Positive Parent Calls

I started making positive parent phone calls on Thursday.

This was something that one of my professors recommended to me while I was getting my certification, and I really liked the idea. Gives you a chance to touch base with the good before you have to call with the not-so-good, and helps get the parents on your side when you do call with the not-so-good because you've already demonstrated that you're not just looking for a kid to cause trouble. I hear a lot of people do this, but I don't personally know many teachers who do.

Though I did it my first year (it's actually how I originally got the Eyeliner Queen on my side), last year I never got around to it, and I regretted that. So this year I vowed to do it, no matter how busy I am at the beginning of the year.

I got through about fifteen - just a quick call to say, hey, your kid's doing well in my class so far, participating, doing their work, not causing problems. Some were slightly more personalized, but basically the same thing. I made sure I called on a few kids who have histories of being troublemakers, since those parents especially don't hear good stuff much. One, after I was explained why I was calling, said, "Oh, that's great - I was already giving him a dirty look that the school was calling so I'm so glad he's not in trouble again." Everyone I talked to was very pleased, and I left messages with the others.

The next day during my honors class, one of my girls told me that her mom had said to tell me that she'd gotten my message. I asked if she knew why I'd called; she didn't, so I told her. Then a few other kids I'd called started saying things like, "Oh yeah! My mom was so psyched! That was awesome!"

After a minute, a girl I hadn't called yet blurted, "Did you call EVERYONE last night?" No, I said, not everyone. I'd get there, but I hadn't yet. She nodded, but was clearly disappointed she wasn't in the first round.

I'm going to have to spend a few hours this week getting through the rest.

(Photo credit to tj scenes)

Left behind.

One of my kids broke my heart a little today.

He ditched my class. Which I knew, because I'd seen him in the hall earlier that day. So come lunch, I sought him out. Asked him where he'd been. "The Uh...lemme think." We went to admin.

I talked him into coming to my room after school so I could help him with his homework (he was one of my seven - the only one who had nothing today either). Saw him in the hallway later and reminded him. Gave his last period teacher a heads up.

He showed. He sat down and got to work. I was looking up ESL information and wasn't paying much attention. I could see he was working hard, hunched over the paper, pen in hand. After 15 minutes or so, I went to check on him.

He'd written two sentences.

One said that he didn't like writing because it was too hard for him.

I scribed the rest for him, prodding him with questions and sentence starters to get anywhere. He doesn't like my school because the kids are mean. His favorite teacher is his science teacher from last year because she doesn't yell that much. He doesn't know if he's smart. He wouldn't tell me at first if his family speaks English or Spanish at home; after I explained that it was just so I knew, not to get him in trouble or anything, he thought for over a minute and then said English.

I saw his favorite teacher after he left. Told her what he said. She was stunned - never would have thought it. Maybe she was just the first one he could think of; he still said it.

This child is not just left behind - he's choking in the dust.

Homework Return Rate

I assigned homework for the first time on Friday. The kids had to write me a letter introducing themselves; I’d written a model to them first, and I gave them a list of 10 or 12 questions that I wanted them to answer.

After we read the model and went over the requirements, I got verrrrrrrry serious. Did a whole spiel about how I take homework very seriously and I don’t assign it unless it really matters, how if they don’t do it at home then they’ll have to do it at school on their own time, how this assignment reeeeeeally mattered to me and I wouldn’t let it go. And then I let them go and hoped for the best.

Today, I started collecting it. First period – everyone had it except for two students. Third period – all but one. And so the day went. All told, only seven of my kids did not have their homework today.

Seven out of around a hundred and ten.

I think that is pretty damn good.

(Photo credit to cesarastudillo)

Keep On Keepin' On: The Teacher Look

As you’ve read, I’ve been a touch nervous about moving to eighth grade. Would I be able to handle it? Would the kids respond to me? Would my discipline tactics still work?

So far, the answer to all is a resounding yes.

