Thursday, February 28, 2008

Morals and Ethics

Almost every day I'm faced with a moral dilemma. Or an ethical dilemma. I dunno. I once had to learn the difference between morals and ethics for some high school or college class, but I've pretty much used the two interchangeably after correctly defining them on the test.

Every day after my kids leave, I look at what's left over on the floor. Before getting knocked up, I would pick up the pencils (as they are a valuable commodity in a classroom), even if that meant crawling halfway under a desk to get it. (Now, not so much.)

The dilemma comes when I find something on the floor that I know a student NEEDS, like an assignment that's due tomorrow or a signed field trip form they forgot to turn in. My options are, of course:

A.) to pick whatever it is up and put it on their desk
B.) to leave it on the floor to be swept up with the other refuse.

Option A is easier for everyone involved. Their assignment will be handed in on time the next day (and I don't have to deal with grading late homework when they finally redo said assignment or inform their parents that there is a missing assigment to begin with) or I don't have to dig out another field trip form. I can just pick the damn thing up, put it on their desk, and be done with it.

Option B actually teaches them a lesson. You will have a missing assignment because you were too lazy to put your assignment where it belongs. You will not have a field trip form if you don't manage to hand it in when I ask for it every effing morning.

So occassionally I just stare at whatever the found object is until I reach my decision about what to do about it. And every time my decision's the same.


Every time.

Perhaps I am why we have generations of lazy people who can't manage to do anything how and when it's supposed to be done, like submit their taxes on time, causing the post office to stay open late every April 15. Because I am like the post office, bending over backwards to make sure shit gets done, just because it's easier for everyone involved. Stupid me. Stupid post office.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I was listening to NPR this morning when I heard that a study was conducted regarding high school drop out rate in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). They followed 9th graders thru to their 12th grade year for x number of years to see how many students dropped out, why they dropped out, and to pinpoint exactly who is most likely to be a dropout.

I was SHOCKED to hear how many students dropped out of Chicago Public High Schools between 9th and 12th grades. Are you sitting down? 44%

Yes, 44% of all high school students do not finish high school in CPS. That's a lot of fucking kids! Approximately 30,000!!!!

They were able to pinpoint 3 distinct groups of dropouts:
1. Students who started freshman year at age 15 or over.
2. Students who fail a core subject (reading, math, social studies, or science) in their first year of high school.
3. African-American students (49%!!!!!!!!)

This study is going to prompt some action on CPS's part, as it should. I'm sure it'll also cost us a bazillion dollars. Supposedly, they will hold countless meetings, offer mentoring to students in the 3 at-risk groups, now that we know exactly who they are, and create "freshman on-track labs" in 6 high schools that have the highest dropout rates that will investigate the problem further and come up with strategies to address it. Oh, and this study will also create, for the first time ever, a freshman orientation for incoming freshman.

Are you kidding me? These kids have never had a freshman orientation???? 8th graders in CPS go to school at a K-8 school. Yes, they share a school with 5-year olds, and you're telling me there's never been any kind of help with transitioning them from their elementary school of, let's say, 700 kids to a high school that has perhaps 3,500? Hell, I'd drop out, too! Not because I didn't want to finish, but because I probably wouldn't be able to find any of my classes!

Who's running the show here? [Insert monkey commerical here].

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reason #4,612

Yet another reason why I love kids:

As I may or may not have mentioned before (remember I'm pregnant, I can't remember anything and I'm too tired to go back into the archives and look), my students have to write a letter to me every week about what they're reading. These are called "Reading Responses." Well, in honor of Black History Month, my students had to read biographies about, uh, famous black people. I changed the reading response assignment so that the letters they wrote were not to be addressed to me, but rather to the person about whom the biography they chose was written. They could ask the person questions, give them advice, tell them what they thought of get the idea.

This is what what of my kids wrote in his letter to Duke Ellington:

Dear Mr. Ellington,
I've just read 3 chapters of Duke Ellington (yourself) by Richard Terrill. I wanted to ask you....[insert several pertinent questions here].
I'm also interested in the piano (like yourself) and am wondering if you can send me a miniature piano (if you're still alive at 109 years old). I'm going to look up if you're still alive on Google. I wish I could meet you in person. Too bad you're 109.
Sincerely, your reader,
I guess since he had only read the first 3 chapters at that point, he hadn't gotten to the part where Duke Ellington died in 1974.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Did I Really Just See That?

