Thursday, August 30, 2007
But at any rate, I find my patience being greatly tested. I thought that the first week or two of school is supposed to be the "honeymoon period," but if what I have seen so far is GOOD behavior, then I'm very worried about what the future holds.
I have 21 kids in my morning class, and 18 and my afternoon class. A rather large number of these kids can be classified as "challenges." And the majority of them don't seem to be anywhere near the point of shaking off the summer stupor. The math work that we have done so far this week hasn't been difficult in the least, yet I've had to cajole even the simplest responses out of most of these kids.
For instance, when we tackled our first word problem on Tuesday, we read the problem together as a class, and then I asked, "Who can raise their hand and tell me one of the important numbers and units we see in this problem?"
Three hands were slowly raised, while everyone else blinked in confusion as if a flash-bang grenade had been thrown into the room. Actually, I take that back. There were only a few looks of confusion. There were a lot more kids who were just dully staring at me with a look in their eyes that clearly said, "Just call on someone who's raising their hand, and leave the rest of us alone."
I'm talking no effort whatsoever here. To a question that basically amounts to, "Say the number that you see printed before you." I couldn't help but think about the old Saturday Night Live Celebrity Jeopardy skit where the fake Alex Trebek would throw up his hands in desperation and shout, "Just say any number, it doesn't matter what it is!"
It's incredibly frustrating. And I go to school every day wanting to be the fun, inspirational teacher who gets the kids excited about math and who always has a fun, hands-on activity planned. Along the lines of a Ms. Frizzle. But then I get bogged down in the enforcement of the rules. When I have to literally repeat everything that I say 3 to 7 times because everyone is not listening, and as soon as I break eye contact with one kid, they tune out. When it takes us 45 minutes to read one page out of the science book, because nearly every time I call on someone to read, they don't know where we are because they weren't following along in their book. When I state, for the fifth time in under 10 minutes, "I need you all to read along with your eyes in the book while someone is reading out loud. I don't want to see anyone looking around the room, playing with their pencils, or looking at me while someone else is reading" -- yet as soon as the reader begins again, there are no less than four children staring into space.
Man, this has just turned into a complaining rant. I think that I'm an effective teacher, but I'm not a great classroom manager. Maybe if I taught somewhere where I had a class of kids who actually followed the rules, with only one or two behavior problems, where I could spend most of my time actually teaching, I would feel more confident in my abilities. But sometimes I just feel like I'm slogging through quicksand, wearing concrete boots.
One concrete example of the lack of problem-solving capacity that I am already facing this year, and then I'm out of here. One of the girls in my afternoon class came into my room bawling yesterday. I escorted her out into the hallway and away from the class to give her some room and some time to compose herself while the rest of the class got settled in and started on the bell ringer activity. Then I went back out to talk with her about what was going on.
She told me that she was crying because she had gotten in trouble for talking in the hall. I asked her, quite rationally I thought, what she could maybe do to prevent that from happening again. She stared at me, dumbfounded. I prompted her, "Do you have any ideas?" She just gave me that minuscule shoulder shrug that seems to speak volumes. "You got in trouble for talking in the hallway, right?" I asked her. When she nodded, I continued, "So what do you think you should do so that you DON'T get into trouble again?"
Nothing. She had absolutely no answer for me. And it's not like she was being sullen and refusing to speak. She really and truly didn't have any clue on how she could avoid getting into trouble for talking in the hall.
The really sad thing is, this girl seems like she is one of the brighter kids in my class…
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
And not only that, but directly in front of the Carnival is Matthew's outstanding review of my book, Learn Me Good!! Sure, I've linked to his page, but I don't think he'll mind too much if I just outright snatch the words from his page and copy them here...
Published by Matthew August 29th, 2007
Learn Me Good, John Pearson
211 pages, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-1-4116-6589-7
Jack Woodson isn’t your typical elementary school teacher. First, he’s a man; second, he’s not an idealist fresh out of college; and third, he “has forty children, and all of them have different mothers.”
But that’s education blogger John Pearson’s identity in Learn Me Good, an irreverent, anecdotal look at life as a first-year elementary teacher.
