. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

When Good Intentions Go Wrong

Of course, I am sure we all would agree that offering vision screening at school is a good thing, right?

Evidently, it puts a bit more stress on families than we thought. It might even lead to deception.

You see, I have a very sweet young man in my class who struggles in all academic areas. I sent him to the vision screening just in case his eyes might be part of the problem.

As it turns out, he does have a bit of a vision problem…

he sees DOUBLE! (And he's struggling? Really?!?)

So we send home a note to his mother saying that he needs to be seen by an eye doctor.

No response.

We call home and leave message.

No response.

I talked to the student about how important it is for him to go to the doctor and asked him to push his mom to take him.

No response.

Weeks and weeks go by without a visit to the eye doctor.

And then one morning there was my students sitting at his desk with eyeglasses on his desk!

With a big smile on my face, I compliment him on his new spects and ask to see them on his face so I can "see how handsome" he looks in them.

He slips them on his big grinning face and

they're smudged

they're bent

they're crooked

they're too small for his head and

they're obviously not glasses made for him.

So I ask where he got them.

"From my mom."

So I ask where she got them.

"She just brought them home."

So I ask if he went to the eye doctor.

"uummmmm, yes?"

So I ask where.

"uuuummmm, Long Beach?" (Nowhere near where he lives.)

So I say, "Well, kiddo. I'm a bit worried. I don't think those glasses were made especially for your eyes like they should be."

And I had a nurse call his mom to check.

Sure enough, they were not his glasses. In an attempt to end our phone calls, notes, and messages, his mother gave him his little brother's glasses and told him wear them.

Initially I thought what a rotten thing that was for her to do. Her kid is seeing double and all she wants to do is get us off her back about it. Giving him someone else's prescription glasses could make things worse for him!

But then I put myself in her shoes. She has no insurance, no money, and no access (that she knew of) to any assistance. Maybe she just didn't know what to do.

Of course, our school has information on all sorts of programs to assist students in need of free medical care. We arranged for him to be seen by a doctor and get his glasses at no cost.

Am I being too easy on her? Is it just bad parenting to avoid addressing your child's medical needs or can it be justifiable under some circumstances?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Deck the Halls

Or the palm trees for that matter.

As a transplanted East Coaster living in California, I haven't been swept away by the Christmas spirit in several years. Ever since the first Christmas my mother and I did not travel back East for the holiday and she insisted on having a roaring fire in the fireplace despite the 87 degree temperatures outside, I just haven't been feeling it. Our family tree has gone from a giant Fir we cut down ourselves, to a tall artificial, to a smaller artificial, to what I lovingly refer to the Christmas bush which remains decorated in a bag in the garage, awaiting unveiling a few weeks before Christmas. Seriously, we are one step away from simply hanging a picture up of a decorated tree and calling it a night.

But all that may have changed tonight.

As I was walking my dog around my neighborhood this evening, I caught sight of a family decking out their patio with holiday cheer.

All four of them were in the socal uniform of tee-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. If that doesn't spell Holiday, I don't know what does.

Mom was stringing colored lights around the palm tree in front of their patio, a move that will most certainly result in a pink note taped to their door on behalf of our homeowners association chastising them for garishly decorating a community tree or some other nonsense.

Dad was hanging icicle lights along the patio fence while screaming, "Hand me those damn lights on the ground there, son. NO, the other damn lights. NOOOO…not those. Those fu*&ers by your foot!"

Son was hunting around by the light of half-hung Christmas lights for the right fu*&ers to hand his father, and daughter was sitting on the stoop sobbing because, from what I could gather, she didn't get to put the light-up Santa where she wanted it so therefore she was on strike.

Ahhhh, Christmas is in the air! Can you feel it too?

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Please enjoy this little reenactment of today's dismissal conversation on the playground.

Anthony: What are you going to be for Halloween, Ms. Lee?

Me: Oh, I haven't really picked out anything.

Anthony: Maybe you could be a witch? You could get all hagged-out with green make-up, have messy hair, and put a wart on your nose.

Me: That is a good idea, Anthony but let's face it: it's gonna take a bit more than some green make-up to make my beautiful face look "hagged-out." Just look at me. I'm gorgeous! Not even a mask could hide my good looks. Ok, maybe a really thick rubber mask, but none of those flimsy ones. My beauty would just radiate through one of those. Turning me into a hag would be a big job.

Anthony: Or you could just put on a pointy hat.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Value of Common Sense

So I have a student teacher right now, and I have to say she is doing a bang-up job with this little class of misfits.

Those of you who have had student teachers know, you never can anticipate what you're gonna get when you agree to this little bargain of "master teachership."

Bargain, you ask?

Yes, the actual deal (at a minimum) is that I sacrifice at least 8 weeks of my before and after-school prep time to preview, review, teach, model, advise, guide and direct a student teacher and in return I get (drumroll, please)


that the university from which my student teacher came from pays out after I hound them for many months because they ALWAYS neglect to send it.

But there is more to that bargain than what we see on the surface, though. Isn't there always?

The other benefit for me depends wholly on the student teacher.

Common sense, and if they lack common sense, I don't get my extra "bonus."

But before I describe my bonus, I must admit student teachers have a difficult job.

Teachers, including student teachers, must possess the skills to multi-task, and that is not an understatement. They must teach highly engaging and interesting lessons while simultaneously scanning the room for students who look confused, lost, or who were never with you in the first place, and mentally target them for future help. Meanwhile, they must also be on the lookout for students off task, playing around, chatting, and generally not following the rules, and utilize a variety of techniques to alter their behavior without interrupting the flow of the lesson and sacrificing precious instructional minutes. Speaking of instructional minutes, teachers must also fit lessons into the appropriate amounts of allotted minutes while remembering to send child X to speech therapy, children A, B, and C to the resource teacher, and child F to counseling (which is one we NEVER forget to send) at their scheduled times. During this time, teachers are constantly checking for understanding, adjusting the lessons on-the-fly to meet the unique needs of a particular group, moving around the room to maintain proximity with every child all the time (a physical impossibility yet still expected), noting what's working and not working for future use, and developing ways to get the objective across to every child in the class in a meaningful way.

And student teachers have to do all that while having their every move evaluated by a master teacher.

And if they can do all those things, it's due almost entirely to their finely developed use of common sense. Then, we master teachers get many hours to prep and plan that vastly make up for the sacrificed time before and after school and the paltry stipend. Bonus!

I have had several student teachers who could do all those things listed above, including the young lady I have now, and they make my job as a master teacher a joy. After all, we are here to teach, right? Be it children learning their basics or adults beginning a new career, we love to see when people "get it." We also love more prep time, which I for one desperately need.

But not every student teacher is cut from the same cloth…

Let's face it; either student teachers have common sense or they don't. If they don't, I can't teach it to them because it's "common" sense, meaning something everyone should have if they were not raised by wolves. In my experience, the lack of common sense is what does-in most failed student teachers.

Take "Tanya" for example. Like all student teachers in my state, she completed 90 hours of observation in a classroom and her requisite classes before darkening my door. Unlike all student teachers, I made her observe me for weeks before taking the reins in any subjects because she did not seem to possess much common sense.

In my room, when it comes to student discipline, I focus on positive behaviors before I slam kids for the negative. If I see kids fooling around in their desks, I reward kids who are not and the others usually get the message. If they continue, I issue consequences. We are all happier, myself included, if issues can be handled through positive reinforcement.

In Tanya's eighth week of her eight week student teaching stint, and after many long hours of discussion and direction about how things needed be done in my classroom, I gave over my students to her for a day of teaching. (I had a feeling she would not last out the week.) Her idea of positive reinforcement was to put a kid in time-out in the front of the room with a rolling pocket chart hiding him because, as she told the class, "A naughty boy like him is not worthy of being seen by others."

What was his offense? Not knowing the answer to a question when she called on him, and it was his first offense of the day.

How was this positive? In her mind, the other students were being rewarded by NOT having to stand in time-out.

She did not last out the week. Bye, Bye, Tanya.

You can't teach common sense.

My favorite disastrous student teacher was "Marge."

Although I did not want to give Marge my class for a week, her student teaching supervisor begged me to give this woman a chance. After all, she's a single mom raising 2 kids on her own after a messy divorce and really needs this teaching career.

But I kept saying…

You can't teach common sense.

