Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Starting 2nd Quarter

The bulk of science fair is now over, grades are in, and second quarter has started. Here's a summary of how it all ended:

The science fair papers were mostly terrible. Like I was mentioning before, it is a struggle to convince these children that the whole point of "research" is to then include what you learn in your paper. Sooo many of them thought that just writing three paragraphs about what they just kind of know because they heard it on TV once counted as good research. I did have several bright students who wrote fantastic research papers, though, and I am so proud of them.

Now my after-school science fair competition club can really get under way since only those students who are truly participating, about 15 of which are my students, will be completing the science fair projects. That is a huge weight off of me now.

Grades were due last week and we had a teacher work day that was supposed to re-vive me, but totally did not. Grades were due at 2:30. I finished grading at 6:00. I also failed about half of my students, so I had to figure out how to write comments other than, "Your child is smart, but LAZY."

Which brings me to what I'm very disappointed about now. I feel like I am doing a pretty great job teaching this year. I could improve still, especially in making my notes more accessible to 14 year olds and generally making the class more fun, but overall, I really do believe I am a good teacher this year. So why has there been such a minimal shift in my class average? I thought I failed about 75% of my students last year in DC because I was an unpracticed first year teacher and it was the ghetto, basically. Failure was the norm at the school. It really wasn't odd to fail that many kids.

Now I'm in a very diverse community where maybe half of my kids are still in poverty and living in broken homes (or homeless as is the case with one of my students). The other half of my kids are in stable households, though. Add that to the fact I am a better teacher in a school system that actually works and I thought it was inevitable that I would only be failing a handful of my students. The only thing I can hope right now is that it was science fair that brought all of these grades down and that it'll be different this quarter. So far, though, it's not.

We've got two grades in the gradebook right now and the class average is already super low. I collected one homework and maybe 40% didn't do it. Then we took a post-quiz with a class average score of 63%. Now, this was a post-quiz, which in my class this year means that it is the second time the students took this quiz in class. Also, it means students had full access to the pre-quiz, which is the exact same quiz, on our class website. Students were supposed to go back and practice the pre-quiz and essentially memorize the answers. And a few students in each class did. The rest didn't even study or look at the pre-quiz once. I mean, seriously. Is there any other way to pump up the grades in my classes? I am literally giving them the answers to the quizzes and most are still failing.

They'z Lazy!

Anyway, it doesn't help to focus on the negative. I'm actively looking for solutions. I'm going to be changing the way students take notes in my class and have them type them up now. I sort of hate that idea because I think that the physical act of writing notes helps it stick in your brain, but the kids are begging me to type up their notes on the laptops instead of writing them by hand, so I'll give it a shot. They all told me in a survey that the class needs to be more fun, so I'm trying to make it more fun for them. At the same time, I am working hard to also instill a sense of needing to study on their own. They are far too reliant on Jeopardy games and study sessions after school. It's time they mature to actually doing the studying their own selves.

Oh, and my field trip. I was talking about how difficult it has been to get my old school in DC to actually run the field trip that I set up for them. Long story short I heard back from the science teacher there and she seems amenable to rescheduling, but is afraid to take the students on a field trip. I explained that I know exactly where she is coming from, and that's why I set up for guest speakers to come in first to introduce the idea. Then, I suggested, only the students who were respectful to the guest speakers would be allowed on the field trip the following week. I think that's reasonable, right? Hopefully she'll think so, too. I tried to make it very clear to her that the last thing I want to do is put extra work on her plate and that I am willing to do all the ground work on this. I hope it works out.

That's where we're at now. The past few days, though, my mind has been stuck on Thanksgiving break and is not focused on school. I am so looking forward to seeing my family in Florida next weekend :-) I'll have much happier stories to tell them all, this year. Last Thanksgiving, I was clinically depressed thanks to working in DC public schools. This year, despite me complaining about things this whole blog, I actually do love my job. I love my kids, my school, my profession, everything. I think my family will be relieved to see how much better I am doing, too. It's continually amazing to me what just 10 miles can do.

Have a Super Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is there anything happening on Earth besides science fair right now?

