Uncle John’s Band

October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

I want to start this post by saying “THANK YOU, JERRY! ~~~~~~{@”

Yesterday ended the first real slump I feel like I’ve EVER had!  Every.  Single.  Day last week was a unique struggle that left me feeling progressively more defeated and deflated, and socially isolated, day after day even kind of lasting over the weekend and then on through until Tuesday.  Each day I got up and told myself that it was going to be a good day, but I just never seemed to catch a foothold anywhere!  It felt like I was laboring and investing myself into these awesome lesson plans, and the students totally deny the learning opportunity.  They didn’t not work, but they definitely didn’t meet my expectations, and I feel like I let them bomb their essays-I knew they weren’t ready, but I was MAD.  And, hearking back from across the ages came a bumper sticker slogan: “Has anger solved any of your other problems?”

The only way I really found the courage to face the next day was the song Uncle John’s Band by the Grateful Dead, whose reminder “The worst days are the hardest days, don’t you worry anymore, because when life looks like easy street there is danger at your door.”  then they urge you to “think this through with me, let me know your mind, who- oa what I want to know is are you kind?”

Well Jerry, the answer is yes.  I am kind.

I’ve recently bonded with an older teacher at school who has this slogan: “Lesson plans are the ultimate work of fiction.”

I took that advice too, and have started to care less about the week’s plans and more about the day’s plans.  I have found that this helps me immensely!  I only really use the lesson plans as a guide now, and let each section of class take an appropriate amount of time based on the pace the students are moving–that is one thing that you really can’t change.  It’s not a matter of motivation at a point, I’ve just kind of begun to let them lead me a little.  I’ve been overzealous.  I need to allow them to work at a pace where they can keep up.  FOR GOD SAKES MAN!  THIS ISN’T COLLEGE!  Letting go of the weekly planning sheet has really helped me to relax, and thank GOD.  The only time i worry about them now is on sundays, so I can have the plans ready to turn into the office.

This weekend I got more candy for the stash, I get in moods where I love giving out candy, and my supplies dwindle quickly.  Plus I eat about as much candy as I give out, and after many trials, I have found that yes, you CAN have too much candy.  It had been a long time since I’d learned that lesson.  We kind of pigged out on starburst in my last hour speech class, and seriously lost at least 20 minutes to overwhelming giggles.  Then I had my sugar crash. Oh, Lord!  Rough.

I feel like I’m starting to get through to my students now, too.  I’ve nearly straightened out the class distractors, helped several kids get their grades out of the pits, and it feels like they’re listening – and that’s awesome!  I made sitting in the back row against the rules – isn’t that great?  The rule is you have to fill all the frontmost desks first, and only when the front row is full can you move to the next one.  The students actually SAID that they could see better in the front, and were shocked at the change in perspective!

I’ve started writing notebooks with the freshmen, loving it!  I got a lot of great sources from writingfix.com, we had great fun learning about subjects, predicates, and adverbs today with this great who/what/where/when random sentence generator!  then they practice moving the adverbs to different places in their sentences and saw how it changed the emphasis of their sentences, BINGO!  I’m definitely taking them through all six traits, just you watch me!

Sophomores are finishing up creating their own utopias as an end-of-unit assessment for The Giver, a book they all LOVED!  Seriously-a parent told me at conferences that her daughter said it was uninteresting, and the next time I saw her, she told me she had changed her mind and it was cool now!  We really latched onto the idea of “the pill” as a method of MIND CONTROL.  They were all appalled!  Next we’re going to do a class research project on the year 2012 (the year of their graduation).  There is a new movie coming out about one theory (starring John Cusack, I believe), and there are a lot of people making conjectures as to what the significance of that date actually is, so we’re going to have fun looking at that stuff starting next Tuesday!