Okay, this has nothing to do with anything, but I MUST share this. Tonight at the gym, I walked into the locker room to hang up my coat. I saw a woman (who I've seen before) walking from the coat area into the sauna. Now, you can pretty much wear whatever you want in the sauna. The only rule is no nudity. Most people wear a towel or a bathing suit, but hell, I'm sure you could go in there fully clothed if you so wished.

Well, today I saw something I've never seen before. This woman, who is weird to begin with, (she's an older Asian woman with a bowl-cut hairdo who participates in step classes but stands aaaallll the way in the back and never goes along with the class, she just steps up and down for an hour) walks from the coat room to the sauna wearing a red neglige AND black knee-high boots. The sight stopped me dead in my tracks and my mouth stood agape. I walked into the coat room with my mouth still hanging open and my head turned in the direction of the sauna door thru which she had just disappeared and I heard my workout-friend's voice say, "I'm so glad someone else just saw that otherwise I wouldn't have believed it!"

What the hell? Uh, lady, you're in public!

And why was she coming from the coat room wearing that and not a dressing room. Was that what she was wearing under her coat?

I guess it's people like that who make things interesting, isn't it?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dissertations in Fourth Grade?

The Illinois Standards Achievement Test starts on March 4th. Can someone PLEASE explain to me how it is fair that a student gets tested on if they've achieved the standards for an ENTIRE school year in MARCH? The beginning of March to boot! They used to be in April, which I also thought was early, but it's better than March!

I'm sorry, but I can't cram 10 months of material into 6 months. I. just. can't.

Especially when the standards we have to teach to are so vague. I've always hated their unspecific nature. For example:

Language Arts:
Standard 2B2b: Identify and explain themes that have been explored in literature from different societies and eras.

13B2b: Describe the effects on society of technological innovations (e.g. antibiotics, steam engine, digital computers, etc.)

Social Studies: (thank god we don't get tested in this!)
16.C.2d Describe the economic conse­quences of the first agricultural revolution, 4000 BCE-1000 BCE.

I mean, don't these sound like topics one does dissertations on rather than 4th grade learning standards??? It is so ridiculous. And how can I possibly teach the enormous scope of what one standard/benchmark covers? And there are SO many for each grade. Am I alone here in thinking this is absurd?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I had the sweetest conversation today. I love 9-year olds. They don't yet know how cruel and terrible people can be and they're so righteous:

Student: "Ms. M, how come people are so bogus?"

Me: "What do you mean?"

Student: "Well, I'm reading this book about big cats of the world, and it says that humans have killed at least half of the tiger population."

Me: "What did they kill them for?"

Student: "Stupid stuff, like for their fur or for like a sport."

Me: "What do you think about that?"

Student: "I told you! It's bogus!"

Me: "Why do you think people do that?"

Student: "Because they're bogus."

Me (trying to lead him to a discussion instead of just repeating the word "bogus"): "Do you think that people are selfish and don't see the big picture of how they're affecting the world?"

Student: "Yeah, they don't realize that if they keep on doing that, there won't be any animals left...and that's bogus!"

Okay, at least I got him to say something, even though it was followed by the word "bogus."

Monday, February 11, 2008

No Brainer

Sometimes I think my job could be done by a computer. No, not the teaching part, silly, but all the mundane paperwork that goes with it. I'm not talking about grading's the other stuff. Here's an example:

At the end of every quarter, we have to compile four lists:

1) students who received all As and Bs on their report card
2) students who have perfect attendance
3) students who have no behavior checks on their report card
4) students who fit all 3 aforementioned categories.

Now tell me, if our report cards are (FINALLY) done on a computer, why can't I (or better yet someone else) just enter the criteria in and print out a list? I mean, it's 2008, right? We don't have flying cars, can't we have THIS? It doesn't seem THAT hard.

