Sunday, April 30, 2006

7 weeks left

But who's counting?

We continue with the fabulous STAR test next week, along with the abbreviated class periods. Our next unit will be reading a novel (finally!) The House of the Scorpion. I'm thrilled to be doing something other than the HOLT textbook bible. I worked hard last year to get this book added to our district booklist (I was shocked at the amount of work one has to do to get board approval).

However. Being that it's the first year I've taught it, I have no lesson plans. I love the book, and plan on Socratic seminars being the assessment of choice, but the questions for the Socratic seminars do not yet exist. I've done some searching on the Internet, and have found a couple of sites that might help, but if you have any ideas, they are gladly welcome. I know I'm already going to have them write a persuasive essay that will be related to the issues that come up in this book.

Oh, I had the kids check the novel out already... you know, so that they have something to read when they finish the testing early? That was Tuesday, and at least eight of my students had finished the novel by Friday. They liked it that much.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

the last two days



It's driving me batty. The kids are all bringing in massive amounts of food for the testing period. I am proctoring a GATE algebra class, and the teacher of the class, in all her wisdom, is giving extra credit for those kids who bring in goodies. There are 32 kids, and 6 days of testing.

And too much damn food. Doughnuts, cookies, goldfish, gummy bears and juice pouch thingies.

Yesterday, the three boys in the corner got bored and started tossing aforesaid gummy bears at each other. Ms. Vice Principal came in today before the test and lectured everyone on their behavior, then called out the names of the specific culprits.

Today? I was hit in the head with a straw from one of those Capri Sun juices. Right in the head.

Yep, one of the same dorks from yesterday. The future of our country, the best and the brightest.

Then, of course, we have 29 minute class periods the rest of the day, in which kids can't sit still due to being hopped up on sugar, unless it's sixth or seventh period, where they are going through the shakes from withdrawal.

Today, in my reading class, one little seventh grader flipped off an eighth grader. This shocked me, since the seventh grader is usually meek and silly.

Turns out the eighth grader had seen the seventh grader downtown this last weekend, holding his mother's hand as he crossed the street. The eighth grader was gleefully telling any and all this information.

I might have flipped him off too. Not an easy thing to live down.

The latest fad for all my male students is to fart. Loudly or silently, but to pass gas as often as possible. Then of course, to react as if tear gas had been thrown into the room. I'm surprised they don't just throw themselves down on the ground and writhe in agony.

On a good note:
Got my first spring pedicure today. Summer's out there, just waiting for me. I know it...

Monday, April 24, 2006

And the Testing Begins

Tomorrow, bright and shiny, I will have 35 faces, 70 eyeballs staring at me as I read the instructions for their first day of the California State Standards test. Tomorrow and Wednesday will be the English Language Arts portion of the test. Of course, I've signed a statement saying that I will not look at the test, talk about the test, or help any of my students on the test. However, I have to walk around, not looking at the test, but making sure my kids are bubbling in properly, not just filling in the "C" answer for every question.

Wait, these aren't my kids. Oh no. We proctor tests with students other than our own so that we don't get lazy. Make sure we pay attention to the test. No grading homework or lesson planning for me. No siree bob.

Okay, everyone knows how I feel about these tests. They are a fact of life for our kids. I took standardized tests too (way back before they meant anything, but still). My issue is not with taking a standardized test; I think it can be used as a tool for measuring what they students have learned this year. My problem is that it is the ONLY tool used anymore.

See, there are 62 state standards (in Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening) in English Language Arts for eighth grade. Only about 26 of the standards are tested, and of those, only the Reading and Writing areas. Actually, as I went over the released test samples last year, the Writing standards are not tested the way the students are taught them. It's really more reading standards.

In addition, and I think nobodyknows over at Reflective Teacher mentioned this, these questions are more often than not trying to trick the students. So, instead of the standard supposedly being measured, we are instead seeing how well the students can figure out convoluted questions and answer choices.

Again, tests are a part of life. Figuring out tricky test questions is a skill. However, is this really the meat of what we are doing?

I had a teacher tell me the other day that since the eighth graders aren't actually tested on writing a persuasive essay (the writing test is only in the 4th and 7th grade), she wasn't going to teach it.

Is this what we've come to? If it's not on the test, we cut it out?

I know I have. Last year we read 4 different novels, performed the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, and held Socratic Seminars at least once a month. Now, there's no time for that.