Turns out, you REALLY can't. What adult with any common sense would think of leaving 30 children unattended in a classroom, especially after a student uprising?

Uummmm, that would be Marge.

Day one of her independent week, while I was working in the teacher's lounge to give her the space her supervisor asked me to give her, Marge decided to take away PE as a class consequence for poor behavior…by 8:30 in the morning.

What on God's green earth could they possibly have done in the 45 minutes school had been in session to warrant, what is to them, the most severe consequence possible?

More importantly, now that you've taken away their most prized subject, what are you going to use to manage their behavior for the rest of the day?

(But what about the uprising you mentioned, Edna?)

Oh, well, after the consequence was issued to the class, little Ralphie began pounding his fists on his desk and chanting "NO PE, NO WORK! NO PE, NO WORK!" Soon the entire class was pounding and chanting, and Marge had officially lost all control of the class by 8:32 in the morning.

So Marge approached Ralphie's desk and attempted to silence him, but he got up and ran away from her...

so she chased him…

and she has a limp from some old injury so she kinda runs like Igor…

and he ran (because children are like puppies. If you run, they run)

So Ralphie is running in a big circle around the room and she is fast in pursuit Hunchback-style and the kids are in hysterics.

Eventually, she catches him by the arm and immediately begins to drag him up to the office, leaving my hysterical class unattended.

And I see her, Ralphie in tow, marching by the window of the teacher's lounge and immediately wonder, "If she is up here by the office, who is with my class?"

Turns out, no one! When I raced down there, I found chaos. Chaos that immediately folded its hands and sat up straight when it saw me in the doorway.

She did not last out the week. Bye bye, Marge.

Of course the kids were wrong for what they did, but a modicum of common sense on the teacher's part would have avoided the whole episode, and unfortunately…

You can't teach common sense.

And, therefore, I don't get my prep time!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I ‘Spect the Signs Ain’t Clear

(In case you're new to this blog or a frequent flyer that doesn't hang on my every word, I have a very low class this year. Mostly sweet and well-intentioned, but L-O-W. I have 1, that's a one, that's the number just before two but thankfully after zero, that is a proficient reader. Did I mention that she can't add or subtract?)

So we have been studying word roots, and this week we focused on –sign and –spect.

We talked about the definitions of both word roots and generated a list of words containing them and discussed their definitions. I made sure that the words found on the practice book page we would be completing were on our list.

Our list included words such as inspect, respect, design, signature, signify, etc.

And then we attempted to complete the page…


with me feeding them answers like Lucille Ball working in a chocolate factory.

First, we read the directions which stated students were to fill in the blanks in sentences using the –sign and –spect words in the word bank.

I added to the directions by having the students circle the word roots in each word.

Next, we read each word and pretended to draw in the air while reading any word that had –sign as a root and pointed at our eyes with every –spect word.

Finally, I hauled in a dead horse and we beat it just for good measure.

We echo read the first sentence (I read, they read).

Me: I liked the creative (blank) drawn on the picture.

Students: I liked the cretif blank drawn on the picker.

Me: Alrighty! I see the word "drawn" in the sentence, so I can guess we need a root that has to do with drawing. Talk to your table groups and decide on a word that would make sense.

(Students discuss possible word choices)

Me: Anthony?

Anthony: Inspector!

Me: Nope. Good try though. That has –spect as it's root and that means "to look." Nikki?

Nikki: Spectator?

Me: Nope. Good try though. That's another –spect word. "To look," remember? We want the one that has to do with a sign or mark. Robert?

Robert: Spectacular!!

(I'm freaking out now because this is the best their little collective minds can muster.)

Me: Noooope. Boys and girls, what are the two roots we learned about?

Students: -spign and –sict

Me: That's right, -sign and –spect. I am going to give you a bigger hint. I want you to look at the words with the letters s-i-g-n in them. Work with your group to reread the sentence and put your finger on your word choice.

(Students reread and make new choices)

Me: Vanessa?

Vanessa: Spectacles?

Me: No… Ok, the word we are looking for starts with the letter D. Travis?

Travis: Dolphin.

Me: Dolphin? Really? How about you, Joe?

Joe: Spectacles?

Me: DESIGN! The word we are looking for is DESIGN. Put your finger on the word design in the word bank. THAT is the word we need. It starts with a D and has s-i-g-n in it. It is something that can be "drawn." All the SIGNS are there that it's the correct word (of course no one got that). Now write it on the blank. Let's save some time here, the answer to number two is "signify." Number three is…

Once we were just about out of answers, I let them participate again because there were so few chances to guess wrong, although they still did…

every time.

All the while, my poor student teacher is sweating bullets in the back of the room because she knows soon she'll be leading this little group of misfits.

Herding cats, I tell you. Herding cats.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My Butt Hurts

I hate spending my Sunday filling out report cards.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Meeping Strikes a Chord

Well, I've heard from many people on this topic. Some wrote by way of comments and others via email, all sharing a common knowledge of or sympathy for the atrocities of being Meeped.

Evidently, meeping is the silent annoyer and worthy of inclusion in the next presidential debate.

With our voices united, the candidates will be forced to address the issue. Let's rally together to bring an end to meeping in our schools, shall we?

I can hear it now. <Dreamy music plays, everything goes wavy, and Edna slips into a dream world of presidential debates>

The moderator, the Scholastic Scribe, asks, "In recent years, a wave of terrorist meepers have stealthly moved into our neighborhoods and schools, viciously meeping our children at lunch tables, on the swings, and in the classrooms when the teacher is not looking. What is your plan to win the War on Meeping?"

And Barack will say, "It takes a village to shine a spotlight on such under-recognized annoyances as meeping so that those who are green behind the ears about the horrors of meeping can cast the first stone at the birds in the bushes who meep...

a lot.

When I am president, I will end meeping and then withdraw our support of the nonmeepers in a safe and timely manner…

for change."

Followed by McCain's response of, "My captors in Vietnam tried using meeping on me, so I know what it feels like. My plan is to seek out the meepers and crush them in their sleep OR influence them to stop meeping through a series of tax credits based solely on their choosing to end their meeping ways.

I am a maverick of meeping and have a long history of stopping meepers in their tracks. Moreover, my maverick runningmate Sarah Palin has watched as the Russians tried to meep us across the Bering Strait. Her record of preventing international meeping is strong."

I don't know for sure what our third party candidate, Hot Tub Lizzy , might say.

But my point is that there IS hope!

Together, we can bring an end to senseless meeping across this great land.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How NOT to Make Friends

I'd like to dedicate this one to all the fourth graders out there.

Here's how to NOT make any friends at all:

Take your hand and shape it into a beak-like mouth.

Place your hand right next to the ear of the person sitting next to you on the lunch benches. (Mere millimeters away is best.)

Open and close your "mouth-hand" while repeatedly saying, "meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep."

Next, and this is key, ignore the pleas of the person to whom you are meeping ceaselessly, even if they say "please." Ignore his/her friends when they ask you stop as well.

Do this for the duration of lunch and you're pretty much a shoe-in for the "Friendless Loner" award in fourth grade.

How NOT to Get Back at Someone Who Won't Stop Meeping in Your Ear

Under any circumstances, do not concoct a plan with your friends to tell the teacher that the Meeper made his fingers into a gun and said, "I am going to shoot you" IF the Meeper did not indeed actually do that. While getting him suspended under false pretenses SOUNDS like a good way to stop the meeping, there are more effective avenues.

Besides, you're nine year olds and haven't perfected the dynamics of group lying. The students less experienced in "telling lies decided upon in committee;" students also known as "only children," will throw the rest of you under the bus without hesitation if they think it might save their own skins.

Bottom line, you will get caught and the consequences will be steep. You get 2 days detention while the Meeper gets off scot-free.

As an aside:

You'd be far better off tripping him and making it look like an accident. Kids fall all the time on the playground. How are we teachers supposed to know the difference?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mimi Fights the Good Fight

There was an interesting discussion going on over in It's Not All Flowers and Sausages about the appropriate way to address a situation with a disruptive child. Looks like this topic is a hot one!

Mimi shares a story about a child in her class that routinely disrupts the other children. When she notices some of her students reaching their breaking points with him, she decides to have a class sit-down and allow students to share how this child's behavior makes them feel.

