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Wednesday, January 31, 2007
A couple that I found very interesting had to do with the Houston ISD's implementation of teacher incentive pay. Some schools in Dallas are giving incentive pay a try, but things in Houston don't seem too copacetic. Check out these two postings, one at NCLBlog -- the other at A Brown Bag Blog.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Today in class, I asked one of my kids how to say "smile" in Spanish. She said a word that I swear sounded just like Cervesa. How funny is that – Beer = Smile!
Actually, I probably just misunderstood, being the gringo that I am. Sometimes I try out my Spanish knowledge with the kids, knowing full well exactly what I'm trying to say, and they look at me like I'm speaking Martian. Not that I'm getting the words or the syntax incorrect, I guess I'm just not saying the words in the fashion that they are used to hearing them.
A couple of years ago, some of the kids asked me, "Tienes ninos?” (Which I'm pretty sure means, "Do you have any kids?") I responded, "No, no tengo espousa.” (Which I'm pretty sure means, "No, I don't have a wife.") The kids gave me a quizzical stare, and one of them blurted out, "You don't have a beard??”
Hey, at least I'm trying, right? Now I'm going to log off and go have a Smile.
Monday, January 29, 2007
So yeah, a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with this reporter from the Houston Chronicle about being a teacher who blogs. We spoke for a good 20 minutes or so, and I was charming, witty, and debonair. Not to mention a master of nifty adjectives. And low and behold, I was not quoted or even mentioned in the article once. Not once. However, a link to Learn Me Good was featured prominently in a sidebar, so I can't be too disappointed.
And Mike in Texas DID get mentioned and quoted. I liked one of his quotes that was taken from his blog -- "some days you're the pigeon, some days you're the statue."
I'll have to steal that one from him too...
Friday, January 26, 2007
Wow, what a long week. Not only was this the first full week in quite a while (no early releases, government holidays, or unofficial snow days), but there was also something AFTER school every single day. Staff meeting on Monday. Games club on Tuesday. Tutoring on Wednesday. Learning communities meeting on Thursday. Happy Hour on Friday.
Today I gave a long test on word problems, and frustrations started coming out. From the kids and from me. One of my kids started talking to his neighbor while I was at the back of the room, so I called him back and ask him to bring his tests so that I could mark it down by 20 points for talking during a test. I really have no intention of marking the grade down 20 points in my gradebook, but I wanted to make a point to the whole class. Not five minutes later, two more kids were talking to each other.
Is learning from past mistakes a thing OF the past? Because my kids never seem to understand this concept. They break the rules, get in trouble, cry, repeat. Over and over.
I actually spoke the words, "Those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it," aloud to my class this afternoon. When did I become such an old fogey??
And my new ward is not helping matters much. D showed up late yesterday afternoon with his father to enroll in Mrs. Educator's class. The father informs us that D is a troublemaker, he was suspended a lot at his old school, and that "he might try to run away." Great, what am I -- Agent Girard from The Fugitive??
"What I need from each and every one of you people is a hard target search of every classroom, bathroom, book room, store room, and side room within a 10 mile radius."
Well, he didn't try to run away today, but he certainly did get under my nerves. For a kid who's four-foot-nothing, he's got more attitude than a Portland Trailblazer. Some teachers are just able to ignore disrespect and rudeness and move on, but I've always been stubborn. I have a real problem with little kids who ignore me and/or talk back. And the timing was even worse, because I had just finished writing up a discipline referral on another kid who thought he could spout obscenities as he walked past my room and then yell at me when I tried to talk to him. This on top of the test talkers. Needless to say, I was not in the best of moods.
I just thank God that it's the weekend. Because next week is going to be another long one and I desperately need the break.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I also bring into evidence NBC's failed incarnation of Teachers last year. I kept watching, hoping it would get funny, and it just never did.
So anyway, this started me thinking... Who ARE some good teachers that we have watched on the boob tube? Nominations, anyone?
