Friday, January 28, 2011

[Teaching Stories] So Very Many Things

Although a short week (for me), this week held very many things to think about, deal with, look up, figure out, wonder about, come to terms with, understand, or fix.  Here is a list of things off of the top of my head.  Each of these things is directly related to one or more of the 22 students in my classes.
  • How do you convince a kid that finding the Greatest Common Multiple of two numbers is actually important?
  • What do you do for an 8th grader that is reading at the first grade level and on their way to high school?
  • What do you do for kids that are almost certainly involved in child prostitution?
  • How do you provide educational support for your students who are currently in juvenile detention?
  • What do you do for a student who reports having been pregnant recently?
  • How can you get enough therapy for children with emotional disturbance?
  • When does Oppositional Defiant Disorder become Conduct Disorder and does it matter?
  • What is the teacher's role for children who's parents do not provide doctor prescribed medication?
  • When do "yo mama" and "Viagra" jokes become sexual harassment?
  • How do you talk a kid into coming to school if their guardians won't make them?
  • How important is it to uphold the "no gum chewing" rule?
  • What do you say to a little girl who has been taken from her home the night before (for accusations of sexual abuse)?
  • How do you tell a kid that his shoes smell so awful you can smell him coming down the hall?  Especially if, when you let the parent know that it was an issue, she was certain is wasn't the shoes but the fact that he is incontinent?
  • How hard do you push the little girl who has been crying all morning?
  • What do you do when your dog pees on the disgusting couch you have in your classroom?
  • How do you get rid of a disgusting couch from your classroom?
  • How do you balance the role of teacher and the role of proxy disciplinarian? proxy parent?  proxy counselor?
  • At what point to stand your ground and make people do their own job--even if you know it will mean kids get less than they deserve?
  • What should you do with the information that your students are STILL behind on the state standards?
  • How do you get a parent signature you are required by law to have from a parent that won't respond to your calls or emails?  
  • How do you react when you find out from everyone else that your school might be relocated?
  • Should you let kids come in to your room during your planning time if that is what they consider a privilege? Or should you get your work done?
  • What do you do when another staff-person undermines you in front of your class?  Do you show the kids how to be gracious, or how to be strong?
  • Where do you draw the line when a student has been hit or beat up 9 times in 5 months by 7 different students?  
  • What do you do when a child may have just faked a seizure in order to get out of detention?
  • How long do you ignore the student who has clearly called you a bad name or five and has just buried the detention form in the dirt--in front of you?
  • How do you respond when your male students say "oh good, the girls are gone, let's have a fart war!"
So there you have it.  As always, advice is welcome, smart-ass comments are expected.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

[Classroom Management] When Duct Tape is Appropriate

I have an Incessant Leaner in my classroom.  He leans back in his chair, the chairs get bendy and squeaky AND he has fallen on his little poodle head multiple times.  Today, he and I came up with a solution:


*Note--HE suggested the duct tape.  It's not a vicious punishment-- in fact another student already asked if they can sit in that chair next.  No students were harmed or mistreated in this situation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

[Teaching Tools] Don't Be A Name-Caller

Well friends, it's that time again.  Get ready, cover your mouths, and zip your lips.  It's...

link here

Did you know? I did, but then I forgot. Now I'm wracking my brain to think if I did any name-calling this week. I'm quite certain I didn't call any of the poodle-heads names. Except for Poodle-head, and Snarky McSnarkerton, and Winner! Oops. Those are names, and I did call them.  Oh, and I just remembered I did call someone on the television box a pretty nasty name for being mean to their girlfriend on a TV show on Monday. This is why I don't watch TV. It brings the evil out! Now I've ruined the whole week.

Seriously though, my caped friends, I do recommend paying a little attention to the concept behind this week. You may have noticed in the past decade or so that it's getting harder and harder to be a kid.  One of the things I've seen increase alarmingly is the level of nasty name-calling that goes on.  They aren't calling each other "stupid-head" any more (did they ever?), and they are going far beyond simple "sticks-and-stones" level harassment.  Not only are kids in in danger of being seriously mistreated by other kids, they are also in danger of thinking this kind of treatment is accepted or acceptable.  I know, a week of no name-calling isn't the answer--just like Just Say No didn't work back when I was growing up, and DARE didn't work when my brothers were--but where else do we begin?  We need to be overt with our kiddos and make sure they know that  not only will we not allow them to mistreat someone, but we won't allow them to be mistreated.

Wow.  Did I start to get preachy or what?  Either way, don't call anyone any names until at least Saturday.  You dig it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

[Teaching Tools] He Continues to Ride... and He Has a Sidekick!

