Out of Practice

I haven’t had a fight in my room in years. My streak ended on Thursday.

I have a class that is fairly small, has nice kids, is relaxed and fun. We joke around a lot and end our day on a nice note. I would never expect a fight in this class. I guess I have to expect the unexpected.

I was helping another student make sure she knew how to graph a parabola. When I looked up, two boys were locked in a fight. It wasn’t a wild swinging punching kind of thing. As far as fights go, it wasn’t a bad one.

My first reaction is to call the emergency number to the office. Problem #1, they’re blocking the phone. Problem #2, one boy is at least 250 pounds and the other is a lanky 6 footer. What do I do?

“Help!”

A couple of my math colleagues had heard the scuffle from the office and had already called for back up. At my plea for help, a couple of the boys in the class came over and helped me pull them apart. We got them separated and by then the assistant principals had made it to my room. The boys escorted to the office and consequently suspended.

This whole incident took place in a span of only about two or three minutes. But now I had 35 minutes left of class where I had to calm down my class and myself and try to teach them something. So we all took a few deep breaths and learned how to find the axis of symmetry and vertex of a parabola in standard form.

Breaking up fights is not something that I signed up for when I decided to become a teacher. It’s just one of many elements of the job that most people never even think of when they decide to be a teacher. Or worse, when someone thinks that they know what it’s like to be a teacher. But like every other teacher I know, we accept it as just another responsibility we have, move on and try to get some knowledge into their heads. This is just one aspect of why this is such a stressful job. When is the last time you broke up a fight at work?

PS.  I forgot to tell the funny part…  One problem with the baggy pants is that they fall down in a fight.  It makes it hard to do much when your pants around your ankles!

Thievery

If you leave your iPhone on your desk, unattended, it’s your own damn fault if it gets stolen.

1.  Electronic devices like that aren’t allowed in school.

2.  Since you’re not supposed to have it in school, I don’t care if someone took it!

3.  If you get it back, you should be smart enough to learn the lesson that you should have never had it out in the first place!

Did the lesson get learned today?  I’m not sure.  Who was the thief?

Me.

Sometimes I just can’t resist a little joking with the kids to teach them a lesson.  Larry had left his iPhone on his desk and was trying to win a CD for New Tunes Tuesday on our morning announcements.  That involves being the 3rd caller to the room that does the tv production stuff.  So Larry had gone to the phone to call.  The iPhone is just sitting there.  I couldn’t just leave it.  It was too enticing to pass up!  So I casually walk by and grab it.  I was just going to shut the thing off, but honestly, I couldn’t figure out how.  I did see that he was on Facebook…  So I decided to just put it in my drawer under my overhead projector for the time being.

Larry comes back to his desk and realizes that the iPhone has disappeared.  He starts asking his friends and they all play along and say they don’t have it.  I innocently ask, “Larry, what’s going on?”

“Nothin’.” – he’s obviously starting to worry.

I let him squirm for a few minutes.  Timing is everything here.  You don’t want them to work themselves into a tizzy.  Once they’ve gone off the deep end with worry about losing their expensive gadget you never know if you can get them back.  Plus, his friends were going to cave.

“Larry, is this what you’re looking for?” – iPhone in my hand, twinkle in my eye.

Relief comes across his face.  He’s darn lucky that it’s me who has his toy.  But for now, it’s mine.  So it gets locked in the closet for the remainder of the period.  A small price to pay for leaving your iPhone unattended.

Chili Week

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This was my food adventure for the day. There’s a local restaurant that posted their Chicken Salsa Chili recipe on their website and I decided to try it. It was a success! But there’s one problem… I should have not planned to eat it all myself.

Usually, leftovers aren’t a big deal. I like to have them. But this was a bigger recipe than I realized. I’m going to be eating chili all week AND I froze quite a bit. It’s a good thing that I like it. Hopefully I’ll be saying the same thing by Thursday.

Guiding Questions

Am I responsible for optional training that I haven’t had?

Every year, my district seems to start some new initiative and wants us to volunteer to get trained in some new magical education reform effort.  Usually the training involves a week or so of your time during the summer.  As many of my readers know, I spend a lot of my summer time traveling.  So in most cases, when this training is offered, I’m out of the country or visiting friends somewhere out-of-town.

Besides that fact that I’m not around for the training, there is also the factor of deciding whether the training is worth my time.  Every year or two there seems to be some new and improved initiative that will work its magic with our kids.  I don’t know how many different initiatives I have seen come and go.  I don’t think any of them have really had full implementation.  So if any of them actually work, we don’t really know because we’re onto the next best thing before we’re done with the last one.

The latest thing is something called Disciplinary Literacy.   It has something to do with posting standards in your classroom so the kids know what it is you’re trying to teach them.  We’re also supposed to have a Guiding Question up on the board or somewhere in the room.  I believe this is supposed to get the kids thinking about what they are trying to learn that particular day.  So when an administrator does a drive-by observation for 7-10 minutes, will they see your standards posted and a guiding question?  If so, they get to check it off their list.  Does this help the kids?

