Thursday, June 04, 2015

On Doing What I Do Best

One of the things I have truly missed the past few years is the ability to work with and mentor kids on a more individual basis.  I had that chance in the past when testing and data wasn't the focus like it is today.  And damn, I was freaking good at it.

Case in point...Mr. Bluebird and I don't have biological children.  Never happened for us.  But the groups of kids I taught nine and ten years ago were amazing.  And in that group were some really fantastic kids.  Long time readers may remember Stoopid Boy, Skater Squirt and the Nursing Student, who I mentioned last year.  Two other kids round out that bunch, Paintball Warrior and Farmer Jim.  (I didn't teach Paintball Warrior, but he was roommates with Stoopid Boy and Skater Squirt and was one of Mrs. Eagle's kids.  Stoopid Boy introduced us and the next thing I knew, he was part of my clan.)  These five kids, The Chosens, are my children.  They call, they text, they visit, they come over for Thanksgiving breakfast, they celebrate birthdays, they call with girlfriend issues, job issues, just issues, we talk, we laugh, we go to church, we sometimes even cry.  Hubby and I may not be real Mom and Dad, but we're pretty close.  We love, love, love these young adults.

And it kind of bothered me that I haven't had the chance to really connect with kids on this kind of level since then, with a few exceptions.  A number of us have talked about this lack of connection and for many of us, it's an unfortunate side effect of the pressure we are on to produce test scores and to show continual growth and to test, test, test.  Dang, we're producing some real great test-takers, but at what cost?

So a few weeks ago, The Principal asked me if I would be willing to leave 7th grade science and to take over the In School Suspension position because Mrs. Angel was, finally, retiring.  As The Principal put it, "I want you to use your tough love, school momma charm on these kids."  She also mentioned the fact that since I make such strong connections to kids, "to the point that they are at your house having dinner ten years later", that I would be perfect for the job.

I thought about ten seconds and said YES!

Now for some people, the thought of being in charge of In School Suspension sounds like you get to spend all day with the "bad" kids.  But truth be told, most of the time, these are the kids I do best with.  These are kids who maybe had a lot of tardies, maybe talked back, had a cell phone out, and so forth.  They've made some stupid choices and need a soft, but stern, place to land to get back on their feet and stay out of trouble.  They need someone to spend some one-on-one time with them to get their heads screwed back on straight.

And honestly, these are my people.  I will be spending the next year, doing what I do best...working with kids.

I am, for the first time in a long time, looking forward to next year.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Musings on Change, Purposes, and Why We Do It

So this wasn't a really good year for me, so I've been quiet.  For all two of you that read this, thanks for understanding.  I'm just not really happy with how education has changed in the past 13 years I've been teaching, and hit critical mass in January.  Then, for the first time, I really, seriously thought that if I could find a way to quit, or retire early, I would.

And it had nothing to do with the kids (who were a handful).

It had everything to do with The System.

I did not, DID NOT, get into this profession to teach kids to take a test.  I don't talk much about my faith on here, but I was called to be a teacher.  I was working in the corporate environment and went back to school (at 38) to teach because it was what I was called, or meant to do.  It wasn't for the money, it wasn't for the summers off (insert laughter here because we all know that's a lie), it wasn't for any other reason than to help kids, love on kids, make a difference in their lives.

And every year The System has made it harder and harder to do what I know is best for my kids.

We went from a one paragraph hand written lesson plan to a daily two-page typed lesson plan that was more of a script than a plan.  We were told to have our lessons done so that a sub could step right in and take over in case we weren't at school.  Many of us at The School shook our heads and realized right then and there that we weren't teachers, we were script-readers.

Our District, and The School, are obsessed with data.  Everything is tied to data.  And we had meetings after meeting after meeting to discuss testing data, behavior data, data, data, data.  We were ranked, as teachers, based on how our kids did on Benchmark tests.  (And this, after we were assured 8 years ago when Benchmarks came in that they "would never be used to rank or evaluate teachers".)  What those rankings tell us is that kids in high poverty buildings (like mine) don't do as well as kids in low poverty buildings (like the teachers at the top of the list).  But we can't say that.  Because The Administration considers that an excuse.  Even though professional statisticians will tell you that standardized testing is basically a measurement of poverty.  And we were told to differentiate all the time, but then were told to give each kid the same test.  Add in directives from above that are even more conflicting, and all you have is disillusion and confusion.

And I think this is insane.

And I missed working with kids, getting to know kids, because all we do is test, test, test, and analyze analyze and analyze and we've lost track of the fact that these are kids, not test scores.

So I was burned out, annoyed, unhappy and desperate to find a way out of a system I hate.  Not to mention that I was putting in 12-14 hour days, weekends, and my life was nothing but grading, lessons and grading and lessons.  But I have 13 years in, and I can't afford to walk away just yet.

And since my dad died two and a half years ago, my priorities have changed. Spending time with people I love is more important than any job.  That's it.  I'm really not willing to give up that time anymore.  When one of my "kids" wants me to come watch him play paintball, or baseball, I want to say yes, and not worry that I have 100 quizzes to grade.  And when my husband wants to watch a movie and snuggle, I want to be able to do that and not worry about the plans that needed to be made.

And then I got offered the most incredible position at The School.

But I have to run, so I'll fill ya'll in later.  Time to spend with my big kids.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

To Snow or Not to Snow

For as long as I've been at The District, we have had a total of 3 inclement weather days.  What's amusing about this is that every single district around us geographically have anywhere from 5-10 inclement weather days.  It's a little disingenuous to think that we live in a pocket where it doesn't snow, flood, ice or generally get stupid weather-wise, but that's the way it goes.  Whenever The Powers In Charge are asked about it, we get some mumbo jumbo about how the teachers voted on it, it has to do with in-service hours, blah, blah...problem is NO ONE I've ever spoken to remembers ever voting on something like this so it's probably a good idea to bring it up again since it must have happened so long ago...if it happened at all.

