Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pearl Harbor

Today is the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and this history geek just could not resist a mini lesson on the attack. So yesterday I went online and found a cool 17 minute video on the attack from Discovery.com, and showed it to my class and then had them write about what they had learned. Not surprisingly, not many students knew that today was an important historical date, and even though it put me behind in my lessons, it's worth it. There are some events that everyone in the USA should know. The Declaration of Independence, The Civil War, The Apollo Missions, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are a few of the biggies. The best part was that most of my students payed serious attention and one even asked why they had interviewed a Japanese pilot.

There are times it's good to be a teacher.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Donors Choose

After getting shot down attempting to have my school buy novels for the classroom (because they were not on the approved list), I decided to find another way to get the books I want into my classroom without emptying my wallet (that would be a neat trick considering it's a cash free zone).

Enter Donors Choose, a website that allows people to donate to projects that teachers post, helping them acquire items like projectors, computers, trips and more. Some of the projects are very cool and some make me mad. I mean how bad is it when a math teacher is asking for a white board? Seriously? The school can't flipping spring for a white board? That's not even a luxury, that's a necessity. Wow... just wow.

I have spent the last few weeks setting up my project on Donors Choose and today I was informed that my project has gone live and that a company has already covered the first $300 of the project. So I am going to do something and I never thought I would do and ask for your help. If you could donate a couple of dollars to the project it would be greatly appreciated, not just by myself but by my students. And please look at the other projects and if you find one more to your liking, by all means, donate to them.

I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's going to be an odd Thanksgiving this year. Not odd in a bad way but odd all the same. You see normally we either visit family and friends for Thanksgiving or they come here. This year it's just the family. It's cool in a couple of ways.

1st of all, we don't have to have the house all picked up for guests. Secondly we get to teach the kids how to cook. Right now my wife is teaching the kids how to do cranberry sauce, and later my son and I will be deep frying a turkey in the back yard. This is in addition to baking pies and making fruit salad (yummy yummy) and real whipped cream. And since we are not traveling there is no traffic to fight or TSA agents to spend personal time with.

Finally I'm thankful for my family, my health and my job. I am one of the lucky ones here in Vegas who has a job and still has a house to call home.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and remember WHY we celebrate it in the first place...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Used Books

For an English teacher they are a God send. They allow me your humble blogger to amass a fairly large collection of books for my classroom without having to file bankruptcy. While I love new books and have bought them from time to time or gotten them as presents, I prefer to get as much for the money as I can. Luckily for me there are two stores here in Vegas that are close by and both of them have a YA (young adult section) to make it easier to find books my students might be interested in.

The local libraries also have used books but so far their selection has not been great. I also use the internet to get used books, which is good and bad. It's good because you have a plethora of choices, but bad because of the shipping. Now I don't blame the vendors, they need to make money and when the book is only $1.00, I understand that the profit is in the shipping. And I can still get double the books vs. getting them new at the bookstore.

I know that there are several good e-readers such as the Kindle and the Nook from Barnes and Noble, but I can't read large blocks of text on a screen and it's just. not. the. same. There is something intimate about holding a book in your hands and physically turning the pages that simply cannot be duplicated by an e-reader. I'm not against them, they're just not for me.

Now my only other problem is that I'm running out of room for my class library. I did find another bookshelf but I'm not sure where to put it. It's a good problem to have. I also need to start getting some graphic novels for my classroom as well as some manga.

Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Walking Dead

It's not often that I will watch a series on TV, especially a miniseries, but I am making an exception for 'The Walking Dead.' From the time I saw the first commercial I was excited as all get out about the series. I have watched the first two episodes (thank goodness they replay it on Friday nights) and can't wait for the next one.

Now don't be fooled, this show is for adults only. It has graphic violence and adult language, not to mention it's very creepy. It's also very well written and the zombies look very very real. If you like creepy shows give this one a try.

What you may not know about this Zombie Apocalypse miniseries is that it's based on a comic book. Yep, a comic book. And it's not the first time comic books have been used for TV Shows and movies. I'd get the comic book compendiums if they weren't so expensive, like say $50.00 each.

