Buncha random stuff.

Also, apparently my insomnia is back. Yaaaaaaaay.

In other, less whiny news :), I had a nice thing happen right before I left for my trip. Holly Miller at emailed me to say that they were featuring my blog on their DK Daily Teach site. I went to check it out and I am indeed there! And the other bloggers listed are all people that are quite fancy and have much larger readership than me, like Mrs. Bluebird, Joanne Jacobs, NYC Educator and more. So that's neat! And the site itself looks interesting - I haven't explored it much yet (again, that whole being way behind thing) but I look forward to the opportunity.

Thanks, TeacherVision!

Oh, anyone have any great April Fools' Day pranks to play on students? I want something funny and creative (and not mean....). I figure I'll start by pretending we have a pop quiz, and then when they're like, haha April Fools', so lame, I'll admit that yes it was a lame prank. But THEN I want to have a GOOD one up my sleeve so that I can do something that they won't expect to be a trick since they'll think they already figured it out. Anyone?


I've hit that point again. That completely overwhelmed, disorganized, out-of-time-and-way-behind point.

And it's two days after spring break.

That doesn't bode well for the next two months.

I think (and hope), honestly, that it's because of my trip. I did absolutely no grading the weekend before I left (or the ten days I was gone, honestly), and I usually spend maybe two or three hours per weekend grading or looking for materials to use in class, so I'm six to nine hours behind there. Plus I had to cram a bunch of papers into a drawer because I was out of time to file (that whole plane to catch thing) and didn't want my classroom to look like a disaster for my sub, so I can't find some of the stuff I need.

Guess I know what this weekend's going to be like. Ah well....I'll drink my fancy looseleaf green tea, suck on Chinese candies, and listen to a Chinese indie rock CD while I work, and I'll remember that it was all worth it.

(Image credit to Evil Erin)


Hey! I'm back! You may not have known I was gone, not just from the blog, but from the whole country, but indeed I was!

For spring break, I went to visit a friend living in China. She's only there till the end of May so it was kinda now or never. Though the trip was relatively short for traveling such a long distance, it was totally worth it.

We visited the Great Wall, learned how to make gong bao chicken (or kung pao, as I have always seen it listed, albeit apparently incorrectly), wandered around the Forbidden City, had our pictures taken by many Chinese people (some don't see a lot of Westerners and word is we're quite exciting), and just generally had a blast.

Tomorrow it's back to school. And although I could use one more day off to do a better job of unpacking and dealing with life, I'm in generally okay shape. Plus I'm excited to give my kids the presents I brought back for them - because of COURSE I got them presents. How could I not? They're getting pencil lead in adorable Chinese cases, Chinese candy, and their choice of either blank postcards, bookmarks, or money (1 yuan is worth about 15 cents and I brought back 25 or so - not a big expense).

Now I just have to get to school early enough to make all my photocopies that I didn't get around to before I left......

(Image credit to me!)

This is only a test.

You know what I don't get about high-stakes tests? Why can't they be more like the SAT?

SAT. Four hours. Retake it if you don't like your score. And relied on by colleges nationwide.

Why can't we get on that bandwagon?


Today's the day, y'all. Big day. BIIIIIIIIG day. Post #192 - it's a milestone of epic proportions! Oh, AND it's the one year anniversary of me as an edublogger. :)

You know what would've been cool? If I'd been a leeeeeetle bit more prepared for life in the last few weeks, and I could've been all planny and writey and I could've gotten to #200 today. That would've been sweet.

But not so much. I've been too busy planning for my actual classroom to be that aware of my blog, and really, I think that's just fine. would've been cool.

You know what's cooler, though? One year. And
stories are still what I do.

(Image credit to merfam)


Looking for some thoughts here. Spring break is approaching rapidly (thank the good Lord....boy were they whacked out on Friday). I'll be traveling overseas to visit a friend and I want to bring something back for my kids. I'll see what I can find when I'm out and about, but any thoughts on anything particular to look for?

My ideas thus far are:

*postcards (hand delivered, and probably blank just with cool pics)
*candy/some sort of local treat

And I think those are all fine, but not particularly unusual or exciting. Anyone have a surefire hit? Something creative and not too expensive that 8th graders will just freakin' love?

Carnival of Educators, yo

A v. short Carnival of Educators is up, including my piece on student evaluations - go read the entries, and then submit for next time!

"Can't I get it NOW????"