I’ve had several students tell me how excited they are to have me as a teacher – and several others tell me how sad they are that they don’t. At back to school night, I met a handful of new parents as well as a couple I already knew, and all were very responsive. Of course, they’re the ones who show up for things like back to school night, but still.

AND my teacher look still works. Every good teacher has a teacher look – my favorite description of one comes from Miss Eyre, who describes hers thus: “[M]y own is one of appalled dismay, followed quickly by disappointment.” Love it. My teacher look is more of your basic stare, one eyebrow slightly raised (though it can go higher when needed). It’s always worked beautifully with sixth graders, but would the eighth graders respond?

Turns out, yes. I had to use it a few times on Friday for kids who were whacking their pencils violently on their desks (okay, technically they were tapping, but I simply cannot handle that – it is as distracting to me as a jackhammer would be) or who were chatting with a neighbor rather than listening to my student teacher try to teach about appropriate hallway behavior. (Why, yes, I have a student teacher. Yes, this IS my third year teaching. No, no I don’t consider this fully appropriate. We’ll discuss this later.)

Anyway, each time I had to use The Look on Friday, the kid in question immediately shaped up – and the majority also mouthed a sorry at me. Sure, second day of school and they’re still on their best behavior, but I have high hopes that we can continue with this.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

(Photo credit to jbaij)


First day.

So tired.

Feet hurt.

Neck aches.

Craving bed.

Loved every minute of it.

(Photo credit to suchitra prints.)

New year goodness!

Today I got to see my for reals class lists for the first time. Because I'm moving grade levels, I'll have a lot of the same kids I had my first year teaching, as well as a bunch of kids I know from just being around.

Y'all, I am so excited about this.

Almost every kid, I was all, "Oh, I love her! Oh, he's so great! Oh, I've always wanted to have him!" I only have, like, three kids that I thought, "Hmmm...that might be challenging at points," and I don't have any kids that I was horrified about. (Of course, that's because I haven't had any kids yet that would totally horrify me to have again. There's one I'd prefer not to, but I could deal if I needed to.)

I can not even wait till Thursday when I get to see them all and have them in my classroom and start talking about the year and getting to know the new kids and relearning about the ones I know already....


Yay new school year!

Sicky Sickerson over here.

This illness? Kicked my butt HARD. It's day 5, and I'm still just sick enough that I wouldn't be able to go into school if I was supposed to, as I haven't been fever-free for 24 hours yet. (It peaked at 101 on Friday; I'm normally around 97.4 so 101 is HIGH for me.) This is the sickest I've been in years, maybe over a decade. (It's not H1N1 though - I did go to the doctor just in case and they said they thought not.)

I've always been of the opinion that I'd rather go in if it's at all possible, that it's easier to be there and be a little sick than to be home and worrying about what havoc is occurring in my class. And maybe that's true, in some ways, but this has made me rethink that a bit. Because if I'd had kids and I'd gone in, I'd be spreading around some hard-core germs.

This is the type of virus that walks up to you, punches you in the face and demands your wallet, then comes back while you're still wondering what happened and kicks you in the ribs a few times just for fun. This is the type of virus that tells everyone it killed a man in Reno just to watch him die, and while you're pretty sure that's an exaggeration, a little part of you wonders if maybe it's not. This is the type of virus that would do something so crazy, so unbelievable, so offensive, that its story would be "ripped from the headlines!" to be featured on an episode of Law and Order.

This is not a virus to which you want to give access to people you care about. This is not a virus that you want to take lightly. Trying to play through the pain works when you've lightly twisted your ankle, not when you've broken your tibia.

I'm going to remember this virus next time I get sick, and I'm going to think hard before I decide to just take some Advil and skip merrily off to school. Sick days exist for a reason. I'm going to use them.

(Photo credit to Around the World Journey)


I have my first illness of the school year.

I don't even have students yet.


Teachers' Images: Are We Respected?

