Monday, January 31, 2011

Because the Cool Kids Are Doing It

And because I want to be a cool kid like Summer and Bonnie and Bethany and Sarah, I HAVE to do it. Obviously.

But also, as an English teacher, it's a hard thing to express to students sometimes how awesome and weird and cool and stupid and irritating and amazing and wonderful language is, especially the English language. I'm in the midst of shepherding my sophomores through the mire that is Julius Caesar, and they don't really love it. But I wish I could make my love of the sound of language contagious.

So here's my vlog. I may not do this ever again, though I have recorded things with my voice for my students. Is it weird that I don't mind my voice, but it's watching my mouth move that bugs me? (I think I just heard my dad laughing at me after I typed that one.)

Anywho, here's the video:

Word list:
Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theater, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pajamas, Caught

What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
What do you call gym shoes?
What do you say to address a group of people?
What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
What do you call your grandparents?
What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

PS: Yes, that is a leopard print Snuggie on the couch behind me. Don't judge.
PPS: I went to the gym today and I look like crap. Lo siento.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oh for the love of Wednesdays.

It is currently 6:55 pm. I have been in my house for approximately 40 minutes. I didn't leave school until about 5:45 pm. And 5:30 pm was about the first time today since around 7:00 am that I was alone. Like, alone alone.

You see, as I have covered in this blog before, Wednesdays are my long days with no prep period. And today was the additional element of the TLC class I'm teaching to other teachers. And that is just long. Just long!

There were some moments of win, though. My AP kids, for some reason, on this essay they're writing right now, they're being less needy and are begging for my help a bit less. This is certainly progress, but I do allow them some leeway in terms of question-asking about this essay because I have to keep reminding myself that we didn't do some of the assignments we did last year that set them up better for research. Thus I think I need to do a little backfilling in how to research. (... it is so wrong that I'm about to admit this, but I miss teaching the junior paper because I miss teaching research in such a meaningful and in-depth way. ::sigh::)

Also, my third period is emerging as my ... cerebral? ... class. Somehow, they just ask these great questions or bring up these great points. I'm lovin' it.

And then there were my fifth period sophomores. I was a bit upset with them because they SUCKED their homework big time last night, BUT their vocabulary stories and poems were really, really, really good for sophomores. I even offered extra credit for writing a rhyming poem (I mean, we're doing Shakespeare, after all!) and some of them just wrote these hilariously weird poems (they didn't have a whole heck of a lot to work with -- their vocab list consists of words like "aggrandize" and "execrable" and "quotidian." LOL. OH SAT words, how you create some hilarious poetry.) One of the poems was about ninjas. Always win. Another about a dictator, based on one of the students in the class. Also win. Then I read them my modernized rendition of Caesar. LOL. It was pretty funny. Then, to explain the difference between the modernized recitation and oral interpretation, I did the Valley Girl interpretation of Hamlet's "To Be or Not To Be." (You know, because I have the first half memorized from AP Lit my senior year. Like you do.) (This freaks the kids out excessively. Nobody MEMORIZES things any more! Good golly!) And then we proceeded on with Shakespeare -- Julius Caesar Act II. Wheeeee.

Also, I found this article today on CNN during my few brief moments of transition time (my kids take FOR-EV-ER to pack up their stuff!) and am very amused by it, to be very honest. Obviously, this is a dramatically bad idea. I mean, at least, in the practical sense: teachers don't go home with the students, therefore how can they really assess the parenting that is going on there? Plus, wow, way to open up teachers to a whole new layer of attack by parents. As if I don't get enough emails already! Now, granted, the idea is for elementary school teachers to grade parents... I can't even IMAGINE the havoc this would wreak if it were to implemented in a high school. Specifically, at my school.

But. Let's say for grins and giggles that this idea were to move forward into a production phase at my school and I got to have input. My oh my would my criteria look vasty different. These are teenagers we're talking about. Firstly, my grade for a parent would be affected by the quantity and tone of their emails. I have no problem with parents emailing me, especially about concerns they have about their students and I have no problem sharing observations. Email is a fabulous tool, but it can also become a weapon. I have problems with parents email me to ask questions that either their student should know the answer to, or to spare their student the hurt, heartbreak, frustration, or whatever they think their kid is going to have to feel by asking me a question they might not like the answer to. (No never mind that it says very clearly on the syllabus that parents sign that I only discuss grades with students and NOT parents.)

Email also allows parents (well, anyone really, but obviously it is the nature of the profession) to say things that they wouldn't (or, at least, I'd like to think they wouldn't) say to your face or in a room full of people who have been pulled together to talk about a student. And this is problematic because it isn't productive. So, certainly, my Parent Grading Criteria would include items about quantity of emails, the tone of the emails, and the relative cooperation parents show in emails.