One last thought, I had a student tell me they loved the book I picked out for her. The funny thing is I don't have a clue as to what book I picked out for her. But hey as long as she liked it, it's all good. Speaking of books, I got 12 of the 16 books I ordered online. Yea, I'm a geek like that...

Monday, November 08, 2010


Revenge is the theme of 'The Cask of Amontillado', one of Poe's more famous short stories. In this story the narrator tells about the revenge he takes on the poor soul who dared to insult him. I like this story because it's fun to show how Montressor gets his revenge and teach them about theme at the same time. The students like it because it's dark and creepy and allows them to safely fantasize about really getting even with someone who has done them wrong.

Thematic webs come in handy here because it allows the student to write down all the things that Montressor does to get even with the ironically named Fortunado (Italian for fortunate). For example he uses his knowledge of wine to bait him to coming to his palazzo to examine a pipe (110 gallons) of Amontillado. He then pretends to be concerned about his cold and 'tries' to talk his drunk (he keeps him drunk as well) victim out of venturing under his empty (no witnesses) palazzo to the catacombs where the wine is. I could go on but go read it for yourself. It's pretty cool in a creepy way.

That is the first of the three stories my students will be reading. The other two are 'The Most Dangerous Game' and 'The Necklace'. In addition, my honors students are finishing up 'The Yellow Wallpaper' and I got my kids to the library for the 2nd quarter book project.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Testing is a necessary evil in teaching. Now the trend to see if teachers can teach is to do standardized tests and based on the performance of the students over several years you get a good idea of which teachers can teach. Or can you? Does that really tell you which teachers can teach or which teachers can teach to the test? What about writing? Does the ability to write to some random prompt mean that the teacher is able to effectively teach writing? Or can they just teach students how to write to a prompt?

I'm asking these questions because I seriously don't have an answer. I totally get the idea that teachers need to be able to teach in a measurable way, and that it's not like a job in the private sector where if you're in sales, all you boss needs to do is to look at the numbers and they can tell if you're doing your job or if you're a mechanic and it's easy to tell by the quality of your work if you know what you're doing.

Teaching isn't like that. You can use standardized tests but then the weakness is that teachers will stop teaching properly and simply teach to the test. And honestly if they start using testing data to see if I'm a good teacher or not the pressure will be huge to do just that. That will be cool for the teachers but not the kids because real life is more than a scan-tron and a proficiency prompt.

There are just some issues that don't have good answers...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Moving On

No I don't mean Moveon.org... Different thing altogether.

I meant moving on from bad news. As you know a fellow teacher took his own life on our campus Monday afternoon. Yesterday was hard as we pretended to do our staff development day. Today the students returned and things began to return to some sense of normal. To be honest we teachers needed this more than the students.

The students took this better than the teachers, at least in my room. I only had to send one student to the library for the grief counselors and I did talk to them about trying to avoid the rumors and reminded them that he had a family and to consider them before they opened their yaps. The other good part is that they were taking the interim assessments today and tomorrow so they didn't have time to dwell about what happened.

Monday they're in the library for their next book project.

Finally I need to address the election for a bit. The GOP needs to understand that they have a lease on the House of Representatives and not the keys. If they don't try to accomplish what they want to do then they're out on their butts. And locally we need to keep in mind that Carson City is not the reason the district has money problems. They didn't decide that the classroom only deserves 25% of every dollar that they send to Las Vegas. That is a different group of people. If you're angry fine, but direct your anger in the right direction.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Update: They released the name and I knew him. I often talked to him during lunch and when I saw him on campus. We were both hired about the same time and shared many of the same students both last year and this year. He was a committed teacher who wanted the best for his students. The story is here if you want to read the whole thing.

Today was a tragic day at my school. Just before 3pm, a fellow teacher of mine took his life on campus. I don't yet know who it is and in a way it doesn't really matter. A family is now without a father, son, husband and brother. Students are now without a teacher and the staff is without a teammate.

To those of you making cracks online at the local news sites, you can go F*** yourself. The school is a Title 1 school, but the majority of my students bust their asses to get an education and deserve better than the juvenile cracks you so *bravely* posted online. Most of the problems we have come from off campus, and when we find kids who bring pot, guns, gang-banging on campus, we expel them.