This isn't the kind of teaching I signed on for.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

it gets worse


This is not the best time of year for me. Quarter progress reports went out last week, and now I'm getting all the calls. I sent home mid quarter progress reports for any students missing work or earning low grades, I called home after that; sixteen phone calls in one day, just to make sure parents knew what was going on, yet some folks are still shocked that their little Tommy or Mary isn't getting an A+.

I got a phone message yesterday from a mother that was very upset that her daughter had earned a B+ from me. She has "never earned anything lower than an A in all her time her at Unnamed Junior High School," and wanted to know what was going on. Her daughter said she had turned in all her work, and was "very upset" about all this.

Okay, so I go back into my grade book, and see the young lady has a couple of large homework assignments missing, and that she's earned a few B's on vocab and chapter quizzes. In the last week, since the report cards went out, her grade has gone up to an A-. I know this girl, and I'm sure she'll earn an A in class, but hasn't so far.

So, I call the mom back, who doesn't answer, and leave a message stating the situation. I come in this morning, and there's another message from Mrs. My-Daughter-Only-Gets-A's:

"Ms. JHS Teacher, I spoke with my daughter and she says she has turned everything in. I believe her. You must have made a mistake. She says she showed it to you and I'm thinking you must have forgotten to write it down. I'm very disturbed about this situation. If she earned an A, it should be an A, and you shouldn't make mistakes like this. It's very upsetting to my daughter."

Now, how upsetting do you think this really is to the girl? No pressure, right? Shit.

This mother, with whom I've not had any conversations with at any point at all this year, is basically calling me a liar, because she can't handle the fact that her daughter wasn't 100% responsible for herself. Notice she never mentioned the B grades earned on the quizzes.

This is the kind of parent that causes ulcers in 16-year-olds.

So, I had to go and dig out this girl's notebook, and figure out if she had completed the missing work. She had. However, she had not come to me and shown me the work. Students know they need to come and show me work on their own time, while I'm at the computer, so I can change the grade right in front of them.

Personal responsibility is something I'm trying to instill in my students. I'm not teaching it to them, nor am I preparing them for high school if I run after them for every missing piece of homework.

So, I have to call Mama back again today. I have to calm down a little bit before I talk to her; I'm so irritated right now I could spit. Gosh, I hope I actually speak to her. It might not come to anything, but I want her to tell me, not my machine, that I'm not telling the truth, or that it must be my fault that her little darling didn't have a perfect grade.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just not enough Meetings

Since I teach Honors English, all of a sudden I have 20 parents who want their little darlings in GATE classes in high school. That's why there's a test people. Don't ask me to write a letter of recommendation; I'm not an expert in this regard. Yes, your sweet darling has an A in my class, and yes, she is a hard worker... but GATE is about aptitude, not achievement.

“But I want her challenged.”

What they’re really saying is,
“I don’t want her in with the general riff raff.”

Or even more disturbing,
“I don’t want my lily white kid in with those brown kids.”

Am I being overly dramatic? Maybe.

See, we’re supposed to have guidelines in our district about this. GATE was developed as an off-shoot of Special Ed. Yep, most of you knew that, but some of you didn’t, right?

Special Ed. is for students who learn differently from the mainstream population. True GATE identified students do. Learn differently, I mean. It was designed for students in the top 3-5% of IQ levels. Now, I know, IQ tests are not the be all and end all, but… let’s face it. Right now, at my junior high of 1000 students, 300 are in GATE English. I’m not a math whiz or anything, but even I can see that over 25% in GATE doesn’t represent properly. Add to that 200 more students in Honors, and you can see that things are, shall we say, slightly off at my school.

Could it have anything to do with the fact that we have the highest socio-economic level in the district? Could it be that we don’t even have enough students to qualify for Title I finding?

We have rich, white kids. With rich, white parents who are not used to taking “no” for an answer. Who determine their self worth by the grades and awards their off spring produce. Who threaten our district and principals with pulling out their students and putting them into private schools if they don’t get their way.

Well, I’m sorry, folks. Being in a GATE class in high school won’t help if your child isn’t qualified. It will just lower the expectations of the class, and create a situation in which GATE means nothing.

And really, in the real world, what does GATE mean anyway? Nothing. Hard work, loyalty, tenacity, trustworthiness, the ability to be a team player; these are how we are judged.

Not by some label our parents pushed on us so they could brag to their Pilates or golf buddies.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Have I lost you all?

