Monday, December 27, 2010

Singing Sewermen

Would be a good name for a rock band too.

Also, it would really be nice if every workplace was like this (yeah, like a sewer). People who take their job seriously, but not themselves seriously. It would be nice if my students can do the same too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lessons learned 2010

A different kind of bunny, but same Martinelli's for 2011.

It's been quite a year for me, personally and professionally. I...
- armed myself with my newly forged credentials and...
     - job hunted my butt off and...
          - still worked at part-time jobs until...
               - I got a job offer overseas! But...
                    - agonized over the decision and...
                         - buckled down for the harder, longer road which...
                              - turned out fruitful in the end, landing me my current teaching position!

Much, much better than 2009 was, hands down. And I see better things in the future too, so there's much to look forward to. I'm looking forward to watching my current students walk at their 8th grade promotion. I'm looking forward to a summer vacation full of nothing doings (can't get enough of those nothing doings apparently; I spent the past four days doing just that). I'm looking forward to (possibly) another year of teaching at my school.

Here are some things I learned in my first 4 months of teaching:

- The almighty CCTC (CA Commission on Teacher Credentials) doesn't really care what happens to you after you pay your fees and receive your online certificate, even though they seemed to care Ever. So. Much. During all the time before. I'm ok with there non-follow through caring of their graduates, actually.

- It might be just me, and the fact that I was part of a high school graduating class where 99% of the people I knew applied to at least 5 colleges, but the idea of quantity in applications seemed really logical to me. The chances of hitting one that will accept you increases with the number of applications you do. It's quite mathematically sound, and for me, it worked. I applied to over 100 positions, received four interviews, got two acceptances, and chose one.

People (that is, I) will still say all you really need is that one. However, it's hard to hit one jackpot just from a small sample set.

- If having materials and being on time is such an important part of my philosophy, then I better hold students accountable to it. I've been pretty lax about taking tardies (my rule is you have to be in your seat, NOT wandering around the classroom or rushing in through the door, when the bell rings) and I haven't done a materials/binder check since October. I just need to be more hardass with the tardies thing, but I haven't done binder checks because they are just. So. Time. Consuming. Of course, as I begin to slide in discipline, my students will slide as well.

So I've come up with a new way of doing binder checks! I'll just randomly choose one or two sentences and have students copy it directly from their notes onto their chapter quizzes, since these are open notes anyway. It puts more of the work on them (I no longer have to collect their notes and flip through them - MAJOR time suck, by the way) AND they become more familiar with their own notes, developing the skills to recall and hunt through their own writing at the very least, even if they don't choose to use that skill, they'll still have it in their tool belt. Plus, it cuts down on students being lazy during note taking time. I've caught several of them only jotting down the example problems we do and not all the definitions. And teaching vocab is a HUGE thing I need to improve upon. Sticking to simple, non-time intensive solutions? Yes, please!

I do have to transfer all the Algebra 1 hard copies of quizzes into digital format though (because Dept. Chair doesn't have them in digital format, boo). That's a time investment though, as opposed to a time suck, and I'll willingly do it because it means I can edit these assessments really easily thus tailoring them to the needs of each year's group of students. I don't have to do this for Algebra Readiness, since Leadership Colleague (the only one remaining at my school who had taught AR previously) is a 4th year teacher and knows her way around a computer, AND had the foresight to put her tests into digital form.

- Oh my freaking poohcow. I love my Teacher Web page! The possibilities! I don't expect technology to make teaching easier, but it sure makes it that much more fun. Oh yeah, and better learning for students too, um, yeah, that's right.

- I haven't talked about the topic of cultural/generation gaps since I started teaching middle school math, but it's definitely been on my mind constantly. Especially at my school where 60% of the staff are either over 50, or have been teaching for more than 20 years. Also, 80% of the staff is white while the student demographics are split 30% white, 35% Asian, 15% Black and 20% Hispanic (approximate, of course we have smatterings of other ethnicities too). I would also make a conjecture that half of the staff who are Asian (all 6 of us) are, in fact, white (I'm so going to hell for that statement, but seriously, you would agree if you knew them too).

I would like to bring this topic to the forefront, especially since my school struggles to teach the "minority" students, who are not actually minority in numbers. That goes for EL students as well. I deserve a good forehead-smacking because teaching these minority/low SES students was supposed to be my area of speciality. And I've just, well, kind of forgot.

No more though. If only because slogging through Kozol's The Shame of the Nation took long enough the first time around.

