Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Year, New Blog

Now that I am no longer a first year teacher, I have a new blog.  Follow me on I Before Ennui.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Final Post

The year ended rather unceremoniously.  It reminded me of the last days of college, when you rush around getting your work done, packing up your room and saying good bye to your friends who you know you will see again in a few months when you come back. 

Saying good bye to my seniors and to my coworkers who are moving on was difficult.  However, I leave with great confidence that I accomplished a lot this year and next year will be much better. 

My husband's father, who died many years ago, was a much-beloved teacher.  Apparently at his funeral, the church was packed with former students who told my husband what a great man his father was, and how much he had impacted their lives.  Several weeks ago, I asked my husband what advice he thought his dad would give me if he was around.  He paused for just a moment and said, "Love your kids." 

I do--every single one of them, including the one that tried to punch me in the face, the twins that drove me nuts, and the girl who chewed me out in front of her mother and an administrator.  I didn't always like them or their behavior, but I loved them enough to demand their best and nothing less.  If they have learned nothing else this year and remember me with disdain, at least I never compromised in my goal of teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, respectful, productive Citizens of the World. I am ready to do it all again next year, with a new group of kids who no doubt will test my patience, make me laugh, cry, and scream.

Until then, I am going to relax, read (and I am going to read trash!), go to the pool, enjoy my family who has been so patient with me this year, and most important, come up with a name for a new blog, now that I am no longer a first year teacher!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I am just a few days away from the end of the year.  Classes are winding down and due to passing SOLs, all but five of my students are exempt from exams.  I am trying to keep my eye on the prize, but I am completely burned out and have little patience for the challenges I am facing the last few days, which include:

1.  My students are DONE in their minds.  It is  nearly impossible to get them to focus and do their work.  They don't come to class, they sleep, they play, they give me a hard time. The only exception is the ones who have just now realized they are failing and are bugging me for extra credit and make up work. 
2.  I am having to make "the call" which goes something like this "Hello, is this the parent of Carl Smith?  I am calling to let you know that your child is in danger of failing English."  This is always followed by "WHAT?!  Why wasn't I notified????" with the not so subtle implication that this is somehow my fault.  Here's the deal:  grades are on line for parents and students to view any time.  I do it for my own children, why don't you?  Two, your kid is not just now magically failing.  With 3 grading periods behind us, your kid failed at least two of them if they are failing now.  Why is this such a shock to you?  Three, I did call you.  I have it documented.
3.  Administrators seem to be done with school as well, with little being done in the way of discipline.  I think their thought is "There are only 2 weeks left, why bother with referrals?"

I have just two full periods left with each class.  Many moments I wonder if I will be able to do this for two more years (which is when I will be eligible for transfer), but I try to remind myself that next year will be easier because:

1.  I can get around the building!  I know where the copier, the bathrooms, the administrators' offices, and the computer labs are.
2.  I know the staff.  I know who I can trust and who I can't (I'm talking about you, busy-body social studies lady and soul crushing administrator!).  I'm not a new face and am not going to be labeled as "first year teacher" anymore!
3.  I know the kids.  This means I am better prepared to teach them and manage them.  It doesn't mean I am perfect at it, by any means.  It just means I have a leg up on them!
4.  I've got my lesson plans ready to go!  I am sure I will modify next year, but I know what works best and how best to teach it.  Example:  Raisin in the Sun, yes.  Ben Franklin, no.  Start writing practice way earlier in the year.  SSR (student selected reading) is a joke, so no more book reports.
5.  I'm only teaching one subject next year, which means only one SOL and one class to plan for.
6.  Hopefully I will have my own room, instead of traveling from classroom to classroom on a cart. The room can be set up the way I want it to be and everything will be at my fingertips. 
7.  I now have some credibility from the students who were successful in my class. 
8.  My mentor is going to be department head next year, so I will have another great advocate for the department in my corner.
9.  I am already a member of the National Education Association (NEA) and I know what a great support it provides its teachers.
10.  I have confidence!  I made it through one year with none of the previous 9 things going for me--this next year has got to be easier....right?  RIGHT??

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Updates....The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It has been awhile since I have posted and not because I haven't had quite a bit that is blog worthy.  However, I have been tapped out lately and to come home and type it, after living it each day has been too much to even consider. 

I'm going to just give  a few highlights of the last few weeks--the good, the bad and the ugly that is the rule rather than the exception for most teachers.

I am very sad to report that my dear friend Mr. I has had enough and is leaving to teach middle school next year.  I can not blame him, but its a huge loss for me, as well as the school.  Never mind the fact that we can spend an entire planning period arguing over who would win in a fight of honey badger versus wolverine--Mr. I has been a great, grounding force in times of stress.  My much-adored department chair is leaving as well.  Many of our fantastic teachers are joining in the mass exodus and it makes me nervous for next year.  A challenging population like our school has, requires the highest quality teachers.  How sad that they do not feel appreciated--it is symptomatic of so many, larger issues that it makes my head spin. 

An example of this lack of support and appreciation slapped me in the face this week.  I have a student who has been nothing but trouble this semester.  She has skipped my class, walked out of my class, cheated, been disrespectful, refused to do her work, been defiant, and two weeks ago, told me to shut up, before walking out of my class and slamming the door.  What made this situation even more fun was that her mother clearly has no perspective on how out of control her daughter is and held me responsible.  This blows my mind.  If my daughter did any one of those things, no matter if she "liked" the teacher or not, I would make it clear that her behavior was inexcusable.  Anyway, she returned from suspension in no better frame of mind and there was basically an incident daily, culminating in a meeting with the child, her mother and an administrator.  It did not go well and I ended up excusing myself after the student let loose on me during the meeting. 