Personally, I would have to say that my favorite teacher was Ralph Hinkley from The Greatest American Hero. White Man's 'Fro and all. That's really why I got into teaching in the first place. It was in the hopes of obtaining mysterious superpowers that I could use to comical effect.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Also, the 103rd Carnival of Education is up and running at the site where it all started, The Education Wonks. Go check it out, and you just might get a free pizza.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
At yesterday's staff meeting (now weekly, and in Technicolor!), a request was made of the TAKS- level teachers. Actually, calling it a request is like calling a shark attack a love nibble. It was a command.
Our principal wants TAKS predictions. When I first saw the bullet that said "TAKS predictions" on our agenda sheet yesterday, my first thought was ok,um I predict somewhere between 30 and 40 questions; I predict 3-4 reading passages; I predict multiple-choice answers...
But of course that's not what she wanted. She wants us to predict what percentage of kids will pass the TAKS tests. That in itself is not at all unreasonable or difficult. We all have a pretty good idea of our kids' capabilities, and while there are always a few surprises on test day (usually in a positive sense), we know who is most likely going to pass and who is most likely not.
However, pass/fail data was not all that she was asking from us. She also wants a list of gains. This really seems to be the big buzzword with her this year. I have lost track of how many times I've heard the word "gains" in meetings, on the announcements, in e-mails, etc. Maybe for her birthday, I'll get her a big jug of GAIN laundry detergent.
Anyway, my buddy Ed U Cater blogged about this over at The Head of the Class. I really think you should go and read his post before continuing with mine. He summed things up pretty well.
Back? Okay then, continuing....
In engineering, we frequently used the term "WAG." When we were unsure of a customer's electrical input capacity, we used WAG. When the application temperature was unknown, we used WAG. When a fellow engineer hadn't returned from lunch for over two hours, and people were wondering where he was, we used WAG.
In case you were wondering, WAG means "Wild Ass Guess."
That's basically what we're being asked to make here. What's the difference between a 1900 and a 2000 on the TAKS? It could be as random as whether or not the child got to wear his/her favorite socks that morning.
Now, Ed and the other fourth and fifth grade teachers have a little bit of an advantage over me and my third-grade team. They can at least look at each kid's TAKS scores from last year, take their WAG, and then calculate a gain or a loss. But kids don't take the TAKS in the second grade, so we don't have a comparable score to base the gain or loss on. I got the impression that we are supposed to look at last year's ITBS scores and somehow base an improvement number on that. Maybe I can find some secret file online that divulges the conversion rate between ITBS and TAKS. I have a feeling that it's listed along with the conversion rate between tons and metric buttloads.
I wonder if I would be viewed as a smart ass if I included a prediction of the temperature, humidity, and pollen count for TAKS day. I mean, I feel like I would be just as accurate with those items as I will be with the test scores.
And we have to have the predictions in by THIS Friday. Well, I guess if Jack Bauer can save the FREAKIN' world in 24 hours, I can crank out a WAG in a few days.
Monday, January 22, 2007
After some confusion (on my part, at least) about dates and windows and such, I see that they have finally put up some definitive parameters for this year's Best of Blogs Awards.
This will be my first time to vote, as I was just getting started around a year ago (it will be one year next Wednesday). But I do have a good idea of who I'm going to vote for, and I know who I can recommend to anyone reading this.
Education in Texas is one of the very first blogs I started reading regularly. Mike, who writes the blog, writes with a good sense of humor, superlative grammar, and outstanding punctuation. Also, he usually has something informative to say. So my vote goes to him, and I would recommend that everyone check out his stuff.
I'm not really sure how many votes you get, but I'd like to also give a shout out to two other blogs that I greatly enjoy. Even though we did not all start at exactly the same time, I sort of feel like Happychyck, La Chucheria, and I worked our way into the "edusphere" together. So I hold them up as paragons as well.
Looks like February 2 is when the nominations begin. If you're able to, be sure to vote!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Well, I have resisted it as long as possible, but it's finally time to face up to the fact that I have been "tagged," repeatedly, and that I am going to have to complete this meme challenge.
Redkudu was the first to tag me, so she gets the credit, but more recently, I've been hit by Ms. Cornelius and Mike in Texas as well. Normally, I am very resistant to forwarding things just for the sake of forwarding them. In fact, I will automatically delete any e-mail that ends with "If you love Jesus, send this to 10 of your closest friends." Excuse me, I really don't think that the good Lord and Savior is going to banish me just because I didn't forward a dumb little poem within 5 minutes of receiving it.