The Man on the White Horse has been spending a lot of time outside my classroom window lately (not in the road like he did here).  He pretty much has the sentence fragment part of his job nailed. The kidlets GET that. Actions verbs? Not bad. Nouns? Meh...  Adjectives?  Dicey. It's going well though. He's doing a fair job of teaching the poodle-heads some grammar lessons.

Last week we had to review helping verbs. After years of being told that verbs were actions, helping verbs make for a mighty kick in the grammatical pants. We listed some of the more common (be, have, do, could, might). I promised them that they were really called verbs even though you can't always "see the Man on the White Horse do them" (the guideline for determining if a verb is a verb). I further explained that each of these verbs needed another verb to help or it wasn't a sentence. We practiced with the Man on the White Horse. Someone (usually me) would gallop up to a student and say a phrase with only a helping verb, then gallop off. The rule is, if you're confused after the Man on the White Horse leaves, it probably wasn't a complete sentence. Phrases like "John might."  and "the chicken does" left the listener confused. *

Then one of the poodle-heads decided the Man on the White Horse needed a sidekick. He created "Mighty Man"--the helping verb side kick (get it "might"y Man?. He would come in with the helping verb, but the Man on the White Horse would have to add the other verb to make it complete.They'd have to HELP each  other to make a complete thought. Light bulbs flashed everywhere.Mighty Man and the Man on the White Horse, together, made helping verbs make sense. LOVE it!

At the same time, another student was certain I was mistaken about the need for two verbs. I assigned him the task of proving me wrong. He was to find a sentence that used only a helping verb and no action verb.  He found a couple-- "I might."  "It could."  We tested them out on the Man on the White Horse. If he galloped up and said those words, would we have all the information needed to understand the sentence?  The kiddo decided no. That while they might be used as sentences, they were actually missing something. He figured that the something that was missing would be found in the sentences before or after. I smiled widely at this.  So very very proud.

*Note--we have specified that the listener will not confused as to why a man on  a white horse is galloping up to them in school, since this is just his job. Any OTHER confusion though, THAT'S the learning tool.

Monday, January 24, 2011

[NPBTS] Sooooo....

The time has come for this caped teacher to renew her National Teaching Certificate. Back in 2002 I earned (got? won? obtained?) a national certification in Early Adolescent/English-Language Arts.  I won't bore you with the details of that whole thing unless you ask me.  If you're interested in the original application process or what it means, I will gladly wax professional (Is that a thing?  Can you "wax professional?" I'm pretty sure I can.).  For now, though, I am focused on renewing the blasted thing.  It's up for renewal as of 2012, but it takes a year or so to prepare the application.

So guess what y'all get to hear about?

It is due April 30th.  There are three components.  I am trying to draft the first component.  It is approximately 12 pages of writing and I need to determine four areas of Professional Growth Experiences (PGE) that exemplify my continued work as a National Certified teacher.  I'm meeting with a group of six or so other renewal candidates at CSU Fullerton once a month to talk about our progress.  At the January meeting I was officially running behind.  In order to keep from being painfully behind for the February meeting I need to actually... write the thing.

I need to write about myself and the amazing and wonderful things I've done that prove I'm still worthy of the National Board distinction.  I have to pick four areas and shine bright lights onto my work and say "I" a lot.  I need to use pedagogically correct phrases and come up with a reason I do the things I do--a reason that is more than "'cause I wanta?"  I need to show that kids learn because of what I do.  So what are they... what... are... they....  My four PGE's.  They are....  They are...

1. Differentiated Instruction--Yeah, I do this like gangbusters.  I don't know if I can prove it and take the required video of it, but THIS I do.

2. Focus on At-risk Learners--can I prove this?  How can I prove it?  Will I have to be ballsy and take some flat-out credit for things?

3.  Something where I talk about getting the Administrative Certificate.  But what? Maybe  the Summer School Principal gig?  I did that for 3 years. Maybe the extra parts of the job now?  Oh yeah, and the Program Specialist stuff--that's sort of admin.

4. Professional Development Provider--I'll need video of some of the classes where I guest teach.  What else?  I didn't save any of that stuff!  Hm. This one will be hard.

Any feedback from you, my caped followers? What do I need to talk about here? I gotta get this thing drafted and quick!  Who wants to write it for me? Who wants to buy me wine while I write? Who wants to edit when I'm done?  Who wants me to buy them wine while they edit?

