Monday, December 31, 2007

Guidelines for Gift-Giving

Like all years, many of my students gave me Christmas gifts. While I appreciate all the gifts since they are acts of kindness, I must admit that some gifts are more, uh, liked than others. (I'm just being honest here).

I know that not all the children I've taught could afford to buy me nice things, and I truly don't expect any presents at all, but if you're going to buy your child's teacher a present, try to make it something useful. Oh, and try to make it new. I once received a used candle accompanied by a used bottle of nail polish. (This is a true story).

I've also received a........get ready for it..... fiber-optic bonsai tree. What does one do with a fiber-optic bonsai tree except turn it on, watch the pretty colors, and listen to it whir?

I also received a "crystal ball" containing a rose suspended in some sort of strange-smelling liquid (I only know that the liquid was strange-smelling because I broke it - accidentally, I swear!).

I've gotten god-knows-how-many "World's Greatest Teacher" ornaments, pins, earrings, etc. I shoulda saved all of them and opened my own store.

Then there are the useful presents. The most popular are gift cards (Borders, restaurants, etc.), socks (I would never have thought to get my teacher socks, but who doesn't need socks?), and body lotion/soaps/scrubs. This year, however, for the first time in my career, I did not receive any of the latter (soaps/lotion/scrubs). This is a good thing because I'm still working on depleting my accumulated stock from years past. I'm not kidding. In the past 1o years, I don't think I've ever been without some kind of specialty shower gel and I have never EVER bought any for myself. Hmmm...I hope I get some next year! I don't want to have to break my streak of never having bought shower gel!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Winter Break Announcement

It's officially Winter Break. It's Monday morning and I'm not at work. (Okay, so most people aren't today, but whatever...I won't be at work until January 7th). My posts will be sparse seeing as though I won't have much school stuff to talk about....or will I?

I've already received a couple of emails from parents. Seriously. The most annoying one is that I gave my students 2 assignments over the break and one of the students forgot them at school. Are you kidding me? You had to bring ONE thing home (your homework folder) over break, and you forgot it? Grrrrr...

The parent wanted to know if the principal or assistant principal would be back in the building the day after Christmas so they could go in and get the homework folder. I was like, "" They must think a lot goes on over break, but I know for a fact that NO ONE, with the exception of the janitorial staff, is going to step foot into the school until January 7th. (Although I admit in my rookie days I would spend one day over break in my classroom getting ready...what a nerd.)

I also got some emails from parents congratulating me on my PREGNANCY!!! I told my kids on Friday I was pregnant (pg). I've known for months, but I wanted to wait until my 13th week to tell them...y'know, just in case. They were so cute when they found out, lots of hugs and congratulations. To tell them the news, I played hangman with them on the board: the message was "Ms. M___ is expecting a baby!!!" I was worried they'd guess it quickly, but boy was I wrong! They didn't guess it until the only letter missing was the "y" in "baby." We've got a lot of word study to do, don't we?

So this blog may start taking a bit of a turn. While I plan to still focus on teaching, a little bit of teaching while pg will start creeping in. I won't be able to help it, so hopefully you'll stay on as a reader.

Merry Christmas tomorrow!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dear Staff:

This is the beginning of a memo I got today. With the exception of the last name, which I changed to protect privacy, this is exactly what it reads:


One of our parents, Mrs. Johnson, who have 2 children at our school, was burned out on Monday of this week. The family lost everything...

I am not trying to minimize this family's terrible situation, but who the hell wrote this thing? I really hope it's not someone who is a teaching position because this is just sad.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What's So Funny?

I've written before about how one of the things I love about kids is their randomness. They're kind of "all over the place," make funny mistakes because they don't have all the information put together right yet, and also have this insatiable curiosity to know things most adults gave up wondering about a long time ago.

The other day, one of my kids asked me (out of the blue, mind you): "Ms. M, if there were triplets and one of them died, would they be twins?" What? Uh, I don't know. No? Maybe? These kinds of things I'm amused by.

However, kids have to realize that they don't have to share every thought that pops into their head...especially in the middle of a lesson.

Today during math (which I'm kind of freaking out about because I feel we're behind and the ISATs are MARCH 3rd!), we were going over our homework. At the end I asked if there were any questions. Some kids asked smart questions like, "I don' t understand why #8 is 3.5." (Okay, technically not a question, but...). Some asked annoying questions like, "Can you repeat the answers to #4, 5, 6, and 7?" (Grrrrrr!). I felt like I was becoming visibly annoyed with all the (annoying-type) questions, but apparently I wasn't, because a student raised her hand and said, "I think it's funny that the answer to #4 is 5 and the answer to #5 is 4."

Is this not a thought that one could keep to themselves? I mean, really! Didn't I JUST get done saying how I felt we were moving too slowly in math and we need to speed things up? Oh, and how come you weren't amused that the answer to #3 was 3? Now, THAT'S funny!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is It Too Much to Ask?

I'm not in a very good mood today. The main reason is because I didn't get enough sleep last night, but a lot of little things that happened today added to my bad mood. It's the little things in life that matter, so I must ask the question:

Is it too much to ask...

1. to have the street our school is on plowed? I mean, a school is a pretty important city building, right? Hundreds of people go in and out of it daily; cars, buses, and pedestrians are a given. So why the hell wouldn't the city make it a priority to plow around a school? I'd bet if an ambulance had to come to our school, it'd get stuck there's that much snow. Cars, including mine, were sliding all over the place.

2. for the French teacher to actually BE AT SCHOOL on the days that my kids have French? I mean, how many f'ing preps can I have cancelled?

3. have paper towels in the teacher's bathroom? I mean, it's bad enough that I bring toilet paper.

4. have my administrators actually answer my emails in a timely fashion? My principal and assistant principal are hard people to find. They're never stay in one place, so email is a perfect form of communication. However, I NEVER get a response from them. Grrrrr.

There's actually a lot more on my list, but thinking about all this stuff again is making my bad mood worse. So I'm going to stop now, take some deep breaths, and just let it go.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Enough Information

Something I love about kids is that they haven't acquired a lot of information yet. This leads them to say things that don't make sense or aren't entirely true. However, they think it's true because it falls in line with the information they do have (known as "schema" in the education world).

Now I'm not saying that I make fun of them when they make mistakes like this. I don't. They can't be expected to know as much as an adult. They're still "works in progress" (hell, we're all "works in progress!"), but when they say something that is nonsensical or just plain wrong, I can't help but be amused.

Today, one of my boys complained that another boy called him something homosexual. (Yes, this is the kind of crap I deal with daily). I called the other boy to me and asked him if this was true. The boy admitted that, yes, he did call him something homosexual. I asked him what he called him. His reply: "masturbator."

Hee-hee...I guess there are a LOT of homosexuals then!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


What I really want to write today:


But I will actually post something "worthwhile" since I haven't posted for several days. I feel like writing "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" because being a teacher is CRAZY sometimes. At some points during the day, I literally have 5 people talking to me: 5 people who don't understand that I cannot understand one thing they're saying so they just stare at me when they're done asking their question as if they're waiting for a response. Sometimes I have them form a line so I can hear their questions one at a time (like normal people). Sometimes I just give them all a blanket answer like, "Go sit down." I think the latter is best because my kids tell me the stupidest things. Like today we were talking about the "Twelve Days of Christmas" because that is the song that they are performing at our holiday assembly. I told them about how the 12 days of Christmas were actually the 12 days following Christmas leading up to the Epiphany on January 6. One of my girls was practically jumping out of her seat, waving her arm in a frenzy so I would call on her. When kids behave that way, I won't call on them and I let her know that. She put her hand down and pouted.

Later, when we were doing something else, I was standing by her desk working with another student and she interrupted (out of the blue) to tell me what she had wanted to share earlier. I told her it was neither the time nor the place to tell me something. So the poor thing waited until after dismissal to finally come up to me and tell me the EXTREMELY IMPORTANT information that had her jumping out of her chair: Her little sister's birthday is on January 5th, the day before Epiphany. Wow. What the hell am I supposed to say to that?

Sometimes I feel like my classroom is the chaos of the trading floor at the stock exchange: too many things going on at once. In fact, my dentist tells me that he sees people in 2 professions come in with a glazed look on their face after a day of work: stockbrokers and teachers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Career Day

Today was career day at school. This is when parents with (hopefully) interesting careers come into the classrooms to talk about what their job entails, the skills needed for their job, and to encourage students to stay in school. A great idea, yes? Unfortunately, not everybody knows how to talk to children. You'd assume that since they have children, they would know how to talk to them, but this is not the case.

