept arguing as a good use of class time. If I am wrong, which is possible, the student may meet with me after class. If it's not important enough for him or her to stay after, it's not important enough to argue about.

The second rule is No Student Lawyers In Class. That covers Billy's friend who wants to "stick up" for him, and explain to me that it wasn't Billy who was doing the talking, he was just answering a question...asking what time it was...blah blah blah, time wasted time wasted time wasted. Instead, I announced I have office hours with "Student Lawyers" on Fridays at 4 pm. Again, if it's not important enough to come see me, it's not important enough to take class time.

It seemed to work well today. Could be because it was novel, or that most kids were comatose because their parents didn't remind them to get to bed before midnight last night, but it did go well.

I add my own touch to these rules. I have a timer in my room, and in the past few years, when we've started to veer off the subject, I've set the timer for two minutes and let the students know that they only have that amount of time for off-topic talk. It works well. Sometimes they just need to speak, and sometimes the off-topic talk has a purpose.

Today, I set the timer at the beginning of the class, and told them they could use the extra two minutes at any time during the lesson. Every time my John Candy wannabe started up, I'd say, "okay" and start the timer. The other students themselves would tell him to stop, and poof, I'd turn off the timer.

They did all the work, I didn't get worked up, and I got the best compliment from a student later in the office,
"That timer thing really worked. We should do it all the time."

This from a quiet little girl who usually says nothing. I know it's been bugging her and others, this obnoxiousness I've allowed. I am just as guilty as these noisy boys, and it's my job to get the class back on track.

So far, so good.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Back to reality

So, tomorrow morning, bright and shiny, we're all going back. Well, not all of us. In the vast wisdom of our school district, the elementary students have three weeks, and the secondary students have two.

Why, do you ask?

Beats me. I'm just a teacher here. No one asked for my opinion. Wait, they did...let me rephrase that.

No one listened to my opinion. Others have written about this; their administration's tendency to ask for input, so that teachers will have ownership of whatever decision is made, then going right ahead and doing whatever it was they intended in the first place.

I feel like Charlie Brown sometimes,

"Maybe this time, just this once, Lucy won't snatch that ball away from me at the last minute."

But of course, just like Mr. Brown, I'm always kicking at thin air.

Anyway, I don't want to complain.

I'm ready to go back to school, even if a third of my kids will be out. What did you expect? If my younger brother or sister is out of school, and we've gone to Mexico, or Vail or Maui, my whole family is going to come back just for me? I know, there's only three weeks left of the semester, but I'll just make it up. If I get a bad grade, my parents will pressure the principal to make the teacher give me more time or extra credit or just change the grade.

Still complaining, aren't I?

Anyway, it's raining buckets outside, and my kitchen floor has sprung a leak. Last year my landlady got tired of having the carpet cleaned because of the leak (something about rain coming in underground, through the fireplace bricks or something. She didn't fix the problem, just replaced the carpet in front of the fireplace with fake tile. You know that plastic-y stuff? Yep.

So, I walked into the kitchen this morning, in my socks, and well... you can guess what happened. Why is it that stepping into water whilst wearing socks is so horrific? It's just water.

I haven't told her yet, just mopped it up. My house is a mess, and I don't want anyone in here until I can get the rest of the Christmas extravaganza cleaned up. Besides, she won't do anything about it anyway.

I just hope that mold is not growing under there. I don't see how it isn't. But I can dream, right?

Alright. Back to the salt mines. I have a pile of essays to grade, and I'm still in my jammies.