I'm am so bogged down with science fair grading and stressed out kids crying out for help every time they see me. I wish I could run up to my kids and be like, "but I couldn't grade your papers last night because I just didn't get it!!" Or better yet, "I didn't know it was due today!" They seem to think I'll be persuaded by that, so maybe they actually would be.

Science fair is a whole different game for me this year. Since my students all have laptops, there is not issue with typing or being able to access the internet to research. The problems this year are that these kids seem to have no concept whatsoever what research actually is. Like what is source? What's a bibliography? You mean I need to put my research notes in my paper?!? Also, I have far more to grade this year because instead of having like 50% of my students doing the work, I've got more like 80%. This time around, they are real honest-to-goodness papers, too. It's not all just an exercise in identifying variables and hypotheses. They've kind of got that figured out.

The good news is it's almost over. In a week or two, they will be done designing their experiments. At that point, I will invite about 30 of my students to actually conduct their experiments, so that's only 30 papers to grade.

Really what I wanted to post about was my old school, or more to the point, my old principal. There are a couple of inappropriate words that I feel best describe him right now. You may recall that last year in DC, I (or rather my students) won $500 for the school to go towards our non-existent environmental education program for doing so well in the Fairchild Competition at the US Botanic Garden. Knowing that I was leaving that school, I completely set up a series of guest speakers and field trips with the Anacostia Watershed Society. I even picked out dates in October and everything. In June, after school was out, I even went back to school and met with the principal who gave his approval to the plan. Being the principal in charge, his job, and his only job, was to call the Anacostia Watershed Society and give them final approval. All the work was already done.

Well it is now almost November and this principal has been ignoring mine and the Anacostia Watershed Society's emails and not returning my phone calls. I finally got hold of him on the phone today and was promptly given a mountain of attitude since I left this project behind for "others to do" who weren't as "enthusiastic" about it as I was. So, he's either blaming me or his new science teachers as if this has nothing to do with him. I'll have to let you guys know if he ever actually does give my contact information to the new science teachers. Meanwhile, I will be in touch with the US Botanic Garden and the Anacostia Watershed Society.

In other news, my teen mom student that I taught last year and have again this year is not doing well at all. I think there must be something more serious than her baby going on at home because she is missing a lot of school and a lot of her work. She is still showing the same desire to do well as she did last year, even after giving birth, but the follow through is gone. I'm trying to help her out now without invading her privacy, but it's hard when she misses so much school. I'll keep you all updated.

Overall, though, still a great school. My coworkers are fun and dedicated. We hang out with administrators on Friday's after work. I genuinely like 99% of my students. It's awesome.

I'll be posting in a couple weeks I'm sure. Until then - adios!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The work load doesn't seem to be getting any smaller

I'm a little disappointed. I was certain that I wouldn't be working quite as hard this year, but instead, I'm really putting in the same hours. I'm staying at work late every day and still bringing work home which I was not supposed to ever do! And again this year, it's not like I'm doing anything super extraordinary or time-consuming. I'm really just fulfilling my basic job requirements. It seems to be just the fact I'm teaching a new course at a new school. My mentor teacher says that the first year at a new school is always like your first year all over again in terms of how much time you put into it.

But, you know, I don't really mind all that much. Last night (Sunday), I kind of had a panic attack flash back from last year. I suddenly got kind of freaked out thinking about how I wasn't ready for Monday morning. This time, though, I truly wasn't. I went to work about an hour early today to get stuff done I was planning on doing Sunday night. The point, though, is that now that the day is over, I feel fine again. Sure my lesson plan went totally bust, but I remembered that I like these kids a lot more than the ones I had last year, as a whole. Not that they are better kids individually, but that their behavior is at a place where even if my lesson plan falls apart, they don't start running around in circles, fighting, cussing, or yelling at me. They wait patiently until the rest of the class has caught up.

Today fell apart because it took way longer to teach the kids how to do stuff on their laptops than I had anticipated. It was very confusing showing them how to back up files to the server and turn stuff in to me online. But having trouble showing kids how to use laptops is the kind of problem I enjoy having. It's better than figuring out a way to get 50 students to type up papers when you don't have a single computer in the room.