The staff at my school is a pretty tight knit group. While we may not know every single teacher (there are about 120 spread across 4 or 5 buildings) we all put our kids first and we all are willing to help each other out in a pinch. We share resources and ideas. There is very little BS as far as politics go. It exists of course but kept to a minimum. Tomorrow's staff development day is going to be odd indeed to say the least. So when you read about the story and see the stupid comments remember that it was a person who died and he will be missed by his family, fellow staff and by his students.

This stuff really truly sucks.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Yellow Wallpaper

Rarely do I inflict my favorite stories and poems on my students. I was not a big fan of that when I was a student and I do my best to give them literature they are actually interested in or that are wonderful illustrations of themes, symbols etc.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is an exception. It is and remains my favorite short story of all time. I read it in one of my college English classes and was hooked. It's not the easiest story to read, I had to read it five times to understand what happened and a few more to really get what the author was talking about. Because it's a difficult story I only have my honors students read it and I offer extra credit to any regular student who reads it on their own.

At first my students thought is was 'retarded and lame' but after they got about a page in, they really began to enjoy it. Interestingly they have not freaked out about it like last year's class where kids were getting dizzy and ill from the descriptions.

Another interesting thing about this story are all the things people have decided that Gilman was talking about, social injustice, equal rights for women, that sort of thing. And while I believe that in her subconscious mind she may have been addressing those things in reality she had a different purpose in mind.

Here is why she wrote it in the first place.

Many and many a reader has asked me that. When the story first came out, in the New England Magazine about 1891, a Boston physician made protest in The Transcript. Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.
Another physician, in Kansas I think, wrote to say that it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen, and -- begging my pardon -- had I been there?
Now the story of the story is this:
For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia -- and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest-cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again" as long as I lived. This was in 1887.
I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.
Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist's advice to the winds and went to work again -- work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite -- ultimately recovering some measure of power.
Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper," with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.
The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate -- so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.
But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading "The Yellow Wallpaper."
It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.
SOURCE: The Forerunner, October 1913.

My students will read this article once they are done with the story and answer a few questions about it. I always find it interesting how readers and viewers react to art weather it be literature, poetry, paintings or music. We tend to put into it our own life experiences and that is what makes it fun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

End of Quarter 1

The first quarter ends on Thursday the 28th and I've done almost everything that I wanted to do this year. I won't finish the expository essays before the end of the quarter but that's not a huge deal, it'll be the first grade of the 2nd quarter and the book project has been better than I thought (see post below). The kids are not only better academically, but they're better behaved as well for the most part.

I do have my exceptions, I have a few kids in 5th period that talk to much and one in another class that I had last year. This student is repeating the same mistakes that he did last year, so I finally told him that his homework over the weekend was to decide if he was actually going to make an effort this year and then tell me on Monday which way he wants to go. If he decides not to try I will have him sign a form saying he chooses to fail and then as long as he does not decide to disrupt my class he can learn the hard way. If he chooses to try then I am going to stay on him to make sure he passes.

What I want to happen and what I think will happen are two different things. I hope he decides to actually pass this year, but my gut tells me he could not care any less about his future. So be it, I have enough students who actually want to pass to waste any more energy on someone who doesn't care. If that makes me a bad teacher then I'm guilty as charged but I am reminded of the old Chinese saying that goes something like this. 'Teacher opens door but the student must walk through'...

Finally, I got my dog Charette down to a local grooming school and got her washed, her nails trimmed and even painted in the school colors for spirit week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Project

One of the things I changed this year was to include a quarterly book project in all my English classes. So once a quarter they read a book of their choice (within reason) and then do some sort of project on it. To make sure they actually do the project I made it 25% of their quarter grade.

I gave them a sheet with 16 different ideas to choose from (#16 was come up with your own) and then took them to the library so they could pick a book. Today was the due date for my honors classes and from what I have seen it's going very very well. One student did a diary for 'Of Mice and Men' and it was just AMAZING. In addition I've gotten crossword puzzles, sculptures, posters and book reviews. (One student did not like 'The Stranger' at ALL) I did get one book report but he did a good job with it so I didn't mind, and no it was NOT on the list. I've even gotten a couple already from my regular kids and those were also 'A' level work.

