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.