Saturday, September 26, 2009

Carmen Crankypants has left the building

Turns out I was just hungry and tired. Ha!

Seriously, I've been starving all week. I swear I eat snacks during the day when I can, and some days I eat a real-ish dinner, though it's late. But I often have that gnawing, hollow hunger feeling. Like right now.

Earlier this week, I wore some Ann Taylor trousers that I bought earlier in the summer. Did I mention the summer job I got at the last minute? It took place at a college campus and eating at a dining hall proved to be as way-too-easy as it was ten years ago when I was actually a college student. So I definitely felt my waistlines tighten that month, but when I bought these pants they just perfectly fit. This week, they were a teeny bit loose in the waist. However, on Friday I wore another pair of Ann Taylor pants, and they were a little snug. Harrumph.

Incomprehensibly, I stayed up til midnight last night, and then slept for what felt like half a day, but was in reality eight hours or so (and don't worry, I stayed in bed for another hour just resting). Goodness me, I love weekend lie-ins!

I posted on Wednesday about having not such an awesome day, but on Thursday I looked back and thought about each period that I taught and saw that those parts of the day were actually fine or good. It was the staying for three hours after school that made me so grumpy and angry and irritated. Which I think is completely understandable, right? :)

I have noticed that my endless patience is finding some ends after all. I find myself snapping like the middle school teacher I used to be. The nice thing is that since they hadn't heard that tone from me before, it startled them and made them stop and pay attention. I know it's not what the school wants, but that's not really such a big deal to me (after trying to conform to a school was such a disaster last year). I just want to find the right balance in dealing with the kids and making them stay on track.

I have a second Kid that I need to mention. There have been some positive developments in Chatty Chad, so we don't have to deal with him for a little bit. But there is another boy who I need to discuss who is also chatty but not in that Special Reasons way. I shall call him...Loud Leo. Because he always has something to say. Always. And only has one volume. He just doesn't appear to have an Inside Voice, because then the rest of the class couldn't hear him and he wouldn't have an audience. He's actually a really good kid sometimes; he's always generous, he can be really helpful, and he's a good writer. Naturally, he participates a lot too.

I have to remind him all the time about raising his hand to speak. Usually, after a few reminders he does start raising his hand. But he's one of those that will say loudly during a class discussion, "I'm raising my hand and she's not calling on me!" He can also be really mean, calling people names either to their faces or behind their backs. He is very opinionated and has no hesitation in speaking exactly what is on his mind. This can be really trying when that information is not appropriate.

Also, the last hour of the day, pretty much every day, he loses all control. Does no work, doesn't stop playing and talking and giggling, and ignoring repeated reminders and redirects. It's something I'm planning on talking to him about, during a calmer time, to come up with some kind of system to keep him on track.

Speaking of systems. I mentioned that I started a consequence scale, which is going pretty well. It's not always very useful for Loud Leo, but for the other kids it's okay. I just move their name silently. Or sometimes I'll stalk over there and say, "Unfortunately I have to move some names because I keep having to speak to them." My sticker chart is trickier, because I can't go overboard stickering the good kids, because they have two or three times the stickers that the other kids do.

Under suggestion, I started yet another system for individuals. And someone wants me to start ANOTHER system for the class.

See, here's the thing. I love rewards and positive systems. I love having things for individuals, groups, and the whole class. What I don't love is having even more shit to keep track of, to carry around, to remember to reinforce, to hear questions about from the kids. My mind is just about past capacity already and I often don't have pockets. I lose my clipboard five times a day because I put it down all over the classroom. I have to make myself a list of things to remember to do, and I have to literally talk myself through it. I can't even complete one task at a time; I start doing one thing and then get distracted with another task, and then have to loudly and firmly tell myself to go finish the first thing.

I like getting feedback and suggestions. I need the suggestors to understand that while I might really like their idea, I can't do everything they want. And that needs to be okay with them.

