Tuesday, February 09, 2016

We Told You So

If you've been one of the two readers of this blog you probably are well aware of the fact that I think this national obsession with testing kids is harmful and I am not a fan.  At all.  The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests have become the focus of education.  Schools are judged on it, teachers are judged on it, and our kids are judged on it.  Sure some testing is necessary, but in My District we seem to test all the freaking time.

Anyway, a few years ago, our State decided to do away with our old format of testing which we did in late April and early May and go with a two part test - a writing test in February and then a more traditional multiple choice sort of test in April and May. (So, you see what you have here?  More testing.)  The kicker was that this was all going to be online.

Really.  The brilliant idea was to test all the kids in the State through the same website on the same day at the same time, more or less.  Now I'm lucky in that my District actually doesn't do too bad when it comes to technology, but for some of our rural districts, this, obviously was an issue.  So millions and millions and millions of tax dollars have been spent to upgrade school technology throughout the state so we could all be ready and able to take The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests online.   Even my district, as ahead of the curve as we were, was going to have to do the testing in stages because we do not have a 1:1 ratio of computers to kids.  My building opted for four days of testing for the sixth graders, then the following week would be seventh, and the week after that, eighth.

Yes, folks, that's three weeks of testing.

We have spent the past two years getting ready for this.  Our tech people have busted their tails to make sure our technology is working.  Our teachers have practiced and practiced and practiced with the kids so they are familiar with the program.  Our kids, many of whom only see computers at school and who are much more familiar with phones and tablets as technology, have practiced and practiced.  I put kids on the computer quite a bit out in my Happy Little Portable, simply to practice their typing skills...because...if they can't type well on this timed test, it will impact their scores (or, as my mother asked, "Is it a test of typing or a test of knowledge?")  If we counted all the hours we put in to practicing for this online test, it would boggle the mind.

So yesterday was The Very First Day of the Very Big Deal Government Mandated Test.

Our sixth graders went to their testing locations (because we had to spread them around the building so they wouldn't all hit the same part of the network.)  They opened their laptops.  They signed in.  They began their test.

And within thirty minutes the entire thing blew up.

The servers at the State level just couldn't handle it.  The kids got error messages.  Emails flew back and forth and finally the District got the word from the State level to just Stop The Testing.

Late last night word went out that we will no longer be doing on-line testing this year.  The Commissioner of Education no longer has faith in the outside vendor hired to do the job (and you don't want to know what it cost, truly.)  The finger pointing has begun.  We will be receiving paper and pencil tests - exactly with the same content as the online, but instead of typing, the kids will be writing by hand - sometime this month.  The State will let us know.

Two years ago this month I sat in a meeting at the Capitol with a number of legislators the week after a statewide online writing test was launched for the Eighth Grade Only and it blew up.  That news didn't hit the media.  When we mentioned it to the legislators They Had Not Heard a Thing.  The whole thing seemed to have been hushed up.  And we told them right then and there that the technology wasn't there to do this thing on a statewide scale.  And they didn't listen.

So.  I told you so.

And you know what makes me the angriest?  That we have wasted so much time on this stupid online test and our kids are learning to absolutely hate school.

It's the kids I feel sorry for.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Middle School Bartender

One of the few talents I do have in this world is that I am apparently a good listener.  I say apparently because I'm also quite the talker, and those are usually mutually exclusive.  Yet for some reason I always get kids (and now, young adults) who like to talk to me, tell me their problems, vent their frustrations, and sometimes spill their guts.

There is not a day that goes by that I'm not listening to some kid's story about life's injustices, the mean girls in school, the basketball play that went awry, or the fact that mom got arrested again.  I hear it all.  So much so that the Guidance Goddess once remarked that I'm like the middle school bartender...the kids sidle up to my desk and spell their guts.

I'm just not handing out drinks.  Although sometimes I may need to go home and have one of my own.

Today was no exception.

My Happy Little Portable is in the parking lot next to the end of the 8th grade hallway so I get anywhere from half a dozen to about ten eighth graders who drop by in the morning to eat breakfast and talk.  One of my regulars is Sparkle Girl who I had last year (and I thought hated my guts like her older brother did about nine years ago).  This family has issues - no dad in the picture, mom has major health problems and can't work, and is hearing impaired so communication is with the older brother who is more or less acting like the parent for Sparkle and her adorable little brother who is in sixth grade.  Sparkle has potential.  Lots of potential.  What she doesn't have is food.  She mentioned, off hand while eating her free breakfast, that they had run out of food in the house last night so all she'd get to eat was what she was getting at school.

