Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Friends don't let friends grade sober

I frequently do my grading at the local microbrewery: they make some wonderful beers that you'll never find more than 30 miles from here.  Besides, grading at work feels like work, and grading at home makes me feel like I'm working off the clock.  Grading at a brewery feels like you're relaxing, but you happen to be getting some work done at the same time.

I'd been grading for probably an hour when a gentleman at a nearby table leaned over. 

"You're grading papers and drinking at the same time?", he asked pointedly.

I looked at him and smiled brightly.  "Of course!",  I replied.  "I find that their grades improve with each beer!"

It took him a moment, but he laughed and returned to his own beer.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Whiteheads, color of

Dylan the Girl (not to be confused with Dylan the Boy, who is in the same class) came up to me during class and asked me to look at a couple of small white bumps on her face.

"What are these?"  She asked me worriedly.

I looked at the dots but they didn't seem terribly disturbing to me.  In fact, they looked a little like zits.  "I'm not sure, are they hard to the touch and a little painful?"

"Yes!" she replied.

"I'm guessing they're probably whiteheads, Dylan.  People get them all the time."

She looked confused.  "Whiteheads?"

"Yeah, you know.  Zits?"

Sudden understanding dawned on her face.  "Wait, whiteheads are white?"

Now it was my turn to be confused.  "Yeah.  Just like blackheads are black."

Dylan stared at me for several seconds, then with a chagrined "Oh duh, I get it," she grinned at me and returned to her seat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Today, a student taught me....

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I was given a moment to be thankful for.

The deadline for late and missing work is this Monday and one of my boys recently stopped doing his homework.  His mother had missed parent-teacher conferences because she was sick and she wanted to meet with us today to get a list of what he was missing, how to do it, etc.  Unfortunately, the day before Thanksgiving, most teachers are out the door and on the way to the airport on the heels of the students, so there wasn't any way anyone was going to agree to meet.  Especially after 4 days of staying late for parent-teacher conferences: most of us were dead on our feet and just wanted to sleep.

I felt bad for Tim.  He's a smart kid but he's experienced a period of popularity recently and I think it's gone to his head.  So I looked up his address and realized I practically drive past his house on my way home.  How hard would it be to drop off the stuff he's missing?

It took me longer than I thought to find his address.  I knew he lived near the trailer park, but I couldn't seem to find the right house!  I thought about giving up a couple of times, but I knew he was there somewhere and I really liked this kid: I wanted to see him win in the end.  I kept driving in circles, thinking, "I could have been home by now!"

As I drove past a mailbox I had ignored up until now, I suddenly noticed it had the address I was looking for listed on the side.  But surely not: the road next to the mailbox could hardly be identified as a driveway.  It was more a muddy footpath leading through an opening in some trees.  But I turned in anyways and drove down the path.  There was a clearing behind it, with a tired, tiny house at one end.  Someone had parked a motor home a bit away from the house and had run an extension cord to it so it had some power (though it was obvious no one was home right now).  There was a tiny garden growing in front that had a few sickly-looking tomato plants and some unidentified herbs (it looked like they had already shut down for the winter).  When I knocked on the door and asked for Tim, the teenager who answered the door directed me to continue down the driveway and park behind the house.

Tim's house used to be a workshed tacked onto the back of the main house.  It showed evidence of being converted into a living space on the inside, but the outside clearly showed its history.  A front door had been installed where the shed door would have been, but the walls looked paper thin and I didn't see any windows.  It must have been a cold, claustrophobic existence to cram a family into that small space.  And here I was, driving up in my nearly-new SUV, wearing my fashionably thick and warm pea coat and corduroy pants and feeling completely out of place here, where three families were living in a space meant for one, where everyone was barely holding on.

I wondered if anyone living here had lost a job recently.  Lots of people in the area had.  I didn't think anyone here could even afford a sick day, much less a period of unemployment.