But also, the main elements of my criteria would involve grading parents on how willing they are to hold their students accountable to their work, their ethics, their behavior, and their learning. I am so, so, so tired of students never, EVER being allowed to feel frustration. Or hurt. Or failure. Especially failure. Because too often, parents swoop in and fix it before they can feel it. It's no wonder so many of our students are self-medicating and essentially anesthetizing themselves with Oxy and marijuana and alcohol: no one has helped provide them with the emotional tools they need to feel. Stop bringing them their lunches. Stop running interference with their teachers and their coaches. Stop trying to get them out of a school punishment. Or a home punishment. And stop asking teachers to meet with you when the student earns (yes, that's right, earns) a B on a paper. Or in the class. Or on a dinky quiz. Quite frankly, a B kid isn't on my radar. F kids. D kids. C--- kids. These kids are on my radar. (And by "on my radar," I mean hand-wriging about and talking to the kid about and trying to create assignments and assessments that might FINALLY tap into something in that student that will ignite a spark. A and B kids, in my mind, already have that spark ignited.) A- kids? B+ kids? These are kids who are fine. They are learning. They are thriving based on my assessments. They're good. Chillax. So emailing teachers about those things would definitely equate to demerits in the parent gradebook.

But really, it's a bad idea. A really bad idea. Do I think that placing all of the blame on teachers for the failures of the schools is fair? Not by a longshot. Do I think that parents need to be held more accountable for their children's success? Maybe. Do I think the students need to be held more accountable for their own success? Absofrigginlutely. But do I think that opening this kind of can of worms is going to work? No. It's arbitrary at best, and potentially incendiary at worst. We (and by we, there are many, many moving parts at play here) keep trying to address symptoms, but really, we're not addressing the root problem, which I am starting to think more and more is the cultural shift in parenting where, at some point, everyone collectively decided that kids should never have to feel hurt or upset ever. But there are different types of hurt and different types of upset; kids should never be bullied. Kids should never be mistreated intentionally. Kids should feel safe in their homes, classrooms, and in public. But kids should be hurt by failure. They should be allowed to feel upset when a teacher calls them out for inappropriate classroom behavior, and learn that sometimes, teachers get annoyed, and sometimes, you do have to be criticized for something you are doing that is unacceptable in the context of your circumstances. They should be allowed to feel upset when they get frustrated by an assignment or a quiz, and should be made to sit with that frustration until they can figure out a way to move through it, past it, or address it and fix it.

So that's that. I think it's time to go to bed. Oh. Wait. It's only 7:20. Maybe bed isn't quite in the cards yet. ::grumble::

As a final thought, one of my colleagues did have this to say about grading parents: "I mean, hey, they think they can assess and criticize us with no official training. I think turnabout is fair play." Heh.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Things I Do For Sophomores. Or, Sorry, Billy Shakespeare...

In my sophomore class, we're just tiptoeing into Julius Caesar, and one of their final assessments for this unit is going to be an oral assessment of some kind. The kids have six options, ranging from just memorizing something like a sonnet, to doing a puppet show. But one of their options is a rewriting -- they can take Shakespeare's original and change the language to make it more modern, with the additional suggestion that they select some kind of stereotype and/or particular vernacular to imitate. When I first rolled it out, we didn't have a whole ton of time to discuss the particulars, so I need to do that tomorrow.

And to help them grasp the concept of what I'd like to see, I wrote my own model. Based on Julius Caesar. It's either brilliance or absolute garbage, but hey, it took me all of about ten minutes (maybe less than that) to throw it together, and though I think it's probably not that authentic, I bet my kids won't really know the difference. I was aiming for Jersey Shore, but I think I landed somewhere between the Valley (a la Cher in Clueless, whose voice I can't NOT hear!), New Jersey (I stole "Ant'ny" from Jerseylicious. I won't lie.), and Harlem (damn ethnic studies class where we studied the grammar of AAVE -- I had to try really hard not to include more "he be fightin" "he be trippin'" etc.)... but I think they'll still get the point, especially when I perform it for them with gestures and an accent. HA.

Here's the original, from Act I, scene ii:


You pull'd me by the cloak; would you speak with me?


Ay, Casca; tell us what hath chanced to-day,

That Caesar looks so sad.


Why, you were with him, were you not?


I should not then ask Casca what had chanced.


Why, there was a crown offered him: and being

offered him, he put it by with the back of his hand,

thus; and then the people fell a-shouting.


What was the second noise for?


Why, for that too.


They shouted thrice: what was the last cry for?


Why, for that too.


Was the crown offered him thrice?


Ay, marry, was't, and he put it by thrice, every

time gentler than other, and at every putting-by

mine honest neighbours shouted.


Who offered him the crown?


Why, Antony.


Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca.


I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it:

it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Mark

Antony offer him a crown;--yet 'twas not a crown

neither, 'twas one of these coronets;--and, as I told

you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my

thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he

offered it to him again; then he put it by again:

but, to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his

fingers off it. And then he offered it the third

time; he put it the third time by: and still as he

refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped their

chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps

and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because

Caesar refused the crown that it had almost choked

Caesar; for he swounded and fell down at it: and

for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of

opening my lips and receiving the bad air.

