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.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Return of My Red Headed Fireball

Last spring a new student arrived from Another Southern State who made quite an impression.

For one, he some of the reddest hair I have ever seen.  And a personality to match.  To say that the Red Headed Fireball is a handful is putting it mildly.  He could tear up your classroom like nobody's business.  The fact that he arrived at about three weeks before our Very Big Deal Government Mandated tests, when we were reviewing for the year - and keep in mind, he just came here - he was a bit lost.  And so he acted out.  A lot.  Some days he drove me so batty that I'd send him down to Mrs. Eagle's class just to give everyone a break.

He also had a pretty tragic story, primarily he was orphaned and had moved in with his aunt and uncle who were planning on adopting him.  At least he had somebody, but it doesn't make up for the fact that he'd lost his parents before he hit seventh grade.  That's tough.    We were told if he had issues to send him to guidance.

And one day I had him out in the hallway because he was doing something disruptive - again - and giving him yet another talk about behavior and manners and expectations, and I made some comment about losing my own dad barely a year earlier and things all of a sudden changed.  He wanted to talk to me about losing my dad and losing his dad and next thing I knew, I had a Read Headed Fireball that took every chance he could to be in my room.

That hasn't changed.

My new room is on the corner of the 7th and 8th grade hallway, so most 8th graders have to go by in the morning to get to their classes, including My Read Headed Fireball.  Every morning I get a hug and a conversation about how he's doing.  In the afternoons he tried to sneak down when bus riders are dismissed, but kept getting caught by Mrs. Sparrow, one of the assistant principals, because he is supposed to go out the 8th grade door, not the 7th.  Mrs. Sparrow came to me this past week and said that he is constantly trying to come down to my room and would I mind it horribly if he did come down during 8th grade homeroom because his homeroom teacher has her hands full (and boy does she - I saw her roster and it's a nightmare bunch).  I said it wouldn't be a problem.  His homeroom teacher was elated.

So now, the Red Headed Fireball, shows up at my door at 1:50, when I'm still teaching my 6th period.  He goes quietly to my desk, where he starts on his homework, fixes my marble calendar for the next day, cleans up my desk, and generally makes himself useful.  Once my kids go to their lockers, he'll want to have a discussion about his day and how it went and about football practice and all sorts of things.

And then he shows up, like he did on Thursday, when he's having a melt-down about something.  He no longer wants to go to guidance, but wants to sit in my room.  No problem.  I called his music teacher, told her what was up (some kid made some comment about his mother, which You Do Not Do to a kid who has lost a parent) and she said keep him.  He sat in on my third period, my largest class, which also has an aide in there with me.  He did his work, alphabetized my kids assignments, helped hand out and collect laptops, and generally was useful.  By the end of the day when he came by he was fine - the kid apologized for the "your momma" comment - and we were back obsessing about football.

This Red Headed Fireball needs a lot of mothering and apparently he has chosen me to do it.

And that's fine with me.

Ah, The Smell of Seventh Graders...

Friday was a weird freaking day.

Friday was going to be our first early dismissal where the kids get out two hours early so teachers can have meetings, in-service, training, blah, blah, blah.

As such, it was the first early dismissal day with our New Wonky Schedule.  The Enforcer spent most of the past two weeks trying to figure out a schedule that enabled us to have most, if not all, of our academic classes, as well as get kids fed lunch, with a minimum of craziness.  At the faculty meeting on Thursday he went over the plan which looked, for the most part, like it would work pretty well.  Basically we cut out the kids' elective time and they simply went to their four core academic classes, plus lunch.  However, being new, you never know.  The Enforcer declared Friday a "casual dress day" just in case we had to "put out any fires, stop any meltdowns, and generally deal with the chaos a new schedule creates."

Looking back, I'm wondering if he regrets those words.

So, Friday started off pretty well.  I had the kids on computers doing centers on plate tectonics using a variety of websites, plus I was going around and having them model the different plate boundaries for me using index cards and red construction paper (for magma, dontcha love it?).  My inclusion class, which is my favorite class because the kids are so awesome, went great.  Next was my fourth period which is my least favorite class, just because the mix of kids in there is toxic.  It went pretty well, considering.

Five minutes left of fourth period and the freaking power goes out.