- The biggest lesson of all: KEEP STICKIES ON HAND because damn it to hell I certainly won't remember whatever stroke of teaching genius I had earlier in the day once 3pm rolls around!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not my problem

Had the most impossibly horrific teaching dream last night. I don't quite remember the details anymore, but it was one of those dreams where I was being pulled in all different directions, trying to solve everybody's problems and, of course, ending up solving nobody's problems.

Which isn't even my job! Solve your own problems, students!

Ugh. I've never been hung over, but woke up today in a way that I imagine being hung over to feel like.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blogger of the Week: Better D.C. School Food

In which your lunch shouldn't consist of a boxed lemon tea and Kinder Egg Surprises.

I really like Better D.C. School Food. It's such a informative, homey-kind of read. Kids make things from scratch here. There's gardening, and lunch descriptions, and policy, and economics.

And in a note related to my teaching field, there's got to be so. Freaking. Many. Math lessons here that I don't even know where to begin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Orwellian, no joke

This video reminds me of those digital simulations of car accidents on Chinese television news.

Frankly, both sides that these "people" represent seem rather ridiculous. Come on, who on EARTH actually uses the word "Orwellian" in normal conversation? And Mr. Admin Dude, you are not better off, being so argumentative about everything except your own opinion.

Truly, it doesn't help the situation anymore than all the fights and hate and "I'm right you're wrong" mentality going on. Rather, the video kinda fuels it - just read the comments in Youtube.

Um, I think I'll go back to my classroom now, to do what I can, with whatever I've got. k'bye.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Accidental delinquent actions

Today started with a visit to the dentist, and ended up with me climbing a chain link fence because I was locked in on school grounds.

All the in between stuff: not nearly as exciting. I ate some delicious bread pudding. I graded papers while watching Gilmore Girls on my classroom LCD projector. I waffled back and forth on the logistics of how to play a review game of Jeopardy (to powerpoint, or not to powerpoint?) and, finally decided on the low-tech version because I couldn't find a pre-made one just for my purposes online. I cleaned the closets in my classroom.

I meant to leave 2:30, but decided to stay because I felt energetic enough for more work. I prepped first semester final review stuff. I fiddled around with the benchmark testing tech. I cleaned out old papers to recycle.

Then 4pm rolled around, and it was getting colder (no heat in the classroom during break), and my hands were getting too cold and stiff to type anything anymore. So I left.

And all the gates were closed and locked.

And I couldn't go out the office door because it was broken.

And there was no one else around. I called the plant manager's office to no avail.

So I hopped a fence. Felt like a delinquent. It was kinda fun - fun enough to not want to waste the energy in begging an admin for a gate key.

But not fun enough to want to do it again. I'm not as spry as I was ten years ago.

Tomorrow is another work day, and I'm leaving well before the gates lock at 3pm.


Happy, and not so happy, at school. One of them obviously gets more rest.

How does one go about petitioning the Powers That Be to instill a different kind of school year calendar? One where we get a three day weekend every month? Of course, to keep the number of school days, we'll have to extend the school year. Which also means shorter summer vacations.

I'm also in favor of:

- longer spring breaks
- longer Thanksgiving breaks (I guess two weeks each should do it)
- longer school days ONLY if teachers and students get longer breaks throughout the day too. Because lunch HOUR really should be an hour long

Would anybody even go for this? Will I see this happen in my life time?

Well, one thing at a time. Gonna get on that three day weekend petition.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A day in a life of a Korean student, part 2

Holy cow. And I thought MY teaching day was long.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Talent Assembly

Today, I was T-Boz. My students will never think of me in the same way again.

Also, my hair ROCKED.

Happy Winter Break!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Empty Bowl day

Today is an Empty Bowl day. I am emptied out. Out of energy, out of stamina, out of luck, out of ideas, out of brain power, out of an sense of giving a damn.

And it's really funny because yesterday was a really good teaching day. And today, when I really step back and look at it, wasn't all that terrible either. The good things that happened:

- I got some really cute gifts from some really cute students.
- Wannabe Basketball Boy behaved decently! And is all caught up with his work!
- Football Boys #1 and 2 were gentlemanly!
- Loudmouth Boy wasn't so loud mouthed!
- Singing Boy and his partner didn't burst out singing in class for no apparent reason!
- Rude Girls #1, 2, 3, and 4 were not the least bit rude!

However, one single thing happened that made me feel like an utter and complete incompetent ignoramus and it's stuck with me and I can't shake it off.