Handled poorly, class meetings can be disastrous. But in true Mimi fashion, it was handled with concern and a dedication to making the experience positive and educational for everyone. No blaming, name-calling, or hurtful language was allowed. The only thing students could share was their feelings. We call this kind of a dialogue "Using I-Messages," and it is an encouraged method of student mediation in schools.

Children are wonderful, generous, awe-inspiring little people who, let's admit it, can at times be a bit unaware of how their actions impact other people's lives. Kids are, by nature, selfish at times. That's part of growing up and learning how to live with others. By having a class meeting about the issues, she empowered her students to share their feelings in a positive way instead of allowing it to fester until someone takes the kid out behind the jungle gym and takes their feelings out on his face (which was bound to happen.)

A few of the responses to her blog suggested that this was "singling out" a student and putting him on the spot in an unfair way. I would suggest that he was unknowingly singling himself out in very negative ways and was doing so blissfully unaware of how it was hurting others.

Of course this child is not self-aware enough at his young age to understand why he acts out, and it's our job as professionals to help him make better choices. That takes time. In the meantime, it would be unfair of us to expect other students to simply tolerate him without equipping them with the tools to address their feelings positively. Mimi did just that.

One final note, many responses suggested that this child might have learning disabilities or emotional disabilities that have gone undiagnosed, and Mimi should be mindful of that.

To be blunt: No Duh!

CLEARLY, this kid has some issues. Even if he were diagnosed, he still would not be allowed to trample over other students' right to a safe environment. His teacher would still need to address the misbehavior issues. Parents and teachers understand that a diagnosis is not a free-pass to hurt others, and most teachers can spot a child who needs extra attention without the benefit of a diagnosis. Mimi does not need an IEP to tell her she has a special-needs child here. I'm positive she'll take every step necessary to help him, and the rest of her class, have a successful year both academically and emotionally.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Self-Deception is a Beautiful Thing

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the theater with my mother. We saw Souvenir by Stephen Temperley. This true story accounts the late-in-life singing career of soprano Florence Foster Jenkins, or Lady Florence, as she preferred to be called.

Lady Florence was, in reality, a socialite living in New York City in the early twentieth century. Armed with life-long love of music and a seemingly unending supply of money from an inheritance, she staged yearly performances for her friends in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton and gave the proceeds to her favorite charities. Her repertoire included the challenging works of Mozart, Verdi, and Strauss and always included at least three elaborate costume changes.

Word spread of her singing. She recorded records and soon strangers counted themselves as fans and clamored to attend her concerts. In 1944, at the age of 76, she rented out Carnegie Hall for a sold-out performance. So great was the demand to see her that two thousand fans had to be turned away at the door for lack of tickets.

Her undying appreciation of the musical arts inspired her to share it with others, even at her own expense. She spent thousands of dollars on stage decorations, costumes, and concert venues. She was known to rehearse tirelessly.

Have a listen to her unforgetable rendition of Mozart's "Queen of the Night." Be sure to listen to her entire performance as some of her most memorable vocal feats occur near the end of the aria.

I simply can't stop listening to her slaughter this beautiful piece of music. She exemplifies the reason I only watch the try-out stages of American Idol, when they spotlight all the people who haven't a snowball's chance in hell of making it on the show.

She was completely tone-deaf.

But in her mind she was a diva with impeccable pitch and accuracy. She did not hear her own faultering half-steps or recognize her inability to hold notes or maintain a consistent tempo.

She truly believed she had a gift and that it could be used to benefit others. All reports about her personality indicate she was a kind and generous person who frequently put the needs of others ahead of herself. A network of friends within her social circle fostered her self-deception in an effort to protect her feelings. Her sweetness kept them from revealing the truth to her.

At her concerts, they muffled their laughter behind balled-up fists or shoved handkerchiefs in their mouths. When the giggles got the best of them, they would bolt for the door to release their laughter in the lobby far from her sight. When strangers filled the concerts with roars of laughter, her friends buried the gaffaws behind shouts of "Brava!" Tears of laughter, to Lady Florence, were simply tears of joy.

Her singing brought her national fame, but not for the reasons she thought it did.

And why this, on a teacher blog?

Well, in part I want to share the curiosity that was Lady Florence. I find her story fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way.

More importantly, I share it because when I have a rough week, I need to remind myself why I chose this job and this odd little story did just that for me.

I have a lot of kids who "sing" like Lady Florence. It's my job to make them believe they're wonderful...

because they really are.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let the Crazy-Making Begin

The fun is over now…

I had my first screamer of the year.

No, not screaming student. Screaming students; THAT I can handle.

This was a screaming parent.

On the playground.

At dismissal.

With all my kids gathered around me.

What did I do?

Let her scream at me.

What should I have done?

Sent her to the office to scream at the principal. He gets paid to be screamed at by parents who choose not to check their facts before screaming at teachers. Besides, my principal will simply tell a screamer to go home and come back once she's calmed down and then walk away from her. (Note to self…try THAT next time.)

What's another reason why I should have sent her to the office, and now I feel like a rotten teacher?

Because she turned and screamed at my kids who were standing with me (insert dagger into heart) because they were staring at her, mouths agape, as she screamed at me. Evidently, she thought they should not be staring at her as she railed their teacher about her "stupid, friggin' homework policy" and wagged her finger in their teacher's face while her son (this kid) stood there sobbing.

Yeah, she's right. Move along, kids. Nothin' to see here.

I feel like absolute crap that I didn't ask her to leave right then and there. NO ONE should be allowed to talk to any kids that way, especially when that person is





I should have stepped up, but instead I simply quietly asked my kids to take three giant steps behind me and wait for their parents there.

What was she screaming about?

Her son's conduct report that had the box checked next to Incomplete Work.

Why did I check that box?

He had incomplete work.

Why did SHE think I checked that box?

That morning her son came to me sobbing because he forgot his school planner in his desk so he couldn't write his homework down in it. The ONLY requirement I have with homework is that they write what they did at home for reading and math in their planner. They choose from a list of acceptable at-home activities that have them read for 30 minutes and practice math for 15 minutes. Then they write what they did in their planners. There is nothing to turn in.

Because the ONLY requirement is that homework be recorded in the planner each day, I am firm with that requirement. I give students one "freebie" per trimester to forget their homework, but after that I begin to lower their homework grade each time it is not completed correctly. There are no other consequences assigned.

I make every attempt to help students be successful with homework. It is specifically designed to be completely independent for every child, despite their ability level. As part of our end-of-the-day routine, I remind students to take out their planners and put them in their backpacks. I ask before we walk away from the room if everyone is sure they have their planners.

Because I do take those steps daily, if child forgets his planner I will not accept notes from parents confirming that their child did indeed complete their homework.

Even from screaming parents with sobbing little boys.

That's my stupid, friggin' homework policy, in a nutshell. (That lady needs to be in a nutshell.)

Was that the incomplete work that earned him a poor conduct report?

No. That conduct report resulted from the mountains of incomplete class work he has. The incomplete class work that I have been talking to her about on a regular basis. The incomplete class work that I've talked to her husband about. The incomplete class work that I agreed, at her request, to allow him to take home and finish each day. The incomplete work that he hides in his desk so as to avoid taking it home and finishing it.

THAT incomplete work.

What did she say BEFORE she learned the truth behind the conduct report?

"You're the worst teacher he's ever had!" (I can live with that. Someone has to be the worst.)

"I've never heard of such a stupid, friggin' homework policy." (Well, you heard of it when you came to Back to School Night…twice. Once in my room, and once in the other 4th grade room where your kid's twin brother is enrolled.)

"I'm going to the office to have him put in another class." (Newsflash… There IS no other class to put him in at our school. The only other 4th grade is full. She could transfer him to another school, if there's room, but I can pretty much guarantee, with our district's over-crowding issues, there won't be room for 2 kids so her twin boys will be in different schools and she freaked out when we put them in different classes this year. Besides, as you learned at Back to School Night, the other 4th grade has the EXACT same policy.)

"He had all A's at his old school!" (Checked his cumulative record. No A's. All C's, D's, and F's. All Needs Improvements in Responsibility for Learning sections. Teacher comments included things like "Student does not complete class work" and "Student often off-task.")

What did she say AFTER she learned the truth behind the conduct report?


What is her kid's reason for not completing his work?