Today we had an inservice day (so no kids at school). We had to work on our School Improvement Plan, which sounds productive, but actually is a bunch of bullshit. We split up into 3 teams. My team was responsible for looking over the test data from the past three years and identifying areas of strength and weakness. Ummmm, our data was PRINTED OUT from some sort of database storing all this information. Could a simple program not be created to identify areas of weakness and areas of strength? This just seems like a no-brainer to me!

Ahhh, I think I got it! I forgot who's running the show. People with no brains. Got it.

This commercial is often what I feel like (now, I'm not talking about all the teachers I work with. It's moreso the Central Office who, as I said above, "runs the show"). It's one of my favorites:

Friday, February 8, 2008

All Better!

Even though my husband didn't know I had the world's crappiest day yesterday, he came home with flowers last night!!! Oh, AND he came home with strawberry cream cheese because he remembered me saying that I wanted some a couple days ago.


Today was MUCH better, by the way. ( :

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Today of All Days

I had a bad day. From the moment I woke up until right now, I have not wanted to be awake. I haven't wanted to talk to anyone. Unfortunately, I didn't get my way. Not only did I have to work, it took me an hour to get there. Then the first thing that happened when my kids arrived was that 2 of them started pushing each other in the hallway and hurt an innocent bystander. My kids were nuts all day. Then, after school, I had to host a book club meeting (more work) and then run errands, one of which included entering The World's Stupidest and Most Frustrating Parking Lot. It also doesn't help that I have had a headache for like 2 days. Oh, and it REALLY doesn't help that I came home to about 8 piles of cat puke that I had to clean up while my Chinese food got cold.

Aaaanyway, the last period of the day today, my kids had art. Yay, art! Yay, last period of the day! Usually the art teacher comes in (we don't have an art room. The art teacher travels to every room using a cart to transport her supplies...sad, I know, and VERY common), explains the project, hands out materials, and the kids work relatively quietly for 30 minutes. I work at my desk and nobody bothers me (yeah, right...I'm bothered all the time. Let's just say it's nice because I'm not responsible for anyone's well-being during this time).

Today when the art teacher came in, she announced that today they were doing something different. Today they were going to have a music lesson! (We don't have music, so this is a real treat!) She brought out this box of brand new percussion instruments, including maracas, jingly bells, triangles, and (god help me) cymbals. Yes, cymbals. Fuck.

My kids WENT NUTS. They were so over-stimulated by this new experience that the room was a...a....a...I don't even know what to call it. Let's just say it was crazy. She managed to teach them what whole, half, and quarter notes were, and they did play some rhythms, and it was cute to see them all excited and into it, but with my headache, I was NOT amused. At all.

Today...of all days...I really needed a nice, quiet, involved art project.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What I've Learned, Part I

A newbie teacher teaches across the hall from me this year. She is literally just out of school, no experience. Ah, I remember those days: full of optimism, ideas, and energy. I hate to say it, but 11 years will do a lot to squash those ideals. This is not to say I'm pessimistic, ornery, and jaded, but I am...well, experienced. The rose-colored glasses have long been tossed aside and the day-to-day reality of teaching is no longer a struggle for me. I no longer feel like I'm drowning, barely keeping my head above water.

While I watch this new teacher struggle, I realize just how far I've come. I watch her make the same rookie mistakes I made. It makes me feel good to know that, hey, I actually know what I'm doing. It may have taken me 11 years to get here, but I'm here! (This is NOT to say that I'm taking any pleasure in her strife. I do help her... A LOT).

Here are some random things I've learned about teaching over the years. Some are big ideas, some are so minutely small. I will probably only have time to write a couple, so this entry will continue in Parts II, perhaps IX.

1.) When disciplining or reprimanding a child, do not be the first to break eye contact when it's over. They MUST be the first one to look away. With the more willful ones, this may take awhile and it may get uncomfortable, but so be it. The one who holds eye contact the longest wins. Seriously.

2.) Within 10 minutes after said disciplining or reprimanding, call on the child, whether it be to answer a question or run an errand or whatever. The child needs to know that it's not personal; it's not him/her you don't appreciate, it's his/her behavior.