And here's my adaptation:

Act I, Scene II

CASCA: Yo, what gives, bro? Why you be pullin’ on my threads?

BRUTUS: Dude, bro, what went down up in there? Why’z Caesar lookin’ so to’ up?

CASCA: Pssh. C’mon, dawg, you was out dere, righ’?

BRUTUS: Dang, man, why do you think I’d ask if I’da been dere?

CASCA: Yo, check it – here’s the haps. Caesar got offered that, you know, weird-lookin’ crown thing they got out there, but yo, like, I guess it didn’t jive with his look or somethin’, cuz he be wavin’ it off like it was a fly or something. And then the crowd, they was was like so excited – it was off the HOOK in the square.

BRUTUS: Then what was the second noise?

CASCA: Aw, dude, same thing, man!

CASSIUS: Yo, yo, yo, they be shoutin’ three times – why’d they yell the last time?

CASCA: Awwww boy! For the same thang!

BRUTUS: Hold up! They offered him the dang thing three flippin’ times?

CASCA: Believe it, son! And he turned it down like every time, but no, like, seriously, though, the crowd was so stoked – they was like fist pumping and crap, they was so excited.

CASSIUS: What butt-kissin’ meat head be offerin’ him some stupid golden hats n crap?

CASCA: Ant’ny.

BRUTUS: Aww, what? Naw, really? Dude, what the hell?

CASCA: Naw, for reals, though, I ain’t got no idea why they’s all about him. It was kah-razy. I saw that Mark Ant’ny creep hold out the friggin’ thing – it was like, sorta a crown, but more, I dunno, bro, it didn’t look right – and, yo, like I already told you, he like rejected it, but yo, check it – I totally think the old dude like really wanted it, like bad. Then Ant’ny like, tried again, and, like, dude, for reals, C-dog wanted a piece of it – didn’t wanna let that stuff go – and then Ant’ny be tryin’ a third time and, man, dude, seriously, that third time, you’da thought the crowd done lost they friggin’ MINDS, cuz they was so excited! All these land mines and grenades and their men be fist pumping and throwin’ their hats up in the air and yellin’ so much that their breath just stank somethin’ fierce, bro – Caesar, man, he like, couldn’t handle it, and he like, fell or somethin’ -- like, for reals, fell down, but like, man, it was so friggin’ funny, but I wasn’t laughin’ cuz, dang, man, I was tryin’ to keep that stink out my mouth.

Oh the things I do for them.

Sorry, dearest Bard. Sometimes, you just aren't that relevant. But with my help, I guess you can be? (Actually, as much as I hate teaching Julius Caesar, it probably has the most relatability potential, given that the whole play is really just Mean Girls in togas... seriously. I'm packing that movie for tomorrow, too. Too many of them seem to have NOT seen it, so my explanations are falling a bit flat.)

GTL in peace, Will.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Huzzah! Friday!

This has really felt like the longest week ever. Between the starting of a new semester and the fact that, unlike normal weeks, we saw our kids every day this week, it just felt tedious and long. Plus, my room is a D-I-ZASTER. It's getting better, slowly but surely: I purged some old assignments today that my students seemed unwilling to claim, I reorganized my front table some, and I was making some progress before I left today, but dang, man. There are stacks of paper EVERYWHERE and it is so frustrating to try to operate on a daily basis not being able to find anything.

Also, starting any semester is challenging for reasons that I always forget. Your class lists keep changing for days after the semester starts, so none of your attendance lists are correct. And trying to make a grade book to keep up with the work you assign? Forget about it. I got overly ambitious and made my gradebook because I have already given two quizzes, assigned vocabulary homework and notes homework, and collected a work packet. But now, those gradebooks are wrong. New kids added, original kids gone ... so everything is incorrect. Bah. So those will need to be redone. I've already learned the new names, which is good, but the biggest wrench in the gears so far is that I have one student in APEL who was gone three of the four days this week, and two students in my sophomore class who missed all week. Which means they're already a week behind. Now, the APEL kid will be fine. But these other two kids? They aren't exactly kids that can afford to miss one day, let alone four days. And four days of a brand new semester. ::facepalm:: Poor kids.

The good news is, though, that my class sizes are down to 39. Woo! 39! So that means that the 42 desks that I have are too many, so I might be able to jettison two of them to the outer realms of campus. (Note: I will only be sending two adrift, as having 39 desks rather than 40 would make my OCD-like tendencies kick into overdrive.) Two desks won't really gain me back a whole ton of space, but it's a start. And you better believe that the two desks that I jettison will be the stupid "small desks" that my kids insist on swapping around the classroom, even though I tell them repeatedly that I keep the small desks on the corners on purpose, so that I can easily maneuver around them, but noooo. They keep swapping. And it drives me absolutely batty.