I'm avoiding it.  A. Void. Ing.  Ack!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quote of the Week #16

Me: J.?
J: Yes Ms. M?
Me: Are you laying on the floor?
J: Yes Ms. M.
Me: Okay.  Just checking.
J: Okay Ms. M.

Friday, January 21, 2011

[Friday Free-Day] Bumper Stickers

I don't like bumper stickers. They are messy-looking, and they tell me more information about the drivers than I want to know. When I drive behind a car with a hot mess of bumper stickers, I can't help but stare at them, read them, analyse them. This is not only dangerous, but completely ruins the chi of my driving time.

Here's a for instance:

So, driving behind a dude in this car, I can't help but read all of the stickers and try to put them into a semblance of a personality. This person is begging to be judged, and they are choosing to do it based on stickers. Then I start to wonder what bumper stickers I would pick, if I were a bumper-sticker kind of gal. Which I'm not, as I said earlier. But it is this kind of circular thinking that gets me all a-twitter.  And not the cell phone/internet kind of twitter.

That's my thought for the day. That, and why are there so many Chevy Impalas on the freeways, and why on Earth do they still make them?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

[CCW] I May Have Copy-Catted Her

This Week's Caped Crusader of the Week is Mrs. R.  Sadly, I can't tell you much about her as I've never gotten to teach with her. She teaches at a nearby middle school, and sometimes I get students that were in her class before they were "asked" to leave her school. They have all liked her and speak fondly of her when they come to me. This sounds innocuous, but it isn't an easy feat with my little twinkle-tots. They're quite certain teachers are out to get them, and whichever school they've come from just didn't like them. Not so with Mrs. R. In fact, this mini-convo happened today:

Student A:  Remember Mrs. R?
Student B:  Who?
Student A:  Mrs. R--the cool one?
Student B:  Oh yeah!  I liked her!
Student A:  Yeah!

So there you have it, out of the mouths of... punk kids. She loves her kiddos, she loves to teach, and she treats them honestly and with dignity. She should have a cape--one of these days I'll get off my lazy bum and make her one. Or a hat. But not slippers.

Here's another thing about Mrs. R--I'm pretty certain she had purple hair before I did. I didn't see it, and can honestly maintain that I did not copy her, but I'm pretty sure she was first. That's how cool she is.

So there you have it.  Another caped crusader, and this one actually teaches in my zip code!

[Classroom Necessities] Bossy McBosserton

Given to me by a student this morning:


Saturday, January 15, 2011

[Friday Free Day] Periodic Space-age

Some of the blogs I like and follow (Ahem, follow... because Following a blog shows you like it, and keeps the blogger from thinking she is sad and alone in the blog-o-sphere) have a weekly post with music or something interesting like a Music Monday, Saturday Stash, or a Tunes-Day. So...

Introducing the Friday Free Day! (this week on a Saturday!)

On Friday Free Day I will talk about whatever I want. I realize I do that every other day, but I think I'll try to keep it to Fridays now, and focus on actual cape-wearing on the other days. Some teachers or school programs have a Friday Free Day in their classrooms. I don't. I think it wastes a whole day. So this is not a blog post about what to do on a Friday Free Day.

Today (yesterday), I want to talk about the number of spaces to put after a type-written period. When I was forced to take typing in middle school (waaaay back in the 80's), we were taught to use two spaces. I have done this ever since. Until yesterday. My Caped Brother sent me an article about the silliness of this habit. The actual article irritated me because the guy was kind of an ass in it, but the idea reminded me that I had heard this somewhere before. I did some research, as I am wont to do. It turns out that in this computerized era, the fonts do the work for you. They are proportional and make the extra space unnecessary (articles here and here). This sounds vaguely familiar, and I have noticed that my posts can sometimes look wonky online. I am wondering if this is due to my extra space-age.

Now comes the hard part. How do I stop putting two spaces in?  Since yesterday I have done a lot of writing and used two spaces almost EVERY time. That last period I didn't, but I literally had to lift my thumb off of the space bar and twirl it a little to keep myself from doing it. I also had to cut and paste my most recent post in to a Word document and find/replace all of my double spaces with single spaces. Creature of habit? Yes.

I just had to go back into that paragraph and fix the spacing. Arg. Those last two periods, too.  Pffft.