I returned to school the next day, feeling very anxious as not only had nothing been resolved, but it had been escalated.  I realized that there was no way I could teach this child successfully and to attempt to do so would not only be unbelievably stressful, it would compromise the education of the other students in the class.  Once again, let me toot the horn of the NEA (National Education Association).  In a moment where I felt that I had no control, my school reps stepped up, let me know that I was not alone and that this would be resolved.  Within an hour, I had that student removed from my class.  If you are a teacher and have waffled about being a member because of the cost, I assure you it is worth every penny especially in a climate where teachers are increasingly marginalized.

That said, I do have great news about my 10th graders.  They did fantastic on their SOLs and it really made the whole year worth it.  They didn't just pass, but their scores were really good, with many passing advanced.  I was so proud and happy that I went home and called every single parent of the nearly 90% of my students that passed. This was a true team effort and is an example of collaborative teaching at its finest.  Overall, our school improved its testing scores by 10%, after dropping 3% last year. 

Finally, I have a beautiful update about about David, my student from Honduras who I wrote about previously in my post "The American Dream".  Prom is next week and my upper classmen are talking about little else.  David has been very excited to participate in this American right of passage.  He came to me yesterday, saddened that his date had backed out.  Who knows what I was thinking but I said "Well, do you want me to ask my daughter if she is available?"  Amazingly, he said yes and even more amazing, my daughter, who is beautiful inside and out, was more than happy to be a part of making this happen for David.  When I told David today that she was on board, he was so happy that he hugged me, saying saying that this was his first and last opportunity for prom and he was looking forward to it.  My husband and I are going as well to keep an eye on things and I am certain it will be an evening to remember!

There are just four weeks left, friends....then I am going to have to come up with a new name for this blog as I will have officially finished my first year of teaching.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BBQ Chicken and R. Kelly

My students are funny.  They don't necessarily mean to be.  Let's just say many times I am laughing at them, not with them, and today was a prime example.

To ease them (and let's be honest, myself) back into thinking and working, I thought we'd do a fairly easy lesson of Shakespearean sonnets. My hook for this was a journal prompt about romance.  Shakespeare knew how to talk to a woman.  The oft quoted line "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..." is about how he loves his woman for other reasons than her beauty.  He spends three quatrains saying "Yeah, she's not particularly beautiful, her hair's not that great, lips aren't particularly red, cheeks aren't rosey so much, kinda has bad breath....", but then he moves in with the good stuff in the ending couplet!  He says that he is certain he loves his woman much more than all the posers out there who go on and on about how gorgeous their women are.  Good stuff!

With this in mind, I asked my students to write a paragraph about romance.  Real, as I put it, "above the waist romance".  Ladies, how does a man show he cares about you?  Gentlemen, how do you show a woman that you truly love her, not just want to get something from her?  Instantly, the girls started writing.  The guys took a little longer, looking perplexed about the very nature of the question. The girls, for the most part, had it right and to be honest, I was impressed by their self-respect.  They talked about wanting someone who cared about them, was respectful, listened to them,  and took the time to make them feel special.

"Let's hear from one of the boys!"  I said.  Remember DeWayne and DeShaun the twins?  The "Good Christian Boys"?  Well, DeWayne was removed from my class and put into remediation after he so miserably failed the SOLs, it was determined he needed to be in a special class that addressed an 11th grader who apparently can barely read.  He was actually the lesser thorn in my side, but it is somewhat better without him there to feed off his brother.  Anyway, DeShaun raises his hand and says, with total seriousness and confidence,

"First I would walk in the room with my head high and a lean in my step <think the pimp walk> and I would put on some smooth jams, like R. Kelly."  Okay, I'm going to stop right there for a second.  I heard R. Kelly mentioned several times today.  Is he not the disgusting individual who enjoyed urinating on under-age girls???  Anyhoo...DeShaun went on, "Then I would tell her I was a love machine and I only worked for her,"  I'm sure The Miracles are somewhere filing a lawsuit, "and I would tell her that her eyes are so bright they are like a flashlight, lightin' up the room," nice cheesy simile, but I was still trying not to judge until he ended with, "and then I would say, 'Now let's go get some BBQ chicken and then get busy!'"

The girls were horrified.  They made all kinds of disgusted comments.  Even the guys were shaking their heads.  Meanwhile, poor clueless DeShaun had a look of total bewilderment on his face.  There isn't enough R. Kelly in the world to make up for that kind of cluelessness!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wish I Knew Then, What I Know Now!

Friday was the last day of the third nine weeks, which means I have just nine weeks left of the school year.  I can not believe it.  It truly has gone so fast.  I do not exaggerate when I say that I have learned this year far more than I have taught (or at least more than my students have learned, based on the grades I submitted on Friday!).  Here are a few things that I wish someone had told me before I started teaching:

1.  Its not enough to review the rules and expectations only the first day of school.  I thought I had done a really great job by reviewing the rules and having the parents and students sign it.  I did it again at the start of the new semester.  Not enough.  I am going to post them, give a quiz on them and then review them DAILY for the first month of school.  Then there will be regular reviews of them throughout the first semester until it is drilled in their little heads!

2.  Start with incentives from Day One.  I only started this about a month into the school year.  Incentives have been my savior this year.

3.  Recognize that once a confrontation has started, I've already lost.  Do not engage.  Period.  I am learning not to explain, justify, or God forbid, get defensive about anything.  What I say goes in the classroom.  Argue if you want, but I'm not listening. This rule also applies to speaking with parents and administrators.