I didn't leave campus today until about 5:30. ::sigh:: I wish I could say that it was productive time spent, but it wasn't really. I mean, I cleaned off my front table, cleaned off some desks, did some organizing of files on my computer, screened the rest of The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged DVD, and rewrote my agendas for Monday. But other than that, I was distracted by colleagues wanting keys and then returning said keys and then staying to chat. I don't think I'll need to go to school this weekend, but the thought it tempting if only to get some copying done for the week as I move into actually teaching Julius Caesar. But I think I'm going to stick to trying to clean up the mess that is my house. I have some chunks of time this coming week where I'll be able to focus on cleaning up my classroom, so I really do think I can focus on my house. But the overall mess that are the spaces I live in every day is really starting to drive me to distraction in every aspect of my life.

So now I'm home, feet up, watching Gilmore girls and blogging. I thought maybe I might have plans with my mom, but I haven't heard from her yet, so I might set about either cleaning or crocheting. Or a bath. Or just plain ol' bed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Do I Hear Bud Mehan's Voice Everyday?

Because I make a bazillion decisions every day. And it is so stinkin' exhausting!

Bud Mehan was one of our professors in our graduate program at UCSD and among the texts that he had us read in his Educational Sociology course was an article about teacher decision making and studies that have been done attempting to quantify the number of decisions teachers make in the classroom. Short of having one of those little metal clicky things that the people at Costco use to count customers that walk in, I have no idea how people do this. Probably with 10 video cameras mounted in their classrooms, capturing every conversation that goes on, and then having the teacher narrate what they were doing.

How many decisions did I make today?

A lot. And the thought of trying to list all of them is maniacal. But on a typical day, I make decisions about...

* how to roll out material
* how to change a lesson midstream that isn't working
* student discipline
* where to stand in the classroom while teaching
* where to stand as class is starting
* how to use my technology effectively
* what kinds of comments to make
* whether to praise a student for something
* whether to punish a student for something
* where to put things
* how to answer a student's question
* how to give feedback on a piece of writing
* whether to have students discuss as a group
* where to write things (computer? doc cam? white board? Not at all?)

... okay, that barely even sounds like enough, but maybe I'm just too brain dead to think of other decisions I make. And now this post is starting to bore me.

On an unrelated note, today was fairly uneventful. With my AP kids, we discussed some writing stuff, and here's why doc cams are awesome: because I can simply snatch any paper I want off of a desk , throw it up under the doc cam and it appears, as if by magic, onto the projector screen. Today, I edited paragraphs in front of kids, and the kids that volunteer are exceptionally brave. It makes me really proud of them, because what is a pretty excruciatingly painful process is also incredibly helpful to them, and they actually appreciate the helpful part. So I had kids BEGGING me to read theirs, but I didn't have time to do a whole bunch of them today. I am kinda mean to them. I won't lie. Well, not to all of them.

Harkening back to decision making, how you respond to a kid and whether you sorta-kinda make fun of their failures depends on the kid. I definitely asked student to clarify for me whether they were discussing non-fiction texts (the assignment) or livestock (they used the verb "handling" in a very weirdly farming kind of way). I asked another student why they were using words to describe debutantes in a paragraph about non-fiction. (I believe her word choice was something like "regal" or "exquisite" or something equally obnoxious.) I write "pronoun abuse" in the margin of a paragraph where the student kept switching between "they," "you," "people," and "authors." It was SO confusing. I drew a "sad panda" on one of them, but mostly for their lovely phrase "to prove that things that happened in the past happened in the past" or something weird like that. (I was determined to remember it, so of course I forgot it.) Oh they're so funny. And it cracks me up that they just wave their hands and say things like, "oh, haha, that was a silly mistake. I did it in a hurry." I'm sure many teachers would go straight to annoyance, or be offended at some of the offenses against the English language. Don't get me wrong, I get annoyed, but there are a couple of studies I've seen that suggest that humor makes learning resonate, so as long as I know I've made the problem clear, but have done it in an engaging way, I think it's just less stressful to laugh at a silly or stupid mistake and tell the student, "cool, so that's not going to be in your final draft, right? Awesome."

And then there were my sophomores, who are freaked out about poetic meter, but holy crap, asking such good questions! It's as if they ACTUALLY want to know about it! It's weird. But it's making me super excited to be teaching them. And it's making even MORE excited to be starting Julius Caesar next week. Huzzah!

On that note, I think I should lesson plan. Hooray!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gravity Has Extra Pull Today

And you know how I know gravity has extra pull today? Both sodas I have attempted to drink have ended up in a dented puddle on the ground. Stupid stupid. So I've ended up having half-sodas that were almost completely flat. I know these aren't technically teacher-y things, but it's almost all I can think about right now.