But this meme seems pretty harmless, so I'll go along with it. Let's just not make a habit of it...
So here we go, 5 things about me that you probably didn't know, unless you've been stalking me, in which case I should add number 6: I have a stalker.
1) I was born just outside of Washington, DC during a very rare and strange weather phenomenon. It was a combination snow/lightning storm. That same night (quite possibly at the exact moment of my birth, but more probably a few hours later), my great-grandmother's television set was struck by lightning.
2) I grew up playing all-text no graphics adventure games on the computer. I still have a very fond spot in my heart for the likes of Zork, Planetfall, Infidel, and the like. "You are standing in a clearing, west of a white house. There is a mailbox here."
3) I tried out for the Duke basketball team my freshman year of college. I knew I didn't stand a chance of making it, but I had the opportunity to play on the court in Cameron Indoor Stadium in front of Coach K and several of the players, so I had to grab it. I got a T-shirt for my efforts. The team wound up winning the national championship that year. Was any part of the success due to my inspiring performance? Who can say?
4) I have six godchildren. Five of them are girls, one is a boy. One of them even lives in Japan.
5) I am having a lot of success calling Borders bookstores around the country and asking them if they will stock my book, Learn Me Good. So far, my novel is on the shelves in Texas, California, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Ask for it in your local Borders!
Okay, now is the part when I have to put the burden on someone else. So I think I'll go with a couple of new bloggers that I've read. The following people have been put on notice (and if you're NOT one of these people, follow the links and check out their sites!):
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Earlier this week, I read a blurb in the paper about a local teacher who won a contest to trade places for a day with Jason Thompson of General Hospital. So that inspired me to formulate a new entry in the "If teachers were like..." pantheon. My first thought was that a teacher would feel more at home on the set of All My Children or The Young and the Restless. But here are some other things that I believe would be true if teachers were like... soap stars:
1) Every time we told a child, "If you don't study, you will fail," there would be a sudden crescendo of dramatic music, accompanied by a close-up of the facial expression termed by Joey from Friends as "smelling the fart."
2) We would never get any teaching done because we'd be too worried about aliens abducting our illegal immigrant lovers, who may or may not have set fire to their illegitimate half-siblings in order to inherit all of the family's money.
3) We'd talk less about commas, and more about comas.
4) One of our colleagues could disappear for months, only to be replaced by someone 7 inches shorter, 20 pounds heavier, with different colored eyes and a mustache. Yet everyone would accept that this brand-new person was really our old colleague, and nothing would ever be said about it.
Any other ideas?
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Hello, my name is Mister Teacher, and I work for the Yo-Yo Independent School District.
This morning, we had what is known around the world as "freak weather." Sure, up north, freezing rain and a quarter inch layer of ice may not be considered freaky, but down here in Texas, the only thing freakier is Matthew McConaughey's bongo-playing habits.
So I wake up around a quarter till 6 this morning, and the radio dudes are talking about how bad the roads are and how a lot of schools are closing. So I did what I do every morning at 5:45 -- I hit the snooze button. Ditto for nine minutes later. However, a little after 6, I got out of bed and wandered into the living room to watch the TV. Apparently it was snowing, if the television reporters and their immediate surroundings were painting an honest picture. All four of the major stations had crawls on the bottom of the screen, listing all of the schools that were closing and/or opening late. One district was conspicuously absent. You guessed it, Dallas ISD.
Now the policy has always been that school closings are announced on TV by 6:05AM. I sat there and watched the crawl on all four stations to be sure, and Dallas ISD was not listed on any of them.
So I reluctantly began the process of showering, getting dressed, getting in gear, and getting out of the house. As soon as I pulled out of the garage, I felt like I was being salted from above. Small pieces of freezing rain had left a layer of frost on the ground, with more being added every moment.
To make a long story short, my journey to the school took nearly twice the time that it normally takes, but I did arrive in one piece. Out in the parking lot, I encountered two of my fellow teachers engaged in conversation. One of them, like me, was just arriving; the other, was leaving. She told us that school had been canceled after all, and that we could go home.