On a more personal note, the reason I didn't do any work this weekend is I went camping. How fun is that? I had a great time and wasn't thinking about work-stress at all.

In class, we've wrapped up learning about the scientific method and the characteristics of living things. This week, we'll be doing a a sort of scientific method-cumulative lab with pill bugs (a.k.a. roly polies) and taking our first test. The first test I gave last year was a disaster. I sure hope this year some kids pass my test.

Talk to y'all later

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My students are following me!

Today, when I logged into the attendance, a little window popped up and told me a new student would be joining my class tomorrow. When I read the name, I actually let out a little scream briefly distracting my mentor teacher's class. Could this really be the same student I taught last year? Her last name is really common, but her first it totally unique. I liked this girl last year in my class in DC. She gave birth to a baby boy in, I don't know, like January? She did the home-school thing for about two months and then returned to my class. When she came back she was really good about taking responsibility for herself. We were in the middle of a project and she asked me for some extra time to do it. I asked her why and she said, "I'm raising a baby and going to school Ms. Newbie - this stuff is hard!" I had to laugh because it was so true. About a week later she had all the work she needed and she earned a B that quarter. So I actually find it really funny and nice that I'm getting this same girl again!

I stopped by the counselor's office to see if this really was the same girl when it occurred to me that the best way to check would be to see if her brother was coming too. This brought forth a whole different set of emotions. The girl I like, the brother, well, not so much. And it turns out he is coming, but he won't be in my classes. So here's the story of this boy:

I mentioned a couple posts ago how half way through the year I acquired a new class. Well this student was in that troublesome class. He didn't really stand out, at first, though. He was one of three boys who literally did nothing. They didn't even write their names on papers. They just leaned back in their chair and watched the class happen, but not in a rude way. You know how some kids lean back and it's like, "What makes you think I'm going to do any work for you?" These kids were more like, "Why work when you can just vegitate?" So I concerned myself more with teaching the 8 students who wanted to learn. On a regular basis I would call the students who wanted to learn forward and give them the lesson while the other 12 kids went to the back and rolled dice. That's all that could be done with this particular class. And even with those 8 kids it was a struggle to get them to focus.

So anyway, not long after I receive this class, the school was broken into in a big way. Over a three day weekend, a group of students walked into the apparently unlocked back door, broke the windows of nearly every classroom in the building and stole items from almost all of those rooms. (My room went untouched). They stole one of my colleague's personal laptop, another's stereo, some computers, etc. Well, we do have cameras in the school, so a few days later it's common knowledge amongst the staff in the building that this boy was the only one of the group that was a student here. The others were friends he must have brought along. For weeks this boy was absent, but we heard no kind of news about what was to happen to him. My colleagues said nothing was ever done about their personal possessions being stolen, so my guess is a police report was never even filed. A little later, I am asked to sign a letter acknowledging the boy is to be transferred to Choice Academy, the alternative school in DC. Despite this, for the last few weeks of school, this boy continues coming here. He never actually went to Choice.

Of course this kid failed big time. During the last days of school, the principal and the school secretary asked me if I could change his grade to a D. Apparently my F would have been the only thing holding him back. So I did. Under any other circumstances I would not give a student a grade they didn't deserve, but at the time it seemed to serve everyone's interests to get this kid out of the building. Plus I was leaving and it was the principal asking me. Was it really worth it to put up a fight in the interest of academic integrity?

Ha, well, here it came right back to bite me and I couldn't feel more guilty about it. Of course I shouldn't have changed his grade. And you know, I wouldn't feel so bad about it if I was teaching him myself, but I feel like I have unfairly brought a bad element to this good school and thrown a dangerous case on my fellow teachers.

I told the guidance counselor and she said both the brother and sister are listed as homeless. I'm going to email one of the students I'm still in contact with now and ask if he can find out if they really are out of their mom's house or what. It's a common thing in SE DC to lie about your address so you can go to a better school.