We were informed to hold our classes (because the hallways, even with the few windows and emergency lights, were really dark) and just sit tight.  Strangely enough, we still had internet, so as long as the kids had battery power on their computer, they could keep working.  Once they'd finished their centers, I had to come up with something to keep them busy so I had them race each other on Quizlet which is a great vocabulary building website.

One hour ticked by.  It was dark, the AC was off, and it was getting really, really warm in the classroom.  I started watching the thermometer tick up and up and up.  Not good.

After another half hour ticked by (and they were now bored with the vocabulary races and the batteries were dying on the laptops), we were told to take them down to the cafeteria to get a cold lunch.  So, lined them up, used the flashlight app on my phone to help light the way, and down we went.  They got a PBJ, an apple, some chips, a frozen slushy, drinks, and back to the room we went where they could sit down and eat (it being too dark in the cafeteria for 375 seventh graders to eat.)   They actually did pretty well and didn't make a huge mess, but it was getting hotter and hotter in the room.  I could actually start to feel sweat trickle down my back.  We were told we could crack our outside doors, but I when I opened mine it was really apparent that it was hotter outside than inside.

Seventh graders really start to smell, especially seventh grade boys, when the AC is off.

By this time everyone was hot, cranky, bored, and sick of each other.  I was sick of them as well, especially because this is not my favorite bunch to start with.  I finally had them put their heads down on their tables and listen to me read from the science book (again, thank goodness for my flashlight app) until we were told to have them go to their lockers and get ready to go.

Five minutes before they were to leave...the power comes back on.

Longest. Friday. Ever.

And the smelliest.

Monday, September 01, 2014

So It's All About the Relationships

We're always being told at The School, that good teaching is about building relationships with kids.  That's one thing I can't argue about (and oh, I can argue about a lot of stuff lately.)

Some of the best relationships I have with kids have spilled over into their young adult-hood.  The Daughter We Never Had (TDWNH) is a case in point.  She has never lost touch with me, we hired her as a house and pet-sitter, she also cleans my house (I feel I'm helping pay for nursing school that way), she texts or calls me almost daily and generally Mr. Bluebird and I love her as if she were our own.


I'm not sure The Powers That Be consider "building relationships with students" to include going out to the local firing range and firing pistols and shotguns with one of your former students.

Oh but gosh, we had a blast!  And she was tickled, as she put it, "To finally get the two of you out of the house for some fun!"

I love that girl.

The Offspring

It has happened.

I have been invited to a baby shower for two of my students (who married each other).

I hate baby showers.  I particularly hate baby showers for kids I had when they were 12.  It means we're all getting older.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Obsession with Throwing

Our team is at the point where we're about ready to ban erasers.

Because erasers, you see, are wonderful projectiles. Especially when they're torn up into smaller pieces.  And our book fair, which ended yesterday, sold a ton of erasers which are now being systematically dissembled and launched across our classrooms.

I rarely write kids up, but one thing that will cause a write up faster than their heads can spin around is throwing things.  We had a girl today smacked in the eye with an eraser and that's exactly why the throwing is a big deal with me.

So, I basically informed them that if they so much as even made a throwing motion, regardless of whether or not they actually threw anything, I. Would. Write. Them. Up.  No questions asked.

It's not a democracy in my room.  It's a benevolent dictatorship, and they better figure that out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

28 Bells...

We have a new schedule this year...for a number of reasons.

We've gone from 7 periods to 6, mainly because The State says that we can no longer have a reading teacher and an ELA teacher, but one person doing both.  So, we also went from 5 people on a team to 4.  The good news is that it means we have classes that are nearly an hour long.  We have been 47 minutes long for the past five years (and our test scores sucked compared to when we had hour long classes but admin apparently didn't see the connection...)

And then we solved the nightmare that is lunch, mainly trying to feed over 300 kids in 30 minutes.  And if you're a seventh grader this year, 373 kids in 30 minutes.

Basically, starting with sixth grade, each team goes in 15 minute intervals.  Now, this does mean that we interrupt my fourth period, but let me tell you, there is a world of difference when there are only, say, 100 kids walking to lunch as opposed to 300 kids.  In some cases, my class, depending on the timing, may be the only class moving to or from lunch and they are in line and silent.  No jumping up and smacking the ceiling, no yelling, no out of line, they are doing it right.  And the only thing I can figure is because there's only 25 of them at the moment, and no distractions from other classes.

