Monday, August 20, 2012

Hey, They're Not MY Kids.......

As we start the Back to School frenzy, I am seeing more and more posts on Facebook and in blogs about the frustrations this time of year brings - from parents and teachers alike.  But two topics were especially, well, let's say..... agitating.

Let's start with school supplies.  Yes, I work in public education, which is free for your child.  But here's the thing - I don't know if you've heard, but there is a MAJOR budget crisis.  And by major, I mean your kids are losing days off of their education.  They are losing learning opportunities.  And yeah, guess what?  Your kid's school cannot afford all of the supplies like it used to.  And if you live in California there is more doom and gloom to come.  If the governor's bill doesn't pass, public education will be raped and pillaged like never before.  Knowing how ridiculous and short-sighted voters can be, I am getting ready for the worst.  So yeah, we teachers are asking for donations.  DONATIONS.  You are not required to send in anything.  So quit complaining already.  I am sick of it.  (PS - If it doesn't get donated, guess who buys it?  THE TEACHER!!!!!)

Moving on to teachers requesting volunteers.....  This one is odd for me.  I will be starting my 24th year at a Title I school this week.  I have rarely had volunteers to help me with anything.  It's not their fault - they are usually working at least one full time job if not more and do not have the time.  I totally get that.  When I do get volunteers, they usually start off strong, but have to quit for one reason or another.  So I have stopped asking.  But guess what?  That means I do not have time to do a lot of the wonderful engaging and enriching activities that should occur in school.  You know why?  Because I HAVE A FAMILY TOO.  I have a life.  I spent the first ten-plus years of my career not having a life - it was all about other people's kids.  And even now, I still spend WAY too much of my own time on other people's kids.  Now don't get me wrong.  I love my job, and I love teaching.  But most people have NO CLUE how much time and energy it takes to run a classroom effectively.  All of the planning and prep happens before and after school, when your children are gone.  We cannot plan or prepare while your kids are in class.  We are busy teaching them.  So again, if a teacher asks for your help, you are not required to do so.  But don't get pissed off when your child's education isn't all you hoped it would be.  Your child's teacher has her own family to take care of.  Her students are NOT her children.  They are yours.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Bag of Good Intentions

I don't know about y'all, but I brought home a ton of work to do over the summer.  The bag of good intentions.  Although this summer, it's more like BAGS!  Ugh.  There it sits - I can see it all from here - piled up in the corner of the office.  Haunting me.

At the beginning of the summer I thought, "I am going to get everything done right away so I don't have it hanging over my head."  Ha!  I haven't touched it.

I wrote a while back about NOT bringing anything home, and the guilt I felt.  But this is worse - knowing you have all of this work to do and not wanting to touch it.  But if you don't, you will regret it.  It will slap you in the face come late August.  'Cuz one way or another it all needs to get done.

But I so value the time over the summer.  It is essential - teaching is such a high-stress job.  You must have the time to decompress or you will explode.  Implode?  I dunno.  Some type of explosion will occur.  As always, it's a question of balance.  Finding the right balance so you can manage your life and have time for everything.  Impossible.  At least it usually seems that way.

So, do you have a bag of good intentions sitting untouched in your house this summer?  And if you have touched it, I don't want to hear about it.  I feel bad enough as it is.  ;->

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Testing..... Week Two......

Week two was pretty uneventful, other than the fact that my classroom was a disgusting cesspool of germs.  The seven dwarfs were alive and well in my classroom: Sneezy, Hacky, Coughy, Phlegmy, Snotty, Drippy, and Wheezy.  Good times.  I had a sore throat the whole damned weekend.  Those parents did their duty - send those kiddos to school come hell or high water!

Once again, I was discouraged by the tests - both the types of questions and the number of questions.  So many trick questions.  So much developmentally inappropriate content.  Such a colossal waste of time.  Do these tests tell me what my kids have learned?  HELL NO.  Poor kids.  Six days of this crap.  They were SO DONE.

Scores will come out in the summer, and when we return in the fall we will have the dreaded meeting where we go over how we did.  I have gotten used to the annual humiliation.  And I deal with it much better.  Last year I started keeping track of a variety of assessment results - both standardized and assessments that are actually meaningful.  My kids show growth on all of them, except for one.  District benchmarks and CSTs.  Well, they show improvement from Benchmark 1 to Benchmark 2.  This is supposed to be an indicator of how the kids will do on the CSTs.  It never is.  *sigh*  But I take heart in knowing that my kids have made growth.  I take heart in my kids who started the year at the pre-primer level and are now reading at the beginning second grade level.  What an accomplishment!  But those kids will still score Below Basic on the CSTs.  Yeah.  Those tests don't mean jack......

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Testing..... Week One

This week marks the first week of state testing.  Ugh.  I hate it.  It represents everything that is wrong with education today.  High stakes, teaching to a test, meaningless results, narrowing of the curriculum, etc.....  But test I must, so every year for six days I torture eight-year-olds.  This is why I got into teaching.