On a different note, I broke one of my own rules and brought work home with me. I should get to that. Later peeps!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back-to-School Night

Hello again! It's late and I'm tired, but I really wanted to document how happy I am right now. I got back a short time ago from Back-To-School Night which was a success. I'd say I had about 6 parents per class and they all seemed to like me - and that's the whole point, right? Seriously, though, I can hear how much more confident I sound, not just because I'm better at public speaking, but because I know my class is just organized better this year.

For instance, last year when let students re-take quizzes, they kept the highest score. That ended up in a lot of students re-taking quizzes hoping they'd get lucky and score better. There was no connection in their mind between studying and succeeding, so it kind of defeated the whole purpose. This year, they keep the re-take score better or not.

I'm starting a club this year that I'm really excited about. It's going to be based on the eCyberMission competition hosted by the US Army. I couldn't come up with a non-nerdy name for it, so my homeroom students named it for me: Mi$$ion Impossible - win cash with your science fair project. Basically, its a separate competition but similar enough to the science fair that I can help students tailor their projects so they can submit the same work to both competitions. I think science fair is a huge waste of time, but I really like this eCyberMission thing. Instead of focusing on things that students find so boring, it focuses on asking the students to propose a real solution to a real problem in their community. Talk about relevance.

And the rest of my first week and the beginning of this week have been great. I'm not going to say easy or stress-free. I was at work until 6:00 every day and until 7:30 on Friday. I'm still a slow lesson planner. But it occurred to me today that I haven;t put a single check on my clipboard yet. I have not once had to move past just asking a student to stop. They always did the first time! Glory Glory Hallelujah! I love these kids! I can't wait until their personalities really come out, because the only down side right now is they are kind of boring. It's like they are too easy to teach. And by the way, I'm not the only teacher at the school who has noticed this. I heard another one saying the same thing; that we must have gotten a really good crop this year.

And I am so missing some of my babies from last year. I'm emailing with one of my favorites and I get phone calls once in a while from another. But some other kids I am just dieing to know how they are doing. I want to ask them how they're doing in school. Basically I'm thinking of my lunch crowd. By the end of the year I had a group of about 15 students who ate lunch with me every day. I miss them. But you know what, of course, there were certainly that many students I hated to see every day in class. I can think of about 5 students I truly hated on a personal level. Hopefully I won't be hating any students this year. That was really the main reason I left. How could I possibly teach if I actually hated some of the kids. That's just so wrong. It's against teacher code, and even my own personal values. I clashed with that culture. I think switching schools will mean that culture is not quite as pervasive.

Tomorrow we stop doing review activites (metric system, latin roots, etc.) and do our first lab. I'm doing the same paper towel lab I did last year. The only thing is I ran out of time to assign lab groups. Oops. Maybe just have them count of by four this time and assign groups next time? We'll see.

So in summary, still love my new school, but can't make any real substantial judgements yet. I'll get back y'all later. Until then, have lovely days.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Out of DC - and on to a brighter future!

What's this? I'm blogging again? My last post was November 3rd of 2006. It is now September 4th of 2007. Why now? Allow me to first summarize what happened to me over the past almost-year. My first year teaching remained a terrible nightmare and I was so depressed all the time I couldn't ever blog. Then I resigned from that school and things started to get a little better. Then school ended and I was practically born again over the summer. Today I just wrapped up the first day of school at my new, wonderful, not DC Public School and want to share with the world!

I just spent a little bit re-reading what I wrote at the beginning of last year and my last few posts. It's kind of funny and tragic at the same time. It's funny to read what I was thinking about at the beginning of last year and tragic how I was feeling in November of last year. Since I know this year is going to be a hundred times better, I thought it might be interesting to start the blog up again with the purpose of comparing a second year in a great school to a first year in a horrific school.

I may need to hit the highlights of how my first year teaching in DC went in order to put all of this into context. I noticed in October I wrote something along the lines of, "I almost had a nervous breakdown but I didn't". Well, looking back, I actually can remember more than one Sunday when I broke into tears at the prospect of having to go to school on Monday. In retrospect, this seems to resemble a nervous breakdown. Except instead of losing my mind, I lost my personality and happiness. After my last blog, things just continued to get worse and worse for me. The kids were terrible to me, I was overwhelmed, and they weren't learning anything. Meanwhile, I entered a stage of true depression/anxiety disorder - something that was very new and scary to me. Don't worry! I'm totally OK now! I just feel like I can be honest about this only now since it is all over with. Last school was the worst time of my life, and I've dealt with tragedies you'd think were more important before. I am also fairly certain last year will always be the worst year of my life because I will never be depressed or anxious like that again. This explains why I never blogged again.

