Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In need of a title

Seriously, I have no clue what to title this one. Yea, anyway my observation went pretty well and the classes' personalities are starting to become crystal clear. And I also need to get them to read more nonfiction text which they will be doing in the next couple of weeks once I get the lesson planning done for them. Oh and I have to come up with emergency sub plans as well. I have two days done and Karlana was nice enough to send me some of hers. Stop by her blog when you get the chance, she writes on a plethora of different subjects and does it well.

1st period is your typical class, some kids who should be in honors and some who couldn't care any less about passing not to mention a few who cannot show up on time, ever. Academically they're doing OK but not great. I don't really have any meatballs though so it's a pretty good class to start with.

2nd period is my Excedrin class in spades, it already had more than it's share of chuckleheads and then they added 10 more students for a grand total of 41 kids. I am now on seating chart #4 and we've been in school for 5 or 6 weeks. Whereas 1st period is going to do group work, 2nd period isn't because they could not stay quiet for independent reading. And surprise, their grades as a class suck eggs. Rotten eggs. Looks like the Siberia seats will get some use from them tomorrow.

My honors class is what you would expect of honors students, bright kids who talk fast and work harder. Today they began their mystery box assignment and tomorrow when they finish "The Most Dangerous Game" they'll start "She Unnames Them" and then it's off to short story literacy groups. That's where a group will pick a story to read then fill out the elements worksheet and then will start creating power point presentations to teach the rest of the class about the story they read. I just hope all the freedom I am going to give them does not come back to bite me in the gradebook so to speak. I am also going to have them read some nonfiction work.

5th period is like 3rd period except they are a regular class but I only have 2 kids who are failing and their class grade is right there with the honors kids. They'll be doing lots of group work as well I think. I may just give them the same (or similar) work as the honors and see what happens. I am going to loosen the leash on them as well and see how they do. Library, here we come! Pray for the librarian if you can though!

6th period is between 5th and 1st. I think if I had them at a different point of the day they would really shine but it's the last class of the day and they are kinda done with school at that point but I have some GREAT kids that day. Their grades are pretty good as well.

What I really want is to have a class where there are no F's and few D's and with my honors kids and with 5th period I just may get my wish as I have only a couple of kids who are failing in either class.

I also need to mention that one of the nonfiction texts my students are going to read is by Mary Baker who wrote a very compelling article about why she no longer considers herself an African American. My honors and 5th period will read that one, discuss and write about it and my other three classes will read a shorter piece by Teddy Roosevelt talking about what it means to be an American without the hyphen. Credit goes to Saberpoint for posting it in all it's un-hypenated glory. It's shorter than the Mary Baker piece but has the same message about the importance of simply being an American regardless of where you immigrated to this country from. It's a message some of these kids sorely need to learn.

Speaking of Teddy, here is my favorite quote of his. Feel free to mention it next time you get called an '-ist' for criticizing the President...

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

Monday, September 28, 2009


I knew this day was coming, the day that my supervisor would come in and observe my class while I teach my students. Tomorrow (possibly Wednesday) is the day of my first observation and to say I am stressed is a bit of an understatement!

For those of you who don't understand let me explain. In education, instead of the normal review with your supervisor where you fill out your form and your boss does theirs and you meet and hash it out, your supervisor (usually the principal or vice-principal) will sit in your class and observe you teach. They will look at your lesson plans, the setup of your classroom, what you have up on your white/chalk boards and even how you have decorated your classroom. They do this several times during the year depending on where you are in your career. Then they will discuss their observations with you at the end of the year and give you your review.

The only way I can get off the probationary list is to get high marks on my observations, and if after two years I don't get off of probation, I have to find a new career.

I think I have everything set for this week but I'm sure I forgot something. I need to do some emergency sub plans to put in my big binder and give to the office.

The joys of teaching.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Switching Units

So today I switched units with my classes. The two classes that were doing short stories are now starting the narrative writing unit and the ones doing the writing are now starting the short stories. One of the things I forgot to account for was my honors class. Silly me thinking that they would just plod along reading "Two Kinds" for three or four days like my regular classes! Looks like tomorrow they are going to work in groups and do the elements worksheets as they read. I figure they should finish it by Monday at the latest and then we can do short story literature groups. Of course I have not written up the plans for it yet, but what the hell, I'll come up with something and make it work. Now I need to reserve the computer lab for them so they can teach the rest of the class about they story they read as a group. Plus I need to reserve time in the library since the librarian dropped the hint that she had not seen me with my students yet. Some English teacher I am! Finally, I had a chat with the soccer coach about two of my students who could not figure out what 'no talking' meant. Today along with the teenage death stare I got silence from both of them, and the football player who was acting like a meatball is now passing with a solid C (from a 40% F) and actually pays attention the whole period. Yay for coaches!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bad Timing