I looked about some information on changing a habit. I've read before that it takes between 21 and 28 days. Perhaps if I post every single day for 21 days I'll fix it? Actually, I'll be doing a lot of writing in the next couple of months for my National Board Renewal. Maybe that will fix it? Argh! I just did it again. This is going to be very difficult.... :(

[Student Story] Hanging on a Telephone Wire

So, I asked what you would do in the case of a set of Pants on Fire. Thank you for the suggestions and ideas. Here is what went down:

I put Phone-Borrower in a room away from everyone for awhile (if I say how long it will sound mean). I tried dialing the phone to see if she was silly enough to leave it on--no luck. I went back in and again explained the facts of the situation. Everything pointed to the obvious answer that she was not telling the truth. I never quite said "you are lying" because accusations seem to shut them down more quickly than anything else. I said that I wanted to believe her, but that the facts were not supporting her. I said she could clear her name if she would let us call her grandparents and they could bring the phone (since she was saying it was at home). This is where she started to lose ground. She didn't want us to call. She wanted to bring it the next day. I hounded her with the idea of clearing her name by making sure we had it back. She finally broke down and said someone else was holding it for her but she didn't want them to get in trouble. Eventually, we got the name of that person and we got the phone back. 

THEN I told her that she lied. I said it very clearly and showed my disappointment. I told her that the next step was to lose the attitude, stop trying to back her way out of the lie, and own up to the people that mattered. I told her that I expected her to talk to her mom that evening and own up to what she did. I made sure she knew that even in her lie other students backed her up, and she owed them an apology, too (since they would now be in trouble as well).

Did it work? Well... I thought it may have had an impact. But, the next day when she came to serve her In-School Suspension she was a jerk. I decided to be a hard-ass and put her in ISS again the next day. She started out with an attitude, but adjusted it slightly. At the end of the day it was discovered she had taken the iPod of a family member and given it to another student in our program. Yesterday, she was awful again. So no, it didn't "work." However, she is on a path of some kind and this is a step on that path. She is begging for boundaries and we are working with the family to make sure they are there when she pushes against them. I found out a little more about what might be going at home that is triggering this, and its bad enough that I can't share it here. She needs hugs and loves as much as she needs clear limits and consequences. We'll keep trying to give her both. Hey Mom and Dad--sound familiar?

As for Phone-Lender. We worked with him to call his mom and admit he had not "lost" the phone and that he had given it to Phone-Borrower. I asked him what the "valuable life lesson" was and he immediately said "don't lend out your phone." Well done my little Poodle-head. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

[Student Behavior] 8th Grade Moonies

I am the opposite of cerebral.  I am intuitive, imaginative, and impractical.  I am loosey-goosey, dreamy, and have a casual relationship with time.  BUT.  I prefer provable facts over what-ifs or maybes.  If I am going to make a statement or declaration, I look it up first.
That said,  I am fixin' to make a declaration.  Actually two. Neither one of them have any support or proof that I would consider true, scientific, or accurate.  I feel like they should, and I'm going to go out on a limb.  Actually, I'm going to put my statements on a limb.


My poodle-heads have 8th Grade Disease
The Full Moon is making their 8th Grade disease worse.  

This week I thought my kiddos had 8th Grade Disease.  Looking back in my archives I see that I have never adequately explained this.  I will.  Just not today.  Short version?  8th graders appear to have a genetic mutation that causes them to turn in to monsters.  I don't know if I discovered this disease, just happened to name it (quite creatively I might add), or stole it from someone smarter and wittier.  I just know it exists.  It exists and it started running wild through the ranks this week.  

It got so bad today that I had to take pause.  This didn't seem like your typical illness breakout.  There had to be something else going on.  I checked the calendar, and it appears there will be a Full Moon in one week.  A week away is kind of a stretch for the Full Moonies, I realize that.  Perhaps 8th Grade Disease is compounded by the Full Moon thereby creating a new strain of the disease?  The 8th Grade Moonies?

I sure hope so. Otherwise I've lost my touch.  With my super powers AND reality.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

[Student Story] Pants on Fire

What is the right thing to do?

Kidlet #1 is despondent.  He finally lets me know that he has let another student "borrow" his cell phone and she has not returned it for nearly a week.  He is in big trouble at home, but will only tell his mom that the phone is "lost."  He just wants the phone back.  I make a plan with Phone-Lender Kidlet that I will talk to Phone-Borrower Kidlet, but I will make sure she knows he did not "snitch."

In the meantime, I check my voice mail at work.  Phone-Borrower Kidlet's mom had called checking if she was at school the day before since Phone-Borrower Kidlet is, apparently, also Run-Away-From-Home Kidlet. When I returned her mom's call, I also found out that yes, indeed, Phone-Borrower had a phone and the number of the phone she had matches Phone-Lender's number.  Easy-peasy, right?