Sweet -- just what I wanted to do. Get right back out onto the road.
But then, another teacher stuck her head out the door and announced that school had once again been declared open. I couldn't help but get a mental image of one of those plastic bobbing bird toys. Head goes down, school is closed. Head goes up, school is open.
As indecision goes, this seemed to be pretty major. However, it didn't hold a candle to what was going on with the kids. Come to find out later, the buses did in fact leave the "bus barn" at their normal appointed time to pick up the kids. Midway through their route, though, they were told that school had been closed and recalled back to where they had started. THAT'S why I didn't see a single bus pass by during my morning crosswalk duty today. When I got back inside at 7:45 and mentioned that to the principal, she told me that the buses had just been sent back out to pick the kids up.
Now think about this for a second. If YOUR kids were out there waiting on the school bus at the normal time, and it was snowing, and it was 27°F, and maybe you had to use the bathroom pretty bad, and the bus never came -- would you really stand around for more than an hour on the off chance that the bus might be coming late? Well, neither did most of our parents and kids.
By nine o'clock, Mrs. Educator and I had a combined total of 10 kids. Most of them had been dropped off by their parents, though one, maybe two of them came on the late bus.
So as far as that was concerned, it was a nice day. We put all 10 in my room for the first 2 1/2 hours, and the kids and I talked about weather and the difficulty that goes into making accurate forecasts. Then after lunch, Mrs. Educator tagged in and did some reading activities with them while I got a nice new bulletin board completed.
I just hope that we don't have to go through exactly the same thing tomorrow morning, here in the Yo-Yo ISD. Because if we expect our kids to learn from their mistakes, I certainly hope that our adults can as well.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
I have a child in my class whose name is NOT Simon, but for the purposes of this posting, will be referred to as Simon. I'm calling him Simon because every day, if I want him to do anything, I have to actually address him by name. If I don't, it's like he doesn't even hear me.
If I say to the class, "Boys and girls, please take out your science books," then everyone in the class will take out their science books, EXCEPT for Simon. He'll just sit there at his desk, totally oblivious to the actions going on around him. However, if I say, "Simon, please take out your science book," THEN he'll do as he's asked. And he's very consistent about this. It's not a once or twice occurrence.
So I've started making requests in the following manner:
"Simon, and everyone else, please take out your science books."
"Simon, and everyone else, please stop writing and take out something to grade with."
"Be sure to bring your jackets, Simon (and everyone else)."
Simon Says: clean your ears out!!
Sunday, January 14, 2007
A local pizza chain (actually, turns out there are 59 stores around the country) called Pizza Patron has been making news here in Dallas because of a recent decision to accept pesos along with US dollars.
A lot of the community is up in arms because they feel this is completely un-American. Others are taking the stance that it's good business practice and fully acceptable. Personally, I'm just not sure why they stopped at pesos. I mean, I understand that the stores are predominantly located in Hispanic neighborhoods, but they are serving Italian cuisine. So shouldn't they be excepting lira as well?
One large pepperoni pizza: $7.99; 2,000 pesos; 563,229 lira
I just hope that other pizza chains will follow suit and accept other forms of currency. I would love it if Mr. Jim's would start taking Putt Putt tokens or old Slurpie action coins. I must have about a million Don Quisenberrys lying around here somewhere...
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Hey, over the past few days, I've noticed some people surfing on into this site from some new places. So I'd like to give a shout out to those people, and even more so, to the people who directed them here!
Over at Teacher Magazine's Blogboard, an author posted a short recap of my teacher/hoopster comparison. Now if I could just get them to review my book at their magazine...
And over at a discussion board called The Awful Forums, some dude called Man Eating Cow referenced my site. Seemingly positively, I would say. I was worried at first, given the name of the forums and all. But for the pointer in my direction, I raise my glass to you, Cow.
And while I'm thanking people, I don't know who these people are, but I would like to thank a certain "Dallasbap" who gave my book a nice review on Amazon.com AND ditto for "pediatric nurse" who had nice things to say about Learn Me Good over on barnesandnoble.com.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I've been working on multiplication and division word problems with my students, and I've noticed a striking similarity between some of their answer choices and a famous story from the New Testament.