Sigh, the timing for the transferring of 160 students to the other English 1 teachers came at the worst possible time. Because we did not make our enrollment numbers we lost an English Teacher and a support staff position. So now that I am two days from finishing up a 2 1/2 week unit on narrative writing and a short story unit of the same length. I now have between 5-8 new students in my regular classes (none for my honors class but I have plenty of honors students in my regular classes) and have to find something for them to do for the next couple of days. At least for the writing part I found some quick narrative prompts so I can get an idea of their ability. As far as the short stories go, they'll just have to catch up on 'The Most Dangerous Game" and then we'll start on the writing unit.

I can't help but wonder that if the CCEA had not fought so hard for the raises due teachers this year, that some of the positions would not have been eliminated, but hey it's all about the students, right?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Progress Reports

Updates below!

I love it when I get warned about little things like progress reports, so I am not thrilled that I didn't find out until Thursday afternoon that progress reports grades are due on Monday. Normally I give my students fair warning so the ones who care and turn in missing work in their classes and keep their phones. So today after school I spent 2 hours trying to get missing work put together for my classes. I got first and part of second period done and on Monday I'll get the other ones done. Monday will be a make up work party along with working on their regularly scheduled work. I will probably be printing out extra reports to keep students out of trouble. They will get a 25% penalty for the really late work but the students seem to like the idea that they can still get a decent grade for late work and I like not having all the 'mi' for missing in my grade book.

There is also the rumor that a position is not going to be filled so that all the English classes are going to be much bigger than before. I'm not exactly thrilled about this rumor because I don't need 5 classes with 45 students each in them. I already have THAT class to deal with, you know the one that drives you to drink? It's 2nd period and I'll be changing their seats this weekend and hope this works along with some phone calls next week. At least I finally got my attendance program this week which had made my life much easier.

Update #1: My posters came in today. So on Monday along with the college pennants (all of the PAC-10 schools, thanks Dick!) to hang up I will also hang up my 'Victims of Che' poster as well as my Friedrich Hayek poster, after I laminate them of course. Go me!

Update #2: The rumors are true and now I'll have at least 40 kids per class. Looks like I'll have to go back over the procedures again. What really sucks is that I am finishing up a unit on narrative writing as well as a unit on short stories that many of my students will miss and I will have to figure out some way to get them caught up before the super important mid term assessments in a few weeks. Man, that is really going to throw a wrench into my plans.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Open House

Man are my feet SORE. I guess standing up from 7 am to 1:30pm and then from 6-8pm will do that to you. I ended up with 25 students coming in with their parents and three or four more who came without their parents. That's not bad for high school. The parents were very nice and the snacks and juice were a big hit. Plus my daughter came with me and made $10 for watching an infant for a fellow teacher who could not find a sitter. Classy gal she is, just don't tell her...

I am continually impressed by how smart my students are in my class. I wish everyone would stop slamming today's students because they are way smarter than we give them credit for. I'm amazed that some of them keep coming to school with the fact their home lives are a tire fire.

The problem is that now I am a day behind on grading and it's going to get worse because I have training tomorrow so grading is shot for tomorrow as well. Can you say 'burn the midnight oil'? I knew you could! If people knew how many hours teachers put in they would stop bitching about what kind of money we make. I easily put in 55 hours a week, sometimes more, including nights, weekends and holidays.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Another Mystery

I'm not sure why, but out of my four regular English 1 classes, the last two periods are doing better as a class than the first two periods. Here are the class averages by period as of yesterday.

Period 1: 54.4% with 17 Fs
Period 2: 50.7% with 16 Fs
Period 5: 67.2% with 7 Fs
Period 6: 66.4% with 9Fs

I have 4th period prep and 3rd period is my honors class. You would think that 5th and 6th period because they are late in the day would be hanging off the walls and not doing any work but that really isn't the case. I am getting more makeup work in today as well which is nice. Late work is the bane of teachers and I still have yet to find a system that works for me and that will induce the maximum number of students to turn it in. I've tried the 'if it's late it's a zero' tactic, the 'just turn it in' tactic, and the 'turn it in for 50% credit' tactic and they have all failed. This year I am trying something new. They get dinged 5% per day until they lose 25% of their grade and it seems to be working. The fact that they can turn it in and get a 'C' is doing the trick so far. It does punish them for turning it late, but not so much that it's not worth it to them. I remember when I was in high school (was it really more than 20 years?) and that if I could only get 50% credit, it simply was not worth my time.