So, for the past few years, when we've had some wicked winter weather and went over by, oh, nine or ten days (really), we've had to lose holidays and then the Dreaded Add On An Extra Thirty Minutes To The Day routine, which everyone - parents, kids, teachers - just HATES.   Adding an extra five minutes to my class periods really doesn't amount to much in the long run, and the parents absolutely hated how it messed up schedules.  Finally enough parents complained and went to the School Board and they grudgingly gave the KIDS five inclement weather days and the teachers still get three.  Which means if we go over, we'll end up at the end of the year sitting in in-services re-arranging our classrooms, or something that requires us to be in the building for 7.5 hours to make up the time.

So...that being said, it's November.  And it's been freaking cold - especially for November.  And they're predicting ice and snow over night.

So, now that we have 5 days, any bets on the fact that we may be using one of them up waaaaay before we usually do?

Waiting to see...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yeah, I'm neglecting ya'll

But I'll try to be better.

In the meantime, the best kid comment of the day from one of my homeroom darlings who actually has parents who came to conferences.

"My mom and dad really liked you.  They said you were the type of person they'd like to hang out with and have a beer with."

Well.  That's a good sign, I suppose.  I hope they're paying.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spirit Week - Or "Do You Have One of Those Machines?"

So last week was Spirit Week.  This is new for the school, part of our SWPBS program, and was implemented to coincide with our High School's homecoming.  Why not?  These kids will belong to this high school in a short while, so might as well get them used to it.  What surprised me was how much they got into it, especially since this was new.

It also gave teachers a chance to dress in jeans and other casual wear for an entire week.

Monday was school colors day which was a huge hit (red, white and blue).  Tuesday was Twinsie Tuesday and kids, and staff, dressed alike.  Loved the kids who dressed like The Enforcer, complete with coffee mug.  (Mrs. Eagle and I dressed alike).  Wednesday was Nerd Day, and again was really popular (lots of bow ties and pigtails).  Thursday was Throwback Thursday and that was HUGE.

I, in particular, was looking forward to Throwback Thursday so I could relive my punk rock days.  Since I happen to have a 1979 promo t-shirt for The Clash, black jeans, black Keds, lots of rock pins from the punk era, I went back to my favorite musical era.  I even found some pink hair chalk and turned my hair pink which the kids loved.  My favorite part of the outfit however, were my props  - actual vinyl records from my collection by The Clash, the Ramones, and The Sex Pistols.

I took a few minutes to show the kids my records because, at 12-13 years of age, these kids definitely aren't that familiar with them.  Many had heard of them, but hadn't really seen up close (defined as "allowed to touch" a real one).  However, the best comment of the day came from one guy in my homeroom who asked, "Do you have one of those machines that you play it on?"

It took me a minute to realize he was asking if I had a record player, or turntable.  Which I do.  At home.  But I never thought of it as a "machine to play a record on"...

And Friday was Green and Gold day and The High School won, for like the first time in a decade, their Homecoming game!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

So Who's Whining Now?

It is a truth to be acknowledged that seventh grade is probably the toughest year for parents and kids and teachers.  Basically once those pesky hormones hit, most kids just become raving lunatics for about 18 months (sometimes more, sometimes less) and aren't fit to be around during this period of time.  

In middle school we have the sixth grade which is new and marvelous and the kids are, for the most part, still kind of sweet and want to please you.

In seventh grade they're, well, lumps that often get into trouble and have no idea why they do what they do.  When you ask a seventh grader, especially a boy, "What were you thinking?" and the seventh grader replies, "I don't know," they aren't kidding.  They Honestly Don't Know.

In eighth grade, they've matured over the summer and are starting to turn into young adults and you can have a half way pleasant conversation with them.

So, when it comes to faculty meetings and events where teachers from all three grade levels are present, most of the sixth and eighth grade teachers look at those of us who teach seventh grade as a bunch of whiners who are, most likely, nuts.  If you have never taught seventh grade, and many people go through their entire career never having the pleasure, you just don't get it.

However, this year's eighth grade teachers are starting to feel our pain.  

We sent them an interesting crop of kids.  A real doozy of a bunch.  Kids who have no sense of humor, no self-control, no common sense.  And we warned them.  And they said, "Sure, they can't be that bad, can they?  After all, they'll mature over the summer and be just fine."

Except this bunch, for whatever reason, did not mature over the summer.  At all.  And if it is possible, got even worse.  

And our eighth grade teachers are now running down to our end of the hallway screaming, "Good Lord, how did you deal with these kids!  They're horrible!  They're a nightmare!  They won't work, they wont behave, they talk back!  What's the secret to surviving this bunch?"

And we just smile.  Prayer baby.  Prayer.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Run, Scream, Eat Pizza...Repeat

It's been quite a few years since I chaperoned a middle school dance.

One reason why is that, with the increased emphasis on TESTING and DATA and SCORES, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Angora and I spend most of Friday afternoon drilling down data, doing lesson plans, copying work, getting labs ready, rearranging lab groups so we can differentiate, and basically, even without working a dance, we're lucky to get out of there by 7:30 pm or so.

But this week they were desperate, our husbands were not at home and we said, "What the hell?" and decided to volunteer.

Things haven't changed much except, if possible, they do less actual dancing.

They do, however, run, scream, hop, jump, scream, and eat a lot of pizza.

And I still left around 7:30 and was exhausted, but truthfully, it was kind of fun for a change.