Two articles about young teachers leaving the profession or their schools have been all kinds of popular this week. I’ve read both with interest, but one in particular has made me think. Let me begin by saying that I deeply appreciate the author's honesty and candor in writing this, and that she is to be commended for that. But I fervently disagree with the content.

Sarah Fine’s piece blames two factors: burnout and image. The burnout part I get, though I think it’s very sad that Fine quit rather than try to find a new school with a more positive relationship between teachers and admin.

The image part, though, I don’t. Fine seems to be deeply troubled by the fact that “a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession.”

Really? That’s what upsets her?

Because I’m pretty sure a portion of the American public would consider Mother Theresa a loser (the chick made, like, NO money), would scoff at FDR (dude increased taxes; not cool. Plus all those federal programs were borderline socialist), would despise Nelson Mandela (he was in prison an awfully long time…maybe some action would’ve made shit happen faster). A portion of the American public are idiots, and I could not care less if they think teaching is “just so nice.”

I was curious, though, so I did some research, and from what I could find, Fine’s plaintive wail that she don’t get no respect just isn’t borne out. In 2006, Forbes had an article about America’s most admired professions, based on a Harris poll. I couldn’t find the poll itself, but the article lists teachers as the fifth most admired profession. Numbers one through four were (in order) firefighters, doctors, nurses and scientists. Then us. That’s not so shabby. In addition, in 2008, a Gallup poll ranked high school teachers as the third most ethical and honest career group. (One and two were nurses and pharmacists.)

Fifth most admired.

Third most ethical.

Who is Fine talking to, again, who is so disparaging of teachers? Oh, right…a “businesswoman sitting next to [her] on a plane.” Friends who are lawyers and consultants.

In the Harris poll on admired professions, lawyers were 14th, business executives 21st. Ethics? Lawyers were twelfth. Business leaders, fifteenth.

Maybe Fine should try talking to someone else.

Here’s the thing. I might not get “the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law,” but, uh, I’m okay with that. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m not looking to be famous. Am I ambitious? Certainly I am, but I don’t think my ambitions are the same as Fine’s. I think hers have to do with money, something she never acknowledges but seems to dance around. Yep, teacher pay’s a problem. But that’s not something she actually addresses, so perhaps I’m wrong.

Back to respect and ambition. I want to be respected within my profession and my social circle, absolutely. But I don’t need to be featured on the society pages of the newspapers for being a patron of the local orchestra. Will I always be happy in the classroom? I don’t know. I have a lot of ideas of ways to change education in general, and to change individual schools in particular, and I might want to go into some sort of policy someday. Whether that means school admin, or district personnel, or running for school board, or something else entirely, I’m not sure yet. Like one of Fine’s friends, "I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them.” I just disagree that “in the world we live in, teaching doesn't cut it."

In the world I live in, it not only cuts it, it’s perfect for it.

(Photo credit to jm3)

Trying to squeeze through a window before it slams shut...

I mentioned at the beginning of summer that BB Bob probably wouldn't be coming back to my school. His family moved during the school year to a different district, and they'd missed the choice deadline so that was that. I had BB Bob's little brother as one of my students last year; he was super sad that he wouldn't be coming back to my school. I offered to let him know if a choice window opened up over the summer, and he eagerly agreed.

Today I learned that the window IS open, but just till tomorrow. I tried to call but none of the phone numbers we have for the family work. I could try the emergency numbers and see if any of them have a way to get in touch with the family, but I'd have to access those numbers tomorrow and then that doesn't give them much time to get it done. It's better than nothing, I suppose, but I wish I'd heard about this earlier, or that I'd been able to at least get in touch with them today.

At least I'm trying, right?


I blame Katie Wood Ray.

My husband plays on a kickball team, and I went to watch his game this afternoon. Not a lot of people come out to spectate so I figured I wouldn’t really have anyone to talk to. Plus it's not really my scene - full of hipsters who talk loudly and wear wacky clothes while smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap beer. So I brought Study Driven with me to continue planning for the year – I figured I could read bits and pieces in between watching plays.

