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.