Jack Woodson was the unfortunate victim of job cuts at Heat Pumps Unlimited. Faced with finding a new job that made use of his engineering credentials, Woodson decides to take a hard right turn into the world of third grade mathematics. What he discovered, endured and laughed about during that first year in the trenches is the basis for Learn Me Good.
Woodson would want you to know that in those trenches he’s a Lieutenant commanding a platoon of rag-tag 8 and 9 year olds, all of whom are armed to the teeth with four-function math skills. Oh, and he’s got the weirdest case of trenchfoot anyone has ever seen. Who knew that graham cracker crumb residue could manifest itself into an infection? At least it’s a sweet-smelling infection…
Such is the style and tone of Woodson’s e-mails to former colleague Fred Bommerson, greeted throughout the book as F-Bomm, Fredster, and Big Poppa Heat Pump, to name a few. In e-mail after e-mail, Woodson describes classroom scenarios that cause him to shake his head, drop his jaw, laugh out loud and everything in between.
The supporting cast of characters in Learn Me Good give Woodson plenty of opportunity to reflect on the quirks of teaching in an elementary school. There are adult oddballs like the district employee who checks Woodson’s students for vision problems - but not before selling the third-graders on the coolness of glasses by proclaiming, “I think glasses are SEXY!” Though Woodson takes the surprise in stride, he can’t help but tell Fred that it was awkward and nothing short of “airing a commercial for Bacardi rum in the middle of an episode of Sesame Street.”
But Woodson doesn’t just pluck the low-hanging comical fruits. He humanizes – or is it humorizes? – students like Esteban, an energetic kid who enthusiastically yells answer after answer without stopping to think whether they’re right [he also has a penchant for filling in test bubbles randomly]. And even the terrors such as the “clinically insane” Chandra, whom Woodson affectionately nicknames “Lucifer,” are regarded no worse than “bad data points” when they clearly have earned the status of a public school urban legend.
It’s not all humor and pop culture references, though. Pearson exposes his energy, command of pedagogy, and curriculum on nearly every page. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. His blood pressure is largely stable. He isn’t political, doesn’t wail out diatribes on No Child Left Behind and isn’t out to reform the American education system.
Woodson wants to understand the quiet ones, the Spanish speakers and the hyperactive-but-harmless. He just wants to teach and love his kids the best he can and he’s going to do it with a smile.
Purists of the written word may lament the e-mail structure of the book. Pearson avoids a novel-like progression and goes with a unique schema that, while fresh and surprisingly effective, lends itself to reading in short bursts instead of chapter sessions. A particular omission in that structure is the lack of replies from Fred Bommerson; though the character of Woodson sums up Fred’s reactions in the beginning of his e-mails, a few notes directly from Fred might break up the series of familiar blueprints.
Learn Me Good has a place on shelves in all levels of the edusphere from the boiler room to the penthouse in the Ivory Tower. Policy wonks will find that it cures frequent heartburn related to frustration, albeit temporarily; parents will be refreshed as they read candid reactions from a teacher who they’d want to befriend in real life; teachers with this book on their desk will find that its good-natured but relevant anecdotes will invigorate even the most atrophied smiling muscles.
But there’s a caveat to those teachers: be prepared for the longing you’ll feel en route to the teacher’s lounge when you think, “Why can’t I have a Jack Woodson at my school?”
John Pearson’s Learn Me Good is available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1411665899?ie=UTF8&tag=matthtaborbri-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1411665899
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Don't you just hate getting those incredibly obvious spam e-mails, where the senders thought it would be a good idea to replace certain letters with comic strip profanity symbols? Not that that is in any way a dead giveaway, as I am just constantly receiving e-mails from my close personal friends regarding insider stock tips, adult dating sites, and techniques for increasing the size of certain body parts.
But I found it rather ironic to receive an e-mail through my school account with the subject "DISD Alert - Malicious Email Alert" and this body:
Malicious Email Alert
Be advised that an email is traversing the internet with a subject line of:
"Please Update your Firewall as soon as possible"
Do not open this email, delete it immediately because it attempts to get users to click on the link contained in the email to install malicious software on your computer. Always exercise caution when you receive emails from unknown sources that want you to take some type of action like clicking on a link to install software or visiting a website to provide your personal information.
