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!