He claims that he is not getting his work done because of all his tablemates talking to him and asking for help. (Which one? The one from Cambodia who doesn't speak English or the girl who is so shy she doesn't talk to anyone?)

Whatever. She believes him so I agreed to move his desk and give him a "privacy wall" to put up around him to prevent others from talking to him when he should be working. If the problem is others talking to him, we should see a great improvement in his completion rate next week when he not being bothered by those pesky non-English speaking mutes.

And when he doesn't get his work done, which he won't, and he gets another poor conduct report, which he will, what is she going to do?

Why, come and give me a great big hug and apologize for being so irrational.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Down to Basics

My principal, who really is a good person who wants to do what's best for students and teachers, decided to try to put an end to combo classes this year. I whole-heartedly supported this decision, having been a combo teacher for many years.

Combos are tough on the kids because there is no way to not rip them off educationally when teachers must split their time between two grades. It's not like the days before standards-based education when a combo class was made up of the brightest students in the lower grade and the less-bright students in the higher grade and then the teacher just shot for the middle and taught them all the same curriculum.

Now we teach each grade their specific curriculum with all the same requirements as a straight grade. Remember, each grade's curriculum is designed to fill a whole school day, but combo class teachers must split their days across two grade levels. See? There's no way to NOT rip those poor kids off.

So the decision was made to try to avoid them this year. Our Gifted and Talented classes have almost always been combos, so we added many of our high achievers from regular education to those classes so that they could have enough students to justify straight grades instead of combos.

Fine enough. The teaching that goes on in the Gifted classes is the kind of high-quality teaching we wish we all could do with our students. I was very comfortable sending off some high achievers to GATE.

Then this week my grade level got an email from the principal asking that we regular ed teachers select six more high achievers to transfer to the GATE class because the numbers were too low in that class and too high in ours. (We're full in regular ed.)

Now my comfort level with the whole "straight grade" concept is getting a little less comfortable. In an effort to make straight grades, we've already picked the advanced students and very high proficient students and sent them away. Now you want the ones I have left too?

So I start looking at student data and got some good news/bad news.

The good news: I don't have to give anyone to the GATE class.

The bad news: I don't have any students who are even proficient at last year's standards. Ok, I have one. She literally made proficient by 1 point in Language Arts. She gets no work done in class and I have yet to see a stitch of homework out of her. I doubt she'll qualify for GATE.

My entire class, except her I guess, is made up of students who are at the Basic level, Below Basic Level, and Far Below Basic Level in Language Arts and Math.

Man, that sure explains a lot.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Listen Up

Be honest. Have I been talking gibberish lately? Have I lapsed into speaking in tongues?

Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth (aka Keyboard)? (Thanks Chris Tucker.)

I see all of you nodding your heads yes, so I know I'm not crazy then.

It's the oddest thing…

My students can't seem to hear me.

At least, most of them can't.

Example from Friday:

Ok fourth graders, we're going to grade that math paper now. Please take out your blue grading pencils and hold them over your heads (Because I've learned that if I don't make you prove to me that you took out a blue pencil, most of you will correct in regular pencil, purple crayon, or boogers.)

Remember, as I call out the answers I want to you put a checkmark through the number on the problems you get wrong like this. (Here is where I model how to make a checkmark through some numbers on a sample test because by the 4th week of 4th grade this class seems to never to have graded anything before.) Do not put anything on the ones you get correct. Correct means that it is NOT wrong. Do not put stars on them. Do not put smiley faces on them. Do not put any other marks. Just leave them alone. (Fat chance this will happen.) All those markings make papers difficult to read. Checkmarks only, please.

Then we proceed to grade the papers (as we have, in the same fashion, EVERY DAY for 4 weeks.)

Now that we're done listening to the answers, you need to count how many checkmarks you have on your paper. Here's how that's done. (Now I model how to count checkmarks on the sample test. Please Lord, give me strength.) At the top of the page by your name, write a minus sign and the number of checkmarks, like this. (Time to model how to write the number wrong with a minus sign on the sample test.) Look carefully at how I wrote it. I put the minus sign first, then the number. Remember, that is the number of checkmarks. Minus sign, number of checkmarks. I placed it right by my name. DO NOT circle your number wrong. Simply write it as I showed you. Minus. Number. Near your name.

Please count your checkmarks now and record them by your name. (At least five minutes will pass before they all have this task completed. I will make 17 students redo it because they did not follow my instructions.)

Now I'll call out the grade. When you hear your grade, you write your grade right next to where you recorded the checkmarks and you'll draw a circle around the grade. This way, I can easily find your grade to place it in my gradebook. Let me show you. I have a minus three written right here by my name. The grade for that many wrong is a 4. So I am going to write a 4 and draw a circle around it. The ONLY number I circle is the grade. Where does the grade go?

4 students: "At the tabottoomp."

The other 29 students: " ."

It goes at the top of the page, right by your name. Place your finger where you're going to be writing your grade.

2 students place their fingers at the top of the page, by their names.

6 students hover their fingers over their papers while looking around at others to find out where their finger should be placed. There's little help to be found though, because…

25 students do nothing remotely close to what I've asked. Their actual activities are both too numerous and/or too disgusting to recount here.

I need to see all of you with your fingers pointing at a spot right next to your number wrong. Look up here to see what I am pointing at and do the same thing on your paper.

Same 2 students place their fingers at the top of the page.

6 different students hover and look around.

3 students point at my paper.

22 students do nothing.

Everyone place one finger in the air, like this. (Model how to hold up a finger up.) (BTW, the finger I was holding up was not the one I really wanted to be holding up at this point.)

Place that finger right by your name, like this. (Model.)

30 students place their fingers in the correct place. Close enough.

That is where you're going to write your grade and circle it.

Here are the grades…

I call out the grades, tell students to record their grades and circle them, and then ask that they hand in their math papers.

The results are:

2 students had their number wrong and grade in the correct place on their paper with a circle around the grade.

8 students had not recorded their grades.

5 students had not recorded their number wrong.

4 students wrote the number wrong backwards (3- instead of -3).

4 students circled the number wrong and not the grade.

5 students did not circle anything.

1 student circled everything: the number wrong, the grade, and then a giant circle around both of them.

2 students had neither the number wrong nor the grade. One had good reason though. He had no name on his paper near which to write them.

2 students used frowny faces instead of checkmarks. Oh, and smiley faces for the ones correct.

I'll include those same 2 students in my group who used stars, smiley faces, or a combination of both for correct answers. That group was 14 strong.

The good news is that this shows they're getting better at grading papers...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I’ve Been Remiss

Where have you been, Edna?

I know that's what you all have been thinking, anxiously checking your email/reader for my latest prose, wondering what happened to me, hoping I was not trapped beneath something heavy.

Well, I have been trapped beneath something heavy…

…the insupportable weight of a new school year!

It's not the mountains of paperwork that we must hand-out, explain, highlight for parent signature, collect, rehand-out, re-explain, rehighlight parent for parent signature, collect, rerehighlight for parent signature, screw the explanation, stick a post-it note on with the words "sign here" in three languages and an arrow pointing at the signature line, collect, and then eventually forge the parent's signature that exhausts me.

It's not the repetition of classroom routines that, after three weeks, remain a mystery to this class.

"Go to your seats, empty your backpacks, go the coat rack and hang them up."

"Anthony, why is your backpack at your seat and your books in the coat rack?"

"Vicki, when you sit in front of the coat rack and empty your backpack, no one else can hang theirs up. Do you not see the line of 32 students waiting here? Besides, you might get stepped on."

"Jim, how did you even manage to fit your backpack into your desk?"

"I know Vicki is crying. Tell her Ms. Lee said Told ya' so."

It's not even the looooong hours required just to keep my head above water (or the fact the mechanic at Goodyear told me, as he packed up to leave at 4:00 PM, that he'd love my job because he'd love to work from eight until two each day. I let him know that the only way my hours and his would be the same was if he had arrived for work at 4:00 AM because it's not unusual for me to work from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. So put that in your tailpipe and smoke it, sucka!)

No, it is none of the above.

It's Travis.

Travis is new to our school this year. Wanna know how I know that?

Without fail, every day and with every activity we do Travis raises his hand and utters the phrase, "At my oollld school…" and then attempts to tell me how what I am about to do is different, and in many ways inferior, to his old school's practices.

