Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chinchillas vs. MacBook - Chinchillas win!

It's been an exceptionally good week. Even 6th period was decent. Even the science teacher's chinchillas escaping and ruining my laptop cart that he was borrowing for his class can't get me down.

Actually, the chinchilla thing is pretty funny.

My laptop cart contains twenty 13" MacBooks set up for student use. My school subscribes to Study Island, which I have never used just because there's not enough time in the day. But I was planning on incorporating some of it this year.

The science teacher - our official school Zookeeper - borrows my laptop cart a lot. We have to share; there are only 5 laptop carts on campus. 100 Macbooks + 35 Mac desktops in the computer lab + 15 odd PCs in the library = the combined computing power available for students on a campus with a 1300+ population.

Yeah. We're working on the student-to-computer ratio. It's going to take some time.

Anyway, I have Mobile Lab 4, one of the newer additions to our computing arsenal. I used it a lot last year for students to research definitions and the properties of addition and subtraction. We also played a few games that came with our online textbooks. It costs $25,000 for the whole kit and kaboodle: the laptops, the software, the cables, the attached printer and wireless router, the cart itself.

$25,000 worth of equipment. Taken down by a pair of rampant chinchillas. Dude, don't mess with chinchillas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Let's get something straight. I am not the best teacher in the world. I am not even the best teacher that I could possibly be.

I have a lot to learn.

I have a lot to practice and improve upon.

I make mistakes on an hourly basis.


When I speak with different people, and hear their stories, I realize: Hey. I'm pretty good at this. Not the best. But pretty good.

Story #1: Teacher A has 3 classes of 15-18 students in each class. She's drowning in paperwork. She wonders in awe how I manage 5 classes of 30-35 students worth of paperwork.

Story #2: I have a student whom I shall call Elf, because he has super large ears. He tends to bounce off the walls, distract others and succumb to distractions. It's constant. It's annoying. It's one of the reasons why I've had a serving of Hagan Daz everyday for the past two weeks. It takes every fiber of my being to be patient with him. To keep up the energy. To make sure he's on task - or as on task as a kid like him can possibly be. Yet, I still have a good impression of him, on a personal level. He's not malicious, or hateful, and even though he drives me nuts he hasn't been outright defiant or rude towards me. He has good days and bad days. He tries - usually. He raises his hand to participate - and is actually pretty bright, under all the obnoxious shoe squeaking and bird whistles.

And then, one of his teachers from last year says, "You think he's horrible. Just imagine him on his worst day, multiply it by 100, and that's how he is with his mother all the time. She has given up on him, and he knows it. He's probably given up on her. Mr. Awesome 7th Grade English Teacher had to call Elf out on his rudeness to his own mother when they were having a parent conference last year. Actually, the way you describe him makes me think he's really matured since last year."

I am so glad I am not in his mother's shoes. That poor, ignorant, worn-down woman.

Elf doesn't respond to detentions though. I'll need a different tack on this one.

Story #3: SPED teachers deserve their own castle in heaven, and I have the utmost respect for them. But there is one at my school who seems just as ditzy as some of the students. She calls an IEP meeting, then doesn't give the time for it. She calls the time for it, but doesn't give the location. She calls the location, but doesn't actually tell the necessary teachers until literally 5 minutes before it's supposed to start, and then decides to call a new day because no one can make it. But when she calls for a meeting on a new day, SHE DOESN'T GIVE THE TIME OR LOCATION, NOR DOES SHE TELL THE APPROPRIATE GEN. ED TEACHERS. Again.

And then she meets me in the staff copy room and gives me a half-hour spiel on how the kid is doing, asking for the same from me in return, when I no longer have the kid in my class anymore due to a schedule change THAT SHE MADE HERSELF.

Um. Yeah. So, that's why I think I'm not so bad at what I do after all. I can't be all bad when Elf actually follows directions from me, or the daily 160 homework papers is a breeze to correct and grade, on top of the weekly 160 test and quiz papers, on top of the 160 bi-monthly appetizer papers, on top of the 160 quarterly benchmark tests, on top of whatever other papers that float through my hands regarding bulletins and assignments and projects and syllabi and progress reports.

And that's not counting the 22 chapters worth of lessons to keep organized.


On a lighter note: earthquake! On the Great California Shake-out, no less.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stress management

Some yummy Thai food, a good night's sleep, and a Saturday filled with watching Gilmore Girls has lifted my mood significantly. Writing it out in a rant also helped.

But just in case Monday is awful, here's a little reminder to myself:

I have the right to do my job. It is possible to have my rights infringed upon. I am in charge, I don't apologize for it - for when I'm wrong, yes. But NOT for being the teacher, not for being the one who makes the decisions for my classroom.

I don't need to reward students for doing what they should be doing in the first place. They shouldn't even need a warning. They should already know, and should already do it. Because they are students, and that is their job. The rewards and positive reinforcement structure I have - built in all over the place, by the way - is just a perk. A privilege. Their greed is apparent when they want more.

And as their teacher, I am in charge of curtailing that greed before it gets out of control. I am in charge of making sure they grow up to be minimally obnoxious.

