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Hammer time

24 Sep

Week four and the hammer falls.

We have spent the last three weeks in training – learning when and when not to go to their lockers, what to bring to each class, when to go to the bathroom. The first two weeks were friendly reminders. Last week’s reminders were a little more serious.

“If you do that next week, you’ll have lunch detention.”

Lunch detention is hardly a hardship. Students sit in silence, eating their lunch and reading a book. In a school of 1600, where over 500 6th graders eat at the same time, lunch detention can seem like a respite, but at this point in the year, the 6th graders don’t know that yet.

I had an idea of who my first detainees might be. So, imagine my surprise when one of the sweetest, most responsible boys in class confessed he had left his writer’s notebook in his locker. They students had just taken their seats to begin generating ideas for personal narratives around first times, last times, and times they learned something. This young man, because he was sweet and honest, didn’t just get some notebook paper, he confessed.

I don’t make a big deal out of lunch detention when it happens. Most kids are worried the first time, and ask funny questions like “Are you going to tell my mom?” or “Will this go on my permanent record?”.

The student came back to class with a worried look on his face, so I tried to alleviate his worry with some humor.

“Maybe you could write about “The first time I got lunch detention,” I suggested, grinning.

He smiled back at me, opened his notebook, and got to work.

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Waiting

25 Jun

I have officially been on vacation for a week, but the big end of the year drama happens today.

Sunday afternoon,  staff got a text telling us to check our email. I did and the message was short and sweet: Tuesday the administrators will call all staff to tell them what their job will be next year.

It’s been a long wait. The discovery of budgeting irregularities meant that our district had a severe shortfall and the projected cutbacks for the 2019-20 year meant jobs would be eliminated. At first it seemed like the RIF might be as bad as the bad year, after the financial crisis. But with retirements and consolidation, it was projected to be not as bad. But still bad enough that we left school last week not knowing for sure what we’d be teaching.

But today is the day.

The staff are buzzing, trying to predict how the calls will happen. By grade level? Alphabetically? Bad news first? Moving first, staying second? It’s a way to try to make sense out of this crazy process.

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I don’t normally bring the phone with me when I walk Lucy, but today I will. Lucy will be there to support me if it is bad news and celebrate if it is good. Wish us luck.

Late Tuesday Update: Good news: My team gets to stay intact!

How we roll

30 Apr

Once a month, my teaching partner and I sit down and formally plan out the upcoming month. We sit down together every day to talk over the day and eat second breakfast but this is our most formal of meetings.

As we sat to plan May, we realized how close the end of the year really is, so we decided to plan June as well, since it had only two weeks of school.  There was so much we still wanted to do – and we couldn’t make it fit. Outdoor School (ODS) had been moved  to June 4-7, taking out almost a week. We’d scheduled speeches for the week before ODS. We could wedge things in, but they’d start before and end, rather awkwardly, after ODS. we felt frustrated.

“What if we scrap it all?” I asked. “We could move the speeches to the last week of school and then plan backwards.” This was a radical concept for us. We always started on the first of a month and planned forward, knowing what we didn’t accomplish could spill into the next month. But there were no next months for us this time around. And so we boldly took the plunge.

And it worked. We are planned through June.

We always know our monthly plans are subject to change, but we have a roadmap in place and can face any detours because that’s how we roll.

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Plan B

23 Apr

This morning I should be on a bus, headed to outdoor school for four days and three nights. The sixth graders from the other three halls in my building are going. Alas, Green Hall is staying behind.

Two Saturdays ago we got a text saying the main lodge at the camp we were supposed to attend had burned to the ground.  Most of last week was spent waiting to find out if we could go to another camp this week or if we’d go a different week. The kids had tones of questions.

If we don’t go this year, can we go as seventh graders?

When will they tell us?

What happens at school if we don’t go?

If we don’t go to Outdoor School, do we still have to come to school?