4.  Kids love attention, positive or negative--give them tons of positive attention and they won't work so hard to get negative attention.  This is difficult, especially when the kids do everything they can to be completely unlikable. I meet them at the door every day, greet them by name, compliment them, say I am glad to seem them, ask how their weekend was, etc.  I mother them constantly.  Believe it or not, they want this and the more I do it, the less trouble I get out of them.

5.  Never, ever give out grades during class time.  I just made this rule for myself last week.  First off, if you do it once, you will forever be interrupted in the middle of teaching with "Miz Nilknarf, can I see my grade?"  Second, if they don't like the grade, it gives them an opportunity to pontificate for the class's benefit.  From now on, the rule is "You can find out your grade any time by logging onto your student account or by getting a pass to see me during study hall."

6.  Don't take work home if you can help it and don't work beyond contract hours.    Make the most of your time at school.  Work through lunch if you need to.  Grade papers during tests.  Use your planning time wisely.  Check out the Internet for awesome lesson plans before you waste time making your own.  Ask other teachers to share theirs (my coworkers are awesome about this). Walk out that door when your contract hours are over and forget about school until the next morning.  Don't bring work home, don't call parents from home if you can help it (this only puts you in a crappy mood if the conversation doesn't go well), and by all means don't check your email.

7.  Don't take anything personally.    This has been difficult for me.  I work hard to create good lesson plans.  Unlike many teachers I have seen, I am a dynamic teacher.  I work the classroom--I put on a show!  It can be disheartening, to say the least, when someone sleeps through my class or completely bombs a test on something I have worked hard to teach.  That said, I can only do so much.  If they don't learn, its not because I haven't given 100%, its because they haven't.

8.  I have the best job in the world.  Even at  this school, with these kids, and questionable administrators, this job can not be beat.  I get to be creative, meet all kinds of people, teach a subject that I love and work an amazing schedule.  I am home with my kids every afternoon, every snow day, and most days when they are off from school.  While the rest of the world is at work this summer, I'll be sleeping in, going to the pool, and getting a paycheck for it!  I also have great benefits, retirement, and I can work anywhere in the country.

This year has kicked my ass, but I am coming back better and wiser next year!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

At long, last, acceptance.....

Ever heard of the "Five Stages of Grief"?  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in her book On Death and Dying about the five stages of grief people go through when faced with a catastrophic loss.  I told my fellow teachers that I have to come to realize, with some humor,  that coping with working at my school is like going through the five stages of grief.

Denial  This was me in September-- "Its not so bad...I can do this right?  These kids want to do well!  I can teach them if I figure out the right way to do it, right?  RIGHT?!?!"

Anger  Then came October and the student who threatened to punch me in the face and the Soul Crushing Administrator who didn't back me up.  I was furious! "How is it possible that I get no support from Administration?  This is ridiculous!  How am I supposed to teach effectively in this environment?"

Bargaining  January.  This was when I started saying "Okay, I'll just get through this year and then make a decision about what to do next year.  Maybe I'll apply in another county or at private schools."  It was also when I started bargaining with my students by starting Raffle Day, i.e., "You attempt to behave like human beings and I'll give you candy."

Depression  This set in late January/early February when I was recovering from pneumonia, facing a pretty major family crisis, my students did poorly on the SOLs and I found out I wasn't eligible for a transfer to another school for three years.  Pretty much that was the lowest point in the year and its when I decided that if I didn't go on a tropical vacation, I might have a nervous breakdown.

Acceptance  This is where I am now with just 10 weeks to go in the school year.  Kubler-Ross says this is the point where one says "Its going to be ok.  I can't fight it, so I might as well do my best to deal with it."  Its a relief to be here, although somewhat sad that I have accepted that generally my students are going to do the bare minimum and expect maximum results, the parents either don't care, blame me or have no control, and worst of all that Administration has the same attitude as the parents.  But....accept it, I have.  I'm okay with it all.  I've figured out how to cope with it--I have good friends at work, I joke about it, try desperately not to take it all to heart, try to have fun, get as much sleep as I can, and try to focus on the handful of students I have who actually want my help.  Most important, I have come to have some confidence in myself as a teacher. I really am doing the best I can and I accept that it is all I can do. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The American Dream

My "Infamous 7th Period" hit an all-time low yesterday, with me having to call security and actually have the principal come in and deal with the kids.  Why?  Because I had the audacity to call the kids out on their abominable behavior for the sub while I was gone.  I was actually shaking by the time class was over.  Once again, I asked myself "What is the point?  Is this all for nothing?"  As my wonderful friend, Ms. K said, "Sometimes I ask myself that and the best I can come up with is, that it pays my bills."

I have always felt that any kind of service profession is a calling.  Sometimes, a calling feels like a glorified way of saying "I do a job that is hard work for crummy pay that no one really appreciates."  Sometimes, though, I have a day like today and I realize why I am here.  David joined my 11th grade class a few weeks ago.  I found him to be polite, well-behaved and highly motivated.  He is from Honduras and speaks decent, but heavily accented, English.  I also discovered right away that he must have faced some pretty heavy challenges because when I asked him to have his parents sign something he told me "I have no parents.  I sign my own papers."

Today, 10th graders had SOLs, which means that my normally 75 minute 2nd period, was 3 hours long.  UGH.  Then, because so many  people had still not finished, an announcement was made that it would be stretched into a fourth hour.  Needless to say, we ran out of things to do, so I just started talking to the students.  David told me he wants to join the USMC.  This evolved into a conversation about his life.  Here is the basic story.  David's entire family was killed by Honduran military/police when he was 12.  He just happened to be out of the house that day.  Homeless, with no family, and fearing for his life, David joined a group of people who crossed the water to arrive in the U.S. illegally.  He literally swam.  Once he got to Texas, he was caught and put in a detention home for six months while our government decided to either give him papers or deport him.  Luckily, they gave David papers and then brought him to Virginia where he was put in a foster home.