The first parent that came in was actually the parent of one of my students. She works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Specifically she works for the "Federal Supply Schedule Service of the National Acquisition Center." She kept using terms like "schedule programs," "blanket purchase agreements," and "contractors." By the end of it, I barely understood what she did, let alone the kids. She meant well, but you really have to learn to speak in kid-friendly language if you want kids to understand what you're saying.

The next speaker was a little better. She was in marketing. Her first question, though, was "Who can name a type of marketing?" She got answers like, "banking," "accounting," and "law." Uhhhh, no. I had to tell her that the kids don't know what marketing is, so she would need to explain it first, then ask the question again. That worked a little better. She was smart and gave stuff away to the kids, like pens and bags with her company's name on them. They were thrilled! However, she went on to say that she didn't really like marketing so she was in school to get her master's in elementary education. I'd say she's got a long way to go.

The last woman was really good. She owned a computer company. She was fun and had a job the kids could relate to. Thank goodness she came in because I was beginning to think every job (but mine) is totally boring.

When I saw the master list of career day volunteers, most of them were pretty standard jobs. One, however, struck me. She had a single name, no last name: Mystery (or something like that). Her job title was "entertainer/diva." I really hope that doesn't mean stripper, but with these parents, you NEVER know. I'll try to find out who she was and report back.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

There's Always One

Can I ever have a year without a parent who is constantly on my ass? I mean, I know parents mean well, but, really, do you have to email me 7 times a day? Do you really have to come in and sit in the classroom to "observe your son's learning environment?" I guess you do, because you did. Lemme 'splain.

I have a boy in my class who is new to our school this year. This kid is by no means "bad." He can have his annoying moments and he doesn't always listen, but he doesn't fight, he isn't mean, and he pretty much does his work. Well, last month, he neglected to tell his parents that he had to complete a science fair project. He didn't bring home any of the information I had given him and he didn't write down any of the assignments and due dates associated with the project in his homework journal. This started the whole thing. His father emailed me concerned that he (the father) and I were not communicating enough. Fine. We had a long phone conversation and many emails were exchanged about what we were going to do to make sure this "science fair fiasco" did not happen again. I now check the kid's homework journal every day to make sure he is writing down every assignment.

Then the kid did something else. Instead of taking all his graded papers home last Friday, he hid them in the classroom. He did this because he had some papers in there that he did not do well on. I gave the papers to the kid, told him to take them home today, emailed the father about what happened, and left it at that.

Of course I get an email from the dad asking me if it would be okay to attend class the next morning to help him get control of this situation. He said he felt he may be able to gain some insight by watching his son's behavior and environment. Oh, did I mention the father is some kind of child behavioralist or something? I told him fine. Come on in.

He came in for about 2 hours. I pretty much ignored him (I mean, of course I said hello and told him where to sit) and went on with things as normal. Everything went well. Nobody got in a fight, there was no fire alarm pulled, nothing out of the ordinary...thank god.

That night, I get an email from the dad thanking me for letting him into the classroom and that he thinks he thinks that some of the issues with his son is that "he is really accustomed to highly structured classroom settings." Uh...excuse me? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Did you take my classroom as a free-for-all? I find my classroom to be very well-structured. No, I don't make my kids stay in their seats for 2 hours at a time, I allow them choice in their activities, and I don't expect everyone to be doing the exact same thing at the same exact time, but my classroom is STRUCTURED! The dad went on to write that this is by no means judgment on me. Uh, okay...but it kind of is. Now he wants to get together so we can work on a plan to help his son become more consistent with his work and his responsibilities. That sounds fun. I hope you send me a nice Christmas present.

My last complaint is that this man addresses me by my first name. If you're a civilian (a.k.a. not a teacher), this may sound normal to you, but in the teaching world, you are ALWAYS known by your last name. In my 10+ years of teaching, no parent has EVER called me by my first name. Hell, no boss has ever called me by my first name. It's just the way it goes. So where does this guy get off on calling me by my first name? I guess he thinks we're friends. Friends get nice Christmas presents.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Evolution of Fruit Roll-Ups

If you are around my age (early 30s), you remember when Fruit Roll-Ups were invented. I'd like to guess it was around 1982-1984. If you're like me, you remember that Fruit Roll-Ups came in limited colors/flavors (red, orange, purple) and were square or rectangular and came, well, rolled-up in cellophane. If you're like me, you have not had a Rruit Roll-Up in 20+ years.

Well, times and Fruit Roll-Ups have changed! They now come in 10 flavors, crazy colors and patterns (including tiger stripes and tie-dye), and funny character shapes that you can peel off. To make it even CRAZIER, some are even printed with "tongue tattoos!" The Fruit Roll-Up has pictures on which you press your tongue, and the picture transfers onto your tongue! Then you stick your tongue out at all your friends and they exclaim, "Ohhhh, Spongebob!" It makes lunchtime great fun.

There are also "stackable" Fruit Roll-Ups, but the concept was lost on me. Why would you want to stack your food? Why not just eat it? Oh, yeah, I remember. Because you're 9 and stacking your food and putting pictures on your tongue before actually eating the food is great fun!
My students couldn't believe that "back in the day" (this is the term used when referring to any teacher's childhood), we only had, like, 3 options when it came to Fruit Roll-Ups. "That's too bad," they tell me. I can't get myself to eat a Fruit Roll-Up (ewww), so I don't know what I'm missing.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Day Before a Day Off

I'm taking the day off! I love it that it's 10:07 a.m. and I'm sitting at home. My poor students are at the mercy of some random substitute teacher that may or may not know what he or she is doing. I've left them enough work to last several day, so if it's a smart sub, s/he has put them to work.

I'm usually never absent. This is actually my second absence this year, which my kids pointed out yesterday when I told them I wasn't going to be there today. They wanted to know WHY I wasn't going to be there. I told them I "had a meeting," which is not true. I love that the meeting just happened to make it on a Friday so I could have a 3-day long weekend. They seemed worried that I wasn't going to be there. A day with a sub can be a fun or a terrible day. I gave them a little spiel about how I expect them to still follow the class routines and be responsible even though I'm not there, that this is a time to prove their trustworthiness...blah, blah, blah. Then I opened it up to a little Q and A, which was a mistake.

Student 1: Do you know who the sub is going to be?

Me: No idea.

Student 1: I hope it's Mrs. Robeson because last time you were absent, she let us sing and dance to "Soulja Boy."

Me: Terrific.

Student 2: What if the sub tells us to do something one way, but you usually tell us to do it another?

Me: Do what the sub tells you to do.

Student 2: What if we get in trouble for doing it your way?

Me: Do what the sub tells you to do.

Student 2: What if the sub doesn't let us have Friday free time?

Me: I've left instructions all about Friday free time, but do what the sub tells you to do.

Student 3: What if aliens land outside and the sub doesn't do anything?

Me: Use your best judgment.

Student 3: What?

Me: Try to get a picture of the aliens and then run.

Student 4: I'm going to miss you, Ms. M.

Me: Thanks! That's nice to hear!

Student 5: What if the sub says we did something, but we really didn't do it and we get in trouble for it.

Me: That seems to happen all the time with you. Deal with it.

Student 5: But....

Me: DEAL with it!

Student 6: If something happens, can we write you a note telling you all about it and leave it on your desk?

Me: No.

At this point I closed the Q & A session as all the "What ifs" could've dragged it on FOREVER (literally).

So we'll see how it went when I return on Monday, but knowing kids, after 2 days off, they will have forgotten all about it by then (or at least one can only hope).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Energizer Bunnies

I think all of my students have Tourettes Syndrome. Okay, that's probably a terrible thing to say, but I swear to god, they cannot sit still for even one minute. They are constantly twitching, tapping, fidgeting, or in some other way moving.

Today some of the kids presented their science fair projects. (On a side note, I HATED science fair projects when I was in I LOVE them! When you don't have to actually do one, the process is really fun!). So while one child was up in front of the room, I sat at their desk to listen to their presentation and grade them.

If you're a teacher, I highly recommend sitting at a student's desk occasionally. It gives you a perspective of your classroom you've never had before. It also gives you an idea of how the student usually sees you. It's weird.

Aaaaanyway, we were all listenting to a student's science presentation when I looked around the room at all the children. Every single one of them was moving in some way. Half of them weren't seated on their butts, either. They were either standing, sitting on their knees (ow!), sitting with one foot underneath their butt, or they were half up-half down out of their chairs (leaning on their desks). It makes me wonder: when does this change?

If you look at adults, we move as little as possible. (It's almost kind of sad how little some adults move!) There are also few or no adults who would sit on a chair in some other way than on their butts. And running? Forget it. When was the last time you ran (and not for exercise or because you absolutely had to)? Kids, though, they would run everywhere if you let them! Do you know how many times a day I say "Stop running" or "Walk"? At least a dozen. At least.