Let's see. What else? Oh. I have a small class right now. And while the kids individually are all pretty sweet, and there is a group of really good, hardworking kids in there, overall my grasp on them feels a bit tenuous. With Chatty Chad and Loud Leo as examples, more kids are trying to play around and not work during class. But since the class is small, you and I and everyone else all know that it won't last, because they'll want to cram any and all kids into the class. The unknown and new, when it comes to groups of kids, is pretty much never a good thing. This happened to me the last year at First Middle School, and it definitely ruined the pleasant intimacy of the class. So I'm girding myself for even more difficulties. The bf rolls his eyes and tells me not to think about it, and to think about what's going well right now, but come on. Who knows what I'll walk into next week!

In general I guess things have been going okay. The actual teaching parts of the day are the best parts. It's the in-between things that give chance for difficulties, as always. Some of our transitions are getting better, though. I started doing the counting thing to move them from one place to another, and like the last five years, it's a great trick. "In five seconds, find your place on the carpet. Go. Five..."

Tomorrow I have to buckle down and try to get some work done. I have some ideas already written down for next week, and I will try to finish plans for the entire week. That would make me feel incredible! I'm getting closer to not feeling like I'm desperately flailing to keep up and on top of things. Unhappily I have a big thing of paperwork to complete. I HATE that. I really hate that the school requires us to do it but gives us ZERO time to do it in school, meaning we have to work on our own (very limited) time. It's supposed to keep us being good teachers, but if I'm spending all this time working on paperwork, then that's a lot less time I'm actually trying to prepare for the children, and a lot less energy I have to work with them.

Can I just say that I'm starting to get really bitter that I'm at school for at least eleven hours a day trying to do the basics, and they want to require all this EXTRA stuff from us, but not give us ANY time during the day to do it? Every time I think about it, I can feel the rage rising along with my blood pressure. Argh.

However, in general, I'm still in a calmer place mentally than I was last year. When I took this job, it was with the mindset that it's a job, and I will do my best, and see what happens. I'm trying not to get overinvolved mentally. But...that has wavered lately as the stress sets in. :)

Boy, this has turned into a ramble, hasn't it? I'm going to try to be better about recording actual things that I do or want to work on. We'll see how the time works out in the evenings.

For now, thank GOODNESS it's the weekend, and thank extra goodness that we have an extra day! Hallelujah!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seriously Guh

Today was not so great. Not in the throw-people-out-the-window way, but in a I'm-tired-of-this-is-it-Friday way.

I'm tired in my brain, overwhelmed. The novelty has worn off, and the rest of the everlasting year seems like this giant, steep, and unfriendly mountain looming over me.

It wasn't the worst day ever. Or even the worst day this week. There were some decent points, I admit. We did have another great writing workshop today. They kept going and I had to make them stop after half an hour because we were late for something else. Also I had a yummy cupcake.

This week I have gotten some positive feedback about a lesson (which was a huge relief)(but not necessarily , and also some feedback that would make me take on even more things in the classroom for those kids who need it. And I'll tell you right now, I do not have the time or brainpower for it. I'm just about at the point where I can't keep track of everything and I feel like I'm losing my mind. I was at school for twelve hours again and it took an hour to get home. I can not keep doing that. Like I keep saying, sanity must come first.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Know What's Awesome?

--New cute shoes that don't hurt

--Leaving before 6.30!!!

--Eating dinner (man, I'm hungry again...)

--My class today

--Dealing with my class without Chatty Chad

Today was a great day! We worked hard, but also had a good time. (Except for some name-calling...but they're elementary kids. I'm working on it, but I doubt that I can eliminate that completely, sadly)

Since there direction/map knowledge seemed to be nil, I did a neat lesson about that today. A few days ago, I put up direction signs on the classroom walls. We talked about what is a compass, and then I asked them to find the one I'd put in the room. I asked them to stand up, and one by one told them to face each direction. (I joked, "This is fun! Maybe I'll just keep spinning you all in circles!") Then they had to face one direction and take a step in a different direction. They totally got it and I was pleased.