Tim answered the door wearing a beanie, a thick coat and a pair of mittens.  And no wonder: there didn't appear to be any heat in the house at all.  He was genuinely surprised to see me, and a little uncomfortable to have me at his door.  I mentioned that I knew he needed to make up some work but he had forgotten to see me, so I decided to drop it off on my way home.  He woodenly took the stack of papers and directions from my hand.  I heard a faint, nearly whispered "thank you" as he backed into the house.  And, as I said my goodbyes and headed back to my car, a much louder and more sure-sounding "Thank you!" followed me out.

As I climbed back into my car, the digital thermometer informed me that it was 38 degrees outside.

I realized then that, for many of our students, our school is probably as wonderous as Hogwarts was to Harry Potter (except Harry stayed at Hogwarts for most of the year: our kids have to go back home every day).  It's warm, spacious, and clean.  Our library has a huge window overlooking a tree-covered mountain and instead of library chairs, it has plushy love seats that face that window.  Our cafeteria bakes fresh every day.  Except for this week, I suddenly realized with a great deal of guilt.  No wonder so many of them were hungry!  School lunch was probably the only reliable meal many of them got in a day.

Probably some of the canned green beans and ramen and cranberry sauce we'd collected during the food drive was going to feed Tim during this holiday.

As corny as it sounds, I'm going to be much more thankful this Thanksgiving.  My condo may not be large (compared to the other houses around me), but it's big enough and it's warm and there's always something to eat.  I have three wonderful cats to keep me entertained and warm, and a snake that shows love in his own way (translation: he tolerates me and doesn't bite me even when he's annoyed).  I have a husband that loves me to distraction, who has already bought me my first Christmas present he tells me, and who always has my back when I need him.  We both have jobs, we're both healthy, and we're both happy.  A gut-stuffing meal would never have reminded me of that, but a cold child huddling in a moorlock-like existence in a converted work shed did.

Happy Thanksgiving all.  I hope every one of us has something to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The day everything blew up

Every so often, students bring....pets to class.  Believe me, I don't sanction this: most pets are terrified of 30 kids staring at it.  The only reason I had a corn snake class pet is that snakes have no eardrums and most snakes don't seem to give a shit who holds them.

One day, Shaw brought a mouse to class, in one of those tiny cages I use to transport mice for Corneilia's (the snake) dinner.  You're really not supposed to keep a mouse in a transport cage for more than a half-an-hour or so, but here's Shaw with his mouse, in a tiny cage and no water.  The poor thing looked terrified.  I could hardly teach with the dehydrated mouse cowering in the cage, so I paused class long enough to inform Shaw of basic mouse care, find a larger container for the mouse and get it some food and water.  Goldfish crackers are probably not on the approved diet list for pet mice, but it was the best I had.

Unfortunately, by trying to care for the mouse, I broke the cardinal rule of teaching: always keep an eye on your class.

Unbeknownst to me, our resident football star Cody was showing off for his friends.  He pretended to be constipated by making groaning noises and scrunching up his face as if in effort (I swear, I don't know where they get these ideas).  It had the added benefit of turning his face bright red, I heard later.  It had the unexpected side effect of bursting a blood vessel in his nose.

My first sign of trouble was when I saw Cody's hands cover his nose.  The rest of his table did the same.  I assumed at the time that someone at his table had farted and they'd work it out somehow.  Until, I noticed the blood dripping from Cody's hands.

"Cody, bathroom NOW!"  I yelled and a relieved-looking Cody bolted from his seat and raced for the door, dripping the whole way.  As luck (and state funding) would have it, I had no sink in my classroom, which meant I also had no paper towels (forget Kleenex: a snowball has a better chance of lasting in hell than a box of Kleenex in a classroom during cold and flu season).  And now I had a puddle of blood that everyone apparently wanted to use as finger paint (note to self: have the social studies teachers include "biohazard" on next week's vocabulary list).

There's still a mouse on my desk, in case you forgot.

Thankfully, the custodian break room is right next door so I didn't have to go far to get some help.  I told Danny to keep everyone away from the blood (including himself) and knocked on the custodian's door.  But.......this required me to take my eyes off my class for a crucial minute, and God had one more joke to play.