Now it was not easy to get the kids to do this, but this is an ENGLISH class and they will read 4 books this year. If they want to pass my class they will anyway.

The bonus is that now I have book ideas to add to my library in my house and my classroom. And since I have gift cards to both Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon, it's going to be fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Not a happy camper

Today was the tipping point in my regular classes. For whatever reason they all decided that it was social hour despite the fact that at least 5 kids per class were absent today. It didn't even help that I removed two chatter boxes from class and then called their parents after school. And then the kicker was during my credit retrieval class when one of my students told me not to give him attitude...

Of course I told that class FOUR times to stop talking when I caught him and his friend talking yet one more time. His excuse was that his and his neighbor's computer had suddenly shut down. I told him I didn't care about his computer and then after his comment about my attitude I kicked him out of class.

So tomorrow the kids get new seats and zero tolerance for the chatter and that kid who gave me lip is going to be in for a shock tomorrow.

I don't do disrespect.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If it isn't broke...

Don't fix it right? Apparently not for my students. Why do I bring this up? Well, because they took notes and payed attention to Book 9 of The Odyssey and did really well on the test. So you would think that since it worked for Book 9 it would also work for Book 10 right?...

Well not so much. I knew that the scores would drop a bit from that test to this test because there were more short answer questions than on the last one, but I did not expect the classes to literally do a full grade worse. I literally had a student get a 32/40 on the first test and a 4.5/40 on the second test. Seriously? You go from about an 80% to about 11% in four days? This same class had an average score of 83% on the first test and a 68% on the second one. Can you say 'overconfident'? I knew you could. Now I will say that the kids who totally bombed the first test did not repeat their mistakes on the second one. Not that they all passed, but I am pleased when you go from an 8/40 on the first test to a 22/40 on the second one. I know it's still an F, but he increased his score by almost 300%. I just hope he takes the Book 12 test seriously, because I want him to succeed.

I do know that today when I was reviewing the material for book 12 the students were certainly paying more attention than last time. Of course it was no accident that I handed back their tests at the beginning of class to give them a bit of a kick in the butt.

Finally I asked them what the biggest surprise of the book was and the two most popular replies were as follows: "I can't believe that Odysseus slept with Circe" and "I thought it was going to be boring but now I'm into it." I may let them finish listening to the story after the test tomorrow and a bit on Thursday.

Lets just hope this test isn't the Hindenburg Part II...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A big difference

This year is so totally different from last year. Maybe it's the fact I have a year under my belt teaching English (as opposed to math, long story) and don't have to make it up as I go. Maybe it's the fact I have both honors sections and can actually teach two different things. Maybe it's the fact that the kids are not only better behaved but harder working, but so far this year has been much less stressful than last year. I even have a handle on the credit retrieval class now. I just need to update the grades again in the grade book. I am also enjoying myself more this year than I did last year and last year I had a blast.

I am however going to have to remind my regular classes just who is in charge since they're starting to think it's not me... Big mistake on their part. And the nice thing is I have not had to bark much this year either, in fact I haven't even kicked anyone out of my room yet.

My regular classes are almost done with 'The Odyssey' (books 9-10 and 12) and then they'll start the writing project and my honors classes will start 'The Odyssey' on Tuesday, they'll probably finish up in a week since I can move faster with them than I can with the regular kids, then we start my favorite short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper', which is a perfect story for October. Then both classes will read 'The Cask of Amontillado' and then we'll go from there. I still have to make time to prep the kids for the interim assessments at the end of the month.

Wow is the 1st quarter that close to being over?

Speaking of my room, it's officially decorated for Halloween!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Seriously PO'd

Update: I got played. That student is on probation and decided to cry wolf about the abuse. I'm still mad, but now it's at the student. I know I did what I was supposed to do when abuse is alleged, but that student is now a permanent resident of the dog house. I don't do back stabbing. I don't stab students in the back and I expect the same in return. I can't wait for the parent teacher conference next week...

As much as I love teaching there are parts I'd rather not have to deal with and a few that really truly piss me off. Today I had to deal with the one thing that sets me off faster than sagging jeans and sleeping students: abusive parents.

Today I had my second guest speaker of the year come in and talk about social work, and I think it went well all day. The students pretty much paid attention and asked some good questions.