The good news is that we just started a new semester yesterday, which means that as of right now, I have no grading. It's a rather magical feeling, to be honest. I have been spending a little more time than usual lesson planning, but that's because I'm adding some new things to my sophomore curriculum this year. We moved our teaching of Julius Caesar to this semester, despite normally doing it in the first semester, because we completely and totally ran out of time, and getting sophomores through Caesar in a week is ... well, not only not nice, but just not possible. But four weeks? This feels luxurious. I am actually going to make it through it. Slowly, ish. And so the new stuff? Poetic meter. It's crazy. Totally crazy. But it's hard. And that's why I'm doing it. Also, my students legitimately suck at memorizing things. It's so weird. I remember memorization being so drilled into us by high school that it was the easiest thing a teacher asked us to do. But I think teachers have gotten so far away from teaching that requires strict memorization that our students really just don't know how. So all my kids are really going to need to know are the different metrical feet and metrical patterns. That's about it.

I'm also very excited about their final project for Shakespeare: an oral interpretation! They have six options, but all of them require actually performing. I'm excited to see what they come up with -- they've got many options of scenes. Also, one of the options is a puppet show. I hope they pick this option. I'm kinda stoked about it. I also made a big fat fool of myself today by demonstrating an oral interpretation of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. I did it ... as a valley girl. It was quite priceless. The kids weren't really quite sure what to make of it, but I think they were amused and slightly offended. Mostly because I was generally imitating them and how they talk.

So that's that. What else happened today? I got upset with my fourth period class because they don't really know how to not talk when I'm talking. It's incredibly irritating. So they lost the privilege of my teaching today, at least for part of the period because, really, why should I sit there and do battle with them when they don't want my wisdom? Too much work, not enough payoff.

Then after school was my department chair meeting. This one was fairly uneventful and drama free, though, seriously, teachers can invent drama out of nowhere, mostly because they come in late or aren't listening. It's sad sometimes.

I left school about 5:30. ::sigh:: And now I'm sitting on my recliner, contemplating the gym. I really have little excuse not to go -- I've eaten. I have no lesson planning to do. It's getting late enough that it might not be that crowded. ... ugh. But I already missed Monday's workout because of work-related burnout, so I must power on.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Eighth Hat

In my post from Wednesday, I discussed the many different hats that I wear. And today, via email, I was reminded of my eighth hat: Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador.

It's that time of year. College applications are basically done (and having done more than 30 letters of recommendation, I am now way more acquainted with this process than I care to be) and so the contacting of prospective candidates now begins for every major college. Last year, I became officially a part of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network, or CAAAN, after *thinking* I had enrolled a few years back (I never received any students to contact, so after some poking and prodding of the local Cornellian in charge of the San Diego CAAAN chapter, I had seven or eight students assigned to me).

Whew. Eight hats. And this eighth hat is clearly one that is going to mean extra time. In the email I received today, the CAAAN representative said we would probably each have at least eight students to contact, given that, once again, the number of prospective applicants in the area has increased. Quite mightily, actually. Now, normally I don't like to do this kind of math, but here it is: if each of those eight interviews takes at least half an hour, that's going to be at least four hours of my life. But that's not counting commute time, waiting time, notetaking time after the students leave, and filling out the paperwork time. So if each student takes approximately an hour, that's eight hours. And some of the meetings (note that I've been deliberately avoiding the word "interview" -- in the training materials we receive, we are reminded several [million] times that Cornell doesn't call these meetings "interviews." You know, because Cornell is the kinder, friendlier Ivy.) (While you're applying. It's the least kind and friendly once you're actually there.) (But don't tell the kids that.) ANYway... some of the meetings can take more than an hour, especially if you find yourself with a particularly chatty or inquisitive little hopeful Cornellian.

And then there are some that last fewer than thirty minutes and FEEL like nine hours. Like the kid I interviewed last year who wanted to major in Economics because his dad wanted him to major in Economics and didn't even know WHERE CORNELL WAS. And if I recall correctly, the phrase, "oh, I didn't realize it was somewhere where there was winter" was uttered.

Despite the realization, as a result of this whole blogging thing, that I really and truly do have a LOT on my plate, this is probably the hat that I enjoy wearing the most. First of all, it happens in a very narrow window of time. We generally have about three or four weeks to squeeze in all of the student contact meetings, we file our reports, and the job is over. So though it's a lot of time in the span of a few weeks, hey, no big deal. Last year, I used it as an excuse to camp out at a coffee shop or cafe an hour before the designated meeting time to squeeze in some grading.

But in the bigger, grander scheme of things, I enjoy doing the student interviews because I feel like it's an important way to give back to Cornell. I can't contribute too much money to them, because I basically make none, so there will never been any McMillan-flavored buildings on campus and such, and clearly I live 3,000 miles away from Cornell, so I can't mentor or otherwise support current students. But I can, from the comfort of a local Starbucks, meet with a prospective candidate and find out whether or not they're a good fit for Cornell.

I also vividly remember my Cornell interview; it's the one that stuck the most clearly in my mind because it was so ... easy. So casual. It seems so weird for a hard-core Ivy League -- especially given that I was interviewing for a spot in the Engineering School -- to say that my interview was easy and casual. But being a part of the process now, I see why. That's their whole philosophy. Don't talk numbers. Don't talk grades. Don't talk about the things that are on all of their other application materials. Talk about them. Their passions. Their troubles. Their questions. It's so much easier and I think we learn a lot more about the kids than other schools that have what sound like fairly prescriptive interview protocol.