So, over Spring Break I got off the subject of teaching and on to my own deal. Sorry about that. Won't let it happen again. What was I thinking? Letting it get personal?

Poetry presentations have been going well until today. The group presenting the Sonnet during 5th period were horrid. They hadn't even used the textbook to begin their research on what one was, the example they used to teach a Shakespearean Sonnet wasn't, and their own example didn't have 10 syllable lines. When I jumped in, they had the nerve to say, "we didn't know" it had 10 syllables. As if it was just left out of every definition they looked up on the internet.


Friday, April 07, 2006

What is the

Monbusho English Fellow Program?

Someone thought I was part of it when I taught in Japan, but I've never heard of it.

My teaching in Japan was different from most people's experiences; I taught at a private, Christian, girls' school. Although I was an English as a second language teacher, my official title was missionary.

This was not the bible-thumping, bicycle-riding stereotype, but I was a missionary nonetheless.

I almost quit after the first week because of it.

See, I don't feel that my beliefs have any more justification or "truth" than anyone else's. I don't think I know more, or that I have a closer relationship with God than anyone else. That "Missionary" label really got to me.

However. I changed my mind about leaving for several reasons. One was that the school, not my or any other church, was paying my salary. Yes, the school paid it to the church board, who then paid me, but none of the money from the wooden plates that went around on Sundays was making its way into my pocket.

Another reason was realizing that my job was not to convince anyone of anything. In Japan, about less than 1% of the population considers itself Christian. To be Christian, and therefore, monotheistic, is difficult with the cultural expectation of family obligation. It's a challenge to become Christian, and at the same time, in a way, negate your own family.

Also, Christians in Japan are thought of much the same way as I think of the "Born Again" and conservative, "you're all going to Hell" type of Christians here in the states. It's so difficult to become a Christian in Japan, that those who do, are pretty adamant about it.

I'm not like that. I grew up where most people are Christian. Where the culture and the society is Christian-based. It's not hard or weird or strange to go to church and believe in Jesus in my country.

So, I was an English teacher, but I also saw my role as one of offering another viewpoint. I'm not perfect, and there are a lot of folks who would argue my beliefs aren't "pure." I was approachable though, and quick to say I didn't know all the answers when I didn't. I was a Christian with whom others could actually speak, instead of one who just lectured.

I still don't believe any one religion has all the answers. I don't believe anyone has a closer line to the truth than another. What works for me, may or may not work for you. Yes, there is a line between good and evil, but even that line is wiggly (death penalty?).

If we could just spend less time finding out the faults of others, and instead spent that time improving ourselves, wouldn't the world be an easier place? Even if we didn't always agree?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Back from Paris

I've been back since the wee hours of Monday night/Tuesday morning, but I've not accomplished much since. Had to get my inner clock back on track, and I'm still getting up at 5 am each morning. Not what I want to do when it's dark, raining, and cold outside.

My house is really a guest cottage, and it's not well insulated at all. When it rains hard, as it had the whole week I was gone, the kitchen floor floods. I came back at two in the morning, after two flights, three time zones, and a two-hour drive from LAX, to find about a half inch of water covering the floor of my elfin kitchen. This has been an on-going problem for the last two winters, but my 80-year-old landlady doesn't want to invest in actually fixing the problem. What she ended up doing last year, was to put down more flooring instead of the carpet that runs next to the kitchen. See, that was getting flooded too, and she would have to spend money to get the carpet cleaners to come and wash it and dry it out.

I know there's mold going on. I have Asthma and lots of sinus allergies, and this can't be helping. The bricks on the fireplace are growing things (even though she painted over them).

This is a big deal, but otherwise, I love living here. My landlady adores me, and hasn't raised my rent. I've told her that I'm concerned, and she said the guys that put in the flooring last spring said there wasn't any mold.

Bull. They aren't the testers. I know the test costs about $300 bucks, and I also am sure they'd find something. If official testers are called in, and they find mold, she will legally have to fix the problem.

And I'm not sure that it can be fixed. Because my place is on a slope. The side that the water comes in from is below ground level. I think when the earth gets saturated, it gets into my house from underneath.

I don't want to move, and I don't want my rent to go up. The problem won't go away, but it has to stop raining sometime, doesn't it? And besides, if it gets fixed, it means that folks will have to come into my house, and see all my mess.

Oi. I wish it would just go away.