It was during one of the passing periods that the crap hit the fan. One of my students who has been really struggling (but got a B on the Odyssey test) came up and asked the social worker and I if it was 'OK if my step-dad punches his son in the face'. The look that passed between my guest and I was a combination of 'oh s***! and WTF?'. I replied that no it was not OK for him to strike his son like that and that opened up the flood gates. Turns out that he verbally abuses his wife and physically abuses my student and his step brother. He said that it was only his PO (probation officer) that keeps him from running away to AZ to be with his dad.


My guest and I give him some advice along the lines of talk to your PO and counselor and he goes to his next class because I can't be talking about his business in front of an entire class.
So I email his counselor asking for advice on how to report this piece of er step-dad to CPS. She gives me the number and tells me that I need to talk to my AP, who also prints out the kid's address and phone number for me so I can give it to CPS, which I did after a 40 minute wait. She also told me to tell him that the next time it happens that he can call 911 (Why the hell didn't I think of that?) himself as well as asking him for a bit more information if he is willing to share.

Hopefully this will turn out alright for my student and his family. Hopefully I won't meet his step-dad in a dark alley either, because I'd seriously like to stomp a mud hole in his sorry carcass.

I am still seriously PO'd...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Not so fast!

I know many people on the right are drooling about the November election and for good reason. This could be a year where the Democrats get their collective clocks cleaned, but before you all start breaking out the champagne and singing 'We Are The Champions', you need this reality check...

Not much will change when the next congress starts even if your greatest wishes come true and the GOP gets both houses of Congress...

Why? Two reasons...

1. The Filibuster, there is no way on God's green earth that the GOP will get 60 seats in November, allowing the Democrats to do what the GOP has done, threaten talk bills to death.

2. The Veto, there is also no way on God's green earth that the GOP will get 2/3 in each house to override vetos, so even if the GOP can overcome the filibuster, nothing will change for at least two years. Obama will veto EVERYTHING that goes against his agenda. He fought too hard to implement it (often against the wishes of his bosses) to simply allow the GOP to repeal it. Trust me he'll use every means fair and foul to keep the changes he has worked to make reality.

This means that in 2012 the democrats can point out how the GOP has done nothing and try to regain power. So hold your horses the battle isn't even won much less the war. Remember the democrats cried foul every time Bush 43 legitimately used reconciliation to give us the soon to be expired tax breaks, and then used it for health care reform. Don't think for a second that they will threaten to filibuster everything if they do lose the Senate, which is far from certain.

If the GOP were smart (which given their track record is a real stretch) they would force the Democrats to actually filibuster the bills. Then they would force the President to veto them.

Like they have the balls to do that, they haven't shown the balls to do much of anything for the last 20 years...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Compare & Contrast

No, not the essay although it was a good guess. The compare and contrast part is right but there is no essay involved. Confused yet? Let me explain, tomorrow my honors kids get to read two of my favorite short stories and then look at the main characters or the flowers that play a prominent role in them both. They'll start with 'The Possibility of Evil' and then read 'Marigolds' in groups, filling out thematic webs as they go. They then get to take that information and compare character vs character or flower vs flower. It's more fun for me to watch them compare what happens to the characters and if they deserved what they get.

I do love my job.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lesson Learned!

One of the constants in teaching freshmen is The Odyssey. Now the book does not have the entire poem, it has books 9-12 and then the last few where Odysseus gets even with the 100 suitors and gets to live happily ever after with his wife and son. I normally do only books 9 & 10 because it allows me to show how Odysseus changes after his encounter with the Cyclops and because there is a plethora of material that I teach so time becomes an issue. Last year I started out by having the students read Book 9 (Cyclops dining on Greek Sushi) silently and taking notes, then having the students listen to it before the test. That was not a great plan because half the class didn't understand the text until they heard the audio version. Duh, it's a poem for crying out loud. Now I wised up for Book 10-12 last year and was planning on doing it this way the next time around.

This year I did the same thing again, knowing they were going to struggle with the text, some of them anyway. I didn't want to cheat the readers out of using thier abilities so I planned for three days of silent reading and two days of listening to and following along in the book before the test. It went much better this time around, the kids who struggled reading it, understood it once they listened to and followed along in the book. The kids who knew the story really got it and I am hoping that I have a plethora of good scores and a paucity of flame outs on the book 9 test.