3.) Tell parents EVERYTHING that happens. Nobody likes surprises. Email is the greatest invention known to me. Let them know about ANY type of issue: behavior, academic, social, ANYTHING. If you don't, it'll come back to bite you in the ass. And if you screw up and neglect to let a parent know something, apologize for it.

4.) Make friends with the school janitor and the school secretary. These two people are the KEYS to making your professional life happy and easy.

5.) I know this one is hard, but DON'T get emotionally involved with your kids. Keep your distance. (It took me until this year to get this one, and I'm still not mastering it. It's easier to do this at the beginning of the year, but once we hit January, I get all tangled up in them and their issues). Remember, this is a job, not your entire life. Your students, their parents, and their issues will consume you if you let it (and some people want it to, which is their choice).

6.) Don't spend your prep writing blog entries. Use them for shit you have to do. On that note...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Flamin' Hot Breakfast

When I see what some of the kids at my school eat for breakfast, it totally grosses me out, and not because I'm pregnant, but because...well, you'll see.

I will admit that when I was a kid, I did not eat the most nutritional of breakfasts. I usually had caffe-latte (a.k.a. cafe au lait) (give my parents a break - we're 100% Italian) with Froot Loops and Chips Ahoy cookies. NOT your breakfast of champions. (God, it was good, though. I wish I could still eat like that!).

At least it was breakfast food, though. It's not like I was eating a piece of chicken or a plate of spaghetti at 7:30 a.m.

Many kids nowadays eat the weirdest things for breakfast. The most popular food: Flamin' Hot Cheetos. If you walk around outside my school on any random day, I guarantee you will see at least 10 people eating Flamin' Hots before 9:00 a.m. I've observed this for several years now at 2 different schools. When I spoke to a friend about it, he informed me that he heard something on NPR about it. I googled it and, lo and behold, found the link to the segment: Apparently, this is a nationwide problem! "They" think that the spiciness of the product stimulates endorphins to be released, thus creating a buzz from the food. Great. Get all buzzed up on Flamin' Hots then come to my reading class. Those 2 mix well.

The non-breakfast food for breakfast is not limited to cheetos, though. At 8:00 this morning, I was opening my window (because my room is 8,000 degrees, but that's another story) and happened to look down to see a kid eating a huge-ass slice of pepperoni pizza! Where the hell did he get that at 8:00 a.m.? I know there's a breakfast truck like a block away, but pizza? wtf?

I know the school's breakfast and lunch is nothing fantastic, but, hey, it's free for most of the kids AND it's breakfast foods like waffles, doughnuts, pancakes, or cereal...y'know, breakfast food.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Typical NON-Snow Day

I'm so annoyed I don't know where to begin. Here in Chicago we had a snow storm that started at about 3:00 yesterday afternoon and stopped at about 11:00 a.m. this morning. A lot of snow accumulated, probably about an average of 6 inches in the city. That's a lot of snow in a short period of time. Now I am completely aware that I have chosen to live in Chicago where it will snow - a lot. I am also aware that I work for a public school system that NEVER EVER closes. EVER. We would need a hurricane to close the public schools here, which would be interesting since the only body of water we border is a lake.

I understand that schools have to stay open for many reasons:

1.) Education is important.

2.) Thousands of kids rely on the schools to feed them breakfast and lunch. If they didn't come to school, many of them may not eat that day. (Sad, isn't it?)

3.) Parents have to work and this may leave children home alone unattended or it may cost an unfortunate family a day's wages.

HOWEVER...1/3 of my class was absent today, so I didn't teach one new thing. Not one. What's the point? I'd just have to reteach it on Monday. But this is not even what pisses me off. What pisses me off, Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan, is that you expect teachers to go to work and kids to come to school, yet don't even bother to ensure that the roads around the schools are given ANY attention in regards to snow removal. In my 20 mile commute, the street my school is on was the worst street I drove on in the 1.5 hours it took me to get to work today! I *barely* was able to make it thru the parking lot (because god forbid CPS takes care of that even).

It's unacceptable, but typical. I don't know why I let myself get all riled up about it. Everything in public schooling (and probably any urban public institution) is like this: all talk and no action (or money) to back it up.