Then they had to work with the map of the US, answering direction questions I had written. Things like, What states border Nebraska on the west? Things like that. My questions were a bit too ambitious (they don't know what a coast is!), but part of my reasoning was to force them to look at the state names (which a lot of them had trouble pronouncing, of a lot of states. so we'll practice, and they'll learn!) and start getting to understand directions. As always, a few kids finished all the questions quickly, a few barely started, and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. I think I saw pretty much everyone get the hang of it in general, though. I found a big map that I have posted near the carpet now too, and make use of that to get them used to looking at and understanding maps. (I love maps! I have so many I can show them (love that National Geographic subscription)! but one thing at a time. :D)

Writing workshop was pretty amazing today too. I've been sort of hemming and hawing and not really using my time well, "accidentally." So today I just dove in and figured we'd see how it went. I pretty much bs-ed my way through it. (I say that with five years' experience of doing them, though, so I know my way around it in my head to bs with.) And dude, they ROCKED. At the beginning I said we'll try for ten or fifteen minutes, and they wrote for like half an hour! I just hope we can keep that kind of stamina and interest up.

Also, math continues to go pretty well. I'm not at all making creative lessons, I'm just using the book. But can I say, HALLELUJAH I love having a textbook! What a wonderful treat to have things spelled out in front of you, to pick and choose and use or lose! The kids are keeping up well too, but of course it's all pretty easy review stuff, so a nice way to ease into the year.

Did I mention I left before 6.30? I practically skipped out of there feeling great! I've got stuff ready for tomorrow, and vague things for the next couple days, but I think leaving at that decent hour is so worth it. I made it to the gym later on too, which also felt great. The only problem is getting home and only having an hour or so before it's supposed to be bedtime. Stupid early wake-up.

Anyway, so it was a good day all around. Keep in mind that yesterday, I wanted to throw all of them out the window and I was fed up with myself too. It's funny how it seems to be all or nothing, huh?

Cross your fingers that I haven't angered the gods and someone does something completely crazy tomorrow. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Second Week

I really mean to keep up here, as a way to vent and record. Oh well. Maybe next week will be better.

First, timing. I am, and therefore my class is, late for EVERYTHING. Sigh. There is so much to get through and so many issues and I swear I really do try. At least I don't need to worry about adhering to bell schedules. And since we're still waiting on some important materials, if math workshop runs a little long into reading workshop, whoops! Oh dear, that's so terrible! Not. We are behind in pretty much everything, and oh well.

I have a modicum of a sparkle of a hope about the workday timing. After more 12 hour days, I left by 6 on Thursday and Friday! It was so exciting to be outside in the sunshine, during daylight, going home! Yay me. I'm also feeling hopeful about planning and starting to sort-of get ahead.

Our classroom dynamic has been...interesting. Tuesday was my first Bad Day. I felt like any bit of control of my students flew right out the window. I was frazzled and impatient and a bit desperate. So I think it must have been Wednesday that I introduced some discipline and chart systems. And that day was much better.

However. I have a kid. You know. We've all had this kid, but this particular one takes the cake in my five years of experience. I'll call him Chatty Chad, as that is nowehre near his name. He is the one who will single-handedly ruin the entire class. He has some Actual Issues, but that doesn't help the anger and frustration and irritation of the other children. It's been hard for me to deal with him because I feel impotent. There's really only so much I can do in the classroom.

I'm continuing to be patient. I know, I'm surprised too! I do admit that near the end of our eight and a half hours together it wears thin, but overall, I am a much calmer teacher. I'm trying to keep the mindset that I'm doing what I can and I don't need to freak myself out about it. There has still been no crying or mood changes, which is a welcome discovery after the trainwreck of last year.

This will be the first real five-day week, so I'm trying to gear up and be ready. It's been a wonderful, quiet weekend. I got some good sleep, we worked on our apartment, I did laundry, I walked around Brooklyn in the sun with a camera and a book, I didn't do any schoolwork and I didn't think like a teacher. It was fantastic, I tell you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I really wanted to post last week, but we conveniently didn't have internet. Probably good to have no distractions, but also sad to have no distractions. I did actually write some entries offline but figured I didn't need to put all that up. I am excited to get caught up on all the teacher blogs and see how you're all doing!

So. First week down! Woohoo!

First of all, I think it went pretty well. Second, I am TIRED.

I am proud of myself for having a good level of patience. I wasn't the hard-ass that I normally am. Sort of worried about it, but also thinking that I need to conserve energy for these long days. A day in middle school is full of power surges, but elementary is a slow burn with occasional hotspots.