The juniors just finished making their illustrated Pit and the Pendulum, we’re moving onto The Raven next, then Fall of the House of Usher (all in their lit books) as a part of a month-long unit on Edgar Allen Poe to coincide with the Wichita’s big read selection of Tales of Mystery and Horror.  Also a teacher offered to burn me a copy of the Alan Parsons Project.  I’m really getting excited for this!  I think I can do a unit on the Spanish Inquisition soon, they were really shocked to learn about how these people justified their torture.  And so eerily relevant…

Seniors are going to finally be through all the introductory material for Hamlet… They’re really getting excited for it!  The best part is that they and I both agree that the information in the introduction is boring, yet relevant.  I’m happy that I have all those generic Shakespeare resources from Julius Caesar… I made them that way, of course (ha ha).  This lesson is going to write itself!

The forensics kids are happy that I gave them more time to continue revising their oratorys, they were having so much trouble memorizing them, and they still needed a lot of work, and we WERE going to have to meet tomorrow, on our day off, to get them recorded.  This way we all win.

there’s more, but I’m gonna save it.  I’m HUNGRY!


Yesterday; and today. (And beyond!)

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Yesterday was the third crappy day in a row, which leaves crappy days batting 1.000 for this week.  The Juniors spent the hour jacking around when I expected them to discuss the readings that they not only read independently, but also together with me in class the day before.  This activity was supposed to prepare them for their in-class essay today, but seeing them wasting their time in class really really pissed me off, because I try so hard to make my lessons challenging yet attainable and my activities educational and meaningful; yet they seem to view them all the same which makes me wonder sometimes why i don’t just teach with worksheets, if they’re going to not take them seriously anyway, you know?  Anyway, they got me so upset that I actually cried.  And I also wrote them an angry lecture which i intended to read to them today; but instead i will just let them take a bad grade on this assignment if that’s what they get, and change my approach starting next week.

In other words, I, along with my students will learn the value of participation points.  Everyone will contribute to discussions or their grades will suffer.  It is illogical to take their lackadaisical attitude (oh so typical for high school students) as a personal affront; i just need to make them accountable for their own success, and make them understand that the change will not come from me but from them.

My new day’s resolution is to let my students take their assessments today (in class essays for 11th and 12th, a test for 9th) and not stress about how well they do, because that’s their job.  I led them to the water and now it’s up to them to drink.  As for 10th, we’re just continuing discussion on the giver, forensics are practicing their presentations which are due in final form on Monday, and in speech we’re doing worksheets and preparing for chapter 10 for Monday.  This week is on its way out and that’s what is going to get me through the day today.  Also I’m taking a long weekend in Lawrence and KC, which is much needed; simply declaring a work-free evening is not enough of a break for real enjoyment, this is going to be so great for me I can’t wait!

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Parent Teacher conferences

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Ah, the three most feared words in a teacher’s language.  What more can I say than well, I made it through?  It took me from 2:30 to 8:00, sitting in the gym at a table, like it was some kind of conference or something, why it couldn’t be in or classrooms I don’t know; it would have made me feel a lot more comfortable, and I could get a lot more done in my downtime, but whatev.

So today was a short day, to accommodate the conferences, but instead of shortening each hour (which would be logical), they just chopped off the last two and a half classes from the end of the day (totally stupid and lame).  I really think that enough kids miss class often enough, what with sports, stuco, band trips, yearbook trip – which adds up to at least a day a week out of my class for most of them, and missing this extra class isn’t helping them any. (but again, whatev. – that’s kind of becoming my response to these kind of annoyances… whatev.  so you want to block youtube?  whatev.  google image search?  whatev.  it’s like the mantra of the non-tenured teacher).

I’m nervous for the seniors’ presentations tomorrow.  They’ve paired up and are supposed to be speaking for 6-7 minutes each on world wisdom literature, and i’ve given them three days in class, plus the weekend past (okay, they probably didn’t even think about it over the weekend), and that’s enough, right?  I think it is; it really only needs to be about 15 slides, and with the work split between two, it’s really not that labor intensive… I guess they’ll do alright, they’re smart kids.  Plus they care too much about their grades to let such a big project screw them for the whole year; but i guess it’s really not that big.  I mean it’s only the first month, a mere ninth of the school year, that’s plenty of time to make up the lost points.