OK, thanks! I'll be sure to immediately delete any e-mail I get with the subject "Please Update your Firewall as soon as possible." But since I haven't received any warnings other than this one, I guess I'm supposed to just tear open the messages that I've received in the past few weeks that say "xol," "4637124," "Dude your gonna get caught, lol," "a Digital card from someone who cares," "Read this before Market open," "Most popular watches at the lowest price," and "win her over with your big d!ck, guy!"
Where are all of the warnings for those?? And where is the spam blocker or the censor? I get more junk mail through my school account than I do through my Yahoo account! It's starting to make me really want to k!ck some @$$!!!
Monday, August 27, 2007
Maybe there are a lot of teachers out there who still have energy after this, the first day of school, is complete. But I am certainly not one of them.
Thus, this will be a very short blog post.
I am BEAT! I think it was some combination of -- getting to the school before 7 (yet still finding it full of students and parents), not getting any breaks all day long, lunch being rescheduled, kids falling asleep in class (who knew I was THAT boring?), and kids not staying in the proper lines for dismissal. Oh, and also the back pain caused by two bulging discs. Can't forget about that.
But at any rate, I am WHIPPED!!!
I hope that everyone's first day was a good one!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
School starts for us this Monday, August 27, so I thought it might be a good idea to compose a generic Welcome letter to send home.
Dear parents/guardians/cousin Larry,
Welcome to the beginning of another super fantastic year! We are very excited to have your son/daughter/spawn in our class this year! We are looking forward to a year full of learning, growth, and development -- and hopefully NOT full of termites like last year. Whoops!
As a third grader, your child will be taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) for the first time. Except for Pietro, who's an old hand at the state standardized test. Here's hoping the 10th time's a charm, Pietro! But for most of the rest of your kids, they will learn firsthand this year about subjective exams and arbitrary passing rates!
It's going to be a challenging year for all of us, so we appreciate all your help. Here are a few friendly reminders to help us all get through the year:
- When you drop your kids off in the morning, be sure to actually stop the car before they get out
- Remember that school starts promptly at 8:00, and your child should be in his/her seat, ready to work when the bell rings. Please do NOT set your alarm clock for 7:55 and expect to get here in time for your child to have breakfast.
- Students are to come to school every day with at least one sharpened pencil. If you can afford a PS3 and WWE Pay-Per-Views every other weekend, I'm sure you can afford a couple of lousy pencils.
- Homework is to be done tonight it is assigned -- BY THE CHILDREN! We know that you mean well, but you're really not helping if you don't know your long division from your lines of symmetry. (You know who you are)
- Let's agree that a 2-pound bag of Hot Cheetos and a liter of Dr Pepper does not constitute a healthy lunch.
- Dogfighting, convenience store robbery, and "making it rain" will not be tolerated. In other words, don't let your child emulate a professional football player.
- Please make sure your son or daughter uses the restroom before they leave your home, and do not send them with a 2-gallon bottle of water. Once they are in the classroom, to paraphrase the current California Governator in Kindergarten Cop -- THERE IS NO BATHROOM!!
Let's make this a great year! Only you can prevent forest fires! They'll never take our freedom! Remember the Alamo! (Insert your own encouraging catchphrase here)!!
See you on Monday!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Well, we're halfway done with our week of in-service before school starts on the 27th. These first three days have been full of meetings, discussions, and seminars. Some have been good, some have been bad, some have been VERY good.
Today, one of the meetings involved signing up for before-school duty. I have been wanting to reclaim my crosswalk spot, because I really enjoyed it last year, and I absolutely HATED my experience the year before which was in the gym, supervising ALL of the 1st through 4th graders.
So in our meeting today, the administrator pointed out the sign-up sheet and described what morning duty entailed. She then turned specifically to look at me and said, "And it would be REALLY wonderful if you would consider taking your spot again out front, because nobody ever wants to do that and it's a really hard spot to fill."