As for what happened in school, some interesting things did happen that I now wish I had recorded here so I had a better sense of them now. Science Fair turned out not to be so bad after all. Not to say it was fun or anything, but I wasn't up all night grading papers or anything. This is because only half the students actually turned it in, and all of those were under three pages, including titles in 72 point font. But man, we were thrilled just to have the kids be able to identify what a hypothesis and variables were.

"We" reminds me of something. One of the last things I mentioned last year was how we finally got a new teacher to fill the third science vacancy. Sadly, just a few weeks later he quit. He couldn't take it. I couldn't take it either, obviously, but I just didn't quit. The vacancy remained a vacancy until the last day. So I never had planning and was often planning work for the other classes that no student ever did and no teacher ever checked. Also, halfway through the year, they added a fifth class to my schedule. These kids were generally bad. A bunch of 8th graders who had no English teacher for a quarter, no science teacher for two quarters, and no homeroom teacher all year. A recipe for disaster, I'd say. I did get to meet a few more students I fell in love with, but overall, they were a bunch of thugs.

I got through Christmas, which was a major goal of mine. In January, I started helping a couple of the other more energetic teachers at the school start and run an after-school detention program. When this program first rolled out, it was a miracle. For two or three weeks, then entire student body was on better behavior with the threat of detention so imminent. All teachers were in on it. Then word quickly spread how the kids who were getting detention weren't showing up and yet nothing happened to them. Within three weeks, the whole school realized the administration would not suspend or even scold students who skipped detention, so the whole thing fell apart. I kept manning these after-school detention sessions every day for about two months. We kept trying to revamp it, but nothing stuck. Finally, I crashed a adminstrator/team leader meeting in about March or April and set the principal straight. He kept saying things like, "Yea, we need to talk about how to fix that" and I shot back quickly, "No, let's talk now. What are we going to do?" as I put my pen on the paper and got ready to write down everything he said. He still wouldn't volunteer anything, but I came up with some solutions, he kinda nervously would nod, and I wrote it down. I told him I'd have the memo to hand out to the staff by tomorrow. I did. And boy was it good. If he had actually photocopied and gave that memo to all the teachers in the school, and he stuck by his promises of dealing with students who skipped, it would have worked. I know it. Too bad that instead of having a staff meeting the next day, a boy got into a fight and arrested at school, so the principal cancelled the meeting. The memo never went out, and I gave up on it.

Well you know, even that's not true. I tried to do detention in my room for a couple of weeks but that failed just like everything else.

Around this time was an up - I got to take four of my students to the district-wide science fair. None of them won anything there, but it was a really fun experience anyway. I was so proud of them :-)

Seeing how much those students enjoyed going to the science fair dowtown, I decided to allow my students to enter another competition for extra credit. I got this thing in the mail from the US Botanic Garden about how they were starting a new annual competition about plants. Kids could submit entries like a rap song about plants, a comic book about a world with no plants, etc. After exlaining the extra credit opportunity to all my classes, I got a whopping six kids to enter. Amazingly, though, two of them won in their categories! And then I won a prize for being an outstanding teacher! All of this was due largely on the fact so few people entered the competition at all, but still. Combine those prizes and we won $500 for the school to go towards our environmental education program. Say what? Environmental education?

By the time I got this prize, I already had put in my resignation letter. I knew that no matter how much I loved some of these kids, I couldn't keep doing all this to myself. As good as this competition was, it was still a daily struggle to feign happiness. Also, as a side note, I got a $1000 bonus (before taxes) for resigning. Somehow the teacher's union worked it out that if you resigned before March 31st, you'd get a bonus. I guess it was that big a problem to have people resigning the week before school starte. I got that bonus check in the mail just the other day. Niiiiice.