The other lesson I learned last year that I applied this year was the importance of breaking down the writing process into steps, my honors kids are ripping through their essays this year precisely because they went step by step and because they prewrote their essays, which is the big key. 30 minutes of prewriting = 3 hours of writing is the formula I told them and they totally bought into the concept. The result is that there was far less confusion and far less frustration with the process, which is good because the source material was challenging to say the least.

Reflection has its benefits when you take the time to do it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Too Much Of A Good Thing

No I'm not talking about beer! What I am talking about is teaching the same thing 5 times in one day. One of the lessons I learned as an apprentice teacher (the hard way) is how to get burned out in less than 1 year. One of the big things was teaching the same thing over and over and over and over again.

When I hit the HS I am now I vowed not to repeat that mistake a second time if I could help it. I did a good job the first semester, all the way until I had to teach parts of The Odyssey at the end of the first semester.

When the second semester hit I fell back into my old ways and basically taught the same thing until the end of the school year, to the detriment of 6th period. You see while I really like Romeo and Juliet, I don't like it as much the 5th time around, and the same thing went for poetry. By the fifth time I read the balcony scene I wanted Juliet to jump off the balcony so it would be a one act play.

This year I'm fortunate that I have both honors sections so it's easier to split up what I am doing. So while my honors classes are doing their writing project, my regular classes are doing the Odyssey. This way I can improve my writing project for my regular classes and do a better job with the Odyssey with my honors kids.

The best part is that I don't want the Cyclops to win this time!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So Far So Good

Funny how different a year can be. At this point last year my classes had established their identities. 1st period was quiet but worked hard and rarely gave me any issues. 2nd period was nothing but issues and lots of 12oz therapy. 3rd period was my zany honors class loaded with smarts, attitude and a dash of insanity. 5th period was my best regular class and 6th period was simply a typical 9th grade class.

Not so this year. Neither one of my honors classes is as zany as last year although they might be even more gifted that that bunch. And the only reason my 4th period class is giving me issues is because of one kid I had last year who basically did the same thing before moving to Washington. 5th and 6th have a couple of goofballs but they are willing to work and have given me little if any attitude. Not only that but they are doing better academically as well.

It'll be interesting to see how the personalities of the classes develop over the year. I just hope that NEXT year doesn't give me 5 classes of future felons.

It should be an interesting year.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All Freshmen All The Time

That is the story of this year. Now don't get me wrong I love teaching 9th graders, I just figured it would be a cool title for a post. Last year ended pretty well. 2nd period was of course, second period and I did get one brain sturgeon back from that class again this year. I pulled him aside and asked him if he actually wanted to graduate from high school because I was tired of him wasting both his time and my time. His reply was that tomorrow would be a better day and that he was just really tired. Uh huh...

I have both sections of honors English this year which is really cool because I don't have to collaborate with anyone they are mine to educate as I please, so I am having them do a writing project before I start them on The Odyssey. Speaking of stories, we got in new textbooks this year. Sigh, I really wish they had allowed us to see them BEFORE the school year started and not three weeks into semester 1. I had blocked out most of the first semester as far as stories go and half of them are not in the new book, so we use the old one until second semester starts. Then we can start with the new books assuming they have audio files like the old one does.

One good thing the school district did was to add in dealing with politics first quarter since it's an election year and then move around a couple of writing projects to better match the the schedule. (The county tells us what standards to teach each quarter, the rest, for now, is up to us) That is not a big deal to move them around since they take about the same time and the writing process is pretty similar.

Well that is about it right now, I promise it won't be eight months before the next post.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


First I want to apologize for not replying to the comments that were left at my blog. Haloscan, which I have used for the past few years for comment moderation has gone the way of the dodo bird and I will have to find a new system since it's replacement is not free. That is the official change to the blog.