Part of what I love about kids is their energy, but I just wish I could turn it off sometimes! I mean, is five minutes of stillness a day too much to ask?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gotta Take a Call

I have nothing new to report today except my theory that the more days off of work you have, the more you want. 4 days just isn't enough. Twenty work days until winter break! Then I have 2 full weeks off!!!

So since I have nothing to add today, I will dig into my past and pull out a story. If you've known me for longer than 2 years, then you know that I haven't always worked at my current school. I've worked at some crazy-ass schools with some real whack-jobs.

I'll tell you my husband's absolute FAVORITE school story.

So I used to teach this crazy kid. We'll call him David. David was a pain in my you-know-what and his mother was even worse. She thought David could do absolutely no wrong, but he was the terror of my 4th grade classroom about 5 years ago. I always read to my students after lunch. Kids (usually) like to be read to so they are (usually) quiet and attentive. So there I am reading one of my favorite books to read aloud, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." While I read, I circulate around the room so as to keep everybody engaged. Everybody was quiet...except David. I notice that he is "talking to himself." So I walk towards his desk while I continue to read. As I approach, I notice that he has his shoe next to his ear and is talking into it like it's a phone. I get right up next to him and keep reading. Now, a normal child would immediately stop when the teacher is not even a foot away from him. Not David. He continues to talk into his shoe-phone as if I'm not even there. I stop reading, bend down so I'm level with his ear (I don't want to draw any more attention to him than I have to), and say in my most stern-but-quiet voice, "Get that shoe back on your foot...RIGHT...NOW." I stand back up to start to read again, and David says into his shoe-phone, "Yeah...I gotta go."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holiday Weekend

Just so you know you, your child's teacher does NOT want to talk to you over Thanksgiving Break. She will, but she does not want to.

Friday (yesterday) was our 2nd day off, the first being Thanksgiving Day, and I had already received emails from TWO parents asking me questions about homework. Actually, the question from both was: What were the homework assignments because my kid forgot his homework agenda at school. Grrrr. Y'know what? Have your kid call one of his friends, that's what we used to do! OR, occasionally let your kid suffer the consequences of forgetting his homework instead of bailing him/her out each and every time.

I know parents do this out of love and out of fear of their child failing, and I understand that it is my job to communicate with parents. I truly do understand these things, but children need to learn responsibility and parents need to CHILL OUT. I've seen parents so fearful of their children failing that they will complete assignments FOR their children; They will leave work and drive to school to bring the forgotten homework; They will call people long-distance for help solving a word problem.

It's fourth grade, people. Get some perspective!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Being Thankful

With tomorrow being Thanksgiving, I did such a teacher thing today and had the kids share what they were thankful for before they left school. It was so cute (mostly).

Here are some things they were thankful for:

my parents
transportation (huh?)
"my 2 annoying sisters"
my life
my teachers (awww)
my grandma and grandpa
my cat
my clothes
the ability to dance
Tom Brady, QB of the New England Patriots

I'm glad they've got their priorities straight (mostly)!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm Old

Y'know what's weird? When a stranger comes up to at some random place like the grocery store and says, "Hi, Ms. ________." (I don't use my name in this blog). This leaves me in an awkward position because I can tell by the greeting that the person is a former student, but I have NO idea who they are because I haven't seen them in god-knows-how-many years. So then I just stare at them and try to figure out who the hell they are and how long ago I may have taught them. They finally take mercy on me and tell me. Then I fall into shock because the little dimpled boy I remember now has facial hair and piercings. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

It's scary to think that the first students I ever taught (4th graders) are now college-age. They're able to vote! Hopefully they've learned a bit more since the last time I saw them, because if they haven't, you definitely do NOT want these people voting. ( :

Monday, November 19, 2007


So I was all set to vent about how annoying the parents of my students can be, but I just got an email from one of the parents that said, "I hope you and your family have a happy Thanksgiving holiday!" How am I supposed to bitch now?

Okay, I'll bitch about something else. Today my kids had computers. The class is called "computers," but the kids learn nothing about computers. Instead, they complete these academic quizzes for 40 minutes twice a week. It's sad, but what am I gonna do? Now I don't like to complain about other teachers since we're all on the same team, but what happened today was ridiculous! While my class was in computers, I was in my classroom grading papers. One of my students walked in. When I asked her why she was here, she told me that the computer teacher wouldn't let her use her kleenex. The teacher told her to come to the classroom to get a piece of kleenex so the girl could blow her nose! Are you kidding me? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET THE KID USE A PIECE OF KLEENEX! Instead, the kid had to walk all the way to our classroom with her hand covering her nose.

This is the same teacher who, if a student's computer is not working for whatever reason, will not let them switch to an available working computer. She just makes them sit and read. WTF??? Your tax dollars at work!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are You Effing Kidding Me?

They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When dealing with a school, I'd say the equivalent saying is: "A school is only as strong as its main office." Really, if the main office can't get it together, then the school is screwed. We're screwed. The office is definitely our weakest link.

Today I gave a math test. I mistakenly only ordered 19 copies of the math test instead of 20. While I only have 19 students (a blessing), I used one of them to make the test key, so I was short 1 test. Totally my fault. I sent a student down to the office to ask them to make one simple copy of the test. The test was 2 pieces of paper, with the first page being back to back, so I needed a total of three copies. I sent a reliable kid with the test and a very nice note explaining my request. FIFTEEN minutes later, the kid comes back up with the original test and my copy. However, the copy is only 2 pages: the first page and the last page. When I asked him where the middle page was, he said that the secretary told him to tell me that she couldn't copy the second page because it was on the back of the first page. I said nothing. What I wanted to say was "Are you f*cking kidding me?"

So I had to manually write out the 10 problems and the 4 multiple choice answers for each problem on one of my student's test because the secretary was too dumb to figure out that all she needed to do was turn the paper over to copy the back.

We shouldn't worry so much about the future of America. We should worry about its present.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Words of Interest

My students each have a reading folder divided into 3 sections. One section is entitled "Keeping Track of Books." Here they have different lists: books they've read, books they want to read, and books they've abandoned. Another section is entitled "Responses," in which they write letters to me about what they're reading and I write back. The last is called "Words of Interest," in which they keep track of, well, interesting words. I've instructed them to jot down words they come across in their reading of which they don't know the meaning or words that are interesting for whatever reason. I probably should not have given such free reign.

This is one of my kids' list:

butt nugget

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Parent/Teacher Conferences

Today is parent-teacher conferences, which means I didn't have to come in until noon. It is SO nice to sleep in on a random day (Thursday). Of course I have to be here til 6:00, but that's okay. I like report card day. It gives me a chance to reflect on each child individually. Parents usually ask really good questions, too, which challenge me to really know what I'm talking about. And you know what? After 2 degrees and 10 years of doing this, I actually DO! Go figure!

Some parents, though, are clueless. Like I'll be in the middle of a conference and a parent will just walk in, right past the sign that says "Please sign in and take a seat outside. I will be with you shortly." Then they'll just stand there waiting for me to acknowledge them. Uh, hello! You've gone through the parent-teacher conference process for 5 years now. Try to catch on to how waiting your turn works.

Another annoyance is when a parent is surprised when their child is not doing well. I have developed a system in which EVERY graded paper goes home on a specified day of the week for the parents' review. The parents are made aware of this system the first week of school and I constantly remind them of this on my class "website." If a parent goes through the packet of graded work, they should know exactly how s/he is doing. Plus, they can always contact me just to "check in." I just had a parent who was surprised to see her daughter got a D in reading. She even said to me, "Her midterm progress report said she was getting a C, how can she be getting a D now?" Uhhh, easily. Do people not realize that the difference between a C and a D can be just 1 percentage point?

Oh, and parents, can you please turn off your cell phones when you are conferencing with me? And if you forget, which happens, don't answer your cell phone when it rings while we're speaking. I mean, come on!

Well, now I'm on "lunch," which I think is hilarious. We started a noon, we have lunch from 3-4, and we leave at 6:15. Could we make it more inconvenient for parents to have a conference with their child's teacher? Gotta love union jobs!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Farm Animals Visit

Well, I was right. Not one person mentioned their new seats today. It's as if they've been sitting where they're at all year. Geez, and what a fuss they made yesterday!

Today brought its own interesting events, though. Today was our first "area walk-through." This is when the Area Instructional Officer (AIO) and her minions visit our school. This was not a surprise as our principal told us about it last week. Every time they visit, they have a focus question that they try to answer by the time they've completed their walk-through. This year's focus is something like: "Are students responding to text in a meaningful way, especially in reading notebooks in which the teacher provides meaningful feedback?" They don't visit every classroom, only ones selected. Our principal is professional enough to ask for volunteers before randomly selecting rooms. I volunteered. Better to get it overwith. Plus, my students respond to text in a meaningful way, especially in their reading notebooks in which I provide meaningful feedback.