Day 1 - Part 1 of the English Language Arts Test:  As I circulate the room, making sure students are on task, I hear a whisper from one of my kiddos, "Eenie meenie miney mo," as his pencil point goes back and forth between two answers.  Hey, at least he had narrowed it down to two!  I couldn't bear to look and see if one of the two was the right answer.  Sigh.

Day 2 -  Part 1 of the Math Test:  Dead silence as we begin the test.  One of my students announces, "I am sick!  I am feeling queasy, which means I just might PUKE!"  Fabulous.  As I shush him while the whole class looks on, he tells me he is fine - he can go on.  I tell him if he feels bad to let me know.  Then the heavy breathing starts.  Like an obscene phone caller, this kid starts breathing so heavy all of the kids around him are totally distracted and staring at him.  Are you kidding me???????  So I move him to another table with less kids and ask him to curb his breathing.  He then realizes he needs the bathroom immediately.  Upon his return, he announces. "Nope!  Nothing came out!"  Great. Thanks for sharing.  After a few more minutes, the child cannot go on anymore.  He tells me the only reason he came to school was to take the stupid test!  So I send him to the office with my student teacher.  On the way up to the office, he explains how he feels in more detail, "I feel like I am gonna burp, and then I have to poop!"  He wasn't at school today.

Day 3:  Part 2 of the English Language Arts Test.  I just about died when I saw today's part of the test.  An obscene amount of stories* with comprehension questions.  Several of these stories were very long, all with a small font.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???????  Don't you think we can figure out if they can do this crap with maybe just two stories?  Why so many?????  Heavy sigh.  I have to say, the little chickens did great the first two days of testing.  I mean, I have no clue how they did, but they worked their butts off.  Today was different.  The amount of stories broke their collective can-do spirit.  I watched as many of them counted how many pages they had to do, with looks of anguish on their faces.  I had a few fast finishers.... not because they were finished, but because they were DONE.  And about one third of the class managed to skip the exact same story and corresponding questions.  Of course the proctor and I made sure they went back and completed every little morsel of torture.  Hey!  One question can mean the difference between Far Below Basic and Below Basic dammit!

And so week one is done.  The chickadees will have a few days of rest, then it's back to it next week.  Can't wait.

* You may be wondering, how many stories were there?  I wrote the exact number in my first draft.  Then I got paranoid thinking I might get in trouble for divulging the contents of the test and the testing Nazis might come and rip my fingernails out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

iPods - Amazing Power in a Small Package

So, a while back I wrote about the grant I received - about 30K devoted to professional development.  35% of the funds could be used for materials.  Our team used the 35% to purchase an iPod Touch cart with 20 iPods.  We have managed to wrangle up nine more through workshops that come with iPods.  So, we almost have a class set.  (I am working on another grant to hopefully to fix that problem.)

Our teacher team of three has been working to figure out the best ways to utilize these devices in meaningful, relevant, and innovative ways.  It's slow-going when you have a bazillion other things you have to do in teaching.  One of my personal faves combines Google docs and QR codes.  In my Google account, I create a quiz for the students using Google forms.  (And it only took me four months to realize that there is more than one page of templates for these quizzes..... but I digress.)  Once your quiz is done, you click on the link at the bottom of the page and you are taken to the actual site of the quiz.  Cut and paste that link into a QR code generator (I like QR Code Stuff:  You can download the QR code image once it is generated; I print mine out and put it on the board.  Students use a QR code reader on their iPod Touch (many free apps for these) to read the code.  They are taken to the quiz site.  Once they take the quiz, they click 'Submit' and all of their answers go into your Google form.  You now have a database of all of the answers.  Soooooo much easier to grade, and the kids love it.

Now, I could have died happy right here.  But then I discovered Flubaroo.  Flubaroo is a script in Google docs.  Flubaroo grades the quizzes.  Did you hear me?  It grades the quizzes.  I am telling you, the heavens opened up and the angels were singing when I used this for the first time.  Amazing.

Moving on to another fave.......  A huge student need in our classrooms is reading fluency.  I have students who read with 100% accuracy, but are only reading 60wpm.  It is painful to listen to them read!  The iPods have been wonderful for this.  iTalk allows students to record themselves reading, then they can go back and listen to themselves.  This has been quite the eye-opener for students.  After doing this the first time, one of my kiddos said, "Wow.  I really sound terrible when I read!"  Ha!  He doesn't anymore.  :-)  Students can save these recordings and the recordings can then be saved onto a computer if you'd like.  Next year I think I will do this - give each student a piece of text, record it, save the recordings, then repeat this process with the same piece of text every trimester.  This can be a time-saver as well; if you do not have time to pull students one at a time and listen to the them, have them do it on the iPod!

There are so many amazing apps for the iPod Touch, it is hard to know where to start.  What is really nice is - so many are free!  So if you don't like it, you can dump it.  We have found many apps that are great for math fluency, and the students love them.  Next up for our team is digging into some of the digital storytelling apps.  While the three of us have learned how to use them - being proficient enough to teach the students is another matter.  But we are ready to give it a go!