In addition to being the unofficial historian for his old school, he coughs the cough of a student vying for attention, twice daily grips his stomach from inexplicable pains, scratches at rashes only he can see, suffers from blinding headaches until something more fun is being done, loses sight in one eye for brief periods of time, limps during PE but forgets which leg he was limping on and will actually ask me if I could refresh his memory, wonders aloud if everyone can hear that ringing noise or if it's just the return of his ear infection, and cries during math because although he understands the assignment he still wants to live with his Nana.

Oh, and he has a twin brother who, thankfully, was enrolled in the other 4th grade class. He likes to remind me that they ARE identical twins.

God, help us all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Award?!? For ME?!?!

Why thank you, thank you Mr. Teacher for bestowing upon me this prestigious award.

I would like to thank a few others while I have the podium.

First, thank you to my mother, a teacher herself, who told me early on in my pursuit of a teaching credential,

"I know you can do this. I still think you should be a speech therapist though. They always manage to leave at the same time as the kids."

But did I listen? Sadly, no. Let me say now, I hear ya loud and clear now, Ma!

Next, I must recognize my dear friend and fellow teacher Caroline. Her words 13 years ago still ring true in my ears.

"Before you know it, you're gonna ditch those cute, fashionable shoes for a pair of clunky flats with big, squishy soles. Comfort trumps style any day in a classroom."

By gumballs, she was right! My shoes could double as flotation devices now.

And finally, a great big group thank you to all the oddball students, incorrigible parents, asinine directives from my district, and George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind for making this blog possible.

I would have never done it without you.

As part of the rules of this award, I must recognize seven other blogs I feel are "Brillante!" I am honored to pass this honor on to the following honorees:

Raw Drip - Because I'm really into porn.

Wamblings - Because she's insightful and witty and deserving of much more.

It's Not All Flowers and Sausages - Because Mimi IS a rock star of a teacher.

Out of the Basement - Because her life is far more interesting than mine because she is far more introspective than I am.

Ramblin' Educat - Because this blog makes me giggle.

Fractions Speak Louder than Nerds - Because I am impressed with Ms. Longhorn's mathematical knowledge.

Ha Ha - You're Reading This - Because she's "a school marm with charm."

Oh my gosh! I almost forgot!

A great big thank you to my readers! If it weren't for you, well, let's face it. I'd still write this blog.

But it sure would be a lonely place in cyberspace without you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Frank Shaffer Must Die

As I mentioned earlier, we started off the year with an all day in-service on our ELD curriculum du jour. This is like our fifth program in about seven years. Oddly enough, after trying each program, we still had kids who were learning English. Gee…

The presenter from the publisher was not scheduled to speak until after lunch. Instead of starting the meeting after lunch, we sat in a multi-purpose room at a local community college and did "busy work" until the real reason we were all there arrived from another site where she had presented in the morning.

That busy work really got under my skin and got me thinking.

My district abhors busy work for students. What they define as busy work is forbidden in our classrooms. Everything students do must actively contribute to their acquisition of knowledge and that most certainly does not include seat work of any kind such as repetitive spelling practice or coloring for any reason.

And the biggest no-no of them all is worksheets.

I would harbor a guess that in my district's opinion:

Hitler was an evil man because of his senseless slaughtering of humans.

Attila the Hun was an evil man because of his wide-spread cruelty and viciousness.

Frank Shaffer was an evil man because his company writes easily reproducible worksheets popular with teachers.

As a matter of fact, Frank Shaffer worksheets in particular are banned from our classrooms. Principals have been known to go into teacher's filing cabinets without permission and remove the teacher's personal copies under the cover of darkness. No joke.

Until recently, our district mandated that we only use materials provided by our math and language arts curriculums. "Fidelity to the curriculum" was the phrase we heard in our sleep. Absolutely no outside materials or lessons were permitted.


Of course, as all teachers know, what you do when you shut the door to your classroom is a different story. We all snuck in a fun writing lesson involving art or a math lesson with M&M's here and there.

But few dared to give a worksheet, and NEVER a Frank Shaffer one.

Now I have never been one to use worksheets so this mandate has had little effect on me, but I must admit that worksheets do have a place in today's classrooms.

Let's face it, what is a standardized testing book but a giant book of worksheets with bubble-in answers? If test facilitators were going to arrive, give my students rulers, and have them physically measure a a three-dimensional object to determine its perimeter or area or volume, I would have them practicing that skill to prepare them. In reality, they give them a book of worksheets with figures drawn on them and the measurements written on the figures and the students use that information to find the answers.

We should probably practice that a bit.

Of course I do have my students measuring actual objects to determine information because that is a vital component to learning; however they do need to see written examples as well.

The key word here is practice, not busy work. This would not be an exercise designed to keep them busy until the presenter I brought them to this multi-purpose room to listen to arrives…

Wait, I think I might have confused two different situations here.

Or maybe I haven't.

We were not practicing any skills or building any new knowledge as we played the "Two Truths and a Lie" game. We had to listen to a 30 minute explanation of the game, each write two truths and a lie about ourselves on a piece of paper, go around our table and guess each person's lie, choose someone from our table to share with the group, and then have each group share one while the rest of us doodled on our agendas. (I, myself, drew a detailed sketch of my own creation: Eldy, the ELD gremlin.) This took well over an hour and a half to complete. (The game, not the sketch. The sketch was an on-again, off-again project for 8 hours.)

Two Truths and a Lie: Fun dinner party game?


Was I at a dinner party?

If I was, that was the crappiest stale danish dinner I've ever eaten at eight o'clock in the morning.

Helping me to build knowledge about our new ELD curriculum?

Uummm, no.

Busy work?

I'll let you decide.

We went on to do other useless activities that morning which included a lot of working with our table groups, writing on giant pieces of paper with different colored markers, arguing over who had to present our work when we ultimately shared it with the entire group, and then listening to each group share information from their sheets that was exactly like the information on all the other sheets because we have all been to the same trainings about this information.

By the end of that in-service, my district had given me the equivalent of six hours of Frank Shaffer worksheets, one hour of useful instruction, and an acute distaste for "sharing out with the group."

But looking on the bright side, this in-service led to the birth of Eldy, the ELD gremlin!

I love having a new friend.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Slight Raise, then Drop

It was Back To Work for me last Thursday and we all know what that means…

more blog posts!

more staff meetings!

and more teacher in-services that give me fodder for more blog posts!

We started this year off with a full day in-service with a two-fold objective:

  1. 1. Introduce us to our new English Language Development (ELD) curriculum.

  1. 2. Waste precious hours doing busy work such as looking at slides covered in fancy graphs telling us that we have large English Learner populations in our schools (which any one of us could have told you since, you know, we're the ones in the classrooms with them) or working in small groups to compare and contrast direct ELD instruction with ELD strategies and then sharing out our results with the entire group while we waited for the presenter from the publisher to arrive (after lunch) to tell us that the ELD program we adopted is scripted and all we do is read the script directly from a book and do a few wacky hand signals they developed to have the students speak in unison; when what we really needed to be doing was setting up our classrooms since this was Friday and school starts on Monday and they only gave us half the day on Thursday (due to a massive beginning of the year meeting) to work in our rooms that many of us had just moved into from other rooms and that had been stripped bare for summer cleaning.

"Luckily," (as my principal put it) our school secretary was coming in to work on Saturday (unpaid) until noon if any of us wanted to finish our rooms then. Oh, boy!

Why does that not feel so lucky to me?

But I digress. The important thing is that we are now fully trained in script reading and the nuances of the all-important "signal" to promote a singular voice from our class when they must repeat what we say.

Wanna know how to do the signal too?

You hold your teacher's manual in one hand so you can clearly see the script and raise your other one like you're about to swear an oath. To give "the signal," you slightly raise that hand and then drop it in front of you like a tree falling. In case you were wondering, "Why the slight raise?" The "slight raise" is to give the students a moment to process what they are about to repeat.

Let me model it for you:

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

You see? There's a slight raise, then you drop your hand down.

Now let's try that together. Let's have all of you stand up at your computers, grab a book and hold it in your left hand, and raise your right hand.

Slight raise, then drop.


Slight raise, then drop.

Now remember, the drop goes in front. Not off to the side like a Mr. Miyagi Wax On Wax Off move. Like this:

Slight raise, then drop.

Try again.

