Monday, June 15, 2009


We were discussing the speed of sound in math today. My students were having problems with the idea that sound had a speed (after all, sound is pretty fast and it seems like, when you say something, the other person hears it instantaneously). So I used the example of thunder. Most people know that, the longer it takes for you to hear the thunder after a flash of lightning, the farther away the storm. Sound travels at around 750 miles per hour (light is significantly faster, at around 180,000 miles per second), so each 5 seconds or so between the flash and the crash translates to one mile away.

One of my boys appeared to wake up at that moment. "Wait a minute! You mean thunder is the sound of lightning?"

It never occurred to me that some of them hadn't made that connection. "Well, yes."

He looked at me stunned for a second or so (meaning his thoughts were 0.2 miles away), then said. "Huh. I never knew that."

Friday, June 12, 2009

How the hell do you take care of tadpoles?

One of my students brought me a bunch of tadpoles, which irritated me at first but darn it, the little squirmers are just so cute! I bought a great terrarium for them and everything, made sure to have the student bring in pond water so they lived in their natural environment and changed it regularly. I even bought them special tadpole food (I'm such a softie). Unfortunately, they'd grow their back legs, then their front legs, then they go belly-up in their artificial pond. The last of them died today, having ignored all the tadpole food I gave them. Any ideas what I did wrong?

It's fun to make them worry from time to time

As I mentioned in my last post, behavior at this time of the year is certainly lacking. One of the things I have to put up with is sassiness and impudence. Andrew came up to me today and asked, "Why do we have to learn anything now? Don't statistics show that we'll forget most of what we've learned over the summer?"

One of the things I've learned from my students is how to lie convincingly. So I turned to Andrew and responded, "That's why they're moving to a year-long school year next year."

He paled slightly. "What?"

"Oh yes. It is true that you forget most of the stuff you learn over the summer, so they're moving to year-long schooling. You go to school for three weeks and get one week off for the entire year. There's no more summer vacation starting next year."

He hurried off and I overheard him passing the news on to another student in hushed yet urgent tones. By tomorrow morning, the whole school will believe there is no summer vacation next year. I'm waiting to see if the superintendent has to make an announcement to stem he flood of chaos I've unleashed.

Geeky science news

it has been announced that element 112, currently known as Ununbium, is set to get a name from the supercollider staff that invented it. The reason why it is named ununbium is because un means 1 and bi means 2 in Latin (The Official Language of Science tm). Goofy facts like this are cool to me. I told this to my kids because they had asked about the unnamed elements, who, unlike the other discovered elements on the table, have three letters in their chemical symbol instead of one or two (here's a copy of the Periodic Table of Elements for those of you who haven't seen one since school).

My kids thought it was cool too, which does a lot to reform the opinion I've recently made about them at the end of the school year (behavior at this time of the year is not pretty).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Coin wars

Alas, my class didn't win the coin wars. However, my class did drop 40 dollars of bills in the top teacher's jar, reducing his score by 4000 points. Turns out Pat's class won (she deserves to win something for once: her kids are shits). We are so getting our sno-cone machine.

The truth about that two month vacation

One of the things that drives me (in fact, al teachers) batshit crazy is this: "Boy, I wish I got two months off. I have to work year-round!"

First, you're lucky I get two months off. There's a reason why humans don't whelp like dogs: most of us can handle 1,2, maybe as many as 4 or 5 kids before it's too much to handle. I deal with an average of 32 students at any one time for 7 hours a day. Most parents deal with their own children 6 hours a day on average if you don't count the amount of time they spend at work and even they get tired of the kids from time to time.

Second, ask a teacher how long they work during the school year. I bet you'll be surprised just how many hours we put in. For example, on average I work 10 hours a day during the working week, and between 6-8 hours on Sunday. Every Sunday. Teaching is only part of what I do. I also have to grade, contact parents about grades, go to parent/staff meetings, develop curriculum, plan day to day lessons, program my digital whiteboard with the next day's lesson, update my homework calendar, respond to parent e-mails, go to cross-curricular and cross-grade planning meetings for three different subjects, go to staff development, go to special education meetings, and do a hundred other things that come up from time to time like band concerts, sporting events, back to school night, parent conferences, incoming 6th grade parent night, academic recognition ceremonies, etc.

Here's the math on what my year is like as a teacher:

My work-week:
6:30-4:30 = 10 hours per day x 5 days + 6 hours on Sunday = 56 hours worked per week

My work year-
52 weeks per year - 12 weeks (vacations) = 40 weeks X 56 hours per week = 2240 hours per year

Now, here's the break-down on a person working a 40 hour work week year-round, including working on Christmas

52 weeks per year x 40 hours per week = 2080 hours per year (40 hour work week).

Now, you might say, "Who works a 40 hour work week anymore? I'm pulling 50 hours myself. Here's what it looks like:

52 weeks per year x 50 hours per week = 2600 hours per year (50 hour work week).