Apparently, I am their parent. Geez. I should have a universal license for discipline. Like a doctor. Or something.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Walk in, walk out

I walked in assuming the best.

I walked out not.

I hate this, and I don't know how to make it better. I can try all I want, but I don't know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Assume the best

Rick Smith says in Conscious Classroom Management that great teachers:
...assume the best...When we start to assume the best about our students and ourselves, teaching changes and results happen."
I've been trying my best to assume the best in my 6th period class. I've adusted my management so that they get a daily reward for good behavior (on top of the quarterly reward). They have a visual aid that reminds them of how they are progressing during the class (a pocket chart with colored cards - you know, the blue/yellow/orange/red kind). I have consequences for inappropriate behaviors, acknowledgements for appropriate ones.

6 weeks into the school year, I'm STILL pulling my hair out with this class. It's one of the reasons why I haven't blogged a lot lately. I promised myself that I would only blog about positive things.

And 6th period is most definitely NOT a positive thing.

But it's my job to turn it around so that IT IS.

So what's my action plan? Besides continuing what I already have in place, that is. Because I firmly believe that what I have in place is good - hell, it's working wonders for my 4 other classes. SOMETHING must be going right.

I need something else. I need something else. I have not thought of ANYTHING else this evening except that I NEED SOMETHING ELSE.

And then it hit me.

I need to make 6th period as positive a place as I'm trying to make my blog.

Because, as of right now, it isn't. I haven't assumed the best in my 6th period - or rather, I've grown to un-assume the best because I've done things that, in combination with the personal histories and temperament of 6th period, has snowballed into the most horrific class I've taught since my failed phase 2 of student teaching at EIB.

So I've got to change my behavior. Because God knows the kids won't do initiate it. They don't have the self-control - nor the self-assurance, nor the self-confidence - to do so. At least, not yet.

So I'm changing my behavior, in order to affect my experience, which will affect my 6th period's experience, which will affect all of our attitudes.

Which will then affect behaviors - for the good, and benefit, of all.

I'm starting with notes inspired by thingsweforget. I'm making, printing, and choosing some in each set to hand-write an additional note. Something more personalized. Then I'm giving them out to 6th period at the end of the day.

These notes will only be positive. Appreciations. Observations. Thank you notes. Encouragement notes. These notes will have a space for students to reply (optional). These notes are intended to say the things I forget to say during class - things I forget because I'm so busy playing "wack-a-mole," as one of my colleagues put it the other day, as a form of classroom management. And Wack-A-Mole is tiring, for me and for the moles.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Get informed

Sometimes, I get the feeling I'm the only teacher who enjoys chaperoning middle school dances. That is, until I take a look at all my super colleagues who also enjoy chaperoning middle school dances.

At our dances, students wear wristbands which get cut off if they do anything inappropriate - dirty dancing mostly, but it also includes gum, shoving, pushing, and PDA. I love cutting wrist bands. It's a power trip.

This past friday was our first dance of the school year. I cut of bunches and bunches, but there was less whining and running away in the process. And after I cut off the first few, the students loosened up and focused less on trying to get away with bumping&grinding, and focused more on just being kids and enjoying the first dance of the year.

I did escort a young lady - one of my students from last year actually - out of the dance for PDA with a boy (a current student). She denied ever knowing it was inappropriate, that she was never told, that she was absent during the day the school broadcasted dance procedures during advisory period. The excuses never ended about how "I didn't know!"

I told her that her problem was she didn't do her research. She didn't get thoroughly informed before she did something, and that can be fatal in the real world. I also told her I was glad she got to experience this at a middle school dance, which doesn't at all matter in the long run of things. Because after she was done denying any knowledge that PDA was unacceptable at school, she started on how dances weren't important, and that she never wanted to go to a dance again.

The father came to pick her up and we had a little chat. They are good people, and they try their best, but in my opinion, they are too strict with procedures and not strict enough with values. That made absolutely no sense huh? It's hard to describe. It's like those people that always say no, for the sake of having said no, rather than for anything else. It's like the Zero Tolerance policy and the expulsion of a student for bringing a butter knife to school so that they can eat hummus on crackers for lunch.

Anyway, that little incidence gave me some experience on what to say and do now when students give that "I didn't know!" excuse. GET INFORMED. There is no excuse for voluntary ignorance.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekends are for weekending

Fun only!

This weekend is the first since school started where I don't have any papers to grade, I don't have lessons to plan, I don't even have ideas to flesh out and bring to reality.

It's been wonderful.

What HAVE I been doing then?:

~ ate home cooked meals properly, at a dining table, not at my desk, or on my lap, or standing up.

~ read Goliath. Leviathan and Behemoth were better stories. Goliath just seemed like a hurried wrap-up to the trilogy, with explanations thrown in at the last minute to fill in the gaps in detail. Westerfield seemed more interested in pulling together a wide variety of minor characters than in putting more depth into his main ones. Still, I like Deryn/Dylan, and Alek. I wish there could have been more to their story.

~ watched a whole bunch of season premiers online.

~ getting more use out of my Netflix subscription before I close it down (again) in a few days.

~ BOOKED TICKET TO HK! super yay!