I talk to Phone-Borrower and she calmly explains that she did borrow the phone, but it is at home.  She is contrite, she will return it, all will be well.  I call her mom to let her know all is taken care of.  Her mom is confused though, because Phone-Borrower has just sent her mother a text message telling her that she should not have "snitched" on her.  Her mom ensures me that the text was sent and arrived in the last hour (11:41 am exactly).

I talk to Phone-Borrower again.  She swears the phone is not in her possession.  I know this trick, so I ask if it is in someone else's possession, or on campus in any way.  She swears it is not.  I ask her how the text message was sent.  She swears she does not know.  I explain how when the facts are pointing straight at you, it is best to just own up.  She stands by her assertion that the phone is not in her possession, it is not on campus, and she does not know how it managed to send a text message to her mom disguised as her.

So.  What would you do at this point?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

[CCW] She's So Super She's a Little Scary

But she will appreciate the alliterative title.

Huzzah to my second Caped Crusader of the Week*, Annie!

I met Annie back in 1997.  We were both Teaching Team Leaders (or some such title) for a summer program. The first day of training kicked off with some touchy-feely-trusty blindfolded garbage that was NOT cool with me.  I cast my eyes around the room (keeping a cool, interested look just in case) looking for an escape hatch. What I found instead was the incredulous face of the teacher across the room.  She was clearly as unamused with the direction our training was taking as I was.   I don't remember exactly how it went after that, other than an overwhelming memory of cheesy training, very little actual information, and the realization that Annie was, indeed, a kindred teacher.  As the summer progressed our friendship grew exponentially (as did our dislike of the structure and leadership of the summer program).

 While I would gladly teach with her any time, I know I'd be a little scared, too.  She is one of the very best teachers I have ever met. She is crazy-smart, has incredible energy, and has amazing taste in music, food, and shoes.  Not only can Annie teach the socks off of most people in the world, she is also able to share that ability as a mentor teacher.  That last line sounds like a sentence from a cover letter, but the truth is, not many good teachers know how to help other teachers be good.  Annie knows how to do it, does it, AND runs a program for her district to help other mentors do it, too.

Did I mention that Annie has an amazing family, beautiful and intelligent kids, can knit, can cook, and know the lyrics to songs I've never heard of? It's true. I'm telling ya, she ROCKS!

I am quite certain our society, our schools are better places because of Annie.  I am even more certain that she was the best thing to come out of that Summer program so long ago.

*Note--While I did name this series "Caped Crusader of the Week," I hope I did not imply to any of you that this would be happening EVERY week.  It just means that it will happen periodically .  And when it does happen, it will be during a week. Kapish?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Quote of the Week #15

Our quote this week is of the "awwwww" variety.

The counselor was playing the Ungame with a small group.  J. (of the Mr. Sketch Marker) was in the group, as was R.   It is important to note that R.'s first day of school EVER was this August.  The short version is this: he has not had any formal instruction and is just now learning the basics.   On the whole my little kiddos have quietly and supportively helped R. and his sister learn their school skills.  They have never pointed out the severe deficits in their skills, and they tactfully help out when needed without making it obvious that they are helping.  In this instance, J. had taken on the role of "question reader" when it was R's turn without any direction from the counselor or discomfort for R.  (that's "awwwww" #1).*

Counselor (reading a question from the game): "Who is your favorite teacher?"
R. (thinks for quite a while...): "Ms. M."
Counselor: "Why?"
R. with J.'s help to explain: "Because she's so understanding."

Awwwww #2.

Now, I must do a wee bit of math for you.  R. has never been to school.  The only teachers he has ever had are the ones he has this year.  That brings the total number of teachers he has to choose from to... two.  I fully realize I had a 50/50 chance here (even less if you count the phase of the moon and the shifting tides of adolescent favoritism).  What makes me happy is not the status (yes, that would be numero uno out of... dos), it's that their reasoning is something I am proud to be favorited for!

I so very much want them to feel understood. I want them to feel cared about and cared for.  I want them to know they have someone in their corner.  This does not mean I become their bestie and give them what they want all the time (or bust out Cee-Lo songs like Gwynth Paltrow). I try mightily to fight the good fight and do what is right by them whether they like it or not.  I tell them often that I love them enough to nag them if I need to, and that I am willing for them to be angry at me or dislike me if it is best for them.

So for today, bless their pickled little hearts for being able to articulate what I want so much for them to feel.

Today it feels like I'm doing my job, and that is quite a powerful feeling.

*Note--I completely understand the need for R. to read things himself.  It is a fine line we are walking to teach him the skills while keeping him equally involved in what the other kids are doing.  I feel this topic requires more depth than this notelet.  Just trust that it was appropriate for this situation.