Oh, by the way, do you get lunch? I work through my lunch every day so I don't have to stay later in the day. If you work a 40 or 50 hour work week but you get lunch, here's how it breaks down (by a half-hour lunch and by an hour lunch)

.5 hours x 5 days = 2.5 hours per week x 52 weeks per year = 130 hours
2080 hours (40 hr week) - 130 hrs (lunch) = 1950 hours per year (40 hour week, 1/2 hour lunch)
2600 hours (50 hr week) - 130 hrs (lunch) = 2470 hours per year (50 hour week, 1/2 hour lunch)
2080 hours (40 hour week) - 260 hrs (lunch) = 1820 hours per year (40 hour week, hour lunch)
2600 hours (50 hour week) - 260 hrs (lunch) = 2370 hours per year (50 hour week, hour lunch)

Now, here's an interesting piece of math. I make about $40,000 per year for what I do. If I got an hourly wage rather than a salary, here's what I would be making an hour.

40000 / 2240 hours per year = $17.85 per hour

I had to go to 6 years of college to learn to do what I do. And I get half of what my husband makes, who didn't. Believe me, we aren't doing it for the money. Until you allow teachers to bring a small flask of whiskey to school to help us get through the day, be glad we have our summers off. We'd invent games like "throw the scissors hard" (thanks, Dennis Miller, for this joke) otherwise.

Update: my husband reminded me that the average US worker gets two weeks off. So, here's the totals including vacation time:

Teacher: 2240 hrs/yr
40 hr week (1/2 hour lunch): 1875 hrs/yr
50 hr week (1/2 hour lunch): 2375 hrs/yr

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The tadpoles

So Stephan brought in a coffee can of tadpoles the other day. At first, I was pretty annoyed: he hadn't said a word to me and I was completely unprepared for the little squirmers. Still, I found a mason jar to keep them in (the can was already starting to rust) and I put them out on display for the other students to see.

The problem is, tadpoles need to eat something, and Stephan kept forgetting to bring in pond yuck for them. The poor things were starting to starve: I found a dead one floating on the top of the water. I was going to skim him out when I noticed the other tadpoles eating him. I was kind of grossed out by this, but I left the corpse in the water. Hey, at least it was food.

Stephan finally remembered to bring in some pond grasses yesterday and I put them in the water. The tadpoles perked up by the end of the day, so I guess it was the right thing to do.

Finally, I decided to google up how to take care of them. Turns out, the young tadpoles love to eat the gunk growing on the pond grasses but the ones with little legs are carnivorous (When you put it that way, it sounds almost scary, like that Steven King story about the rain of frogs with razor teeth). So now I have to find tiny bugs to feed to them. The website mentioned aphids, but I'm not quite sure where to find aphids. It's not like Petco sells them.

Anyways, it sounds like it won't be too much of a problem if I can't find aphids. In the event that there is no food, the largest tadpole will consume his brothers. The students will get an education (in a macabre way), and I get at least one frog out of it. Win.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Coin wars

We're in the middle of my favorite fundraiser-Coin Wars. I love coin wars. They raise a metric buttload of money, I don't have to do anything other than be enthusiastic, and the kids love the competition. Here's how a coin war works. Every teacher gets a large jar to collect funds. Any coin put in a jar earns one point per cent for that class. For example, a penny is 1 point, a quarter is 25 points, etc. But here's the fun part: bills count as negative points per cent against a class. For example, one dollar bill removes 100 points from your total, a five-dollar bill removes 500 points, etc. The idea is to boost your own class' points by dropping coins in your own jar while dumping bills in the jars of other classes. The class with the highest score at the end of a week gets a (insert your favorite cheap prize here).

Now, my class started off pitifully. For the last 2 days, we've has a measly 1 point. But it turns out, they have a plan. You see, the other classes aren't dropping bills into our jar because, with 1 point, we're not a threat. On Friday, they're all planning on dumping a large number of coins in our jar at the end of the day, after everyone else has already dropped their bills in other jars.

It almost makes me proud that they've learned to behave so deviously. Finally, I taught them something!

Is that why I'm sweating?

I've heard it said that our school is a green school. I know academically what that means, but it took me a long time to figure out how we got the title. After all, our cafeteria still hands out plastic spoons and forks, and the teachers still make 145 double-sided copies for class the next day. This week, I discovered another reason why we're called a green school.

First, our beautiful, brand new grass lawn is turning a sad shade of yellow. Since the heat wave started, our school has elected to stop watering the lawn because it wastes water.

Next, we have this piss-yellow desk cleaning spray that doesn't disinfect (remember, they wanted us to use it to use it daily to help counteract the spread of swine flu until someone reminded them of that fact). In fact, it doesn't really clean either, now that I think of it. I have two nearly full bottles of it under my sink, one of the few items in my classroom that isn't grimy.

Here's another big oversight: our school has no air conditioning.

Sure, we have heating (it does snow up here every year), but this is Washington. Land of the perpetual rain. Heat waves tend to be rare (though we have record-breaking heat waves more and more often it seems. Is that global warming in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?). The district thought air conditioning was a luxury. But we've had a week and a half of sun and our uninsulated, steel roofs are absorbing all the heat from the black roofing material on top. Tom Warring has the hottest room in the building, a record-breaking 88 degrees at 2:00pm. With only one tiny window to provide a breeze.

So now, no one's learning anything. To alleviate the suffering, the district gave us some fans. Some Hepa-filtered, motorized, rotating, weak as hell floor fans that look better than they work. I'd give my eye teeth for one of the ugly steel floor fans that look like they'd chop a finger off but are powerful enough to flatten your hair at 20 feet away.

15 more days. Dear God, let me make it.