As far as my classes go, I had to change the plans for the week due to my mistake and my students not getting the lesson I used Tuesday for figurative language. They simply did not get similes, metaphors and personification. To complicate matters, our copy guy got fired and the graphics department (AKA copy room) is now locked up, including the self service copiers that I used all the time. We do have small copiers around campus but now they get more use than they were really designed for so they break more often. And teachers don't bother to let the staff know so they can call the tech. This meant that I needed to come up with a different lesson for Wednesday that did not require the use of copies. Fortunately I was able to find a couple of power points on figurative language that will allow me to better teach the material without needing to make copies. At least when the education student shows up on Wednesday for his observation I won't look like a total putz. I wonder if he hates the Danielson book as much as I did?

The mistake part of it was not marking my key correctly for the scantron part of the Romeo and Juliet Act 1 & 2 test. So I will have to rerun the scantron forms so I can discuss the results on Thursday and have the students who failed correct them and get some points back.

The interesting part of the test is that I asked the students which film version of Romeo and Juliet they liked better: The 1968 version or the 1996 version. The surprise winner was the 1968 version by about a 60/40 split. Most of the comments said that the scenery and the characters matched better in the older one than the newer one. Almost all of them said watching the clips helped them better understand they play (no surprise there) than just listening to it and reading it. As a movie fan the 96 version has it all over the older one. Claire Daines, need I say more? As an English teacher the older one is better, plus that balcony scene is awesomely done.

Should be an interesting week!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Guest Speakers

Today my students had a treat, Casey Hendrickson and Heather Kidd from KXNT came out to speak about the radio industry, how they got their start, and even how they keep callers from cursing on the air (it's called the dump button). To say they were good with the kids was an understatement. They were great with the kids. They answered questions and gave them examples of how they approach shows that dealt with issues they face on a regular basis, including combating the ghetto image their school has. And the kids were also able to teach Casey and Heather a couple of things, most importantly that while Western has its share of issues when it comes to things like fights and drugs, it's much safer than people think. Not one of my students felt unsafe while on campus. In short they helped dispel the myth that Western is a school not worth saving.

Days like this are worth the bad ones.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


So yesterday we started our unit on Romeo and Juliet with a pair of power points on both Shakespeare the play itself. I purposely left in the slide about how the people in the courtyard would relive themselves where they were just because. Yep, I'm just shallow that way. I kept my students occupied by having them fill out worksheets as we went along and then had them turn them in for points. Nothing like effecting grades to get them interested in a presentation!

Tomorrow we start the play in earnest and we'll take turns listening to the play and watching it. We'll spend time discussing it as we go. My plan is to go after the 'big picture' stuff in the play. They'll get Shakespeare for all four years in HS so there will be plenty of time to dissect it line by line. I want them to understand things like what Shakespearean tragedy is, Star Crossed Lovers, dramatic foils etc. I want them to enjoy the play for what it is, a romantic tragedy with interesting characters.

If there is time this quarter, I want to read a second play called Trifles. What I would really like to do is read 12 Angry Men, but that is going to wait until next year.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WTF? The 2010 Version

So all the English 1 teachers at my school do reading comprehension every Friday to keep students sharp (in theory) with their skills. So last Friday I gave my students a short reading passage on dog shows along with 10 multiple choice questions for them to answer. Now most of my classes did about how you would expect. Some did well, some didn't with most someplace in the middle. Then there was 6th period. Normally they do pretty well but on this assignment they just puked all over the place. As in 1 A, 1 C's, 1 D, and 18 F's. Seriously? I can't tell you how many students thought that this article was a F****** biography! Really? It's not like I've never used the term nonfiction in class before, unless you count all those times we went over those terms. It's not like we went over things like looking at the questions carefully and to pay attention to words in ALL CAPS or in bold, or italizied!

As if this academic vomit was not bad enough I made the mistake of letting my students work on their college/career project in class, thinking (id10t me) that most of the students would actually jump at the chance to avoid homework. I now know better. Tomorrow when the students walk through the door they'll find minimal time to F*** off, er I mean work on their project. Instead they'll find plenty of work to keep them busy, and the poster project is still due on Monday. No more class time for projects for them, now they get to work all period and the projects will be done at home.

