Monday, January 31, 2011


This is really cool.

Really, really cool. It goes down to ethnicity and all the way back to the 1940s. Interesting...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tiger teacher

Yeah, yeah, it's a lion, but that's the closest photo I have.

No, I haven't read the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It sounds interesting, but it's not at the top of the my To Read list. Maybe because I had a Tiger Mother, and so the story would be old news to me.

The commentary surrounding the book is more immediately consuming for me, particularly two quotes from Nancy Gibb's essay in Time.

Their [what Gibbs calls "Choppers" aka helicopter parents] fury at a bad grade is more likely to land on the teacher than on the child.
And this one:
I suspect one reason the book has touched such a nerve is a suspicion among the Choppers that an excessive fear of failure guarantees it - that if you don't let your kids get clobbered now and then by a tough teacher, they'll never have the resilience to thrive as adults in a competitive economy.
These two quotes basically sum up my week. It's the end of the semester, and I gave some low grades to students who can do better than what they got but didn't, because they didn't turn in assignments on time, or showed little-to-no effort, or were just making some jerk wad choices. I clobbered some of my students because I expected better from them.

And the backlash from certain parents towards my choices have been overwhelming. Not just the parent of T, by the way. There are more.

I know I can't give up being a tough teacher. I can't let myself allow students to slack off. I can't slack off myself. It really is a tiger battle with my students. And the path of least resistance is one I don't want to take.

But sometimes, a tiger needs a quiet place sheltered from the battle to lick its wounds.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An email with humility and sincerity

Dear Parent of T, I hope your day went well.

Here's an update on what I did for T today:

T came in to see me from around 3-4pm today. She was able to copy the original notes from sections 5.1 to 5.2. Unfortunately, another student had borrowed my 5.3 notes and have not returned them yet, so T did not copy those original notes. However, I did give her an impromptu lesson on 5.3 without the notes anyway.

Then, T took a different, abridged version of the 5.1-5.3 quiz. She was able to get a 100% on it. I put it in the grade book and it does not seem to affect her overall grade significantly - it is a B+, the same as before the retake today.

I would also like to reiterate that re-teaching happens in-class. If students would like more individual attention, they need to see me during my drop-in tutoring hours. I did give the quiz to T right after she returned: it would have been unwise to give her instruction on the quiz material while the rest of the class were sitting in the same room, taking the same quiz. That is why I instructed T to try the quiz anyway: test taking is also a method of learning, and she would be doing the same thing her fellow classmates were doing. I also told her to get a copy of the notes, either from a fellow classmate or from me after school, and to take home the 5.1-5.3 quiz for her re-take. The quiz that I had was the only quiz in my possession in her file, so I assumed she had turned in her re-take. If it is still the first quiz, as you believe it is, then I suppose T never turned in the re-take - of which I am certain I gave her. She was not the only student who was absent, and thus missed the quiz, so I had plenty on hand for them. I do toss out the old quizzes in order to keep the paperwork under control. Perhaps I should not do that anymore.

T never showed up during my tutoring hours to get the notes, so I assumed she was able to find a friend to copy the notes from. This, I also admit, was my fault. I do need to do more binder checks with all students in order to keep them accountable for their note-taking. T was doing well with in-class activities (albeit a little distracted, which is normal after coming back from such a big trip) so I decided to push forward. It is very difficult for students to catch up, as well as keep up with the current material, after a long absence. Pushing forward together with the whole class and doing review daily was a better choice, in my opinion, than holding T back because she had missed some material. I hope you understand, even if you don't agree with, my methods.

I feel the need to lay out my case, and hold that I did everything in my power to help T bridge the gap from her absences, even before today. I do not like the fact that I can't shake off the feeling that T's retake today felt unfair and unjust - not to T, but to her classmates. Although it's probably not your intention, I do not like how this situation feels as if I was being attacked for not doing my job. I am generally flexible with second, and third, and fourth chances. I am also flexible with giving extra time to students to turn in missed work. I do not, and will never, intend to disregard student needs and I hope you do not think I disregarded T, or her learning. I do my best with the time and resources that I have, both of which are limited in supply, so at some point there has to be an end.

I know you may not agree with me, but I still hope that this end is satisfying to you. I have really learned a lot from this event.