So of course, I let out a deep, world-weary sigh and muttered, "Fine. If I HAVE to. Whatever."
No, I'm kidding. I was happy to volunteer for the spot once again. And then I volunteered Anonymous Joe to be my partner. I might have spoken out of turn there, so I'm sorry if you hadn't really wanted to volunteer, AJ.
So once again, starting this Monday, Anonymous Joe and I will be the first line of defense for our quaint little elementary school. Oh wait, I think they actually refer to us as first line of GREETING.
Hopefully, this year, more of the kids will actually be able to see me, as last year it often seemed that I was invisible. Kids would hop out of their cars, and I would say "Good Morning" to them. They would then run right past me and yell "Good Morning, Anonymous Joe!"
Granted, he IS the beloved art teacher who has been at the school for 87 years. And I'm just a hulking, scary guy in the storm trooper outfit. But still, it's always nice to be acknowledged.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Yesterday, my girlfriend and I went with my brother, my sister-in-law, and their two kids to the Fort Worth Museum of Science. They have a touring Star Wars exhibit that will only be there for a couple more weeks, so we wanted to be sure we got in to see it.
It was really pretty cool. They had a lot of props and models on display, including Darth Vader's armor, a handful of wookiees, and lots of droids. Not just R2-D2 or C-3PO, mind you. 2-1B was there, as was FX-7, so we're talking a geek's paradise here.
It was a lot of fun to go with my nephew, who's not quite three. He kept shouting for me to look at various things, and grabbing my hand to lead me over to other areas to show me stuff. Very entertaining, and a nice activity to get done before school started back up.
I even had a picture taken!
May the Force be with you as you begin this new school year!
Sunday, August 19, 2007
A week of in-service begins for us tomorrow, but I made my own triumphant return to the school last Thursday. I helped with preregistration (mostly enrolling bilingual kindergarten students) on Thursday and Friday. Friday especially was a stringent test of my limited Spanish -- Yo soy un maestro, por favor, ok? Bueno, gracias!
When enrollment was done for the day, I was able to spend some time in my classroom. The very first thing that I noticed upon walking through the door was the plant sitting on my window ledge.
The fact that there was a plant there did not surprise me. The fact that the plant was ALIVE surprised me very much.
This was an Easter lily that I brought into my classroom at the beginning of the last school year. I took it from my grandmother's funeral, which had been the Friday before classes started. I'm really not a plant person. My thumb is anything but green. But I decided to take on the challenge, and I figured it would be nice to have something live in my classroom besides me and the kids.
For the most part, I was successful. A few leaves turned brown, the potting soil got a little dry at times, and we won't even talk about Christmas break.
But at the end of the school year, I kind of forgot about the plant, and just left it in my classroom. That was May 25. So to walk back in nearly 3 full months later and find it not only alive, but thriving, was quite a surprise.
Turns out that the custodians have been watering it and making sure it gets sunlight. How cool is that?
Very cool, in my book.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Thanks to everyone who has posted a bit of information on my "Sound Off" blog. If you don't know what I'm talking about, scroll down one entry and leave a message!
A few days ago, I posted an idea about Place Ball. I posted that idea on a Texas teachers chat board, and today I got some feedback from someone who gave it a try at her school! Here's her testimony as to how the activity went:
We got to try it for about 10 minutes. We went outside to the sidewalk. We used sidewalk chalk and wrote a place value in each of 5 squares. We didn't do 100,000 place. Then I had the students run by each section and say the place value. They loved it. They ran around in circles about 5 times. I got dizzy watching so we moved on. I put a child in each place value, told them their secret number, then they yelled out their secret number. We started with the ones and worked our way up building the value one place at a time. For example:
ones: "I am 5".
tens: "I am 30"
hundreds: "I am 400"
thousands: "I am 6,000"
hundreds: "I am 400"
ten thousands: "I am 90"
thousands: "I am 6,000"
hundreds: "I am 400"
The other students said the numbers with them.
Then I put five other students in, threw the ball to them. Gave them a number and they had to say it with the proper place value for where they were.