Let's rewind to Cody's mad dash for the door, shall we?  Monique, one of my girls, has a secret crush on Cody (Monique is not a subtle person, so by secret, I mean everyone including the snake knows Monique likes Cody, but Monique thinks no one else knows).  As Cody ran for the door, Monique gasped in shock and dismay.  I didn't notice it at the time, but someone else did: Anbir, a boy at Monique's table.  While I was outside of my room talking to the custodian, Anbir started chanting "MONIIIIQUE LOOOOOVES COOOOOOODY!  MONIIIIIIQUE LOOOOOOVES COOOOOODY!"  Monique, pissed that her "secret" was blown, stood up and decked Anbir.  By the time I popped back into my room, Anbir was picking himself up off the floor and Monique was winding up for another pitch.

I'm not sure what the mouse thought of all this.

I managed to get Monique and Anbir down to see the principal (not at the same time for obvious reasons) and the custodian got the blood cleaned up without anyone dabbling in it and the mouse did eventually get his larger cage, water and Pepperidge Farms Goldfish Crackers.  After that, I decided we were having a movie day.

If only I'd had Ratatouille with me that day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November doldrums

My last post reminded me: November is the hardest month for teachers.  We haven't had a significant break since summer, the days are getting colder, the students are testing our limits, and many of us are saying goodbye to the sun this month (most teachers will get to work before sunrise and not leave until after sunset in the winter, so we only get out in the sunshine on weekends).   Oh, and Thanksgiving break isn't until the last week of November this year.  This is truly the horse latitudes of the school year.

So, if you have a favorite teacher, this is the best time to send them a little note, e-mail or voice mail telling them how much you appreciate them.  It means a lot to hear "I know you work so hard", or "You're my favorite teacher", or "My child says such nice things about you", or even just "thanks for helping my child with their homework after school".  It makes getting through this month much easier

It's been a while

It's been a while since I've posted last: I just didn't have the energy until now.  I get like this every so often: I get depressed and I can't get anything done for a week or two.  I'm working with my doctor to figure out what's going on, maybe it's a hormonal thing.  I snapped out of it on Monday and I'm good to go, but I'm getting tired of going through this over and over again.

This does bring to mind another thing I've wondered about: how many teachers are there taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers?  For that matter, I've seen how much teachers can drink: how many of us are self-medicating?

I started to wonder about this when I ran into the teacher who teaches next door to me as I was coming out of my psychologist's office.  I think she was just as surprised to see me.  We talked for a little while and she mentioned that she was having stress and anxiety issues.  I didn't think much about it until other teachers in the building started to talk to me more, and I heard more about the medications they were taking, the problems finding medications that you could take every day but hopefully didn't interfere with driving, etc.  It was like being discovered with a therapist was a codeword that opened the clubhouse door, and I realized there were a lot of us who were coping with anxiety or bipolar disorder or depression and were hiding it at work.

I'm not sure how the percentage of teachers medicating for mood disorders compares to the population at large.  Certainly, it's not something most people share at cocktail parties: " when I realized I wanted to stab him with a toasting fork, that was when I asked for the valium.  I'm feeling much better now....."  Mostly, I think teachers usually medicate their moods for the same reason that humans don't whelp litters: humans aren't designed to raise more than 5-6 young at a time.  Trapping any adult in a room with 30 children for 6 hours a day will batter your emotional stability after a while.