Just imagine if this was a math problem, posed to the young gospel writers:
Jesus has 5 loaves of bread. He wants to split the bread equally among 1000 people who are hungry. How many loaves of bread will each person receive?
Now, if MML&J tackled this problem the way many of MY students would, they would multiply 5 times 1000 and get 5000.
Each person will receive 5000 loaves of bread.
No wonder everyone ate to their fill and there was a multitude still left over!
In the case of the Gospel story, this is referred to as a miracle, and I happen to believe in its veracity. Not so much with my kids.
On the test I gave today, one question was, "Mrs. M. had 30 pieces of candy. She wants to give the same amount of candy to 10 students. How many pieces of candy will each student get?”
Every time I saw an answer of 300 (or even 30, from my just plain confused kids), I kept wanting to ask, "So you think this is a loaves and fishes situation?"
Oh well, at least I know what I'll be concentrating even harder on next week.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Today, I thought I’d take a look at another profession and compare it to the one that I'm in currently. So many occupations out there to choose from, but I figured I'd start with something really glamorous, like a professional basketball player. So, in no particular order, here are a few observations of what I believe life would be like if teachers were treated like NBA stars.
1) Lets start with the obvious, the one difference so huge, everyone would automatically start there -- if teachers were like NBA stars, we would get to wear shorts and tank tops on the job all the time!!
2) If teaching was like playing in the NBA, then I could hurt my hand on the very first day of school, stay at home injured for the rest of the school year, and still collect my entire yearly salary.
3) If we ever tried to place our hands around our principal's neck and choke him or her, then we would most likely be traded to another school with a higher salary, and the principal would be fired. (The Latrell Spreewell Corollary)
4) If we slipped and fell down on the job, someone would immediately rush out to wipe up our sweat, instead of just pointing and laughing.
5) Just like with the basketball equipment controversy (leather vs. synthetic), we would be subject to random and seemingly whimsical changes to equipment and materials from year to year, and these changes would be made and approved by our supervisors, with absolutely no consultation for our own opinions. Wait, that pretty much already happens with teachers.
Feel free to add your own!
Monday, January 08, 2007
This is a picture of one moment during the Duke-Virginia Tech game from Saturday afternoon. Deron Washington, of VT completely hurdles Greg Paulus, number 3, of the Blue Devils. Mind you, Paulus is 6'1", so it's not exactly like jumping over the old bike rack.
The next time I get really frustrated at my kids, and down in the dumps, I'll be able to think to myself, "Hey, at least no one has ever jumped completely over my head and forced me to come face to crotch."
Sunday, January 07, 2007
On Friday, I heard yet another example of one of those "kids say the strangest things" quotations. This one came to me from my fellow third-grade math teacher, let's call her "Mrs. Math."
Mrs. Math was having a discussion with her kids about the traits of mammals. More specifically, how mammals get food by drinking milk from their mother's body's. This is an awkward enough topic to discuss with a group of eight year olds, but even more so when they start asking where the milk comes from. Mrs. Math improvised quite well and told the kids that maybe the mother ate some fruit, and then the fruit turned into milk in her body.
Somehow or another, that started one of her students down a very bizarre path of thinking. After a few moments of heavy pondering, he raised his hand and announced, "Mrs. Math! You should eat Mister Teacher, and then you'll get big and strong!"
When she told me this, I told her she should have quoted Johnny Depp from Willy Wonka and said, "No, children, that's called cannibalism, and that's wrong."
Saturday, January 06, 2007
This is what it said:
K has a functional voiding disturbance which has strained the bladder so that
she has trouble with wetness, holding urine. Please allow the child to go
to the bathroom when she feels the need and encourage her to stay as long as
it takes her to completely empty her bladder. Your cooperation with this is
A "functional voiding disturbance??!!?" What on earth is that? It sounds like one of those dire side effects that are always listed with prescription medication. Possible side effects of Drugzinol include cotton mouth, snow blindness, explosive flatulence, and functional voiding disturbance.