And it wasn't even my fault.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hard ass b*t*h

If they give you spice, then spice back!

My 4th period class is the most headache inducing class EVER.

I think I've solved the problem though.

How? Why?

There are literally 8 girls in this class of 29 students. The girls are angels. The boys, not so much, to put it in light terms.

I can't let the boys be jerks and get away with it.

So I cracked down on it today. Cracked down hard. Like the DEA on a crack house.

Don't really know if it worked or not, but it sure made me feel much better about teaching them tomorrow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Everything but a bee costume

Into my fourth month of my first year teaching, I already have a list of things I'm going to change for next year. Including, but not limited to:

- The way I assign and grade homework. Seriously. I spend at least an hour a day logging in all that paperwork -- and I don't even use it as an actual, detailed gauge of what students know/don't know. It really is turning into a massive pile of busy work, for me and for the students. I've got several ideas on how to adjust it, but haven't decided on any one yet. I like the weekly turn-ins the most, I think. Also a variety of choices in problem selection.

- The way I do in class practice. There's got to be a way to carve out more time for this. Ten minutes a day isn't enough.

- The way I utilize technology. Basically, right now, I don't. Other than posting assignments and announcements on my teacher webpage, that is. It would be wonderful to have students submit assignments online.

- Focusing on meaningful connections more than the drill and kill methods.

No solutions yet, but I'm working on it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not written in the contract

Unexpectedly not so bad.

When I signed up to be a teacher, I didn't know I was getting myself into unwritten promises such as:

- memorizing the rap to TLC's Waterfalls for a teacher talent show

- spending 12 hours per school day at school

- volunteering to present DATA walks to the rest of the staff and the PTA community.

Kind of daunting, if presented beforehand. But in when I just take action and get it done, it's not so bad.

I think.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Questions for the intarweb

It really should be as easy as bread pudding. Really.

Does anyone out there do weekly turn-ins for homework assignments in the 6th to 8th grades? How does it work, logistically speaking (i.e. grading, filing, recording, etc)? Is it effective for student learning? What is the general response from students and parents? From other teachers? From the administration? What exactly do you give as the homework assignments?

I want to know, please.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Technology rocks


I was at a loss as to what to do for my pre-Algebra class' block period this week - we were a day behind in lessons, and the students were getting WAY tired of taking notes from me, which was a mutual feeling on my part as well - until a sudden inspiration hit me: make use of that fancy, new mobile lab! Why would I spoon feed the material to students if definitions and examples can be found online?

So I did. I whipped out a structured organizer, copied it, assigned laptops to pairs of students, and we all had a grand ol' time enjoy the power that is Google Search for a very mundane (and very minor) lesson of getting definitions and examples of the properties of addition.

Most importantly, (at least on a logistical level) it ate up 30 minutes of a 95 minute block period that can sometimes seem like forever in pre-Algebra.

The next level is to bring that structured organizer into the digital realm as well. How?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boys make me pull out my hair

Is there pne of these for boys?

Or turns my hair gray. Or gives me ulcers.

I have some really great students who are boys. Smart, capable, funny, personable, likable, hard-working, polite, full of personality (which just happens to often be hilarious)-boys that make the teaching day great. Just really great people to teach.

And then there's the opposite side of the spectrum. Boys that drive me insane because they fail to understand the connection between their own work and their achievement.

"Why am I getting an F?" they ask.

Because you have turned in precisely ONE piece of homework in the past MONTH, I reply.

"Why are you giving me a detention? I wasn't talking. I was just asking him a math question." they say.

Because you asked in a way that is highly inappropriate, disrupting the class and disturbing other students from their own learning.

"Well, I just won't ask questions anymore." they say.

Frankly, it might do the entire world some good if you can keep your mouth shut for just one class period. But somehow, I don't think it'll happen.

It makes me wonder: what am I doing that isn't serving these boys well? How can I improve upon this? What is it that they aren't getting?

Because these boys are the kind of people who - if I were their parent - would make me want to send them to military school.

Hm. Maybe a more militaristic way of teaching is actually what they need. Because apparently, kindness, second chances, and patience just don't cut it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Media Mondays: Changing Education Paradigms

This is pretty interesting. I don't agree with all of it, but it's still interesting. And it just underlines how ginormous this education "problem" is. It's quite awful in some ways, but I like to look at it as a challenge.

Bring it on!

Also, I vaguely remember one of my teaching credential professors discuss Sir Kenneth Robinson and his ideas about education and the arts. Hm, might dig out my notes and see what's there.