Not that I'm saying pity us, or I'm making the case for a $10 Starbucks card come Christmastime.  Just something I noticed, and wondered about.  Maybe the elementary 20:1 model should be the norm.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Murphy's Law in the crassroom

1.  Every ruler in a classroom will eventually break as a result of being used as a drumstick or sword.
2.  It is impossible to accidentally cut yourself with a pair of Fiskars safety scissors unless you are under the age of 15.  Then, it is distressingly easy to do.
3.  Your district will switch on your classroom's air conditioning system in November.  They will switch back to the heater in May.
4.  The day your school's principal plans to make a formal observation of your classroom will occur the morning after your most ADHD kid's father decides to take his son to a midnight opening of Star Wars and then feeds the child two bowls of Fruit Loops and a can of Red Bull to keep him awake at school.
5.  You will catch every illness that your students have.  Twice.  You won't get sick enough to stay home.
6.  The student who makes you feel the most uncomfortable spends the most time in your classroom after school.
7.  A fight will break out on the one day you forget to do your yard duty.
8.  The students who make a habit of shaking your hand before leaving your class are inevitably the students who publicly pick their nose or scratch their bums.
9.  A thrown pencil always lands point-down.  In someone's eye.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We need less "pickle tickle" in our schools.

I was out in front of the school today, looking for a student who'd left his homework on his desk (again), when I noticed a couple of girls goofing around.  They had invented a game called "Break the Pickle" where you take pencils and sticks and other long, cylindrical objects of varying diameters, and try to break them over your knee on the very first try.  If you fail to break the "pickle", the other person gets to grab the object out of your hand and chase you while poking you with it.

One of the girls failed to break the pencil she was using.  The other girl grabbed it out of her hand and started poking her with the eraser in the belly and the ribs.  Both laughing, the first girl took off running, screaming "NO PICKLE TICKLE!  NO PICKLE TICKLE!" with the second girl in giggling, poking close pursuit.

I about pulled a muscle trying not to die laughing, yet no one else seemed to see anything amiss (several parents and the vice principal were about 10 feet away, and none of them batted an eye at this spectacle).  Apparently, Washingtonians have not been acquainted with the phrase "pickle tickle" before.  It must be a midwest thing.  For those of you who don't get the joke, "pickle tickle" is a rather colorful term for "bumping uglies" aka "playing hide the salami" aka "having sex".  

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cat Blogging

Toki is definitely my cat.  The other two, Pucker and Tallie, definitely love my husband, but Toki has claimed me for her own.  Her picture graces my bio page, since none of you would be interested in staring at my ugly mug.  If you imagine a Siamese crossed with a leopard-spotted beach ball, you've basically got her.

I love Simon's Cat animations because I swear the person who makes them secretly borrows my cat while I'm at work.  Either that, or Toki uses them for training videos when I'm not looking.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Think of it as a VIP account.....

So it's been about nearly two months since school started, and no doubt some of you have received the unfortunate news that your wonderful child, who has brought so much joy to your life, is currently failing in someone's class.  For some, this news comes as no surprise.  For others, this may be the first time you have heard the news and you are shocked.  And always, the question runs through your mind: "Why didn't I hear about this earlier?"

Unfortunately, we can't call everyone.  I may have (and have had in the past) as many as 175 students to monitor.  If I called everyone and spent a scant two minutes on the phone with you, that's nearly 6 hours of phone time!  Oh, and I'm assuming you want more than one phone call this year?

So how do we choose who gets the call?  Well, if your student is passing, you probably won't receive a call unless I have extra time (ha ha hahahahaHAHAHAHA! HAha ha ha...ha......ok, it does happen from time to time) or your child does something wonderful that I'd like to share.  If I sent you a message and didn't get anything back, you're usually near the end of the queue until you contact me.  The student who is tanking fast gets jumped to the front of the line, but let's face it: this is not a VIP pass most parents want their child to earn.

So is there any way to earn the VIP pass without having to destroy your child's grade?  Yes there is.  It's called the teacher's bribe (well, we are government officials....).  We don't get paid much, so we can be bought cheap, believe me.  Below are a list of items that teachers covet as bribes (call it a back-to-school gift if it makes you feel better, but we don't mind shameless bribing):
  • cookies, candies, brownies, and anything home-baked. 
  • Starbucks gift cards
  • fancy or unusual pens and pencils.  Can be expensive, but doesn't have to be.  My favorite pen was a plastic ball-maze pen I got as a freebie at a reading conference.  Until someone stole it (you KNOW who you are).
  • bag of coffee or coffee cups
  • gift card to (fill in the blank: Cheesecake factory, local teacher store, Safeway, movie theatre)
Unusual teacher "gifts" I've received:
  • A bottle of wine (ok, I don't mind getting wine.  But please don't have your child deliver it to me and certainly not before class).
  • A certified pre-owned coffee cup.
  • A card that said, "My mom said I had to write a card so Merry Chrismas" (sic) on the inside.
  • Chocolates from Christmas.  Last year. (check to make sure the box design isn't year-specific)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kids say the darndest things.....