I couldn't remember your directions exactly, but this is basically what I remember. We will play it again next week, we would do it tomorrow, but it will probably be raining since we are on tropical storm alert.
The students loved it.
Definitely a do.
Much thanks to kd in TX!!
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It's time for another roll call, sound off, guestbook, lurker alert--whatever you want to call it. It's quite simple really, I just want to know who my visitors are!
So all you have to do is leave a comment on this post, and let me know who you are, where you're from, and a little bit about yourself. That can be how you happened upon my blog, what you teach (or what you do, if not teaching), or why exactly, you were born with no belly button.
Hoping to get a lot of response to this one!
Also, just as a reminder, there's still time to vote for me (and others like Education in Texas and A Shrewdness of Apes) at the Blogger's Choice Awards! And the YouTube Challenge is still up and running. So far, only 7 or 8 people are in the running to win those T-shirts! Oh, and the deadline has been extended to October 15, to let the school year get underway a bit.
A few nights ago, as I was trying to fall asleep, I was also trying to think of some ways to get my kids involved in this year in learning basic concepts. I had just read a small article about exercise in the classroom, so I thought maybe incorporating the two might yield some good results.
What my fevered brain conjured up was a new game called Place Ball. Now I use the term "new game" very loosely, as it may very well have been thought of before by greater minds than mine. But it's new to me at the very least.
This is just an idea -- I've never actually put it into play, but I think it might be fun to try this year. We usually cover place value early -- like in the second or third week of school. Place value is something that they should have learned in second, or even first grade, but for some reason, the kids at my school tend to reformat their brains every summer (sometimes they do this over Christmas break, spring break, and weekends as well). So while the concept may remain vaguely familiar, it's still something that many of them struggle with.
So I have two iterations of Place Ball. The first, which could be played indoors or outdoors, is to aid with rote memorization of the place value names and the order they come in. It basically amounts to "running the bases," OR in this new game -- "running the places."
I have my students' desks arranged into five "tables," with each table consisting of four or five individual desks. My overhead machine sits in the center of these tables. I will move this overhead machine over to a position of safety like against the wall or back in a corner, but leave a single desk in the center of the room. Then the five tables and this additional desk will be the six places/bases.
In Texas, third-graders are responsible for learning their numbers up through 999,999 -- so the bases would represent Ones, Tens, Hundreds, Thousands, Ten Thousands, Hundred Thousands. The kids will stand in a line along the side of the room and take turns running the places, calling out the name of each as they tap it with their hand.
I would expect this to be a pretty fun and exciting activity for them, so every time someone has successfully rounded the places, there will be lots of cheering, and any time someone makes a mistake (ie, Ones, Tens, Thousands, Hundreds), I don't think they'll get too down on themselves since they'll be getting plenty of opportunities.
The second iteration is more application. This could be played on a very small scale indoors, but would work much better outdoors. Six kids spread out in a line facing the teacher. Each of these kids represents a place value. The teacher will throw a ball to one of the kids and call out a number. This could be tossing a tennis ball from 5 feet away or throwing a football from 20 feet away. If the teacher calls out THREE and throws the ball to the person in the Hundreds Place, that child is then responsible for remembering that 300 is part of the overall number. The teacher would then throw the ball to another place value and call out another number. At some point, the teacher calls out, "What is your number?" At which point, the kids group together and fit the pieces of their puzzle together to form an overall numeral.
In a large outdoor space, the teacher could be the central point, throwing to multiple lines of children, so it would not be limited to only six kids at a time.
Anyway, that's my idea, and I think it will be very interesting to see how it actually works in practice. I would love to hear feedback on this idea, from anyone who has done something similar, or just from anyone who has thoughts about Place Ball.
At the very least, I expect it to be fun, enlightening, and free of steroid accusations...
Friday, August 10, 2007
I am always amused by seeing some of the things that pop up as search terms that lead people to my blog. My stat counter program does a keyword analysis, so I can see what people are typing into Google, Yahoo, Ask, etc.
I can see why people would be looking for things like "teacherinsight review" or "multiplications 4 me." And I've come to accept the fact that I will always have at least 10 hits out of every hundred by weirdos looking for perverted phrases based upon my bathroom post from last year.