Then there’s the play.  It’s supposed to go on on November 13 with a preview for the grade school on the 11th.  I need to order the scripts.  I need to schedule auditions, casting calls, rehearsals, dress rehearsals – luckily i have help with the set – and oh my it’s coming up so fast!  I feel kind of overwhelmed and constantly under so much pressure, because if I don’t do my best on everything I’m going to end up hating myself, and I feel like I have a right to claim a little time for myself, because even if I mess around all friday night and saturday, I still need to plan on sunday and that’s a day more work than most other people do each week.  I can feel my carefree college days slipping away at an alarming rate.  Eek!  I am having to skip out on so many awesome concerts, that I would have rearranged the stars to see just last year!  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s making responsible decisions that makes you grow up.

Bad news, then good news

September 16, 2009 1 comment

I typed this entry while on my plan period. After this, my day got better, thanks to the magic of learning.

I wanted to take this opportunity to vent a few of my frustrations. Weighing most heavily upon my mind right now is a conversation I had today with another teacher regarding the outcomes of this week’s school board meeting. The board voted “no confidence” in our superintendent. Out of eight votes on the board, we only had one person who lived in the city (or ever even really came to this city for any reason), and presumably in outrage, resigned his post this week too. There have previously been closings of many other local schools, and it seems that ours is the next target of the bureaucratic tape cutters, which means that our school will probably not last long enough for me to fulfill my personal 5-year goal. This was kind of central to the unfolding of my family plans in this early stage, and now my future in many areas has become uncertain-at best. This really makes any other concerns seem petty and trifling, but here they are anyway: our students are issued their own laptops, and our district is proud of this 1-to-1 initiative, yet access to the internet is so strictly controlled that I can hardly even depend on the availability of resources that would be helpful, crucial, integral (?) to my technology plans. Youtube is banned. Google image search is banned. Blogs are banned – yet at my special request, edublogs.org has been allowed. So I was planning on having my seniors give powerpoint presentations on the world religions we are currently studying, and I was hoping to include images as a part of the requirements (because who would honestly enjoy a presentation consisting entirely of text?), yet my request to enable google images was met with the porno defense (you know, kind of like the “they can find anything on there” kind of excuse which could realistically be used to block ANY kind of site, because that is the NATURE of the internet). I was miffed; and before I sent my rude high-and-mighty email relating my desire to teach accountability to my students and responsible use of the internet, I sought the advice of one of the older teachers, through which I came to the conclusion that this is not a battle that is worth my time and effort, especially since I don’t have tenure at this point. This was quite the bitter pill, and honestly I am finding it incredibly difficult to bounce back from, which is the point of this ranting blog post. The third thing that is really bothering me has to do with the way my students speak to each other. How rude these kids are! I honestly have no idea where they learned that it is ok to call a girl a “skank” even if “it’s true.” I mean, we all know the type (of girl), but it is completely inappropriate to use that language even if you are joking, and especially if it is true. But on the other hand, these girls don’t exactly act like ladies, either, so it feels like I am a very small island in an ocean of … well, you get the point. I’m feeling quite isolated these days, and since I left last weekend, I have felt totally behind on my work, and that is frustrating.