We were discussing today what you would bring with you to keep you occupied if you were stuck in a submarine for a month (as some of our, sailors may be).  One student mentioned taking pictures or something to decorate the walls.

I replied, "Nice thinking!  It's going to get boring staring at the same grey walls after a while."
"Well, what if we look out the windows?" someone asked.
That stopped me for a second.  "Windows?  There's no windows in a submarine."
"What about the windshield?"
"There's no windshield in a submarine either."
"How do they see where they're driving?"

We had a mini-lesson on SONAR, since many of the students believed that sailors drove submarines around while peering out of the periscope.  I'm waiting for when they ask what submarines use for turn signals.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homogenized grouping

Who's bright idea was "homogenized grouping"?

For the uninitiated (or the uncredentialed), homogenized groups are where the teacher puts all the overachievers together in one group, all the middle kids in another group, and all the low kids in another group.  Then, theoretically, you differentiate the work (translation: you give the overachievers all the hard real-world problems and give the low kids the basic, no frills easy stuff) so everyone learns at their own rate.

The problem with homogenized groups comes with the low achievers.  These tend to be your ADHD kids, the ones that lose all focus the moment a fleck of dust floats past them.  Have you ever seen what happens when you put all the ADHD kids at one table and tell them to work together?  Turn your back on them for two minutes and it starts to look a lot like this. 

Every year, the administration makes us try this.  We split the groups up, homogenize them, and then give up after a few days.  So what then?  You stick the ADHD kid next to the overachiever.  The overachiever threatens to kick the shit out of them if they don't shut up and everything's back to normal.

Friday, October 10, 2008

By the way,

This might sound weird, but I thought I was the only teacher that drank like a fish.  But talking to some other teachers today, I discovered that being able to polish off an entire bottle of wine by yourself (or a bottle of wine plus a few beers) without breaking a sweat is apparently not unusual for many teachers.....

And on that note, I'm off to get another glass of wine.  Happy Friday.

Halloween in coming.....

It's coming.  Believe me, teachers notice these things.  Thankfully, it's on a Friday this year: wooooooooooooooot!  The last week of school is bad, but November 1st is never fun: they're so sugared up, they are either crazy, or they puke on your shoes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

well, at least we won't burn

Schools have to do a fire drill at least once a month (many schools only do about 2 a year, but that's another matter), and our drill was today.  This was probably the first fire drill I've ever shown up to with screaming, soaking wet students.

My evacuation route is out my back door, across the patio (yes, I have a patio.  The Cadillac of classrooms), through a small chunk of lawn and then to the blacktop.  When the alarm went off, I gestured towards the door, grabbed my attendance and my first aid kit, checked under all the tables for pretend-injured students, and allowed myself a pat on the back as I walked out the door after my kids.

Up until I saw the sprinklers.

Remember the small chunk of lawn we have to walk across?  For a completely unfathomable reason, they decided to water it during school hours.  And school sprinklers tend to be under high pressure.  Being hit by a school sprinkler is like taking a shot in the chest with a fire hose.

My students stopped at the edge of the patio, some looking at me with trepidation, some with naked hope.  When I sighed and waved them (carefully) across the lawn, my class erupted in cheers.  They raced cross the lawn (a few darted between the streams like skilled guerilla fighters, but most charged willy-nilly through the water), screeching, screaming, pushing, shoving, falling over, getting up again, sprinting, and generally making a scene.  The rest of the school looked at us like we were escapees from the loony bin.