We're in the throes of our state tests right now; days and days and days of them. After kids finish each test, the only thing they can do (other than sit or sleep) is read. While some of them do just want to sit, most pull out their books as soon as they're done and dive right in.

Yesterday, the Chowhound came running into my room between his first and second blocks. I don't have him till third so I asked him what was up.

"Oh, I finished my book during the test so I need the next one." (He's reading the Bluford High series - so great for reluctant readers!)

"Okaaaaaaay....but I'll see you in half an hour [shortened classes for testing]. Can't you get it then?"

He stammered, "But - but - but we're not doing anything in math today, just having free time, and I want to keep reading! Can't I get it NOW????"

"Of course you can, calm down, it'll be fine!" We found the book and I wrote him a pass so he wouldn't be late.

A choice of free time or reading, and he chose reading.

God, I love my job.

(Image credit to luis de bethancourt)

Personal crisis.

My dog is incredibly sick. She had surgery Monday for an obstruction, which went well, but they found during it that parts of her pancreas are basically dying (it's called acute necrotizing pancreatitis). We didn't actually know that till Thursday because they had to do a biopsy to figure it out. That's generally fatal, but she was doing really well and didn't have any symptoms - we wouldn't have known that she had it at all had she not had surgery. So we were worried, but cautiously optimistic.

Today I noticed her belly was looking a little yellow, and not in a cowardice speaking-in-metaphors kind of way. Which worried me for her liver, so we called the vet, they said to bring her in for bloodwork, and now she's been hospitalized because her liver numbers are way up. Again they said normally dogs with this kind of stuff are in terrible shape, and she's still fine (except for her golden hue), so that's good, but.....


I'm just really scared and sad, and I'm not sure how to deal. And then I'm not sure what to tell my students - some of them know about the surgery, so they've been asking about her periodically, and I've given them updates that she was doing well, since she was. But I'm kind of a mess and I'm not sure if I should tell them or not.

I lean towards sharing it with them, since I AM a mess and I think they need to know that and know not to push me on things; I'm almost certainly going to have a shorter fuse than usual, and there's definitely a shot I'll start to cry about something at some point.

On the other hand, I very well might cry if I do tell them, so that would be potentially horribly awkward.

Opinions? (And good thoughts for my puppy would be deeply appreciated.)

Worth the fear.

Allison commented on Wednesday's post that she'd be scared to hear what her kids would say on an evaluation of the class and of her as a teacher. And dude, I totally get that. It's terrifying, particularly the first time you do it. But I think the information you get is worth it.

I started having my kids evaluate me during my first year. They had six questions to answer, each one paired by what was going well and what could be better, for class overall, for themselves personally, and for me as a teacher. The first two sets....whatev. It was interesting to get the information because it helped me clarify if the kids and I were on the same page about the positives and negatives of class and of their own performances. Usually we were, and when we had a disconnect, I could generally figure out why, which again would help me refine how I explained things and the different types of activities I'd incorporate.

That last set though....whew. Well, honestly, the part about what I was doing well wasn't stressful. :) It's nice to hear what your kids think you're good at! But what I needed to do better on....the possible answers on that one scared the bejeezus out of me the first time. And the second. And the third. And really....every time. I always get a little nervous reading those, and if I'm having a bad day on the day that students do the evaluations, I don't read them till I'm feeling mentally and emotionally prepared for the possibility that they will write that I am a terrible teacher who is mean and unfair and cruel and ugly and stupid and fat and.....well, you know how your imagination can just explode. They've never written anything like that, though. I think they respect the fact that I'm asking, and appreciate the opportunity to express true concerns.

My first couple of years, I got a good chunk of comments about how I needed to work on yelling less, not getting so mad, some variation thereof. Every time, it bothered me. Kids get yelled at enough, at home, on the streets, in the mall...I didn't want that for them in school. At least not in my class. I started working on it.

It's been a process and some days go better than others, and I still get angry with kids on occasion - there's no way around that, at least not for me, when they do things like refer to another teacher as a douchebag and then walk out of the room instead of coming back to discuss the issue with me. (That was last Tuesday. Ohhhhhhh was I pissed.) But I really try not to yell. I try to discuss issues as calmly as possible, and when I am really angry and can't help showing my fury (hi last Tuesday!), then the kids know that I truly mean it and take it seriously.

I could have ignored the comments about the yelling, could have brushed them off, but that would have been disingenuous; I asked, I should listen to and care about the answers, and try to change. This last round, I don't think I had a single student list that as an issue.