So that's my eighth hat. It wears me out to think about it just now, so I think I am going to lie back in my recliner and take a nap ... you know, to save up all of the rest I'm going to need to make it through this eighth heap of responsibility on my plate, aside from Speech and Debate, Science Olympiad, department chairs, and AP English teacher. Among all those other things.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Promised Pictures: My New Bulletin Boards

So, I did say in yesterday's post that I'd post pictures. So here they are:
The top pictures are of my "This I Believe" board and the other is of the Shakespeare board. After Tuesday's activity with Shakespearean Insults, there will be cartoons in the empty spaces on the Shakespeare one.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Time is Now 5:27 p.m....

... and it is Friday. And I am still at school.

::face plant onto desk::

Oh, the joys of Finals week. I did, however, just finish just about everything that I needed to do to get grades updated to reflect their final grades, save a pile of essays to grade and some make-up/late work to muddle through. But since school ended at 1:01 pm, I have been really rather productive.

I have ...
* graded 80 sets of final exam short answer questions.
* run 80 Scantrons through the Scantron machine. These Scantrons were double sided and slightly cranky.
* Graded 40 final exam essays
* Recorded 6 sets of grades at 80 grades each.
* Created two new bulletin boards (pictures to follow) -- one reflecting on my students' "This I Believe" speeches and one for our first sophomore unit of second semester, Shakespeare and Julius Caesar.
* Recorded a stack of late/make up work of approximately 4" in height from five periods' worth of students. THis is one of my absolute LEAST favorite adventures in teacher land: the late work pile.
* Exported and updated my grades onto my school website and adding an announcement to it to alert the kids to the changes.
* climbed all over desks to remove rogue staples from my bulletin boards that aren't "done up" yet. I'm OCD about my bulletin boards. THey must not have staples lurking in them, unless said staples are holding things onto the board.

And now, I think I'm going to basically just teleport my body home and leave everything exactly as it is. My classroom is a disaster, but at this point, given that it's now 5:33 and dinner time looms, it's inevitable that I'm going to have to come back at some point this weekend not only to clean up my classroom, but also make the zillions of copies I need to survive at LEAST Tuesday, the first day of a new semester.

Thus, onward. Cattywhompus desks and random piles of grading and paper be damned. There's always tomorrow at Tara.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Finals, Day 2

Remember how I said yesterday that I was planning to be super productive on my prep period this morning? Go ahead, go re-read yesterday's post. I'll wait. ::leans back and eats another brownie:: See that?

Yeah, that didn't happen. So, hmmm, let's see. I had to go retrieve some Scantrons from one of my English colleagues because I thought she was going to be the Captain of the Scantron to make sure they were being doled out appropriately; little did I know that my trip across campus and up to the second floor of our enormous N-building complex was sorta for naught because there were, in fact, Scantrons in the English supply closet ... that is around the corner from my classroom. ::facepalm:: I'm sure the walk did me good, though. And I still got Scantrons for my test. Win? I guess? Then, I checked my mailbox in the staff lounge and found the CPS form our student services guru left for me. Le sigh.

See, teachers are mandated reporters. Meaning that if I have an inkling about child abuse or neglect, I am legally obligated to report it. That's all.

Moving on to better things. Er, maybe not better. Yeah, I definitely didn't get much done. I did get my finals together, got them ordered by number, made the ten extra copies I needed to accommodate for the forty students who needed to take it (I think my class set was 30 ... :( ), made a new key because there are new questions, and wrote instructions on my white board for them. Then, I sorta-kinda sorted some of my mess on my desk, had breakfast, and suddenly it was time to greet the kids and get them started on their finals. While they finalled, I tried to lesson plan -- I got some done, but I'm basically starting to rethink all of it now. Heh. I always do this to myself. But I'm sure it will ultimately be fine. I just ... need to talk myself down off of a ledge where I try to do TOO MUCH IN TOO LITTLE TIME. I have this problem a lot. But I dislike mightily the idea of students just malingering in their seats. Anyway, I created some new materials for the Shakespeare unit, reviewed some of my assessment materials for that, began a four week unit calendar for the Shakespeare unit, and printed things out to photocopy this weekend before the new semester starts on Tuesday. I have a feeling on my Monday holiday day off, I'll be zinging copies away like I did early in the first semester. Hundreds and hundreds!

After school, we had a little going away party for one of our assistant principals, who just recently found out he's being transferred to another high school in our district. It's great for them and sucks for us. He's amazing. Really and truly. He's what holds our school together. He's organized, nice, always in a good mood, smart, hard working ... everything you hope for in an AP. Beth is replacing him, and I love her -- she was an AP for two years before stepping down into teaching this first semester, but she's going back into admin because they need her. And I love working with her, and she'll be taking over the job of department admin for my department again, so that's a bonus for me. But I love Dave. And Dave does our master schedule... this could be baaaad.