David began working as much as he could in addition to attending school.  He saved his money and kept the cash in his room.  Then he told me, "My foster mother said she loved me.  She'd buy me things all the time.  Then one day, she tells me to give her my cash and she will open an account for me because it will be safer in a bank.  Then I find out she has taken all of my money.  When I asked her why, she said it was to pay her back for all the things she bought me.  I told her I never asked for anything.  I told my social worker and my foster mother said it was only $100, but it was $1,600 and I couldn't prove it."  At that point, David began the process of becoming an emancipated minor.  David now rents someone's basement, works 60 hours a week at the local grocery store, and rides his bike everywhere because he does not drive.

It strikes me just now that David did not tell his story with any sense of self-pity, he was very matter of fact.  He doesn't want a hand out, he just wants an opportunity.  I have had conflicting opinions of the immigrant issue in this country.  However, this young man reminds me of the complexity of this issue.  Ironically, my 10th graders are going to start Of Mice and Men and we are going to talk about "The American Dream".  The American Dream is  the idea that anyone from any background, race, religion, creed or economic standing can be born in or come to the United States and make it all the way to the top if they are willing to work for it.

This is the difference between David and many of my other students.  David has no one and nothing, but he has a dream (to join the Marines) and he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.  My other students, on the other hand, think they should do a minimum of work, act like savages and still get good grades, be accepted into college and go on to become sports stars.  Its distressing to say the least.  However, a kid like David can give me a lot of momentum and keep it all in perspective.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Story of Michael

The other day I was catching up with a friend and telling her about school.  She asked me, "Was changing careers a good thing for you?  Are you glad you did it?"  The answer is absolutely yes.  Even on my worst day, this job is still the best job I have ever had.  Its a lot of fun and on occasion I really get the rush of feeling like I have helped someone.   The story of Michael is a good example.

From Day One, Michael was a pain in the butt.  He came late, came unprepared (Remember the kid who came to the exam without a pencil? That was darling Michael.), slept in class, asked to go to the bathroom and would be gone for 30 minutes, disrupted class and never turned in any work.  I was about to write him off.  I finally called Michael's mother and told her he was in danger of failing.  She told me that Michael was doing poorly in all of his classes and she was at her wit's end. Shortly after that, I held a Writer's Workshop after school so students could rewrite their essays for a higher grade.  I worked with Michael and he ultimately earned an A for his work.  Michael had extra time, so he decided to write his book report that was due the previous week.  Between these two grades, Michael passed for the nine weeks and I made a huge deal over how proud of him I was, how smart he was, what a good writer he was, etc.

Michael became a different person.  Michael now shows up on time, ready to go.  He participates in class and turns in his work on time.  He is a model student.  In fact, he is even being ribbed a bit for trying to be the "teacher's pet".  I am beyond delighted.  The best part is that I received a note from Guidance last week saying that Michael's mother wanted to speak with me.  When I called, I told her that Michael had made an amazing turnaround and now has a B+ in my class!  She said "Wow, you know, he told me that and I didn't believe him based on his grades in the previous two nine weeks."  That's a change--me telling the parent how great the kid is and the parent not believing me!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reader Mail

Dear Miz Nilknarf:  I recently read about a teaching getting fired for what she wrote on her blog.  I am worried you are going to get fired for writing this blog!  I only say this because your blog brings much needed depth and humor to my life, and life would become so much less enjoyable without it!

Okay, maybe no one said that last part, but I have had several readers mention this, so I thought I would address it en masse.  First of all, even if you know me, nothing on this blog identifies who I am, the county where I teach, the high school where I teach and no one is mentioned by name.  This avoids the biggest possible issues, which are slander and privacy.   The teacher who was fired was foolish enough to list her students by name as well as other things that made her identity quite obvious.  She actually put the first names of her students followed by what she wished she could have put as comments on the report card.


Susie-- I put that she has low test and quiz grades, however I wish there was a code for "Dumbass".

That's just mean (no matter how funny, as a teacher, I find it on some level). 

But even with that said, suppose someone ratted you out and your principal read your blog?

Well, I suppose that could happen.  Of course, the only person who knows me professionally who might do that would be Mr. I and since he says out loud in the building the things I only dare say on my blog, I think I'm safe.  But beyond that, say someone I know and thought I could trust, forwards my link to Administration?  What exactly are they going to do?  Fire me?  I don't think so.  Remember the story I blogged about earlier, where a disgruntled teacher was going off about the principal and then he ended up in ear shot and heard the whole thing?  She didn't get fired!  My county has all kinds of budgetary concerns, worries about SOLs, etc.  My little blog is no real threat and truthfully would hold little interest to them.  Like I said, I guarantee, people say in the building daily much worse than I could ever say here.

I'm still not convinced, Miz Nilknarf....

I thought you might say that!  So today, I asked my department chair about it.  "Let me ask you a hypothetical question," I so cleverly proposed, "If someone had a blog where they didn't identify themselves, the county, the school or the students by name, could they get fired?"

He asked me if I was giving away any "Trade Secrets".  "Um, no...." I responded.

"Then you are fine."

So there you go.  

Dear Miz Nilknarf,

There is a picture of you on Facebook drinking a glass of wine!  Someone got fired for that, as well!