Of course, it's only the first week, so the problems are the lowest they'll be all year. Friday afternoon was the worst part of the week in terms of kid behavior--a couple kids kept bothering another couple kids. I did notice that my Teacher Look so far is pretty effective. And I haven't even had to do The Stare yet!

In terms of routines and procedures, I think I slacked a bit on that one. Partly because there's still more stuff that I need for my class, so I had to kind of BS my way through a couple things. What's nice is that I don't need to worry about keeping strictly to the schedule; it's fine if one lesson bleeds into the next. And so this week it may have happened a lot... :)

What I did get going was the lining up and walking. On Friday I assigned spots for the carpet area (which doesn't have an actual carpet yet...) and kept an eagle eye for the kids trying to sprawl and lie down. Do you guys have that problem? Kids just lounging about like they're in their living room? I will definitely watch the amount of time I have them there. It's nice to be able to go back and forth from their seats to the carpet, to keep things a little more lively instead of just sitting at desks all day.

The beginning and end of the day have been a little crazy. I will work on that. End of the day I think presents the most chaos potential. This week I will begin class job time at the end of the day along with packing up time.

We didn't start out the first day with rules yet. The second day I asked them to think about how we can make our class a good learning community, and we made a list together. On Friday, the last thing we did was create a list of jobs they'd like in the class. They really got into that. One student suggested the job of Joke-Teller, for when someone needs a pick-me-up. Isn't that adorable?

I plan to do some class rules activities early this week. We will get started on real lessons too, for some of the subjects. Others won't be quite ready yet.

I am definitely way behind with planning. We're supposed to have a week's worth at a time, and clearly I don't. For one, there is no freaking time! For two, I don't have everything I need to plan or even do lessons, so I maintain that it's not all my fault. :) But I hope to start getting a little more caught up this week.

I was at school for at least eleven hours each day last week. Remember that I wanted to go home by 5.30? Hahahahahhaaaaaaaaaaa yeah right. This week I will *try* to leave by 6.30 or 7 at the latest. I haven't been able to catch up on sleep, which is really tough. However, the pace of the day isn't too crazy, so I was making through pretty well.

I brought some things home this weekend but didn't really work on them. Surprise surprise. I worked on a few lessons for the beginning of the week but graded no assessments. I will start using my (limited) prep time to work on that kind of thing.

We didn't get much done with the apartment, unfortunately. Maybe next week there will be more time and more sanity. :)

Overall, I feel good. Sane and patient. Don't get me wrong, I'm still plenty worried about lessons, nervous about managing behavior stuff, and frustrated about some school things, but it's not like last fall. I haven't cried and I don't feel like I will be needing to or wanting to. I don't feel frazzled or like I'm becoming somebody else. I'm too busy and tired, but I have hopes for that abating in the next few weeks. I really like my colleagues, and soon maybe I will actually start to get out of my room and see them. We want to do a housewarming soon. It's a good start to the year.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

first eleven hour day

...and I need at least another full day before I'd feel ready.

And would you like to guess when I finally made it to the bathroom at school today? 6.30pm. Welcome to the glamourous life of a teacher!

Today was the first time I could do a little of substance in my classroom, but there just wasn't enough time. Things are not ready. But I stayed long enough to get as much done as possible, for the bare minimum so I will have what I need to get through the day.

I am really nervous for tomorrow. I'm always nervous before the first day of school, but this anxiety is the worst yet, because I've been dealing with so much more than just the regular teaching stuff. (I wish I had private posting available to share more!)

But, on the home front, we moved last weekend. I don't know if I mentioned that. The move itself went incredibly well. Our new apartment is FANTASTIC. I love it! It's bigger, brighter, airier, and more grown-up. No More Wire Shelving! Ever!

Did I mention last year that we moved? That we moved the day before school started? Here's a tip from me to you: NEVER DO THAT.

It was a shitty year, but that was possibly the shittiest way to start out a shitty year. I was exhausted and stressed out from school stuff already, and then exhausted and stressed out from moving, and then anxious because all my stuff was in boxes and I had to go be a professional in front a bunch of pre-teens. Not a great time.

But this time worked out a million times better. We've had a full week plus a long weekend to work on unpacking, organizing, and cleaning. We're down to a handful of boxes--all mine, full of random crap. We now have three bookshelves nearly full of books and teachery things!