Friday, December 3, 2010


A Day in the Life of a Korean Student

Otherwise known as my teaching life.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Money and such trivial things

This was only $4! Original price: $22!

I like to think I'm pretty good with money. I'm debt-free. I save. I invest - although I could diversify a bit more. I look for good deals. And I'm actually satisfied with my teacher salary.

Whoa. Say WHAT?! Isn't the news totally over-loaded with the pittance teachers get paid? How can you be satisfied with a teacher salary? With furlough taken out, on top of that?

It might just be California - we have one of the highest teacher salary rates in the nation. Well, depending on location (i.e. SF, LA), we also have one of the highest cost-of-living in the nation. But it's possible to get by - decently, not just squeak by barely - on a teacher salary. That is, assuming you aren't a single-income household with 6 kids.

That said, I would also like to point out that I've spent about $400 on supplies and materials for the classroom so far this school year. I've bought:

- pencils
- pens
- copy paper
- binder paper
- tissues
- disinfecting wipes
- a dustpan
- a mop
- hand sanitizer
- stapler
- staples
- post its
- stickers/candy/small prizes
- binders
- notebooks
- three hole punch
- filing folders
- labels
- sheet protectors
- card stock
- batteries (for the clock)
- window cleaning solution (gets all the residue off transparencies)
- paper towels
- transparencies
- erasers
- books on math/special ed/teaching activities
- felt triangular banners from colleges
- a timer

The above is all brand-new stuff. The copy paper, books, and transparencies are the priciest out of the lot. This list doesn't include all the junk I've complied over the past two years of my student teaching in preparation for setting up my own classroom. THAT list is as follows:

- used tennis balls (to put on the feet of desks)
- old calendar art
- fishing line
- thumb tacks
- an old bed sheet that I jimmied into a window curtain before maintenance installed my current blinds
- a lamp
- a fan
- an ethernet cable
- a power strip
- baskets
- clear storage containers
- books and magazines for the classroom library
- clipboards
- magnets
- those open box-things to organize papers
- whiteboard calendar
- posters
- cups to hold pencils and such
- large binder clips

And here are the things I got free from the school supply room:

- whiteboard markers
- overhead pens
- rubber bands
- whiteboard cleaner
- 4 reams of copy paper each month
- envelopes

This list is on top of anything the parents of my students donate to my classroom.

I have $100 from the PTA and $300 from the principal's personal stash of cash to spend. I guess I've just about spent it all, and the school year isn't even half over! I haven't filed for reimbursement yet - just because there might be some big ticket items later (I still want an overhead timer, but I don't know where to buy one without paying an arm and a leg for shipping).

But it scares me a little that I've already spent so much. I'm as frugal as I can possibly be about all the materials used in my classroom. I don't buy copy paper unless it's around $20 for 10 reams. I get everything on sale, or at discount stores. I'm a member of every teacher discount card in existence (which are quite misleading, because sometimes you can get things for a lower price than WITH the teacher discount anyway at different places that don't offer any teacher discounts). I hunt for deals online and through word-of-mouth. I haggle when I can, and I mooch off free stuff whenever someone feels generous towards education.

Still, in a nutshell, I have to spend that much money each year --> to do my job --> to get paid --> to pay for the next year of doing my job --> ..... Um. Does anyone else see the ridiculousness of this cycle? Most ridiculous of all is that I'm willing to involve myself in it.

I'm lucky enough to be in a school with rations of supplies. Can you imagine what it's like at a less fortunate school? It's terribly scary. We're just digging ourselves into our own financial graves this way.

Seriously. Doctors don't have to buy their own surgical equipment. Cops don't have to buy their own guns. What is it with teachers and buying their own tools to do their job?

Also: I've really got to look into the logistics of students turning in electronic assignments. It's a little tricky with math, but I'm sure there's a way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mental health day

I'm not exactly sick, but I'm not exactly well either.

It's really difficult to find a sub who can teach math.

I'm not going to have another chance to have an "easy" teaching day (all classes are taking tests tomorrow) any time soon, and I KNOW I'm going to need a day off before Christmas break. Definitely over-exerted myself during the 1st quarter, and haven't quite recovered.

Thus, I'm taking my first official mental health day tomorrow.

Will still go in, after school, to get stuff done. I might even go in the morning too. That's dedication, right? When I'm not feeling well and I still want to work?

My own health means I have more energy to take care of my students. So there.