In the classroom, I experimented with a lot of things. I spent about two weeks helping my seventh graders craft the perfect essay on natural selection. That was good. Hard to do, but good I think. Meanwhile, I gave me eighth graders a project where they were given a list of activities and how many points each was worth, and then they spent the next month in class doing the activities on their own to earn enough points. This resulted in much better behavior in class, but somehow more grading. I kind of designed the whole thing with the sole intention of giving me less grading, but it didn't work. Then, by the end, all the kids were just cheating so it became futile. Oh well.

My 8th graders also took the standardized DCCAS science test. This was the very first year they gave it and I still don't have the scores back. I'm guessing they're going to be real low since I found the test pretty hard myself just glancing over it.

Then I spent fully the last week of school cleaning out my room. My classroom was such a nightmare when I came in, that I didn't want to leave it like that for the next person. The last week, it literally took me all day every day, with all of my students hauling trash to the dumpster out back, to get everything out. I realized it wasn't just one or two teachers before that left crap. It was every teacher since 1940. I found newspapers with headlines about the VietCong. I found about 30 bottles in cardboard boxes labeled "poison". I found science equipment that belongs in the Smithsonian. Most sadly, I found out that the microscopes I had in my room the whole time actually do work. I didn't know that there were special lights to shine on to them until that last week. So anyway, everything is labeled and organized now so the new teacher better appreciate it.

The new teacher better also appreciate the program I put together with the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) for the entire seventh grade to do this year with the money we won. The AWS is going to give a few workshops at the school, have the kids paint "No Dumping" signs on the drains around the school, and take them on a canoe trip up and down the Anacostia River.

I had every logical reason to stay in DC. If I stayed, I would have become the science department chair (being the most experienced science teacher since the other one moved) and would have been able to spend this money myself. I don't think I have to explain why I still left though.

SUMMER BREAK! is waaaay under-rated by the way. This perk is definitely worth any low pay that teachers are perceived as having. I went to Germany and Paris with my mom for two weeks right after school let out and loved it! I don't know if I can say that enough. Every time I think about that trip, I miss it. What I would give to sit in a cafe in Paris or a Biergarten in Germany for three uninterrupted hours with friends again. Aaahhh....

Then for the rest of the summer, I focused on personal projects I'd been putting off all year. I realized I was doing things for myself and enjoying it again. I was laughing just for the heck of it again. I was happy to be around people again. And I realized I had woken up. Whatever that nightmare of a depression/anxiety disorder that had overcome me a few months earlier was, was now gone. I remembered how I actually did used to be kind of silly and hyper before I started teaching. This was me again, for the first time in months.

I also learned like two days before I went to Europe, that I got my dream job at new school that is still in the DC area. I had actually turned down a job at Roosevelt High School in DC because I was still concerned with DCPS. And god thing I did, because my new job is fantastic. It's still in a city environment but with a small town feel. The student body is incredibly diverse racially and economically. The special ed students get the support they are supposed to. And every student in the school is issued a laptop! Yea, I said it. Every kid has a laptop! Every teacher has a webpage, too. It's a dream come true.

Now, let me talk about the differences between this year so far, and last year up to this point.

Last year, I cried during orientation. This year, I had a great time at happy hour with some other teachers, old and new. This year, I can't get people to stop saying, "You'll love these students - they're great". Last year, we had to chant in unison, "Every child can learn." Last year, the closest thing I had to a mentor commanded me to stop stressing out, and by the way, you need to put more color on the walls. This year, I have a mentor and love her! Actually, I basically have two mentors because I'm switching between two classrooms. My official mentor is a wonderful teache I share the classroom and an office with. She gave me all kinds of great activities for the first few days of school. My unofficial mentor is who I share the other classroom with, and she too gave me lots of ideas. Not to mention these two were basically in charge of decorating their own rooms, so I had very little to do myself. A year ago I didn't want to take a job if I had to be a "cart-teacher" switching from room to room. Now I'm realizing all the benefits of not keeping up a room and being able to spy on other, better teachers all the time. Wahoo!