The minions started the day by gathering us at a meeting at which they told us they were not their to evaluate us, but to help us. Mmm-hmmmm. These walk-throughs are total b.s. These people come to our school, like, 3 times a year, tell us we're great, tell us what we can improve, and then type up some b.s. report from which nothing ever comes. (Teachers at my last school called the AIO the "E-I-E-I-O." I hope this conjures up images of farm animals as this is how we pretty much few the AIO team and their absurd walk-throughs.) Anyway...

I told my students that we may have people visit the classroom today and to keep their reading notebooks out on their desks. This visit can be intimidating as it is a team of, like, 6 people walking in, observing, circulating, and asking kids questions. I told my kids not to worry about it. They weren't being graded or judged. They should just go about their business and answer any questions they're asked.

So we went about our day not knowing what time we would be visited. We did guided reading, began a writing session (in which we are doing the most FUN writing assignment: We are doing a cross-curricular project combining what we are learning about in science (plant adaptations) and what we are learning about in reading (tall tales) and writing stories involving exaggerated plant adaptations! It's SO fun!). Anyway....we were writing when I suddenly sensed tenseness in the classroom and heard whispers of, "The visitors are here! The visitors are here!" I almost laughed out loud. The kids calling them "the visitors" made it sound like they were talking about aliens (not too far off), and the way they said it made it sound like Paul Revere was announcing the arrival of the British. (Hmmm...sounds like the making of a new writing assignment: combining historical fact with science fiction!).

So the E-I-E-I-O people came and did their thing, walked around the classroom, pretended not to interrupt absolutely everything, and then left after 5 minutes. I hope they got everything they needed so they never have to come back and bother me with this bullshit for the rest of the year. What I'd really like to do is to "walk through" their office with my clipboard and pretend not to evaluate what's going on in there.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Big Excitement!

There was lots of excitement in the classroom today! Moreso than the first day even! It caused so much of a distraction that the kids didn't settle down for 15 minutes! What caused this excitement you ask? Was it the adoption of a classroom pet? No. Was it the addition of a new student? Nope. Were we going on a field trip? Wrong again! The big deal was....

We changed seats.

Yes, that's all. I changed the seating arrangement as I always do at the beginning of the second quarter. I guess as adults we forget how important this is. To a child, this can apparently make or break a school year (or at least a fourth of it). I heard the mutterings of displeasure within the first 5 seconds of the kids entering the classroom. I also heard the occasional "Yessssssssssss!" I had pleas to be moved, complaints that they couldn't see of their neighbor's big head, assurances that their parents didn't want them sitting next to so-and-so.


My response to all of these grievances: "You'll live." And they will. They always do. In fact, by tomorrow they'll have forgotten where they used to sit.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween in the City

Halloween in the city always depresses me. I tend to compare the childhoods of my city kids to my own childhood (which I probably shouldn't do, but can't help). Our situations are totally different. It may sound terrible, but I believe that the way it was for me during my childhood was better than the way it is for them during theirs. Allow me to explain:

Kids in the city go trick or treating at stores, not houses. This bugs me to no end. This probably happens because most dwellings in the city are buidings and not walk-up single-family homes. So I understand why this happens. I just hate it.

Many kids do not dress up. They just put on a mask or something and then trick-or-treat. That's cheating. This is most likely not the child's fault, though, so I should be more understanding.

One of my kids asked me yesterday what it was like to go trick or treating because she has never gone! This is not a religious thing. Her parents just don't let her. *sigh*

I heard on the radio this morning that a pregnant woman got shot in the head while bringing 3 small kids trick or treating. 'Nuff said.

So I guess forgive me for thinking that my childhood was superior to my students'. I never heard of anybody getting shot in the head while trick or treating. The worst thing that happened were some cars getting egged.

One thing that was exactly the same, though, was that everybody's lunch today consisted pretty much only of candy! That's the way it should be the day after Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Return

The return to school wasn't that bad! The classroom was immaculate! I was very impressed. However, when I went out to pick up my kids this morning, the very first thing one of the said to me was, "We didn't learn one thing yesterday!" Terrific.

For all my careful plans, the sub pretty much ignored everything I wrote and had the kids write Halloween stories. It had been so long since I've taken a day off that I forgot that subs pretty much have their own itineraries and the plans the teacher leaves are merely suggestions. Whatever. I'm not sweating the small no learning.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Calling in Sick

I called in sick today. And if you know me, I have to truly NOT be feeling well to do this. I seriously can't remember the last time I was sick. There are 2 reasons that I never call in sick, well...3.

1. I'm NEVER sick. My husband says I have an immune system of steel, and it's true. Okay, so you don't have to be sick to call in, but the next two reasons explain why I don't do that.

2. It is a pain in the ass to prepare to be off. Teachers know what I'm talking about. For you civilians, if you were absent from work tomorrow, you would just postpone your work until the next day. Teachers cannot do this. Think about every little thing you have to do at work tomorrow. Now imagine writing everything down so someone else can complete all your tasks for you. This is what teachers have to do. It takes forever.

3. You never know what you're coming back to. Many times the classroom is a mess. Also, there is a ton of paperwork to grade or go over because of all the crap you had the kids do while you were gone. Plus, the kids want to tell you absolutely everything that the sub did "wrong," or how mean s/he was, or how so-and-so did this. Too many fires to put out. It's just not worth it.

We'll see what tomorrow holds because I'm feeling much better. (Actually, not that much better, but I can't stand to be out for more than one day!)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

All is Well

I sometimes get overwhelmed by the problems in the world and think that we're going to hell in a handbasket. On the news we hear about crime, poverty, illiteracy, children raising themselves, etc., all of which are such huge problems that feed into one another it boggles the mind. It's enough to want to cry and quit.

While this is wholly depressing, I'd like to report some good news: Kids, no matter where they live, or how shitty their home lives are, or how tough they pretend to be, are still kids.

On field trips, they still crank their arms like mad to make truck drivers honk their horns. They still like to draw with sidewalk chalk. They cheer for no homework or extra recess. They still have compassion for small animals. Girls think boys are gross and dumb and boys think girls are gross and weird.

And for the things about kids that scare us: the violence, the poor performance in school, the "gangsta" mentality that many idolize, etc. We have no one to blame but ourselves: adults. We have modeled it. And if we have not modeled it, we have allowed it, perhaps by doing or saying nothing).

"We have been so eager to give our children what we didn't have that we have neglected to give them what we did."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hello Drrrrrrama!

School starts at 8:50 every morning. By 9:00 I had already dealt with two major problems between my kids. The first was between two boys, the second between two girls. The incidents really highlight the difference between how boys and girls "fight" with each other and which one I prefer handling.

By 8:52, two of my boys "got into it" (scuffling, arguing, pulling something between them so it was about to rip in two) in front of their lockers. I went over to see what was going on. It turned out that one boy knocked over the other's book bag, so the other one tried to take his jacket away. THIS IS WHAT 4TH GRADE BOYS FIGHT ABOUT. Ugh. They were SO mad with one another. When I "broke it up," they each tried to tell me what the other did (of course they themselves were not at fault), but I hushed them up right quick and told them I didn't want to hear it. I told them to close their mouths, get their stuff put away, and go pull their cards. What're the next words I hear?


"But nothing," I said. And if I hear another word about it, you can go pull your card again" (which puts them on red before the day even starts! Oooooooh...). One of them couldn't help it. He kept trying to defend himself. Poor kid got on red before he even entered the classroom. He was NOT happy. Oh well. This is the kid who, according to him, is wrongfully accused for everything. He never does anything wrong. Mmm-hmm.

Not even 2 minutes later, one of my girls comes pouting to me that she wants to change seats because another girl who sits at her table is rolling her eyes at her, talking about her, and turning all the other girls against her. This all stemmed from a problem yesterday at lunch. And I had already told the eye-roller yesterday after the lunch incident that there is NO DRAMA ALLOWED IN MY CLASSROOM. There will be no eye-rolling, no rumor-starting, no tongue-sticking outing (?), NONE OF THAT.

I (stupidly) let the eye-roller give me some background info about why she was acting the way she was acting, because I knew it could not have been about the stupid lunch incident yesterday. It turns out that the other girl told her that "she couldn't get no man." (hee-hee). I (stupidly) asked the one who supposedly said this to her about it and it turns out that she had written it in her diary and the eye-roller read the diary without her permission. Oooooooh...

Then I realized that I was (stupidly) getting caught up in the drama that I had expressly forbid in my classroom and told them I didn't want to hear any monre "buts....". Then I expressly forbid diaries in my classroom. At this point, I felt exhausted. It was 9:09. This is how my day started.