Slight raise, then drop.

Muuuch better.

Slight raise, then drop.

Slight raise, then drop.

That, in a nutshell, was our all-day training.

Oh, I forgot to mention, most of the ELD curriculum is devoted to students speaking on cue so we must teach with our right hands raised throughout the 30-45 minute ELD block.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

182nd Carnival of Education

It's Baa--acck!

The 182nd Carnival of Education is in full swing over at The Chancellor's New Clothes.

I can be found in this edition of The Carnival, writing about crappy teacher gifts in a most ungrateful fashion (again.)

There are some wonderful blogs in this Carnival and I encourage you to check them out!

Thanks to The Chancellor's New Clothes for hosting and doing such a bang-up job of it. Great work!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More Teacher Gift Ideas

I've been cleaning out my closets lately and finding the stashes of gifts I have yet to lug off to Goodwill. It got me thinking about teacher gifts again. Here are a few dandies that I've found online that you might want to consider. I don't mean consider as a gift for someone...

just consider.

Chubby Nuts the Dog




Mimosa Soap

For the teacher who wants to smell like they've been drinking before school.

Giant Wooden Pencil

Just in case you want to record some big ideas.

Teaching is my Bag Tote

Alternative saying:

Don't Bag on me for Carrying this Stupid Tote. I'm a Teacher.

Grow Your Own Brain Plant

If only...

Chubby Nuts the Horse

How many times do we have to say this?

Teachers should not get chubby nuts from their students. Period.

Bumblebee Numbers

Is it me, or does this bee seem genuinely surprised to be crapping out numbers?

Books and Learning Stainless Steel Flask

Just tell your principal that little Billy would be hurt if he didn't see you using it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Times Have Changed, Part 2

Continuing our walk down memory lane, let's take a look at student rules and punishments in the 1800's.

Student Rules, 1860

Boys and girls shall file into classroom in separate lines and be seated quietly on opposite sides of the room.

This is a great idea! We should continue to enforce this rule, but would need to add that they may not make googly-eyes at each other during class and sign "I Love You" across the room to each other while snickering behind their hands.

Boys shall remove their caps when entering.

Since students are no longer allowed to wear caps, we should amend this to say that boys shall pull up their pants so their ass isn't hanging out when entering. (That has just GOT to be uncomfortable!)

Children must sit up straight at all times.

Sit up straight? Heck, I'm happy if I can just get them near their chairs most of the time. If they're actually sitting, I'm not going to nit-pick.

Children must not squirm, fidget or whine.

Now students have a legal right to squirm, fidget, and whine because it's written right into their IEP's at their lawyer's insistence.

Children must be clean and tidy in clothing.

"In clothing?" As opposed to naked? I should hope they'd be "in clothing." Do you really have to make that a rule?

There will be a daily inspection of neck, ears and fingernails prior to class to ensure cleanliness of person.

Now we inspect backpacks, purses, and waistbands to ensure disarmament of person.

Young ladies must never show a bare ankle; girls' and boys' clothing should cover arms and legs completely.

Because you know how provocative those juvenile ankles can be. If only the authors of these rules could see 140 years into the future. Covered arms…hah!


Five minutes tardy in the morning = 1 hour after school.

That's weird, at my school it's one hour tardy = five minutes after school.

Double assignments if homework is not done.

So you can doubly not do it tonight.

Nothing shall be dipped into ink wells except pens.

Ewwww… What else could they have been dipping in their ink wells?

Children who are caught writing with their left hand = 1 ruler rap on the knuckles.

Sounds messy. Wouldn't a ruler rap splatter the ink the lefties have smeared all over their hands from dragging them through the wet ink on their papers as they wrote?

Do not speak unless spoken to by the teacher. Talking in class = 1 whack with a rod.

Ahhhh…the good ole' days.

Nothing shall be thrown in class. Such behavior = 5 whacks with a rod.

Good thing we did away with this consequence. I think A-Rod is a bit busy cheating on his wife with Madonna to come and whack my students right now.

Chewing of tobacco or spitting = 7 whacks with a rod.

I couldn't agree more! What is WITH spitting?!?! Can someone explain that to me? I'd almost risk my job to give a kid 7 whacks for spitting. Blaaaak.

Speaking immoral language = Suspension.

Then your f*&king parents can listen to your scr&^%ed up, mother(*&^$&#ing, potty mouth in your sh*&hole of a house for a while.

Carving on desks or defacing school property = Expulsion.

Unless I agree with what you wrote.

Fighting, lying, or cheating = Expulsion.

My school would be empty…

…because most of the teachers would have been expelled.


If only…


for the middle and upper classes of society. The rest of you just get to go to school and learn how to take a yearly test.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Times Have Changed

I suppose we have all received that chain email outlining the rules teachers had to abide by in 1872. I recently got it again in my inbox, and thought I'd include it here with my thoughts on each rule for today's classroom.

I encourage you to add your thoughts as well!

Teacher Rules, 1872

Teachers each day will fill lamps, and clean chimneys.

I don't think this is my job anymore, but can someone explain why half my lights don't work and the heater spits out flaming dust balls? Maybe someone should fill the lamps and clean the chimneys?

Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day's session.

I see the need for the bucket of water. Waterboarding those unruly students won't happen on its own. I don't think I would be able to bring in a scuttle of coal since I'm not entirely sure what a "scuttle" is. Is it bigger than a breadbox?

Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

Individual tastes range from "Pointy enough for effective ear cleaning without damaging ear drums" to "Efficient for spearing roaches in a single shot during math."

Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

Well, under the law, they are entitled to a fair and speedy trial and going to church should only serve to bolster their cases. That's actually good advice.

After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

Like Learn Me Good. (A shameless plug for a man unafraid of shamelessly plugging himself!)

Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

I can see dismissing women who get married. Clearly, they have their priorities all screwed up. But to fire someone for unseemly conduct??!? Come on!

Every teacher should lay aside from each day pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

Due to this job, I have prematurely entered my "declining years," so I'm going to spend my money now. Besides, I've spent all my "good years" working with some delinquents who may be a burden on society long before their "declining years." Let's face it, they're gonna owe me.

Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.

I've never been shaved in a barbershop but I have been waxed in a salon. Does that count?

The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

Some things never change.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Go Team!

I can hardly wait for next school year to begin!

Did I just say that?

Out loud?

Well, here's why: I am going to have the most kick-ass 4th grade team ever!

I have worked on strong grade level teams before, but this year will be special. Teaming has been a challenge thus far at our school because of our year-round schedule, but we have tried our best to work within our limits. We are switching to a more traditional school calendar this coming year so we will all have the same vacation schedule, making true teaming more of a reality.

As a further hindrance, not all the teachers on our 4th grade team believed in the power of working together (shall we say); but in recent years that dead weight has moved on so we are free to become one cohesive unit.

Let me introduce you to my team. We are three members strong with two regular ed 4th grade teachers and one GATE teacher.

Fourth Grade Teacher #1:

(Drum roll, please)

He's relatively green and still enthusiastic about teaching. Ladies and gentleman, let's give a big hand for…Mr. Manners! Mr. Manners came to teaching as a second career and boy are we lucky he did. He enjoys long walks to the copy room, lingering lunches of salad and leftover treats found on the lounge table, and listening to social studies text books on tape.

Mr. Manners believes in meeting students' needs at their individual levels rather than setting arbitrary expectations for 4th graders as a whole. He is dedicated and committed to his career, to his teammates, and to all of our students. That is why I respect him. Also, as the butt of many of my jokes, he is willing to take quite an emotional beating. That is why I appreciate him.

Fourth Grade Teacher #2:

(Drum roll, please)

She's no longer a newbie, but she always will be to me. Ladies and gentleman, let's put our hands together for…Miss Shoes. Miss Shoes teaches our Gifted and Talented students, and is living proof that you don't have to be gifted and talented yourself to teach those students. Just kidding! TOTALLY kidding on that one!

She has the gift of compassion and a talent for reaching out to students who need that little extra push. She enjoys waiting in the dark of the early morning for the custodian to arrive late and unlock the campus, long lunches making fun of Mr. Manners, and getting supplies for other people from the supply room. Also, like Mr. Manners, she is frequently the victim of my caustic humor and takes it like a champ.