And we are asked to encourage her to stay as long as it takes her to completely empty her bladder. I guess whenever she is using the bathroom, I should stand outside of the door with pom-poms, cheering, "Push it out, push it out, WAAAAAY out!"
Truly, I don't begrudge someone an actual medical issue. But K is the kind of girl who would and probably will take advantage of this. She was in Mrs. Educator's room when the note was delivered, and coincidentally enough, she needed to use the bathroom as soon as her mother had left. This was around 8:20. Yesterday, when she raised her hand to ask me at around 2:00, she got up and slowly walked past the other kids, grinning and smirking at them like she was on her way to accept the crown for prom queen.
There's already another girl in my afternoon class that presented a similar doctor's note at the beginning of the year. So each afternoon, it's a contest to see which of them will ask first. Not which one will ask -- which one will ask FIRST. Yesterday, after both of them had gone and returned, a boy told me that he needed to go. So of course I had to ask, "Do you have a doctor's note?"
Thursday, January 04, 2007
I had a fantastic surprise visitor today. One of my favorite students from my very first year of teaching (actually, one of my all-time favorites) stopped by my classroom around 2:00 today. She's in the seventh grade (she skipped a grade) in a nearby district, and they don't go back to school until next week.
I was right in the middle of working a word problem with the kids when she came in, so I told the kids that we had a guest teacher, and I let her take over for me. My kids from this year seemed absolutely flabbergasted that standing before them was an actual, real life example of someone who had been in my class years ago. They were practically falling over themselves trying to get her to call on them as she went through the steps of the problem.
And then when she was done, she informed me, "I don't really like math."
Nevertheless, it was really cool to see her again and to know that she's doing well. Makes me think there's hope for some of these kids after all.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Before we left for break, several of the kids had given me little gifts. I got some decorative candy containers, a candle or two, a tranquility fountain, and a couple of other items. So today, I handed out thank you cards to those kids who had begifted me. As a stocking stuffer, my mom had given me a set of Justice League thank you notes. Superman, Batman, the Flash, et al. graced the front side, and my heartfelt appreciation graced the inside.
Reactions were mixed. One boy seemed actually embarrassed to be receiving a superhero card from his teacher, while another exclaimed, "I'm too old for Batman!" To which, of course, I replied, "Well I'm not!"
Clearly, I am going to have to go in tomorrow wearing my Batman tie, my green power ring, and maybe even a red cape for good measure. But not my Incredible Hulk underoos. They're in the wash.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Hey everyone, I hope that you all had a wonderful new year, and you're refreshed and ready to grab 2007 by the horns.
Looking back, I had a pretty good 2006. I published a book, I started a blog, I won my fantasy football Super Bowl, I went to my 10 year college reunion, I almost made it into the World Series of Pop Culture, I won a few hands of poker, I watched lots of TV, and I discovered a love for the cranberry.
In the hopes that 2007 provides just as many fantastic experiences, I have decided to make a few resolutions. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Continue to teach our society's youth the basics and complexities of mathematics -- after all, they are our future.
2) Establish a space base on faraway Pluto. It might not be recognized as a planet anymore, but it still has strategic locational value.
3) Learn a new language. I'm waffling between Mayan and Coptic.
4) Maintain a healthy ratio in my diet between broccoli and pasta. I'm thinking 1:158 sounds about right.
5) Shake hands with James Brown.
6) Create a video for YouTube that will make me a millionaire.
7) Display compassion and patience with the students placed in my care. I'll have to stop snapping them with rubber bands.
8) Discover secret of turning lead into gold. Failing that, discovering secret of turning paper into ketchup would be just as acceptable.
9) Watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended editions) back-to-back. Twice.
10) Host a Carnival of Education here on Learn Me Good. It might be awhile before I'm THAT brave, though.
If you have any resolutions that you'd like to share, as always, I welcome comments.
For his nom de blog, he has adopted the moniker Ed.U.Cater -- a name worthy of being an e-mail sign off in Learn Me Good (Lulu, $11.99). So if you get a chance, click on over to his blog and do the Internet equivalent of toilet papering his front lawn. Leave a silly comment.