Oh, and by lunch the girls were best friends again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Aaaand There It Is

As I have previously mentioned, my class is comprised of almost all African-American students. Specifically, I have 18 black kids and 1 white kid. Everyone pretty much gets along. Nobody alienates the white student based on the fact that she's white. However, there are some major differences that pop up every once in a while that really emphasize the difference between black culture and white culture.

The other day a small group of kids, including the white student, was playing a game. The task on this particular turn was to think of a famous person whose name begins with "R." The white student shouted out "Ray Romano!" The rest of the kids were like, "Who's that?" Even after explaining who he was, the other kids decided that she didn't get the point since none of them knew who he was and therefore couldn't be famous. Another student got to answer then.

"Ray Charles!" one of them shouted.

"Who's that?" asked my white student. ( :

Monday, October 22, 2007

From Nothing to Something

I have no idea what I'm going to write about today. Usually when I sit down to write, I either have the entire blog entry pretty much written in my head or at least have a general idea what I'm going to say. Today...nothing.

I guess I could write about how I got 2 new students today. They are actually returning students. They left at the end of last year because they were unhappy with the curriculum. They both went to a private school hoping for a better education. I don't know why parents think that private schools will offer anything better. If parents did their homework, they would see that private schools don't have to accredited, which means that no one is watching them to make sure they're doing what they should. And private school teachers don't need to be certified or even have to have a degree in education! They can pretty much be anybody! I guess parents think that because they're paying to send their kids to school, they're getting something better. Not true. I'm usually a pretty firm believer in the adage: You pay for what you get, but not so in this case. The parents re-enrolled the kids in our school because the private school was so far behind. The 2 new students said they were doing second grade work in their fourth grade class!

I could also write about how I nearly cut my thumb off with a pair of scissors today. I ended up with a deep, strange-looking, V-shaped cut on the pad of my thumb. It really hurts.

I could write about the numerous bodily fluids I've had to deal with lately. In the past week alone, 3 kids have thrown up, 2 teeth have fallen out, and 1 student stepped in the pee of first grader who had an accident in the hall (even though he was specifically told to avoid the area until the janitor arrived, but no, he had to walk right into it).

I could write about how French was canceled today, but nobody had the decency or foresight to let me know. THIS is one of my major pet peeves at my school. It sucks when one of my preps is canceled, but it sucks even more to not know in advance. Even if it's just the morning of. Hell, even give me a 10-minute heads up.

For not knowing what I was going to write about, I sure had a lot to say! I could write more, but I'd better save something for tomorrow. ( ;

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Testing, Schmesting

Friday we had no school. Teachers still had to work, but a day without students is like a day off. Most of the teachers at my school spent the day at the first in a series of workshops about Extended Response. For you civilians, Extended Response (ER) is a section of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in which students from 3-8 grades have to read a 3-4 page passage and then respond to a prompt about it. ER is the bane of every teacher's existence. We spend so much friggin' time talking about, learning about, complaining about, and teaching ER that I could explode. (I'm not sure why I could explode...that's just what came out).

Anyway, for all the time spent on it, we have very little understanding of it. Our kids don't do well on it. And as I learned yesterday, hardly any kids do well on it! The highest score you can get is a 4. Only 4-7% of all kids in the ENTIRE state of Illinois got a 4.

The ER is graded by an independent third party who uses a rubric that is supposed to eliminate as much subjectivity as possible. Everyone has access to the rubric so that we all know how the kids will be assessed. But, I'm sorry, there's NO WAY you can take subjectivity out of grading, unless you are grading something that's either right or wrong (like true/false or multiple choice). Yesterday we were given a passage to read and four samples of student ER from last year's test. Our task was to work with the people at our table and score each sample. It was a disaster. Responses that some of us scored a 1 (using the rubric, mind you) were actually scored a 4 and vice-versa. Granted we aren't trained graders, but we are the people teaching the students how to write these stupid things! And like I said, we've spent dozens and dozens of hours analyzing student ERs, talking about how to improve, etc., and we still don't know what we're doing. In fact, after the 3-hour seminar yesterday, I felt more confused than ever.

OH, and then we found out that the ER accounts for only 10% of the total reading score! Grrrrrr! For years They've been making it out like it was worth a hell of a lot more than that! Talk about time wasted in the classroom.

I'm so glad I'm not a kid today. These tests that they have to take are so stressful and LOOOONG. I understand that they're necessary as assessment tools, but the stakes resulting from their scores are so high. They determine the promotion or retention. They determine if your school meets federal standards (No Child Left Behind Act). And I found out yesterday, ISAT scores are factored into the Area Instructional Officers pay!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Area Instructional Officers are the people directly above the principals of a group of schools). Uh, talk about a conflict of interest! That totally left a bad taste in my mouth.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I will spend much less time teaching my kids how to organize their thoughts into an bullshit extended response format this year and spend more time providing them with actual literacy experiences that I know will improve their reading (instead of extinguishing their passion for learning).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Going to Extremes

I saw a comedian once who made a most astute observation about our country. He said something like, "Here in America, we'll do nothing about a problem or issue...until something happens. Then we do freakin' everything." This is so true. Take terrorist attacks. Before 9/11, there were minimal security measures at airports. Now we can't even bring toothpaste on a plane. I mean, is that really necessary? I don't think banning toothpaste is going to prevent another attack, but like I said: first we do nothing, then we do freakin' EVERYTHING!

Today before school, a boy got hurt throwing around a football. I heard the injury was pretty bad. Apparently (and this is through the grapevine) he fell over a fence and cut his head open on a license plate. Blood was everywhere and you could see his skull! Knowing the grapevine, he probably only has a bruise. (Okay, it's more severe than that because an ambulance came).

They made an announcement at around 8:35 asking teachers if they could go pick up their kids from outside early so as to remove 699 kids from the injured boys vicinity. Everyone complied and later on got thanked via a subsequent announcement in which the entire school was informed that there would be absolutely NO MORE FOOTBALL ALLOWED EVER. One kid gets hurt and football is banned permanently. wtf?

This kind of logic doesn't make sense to me. I understanding not allowing football in the mornings because it's too crowded and children of all ages (from 4 to 13) are out there and it gets dangerous, but to ban it completely is so extreme. Following this logic, what's going to happen when someone gets hurt walking up the stairs?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fizzled Out

Today I taught a lesson about categorizing and classifying. Instead of me merely explaining and demonstrating what it means to categorize and classify things, I had my kids participate in a small group activity in which they had to take 20 words printed on cards and classify them into groups. (Of course we did an example as a whole class first!).

My students from recent years must've spoiled me. They were so energetic, creative, and into "hands on" activities like this. This class...not so much. Each group came up with one way to classify and then asked if they could just write the words instead. Most groups classified the words in the same exact way I had shown in the example! I wanted to shake them and ask, "What's wrong with you kids? You get to be up and out of your seat! You get to talk! You get to be creative! There are no wrong answers!" Literally, after only 5 minutes of working, several kids approached me and asked me if they could sit down now.

It was depressing. I'm really going to have to work on this group. They would rather complete worksheets than participate in an activity where they get to be out of their seat. It's not that I don't want them to be able to sit and work quietly by themselves, but there's a spark that's been extinguished along the way, a zest for learning and fun that's supposed to sustain them until at LEAST junior high. It's too early for these babies to be jaded. It's going to be my job this year to rekindle the spark.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An Unexpected Exchange

This exchange happened today. While the kids were getting ready to go, I sat at my desk to get something. A student approached:

Student: Ms. M, do you have change for a $10?

Me: Actually, I think I do. (I got my wallet out and got out a 5 and five singles. I went to hand it to the student and saw that she was squatting down in front of my desk. I figured she had dropped her $10.)

Me: Here you go. (The student stands and we exchange money.)

Student: Thanks, Ms. M (and skips away).

Me: Uh, why is your $10 bill so damp?

Student: Oh, because it was in my shoe. Bye!

Ewwwwww! The money's still sitting on my desk "drying out."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Going Green

I gave my students a science test last week. We've been learning about plants and fungi. The test was 25 multiple choice questions and 3 short essay questions. Most of my kids bombed the essay part of the test, so I decided not to count it. I counted the multiple choice questions and told them I was going to let them retake the essay questions.

One of the essay questions was: "Name three ways a dandelion and mushroom are alike and three ways they are different." This question was worth 6 points. Some of my kids gave good answers such as, "A dandelion has seeds and a mushroom has spores," or "Dandelions make their own food through photosynthesis while mushrooms take their energy from other living or dead things," or "Dandelions are plants and mushrooms are fungi..." y'know...stuff we actually LEARNED in class! A lot of the kids left the question blank, and some put dumb stuff like, "They look different."