Fourth Grade Teacher #3:

Me. After reading the last two descriptions, you've probably surmised that I spend much of my time give others hell. If that was you're assumption, ding ding ding…we have a winner!

I so look forward to next school year. This grade level team has the energy, the dedication, and the will to make great things happen for our students. We will even be in the same building with adjoining rooms for the first time! My room is on the end, Mr. Manners is in the middle, and Miss Shoes is on the other end. This opens up endless possibilities…

…for torturing Mr. Manners! (Hey! I'm not alone in the "giving others hell" department)

Miss Shoes and I are in the planning stages for ways to make Mr. Manners' life miserable residing between our two rooms. So far we've considered:

  • Running a string across his room with cups on either end for us to communicate. We'll add a line in for him later (for a nominal fee.)
  • Using that same string as a zip line to send written messages to each other across his room.
  • Using a remote control truck to carry supplies back and forth between our rooms, through his room. Of course, the supplies must be innocuous such as a single pencil, one marker, or one stick of staples. Ideally, the truck will have a horn…beep beep!

If you have any other ideas that would be fun for us to try, please feel free to share! It's a long year, so we'll need a big bag of tricks to keep ourselves amused.

I hope my readers who are teachers feel the same hopefulness and excitement that a new school year brings.

I also hope you, unlike me, are sensible enough to wait until at least August before even thinking about it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Westward, Ho!

I love road trips!

Since I am off for the summer (for the first time in my career), and my boyfriend is off (because he works in I.T. and has been laid off like everyone else in I.T.), we decided to take a mini-vacation to the Grand Canyon since we've never been there before.

We've taken many road trips together and always enjoy ourselves. We blast the iPod (or, in the past, stacks of CD's), eat snacks, stop at interesting places, and chat about random stuff we're too busy to chat about during our regular lives.

The only problem we ever have is returning to California.

It's not that we don't want to come home. We like that part too. It's that Mother Nature always works against us when we head west.

For example, many years ago, we were driving from Washington D.C. back to California and we got stranded in Wyoming in a terrible blizzard…

in June.

Our car was an old beater that he had bought when he got out of the Marines and it had no defroster. No big deal! We live in Southern California. Besides, it's June! Who needs a defroster in June?

I don't need to answer that question for you now.

So we got stuck in some little town that consisted of a Flying J Travel Plaza, a Best Western, one diner, and a billion cows. We became very close to the waitress at that diner as we had to eat three squares a day there for three days while buckets of snow fell, burying our car. On the morning of day four, we were chatting it up with our new waitress friend when she nonchalantly says, "You know, you all are the taulk of taawn. People are waulkin' by yur motel room just to get a look at y'all."

Here's where my being white and him being black becomes an important point. Evidently, they don't take a likin' to our kind in them thar parts.

We dug that hunk of crap car out of the snow with our bare hands and drove straight from Wyoming to Southern California in one shot, defroster be damned.

On another road trip, we got stranded in Tennessee for two days because of tornadoes. Not only were we stuck in a motel room, we had his chain-smoking-ceaselessly-complaining sister with us. Threatening to drive to the next major city, purchase two plane tickets for ourselves, and abandon her to drive home alone got her to stop, but if "pouting" had a sound, she was making it and it was as annoying as listening to her complain.

So back to our mini-vacation to the Grand Canyon. We hit a little rain on the way there, but it was nothing we hadn't faced before.

But when we headed west…

the sky opened up and buckets of rain poured out. Huge drops of rain cracked against the windshield and I could barely see the road. Just as I thought I should pull over and wait it out for a while, it cleared.

Pheewww! The sky remained gray, but the torrential rain had stopped. The air felt thick because it was almost 100 degrees outside, but we were in an air conditioned car (not the same one as the Wyoming debacle), so we were comfy.


"What was that?"

"Must have been a rock."


"Is that HAIL?"

"That can't be hail. It's like 100 degrees outside."


Of course it was hail.

Why were we shocked? We've been in blizzards in June. Hail in 100 degree temperatures in the middle of Arizona during a drought should be an everyday occurrence for us.

After the hail stopped, the torrential rains returned for another 20 minutes.

After the torrential rains stopped, we encountered a dust storm. How all the dirt had not been turned to mud by the rain escapes me, but why do I even ask. We were headed west, right?

Of course, the dust storm was because of the gale-force winds that were blowing the car off the road every 30 seconds.

Just as the weather seemed to clear, traffic came to a complete stop due to an accident caused by the rain-hail-dust-wind storm. As we sat on interstate 40, we got to know our neighbors quite well. People were sharing snacks from their coolers and chatting it up on the side of the road as we waited. If we were there much longer, one guy was prepared to bust out his grill and start making us all hamburgers and hot dogs. After all, it was the Fourth of July!

Once traffic got moving again, we tooled along for a few hours incident-free until we got to the goats.

Yup, goats. A whole herd of them in the middle of the road. Evidently they were trying to cross from one side of the interstate to the other, a straight shot across (if you don't factor in the 85 mph traffic), but they seemed to have gotten lost traveling in a straight line and were now meandering around the 40. Some guy got out of his car and ran at them waving his arms and they all scattered towards the side of the road.

And we were off again. We had our dog with us and she had not peed or pooped since we left the house two days ago. Evidently, taking her to the same spot every day to do her business does have some negative consequences. She took me very seriously about that being "the potty spot" and she wasn't about to go against my wishes despite my pleading with her to go at every rest stop along the way. Our concerns that she just might explode all over the interior of the car caused us to drive 95 mph the remaining weather-free 200 miles of our trip.

We made it home without incident, thankfully, and Mya peed and pooped for like 20 minutes straight. We collapsed in the comfort of our own home and asked ourselves why we don't just fly more often.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Husky-Proof Toy

Few things are what they claim to be…

A lesson I've got to learn.

What brings this to mind while I lounge around on vacation without a child in sight?

A "husky-proof" dog toy that my lovely husky Mya managed to shred in under 10 minutes. As I write this, she is pulling all the white stuffing out of an indestructible toy made from an actual fire hose.

A fire hose! It withstands pounds and pounds of water pressure, but not the tenacious teeth of a 13 month old pooch. I've learned to only buy toys designed for rough and tough dogs, but none of them last more than an hour. Vendors even sell toys specifically for the notoriously destructive husky breed, but those can't live up to their claims either.

It got me thinking about how this parallels my job as a teacher. Every year we teachers have our own set of "husky-proof" claims that ultimately disappointment.

Husky-Proof Claim #1: "I know what's best for my child!"

Parents should be their child's biggest advocate. I encourage them to fight vigorously for their children's rights and interests. I firmly believe most parents know and are willing to go to the mat for their kids' needs, which is what we all should do.

Unfortunately, each year we have parents who reduce themselves to fighting with us simply to win the fight with little regard given to the needs of their children. All efforts allocated to winning the argument, whatever it may be. Despite any powerful contrary evidence the teacher or education professionals might present, these parents refuse to concede.

Their "husky-proof" claim is that they are fighting for their kids. Our "husky-proof" disappointment is when they lose sight of the child's needs in an attempt to be victorious. Worse yet, the children's disappointments are immeasurable as children get lost in the fighting.

Husky-Proof Claim #2: "I know what's best for my students!"

Some teachers fall into the same category as parents; unwilling to lose an argument. Too many teachers are reluctant to concede that they might not possess all-encompassing knowledge about children and education, and therefore close themselves off from new and divergent teaching methods in favor of what they know. They hold firm to their "tried and true" teaching techniques and resist new ideas. I have been guilty of this myself.

Moreover, some teachers give little credence to the invaluable knowledge parents have about their children. I have heard parents' thoughts on a given situation be dismissed simply because it's not a "professional" opinion, but merely a "parental" opinion about education. Of course, this is not the norm, but probably quietly happens more than we know.

Such teachers cannot live up to their "husky-proof" claims to always know what's best for students simply because of their experience or educational degrees. Sadly, it is again the students who suffer the greatest "husky-proof" disappointments when this happens.

Husky-Proof Claim #3: "This in-service will offer invaluable resources for your teaching!"

How many teachers have sat through a four day in-service but walked away with few ideas and techniques that you could actually use in your classroom? There are several explanations for this occurrence. At times, teachers were not open to the new ideas being presented (see Husky-Proof Claim #2). Other times, the in-services were simply filled with useless information for today's classroom; leaving us doubting that the trainers had ever set foot in a real classroom with real students and real educational demands.