I’m finding the book pretty engrossing as I try to imagine how this will look in my own classroom. I read and underline, annotate and think, reread, reread, think some more. It’s a process.

But I also wanted to pay attention to the game at least to a point, so I was half listening to the commotion on the field. When something sounded important, I’d look up and pay attention for a minute, then back down to the book. I’m quiet when I watch sports by myself, not a lot of yelling or cheering, so I just watched and listened. A steady cycle and it was working pretty well.

Turned out I wasn’t the only spectator today. A handful of people from another team were maybe 15 feet away from me, also watching the game. I didn’t know any of them and I’d gotten there first, so I was aware of their presence but that was it. At one point, though, I realized that maybe I was being rude.

A friend of theirs was umping, and he called out to them and asked why they weren’t mingling. They called back that there was only one person to mingle with and she was busy studying. I kept reading.

A minute later it sunk in – I was the person to whom they were referring. I wasn’t mingling. I was studying. Oh.

And then it felt too late to explain the whole teacher-on the verge of a new year and trying to avoid a nervous breakdown by being as prepared as possible thing. And then I felt rude for not talking to them and for not really cheering. And then I couldn’t think of a way to break the ice that I had apparently frozen myself (I’m actually kind of shy if I don’t feel comfortable in a situation). And then they wandered off. And then I kept on reading.

When I left, I gave my husband the rundown of what had happened in case he knew them or in case his team thought I’d been rude too; he didn’t, and didn’t think his team was upset, but still. I feel kinda bad.

Katie Wood Ray. Who knew she could cause so many problems?

Taking on another commitment...?

Today I was asked to serve as my school’s G/T co-coordinator for the year.

Which….I’m torn. I think gifted education is incredibly important. I don’t know how to say this without sounding braggy, so I’m just going to say it – much of my education was in gifted magnet programs, and that gave me access to some pretty rockin’ opportunities that not everyone got to experience (which is unfortunate but that’s not going to change, at least not right now).

I have some ideas of fun stuff to do with our gifted kids to extend their learning, both in and out of the classroom; I feel like G/T students sometimes get short shrift these days (maybe always? I’m new to this end of education and while my own was excellent, I don’t know if that’s been true everywhere) because people are so focused on the kids who are below grade level. Now, believe you me, I full on realize that those kids need attention. They desperately, desperately need attention. But EVERYONE should always be making growth, and just because a kid is already scoring advanced doesn’t mean he or she couldn’t be doing even more.

Plus I love the gifted kids; some of my colleagues find them somewhat challenging because they can be royal pains in the ass, but I think they’re awesome. Talking to them is super fun and even helpful at times because they have such interesting ideas. They keep me on my toes, and as long as I keep them on theirs, I don’t usually have a lot of behavior problems. I’d love to take on this new challenge for those reasons. (Oh, and a good resume thing, right? Always good to build that resume!)

But. The con, and it’s a big one. (And there’s always a con, right?) Time. This year I’ve got a lot already. New curriculum. New PD thing I’m doing that will require at least a couple of days out of the classroom. Three leadership committees that I’m on (including honors, which would sort of tie to this, but not fully). Running the school newspaper. Oh, and then there’s the whole being married and wanting to see my husband every now and again thing.

So I don’t know. What would you do? If you were in my position, would you take on this additional commitment to something you really care about, or decide that you’d be overextending yourself and decline? Advice, please please please!

(Photo credit to Andreanna.)

(PS No idea what is up with my fonts here. Blogger is mad at me and I don't know what to do about it. Sorry.)

Using Significant Objects in the Classroom

I’m starting to think about curriculum for the year (it’s better than just thinking about all the things that can go horribly, horribly wrong). While I know I want to run my class as a workshop, and I know I want to use mentor texts, there are a lot of things still up in the air. But I had an idea today that I think might be fun.