Yea and we start Romeo and Juliet next week...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

So much to blog about

And yet I can't seem to get my thoughts organized enough to actually post them here. We're about half way through quarter number three and after this short week we start Romeo and Juliet. This week we'll be working on our research project which went from a formal paper to a poster. We just completed two formal writing projects and I didn't feel like adding to my stack of essays to grade, so I decided it was time to put up new things on my back wall and take down the product reviews from last quarter. I'm hoping to get through Romeo and Juliet fairly quickly so I can do one more play from this century.

If you need any more proof that I am insane I volunteered to help non-proficient students on my prep so they can pass their writing proficiency. So this means I'll lose 4 preps and take on additional grading, but if helps more students pass the writing proficiency so they can graduate I'm happy to help.

Finally I am thrilled that two local radio personalities have agreed to visit my classes and talk about the radio profession and the skills people need to be successful at it. Casey Henrickson and Heather Kidd from KXNT radio will be getting up early on March 2nd. And I am thrilled to have them. I am hoping to get at least one more guest speaker to come to my classroom before the end of the school year.

And in honor of the Olympics... U-S-A! U-S-A!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Comfort Zone

All students have a comfort zone and I enjoy dragging them out of it whenever I can. On our school email I ran across this article about a 13 year old girl who was beaten and given 60 days in jail for bringing a camera phone to class in Saudi Arabia. I found the entire story online and decided to use it and the photo of flogging for my classes.

I did this for two reasons. First, I needed to adjust my lesson plans due to the librarian breaking her leg. I was going to take my classes there to start a research paper project and she holds presentations to help them do the research. Secondly I was a bit tired of hearing about how bad our justice system was and decided to show them a bit of the real world. Yes I know that our system is flawed. But at least we don't crucify people in public.

It worked like a charm. After reading and discussing the article my students got to write a reaction to it and from what I have seen, the responses should be pretty good. And more importantly, they learned that our system is light years ahead of most countries around the world.

This week they will be coming up with ideas to help solve the budget crisis Nevada finds itself in and then writing a persuasive essay to convince the reader to adopt their plan. Hopefully they will also get into this assignment as well since they will be the ones to pay the real price next year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

1st Semester Reflections

Today I asked my students to reflect on the first semester. Surprisingly I got some nice comments but I do get worried when I get things like 'the work is easy' etc., fortunately I also got comments like 'the teacher does a great job of explaining' so I hope that is why the work is easy. I also need to tell my friend Rich that one student mentioned his visit as the highlight of her semester. I thought that was pretty cool.

My big issue (aside from second period) is that I don't have enough chairs for my honors class. I mean I thought that 41 chairs would be enough but I have 44 students enrolled right now. Soooo I need to scrape up three more desks. The other thing that I did with them was to hand them back their essays and have them revise the weakest of the bunch. My new students I had start an essay. One student made the mistake of asking me to comment on her essays because she did not trust my grade... Heh, I doubt she will do that again.

Next week we start the research papers, that should be interesting to do. Oh and it really does rain in Las Vegas...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wow has it been that long?

OK, I guess it has been that long. So, what happened since November? Well, 2nd period is still 2nd period, 2nd semester starts on Tuesday and I have a cold, again. I had a great Christmas break and found out that 10 13-year olds make more noise than 38 9th graders. I also found out that my students need help with reading comprehension, badly. I had to curve the final exams because out of 140 tests I had FOUR C's... Yea 4 kids got at least a 35 out of 50 on the scantron part of the exam. The rest? Let's just say that the scantron machine I was using ran out of red ink and it was a good thing I used the silent one and not the one that adds the sound effects while I grades the tests. It would have sounded like gunfire and the building would have been locked down. At least the writing part of the test went well, at least for the regular classes.

The honors classes had two essays and most them them had one good essay and one that sucked eggs. I mean that a student would get a 40/45 on one essay and a 30/45 on the other. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? I mean I can see a bit of a difference but not that much. But they did better (not great mind you) on the scantron part.

Soooooo I need to go over reading comprehension, a lot and my honors kids get to revise the essays they puked on this week. Then we get to do research papers and then Shakespeare! Yippee Flippin Skippie. Maybe next year I should teach Shakespeare the first quarter and get it out of the way.

Finally, I really truly hate No Child Left Behind. Seriously... Thank you ever so much for that piece of garbage Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy. Teaching is hard enough without constantly worrying about the Next Big Test...