With humble regards and sincerity,

This Child Left Behind

**I've already pressed the send button, but on hindsight, it might have been better to swing this by my principal, or dept. chair first. whoops. oh well.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Uptight spinster school marm says...

I will so go to hell for posting this picture here. But really, it speaks so very loudly.

Last night was the second 7th/8th grade dance of the year. As if it was even possible, students were nastier than at the first dance. The things I saw/disciplined for included, but not limited to:

- grinding
- bumping
- touching; of the inappropriate and the more innocent natures
- moshing
- mushing
- climbing
- swearing
- hollering
- PDA-ing
- excessive hip swinging
- excessive protesting for when they got caught and they knew it

Although I have to say, the boys were much more gentlemanly than at the previous dance. The girls, however, were a whole different story. For example, here's a conversation I had with one of my students near the end of the dance.

Me: Are you having fun?

Girl: Yes.

Me: Are you having too much fun?

Girl: No! No, I'm not Ms. Ng!

Me: Don't you think the boys around you were having too much fun?

Girl: Yes, but I couldn't get out of the crowd! I was stuck in the middle! I wanted to move away, I swear!

(which, to be honest, is kind of fair. I got stuck in the middle of the crowd while trying to sift through the students and create a little space in that space-less amoeba)

Me: Did you tell them you wanted to move away?

Girl: No...

Me: The boys at this school are very gentlemanly. If a girl asks for them to move away a little to get some air, they will oblige. However, if you don't ask, their (tiny hormonal peas for) brains won't think it.

(although, I suspect she actually liked the gaggle of boys that were dancing all around her when I pulled her out)

Dear girl students: RESPECT YOURSELVES! It's not just about inappropriate behavior at school - no. It is much more than that.

Dear boy students: FREAKING POOHCOW. Just because a girl wants to dance with you doesn't mean you need to be so nasty about it. Control is a very manly skill. Get some.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sigh of relief

Today was a pretty good day, teaching-wise. The bad days might be over.

For now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's been a weird type of day. A weird type of week. I'm planning a Mental Health day soon. And it's really sad because this past weekend was so much fun and so relaxing. All it took was one day back in the classroom to ruin all the good that resting did.

It's also only been three weeks since winter break.

Today, we had a department meeting to talk about schedule changes. I don't like the bell schedules - we have at least 5 different ones for all the special days we have.

But I'm more than a little ticked off about the school days schedule. It's not something each school can change though - it goes down with the district. Which is just too bad.

Because I absolutely HATE having the end of the first semester after winter break. It's awful.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why my week sucked

Reason #6,247:

The setting - 4th period today. Wood Shop Boy is in this class. I call him Wood Shop Boy because his elective is wood shop, and he is forever showing me his creations from that class. He's actually quite talented, artistically and design-wise. He is not so great at math though, VERY teacher intensive. But he tries hard, is polite to everyone (except peers who get on his nerves), and calls me "ma'am." As a general rule, I hate being called "ma'am." However, I don't think I mind it when Wood Shop Boy calls me "ma'am." He doesn't say it like he thinks I'm a "ma'am." He says it like he thinks he is a kid and knows that whatever I'm telling him is for his benefit.

He is not the bad part of this week.

This past week. Students worked together to make a presentation that teaches how to solve a particular problem. Wood Shop Boy and his group walk up for their turn at the front of the room. All of a sudden, Under-Achiever Kid shouts out:

"Border control!"

Oh yeah. Wood Shop Boy is hispanic.

It was not loud enough for everyone in the class to hear. But I heard it, and was livid. I only told him that his actions deserved a double detention at the time, but later I hunted him down and had a serious conversation with him.

Who is he to judge who he thinks belongs here just by the color of people's skin?

He is an immigrant himself. Immigrants work hard to get here. They have to learn a new language, new customs, new education and traffic systems. They have to find a job, and a place to live. They miss their own home, friends, family. But they still come here. They still stay here. There is a reason for that and it is not just because they like an over-abundance of fast food and gas guzzling cars.

By saying this, he just insulted every immigrant in that classroom, which includes many of this fellow students (not just Wood Shop Kid), his teacher - who is also an immigrant, and himself and his family.

Whatever the government is doing with their border laws is the government's business. Whether you agree with the government or not, publicly insulting someone on this derogatory level is absolutely unacceptable in my classroom.