And this isn't the first time I've heard this.  I had arranged a few months ago for her and the little brother to get on our FUEL free food bag program, but the bags don't go out until Fridays and I wasn't sure when the EBT card would arrive for these kids and who would actually be able to go shopping with it, especially if older brother was away working.  So, I made some calls and got an extra food bag sent home.  It's not much, but it's something.

Then Guidance calls and asks if one of my kids from last year, Waif Girl, could spend the day.  Waif was having a BAD day due to social media bullying, which is really just the tip of the ice berg with her.  Mom hasn't paid the bills in a while so the power and water has been shut off, mom is staying with some "friends", and Waif has been staying with a friend and his mom for a few weeks.  Mom isn't being really good at checking in with Waif, so it sounds like she's been more or less dumped and abandoned.  Waif wanted to be out with me, away from most of the other kids, and after collecting her assignments came out and spilled her guts and did her work.  Again, another kid with an amazing amount of potential but the grown ups in her life aren't acting like grown ups.

Then my phone starts to buzz and it's Skater Squirt, who is now 23, complaining about his boss (who is really the winner of the lucky sperm award and wouldn't have a business if it wasn't for daddy's money).  Skater Squirt texts me about his frustrations on a job he was working on today (having to wait on a contractor, the order was messed up, the boss measured wrong again, etc.) I text back during my planning and convince him that the world isn't going to end, and maybe it's time to revisit that application for the fire department he was talking about.

And then, when I wasn't acting like a therapist, I was trying to get kids to do their work, dealing with 8th grade math issues (I hate 8th grade math), and trying not to lose my patience with a kid who wanted to get suspended in the worst way.

So I'm the Middle School bartender....come tell me your story.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Baby, It's Warm Inside

So apparently mice will eat cough drops.


I know this because I opened my desk drawer last week after returning from our Christmas break and discovered about a dozen cough drop wrappers in a slightly shredded state, not one cough drop, and a quantity of mouse droppings to round out the surprise.

Oh freaking great.

My aide, after going through her desk, informed me that they will also nibble on Splenda packets, chew on straws, and tear apart tea bags.

Little Bastards.

We have no food - nothing - anywhere in the room with the exception of the refrigerator.  Everything is in there - Jolly Ranchers, tea bags, Keurig cups - because who knows what the Little Bastards will chew on next.  The drawback is that kids eat breakfast and lunch in there so the crumbs may be an attraction, although I've threatened severe bodily harm to any kid who so much as drops a raisin on the floor.  Meanwhile the kids are all on the hunt, hoping they'll spy one of the Little Bastards.  Why this is important, I have no idea, but it apparently is.  I'd rather they were on the hunt to find them and eliminate them from Our Happy Little Portable.

The Problem, says Head Custodian, isn't food, but the fact that it's now cold outside and the Little Bastards have figured out that it's warmer in Our Happy Little Portable.  Even though I drop the temperature down to 60 every afternoon before I leave, it's still significantly warmer than Outside.  (It was 13 this morning.)

So, Head Custodian is going to get traps, which bothers me because I'm the first one in the room in the morning and I don't want to deal with a dead or dying rodent.  Then again, I'm not happy about cleaning up mouse droppings from our counters and desks either.

Really, I need to bring my cats to work.  They'd solve the problem, sit on my lap, and purr.  That's much more pleasant.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hum, Hum, Humming Along

The past few weeks I've seen an influx of sixth grade customers to Our Happy Little Portable.  This tells me that the honeymoon is over with our youngest kiddos, and they've finally worn their teachers' patience thin.  I've seen the same 5 or 6 sixth graders all year, but the past two weeks saw some new faces.

The funny thing about sixth graders is they're so flipping small compared to most seventh and eighth grade kids, and often look like little angels when they come in.  This past week I had Humming Girl, all brown braids and big eyes behind huge glasses.  This kid looked like she never made a peep and couldn't ever manage to make it out to ISS.  However, even the most angelic child can lose their mind and this one, apparently, cussed out our Mrs. Band Teacher.  (Really?  Like the sweetest lady on earth?)