And my first day of school went really well. Sure, there were parts where everyone was bored and some put their heads down, but I was able to get them up and out of their seats talking to one another for a review Bingo game. The kids were respectful. Most of them were shy, but some of them were quite ready to join in class discussions in all the right ways. I can point out only one student that I think I'll need to get on "my side" before he decides to become a bad student. And get this: I even had one student say, "This is going to be a good class!" after I explained my new and improved class-wide rewards program.

Here's some things I am doing differently this year. We are not going to rehearse procedures just for the heck of it like Harry Wong (very famous teacher-author) says to. We will rehearse those procedures when we need them. I only have 5 rules this year. Not the 30 or so I had last year. What a dumb idea! Though, even when I later narrowed it down to 6 it still didn't work. My rules this year are:

1. Follow directions the first time they are given
2. Be prepared an focused during all instructional time
3. Watch your mouth
4. Hands to yourself
5. Nothing goes airborne

I like them, don't you? (In the spirit of full-disclosure, I stole a lot from an article at My class-wide rewards program is also cool. Instead of deducting time from a set 15 minutes of free-time on Fridays, the class earns Friday Fun-Time. First off, fun-time will mean review games, not chaos. Secondly, time is earned for things like the whole class is in their seat when the bell rings (3 points), turns homework in on time (3 points), passes a test (10 points), or gets A's on a test (30 points). Then, points are lost from the tally for every check on my clipboard. I put a check by a student's name on my clipboard every time they break one of the five rules. So I'll let you all know how this new plan works in reality.

Tomorrow will essentially be the first day of school again. Here's hoping it's not like last year when one of my students poured water all over another's notebook and ripped up their folder.

I won't make the mistake of making any promises on how often I'm going to post this year, so thank you that much more for reading. Talk to you again soon!

Friday, November 03, 2006

First Quarter Grades Are In

And they do not look good. Like I said, before, most of my students are failing. I have four classes, and the average grade distribution in each would be something like 1 A, 1 B, 2 C's, 2D's, and 15 F's. I even went to the principal's office to ask him if that was OK or if I should alter my grading scale so that like a 50% was passing. Thankfully, though, he said that it was find if I failed most of my students and that sometimes they just need to see that F first quarter to motivate them to try the next quarter. I think I'm failing more students than the average teacher at my school, but not many more. I was hearing very similar comments from all the other teachers while we were in our new "computer lab" (3 P.C.'s) logging grades into the system.

I want to thank those Joe and anonymous for leaving messages again. You are absolutely right that I need to keep my personal and professional life separate and find more joy in the small successes I do have. On that note, I am slowly getting more students coming into my room at lunch, which is such a great sign. That means they like me which means they respect me and the more students in a class who respect me, the better behavior is bound to become. So as irritating as it can be some days to babysit a bunch of kids during my lunch break, the reward outweighs the cost.

I think I last blogged two weeks ago. I felt basically the same way the whole next week, which is why I didn't blog again. Last weekend I must have a hit a low point. I basically did no work and instead just layed around moaning about how I hate my job and hate grading papers and lesson planning. My boyfriend, getting exasperated with having to listen to the same thing over and over told me to just take a day off. Ding! Lightbulb! Take a day off? Why of course! Why didn't I think of that! Then the next day my mom came down to see my new apartment and I spent our entire lunch complaining about everything again and she agreed. Take a day off! So what did I do? First thing on Monday I wrote a letter to the principal explaining how I need an entire day off in order to catch up on grading and on missed sleep because I hadn't slept more than 5 hours a night in two weeks. I was afraid the principal wouldn't go for it, but instead he said something along the lines of, "Oh that's fine, go ahead. We all need a personal day now and then with this job. We appreciate what you do here." So on Halloween, I stayed home.

Playing hooky is one of the best things I have ever done. I slept in, ate a decent breakfast, then graded papers and calculated letter grades from about 10:30 am to 10:30 pm. I only got 75% done, but that was a huge chunk out of my workload. Also, I did not have to chaperone the Halloween dance, which if it was anything like the dances at my high school, must have been mad raunchy.