Under-Achiever Kid quickly agreed to double detention and a formal letter of apology to Wood Shop Boy when I told him that if he ever does something like this again, I will personally see to it that he receives a suspension.

I was told later by the 8th grade counselor that handing out suspensions is not within my authority. No, I won't hand out suspensions.

But I can still present my argument for it to the VPs who do.

I don't expect Under-Achiever Kid to do this again - at least not while I'm around. But still. I was so shocked and so angry! I like this kid, he is super-smart and funny. I think that's what makes his actions today so very disappointing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chinese Mothers

On a related note to yesterday's post, here's something interesting to read.

And yes, I am a TOTAL Chinese Mother to my students - and it is indeed a war zone. Every single day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

That's why

Wannabe Basketball Boy: Why are you giving me a detention??!! I don't care if you give me a detention!

Me: Why? ::deep breath in preparation for the follow::

Why am I giving you a detention? Because you just did something that, if you were caught doing it out there in the real world, people would either think you are a criminal - or that you are mentally insane.

Frankly, I don't care that you don't care right now - I care that I care.  Because I do not want you to grow up thinking it is OK to take someone else's eraser and put it in your mouth.

I DO care that you grow up right, with socially acceptable manners and decorum. I DO care about my job as your teacher, so I care about doing everything in my power to help you realize that some day, you are going to care. And you ARE going to care, because I cared enough to interrupt any actual teaching right now to call you out on your shit.

This is me caring, kid. And all your attitude isn't going make me stop.

Friday, January 7, 2011

So freaking tired.

And that is all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Make up your mind already

I guess what I really want them to say is that January 11th is a no-school day and I can get back to here.

Last week: January 11th will be a minimum traditional bell schedule day.

Four days ago: January 11th will NOT be a minimum day. January 18th will be a minimum day.

Two days ago: Correction! January 11th IS a minimum traditional day. NOT January 18th.

Yesterday: January 11th is NOT a minimum traditional day. Instead, it will be a BLOCK minimum day.

6 hours ago: Please stay tuned...January 11th schedule TBA...probably on the morning of January 11th.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cleaning out the closets

I did a bit of cleaning/reorganizing/redecorating in the classroom over winter break. It's kind of nice that students notice it, and like it, and are interested in what's on my walls.

Now all I need to do is find the perfect formation of student desks in my oddly too-long room.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Comfort teaching

I admit, there is a certain type of teaching style that I feel the most comfortable presenting. I like routines, I like patterns. It helps me to keep track of the content I'm supposed to teach, student behavior, and the methods of presentation to maximize student focus and learning retention.

It may not be the best way - I'm working on perfecting it. It may not be the most effective at the time - working on that too. But I tend to fall back to this style when I'm stressed about other things, distracted, or just plain tired. Like I said, routines are good for me.

Today was one of those routine days. It's only the second day back from winter break, but it feels like we never left for it in the first place. Where was my wonderful vacation? The snowboarding? The cookie baking? The good-food-eating? The glorious ten hours of sleep each night and waking up at the luxuriously late hour of 8 AM?

Apparently, routines are good for students too. Well, I knew that, but I re-learned its importance today. I was only half-present in the classroom, but things still ran smoothly. Students got work done. We corrected misconceptions. We had some laughs and some fun. We practiced new things and it was mostly due to the routines I spent the first two months of the school year setting up.

In a way, this is sort of like seeing the fruits of my labor. I was a poor teacher today, but I must not have been so bad over the past four months or else today would have gone much worse than the few minor glitches, which are normal when dealing with 35 people at a time anyway.

Also today, the 7th/8th grade math teachers presented a DATA walk to the rest of the teaching staff. We were phenomenal, thankyouverymuch. It was a thoughtfully done presentation. And I'm really lucky to be part of this school.

Monday, January 3, 2011

And we're back!

Today was the first day of school after winter break.

The xerox machine went down. Again.

It wasn't as difficult to get back into the teaching groove as it was on the day after Thanksgiving.

I got pissed off at my 4th period class. Normal.

Singing Boy tripped over a chair and smashed his face on the edge of the back counter. He gave himself a black eye. Also normal.

On the other hand, I only arrived at school 2 hours early and stayed only 2 hours late. Only! Totally not normal.