So this weekend there wasn't much school-related things I could do (except make copies), but I did get to sleep a bit, grocery shop, watch some tv (finally got the new hookup) and relax. Just in time for the CRAZY about to begin!

I made it through today pretty well on adrenaline, but am not sure how I will hold up for tomorrow. I am happy to say that my colleagues and AP so far have been amazing and have been supportive, and that is making a big difference in how I feel! Even though I don't feel exactly confident or hopeful, I feel...steady, or steadfast. Like we will get it done and get through it and move along to making our situation better.

Good luck everyone on the first day back!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Back to School Fun (but serious too)

Who can do the math?
(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Aug. 17, 2003.)

We have come to the time of year when we remove the video-game controls-by surgery, if necessary-from the hands of our children, and send them back to school. And if they complain that school is a boring waste of time, we smack them firmly yet lovingly with a roofing timber and remind them of the words of our first president, Benjamin Franklin, who said: ``There is nothing more valuable in life than an education, except, of course, money or a nice car.''

Knowledge is our nation's most precious resource, after agriculture and Ray Charles. Yet study after study shows that American children are not learning as well as children from foreign countries such as Sweden and Hawaii. On standardized tests, most American 12th-graders are unable to correctly answer such basic academic questions as:

1. When you wear a baseball-style cap, which part is supposed to go in the front?

2. What is the difference between ``hip-hop'' and ``music''?

3. Who is Dick Cheney?

(ANSWERS: 1. The front part. 2. Plenty. 3. None of your business.)

Why do our children perform so poorly on standardized tests? Does the fault lie with our teachers? With our school administrators? With our political leaders? Can we, as concerned parents, sue somebody about this and obtain millions of dollars?

Or maybe it's time that we parents stopped ``passing the buck'' on education. Maybe instead of ``pointing the finger'' at everybody else, we should take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, and place the blame for our children's lousy test scores where it clearly belongs: on our children. They have a terrible attitude. I have here a letter, which I am not making up, from a teacher named Robin Walden of Kilgore, Texas, who states:

``I teach math to eighth-grade students. This is an unnecessary task because they are all going to be professional basketball players, professional NASCAR racecar drivers, professional bass fisher people or marine biologists who will never need to actually use math.''

This is a sad commentary on the unrealistic expectations of today's students. Because the harsh statistical truth is that, in any given group of 10 young people, only a third of them, or 22 percent, will actually succeed as professional bass fishers. The rest will wind up in the ``real world,'' where, like it or not, they will need a practical knowledge of math.

For example, I recently found myself in a situation at a bank where suddenly, without warning, I had to add up four three-digit numbers by hand. Fortunately, I went to elementary school in the 1950s, when we were in the Cold War, and American children were forced to learn addition, because the Russians were making THEIR children learn addition. Thanks to that training, I knew that, to get the correct answer, I had to ``carry'' some numbers. Unfortunately, I could not remember how to do this.

For some reason I COULD remember that ``pi'' is the ratio of circumference to diameter, but that did not help me in this case. (To be honest, it has never helped me.) But addition had leaked out of my brain, along with subtraction, multiplication, long division, the ``cosine,'' the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and most of the other things I learned in school, although, of course, my brain has carefully preserved the jingle for Brylcreem hair ointment:

``Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya/Brylcreem, you'll look so debonair/ But watch out, the gals'll all pursue ya/ They'll love to get their fingers in your hair!'' Which is a total lie: Touching Brylcreemed hair is like sticking your hand into the nostril of a sick pig.

But I digress. My point is that I finally gave up on adding my numbers and asked the bank teller, who added them with a calculator, which uses computer chips, which were invented during the Cold War, which we won. I'm not saying this was TOTALLY because of my mathematics training; I'm just saying it was a factor. And that is why we must stress to our children how important education is. We must tell them: Study hard! Learn as much as you can! Because we, your parents, are getting stupider by the day. We're experiencing massive brain leakage. Soon even the commercial jingles will be gone, and our heads will actually implode.

Before that happens, we need to get out of the driver's seat, and turn the wheel over to you, the younger generation.

Don't ask us what we did with the car keys.

(c) 2009, Dave Barry