They got their papers back and we went over possible correct answers together. When we got to that question, I asked the class what was so hard about this question, and I got an answer I never expected. Many of my kids do not know what a dandelion is. THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT A DANDELION IS!!!! And worse, no one asked during the test! Uh, hello?!?!

Once I described one, they knew what I was talking about, which was somewhat of a relief. I just can't imagine not knowing, at age 9, what a dandelion was. When I think about it, though, it shouldn't surprise me. Many of these kids have spent their entire lives in an urban setting. While the south side of the city has many beautiful parks and open expanses of green, their homes aren't exactly overlooking these areas. Most of the places they go to play are crammed between two concrete buildings and contain no grass.

My biggest concern is that no one asked about the question while they were taking the test. I know it's a test and that they're supposed to get help, but this isn't a standardized state test or anything. I've got a lot of work to do with these kids. First on the list, bring them somewhere nice and green!

Friday, October 12, 2007

College and Candy

Today was "college shirt" day at school. All the faculty and staff wore shirts that represent the college/university they went to in order to encourage students to think about going to college. This is funny, because my kids are 9 and are very unlikely to think past the end a schoolday, let alone someplace they want to go 9 years from now. meant that I got to wear jeans, a comfy t-shirt, and gym shoes. Never seeing me dressed like this before, one of my kids told me I looked like I was going to the store. I guess that's what you say when you don't know the word "casual" yet.

On an entirely different note, it's always nice when another teacher acknowledges your class (for something good, that is!). My students and I were in our classroom when an older student entered with a container of candy with a note attached. The note, from the school librarian, said, "I was not having a great day on Wednesday. When I had your class for library, they really turned it into one." I was so proud! I gushed over my kids and told them how happy they made me. Then I made them wait until the end of the day to get the candy. I know it's cruel, but I've been teaching long enough (longer than a week) to know the effects of sugar on a nine-year old body.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

All Over the Place, but Not Getting Anywhere

You know it's bad when you're driving home and you are debating if it's safe to rest your eyes for just 1 second. (Just so you know, it's NOT a good idea). From the moment I woke up today, I was off. And when I found a penny on my way to the car, I knew I was going to have a really lucky day or I was totally in for it. (It was the latter). I went through the motions and somehow got to work by 7:30. I then had from 7:30 until almost 9:00 to prepare for my day, but I couldn't manage to do it in a cohesive way. I was all over the place. I prepared for the morning, but then got totally engrossed in 2 projects (at the same time, no less, to make it even less efficient). To make matters worse, neither project even needed to be done today! The bell rang to signify the start of the school day and I hadn't even used the bathroom yet! Hmmmm....doing things that don't even need to be done or using the bathroom before you can't use it for several hours. Apparently I had made my choice.

Now since I've come home, I've had 2 things to do before I leave to go somewhere at 7:00: grade math tests and do laundry. Do you think I've done either one of them? Nooooooo. It's because I'm brain dead.

Because of this affliction, I've delegated some responsibilities of remembering things to my students. I tell them things like, "Remind me after lunch to...". This backfired on me today, though, when my kids asked me, "What were we supposed to remind you to do?" It's spreading!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Crunching Numbers

I don't know how, but I'm supposed to manage to teach reading, writing, spelling, grammar, social studies, math, and science in the piddly number of minutes I have with my kids everyday. I'm also supposed to differentiate instruction so that each child is working at his or her instructional level, work with children in small groups, as well as work with students one-on-one. Someone tell me how to do all this when Chicago has the shortest school day in the state (and I believe one of the shortest in the country!). Some teachers would probably think I'm crazy for complaining, but I simply do not have enough time to do everything I need to do.

The school day starts at 8:50 and ends at 2:45. Subtract the 40-minute blocks of time for French (3x/week), Computers (2x/week), Library, Art, and Gym, and the 20-minute block for lunch, I have about 18 minutes left per week to teach. Half of that time is spent lining up and walking to and from the aforementioned classes, so now I'm down to nine minutes. It's a good thing my kids can already read, add, and subtract.

This time crunch causes major stress on my part and only my part. The kids are totally oblivious of time. Even though they are in fourth grade and can tell time and have a schedule written up on the board every day, they still don't know what's what. For example, they think it should be lunch time when they get hungry. It could be 10:00 and they're asking me if it's lunchtime yet. They always seem to know exactly when recess is, though, especially if we're late for it! For some reason, they don't care if we're late starting math or social studies.

Somehow I do it, though. I manage to cram in most of what I need to teach and give the kids time to use the bathroom. Now, time for me to use the bathroom is a different story...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

Hooray for Columbus Day! Having a day off allows me to have a day just like I had during summer vacation, except that today I woke up early and I graded papers. In fact, now that I think about it, today was more like a work day than a day off! I went to Starbucks to grade papers, but aside from the good coffee and the Bob Dylan playing, the freezing temperature of the room and the work piled in front of me was akin to being at work. (Did I mention they turned on the AC again? Grrrrrr.) The only thing that made today reminiscent of summer was the heat outside: 90 degrees.

I should be grading the rest of my papers, but allow me to procrastinate just a little bit more...

All the compliments I got last Thursday were to boost me up for the major blow I received on Saturday. A woman at the grocery store asked me if I had two daughters that went to a particular high school. Do I really look old enough to have high school-aged daughters???? My poor husband and best friend had to spend much time consoling and convincing me that the woman must've been high or insane. Whatever. All I know is that ever since then, I've been feeling fat, ugly, and, of course, old.

Okay, back to grading. After I check my email...and the regular mail...and get some water...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let's See What Tomorrow Brings

I got such a nice compliment today! Actually, I got two. (Two people told me that I have nice-looking legs and why don't I wear shorter skirts more often? - These were women, btw). That's not the one that I am proud of. I mean, I am proud because I work out, but ANYWAY...

One of my students told me that I'm the best teacher she ever had. Now I've had lots of students say this over the years and definitely not mean it. I was ready to treat this like one of those times, but then without any prompting from me, she went on to tell me why I am the best teacher: because I listen to the students' ideas and I don't tell them they're wrong all the time.

Well doesn't that make me feel good! And the legs comments didn't hurt, either!

And now that I think of it, I got an email from a parent today that said that his child is very happy in my class and that she's enjoying school more than she ever has.

With all these nice things being said about me today, let's just hope this doesn't mean disaster for tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I'm White and I'm Sad

Boy, am I white. I mean, I've always known I'm white, but today really exaggerated my whiteness. We went on a field trip today to a circus. The Universoul Circus. Now don't get me wrong, it was a really good show, very fun for the kids, with lots of "traditional" circus stuff like elephants, trapeze artists, and the like, but a lot of the circus was geared towards the black audience. My kids, 16 out of 17 whom are black, had a GREAT time. They danced to all the popular songs and danced all the popular dances, while we white folk were like, "What the...?" "Where do they learn this stuff???" I couldn't move the way some of my kids move even with training. It must be innate.

Now I know all black people can't dance, and not all black people have rhythm, but for the most part they do, and while at the circus today, I realized that the love and talent for rhythm and dancing is not innate, it's passed down. It's part of the culture. Even today was a way for the older generation of the black community (the ringmaster and some performers) to reconfirm and strengthen this love of rhythm, music, and community in the younger generation (the audience).

White people don't have this. In fact, I can't think of one thing that binds white Americans together into a "community," and this makes me sad.

Hilariously enough, my kids wanted me to volunteer when the ringmaster called for volunteers 25 years old or older to participate in a "Soul Train" type dance contest. Yeah, right! Like I would get up in front of a hundreds of black people (or white people) and dance! It's sweet that they thought I would.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Caution: Staples Ahead

How could I have forgotten? I sent the stapler around the classroom and asked the students to staple together their torn-out workbook pages from the reading workbook. No further directives. So I should not have been surprised when I received packets of paper with three staples down the left-hand side or one in each upper corner. (My least favorite is the one in the middle of the page. What good does THAT do anyone? You can't even turn the pages!). The worst part about this is that I knew better. Anyone who's been teaching for longer than a week knows you can't just send around a stapler and expect proper results! It doesn't matter how many packets with one staple neatly placed in the upper left-hand corner the kids have received over the course of their lives. It hasn't sunk in that THAT'S how you staple together papers. This, apparently, is something that must be taught, like other mundane September tasks taught to you by your fourth grade teacher.

Many kids have the need to staple their papers like a book. Oh, and the more staples, the better. Stapling must be fun to those who don't have a lot of experience with stapling, I guess. Ever since I started teaching, I've observed that kids are fascinated by stapling...and tape...oooh, and White Out...and highlighters...and post-it notes. All of these things need to be handled with extreme caution when working with children.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Connections or Lack Thereof

Yesterday we were reading a lesson in our science book about fungi. We got to a part about mold and, of course, the kids want to share every single encounter they've ever had with mold. While I encourage the children to make connections between what they read and their real life experiences, this can get totally out of hand quickly. So I chose only 3 people to call on. The first 2 told short, simple stories like about what happened when their mom accidentally left a container of cream cheese in the refrigerator for too long. Here's how the last kid's story went:

Kid: I once accidentally left a piece of bread out on the counter for a week, and...