In any case, as it was nearing the end of the grading period, kids who didn't have a lot of make up work often needed stuff to do.  And thankfully Mrs. Math had given me a link to a great website that had math fact coloring sheets - It's here, if you're interested. In any case, I gave Humming Girl a couple of these to work on - NO CALCULATOR - which just aggravates the hell out of the kids...and she happily sat at the desk next to my desk, solving her math facts and coloring.

And humming.

Humming Christmas Carols.

All. Day. Long.

She was rather quiet about it, so the only people who could hear her were me and a kid or two that were working up at the front table.  One of them, an 8th grade Repeat Customer, looked at her, and looked at me, eyebrows raised.

I nodded my head, letting him know I could hear her too.  "It's okay," I said quietly to him, "she's not hurting anybody."

He nodded and went back to work.

And we listened to Christmas Carols the remainder of the day and it was just kind of nice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Sometimes You Can't Say No

Our Happy Little Portable is rapidly becoming "the" place to get caught up on your work and boost your grades, especially among the 8th grade kids.

True, it usually is pretty quiet in there as my typical number of kids is about eight, but I've been as low as one and then had a lot of new additions to boost my numbers to 18.  (That is NOT fun).  Today I started out with one kid and after lunch seven more arrived.  But honestly, if the numbers are fairly low, it really is a good place to get caught up.  

And apparently the word is out.  

Fourth period arrived today and with it came Baseball Boy who is my student aide for fourth period, along with another kid I had last year.  Last year Lazy Boy was beyond lazy, but he was also rude and got into trouble almost constantly.  He ended up the year with something like 250 discipline points and was on the verge of being expelled.  But for some reason the kid liked me.  Anyhow I hadn't seen him this year, which is huge, because it means he hasn't been in trouble much (I looked.  Here we are halfway through the year and he has 15 points.  He got that much in a DAY last year.)

"Lazy Boy needs to talk to you," said Baseball Boy.

"Yeah, I want to know if I can come to ISS for the rest of the week and next week until I get my grades up," he said.  

I about fell over.  

"Really?"  I replied.  

"Yeah, I go in front of a judge in January and I need to have C grades in all my classes or I go to Juvie," says Lazy Boy.  "I really need your help.  Baseball Boy says it's quiet here and you help kids."

"Well it can be," I said.  "And other times it can be crazy."

"I promise I'll be good," he said.  

"You can only come out during your related arts," I told him.  "You need to be in your academic classes."

"So I can come out third and fourth period?" he asked.  "Oh my gosh, Mrs. Bluebird, that would be amazing.

Oh jeez.  Really.  How can I say no?  So I pulled up his grades and missing work and he does have his work cut out for him.  Sent him and Baseball Boy into the building to get work from his teachers, and then emailed The Principal, and his teachers and the guidance counselor he talks to all the time and said if it was okay with them, I'd like to keep him for his related arts and help him get his grades up.  Seemed to make everyone happy, so I put him at the work table with Baseball Boy (who's really bright and a good student) and they worked on math the rest of the period.

I may have opened a Pandora's box and now all the kids will want to be out here to "catch up", but honestly I couldn't say no.  We'll see how it goes.

And the good thing is with Baseball Boy helping him, he won't be driving me insane.


Update on Lazy Boy - every day he came in, got to work, I didn't have to get after him One Single Time.  I was having trouble believing this was the same kid I had last year that had racked up nearly 300 discipline points in seventh grade.  He got his grades up.  Not sure if they're high enough for the Judge, but he did pull them up.  We'll see how the court date goes in January.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Doing the Unexpected...and Watch Their Heads Explode

One of the things I've learned over this year is I tend to see the same 30-40 kids over and over.  Of course, once in a while we'll get a newcomer, but for the most part it's the same crew.  What this means is that after a while I get to know them fairly well.

Mouthy Girl has only been with us twice but she likes to drop by for breakfast in the morning just to chat, so I see her quite a bit.  And she's pretty much a hot mess.  Mom has gone to court to file an unruly teen petition against her and she's spent time in juvenile detention.  But she seems to like me and I rarely have any issues with her.

Until about a week ago when she was escorted to Our Happy Little Portable by Mrs. Sparrow, one of the administrators.

It seems to our 8th graders had the traditional field trip to the local University that particular Thursday.  This is a TWO HOUR field trip, so it's not like it's a great big adventure or anything, but the kids look forward to it because it's something different and for many of them it's a huge slap in the face.  They realize that they're almost in high school and they get the "Holy Crap We Need to Start Thinking About Our Future" wake up call.  So it's not like it's an all day trip to the zoo or a museum or something.  It's TWO HOURS.