Then, I helped another colleague find some colored paper in the English paper cabinets because, you know, I am the Keeper of the Keys in the English department. And as soon as I knew it, it was time to flee campus for my gym appointment.

And now, it's 27 minutes past my 9:00 pm bedtime I set for myself this morning when I woke up so insanely tired, and I'm still awake because I just got home for the night.

Also, because I want this blog post to end on a possibly-more-positive note. About my kids. Because, after all, they're why I do this.

My students are awesome because ...

... they want to do a flash mob dance in the quad to this ... Which I think means I'm going to have to start learning it...

... they found genuine joy in watching Despicable Me the other day. I love the sound of a room full of teenagers laughing at something cute and innocent, and not a Internet Fail Friday fail of humanity. I like when they laugh at cartoons. At cute things. At the goodness and pureness in the world, rather than the insane and stupid. I love them.

... they ply me with treats in an attempt to butter me up for some reason or another. It doesn't work, because I'm mean, but it keeps me fed nonetheless.

... they make funny faces at me in the hallways and/or absolutely freak out when they happen to see me in the quad or walking by a classroom they're in. And they get SUPER excited when I make a funny face or wave back. Teachers have an incredible amount of sway over how a kid's moment-to-moment life goes; that is, a simple wave or smile or acknowledgement goes a long way with pretty much all kids.

... they indulge me when I'm being silly. Since I don't get mad really easily (okay, MAYBE that's a lie. I don't get mad at my students easily...), sometimes I'm just irritated or annoyed at them, especially when they don't get quiet. But as I learned from my super amazingsauce methods instructor at UCSD, you never waste your voice and energy on quieting your kids down. I have absolutely mastered the art of the quiet, slightly impatient stare. It's brilliant. But sometimes, when I'm not really mad, but wanting to just move on, I'll add something silly that the students inevitably follow. Such as putting my finger to my nose, Nose Goes style, and waiting for everyone to freak out and catch on. Patting my head until they all are doing it. Monday, I made moose antlers with my hands and waiting until the WHOLE class -- and I mean the WHOLE class, even Cool Hipster Kid in the back of the room and Aloof Smart Kid in the front of the room -- had moose antlers with their hands. Then I made them wiggle them. First the right hand. Then the left hand. A moment of silly in a fairly stressful day otherwise, but they do indulge me. And they're happy to play along, because they've now had a break, they can refocus, and they're paying attention. (Mostly.)

So that's that for tonight. Maybe tomorrow, as an homage to the end of finals, I'll share the wit and wisdom of our current junior class about their understanding of American Literature. Or perhaps my students' beliefs. They were pretty good.

And now? Bed. 39 minutes late. Give or take the shower.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finals, Day One

Oy vey. Finals. Which inevitably means grades are due. And my AP kids this year are grade grubby little suckahs, so they've been driving me INSANE in the membrane about their final grades, so I'm trying desperately trying to get them as updated as possible, and I still have one more fairly major thing to grade, and I've been honestly and truly trying to grade them every night, but holy crap on a cracker I have so many OTHER things going on that's making it really hard to finish. I'm training for a half marathon, so I've been trying to diligently start the baby steps into training for that, so I've tried to etch out time each night to work out, and I'm really going to try not to have tonight be the night that I don't work out. I'm also trying to put Christmas away, feed myself, make sure my finals are together and I have all the materials I need, and sleep enough. And though I know there are some teachers who sometimes pull all nighters or grade at night, but it's just not fair for me to grade them when I'm tired.

Also, I wear a lot of hats. Since this blog didn't exactly get updated as consistently as it could or should have, I don't think I really delved deeply into the many, many different roles that I play during my day/week/month/year as a teacher. Aside from being an English teacher, I'm an AP English teacher, so that's a different hat. I'm also the English department chair, so that's another hat. I'm the Speech and Debate coach; another hat. I'm the teacher advisor of the Science Olympiad team; another hat. I am teaching an afterschool class for teachers about technology; another hat. And I run an event for the San Diego Regional Science Olympiad; another hat. So, how many is that? Seven? ::smacks forehead:: Holy moly.

Tonight, I was wearing my Event Captain for Science Olympiad hat by sitting through a really long meeting at the Natural History Museum of which my part consisted of about fifteen minutes. And I went last. So I sat FOREVER through this meeting. And I'm definitely wishing I'd have taken my time, stopped for a bite to eat, and come in towards the end. My event is last alphabetically, although I'm thinking that's not really why I went last, I don't think. Now, normally I can multitask with the best of them, and given that none of this information really made any whit of difference whatsoever, but still, I couldn't focus. Part of it was that I was hungry. But part of it was that I was so annoyed by some of the questions. SO annoyed. But I get it: some of the coaches are new, some of the events are new, and sometimes the event captains don't always come to these meetings. But I have so much work I wanted to do that now I'm sad. It's 8:30. I've just wolfed dinner down. And I really need to eek out a workout because of my training plan. I guess perhaps more grading isn't really going to get done tonight. ::grumble::

Hopefully, tomorrow, on my long prep, I can do some lesson planning, some grading, some cleaning, and some prepping of final materials. And get my hand on some more scantrons. Joy. And then during my sophomore final, grade more. And lesson plan more.