I saw that as well.  I am somewhat anonymous on FB as at work I go by my full first name and my maiden name, as opposed to my nickname and married name that I am listed under on my FB.  However, all of that said, if someone has nothing better to do than to try and find me and then complain because I am holding a wine glass in my profile and then the higher ups decide to fire me for it, that's cool.  I will do exactly what that teacher did.  Sue for wrongful termination.  What if a student sees me out having dinner with my husband and I'm having a drink?  Can I get fired for that?  Its just ridiculous.  I'm not a nun working in a Catholic school, for crying out loud.  These types of things have nothing to do what our primary mission is supposed to be as educators--EDUCATION.  

The bottom line is, I could get fired for many things, none of which are likely to be things like this blog or what I'm drinking in my FB profile.

Miz Nilknarf, what about all of that streaking you did in college, not to mention at the 10 year reunion? I believe there is video!

Now that is a legitimate concern!  I can say that I won't be doing that again, for sure.  A teacher has to have some standards!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Blue Pen

This has been a pretty good week.  The kids are complaining about the rules, but they are following them.  They are in their seats when the bell rings, which I thought could never happen.  Most of all, they love the raffle tickets, which they get for being on time, participating or any other type of good thing they do that deserves positive reinforcement.

Because we are on an odd/even day schedule, they have class every other Friday.  On Fridays, I draw from the coffee can that has all the raffle tickets for a "big prize".  Yesterday was prize day--I had three classes, so I got out 3 brown paper lunch bags and filled each one with a full size candy bar and a bag of chips.  Then I decided to throw a pen in each one, since no one ever seems to have anything to write with.  My husband had just been to a conference.  He always brings back a bag of swag, usually a bunch of pens.  When I looked in the bag, I saw 3 light up pens.  I thought they were fun, so I threw one in each bag.

Yesterday, I hyped Raffle Day from the moment kids started walking in class.  "Do you know what today is?.....IT'S RAFFLE DAY!!!!!!!!!!!" I would say loudly in a sing-song voice.  I had it written on the board, I  mentioned it constantly and would annoy  my students by calling on them at random and saying "What's today?"  "raffle day." they would answer with deliberate boredness.  However, once I showed the prizes, that attitude quickly changed. They "oooooohed" at the candy bar; they "ahhhhhed" at the chips.  But when I held up the pen, they went nuts!  "I WANT THAT PEN!!" they yelled.  It was anarchy over a dumb light up pen.  I've never seen anything like it!

I deliberately waited til the end of class for the drawing, in part to avoid someone eating in class, but also to hold it over their heads.  I told my infamous 7th period that I would not have a drawing if they didn't do their work.  They did their work.  They wanted that pen!  Finally the drawing came and the person whose name I drew was a very quiet Hispanic kid.  He had not said word one about wanting that pen and I was secretly a little disappointed that someone else's name hadn't been drawn.  Funny thing though--he claimed his prize, sat down and another student yelled "Joaquin!  Give me that blue pen!  You don't want it!" and he said, quietly, but with intensity, "No.  It's mine!"  He wanted that pen!

As he walked out I said, "Joaquin, you didn't give Annie the blue pen, did you?"  He looked at me with complete seriousness and said "No, its right here!" and patted his backpack where he had put it for safe keeping.

I hope no one jumped him in the parking lot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Prepping for the SOL, Round 2

If I can get through this year, I can do anything.  Not only is this my first year teaching and I'm in a really challenging school, but I also am on a cart (versus actually having a classroom--I just wheel around, to and fro, a portable font of learning), AND I have two SOL classes.  WHEW!

I am happy to report that at this point, only 5 of my students from 11th grade have not passed the SOL.  In fact, two of my students went from failing the SOL the first go round to passing in the "Advanced" category.  This really reaffirms my theory that many kids just blew off the SOL.

Now, I am prepping my 10th graders to take the Writing SOL in less than a month.  The principal came up with an idea where we identify students who really need some help and then have an SOL prep class twice a week until they test in March.  Its a great idea, but here is the rub:  our contract hours are over at 2:25.  The class goes until 3:00.  I understand that as teachers, we all go beyond contract hours because it can be necessary to get the job done.  We stay late, come in early, take work home--but no one requires us to do it.  Yet, we were basically told by our principal that we had to stay.  I suppose we could have said no, but it would not have looked very good.  We want our kids to pass the SOLs and of course, we are willing to help them.  So, we stayed today and worked with the kids.

The interesting part is how much I enjoyed it.  Many of the kids I worked with were not my students.  For the most part, the kids were working hard and appreciated the help.  This is why I became a teacher.  It was so great to have the time to work with the kids one on one, without having to deal with classroom management issues.  The principal was there, so anyone who didn't take the opportunity seriously would have been asked to leave.  It was great to have the time to sit there and work with the kid until the light bulb came on.  It was worth the 35 minutes of unpaid work.

You know what's not worth it and so I'm not doing it anymore?  Calling parents who think their kids are angels and that I am the problem.  I love it when their kid has been kicked out of class repeatedly for being disruptive and/or doesn't turn in work and yet somehow, they manage to turn it around and make it about me.  I actually had a parent tell me after I gave her a laundry list of inappropriate behaviors this child has displayed in class, that the issue was that I am not a good role model.  OHHHHH!  Thanks!  Now I get it!   Anyway, finally an Administrator (not the Soul Crushing one, obviously, as if...!) told me three things.  One, once you realize that a parent isn't going to be responsive, end the conversation and never call again unless the kid is failing.  Two, don't do a lot of work at home.  Home should be the escape and too much cross over is going to have a bad impact on your personal life.  Three, let it go--you can't save them all and you are going to lose your mind trying.