Me: A week?

Kid: Yeah, a week. Anyway, it got covered in this furry stuff...

Me: You mean mold?

Kid: Yeah, mold, like in our book. Anyway, then my cat ate it and...

Me: Your cat ate it???

Kid: Yeah, my cat ate it and...(he goes on to talk about the mold some more and how there was hardly any bread left because the mold "ate" it -- which is true!)

Me: Was your cat okay?

Kid: I dunno.

Me: What do you mean you don't know?

Kid: I dunno if he was okay or not.

Me: Do you still have the cat?

Kid: Yeah

Me: Then he's okay!

He's such a cute kid, but totally clueless in some ways. That's another thing I love about kids. They just don't have enough life experience to connect the dots in ways that are so obvious to adults. Cat still alive = cat okay!

P.S. A small victory! They turned off the AC! My room was actually comfortable today. Nobody had to wear a coat or anything! This only happened because I went down to the useless chief engineer's office yesterday and asked him to pleeeeeeease turn off the air. His response: "You're cold?" I would've punched him had my hands not been to cold to form a fist. Apparently my word that it was too cold was not enough for him. The teacher next door to me told me that the useless chief engineer came up this morning to ask her if she was too cold, too. She obviously replied yes and the air was turned off! Voila!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Separation of What and What?

For a long time, I've known that the whole separation of church and state thing was pretty much for show. I mean, "In God We Trust" is written on our money and " nation, under God..." is in our Pledge of Allegience. However, these do not compare to what happened today.

We had a professional development day which usually means that we stay at our school and attend some kind of presentation about literacy. This year, however, all the schools in our "area" meet up at some location to have a professional development day. There are 22 schools in my area, which means about 800 people. Besides some major Chicago venue, such as Soldier Field or U.S. Cellular Field, I couldn't imagine where this event would be held. Lo and behold, the venue was merely 2 blocks from our a church!

This place was immense. I almost don't even want to call it a church. It was more like a compound, which scares me. It was super nice, almost hotel-like...and, like I said, it was huuuuuge, plus they were in the middle of building an addition. The church donated their space, their employees' time, breakfast, and lunch! Obviously, this church as a lot of money. Did I mention that the neighborhood is impoverished? 86% of my schools' student body is low income. It just creeps me out that the church has all this money while the neighborhood around it doesn't.

I guess the fact that our school's professional devlopment event took place at a church isn't that big of a deal since they didn't include anything religious in the professional development activities. It was just...odd. I shouldn't be surprised considering our school pledge ends with the religious affirmation, "I am somebody because God made me." However, nobody else seems to find this inappropriate. It must be me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

97 Degrees and Freezing

Today's temperature broke records in Chicago today. It was something like 97 degrees, which is HOT for late September! I need it to cool off, but not for the reason you'd think. I need it to cool off outside so my classroom will HEAT UP!

This is my third year in my particular classroom. I spend half of the year freezing and the other half melting, and neither at the most obvious times. While it was 97 degrees outside today, my classroom was 62. It's always 62. 62 is c-o-l-d to be sitting in for 6 hours. By midday, I literally cannot feel my toes. Now you know if I, the teacher, am complaining to you all , you know the kids are complaining to me. It's annoying, but I've basically learned to ignore them. Actually I tell their parents to complain to the administration, but I don't think anybody has.

Every year I complain to the chief engineer, who I'm sorry to say, is useless. Every year he tells me it's because I have such a small room and it cools easily than the other "big" rooms. Then he goes over to the thermostat (which is literally under lock and key because god forbid they allow me to control my own temperature), adjusts the knob, and tells me it should warm up soon. It never does. Ever. Until winter.

In winter, my room is unbearably hot. I, who am usually cold, can't even stand it. I could probably wear a bikini and still be hot. So meanwhile it could be negative 12 out and we're boiling.

So last year in mid-January, I had just had it with the heat. I was hot, uncomfortable, and was about to LOSE IT! So I called the office through the intercom and asked them to send the engineer to my room. I was expecting the useless chief engineer, but up comes some guy I had never seen before. He identifies himself as someone from the regional engineering office. Ooooooooooh! I may get somewhere here! This guy's from the region! So I ask him to come into the sauna which is my classroom and tell him that I absolutely cannot stand it anymore. He unlocks the thermostat, starts to adjust it, and then remarks, "Hey, this thermostat's not even connected!" So for the past 3 years, stupid chief engineer man has been pretending to adjust the thermostat even though he KNEW it wasn't connected. Grrrrrrrr. The region guy never did anything to help me in the long run. He did turn off the whole heating system that day so we could get some relief, but it was right back on the next day so we could continue to melt.

Since then I've learned that the heating and cooling system have 2 settings: on and off, no inbetween. Seriously. I heard through the grapevine that when they built my wing (5 years ago), there was some kind of payoff to pass inspection in order to get the building done on time.

That's your tax dollars at work, Chicago!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

He's Responsible AND Funny

I think I've pinpointed what it is I love about children. Children are genuinely funny. They're funny without trying to be funny...funny when nobody's looking.

For a writing assignment today, my students had to write in response to this question:
"In what ways can you prove that you are a responsible person?"

This is what one of my kids wrote:
"One way I can show I'm responsible is when I was 8, my mom and dad went out for dinner. I had to watch my sister for 4 hours! I thought they left and went out of town after the 2nd hour."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Summer: A Time to Forget

Lately, there has been talk of year-round schools. This means that we would be in school for the same number of days, but they would be dispersed differently. Since times have changed and children's help isn't really needed around the farm during the busy summer months anymore, They (researchers, administrators, The Man?) think that children and teachers would benefit from a year-round school calendar. They give many convincing arguments for year-round schools, and it's not that I wouldn't like working for a month and then having 3 weeks off and so on, but it's just that 3 weeks isn't enough time to forget how much I stand and walk during a day of forget how much my feet hurt.

Because summer gives me the opportunity to forget, I get to buy cute shoes! I used to buy high heels (not crazy high) and have moved down to cute kitten (or princess) heels.

These are the CUTE shoes I bought this summer. I usually leave the house wearing shoes like this in the morning:

These are the ugly shoes I usually come home wearing:

And for no reason, this is the random funny sticker I found on the bottom of my shoe yesterday:So in short, I am against year-round schooling for reasons more than the foot pain and the excuse to buy cute shoes. That'll be another entry someday when I don't have pictures of stickers stuck to my shoes to share.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Certain Death

Apparently there is such a thing as a "banana spider," and thank god the one in my classroom wasn't one! I'm not sure why my student thought the spider on our floor was called a banana spider, but if I EVER saw one of these, I would surely die.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What's in a Name?

I recently read an article that discussed the changing trend in the naming of schools. In the past, most schools were named after people. The newest trend is to name schools after natural features, such as "mesa" or "lakeside," etc. The reason for the new trend is to avoid controversy. While Andrew Jackson may have done some important things in office, he was a slave owner and banished all Native Americans to Oklahoma. Therefore, naming a school after our fourth president is not a good idea anymore.

A couple of days ago, my kids were reading an article in their Scholastic News Magazine about an elementary school in Brooklyn be honest, I don't remember what they did...improved test scores, stopped gang violence....something like that. What I do remember is that the school was called "Boody Elementary School." Now say it aloud.

At first I thought we were going a bit overboard by changing the way we name our schools to avoid controversy. Now I'm thinking it may be a good idea after all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Banana Spiders and Other Strange Creatures

I haven't had the internet at home for about a week! I wrote this entry many days ago, but saved it as a draft instead of posting. It probably doesn't matter since I doubt anybody is reading this anyway.

At home, in my civilian life, there is VERY little chance I’m killing a bug that enters my house. That job is left to my husband. My reaction is to scream, run out of the room, and call for my husband. At school, though, I am not so lucky. I’m the person in charge, so I have to take care of the situation. I wish I could say that I let the bug crawl on a piece of paper and carry it outside, thereby preserving its life, but I don’t. Any bug in my classroom is toast. I’ve killed countless bugs over the years. Last year alone I probably killed over a dozen bees. My method, although not very humane, is to spray them with Fantastic. Most bugs just get squashed.