Now, I'm going to make my lunch while some brownies cook (simple pleasures are the only thing getting me through) and then changing for the gym. I feel like if I feel better -- stronger, healthier, thinner -- I'll be more focused and a better teacher.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year, New Resolve

So. Yeah. That lasted a long time. I was so diligent for awhile. Well, okay, not for very long at all. But, sadly, that's what happens when your year looks like mine. Let's see. We've missed October, November, and December. Three months. I guess that's not ... that ... much? Hah. The highlights and lowlights:

* We had another current student pass away this year. He was a senior. This time around, it was discovered that it was a latent heart condition; one of those things where their hearts are enlarged and just stop. I remember a fellow freshman Cornellian dying the same way, in his sleep over Fall Break. It's so sad.

* One of my students was diagnosed with lymphoma, and another with something else of which the name escapes me right now... but both of them have been missing for weeks, or in the case of the young lady with lymphoma, months. But since I have her friended on facebook, I get to keep up with her progress.

* The gas issue seems to have been resolved. They did all manner of testing and such and determined that it really was just the release of the gas when the heating/cooling unit kicks on in the morning. ::shrug:: Whatever.

* My AP kids are weirdly needy this year and have sucked up a good portion of my soul with their questions and their panicking. However, unlike how I was in my first few years, I now just look at them with a semi-interested stare and say things like, "No, you don't NEED an A. You WANT an A. Society tells you to WANT an A. But you have to EARN the A."

* We've finally developed a bit of inside-joke cameraderie in my AP classes; I kinda thought this was never going to happen this year. Last year's class was so quick to latch on to something as an inside joke. It's starting, slowly, with these kids. I love them just as much (though I think I'll always have a soft spot for that first group of AP kids) but dangnabit they're needy. So many questions!

* My sophomores are definitely a better crop than I had last year. They're kinda weird and kinda funny, but they're people-pleasers as a group, so when I get upset with them, there's an improvement in their behavior and their work. Last year's group? Pah. Not really. So this year's group is solid. But slipping into bad habits and part of that is my fault, so as second semester approaches next week, I'll be retraining them. Er, reprogramming? Haha. Retraining. We'll stick with that.

* I have graded SO MUCH work that I might need glasses and/or an eyeball transplant. I've killed several red pens. Like, carry the same one around and it runs out of ink by the end of a SINGLE ESSAY assignment. This has never happened to me. It's quite telling, both of how much feedback I'm providing, but even still, when I don't provide that much feedback, I've still actually run pens out of ink on a single set of papers.

* Have dealt with some interesting parent issues this year, from parents that want me to raise their kids for them to parents in denial about what is actually the true issue with their kid. But, weirdly, after blow ups with the parents, I realize that I have a better relationship with their kids; like their kids seem me on their side and not necessarily on the side with their parents. I mean, obviously I'm on the side with the parents when it comes to them being successful, but I'm articulating it and problem-solving it in a way that gives the child value. Two of these students, in particular, have maybe not entirely changed their behavior in terms of producing quality work, but they are much, much happier and engaging in class, and hey, as long as they don't make my job actually harder, I can work with that. One of these students got 100% on her This I Believe essay. I love this kid. She's awesome.

* Had a student faint in class; that was the day we found out about the student who passed away. He died int he morning before school, so it was all a very weird day, especially since we were supposed to be on an assembly schedule, and then we weren't... it was confusing and weird for everyone. But the student fainting was a first. But the kids are so good at my school that they all knew exactly what to do. Before even I could get my wits enough to tell kids what to do, a girl was already sprinting out the door to the health office. All seemed well. I mean, you know, considering. The student has been battling some health issues since last year; I had her as a student in the beginning of the year last year, but they enrolled her at our off-campus site when she was dealing with the majority of her issues. I think they're starting to work themselves out.

* Have been waging a war against the "I'll do it later" and "But I worked on it -- I know it was due nine weeks ago, but can I please turn it in for full credit?" mentality we've created at our school. My last war, which was the week or so before Winter Break, was about Saturday School. ::shaking fist:: I might rant about that in a separate entry. I have neither the strength nor the sticking power tonight to get to it.

I shall also at some point wax poetic about the fail that was Winter Break, given that this year so far has drained every ounce of spirit and happiness from me. Okay, maybe that's being a little drama-queen, but really, Winter Break and the whole holiday season just seemed ... flat. Like watching a 3-D movie without the glasses: you know it always holds potential, but you just lack the tools to enjoy it properly. Everything just felt hurried and harried and harassed and just not fun.

So. I guess that's being caught up. We're about to embark on second semester, so I will attempt to be more diligent in my blogging. I mean, what good is it, really, if I'm not doing it?! And Summer will make me. She's doing her own teaching blog. So if she can do it, I can do it. Huzzah.