Which sure doesn't make me perfect. Because every time, I have a couple that write something that makes me really kind of sad, either because I've screwed up royally with something or because I just don't get along super well with that particular kid. This round, I got one that said, "I feel like Ms. Teachin' does NOT care about me as a person and a student when she doesn't notice that something is wrong."

Knife. Heart. Stab. Twist. Ow.

Because I pride myself on my relationships; I pride myself on knowing my kids, reading their moods, and asking if they're okay when they seem off. They don't always want to tell me, but I think it's important that they know someone notices, and I'm usually rockin' at that. And this student....I failed her. Which hurt.

Thus yesterday I pulled her aside to ask her about that statement and apologize for not noticing, and a story gushed out of her about her mom and dad fighting over her brother being in trouble and possibly not graduating, and how scared she was because of her dad's history of violence, and what a hard time she'd had dealing with it. I listened, and nodded, and asked a few questions, and ended up sending her to see the counselor, and just felt bad that I hadn't seen that she was in this crisis.

But the thing is, if I hadn't had her do the evaluation, I never would have known she felt that way. And she never would have told me the story, because she's just not the kind of kid to seek out that conversation, and she might never have gone to see the counselor, because again, she's just not that kid. So I have to believe that me feeling bad temporarily is worth it in the long run because now I get to feel good that she DID find someone to talk to.

I'd encourage all teachers to incorporate your own student assessments/evaluations if you aren't already. It's scary. It's hard. It's sad. But it's so worth it.

(Image credit to billso)

(Lack of) Anger in the Classroom V

A while back, I wrote about how one of my biggest challenges as a teacher is my anger. Getting frustrated with student behavior or performance, and just....losing it. And how one of my primary goals this year was to reduce my level of anger, because, y'know, it's really not a good thing.

I posted a few times about how I was doing with the situation - up and down for the most part. And then I kinda forgot about it. Well, not about the issue, per se. I forgot about the posting updates. Life. It gets busy. You know how it goes.

But last week my trimester ended. And one of the things I do when trimesters end is have students complete an evaluation.

It's not long, just 12 sentence starters, based off
this form. Specifically, students finish the following, based off my class:

I am awesome at...
I need more practice with...
One thing I had trouble with was...because...
One thing I enjoyed was...because...
One thing I didn't enjoy was...because...
I wish we could have...
In the rest of the year, I would like to...
Ms. Teachin' did a good job with...
Ms. Teachin' could have done better with...
I feel Ms. Teachin' cares about me as a person and a student when...
I feel Ms. Teachin' does NOT care about me as a person and a student when...
(Optional) Anything else to add?

It helps me figure out what's going well, what's not, what I've taught thoroughly, what I need to reteach, what I need to keep, what I need to change. I always give kids the option of filling them out anonymously, and about half of them do, though honestly I always know who wrote each (I'm weirdly good at handwriting recognition. It's odd. I don't know).

I emphasize that I really want them to tell the truth because it matters to me and I use the information to drive my instruction, and they do. They're generally remarkably honest, sometimes depressingly so, but either way, helpful.

Tonight I read the evaluations. And again, they were remarkably honest, occasionally depressingly so, but always helpful.

I definitely have some things to work on (talking too quickly, explaining vocabulary thoroughly, assuming kids get stuff when they're still confused), though a few I don't know how to deal with (like adding more reading time, which about a third of my kids mentioned as something they would like more of. We have 20 minutes of independent reading every day already. The only way to add more time would be to cut the readaloud, but about a third of the kids listed that as the thing they enjoyed most, so......?)

But a few....a few made me cry.

One thing I had trouble with was reading because I hated reading. One thing I enjoyed was reading because I like reading now. (Oh, I'm so proud of him.)

Ms. Teachin' did a good job with...
explaining things and being helpful.

Ms. Teachin' could have done better with...
she did a good job at everything.
Don't gotta answer for this one.

I feel Ms. Teachin' cares about me as a person and a student when she....
takes time to help me when I'm stuck.
tells me that I need to do something better [I LOVE that this kid recognizes this!]
doesn't raid my fridge [okay, honestly, that one just made me laugh]

Anything else to add?
Your [sic] cool.
I like this class better than what I had for reading and writing before.
You rock.

And the one that really made me lose it, from a student that I got for the first time at our midyear change (I'm welling up again just typing it)....
Ms. Teachin' is the first teacher that I know that doesn't scream.

I'm getting better. Got a ways to go still....but I'm getting better.

(Image credit to StickBus)
"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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