But here are the few of the funnier or more unusual search terms that I've seen this week.
"why do I get unknown calls"
"don't touch me the book"
"db velveeta comic book artist"
"how to call an unknown caller"
"shooting a bird wit your middle finger"
"what are wookiees good for"
"back cracked bear hug"
"origin of picante"
"touch me shirts"
"drinks for itbs"
"who teaches classes at the Xavier school for gifted youngsters?"
I think that last one is my favorite, though I certainly do like to see a healthy interest for the wookiee community. And anytime you can mix drinks with the ITBS, it's OK in my book.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
For anyone who does not live in the Dallas area, the local school district of Lancaster, TX (Tornado free since '93!) has proposed a new budget including a 4-day school week. The proposal has since been turned down.
At first, I wondered what that superintendent was smoking. (Possibly cheese?) But then, when I found out that it was in an effort to save the district money, I thought that this was a novel plan that just wasn't being taken far enough.
The proposal was to hold classes Monday through Thursday and give everyone Fridays off. Elementary students would be at school from 7:45 until 4:25. High schoolers would go from 8:30 until 5:30. Long hours, you say? Or, like me, are you saying not long enough!
Here's my proposal. How about a ONE-day school week. We start at noon on Monday and go straight through until noon on Tuesday. Twenty-four pure, continuous, unadulterated hours of academic rigor. AND THEN SIX DAYS OFF!!!
Just think about how much learning you could pack into that day! And think of the savings for the school district!
- You'd only have to pay for buses twice a week instead of ten times a week!
- You'd only have to provide one lunch, one dinner, and one breakfast per week (though I recommend adding a small midnight snack to the cafeteria menu)!
- Air-conditioning costs could be cut, electricity bills could be slashed, water bills could be mutilated and spindled!
Listen, I used to be an engineer, and I took some electronics classes in college. So I know a little bit about electricity usage. And the fact is, every time you flip a light switch ON, you use more electricity than a light that has been on for a solid hour. By flipping all of a campus' light on every morning and off every evening, school districts are blowing through hundreds of thousands of dollars! With a one-day school week, those light switches would only be flipped on once per week. Think of the savings!!
On a similar note, Tuesday afternoon through Monday morning would hardly see any water usage in the buildings at all. There would be no children clamoring at the water fountain or repeatedly flushing the toilets -- quite literally flushing millions of dollars right down the drain.
Administrators could already be thinking of ways to spend all of that saved money. Giving it under the table to contractors that they are related to... Spending it on brand new acronyms for the next round of standardized tests... Or just plain across-the-board raises for the Board of Trustees.
And think of the joy on every student's face when they recover on Wednesday evening and realize they still have more than four days to go before reporting back to school!
I know that children might have a hard time staying awake for 24 straight hours. Heck, most of the kids I teach have trouble staying awake for 5 straight hours! But things can be done to motivate and invigorate throughout the day.
For instance, every grade level would get a half-hour recess between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. A new generation will experience the pleasures of Ghosts in the Graveyard and stargazing.
In addition, every school will use a new transition sound between classes. The familiar beeping of the clock from Fox's 24 will now accompany every class change. The kids will feel like mini-Jack Bauer's!!
So let's review: Time saved, check. Money saved, check. Academic improvement -- I'm just gonna go ahead and say research has proven it. It's a win-win situation, folks!! Let's bring it before the board!
Friday, August 03, 2007
Hello everyone (or at least everyone that reads this blog),
I'm here once again to promote the vaunted YouTube Challenge, which for some reason has only had a few takers so far. The numbers of video views has been increasing, so I know people are actually watching the videos, but people aren't leaving comments, and thus NOT being entered into the drawing for a free T-shirt.
So here's my question: If you are one of those people who has watched the videos but not left a comment, will you please leave a comment HERE and let me know why? I realize that some people are reluctant about signing up for an account with YouTube, but if there are other reasons that are holding this contest back, I'd really like to know so I can try to work around them!
Thanks in advance for your help!