With all that in mind, I am trying desperately trying to keep my eye on the prize--the husband and I are going on a cruise in just three weeks.  I am taking two personal days and a sick day and I have the total support of my department head and my coworkers who have vowed to cover for me.  Soon, I will be living my own personal Corona commercial and letting the real world, melt away! Ole!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You say "Bribe", I say "Incentive"

Before, I get into my latest incentive program, I want to report that the "everyone in your seats" thing went better than expected today.  The only ones who were tardy, would have been tardy anyway because they walked in the door after the bell rang.  I did hear one "This is so stupid!" but I ignored it.  I'm getting really good at that.  I also collected two cell phones, for a total of five in two days.

Anyway, everyone who was in their seat received a "raffle ticket".  This was suggested by a friend from high school, one of my many wonderful teacher friends who have been so incredibly helpful and supportive.  Basically, this is how I am doing it--students get a raffle ticket (really just a small piece of colored paper) when they are doing something right, when they participate, etc.  Its the same thing I did with the stickers. Raffle prizes work two ways, offering both immediate and delayed gratification.  At the end of class, the person with the most tickets gets a piece of candy. You would be surprised how much kids want one stupid piece of candy.  Then at the end of class, they make sure their names are on the tickets, I collect them in a coffee can and on Fridays, I pick a name for a bigger prize.  Bigger prizes will include candy, a bag of chips, school supplies such as a cool pen or a pack of paper (since they never seem to have either), gift cards, McDonald's gift certificates, or even a pass to drop one tardy (three tardies=referral), for extra credit, or to drop the lowest quiz grade.

As usual, they grumbled when I suggested it and are completely on board now that it has gotten started.  I had a cohort from my licensure classes snootily post on the message board that she expects her students to learn because they want to, not because she's bribing them.  That's one of those things that is great in theory, but has little basis in reality for the majority of the population (especially the population I work with). 

By the way, I made today's picture here!  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cheetos and Cheerios or Expectations versus Reality

Its a new semester and so I decided to send a "refresher" home of Classroom Expectations.  Here are some of them, followed by my experiences (call it expectations versus reality, if you will).

  1. No food or drinks of any kind in class except for water bottles (with clear water).  If you have food or beverage in class you will put it on my desk until after class.  That seems pretty straight forward, right?  Twenty minutes after we went through this rule, a student pulled out a bag of Cheetos and started munching away.  However, this is nothing compared to what another teacher experienced this week.  A girl sits down in her class and pulls out of her purse (which was clearly purchased at the Mary Poppins Handbag Store) a bowl.  Then she pulls out a FULL SIZE BOX OF CEREAL and pours it into the bowl.  Then she pulls out a pint of milk, pours it on the cereal, and begins eating.  Sigh... 
  2. Electronics should be turned off and out of sight. This includes headphones—they should not be in your ears when the bell rings. If I see or hear it, it will be turned in to an administrator.  No exceptions. <Note that this is not my policy, nor is it just school policy--this is COUNTY POLICY>. Remember DeShaun and DeWayne the Twins?  Well, mere moments after I review the electronics policy DeShaun gets out his cell phone.  I confiscate it and put it on my desk.  DeShaun grabs it off my desk again when I am not looking.  I confiscate it again and write a referral.  When I called DeShaun's mother and told her that not only had he violated a policy I had just gone over in class, one that he already knew about, but that he had gone into my drawer to get it back, she asked why I couldn't make an exception AND pointed out that since the phone was DeShaun's, he had every right to take it back.  More on her in a minute.
  3.  If you are not seated when the bell rings, you will be considered tardy.  This is actually a new policy that I decided to adopt after several other teachers had success with it.  The issue is that students come in and then it takes me ten minutes to get them settled down and to work.  Every day I have a "Bell Ringer" on the board.  However, that alone is not enough to get them on task quickly.  This new policy resulted in near mutiny in several of my classes, with two walk outs, and multiple demands to speak to an administrator immediately.  I told them the administrator had read and approved the classroom expectations, something he reiterated when he poked his head in class a few minutes later.  The grumbling continued.  We'll see how many tardies I have next period.
  4. Unless I have said you can work together there should be no talking while I am teaching or while you are doing classwork. For crying out loud, why is this so hard to understand?  Every time I have to stop and tell you to shut up, not only are you wasting your time and my time, you are wasting the rest of the class's time (not that they care).  Which brings me back to DeWayne, Twin #2.  DeWayne was in ISD today and when I called to discuss DeShaun's cell phone issue, their mother actually said these words "Why did you kick DeWayne out of class?  Were you just having a bad day?"  "No ma'm," I replied, "I was not having a bad day at all.  However, DeWayne had been moved to another seat because of his talking.  He came in and sat in his old seat.  I asked him to move.  He did not.  Then I asked him again--this time he moved, but to the wrong seat.  I had to ask him a third time before he finally moved to the correct seat.  Then he began beat boxing while I was teaching.  I asked him to stop.  Two minutes later, he started up again.  That was when I kicked him out of class--after I had to stop instruction five times to redirect him on behaviors that he clearly knew were inappropriate."  That was when she launched into the "We're a Christian household" speech again.  After that conversation, I emailed my administrator and told her I would not be contacting that parent again, as it was pointless.   
  5. Each day you are expected to bring your Writer’s Notebook, SSR (Student Selected Reading), paper and something to write with.  I will no longer provide pens and pencils. I have gone through about 75 pens and pencils since school started.  I never get them back.  Another teacher told me that she went to the Dollar Store and bought a giant pencil and offered that to write with.  Clever, but I am not even going to waste my time doing that.  If you are in 11th grade and you haven't figured out that you need something to write with in class, you deserve to fail.
     That's pretty much it.  Now I ask you, are any of these unreasonable?  To me, it is ridiculous that I have to go over these rules once, much less twice.  However, it is what it is, and I am trying to meet them where they are versus where I would like them to be. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just Another Day....