Their agony was ended Thursday when we were – finally – told we would not go the same week as the other sixth graders, we’d go June 4-7, the second last week of school.

Action and consequence. The kids were relieved, but the teachers and admins started scrambling. Schedules had to be created for a rotation through Specialists. My team decided that we’d toss out the schedule on Wednesday and have kids rotate through camp like activities and have a picnic lunch outside along with a massive game of Capture the flag. It won’t be quite the same, but it will be a good placeholder until the real this comes around.

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SBAC Math

9 Apr

Even though I was administering the ELA test, yesterday’s first session of state testing was all about Math for me.

Six sets of headphones. Until a student pulled one set out of the bag and the headphone jack fell off. 6-1=5. Five sets of headphones.

I teach at a more affluent school than I used to. At my old elementary school, we tested in a lab and each computer had its own headset. We wiped them down between tests.

My current school – a middle school – most kids have earbuds and everyone has a Chromebook, so we test in our rooms and kids are supposed to bring their own earbuds. Of course they didn’t. They’re middle schoolers and it was a Monday! Hence, my SBAC Math test.

Five sets of headphones + 8 students with hands up needing to borrow a pair = lots of juggling and wiping of earbuds for me.

I hope they all remember their headphones the rest of the week.

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Planning ahead

23 Mar

“Wow! You sure have a lot of energy this morning,” my teaching partner commented as I handed here the prototypes of the revision centers our students will visit when they return from Spring Break.

“I had three cups of coffee at the staff breakfast this morning, ” I confessed. “I also have an idea for a rubric they can use to evaluate their work at each station.”

My teaching partner puts up with a lot from me in the morning. I am naturally a morning person, but today I was over the top. Although I was grouchy and draggy last week (what is it about the week before the week before Spring Break?) this week, I became happier and more energetic as Spring Break neared.

“Do you want me to print them?” she asked.

“They aren’t quite ready. I want to make them pretty – maybe add a border or something,”  I replied.

We had brainstormed a list of “issues” we’d noticed in their writing overall and narrowed it down to six, because we both have six tables in class.

  • paragraphing dialogue
  • punctuating dialogue
  • writing numbers
  • commas VS periods (run-on sentences)
  • verb tenses
  • showing elapsed time

I showed her my idea about how to assemble folders. Sometimes, having been an elementary school teacher really makes you better equipped for organizing things like this in middle school.

Later that day, with the rubrics and each center’s direction printed, I got out my Sharpies and wrote each center’s name in bubble letters on the front of a folder. While the kids worked, I colored in the bubble letters. The coffee had worn off and I was ready for Spring Break to begin.

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The Teacher and the iPad

12 Mar

Once upon a time there was an ordinary teacher. She wasn’t especially good at technology, but she wasn’t particularly bad. She was just right.

When Fall came, her vintage document camera – circa 1998 – died. She knew this day was coming and had feared it. Her avoidance did nothing to stop the devices inevitable demise. Fortunately, she had always been kind to the tech person, who found an iPad with a stand to replace her old machine.

Life returned to normal. The teacher learned to manage her new tool. She recharged it regularly. She learned to project landscape. She made the most of her new tool. But one thing perplexed her: Why was there a single port to attach the projector and the power cord? Without an answer to the question she carried on.

One day, the Monday after returning to Daylight Savings Time, the unthinkable happened: she was modeling writing for her students and the iPad died. Being a “just right at technology teacher” she rigged something that functioned satisfactorily. Suddenly, she heard a little voice.

“Oh Great Teacher,” the voice called, “Why don’t you just plug the power cord into the other port on the dongle?”

“Pardon, me?” she replied courteously, but authoritatively, “I don’t think it has a second port.”

“I think it might,” said the small voice, humbly but authoritatively.

The teacher, knowing her pupils to be digital natives looked at the dongle, which did indeed have a second port. The teacher plugged the power cord into the second port, recharged the iPad, and carried on, a little more wisdom in her salt & pepper head.

And she taught happily ever after.

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