Tomorrow is open house at our school, and like last year I have resorted to bribery to get my students to come to open house. I told them that if they show up and sign in with their parents they get 10 extra credit points. Last year, when I was interning at the prep school I literally had 8 or 9 parents tell me their kids dragged them to the open house just so they could get their points. Hell, if it worked there, it should work here. Plus I am making walking taco dip as well as a snack for anyone who comes by. Well, actually my wife is doing that for me.

At least I'll eat well tomorrow night!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Rude Shock

Some of my students are in for a rude shock this week. I posted grades on the uber ugly bulletin board that were just as ugly. Why they can't do or turn in a quick write that is done at the beginning of class is a mystery that even Sherlock Holmes can't solve. I even have a couple of honors students who have literally a 0% in my class right now.

What is sad is that there is no reason for my students to be failing at this point. My quick writes are easy points and they students have a good amount of leeway in how they approach their assignments.

My hope is that posting the grades and switching the seats will light a fire under some of these students.

Speaking of rude shocks, we had two fire alarms go off this week, 10 minutes before school started. Yesterday was not bad but this morning I was literally under the alarm when it went off. Can you say 'instant headache'? I knew you could. Then I had this donkey of a student who walked back onto campus sporting a nice baseball cap. The problem is that you are not allowed to wear your cap on campus. I kindly asked this young man to take off his cap and got ignored. I repeated my request "Sir, would you please remove your hat?" and was told 'no'. Wrong answer... I then asked him for the cap, "you're not getting my cap!" Strike two! OK, then you're going to have to give it to the dean. "No, I'm not!" And you're out! I then continue to follow him around campus and continue to ask him to go to the dean's office and he continues to refuse. I signal one of the administration to let them know and they start to move in. All this time we've gone to the two story building to the 2nd floor, across the walkway where the principal shouts to me that she wants to talk to him "No, I'm going to class!" and then across to the three story building where he is finally corralled by one of the security monitors. I hope to find out what happened to him tomorrow.

And finally we have a pep rally on Friday, what's the over/under on cell phone confiscations? I am done playing with these kids, either they play by the rules or they pay the price. I plan on bringing a bunch of ziplock bags to stick the phones and iPods in with the form.

A Rude Shock Indeed...

Friday, September 04, 2009

'The Speech'

Ever since this whole firestorm about Obama's speech started, I've been wrestling with how to approach this without destroying my plans for the week and without knowing what to do with the rest of my classes for the day.

Fortunately Dr. Rulffes helped me out with that one. He sent an email to everyone saying that the speech was not mandatory and that it would be archived for future use. His reasoning was that the speech was all well and good but only if it does not interfere with the day to day teaching. (Plus any parent who wants their child not to hear the speech can opt out, my daughter will watch the speech but she will do so with an open mind!) So what I am going to do is to watch the speech at a later time and then design my own lesson to use at a later date.

For once everyone wins!

Update: I found the text of his speech at Politico. Had President Obama released his text with the announcement this would not have been the firestorm that it was. You'd think that someone as smart as he is would have anticipated the concern this speech would cause amoung those on the right side of the aisle and done something to assuage those fears, but hey, I'm just an English teacher.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

End of the honeymoon

No, not the one Obama had with the country although you might be right about that as well. I'm talking about the one in the classroom when the students start testing the teachers and staff to see what they can get away with.

Today there was a Freshmen assembly in the gym and to say is was a mess is an understatement of biblical proportions. There was talking, flirting, sagging and oh yes, texting a plenty! I spent the entire assembly stalking the bleachers keeping the phones hidden and the shorts up.

When we got back to class I let my students know just how I felt. I told them that how they act in an assembly reflects personally on me and that I wasn't going to have any nonsense and that it did not matter if they were in my class or not, they're my students and I expect them to behave properly.

I've also get seven students in first period who think I'm kidding about tardies and detention, boy are they in for a shock tomorrow morning when they get in and receive their prize for failing to show up on time. One kid already has three tardies in eight days, which means he gets a phone call home as well. What's sad is in my other four classes I don't have kids showing up late, maybe 3 or 4 out of 35-40 students per class have 1 tardy which is not bad.

Finally I was able to get rid of three desks in my room which has allowed me to create a couple of 'Siberia' seats for the kids who can't figure out the rules, all three of them. Tomorrow some of my students will enjoy their trip to Western Russia, I'll let you know how their tours go.