I finished this little rant with some time to spare, so i looked around KS, CO, and MO for another job, how depressing! I was feeling a little vulnerable, therefore, going into my 11th grade class, and for a while, it went horribly. They were extremely chatty, and seemed unwilling to participate in discussion. “Oh, great!” I thought to myself. “This was supposed to be the fun, groundbreaking, mind-bending unit, and they were uninterested, apathetic, lost. After a few minutes in which my internal pressure kept getting higher and higher, I decided “Fine! Fuck it.” I told them “Turn to the end, and do ALL the questions for after the reading.” They took one look at that list of questions and freaked out. Then I asked, “Do you guys want to talk about this piece now?” My answer was an emphatic, unanimous YES! So I begin just reading them the piece. I read sentences over and over again, emphasizing different words, so as to break up the thoughts into manageable chunks, stopping to paraphrase when the language got a bit lofty. (I didn’t realize as I read, that this was in fact quite the wordy selection) But they got it, and better yet, they were excited! The sparks were flying, and I was really breaking through to them! It’s kind of hard for me to relate to their ideologies for obvious reasons, but once i got over the idea that they didn’t care too much for our president and started using examples that meant something to them, they really became engaged. We didn’t get through the whole thing today, and I had planned on moving on to something NEW today, but it’s ok. I’m just going to slow down, and it’s a good thing anyway, because i have multiple students who have to be gone at least a day per week for sports or field trips or whatever. It’s incredibly annoying, but I guess them’s the breaks. I’m slowing down. My pace isn’t important, it’s the teaching and learning that are important. And it’s worth slowing down to see them experiencing the same excitement I felt with this piece. It’s powerful stuff.

Power! and Plans.

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Haven’t posted in a while: prepare for a bevy of excuses:

Last week, Molly got hired by a local insurance agency, but since she wasn’t to start until yesterday, she decided to use the interim to visit friends and family in the lawrence/kc area, and I agreed that she should take the air card with her and I would be fine.  So from Tuesday to Saturday, I had no access.

I’ve been really trying to focus on doing a good job as a teacher.  Seriously, I was spotted by a student who shouted up from outside “Hey!  Mr. BS!  What are you doing here?  It’s Saturday night?!” ugh.  I’m so glad he pointed out that i was spending my weekend grading papers so that I could be ready for individual conferences this week… Which is  a whole other point anyway!  Totally had an episode this weekend when I noticed how odd it looked, seeing comments written to students  in my handwriting, and in aqua ink. (red = bad)  I freaked out so much I started crying, because it’s just so overwhelming to think about how much POWER I have in this town!

Consider: My coolest teacher, and the biggest influence on my deciding to teach (Piper) I had for one semester (right? now I’m not so sure…) but these kids, have me every day all year for four years, because I am the ONLY English teacher in the school.  I will be the one to choose which books they read, I will teach them my values, molding them, if you will, after my own image?  I have the power to significantly influence the paths these children’s lives will take, often, more so than even their parents!  I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

I teach the children of other teachers.  I teach my principal’s son.  My power now extends even over the heads of the administration.  Now that’s power.  It’s a good thing I am so beneficent, I will totally be playing a major hand in the success of these kids! (pumps fist in the air, while rocking out to Metallica!)

Next week the seniors are going to start blogging.  I just got confirmation of all (10) of their email addresses, so I think it’ll be Tuesday, they’ll all open a blog on edublogs.org where they’ll be posting their daily reflections.  I think eventually I’ll do it with the Juniors and Sophomores too (they all have their own laptops – next year the freshmen will too), but it’s enough of an ordeal trying to get the students’ computers to print to my classroom printer, so I’ll start small.  They’ve been working this week on Renaissance love poetry, it’s going surprisingly well considering the lack of chatter in that group.  I guess it’s just too small to really have good chemistry.

The freshmen are going to start The Outsiders next week.  They’re totally ready.  I gave them their books last week and told them we’d start them this week, and they were disappointed when I decided to slow down so that I could address some writing issues (on the whole, the autobiographical narratives that I got from all students were pretty disappointing).  But we’ve been doing really well working with the 3.8 paragraph, we’ve been doing them as our quickwrites.  A little more practice and I think they’ll get it!  I work with an autistic student also in this class, and sometimes it can get a little stressful trying to balance giving her the support she needs and working with the rest of the class, but her para is still learning, i’m sure it’ll get worked out.

The sophomores are going to start The Giver next week, and ditto on the disappointment, but hey, they all needed some more attention, and a break from so much homework.  I realized that I was a little too ambitious for the first week, and most of them were grateful for the extra time to work on the two papers in three weeks I gave them.

The juniors are going to continue to work on the American Romantics; their essay analyzing whether “The Devil and Tom Walker” represents the characteristics the movement is due on Friday.  We will read some Emerson tomorrow and from Walden tomorrow, and when we’re through with that, we’re going to do a lesson on civil disobedience!  I’m personally stoked for this unit, especially now, after getting to know my students.  It’ll be fun.