I don’t know if it helps the kids.  I’m asking them directly.  I put up my guiding questions.  We talked about them and I told them to be looking for them in all of their classes.  I also said, “I want to know if you find this to be helpful for your learning?”  The verdict is still out, so I’ll have to get back to you when I have a response.

On Wednesday, we had 30 minute class periods due to the late start from the PLAN and PSAT testing.  I was doing a short assignment on logic and paper games.  When my 4th hour started, one of the kids noticed that I hadn’t updated my guiding question.  So I told him what we were doing and asked, “What do you think the guiding question should be?”  So Bryan went to the board and wrote, “How do games like tic-tac-toe help teach logic?”

The verdict is still out on the Guiding Questions.  But I think I’ve got one kid out of three classes that is finding it helpful.  Or at least is having fun catching me when I forget.

PSAT Day

Yesterday, my school gave the PLAN and the PSAT to all 10th and 11th graders.  Because of testing this massive group of students, we had a late start.  When I told another friend of mine about this, she was amazed because in her district, they charge each kid $15 to take the PSAT.

Why is my district paying for this test?  Good question.  I think it goes back to a former superintendent that declared EVERY kid in our district is college bound – or something to that effect.  I’m all for optimism, but where do we get a little dose of reality?

It would have been nice to be given a standard answer to give our students as to why this was important and why they should take it.  I can pull the lines of incredible scholarship opportunities out of my butt as good as the next teacher.  Who are we kidding?  Not every kid is going to be a National Merit Scholar.  Bet hey, we’re trying to find that diamond in the rough…

A few times I had to wake up a couple of kids and say, “Hey, we’re starting section 4.  Give it a try.”  During a break, I had a conversation with one of my current students who happened to be in my room for testing.  She was asking me why she should take this test.  I’m giving her my best lines about possibilities for college.  What does she tell me?  She’s not going to college.  She’s going to be a singer.  She has it in her mind that she’s going to get a record deal by the time she’s 19.

I’m trying not to be that teacher that bursts her bubble and points out that this is a pie in the sky dream.  I start asking her if she’s in the choir, if she’s had any voice lessons, why voice lessons are a good idea for someone who wants to be a singer, etc.  Well, according to her, she doesn’t need any lessons or to be in the choir because she’s already perfect.  Her uncle has some sort of recording studio, yada, yada, yada…  It took everything I had not to roll my eyes or give her that you’ve got to be f***ing kidding me look.  At this point, I realize I should just stop talking, get up and start test #5.

That would be wonderful if her dreams did come true.  But I’ve been around long enough to know what a long shot it is and that it takes one hell of a lot of hard work to achieve that kind of dream.  And let me tell you, hard work is a concept of which she has yet to become familiar.

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Editorial Cartoon

I recently saw an editorial cartoon that summed up a problem in education that no one wants to touch with a ten foot pole.  The artist is Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News.  Because of copyright stuff, I’m just going to point you in the right direction to find it yourself.  The cartoon I’m referring to was originally published on September 29th, 2009.  It showed a teacher in a classroom with educational drive-by experts asking her “What are you doing wrong?”

Another one that caught my eye a while back is by Hilary Price of “Rhymes with Orange.”  Teacher Jedi Move #6.  It was published on September 19th, 2009.

I get the local paper each day, but in the mornings I mainly read “Rhymes with Orange” and my horoscope.  On Thursdays I read as much of the “EAT” section as I can before I have to run out the door.  Last week, another teacher had seen the editorial cartoon by Signe and told me about it.  When I looked more carefully at the paper in the evening is when I found it.

The thing that is so cool about these cartoons, is that old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words.  In these cases, it’s definitely true.  I feel like I’m the teacher in the cartoons.  And I’d bet that most of my teacher friends feel the same way.

These are talented artists that with the strokes of their pen say what the rest of us want to say.  Thank you for your creativity!

Wake Up Call

I hate waking up to the phone ringing.  It’s never anything good.  On Friday, my phone rang at 6:19 am.  I was still in bed.  My alarm was not going off for another 8 minutes.  The caller ID registered as my school.  There’s only one reason I’d be getting a call this early, and it wasn’t a snow day.  My sub canceled.  F&@%!

I was supposed to be bargaining our teacher contract with my union pals that day.  But because my absence was listed as “Staff Development” I was called into the building.

There’s not much of an option of what to do.  I now know that I can shower and be ready in a half hour.  I’m lucky that I only live 11 minutes from school.  I still got there before several of my colleagues…  So what do I do?  I line up coverage for the rest of the day.  I get my first hour class up and running.  Another math teacher arrives at 8:15 to cover the rest of my class.  I head to the union office and try to calm myself down and get my head into bargaining.

Of course I have to re-tell my story of the morning.  It actually served as a pretty good reminder of how efficient and task oriented teachers are on the fly.  I’ll admit that I completely enjoyed the jaw-dropping reactions from the other side of the bargaining table as I described my morning thus far.  Then I asked the HR people who were there, “So, do I get paid for covering for my own sub?”

Surprise, surprise.  They didn’t know.

I found out today that a sub did come in part way through 2nd hour.  So only 2 of the 5 colleagues of mine had to cover for me.  I’m lucky that I work with people who are willing to help out each other in a pinch.