The flip-flopping of educational dogma also presents a barrier in our acceptance of new ideas and techniques. Too many times, the educational pendulum has swung wildly in the opposite direction from what we have been doing and required us to retrain our thinking and change our ways, only to swing back to where we started from within a few years. I am sure many of us have sat through trainings that are really old teaching techniques that fell out of favor several years ago, but that are now repackaged and delivered to us with a shiny new PowerPoint bow on top.

Trainings require quite a commitment from the attendees. Detailed substitute plans must be written, materials prepped, time spent in a training room and away from your students, and then finally the inevitable "clean up" upon your return to your classroom are just few of the details teachers face when attending a training. What a disappointment it is to find that the trainers made "husky-proof" claims they could not live up to.


Isn't it crazy how contradictory life is? Teachers and parents need each other on this educational road. We need to work together and stay out of each other's way at the same time.

Teachers also need to stay current with our trainings and be flexible in our thinking, but to do so we must be offered useful trainings that offer us techniques that can be realistically implemented in the classroom and realistic implementation varies from classroom to classroom.

Well, the fire hose dog toy is completely dead now. It's in tatters on the floor. Mya has a singularly satisfied look on her face and is napping on the remaining shreds. It seems I am the only one who was disappointed by that toy.

Maybe "Husky-Proof" claims aren't all bad after all?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Teachers Rule, Sixth Graders Drool

Batter Up!

We had our annual sixth graders vs. the teachers softball game today.

We won!

Not that it was too hard to do. It's not like many of our kids play on softball or baseball teams. If we had played them in soccer, they would have creamed us.

To make matters worse, we don't actually "teach" them very many fundamentals either so those kids basically wing it out there. All the sixth grade teachers give them time to practice in the weeks prior to the game with a little instruction, but that's about it.

The teachers' team doesn't exactly have it made in the shade either. The biggest thing they have going against them is ME. Sure, I can swing a bat, keep my eye on the ball, and run if by some miracle that bat makes contact with the ball. I might even run in the right direction too.

But fielding a ball is a different matter. Catching is not my thing.

The other day, I asked a teacher sitting two feet away from me to pass me a marker. She cocked her arm back to toss it to me and asked if I was ready.

"Yup," I replied heartily and then the marker sailed right between my hands and landed on the floor.

"I thought you said you were ready?" she said.

"Did I mention I was in band in high school?" I replied sheepishly.

I guess my first instinct when something is hurtling towards my head is not to stay in its path. I guess it's to shut my eyes, scrunch up my face, and brace for impact in a fetal-ish position. I'll probably also squeal or scream or something like that as well.

So my team placed me waaaaayyyyy behind first base where only the odd leftie might hit a ball. PERFECT! The cherry on top was that first base was being played by our super athletic counselor who's played softball for 11 years. She was told she was to cover first base and Edna.

As the game progressed, and mercifully nothing came my way in left-right-whatever-the-heck field I was in, I became a bit bored. So I decided to try to get The Wave started with the spectators.

I know, I know… shouldn't I have been manning my position? Really! What are the chances I'm going to catch anything anyway? An empty field has a better chance of fielding a ball than I do.

But I did learn a valuable lesson today.

No matter how hard you try, first graders do not get the wave.

I started The Wave with the third graders on the end, then on to the fourth graders seated next to them, but once it got to those little first graders, they just sat and waved AT me. I tried again and again, had kids model what we're looking for, reinforced when I saw first graders doing it right, but to no avail.

Who knew standing up out of your chair while simultaneously raising your arms above your head and yelling "WhhoooOOOOoo" would be so difficult?

And, to my shock, the game continued on without me. I did eventually return to no-man's land and a ball was popped up in my direction, but I think my shrieks of "oh darn, oh darn,
oh darn!" drew that wonderful first base counselor to my rescue because she ran like the wind and snatched it right out of the air.

When I reflect on it, I'm not even sure I raised my glove. I think I just stood there like an idiot shouting "oh darn."

Oh, darn.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

S-T-U-P-I-D spells…

"My District's NEW, WELL-THOUGHT-OUT, GROUNDBREAKING position on standards mastery for K-6 students…"

(Sound the trumpets, please.)

Power Standards!

Can you feel the energy already?

Power standards. Not just any old standard but the best, the strongest, the meatiest standards in the pack.

In all honesty, I quite like the theory behind Power Standards. Instead of insisting that we take every student to the mastery level in every math and language arts standard (of which there are tons) every year and then beating ourselves up because we are unsuccessful every year, we have selected several math (something like 10-15) and several English Language Arts (something like 8-12) in each grade level to be our focus throughout the year because they are heavily weighted on the California State Testing, are in an area we need to improve, and/or are mandatory for success in the coming grades. We will focus on each Power Standard intensely for about 4-6 weeks, really getting to the heart of it and allowing students numerous opportunities for exposure to it.

All this week, I have been working on a committee to select these standards and create the pacing guide for when they should be taught during the next school year. Benchmark tests given every 6-8 weeks will measure our progress teaching the standards. For those Power Standards, we are moving away from the sequential Houghton Mifflin reading and math programs we have been tied to like a dog that runs away. We'll be using lessons from it, but they probably will not be in order.

I like this! I can do this! Instead of developing thematic units around apples or fall, we could develop them around a particular standard. For example, one of the 4th grade standards is the reading standard for cause and effect. For 4-6 weeks, we can look at cause and effect in reading, writing, social studies, science, music, art, and even math. I like this! I can do this!

Of course, this will require quite a bit of legwork on the teachers' parts. We will be hunting around for cause and effect lessons to fill more than a month of instruction.

That's alright. We only have to do that for a small fraction of the total standards, so no big deal there. Breaking that task up between our grade level team members will make that so easy.

…or is it?

You see, there's still the question of what to do with the remaining standards that did not make the cut on to the Power Standards team. We still have to teach those, of course. Not to mastery, but simply as an introduction and for exposure.

Oh! Put those next to the Power Standards we think they go with on the pacing guide, you say? Ok!

But wait, won't that then make not only the Power Standards out of sequential order (no big deal) but everything we do in language arts and math out of order? Won't that mean that not only will teachers have to hunt through 14 teacher's manuals, each other's filing cabinets, and the Internet to find enough lessons to fill more than a month of teaching to mastery, they must also do that for standards that will only be taught once or twice as an introduction?

So I begin to go from grade level table to grade level table and get feedback on what other grades are thinking of this exercise in insanity. Every person I talk to is uncomfortable with what we are doing here. We are, in essence, creating a HUGE amount of work for every other teacher in our district (of which there are hundreds), and cannot understand why the remaining standards can't simply be taught in the sequential order they are found in our programs. Why make more work, right?

So, as usual, it's left to me to raise my hand and ask that question of our Director of Curriculum who's running the show. And the answer is as follows:

"Now Edna, you know that in order to teach those other standards to maste…, I mean success, we must be mindful of where they are introduced."

Am I the only one who fails to see the difference between mastery and success?

And then she throws out my favorite line of all; the line that almost drove me to end up a headline in every national newspaper:

"You know, good teachers are willing to be flexible."

Maybe I just took that the wrong way. Maybe I'm just really tired from this process? Maybe it's the wrong time of the month for me to be on this committee?

But I was a bit insulted by her backhanded accusation that I was not a good teacher or flexible.

And, moreover, where were all the masses that agreed with me about this when I was talking to them earlier? What happened to all the people who asked that I bring this up? Where are the "uh huhs "and "amens" now?

Nothing! Nothing but stony silence from my peers could be heard.

So, of course, I continue:

"So is this a suggested pacing guide for grade levels so that teachers have a bit of flexibility for when they introduce the non-power standards?"

And she replies; "Of course! Teacher can use their discretion about when to introduce the non-power standards. This guide is just a suggestion."

So I say: "Then these other standards will not be included on the benchmark tests at the same time as the Power Standard they are aligned with on the suggested pacing guide?"

And she replies: "No, they will be on the benchmarks with the Power Standards you aligned them with."

Can somebody explain to me how that makes this guide a "suggestion"? How is this a good idea?!?!?!

Anyhooo, I gotta run. One more day of committee to go and I'm about to be late.

It's been suggested we arrive by 8:00 AM, but that's merely a suggestion.