Friday, February 27, 2009

Making Changes

One thing that teachers do is to make changes to lessons that don't work. Yesterday I started the unit on "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" and it went over like a lead balloon. The students complained about the letter and said this was better suited for history than for English. So today before we continued the lesson I played a short video on the civil rights crusade from the 60's and got the desired result.

Once the students saw the photos and heard the eye witnesses, it was much easier to focus their attention on the task at hand. I knew I had them when I asked for a volunteer to read and had a plethora of volunteers. since the letter is 17 double spaced pages, everyone will get a chance to read.

We also do biographies on a daily basis of famous people. Today I did BB King and on a hunch found this video of "The Thrill is Gone" and played that for the students before they did the assignment. So today I was 2 for 2, not bad considering I have a nasty cold right now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

She Unnames Them

"She Unnames Them" is a fascinating short story from Ursula K. Le Guin. I read it last year for my American Literature class and thought it would be interesting to see how middle and high school students would react to such an interesting and open ended story, and today was my chance. We had just finished up the short story "A Jury of Her Peers", and I wanted to do a shorter story that was not like anything that my students had read before. I knew that the students would struggle a bit with the story because of the complexity of the text coupled with the Biblical and poetic references but I had confidence that they could work their way through the text and get something from it.

I taught the lesson to three different classes and got three totally different responses. My 1st block (7th graders) were very much into the story and seemed to enjoy it even though it was not an easy read. When I told them that they just did college level work they applauded themselves and I think it boosted some self esteem even if they would never admit it to anyone, especially to their teacher. I even had a student ask if the story was making fun of the Bible and had to assure them that it was not, it was merely asking a question about what would happen if...

My 8th graders (2nd block) were not so open to the story, but they did get through it for the most part and some of them seemed to enjoy the story as well. Interestingly enough, they laughed at the word ass (donkey) while the previous class didn't blink, although one student asked if they could write the word in an answer. I said yes they could.

Then there was my last class of 7th graders. They had no intention of doing any school work and I finally told them to read the story and answer the questions themselves. For the near term, they get the little kid treatment until they prove they can handle a class discussion and are willing to do some actual work. If I felt any better I'd be calling parents right now but that will have to wait until tomorrow. I feel like crap and have a paper to write...

Oh, and my math class really impressed me with their chapter test. Nobody failed and 7 of my 16 students had an A. Very good news for all involved.

One last thing, we start "A Letter From A Birmingham Jail" tomorrow. I'll keep all 12.1 of you informed of how it goes. We start with the clergy statement that prompted the letter and go from there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


We're in the middle of the CRT (high stakes test) review for my math class and I am plesantly surprised by how the students are doing. For the 'do now' I've been having them do simple algebra problems ( X+3=15) to refresh their memories and they still remember how to do one step equations. This is cool because I have not really taught this in over a month, maybe longer and to see them remember how to do it means that I actually did teach them something. They're also doing pretty well with getting data from graphs and using it, but it's a skill that is hard to explain and it's just easier to have them do it than explain it to them.

The other nice thing is that the class grades are starting to go up, hopefully this will continue, but we'll see...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fist Fight!

So now I have truly arrived, I got to break up my first fist fight after school today. I was walking to my car and just happened to look over at the play area and noticed two 8th grade girls about 5 feet from each other. Something was said and the next thing you know they're fighting and I'm jumping over the concrete wall to separate them. Fortunately for me the Principal's secretary was walking by and we were able to get them separated and to the office where their parents were called and they are now facing suspensions for their poor choices. This is the same day where I sent two students to the office for texting in class and one more for playing their i-Pod not once but twice in class. I have one more student who will probably suffer the same fate tomorrow because I didn't catch her texting today.

The other news is that unlike the Hindenburg lesson I taught two weeks ago, today my professor was picking nits when he came to observe me in the classroom. We started the short story "A Jury of Her Peers" which the 7th graders really started to enjoy. Hopefully this will continue as we get deeper into the story. We'll see but the signs are promising.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Good Administrator

Is worth their weight in gold. Just about any teacher will tell you that as the administration goes, so goes the school. We're very lucky to have an excellent principal at the middle school who cares equally about the welfare of his staff and his students.

He has been helping me the last few days with the issues I've been having with classroom management. Today he sat in class and watched me operate as well as helping students understand the concepts I was trying to teach. He gave me some notes as well as advice to consequences with students who'd rather talk then learn. I can see that I didn't have clear consequences and that I have not been apply them consistently and that has wrought the destruction of a learning environment.

He's also allowing me to visit other classrooms to see how they do things with lessons, planning and management. My co-teacher is totally on board with this as well so I won't have to worry about leaving her in the lurch while I visit other rooms.

I am blessed to have a principal who is willing to take time out of his busy schedule to help me out with my classes, although I feel like I am a worse teacher today than I was in August. Right now I have no confidence in my management abilities and it's causing chaos in the classroom.

Tomorrow is another day and hopefully I can get things under control...