Now that I think about it, is the loony bin hiring?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

So how has your week been?

My chiropractor always makes sure to ask me how my week has been.  In a classroom, truth frequently is stranger than fiction.

The bathroom is always an issue with 6th graders.  They're still in elementary school mode, and everyone knows that they have the bladders of a French poodle- meaning, can hold obscene amounts of liquid but has to be emptied every 15 minutes.  Teachers have to walk a fine line when it comes to granting permission for the bathroom: while I don't want students peeing their pants, they do need to learn the art of going to the bathroom at lunch so you're not bugging others 15 minutes after the bell rings.

Danny came up to me in class and asked if he could use the restroom.  Danny is the kind of kid that can really abuse a bathroom policy.  For one, he tends not to plan ahead.  If you tell Danny that the project is due on Friday, he'll fart around for four days chatting with his friends while everyone else (except his friends) works, then complain on Friday that he couldn't finish the project because he had a soccer game and could you please give him a few more days.  Oh, and you're not going to take off any late points, are you?  Because I had a soccer game and my mom said I had to go to bed at 11 and it wouldn't be fair to take off points.

Anyways, Danny came up and asked to go to the bathroom.  He'd already gone to the bathroom during class yesterday and he wasn't doing the pee-pee dance so I figured I was safe telling him to hold it until the end of class.  

"But I have to go!  What if I go in my seat?"

I let him know that I had plenty of paper towels and I wouldn't get angry at all as long as he cleaned up after himself.  Disappointed, Danny walked off.

A few minutes later, Renald came to talk to me.  He wanted to know if he needed a pass to go to the office if he was hurt.  Concerned, I asked him if he was.  "No, but I had to go to the bathroom the other day and I didn't want to waste it if I needed my bathroom pass to go to the office."  I assured Renald that I would certainly make exceptions to the out-of-class rule if someone got hurt in my class.

Barely a few minutes passed when Danny came back up.  This time, however, Danny didn't want to go to the bathroom.  Danny had a puncture wound in his hand that looked like it came from a pencil.  It wasn't bleeding badly, but it must have hurt like hell.  He asked very politely if he could go to the office to have it looked at.

At this point, my suspicions were aroused.  "Sure, Danny.  I'll write you a pass.  By the way, you might want to stop at the bathroom on your way back."  After sending Danny out the door, I caught Renald's eye and motioned for him to come talk to me.

"Renald, what happened?"
"Don't 'Huh' me: you know what I'm talking about.  How did Danny get stabbed with a pencil?"
"Well, you said if we were hurt, you'd let us go to the office and I knew Danny wanted to go to the bathroom, so I told him to stick his hand out and when he did, I kinda poked him with the pencil so he could go out."

At this point, I'm not sure exactly how to feel about this.  On the one hand, I have to admire him for his strategy: he found a perfectly valid loophole for the school's bathroom policy.  On the other hand, stabbing a classmate with a pencil tends to disturb parents when they hear about it later.

I still sent Renald to the office, but you have to respect that kind of out-of-the-box thinking.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Can I input my own grade card comments?

It's probably a little early to be thinking of grade cards, but I've always wondered who comes up with the comments they ask us to use.  Even the sternest comment is sanitized to the point where it's hard to decipher its original meaning.  "Student choices in class may be affecting his/her grade."  What the hell?

Here's some comments I'd like to add to the gradecards.  And remember, you are only allowed to use a maximum of two comments: the district is paying for the paper.

01-Student is a pain in the ass
02-Student reminds me of a jellyfish
03-Cries a lot
04-Goes to bathroom so often, I've wondered about his prostate
05-Won't shut up
06-Needs to bathe and/or wear deodorant regularly.
07-I vaguely remember this student
08-Student is great, but mom needs to cool it
09-Needs to wear looser clothing: is distracting my boys
10-Must learn to think before speaking
11-Please homeschool
12-Aspires to mediocrity
14-Student grade improved due to significant teacher and/or parent effort