Recently a website called Significant Objects was featured on Daily Candy. The way it works is the people running the site buy some random tchotchke at a garage sale or thrift store. They send that object to a writer, who then writes a story about it (totally fictional, in no way supported by anything other than the writer’s imagination). The object and a copy of the story are then put up for sale on ebay, with all proceeds going to the writer.

The part that interests me is looking at how the objects inform the stories – they all play major roles, but some stories, like this one by Curtis Sittenfeld, use the item as an inspiration even to the characters, whereas others tell a story through the item itself.

I don’t think I’d want to do a whole genre study around these, but I could see doing a focus lesson on the concept and then having a binder with copies of some of these stories to use as mentor texts, as well as a bin of what would basically be random crap that kids could then write about. They could be incredibly creative but would have to have deeply studied an object and really thought about ways in which it could be used to be able to write something like this.

What do you think? Interesting concept with possible classroom usage, or would transferring it to a school setting be kind of lame?

(Read the story behind the pictured Significant Object here.)

New year nerves.

I have a confession to make.

I am nervous about this year. Like, really nervous. Teacher-dreams, stomach-tension, don’t-wanna-talk-about-it jittery nervous.

What if I can’t handle eighth graders? Sure, I did some student teaching in 8th grade – but my CT had really set everything up and while I had to prove myself to some extent, maybe they just treated me with respect because they liked her.

What if the kids I had in the past are completely different now than they were in 6th grade? What if they are nightmares? Yep, still saw them around the school last year, but in class is a whole different thing.

What if I can’t run a workshop effectively? I really want to try it – it sounds so empowering and engaging for kids – but what if I can’t handle the giving up of control and finding ways to get kids engaged in their learning? Self-direction and choice are great…if they choose and direct.

What if I’ve taken on too much? A new curriculum and grade level, three different leadership teams (one of which I’m really going to be spending a lot of time on, I think), running the school newspaper, an ongoing professional development opportunity….it’s a lot. Can I handle it all without something being done badly? Without several things being done badly?

I think part of my problem is that I haven’t gotten to sit down with my planning partner to figure out how this is all going to look. Nor have I heard back from my principal about our department planning day that we’re supposed to be having. Plus the whole mess with the Charmer sort of discouraged me – perhaps I CAN’T create relationships with kids who are older than sixth grade. I don’t really believe that, but it was a downer.

Today I’m going to sit down with my pals The Writing Workshop and Study Driven and have a heart-to-heart so that I have a better vision of the process and can start working on mentor texts. I’ve emailed and texted people about setting up meetings – if I don’t hear back, that’s on them and I’ll plan by myself. They’ll just have to live with the results. And if I decide I’m doing too much, well, I can always drop a committee or something. Plus who needs sleep anyway?

It’s going to be fine, right? Please tell me it’s going to be fine.

(Poor little turtle. At least HE has a shell... Photo credit to bionicteaching)

I am angry tonight. Feel free to ignore this.

We can’t help everyone.

I know that. I hear it all the time – from my colleagues, my friends, my family. From the news, from strangers, from politicians. From the world.

We can’t fix those who don’t want to be fixed, can’t change those who don’t want to change, can’t help those who don’t want to be helped.

Fine. But when did they make those choices? When did a twelve year old decide that he was going to do what he wanted to do, damn the consequences?

Because I don’t think anyone ever decides that. I just don’t think they know anything different.

If you’ve never seen another option, never been corrected, never had your choices questioned…how do you know that anything else exists?

We can’t help everyone, they say. Isn’t that an excuse for why we hardly help anyone?

52 Teachers - are you one?

As of yesterday, Mr. D at I Want To Teach Forever still needed a submission for his 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project. I know it’s not much notice, but if you haven’t submitted something, do it!

I love reading the advice that other teachers (or parents, or admin, or…?) give – several weeks have been very thought-provoking for me. And I myself wrote one a while back. If I can, you can.

So what are you waiting for? You have cool and useful things to tell people! Go do it!

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
Copyright 2009 I'm a Dreamer All rights reserved.
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