I have a one year provisional license until I complete this first year of school.  At that time, I will receive a regular five year license.  I've completed my coursework, but monthly posts on Blackboard are required on various topics.  This month's topic:  Share one of your success stories with us! Coming off my SOL trauma, not to mention the fact that the majority of the F's I am giving out this 9 weeks are related to student apathy (i.e., they don't bother to turn any work in), and the fact that my 11th graders hate Lord of the Flies so much that the mere suggestion that they read it (versus me reading it to them) results in mutiny; I'm not really feeling so "successful", much less in a mind to toot my own horn in a public forum.

However, after some reflection, I can be objective enough to offer the following:

1.  I am not taking things nearly as personally as I was at the start of the year.  This means that when a student is disrespectful, doesn't do their work or any of the other unacceptable things that I experience on a daily basis, I react much less emotionally.  This means I come across as more in control to the class and its also less exhausting.

2.  I have done a fairly good job with the work/home life balance.  I am really organized and I hardly ever bring work home.  I grade things promptly and stay on top of my other work.  Part of this is because I don't do a lot of socializing at work.  I will say that I am very good at multi-tasking, which means I can grade papers and chat at the same time. Beyond that, I work through lunch and I grade papers during my duty.  Its worth it!

3.  My lesson plans are pretty good for a rookie!  First of all, I am pretty creative.  For example, like I just said, my 11th graders are really struggling with Lord of the Flies.  So every class we do some kind of interactive activity that is related in some way (even if its a stretch) to the theme of the book.  Its helped quite a bit.  When I am at a loss, I rely on two other important sources.  The first is my colleagues.  Unlike other schools, they are more than willing to share and I so appreciate that.  The second is that the Internet is a beautiful thing, rich with lesson plans that other teachers have been kind enough to post.  Why reinvent the wheel??

4.  I think I have the respect of my colleagues (am I right Mr. I?).  They all know that I am green as hell, but that I work hard, I care about the kids, and that I am always open to suggestions.  My department head said to me once "One of the things I like about you is that you recognize that you don't know it all and are willing to learn".

5.  Generally, I am having a good time.  I love walking in each morning and passing various kids in the hall and saying hello to them.  I enjoy my first period off when my department head and two other teachers share stories, blow off steam, do immature things like cut the fingers off the clacker we were given ("give yourselves a hand") so that only the middle one sticks up, and say saracastic things to each other like "Go make a difference today!" and "I believe that children are our future!"  I like that I can be my oddball self in class and its to my advantage.  I love when kids come and talk to me personally about things.  I love when a kid wants extra help and I have the opportunity to truly teach.  I love when kids connect with a lesson.  I love it when (this happened the other day) a kid who I have zero expectations for, surprises me not just by turning in a book report, but an unbelievably fantastic book report.

Anyhoo, I'm going to end with a tale of what happened in my infamous 7th period (or as I like to call it, EFF...English for Future Felons).  "T" arrived in my class 5 minutes late--no pass, no explanation, no apology.  Then, while everyone else was doing their work, T pulls out her markers and proceeds to colorfully write out in big letters "Becky is a nigger!".  This is so wrong, I don't even know where to start.  However, it merits saying that "T" is of the same ethnicity as "Becky".  I'm not sure what the thought process was there.  Five minutes later, T's phone rings in class, so I took her phone.

After class T says to me, "Miz Nilknarf, are you going to give me my phone back?"  I told her I was not.

 "When can I get it back?"  I responded that she would get it back from Mr. Administrator.

"Come on Miz Nilknarf!  Don't do me like dat!  I needs dat phone!  Come on!  If you don't give me my phone, you don't understand, my momma--"  I cut her off and told her that I was sure that her mother would be very upset with T and supportive of my decision to take it away since she had signed both the school handbook as well as my syllabus saying no phones are allowed in class.  Of course the reality is that "Momma" is probably not going to be supportive of my decision, but she hardly has a leg to stand on.

All during this, T's two friends, who I had asked repeatedly to leave class, attempted to persuade me as well to give the phone back.  When all of this was for naught, T stood up and yelled to her friends "You betta git dis bitch out my face!" and stomped out of the classroom.  Interestingly, this is the second time T has told me to "get out her face" and neither time was I anywhere near her face.

Eighteen weeks ago, an exchange like this would have devastated me.  Now, its just annoying, like a mosquito buzzing around my face (that's a simile, kids!) and a great story to share with my friends and family. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

For Many Reasons, I Clearly am no Michelle Pfeiffer

For weeks, I have prepped my kids for SOLs.  We have done worksheets, practice tests, and review games, over and over until I literally ran out of things to do.  My attempts were met with minimal interest and effort.

Today my 11th graders had SOLs.  In my 4th period, 50% failed.  In my 2nd period, a much smaller class, I had two out of ten fail.  I am sitting here typing this with tears of frustration running down my cheeks.  Frustration because of all of my hard work, frustration because I know that Administration will blame this on me, and most of all because I know that not one of those kids will give a moment's worry to the fact they didn't pass.

Of course, I am not surprised by the ones who failed.  I am actually more surprised by the ones who passed.  However, let me give you a little insight into the work and  study skills of the ones who failed*.

Daisy:  A typical day for Daisy involves arriving late to class and then spending a good ten minutes going through her book bag, eating (not allowed), texting (also not allowed) and then asking to go to the clinic or the bathroom.  Any redirection is met with mutiny.

Deshaun and DeWayne the Twins: I don't know what I did to deserve getting not one, but both of these little darlings in my class.  They spend the whole class goofing around, talking, laughing and generally being disruptive.  Their entire goal in life is to have all attention on them.  In a typical week, I kick one or both of them out of at least 50% of my classes.  DeWayne had to be removed from one of my SOL reviews because he was so disruptive. All attempts to appeal to their mother are wasted and are met with protests that they are "Good Christian boys."  I see.  I am sure Jesus wishes they would shut up as well.