Wednesday I went in to work refreshed. I may not have seemed any different to my students, but I just felt better overall. I was still yelling at them and everything, but I didn't care so much. I'm getting more used to the constant yelling at children. Almost luckily for me, 3 students in my bad 7th grade class almost immediately broke rules that got them sent out of my room. The emotionally disturbed girl I mentioned last time threatened a boy and sprayed water all over my floor. One boy was punching another. Another girl had a cell phone ring in class. Oddly enough, it was the girl with the cell phone who ended up getting suspended because she yelled at me so bad for trying to take her cell phone from her while the security guard was standing right there. Silly kids. The funniest part was when she came back in my room at the very end of class and was just seething mad at me. She kept saying, "Don't look at me. Don't say my name. I hate you Ms. Newbie I hate this class." Meanwhile, I absolutely could not help but laugh at her. Of course, that just made her more mad. But I got a laugh in during class time and that is a thing to cherish.

Thursday was the Reading in Fundamental kickoff. Every homeroom was given a class set of books to read and a volunteer came into read it to them for about half an hour after talking about why reading in important. Volunteers, you say? How nice! Well, not so much. For the whole school, we could only wrangle 5 volunteers from the community so the rest of our "volunteers" were administrators. My class is reading "Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell. I like this because it means I have an activity every day for homeroom now. I don't need to hunt for newspaper articles or dream up team-building or citizenship activities anymore.

Next, the students had an assembly, but a handful of my homeroom students lost their minds and could not even be quiet in the hallway on the way down to the auditorium, so I had to keep 6 boys and 1 girl in for 1 hour of silent detention in my room during the assembly. At least it was mostly silent. A couple of boys kept whining. That was irritating as hell. I hate detention more than making phone calls home. It really does punish the teacher more than the student. And on top of that, I missed seeing some of my lunch-time friend/students participate in their speech and debate competition during the assembly. I was even surprised myself how disappointed I was I didn't get to see that. I felt like I was missing my own son's performance or something. I guess I do like kids after all... :-)

So anyway, I only had to teach one class on Thursday (my GT class) and they just did the book work they didn't do with the sub (because they were at the Halloween dance). Then Friday, today, was a half day since teachers needed to log their grades in, so again, I only had one class and they too just did the book work they didn't do with the sub (because they were slackers).

Oh, and notice how I said sub. Yes. A real, honest-to-goodness substitute. The DC central office shifted personnel around the system so my school finally got teachers for our science and english vacancies. This is fantastic for two reasons. One, the subs that were in those spots are now free to sub for sick teachers so I won't have to cover other classes nearly as much as I used to. Two, I don't have to plan lessons for the other 8th grade science classes anymore or plan for 8th grade all by myself. I now have another physical science teacher to collaborate with. The bad news is that this new science teacher is a first-year just like me, so we are both equally inadequate at helping each other. But it's better than nothing, right? (Remember that the third science teacher in my school is just a second year teacher, too. Are we the most inexperienced team of teachers you've ever heard of?)

Now that I going through a not-really-caring-about-bad-behavior phase and a I-did-everything-I-can-do-so-it's-not-my-fault-they-all-failed phase, what can I whine about in my blog from now on? Science fair - that's what. I hate science fairs. EVERYONE hates science fairs. Why must we hold one? Why are science teachers held accountable for planning and assessing this huge undertaking that definitely does not teach kids anything about how science really works and that barely anyone enjoys. Ugh. This 3 month long science fair period is going to get underway in just a week or two and I am just frightened. I would so much rather just teach science content than coddle a bunch of kids who can't read or write or operate a keyboard and don't care into doing lame fake experiments and writing massive reports about them. Meanwhile, I'll have the kids who can read and write and can type 100 words a minute who will have finished weeks ago. What am I supposed to do with them? I'll let you know how it goes.

Anyway, I think that's really all for now. I plan to relax a bit this weekend guilt-free and then develop independent projects my students can do in class that will take them several days. I think their behavior will be much better if they are just working on some kind of project. I'm basing this on the fact the days when my 7th graders were making posters were always the ones when the most students participated and behaved well. Have a good weekend all!