It's been amazing.  Lunch is quiet, everyone gets fed, it is wonderful.

However.  It also means that every grade level is on a slightly different schedule and we have 28 different bells that ring all day long.

All. Day. Long.

I have our schedule printed in huge font hanging behind my desk because even I have trouble remembering what time we do what.  So when a bell goes off, and the kids look at me, I end up saying, "Not us," and moving on.  I also had to put a timer on my iPad to remind me when I had only 5 minutes left (and to remind me to take the kids to lunch.)  Even then, it's a bit wonky and I'm hoping pretty soon we start ignoring the bells that aren't ours.

If they could only do a different tone for the different grade levels, it would be so much easier.

P.S. Someone asked the question about couldn't teachers get the kids to lunch without bells?  Well, interestingly enough the only time a bell doesn't go off is for the different lunch periods.  The bells are going off for class changes between periods, and then tardy bells.  So, for example, a bell will go off for the sixth grade to end 1st and go to 2nd period; then four minutes later a 2nd period bell will go off for 6th grade.  Then an 8th grade bell will go off, etc.  Due to these funky lunches, the class periods do not line up equally at the same time for each grade.

I know, we don't get it either.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Hate You But I Can't Stay Away...

Last year I had a seventh grader we'll call Auburn Boy (because he is obsessed with Auburn University). Auburn Boy started off the year really rough.  He didn't do any work, would saunter in whenever he felt like it (which meant that he was pretty soon visiting with administrators due to tardies), and generally was a little turd.

The second nine weeks, after much prodding on my part and a stint or two in ISS for tardies, he decided getting to class on time and doing his work was not going to kill him.  He was in my little class of 16, and loved to talk and could be a royal pain, but I really liked the kid.  For one, he was funny.  He also seemed to need a lot of attention, especially in January when Mom had twins and suddenly he was the oldest, by quite a bit, and had four brothers and sisters below him - the newborns, a 3 year old and a Kindergartener.  He was starved for attention (although he wouldn't admit it) and he would do everything he could to engage me in a conversation regardless of the time or circumstances.

However, a conversation with Auburn Boy could be a challenging experience.  He got mad easily, would pout, stomp his feet, throw up his hands and act like a frustrated and annoyed teenager.  A typical conversation would go like this:

"Hey kiddo, get your homework out now, we're going over it."
"Jeez, lay off, I'm getting it out now...stop being so darn pushy."

But here's what's weird.  I couldn't get rid of the kid.  He acted like he hated me most of the time, but he wouldn't go away.   I didn't have him until sixth period, but he'd come by in the morning, claiming he needed a pencil.  Then he'd come by a little later with another excuse (usually another pencil although when he sensed I was getting annoyed with the pencil bit, he'd ask for paper.)  He'd show up sixth period for class, and then after seventh, he'd show up for afternoon homeroom.

Except he wasn't in my homeroom.  He was in Mr. Dobbie's (as in Dobbie Gills...long story) room.  But Mr. Dobbie kept letting him come over, and after a while he just came on his own and I'd send Mr. Dobbie an email letting him know he was there.  Auburn Boy and his mom and I got to be quite good friends as he'd text her (from my phone) about staying after for a club or something and she'd answer back.  He became somewhat as permanent in my room as some of the furniture.

So today is our third full day with our kids and I'm there doing my thing sixth period when I look up and there is Auburn Boy, now an 8th grader, standing in my doorway with a pass around his neck (which meant he had permission so there).

First words out of my mouth?  "Do you need a pencil?"

He smiled.  "No, just thought I'd come by."  My seventh graders are quiet and looking over at him.  It is, after all, a real 8th grader.

"Really," I said. "Are you sure?"

"Yup,"....I walked over and we proceeded to have a conversation, but he never would say (or admit) why he was there.  He just wanted to be there I guess.  I told him he could stay and sit in the back and watch, and he said no, he just wanted to check in.

And then he left.

I had a friend tell me once that being horrible, for some kids, is a way of letting you know they love you.  Maybe they're right, because Auburn Boy and I had our share of battles last year.  But he just kept coming back.  And now, it looks like he's still coming back.

And I'm really happy about that.