Gina:  Sleeps every day or writes notes to her friends.

Ahmed:  Literally has not turned in a single thing all year.

Anyway, here we go....stay tuned for fall out.

*Obviously all names have been changed.  I'm not an idiot.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

That coughing, sniffling, stuffy head, achey, no way I can go to school feeling....(AKA "The Icy Miracle")

On Christmas Eve, I contracted a respiratory virus, which held on through last week.  For five days, I coughed, gasped, hacked and borderline gagged in front of my kids.  I received varied responses, including:

"Miz Nilknarf!  You're scaring me!"
"I'm gonna pray for you, Miz Nilknarf!"
"You're gonna make us all sick!"
"Go get some water!"
and finally,
"You better go to the doctor, Miz Nilknarf, and I want you to call me afterwards and tell me what's wrong with you!"

 The verdict?  Pneumonia and bronchitis.  I am torn between berating myself for my stupidity and feeling like Super Teacher because I taught for a week with an illness that by all rights should have landed me in the hospital.  After a weekend in bed, I decided to take Monday off.  Then came Tuesday.  I was praying for a snow day.  The forecast looked less and less promising, but I hoped for a two hour delay.

I was rewarded with a 6:00 a.m. automated phone call, informing me that the county would start two hours late, but that would be evaluated at 7:00 a.m.  6:45, I got another phone call saying they weregoing with two hours late.  Reluctantly, I got up, showered and dressed for work.  I was sweaty and out of breath, but took comfort in the shortened day. 

I scraped the ice off my car, set Sirius to Howard Stern (this really gets me in the right frame of mind for a day at my school) and off I went, slipping and sliding through the neighborhood.  Half way to school, I get the call that schools will be closed all day.  It was a true Festivus Miracle! 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Cut them Some Slack"

As I approach the end of the second 9 weeks (which means I am almost 50% finished with my first year!!), I have come to accept some things about my students. 
  • They are not going to study, so I have to make all tests open book and/or open notes.
  • They are not going to do homework, so I might as well not assign it.
  • In a 75 minute period, I can probably get a good 30 minutes of work out of them, and that's on a good day.
  • As a general rule, I care more about their education than their parents do.
  • A "D" in their mind is perfectly acceptable.
  • They really don't care about the SOLs, even though they must pass them to graduate.
  • A major reason why they don't do well on the SOLs, is because they don't take the time to actually read the test.  They just kind of skim it and pick an answer that seems right.
  • They have a ridiculous sense of entitlement ("I should be able to graduate having done absolutely no work.")
  • And the most recent and disturbing discovery--the reason the students feel this way is that this is the message that is backed up by administration.
We were in the middle of exams when a snowstorm hit, which resulted in Christmas break starting two days early.  The make up days were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week.  At the staff meeting on Monday, the principal flat out told us that because the kids had been on break, that we should curve the grades. 

This is outrageous.  In my mind, the kids actually had more time to study.  I get that they didn't take advantage of that opportunity, but I'm not going to reward it by giving them a better grade than they deserve.  I already prepped them by giving them the questions ahead of time.  We went over the answers in class.  That alone is ridiculous, but I have accepted that is what I need to do.  What I can not accept is out and out falsifying a grade just to make the school (principal) look better.

We were also told to give students the opportunity to make up missed work up until the end of the nine weeks.  I give plenty of opportunities for that--way more than I should.  If a student is actually willing to do some work, I am so thrilled that I only penalize them marginally for it being late.  However, there is a limit and when weeks go by with no effort, I enter the "0" in my grade book and move on. 

I will end this rant with a good story with an ironic ending.  English teachers love irony!  I have a student who I will call Joaquin, who from the first day of school showed himself to be highly motivated.  He is also personable and respectful.  I adore him.  In November, Joaquin stopped coming to class and a few weeks later I received an email from Administration.  It stated that Joaquin was having to support his family and in order to do so, he was working 40 hours a week at a lumber mill an hour away.  His shift was from 3:00 - 11:00 p.m. and in order to get there on time, he was cutting last period.  He had come to Administration because he hoped the school would work with him so he could continue school, while still meeting the financial needs of his family. 

I was absolutely happy to help Joaquin.  We made a deal that he could leave 30 minutes early if he made up the time by coming to SDS (our study hall).  Unfortunately, after a few weeks, it became too much for Joaquin and I didn't see him again before we left for break. Much to my delight, he showed up this week for his exam telling me that he'd been able to change his schedule to accommodate a full day of school.  He wanted to know if it was too late and if he could make up his work.  I told him of course I would help.  I suggested he take the exam and do the best he could and I would take into consideration the fact that he had missed much of the material. 

Guess what?  Joaquin scored the highest in the entire class with a 93% on his exam.  What does this tell me?  Obviously, Joaquin is smart and highly motivated.  It also tells me that the rest of the class, who was there for the work, put absolutely no effort into preparing for that exam--the exam that I gave them the questions and answers to in class.  Joaquin was not there for the review, yet by simply studying and actually reading the material, he managed to get a B+.  Isn't that funny how that works?  You study and you get good grades!  Crazy!  Who would've thought?!

Yet, I am expected to make concessions for those who aren't willing to study or do the work.  I am just supposed to let them coast through to make the school look  better.  I am totally willing to help someone who wants to work.  I will grade on a curve.  I will let that student make up work.  However, I am only going to help a student as much as he helps himself.  Otherwise, I am not doing them any favors.