In Forensics, we’re going to put oration on the back burner after a quick demo on Friday, then we’re going to tackle the file cabinet.  This thing is FULL of stuff for forensics, and they’re going to file it and create a database for its contents, eventually choosing a piece to practice and perform.  I go light on the planning for forensics, because doing English is so much work, and I like how when I have only two students, I can just set them off in a certain direction and then all I have to do is supervise.

For speech, we’re kind of just following the book, except that we’re getting ready to skip from chapter 4 to chapter 9 so that we can start working on speeches.  They have their first unit test (chapters 1-4) on Friday, and they’ve been working on sheets from their workbooks and keeping “communication journals” except I only got one complete journal for this week and I’m kind of pissed.

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Exquisite Agony

August 25, 2009 1 comment

Well, my first day of school was just fine, despite having a nightmare on Sunday night where I dreamed that the class was lazy and disrespectful, and I kind of yelled at them on the behalf of all teachers, not just me.   So the day went ok, except that I ran out of material and ended up letting my students talk for the last 15 minutes of each class… (except, of course, first and second block, which were taken up almost completely by a student-handbook assembly (coincidentally, seeing the entire school assembled is kind of funny, because there’s only 61 of them, and that’s supposed to be a lot))

But today, my second day, was worse-in some ways, but in some ways, better.  I had to yell at the students in study hall, who thought (or apparently didn’t) that it would be ok/appropriate/under my radar to talk about “special brownies.”  So I took away their privelege to speak.  And they listened, which was good.  However, when the bell rang releasing them for lunch, I felt vindicated but not satisfied.  I was so upset I couldn’t eat lunch.

Also, during second hour, I had my only forensics student bring me a slip saying he was going to drop.  Great.  After lunch I whipped up a powerpoint presentation for speech class over the first chapter of the book (which was true to the form of first chapters of textbooks everywhere: boring and basic, almost to the point of being unnecessary), which was good, seeing as how less than half the class did the assigned reading.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, because in my 7th hour I had both of the offending students from study hall, who apparently didn’t care too much for my previous admonitions, and after they mentioned the brownies again, I had to stop and do a mini-lesson on what is an appropriate topic for school and what isn’t (and why).  Then in speech, my last hour, studetns were talking about it AGAIN… in their defense, neither of them were in the two previous classes, but I warned them that tomorrow I’m bringing my bud-nippers and plan on nipping this problem in the bud.  (no, the irony is not lost on me, btw).

But enough of the negative stuff.  I had several successes today, starting with the “Burke Reading Interview.”  This is basically a worksheet that asks students to explore the traits of a strong reader, effectively boiling it down to a list of practices for the students to use to help them get through difficult passages of literature.  I am not sure if I drove the point home in a way that I would be satisfied with (perfectionist, alas), but I feel like everyone engaged with the discussion of reading strategies, so it was judged a success!  From there, we moved on to a reading assignment called “Ordeal by Cheque” (google it, you can find the text easily) where the students were provided with a sequence of checks from which they were to make inferences and draw conclusions, and basically form a story based on this thin trail of evidence.  A lot of students had a hard time with this (which i judge as  a good sign), and class discussion of this text was quite lively.

I am beginning to see what the other staff members were telling me about how field trips were an iffy proposition for these students, but I have hope that each class will rise to the occasion, and as soon as they know I’m evaluating them with the purpose of judging whether or not they are mature enough for a field trip, I think they will impress me and everyone else. (i hope!)

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Grrr… umpy!

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment

So today I got my first real taste of “bad mood” since I got here.  Hopefully I can shake it, and keep it shook through school, I couldn’t imagine trying to ride a herd on squirrely kids with this kind of attitude.  I feel VERY un-teacherly right now…  And I’ve been wasting time at school all morning.  I got work.  And it’s just sitting in front of me while I doodle on my desk calendar.

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