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 stuff...like 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. Whatever...it 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.