This morning, during our reading lesson, I noticed one of my students was not paying attention. Instead, she was looking on the floor next to her and about ready to jump out of her seat. As I was about to address this, she raised her hand and told me, “Ms. M, there’s a banana spider on the floor.” My response: “A what spider???” I walked over and there’s this creepy, HUGE, gross spider on the floor. Now I didn’t know if this spider was a “banana spider,” (sounds made up to me), but I did know that I had to be the calm one and actually go near the spider. On the outside I looked very confident, like this was nothing to worry about, but on the inside I was crying “Oh my god!”

I quickly stomped it with my foot and the incident, thankfully, was over…until one of my kids picked it up by one of its mangled legs while I was getting a tissue. This TOTALLY grossed everybody, including me, out, and ended up being a bigger deal than the so-called banana spider being there in the first place. Why anybody would want to pick up a dead spider is beyond me. Kids are strange.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Good Humor

One of my favorite things about my job is the children I work with. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I know teachers who really don't care for children. It's sad. I, on the other hand, like most things about them. Their senses of humor is near or at the top of the list. Today I was reading aloud from "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing," by Judy Blume. I always start out the year (when I teach fourth grade) reading this book because it's so damn funny and the kids can relate to it. I'm reading a part where the main character's little brother refuses to eat. During dinner, he goes under the table and starts acting like a dog. To encourage him to eat, his mother puts his plate of food on the floor so he can eat like like a dog. When he still refuses to eat (and he hasn't eaten for a couple days now), she says she's going to call the doctor. At this point, I hear one of my students mutter, "That kid doesn't need a doctor, he needs a psychiatrist!" I'm glad I'm the type of teacher who can laugh when one of my kids makes a joke even when s/he is talking out of turn instead of shouting "YELLOW!"

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Timing is Everything

The class was perfectly silent. Everybody was doing what they were supposed to be doing which was independent reading. I rejoiced in the fact that I was in complete control and everything was just as I wanted it to be. When the environment is like this, I can actually get stuff done, especially stuff that involves turning my back for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Then, from out of nowhere, or I guess from down the street, came the ice cream truck, blaring its annoying song that ends with a creepy "Helllllllo." I completely ignored it. I just kept doing what I was doing. My hope was that if I ignored it, my students would ignore it. And guess what? They did! I mean, I heard some quiet snickers, but overall, they just let it go. After a couple of minutes, the truck went away and all was silence was restored. I was so proud of the order I had maintained...until the truck CAME BACK. This time, my kids couldn't hold in their laughter. I have to admit, it WAS kinda funny because the song it plays is ridiculous (especially with the "Helllllllo" at the end) compounded with the fact that we heard it about 27 times. I was determined, however, NOT to laugh along as to uphold the belief that we need to ignore outside distractions while we're working. You have no idea the crap we hear from outside. If they don't learn to ignore the ice cream truck during silent reading, then how will they ignore the jackhammer during ISAT testing? (which actually happened last year).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Very Special

This may be TMI, but I did not pee today from between 8:30 and 3:00. I did not voluntarily put myself through this torture. I couldn't pee because I had no break at all today. Okay, I did have 20 minutes for lunch, but in my defense, I had to take care of an attendance problem and eat, so I actually didn't have time! Sad, I know. Once specials start, I will have at at least 40 minutes to pee all I want. (Specials are "special classes" such as gym, art, computers, etc. These are sometimes called "preps," short for "preparation periods")

At my last school, specials started on day one. At this school, we can't manage to get them started until the second week! So imagine my surprise when last Friday, the AP stated we would get our prep schedules emailed to us by Tuesday morning and that they would start on the first day...yeah, right. Well, today, I was doing my thing (y'know, teaching and NOT peeing) when at about 12:30, the AP makes an all-call on the intercom reminding everybody that specials have started today and to please be on time! Uh, excuse me? The day's half over and you're telling me this now? Is there a schedule? What do I have today? Wouldn't this information have been handy for me to have, say, ohhhh, 4 HOURS AGO?? Grrrrr.

I took my kids out to recess at about 12:45. I stopped at my mailbox on the way to get my prep schedule. NO SCHEDULE! On our way back from recess, I asked a couple teachers if they got their schedule. NO SCHEDULES! When I returned to the classroom, I checked my email to see if it was emailed to me. NO SCHEDULE! So great, specials start today, but nobody has a frickin' schedule!

After school (and after peeing...thank god), I went to the office. My schedule was finally there! My kids had computers today. They, of course, missed it because nobody told us we had computers today, not even the computer teacher! (In all fairness, she probably didn't know, either). I'm happy now because I get TWO preps tomorrow! Nevermind that they're both scheduled for the same time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

And I thought I was tired!

As you learned yesterday, today was the first day of school. I am officially exhausted. We had no breaks today (despite the fact that we were assured that our prep schedule would be emailed to us by this morning...ha!). I even had to eat lunch with my kids (as well as guess what time we even HAVE lunch) because my school can't manage to get it together enough to get gather enough people to supervise the lunchroom. school's disorganization is a whole different entry (and perhaps a whole different blog)!

All teachers know that the first day of school is more annoying than anything. The kids don't know what's what yet, so you have to explain absolutely EVERYTHING, from how to line up without causing injury, to how to pass papers down a row so that everybody gets exactly one, to how to walk in the hallway without alerting the entire building that you're there. These are probably things that civilians take for granted that people know how to do. But people only know how to do these things because their fourth grade teacher taught them to do so. It is no fun teaching this mundane stuff. It seems simple enough, but nine year-olds want to test how you're going to react when they start walking down the hall flapping their arms. Like I said, NO FUN! (Well, except for them. Flapping your arms while walking IS fun! Try it tomorrow at work!)

After school, even though I was VERY tired, I had to go to the main office downtown to hand in some paperwork so I can move up the payscale now that I've finished my Master's Degree. I knew going on the first day of school was going to suuuuck because about a gazillion new-hires were going to be there getting their paperwork submitted, their fingerprints and id photos taken, and generally running through the series of flaming hoops the Board makes us all run through. I finally found the building, which has oh so conveniently moved to the west side of the city, and joined the line in which I was probably 20th. The line barely seemed to be moving at all even though it had a sign that said "Express Drop Off." Twenty minutes later, I'm about halfway through the line and feeling even more tired than I was only 20 minutes ago. I was so tired that I wished that I could sleep standing up and take a little cat nap. At this point I hear deep breathing behind me. I turn around and see that the guy behind me IS asleep standing up!!! His eyes were closed, his chin was to his chest, he was slightly swaying back and forth, and he was SLEEPING! Poor guy. He looked like a new-hire and with this being the first day of school, I'm sure he had a hell of a day.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Just Call Me Fraulein

School starts tomorrow. I have been dreading this day since June 15th. To everyone's envy, I did nothing this summer. Nothing. Well, I did finish grad school, but it was only 1 class and 1 exiting exam. For the most part, I was lazy and it was great. Under my facade of idleness, however, my mind was ceaselessly working to prepare myself for this upcoming school year. Okay, okay, so maybe "ceaselessly" is a bit of a stretch, but since August started, my mind's been "gearing up" for this school year.

I'll be honest. I'm not the world's best disciplinarian. As any teacher will tell you, a good disciplinarian is consistant. Well, I am not. What is tolerable to me one day totally pisses me off the next. I can't help it. And trust me, I've tried. I've tried all kinds of rewards and consequences systems; I've used points, colors, prizes, checkmarks, demerits, pluses, minuses, positive reinforcements. I've even gone so far as to try NOT having a system. Yeah, THAT was a fun year.

So this year I've decided to go with a simple color card system. For you "civilians" (a.k.a not teachers), I will quickly explain. All students have 3 cards: green, yellow, red (hopefully you're picking up on the symbolism of the colors). Everyone starts everyday out on green. If you break a rule, you "turn your card" to yellow. Break another rule, you go to red. Okay, colors mean NOTHING to students unless they get something, like candy. However, I stopped rewarding kids with food a long time ago (Have you ever given candy to an extremely overweight child? It's not a good feeling). I've also done away with giving away crappy plastic toys. My reward is time. Free time. The two sweetest words a fourth grader can hear. That, and "no homework."

Long story short, if you end up with X number of greens on Friday, you get Y minutes of free time. It's simple, yes?

However, I still have the problem of being consistent. If I've just told the class not to leave their seats, how do I refrain myself (especially during certain times of the month) from standing up, pointing at a child, and shouting "YELLOW!" when all she's done is leave her seat to get the pencil that's rolled out of her reach? Do I really want to be that kind of Nazi teacher? I mean, I did just tell her not to leave her seat, but where does one draw the line? Depending on my mood, I sometimes feel justified in my reaction (okay, perhaps the shouting and pointing is a bit much), whereas other times I'm like, "Who am I and did that really just come out of my mouth?"

So I will do my best to be fair and watch for pencils purposefully rolled out of reach. Because you know once you've gone soft with one of them, you're pretty much screwed. Wish me luck!