Mouthy Girl had apparently turned in her permission slip but for whatever reason, her mother called the front office and said she did not want her to go on the trip. Chances are it was mom's way of punishing Mouthy Girl for something.  Who knows?  In any case, Mouthy Girl was called in her homeroom and told to come out to ISS (she was assigned there anyway, to report after the field trip to the University) as she was no longer allowed to go on the field trip.

Apparently, instead of heading our way, she walked to the front office and demanded to talk to her mother about why she was no longer allowed to go.  One of our amazing secretaries (bless their hearts, these women See and Hear It All) called mom and what ensued was apparently a tirade on behalf of Mouthy Girl who threatened to kill her mother if she didn't get to go on the field trip.  Much yelling, cursing, and screaming ensued until Mrs. Sparrow was able to wrestle the phone away from her and haul her off to a conference room for a discussion on How We Behave When We Talk to Our Parents.

At this point I'm trying to track this kid down, she's supposed to be out with me, she hasn't shown, etc., and I finally get wind of what happened.  A few minutes later she appears with Mrs. Sparrow, slings her backpack down the aisle and stomps back to the very last station and sits.

"She's a little angry right now," Mrs. Sparrow whispers."You heard what happened?  I'm going to have to give her a few more days up here with you due to that display in the front office."

"No problem," I answer.  I'm used to kids arriving mad.  It's part of the job.

"Well good luck," she says and off she goes.

So I let Mouthy Girl sit there and fume for about fifteen minutes, and in the meantime I had my seventh graders and six grader sit up front with me so we could work on some assignments.  They kept looking over their shoulders at Mouthy Girl, wondering what she'd do next.

After a bit I went back to where she was sitting and said, "Hey, kiddo, I need you to move on up to station 5 and get your backpack unpacked."

Apparently that was NOT the thing to say.

"I'm NOT moving to station five and I'm NOT emptying my backpack and you can leave me the fuck alone!" she screamed.

At this point, most kids when they curse like that to a grown up, whether it's a parent or a teacher, are used to getting screamed back at.  Which is probably what Mouthy Girl expected considering the relationship she and her mother had.  But that wasn't my first response.

I laughed.


"Well, alrighty then," I said as I giggled and walked back to my desk where my other kids were sitting silently with their mouths hanging open.

"Aren't you going to do anything?" one of them whispered.

"Well, yeah," I said, "I'm going to write her up.  But other than that, no."

"Really?"  They all looked at each other as if I'd lost my mind.  What was this?  An adult not yelling at a kid for cursing?  What the heck was going on here?

I love watching their heads explode when I do the unexpected.

The end result?  Mouthy Girl eventually calmed down, on her own, and moved to station 5.  She unpacked her backpack, got to work on assignments and was the model student.  She did get three extra days with us for the display in the office and the f-bomb, but that wasn't a bad thing because she got caught up on her missing work.

There's a lot to be said for having a wacky sense of humor.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Because You're Nice

One of my former students, a kid I had when I taught sixth grade and again in seventh, was assigned to ISS for three days. Lazy Boy is really, really lazy.  Like so lazy he has an 18% in his science class this grading period, and we are five weeks into the period! He wasn't this bad in sixth, started failing in seventh and now is only passing one academic class, Reading Language Arts. His stated goal is to drop out of high school and play video games all day. His mom is part of the problem as she's happy if he's quiet and out of the way when he's playing video games.  Making him do work is, well, too much work.

So was sent to me as he'd been disruptive and The Enforcer said, "See if you could get hm to do work." 

I know Lazy Boy really well, again, because I taught him for two years, he's a friend of my nephew, and he's one of the kids who like to swing by my room to eat breakfast.  So I know his sneaky tricks pretty well, and decided to put him Right Smack Dab Next To Me.

His teachers sent him stacks of missing work, I sat him down, told him I expected to see that pencil moving, and let him get to work.

WHich he did. 

He sat, head down, and worked and worked and worked.  He worked so hard I took a video and mailed it to the study hall teacher and the guidance counselor as proof that he can work.  They were shocked.

So I asked hm why he was working for me.

"Because you're nice," he said.  

"How you serious?" 

"You and Mrs, Reading Language Arts are nice so I'll work for you."

"What about Mrs. Study Hall?"

"I don't like her.  She's mean because I don't do my work." 

"And you won't do the work because you don't think she's nice?"


Well, then.